Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘anniversaries’

And Thus The Holiday Season Comes To An End

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2010 at 11:19 pm

I stayed at the hospital with Lester yesterday until late afternoon, when I went home to shower.  (By the way, you know how a lot of people dislike the disinfectant smell of hospitals in America?  It’s really not a problem in China.)  Once I felt decent again, I met up with some friends to go out for the evening.  Yesterday was the 15th day since the Lunar New Year, and the last day of the holiday season.  Rumor has it the moon was full and exceptionally large, but it was smoggy in China so I couldn’t say.

Anyway, it was supposed to be exceptionally 热闹 (a Chinese word that means crowded, but in a positive way) down at BaiLuZhou Park, so headed that way.  We ended up having to walk quite a bit as some streets had been turned into ped malls, but that just gave us the opportunity to experience the 热闹-ness of the night even more.  I’m glad that we went out, because 热闹 is a really important (or at least talked-about) part of the Chinese New Year, but I hadn’t experienced it yet.

There were tons of people; it reminded the Dutch of Queen’s Day, and me of last Fourth of July on the river in Minneapolis.  One thing I really like about China is the lack of strollers.  Granted, if I were a mother I may feel differently, but I like the fact that babies are held at eye level around here.  I get to see a lot more of them and they make me smile.  This one looked so cute and Chinese (because of her clothing, not just her face) that I just had to take a picture.


The park was really nice; I’d already been, but last night the weather was much better for enjoying an outdoor light show.


I didn’t linger too long at the park because I had to get back to the hospital, where I had told Lester I would stay with him again.


I slept much better the second night because a) I was better prepared with a pillow and sleep sack, and b) Lester finished his IVs before midnight, so I didn’t have to keep watch.  Basically, I read a little and then passed out hardcore.

I still woke up at 7, though, because I had to get back to my room and change before my 8 a.m. class – the first of the new semester.  A lot of my classmates are the same but we also have some students from the other 二年上 class, including my Thai buddy Pun!  Our teacher seems nice and enthusiastic and, more importantly, writes and speaks clearly.

After introductions, we looked at the first lesson.  If this is any foreshadowing, this semester is going to be boring.  The level seems about right – most of the 生词 are actually words I haven’t studied before – but the subject matter is just mind-numbing.  Over dinner last night, those of us who have been studying Chinese were speaking eloquently about the joys of beginner Chinese to the Sietze and Koen (who know nothing).  When you’re first learning, the words are so important, so useful, so immensely practical.  For instance, numbers!

After you’ve learned the everyday words, though, you move on to learning the name of every temple in Beijing, and this is where they lose me.  See, I don’t want to learn the first character of 颐和园 just because it’s in the name of the Summer Palace; I thought that going there might change that, but it hasn’t.  (I think that, in many ways, this is true of learning any language.  It’s just that learning a new character in Chinese is much harder than learning a new word in any phonetic alphabet; I don’t mind knowing that YiHe Yuan means Summer Palace and Summer Palace is pronounced “YiHe Yuan”, but I hate being expected to see 颐 and know it’s pronounced as “yi”.)

It’s not that I eschew all advanced knowledge of Chinese vocabulary, I just wish we had a voice in the matter.  The other night at the hospital, I was pestering a math-major friend of Lester’s, learning how to say calculus (微积分), differential equations (微分方程), and differential equations (偏微分方程).  Now, those are useful words!

In addition to being the start of my second, and last, semester here at XiaDa, today is also my 200th blog post.  I’ve written a hundred times since Thanksgiving, basically covering the international holiday season from the build-up to Christmas to the Lantern Festival: three months of holidays, trips, vacation, and parties.  I went to Shanghai, YongDing, Wuyishan, ZhaoAn, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Chengdu, LeShan, Emeishan, Xi’An, and Beijing.  I celebrated Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, an ordination, 2 First Masses, and a few birthdays.  It’s been good.

It’s not the only event of note today, though.  The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games have closed.  I’m kind of sad about these games, because the only part I got to watch was the Parade of Nations, and that in Chinese.  All my Olympic memories are based on articles I read, which is no way to experience the games.  I’ll probably remember these games with sadness, because on paper the glamour and excitement of the Olympics could never overcame the heartbreak of the death of an athlete.

Also, on a much happier note, one of my good friends (and former roommates) back home got engaged!  I’m really excited for her and her fiancé (who also happens to be my bestie).  Even better, the wedding isn’t until next winter so I won’t miss it :)  I get asked a lot by Chinese people, what the typical marrying age of Americans is.  I think it’s a very hard question, but there are definitely subgroups of Americans who tend to get married in clumps.  Graduates of TU are one such subgroup, which was definitely something I thought about when coming over here for the year.  I won’t be back until the end of July, so I wouldn’t be able to make post-graduation weddings in May and June.  Luckily, although I am already wishing wedded bliss for some of my best friends back home, I’ll be around to witness their happy days!

半年了! (Half A Year!)

In Uncategorized on February 27, 2010 at 4:48 pm

As of yesterday, I’ve been in Xiamen for half a year.  I’ve seen half a year’s worth of weather, been around for half a year’s worth of holidays, festivals, and events, and witnessed half of the liturgical year in church. 

It’s a big milestone! 

The last week or so has felt like a turning point in my time here.  For one thing, I’m feeling even more at home than usual.  With so many of my good friends still gone on vacation, I found myself really missing them.  I wasn’t sad when missing them, though; in fact it was really nice to realize that I have friendships good enough to miss.  It was great to welcome them back, share memories of our last semester together and begin making plans for this semester.

As my friends have returned, though, they’ve been joined by a whole new flock of new students.  Age and experience are all relative, and thus I have become an oldster around XiaDa.  I’ve been through registration and the residence permit process, I’ve taken classes for a whole semester, I know where the cafeterias are and which ones are good, etc. 

Kids these days . . . They have no idea how hard we had it, back when I came to XiaDa.  We had to wait two months in the sweltering heat for our E-cards! 

But, as my stay in China is slightly shorter than a full year, the 6-month anniversary means that I’m actually past the halfway mark of my time here.  All of a sudden, I feel like I’m at the top of a hill on a bike with no brakes, because I think the rest of my time here will pass quickly. 

I made up a calendar so I could keep track of important dates and vacations this semester, and it is really helping me to put things in perspective.  I have the starting date of classes at XiaDa this spring (March 1st) and the starting date of classes at TU in the fall (Aug 23rd) all on one piece of paper.  It’s not that far off; in fact, in another 6 months I will be finishing up my first week of classes back at TU. 

