Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘Xiamen’

Coming Home to Xiamen

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2015 at 1:22 am

Nothing makes a place feel more like home than returning to it.  I think I first said this, about Xiamen, after a 10 day trip to Taiwan in 2009.  Returning to the Xiamen, seeing simplified characters, getting on my usual bus, knowing where my next meal was coming from – it was the first time this island felt like home.

When I landed at Xiamen Gaoqi airport on Saturday, I thought of all the times I’ve returned to Xiamen.  By my count, it’s something like three times in that airport, twice by train, once by bus, once by boat.  

Unlike the other times, I didn’t really know what to expect.  Five years is a long time, especially in China.  When I went to Taiwan for 10 days, I remember they remodeled Coco, my favorite milk tea place, and I almost didn’t recognize it.  

Especially after my time in Beijing was less than lovely, I had a lot of anxiety about coming back to Xiamen.  Part of my post On Beijing and Loving China was an attempt to understand why I’ve loved China, remember why I loved Xiamen, and predict whether or not I would still love it.  

The two easiest changes to identify are the absence of my international friends, and the inevitable changes in myself over five years.  During my time at XiaDa, I had very few (like 3?) American friends, but as my classmates were also studying Chinese, they were all international students.  My best friends were Dutch, Spanish, Cape Verdean, Russian, Slovenian, Japanese, Filipino, Thai, Mexican, etc., and it was hard to imagine Xiamen without them.  I ate most meals with them, went dancing with them, debriefed with them after strange or frustrating experiences.  Our knowledge of the city was communal.  I’ve since seen several of them, in their countries or in mine, and they were as delightful as I remembered, so it seems natural to question if they were what made Xiamen delightful.  Then, in their absence?

As for myself, the unhappiness I felt in Beijing worried me.  Maybe I had lost my adventuring spirit, or my patience, or my sense of humor.  China requires hefty supplies of all three.  Was this Beijing that I didn’t like basically Xiamen, seen through loveless eyes?  

But now, five days later, I’m once again devastated to leave Xiamen, pained at the knowledge that I don’t know when I’ll be back, and struggling to express my feelings.  

There have been changes – There are two giant new buildings on the horizon, visible from any part of the island I go to.  The air is worse, although the worst day I saw here would still be in the top 10% of my days in Beijing.  There are a ton of tourists now – I think the opening of the new high-speed rail routes since I left has been huge for tourism here.  This translates into crowded beaches, once the domain of us foreigners only, and significant traffic, of the kind I had only seen before on national holidays.  There’s a Walmart on Zhongshan Lu, now, and a Carrefour, too, so you can buy Western goods without having to travel all the way to SM.  

Distances changed, too – not in reality, obviously, but in my memory.  I went walking around 西村 and found our old malatang place and our old jiaozi place, but they were at least three times further than I remembered, and I almost gave up before we got to them.  It was amazing that I was able to find so many things that I remembered, between the pace of development in China and my notoriously bad spatial memory.  But for everything that was gone (Green Chairs Restaurant!!), there were two that were still there (the malatang soup place, the hand pancake stand).  I’m honestly not sure what surprised me more, when I found something exactly where I expected it, or when it wasn’t there.  Both astonished me, every single time.  

But these changes are fairly superficial.  The island is the same island I loved.  Xiamen just can’t help being beautiful.  People are always surprised when I say that Stanford is not the most beautiful campus I’ve lived on, but it’s true.  Minutes from the beach at Baicheng, surrounded by mountains – In comparison with XiaDa, Stanford might as well be in the middle of Iowa.  The most ridiculous thing is, Xiamen doesn’t seem to know it’s beautiful.  Everyone always talks about Gulangyu, this smaller island nearby, but it’s so full of tourists I find it anything but peaceful.  It’s okay, you can have Gulangyu, I’ll take Xiamen any day.  

Xiamen is a very clean city, and it seems like aesthetics were considered when building and developing it.  I always feel stupid saying this, but one of my favorite things about the city are the highways – sleek and white instead of the usual dull gray concrete, and they light up at night along their edges.  I could sit all evening on the beach at Baichang, watching the sunset first and then enjoying the winding illumination of the highways.  

Coming to Xiamen was good for my soul.  The last few days in Beijing was honestly less a countdown to Xiamen and more a countdown to the next time I would see something beautiful.  Counting generously, I would say the last time I saw something beautiful was at the Bird’s Nest, on July 18th – two weeks ago.  Then there were those few clear days at the beginning of the month . . . and then orientation, when we went to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.  Hmm, still have a few fingers left on this hand.  

So that first evening in Xiamen, as XuLei drove me along one of the bridges over Baicheng, I saw the sunset and cried.  How was I so blessed to live here for a year?  Questions like that ran through my head for most of my visit.  What could I possibly have done to deserve this?  

