Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘dancing’


In Uncategorized on August 1, 2015 at 2:02 pm

This morning, I had my closest call yet with missing a flight.  I had been running on about three hours of sleep a night the last few nights (a combination of trying to get work done during the day, and late nights of majiang and karaoke), so I was just exhausted.  I counted on one alarm and my natural anxiety about an early morning flight to wake me up in time – 4:30am, ideally – but neither worked.  I must have solved math problems while sleeping to turn off the alarm, and I even slept through answering the phone (in Chinese) when my taxi partner called me.  I randomly woke up at 5:22, about two minutes before she knocked on the door.  Luckily, I was packed, and just had to stuff a few things into my bags and zip them shut.  We were downstairs on time at 5:30.  I don’t want to think what could have happened . . . . .

We got to the airport in plenty of time, so I took the opportunity to do a little bit of repacking.  Then more repacking, because apparently China has a thing about lithium batteries in checked luggage.  

I was anxious at the airport.  Part of it was residual adrenaline from the morning’s near miss, but it was also about Xiamen.  It seemed impossible that Xiamen could stand up under the weighty expectations I’d placed on it – I remember my year there as perhaps the best year of my life, and the picture has only grown more rosy in the last five years.  Add in my excitement to see something beautiful after 8 weeks of Beijing Gray, and what paradise on earth wouldn’t disappoint?  A secondary concern was: if Beijing was hot, how will I handle 130-degree heat indexes again??

The flight was slightly delayed but otherwise uneventful.  When I came out of the gate after baggage claim, I saw XuLei – impossibly, she seemed smaller than I remembered.  I hugged her, grabbing my own shoulders after wrapping my arms around her.  I also got to meet NianYu, her boyfriend/fiance that I had heard so much about.  They have a car!  And XuLei drove!  These were the first of many surprises for me in Xiamen, little indications of how everyone has grown up in five years . . .

I felt a little foolish, but I basically had a list ready when they asked where I wanted to eat.  I was devastated to learn that Green Chairs Restaurant is closed (we never learned the real names of most of our favorite restaurants, just came to a sort of group consensus on what to call them), but our malatang place is still there.  Some people in Beijing scoffed, but Xiamen’s malatang (specifically this place) is just the best.  Malatang, literally “numbing-spicy soup”, is a sort of buffet of fresh ingredients that they cook in a spicy broth for you.  I got meat, tomatoes, bok choy, potatoes, three kinds of eggs, and a piece of fried dough for the top.  I hadn’t eaten in about 24 hours, and it was everything I wanted and needed.  Plus we had 烧仙草, better known by its [Ch]English name “fubu burns the fairy grass”.

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We bought fruit at a nearby market – oh Xiamen mangos, how I’ve missed you!!!! – and then went home.  NianYu is a professor of materials science at Xiamen University, so they live in faculty housing on campus.  It’s great for me, because campus is where I’m most familiar with :)  They have a nice two-bedroom apartment that they share with a roommate.  In my first taste of Chinese hospitality, NianYu slept in the living room (without an air-conditioner!) so that I could sleep in the air-conditioned bedroom with XuLei.  (Interestingly, the temporary bed he’s sleeping on would pass for a folding table in America.  It’s funny, we put mattresses on the floor, because the most important feature of American beds is that they’re soft, while in China the off-the-floor aspect of a bed seems to be more important.)

I took a much-needed nap before my big evening plans.  Basically my entire return to Xiamen was scheduled around my need to be here for a Saturday evening – I wanted to go to Chinese Mass and then dancing.  I’m so glad I insisted on that . . . 

XuLei drove me to church.  It was a little after 6 as we started driving, first down Huandao Road along the coast, past my old beach, before getting on one of the bridges over the ocean.  The sun was just setting behind the two giant new buildings dominating the horizon, and I was just overwhelmed.  

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I started crying.  It had been a few weeks, generously, since I saw anything that could be considered beautiful in Beijing, and going from that concrete world to a Xiamen sunset was almost too much to handle.  I was immediately certain that my wonderful memories were not airbrushed and my high expectations were not too high.  The dominant emotion, though, was gratitude.  For this sunset, but not just for that.  The phrase that kept running through my mind was, How was I so lucky to live here for a year?  China can be a difficult place, and Chinese can be a nightmare, and I am continually realizing the perfect path I have been led along in both, to fall gradually in love with them without being scared away.  Stronger people could perhaps fall in love with Beijing, but I needed the charm of Hunchun and the beauty of Xiamen.

XuLei let me off at the bus stop where I used to get off the bus to go to church.  I navigated with my phone, because I didn’t trust my memory, but the route was so familiar.  Other than the construction scaffolding I used to walk under, now a completed building, it was all just as I remembered it.  I got more and more excited as I got closer, literally exclaiming out loud when I saw people rinsing fish in the street because that meant I was close!  

When I walked in to the church, the first person I saw was Joseph Chen, one of the men who is always helping around the parish.  He smiled at me and greeted me by name, as if no more than six days had passed since we had seen each other last.  But there were changes . . . as I knelt to pray, the rhythmic sounds of Chinese chant surrounded me – they were praying the rosary in Mandarin, I quickly realized, but it was unfamiliar and strange to me.  Xiamen has a local dialect, Minnanhua, which was quite common among the older parishioners.  Daily Masses were offered in Minnanhua when I was here last, and it was the dominant language for personal devotions as well – to the point that I don’t think I ever heard the Hail Mary in Mandarin and still can’t recite it fluently.  

