Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘class’

Immersion: Circumstances and Attitude

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2014 at 9:52 pm

On the way to my last Chinese class, I walked across Main Quad at noon – peak tourist time.  A lot of Stanford’s tourists are Asians, and I heard the sounds of Chinese floating on the air.  The irony did not escape me – here, with a dozen conversational opportunities within a stone’s throw, I was instead heading for my Conversational (with a capital C!) Chinese class.

When I lived and studied in China, I also noticed this.  In greater Xiamen, the ratio of native speakers to foreigners was probably 1,000’s to 1 . . . but instead, I was supposed to shut myself in a room where the ratio was more like 1:20.  Not exactly the ideal learning environment.

This all just reminded me that the ideal learning situation isn’t one where you’re immersed in the language, but one where you take advantage of opportunities to immerse yourself.  It’s a combination of both circumstances and attitude.  I was lucky to have both during the year I lived in China, and when I look at what’s missing from my current situation, it’s more the latter than the former.  (For heaven’s sake, I live with a girl from Sichuan.  It’s embarrassing that I had to take a class this quarter in order to speak Chinese regularly.)

I’m a Gambling Urban Planner

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2014 at 1:19 am

I think it’s just about time for me to be taking another Chinese class; my Chinese has started to deteriorate noticeably but I think it’s nothing that a little concentrated study can’t stop and even reverse.  The first thing to go was definitely my handwriting.  There’s really no rhyme or reason to the characters I’ve retained and the ones for which I couldn’t even put a single stroke down on paper.

The next thing to go was the tones.  They were always the thing I had the most tenuous grip on.  They are also not important in singing, which – let’s be real here – is 75% of the Chinese I emit these days.  And, bad tones lead to the best stories.

For instance, in one of the classes where we were discussing reasons for homelessness, the teaching listed one reason as “dubo”, and I did a double take.  It sounded like she was saying 读博, which means to study for a Ph.D.!  I know it’s not exactly lucrative, but I’m far from homeless, guys!  After I asked, she wrote the characters on the board – 赌博, ‘to gamble’.  Turns out there’s a huge difference between dúbó and dǔbó.  If I haven’t been paying attention to my tones (hint: I haven’t), I may or may not have been telling people that I’m a gambler when they ask what I do.  (Worse, when I was in college and they asked what I wanted to do after, I told them I wanted to be a gambler!)  Interestingly, though, everyone was always impressed . . .

The next class period, the teacher asked what classes I was taking.  At the time I was only in one other class, an introduction to MPI for parallel computing, offered through the computer science department.  I used a new word she had taught me the week before (程式, ‘code’) and told her my only class was 程式设计.  She looked extremely confused.  “What does that have to do with your major?” she asked.  I started to explain about how I do my simluations on computers and eventually her eyes widened.  “I thought you were taking an urban planning class!”  Understandable.  The sounds “chengshi”, especially with the tones “chéngshì”, usually mean “city”. I figured she would remember teaching me this word a few days ago, but they’re the EXACT SAME TONES.

When people ask me about tones, I usually tell them they’re not a big deal.  Yes, I’ve had difficulties, but only with people who refuse to understand me on principle.  The more interesting cases are those times when your tones are perfect and the meaning still gets messed up.  My classic example before this was the time I almost ended up eating a cigarette lighter for Thanksgiving dinner, but now I have some new stories to tell!


In Uncategorized on April 1, 2014 at 2:53 pm

I’m taking my first Chinese class in almost four years this semester – Intermediate-to-Advanced Chinese Conversation.  It’s a tiny class, just three of us and the teacher, 钟老师.  I know that it sounds a little silly, taking a class instead of just talking to my Chinese roommate . . . but inertia is a powerful thing and I think it’s good to know your weaknesses and to work on them.

The first time we met, the only students were me and 韩夏, a grad student in East Asian Studies.  The teacher asked us to prepare a presentation on our research – easily done for my classmate, who is presumably studying the country whose language and culture the teacher and I are very familiar with.

Me?  Not so much.  When I said my major, 机械工程系, the teacher had to translate it into “Mechanical Engineering” for her.  I didn’t even bother getting more specific with 计算生物力学 (computational biomechanics) or 有限元分析 (finite element analysis).

