Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘news’

Congratulations, Liu XiaoBo

In Uncategorized on October 10, 2010 at 11:47 am

I was following the announcement of the Nobel Prizes this year (wondering if Bono was going to follow in the illustrious footsteps of our president), and was happy to see Liu XiaoBo recognized. 

Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”.  For the same thing, he was also awarded a fourth prison sentence from the PRC. 

This prison sentence is for the Charter 08, “a manifesto initially signed by over 350 Chinese intellectuals and human rights activists to promote political reform and democratization in the People’s Republic of China.”

The authors and signatories called for 19 changes to improve human rights in China:

  1. Amending the Constitution.
  2. Separation of powers.
  3. Legislative democracy.
  4. An independent judiciary.
  5. Public control of public servants.
  6. Guarantee of human rights.
  7. Election of public officials.
  8. Rural–urban equality.
  9. Freedom of association.
  10. Freedom of assembly.
  11. Freedom of expression.
  12. Freedom of religion.
  13. Civic education.
  14. Protection of private property.
  15. Financial and tax reform.
  16. Social security.
  17. Protection of the environment.
  18. A federated republic.
  19. Truth in reconciliation.

Anyway, China was really upset with a guy like this getting such important international acclaim.  They threatened the Norwegian government with “negative reactions” – to which the Norwegian foreign minister replied that the Nobel Prize nomination committee is independent from the Norwegian government.  He supposedly added that said independence may be difficult for the Chinese government to understand.

Oh, snap.

But anyway, the reason I’m writing about this is because, taking advantage of the fact that I am no longer a resident of China, I decided to spread the news of Liu’s prize.  The Chinese government’s censorship went into full effect immediately after the announcement, so not many Chinese (and possibly even Liu himself) know of the award. 

So I put it on my QQ status:

“Did you hear?  Liu XiaoBo won the Nobel Peace Prize – the first Chinese person!”

Today I got my first comment:

“That should be the second Chinese person.  In 1989 there was a monk, but his name can’t be written here.  He was also Chinese; he never said that he wasn’t Chinese!”

That was not the response I was expecting.  Very interesting . . .

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?

I Have Come Back, But Have Not Yet Gone Back

In Uncategorized on July 9, 2010 at 10:33 pm

This morning looked brighter, but it was a gray, drizzly brightness.  We returned to West Lake anyway (this time finally getting the buses right!), where we found a nice sheltered tea shop to take pictures from.

We waited for the fountain show to start – it was nice, but would have been beautiful if there had been some blue background to contrast with the white spouts of water.


But again, the pagodas were nice.

Matt - 1951

We got back to the hotel in time to check out, then sat on their comfy couches (way better than our beds were!) and availed ourselves of their wireless internet as we traded pictures.  We got to see the outcome of The Decision only a few hours after it happened – which was good, because I couldn’t handle the suspense anymore.  Just kidding, everyone!  I may have gone bat-crazy over the World Cup but I’m still me!! 

I guess it’s a little strange that I was even aware a person named LeBron James existed, that he played basketball in Cleveland, and that he was deciding which city to go to next, but that’s a testament to China’s (okay, 哲明’s) NBA-fever and my diligent reading of even the sports articles in the Onion.  Back at TU, I have friends who follow professional football and baseball, and college football and basketball – plus even a single soccer fan – so I am often involuntarily updated on the goings-on in these sports.  No one I know in America, though, cares about professional basketball, so I am completely clueless.  They’re crazy about it here, so I’m finally getting involuntarily educated on the NBA.  Did you know that the Lakers used to be in Minnesota?  Or that Oklahoma has a basketball team?  I didn’t, but now I do.  (Although I still can’t remember if the OK team is the Thunder of the Lightning, because I have a tendency to confuse 闪 and 雷.  But still, this is progress!) 

For lunch, we walked over to the Subway shop that we had discovered last night in our desperate wandering.  It seemed like the perfect meal to eat for lunch and carry to the airport for dinner – and mine was.  I had a fabulous Italian BMT and a warm chocolate cookie that tasted just like the subs I remember.

Matt wasn’t so lucky.  He opted for the meatball marinara sandwich, which I ordered for him.  I was a little confused with the worker triple-checked that he didn’t want any sauces on his sub, but thought it was just the Chinese tendency to use mayonnaise in places where mayonnaise has no business being used.  But then he opened his sandwhich to see three tired pieces of white cheese and five lonely meatballs, and we realized something had gone wrong. 

