Maria Holland

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. 

  1. Loved your blog today…wish I was there to see the dancing-old-women, card-playing-old-men and urinating-small-children because I kinda miss them. I know, right!?

    Be sure to open up Google earth and spin the globe up around Iceland…it gives you a neat view of the relationship between the land up there and how the the ash can spread (even though it doesn’t show the ash).

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