Maria Holland

Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Little By Little

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2009 at 11:02 pm

The highlight of my day today was learning the word penguin (企鹅) in class and then seeing it in the subtitles of the NUMB3RS episode I was watching.  I saw it at the end of a line and thought, “Hey, that looks like the word for penguin!” before they said “penguin” in English.

Small victories. 

The second highlight of my day is probably the bottle of lemonade I’m drinking right now.  After the week or so where I tried all the bottled lemonade options, I just gave up.  Since then, milk tea has filled the void pretty well, but I have to go outside to get it.  I did, however, bring several of those little packets of Country Time Lemonade powder that you add to bottles of water, and decided to use one. 

Simple pleasures.

I’m currently working my way through the prayer of consecration in Chinese, looking up words I don’t know and trying to understand the translation.  My goal is to be through the rest of the Mass by the time I leave for Shanghai on Thursday morning.  I’ve added the ‘special’ words I’ve learned (generally related to Catholicism or engineering) to my flashcard program, so a typical run of flashcards is: “bookshelf”, “chicken”, “Jesus”, “magnetism”, “mercy”, “far”, “improve”, “torque”, “apostle”, “definitely”, “sand”, “number”, etc. 

Small steps.

I am getting pretty good at finding any sort of media I want on the Chinese internet.  I’ve downloaded just over two days’ worth of music, which makes up for not having a radio.  A couple recent downloads are from the Flight of the Conchords.  I highly recommend checking them out on YouTube, especially Most Beautiful Girl in the Room and I’m Not Crying.  They’re stupidly hilarious.

Simple minds.

Visit China: The Scenery’s Not Bad

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2009 at 12:38 am

Sometimes it seems like I have too much fun for me to actually be learning anything.  Fortunately, living in China provides lots of opportunities for positive feedback on my progress.  It’s not just the Chinese people, who seem generally willing to label you as fluent if you can say 你好 (nǐ hǎo).  Besides that, they have thoughtfully posted written Chinese everywhere, which means every time I open my eyes there are some Chinese characters ready to challenge me.  Almost every day, I look at a sign that I’ve looked at hundreds of times and, instead of seeing random lines or seemingly-unconnected characters, I understand the meaning. 

I was talking to my Dutch friend Diederik about this today.  Despite knowing all four characters in the 成人用品 signs that are posted around town (respectively: ‘become’, ‘person’, ‘use’, and ‘product’), he didn’t know what it meant until yesterday.  成人 means ‘adult’ and 用品 means ‘goods’, so basically . . . sex shop. 

I’m going to start taking better notes on the signs I see and sharing the translations with you.  There are a lot of messages of encouragement, exhortation, or advice posted around for the public, and they’re my favorite.  Soon you, too, will be able to enjoy Chinese PSA’s. 

I’m also trying to get into Chinese music right now, because it seems like one of the more fun ways to learn, although perhaps not the most effective.  So, for your entertainment and my education, here is my authoritative (ha) translation of my favorite Chinese songs, 大中国

We all have one family
It is called China
There are a lot of brothers and sisters
And the scenery’s also not bad

The house has two dragons
Called the Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers
It also has Mount Everest
Which is the tallest mountain

Look at that Great Wall, 10,000m long
It weaves back and forth between the clouds
Look at the Roof of the World
Even bigger than the sky

Our big China
Quite a big family
It has made it through a lot of
Wind blowing and rain falling

Our big China
Quite a big family
Always, always,
I want to follow you

China, I wish you prosperity
You will always be in my heart

Favorite line of the song: “The scenery’s also not bad.”  (Probably not the best translation as far as meaning goes, but it does literally mean “not wrong”.  Also that’s what I was originally taught, so I’ll never be able to separate 不错 from “not bad”.)

Stay tuned for more! 

Not So Good in a Sack

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2009 at 11:09 am

Yesterday morning began like the day before, at the sports stadium.  Kind of like Groundhog Day, except there were actually more people there.  I met my team there at 10:30 – 6 foreign guys and 3 other girls, all Chinese. 

DSCN5570

Two of the guys (Julius from Germany and Victor from Hungary) were comically tall compared to our Chinese girls, so I had to take a picture:

DSCN5569

We practiced the sack exchange a few times and then it was our turn to line up for the second heat.  As we lined up behind the stands, I cheered loudly whenever they said our team name and was, surprisingly, the only one to do this.  (This has always been my strategy in sporting events – make up in volume what you lack in skill.) 

