Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘beach’

Saving the Best For Last

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2010 at 11:53 pm

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but what I’m discovering right now is that impending absence makes the heart infatuated. I’ve been more and more unhappy with some aspects of my life here in Xiamen the last month or so (okay, mainly my room, the laundry, and the peeing cicadas) but none of that matters right now. I can’t remember why those things were such a big deal to me. All I can think about is how much it’s going to suck to leave my friends here.

It’s not like I don’t have friends back home, obviously. But for some reason, I’m finding it harder to go back than I did to come here, even though last year I was heading into the unknown and this year I pretty much know what’s waiting for me at home. Maybe it’s that I don’t know when I’ll be back? That was definitely the case when I went to visit my friends in Jilin, and Xiamen is even worse. Except for the people at my parish, my friends in Xiamen are not stationary; even if I came back in two years most of them would probably be gone, graduated, working in other cities. And those are the Chinese friends – the foreign friends are either home already or headed back in a matter of time. Once I leave Xiamen, there’s no coming back to the city as I currently know it.

Bishop Cai invited me for a farewell lunch, so I went over to Lundu at noon to meet a large group of church friends. We had a buffet at a nice hotel (fried frog, anyone?), where I sat at the main table with the bishop and Fr. He, visiting again from Taiwan. I was so happy to have a last chance to talk to them! I told them that this year in China, I had seen my first ordinations of deacons, priests, and a bishop, and we all pondered the possibility of the ordination of a Chinese pope. Maybe someday?

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In the afternoon, I had plans nearly a year in the making. Directly next to XiaDa is Nanputuo, a Buddhist temple. It is so close that the tall building offers a perfect view of the temple grounds. It is so close that the bus stop named XiaDa actually serves the temple. It is so close that mere steps from the university’s south gate brings you to the entrance. It is so close, yet I had not been.

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It’s partially because I’m not that interested in Buddhist temples, and partially because it was just so close that it seemed I could always do it another day. But after the 9-month mark or so, I decided that I might as well go on the very last day. And so I did.

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My tour guide was BinBin, the leader of our church’s youth group. He grew up in a Buddhist family but converted to Catholicism in college, so he was a fun and informative guide. He explained the different statues and images, differences and similarities in our beliefs, and things like that. I felt like I got the bonus tour!

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After looking around the temple and the monk school, we climbed the mountain. It’s not a huge mountain, but climbing in near-100° heat with 70% humidity was a little bit ridiculous. I sweated through my shirt in minutes, and had to cool off for a good 10 minutes before taking pictures at the top.

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But no matter, it was well worth the climb. The mountain overlooks my university (looking down even on the Tall Building) and the view is truly incredible. XiaDa’s entire beautiful campus, Nanputuo’s temple grounds, the smooth white highway bridge system, the ocean, and Zhangzhou across the water.

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We reached the top in the late afternoon, before the sunset but well after the harsh midday sun. The sun was low, almost behind the mountains, so the entire vista was bathed in a perfect mellow gold. If I have to say goodbye to my island at some point, it might as well be this way.

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After we came down off the mountain, I took a much-needed shower, then went to West Gate to have my hair washed. #18 was there and free finally, so she finally got to wash a foreigner’s hair. Napping while having a scalp massage is one of the simple pleasures I will miss from China.

I met some friends at West Gate at 8 for my farewell dinner. Even with so many friends already gone, there were still 16 of us. I ordered all my favorite Chinese dishes (at Green Chairs, one of our favorite restaurants) and we ate our fill.

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At one point I frowned because I was sad to be saying goodbye, and I guess a bunch of people saw my ridiculous frown for the first time.

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This led to a showcase of Stupid Human Tricks – lots of silly facial expressions, double-jointed movements, and crazy flexibility. The funniest thing was not what some people could do, but what others couldn’t! The Chinese girls had a really hard time duplicating any of our faces, even simple things like winking and raising eyebrows. They just don’t show their emotions that way, they said.

I wanted to spend my last night in Xiamen on the beach, so a few of us walked to Baicheng to lounge on the sand.

