Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘HSK’

What Was On My Mind (III)

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2010 at 5:00 pm

The end of the year, captured in facebook statuses:


Maria Holland heard someone say “Not gonna lie” today and, not gonna lie, it made me realize how long I’ve been away from America.
May 12 at 11:35pm

Maria Holland is still delighted every time I realized I can speak and read Chinese. Does it ever get old?
May 15 at 12:36am

Maria Holland It would have been nice to know we were climbing a mountain after Mass today, because the clothes I usually wear to Mass are generally not the best for mountain climbing. But, I’ve now climbed a mountain in peep-toed sandals and a skirt and feel more Chinese for the experience.
May 16 at 10:00pm

Maria Holland is spending the night at the church on Gulangyu. I’m planning a peaceful and quiet night, praying for Uncle Daniel and Robert, Nick, & Lonnie on the anniversary of their deaths. Glad we got to know you, Daniel.
May 18 at 5:12pm

Maria Holland had a beautiful night on Gulangyu. I took in a violin concert, savored the silence of the island broken only by piano music, slept three doors away from the choir loft of a century-old Catholic church, went to morning Mass, and had porridge with the bishop.
May 19 at 9:46am

Maria Holland got a SEVEN on the HSK!!!!!! I could theoretically go to college in China . . . but I think I’ll head back to TU and finish up there.
May 19 at 11:55am

Maria Holland it is May 2010 and, just like May 2007 and May 2008, I am making my way to the northeast of China. It’s almost like going home . . .
Meat sticks, I’m coming for you. Get ready!
May 20 at 2:54pm

Maria Holland is in Hunchun, the (0,0,0,0) coordinate of my life in China! I’ve been living with Xiao Zhang and Xiao Li, visited Mob Boss and MacGyver, eaten at DongFang and am currently preparing for an epic Shell birthday dinner complete with my cake and homemade dairy products like you wouldn’t believe.
Be jealous.
May 23 at 4:43pm

Maria Holland is in Hunchun at the farm today, for the third anniversary of my first day in China, and the third International Day of Prayer for the Church in China. Please join me, il Papa, and Christians around the world in praying for love, mutual understanding, and unity (both spiritual and political) between all 基督徒 in China.
May 24 at 8:34am

Maria Holland met up with Zaibin, my very first Chinese friend, today and we went to see Goose Lady!
May 25 at 8:52pm

Maria Holland has spent nine months in China!
May 26 at 10:31pm

Maria Holland is going to Xiao Zhang’s to learn how to make jiaozi and sugared potatoes! This means no internet ’til Sunday night though . . .
May 27 at 3:21pm

Maria Holland it is 10 a.m. in China and I’ve already stolen someone’s identity and broken the law. I’m currently sitting in what seems to be a love motel that I have rented by the hour. This has been a great trip . . .
May 30 at 10:39am

Maria Holland is back in Xiamen, happy to be out of Jilin but already missing Hunchun.
Also, how is it almost June??
May 31 at 10:52am

Maria Holland I live on a tropical island. Today is the 2nd of June. I wore my winter coat to go to dinner. One of these things is not like the others . . .
June 2 at 9:42pm

Maria Holland taking advantage of the rain to have the laziest day ever. Entire day spent in pajamas – check. Lunch delivered – check. Dinner delivered – check. Four seasons of Psych on DVD – check.
June 3 at 8:38pm

Maria Holland found out that Chinese people think mixed-blood babies are exceptionally beautiful and smart. Whatever. It’s when it turns into a matchmaking service designed to match me with a Chinese husband that I start to mind. Also, does EVERYONE have to participate? Random old man on the street last night, I’m talking about you . . .
June 5 at 2:56pm

Maria Holland watched Iron Man 2 (钢铁侠2) in theaters today and then bought both 1 & 2 on DVD immediately afterwards, for less than the cost of a movie in America. Sweet!
June 6 at 8:49pm

Maria Holland enjoyed an hour-long massage for $5 this morning. Yeah, I’m doin’ alright.
June 8 at 11:09pm

Maria Holland has still not bought return tickets. Maybe I’m not quite ready for that step . . .
June 10 at 12:52am

Maria Holland has pancake mix, dried pasta, marshmallows, chocolate, nutella, condensed milk, brown sugar, powdered sugar, and most of a bottle of gin . . . . and I am determined to use all of it before I leave this country, despite lacking an oven or any discernible kitchen.
June 10 at 5:41pm

Maria Holland had a great time watching the opening game of the World Cup. It’s a weird feeling, though, probably like what Harry Potter felt upon discovering this whole other world that only cares about one sport, a sport that you’ve never heard of.
June 12 at 1:01am

Maria Holland US vs. England in our first World Cup appearance – at 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday/school night? Why certainly!
June 12 at 11:12pm

Maria Holland needs more soccer-related vocabulary if I’m going to continue watching the World Cup in China. Tonight’s 生词: “draw” = 平. 我为美国加油! (I’m cheering for America!)
June 13 at 5:01am

Maria Holland Tomorrow would be the perfect day to leave Xiamen, because I just had the perfect Last Night in Country: singing French drinking songs on a bus that we flagged down at 2 a.m. and convinced to take us to a bar.
June 18 at 3:39am

Maria Holland is gearing up for a showdown between America and Slovenia – basically, me vs. Kristina. 美国 para ganar!
June 18 at 8:41pm

Maria Holland is really getting this football thing. Not getting the whole sleep thing, though. The two may or may not be related.
June 19 at 3:19am

Maria Holland is ready to go home, I guess. Everything is moldy and I’m tired of it. 30 days seems just about right!
June 21 at 11:06pm

