Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘games’

I Bless You, I Bless You In The Lord

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2010 at 12:35 am

I can be so clever sometimes.  With the purchase of two small bottles of nail polish, I managed to turn my two sets of Catan (one English, one Chinese), normally for 3-4 players, into a game for 5 or 6 players. 

We inaugurated the large island this afternoon: me, Aleid, Kristina, Maja, Carlos, and Carlos’ friend.  Carlos stole my victory in the first game when – both of us tied at 9 points and me with another settlement in my hand – he held up a victory point card and innocently asked when he could play it.  I mainly sat out the second game, helping Carlos’ friend and offering advice to those about to seriously err.  My guy did pretty well, but Carlos somehow managed to win again.  Haha, these two victories probably bring his five-game average up to 6 points or so . . .


I can also be really slow sometimes.  I went over to church after we finished playing because I thought we were supposed to be there all night again.  I arrived just as everyone was packing up after the rehearsal; apparently we were supposed to come at 4 if we could for a run-through.  Dang. 

I did run into Fr. Jiang, though, who said that the consecrating bishop is from Shandong.  From what I gathered (seriously, he is hard to understand no matter what language he’s speaking), the other Fujian bishop was not acceptable because he’s not Vatican-approved?  More leads, but still no answer . . .


I’m sure I’ll have LOTS of interesting stuff to write about tomorrow, but my main goal tonight is getting the flashcard stack down to four or five hundred.  So, to round out this post I would like a translation of one of my favorite songs that we sing at Mass here every week during the Sign of Peace.  I offer it as a blessing to all of you readers, especially those classmates back home at TU who are hours away from finishing up one major stage of life and beginning another:






I bless you, bless you in the Lord.  I wish you peace and all the best.

I bless you, bless you in the Lord.  I wish you happiness, and that everything would go smoothly. 

Wherever you are, I will always sincerely wish you well.

My song bears my greetings to you, as we gather in the Lord.

Well Played

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 12:32 am

Aleid and I began the day at the tailor’s shop.  She had a cute dress to pick up and I had a pair of pants to drop off.  I brought him my favorite (slash only) pair of khakis in the hopes of of prolonging their lifetime.  They’re kind of old (as in, I bought them at Goodwill several years ago) but so comfortable, so I asked him to update them a little by slimming the legs down from a flare to a straight leg, and to get rid of the tattered-to-hell hem.  Three days and 20 kuai ($3) is apparently all it’s going to take to get a few more years out of these pants!

We made it back just in time for class.  Speaking class was pretty fun today because we did an activity in which students, grouped together by nationality, answered questions from other students about studying abroad in their countries.  I counted; my classmates come from 12 different countries. 

After class, I had a date with Carlos, Kristina, and Maja on the island of Catan.  We began playing outside where, after a brief rainstorm, the weather had cooled down from the afternoon’s intense heat. 


The game went well until the sprinkles started back up and we had to hurriedly move the game inside.  We reconstructed the setup based on a picture, which ended up being a lot of hassle for the remaining 8 minutes or so that it took me to win the game.

I’m not actually sure if my friends here like playing Catan, or if they are just very driven to beat me.  After winning (bringing my streak up to 5, I think), they all wanted to play again.  The second game didn’t go so much in my favor but I still managed to get up to 9 points by the time Kristina won.  Needless to say, she was happy about her first ever Catan victory!


Well played, Kristina.  你有一手.

Learn Something Interesting Every Day!

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Interesting notes from class today:

– The upcoming May 1st holiday, supposedly one of two Golden Week vacations, is actually a three-day weekend this year.  In America, a three-day weekend just means one extra day off of school and work but in China, where they work on days that end in ‘y’, a three day weekend is kind of a big deal.  (Once I read that the government sometimes declares “two-day weekends”, which in China does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Redundancy Department.)  Also, even a “Golden Week” is not as long a vacation as a week-long break would be in America.  They push the work days over to the weekends, which means your 5-7 days of vacation are bookended by 7- or 9-day workweeks. 

– The words for stay-at-home-mom and stay-at-home-dad are distinguished by a single tone difference on the last syllable.  You’re either a jiātíngzhǔfù or a jiātíngzhǔfū, and you better say it right either way.  Potential for awkwardness and embarrassment abound.

