Maria Holland

Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Countdown: 30 Days

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Today was Lester’s second dance competition, and after the fiasco last time, I was really paranoid about missing it.  So when she told me that they were at 1, and I didn’t get up until noon, I ran down to Baicheng and caught a taxi up the island to the Sports Center.  I arrived just before 1, but it turned out that XuLei meant the entire thing started at that time.

Four and a half hours of dancing followed.  There was no discernible order or structure.  I couldn’t understand the program either – the characters actually weren’t a problem but they didn’t seem to be following anything that was printed, so I gave up and played dumb.

The dancing was really good, though.  Even the tiniest kids dance better than me!  There was perhaps too much glitter and too many bare chests, but I guess that’s what ballroom dancing is about.  Ah, it will be nice to go back to America where men have shoulders.  Just sayin’.

I hadn’t eaten lunch because I had been in such a hurry to get there, which meant I had gone nearly 48 hours without a real meal.  Luckily, Lester gave me a Snickers bar, and it really hit the spot.  Nutritional information is printed in metric here – so the Snickers had 707 kJ of energy!  I think this is awesome.  Calories are bad and make you fat, but kilojoules are awesome things used to move kilogram blocks over meter distances and all.  I felt so powerful after consuming it, and managed to stay awake to watch Lester and LiXiang compete.

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I returned my library card while I was over in that part of town (most worthless piece of plastic ever) and then came home.  While I was putting some stuff away on the balcony, I discovered that one of my suitcases is covered in fuzzy white mold.

This was the last straw; I’m now ready to go home.

It’s about right, as I have one month left here.  I think I can only stand 30 more days living in this room.  The thing is, a lot of the things that I’m excited about back home are balanced by the things from here that I know I’ll miss once I get there.  My friends, my church, the food, the weather, etc. – there are very good arguments on both ends.

The only area in which home completely dominates Xiamen is the living situation.  I am fed up with this stupid dorm.  The moldy balcony with the kitchen that really isn’t and the clothes line that constantly dangles underwear in our faces.  The sauna of a bathroom, with the perpetually wet toilet seat; the shower that runs either scorching or freezing with no in between; the towels that never dry; and the faucet that runs like, well, a faucet.  My bed, so hard that I often awake with one entire half of my body numb from sleeping in the wrong position.  My desk, which apparently houses a small colony of mosquitoes that feast on my blood while I study.

And I’m so ready to have my own room.  I don’t think my roommate has come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t live alone anymore, so even after nearly 10 months I don’t feel quite at home in “her” room.  The space is divided unevenly and the cleanup duties even more so.  Plus, our sleep schedules are completely opposite – ridiculously so – and while I don’t mind her coming in 4 or 5 a.m. or using the blender every morning at 7, she apparently really hates me showering at 1 in the morning.  It will be good for both of us when I go home.

So yeah, I frequently find myself dreaming of my home in Minnesota – all three stories of it – and my royally appointed apartment at TU with a decadently soft bed, fully stocked kitchen, and living room.  Cannot come soon enough.

Also I’m out of my asthma medication and all my clothes are falling apart.

So start the countdown from 30 days.

Happy Mothers’ Day!

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 at 2:01 am

After a second late night of goodbyes (and a little bit of football), I slept in deliciously late today.  Kristina came over in the afternoon (which, I’m not gonna lie, was actually as soon as I called her) to do some more work on the graphs for her thesis.  Today’s task wasn’t quite as fun as the original analysis.  Basically, we had to redo all the graphs in Slovenian, which was pretty tedious.  The good news is, my computer can now type Slovenian.  I, on the other hand, still can’t.

She left and like an hour later it was time to go to church.  That was weird.  Bishop Cai was there (I hadn’t seen him in about a month), which meant I felt really bad when I fell asleep during his homily.  I’m so spoiled here because almost everything has subtitles – but homilies unfortunately don’t.  I find them challenging, but not in the I’m-going-to-conquer-this sort of way.  It’s more of a this-is-hard-I-think-I’ll-just-give-up sort of way, so I often fall asleep.

Despite being quite tired and ravenously hungry (because I basically slept through breakfast and lunch), I stayed for the youth group Bible sharing activity.  I would estimate that I understood approximately 30% of what was said.  This was due to a variety of factors: a Bible that was written vertically from right to left, a bunch of college kids speaking at normal conversational speeds . . . and, oh yeah! the construction crew that was chop-sawing steel and goodness knows what else, in the back of the room.  No one else found this ridiculous, which I found ridiculous.

I walked to the bus stop with 哲明, a guy friend from church.  We talked about the World Cup on the way – obvi – and again later on QQ.  I’m learning a lot of country names this way!  There’s something demonically fun about sounding out proper nouns in Chinese, something delightfully stupid about a bunch of foreigners sounding things out, character by character and syllable by syllable, then saying it faster a few times until they realize what word it somewhat resembles.  We sound like little kids working on phonics.  I learned Argentina (阿根廷, or “āgēntíng”) and Slovenia (斯洛文尼亚, or “sīluòwénníyà) and Cote d’Ivoire (科特迪瓦, “kētèdíwǎ”) that way, along with half of the Spanish starting line up.  Not advised for the Slovenian or Swiss teams, by the way, with names like Handanovic, Radosavljevic, Ljubijankic, and Lichsteiner. 

I made it back to West Gate to catch the last 10 minutes of the Dutch game.  Perfect timing, because apparently it was a pretty boring game, and I was just in time to join friends for street food.  I had the closest thing resembling a chicken burrito (with cucumber slivers, of course) that I’ve seen in several months, and a mango smoothie that was, as always, mind-bogglingly delicious. 

