Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘America’

You Know You’ve Been in America Too Long When . . .

In Uncategorized on May 23, 2011 at 11:58 pm

I’ve been doing some digital cleaning up and came across a list of “You Know You’ve Been In China Too Long When” that I apparently never posted.  It’s a little bit of a tired list, but a few of my favorites are:

    1. Putting leftovers directly into a plastic bag seems normal
    2. You can’t access your own blog
    3. Steak with rice sounds just fine.
    4. You start referring to yourself as ‘laowai’ or ‘foreigner’
    5. You have to pause and translate your phone number into English before telling it to someone.
    6. Someone ‘draws’ a character on their hand and you understand.
    7. You see nothing wrong with standing on a white stripe in the middle of a highway while cars whiz past you at 90kph
    8. You know words in Chinese for which you don’t know the translation in English.
    9. You convince yourself that it doesn’t matter how dirty the cooks’ hands are, cooking will fix it
    10. You start to buy an XXXL T-shirt in a store when you returned home

But then that made me curious . . . are there equivalent lists for foreigners who live in the States for a while?  A quick googling yielded this: You Know You’ve Been in the U.S. Too Long When . . . (translated from Japanese)

  • You wear a T-shirt even in winter
  • You blow your nose in public
  • You feel you’re lucky when the train has arrived 5 minutes late
  • You think it’s natural to say thank you to a cashier in a supermarket
  • You use paper napkins like water
  • You are not surprised when you see a very fat person, and you feel you are slim
  • You don’t mind using a dowdy umbrella
  • You don’t even carry an umbrella
  • You feel uncomfortable when a shop staff bows to you
  • You go across a street when the light is red but there are no cars
  • You’re able to drink blue or green colored soft drinks without hesitating at all
  • The fact that your waitress is wearing shocking pick nail polish doesn’t surprise you one bit
  • You receive compliments from others you’re not humble at all and just say “thanks”
  • You’re not excited or impressed at all when you see a real gun
  • You’re amazed at the cleanliness of the toilets in Narita Airport
  • You don’t think anything of young girls wearing camisoles that completely reveal their bra straps. To the contrary, when you let your guard down you find yourself doing the same as well
  • You see a size 30 cm women’s shoe in the shoe store and you don’t even respond, “Geez that’s huge!”
  • You leave a space of about 50 cm between you and the person lining up in front of you at the supermarket
  • Your “skirt to pants” ratio becomes 1:4 (meaning you own 4 times as many pants as you do skirts, for girls of course)
  • You you have completely lost the habit of dividing up your trash

Isn’t that interesting?? 

Home Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Yup, that would be me.  The China girl. 

So I Say Thank You; What Of It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

A Tale of Two Chinese Men

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2010 at 1:16 am

We had a substitute teacher for our Newspaper Reading class today; I hope we never have her again.  She would be wonderful as a grammar teacher, but in a class that’s supposed to emphasize speed-reading and comprehension and skills like that, her teaching method was ridiculous.  I came in 10 minutes late, and we were still talking about the title of the article!  It’s not Shakespeare, lady!  She even explained each [obscure] character of the author’s name – it was really painful.

After lunch, I met a new Chinese friend for ‘coffee’.  Shawn is a masters’ student in advertising, and I contacted him through a poster looking for Americans to help classifying some commercials.  He was offering 300 kuai for the work – not bad pay at $50 or so, but more important because this is an item on my bucket list.  Getting paid basically to be a foreigner seems to be an integral part of the China experience, at least in Xiamen, and I wanted in.  A lot of my friends have worked in bars, taught English, acted in movies, modeled clothes, served as translators, etc.  This may not be the most glamorous foreigner job, but it totally counts.  Check!

Anyway, we went to the little cafe in CaiQingJie and I was immediately happy that I had contacted him.  Unlike many Chinese men, Shawn is calm, confident (even when speaking English), and courteous.  He knew enough about America to say that Minnesota had a lot of lakes, where most Chinese only know the Timberwolves (if that).  He voluntarily asked to switch to Chinese, even though his English is about as good as my Chinese, instead of fighting with me for control over the language.  He suggested we get together again but, instead of simply saying it knowing full well it will never happen, he suggested we choose a day and have dinner every week.  Very interesting!  Silly me, but I honestly thought I was done making Chinese friends . . .

Deni’s birthday was today, so a bunch of us went out for dinner.  I tend to think this about most of the big events we foreigners have here in China, but I feel like the staff at this restaurant is going to remember this dinner.  Eighteen foreigners crammed into a tiny room that literally held a huge island of a table, with chairs added as if an afterthought.  We ordered a ton, drank a fair amount, and made a lot of noise. 

