Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘sunsets’

越来越 . . . (More and More)

In Uncategorized on November 3, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Yesterday evening, I was asked to look over an essay written by a Chinese friend of mine.  She’s applying for graduate schools in the UK and is working on her personal statement.  Her grammar isn’t perfect but it’s pretty good, so although I had to make some technical corrections, they were relatively easy.  Instead, I was flummoxed by sentences such as these:

I am proud of being basked in the nurturing environment.

Study brings me much pleasure. I highlight efficiency.

As an emerging market, China is striding forward to its brightness.

I just . . . don’t know how to translate them.  There’s almost not an English equivalent because no native English-speaker would say things like that.  They’re such very Chinese sentences, despite being composed of English words.

Last night I was also visited by a Chinese girl that I had met a few months ago and hadn’t seen since.  She said she needed my advice, so I told her to come up to my room.  She spoke English, but as in the above case, I could tell her thoughts were being translated from Chinese words into English words while remaining essentially Chinese, which makes it hard to understand.  From what I got, she’s having the typical college experience of questioning what she wants to do with her life.  I didn’t have the answers, unfortunately – haven’t even quite figured them out for myself – but I tried to help her as best as I could.

She ended up leaving happy, though, because she discovered a new life goal: introducing me to a Chinese boyfriend.  I tried telling her I don’t need or want a Chinese boyfriend, but she seemed to take these protests to mean that I’m just really picky about who I would date.  She says that I’m pretty and “it will be a waste” if I don’t have a Chinese boyfriend.  She started listing characteristics that he would have to have: taller than me, definitely, and handsome and rich.  I can’t tell if she thinks I’m that shallow or if that’s what Chinese girls look for!  I’m not sure if we ended up coming to a consensus on her not playing matchmaker . . . I guess I’ll figure it out if there’s a guy there next time we have dinner together.

This morning was good.  I woke up feeling pretty good and decided to take charge of my own Chinese education.  It is a little silly of me to expect for my teachers to open my brain and insert knowledge – I mean, I’ve never waited for that to happen in America – and anyway, if they were to do so, they probably wouldn’t give me the knowledge I’m most interested in.  I haven’t gotten through the entire Mass today, so I tackled the Nicene Creed.  I made pretty good progress, although I stumbled over 般雀比拉多.  The dictionary had no entry for this word, and it wasn’t until I read it out loud several times – banquebiladuo – that I realized it was the name Pontius Pilate.  Duh!  The most interesting thing I’ve noticed thus far is the special pronoun that is used for God.  ‘He’ (他) and ‘she’ (她) have the same element on the right hand side, but have the ‘person’ and ‘female’ radicals, respectively, on the left.  Unlike English, though, God’s pronoun is not ‘he’ (他).  Instead, His pronoun is different – 祂 – using the same right-hand element but a different radical (礻) meaning something along the lines of divine.  Interesting!

On the health front, I had two important victories.  I ate lunch, putting me on track to eat two meals for the first time in several days, and I had my first solid bowel movement!  (I realize this may be TMI – too much information – for all of you.  It’s just habit though . . . last summer when I was living in China we were 16 people sharing two bathrooms, and our digestive systems were a constant source of discussion.  It was mainly out of necessity, although the fact that my project involved the handling and disposal of animal and human waste might have had something to do with it, I guess.  One nice thing about learning a new language is that you have new vocabulary that allow you to deal with unpleasant situations in a new way.  For instance, 拉肚子 doesn’t have nearly the embarrassing connotation as ‘diarrhea’, so maybe I’ll just use that from now on.  And just in case you forget – or want to know the meaning or pronunciation of any word I type in Chinese – you can easily look it up at

I was feeling good enough to go to class, and that’s when it started to go downhill.  Oral class can be so frustrating sometimes because of the way our teacher tries to get us to talk.  An example from today: “What kind of guests do you like to have?”  After the first two students answer using our new vocab words (“polite guests” and “guests that bring presents”), what else is there to say, really?  So we sit there in awkward silence as she rephrases the question over and over because she thinks we don’t understand.

