Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Please Close the Door Behind You

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2010 at 10:47 pm

I was so tired in class today.  It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have any energy – more like I had never had any energy, ever.  I sat in class and, as much as I wanted to return to my bed, dreaded the thought of the three flights of stairs I had to descend, the 100 meters I had to walk, and the three flights of stairs I had to ascend in order to get there.  The very idea exhausted me.

It might have been the heat.  The classroom was alright, but outside was oppressively hot and muggy in that special way that only Xiamen (and, I suppose, particularly warm saunas) can be.  I could feel my internal heat trying to escape from my body, only to find out that outside was even worse and return to me.  In this way, the several inches around my skin seemed even hotter than ambient air, occupied as it was with these comings and goings.

I managed to get myself back to my room, where I collapsed on my bed and slept for four hours.  It was magnificent.

The only thing that could get me to go back outside was our dinner plans.  We went to a restaurant serving food from China’s northwestern Xinjiang province, which has the distinction of being my favorite place in China that I’ve never been to.  If you ever eat their food, it will be yours, too!  Yerkin, our Kazakh buddy, was our guide through dinner.  Their food is apparently quite similar, which makes me even more determined to go visit him after we all go home.  Basically, each dish is some combination of meat, bread, and onions, occasionally with other veggies thrown in for color, often doused in flavorful sauce.  We started with a huge plate of chicken and onions in sauce, then had a huge plate of meat and bread and onions, then a huge plate of meat and bread and veggies in sauce.  Then a basket of bread, some bread stuffed with meat, and some other bread stuffed with other meat.  Amazing. 

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The staff at the restaurant are mostly Uighur, one of China’s ethnic minorities, and with some of them Yerkin’s Russian was actually of more use than our Mandarin.  Our waitress was a super cute young woman who said everything in the singsongy voice that we all used when we were just starting to learn Chinese.  There was a note of accomplishment in her voice each time she said something, as if “Shay-shay!” was an amazing triumph instead of the word for “thank you”.  But, you know, when you’re just starting to learn this language, it is an amazing triumph, so I guess she wasn’t that far off at all. 

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Despite Diederik’s constant fretting, we made it back to campus in plenty of time to stake out the best spots in del Mar for the football match.  The game started at 10, Netherlands vs. Brazil in the quarterfinals.  I watched Brazil’s first goal but by halftime was feeling so tired and weak (see first paragraph) that I had to go home.  This, unfortunately, meant I missed the second half – the fall of the Brazilian Empire, basically – in which one of their players scored an own goal and Wesley Sneijder, that lovable Dutch striker who stands shorter than me, scored on a header.  (Seriously, though, I do really like Sneijder.  He was the third player whose name I learned, he’s both good and good-looking, and he’s Catholic!) 

I saw the final score online but by that time I was already in bed.  I watched the new Karate Kid as I went to bed.  I thought it was pretty good but had a little bit of a hard time believing the aggressive young Chinese boys.  If Chinese kids are anything like the guys I see in their 20’s, there’s no way on earth that a gang of them would have confronted a young foreign boy for talking to a girl.

Also, I’m getting a little tired of the “China is so green” idea.  Jackie Chan shows Jaden Smith how the Chinese only heat water when they want to take a shower, slipping a comment in there about how “this saves the planet”.  That’s fine, but can we acknowledge two things?  First of all, 80% of the time complimenting China on how “green” it is, is like complimenting starving African children on how thin they are.  It’s not what they want, and they would change it in a heartbeat if they could.  Wow, isn’t that amazing how everyone takes public transportation?  Look how small their homes are, how high they’re stacked!  In fact, ‘as the living standards of Chinese have improved’ (which must be, by the way, one of the most-written sentences in the Chinese language), these “green” habits are going out the window

Secondly, I have a hard time drooling over the low carbon footprint of the average Chinese because I can feel wasted energy seeping through cracks and gushing through open doors.  Yeah, I think it’s probably a good idea to just air condition the classrooms and leave the hallways open to the outside – but if you’re planning on leaving the classroom door open, then any benefit is totally negated.  I like walking down a street and shopping, being able to buy things without having to go inside, but while the blasts of cold air may feel good physically, I actually feel sick when they hit my skin. 