I was seated next to a Canadian friend (dual US citizen, actually), which led to some really good conversations.  At one point, she said “Not gonna lie” which, not gonna lie, made me realize how long I’ve been away from America.  Dang.  What are those young folk saying these days?

Another example to illustrate the length of my expatriation: one of my friends was wearing a shirt that said “Hotmale: Try it for free”.  Obvious innuendo . . . that I totally failed to pick up on.  I’m just used to English on t-shirts not making sense, so I just asked him what it meant – and there was an awkward pause as he tried to figure out how to explain the joke. 

We talked especially about immigration-related issues.  I’m following the news back home as best as I can, but in some ways it doesn’t even seem like news.  ‘Hispanic’, ‘immigrant’, and ‘illegal immigrant’ are used as synonyms; some people would get rid of any difference by making all illegal immigrants legal, while others would get ride of the different by getting rid of all illegal immigrants.  What else is new? 

Living in China this year has given me a new perspective on this issue.  I have come to China for one year, but if/when I were to return to China for a much longer stay, I think the situation would be about the same.  I have made my absolute best effort to learn Chinese.  I don’t expect government agencies or private businesses to cater to me as an English-speaker.  While I often choose to use English in my personal life, I accept that dealing with the outside world requires a basic knowledge of the local language.  I even get annoyed with other foreigners who make no attempt to learn Chinese (although I’m equally frustrated with the government when they bring foreign students here to study other subjects in English and don’t give them the resources necessary to learn Chinese). 

In a similar vein, I understand that as a visitor to this country that I should carry identification on me.  Except for a quick run to Baicheng to buy fruit, I pretty much always have a photocopy of my passport and visa.  While I definitely have complaints about the paperwork requirements here (for instance the visa, which costs twice as much for Americans as it does for anyone else), I understand the need for a country to know who is inside, and [roughly] doing what.  With that said, I would be incredibly mad to be stopped on the street and asked for papers; I’m fine with ID requirements for getting things done or ID checks when people are stopped for other reasons, but not ‘random’ checks that wouldn’t be random. 

Regarding immigration in America, I could pretty much care less.  Let people come to America – to visit, to study, to work.  I have no problems with it as long as they do it legally (which, by the way, I am in favor of making easier).  Illegal immigration, however, pisses me off to no end.  I hate the conflation of ‘Hispanic’ and ‘illegal immigrant’ which, no matter which side it’s used by, is incredibly offensive.  I’m scared of all the unknowns it involves – many fine people, I’m sure, but there are obviously bad guys as well.  And I just can’t understand a society in which the sentence “a state law enacted in 2005 that allows illegal immigrants to pay the same tuition rate as legal, in-state residents” makes sense. 

I view the situations in China and America very similarly.  I wish that entering the countries were easier, even though that means submitting to restrictions governing residence in the country.  I think that, upon discovering an illegal immigrant, they should be set on one of two paths – towards becoming legal, or back where they came from.  I would like to see more proficiency in the local language, because the language barrier has a way of becoming a racial or cultural barrier. 

 

Speaking of language barriers, I may or may not have just been asked by a Chinese guy to be his girlfriend.

Correction: I may or may not have just been asked by the same Chinese guy to marry him.

Online. 

Zhang LiBin is a guy I met in the Beijing train station who asked me for my QQ number.  It sounds like the opening scene of a chick flick – but it’s not.  He’s the one who came to Xiamen last week and took me to lunch, and the one with whom I was discussing drinking habits last night on QQ.  Tonight he told me he’s drunk, and then asked me if I would consider being his girlfriend.  Highlights of the conversation include:

  • 还想问你下,如果让你做我女朋友,你会考虑吗?  (I want to ask, if I asked you to be my girlfriend, would you consider it?)
  • 噢,说实话,我想和你结婚!  (Truthfully, I would like to marry you!)
  • 真的,只要你不闲弃我,我的想法一直不变。  (Really, as long as you don’t reject me, my thoughts will never change.)
  • 我等你,只要你不结婚!我张立斌一直不结婚。  (I’ll wait for you, as long as you don’t get married!  I, Zhang LiBin, will never marry.)
  • 你好好考虑下,只要你需要我,我会第一时间出现在你面前!  (You think about it.  If you need me, I will be beside you in a moment.) 

I am a master of the hilariously awkward boy drama; there will probably be a book someday.  I’m now wondering if tomorrow I will get to see what a Chinese guy does when he realizes he said something stupid while drunk the night before? 

