Maria Holland

Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

Not That Kind of Waitress

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I’m pretty thrifty (read: lazy) when it comes to Halloween.  My modus operandi is to piece something together from my clothes and random things I’ve picked up at thrift stores or in my travels.  My arsenal of costume parts includes:

  • beard
  • elf boots and hat
  • suspenders
  • thrift store tie
  • glasses with attached mustache and nose

These items, combined with legit things that I actually wear (Mexican dresses, cowboy boots, camo jacket, aviator sunglasses, black dress, pearls), are capable of making any number of costumes.  Past costumes of mine include: Audrey Hepburn, Cheerleader (from Teen Girl Squad), and Kim Jong Il.  How’s that for range?

This year I’m feeling especially cheap AND lazy, so I decided to raid the closet once again, and came up with a brilliant idea – I’ll be a Chinese waitress! 

Qipao top, black pencil skirt, and sensible shoes – check, check, check.  I already feel like a waitress when I wear it, so it’s perfect. 

The only problem is that no one will know who I am – this is something I faced when I was Cheerleader and, surprisingly, when I was Kim Jong Il.  (Come on, enormous bouffant with military jacket and giant sunglasses!  It was so obvious . . . ).  So I was thinking of ways to identify myself more definitively.

What about a nametag?  I could write “waitress” in Chinese so that the Chinese people would know who I am, and everyone else would know it’s something in Chinese.  I’ll just make a nametag with 小姐 on it. 

. . . And then I realize that 小姐, the term I most often use for waitresses, refers to a hooker in parts of China.  Probably not a good idea . . .

(Note to self: never again Google Image Search the term “小姐") 

Mad Skillz

In Uncategorized on October 16, 2011 at 11:34 pm

While I was in China, I – like most visitors to the country – was continually astounded by the sheer amount of stuff that people managed to carry on a single motorbike. 

Families of five, 15-foot rebar, refrigerators or TVs, 30-40 full dispenser water bottles, etc.  Of these amazing feats of balance, strength, and recklessness, I’ve said that “Chinese people put more on a bike than the average American ever puts in their SUV.”

So now I’m at Stanford, and I again find myself impressed – on a daily basis – by people’s two-wheeled exploits.  The name of the game here is multitasking, not high capacity, but it is no less impressive.  People so rarely use their hands here that I wouldn’t be surprised to see dusty handlebars, and they don’t just let their hands dangle – they’re using them!

Things I have seen people doing while riding bikes:

  • texting
  • reading a map
  • reading a newspaper
  • putting on a jacket/sweater
  • warming their hands in their pockets
  • talking on the phone while drinking coffee

The last one was truly a magnificent thing to witness, as the woman executed a perfect > 90 degree turn with no hands and, as far as I could see, zero visibility. 

Only this state’s especially strict distracted driving laws make me feel okay about driving around these people . . .

Chinese Proverbs

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm

One of the cool things about studying Chinese and living in China is that, after you return to America, you realize how often Chinese language and culture is appropriate in our culture.  Prominent examples include tattoos and proverbs.  Please check out Hanzismatter for the former if you haven’t yet, and for the latter – I’m sure everyone can list at least one thing that “Confucius say”.

On my first day of class here at Stanford, I went to my Linear Algebra class in the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center in the new engineering quad.  It’s a very nice new building in an whole area of new development, and the whole thing just screams “design”.  It definitely gives the impression that every element of each building was carefully thought out and intended to convey some idea. 

So as I approached the doors (in the lower left-hand corner of the picture above, I was surprised to notice that, of the 6 doors in the front of the building, only the doors on the farthest left and farthest right have handles and are able to be opened.  Interesting, I thought, I wonder what the designer was thinking when he came up with this

I asked a few students their thoughts, but we came up with nothing conclusive.  On the way out after class, though, I noticed a quote engraved on stone set into the patio directly in front of the unopenable doors. 


