Maria Holland

Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

1 Down, 31 To Go

In Uncategorized on August 27, 2010 at 11:16 pm

But who’s counting?

I’ve finished the first week of my senior year!

We got two new classmates in Chinese class – one is Russian, and it was so comforting to hear Russian-accented Chinese again!  But, maybe due to the larger class size (5), the teacher put the kibosh on my freeloading.  I was told I had to either enroll in the course or stop going, so . . . maybe I’ll try again next semester.  In good news, I now I have a three-hour lunch break on Mondays and Wednesdays!


On Wednesday we had our second Design class.  We brainstormed ways to get across the construction zone between Keplinger (the engineering building) and the rest of campus.  Because we were going for quantity over quality, and because we had to write every idea down, we ended up with a list that included:

  • zipline
  • scheduled fenced-in sidewalk
  • door in the north side of ACAC
  • skyway
  • monorail
  • teleportation
  • giant eagles

Have I mentioned that I love my professor and my classmates?  Stuff like that is worth staying awake for.


I’ve been spending my spare time reviewing notes from the previous three years of classes.  My old mentor said that you should write notes with the 5-year standard in mind – that you should be able to pick them up and understand them five years down the road.  It’s been interesting putting mine to the test!  They’re doing pretty well so far.

It’s fun to remember stuff I used to know, but more fun because of the quotes I write in the margins.  For instance, the brainstorm sheet from Design on Wednesday featured these gems:

“I can’t believe I’ve been here 25 years and I haven’t dug a tunnel to my office!”
– Dr. Tipton

Alli: “You’re breaking the rules!” 
Dr. Tipton: “You’re breaking my heart!”


But college isn’t all about classes, of course.  I’ve been reminded in a powerful way of the prevalence of free food and t-shirts on American campuses.  Remember when I had to run the 100m dash to get a XiaDa t-shirt?  I went to the activities fair on Thursday to get one (and if I’d wanted to, I could have had a soccer t-shirt as well).  There was Newman lunch on Tuesday, Pizzas of Tulsa on Tuesday night, WOW on Wednesday, a Newman cookout on Wednesday night, and WOW leftovers on Thursday night.  Not bad!


On Thursday night, I went to Caravan with a bunch of friends.  Caravan Cattle Co is a 21+ country two-step bar, which I heard about all the time last year because my friends were immediately obsessed.  I spent the last year learning every kind of dance except two-step, but I needed my dancing fix so I decided to check it out. 

It actually ended up reminding me a lot of The Key (in the good old days of first semester, not second semester when it became lame).  There were some creepy older men and some skanky young women, and a lot of people who just wanted to dance and have fun.  Cowboy boots and hats were slightly more prevalent than I remember from Xiamen, but I guess that’s to be expected.  It turns out I don’t really care what we’re dancing or what we’re dancing to, as long as we’re dancing :)

I Don’t Remember What Homework Is Like

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Tuesdays are much better than Mondays (and Thursdays even more so!).  I started the day with Microcomputers for Mechanical Engineers at 11.  It’s a freshman course, but I wasn’t ME as a freshman and, for various other reasons, I hadn’t gotten around to taking it until now.  So it’s about 30 freshman and me, the Super Senior.  I actually already know one girl in the class from Newman, though, and I think it will be kind of fun to get to know the freshman. 

Interestingly enough, I counted only 4 females in the class of about 30.  Everyone in China made such a big deal out of the gender imbalance in engineering, but I rarely notice it until others point it out. 

There’s an associated lab on Tuesday afternoon; this week’s task consisted of designing a personal web page.  I had done one way back when, as a freshman in The World of Physics.  It was embarrassingly out-of-date (probably about how this journal will look in four years, come to think of it) but all I had to do was update it. 


My last class is Resources and the Environment, an economics course that I’ve been looking forward to taking for at least two years now.  Economics is my second favorite department at TU, largely because of this professor, Dr. Settle, and this specific course has been recommended to me by two trusted friends (and one a fellow ME).  I’m just auditing it but I’m looking forward to the reading and especially the class discussion.  The rest of the class is basically the senior Energy Management majors and there are only two other students from the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, so I wonder if my perspective really will be different. 


I’m taking 14 hours, auditing 3, and “showing up” for 3.  18 is the maximum allowed without special permission, so if I were taking all of those for credit I guess it would be a little ridiculous.  But as it is it doesn’t seem like too terribly much.  Anyway, I can’t really remember what it’s like to have homework, or to have more important commitments than dinner at West Gate at 7, so I can’t imagine what made me so busy in previous years at TU.  I’m sure this year is going to be a breeze – haha. 