There was a stiff breeze and a clear sky and for a few minutes there the weather was even pleasant.  The last few days (I mean weeks.  Or months?), with the insane humidity and constant rain, have really made me reevaluate the emphasis I’ve placed on Xiamen’s tropical islandhood.  It’s really the only expectation I came here with, and I think it’s hurt me.  I was expecting a miserably hot summer and a pleasant fall/winter/spring, which is not how it’s gone at all.  While we have gorgeous days occasionally, the majority of the year has been weeks of deadly heat, short cold snaps, months of monsoon, and constantly insane humidity.  It would have been okay if I had just resigned myself to this, but instead I feel like I’ve spent the year waiting for those rare beautiful days.  How many times did we all agree that “when the weather is this [hot/cold/rainy/humid], I just want to stay in bed/watch TV?”  It’s a pity. 

Back at home, I called my parents to wish my mom a happy birthday and my dad a happy Father’s Day.  (Well, actually I greeted my mom with an exuberant “Happy Mother’s Day!”, but I think the general idea got across.)  We’re starting to plan the menu for my arrival :)

But while the date of my joyful return to Texas Roadhouse approaches on the calendar, there remains one significant hurdle to cross.  Yeah, I still have to buy tickets.  Tomorrow – one month out from my scheduled departure – is my self-imposed deadline.  But every time I go to the website, I just don’t feel like it.  I think part of it is because the idea I’ve had all along of the end of my time here – finals and a final weekend of partying and goodbyes – is quite different from the reality that’s taking place – a prolonged farewell to my friends one-by-one over this last month plus.  Finals week is always my favorite time at Tulsa, but this year is definitely not going to be the same.  I want to go home on the 20th so I’ll be here for that imaginary last weekend, but at the same time it seems a little silly in the face of reality.  But I also don’t like being rushed in packing and things like that, and I do have Chinese friends.  So we’ll see what I end up with – tomorrow!

Okay, That Was An Exciting Game

In Uncategorized on June 19, 2010 at 4:14 am

We had a test at 8 this morning.  I didn’t get home until after 3, and didn’t sleep til 4, and while it seems that I should feel like this was a bad idea, I don’t.  The test was fake – although really, when I think about it, what parts of our classes here aren’t?

But after the test our teacher taught us some soccer terminology which, in terms of conversations with actual Chinese people, is seriously the most useful lesson we’ve ever learned in that class.  Coach, referee, goalkeeper, [a bunch of position names I don’t know in English], favorite, upset.  I also learned that yellow cards accumulate between games, but that was in English.

Carmen and Dorothy, two women from English Mass, invited me to Marco Polo (Xiamen’s nicest hotel) for lunch at noon.  After a mild panic attack over having nothing to wear to a place like that, I met up with them for a very nice lunch.  We had dimsum (Cantonese) and a waitstaff who smiled, responded quickly, and changed our plates between dishes.  Crazy! 

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The main event of the day, though, was the US-Slovenia game.  Kristina and I had been trash-talking for a week already – as well as we can when neither of us is very knowledgeable or usually very passionate about soccer.  We went to dinner first, enjoying the time while we were still friends.  [For dessert, we had no-bake brownies that I had made in an effort to 1) use up my can of sweetened condensed milk and 2) attract (bribe?) fans to the American side.]

Maybe it was just my nation’s pride at stake, but I thought this game was exciting from the very start.  Unfortunately, it was mostly the bad kind of exciting throughout the first half – Slovenia scoring twice, our goalkeeper miles away both times.  Most people were cheering for Slovenia, the underdog, but a lot of the time it was just me and Kristina yelling at our players.  She’s about 3 games behind me in soccer knowledge, which is pretty funny – I got to watch her learn what offsides is! 

During halftime, I remembered why I don’t watch sports (well, one of the reasons).  I can only care about a game if I really care about one of the teams, and I can only care about a team if I have a deep personal connection.  I’m too much of an Army brat without roots to get excited about one part of America competing with another, but I can get behind my university or my country.  So, especially with Kristina (Slovenian) sitting right next to me, I had my heart in the game and my pride on the line.  But I don’t like it when my emotions are dependent on the actions of others . . . I don’t know how you Chiefs and Lions fans handle it!

I sought the solace of Carlos, my Spanish friend who recently experienced the agony of a loss, and he reminded me that we still had a chance.  Sure enough, we scored right after play resumed and, later, we scored again!  It was glorious. 

We scored again in the last five minutes, which should have won us the game.  But when I say “we scored”, I mean “the ball went into the Slovenian net” and nothing else.  The ref called it offsides and that was that.  I’m far too ignorant – and know it – to make my own judgments on officials’ calls, but from what all of my expert friends said it should have counted.  But the game was quite dirty – at times even resembling American football – and apparently the same official missed what should have been a red card earlier, so it seems more like bad calls than biased ones. 

Oh well.  At least this way Kristina and I are still friends.

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After the game, we went to check out a beach party and then to Paradise for another going-away party.  Sietze leaves tomorrow! 

Again, I only caught the first half of the 2:30 game (England vs. Algeria) but saw later that it ended in a 0-0 tie.  I really love the NYT sports writer:

If Robert Green has been the most ridiculed man in England, he may soon have company — the rest of the nation’s soccer team.

We still have a chance!  Oh goodness, I can’t handle this stress . . .

The Quick Way To Learn A Language

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2010 at 4:00 am

After a weekend that wasn’t and three weekdays that weren’t, we finally had kind of a ‘normal’ day (quite hard to come by in China).  Today actually resembled a Thursday, with afternoon class and everything. 

But of course, a ‘normal’ day in China is still crazy.  Our Listening teacher told us that our final will be on the 8th of July, which is both an entire week before the finals week as indicated on the schedule we got at the beginning of the year, and right in the middle of my trip to Hangzhou.  She moved it up because a bunch of students are leaving early.  Um, so??  You’re free to leave school early in America, too – but you have to accept the consequences, including missing the final and not receiving a score.  But if there’s one thing our teachers here excel at, it’s pandering to the foreigners. 