But, I like a challenge.  So I went home and started looking up the words I would need – cortex, white matter, gray matter, axon, neuron, autism, simulation.  The Google Translate version of my speech goes like this:

My research is about the development of our brain. Our brains, gray matter out there, there are white matter. Gray very curved, which is in the stomach when occurred. We have more brains than any other animal bent, this is very important for brain function.  We do not know how the brain is bent up. Occasionally there will be problems, and some mental disorders may occur, such as autism.  I use a computer to simulate the development of the brain and see what things will affect the bend.

Although I assure you it sounded better in Chinese.  Somewhat.

I was expecting my classmates to have a hard time with some of the words, but I was surprised when the teacher didn’t know some of them!  There was some confusion as to whether I was talking about the growth of the brain or the skull, and the more specific term ‘cortex’ didn’t seem to have much meaning to her.

The biggest challenge, though, was the concept of buckling.  This is a fundamental concept in mechanical engineering, and is also a physical reality that you must have experienced even if you did not know what is was called.  Buckling happens when long slender objects are subjected to compression and an instability causes it to bend out of the plane.  The classic example is pressing on the two ends of a yardstick; it can’t easily shorten in length so it compensates by buckling.


I looked for a translation of this word (变形) for my presentation, but it’s hard to tell if you’re getting results for mechanical buckling or belt buckling, you know?  I also got a couple of words for folding (折) and bending (弯曲), but still wasn’t sure I had the word to convey my meaning.

None of them worked.  When I illustrated the concept of buckling by pressing on the sides of my notebook until the pages bent, she just shrugged her shoulders.  Back in the office, I asked one of my labmates, who is Chinese.  She expressed dissatisfaction with each of my candidate words, but had nothing better to offer.  While I was heating up my food in the kitchen, a Chinese professor in our department walked in, so I asked him.  He struggled for a bit before saying that he was sure he could find it in a textbook somewhere . . . Later, I got an email from him suggesting 压曲, but when I asked another Chinese colleague later he disagreed with that one, too.

All this goes to show how difficult it is to reach professional fluency (or even professional competency) in another language!  Technical terms have very specific meanings; colloquially “stress” and “strain” might mean pretty much the same thing, but not in an engineering setting!  I’d love to have the opportunity to work on this skill further, but this really illustrated to me the need for people who are proficient both technically and and in Chinese in order to really learn!

What Was On My Mind (IV)

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Goodbyes and my return home, captured in facebook statuses:


Maria Holland is done with finals, including the one where I had to talk about my favorite holiday for three minutes. I am now done . . . with kindergarten.
July 13 at 11:11pm

Maria Holland wants to play Apples to Apples more than you could possibly know. I will be home in 7 days, by the way . . .
July 15 at 1:31am

Maria Holland still 5 days before I leave, but maybe tomorrow’s goodbyes will be even harder :-/
July 15 at 11:50pm

Maria Holland i’m ready, i’m ready, i’m ready (said like Spongebob). Three days left, just packing and last-minute adventures remain! But yeah, I’m ready to go home.
July 17 at 4:31pm

Maria Holland for so long, I was going home in 七月份 (sometime in July). Then it became more specific – 20号 (the 20th). Last week it was 下星期二 (next Tuesday). But now we’re down to 后天 (day after tomorrow). It’s crazy!!
July 18 11:23 am

Maria Holland is in that period where I don’t remember clearly the great things about home and I don’t notice the annoying parts of life in China anymore. All I can think about is the friends I’m leaving here . . .
19 July 3:28 am

Maria Holland is, according to my calendar and plane ticket, heading home in 6 hours. Don’t ask me, because I don’t quite believe it.
July 19 at 10:47pm

Maria Holland The good news: I’m in the land of free internet (and it’s amazing how fast facebook is when you don’t have to pass through a proxy).
The bad news: This land is called Hong Kong and I’m stuck here for the near future. Cathay Pacific FAIL
July 20 at 12:00pm

Maria Holland is going to be optimistic, even after the fiasco of last night. I’m adventuring towards home (Hong Kong is, after all, one step closer than Xiamen) and may – or may not – arrive tomorrow at 6 p.m.
July 20 at 4:27pm