Maria Holland has the Stomach Clench of Death. Come on yogurt, work your magic . . .
June 22 at 2:23pm

Maria Holland and this is why I’m loving the World Cup: sitting in a coffehouse, watching the England-Slovenia game and reading updates on the US-Algeria game, with friends from 3 of the 4 countries next to me. The US goal in the final minutes to win the group didn’t hurt either, of course!
June 24 at 12:38am

Maria Holland This may be the best line of its kind since “save a horse, ride a cowboy: “Although I’m a cowboy, I only drink milk in bars. Why don’t I drink beer? Because it’s bad for your health.” Courtesy of a Chinese cowboy song, “Cowboys Are Very Busy”
June 25 at 2:52am

Maria Holland taking a nap in my U.S.A jersey before the game. Sorry, Africa, but I hope Ghana’s out after this . . .
June 27 at 1:08am

Maria Holland Xiamen has a way of making up for Bad China Days. I had a very successful trip shopping for gifts this morning, spent a beautiful afternoon on the beach, and am headed out for dinner and the game. NEDERLANDS!!!
June 28 at 6:59pm

Maria Holland plans to enjoy each of my remaining days in China as much as I did today. Lunch with friends, afternoon on the beach, winning two games of 6-player Catan tonight. Spain and Holland play this weekend and we’re celebrating the Fourth on a boat, then I go to Hangzhou to see Matt Thomas! 挺好的 :)
July 1 at 1:38am

Maria Holland has a plane ticket! On July 20th at 8 p.m. (Beijing time), I will begin my adventure towards home. Expect me around 9 a.m. Central on Wednesday, July 21st at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport – allowing, of course, for 48 hours of possible “adventure-related delays”.
July 1 at 12:20pm

Maria Holland is feeling far from home right now. Didn’t realize how important the internet is to keeping me connected, until they shut off our electricity today and I missed the news of my aunt’s heart attack. Please pray for my Aunt Cathy!
July 3 at 9:34pm

Maria Holland This was the best Fourth of July ever . . . if I do say so myself. Wait for pictures if you don’t believe me!
July 4 at 8:34pm

Maria Holland is not quite caught up from an amazing Fourth of July weekend but, ready or not, I’m off to Suzhou and Hangzhou tomorrow afternoon!
July 6 at 12:07am

Maria Holland Spain vs. the Netherlands in the World Cup final: two countries with the best-looking football, the best-looking footballers, and some of my best friends. I cannot lose!
July 8 at 4:29am

Maria Holland had Papa John’s delivered and ate it with an old friend from elementary, middle, and high school. BTW, I’m still in China. That’s crazy, right?
July 8 at 9:20pm

Maria Holland returned to Xiamen for the last time. The next time I return somewhere, I will be returning to the United States. 11 days . . .
July 9 at 8:55pm

Maria Holland will miss many things when I leave here – but not The Key anymore, and never the giant kamikaze bugs.
July 11 at 2:00am

Maria Holland is getting ready for three finals: the World Cup at 2:30 a.m., Listening at 9:00 a.m., and Grammar at 10 a.m. I predict domination in all three!
July 11 at 9:31pm

Maria Holland AAAH. This morning was amazing, between the game, the glorious sunrise, and the celebratory s’mores that we ate (possibly for breakfast). No longer tired. Two finals in three hours.
July 12 at 6:06am

Maria Holland is so tired. My sleep schedule has been messed up by constant goodbye parties and the month-long World Cup, but if I can keep it up for 8 more days maybe I won’t have jet lag when I get back home?
July 13 at 1:58am

What Was On My Mind (II)

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2010 at 4:56 pm

The middle of the year, captured in facebook statuses:


Maria Holland My parents are in route to China RIGHT NOW. Are they ready for China, and is China ready for them??
January 12 at 10:45pm

Maria Holland Parents, meet China. China, parents. (I hope they get along!!!) Yes, this means my parents have arrived in Xiamen safely!
January 13 at 11:12pm

Maria Holland had an amazing few days in Xiamen with my parents. It was almost too perfect, and now I’m hoping that the rest of China can live up to it! Next stop is Guangzhou, then we’re riding the world’s fastest train to Wuhan.
January 17 at 9:46pm

Maria Holland had the best day since leaving Xiamen today – looking at pandas all morning, and finding an amazing donut shop after lunch!
January 23 at 3:19pm

Maria Holland has mixed feelings about the first two days in Beijing. Peking roast duck, Forbidden City, Mass, and sanlunche ride home were amazing; the lack of readable maps, decent hotels, and Matteo Ricci’s tomb is really frustrating me. Oh, and I finally found a Chinese breviary, as well as a Chinese-English Catholic Encyclopedia!!!!!!
January 31 at 6:00pm

Maria Holland climbed the Great Wall today – and then slid down on my butt. Pretty much the best way to experience ChangCheng (and probably the fastest). Also, I think approximately 1/4 of all Chinese people have a picture of me now.
February 1 at 9:05pm

Maria Holland Um . . . . well, the good news is that I have a train ticket home from Beijing to Xiamen. The bad news is that they were out of sleepers so I have a seat. Oh, and it turns out it’s a 31 HOUR TRIP
February 2 at 8:35pm

Maria Holland got in a fight with China today and lost. We’re currently not speaking, at least not if I can help it. I plan to drug myself heavily before my 31-hour train trip tomorrow. I can’t wait to get back to Xiamen with it’s 70+ degree weather and beaches and Coco milk tea!
February 4 at 9:03pm

Maria Holland has had the 3 worst days in China. Hopefully today will be better – a working toilet, a massage, and my first real meal in 2 days would go a long way in this direction.
February 7 at 8:34am

