Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘麻烦’

My Passport’s Bank Account

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2015 at 10:47 am

Baidu Maps says the American embassy is 1 hour and 22 minutes away from where I live by public transportation.  This is a lie.  It is at least two hours.  At least.  

Good thing I left almost two hours before my appointment, and biked to the subway station! 

The newest subway line in Beijing, Line 15, is being built very close to us.  The line isn’t completed and doesn’t seem to be very busy yet, but it’s a convenient way to get to other lines sometimes.  Today I took that and (after a 30 minute wait) a bus to the embassy.

Going to the US embassy in China is an odd feeling.  I kept flashing my blue passport as if it were a VIP ticket or backstage passes, but I kept being beckoned in without any questions.  This was greatly appreciated, as the line of Chinese nationals waiting for their visa interviews did not inspire envy.  

Once I got up to the counter of American Citizen Services, I felt myself subconsciously relax.  Maybe I could sometimes do things in China in English, but I never do.  Here, though, was an English oasis.  My people!  Fellow native speakers of my mother tongue!

I was at the embassy to get a letter notarized, indicating that I had replaced passport #xxxxxxxxx with passport #yyyyyyyyy.  I’d emailed and they’d said that was no problem, just bring photocopies.  They did not mention that it would be $50 (USD!  Not divisible by 6!!!!), so I nearly choked when I saw the fee schedule.  That’s almost half of what I payed to renew my passport!!  

The whole thing was painfully trivial, too.  I literally filled in my name, both passport numbers, and swore that everything was true while he stamped it.  I paid my $50, and left the oasis.  

I went to Bank of China immediately afterwards.  I had gone through all this hassle to reopen a bank account from five years ago that surprisingly contained about $300 more than I had expected.  That was great news, but for some reason my account seems to belong less to me, and more to my passport.  Instead of the passport being used to prove my identity, it seems that the passport is my identity.  Because of this, the fact that I recently got a new passport presented quite the difficulty – hence the embassy trip. 

I got there right around lunch and had to wait about an hour to see someone.  She spent at least 30 minutes shuffling through the papers, taking innumerable pictures of each one, and clicking on her computer.  I signed in a few places.  Then she handed me carbon copies of all the forms and said I was good. 

That was when I mentioned that, by the way, I also don’t remember my password.  She had clearly been ready to be done with me for a whlie now, so this was not good news.  “You’re quite annoying!”, she exclaimed.  

I had thought that re-opening a frozen account for a foreigner with a new passport would be about the most difficult operation she does in a day, but somehow resetting my password took at least twice as long and just as many signatures and pictures of my documents.

I got home and, about an hour later, got a phone call.  It was the bank, telling me I still couldn’t use my card online (which I had also, after her outburst, requested), so could I come back in? I walked back and it appeared that the woman who had helped me earlier had had lunch and a nap and was refreshed and ready to deal with me.  She took all my forms, took more pictures, got a few more signatures, and then pushed it all back to me and said I was ready.

So, that was an all-day affair.  Let’s not calculate my hourly wage, shall we?

Today I learned: The real name of the United States of America.  For the entirety of my first 8 Chinese-speaking years, I have said that I am from 美国, but today I was confused by the Chinese translation on the official embassy letterhead – 美利坚合众国.  They’re basically just equivalent to American and the United States of America; the former is almost always sufficient, but it is good to know the actual name of one’s country.  

One Shade of Gray

In Uncategorized on June 16, 2015 at 10:13 am

The air today was “heavily polluted” (AQI of 233) with 139 µg/m3 of PM2.5, the smallest and most harmful particles.  (For context, the daily limit allowable in the US is 35µg/m3.)  Some of the other EAPSI students didn’t even bring face masks to China (I guess they like to live dangerously?) but I brought several and am wearing them on my walk to Tsinghua.  My lungs don’t need another reason to act up.  

The walk today was more pleasant in the cooler morning weather, wearing more comfortable shoes, and going directly to my office.  But a 3.5km walk is still a 3.5km walk.  And by cooler weather, I mean that it was still 80.  

I was shown my desk and spent the morning settling in and working on my introduction presentation.  Mostly settling in, though.  They’ve given me a Windows 8 computer, and it’s mostly in Chinese.  The internet situation is also extremely interesting at work.  On the one hand, Google is somehow unblocked!  And it’s all quite fast!  

On the other hand, I have to sign into Tsinghua’s internal network, and we’re limited to 20GB per month.  I’ve never seen wireless internet rationed like this – dialup used to be priced by the minute back in the day, and I know some hotels charge different prices for different speeds, but never by the GB.  I work entirely on a computer and, back at Stanford, on a remote server, so the idea of rationing data is unthinkable to me.  Here, the main program I use is installed on the Windows machine that I’ll be using, so it might be okay.  Well, except I’m using someone else’s account and when I first logged on today, halfway through the month, they’d already used 18.5 of the allotted 20GB.  So, this could get interesting.

While preparing my intro presentation, I wanted to introduce EAPSI, the program that brought me here.  I started to list the 7 host countries where students are working this summer . . . then deleted a few words and changed it to “7 host locations”.  At the pre-departure orientation they told us that NSF refers to host locations instead of countries because both China and Taiwan are included in the seven.  I laughed at the time and rolled my eyes, but I know from experience how touchy the topic is, and I do not want to get into an extended discussion of Taiwan Province at lab meeting on Friday.  So, host locations it is.  Thanks, NSF, for preparing me for this!