It’s everywhere here.  Small restaurants are usually fairly good about keeping their cool air inside, and I guard the seals of my dorm like Gestapo, but everyone else seems to think they can combat global warming by air-conditioning the world.  Man, the Laws of Thermodynamics are a bitch, aren’t they?  I think the more energy wasted, the higher class or more expensive an establishment is; it’s gotten to the point that I know when we’re walking by they jewelry store on Zhongshan Lu just by the piercing 16°C air that billows around me.  (This store, as with many others, has no doors at all.) 

I hate it so much.  In America, I go around opening doors for people.  In China, I wait for them to go through and then I close the doors behind them.

Forgive Me, Father, For I Have Sung ‘Alleluia’

In Uncategorized on February 27, 2010 at 2:17 am

It’s like the end of summer, when you start waking up early to get ready for the start of a new school year.  Only, in this case, it’s more like the beginning of summer.  I woke up at 7 today, only the second time I’ve been out of bed before 9 probably since coming back to Xiamen.  There was something going at at church, possibly a retreat-like something, and I decided to check it out. 

When I got there, they were halfway through the Stations of the Cross, so I joined in.  Much to my delight, it was in 普通话 (Mandarin); the last time I prayed the Stations was in Shanghai and we used 闽南话, the local dialect that I don’t speak or understand.  Even better, they sang the Stabat Mater (the song of Mary’s sorrows) between stations, or at least something to the same tune. 

When we had finished the Way of the Cross, we went upstairs to a sort of conference room.  Father He, a priest from Taiwan who has visited before, had come back to lead the day’s event.  He began with the story of the resurrection of Lazarus and then began talking.  I understood a good part of the Gospel but then my sleepiness set in and I struggled in and out of sleep.  Between that and the fact that my Chinese isn’t incredible even when fully conscious, I didn’t catch a whole lot of the several hours of lecture that followed.  He explained why Catholics keep the corpus on the crucifix, pointed out that Jesus’ entire life was a progression towards Jerusalem, and remarked on the Chinese belief that names and numbers can control destiny, but I couldn’t figure out the overarching theme of it all.

This got harder when he put on a video called “+/- 2°C”, which was a look at natural disasters since last June and their cause, global warming.  As far as I can tell, it came out of nowhere, and immediately after the video ended, the lecture part was over.  That’s kind of too bad, as I think there’s a lot to be said about environmental stewardship in a church setting.  The humanitarian and social effects of pollution, energy dependence, and climate change are what attracted me to sustainable energy in the first place, and this year more than ever, Church leaders (including Pope Benedict and a Filipino cardinal) are speaking up about the same thing.  But, as it was, I was just mainly confused. 

I was also confused by the after-lunch activity we had.  (Incidentally, lunch consisted of fried rice with green vegetables.  My Chinese New Year Mom excitedly asked if I wanted worms with my fried rice, but I tried to protest politely by asking if worms might possibly be considered meat, which we can’t eat on Fridays in Lent.  I guess it worked!)

Anyway, back to the after-lunch activity.  Fr. He passed out songsheets, pulled up a Youku video, and had us all sing – AND DANCE – along to a Chinese praise-and-worship song.  First of all, it was weird doing these juvenile hand motions and movements in a room full of old Chinese women (and a few men).  Some of them were out of breath afterwards.  Secondly, half of the words in the song were ‘alleluia’, which we don’t use (and basically aren’t supposed to say) in church during the season of Lent.  Everywhere in the liturgy where we usually say ‘Alleluia!” is omitted or changed for the duration of Lent; the Gloria, whose joyfulness don’t really fit with the mood of the season, is also left out.  It’s kind of a bummer, but the self-denial makes Easter even more special and joy-filled.  So, I know that we aren’t supposed to say ‘Alleluia’ during lent, but maybe 阿肋路亚 doesn’t count?

After all this, though, things settled down into something more recognizable to me.  We moved downstairs to the church and they rearranged some pews.  I never know what’s going on until it’s too late, but as soon as I figured out they were setting up a second confessional, my heart started racing.  I don’t go to confession often enough, but I always go during Advent, Lent, and before leaving the country.  I never got around to it during Advent for multiple reasons, but had promised myself I would go sometime during Lent.  And, there you go – the perfect opportunity!

The set-up was not ideal, and I found myself – possibly for the first time – grateful that my Chinese is not so great, because listening to others confess is really uncomfortable.  I’m not going to lie; I also found some comfort in the knowledge that no one else would understand my confession either.  While the Church makes allowances for those without recourse to a priest with a common language, I was lucky enough that Fr. He could meet me half way.  I spoke in English and he responded in Chinese, and it worked out – at least enough for him to offer some pertinent counsel and for me to somewhat understand. 

