Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘XiaDa’


In Uncategorized on August 19, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Somehow over two years have passed since I came back from China.  Every now and then I will see or smell or feel something that reminds me of China, and the suddenness and intensity of the memories that come back nearly take my breath away.  Hiking the Dish at Stanford and seeing the view of campus, which is so similar to Nanputo;


this article on a Shaanxi restaurant in New York that had pictures of the shredded meat sandwiches that were my go-to running-late meal at West Gate;


the sound of a live band playing “I Gotta Feeling” or anything by Rihanna just takes me back to Saturday nights at the Key.

I definitely miss it.  But then again, posts like this one also remind me of some of the more frustrating aspects of life in China:

When I started at a four-year college in 1998, I didn’t think it the least little bit odd that the schedule included in my orientation package already had the date of my graduation ceremony listed. Considering that family and friends would be traveling from out of town and would need to plan in advance, this made perfect sense to me. Why would it be any other way?

Fast forward to late September of 2002 and I was trying to find out what the October Holiday was, . . . what day or days it took place, and how many days off work I had. . . I couldn’t understand how this apparently very important yearly holiday was something that wasn’t listed on the school calendar of events.

I’ve been in China for a tad under 10 years by this point and I still don’t understand. I accept that the Chinese are apparently culturally unable to plan in advance, but accepting and understanding are not and never will be the same thing.

On January 6, 2003, when I left China for a trip to the US and Thailand, I gave my employer a wide variety of options for contacting me to let me know about my schedule. I would have given them my contact information anyways but it was more important than an American might otherwise think due to no one knowing when the Spring Term was going to start. Within half an hour of arriving at Capital Airport in Beijing my phone rang. The head of the English Department was frantic with worry because she hadn’t been able to reach me by phone, hadn’t tried my email address, and classes were starting tomorrow.

The kindergarten after the high school job let me know on a Tuesday that, despite the printed schedule in my contract, classes were ending for the summer on Wednesday and I needed to prepare “going away party” materials to say good-bye to all my kids. I thought maybe it was a boss-to-foreign employee relationship thing but as a student at Hainan University, it was no better. Holidays were announced or not announced seemingly at random and no one knew when classes started until after they had already started. Maybe it was my fault for not living in the dorms?

However, as I got to know more long term laowai and got to know them better, I realized that it wasn’t just me. For instance, friend and fellow Lost Laowai contributor Nicki was working for a training school that wanted her and her husband to renew their contracts for a further two years. The couple made some unreasonable demands to the school, however. They wanted to have two consecutive days off each week and they wanted all schedule changes (with the exception of emergency cancellations) to be posted 24 hours in advance.

This inability to plan in advance isn’t just a school thing but seems, rather, a cultural thing that is endemic to Mainland China. . .

Even though the October Holiday is on the 1st of October every fricking year no one is going to know what days they have off until its published in the newspaper; and the same goes for May Holiday, Spring Festival, and New Years’.

Things are going really well at Stanford.  I’m basically done with my first year, and so far each quarter has been better than the previous one.  It’s a good trend!  I leave for Europe in a week for a short course with my lab, plus trips to Slovenia and the Netherlands to see classmates from my year in China!!


In Uncategorized on November 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm

This year I celebrated Thanksgiving at “home” – that is, on Stanford’s campus where I’ve been living for two months now.  My parents came out here for the break, and for the actual holiday we enjoyed a free dinner provided by the Graduate Student Association.  It was nice because we got to share the meal with Mirela, my roommate, who is from Bulgaria and was celebrating her first American Thanksgiving.

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My parents said it was their first time celebrating Thanksgiving not at someone’s home, and their first time eating Thanksgiving dinner outside (although we were in a tent), which I thought was interesting because neither was a first for me.  In fact, I realized that, of the last 6 Thanksgivings, I haven’t spent any two in the same place – 3 different states and two different countries, in fact – and there are only three people (Mom, Dad, and Grandpa Holland) who have been at more than one of the meals.

It reminded me of how often I’m far away from the people that I care about, and made me so grateful for those people who continue to care about me even when I’m far away from them for long periods of time.

Other things I’m grateful for:

Family, friends, and ways to keep in touch:
I QQ-ed with XuLei last night, something we still do pretty regularly.  How amazing is it that we can catch up whenever we want, talking face to face, for free?!  I’m also grateful for the fact that she said I look thinner, which I’m pretty sure was a first for her.