My new labmates seem nice.  I guess word spread through the group from the one girl (WeiHua) who took me to the gate yesterday, because a few of them kind of knew my name and at least one knew that I had studied at XiaDa.  We all went to lunch together and they all walked with me because I didn’t have a bike and paid for my lunch because I didn’t have my lunch card yet.  They all spoke a bit of English with me, but once I said a few full sentences they seemed to just throw in the towel and fall back to Chinese.  

Even after they got done freaking out about how good my Chinese is (reminder: the bar is set very low), I surprised one guy again by asking if he was a southerner.  Yes, accents are generally a slightly advanced skill (I remember a time when I couldn’t tell Chinese from Korean, much less distinguish accents) but this one is not that hard.  Southerners speak very sibilantly, turning ‘sh’ into ’s’, and I did live in the south for a year.  It’s also a big region, not like I picked out his exact province or anything.  But he was amazed!  

Over lunch, we talked a bit about grad student life in China and America.  I asked what their plans are for this weekend, which is a there-day for the Dragon Boat Festival.  They confirmed that we get the day off, but basically told me they’ll all go in to work yesterday.  One of the students told me he usually works 9am to 11:30pm, to which I did one of those “I’m sorry, I must have forgotten basic Chinese numbers and time-telling, could you try that again?” things.  The schedule sounds similar on the weekends, too.  My Chinese residents back at Stanford make a whole lot more sense now.  

In the afternoon, WeiHua took me to get my cafeteria card.  Doing things like this (办事) is like a scavenger hunt, where you go to many different locations and they give you a red stamp and tell you the next place to go.  We first printed a letter, then got Prof. Feng to sign it, then 谢伟华 converted that into a letter of invitation.  Then we went to some building to get a red stamp and be told that I can’t use my card between 11:45am and 12:30 because I don’t live on campus.  And then we went to the cafeteria card building, where we got the card.  And then we went to another desk in the same building to put money on the card.  

Tomorrow I still have to get my student card, my building card, and an internet account of my own.  More scavenger hunts!  

Before I left for China, a friend told me to listen to the most recent This American Life episode, about Americans living in China.  My favorite part was when one of the speakers said that the measure word for foreigners is a “hassle”.  It’s very true, and although I’m probably only conscious of about half of the inconvenience I strew about me, even that’s a lot.  I asked Cheng a question about getting my own internet account, and she picked up her phone to make some phone calls.  Five minutes later, I overheard, “but before I called here, I called there. . . “.  Some of that is general Chinese bureacratic inconvenience, but a lot of it is probably me, this foreign visitor who is not a Tsinghua student.  A hassle of foreigners, indeed.

I walked home the long way again, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  I got some pictures of the “main building” (literally its name) and the east entrance.

IMG 2158

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On the way home, it started to rain.  It’s wierd, though, because you really can’t see the rain against the solid gray backdrop.  This was the view out of my office when it was sunny:

IMG 2156

and this was on the walk home as it rained:

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It’s so monotonous.  This is the only context in which I would say that I would love to see fifty shades of gray.  


In Uncategorized on August 19, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Somehow over two years have passed since I came back from China.  Every now and then I will see or smell or feel something that reminds me of China, and the suddenness and intensity of the memories that come back nearly take my breath away.  Hiking the Dish at Stanford and seeing the view of campus, which is so similar to Nanputo;


this article on a Shaanxi restaurant in New York that had pictures of the shredded meat sandwiches that were my go-to running-late meal at West Gate;


the sound of a live band playing “I Gotta Feeling” or anything by Rihanna just takes me back to Saturday nights at the Key.

I definitely miss it.  But then again, posts like this one also remind me of some of the more frustrating aspects of life in China:

When I started at a four-year college in 1998, I didn’t think it the least little bit odd that the schedule included in my orientation package already had the date of my graduation ceremony listed. Considering that family and friends would be traveling from out of town and would need to plan in advance, this made perfect sense to me. Why would it be any other way?

Fast forward to late September of 2002 and I was trying to find out what the October Holiday was, . . . what day or days it took place, and how many days off work I had. . . I couldn’t understand how this apparently very important yearly holiday was something that wasn’t listed on the school calendar of events.

I’ve been in China for a tad under 10 years by this point and I still don’t understand. I accept that the Chinese are apparently culturally unable to plan in advance, but accepting and understanding are not and never will be the same thing.

On January 6, 2003, when I left China for a trip to the US and Thailand, I gave my employer a wide variety of options for contacting me to let me know about my schedule. I would have given them my contact information anyways but it was more important than an American might otherwise think due to no one knowing when the Spring Term was going to start. Within half an hour of arriving at Capital Airport in Beijing my phone rang. The head of the English Department was frantic with worry because she hadn’t been able to reach me by phone, hadn’t tried my email address, and classes were starting tomorrow.

The kindergarten after the high school job let me know on a Tuesday that, despite the printed schedule in my contract, classes were ending for the summer on Wednesday and I needed to prepare “going away party” materials to say good-bye to all my kids. I thought maybe it was a boss-to-foreign employee relationship thing but as a student at Hainan University, it was no better. Holidays were announced or not announced seemingly at random and no one knew when classes started until after they had already started. Maybe it was my fault for not living in the dorms?

However, as I got to know more long term laowai and got to know them better, I realized that it wasn’t just me. For instance, friend and fellow Lost Laowai contributor Nicki was working for a training school that wanted her and her husband to renew their contracts for a further two years. The couple made some unreasonable demands to the school, however. They wanted to have two consecutive days off each week and they wanted all schedule changes (with the exception of emergency cancellations) to be posted 24 hours in advance.