After everyone had gone to confession, we had Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament and said the Divine Praises.  It was great, really just what I had needed.  I read a really amazing blog post a few months ago in which the author described the way she feels taken care of in church, and was reminded of that today.  From the loving concern exhibited by my church friends, to the welcome sound of the familiar Stabat Mater, to the availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation without me having to seek it out, to the language skills of my priest that were just enough to communicate, to the perfect ending of adoration, it was all just what I had needed but far more than I would have thought to ask for.


When I got back to XiaDa, I checked the class lists and schedules.  I’m in 二年下, the second semester of 2nd year, just as I thought.  The schedule looks pretty miserable, with 7 class periods somehow completely taking up the entire week, but maybe we’ll be able to change it.  Just have to buy my books before classes start on Monday!

Today was Diederik’s birthday, so we went out in a large group for dinner. 


Dinner included, among other things, amazing shrimp and delicious snap peas, plus we had a rooftop view of the ocean, framed by Xiamen’s illuminated highways.  Gefeliciteerd, Diederik!

I have two updates on current conditions in Xiamen.  First, weather: The humidity here is INSANE.  We’re currently at 100%, and it probably hasn’t dropped below 85% in days.  Everything is wet with no hope of drying.  Floors that were cleaned three days ago have turned into slick muddy paths.  Every slick surface – windows, mirrors, clocks, handrails, pews – is sweating.  It’s very weird and kind of uncomfortable.  The worst is that I have to do laundry really soon . . . it probably won’t dry for a week. 

I mentioned once that the internet situation sometimes changes as swiftly as the weather.  I think a front of internet freedom has moved into the area, but it’s hard to tell how long those conditions will linger.  It looks like the weekend is going to be great for WordPress, Blogspot, and Picasa Web Albums (all unblocked), so get out there and enjoy! 

Touring the 土楼, Chinese-Style

In Uncategorized on December 13, 2009 at 12:32 am

Today’s trip began with a promising start when I realized that I had forgotten my wallet and umbrella in my room.  It only got better from there, including the hour when my camera’s memory card stopped working and then the point in late afternoon when the batteries totally died.

But despite that, we had a good trip.  First, a bit of background: Our destination was the 土楼 (literally, ‘dirt buildings’), or Hakka roundhouses, which just happen to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  They’re huge circular buildings made out of rammed earth that house whole families and even whole villages.  The Hakka people are [kind-of] a minority people in China, who came to this area of Fujian about 1000 years ago.  They built their residences this way – self-containing and self-sustaining – because of the threat of attack from pirates.  I know, right? 

Anyway, the school organized this trip and even had the courtesy to pay for it for us scholarship students.  We met at 8 o’clock – about 100 of us – and boarded buses for the three-hour ride to the site.  Each bus had a tour guide, which was theoretically a nice touch.  Ours was a tourism major, but I think she needs to work a little bit on getting to know her audience, as she started off by asking us if this was our “first time to Xiamen.”

Our first stop was for lunch.  The food was “all-organic”, we were told, which marked the first time since coming to China that I had heard those words.  It was pretty normal Chinese fare with a highlight of 盐水鸭 (duck roasted in salt water).  Also, I ate another fish eye.  Actually two.  And they were connected to the rest of the fish, which I also ate.  It was a little guy, slightly battered and fried, and I ate the whole thing – tail, head, and everything in between.  It was actually pretty good, which is encouraging to me on my quest to conquer my dislike of fish, but the whole fish bones thing is really bringing me down. 

My parents don’t like fish, and so we never had fish in my house when I was growing up.  I just always knew that “I didn’t like fish” – not based on personal experience, but based on the preferences my parents tacitly passed on to me (thanks, Mom and Dad).  In the past few years of my adventurous eating (which I believe can be traced to the night of May 24th, when I ate a fish eye under peer pressure), I’ve come to believe that most food aversions are more mental than anything related to taste.  For me, the taste, smell, and texture of fish are associated with something I do not like, and that’s something I’m trying to fix.  I think I’m slowly succeeding (see my post on the miracle at Sheshan), but in China there’s an additional hurdle to get over.  Here, they eat the fish whole – as in, it looks like it swam out of the water, through some oil, and onto your plate.  I don’t mind looking at it like that, but I strongly mind the skeletal structure that intact vertebrates tend to have; it is such a cramp on my eating style.  The Chinese chew for a few seconds then open their mouths and all the undesirable parts of the fish magically fall out, but my tongue is not nearly that talented yet.  I think I ended up swallowing more bones than is advisable, just because I got bored with chewing and rooting around in my mouth with my fingers.  (It’s okay, I just say a quick prayer to St. Blaise.)