Everything is in Mandarin now, though.  Bishop Cai was appointed near the end of my time in Xiamen (after 20 years of the diocese without a bishop), and could see his influence all over.  They recited selections from the catechism after Mass, and reception of communion was orderly and more reverent than I remembered it.  

After Mass, Bishop Cai came over to greet me and “welcome me home”.  Sister Mangu came as well, grabbing my arm affectionately in the way of Chinese women.  As other parishioners and older friends gathered round, I took the opportunity to introduce Alba to them.

So, Alba is kind of a crazy story.  I had made it to church just a few minutes before Mass started, and there weren’t that many open seats.  I spotted one on the aisle and asked the woman next to it if anyone was sitting there.  She responded no, and I sat down.  It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realized I had found the only other foreigner in the church. We whispered a quick introduction – her name is Alba, she’s from Mexico, and she arrived in Xiamen on Wednesday.  She came by this afternoon to scope out the location of the church and, when she heard that Mass was in a few hours, just hung around.  She was sweet and enthusiastic and joyful and on this day of extreme gratitude I was determined to do whatever I could to make her time in Xiamen as wonderful as mine had been.  

So I introduced her to the bishop, and BinBin, and Little Brother.  And when Mangu whisked us off to drink tea (it was inevitable), I made sure she came along.  And when I said I was going dancing afterwards, and her face lit up, I told XuLei we were going to be joined by a friend.  I felt like her fairy godmother, swooping into her life bringing only the best things.  

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XuLei picked us up outside the church and we drove to the Nanputuo gate of Xiamen University.  This was where, on one fateful Saturday night – my first in Xiamen, actually – I got off the bus on my way back from Mass and heard music . . . The gate is under construction now, so we only found the place because we knew where to look for it.  This was one of those moments where I felt very profoundly the immense consequences of the most trivial-seeming events.  My time in China on this trip felt like one long chorus of “There, for the grace of God went I”, to paraphrase John Bradford.  What if I had been sent to my first-choice university, Sichuan University in Chengdu, instead of Xiamen?  What if I had discovered the closer bus stop a few weeks earlier, and never got off at the Nanputuo gate?  Or if I had been too shy to ask what they were doing?  People that know me know associate me with dancing, as if it’s this deeply ingrained personality trait, and it even feels a little bit inevitable to me, but upon closer inspection it seems a very precarious outcome indeed.  

Anyway, construction be damned, it was Saturday night between 8 and 10 pm and my dancing friends were there.  I often found life in China confusing and unpredictable, but this group of older men and women were a rock for me.  Every single Wednesday and Saturday, with the single exception of a national day of mourning, they met to dance for two hours.  Even more incredibly, they welcomed a complete beginner with childlike Chinese to join them.  They taught me almost everything I know about dance – they certainly gave me intensive instruction on following without communicating verbally, which is the basis of social dance.

Tonight I walked in about 20 minutes to 10, to lots of smiles and waves and “what has it been, two years?”  Try five!  I got one dance in before they closed up.  Luckily, I’m not leaving Xiamen until Thursday, so I told them I’ll be back on Wedesday.  

We went back to XuLei’s apartment for some fruit (no one had really eaten dinner), then walked back down to the road to catch a taxi.  There were no legitimate taxis, but I wowed XuLei by haggling with a black taxi driver to take us to Haiwan Park for 25元.  (I didn’t think it was that impressive, because I think he started at 30元, but XuLei talked about it for days afterwards . . .) 

KK, the Chinese bar next door that we always used to navigate taxi drivers, is closed now, but “our” club, The Key, is still open.  They’ve rearranged the inside, and when we walked in, everyone was sitting at tables listening to the band sing “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran.  Not the atmosphere I remembered . . . but when they started the next song, I realized that it was the same band!  I talked to the lead singer a few minutes later when they took a break and she said it would get more dance-y later, so we decided to hang around.

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We first snuck outside to get some food – there are always street vendors that set up along this street of bars.  This was the precursor to my habit of In-N-Out after late nights dancing at Saddlerack!  I got a 肉夹馍 (Xian meat sandwich) and a mango smoothie while the girls got 烧烤 (barbecue).  When we got back inside, the music was more upbeat and everyone was dancing.  Alba is a great dancer, and a lot of fun to be around, especially when they played streaks of Spanish and Portuguese music.  There were also new pop songs – Roar, Up All Night, I Don’t Care, Bulletproof, Chandelier.  This band introduced me to all sorts of music – I heard Your Love is My Drug and Empire State of Mind from them first – so in the years since, I’ve occasionally wondered what it would be like to hear them play this or that song.  It was neat to hear all the new stuff, but I was also thrilled to hear I Gotta Feeling.  It was a new song back in 2009 and basically became my theme song for that year . . . And anyway, I did have a feeling that it was going to be a good night . . .  

We left at 2:30 and taxied home.  I Skyped with my parents (haha, the internet in my friends’ apartment in Xiamen is way better than the internet at the hotel in Beijing), then went to sleep!  First day in Xiamen has assuaged all of my fears, only to stoke new ones that the next few days won’t be as wonderful . . . 

National Museum

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2015 at 10:25 am

We met this morning at 8am to visit the National Museum, a trip arranged by our Chinese hosts at CSTEC (Chinese Science and Technology Exchange Center).  It got off to an underwhelming start, as we waited in line in the hot muggy smoggy weather (temperature over 90, AQI approaching 200) for at least an hour.  But there was AC inside, plus, you know, art and stuff.  

We went through the main painting gallery first – a room full of beautifully-done paintings of either really boring or really terrible things.  Lots of Mao talking at meetings, plus piles of bodies after the Rape of Nanking.  

