Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘Chinglish’

Stomach Clench of Death, We Meet Again

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2010 at 11:54 pm

As far as the Stomach Clench of Death can come at a good time, this one did.  I was feeling fine in the morning – it wasn’t until after my one-hour, full-body massage that the cramping started.

But then Eunice and I took the wrong bus and ended up on the mainland, which meant over an hour of public transportation, me moaning the whole way like a woman whose water just broke.

I called in sick to class and spent the rest of the day lying in bed watching Gossip Girl (with Chinese subtitles!) and most of a Chinese movie.  XuLei came by to tell me that my stomach is too cold and I need to drink hot water, but she also brought me light soup later so I’ve forgiven her. 

Nothing much going on here in my room, but this is a good time to share some other stuff from recently:

  • Apparently the monsoons I’ve been complaining about have caused actual damage.  I can’t believe I didn’t know about this until now.  For all that I occasionally feel integrated into this society, things like this remind me that I actually have an extension cord spanning the ocean and plugging me into things back home.
  • Also, the Chinese government has started the gradual appreciation of their currency.  So far it’s a whopping 0.43%, which means I only get 6.7969 kuai for my dollar instead of 6.8262.  I guess I’ll have to deal with the high prices for the next month, but it’ll be in my favor when I close my Bank of China account and trade my RMB in for USD.  If I take a whole month’s stipend home, I’ll have $250.11 instead of $249.04!  Where to spend it?
  • We learned the word 花蕾 (flower bud) in class the other day and I excitedly told XuLei (徐蕾) that we learned her name.  Apparently a teacher used to call her Flower Bud in class and she didn’t like it, but I told her that the ‘lei’ in her name is nice.  At any rate, it’s certainly better than the other ‘lei’ (雷) which means lightning but is part of the words ‘land mine’ (地雷) and ‘water mine’ (水雷).  Don’t ask me why I know those words.
  • The other day I went to dinner with a bunch of foreign friends and YongZhi.  We ordered a fish, but there was some problem with it so the waitress started talking to YongZhi about it.  He turned to us to translate and said, “The fish is very big – maybe two kilometers?”  Wow, that’s gotta be some sort of record!  We laughed pretty hard about it.  We know what it’s like to say stupid things like that, so it was nice to hear a Chinese person mess up in such a harmless way. 
  • Sometimes I feel like I’m so over Chinglish and sometimes I think I don’t notice it anymore.  But then I see a shirt that says CHECOLATE MELK in huge letters and I’m reminded of why I loved Chinglish in the first place.  Also, I’m not sure if this counts as Chinglish or not, but my Chinese Mom – a 50+ year-old woman – was wearing a “Kit Kittredge: American Girl” shirt to church the other day.  I loved it. 

Thank You For The Music

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Out the door by 8 this morning, which is becoming sadly predictable for my weekends.  I’m glad I wasn’t late because apparently “come at 8:30” meant “Mass starts at 8:30”.  I ran up to the choir loft, robed myself, gathered the required books, and took my place just in time for Mass to start a little late.  Today was Fr. Cai’s first Mass as Xiamen’s bishop, and the concelebrants included another bishop, and about 15 other priests.

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Most of the music was the same as yesterday, but there was a new song that I had to sit out because it contained way too many 生词 (new words that I didn’t know).  I had been considering asking if I could continue singing with the choir, because I really enjoyed the experience of participating in yesterday’s Mass, but after today I’ve decided to quit while I’m ahead.  The challenge of readings notes written as numbers and lyrics written in characters means I would probably be more of a burden than a help to the choir.  There’s also the inherent distraction of having a specific responsibility like that during Mass – something I’m very familiar with, as a two-year choir director back home.  Since Mass in Chinese already requires so much of my attention, I really shouldn’t be trying to multitask. 

Also, I think my presence in the choir (even more so than my normal presence at Chinese Mass) is distracting to others in the congregation.  There was one girl who was continually taking photos of the choir today; while maybe she was interested to see us all wearing robes I couldn’t help but feel it was because of me.  Who knows?  I’ve noticed myself becoming more vain and self-centered since I came to China, assuming that everyone’s looking at me and talking about me – I know a lot of times I’m right but sometimes I wonder how often? 

But the real clincher was seeing how the other choir members behave up in the choir loft.  Out of sight, they seem to believe themselves out of hearing as well, and completely off the hook for any sort of participation in the Mass besides singing.  Little Brother kept trying to talk to me about how much my things cost, and my hair (held up in a bun by a single chopstick) seemed to be a continual topic of conversation.  The woman next to me took cell phone pictures of her and her husband during the readings. 

