Maria Holland

Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Home Life

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2010 at 9:00 am

My mom made pancakes for brunch my first morning home.  After eating, I wandered the house taking everything in.  It was pretty anticlimactic, as everything is exactly as I remembered it.  Granted, the living room was redone and there are new faucets in the kitchen and bathroom, but those things come and go with houses.  The microwave, the one constant of my 22 years of life, is still in its position over the oven, and that’s what really matters. 

I had to drive all the way around the Riverdale shopping area to find Panera, and I still don’t park well.  Like I said, everything is exactly as I remembered it. 

There were two loving dogs waiting to welcome me home, but they weren’t quite as cute as I had pictured them during my time away.  Itty, my brother’s dog, had surgery and currently looks like she tried to walk through a lampshade.  Bud, my parents’ dog, had an unfortunate experience with my dad experimenting as a groomer, and looks like a mangy stray. 

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My closet is full of clothes, mainly more skirts than I think I have ever seen in one place.  How do I have so many clothes, and how was I able to part with them for an entire year?  It’s a good thing that I had a full wardrobe at home, though, because my clothes suitcase was the one that got lost.  It didn’t arrive until nearly a full day after I had.  When I opened the door to accept the delivery, I had to keep myself from bursting into laughter.  “If I sign, it just means that I received the suitcase, right?  Not that it’s okay, right?” I asked.  “Because . . . it’s NOT.” 

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I really have no idea how they knew this suitcase was mine; I had described it as green and rectangular, but its current shape was anything but.  If I had to guess as to what had held it up these past few hours, I would say that it got into a fight with a bear and was then run over by at least one jet plane.  That’s the only way to explain the frame bent beyond recognition and the ominous scrapes and tears along all surfaces. 

I also have a collection of half-used lotions that could moisturize the skin of an entire sorority for a year, and a whole glorious bookshelf filled with all my favorite books.  I felt happy just looking at it until I realized that my dad had done some rearranging and my library was no longer impeccably sorted.  Oh, the horror!  I added my new books (making the language shelf a little more crowded) and now my world is again as it should be.

 

I think I’m going to be at home for the perfect amount of time.  For two weeks, my parents are just really happy to have me home and are about the most wonderful parents anyone could imagine.  Mom cooks all my favorite foods, and Dad’s okay with paying if we want to go out to eat. 

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They brought me a sandwich to eat in the car that first night, took me to dinner at Texas Roadhouse (my traditional coming-home-from-China dinner venue), and Mom prepared an amazing dinner of pork roast, green beans, Mom’s legendary mashed potatoes, and a cake for my dad’s birthday (and, if I may flatter myself, for my return).  I made myself a quesadilla for lunch one day, relishing the tortillas and sour cream even as I realized that canned salsa almost isn’t even worth eating. 

 

For my first two days back home, I was completely unconnected.  My laptop was half dead and I didn’t have a US cell phone, so I was reduced to using a land line (I know, right?!) for all communication.  But on Friday night we went to Best Buy as a family and got smart phones – smarter-than-us-phones, to be specific.  Before I went to China I had never really texted, but I did find it pretty useful in China (if only because texts in Chinese were slightly less terrifying at the beginning than phone calls in Chinese) and I guess it will be good to have now in the States.  I also have facebook on my phone, which is so ridiculous.  A few days ago, I had to be in my room, plugged into a LAN, and signed into a proxy to access facebook; now I can access it anytime, anywhere from the phone in my pocket.  Insane! 

Our trip to Best Buy seemed so typically American.  First of all, I ran into a friend from high school and got to catch up with him.  The fact that he was dating a friend of one of my college friends made it feel even more small-town.  But even more so, everyone was so incredibly nice.  We were greeted with a smile (not just an emotionless 欢迎光临) when we entered, and were approached immediately by employees offering to help.  The woman who ended up helping us was warm and personable throughout the whole process, so much so that we didn’t even realize until we left that we kept her there 15 minutes after closing!  This kind of courtesy is totally unheard of in China, where workers usually treat you like scum even when you’re there during normal business hours.

And it’s not just the employees.  People hold doors open for each other here – and accompany that action with a “hello!” or a “have a nice day!” or other such pleasantry.  After a trip to a store I feel overwhelmed with warm fuzzy feelings, like I just went through an affirmation process or a group hug.  Some of the papers that I was given by the TU Center for Global Education to prepare me for reentry talked about how many students struggle with the rudeness of Americans.  I’m not sure where those students are coming home from, but compared to China it’s like every single American is my best friend or something. 

That evening at Best Buy we became even more connected than we’d ever been (and this from a family with a 2:1 ratio of computers to people), but we took a step back and went analog that night.  My dad, recently retired, has been indulging even more in his passion of organizing and editing old negatives and slides, and he treated us to a slideshow of old family photos.  We saw pictures from my babyhood in Ohio and childhood in Oklahoma, the days when I was an insanely cute little girl.  Okay, 95% of my cuteness came from the fact that I was an really chubby little girl, but still – I was adorable.  I had cankles, my brother was knock-kneed, my mom had huge glasses and too much hair, and my dad used to have hair (as opposed to now . . . ).  Basically, we were one good-looking family!

