Maria Holland

Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

我赢了! (I Won!)

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2009 at 12:48 am

I love keeping a journal.  I really appreciate the time spent each day, reflecting on the events that took place and putting my thoughts into words.  I also like the opportunities to look back at the events and thoughts of previous days, and considering them in light of the present.  For instance, the near-crisis I went through a few weeks ago about my problems with Chinese men, my Chinese class, and the Church in China – looking back at how large those worries seemed and how well they’ve been resolved gives me confidence for future such situations.  Despite the stalking episode with Smelly Man, my encounters with Chinese men recently have been more good than bad.  I was not only able to go to church during my weekend trip, but also had the opportunity to share a meal and conversation with the priest afterwards. 

And, I am so happy with my decision to change classes.  Before, Listening class was the bane of my existence, but now it is my favorite class.  The teacher is really good and the pace of the class is such that I can barely keep up.  It’s never hard enough or fast enough that I despair, but I really can’t slack off for a minute or I’ll fall behind.  It’s very motivating, and I always have a sense of accomplishment after answering so many questions and, usually, learning so many new words.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that, yes, I would still be writing this even if you weren’t reading it :)

Today was a glorious day.  It was even warmer than yesterday – we got up to 20°C! – and I even ordered my honey milk tea 冰的 (iced) instead of 温的 (warm) like I have been the last few days.  After a delicious lunch of fried dumplings, I went shopping with some friends at Wal-Mart.  None of them had been before, so I got to witness the joy on their faces when they caught sight of some products that they hadn’t seen in a while – upon seeing barbecue sauce, Carlos looked like a small child on Christmas morning; it was a little bit ridiculous.

We had made plans to make this afternoon game time, but those fell through pretty miserably.  Our meeting time got pushed back to 4:30, then 5:15, then 5:45 . . . by the time we got to Aleid’s apartment it was past 6, and they chose that time to tell us that they had to leave at 7.  Aleid and I still wanted to play, but you need 3 people to play Catan – 怎么办 (What to do)?  I ended up calling a Korean friend of mine, Eunjeong, and she came over to play.  This was even better, actually, because this forced us to use Chinese. 

Teaching someone to play Catan in Chinese was another item on my bucket list – check that one off, baby!  I went through all the rules in Chinese and somehow they understood.  I learned a few new words in the process – brick (砖), robber (强盗), wheat (小麦) – and used a bunch of words that I’d never actually spoken in conversation before.  It was so much fun (as playing Catan usually is) and several times my laughter brought me to tears. 


I won, but would have had a wonderful time either way. 

Buy One, Get One – Tempting in Any Language

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I barely stayed awake through class today, but the day got better from there.  I had lunch with friends, and realized how much I’m going to miss Chinese food when I go home.  It’s not just cheap, it’s delicious.  西红柿炒蛋 (fried egg and tomato), 地三鲜 (eggplant, tomato, and peppers) – how I love you.

Afterwards, I walked around with a friend getting some errands done.  Then, as was walking home listening to a Chinese song on my iPod, I had one of those moments where I really realize for a second that I live in China.  Sometimes this realization causes surprise, but today it just brought a smile to my face. 

It might have been the weather – almost 20°C – which caused me to shed several layers between West Gate and home. 

It might have been the quickly approaching weekend and the plans that we have. 

Or, you know, it might have been the shot of brandy warming me from within.  See, my milk tea place was having a 买一送一 (buy one, get one) promotion on their new drink, brandy hot chocolate, and my friend and I decided to try it.  We paid attention while they made it and clearly saw them pour about a shot worth of brandy into the cup.  It was really delicious – much better than brandy milk tea, definitely.

This evening I ended up eating with an American friend of mine.  It turned out that he was the infamous tattle-tale, so of course we discussed the cheating controversy.  I’m still quite surprised by this very significant (at least in my mind) difference between Americans and . . . everyone else?  I especially wonder about the line between cheating on tests and plagiarism (if there is one) and the adjustment that foreign students undergo (or don’t) when beginning their studies in America. 

Afterwards, I bought myself a warm milk tea – without hard liquor, this time – and went for a walk around the lake.  It was beautiful and peaceful and totally wonderful.  I had some time alone with my thoughts and then proceeded to Chinese Corner.  I talked with a nice guy, Oliver, and various other foreigners for almost two hours.  Times like that remind me of why I am interested in learning Chinese – just to talk to Chinese people. 

Obama and the Pope Talk To China

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2009 at 12:11 am

I usually try to schedule my adventuring, especially culinary, a certain time after waking.  I’ll eat pretty much anything – just after noon.  This morning, however, I got started early.  I met two friends at 7 for breakfast in the cafeteria – the first time for all of us.  I had some scrambled eggs (cold), potatoes (freaking delicious), baozi (quite good), 油条 (literally, “oil sticks” – kind of like unsweetened straight donuts?), some sweet cake (nice and dense), and a yogurt drink.  It was not bad!

