Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘going home’

What Was On My Mind (IV)

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

Goodbyes and my return home, captured in facebook statuses:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great American Traditions: Road Trip!!

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I take a certain delight in successfully predicting the way my mind will work a year in advance.  (I’ve had no success predicting my life that far out, but I do okay with my own thought processes.)  I experienced this simple pleasure several times during the unpacking and repacking process of the last few weeks.  A lot of my stuff had been packed in April and May 2009 when I moved out of my apartment at TU, and sat in boxes in my parents’ house until I returned.  I tried to be organized about it all, but what organizational system lasts through such a life-changing year? 

Turns out, mine fares pretty well.  Right on the top of all the boxes, I found the bag filled with my student ID, keychain wallet, and car paraphernalia.  A quick search of my email inbox yielded the product number and online order form for the planner I’ve used the last two years.  Everything was just where I looked for it.

But a lot of stuff, I didn’t even think to look for.  I spent a few days going through my things, each day like Christmas as I found something “new”.  I packed most of it back up to take down to school, but my year in China did make me reevaluate the wisdom of hauling some things down there for just one year.  I see now why my parents never had to deal with accumulating stuff until they settled down in Minnesota for going on 15 years; moving gives you both opportunity and incentive to reevaluate your possessions.  I gave a few bags of stuff to Goodwill and left some things in my room where they can wait until I make a more permanent move. 

I was really organized as I began packing the car, but once Irealized that there was not room in the car for all those boxes.  I cut down and combined things, my system going out the window.  I’ll put all my textbooks in this box, other books in this one, and computer stuff in this tub . . . well, computer stuff and bracelets.  Yeah.  Those go together: computer stuff and bracelets. 

 

My brother and I set out this morning on our road trip.  Since my family moved up to Minnesota 15 years ago, road trips have been a nearly annual tradition.  They’re the only practical way to visit our relatives, spread out as they are across every major city in Texas and various parts of Oklahoma (and occasionally Kansas).  More than any one city or even state, I-35 sometimes feels like my home. 

This one’s a bit different, though.  Instead of heading down through Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, we’re heading west after Iowa through Nebraska to Colorado.  We’ll spend a few days there then go straight south to the border, my grandparents’ house in El Paso.  Then we cut across Texas to Austin and take the scenic tour of Oklahoma from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge to Ft. Sill to OKC to Tulsa. 

Road Trip Route

The route is 3,000 miles, which should require around 50 hours of driving spread out over the 12-day trip.  A little circuitous, but we have free lodging at every stop along the way and will get to see all of my mother’s family and a good half of my dad’s.  I swear we have reasons for every stop on the journey . . . even though it kind of looks like an elaborate route construed just to avoid the state of Kansas.

 

The trip started as all Holland trips do.  They begin in the wee hours of the morning – although generally a half hour less wee than originally planned.  Mom makes breakfast burritos and we take a picture by the car before setting off. 

Matt - 6910

My dad joined us for the first leg of the trip down to Ames, IA, which I endured wedged into a back seat chewing on my knees.  Near Ames, we got off the highway and, using several GPS-enabled devices, tracked the moving target that we were trying to link up with.  Mike Erhedt, a veteran and runner, is doing Project America Run – running across the country from Oregon to Maine, planting a flag every mile marked with the name, rank, age, and hometown of one of our soldiers killed in Iraq.  He happened to be passing through Ames when we were, and Dad planned to ride along with him for a while before turning north and biking the few hundred miles home. 

Matt - 6976

I was really glad that we were able to meet up with him.  This is the second time that it has worked out perfectly for us to meet people who are running across the country in honor of the service members lost in Iraq, and both have been really great experiences.  The first time was in July 2008, shortly after I had returned from my summer in China.  A group was doing a Run for the Fallen from east to west, and were planting my uncle’s flag in Camdenton, MO, just a little ways off our original route home.  A few of my relatives met us there and we all ran together the four miles for my uncle, Daniel Holland, and the three men who died with him (Nick Cournoyer, Robert Seidel, and Lonnie Allen). Yes, even I ran – and, in a fitting memorial to Uncle Daniel, hated it the entire time. 