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From there, we took a tour through the Road to Reconstruction permanent exhibit, which is essentially a documentation of China’s century of humiliation (from the Opium Wars through the World Wars) and their ascendence to prosperity afterwards.  One of my Beijing EAPSI colleagues is absurdly knowledgeable about Chinese history, so we had an excellent guide.  His knowledge was very enlightening and not a little bit humbling.  (I took a class on Christianity in late Imperial China and all I could remember about the Taiping Rebellion was that “a lot of people died”.)  

GuoYang told me I had to see the Song vase, so we almost ran through the ancient China exhibit to snap this picture:

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I’ve been thinking of some other popular English phrases to teach him, so I took this opportunity to introduce “pics or it didn’t happen”.  Nice try, he responded.  Yeah, we really have to expand his vocabulary . . .  He also told me that there’s a Chinese equivalent – 无图无真相.  

We had two and a half hours in the museum, then Mr. Li took us to a Japanese restaurant.  He kept asking if we wanted salmon, or shrimp, or eel, or tongue, and it was never quite clear how much we were ordering.  Answer: a LOT.  One of my favorite things about China is the family-style eating almost everywhere; beyond the comfortable feeling of it, it’s also nice that I’m not limited to one food choice and I can also try “risky” things I might not like without committing to finishing them by myself.  This was individual style, so bereft of that comfort.  We ended up sharing things anyway, and almost everything was good (the crab with mystery green sauce, not so much) and I was happy we each got our own portion of grilled salmon, which was beyond description.  

Everyone else went to Qianmen to shop afterwards, but I was exhausted.  I felt a little lame, but I don’t want to pack my days in Beijing beyond enjoyment, so I’ve given myself “permission” to do one thing each day.  And anyways, I had evening plans.  I slept in the bus on the way back, then had a few hours to rest and journal in the hotel before going out again. 

I had dinner – malatang, a sort of spicy create-your-own soup – with Liu Ying, a friend of a friend from San Francisco.  Turns out her parents are professors at XiaDa, so she grew up there!  She looked at me like I was crazy when I said that one of the reasons I want to go back to Jilin is because they have the best chuar (meat sticks) I’ve ever had, so I decided not even tell her how much better I think our malatang place in Xiamen was than the one we were eating at.  I stand by both proclamations.

After dinner, we went to one of the Chinese Academy of Science institutes for their weekly dance event, but it was canceled for some reason, so she took me to a rooftop bar in Sanlitun.  Because that went so well last time . . . 

But, it was okay.  We drove by Tiananmen and I got to see it all lit up at night!  We went to a salsa club on the top of a hotel.  The music was in Spanish and there were a few songs I knew, and Liu Ying was really good about sending her friends over to dance with me after they danced with her.  But everyone was super good at Latin dances, and I am more a jack-of-all-trades kind of dancer.  I felt like I held a lot of the guys back.  My favorite guy was a really fun dancer, and I enjoyed the three or four times we danced.  He was a little crazy, but he always looked like he was having a really fun seizure.  

We’re on the front end of a heat wave in Beijing, so it was probably 85 degrees without the slightest hint of a breeze.  It was HOT. We also went inside for a while, but they were doing kizomba in there, which is very much sex-with-your-clothes-on (not really my thing).  I felt bad being that girl, but I was still exhausted from the morning, drained from dancing in the heat, and I think I made her leave when she still would have danced more.  As it was, I didn’t get to sleep until after 1.  

Americans Can’t “Can’t Dance”, Chinese Can’t “Can’t Sing”

In Uncategorized on July 9, 2015 at 10:45 am

After a string of early mornings (5am, 7am, and 6am) I got to sleep in today!  It was glorious.  But then it was hot when I biked into work :-/

I had Hainan chicken rice for lunch – probably the best thing I’ve eaten in the cafeteria, and the cafeteria food is actually really good here.  Part of it could have been that I had really low expectations – I thought Zhao Yan told me it was 酸 (suān, sour), but he actually said 蒜 (suàn, garlic).  I was pleasantly surprised :)

As we were eating, a woman walked by us wearing a dress with little pretzels all over it.  Ugh, China, it’s hard enough for me to live here when everyone is in cute dresses that they don’t sell in my size, but a pretzel dress???  That’s a low blow.  As bad as the pineapple dress I saw when we shopping a few weeks ago.  It’s like meeting the man of your dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife, and all those other terrible things Alanis sings about.  

I asked Cheng and Zhao Yan what kind of music they like to listen to, and Cheng said, stuff like Domino, that’s happy and makes you want to move.  I asked her if she likes to dance, and both of them said they can’t.  They don’t know how, they’ve never been to a club, and they feel awkward because they don’t know how to move.  I think this is so interesting.  In the US, it seems like very few people “can’t dance”.  Clubs and bars are a part of life, and eventually most people figure out some way to move their bodies to music, at least when forced to by social conventions, like weddings.  In China, though, singing is kind of like this.  Everyone can sing, perhaps not well, but karaoke is such a staple that no one would straight up refuse to do it.  

In my opinion, though (as a lover of both activities!) that it’s not so much that people “can’t”, but that they “won’t”.  Most people dance a little awkwardly, and many people don’t have beautiful voices.  You either forget this and enjoy yourself, or stay on the sidelines.  In the US, it’s acceptable to “can’t sing”, but not as much “can’t dance”; in China you can 不会跳舞 but you can’t 不会唱歌.  Goal for the next few weeks: take Cheng dancing. 