I think this is so ridiculous – and totally ineffective, too, as students have been leaving in increasing amounts for several weeks already.  It’s part of the reason why our scholarships, which might have been an intelligent investment on the part of the Chinese government, are actually just a way for them to throw away money.  We’re completely free to miss weeks of class at a time, including finals, with absolutely no repercussions.  Part of this is because many of us aren’t degree-seeking students, but considering we draw a $250 monthly stipend, I could think of some financial carrots and sticks that they could be employing.

But it’s really not a big deal.  I should have no problem taking the finals when I want either. 

 

Today also wasn’t quite normal because, as of today, I have been studying Chinese for one year.  That’s kind of crazy, right?  A year ago, I knew about 100 characters that I learned from a “Your First 250 Chinese Characters” book.  My grammar was nonexistent and my vocabulary was one-third basic essentials, one-third construction or farm-related, and one-third plain wrong.  I knew the four tones theoretically but couldn’t produce them consistently or even recognizably.  I thought I could read pinyin but still didn’t understand why ‘qu’ and ‘chu’ don’t rhyme, and why ‘yi’, ‘si’, ‘chi’ & ‘hui’ all sound completely different.  I could “get by” with extremely patient Chinese but only if they used my very specific set of vocabulary (specific and very randomly selective; for instance I had trouble believing that 也 was an actual word that people use). 

Yes, it was one year ago that I began studying Chinese.  I took an intensive summer course at the University of Minnesota, in which my 20 classmates and I covered a year’s worth of material in 10 weeks.  I had a weekend of ‘summer’ once school ended, and then came to Xiamen where the learning process hasn’t been confined to four hours per day.  It kind of seems like a year isn’t that long, but with a year as intense as this one has been, it feels about right.

But if you’re daunted by such a year, don’t worry.  Apparently there was a much easier way to go about this language-learning thing, which a friend of mine was kind enough to point out to me:

Michelle: Hey congratulations on your scholarship. That’s fantastic.
me: hey! thanks
Michelle: You should know though . . . I got a Google Targeted ad from your email that their is a program where you can learn foreign languages in just one week, so you are wasting your time.  $19.95 plus shipping – I can give you a scholarship for that.
me: oh man, I feel silly now
Michelle: yeah
me: where were you a few months ago . . .
Michelle: You should do a little research next time.
me: well, I’ve learned my lesson now
Michelle: good

 

While our language courses will continue for nearly a month (if we feel like hanging around for them), the other programs have already been finished a few weeks.  This means the frequency of going-away parties is really picking up; tonight it was time to say goodbye to Jeremie and Justine, two of Aleid’s French roommates.  There was a party at their apartment, so we headed over after dinner.  Another French guy, Benjamin, was the DJ, playing a mix of 90’s hits and music from all over the world.  I must say, that was my first time singing Dragostea Din Tei with Romanians!  There were also requests for some classic dance songs, and we somehow found the floor space to do a rousing Cotton-Eyed Joe and Macarena.  It was amazing.

I’m usually one of the first to leave parties but tonight I wasn’t tired so I stayed around.  We danced, we talked, we sang, and apparently we got a little loud because they turned the electricity off.  This, of course, called for French drinking songs bellowed in the lighter-illuminated room, but somehow they successfully begged the guard to turn the electricity back on.  It wasn’t until they turned it off again that we left.

The French were playing Mexico in an hour or so, so we decided to go to Paradise to watch the game.  We hung out on the side of the road, about 30 foreigners waiting for taxis to take us, four-at-a-time, to the bar.  The number slowly decreased until there were about two or three taxis worth of people still waiting, when we discovered an alternative better to taxis!

A bus – Xiamen public transit sort of bus – drove by, slowed down to stare at us, and someone asked if it would take us to Minzu Road.  The guy thought about it for a second, but once we offered him 20 kuai ($3), he agreed.  We have no idea what a bus was doing driving along that road at 2 a.m., but I’m glad it was!  We rode in style, with tons of room, for the same amount of money we would have paid for one taxi.  I’m kind of jealous that Jeremie and Justine got to do that on their last night in country . . .

I didn’t stay too long at Paradise, but I did watch half of the French/Mexican game.  It was even more boring than the previous boring first halves I’ve watched, so maybe I’ll start watching only second halves?

And The Cowbell Wins

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 2:36 am

I now remember what August and September were like in Xiamen.  The heat isn’t quite here yet – we’re barely reaching 25°C – but the humidity is back in full force.  Nothing ever dries and everything smells moldy.  There’s mold on our balcony walls, in the grooves of my cutting board, and even in a pair of shoes that I was then forced to throw out.  It’s no longer sufficient to shower once a day – no, now you have to shower each time you venture out. 

So I went out this afternoon to run some errands and buy food, then came back to my air-conditioned oasis to refresh and recoup.  I watched two Chinese movies, 杜拉拉升职记 (Go Lala Go) and 非常完美 (Sophie’s Revenge), which is kind of a compromise between studying and doing nothing.  I’m getting better at understanding even as I realize that really none of the Chinese movies I’ve watched have been legitimately good (with the possible exception of Mulan). 

I waited til the sun went down to go out again, meeting some friends for dinner before Spain’s World Cup debut.  Ever since I started paying attention to soccer (so, Friday), I’d been hearing about the beauty of Spain’s game.  Even my Chinese friends said “看到西班牙的足球,才看到真正的足球”- you haven’t seen real soccer until you’ve seen Spain play.  Expectations were, to say the least, kind of high.

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I will say, they know how to control the ball.  To my inexperienced eyes, it looked like a bunch of guys in red shirts kicking a ball around while the guys in the white shirts just kind of stood there.  But, I must also say that my inexperienced eyes could tell that the Swiss defense was basically a wall.  Every time the red-shirted guys got near the goal on the right, they either fell down or the ball bounced right back to them. 

