Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘bus’

Speak No Evil

In Uncategorized on November 17, 2009 at 1:00 am

This morning I went over to meet with one of the dancing men and give him some American music.  Unfortunately, the only song he ended up copying to his computer was “Midnight to Moonlight” (thanks Dad!), because all the music I brought is “not clear enough”, covering the beats sometimes.  I’m still really glad I went, though, because I got to talk to him about music and dancing.  Also, apparently he goes dancing somewhere on Monday nights and offered to take us sometime . . .

This evening I forced myself to go out for dinner; the weather is still cold and rainy and it is entirely too easy to stay inside.  I went to Baicheng (the gate nearest to my dorm) and got on the first bus that came by.  As I was wondering what exciting places it would take me to, I realized it was pulling into Nanputuo – its terminus.  I had just paid 1 kuai for a ride around my campus . . . fail.  I tried again, ending up somewhere (still haven’t figured out exactly where) where I ate some delicious Sichuan iron-skillet beef.

While I was walking around looking for the nearest bus stop, I saw something that struck me as very odd.  After thinking about it for a second, it struck me as odd that it struck me as odd.  What was it?  A Hummer.  I mean, it seems like a quarter of TU students own them, but I certainly had not seen one since coming to China.  It looked so ridiculously large, but then again, most personal cars do, now!  I’ve definitely become accustomed to my living situation here in China, and when I remember that I – at 20 years of age – purchased my very own car, it seems downright crazy.  Then again, the idea of public transportation that can get me anywhere on my island for 14 cents a pop seems crazy when you’re living in America . . .

On the way back from a trip that featured a complete lack of interactions in Chinese, the bus driver started talking to me.  The first couple questions are always easy to handle; even if I don’t catch a single word, I usually just answer “America”, assuming that they asked where I’m from.

Unfortunately, beyond the cursory introductions I didn’t catch much.  I know that we talked about black people (although I don’t know why he brought it up) and managed to agree that Obama is China right now.  That was about it . . . Unfortunately, while everyday Chinese people are very interesting to me and, generally, interested in me, it’s very difficult for me to talk to them.  Between dialects and accents, I just 听不懂 (listen but don’t understand).

I know I’ve already expressed my unhappiness over the weather, but it’s seriously cramping my style.  I had been excited about the Leonides meteor shower for over a week now, but it’s just not happening.  It was supposed to be really big this year, especially in Asia, and I just happen to live by a beach . . . but the sky is totally covered in clouds.  So. Lame.

There is some silver lining in my cloudy day, though.  I emailed Deacon Joseph and heard back from about the trip to Shanghai for his ordination – I can go!!  They’re leaving on Thursday the 3rd, doing some pilgrimage to some mountain on Friday the 4th and coming back on Saturday the 5th after the ordination.  I’m going to try to stay a few more days to make the trip more worth my time and money, and I’m really excited about it all!

I’m up too late tonight.  I’m still trying to fill in the gaps in my vocabulary created when I skipped ahead a semester, which is taking quite a bit of time – we’re talking probably 500 words here!  It’s an interesting position to be in, though, looking back at such a large selection of vocabulary to study on my own.  There are some words that are definitely important and I need to learn, but there are also a lot of very specialized words that were probably quizzed on once and certainly won’t be on the final.

So, basically, I get to pick and choose.  This is such a unique opportunity!  I am literally creating my own vocabulary, choosing the words I will be able to use when interacting with Chinese people.  If I’m not interested in a word and don’t think it’s worth my time, I don’t have to learn it.  If I don’t want to get into a conversation about a certain topic, I can facilitate that by willfully not knowing the applicable vocabulary.  It’s certainly harder to do this in your native tongue, but I’m enjoying this opportunity to control my tongue.  Language is so powerful!

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Walking On Water

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2009 at 10:53 pm

When we had checked into the hotel on Saturday, I had asked about Catholic churches in Ningde and was told there were 好几个 – quite a few.  So Sunday morning, I got up early and took a taxi to a nearby church, arriving a half-hour early for 7:00 Mass. 

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I talked to a man outside for a few minutes, and then a woman insisted that I come in and sit with her.  (It turned out that these people were, respectively, the priest and a nun, but wore no distinguishing clothing so I think my ignorance is understandable.)  I had arrived in time for their pre-Mass prayers, which I never do in Xiamen, so that was interesting to witness.  I’m pretty sure they were praying the rosary – in fact, the woman leafed through my notebook until she found the Hail Mary and pointed to it – but I couldn’t even manage to read along with them.  They were chanting and, as far as I can tell, completely omitting all consonants, so it just sounded like overlapping waves of sounds.  Very pretty, very Chinese, but not very intelligible to an outsider.

