Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘sunsets’

That’s What This Blog Has Been Missing!

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2010 at 11:46 pm

I found avocados today!!!!!

This was pretty much the highlight of my stay in China thus far.  Xiamen, despite being a tropical island, is not an avocado-producing island.  I imagine that the climate would be just right for growing avocados, but for some reason they are not grown here.  It is one of the constant disappointments of my life, because I think most days are better with a bowl of guacamole.  Am I right, or am I right?  (Although, really, the lack of avocados is not the only stumbling block here; there are also no tortilla chips.  I mean, there is a green saltine-looking cracker that mysteriously tastes like a Tostito, but isn’t that a little weird?)  The lack of avocados goes on the list of things about China that I will never understand, along with the acceptability of spitting indoors, the undefined ends of phone calls, and the preference for chicken feet over actual meat. 

But, as I mentioned, today I triumphed!  Following a tip from a friend, I went to Metro to look for avocados (and a dozen other things on my Metro-only shopping list).  There they were, in all their wrinkly beauty . . . I was planning on getting four until I saw the price – 72 kuai per jin!  Neither of those units probably make sense to you, but taking 6.8 kuai as $1 and 1 jin (half a kilo) as 1.1 lb, it turns out that they were almost $10 a pound!  Swallowing deeply, I grabbed two and went to check out.  $5 for two avocados!  I am really looking forward to that guacamole . . .

Shopping at Metro is like mini culture shock.  In a usual Chinese supermarket, the average item is probably under 10 kuai ($1.50).  I have to be careful in Metro, though, as most items I want are about $5 each.  Cheese, butter, powdered sugar, baking mixes – all in the range of 30 kuai.  It was so easy to spend $50 today, which is a ridiculous sum of money in China! 

Back at home, I decided to put some numbers with my gut feelings of “cheap” and “expensive”.  I graphed the price by weight ($/lb) of several food items:

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I feel slightly nerdy, and it feels AWESOME.  And it feels awesome that feeling nerdy still feels awesome . . . Did you follow that?

The data set is far from complete, as it only contains items from Metro whose receipts I still have and two fruits I recently bought, but I still think it’s interesting.  Avocados are, by weight, the most expensive thing I’ve bought in China, narrowly edging out cheese and butter (the good stuff I buy for bread).  I’m going to the supermarket tomorrow and plan to add more fruits and vegetables as well as anything else I find interesting.  I would also like to do a comparison with American prices, so I hope you’re looking forward to some more graphs!  I think that’s what this journal has been missing all along . . .

Today Xiamen took the opportunity to remind us of what a charming city it can be when the sun is out.  It was a gorgeous day – not too hot and not too cold, and all you need is a light jacket!  (And scarf, of course.)  After dropping off my groceries, I went out to the beach to check out the sunset.  Evening Prayer before such a vista is one of the simple pleasures of life, one that I hope to partake of more in the upcoming months.

Each time I left campus today, I felt like a fish swimming upstream.  The students of Xiamen University are returning in full force – finally!  The little convenience store downstairs opened today so we were finally able to get drinking water for our room, and the CaiQingJie restaurant opens tomorrow.  S

I met Diederik and three new Dutch guys for dinner.  Would “Holland and the Dutchmen” make a good band name?  I think so.  If you’ll allow me to make a generalization about the entire Dutch people based on 6 of them, I think they’re great.  Again, my data set is a little skewed – for instance, almost all of the Dutch people speak Chinese, and they’re all between the ages of 20 and 25 – but hey, it’s all based on my own personal experiences.

Come to think of it, every single one of the Slovenians I know speaks Chinese.  That’s probably not typical of the general population, is it? 

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Dad’s Bucket List: Check, Check!

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2010 at 12:21 am

Today my parents had their first Western meal in China.  It wasn’t that they couldn’t take Chinese food anymore after only four days – there were other factors.  I had invited two of my Saudi Arabian friends, who took me to my first Western restaurant in Xiamen, and they don’t really eat Chinese food.  Also, the Pizza Hut that we went to happens to be on the 24th floor of a building along the waterfront

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and has a great view of Gulangyu

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(or, from where we sat, a maze of typical Chinese streets)

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I’m glad my parents were there for my first Chinese Pizza Hut experience because, while I thought it was delicious, it’s hard for me to tell if Western food is actually good or if I’m just so desperate that I’ll eat anything remotely resembling cheese.  Apparently Pizza Hut’s food is pretty legit, because we all thought it was great.