There are others who do sports commentary so much better than me, though.  I really appreciated today’s play-by-play in the NYT, because the writer was delightfully sarcastic:

Minute 9: Possession for this match probably won’t end up 99.9 percent for Spain. It only appears that way. That said, the Swiss have just challenged the lonely blades of grass in the Spanish end and have a corner.

Minute 28: The Swiss defense reminding us all how defenses around the world, and in all sports, often serve as killjoys of brilliance

Minute 45: This has resembled the Brazil-North Korea match in the sense of a juggernaut spending the first half trying to solve a stubborn underling which rudely has prevented the world from witnessing goals of flair. Defenses can be so impolite.

The first half was even more boring than the first half of the Netherlands-Denmark game, but it also became exciting in the second half with an unexpected goal – a Swiss one.  Yeah, even I was surprised.  I seriously love this sports writer at the NYT:

Minute 52: He scores after Casillas challenges a counterattack and leaves the goal mouth empty. Astonishingly, Switzerland leads 1-0, and life remains unfair.

Minute 74: Goodness. As Derdiyok corralled the ball on the right side of the box and sent Spanish defenders flailing about, Derdiyok pushed a bid for an outright 2-0 shock into the right post, as merely a billion or so fans around the globe wonder what on earth is going on here.

Minute 82: As everyone was saying before the match, Spain really must be careful with that Swiss attack. Actually, no one on earth said that.

It was pretty crazy.  Until the Spaniards started going insane trying to figure out what had happened to the easy game they were expecting, they totally controlled the ball.  I was a little pleased because I picked up on this stuff, like the fact that Spain outshot Switzerland by a ton.

I’m still surprised to hear myself say intelligent (maybe?) things about soccer, because old habits die hard.  Of today’s 96 minutes of play, I probably spent 8 minutes amused by the presumption of the player who goes only by the name “Pedro” (in Spain!); another 6 staring at the long curly locks of Puyol and thinking of Guernsey; and at least 12 minutes complaining to YongZhi about how uncomfortable the bar stools.

But yeah, I’m making progress.  A commercial came on before the game and I reached over to get Carlos’ attention, saying “That’s Lionel Messi, he plays for Barcelona, and he’s from Italy!”  Loud groans followed from everyone – as he’s apparently from Argentina?  I still think 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

Speaking of “not bad”, that’s exactly how I’m doing in the World Cup pool I entered.  I have 29 points, which places me ahead of two people, tied with another, and only 1 point behind Carlos and Diederik!  This, my friends, is the definition of dumb luck.

 

[Note: The title is from an inside joke with the 2008 SENEA travel team.

Question: If you were in a fight and had a choice of weapons, which would you choose: pliers or fillet knife?

Answer: Neither.  Go with the cowbell.

Because, seriously, have you seen the size of those cowbells the Swiss fans were ringing?  I am convinced that this is the source of their power.]

So I Say Thank You; What Of It?

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2010 at 11:15 pm

This morning, I went on a two-hour misadventure around Xiamen in a monsoon.  A friend from church had mentioned a Taiwanese food festival up at the convention center, so Lester and I braved the torrential rains – soaked by the time we got to the bus stop – to check it out. 

There was nothing there.  There were people walking around suspiciously like they were going to some exhibition or something, but everyone claimed ignorance when I asked them.  Same with the guards and all other employees.  One man said we could get in if we got a saklfjskdfj card, which could be gotten “over there”, but “over there” was a locked door.  And behind the locked door was a massive empty hall, so I’m not entirely sure we even wanted a saklfjskdfj card.  There was a red sign “warmly wishing success for the x-th” something or other, but those things are everywhere in China and could be easily be expressing best wishes for the upcoming Thursday this week. 

The convention center is in the middle of nowhere, 20 kuai by taxi from the school, so getting back after admitting our failure wasn’t easy either.  As we waited by the side of the road, huddled under umbrellas but dripping anyway, a few bus drivers made eye contact with us and slowed down.  They would veer close enough to make us think they were going to stop and let us on, but then they would just splash us with dirty puddle water.  We got contradictory directions from several passers-by before finally finding a bus station that had no buses to XiaDa but did have ones going to places that had buses to XiaDa. 

This happens every now and then; it’s called a BCD or Bad China Day.  Memorable BCD’s of the past include the day Mom and I spent scouring Beijing for Matteo Ricci’s tomb, the entire weekend trip to Ningde, and the day I climbed a mountain in church clothes.  Here’s how a typical Bad China Day goes (courtesy of echinacities):

“Your day started off with the common sledgehammer outside your window. The workers got a fresh start at 4:30 am and interrupted your slumber with deafening shaking vibrations that jolted you out of your bed. . . At lunch, they refuse to serve the dish you order every single day of the week because they assure you that it doesn’t exist. This item, while not being on the menu, is only made up of two ingredients: beef and peppers, both of which are in 50% of the other dishes.  After work, you . . . waited for a taxi for 45 minutes only to have it stolen away by 5 different sets of people. In addition, you managed to simultaneously get splashed by a mud puddle by a 90-year-old lady on a dirt bike with 80 kilos of celery tied to the back. . .