Luckily, once Mass started I was totally good.  The priest spoke very clearly and, even better, they showed the entire text of the Mass on two TV screens at the front of the church!  Between reading and listening, I could recognize each of the readings.  The first reading was something about oil and bread and never running out (Elijah and the widow); the second from Hebrews about Jesus dying one time, not many times; and the Gospel was Jesus comparing the poor person who gave a little bit of money with the rich people who gave a lot of money.  Except for communion – when the priest took a host back from the man in front of me – the rest of Mass was as I’ve gotten used to in China. 

After Mass, the woman who sat with me invited me to breakfast with the priest and two other nuns.  When we got there, the table was spread with fish, meat, and veggies that had clearly been out overnight and were completely unappetizing.  I was trying to convince my stomach of the need to be polite and eat when I happily realized that food was not for breakfast.  Apparently the Chinese can’t stomach it at 8 a.m. either!  While we broke the fast with hot milk and mantou – huge fluffy rice buns – we talked.  I learned a lot from this conversation.  For instance, I learned that the Chinese word for ‘nun’ is 修女, which roughly translates as “women who repair things”.  I learned that Xiamen seems to be an island of non-Catholicism in the province, which alleviates some worries that I may have about traveling Fujian.  I learned that, wherever I go in China, I can get information about local churches by dialing 114.  I learned that the church was not technically opened yet, and that I was more than welcome to return for the dedication on the 2nd of January. 

I also learned that they usually hold every Mass in the local dialect, but the priest used 普通话 (Mandarin) because I was there.  Wow.  I was so grateful when I heard this! 

After we finished eating, the priest and nun drove me to the bus station.  Despite a mix-up between Ningde’s north and south stations, I arrived in time to run and board the bus.  The ride to PingAn was fine, but then we had to take another bus to BaiShuiYang – 40 minutes with the woman next to me throwing up almost continuously.  Have I mentioned yet how 麻烦 (frustrating) this trip was?

Perhaps this will help illustrate the point.  Having spent over 4 months total in China now, I’m no stranger to Chinese-style toilets – “squatty potties” as we call them.  I’ve done it in squatty potties before – in the dark, with no toilet paper, on moving trains, and combinations of all of the above.  Thus, it takes quite the toilet experience to warrant a mention . . . and this was quite an experience.  The bathroom consisted of about four little cubicles, mostly walled-in to a height just above my waist, but without doors.  A trench ran the length of the bathroom, with a water spout on one side and on the other, presumably, a drain.  When it flushes (at some predetermined interval, not when you personally are done), your business becomes everyone else’s.  Literally. 

Anyway, the 麻烦 was not over once we got to BaiShuiYang.  The entrance to the scenic area was 80 kuai (over $10), but we hadn’t come this far to not go in.  Food was also easily 3 times the Xiamen price, so after laughing in the vendor’s face we sat on a bench and shared a few oranges, some Pringles, and “toughness biscuits”. 

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After eating, we went into the park.  We had a 15-minute cart ride and then a 15-minute walk before arriving at the main destination: the place where we could walk on water. 

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It’s basically a wide, very shallow river where water flows over a bed of rocks. 

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It was nice, but I couldn’t help but think of all that we had gone through to get there and wonder if it was worth it (answer: no).  I did, however, enjoy the chance to see some fall colors, which are totally absent in the palm trees of Xiamen.

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We caught the bus back to PingAn by a minute, and then caught the bus to Fuzhou (capital of my province) just after arriving in PingAn.  It was a “4-hour ride”, but we stopped for about 15 minutes out of every hour, so we didn’t get to Fuzhou until 8:30.  Contrary to what we had been told, there were still buses running to Xiamen.  However, this trip, too, went long – 5 hours as opposed to the usual 3 1/2 – so we didn’t get to Xiamen until 1 in the morning.

The last leg was alright, though, because I ended up sitting next to a Chinese guy and getting several hours of Chinese practice in.  There were several interesting parts of our conversation:

  • While he was looking at my journal, he noticed how I wrote the date: 8 Nov 09.  He commented that Chinese people write the date in the opposite order (year, month date).  I said that, actually, most Americans write the date as month, day, year, but that I’m not used to writing it that way.  He was surprised by this – “You’re an American and you aren’t used to the American way?”  I started to explain that my dad was in the Army and always wrote it that way, but he interrupted me after I said “我爸爸是. . .” (My father is . . . ) to say “中国人?” (Chinese??).  We both had a good laugh about that one, especially because I know what my dad looks like (which is to say, incredibly handsom, but totally Caucasian).
  • I think it was after that that he told me my laugh was 爽朗, which (I just looked up) means “refreshingly clear” or “cheerful”.  He also told me that my confused face was 可爱, or “cute”, and managed to do both without them seeming fake.  Every day, I have people telling me that I’m beautiful, or that my Chinese is great because I managed to say “thank you” or “hello”, but genuine compliments have proved pretty hard to come by, so it was a very nice change.  
  • We got to talking about boyfriends and he asked me how many I had had.  Apparently 5 is a lot compared to most Chinese girls, but I totally surprised him by telling him about friend (who shall remain nameless) who has dated over 30 guys.  He said she must be very pretty!
  • I asked him about his impression of America, and he said that it seems like people can do what they want, that other people don’t tell you what to do.  It’s funny because I think so much about freedoms like those in the Bill of Rights, but the Chinese people are missing more than just that.  They don’t have much control over the course of their lives, which must seem more desirable than the slightly more removed, say, freedom of press. 