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In the afternoon, we went to Baicheng (the beach side of XiaDa) and rented bikes.  One item on Dad’s bucket list was to ride a bike in China, so we paid a few dollars (for the kind of bike you would expect to get for a few dollars) and got to cross that off the list. 

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The sun was out but the wind was too so the temperature was perfect.  There were a ton of like-minded people renting bikes, but luckily no shortage of bikes to rent.  There were single, double, and triple bikes and even bikes for four people arranged in two rows.  We only biked for an hour (from my beach to the next one up the coast) but it was just about the right amount of time.

After the ride, we had an appointment with a friend of mine to do something else from Dad’s bucket list – play ping pong with a Chinese man.  Mr. Hou is one of the men that I dance with and I recently found out that he plays ping pong every night before dancing.  He wasn’t there last night, but we luckily ran into him today and he had some free time.  Dad was really excited for the match until my friend pulled out his own ping pong paddle in a special ping pong paddle case.  Dad didn’t even have a paddle, much less a case! 

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We think (slash are really sure) that Mr. Hou was being easy on him, because after winning the first two games Dad won the last three to be crowned the victor. 

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We weren’t quite ready for dinner afterwards, so we decided to go up to the top of the Tall Building.  I had to convince the guard to let us go up, but it was totally worth it for the view.  I had been once before, but it was right when I got here and I didn’t know what I was looking at.  You can see basically my entire life from up there, though – XiaDa, Baicheng, Hulishan, West Gate, Nanputuo (pictured below), Gulangyu . . . my island! 

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We just happened to be up there for the sunset, which was of course beautiful. 

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For dinner, I took my parents to the School Friends Cafeteria, my favorite restaurant by West Gate.  We had 拔丝地瓜 (candied sweet potatoes), 咖哩鸡肉 (curry chicken), and 地三鲜 (my favorite dish, with eggplant, potato, and hot pepper). 

We ended the day a little bit early because we have to pack for the next leg of our trip.  Tomorrow we fly to Guangzhou (known in the West as Canton).  I can’t believe I’m leaving Xiamen (which besides being amazingly beautiful, is also my home right now) for three weeks!  Actually, I still haven’t exactly figured out what I’m doing once I say goodbye to my parents in Beijing, so it may even be 4 weeks! 

My China: Eggplant, Sunsets, Church, and Dancing

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2010 at 1:29 am

We slept in a little bit today and, after a quick Chinese lesson, met some of my friends for lunch at the restaurant on campus.

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The main attraction at lunch was 炭烧茄子, the best eggplant dish in all of China.  It was a big hit all around, as were my three wonderful friends (Carlos, Pun, and Vikki).

Then we went back to LunDu, where we boarded a ferry.  We opted for the scenic boat ride, which took us all the way around the small island of Gulangyu in about a half hour.

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When we landed, we headed in the general direction of my church so I could show them the beautiful old building where I sometimes go to Mass.  I’d only been before on Sundays for service, so I hadn’t realized that it’s not open the rest of the week.  In one of those circumstances that happens to me way too often to be luck, we were seen standing at the gate by the sister who lives at the church, who let us in.  She opened the church so they could look inside and then invited us up to have tea, where we also got to see the two priests that live there. 

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After visiting the church I didn’t have any specific plans for the island so we just wandered.  We came across a small park, built in honor of a woman named Lin Qiao Zhi, who was a Chinese OB-GYN.  There was a statue and a collection of stones engraved with quotes of hers, like this one: 

“It is more significant for me to spend my birthdays in the delivery room than anywhere else.  As an obstetrician it is my responsibility to be present at the birth.  After the baby comes into the world, the cries are the most pleasant paean of life.  To me, indeed, that is the best birthday gift.”

She really seemed like a remarkable woman.  Most interestingly to me, she came across as a profoundly pro-life person – not in the narrow sense of opposing abortion, but just by cherishing life.  Her job was bringing life into the world and protecting it, and she loved that. 

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We continued on, following the sun towards the shore.  We ended up on the beach just in time to watch the last half hour of the sun’s descent, which produced some beautiful colors before being suffocated by the perpetual haze. 

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My parents got a taste of the real China when we attempted to take the ferry back just after sunset, along with half of Xiamen’s population and a delegation from every province of China.  It was a little ridiculous, but we made it back to Xiamen safely.

