Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘anniversaries’

National Day of Mourning

In Uncategorized on September 11, 2011 at 9:19 pm

The last few days, I’ve been wondering how to observe the ten-year anniversary of September 11th.  I’m on the road to Stanford and had about 5 hours of driving to do, so the options were somewhat limited.  It’s Sunday, so I went to Mass this morning, but then I hit the road, arriving in Dallas to have dinner with family. 

Actually, though, I ushered the day in at Caravan, two-stepping and line dancing with friends.  It felt a little bit weird, and I was torn between the desire to observe the day with solemnity and to appreciate the simple pleasures in life, in honor of those who died. 

It made me remember, very vividly, the day of mourning after the 2010 Qinghai earthquake in China.  A 6.9 earthquake struck Yushu, Qinghai (western China) on April 14th, killing nearly 3,000 people.  7 days later, a national day of mourning was declared, with a sort of enforced sobriety over the entire country. 

Today, the 7th day after 青海玉树地震 (the earthquake in YuShu, QingHai), was a 全国哀悼日 (national day of mourning).  The Chinese seem to take this very seriously – in addition to a moment of silence and all flags 降半旗 (at half-staff), there was basically no public entertainment in the entire country – no music downloads, no QQ games, no karaoke, no dancing.  Some Chinese websites went gray; others shut down.  I kind of like how they do this, making it nearly impossible to go through the day without pausing a few times to think of the victims, survivors, and rescue workers.

I remember it mainly because the social dancing group, about the most regular activity that I ever encountered in China, didn’t meet because there was essentially no dancing that day.

Obviously there are differences here – terrorist attack versus natural disaster; 7 days later versus 10 years.  Also a total difference between governments; could you imagine the US government mandating such an observance?

A small part of me wishes that we had no choice today but to remember.  But I suppose, America is all about choice.  We can choose to remember – or not – and how.

Beach Bumming – Finally!

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 2:38 am

After spending an entire day yesterday trying to do something we’d been planning for weeks, today’s impromptu shopping trip went fabulously.  Well, the photography company has completely disappeared and no one sells piano music and my feet are still impossibly large, but still.  I got two things that had been specifically requested by people back home, and that’s kind of amazing. 

I took the bus back to campus, thinking only of a shower.  But then I got off the bus at Baicheng and one look at the beach made me forget about that.  I called Aleid, who just happened to be at the beach already!  I joined her as quickly as I could, and we spent the afternoon soaking up the sun, sea, and sand.


When I found out I was coming to a tropical island this year, a few people made comments along the lines of “You’re going to be a complete beach bum!”.  That really took me by surprise, because I’m not really a beach person.  If I’m partial to any part of the US, it’s the Heartland, and I think I’ve only been to the ocean once down in Rockport, TX.  I can swim fine but I don’t adore it, and while I like my skin bronze I would never seriously devote time to getting it that way.  So yeah, sometimes I feel like Xiamen has been wasted on me.  I’ve had several memorable occasions on the beach, but today was my first time swimming in the ocean here and really my first time sunbathing. 

It was great, though.  I’ll have to do it again!

I cleaned up in time for a pre-game dinner with the Netherlands contingent, followed by the Netherlands-Slovakia game.  (Following quotes are from the NYT live updates during the game.)

Pre-game musings: For the Netherlands, as always, the question is when. When will it all go wrong? Fatalism and realism go hand in hand when it comes to Dutch soccer which, when played well, can be some of the best you’ll ever see. Every four years the Netherlands cobbles together skillful players and cheerful fans and high hopes, and every four years something seems to go wrong. Like the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox, the Oranje always seem to find a way NOT to win it all.

The first half wasn’t too exciting, with the Dutch basically in control but not doing much with that. 

Minute 29 – [The Slovakians] just won a free kick in the Netherlands’ half, however, so Stekelenberg has put down his drink and folded up his lawn chair just in case. He stands it next to the goal so he won’t have to go far to retrieve it in a moment.

One of the most interesting events was when they stopped the clock momentarily – a big deal in soccer!

Minute 35 – The game is stopped briefly to give the far-side linesman a new flag. But heaven forbid they ever stop a game to see if a ball, you know, crossed the line or not.

The second half saw another beautiful Dutch goal, and generally more action from their stars.  I’m learning them by name, under the tutelage of Diederik: Sneijder, Robben, and Kuyt.  Kuyt’s name is the world for the calf muscle, which apparently is pretty fitting. 

Minute 59 – Van Persie drills the free kick right onto the fists of Mucha, who is then run down by a charging Kuyt (is there any other kind of Kuyt?).

Minute 60 – Kuyt runs so hard he could play for the U.S. Except he scores from time to time from the forward spot, so maybe he wouldn’t fit in.