“Teachers open the door but you must walk through it yourself.”
– Chinese proverb

Now that really made me think about the conscious choice to make it impossible for students to open 2/3 of the doors.

Seems odd to me for a school like Stanford to encourage students to think that doors (in the figurative sense of the proverb) can only be opened by teachers.  I’ve been told several times that in a PhD, you teach yourself – open your own doors and walk through them, if you will.

Maybe it’s just a subtle reminder of how selective the school is – the teachers here have left some doors open, but only for some students.

Or maybe they just googled “door chinese proverb”.  (At least they chose the one from the first two results and not the third . . .)

Culture Shock

In Uncategorized on October 2, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Culture shock is a funny thing.  Based on my experience, it seems to be not so much about differences, but rather about expectations of similarity. 

During my first three trips to China, it’s hard for me to point to many instances of culture shock.  I can think of one, and that was at the end of my two-month summer stay.  The thing is, I knew nothing about China – and I knew that I knew nothing about China.  I had no illusions about my familiarity with the language, culture, food, or anything else that I encountered.  Everything was very different from what I was used to, but I just accepted it as it was and moved on.

When I went back for the year, I felt reasonably adept at life in China, but my recent Chinese language course made me realize that my language skills were rudimentary at best.  Again, with low expectations, I adjusted fairly well to my new life. 

The culture shock came later.

Culture shock is a consequence of confidence.  The instances that easily come to mind (shopping in Beijing after my parents left, and Easter Sunday when a woman told me I’d been sitting improperly all year, for example) both came much later in the year, when I felt like I knew everything. 

The worst culture shock I’ve ever had in my life was my first day in Hong Kong.  I’d already been to Taiwan, so I thought I knew what “China-not-China” was like, and was NOT prepared for the reality of Hong Kong.  The aggressive English-speaking Indian men, the cost of everything, the Cantonese and traditional characters, the cars driving on the left side of the road – it all took me by surprise, going against all of my expectations, and was just too much for to take in all at once.  So I retired to my room and watched youtube videos for a few hours. 

In preparing to come out to California, I knew that the West Coast is different from the Midwestern/Central states that I’ve always lived in.  I was prepared for political differences and higher prices and not being able to carry a gun with more than 10 rounds (not that this was going to cramp my style at all). 

But it ended up being something much more mundane that got to me.  A few days after I arrived, I went grocery shopping and nearly ended up in the fetal position in a corner.  It wasn’t just that there wasn’t a familiar grocery store around – there weren’t any familiar products in the grocery store.  The brands were all different, and everything was organic or gluten-free or free-range or whatever.  Also (like Hong Kong) everything was more expensive than I was used to.   When you’re stocking a brand new apartment, it’s a long shopping trip, and by the end of the produce section I was ready to quit.  I was so happy when I saw something I recognized! (I feel like it was Old El Paso taco shells or something stupid like that.)

I’m not trying to be all small-town Oklahoma here or anything.  (When people ask, I say I’m from Oklahoma; I figure it is at least as accurate as any other possible response.)  When I tell Californians of this culture shock, I make sure to follow it up with the Hong Kong story, so that they know I’m not just freaking out because we don’t have stoplights in the town where I grew up or something stereotypically small-town like that.  Like I said, culture shock isn’t as much about differences as the expectation of similarity.  My Bulgarian roommate nailed it on the head when she said, “But you’re from America!”.  I would never assume that Xinjiang is basically the same as Xiamen, but it’s easier to fall into that trap when you’re dealing with your own country. 

The culture shock passed quickly enough (well before the dairy aisle), and now two weeks after arriving I am feeling pretty settled in.  I’m still getting used to all of the proper nouns associated with my new home (cities, roads, stores, brands, etc.) – a challenge with any move – and I’m sure there will be surprises ahead . . . but I did it in China and I’m pretty sure I can handle California. 

Uh oh, there’s that confidence again . . .