Maria Holland got my toes in the water, ass in the sand, not a worry in the world and a good book in my hand. It’s 75 and sunny in Xiamen, and I happen to live 3 minutes from a beach. Score!
February 10 at 11:12am

Maria Holland still hasn’t figured out how to say Lent in Chinese . . . but I know how to say Easter!
February 17 at 9:33pm

Maria Holland seriously, Chinese Mulan – no happy ending? I put up with the random foreigner, the sandstorm that came out of nowhere, the lack of memorable songs, and your insistence on speaking Chinese the whole time . . . but how can you end it with the lovers parting ways? This is crap. Good thing the fruit here is good, or I would leave this country.
February 20 at 10:53pm

Maria Holland just figured out that the 天上母后 can be sung to the same tune as the Regina Caeli with only slight squishing of syllables. Is it Easter yet???
February 26 at 12:48am

Maria Holland spent the night in a Chinese hospital . . . don’t worry about me, I was just keeping Lester company, but the poor guy has pancreatitis so please pray for him!
February 28 at 9:58am

Maria Holland 刚刚开学 . . . Classes started today, which means vacation is over. I try not to let school interfere with my education, though, so I’m still really looking forward to the semester!
March 1 at 1:58pm

March 4 at 7:06pm

Maria Holland might miss books more than bread, guacamole, ice cream, and tortillas combined. Why do Chinese libraries hate me?
March 10 at 11:50pm

Maria Holland is wondering if you know how to say ‘doorknob’ in another language – without looking it up! Please respond, I’m doing a small survey.
March 12 at 11:58pm

Maria Holland is translating the legend of Paul Bunyan into Chinese. Thus far, I have learned: giant (巨人), lumberjack (伐木人), Grand Canyon (大峡谷), axe (斧), buttons (纽扣), and footprints (足迹). Good thing I already knew how to say Mississippi River!
March 17 at 4:39pm

Maria Holland won’t be takin’ no calls cuz I’ll be dancin’
March 19 at 10:58am

Maria Holland in previewing tomorrow’s Chinese lesson, I came across this sentence: 美国人是非常小气的 (Americans are extremely stingy). Awesome . . .
March 21 at 11:43pm

Maria Holland was really amused to read this comment from an overseas Chinese on an article about the ongoing Google-China battle: "All Chinese, I urge you to boycott Google, and join my facebook "Chinese boycott Google" group." Um . . . great idea, except your government blocked facebook a few years ago for also refusing to self-censor. Irony FAIL.
March 23 at 11:42pm

Maria Holland is pretty sure she has the best parents ever. The package from home included Girl Scout cookies, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs, Hershey’s kisses, lemonade powder, Jello mix, and another bag of marshmallows!!!! Dear Easter: I am eagerly awaiting your arrival :)
March 25 at 1:45pm

Maria Holland baked 7 cakes and a batch of cookies today. Isn’t a full kitchen a wonderful thing? Now if only it were mine . . .
March 26 at 8:51pm

Maria Holland will be celebrating my birthday for a total of 42 hours, from birthday vigil on Chinese time to the end of the day in the Central US. It’s going great so far!
March 28 at 3:18am

Maria Holland My birthday presents included flowers, Belgian chocolate, Kazah and Swedish money, a book titled "Anonymous Rex/Casual Rex", a Slovenian PowerPoint presentation prominently featuring 茄子 (eggplant), a bunch of Dutch music including Bisje Komt Zo (which is apparently about drugs, not buses), and a traditional Chinese bra. Best birthday ever? Possibly.
March 29 at 9:46pm

Maria Holland Ate too many jelly beans and am on a crazy sugar high . . . considering playing the Regina Caeli on loop and singing at the top of my voice while eating chocolate bunnies. That should do the trick . . .
April 4 at 12:13am

Maria Holland Are you wearing pants? Correct answer is No! Are you saying Alleluia? Correct answer is Yes!
April 4 at 11:43pm

Maria Holland had the best Monday today – at least since coming to China, but possibly ever. Tomorrow I leave for an impromptu trip to Guangzhou and a weekend in Hong Kong! Going to class is for squares . . .
April 5 at 10:12pm

Maria Holland is in Guangzhou with friends from OKLAHOMA and their new Chinese son. My hotel room has a shower door and a bed with non-negligible padding – basically the lap of luxury. AND it’s still Easter! Basically, life is good.
April 6 at 11:10pm

Maria Holland must have gotten on the wrong train and ended up in Mumbai, as I’m staying the night in an Indian-run slum. But it’s okay: there’s free internet in Hong Kong (I’m on facebook without a proxy!), there’s a TGIF Friday’s around the corner, and it JUST HAPPENS to be Friday.
April 9 at 5:30pm

Maria Holland had a perfect day in Hong Kong today. I see a TU friend tomorrow (!) and then it’s back home to Xiamen :)
April 10 at 11:52pm

Maria Holland is anyone interested in going to see Mika in concert in Hong Kong on June 16th??
April 13 at 10:29pm

Maria Holland may have figured out how to say "soup Nazi" (and any other words with structure "XX Nazi") in Chinese. So yes, in answer to your question, studying for the HSK is going swimmingly.
April 16 at 1:29am

Maria Holland has a ticket to Changchun, Jilin for May 20th!! Can’t wait to return to the land of my "Chinese childhood"!
April 16 at 3:25pm

Maria Holland is 考试-ing her 汉语水平. It’s HSK time!
April 17 at 11:28pm

Maria Holland countdown in China is at 3 months !?!
April 19 at 11:56pm

Maria Holland F.M.L. Another weekend in China, another adventure – but adventures involving hospitals are significantly less fun than adventures that don’t.
April 22 at 10:21pm