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Eventually it was just me, Carlos, and Bo – oh, and the guy who was walking alongside the waves playing a saxophone. No, I’m not kidding; I couldn’t come up with something that perfect on my own! Once he stopped we played our own music, a combination of English, Spanish, and French songs (I introduced Bo to Tryo!). I played them my going home song, Caledonia by Celtic Woman:

I don’t know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I’ve been afraid
That I might drift away
I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs
That make me think about where I’ve come from
That’s the reason why I seem
So far away today

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

Now I have moved and I’ve kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way
I have kissed the fellas and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes, there’s no denying
I have traveled hard, sometimes with conscience flying
Somewhere with the wind

Now I’m sitting here before the fire
The empty room, the forest choir
The flames have cooled, don’t get any higher
They’ve withered, now they’ve gone
But I’m steady thinking, my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
When hands have shaken, the kisses float
Then I will disappear

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

After the beach we took one last turn around Furong lake, then Carlos gave me a ride on the back of his bike. That’s the last item I’ll get to cross off my bucket list, I guess!

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The Hardest Goodbyes

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I continued packing this morning.  Kind of.  Apparently when sculpting, all you have to do is take away the rock that doesn’t belong; for me, that’s the most important part of packing.  I am being ruthless with my wardrobe, and have at least a suitcase worth of clothes to leave behind with friends.

Some friends and I had pulled noodles for lunch, then Aleid and I grabbed popsicles and went to the beach.  It’s really obvious that summer vacation has finally started here; the student haunts are emptied out but there are tourists all the time now.  We saw a few on the bus, ooh-ing and aah-ing over their first glimpse of the beach.  Oh, tourists . . . haha.

It was a beautiful day for Aleid’s last time on the beach.  It was cloudy at first – fluffy-white-clouds-on-blue-sky kind of cloudy, not smoggy or anything – but even that cleared up pretty quickly.  I read some Lord Jim, slept, and occasionally dipped in the water to cool off. 

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I only stayed out there for two hours or so, but I guess we were there closer to midday than usual.  Even those two hours were enough to turn me red, which actually marks the first time I’ve gotten sunburned this year.  (And only like the 5th time in my life.  Interesting story: I was maybe 13 the first time I got sunburned, and when my skin started peeling off I was seriously convinced I was dying of skin cancer!)

I caught a random bus back to campus and happened to meet Eunice on it!  She had recently duplicated my success on the HSK (it’s the magic book, we decided) and owed me a milk tea, so we went to West Gate together for a delicious treat.  I like the Chinese tradition of treating your friends when you have good fortune, but the other way feels good, too, so I gate Eunice a 10-kaui bill so she can have a milk tea on me when she gets a job in Shanghai.

I showered all the sand off me, then parked myself on my bed and began packing.  A few hours later, I realized that I had made dinner plans and had no clue what time it currently was.  I found my cell phone across the room on my desk, with 3 texts and about 4 missed calls – I was an hour late for Aleid and Eunice’s goodbye dinner!  I ran out the door, grabbed a taxi, and managed to arrive at the restaurant before the food came, but I felt really bad about it :(

We retired to the beach after dinner, just hanging out on the sand, talking, and taking pictures.

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We dressed up with fresh flowers from the beach.

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My last night with two of my best friends . . .

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Diederik’s Last Night in Town

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2010 at 2:01 am

I didn’t sleep after watching the World Cup final.  The s’mores gave me energy, I guess, and it was early evening in the US – a perfect time to talk to people back home, and one I’m rarely awake for.  By the time I did feel sleepy, it was 8:15 and I still had to take a shower before my finals started at 9 a.m.

My first final was Listening, a makeup from the test I missed last week.  It was just me and the teacher, which probably made my nodding off slightly more obvious.  I think I still did okay, though.

I had a half hour before my second final, so I went to our usual classroom and settled down for a nap, figuring my classmates would arrive soon and wake me up.  But (you probably saw this coming) that didn’t happen, and I woke up at 10:10 to an empty classroom.  I had missed class last week, and apparently they had changed classrooms without letting me know.  Good thing I have an awesome internal alarm clock – while I can be embarrassingly late to things, my body won’t let me sleep past the point of serious damage.  So I was 15 minutes late to my final, but I still finished second.