This evening, a Chinese friend 请我吃饭 (invited me out to dinner) for the first time.  This was the friend whose personal statement I revised, so this was her way of saying thank you.  We ate a Korean restaurant and I got the chance to talk to her and her boyfriend.  The most surprising revelation of the night was when I told her I go to school in Oklahoma.  First, she said that she knew of a city named Tulsa (from a Friends episode apparently?) and then she said she also knew there was a song with the same name.  This is exactly two more facts than any other Chinese person I’ve met (three, if you count the fact that she knew it was a state), so I was quite impressed.

I went dancing this evening.  I had a wonderful time, but the evening didn’t really end well.  Karolina, Lester, and I were hanging out talking to one of the women afterwards, and I noticed that Smelly Man was hanging around – not talking, just watching us.  Smelly Man is perhaps my least favorite person in China; In addition to having no sense of rhythm when dancing, he smells like an old cigarette, which is how he got the name.  I purposefully waited for Karolina so we could walk back together, and we went a different direction when we saw that he was walking ahead of us along our usual route.  Later, those paths intersected and we again went another way, going into a supermarket to do some shopping.  After about 20 minutes of shopping, I figured he had left . . . Then, Karolina and I were parting ways – me headed the 20 yards to my dorm and her the several-minute walk along poorly-lit streets – and I saw him again, just yards ahead of her.  I called out to her and asked her to come with me because I had something to show her; she was confused but she came.  When I told her I had seen him, she was really thankful, though!  We looked over at him together and he saw us looking, but I don’t care.  I’m not sure that really feared physical danger, but it was absolutely, definitely 奇怪 – strange.

I know I can buy brass knuckles at the mall, but I’d settle for some mace.


Anyway, on a much lighter note: President Obama just finished up his first trip to China, and I’ve been reading some articles about it.  It sounds like a lot of the trip was the usual canned Chinese stuff, but I found this bit on the Shanghai “town hall” forum interesting and even moving:

At the Shanghai forum, Mr. Obama was asked only one question — “Should we be able to use Twitter freely?” — that delved into an area the Chinese government considers controversial.

His cautious answer stood out as a sign that he hopes to reach China’s youth without offending its increasingly influential leaders. He delivered an oblique critique of China’s rigid controls and restrictions on the Internet and free speech without mentioning that China practices online censorship as a matter of policy.

“I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me,” he said. But, he added, “I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger, and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear.”

That snippet, at least initially, captured the attention of Chinese netizens. It was a topic of discussion on Web sites for a couple of hours after Mr. Obama spoke, before being deleted or removed from prominent positions. According to several Web snapshots in the hours after the meeting, “What’s Twitter?” and “Obama Shanghai” shot up to the list of Top 10 Chinese Google searches.

“I will not forget this morning,” one Chinese Twitter user posted on the Web site China Digital Times. “I heard, on my shaky Internet connection, a question about our own freedom which only a foreign leader can discuss.”

Another article I read today was about a newly-released letter from the Vatican’s Secretary of State to the Church in China.  I read the full text of the letter, and really appreciated it.  Right now I feel like I am definitely a part of the Church in China and the words really resonated with my experiences here, especially concerning the Eucharist as the source of communion with the Church throughout the world:

The Eucharist, sacrament of communion, source and summit of ecclesial life and evangelisation, is at the centre of your journey of reconciliation. The Eucharist, even if celebrated in a particular community, is never the celebration of that community alone. A truly Eucharistic community cannot retreat into itself, as though it were self-sufficient, but it must stay in communion with every other catholic community. In fact, every celebration of the Eucharist presupposes the union not only with the local Bishop but also with the Pope, the order of Bishops, all the clergy and the entire People of God.

The article referenced several times the letter that Pope Benedict wrote to the Church in China two years ago.  I remember reading it before my second trip to China, but I decided to go back and take another look.  Again, I interpreted it very differently because I identify so much more with the people to whom the letter was addressed.

One of the most interesting things for me was the establishment of May 24th as an international day of prayer for the Church in China.  I remembered the date (as it happened to coincide with my first day in China last summer), but not the reason.  Apparently that day is the “memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Marian Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai.”  The name Sheshan sounded familiar and sure enough, it is the pilgrimage site that I will be going to in Shanghai when I go with my church next month.  A little looking on Wikipedia told me more: it is, among other things, the largest Christian church building in East Asia, and the only active pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics in China.  Sweet!