The rest of the afternoon was fairly typical for Chinese tourism – an hour on a bus, followed by 20 minutes for picture-taking.  We first saw a small village, then the oldest roundhouse (700 years!), and then the cluster of 5. 


The inside of the roundhouses were beautiful,


but that was sometimes overpowered by the sense of a market.  There were local people selling things everywhere, and I bought a few beautiful wood-carvings with the character for “blessing” on them. 

Before we headed home I went to use the bathroom, which ended up being kind of an experience.  In China, bathroom culture is filled with relativism and going to the bathroom is a slippery slope in which your standards are continually degrading.  I remember when I first saw a squatty potty in Beijing and thought all it was good for was a picture.  And there was the first time I decided I could hold it for a few hours when it was a squatty potty without toilet paper.  But then it wasn’t too long before I was squatting on a moving train or in an outhouse made of dirt.  The absence of toilet paper, soap, and even water no longer shocks me; in fact I was almost startled to note their presence this evening in a restaurant. 

Cleanliness is one thing, but privacy is another.  Thus, the Ningde bus stop where I used a squatty potty in a small, door-less “cubicle” was a turning point for me, and today was another step (or slide) down the slippery slope.  The bathroom consisted of about 5 squatty potties divided by low walls – maybe 3 feet tall; definitely well below butt-level.  There was absolutely no barrier in front of each potty, so you were a sitting (squatting?) duck for anyone walking by to use another stall.  I was horrified and repulsed, but also realistic about the prospect of a 3+ hour bus ride on bumpy rural roads.  Necessity is the mother of adaptation and adjustment . . .

Is it weird that I can remember so many pivotal Chinese bathroom experiences, including location and often date?

Home From Shanghai

In Uncategorized on December 7, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Jandira and I had agreed to meet again on Monday morning, so I took the subway out to the French Concession.  For the second time on this trip, the Shanghai Subway threw me for a loop.  They translate almost everything on their signs but, just for fun, leave out the really really important information.  “Line 10 hasn’t been constructed yet”, for instance, or “Exits 6-8 can only be accessed from Line 7, not Line 1”.  While I can read Chinese, I don’t when there’s English available . . . Thus, we had a hard time meeting up but eventually managed it.

Our destination was the Propaganda Poster Museum, which ended up being kind of a walk.  It was a beautiful day in Shanghai, though, and we just kept shedding layers as we strolled along.  The French Concession is a nice area, too, although probably even more beautiful in spring or true fall.  The museum was quite hard to find, though, and my Lonely Planet Guide was almost no help at all.  When I’m looking for a museum, I don’t expect to enter an apartment complex, walk to one of the interior buildings, and take an elevator to the basement.  It reminded me of Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “It was on display on the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”  (If you don’t get the reference, please go immediately to your local bookstore or library and read at least the first few chapters of the book.  You’ll thank me.)

The museum was pretty cool, though.  I was glad they had English translations because my Chinese actually wasn’t much use.  In addition to the traditional characters, I’m not really up on my socialist thought vocabulary – we haven’t covered “proletariat”, “revolutionary”, or “imperialism” yet in class. 


This was my favorite one: “More pigs for more fertilizer for higher grain production”.

We had lunch in a Western cafe and then – via two subway lines and a taxi – went to the airport.  The flight back was fine, and then I was home in Xiamen.  I didn’t have a window seat, but this seems like a good time to post a picture of Xiamen from the air.  It was taken by a friend of my mother, a pilot, as he flow over a few months ago.  Isn’t my island pretty?

From the Air

The last time I had flown into that airport, I took a taxi to campus because I was jetlagged and in an unfamiliar place.  This time, neither being true, I decided to try taking the bus home.  I looked at the routes, found one that would take me as far as ZhongShan Lu, and boarded the bus with a pleased smile on my face . . . Then, over a half hour later, when we arrived at SM (which is then an hour from campus), I gave up on the bus.  For a small island, that airport sure is far away! 

