Maria Holland

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

辛德勒的名单 (Schindler’s List)

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2010 at 10:39 pm

I’m good about spacing out restaurants so that I don’t tire of them, but fail at this when it comes to particular foods (especially fruit!).  I’ve been through the mandarin oranges phase, the milk tea phase, the pomelo phase, the kumquat phase, the strawberry phase, the peanut baozi phase, the tangyuan phase, and am now wholeheartedly in the mango phase.  The typical morning this week has begun with a walk down to the beach at Baicheng, buying three mangos, then peeling and eating them while watching an episode or two of Big Bang Theory.  Since the weather has been extraordinarily nice every morning this week, it’s been a perfect morning routine. 

My last midterm, Oral, was this afternoon.  I chose to the option to “introduce a movie that made a deep impression on you” in a three-minute speech.  Behold:


The movie that has made the deepest impression on me is Schindler’s List.  It’s based on a true story that took place during the Second World War.  It’s about a German named Schindler.  After Germany invaded Poland, he started a factory there, thinking that if he started a business in a war zone he would make a lot of money.  Because the Jews’ wages were relatively low, he hired only Jews.  The Holocaust was going on, and the Jews’ lives were very hard – for instance, they all lived in one section of the city and couldn’t freely go out.  But Schindler didn’t care about their situation.  Actually, he really didn’t care about anything besides profits.  Later, the lives of the Jews became more and more dangerous, as they started being sent to concentration camps and being killed.  Schindler gradually realized that the lives of all people are precious, and he started to use his power, his connections, and his money to redeem his workers.  In the end, he spent all of his money, but he wanted save lives even if it meant having no money.  Altogether, he saved over a thousand people.  The final scene of the movie shows the cemetery where Schindler is buried.  Many people walk by, placing small rocks on his grave.  They are all Schindler’s Jews and their descendents.  The descendents now number over 6,000, all of whom where saved by Schindler.  I think this movie is very meaningful.  It reminds me that our actions, no matter how small, can have large consequences. 

I was surprised when I went in and the teacher said we couldn’t even glance at written notes, but apparently I had succeeded in memorizing the new words (WWII, Holocaust, concentration camps, redeem, cemetery, grave, and descendents).  Operation: Midterm is deemed a success!

This evening, Aleid, Katrine, Eunice, and I celebrated by going out to a night market.  We had malatang for dinner followed by a generous sampling of street food (including pancake-like things!).  There was lots to see and we all bought something – a pair of sandals for me.  Yeah, they’re technically men’s shoes – so what?  In China, the definition of a “good shoe” is “one that comes in size 40”. 

On the bus ride home, Eunice and I noticed an prime example of an important cultural difference.  In China, it is acceptable for friends of the same gender to hold hands, link arms, lean on each other and – apparently – sit on each other’s laps.  I’m getting more and more used to it – obviously I don’t freak out if a girl friend grabs my hand, but I’ve also largely stopped making assumptions about two guys walking together, one holding an umbrella and the other with his arm around his friend’s waist. 

But then we saw a guy sit on his guy friend’s lap, said friend opening his legs to accommodate the other guy.  Eunice and I were both so surprised, and tried very hard not to stare!  If I ever sit on a guy’s lap, it’s a perching-on-the-knee sort of thing, certainly not sitting between his open legs!  For girls, the only situations I can think of that would make sitting on another girl’s lap acceptable would be a) crowded car rides, b) really cold place, or c) a little kid.  And between guys . . . Well, I can’t picture it as any thing but a joke that would last no longer than 2 seconds.  When I asked YongZhi about this a while back, he said that the only rule is you don’t touch skin.  Apparently, everything else goes!

When You Look Like Me, Bad Things Happen

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2010 at 1:56 am

I had a midterm in my main class today; it was pretty easy.  The only weird part was the question about Americans: “The ideal place for Americans to get together is a coffee shop, and the most natural way to pay is to split the bill.  True or False?” 

The two sections took the test at the same time, so the teacher had to go back and forth between two classrooms.  This, of course, is the optimum cheating environment.  The teacher even prefaced the test with some words about cheating, but it made absolutely no difference.  The Russians talked out loud while she was away and merely brought it down to a clearly-audible whisper when she was present.  The teacher did nothing, having fulfilled her obligation to warn against cheating but not desiring to actually do anything that might be unpopular.  This seems very Chinese to me – concern for appearance over reality, or for the letter of the law over the spirit.  For instance, today I read an article about the crackdown on pirated DVDs in Shanghai leading up to the Expo.  Most sources say that the stores are just cutting their stores in half, letting the front serve as a facade for the DVD shop in the back.  Most sources also say that the authorities know about this but that their efforts allow them to claim they’re doing everything possible to stop piracy.

I nearly died on my way back from lunch at West Gate.  Just in the last few days, cars and buses have started stopping for pedestrians in the cross walk.  This is way weird, and basically just results in mass confusion because no one can believe that the vehicles are actually stopping to let people walk.  I like the way it used to be, like Frogger.  At least it was predictable: there is no way in hell that car is going to yield to you, so walk with caution. 

On the bus ride over to church for choir practice, I started wondering.  How much money does it cost to make America handicap-friendly?  By extension, how much money is China saving?  For instance, every single bus in the Twin Cities’ Metro Transit system is equipped with a wheelchair lift; by contrast, not a single one in the Xiamen fleet is.  I was thinking about how disproportionate this allocation of funds must be, but surprisingly felt pleased by it.  We could probably save a lot of money/resources/time/hassle by ignoring the needs of the small percentage of people who need such assistance, but I guess at least in this case our democracy (and/or morals) save us from the tyranny of the majority.  On a related note, I would like to ask a disabled American what they think of the accessibility of things in America?  Obviously it’s more than China, but is it enough? 

