Maria Holland

Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

O Come, All Ye Faithful

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2009 at 1:01 am

Listening class was really interesting today.  Read my translation of this passage on “The Men of China’s North, South, East, and West”:

There are a lot of differences between the men and women of each place in China . . . First off, men from Beijing love to talk the most and even like to chat with strangers, which isn’t often seen in other cities in China.  It is the custom of most taxi drivers in Beijing to talk to their passengers about what they’ve seen and heard.  “Beijing-speak” is pleasant to hear, and makes passengers forget about their worries.

Men from Shanghai are the most polite, but it’s hard to know what they really think.  In their homes, women are the most important.  Men are very kind to their wives, which is why people think Shanghai women are the most fortunate.

Men from the northeast are uninhibited.  They like to drink, but they usually don’t drink at home.  Western-style fast food really doesn’t do well because whether it’s McDonald’s or KFC, none of them allow customers to drink.  Towards women, they more often than not extremely friendly, and when couples are in public the husband usually plays the role of protector.

Men from Guangdong (Canton) are the easiest to recognize – short with strong bodies, relatively dark skin, big mouths, big noses, and big eyes.  They are thin but not weak, with a lot of energy.  They’re the most likely to drive a deal, but at the same time they are very generous, and finding sponsors for activities in Guangdong is very easy.

First of all, it seems broad to me to generalize not only entire provinces but entire regions, but I can accept that as a difference between the social geography of our countries.  In America, there’s east vs. west, north vs. south, coasts vs. ‘flyover territory’, cities vs. suburbs vs. rural areas – and that’s just for starters.  In China, there is Beijing (aka, ‘the North’), Shanghai (aka, ‘the South’), the northeast and Guangdong.  That whole HUGE part of China anywhere west of Hong Kong?  Don’t worry about it, it’s not important . . .

But, all that aside, I can kind of follow up until the last paragraph.  Then I just get totally lost because there’s no place like that in America.  Describing people physically based on their place of residence is such a non-sequitur in America that it just about blows my mind.

Anyway, it was a really interesting dialogue.  Afterwards, our teacher added that actually, most people think the best husbands come from Hubei because they cook really well and do household chores.  (We asked her if she had found a good Hubei husband yet and she said she’s still looking).  Apparently guys around here aren’t prime marrying material because, while they tend to be rich in Fujian, this makes them view household chores as below them.

There was another interesting passage on directions:

Woman: Let me tell you – the first time I came to Beijing, I asked someone how to get to the bus station.  He said “Head straight north to the intersection, then turn west and it will be on the north side of the street.”  I then asked again, “I’m sorry, is north that way?”  The man looked at me, dumbfounded, as if I were a crazy person – how could I not know which way was north?

Man: You really can’t tell which way is north?!

Woman: You don’t understand, we southerners aren’t used to using “north, south, east, and west” to express directions.  We usually say “forward, backward, left, and right” – for example, “Walk straight ahead to the intersection, then turn left and it will be on the right side of the street.”  This way is very clear!  You can figure it out with just your body, whereas you need the sun and streets to figure out “north, south, east, and west”.  It just makes things confusing for first-time visitors to Beijing. . . Also, Beijing taxi drivers don’t use maps and street names to recognize streets, they just rely on the environment.  For example, cross the intersection, at the tree turn back, then there’s a red house.  But if they go to a new place, it can be a problem and they can waste a lot of time in vain.  Taxi drivers in Shanghai are good at figuring things out; if they know a street name they can take you where you want to go.

Man: I think there are a lot of reasons for this difference – for example, the weather.  In the south it is often cloudy and rains and you can go the whole day without seeing the sun.  If somebody doesn’t have a compass on their person, it would be very hard to tell which way is north, south, east, or west.  In Beijing it’s often clear and you can see the sun all day, so it’s easy to tell directions.

Woman: It’s definitely related to weather, but it also might be related to terrain.  In the south, there are a lot of mountains.  In cities, buildings are built around mountains so the roads twist and wind.  It’s not like in the north, where cities usually don’t have mountains and the streets are really square – if it’s not east-west, it’s north-south.  So to people who live there, north-south-east-west is really clear, but to southerners it is confusing.

This is an area of personal challenge for me, as I find the Chinese language (on which I have made progress in a year) easier than telling north-south-east-west (on which I have made almost no progress in 21 years).  Left and right is so much easier to me, but I always have this sort of argument with my friends who disagree – most often in the past, boyfriends who can’t tell left from right and inexplicably excel at cardinal directions.