Anyway, we arrived back in lovely Xiamen, where I wanted to kiss the shiny bus stop signs.  We took a taxi back to campus and finally – after approximately 18 hours on buses – the 麻烦 was over. 

A Lesson in Trip Planning

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2009 at 10:07 pm

This weekend I went to Ningde with some friends.  The content of the group changed continuously up until the moment we left XiaDa, when it included me, Aleid (the Netherlands), Kristina (Slovenia), Arina (Russia), Hannah (Ukraine), and Christine (Germany).  Aleid, Kristina, and I had originally been planning on going with some guy friends who backed out, and then Arina and her friends joined us. 

We chose Ningde for two reasons: 1) Wuyi Mountain, the best tourist spot in our province, was too far for a weekend, and 2) because of this review in the book Magic Xiamen:

Ningde – Birthplace of Southern Chinese Civilization

Taimu Mtn. Nature & Religion
     36 Temples, 36 Scenic Spots
Xiapu – Japanese holy place
     Yangjiaxi Bamboo Raft Ride
Sandu’ao World’s Deepest Ice-free Harbor
Zhouning – Natural A/C City
     Liyu Village Carp Worshippers, Kung Fu Fighters
     9 Dragon Falls, China’s Largest falls Complex
Baishuiyang – Walk on Water

I bought this book because it is generally acknowledged to be the authoritative guide to Xiamen.  It was written by an American who has been living and teaching here for 20+ years and it does have some useful information on Xiamen.  However, I now have a new reason to dislike the book (besides the bad grammar, horrible puns, and cheesy clip-art): it is totally useless for information about Fujian. 

For illustration, I would like to describe Tulsa in a way similar to this review of Ningde:

Tulsa – Center of Southern Culture

Oklahoma City – State Capital
     Bricktown, Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial
Altus – Rural Oklahoman Life
     Wichita Mtns. Wildlife Refuge – buffalo!
Ft. Sill – Modern and Historical Base
     Cannon Walk, Cricket’s Corner, Geronimo’s Cell
Little Rock – President Clinton’s Boyhood Home
     Clinton Presidential Library, Hot Springs National Park
Dallas – the Metroplex
     Concerts, Sports, Rodeo

Wow, doesn’t Tulsa sound amazing?  One small problem: none of those places are actually IN Tulsa.  In fact, the nearest is about 2 hours away by car or bus.  Oops, did I forget to mention that?  No biggie.  Of course, when you were planning your trip to Tulsa, you factored in all that travel time, right??

If you can’t tell by the sarcasm above, we didn’t know that when the author said all these places were “in Ningde”, he actually meant “Ningde is a good starting point” for these places. 

You should also have figured out by now that this trip was not nearly as smooth as our idyllic vacation in Taiwan.  It all started before we even left XiaDa, when we realized that only some buses start running at 6; the one we needed didn’t come until 6:40, when we had planned to leave at 6:15.  Once we got to the bus station, we were told that the bus we wanted was leaving from the other station.  This really annoyed me because first of all, the man at the XiaDa travel agency said that the bus left from “the” long-distance bus station, and even agreed when I said it was by the lake (which it, of course, was not actually).  Secondly, Xiamen is an island with one bridge to the mainland.  Therefore, any bus leaving the island must go the same way . . . so why on earth would there be two long-distance bus stations??  China never fails to surprise and confound.

We took a taxi and got to the correct bus station and were even pleasantly surprised to find out that Ningde was only 4 hours away, not 12 like we had heard from someone.  We got to Ningde no problem and found a nice hotel where we each had our own clean bed for only 35 yuan, and it looked like things were going to be smooth from then on. 

Then we went to buy tickets to one of the many nearby attractions.  This was when we discovered that Nine Dragon Falls was 4 1/2 hours away, and Taimu Shan was just a bit closer.  Out of necessity, we settled for BaiShuiYang (‘only’ 2 1/2 hours) and bought tickets there – stupidly, before inquiring about return buses.  Another surprised awaited us next, in that the last bus returning from BaiShuiYang was at 4:50.  This meant we were looking at 5 hours in a bus for a half hour at this place . . . We managed to get the tickets exchanged for the next morning, but this left us with nothing to do for the rest of the day in Ningde, as our list of places to go was all out of reach.