It was looking like a 2-0 finish, and Diederik was excited about moving up in the pool.  But the referee called a penalty on the Dutch keeper and (dictated by some logic I can’t grasp) this meant one of the Slovakian players got to kick the ball at the goal with only the goalkeeper to try and stop him.  He tried, and failed: 2-1!  This was the score I had predicted (using the very scientific method of writing “2-1” for every single game in this round), so maybe I’m beating Diederik again?  Even a broken clock is right twice a day!

One of the Slovakian players (Hamsik) had a Chinese-looking tattoo on his neck, sparking a discussion between Aleid and I.  I did some checking online when I got back and found some pictures to scrutinize, but I also accidentally looked at about 30 pictures of the neck of another Slovenian player (Skrtel).  Apparently he is kind of a beast, as evidenced by this list of Chuck Norris-like hyperbole


Also – as of today, I have been keeping a journal for 6 years.  If I were still using that old livejournal account, it would be 6 today!  This will be post #2,080 – covering 6 years, 3 schools, 5 countries, 3 boyfriends, and countless memories.  My journal is where I write about what makes me happy and complain about what stresses me out.  It’s where I write my plans for the future, and it’s where I look back on earlier entries so I can laugh about what became of those plans.

It’s been fun writing for people to read again, but my journal will be around long after I go back to the States next month.

Hand on the Plow

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2010 at 5:14 am

Said goodbye to Kristina this morning.  There are no more Slovenians now, not until I go visit them.  It is a sad day for Xiamen.

I felt much worse this morning, so I spent the day in my room.  I finally finished a Chinese movie I’ve been working on, 非诚勿扰 (If You Are the One).  I can tell it’s funny (about a guy looking for a wife) but it’s much harder than the other trashy movies I’ve been watching, so I only pick up a third or so of the actual words. 

Today is my 10-month anniversary in Xiamen, but I didn’t do much in the way of celebrating.  Still, 10 months is a long time, isn’t it?  Most study abroad programs are for a semester – and a short one at that – so as far as study abroad goes, this year has been a marathon.  I’ve been in Xiamen longer than any of last year’s freshman have been at TU!

I did manage to get to Mass this evening, although the single apple I had eaten left me so weak I thought I was going to faint as I genuflected.  Today’s Gospel ended with “手扶着梨儿向后看的,不适于天主的国”, or “He who looks back while his hand is on the plow is not fit for the kingdom of God.”  Sweet, I learned the word for ‘plow’!  I also caught most of Bishop Cai’s homily and what he said really caused me to think about the things in my life that accompany me on the straight and narrow, and the things that try to make me turn back. 

After Mass, I got a mango fruit juice from my favorite juice stand.  It had been 5 days since I had tasted something so deliciously flavorful!  My stomach felt fine afterwards – but even if not, I decided it was about time my mouth felt good. 

I went dancing only because Lester leaves on Tuesday and it was my last chance to dance with him.  We did the cha-cha, it was good.  I also danced three other songs and didn’t even pass out or anything.

Now I’m back in my room.  I ate a banana and apparently not all fruit is okay with my stomach . . . Also, there’s a cockroach in my room and I’m afraid to go to the bathroom because he’s over there.  Seriously, though, I’ve seen smaller cats!  I considered calling a friend to help me but I don’t like to think of myself as that kind of girl and would hate for others to.  So I will just hold it in, I guess, and sleep with eyes open and mouth shut.

The Uruguay-Korea game just finished, 2:1 with Uruguay continuing on.  Great way to start off the final round, because that’s exactly the score I predicted!  I’m currently 5th out of 10 in the standings of our pool – while it’s true that four of them have been lax in submitting their brackets, I am legitimately beating Diederik.  Will wonders never cease?


Update: I woke up at 3:47 a.m., an hour and a half after my alarm was supposed to go off.  The US-Ghana game started at 2:30, but my alarm didn’t work and only the faint cheering on TV finally roused me.  It was looking like a typical American game – Ghana had scored first, but Donovan’s goal (which caused the cheering) tied the game.

No worries about missing the first hour of the game.  I got to watch the last half hour and, when it was still tied, got to experience my first ever overtime football match.  It’s kind of intense – they add 30 minutes to the game, which is 1/3 of the original length again!

They worked hard, but lost 2-1 and we’re out of the tournament.  I would like to extend a thank you to “the guys”, though: Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Bocanegra, Bradley, and guy-with-the-long-name.  You’re the first American football (well, American soccer?) players I knew and in fact, I learned your names right around the time I found out who Maradona and Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were.  You played well, keeping me invested through four long (one really long!) games, cheering for you all the way.  Thanks for your hard work, and maybe I’ll see you on the field in the future? 

Especially you, Donovan – you’re cute. 