Choir practice so interesting to me – first of all, it’s a little weird being in the choir again instead of directing the choir, and then there’s the whole in-China aspect.  Weekly Chinese-singing practice (a.k.a. “Mass”) has served me well these past 8 months.  I’m way better at reading number-music than I was when I came; at least they make more sense to me than neumes (the original way of writing Gregorian chant).  When we do warm-ups by sing all of the vowel sounds, it makes sense to me to pronounce “mo” as “mwoh” instead of “mo”.  I automatically sing 的 as ‘di’ and 了as ‘liao’, instead of ‘de’ and ‘le’ (as they are pronounced in normal speech).  I understand why they pronounce “cum” as “cuem” and even found myself singing “Maliya” instead of “Maria”!  But there’s only so much I can fit in.  I am, in nearly every sense of the word, the elephant in the room – the abnormally large one in the front row who, while no one overtly acknowledges it, doesn’t quite understand what’s going on all the time.

One of my favorite things about being in the choir is my Little Brother.  I met him way back in December when I went to the church choir competition; we immediately struck it off over our shared love (more like, awareness) of the Timberwolves and Nickelback.  He’s 17, I think, and I didn’t know his name (嘉晟, jiāshèng, or Jason) until today, so I just called him 弟弟, or Little Brother.  (Side note: Holy crap, I’m old.)  He is a choir director’s nightmare, as he has a really amazing voice, but . . . is a teenage boy.  He likes to talk during practice, including English phrases that (while always appropriate for the situation at hand) were obviously learned from TV or movies.  Basically, he reminds me of my entire tenor/bass section back home!

My other favorite thing about choir is singing (go figure).  It’s my first chance to sing harmony in 8 months . . . seriously, how have I survived?  Also, I just adore Latin; if it were an option, I probably would have preferred to study abroad in a Latin-speaking country!  But seriously, Latin is not a dead language – it’s the language of the Universal Church.  I always knew this, but rehearsing the Misa de Angelis with the choir of my church in China kind of has a way of driving the point home.  The thing is, Latin was the only language of Catholicism for a long time, and even now it is used for important events (often in the form of chant). 

I remember, back in my first year as the choir director at the TU Newman Center, when I suggested changing to Latin Mass parts for Lent.  Some students objected on the basis that chant was unfamiliar to most students and might drive away those who come for the music.  I wrote the following [excerpt from a longer email] in reply:

. . . Someday, all the students at the Newman Center are going to leave and they’re never going to sing the Senhor Tende [a setting of the Kyrie in Portuguese] again.  Fr. Jovis [our Nigerian priest] has a good perspective on it because he’s not American.  He’s not familiar with the parts we’re using now, but he knows the chant.  It’s part of the catholicity of our Church, which students need to appreciate as much as they do the things that make Newman special, or they won’t continue past college because it’s "not the same" as it was in college.

I feel the same way now.  Yes, I miss the music at Newman, but Mass is more than praise & worship hour, and I don’t come for the music.  I’m glad for the things that make each church special, but I’m also glad for the things that make the Catholic Church catholic.  Latin is one of those things.  I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to study Gregorian Chant at Newman, and truly treasure this experience to sing it with my foster church.  Latin may be a second language for all of us, but it’s the mother tongue of the Church. 

Choir practice was the high point of my day, and it went downhill from there.  On my way to the bus stop, as I was walking through the shady (literally and figuratively) construction site, I passed a man who stared at me.  This happens all the time, so it’s not usually a big deal, but I usually glance over my shoulder a few seconds later to see if they’re still staring.  Double-takes, triple-takes, crashing bicycles into nearby obstacles – all of this is rather commonplace.  But this guy had halted in his tracks, cigarette dangling out of his slack-jawed mouth.  Um, really?  Is that really necessary?  I keep walking, but take one more peek behind me – only to see that they man has changed course and is now following me.  I was seriously sketched out by this point, so I started walking at a superhuman speed only possible with my insanely long legs, not daring to look behind me again until I had reached the busy area by the bus stop.  Apparently I lost him (in a cloud of dust, quite possibly), but I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling.  This was really only the second time I’ve ever felt unsafe in China, the other time also a case of being followed (by Smelly Man)

Continuing on the downward trajectory, LiuQin started talking to me on QQ once I arrived back home.  I finally figured out what’s going on: I’m being used.  Hardcore.  Here it is, as far as I can figure out: Of the four sections with tickets for the ordination, only one is actually in the church; people in the other sections will watch the ceremony on TV.  As space is limited, tickets to the main area have been reserved for the most important guests – bishops, priests, sisters, brothers, Fr. Cai’s family . . . and foreigners.  Somehow, LiuQin got two tickets in the 5th row on the condition/premise that she would be sitting there with me, a foreigner.  I didn’t figure this out until she basically said it: “Tickets for this are really scarce, but they set aside two tickets – one for you and one for me!  So if you go, I can say you gave me the ticket, because you’re a foreigner.”  My plans to join the choir or volunteer in some other fashion threw a wrench in this plan, which means she’s spent the last two days trying to convince me not to sing with the choir.  Her attempts have ranged from “I don’t think they’ll actually allow you to join” to “The person in charge of the tickets thinks that it’s just better for you to be with me” to continually reminding me that the tickets are in the 5th row. 

