Maria Holland

Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

And You Think a Friday 1:00 Class is Bad?

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2009 at 1:33 pm

After class yesterday, I joined some friends for lunch at the Dumpling Restaurant.  I’ve only been with them once before, but apparently they eat there quite often.  In a situation reminiscent of Korean Garden in Tulsa (which bought beautiful new wood tables after a number of us began frequenting the restaurant), the owner has recently sprung for bigger tables and new shoes.  We’re wondering how long it’s going to be before he buys a car . . .

We lingered a long time over lunch, enjoying the conversation.  Some of us are making plans to get out of Xiamen next weekend after the 期中考试 (mid-terms).  Also, I found some kindred spirits – someone else who hates the incessant compliments of Chinese people, someone whose feet are as big as mine, and someone who had their first bout of loneliness yesterday.  We followed lunch with a trip to McDonald’s (actually my first time inside the one by campus) because the Europeans were dying for some ‘real coffee’.  (Don’t laugh; it’s all relative!)  I forgot I was in China and ordered a chocolate milkshake, and was surprised that it was actually insanely delicious!  It tasted like chocolate, not like some odd combination of sugar, wax, and . . . brown. 

I met my engineering friend, Hu Jing, for dinner, and we went to a Hot Pot restaurant (hot pot is a popular Chinese dish that consists of cooking raw food in a boiling pot of water).  I had never been and it’s a little bit complicated to eat, so I required a lot of instruction.  We ordered our pot to be a little bit spicy (for me), and a little bit not spicy (for Hu Jing).


Then we proceeded to the buffet-like area, where we chose what we wanted to eat.  They had all sorts of meat, fish, tofu, eggs, and vegetables – cabbage, lettuce, potato, mushrooms, etc. 


(Note: the tomato and orange are not meant to be cooked in the water.  Oops!)  I grabbed a little bit of a lot of things (including a mushroom – I like to stretch a little bit each day) and ended up trying even more things when Hu Jing gave me some of her favorites.  It was really delicious, although the combination of 辣 (spicy hot) and 热 (hot hot) made it hard to eat.  One thing that I really like is that the place was all-you-can eat, which encourages me to sample things I may not like.  It’s also all-you-can-drink, so I tried to make the most of it . . . 2 Sprites and a Fanta (but yes, they did have beer).  39 yuan per person, so just over 5 dollars, for a feast.

During dinner, Hu Jing mentioned that she had class tonight and asked if I would like to come.  Would I like to go a Friday night electronic controls class?  Is the Pope Catholic??  Am I a nerd??  The answer to all of the above is ‘YES!’, so we went.  He had a PowerPoint presentation (also in Chinese), which meant that I could look up words I didn’t know.  It really helped my comprehension – you know, I understood 1% of the class instead of 0%.  Yay!  I also learned several incredibly useful words for everyday life, like transformer, sensitivity, simulation, cutting machine, and induction.  It was fun, though, and definitely a great experience to have.  Also, the teacher was really young and quite good-looking . . . maybe that’s how they get these Friday night classes to fly?? 

Back in my dorm afterwards, Leinira pressured me to go to a Halloween party.  I had been thinking about a costume for weeks and come up with nothing, but in a last-minute moment of inspiration, I had an idea.  I had a pearl necklace, jean skirt, leggings, black heels, and bobby pins, so . . . sorority girl!  After not even being able to explain the concept to Leinira, I knew that 99% of the people I would encounter would not get it, but decided that was okay with me. 

Leinira dressed up as . . . well, I don’t really know.  I kind of think she was just trying to prove a point that she gets the same kind of looks when she dresses crazy as when she dresses like herself.  (I agree.  One of these days I’m going to walk out with my skirt tucked in my underwear and totally won’t notice because the reactions I get will be the same.  Heck, maybe I already have!) 


We met up with some friends and then went to the party, which was at Bar Blanc by ZhongShan Lu.  There was a lot of people and some lame music, so I left pretty quickly.  The best part of it was definitely the view of the bridge, all lit up at nighttime.


We went to The Key, but I wasn’t feeling too into it and the band sounded a little off.  When the Chinese band came on, I went with some friends to KK, the club next door.  Their music is more pounding beat and less melody, performed by a DJ instead of a live band.  They also have a big stage up front and a few small ones throughout the floor where beautiful young Chinese women dance, wearing various amounts of clothing.  We’re pretty sure this is their job, because their faces were completely expressionless as their bodies were moving.  At one point, they switched out and the stage was empty for a song.  Lester (the guy from the dancing pictures) held out his hand and gestured towards the stage, and I nodded.  And that’s how I ended up dancing on stage in front of an entire bar full of Chinese people.  I may not be as beautiful as the other dancers were, and I certainly wasn’t dressing or dancing as suggestively, but they never got applause and we did.  I’m just sayin’. 

Back at the Key, the band had finally found their groove, and they rocked the place until 3 in the morning.  The place was insanely crowded, but we managed to find space to dance anyway.  When we got home around 3, we had to walk by the guard, sleeping on the bench by the door (about as effective as any ‘guard dog’ my family has ever owned).  Unfortunately, they stopped the temperature police a week or so ago, because I was mischievously looking forward to waking the person on duty in order to get my temperature taken. 