We walked around the city for a while, which was not very enjoyable.  Living in Xiamen, it’s easy to forget what the rest of China is like, but Ningde was a reminder.  It was dirty (actually closer to filthy), loud (because outside Xiamen, where honking is not allowed, Chinese drivers use their horns more than the average American driver uses their blinker), and our presence was regarded with more curiosity than a band of bearded ladies . . . with no arms . . . riding unicycles.  It gets pretty tiring when everyone sees you as an English-speaking dollar bill. 

I finally asked a local girl if there were any 好玩儿的地方 (interesting places) around, and she suggest Baishuiyang – totally not helpful!  If someone asked me what to do in Coon Rapids, I would not tell them to go to Duluth!  Goodness . . . She finally told us about a park nearby, so we went there and climbed for awhile to pass the time.  We did get a good view of the city, which reminds me of nothing more than Mexico City (besides the tall pagoda on the hill).

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We also walked around the city for awhile, grabbing an mediocre dinner and some DELICIOUS cream puffs off the street.

Back at the hotel, we gathered in one room to play cards.  First, Kristina taught us a game that was somewhat similar to Spoons.  I think all of our countries had versions, more or less, of this same game, but we decided to play with Slovenian rules.  Basically, the deck only contains as many sets of 4 as there are players, and only one card is being passed at a time.  The game is over when someone has spelled out O-S-E-L, or ‘donkey’. 

It was pretty boring, though, so I told them about a game I wanted to teach them – King Mao.  Basically, it’s a game that you learn by playing: usually one person knows the rules and the others don’t, so you just start playing and the leader fines the others whenever they do something wrong.  New players have to figure out the rules as they’re playing, but it was even hard for me because I had to translate all the rules I was used to into Chinese.  It’s hard for me to say too much without giving the game away, but trust me – it was hilarious.  Most of the game was played in Chinese, but one of the rules had a word that we didn’t know how to say in Chinese, so everyone just used their own language.  I now know how to say “spade” in Russian and Dutch!  I also learned a couple words of Chinese: shuffle, clap, turn. 

I just really enjoyed playing the game because it was the only time that day that I was really confident everyone was having a good time.  Hannah, Arina, and Christine are quiet, quieter, and quietest, and I felt bad all day for how the trip was turning out.  But everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves while we played, so I really loved it.  Also, I get to cross an item off my bucket list: Teach someone King Mao in Chinese.

After playing several rounds, Aleid, Kristina, and I turned off the lights and went to bed.  We continued talking a little bit, like a slumber party or something . . . I think it ended up working out very well to just have girls on the trip :)

I Have Some Good News and Some Bad News

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2009 at 10:43 pm

The good news first:

I had my first test of the school year – Chinese grammar – this morning and I think it went well. 

Afterwards, I went to Carrefour, the big French supermarket in Xiamen, for the first time.  I bought a baguette and a block of Land O Lakes mozarella, which tastes like actual cheese (at least as much as I can remember; it has been over two months). 

The bad news:

Everything else.  I am not in a good mood today – probably the worst, in fact, since I came to China.  I am struggling with some issues and everything is bothering me. 

There are some little things, like how the entire purpose of my Carrefour run was to replenish my peanut butter supply, but I forgot to actually buy peanut butter.  Or how I somehow got on a drastically wrong bus and spent over two hours getting home from Carrefour (meanwhile traveling further west on the island than I had been previously, almost all the way to the coast).  This route cost me an extra yuan but even more frustratingly, cost me my pride as I was twice left standing on a bus that had reached its final destination without me realizing it.

But more so, I’m struggling internally with some decisions, and they’re weighing heavily on me – probably more than they should.  They’re in all parts of my life – academic, spiritual, social,  – which is really burdensome. 

Academically: I’m trying to decide if I want to change classes next week after this midterm.  My classes are too easy and with just a little bit of work and a [hopefully] short period of adjustment, I could move to something a little more challenging.  There are so many things to consider, though . . . I like my current teachers, schedule, and classmates, and am afraid to end up worse off in those areas.  I’m also afraid of losing my free time, which has enabled me to do some things that I’ve wanted.  At the same time, though, I didn’t come here to study dancing.  Also, I have historically always done worse when I feel like I’m not being challenged, and I can feel that apathy setting in in my school work.  Anyway, even if I decide to switch classes, I have to decide if I want to change to another 一年下 (1st year, 2nd semester) class or go all the way to 二年上 (2nd year, 1st semester).  I think I’m going to talk to my teacher and bring up the possibility on Friday after getting the results of today’s test.