Anyway, if you would like to read the entire letter, I would encourage you to do so.  It is kind of long, though, so I’ve selected some of my favorite parts – just click below (the Comment and Read More button).

Read the rest of this entry »

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

In Uncategorized on November 17, 2009 at 11:20 pm

It’s so freaking cold here.  Most of my life has been a stepwise journey south (Minnesota to Oklahoma to Xiamen), but it hasn’t really been turning out like one would imagine.  In Tulsa, I always got asked if I liked the winters down there, but to be honest – Tulsa winters have their own kind of miserable.  I’m namely thinking of the annual ice storms that have resulted in inconveniences of various degrees – delayed flights, bad road conditions, power outages over a third of the state, etc.  Tulsa, being the southern city that it is, isn’t equipped to deal with winter in the same way that Minnesota is.  Yes, Minnesota can get freaking cold, but the lifestyle up there takes that as a given.  Houses are built to be comfortable no matter how cold it gets, and activities are structured to limit the amount of time spent outside.

I noticed an interesting phenomenon a few weeks ago when we were studying comparisons in class.  One of the comparisons was between winters in Beijing (in the north) and Shanghai (further south).  Obviously the weather in Beijing is colder than in Shanghai, but the correct answer is 北京的冬天没有伤害那么冷 (Beijing’s winters aren’t as cold as Shanghai’s).  The reason for this is because buildings in Beijing have heating systems, which Shanghai generally lacks.  It’s interesting, because this jives more with my experience – that factors other than temperature determine how comfortable a place’s climate is perceived to be – but I don’t think that most Americans think this way.  Am I right?

Anyway, the reason I’ve been thinking about this is because Xiamen, a tropical island, does not have heating capabilities in its buildings.  Today was around 15°C but all my Celsius-saavy European friends agreed with me that it felt more like 10.  Luckily, my room is still pleasantly warm but my couple hours of class were not pleasant.  The good news is that we’re supposed to get back up in the mid-twenties later this week, and – in the long term – this winter only lasts until February. 

The cold weather has been making me very nostalgic.  I’ve spent the last few summers in various places, even abroad, but around this time of year, and with this weather setting in, I’m usually wrapping up the semester and getting ready to head home for Christmas break. 

I’ve realized since being here in China that while I’m quite okay with spending time alone, I absolutely hate to eat by myself.  At TU, the only time this happens is self-imposed for productivity or a clear indicator of a bad day when no one’s around.  Here, because my roommate is always working, this is the norm.  I’m just not used to having to call or text someone before every meal to have a dining partner.

But, every now and then I luck out.  I walked to West Gate this evening headed for dinner, and happened to run into some of my former classmates from Saudi Arabia, LiDe and Mahmod.  I stopped to talk to them – they asked how my new class was going and I asked where they were headed.  Turns out they were on their way to dinner at an American restaurant, and they immediately asked if I would like to go.  We took a taxi to The Red Armadillo on the seashore, where we enjoyed a meal and conversation.  My burrito wasn’t amazing (because Mahmoud accidentally ordered one with pork and I traded with him), but the cheese fries were to die for.  They 请客-ed (treated me) so I owe them one.  They told me that Xiamen has a Papa John’s (!) so maybe we’ll go there sometime. 

Speak No Evil

In Uncategorized on November 17, 2009 at 1:00 am

This morning I went over to meet with one of the dancing men and give him some American music.  Unfortunately, the only song he ended up copying to his computer was “Midnight to Moonlight” (thanks Dad!), because all the music I brought is “not clear enough”, covering the beats sometimes.  I’m still really glad I went, though, because I got to talk to him about music and dancing.  Also, apparently he goes dancing somewhere on Monday nights and offered to take us sometime . . .

This evening I forced myself to go out for dinner; the weather is still cold and rainy and it is entirely too easy to stay inside.  I went to Baicheng (the gate nearest to my dorm) and got on the first bus that came by.  As I was wondering what exciting places it would take me to, I realized it was pulling into Nanputuo – its terminus.  I had just paid 1 kuai for a ride around my campus . . . fail.  I tried again, ending up somewhere (still haven’t figured out exactly where) where I ate some delicious Sichuan iron-skillet beef.

While I was walking around looking for the nearest bus stop, I saw something that struck me as very odd.  After thinking about it for a second, it struck me as odd that it struck me as odd.  What was it?  A Hummer.  I mean, it seems like a quarter of TU students own them, but I certainly had not seen one since coming to China.  It looked so ridiculously large, but then again, most personal cars do, now!  I’ve definitely become accustomed to my living situation here in China, and when I remember that I – at 20 years of age – purchased my very own car, it seems downright crazy.  Then again, the idea of public transportation that can get me anywhere on my island for 14 cents a pop seems crazy when you’re living in America . . .