I went back up to the counter with the sandwich, pointed to the picture, and asked what had happened to the marinara.  As luck would have it, they knew every sandwich-related word in English except marinara, even though it was on the menu.  The pointed to sauces randomly, saying their names in Chinese, until I heard something that sounded kind of familiar.  So they squirted the “tomato sauce” on the bread, completely drenching it in plain ketchup.  I wiped that off with a napkin and tried again, this time getting a squiggle of clear jelly-like sauce with flecks of hot pepper in it. 

You should have seen this sandwich; it was pretty much the saddest-looking thing ever.  Finally, one of the employees said, “I know, I know!”.  He went into the back, rummaged around for a few minutes, and brought out a small container of marinara sauce!  They were going to dump it on the sandwich but somehow I managed the impossible and got them to make us a new one.  For free.  (Note: This does not happen in China, where the customer is not always right.  It’s more like the customer is barely tolerated.  Once, a restaurant gave us the wrong dishes and made us pay for both what we ordered and what they brought us!

Apparently the sandwich tasted like curry.  Still, it was probably better than mayonnaise, right?

We took the BRT to the train station, where I tried to put Matt on a train back to Shanghai.  We were there before 3, but somehow there were no tickets available before 9 that night!  A guy approached us offering bus tickets, so we went with him until he handed us a ticket with the price (54 kuai) clearly printed on it and demanded 100 kuai.  I yelled at him and turned him down on principle, and ended up getting Matt on a slightly longer ride for only 65 kuai. 

I was really surprised by all of this.  Except for the Spring Migration around the Chinese New Year, I’ve never seen tickets sold out.  I always get on the next train or bus, so I never worry about buying tickets early.  But the Expo is like a cancer – while the damage is centered in Shanghai, it affects the surrounding area as well.  I purposefully chose to meet Matt in Hangzhou and Suzhou because I didn’t want to go anywhere near Shanghai during this 6-month period – but apparently Hangzhou and Suzhou weren’t far enough. 

I had a long wait for my shuttle to the airport, but had no problems on the flight home.  It was good to be home – getting to sleep in my own hard bed instead of a strange hard bed.  But the warm fuzzy feeling disappeared kind of quickly as the giant kamikaze cicadas starting ramming into my balcony door and screaming as they lay helpless on their backs.  They absolutely terrify me; even in death the dozen or so carcasses make me unable to enter my balcony.  Ah yes, I am home. 

It’s weird, though, because it’s my last time returning to this home, returning to Xiamen.  The next time I return somewhere, it will be the United States.  I’ll return to my parents’ home in Minnesota, and a few weeks later I’ll return to TU.  But for 11 more days, this is home. 

As I wrote on my QQ profile: 回来了,还没回去.  I have come back, but have not yet gone back.

Stomach Clench of Death, We Meet Again

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2010 at 11:54 pm

As far as the Stomach Clench of Death can come at a good time, this one did.  I was feeling fine in the morning – it wasn’t until after my one-hour, full-body massage that the cramping started.

But then Eunice and I took the wrong bus and ended up on the mainland, which meant over an hour of public transportation, me moaning the whole way like a woman whose water just broke.

I called in sick to class and spent the rest of the day lying in bed watching Gossip Girl (with Chinese subtitles!) and most of a Chinese movie.  XuLei came by to tell me that my stomach is too cold and I need to drink hot water, but she also brought me light soup later so I’ve forgiven her. 

Nothing much going on here in my room, but this is a good time to share some other stuff from recently:

  • Apparently the monsoons I’ve been complaining about have caused actual damage.  I can’t believe I didn’t know about this until now.  For all that I occasionally feel integrated into this society, things like this remind me that I actually have an extension cord spanning the ocean and plugging me into things back home.
  • Also, the Chinese government has started the gradual appreciation of their currency.  So far it’s a whopping 0.43%, which means I only get 6.7969 kuai for my dollar instead of 6.8262.  I guess I’ll have to deal with the high prices for the next month, but it’ll be in my favor when I close my Bank of China account and trade my RMB in for USD.  If I take a whole month’s stipend home, I’ll have $250.11 instead of $249.04!  Where to spend it?
  • We learned the word 花蕾 (flower bud) in class the other day and I excitedly told XuLei (徐蕾) that we learned her name.  Apparently a teacher used to call her Flower Bud in class and she didn’t like it, but I told her that the ‘lei’ in her name is nice.  At any rate, it’s certainly better than the other ‘lei’ (雷) which means lightning but is part of the words ‘land mine’ (地雷) and ‘water mine’ (水雷).  Don’t ask me why I know those words.
  • The other day I went to dinner with a bunch of foreign friends and YongZhi.  We ordered a fish, but there was some problem with it so the waitress started talking to YongZhi about it.  He turned to us to translate and said, “The fish is very big – maybe two kilometers?”  Wow, that’s gotta be some sort of record!  We laughed pretty hard about it.  We know what it’s like to say stupid things like that, so it was nice to hear a Chinese person mess up in such a harmless way. 
  • Sometimes I feel like I’m so over Chinglish and sometimes I think I don’t notice it anymore.  But then I see a shirt that says CHECOLATE MELK in huge letters and I’m reminded of why I loved Chinglish in the first place.  Also, I’m not sure if this counts as Chinglish or not, but my Chinese Mom – a 50+ year-old woman – was wearing a “Kit Kittredge: American Girl” shirt to church the other day.  I loved it. 