One thing that should be awesome, though, is finals week.  Is it strange that that’s my favorite part of every semester?  Tests are my specialty, and when it gets to the point that they’re the only thing between me and vacation – that’s where the fun begins.  Out of my 7 classes I’ll only be taking finals in 3.  Just how I like it!

Another observation after two days of classes that mainly consisted of going over syllabi – man, that academic dishonesty stuff is a big deal here!  I could never picture a TU professor willingly overlooking blatant cheating, and I could never picture a TU student saying that if someone else wants to cheat, it’s none of anyone else’s business.  I mean, I know that people must cheat at TU as well – but they fail classes and get expelled.

First Day of Classes

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Matt and I high-fived each other as we reached the top of the stairs at 7:55.  “Five minutes early!  Go us!” we exclaimed.  Our class was not in Keplinger, the engineering building right next to both of our apartments where we usually spend our days (and occasionally nights), but instead was all the way across campus – thus, a timely arrival had required superhuman feats of waking up early.

And then we walked into our Writing for the Professions classroom, where the professor was already halfway down the first page of the syllabus.  What on earth?  Who just starts a class early, much less one at 8 a.m., much less on the first day of classes? 

Great way to start off the year.


Next was Control Systems Engineering.  I have some things to review for that class, but it’s a finite amount so it’s okay.  I like Dr. Mohan and the vibe I get from our class is almost as awesome as the dynamic that existed among my old classmates.

The only frustrating thing was the syllabus.  I went through and wrote down the test days and big due dates, and ran into a problem.  Seriously, at this point in the school year after a year away I have like two events in my planner, and there’s already a conflict.  Gotta snap out of China-mode, where tests were optional and finals doubly so!


I then walked back across campus to another non-Keplinger building for Chinese.  I found the room and looked in to see a Chinese teacher, a guy, and a girl, just standing around.  The teacher asked who I was and seemed a little doubtful when I said I hadn’t taken Intermediate Chinese or passed a placement test but that wanted to attend the class anyway, but within a few minutes of “repeat-after-me” exercises, she could tell I was going to be okay.  The class is CHIN 3003, Advanced Chinese I, and without bragging I will say that my level is significantly higher than the other students. 

It’s not due to any special ability, but a year of living in China and studying Chinese in Chinese will do that to ya I guess.  I have spent possibly orders of magnitude more time speaking and listening to Chinese (with native speakers) than them, and when students are only studying Chinese we tackle a lot more vocabulary.  As an example, they knew one word for “understand”, while I can think of 5 (明白,懂,理解,了解,体会). 

I think I’m going to stick with it though, at least for a little while.  I like the teacher and it’s still good practice for me.  I feel bad because I think I might intimidate the other students, but maybe I can be a help instead.


After lunch, we had Senior Design.  I adore our professor (and, I’m realizing, the ME class of 2011 is not half bad) but I’m mildly terrified.  It’s just the first course of two that serve as the culminating experience of our undergraduate engineering education, nbd. 

I really thought my year in China was going to hurt me as I tried to get back in the swing of things with my ME major, but apparently that’s not the case.  After Dr. Tipton lectured us on creativity and intellectual blocks, he described a problem for us and asked us to brainstorm solutions.  Basically, there’s a room with a concrete floor, into which is set the base of a tube.  The tube contains a ping pong ball with very little clearance .  The challenge is to get the ball out of the tube without damaging the floor or the tube, and all we had to do it was:

  • claw hammer
  • hanger
  • box of Wheaties
  • plastic spoon

One guy shouted out “Use the Wheaties to make yourself salivate and then spit into the tube until the ball floats out!”.  Good idea, but I immediately responded “It’d be faster if you just pee in it.”  At this point Dr. Tipton stopped the exercise because he said I’d gotten the answer he was looking for.  He was trying to illustrate cultural/environmental blocks to creativity; apparently there is usually one kid snickering in the corner for about ten minutes before finally saying that idea out loud.  Well, if there’s one thing that my experiences in China have taught me, it’s that there are no inappropriate times to talk about defecation or urination. 

Biogas digesters, squatty potties, and split bottom pants FTW!