This time we weren’t able to be there for the planting of Daniel’s flag, but we did join Mike in remembering the soldier honored that mile – Steven P. Gill. 

Matt - 6955

[We were, however, able to visit the site of my uncle’s flag, which Mike had planted ?????? before in Colorado.  We got off the main highway near Boulder and, through the use of about four GPS-enabled devices, found Daniel’s flag planted on the side of the road in the shadow of the Rockies.  I know that he’s not buried there, but if we live on in others’ memories then it makes sense that I think of him there.  He would like the location – great view.]

Matt - 6999

 

I had more room after we got rid of Dad, so I spread out a little and started to tackle my Chinese flashcards.  They were among the many things that got left behind in the chaos of my return home; actually they started suffering around the time of my trip to Hangzhou, so by now it had been 42 days since my last review!  The even scarier number is 3,877 – the number of flashcards that are due . . .

It’s slightly tempting to let the whole thing go, but I know that they make a difference, and at this point I’m grasping at anything that can help me maintain my Chinese.  When I was in Xiamen I would occasionally have Chinese people asking me how to write certain characters – because they don’t make it a point to write by hand and I did.  Typing is just too dang easy; writing them out by hand seems like the only way to truly maintain knowledge of characters.  After a month and a half without explicitly practicing characters and a few weeks with almost no character input from my surroundings, I could feel myself slipping into my old ways from when I only knew oral Chinese.  All the homonyms started blurring together and I couldn’t remember if the ‘liang’ in ‘liangkuai’ was the same as in ‘piaoliang’.  (It’s not; the former is 凉快 and the latter is 漂亮.)  This is not a mistake I would have made 43 days ago.  

We made it to Omaha in time for a late lunch with friends of ours then I took over driving.  Matt hated the very idea of driving through Nebraska; he seemed to take its flatness as a personal offence, so it fell to me.  I didn’t mind.  It may be flat, but there’s a special beauty in that as well.  America the Beautiful, indeed – for purple mountains majesty, of course, but also for amber fields of grain.  Anyway, there were lots of interesting things to watch – a few wind farms, two car fires, and a gorgeous lightning show after we crossed into Colorado.  It kept me awake, which is all I can really ask for! 

Jet Lag and Reverse Culture Shock Aren’t So Bad

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2010 at 12:42 am

I think I actually like jet lag.  Coming back from China is the only time I ever get up early willingly, and it’s also the only time that’s acceptable to feel as tired as I always feel.  Four hour nap in the late afternoon?  It’s just jet lag.  Incapable of staying awake during a 15-minute car ride?  She just got back from a year in China, what do you expect?  Sleeping for 14 hours when a pre-dinner nap went too long?  Well, it’s noon where she was before! 

(Never mind that I regularly do these things – or at least would love to do them – when I have no such valid excuse.)

Since I’m already just this side of narcoleptic, it’s a little hard to tell when I’m over jet lag.  Kind of like how it’s hard to tell if I’m drunk or not; I have no sense of direction anyway and can’t ever walk straight, so don’t jump to any conclusions.

 

After the insane heat of my last month in Xiamen, I couldn’t wait to get home to Minnesota on the 45th parallel.  But when you study abroad you hear a lot about reverse culture shock, when you realize everything you’ve been missing about home maybe isn’t quite as amazing as you remembered it being.  So while I sweated through multiple changes of clothes each day and spent all available moments on the beach in the sun (because it was just as hot anywhere else and at least there it was acceptable to sweat gallons), I wondered to myself if I was seeing Minnesota through rose-colored glasses. 

But no, it’s all true.  Minnesota summers are just as gorgeous as I remember.  I heard some people talking about heat but they were obviously completely crazy.  It was a week before I used the AC in the car, and I told my mom the first day I broke a sweat – a good 10 days after my return. 