Anyway, this passage resounded with a sign seen on my recent trip to Wuyishan:

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It also reminded me of a story from my second trip to China.  I got into a taxi with some of my fellow travelers and, as we drove, I decided to try out some of my new vocabulary.  Pointing out the driver’s side window, I said “zuǒ” (left); out my window, “yòu” (right); and out the windshield, “qián” (forward).  She looked at me like I was speaking some other language and corrected me, pointing the same way as I did but instead saying “xī dōng běi nán”.  I was deeply troubled by this, as my Chinese ‘teacher’ Xiao Zhang had definitely taught me “zuǒ yòu qián hóu” and he understood me when I said them.  Why, then, were these words not working with this other Chinese?  I decided she was speaking a different dialect or was, herself, crazy and thought no more of it.

Fast forward a month or so – my Chinese is progressing, as is that of my friends.  We’re working our way through children’s picture dictionaries on a bus ride to the next town over when Alli lets out a sigh/exclamation of understanding.  (It’s a sound I make frequently in the process of learning Chinese: OOOOOOOooooh!)  She turns around to me and says, “Remember those weird words that that taxi driver was using?  They mean north, south, east, and west.”

I felt pretty stupid after that.  But seriously, if someone pointed left and asked if that was called ‘left’, would you correct them and call it ‘north’ (or whatever)?  I wouldn’t; that’s just mean.

Wow, I didn’t intend this whole post to be about those two listening passages.  The real excitement of the day started after class was done for the day.  I had lunch, cleaned up my room, and then one of my Thai friends, Pun, came over to help me bake cookies.  We basically turned the entire room into a kitchen – melting butter on the hotplate on Leinira’s chair, mixing dry ingredients on her bed, sitting on my bed to watch the oven on top of the refrigerator.

The first batch was just two cookies, which is good because I burned them.

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My ‘oven’ (or the closest thing to one that exists in China) has exactly two settings – on and off – and apparently ‘on’ is really really hot.  They’re supposed to cook for 10 minutes at 375F, but after 5 minutes at ‘on’, they were burnt.  We ate them anyway, and went on to improve our timing and technique as we baked another 43 cookies.

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Another Thai friend, Bu, joined us later and helped with the cookie making.

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Despite having to bake them in batches of 4 or 6, the whole process was surprisingly quick – less than 2 hours from start to finish.  Also, the recipe calls for less ingredients than I thought so I can make more batches than I originally calculated :)  The only ingredients I can’t buy at the small local supermarket are baking soda and vanilla, both of which my mother sent me.  The sugar grains are larger than I’m used to and the brown sugar is very molasses-y, but the cookies turned out well so who cares?

I enjoyed the baking process, especially with the help and company of my friends.  When we were done, I began calling other friends to come over for either a taste of home or their first taste of fresh-baked cookies.  Throughout the afternoon and evening, I was visited by friends from Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Sweden, Slovenia, and Austria.  As they snacked, we sat around and talked – so while I didn’t get much done today I had a very enjoyable time.

In between visits, I watched “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  Seriously, is there a better Christmas movie?  Only 11 minutes into it, I was already crying.  I love everything about that movie.  One of my favorite parts of the movie is how it shows the effects of one’s life as so far-reaching.  For instance, by saving his brother’s life when they were young, George was also responsible in a way for saving the troops on the carriers that Harry was honored for saving.  I see so much of other people in the things I’ve done, and want to share my successes and joys with those who have helped or influenced me because they’re partly theirs.  In the same way, I hope to enable others to do good things, just as I want to do good things myself.

My other favorite part of the movie is the line: “My lip is bleeding!  Isn’t it wonderful!?!  My lip is bleeding!”

Seriously!

In the Bleak Midwinter

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2009 at 10:03 pm

My parents will arrive in Xiamen in 23 days.  This is both really exciting and slightly (okay, majorly) terrifying.  Planning such a trip is really intimidating!  My main concern is for them to have a really great trip, but there are so many things that I have to figure out so that can happen.  I figured out the rough schedule months ago, but then my American friends in Jilin returned to America for the holidays, so that had to change.  I’ve chosen some new places to fill in the gap, but I’m trying to fit stays of the proper duration into their 25-day visit.  Then there’s the issue of transportation, as each location change has the accompanying question: 怎么走?  How should we go – plane, bus, or train?  There are a lot of factors to weigh, including price, time, duration, comfort, etc.

I started (!) researching this morning.  Somewhere in there, it occurred to me that planning a trip for nearly a month across a country like China might be a little bit beyond my abilities.  But after lunch I went to a local travel agency and started talking through things.  With them doing the looking-up instead of me, plus with the addition of their expertise and advise, things started falling into place.  (So Mom and Dad, don’t worry – you’re going to have a great trip!)