Then there was Listening class.  The last few classes had been approaching tolerable, but today was abysmally bad.  The exercises today were particularly hard, so instead of writing correctly and finishing quickly, I was left staring at chunks of several unknown characters.  The Witch was in fine form today, too, and this didn’t escape her attention.  She told me that I was 越来越不好了, or getting more and more bad.  It’s probably more and more accurate to say that I 越来越 hate her or 越来越 don’t care about this class, but whatever.  Anyway, I think it’s a bad sign that my listening skills, instead of getting better, are actually deteriorating!

To add insult to injury, I am growing convinced that the most beautiful sunsets occur, without fail, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons when I’m in Listening class.  I can just glimpse the sunset out the windows as I sit there in Hell, and have started to take a quick break to run into the hallway for a better look.  Today’s sunset, from what I saw, was breathtaking – a hole in the clouds, allowing brilliant red and orange rays of sunshine to shower down on the school.  Of course, I had to return to Hell until 6:00, when complete darkness had already descended.  Have I mentioned that I hate 听力?

I ran into some American friends after class and we went to dinner together.  I got a hug and some good conversation from them and was feeling better emotionally, but – just like my listening comprehension – my stomach was 越来越不好 (worse and worse).  Our dinner ended with me almost sprinting back to my dorm and up the stairs to my bathroom.

As if it isn’t enough to be feeling unwell, I also have to deal with [probably] well-meaning Chinese friends who are concerned that I’m feeling unwell.  Yesterday two guys called to say they were coming over – not bothering to ask if I would like visitors.  Today I spent 10 minutes arguing with a guy who wanted to bring me fruit.  I guess it’s a nice gesture, but something I would appreciate from an old friend – and despite him saying we are, we’re not.  Now I’m in a bad mood.  After a long and frustrating phone call, he sent me a text message saying he left the fruit at the desk downstairs.  Not only does he now have guanxi (basically, I owe him something), but I also had to send a text message in response thanking him for the fruit, when all I really wanted to do was remind him that I hadn’t wanted his fruit in the first place.  I realize that I’m probably overreacting to this, but in my defense: 1) I’m not feeling well, 2) everyone knows oranges are bad for upset stomachs, and 3) I don’t really trust 29-year-old men who have clip-art monkeys as their profile pictures on instant messenger.  Go ahead and judge me.

To end on a slightly better note: The weather is changing around here!  It all started yesterday, when I had to come back to my room to grab a jacket; today I closed the windows because of the cold coming in.  The high for today was around 75, making it possibly the first day we haven’t reached 80.  It’s also very windy, which I love.  Strong wind reminds me of two of my favorite places in the world – Tulsa and the farm*.  The cold weather and wind may just be a front, but it feels like the inevitable advancement of winter.  The rest of Xiamen seems to be feeling it too, because I saw blankets and slippers for sale for the first time today.

* I have written a lot more on the About Me page, so if you would like to know more about my previous trips to China, you should check it out.  It should help explain what I mean when I say ‘the farm’, and why I was working with the handling and disposal of manure while I was there.

International Day of Climate Action

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2009 at 2:41 am

Settle in for a long update, because today was wonderful.  With a side of pure goodness.  Smothered in awesome.

It all started just after midnight, when Leinira and I went out.  Leinira is a biochemistry grad student here and is ALWAYS in lab.  It’s really lame because she’s a wonderful roommate but we don’t get to hang out much.  She finally got a day off (rare even on weekends) so we took advantage of the opportunity to go out.

We went to The Key for 3 hours of great music, dancing, and watching foreign men try to hook up with Chinese women.  Hilariously, this also included Chinese women obviously showing absolutely no interest in the foreign men, and said foreign men totally not catching on.  In addition to people-watching, there are always TVs placed everywhere that your eyes rest, so I got to watch Michael Jackson and Beyonce dance for several hours.  I am becoming more and more familiar with Michael Jackson’s work, and it’s not because of a resurgence in popularity since his death – it’s because I came to China.  Same goes for Avril Lavigne . . .

This morning I woke up to a phone call.  This is almost never pleasant, and even more so when the person on the other end of the line is speaking Chinese.  I generally try to give myself 15 minutes after waking up before demanding such things of my brain, but today had no choice.  It was Jessie, a girl from the XiaDa environmental club.  October 24th is the International Day of Climate Action, and after I happened to discover that there was an event in Xiamen, she was planning on accompanying me to it.  In the planning process, she told me that it was on October 25th, which should have been a warning to me . . . anyway, it turns out that I had been right – it was today – and I had about 3 hours notice to go.  Hence, instead of going with 2 friends and this Chinese girl, I ended up going by myself.