I read an article recently discussing alcohol use among foreigners in China, and it really resonated with me after such a long day of public transportation and the associated 麻烦: “there’s just something about this country that makes it all a bit easier to handle with your buzz on.”

But, I made it home and was even in time to have dinner with a friend.  Back in my room, I had a lot to catch up on.  The big international news is the conference on climate change in Copenhagen, and my Google Reader page was full of articles and blog posts.  I have a couple of Udall friends attending the conference (you can read their blogs here and here if you’re interested), but there was also news from the Vatican (Pope Calls for Concrete Action on Climate) and even the Onion (EPA Warns of Rise in Global Heartwarming).

As I unpacked and did other things around the room, I listened to Christmas music.  It’s kind of cool not having Christmas music forced upon you every time you venture out or accidentally turn on a 24/7 all-Christmas-all-the-time radio station.  I get to choose when I listen (not until Advent started, and only when I’m happy and calm) and what I listen to (no bad remakes of classics with too many notes crammed in).  Also, while I miss home with its cold and snow – surefire signs of Christmas’ approach – I have a new understanding for a lot of songs that had been meaningless to me before: “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, and even “Having a Tropical Christmas”.

International Day of Climate Action

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2009 at 2:41 am

Settle in for a long update, because today was wonderful.  With a side of pure goodness.  Smothered in awesome.

It all started just after midnight, when Leinira and I went out.  Leinira is a biochemistry grad student here and is ALWAYS in lab.  It’s really lame because she’s a wonderful roommate but we don’t get to hang out much.  She finally got a day off (rare even on weekends) so we took advantage of the opportunity to go out.

We went to The Key for 3 hours of great music, dancing, and watching foreign men try to hook up with Chinese women.  Hilariously, this also included Chinese women obviously showing absolutely no interest in the foreign men, and said foreign men totally not catching on.  In addition to people-watching, there are always TVs placed everywhere that your eyes rest, so I got to watch Michael Jackson and Beyonce dance for several hours.  I am becoming more and more familiar with Michael Jackson’s work, and it’s not because of a resurgence in popularity since his death – it’s because I came to China.  Same goes for Avril Lavigne . . .

This morning I woke up to a phone call.  This is almost never pleasant, and even more so when the person on the other end of the line is speaking Chinese.  I generally try to give myself 15 minutes after waking up before demanding such things of my brain, but today had no choice.  It was Jessie, a girl from the XiaDa environmental club.  October 24th is the International Day of Climate Action, and after I happened to discover that there was an event in Xiamen, she was planning on accompanying me to it.  In the planning process, she told me that it was on October 25th, which should have been a warning to me . . . anyway, it turns out that I had been right – it was today – and I had about 3 hours notice to go.  Hence, instead of going with 2 friends and this Chinese girl, I ended up going by myself.

It was okay, though!  I took two buses to Jimei, which is on the mainland to the north of Xiamen, because the event was being held on the campus of Jimei University.  Now, any Chinese person will tell you that there is no prettier campus than Xiamen in all of China (except maybe Wuhan), but I think I may need to get out more.  I thought JiDa was beautiful!  More so because of the buildings than the scenery, maybe, but still.  They have an impressive entrance with a fountain and everything – eat your heart out, TU!


I had made some friends on the bus, so they kindly accompanied me until I found what I was looking for.  They were three freshman girls – studying either French or law, I’m not certain which one – and seemed impossibly young.  Eventually we found the event, which was actually quite a feat because, at the time of my arrival, it consisted of a few people standing with a sign.

Jimei DaXue has a lot less foreigners than XiaDa, with its Overseas Education College, so I caused quite – possibly eclipsing, momentarily, impending climate-change-related doom.  The students were all very nice and very excited to 1) talk to me!  2) in Chinese!  It was wonderful.  The only action I noticed in the first hour was the posting of various signs, so I didn’t feel too bad for distracting them.

Things got more interesting later.  One guy read something (possibly material, as I heard both 350 [the desired concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere] and 390 [the current concentration] mentioned) while the rest of the students stood in a group with their fists over their heart.  At the end, they all shouted in unison; it was mildly terrifying.


There was also a painting of some scenery that was laid down on the ground.  Two boxes of coal were placed on the ground and students took turns getting their feet dirty and walking across the painting.  It was pretty visual – and, based on my experiences in Jilin with coal, very Chinese.