So while I’m feeling comfortable with my life here, I’m looking forward more and more to getting back.  There’s definitely excitement and longing, but by ‘looking forward’ I more mean that it’s just on my mind a lot.  It’s kind of hard to wrap my mind around!  I’ve been studying Chinese 24/7 since the beginning of last June and probably haven’t touched a calculator since then, so sometimes it’s weird to imagine myself in engineering classes again.

I’m getting hungry for it, though – numbers, equations, and logic instead of this crazy language with its ridiculous characters and stupid 了 particle.  I know I sound fabulously geeky saying this, but I can picture the binders of notes in my room and I plan to read through them like novels when I get home. 

[Since these things are so much easier when dealing with round numbers, I’m going to share an update about my finances.  I know most of you probably aren’t interested in all this, but I put it up here in case a future XiaDa student finds this and is looking for an idea of costs.  I’m on scholarship here but it obviously doesn’t cover everything I spend money on.  I got a 2,000 kuai (almost $300) settlement when I arrived, to cover textbooks and the basic necessities of moving in and all.  Then, every month I get 1,700 RMB ($250) to cover food and other daily expenditures.  So far I’ve received $1,800 in stipend money, which has basically been enough to cover my food ($1,150), local transportation ($100), cell phone and internet ($130), personal products like shampoo and things for our room like the fridge ($250), all my textbooks for three levels of Chinese ($65)  and the documentation that I had to get at the beginning of the year ($130).  My other costs, like clothes, souvenirs, recreation, and travel, have been out-of-pocket.  Basically, over the last six months I’m out about two thousand dollars, including $850 for travel, $250 on souvenirs and gifts, $60 for my internet proxy, and $200 on a new camera and hard drive.]

Create-Your-Own China

In Uncategorized on January 26, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Today is the 5-month anniversary of my arrival in Xiamen and, in the tradition of this blog, I’m going to share some general thoughts on my time here in China.  Dad did [most of] the blog today, so I’m even off the hook and don’t have to write about the events of today.

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is the parable about three blind men who come across an elephant and try to figure out what it is.  One feels the tail and thinks it’s like a rope; one feels a leg and thinks it’s like a tree; and one feels the trunk and thinks it’s like a snake.

This reminds me a lot of China.  I’ve had the opportunity to touch the elephant twice, but still my observations and experiences are incredibly limited in the vast scope of things.  I realize this every now and then, when I realize that someone else has touched this huge animal somewhere else and come up with a very different conclusion as to it’s nature.  The Lee’s, for instance, my Cantonese-Canadians friends from church who have a private car and driver and had never tasted malatang – even their Xiamen is different than mine! 

Also, it’s interesting to think about my two different experiences, and marvel that they’re part of the same animal.  ‘My China’ is both a heavily wooded hillside and a tropical island studded with palm trees.  My China is both a Special Economic Zone and the Yanbian Sub-Autonomous Region.  My China is the site of both massive foreign investment and the home base for many foreign missionaries.  My China is a port with special concessions to the outside world, and it’s also a launching point into a neighbor that is much more closed to the outside.  My China is populated by people who speak not only Mandarin, but also Korean and Minnanhua.  My China is both a farm where I worked with dirt and poop and a university where I spend my time studying.  My China is a small group of Christians gathering in a house and a cathedral packed full of faithful to see deacons ordained. 

There’s also a list of things that My China is not.  It’s certainly not Beijing, and it’s definitely not Hong Kong.  It’s also not Shanghai or Guangzhou or Chengdu; I felt as much like a tourist there as my parents did.  The Great Firewall is more a part of My China than the Great Wall is.  There are a lot of things that I thought would be part of my China that aren’t.  Fortune cookies don’t exist here.  There are no pandas or bamboo anywhere near the places I’ve lived, and it’s hard to even find those things as souvenirs.  As much as I can, I avoid tea and Buddhist temples, so those really aren’t included in the China I’ve made for myself.  My China usually doesn’t even seem communist – maybe just really inefficient sometimes. 

This trip with my parents has been a chance to see parts of China that aren’t really part of My China.  Eating dim sum in Guangzhou, riding the world’s fastest train to Wuhan, watching pandas in Chengdu, seeing the world’s largest statue of Buddha, and climbing the Great Wall aren’t part of my life here any more than a weekend in New York City would be.

I was really excited to show my parents My China but I’m realizing that they’re creating a China of their own.  Our drastically different language abilities certainly influences perceptions, and by the time they return home they’ll have spent as much time in Chengdu as in Xiamen, and even more in Beijing.  (Anyway, My China includes a lot of restaurants that charge under a dollar for a meal but don’t really offer much in the way of tables, chairs, or shelter from the elements, so it’s probably better that we’re exploring something new together.)

These last two weeks have been an interesting learning period for me.  Classes ended and I’ve completely stopped my Anki vocabulary reviews (trying not to think about the digital pile of flashcards that will await me after my parents return home), but I haven’t stopped learning Chinese.  I’ve added to my vocabulary as I’ve tried to accommodate my parents’ interests – you might be impressed at how well I can converse about the military in Chinese, for my Dad’s sake.  I’ve gotten to practice translating from Chinese for them, which is a significant step harder than internalizing meaning without having to verbalize it.  I’ve also had to translate the other way, expressing things on my parents’ behalf that I never had the will or skill to say before.  I’ve booked more planes, trains, buses, and hotels than I’ve ever done in English, and became familiar with a few cities based on maps written entirely in characters.  I’ve also gotten to act as a Chinese teacher for the first time, shepherding my earnest pupils from their very first Chinese words to the sometimes-painful process of piecing them together. 

I think that it’s also been a period of learning life lessons as well.  I’ve taken responsibility for this trip in a way that I’ve never done – or had to do – before.  On previous trips there have always been friends to rely on or at least consult, but here I am the cultural expert, translator, tour guide, map-reader, travel agent, and teacher.  It’s been exciting to find out that I’m capable of doing this, even in China. 

To be honest, I’ve been amazed at how well this trip has worked out.  It’s definitely due more to a series of lucky coincidences/blessings than to my skill, but we’ve had some wonderful experiences.  The perfect timing of everything in Xiamen, our local tour guide in Guangzhou, or blessedly brief stay in Wuhan, our special hour with the young pandas in Chengdu – it was all better than I had imagined or could have planned. 