Confession: I’m an Addict

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2009 at 12:48 am

Seriously.  This morning, a mere 9 hours after my last dancing fix, I found myself on the search again.  This time, I was acting on a tip from some friends who said they knew of a place, by West Gate.  I got up early – only the hope of dancing could get me out of bed at 7:30 – and set off.

Anyway, I found the place alright, although I arrived too late to join in the dancing.  There were about 20 people dancing, including one man that I recognized from last night.  After the music stopped, he came over to say hi, which I thought was nice.  There was also a whole gaggle of women who surrounded me, asking me where I was from, if I could dance, and if I was going to come every day (if only).  I have morning class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but we’ll see about Tuesdays and Thursdays . . .

Getting up so early gave me a lot of time this morning, so I continued working on my new Mechanics textbook.  I’m still on the table of contents, but I’ve learned a lot of useful words so far: statics, stress, couple, plane, space, friction, center of gravity, axis, tension, compression, torsion, bending, strength, and fatigue.

When I come down from class in the evenings, I usually find a gaggle of foreigners and tag along with one group or another for dinner.  Today there wasn’t really anyone hanging around, and I was feeling kind of bummed at the prospect of dinner alone.  I made a few phone calls, though, and was soon feeling better as I walked to dinner with a group of friends, connected in many and varied ways.

We ate 麻辣燙 (numbingly spicy soup) which was, surprisingly, neither numbingly hot nor soup.  We selected from an array of speared vegetables, meats, and mystery items, and they were cooked (possibly in some numbingly spicy soup?).  It was really good, and quite cheap – dinner for under $1.

Chinese Corner was going on as we passed by the park with the statue (shown below in the daylight).


I joined my Dutch friend Aleid and three Chinese girls who are studying to be Chinese teachers.  We had a good conversation – all in Chinese, of course – that included Aleid and I complaining about how hardworking XiaDa students are (they agreed).  We also discussed the letter ü, which is, in my opinion, the hardest sound in the Chinese language.  The best instructions I’ve been given as to making the sound is to make the “eeeee” sound while forming your mouth to make an “ooooo” sound.  It’s pretty hard for me and also makes me feel ridiculous while trying.  Anyway, I was happy to come home and read this article, which attempts to make a connection between facial expressions and mood.  The author’s theory is that as smiling is generally accepted to improve one’s mood, there may be a connection between the prominent vowels in a language (which determine the most frequent facial gestures) and the general mood of the culture.  Her prime example is German’s ü and their dourness, but I wonder if China’s ü and my feelings of silliness are connected as well.

On the way back to the campus, I stopped to buy some fruit.  I had to get ingredients for the sangria I’m planning for this weekend, and also needed to get a fix of my other obsession – the mystery fruit of a few days ago.


Turns out, it’s a 柚子, or pomelo.  Like I said, it’s a little bit more sour than an orange, but much sweeter than a grapefruit.  It’s almost the size of my head, and has a thick, cushy peel.  The fruit is so large and sturdy that it’s possible to completely peel down to the pulp, which stays intact.  When I eat oranges, I spend ridiculous amounts of time painstakingly removing every bit of whiteness that I can, but this fruit is a dream to peel.


And then of course, you get to eat it, which is also a dream.

Dancing Photo Shoot

In Uncategorized on October 29, 2009 at 12:09 am

I decided to take another look at my financial records now that I’m around the two-month mark.  I figured out that (without taking into account my vacation in Taiwan), I have spent an average of $5 on food every day.  This includes very nearly everything I eat (and drink!), as there are no meals at home, free lunches around campus, or meal plans in the dining hall.  Also, almost half of the money I’ve spent on “communication” has been spent on postcards and stamps, which are [relatively] very expensive.  It costs 60 cents to mail a postcard to America, which seems exorbitant when you realize that I only spend $1 a week on my cell phone and about the same on internet.

I’m pretty sure it’s also about time for an update on the weather here.  The days are generally gorgeous, somewhere in the 80’s, and no longer as horrifically humid as August was.  There was a very happy occasion a few weeks ago, when I actually had to put lotion on my face because I could feel that it was dry; August and most of September were so humid that over a month passed before I even unpacked my face lotion.  It cools down a bit once the sun sets, getting down to the mid 60’s.  Another big milestone for me was wearing a jacket to dance class last night!  I had been bringing scarves to class because of the air conditioner, but it was my first time wearing a long-sleeved clothing item outside! 

My two-month post made me think a lot about everyone at home, so I got out my photo albums.  Surprisingly, this was the first time I had looked at them since coming, and it was great to see so many familiar faces and recall all those wonderful memories!  I shared them with Leinira, to show her my home and family and friends.  While looking through, she pointed to everyone who looked different, mainly the couple black friends I had pictures of, and asked where they were from.  (They were all Americans.)  After a few times, I pointed out the only picture I had of a non-US-citizen, my Venezuelan friend.  It just reinforced my idea concerning the relative abundance and scarcity of people who look different in America and Asia (respectively), regardless of the proportion of foreigners. 