I went to lunch with my classmates (Aleid, Eunice, and Jelle) at the malatang soup place.  That stuff is amazingly delicious, even when the air outside is as blazing hot as the soup!  Then I was due for a nap – rather, long overdue!

I only ended my nap because Aleid and I decided to meet at the beach and I hoped to continue it there.  But there was too much stuff going on at the beach to sleep.  We demolished a kilo or so of lychee, I made a clog out of sand, we watched the couples taking wedding pictures as always, and we tried to figure out what people were digging for in the low tide area.  (Pirate treasure?  Worms?  Who knows?)

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After a shower, we grabbed takeout for dinner and took it up to Diederik’s place for his last night in town.  It was like going back to the beginning, as my earliest memory of Diederik (and one of my first memories of Xiamen at all) was having drinks on his roof the night before our medical examination.  We had beautiful weather and a beautiful view, and all in all it was great to have a farewell conversation instead of goodbye party.  Some topics were off limits of course (the World Cup, Yerkin’s birthday feast, and finals), but that just meant we talked about other things.  Like weddings – and how Yerkin’s going to invite us to that feast.

As Yerkin said, you know it’s ending when you start talking about how it all began . . .

We progressed from the roof to malatang place for barbecue – of course.  While we ate, Eunice and I started a tradition of making people pose with my fan.

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Best prop EVER!

There was another farewell party at Paradise, this one for Katrin and Chris.  We went for a little while, but when we only knew the two of them it got depressingly obvious how many of our friends had already left.  It’s getting down to the final few, where I wave goodbye and maybe there’s no one to wave back?

I’m On A Boat

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2010 at 10:19 pm

I slept as late as possible (as I had, after all, been up until after 4 a.m.) but once I woke I up I had to hit the ground running.  We were supposed to meet at West Gate at noon, which meant that we trickled on to bus about 45 minutes later.  We were down three people but up two, and somehow all the food had showed up, so it was slightly chaotic but turned out okay.

There was a mix-up at the pier where we got on a boat but it turned out not to be our boat . . .

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. . . But nevertheless by 1 or so we were out on the open water.

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We sailed past Gulangyu and the statue of Koxinga, and headed for an island much further away (not, despite popular demand, Taiwan).

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Our boat was a long wooden contraption, painted green and other bright colors.  There was a little cockpit for our crew (and old woman and an older man) while the rest of us chilled on the open deck, partially covered by a roof.  We had stools to sit on and laps to eat off of – what else could you want?  The spread included bread, salsa, pasta salad, potato salad, barbecue, peanut butter and chocolate bars, cookies, and so much beer that it looked downright silly as they brought it on board.

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Our group was as diverse as Xiamen get-togethers usually are – 29 people from 15 countries.  There were 6 Chinese, 4 Americans, 3 Germans, 3 Dutch, 2 British, 2 Filipinas, and people from France, Ukraine, Thailand, Burundi, Austria, Romania, South Korea, Sweden, and Kazakhstan.

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It really was a melting pot, which is about as American as apple pie.  (Sadly, there was no apple pie, but we did have watermelon!)

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And the four of us Americans treated our guests to a rousing rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, which has to earn extra America points, right?

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After an hour or two of sailing, we arrived at our dream beach.

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Haha.  No, seriously, I think the captain actually wanted to drop us off there but we said no, on account of it looking like Hades and all.  Instead, we turned around and went to a different, only slightly more hospitable-looking island dominated by insanely sharp pointy rocks.

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But it was good for exploring and the constant threat of death by impalement on said sharp pointy rocks kept things exciting.  I cut my toe on one of them, which actually just complemented the cuts I had on both of my pointer fingers from chopping vegetables and grabbing broken beer bottles, so it was okay.  Also, my fingers ached all day from the capsaicin embedded under my fingernails from last night’s salsa-making and I somehow lost part of a toenail . . . But believe me when I say I had an incredible time!