南非世界杯2010 (South Africa World Cup 2010)

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2010 at 11:25 pm

FINALLY.  We’ve been waiting for this day since last fall – of course, by ‘we’ I mainly mean ‘Diederik’ and by ‘since last fall’ I pretty much mean the day I met him.  You should know what I’m talking about, but since you’re my compatriots I know you don’t.  Here’s a hint: It’s the WORLD CUP!


I know what you’re thinking: “The World Cup? Is that tennis?”  But I’m here to tell you, it’s about football – soccer football, not football football – and it’s a big deal to every other nation on Earth except for the US. 

I’m neither as knowledgeable or as funny as Dave Barry or The Onion, so if you want to know more about the World Cup, you should check out their definitive articles (The Onion Introduction to World Cup Soccer, 2010 World Cup Teams to Watch, and Strongside/Weakside: Landon Donovan).  I’m still not an expert or anything, but I’m certainly learning a lot by hanging out with my international friends here.  For instance, did you know that Maradona is a famous footballer?  I did not.  My friends are continually astounded by my complete ignorance. 

But really, the more I hear them talk about soccer, the more I’m intrigued.  Unlike many Americans, I have no special dislike for soccer; when it comes to sports I don’t discriminate, I just don’t really like any of them.  I like the exciting, replay-and-slow-motion-worthy moments but am not usually willing to wait through an entire game to see them if/when they happen.  This is why I generally prefer sports movies – they only show highlights, often feature relationships, and usually have good music.  Also, I find it absolutely impossible to get passionate about professional sports.  It’s essentially a modern day mercenary army, with athletes playing for the highest bidder.  I can see no logic to convince me to cheer for the Minnesota Vikings or Timberwolves, just because rich owners (often not from the state) happen to shell out enough money to get good players (usually not from the state) to wear their jerseys and play for them.  The absurdity becomes even more clear when these etched-in-stone boundaries are crossed, and the inherent contradictions become apparent – like when Brett Favre switched teams. 

The Olympics, however, has everything that professional sports lack – meaningful teams, relationships and personal stories, and a higher ratio of excitement to boredom.  They’re everything I love, and from what I hear the World Cup is much the same.  Everyone comes home to play for their country, nations unite behind their teams, and every moment of every game matters.

So, I’m going to give it a chance.  China probably isn’t the best place to watch the World Cup but it’s certainly better than the States and the company here is impossible to beat.  The condition for me watching any game is having a friend by my side willing to a) share their passion and b) explain what the heck is going on.  I know someone from half of the 32 participating countries, so there should be no problem finding the passion!


And this is how I found myself perched on a bar stool in a coffee shop by West Gate last night, shoulder-to-shoulder with 50 or so fellow foreigners, awaiting the opening of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  The first game featured the host country taking on Mexico, and despite only having one Mexican in our midst, the turnout was quite impressive.  Most everyone picked sides, dividing the globe roughly between the Americas rooting for Mexico and the Africans supporting their continent.  I guess there was technically a Mexican and a half, as I was also there to cheer for the motherland (grandmotherland?). 


This was my very first World Cup game ever, and only the second soccer game I ever watched on TV (the first being the 2007 Copamerica, Mexico contra Argentina, which I watched in Mexico City).  I knew the game was relatively simple so I followed pretty well until Mexico scored, half of the room got really excited, and then they got sad while the other half got really excited.  Over the dull roar of the room, Carlos explained to me the “only complicated rule in football”: offsides.  It turns out that when you kick the ball into the goal to score, there needs to be at least two players between you and the goal – generally the goalkeeper and another guy.  Isn’t that the dumbest rule ever?  I mean, I’m no sports expert, but I find it weird that they have a rule that requires participation from the opposing team to score a point.  If I were a coach, I would forbid my players to cross the midfield line; then our opponents could only score from halfway across the field.  There are probably downsides to this strategy, but I can’t see any. 