It was okay, though!  I took two buses to Jimei, which is on the mainland to the north of Xiamen, because the event was being held on the campus of Jimei University.  Now, any Chinese person will tell you that there is no prettier campus than Xiamen in all of China (except maybe Wuhan), but I think I may need to get out more.  I thought JiDa was beautiful!  More so because of the buildings than the scenery, maybe, but still.  They have an impressive entrance with a fountain and everything – eat your heart out, TU!


I had made some friends on the bus, so they kindly accompanied me until I found what I was looking for.  They were three freshman girls – studying either French or law, I’m not certain which one – and seemed impossibly young.  Eventually we found the event, which was actually quite a feat because, at the time of my arrival, it consisted of a few people standing with a sign.

Jimei DaXue has a lot less foreigners than XiaDa, with its Overseas Education College, so I caused quite – possibly eclipsing, momentarily, impending climate-change-related doom.  The students were all very nice and very excited to 1) talk to me!  2) in Chinese!  It was wonderful.  The only action I noticed in the first hour was the posting of various signs, so I didn’t feel too bad for distracting them.

Things got more interesting later.  One guy read something (possibly material, as I heard both 350 [the desired concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere] and 390 [the current concentration] mentioned) while the rest of the students stood in a group with their fists over their heart.  At the end, they all shouted in unison; it was mildly terrifying.


There was also a painting of some scenery that was laid down on the ground.  Two boxes of coal were placed on the ground and students took turns getting their feet dirty and walking across the painting.  It was pretty visual – and, based on my experiences in Jilin with coal, very Chinese.


Near the end, they put up a banner that we were asked to sign – our names, as well as an idea for helping the environment.  In honor of Jesse, I wrote “No more coal – nuclear!”, but later changed it to “自己带筷子”(bring your own chopsticks) because I could write that in Chinese.  (Also, seriously, it is scary to think of 1.4 billion Chinese people using two small sticks of wood each, three times a day, and then throwing them away.  Think about it!)


We were set up outside the cafeteria, and they asked my help to recruit students passing by . . . this was pretty much a fail.  Although I do know how to say “sign here” and “protect the environment”, I generally failed to produce coherent sentences connecting these ideas.


After a few hours of fun and friend-making, I had to go.  Apparently they do lots of stuff, and invited me to come back.  I just might, although it is a long way (over an hour).  I really enjoyed my visit and, honestly, at least a small part of me wishes I went to JiDa.  I think it’s not quite as good a school as Xiamen, which is one of the top universities in the nation.  That may sound like a disadvantage, but XiaDa students seem to spend all their time studying, whereas these students seemed interested in hanging out.  Novel idea, that.  Also, I seriously think it’s a beautiful school (especially during the sunset I got to witness).


I took the bus back to Xiamen, where I arrived just in time for Mass.  I really need to start getting there earlier, as going to Chinese Mass is quite an ordeal for me.  I have to grab a song book, find a seat in the crowded pews, get out my papers, find a pencil, open my Bible to the right pages, cover my bare shoulders, etc.  I definitely catch more and more each time, and can now almost sing along with the Mass parts out of the songbook instead of having to look at my copy, which has pinyin pronunciation!

I had to hurry from Mass to get back to campus, where I was late for the first meeting of the environmental club.  We started off by sitting with our zodiac signs and introducing ourselves, then digressed into several all-Chinese PowerPoints that I didn’t understand.  Good thing I turned down that request to be translator!

I was also tired by this time.  I had speaking only Chinese all day, and it had been a long day.  This was obvious in my steadily-decreasing Chinese ability.  For example, I told someone that I had been in China for “二个月”, which is a mistake you make in your first week or so.  [Chinese has two characters for the number 2 – 二 and 两 – and they are used in different ways.  It’s really not that hard, but I managed to mess it up.]  It also took me a ridiculous amount of time to figure out that the word 地球 (literally, “ground” and “ball”) in the presentation was referring to the Earth, and not some sport I hadn’t head of.  [In Chinese, the names of most sports include the word 球 – 棒球 (baseball),篮球 (basketball),排球 (volleyball),乒乓球 (ping-pong),足球 (soccer),etc.]  Sorry, that probably mainly made sense to those of you who know a little Chinese – so basically . . . Chris.  Anyone else?