This inability to plan in advance isn’t just a school thing but seems, rather, a cultural thing that is endemic to Mainland China. . .

Even though the October Holiday is on the 1st of October every fricking year no one is going to know what days they have off until its published in the newspaper; and the same goes for May Holiday, Spring Festival, and New Years’.

Things are going really well at Stanford.  I’m basically done with my first year, and so far each quarter has been better than the previous one.  It’s a good trend!  I leave for Europe in a week for a short course with my lab, plus trips to Slovenia and the Netherlands to see classmates from my year in China!!

50 Hours of Chinese Study Prepared Me For This

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2011 at 10:36 pm

I have a Chinese minor!

Yes, I graduated from college nearly four months ago.  Yes, my Chinese studies officially ended over a year ago.  Yes, I actually have taken 50 credit hours of Chinese, which is as much as some liberal arts MAJORS require. 

And yeah, I have no idea what a minor is good for either.

But don’t trivialize this accomplishment!  I am possibly as proud of this addition to my transcript as I am of the fact that I actually KNOW Chinese. 

It’s the principle of the thing, really.  Tulsa tried VERY hard, for some reason, to give me this certification, which just made me want it more.  Remember the ordeal of getting Lester’s residence permit?  If anything, the obstacles seemed like a test of my actual working knowledge of China. 

If I can remember back through the whole year+ ordeal, I talked to a college dean, an associate dean or two, two department chairs, one professor, three academic advisors, and countless secretaries.  Americans can shift blame with the best of the Chinese, apparently.  Emails were disregarded with abandoned, phone numbers presumably lost, useless protocol followed. 

But I persevered, and eventually triumphed!  Honestly, it feels like my entire year in China was just preparation for this. 

So bring on the bureaucratic bullshit, America.  You can’t out-red-tape the Reds. 

It’s Easter Everywhere!

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2010 at 12:33 am

Today is Easter.  Today, April 4th 2010, is Easter everywhere in the world.  Chinese people try to tell me that there is no such thing in China but that’s just stupid.  For instance, the 4th of July will be America’s Independence Day everywhere in the world; whether or not you personally observe it is totally irrelevant to the discussion.  Also, it’s a ridiculous statement to say that “Chinese doesn’t have this holiday” because Chinese Christians, though few, DO exist and DO celebrate it! 

If someone came up to me in the States and told me “Today is Snuffelbarger day!”, I would respond, “Happy Snuffelbarger day!”, and then I would ask how this holiday is celebrated.  This is not how the Chinese approach unknown things, however.  This has been obvious in several interactions over the past few days.  I got into an argument with my taxi driver last night, for instance, when he told me that no Chinese celebrate Easter.  He refused to change his mind even after I told him that the traffic jam we just got out of was Chinese people leaving Easter Mass.  Then today, XuLei told me that the reason no one responded to my Easter greeting, 复活节快乐, was that they didn’t know what 复活节 (Easter) was.  She continued to suggest this possibility after I told her that the people I was greeting were fellow Catholics, immediately after 复活节 Mass. 

Sometimes it’s exciting to be a square peg in a world of round holes, but sometimes I miss the melting pot. 


I was awakened by a phone call in Chinese.  I think it’s up there with fire alarms and “Open up, it’s the police” on the list of Worst Ways To Be Woken Up.  But my Chinese is getting better every day, a progress I can measure every time my caller ID displays a Chinese name and my stomach sinks a little bit less.  I fell quite far from last night’s sugar high, but even sporting that massive ‘Easter hangover’ I managed the call pretty well.  Small victory for a day of great triumph :)

I had lunch with XuLei today.  We went to our favorite restaurant – the one known as the Restaurant with the Green Chairs or Aleid’s Restaurant or The Sichuan Place on Post Office Street No Not That One The One We Went To That One Time . . . basically, anything but its actual name (like anyone knows its actual name anyway).  We ordered the exact same dishes as last time; when the kungpao chicken is that good, you don’t try new dishes.  They brought the rice with the first dish, which gives us hope that if we go often enough they’ll stop bothering us with the menu and the rest of the ordering process.

As we were walking back, I got distracted by the pretty clothes on the street and ended up buying a new dress and a super cute top for 110 yuan ($16).  More importantly, though, I finally have pictures of my Easter dress, the one I got tailor-made!


This evening I went out for dinner for Sietze and Jelle, who just got back from an interesting trip to Quanzhou.  Aleid told me that it was a great trip, cementing forever her status as World’s Most Cheerful Phone Talker EvAr.  Highlights included getting their drinks spiked with Ecstasy and Sietze having his wallet, cell phone, and camera stolen.  Great, eh?  It sounds like a story that someone tells about something that happened “to a friend of mine once” as a warning to others of the dangers of Chinese bars and cheap hotels.  It really sucks for Sietze, but I did enjoy the story of one of the drunk guys asking the taxi to take them to “XiaDa, XiMen”, the West Gate of our university, a several-hour bus ride away. 

After dinner I went to buy plane tickets for a surprise trip to Guangzhou on Tuesday.  Some family friends, the Edmonds, recently came over to China to adopt a child, and are right now in Guangzhou doing the paperwork.  America is so far away and Guangzhou is so close – I just had to go over and see them.  Then once I’m in Guangzhou, Hong Kong is even closer, so I’m going to proceed across the border to see a TU friend who is currently living there on a Fulbright Scholarship.  I’m quite excited for this trip, although I’m a little bit bummed to be missing the epic Easter Octave meals I had been planning in Tulsa.  It’ll be my first time seeing pre-August 24th friends! 