Maria Holland is going to be singing the Misa de Angelis at the installation of the new bishop of the Diocese of Xiamen in two weeks! I guess this kind of makes up for the gynecologist appointment yesterday . . . I forgive you, China.
April 24 at 8:20pm

Maria Holland has been in China for 8 months now. Depending on your age, this may or may not seem like an incredibly long period of time to you. I’m 22, and it’s pretty much ginormous.
April 26 at 11:06pm

Maria Holland is in love with Sheldon Cooper. Also, mangos.
April 30 at 10:37pm

Maria Holland thinks that Chinese national holidays are about as much fun as bamboo shoots shoved into various body parts. Nevertheless, I had a really good day. I even managed to be part of a winning team based on the other side of the world!
May 1 at 11:02pm

Maria Holland had an amazing three day weekend but is infinitely more tired than when classes ended on Friday.
May 4 at 1:01am

Maria Holland is in the EXACT SAME COUNTRY as The Dear Leader RIGHT NOW. How could I be so lucky!?!
May 4 at 9:15pm

Maria Holland A year ago, I knew less than 100 Chinese characters. Tonight, I have the Chinese version of "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace" stuck in my head.
May 7 at 1:34am

Maria Holland The school year at TU is now over and I am officially . . . still a senior. It’s what I do best.
May 7 at 9:57pm

Maria Holland can’t even say how overjoyed I was to have the opportunity to sing in the choir at the installation of Xiamen’s very first local bishop, Cai Binrui (and how pleased I was to hear that he has a papal mandate as well!)
May 8 at 2:52pm

Maria Holland is fabulous. Tomorrow, please be 跟 today 一样 wonderful, 谢谢. I’m singing at Bishop Cai’s first Mass in the morning, but then how to follow that up??
May 9 at 1:27am

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!). 


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. 

The 300

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2010 at 12:14 am

It is the second day of June, I live on a tropical island, and I wore my winter coat to dinner.  What is wrong with this picture? 

The weather this year has been 怪怪的 – or in English, freaking weird. 

I remember our confidence that it would be warm when we returned from our winter break on March 1st.  When that didn’t happen, we figured it would be warm by April.  But then another month passed and we decided that surely May would be warm.  A look through my journal reveals at least three confident predictions that summer is here for good: February 24th, April 25th, and May 4th.  It took this long, but I finally concede that I have no freaking idea; at this point, all bets are off.

That’s not to say we haven’t had nice days.  In fact, those nice days just make this all the weirder, making promises it doesn’t intend to keep.  I think back to my parents’ visit in January, when we biked along the beach on an almost-hot day.  Or those couple perfect days in February that welcomed me back to Xiamen after a rough return from Beijing, when we barbecued outside.  Or the day after class in March when we unanimously decided that ice cream and the beach had to happen immediately.  Or the unfortunate day in May when I climbed a mountain in wool leggings and nearly died. 

In a way, the weather has offered us lots of second chances.  We keep having our ‘last’ hotpot, our ‘last’ bowl of malatang.  We got to see Eunice’s new tailor-made trenchcoat today, even though it was finished after the warm weather was “definitely here to stay”. 

But still, it’s annoying to have to keep pulling out my leggings, to find my coat after putting it away, and to regret throwing away the gel heater I had.


I had to spend an unfortunate amount of time outside today, a cold rainy day that just begs to be spent in bed.  I had class, then we went to lunch, then I had class again, then I had to stop by the travel agency, and then I had dinner with Shawn.  I had a harder time conversing with him today, switching to English occasionally and hating my Chinese frequently.  I think I’ve become more critical of my own Chinese ability since the HSK, which is something I’m kind of scared about.  I’m ashamed of my Spanish, which means I never speak it – but possibly my greatest strength in Chinese is my confidence and eagerness to speak.  If I lose that, what do I have – a 7 on the HSK?  But that score feels meaningless when I use 了 incorrectly or when I, for heaven’s sake, say 月 when I mean 号.


And with that, we come to the end of this post – the 300th entry in this journal!  For those of you faithful readers, this means you have read over 500 pages of my thoughts.  Sorry about that . . . 

The Plan Seems To Be Working!

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I woke up early this morning to return to the main island for Mass.  Yes, we were already next door to a church, but weekday Masses are on Xiamen so I took the ferry back with Fr. Zhao.  It was a hazy morning, which felt about right as mornings in Xiamen usually are hazy, but it felt strange to be seeing Xiamen’s skyline through the haze instead of the familiar green contours of Gulangyu, punctuated by European-style architecture.

After Mass I went looking for Sister to ask about paying for the room last night.  She didn’t understand the question for quite some time – she couldn’t understand why I was asking her how much money she wanted.  Apparently the question was really ridiculous, because once she understood she called the bishop over to tell him the joke.  He invited me to join them for a breakfast of porridge – joking that it would cost 15 kuai.  This is the Bishop Cai I know and love! 

I’m beginning to like 稀饭 – porridge that basically looks like rice being slowly drowned in its own juices.  Throw a couple peanuts in there, some tofu or veggies, and (if you’re unlucky) some pickled radish, and you’re good to go.  I’m seriously becoming Chinese . . . I felt especially native today, as I got off the ferry from Gulangyu carrying one of the trademark small duffle bags containing Gulangyu 特产, some dried meat products that especially come from this island.  The general rule for foreigners is that 特产 are nasty, but I’m going to visit Chinese friends in Jilin and, as it’s practically required that every Chinese visitor leave with bags full of this stuff, I figured they might enjoy some. 