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So now I can contact people any one of five ways from my phone, and we hooked my laptop up to another monitor so I can use it.  I got on QQ for the first time since I got home, and had a new crop of Christians who wanted to talk to me about Jesus.  There was also a message from LiuQin, the maddening woman from church: “Maria, I heard the bishop say you were going home and now you’re gone.  You never said goodbye; you really aren’t a very good friend.  I don’t even know if you foreigner understand me!  When war breaks out between China and America, I won’t wake care of you.”  She really is crazy, I think. 

 

I went to Mass on Saturday morning, only my second [intelligible] English Mass this year.  The similarities between English and Chinese Mass are far greater than the differences, but the little differences have a large impact.  Shaking hands during the Sign of Peace instead of bowing, receiving wine during communion – it felt good to be back.  I did find myself mouthing the Chinese along sometimes, though, and my Xiamen diocese friends were never far from my mind.  We sang “Sing of Mary Pure and Lowly” and I teared up at the last line:

And the Church her strain reechoes
Unto Earth’s remotest ends

because I think, in geopolitical terms, southeast Asia is about as remote as it gets for Catholicism. 

 

Saturday afternoon, my mom and I set out on a mini-road trip down to southern Minnesota.  We stopped first in Eden Prairie to see a college friend of mine; she had been the last college friend I saw before leaving for China last year and now became the first one I saw upon my return.  A year a six days had passed, which means I will go at least a year between seeing any of my other college friends.

From there we continued down to Winona, where one of my oldest friends was getting married.  I’ve known Rachel since 2nd grade, and we’ve been friends almost as long.  (Only “almost” because I very plainly told her when we moved to Minnesota that we were only going to be there for a few years and I didn’t want to make new friends.  I was a very practical 2nd grader.)  I had saved this date well before I left for China, and while it took me 10 months to buy my return ticket I always knew that it would be for some day safely before July 24th.  I wouldn’t miss her wedding for anything (not even, thankfully, the incompetence of Cathay Pacific). 

I think Minnesota is a beautiful state, green and blue everywhere you look, but the Mississippi River is certainly the jewel of our state.  The drive down to Winona is gorgeous, with trees and wheat to either side and bald eagles soaring through blue skies overhead.  This is what it would be like to drive through Catan, I imagine.  Makes me wish I had a wood port . . .

Winona is a nice city, too.  The river is lined with majestic bluffs and the streets are lined with quaint old buildings.  My friend’s wedding took place in a park outside, and they were blessed with a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.  They had the most perfect setting to say their vows!

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There was a reception afterwards in a local hotel – hors d’oeurves, speeches, and dancing.  I was excited to hit the dance floor with some of my old friends, but wasn’t sure about the music situation.  See, I really only dance when I can sing along, and a lot of music had come out since I was last in the States.  But my nights at The Key and 10 gigabytes of downloads from Google Music apparently served me well, because I knew almost all the songs that were played.  One friend even remarked at how much of the lyrics I knew, but the facade came tumbling down when a song I didn’t know came on.  Everyone else shrieked and sang along while dancing, while I just stood there and felt awkward.  “I just got back from a year in China,” I remarked to the groomsman standing next to me.  “Oh, you’re the China girl, aren’t you?”, he responded. 

Yup, that would be me.  The China girl. 

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Adventuring Towards Home – Eventually

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I slept about six hours before I had to get up.  Breakfast was included in the room, thankfully, so I devoured three or four croissants with bacon before catching the shuttle to the airport.  The staff at the hotel were so nice that it seemed things were finally looking up . . .

But then I got to the airport and went to check in for my 12:30 United flight to LAX.  The woman behind the counter rifled through my papers, entered some things into her computer, and told me that they couldn’t locate my baggage and therefore United was unable to accept me on their flight. 

Of course.  That would happen right about now.  So I went over to the Cathay counter and basically parked there for the next four hours as they bungled their way through their jobs.  Between trips to the counter, I listened to music to keep my soul from exploding in a ball of hatred.  There was one song in particular, Summercat by Billie the Vision & the Dancers, which Carlos played for me on the beach my last night in Xiamen.  It’s about leaving on a plane, but one line seemed especially fitting:

And the man next to me said “Everything is gonna be alright”.
I said “Nothing is gonna be alright, but thank you anyway”.

They eventually located my luggage and got me on a 4:15 Cathay flight to Los Angeles.  I was happy to have a tentative plan for getting home, but I wasn’t all that hopeful.  During those four hours of waiting I had noticed some ominous signs mentioning a incoming typhoon and standby measures, and it just seemed like weathering a typhoon in the Hong Kong airport would be a fitting way for this trip to continue. 

Luckily, the typhoon only delayed us two hours.  Eventually, we took off and headed across the airport, me wedged securely into my middle seat for the 13-hour journey.  As I crammed my luggage into my scant legroom, I thought fondly of the hard sleeper berths I had traveled all over China in.  Is flying really the best way to travel??  But they had a pretty good selection of movies and power outlets in each seatback (the entire reason I wanted to fly Cathay, honestly), and I figured that this would be the best part of this entire cursed journey. 