Buying plane tickets in China – okay, doing most anything in China – is quite frustrating on a good day.  Today was not a good day.  Take a culture that uses cash almost exclusively, add in a small language barrier, slow internet, a holiday weekend, and a ridiculous double standard in China’s treatment of Hong Kong, and you have an instant travel nightmare.  Seriously, I’m so over China’s claims to Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.  Any place that Chinese can not freely go to, that requires a separate visa, that issues a separate currency, or is considered an international destination is NOT a part of China!  When they stop checking my passport at the border, I will gladly call it Taiwan Province.  When I can book a cheap domestic flight, I’ll stop using 回国 when talking about coming back from Hong Kong.  When I can use my Chinese cell phone in Macau, I’ll ignore the obvious border between it and the mainland.  Until then, I’ll enjoy the free internet that exists in these non-Chinese locations and continue to call it like I see it. 

So, after several hours of 麻烦, we 查得很累.  (Apologies; today, more than usual, Chinese words are coming to mind and the translations all seem too awkward.  The essence is, it was incredibly frustrating and we were drained afterwards.)  We managed to buy the ticket to Guangzhou but still working on getting me back to Xiamen somehow.  There are always buses, so I’m not too worried . . .

Language-Learning Victories

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2010 at 11:54 pm

The day started off on a relative low because of the package my parents sent me.  Just to clarify, the package itself was great; just the obstacle course I had to go through to get it was a little ridiculous.  Picking up a package here involves three signatures at three different locations, done in a specific order.  I tried to skip the middle step because it seemed worthless last time I picked up a package, but that just got me sent back to the XiaDa Post Office, without passing Go or collecting $200. 

As I retraced my step to dot my i’s and cross my t’s, I fantasized about a China with conceal and carry laws.  I think the post office staff would be much more understanding and forgiving – possibly even downright lenient – if I were packing.  At least after the first time!  I don’t think customers should fear the post office; post offices should fear their customers. 

I wonder if there’s a correlation between gun possession and red tape?  But enough, I only entertained violent thoughts for a few minutes and I don’t want to freak out my readers.  It was only a matter of time before I had the package in my hands – physically weighed down but emotionally lifted!

I basically have the best parents in the world.  This birthday/Easter package included Girl Scout cookies, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs, Hershey’s kisses, lemonade powder, Jello mix, and another bag of marshmallows!!!!  The only unawesome thing they sent was the tax paperwork I needed, which means there are no more excuses (and not much time) left. 

Today was the Solemnity of the Annunciation, which means Mass!  In Mandarin!  AND THE GLORIA, which we usually don’t sing during Lent, because it’s a solemnity!!!! I love following along with familiar readings in Chinese.  Maybe it’s part the excitement of figuring out what reading it is, and part hearing the words that must be as familiar to Chinese Catholics as the words “I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done unto me according to thy word” are to me. 

The timing of the Annunciation is cool.  (Catholic Fun Fact of the Day: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of St. Ann; the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel announced God’s plan to Mary and she said “yes”, is celebrated – 9 months before Christmas – as the day Jesus was conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.)  It’s like the real beginning of Jesus’ life on earth, and takes place in the liturgical calendar pretty close to the end, as Holy Week is fast approaching.  I say the prayer that Pope John Paul wrote for the Church in China at the end of every Mass (when the rest of the congregation prays together in Minnanhua), and found it especially fitting today:

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,
venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title "Help of Christians,"
the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.
We come before you today to implore your protection.
Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said "yes" in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God’s eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.
You willingly and generously co-operated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, Who died that we might live.
From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in His footsteps by taking up His Cross.

Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.
May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.

In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.
Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.
Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and forever. Amen!

After Mass, I went to dinner with JunCheng, my new Mass buddy.  We heard in Listening class this morning that today, March 25th, is 国际中餐节 or International Chinese Food Day.  In celebration, we dined . . . at the 24th floor Pizza Hut overlooking Gulangyu.  The pizza was great but the seats by the windows were all taken :(

Oh!  Today at Mass I helped Mrs. Zhang find the right page in the hymnal and pointed out where we were in the song.  She gave me a huge thumbs up.  You know what we call that?  A language learning victory.  I read a blog post about this just today, listing some major victories along the language-learning path; here’s my list, slightly edited and arranged in order of milestones reached:

  1. You make a phone call in your target language for a specific purpose and accomplish it. (I did this back in my time on the farm.  Unfortunately, like most of the communication that took place that summer, I attribute it more to Xiao Zhang’s super-human comprehension than to my language skills.  But now it’s a regular occurrence!)

  2. You hear someone talking about you in the target language and understand it.  (Incredibly easy, as in China this always consists of 老外 [foreigner],美国人 [American],俄罗斯人 [Russian],or some form of “They speak Chinese!”)

  3. You can’t remember what language a conversation was in.  (This also happened really early on.  I think it’s partially because sometimes I can’t believe that I was able to say/understand that much!)

  4. You no longer remember what the target language sounded like to you when you couldn’t understand it.  (This happened before I came to Xiamen, but I noticed it most when my parents came and I only vaguely remembered a time when I couldn’t duplicate the four tones and things like that.) 

  5. You send an email, SMS, or IM in your target language and are understood.  (I think my email skills are only okay, but apparently I text exactly like a Chinese college student.  Awesome?  I don’t even know how to text like an American college student!)

  6. You understand why certain words just don’t translate from the target language into English.  (From my very first week in Xiamen, when I was repeatedly asked to “play” with middle-aged men.  玩 does not translate exactly to ‘play’, okay?!?)