When I left after breakfast, I said goodbye to Fr. Zhao.  He’ll probably be gone by the time I get back from Jilin, and I don’t know when or where I will see him next.  I never really like goodbyes, but this one was particularly hard.  In my culture, a goodbye like this calls for a hug, but between the discomfort that Chinese people generally display when I hug them, and the fact most American priests don’t even hug, I didn’t dare.  So sad. 

I made it back to campus in plenty of time to get to class.  We started a new text in Grammar class, representing a new pinnacle of achievement as far as most boring 课文’s EVER go.  I’m quite pleased to be missing the next four classes, in which the rest of the class will hopefully finish discussing the harmful effects of playing too many video games. 

As class ended I heard that the HSK scores were out, so I ran back to my room to check.  I put in my information and clicked 查询, expecting to see a big number in the range of 3-8, hopefully a 4 or 5, but whatever, no pressure . . . Instead, I see this:

Fullscreen capture 5192010 35941 PM.bmp

A bunch of numbers, none within the range of 3-8, the possible scores on the beginner/intermediate test that I took.  Hmm.  So I dig out my HSK handbook and started paging through it, looking for something to help me interpret these numbers!  I finally find it, but I must have looked wrong, because this couldn’t possibly be right. 

Because there’s NO WAY I got a 7 on the HSK.  6 is the grade you need to go to college in Chinese, and 6 is the grade that I hoped for in my heart of hearts.  5 was my personal challenge and I would have been okay with a 4 I guess, but 6 was as high as I dared to even consider. 

Yes, 321 points is in the 7 range, but they must be talking about a different number.  Yes, 中等B级 is a 7 but that’s impossible, so I look again.  This stupid booklet is entirely in Chinese – if I had gotten a 7 on the HSK (which I couldn’t have!), I should be able to figure it out.  As Sheldon would say, “Catch 22, thou art a heartless bitch.”  I call XuLei and beg her to come up and check this; she reads all the scoring rules and details and confirms it – I got a SEVEN on the HSK!  I got a 6 on Listening, 8’s on Reading and Grammar, and a 7 on the Comprehensive section, which adds up to a 7.

Sweet.  Ridiculous, but freakin’ sweet. 

While this is probably more attributable to my test-taking superpower than to any mastery of the Chinese language, I choose to interpret this score as complete vindication.  I am assuaged of any guilt over my impromptu trip to Guangzhou and Hong Kong the week before the HSK, and get to totally preempt any guilt over my impending 10-day trip to Jilin and the quick visit I’m planning to Hangzhou/Suzhou during the final week of classes.  Dance classes, eating my weight in eggplant each week, going to every single event offered by my church, and personally getting to know every employee of Coco – this is all part of my master plan to learn Chinese, a master plan that only includes attending class when no better language-learning opportunity presents itself.  Apparently it’s working! 

I’m still busy today trying to get things done before leaving for Jilin tomorrow.  Pretty much the only thing I have time for, besides getting ready, is getting excited.  Really, really excited.

火锅 and 火山 (Hotpot and Volcanoes)

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2010 at 1:24 am

Today I 考试-ed my 汉语水平.  That’s Chinglish for: “Today, I tested my Chinese level”.  Yeah, that’s right – I just turned HSK into a verb; deal with it.

The test started at 8.  We put on headphones, they turned off the lights (??), and the recording began.  There was some music and a nice woman welcoming us to the HSK and wishing us success, and then the Listening Comprehension section started.  This was then followed by Grammatical structure, Reading Comprehension, and Comprehensive Fill-in-the-Blank.  The entire test fluctuated between the delightfully easy and the despairingly difficult.  (This is basically the entire story of learning Chinese, though, so it was a familiar roller coaster.)

Unlike every other test I’ve ever taken evAr, I never once finished a section early enough to put my pencil down.  The spare 23 seconds or so before beginning the next section were instead used to make sure all my rectangles (not circles or ovals!) were perfectly filled in.  There was no time for napping, which is okay because I didn’t need to!

When the test was over, the main emotion I felt was an overwhelming need to look at things further than 8 inches from my face.  I met up with Hu Jing, her boyfriend Handsome (well, 帅, but it means “good-looking”), and Aleid to go to a new hotpot place.  The weather was a little bit cold and a lot bit rainy, making it perfect weather for hotpot.  (I remember someone, maybe a month ago, proclaiming the end to hot-pot-eating season.  If only we knew then what we know now . . . )

The restaurant that we went to is all-you-can-eat individual hotpot for 35 kuai ($5).  We ordered our own hotpot stock and mixed our own sauces at the bar, then waited as various food items came around on a train!


We ate until we were full, then used the separate ice cream stomach compartment for dessert.  When Hu Jing told me there was ice cream, I assumed it was going to be typical buffet ice cream – soft serve with a variety of sundae toppings.  Hahahahahaha no.  There were two big tubs of ice cream, offering the two tantalizing choices of taro and canteloupe.  Yum . . .

Since doing anything fun outside was totally out of the question, I went back to my room.  I had just over three hours until my evening plans began, which was the perfect amount of time to watch Titanic!  Pun found out that I had never seen it, so he gave it to me for my birthday, and I decided that today was the day to join the rest of the developed world by watching this classic.  I feel cultured now, or something.

This evening I went over to watch a movie with the international film club thing that Paloma started on campus.  It was La Ley de Herodes, a Mexican political satire about corruption and democracy.  The movie was funny until it got gratuitously violent, but it did make me think about democracy and its limits.  I also got to practice my Spanish 听力 (which, unlike my Spanish oral skills, are not yet a lost cause).