The weather was simply amazing – hotter than heck back in my room, I’m sure, but there was a steady breeze on the water.  We stayed on the island a few hours, then headed back while we fired up the barbecue.  A few of the guys took care of the fire, so I was free to relax on the side of the boat, enjoying the gentle light of the sunset, the rocking of the boat, and the sound of friends’ laughter.

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By all accounts, it was one of the best days in Xiamen.  It was the first Fourth of July for many people, and perhaps the most memorable for me.  Happy Birthday, America!

PS – The Onion did a special America edition.  Please enjoy these classic articles: Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence, Report: U.S. May Have Been Abused During Formative Years, Third Amendment Rights Group Celebrates Another Successful Year, Supreme Court Rules Supreme Court Rules, and Life In The Navy Rocks Even Harder Than The Commercial Implied

Beach Football is the Best Football

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2010 at 3:55 am

I heard a rumor last night that they were shutting off our electricity today.  Why is that the bad rumors are so much more often true than the good rumors? 

The electricity stopped at 7 this morning, and didn’t return until after 8 in the evening.  Yes, that’s right – as if it weren’t bad enough that they were cutting our electricity during the hellishly hot days of July in Xiamen, they also conveniently arranged it on the weekend and during the scorching daylight.  Thanks, guys. 

We drew the curtains before going to bed, so the room stayed reasonably cool until we got up.  But then Leinira left the balcony door open for a half hour while she cleaned and all the pleasantly cool air fled the room.  By staying in bed and lying perfectly still, I managed to pass the time until about 2 in the afternoon.  At that point I got up, immediately started sweating, and decided to get the heck out of my room.

Apparently most of campus and some other parts of the city had lost power as well, so every place at West Gate with air conditioning was mobbed with sweaty patrons.  Eunice and Andreea somehow found a table at McDonald’s, and I joined them there for a few hours of studying.

While we sitting there, the day got even better.  (And of course by “better”, I mean “worse”.)  Two girls came in and stood uncomfortably near our seats, causing Eunice to protectively move her purse to her lap.  I, not being from the Philippines, didn’t think much of it and we all went back to reading.  Then all of a sudden there was a commotion and we looked up to watch Andreea nearly tackle a girl to get her purse back.  While we were figuring out what the heck was going on (and trying to think of the word “thief” in Chinese), the three of them got away.  No one so much as looked at us afterwards, and they barely reacted even when we finally started yelling 小偷, 小偷! 

That was the first time I witnessed an attempted theft.  When people warned me about thieves in China, I guess I always figured it would be more of a pickpocketing thing.  Anyway, with how easily I lose things I didn’t worry about it too much.  Why fear a thief I’ve never seen when I’ve lost more cameras than some people have ever owned?  But this, this blatant grab-and-run, was scary – and the complete apathy of everyone around us was even more so.

I wasn’t feeling like showering in my dark bathroom, so I went to get my hair washed instead.  It’s been far too long since I indulged in this luxury, and the scalp massage was even more amazing than I remembered it.  The lady next to me was so excited to see me, and said that she’d always wanted to wash a foreigner’s hair.  I’m not one to disappoint, so I’m planning on going back there once more before going home – #48, your time is coming!

I went to church in the evening and, thankfully, got home after the power had come back on.  I was able to get online after an entire day without internet – while it is kind of a long time for me, it really wouldn’t have been that big of a deal on a normal day.  But the first email I saw was from my parents and ended with “Still awaiting news on Cathy” and the second email was titled “Prayers needed”.  They had both been sent 16 hours earlier, when my aunt suffered [basically] two heart attacks and was put into a drug-induced coma to minimize damage to her organs. 

I was upset and scared to hear this news, and even more so because it seemed like so much time had passed without me knowing.  Let’s be honest – 90% of my communication online is not time-sensitive at all, and only a fraction of a percent is truly urgent like this was, but almost all of my communication over here is internet-based in one way or another, and thus it is all – important and trivial – subject to the whims of China. 