You realize that you have no shampoo because you bought some mysterious kind by accident that turns your hair into stringy broom bristles and it oddly enough won’t completely wash out.  You try to run into the supermarket to buy shampoo and frantically run through the store to the shampoo aisle. One of the shampoo aisle ladies (there are four), comes over to help you and you try to ask what the shampoos are for since the time before the stringy broom bristle incident you made yourself look like Janis Joplin on crack. She explains to you several different things none of which you understand and you wonder why you even bothered. You elect to buy the brand you know, Pantene, even though it could be for soft and smooth, extra volume, dandruff controlled. It doesn’t matter because you can’t explain it anyway and it’s your own fault. You try to rush up to the check out where three ladies rush up to you and tell you that you must go back to the shampoo area to pay for the shampoo.  As fast as you can you rush back to the shampoo aisle lady where she grabs your arm and shows you to a counter where the lady takes your shampoo, and fills out a pink, blue, and green receipt. She points to the other end of the toiletry area and you shuffle over to the next counter, receipts in hand. The lady at the other counter then takes your blue receipt and after you give her the money, she stamps it, pointing you in yet another direction. You take the stamped blue receipt and give it to another woman who then stamps your pink sheet and returns you to the original woman so you can get your shampoo! At this point you are exasperated and whiny and are only annoyed at the two ladies waiting at checkout to quadruple check your receipts.

Yup, that’s about right.  I think the main addition I would make would be a communication error that consists of you repeating something in Chinese over and over, using it in a sentence, illustrating it with hand gestures, only to look up the characters and show it to the Chinese person and have them say, “Oh, you meant [exactly what you just said]”.  A perfect example was a few weeks ago when Carlos, YongZhi and I were discussing differences between Chinese and foreign beds.  Carlos and I were talking about how hard Chinese mattresses are, but YongZhi didn’t understand.  “Chuángdiǎn.” Carlos kept saying, “The thing that you sleep on; your bed doesn’t have one; our beds have big thick blue ones”, but YongZhi had no idea what we were talking about.  He kept trying to correct us to “chuānglián”, which means “curtain”.  Finally, Carlos looked it up on his iPhone and showed it to YongZhi, who immediately said, “Oh, you meant chuángdiàn!”  I literally fell down laughing. 

But anyway, this was just a Bad China Morning.  I recouped with a shower and a patchwork (but delicious!) lunch of pizza, chicken rice, mangos, and hot chocolate with Lester and XuLei in my room.  And then I got a text message from Jelle, who was apparently as bored as me.  You know, the only thing worse than going to class here is not having class and realizing you have nothing better to do . . . It’s a three-day [fake] weekend but there’s nothing to do!  My best Chinese friend is taking tests (which makes me believe that this holiday can’t be all that important), and the weather consists of ridiculous amounts of moisture either coming down by the bucketful as rain or hanging suspended in the air as 90+% humidity. 

We went to a movie – Robin Hood, not so great – and then had dinner at a Myanmar restaurant.  We had a very introspective conversation, reflecting on our time in China (this year for me, this semester for him) and our feelings about this country, its people, and their customs.  We talked about how rude our waitress was being – about average for China, but she would have been fired immediately in America.  We discussed the dead-end nature of jobs like hers and the way they kill peoples’ dreams, and debated whether or not cultural relativity makes that okay. 

In China the customer is not always right.  On good days, the customer is tolerated; on bad days your very presence is an affront.  In defense of Chinese salespeople, the customers aren’t usually shining examples of politeness and courtesy.  I guess it’s hard to say which came first, the surly waitress who slams dishes down and needs to be asked three times to bring the rice, or the obnoxious customers who bellow 服务员 (“waitress”) and demand food without so much as a please or – heaven forbid – thank you.

Apparently one stereotype of Americans is that we say thank you a lot.  That’s cool with me.  They think it’s strange here to thank people for doing their job, but I unabashedly say thank you when the Coco worker hands me my tea, when the waitress gives me my chopsticks, when the 老板 gives me my change, or when the taxi driver stops at their destination. 

I came across a few travel blogs tonight and read a few posts, where I was surprised at some of the anti-American sentiment.  I was interested to hear that some Americans pretend they’re Canadian when traveling, for instance.  I’ve pretended to be from other countries, of course, but only when I first came to China and wanted to see what I could get people to believe.  (Or when Aleid answers first and I’m too lazy to point out that we’re not both from the Netherlands; she does the same.)  But pretending to not be American to avoid American stereotypes seems really stupid to me.  Theoretically, those that pretend to not be Americans are the kind of Americans that they would like the world to know – but instead of making themselves known as an ideal American specimen, showing the world that something (or someone) good can come out of our country, they just take the easy way out and avoid the hassle of challenging the stereotypes they hate.  Way to be, dude. 

Yeah, people know I’m American and I get asked about Bush and Obama and Iraq and and Schwarzenegger and soccer (always soccer!), but I try to answer their questions and we all move on as the mature adults that we have the potential to be.  A lot of times I remind people that citizens are not synonymous with their governments, and that one American is not a proxy for the other 300 million of us.  But mostly I think both the bad and good impressions are based on actions and, as with my faith, I hope to be a good representative by trying to be myself (only better).  And part of being myself is being American. 

Another thing that surprised me were some of the comments about people from the USA calling themselves American.  Apparently that’s not good because it’s appropriating the name of two entire continents (which, last time I checked, where called North and South America) for one country.  But United States isn’t good either, because then what about the United States of Mexico?  And anyway, United Statesian and USA-er don’t sound too good.  Does this seem like a non-issue to anyone else?

Go Holland!

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2010 at 1:05 am

It’s the fake weekend, a three-day vacation created out of spare weekdays in honor of the Dragon Boat festival.  Interestingly enough, if you do the math it turns out that these three days are Fake Saturday, Fake Sunday, and Fake . . . Wednesday? 

I didn’t do much all day, which is pretty easy when you don’t get up til lunchtime.  In the evening I joined some friends for dinner and then went over to their apartment – the Dutch Concession, as I call it – to watch tonight’s World Cup game, Netherlands vs. Denmark. 

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We were a mixed crowd as always, but it is worth noting that there were 6 Nederlanders, a Dutch-speaking Belgian, and me (a Holland!). 

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The apartment had been prepared for this, the first Dutch game of the World Cup – all available seating facing the TV, Dutch flag on the wall, computer tuned to Dutch radio.  As we counted down to the game, we sang along to Dutch songs and everyone changed into their orange – official team jerseys in the guys’ case. 