I went to class this afternoon for the first time in a week.  (By the way, I happened to run into a friend of mine immediately after returning from both of my recent trips to Shanghai and Wuyishan.  When he figured out that I’d been missing class to go to these places, he told me I was a bad student.  That may have been the only time I have been called such a thing!  If only he knew . . . )  Nobody had been to class since Tuesday, so it was a bit rough.  Tomorrow’s our first 8 a.m. class since last Friday :(

After class I went out to do some Christmas shopping.  Not for gifts – I just had to buy the rest of the ingredients for my Christmas cookies.  There was also a 买一送一 (buy one, get one) sale at Meters/Bonwe that I had to check out.  Shopping therapy after a stressful morning!  I got two long-sleeved shirts, another really cute jacket, and a nice sweater for $40.  Not the cheapest to be found in China, but their clothes are nice enough to be worth bringing home to America. 

Coming home with some takeout and a backpack full of other goodies, I sat down to read the news with dinner.  While reading an article arguing for Tiger Woods as Person of the Year, I realized one of those small perks of living outside of the States.  I feel relatively caught up on the latest news, where “news” is defined here as “events of importance and/or interest”.  However, I am blissfully unaware of a lot of the hype that accompanies the news.  I read about the weird stuff with Tiger and saw a headline or two about Accenture dropping him as a spokesperson, but didn’t know he was on 20 New York Post covers in a row! 

In addition to the big news, I also use Google Reader to read some blogs.  Some are friends’, while some concern other interests of mine.  Today had an interesting entry on language-learning:

Now that I have a … toddler of my own, I’m convinced that everyone who talks about “learning a language effortlessly, just like a baby,” either doesn’t have children or has the observational skills of a salted slug. There is absolutely nothing effortless about the way a child learns a language. It just seems effortless because the kid, unlike an adult put in a similar situation, doesn’t bitch about how hard it all is, probably because he/she doesn’t have any concept of what life is like as a fully communicating adult.

I thought that was a good point!  I had less than one year of complete immersion in Chinese, and I understand more and speak considerably better than the average Chinese one-year old.  It’s not easier for them – it’s just that the expectations are much lower and, really, more realistic. 

WHOA!  My blog (and, it looks like, the rest of wordpress and blogspot) is unblocked in China!

I feel like this post is less cohesive than usual, which makes it hard to think up a title.  I think I will solve this by naming all my post-Wuyishan entries after Christmas songs.  This one is actually quite fitting, as today is the winter solstice and therefore the middle of the bleak winter.  It’s also fitting because the weather in Xiamen feels both bleak and wintery.  It’s sooooo cold here.  I took a long, almost-scalding hot shower before putting on sweatpants and a sweatshirt and grabbing my little heated gel pack to put on my lap.  I thought this was supposed to be a tropical island?  I want my money back . . .

(FYI, the current temperature is 10°C, or 50°F.)

Hark, The Herald Angels Sing!

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2009 at 10:19 pm

I feel like I have a lot to do this week.  Part of it is related to the trip I just got back from (sharing and posting pictures, doing laundry), part of it is related to my everyday life in China (doing my vocabulary reviews, putting phone numbers into my new phone) and part of it is related to Christmas, which is rapidly approaching.  There are Christmas postcards to finish and mail, Christmas movies to watch, Christmas cookies to bake (in my tiny tiny oven, this could be a whole-day ordeal), and a Christmas sweater to buy. 

But I slept in today and before I knew it, it was time to run out the door.  I grabbed lunch to-go, which is incredibly convenient here.  I got some hot milk tea and two meat sandwiches thrown into a bag, and thus had a delicious, portable lunch for $2. 

I met up with my 教友 (literally, “church friends”) near LunDu and we boarded a bus headed for Zhangzhou.  I wasn’t exactly sure what we were doing, but they invited me to this ‘singing competition’ and I thought it sounded interesting.  While we waited for the bus, I talked with He 神父, a priest visiting from Taiwan, and learned more.  It was a singing competition between the [all?] 7 churches in the diocese of Xiamen, which he proposed because the churches had no activities together.

It took us an hour and a half to get there, but I was sitting with the young people in the back and had an opportunity to talk with the guy sitting next to me.  Two thoughts – he’s the first Catholic convert I’ve met (that I know of), which I found interesting.  His grandmother was Christian but his parents aren’t.  Also, he goes to Chinese Mass every Sunday morning and he lives an hour away as well, which makes me feel really whiney for complaining about my commute (which I originally said is an hour but, since having gotten better at transportation here, is actually shorter). 

The event was bigger than I expected, which I should have expected.  The church in Zhangzhou is really big, which is good because there were a lot of people – 7 church choirs plus groupies (like me).  It was good to have a diocesan-wide get-together because apparently some of the friends I made on the Shanghai trip are actually from other local churches, so I got to see them again.  Also, I realized how many priests I’m getting to know here!  To illustrate the point, I know no less than three priests with the last name Cai!  In case you’re getting confused, here’s a quick introduction of ‘my’ priests here in China:

  • Fr. Jiang (Fr. Domingo) – pastor at Xiamen.  He’s kind of older – the one I said was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution.
  • Fr. Zhao (Fr. Joseph) – newly-ordained, formerly deacon at Xiamen.  He’s the one I met with once to practice English/Chinese. 
  • Fr. Cai #1 – pastor at Zhangzhou, soon to become bishop of our diocese.  He went with our group to Shanghai.
  • Fr. Cai #2 – newly-ordained with Fr. Zhao.
  • Fr. He – visiting priest from Taiwan.
  • Fr. Cai #3 and Fr. Liu – met them today, so I don’t know much – pastors at some church in the area.