On the way back from a trip that featured a complete lack of interactions in Chinese, the bus driver started talking to me.  The first couple questions are always easy to handle; even if I don’t catch a single word, I usually just answer “America”, assuming that they asked where I’m from.

Unfortunately, beyond the cursory introductions I didn’t catch much.  I know that we talked about black people (although I don’t know why he brought it up) and managed to agree that Obama is China right now.  That was about it . . . Unfortunately, while everyday Chinese people are very interesting to me and, generally, interested in me, it’s very difficult for me to talk to them.  Between dialects and accents, I just 听不懂 (listen but don’t understand).

I know I’ve already expressed my unhappiness over the weather, but it’s seriously cramping my style.  I had been excited about the Leonides meteor shower for over a week now, but it’s just not happening.  It was supposed to be really big this year, especially in Asia, and I just happen to live by a beach . . . but the sky is totally covered in clouds.  So. Lame.

There is some silver lining in my cloudy day, though.  I emailed Deacon Joseph and heard back from about the trip to Shanghai for his ordination – I can go!!  They’re leaving on Thursday the 3rd, doing some pilgrimage to some mountain on Friday the 4th and coming back on Saturday the 5th after the ordination.  I’m going to try to stay a few more days to make the trip more worth my time and money, and I’m really excited about it all!

I’m up too late tonight.  I’m still trying to fill in the gaps in my vocabulary created when I skipped ahead a semester, which is taking quite a bit of time – we’re talking probably 500 words here!  It’s an interesting position to be in, though, looking back at such a large selection of vocabulary to study on my own.  There are some words that are definitely important and I need to learn, but there are also a lot of very specialized words that were probably quizzed on once and certainly won’t be on the final.

So, basically, I get to pick and choose.  This is such a unique opportunity!  I am literally creating my own vocabulary, choosing the words I will be able to use when interacting with Chinese people.  If I’m not interested in a word and don’t think it’s worth my time, I don’t have to learn it.  If I don’t want to get into a conversation about a certain topic, I can facilitate that by willfully not knowing the applicable vocabulary.  It’s certainly harder to do this in your native tongue, but I’m enjoying this opportunity to control my tongue.  Language is so powerful!

Am I Insane or Just ‘Not Quite Right’?

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Einstein once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  I don’t think I’m insane – I often do the same thing over and over because I want the same results.  But in China this logical, cause-and-effect, linear thinking is actually completely insane.  I don’t know how to get consistent results in China, but the surest way to get different results is to attempt to duplicate exactly a previous chain of events.

I have so many examples of this in China, many of them involving public transportation.  I remember trying to catch the bus out at the farm to go into town – some days it would pick us up before turning around, while other days it turned around and picked us up on the other side of the street.  We never figured out the pattern (assuming there was one), so we would just pick a side and stand ready to run across the road if we were wrong.  Same bus + same bus stop + same time = different bus stop.

I had another experience today.  I’ve been to Gulangyu (the small island off my island) at least 5 times now.  It’s pretty easy to take the ferry there and, after the first time, I’ve even been able to find my way to my church without too much difficulty. 

But recently I’ve been going to church on the big island and so it had been a while since I’d been to Gulangyu.  I got off the ferry and didn’t recognize a darned thing, but when you’re as directionally challenged as me it’s really not a foreign experience.  I wandered for a while, convinced that it was “around here somewhere”, and even asked for directions.  I actually do mean “asked” for directions as opposed to “got” directions, because the people I approached tended to look at me like I was wearing a hockey mask and carrying a chain saw before averting their gaze and quickening their pace. 

Anyway, after about 20 minutes of walking without seeing a single thing that looked familiar, I spotted the ferry quay and “known territory”.  That’s when I realized – the reason I felt like I’d never seen any of this before was because I’d never seen any of it before!  For some reason, the ferry docked at the OTHER ferry quay this morning.  First of all, I didn’t know there was a second ferry quay, but even if I had, I would not have expected to end up there after boarding the same ferry as always, leaving from the same quay on Xiamen.  Man, China always gets me right when I least expect it. 

I was feeling sick of China and the ever-present 麻烦 (hassle) of living here when I got to Mass.  Then I realized I’d also gotten the time wrong and was a half hour early (missing a half hour of sleep).  And then I didn’t understand any of the readings, which felt like a big step back.  BUT my mood was totally lifted at the end of Mass during the announcements (which I even mostly understood). 