We made it to the church just in time for Mass, but too late to find a good seat for the three of us.  We ended up sitting upstairs, so Dad got some good (and relatively unobtrusive) photos of Mass.

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Afterwards, of course, we took the mandatory altar photo.

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The friends in the photo had asked to take us out to dinner, but time was relatively short because of my plans to take my parents dancing, so we took them to dinner instead.  Unfortunately, they had planned to take us to a 5-star hotel restaurant, and I took them to a hole-in-the-wall where we sat on plastic stools and had to bring our own drinks.  We did, however, arrive in style, because their driver gave us a ride in their personal car.  The husband is the head of a major joint venture company here in Xiamen, and can’t imagine how different their experience must be here in Xiamen.  Yeah, I felt a little silly bringing them to my little restaurant, but I think everyone thought the food was good (or at least the couple, who are incredibly gracious, acted like they thought it was).  Anyway, the Xiamen part of this trip is about showing my parents MY China, which is definitely more plastic-stools-on-the-street than Marco Polo. 

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We arrived late to dancing and caused quite a stir.  Most people knew my parents were coming, and anyway it wasn’t that hard to figure out the new foreigners had come with me.  My parents got to see me dance, and Mom even got asked a few times.

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Afterwards, I acted as a translator between Dad and one of the men who is a military teacher at XiaDa.  He was quite impressed that Dad went to West Point, and Dad made his first Chinese friend.  He also impressed them all by bidding the “ladies and gentleman goodnight”. 

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My parents are really loving China so far, or at least Xiamen.  They say it’s like a dream, that no one’s life can be like this.  I hope they enjoy the rest of their trip as well, or I’m afraid they’re going to get to the Great Wall, sigh, and say that the lit-up highways in Xiamen are better!

Parents, Meet China. China, Parents.

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2010 at 12:01 am

Well.  If I was feeling stuck in any sort of a rut recently, I am officially out of it. 

I woke up this morning at 8 and, as I suspected, my jet-lagged parents were too (despite predicting they would sleep til noon).  I went over to their hotel to meet them and then we set out for their very first day in China. 

We walked from their hotel to the entrance of campus, with constant narration from me (here’s the museum, here’s my travel agency, here’s the bag store, here’s my 39-kuai all-you-can-eat hotpot restaurant) and constant questions from my parents (what is this?  what is this?  why are they doing that?  what is this?).  Actually, though, I don’t mind the questions because when they stop asking questions they start making assumptions – which are invariably wrong.

Their first impression of China was that it is like Mexico City – except the language is unintelligible.  It’s a little bit dirty and a lot chaotic; there are buildings haphazardly set on every available inch of land; there are lots of short, dark-haired people running around everywhere.

Their first food in China was a “pancake-eat-with-hand” (English translation taken from their sign) and some fruit smoothies.  Then we were at the West Gate and I got to show them my beautiful campus.  They agree that it is certainly the most beautiful campus they’ve seen in China, for what it’s worth.

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I showed them the sports field, a.k.a. site of my epic 100-meter dash and sack hop relay; the basketball courts, a.k.a. highest concentration of tall men in all of China; the English and Chinese corner meeting spot; the Bank of China that is “having a decoration”; the really awkward step by my dorm; my classroom building . . . you know, all the really famous places on the XiaDa campus.  We also walked around the lake, taking in its beauty.

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Then it was time for me to take my last final.  Mom and Dad came with me to my classroom, where I waited my turn with some of my classmates.

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It was kind of a long wait, so we started talking.  I think my parents were impressed with how nice all of the students are here, but they were especially pleased to talk with one of my Korean classmates, the man on the far left.  Since I had switched into the class late and his family at home prevents him from hanging out a ton, I don’t know him very well and had only really talked to him once.  But it turns out that he served his mandatory military service attached to the U.S. Army in Seoul!  His English (which I’d never heard him use before) was really good, and he even remembered words like “motorpool”.  Even more incredible, he remembered one of the cadences that they used while marching: “C130’s, running down the strip / Airborne daddy gonna take a little trip”.  Needless to say, Dad was delighted.  He told the man that he had been in the Army, and that both my grandfathers and one uncle had served in Korea.  The Korean man seemed really moved by this and, bowing, shook Dad’s hand and expressed his gratitude.  He said it’s very rare to have the opportunity to thank someone who served (or in this case, a family member), and he asked us to convey his thanks.  He said he’d heard that the Korean War is known as the Forgotten War in America, but that in Korea it’s never far from their minds because they’re still fighting it.