After repeating my desire to sing with the choir, she remembered me saying something about my Korean classmate who didn’t have a ticket.  Apparently she’s not sure if using him will fly, because “Koreans look just like Chinese, everyone will think he’s Chinese!”  Refer to second paragraph about concern for appearances over reality . . .

Not actually sure which is worse: being stalked or being used?  

Tests, Both In and Out of the Classroom

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2010 at 11:15 pm

I wore my ‘ne-used’ pants today – the ones that I got taken in by the tailor for $3.  Before: American Eagle khakis purchased at Goodwill for $8, hems worn ragged in the intervening years.


After: straight-leg trousers with clean hems. 


Quite pleased.  I had lunch with some friends at a restaurant I hadn’t been to in a long time.  The food was good, but the conversation was better.  It started out by XuLei saying that Alaska and Las Vegas are the top dream wedding destinations in America for Chinese people?!?  This led to XuLei making a plan to go to Las Vegas to get hitched to a stranger when she’s 30 (if she’s not married by then).  It was good to see her blush after she made fun of me for the same at the gynecologist. 

I had an afternoon midterm– Listening – but it was over quickly and mainly without stress.  Then I took my books over to LunDu, where I sat by the water and enjoyed the view of the sun setting over Gulangyu as I read over class texts in preparations for tomorrow’s midterm.  It was a great idea – beautiful environment, and I even randomly ran into Yerkin over there! 

I came back to campus for dance class, where I continued learning to shake what my mother gave me but never taught me how to shake.  Haha, just kidding.  Kind of.  After class officially ended, a few people hung around to work on their routines for the upcoming dance competition.  I know, my life basically follows the script of every dance movie ever made.  Girl joins dance class without any clue, meets amazing male dancer; one day a competition is announced and because of [insert special circumstance here], they enter together; as they learn to dance together, they teach each other about their different worlds and they learn about themselves; they win dance competition and fall in love.  Only I wasn’t there the day they announced the competition and Lester asked LiXiang first.  He actually did tell me that he was going to ask me if she said no, but today I saw them dance and was flattered that he even considered me a viable backup.  Thing is, I’m not dancing-movie lead-actress material – I guess I’m the extra in this movie? 

Before class I had a conversation with another student.  He’s a law graduate student, and asked me about criminal rights in America.  When I say “conversation” here, I mean that in the absolute loosest sense of the word.  This is the second time I have realized my absolute lack of all Chinese vocabulary relating to the law besides the word “law”.  It’s hard to even work around this knowledge gap, because how can you describe a criminal if you don’t know the words for “crime”, “prison”, “trial”, or “arrested”?  I ended up using more theological language, referring to “sinners” and “really big sins”.  I remember someone writing in a blog post that fluency is best measured by how you handle ‘curveballs’ in the language – topics that you are unfamiliar with and unprepared for.  Thus, while the average Chinese person may be impressed that I know the words to the Mass or names of different dances, my facade breaks down when it comes to things like the law. 

This evening, LiuQin added me on QQ.  In case you don’t remember, LiuQin is the woman from church who drives me crazy – the one who addresses me by saying “hello, foreigner”, who gets exasperated when I don’t understand new words like “bishop” and “invade”, and who speaks insultingly slow when telling me the simplest things.  She is the language barrier, personified.  Yet, she seems to like me (enough to invest the time in mocking me?) and I’m duty-bound to forgive her teasing 70 x 7 times. 

Anyways, I’m kind of glad to interact with her online, where I have recourse to a dictionary and where our conversation is recorded verbatim.  Here’s a translation:

LiuQin: Do you know who I am, Foreigner?

Maria: Of course I know!

LiuQin: Have you decided whether or not to volunteer on May 8th [the ordination of our new bishop]?

Maria: Yes I am going to, but I still don’t know what I will be doing.

LiuQin: I really think you shouldn’t volunteer, you might not be able to get into the church.  I heard there are four sections – A is in the church, but B, C, and D will be watching on TV!
Are you listening, Foreigner?  Do you understand what I mean?

Maria: Yeah, I understand.

And so the conversation continued for a few more lines, although at least she didn’t call me Foreigner anymore.  I guess I’ll be seeing her on the 8th, which is much more of an incentive to work on my Mandarin than my midterm tomorrow . . .

Adventuring Towards . . . Life

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2010 at 1:00 am

It’s that time of the month again – of course, I’m referring to the 26th, the anniversary of my arrival in Xiamen.  Today I am marking 8 months here!  As that count increases, the number of months until I go home becomes a more manageable number.  Funny how that works, eh? 

This has been the month when it really sank it that I’m missing ‘my’ senior year – it happened somewhere between turning 22 and hearing about my classmates’ grad school choices.  I’ve been dealing with it pretty well, though – obviously it’s more than a little sad for me, but I’ve also realized that I can’t miss a year of my own life.  I’m missing out on the senior year that I would have had if I had followed the traditional route, but I took the road less traveled and – let me tell you – that has made all the difference. 

Maybe this was long ago apparent to everyone else, but I literally realized last week of the deeper meaning behind my blog title.  I chose it because my first trips to China introduced me to the joy and surprises that await when you allow yourself to be flexible with details of a trip – things like the destination, arrival time, mode of transportation, etc.  Seeing how easy it was to have grand adventures this way, even I (type-A engineering-minded perfectionist) learned to let go a little, get on random buses, say “yes” when anyone invites me anywhere, and not worry when the train leaves a few hours late. 