 

A little later, Eunice and I went to the beach party.  We arrived a few minutes past 10 to find an entire beach full of people focused attentively on the Germany-Argentina match being broadcast on a white screen that swayed gently in the breeze.  We had already missed one German goal but it turned out to not be a big deal.  We settled down in the sand to watch the rest of the game, all four German goals of it. 

One thing I’ve been a little annoyed about during the World Cup is the way everyone gets so worked up when a team loses.  I mean, everyone except one team goes home a loser, so it seems like it shouldn’t be such a big deal.  But I’m starting to see that it’s not so much the losing as the way it was lost.  France was an obvious disgrace and apparently (though I’m not clear on why) Italy was as well.  While I want to remember the awesome 91-st minute goal, everyone else is remembering how tired the US team looked when we lost to Ghana.  England’s Rooney was so hyped that a 4:1 loss is kind of bad (although, really, everyone and their mother has allowed 4 German goals, if you think about it).  South Africa didn’t live up to expectations/hopes as the host nation, none of the other African countries stepped up either, so that every African loss felt like a continent-wide failure. 

And then tonight – Messi, Maradona, que paso? 

While I don’t relish the idea of an entire country in mourning, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed this match.  Cafe del Mar has been a nice venue, but nothing can beat cool sand and a fresh breeze after a hot day.  The sound of waves over there, the moon shining through clouds, and stars visible in the clear sky overhead – they helped, too.  And when they celebrated Germany’s victory with fireworks – well, that was almost too perfect. 

I also had a burger.  They were too small, the buns were sweet, and they cost $3 each (a fortune!) but they were still the best burgers I’ve had in nearly a year.  (It’s kind of fun to be able to say that.  Almost makes up for having to go nearly a year without getting to eat stuff like hamburgers.  Almost.  But not quite.)  It kind of felt like the Fourth of July!

I danced for a while but went home because I had to cook while we still had electricity.  The good news was, there was a match on – Spain vs. Paraguay – to keep me company.  I was hoping to watch it with Carlos, my favorite Spaniard, but he was sick.  I found him in his room, huddled under a blanket and asking me to bring him mine.  I would have stayed with him, but his AC was off and his room was so hot I started sweating immediately upon entering. 

So I sat on my bed, slicing tomatoes and cheering for Spain whenever I remembered to look up.  The game was 0-0 for a long time, and the thought of Spain losing made me cry.  Come to think of it, it might have been the onions I was chopping; really tough to say.  I washed spring peas and diced garlic and cut up hot peppers and finally Spain scored and won.  Around 4, I finally went to sleep on a bed that smelled of salsa, under the blanket I had reclaimed from Carlos.  Germ warfare using blankets – that is just like the Spanish, isn’t it? 

Supply and Demand

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2010 at 2:43 am

We’ve put up with our share of crap from the weather in Xiamen this year.  For about five months, if you asked a Xiamenite when the rainy season is, they would respond, without fail, “n月和n+1月” (essentially, this month and next month).  And, from about February to mid-June, it was true.

But the blazing sun and brilliant blue sky have been out these past few days, and it has been glorious.  It’s been hot (35C or 100F) but not as deathly humid as before.  It reminds me of Texas, or (if the wind is blowing) Oklahoma.  Except there are beaches here.

I had my first final today, in newspaper reading.  I was really excited about the class at first but somewhere along the line (between the second and the third teacher) it became newspaper analysis and started to suck.  Glad to be done with it.

I rewarded myself by spending the afternoon at the beach with a book.  A book I’ve already read, granted, but that’s the reality of life in China for me.  I didn’t go in the water, just sat by the large concrete mice (computer, not animal) that are there for some reason.  I had the beach basically to myself, which would have made more sense if it had been during a downpour or a snowstorm or a tsunami instead of an insanely gorgeous day.  But this is one of the perks of Asians’ cultural dislike for dark skin – sometimes understandably mistaken as a downright fear of the sun.

I should admit – one of my purposes in sitting out there was to get a tan.  I feel slightly conflicted about this, because I dislike the importance attached to skin color in societies all over the world.  I guess I think I look better with slightly darker skin (hopefully to cover up those mosquito bite scars) but what I think is more interesting is the connotation that different skin colors carry.