They say that mothers forget the pain of childbirth; otherwise they wouldn’t be willing to do it again.  I think I’m that way with international travel.  Thirteen hours is a LONG TIME but I always seem to forget that when planning trips and buying tickets.  “Eleven hours,” I think, “is not bad.  I’ve done 15 before!”  Yeah, and probably hated it!  Without fail, this is what I do on these transpacific hauls:

  1. Sit down and think deep thoughts of leaving and going and home
  2. Scan the movie selection, identify 5 I wouldn’t mind watching
  3. Realize that watching 5 movies would basically bring me to home, and delight in how short the length of 5 movies is
  4. Watch one movie
  5. Pull out computer and do stuff until I fall asleep with my hands still on the keyboard
  6. Wake up feeling refreshed, certain that we’re almost to America
  7. Look at clock and realize two and a half hours has passed.
  8. Despair.
  9. Repeat.

The only slight variation in this routine was the time I spent eating the bag of lychee I had brought with me from Xiamen.  Funny that this fruit was completely unknown to me a few months ago, but when I opened the bag the smell immediately brought me back to the beach. 

Somehow the time passed and we arrived in Los Angeles, either 20 hours or 2 hours late, depending on which standard you’re going by.  I borrowed the phone of the guy next to me and called my parents to tell them that I had arrived in the U.S.!

My bags somehow made it (really a miracle, considering the baggage tags were written in red permanent marker) and they had carts available for free, so getting through customs was unexpectedly smooth and easy.  I rechecked my bags and then a helpful baggage guy told me the flight I was looking for was with Alaska Air, so I set off for Terminal 3. 

I made good time and confidently swiped my passport at the self-check-in terminals, ready to be home already.  But my passport wasn’t recognized . . . and the Alaska Air people told me that they didn’t have a flight AS5367 . . . or any direct flights to Minneapolis, for that matter.  After a few minutes of extreme panic (“Then where are my bags headed??”), they figured out what had happened.  The flight number had been made up, but I was booked on a direct flight to Minneapolis leaving at 6:30 . . . from Terminal 5. 

By now, it was 5:30 and I had major retracing to do, across the enormous LAX airport to Terminal 5.  When I finally got there, they told me I was too late to check in, but must have seen either hopelessness or rage on my face and let me through anyway.  Luckily (about the only stroke of luck in this entire journey), my gate was the third one after the security check; even with that I was the last passenger to board, walking directly onto the plane without having to wait in line. 

My computer wouldn’t turn on for some reason, so I just slept the whole way back.  (I later found out that the backlight had died so I just couldn’t see the screen at all.  I am not sure whether to be annoyed that my computer broke, grateful that it waited until after I got out of Hong Kong, or just amused at this one last addition to this utter fiasco of a journey.)

My parents were waiting for me at baggage claim with a sign.

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Only one suitcase didn’t make it; again considering the luggage tags scrawled with red permanent marker the fact that the other two did make it is a small miracle.  The missing suitcase was the one that held ALL of my clothes, but it was okay.  My parents and I got in the car and drove back to Coon Rapids where my room is full of the clothes I didn’t take to China.  I won’t be going naked anytime soon! 

I showered in a bathtub surrounded by sliding glass doors, went to the bathroom on a toilet with a dry seat, and then went to sleep in my ridiculously soft bed.  (Honestly, it was ridiculous.  I started laughing once I sat down, because it felt the way I imagine clouds do.  I guess all it takes to make a 20-year-old mattress feel good is a year of sleeping on what passes for a mattress in China!)

Adventuring Towards Home – I Mean, Hong Kong

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 at 10:18 am

Monday was busy in a good fun way, but Tuesday was just busy – not in a good way. Among other things, I had to return my router (which of course couldn’t be returned here and had to instead be taken all the way over there) and send things at the post office (actually the shed behind the post office, as the post office has been completely gutted for an unnecessary redecoration).

I had to finish packing the things I wanted to take home and find others to adopt the rest of my things. I left several bags of clothes for the few friends who are kind of same size as me, and bequeathed my TU SERV-ICED-AY08 sweatshirt to Carlos. I like the idea of leaving my clothes with friends; not only does it mean less waste, but here in China where everyone’s wardrobes are so small, I really feel like I’m leaving behind something that will remind people of me.

I held an auction of sorts for everything else, showing my possessions off like Vanna White and begging Jelle, Bo, or XuLei to take them off my hands. Some vicious rock-paper-scissors battles erupted over my alarm clock and the Buddhist scroll, but I was just happy to have everything gone.

Jelle, XuLei, and I had lunch at Caiqingjie (site of my first meal in Xiamen and now site of my last). I ordered the most typical meal: 地三鲜, 干煸土豆丝, 铁板牛肉.

Once I finished packing, my guy friends helped me out by checking my bags. One by one, they lifted each suitcase and estimated the weight. It was a little odd, witnessing this weightlifting exhibition, but it really helped me out! Pun and YongZhi helped me take the bags downstairs, where a friend from church was waiting with her car and driver to take me to the airport. XuLei and LiXiang accompanied me in the car, but they couldn’t go in to the international departures area so we said goodbye in the main lobby of the airport.