I’ve also realized, in the two days since the two-month mark, how many things I’ve become accustomed to here.  The 3 flights of stairs to my room don’t bother me anymore, and the walk to West Gate or Nanputuo is usually pleasant instead of burdensome.  I don’t drink with meals anymore.  (Both of those probably have something to do with the fact that the weather is no longer infernally hot, but it’s still a change.)  I like milk tea, tapioca bubbles, eggplant, baicai and baocai (Chinese cabbage), baozi (stuffed rice balls?), and Chinese ‘soup’ (basically hot water with some diced green onions tossed in) – none of which I liked before coming.  Refrigerated water is good enough for me now, although I still don’t enjoy drinking it room temp.

Oh, and I got a reply from Deacon Joseph – I can’t go on the pilgrimage because I’m a foreigner and it would be 麻烦 – a hassle.  Welcome to my life . . .

This afternoon, I went on an adventure to SM.  It’s a huge shopping center and I had heard people talk about it for two months, so I decided it was time to check it out.  It wasn’t too notable in my opinion, except for the exceptionally long time it took to get there.  I ate at another 西北 (Xinjiang) restaurant while I was in that part of town, and it was a weird experience.  The family that ran it stared at me the entire time I was in there.  I have been told that I look like a Xinjiangren so maybe they were trying to figure out why I looked like them but didn’t act like them?  I don’t know.  I definitely think the Xinjiangren look different from Han Chinese (one woman looked at me with piercing blue eyes), but just don’t see myself in them, or them in me. 

This evening I went dancing (fo shobviously).  I had a wonderful time dancing and felt like I learned and improved a lot.  It helps that I’m starting to understand what they’re saying, so I don’t have to just rely on following their movements.  They went late today, dancing past 10:15, and then I asked to take some pictures. 


I wanted to show off my new dancing shoes, so Lester (my Filipino dancing friend) and I started to strike some poses. 


By this time, the men had all left, so it was just us and 5 or so women.  They started critiquing us, giving us advice, suggesting poses, moving our arms/legs/feet/necks/torsos into position, etc. 


It was fun.  And now you all know what I look like when I dance!


After our ‘photo shoot’, we talked for a while outside and didn’t end up leaving until almost 11.  I still can’t believe that older people do this in China!  (Incidentally, I found out today that one of the men is 80.  So yes, I actually mean old!)

What Good Is A Library Where You Can’t Check Out Books??

In Uncategorized on October 27, 2009 at 11:14 pm

I went out this morning with a personal goal of 20 pictures of my campus.  I didn’t quite make it, but I did get several good shots. 


Every time I climb the steps up to or down from my dorm, I am stunned again by the inconvenience of this staircase and I wonder how to capture it in a photo.  Basically, when going down the stairs you have to step up at an odd angle, from one step to a ledge that is about a foot higher.  Words and photos can’t begin to convey how awkward it is; it must be walked to be believe.  It is an accident waiting to happen – if I die here in China, it was the step. 


These ladies were walking down one of the paths by the lake, and I found their umbrellas quintessentially Chinese. 


Sorry to bore with another picture of the lake and the Tall building, but it is the epitome of XiaDa in a photo . . . and I think it’s pretty. 


One one side of the lake, there’s a tiny island connected by a small bridge.  It’s a beautiful part of campus, at night and in the daylight. 

My walk brought me to the library.  You need an e-card to get in, so I had never been.  Underneath is a small bookstore, which I checked out first.  They have a lot of textbooks, and I was excited to see that I could at least understand what subjects most of them were – for example, in the law section they had environmental, insurance, corporate, and international law.  I finally found the math/physics/engineering section and spent almost an hour looking through the selections.  I ended up buying a 工程力学习题 (engineering mechanics practice problem) book.  For most people, it’s written in two foreign languages: Chinese, and Engineerlish.  It was $3, and I’m hoping it can be good practice for my Chinese, engineering, and engineering Chinese.

I went in to the library next, found the math section, and grabbed a cool math problem book.  (At this point, please feel free to comment on how nerdy I am.)  When I went to check the book out, my e-card didn’t work.  The librarian fiddled with it for awhile and then asked me if I had filled out some paperwork that she showed me; I said no.  Apparently I was supposed to have downloaded some form, printed it, and gotten it signed by my department before trying to check out any books.  Oh, obviously, because that was so clearly stated . . . I was kind of annoyed, but I didn’t get really pissed off until I shared my story with some other foreigners.  Apparently even if I were to go through this 麻烦 (hassle), I still couldn’t check out books because foreigners don’t have library privileges.  I don’t know what the heck is up with that, but I plan on throwing a minor fit on Thursday until I get permission. 

I thought I was done with 麻烦 since I got my e-card.  Stupid me . . . 麻烦 is the national pastime. 

I didn’t have much time for lunch, so I bought some random stuff from the supermarket and brought it back home.  I tried the imitation Pringles I won at Bobing (actually quite like Pringles, but almost completely without salt) and olive juice (not as foul as I expected from something that looked like, smelled of, and consisted almost entirely of olives, but certainly not good). 


I also tried a fruit that Leinira brought home.  I asked her what it was and she replied “good”.  So, we’re not quite sure on the name, but I would describe it as: orange + grapefruit + sweet + bigger than your head.  Very good!