Maria Holland Well, so much for that plan. In addition to everything else, Cathay Pacific has lost my baggage so no other airline will accept me. If this keeps up, my return is going to be a birthday present for my father (or, even worse, a wedding present for Rachel!). If there is a hell, it is surely managed by Cathay Pacific.
July 20 at 11:08pm

Maria Holland will get home at midnight IF this typhoon warning turns out to be nothing and we get off the ground within the next hour. We’ll see . . .
July 21 at 3:02am

Maria Holland is home! It took 48 hours and one suitcase didn’t make it, but in a way I’m surprised it even went that well. Cathay Pacific made me miss my flight, took 3 hours to find me a hotel, lost my luggage, made handwritten tags for it once they refound them, and made up a flight number that didn’t exist. Considering the lightning storm and typhoon as well, it is quite remarkable that I made it at all!
July 22 at 2:07am

Maria Holland is home, and the last bag made it tonight as well. Unfortunately, it was apparently mauled by a bear and run over by a plane en route to me, but it’s about what I’ve come to expect from Cathay.
July 22 at 11:31pm

Maria Holland three days ago I had to be in my room, plugged into a lan, and signed into a proxy to access facebook. now I am writing this from my blackberry . . . crazy!
July 23 at 11:52pm via Facebook for BlackBerry

Maria Holland everything is just as I remembered it. Minnesota summers are gorgeous, my mom’s cooking is the best, Americans are really polite, and I can’t park. Only differences: my bed feels soft by comparison, and Rachel Middlebrook is married!
July 25 at 1:32pm

Maria Holland would like to thank goodwill for allowing me to put off my return to American prices for one more day. Three dresses for $7 (40 kuai) each!
July 26 at 12:53pm

Maria Holland successfully stayed up the entire day, but the only emotion I feel is tired. Even 14 hours of sleep can only do so much, apparently. Better luck tomorrow . . .
July 26 at 10:19pm

Maria Holland don’t have to lock my computer while I’m at home; every time my parents try to use it they end up asking me how to “get rid of the Chinese”.
July 28 at 12:04pm

Maria Holland realized today that the last 12 months of my life have been the best 12 months of my life. This is a challenge that I hope the next 12 months will be able to rise to!
August 5 at 10:47pm

Maria Holland is finally back at TU. There’s a huge building outside my apartment that wasn’t there before, I can’t walk from KEP to ACAC, and I’ve only seen one familiar face (and she is a freshman!). At least QT and Blue Bell are just as I remembered!
August 18 at 8:57pm

Maria Holland was afraid my year in China hurt me as an engineer but it turns out that’s not the case. I was the first to figure out the design problem Tiptop gave us!! All because I have no qualms about peeing in public (or at least talking about it). Squatty potties and split-bottom pants FTW!
August 24 at 1:21am

Xiamen Has Wonders For Us Yet

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2010 at 10:44 pm

For my final final, I had to talk about my favorite holiday for 3 minutes.  Congratulations, you’ve now finished . . . kindergarten.  Grades are in, and as proof that I do better when I’m challenged, they are the worst semester grades I can remember.  I got 93 in Oral and 90 in Grammar, but 86 in Listening and HSK and an 82 in Newspaper Reading. 

Aleid and I celebrated by going to massage.  I asked for a man for the first time, and could really tell the difference.  Everything was much harder – mostly in that “hurts so good” way but sometimes beyond that.  At the end, he sat me up and did my shoulders one last time; it hurt so much that I nearly couldn’t breathe!  It felt like getting beaten up, honestly.  But at least it was only a 38 kuai beating!  (And I did feel good afterwards.)

We had lunch at a Thai restaurant (curry!!!) and then walked around exploring a nearby park that she’d always meant to explore.  The park was surprisingly big and completely Chinese, populated with men sleeping on every available horizontal surface and a crew shooting a TV show. 


We also hit up a store we’d never been to, in which I discovered a game that looks like Chinese monopoly!  Xiamen has wonders for us yet.

Aleid took me to a place on campus to get passport photos taken, so that I could have a nice one to be pasted on my graduation certificate.  I got a bunch printed, although they’re completely unnecessary in the US.  The only time you need passport photos is for, well, passports, and as a specialty product they come at a premium.  I remember getting some done last-minute for a Chinese visa application and paying the standard rate of $10/two photos.  The lady here even photoshopped me up so I look nice, but I only paid $5 for a sheet of passport photos and a sheet of 1” photos. 