The singing was pretty good.  Two groups had adorable children take part, one tackled Panis Angelicus in Latin, one brought in a Chinese orchestra of guzheng and erhu, and one sang “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!” in Chinese.  Despite all that, while I may be a little biased, I think ‘my’ choir was the best. 

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After the competition (which had judges but no winners), we took the obligatory group picture in front of the altar. 

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Then we went to dinner – pretty much the whole diocese together.  Notable for two reasons: first, I ate a lot of things I had never eaten before.  Besides whole shrimp which I’m already quite used to, there was an entire crab!  And it was furry!  The guy sitting next to me had to instruct me on how to eat it – twist off the legs, bite off the joint, and then bite down on the shell of the leg until the meat squirts out.  It was actually pretty good, so the process was worth it, but then he had me break open the body.  He pointed to the clear jelly-like stuff and the vomit-looking stuff and said 很好吃 (very good).  I tried it and, let me tell you, it’s not.  I felt like I was eating his Last Meal, the food he had consumed right before being killed.  I mean, I know that’s what the food chain is but this food hadn’t made it quite far enough through the system to be appetizing again.

The second notable thing was the toasts that occurred throughout dinner.  Starting with orange juice, passing through Tsingtao beer and some truly horrible red wine until I finally discovered the Sprite, we 干杯-ed (literally, “dried our glasses”) every few minutes.  People from every other church came to our table to toast us, then the priests made the rounds (and there were a lot of them), and then we went toasting. 

Fun, but on the bus ride back I swore to never drink again.  It’s not that I was drunk – far from even being lightheaded – but what is it about the smallest bit of alcohol that shrinks the bladder?  In China, this means either unfortunate bathroom experiences or uncomfortable bus rides; tonight I had both. 

Oh, and in case you didn’t read the bit about the priests, I’ll say it again – I have independent confirmation that Fr. Cai (#1) is soon to become the bishop of Xiamen!  (Unless there’s another role that involves wearing a hat, carrying a stick, and being at ordinations . . . )

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2009 at 12:47 am

We got back from Wuyishan this morning around 8:30.  The trip was really wonderful – we had beautiful scenery, wonderful new friends, and some unforgettable moments.  We spoke a lot of Chinese and only saw 2 Westerners on the entire trip – getting on the train that we had just gotten off of.

I know that everyone who lives someplace cold wants to vacation in a warm climate, but for a few days I got to experience the opposite.  Let me tell you, it’s quite nice – knowing that your days in the cold are very limited and soon you will be returning to your pleasantly warm home.  The whole weekend as I wore leggings under my jeans and all the tops I had brought under my coat, I was looking forward to wearing skirts and short sleeves again in Xiamen. 

Unfortunately, Xiamen didn’t get this memo . . . the high today was 15°C (60°F).  I wore a dress anyway (albeit with leggings underneath and a sweater, scarf, and jacket on top) out of pure stubbornness.  All day, I felt like a little girl who insisted on dressing herself but buttoned the shirt wrong or something. 

I just got back, but for a lot of people, it’s actually time to leave Xiamen.  Some are just going home for the holidays – Liz left for 3 weeks in Belgium on Wednesday – but some are leaving for good!  “The Americans” (the group from UNC) left last weekend and Eva left today, which means I have basically no American friends left here.  The Dutch group leaves very early tomorrow morning as well.  This is all very sad, but as they’re all going to other countries, we’ll be able to 联系 (connect) on facebook. 

Also, it just happens to be a very fortunate time to lose one’s cell phone (as I just did).  A Dutch friend gave me his cell before he left, which meant all I had to do was get a replacement SIM card.  It took two trips because the only thing they would accept as proof that the number was mine was 5 numbers I’ve dialed in the past month (my original account paperwork and passport were unacceptable as proof), but I really shouldn’t complain.  Entire cost of new cell phone with the same number as before = 15 kuai, or $2. 

I went to Mass this evening.  As I entered and when I left the church, I was asked by several people if I had found my cell phone.  I was confused, as I had only called one man to ask if I had left it on the bus.  Finally, I realized what must have happened and asked if they had all gone to look for it.  “Yes”, they replied. 