There was a room change before our next class (Introduction to Numerical Methods), but our teacher didn’t get the memo.  She came hurrying into class a few minutes late and made a comment about M4 being a good approximation of U9.  We ALL laughed – ah, math humor.  In a class like that, you take what you can get.

I think the class will be useful and not deathly hard, but it was during this class that my record of not falling asleep in class all day bit the dust . . .

Mondays and Wednesdays are pretty long days for me – 6 hours of class spread out from 8 to 5 with only an hour in the morning and two hours for lunch.  That’s a long way from XiaDa, when the most class I ever had was 3 hours and the shortest lunch I ever had was also three hours. 

But . . . I really liked it!

Back at TU

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2010 at 11:51 pm

I’ve been back at TU for a few days now.  As I expected, it has been significantly different than going back home to Coon Rapids was.  The changes are bigger in every way – people, places, and things. 

My brother and I turned the corner onto 5th Pl. and caught sight of McFarlin library around 4:15 on Wednesday afternoon.  I stopped in the apartment office to get my key and then raced across campus, ready to be back at my apartment after 15 long months.  But I was driving distracted, my attention hogged by the behemoth on the horizon – a behemoth that was NOT there when I had last been on campus.  It’s the TUPAC (or “the Thing”, as I call it), and while I knew it was going in while I was gone, I was not prepared for its [enormous] physical reality.  The Thing is HUGE.

Due to The Thing and other construction sites, it took me three tries to get to my apartment.  Fortunately, the Apt is the one haven of familiarity that I’ve found.  My furniture was all in place, my cups were in the cupboard, and there was even a small pile of pasta preserved in the exact position it had been left.  Matt and I unloaded the car and I spent the next few days getting settled in.


We went to McNellie’s that night for $3 Burger Night, joined by a friend who left TU after my freshman year to enter the seminary.  Another night, my former roommate came into town from OKC and we walked around campus talking about the changes we’d witnessed over the years.  Saturday night, I had a dinner party with a few close friends, most of whom had graduated after my sophomore or junior years.  The only current student there had been a junior when I entered but is still working on her degree due to health reasons that keep interrupting her studies.  We were able to commiserate about our victory lap years, while all of us enjoyed talking about the common friends and experiences we’d had here. 

I’ve seen a few friends who are still around, but during this pre-school period I’ve seen more of graduates.  I guess it makes sense, considering that I know 3 classes who have graduated and only 2 classes who are still here.  It’s been nice because in a lot of ways I have more in common with the graduates.  It was easy to join in the conversation of a bunch of friends who all see each other sporadically; it was much harder for me at the Welcome Back dinner hosted by an organization I used to be active in.  There were new members and new projects, and the members and projects I was familiar with were unknown to some of the newbies.  Also, when everyone has a separate life, there’s lots to talk about – but when your common link is an organization, that’s mostly what you talk about . . . and I didn’t have anything to offer on that topic. 


But it’s not like I’ve had nothing to say.  People have a lot of questions about China – and, surprisingly, they’re not always the same questions, so it actually makes for interesting conversations.  People want to know about the language, the people, the One Child policy, freedom, religion, health care, food, transportation, weather, everything!  On Saturday night I ended up giving an extensive talk about going to the bathroom in China, including a demonstration.  Apparently when most Americans think of squatting to go to the bathroom, they think of “hovering” over a Western toilet.  The whole geometry of the appliance is different, though, and the body posture is too.  Trust me – it’s not uncomfortable, it’s not hard, and I have yet to pee on myself. 


While I was hanging out at the Newman Center (the Catholic student center on campus), a young woman came into the sanctuary, asking about a wedding rehearsal she was supposed to be at.  As soon as I heard her accent I knew she was Chinese, but I gave her directions to the other chapel before asking her.  When she said yes, I switched to Chinese and we talked for a few minutes.  It felt really funny to speak Chinese in America!  She’s a student here and since she comes to the free lunches at Newman on Tuesdays, I think I’ll see more of her.  Yay!  A Chinese friend! 


During dinner that night, I used the word “gunner” in casual conversation.  One of my friends, Meghan, heard me and interrupted to ask where I had learned it.  I thought about it and realized that I had picked it up from my friend Matt when we met up in China in July.  He used it several times, so I figured it was new slang back home and started incorporating it into my vocabulary.  Meghan said she had only heard the word from her sister, who is studying to be a doctor, in relation to overachievers in med school.  Come to think of it . . . Matt was heading to med school in the fall and used it only when talking about overachievers in med school.  I just liked the sound of it and liked how clear it was when used in context, so I figured it could be used in lots of situations.  Guess not. 