I returned the favor by taking her to XiaDa’s souvenir shop, similar to our campus bookstores where you can buy university gear.  We were both looking for t-shirts but left empty-handed.  The thing is, universities in China don’t have things like mascots or school colors, so there was nothing especially ‘XiaDa’ about them except the seal.  Sillhouettes of trees, random blue ball wearing a mortarboard, lots of hearts – none of that would remind me of XiaDa. 

Shopping done, I met up with a friend to get pictures.  BinBin is the leader of the youth group at church and my go-to guy for official pictures of Bishop Cai’s ordination in May.  I used to think that BinBin didn’t like me, but now I think he was just busy.  He was surprised to learn that I was also an ME student (which, he said, explained why I was able to edit his thesis on helical grooves in cutting tools so well), and between that and the church, we talked for maybe two hours while the files transferred. 

I learned that he comes from a Buddhist family in the north of Fujian (my province), and joined the church after the example of some Catholic friends at university in Nanjing.  He said he would like to go to seminary but his family won’t allow it. 

He spoke several times about the lack of freedom in China – both generally, as opposed to America, and specifically in religion.  Apparently there are government officials who attend each Mass (at least on the weekends) and they call the bishop if they hear something they don’t like.  He says there are a lot of things they aren’t allowed to do – all stuff that never penetrates the language barrier to come to my attention.  I also, for the first time, heard a Chinese Catholic talk about underground believers.  He was introducing me to a friend who was headed to America soon, and said that he was also Catholic but “doesn’t come to church”.  I thought he meant a fallen-away Catholic, but then he clarified his meaning.  A lot of the underground Christians try to get to Europe and America, he said, but unlike other Chinese who go to make money and come back, they stay there because the situation is not good back home. 

I cut our conversation short because I had still more errands to run.  Eunice and I went to the shoe repair man, where I got two bags fixed and she got the sole of her shoes nailed closed.  We argued with the guy a lot – he didn’t want to do it the way I wanted him to do it, and he wanted too much money from Eunice – so finally she went off on him in Minnanhua.  It was totally unexpected, as I didn’t even know she spoke Minnanhua (the local dialect)!  All of a sudden she was just ranting, and although I couldn’t understand what she was saying I could tell that she was saying it fluently.  So.  Jealous. 

When I finally got around to taking a shower after running around all day, it was well into evening.  It’s good this way, as Xiamen becomes bearable after the sun goes down and the shower has a shot at “staying”.  We grabbed dinner to go – Peking roast duck from the supermarket and a bag of lychee from next door – and took a bus to Bailuzhou Park to catch the fountain and light show.  It was really impressive, actually, especially for something that happens every day!  I’m glad we made it out there before leaving Xiamen.  It was the perfect night to be outside, enjoying the show and engaging in a discussion of politics with a new Dutch girl. 

In one week I will be in the Hong Kong airport; only 7 days left to enjoy what Xiamen has to offer. 

Diederik’s Last Night in Town

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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




Best prop EVER!

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

下课! (Class is Over!)

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2010 at 8:19 pm

I went to my last class at XiaDa this morning!  It might be my last Chinese class ever, but I may audit Advanced Chinese at TU next year, so we’ll see.  It was really anticlimactic; we did a bunch of exercises and then it was done.

I got online when I got back to my room and found out that a friend of mine is pregnant!  It kind of sucks to learn news like that online; punctuation just isn’t enough. 

I also read the news – more updates on the oil spill.  A few of the companies involved are only familiar to me from my time at TU – Halliburton, Anadarko, etc. – and I wonder what reaction, if any, there has been back there.

I had lunch with YongZhi, which was probably not that fun for him.  We walked to West Gate in the midday heat and I was so hot that I didn’t even have energy to complain about it.  We ate mostly in silence.  I am a horrible friend – especially when it’s hot.

Ticket to Ride

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2010 at 10:38 pm

I have a ticket home!  I will be leaving Xiamen GaoQi airport at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 20th, just under three weeks from now.  After a 26-hour journey passing through Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and Chicago, including nearly 20 hours in the air, I should arrive back home (well, at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport) around 9 a.m. Central US time. 

I’m reasonably pumped about this.