When You Look Like Me, Bad Things Happen

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2010 at 1:56 am

I had a midterm in my main class today; it was pretty easy.  The only weird part was the question about Americans: “The ideal place for Americans to get together is a coffee shop, and the most natural way to pay is to split the bill.  True or False?” 

The two sections took the test at the same time, so the teacher had to go back and forth between two classrooms.  This, of course, is the optimum cheating environment.  The teacher even prefaced the test with some words about cheating, but it made absolutely no difference.  The Russians talked out loud while she was away and merely brought it down to a clearly-audible whisper when she was present.  The teacher did nothing, having fulfilled her obligation to warn against cheating but not desiring to actually do anything that might be unpopular.  This seems very Chinese to me – concern for appearance over reality, or for the letter of the law over the spirit.  For instance, today I read an article about the crackdown on pirated DVDs in Shanghai leading up to the Expo.  Most sources say that the stores are just cutting their stores in half, letting the front serve as a facade for the DVD shop in the back.  Most sources also say that the authorities know about this but that their efforts allow them to claim they’re doing everything possible to stop piracy.

I nearly died on my way back from lunch at West Gate.  Just in the last few days, cars and buses have started stopping for pedestrians in the cross walk.  This is way weird, and basically just results in mass confusion because no one can believe that the vehicles are actually stopping to let people walk.  I like the way it used to be, like Frogger.  At least it was predictable: there is no way in hell that car is going to yield to you, so walk with caution. 

On the bus ride over to church for choir practice, I started wondering.  How much money does it cost to make America handicap-friendly?  By extension, how much money is China saving?  For instance, every single bus in the Twin Cities’ Metro Transit system is equipped with a wheelchair lift; by contrast, not a single one in the Xiamen fleet is.  I was thinking about how disproportionate this allocation of funds must be, but surprisingly felt pleased by it.  We could probably save a lot of money/resources/time/hassle by ignoring the needs of the small percentage of people who need such assistance, but I guess at least in this case our democracy (and/or morals) save us from the tyranny of the majority.  On a related note, I would like to ask a disabled American what they think of the accessibility of things in America?  Obviously it’s more than China, but is it enough? 

Choir practice so interesting to me – first of all, it’s a little weird being in the choir again instead of directing the choir, and then there’s the whole in-China aspect.  Weekly Chinese-singing practice (a.k.a. “Mass”) has served me well these past 8 months.  I’m way better at reading number-music than I was when I came; at least they make more sense to me than neumes (the original way of writing Gregorian chant).  When we do warm-ups by sing all of the vowel sounds, it makes sense to me to pronounce “mo” as “mwoh” instead of “mo”.  I automatically sing 的 as ‘di’ and 了as ‘liao’, instead of ‘de’ and ‘le’ (as they are pronounced in normal speech).  I understand why they pronounce “cum” as “cuem” and even found myself singing “Maliya” instead of “Maria”!  But there’s only so much I can fit in.  I am, in nearly every sense of the word, the elephant in the room – the abnormally large one in the front row who, while no one overtly acknowledges it, doesn’t quite understand what’s going on all the time.

One of my favorite things about being in the choir is my Little Brother.  I met him way back in December when I went to the church choir competition; we immediately struck it off over our shared love (more like, awareness) of the Timberwolves and Nickelback.  He’s 17, I think, and I didn’t know his name (嘉晟, jiāshèng, or Jason) until today, so I just called him 弟弟, or Little Brother.  (Side note: Holy crap, I’m old.)  He is a choir director’s nightmare, as he has a really amazing voice, but . . . is a teenage boy.  He likes to talk during practice, including English phrases that (while always appropriate for the situation at hand) were obviously learned from TV or movies.  Basically, he reminds me of my entire tenor/bass section back home!

My other favorite thing about choir is singing (go figure).  It’s my first chance to sing harmony in 8 months . . . seriously, how have I survived?  Also, I just adore Latin; if it were an option, I probably would have preferred to study abroad in a Latin-speaking country!  But seriously, Latin is not a dead language – it’s the language of the Universal Church.  I always knew this, but rehearsing the Misa de Angelis with the choir of my church in China kind of has a way of driving the point home.  The thing is, Latin was the only language of Catholicism for a long time, and even now it is used for important events (often in the form of chant). 