Sunday night at Newman was the first time I saw most people.  The ones I knew – The Sophomores who are now seniors with me and the cute little freshman who act all grown up like juniors now – but also two classes of new people.  Some of them recognized me from a music video I guest starred in at our annual film festival, which was mildly horrifying.  But then again, before I went to China I was widely known as The Poop Girl or the originator of No Pants Week and Drink Naked parties, so I guess I shouldn’t really complain. 


It was amazing to be back with my friends and my church community – exchanging close hugs instead of shaking folded hands in their direction, singing familiar songs in harmony, understanding a homily directed towards college students.  But I was exhausted after the few hours of socializing that followed Mass!  I was meeting so many people, it was like being a freshman again.  Worse than the new faces are the new names that are so familiar to everyone that they don’t warrant last names or explanations.  With two Graces, two new Wills, another Alli, a second Caitlin, and – for goodness sake! – ANOTHER Matt, my poor brain was exhausted.

But it’s the night before school starts.  Let the constant exhaustion begin!

Caution: Howitzer Crossing

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2010 at 11:34 pm

This morning we left Austin and headed north.  At around 2 p.m. we crossed the Red River into Oklahoma, and I was on my way back to Tulsa.  It was a long 15 months . . .

Our first stop was Lawton, and the house where I lived from age 3 to 5. 

Matt - 8513     

Matt was 6 to 8 while we lived there and he has such vivid memories of people, houses, events, etc.  I couldn’t remember a darn thing from that house, though.  I think my memory – especially visual – isn’t so good; maybe that’s why I like keeping a journal.

We had lunch at Cici’s Pizza, which was our favorite pizza place in Lawton.  I totally understand why our parents took us there: all-you-can-eat pizza buffet for $5 = happy kids.  Matt and I left happy this time, too, and Matt didn’t even throw up afterwards.  Guess he’s grown up a bit in the last 15 years!

After lunch, we went to Ft. Sill, the military base where I lived from 5 to 7. 

Matt - 8526

I have slightly better memories of this place – the playgrounds, the pool, the building where Dad worked, Cannon Walk, and the cliff Geronimo jumped off. 

Matt - 8585

The Banksteins and Gaumers and Brenners and our bus driver, Mr. Cruise, who gave me a stuffed animal when we moved away.  Collecting shells from the firing range behind our house, watching parades and the filming of In the Army Now on the parade grounds in front of our house.  The sound of artillery firing in the near distance all day long, the sound of planes and helicopters overhead multiple times a day, and and the sound of the cannon and bugle every day at 5. 

Matt - 8577

We had a little bit of trouble finding some things that turned out to be gone – the old Boy Scout hut, the Brenner’s house, the church on our street.  In a normal community, you would just ask a random person on the street what happened to that thing that used to be there, but that doesn’t really work on an army base.  No one’s been there for longer than 3 or 4 years, so they probably don’t know any better than we do. 

Matt - 8619

After taking the scenic route down memory lane (stopping at the howitzer crossings, of course), we headed back through post and out to Altus to stay with my aunt. 

Matt - 8529

Tulsa tomorrow!

If You Want Me to Shut Up . . .

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2010 at 11:14 pm

. . . just speak to me in Spanish.  It works every damn time. 

I’m now in El Paso, TX, staying at my abuelos’ house.  Everything about this place – from the location mere miles from the Mexican border, to my relatives whose first language is Spanglish – makes it the perfect place to work on my first second language.

But things have changed.  I haven’t studied Spanish in about five years, haven’t really used it in three, and in the past two I started working on a different second language.  It’s certainly sad, but if I ranked my languages in order of fluency, Spanish is definitely no longer second.

It would have been cool to be able to speak to my Spanish, Mexican, and Columbian friends in Xiamen, so I was a little bummed at the atrocious state of my language abilities last year.  It wasn’t until I got here, though, that I felt full-blown guilt.  For all that I joke about forgetting I’m Mexican . . . I am.  Spanish isn’t really my language, but it is the language of the Garibay and Velasquez families, and I DON’T SPEAK IT ANYMORE.  It’s beautiful, it’s my heritage, and it’s almost gone. 