Now I have the next three weeks to enjoy my life here in Xiamen.  And, of course, to pack.  I can check two 50-lb bags on the way back, which seems pretty good.  For some reason the Americas have different baggage rules than the rest of the world – the rest of the world getting majorly screwed.  I can carry 100 lbs; they can carry 44.  I pay 25 USD to check another bag; they pay approximately that per kilo over their baggage allowance.  Does anyone know why this is?  At any rate, it’s another reason I’m glad to be an American. 

Class was unusually fun today.  This was probably because we spent most of Oral class watching a TV show, and most of Listening class watching a movie.  It may sound like a waste of time, but I think its great.  It’s way more interesting than the textbook and actually applicable in conversations.  I’m done with those two classes now, except for the finals, and have only two more Grammer lessons before that’s done with, too!  I guess this is what happens when you go on vacation the last week of the semester . . .

As of 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, it’s the freaking weekend and I’m about to have me some fun!

Supply and Demand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

It’s A Mystery

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Another success this morning!  I’m trying to plan a big celebration for the Fourth of July on Sunday, hopefully involving a boat and obscene amounts of food.  Last semester, Jimmy arranged all such excursions, but this time it’s all me. 

I set out this morning to the general ferry area, knowing how much we paid last time and basically nothing else.  But you know what?  It was enough.  I found the right place rather easily, as it was – conveniently for those of us who read Chinese – marked “place to rent boats”.  There were three shirtless men inside, so for once I was almost as aware that I was a woman as I was that I was a foreigner.  But I told them that we wanted a boat, when, where, and how much we wanted to pay, and they said okay.  So we have us a boat!

It took way less time than I expected.  This is probably because, when scheduling things in China, I start with the amount of time a given task should take to complete, multiply it by 5, and add on two hours just in case.  I remember at TU scheduling meetings back to back with dinners, dinners back to back with events, and running errands in between everything else.  Not so in China.  The most I will plan for any given day here is three things – morning, afternoon, and evening – plus meals.  Run to the post office to mail a letter?  That’s going to take all morning.  Mass?  Just block out all of Saturday evening.  Grabbing a few groceries?  An entire afternoon, gone – and if you go too late, evening as well. 

Class today was good.  I found the perfect balance of participating in discussion and playing Mahjong on my cell phone so as to optimize learning and minimize boredom.  Chinese has been easy lately.  I think I’m just coasting.

Today was a big day for goodbyes.  Deni, Benjamin, Lester, and Vikki all left, but luckily I ran into three of them as they were literally on their way out!  I also went through my cell phone and deleted some numbers so I don’t keep trying to invite Kristina to stuff.  It was pretty sad.

This evening, I took Shawn to Mass with me.  It was his first time going to Catholic church, although I think he’d been to one of the international Christian fellowships (the kind that don’t talk about God, though).  It was interesting, helping this Chinese guy follow along with the Mass – in Chinese.  I really wonder, because Christianity is not a part of their culture as it is in the US, how much of it he understood?  All references to today’s saints, Peter and Paul, certainly went over his head, and there must be more things like that.  Even beyond the concepts, does he even have the vocabulary?  If I say 主教 (bishop) or 告解 (confession), does he have any concept of what those mean? 

But I guess my Catholic Chinese vocabulary isn’t all that great either.  I don’t know what to call the hosts, other than “Jesus’ body”, and we kind of had an argument over whether or not it was bread.  I guess I don’t really know exactly what 面包 means, but I don’t know what else to call it! 

I will also say, this year has given me a great appreciation for missionaries to foreign lands.  It’s hard explaining what we believe in another language!  My familiarity with the Mass has helped, of course, but I’m still mostly grasping at straws.  Shawn was really curious about the Trinity, so I tried to explain it . . . I know the names of the Three Persons thanks to the Sign of the Cross; Trinity Sunday was a few weeks ago so I know “three persons in one God” is 三位一体; and the Mystery of Faith is 信德的奥迹.  I just kind of put those pieces together and prayed.

I talked to Bishop Cai after Mass – we’re getting a new deacon!  Looks like there is one more opportunity for me to participate in a special event with my parish here before going home.  The ordination is on the 17th of July, and I plan to be flying out on the 20th.  For the record, three weeks from right now I will be sitting in the Hong Kong airport – adventuring towards home.