– Our lesson is about the working-at-home movement in China, as opposed to the traditional working situation.  In America, we call it “9-to-5”; in China it is called “8出8进" or “out at 8, in at 8”.  Interesting, no? 


Interesting notes from some blogs I read today:

– An article about Chinese humor and the phenomenon of post-punchline explanations. 

A list of the abrupt ways that Chinese people end phone calls.  In my experience these are more often used for ending class, meetings, announcements, press conferences, etc., while phone calls tend to end in an endless stream of “恩,恩,好的,拜拜,好的,会儿见,拜拜 . . .” (“mm, mm, okay, bye, okay, see you soon, bye-bye . . .”)

A guide to ordering food in China that is actually practical for foreigners who want to eat normal – good, cheap – Chinese food.  In addition to descriptions, characters, and pronunciation, it also includes such helpful tips as, under the heading ‘Soup’: “Most foreigners don’t order soup when out on their own.”  He also brilliantly omitted foods with too many bones like “ ‘chainsaw chicken’ –you know, where it looks like they just took a chicken and cut up the whole thing with a chainsaw and threw it in the pot”.  Couldn’t have said it better myself. 

A compilation of rhyming syllables in Mandarin.  Useful because, while Mandarin has relatively few possible endings for syllables (25), most of the ones that look like they should rhyme, actually don’t.  ‘li’, ‘si’, ‘hui’, ‘zhi’, and ‘ai’ all sound completely different. 

A list of characters that Chinese people usually can’t write.  Good for a self-esteem boost, as I am perfectly capable of writing 钥匙 (‘key’). 

– Several posts regarding the prevalence of homonyms in Chinese: numbers that have meanings because of what they kind of sound like (a.k.a., why 8 is the luckiest number), and traditional New Year’s foods and why they’re considered so auspicious (a.k.a., where the phrase “Year after year have fish” came from). 

– Examples that happen when languages are treated as a one-to-one correspondence – basically, when you speak English with Chinese words or vice versa.  The writer had a few examples of how to learn from others making this mistake, and a few examples of how he had made this mistake. 

I liked these posts because they were all directly pertinent to my everyday life here in China.  They’re things I noticed, lists I meant to make, questions I kept meaning to find answers to. 


Today’s weather was finally decent – warmish and, while not clear, at least not raining.  Maybe I’ll be able to pack the leggings away someday soon . . .

In celebration of the end of the lamest weekend ever, a few of us got together to play Catan this afternoon.  I won; if such things were possible, I would have won with 13 points by stealing Longest Road as well.

It’s A Perfect Day

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

A Locked Door Is A Language Barrier

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2010 at 3:07 am

Today was the big day, the day I’d been waiting for since early last semester.  Yes, that’s right: today was the day I finally taught Carlos how to play Catan. 

We met two Chinese friends for lunch first, and then settled down to play.  It was the first time for Carlos and Dong Wei, so Yong Zhi and I taught them how to play.  In addition to using a mixture of spoken English and Chinese, we also made use of my new Catan 中文版 set to make sure that everyone understood the development cards. 

The game was good.  Carlos didn’t listen when I explicitly said that the numbers were important, so he built on an 11,11,12 and a 3,4,8.  Yong Zhi took Longest Road early on but didn’t pick up on my rather obvious plan to steal it from him until it was too late.  Dong Wei kept building roads aimlessly, even after we asked him where he was headed.  Needless to say, I won. 

We were playing in the architecture classroom building, which is actually the other half of the Overseas Education College classroom building.  Afterwards, Yong Zhi took us up to the roof where we had a great view of the ocean and the rest of campus.  (Well, we would have had a great view if the weather hadn’t been so . . . gray.  I plan to return another day with camera.)  It actually made me really mad because this classroom building is divided in half not only by two purposes, but the boundaries are established with locked, metal-barred doors.  The roof is inaccessible from our half, which is annoying because it would be a great way to spend the break between classes. 

But even more than this issue of convenience or pleasure, the physical barriers, like these locked doors, that XiaDa has constructed between its Chinese students and the foreigners who study here mirror the social barriers, both natural and imposed, that I see here every day.  It bothers me that the OEC claims this ideal Chinese-learning environment when I see so many ways that they actively impede meaningful contact with local students – which everyone agrees is the best way to learn a language.  We not only live in our own dorms, but out entire living and studying environment is separated from the rest of campus. 