  7. You make a joke in the target language, and it gets a laugh.  (I don’t tell one-liners of knock-knock jokes or anything, but I make people laugh – sometimes even with me!)

  8. You befriend someone entirely in the target language.  (I’ve really never spoken English with 胡婧, and use English almost entirely with Pun and Eunjeong as well.)

  9. You remind a native speaker how to write a Chinese character that they have forgotten.  (Some guy forgot to write the ‘茄’‘ in eggplant!  You better believe I set him straight . . . It has happened more than once, but that was the most ridiculous.)

  10. You start using the body language of the target language culture unconsciously.  (When I walk with Chinese friends, we close enough that we’re basically leaning on each other.  I am also more touchy with my female friends, and bow with my hands folded in front of me during the Sign of Peace instead of attempting handshakes or hugs.)

  11. When you realize how terrible most translations are for movies, signs, etc.  (Some Chinglish is obvious, but sometimes I catch stuff that is technically good English, but just doesn’t mean what they wanted it to mean.) 

  12. When you somehow knew the meaning of a word without ever actually having learned it.  (See my post on the character 锈 for rust!)

  13. You talk to yourself in the target language, and it doesn’t feel weird.  (I mainly use words and phrases instead of whole sentences, but 那个 is definitely my new go-to pause word.)

  14. You correctly identify an accent or dialect.  (This was my addition.  I think it’s a big step because when you begin learning a second language, you can barely tell words apart, much less accents.  This skill requires you to be well-traveled and well-conversed.  It was really awesome when I heard someone say 蛮 and I pegged them as from the Shanghai area!)

  15. You watch a movie in your target language without subtitles and you have no real problems.  (I watched Mulan with no major problems, just incidental vocabulary.  But, with a familiar story and visual cues galore, how hard can it be?)

  16. You make a phone call in your target language and the person on the other end doesn’t realize you’re not a native speaker.  (Does a guy in a dark train not realizing I was a foreigner count?  Anyways, I really only make phone calls to people I know . . . )

  17. You verbally express anger in your target language.  (This was my addition.  I think it’s an important step because sometimes it’s hard to use a second language in times of high stress or pressure, and because expressing anger isn’t something we really learn how to do.) 

  18. You use a web service in your target language.  (This feels like cheating, because I’m guessing most people could use tudou, youku,, or qunar without any Chinese skills, just because they are nearly identical to similar English sites.  But still, I’ve done it.)
  19. You dream in the target language.  (Not that I can remember, but my mom did say I spoke Chinese in my sleep once so maybe!)

  20. You read a book in your target language.  (Not yet . . . )

A Library Where You Can’t Touch The Books Is A Museum

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2010 at 1:22 am

Our Grammar class was the place to be today.  The results of the placement retest were posted yesterday, and we were flooded with former 二年上 students aspiring to 二年下 greatness.  One of the Dutch guys, Jelle, has joined us while another friend, a former classmate, has moved up to take their place in 三年上.  On a side note, apparently this friend cheated on the placement test.  It brings up memories of the cheating scandal that ‘rocked’ XiaDa last semester, but this is even more puzzling to me.  While I don’t condone cheating, I certainly understand the appeal of using illegitimate methods to improve your performance on tests.  I don’t, however, understand cheating on placement tests, which could falsely inflate your abilities and cause you to be placed in a class that’s beyond your abilities – thereby causing you to again resort to cheating?

We started a new lesson today and it is already causing me to struggle with my resolution to value all knowledge, and scorn nothing there is to be learned.  Our vocabulary list includes two different kinds of peonies.  Truth is, I’m not super clear on what a peony is.  In my world, there are roses, carnations, tulips, daisies, daffodils, and flowers

After class, we went to the malatang soup place for lunch.  If I may say so myself, it was a great idea.  Today was really cold (high 40s) but clear, so sitting outside in the sun eating hot soup was the perfect set-up for lunch. 

This afternoon, I took Aleid to the Xiamen library.  I brought my passport and was very excited to 办 my library card (which, by the way, I think is worth at least a dozen Actual Resident Points).  I had to fill out a form – surprise, surprise – and hand over a security deposit.  You get to choose the amount you pay, and then are authorized to check out books up to that value.  So basically it’s less of a library than a book store with a liberal return policy . . .

At any rate, I was soon the proud owner of a library card and went in to see which books I wanted from their random English section.  I chose a book about everyday design, a collection of travel writing, and Joy Luck Club (for an informed second read), and headed downstairs to check out.  But then I happened to see a sign by the stairs that said something about books from the second floor and not being able to check them out.  I called Aleid over and she got the same thing out of it, so I went to ask the woman at the information desk – sure that we were misreading it somehow, because the very idea was ridiculous. Unfortunately, though, I had accurately grasped the meaning of the sign.  Books on the second floor – including the entire English section – are not allowed to be checked out. 

Incredulous, I went downstairs to return my library card and reclaim my deposit.  The man at the desk, who had given me my library card a mere 20 minutes before, was slightly surprised when I told him the card was worthless because I couldn’t check out English books.  He disagreed and, in a desperate attempt to save face showed me some English books on the first floor that I could check out.  So, to be fair to the Xiamen library, I should say that they have a nice collection of Chinese-language learn-English books, as well as approximately four English volumes hidden in the Chinese language foreign-literature section (ask a librarian, because you have no chance in hell of finding these rare gems on your own).

