Maria Holland

Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

住医院 (Living in the Hospital)

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm

I spent last night in the hospital.  Here’s what happened:

I went to Mass, which was fairly normal except for the announcement regarding a change in location because of intense fog over Gulangyu.  Crazy!  Lester called me during Mass, so I called him back – he was in the hospital and asked me to spend the night with him.  (So don’t worry about me, I’m fine.  He’s the one who’s sick.)

After running back to my room, hanging laundry to dry, changing in pajamas, and packing an overnight bag, I grabbed McDonald’s for dinner and went to the hospital.  As soon as I got to the hospital, I understood why he wanted/needed company.  The hospital was deserted – I mean, I would have bet that there were ghosts or zombies hanging out, but not many humans.  The few nurses there ignored me while I looked for Lester, allowing me to wander the halls in darkness.  It looks like the abandoned psych ward from the movie Accepted – you know, the place where one character hopes to “finally realize my dream of getting hepatitis”.  Probably going to have nightmares . . .

I finally found him on the third floor.  His room is smaller than my dorm but otherwise resembles it very strongly: all concrete and tile with two beds (metal, not wood) with incredibly thin mattresses (if they can even be called that), two small tables, a wretched bathroom, and an outside balcony separated by poorly-sealed windows.  He was in there with three Chinese friends, all from the dancing classes that Lester and I took last semester.  Later, we were also joined by the older ladies from the social dancing group; I think Chinese take visiting the sick very seriously. 

He has some sort of infection in his stomach which is causing him a lot of pain.  He hasn’t eaten in days and when he did, he couldn’t keep it down.  As far as I could see, he was the only patient on the floor, but surely if the nurse was watching only him she would have been more attentive?  They have him on an IV drip; when it runs out it’s my job to tell the nurse.  Medical care is cheap here, but I guess you get what you pay for!

The visiting rules seem generous, but contrary to my first impression they do not let absolutely anyone come in at any time.  Instead, it seems more like they let absolutely anyone in, but they either have to leave by 11 or stay the night.  The last two girls left around then, so it was just me and Lester.  He slept while I did some flashcard reviews, looking up every now and then to check his IV bag. 

I did Night Prayer before going to sleep around 2 in the morning.  Night Prayer is always an interesting way to end the day; you pray the same words as always but each day they seem to have a different meaning.  Tonight, there was special emphasis to the gospel canticle antiphon:

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake,
Watch over us as we sleep;
That awake, we may keep watch with Christ,
And asleep, rest in His peace.

Luckily, he slept peacefully.  I napped, waking up every hour or so to check the IV bag and call the nurse as needed.  I was woken up for good at the ridiculous hour of 7 in the morning, when one of the friends from last night came over.  The Chinese seriously have no concept of weekend; this guy had 6 periods of class yesterday (Saturday) and was at the hospital bright and early on Sunday morning.  He was joined, before 8 a.m., by another Chinese visitor.  Crazy. 

He went in for a CT scan this morning, a field trip that required all four of us to participate.  The result: acute pancreatitis.  He’s going to be in the hospital for at least two weeks, they say.  I’m hoping some other friends will be able to help out, but I’ll probably be around here a lot.

Incidentally, I know now the word for pancreatitis (胰腺炎), the verb for what IVs do (滴), and the ‘scan’ part of CT scan (扫).  Vocabulary sticks in my mind much better when it’s strongly associated with an experience, so maybe now I’ll finally be able to remember nurse (护士) and itchy (痒).

I realized that this is my first time spending the night in a hospital (which the Chinese refer to as “living in the hospital”).  I kind of wish I had more experience, because there are probably some interesting comparisons to be made.  For instance: would I, a non-relative, have been allowed to stay the night at a hospital in America?  I’m guessing not.  (Although even in China they don’t seem too keen on the mixed-gender thing.  The doctor keeps asking if he has any male friends and the guy who came this morning awkwardly asked if we had 一起睡觉, literally “slept together”, which I’m hoping has a different connotation in Chinese.)

There are a few things I’ve noticed even without experiencing something comparable back in America.  In addition to their thermometers, their blood pressure cuffs also use mercury – a whole heckuva lot of it, too!  Also, their nurses wear white tailored lab coats and have adorable little caps pinned into their hair.  Why yes, Florence Nightingale, you may take my temperature! 

半年了! (Half A Year!)

In Uncategorized on February 27, 2010 at 4:48 pm

As of yesterday, I’ve been in Xiamen for half a year.  I’ve seen half a year’s worth of weather, been around for half a year’s worth of holidays, festivals, and events, and witnessed half of the liturgical year in church. 

It’s a big milestone! 