So, thank you for the music but it’s time I left.  This picture we took after Mass as a choir with Bishop Cai might be the last proof of my participation in the choir of Our Lady of the Rosary church in Xiamen:

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The threatened rain never materialized, so I took advantage of my proximity to ZhongShan Lu to take a walk.  I took Little Brother to my secret DVD shop, where I bought all 4 seasons of Psych, Alice in Wonderland, and three new Chinese movies (total price $8).  I wandered from there, checking out some clothing stores and looking into ordering a new pair of glasses.  I also found a new fruit store with my favorite name ever!  It’s called 水果立方 or “Cube Fruits”, which is a play on words combing the name of the Beijing Olympic swimming venue (the Water Cube, or 水立方) with the word for fruit (水果).  I love it.  They sell fresh made fruit juices but you can also get any of the fruits chopped up for you so that you can eat them on the go! 

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Checking online for news of Bishop Cai’s ordination, I found this AsiaNews article.  It was interesting to read because, despite being a parishioner for nearly a year and actually being present at the ceremony, I still learned some things!  First of all, they had all the bishop’s names and where they were from.  One of them (I’m guessing the older bishop who was still here today) was from Taiwan, and only one (from Mindong, another Fujian diocese) is illegitimate, or lacks the approval of the Vatican.

Secondly, it turns out that Bishop Cai is a monsignor.  It’s not like knowing that would have changed anything, but it’s just kind of weird.  In America, monsignors are addressed as “Monsignor XX”, so you immediately know.  But I don’t even know how to say monsignor in Chinese! 

Third, they had some more definite numbers – 60+ priests and 1,600 faithful in attendance; 11 priests, 16 nuns, and 30,000 Catholics in our diocese. 

But there is something to be said for firsthand experience.  The picture they used is a stock photo of our church on Gulangyu; while it may be more photogenic, it would have been utterly impossible to hold such a ceremony in that tiny church.  Secondly, the last sentence is out-of-date, as our two deacons were ordained to the priesthood 6 months ago!

It’s A Perfect Day

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2010 at 11:43 pm

I thought it might be a good day when I inexplicably had a lot of energy during this morning’s class.  We continued studying the generous Chinese/cheap Americans essay which, while it still annoys me, at least engages me in class unlike another text on Beijing’s $#%@ four seasons.  Also!  I discovered two new awesome characters – 凸 and 凹, which mean – get ready for it! – convex and concave, respectively.  Way cool, right?  I think I’m going to start a list of my favorite (and least favorite) characters, so now you have something to look forward to :)

I didn’t know it was going to be a good day, though, until I found a crumpled 1-kuai bill in my pocket on the way to the bus, which arrived just as we got to the stop.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch of malatang and were back to campus just in time for an invigorating newspaper-reading class. 

After class, a few of us went to the board game cafe, which I discovered last semester but had yet to try.  We played two rousing games of Catan, both of which I won.  Like I said, it was a good day!

I grabbed a drink on the way over, a smoothie made entirely from fresh fruit for the low price of a dollar.  I started out peeling and cutting the mangos myself; now I have other people peel, cut, and liquefy them into something I can drink through a straw . . . I think the next stop is a direct IV into my bloodstream.

We had dinner with the Dutch ‘twins’, who were adorable in their matching outfits (supposedly unintentional).

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During dinner, I had a great idea for my upcoming birthday.  I’ve asked my friends for a special gift – a CD containing pictures from our time together in Xiamen, and music from their own country.  I’m getting really excited about the results!! 

I also came up with some new slang that Kristina and I are trying to make popular.  “Qiezi” is now an adjective, describing something that everyone unanimously agrees is awesome, can’t get enough of, and likes in any incarnation.  Spread the word! 

On the way back home, we perused the merchandise on the street and spotted some truly wonderful Chinglish and otherwise ridiculous clothing.

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China would be a much sadder place without Chinglish.  There are a few things I would like to change about China, but I think that correcting all their translations would mean less smiles and furtive snickers, and I wouldn’t do that to future laowai. 

Oh!!  And Kristina has asked my help with some data analysis on the body image survey she did for her thesis.  She’s happy that she found someone to help, but I may be even more excited.  Mmmmm, graphs . . .

When I got home, I was delighted to see my name on the mail list – my parents’ package finally arrived!  I can’t pick it up until tomorrow, but I’m getting pre-excited tonight. 

I went dancing tonight and, despite an even-more-sweaty-than-usual Smelly Man, had a good time.  We did the Macarena and I was asked to teach them a few dances from America – I’m thinking the Cotton-Eyed Joe and the Electric Slide?  Also, the last song was Midnight to Moonlight, my sole contribution to the dance music. 

I’ll save my thoughts on the status of the internet in China for a slightly less-perfect day; this one shall not be sullied. 

Let’s Make Science More Funny!