While my parents talked with him, I was inside talking to my teacher (this was an oral test). 

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She noticed the strangers (kind of hard not to) and asked who they were, so about half of my speaking time was just explaining the trip we have planned.  I also had to read about an automatic vacuum cleaner and speak about my computer problems, which apparently I did well enough that she thought it was real!  It was over quickly and I even got complimented on my tones, so I considered it a great test.  And then I was done with my first semester of Chinese in China! 

Once Aleid was done testing as well, we met up with a Chinese friend (Denise) and went to lunch.  Along the way we were joined by Diederik and Kiwi, officially making our group a “motley crew”, according to my dad.  We went to the jiaozi restaurant, which I maintain was the perfect place for such a beautiful day (60 and sunny).  Dad – who would kick you if you hung him with a new rope – complained quite vocally.  The chairs were too short for him, the table was too small for 6 people, and the little kid peeing on the street was peeing too close to us.  You know, if it ain’t one thing, it’s another!

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I lost my camera last night after picking my parents up from the airport.  It was a major bummer.  It’s not just the money; that camera and I had been through some things together!  I bought it in those few days I had in America between Italy and my first trip to China – every picture I’ve taken in China was with that camera.  Alas, apparently it’s time to start over.  So, in an unplanned excursion, I took my parents to 电子城 (Electronics City).  This entailed their very first Chinese bus ride!  That place is kind of crazy, and I ran myself ragged trying to check prices on several different models before giving up for the day.  To be continued . . .

We took a bus to ZhongShanLu, the main shopping road in Xiamen, and walked down that.  We also took one detour, which led us to Xiamen’s YMCA – whodda thunk?  ZhongShanLu ends at the water, so we were treated to the view of a rosy pink sunset over Gulangyu, which slowly lit up as the sky darkened. 

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This is where they expressed their second overarching impression from today – I am so incredibly lucky to live on this island. 

At 6, we met three of my priests (Frs. Zhao, Jiang, and Cai #1) for dinner because we had presents to give them and I wanted my parents to meet them.  We went to a restaurant near the Xiamen church, which was significantly better than the places I usually eat.  It was very nice but caused my dad to make unfavorable comparisons with the jiaozi restaurant, which I did not appreciate!  We had oyster bits, curried crab, spicy green beans, beef skewers with peanut sauce, shrimp in crazy delicious tropical fruit sauce, and the best soup I have ever had in China (chicken).

Between my Chinese and the priests’ English, we carried on a conversation alright.  It also helps that laughter is universal, and Dad was quite funny trying to eat with chopsticks.  I got to hear an abbreviated version of Fr. Jiang’s story – despite being around 70 (I would guess) he wasn’t ordained until the 90’s because his seminary education was interrupted by the government and he was sent to work on a farm.  Other interesting facts about the Church in China: there are about 6,000 churches, but only around 5,000 priests.  (Note: I don’t know about these numbers, specifically how they count – or don’t count – the underground Church.)

Fr. Cai #1 is for sure for sure becoming the bishop of Xiamen diocese, but we still don’t know when.  Currently we don’t have a bishop :(  Apparently our diocese covers about half of the province and includes 11 priests.  This is such a small number, which made the fact that we had three of them at our table even more amazing! 

At the end of dinner, I brought up a recent email I had sent Fr. Zhao, asking for the contact information of a convent up in Jilin.  I’m trying to figure out what to do with my remaining vacation time, and I want to do something useful or productive.  My two best ideas were to live at a convent for a week or two, or to work with a priest who would like to improve his English, and it turns out I’m probably going to get to do both!  There’s a convent in Zhangzhou, where Fr. Cai is currently pastor, and he said I could live there and work with him.  I am so happy that something is working out, because it had been a huge source of stress for me recently.  Improving my Chinese in the areas of engineering and the Church are my two top priorities here – even above traveling – so I will be totally happy if this is how I get to spend my vacation. 

My parents were pretty tired after this long day of walking (especially carrying all those lectionaries and Bibles around for most of it!) so I took them home.  Before letting them go to bed, I gave them their first Chinese lesson: hello, thank you, good, bad, don’t want, and the numbers 1-5. 