I remember, back in my first year as the choir director at the TU Newman Center, when I suggested changing to Latin Mass parts for Lent.  Some students objected on the basis that chant was unfamiliar to most students and might drive away those who come for the music.  I wrote the following [excerpt from a longer email] in reply:

. . . Someday, all the students at the Newman Center are going to leave and they’re never going to sing the Senhor Tende [a setting of the Kyrie in Portuguese] again.  Fr. Jovis [our Nigerian priest] has a good perspective on it because he’s not American.  He’s not familiar with the parts we’re using now, but he knows the chant.  It’s part of the catholicity of our Church, which students need to appreciate as much as they do the things that make Newman special, or they won’t continue past college because it’s "not the same" as it was in college.

I feel the same way now.  Yes, I miss the music at Newman, but Mass is more than praise & worship hour, and I don’t come for the music.  I’m glad for the things that make each church special, but I’m also glad for the things that make the Catholic Church catholic.  Latin is one of those things.  I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to study Gregorian Chant at Newman, and truly treasure this experience to sing it with my foster church.  Latin may be a second language for all of us, but it’s the mother tongue of the Church. 

Choir practice was the high point of my day, and it went downhill from there.  On my way to the bus stop, as I was walking through the shady (literally and figuratively) construction site, I passed a man who stared at me.  This happens all the time, so it’s not usually a big deal, but I usually glance over my shoulder a few seconds later to see if they’re still staring.  Double-takes, triple-takes, crashing bicycles into nearby obstacles – all of this is rather commonplace.  But this guy had halted in his tracks, cigarette dangling out of his slack-jawed mouth.  Um, really?  Is that really necessary?  I keep walking, but take one more peek behind me – only to see that they man has changed course and is now following me.  I was seriously sketched out by this point, so I started walking at a superhuman speed only possible with my insanely long legs, not daring to look behind me again until I had reached the busy area by the bus stop.  Apparently I lost him (in a cloud of dust, quite possibly), but I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling.  This was really only the second time I’ve ever felt unsafe in China, the other time also a case of being followed (by Smelly Man)

Continuing on the downward trajectory, LiuQin started talking to me on QQ once I arrived back home.  I finally figured out what’s going on: I’m being used.  Hardcore.  Here it is, as far as I can figure out: Of the four sections with tickets for the ordination, only one is actually in the church; people in the other sections will watch the ceremony on TV.  As space is limited, tickets to the main area have been reserved for the most important guests – bishops, priests, sisters, brothers, Fr. Cai’s family . . . and foreigners.  Somehow, LiuQin got two tickets in the 5th row on the condition/premise that she would be sitting there with me, a foreigner.  I didn’t figure this out until she basically said it: “Tickets for this are really scarce, but they set aside two tickets – one for you and one for me!  So if you go, I can say you gave me the ticket, because you’re a foreigner.”  My plans to join the choir or volunteer in some other fashion threw a wrench in this plan, which means she’s spent the last two days trying to convince me not to sing with the choir.  Her attempts have ranged from “I don’t think they’ll actually allow you to join” to “The person in charge of the tickets thinks that it’s just better for you to be with me” to continually reminding me that the tickets are in the 5th row. 

After repeating my desire to sing with the choir, she remembered me saying something about my Korean classmate who didn’t have a ticket.  Apparently she’s not sure if using him will fly, because “Koreans look just like Chinese, everyone will think he’s Chinese!”  Refer to second paragraph about concern for appearances over reality . . .

Not actually sure which is worse: being stalked or being used?  

Mandarin: Not So Sweet After All

In Uncategorized on April 12, 2010 at 1:01 am

Emotions are fickle things. 

I reentered China at approximately 6 p.m. on Sunday evening, and spent a good half hour relishing the wave of Mandarin washing over me.

By 7 or so, I was beginning to remember some things that I’m not so terribly fond of about China. 

The conversation partners I had so easily found were asking me for the 6th time why I don’t have a Chinese boyfriend because I’m “so pretty”.  I was most certainly not pretty, after changing into pajamas for the long bus ride and feeling grimy despite doing my best to wash my face in the miniscule sink at Chungking Mansions.  It’s usually nice to get compliments anyway, but their implications were overpowered by the cigarette smoke (which I don’t remember smelling even once in Hong Kong) that they blew directly in my face with each leer.

I had some good conversations with a few of the nicer men, but had real difficulty communicating with some of them.  While they were all technically speaking Mandarin, some of their accents were quite heavy.  In addition to the lovely Southern habit of dropping the ‘h’ from ‘sh’, these guys also said ‘f’ instead of ‘h’ and ‘l’ instead of ‘n’ and ‘r’.  And then there was the guy who asked me if I’d been to “Baizhang” and had to explain that it was China’s capital before I understood what he was talking about . . . Accents are the bane of any language-learner’s existence, but there is definitely a simple pleasure to hear one Chinese person berate another for saying something wrong.  Ha!  I didn’t understand, but it was your fault. 