The Quick Way To Learn A Language

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2010 at 4:00 am

After a weekend that wasn’t and three weekdays that weren’t, we finally had kind of a ‘normal’ day (quite hard to come by in China).  Today actually resembled a Thursday, with afternoon class and everything. 

But of course, a ‘normal’ day in China is still crazy.  Our Listening teacher told us that our final will be on the 8th of July, which is both an entire week before the finals week as indicated on the schedule we got at the beginning of the year, and right in the middle of my trip to Hangzhou.  She moved it up because a bunch of students are leaving early.  Um, so??  You’re free to leave school early in America, too – but you have to accept the consequences, including missing the final and not receiving a score.  But if there’s one thing our teachers here excel at, it’s pandering to the foreigners. 

I think this is so ridiculous – and totally ineffective, too, as students have been leaving in increasing amounts for several weeks already.  It’s part of the reason why our scholarships, which might have been an intelligent investment on the part of the Chinese government, are actually just a way for them to throw away money.  We’re completely free to miss weeks of class at a time, including finals, with absolutely no repercussions.  Part of this is because many of us aren’t degree-seeking students, but considering we draw a $250 monthly stipend, I could think of some financial carrots and sticks that they could be employing.

But it’s really not a big deal.  I should have no problem taking the finals when I want either. 


Today also wasn’t quite normal because, as of today, I have been studying Chinese for one year.  That’s kind of crazy, right?  A year ago, I knew about 100 characters that I learned from a “Your First 250 Chinese Characters” book.  My grammar was nonexistent and my vocabulary was one-third basic essentials, one-third construction or farm-related, and one-third plain wrong.  I knew the four tones theoretically but couldn’t produce them consistently or even recognizably.  I thought I could read pinyin but still didn’t understand why ‘qu’ and ‘chu’ don’t rhyme, and why ‘yi’, ‘si’, ‘chi’ & ‘hui’ all sound completely different.  I could “get by” with extremely patient Chinese but only if they used my very specific set of vocabulary (specific and very randomly selective; for instance I had trouble believing that 也 was an actual word that people use). 

Yes, it was one year ago that I began studying Chinese.  I took an intensive summer course at the University of Minnesota, in which my 20 classmates and I covered a year’s worth of material in 10 weeks.  I had a weekend of ‘summer’ once school ended, and then came to Xiamen where the learning process hasn’t been confined to four hours per day.  It kind of seems like a year isn’t that long, but with a year as intense as this one has been, it feels about right.

But if you’re daunted by such a year, don’t worry.  Apparently there was a much easier way to go about this language-learning thing, which a friend of mine was kind enough to point out to me:

Michelle: Hey congratulations on your scholarship. That’s fantastic.
me: hey! thanks
Michelle: You should know though . . . I got a Google Targeted ad from your email that their is a program where you can learn foreign languages in just one week, so you are wasting your time.  $19.95 plus shipping – I can give you a scholarship for that.
me: oh man, I feel silly now
Michelle: yeah
me: where were you a few months ago . . .
Michelle: You should do a little research next time.
me: well, I’ve learned my lesson now
Michelle: good


While our language courses will continue for nearly a month (if we feel like hanging around for them), the other programs have already been finished a few weeks.  This means the frequency of going-away parties is really picking up; tonight it was time to say goodbye to Jeremie and Justine, two of Aleid’s French roommates.  There was a party at their apartment, so we headed over after dinner.  Another French guy, Benjamin, was the DJ, playing a mix of 90’s hits and music from all over the world.  I must say, that was my first time singing Dragostea Din Tei with Romanians!  There were also requests for some classic dance songs, and we somehow found the floor space to do a rousing Cotton-Eyed Joe and Macarena.  It was amazing.

I’m usually one of the first to leave parties but tonight I wasn’t tired so I stayed around.  We danced, we talked, we sang, and apparently we got a little loud because they turned the electricity off.  This, of course, called for French drinking songs bellowed in the lighter-illuminated room, but somehow they successfully begged the guard to turn the electricity back on.  It wasn’t until they turned it off again that we left.

The French were playing Mexico in an hour or so, so we decided to go to Paradise to watch the game.  We hung out on the side of the road, about 30 foreigners waiting for taxis to take us, four-at-a-time, to the bar.  The number slowly decreased until there were about two or three taxis worth of people still waiting, when we discovered an alternative better to taxis!

A bus – Xiamen public transit sort of bus – drove by, slowed down to stare at us, and someone asked if it would take us to Minzu Road.  The guy thought about it for a second, but once we offered him 20 kuai ($3), he agreed.  We have no idea what a bus was doing driving along that road at 2 a.m., but I’m glad it was!  We rode in style, with tons of room, for the same amount of money we would have paid for one taxi.  I’m kind of jealous that Jeremie and Justine got to do that on their last night in country . . .