I thought I understood the rule when Carlos explained it, but my record of 0-4 on calling the rest of the goals throughout the rest of the game indicates that I might not have.  At any rate, there were two goals that counted – South Africa scored once and Mexico scored at the very end to tie it. 

I was happy with a draw.  I was cheering for Mexico, but I have a soft spot for underdog countries and am a total sucker for underdog continents, so I really didn’t want South Africa to lose the opener on their home soil.  Draws are good; there will time for devastation and despair later. 


Everyone asked me what I thought of my first World Cup game, and I told them that I really enjoyed it.  It’s weird, though.  I come from a country where the word ‘soccer’ is only heard in three contexts:

  1. followed by the word ‘mom’
  2. followed by ridicule, nationalist sentiments, or
  3. in the Mike Ditka quote: “If God had wanted man to play soccer, he wouldn’t have given us arms.”

But the World Cup is like a party that everyone in the world is invited to, and only the Americans said no.  Somehow I ended up at the party anyway, and I just don’t understand why my friends didn’t want to come.  (I’ve been reading anything the NYT writes about soccer recently, and this article helped explain why we’re not a soccer superpower, but I still have questions – and judging from recent conversations everyone else in the world does, too.)

The other analogy I can make is to Harry Potter.  I feel like Harry, discovering this whole other world that I never knew about – a world obsessed with a sport that I’ve never heard of.  I wonder now – can the rest of the world teleport, and they just aren’t telling us?

Spreadsheet Made; All Is Well

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2010 at 12:58 am

Today’s valuable lesson from class: If you eat shrimp and vitamin C, you will die.  It’s true, we saw it in a movie.  (But according to Snopes, it’s not true.  Who to believe?)

We also had a listening lesson in which we heard from Yang Zhenning, Chinese Nobel Prize-winner in Physics (and 87-year-old man who married a 28-year-old a few years ago, but that’s a story for another time).  He told us about how he learned English by reading books without looking up words in dictionaries, and letting the language slowly seep into his brain.  Convenient for him that he happened to be learning a phonetic language, no?  The teacher asked us what we thought of his method, and we were nearly unanimously against it.  I certainly don’t think you should look up every word you don’t know – I usually wait until I see the same character come up repeatedly – but the Chinese language demands use of a dictionary.  The meaning and pronunciation of Chinese characters are completely unrelated and the character components only occasionally have a vague phonetic indicator.  There is some use to knowing what characters mean even if you can’t say them out loud, but it’s quite limited.  And this is why all of us Chinese students have shelled out $100+ to buy electronic dictionaries with handwriting input . . .


I went to dinner with 5 friends tonight.  We went to the 东北 (NE China) restaurant and ordered mushu pork, lamb-‘n-onions, a fish, cucumbers and cashews, potato-eggplant-and-green-pepper, and sugared potatoes.  We must have been hungry, because we polished off every last bit of food.  I love how the table looks after a good Chinese meal is devoured: puddles of empty oil; plates of where only hot peppers – added for cooking, not eating – remain; fish skeletons picked clean. 


I sit back, hands on my pleasantly full belly, and think to myself, “We ate that food, man!” 


Ever since I began preparing for my first trip to the northeast of China, I’ve been following the news out of North Korea.  On one hand, it’s always good for a laugh (seriously, just check out the posturing on their official news site; the day something the U.S. just did isn’t being ‘blasted’ or ‘flayed’ will be a strange one indeed), but on the other hand it’s a continual source of heartbreak.  Today there was an article written about interviews with 8 North Koreans in China, and of course there’s no shortage of tragedy in their stories.  They tell of decades of famine, the loss of their life savings after the recent currency devaluation, and the stunning illogic of workers paying the state-owned companies for the privilege of not working for them without pay:

“How would the companies survive if they didn’t get money from the workers?” she asked without irony.

One interviewed was the wife of a party member; her story was different and included “a six-room house with two color televisions and a garden.”  I’m sad to say, there wasn’t much unexpected in the article for me except for the headline picture.  Usually these sort of stories take place in Dandong, in the province south of Jilin.  But these interviews took place in Tumen, a city I’ve been to.  I’ve stood on the bridge in the background of the photo at the fake buildings and real portrait of the Dear Leader.  I’ve stood on the lush green of the left side and I’ve looked across the river at the dead land on the other side.  It’s something you don’t ever forget. 