The cast of characters in the bus office was continually changing, men coming and men (always men) going.  One guy got into a [rather one-sided] conversation with me about Christianity.  As best as I could understand, he was comparing Christianity in China with Christianity in the rest of the world, and as far as I could understand he was saying that Christians in other countries identify themselves primarily with their nation instead of Christianity.  I was certainly not going to agree with his assertion, but – not wanting to mistake his meaning – instead claimed I didn’t understand.  (I didn’t; whether it was an issue of language or logic was unclear.)  But after watching my adeptly handle such challenging questions as “How old are you?” and “Which is better, China or America?”, this guy was not going to let me get off claiming anything less than complete fluency.  He looked at me with contempt and said, “I know  you understand.”  It wasn’t that hard to deal with his disappointment, especially because he shut up afterwards. 

Then a new guy came in, sat down, and asked where I was from.  My answer prompted an immediate response from him: “America sucks.  England too.”  I actually don’t hear (/understand) a lot of America-bashing over here, so I was a little taken aback.  But what came next was even more surprising – he brought up the president and, after some prompting, clarified that he meant Obama.  This was the first time I’d heard anything bad about Obama, so I was interested to hear his reasons.  (I thought it would have something to do with his race, as many Chinese are racist to some extent and invariably remark on his color.)  Unfortunately, this guy’s Mandarin was heavily accented, breakneck fast, and mumbled almost beyond comprehension.  I kept asking him to repeat himself and looking at the others for help deciphering his rant, but everyone in the room just looked visibly uncomfortable and tried to avoid my gaze.  The only word I picked up is “bin Laden”, but there was no mention or Iraq or war as far as I could tell, so I really don’t know what he was saying.  It really irritated me that he spoke for so long when I obviously didn’t understand.  If you have a problem with my country, that’s fine, but please speak proper 普通话 so I can understand you.  Instead, he just took the opportunity to soapbox in front of a Chinese audience and an American who can’t even say anything in response. 

Thus the hours passed.  Finally it was 8:30 (the scheduled departure time of our bus), and I began to gather my things.  I asked the men when we were heading out, and they asked me what the rush was?  They sat there, tea cups in hand and cigarettes between lips, in absolutely no hurry to be anywhere or do anything, and told me that I was too pretty to head back to Xiamen yet.  I laughed and said I would just walk home, but inside I was wondering if the time for joking had passed and the time for figuring out another way home had arrived.  Luckily, a woman came in around this time, and she too seemed vaguely concerned about returning to Xiamen sometime in the near future.

More hours passed.  Someone turned on the TV and we started watching the news.  The countdown to the Shanghai World Expo is at 20 days.  Protests continue in Thailand.  Opposition forces have taken control of Kyrgyzstan (another ridiculous country name I’ve learned in Chinese – 吉尔吉斯斯坦).  The president of Poland died in a plane crash over Russia.  (Only upon my return home did I find out that many top government officials died as well; now my heart is sad for that beautiful country.) 

Around 10, we walked across the station in the first leg of our journey.  We had been joined by some new passengers, including one young man who carried a woman’s bag the entire way for her.  The fact that this deserves mention in the journal indicates how uncommon common courtesy is in China . . . I remember thinking to myself how he had just earned 1,000 Potential Chinese Boyfriend points, as opposed to the stupid flattery and cigarette smoke of the men in the bus office (worth 0 points). 

After a van ride to take us to our bus, we were finally able to board.  Apparently we had a sleeper bus – my first time!  You may think you can’t fit many beds into a single bus, but that’s just because you’re not thinking like a Chinese.  There are three rows of beds along the length of the bus, and each one is stacked two high.  Each bed is exactly the width of me, with my arms by my side, and the aisles between are significantly narrower.  I think the lengths vary, because I was continually motioned towards different berths as the driver realized how ridiculously tall I am.  The head of each bed is raised, creating extra foot room for the passenger behind you.  I actually found it quite comfortable, especially considering I was expecting a seat.  The bed was probably more comfortable than a hard sleeper in a train, but train compartments offer space to sit up, eat, walk around, etc. while sleeper buses are exclusively for sleeping. 

And, of course, that is fine with me. 

Learning Generosity From The Chinese?