The circumstances that have allowed me to visit friends, and friends to visit me:
This last year was full of so many opportunities to reunite with friends – from Lester and Denise visiting me in Minneapolis, to my summer trips to Tulsa, St. Louis, and Chicago, and my extended road trip through 2/3 of the country, I got to see so many people that I hadn’t seen in too long!  Every visit was excellent, and there’s not a place that I visited that I didn’t leave thinking to myself, “Yeah, I could live here”.

New friends:
This time last year, I hadn’t realized yet how important the friendships that I made senior year at TU would become.  I was still unsure about the consequences of leaving the country for my senior year, and hadn’t yet figured out that it was pretty much the best thing ever.  Also, I’m thankful for the new friends I’ve made at Stanford, who have helped me through this first quarter!

The opportunities I’ve had to study at three of the most beautiful universities:
I love TU’s matching sandstone, library steps with a majestic view of downtown, and luxuriously spacious student apartments.  I loved Xiamen’s proximity to the beach, neighboring mountains, continually blossoming flowers, and Tall Building.  And now I’m continually in awe of Stanford’s classic Main Quad, modern-but-appropriate new Engineering Quad, the killer view from the Dish, and the insane fall colors.  How have I been so lucky?!  And . . . where could I possibly go from here?

And lastly, I’ve started reading The Confessions of St. Augustine, and this passage reminded me of the way I learned Chinese (although here he’s talking about learning his first language, Latin):

There had  been a time too, of course, when I did not know any Latin words either; yet simply by paying attention I learned Latin without any fears or torments; I learned it in the caressing language of my nurses and in the laughter and play and kindness of those about me.  In this learning I was under no pressure of punishment, and people did not have to urge me on; my own heart urged me on to give birth to the thoughts which it had conceived, and I could not do this unless I learned some words; these I learned not from instructors but from people who talked to me and in whose hearing I too was able to give birth to what I was feeling.  It is clear enough from this that free curiosity is a more powerful aid to the learning of languages than a forced discipline.

Pretty much super grateful for that opportunity that I was given.

Studies Terminated

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Friday afternoon we had a graduation ceremony – except we weren’t graduating, so it wasn’t actually a 毕业典礼.  They called it a 结业典礼, which basically just means Termination of Studies.  They called us by name and handed us Certificates of Attendance with our pictures on them.  So basically . . . we were going to class, and now we aren’t any more.


While it sounds kind of hokey, everything was actually surprisingly legit.  Coming from a university that told me the wrong date for the beginning of the semester, who didn’t know when finals would be until three weeks before, and couldn’t even manage to print a student ID with my picture on it, I was not expecting much.  But they came up with a transcript printed on official-looking paper and a nicely bound Certificate of Attendance with my full name on it.  (This is really quite something, as my official name for all other university-related business was simply MARIA, no last name.) 

We took a picture afterwards, all of us foreigners who were about to leave all thrown in together on the steps of our classroom building.


I said a final final goodbye to Aleid and was figuring my friends were gone already, when I got a phone call from Eunice.  She’d checked out and returned her key, then returned to grab her last bag.  While she was in the bathroom, the cleaning lady came in, looked around, and locked the door behind her.  There’s no way to open the deadbolt without a key, even from the inside, so Eunice was trapped in her room!  Talk about fire hazard . . .

But I rescued her, helped her get her bags into the taxi, and said a final final goodbye to her as well.  And then there were none :(

Even with my two constant companions gone, though, there were still friends to see and farewell dinners to eat.  I called up Hu Jing, the female mechanical engineering student I befriended, and we went to dinner together for the last time.  We hugged when we parted ways, one of those awkward embraces I can’t help but associated with goodbyes in China.  She went to her right, which conflicted with me going to my left (according to the societal norm) and we ended up cheek-to-cheek facing the same way.  Ah, that’s what 再见 feels like! 

I must say, though, that Chinese don’t have the monopoly on awkward hugs.  Eunice insisted on all her goodbye hugs being photographed, which made for some awkward looking photos:

IMG_3198 IMG_3195

After a day of such hard goodbyes, what else could I do but try to drown my sorrows?  My girlfriends were gone, so I hung out with the guys – Jelle, Yerkin, Tom, Bo, etc.  We bought some rum and took it up to the top of Jelle’s building, where we had long conversations and enjoyed the view of Xiamen’s illuminated bridges.  It was stunning, honestly.

Jelle and I went to 1801 afterwards, one of those things I felt like I had to do at least once before leaving Xiamen.  It was about what I expected, a Chinese club with insanely loud music and basically free drinks for foreigners.  I had a great time dancing and am glad I went at least once. 