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2010 at 12:44 am

I went to the library today.  Yeah, I know I was despairing yesterday of ever being literate – but this library has English books :)

Their collection is pretty random; except for a few full sets that were obviously bought new, I’m guessing that a good part of their English-language books were donated by departing ex-pats.  There’s a disproportional amount of chick-lit, but there were a few books that looked decent.  Most exciting was their selection of textbooks, including a mint edition of the Beer & Johnson Statics & Dynamics book; I stroked it lovingly and drooled a bit.

I forgot my passport so I’ll have to go again.  I always forget my passport, and it always takes me two trips to get anything done.  Bus rides are fun, though, and the library is in a nice part of town.  There’s a whole Culture and Arts Center, with a performance hall, cultural museum, library, and science museum. 

I want to go back to the science museum sometime and play around.  I love watching people discover basic scientific ideas like acceleration, and I love to geek out and think about all the fun toys in terms of equations and stuff. 

I also love the sign out front,

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where 好玩 was translated as ‘funny’ instead of ‘fun’.  It works either way, though, really.  I could describe to you the great times we had in Dr. Henshaw’s classes hearing stories of epic engineering fails, or the laughs shared over Dr. McLaury’s numbers which always seemed to increase in significant figures, or the joy that accompanies doing any task with SENEA, but I would probably scare you by showing my true nerdiness.  Science is fun.  And funny.  For real.

I went to dinner with some friends and then went dancing for the first time in over a month!  There weren’t a ton of people there, but those present were happy to see me.  The first dance was the Viennese Waltz, which I managed to do just fine despite my long hiatus! 

Happy to Spend Every Day!

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2010 at 6:19 pm

This is a posting by John/Dad containing some reflections on our trip and on China itself.  It seems appropriate to publish it now before our trip ends tomorrow and we head home to Minnesota.

The first night we arrived in Xiamen, Maria presented Cissy and I with small notebooks that we could use to record Chinese words we learned and used as well as any journal notes.  The words on the front of the notebook perfectly fit our travel situation:  “Urban Men and Women – Happy to spend every day”.  Since her first trip to China, Maria has told us about these humorously-done translations, nicknamed “Chinglish”, and sent us many examples.  On this trip, we’ve seen and taken pictures of many Chinglish signs, including the following ones copied here (verbatim) for your enjoyment:

  • Also written on our notebooks (on the back cover):  “the man works hard, not all is for the sake of right.  work oneself can with backlog experience, exertive special features.  foster a practical utility, with the mental state that satisfies man is independence.
  • In the modern train station in Guangzhou, on a sign by a table where ladies were handing out a bottle of water to each passenger:  “staff to check tickets issued after chop each bottle of tickets
  • On the entrance sign at Sun Yet-Sen Memorial:  “No automobiling – no painting, nowhoopla, no rubbish everywhere”  [we decided to whoopla anyway]
  • On a card showing one of the tourist sites in Chengdu: “The first inperial tomb be digged up in China
  • On a huge billboard celebrating the Chinese New Year:  “Senson’s Greetings
  • On a trash can along the sidewalk in Chengdu:  “Protect CircumStance begin wite me.”  [should be, “Protecting the surroundings begins with me”]
  • On a poster of English slang on the campus of Sichuan University:  “Fish in the air” [should be, “like a fish out of water”]
  • On signs in Leshan bus station:  “Articles forbidden in bus: explosives, flammables, and other denngerous goods” and “luggagge depoeltary
  • On warning sign at the Great Wall of China at Badaling:  “Facing slope steep – please lose headway”  [should be, “steep slope – please go slow”]
  • On a sign over a urinal in the men’s bathroom in the Olympic Park in Beijing:  “One half step , civilization once stride forward”  [should be, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, which is a cute way of asking men to get closer to the porcelain before starting to pee]

Note that although I find these signs hilarious, I salute anyone who has mastered Chinese and any part of any other foreign language.  I have never particularly had an ear for foreign languages, and I’m am humbled by those who can translate something from English to another language, or vice versa, even marginally well.

China is amazing…  There are not enough words in the English language to adequately describe the breadth and scope of China.  We have now been in-country about three weeks, and have visited eight major cities spread across the middle and eastern portions of China.  Here are some thoughts on what we’ve seen and experienced in China.