Yet ironically, as I mentioned yesterday, when it comes to the times when we would perhaps prefer to have a little assistance in our dealings with China, the OEC is conspicuously absent.  Thus I find myself spending my mornings completely surrounded by laowai in our little Foreign Concession, then going over to the hospital for Chinese language practice with doctors and nurses, where it’s not just for fun but a matter of serious health issues.  They don’t give us opportunities to practice without pressure, and they don’t help us out when the pressure’s on. 

Come to think of it, the OEC is rather inept.  Perhaps it’s better than they are regulating my social life, and maybe it’s even better that they’re not a part of Lester’s hospital experience?  There have been enough ‘incidents’ as it is.  Today’s unexpected twist: we got the results from his blood sample, which was taken to be tested about 4 days ago.  The result?  He doesn’t have AIDS . . . which is great, except we were wondering about hepatitis.  Many phone calls were made trying to figure out what happened, but all we’ve learned is that it’s no one’s fault.  It just happened that way, I guess! 

After a quick hospital visit, I went to church.  Missals and hymnals have become more and more scarce each week, so I don’t think I’ve been able to follow along with the readings since I came back to Xiamen.  It makes it much harder to understand and much harder to stay awake :( 

As I was walking towards LunDu to catch a bus back to XiaDa, I followed a good smell and discovered an entire street of malatang and barbecue stands!  I had a nice meal there, after a stroll that revealed the street also specializes in porn. 

卡坦 (Catan)

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Our sink broke this morning, and semi-flooded our balcony.  I was pouring out the water from a tub I’d used to wash clothes, when I noticed that the water was passing directly through the sink instead of neatly going down the pipes.  I thought this was rather strange, until I took a look at the pipework under the sink:


Yeah, it’s just what it looks like.  They used a cut-off water bottle to fill in the gap between the drain and the PVC pipe.  Shockingly, this high-tech modification gave out and caused our balcony to flood.  Guess they don’t make cheap, disposable water bottles like they used to.

I’ve called the service desk three times today, both ends of the line getting increasingly frustrated.  She’s annoyed because I have obviously unrealistic expectations of getting such a problem fixed in the same day, while I’m frustrated because I can’t remember the word for sink.  Oh, and also because I know that this game is played very differently in America, and the rules require me to pester them into doing what I want. 

I would be more understanding about having to wait if I weren’t totally aware that the average workday in China consists at least half of wasting time.  It appears to actually be in their job descriptions.  This is the real reason why cell phones that can text, play music, and surf the internet are so popular in China; instead of being banned on the job like they are in America, they’re practically required.  After waiting on cashiers to respond to a text, or sitting by patiently while my travel agent continues the QQ conversation I interrupted, I will be much more appreciative of the customer service in America.  (Although, we don’t tip here.  I guess you get what you pay for?) 

I had class this afternoon.  I really like my teachers; the oral teacher is so enthusiastic that she was even beaming when discussing 自杀, one of our vocabulary words that means “to commit suicide”.  We had an epic debate in class today on the subject TV watching, that came down to the question of whether or not reading magazines by candlelight was bad for your eyes.  It was a lot of fun and we spoke a lot, but I do wonder if by midterms I won’t feel the same as I did last semester – that the class is too easy for me.  I may take the 三年上 test tomorrow to see if I can change to 3rd year.

I went to see Lester in the afternoon and accompanied him to another CT scan.  He’s starting to look like a pincushion from all the IV needles, but the test showed improvements.  I had a little bit of time before meeting Aleid for dinner so I took a stroll around the McDonald’s building.  And there, on the second floor in a small knickknack shop, I stumbled upon . . .

Catan 中文版!  That’s right, I finally found a copy of The Settlers of Catan in China!  Even more amazing, they sold it to me for 98 kuai, which is about $13 (and about a third of the price in America).  I managed not to wet myself, but I definitely made some awkward squealing noises and told everybody in the shop that they had to buy the game and try it.  (They also had Carcassone and some other card games, so I may be going back.)