As I thought about it, this relatively-small act of kindness moved me to tears.  I guess the weekend was a little emotionally draining because, when we weren’t being treated like long-lost best friends, we felt basically like animals in a zoo.  People would point at us and take pictures of us without permission, acting like we were another of Wuyishan’s famous sites to be pictured.  They would assume we didn’t speak Chinese and talk loudly about the 外国人 (and then bark out “会说中国话!” (You can speak Chinese!) in surprise if we so much as said 你好). 

Anyway, I think I’ve figured out something about Chinese people.  (This is a generalization and there are certainly exceptions, but this is an idea based on my observations over these past few months.)  There are a lot of them – 1.3 billion and counting – and it’s simply too much to be caring towards all of them.  So they don’t really try.  There’s much less “common courtesy” here than I remember in America: less door-holding, more pushing and shoving.  But families and friends are very important to Chinese people, and these people are treated with respect, deference, and love.  Outside the circle, you almost don’t exist to them, but inside the circle your happiness and well-being is of utmost concern.  It’s not that Chinese people are rude to foreigners; it’s that they’re rude to strangers.

Somehow, my church friends (and my dancing friends and some others) have accepted me into their circle.  The way they care for me is so humbling because I don’t think I’m as charitable as they are.  It gives me something to work towards. 

The good thing about the cold weather is that it really is starting to feel like Christmas.  I listened to Christmas songs as I walked between my evening activities, and found the words to one particularly interesting:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you "Be of good cheer"
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much mistletoe-ing
And hearts will be glowing
When love ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Only the last few lines are actually true for me this year – no Salvation Army bells, no carolers or concerts, no marshmallows or mistletoe, and no snow.  But 3 out of 19 ain’t bad, especially when they’re those three.

Oh, Say Can You See?

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2009 at 11:09 pm

We started our last day in Wuyishan bright and early by heading back into the scenic area for a ride on the famous (in China) 猪排 bamboo boats. 

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The trip down the Nine-Turn Stream takes about an hour and a half.  Eventually the sun came out and dispelled the fog, but the trip still included about an hour that I will remember among the coldest of my life.  There were rocks shaped like different things all along the way but Aleid and I didn’t catch much of the introduction; all I remember is a Frog’s Mouth.

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Somewhere along the stream my batteries died, so pictures are relatively scarce.  Trust me, though – it was beautiful.

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Back on land, we caught the sightseeing bus to one of the places that the woman at the hostel had circled on our map – 一线天, or A Thread of Sky.  We had no idea what this meant, but we decided to check it out and ended up being glad we did.  Basically, it’s a very narrow passageway through a mountain. 

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At times, it was too narrow for me to pass through facing forwards so I had to crab-walk, but it was pretty cool to look up and see the thin sliver of sky showing through. 

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On the bus headed to the next stop, we were joined by a young Chinese couple.  They told us that they were on their honeymoon and asked if we could walk together.  We agreed, which was definitely a good choice.  First of all, it was nice to have Chinese travel buddies again. 

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I like having real conversations with Chinese people, getting to know them, instead of having the same exchanges over and over and over again. 

Them: “Hello!” 
Me: “你好” 
Them: “You speak Chinese!” 
Me: “Yes.” 
Them: a) “Where are you from?”
           b) “How long have you been studying Chinese?”

Plus, this couple was absolutely adorable. 

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They took pictures in front of everything, crossed bridges holding hands, and delighted in calling each other ‘honey’ after I taught them this term of endearment.  Our first destination was the 大红袍, which actually is probably cooler to hear about than to see.  It’s this special kind of tea that only used to be served to emperors; at one point there were only these 6 trees, which were declared a part of the World Heritage.  In person, it’s basically a few small trees on a ledge halfway up a mountain.

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We decided to walk to the next place, which led us almost 3km through the beautiful scenery of Wuyishan.  I’m glad the walk was so beautiful, because the final destination was not worth a 3km hike.  It was called the 水帘洞 or Water Curtain but more resembled a Water Faucet. 

But man, what an unforgettable day anyway.  It wasn’t the beautiful surroundings that made it so, though – it was the people.  Our adorable couple decided that, since they had two 美女 (beautiful girls), they needed to find us some 帅哥 (good-looking guys), so they got this a group of 3 Singaporean classmates to join us.  The woman then spent the rest of the trip extolling the virtues of a Chinese boyfriend/husband.  (Among them: “Because you’re taller than them, if they don’t listen to you, you can just grab their hair and make them do what you want.”  I asked her, “Then what do you do [as you’re shorter than your husband]?”  Her answer: “I wear high heels.”)