Not 100% gone, thankfully.  I understand as well as I ever did (which is good, because Abuelo is giving me free Spanish lessons by telling his stories using chunks of English and Spanish).  I just can’t respond.  When he asks me a question, I have to catch myself before responding automatically in Chinese, then I freeze as I try to move past that into the deeper layer of Spanish that I’m sure is lying around in there somewhere.  Between my shame and the simple lack of words in the right language, I’m literally rendered speechless.  It’s horrifying. 


I think I am stupider right now than at any point in my life – well, at least the last 5 or 6 years.  The only math I’ve done in a good 16 months is converting RMB to USD and dividing dinner bills between large groups of people; the only scientific concept I’ve thought about was heat capacity when explaining to Carlos why tomatoes stay so hot in malatang soup.  I lost my Spanish due to an intense year of Chinese study, but when I video chatted with XuLei two days after getting home, she said my Chinese was already slower.  What’s left for me to lose??


I’m spent yesterday afternoon working on a letter in Spanish to my Spanish friend, Carlos.  I promised I would but I immediately regretted it.  Everything about it is difficult!  I’m getting used to a new keyboard (because, ironically, at this point I find Chinese infinitely easier to type than proper español with the tildes and everything) where even the punctuation is different!  The sentence structure is unnatural to me because it’s so similar to English with only a few exceptions.  The vocabulary is just a matter of pushing through the brambles of Chinese to find the old Spanish stuff that has gotten buried, but the conjugations are downright painful.  Subject, tense, endings – what’s up with that?  Compared to Chinese, Spanish feels like this delicate language that must be used very carefully or everything will fall apart.  Chinese, on the other hand, is a brick wall that you can just throw up any old way; it’ll be fine.

It ended up much better than I expected.  I swallowed my pride and gave it to Abuelo to proofread, and he only found a few mistakes.  I was pleased, considering I just went with what I felt on most of the conjugations. 


I’ve confided in Abuelo how sad I am at losing my Spanish, so he let me in on a secret.  “To speak like a Mexican,” he said, “you only need two words: pendejo and chingar.”  He offered a few examples to round out the lesson, and I left the table feeling a little bit better.

So later he was bothering me about getting ready to go.  In my  best Mexican accent (the one thing I never really lost), I said, “Ay, pendejo!  No me chinges!!” and he about died laughing.  These words aren’t exactly suited to a polite conversation, if you know what I mean!  He told me that anyone else would probably be offended, but he was just proud that I’d learned the lesson.  (And he bragged about it later, too!)

I’m pretty pleased with myself, too.  This is the man who has introduced me all my life as “my UGLIEST granddaughter” and often simply addresses me as “Ugly” (not to be confused with “Idiot”, my brother).  He once taught my cousin Sofia that her name was Sofea (or “so ugly”).  It’s about time he got what was comin’ to him!


We had a party at the house today, a big get-together of the Garibay, Velazquez, Zuñiga, Zubiate, Martinez, et. al.  My mother only has three siblings but my grandparents both have a whole slew, so my extended family on her side is possibly even more crazy than on my dad’s, with his 9 siblings.  It’s hard to keep them all straight, but made slightly easier when we decide to just call most everyone ‘cousin’, regardless of actual geneological ties. 

As I snacked on Abuela’s amazing guacamole, I found myself sitting next to Velia, one of the relatives who falls into the category of ‘aunt’.  She was talking to a ‘cousin’, inquiring about her parents.  “No tienen health problems?” she asked.  Her Spanglish is the best; cracks me up every time.  I’m much more adept at understanding it now (because that’s how I spoke Chinese when I was lazy), but I remember times when the sentence “Fui al tienda para comprar un shirt” would set me off racking my brain for the meaning of this word, “shirt”.  Understanding such a combination of multiple languages is an acquired skill (and, as I came to discover in China, being able to speak that way – and be understood – is a downright luxury). 


After the party died down, Abuelo and I went out dancing.  It was hosted by the Golden Bears, an organization consisting of alumni of El Paso’s Bowie High School over the age of 50.  I go to meetings whenever I’m in El Paso, but this time I lucked out and happened to be in town during a social event.  Considering my main areas of study this last year were Chinese, soccer, and dancing (specializing in dancing with old people), this was right up my alley.

It reminded me so much of my Wednesday and Saturday nights in Xiamen.  I stood out among the crowd here, too, – although this time it was because I was the youngest person in attendance by approximately three decades, not because I was the only foreigner or the tallest person, like ever. 