Most of it looks just like the American version; there’s actually more German on the box than Chinese (Spiel des Jahres vs. 中文版):


The hexes and resource cards are exactly the same:


Until you look at the development cards, you really can’t tell what language it’s in:


I made a quick scan of the rules and discovered that we correctly translated a good bit of it!  I’m super excited because I’m set to teach Carlos and another Chinese friend how to play this weekend, and I think it should be easier with a Chinese set. 

It totally brightened up my day.  Between the sink and my horrible cough, it hadn’t been a particularly good one until Klaus Teuber, patron saint of board gamers, answered my prayer.  Incidentally, though, I’m feeling quite Chinese regarding this cough.  First of all, I think I got it from breathing the same air that the other 1.3 billion Chinese me are breathing, but also my first thought on how to soothe my throat was to drink 开水, or hot water.  Maybe I’ll develop this habit after all . . . it does feel pretty good on my throat.   

Lastly, a few links and comments:

I’ve added pictures to two old posts from the Chinese New Year and our guacamole party

I just found out that Kum Yu-na, the figure skating gold medalist from South Korea, is Catholic!  Apparently she made the Sign of the Cross during one of her performances.  (I would have known this if I could have watched, but I’m not bitter.)

Aleid felt her building shaking this morning, so I wasn’t too surprised to hear about today’s earthquake in Taiwan, which I’m sad to hear hit the area that is still recovering from typhoon Morakat.  In case you were wondering, we’re fine in Xiamen and there wasn’t even a tsunami warning – although looking at the map of Taiwan makes me realize how close Xiamen is to Taiwan

Boys Are Stupid. Throw Rocks At Them

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2010 at 1:07 am

No, I didn’t get my heart broken today. 

I did, however, get beaten in a very competitive game of Catan, played against all males. 

It’s been awhile since I’ve played guys in Catan, at least since I left home.  (Yong Zhi doesn’t count because, whether it’s an individual or cultural thing, he’s very laidback, even when playing a game.)  When I played with Aleid, Eunjeong, and Denise, we would laugh and make jokes and apologize when stealing cards from each other. 

Today, I played with Yong Zhi and two of my new Dutch friends who already knew how to play.  Let’s just say there were no apologies offered when roads were purposefully placed in others’ way, when cards were stolen, or robbers were returned to the same hex that they had been inhabiting for the last 8 rounds. 

It’s okay, though, because it was still fun.  I don’t mind a little competition.  The insider trading between Jelle and Koen in Dutch was a little low, though, right?

The worst, though, is that I think I won but Koen is claiming the victory!  Apparently he learned that victory point development cards have to be turned over before they count, and their revealing is governed by the same rules as other development cards – not on the turn that they were bought, and only one card per turn.  So there we are, Koen and I tied at 9 points . . . I buy a victory point card and he’s got a city in his hands.  According to my rules, I win.  According to his rules, we continue playing and he builds the city, his 10th point, on his turn.

By the way, according to the rules I found on the internet, I was right.  Victory is mine!  I’ll tell Koen tomorrow. 

I spent the late afternoon working on the main texts of Night Prayer in Chinese.  They’re much shorter, feature way less variation, and basically seem easier in all ways than the Magnificat, so I think that’s my new goal. 

This evening I went out with friends to Me & You 2, a bar right on the water in Haiwan Park featuring “Xiamen’s best thin crust pizza”.  While I honestly wonder how stiff that competition is, I will say that it’s quite good. 


There’s a roof but no walls, which means our view of the ocean was almost unobstructed.  I really want to go back sometime to watch the sunset . . .

We went to a bar afterwards to hang out.  I looked through the menu and ended up getting a drink because the names were just so cool.  They’re basically the same names as in English, but just as Cuba Libre sounds better than Rum & Coke, 自由古巴 (literally “freedom Cuba”) sounds better than Cuba Libre.  I really wanted to get the 敢死队 (literally, “willing to die team”) or Kamikaze, but I don’t like shots. 

Oh!  Earlier today, Yong Zhi came over to my dorm to give me a present from his sister.  Honestly, I was expecting dried fruit or some 特产 (special product) that I would be much less excited to receive than they were to give, but it wasn’t like that at all!  His sister had hand-embroidered a banner of an auspicious saying in Chinese calligraphy. 


I don’t know how much time she spent on it, but I was really honored to be given such a thoughtful gift. 

My Inch or Your Inch?