I think they’re going to be okay here :)

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Deacon Zhao Becomes Father Zhao

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2009 at 11:00 pm

We had an early wakeup call and ate breakfast quickly before heading to nearby St. Ignatius Cathedral for the main event of the trip – the ordination.  We got there just before 8 and the place was packed.  I don’t mean ‘crowded’ or ‘full’ – I mean ‘packed’ in a way that I had, until now, only experienced on public transportation . . . in China . . . during rush hour. 

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The ordination Mass didn’t start until 9, which meant an hour of musical pews.  I can’t imagine that seats on the Titanic’s lifeboats were fought over more intensely; it was quite ridiculous.  There was shoving and pushing and arguing and no one seemed to find this behavior out of line with the sacrament of unity we were about to celebrate. 

There were 12 deacons there to be ordained, and it largely fell to them to find places for their families, friends, and parishioners to sit.  Even despite this unpleasant task, I was struck by the sense of peace and calm that they exuded.  Out of all the people I’ve met in China, I think that the priests I know are the quietest, calmest, and most unassuming of them.  In a country where everyone is striving to the loudest, you would think they would get drowned out and covered up, but in my opinion the opposite happens.  Interesting . . .

The Mass began with the entrance of the bishop (of Shanghai, I’m guessing), the deacons, and a ton of concelebrating priests. 

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We used the Misa de Angelis, the beautiful Latin chant setting of the Mass, which almost brought me to tears.  It was familiar and reminded me of the chant classes I used to participate in, but even more than that, by using Latin – the language of the Church – it spoke to me of the universality of the Church.  Also, it was kind of nice that for once everyone was using a second language :)

The ordination Mass lasted almost three hours.  Unlike ‘normal’ Mass, which I’ve celebrated at least once a week for my entire life, I’ve never been to an ordination so I didn’t always know what was going on.  The deacons knelt before the bishop several times, and at one point lay prostrate on the ground. 

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Once they were ordained, they came back to the pews where their families helped them put on their vestments.  They hugged their family and friends and everyone was crying – happy tears, though.  I got a hug from Father Zhao, too, and really felt like a part of the church. 

After the Mass was over, we went outside for pictures.  Here’s most of our group:

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Here’s me with Father Zhao (formerly Deacon Zhao):

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Here’s Fr. Cai with the two new priests:

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After that, it was time for the rest of the group to leave.  They were all quite worried about me staying by myself and Father Zhao, who was staying for a few extra days, took it upon himself to ensure that I had a place to stay – just like a good shepherd.  He tried his best to get me stay in a nearby hotel, but at 200 kuai a night, it couldn’t compare to the 45-kuai-per-night hostel I found.  He settled for making sure I knew how to get there and sent me on my way. 

I managed the subway pretty well and found my hostel fairly easily.  After dropping off my stuff, I walked a few blocks to Nanjing Lu for a stroll down the whole length.  I really wanted some milktea, but everywhere I looked I saw Starbucks.  I think that when Starbucks outnumber milktea shops, China has lost pretty much everything I love. 

At the other end of Nanjing Lu is 人民广场, or The People’s Square.  I met some friendly Chinese students who wanted to practice English and got to see a beautiful sunset disappear behind some skyscrapers.

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I took the metro from there under the river to Puxi (literally, “West of the Huangpu River”) where I had heard it was possible to get a boat ride on the Huangpu.  I stopped a young man for directions and he ended up accompanying me in my search.  His desire to help, while typical of Chinese, went even above and beyond what I was used to.  We walked for at least half an hour down the riverside and crossed the river on a ferry before he saw me onto a boat and said goodbye. 

The boat ride was pretty expensive (100 kuai, or about $13) but I think it was worth it.  I got to sit down for a little while (!) and then went up to the roof of the boat to see the night lights.  I was pleased to see that the Pearl is much better-looking at night:

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I was also fortunate enough to meet a tourist from Anhui who pleasantly chatted with me for most of the hour-long boat trip.   I learned the word for captain – 船长!

I was tired by the time I got back to my hostel, so I treated myself to a full-body massage.  70 minutes, 60 kuai ($9) . . . perfect end to a long day. 

Not So Good in a Sack

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2009 at 11:09 am

Yesterday morning began like the day before, at the sports stadium.  Kind of like Groundhog Day, except there were actually more people there.  I met my team there at 10:30 – 6 foreign guys and 3 other girls, all Chinese. 