The last week or so has felt like a turning point in my time here.  For one thing, I’m feeling even more at home than usual.  With so many of my good friends still gone on vacation, I found myself really missing them.  I wasn’t sad when missing them, though; in fact it was really nice to realize that I have friendships good enough to miss.  It was great to welcome them back, share memories of our last semester together and begin making plans for this semester.

As my friends have returned, though, they’ve been joined by a whole new flock of new students.  Age and experience are all relative, and thus I have become an oldster around XiaDa.  I’ve been through registration and the residence permit process, I’ve taken classes for a whole semester, I know where the cafeterias are and which ones are good, etc. 

Kids these days . . . They have no idea how hard we had it, back when I came to XiaDa.  We had to wait two months in the sweltering heat for our E-cards! 

But, as my stay in China is slightly shorter than a full year, the 6-month anniversary means that I’m actually past the halfway mark of my time here.  All of a sudden, I feel like I’m at the top of a hill on a bike with no brakes, because I think the rest of my time here will pass quickly. 

I made up a calendar so I could keep track of important dates and vacations this semester, and it is really helping me to put things in perspective.  I have the starting date of classes at XiaDa this spring (March 1st) and the starting date of classes at TU in the fall (Aug 23rd) all on one piece of paper.  It’s not that far off; in fact, in another 6 months I will be finishing up my first week of classes back at TU. 

So while I’m feeling comfortable with my life here, I’m looking forward more and more to getting back.  There’s definitely excitement and longing, but by ‘looking forward’ I more mean that it’s just on my mind a lot.  It’s kind of hard to wrap my mind around!  I’ve been studying Chinese 24/7 since the beginning of last June and probably haven’t touched a calculator since then, so sometimes it’s weird to imagine myself in engineering classes again.

I’m getting hungry for it, though – numbers, equations, and logic instead of this crazy language with its ridiculous characters and stupid 了 particle.  I know I sound fabulously geeky saying this, but I can picture the binders of notes in my room and I plan to read through them like novels when I get home. 

[Since these things are so much easier when dealing with round numbers, I’m going to share an update about my finances.  I know most of you probably aren’t interested in all this, but I put it up here in case a future XiaDa student finds this and is looking for an idea of costs.  I’m on scholarship here but it obviously doesn’t cover everything I spend money on.  I got a 2,000 kuai (almost $300) settlement when I arrived, to cover textbooks and the basic necessities of moving in and all.  Then, every month I get 1,700 RMB ($250) to cover food and other daily expenditures.  So far I’ve received $1,800 in stipend money, which has basically been enough to cover my food ($1,150), local transportation ($100), cell phone and internet ($130), personal products like shampoo and things for our room like the fridge ($250), all my textbooks for three levels of Chinese ($65)  and the documentation that I had to get at the beginning of the year ($130).  My other costs, like clothes, souvenirs, recreation, and travel, have been out-of-pocket.  Basically, over the last six months I’m out about two thousand dollars, including $850 for travel, $250 on souvenirs and gifts, $60 for my internet proxy, and $200 on a new camera and hard drive.]

Forgive Me, Father, For I Have Sung ‘Alleluia’

In Uncategorized on February 27, 2010 at 2:17 am

It’s like the end of summer, when you start waking up early to get ready for the start of a new school year.  Only, in this case, it’s more like the beginning of summer.  I woke up at 7 today, only the second time I’ve been out of bed before 9 probably since coming back to Xiamen.  There was something going at at church, possibly a retreat-like something, and I decided to check it out. 

When I got there, they were halfway through the Stations of the Cross, so I joined in.  Much to my delight, it was in 普通话 (Mandarin); the last time I prayed the Stations was in Shanghai and we used 闽南话, the local dialect that I don’t speak or understand.  Even better, they sang the Stabat Mater (the song of Mary’s sorrows) between stations, or at least something to the same tune. 

When we had finished the Way of the Cross, we went upstairs to a sort of conference room.  Father He, a priest from Taiwan who has visited before, had come back to lead the day’s event.  He began with the story of the resurrection of Lazarus and then began talking.  I understood a good part of the Gospel but then my sleepiness set in and I struggled in and out of sleep.  Between that and the fact that my Chinese isn’t incredible even when fully conscious, I didn’t catch a whole lot of the several hours of lecture that followed.  He explained why Catholics keep the corpus on the crucifix, pointed out that Jesus’ entire life was a progression towards Jerusalem, and remarked on the Chinese belief that names and numbers can control destiny, but I couldn’t figure out the overarching theme of it all.

This got harder when he put on a video called “+/- 2°C”, which was a look at natural disasters since last June and their cause, global warming.  As far as I can tell, it came out of nowhere, and immediately after the video ended, the lecture part was over.  That’s kind of too bad, as I think there’s a lot to be said about environmental stewardship in a church setting.  The humanitarian and social effects of pollution, energy dependence, and climate change are what attracted me to sustainable energy in the first place, and this year more than ever, Church leaders (including Pope Benedict and a Filipino cardinal) are speaking up about the same thing.  But, as it was, I was just mainly confused. 