Somehow, I was selected to be the first leg of the relay.

DSCN5579

I fell behind, but the important thing was that I didn’t fall.  Each person had to jump 30 meters, which is surprisingly long when you’re jumping in a sack.  (Side note – the Chinese name for this event is 袋鼠跳, or kangaroo-jump.  The word for kangaroo literally means “bag-mouse”.)

DSCN5580

Anyway, the rest of the team just continued to fall behind so I was really just being consistent.  The Chinese students sack-hop like they do everything else – with an intensity that borders on, and occasionally surpasses, scary.  We ended up with our last guy jumping after everyone else had finished.

DSCN5583

Another last-place finish for the Overseas Education College.  But, really, we were all winners, even before the race had begun – because we got our t-shirts.

DSCN5564

It was actually hot this afternoon, especially jumping in the sun.  Diederik decided it would be nice to have a picnic on the beach, so we bought some food and went out there.  We got to watch the sunset while we talked and ate.

DSCN5587

It got a little cool after the sun went down but after all, it is the end of November.  That’s still warm in my book! 

I went from the picnic to church for the 1st Sunday in Advent!  The beginning of Advent (the season before Christmas), is the beginning of a new Church year, so . . . Happy New Year!  There were new missals, new songs and Mass parts, and an Advent wreath (although I think it’s just for the English Mass).  I don’t quite have the hang of the new Mass parts, but a few of the songs were familiar: we sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel” (天主圣子恳请降临) and something to the tune of Amazing Grace (谢圣体经). 

I made it back from Mass just in time to go dancing.  I had a particularly good time (Smelly Man didn’t come!) and I’m even starting to learn the Viennese waltz.  The best part of the evening was getting the women to agree to come to the club afterwards.  They were so funny – acting like teenage girls even though the youngest of them is in her mid-40’s.  They wanted to make sure the others were going so they wouldn’t be alone, and kept asking if the 帅哥 was going.  (It literally means “good-looking older brother”, but it’s a common term for “hottie” or something like that.  It’s what they call Lester, my Filipino friend . . . we actually aren’t sure if they know his real name.) 

When the music stopped at 10, we headed for the club.  One of the women owns a car – a BMW, actually! – so she drove, with four of us women in the back.  (They’re all so tiny that it actually wasn’t even a tight fit.)  When we got to The Key, the crappy new Taiwanese band was playing so we got a table upstairs and sat for awhile.  Once the bands changed and the music got better, I managed to get two of them to come down and dance with me.  It was a little bit crowded, but they slowly warmed up to it and seemed to enjoy themselves.  Dancing with these middle-aged Chinese women to songs like “Get Low” (they did, by the way) was one of the most ridiculous and special experiences of my time in China.  To make it even funnier, there was a very drunk man at the table next to our spot who indiscriminately hit on us, even the older women. 

Unfortunately I don’t think the other two women enjoyed themselves that much.  The smoke, noise, and crowds were too much for them.  Still, one of them is 60 and I’m kind of proud of her for coming at all!  They left around midnight, chiding me for not wearing a jacket and cautioning me to be careful – still old women after all!  I stayed there and danced with Leinira until almost 3 – after all, it was New Year’s Eve. 

 

I’ve put more pictures on my Picasa web album – most of them have already been in the journal, but there are a few new ones – and a particularly good Chinglish photo from Ningde. 

Reluctantly Crouched at the Starting Line

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2009 at 10:04 pm

China hates Thanksgiving.  There’s just no other explanation for a sports meet beginning the following day at 8 a.m.  I like my sleep; even Black Friday deals can’t get me out of bed early on the day after Thanksgiving.  For some reason, though, I felt obligated to fulfill this commitment I may or may not have made to represent the Overseas Education College in the 100-meter dash. 

I woke up around 6:30, with enough time to enjoy the Breakfast of Champions – Snickers and a pomelo, of course.  Donning my shorts, Converse (best running shoes I have with me), and a TU shirt (to represent), I headed over to the sports field.  I brought my iPod along and listened to a very appropriate song as I walked – The Distance, by Cake:

He’s going the distance
He’s going for speed . . .
He’s racing and pacing and plotting the course
He’s fighting and biting and riding on his horse
He’s going the distance

It’s an intense song, perhaps a little too much so for a race of 100 meters, but when I got to the sports field, parts of the song started to feel appropriate.  Namely:

Bowel-shaking earthquakes of doubt and remorse,
assail him, impale him with monster-truck force

I had already figured out that this competition was a little more serious than I had originally thought, when I had a Friday afternoon practice for my sack-hop relay.  But still, how serious can any competition be with events like sack-hop relay and a jump-rope run?  Apparently, very very serious.  XiaDa’s various colleges were competing against each other and the stakes – face? – were high.  Each college had drums and symbols for their cheering students’ use.  Very Chinese, and very silly.