They played a techno remix of Take Me Home Country Roads and as I sang at the top of my lungs, I realized how much that song has come to mean to me this year.  West Virginia isn’t my home, but it’s sure a lot closer to it than Xiamen.  So take me home, country roads, to the place where I belong – because right now I have a feeling that I should have been home yesterday. 

Ode To A Little Container of Garlic Sauce

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2010 at 9:23 pm

We woke up and were on the road by 10, catching a bus to Hangzhou.  I think I picked the wrong bus station in Hangzhou, because we had a half-hour taxi ride upon our arrival.  But at least there was no problem with the hotel this time . . .

We had lunch at a Sichuan place that looked nice – but unfortunately, wasn’t.  I forgot that the only thing you can tell from how a Chinese restaurant looks is how expensive it will be; the quality of the food and service are totally unrelated.  The servers got our order wrong, ignored my repeated requests for tea and rice, and tried to charge us for things we didn’t order. 

It was rainy, but the main (only?) thing you go to Hangzhou to see is West Lake so we headed there anyway.  I could tell the lake was pretty, but on a day like this it really didn’t have much on Xiamen.  Except pagodas, I guess; those were a nice touch.


We walked across the lake on the Su Causeway, which was a stretch of land so wide that it was possible to forget we were walking across a lake.  It’s a pretty big lake, and it was a long walk. 


The tree cover overhead is thick and weeping willows kind of block the view of the water, so the main sight was the colorful umbrellas of our fellow walkers.


Once we reached the other side of the lake, we found a bus stop to take us back to our hotel.  Matt noticed that one of the guys waiting with us was wearing an XMU baseball cap, so I started up a conversation with him.  I’m pretty sure the last thing he expected to see in Hangzhou was a foreign woman claiming to be classmates, but that’s why life in China is so exciting.  The bus took like an hour to come, so we had lots of time to chat; he just graduated in Biology and was headed to graduate school.  We commiserated about Xiamen’s weather and discussed sites to see in Hangzhou.  We’re pretty much besties.

We got lost on the way home.  I am not sure why we had so much difficulty navigating main streets on this trip! 

Back at the hotel, tired and wet, we decided to order in for dinner.  A quick internet search, a simple phone call, and 40 minutes later, Papa John’s was at the door!  Please don’t judge me for eating from American pizza chains twice in as many days; I had a moment of weakness and Matt only encouraged it.

With that said, the pizza was amazing.  It tasted exactly like home (as much as I can remember from a year ago) and even came with the little container of garlic sauce.  Oh, little container of garlic sauce – I will be home soon!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Changtai

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2010 at 12:52 am

This morning is SO typical of China.  Behold:

We meet at Baicheng at 7:30 (just for the record, this was a mere 2 1/2 hours after the football match ended last night) to set off for our day trip.  Nathalie’s running late so as we cram the five of us into the taxi we urge the driver to go faster – we have an 8:10 bus to catch!  At the bus station, XuLei goes to buy tickets while we go to find our bus.  The woman at the information says, “Changtai?  There are no buses to Changtai from here.”  Ah, the old wrong-bus-station trick; I’ve fallen for that one a good many times.

But this was apparently part of the plan.  XuLei comes back with tickets to Changtai as well as bus passes that will get us to the correct bus station.  It’s a short drive away, a small transportation hub hidden so cleverly in a mall that none of us knew it existed.  We navigate our way through the station, finally get on our bus to Changtai, and I fall asleep.

Transportation tally: taxi – 1, bus – 2

XuLei wakes me up after calling the rafting place, our destination in Changtai.  Due to the flooding affecting the entire province (except our island, apparently), there is no rafting today.  I understand that weather affects outdoor activities, but what makes this something that could only happen in China is that a) XuLei ordered tickets online last night and b) the place was also closed yesterday.  XuLei confers with the driver and finds an alternate destination; a few minutes later we are dropped off on the side of the road.

It’s the JiaLong theme park, a completely artificial wonderland filled with a zoo, fruit garden, hot springs, pools, fishing, and a [90m] ‘mountain’.  Despite a very enthusiastic employee, we unanimously decided to seek greener pastures (or at least higher mountains).

But there were no direct buses to our next choice, Xiamen University’s campus in Zhangzhou.  I mean, technically there were no direct buses to anywhere, but we did manage to get on a bus to Xiamen after walking a ways and standing on the side of the road looking helpless (fortunately, sometimes I happen to excel at). 