I was also confused by the after-lunch activity we had.  (Incidentally, lunch consisted of fried rice with green vegetables.  My Chinese New Year Mom excitedly asked if I wanted worms with my fried rice, but I tried to protest politely by asking if worms might possibly be considered meat, which we can’t eat on Fridays in Lent.  I guess it worked!)

Anyway, back to the after-lunch activity.  Fr. He passed out songsheets, pulled up a Youku video, and had us all sing – AND DANCE – along to a Chinese praise-and-worship song.  First of all, it was weird doing these juvenile hand motions and movements in a room full of old Chinese women (and a few men).  Some of them were out of breath afterwards.  Secondly, half of the words in the song were ‘alleluia’, which we don’t use (and basically aren’t supposed to say) in church during the season of Lent.  Everywhere in the liturgy where we usually say ‘Alleluia!” is omitted or changed for the duration of Lent; the Gloria, whose joyfulness don’t really fit with the mood of the season, is also left out.  It’s kind of a bummer, but the self-denial makes Easter even more special and joy-filled.  So, I know that we aren’t supposed to say ‘Alleluia’ during lent, but maybe 阿肋路亚 doesn’t count?

After all this, though, things settled down into something more recognizable to me.  We moved downstairs to the church and they rearranged some pews.  I never know what’s going on until it’s too late, but as soon as I figured out they were setting up a second confessional, my heart started racing.  I don’t go to confession often enough, but I always go during Advent, Lent, and before leaving the country.  I never got around to it during Advent for multiple reasons, but had promised myself I would go sometime during Lent.  And, there you go – the perfect opportunity!

The set-up was not ideal, and I found myself – possibly for the first time – grateful that my Chinese is not so great, because listening to others confess is really uncomfortable.  I’m not going to lie; I also found some comfort in the knowledge that no one else would understand my confession either.  While the Church makes allowances for those without recourse to a priest with a common language, I was lucky enough that Fr. He could meet me half way.  I spoke in English and he responded in Chinese, and it worked out – at least enough for him to offer some pertinent counsel and for me to somewhat understand. 

After everyone had gone to confession, we had Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament and said the Divine Praises.  It was great, really just what I had needed.  I read a really amazing blog post a few months ago in which the author described the way she feels taken care of in church, and was reminded of that today.  From the loving concern exhibited by my church friends, to the welcome sound of the familiar Stabat Mater, to the availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation without me having to seek it out, to the language skills of my priest that were just enough to communicate, to the perfect ending of adoration, it was all just what I had needed but far more than I would have thought to ask for.


When I got back to XiaDa, I checked the class lists and schedules.  I’m in 二年下, the second semester of 2nd year, just as I thought.  The schedule looks pretty miserable, with 7 class periods somehow completely taking up the entire week, but maybe we’ll be able to change it.  Just have to buy my books before classes start on Monday!

Today was Diederik’s birthday, so we went out in a large group for dinner. 


Dinner included, among other things, amazing shrimp and delicious snap peas, plus we had a rooftop view of the ocean, framed by Xiamen’s illuminated highways.  Gefeliciteerd, Diederik!

I have two updates on current conditions in Xiamen.  First, weather: The humidity here is INSANE.  We’re currently at 100%, and it probably hasn’t dropped below 85% in days.  Everything is wet with no hope of drying.  Floors that were cleaned three days ago have turned into slick muddy paths.  Every slick surface – windows, mirrors, clocks, handrails, pews – is sweating.  It’s very weird and kind of uncomfortable.  The worst is that I have to do laundry really soon . . . it probably won’t dry for a week. 

I mentioned once that the internet situation sometimes changes as swiftly as the weather.  I think a front of internet freedom has moved into the area, but it’s hard to tell how long those conditions will linger.  It looks like the weekend is going to be great for WordPress, Blogspot, and Picasa Web Albums (all unblocked), so get out there and enjoy! 

Boys Are Stupid. Throw Rocks At Them

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2010 at 1:07 am

No, I didn’t get my heart broken today. 

I did, however, get beaten in a very competitive game of Catan, played against all males. 

It’s been awhile since I’ve played guys in Catan, at least since I left home.  (Yong Zhi doesn’t count because, whether it’s an individual or cultural thing, he’s very laidback, even when playing a game.)  When I played with Aleid, Eunjeong, and Denise, we would laugh and make jokes and apologize when stealing cards from each other. 