I asked my labmates if they would help me translate the abstract of my last paper into Chinese, and they were confused as to why I wanted this.  I’m learning a decent amount of technical Chinese (today: boundary conditions, initial conditions, equilibrium equations, gradient, derive, and partial derivative) but I still can’t really explain my research to non-engineers.  I wish I could do that in Chinese like I can in English – is that too much to ask?  I asked them if their parents know what they do, and GuoYang told me he tried explaining it to his dad when he was learning about finite elements in college.  He told his dad that, if you have a cantilevered beam and bend it, I can tell that the highest stress will be right where it’s attached.  His dad responded, Even I know that!  I don’t that he tried anymore after that, haha.  

I left the lab at 8:45pm.  At home I almost never stay this late – I either go home to make dinner or have some event with free food.  But here, I get lunch at work, don’t have anything to do at home like clean my apartment, and have no commitments, social or otherwise.  So I find myself regularly staying until 8 or 9.  When I left, I found myself thinking about how I could use a cold drink – milk tea, of course, not beer.  Sometimes I feel reluctant to get Coco, as if I don’t deserve it or something, but usually convince myself to stop by.  It’s a $1 indulgence that brings me so much pleasure, and it will not be available to me for much longer!

A friend of mine from Stanford arrived in Beijing last night for a several-week-long conference.  I got a WeChat message from her shortly afterwards:

So, I’m experience something weird.  My hotel has internet, but I can’t connect to facebook OR my Stanford email.  Is that a thing?

Haha, yeah, it’s very much a thing.  That’s got to be a rough introduction to China if you don’t know it’s coming.  I wonder if she knows she has to bring her own toilet paper to the bathroom . . . maybe I should compile a list for situations like this.  


Today I learned: 

“Dog paddle” is an international concept.  Zhao Yan and 国洋 were talking about swimming, and 国洋 said he could 狗刨.  I recognized the first word as ‘dog’ and immediately knew what he was talking about.  

“Spherical cow” is not an international concept.  I showed them my explanation of mechanics, and they had a lot of questions about why the cow was round.  

You can send postcards without having to pry international postcard stamps from the hands of a stubborn post office worker!  I paid the postage and the guy just stamped them and said that was okay.  The second batch of postcards, 14 of them, went in the mail this morning!

Birkenstocks and sandals like that are called 人字拖, because the straps look like the character 人.

The Best Airport in the World!

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2011 at 11:14 pm

If you have to be stuck in an airport for 8 hours, make it the Incheon International Airport.  I’ve done it, and it was wonderful.  To pass the time, Rick and Kim and I:

  • walked to Caribou Coffee and bought drinks and snacks for breakfast

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  • impersonated Intense Cart Lady

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  • made art at the Korean Cultural Exhibition

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  • took a family photo

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  • made more art at a different Korean Cultural Exhibition

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  • watched a performance of traditional Korean music

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  • dressed up in traditional Korean clothing

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  • reenacted our favorite scenes from the movie Elf

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  • played Catan

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  • ate a delicious lunch of bibimbap and bulgogi

But eventually the fun came to an end and we had to get on the plane to go home.

The trans-Pacific flight was only 10 hours, which was ridiculously short when compared to 13 hours.  (On the flight over, it was hard to imagine a time before we were on the plane.)

The LAX airport sucks.  Every time I pass through I feel bad for those people who first experience America at the LA airport. 

But time passed and then it was really time to go home.  Miraculously, we arrived in Tulsa early – I know, right?!  My backpack survived, too, which was equally as unexpected.  Some friends picked me up at the airport – they made a lovely welcome party! 

I was at home for 15 minutes, just enough time to change, and then some other friends picked me up and we headed out to Caravan (the country dance club in town).  I was on the dance floor by 10:30 (having landed at 9:30).  I smelled like 40 hours worth of airplane, but Caravan reeks of smoke anyway so I’m pretty sure no one noticed.

It was probably the best return to country I’ve ever had – dancing with my friends! 

What Was On My Mind (I)

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2010 at 4:54 pm

The first part of the year, captured in facebook statuses:


Maria Holland is off to China!
August 24, 2009 at 6:17pm

Maria Holland made it to Hong Kong! Not really sure what happened to Tuesday though . . .
August 26, 2009 at 7:46am

Maria Holland is in Xiamen! Despite the best efforts of the Chinese to thwart me, I have a place a to sleep, cell phone, bank account, and have registered for classes. Take that!
August 28, 2009 at 1:43pm

Maria Holland is enjoying a BEAUTIFUL day in Xiamen (as in, my glasses did not fog up when I walked out of my air-conditioned room)!
August 29, 2009 at 12:04pm

Maria Holland had a great day yesterday – got vindicated on the issue of registration, got my money back from the university, rode the bus successfully, found my church, went to Mass in Chinese, and went DANCING!!!
August 30, 2009 at 2:34pm

Maria Holland couldn’t have just walked out of a dance at her university in China and bought a chocolate crunch Magnum bar for about 70 cents. It’s just not possible . . . yet it most certainly happened. My life is awesome!
September 2, 2009 at 10:42pm

Maria Holland realized I haven’t seen, much less used, a fork and knife in 10 days. Weird . . . but at the same time, not.
September 5, 2009 at 12:05am

Maria Holland found French bread at the local bakery!!!!! I think I’m going to make it here . . .
September 10, 2009 at 12:22pm

Maria Holland saw a commercial for a board game store on a bus today. Unfortunately, it was in Chinese, but I WILL FIND IT. So help me, Klaus Teuber.
September 12, 2009 at 5:45pm