That is, until today.  I really was in a bad mood, right up until we put the numbers into Quicken and I could get them out of my mind.  I guess the mountain was nice and the scene from the top was pretty special, but I am still put off by the unexpected things we ran into today.  My time in China is punctuated by episodes of receiving wrong information, but today was especially bad.  From the littlest things like trying to find the ticket counter or the right bus station in Leshan, to the big things like the price of entrance to Emeishan, I was fed wrong information from every source.  By the time I got to the summit, I had calculated that we had spent about $100 on this expedition – approximately our daily budget for food, lodging, local transportation, and tourism – and had a hard time enjoying the vista properly.  Sometimes My China isn’t very honest and it’s almost never straightforward, and by the end of today I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore. 

I think that it was just a little bit of a bad day, but I guess 1 out of 150 ain’t bad.

Happy Feast of Mary, Mother of God!

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2010 at 1:25 am

I celebrated New Year’s Eve by sharing a delicious [$2] dinner with about 20 friends and then going to a bar for the countdown. 




I wasn’t too excited about the idea but as we toasted, hugged, and traded European-style kisses on the cheek, I realized how lucky I was to be celebrating with so many good friends. 



Even better, just after midnight I danced the Viennese waltz with my Austrian friend Katrine.  To the sound of our voices singing the Blue Danube.  In the street.  She was drunk, but led okay anyway.  It was wonderful :)  See, everything does have a purpose in life!

I went home early to get sleep before morning Mass.  In just one illustration of how much of a non-event New Year’s is in China, the only Mass offered at my church was at 8:30 on the morning of the 1st.  In another illustration, the year 2010 was not mentioned once in the entire liturgy.  This is interesting because, while January 1st is the observed as the Feast of Mary Mother of God by Catholics throughout the world, the liturgy generally tends to focus more on the beginning of a new year.  Not in China . . .

After Mass, I went shopping at 电子城 (Electronics City).  I was looking for a hard drive and cell phone which was unsuccessful, but I did buy a few other necessary products.  (Namely, eating takeout in front of my computer was taking a toll on the poor keyboard.)

I met Yong Zhi and Alice for lunch, but it was probably a bad day to eat out.  Or, you know, leave the house.  While no Chinese actually think New Year is a big deal, they all have the day off and all went out – more specifically, they all went to the Sichuan restaurant that we wanted to go to. 

It was worth it, as was the trip to Coco.  But then we ran into Diederik and he wanted Yong Zhi’s phone number and it took us a ridiculous amount of time to figure out the correct characters of his name (永志).  So then all of a sudden I realize that it’s 1:50, and I have 10 minutes to get back across campus.  I sped-walked across campus, ran up the stairs to the Overseas Education College, and made it to the ground floor of my building before my parents called.  Despite me vaulting up the stairs – it was epic – I think midnight passed somewhere between the 3rd and 4th floors.  That was also epic . . . an epic fail.

But yeah, other than that I’ve had a great start to the year.  It’s going to be a good one, I think.  I wonder where I’ll be, this time net year??

2009: The Year in Review

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2009 at 7:19 pm

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
Got in a car accident; learned to write my first Chinese character; entered a frat house; played a drinking game (Catan); roadtripped to a concert; went to Easter Vigil Mass (Roman and Greek); went to a bar; commuted by bus; took a Greyhound; had an article in a city newspaper; took summer school; owned an Apple product; had a residence permit, phone, and bank account in a foreign country; used Skype and QQ; lived within walking distance of a beach; cleaned up a mercury spill; danced ballroom; went to Mass in Chinese; bathed nude in public; experienced a typhoon, earthquake, and rockslide; attended an ordination and a First Mass; went on a date with a foreigner; ate at a real McDonald’s in China; met a Chinese person who doesn’t speak Mandarin; went to a Chinese hospital; participated in a track meet; 洗头; spent Christmas abroad; went to class on a weekend; had a ‘usual’ club; responded "Yes" when asked if I spoke Chinese; ate an oyster, hotpot, pomelo, douhua, baozi, baocai, beef tendon, and snake; ate fish and liked it

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don’t think I made any last year, and I don’t know yet about next year . . . still have a day!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My cousin Mary.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, thankfully.

5. What countries did you visit?
China (if this can be called a visit) and Taiwan.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Focus and balance.

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
March 2, when I found out I was heading to China for the full year, and August 26th, when I first arrived in Xiamen. 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Every bus ride that successfully got me where I was going; every Chinese conversation in which I successfully communicated and understood; each of the mountains I climbed; every time I ate something new or something I already knew I didn’t like

9. What was your biggest failure?
Perhaps the time I said “二个月” (instead of 两个月), or any of the other stupid mistakes I made in Chinese. 

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I got into a car accident in January but was thankfully unscathed!

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Currently I’m especially grateful for my sweatpant leggings, scarf collection, and little gel heater, but I don’t think any money I’ve spent on food here in China has been wasted, especially not on 茄子 dishes :)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My parents, for agreeing to come to China!  My friends who have supported me when I decided to come to China and since then.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled or depressed?
Chinese when they talk during church and spit on the floor or table and open windows in the cold. 

14. Where did most of your money go?
Travel, definitely – between trips to Tulsa, Arizona, China, Taiwan, Shanghai, and Wuyishan!

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The simple pleasures and unexpected adventures of life. 

16. What songs will always remind you of 2009?
Some of my new favorites: Hot and Cold (Katy Perry), Beautiful Girls (Jojo), Fireflies (Owl City), Somos Arena y Mar (Mana), Hey Soul Sister (Train), Forever (Chris Brown), Radar (Britney), Precious Love (James Morrison).  Love Today (Mika) from the Udall orientation!  Living La Vida (Coldplay) and Vamos a la Playa from our trip to Taiwan.  I Gotta Feeling (Black Eyed Peas), Just Dance (Lady Gaga), Fire Burning (Sean Kingston), Jia Ho (Slumdog Millionaire), Disturbia (Rihanna) and Right Round (Flo Rida) from nights at The Key.  普通朋友,爱情,童话,故事里的事,大中国,北京欢迎你,爱上爱的味道,樣子,爱我别走,特别的爱给特别的你,东方之珠 and all the Chinese songs I dance to :)

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?  I think I’m a little more joyful. 

    ii. thinner or fatter?  About the same . . .

    iii. richer or poorer?  I think I made money by going to school this summer, so I may be a little bit richer. 

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Thinking of others. 

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Thinking about others.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
I went to class, baked two batches of cookies, went to Chinese Christmas Eve Mass outside on Gulangyu, got an ice cream cone at McDonald’s, walked home from 中山路, and ate grilled lamb on the side of the road at 2 a.m.  On Christmas Day, I had class again, went to see a friend of mine be Santa Claus, and cleaned my room. 