This is approximately where things started going wrong. Apparently I had read Cathay’s baggage rules incorrectly so instead of paying $25 to check my third bag, I had to pay $25 for the one bag that was a few kilos over 23kg and another $100 to check the third bag. We moved some things around and begged and pleaded to get out of the $25, but it was still significantly more expensive than I was planning.

I went through security without problems, but it quickly became apparent that our plane was not going to take off on time.  There was a lightning storm in the place our plane was coming from; even an hour and a half after our scheduled departure, the plane hadn’t even taken off to get to us yet.  We got free drinks, though, which obviously made everything okay, right?

I had the longest layover of the trip there (3 hours), so it was really the only connection I wasn’t at all worried about missing.  But isn’t it ironic . . . On top of the 2+ hour delay, we had a last-minute gate change and had to wait for the ground staff to catch up with us.  To make a long, painful story short, I stood in the aisle of our parked airplane watching the time tick by on my watch as I missed my connection to LAX by about 10 minutes. 

It turns out the only thing that is less exciting to look forward to than a 13-hour transpacific flight is an indefinite layover followed by a 13-hour transpacific flight.  We had arrived shortly after midnight, a whole bunch of us now with no way to get to Sydney, Johannesburg, Vienna, Paris, Buenos Aires, and Los Angeles.  The personnel in the Hong Kong airport were completely incompetent as they tried to get all of us alternate itineraries to our destinations.  They had no idea I was heading to Minneapolis, so if I hadn’t said something I would have ended up stranded only one airport closer to my final destination than I currently was.  An employee came over to me after about an hour of waiting and I was expecting to see a series of flights to get me home . . . but instead he asked to see my current itinerary, which I had already given to another employee.  Like I said, completely incompetent.

After another hour, they brought me a new itinerary – but it required a 9-hour layover in Los Angeles at night and I unequivocally told them that was unacceptable.  They tried again, got me a flight to LA and another to MSP four hours later, and finally agreed to take me to a hotel.

We walked across the entire airport to the airport hotel, where I waited for another hour before the Cathay employee told us that they were full.  No room at that inn, so we walked back across the entire airport to take a taxi to the local Marriot.  “It’s a very nice new hotel,” the man told us, as if that made any difference at all at 3 o’clock in the morning when we should have been halfway across the Pacific. 

My room was nice, but when I started up my computer to call my parents back home I discovered that internet was not included.  This was the last straw for me, and I just went limp on my bed and started sobbing.  I had finally reconciled to the fact that I had to leave Xiamen, but that was only okay because I was going home; now I was in neither place and no hotel, no matter how nice, could fix that.  In the scheme of things, Hong Kong is ridiculously close to Xiamen – a 10-hour bus ride away, to be specific – just close enough to be depressing that I had only made it this far.  I hadn’t slept the 36 hours before leaving Xiamen (trying to make the most of my time there) and now I was up to 48 hours without more than a nap on the flight over.  I was no longer on the mainland where I could use my cellphone to contact friends, not in the US yet where I could borrow a cell phone to call home, and without internet I couldn’t even tell my parents that I was delayed.  I had paid an obscene amount of money to fly Cathay (formerly my ideal airline) and to arrive home in the morning, but now that expenditure just seemed like a total waste.  And on top of that I had to pay $20 to use the internet. 

It was just too much.  I didn’t even try to hold it in, just sobbed out loud in my empty hotel room.  I had cried a few times during this year in China, but this was only the second time that I burst into tears this way: these-events-are-too-much-for-me-and-my-mom-isn’t-here-to-make-it-all-better-so-my-only-recourse-is-to-weep-like-a-small-child sort of meltdown.  I finally got the internet working and called my parents, probably scaring them as I still wasn’t able to stop crying.  I told them I wasn’t going to be home until dinnertime on Wednesday (missing two meals!  No wonder I was crying!) and they told me to go to sleep. 

So I did.  The bed was really nice, but I still cried myself to sleep. 

Saving the Best For Last

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2010 at 11:53 pm

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but what I’m discovering right now is that impending absence makes the heart infatuated. I’ve been more and more unhappy with some aspects of my life here in Xiamen the last month or so (okay, mainly my room, the laundry, and the peeing cicadas) but none of that matters right now. I can’t remember why those things were such a big deal to me. All I can think about is how much it’s going to suck to leave my friends here.

It’s not like I don’t have friends back home, obviously. But for some reason, I’m finding it harder to go back than I did to come here, even though last year I was heading into the unknown and this year I pretty much know what’s waiting for me at home. Maybe it’s that I don’t know when I’ll be back? That was definitely the case when I went to visit my friends in Jilin, and Xiamen is even worse. Except for the people at my parish, my friends in Xiamen are not stationary; even if I came back in two years most of them would probably be gone, graduated, working in other cities. And those are the Chinese friends – the foreign friends are either home already or headed back in a matter of time. Once I leave Xiamen, there’s no coming back to the city as I currently know it.

Bishop Cai invited me for a farewell lunch, so I went over to Lundu at noon to meet a large group of church friends. We had a buffet at a nice hotel (fried frog, anyone?), where I sat at the main table with the bishop and Fr. He, visiting again from Taiwan. I was so happy to have a last chance to talk to them! I told them that this year in China, I had seen my first ordinations of deacons, priests, and a bishop, and we all pondered the possibility of the ordination of a Chinese pope. Maybe someday?