I didn’t stay too long at Paradise, but I did watch half of the French/Mexican game.  It was even more boring than the previous boring first halves I’ve watched, so maybe I’ll start watching only second halves?

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand, Six Hundred Minutes

In Uncategorized on June 6, 2010 at 11:00 pm

I saw Iron Man 2 today!  It was wonderful.  Jelle and I have an idea for a new movie – 90 minutes of Robert Downey Jr. reading the phonebook; you would go see it, right?  But seriously, I especially love his character.  He’s good-looking, funny, intelligent – and he can WELD.  I want you, I need you, oh baby, oh baby.  I either want to marry him, or be him. 

Interesting story: I first saw Iron Man in China.  We bought the DVD at Mob Boss’ store and watched it on my laptop.  That summer I was even more out of touch than I am this year, and had never heard of it before someone picked it out.  We watched it in English, of course, but our copy was so sketchy that random words were dubbed in Chinese.  It was barely noticeable until the very last scene.  Tony Stark was at a press conference addressed a crowd of reporters, when he finally admitted: “The truth is . . . 我是钢铁侠.”  It was hysterical. 

After the movie, I took Jelle to the secret DVD shop where I bought Iron Man 1 & 2.  I also happened upon 杀人漫画2 – the second part of the horrible movie we watched on Friday – and you know I bought that.  Can’t wait to see if we get any resolution after this one!  For dinner, I took him to the Dongbei restaurant where I introduced him to the delicious mushu pork :) 


While we were over on Zhongshan Lu, I bought sweet potato wedges and the lady complimented my Chinese.  She asked how long I’ve been in China (they always ask this instead of how long you’ve been studying, which is interesting, no?) and, after a second’s pause, I answered: one year. 

In fact, it is one year as of today.  I came to Xiamen on August 26th, but overall this is the 365th day that I have spent in China.  (Yes I counted; don’t even go there.)  Today is also, incidentally, exactly four years after my high school graduation.  (Yes, we graduated on 6/6/06, but things have been going pretty well for me so far.) 

So, putting these two things together, it means that I have spent a quarter of my life since high school in China!  This is kind of crazy because if, on graduation day, you had asked me to make a list of 20 countries I might go to in college, I’m fairly certain China would not have been on there. 

It also means that, since high school, I have spent more time in China than I have at home in Coon Rapids.  Another reason why the concept of ‘home’ is so fluid for me . . .

My time in China is still nowhere near as long as my time at TU, but it has been more constant.  I’ve changed housing every year of college, and even once during winter break.  I think on average, I basically moved every four months or so.  Here, on the other hand, I’ve lived in the same room with the same roommate, spent 80% of my time here, and have not been gone longer than two consecutive weeks. 

Mother of China and of All Asia, Pray for Us

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2010 at 10:37 am

May 24th, 2007: My first day in China

May 24th, 2007: The first International Day of Prayer for the Church in China

From a short assessment trip to China three years ago, to what occasionally seems to be a year-long crash course on Catholicism in China, it’s been an interesting path.  At that time, I can’t say I was really aware that the Church was in China; now I find myself a daily witness to its existence.

The other night at DongFang, I met a friend of some friends of my friends, and ended up telling him a little about my experiences with the Church in China.  Like so many foreigners, he had no idea about the situation here.  There’s misinformation and, to a certain extent, prejudice and assumptions that prevent us from knowing the truth: what is it like to be Christian in China?

My experiences are not authoritative, but I’m glad to share what I know.  There is good news: the Catholic Church is here, with consecrated priests, beautiful churches, valid sacraments, and [some] legitimate bishops.  Chinese bibles (printed by the Patriotic Associations but, as far as I can tell, completely normal) are available, and most bookstores sell compilations of Bible stories.  In registered churches at least, foreigners and Chinese can worship together.  Even some house churches – sometimes with thousands of members – are tolerated by the authorities and allowed to operate relatively openly.

But it’s not all good news.

The freedoms that Christians enjoy are enjoyed at the whims of the government.  Some house churches are tolerated; others have their buildings razed and their leaders arrested.  Some bishops are recognized by both the government and the Vatican; others have been missing for months and even years.  The Bible is available but the Diocese of Hong Kong’s website is usually blocked.  There’s a beautiful cathedral to Mary, Help of Christians at Sheshan in Shanghai but they’ve imposed restrictions on pilgrimages during the Marian month of May.  It’s all a balancing act, in which the government tries to figure out which is going to be more of a hassle – letting the Christians do want they want, or dealing with the rest of the world if they don’t.

I know all of that, but what resounds most in my personal experiences is the isolation they experience.