The vehicle we boarded was the bus equivalent of the Jeepucha from the farm.  The Jeepucha was the very first stick shift I ever drove, a feat that was complicated somewhat by its complete lack of power steering, suspension, or brakes of any sort.  The seat belts were sketchy – heck, the seats were sketchy – and only a few windows remained.  This bus was pretty much like that.  It sparked a mild debate between us as to how old this thing could be; Aleid thought 30 years but Nathalie and I disagreed, saying that vehicles don’t get driven like this and last 30 years.  XuLei guessed 10. 

It got us safely to DongDu, where we caught a bus to Lundu, where we got on the ferry to Zhangzhou.  Yeah, we felt a little silly about our route thus far, which had taken us from Xiamen to Zhangzhou, back to Xiamen, and now returning to Zhangzhou, but we agreed that the scenic tour had been nice.

Transportation tally: taxi – 1, bus – 4, boat – 1

We took a local bus from the ferry to the campus, where we decided to have lunch (as it was already noon).  We first had snacks, some 烧仙草.  Lester described it as “milk with peanuts, red beans, stuff, and other stuff” (where the other stuff is coconut jelly and suspicious black jelly), but I’m personally partial to the name of the stand at West Gate: Fubu Burns the Fairy Grass.

Then we went to a restaurant for lunch, where we were treated to some truly notable service.  They really don’t see many foreigners out there in the country, and the poor waiter was so confused that he asked XuLei if she could speak Chinese.  Then, as we ordered food, he offered a commentary on whether or not we would like it.  “Chinese food is not the same as Western food,” he began, going on to tell us that “we aren’t accustomed” to eating this type of fish and that type of meat.  I’m surprised he didn’t bring us forks and knives, actually.  I would have been insulted by how condescending he was if I hadn’t found the whole thing so hilarious. 

It was my first real meal in about 6 days, and even though it was quite hot my stomach had no problem.  We all struggled a little with the hot peppers, but luckily discovered that lychee really help to put out the fire.  They may be my new addiction . . .

We walked around the campus after lunch, seeing XiaDa students (including XuLei) spent their freshman and sophomore years.  It’s a beautiful campus, with many of the things that make our campus on the island so beautiful – water and mountains, fusion architecture, tropical plants. 


But it’s only a few years and the trees aren’t very big, so I think in maybe 10 years it will be able to compete with its big brother. 


The main draw is the library, a piece of architecture so famous that there was a CCTV special on it.  It’s huge, airy, open, and fabulous.  There’s a giant courtyard/arboretum inside illuminated by sunlight (filtered so it’s not so harsh) and filled with couches and plants. 

As soon as we sat down on one of said couches, we were approached by group after group of students wanting to get their pictures taken with us.  What can I say, we’re cute!


Lester felt left out because no one wanted a picture with someone who looks Chinese, so I took a picture with him.


And we got someone to take a group picture, too. 


Then it was time to go home.  Bus to the ferry, ferry to the bus stop, bus to campus. 

Transportation tally: taxi – 1, bus – 7, boat – 2

What a day – and all while we were “adventuring towards rafting in Changtai”!

Green Trees, Blue Sea, and White Clouds

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2010 at 2:17 am

It was blazing hot today when I went to class – at 8 in the morning!  Of course, within five minutes of reaching the classroom I was freezing and losing feeling in my extremities.  Apparently the need to overcompensate with air conditioning is not isolated to the American South.  Ugh – I hate it!  It’s so wasteful, first of all, but I if I’m not comfortable at 60 degrees in the winter, why would I want that temperature in the summer??  I don’t want to be cold instead of being hot, I just don’t want to be hot.  But apparently I am alone in this. 

I did laundry after class.  With only 30 days left, I’m hoping to only have to do this two or three more times.  Maybe I’ll just start using Febreze more.  Seriously, the laundry situation here is another facet of the unpleasantness of Chinese dorm life.  I’ve been told by XuLei that the communal washing machines make clothes dirtier actually, and I would believe it.  Coming out the washing machine, my clothes look and smell about the same, only . . . wetter.  Awesome.

Today was the first clear day in ages, which meant Lester and I had plans: riding the cable car!  It’s been on my Xiamen Bucket List since I went to the Botanical Gardens next door, but we were waiting for a day without rain or – praying for a miracle – smog.  Today was that day! 

The cable car is slightly difficult to find (up inconspicuous steps off a busy road immediately next to a tunnel) and pretty expensive (40 kuai, or $6), but I’m glad we did it.  The route goes all the way up and down the mountain (and back!) and it moves at a glacial pace so  you get a good hour of cable-car-riding for your money. 

There wasn’t anything too amazing to see, but I did enjoy the silence and stunning amounts of green surrounding us.  Combined with the colors of the cars themselves, it made for great pictures.