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In the afternoon, I had plans nearly a year in the making. Directly next to XiaDa is Nanputuo, a Buddhist temple. It is so close that the tall building offers a perfect view of the temple grounds. It is so close that the bus stop named XiaDa actually serves the temple. It is so close that mere steps from the university’s south gate brings you to the entrance. It is so close, yet I had not been.

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It’s partially because I’m not that interested in Buddhist temples, and partially because it was just so close that it seemed I could always do it another day. But after the 9-month mark or so, I decided that I might as well go on the very last day. And so I did.

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My tour guide was BinBin, the leader of our church’s youth group. He grew up in a Buddhist family but converted to Catholicism in college, so he was a fun and informative guide. He explained the different statues and images, differences and similarities in our beliefs, and things like that. I felt like I got the bonus tour!

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After looking around the temple and the monk school, we climbed the mountain. It’s not a huge mountain, but climbing in near-100° heat with 70% humidity was a little bit ridiculous. I sweated through my shirt in minutes, and had to cool off for a good 10 minutes before taking pictures at the top.

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But no matter, it was well worth the climb. The mountain overlooks my university (looking down even on the Tall Building) and the view is truly incredible. XiaDa’s entire beautiful campus, Nanputuo’s temple grounds, the smooth white highway bridge system, the ocean, and Zhangzhou across the water.

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We reached the top in the late afternoon, before the sunset but well after the harsh midday sun. The sun was low, almost behind the mountains, so the entire vista was bathed in a perfect mellow gold. If I have to say goodbye to my island at some point, it might as well be this way.

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After we came down off the mountain, I took a much-needed shower, then went to West Gate to have my hair washed. #18 was there and free finally, so she finally got to wash a foreigner’s hair. Napping while having a scalp massage is one of the simple pleasures I will miss from China.

I met some friends at West Gate at 8 for my farewell dinner. Even with so many friends already gone, there were still 16 of us. I ordered all my favorite Chinese dishes (at Green Chairs, one of our favorite restaurants) and we ate our fill.

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At one point I frowned because I was sad to be saying goodbye, and I guess a bunch of people saw my ridiculous frown for the first time.

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This led to a showcase of Stupid Human Tricks – lots of silly facial expressions, double-jointed movements, and crazy flexibility. The funniest thing was not what some people could do, but what others couldn’t! The Chinese girls had a really hard time duplicating any of our faces, even simple things like winking and raising eyebrows. They just don’t show their emotions that way, they said.

I wanted to spend my last night in Xiamen on the beach, so a few of us walked to Baicheng to lounge on the sand.

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Eventually it was just me, Carlos, and Bo – oh, and the guy who was walking alongside the waves playing a saxophone. No, I’m not kidding; I couldn’t come up with something that perfect on my own! Once he stopped we played our own music, a combination of English, Spanish, and French songs (I introduced Bo to Tryo!). I played them my going home song, Caledonia by Celtic Woman:

I don’t know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I’ve been afraid
That I might drift away
I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs
That make me think about where I’ve come from
That’s the reason why I seem
So far away today

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

Now I have moved and I’ve kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way
I have kissed the fellas and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes, there’s no denying
I have traveled hard, sometimes with conscience flying
Somewhere with the wind

Now I’m sitting here before the fire
The empty room, the forest choir
The flames have cooled, don’t get any higher
They’ve withered, now they’ve gone
But I’m steady thinking, my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
When hands have shaken, the kisses float
Then I will disappear

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

After the beach we took one last turn around Furong lake, then Carlos gave me a ride on the back of his bike. That’s the last item I’ll get to cross off my bucket list, I guess!

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The User You Are Trying To Reach Is Currently Busy

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2010 at 3:31 pm

This last week has probably been the busiest of my time here in Xiamen, at least in the sense that the things I have to do can’t be pushed any further into the future.  I will be leaving in about 24 hours now, which means everything right now is the “last”. 

Before this week I was much more ready to go home.  There were things frustrating me about Xiamen (okay, honestly, it was really just the cicadas.  But still, they’re horrible) and finally things were starting to fall into place to look forward to back home.  But once it got down to days I wanted the countdown to return to weeks.  Even after two of my best friends left, I still wanted to stay here longer. 

So I’ve been busy packing, spending time with the friends I have left, and doing the things I want to do before leaving this home of mine.  I’m heading out in a few minutes to tour the Nanputuo Temple; though it is literally next door to my university I’ve never been.  It’s one of the last things on my Xiamen checklist, and then I guess in one way I’ll be ready to go home.

I have been too busy to write this week, but I am still Maria, so I’ve been jotting down notes about each day.  Full entries will follow once I’m on a plane or stranded in some airport somewhere.  There will be tales of my ‘graduation’, the most difficult goodbyes yet, karaoke, my third Chinese ordination, evangelization on QQ, lunches with every Chinese person I’ve ever met pretty much.  You know, my usual adventures. 

Get excited.

24 hours. 