Today, I played with Yong Zhi and two of my new Dutch friends who already knew how to play.  Let’s just say there were no apologies offered when roads were purposefully placed in others’ way, when cards were stolen, or robbers were returned to the same hex that they had been inhabiting for the last 8 rounds. 

It’s okay, though, because it was still fun.  I don’t mind a little competition.  The insider trading between Jelle and Koen in Dutch was a little low, though, right?

The worst, though, is that I think I won but Koen is claiming the victory!  Apparently he learned that victory point development cards have to be turned over before they count, and their revealing is governed by the same rules as other development cards – not on the turn that they were bought, and only one card per turn.  So there we are, Koen and I tied at 9 points . . . I buy a victory point card and he’s got a city in his hands.  According to my rules, I win.  According to his rules, we continue playing and he builds the city, his 10th point, on his turn.

By the way, according to the rules I found on the internet, I was right.  Victory is mine!  I’ll tell Koen tomorrow. 

I spent the late afternoon working on the main texts of Night Prayer in Chinese.  They’re much shorter, feature way less variation, and basically seem easier in all ways than the Magnificat, so I think that’s my new goal. 

This evening I went out with friends to Me & You 2, a bar right on the water in Haiwan Park featuring “Xiamen’s best thin crust pizza”.  While I honestly wonder how stiff that competition is, I will say that it’s quite good. 


There’s a roof but no walls, which means our view of the ocean was almost unobstructed.  I really want to go back sometime to watch the sunset . . .

We went to a bar afterwards to hang out.  I looked through the menu and ended up getting a drink because the names were just so cool.  They’re basically the same names as in English, but just as Cuba Libre sounds better than Rum & Coke, 自由古巴 (literally “freedom Cuba”) sounds better than Cuba Libre.  I really wanted to get the 敢死队 (literally, “willing to die team”) or Kamikaze, but I don’t like shots. 

Oh!  Earlier today, Yong Zhi came over to my dorm to give me a present from his sister.  Honestly, I was expecting dried fruit or some 特产 (special product) that I would be much less excited to receive than they were to give, but it wasn’t like that at all!  His sister had hand-embroidered a banner of an auspicious saying in Chinese calligraphy. 


I don’t know how much time she spent on it, but I was really honored to be given such a thoughtful gift. 

Let’s Make Science More Funny!

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2010 at 12:44 am

I went to the library today.  Yeah, I know I was despairing yesterday of ever being literate – but this library has English books :)

Their collection is pretty random; except for a few full sets that were obviously bought new, I’m guessing that a good part of their English-language books were donated by departing ex-pats.  There’s a disproportional amount of chick-lit, but there were a few books that looked decent.  Most exciting was their selection of textbooks, including a mint edition of the Beer & Johnson Statics & Dynamics book; I stroked it lovingly and drooled a bit.

I forgot my passport so I’ll have to go again.  I always forget my passport, and it always takes me two trips to get anything done.  Bus rides are fun, though, and the library is in a nice part of town.  There’s a whole Culture and Arts Center, with a performance hall, cultural museum, library, and science museum. 

I want to go back to the science museum sometime and play around.  I love watching people discover basic scientific ideas like acceleration, and I love to geek out and think about all the fun toys in terms of equations and stuff. 

I also love the sign out front,


where 好玩 was translated as ‘funny’ instead of ‘fun’.  It works either way, though, really.  I could describe to you the great times we had in Dr. Henshaw’s classes hearing stories of epic engineering fails, or the laughs shared over Dr. McLaury’s numbers which always seemed to increase in significant figures, or the joy that accompanies doing any task with SENEA, but I would probably scare you by showing my true nerdiness.  Science is fun.  And funny.  For real.

I went to dinner with some friends and then went dancing for the first time in over a month!  There weren’t a ton of people there, but those present were happy to see me.  The first dance was the Viennese Waltz, which I managed to do just fine despite my long hiatus! 

My Soul Proclaims the Greatness of the Lord

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2010 at 1:33 am

Summer’s here; it’s official.  The first Chinese strolling with sun umbrellas were spotted, and the scarf shop has a small selection of the summer good on the front table.  I stopped by to stock up on gifts for friends back home because their scarf supply is running low . . .

Speaking of umbrellas, there’s a word in Chinese for sun umbrellas.  I hate it when people ask me the English word for things like that, because there isn’t really one.  ‘Sun umbrella’ is about as close as it gets, because they certainly aren’t parasols.  (As a matter of fact, I can’t tell the difference but they very particularly use two different words for umbrellas depending on their purpose of sun or rain.)  Another word in this category is “filial”.  I mean, the word exists, but can you think of an appropriate time to tell someone that they’re “a very filial daughter”?  It just doesn’t happen in English.  And this, folks, demonstrates how languages are not 1-to-1 correlations.