I’ve been a little bit 烦恼 recently, the kind of funk I get into every time I have to make a big decision.  Yes, it’s that time again (rather, a year or so past the time) – time to choose a school!  I have one more year at TU to finish my bachelors in Mechanical Engineering, but I’m planning on graduate school after that and senior year (a.k.a., a few months from now) is the time to be contacting specific professors and all.  I detest big decisions like this, a hatred I readily admit stems from fear.  But yesterday I got emails from two friends in response to my pleas for help, and that has helped me get started. 

I love these friends, classmates of mine at TU who think more like me than my friends here at XiaDa.  Aleid makes fun of my obsession with organization; both of these friends began their emails with “first, make a spreadsheet . . .” 

That’s what I’m talking about!  All major decision-making processes should start this way – no exceptions. 

Spreadsheet made; all is well. 

China In The News

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2010 at 2:03 am

Good thing I went to class today, otherwise who knows when I would have gotten around to learning the Chinese word for placenta?  (胎盘, because I know you were wondering.)  I also learned that an acceptable euphemism for “to die” is “to go see [Karl] Marx”.  If someone actually used that in a sentence, I would not be able to express the appropriate sympathy (“don’t be too sad”, not “I’m sorry” because that implies it was your fault) because I would be trying too hard – and most likely failing – to contain my laugher. 


One of the most interesting parts of my day is reading the news.  I will go down in history for this quote of mine that is repeated in everything ever written about me: "The intimate connection with a community in another part of the world has given me a different perspective on domestic and international issues that I could not have gotten any other way.”  Not what I want engraved on my tombstone, but it’s true.  I read the news in a slightly different way, and a surprising amount of it relates, directly or indirectly, to China or to my experiences here.  For instance, today:

  • In the comments on an article discussing classical education, I found an old stereotype: “For example most Asian countries by the time a student is out of high school has already studied multivariate calculus and linear algebra.”  I can’t say that I’ve had in-depth discussions with my Chinese friends on the level of their math skills (which is not to say that I don’t now have plans to do so tomorrow!), but I’m gonna go with a ‘no’ on this one.  I have two friends who are ME and Math majors, and when I listed the classes I had taken (I’ll admit, partially just to show off that I know how to say “partial differential equations” in Chinese), it seemed like they had taken them about the same time as me.  But, enough with my gut feeling – expect evidence soon!
  • I’ve been following the news of the strikes in Shenzhen and Shanghai, and the results they’ve been getting.  Interesting points include the fact that the government is allowing these strikes to take place, the doubling of salaries that has been among the concessions and its potential impact on the assumption of Chinese labor, and the absolute numbers provided on their salaries.  The new salaries are 2,000 RMB per month (plus many benefits like lodging and other stuff); this is about $300 in US dollars but a better comparison is my living stipend, which is 1,700 a month and just manages to cover my food, cell phone, and internet in Xiamen. 

There’s also been some local news causing quite a buzz – a double murder by the Marco Polo Hotel last weekend.  Even more shocking, it was a foreigner who killed two other foreigners.


I was having a slightly down day, but thankfully Aleid got back from the Expo today and we went out to Paradise Bar.  It was my first time going to a bar on a weeknight – I mean, I don’t even go regularly on weekends.  It was Ladies’ Night, which meant two free cocktails for us girls.  If it was intended to attract women, was a raging success; if they were hoping to use us to attract paying male customers, this bar will be bankrupt within the month.  A friend asked me at one point, “This is any American guy’s dream, right?”  I looked around and figured she was probably right.  This many beautiful foreign women, dressed up (to show off new items from the tailor) and slightly buzzed . . .


But unfortunately (for the bar) there were only three men there to appreciate it – one definitely taken and the other two gay. 


I got back home and was delighted to see a few emails, responses from messages I had just sent this afternoon.  Considering there a point not too long ago when I thought maybe my email wasn’t working because promised messages were not coming when they were supposed to, this was a fantastic surprise.  I also got to chat with a few friends on gmail.  I’m glad someone was on gmail because as soon as the clock strikes midnight in China no one is left on QQ – literally 0 out of 32 friends.  This is partially because the undergraduate dorms lose electricity at that point.  Now you’re thanking God that you’re American, aren’t you?

A Picture And A Thousand Words

In Uncategorized on June 6, 2010 at 2:28 am

I’ve had a lot to write recently but it’s been quite scattered, non-chronological, and title-defying.  Meh, here goes:


I saw these pictures of birds covered in oil from the big spill in the Gulf and, for the first time in my life, felt like I was seeing pictures that will change the world.  I’ve seen pictures that have changed the world, certainly – the first photo of Earth from space and the man standing up to the tanks in Tiananmen Square, for instance – but this felt different.  They weren’t always there in my consciousness, and when I saw them I was changed.  Maybe this whole disaster is too big to comprehend for anyone, but being so far from home (and home being so far, relatively, from the affected area) and reading all the news on a lifeless computer screen certainly hasn’t helped. 