Maria Holland broke a mercury thermometer in my room this morning. The guard’s response? "没关系!" (no worries!)
September 17, 2009 at 12:51pm

Maria Holland met a guy from Oklahoma – OU, to be specific – last night at a beach party in Xiamen, China. Incidentally, we met at the exact time that they were beating us in football, apparently.
September 20, 2009 at 1:34pm

Maria Holland learned the Sign of the Cross in Chinese today! 因父,及子,及圣神之名,阿门.
September 21, 2009 at 10:37pm

Maria Holland has Chinese study buddies for both Catholic and Engineering vocabulary. This is basically everything I was hoping for.
September 23, 2009 at 12:50am

Maria Holland is hesitant to declare victory over China, as this has often led to smiting.
September 25, 2009 at 9:53pm

Maria Holland is in Taiwan. At least the typhoon that’s heading our way won’t catch me with my pants down . . . BECAUSE I’M NOT WEARING PANTS!!!
September 30, 2009 at 11:18pm

Maria Holland has eaten Dunkin’ Donuts, a BLT, Coldstone, and fajitas in Taiwan. BUT I also climbed an entire mountain, bathed nude in hot springs, and am eating snake tonight. 
October 2, 2009 at 6:46pm

Maria Holland experienced her first earthquake last night, and is still trying to make plans for southern taiwan around the typhoon(s). Thanks, Taiwan :)
October 4, 2009 at 9:52pm

Maria Holland is leaving Taibei. Destination: rain. Pretty much . . .
October 5, 2009 at 8:25am

Maria Holland has checked most everything off the list of natural disasters here in Taiwan: Typhoon, check. Earthquake, check. Rockslides, check. Still looking for a flood before I leave tomorrow . . .
October 9, 2009 at 11:46pm

Maria Holland had a wonderful time in Taiwan and is now back home in Xiamen. Yes, I said home. Isn’t that weird?
October 14, 2009 at 1:39pm

Maria Holland watched a beautiful sunset in Xiamen this afternoon, is going to a event on Sunday, and has 3 dancing events coming up in as many days. 祝你周末快乐! (Happy Weekend!)
October 23, 2009 at 9:46pm

Maria Holland participated in’s International Climate Day of Action in China! Also, I’m on track to go dancing every night this weekend. Seriously, my life is wonderful.
October 25, 2009 at 2:35am

Maria Holland has been in China for two months today, which means it has been two months since I last saw anyone I knew two months ago . . . The weather is beautiful, wish you were here (hint hint)
October 27, 2009 at 12:10am

Maria Holland found out that my XiaDa student ID gets me 1 kuai off at Coco, my favorite milk tea place. It does NOT, however, allow me to check out books from the school library, and that is just not okay.
October 27, 2009 at 11:15pm

Maria Holland is studying dance in China. I’m learning a little bit of Chinese, too, but that’s just coincidental.
October 28, 2009 at 11:40pm

Maria Holland it just figures. The one time you go out in your pajamas to buy a bottle of gin, you see everyone you know.
October 31, 2009 at 5:16pm

Maria Holland is sick – after the most expensive dinner yet in China (67 yuan!) at a famous vegetarian restaurant. Seriously??!?
November 1, 2009 at 7:18am

Maria Holland 拉肚子. There is no such thing as TMI in China, so I don’t care if you all know how my digestive system is doing: not well.
November 3, 2009 at 6:41pm

Maria Holland realizes that there are too many things I haven’t done yet, and too many sunsets I haven’t seen. I can’t waste the day wishing it would slow down; I’ve been given this one world and I won’t worry it away. Every now and then, I lose sight of the good life . . . but then love comes in ♥
November 5, 2009 at 9:13pm

Maria Holland is taking "adventuring towards" to a whole new level. Tomorrow morning we are *probably* going to be adventuring towards Ningde, which is *either* 4 or 12 hours away. Tell you all about it on Sunday evening!
November 6, 2009 at 10:35pm

Maria Holland I think Fujian is the biggest province in the world. You can ride buses for hours and hours and hours and travel only tiny parts of it. In fact, that’s exactly what I did this weekend.
November 9, 2009 at 12:31am

Maria Holland finally remembers what butter tastes like, but adjectives are failing me.
November 10, 2009 at 1:10pm

Maria Holland had one of those moments where I realized, "Holy crap, I live in China!" – and then smiled. It’s a good day here in Xiamen.
November 19, 2009 at 1:57pm

Maria Holland played Catan tonight!!!! Learned a lot of Chinese words in the process (wheat, chance, robber, trade) and even laughed ’til I cried.
November 20, 2009 at 9:59pm

Maria Holland spent $10 tonight and enjoyed dinner (all-you-can-eat) and a movie (2012), with a lesson in reading Chinese subtitles at no extra charge.
November 23, 2009 at 12:47am

Maria Holland celebrating my second Thanksgiving in China. Last year left quite a precedent to live up to, but I’m doing my best!
November 25, 2009 at 11:25pm

Maria Holland got up really early the day after Thanksgiving . . . to run. Sometimes China is not so fun. Tomorrow is the sack-hop race, which is sure to be even more intense. Remember, Maria, you’re doing it for the t-shirt!
November 27, 2009 at 4:44pm

Maria Holland is slightly bummed that I have 6 weeks of class left instead of one like everyone at TU, but on the other hand, I’m a lot more free to skip class. Thus, I’m leave for 5 days in Shanghai on Thursday, and the following week will be spent traveling through Fujian and Jiangxi.
November 30, 2009 at 9:38pm