The isolation of the mainland is impressive – in many areas, but especially Christianity.  The internet is censored; the Cardinal Kung Foundation website and are blocked (in fact, after a few such sensitive searches, all Google searches on my computer seem to be blocked).  But even when sites are accessible and available in Chinese (like the Vatican’s website), they’re often in traditional characters.  The PRC is the only nation that uses simplified Chinese characters, which has made it very hard for me to find texts that I can read.

Another thing I’ve noticed is the divisions brought about by differences in vocabulary, maybe caused when missionaries of different denominations did their own translation.  The books of the Bible are different for Christians and Catholics, and the two even call God by different names (天主 for Catholics and 上帝 for other Christians).  Perhaps because of this, Christianity and Catholicism are viewed as two mutually exclusive religions, instead of closely-related subsets.  Catholics in China are not only divided from Catholics throughout the rest of the world, but they also seem largely deprived of fellowship with their fellow Chinese Christians.

And then there is the internal disunity in the Chinese Catholic Church, the tension between the underground and patriotic churches.  I haven’t witnessed this too much, but I have on occasion seen some scorn surface when discussing the patriotic church.  This ostracization is another source of isolation, especially for Chinese bishops who are trying to maintain good standing with both the government and the Vatican so as to better tend their flock.

What I’m trying to say here is, there’s a desperate need for unity in the Church in China.  I believe that government control and divisions imposed from without are no match for mutual love and understanding, humility and forgiveness – and prayer.

Today, the Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, has been declared as an International Day of Prayer for the Church in China.  And so I pray the words written by Pope Benedict when he dedicated the day for this purpose:

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. . .

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.


Adventuring Towards . . . Life

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2010 at 1:00 am

It’s that time of the month again – of course, I’m referring to the 26th, the anniversary of my arrival in Xiamen.  Today I am marking 8 months here!  As that count increases, the number of months until I go home becomes a more manageable number.  Funny how that works, eh? 

This has been the month when it really sank it that I’m missing ‘my’ senior year – it happened somewhere between turning 22 and hearing about my classmates’ grad school choices.  I’ve been dealing with it pretty well, though – obviously it’s more than a little sad for me, but I’ve also realized that I can’t miss a year of my own life.  I’m missing out on the senior year that I would have had if I had followed the traditional route, but I took the road less traveled and – let me tell you – that has made all the difference. 

Maybe this was long ago apparent to everyone else, but I literally realized last week of the deeper meaning behind my blog title.  I chose it because my first trips to China introduced me to the joy and surprises that await when you allow yourself to be flexible with details of a trip – things like the destination, arrival time, mode of transportation, etc.  Seeing how easy it was to have grand adventures this way, even I (type-A engineering-minded perfectionist) learned to let go a little, get on random buses, say “yes” when anyone invites me anywhere, and not worry when the train leaves a few hours late. 

But I seriously never considered applying this way of thought to anything larger than traveling.  I know that someone said “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”, but I never understood that quote because I was too busy making plans to pay attention.  It wasn’t until after I wrote last week’s post about the crazy adventures being instigated by the volcano, that I realized how true my words were:

As the title of this blog indicates, I’ve come to embrace the “adventure” style of traveling that I was first introduced to on crazy taxi rides in Jilin.  When I travel, I “adventure” towards a destination – hoping to eventually get there, but remaining open to experimental modes of travel and possibly even alternate destinations if they come up as options or necessities.  It can be stressful if traveling on a deadline but is an unusually rich source of interesting stories: Nearly getting sold into white slavery only kilometers from the Russian border.  An unexpected 3-day vacation in Yanji instead of taking finals back home.  Sharing a toothbrush with Aleid because our hosts insisted we stay the night.

Life is an adventure.  It’s probably on all sorts of motivational posters, but cliché doesn’t make things untrue.  At least since high school, I have been headed towards college graduation in 2010 and grad school after that.  There were slight deviations from the plan along the way (for instance, the ‘drastic’ major change from Engineering Physics to Mechanical Engineering), but mainly I stayed true to the original itinerary.  It made sense!  It’s like flying from China to the States: yes, there are other options, but ‘rowboat’ doesn’t really seem like a valid one so you go with the default.

But when I applied for this scholarship, I got off the beaten road and started adventuring.  I’m still heading in the same general direction – graduating from college and probably grad school afterwards – but I’ve stopped obsessing about the when’s, where’s, and how’s.  There has been a little bit of stress when I fall back into the mode of worrying about deadlines, but there has been no shortage of interesting stories and amazing experiences.  