I headed for class this afternoon, but Yang laoshi was sick so I had an extra two hours.  I had an interesting conversation on Skype with a friend of mine who is also studying in China this semester.  We were talking about faith, and I was reminded of my last summer in China.  It wasn’t possible for me to go to Mass for the entire two months, and I really felt lost without the sacraments.  At the same time though, living with a house full of strong Christians – always praying together and watching them serve others – helped me realize another aspect of my faith.  There are so many parts of Christianity and while it is a little bit harder for me to keep God in my mind and my heart all the time without the regularity of my community back home, there are a lot of ways that I can grow and learn from the people around me this year. 

It also reminded me to send an email to my deacon here in Xiamen.  I had heard something in the announcements about a pilgrimage to Beijing in November, and I wanted to know more.  The reply I got was somewhat vague – he’s not sure if I can go because I’m a foreigner – but was exciting for another reason.  The whole email was in Chinese, and I understood it on the first read.  It wasn’t long or anything, but I was still a little bit proud that I didn’t have to look any words up in my dictionary or anything.  There’s so much positive reinforcement in language learning, when you understand something that you didn’t before! 

After listening class, I grabbed dinner and went to dance class, where we continued working on the basics – body posture, different foot positions, etc.  I had two exciting Chinese-learning moments.  First, the teacher was showing us how to do the 尖脚, or pointed toe move, and I understood what she said because I had learned that adjective 尖 (pointed) last summer.  The context then had been to differentiate between pointed shovels (尖铲) and square shovels (方铲).  Secondly, I learned ‘knees’ (膝盖).  This came after I mistakenly thought I had learned that 膝盖 meant “lock [your knees]”, though.  There’s no convenient way to distinguish verbs and nouns and adjectives in Chinese like there is in most romance languages, so it was a fairly honest mistake.  I definitely got a lot of laughs from my fellow dancers when I had an “Aha!” moment about 10 minutes later, pointing to my knees and saying “xigai!” like a toddler learning a new word. 

Lastly, I have a request for all you readers.  I have an English name and a Chinese name, and am now looking for a man’s name.  I am considering, fairly strongly, about changing my QQ profile to indicate that I am a man.  I think it may cut down on the creepy male 网友 (internet friends) who try to talk to me, and may be an interesting social experiment.  I just need a good name, so: If I were a guy, what I be called??

2 Months Down

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2009 at 10:22 pm

I really enjoyed class today.  I think that I’m getting closer to my classmates, which is slightly unfortunate because I’m getting more restless with my class (which I think is too easy for me).  We shared some good laughs today, and even an awkward moment!

While using the “不但。。。而且”(not only . . . but also) structure, one of my Korean friends said that he and his brother were both soldiers.  This led to a brief discussion of the mandatory military service in Korea.  Zhang laoshi asked him a question about it, and he replied with something about North Korea as the reason for the mandatory service.  The teacher laughed awkwardly and then said that she had been looking for “韩国跟中国不一样”(Korea and China are not the same), which was another grammar structure we were studying.  Slightly awkward . . .

Later, Zhang laoshi was using that grammar structure to describe her singing.  We were all confused because it sounded like she was saying “我唱得跟麦当劳一样好” (I sing as well as McDonald’s), but after a few minutes we realized that she was saying “I sing as well as Madonna”.  I think our confusion was totally understandable, as the two words only differ in one syllable: McDonald’s is 麦当劳 (màidāngláo), while Madonna is 麦当娜 (màidāngnà). 

As you may be able to tell, we’re learning how to make comparisons.  This is a prime example of a grammar structure that I did NOT learn last summer in Hunchun.  I remember talking to Xiao Zhang, the foreman who was helping me learn Chinese, trying to figure out how to say “biggER” and “biggEST” and things like that.  It’s certainly not a direct, 1-to-1 translation.  My dictionary said that 更 was “more” and 最 was “most”, but Xiao Zhang said it was the other way around.  I was confused by this so I kind of agreed to disagree, and just tried to never compare things (which is quite hard, by the way).  Now that I am older and wiser (or at least less stupid), I’ve learned that 更 actually means “even more” – as in, I am tall, but my brother is even taller than me.  So apparently Xiao Zhang’s Chinese grammar is better than mine . . . who would have thought?

Anyway, this was brought to mind very vividly yesterday, when I was talking to Zhang Lei (Xiao Zhang’s son) on QQ.  I told him that we were studying 比, the Chinese comparison word, and he asked how to say it in English.  I said there wasn’t a way to translate it, so he started asking for examples:

Zhang Lei: 比是什么, English    (What is 比 in English?)

Maria: 英语没有。。。不一样     (English doesn’t have it . . . it’s not the same) 
比。。。大 = older; 比。。。高 = taller; 比。。。漂亮 = prettier, more beautiful; 等等 (etc.)

Zhang Lei: thiner  比。。。瘦

Maria: 对    (right)

Zhang Lei: er是比。。。     (so ‘er’ is 比)

Maria: 差不多。。。     (almost . . . )

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing!  I’m practically lethal. 