Another thing I noticed is how people liked me for what I am, not as much who I am.  In China, I was the foreigner and could do no wrong; in El Paso I’m Gaby’s granddaughter and their affection for him is instantly shared by me.  It’s kind of nice because while some people were probably interested to know that I had just returned from China, they would have been just as pleased to meet me no matter what I was up to. 

I got my old-man dancing in; I’m ready to leave El Paso now. 

Great American Traditions: Road Trip!!

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I take a certain delight in successfully predicting the way my mind will work a year in advance.  (I’ve had no success predicting my life that far out, but I do okay with my own thought processes.)  I experienced this simple pleasure several times during the unpacking and repacking process of the last few weeks.  A lot of my stuff had been packed in April and May 2009 when I moved out of my apartment at TU, and sat in boxes in my parents’ house until I returned.  I tried to be organized about it all, but what organizational system lasts through such a life-changing year? 

Turns out, mine fares pretty well.  Right on the top of all the boxes, I found the bag filled with my student ID, keychain wallet, and car paraphernalia.  A quick search of my email inbox yielded the product number and online order form for the planner I’ve used the last two years.  Everything was just where I looked for it.

But a lot of stuff, I didn’t even think to look for.  I spent a few days going through my things, each day like Christmas as I found something “new”.  I packed most of it back up to take down to school, but my year in China did make me reevaluate the wisdom of hauling some things down there for just one year.  I see now why my parents never had to deal with accumulating stuff until they settled down in Minnesota for going on 15 years; moving gives you both opportunity and incentive to reevaluate your possessions.  I gave a few bags of stuff to Goodwill and left some things in my room where they can wait until I make a more permanent move. 

I was really organized as I began packing the car, but once Irealized that there was not room in the car for all those boxes.  I cut down and combined things, my system going out the window.  I’ll put all my textbooks in this box, other books in this one, and computer stuff in this tub . . . well, computer stuff and bracelets.  Yeah.  Those go together: computer stuff and bracelets. 


My brother and I set out this morning on our road trip.  Since my family moved up to Minnesota 15 years ago, road trips have been a nearly annual tradition.  They’re the only practical way to visit our relatives, spread out as they are across every major city in Texas and various parts of Oklahoma (and occasionally Kansas).  More than any one city or even state, I-35 sometimes feels like my home. 

This one’s a bit different, though.  Instead of heading down through Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, we’re heading west after Iowa through Nebraska to Colorado.  We’ll spend a few days there then go straight south to the border, my grandparents’ house in El Paso.  Then we cut across Texas to Austin and take the scenic tour of Oklahoma from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge to Ft. Sill to OKC to Tulsa. 

Road Trip Route

The route is 3,000 miles, which should require around 50 hours of driving spread out over the 12-day trip.  A little circuitous, but we have free lodging at every stop along the way and will get to see all of my mother’s family and a good half of my dad’s.  I swear we have reasons for every stop on the journey . . . even though it kind of looks like an elaborate route construed just to avoid the state of Kansas.


The trip started as all Holland trips do.  They begin in the wee hours of the morning – although generally a half hour less wee than originally planned.  Mom makes breakfast burritos and we take a picture by the car before setting off. 

Matt - 6910

My dad joined us for the first leg of the trip down to Ames, IA, which I endured wedged into a back seat chewing on my knees.  Near Ames, we got off the highway and, using several GPS-enabled devices, tracked the moving target that we were trying to link up with.  Mike Erhedt, a veteran and runner, is doing Project America Run – running across the country from Oregon to Maine, planting a flag every mile marked with the name, rank, age, and hometown of one of our soldiers killed in Iraq.  He happened to be passing through Ames when we were, and Dad planned to ride along with him for a while before turning north and biking the few hundred miles home. 

Matt - 6976

I was really glad that we were able to meet up with him.  This is the second time that it has worked out perfectly for us to meet people who are running across the country in honor of the service members lost in Iraq, and both have been really great experiences.  The first time was in July 2008, shortly after I had returned from my summer in China.  A group was doing a Run for the Fallen from east to west, and were planting my uncle’s flag in Camdenton, MO, just a little ways off our original route home.  A few of my relatives met us there and we all ran together the four miles for my uncle, Daniel Holland, and the three men who died with him (Nick Cournoyer, Robert Seidel, and Lonnie Allen). Yes, even I ran – and, in a fitting memorial to Uncle Daniel, hated it the entire time. 

This time we weren’t able to be there for the planting of Daniel’s flag, but we did join Mike in remembering the soldier honored that mile – Steven P. Gill. 