Near the end, they put up a banner that we were asked to sign – our names, as well as an idea for helping the environment.  In honor of Jesse, I wrote “No more coal – nuclear!”, but later changed it to “自己带筷子”(bring your own chopsticks) because I could write that in Chinese.  (Also, seriously, it is scary to think of 1.4 billion Chinese people using two small sticks of wood each, three times a day, and then throwing them away.  Think about it!)


We were set up outside the cafeteria, and they asked my help to recruit students passing by . . . this was pretty much a fail.  Although I do know how to say “sign here” and “protect the environment”, I generally failed to produce coherent sentences connecting these ideas.


After a few hours of fun and friend-making, I had to go.  Apparently they do lots of stuff, and invited me to come back.  I just might, although it is a long way (over an hour).  I really enjoyed my visit and, honestly, at least a small part of me wishes I went to JiDa.  I think it’s not quite as good a school as Xiamen, which is one of the top universities in the nation.  That may sound like a disadvantage, but XiaDa students seem to spend all their time studying, whereas these students seemed interested in hanging out.  Novel idea, that.  Also, I seriously think it’s a beautiful school (especially during the sunset I got to witness).


I took the bus back to Xiamen, where I arrived just in time for Mass.  I really need to start getting there earlier, as going to Chinese Mass is quite an ordeal for me.  I have to grab a song book, find a seat in the crowded pews, get out my papers, find a pencil, open my Bible to the right pages, cover my bare shoulders, etc.  I definitely catch more and more each time, and can now almost sing along with the Mass parts out of the songbook instead of having to look at my copy, which has pinyin pronunciation!

I had to hurry from Mass to get back to campus, where I was late for the first meeting of the environmental club.  We started off by sitting with our zodiac signs and introducing ourselves, then digressed into several all-Chinese PowerPoints that I didn’t understand.  Good thing I turned down that request to be translator!

I was also tired by this time.  I had speaking only Chinese all day, and it had been a long day.  This was obvious in my steadily-decreasing Chinese ability.  For example, I told someone that I had been in China for “二个月”, which is a mistake you make in your first week or so.  [Chinese has two characters for the number 2 – 二 and 两 – and they are used in different ways.  It’s really not that hard, but I managed to mess it up.]  It also took me a ridiculous amount of time to figure out that the word 地球 (literally, “ground” and “ball”) in the presentation was referring to the Earth, and not some sport I hadn’t head of.  [In Chinese, the names of most sports include the word 球 – 棒球 (baseball),篮球 (basketball),排球 (volleyball),乒乓球 (ping-pong),足球 (soccer),etc.]  Sorry, that probably mainly made sense to those of you who know a little Chinese – so basically . . . Chris.  Anyone else?

I left early because I had already missed out on half of dancing and wasn’t going to let an opportunity to wear my new shoes go to waste!  I love them and I love dancing, if I haven’t mentioned that yet.  I had a couple of exceptionally good dances with exceptionally happy men (even the usually-grouchy one) and learned some new steps!

But wait, it gets better.  As 10:00 (the end) approached, they put on another song – one that I hadn’t heard before, more disco/clubbing music than ballroom or Latin.  Lester, the Filipino guy who started coming with Karolina, said that it was freestyle dance.  I thought he was joking, but quickly joined in once I saw the other women breaking it down on the dance floor.  It was the MOST FUN EVER.  The men all packed up their things and headed out, leaving Lester and I with about eight 30-50 year-old women who I had only ever seen dance things like the waltz and tango.  They were so much fun, and seemed to appreciate all the moves I brought with me from America.  It was wonderful to see them all smiling and laughing!  I hope we do this every week.  Twice.  At least.

PS – Randomly came across this picture, taken in Xiamen, in NYT’s Pictures of the Day from yesterday, October 24th.  See slide #4.

Oh, The Things I’ll Do For a T-Shirt

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Lunch time is much more fun when eating with other people.  When I came downstairs after class today, I joined the gaggle of 外国人 (foreigners) and ended up going to lunch with some of them.  We went to “the dumpling place”, which I had somehow never been to.  It’s a little place (and I mean “little” literally, as the tables were about knee high and we sat on kindergarten-sized stools) that mainly does 饺子, or dumplings.  I highly recommend the fried ones :)

After buying a new kind of milk tea to try (caramel; most excellent), I walked back to my dorm.  On the way, I stumbled upon a small gathering of tents, which of course called for exploring.  It turned out to be a sort of student activities fair.  Yes, it’s almost two months into the semester, but better late than never!  The first booth I visited was the XiaDa Mountaineering Association!  They had pictures of their members hiking through snow, which means they don’t just hike around Xiamen!  I’m pretty sure either ‘Tibet’ or ‘XiZang’ was said at some point, which makes it way cooler than any mountaineering club that TU ever had (or didn’t have, as it were).