22. Did you fall in love in 2009?
Yes.  With 茄子 (eggplant) it was love at first sight, but 奶茶 (milk tea) kept working at it and won my heart over as well. 

24. What were your favorite TV shows?
I’m still a big fan of The Office, and I really enjoyed the DVDs of Psych and Big Bang Theory that I bought.

25. What was your favorite film of this year?
I can’t remember seeing any really great new movies, but I cherished some classics – Mulan, It’s A Wonderful Life, Dirty Dancing, etc.

26. What was the best book you read?
Either the Man Who Loved China or Guns, Germs, and Steel.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Google and Baidu music (free music downloads) and the Filipino band at The Key.

28. What did you want and get?
The Church in China.

29. What did you want and not get?
To go to Sichuan University (which was probably one of those blessings in disguise)

30. What was the best new trend you discovered?
Milk tea, probably.  (I’m not really up on trends.)

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 21.  There was a blizzard in Tulsa, so my friends made me dinner and cakes at Newman instead of going out; we ended the day with a game of drinking Catan in my apartment. 

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? 
The ability to bi-locate, perhaps. 

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Dresses and skirts!  Well, now I just wear what I brought to China. 

34. What kept you sane?
The internet (and, through that, my friends and family) and my iPod.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you like the most? 
Any of them that survived the year . . .

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Abortion, especially in the health care bill.

37. Who did you miss?
Always someone . . . I miss the friends and family that I’m not with in America, and I wish my SENEA buddies were here with me in China. 

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Wang Pu, Aleid, Carlos, Alice, and Pun. 

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
我们在中国,都可以!  (We’re in China.  You can do anything!)

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
"Tis good, Lord, to be here, 
But we cannot remain. 
So if You bid us leave the mount, 
Come with us to the plain."

All I Want For Christmas

In Uncategorized on December 27, 2009 at 12:35 am

My Christmas presents all arrived a day late this year.

I mean, it’s understandable – Santa probably got confused with the time difference and all. 

I was woken up by a phone call in Chinese, which is usually not a good way to start the day.  But!  It was Fr. Cai (#1) on the other end – he remembered that when we were in Shanghai I had mentioned wanting a seal with my name on it.  He had said he knew a place and would help me get it.  Anyway, he was calling to ask what my name was!  (Only in China would this happen, I feel.  They all know my name is mǎlìyà but that doesn’t help them figure out the accompanying characters.  My name (马利亚) is close to the Blessed Mother’s (玛利亚) so I get that a lot.  I have also, at various times, gotten 玛丽亚, 玛丽亚, 玛莉亚, 马力亚, etc.  It would be a bummer to get my name wrong on my seal, so I’m glad he asked.)  He also remembered that I had asked for a Chinese Bible and said I would get it next time I saw Ms. Yan.  Yay!  Just what I wanted for Christmas. 

So then I got on my computer, logged on to facebook to hear more about the crazy weather, and saw the news – one of my very good friends is engaged to his girlfriend!  (Even better, I heard they’re waiting ‘til next winter, when I should be back in the States.)  I knew he was going to ask her and I’m certainly not surprised to hear she accepted, but it was no less special to hear the news. 

Another pleasant surprise was that the Onion was randomly unblocked (although it’s probably temporary).  I’ve heard that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing uses Twitter to share news about the current air quality in the city, and I would like to see a similar project for the internet.  It could be like a weather forecast: “Tomorrow should be a pretty good day, with both the Onion and WordPress unblocked, but the weekend’s going to get a little nasty as the government cracks down on Flickr and Twitter.  Bring your proxy if you’re planning on social networking over the holidays!” 

I spent a lot of the day cleaning my room still, catching up on news, and things like that.  Before I knew it, it was time for Mass.  As I scouted out a spot in the church, an old woman beckoned me over, pointing to a vacancy next to her.  Even better, she had a stack of books there – the missal, song book, and hymnal – waiting for me.  Even several months in, I usually have a hard time tracking down the whole trifecta, so I really appreciated the effort and thoughtfulness.  I didn’t recognize the woman, which made it even more surprisingly pleasant.  (I think I gave them cookies though; they must have been standing next to someone I knew.  Forget ping-pong diplomacy – the way to make friends is obviously with cookies!) 

Like most Saturdays, I went dancing after Mass.  One of the women brought me some Xiamen snacks in return for the cookies I brought last time, which was a nice gesture.  But more than the physical gift, I really appreciated the gift of friendship that these people have given me.  We don’t really talk much; they don’t know much about me and I know even less about them (sometimes not even their names), so it’s easy to underestimate our relationship.  But really, it’s kind of incredible that they’ve put up with me this long, with my mediocre language skills and extremely limited dancing skills.  Anyway, today a crazy guy came in and started talking to me.  Within a minute, one of the men asked me to dance and, as we twirled around the floor, he took me the man was 不清楚 (unclear, which, based on body language as well, I guess meant crazy).  Since he tried to talk to me each time I sat down, a stream of men asked me to dance successively, keeping me away from him.  I felt so protected – and it didn’t stop there; when the music stopped at 10, one of the men walked me home.

Today is my 4-month anniversary here in Xiamen (if you believe the calendar).  New Year’s is coming up, which is a big time of retrospection for me, so I would like to just write a little about my some feelings and thoughts I’ve been having over these last few months – since usually I write more about events and occurrences. 

I’m having a great time here – that should be obvious from reading this journal.  I love the sense of adventure that saturates everything when living in China – from traveling to going to the bathroom, everything is ‘an experience’.  I love my new friends and the camaraderie born from ‘being in the same boat’.  I love the simple pleasures of my life here, especially since they’re also cheap.  I love the excitement of learning a language, where every word and grammar structure is a tool that can immediately be put to use. 

But obviously there are downsides.  I miss my friends and family back home.  Actually, to be honest, the family part isn’t so bad.  I’ve been talking to my parents and some relatives a lot more than I do when I’m in Tulsa, and those who are reading this journal know far more about my life than they usually do.  But the friends are rough.  I miss the effortlessness of seeing them everyday, everywhere when we were living so close to each other.  I miss knowing the details of their lives, even being there for a lot of them.  I miss the memories, inside jokes, traditions, and habits. 