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2010 at 1:06 am

Today started with one of those discouraging moments where I realize even Chinese people don’t speak Chinese that well sometimes.  This came up once or twice in ZhaoAn as well, when our friend asked us how to write a few characters.  Our teacher told us that a character in the book, 呆, was wrong and should have been 待 (same pronunciation) . . . but that Chinese people mix them up all the time so it has basically become right. 

Of course as always, there’s a parallel with English.  My friend Wang, a Chinese studying at TU, recently asked me about when to use ‘-er’ and when to use ‘more’.  I told him that Americans mix them up sometimes too.  Then I started thinking of other parts of English that Americans frequently mess up – there are those homonyms like there/their/they’re and your/you’re and effect/affect; there are countless spelling mistakes, some more forgivable than others; there are the awkwardly conjugated verbs like drink (drunk? drank?); there’s the plurals of octopus and syllabus and cactus; there’s sentences starting with “buts” and ending with prepositions; there’s the constant butchering of the subjunctive tense . . . what am I missing here? 

Sometimes such lists are comforting to language learners, maybe because it sets the bar low, but sometimes it’s just downright discouraging.  If a real Chinese person can’t remember the characters for simple food items, how on earth can I be expected to remember how to write 喷嚏??!?

After a slightly discouraging class and a busy afternoon of running errands and gettin’ stuff done, I had a wonderful evening – definitely laughed more than I have any day yet this year.  My Korean friend Eunjeong returns home on Friday, so I went to dinner with her, Aleid, Yong Zhi, and a Chinese classmate of hers, Xiao Dan.  Dinner was really good, including the 田鸡 dish.  (Literally, it means “field chicken”.  XiaoDan told us it was like a frog but not, which really left me at a loss.  According to, it’s . . . a frog.)  Then we went over to Aleid’s apartment for a game of Catan.  There were so many funny moments, but due to the risk of the humor being lost in translation, I’m only going to record one here:

“I said mài, not mǎi!  Watch your tones!”
– Aleid, after I confused on a trade.  Instead of using the words for “want” and “have”, which are a little more distinguishable, she used the words for “sell” and “buy”, which differ only in tone (so basically, to my ears – not at all). 

It was great playing with two actual 中国人 (Chinese people) because they . . . well, speak Chinese so well!  It’s a lot of fun to hear the vocab that we learn in our boring lessons used in more fun situations.  Like when Eunjeong only had sheep and she said “我买不了”(I can’t buy [anything]).  Or when Yong Zhi drew another sheep and said “我受不了”(I can’t bear it).  Or when no one would trade for sheep and XiaoDan said “可怜的羊,谁都不要”(Poor sheep, no one wants them).

It was also really hilarious when Yong Zhi ate one of the dried fruit things that our ZhaoAn friends gave us and nearly started crying, but still said it was 很好 (very good).  We need to find a way to offload four bags of these things . . . I think my teachers may be getting presents!

When I got back, I talked to my dad on Skype for a little bit.  They’re finishing up preparations for their trip here, departing in almost exactly a week!  I told them it would be really easy for them to borrow a phone in Beijing and call me, then realized they don’t speak Chinese.  Oops!  Also, when I was measuring something for my dad, the measurements seemed off a little bit so I took a closer look at my measuring tape.  I was using the “inches” side – in quotation marks because each “inch” is over 3cm (instead of the “standard” 2.54).  But who’s counting?

What I’m Thankful For This Year

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2009 at 12:45 am

Where can I even start with this post?  There is so much to include because today is not only Thanksgiving, but also the 3-month anniversary of my arrival in Xiamen AND my 100th blog post!  Like I said, it’s quite the big deal. 

First, I think I should give you a little background – this is not my first Thanksgiving in China.  No, I was lucky enough to celebrate a wonderfully NQR (Not Quite Right) Thanksgiving in Jilin last year.  Looking back at the journal entries I wrote during that trip, I was reminded of how great NQR can be.  I didn’t get to celebrate with my family, but I was surrounded by familiar faces and beloved friends (American, Chinese, and Kiwi), including a baby whose birth I had been present for 6 months before.  The family we stayed with is so generous and welcoming and the kids are darn cute sometimes, too:

During dinner, we explained Thanksgiving to Nigel [from New Zealand]. Lyte said it’s when Caitlin and Maria come, which was pretty much the most adorable thing I’d ever heard.