Speaking of goals I’ve long since given up, today should have been my last day of undergrad.  Everyone’s facebook statuses are variations on the theme of “OMG this is my last XXXX ever!”, but since we’re just headed into midterms over here, it all seems a little too surreal for me to be sad about it.  I remember the summer after my freshman year, on the Newman pilgrimage to Italy, how Stephen and I spent one afternoon together wandering the streets of Rome.  Neither of us remembers really clearly what we did, because later we found out that a bunch of our friends had followed a Marian procession into St. Peter’s Basilica for a Mass in honor of Our Lady of Fatima.  Within months, we had forgotten what we had done and were left only with memories of what we hadn’t done.  I guess that was a fear that I had when coming here, but it turned out to be unfounded. 


Today after class, I bought my return ticket from Changchun, went to the tailor to pick up my pants and order a pair of trouser shorts and a dress, and went to my very first Chinese choir practice.  I really only know the young men in choir, but apparently pretty much everyone knows me.  The other day when I was going up the stairs to the choir loft to ask if I could join, a woman I swear I’d never seen before asked me if I was going to play piano like I usually do; today the woman I sat next to didn’t know my name but did remember when my parents came and what they looked like. 

We started out by going through the Misa de Angelis, the Latin chant setting we’re using for the Mass parts.  It was so familiar and comforting, like pulling on a pair of sweatpants warm from the dryer.  (I haven’t seen a dryer in 8 months, but I vaguely remember that being a really good feeling.)  The words came back quickly and the melody never really left my heart.  I am really impressed with how the choir sounds (although compared with my old chanting buddy Stephen, almost anything would be an improvement).  Their pronunciation is a little off, though – for instance, they say “gum spiritu shantu” instead of “cum spiritu sanctu”. 

The music for the ordination Mass is only partially in Latin, which means I quickly lost the advantage.  I sure got my Chinese reading practice in for the day; I hope I get extra credit, because some of the characters were hand-written.  Singing in Chinese is even more complicated than you probably imagine.  In addition to the lyrics being in characters, the tune is written as numbers instead of notes on a staff.  There’s no visual aide to help figure out the melody, and it means that when they discuss certain parts of the music they refer to “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do” instead of “C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C”.  When you sing, you pray twice; when you sing in Chinese, you translate three times. 

I never really figured out exactly who the people were who gave me a ride home.  I also never really figured exactly what the snack was that Fr. Cai gave me on my way out – it somehow tasted EXACTLY like a smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich despite containing no fruit or anything resembling bread. 

But that’s part of the adventure, right?  The little surprises and big joys are what made today wonderful, a day that I’m pretty sure I’ll remember as more than just the day I didn’t finish college.


In Uncategorized on March 29, 2010 at 12:16 am

The particle 了 is perhaps one of the hardest parts of Chinese.  It indicates something that has already happened, unless it is indicating a new, changed situation.  Or unless it’s just there for funsies, as it often seems.  I try to mimic the way native speakers use 了, but usually end up just throwing it in my speech occasionally.  The complicated conjugation of verbs in most languages is a mixed blessing perhaps – it may be hard to produce output, but it makes interpreting input much easier, I think.

Reason for this grammar lesson?  Today is one of those precious few situations in which I know exactly how to use 了.  Yesterday I was 21, and I honestly don’t know if that requires a 了 indicating a past event.  BUT today I am 22 了, indicating a new situation.  Today I am 老 (old) 了. 

I felt a little old this morning, waking up after barely 2 hours of sleep.  I met up with Jelle, a Dutch friend who wanted to go to Mass with me, and we headed over to Gulangyu.  When we got there, the congregation was doing the Stations of the Cross before Mass, so we joined in for the end.  Today is Palm (or Passion) Sunday, when we remember Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem – greeted by disciples waving palms – shortly before his crucifixion.  Thus, before Mass started we all went out into the courtyard to receive palms, have them blessed, and process into the church.  It was interesting celebrating Palm Sunday on a tropical island; the palms were different than the imported ones we use back home!

The other special thing about Palm Sunday Mass is the Gospel, which is the complete account of Jesus’ passion, from the Last Supper to the crucifixion.  Unlike the Gospel every other Sunday, this one is read in a narrative form with a narrator, Jesus voiced by the priest, and the other parts read by the congregation.  The Passion narrative is exceptionally long (13 pages today, compared with half a page on a usual Sunday), but I really appreciate it every year.  It’s a powerful experience – yelling “Crucify him! Crucify him!”, denying three times that you know Jesus, asking Him to remember you when He comes into His kingdom – playing the roles of jealous Pharisee, unfaithful apostle, and repentant thief.  This year was like every other year, only that when I condemned Him to death, when I denied Him, and when I asked His forgiveness, I was joining the rest of the congregation in Chinese. 

In the afternoon, I joined some friends for lunch outside – like a picnic, but our food was delivered from the Caiqingjie restaurant about 20m away.  It was a little bit windy but the sun was out in full force and thus a beautiful day.