But I seriously never considered applying this way of thought to anything larger than traveling.  I know that someone said “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”, but I never understood that quote because I was too busy making plans to pay attention.  It wasn’t until after I wrote last week’s post about the crazy adventures being instigated by the volcano, that I realized how true my words were:

As the title of this blog indicates, I’ve come to embrace the “adventure” style of traveling that I was first introduced to on crazy taxi rides in Jilin.  When I travel, I “adventure” towards a destination – hoping to eventually get there, but remaining open to experimental modes of travel and possibly even alternate destinations if they come up as options or necessities.  It can be stressful if traveling on a deadline but is an unusually rich source of interesting stories: Nearly getting sold into white slavery only kilometers from the Russian border.  An unexpected 3-day vacation in Yanji instead of taking finals back home.  Sharing a toothbrush with Aleid because our hosts insisted we stay the night.

Life is an adventure.  It’s probably on all sorts of motivational posters, but cliché doesn’t make things untrue.  At least since high school, I have been headed towards college graduation in 2010 and grad school after that.  There were slight deviations from the plan along the way (for instance, the ‘drastic’ major change from Engineering Physics to Mechanical Engineering), but mainly I stayed true to the original itinerary.  It made sense!  It’s like flying from China to the States: yes, there are other options, but ‘rowboat’ doesn’t really seem like a valid one so you go with the default.

But when I applied for this scholarship, I got off the beaten road and started adventuring.  I’m still heading in the same general direction – graduating from college and probably grad school afterwards – but I’ve stopped obsessing about the when’s, where’s, and how’s.  There has been a little bit of stress when I fall back into the mode of worrying about deadlines, but there has been no shortage of interesting stories and amazing experiences.  


Speaking of goals I’ve long since given up, today should have been my last day of undergrad.  Everyone’s facebook statuses are variations on the theme of “OMG this is my last XXXX ever!”, but since we’re just headed into midterms over here, it all seems a little too surreal for me to be sad about it.  I remember the summer after my freshman year, on the Newman pilgrimage to Italy, how Stephen and I spent one afternoon together wandering the streets of Rome.  Neither of us remembers really clearly what we did, because later we found out that a bunch of our friends had followed a Marian procession into St. Peter’s Basilica for a Mass in honor of Our Lady of Fatima.  Within months, we had forgotten what we had done and were left only with memories of what we hadn’t done.  I guess that was a fear that I had when coming here, but it turned out to be unfounded. 


Today after class, I bought my return ticket from Changchun, went to the tailor to pick up my pants and order a pair of trouser shorts and a dress, and went to my very first Chinese choir practice.  I really only know the young men in choir, but apparently pretty much everyone knows me.  The other day when I was going up the stairs to the choir loft to ask if I could join, a woman I swear I’d never seen before asked me if I was going to play piano like I usually do; today the woman I sat next to didn’t know my name but did remember when my parents came and what they looked like. 

We started out by going through the Misa de Angelis, the Latin chant setting we’re using for the Mass parts.  It was so familiar and comforting, like pulling on a pair of sweatpants warm from the dryer.  (I haven’t seen a dryer in 8 months, but I vaguely remember that being a really good feeling.)  The words came back quickly and the melody never really left my heart.  I am really impressed with how the choir sounds (although compared with my old chanting buddy Stephen, almost anything would be an improvement).  Their pronunciation is a little off, though – for instance, they say “gum spiritu shantu” instead of “cum spiritu sanctu”. 

The music for the ordination Mass is only partially in Latin, which means I quickly lost the advantage.  I sure got my Chinese reading practice in for the day; I hope I get extra credit, because some of the characters were hand-written.  Singing in Chinese is even more complicated than you probably imagine.  In addition to the lyrics being in characters, the tune is written as numbers instead of notes on a staff.  There’s no visual aide to help figure out the melody, and it means that when they discuss certain parts of the music they refer to “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do” instead of “C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C”.  When you sing, you pray twice; when you sing in Chinese, you translate three times. 

I never really figured out exactly who the people were who gave me a ride home.  I also never really figured exactly what the snack was that Fr. Cai gave me on my way out – it somehow tasted EXACTLY like a smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich despite containing no fruit or anything resembling bread. 

But that’s part of the adventure, right?  The little surprises and big joys are what made today wonderful, a day that I’m pretty sure I’ll remember as more than just the day I didn’t finish college.

The Law of Diminishing Returns

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Ah summer – please don’t ever leave us again.  You and Xiamen belong together, like kungpao belongs with chicken. 

Today we officially inaugurated the beach as prime hang-out spot for the rest of the year.  Jimmy brought most of the food, which really means I don’t have to say anything else because you should know we ate well.  Toasted bread, fruit, salads, corn-on-the-cob, and oh the meat

It was also a farewell party for Virginie, who returns to France tomorrow evening.  It will be a few months still before the next farewell, but in a tiny tiny way it feels like the beginning of the end.

Besides the barbecue beach party, catching up on The Office, and the international movie night, I spent some time finally catching up on my flashcard reviews.  This upcoming week is midterms but because I spend time studying every day, I’m not really planning on increasing that time.  According to the statistics provided by my flashcard program:

  • I have 7,527 flashcards
  • I know 6,000 of them (taking away new and suspended cards)
  • I review an average of 150 cards each day, which takes me about 45 minutes
  • Last week, because was a little behind and added a lot of new cards, I reviewed over 400 each day
  • On average, I’ve added 25 new cards each day

Last week I added a plugin to the program that gives even more facts, including counting the number of individual characters that I know.  (This is helpful because many of my 7,000+ cards are words that contain more than one character; while I don’t repeat words, there are lots of duplicate characters.)