DSCN5556

I also committed a serious error in judgment when I assumed that Chinese college students are like American college students in any way.  They take classes on Friday nights and weekends, and when classes are cancelled for a sports competition, they actually go.  What on earth?!?  So here it is, 8 a.m. on a Friday with no classes, and the stadium is filling up faster than KFC at breakfast time.  There is something seriously wrong with these kids. 

The intensity of the crowd was so high that I, a conspicuous foreigner, managed to wander around looking lost for a good half hour without attracting any attention.  Finally, I met up with a Japanese friend who was also representing the Overseas Education College in the 100-meter dash.  We eventually figured out where we were supposed to go and all that, but instead of feeling better I was feeling worse and worse.  In another tragic misjudgment, I had not thought about my selection of events beyond choosing the shortest distance.  I totally didn’t even consider that we would start like real runners – you know, one knee and both hands on the ground, butt in the air.  Since I had just learned I was competing in this race yesterday afternoon, I hadn’t had time to practice.  Luckily, I was in the third heat so I got to watch those who ran before me, and figured out the basics: 1) crouch down; 2) raise your butt in the air at 准备; 3) run when they fire the gun. 

Cutting to the end of the race – I’m pretty sure I came in last place.  This placement is easily attributable to several factors – my lack of preparation, a poor start, the fact that I started laughing uncontrollably at the ridiculousness of the whole situation around the 20-meter mark, and the plain truth that I don’t ever run.  But you know?  I got the t-shirt, and that makes me a winner in my book.  

DSCN5555

By the way, I was hoping to get pictures and video of the race, but unsurprisingly this failed to happen for various reasons.  I do, however, have a great picture of Lulu running – just imagine that it’s me instead. 

DSCN5556

After my race, I went to class for a little while.  As an athlete, though (hahaha), I was technically excused from classes, so I took advantage of this to leave class early to watch my Thai friend Pun compete in the jump-rope relay.  We (me, Carlos, and half of Thailand) were there early, so we wasted time by taking WOW MOM that’s COOL pictures.  Such great fun.

DSCN5562

After the relay (in which we didn’t place last), we went to lunch.  I ended up at the Thai table, which wasn’t that much fun because they all spoke Thai.  The most interesting part of the meal was when I had to help our Chinese friend write two characters that he had forgotten – pretty much a highlight of my life.  (The two characters were the 茄 from eggplant and the 煎 of fried jiaozi, so they’re characters I use quite often.) 

I spent this afternoon cleaning and napping until my date tonight.  Yes, I had a 约会, with a guy named Hery from Madagascar.  I met him because he fixes Leinira’s computer, and apparently he took a liking to me and got my number from her.  He invited me to a Western restaurant near campus, so I met him tonight for dinner.  The date was 马马虎虎 (so-so), but the food was good – pasta! eaten with a fork!  He’s nice enough, but I didn’t know almost anything about him and still don’t really.  He didn’t really have anything to say, which made it a struggle to keep the conversation going. 

Anyway, it’s better that I have an early night tonight – I have a sack-hop race tomorrow at 11:15 . . .

What I’m Thankful For This Year

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2009 at 12:45 am

Where can I even start with this post?  There is so much to include because today is not only Thanksgiving, but also the 3-month anniversary of my arrival in Xiamen AND my 100th blog post!  Like I said, it’s quite the big deal. 

First, I think I should give you a little background – this is not my first Thanksgiving in China.  No, I was lucky enough to celebrate a wonderfully NQR (Not Quite Right) Thanksgiving in Jilin last year.  Looking back at the journal entries I wrote during that trip, I was reminded of how great NQR can be.  I didn’t get to celebrate with my family, but I was surrounded by familiar faces and beloved friends (American, Chinese, and Kiwi), including a baby whose birth I had been present for 6 months before.  The family we stayed with is so generous and welcoming and the kids are darn cute sometimes, too:

During dinner, we explained Thanksgiving to Nigel [from New Zealand]. Lyte said it’s when Caitlin and Maria come, which was pretty much the most adorable thing I’d ever heard.