It wasn’t just the people around the dinner table, but also my taxi driver, my DVD salesman, my machinist, etc. – all with colorful names like Goose Lady, Mob Boss, and MacGyver – who made me feel like I was surrounded by friendship and love. 

We didn’t have a whole turkey, Mom’s mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, but we were certainly not short of good food.  We had a Nepalese meal that we ate with our hands, a delicious multi-cultural feast of Mongolian barbecue and s’mores, hand-cranked ice cream, fresh whole-grain bread and butter from our cows, homemade bibimbap, and – the pinnacle of NQR Thanksgiving – turkey curry (we dubbed it ‘curkey’).  I was also introduced to two of my favorite new foods – pumpkin soup and pingguoli, a hybrid apple-pear fruit.  Yes, we certainly had a menu to be thankful for. 

The purpose of our trip was a continuation of last summer’s SENEA project.  Much of our goals concerned meeting new contacts and visiting new sites, but we also spent some time checking out our completed projects.  We got to re-raise the original SENEA wind turbine and had the opportunity to walk into the greenhouse that I had spent so many hours drafting in SketchUp.  We managed to complete everything we came to do, which was definitely an unexpected blessing – something always seems to go wrong when working in China.

After finishing our work, we were lucky (?) enough to be stranded in Jilin for another three days due to inclement weather.  I say lucky because we were taken in by some new friends and got to spend the time relaxing (the 2-hour full-body massage stands out in my mind) instead of preparing for finals like our classmates were. 

See?  Last year’s Thanksgiving was definitely something to be thankful for, and this year was as well.

It started at 6:30 when I got out of bed.  There was no water, and hadn’t been since the night before so I got ready without washing my face or brushing my teeth.  A little bit uncomfortable, but I was grateful for the time it saved me.  Also, it made me more grateful later when running water returned and I was finally able to clean up properly.

I went to daily Mass this morning for the first time.  I gave my deacon a little bit of forewarning by texting him to check the time and location of Mass, just in case they wanted to go ahead and speak Mandarin instead of Minnanhua (the local dialect that I don’t understand at all), just this once.  They did, and I was so grateful!  I was also very grateful to the the woman who handed me a daily missal, open to the correct pages, which actually gave me a fighting chance of understanding what was going on.

After Mass, I had a breakfast of bread and butter – can’t even express the feelings of gratitude that arose within me at the first bite.  I had two classes then, and was very grateful to find out that we are being given Christmas Day off.  Grammar class was also cancelled for an entire week in December, which means I am considering several travel options. 

For lunch, I got kungpao chicken delivered directly to my room, for the grand total of $1.30.  Prices like that for good food (and room service to boot) can’t help but make you grateful.  After an hour of phone calls in various languages, I was grateful to find a restaurant that could seat a group of 15 and cost less than 198 RMB (almost $30), the going price for Thanksgiving dinner at the big hotels in Xiamen. 

This afternoon, I was grateful to find two friends who wanted to play Catan with me.  Aleid won, but I was just grateful that my Chinese friend, Yong Zhi, liked the game.  Another person conquered in the quest to bring Catan to the world! 

This evening, I was most gratified to be joined by friends for Thanksgiving dinner.  There was me, Aleid and Diederik (Dutch); Kristina (Slovenia); Liz (Belgium); Carlos (Spain); Eunjeong (Korea); Justine, Virginique, and Jeremy (France); and Yong Zhi and Hu Jing (China).  We went to the Red Armadillo, a Mexican American restaurant nearby (I had been once before, with my Saudi classmates).  The night was so stunning – cool but not cold, and exceptionally clear – that we ate outside.  The atmosphere, food, and company all couldn’t have been more different than Thanksgivings at home, but I tried to connect it with tradition by going around the table and making everyone say something they were grateful for.  I started by saying that I was grateful that, even though I was so far from home and family, I was able to celebrate with friends.  Everyone else answered after me – they were grateful for the opportunity to be in China, for a dinner of Western food eaten with forks, and many of them for the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving for the first time.  (Carlos was grateful that he wasn’t last, because it became harder and harder to come up with something to say.) 