Caiqingjie, the restaurant on campus, finally opened today.  I went with a big group of friends (only half Dutch today), and it was just like old times last semester.  You know, we went around noon and had ordered within ten minutes but then got to enjoy an hour of conversation before the first dish was served.  The 炭烧茄子, the best eggplant dish in all of China, was very disappointing today.  I hope they get their act together soon!

After lunch I went for a walk across campus, around the lake, and down to the beach.  It was a sunny, fairly warm day, and the water even seemed especially blue, which was nice for a change.  Sometimes the air is so hazy in Xiamen that it’s impossible to tell where the water ends and the sea begins – and I don’t mean that there’s an everlasting stretch of brilliant blue!  It seems more like a vast concrete wall inches from your face.  There’s land not too far from the beach at Baicheng – I know, I’ve seen it a few times – but it hasn’t been visible recently.  Sometimes I wonder what China would look like if the air were perfectly clean.  I imagine it would be much more colorful. 

I spent a few hours this afternoon/evening starting to learn the Magnificat in Chinese.  (The Magnificat is Mary’s prayer in praise of God: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…”)  Several hours, and I’ve only just begun.  I wrote it out by hand, which took a good half hour, and then went through each character, painstakingly looking up the ones I didn’t know.  Even with an electronic dictionary with handwriting recognition, this isn’t an easy task.  Next step – memorize. 

Chinese isn’t very easy.  Forget the grammar or the vocabulary or even tones – it’s hard even besides all that.  There’s just something about it that seems downright hostile to aspiring students.  Sitting at my desk, struggling to be able to read a simple prayer, I wonder how I came to choose Chinese.  I love to read passionately; even when I grew disillusioned with Spanish classes, I occasionally read in Spanish.  But then I chose Chinese, a language in which I can only hope to become barely functional?  Signs, menus, directions – yes.  Prayers, hymns, the Bible – only by relying on my memory of the English counterparts.  Newspapers – maybe a headline.  A novel for pleasure – kill me now. 

I might sound somewhat despairing, but actually I’m surprisingly okay with everything I just wrote.  I’m like a frog that was placed in cool water that has slowly been brought to a boil; there were a lot of places in the past where I maybe should have got out while I could, but I didn’t and here I am, studying Chinese and living in China.  Stuff happened, and I know that I’m here doing this for a reason. 

Guacamole – It’s Like A Fiesta in My Mouth

In Uncategorized on February 23, 2010 at 2:00 am


The day started out rainy, but the sun came out in force around noon, like the voice of God commanding us to have a good day.  So we did.

Aleid came back today so I got to her!  I went to lunch with the Dutch group – Diederik, Aleid and her boyfriend, and the two new guys from yesterday whose names I can’t spell yet.  They spoke more Dutch than usual, but it was okay because I understood my first whole sentence of Dutch!  It sounded something like “eine lange tunel” and meant “a long tunnel”.  I know, right?

After lunch I went to register.  It took like 3 minutes for me to get a new stamp in my student card.  I guess I get to do another semester here!

Back at home checking the news, I learned that the US men’s hockey team beat Canada on their home ice.  It put me in the Olympics mood – the winter Olympics mood, the Olympic hockey mood – so I pulled up the movie Miracle on YouKu (the Chinese version of Youtube, just with less respect for copyright laws).  Man, it was crazy to hear those Minnesotan accents again!!

Miracle just whetted my appetite for all things icy, so I pulled up the other winter Olympics classic – Cool Runnings!  What a great movie – both of them actually.  They sum up all that I love about the Olympics.  Yes, I love watching my countrymen push themselves, and win, but I love a good underdog story as well.  Go Jamaica!!

I met Deni and Paloma for dinner; we went to Furong 3rd floor, which just opened today.  As Deni said, Furong 3rd floor is not a cafeteria – it is pretty much the pinnacle of Chinese food.  Or something.  At least they make a pretty mean fried noodle.

The real food came after dinner, though.  My two precious avocados from yesterday were destined to become a bowl of guacamole, and I enlisted the help of my Latin American friends in the preparation.  It turns out guacamole is roughly universal in the Spanish-speaking world, but I learned a few tips from Mexico.  The addition of olive oil was delicious, and apparently leaving the pit in the guacamole helps stop it from turning brown.


We made a bowl each of pico and guacamole, and took them downstairs along with the bag of Mission tortilla chips lovingly imported by my parents, and had ourselves a fiesta.  We were joined by Carlos, just back from Spain, and a few beers from the convenient snack booth downstairs. 


It reminded me of good times back at TU, when chips and various dips comprised approximately 1/3 of my diet . . . We hung out for several hours, snacking on chips and talking.  Topics included Spanish grammar, the sociology of American TV, and the best local Chinese restaurants – also just like back at TU.  (Not.)