It wasn’t just the people around the dinner table, but also my taxi driver, my DVD salesman, my machinist, etc. – all with colorful names like Goose Lady, Mob Boss, and MacGyver – who made me feel like I was surrounded by friendship and love. 

We didn’t have a whole turkey, Mom’s mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, but we were certainly not short of good food.  We had a Nepalese meal that we ate with our hands, a delicious multi-cultural feast of Mongolian barbecue and s’mores, hand-cranked ice cream, fresh whole-grain bread and butter from our cows, homemade bibimbap, and – the pinnacle of NQR Thanksgiving – turkey curry (we dubbed it ‘curkey’).  I was also introduced to two of my favorite new foods – pumpkin soup and pingguoli, a hybrid apple-pear fruit.  Yes, we certainly had a menu to be thankful for. 

The purpose of our trip was a continuation of last summer’s SENEA project.  Much of our goals concerned meeting new contacts and visiting new sites, but we also spent some time checking out our completed projects.  We got to re-raise the original SENEA wind turbine and had the opportunity to walk into the greenhouse that I had spent so many hours drafting in SketchUp.  We managed to complete everything we came to do, which was definitely an unexpected blessing – something always seems to go wrong when working in China.

After finishing our work, we were lucky (?) enough to be stranded in Jilin for another three days due to inclement weather.  I say lucky because we were taken in by some new friends and got to spend the time relaxing (the 2-hour full-body massage stands out in my mind) instead of preparing for finals like our classmates were. 

See?  Last year’s Thanksgiving was definitely something to be thankful for, and this year was as well.

It started at 6:30 when I got out of bed.  There was no water, and hadn’t been since the night before so I got ready without washing my face or brushing my teeth.  A little bit uncomfortable, but I was grateful for the time it saved me.  Also, it made me more grateful later when running water returned and I was finally able to clean up properly.

I went to daily Mass this morning for the first time.  I gave my deacon a little bit of forewarning by texting him to check the time and location of Mass, just in case they wanted to go ahead and speak Mandarin instead of Minnanhua (the local dialect that I don’t understand at all), just this once.  They did, and I was so grateful!  I was also very grateful to the the woman who handed me a daily missal, open to the correct pages, which actually gave me a fighting chance of understanding what was going on.

After Mass, I had a breakfast of bread and butter – can’t even express the feelings of gratitude that arose within me at the first bite.  I had two classes then, and was very grateful to find out that we are being given Christmas Day off.  Grammar class was also cancelled for an entire week in December, which means I am considering several travel options. 

For lunch, I got kungpao chicken delivered directly to my room, for the grand total of $1.30.  Prices like that for good food (and room service to boot) can’t help but make you grateful.  After an hour of phone calls in various languages, I was grateful to find a restaurant that could seat a group of 15 and cost less than 198 RMB (almost $30), the going price for Thanksgiving dinner at the big hotels in Xiamen. 

This afternoon, I was grateful to find two friends who wanted to play Catan with me.  Aleid won, but I was just grateful that my Chinese friend, Yong Zhi, liked the game.  Another person conquered in the quest to bring Catan to the world! 

This evening, I was most gratified to be joined by friends for Thanksgiving dinner.  There was me, Aleid and Diederik (Dutch); Kristina (Slovenia); Liz (Belgium); Carlos (Spain); Eunjeong (Korea); Justine, Virginique, and Jeremy (France); and Yong Zhi and Hu Jing (China).  We went to the Red Armadillo, a Mexican American restaurant nearby (I had been once before, with my Saudi classmates).  The night was so stunning – cool but not cold, and exceptionally clear – that we ate outside.  The atmosphere, food, and company all couldn’t have been more different than Thanksgivings at home, but I tried to connect it with tradition by going around the table and making everyone say something they were grateful for.  I started by saying that I was grateful that, even though I was so far from home and family, I was able to celebrate with friends.  Everyone else answered after me – they were grateful for the opportunity to be in China, for a dinner of Western food eaten with forks, and many of them for the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving for the first time.  (Carlos was grateful that he wasn’t last, because it became harder and harder to come up with something to say.) 

As for the actual food, it was pretty traditional.  You know, I ordered three plates of cheesy fries for the whole table and I opted for the double-decker burger for myself.  Others went for other customary choices, including pizza, quesadillas, and – of course – pizzadillas. 

DSCN5554

I was interesting celebrating Thanksgiving away from the traditions of home.  What does the holiday really boil down to?  At home, my dad and I would usually go to Mass while mom started cooking.  The rest of us got to enjoy a lazy day while she prepared dinner, and then we would sit around the huge family table and eat.  And eat.  And eat.  Anyway, after some thinking I decided that Thanksgiving is really about eating – A LOT – with people you love.  Pretty amazing idea, huh?