I left early because I had already missed out on half of dancing and wasn’t going to let an opportunity to wear my new shoes go to waste!  I love them and I love dancing, if I haven’t mentioned that yet.  I had a couple of exceptionally good dances with exceptionally happy men (even the usually-grouchy one) and learned some new steps!

But wait, it gets better.  As 10:00 (the end) approached, they put on another song – one that I hadn’t heard before, more disco/clubbing music than ballroom or Latin.  Lester, the Filipino guy who started coming with Karolina, said that it was freestyle dance.  I thought he was joking, but quickly joined in once I saw the other women breaking it down on the dance floor.  It was the MOST FUN EVER.  The men all packed up their things and headed out, leaving Lester and I with about eight 30-50 year-old women who I had only ever seen dance things like the waltz and tango.  They were so much fun, and seemed to appreciate all the moves I brought with me from America.  It was wonderful to see them all smiling and laughing!  I hope we do this every week.  Twice.  At least.

PS – Randomly came across this picture, taken in Xiamen, in NYT’s Pictures of the Day from yesterday, October 24th.  See slide #4.

The Sun Also Sets in the East

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2009 at 10:10 pm

In class today, we learned how to say “Open Door Reform”.  This is the reform started by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 that opened China to trade with the rest of the world, began the transition from a command to a market economy, etc.  My teacher attempted to describe it by saying “Before the reform, there was no McDonald’s or KFC.  After the reform, we have McDonald’s and KFC.”  Whether or not these were just the easiest results to point out, her choice of examples made me sad.  At the same time, it’s not like she could use “freedom of speech” or “freedom of the press” as examples, so maybe they were an apt choice. 

Yesterday during my imprisonment in hell (also know as 听力 class), I caught a glimpse of an amazing sunset out the classroom window.  This motivated me to visit the beach this evening.  Considering I live on an island, with a beach 5 minutes away on foot, I have not become a beach bum.  In fact, this was my 3rd time walking on sand since I came to Xiamen . . . !

After this evening, though, I think that needs to change.  The weather was beautiful – pleasantly cool with a strong breeze, perfect to enjoy in shorts and a long-sleeved shirt.  I walked along the beach barefoot and even got in the water up to my knees or so. 

I wasn’t the only one who thought the scene was idyllic.  There were quite a few people out there, including at least 7 couples (I counted) getting wedding pictures taken.  I love wedding pictures, so this was quite alright with me.


In addition to the glowing brides, there was a brilliant sunset to watch. 


Once the sun had set, the lights of the city came on.  In Xiamen, the highways are smooth white and illuminated by strips of white lights at night, and are perhaps my favorite part of the city.


I didn’t feel like going back quite yet, so I caught a random bus from the nearby stop.  I rode it past ZhongShan Lu and got off at a place that looked promising in terms of food.  I had beef noodles for dinner, which were almost as good as Taiwan’s.  On the street, I grabbed a 鸡蛋汉堡, or “egg hamburger”.  To those who say eggs aren’t safe to eat in China, I say “A life without eggs is a life not worth living.”  I also had an enormous cup of honey milk tea, which was quite possibly the most delicious thing that I have ever drunk.  Could it really be as easy as adding milk and honey to tea?  If so, I may be able to survive the transition back to America. 

I bought a few DVD’s from a guy on the street (NUMB3RS and a Chinese movie, Founding of a Republic) and then hung around for awhile trying (and failing) to make sense of the card game he was playing with some other men.  While I was standing there, I got a phone call from someone in the environmental club asking me to be their translator.  Flattered, really, but I’m hoping to find someone more qualified than me. 

I had some varied experiences with Chinese today.  The woman who sat next to me at dinner was clearly certain that I didn’t know a single word of Mandarin, as she went out of her way to get chopsticks from another table instead of asking me for a pair.  The employee at the camping supply store nearly had a heart attack when I responded to her in Chinese, saying “什么?” (what?).  And the DVD salesman didn’t bat an eye when I began questioning him about his product, just offered his own opinions on the various options I was considering.  Sometimes I feel invisible, sometimes like a freak, sometimes a genius, and then there are a few people who don’t seem to notice that I’m not Chinese.  All in one day . . .