  • I know 1650 characters. 
  • Of the 803 甲 (most basic) characters, I know 95%
  • Of the 798 乙 (elementary) characters, I know 70%
  • Of the 589 丙 (intermediate) characters, I know 33%
  • Of the 670 丁 (advanced) characters, I know 13%

As you can see, there is still much left to learn.  I don’t despair over these numbers; instead I’m kind of tickled over the 87 ‘advanced’ characters that I somehow managed to learn.  At any rate, I also found it interesting to see a breakdown of the frequency of use of the most common characters. 

  • The 500 most commonly-used characters (of which I know nearly 98%) make up 75% of Chinese usage
  • The top 1000 commonly-used characters make up 89%
  • By the time you know the top 1500 characters, you are theoretically* able to read 95% of Chinese
  • To get above 99%, you have to learn the top 3,000 characters
  • If you learn another 500 after that, you only increase your comprehension level to 99.5% (from 99.2%).

*Caveat: these counts concern only characters; while knowing a character theoretically means you can read it out loud and have a general understanding of its meaning, you may still not know how it works when paired with other characters in a word. 

Basically what you see is a real-life example of the law of diminishing returns – at the beginning, each character you learn is immensely useful; but by the time you’re learning character #3,438 you’re really not getting much use out of your new knowledge. 

This is why learning Chinese is really fun at the beginning, and why I’m pretty happy to be stopping after this year :)

Et Unam, Sanctam, Catholicam Et Apostolicam Ecclesiam

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2010 at 1:09 am

Weeks go by quickly here (only 12 left!), but it always seems like an eternity has passed between each Mass.  As I enter the church courtyard after what feels like a four-year absence, I have to do a mental check to see if I was even there last week.

This weekend is Good Shepherd Sunday, which is awesome because I’m pretty good with sheep-related vocabulary.  I understood a lot and even tried paying attention during the homily instead of sleeping!  Victory is mine. 

Another pleasant surprise was different Mass parts – instead of the Chinese ones we usually do, we sang the entire Misa de Angelis (a fairly elaborate chant setting that I happen to love).  The last time I had sung them was at the ordination in Shanghai, and before that who-knows-when, but Padre’s chant classes have stuck with me pretty well.  I remember the notes with no problem and even the words for the shorter ones, but I could only remember the beginning of the Gloria and barely even tried the Credo. 

It occurred to me that it was probably not a coincidence that we were singing these new Mass parts (often used for important Church events) with the installation of Fr. Cai as bishop of Xiamen only two weeks away.  So after Mass, I went up to the choir loft and asked Sister ManGu if I could join the choir for the ordination.  She said they’ve already been practicing for two months but, what with my chant class experience and my native Latin-based language, I think I should be able to handle it just fine.

BingBing also told me that he signed me up to help at the ceremony.  I’m not sure exactly what this job will entail, but it probably has something to do with helping all the foreigners who don’t usually come to Chinese Mass.  I’m glad to have a chance to help out my church here, and I can’t tell you how delighted I am that helping out entails chanting in Latin.  Life is good again – I’ve even decided to forgive China for the unfortunate gynecologist appointment yesterday. 


I’ve been super psyched about Fr. Cai becoming bishop ever since I first heard the rumor back in December.  Now that I know it’s for sure, I’m even more excited.  There is a small cloud, however, ready to rain on my parade at any moment.  As I’ve said before, the Church in China isn’t in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, a small schism most noticeable when it comes to bishops.  Basically, the Chinese government claims that appointing bishops lies within its jurisdiction, while the Catholic Church reserves that authority for the Pope. 

Because of this, there are three types of bishops in China: there are those who are recognized by the Chinese government but have not sought papal approval; there are the bishops of the underground who were appointed by the Pope but are not officially recognized as such by the government; and there are those who have received both government approval and papal mandate (often not at the same time).  I know that my church is part of the CPCA and therefore any bishop must be government-approved, but I don’t really know about the papal mandate and I’m a little scared to ask. 

But last week brought good news and, I’m hoping, good tidings.  Sunday was the first ordination of a mainland bishop in two years, and another followed on Wednesday.  Both bishops (in Inner Mongolia and Jiangsu Province, respectively) have the approval of both the Chinese government and the Pope, which many are heralding as a positive sign in Sino-Vatican relations.  This news gives me hope.  As far as my knowledge of Chinese bishops goes, they tend to be installed in groups, leading me to believe that Fr. Cai might soon join them – similarly approved.  In another interesting note, all three bishops (including mine) are taking over dioceses that have been vacant for significant periods of time (4, 5, and ? years).


I went dancing after Mass.  It had been forever which meant lots of questions about where I’d been.  I also noticed that I got tired really quickly; is it possible that I’m out of shape after my hiatus, or is it just because I was out dancing until 3 last night??  Dad – I gave the officer the patches you sent and explained what they were.  I think I failed at conveying the concept of “ROTC”, but I did okay on the others and learned two new words in the process: infantry (骑兵) and armor (坦克兵).  And the pictures sparked another conversation on just how freakin’ tall you are – trust me, you are missed! 

Words I Never Hoped To Learn

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Who knew I would turn out to be grateful that we had randomly learned the word for ‘gynecology’ (妇科) in class last week?