After class, one of the Saudi guys asked me a question about America, so we ended up talking for a little while as we walked to the West Gate together.  It was really nice!  He seems like a good guy.  TU has a ton of Saudi students, but I don’t really think they have a very good reputation as a group.  They seem to be predominantly sons of rich oil men, and they like to do as little work as possible.  Also, my freshman year roommate, one of the few American females in the Saudi-male-dominated major of Petroleum Engineering, said their attitudes towards women were really hard to handle.  I realize that those people were a pretty specific subset of the population, but at first I thought the Saudis in my Chinese class were going to be the same, as the four of them always sit together.  They’ve only been nice in the class, though, and seem to be very intelligent and hard-working.  This guy is studying Chinese for a year before starting his major – Marketing – in Chinese!

His name is 力德 (LiDe), which is ‘spelled’ in Chinese as “身体的力,德国的德”, or “The 力 of physical strength, the 德 of morality”.  So cool!  I ‘spelled’ my name for him as well: “The 马 of horse, the 利 of fluent, the 亚 of Asia.” 

We parted ways once we were off campus and I went to mail some postcards.  I have now sent postcards to everyone whose address I have.  I’m still waiting on family addresses (DAD, AUNT MARY!), and I’m more than happy to add people to my mailing list – just email me or comment with your address.  If you comment, I’ll take down the comment so everyone doesn’t see your address. 

I got take-out from a 西北 (northwestern) restaurant near the post office.  Northwestern restaurants are usually associated with Xinjiang Province, recently known for unrest between the Han Chinese and the local minority Uighurs.  They’re predominantly Muslim and are known especially for their hand-pulled noodles.  While I was waiting for my food, another classmate joined me and we talked for a little while.  Ali and his wife, another a classmate, are from Kyrgyzstan (which I spelled correctly on my first try, by the way).  The Chinese name for Kyrgyzstan is quite ridiculous – 吉尔吉斯斯坦, or Jí’ěrjísīsītǎn – at 6 syllables (compared to 3 in English).  I asked him if most Chinese people know his country and he said they usually call it “什么什么stan”, which I would roughly translate as “Whatever-stan”.

Back in my room, I got a call from a lady I met on Sunday.  She joined me as I was walking to Mass and was quite delighted to find another Christian.  She expressed her affection for Catholics and surprised me by speaking very highly of Mary (she loved my name) and knowing the Sign of the Cross.  Anyway, I didn’t totally understand the contents of the call, but I did pick up on two things: 1) she asked me to pray for her for some reason that I hope God understood, and 2) she told me that God loved me.  It was kind of sweet . . . And then she called again later, asking me to move in with her.  I think she’s just very lonely (as I did catch that her prayer had something to do with “家”[family] and “一个人”[alone]) and I felt bad, but I kind of distanced myself. 

In the evening, I went out for a walk just to stretch my legs and see what, if anything, was going on around campus.  As luck would have it, I heard music and voices issuing from a speaker by the lake and went to investigate.  It was some party for teachers from West-Central China, including singing, dancing, and charades.  The charades were especially fun, both when I could read the cue and knew what was going on, and when everyone laughed uproariously at something I didn’t understand. 

Today is my two-month anniversary here in Xiamen!  At 61 days, this is now officially my longest stay in China.  (Last summer, I had a 60-day visa; I came in on day 1 and left on day 60.)  I still have 8 or 9 months left, so I’m not even a quarter of the way done.  I’ve been thinking, but I can’t really wrap my head around any of it.  It’s kind of like when you repeat a word over and over and over again until it loses meaning and just sounds funny.  There are these phrases that I say every day, and they just feel like random words strung together because they’re so far from my daily life these past two months: “我是美国人,我上厦大。在美国,我是机械工程系的学生.”  (I’m an American, attending Xiamen University.  In America, I’m a mechanical engineering student.) 

There are a lot of things that no one here knows about me, whether because they haven’t come up or because I haven’t made the effort to translate them into Chinese, and it feels weird when I realize that no one knows that part of me.  Like when I was telling Carlos about the environmental club and he said he “didn’t know I was into that sort of thing”.  Or when I was in the bookstore with Hu Jing and got excited at the piano music; she asked if I could play and I remembered, a little surprised myself, that I had been the choir director and accompanist at my church for two years. 

There are also some complicated aspects of my life that I’ve had to simplify, such as the concept of where exactly I’m from in America.  I get asked about my home way too often for me to go into my family history as an Army brat – especially not in Chinese – so Minnesota is now officially my 老家, or hometown.

So, yeah, it has been two months since I last saw anyone that I knew two months ago.  It’s also been two months since I last ate with a fork and knife, or since I drove a car, but I miss the people more.

‘Fluent’ Is My Middle Name!

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2009 at 12:02 am

This evening was the first 拉丁套路 (Latin Routines) dance class.  I met a Russian girl, Arina, at the West Gate and we went to check it out.  By “come at 6 to register”, they actually meant “class starts at 7”, so we grabbed dinner in the meantime.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Arina (in Chinese).  She’s really quiet, so at first I thought she had some mysterious grudge against me, but she’s actually very nice. 