Also, because my life here so closely resembles a vacation at times, sometimes I feel like I’m wasting time.  I’m a Goldwater and Udall Scholar, which means that some people think I’m among the nation’s most promising young research scientists and environmental leaders . . . and here I am, doing neither of those things.  I feel a lot of pressure to do something worthy of all the gifts I’ve been given and, while I think Chinese might play into that somehow, I’m not sure how, say, ballroom dancing will.  I have pretty varied interests and this sometimes feels like another case of me going for breadth instead of depth.  I find it interesting, and some of my side interests may figure into my broader life plans, but I don’t want to be a jack of many trades and master of none for the rest of my life.  It’s just a question of which one to master, and if I have it in me to do so. 

I am really happy to have found a church, the Church, in China.  I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences so far and I’m sure that more are to come.  I’m so fascinated by the presence of the Church that I’ve found where I despaired of finding it.  On my first three trips, I never even looked, but here it is!  I know all that I’ve heard about the Church in China and I recognize there are problems but at the same time, Mass here is the most familiar thing I’ve seen since I arrived.  It’s closer to what I’m used to in America than McDonald’s is!  I’m torn between the knowledge I have of the problems at the top and the Love I’ve experienced at the ground level.  I want even fuller unity, but I can feel myself lulled into complacency because what we have right now is ‘not bad’, as the Chinese would probably say.  (If that is the purpose of the CCPA, as I think it is, they’re doing a good job with it.)  I want to know more, but right now the only thing I’m sure of is that it’s here and I want people to know that.  I wonder how many other foreigners visit China without ever looking for a church (like I did), because they don’t expect to find the Church here.  That saddens me, and I would like to change it – there’s no reason to forego the sacrament when you’re in the PRC. 

I hang out with a lot of foreigners here, which is weird because one of the main tendencies I notice among foreigners in China is self-hatred.  I hate it, but I know it affects me sometimes – I feel guilty when I speak English and look for Chinese friends harder than I look for foreign friends.  It’s born out of the desire to get the “true China” experience and to learn “real Chinese”.  According to the commonly-held view, these two things only exist in a vacuum of foreigners.  What a Catch-22, though – any place that is perceived as offering these things is immediately coveted by every foreigner, but once they enter they ruin the pristine Chinese environment and it’s no longer what they wanted.  It’s a vicious circle – I hate myself, and then I hate myself for hating myself. 

Anyway, it’s hard to experience “the real China”.  China’s big, in case you didn’t know, and ‘your China’ may be very different from ‘my China’.  ‘My China’ is in fact not the same as it was last year.  I’m trying to find balance in my life here between knowing ‘China’ (which might be a mythical construct), and knowing ‘my China’.  There’s certainly a pressure, from Chinese as well as foreigners, to get to every part of China – to climb every mountain, tour every museum, eat the food of every province, etc.  I have to constantly remind myself that I am living in China, not visiting.  After all, I consider myself a well-traveled American without having ever been to New York City, L.A., or Florida (which, to some people, constitute all of America), so why should the validity of my year in China be dependent on getting to Beijing or Suzhou or Xinjiang? 

Reading over what I just wrote, it seems like all these things are just issues about finding balance, which is something that I’m always looking for in my life.  I realize this post went from really joyful to a little bit discontent, but none of these things are huge deals, certainly not joy-breaking.  I guess I’m just trying to think through some of the things that have been on my mind. 

Finally, a few people have asked for my address here and, even though Christmas is passed, I thought I might as well just post it.  They write things from largest to smallest unit here so the address is a bit odd, but just be grateful you don’t have to write in 汉字 (Chinese characters)!  The Latin alphabet will work just fine, and throw line breaks in as needed:

Maria Holland
China, Fujian Province, Xiamen City 361005
XiaDa, NanGuangWu, 406

What I’m Thankful For This Year

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2009 at 12:45 am

Where can I even start with this post?  There is so much to include because today is not only Thanksgiving, but also the 3-month anniversary of my arrival in Xiamen AND my 100th blog post!  Like I said, it’s quite the big deal. 

First, I think I should give you a little background – this is not my first Thanksgiving in China.  No, I was lucky enough to celebrate a wonderfully NQR (Not Quite Right) Thanksgiving in Jilin last year.  Looking back at the journal entries I wrote during that trip, I was reminded of how great NQR can be.  I didn’t get to celebrate with my family, but I was surrounded by familiar faces and beloved friends (American, Chinese, and Kiwi), including a baby whose birth I had been present for 6 months before.  The family we stayed with is so generous and welcoming and the kids are darn cute sometimes, too:

During dinner, we explained Thanksgiving to Nigel [from New Zealand]. Lyte said it’s when Caitlin and Maria come, which was pretty much the most adorable thing I’d ever heard.

It wasn’t just the people around the dinner table, but also my taxi driver, my DVD salesman, my machinist, etc. – all with colorful names like Goose Lady, Mob Boss, and MacGyver – who made me feel like I was surrounded by friendship and love. 

We didn’t have a whole turkey, Mom’s mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, but we were certainly not short of good food.  We had a Nepalese meal that we ate with our hands, a delicious multi-cultural feast of Mongolian barbecue and s’mores, hand-cranked ice cream, fresh whole-grain bread and butter from our cows, homemade bibimbap, and – the pinnacle of NQR Thanksgiving – turkey curry (we dubbed it ‘curkey’).  I was also introduced to two of my favorite new foods – pumpkin soup and pingguoli, a hybrid apple-pear fruit.  Yes, we certainly had a menu to be thankful for. 

The purpose of our trip was a continuation of last summer’s SENEA project.  Much of our goals concerned meeting new contacts and visiting new sites, but we also spent some time checking out our completed projects.  We got to re-raise the original SENEA wind turbine and had the opportunity to walk into the greenhouse that I had spent so many hours drafting in SketchUp.  We managed to complete everything we came to do, which was definitely an unexpected blessing – something always seems to go wrong when working in China.

After finishing our work, we were lucky (?) enough to be stranded in Jilin for another three days due to inclement weather.  I say lucky because we were taken in by some new friends and got to spend the time relaxing (the 2-hour full-body massage stands out in my mind) instead of preparing for finals like our classmates were. 

See?  Last year’s Thanksgiving was definitely something to be thankful for, and this year was as well.

It started at 6:30 when I got out of bed.  There was no water, and hadn’t been since the night before so I got ready without washing my face or brushing my teeth.  A little bit uncomfortable, but I was grateful for the time it saved me.  Also, it made me more grateful later when running water returned and I was finally able to clean up properly.

I went to daily Mass this morning for the first time.  I gave my deacon a little bit of forewarning by texting him to check the time and location of Mass, just in case they wanted to go ahead and speak Mandarin instead of Minnanhua (the local dialect that I don’t understand at all), just this once.  They did, and I was so grateful!  I was also very grateful to the the woman who handed me a daily missal, open to the correct pages, which actually gave me a fighting chance of understanding what was going on.