Once we crested the mountain, we had an interesting perspective on the campus and the blue (!) sea and sky beyond.


So all in all, I would say the cable car is worth riding, but wait for a nice day.

This evening, Aleid and I made dinner at her place.  First, we went shopping at the supermarket, where we picked up a pound of ground sausage that was elegantly scooped up by some guy’s bare hands and placed in a plastic baggie.  Just the way I like it.  While we waited in the ridiculous dinner-time checkout line, Aleid and I updated each other on the tiny things that make our life here interesting.  Today, she told me that she just found out the salary that one of her Chinese friends is making working at a coffee shop – 5 or 6 yuan per hour.  This is less than a dollar per hour, but even after turning RMB into USD it’s still below our minimum wage!  Concrete numbers like this are such a wake-up call for me. 

When we got off the bus by her apartment, the sight of blue sea and white clouds nearly took my breath away. 


Let’s not reflect on how sad it was that we were excited to see the land over there, shall we?

Our dinner consisted of pancakes and sausage, with sides of watermelon and lychee.  It was awesome, of course.  After dinner we watched The Wrong Guy, which is the best movie you’ve probably never heard of.  Do yourself and go watch it right now if you haven’t yet – heck, if you have, go watch it again! 

Aleid has two new French roommates, and one of them told me some news of the French World Cup team: apparently they’re on strike.  This is hilarious, right?  I told them that the stereotypes we have of France are good food, a beautiful language, and constant strikes by everyone about everything.  He said it’s pretty much true. 

One other World Cup note: Portugal beat North Korea 7-0.  I’ve apparently assimilated some soccer knowledge, because I remember looking at the scoreboard at one point during the 2-2 US-Slovenia game and thinking “Wow, this is a high-scoring game!”.  But 7-0?  That doesn’t even sound like soccer; you could fool me into thinking it was any other American sport!


As of today, my blog has passed the mark of 10,000 views.  I’m pretty sure it’s not a big deal, but I did want to take this moment to share some of the odd search terms that have led people to my writing:

  • "striving for mediocrity" in liturgical practices
  • minutemen meatpuppets descendents angst
  • ridiculous fruit
  • kristina groves legs
  • pink flame bowling ball bag
  • creepy burger king

Hahaha.  I wonder if these people were disappointed with their search results? 

Today Was A Rollercoaster!

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2010 at 2:04 am

Up: Arriving in class a few minutes early, having previewed the new text and looked at all the new words.

Down: No one besides Jelle, Aleid, and I did, so we’re going to continue at the mind-numbingly slow pace as always.


Down: Agreeing to lunch plans with Zhang LiBin, a guy who (like a shocking number of my Chinese contacts) I met in a train station.  He came into town this week and despite me being busy and not particularly wanting to hang out with him, he guilted me into it.

Up: XuLei agreeing to accompany me to lunch and doing a fabulous job of keeping the conversation going, translating thick accents, and generally sticking to me like glue.  Actually, the lunch ended up going well.  Zhang and I don’t share a ton of interests and the two friends that he brought along uttered perhaps 10 sentences between them (8 of them in response to direct questions) but we managed to chat pleasantly and eat really well (hot pot!).  Also, I missed my afternoon class but apparently it was a review of the review we did last week, so I didn’t miss much.


Down: Learning of yesterday’s suicide at XiaDa.  Apparently an exchange student from Shandong University jumped off the Tall Building, which I guess does help explain why it’s usually not possible to go up there.

Up: Learning that Chinese people never go to the dentist (as in, none of the four Chinese at lunch had ever been to the dentist before).  First of all, it now makes sense why Chinese generally have horrible teeth.  It also makes moving to China much more appealing, because I hate to go to the dentist.  Little do you all know, this whole study abroad idea was just an elaborate plan to skip the biannual appointment my mom nags me about.


Down: Having 1,421 flashcards awaiting review in Anki, a result of the three-day weekend (plus yesterday) when I did no studying. 

Up: Seeing that number get down to 707 after only an hour and a half. 


Up: Smiling at a woman on the bus and having her do a double-take – to SMILE.

Down: Arriving at choir practice and having three people ask me why I wasn’t at the practice that no one told me about yesterday.


Up: Seeing my Little Brother, enjoying his random English responses (“Where did you go this weekend?”  “Whatever”), having a conversation about Nike shoes (??), and hearing him cantor so beautifully.

Down: Feeling stupid because I didn’t know almost half of the words in one song, still don’t know what time I’m supposed to be at practice tomorrow, and only tonight realized that Saturday’s Mass is in the morning.  Realizing the reason BingBing doesn’t really seem to like me that much is because I must be an enormous hassle.