Because of course, skin color is just a convenient proxy for the connotations associated with it.  This is why Americans love bronzed bodies and Asians treasure their porcelain skin.  (See?  Even the words differ; Americans would more commonly say ‘pasty’.)  In societies where many labor under the sun, skin untouched by its rays is a sign of wealth or prestige keeping it from a darker fate.  In societies where many spend their lives indoors, only those with the money and time to exercise, relax, or travel enjoy prolonged exposure to the sun. 

But over time, the connection between skin color and what it signifies becomes so close that the two are seemingly one.  And instead of that skin arising naturally from those circumstances, obtaining that skin color through alternate methods is a way to create the facade of that lifestyle.  So this is why my classmates at Coon Rapids High School were bright orange in the dead of winter, a physical impossibility using natural sunlight.  And this is why my friends who work construction in Jilin wear layers of clothing all summer, to preserve their white skin in spite of the reality of their jobs.

It all seems kind of silly to me; I’m not trying to fool anyone here with my skin color.  I want it to speak the truth – and the truth is that I live 3 minutes walk from a beach.  I want to have enjoyed this luxury by the time I leave, and my tan is just a convenient meter for measuring my progress. 

 

This evening, Carlos invited me to go out with his work friends to play Catan.  We had dinner and [two bowls of] shaved ice and fruit, and then went to their house to play.  Carlos won both games last time we played 6-player, so I warned them not to let him win.  They really believed me, so Carlos got crushed and I won.  I won the second one fair and square, though.  And things are back to how they should be :) 

Catan is such an amazing game, really.  I am continually amazed at how simple it is, how perfectly balanced the rules are, how many times it can be played without ever getting boring.  I want to do research on Catan – what kind of degree program would that be?  Supply and demand, game theory, statistics?  Sounds like economics to me.  Hmmmm. 

We played until 1 a.m. but it didn’t even feel late.  I guess several nights of 2:30 a.m. football matches will do that to you, eh?  There is no football tonight, day one of a two-day break before the quarter finals . . . and its weird.  I haven’t watched every night, but I have generally known who was playing and looked for the results as the games ended.  I haven’t even been a football fan for three weeks, but when Carlos put his head in his hands, groaning “What will I do when it’s over?”, I kind of knew how he was feeling.  True story. 

 

I got home to a few messages on QQ.  Joyce, a.k.a. Worst Friend Ever, is trying to rekindle our friendship; I think she needs to improve her oral English for something.  Allen, a guy I met once at English Corner, is trying to take me to dinner before I leave.  Earlier in the year I would have tried to fit them in, but tonight I was honest and said I was going to be pretty busy until I leave China.  It’s not like I’m dying or anything, but the truth is that I only have a certain number of days left here and, after this long, I have a pretty good idea of how I want to spend them.  I’ve done the fake friend thing here; it has its merits.  But by the law of supply and demand, time with the people I care about has gotten infinitely valuable, and it’s hard to compete with that. 

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.

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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.

一边玩,一边学习

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

Yesterday was amazing all day.  In the evening, we went out to celebrate Jimmy’s birthday at a fish restaurant near the Lundu Ferry dock.  We sat upstairs on a covered deck, where we had a great view (mostly in shades of blue and gray) of Gulangyu and the strait. 

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The food was good, but the most memorable thing was the service.  The servers came around and arranged individual sets of dishes in front of us, which is a long way from using your chopsticks to punch through the plastic wrap on your 1-kuai set of disinfected dishes.  They put a bowl of lemon water on the table for us to wash our hands, which is a little classier than using the pack of kleenex that you personally brought.  There were also some downsides to it, which made me realize why we always go to such cheap places – they don’t care if you brink your own drinks.  (Also, they’re cheap!  But just to be clear, dinner was still $7 a person.)

I went home after dinner, where I met up with some friends to go to the first beach party of the season!  I had so much fun dancing and just running into basically every foreigner I’ve ever met in Xiamen. 