We spent two hours learning the basic steps of the rhumba, and then I hit the end of my attention span.  I started talking to one of the students who was helping with the class.  It was really encouraging to hear that she started dancing three years ago, in this class, with this teacher. 

She also helped me learn some useful anatomy: hips, shoulders, waist, etc.  My favorite was learning that neck, wrist, and ankle share a common word (脖), which means connection.  Anatomy is so much easier in Chinese! 

Another Chinese note: I finally have a middle name that I like!  My Chinese name is a transliteration – 马利亚 – so the characters don’t have special hand-picked meanings like “beauty” or “intelligence” or anything.  However, every now and then I learn new Chinese words that use the characters of my name, especially the middle one, 利.  First was “fluent” (流利), and then “recycling” (再利用).  ‘Spelling’ in Chinese consists of giving examples of words that contain the desired character, so I love ‘spelling’ my name for Chinese people.  I get to say “流利的利”- basically, “the 利 from ‘fluent’.” 

International Day of Climate Action

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2009 at 2:41 am

Settle in for a long update, because today was wonderful.  With a side of pure goodness.  Smothered in awesome.

It all started just after midnight, when Leinira and I went out.  Leinira is a biochemistry grad student here and is ALWAYS in lab.  It’s really lame because she’s a wonderful roommate but we don’t get to hang out much.  She finally got a day off (rare even on weekends) so we took advantage of the opportunity to go out.

We went to The Key for 3 hours of great music, dancing, and watching foreign men try to hook up with Chinese women.  Hilariously, this also included Chinese women obviously showing absolutely no interest in the foreign men, and said foreign men totally not catching on.  In addition to people-watching, there are always TVs placed everywhere that your eyes rest, so I got to watch Michael Jackson and Beyonce dance for several hours.  I am becoming more and more familiar with Michael Jackson’s work, and it’s not because of a resurgence in popularity since his death – it’s because I came to China.  Same goes for Avril Lavigne . . .

This morning I woke up to a phone call.  This is almost never pleasant, and even more so when the person on the other end of the line is speaking Chinese.  I generally try to give myself 15 minutes after waking up before demanding such things of my brain, but today had no choice.  It was Jessie, a girl from the XiaDa environmental club.  October 24th is the International Day of Climate Action, and after I happened to discover that there was an event in Xiamen, she was planning on accompanying me to it.  In the planning process, she told me that it was on October 25th, which should have been a warning to me . . . anyway, it turns out that I had been right – it was today – and I had about 3 hours notice to go.  Hence, instead of going with 2 friends and this Chinese girl, I ended up going by myself.

It was okay, though!  I took two buses to Jimei, which is on the mainland to the north of Xiamen, because the event was being held on the campus of Jimei University.  Now, any Chinese person will tell you that there is no prettier campus than Xiamen in all of China (except maybe Wuhan), but I think I may need to get out more.  I thought JiDa was beautiful!  More so because of the buildings than the scenery, maybe, but still.  They have an impressive entrance with a fountain and everything – eat your heart out, TU!


I had made some friends on the bus, so they kindly accompanied me until I found what I was looking for.  They were three freshman girls – studying either French or law, I’m not certain which one – and seemed impossibly young.  Eventually we found the event, which was actually quite a feat because, at the time of my arrival, it consisted of a few people standing with a sign.

Jimei DaXue has a lot less foreigners than XiaDa, with its Overseas Education College, so I caused quite – possibly eclipsing, momentarily, impending climate-change-related doom.  The students were all very nice and very excited to 1) talk to me!  2) in Chinese!  It was wonderful.  The only action I noticed in the first hour was the posting of various signs, so I didn’t feel too bad for distracting them.

Things got more interesting later.  One guy read something (possibly material, as I heard both 350 [the desired concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere] and 390 [the current concentration] mentioned) while the rest of the students stood in a group with their fists over their heart.  At the end, they all shouted in unison; it was mildly terrifying.


There was also a painting of some scenery that was laid down on the ground.  Two boxes of coal were placed on the ground and students took turns getting their feet dirty and walking across the painting.  It was pretty visual – and, based on my experiences in Jilin with coal, very Chinese.


Near the end, they put up a banner that we were asked to sign – our names, as well as an idea for helping the environment.  In honor of Jesse, I wrote “No more coal – nuclear!”, but later changed it to “自己带筷子”(bring your own chopsticks) because I could write that in Chinese.  (Also, seriously, it is scary to think of 1.4 billion Chinese people using two small sticks of wood each, three times a day, and then throwing them away.  Think about it!)


We were set up outside the cafeteria, and they asked my help to recruit students passing by . . . this was pretty much a fail.  Although I do know how to say “sign here” and “protect the environment”, I generally failed to produce coherent sentences connecting these ideas.


After a few hours of fun and friend-making, I had to go.  Apparently they do lots of stuff, and invited me to come back.  I just might, although it is a long way (over an hour).  I really enjoyed my visit and, honestly, at least a small part of me wishes I went to JiDa.  I think it’s not quite as good a school as Xiamen, which is one of the top universities in the nation.  That may sound like a disadvantage, but XiaDa students seem to spend all their time studying, whereas these students seemed interested in hanging out.  Novel idea, that.  Also, I seriously think it’s a beautiful school (especially during the sunset I got to witness).