As for the actual food, it was pretty traditional.  You know, I ordered three plates of cheesy fries for the whole table and I opted for the double-decker burger for myself.  Others went for other customary choices, including pizza, quesadillas, and – of course – pizzadillas. 


I was interesting celebrating Thanksgiving away from the traditions of home.  What does the holiday really boil down to?  At home, my dad and I would usually go to Mass while mom started cooking.  The rest of us got to enjoy a lazy day while she prepared dinner, and then we would sit around the huge family table and eat.  And eat.  And eat.  Anyway, after some thinking I decided that Thanksgiving is really about eating – A LOT – with people you love.  Pretty amazing idea, huh?

Actually, another interesting aspect that comes up when celebrating Thanksgiving abroad is the sharing of two cultures, especially in culinary ways.  I first realized this last year, when my American host was explaining the origins of the holiday to a Chinese friend.  The pilgrims and the Indians came together and, by sharing their food, shared more than that.  I think back to the meal of Mongolian barbecue last year, after which I brought out a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and several chocolate bars, and introduced s’mores to my Chinese friends . . . I’d like to think that meal was in this honorable tradition of that first Thanksgiving celebration.  I think this year – people from 8 countries eating Mexican food in China on an American holiday – also follows the spirit of the holiday. 

I would like to wrap up this post with a long (but certainly not all-inclusive)  list of things I’m grateful for.  Feel free to comment with your additions!

  • Today.  This is how I always start my prayers at night, thanking God for the day.  Today the blessings are more obvious than usual, but there’s always something there to be grateful for – wonderful experiences or at least opportunities to learn from things that were less than wonderful.
  • My family.  I appreciate my parents more and more each day (especially after moving away to college), for the support that they have unquestioningly given without ever being pushy.  My mother is incredibly creative and my dad has more common sense than anyone I’ve ever met.  I’m also really grateful for the opportunities I’m going to have in January to show them China in all its rough glory – I get to order their food, which is pretty much the definition of power :)  I also have a really great older brother who is, among other things, a very gifted photographer.  Plus I have a ton of cousins, aunts, uncles, and a few grandparents that are also pretty awesome.
  • My friends.  I have been very fortunate in making so many wonderful foreign friends during my first few months here.  Of course, I’ve also been blessed by the friendships from back home that have continued.  I’m always so grateful to hear from friends that I crossed their mind for some reason or another, and to know that I am missed in some way.  Even with those friends that I’ve lost contact with, I’m grateful for the things that we shared. 
  • Technology.  I’m so thankful for all the ways I have of staying in contact with the above-mentioned friends and family – email, facebook, Skype, and especially this blog.  I think my parents know more about what I’m up to than they do when I’m at home, and I know I’m in closer contact with some people because of it.  If you’re still reading, thanks for staying around for 100 posts, and I hope you’ve enjoyed them!
  • The Catholic Church.  I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had during my life and especially these last few months, to experience God’s work in my life through the institution of the Church.  While in China, I’ve seen how worship transcends language and cultural barriers, and enjoyed all the best that the Church Universal has to offer, while also witnessing the struggles of the Church Suffering.  I’ve had to examine my faith and my beliefs under different and sometimes challenging circumstances, but I’ve also received encouragement from seeing others flourish in the same situation – witnessing devotion and even a new vocation.  
  • China.  Living here is like an obstacle course, a challenge that brings out a different part of me.  I’m grateful for the situations that I’ve been put in that have pushed me to do something I thought was impossible for me.  I’m also grateful for the complexities and delights of the Chinese language, which I inexplicably find exciting, interesting, motivating, and – very often – humbling.  Of course, none of this would be true without the Chinese people, who I have largely found to possess an incredible amount of patience and a surprising affability in the face of foreigners routinely butchering their language. 
  • Health.  I certainly don’t possess the ideal body, but it’s served me pretty well.  I’m so grateful that, despite minor bouts of diarrhea and the like, I have thus far escaped serious bodily harm here in China.  (This feeling of gratitude is especially strong after successfully crossing a street.)  It’s not just on this trip – last summer, despite vehicles driving off bridges, crashing in to barbed wire, and running over feet, we all went home no worse for the wear.  Thanks be to God!
  • SENEA.  I definitely couldn’t talk about gratitude and China without mentioning SENEA (see About Me if you don’t know what this is).  From first piquing my interest in China, to offering unwavering support during culture shock on my first few trips, SENEA is the reason I’m here now.  Of course, it’s not really the organization; it’s the people.  I’m so grateful for my mentor and all my friends who were involved, for all the laughs and lessons that we shared.
  • Scholarships.  Seriously, I have been very lucky throughout my higher education in that I’ve been supported by several organizations and institutions who believe that I have the potential to do something with my life.  In addition to the donors supporting my education at TU and the Chinese government footing the bill here at XiaDa, I was fortunate enough to have the Goldwater and Udall scholarships help out with the Chinese language studies by making it possible for me to spend last summer just studying Chinese, four hours a day.  Yes, believe it or not, that was a huge blessing. 
  • Good food.  There are a lot of things I miss – good bread, plentiful cheese, lemonade, pasta, steak, mom’s mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, strawberries and raspberries, free Blue Bell ice cream, mudslide smoothies, Belgian waffles, any sort of pie or cake, ice, etc.  But I also have so much good food to choose from here, which makes it possible for me to be happy most of the time by appreciating what I have instead of what I don’t have. 
  • Simple pleasures.  I’m just going to list things here: dancing, music on my iPod, Nutella, my electronic Chinese dictionary, milk tea or anything else from Coco, hair-washing for $3, sunsets, Xiamen’s highways, sweatpants, any book I can get my hands on, thoughtful emails, getting where I want to go on a bus, text messages in Chinese that I understand, etc. 