It wasn’t until I got back to Minnesota that I realized just how hot Xiamen was.  The temperatures were in Celsius; while I developed a good feel for that scale I could only compare those temperatures to other temperatures in Celsius.  Also, I never once heard mention of a heat index, which must be either a Fahrenheit thing or an American thing.  Looking back now, the heat index on my last day in Xiamen was 124F; the first day of that weekend we lost power was 138F.  The two hottest days of my two weeks in Minnesota were barely even 120. 

So when people complain about the heat, I just say that it’s nothing “compared to China”.  This is actually relevant to many topics.  Weather, prices, population, distance, convenience, courtesy – everything looks a little bit different when China is added to the perspective.  It’s all relative. 

I can’t help but compare.  I expected the price comparison to be especially hard to take but actually overprepared for culture shock in some ways.  I was terrified to come home and have to spend American dollars, but it’s not so bad.  I’ve gotten some decent meals for less than $10, even $5, and the movie theater near my house has $5 movies except on weekends.  That’s what I was paying in China, with the 50% student discount!! 

My haircut was a total rip-off, though (especially when I realized later that, with hair this long, I could easily cut it myself), and taxes and tips suck.  After a long year of dividing by 7 (which I am really awesome at!), calculating 15% shouldn’t be so ridiculously hard.  But it is. 

 

Two things have really surprised me about America: how little Chinese there is, and how much.  First of all, no one knows any Chinese.  Every American has 30 Spanish words or phrases, 20 French, and a few German (gesundheit, danke shoen, blitzkreig, etc.).  We even know some Japanese – domo arigato [Mr. Roboto], konichiwa, and sayonara.  But Chinese?  Before my first trip I didn’t know how to say ‘hello’ in Chinese, and most people I ask back home can’t either. 

It’s kind of cool.  I can say whatever I want and no one has a clue what I’m saying.  There are no congnates to give me away, and even the tone of voice that could give me away in other languages is disguised by the choppiness of Chinese tonality.  I can also write anything in a code impenetrable to the vast majority of the American population.

(Another advantage: When my parents try to use my computer, I end up hearing them call from the other room: “How do you get rid of the Chinese?!?!”)

It would be better, though, if everyone would just learn my top 3 phrases or something.  麻烦, 走吧, and 怎么办 should be as commonplace as hola and gracias.  It would make my life so much easier.  Come on, Americans, get with it! 

But I also said that I was surprised at how much Chinese there is in America.  Characters EVERYWHERE!  On signs of Chinese restaurants, on all sorts of art, on everybody and their brother’s tatoos.  Pretty funny considering how few people can read them at all. 

 

I’m still realizing how different this year is going to be.  I became used to my life in Xiamen over the last 11 months to the point that that became my ‘normal’.  It’s been 16 months since I took a class that wasn’t about Chinese and 11 months since I took a class that wasn’t taught in Chinese.  Thing’s gonna be a little different this year, I think.

My Onion horoscope this week was:

Your belief that all life’s problems can be solved with a heart-to-heart talk and a good night’s sleep will be severely tested this week when you’re introduced to mathematics.

Sad day, considering a large part of my life as an American college student is mathematics.  Specifically, MATH 4503 Intro to Numerical Methods. 

I mean, I know I’m headed back to TU, back to ME and all, but I can tell I’m still thinking in China mode.  I had to buy a new computer (because my LCD backlight died and our open-heart surgery proved less than successful), and just like the army always fighting the last war, I found myself buying a computer for last year.  I pictured myself watching whole seasons of DVDs on that screen (when I have a huge TV in my living room), obsessed over having USB ports with the ability to sleep-and-charge (although I’ll have outlets and power strips galore in my bedroom), and worried about portability (even though I’ll be treating it as a desktop just like I did the year before I left).

In the end, I bought a computer.  It has a sleep-and-charge port but is just as ludicrously large as the brick I hauled all across China.  My laptops have an average lifespan of 2 years, though, and who really knows what the second year of this one will bring?