There were beautiful lights:

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And glow sticks for raving:

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At one point, there were a ton of people all standing around in a huge circle watching a totally wasted guy dance like a crazy person, when I realized it was time for graduation to start back home.  I rushed into the circle and just started rocking out to “Volare”.

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I think dancing the funky chicken at a beach party instead of graduating is kind of an analogy for this year of my life.  They’ve both been incredibly fun, not a little bit ridiculous, and, while not directly furthering my academic career, I’ve certainly learned a lot.

For instance, last night Eunice, XuLei and I were sitting on the beach chatting about boys.  It’d had been a long time since I’d done that, and I’m pretty sure it was my first time doing so in Chinese – it was great.  Then our conversation was interrupted by some very close explosions as some people set off fireworks about 10 feet away.  I wasn’t worried at first but things started falling on us and we ran.  XuLei made fun of me later, saying that I had been “一个劲儿地说不危险" (continuously saying that it wasn’t dangerous) until I finally freaked out.  I didn’t even mind her mocking me because she did so by using, 一个劲儿, which is one of the new words in the lesson we’re supposed to be working on this weekend! 

And that’s how we do it here in China – 一边玩,一边学习  (study and have fun at the same time).

What I Was Doing On May 8th, 2010, at 10 a.m. Central Time

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2010 at 1:36 am

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The Law of Diminishing Returns

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Ah summer – please don’t ever leave us again.  You and Xiamen belong together, like kungpao belongs with chicken. 

Today we officially inaugurated the beach as prime hang-out spot for the rest of the year.  Jimmy brought most of the food, which really means I don’t have to say anything else because you should know we ate well.  Toasted bread, fruit, salads, corn-on-the-cob, and oh the meat

It was also a farewell party for Virginie, who returns to France tomorrow evening.  It will be a few months still before the next farewell, but in a tiny tiny way it feels like the beginning of the end.

Besides the barbecue beach party, catching up on The Office, and the international movie night, I spent some time finally catching up on my flashcard reviews.  This upcoming week is midterms but because I spend time studying every day, I’m not really planning on increasing that time.  According to the statistics provided by my flashcard program:

  • I have 7,527 flashcards
  • I know 6,000 of them (taking away new and suspended cards)
  • I review an average of 150 cards each day, which takes me about 45 minutes
  • Last week, because was a little behind and added a lot of new cards, I reviewed over 400 each day
  • On average, I’ve added 25 new cards each day

Last week I added a plugin to the program that gives even more facts, including counting the number of individual characters that I know.  (This is helpful because many of my 7,000+ cards are words that contain more than one character; while I don’t repeat words, there are lots of duplicate characters.)

  • I know 1650 characters. 
  • Of the 803 甲 (most basic) characters, I know 95%
  • Of the 798 乙 (elementary) characters, I know 70%
  • Of the 589 丙 (intermediate) characters, I know 33%
  • Of the 670 丁 (advanced) characters, I know 13%

As you can see, there is still much left to learn.  I don’t despair over these numbers; instead I’m kind of tickled over the 87 ‘advanced’ characters that I somehow managed to learn.  At any rate, I also found it interesting to see a breakdown of the frequency of use of the most common characters. 

  • The 500 most commonly-used characters (of which I know nearly 98%) make up 75% of Chinese usage
  • The top 1000 commonly-used characters make up 89%
  • By the time you know the top 1500 characters, you are theoretically* able to read 95% of Chinese
  • To get above 99%, you have to learn the top 3,000 characters
  • If you learn another 500 after that, you only increase your comprehension level to 99.5% (from 99.2%).

*Caveat: these counts concern only characters; while knowing a character theoretically means you can read it out loud and have a general understanding of its meaning, you may still not know how it works when paired with other characters in a word. 

Basically what you see is a real-life example of the law of diminishing returns – at the beginning, each character you learn is immensely useful; but by the time you’re learning character #3,438 you’re really not getting much use out of your new knowledge. 

This is why learning Chinese is really fun at the beginning, and why I’m pretty happy to be stopping after this year :)