  • The Chinese people seem very friendly, once you crack the veneer of indifference they seem to have as they walk down the street.  If you smile and say hello (“Ni hao”) to them, many of them are too shocked to respond, but some of them smile and try to converse with you.  The easiest way to get a smile is to compliment their children, because, like people all over the world, they love kids.  And the typical Chinese child is really, really cute (feichang ke’ai)!
  • There are so many people in China, it is almost crushing to consider.  In each city we’ve visited, the streets are always teeming with people, the buses and trains are packed, and the restaurants buzzing.  If you like to people watch, there is no better place to do it than in China!  In just a few minutes on any street in the cities we’ve visited, you’ll see young school age kids, moms with babies, beautiful ladies in glamorous outfits, beggars, street sweepers, deliverymen, food vendors, business men in suits, tourists and ethnic minorities.  Thousands and thousands of them…  Bill Gates noted this and made an interesting observation:  “In China, even if you’re one-in-a-million, there are 1,300 other people just like you.”  Although I am definitely against any form of government-imposed population control, I don’t see how China is going to deal with the population that will surely increase significantly over the next few decades.  Thankfully there is a vast ocean between China and the United States (or a tremendous amount of Asia and Europe, plus the other ocean, if you go the other direction, and I mean that seriously!
  • While we were traveling, I started to read the book “Hot, Flat and Crowded” by Thomas Friedman.  Among his many points is that the Earth’s resources are being not taxed not by just the sheer number of people living in the world, but the number of people who live and consume like Americans.  In other words, a few million more Chinese living in small villages, walking or biking around, planting rice, and eating a mostly vegetarian diet, are not going to have a huge impact.  But a few million Chinese who move to a city like Beijing, buy cars, cell phones, air conditioners, washing machines, and TVs,  and start to eat more meat and processed, packaged foods, will have a huge impact.  Don’t get me wrong – I love living like an American, but it seems clear that the environmental impact of one typical urban American is more than that of one typical rural Chinese person.
  • In addition, China seems determined to copy many American or other foreign things, and it can only do this by losing it’s charm to visitors like me.  For example, you can find KFCs and McDonalds everywhere, along with Armani, Haagen Daas, and Nike brand stores.  The more it becomes like just any other country, the less I want to spend time there.
  • Despite the unbelievable crowds, the constant pushing and crowding, and the absolute disregard for staying-in-your lane, I have been amazed to not see any anger or mean gestures between motorists & pedestrians or fellow bus riders.  Wait – I take that back.  On Sunday, during Mass at at the cathedral in Chengdu, I saw a near fight break out between several women when two female ushers tried to direct Communion-goers up the side aisle.  I was too busy praying to see who won…  But otherwise, the people seem remarkably used to living, eating and moving very close to their 1.3 billion countrymen.  I’m not used to it, but they apparently are!  And we never felt in any danger (other than when crossing streets…see below) except when we were walking around the Chengdu train station.  A lady told Cis and Maria to watch their purses, so we got a little uncomfortable then.  But otherwise, we have walked down many streets at all times of the day and night, and never felt uncomfortable.  I’m not forgetting that China is still a very closed country with a very authoritarian country, but I was struck by how nice everyone seemed to be.  We were told many times, “Welcome to China”, or something of that sort, and many people smiled shyly at us, asked to take pictures with us, or tried to engage us in some form of halting English.  
  • China is like Texas on steroids.  The crowds are huge, the buildings are huge, and the cities are huge.  The people are small, but they make up for it in sheer numbers.  This means the concept of personal space and common courtesy is completely different than we are used to.  To put a twist on a common saying, “Common courtesy isn’t so common in China”.  If you are waiting to board a subway or drive through a toll booth, or even drive down a straight road, you’d better be prepared to defend your place in line to the death.  This gives rise to a frequently used expression between Cissy, Maria and I: “You just got China’ed”.  It means someone just cut you off or jumped/squeezed in front of you in line.  Cissy, being the most passive and polite of the three of us, frequently gets China’ed because they can smell politeness/reticence a mile away, and they love to exploit it!  The other day she flagged down a taxi for us and ran alongside it until it stopped for us, but another couple had set up a classic NBA-style pick and body-blocked her, jumping in the cab while she just stood there looking sweet.  It was hilarious!  We have also been China’ed in checkout lines, boarding gates, and subways, but lately we’ve been holding our own.
  • You also have to completely un-learn the rules of traffic and public safety.  In China, size and speed rule.  Buses yield to big trucks, cars to buses, scooters to cars, bikes to electric scooters, and the pedestrian yields to bikes and everything else.  It’s very hard to remember this because the “pedestrian crosswalks” are marked with white stripes exactly like they are in the United States, but you will absolutely be blown off the road if you step out at the wrong time because you’re daydreaming and thinking you’re back in Minneapolis or Tulsa.
  • In my mind, one of the strangest Chinese customs is the habit of leaving doors open in most buildings such as stores, restaurants and hotels.  Apparently they believe in the health benefits of fresh air – even if it’s freezing cold outside!  This is coupled with what is surely an attempt to conserve energy, especially in cavernous public buildings like train stations and airports.  Bottom line – I couldn’t live like that for long!  It was so cold in the Wuhan Airport that I left my coat, hat and gloves on, and still was miserable.  When we finally boarded the plane, I shocked the heck out of the stewardess who welcomed us aboard by wrapping my arms around her and hugged her in glee, so thankful that the plane cabin was wonderfully warm.
  • The most unappealing aspect of China to me as a Westerner is the poverty and the accompanying dirtiness, disrepair and obvious wear-and-tear.  I’m sure there are many beautiful places in this country, and I’ve seen many majestic mountains and great sights, but there is an level of dirt, garbage, disorder, cobbled-togetherness, and chaos almost everywhere.  In this way, it reminds me very much of Mexico City.  I’m really quite thankful that we came to visit in the winter because I can only imagine how much stronger the smells must be in the hot summer.  China is a nice place to visit, but I couldn’t live here – for many reasons.  Of course, I wouldn’t live in New York City either (sorry, Deb…), or many cities in the United States.