It started the night before – me, an online Chinese dictionary, and one of those words I never hoped I would need to know.  Then a quick phone call to my friend XuLei, and we agreed to meet the next morning to go to the hospital – the women’s  hospital.  Nothing major, but when you’re far from home, Mom, and over-the-counter medication, little problems can be big hassles.

Anyway, Friday morning, XuLei and I went to the Xiamen Maternity and Child Health Care Hospital.  It’s a nice building, clean and welcoming, and infinity-times more modernized than the XiaDa hospital.  I was issued a card upon checking in, and at every stop thereafter it was scanned so that the workers could read my information.  Wonderfully modern but, as we would soon see, still very Chinese. 

We were directed to the proper waiting room where we sat down with a hundred or so of our closest female friends.  We had to wait forever (over two hours) but XuLei and I put the time to good use.  She practiced reading the business news out loud, and I learned all 23 Chinese provinces, 4 municipalities, 5 Autonomous Regions, and 2 Special Administrative Regions – and their capitals! 

Then it was our turn.  We went to the appointed room, where I was surprised to find four Chinese women – one doctor and three random people.  I hung back, waiting for them to leave, until the doctor called me over and began answering questions.  And so, with these strangers listening interestedly, I dutifully told the doctor the date of my last period and told her what was going on.  She also asked about my sex life, which was horrendously awkward as I did not know the word; it took her three repetitions and the word ‘boyfriend’ before I figured out what she was asking, by which point she had a hard time believing my negative answer.  There were giggles all around, and I hated my life.

Later, I tried to explain the standards of privacy in American hospitals, even for routine check-ups and neutral afflictions like coughs.  XuLei thought it was very interesting, but seemed to have no problem with their system.  I, on the other hand, now live in constant fear of running into those girls again on the street. 

It gets worse.  This room was also the examination room, with the chair separated from the interview area only by a partition.  Walk into the room too quickly, and you end up with a really good view of the current patient . . . The exam passed without major incident, but the doctor’s explanation on how to use the medicine was pretty horrifying, with everyone present pitching in to translate the words I didn’t understand.  They talked, and I continued hating my life . . .


Thus ended my first ever gynecologist visit.  Everything turned out okay and I didn’t die from disease or embarrassment – all’s well that ends well, right?  At any rate, I now have a story to top eating worms, I think. 

After returning from the hospital, I laid low around the dorm until evening.  We had a huge dinner at The Green Chairs Restaurant, 16 of us and three servings of each of our favorite foods.  Delicious dinner, and all for $3!

The afterparty began at Paradise, although I spent most of the time outside with the pre-afterparty (the Slovenians who bought cheap wine and Coke at a shop).  I met an American, Cathy!  When XuLei and LiXiang joined us, we went over to The Key to dance!

We were out quite late and I knew Leinira was out of town, so XuLei slept in my room again.  There was much less talking as we fell asleep this time, but I did find out that Chinese children and parents don’t say “I love you” to each other.  EVER.  That’s weird, right?

Well Played

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 12:32 am

Aleid and I began the day at the tailor’s shop.  She had a cute dress to pick up and I had a pair of pants to drop off.  I brought him my favorite (slash only) pair of khakis in the hopes of of prolonging their lifetime.  They’re kind of old (as in, I bought them at Goodwill several years ago) but so comfortable, so I asked him to update them a little by slimming the legs down from a flare to a straight leg, and to get rid of the tattered-to-hell hem.  Three days and 20 kuai ($3) is apparently all it’s going to take to get a few more years out of these pants!

We made it back just in time for class.  Speaking class was pretty fun today because we did an activity in which students, grouped together by nationality, answered questions from other students about studying abroad in their countries.  I counted; my classmates come from 12 different countries. 

After class, I had a date with Carlos, Kristina, and Maja on the island of Catan.  We began playing outside where, after a brief rainstorm, the weather had cooled down from the afternoon’s intense heat. 


The game went well until the sprinkles started back up and we had to hurriedly move the game inside.  We reconstructed the setup based on a picture, which ended up being a lot of hassle for the remaining 8 minutes or so that it took me to win the game.

I’m not actually sure if my friends here like playing Catan, or if they are just very driven to beat me.  After winning (bringing my streak up to 5, I think), they all wanted to play again.  The second game didn’t go so much in my favor but I still managed to get up to 9 points by the time Kristina won.  Needless to say, she was happy about her first ever Catan victory!


Well played, Kristina.  你有一手.

Odds of Me Ever Understanding Tones = 100,000,000:1

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 at 1:24 am

Another major milestone in the study abroad experience finally happened today.  That’s right, after nearly 8 months in country, I am officially sick of all my clothing.  As I stood there this morning, staring at my closet (not to give you the impression that this task takes a lot of time; it doesn’t), I briefly considered going naked.  At least it sounded more exciting than wearing any of my tired shirts again!  On the bright side, when explaining my feelings to XuLei I said 我的衣服都穿腻了 (“I’m sick of wearing all my clothes”), successfully using a grammar structure that I had previously only heard referring to food.  On another bright side, I’m going to the tailor tomorrow and a night market next week :)

Today, the 7th day after 青海玉树地震 (the earthquake in YuShu, QingHai), was a 全国哀悼日 (national day of mourning).  The Chinese seem to take this very seriously – in addition to a moment of silence and all flags 降半旗 (at half-staff), there was basically no public entertainment in the entire country – no music downloads, no QQ games, no karaoke, no dancing.  Some Chinese websites went gray; others shut down.  I kind of like how they do this, making it nearly impossible to go through the day without pausing a few times to think of the victims, survivors, and rescue workers. 