After I asked, they wrote down several ways to congratulate newly-married couples by wishing them well.  Here they are, with my translations:

  • 永结同心 – “May you be forever united with one heart”
  • 早生贵子 – “May you bear children (sons) early”
  • 白头偕老 – “May you grow old together with white hair”
  • 百年好合 – “May you be together for 100 years”
  • 辛福一生 – “May you be blessed throughout your life”

It gets better.  On the bus ride back to the entrance of the park, the couple asked us to sing them a song; in return, they said, they would sing one for us.  Someone came up with the idea of national anthems, and so we all agreed to sing our 国歌.  The Chinese started – at first it was just the couple and the two Chinese students, but as other tourists boarded the bus, they joined in.  Sitting in a crowded bus full of happy, clapping Chinese people singing the March of the Volunteers was a pretty special experience.  Then the Singaporean student sang his national anthem in Malay, Aleid sang [what she knew of] hers in Dutch, and I sang the Star-Spangled Banner.  Somehow I picked the right range and remembered all the words, so I think it wasn’t half bad.  Anyway, what a cool cultural exchange! 

The couple went on to another tourist site, but made the guys take us to dinner.  It was a little awkward, I’m not going to lie.  Maybe it was because of the woman’s teasing, but these boys were so scared of us.  I understood their reluctance to speak English, but I kept asking questions in Chinese and getting one-word answers.  The food was good and they – polite if not friendly – paid for it all. 

After our lunch/dinner it was about time to head back to the train station.  The ride back was shorter by 2 hours and more comfortable, because we sprung the extra 15 yuan ($2) to get a lower bunk.  Ah, traveling in the lap of luxury!

Ratio of Mountains:Days – 2:1

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2009 at 10:20 pm

On Thursday morning we were woken at 8:30 – unfortunately, we had asked for a wake-up call at 8 . . . Apparently the Chinese version of a wake-up call is to call you a half-hour later, wanting to know why you haven’t woken up yet.  We got dressed in all our layers in record time and went downstairs to meet our driver and new travel buddy, Xu. 

Our destination was two waterfalls a little ways away from Wuyishan proper.  The first one was 青龙, or Green Dragon.  It took us just over an hour to climb, but we were treated to a beautiful waterfall at the top.

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We walked back down on a highway, surrounded by green mountains that reminded me a lot of Jurassic Park.

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Lunch was definitely the low point of the entire trip.  Our driver took us to a restaurant, which should have triggered warning signs.  We ordered 3 dishes and a soup, for which the owner charged us 150 元.  That meant 50 kuai ($7) per person, making our mediocre fare the 4th most expensive meal I’ve eaten since I came to Xiamen. 

As we started our second climb of the day – 龙川, or Dragon River – I discovered that it’s easier to climb when you’re mad.  I was calculating all the things that 50 kuai could have bought me –

  • 1 night in our hostel in a room – with a view of the mountain
  • a burrito at the famed Havana restaurant that I haven’t been to yet
  • a month of internet and phone
  • 12 ounces of cheese
  • 10 DVDs, or 5 DVD-9s
  • dinner and a movie
  • 10 glasses of milktea with tapioca pearls

It was pretty ridiculous.  I’m still stewing over it.

Anyway, the second waterfall was also very nice, and only took us 40 minutes to climb. 

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We rested back at the hotel for a bit, and then went out to explore the city some more.  When we got back at 8:30 the door to the hostel had already been locked for the night!  I guess Wuyishan is not where you go to experience night life in China . . .

The Midnight Train, Going Aaaanyyywhere!

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2009 at 10:00 pm

After grabbing a late dinner, Aleid and I went to the train station for our 10:15 train.  After a wait, we got to board and check out our living conditions for the next 14 hours.  We had bought hard-sleeper tickets, but the name isn’t really that appropriate.  First of all, the hard-sleepers aren’t any harder than the soft-sleepers; or rather, the soft-sleepers are no softer than the hard-sleepers.  (With that said, both are softer than the bed in my dorm room.  I once considered compiling a list of things that are softer than my bed but gave up when I realized the list – including most rocks – would be prohibitively, and perhaps infinitely, long.)  So the hard-sleeper berths are really just second-class beds.  In the soft-sleeper cars, each room has two sets of bunkbeds.  In the hard-sleeper cars, each ‘room’ – or perhaps more aptly each ‘cubicle’ – has 6 beds on three levels.  There are no doors, which gives you no privacy, no security, and no control over the lights.  It also turns the entire train into one big sleepover – with strangers! 

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We put our stuff away and then climbed up to our bunks on the top level, about 7 feet off the ground.  The upper bunks are the cheapest (hence our berth of choice) because they are less convenient and don’t offer enough vertical space to sit up. 

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They do, however, offer a great vantage point for observing the rest of the train.  The best part of the show was our conductor – he was so funny, he should seriously be on TV.

The lights went out at 10 and came back on at 6, but I slept until 9 or so.  (This is why I love traveling by night train!)  The top bunk is fine for sleeping, but once you’re awake it’s somewhat like torture.  The trip was ‘only’ 14 hours, though, and we arrived soon enough.