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Two of the guys (Julius from Germany and Victor from Hungary) were comically tall compared to our Chinese girls, so I had to take a picture:

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We practiced the sack exchange a few times and then it was our turn to line up for the second heat.  As we lined up behind the stands, I cheered loudly whenever they said our team name and was, surprisingly, the only one to do this.  (This has always been my strategy in sporting events – make up in volume what you lack in skill.) 

Somehow, I was selected to be the first leg of the relay.

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I fell behind, but the important thing was that I didn’t fall.  Each person had to jump 30 meters, which is surprisingly long when you’re jumping in a sack.  (Side note – the Chinese name for this event is 袋鼠跳, or kangaroo-jump.  The word for kangaroo literally means “bag-mouse”.)

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Anyway, the rest of the team just continued to fall behind so I was really just being consistent.  The Chinese students sack-hop like they do everything else – with an intensity that borders on, and occasionally surpasses, scary.  We ended up with our last guy jumping after everyone else had finished.

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Another last-place finish for the Overseas Education College.  But, really, we were all winners, even before the race had begun – because we got our t-shirts.

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It was actually hot this afternoon, especially jumping in the sun.  Diederik decided it would be nice to have a picnic on the beach, so we bought some food and went out there.  We got to watch the sunset while we talked and ate.

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It got a little cool after the sun went down but after all, it is the end of November.  That’s still warm in my book! 

I went from the picnic to church for the 1st Sunday in Advent!  The beginning of Advent (the season before Christmas), is the beginning of a new Church year, so . . . Happy New Year!  There were new missals, new songs and Mass parts, and an Advent wreath (although I think it’s just for the English Mass).  I don’t quite have the hang of the new Mass parts, but a few of the songs were familiar: we sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel” (天主圣子恳请降临) and something to the tune of Amazing Grace (谢圣体经). 

I made it back from Mass just in time to go dancing.  I had a particularly good time (Smelly Man didn’t come!) and I’m even starting to learn the Viennese waltz.  The best part of the evening was getting the women to agree to come to the club afterwards.  They were so funny – acting like teenage girls even though the youngest of them is in her mid-40’s.  They wanted to make sure the others were going so they wouldn’t be alone, and kept asking if the 帅哥 was going.  (It literally means “good-looking older brother”, but it’s a common term for “hottie” or something like that.  It’s what they call Lester, my Filipino friend . . . we actually aren’t sure if they know his real name.) 

When the music stopped at 10, we headed for the club.  One of the women owns a car – a BMW, actually! – so she drove, with four of us women in the back.  (They’re all so tiny that it actually wasn’t even a tight fit.)  When we got to The Key, the crappy new Taiwanese band was playing so we got a table upstairs and sat for awhile.  Once the bands changed and the music got better, I managed to get two of them to come down and dance with me.  It was a little bit crowded, but they slowly warmed up to it and seemed to enjoy themselves.  Dancing with these middle-aged Chinese women to songs like “Get Low” (they did, by the way) was one of the most ridiculous and special experiences of my time in China.  To make it even funnier, there was a very drunk man at the table next to our spot who indiscriminately hit on us, even the older women. 

Unfortunately I don’t think the other two women enjoyed themselves that much.  The smoke, noise, and crowds were too much for them.  Still, one of them is 60 and I’m kind of proud of her for coming at all!  They left around midnight, chiding me for not wearing a jacket and cautioning me to be careful – still old women after all!  I stayed there and danced with Leinira until almost 3 – after all, it was New Year’s Eve. 

 

I’ve put more pictures on my Picasa web album – most of them have already been in the journal, but there are a few new ones – and a particularly good Chinglish photo from Ningde. 

What I’m Thankful For This Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunny With a High of 75

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Today was 75 and sunny – isn’t that pretty much the definition of perfect?  In between classes this morning, I went out with some friends to soak up the sun, which we hadn’t seen in over a week.  Glorious! 

This evening I went to watch the sunset – stunning, as expected on such a day – and then to one of my favorite restaurants for dinner.  I asked for a recommendation of a new dish to try and, in agreement, ordered the 黑椒牛肉.  While I waited for my food, I wondered what kind of pepper this was in the dish – literally, “black pepper”.  It turned out to be . . . black pepper.  Yeah, I’m still feeling stupid over that one.

I went to dance class afterwards, where I learned a rhumba routine, danced cha-cha to the Backstreet Boys, made a new Chinese friend, learned her name, and promptly forgot it.  Pretty much a routine evening here.

Now I’m working on Chinese vocabulary and finishing up the first season of The Big Bang Theory, which I [very happily] just discovered. 