Maria Holland is headed to Shanghai tomorrow for my deacon’s ordination! Please pray for him and all clergy throughout the world!
December 2, 2009 at 2:41pm

Maria Holland found out today that one of my priests may or may not be set to be ordained a BISHOP early next year!
December 8, 2009 at 10:10pm

Maria Holland is taking the midnight train going aaaaanyyywhere! . . . I mean, we’re hoping to end up at Wuyishan but this is China, so who really knows?
December 15, 2009 at 2:51pm

Maria Holland had a really wonderful trip to Wuyishan. Highlight was probably the singing of national anthems by citizens of four nations on the bus ride. Now I’m back home in Xiamen for the holidays – but really, is 15 C the best I can get around here? Tropical island fail.
December 19, 2009 at 11:23am

Maria Holland is BAKING! Half of the ingredients are Chinese and my oven has a capacity of approximately 4 cookies, but . . . still, I’m BAKING! This is a big deal.
December 21, 2009 at 10:57pm

Maria Holland is on one of those emotional highs – dancing, Christmas movies, baking and sharing cookies, having friends, and finding an oven in China!
December 23, 2009 at 9:51pm

Maria Holland had the strangest Christmas Eve EVER – namely because of baking 100+ cookies 4 at a time, visiting McDonald’s, and eating barbecue on the side of the street at 2 a.m. But I really do believe that if each holiday in China isn’t the strangest you’ve had, you’re doing something wrong. Therefore, I must be doing something VERY right.
December 25, 2009 at 2:25am

Maria Holland is so Two-Thousand-and-Ten, you’re so Two-Thousand-and- . . . then? Happy New Year, everyone – it’s a great one so far!!
January 1 at 12:41am

1 Down, 31 To Go

In Uncategorized on August 27, 2010 at 11:16 pm

But who’s counting?

I’ve finished the first week of my senior year!

We got two new classmates in Chinese class – one is Russian, and it was so comforting to hear Russian-accented Chinese again!  But, maybe due to the larger class size (5), the teacher put the kibosh on my freeloading.  I was told I had to either enroll in the course or stop going, so . . . maybe I’ll try again next semester.  In good news, I now I have a three-hour lunch break on Mondays and Wednesdays!


On Wednesday we had our second Design class.  We brainstormed ways to get across the construction zone between Keplinger (the engineering building) and the rest of campus.  Because we were going for quantity over quality, and because we had to write every idea down, we ended up with a list that included:

  • zipline
  • scheduled fenced-in sidewalk
  • door in the north side of ACAC
  • skyway
  • monorail
  • teleportation
  • giant eagles

Have I mentioned that I love my professor and my classmates?  Stuff like that is worth staying awake for.


I’ve been spending my spare time reviewing notes from the previous three years of classes.  My old mentor said that you should write notes with the 5-year standard in mind – that you should be able to pick them up and understand them five years down the road.  It’s been interesting putting mine to the test!  They’re doing pretty well so far.

It’s fun to remember stuff I used to know, but more fun because of the quotes I write in the margins.  For instance, the brainstorm sheet from Design on Wednesday featured these gems:

“I can’t believe I’ve been here 25 years and I haven’t dug a tunnel to my office!”
– Dr. Tipton

Alli: “You’re breaking the rules!” 
Dr. Tipton: “You’re breaking my heart!”


But college isn’t all about classes, of course.  I’ve been reminded in a powerful way of the prevalence of free food and t-shirts on American campuses.  Remember when I had to run the 100m dash to get a XiaDa t-shirt?  I went to the activities fair on Thursday to get one (and if I’d wanted to, I could have had a soccer t-shirt as well).  There was Newman lunch on Tuesday, Pizzas of Tulsa on Tuesday night, WOW on Wednesday, a Newman cookout on Wednesday night, and WOW leftovers on Thursday night.  Not bad!


On Thursday night, I went to Caravan with a bunch of friends.  Caravan Cattle Co is a 21+ country two-step bar, which I heard about all the time last year because my friends were immediately obsessed.  I spent the last year learning every kind of dance except two-step, but I needed my dancing fix so I decided to check it out. 

It actually ended up reminding me a lot of The Key (in the good old days of first semester, not second semester when it became lame).  There were some creepy older men and some skanky young women, and a lot of people who just wanted to dance and have fun.  Cowboy boots and hats were slightly more prevalent than I remember from Xiamen, but I guess that’s to be expected.  It turns out I don’t really care what we’re dancing or what we’re dancing to, as long as we’re dancing :)

If You Want Me to Shut Up . . .

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2010 at 11:14 pm

. . . just speak to me in Spanish.  It works every damn time. 

I’m now in El Paso, TX, staying at my abuelos’ house.  Everything about this place – from the location mere miles from the Mexican border, to my relatives whose first language is Spanglish – makes it the perfect place to work on my first second language.

But things have changed.  I haven’t studied Spanish in about five years, haven’t really used it in three, and in the past two I started working on a different second language.  It’s certainly sad, but if I ranked my languages in order of fluency, Spanish is definitely no longer second.

It would have been cool to be able to speak to my Spanish, Mexican, and Columbian friends in Xiamen, so I was a little bummed at the atrocious state of my language abilities last year.  It wasn’t until I got here, though, that I felt full-blown guilt.  For all that I joke about forgetting I’m Mexican . . . I am.  Spanish isn’t really my language, but it is the language of the Garibay and Velasquez families, and I DON’T SPEAK IT ANYMORE.  It’s beautiful, it’s my heritage, and it’s almost gone. 