First of all, next week is Christ the King, which is the feast day of the Gulangyu church.  Secondly, something I didn’t catch (and hope wasn’t important).  Thirdly, Deacon Joseph is getting ordained next month!!!  I’m really really excited about this.  I love the idea of people finding and pursuing their vocations – hence I’m pretty enthusiastic about weddings, babies, joining religious orders, and things like that.  Also, I very selfishly hope that he starts to say more of the Masses (in both English and Chinese) because he is much easier to understand in both languages than the current priest.  Father Dominic is older, doesn’t speak clearly, and has an annoying tendency to cough and clear his throat directly into the microphone (which is, of course, the only sound the microphone actually amplifies).  I’m also strongly considering trying to go to Shanghai for his ordination (if they’ll allow foreigners, that is).  If I can’t make it to that, though, I’m hoping to be at his First Mass, which is going to be at his hometown church, supposedly close to Xiamen. 

I had a very awkward exchange after Mass.  Awkward moments are best when shared with others, accompanied by laughter, so I hope you enjoy:
A Chinese guy comes up to me and asks “Excuse me, do you have time?”  Thinking myself very clever, I translate this back to Chinese in my mind: 你有空吗, or “Do you have free time?”  I laugh awkwardly and say “Maybe . . .”.  He stands there looking at me awkwardly for a few seconds before asking again, “What time is it?”  Oh . . . I answer “9:20” and awkwardly walk away. 

I was hungry after Mass, so I took a bus back to the West Gate area to look for food.  It was too early for most restaurants to be open, so I ended up at a KFC.  The perfect description of this situation is NQR, or ‘Not Quite Right’.  It’s a term coined by some of the people I lived with in China last summer, used to describe things that are clearly based on American or Western things, but are just a little bit (or sometimes, a lot) ‘off’.  Let me detail these differences:

  • While KFC does share the name and Colonel Sanders mascot of an American restaurant, the similarities don’t go much further.  In America, KFC stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken.  In China, KFC’s menu mainly consists of shrimp products.  It’s okay, though, because the Chinese name – 肯德基 – doesn’t contain anything that would give a false impression of chicken being sold.  It’s just foreigners with expectations who get confused.
  • In America, KFC is exclusively a lunch-and-dinner restaurant, and is usually open from 11 to 9 or so.  In China, KFC is similar to McDonald’s and is usually open 6-11 or even 24/7.  I could tell I was assimilating this knowledge because my first thought upon seeing that most restaurants were closed was “well, there’s always KFC”.
  • As opposed to KFC’s long hours, the donut shop next door hadn’t opened yet; I think they start selling donuts around 11. 
  • When I went to buy a drink at Coco, my favorite milktea place, I saw an advertisement for a new flavor.  Brandy milk tea?  ‘Well,’ I though to myself, ‘I’m sure it’s not real brandy.”  I ordered some and am now pretty sure that it was, indeed, real brandy. 

Thus, at 10 o’clock in the morning, I found myself eating KFC, drinking brandy milktea, and wishing the donut shop would open already so I could buy one.  Totally NQR.

I went to dance class but bailed out early because of ominous rumblings in my stomach – I blame KFC.  While sitting at home drinking yogurt and eating crackers, I had an interesting experience on QQ (Chinese IM).  Somebody posted a video making fun of the 2004 election in a student group that I’m a member of.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do about it, but I ended up replying that I was an American and I thought it was rude.  I think it bothered me especially because this student group has made extra effort to recruit foreigners, but I don’t find that behavior very welcoming.  Anyway, it’s very easy to post things like that on the internet, and I decided to take advantage of the fact that it was equally easy for me to reply and do something about it. 

He apologized, so it’s okay.  I’m fine with people having opinions about other countries, including mine – even negative.  But when talking about it, I would like two things: 1) the ability to respond, and 2) an understanding that citizens are not synonymous with their countries.

Barbecue on a Boat

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2009 at 1:06 am

I was feeling very lame when I wrote that last post, if you couldn’t tell.  It’s just that in Tulsa, the weekend usually started at 11:50 when 11 o’clock classes got out, which meant Friday afternoons were very much a part of the weekend.  I would go to Mass and lunch with friends and then we’d usually play board games for a few hours.  Here, though, due to a combination of some people’s afternoon classes and my roommate working until ridiculous hours of the evening (9 or 10), the weekend really doesn’t start until 11 at night or so.  Spending Friday afternoons in my room, especially studying, is an act of desperate times in Tulsa, but is the norm here.  It really made me miss my friends and our usual activities. 

I tried to duplicate it somewhat, trying to get a group together to play Settlers of Catan, but I tried too late and everyone already had plans or was in for the night.  Everyone was really interested, though, so we’re going to try another time.  In fact, I suggested Friday afternoons and everyone seemed pretty agreeable, so I think we might start doing that.  Lunch (probably everyone’s favorite malatang place), then board games and cards until dinner, made by Jimmy (which, lucky for us, he has agreed to do every Friday)! 