When Aleid and I went to CaiQingJie for a late dinner – I had steak just the way Mom makes it, with spaghetti and a fried egg – we ran into Liz and her family.  Her parents, sister, and brother came over from Belguim two weeks ago to visit, and were supposed to go home from Beijing a few days ago.  But then a volcano erupted in Iceland which – like a butterfly flapping its wings in the Indian Ocean – has managed to affect airborne things all over the world.  So, faced with the prospect of staying alone in Beijing where they don’t speak the language, they opted to return to Xiamen, which has a) Liz, and b) good weather.  They’ve booked new tickets for as soon as possible, which happens to be MAY FIRST.  How would you like to spend an extra two weeks in China?!?!  Crazy stuff, man.

Back in my room, I was talking to a friend online.  He’s back in Tulsa, and mentioned wandering over to QT to grab a drink.  A wave of jealousy overtook me until I realized that West Gate is within wandering distance of my home here and has a broader selection of things, including real food, cheap scarves, and weight-lifting equipment. 

But then he went to brunch, and I don’t really have anything to compete with Belgian waffles embossed with the letters ‘TU’.  I guess we’ll call it even. 

背下来 (Learn By Heart)

In Uncategorized on April 17, 2010 at 10:55 pm

I take the HSK tomorrow.  The HSK (abbreviation for 汉语水平考试, or Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, or Chinese Level Test) is the national test for non-native speakers.  I don’t need an HSK score for anything because I’m not planning on attending college in Chinese or finding a job based solely on my Mandarin skills, so one could say I’m taking this test “for fun”.  And usually, because test-taking is one of my strengths, it might be fun.  (I once took my Calc III final even after being exempted from it – and enjoyed it.  I kid you not.) 

But I think this one is going to be less enjoyable than the tests I’m used to.  I love sitting down to a test, hot off the printer, armed with my bad-ass TI-89 and one sheet of paper carefully filled with every equation and constant that might come up.  From there it’s just logic, reasoning, and dimensional analysis.  Taking a math- or science-based test is a triumph in deduction, using a few given facts and a general knowledge of the subject matter to find the specific desired answer.  Since most teachers rationally don’t expect us to memorize easily-accessible information, they allow us a single sheet for equations and constants.  Freed from this burden, I spend the night before drawing up my equation sheet and that’s about it as far as studying goes.

Chinese, on the other hand, is like biology and chemistry – relying more on rote memorization than on reasoning.  This type of subject matter is the cause of epic late-night cram sessions, desperately trying to fit just a few more facts into your head before morning.  Yes, there are grammar rules, but at some point it just comes down to one question:

Do you know what this character means?
And if you, like me, are still around the two to three thousand character mark, the answer quite frequently is ‘no’. 

Sometimes I can get around the few pesky ones I don’t know, but sometimes they’re the crux of the question.  Example:

Question: “This is really something that makes people ___ uebalvfh!”
Answer choices: all variations on the word “not”
Result: I chose B – FAIL.

Sometimes I understand everything except one of the answer choices, which I choose because I know all the others are wrong.  Example:

Question: “During the day she worked until she was exhausted, and at night she had to take care of the kids.  ____-ly, the two of them [husband and wife] talked less and less.”
Answer choices: a) often, b) unexpected, c) once or twice, or d) puvalvkj
Result: I chose D – SUCCESS! 

Correcting my practice tests is a lesson in humiliation.  I’m a 99th-percentile sort of test taker, and my average score on a section of the HSK is somewhere between 60 and 70%.  At one point I stopped to check if I was even using the right answer key – it was that bad. 

The [only?] nice thing about this sort of test is the way it forces you to be realistic.  The night before a Partial Differential Equations test, if I still don’t understand how to solve the wave equation, I can run through examples until the wee hours of the night.  I know that type of question will be on the test, and I know that if I understand how to solve it, that I will get that part right.  There’s a foreseeable end to the preparation, and therefore a reasonable desire to get there. 

With Chinese, on the other hand, I know that the only thing that I could possibly do right now to improve my score tomorrow is to know more characters.  And since I’ve already been maxing out, learning 100 new words a day, more just isn’t going to happen.  So . . . I plan on brushing up on the myriad ways to say “no matter what”/“even if”, doing my daily flashcard reviews, and going to bed. 

Because there is actually one more way I can help myself do better tomorrow: getting enough rest so I don’t fall asleep during the 60-minute reading section, like I have on all three practice tests.

Ten Things I Hate About Chinese

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2010 at 12:47 am

Despite all the traveling I’ve done since coming to China (according to Carlos’ count, two out of my 7+ months here), I think I’ve also managed to stay on top of my studies.  Up until this week, though, I’ve never really not done something because of my classes.  I’m trying not to let school get in the way of my language learning, you know!

But I’m hoping that the 200 kuai I spent on the HSK will not be wasted, so I’m hitting the books this week.  I did flashcard reviews this afternoon and my first practice test this evening.  Grumble.