Apparently the reason we can’t check out the second-floor books is because they’re too expensive.  Ironic, because I’m pretty sure 97% of those books are outdated battered hand-me-downs from former expats, but then again according to the law of supply and demand, English-language literature is worth its weight in gold to me right now.  At any rate, I just don’t see anyone reading a Tom Clancy novel or a thesis-level discussion of the culture of Chinese food in an afternoon, which means these books will never be read.  And if they can’t be read, then it’s less of a library than a museum.  

They apparently show free movies upstairs every week.  I wonder what the catch is . . . Are foreigners even allowed?  Maybe we just have to close our eyes?

One of Xiamen’s two 冰雪君后 (Dairy Queen) franchises is in the Cultural and Arts Center, so Aleid and I enjoyed a chilly treat on this chilly day.  We had a great view of the shoppers coming out of the RT Mart across the way, which provided us with ample entertainment.  Chinese people don’t seem super aware of standard shopping-cart use.  We saw two people pushing them backwards, one pushing theirs sideways, and a few strolling along with one hand on the cart dragging lazily off to their side.  There was also an epic pileup after about 20 customers abandoned their carts immediately in front of the escalator.  

When I got back to campus, Maja showed me the place on campus where we can play the piano – about 15-minutes away in the Arts College.  I must say, this is the first time since coming to XiaDa that I have found a facility that is better than its counterpart at TU.  The building is really large and includes about 60 practice rooms, each equipped with a piano.  (Mine actually had two, as well as an upright bass, but I’m assuming that was an aberration.)  The rooms were reasonably clean and among the warmest that I’ve been in here at XiaDa.  The process of getting a room was surprisingly – blessedly – simple; I handed over my student ID and the worker handed me a key.  They didn’t care that I was a foreigner, or a non-music-major, or that there is apparently a standing order in all local libraries to not lend books to me.  I will be going back :)

I finished the day with a visit to Lester in the hospital.  Our friend XuLei was there as well and after I recounted my troubles with the library and Entry Exit office, it kind of turned into a venting session.  It felt good to be honest with a Chinese friend about the frustrations we feel about our lives here, and to get some feedback from her.  As I suspected, speaking to department heads doesn’t happen really often and any letter we write may or may not be read.  She did suggest, though, speaking to some of the men that we dance with.  Many of them are teachers but as they’re from different departments, they aren’t personally involved and could give us advice on how to proceed with making suggestions.

A Really Crappy Musical

In Uncategorized on March 10, 2010 at 1:33 am

When I set off this morning on the continuation of my journey to renew Lester’s residence permit, I was strolling along bobbing my head to the song “18 Wheeler”  by Pink:

Hey, hey, girl! Are you ready for today?
You got your shield and sword?
Cuz its time to play the game . . .

You can push me out the window; I’ll just get back up
You can run over me with your 18 wheeler truck, and I won’t give up
You can hang me like a slave; I’ll go underground
You can run over me with your 18 wheeler but you can’t keep me down

The lyrics fit my mood perfectly.  I’d been on this quest for over a week now – I’d been misdirected, turned away, and lied to – but was determined to finish it today.  I was feeling confident, strong, assertive, and well-prepared.

An hour and a half later, I couldn’t keep from bursting into tears in the Entry and Exit Office.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself here.  I first went to the XiaDa branch of the police station.  This was my fourth visit – the first time I was told that the only woman who could help me was out sick, the next time I was told to return with a copy of his passport, and the third time I was told that by “passport” she really meant “passport and visa – oh, and by the way we’re closing for lunch now and for some reason aren’t opening this afternoon so come back tomorrow“.  I was really excited to be at the last stop, passport AND visa copies in hand, almost done with this whole ordeal.

It went smoothly, probably because almost nothing had to happen at this office.  As far as I can tell, the entire purpose of this stop consisted of the woman typing up a form that I had already filled out at another office, and authorizing it with a red stamp.  What.  The.  #$%@.  She was the only person who was qualified to do that?? 

Also, it turned out that this wasn’t the last stop.  As she handed me the form, she said, “Now you just have to take this over to Entry and Exit”.   This was something that I had figured would be necessary, but since no one at any of the other FIVE offices I had visited ever mentioned it, I thought I was going to get off easy.  No such luck.  I caught a bus headed downtown, trying to stay calm and focus on the words of “One Step at a Time” by Jordin Sparks:

Hurry up and wait
So close, but so far away
Everything that you’ve always dreamed of
Close enough for you to taste
But you just can’t touch . . .
You know you can if you get the chance
In your face as the door keeps slamming
Now you’re feeling more and more frustrated
And you’re getting all kind of impatient waiting . . .
When you can’t wait any longer
But there’s no end in sight
when you need to find the strength
It’s your faith that makes you stronger
The only way you get there
Is one step at a time

They’re pretty efficient at Entry and Exit.  I only had to wait in line behind one person before the worker told me that I didn’t have the paperwork I needed and summarily dismissed me.  This was about when I broke into tears.  This was the 6th office I’d been to – gathering paperwork or getting stamps at most of them, but two were just wasted trips because the people in the other offices had no clue what they were talking about when they sent me there.  10 hours was a conservative estimate of the time I’d spent over the last week, and the I was running out of time as the current permit expires tomorrow. 

I went home dejected.  Lunch with Aleid, Sietze, and Koen made me feel much better but was not without associated 麻烦 (hassle).  Before lunch, I helped the guys with the paperwork associated with moving out of the dorm.  They were confused because the worker was telling them they needed to pay even though they had already paid for 30 days.  Explanation?  They had only lived 27 days, which meant their daily rate was 70 kuai per day; if they had stayed the full 30 days they paid for, they would have qualified for a daily rate of 30 kaui.  Yes, she managed to explain this to me with a straight face, completely devoid of any sympathy or awareness of how ridiculous this situation was.  I recommended them to just pay for the extra three days, saving them about 1,000 kuai.  She said that was acceptable, but they have to go back in three days to do the paperwork.  They’re not going to pay for any days that those rooms aren’t occupied, at least not on her watch!