Two bus rides later, we arrived at our hostel (枫枫旅馆).  It’s in a kind of shady area, but the staff are nice and very helpful.  We got settled in our room (30 元, or just over $4, per night) until they called us to say that lunch was ready.  After lunch, one of the women laid out a plan for our next few days.  It was more expensive than we were thinking, because the entrance to the scenic area is quite pricy (about $20), but we ended up with 2 1/2 full days of Wuyishan for 475 元 ($65). 

The plan for that afternoon was to see 天游, or the Heavenly Tour Peak.  In a place like Wuyishan (basically, Wuyi Mountain), most activities are 爬山-related.  (爬山 literally means ‘climbing mountains’ but is more like hiking.  Actually, the best description is really really intense stair-climbing, up a mountain.)  This was one of my favorite mountain climbs, as we could see where we were going.

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The view was beautiful the whole way up. 

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I think it was right about here

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that I had one of those realizations: I’m climbing a MOUNTAIN in CHINA, where I currently LIVE, while TU is having FINALS!

After we made it back down (legs shaking by the end), we took a bus into town.  We walked around, doing some shopping for souvenirs.  Best find of the night – a toothpick-holder shaped like my new obsession, 茄子.  (Interestingly, despite my love for all things containing 茄子, I think the English word, ‘eggplant’, doesn’t really sound that appealing.) 

The high of the day in Wuyishan was 7°C (45°F), so the only time we were warm the whole day was while climbing the mountain.  We returned to the hostel around 8, to spend the rest of the night burrowing under comforters and piles of clothes, trying to finally be warm. 

Fr. Zhao and Fr. Jiang

In Uncategorized on December 15, 2009 at 6:42 pm

I wasn’t going to post again before leaving for Wuyishan, but I have to share about my morning.  (I’m in a hurry, though, so you’ll have to wait on pictures until I get back).  I went to a small village called Zhangpu, a few hours away from Xiamen.  Exciting, huh?

Well, the reason we went out there was for Fr. Zhao’s First Mass in his hometown.  It was quite an event – there were about 60 or 70 of us from Xiamen making the trip!  There were even two other foreigners – a Filipino woman and a Spanish woman – and I learned some things about our church from talking to them.

First of all, Fr. Zhao is not staying at our parish.  He’s not sure yet where he’s going, but he’s expecting to find out this weekend.  I’m sad, but I’m sure that he’s needed elsewhere.

The second thing that I learned stunned me.  With Fr. Zhao leaving, our only priest will Fr. Jiang (this is how it has been since I got here, but Deacon Zhao helped out a lot).  Fr. Jiang doesn’t speak very clearly and I have a hard time understanding him in Chinese and English, so I really haven’t had much affection for him.  But then the two women were discussing the news of Fr. Zhao’s reassignment and they were talking about how good a man Fr. Jiang is.  They shared a few anecdotes and then told me that he was in prison for 20 years or so during the Cultural Revolution and taught himself English.

Wow.  In just a few words, they totally changed my perspective and made me really ashamed of how I had been thinking.  I had been viewing Fr. Jiang as a speaking machine, nothing more.  He’s not a voice recording for Listening class, though – he’s a priest, a spiritual leader.  And anyway, if I were half as forgiving of non-native English speakers as Chinese people are of my atrocious Chinese, I would never have such uncharitable thoughts about a man who celebrates Mass, preaches homily, carries on conversations with parishioners, and (presumably) even offers confessions in English.

Also, the revelation about his prison time really shocked me.  I think in America we have this idea of the patriotic church as basking in the approval of the Communist Party, with all barriers removed and life generally free and easy.  That, I can say from my experience here, is totally not the case.  Yes, the patriotic church is tolerated but it is not encouraged, and during parts of the not-so-distant past even the tolerance was withheld.

Anyway, we drove out to Zhangpu and walked to the church.  I addition to the contingent from our parish, it seemed like everyone from the town came, too.  There were about 10 priests!  The church was decorated with streamers and a welcome banner, and the processional hymn was drowned out by the insanely loud popping of firecrackers in the courtyard.

During the homily, Father spoke about his discernment process, from childhood through seminary to today.  (I recorded it all so I can listen again when I’ll understand more).  Both of his parents passed away along the journey and they weren’t able to see him become a priest, so I think today was bittersweet for him, like a wedding would be.

After Mass we took the obligatory pictures (posted later).  I think I was the second or third most popular photo subject, after the two new priests.  I just kept getting roped into pictures with Fr. Zhao and random Chinese old women.

The bus ride out to the village was freezing, so when I finally got the church I prayed to be warm.  God responded with a stunningly beautiful day – we’re talking short sleeves here!