Maria has had her patience tried more than Cis and I, because she has had to take care of herself, plan our entire trip, tell us everything we needed to know along the way, (as well documented in her blogs, where she describes how the normal parent-child roles have been reversed on this trip), and answer our thousand-and-one questions.  We have seen her engage various Chinese citizens in countless situations under difficult circumstances (including blaring loudspeakers, regional dialects, over traffic, with speech impediments, etc.), and she seems to understand almost everything.  We have seen her Chinese language skills complemented by almost everyone she engages, and without her help we simply would never have thought about tackling such a trip to the Middle Kingdom.  She really is amazing, as many of you already knew, or have gleaned over the past few months from her perceptive, humorous and educational blogs.

I’ll end this little blog with the last bit of Chinglish found on the notebooks Maria gave us when we landed in Xiamen three weeks ago.  It’s perfect thing to say as a tribute to Maria, our intrepid daughter and wonderful tour guide:  “Yeah – just you.

I Hope The Summer Palace Is Nicer In Summer …

In Uncategorized on February 2, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Another early morning . . . We got up well before dawn today and were on the road while it was still dark.  This was all necessary because we were headed for the dawn flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square.  We were excited to go, but thought it an unfortunate coincidence that everything was so dark before the sunrise.

The flag-raising ceremony is precisely calibrated to the sunrise so that the flag reaches the top of the pole as the sun crests (although the sun was not visible today).  Thus, the waiting was dark and bitterly cold.  There was a crowd there already, a few people deep across the whole square, and we pushed up close to them for warmth.  With Mom’s arms around me, I could just barely stand it. 

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As we waited for the ceremony to start, I watched the face of the young guard standing in front of us.  Guards are everywhere in China – from the 保安 on the first floor of my dorm, to traffic cops, to the guys who check IDs at West Gate – but I tend to think of them as kind of a joke.  With the exception of the heavily armed men who move money between banks, none of them seem very threatening and they usually don’t seem to take their jobs seriously, so I just don’t pay them any attention.  This guy was different though.  I don’t know if he was armed under his coat, but he was using his eyes like weapons.  He was constantly scanning the crowd for potential trouble, and he looked so nervous that he was making me nervous.

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Guards like him were everywhere, especially before and during the ceremony.  Even after the concentrated crowds disappeared though, I felt like we were being watched.  Outside of the sight of the guards, every lightpost sports a stack of surveillance cameras. 

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Anyway, about the ceremony: The sunrise today was 7:22.  (While it seemed early, I’m trying to be grateful that we weren’t here in June for the 4:45 a.m. sunrise!)  A few minutes beforehand, a huge block of soldiers marched out from the Tiananmen Gate under Mao’s portrait and crossed the street (where traffic was temporarily stopped) towards us.  Then, at precisely the right moment, they unrolled the flag (which was rolled, not folded) and it started up the flag pole.  One soldier grabbed the end of the flag and flung his arm out as they always do, sending the flag billowing majestically as it began its ascent to the tune of “The March of the Volunteers”, China’s national anthem. 

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It was a pretty impressive ceremony, and even worth the miserable time and weather to watch once. 

Once the ceremony was finished, they let us get closer to the flag pole and everybody took pictures – including us.

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I wanted to join the mob of people lining up to visit Mao’s mausoleum, but my parents weren’t up for the wait in the cold so we headed for the subway instead.  We went as far northwest as we could on the metro and then took a taxi to the Summer Palace, which is one of those things that you just have to see when you’re in Beijing. 

But . . . it’s not called the Summer Palace for nothing.  The emperors went there to escape the summer heat of Beijing, not to find warmth in the depths of the winter.  Instead of centering around lively water activities on Kunming Lake and featuring outdoor snacks and vendors, it’s pretty much a frozen wasteland this time of year. 

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There were some pretty parts, but we saw them quickly as we had to keep up a brisk pace to avoid hypothermia. 