A friend called me a few days after I got home.  Stephen managed to get a hold of me on the day I left for China and also ended up being the first one to call me upon my return.  It was great to hear from him, although the familiarity of his voice reminded me instantly of my last year at TU and how, without him, it won’t be the same.  After we chatted and caught up, he asked me what was different about home.  I searched for something deep to say but came up with nothing.  You know, being gone from Minnesota for a year really isn’t weird at all.  When I’m at school in Tulsa I only make it home for a few weeks around Christmas between summers, so this year wasn’t all that different.  My parents even came to see me around the time I would have seen them normally, so I just missed out on seeing the town and the few friends left up there.  Coming back to my parents’ house after a year away felt just like that – like another year away.  Not that long, nothing special, just another year away. 

But TU?  Being gone one year from a place where the average turnover is four?  That will be different.  As I said, it’s all relative. 

 

Like sleep and my Anki reviews, reading the news got put on the back burner in both the pre-departure rush and the post-arrival chaos.  I finally got around to my Google Reader starred list after a week at home.  Lots of random articles and a whole series of them about the oil spill.  As far as I was concerned, oil was gushing til the end of the month (although it was actually capped on July 15th). 

I wonder if I’ll stop being out of touch now that I’m back in the States?

Home Life

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2010 at 9:00 am

My mom made pancakes for brunch my first morning home.  After eating, I wandered the house taking everything in.  It was pretty anticlimactic, as everything is exactly as I remembered it.  Granted, the living room was redone and there are new faucets in the kitchen and bathroom, but those things come and go with houses.  The microwave, the one constant of my 22 years of life, is still in its position over the oven, and that’s what really matters. 

I had to drive all the way around the Riverdale shopping area to find Panera, and I still don’t park well.  Like I said, everything is exactly as I remembered it. 

There were two loving dogs waiting to welcome me home, but they weren’t quite as cute as I had pictured them during my time away.  Itty, my brother’s dog, had surgery and currently looks like she tried to walk through a lampshade.  Bud, my parents’ dog, had an unfortunate experience with my dad experimenting as a groomer, and looks like a mangy stray. 

IMG_0589

My closet is full of clothes, mainly more skirts than I think I have ever seen in one place.  How do I have so many clothes, and how was I able to part with them for an entire year?  It’s a good thing that I had a full wardrobe at home, though, because my clothes suitcase was the one that got lost.  It didn’t arrive until nearly a full day after I had.  When I opened the door to accept the delivery, I had to keep myself from bursting into laughter.  “If I sign, it just means that I received the suitcase, right?  Not that it’s okay, right?” I asked.  “Because . . . it’s NOT.” 

IMG_0594

I really have no idea how they knew this suitcase was mine; I had described it as green and rectangular, but its current shape was anything but.  If I had to guess as to what had held it up these past few hours, I would say that it got into a fight with a bear and was then run over by at least one jet plane.  That’s the only way to explain the frame bent beyond recognition and the ominous scrapes and tears along all surfaces. 

I also have a collection of half-used lotions that could moisturize the skin of an entire sorority for a year, and a whole glorious bookshelf filled with all my favorite books.  I felt happy just looking at it until I realized that my dad had done some rearranging and my library was no longer impeccably sorted.  Oh, the horror!  I added my new books (making the language shelf a little more crowded) and now my world is again as it should be.

 

I think I’m going to be at home for the perfect amount of time.  For two weeks, my parents are just really happy to have me home and are about the most wonderful parents anyone could imagine.  Mom cooks all my favorite foods, and Dad’s okay with paying if we want to go out to eat. 

IMG_0592

They brought me a sandwich to eat in the car that first night, took me to dinner at Texas Roadhouse (my traditional coming-home-from-China dinner venue), and Mom prepared an amazing dinner of pork roast, green beans, Mom’s legendary mashed potatoes, and a cake for my dad’s birthday (and, if I may flatter myself, for my return).  I made myself a quesadilla for lunch one day, relishing the tortillas and sour cream even as I realized that canned salsa almost isn’t even worth eating. 