Songs and Games

In Uncategorized on July 18, 2010 at 11:38 pm

I finally got a chance to sleep in this morning! I spent the morning packing in between chatting on QQ. Recently a bunch of people have been adding me on QQ to talk about Jesus, which is pretty interesting. I’m not sure if they know I’m Christian (and how they would know this) but at any rate, there is a veritable horde of these online evangelizers. Here’s a typical conversation:

Him: Are you Christian?
Me: I’m Catholic.
Him: Why don’t you believe in Jesus? Why do you want to believe in Mary? Jesus was God’s son, Mary was just a person.
Me: You don’t know what Catholics believe, do you? You really don’t. We also believe in Jesus.
Him: I don’t know, I just know that Jesus is the Messiah.
Me: We also believe that.
Him: So what’s up with the Lord of Heaven?
Me: The Lord of Heaven is the Emperor on High, they’re the same person.

See, in Chinese, Catholics and non-Catholic Christians have different names for God. Catholics say 天主, or Lord of Heaven, while non-Catholic Christians call Him 上帝, or Emperor on High. There is so little actual knowledge and so much misinformation that sometimes the Chinese don’t realize they refer to the same person. It’s not that unusual to have theological disagreements with other Christians in the US, and sometimes they even refuse to admit that Catholics are also Christians, but usually you have to get into more specific doctrines like the Immaculate Conception or the Communion of Saints before having problems . . . not just the belief of the Trinity.

Jelle called me up in the afternoon wanting to play a final game of Catan. I ended up boxed in between him and YongZhi, and lost with 9 points. It’s probably better this way, as Jelle is super competitive and kind of a sore loser; I guess I can handle him winning once, even if it was my last game in China :)

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I had a little time before dinner, so I walked around West Gate. As I was perusing the street goods, one of the sellers ran after me to get my attention. She started talking about how good it was to see me, how long it had been, and things like that, but despite my head racing I could not figure out where I knew her from. I let her talk, and after a while she mentioned something about Coco. That was it – I could picture her perfectly in an orange polo and khaki baseball cap! She used to work at Coco and was familiar because I went there almost every day. She got fired for a bad attitude, I think (which is kind of funny because the surliest Coco employee is friendlier than the friendliest waitress in any restaurant), so it had been several months since we had seen each other. We exchanged phone numbers, finally learned each others’ names, and I guess we’re friends now!

I had dinner plans with Mr. Hou, one of the men from the dancing group. I hadn’t seen him since he played ping-pong with my dad during their visit, but he happened to walk by during Diederik’s goodbye dinner and I said hi to him. This meal was definitely the most we’d ever talked; I knew he was professor of biochemical engineering, but I learned tonight that he likes to memorize speeches in English. He did the beginning of Bush’s inaugural address, starting with “Chief Justice Rehnquist, President Clinton, Vice President Gore, distinguished guests” and on from there. He also knew more of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech than I did! Surprisingly, he didn’t know the Gettysburg Address so I recited what I knew (which was, thankfully, the entire opening paragraph). Thank you, 5th grade!

After dinner I had dessert plans with BinBin, the youth group leader at church. He had a friend who was heading to America to do a PhD in mechanical engineering, so we met up to talk over shaved ice. He’s going to North Carolina State, which I told them is in the American equivalent of Shanghai, when my university is in Kunming. BinBin followed that up by asking how long it would take to get there by bus, and I had to break the news to him that you can’t take buses like that in America. I had this funny mental image of him loaded up with luggage, wandering Chapel Hill looking for the bus station to catch the sleeper to Tulsa. Hahahaha.

This friend and his girlfriend were also Catholic, but part of the underground church. They were the first underground Catholics I met, and I was happy to tell him a little bit about the Church in the rest of the world where there won’t be this division. (Incidentally, BinBin told me that if I were around for another month, I would be able to witness the beginning of the reconciliation between Xiamen’s patriotic and underground church! Oh, for another year here . . . ) I felt like I was telling him the streets were paved with gold in America when I told him that there would most likely be a Catholic church and student organization on his actual campus!

My new friends joined me afterwards for karaoke. It was Carlos, me, and a bunch of my Chinese friends – but because they were from different groups, I had to introduce them to each other! There were my dancing friends, friends from church, a friend I stole from Carlos, one of Carlos’ coworkers, and my two new friends.

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We sang all the songs I learned after our last karaoke party, plus I sang a few from their English selection.

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Carlos and I did a killer rendition of Circle of Life.

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I did Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You as a sort of goodbye, Anson sang a Chinese song for me called “If There Comes A Day”, and we ended the night with the cheesily perfect Chinese song “Friends”.

这些年 一个人
风也过 雨也走
有过泪 有过错
还记得坚持甚麽

还有伤 还有痛
还要走 还有我

Through the years by myself, the wind has blown and the rain has fallen.
There have been tears and mistakes, but I’ve persevered.
There is hurt, there is pain, we have to keep going, but you still have me

The room was paid for until daylight, but we didn’t stay that long.

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There were lots of goodbyes once the singing ended; while it still didn’t seem real to me yet, one friend obviously clearly remembered Lester’s recent farewell and started crying at the thought of his other foreign friend leaving.