So, as promised . . . here’s the list of my least favorite characters:

  1. 七 (the number 7), 九 (the number 9), 尺 (ft) and 丈夫 (husband) because despite being ridiculously simple, they’re somehow just really awkward to write.
  2. 哭 (cry) and 器 (machine) because those tiny boxes are 3 strokes each and nearly impossible to make uniform and pretty – and that’s before you add in the other stuff. 
  3. 压 (to press), 厌 (to detest), and 国 (country) because I can never get those tiny tick marks in the right place. 
  4. 未 (future) and 末 (end), 入 (enter) and 人 (person), because I’m still mad about how long it took me to figure out they were different characters. 
  5. 相, 像, and 象 (xiang); 义, 议, and 忆 (yi); 据 and 居 (ju); 智 and 知 (zhi) because they sound the same and their meanings are too similar to justify their continued existence.  Just put some of them out of their misery . . .
  6. 照 (to illuminate), 鼻 (nose), 窗 (window), and 嘴 (mouth) because it’s seriously impossible to write them in the way they’re pictured.  Give me an entire sheet of paper and we’re fine, but a 1-cm-square box?  You’ve got to be kidding me. 
  7. 酸 (sour): this character and I have major issues; don’t know why.  I’m hoping we can move past them like 烧 (to burn) and I managed to make up, but we’ll just have to see about that. 
  8. 熟悉 (to be familiar with): someone do 1.4 billion people a favor and find an easier way to write this, please! 
  9. 得: really unfortunate, as this one is definitely in the top 50 most-commonly used characters, but . . . just look at it and you should understand my dislike.
  10. 圈 (circle) because it doesn’t look like a circle – it looks like a nightmare. 


I don’t want to end on a bad note, so I’ll share the small highlights of my day:

  • taking a pre-midterm practice test in Grammar class and getting a 90%
  • eating at Caiqingjie with friends, trying something new (炭烤肉, a kind of meat dish), and having it be delicious.
  • seeing Sietze’s new cell phone – a fake iPhone that just says ‘Phone’ on the back.  The silver apple-shaped sticker is falling off, too, but what do you expect for $70? 
  • eating spicy barbecue for dinner, followed by ice cream to soothe the tingling mouth.
  • watching Big Bang Theory, Season 1, Episode 17 (the one where Sheldon learns Chinese) for like the 5th time. 

A Few of My Favorite Things

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2010 at 1:07 am

I had lunch with Lester and XuLei today – it was so good to see them.  A week feels like forever; how great will it be to see people back home after 11 months?!?  I was relieved to see that I could still converse normally in Mandarin even after my weekend all-English-all-the-time vacation in Hong Kong.  XuLei thought it hilarious that I’d missed Mandarin while I was gone, but I’d like to see her try to get by in Hong Kong!

We had class this afternoon, which I was only happy about because I got to see Katrine.  She had been traveling with her parents before I left, so it had been even longer since I’d seen her.  In Listening class, we had one exercise in which 8 out of the 10 answers were C.  Apparently this level of predictability is not unusual in Chinese tests; the teacher even went so far as to tell us never to guess A, because it’s always the most rare answer.  That’s weird, right?

I figured out today that the HKS is actually this Sunday, not this Saturday as I had been thinking.  I’m quite annoyed by this.  The benefit of an extra day of studying is far outweighed by the loss of my planned weekend of post-HSK fun.  I was just thinking about the long line of amazing weekends I’ve had (my birthday, Easter, and Hong Kong) and was looking forward to karaoke and dancing after finishing this test, but Sunday night partying prospects are rather dismal.  Argh. 

I spent the afternoon studying for the test until I finally surrendered to the allure of my bed.  The night bus back from HK kind of messed up the already-pathetic sleep schedule I had, so this was the second day in a row I took a desperate power nap in the early evening.  I have to schedule them right before concrete dinner plans or there’s no way I’ll get up – the promise of food and the shame of standing someone up are the only things powerful enough to rouse me. 

Carlos and I ate in Furong, my second meal of the day in the cafeteria.  I had noodles with chicken bones (basically) and my second bowl of 汤圆 today.  汤圆 are the latest in the long list of foods I’ve become obsessed with here in China.  They’re gelatinous rice balls filled with sweet sesame paste, served in a ‘soup’ of hot water.  No, seriously, they’re delicious. 


As a way to encourage myself about the upcoming HSK and remind myself why I like studying Chinese (because I do . . . right?!?), I’m going to share a list I’ve been working on: my favorite Chinese characters. 

Some are just fun to write, like 之, 弟, 也, 无, 我, and 风.  (Proper stroke order probably plays a part, but go ahead and try!) 

Some look cool because of really awesome symmetry: 亚, 兼, 出, 事, 常, 普, and 互 (which means ‘mutual’, making the symmetry even cooler). 

Others look cool but I don’t know why: 永, 危, 尔, 世, and 吧 (doesn’t it look like it’s smiling at you?!?). 

There are a bunch that look (to me, at least) just like they mean:

  • 门 (door)
  • 凸 (convex)
  • 凹 (concave)
  • 大 (big)
  • 小 (little)
  • 杀 (to kill – a body with an X where the head should be)
  • 酒 (alcohol, with the water radical on the left and what looks like a bottle on the right)
  • 明 (bright, because 日=sun and 月=moon)
  • 岛 (island – made up of a bird [鸟] sitting on a mountain [山])

Lastly, there are the really special ones – the ones I should hate, but don’t.  They’re ridiculous, too complicated, and have more strokes than most English words have letters (respectively 13, 15, and 18).  But I like them anyway.  I like how they look, I like their meaning, and they’re even somehow fun to write:

微, part of the words “smile” and “calculus”.  What’s not to like?

德, meaning ‘virtue’.  Also featured in the name of Germany (land of the virtuous, apparently) and many transliterations (including Metro and KFC)

翻, meaning ‘to turn’.  Waaaaaaaaaay fun to write.  I think it’s the stuff on the right, because I feel nearly as strongly about 扇.


The studying will continue tomorrow.  If my mood sours, you’ll be looking at a list of my least favorite characters, accompanied by hateful descriptions of exactly why they offend me so. 

Learning Generosity From The Chinese?