Spiritually: I’m planning a trip with some friends to another part of Fujian this weekend.  I’m really excited about getting out and exploring my province, but there’s a problem: Mass.  I’m Catholic, and we’re supposed to attend Mass every Sunday.  In America (and many parts of the world), it’s pretty much possible to get to a Catholic church no matter where you are, but I’m afraid it’s not the same in China.  In Tulsa, we’re especially luckier because we have an 8 pm Sunday Mass, which means you can go away for the weekend, come back late, and still celebrate with your community.  Not so in Xiamen; our last Mass is at 10 am on Sunday.  In America it’s possible to fit Mass in around your weekend; in China you have to fit your weekend in around Mass.  Anyway, I’m not sure if I will be able to make it to Mass wherever I am in Fujian, and so I’m struggling with the decision to go on this trip.  I love being Catholic and don’t look at it as a set of rules that you have to follow, so the prospect of missing Mass doesn’t just bother me because it’s something that I have to do, but also because it’s something that I want to do.  Luckily, I have several wonderful priests back home who responded to my question and encouraged me to take the opportunity, while remembering to spend some time in prayer on Sunday.  I feel more resolved, but I guess I’m still not happy about it. 

Socially: I am ready to give up on Chinese men.  I don’t mean that I’m going to cease my search for a Chinese boyfriend; I never started one, anyway.  No, I’m getting to the point where I don’t want to talk to any Chinese man under 60.  This is bothering me in and of itself, because at home I have a lot of guy friends and many of them are very important to me.  I’m an engineering student, for goodness’ sake – I get along with guys.  If it weren’t for a couple foreign guys, I would feel really lacking in an important kind of friendship.  It’s also bothering me that I can’t understand, much less explain, why.  I know parts of it, but all my reasons contain exceptions and contradictions.  I know that I have a hard time trusting people when our entire relationship started online – all those warnings about internet safety back when AIM and MySpace started paid off, thanks guys!  I’ve figured out that, when it comes to my gut feeling, Chinese and English Corner – random gatherings of anyone who wants to learn said languages – is only a small small step up from online.  I know that American notions of proper interactions between 20-year-old females and 30-year-old men and teachers governs my reactions towards those people.  I know that persistence in men I don’t know comes off, at best, as pushy.  I know that in America I’ve never really attracted unwanted attention, so I’ve never had to deal with it before. 

I need to figure this out, or it could really bring me down.  I’m thinking about talking to some of my female Chinese friends to ask them what they think about some of the interactions that have bothered me.  Also, I think that guys that are introduced to me through mutual friends are generally exempt from my irrational distrust, so I might try to meet the friends or boyfriends of my female friends. 

 

And then, on top of all this, my American radio station is starting to use the world “holidays”, allude to the “shopping season”, and play vaguely Christmas-y music in the background of commercials.  I am strictly against Christmas until Advent, and believe that 24-hour-a-day music should be saved until the week before, so I guess it’s time to turn off the radio.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another . . .

The Sun Also Sets in the East

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2009 at 10:10 pm

In class today, we learned how to say “Open Door Reform”.  This is the reform started by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 that opened China to trade with the rest of the world, began the transition from a command to a market economy, etc.  My teacher attempted to describe it by saying “Before the reform, there was no McDonald’s or KFC.  After the reform, we have McDonald’s and KFC.”  Whether or not these were just the easiest results to point out, her choice of examples made me sad.  At the same time, it’s not like she could use “freedom of speech” or “freedom of the press” as examples, so maybe they were an apt choice. 

Yesterday during my imprisonment in hell (also know as 听力 class), I caught a glimpse of an amazing sunset out the classroom window.  This motivated me to visit the beach this evening.  Considering I live on an island, with a beach 5 minutes away on foot, I have not become a beach bum.  In fact, this was my 3rd time walking on sand since I came to Xiamen . . . !

After this evening, though, I think that needs to change.  The weather was beautiful – pleasantly cool with a strong breeze, perfect to enjoy in shorts and a long-sleeved shirt.  I walked along the beach barefoot and even got in the water up to my knees or so. 

I wasn’t the only one who thought the scene was idyllic.  There were quite a few people out there, including at least 7 couples (I counted) getting wedding pictures taken.  I love wedding pictures, so this was quite alright with me.

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In addition to the glowing brides, there was a brilliant sunset to watch. 

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Once the sun had set, the lights of the city came on.  In Xiamen, the highways are smooth white and illuminated by strips of white lights at night, and are perhaps my favorite part of the city.

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I didn’t feel like going back quite yet, so I caught a random bus from the nearby stop.  I rode it past ZhongShan Lu and got off at a place that looked promising in terms of food.  I had beef noodles for dinner, which were almost as good as Taiwan’s.  On the street, I grabbed a 鸡蛋汉堡, or “egg hamburger”.  To those who say eggs aren’t safe to eat in China, I say “A life without eggs is a life not worth living.”  I also had an enormous cup of honey milk tea, which was quite possibly the most delicious thing that I have ever drunk.  Could it really be as easy as adding milk and honey to tea?  If so, I may be able to survive the transition back to America. 