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I didn’t want to sleep. I was leaving 后天 (the day after tomorrow), but as soon as I went to sleep it would become 明天 (tomorrow). So Carlos, XuLei, and I postponed sleep by eating barbecue at West Gate and walking back to the dorms at a leisurely pace. It wasn’t enough; eventually I had to go to bed.

Thank You For the Music (And The Food!)

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Despite a Friday night that was so late it should probably be considered early, I got up Saturday morning to attend another ordination. This time it was three seminarians becoming deacons, which completed my Chinese ordination trifecta (deacons, priests, and a bishop). There are four dioceses in my province (mine in Xiamen, Fuzhou in the capital, Mindong in the east, and Minbei in the north) but only we and Fuzhou have bishops, so these seminarians came to our church for their ordination.

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I was dead tired but very glad I went. It was the end of my time with my church, but I was able to witness the beginning of new vocations even as I prepared to leave.

The youth group took me out to lunch after the Mass. We went to the seafood restaurant next door for a big meal and obligatory toasts.  We exchanged presents – I gave out American dollars and I was given a set of chopsticks and a pretty rock. (Both in enormous decorative boxes of course; no one seems to understand that I am preparing to transport all of my current possessions across the Pacific Ocean. Ugh.)

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I went straight from there to another lunch date. Bo, a French friend of mine, made lunch for the two of us in his room – chicken smothered in a tomato and herb sauce, salad with honey mustard dressing, and French bread. It was almost the first salad I’d had all year, and certainly the best one. Between the food, the mellow music, and the good conversation, it definitely tied for Best Lunch of the Day.

I took a quick nap after second lunch, then returned to church for Sunday vigil Mass – my last time. I went dancing afterwards – also my last time. I said goodbye to them and successfully leveraged my leaving to get a picture of all of us.

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Studies Terminated

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Friday afternoon we had a graduation ceremony – except we weren’t graduating, so it wasn’t actually a 毕业典礼.  They called it a 结业典礼, which basically just means Termination of Studies.  They called us by name and handed us Certificates of Attendance with our pictures on them.  So basically . . . we were going to class, and now we aren’t any more.

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While it sounds kind of hokey, everything was actually surprisingly legit.  Coming from a university that told me the wrong date for the beginning of the semester, who didn’t know when finals would be until three weeks before, and couldn’t even manage to print a student ID with my picture on it, I was not expecting much.  But they came up with a transcript printed on official-looking paper and a nicely bound Certificate of Attendance with my full name on it.  (This is really quite something, as my official name for all other university-related business was simply MARIA, no last name.) 

We took a picture afterwards, all of us foreigners who were about to leave all thrown in together on the steps of our classroom building.

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I said a final final goodbye to Aleid and was figuring my friends were gone already, when I got a phone call from Eunice.  She’d checked out and returned her key, then returned to grab her last bag.  While she was in the bathroom, the cleaning lady came in, looked around, and locked the door behind her.  There’s no way to open the deadbolt without a key, even from the inside, so Eunice was trapped in her room!  Talk about fire hazard . . .

But I rescued her, helped her get her bags into the taxi, and said a final final goodbye to her as well.  And then there were none :(

Even with my two constant companions gone, though, there were still friends to see and farewell dinners to eat.  I called up Hu Jing, the female mechanical engineering student I befriended, and we went to dinner together for the last time.  We hugged when we parted ways, one of those awkward embraces I can’t help but associated with goodbyes in China.  She went to her right, which conflicted with me going to my left (according to the societal norm) and we ended up cheek-to-cheek facing the same way.  Ah, that’s what 再见 feels like! 

I must say, though, that Chinese don’t have the monopoly on awkward hugs.  Eunice insisted on all her goodbye hugs being photographed, which made for some awkward looking photos:

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After a day of such hard goodbyes, what else could I do but try to drown my sorrows?  My girlfriends were gone, so I hung out with the guys – Jelle, Yerkin, Tom, Bo, etc.  We bought some rum and took it up to the top of Jelle’s building, where we had long conversations and enjoyed the view of Xiamen’s illuminated bridges.  It was stunning, honestly.

Jelle and I went to 1801 afterwards, one of those things I felt like I had to do at least once before leaving Xiamen.  It was about what I expected, a Chinese club with insanely loud music and basically free drinks for foreigners.  I had a great time dancing and am glad I went at least once. 

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They played a techno remix of Take Me Home Country Roads and as I sang at the top of my lungs, I realized how much that song has come to mean to me this year.  West Virginia isn’t my home, but it’s sure a lot closer to it than Xiamen.  So take me home, country roads, to the place where I belong – because right now I have a feeling that I should have been home yesterday. 

The Hardest Goodbyes

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I continued packing this morning.  Kind of.  Apparently when sculpting, all you have to do is take away the rock that doesn’t belong; for me, that’s the most important part of packing.  I am being ruthless with my wardrobe, and have at least a suitcase worth of clothes to leave behind with friends.

Some friends and I had pulled noodles for lunch, then Aleid and I grabbed popsicles and went to the beach.  It’s really obvious that summer vacation has finally started here; the student haunts are emptied out but there are tourists all the time now.  We saw a few on the bus, ooh-ing and aah-ing over their first glimpse of the beach.  Oh, tourists . . . haha.