After Mass, I had a breakfast of bread and butter – can’t even express the feelings of gratitude that arose within me at the first bite.  I had two classes then, and was very grateful to find out that we are being given Christmas Day off.  Grammar class was also cancelled for an entire week in December, which means I am considering several travel options. 

For lunch, I got kungpao chicken delivered directly to my room, for the grand total of $1.30.  Prices like that for good food (and room service to boot) can’t help but make you grateful.  After an hour of phone calls in various languages, I was grateful to find a restaurant that could seat a group of 15 and cost less than 198 RMB (almost $30), the going price for Thanksgiving dinner at the big hotels in Xiamen. 

This afternoon, I was grateful to find two friends who wanted to play Catan with me.  Aleid won, but I was just grateful that my Chinese friend, Yong Zhi, liked the game.  Another person conquered in the quest to bring Catan to the world! 

This evening, I was most gratified to be joined by friends for Thanksgiving dinner.  There was me, Aleid and Diederik (Dutch); Kristina (Slovenia); Liz (Belgium); Carlos (Spain); Eunjeong (Korea); Justine, Virginique, and Jeremy (France); and Yong Zhi and Hu Jing (China).  We went to the Red Armadillo, a Mexican American restaurant nearby (I had been once before, with my Saudi classmates).  The night was so stunning – cool but not cold, and exceptionally clear – that we ate outside.  The atmosphere, food, and company all couldn’t have been more different than Thanksgivings at home, but I tried to connect it with tradition by going around the table and making everyone say something they were grateful for.  I started by saying that I was grateful that, even though I was so far from home and family, I was able to celebrate with friends.  Everyone else answered after me – they were grateful for the opportunity to be in China, for a dinner of Western food eaten with forks, and many of them for the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving for the first time.  (Carlos was grateful that he wasn’t last, because it became harder and harder to come up with something to say.) 

As for the actual food, it was pretty traditional.  You know, I ordered three plates of cheesy fries for the whole table and I opted for the double-decker burger for myself.  Others went for other customary choices, including pizza, quesadillas, and – of course – pizzadillas. 


I was interesting celebrating Thanksgiving away from the traditions of home.  What does the holiday really boil down to?  At home, my dad and I would usually go to Mass while mom started cooking.  The rest of us got to enjoy a lazy day while she prepared dinner, and then we would sit around the huge family table and eat.  And eat.  And eat.  Anyway, after some thinking I decided that Thanksgiving is really about eating – A LOT – with people you love.  Pretty amazing idea, huh?

Actually, another interesting aspect that comes up when celebrating Thanksgiving abroad is the sharing of two cultures, especially in culinary ways.  I first realized this last year, when my American host was explaining the origins of the holiday to a Chinese friend.  The pilgrims and the Indians came together and, by sharing their food, shared more than that.  I think back to the meal of Mongolian barbecue last year, after which I brought out a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and several chocolate bars, and introduced s’mores to my Chinese friends . . . I’d like to think that meal was in this honorable tradition of that first Thanksgiving celebration.  I think this year – people from 8 countries eating Mexican food in China on an American holiday – also follows the spirit of the holiday. 

I would like to wrap up this post with a long (but certainly not all-inclusive)  list of things I’m grateful for.  Feel free to comment with your additions!

  • Today.  This is how I always start my prayers at night, thanking God for the day.  Today the blessings are more obvious than usual, but there’s always something there to be grateful for – wonderful experiences or at least opportunities to learn from things that were less than wonderful.
  • My family.  I appreciate my parents more and more each day (especially after moving away to college), for the support that they have unquestioningly given without ever being pushy.  My mother is incredibly creative and my dad has more common sense than anyone I’ve ever met.  I’m also really grateful for the opportunities I’m going to have in January to show them China in all its rough glory – I get to order their food, which is pretty much the definition of power :)  I also have a really great older brother who is, among other things, a very gifted photographer.  Plus I have a ton of cousins, aunts, uncles, and a few grandparents that are also pretty awesome.
  • My friends.  I have been very fortunate in making so many wonderful foreign friends during my first few months here.  Of course, I’ve also been blessed by the friendships from back home that have continued.  I’m always so grateful to hear from friends that I crossed their mind for some reason or another, and to know that I am missed in some way.  Even with those friends that I’ve lost contact with, I’m grateful for the things that we shared. 
  • Technology.  I’m so thankful for all the ways I have of staying in contact with the above-mentioned friends and family – email, facebook, Skype, and especially this blog.  I think my parents know more about what I’m up to than they do when I’m at home, and I know I’m in closer contact with some people because of it.  If you’re still reading, thanks for staying around for 100 posts, and I hope you’ve enjoyed them!
  • The Catholic Church.  I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had during my life and especially these last few months, to experience God’s work in my life through the institution of the Church.  While in China, I’ve seen how worship transcends language and cultural barriers, and enjoyed all the best that the Church Universal has to offer, while also witnessing the struggles of the Church Suffering.  I’ve had to examine my faith and my beliefs under different and sometimes challenging circumstances, but I’ve also received encouragement from seeing others flourish in the same situation – witnessing devotion and even a new vocation.  
  • China.  Living here is like an obstacle course, a challenge that brings out a different part of me.  I’m grateful for the situations that I’ve been put in that have pushed me to do something I thought was impossible for me.  I’m also grateful for the complexities and delights of the Chinese language, which I inexplicably find exciting, interesting, motivating, and – very often – humbling.  Of course, none of this would be true without the Chinese people, who I have largely found to possess an incredible amount of patience and a surprising affability in the face of foreigners routinely butchering their language. 
  • Health.  I certainly don’t possess the ideal body, but it’s served me pretty well.  I’m so grateful that, despite minor bouts of diarrhea and the like, I have thus far escaped serious bodily harm here in China.  (This feeling of gratitude is especially strong after successfully crossing a street.)  It’s not just on this trip – last summer, despite vehicles driving off bridges, crashing in to barbed wire, and running over feet, we all went home no worse for the wear.  Thanks be to God!
  • SENEA.  I definitely couldn’t talk about gratitude and China without mentioning SENEA (see About Me if you don’t know what this is).  From first piquing my interest in China, to offering unwavering support during culture shock on my first few trips, SENEA is the reason I’m here now.  Of course, it’s not really the organization; it’s the people.  I’m so grateful for my mentor and all my friends who were involved, for all the laughs and lessons that we shared.
  • Scholarships.  Seriously, I have been very lucky throughout my higher education in that I’ve been supported by several organizations and institutions who believe that I have the potential to do something with my life.  In addition to the donors supporting my education at TU and the Chinese government footing the bill here at XiaDa, I was fortunate enough to have the Goldwater and Udall scholarships help out with the Chinese language studies by making it possible for me to spend last summer just studying Chinese, four hours a day.  Yes, believe it or not, that was a huge blessing. 
  • Good food.  There are a lot of things I miss – good bread, plentiful cheese, lemonade, pasta, steak, mom’s mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, strawberries and raspberries, free Blue Bell ice cream, mudslide smoothies, Belgian waffles, any sort of pie or cake, ice, etc.  But I also have so much good food to choose from here, which makes it possible for me to be happy most of the time by appreciating what I have instead of what I don’t have. 
  • Simple pleasures.  I’m just going to list things here: dancing, music on my iPod, Nutella, my electronic Chinese dictionary, milk tea or anything else from Coco, hair-washing for $3, sunsets, Xiamen’s highways, sweatpants, any book I can get my hands on, thoughtful emails, getting where I want to go on a bus, text messages in Chinese that I understand, etc. 

