Maria Holland

The Times, They Are A-Changin’

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2009 at 11:49 pm

I guess all good things must come to an end – in this case, my intestinal-problem-free stay in China.  We had a good 45 days, but I guess time was just up.  Since I got back from Taiwan, I’ve been having some minor stomach problems.  Not enough to keep me in, but enough to make me think about the availability/cleanliness of bathrooms once I go out. 

Today I played it kind of safe.  I went out this morning, which I think is the key to grabbing French bread from Andersen’s Bakery outside the West Gate.  In addition to the French bread I’d been dreaming about since last time, I also got a disappointing peanut-flavored pastry and a wonderful croissant (with Nutella, basically heaven).  The cheese and butter I paid so much for at Wal-Mart are pretty disappointing (picture the child of mozzarella and Kraft American cheese singles), but the bread does pretty well by itself. 

Even besides the bread, this morning was wonderfully productive.  As I wrote yesterday, I was planning to open a can in order to get my e-card.  After 45 days, I don’t feel like that’s an unreasonable request.  I was kind of looking forward to getting some frustration out by arguing with some office worker in Chinese until they finally gave in.  So I’ll admit I was a little disappointed with how easy it was.  I walked in to the office, asked for my e-card, she pulled out a bag, and mine was on top.  I had heard of this bag many weeks ago and am pretty sure it has been in there all along, so I still wanted to yell but somehow refrained. 

My next stop was the Bank of China, to link my bank account with my e-card so that I can put money on it and actually use it!  The XiaDa branch of Bank of China, however, is closed.  The sign outside says “for decoration”, which I think actually should be translated “for renovation” or, more accurately, “for total gutting and reconstruction.”  This isn’t just a new coat of paint or new tiling on the floor . . . it’s a disaster zone.  (Think Typhoon Parma, in a small office building.)

Luckily, there’s another branch not too far off campus, so I went there and rather easily linked my accounts.  The walk to and from was very interesting.  Everyone says China changes fast, but there’s nothing to drive the point home like going away for less than two weeks and returning to an almost-familiar city.  In addition to the bank construction, there’s an entirely new store in one of the strip-mall-like buildings.  It is quite Western, sporting all sorts of interesting foods and familiar personal care products.  They sell mascara, although not any brand I’ve heard of, and I still have yet to see any sort of deodorant that I would actually wear.  Still, this is progress. 

Even more intriguing (and far more damaging to my finances) was a little tent shop set up in front of the KCF/McDonald’s building.  At first it looked like all the other used-book dealers, down to the stack of Bibles that are always in such places.  A closer look, however, revealed that all the books in the tent were in English (or at least in some language besides Chinese, which is practically the same thing to most Chinese people).  I couldn’t believe it – it was probably the most random and unexpected thing in my life since hearing Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize!  I let myself look around a bit and walked out with four books.  In my defense: a) two of them were on my reading list already, and b) they cost 55 yuan, or about $8. 

It seems that another thing to change in my absence was a noticeable increase in swine flu measures.  There’s a new sneeze guard at Coco, my favorite juice/tea shop, and the temperature checks in the dorms are permanent for the near future.  It’s got to be a boring job for the students who have to check everyone who comes in, and I personally don’t like having a gun-shaped object pointed at my forehead several times a day by a total stranger.  I guess it could be worse . . . it could be a mercury thermometer taken orally! 

The weather has also gotten markedly better.  We haven’t used the air conditioner since I returned from Taiwan; we just leave the balcony door open instead.  The temperatures are still in the 80s during the day but there’s usually a breeze so it’s really quite pleasant.  I think October is a golden month for Xiamen. 

This last thing belongs in this post because while it hasn’t changed, the fact that I notice it has.  People here stare at me.  A lot.  They simply didn’t do that in Taiwan, except for those few school kids who took a picture of us.  At lunch yesterday, I noticed a guy do a double-take when he saw me – FOUR TIMES.  Is that really necessary?  If I’m really that interesting, come talk to me.  And prepare to have your mind blown when the muffin talks. 

  1. Hi Maria, I’m a friend of your Mom’s from her South America days; Montevideo, Uruguay to be exact. Just wanted you to know that I was greatly enjoying your China blog. Hope you don’t mind me following along. You are a great writer which has made following along with your travels not only enjoyable, but highly informative. If you don’t mind I’m going to sprinkle some of my new found China/Taiwan knowledge into conversations with my colleagues. Don’t worry, I’ll give you the credit.

    I don’t know if your Mom has mentioned that I get over to your part of the world on a fairly regular basis so your insights have been particularly interesting. I usually don’t have time to stray too far off the beaten path on my layovers, but your cultural and culinary commentary have been very useful. I’ve seen quite a few of the dishes you describe and have tried a handful, but have to admit to a certain amount of cowardice. My excuse is I’m on the hook to fly a trip and can’t afford to be sick. In the small world department, I was in Taipei (Taibei) for the earthquake (around the 4th). May have been the same one you described. I heard about it from the guy I was flying with. I slept through the whole thing:-)

    I just wanted to introduce myself and let you know how much I’ve enjoyed reading about your travels and getting your perspective on all things Chinese. Take care and enjoy the rest of your semester.

    Cheers, Alex Hawkins

    • Hi! I’m glad you’re enjoying my stories, and it’s great to hear that you’re learning something useful from it. Feel free to spread my [limited] knowledge! My mom told me about you and sent me the picture you took of Xiamen from the air, which was cool to see (in fact, I should post it!). Thanks again!

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