This – this renewed appreciation for the power of photographs – kind of bummed me out.  In our family, my brother got the visual art gene.  He’s an amazing photographer and draws, too, which just seems a little unfair to me.  But then I read another article and, despite the medium of ‘lifeless computer screen’, a sentence there opened my eyes to the scope of this disaster just as much as the photos had:

Is it going to be what Three Mile Island was to nuclear?

This simple sentence forces the reader to compare the two events.  First, the casualties -  Three Mile Island with no immediate deaths, and Deepwater Horizon with 11.  Then, the consequences – Three Mile Island brought an end of America’s nuclear energy program, and Deepwater Horizon . . . . We will see, won’t we? 


I had a nightmare last night in which I returned home (but that’s not why it was scary).  For some reason I went ‘home’ to one of my aunt’s houses where I was joined by some college friends.  I was elated to discover my Mokia phone worked fine in the States, but that was the only happy event.  When it came time to eat, they set out one dish first and everyone got mad at me when I just started eating.  Then when everyone sat down to eat, they kept making fun of me for the way I slurped my noodles and put bones on the table. 

Also, Zhang Lei was there and he spoke English.  Seriously, my subconscious hates me. 

It’s just that, in addition to the constant nudging from the Zhang’s, everyone else has also ramped up their pressure on me to find a Chinese boyfriend/husband.  It’s like they know I’m leaving in just over a month and are trying desperately to stop that from happening.  Typical example: Yong Zhi and I are waiting for Carlos by West Gate, chatting in Chinese.  An old man walks over and stares at us, head swinging back and forth as he follows our conversation.  He asks Yong Zhi (because it’s not clear apparently) if I speak Chinese, and then inquires as to Yong Zhi’s studies (architecture grad student) and our relationship (students at the same school).  Based on this thorough understanding of our situation, he recommends that we get married and have babies.  It takes a good five minutes of awkward laughter before he leaves us alone. 

The good news is, I’m learning a lot about the attitudes Chinese have towards mixed marriages.  For instance, they believe that mixed-blood babies are exceptionally beautiful and smart; XuLei even says that the farther apart the mother and father’s hometowns are, the more beautiful and smart the babies will be. 

But they’re more enthusiastic about relationships between foreign women and Chinese men (specifically, me and their son).  Foreign men marrying Chinese women is more common but the Chinese aren’t too keen on that because, due to the patriarchal nature of Chinese society and the relative scarcity of Chinese girls, they view it as a foreigner taking something rare and precious of theirs.  This explains why Carlos, who is both better-looking and smarter than me, has only been the recipient of suggestions to find a Chinese girlfriend because it’s the best way to learn Chinese.  In case there was any question about it, let me tell you: Life is not fair. 


I heard a racket at one point in the afternoon and looked out the window.  I should have known what I would see:


It seems to be graduation season at XiaDa and you can’t throw a rock without hitting a mortarboard.  I complained to XuLei that it wasn’t fair, that I still have a month and a half, and she lovingly reminded me that, in fact, I have another year.  Thanks, buddy.  But really, in a day where pictures of diploma-clutching graduates are more often than not accompanying headlines about unemployment and fruitless job searches, I should be more grateful.  I remember the first words of one friend upon hearing the news that I had accepted a scholarship to study for a year in China: “Congratulations, Maria!  You’ve figured out how to stay on the scholarship gravy train for another year!”  Go me :)  I’m making good progress in my plan to be a professional student – four years down! 


I went to Mass this evening for Corpus Christi (except obviously they don’t call it that here.  Here it’s 基督圣体圣血节, but it’s all different names for the same thing).  For only the second time this year, they offered the Eucharist under both species – the Body and Blood of Christ, in the form of a host dipped in wine.  It’s not a weekly thing here like it is in the States (daily even, at some parishes) and the average Chinese isn’t a huge fan of wine anyway, so most people weren’t used to the taste.  One girl scrunched up her face unhappily all the way back to the pew. 

There were some announcements at the end, and I think one of them was about the church on Gulangyu.  It seems they’re considering moving all the Masses to the big island.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I hate the idea of an unused church and think that holding services there is a powerful witness to all the tourists who visit it to appreciate the architecture.  But at the same time, the church is small, has bad acoustics, and is a ferry ride away.  Basically, I want there to be Masses on Gulangyu but I don’t want to go to them . . .