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Finished with our whirlwind tour of the Summer Palace, we went back to the subway and headed for 中关村, China’s Silicon Valley.  I had heard about people making trips out to Google China’s headquarters to leave flowers or messages and wanted to see and participate in this.  We found the building thanks to Mom’s sharp eyes, but found no signs of a memorial.  Apparently the government was not happy about this public expression of solidarity with the company’s stance, so they removed the flowers, calling them a 非法鲜花, or “illegal flower tribute” (a term that is apparently now blocked in Chinese search engines – oh, the irony).  We hadn’t seen a flower vendor nearby, so I settled for leaving a little note for the guys at Google: “Dear Google – We will miss you if you leave China, but right and wrong aren’t a matter of personal comfort or financial gain.  Do what’s right!”

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In answer to my father’s questions, I’m not 100% sure what “right” is in this case.  This quote sums up my thoughts, both on this issue and my personal involvement in China:

Google’s choice echoes the dilemma that many companies, non-governmental organizations, countries, and individuals face when dealing with China. At what point does being complicit in an illiberal and undemocratic regime outweigh the value of engaging, and thereby influencing, the Chinese public and government?

We had lunch across the street at an Indian restaurant.  We weren’t super clear on the portions, so we ended up with two small bowls of curry and 6 baskets of bread.  The proportion suited us just fine, though, and we all enjoyed lunch.  There were two Americans at the table next to us, so most of the time I found myself being quiet and listening to them.  They spoke pretty loudly, without any concern about people overhearing them, which made me wonder if it’s an American thing or a habit of life in China.  They spoke so fast, the way only native speakers do with other native speakers, and used way more slang than I’m used to hearing (or using) recently.  They used “awkward” a lot and the girl said “I know, right?” several times, which made it easy for me to remember conversations with my friends back in America.  Between that and a phone call back to Tulsa, Oklahoma last night (in which I had to ask the woman to repeat herself because I didn’t recognized “apreeeeeved” as the word “approved”), I’ve heard a lot of American English recently, and it feels a little strange.

After lunch we took a side trip to return a credit card that we found on the sidewalk to the local China Merchants Bank.  It was important to me because 1) it’s the right thing to do, 2) it’s what I would want/have wanted others to do with my lost things, and 3) I’m hoping for some good karma to come my way.  In the last two months I’ve lost a cell phone, camera, and leather glove and am now waiting for one/all to fortuitously return to me.  Any time!

We were all nodding off during the subway ride home, so we all agreed to a late afternoon nap.  After at least four very early mornings in a row and fairly late nights (at least for me) filled with lots of walking in between, we were all exhausted.  I must say, that nap was one of my favorite things that we’ve done in Beijing!

We barely even went out for dinner; Dad and I just went next door to get takeout.  While we waited for our food, we perused the English menu, which is almost always good for a laugh.  Some of the pictures were a little much for Dad (like the row of duck tongues or the turtle who looked like the bowl of soup was an shallow pond) but the descriptions were sometimes even worse.  For your entertainment, here is a selection of the best food names:

  • The noodles drag along small yellow fish
  • The North Pole shell stabs a body
  • Shanghai inebriates the chicken
  • Sprinkle fatty cow of juice
  • Bad and fragrant feng claw
  • The fatty intestine of hang jiao
  • Oil explodes river shrimp
  • The stone database door vegetable three fresh
  • The hair blood is prosperous

It makes my mouth water just thinking about it! 

Our trip is coming to an end quickly; my parents head home the day after tomorrow and I leave the next day.  To lift my spirits, I looked at the weather forecast back home and saw that I can expect temperatures in the 20s (60s in F) when I get to Xiamen!  Unfortunately, I also looked into the details of the train I’m taking back home, the K307, and found out that it will take me almost 32 hours to get home.  Sitting the whole way.  With a few thousand of my closest friends. 

Ummmmmmmmmmmmm . . . ‘kay.

I Climbed Up (And Slid Down) The Great Wall

In Uncategorized on February 1, 2010 at 11:47 pm

We got up quite early this morning for the trip to the Great Wall.  After much deliberation, we chose the Badaling section of the Great Wall.  Although Badaling has been rebuilt in places and some say it is excessively touristy, it is the most frequented part and thus (I hoped) the easiest to get to.  After yesterday’s failures, I wanted to get to the Great Wall, the easier the better.  Anyway, it was also the section where Obama visited the Wall during his visit, and what’s good enough for my president is good enough for me.

The weather got cold overnight in Beijing.  The last two days had been beautiful – clear and warm and sunny – but today was bitter.  The walk to the Wall was miserable, but we warmed up as soon as we began climbing.

The good news about the weather is that the Wall wasn’t as packed with vendors as we had feared.  In fact, besides a few people selling gloves and hats and one guy selling “I climbed the Great Wall” certificates, we were hardly bothered.  We were on the Wall pretty early, too – by nineish – so the tourist crowd was especially thin.

The climbing was a little tough.  There were tiny tiny snowflakes falling around us and a thin layer of packed snow on much of the walkway. 