Up: Running to catch the last bus of the night back to West Gate – and making it!

Down: Getting caught in an intense thunderstorm on the way home from West Gate.


Here’s one thing that managed to pick me up during the downs: 改变自己, a song I just discovered by Wang Leehom (王力宏).

This morning after getting up, I looked at myself in the mirror;
Suddenly, I realized my bed-head is a little ridiculous.
A little change can make a big difference,
Our strength can change the world.

Recently, I’ve been troubled; recently, I’ve been down
Every day when I watch the news, I want to shout
But swearing is no use; everyone will just be offended
By changing myself, I’ve discovered that a lot of things are different

Modern friend, let’s work hard
Everyone yell na na na na na

I can change the world, change myself
Change the distance between us, change the pettiness
If we work hard and never give up
Then we can change the world
Come on, change yourself!

This morning after getting up, my head was a little sore
Maybe there’s too much carbon dioxide or not enough oxygen
A little change can make a big difference,
Our passion can change the world.

You can represent yourself, not politics
Even if this world stresses me out
I need to adjust myself . . .
Who knew that a little bit would be the crowning touch?

While I would like to give Wang Leehom a round of applause for working in “carbon dioxide” to his lyrics, I will admit that it’s cooler in Chinese (start at 00:30).



大家一起大声的说Na Na Na Na Na

要一直 努力 努力永不放弃
Come on, 改变自己

今早起床了, 觉得头有点痛

要调整自己, 嗯…

I’m addicted.

Happy Birthday, Queen Beatrix!

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2010 at 1:42 am

We got our midterms back in class today (solid 91%) and then basically had free time to do whatever we wanted as long as it was speaking Chinese.  My group got on to the topic of food (of course) and the teacher even joined in.  I found out that Xiamen’s worm specialty is called 土笋冻.  From what I’ve read of this Chinese article on it, the snack originated when Koxinga (the man who got the Dutch out of Taiwan) was stationed by a sea and running low on food.  From what the teacher told us, nobody likes it the first time they eat it, but after three times you start to like it.  Good thing they’re available at night markets here, because I only have to try two more times to start liking them.  Can you imagine me going through a worms-in-jelly phase?

Today’s weather was absolutely gorgeous, which was perfect because Friday is Jiaozi Day!  They’re looking for a female worker . . .

After lunch, I walked around – grabbed ice cream to cool off my mouth, bought some earrings off the street, looked at glasses and prices, etc.  I also went to the XiaDa souvenir shop!  They have hats and t-shirts and desk accoutrement and mugs and postcards and business card holders and pocket knifes, all with the XiaDa seal on them!  Their prices are almost unreasonably reasonable, especially when compared with college bookstores in America.  I bought postcards, bookmarks, a keychain, and a pin for $5 – for the same price at the TU bookstore, I believe, you can buy a window decal for your car.  Oh wait, plus tax . . . okay, you can almost buy a window decal for your car.

Today is Queen’s Day, the Dutch national holiday, which we celebrated by wearing orange.  We met up at Diederik’s place for drinks at 5.  (Incidentally, if you like the “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” argument, that means 4 a.m. in the central US.  So go ahead and start the day with a beer or two!)  Diederik lives on the highest point of the entire island.  Okay, this is an exaggeration – he lives on the 8th floor or so – but there are no stairs so it’s a little extreme.  The upside, though, is that he has a great view.


We proceeded from there to dinner at a great seafood restaurant on DaXueLu (aka Fish Restaurant Street).  We got a table outside next to a huge banquet table of Chinese working hard at getting totally wasted.  The atmosphere was kind of nice, actually, lending a feeling of festivity to our dinner (except for the fact that their favored puking spot was the tree next to our table).  The service was surprisingly good as well, and the food was great.  We ended up ordering three servings of their garlic shrimp, plate after plate after plate, because we still hadn’t had enough. 

We had all sorts of interesting things to talk about over dinner.  I am really getting interested in government and politics, although only in comparison.  I’m fascinated by monarchies, their powers, and popular opinion about them.  I have so many questions – for instance, for the Dutch: Would you like to have a king next?  Would you be okay with a foreigner sitting on the throne?

I had mangos for dessert.  I didn’t have them for breakfast because I had loquats instead.  Do you know what a loquat is?  I didn’t, until last week.  This is such a common occurrence with fruit here – between the language barrier and the climate difference, I see new fruits almost weekly and learn new words even more often.  I’m working on a fruit dictionary, which I will post once I add pictures.  Get excited – there are cool words like mangosteen and longan and rambutan and wax apples, any of which would make a really awesome band name. 