Next there was a 古琴 (traditional Chinese instrument) club.  It would be really cool to learn, but they meet on Saturday nights, which are not so good for me because of Mass and dancing.  I mentioned this to the guy I was talking to, and it turns out that he goes to my church too!  He may or may not have said that it could still work . . . this all took place in Chinese and, contrary to what Chinese people tell me every day, my Chinese is not 很厉害 (terrific).

There was a creativity and entrepreneurship club, a “practice union” club (?), and then an environmental club!  I got into a long conversation that may or may not have been about the recycling habits of Chinese and American college students (see previous paragraph).  Actually, it was more of a monologue than dialogue, until the student started asking questions and realized I wasn’t catching too much of what she said.  I was so happy to find them!  October 24th is a big day for, and there just so happens to be an event in Xiamen!  I wanted to go, but was hesitant to go alone, so I asked the students if they were interested.  We connected on QQ and are making plans for Saturday!  I’m very interested to see the state of environmental organizations in China, so I think the day will be an interesting one.

I spent a lot of time on QQ this afternoon, but it was a happy occasion because I only talked to people I knew!  I swear, if another 29-year-old man adds me on QQ, I’m going to . . . well, I don’t exactly know, but it’s not going to be pretty.  I talked to Zhang Lei, the son of Xiao Zhang, who was the foreman on the biogas project last summer and my first Chinese ‘teacher’.  I talked to Huang laoshi, the calligraphy teacher that I keep not having time to call.  We made plans to get together on Monday, so hopefully I’ll finally get to use the calligraphy materials I bought!

I also made a quick run to the upstairs building, to register for a track meet.  I know this is even more surprising than my snake dinner to those of you who know me, so I’ll say it again: I registered for a track meet.  Why?  The same reason I do things that I don’t really want to do in America: a free t-shirt.  When I started at Tulsa, I collected about a dozen shirts during Welcome Week alone, but I am almost two months into my year at XiaDa and there is no evidence in my wardrobe that I ever attended this school.  Crazy!  Anyway, you supposedly get a t-shirt and a thermos just for participating, so I signed up.  My first choice was a 30m relay – I’m not totally sure what it consists of, but it’s something vaguely related to jumping.  My teacher referenced “Australia’s most famous animal” in her description, and the email sounds like a sack race.  It’s the shortest (and hopefully easiest) event, but you need a team of 10 for it, so if that fails I’m doing the 100m race.  My main concern is that the registration date (today) is over a month before the competition date (Nov 27 and 28), which I hope doesn’t mean it’s a really big deal . . . Despite being an intramural co-rec flag football champion (!), I must confess that I’m not a super athlete.  Shocking, I know.

Yesterday and today have been too reminiscent of September for my taste – only mid-80’s or so, but I feel hot and sticky because we haven’t turned the AC back on.  The sun is setting earlier and earlier, which doesn’t seem to fit the still-warm temperatures.  It’s pretty dark by 6, which says ‘fall’ to me, not ‘summer’.

This evening I went out to walk around a little bit.  I went to ZhongShan Lu and started exploring from there.  My method was, whenever faced with an intersection, to go down the smallest street.  I saw a lot of places I had never been and happened upon some good purchases, including 100 Bobing dice for $2!

Back at home, my good QQ streak was broken.  I was added by someone named 可以抱你吗, or “Can I hold you?”; I blocked him.  Another responded to my question (“Who are you?”) with “现在只能告诉你是网友”, or “Right now I can only tell you that I’m your internet friend”; I blocked him as well.  Does that ever work???  I don’t know if this is a symptom of the imbalance between men and women in this country, or if it’s typical of this kind of internet communication (which I don’t use in America), but it’s really unfortunate.

I just finished another batch of postcards that will hopefully go out tomorrow.  The lucky ones this time include my favorite Vanderbilt student, the current TU SA Vice-President and his predecessor, the current Newman Center Peer Ministry president and her predecessor, and two young men discerning religious vocations.  The rest of you . . . be patient!  Anyway, I’m waiting for the post office to restock on the beautiful XiaDa postcards, as the ones I have right now are of random bridges from throughout China.