After Mass, I went upstairs to the choir loft to play the piano.  Bringing some of my piano music with me was one of the best packing decisions I made, certainly.  I limited myself to 25 sheets of paper, but they’ve brought me comfort disproportional to the space they took up.  Especially after being the choir director at my college Newman Center for two years, church music is a really important part of my faith.  I still sense the changing of the liturgical seasons in other ways, but there’s something a little more personal about banging out the Gloria after a 40-day hiatus, and something very reflective about choosing an entire Mass worth of music related to that day’s readings. 


The youth group was having a bible study after Mass and they invited me.  But I hadn’t been dancing in like 8 years so I went back to campus instead.  It was good to see everyone again and fun to dance again after so long, but I had to put up with the inevitable questions – where I had been, and how much longer I have here. 

It really had been a long time, though.  Smelly Man shaved his beard back in February or March, but I didn’t see it for myself until tonight.  When we danced, I noticed a difference – nothing external, but inside of me.  Out of all the men I dance with, only Smelly Man has rough hands.  I don’t like the stale stench of cigarettes that surrounds him, his crazy dancing by himself, or his shirt that always gets more and more unbuttoned as the night goes on, and I guess I threw the rough hands in there as another strike against him.  But when I was up north I realized that Xiao Zhang has rough hands.  How typical of China – my southern friends are wealthy business and my northern friends are lower-class laborers.  Anyway, I still don’t like him, but I did realize that I’m stupid to hold against him the fact that he works with his hands.  I could probably do with a few calluses. 


We went to The Key afterwards.  Even for a Chinese bar, it was a weird night.  The Filipino band is still on vacation back home, and it’s easy to see that they have no freaking clue what to do without their main event.  There were a few Chinese who tried to sing their usual music, but none with a good enough grasp of English to produce intelligible lyrics.  There was a trio of women clad in leather and metallic fabrics doing an awkward and painfully rigid dance that failed to sufficiently show off either talent or their bodies, which, according to my understanding, are the two standards of acts in bars such as this.  And then there was a Cirque du Soleil-like act consisting of a man and woman climbing a column of silk.  They were really talented, but it was a very strange choice for a bar act – directly following Telephone and directly preceding Fire Burning.  Oh, also the man was wearing a sequin-edged bikini-shaped bottom and a shirt made of transparent gauze that purposefully did not cover his belly button; it was very hard to watch. 

So yeah, it was a weird night for dancing.  But I did get to watch a good part of this year’s Grammy’s, which were playing on the TV’s around the bar.  I laid eyes for the first time on Kesha (do you seriously have to write it with the dollar sign?) and Justin Beiber.  I’ve been gone a long time, have I not?

Freedom of the Blogger, But Not The Copy Machine

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Last night’s flight, once it got off the ground, was very normal.  We arrived back home in Xiamen just before 2, I asleep by 3, and in class by 8.  I spent the afternoon and evening unpacking, evening, and catching up before dinner with friends. 

There’s been a lot of news recently.  Obviously I’ve been following the Gulf oil spill and the tensions on the Korean peninsula as much as I can (by the way, this is the best article I’ve read on the situation), but there’s been some stuff of local interest in China, too. 


China has forbidden the copying of Tibetan-language documents unless their content can be determined as harmless – which, like the requirement of a Chinese identity card for use of internet bars, has broader implications than stated.  See, just as the ID requirement basically translates into a ban on foreigners using internet bars because foreigners can’t get this form of ID, this new regulation basically means that Tibetans can’t copy anything in their own language because the average copy center doesn’t have a translator. 

China’s leaders contend that their only goal is to guarantee stability, ethnic unity and better living standards for Tibetans. Officials say that as long as separatist leaders are kept firmly in check, continued economic development will win Tibetans over to Chinese rule.

I wonder.  Maybe the Tibetans, unlike the Hans, acknowledge a greater good than economic development? 


I was devastated to learn that Han Han (high school drop-out, heartthrob, racecar driver, novelist, most popular Chinese blogger, and one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People) recently gave a speech at XiaDa, and I didn’t know about it at the time.  Luckily, I found a copy of his speech translated into English:

The constitution bestows us with the freedom of the press, but on the other hand our laws bestow our leaders with the freedom of preventing you from exercising the freedom of the press.  Something in [my] magazine couldn’t pass censorship — a cartoon about a man who doesn’t wear any clothes.  Of course this is unacceptable, because relevant laws and regulations specify that we cannot put private parts in public magazines.  I understand this, so I cover the illegitimate part with a super big logo of the magazine.  Suddenly the publisher and people from the censoring team say that’s not okay either.  They say “Now you covered the middle part of the person, which is an allusion to the party central committee (as 挡中央 or ‘covering the middle’, and 党中央 or ‘party central committee’ are both pronounced the same).  My reaction was the same as you guys – dumbstruck. I thought to myself: my friend, it would be so much better if you invested such brilliant imagination into literary and artistic creation instead of censoring.