 

For my first two days back home, I was completely unconnected.  My laptop was half dead and I didn’t have a US cell phone, so I was reduced to using a land line (I know, right?!) for all communication.  But on Friday night we went to Best Buy as a family and got smart phones – smarter-than-us-phones, to be specific.  Before I went to China I had never really texted, but I did find it pretty useful in China (if only because texts in Chinese were slightly less terrifying at the beginning than phone calls in Chinese) and I guess it will be good to have now in the States.  I also have facebook on my phone, which is so ridiculous.  A few days ago, I had to be in my room, plugged into a LAN, and signed into a proxy to access facebook; now I can access it anytime, anywhere from the phone in my pocket.  Insane! 

Our trip to Best Buy seemed so typically American.  First of all, I ran into a friend from high school and got to catch up with him.  The fact that he was dating a friend of one of my college friends made it feel even more small-town.  But even more so, everyone was so incredibly nice.  We were greeted with a smile (not just an emotionless 欢迎光临) when we entered, and were approached immediately by employees offering to help.  The woman who ended up helping us was warm and personable throughout the whole process, so much so that we didn’t even realize until we left that we kept her there 15 minutes after closing!  This kind of courtesy is totally unheard of in China, where workers usually treat you like scum even when you’re there during normal business hours.

And it’s not just the employees.  People hold doors open for each other here – and accompany that action with a “hello!” or a “have a nice day!” or other such pleasantry.  After a trip to a store I feel overwhelmed with warm fuzzy feelings, like I just went through an affirmation process or a group hug.  Some of the papers that I was given by the TU Center for Global Education to prepare me for reentry talked about how many students struggle with the rudeness of Americans.  I’m not sure where those students are coming home from, but compared to China it’s like every single American is my best friend or something. 

That evening at Best Buy we became even more connected than we’d ever been (and this from a family with a 2:1 ratio of computers to people), but we took a step back and went analog that night.  My dad, recently retired, has been indulging even more in his passion of organizing and editing old negatives and slides, and he treated us to a slideshow of old family photos.  We saw pictures from my babyhood in Ohio and childhood in Oklahoma, the days when I was an insanely cute little girl.  Okay, 95% of my cuteness came from the fact that I was an really chubby little girl, but still – I was adorable.  I had cankles, my brother was knock-kneed, my mom had huge glasses and too much hair, and my dad used to have hair (as opposed to now . . . ).  Basically, we were one good-looking family!

IMG_0598

So now I can contact people any one of five ways from my phone, and we hooked my laptop up to another monitor so I can use it.  I got on QQ for the first time since I got home, and had a new crop of Christians who wanted to talk to me about Jesus.  There was also a message from LiuQin, the maddening woman from church: “Maria, I heard the bishop say you were going home and now you’re gone.  You never said goodbye; you really aren’t a very good friend.  I don’t even know if you foreigner understand me!  When war breaks out between China and America, I won’t wake care of you.”  She really is crazy, I think. 

 

I went to Mass on Saturday morning, only my second [intelligible] English Mass this year.  The similarities between English and Chinese Mass are far greater than the differences, but the little differences have a large impact.  Shaking hands during the Sign of Peace instead of bowing, receiving wine during communion – it felt good to be back.  I did find myself mouthing the Chinese along sometimes, though, and my Xiamen diocese friends were never far from my mind.  We sang “Sing of Mary Pure and Lowly” and I teared up at the last line:

And the Church her strain reechoes
Unto Earth’s remotest ends

because I think, in geopolitical terms, southeast Asia is about as remote as it gets for Catholicism. 

 

Saturday afternoon, my mom and I set out on a mini-road trip down to southern Minnesota.  We stopped first in Eden Prairie to see a college friend of mine; she had been the last college friend I saw before leaving for China last year and now became the first one I saw upon my return.  A year a six days had passed, which means I will go at least a year between seeing any of my other college friends.