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2010 at 12:42 am

Today’s lesson was titled 我在中国学大方 – “I Learned Generosity in China”.  Here is a slightly abridged translation:

When I arrived in China, I was pleasantly surprised by the low prices, relieved at not having to tip, and found it a little bit embarrassing when my Chinese friends paid for meals time after time.  But as my time in China grew longer, I started to become like them, caring more and more about “face”.  I also started being generous, occasionally paying for meals, and came to understand a few things: If the host says “You don’t need to”, “You don’t have to”, or “Don’t worry about it”, you should definitely not believe them.  No matter how nice the restaurant is, everyone should compete to pay.  If you buy a very expensive gift for someone, “carelessly” forget to tear off the price tag. 

In Chinese tradition, generosity is the most important standard by which people are evaluated.  Stingy people have no friends, no matter how talented they are; but generous people have a lot of friends, not matter how little talent they have.

Americans are extremely stingy.  The best place for friends to get together is a coffee shop, the most natural way of paying is to go Dutch, and the best present is a bunch of flowers or a bottle of wine.  Parents will even lend their children money, and arrange the payback schedule and interest in advance.  My Chinese friends don’t understand why Americans do things like this.

But the vast majority of rich Americans are quite generous, but usually they don’t spend a lot of money playing host (paying for dinner), instead more choose to donate their money to schools, hospitals, churches, etc.  Today, the living standard of the Chinese people is improving and as their concept changes, they frequently donate money to run schools and repair roads. 

Excuse me if I get a little animated on this subject, but I strongly disagree with the message of this text.  Like a lot of things, the cultural difference regarding generosity can be attributed greatly to the differing circles of concern.  Chinese, who care only for those within their close circle of friends, family, and associates, want to spend money in a conspicuous way in their presence, for their benefit.  Americans, on the other hand, have a way larger circle of concern and are much more likely to send money to those they don’t know personally without expectation of return.

I’m sorry, but I don’t see our actions as stingy.  The idea of Bill Gates, with his billions, of ‘generously’ treating his slightly-less-well-off friends to dinner is a little ridiculous, which the good that his foundation has done for people he has no connection to is undeniable. 

Also, I find it hard sometimes to see the actions of the Chinese as generous.  请客, in which one person plays host and pays, is really just a different way of splitting the bill.  The idea is that other people will 请客 at future dinners and over time the costs will be equally shared between all parties.  It’s not quite as precise as everyone paying for their entree and drink, or even as dividing the entire bill into x parts, but I don’t think the monetary difference is huge if the practice is observed as religiously as it is by the Chinese. 

In other matters, like presents, the payback is usually not monetary but is just as important – promotions, favors, deals, etc.  If you include 面子 (face) or 关系 (guanxi) in the calculations as alternate currencies – which they basically are – then I think the Chinese are much less generous than it appears, with expenditures often being matched by receipts.

I certainly don’t want to claim Americans are all extremely generous while the best that can be said of the Chinese is that they are calculating.  I have two caveats:

1) This would be a little biased if I didn’t acknowledge some other aspects of American generosity.  Tax-deductible donations, free advertising, buildings named after you, and even a sense of righteousness or promise of karma are some tangible and intangible benefits to the American-style of generosity. 

2) I’ve observed one exception to the rule of ‘conspicuous spending’ here in China, and in an interesting place.  When I first went to church, I tried to get an idea of how much everyone else put into the collection basket, but found it basically impossible.  They grab a bill out of the wallets, crumple it deep in their hands, and then shove their hands all the way into the basket before releasing the money.  I got a glimpse of color once or twice, but even those are hard to come by.  I wonder why this is; perhaps a conscious reverse from the secular trend, which could encourage pride or a feeling of righteousness?


HSK class this afternoon was much less controversial than the morning’s grammar class, but it was grueling.  I don’t think I would use that word to describe any class I’ve attended since coming to China, but today the shoe fit.  Two and a half hours of multiple choice questions requiring us to differentiate between basically synonyms, each sentence including words and characters I didn’t know. 

I’m realizing that the HSK is slightly off the path I want my Chinese studies to follow.  I love the roughness and flexibility of the Chinese language (at least the way I speak it) and, when faced with the prospect of refining it into poetry or at least proper grammar, I grow bored and slightly resentful.  This is a bad attitude, I think.  I think when they came up with the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none”, they were foretelling the story of my life.  Examining my goals for the future, I seem to be striving for mediocrity with a strong distaste for improvement beyond that.  How inspiring . . .


It’s been a great opportunity for me to take a break from my engineering studies and come to China for a year to study Chinese.  And it’s been fun being a little bit different than my friends and classmates here, having a different story for “Why are you studying Chinese?” or “How long have you been studying Chinese?”.  But it’s also been a little bit lonely.  So many of my friends, products of the Chinese Department of some university, have contacts all across China – classmates and friends living or traveling over here.  They receive visitors in Xiamen, go to see their friends in other cities, and travel together on breaks. 

Before coming, I imagined that I did, too – I thought that I had a big network of contacts in Asia.  In reality, though, the ‘friends’ were more ‘distant acquaintances’ and ‘possible visitors’ and, not surprisingly, nothing much panned out.  The best success was my visit to Taiwan, in which I met up with the sister and cousin of my language partner from last summer; everything besides that can best be described as an “epic fail”.  I never made it to Japan to see the girl I met at Udall orientation; I never met up with my uncle in India; my cousin didn’t come to visit with her daughter; my former roommate’s brother didn’t call me from Shanghai like he said he would; the family friends who are adopting from Harbin never returned my emails; my closest Chinese friend from back home probably won’t be able to return to China this summer.  I’m still waiting on a response from my friend in Hong Kong but even though I consider him a legitimate friend I’m not super hopeful. 

With the exception of my parents, I have not seen a single person that I knew before August 24th, 2009 since then.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why it is so important for me to return to Jilin and see my friends there.