Last night’s lack of sleep caught up with me around 3 in the afternoon, when I barely got myself to my bed before passing out for a few hours.  Both yesterday’s and today’s naps were actually longer than the sleep I got last night!!

Aleid and I went out for a late dinner tonight.  It was delightful except for the Chinese guys at the next table who kept trying to buy us beer.  I have come to the conclusion that there should be an entire unit in each class on getting mad, being forceful, or refusing effectively.  This is a serious hole in my Chinese language knowledge.

Back at my dorm, I received several visitors – Carlos to eat my peanut butter cookies, and XuLei and XiaoYang bringing more presents.  Our conversations included such topics as whether or not you can turn baozi into mantou by removing the filling (which apparently you can’t); the significance of a guy asking for a girl’s number in China (possibly nothing, but in this case we think there might be something between LiXiang and DongWei); whether or not XuLei is the worst person ever at keeping track of her cell phone (a resounding yes – even worse than me!); and how to say ‘bra’ in Chinese (which they wouldn’t tell me in front of Lester).  My friends here make me smile.

58.3333333% Of A Year

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 at 11:14 pm

This morning was so awesome.  Kristina came over with a stack of surveys, a spreadsheet full of data, and no idea what to do with it.  Bliss!  I calculated like a fiend, transposed rows and columns like a mad man, and created graphs like there was no tomorrow.  I even pulled out the special numerical keypad that I bought on the cheap here for intensive data-entry sessions when I return to my life as an engineering student.  It works like a charm, by the way. 

Her thesis is on body image in Chinese and Western females and the results of her survey (questions answered by 50 women from each group) are very interesting.  There’s a ton of data to look at – height, weight, BMI, body dissatisfaction, eating habits, sources of pressure, etc.  Double bar graphs, stacked bar graphs, scatter plots, and pie charts – long time no see!  I’ve missed you. 

I really enjoyed working with Kristina on this.  I knew it was a big help to her, but I also enjoyed seeing the results of her work – especially unfolding before us in real time!  I’m also a ridiculous graph snob, so I know I’ll sleep a little bit better tonight knowing I saved the world from one more poorly-labeled, confusing graph (or worse!  The main precedent Kristina’s been following used tables almost exclusively; it made me feel unwell just looking at her report).  I think I like math and science, how they’re built on such simple foundations but can be combined and derived into such complex and amazing things, but I think I’m just as passionate about communicating.  The best inventions, the most innovative conclusions, and the most promising proposals are nothing if no one understands them, and sometimes I see my calling in that.  Organizing data into an accessible form is just one manifestation, albeit one that brings me great pleasure.

The afternoon was also awesome.  After asking around last week, I found out that Dorothy, a Filipina woman from church, has an oven and allowed me to come over and bake.  I made two batches of my family’s special Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (substituting yogurt for sour cream, which is nonexistent in China) for the planned double-birthday celebrations tomorrow.  I haven’t seen a 13×9 pan in 7 months, so I ended up making 4 medium round cakes and three tiny cakes.  I hope it’s enough!

Today, as my calendar reminds me, is the 26th of March – my 7-month anniversary.  It hasn’t seemed that long since the big 6-month mark, but looking back through my journal (which is, after all, why I keep it), a lot has happened:  We started classes again – 二年下 for me, plus two challenging optional courses.  I spent two weeks visiting Lester in the hospital, and along the way became much closer to him and to a few of our mutual Chinese friends.  I learned and have nearly memorized the main texts of Night Prayer, which I now pray in a comfortable combination of English, Chinese, Spanish, and Latin.  I lucked out in stumbling upon a few things I’d hesitated to even look for here in China: Catan, confession, and pants that fit me.  I finally crossed a few things off my bucket list when we found a cheap cobbler, ordered custom-made clothes from a tailor, and visited the Xiamen Botanical Garden.  I started making travel plans for the remainder of my time here, and even looked at plane tickets home.  What with Fall 2010 registration just around the corner, it sure does seem close . . .

Espanol, Que En Paz Descanse

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2010 at 11:48 pm

This afternoon I went to my new oral and listening classes for the first time.  I like all three of my teachers, which is a good portend for the semester to come,and we’re using a new series of textbooks that is much better written than before.  I was a little concerned about oral because, even before class, I read through the text without any problems and understood it, but now that I think about it maybe it will just be a better opportunity to focus on speaking well what I already know.  The teacher is very enthusiastic and made us talk a lot, which is pretty much the most important thing in 口语 anyway. 