Actually, another interesting aspect that comes up when celebrating Thanksgiving abroad is the sharing of two cultures, especially in culinary ways.  I first realized this last year, when my American host was explaining the origins of the holiday to a Chinese friend.  The pilgrims and the Indians came together and, by sharing their food, shared more than that.  I think back to the meal of Mongolian barbecue last year, after which I brought out a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and several chocolate bars, and introduced s’mores to my Chinese friends . . . I’d like to think that meal was in this honorable tradition of that first Thanksgiving celebration.  I think this year – people from 8 countries eating Mexican food in China on an American holiday – also follows the spirit of the holiday. 

I would like to wrap up this post with a long (but certainly not all-inclusive)  list of things I’m grateful for.  Feel free to comment with your additions!

  • Today.  This is how I always start my prayers at night, thanking God for the day.  Today the blessings are more obvious than usual, but there’s always something there to be grateful for – wonderful experiences or at least opportunities to learn from things that were less than wonderful.
  • My family.  I appreciate my parents more and more each day (especially after moving away to college), for the support that they have unquestioningly given without ever being pushy.  My mother is incredibly creative and my dad has more common sense than anyone I’ve ever met.  I’m also really grateful for the opportunities I’m going to have in January to show them China in all its rough glory – I get to order their food, which is pretty much the definition of power :)  I also have a really great older brother who is, among other things, a very gifted photographer.  Plus I have a ton of cousins, aunts, uncles, and a few grandparents that are also pretty awesome.
  • My friends.  I have been very fortunate in making so many wonderful foreign friends during my first few months here.  Of course, I’ve also been blessed by the friendships from back home that have continued.  I’m always so grateful to hear from friends that I crossed their mind for some reason or another, and to know that I am missed in some way.  Even with those friends that I’ve lost contact with, I’m grateful for the things that we shared. 
  • Technology.  I’m so thankful for all the ways I have of staying in contact with the above-mentioned friends and family – email, facebook, Skype, and especially this blog.  I think my parents know more about what I’m up to than they do when I’m at home, and I know I’m in closer contact with some people because of it.  If you’re still reading, thanks for staying around for 100 posts, and I hope you’ve enjoyed them!
  • The Catholic Church.  I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had during my life and especially these last few months, to experience God’s work in my life through the institution of the Church.  While in China, I’ve seen how worship transcends language and cultural barriers, and enjoyed all the best that the Church Universal has to offer, while also witnessing the struggles of the Church Suffering.  I’ve had to examine my faith and my beliefs under different and sometimes challenging circumstances, but I’ve also received encouragement from seeing others flourish in the same situation – witnessing devotion and even a new vocation.  
  • China.  Living here is like an obstacle course, a challenge that brings out a different part of me.  I’m grateful for the situations that I’ve been put in that have pushed me to do something I thought was impossible for me.  I’m also grateful for the complexities and delights of the Chinese language, which I inexplicably find exciting, interesting, motivating, and – very often – humbling.  Of course, none of this would be true without the Chinese people, who I have largely found to possess an incredible amount of patience and a surprising affability in the face of foreigners routinely butchering their language. 
  • Health.  I certainly don’t possess the ideal body, but it’s served me pretty well.  I’m so grateful that, despite minor bouts of diarrhea and the like, I have thus far escaped serious bodily harm here in China.  (This feeling of gratitude is especially strong after successfully crossing a street.)  It’s not just on this trip – last summer, despite vehicles driving off bridges, crashing in to barbed wire, and running over feet, we all went home no worse for the wear.  Thanks be to God!
  • SENEA.  I definitely couldn’t talk about gratitude and China without mentioning SENEA (see About Me if you don’t know what this is).  From first piquing my interest in China, to offering unwavering support during culture shock on my first few trips, SENEA is the reason I’m here now.  Of course, it’s not really the organization; it’s the people.  I’m so grateful for my mentor and all my friends who were involved, for all the laughs and lessons that we shared.
  • Scholarships.  Seriously, I have been very lucky throughout my higher education in that I’ve been supported by several organizations and institutions who believe that I have the potential to do something with my life.  In addition to the donors supporting my education at TU and the Chinese government footing the bill here at XiaDa, I was fortunate enough to have the Goldwater and Udall scholarships help out with the Chinese language studies by making it possible for me to spend last summer just studying Chinese, four hours a day.  Yes, believe it or not, that was a huge blessing. 
  • Good food.  There are a lot of things I miss – good bread, plentiful cheese, lemonade, pasta, steak, mom’s mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, strawberries and raspberries, free Blue Bell ice cream, mudslide smoothies, Belgian waffles, any sort of pie or cake, ice, etc.  But I also have so much good food to choose from here, which makes it possible for me to be happy most of the time by appreciating what I have instead of what I don’t have. 
  • Simple pleasures.  I’m just going to list things here: dancing, music on my iPod, Nutella, my electronic Chinese dictionary, milk tea or anything else from Coco, hair-washing for $3, sunsets, Xiamen’s highways, sweatpants, any book I can get my hands on, thoughtful emails, getting where I want to go on a bus, text messages in Chinese that I understand, etc. 