Before going to bed, I would like to mention two things that happened today that I believe indicate an important transition in my life from adolescence to adulthood.  That’s right, I started wearing an analog watch and I have used up an entire tube of Carmex.  If you think these things aren’t a big deal, then you don’t know me.  I’ve been wearing the same style of watch since junior high – $19.99 digital Timex with stopwatch and alarm – and, in fact, wear it so religiously that its exact outline, buttons and all, is imprinted on my tanned wrist in blinding white.  I’ve been wearing a digital watch for so long that, to be honest, I’m not that great at telling time.  But my watch broke and there’s no JC Penney in the neighborhood so I’m going to give it a try – a a watch with HANDS instead of numbers.  I think I’m going to look really classy all the time now.  Or, you know, just be late to everything.

As for the Carmex, I’m just really proud that I managed to use one tube until it was empty without losing it or sending it through the dryer.  In all my 21 years and who-knows-how-many tubes of Chapstick or Carmex, I don’t think that has ever happened.  Is it sad that I’ve been really excited about this day – the day when I could get no more Carmex out of the tube – for the last few weeks, as I’ve watched it get thinner and thinner? 

That’s What This Blog Has Been Missing!

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2010 at 11:46 pm

I found avocados today!!!!!

This was pretty much the highlight of my stay in China thus far.  Xiamen, despite being a tropical island, is not an avocado-producing island.  I imagine that the climate would be just right for growing avocados, but for some reason they are not grown here.  It is one of the constant disappointments of my life, because I think most days are better with a bowl of guacamole.  Am I right, or am I right?  (Although, really, the lack of avocados is not the only stumbling block here; there are also no tortilla chips.  I mean, there is a green saltine-looking cracker that mysteriously tastes like a Tostito, but isn’t that a little weird?)  The lack of avocados goes on the list of things about China that I will never understand, along with the acceptability of spitting indoors, the undefined ends of phone calls, and the preference for chicken feet over actual meat. 

But, as I mentioned, today I triumphed!  Following a tip from a friend, I went to Metro to look for avocados (and a dozen other things on my Metro-only shopping list).  There they were, in all their wrinkly beauty . . . I was planning on getting four until I saw the price – 72 kuai per jin!  Neither of those units probably make sense to you, but taking 6.8 kuai as $1 and 1 jin (half a kilo) as 1.1 lb, it turns out that they were almost $10 a pound!  Swallowing deeply, I grabbed two and went to check out.  $5 for two avocados!  I am really looking forward to that guacamole . . .

Shopping at Metro is like mini culture shock.  In a usual Chinese supermarket, the average item is probably under 10 kuai ($1.50).  I have to be careful in Metro, though, as most items I want are about $5 each.  Cheese, butter, powdered sugar, baking mixes – all in the range of 30 kuai.  It was so easy to spend $50 today, which is a ridiculous sum of money in China! 

Back at home, I decided to put some numbers with my gut feelings of “cheap” and “expensive”.  I graphed the price by weight ($/lb) of several food items:


I feel slightly nerdy, and it feels AWESOME.  And it feels awesome that feeling nerdy still feels awesome . . . Did you follow that?

The data set is far from complete, as it only contains items from Metro whose receipts I still have and two fruits I recently bought, but I still think it’s interesting.  Avocados are, by weight, the most expensive thing I’ve bought in China, narrowly edging out cheese and butter (the good stuff I buy for bread).  I’m going to the supermarket tomorrow and plan to add more fruits and vegetables as well as anything else I find interesting.  I would also like to do a comparison with American prices, so I hope you’re looking forward to some more graphs!  I think that’s what this journal has been missing all along . . .

Today Xiamen took the opportunity to remind us of what a charming city it can be when the sun is out.  It was a gorgeous day – not too hot and not too cold, and all you need is a light jacket!  (And scarf, of course.)  After dropping off my groceries, I went out to the beach to check out the sunset.  Evening Prayer before such a vista is one of the simple pleasures of life, one that I hope to partake of more in the upcoming months.

Each time I left campus today, I felt like a fish swimming upstream.  The students of Xiamen University are returning in full force – finally!  The little convenience store downstairs opened today so we were finally able to get drinking water for our room, and the CaiQingJie restaurant opens tomorrow.  S

I met Diederik and three new Dutch guys for dinner.  Would “Holland and the Dutchmen” make a good band name?  I think so.  If you’ll allow me to make a generalization about the entire Dutch people based on 6 of them, I think they’re great.  Again, my data set is a little skewed – for instance, almost all of the Dutch people speak Chinese, and they’re all between the ages of 20 and 25 – but hey, it’s all based on my own personal experiences.