I really need to get to bed.  Right now I am trying very hard to be grateful for the opportunity I have to compete in the 100-meter dash.  Tomorrow morning.  At 8 a.m.  Think grateful thoughts . . . grateful thoughts . . .

2 Months Down

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2009 at 10:22 pm

I really enjoyed class today.  I think that I’m getting closer to my classmates, which is slightly unfortunate because I’m getting more restless with my class (which I think is too easy for me).  We shared some good laughs today, and even an awkward moment!

While using the “不但。。。而且”(not only . . . but also) structure, one of my Korean friends said that he and his brother were both soldiers.  This led to a brief discussion of the mandatory military service in Korea.  Zhang laoshi asked him a question about it, and he replied with something about North Korea as the reason for the mandatory service.  The teacher laughed awkwardly and then said that she had been looking for “韩国跟中国不一样”(Korea and China are not the same), which was another grammar structure we were studying.  Slightly awkward . . .

Later, Zhang laoshi was using that grammar structure to describe her singing.  We were all confused because it sounded like she was saying “我唱得跟麦当劳一样好” (I sing as well as McDonald’s), but after a few minutes we realized that she was saying “I sing as well as Madonna”.  I think our confusion was totally understandable, as the two words only differ in one syllable: McDonald’s is 麦当劳 (màidāngláo), while Madonna is 麦当娜 (màidāngnà). 

As you may be able to tell, we’re learning how to make comparisons.  This is a prime example of a grammar structure that I did NOT learn last summer in Hunchun.  I remember talking to Xiao Zhang, the foreman who was helping me learn Chinese, trying to figure out how to say “biggER” and “biggEST” and things like that.  It’s certainly not a direct, 1-to-1 translation.  My dictionary said that 更 was “more” and 最 was “most”, but Xiao Zhang said it was the other way around.  I was confused by this so I kind of agreed to disagree, and just tried to never compare things (which is quite hard, by the way).  Now that I am older and wiser (or at least less stupid), I’ve learned that 更 actually means “even more” – as in, I am tall, but my brother is even taller than me.  So apparently Xiao Zhang’s Chinese grammar is better than mine . . . who would have thought?

Anyway, this was brought to mind very vividly yesterday, when I was talking to Zhang Lei (Xiao Zhang’s son) on QQ.  I told him that we were studying 比, the Chinese comparison word, and he asked how to say it in English.  I said there wasn’t a way to translate it, so he started asking for examples:

Zhang Lei: 比是什么, English    (What is 比 in English?)

Maria: 英语没有。。。不一样     (English doesn’t have it . . . it’s not the same) 
比。。。大 = older; 比。。。高 = taller; 比。。。漂亮 = prettier, more beautiful; 等等 (etc.)

Zhang Lei: thiner  比。。。瘦

Maria: 对    (right)

Zhang Lei: er是比。。。     (so ‘er’ is 比)

Maria: 差不多。。。     (almost . . . )

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing!  I’m practically lethal. 

After class, one of the Saudi guys asked me a question about America, so we ended up talking for a little while as we walked to the West Gate together.  It was really nice!  He seems like a good guy.  TU has a ton of Saudi students, but I don’t really think they have a very good reputation as a group.  They seem to be predominantly sons of rich oil men, and they like to do as little work as possible.  Also, my freshman year roommate, one of the few American females in the Saudi-male-dominated major of Petroleum Engineering, said their attitudes towards women were really hard to handle.  I realize that those people were a pretty specific subset of the population, but at first I thought the Saudis in my Chinese class were going to be the same, as the four of them always sit together.  They’ve only been nice in the class, though, and seem to be very intelligent and hard-working.  This guy is studying Chinese for a year before starting his major – Marketing – in Chinese!

His name is 力德 (LiDe), which is ‘spelled’ in Chinese as “身体的力,德国的德”, or “The 力 of physical strength, the 德 of morality”.  So cool!  I ‘spelled’ my name for him as well: “The 马 of horse, the 利 of fluent, the 亚 of Asia.” 

We parted ways once we were off campus and I went to mail some postcards.  I have now sent postcards to everyone whose address I have.  I’m still waiting on family addresses (DAD, AUNT MARY!), and I’m more than happy to add people to my mailing list – just email me or comment with your address.  If you comment, I’ll take down the comment so everyone doesn’t see your address. 

I got take-out from a 西北 (northwestern) restaurant near the post office.  Northwestern restaurants are usually associated with Xinjiang Province, recently known for unrest between the Han Chinese and the local minority Uighurs.  They’re predominantly Muslim and are known especially for their hand-pulled noodles.  While I was waiting for my food, another classmate joined me and we talked for a little while.  Ali and his wife, another a classmate, are from Kyrgyzstan (which I spelled correctly on my first try, by the way).  The Chinese name for Kyrgyzstan is quite ridiculous – 吉尔吉斯斯坦, or Jí’ěrjísīsītǎn – at 6 syllables (compared to 3 in English).  I asked him if most Chinese people know his country and he said they usually call it “什么什么stan”, which I would roughly translate as “Whatever-stan”.