I bought a few DVD’s from a guy on the street (NUMB3RS and a Chinese movie, Founding of a Republic) and then hung around for awhile trying (and failing) to make sense of the card game he was playing with some other men.  While I was standing there, I got a phone call from someone in the environmental club asking me to be their translator.  Flattered, really, but I’m hoping to find someone more qualified than me. 

I had some varied experiences with Chinese today.  The woman who sat next to me at dinner was clearly certain that I didn’t know a single word of Mandarin, as she went out of her way to get chopsticks from another table instead of asking me for a pair.  The employee at the camping supply store nearly had a heart attack when I responded to her in Chinese, saying “什么?” (what?).  And the DVD salesman didn’t bat an eye when I began questioning him about his product, just offered his own opinions on the various options I was considering.  Sometimes I feel invisible, sometimes like a freak, sometimes a genius, and then there are a few people who don’t seem to notice that I’m not Chinese.  All in one day . . .

祝你裙子星期快乐!(Happy Skirt Week!)

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2009 at 12:52 am

I’m not a fan of 8 a.m. class on a Sunday, just for the record. I had the hardest time staying awake and, upon returning to my room, immediately passed out for about two hours.

This afternoon I went out on a massive adventure. Goal: buy tickets to Taiwan. I got on the same bus as yesterday and managed to stay awake this time, but I still missed the bus stop I wanted (the last one on the island) and ended up going to the mainland again.

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I made it back, got off near where I thought the ferry was, and started walking. I found the DongDu MaTou, where I was told to go, but I seemed to be the only thing to pass through those gates under 20 tons. The guards told me to go to TongYi MaTou, but once I arrived there I was told that I was looking for DongDu. It was a lot like being given the runaround at XiaDa, only the two locations were a 15-minute walk apart, not in the next building over and up a flight of stairs. Over a half hour later, and after asking a dozen people for the “buy-boat-tickets-to-Jinmen-place”, I finally gave up. I called a taxi and got the agency on the phone – easiest way to get around in a foreign language.

Anyway, I bought my tickets. I leave Wednesday morning and will be back a week and a half later on Saturday afternoon.

By then it was almost time to meet my travel group for dinner. I had a little time to peruse the street vendors by XiMen, in the process finding a TV show based on 10 Things I Hate About You. The correlation is a little iffy, but it’s pretty enjoyable so far.

After dinner, I met Leinira at ZhongShanLu for some shopping. I bought some leggings, a couple dresses, and a wonderful new t-shirt:

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Also, I shouldn’t forget to mention that today is the first day of Skirt Week! This is the 10th SemiAnnual Skirt Week, and it has been global for a couple of years now. Kind of a big deal . . . It’s still Sunday where you are, so it’s not too late to start!!

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One last thought from today:

I saw a clown on a bike today. No, I don’t mean a silly-looking guy on a bike – I mean a CLOWN. He was wearing a bright, multi-colored wig, bright polka-dotted clothing, and white face paint with a comical expression. I wonder if that’s what I look like to Chinese people . . . It would explain the staring!

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.

Thank Goodness It’s the [One-Day] Weekend!

In Uncategorized on September 26, 2009 at 2:38 am

After class finished this morning at 11:30, it was officially the weekend!  Unfortunately, it’s the shortest weekend I’ve ever had – just one day.  It’s just funny because my work load at TU as an engineering student was absolutely ridiculous to the amount of class and homework that I have here, and sometimes it felt like I had no weekend, but at least I always had two days of no class.  

I’m looking forward to the weekend, but I must confess that I’m pretty frustrated right now.  I feel like I’m wasting a lot of time on the internet – not doing the things that I want to do, but trying to do the things I want to do.  After trying several options – websites that reroute individual sites, downloaded programs, VPNs, etc. – I thought I had finally found a solution a few days ago.  A friend told me about a site and, after registering, I was immediately able to get on WordPress, Facebook, and the Onion.  Things were great for two days or so, but now I can no longer sign on.  Also, my Skype account was hacked – the password was changed without my knowledge and I have very little hope of getting it back.  I can’t be sure, but I certainly suspect that one of these proxies was not as secure as it should have been. 

Then yesterday I figured out how to use the TU VPN, which should theoretically let me access the internet as if I were at Tulsa.  I was able to get to my journal perfectly and even managed to watch the first episode of The Office, Season 6.  Today, it’s not working and even some sites that I used to be able to access aren’t available.  So yeah, I’m frustrated.  Not only can I not do the things that I want to, but I’m also starting to get concerned about my security online.  I finally decided to pay for a VPN service – $60 for the whole year – and am tentatively pleased with it . . .