From there we continued down to Winona, where one of my oldest friends was getting married.  I’ve known Rachel since 2nd grade, and we’ve been friends almost as long.  (Only “almost” because I very plainly told her when we moved to Minnesota that we were only going to be there for a few years and I didn’t want to make new friends.  I was a very practical 2nd grader.)  I had saved this date well before I left for China, and while it took me 10 months to buy my return ticket I always knew that it would be for some day safely before July 24th.  I wouldn’t miss her wedding for anything (not even, thankfully, the incompetence of Cathay Pacific). 

I think Minnesota is a beautiful state, green and blue everywhere you look, but the Mississippi River is certainly the jewel of our state.  The drive down to Winona is gorgeous, with trees and wheat to either side and bald eagles soaring through blue skies overhead.  This is what it would be like to drive through Catan, I imagine.  Makes me wish I had a wood port . . .

Winona is a nice city, too.  The river is lined with majestic bluffs and the streets are lined with quaint old buildings.  My friend’s wedding took place in a park outside, and they were blessed with a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.  They had the most perfect setting to say their vows!

IMG_0603

There was a reception afterwards in a local hotel – hors d’oeurves, speeches, and dancing.  I was excited to hit the dance floor with some of my old friends, but wasn’t sure about the music situation.  See, I really only dance when I can sing along, and a lot of music had come out since I was last in the States.  But my nights at The Key and 10 gigabytes of downloads from Google Music apparently served me well, because I knew almost all the songs that were played.  One friend even remarked at how much of the lyrics I knew, but the facade came tumbling down when a song I didn’t know came on.  Everyone else shrieked and sang along while dancing, while I just stood there and felt awkward.  “I just got back from a year in China,” I remarked to the groomsman standing next to me.  “Oh, you’re the China girl, aren’t you?”, he responded. 

Yup, that would be me.  The China girl. 

Saving the Best For Last

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2010 at 11:53 pm

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but what I’m discovering right now is that impending absence makes the heart infatuated. I’ve been more and more unhappy with some aspects of my life here in Xiamen the last month or so (okay, mainly my room, the laundry, and the peeing cicadas) but none of that matters right now. I can’t remember why those things were such a big deal to me. All I can think about is how much it’s going to suck to leave my friends here.

It’s not like I don’t have friends back home, obviously. But for some reason, I’m finding it harder to go back than I did to come here, even though last year I was heading into the unknown and this year I pretty much know what’s waiting for me at home. Maybe it’s that I don’t know when I’ll be back? That was definitely the case when I went to visit my friends in Jilin, and Xiamen is even worse. Except for the people at my parish, my friends in Xiamen are not stationary; even if I came back in two years most of them would probably be gone, graduated, working in other cities. And those are the Chinese friends – the foreign friends are either home already or headed back in a matter of time. Once I leave Xiamen, there’s no coming back to the city as I currently know it.

Bishop Cai invited me for a farewell lunch, so I went over to Lundu at noon to meet a large group of church friends. We had a buffet at a nice hotel (fried frog, anyone?), where I sat at the main table with the bishop and Fr. He, visiting again from Taiwan. I was so happy to have a last chance to talk to them! I told them that this year in China, I had seen my first ordinations of deacons, priests, and a bishop, and we all pondered the possibility of the ordination of a Chinese pope. Maybe someday?

IMG_3282

In the afternoon, I had plans nearly a year in the making. Directly next to XiaDa is Nanputuo, a Buddhist temple. It is so close that the tall building offers a perfect view of the temple grounds. It is so close that the bus stop named XiaDa actually serves the temple. It is so close that mere steps from the university’s south gate brings you to the entrance. It is so close, yet I had not been.

IMG_3288

It’s partially because I’m not that interested in Buddhist temples, and partially because it was just so close that it seemed I could always do it another day. But after the 9-month mark or so, I decided that I might as well go on the very last day. And so I did.

IMG_3297

IMG_3292

My tour guide was BinBin, the leader of our church’s youth group. He grew up in a Buddhist family but converted to Catholicism in college, so he was a fun and informative guide. He explained the different statues and images, differences and similarities in our beliefs, and things like that. I felt like I got the bonus tour!