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The Wall follows the contours of the mountains, so it has a lot of ups and downs and is quite steep in some places.  There was a sign cautioning us to “please lose headway” (which we assume meant to go slow), so we tried to be careful.  Sometimes there were stairs; other times we stepped carefully on the slope and hauled ourselves up using the handrail.

The view was great, though.  I bet the Great Wall has its charms in any season – green countryside in spring and summer, autumn colors in the fall, and snow-covered hills in the winter.  I liked the impressive monochrome look of the scenery, with just shades of gray and white. 

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I happen to like my mountains in the distance, fading gradually into nothingness, so it was just my cup of tea. 

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My favorite views were of the Wall snaking over the nearby hills, perfectly framed in the window of a watchtower.

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We climbed to the first peak and stopped for pictures in front of the path not taken.

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Then we headed back towards the entrance.  By this time it was after 10, and more tourists had made it out to Badaling. 

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When we got to the top of one particularly steep descent, we found an entire watchtower packed full of tourists waiting to go down.  The line (which was really more of a mob, huddled together for warmth) was clearly going nowhere fast.  My clever father, however, saw that the real holdup was the single handrail that everyone was waiting to use on their way down, and figured out a way around it.  Instead of waiting who knows how long, he just sat down on his butt, pushed off, and arrived at the bottom in seconds.  He made it down safely (although he may have undone all the benefits of the acupuncture), so Mom and I quickly followed him down.  The rest of the visitors, confined to either side of the walkway, watched us slide down, cheering us on and pushing us away when we threatened to knock them down with our uncontrolled slide. 

It was awesome.  It was like sledding, but ON THE GREAT WALL.  Plus there were the cheering crowds, a liberated feeling from avoiding that ridiculous line, and I bet we made it down in near-record time.  Yeah, awesome.

[One humorous note about the Great Wall: Admission is free for the disabled.  We have no idea why, as the Wall seems to be the very antithesis of handicap-accessible – I mean, it’s hard for fully mobile people to get around on!  I would almost go so far as to say that the Great Wall (indeed, like most of China) is handicap-hostile.  I don’t know about the free admission thing; maybe the idea is that, since you have to leave your wheelchair-bound friend at the entrance anyway, they may as well not charge you for a ticket.  More on China and my longing for a Chinese Disabilities Act later.]

We had lunch at KFC, which officially brings the amount of Western food I’ve eaten in the past three weeks to ridiculous.  We caught the bus back to Beijing and by the time we arrived, our butts had finally dried.  Yay!

Because we were in the neighborhood, we decided to go to the Drum Tower.   

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Because climbing the Great Wall wasn’t enough, we had to make it up a flight of incredibly steep stairs.

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We hoped to catch a drum performance at the top but were misinformed about the times, so we settled for the pretty view of Beijing’s 胡同 (hutong, or alleys) surrounding a frozen lake.

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We liked the way it looked, so we went exploring on foot for a while.  The alley we chose was filled with interesting stuff, namely a little sort of bakery.  I bought almost a jin (a little less than a pound) of delicious cream puffs and little flaky sugared twists, which fortified us for the walk.  We also made friends with a rickshaw driver and policeman!

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When we came out of the alley, we were by the frozen lake, where we got to see locals enjoying the ice.  In addition to rental skates, they were also offering two-person chairs and even a clever ice bike!  It looked like a lot of fun, more suited to my abilities than ice skating, especially when they formed trains.

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On our way home, we stopped at the train station.  My parents travels in China are almost done, but I still have to get home to Fujian after they leave.  I was hoping to go north to see my friends in Jilin, but decided the last few days before the Spring Festival probably aren’t the best time.  Instead, I’m leaving Friday night for Xiamen, riding straight there on an overnight train!  I’m not exactly sure how long it will take, but it really can’t be less than 19 hours.  And, as I’ll be in a seat for the first time (because sleepers were sold out), it will probably seem even longer. 

For dinner, we went to a jiaozi (dumpling) place near our hotel.  Apparently the Chinese do with dumplings what my grandmother does with burritos – that is, put anything and everything inside.  We tried pork-and-eggplant dumplings, lamb-and-onion dumplings, roast duck dumplings, and kungpao chicken dumplings.  The variety was pretty wild, considering I’ve only had one dumpling filling in my life.  The kungpao chicken one was especially surprising – kind of like biting into a burrito and finding spaghetti. 

After dinner, my mom and I went for massage.  For 70 glorious minutes, the aches and bumps of the Great Wall were smoothed away by two nice young women, who told Mom that she looked 40-something and me that I should be a model.  What a wonderful end to a wonderful day! 

Minutemen Meatpuppets Descendents Angst

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2009 at 10:34 pm

In class yesterday, we had a couple classic cases of tone-induced misunderstandings.  We started with a 听写 (listen-write) test, which is kind of like the Chinese version of a spelling test.  One of the words was ‘shǔ jià’, but I didn’t remember learning “bookshelf” in this lesson.  Well, it turned out that we hadn’t, but we had learned “summer vacation”, or “shū jià”.