After that frustrating afternoon, I went in search of a library.  It was a good expedition from the start, as I ran into both a friend from English Corner whose phone number I never got, and to Jerry, my 小朋友 (little friend, one of the kids I’m ‘tutoring’).  I got on a new bus, #15, and headed north.  The library was much further than I thought, in a totally different part of town than I’d been in.  It seemed more residential and corporate . . . I don’t know if those words mean what I want them to mean, but it seemed to consist largely of huge apartment towers and big office buildings, with much less of the sketchy-but-sometimes-delicious restaurants every few feet.

Following the sound of music and the sight of a ton of people wearing the same thing, I came upon a taijichuan rehearsal.  Every city in China is going to have a huge National Day celebration, and I had discovered the rehearsal! 

DSCN4934 They had grandmas doing taiji and little kids doing martial arts.  It was quite the community event, and while I was the only foreigner watching, I was by no means alone.  It definitely made me a little bit sad that I’m going to miss China’s celebration, but frankly not quite enough to make me want to spend my longest break of the school year in Xiamen. 

I’m glad that there was something going on in the area because it was quite a long bus ride and the library is – you guessed it – closed only on Friday afternoons.

The bus ride back was notable because I saw my first traffic accident in China!  It took place right in the middle of an intersection, stopping traffic in all four directions for about 15 minutes.  It took about that long for the police to arrive, too.  I wish I had some pictures of the ridiculous positions that some cars got themselves into, but if you would like to see for yourself, I suggest this video

Leinira and I went back to The Key tonight, and checked out a nearby club as well.  Here’s what I learned tonight: Crocs are perfectly acceptable clubbin’ wear, and chicken feet must go well with alcohol and dancing.  Who knew??

3rd Time’s the Charm!

In Uncategorized on September 13, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Major accomplishment of today: attending the entirety of an English Mass!

This morning, I left my room at 8:30. This is how the trip breaks down:

  • 10 minute walk across campus to the DaNan Gate
  • 10 minute wait for the right bus (71) to come, bus driver to get off, take a smoke break, and return
  • 10 minute bus ride to the ferry bus stop
  • 10 minute walk across the street and onto the ferry
  • 5 minute ferry ride to Gulangy
  • 5 minute walk (if you don’t get lost) to the church

This is really crazy to me. It takes almost an hour to get to the only English Mass available to me. This is not the only one that fits into my schedule, the only one at the church with the best music, the only one with my favorite priest, or the only one at the prettiest church. It is the only one. In Tulsa, Mondays are considered to have “limited Mass options” because it’s the priests’ day off and there are only a few services offered. Despite this, the vicinity of TU offers more opportunities to attend Mass on Mondays (a weekday) than I have in my entire city on a Sunday, and that’s including Chinese services. (And Oklahoma’s barely even Catholic!)

It was good to be able to go to Mass in English, but it’s still pretty hard to understand. I really wonder where the priest gets his homilies from, because I doubt that he wrote it himself. Today’s centered on GK Chesterton’s character, Fr. Brown, but I didn’t catch much beyond that.

The church was slightly less full today, and even less foreigners – at least ones that I noticed. There was a Spanish family and one black guy, but Erwin said that a lot of the people there were actually Filipino.

After lunch, we went back to the mainland and wandered about in search of food. Approximately 2 minutes before I died of thirst and heat exhaustion, we stumbled upon a Singapore Cuisine Restaurant and decided to eat there. It was the fanciest restaurant that I’ve eaten in since coming to Xiamen – for instance, the booths were more comfortable than my bed (not that most things, including concrete, aren’t, but still). It was also the most expensive: 50 yuan for my half of a chicken and a bowl of fried rice, plus a Sprite and bowl of jackfruit ice cream.

I’m a little bit 不舒服 (not feeling well) today, so I came home after eating. I cleaned up the room preparing for my roommate’s eventual return and then took a nap. I didn’t feel like going out to get food so I boldly tried to make dinner for myself. This consisted of cleaning and figuring out how to use the electric kettle thing to boil water for ramen.

Some thoughts on this dinner: First of all, it came with a fork inside – totally lame – and broke my almost-three-week streak. Secondly, ramen isn’t as ridiculously cheap compared to other food as it is in America (maybe because that’s almost not possible with Chinese currency). I think the reason for it’s widespread availability in China has more to do with the ease of preparation. In America, we use microwaves like we do for most other quick-fix foods, but ramen can be made more easily than most of those foods with the addition of hot water, which is widely available (and safe to drink) even in China.