A Letter Home

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Today is a rainy day in Xiamen, perhaps our first one?  I went to class this morning and then returned to my room to study.  It works out because that’s pretty much what rainy days are for!  Today, I was assigned my first homework assignment since I got here – well, at least the first one that took me longer than 10 minutes.  We had to write a letter home, so I wrote a letter to my mom parent’s, whom I haven’t talked to in a few months.  For your viewing pleasure, here is the original Chinese, the babelfish translation (always good for a laugh) and my English words. 

亲爱的外公外婆,

你们好吗?我很好。我在厦门住了两个多月了!我的中文进步了很多。除了上汉语课以外,我也每天用汉语吃饭,买东西,坐公共车,等等。

我来厦门的时候,一个人都没认识过,所以很多事情很麻烦。 租房间,报名,买手机,延长签证,我几天都办好了。可是过了一个半月才办了好学生证!

我住在校园里面的一个宿舍。我有一个同屋,她叫 Leinira,是从 Cape Verde 来的。我非常喜欢她,她像我的姐姐。我们两个人住在一个房间,有两张床,一个洗澡间,还有阳台。

原来,我是一年下的学生。期中考试的时候,我考得很不错,所以我觉得那个班太容易了。我换了到二年上,现在我觉得这个班合适一点。我的同学们别分来自亚洲,欧洲,和美洲。

我不但学汉语,而且学跳舞!我来的时候,我发现了一些老师们,他们每个星期三,六,都一起跳交谊舞。他们让我参加,一边学了好几个舞,一边交朋友,玩儿。

我有空的时候,我喜欢在海边散步。海边离我住的地方很近,走路只要五分钟就到了!八九月厦门天气太热了,可是十一月都很舒服,所以我很喜欢逛逛海边,特别是日落的时候。

周末的时候,我常常跟同屋到吧去跳舞。星期六晚上,我上教堂。星期天有一台英语弥撒,可是我觉得汉语弥撒好得多因为我还可以练习听力。

我很想念你们!我明年七月就回国了,时间不是太长。你们多保重身体,

马利亚

 

Dear grandfathers grandmother,

You are good? I am very good. I have lived in more than two months in Xiamen! My Chinese progressed many. Besides on Chinese class, I also every day use Chinese to eat meal, go shopping, ride the public vehicle, and so on.

I come Xiamen’s time, people have not known, therefore many matters are very troublesome. Rents a room, the registration, buys the handset, the extension visa, my several days handled. But one half a month has only then managed the good student identity card!

I live inside the campus a dormitory. I have a roommate, she calls Leinira, is comes from Cape Verde. I like her, she look like me the elder sister. Both of us live in a room, two beds, a bath room, but also has the balcony.

Originally, I am one year under student. Midterm examination’s time, I test very well, therefore I thought that class was too easy. I have traded to two years on, now I think this class appropriate spot. My schoolmates do not divide come from Asia, Europe, with the Americas.

Not only I study Chinese, moreover study dances! I come time, I had discovered some teachers, their each Wednesday, six, together jump the social dancing. They let me participate, at the same time has studied several dances, at the same time becomes friends, plays.

I have free time, I like in the seashore taking a walk. Seashore the place which lives to me is very near, walks, so long as five minutes arrived! Eight in September Xiamen weather has been too hot, but in November is very comfortable, therefore I like strolling the seashore very much, specially sunset’s time.

Weekend’s time, I arrive frequently with the roommate dance. Saturday night, on me church. On Sunday has an English mass, but I thought that Chinese mass is better much, because I may also practice the hearing.

I think of you very much! My in next July returned to homeland, the time is not too long. You take care the body,

Maria

 

Grandma and Grandpa –

How are you?  I am doing very well.  I have been here in Xiamen for over 2 months now!  My Chinese is getting better because, in addition to Chinese classes, I use Chinese to eat, shop, take buses, etc. 

I didn’t know a single person when I came, so a lot of things were very frustrating.  I rented a dorm room, registered for classes, bought a cell phone, and extended my visa in the first few days, but it took a month and a half to get my student card. 

I live on campus in the dormitory.  I have a roommate named Leinira, who is from Cape Verde.  I really like my roommate – she is like a sister.  We live together in one room with two beds, a bathroom, and a balcony. 

Originally, I was placed into the second semester of first year Chinese.  I did really well on the test so I decided it was too easy.  I changed classes to the first semester of the second year and think this class is a better fit for me.  My classmates are Asians, Europeans, and Americans.