It was a beautiful day for Aleid’s last time on the beach.  It was cloudy at first – fluffy-white-clouds-on-blue-sky kind of cloudy, not smoggy or anything – but even that cleared up pretty quickly.  I read some Lord Jim, slept, and occasionally dipped in the water to cool off. 

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I only stayed out there for two hours or so, but I guess we were there closer to midday than usual.  Even those two hours were enough to turn me red, which actually marks the first time I’ve gotten sunburned this year.  (And only like the 5th time in my life.  Interesting story: I was maybe 13 the first time I got sunburned, and when my skin started peeling off I was seriously convinced I was dying of skin cancer!)

I caught a random bus back to campus and happened to meet Eunice on it!  She had recently duplicated my success on the HSK (it’s the magic book, we decided) and owed me a milk tea, so we went to West Gate together for a delicious treat.  I like the Chinese tradition of treating your friends when you have good fortune, but the other way feels good, too, so I gate Eunice a 10-kaui bill so she can have a milk tea on me when she gets a job in Shanghai.

I showered all the sand off me, then parked myself on my bed and began packing.  A few hours later, I realized that I had made dinner plans and had no clue what time it currently was.  I found my cell phone across the room on my desk, with 3 texts and about 4 missed calls – I was an hour late for Aleid and Eunice’s goodbye dinner!  I ran out the door, grabbed a taxi, and managed to arrive at the restaurant before the food came, but I felt really bad about it :(

We retired to the beach after dinner, just hanging out on the sand, talking, and taking pictures.

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We dressed up with fresh flowers from the beach.

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My last night with two of my best friends . . .

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Why the Chinese Carry Umbrellas

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2010 at 12:59 pm

After a late rising and a meal of mangos and egg tarts (breakfast of champions!), I 爬山-ed up to the tall building.  I registered for my completion-of-studies certificate and finally got my HSK certificate, officially verifying my 中等B季 (B-level intermediate) Chinese skills.  Sweet!

I kind of started packing before I met XuLei for dinner.  I’ve been teaching her an English word a day recently, starting with “party pooper” when she refused to stay up all night to watch the World Cup final.  My goal is to find useful words that native speakers actually use and ground them with a personal experience – it is the best way to learn after all.  So we started with “party pooper” (It’s like a bunch of people want to have a party, but you poop on it) and, when the conversation turned to plans for my last night in country, I taught her “skinny dipping”.  Hahaha.  She was mortified. 

Carlos and I had plans to play games with his work friends again, so we headed out to meet them after dinner.  Carlos had told me about a different version of Catan he had sighted in a board game shop, and through the power of suggestion we became convinced it was Cities & Knights.  (Cities & Knights is the awesome expansion to Settlers.  Cities is to Settlers what milk tea with pearls is to its pearl-less counterpart; regular milk tea is good but you don’t realize what excellence you’ve been missing until you try the 珍珠.)

But, seeing as Settlers of Catan has both cities and knights, it proved to be very difficult to discuss the game clearly.  In the end, no one had Cities so we just played a game of Settlers with 6 players.  And to add insult to injury, I lost!

Afterwards, the owner of the board game shop suggested another for us to try: a French game called Dixit.  It’s like Dictionary (a.k.a. Balderdash) mixed with Apples and Apples, featuring artsy French illustrations.  Everyone has a hand of six picture cards (all unique); one person lays a card face down and somehow describes the content of the picture with words, sounds, or actions.  Everyone else chooses the card out of their hand that best fits the description, lays it facedown in the piles, which is shuffled before people vote on which card they think was first laid down.  You get points for guessing correctly or causing others to guess correctly. 

It was fun and interesting, but I was really bad at it.  It may have been the fact that they all knew each other, because it’s pretty important to understand how others think when playing.  Like the one time Carlos said “James” (the name of one of the guys playing with us) as a clue and three of the six people played cards that had some sort of sword fighting on them.  But at least once there was an allusion that I caught.  The clue was “China” and cards included a girl being rescued from the jaws of a monster, a crowd of eggs or possibly houses, a thermometer filled with blood showing a high temperature, a table covered in food, and a map and compass.  Lots of possibilities there, but the 5 of us foreigners all chose the correct one – a sun shining over a sea of umbrellas – from the available choices.  The pictures are all a little ironic, or have something not quite right about them (umbrellas in the sun??), but in this case this one was absolutely perfect for the clue (yeah, if you’re in China!). 

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We took a taxi back to West Gate and then Carlos and I walked home across campus.  We took a route I don’t usually take, Carlos leading the way.  Suddenly, he stopped and pointed to the tree in front of us.  “Look!”, he said, and I looked.  The tree indicated was surrounding by a glistening wet patch, and in the light of the streetlight next to it, we could see a torrent of water drops falling down.  It was weird looking – a rainstorm confined to the tree’s surroundings – but in a pretty way, because the water drops looked like jewels in the yellow light.  “It’s cicada pee,” he told me. 

My mind processed this information immediately.  Yesterday when I was walking under those trees by the supermarket, those drops were not air conditioner water.  DISGUSTING.

In 7 days I will land back at home.  Between the road trip my brother and I have planned, and the hordes of peeing cicadas here in Xiamen, I am totally ready.