After an explanation about the day of mourning (in which I learned a lot of new words, as seen above), our teacher told us that they recently held a benefit for the victims and raised “er shi yi kuai qian”.  I immediately translated those sounds into the characters 二十块钱, did the calculations in my head (21 kuai = $3), and immediately wondered how on earth a country of 1.3 billion people could raise less money than the price of a good cup of coffee over here.  Seconds pass . . . and I realize that she had probably said 二十亿块钱.  Since this 亿 equals 100 million instead of 1 like the other 一, it kind of makes a difference – specifically, by seven orders of magnitude – which means that they raised $30 million.

Maybe I should be embarrassed about this failure of my listening ability, but I’m going to blame it on the ridiculous Chinese language instead.  Seriously?!?  I’ve accepted the fact that 4 (sì) and 10 (shí) sound identical – except for the tone – when said by a southerner, and have even stopped getting really excited when they tell me things that I know should be 10 kuai are only 4 kuai.  But this ridiculous business about the numbers ONE (yī) and ONE HUNDRED MILLION (yì) sounding basically the same is just a little bit too much for me.  Retelling this story later to XuLei, I explained how we English speakers, when verbally relaying important numbers, sometimes use “niner” to distinguish it unequivocally from the number “five”, even though they have only a vowel sound in common.  She understood, but continued to maintain that the tone difference is so clear to Chinese speakers that further clarification is unnecessary.  Fair enough – in normal situations at least, but I still imagine disasters of great magnitude when the communication takes place over a static-y phone line or shouting in a crowd. 

You know, for all the times I’ve complained about tones (and there have been many), most of it has been comments on theoretical misunderstandings that could take place if someone willfully misconstrued your meaning and gave you the dysentery (lìji) you ordered instead of the tenderloin (lǐji) that common sense dictates you most likely meant to order.  Are these miscommunications possible?  Yes.  Are they likely?  No – thank God!  There are only two cases where I’ve experienced chronic difficulty with near homonyms.  One of them is the aforementioned yī/yì crisis with the numbers, and the other concerns the languages of Chinese (hànyǔ) and Korean (hányǔ).  Speaking about or comparing the two languages is about as close to hell as I’ve come in my language studies, a comedy of errors requiring constant clarification (韩国的韩语还是中国的汉语?  Korean hanyu or Chinese hanyu?). 

I’m getting a headache just writing about it, so now let’s move on to another interesting (and much less frustrating) aspect of numbers in Chinese.  Arabic numerals are used in many instances, but Chinese also has a few numeral sets of its own.  There’s the simple one that normal people can actually learn (一二三四五六七八九十), but there’s also a tamper-resistant set for important financial documents (壹贰叁肆伍陆柒捌玖拾), a ‘Suzhou style’ for bookkeeping (〡〢〣〤〥〦〧〨〩十) and a few other random numerals thrown in to make language-learners cry. 

There were two other things that I found out today in class:

  1. No one (including the teacher) is actually sure when finals are.  The schedule we were given at registration says the third week of July, but the teacher thinks it ‘might’ be the first week of July.  I guess I’m not going to be buying my ticket home any time soon . . . might be back sooner than originally thought!  While it would be kind of exciting to go home sooner, I literally cannot comprehend how this university functions.  It’s midterms, and we still don’t know when the semester is ending?!? 
  2. The characters 王 and 壬 are different.  I did not previously know this . . . It does explain why 往 is pronounced ‘wang’ and 任 is pronounced ‘ren’, though.  When am I going to stop having these thoroughly unpleasant surprises??

We had lunch out by the lake after class, enjoying takeout from the cafeteria and the scenery of the most beautiful spot on campus. 


It looks like a photo shoot for XiaDa publicity materials, doesn’t it?

My afternoon class was canceled, so I allowed myself a little more time than I should have to watch Big Bang Theory.  In my defense, I watched it with Chinese subtitles (a luxury I will sorely miss when/if I return to buying DVDs in the States).  I felt totally vindicated for indulging myself because I learned several words/phrases from reading along in Chinese while I listened in English:

  • 漫画 (mànhuà) – Manga!  It actually means comics or caricatures; the word ‘manga’ comes from Japanese, which uses the same characters but pronounces them slightly differently.
  • 你有一手 (nǐ yǒu yìshǒu) – Their translation for “Well played”, it literally means “You have skill/moves”. 
  • 能力越大,责任越大 (nénglì yuè dà, zérèn yuè dà) – “With great power comes great responsibility”, a phrase that happens to use one of my favorite grammatical structures.  (Yes, I have favorite grammatical structures.  What of it?)

In the evening, I enjoyed a second picnic by the lake.  I had delicious fried noodles with chicken, a pure mango smoothie, and tang yuan (which apparently you can get to-go!).  We sat on the small island, giving us a perfect vantage point from with to watch the sun go down and the stars (!!!!!) come out.


Across the lake, I could see the flag in front of the tall building at half-staff in observance of the national day of mourning.


Looking the other way, back towards the part of campus where I live, the lights of the buildings beautifully reflected off the still water.


We tried to go dancing but, as I mentioned before, there’s no dancing today.  But between a few hours of lounging by the lake and a leisurely walk back to the dorm, chatting all the while, it was a great evening anyway.