Anyway, Leinira and I went out to the Key around 10, which is relatively early for us.  I have been insanely hungry these last few days (weather? emotions?  I don’t know) so by midnight I was insisting that we get something to eat.  At the end of the row of bars, there’s a street that’s always filled with little food vendors.  Every time, as we drive by in the taxi on our way home, I say that we need to eat there sometime – well, that time had finally come.  At the barbeque place I got a slice of mantou (puffy rice bread) and two lamb sticks grilled for me, and at the next place I got a . . . breakfast burrito?  Okay, I wasn’t quite that lucky, but it was pretty close.  It was a fried egg, shredded potatoes, and some slightly spicy bean sprouts wrapped in a tortilla-like flat thing.  It was midnight, I was ravenous, and everything was insanely delicious.  Those of you who are familiar with my previous trips to China may find this hard to believe, but this was the first lamb I’ve eaten here, and my knees literally felt weak as by mouth registered the flavor.   

I spent today with friends on a boat.  A few of my friends had organized everything – renting a boat and taking care of the food – and it was really nice to just give them my money and show up.  The weather was not ideal (high of 20°C, or 68 F), but it could have been worse (raining).  Our boat consisted of a big flat wooden area with a table and a small barbecue, with a small room for our driver and a roof over about half of the boat.  The 20 of us took up about half of the room, and the other half was occupied by the insane amount of food and drinks that we brought. 

Aleid - 1042

Our driver took us over to XiaDa, around Gulangyu, and over to Jimen (the mainland), but my camera batteries were dead so I don’t have any pictures yet.  It’s a more accurate reflection of my experience, though, to have no pictures, because I can’t say that I saw much. 

Kristina - 1686

Jimmy started barbecuing right away so we spent most of the trip seating around the table, eyes only on the food.  We had pretty much every kind of meat and a lot of vegetables on the barbecue, as well as salad, potatoes, a ridiculous amount of bread (which we finished), fruit, cookies, and various drinks – juice, pop, beer, and wine with a label that proclaimed it was made “from the best grapes in the world”.  Wow!!

Kristina - 1689

It was pretty cold out there, especially when we were moving and the wind was blowing, but I still had a great time.  There were 2 of us Americans, 4 Dutch, 2 Swedes, and one person each from Belgium, Thailand, Israel, Taiwan, Spain, Austria, Kazakhstan, Canada, Slovenia, and France. 

Aleid - 1060

I didn’t know about half of the people, so I got to make some new friends and even have an incredibly geeky conversation about the metric system with one of them.  Other conversations included comparing American Sign Language with other sign languages, and teaching them my awesome hand symbols for “WOW MOM, that’s COOL!” (see below for the first step).  It was a big hit. 

Maria - 2939

Another interesting aspect of our time on the boat was observing two of my friends and two mysterious girls who were along with us.  I think they have girlfriends!  They are the first of my friends to get Chinese (or Taiwanese, I guess) girlfriends, so I’m very curious to watch their interactions. 

We got back just in time to go to the Thai festival, which was put on by XiaDa’s Thai students in honor of Loi Krathong.  It’s an important holiday in Thailand that involves floating small lanterns, which symbolize letting go of past things and starting life afresh.  The festival included some Thai performances (singing, dancing, and martial arts) as well as a full-blown beauty contest with 美女 (beautiful girls) from various countries.  Afterwards, we set lanterns afloat on a small portable pond that had been filled that day, making a wish as we did so.

Aleid - 1065

One of my favorite parts about the festival was seeing my Thai friends.  They are some of the nicest people I’ve met here, and seem so concerned at all times about my happiness and well-being.  It’s really a good example of how I would like to be!  I should say, though, that it’s not just the Thais who have won my heart.  I haven’t really had any bad experiences besides some creepy Chinese men and one Swede who was very rude when we met (but redeemed himself today).  I’ve never really cared much for ‘countries’, which are such an abstract concept, but meeting people has often changed that.  For instance, I totally can’t wait to go to Cape Verde some day to see my 姐姐 (older sister), Leinira.  All my new friends are giving me the travel bug in a bad way . . .

I tried to go dancing after the festival but stupidly forgot my dancing shoes.  After barely getting through a cha-cha in my clunky sandals, I gave up and headed home sad.  It was totally okay, though, because people were still hanging out at the festival.  I started talking with a Chinese guy that Carlos had just introduced me to and was then joined by a guy I’d met before at English Corner.  We ended up talking for a long time and going to get drinks (milk tea, not alcohol) together.  One is an architecture masters’ student and the other is mechanical engineering, specializing in aviation, so even got to have another geeky experience, discussing the computer programs we use in our studies.  It had been such a long time since I had talked about ANSYS!  We also got into a discussion of Catholicism, which included a confident declaration by Yong Zhi that the next pope will be Brazilian.  This from a guy who didn’t know the pope is chosen . . . Another highlight of our discussion was when one guy spoke to me in English and the other asked me to translate; it was a little silly.