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2010 at 12:42 am

Today’s lesson was titled 我在中国学大方 – “I Learned Generosity in China”.  Here is a slightly abridged translation:

When I arrived in China, I was pleasantly surprised by the low prices, relieved at not having to tip, and found it a little bit embarrassing when my Chinese friends paid for meals time after time.  But as my time in China grew longer, I started to become like them, caring more and more about “face”.  I also started being generous, occasionally paying for meals, and came to understand a few things: If the host says “You don’t need to”, “You don’t have to”, or “Don’t worry about it”, you should definitely not believe them.  No matter how nice the restaurant is, everyone should compete to pay.  If you buy a very expensive gift for someone, “carelessly” forget to tear off the price tag. 

In Chinese tradition, generosity is the most important standard by which people are evaluated.  Stingy people have no friends, no matter how talented they are; but generous people have a lot of friends, not matter how little talent they have.

Americans are extremely stingy.  The best place for friends to get together is a coffee shop, the most natural way of paying is to go Dutch, and the best present is a bunch of flowers or a bottle of wine.  Parents will even lend their children money, and arrange the payback schedule and interest in advance.  My Chinese friends don’t understand why Americans do things like this.

But the vast majority of rich Americans are quite generous, but usually they don’t spend a lot of money playing host (paying for dinner), instead more choose to donate their money to schools, hospitals, churches, etc.  Today, the living standard of the Chinese people is improving and as their concept changes, they frequently donate money to run schools and repair roads. 

Excuse me if I get a little animated on this subject, but I strongly disagree with the message of this text.  Like a lot of things, the cultural difference regarding generosity can be attributed greatly to the differing circles of concern.  Chinese, who care only for those within their close circle of friends, family, and associates, want to spend money in a conspicuous way in their presence, for their benefit.  Americans, on the other hand, have a way larger circle of concern and are much more likely to send money to those they don’t know personally without expectation of return.

I’m sorry, but I don’t see our actions as stingy.  The idea of Bill Gates, with his billions, of ‘generously’ treating his slightly-less-well-off friends to dinner is a little ridiculous, which the good that his foundation has done for people he has no connection to is undeniable. 

Also, I find it hard sometimes to see the actions of the Chinese as generous.  请客, in which one person plays host and pays, is really just a different way of splitting the bill.  The idea is that other people will 请客 at future dinners and over time the costs will be equally shared between all parties.  It’s not quite as precise as everyone paying for their entree and drink, or even as dividing the entire bill into x parts, but I don’t think the monetary difference is huge if the practice is observed as religiously as it is by the Chinese. 

In other matters, like presents, the payback is usually not monetary but is just as important – promotions, favors, deals, etc.  If you include 面子 (face) or 关系 (guanxi) in the calculations as alternate currencies – which they basically are – then I think the Chinese are much less generous than it appears, with expenditures often being matched by receipts.

I certainly don’t want to claim Americans are all extremely generous while the best that can be said of the Chinese is that they are calculating.  I have two caveats:

1) This would be a little biased if I didn’t acknowledge some other aspects of American generosity.  Tax-deductible donations, free advertising, buildings named after you, and even a sense of righteousness or promise of karma are some tangible and intangible benefits to the American-style of generosity. 

2) I’ve observed one exception to the rule of ‘conspicuous spending’ here in China, and in an interesting place.  When I first went to church, I tried to get an idea of how much everyone else put into the collection basket, but found it basically impossible.  They grab a bill out of the wallets, crumple it deep in their hands, and then shove their hands all the way into the basket before releasing the money.  I got a glimpse of color once or twice, but even those are hard to come by.  I wonder why this is; perhaps a conscious reverse from the secular trend, which could encourage pride or a feeling of righteousness?

 

HSK class this afternoon was much less controversial than the morning’s grammar class, but it was grueling.  I don’t think I would use that word to describe any class I’ve attended since coming to China, but today the shoe fit.  Two and a half hours of multiple choice questions requiring us to differentiate between basically synonyms, each sentence including words and characters I didn’t know. 

I’m realizing that the HSK is slightly off the path I want my Chinese studies to follow.  I love the roughness and flexibility of the Chinese language (at least the way I speak it) and, when faced with the prospect of refining it into poetry or at least proper grammar, I grow bored and slightly resentful.  This is a bad attitude, I think.  I think when they came up with the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none”, they were foretelling the story of my life.  Examining my goals for the future, I seem to be striving for mediocrity with a strong distaste for improvement beyond that.  How inspiring . . .