And with that, April is over.  Hello, May!

Odds of Me Ever Understanding Tones = 100,000,000:1

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 at 1:24 am

Another major milestone in the study abroad experience finally happened today.  That’s right, after nearly 8 months in country, I am officially sick of all my clothing.  As I stood there this morning, staring at my closet (not to give you the impression that this task takes a lot of time; it doesn’t), I briefly considered going naked.  At least it sounded more exciting than wearing any of my tired shirts again!  On the bright side, when explaining my feelings to XuLei I said 我的衣服都穿腻了 (“I’m sick of wearing all my clothes”), successfully using a grammar structure that I had previously only heard referring to food.  On another bright side, I’m going to the tailor tomorrow and a night market next week :)

Today, the 7th day after 青海玉树地震 (the earthquake in YuShu, QingHai), was a 全国哀悼日 (national day of mourning).  The Chinese seem to take this very seriously – in addition to a moment of silence and all flags 降半旗 (at half-staff), there was basically no public entertainment in the entire country – no music downloads, no QQ games, no karaoke, no dancing.  Some Chinese websites went gray; others shut down.  I kind of like how they do this, making it nearly impossible to go through the day without pausing a few times to think of the victims, survivors, and rescue workers. 

After an explanation about the day of mourning (in which I learned a lot of new words, as seen above), our teacher told us that they recently held a benefit for the victims and raised “er shi yi kuai qian”.  I immediately translated those sounds into the characters 二十块钱, did the calculations in my head (21 kuai = $3), and immediately wondered how on earth a country of 1.3 billion people could raise less money than the price of a good cup of coffee over here.  Seconds pass . . . and I realize that she had probably said 二十亿块钱.  Since this 亿 equals 100 million instead of 1 like the other 一, it kind of makes a difference – specifically, by seven orders of magnitude – which means that they raised $30 million.

Maybe I should be embarrassed about this failure of my listening ability, but I’m going to blame it on the ridiculous Chinese language instead.  Seriously?!?  I’ve accepted the fact that 4 (sì) and 10 (shí) sound identical – except for the tone – when said by a southerner, and have even stopped getting really excited when they tell me things that I know should be 10 kuai are only 4 kuai.  But this ridiculous business about the numbers ONE (yī) and ONE HUNDRED MILLION (yì) sounding basically the same is just a little bit too much for me.  Retelling this story later to XuLei, I explained how we English speakers, when verbally relaying important numbers, sometimes use “niner” to distinguish it unequivocally from the number “five”, even though they have only a vowel sound in common.  She understood, but continued to maintain that the tone difference is so clear to Chinese speakers that further clarification is unnecessary.  Fair enough – in normal situations at least, but I still imagine disasters of great magnitude when the communication takes place over a static-y phone line or shouting in a crowd. 

You know, for all the times I’ve complained about tones (and there have been many), most of it has been comments on theoretical misunderstandings that could take place if someone willfully misconstrued your meaning and gave you the dysentery (lìji) you ordered instead of the tenderloin (lǐji) that common sense dictates you most likely meant to order.  Are these miscommunications possible?  Yes.  Are they likely?  No – thank God!  There are only two cases where I’ve experienced chronic difficulty with near homonyms.  One of them is the aforementioned yī/yì crisis with the numbers, and the other concerns the languages of Chinese (hànyǔ) and Korean (hányǔ).  Speaking about or comparing the two languages is about as close to hell as I’ve come in my language studies, a comedy of errors requiring constant clarification (韩国的韩语还是中国的汉语?  Korean hanyu or Chinese hanyu?). 

I’m getting a headache just writing about it, so now let’s move on to another interesting (and much less frustrating) aspect of numbers in Chinese.  Arabic numerals are used in many instances, but Chinese also has a few numeral sets of its own.  There’s the simple one that normal people can actually learn (一二三四五六七八九十), but there’s also a tamper-resistant set for important financial documents (壹贰叁肆伍陆柒捌玖拾), a ‘Suzhou style’ for bookkeeping (〡〢〣〤〥〦〧〨〩十) and a few other random numerals thrown in to make language-learners cry. 

There were two other things that I found out today in class:

  1. No one (including the teacher) is actually sure when finals are.  The schedule we were given at registration says the third week of July, but the teacher thinks it ‘might’ be the first week of July.  I guess I’m not going to be buying my ticket home any time soon . . . might be back sooner than originally thought!  While it would be kind of exciting to go home sooner, I literally cannot comprehend how this university functions.  It’s midterms, and we still don’t know when the semester is ending?!? 
  2. The characters 王 and 壬 are different.  I did not previously know this . . . It does explain why 往 is pronounced ‘wang’ and 任 is pronounced ‘ren’, though.  When am I going to stop having these thoroughly unpleasant surprises??