I’ve also made a few more discoveries about the internet here. I think all blogs are blocked, not just those on popular sites like Blogger and WordPress. Interestingly enough, though, Google Reader is a perfect workaround for this, so I can read any blog I want just by subscribing to it. (The exception to this is certain news sites that only publish headlines and the first few lines of each article in their RSS feeds. If you have to click and go to the actual site to read the rest of the article, then you’re out of luck. This is why I now read NYT and not CNN.) Besides blogs, I haven’t found a Catholic site blocked yet, which means I still have very good access to lots of those online materials – encyclicals, Mass readings, prayers, and even materials in Chinese.

In terms of online media, today had some interesting revelations. The good news is, I can not only watch the Colbert Report with no problems, but I don’t even have to watch the commercials! The bad news is, the iTunes store doesn’t work here, so I can’t subscribe to any new podcasts. (A friend of mine from college started a podcast for Catholic young adults called In Between Sundays, which I’ve enjoyed listening to since coming here. There are a lot of other interesting Catholic podcasts on SQPN.com, but I can’t subscribe to them until I figure out a workaround.

Also, I would like to let everyone know that the email subscription service is not working. If you subscribed to it, you probably have already figured this out . . . I don’t know what’s wrong, as I can see the list of those who are subscribed, but nothing seems to be going out. I’m trying to figure out a workaround for this as well, so please let me know (by commenting here or just by emailing me) if you would really like an email. If nothing else, I can just forward my post confirmations to those who are still interested.

Recklessly Ignoring China’s Health Advisories

In Uncategorized on September 12, 2009 at 1:07 am

This morning in class, we were told that there are no thermometers available for us right now. Supposedly we’ll get them on Monday, but we’ll see about that. It is certainly very interesting observing China’s reaction to the swine flu from inside. I don’t mind these precautions (at least not yet, although I’ve heard things are totally ridiculous in Beijing), but it bothers me that they are completely reactionary towards H1N1, instead of being precautionary measures against all sorts of health problems. A lot of the suggestions they’re making are logical and completely necessary, like not spitting on the ground and considering your health before going out in public, but because they’re so oriented towards swine flu, I fear that they won’t be continued once this danger has passed. I wish people (not just in China) would take a look at the underlying habits that contribute to the spread of diseases in general and work to change those, instead of going way overboard for a short period of time until the perceived threat is gone.

One of the least helpful pieces of advice that we were given was to “avoid places with a lot of people”. This is difficult to do in China. Chinese people say Xiamen is a small city, but if it were in America, it would be the 4th largest in the nation with a population of 2.5 million. Anyway, right now my university is welcoming the rest of students to campus, bringing the population of our small area up to 20,000+, so even going to school is dangerous.

I definitely ignored this advice today. In the evening, I headed out to find a large bookstore rumored to be up north of the train station. I took bus 809 there, along with approximately 1/3 of the population of the city; it was quite ridiculous. The bookstore is large and wonderful and would be very dangerous (i.e. expensive) for me if 99.9% of the material were entirely in a language that I can’t read. They also have several electronic stores, where I started looking at electronic dictionaries.

I’m definitely contemplating making this purchase, but it’s very hard for me to do so. Since coming, the only times I’ve spent more than 100 yuan in a go have been for moving in early, a key deposit, the health examination, my cell phone, and my textbooks (which should be refunded). These dictionaries, however, cost anywhere from 900 to 3,000 yuan. These prices actually compare to prices in the US, as opposed to things like food and public transportation.

I’ve been trying recently to change my thinking about spending money here in China. Mentally converting to dollars is a bad idea, as is converting to kuai once you return to America. This creates false judgments of value based on a situation other than the one you’re in. It seems much better to judge prices in comparison to other local goods and services. For instance, when I went to KTV with the UNC students, we paid 16 yuan (between $2 and $3) for the taxi ride. This seems like a great deal, compared to the price of taxi rides in America. But today I took a bus to the same place for for only 1 yuan, so the taxi doesn’t seem like such a bargain anymore. The taxi was over 15x more expensive! (Note: we did fit four students in each taxi, so the price per person was actually just 4 yuan, but it’s the only taxi price I knew.)

With that said, it will still almost kill me the first time I go out to a simple restaurant in America and am charged $15-$20 for my meal. I do think it’s a good thing to strive for, though.

The way home from this bookstore was an adventure. I was in legit downtown, which is as big, busy, noisy, and confusing on a Saturday night as any place I’ve been in America. It took me two buses to get home because it turns out that Zhong Shan Hospital is not on Zhong Shan Road, nor is it anywhere nearby. Oops.

I hadn’t eaten by the time I got back, so I went to the KFC/McDonald’s building for a snack that I’d been eyeing for a few days. Still don’t know what it is exactly, but it was pretty tasty – and only 3 kuai, because today is the building’s first birthday and everything was on sale. This celebration felt weird because earlier in the day, I had been reading articles about the anniversary of September 11th, which was also today. Eight years . . .