Come to think of it, every single one of the Slovenians I know speaks Chinese.  That’s probably not typical of the general population, is it? 

[Insert Title Here]

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2010 at 1:40 am

My breakfast today – a bowl full of strawberries and three bananas – cost 50 cents.  Have I mentioned loving fruit (and their prices) here in China?  I tried a new fruit today – the small mangos – and was reasonably impressed, but I think the discovery of a kumquat vendor right next to the malatang soup place was more exciting.  Polished off a pound of those today . . . Katrine also tried a new fruit (heard of the custard apple, anyone?) which was good, but also randomly ridiculously expensive – one of them cost nearly $4.

I went to lunch at the malatang soup place with some friends, those who made it out of bed before our 2 o’clock date.  I thought me and my friends back home (okay, mainly me) could be pretty lazy, but I have never seen people like my friends here.  I think the only times I’ve slept past noon were times when I was really sick, but here it is not unusual at all.  Part of it may be the drinking . . . Growing up in America, I was always led to believe that we drink irresponsibly as a function of the high drinking age, but based on my experience living in China with a bunch of foreigners I would like to say that is utter bull.  Maybe Europeans grow up sipping a glass of wine with dinner, but once they’re my age, they drink like fishes.  Maybe it’s something about people who choose to come to China, maybe it’s something about China (goodness knows I sometimes try to drown my frustrations in a glass of milk tea), but it is definitely something.  I’ve heard more stories of hangovers, throwing up in inappropriate places, bruises one can’t remember, and incriminating photos here than I ever did in America. 

I live between Muslim families.  There is absolutely no sense of community in NanGuangWu (my dorm) so I barely even notice (other than to wonder how whole families live in rooms this size).  But since I’ve been home, I’ve been noticing.  I think the kids are on break from school, and they’re quite loud; their favorite game seems to be Bang the Headboard Against the Wall.  Also, the men pray throughout the day.  Several times every day, I hear chanting in an unfamiliar language, so at least I assume they’re praying.  It doesn’t bother me, and it helped me feel okay about starting to chant the Salve Regina before I go to bed.  At least I don’t bang the headboard against the wall!

I went to church with Andrea from Romania tonight.  She’s Orthodox, but as the nearest church is in Shanghai, she comes to Catholic Mass.  When she told me she had consulted with her priest about it, I said I had too – but then I had to explain about the Chinese Patriotic Church and all because she had no idea.  There is so much misinformation about the Church in China, but this was perhaps the first time I ran into a lack of information, wrong or right.  Is this because she’s Orthodox?  European?  Just her?  I don’t know.

The Gospel today was Jesus being tempted in the desert.  No idea on the first two readings, but 1/3 is about as good as I get.  I also understood a good part of the homily because a) it was the same explanation of the significance of 40 days as every beginning-of-Lent homily, and b) it contained a lot of numbers.  Father He (visiting from Taiwan) walked us through the calculations for the dates of Easter and Lent.  In case you were wondering, Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.  The Chinese calendar is also lunar, which I’m guessing means that this overlap between the New Year and Lent occurs annually?  Lame.

There was a woman nodding off during the homily.  Then all of a sudden she sat up straight, and I thought she had heard something something interesting and decided to pay attention.  But then she leaned to the right . . . and then I heard a farting sound . . . and then she went back to sleep.  Also, three people answered their cell phones during Mass.  Remember my first Sunday as choir director with Cell Phone Man (whose transgression was so infamous that he was named after it!) answered his phone during Mass?  Yeah, it wouldn’t even register with me anymore – much less texting.  The Venn diagram of “Actions that are permissible” and “Actions that are permissible in church” basically consists of a single circle here in China. 

Diederik invited me to dinner with the French and a new Dutch guy at 8.  I usually really hate such late dinners (darn Europeans) but tonight it was perfect.  I was happy to see Diederik, just back from the Netherlands, and went up to hug him.  It ended up being awkward, as he was expecting to exchange kisses.  I miss hugs!  Again, darn Europeans. 

We ordered hotpot cabbage, braised eggplant, cold chicken, and fish.  The waitress told us they were out of that kind of fish, so I told her to bring us whatever kind of fish they had.  She brought squid.  In what world is squid an appropriate substitute for fish?? 

Back in my room, I finished watching 花木兰, the Chinese version of the story of Mulan.  There are some differences with the Disney version.  I mean, right off the bat, they’re speaking Chinese.  Also, the songs are way less memorable; I can’t think of a single one that I would sing with my friends.  But seriously, it’s a live-action historical drama, so there’s less color, humor, and physically impossible physiques.  The story line is quite different – for example, two guys (including the love interest) find out she’s a girl in the first 10 minutes of the 100-minute movie!  She is portrayed as a natural for taking her father’s place: she actually fights (well!) and is promoted to general, from which position she leads her troops for twelve years.  I followed it pretty well, but wasn’t able to figure out the random foreigner in the Hun’s court or where the crazy sandstorm came from.  I did like the fact that the memorable lines were more moving than funny, but in the end I was disappointed with the film.  The lovers part ways!?!  That’s just crap, China; next time, add a happy ending . . . and a dragon.