Later on in class, one student attempted to say he was afraid of ghosts (guǐzi), but ended up saying he was afraid of closets (guìzi).

Two of my classmates had bought new dictionaries with me, so we spent the breaks between classes sharing the things that we had discovered.  It’s pretty cool!  I can write characters on the screen with a stylus or find them by typing pinyin with the keyboard.  Although some things are a little bit more 麻烦 (annoying) than I would like, it also has tons of features that I don’t need.  MP3, MP4, and Flash capabilities; lots of English-study tools (with questionable grammar, of course); phone book, diary, schedule, calendar, timer, financial records, and everything I could need to keep my life on track; and Paint!  There are a few extra things that I may actually use, namely an e-book program and a dictionary of GRE words.

Yesterday evening I met a Chinese friend for dinner.  Her name is Hu Jing and she is the engineering student that I found a few weeks ago.  We went out to dinner at Sichuan restaurant and then walked around the West Gate area, talking the whole time in Chinese.  It was really good practice and a good time.  We didn’t really talk about engineering, mainly just getting to know each other, but afterwards we went to the bookstore to look for some textbooks and such.  I bought a dictionary of electrical engineering terms (factor of safety = 安全系数), but more importantly, Hu Jing showed me to the English section of the bookstore!  It not only exists, but is enormous – I will be returning soon.

In addition to the English book section, I made two exciting discoveries last night.  First, I found the retailer of my favorite purse, which sports the following words:

Minutemen
Meatpuppets
Descendents
Angst

I plan to return for it later :)  The other item – a cross-stitch kit – I bought immediately.  Nestled in among the kits to make ornaments featuring such things as cute animals, there was one with a golden, heaping swirl.  I asked Hu Jing what it was, and after an embarrassed silence, she asked me what I thought it was.  For the second time in my short stay here in China, the word 大便 (poop) came in handy.  I guessed (correctly) and, of course, bought it.

This was especially funny the day after my first poop-related discussion on this trip to China.  On previous trips to China I was working with manure every day and, more importantly, sharing two bathrooms with 14 other people, so discussions of bowel-movements and related topics were pretty commonplace.  Karolina and my other Polish friends seemed to think that it was a little weird, though, when I attempted to discuss the differences in ‘consistency’ (if you know what I mean) resulting from the Asian diet.  Things are just a little bit more urgent here . . . I’ll leave it at that.

Leinira and I came back to the dorm at the same time, so we had to file through the temperature check.  When this happens, I feel like a product at the grocery store being rung up.  Living in China is sometimes a dehumanizing experience.

My internet experienced a total shutdown last night, which is why I didn’t update.  The good news is that this deprivation helped me finished my vocabulary reviews after about 4 hours of going through flashcards.

Today I was feeling a little under the weather, so I hung around my dorm room for most of the day.  I went to Chinese Mass this evening, and am definitely noticing an improvement in my comprehension each week.  I followed the entire Gospel – reading along in my Bible, but understanding what the Deacon was reading in Chinese.  Even more excitingly, I understood the announcements after Mass!  The Deacon instructed people on the proper way to receive Communion (with both hands, responding “Amen”) and talked about an upcoming pilgrimage to Beijing.

The first few times I went to Chinese Mass, the people around me seemed either ignorant of or indifferent to my struggles, but the last two weeks I have sat by some very helpful people.  They find the correct pages in the song books, follow along in the missal with their finger, etc., which I really appreciate.

On the way home, I stopped by the supermarket for a few things.  I bought a couple things to try, including Sprite Ice.  Sprite ice “has a hint of mint, which Coca-Cola says gives it “maximum refreshment.””  My opinion?  The “hint” of mint is more of an unpleasant aftertaste.  If it’s not available in your area, just brush your teeth and follow it immediately with Sprite.

I did a Skype ‘interview’ with Steve Nelson (my old campus minister from TU) for his podcast, and then got to end the day with a less pleasant phone call.  I had to call my bank to change my mailing address, which meant I had to spell out my address (Xiamen Daxue Nan Guang Wu 406, Xiamen, Fujian, China 361005) at least three times.  Probably wasn’t that fun for the guys on the other side, either . . .

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!

Bonus Edition: My New Lunchbox

In Uncategorized on September 7, 2009 at 1:38 pm

It’s a little lunchbox with two compartments and a set of small chopsticks conveniently stored in the lid, which bears the following:

THE ANGEL BEAR
The Little Lemon Speak Story

One day, the little lemon seek the banana to go to the hide-and-seek together, they play really happy.

There are even pictures of each fruit after the word.

Adorable.

(Still working on posting pictures . . . !)