Matt - 6955

[We were, however, able to visit the site of my uncle’s flag, which Mike had planted ?????? before in Colorado.  We got off the main highway near Boulder and, through the use of about four GPS-enabled devices, found Daniel’s flag planted on the side of the road in the shadow of the Rockies.  I know that he’s not buried there, but if we live on in others’ memories then it makes sense that I think of him there.  He would like the location – great view.]

Matt - 6999


I had more room after we got rid of Dad, so I spread out a little and started to tackle my Chinese flashcards.  They were among the many things that got left behind in the chaos of my return home; actually they started suffering around the time of my trip to Hangzhou, so by now it had been 42 days since my last review!  The even scarier number is 3,877 – the number of flashcards that are due . . .

It’s slightly tempting to let the whole thing go, but I know that they make a difference, and at this point I’m grasping at anything that can help me maintain my Chinese.  When I was in Xiamen I would occasionally have Chinese people asking me how to write certain characters – because they don’t make it a point to write by hand and I did.  Typing is just too dang easy; writing them out by hand seems like the only way to truly maintain knowledge of characters.  After a month and a half without explicitly practicing characters and a few weeks with almost no character input from my surroundings, I could feel myself slipping into my old ways from when I only knew oral Chinese.  All the homonyms started blurring together and I couldn’t remember if the ‘liang’ in ‘liangkuai’ was the same as in ‘piaoliang’.  (It’s not; the former is 凉快 and the latter is 漂亮.)  This is not a mistake I would have made 43 days ago.  

We made it to Omaha in time for a late lunch with friends of ours then I took over driving.  Matt hated the very idea of driving through Nebraska; he seemed to take its flatness as a personal offence, so it fell to me.  I didn’t mind.  It may be flat, but there’s a special beauty in that as well.  America the Beautiful, indeed – for purple mountains majesty, of course, but also for amber fields of grain.  Anyway, there were lots of interesting things to watch – a few wind farms, two car fires, and a gorgeous lightning show after we crossed into Colorado.  It kept me awake, which is all I can really ask for! 

Jet Lag and Reverse Culture Shock Aren’t So Bad

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2010 at 12:42 am

I think I actually like jet lag.  Coming back from China is the only time I ever get up early willingly, and it’s also the only time that’s acceptable to feel as tired as I always feel.  Four hour nap in the late afternoon?  It’s just jet lag.  Incapable of staying awake during a 15-minute car ride?  She just got back from a year in China, what do you expect?  Sleeping for 14 hours when a pre-dinner nap went too long?  Well, it’s noon where she was before! 

(Never mind that I regularly do these things – or at least would love to do them – when I have no such valid excuse.)

Since I’m already just this side of narcoleptic, it’s a little hard to tell when I’m over jet lag.  Kind of like how it’s hard to tell if I’m drunk or not; I have no sense of direction anyway and can’t ever walk straight, so don’t jump to any conclusions.


After the insane heat of my last month in Xiamen, I couldn’t wait to get home to Minnesota on the 45th parallel.  But when you study abroad you hear a lot about reverse culture shock, when you realize everything you’ve been missing about home maybe isn’t quite as amazing as you remembered it being.  So while I sweated through multiple changes of clothes each day and spent all available moments on the beach in the sun (because it was just as hot anywhere else and at least there it was acceptable to sweat gallons), I wondered to myself if I was seeing Minnesota through rose-colored glasses. 

But no, it’s all true.  Minnesota summers are just as gorgeous as I remember.  I heard some people talking about heat but they were obviously completely crazy.  It was a week before I used the AC in the car, and I told my mom the first day I broke a sweat – a good 10 days after my return. 

It wasn’t until I got back to Minnesota that I realized just how hot Xiamen was.  The temperatures were in Celsius; while I developed a good feel for that scale I could only compare those temperatures to other temperatures in Celsius.  Also, I never once heard mention of a heat index, which must be either a Fahrenheit thing or an American thing.  Looking back now, the heat index on my last day in Xiamen was 124F; the first day of that weekend we lost power was 138F.  The two hottest days of my two weeks in Minnesota were barely even 120. 

So when people complain about the heat, I just say that it’s nothing “compared to China”.  This is actually relevant to many topics.  Weather, prices, population, distance, convenience, courtesy – everything looks a little bit different when China is added to the perspective.  It’s all relative. 