 

It’s been a great opportunity for me to take a break from my engineering studies and come to China for a year to study Chinese.  And it’s been fun being a little bit different than my friends and classmates here, having a different story for “Why are you studying Chinese?” or “How long have you been studying Chinese?”.  But it’s also been a little bit lonely.  So many of my friends, products of the Chinese Department of some university, have contacts all across China – classmates and friends living or traveling over here.  They receive visitors in Xiamen, go to see their friends in other cities, and travel together on breaks. 

Before coming, I imagined that I did, too – I thought that I had a big network of contacts in Asia.  In reality, though, the ‘friends’ were more ‘distant acquaintances’ and ‘possible visitors’ and, not surprisingly, nothing much panned out.  The best success was my visit to Taiwan, in which I met up with the sister and cousin of my language partner from last summer; everything besides that can best be described as an “epic fail”.  I never made it to Japan to see the girl I met at Udall orientation; I never met up with my uncle in India; my cousin didn’t come to visit with her daughter; my former roommate’s brother didn’t call me from Shanghai like he said he would; the family friends who are adopting from Harbin never returned my emails; my closest Chinese friend from back home probably won’t be able to return to China this summer.  I’m still waiting on a response from my friend in Hong Kong but even though I consider him a legitimate friend I’m not super hopeful. 

With the exception of my parents, I have not seen a single person that I knew before August 24th, 2009 since then.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why it is so important for me to return to Jilin and see my friends there. 

Put On Your Dancing Shoes!

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2010 at 1:47 am

This afternoon I joined my friend Liz and her new friend Dani for an adventure towards a shoe repair place.  I had a sinking feeling as soon as I learned the place a) was located by Marco Polo, b) had a business card, and c) was named Luxury Goods Repair, all of which I took as indication that the place would be expensive.

I was right.  They wanted to charge us 270 kuai (almost $40) to repair a broken strap on a purse and 170 kuai ($25) to fix a pair of shoes.  I had four items to be fixed (two purses, a pair of heels, and a pair of rain boots) which, when I bought them, perhaps cost $50 all together.  Needless to say, we did not take them up on their offer. 

Instead, acting on a series of tips and hunches, we made our way up DaXue Lu towards a market where, rumor had it, a guy fixed shoes.  Sure enough we found them, two guys with tiny rooms chock full of every item needed to repair any sort of damage to shoes, leather goods, and umbrellas.  Between us we had new heels put on two pairs of high heels and three purse straps repaired – for a total cost of 15 yuan ($2).  That’s much more like it! 

We had lunch at the Loving Hut, a vegan restaurant in the McDonald’s building.  I really liked it!  For one thing, when you’re not eating meat it’s almost luxurious to go to a restaurant where you can eat absolutely anything on the menu.  Also, the place is clean and even slightly decorated; unlike most of the places I eat here in China, I would perhaps try this place if it were in America.  But most amazing was the service!  After we had eaten our fill a waitress came over, asked if the food was good, offered to pack up the leftovers for us to take home, and checked to see if she could take away our plates.  This might not seem groundbreaking, but trust me when I say that it is by far the most friendly service I’ve ever received in a Chinese restaurant. 

We stayed at the table talking for quite a while after finishing our meal.  (The weather outside is really not conducive to going out; if it’s not outright raining, it’s drizzling!)  We ended up talking about our experiences with beggars here.  We all had really bad experiences to share – like when we gave money to one guy and three others mobbed us; or when we offered them bananas or bread and they demanded the dumplings or cookies we had.  We were all wondering what options are available to the poor and homeless here, like what help they get from the government. 

This also led into a discussion about disabilities, because so many beggars are disabled or severely injured in some way.  Due to its complete lack of handicap-accessibility, China at times seems downright hostile to the disabled.  Since coming to China, I’ve really become appreciative of the American Disability Act.  Sometimes the litigation and political correctness in America can get impractical or tiresome, but I am really very proud of the US for the value that we now afford to people with all sorts of disabilities and the laws that we’ve put in place to protect them.  I know that “better than China” isn’t necessarily a good standard, but I think we do a pretty good job, right? 

Lester was supposed to get out of the hospital yesterday, and then today after an ultrasound, but now his release has been postponed again until Monday.  I went to the hospital to visit him but he’s a hard patient to keep track of!  He goes out every afternoon or evening when he’s done with his IV, so sometimes it’s hard to catch him in his room.  We met in one of the cafeterias on campus for dinner with XuLei, a girl we met in dancing class who has been visiting Lester even more than me. 