Not 100% gone, thankfully.  I understand as well as I ever did (which is good, because Abuelo is giving me free Spanish lessons by telling his stories using chunks of English and Spanish).  I just can’t respond.  When he asks me a question, I have to catch myself before responding automatically in Chinese, then I freeze as I try to move past that into the deeper layer of Spanish that I’m sure is lying around in there somewhere.  Between my shame and the simple lack of words in the right language, I’m literally rendered speechless.  It’s horrifying. 


I think I am stupider right now than at any point in my life – well, at least the last 5 or 6 years.  The only math I’ve done in a good 16 months is converting RMB to USD and dividing dinner bills between large groups of people; the only scientific concept I’ve thought about was heat capacity when explaining to Carlos why tomatoes stay so hot in malatang soup.  I lost my Spanish due to an intense year of Chinese study, but when I video chatted with XuLei two days after getting home, she said my Chinese was already slower.  What’s left for me to lose??


I’m spent yesterday afternoon working on a letter in Spanish to my Spanish friend, Carlos.  I promised I would but I immediately regretted it.  Everything about it is difficult!  I’m getting used to a new keyboard (because, ironically, at this point I find Chinese infinitely easier to type than proper español with the tildes and everything) where even the punctuation is different!  The sentence structure is unnatural to me because it’s so similar to English with only a few exceptions.  The vocabulary is just a matter of pushing through the brambles of Chinese to find the old Spanish stuff that has gotten buried, but the conjugations are downright painful.  Subject, tense, endings – what’s up with that?  Compared to Chinese, Spanish feels like this delicate language that must be used very carefully or everything will fall apart.  Chinese, on the other hand, is a brick wall that you can just throw up any old way; it’ll be fine.

It ended up much better than I expected.  I swallowed my pride and gave it to Abuelo to proofread, and he only found a few mistakes.  I was pleased, considering I just went with what I felt on most of the conjugations. 


I’ve confided in Abuelo how sad I am at losing my Spanish, so he let me in on a secret.  “To speak like a Mexican,” he said, “you only need two words: pendejo and chingar.”  He offered a few examples to round out the lesson, and I left the table feeling a little bit better.

So later he was bothering me about getting ready to go.  In my  best Mexican accent (the one thing I never really lost), I said, “Ay, pendejo!  No me chinges!!” and he about died laughing.  These words aren’t exactly suited to a polite conversation, if you know what I mean!  He told me that anyone else would probably be offended, but he was just proud that I’d learned the lesson.  (And he bragged about it later, too!)

I’m pretty pleased with myself, too.  This is the man who has introduced me all my life as “my UGLIEST granddaughter” and often simply addresses me as “Ugly” (not to be confused with “Idiot”, my brother).  He once taught my cousin Sofia that her name was Sofea (or “so ugly”).  It’s about time he got what was comin’ to him!


We had a party at the house today, a big get-together of the Garibay, Velazquez, Zuñiga, Zubiate, Martinez, et. al.  My mother only has three siblings but my grandparents both have a whole slew, so my extended family on her side is possibly even more crazy than on my dad’s, with his 9 siblings.  It’s hard to keep them all straight, but made slightly easier when we decide to just call most everyone ‘cousin’, regardless of actual geneological ties. 

As I snacked on Abuela’s amazing guacamole, I found myself sitting next to Velia, one of the relatives who falls into the category of ‘aunt’.  She was talking to a ‘cousin’, inquiring about her parents.  “No tienen health problems?” she asked.  Her Spanglish is the best; cracks me up every time.  I’m much more adept at understanding it now (because that’s how I spoke Chinese when I was lazy), but I remember times when the sentence “Fui al tienda para comprar un shirt” would set me off racking my brain for the meaning of this word, “shirt”.  Understanding such a combination of multiple languages is an acquired skill (and, as I came to discover in China, being able to speak that way – and be understood – is a downright luxury). 


After the party died down, Abuelo and I went out dancing.  It was hosted by the Golden Bears, an organization consisting of alumni of El Paso’s Bowie High School over the age of 50.  I go to meetings whenever I’m in El Paso, but this time I lucked out and happened to be in town during a social event.  Considering my main areas of study this last year were Chinese, soccer, and dancing (specializing in dancing with old people), this was right up my alley.

It reminded me so much of my Wednesday and Saturday nights in Xiamen.  I stood out among the crowd here, too, – although this time it was because I was the youngest person in attendance by approximately three decades, not because I was the only foreigner or the tallest person, like ever. 

Another thing I noticed is how people liked me for what I am, not as much who I am.  In China, I was the foreigner and could do no wrong; in El Paso I’m Gaby’s granddaughter and their affection for him is instantly shared by me.  It’s kind of nice because while some people were probably interested to know that I had just returned from China, they would have been just as pleased to meet me no matter what I was up to. 

I got my old-man dancing in; I’m ready to leave El Paso now. 

Thank You For the Music (And The Food!)

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Despite a Friday night that was so late it should probably be considered early, I got up Saturday morning to attend another ordination. This time it was three seminarians becoming deacons, which completed my Chinese ordination trifecta (deacons, priests, and a bishop). There are four dioceses in my province (mine in Xiamen, Fuzhou in the capital, Mindong in the east, and Minbei in the north) but only we and Fuzhou have bishops, so these seminarians came to our church for their ordination.


I was dead tired but very glad I went. It was the end of my time with my church, but I was able to witness the beginning of new vocations even as I prepared to leave.