I can’t help but compare.  I expected the price comparison to be especially hard to take but actually overprepared for culture shock in some ways.  I was terrified to come home and have to spend American dollars, but it’s not so bad.  I’ve gotten some decent meals for less than $10, even $5, and the movie theater near my house has $5 movies except on weekends.  That’s what I was paying in China, with the 50% student discount!! 

My haircut was a total rip-off, though (especially when I realized later that, with hair this long, I could easily cut it myself), and taxes and tips suck.  After a long year of dividing by 7 (which I am really awesome at!), calculating 15% shouldn’t be so ridiculously hard.  But it is. 


Two things have really surprised me about America: how little Chinese there is, and how much.  First of all, no one knows any Chinese.  Every American has 30 Spanish words or phrases, 20 French, and a few German (gesundheit, danke shoen, blitzkreig, etc.).  We even know some Japanese – domo arigato [Mr. Roboto], konichiwa, and sayonara.  But Chinese?  Before my first trip I didn’t know how to say ‘hello’ in Chinese, and most people I ask back home can’t either. 

It’s kind of cool.  I can say whatever I want and no one has a clue what I’m saying.  There are no congnates to give me away, and even the tone of voice that could give me away in other languages is disguised by the choppiness of Chinese tonality.  I can also write anything in a code impenetrable to the vast majority of the American population.

(Another advantage: When my parents try to use my computer, I end up hearing them call from the other room: “How do you get rid of the Chinese?!?!”)

It would be better, though, if everyone would just learn my top 3 phrases or something.  麻烦, 走吧, and 怎么办 should be as commonplace as hola and gracias.  It would make my life so much easier.  Come on, Americans, get with it! 

But I also said that I was surprised at how much Chinese there is in America.  Characters EVERYWHERE!  On signs of Chinese restaurants, on all sorts of art, on everybody and their brother’s tatoos.  Pretty funny considering how few people can read them at all. 


I’m still realizing how different this year is going to be.  I became used to my life in Xiamen over the last 11 months to the point that that became my ‘normal’.  It’s been 16 months since I took a class that wasn’t about Chinese and 11 months since I took a class that wasn’t taught in Chinese.  Thing’s gonna be a little different this year, I think.

My Onion horoscope this week was:

Your belief that all life’s problems can be solved with a heart-to-heart talk and a good night’s sleep will be severely tested this week when you’re introduced to mathematics.

Sad day, considering a large part of my life as an American college student is mathematics.  Specifically, MATH 4503 Intro to Numerical Methods. 

I mean, I know I’m headed back to TU, back to ME and all, but I can tell I’m still thinking in China mode.  I had to buy a new computer (because my LCD backlight died and our open-heart surgery proved less than successful), and just like the army always fighting the last war, I found myself buying a computer for last year.  I pictured myself watching whole seasons of DVDs on that screen (when I have a huge TV in my living room), obsessed over having USB ports with the ability to sleep-and-charge (although I’ll have outlets and power strips galore in my bedroom), and worried about portability (even though I’ll be treating it as a desktop just like I did the year before I left).

In the end, I bought a computer.  It has a sleep-and-charge port but is just as ludicrously large as the brick I hauled all across China.  My laptops have an average lifespan of 2 years, though, and who really knows what the second year of this one will bring?

A friend called me a few days after I got home.  Stephen managed to get a hold of me on the day I left for China and also ended up being the first one to call me upon my return.  It was great to hear from him, although the familiarity of his voice reminded me instantly of my last year at TU and how, without him, it won’t be the same.  After we chatted and caught up, he asked me what was different about home.  I searched for something deep to say but came up with nothing.  You know, being gone from Minnesota for a year really isn’t weird at all.  When I’m at school in Tulsa I only make it home for a few weeks around Christmas between summers, so this year wasn’t all that different.  My parents even came to see me around the time I would have seen them normally, so I just missed out on seeing the town and the few friends left up there.  Coming back to my parents’ house after a year away felt just like that – like another year away.  Not that long, nothing special, just another year away. 

But TU?  Being gone one year from a place where the average turnover is four?  That will be different.  As I said, it’s all relative. 


Like sleep and my Anki reviews, reading the news got put on the back burner in both the pre-departure rush and the post-arrival chaos.  I finally got around to my Google Reader starred list after a week at home.  Lots of random articles and a whole series of them about the oil spill.  As far as I was concerned, oil was gushing til the end of the month (although it was actually capped on July 15th). 

I wonder if I’ll stop being out of touch now that I’m back in the States?