I went to our 1 o’clock class but left before the 2:30 class started because the office downstairs was open.  After a mere hour of waiting, I managed to get two more forms filled out and stamped (which is all-important) and set out to return to the site of my earlier breakdown, the Entry Exit office.

The line was much longer, but I passed the time listening to “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. (from Slumdog Millionaire) and wishing that the words were true for me:

I fly like paper, get high like planes
If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name
If you come around here, I make ’em all day
I get one down in a second if you wait

When it was my turn again, the worker struck quickly and efficiently.  She asked for more copies of the passport and was the verge of sending me away, and I knew that I had to take control of the situation.  I stood up and said loudly, “Why didn’t anyone tell me I needed these copies?  I’ve been to 6 offices and this is my second time in this office, and no one told me that I needed copies!”  She told me to sit down, stamped the form I handed her, and told me everything was taken care of.  Note to self: don’t get sad, get mad!

VICTORY.  I felt a huge weight taken off my shoulders as I handed over his passport – the entire matter was finally literally out of my hands.  As I left the building where efficiency goes to die, I listened to the ending of “Shine” by Collective Soul and smiled:

Oh, heaven let your light shine down
Oh, heaven let your light shine down
Oh, heaven let your light shine down
Oh, heaven let your light shine down

I rewarded myself with takeout from a Western restaurant – cheese pizza and tiramisu, both not bad.  I watched some movies online while I ate, and once I finished my dinner I indulged in something else that’s been quite rare since I came to China.  I did math!  When I went to buy this semester’s textbooks, I got distracted by the nearby physics and math section.  I bought one small calculus book filled mainly with practice problems and solutions, and am starting back at the beginning with limits.  Calculus is so awesome.  I know I’m doing anything super advanced but it’s so cathartic, way more than practicing characters.  At least I was able to end the day well! 

PS – All of the aforementioned songs did come up on my iPod shuffle at approximately the times I wrote.

Does Anyone Around Here Even Have A Clue?

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2010 at 9:49 pm

I saw my parents through the door today and officially washed my hands of all responsibility for them. 


Everyone has to leave the nest at some point . . .


I never would have expected, but I felt some separation anxiety after we said goodbye.  They’d been with me every freaking minute for three weeks (just kidding, parents, it was great!) and then they were gone all of a sudden.  And I was all alone – and in Beijing, no less.  I guess it wasn’t really anxiety, but I did feel very alone.  At least, until I put in my iPod in; some days that’s the only way I can handle China. 

I had dinner with Aleid and her boyfriend (who came to Beijing on the Trans-Siberian Railway!) but other than that, the evening was really unpleasant. 

Since arriving in Beijing, I had noticed that people were larger – almost as big as me even.  Observing this, I was inspired to do something that I’ve considered unthinkable in Xiamen: shopping for pants.  I decided to head for Meters/Bonwe because they’re everywhere, their clothes might pass for fashionable in the West, and they stock relatively large sizes even in the south.

I first went to the shopping street near our hotel, asked around, and was led straight to a Meters/Bonwe outlet.  But of course, nothing could be that easy (at least not in China) – it was “having a decoration” and thus closed. 

I asked around a little bit more and found out there was another branch near QianMen.  I took a taxi there and, when the taxi driver pointed me right inside, I got prematurely excited.  The clerks on the first floor told me it was in the basement.  The first people I asked in the basement said there was no Meters/Bonwe around; the others directed me to the second floor.  The staff of the second floor predictably told me to go to the third floor, but those people surprisingly directed me to a whole different building.  Stupid me, I actually went to the other building and got directed to the basement, second, and third floor respectively before giving up. 

I was so frustrated by this point, I was actually fuming around the mall sporadically shouting profanity.  I hate this about China.  It’s like there is no such thing as “truth” or “reality”, or at least no way for people to know it.  Information such as addresses, phone numbers, times – everything is subjective, constantly changing faster than anyone can track. 

I just can’t handle it.  There’s no way to find stuff except for asking people, but they’re worthless.  They’re actually worse than worthless, because instead of admitting that they haven’t the foggiest idea, they pull something out of their ass and say it with a completely straight face.  I mean, I’m about as valuable as the next rock for directions, but I admit this fault when asked and am perfectly capable of finding a more capable person to direct the questioner toward. 

It drives me crazy.  Sometimes I seriously don’t know how this country runs.  This may seem ungenerous, and surely it is at least a little bit, but I would like to add that this is not the first or only time I’ve felt this way.  See pretty much any entry under the tag 麻烦.

Confucius Say, Man Who Run Behind Bus Get Exhausted

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Dad was not feeling well today.  The day before yesterday, he started going a little bit hoarse, and by last night’s dinner he was not speaking at all, trying to conserve what little voice he had.  (Lucky Bisterbosch family, right??)  Because of this, he stayed home today to rest while Mom and I went out adventuring.

After spending much of my night on Beijing’s public transportation website, I had complete information on how to get to the South Cathedral for Mass.  We walked to the nearest bus station, caught the 104快 to 崇文门西 and got off, just as planned.  We also caught the right bus from that stop, 特2, but – you guessed it – in the wrong direction.  We got off to change directions at the train station, which so confusing that we ended up just grabbing a taxi.