It was a totally pleasant experience, and I’ve now decided that Carlos is going to be in charge of getting me male Chinese friends.  The only bad thing about this is that I then have to put up with being compared to Carlos.  For instance, when they asked me why I don’t have tons of Chinese friends and I said that it seems like XiaDa students are really busy and don’t have time, Yong Zhi said “Well, Carlos has a lot of Chinese friends.”  Carlos also actually speaks Spanish and Carlos has been to a lot of places in China – basically, I’m inferior in every way. 

I still feel like I’m a boat.  Room, you can stop moving up and down in gentle wave-like motions at any time.  Thanks!

Bump on a Log

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Between the rainy weather we’ve had the past few days and the extra work I’ve been doing to fill in the gaps created by changing classes, I’ve felt like a bum recently.  I’ve even been getting dinner 打包 – to take back to my room.  When I’m not in class, I’ve been studying Chinese vocabulary and grammar while watching various TV shows and movies online.  Pretty lame. 

It’s starting to look up, though, as we begin the weekend.  Leinira and I are headed out to The Key in a few minutes, which is almost a sure-fire cure for the blues.  I must admit, I get a little extra satisfaction from realizing that my friends back in Tulsa are starting classes right now, even as I get dressed to go dancing.  The tables will turn in a few weeks around Thanksgiving, so for now I savor this little joy in my life.

In just a few short hours I would like to 祝你周末快乐 – wish you a happy weekend!  Mine has some potentially really cool stuff planned, and I hope you have a great one as well!

A Letter Home

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Today is a rainy day in Xiamen, perhaps our first one?  I went to class this morning and then returned to my room to study.  It works out because that’s pretty much what rainy days are for!  Today, I was assigned my first homework assignment since I got here – well, at least the first one that took me longer than 10 minutes.  We had to write a letter home, so I wrote a letter to my mom parent’s, whom I haven’t talked to in a few months.  For your viewing pleasure, here is the original Chinese, the babelfish translation (always good for a laugh) and my English words. 



我来厦门的时候,一个人都没认识过,所以很多事情很麻烦。 租房间,报名,买手机,延长签证,我几天都办好了。可是过了一个半月才办了好学生证!

我住在校园里面的一个宿舍。我有一个同屋,她叫 Leinira,是从 Cape Verde 来的。我非常喜欢她,她像我的姐姐。我们两个人住在一个房间,有两张床,一个洗澡间,还有阳台。








Dear grandfathers grandmother,

You are good? I am very good. I have lived in more than two months in Xiamen! My Chinese progressed many. Besides on Chinese class, I also every day use Chinese to eat meal, go shopping, ride the public vehicle, and so on.

I come Xiamen’s time, people have not known, therefore many matters are very troublesome. Rents a room, the registration, buys the handset, the extension visa, my several days handled. But one half a month has only then managed the good student identity card!

I live inside the campus a dormitory. I have a roommate, she calls Leinira, is comes from Cape Verde. I like her, she look like me the elder sister. Both of us live in a room, two beds, a bath room, but also has the balcony.

Originally, I am one year under student. Midterm examination’s time, I test very well, therefore I thought that class was too easy. I have traded to two years on, now I think this class appropriate spot. My schoolmates do not divide come from Asia, Europe, with the Americas.

Not only I study Chinese, moreover study dances! I come time, I had discovered some teachers, their each Wednesday, six, together jump the social dancing. They let me participate, at the same time has studied several dances, at the same time becomes friends, plays.

I have free time, I like in the seashore taking a walk. Seashore the place which lives to me is very near, walks, so long as five minutes arrived! Eight in September Xiamen weather has been too hot, but in November is very comfortable, therefore I like strolling the seashore very much, specially sunset’s time.

Weekend’s time, I arrive frequently with the roommate dance. Saturday night, on me church. On Sunday has an English mass, but I thought that Chinese mass is better much, because I may also practice the hearing.

I think of you very much! My in next July returned to homeland, the time is not too long. You take care the body,



Grandma and Grandpa –

How are you?  I am doing very well.  I have been here in Xiamen for over 2 months now!  My Chinese is getting better because, in addition to Chinese classes, I use Chinese to eat, shop, take buses, etc. 

I didn’t know a single person when I came, so a lot of things were very frustrating.  I rented a dorm room, registered for classes, bought a cell phone, and extended my visa in the first few days, but it took a month and a half to get my student card. 

I live on campus in the dormitory.  I have a roommate named Leinira, who is from Cape Verde.  I really like my roommate – she is like a sister.  We live together in one room with two beds, a bathroom, and a balcony. 