The youth group took me out to lunch after the Mass. We went to the seafood restaurant next door for a big meal and obligatory toasts.  We exchanged presents – I gave out American dollars and I was given a set of chopsticks and a pretty rock. (Both in enormous decorative boxes of course; no one seems to understand that I am preparing to transport all of my current possessions across the Pacific Ocean. Ugh.)


I went straight from there to another lunch date. Bo, a French friend of mine, made lunch for the two of us in his room – chicken smothered in a tomato and herb sauce, salad with honey mustard dressing, and French bread. It was almost the first salad I’d had all year, and certainly the best one. Between the food, the mellow music, and the good conversation, it definitely tied for Best Lunch of the Day.

I took a quick nap after second lunch, then returned to church for Sunday vigil Mass – my last time. I went dancing afterwards – also my last time. I said goodbye to them and successfully leveraged my leaving to get a picture of all of us.


Studies Terminated

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Friday afternoon we had a graduation ceremony – except we weren’t graduating, so it wasn’t actually a 毕业典礼.  They called it a 结业典礼, which basically just means Termination of Studies.  They called us by name and handed us Certificates of Attendance with our pictures on them.  So basically . . . we were going to class, and now we aren’t any more.


While it sounds kind of hokey, everything was actually surprisingly legit.  Coming from a university that told me the wrong date for the beginning of the semester, who didn’t know when finals would be until three weeks before, and couldn’t even manage to print a student ID with my picture on it, I was not expecting much.  But they came up with a transcript printed on official-looking paper and a nicely bound Certificate of Attendance with my full name on it.  (This is really quite something, as my official name for all other university-related business was simply MARIA, no last name.) 

We took a picture afterwards, all of us foreigners who were about to leave all thrown in together on the steps of our classroom building.


I said a final final goodbye to Aleid and was figuring my friends were gone already, when I got a phone call from Eunice.  She’d checked out and returned her key, then returned to grab her last bag.  While she was in the bathroom, the cleaning lady came in, looked around, and locked the door behind her.  There’s no way to open the deadbolt without a key, even from the inside, so Eunice was trapped in her room!  Talk about fire hazard . . .

But I rescued her, helped her get her bags into the taxi, and said a final final goodbye to her as well.  And then there were none :(

Even with my two constant companions gone, though, there were still friends to see and farewell dinners to eat.  I called up Hu Jing, the female mechanical engineering student I befriended, and we went to dinner together for the last time.  We hugged when we parted ways, one of those awkward embraces I can’t help but associated with goodbyes in China.  She went to her right, which conflicted with me going to my left (according to the societal norm) and we ended up cheek-to-cheek facing the same way.  Ah, that’s what 再见 feels like! 

I must say, though, that Chinese don’t have the monopoly on awkward hugs.  Eunice insisted on all her goodbye hugs being photographed, which made for some awkward looking photos:

IMG_3198 IMG_3195

After a day of such hard goodbyes, what else could I do but try to drown my sorrows?  My girlfriends were gone, so I hung out with the guys – Jelle, Yerkin, Tom, Bo, etc.  We bought some rum and took it up to the top of Jelle’s building, where we had long conversations and enjoyed the view of Xiamen’s illuminated bridges.  It was stunning, honestly.

Jelle and I went to 1801 afterwards, one of those things I felt like I had to do at least once before leaving Xiamen.  It was about what I expected, a Chinese club with insanely loud music and basically free drinks for foreigners.  I had a great time dancing and am glad I went at least once. 


They played a techno remix of Take Me Home Country Roads and as I sang at the top of my lungs, I realized how much that song has come to mean to me this year.  West Virginia isn’t my home, but it’s sure a lot closer to it than Xiamen.  So take me home, country roads, to the place where I belong – because right now I have a feeling that I should have been home yesterday. 

That Was Weird, Right?

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2010 at 2:15 am

The Gospel at Mass this evening was the story of the Good Samaritan.  I listened closely to both the reading and the homily (which I mostly understood), secretly hoping that others would notice my attentiveness and follow suit.  Chinese culture doesn’t value common courtesy, and I guess the rudeness and self-centered behavior gets wearing after a while.

But when I start thinking this way, God likes to remind me that I need to work on those things as well.  I offered my seat to a tired-looking lady and her daughter on the way back to school, and somehow ended up helping them find a place to stay for the night.

I really have no idea what was up with this lady.  She was Chinese but made me ask the guard if there was a hotel on campus.  She was completely unprepared, not only did she not have reservations, but her cell phone was also dead.  She had come from another province, spent the afternoon on Gulangyu, and was headed back the next afternoon. 

Yeah, it was weird, but all she really asked me to do was walk with her, and what kind of person would I be if I refused?

It’s my second-to-last weekend in Xiamen, but the last one with my foreign friends, so I convinced a couple people to go to The Key with me.  The Key has really sucked this semester, which I guess should make going home easier.  There were a ridiculous number of creepy men there, no one we knew, and while the Filipino band is always good, the filler acts have gotten more and more strange.  Between KK and The Key, we saw two Cirque-like acrobatic acts, an interpretive dance involving (I’m guessing here) fuzzy polar bears, neon green spiders, and Michael Jackson, a beauty contest that mainly consisted of ass-shaking, and a dance group dressed as unicorns.

Maybe another reason I haven’t enjoyed The Key as much this semester is that all the music is unfamiliar.  First semester was all Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas, but now they do music that was released after I left the States and I just don’t know it.  Ke$ha didn’t exist when I was home last, and while the more recently-arrived Americans sang along to Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind and Lil Wayne’s Bed Rock, I just feel awkward and old. 

I did get to visit my egg roll lady again, though, and that was good.  She said she’d missed me; I felt the same way.