Haha.  I take comfort in knowing that, had I been in attendance, I wouldn’t have understood what he was saying. 


I also finally finished up the post I started last Monday, about the three-year anniversary of both my first arrival in China and the establishment of an International Day of Prayer for the Church in China. 

We Are One Body

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 at 1:58 am

This morning, I went to Zhangzhou for Bishop Cai’s first Mass in his hometown.  We lined up outside the church in the rain to greet him as he stepped out of the car, all dressed up in his new bishop duds.


Mrs. Zhang (my Chinese mom) and I found a place, a small vacancy on a kneeler, and stationed ourselves there to wait for Mass to begin.  The sanctuary was loud but I was trying to ignore the noise (and the stares) and pray.  Out of nowhere, a woman came up to us, pushed Mama out of the way, handed her a camera, put her arm around my waist, and posed for a picture.  Picture taken, she faded into the crowd without so much as a thank you.  I hope she treasures that picture of her and I, thin-lipped smile on my face, for ever. 

Today was perhaps worse than usual, especially for church.  This is difficult for me, because I try to be forbearing and understanding of Chinese people’s behavior towards me but . . . I’m just not that good of a person, not good enough to smile for every picture and respond to every “hallow?!?”.  At church, I’m even more conscious of a duty to those around me.

I have many reasons for going to Chinese Mass here in Xiamen – more convenient time and location, Chinese language practice, making friends, experiencing the Catholic Church in China.  I get a lot out of it, but deep down I hope that I give something back.  Here in China, where the church is separated from the Roman Catholic Church by political disagreements, language barriers, and relative isolation, I hope that it some small way I can be the face of the Universal Church.  I hope I can remind them that the creed we confess is the same regardless of language, and let them see the solidarity that we share in this faith, in which their sadness is my sadness and their joy is my joy. 

But on days like today, I’m pretty sure that none of that message is getting through.  On days like today, I feel like the only purpose I serve is distracting those around me from the real reason we’re both in church.  I’m the sore thumb, the squeaky wheel, the elephant in the room. 

This is sad for me.  Honestly, I don’t really mind the kids pointing; kids will be kids everywhere.  They nudge their parents, indicate me sitting behind them, and I force myself to smile for them.  But I wish the parents would take advantage of this opportunity to teach their children a lesson, to tell them that I’m not a foreigner, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  There is no us and them in the Church; we’re all members of the Body of Christ, and “there should be no divisions in the body”. 

Thankfully, there are some who seem to understand this, for which I am eternally grateful.  I vividly remember one conversation with LiuQin (the woman who drives me crazy) and Fr. Cai (#2); she told him to greet me by saying “Hello, foreigner!”, and he corrected her, saying that there we were all just brothers and sisters in Christ.  Many of the priests, when giving me communion, will say “The Body of Christ” instead of “基督的身体”, which is a small gesture that acknowledges both our shared faith and our different languages.  My heart basically melted today when, during the Sign of Peace, Mama awkwardly extended her hand towards me; she had apparently figured out how we do things in America and wanted to shake my hand as she wished me peace.  (Here in China, the Sign of Peace consists of shaking your hands, palms together, towards others while bowing.)

After Mass, firecrackers, and food, we went back home.  I spent the majority of the day in my room, avoiding the monsoon outside and all.  Some things:

  • Apparently the Shanghai pavilion at the Expo has a 6-D show.  I was already impressed by the 4-D (??) movie we watched at Hulishan, so I can’t even imagine what kind of crazy stuff goes on in a 6-D exhibit!  Maybe I’ll go see the Expo after all . . .
  • And if you believe that, then North Korea has successfully carried out nuclear fusion, “the holy grail of cheap, clean energy that has heretofore eluded every other scientist ever.”
  • Most of my friends who were studying abroad this semester are done and headed home; they left America after me and returned before me.  I have been gone a long time, but as I’ve learned on previous trips to China: no matter how long you’re here, you always feel like you’re leaving just as you’re getting the hang of it. 

This evening, I went out with Aleid for a late dinner of barbecue and a dessert of 豆花 (sweet tofu soup).  We went from there to Dreamer’s House, a bar/coffee shop/hostel located in an awesome building that climbs up and clings to a hill.  A band was having their farewell concert downstairs, but we met up with some friends and found a nice spot near the very top just to talk.  Good night after a long day!