IMG_3290

After looking around the temple and the monk school, we climbed the mountain. It’s not a huge mountain, but climbing in near-100° heat with 70% humidity was a little bit ridiculous. I sweated through my shirt in minutes, and had to cool off for a good 10 minutes before taking pictures at the top.

IMG_3311

But no matter, it was well worth the climb. The mountain overlooks my university (looking down even on the Tall Building) and the view is truly incredible. XiaDa’s entire beautiful campus, Nanputuo’s temple grounds, the smooth white highway bridge system, the ocean, and Zhangzhou across the water.

Nanputuo View

We reached the top in the late afternoon, before the sunset but well after the harsh midday sun. The sun was low, almost behind the mountains, so the entire vista was bathed in a perfect mellow gold. If I have to say goodbye to my island at some point, it might as well be this way.

IMG_3310 

After we came down off the mountain, I took a much-needed shower, then went to West Gate to have my hair washed. #18 was there and free finally, so she finally got to wash a foreigner’s hair. Napping while having a scalp massage is one of the simple pleasures I will miss from China.

I met some friends at West Gate at 8 for my farewell dinner. Even with so many friends already gone, there were still 16 of us. I ordered all my favorite Chinese dishes (at Green Chairs, one of our favorite restaurants) and we ate our fill.

IMG_3327

At one point I frowned because I was sad to be saying goodbye, and I guess a bunch of people saw my ridiculous frown for the first time.

n13955009_39352848_4018

This led to a showcase of Stupid Human Tricks – lots of silly facial expressions, double-jointed movements, and crazy flexibility. The funniest thing was not what some people could do, but what others couldn’t! The Chinese girls had a really hard time duplicating any of our faces, even simple things like winking and raising eyebrows. They just don’t show their emotions that way, they said.

I wanted to spend my last night in Xiamen on the beach, so a few of us walked to Baicheng to lounge on the sand.

IMG_3346 

Eventually it was just me, Carlos, and Bo – oh, and the guy who was walking alongside the waves playing a saxophone. No, I’m not kidding; I couldn’t come up with something that perfect on my own! Once he stopped we played our own music, a combination of English, Spanish, and French songs (I introduced Bo to Tryo!). I played them my going home song, Caledonia by Celtic Woman:

I don’t know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I’ve been afraid
That I might drift away
I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs
That make me think about where I’ve come from
That’s the reason why I seem
So far away today

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

Now I have moved and I’ve kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way
I have kissed the fellas and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes, there’s no denying
I have traveled hard, sometimes with conscience flying
Somewhere with the wind

Now I’m sitting here before the fire
The empty room, the forest choir
The flames have cooled, don’t get any higher
They’ve withered, now they’ve gone
But I’m steady thinking, my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
When hands have shaken, the kisses float
Then I will disappear

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

After the beach we took one last turn around Furong lake, then Carlos gave me a ride on the back of his bike. That’s the last item I’ll get to cross off my bucket list, I guess!

IMG_3331

The User You Are Trying To Reach Is Currently Busy

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2010 at 3:31 pm

This last week has probably been the busiest of my time here in Xiamen, at least in the sense that the things I have to do can’t be pushed any further into the future.  I will be leaving in about 24 hours now, which means everything right now is the “last”. 

Before this week I was much more ready to go home.  There were things frustrating me about Xiamen (okay, honestly, it was really just the cicadas.  But still, they’re horrible) and finally things were starting to fall into place to look forward to back home.  But once it got down to days I wanted the countdown to return to weeks.  Even after two of my best friends left, I still wanted to stay here longer. 

So I’ve been busy packing, spending time with the friends I have left, and doing the things I want to do before leaving this home of mine.  I’m heading out in a few minutes to tour the Nanputuo Temple; though it is literally next door to my university I’ve never been.  It’s one of the last things on my Xiamen checklist, and then I guess in one way I’ll be ready to go home.