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We were pretty pumped up by the time the game started, which was good because the general enthusiasm in the room carried us through a very boring first half.  Nothing happened, and no one seemed to even by trying to make something happen.  It was bad enough to make me reminisce about all two other soccer games I’ve ever watched.

The second half was a whole different ball game (well, not really), right from the first minute when a Danish player head-bumped the ball into his own goal.  Oops.  Remember the English goalkeeper grasping after the ball like a toddler as it rolled nonchalantly into the goal he was trying to protect?  Well, everyone has forgotten this flub in light of tonight’s epic fail.  My Dutch friends were relieved to have scored, and I was happy that our single goal against England didn’t look so lame anymore in comparison.  They realized it, too; later, when the Danish player, #15, got kicked in the shin, Jelle joking despaired, “How will we ever score again?!?” 

The Dutch later scored again – legitimately – to end the game at 2 to 0.  Interestingly enough, they nearly scored a third time but a Danish player saved the ball from the brink of the goal, literally close enough to demand a slow-motion replay.  The player who reached out with one long, perfectly-placed leg to kick it away?  None other than #15, Simon Poulsen.  I was the only one in the room who noticed this; no one else saw him redeem himself.  Isn’t that the way life goes?

During halftime, Carlos passed me a 2010 World Cup magazine and told me to start studying.  Two interesting things I learned:

  • I have actually heard of three soccer players, not just the two (Pele and David Beckham) that I originally thought of.  The name Lionel Messi was familiar and I even somehow knew that he played for Barcelona. 
  • North Korea qualified for the World Cup by beating out the others in their group: Mongolia, Jordan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Iran.  What a stellar list . . . it looks like the bottom of the Freedom of the Press World Ranking!  The best of them, Mongolia is considered “partly free” at #86, and all the others are listed as “not free” – with Turkmenistan and North Korea bring up the very end at #194 and #195, respectively. 

I feel slightly more knowledge after paging through that magazine.  I know I’m starting from absolute zero, but at one point my Chinese was there, too, and look where I am now!  (Incidentally, when I got back home I ended up having a conversation with my friend 哲明 about the World Cup.  Yeah, I discussed soccer in Chinese.  That’s like TWO foreign languages!!)

Fake Tuesday

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2010 at 11:45 pm

I tried to turn off my lights twice last night before going to bed, but it turned out the light streaming in was coming from the rising sun.  Oops.  How irresponsible of me – that sort of stuff may fly on any other Saturday night, but it was fake-Monday and I had class today, fake-Tuesday. 

I nearly canceled lunch plans with XuLei but managed to get out of bed by 11 so we could get delicious malatang soup.  Then I had listening class – and oral class, but I skipped because I can’t be a real good student on fake Tuesday.  Listening class was worth going to, though, because we watched a cartoon about the origins of the Dragon Boat Festival, the holiday that is messing up our weekend. 

In a nutshell: There was a lazy/corrupt king and a wise man who advised him to join with another kingdom in order to avoid being conquered.  After the king sent him into exile, the wise man saw how difficult things were for the common people and, overwhelmed by his inability to do anything about it, jumped off a cliff into the ocean.  The common people were moved by his suicide, rowed boats out to the site where he went under and threw food into the water to feed him and to keep the fish from eating his body.  Later, he appeared to a man in a dream.  The man noticed that he was very thin, and asked if they weren’t throwing in enough food.  The wise man told him that the fish were eating the food before he could get to it, so they decided to wrap it up in bamboo leaves before throwing it into the ocean.  Thus the holiday began, with 粽子 and boat races as it’s distinctive marks, began.

Interesting no?  I don’t think such a holiday, based as it is on a suicide, would fly in America.  We have all sorts of honors reserved for those who are killed in pursuit of the greater good (from war to self defense to assassinations), but the line pretty much stops before suicide.  I can’t see his death as anything but a meaningless cop-out, both an admission of defeat to the trials of everyday life and an ineffective protest to failed to effect change and didn’t even really attempt to do so.  Also, it just seems to add insult to injury that his death, brought about by his sadness over the conditions of the working people, probably made their lives worse when they started throwing food into the ocean.  Way to go, dude. 

 

Instead of going to oral class, I went to the movies with Aleid and a visiting friend of hers.  We watched Prince of Persia and followed that up with Arabic food from the Uighur men.  There are a bunch of movies out or coming out that I want to see, which is good because I have basically no plans for the fake three-day weekend that starts tomorrow. 

The movie was good, but I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t had a killer headache.  I’ve had a headache continually for the last several days, probably because of the weather.  It’s not hot, but it’s been rainy off and on and the humidity hasn’t dropped below 90% in days.  This makes it hard to tell if I’m sweating, getting rained on, or if water vapor is spontaneously condensing on my skin.  I waver between hot and cold every four minutes; it’s uncomfortable to the point that I’ve had trouble sleeping! 

 

I didn’t watch a soccer game tonight, although I did do a bit of trash-talking with Kristina ahead of the US-Slovenia game on Friday.  I also heard that there are actual concerns about the health of our goalkeeper, Tim Howard – as in, there’s talk of broken ribs.  I feel kind of bad now, because I was telling my dad last night how silly footballers are when they’re dramatic about injuries.  It’s just that most of them cry wolf, and it causes me to doubt them all.  I wonder if this is one reason why soccer isn’t popular in America – an athlete with the ability to feel pain is about as well-loved as someone who kills himself.

Big Game Today, Eh?

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2010 at 5:00 am

It’s opposite day or something.  Nothing is the way it should be, and nothing makes sense.  I mean, what kind of Saturday morning begins with getting ready for a 10 a.m. class?  I’m not sure how much control Beijing has over the sun and the moon, but they apparently have the power to turn Saturday in Monday and Sunday into Tuesday.  In America we have “Columbus Day Observed” for when it doesn’t already fall on a Monday; in China they have “weekend observed” for when holidays don’t line up properly. 