I took the bus back to Xiamen, where I arrived just in time for Mass.  I really need to start getting there earlier, as going to Chinese Mass is quite an ordeal for me.  I have to grab a song book, find a seat in the crowded pews, get out my papers, find a pencil, open my Bible to the right pages, cover my bare shoulders, etc.  I definitely catch more and more each time, and can now almost sing along with the Mass parts out of the songbook instead of having to look at my copy, which has pinyin pronunciation!

I had to hurry from Mass to get back to campus, where I was late for the first meeting of the environmental club.  We started off by sitting with our zodiac signs and introducing ourselves, then digressed into several all-Chinese PowerPoints that I didn’t understand.  Good thing I turned down that request to be translator!

I was also tired by this time.  I had speaking only Chinese all day, and it had been a long day.  This was obvious in my steadily-decreasing Chinese ability.  For example, I told someone that I had been in China for “二个月”, which is a mistake you make in your first week or so.  [Chinese has two characters for the number 2 – 二 and 两 – and they are used in different ways.  It’s really not that hard, but I managed to mess it up.]  It also took me a ridiculous amount of time to figure out that the word 地球 (literally, “ground” and “ball”) in the presentation was referring to the Earth, and not some sport I hadn’t head of.  [In Chinese, the names of most sports include the word 球 – 棒球 (baseball),篮球 (basketball),排球 (volleyball),乒乓球 (ping-pong),足球 (soccer),etc.]  Sorry, that probably mainly made sense to those of you who know a little Chinese – so basically . . . Chris.  Anyone else?

I left early because I had already missed out on half of dancing and wasn’t going to let an opportunity to wear my new shoes go to waste!  I love them and I love dancing, if I haven’t mentioned that yet.  I had a couple of exceptionally good dances with exceptionally happy men (even the usually-grouchy one) and learned some new steps!

But wait, it gets better.  As 10:00 (the end) approached, they put on another song – one that I hadn’t heard before, more disco/clubbing music than ballroom or Latin.  Lester, the Filipino guy who started coming with Karolina, said that it was freestyle dance.  I thought he was joking, but quickly joined in once I saw the other women breaking it down on the dance floor.  It was the MOST FUN EVER.  The men all packed up their things and headed out, leaving Lester and I with about eight 30-50 year-old women who I had only ever seen dance things like the waltz and tango.  They were so much fun, and seemed to appreciate all the moves I brought with me from America.  It was wonderful to see them all smiling and laughing!  I hope we do this every week.  Twice.  At least.

PS – Randomly came across this picture, taken in Xiamen, in NYT’s Pictures of the Day from yesterday, October 24th.  See slide #4.

The Sun Also Sets in the East

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2009 at 10:10 pm

In class today, we learned how to say “Open Door Reform”.  This is the reform started by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 that opened China to trade with the rest of the world, began the transition from a command to a market economy, etc.  My teacher attempted to describe it by saying “Before the reform, there was no McDonald’s or KFC.  After the reform, we have McDonald’s and KFC.”  Whether or not these were just the easiest results to point out, her choice of examples made me sad.  At the same time, it’s not like she could use “freedom of speech” or “freedom of the press” as examples, so maybe they were an apt choice. 

Yesterday during my imprisonment in hell (also know as 听力 class), I caught a glimpse of an amazing sunset out the classroom window.  This motivated me to visit the beach this evening.  Considering I live on an island, with a beach 5 minutes away on foot, I have not become a beach bum.  In fact, this was my 3rd time walking on sand since I came to Xiamen . . . !

After this evening, though, I think that needs to change.  The weather was beautiful – pleasantly cool with a strong breeze, perfect to enjoy in shorts and a long-sleeved shirt.  I walked along the beach barefoot and even got in the water up to my knees or so. 

I wasn’t the only one who thought the scene was idyllic.  There were quite a few people out there, including at least 7 couples (I counted) getting wedding pictures taken.  I love wedding pictures, so this was quite alright with me.


In addition to the glowing brides, there was a brilliant sunset to watch. 


Once the sun had set, the lights of the city came on.  In Xiamen, the highways are smooth white and illuminated by strips of white lights at night, and are perhaps my favorite part of the city.


I didn’t feel like going back quite yet, so I caught a random bus from the nearby stop.  I rode it past ZhongShan Lu and got off at a place that looked promising in terms of food.  I had beef noodles for dinner, which were almost as good as Taiwan’s.  On the street, I grabbed a 鸡蛋汉堡, or “egg hamburger”.  To those who say eggs aren’t safe to eat in China, I say “A life without eggs is a life not worth living.”  I also had an enormous cup of honey milk tea, which was quite possibly the most delicious thing that I have ever drunk.  Could it really be as easy as adding milk and honey to tea?  If so, I may be able to survive the transition back to America. 

I bought a few DVD’s from a guy on the street (NUMB3RS and a Chinese movie, Founding of a Republic) and then hung around for awhile trying (and failing) to make sense of the card game he was playing with some other men.  While I was standing there, I got a phone call from someone in the environmental club asking me to be their translator.  Flattered, really, but I’m hoping to find someone more qualified than me. 