Star Light, Star Bright, First Star I’ve Seen In A Long Time

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2010 at 1:58 am

T-minus 3 months and counting.  I haven’t exactly bought my tickets yet, so when I just happened to realize that my planned departure (July 20th) is only three months away, I was quite surprised!  I looked at the list of things I still want to do in Xiamen (taped above my desk), looked outside at the sunshine on the trees, and immediately headed out the door.  How thoughtful of the Lord, to drown Xiamen with rain and smother it with gray skies while I was studying for the HSK, then to provide a perfect 75-and-sunny day when I have a free morning!

My first destination was ZhongShan Park, which I had somehow not yet been to.  Sun ZhongShan (better known as Sun Yat-Sen in the West) is considered the Father of the Republic over here, which means pretty much every city has a ZhongShan Road and most have a park as well.  It’s a nice place, filled with the requisite dancing-old-women and card-playing-old-men and urinating-small-children found in every Chinese park on any given morning.  There’s kind of a Venice thing going on as well, which made it nice for a wander.


After walking most of the park, I went to another place nearby that I’d long been meaning to go to: the military-looking memorial.  There were some people working on it and no one looking around but me, so I didn’t really enter.  I did, however, learn that it’s a memorial for Xiamen’s revolutionary martyrs.  The small park includes a large obelisk and sculptures of soldiers charging up the hill towards a Chinese flag (on the right side, almost out of sight in the picture below; they were being worked on).


One thing I appreciate about this memorial is its driveability – located just off a relatively major road, with the charging soldiers right next to the sidewalk, it might be better seen from a moving bus than on foot.  This might seem like a downside, but I think it results in more people paying more attention to it than if it required a dedicated visit.

I grabbed lunch on my way to class.  Yes, there are no sandwiches or burritos in China but they’ve come up with quite a few foods conveniently wrapped up in edible, starch-based containers.  A meat patty from the Uighur restaurant and a few peanut baozi from the vegan place next door constitute a perfectly mobile lunch – for $1 (drink not included).

Class was generally good today, but most of my exciting learning moments happened outside of class.  (Come to think of it, most days are this way.)  We learned one cool phrase in class today – “to cook someone’s squid”, which means “to fire someone”.  I cracked up for a good couple of minutes, picturing any one of my friends responding “I’ll cook your squid!”  But then this evening some friends taught me 水货, which generally means something bad (as in, an inferior something).  I caused my friends to crack up for a good couple of minutes when I incredulously repeated the phrase back to them in English, to make sure I was getting the right characters: “You water product??!?” 

There were posters of inspiring slogans everywhere, giving me the opportunity to practice my propaganda Chinese.


“Persevere in the development of science!”


“Let the sunlight of caring light up the spirit of every disabled person!”


“As the economy develops, don’t forget national defense;
As we build the west coast, don’t forget to collaborate with the military.”

There were also several examples of some of the most exciting phenomena of learning Chinese:

1. When you see a word and immediately know what it means, despite having never studied it!  I learned “hearing aid” (助听器, or help+listen+machine), “evolution” (进化, or forward+change), and “dinosaur” (恐龙, or scary+dragon). 

2. When you learn a word and then see or hear it somewhere!  I noticed 甘蔗 (sugarcane) on a cart – behind which a man was obviously selling sugarcane juice, but still – and XuLei talked about her 雅思 (IELTS) prep class as we walked home. 


This evening, I went dancing for the first time in almost a month.  I know, right?!  I managed to miss almost the exact same classes as I did last semester, apparently, which means I follow along the routines consistently one step behind everyone else.  I did finally learn the hip movements for the rhumba and the fancy way we’re supposed to twirl our hands when we throw them up (not to say that I can do them correctly). 

As I walked across campus, the beautiful night sky almost took my breath away.  After a week of rain and months of varying shades of gray in the sky, the heavens were gloriously, brilliantly clear.  The moon (nowhere near full) was almost too bright, the Tall Building shone like buildings have no right to shine, and I even saw a star!

This is ironic, because Europe is currently suffocating beneath an ash cloud of epic proportion.  There have been a lot of articles concerning the travel situation and, surprisingly, they’ve made me half wish I were over there right now.  As the title of this blog indicates, I’ve come to embrace the “adventure” style of traveling that I was first introduced to on crazy taxi rides in Jilin.  When I travel, I “adventure” towards a destination – hoping to eventually get there, but remaining open to experimental modes of travel and possibly even alternate destinations if they come up as options or necessities.  It can be stressful if traveling on a deadline but is an unusually rich source of interesting stories: Nearly getting sold into white slavery only kilometers from the Russian border.  An unexpected 3-day vacation in Yanji instead of taking finals back home.  Sharing a toothbrush with Aleid because our hosts insisted we stay the night. 

Price hikes due to scarcity would probably dampen the adventure a little bit, but I bet you see much more of Europe from a taxi or bus than from an airplane!  One writer had some great points to make about how lame air travel is:

So we are condemned to keep riding on airplanes. Which is not really traveling. Airplanes are a means of ignoring the spaces in between your point of origin and your destination. By contrast, a surface journey allows you to look out on those spaces . . . Surface transport can be contemplative, picturesque and even enchanting in a way that air travel never will be. . . Think of the trans-Atlantic flights you may have taken. Do you remember anything about them? . . . Because flying is an empty, soulless way to traverse the planet, the best flights are in fact the ones you forget immediately after hitting the tarmac.

Also, there’s the unique sort of company often unexpectedly found in misery – impromptu travel buddies, strangers who live in the same terminal gate as you do, etc. – and the general decency that seems to emerge in times of crisis.  One article said that “the French consulate in Hong Kong urged French residents to open up their private homes to stranded compatriots”, which I think would be a really cool thing on a normal day, too.