I really need to get to bed.  Right now I am trying very hard to be grateful for the opportunity I have to compete in the 100-meter dash.  Tomorrow morning.  At 8 a.m.  Think grateful thoughts . . . grateful thoughts . . .

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and All That

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I thought yesterday was nice, but then I saw today.  Even warmer, even sunnier, even more amazingly beautiful. 

My Chinese friend Joyce stood me up again, so I just enjoyed the walk across campus to get lunch.  I took my pork, potato, and rice back across campus to the lake, the better to enjoy the beautiful day.  I sat on the small island in the lake, basking in the sun and eating my lunch. 

I was planning on a quiet lunch, but instead a series of interesting people paraded by.  There were a lot of people sharing the island with me, alternately studying, sleeping, and taking tons of pictures.  Then some tourists came over to ask how to get to the stop for the #1 bus and I eavesdropped on that conversation.  “But if the West Gate is there, then that should be the North Gate!” – I’m with ya, bro.  It did make me feel like a native, though, because I long since ceased being confused by the fact that the Nanputuo (‘nan’ meaning ‘south’) gate is on the north side of campus. 

Then a woman sitting nearby got up and began doing some exercises.  The girls studying by me were interested in what she was doing, which resulted in us all being treated to a lecture about the importance of health and how this one exercise was more useful than any kind of medicine. 

This evening I went dancing.  It was fun; we did a cha-cha line dance and one of the women found it hilarious to rub her butt against mine when it came to that part of the dance.  She was right – it was hilarious.  As I was leaving, I took the opportunity to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving (祝你感恩节快乐) for tomorrow, to which they unanimously responded, “Merry Christmas!” (祝你圣诞节快乐).  Close enough, right?

The rest of my evening was spent studying Chinese and planning for Thanksgiving tomorrow.  It’s going to be big; you have no idea.  While you wait with joyful anticipation for tomorrow’s post (seriously, it’s going to be an event), here are some China-related news articles.

First, more executions over last summer’s tainted milk scandal.  I was upset as anyone to hear that my beloved MengNiu yogurt company put melamine in their products, but I find it hard to believe that they’re executing those responsible.  We have scandals like this, don’t we?  What do we do with them?

Then, a retired bishop in Hong Kong published a guide to the Pope’s letter to the Church in China, which was released a few years ago.  The main thing I found interesting was the final paragraph (emphasis mine):

Cardinal Zen said that spiritual reconciliation between underground and government-approved Church communities and a structural merger of the two groups are separate issues which should not be confused.

Tomorrow’s going to start very early (really, get excited!) so I should probably finish up and go to bed. 

Sunny With a High of 75

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Today was 75 and sunny – isn’t that pretty much the definition of perfect?  In between classes this morning, I went out with some friends to soak up the sun, which we hadn’t seen in over a week.  Glorious! 

This evening I went to watch the sunset – stunning, as expected on such a day – and then to one of my favorite restaurants for dinner.  I asked for a recommendation of a new dish to try and, in agreement, ordered the 黑椒牛肉.  While I waited for my food, I wondered what kind of pepper this was in the dish – literally, “black pepper”.  It turned out to be . . . black pepper.  Yeah, I’m still feeling stupid over that one.

I went to dance class afterwards, where I learned a rhumba routine, danced cha-cha to the Backstreet Boys, made a new Chinese friend, learned her name, and promptly forgot it.  Pretty much a routine evening here.

Now I’m working on Chinese vocabulary and finishing up the first season of The Big Bang Theory, which I [very happily] just discovered. 