I like hanging out with those two.  They’re both great friends and we speak a fun mix of English and Chinese.  She’s one of my Chinese friends who I feel comfortable questioning about aspects of Chinese culture that I don’t understand.  We talked about my good service experience earlier that day and how remarkable it was, which led to a discussion about the nature of service in China and the West.  Really, now that I think about it, maybe it’s not so weird that service is so bad here; workers don’t get respect and they certainly don’t return it.  Unlike in America, where most people work at least one entry-level service job in their lifetime and then move on from there, the really crappy jobs here held for life and those who hold them are looked down on.  New resolution: Be nicer, and give everyone a chance to be nice back. 

This evening XuLei and I went dancing.  I hadn’t been in a few weeks because I’ve been so busy between classes and helping Lester, so it was great to be back.  Everyone was full of questions about Lester and my parents (Dad, the officer says hi!).  I think I danced every dance except two, which can get pretty tiring!  But I hadn’t been to The Key in a few weeks, either, so I convinced XuLei to go out with us afterwards.

We met up with Leinira and some other friends and first went to Havana Beach, a bar that just opened this weekend.  (By ‘just opened’, we really mean that it changed names and perhaps theme; this happens almost weekly in Xiamen.)  Leinira knew somebody there so we enjoyed a round of free sangria before going to The Key.  It was XuLei’s first time in a bar, but she really seemed to enjoy it!  We didn’t stay very late because – get this! – she has class tomorrow (Sunday) at 8 a.m.!  Anyway, it’s probably just what I needed: dance ‘til you’re exhausted to some Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas, Akon, Bon Jovi, and Katy Perry, then go home and crash. 

The Best Thing About America

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2010 at 1:01 am

I remember why I love Xiamen. 

There’s not many of us around right now during the ‘winter vacation’ but those of us that are get to enjoy Xiamen’s spring weather.  One of my friends invited me to a barbecue today, so I joined about 30 of her friends for a perfect afternoon outside.  We went to a sort of coffee house back in some village right off the beach, where we soon covered the table with food.  There was a ridiculously delicious potato-and-egg salad, insanely flavorful meat, and a wide variety of vegetables. 

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Then I busted out the jumbo marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate that my parents brought over from America and things really got exciting. I think a lot of Western countries eat marshmallows – even roasted over a fire – but for some reason no one besides Americans think of adding chocolate and graham crackers to it.  It’s really their loss, but it’s one I’m trying to rectify – one bag of marshmallows at a time.  It’s pretty much the best thing about America, and I can’t think of a better thing to share with the world. 

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Speaking of America, apparently there’s a new group of Americans at XiaDa.  Since Eva and the guys from UNC left, I don’t have any American friends left, but maybe that’ll be changing soon.  Now I find myself scrutinizing every unknown foreigner I see at West Gate, wondering if they’re an American.  It’s really hard.  The best clues are English t-shirts that actually make sense, jeans that aren’t aggressively acid-washed, and meeting the eyes of strangers with a smile.

Anyway, I met lots of new people today.  I met two girls who know where there is a piano on campus and an Iranian guy who is looking forward to Ahmadinejad’s possible resignation tomorrow.  I also got in an argument with a guy from South Africa about the Chinese habit of shoving.  He kept saying that’s how things are, and you should just get used to it.  A lot of foreigners seem to pride themselves on how perfectly they’ve adapted to Chinese culture and, while it’s tempting to compete, my goal is not to be Chinese.  I live in China, but I am not of China. 

A lot of the parties were Spanish-speakers an it was weird to hear Spanish spoken more than Chinese.  I still understand a lot, but I am resolved to never lose my Chinese like I’ve lost my Spanish.  I’m sad that I can no longer speak it, certainly, but whatever Spanish I had came to me pretty effortlessly; easy come, easy go.  Chinese, though . . . I did not go through this year just for fun, and I will keep it up. 

I’ve also figured out that I am officially obsessed with graduating from college.  Someone said they were going to be in Xiamen for three years and the first thought in my mind was, “I hope I’ve graduated by then”.  That’s a little ridiculous, isn’t it?  Before this ‘China Year’ I was only marginally more excited about graduating from college than I was about graduating from high school.  It was just one of those things that I was going to do – for sure, like getting up in the morning or getting dressed (most days, at least!).  It doesn’t become a big deal until something threatens the inevitability of the seemingly-inevitable.  I know I’ll graduate, but it’s going to be on my mind until I do.

It’s supposed to be getting cold and rainy, starting tomorrow.  It’s okay, I think I can handle it now – but I seriously thank God for the past two days.