I am not only studying Chinese – I’m also learning how to dance!  My first week here, I found a group of teachers who get together twice a week for a social dance, and they let me join them.  I am learning a lot of dances, having fun, and making friends. 

When I have free time, I like to go on walks by the beach.  The beach is very close to where I live – only five minutes walking!  The weather was very hot in August and September, but October and November are very comfortable, so I like going for walks on the beach, especially during the sunset.

On weekends, I often go out with my roommate to bars to dance.  On Saturday evenings, I go to Mass.  There is an English Mass on Sundays, but I think the Chinese Mass is better because I can also work on my listening comprehension. 

I miss you very much!  I’ll be back next July, which isn’t too far away.  Take care!

~ Maria

The part of this assignment that took so long is the actual Chinese handwriting.  I know my painfully-simple letter doesn’t look like much, but it filled two sheets of paper! 

There’s Too Many Sunsets I Haven’t Seen

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2009 at 8:59 pm

I felt a lot better this morning.  This was due to several factors:

  • several loving messages from friends and family
  • a good night’s sleep
  • several episodes of Psych, which invariably makes me laugh out loud
  • my consumption of a French baguette and a block of mozzarella cheese in their entirety, as well as about a kilo of yogurt

This morning, I went with Aleid to the travel agency on campus to inquire about getting to Wuyi Shan.  It’s a famous mountain in my province of Fujian, and was our preferred destination for this weekend.  Unfortunately, it’s 14 hours away by train and the overnight option is only available one way.  As much as it was tempting to travel 28 hours for 12 hours on the mountain, we decided to save it for another weekend when we could spend more time there. 

Instead, we’re planning on going to Ningde.  We don’t know much about it except for some rather vague, cool-sounding attractions – two mountains, China’s largest waterfall complex, bamboo rafting – but we do know that our 3-hour bus ride will begin at 7:50 on Saturday morning.  That’s pretty much all you need to know – at least it worked for us in Taiwan!  Even though it’s not what we had planned, I’m excited about the trip.

This afternoon I had Oral class and my Listening midterm.  The test went well and the entire class passed without her making that horrible sucking noise of disapproval, so I was even pretty happy when I left.  Most importantly, we got out early – in time for me to catch the sunset.

I ran back to my room to get a jacket, and then headed for the beach.  The sunset was hidden by clouds so it was more of a spectrum of pastels than a dazzling sun, but it was just as beautiful.

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I walked further to the west than I had before, and found a new beach.  It’s surrounded by highways (which, if you remember, are one of my favorite parts of Xiamen), so I thought it was beautiful.  They light up at night, so the scenery was beautiful even after the sunset. 

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I walked along the beach, barefoot, listening to music and singing over the sound of the waves.  It was idllyic.  The songs that came up were so perfect, with themes of suns and sunsets, especially You Are the Sun by Sarah Groves (“I am the moon with no light of my own / Still You have made me to shine / As as I glow in this cold dark night / I know I can’t be a light unless I turn my face to You”) and Many the Miles by Sarah Bareilles:

There’s too many things that I haven’t done yet
There’s too many sunsets I haven’t seen
You can’t waste the day wishing it’d slow down
You would have thought by now
I’d have learned something, yeah

I made up my mind when I was a young girl
I’ve been given this one world – I won’t worry it away
But now and again, I lose sight of the good life
I get stuck in a low light
But then love comes in

How far do I have to go to get to you?
Many the miles, many the miles
How far do I have to go to get to you?
Many the miles, but send me the miles, and I’ll be happy to

I do what I can, wherever I end up
To keep giving my good love
And spreading it around, yeah
‘Cause I’ve had my fair share of “take care and goodbyes”
I’ve learned how to cry and I’m better for that

How far do I have to go to get to you?
Many the miles, many the miles
How far do I have to go to get to you?
Many the miles, but send me the miles, and I’ll be happy to

Red letter day, and I’m in a blue mood
Wishing that blue would just carry me away
I’ve been talking to God
Don’t know if it’s helping or not
But surely something has got to got to got to give
‘Cause I can’t keep waiting to live

There’s too many things I haven’t done yet
There’s too many sunsets I haven’t seen

Great song.  I highly recommend it, as well as leisurely walks on the beach, when you’re feeling down.  You just can’t lose sight of the good life – there are too many sunsets you haven’t seen.