Class was weird, too.  When discussing possible uses for the word 原谅 (to forgive or pardon), the teacher said that it couldn’t be used for enemies or big sins.  Granted, we use a different word in church when we talk about forgiveness and pardon, but is it possible that this is also a symptom of a cultural difference that has possibly sprung from religious influences?  The feeling I got from the teacher was that she thought these things were unforgivable; the most she would allow is that “Maybe you can just not hate your enemies anymore”. 

Yesterday, I asked a friend, “Where are you going to watch the game?” which displays such an uncharacteristic awareness of sporting current events that it momentarily renders me speechless.  But today was even weirder.  It was midafternoon and there I was, wearing an official (well, probably not) US team jersey and making phone calls to my soccer-obsessed friends trying to find someone else willing to pull an all-nighter to watch the US-England game starting at 2:30 a.m. Beijing time.  Wha??  This is crazy talk, I know, but an article previewing the match mentioned the first time the US faced England in the World Cup in 1950 – when “an amateur American team featuring a dishwasher and a hearse driver beat a squad of English professionals in Brazil”, and that sort of underdog story is just what I go for. 

Further evidence that I’ve been possessed by a body-snatching pod person: I bet on the World Cup.  An international association here organized a pool and I threw in my 20 kaui ($3) because it seemed to be part of the experience.  It turns out they’re emailing the results out periodically, which is kind of unfortunate, but I was heartened to see that, after the first nights’ games, Carlos and I are sucking equally bad.   

If you’re wondering, “Who is this and what have they done with Maria?” – don’t worry.  As a staunchly American friend of mine correctly noted on facebook:

30 days till the World Cup is over. 54 days until the start of the NFL. My mantra: "This too shall pass."

 

I went to Mass this evening and was beckoned up to the choir loft.  For some reason they’ve been doing the Latin Misa de Angelis Mass parts again recently, which I’m actually not enthusiastic about.  While I am a proponent of general proficiency in Latin, I don’t think that it should replace the vernacular for most occasions, and should never be used if the congregation doesn’t have the resources to participate. 

After Mass, Sister gave me a 粽子 (sticky rice treat wrapped in bamboo leaves, the traditional food of the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival) and Little Brother walked with me to the bus stop.  We talked about Nickelback (always) and the World Cup (he likes Spain).  He asked me to loan him 100 kuai, which I did in return for him agreeing to help me find two others to sing my absolute favorite church song in 4-part harmony.  As I got on the bus to go back to campus, he said “Bye-bye . . . sister?”  It took me an inordinately long time to learn his Chinese name, and I’m really fond of him in the way I imagine I would be fond of a little brother, so I usually call him 弟弟 or 小弟 (Little Brother) instead of 嘉晟 – but this was the first time he’d ever called me sister.  I think he’ll pay me back, but I kind of feel like he already did.

 

I made dinner, studied a bit, and then went to sleep around midnight.  I slept fitfully, though, because I was constantly being interrupted by phone calls.  The football-crazy Dutch guys all wimped out on the prospect of a 2:30 game, and my American friends (okay, let’s be honest here – American friend) kept changing plans.  It wasn’t looking good for the home team until I got a call around 1 a.m. from a Russian friend and her Chinese boyfriend looking for someone to watch the game with.  Score!  (I mean, gooooooooooooooal!)

Londoners was both a) too far and b) obviously English, so we decided to stay close to West Gate.  We went to 星期8, a little coffeeshop/bar, where we joined three Chinese fans and the staff for the game.  It was a good game, and I was glad I stayed up for it.  There were minutes (minute 4, for instance) when I was glad we hadn’t gone to Londoners, and there were times when I wish we had gone so I could have gloated. 

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I’ve now watched three complete soccer games, which by American standards I think makes me an expert.  No, but seriously, watching soccer makes me realize how much football knowledge I’ve assimilated just by living in America, going to a Division I college, and having male friends.  I probably already understand the rules of soccer better than I’ll ever grasp the principles of football, but I have a much better sense of what’s normal in American football.  I know what kinds of scores are ordinary, what kinds are ridiculous, and what kinds are impossible.  I know that interceptions suck but happen all the time, sacking sucks more and happens less often, and I’ve never seen accidentally score on themselves. 

I have no such standards with which to compare when watching soccer.  Based on the game last night, I was starting tou think that half of the time the ball goes into the net, it will be disallowed on account of offsides.  But in tonight’s game there were no such calls, so now I don’t know what to think!  Also, I thought England’s goalie looked stupid grasping at straws while the ball rolled casually into the goal he was trying to protect, but thought maybe that kind of embarrassment happened every now and then.  According to this article, though, “Green’s blunder will be remembered as long as Bill Buckner’s immortal misplay of a grounder is remembered in Boston” which, I’m assuming, means something to people who know something about baseball. 

Also, for all my newfound soccer expertise, it has yet to translate into Chinese.  My Russian friend and I only speak Chinese together, which meant a lot of our comments sounded like games of Taboo where all actual soccer words were off-limits. 

Me: “Did they just . . . you know, where they get a point?  The thing where the ball goes in?  What’s that called?”

Hannah: “I think that your . . . you know, that guy.  The one in the orange?  He’s not bad.”

The good news is, speaking Chinese after 3 in the morning is like a quadruple bonus.  I even learned a word – “draw” (as in, “the game was a draw”) is 平. 