I had some varied experiences with Chinese today.  The woman who sat next to me at dinner was clearly certain that I didn’t know a single word of Mandarin, as she went out of her way to get chopsticks from another table instead of asking me for a pair.  The employee at the camping supply store nearly had a heart attack when I responded to her in Chinese, saying “什么?” (what?).  And the DVD salesman didn’t bat an eye when I began questioning him about his product, just offered his own opinions on the various options I was considering.  Sometimes I feel invisible, sometimes like a freak, sometimes a genius, and then there are a few people who don’t seem to notice that I’m not Chinese.  All in one day . . .

Crying Uncle!

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2009 at 12:43 am

I just finished a Skype call back home, which included my grandpa (visiting my parents) and my aunt (on conference call from Texas).  I figure this is as good a time as any to share with you the joys of discussing family relations in Chinese.

If you’ve learned anything about Chinese from reading this blog, you should know that it’s not as easy as translating ‘uncle’ to some word that means exactly the same thing.  In Chinese, family relations are super-specific, conveying information about generation, seniority within generations, and blood-relationships.  Thus, there is no such word as ‘uncle’ – instead, there are several. 

There are my father’s older brothers (Rob, Mark, and David) – 伯伯, or bobo

There is my father’s younger brother (Daniel) – 叔叔, or shushu

There are my father’s sister’s husbands (Steve, Tom, Joe, Mike, and Pete) – 姑父, or gufu

There is my mother’s brother (Ty) – 旧旧, or jiujiu

There are my mother’s sister’s husbands (Jim and Wayne) – 姨父, or yifu

Luckily (?), my extended family is large enough that I have at least one family member in every category.  This makes it much easier to remember than straight memorization.  Grandparents especially, as it is much easier to associate Grandpa Herb with 爷爷, for instance, than to memorize that 爷爷 is my father’s father.

I have mixed feelings about this system.  On the one hand, the family terms in Chinese are very dense with information, which makes communicating specifically very efficient.  On the other hand, if you don’t feel like being that specific, then English is just as good.  It also presents problems when translating from the vague English term and trying to find the right Chinese term. 

下课!  Class is over!

PS – to my aunts out there (Dad’s sisters, that is), you are all 姑姑, or gugu. 

These Shoes Were Made for DANCING!

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2009 at 11:55 pm

My classes are too easy.  I’m not complaining, I’m just making an observation.  I realized this when I ran into my friend Carlos on my way to dancing.  With the class starting finally, he pointed out that I’m dancing 4 nights a week.  I told him a little about my weekend plans too, and it was pretty obvious that they didn’t include homework . . . Carlos is in 三年 (third year) and actually has to work really hard.   

I don’t know, my classes were hard at first because I wasn’t used to class being conducted in Chinese, but now that I’ve gotten pretty much used to that, it’s just too easy.  I know all the grammar and half of the vocabulary before we study it, so I’m not learning much new material.  Half of me is kicking myself for not switching classes earlier, but the other half . . . The easier my classes are, the less time I have to put into them outside of the scheduled time, which leaves me available for dancing, calligraphy, other studies, exploring, etc.  It also makes it easier to skip class to travel!  I know that sounds trivial, but I have learned a lot of language and culture through those experiences and interactions.  I haven’t decided what to do yet, because I could probably still change classes after the midterm if I want.  Concerning next semester, I’ll probably self-study a few lessons and try to get into a slightly more advanced and faster version of 二年上 (the level above my current one). 

Today in class we were talking about the seasons, and Zhang laoshi said it is autumn now.  I guess it’s gotten slightly cooler (in the 80’s instead of 100+) and the sun is setting earlier, but I have yet to see a colored leaf, so I just can’t believe that. 

I usually get online and read the news during the lunch break time, and today the news seemed particularly discouraging.  Among other things, the Press Freedom Index came out, and obviously contained bad news on China.  America moved up 20 places, but China is #168 out of 175 countries.  At least they beat Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Iran, Burma, Cuba, and Laos, but none of those are really a huge point of pride.  There was also more bad news on the religious freedom front

This evening, I went out for dinner at the Taiwanese place by West Gate.  The food isn’t as good as the place I went yesterday, but this place seats people more like a cafeteria than a restaurant, so the chances of having a good Chinese interaction are usually higher.

I had a little while before dancing, so I went to the lake on campus to enjoy the beautiful night.  I did Evening Prayer and said a rosary while walking around the lake, and it was really peaceful.  The lake is probably my favorite place on campus, but I have not taken full advantage of its presence, which needs to change.  Sitting on the steps, looking at the lights reflecting off the water, while listening to Resting in the Peace of His Hands = perfect. 

I got to the dancing building really early, which was good because it gave me time to try on my new DANCING SHOES!  Yes, the lady who said she would look into it found me some shoes that fit!  They’re size 41 and they’re just about perfect, which means I have been slightly exaggerating my shoe size.  They’re absolutely wonderful for dancing – much better than the heels I brought from home, which are several inches too high, unevenly worn on the heel, and don’t have a strap around the ankle.  A pair of dancing shoes?  100 yuan.  A pair that fits?  Priceless.