A Case of the Mondays

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2009 at 9:34 pm

I got home pretty late, so I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I don’t have class on Mondays until 2:40 in the afternoon.  How amazing is that??

The week ahead looks like spring – it’s supposed to stay above 20°C and there are reports of sunshine in store for us on Thursday!  I celebrated the wonderful weather by taking a walk through campus to the West Gate for lunch.  After some 肉丝炒饭 (fried rice with shredded pork), I decided to start seriously looking into my Thanksgiving options.  First step: find turkey!  I asked the boss of one of my favorite restaurants if they had huǒ jī and was a little confused when they started fishing around in a drawer and asking if I just wanted to use it there.  That was when I realized that huǒ jī has two meanings: 火鸡 (turkey) and 火机 (lighter).  Same syllables, same tones . . . awesome.  Good thing I knew the characters, because I was able to write it down for clarification.  It was a bust anyway – they didn’t have any and may have even said there is no turkey in all of China.  (While I know that’s not true, it doesn’t bode well for finding any on this small island). 

The walk back was also interesting.  There’s a roundabout near West Gate that used to have a huge rock sculpture.  It wasn’t until we saw them demolishing it last week that we realized that it was actually made of chicken wire and plaster.  Anyway, there’s now a huge hole in the ground with a pile of bricks next to it and several masons inside, building a circular wall.  It reminds me so much of my biogas digester!  I stopped to talk to the workers for a little while and they said they’re making a pond.  I think . . .

A lot of other projects on campus are progressing as well.  There’s a huge science and art center that looked about done when I got here three months ago, but the just now demolished the wall that had been surrounding it.  They use so much more concrete here; it’s really ridiculous.  I think most of the buildings are concrete instead of wood or steel, and instead of using a fence to keep the construction site secure they built a 5-foot-high concrete wall.  Anyway, hopefully the center will open soon and I’ll get to see what they’ve been working on for so long.

They’re also in the process of painting the trees.  I don’t know why they do it, but they paint the tree trunks white up to chest height.  I touched one and the ‘paint’ was still wet, but it brushed off like chalk after a few seconds.  I wonder what will happen after the first rain??

Class this afternoon was hard and then my Chinese friend stood me up on our dinner plans.  My plan for such days worked perfectly, though – I got my hair washed at my favorite place and walked back across campus, hair blowing in the wind, listening to my iPod.  Back in my dorm, I finished watching Akeelah and the Bee and ate a bar of Hershey’s chocolate from back home.  If there’s a problem in China that can’t be fixed by the aforementioned measures, I haven’t found it yet. 

I’m feeling like watching another movie – I don’t feel guilty if it has Chinese subtitles :)

Dinner and a Movie

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2009 at 1:45 am

I spent this morning studying Chinese and working on my journal.  I finally got some pictures from Aleid, so I’ve added pictures of the first amazing meal that Jimmy cooked for us as well as our day on the boat

On the Chinese front: this language is ridiculous.  Seriously.  Way back when I started studying Chinese (this June), I remember being flabbergasted at how similar two characters could look.  I always got 报 and 服 mixed up, and when reading quickly I couldn’t tell 我 and 找 apart.  By now, the differences are pretty clear and, in the first case, I can’t see how I ever had trouble with them. 

Now I’m on to new problems, though.  For instance, I just yesterday realized that 人 and 入 are different characters.  I’m kind of embarrassed to say this because entrance signs say 入口 and I always thought they said 人口.  Yes, I thought it was a little bit confusing that the words for “entrance” and “population” were the same, but who am I to argue with this ancient language? 

The other two sets of characters I’m struggling with right now are 未 & 末 and 土 & 士.  (Hint: if you look really carefully, the parallel lines are different lengths.)  They’re pronounced totally differently, and – lucky for me – are all used as phonetic components of characters. 

I think it would have been helpful if, in my beginning Chinese class, my teacher had taken the time to point out common mistakes when writing characters.  I know the English alphabet – all 26 letters – pretty well, so I know when it’s okay to make a line a little longer or add a hook at the end without intrinsically changing the letter.  For instance, you can do a lot with the tail of a ‘g’ but you can’t turn it the other way, because then it’s a ‘q’.  With Chinese, though, I have almost no sense of this.  I didn’t even know until I got my mid-term back here that 未 & 末 were different!  I’m sure there are a lot of subtle differences I haven’t picked up on yet, too . . . maybe I’ll just stick to typing. 