 

You know something funny?  Of all the things I’ve done since coming to China, the time I felt the closest to Americans back home was while I was watching this soccer game, of all things.  All the holidays and anniversaries of personal significance happened here 13 or 14 hours before they did back home, to the point that they often felt like two separate events.  The daily, weekly, and yearly cycles of life here and back home are also quite different, so everything from mealtimes and weekends to finals and vacations were also out of sync.  The time difference proved too much for the Winter Olympics, so I ended up just reading about the results online the next day instead of watching the events live with my compatriots.  But I made the effort to watch this game live, which meant that – for however brief a moment – I was doing the exact same thing as some people back home.  I knew my parents were watching, so during both the disappointing early score for England and our exciting goal later, I marveled at the way that this was unfolding before our eyes – a world apart yet, in some way, almost together. 

南非世界杯2010 (South Africa World Cup 2010)

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2010 at 11:25 pm

FINALLY.  We’ve been waiting for this day since last fall – of course, by ‘we’ I mainly mean ‘Diederik’ and by ‘since last fall’ I pretty much mean the day I met him.  You should know what I’m talking about, but since you’re my compatriots I know you don’t.  Here’s a hint: It’s the WORLD CUP!

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I know what you’re thinking: “The World Cup? Is that tennis?”  But I’m here to tell you, it’s about football – soccer football, not football football – and it’s a big deal to every other nation on Earth except for the US. 

I’m neither as knowledgeable or as funny as Dave Barry or The Onion, so if you want to know more about the World Cup, you should check out their definitive articles (The Onion Introduction to World Cup Soccer, 2010 World Cup Teams to Watch, and Strongside/Weakside: Landon Donovan).  I’m still not an expert or anything, but I’m certainly learning a lot by hanging out with my international friends here.  For instance, did you know that Maradona is a famous footballer?  I did not.  My friends are continually astounded by my complete ignorance. 

But really, the more I hear them talk about soccer, the more I’m intrigued.  Unlike many Americans, I have no special dislike for soccer; when it comes to sports I don’t discriminate, I just don’t really like any of them.  I like the exciting, replay-and-slow-motion-worthy moments but am not usually willing to wait through an entire game to see them if/when they happen.  This is why I generally prefer sports movies – they only show highlights, often feature relationships, and usually have good music.  Also, I find it absolutely impossible to get passionate about professional sports.  It’s essentially a modern day mercenary army, with athletes playing for the highest bidder.  I can see no logic to convince me to cheer for the Minnesota Vikings or Timberwolves, just because rich owners (often not from the state) happen to shell out enough money to get good players (usually not from the state) to wear their jerseys and play for them.  The absurdity becomes even more clear when these etched-in-stone boundaries are crossed, and the inherent contradictions become apparent – like when Brett Favre switched teams. 

The Olympics, however, has everything that professional sports lack – meaningful teams, relationships and personal stories, and a higher ratio of excitement to boredom.  They’re everything I love, and from what I hear the World Cup is much the same.  Everyone comes home to play for their country, nations unite behind their teams, and every moment of every game matters.

So, I’m going to give it a chance.  China probably isn’t the best place to watch the World Cup but it’s certainly better than the States and the company here is impossible to beat.  The condition for me watching any game is having a friend by my side willing to a) share their passion and b) explain what the heck is going on.  I know someone from half of the 32 participating countries, so there should be no problem finding the passion!

 

And this is how I found myself perched on a bar stool in a coffee shop by West Gate last night, shoulder-to-shoulder with 50 or so fellow foreigners, awaiting the opening of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  The first game featured the host country taking on Mexico, and despite only having one Mexican in our midst, the turnout was quite impressive.  Most everyone picked sides, dividing the globe roughly between the Americas rooting for Mexico and the Africans supporting their continent.  I guess there was technically a Mexican and a half, as I was also there to cheer for the motherland (grandmotherland?). 

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This was my very first World Cup game ever, and only the second soccer game I ever watched on TV (the first being the 2007 Copamerica, Mexico contra Argentina, which I watched in Mexico City).  I knew the game was relatively simple so I followed pretty well until Mexico scored, half of the room got really excited, and then they got sad while the other half got really excited.  Over the dull roar of the room, Carlos explained to me the “only complicated rule in football”: offsides.  It turns out that when you kick the ball into the goal to score, there needs to be at least two players between you and the goal – generally the goalkeeper and another guy.  Isn’t that the dumbest rule ever?  I mean, I’m no sports expert, but I find it weird that they have a rule that requires participation from the opposing team to score a point.  If I were a coach, I would forbid my players to cross the midfield line; then our opponents could only score from halfway across the field.  There are probably downsides to this strategy, but I can’t see any. 

I thought I understood the rule when Carlos explained it, but my record of 0-4 on calling the rest of the goals throughout the rest of the game indicates that I might not have.  At any rate, there were two goals that counted – South Africa scored once and Mexico scored at the very end to tie it. 

I was happy with a draw.  I was cheering for Mexico, but I have a soft spot for underdog countries and am a total sucker for underdog continents, so I really didn’t want South Africa to lose the opener on their home soil.  Draws are good; there will time for devastation and despair later. 

 

Everyone asked me what I thought of my first World Cup game, and I told them that I really enjoyed it.  It’s weird, though.  I come from a country where the word ‘soccer’ is only heard in three contexts:

  1. followed by the word ‘mom’
  2. followed by ridicule, nationalist sentiments, or
  3. in the Mike Ditka quote: “If God had wanted man to play soccer, he wouldn’t have given us arms.”

But the World Cup is like a party that everyone in the world is invited to, and only the Americans said no.  Somehow I ended up at the party anyway, and I just don’t understand why my friends didn’t want to come.  (I’ve been reading anything the NYT writes about soccer recently, and this article helped explain why we’re not a soccer superpower, but I still have questions – and judging from recent conversations everyone else in the world does, too.)

The other analogy I can make is to Harry Potter.  I feel like Harry, discovering this whole other world that I never knew about – a world obsessed with a sport that I’ve never heard of.  I wonder now – can the rest of the world teleport, and they just aren’t telling us?