I have been too busy to write this week, but I am still Maria, so I’ve been jotting down notes about each day.  Full entries will follow once I’m on a plane or stranded in some airport somewhere.  There will be tales of my ‘graduation’, the most difficult goodbyes yet, karaoke, my third Chinese ordination, evangelization on QQ, lunches with every Chinese person I’ve ever met pretty much.  You know, my usual adventures. 

Get excited.

24 hours. 

Why the Chinese Carry Umbrellas

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2010 at 12:59 pm

After a late rising and a meal of mangos and egg tarts (breakfast of champions!), I 爬山-ed up to the tall building.  I registered for my completion-of-studies certificate and finally got my HSK certificate, officially verifying my 中等B季 (B-level intermediate) Chinese skills.  Sweet!

I kind of started packing before I met XuLei for dinner.  I’ve been teaching her an English word a day recently, starting with “party pooper” when she refused to stay up all night to watch the World Cup final.  My goal is to find useful words that native speakers actually use and ground them with a personal experience – it is the best way to learn after all.  So we started with “party pooper” (It’s like a bunch of people want to have a party, but you poop on it) and, when the conversation turned to plans for my last night in country, I taught her “skinny dipping”.  Hahaha.  She was mortified. 

Carlos and I had plans to play games with his work friends again, so we headed out to meet them after dinner.  Carlos had told me about a different version of Catan he had sighted in a board game shop, and through the power of suggestion we became convinced it was Cities & Knights.  (Cities & Knights is the awesome expansion to Settlers.  Cities is to Settlers what milk tea with pearls is to its pearl-less counterpart; regular milk tea is good but you don’t realize what excellence you’ve been missing until you try the 珍珠.)

But, seeing as Settlers of Catan has both cities and knights, it proved to be very difficult to discuss the game clearly.  In the end, no one had Cities so we just played a game of Settlers with 6 players.  And to add insult to injury, I lost!

Afterwards, the owner of the board game shop suggested another for us to try: a French game called Dixit.  It’s like Dictionary (a.k.a. Balderdash) mixed with Apples and Apples, featuring artsy French illustrations.  Everyone has a hand of six picture cards (all unique); one person lays a card face down and somehow describes the content of the picture with words, sounds, or actions.  Everyone else chooses the card out of their hand that best fits the description, lays it facedown in the piles, which is shuffled before people vote on which card they think was first laid down.  You get points for guessing correctly or causing others to guess correctly. 

It was fun and interesting, but I was really bad at it.  It may have been the fact that they all knew each other, because it’s pretty important to understand how others think when playing.  Like the one time Carlos said “James” (the name of one of the guys playing with us) as a clue and three of the six people played cards that had some sort of sword fighting on them.  But at least once there was an allusion that I caught.  The clue was “China” and cards included a girl being rescued from the jaws of a monster, a crowd of eggs or possibly houses, a thermometer filled with blood showing a high temperature, a table covered in food, and a map and compass.  Lots of possibilities there, but the 5 of us foreigners all chose the correct one – a sun shining over a sea of umbrellas – from the available choices.  The pictures are all a little ironic, or have something not quite right about them (umbrellas in the sun??), but in this case this one was absolutely perfect for the clue (yeah, if you’re in China!). 

IMG_3191 

We took a taxi back to West Gate and then Carlos and I walked home across campus.  We took a route I don’t usually take, Carlos leading the way.  Suddenly, he stopped and pointed to the tree in front of us.  “Look!”, he said, and I looked.  The tree indicated was surrounding by a glistening wet patch, and in the light of the streetlight next to it, we could see a torrent of water drops falling down.  It was weird looking – a rainstorm confined to the tree’s surroundings – but in a pretty way, because the water drops looked like jewels in the yellow light.  “It’s cicada pee,” he told me. 

My mind processed this information immediately.  Yesterday when I was walking under those trees by the supermarket, those drops were not air conditioner water.  DISGUSTING.

In 7 days I will land back at home.  Between the road trip my brother and I have planned, and the hordes of peeing cicadas here in Xiamen, I am totally ready. 

Ticket to Ride

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

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

I’m reasonably pumped about this.

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

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

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