Back in my room, I got a call from a lady I met on Sunday.  She joined me as I was walking to Mass and was quite delighted to find another Christian.  She expressed her affection for Catholics and surprised me by speaking very highly of Mary (she loved my name) and knowing the Sign of the Cross.  Anyway, I didn’t totally understand the contents of the call, but I did pick up on two things: 1) she asked me to pray for her for some reason that I hope God understood, and 2) she told me that God loved me.  It was kind of sweet . . . And then she called again later, asking me to move in with her.  I think she’s just very lonely (as I did catch that her prayer had something to do with “家”[family] and “一个人”[alone]) and I felt bad, but I kind of distanced myself. 

In the evening, I went out for a walk just to stretch my legs and see what, if anything, was going on around campus.  As luck would have it, I heard music and voices issuing from a speaker by the lake and went to investigate.  It was some party for teachers from West-Central China, including singing, dancing, and charades.  The charades were especially fun, both when I could read the cue and knew what was going on, and when everyone laughed uproariously at something I didn’t understand. 

Today is my two-month anniversary here in Xiamen!  At 61 days, this is now officially my longest stay in China.  (Last summer, I had a 60-day visa; I came in on day 1 and left on day 60.)  I still have 8 or 9 months left, so I’m not even a quarter of the way done.  I’ve been thinking, but I can’t really wrap my head around any of it.  It’s kind of like when you repeat a word over and over and over again until it loses meaning and just sounds funny.  There are these phrases that I say every day, and they just feel like random words strung together because they’re so far from my daily life these past two months: “我是美国人,我上厦大。在美国,我是机械工程系的学生.”  (I’m an American, attending Xiamen University.  In America, I’m a mechanical engineering student.) 

There are a lot of things that no one here knows about me, whether because they haven’t come up or because I haven’t made the effort to translate them into Chinese, and it feels weird when I realize that no one knows that part of me.  Like when I was telling Carlos about the environmental club and he said he “didn’t know I was into that sort of thing”.  Or when I was in the bookstore with Hu Jing and got excited at the piano music; she asked if I could play and I remembered, a little surprised myself, that I had been the choir director and accompanist at my church for two years. 

There are also some complicated aspects of my life that I’ve had to simplify, such as the concept of where exactly I’m from in America.  I get asked about my home way too often for me to go into my family history as an Army brat – especially not in Chinese – so Minnesota is now officially my 老家, or hometown.

So, yeah, it has been two months since I last saw anyone that I knew two months ago.  It’s also been two months since I last ate with a fork and knife, or since I drove a car, but I miss the people more.

Happy Month-iversary!

In Uncategorized on September 27, 2009 at 12:00 am

I had lunch and an interesting conversation with Carlos (from Spain) today.  We talked a lot about America – race and affirmative action, immigration and illegal immigration, economics and the prices of housing, and our constitutions.  Apparently the Spanish Constitution (from the late 70’s) states housing as a right, which seems a little weird to me.  Our constitution seems more abstract than physical – for example, it protects the right to bear arms but does not consider owning a gun to be a right.  The American constitution is the oldest and shortest still in use, and Carlos asked if it was about time for a new one.  I don’t think so!  I like our constitution . . . I like that it is relatively timeless, and is supplemented by laws and the interpretation of the Supreme Court to be more relevant to current issues.  Anyways, I think the entire nation would come to a dead halt for a decade if we tried to write a new constitution . . .

In the afternoon, I headed out for the International Ferry Quay to buy my tickets to Taiwan (since the ones I had bought were canceled for some reason).  I was kind of tired, though, and kept dozing off on the bus ride.  Each time I woke up, I tried to figure out where we were, but although I’m quite familiar with the XiaDa-ZhongShanLu part of the island, we were far north of my usual stomping grounds.  I didn’t figure it out until we were on a bridge that seemed suspiciously large for such a small island.  It was . . . because it was headed to the mainland.

By this point I was way too late to buy my tickets, and had to just get on a bus and head back to ZhongShanLu for Mass.  I wasn’t late, though!  In fact, I arrived early enough to catch the tail end of a Rosary before Mass.  I felt a lot more comfortable with Chinese Mass this week.  I think part of it was that it was my third time going (second with a copy of the words), but part of it was definitely my session with the Deacon this week.  I understood more of what I said instead of just reading the pinyin in front of me.  I managed to catch a few words in the prayers, homily, and announcements besides “Jesus” and pronouns – some of my new words were ‘glory’ (光荣) and ‘grace’ (圣宠), which were very helpful.   I was even able to respond a few times without having to read (也与你的心灵同在, or “And also with you”)!

I almost forgot to mention this – we lost power for a few minutes during the Gloria.  I was really struck by the lack of reaction this elicited, and wondered how often it happens.  I didn’t mind at all, although I couldn’t read along anymore; I have some very good memories of unplugged Masses – ice storms at TU, for instance.

After Mass, some people that I met last week asked me if I had eaten yet, which I hadn’t.  We went to dinner together, and they took me to a nice restaurant.  (It was the nicest place I’ve been to yet, but that doesn’t really say much as I usually eat for $1.50 or so.)  Carmen, John, and Peter are all Cantonese-Canadian expats and they’ve been really welcoming to me.  It turns out that Carmen and John are going to be in Taibei next week as well, so I’m going to join them for Mass at the church they went to when they lived there.

The only downside to this unexpected dinner date was that I missed dancing.  It’s going to be 2 weeks before I can go again – how will I survive?!?

Anyway, today is my one-month anniversary here in Xiamen.  Today’s adventure to the mainland made me realize that I have lived the last month not only on an island, but I have not traveled further than 5 miles from where I live!  What a month!

I’ve been doing some thinking over the last few days, evaluating my first month here.  While this isn’t the longest I’ve been in China yet (last summer was 60 days), this time is different because it marks about one-tenth of the total duration, instead of half.  This year has the additional challenge of transitioning from the excitement of life in a new place to the reality of living there for an entire year (or 11 months, but still).

I think balance is a really big issue in this – for instance, when deciding what to eat every day.  I have some favorite foods here and know where to get them, but each time I go to eat I have to decide whether to try something new, which is hit-or-miss, or just eat an old favorite.  This also goes for free time – do I explore something new or go someplace I’ve been before?

So here are the highlights of this month:

  • Best New Friend: Leinira – she is truly wonderful.
  • Favorite Thing to Do: Dancing – you probably all knew that was coming :)
  • Best purchase: My residence permit?
  • Best Discovery: Magnum bars!
  • Favorite Food: 西红柿炒蛋 (tomato and egg)
  • Best Story: the mercury spill, I think
  • Biggest Victory: registering!!
  • Most Useful New Word: 奖学金 (scholarship)

Well it’s a Saturday night, and you know what that means . . . homework.  Because I have class on Sunday.