This evening, I had the most wonderful time.  It started with a dinner of hot pot – all sorts of meats, vegetables, noodles, eggs, etc. cooked in spicy broth.  All you can eat, all you can drink; my beverage of choice was glass bottles of Coke!  Even better than the food, though, was the conversation.  We talked about all sorts of things – the foods we don’t eat, something about Humpty Dumpty that I didn’t entirely understand, traditions surrounding losing baby teeth, and the sounds that animals make.  Some things just sound hilarious in Chinese, like Carlos explaining the Spanish tradition of the tooth mouse: 不是一般的老鼠,是个特别的老鼠!  (It’s not an ordinary mouse, it’s a special mouse!) 

We followed that up with a trip to the movie theater, which was a Chinese first for most of us.  We went to see 2012, which I don’t think anyone but Carlos was actually excited about seeing.  It was surprisingly good though – the disaster stuff was a little tired but the musings on what constitutes humanity and what deserves to be saved were interesting.  In the end, the human race consisted of those rich enough to buy tickets and the Chinese welders who built the arks, so I think I would like to see a sequel about life in 2020 or so. 

The whole experience of a Chinese movie theater was also interesting.  The movie was left in English with Chinese subtitles.  I tried to read along and understood a lot of it, but because I’m not exactly a speed-reader in Chinese, I missed the end of a lot of sentences.  I was grateful that I could even read a little bit because there were a few times in the movie when the spoken language was not English.  Surprisingly, when the actors were speaking French I understood more of the subtitles than the dialogue. 

As soon as the movie was obviously winding down – maybe 4 minutes to go before the credits started – people began leaving.  As soon as the final frame came up, a large title appeared saying something about the Chinese public movie company and as the credits rolled, they played cheesy Chinese muzak.  Until then, though, it was almost possible to forget you were in China.

We had to taxi home as it was 1 a.m. when we got out, but even with taxi fare it was a cheap night out by American standards.  Buffet dinner and a night showing of a new movie . . . 70 kuai, or $10.  (It sounds better that way, using American currency, instead of equating it to two normal days’ worth of food.)

Christ the King

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Yesterday, being the last Sunday in the Church year, was the feast of Christ the King.  It also happens to be the feast day of the church here on Gulangyu, so all the Masses were held on that island this week.  It was my first time on Gulangyu at night, which was kind of cool.  Frankly, though, I think Gulangyu is overhyped.  It’s touted as this serene, peaceful island getaway . . . but honestly, so is Xiamen!  Compared to any other city I’ve been to in China (so . . . Yanji and Ningde) Xiamen is already so quiet by comparison that anything more just isn’t necessary.  You’re already on a small quiet island!  I don’t know how anyone could think Xiamen is so noisy and chaotic and 热闹 that they need to escape to a smaller, quieter island.   

Anyway, my church – pristine, classic white during the day – is lit up by lights that are continually changing color.  It’s like Disney World: St. Peter’s Basilica or something. 

I got there almost a half hour early, which ended up being a very good thing.  The Saturday night Chinese Mass crowd is the largest, and Christ the King is the smaller of the churches.  I managed to find a pew and took some time to preview the day’s readings while the Chinese prayed.  I really think they were praying the rosary (the rosaries in hand were a good clue) but the sounds they make do not even remotely match the words I learned.  Maybe they’re praying in Minnanhua?  There was also a steady stream of people goi to confession, right up until 7. 

When Mass started, I was surprised to see a very crowded altar.  In addition to Father Dominic, Deacon Joseph (soon to be ordained) and the two usual altar boys, there were another three priests concelebrating.  It was really nice because it gave me a sense of being a part of something larger than just the Xiamen Catholic community in China.  I mean, theoretically we’re a part of a diocese, but I don’t know anything about it. 

Another bonus of this was that the main celebrant spoke very clearly.  He gave an extra-long homily, so even after taking time to go over the readings in English, I had time to listen to him.  I understood a fair amount – more and more each time!  When I listen to a Chinese homily, half of the things I notice are actual content (“We should put Christ as king of our lives”) and the other half is grammar (“Hey, he used the 把 structure to say that!”). 

I took the ferry back to Xiamen and then a bus back to campus to go dancing.  There were very few people there but I danced almost every dance and had a really good time.  I can tell that the other people are slowly opening up to me – each time, someone new asks my name, dances with me, starts a conversation, asks where I got my dress and how much I paid for it, etc. 

After that dancing was over, Leinira and I went out to The Key for more, meeting a lot of friends from XiaDa there.  A day that ends with that much dancing, plus street food at midnight – wonderful.