I really need to get to bed.  Right now I am trying very hard to be grateful for the opportunity I have to compete in the 100-meter dash.  Tomorrow morning.  At 8 a.m.  Think grateful thoughts . . . grateful thoughts . . .

我赢了! (I Won!)

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2009 at 12:48 am

I love keeping a journal.  I really appreciate the time spent each day, reflecting on the events that took place and putting my thoughts into words.  I also like the opportunities to look back at the events and thoughts of previous days, and considering them in light of the present.  For instance, the near-crisis I went through a few weeks ago about my problems with Chinese men, my Chinese class, and the Church in China – looking back at how large those worries seemed and how well they’ve been resolved gives me confidence for future such situations.  Despite the stalking episode with Smelly Man, my encounters with Chinese men recently have been more good than bad.  I was not only able to go to church during my weekend trip, but also had the opportunity to share a meal and conversation with the priest afterwards. 

And, I am so happy with my decision to change classes.  Before, Listening class was the bane of my existence, but now it is my favorite class.  The teacher is really good and the pace of the class is such that I can barely keep up.  It’s never hard enough or fast enough that I despair, but I really can’t slack off for a minute or I’ll fall behind.  It’s very motivating, and I always have a sense of accomplishment after answering so many questions and, usually, learning so many new words.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that, yes, I would still be writing this even if you weren’t reading it :)

Today was a glorious day.  It was even warmer than yesterday – we got up to 20°C! – and I even ordered my honey milk tea 冰的 (iced) instead of 温的 (warm) like I have been the last few days.  After a delicious lunch of fried dumplings, I went shopping with some friends at Wal-Mart.  None of them had been before, so I got to witness the joy on their faces when they caught sight of some products that they hadn’t seen in a while – upon seeing barbecue sauce, Carlos looked like a small child on Christmas morning; it was a little bit ridiculous.

We had made plans to make this afternoon game time, but those fell through pretty miserably.  Our meeting time got pushed back to 4:30, then 5:15, then 5:45 . . . by the time we got to Aleid’s apartment it was past 6, and they chose that time to tell us that they had to leave at 7.  Aleid and I still wanted to play, but you need 3 people to play Catan – 怎么办 (What to do)?  I ended up calling a Korean friend of mine, Eunjeong, and she came over to play.  This was even better, actually, because this forced us to use Chinese. 

Teaching someone to play Catan in Chinese was another item on my bucket list – check that one off, baby!  I went through all the rules in Chinese and somehow they understood.  I learned a few new words in the process – brick (砖), robber (强盗), wheat (小麦) – and used a bunch of words that I’d never actually spoken in conversation before.  It was so much fun (as playing Catan usually is) and several times my laughter brought me to tears. 


I won, but would have had a wonderful time either way.