Originally, I was placed into the second semester of first year Chinese.  I did really well on the test so I decided it was too easy.  I changed classes to the first semester of the second year and think this class is a better fit for me.  My classmates are Asians, Europeans, and Americans.

I am not only studying Chinese – I’m also learning how to dance!  My first week here, I found a group of teachers who get together twice a week for a social dance, and they let me join them.  I am learning a lot of dances, having fun, and making friends. 

When I have free time, I like to go on walks by the beach.  The beach is very close to where I live – only five minutes walking!  The weather was very hot in August and September, but October and November are very comfortable, so I like going for walks on the beach, especially during the sunset.

On weekends, I often go out with my roommate to bars to dance.  On Saturday evenings, I go to Mass.  There is an English Mass on Sundays, but I think the Chinese Mass is better because I can also work on my listening comprehension. 

I miss you very much!  I’ll be back next July, which isn’t too far away.  Take care!

~ Maria

The part of this assignment that took so long is the actual Chinese handwriting.  I know my painfully-simple letter doesn’t look like much, but it filled two sheets of paper! 

Controversy at XiaDa!

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2009 at 1:13 am

I guess my indignation in the last post about the weather got through to Someone in charge, because today was 75 and beautiful.  Again, the inconsistencies of this weather reminds me of two of my favorite places in the world – Tulsa and the farm – and, by extension, all the people I care about in those places.

This morning I went to my new class for the first time.  I think it’s going to work out!  I like the schedule even more than my previous classes, the teachers seem good, I already know a few of my classmates, and it wasn’t too overwhelming.  There are a lot of 生词 (vocabulary words) that I don’t know, but I’ll be working on those on my own time.  Anyway, we only have two tests each semester – a midterm which I just took, and a final in over two months.  I’m expecting a few weeks of some difficulty and more-than-average studying outside of class, but I think I’ll adjust to it well before the final.

There’s a controversy bubbling here at the Xiamen University Overseas Education College, and Americans are at the center of it.  The issue at hand: cheating . . . And no, the Americans weren’t the ones cheating.  During the midterms, one American student saw a classmate cheating and told the teacher.  It was a big deal.  A big enough deal that I have had no less than 3 separate groups of Europeans bring it up with me personally, to get my opinion as an American.  Apparently cheating is more common in the rest of the world, and it is considered incredibly rude to tell on the cheaters.  I find it odd that a) people other than the cheater and the whistleblower care about this, and 2) that this action is perceived as rude, of all things.  I don’t think I’ve ever called out a cheater myself, but if I had I think I would just come off as a suck-up, teacher’s pet, goody-goody, etc.  Annoying, presumptuous, high-and-mighty, maybe, but I would not have seen scores of uninvolved people being personally offended, which is what happened. 

Anyway, my European friends have been arguing with me over this (because I, in my silly American ways, still believe that cheating is wrong), saying that it’s none of their business and they shouldn’t care.  I find that easy enough to accept here at XiaDa, where most people are here for their own reasons and on their own dollar, but . . . on principle, I just can’t not care about cheating.  There are so many situations in which cheating does affect others, and not just when things are graded on a curve.  I think about really important tests – the PE and FE for engineers, for example, which determine when an engineer is qualified enough to do his own work as a professional – and wonder if they think it would be okay to cheat on that, too.  Also, there’s just the issue of integrity, which is certainly much larger than tests but also certainly includes academic honesty. 

Interestingly enough, they all universally condemn plagiarism.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this or related experiences?  I am really curious about this difference. 

This evening, after a long afternoon of Chinese vocabulary, I went dancing for the first time in a week.  Absolutely wonderful.  I talked to the man who may or may not be in charge of the music and asked him if I could bring in some American music to see if he thinks it would be okay for dancing.  The women also asked me to bring in some ‘disco’ music for our free-style dancing afterwards, so I’m very excited to make this mix.  Does anyone have any suggestions of good dance music?  We do the Viennese waltz (fast), the ‘normal’ waltz (is that what it’s called?  It’s the 慢三, or Slow Three, in Chinese), the cha-cha, the rhumba, the jive, the boogie, the tango, and the Slow Four (sorry, don’t know the English name). 

If you have a recommendation, please comment!  I’ll probably be able to download it for free – joys of living in China, you know.  I’ve downloaded a lot of music since I’ve been here; I’m trying to stay somewhat in the loop on stuff going on in America, and music is part of that.  It’s funny, though – we may be 14 hours ahead of America, but in so many ways we’re weeks or even years behind.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, to see that a song I just ‘discovered’ and became obsessed with (“Fireflies” by Owl City) is #1 on iTunes right now.  I feel so ‘with it’!