I think I am more addicted to Google Reader than to any other site.  It’s where I catch the news, read friends’ blogs, and get some laughs. is a classic, 1000 Awesome Things makes my heart glow most days, but I don’t know that anything can top The Onion.  Almost every headline makes me laugh out loud – before even reading the article – which is good, because I have to use my proxy and sometimes the Great Firewall figures out that I’m not actually in San Francisco.  Examples:

  • Sports: Construction Restricts Daytona 500 Traffic to One Lane
  • Ford Recalls 2010 Mustang For Being Too Cool
  • NASA Scientists Plan to Approach Girl By 2018
  • Family Concerned After Aging TV Show Has Another Terrible Episode
  • Hometown Boy Makes Good Enough
  • Miss Teen U.S.A. Declares Herself Miss Teen U.S.A. For Life
  • Best Thing That Ever Happened to Area Man Yelling At Him About Socks
  • Sports: Saints, Colts Hoping To Resolve Super Bowl Through Diplomacy
  • Secondhand Smoke Linked to Secondhand Coolness
  • In Focus: Wal-Mart Announces Massive Rollback on Employee Wages
  • Self-Defense Tips That Will Only Make Him Angrier
  • Friendship Between Caterpillar, Horse Exploited For Cheap Children’s Book
  • Make-A-Reasonable-Request Foundation Provides Sick Child With Decent Seats To Minnesota Timberwolves Game
  • Dubai Debt Crisis Halts Building of World’s Largest Indoor Mountain Range
  • Jews’ Covenant With God Is Up For Renewal

I could go on and on (in fact, I think I did), but you get the picture.  The Onion is unblocked [today] in China – celebrate by checking it out!

Usually I write a post and then look for the unifying theme to help me choose a title.  Most days, surprisingly, have unifying themes.  I’m most proud of my post “Digging Our Own Graves”, which contained an account of the self-service hot sand therapy and my thoughts on the dangerous consequences of China’s One-Child policy, but I make do most days.  Today, though – I have written, I have looked, and have not found.  Sorry. 

What If English Were Written in Characters?

In Uncategorized on February 19, 2010 at 11:48 pm

It’s miserably cold here – the high today was 10 degrees.  Of course this is in Celsius, but when outside temperature = inside temperature, I think 50F counts as cold.

I spent most of the day wrapped up in my comforter, either in bed or at the computer.  I went out for dinner, which may have been the warmest part of the day – probably because temperatures of 50 degrees are considered acceptable when outside.

My main goal today was resuming my Chinese character studies with the program Anki.  I stopped my daily reviews when my parents came and, in the month since then, almost a third of my 4,000+ flash cards came due.  I went through a thousand or so in good time, but now the 230 that I failed are waiting for me to try again . . . I was impressed with how easily some characters came back – even some that I found very hard to learn or just added (攒,陡, 套,柜,鼻,偷,烧,制), but of course it goes the other way as well.  There were some really easy or common characters that I wrote wrong or completely blanked on (热,站,笔,奶).  All in all, probably about what I should have expected after taking such a long break. 

It’s been a slow day, but I would like to share some links I’ve been accumulating:

  • This article from the Union of Catholic Asian News talks about a priest in India who recently turned 90.  His life’s work has been translating Catholic resources into Khasi, a local tribal language.  So far, he’s written Khasi-Hebrew and Khasi-Aramaic dictionaries, and is praying for 10 more years to finish the Bible in Khasi.  This story blew me away – what dedication!
  • This article was on UCAN a few months ago, detailing the growth of Catholicism in China over the last few decades (which has not kept up with overall population growth).  Some basic numbers: 5.7 million Catholics.  3,300 priests.  1,250 seminarians (major and minor).  5,500 nuns and 350 brothers.  Of course, these numbers are questionable because of the state of religious freedom in China, making underground house churches hard to count.  A Hong Kong institute’s figures are much higher – 12 million Catholics.  Also, there are less than 10 bishops who do not have a papal mandate.
  • I came across this article last summer: “If English Were Written Like Chinese”.  It’s a really interesting explanation of the Chinese writing system, as the author takes you step-by-step through the creation of a similar system for English.  It may help some of you make more sense of the crazy characters.  The good news: They’re not as bad as they seem.  The bad news: They’re much, much worse.  All at the same time.  Welcome to Chinese!