Even resorting to a taxi, we barely arrived before the 10:00 Mass time that I found on the internet.  Good thing Mass started at 10:30!  In the end, all my attempts at choosing the right route came to nothing, but the fact that I found the wrong time saved us.  Oh, the irony . . .

The South Cathedral isn’t exactly what I would call beautiful, although the outside is striking in a European-church way.


The inside is kind of random, looking like a second-hand shop for church decorations.


Once Mass started, though, I found myself appreciating the patchwork-like decor of the church because it seemed to reflect its congregation.  The South Cathedral is the center of Beijing’s international Catholic community.  Interestingly, their ‘international’ Masses (of which they have two) are not just ‘English’.  The readings were read in French as well as English (and let me tell you, it was a treat to hear 1 Cor 13 read in French).

It was nice to go to English Mass – almost my first one in 5 months because I’ve barely understood the few I’ve been to in Xiamen.  It was certainly the first homily I’ve understood more than 10% of since coming!  Instead of murmuring English to myself throughout Chinese Mass, I now mutter a combination of Latin and Chinese after the English responses.  It was also great to hear some familiar church music, but it kind of made me miss my wonderful Newman choir even more :(

After Mass we went to check out the gift shop.  It was a good call, because they had so much great stuff!  I laboriously pored over Chinese titles for quite a while before making some great finds.  I found a tiny tiny [what I think is a] breviary in Chinese, as well as an English-Chinese Catholic Dictionary and a Chinese-English Catholic Practical Handbook.  The last thing is so amazing because it’s just what I wanted – in fact, it is so exactly what I wanted that I never even considered that it might actually exist!  But there it is, with such hard-to-find translations as the Prayer of St. Francis; the names of saints, the books of the Bible, religious orders and missionary societies, the ecumenical councils, important encyclicals; a list of China’s seminaries and important missionaries in China’s history; and a Chinese version of O Sons and Daughters (one of my favorite Easter songs).  I was so happy . . . I bought two!

Mom and I had a good lunch and then headed out along the rest of my perfectly-planned itinerary for the day.  Unfortunately, this morning’s misadventures were a mere foreshadowing of the afternoon.  I wanted to go see the North Cathedral but after taking the indicated bus to the indicated stop, we had to walk at least a mile before even finding the street we were looking for.  After numerous backtracks, a kindly woman directed us right to . . . a Protestant church, were we nearly walked in on a Korean service.  We gave up on that and went looking for the tomb of Matteo Ricci, the first Catholic missionary to China (and possibly the first Westerner to enter the country after Marco Polo), who was buried at another church in the area.  Although I had a wonderful time telling people we were looking for a place “where they put people underground after they die” because I didn’t know how to say cemetery, this search was also a failure.  (In my defense, I have found at least two addresses online for the location of this tomb, neither of which come with a Chinese name for the church they’re buried at.)

Despite my failing record in Beijing, I would like to point out that I have basically mastered 8 other Chinese cities and gotten myself and others around pretty well.  Also, Beijing suffers from a complete lack of decent maps; the only one I’ve found depicts the entire city, making street names illegible and even the Forbidden City almost too small to see.  I find out each day how inaccurate Lonely Planet’s maps are, so I basically have no resources to rely on.  What I’m saying here is . . . it’s not my fault – blame Beijing.

Despite the logic presented above, I was feeling thoroughly defeated by this time.  We were 0 for 2 on the day’s planned itinerary.  We got on a bus to go home and, since I had triple-checked the posted route, was fairly confident we were going to make it.

Then our bus got in an accident.  Yes, I’m serious.  It was ridiculously minor – in fact Mom and I didn’t know anything had happened until the driver turned off the engine in the middle of the road – but apparently the driver of the other bus thought it was a big deal.  They got out and started yelling at each other in the streets while Mom and I got out to take pictures of the perfectly-intact buses.


We opted not to wait for the resolution, and got out to walk.  Luckily, we were on an interesting road.  Apparently we were in Trophy District, because every store for blocks and blocks sold personalized trophies, banners, coins, and buttons – but mainly trophies.  (Okay, there was one store selling long underwear but they probably won’t last long.)  Seriously, I want to know who was the 40th guy to open shop on this street?  Did he look around and think to himself, “You know, there’s a niche in this area just waiting to be filled by my custom-made trophies.”?  How much of a market is there for this stuff in Beijing, and how much business do each of them get?  I’m fascinated even by the idea of a Trophy Street.

For an idea, here are photos of a very few selected shops on Trophy Street:

IMG_1872 IMG_1871

IMG_1866 IMG_1869 IMG_1873

We had plans to stop for noodles on the way home and, since I was hungry and my pride was at stake, I vowed to find the restaurant no matter what.  Although it took us 2 phone calls and one helpful Chinese passerby, we did eventually find the Ajisen ramen shop, in the basement of an enormous shopping mall, a block away from where LP said it would be, and with a different name.

We caught a motorized 三轮车 (three-wheeled vehicle) home, which turned out to be the second high point of the day.  The driver was a jolly man, sort of a mixture between Santa Claus and Grandpa Garibay.  Unlike the taxi drivers we’d had so far – reticent to the point of being mute – he talked to me like I had heard Beijingers would.  He told me I need to stop enunciating so much, made me practice saying “yī èr sān sì wǔ liù qī, qī liù wǔ sì sān èr yī” (1 2 3 4 5 6 7, 7 6 5 4 3 2 1) over and over, and sang us a song.  Wonderful.