The listening teacher went a little bit too slow, but sped up even through the first class. We did half of one lesson and then watched an animated video about the origin of the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival.  Apparently there was this monster who terrorized a village one winter until he was run off by the only three things he’s afraid of: fire, loud sounds, and the color red.  Xiamen’s Spring Festival lacked the fireworks that dominate the celebration in most of China, so fire and loud sounds were somewhat lacking, but there’s still no way the monster would come anywhere near . . . The Chinese do love the color red!

I went over to the hospital twice today and spent an hour in the Overseas Education Office trying to help Lester with some issues he’s facing right now.  He picked a really bad time to get sick, as his insurance expired on Sunday and his residence permit needs to be renewed by March 10th. 

It’s meant some extra work for me and a little less sleep than I would have liked, but I’m really glad that Lester called me on Saturday.  I really do like to help others, but I’m not one of those people who always knows what to do without being asked.  When I heard he was sick, I told him to call me and he did, so I’m happy to help out. 

I mainly offered because I know he’s only been studying for a semester and, like most of us who aren’t fluent, tends to agree when he doesn’t understand.  It’s fine in most situations, but I think urgent hospital visits are not “most situations”.  My Chinese might not even be enough, but I’m at least able to get honest answers from him when the nurse asks if he has 大便 (pooped) instead of him just absentmindedly nodding. 

While there are a lot of us foreigners here at XiaDa studying Chinese, there are also a lot who are taking masters degrees in English.  The lucky ones, like Leinira, got the Chinese government to cover an additional year for Chinese language study, but the unlucky ones, like Deni, just plunge right into their studies.  Yeah, their classes may be taught in English, but Lester’s experience in the hospital has shown me how important it is to have basic language skills relevant to your country of residence.  Lester is practically fluent in comparison to some people I know who can barely count; what happens when one of them ends up in a hospital – where, unlike their classes, the language of importance is CHINESE?  I think they should either finance a year of language study for all students or hire a fluent translator whose services are free.  It’s just ridiculous to expect us to negotiate the 麻烦 of this country without adequate language skills. 

We’re lucky that Chinese hospitals are so liberal in their visitation rules.  It’s probably less luck, actually, and more necessity.  In addition to IV-watching duty, visitors are also sometimes charged with menial tasks around the hospital.  I’ve had to run paperwork between different floors, and one of Lester’s friends has to pick up his blood sample in the morning and take it over to the other hospital in Xiamen.  Can you imagine that happening in America?

As I stopped to pick up some bread for Lester (who may be able to start eating tomorrow!) I met a new student from Spain and we made plans to meet tomorrow for lunch.  I wanted to invite Carlos, so I decided to challenge myself and write the text message in Spanish.  All I wanted to say was: “I just met a guy from Spain; do you want to have lunch together tomorrow?”  The Chinese translation is easy enough that it almost doesn’t require thought: “我刚刚认识的歌西班牙人,你明天想跟我们一起去吃午饭吗?”, but the Spanish translation was quite slow in coming:

Hmmm, how do you say 刚刚 in Spanish?  ‘Acabo’?  Then I think you have to add a ‘de’ . . . ‘Encontrar’ is pretty easy because the Chinese word, 遇到, hasn’t really taken root in my mind yet.  I’m not actually sure how to say ‘Spaniard’ -  is it ‘Espanolo’?  That doesn’t sound right.  I’ll just say ‘a student from Spain’, which is ‘estudiante de espanol’, right??  Wait, that’s means a person who studies Spanish – it should be ‘estudiante de espana’.  I have no idea where times and locations go in Spanish sentences anymore, so I’ll just stick ‘manana’ at the beginning.  Thankfully, I still remember how to conjugate ‘querer’ in the second person!  Totally coming up blank on ‘together’, though; all I can think of is 一起, which is definitely not Spanish . . . I know, I’ll just ask if he wants to have lunch ‘with us’ (‘con nosotros’).  My mind automatically fills in the rest of the sentence: ‘manana quieres con nosotros 吃饭?’  But then I remember not only how to say ‘eat’, but the actual verb for ‘to eat lunch’ – ‘almorzar’!  Victory is mine!!  Don’t add a 吗 at the end; they don’t use those in Spanish.  Now, send!

Apparently I didn’t mess up too bad because Carlos said yes.  His response did, however, cause me a moment of panic as I wavered on the meaning of ‘once’.  I figured it out though, and managed to text back that we should meet at ‘once y media’ (instead of ‘once 半’). 

Can we please have a moment of silence for my Spanish skills, who are lamentably no longer with us?  They’d been fading since the summer of 2008, but for a while it was possible that they could yet recover and even maybe learn to speak again.  But then came the events of of March 2nd, 2009, a blow they could never overcome.  Yes, exactly one year ago, I found out that I had been chosen by TU to receive a scholarship from the China Scholarship Council for a year of study in China.  And my Spanish skills didn’t stand a chance . . .