We had lunch out by the lake after class, enjoying takeout from the cafeteria and the scenery of the most beautiful spot on campus. 


It looks like a photo shoot for XiaDa publicity materials, doesn’t it?

My afternoon class was canceled, so I allowed myself a little more time than I should have to watch Big Bang Theory.  In my defense, I watched it with Chinese subtitles (a luxury I will sorely miss when/if I return to buying DVDs in the States).  I felt totally vindicated for indulging myself because I learned several words/phrases from reading along in Chinese while I listened in English:

  • 漫画 (mànhuà) – Manga!  It actually means comics or caricatures; the word ‘manga’ comes from Japanese, which uses the same characters but pronounces them slightly differently.
  • 你有一手 (nǐ yǒu yìshǒu) – Their translation for “Well played”, it literally means “You have skill/moves”. 
  • 能力越大,责任越大 (nénglì yuè dà, zérèn yuè dà) – “With great power comes great responsibility”, a phrase that happens to use one of my favorite grammatical structures.  (Yes, I have favorite grammatical structures.  What of it?)

In the evening, I enjoyed a second picnic by the lake.  I had delicious fried noodles with chicken, a pure mango smoothie, and tang yuan (which apparently you can get to-go!).  We sat on the small island, giving us a perfect vantage point from with to watch the sun go down and the stars (!!!!!) come out.


Across the lake, I could see the flag in front of the tall building at half-staff in observance of the national day of mourning.


Looking the other way, back towards the part of campus where I live, the lights of the buildings beautifully reflected off the still water.


We tried to go dancing but, as I mentioned before, there’s no dancing today.  But between a few hours of lounging by the lake and a leisurely walk back to the dorm, chatting all the while, it was a great evening anyway.

A Trip to the Botanical Gardens

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2010 at 1:35 am

The Xiamen Botanical Garden is free if you go before 7 in the morning.  It is also free if you go in by the secret route that consists of climbing a mountain by a barely-discernible path. 

Getting up was obviously out of the question, so we climbed the mountain.  There was me, Carlos, and Aleid, plus DongWei (a mutual friend of Carlos and me), three of his classmates, and another friend he got to guide us into the gardens. 


The mountain climbing wasn’t actually too hard – although it was possibly the first time I heard a Chinese person say that it was still “very far” to our destination.  (It was also definitely my first time hiking through a palm tree forest!)  It was quite hot, though, and unexpectedly so.  We were in the high 20’s today (mid 80’s), which is definitely the hottest day we’ve had yet this spring.  It was okay once we got to the top of the mountain, where we had a great view of most of our island – including our campus and Gulangyu in the distance.

2350 - Island Panorama.tif

Truth be told, I wasn’t incredibly impressed with the botanical gardens.  The only really cool 植物 that we saw were in the cactus garden. 


It reminded me of my  Abuelos’ place in El Paso, with a little touch of Udall orientation thrown in. 


They seriously had every kind of cactus there.  There were ridiculously colorful cacti:


There were cacti that looked like octopi:


There were cacti that looked like old bearded men:


There were cacti prickly enough to give you nightmares:


There were cacti that looked like a piece of art because of their detailed ornamentation:


There were cacti that looked like birthday cakes, complete with candles:


There were cacti that looked like they were dressed up for Easter with flowers in their hair:


There were cacti that looked like they would be more at home in the ocean than in a desert:


There were even cacti arranged to form a map of China and the characters 祖国万岁 (Long Live the Motherland!):


But the real joy of the day’s excursions was walking around in a nice environment, enjoying the beautiful weather, and chatting.  For instance, we learned that Chinese people can’t tell us apart either and that certain trends (Pogs, Tamagotchies, and Furbies) were nearly universal.  In the perfect end to a great morning, we had lunch at a Sichuan place on ZhongShan Lu with the best tofu I’ve ever had.

This evening I had the joy of a Mass buddy.  JunCheng is a Korean classmate of mine who noticed the crucifix necklace I always wear and asked if I went to church here.  He just got to Xiamen a few weeks ago and had been looking for the church without success.  We made plans to go tonight, which was really nice for a change.  We were joined by a Chinese friend of mine along the way, and by the time we got to the church and I was greeting the familiar faces around me, I felt connected again.  I really missed Chinese Mass last week, I’m realizing, and it was good to be back.