Since I got back, I’ve been getting ready for my trip and attempting to find my cell phone, which I lost sometime this morning.  Now we’re off, taking the midnight train to aaaaanyyywhere (hopefully to Wuyishan, but you never know what will happen in China).

请问 (Can I Ask A Question?)

In Uncategorized on December 15, 2009 at 12:09 am

I went to class today, which is actually somewhat of a rarity in these past few weeks.  Tomorrow I’m skipping class to go to Fr. Zhao’s First Mass and tomorrow night Aleid and I are going to Wuyishan (UNESCO World Heritage mountains in northern Fujian province) for the rest of the week.  The trip is spanning parts of five days, yet we’ll only spend two nights in a hostel.  Ah, the joys of night trains!!

I didn’t get as much done today as I probably should have, but I can always write Christmas postcards on the aforementioned train rides.  Instead, I spent the afternoon watching Mulan online while chatting with a good friend and snacking on bread with cheese and summer sausage, with a dessert of strawberries (which just came into season here) and bananas with Nutella.  Pretty wonderful.

I’m going to be offline for next few days (again, those aforementioned train rides and all), but I have a task for you to fill the time.  Remember way back when, in 2003 when email surveys were, like, THE THING (at least if you were 15, which I happened to be)?  Well, in December of 2003 I filled out this end-of-the-year survey.  By the next year, I had started my journal and did the survey there.  The next year, I did it again – and the next year, and the next year.  Anyway, this is now my 6th December of keeping a journal and my 7th year of doing this survey, and I’ve found it interesting to look back on each year.  Since you are now reading my journal, you are soon going to be treated to my answers for this year, but I would like to invite you to answer some or all of them yourselves.  Here are the questions; you have a few weeks to be thinking!

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

9. What was your biggest failure?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

11. What was the best thing you bought?

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

13. Whose behavior made you appalled or depressed?

14. Where did most of your money go?

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

16. What songs will always remind you of 2009?

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

    ii. thinner or fatter?

    iii. richer or poorer?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

20. How did you spend Christmas?

22. Did you fall in love in 2009?

24. What were your favorite TV shows?

25. What was your favorite film of this year?

26. What was the best book you read?

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

28. What did you want and get?

29. What did you want and not get?

30. What was the best new trend you discovered?

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?

34. What kept you sane?

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you like the most? 

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

37. Who did you miss?

38. Who was the best new person you met?

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

The Perfect Date

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2009 at 12:14 am

I went to Chinese Mass early early this morning.  Apparently it’s BYO songbooks, which is another reason I don’t like Mass on Gulangyu.  Also, the tourists were worse than usual – for instance the large man who stood directly in front of the altar filming the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Seriously??

The church is such a tourist mecca; I hate it.  I think I like Gulangyu less and less each time I go.  It’s certainly the most touristy place that I’ve ever been to, not as a tourist, and I can’t imagine how people feel when they live in such places.

But, I do love my 教友 (church friends).  I went to Mass with them for well over a month without anyone making any particular effort to get to know me, but since I reached out they have more than met me halfway.  I feel like I’ve been adopted as the tiny puppy someone found wandering around lost somewhere.  It really meant so much to me when they called to remind me about the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, for instance.  Anyway, today after Mass I talked to one of the women from the pilgrimage who told me that we are all 兄弟姐妹 (brothers and sisters).  She patiently answered some of my questions and, after one thing led to another, she offered to take me to a nearby convent after Christmas!

I spent the afternoon writing Christmas postcards and downloading Christmas music.  It was weird though – when I tried to expand my collection of Gregorian chant, I found that a lot of the links did not work or were blocked.  It seems like you can only download Christian music that sounds like pop music.  Coincidence?  I think not.

This evening, I went out to dinner with some friends at a Japanese restaurant.  It was crazy expensive (almost 90 kuai, or about $12) for all-you-can-eat Japanese food and all-you-can-drink beer and sake.  I tried a lot of things that I hadn’t tried before.

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Interestingly, I liked most of the new things I tried – the mussels were amazing, I liked the little tiny red eggs, loved anything with the slices of red ginger (which apparently you aren’ t supposed to eat on sushi, but are necessary for me to get it down), and even the sake was quite good.  I still don’t like seaweed, though, which is a rather unfortunate hang-up when eating sushi.

We were going to watch 花木兰 (the new Chinese live-action movie Mulan) but it wasn’t showing.  We did, however, have a wonderful Disney sing-along, everyone participating in whichever language felt most comfortable, which was pretty good after-dinner entertainment by itself.

The night ended with a few minutes on the beach listening to the waves and discussing the reason for the constant haziness in Xiamen’s air.  Even at night, it was 16 degrees (60 F) so I was fine in a dress.  In Xiamen:

“What is your idea of the perfect date?”
”Most evenings, because it’s not too hot and not too cold and all you need is a light jacket!”