Because it’s not just the island – it’s also the people.  Oh, 厦门人,你们真的了不起.  For all the time I spent with my international classmates, I was also pretty involved at church and did a lot of dancing, and in these circles my friends were mostly Chinese.  To a person, everyone seemed as happy to see me as I was to see them, and they were so good to me.  Chinese hospitality manifests itself in large part in “treating” (paying for things), which sometimes makes me uncomfortable because I don’t know how to respond, but I also appreciated the time people took (away from work, away from their families) to spend with me, and the way they welcomed me back into their lives for a few days after, for some of them, five years without contact.  

I made a few new friends, too.  My host and good friend Xu Lei’s boyfriend/fiance; the labmate of a church friend who climbed Nanputuo with me; a Mexican woman I happened to sit next to at Chinese Mass who happened to be, like, my soul sister.  And there were a few people I didn’t really remember from church, but they were really excited to see me (I made chocolate chip cookies that Christmas and handed them out at church, which I think did a lot to foster feelings of good will) and we talked more in these few days than in the whole year I was here.  

I saw Bishop Cai at Mass on my first day here, and talked to him afterwards.  How have you been? he asked, Everyone is happy to see you.  Thank you! I replied, it feels like coming home, I told him.  Welcome home, he said.

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Xiamen!!!!

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2015 at 2:02 pm

This morning, I had my closest call yet with missing a flight.  I had been running on about three hours of sleep a night the last few nights (a combination of trying to get work done during the day, and late nights of majiang and karaoke), so I was just exhausted.  I counted on one alarm and my natural anxiety about an early morning flight to wake me up in time – 4:30am, ideally – but neither worked.  I must have solved math problems while sleeping to turn off the alarm, and I even slept through answering the phone (in Chinese) when my taxi partner called me.  I randomly woke up at 5:22, about two minutes before she knocked on the door.  Luckily, I was packed, and just had to stuff a few things into my bags and zip them shut.  We were downstairs on time at 5:30.  I don’t want to think what could have happened . . . . .

We got to the airport in plenty of time, so I took the opportunity to do a little bit of repacking.  Then more repacking, because apparently China has a thing about lithium batteries in checked luggage.  

I was anxious at the airport.  Part of it was residual adrenaline from the morning’s near miss, but it was also about Xiamen.  It seemed impossible that Xiamen could stand up under the weighty expectations I’d placed on it – I remember my year there as perhaps the best year of my life, and the picture has only grown more rosy in the last five years.  Add in my excitement to see something beautiful after 8 weeks of Beijing Gray, and what paradise on earth wouldn’t disappoint?  A secondary concern was: if Beijing was hot, how will I handle 130-degree heat indexes again??

The flight was slightly delayed but otherwise uneventful.  When I came out of the gate after baggage claim, I saw XuLei – impossibly, she seemed smaller than I remembered.  I hugged her, grabbing my own shoulders after wrapping my arms around her.  I also got to meet NianYu, her boyfriend/fiance that I had heard so much about.  They have a car!  And XuLei drove!  These were the first of many surprises for me in Xiamen, little indications of how everyone has grown up in five years . . .

I felt a little foolish, but I basically had a list ready when they asked where I wanted to eat.  I was devastated to learn that Green Chairs Restaurant is closed (we never learned the real names of most of our favorite restaurants, just came to a sort of group consensus on what to call them), but our malatang place is still there.  Some people in Beijing scoffed, but Xiamen’s malatang (specifically this place) is just the best.  Malatang, literally “numbing-spicy soup”, is a sort of buffet of fresh ingredients that they cook in a spicy broth for you.  I got meat, tomatoes, bok choy, potatoes, three kinds of eggs, and a piece of fried dough for the top.  I hadn’t eaten in about 24 hours, and it was everything I wanted and needed.  Plus we had 烧仙草, better known by its [Ch]English name “fubu burns the fairy grass”.

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We bought fruit at a nearby market – oh Xiamen mangos, how I’ve missed you!!!! – and then went home.  NianYu is a professor of materials science at Xiamen University, so they live in faculty housing on campus.  It’s great for me, because campus is where I’m most familiar with :)  They have a nice two-bedroom apartment that they share with a roommate.  In my first taste of Chinese hospitality, NianYu slept in the living room (without an air-conditioner!) so that I could sleep in the air-conditioned bedroom with XuLei.  (Interestingly, the temporary bed he’s sleeping on would pass for a folding table in America.  It’s funny, we put mattresses on the floor, because the most important feature of American beds is that they’re soft, while in China the off-the-floor aspect of a bed seems to be more important.)

I took a much-needed nap before my big evening plans.  Basically my entire return to Xiamen was scheduled around my need to be here for a Saturday evening – I wanted to go to Chinese Mass and then dancing.  I’m so glad I insisted on that . . . 

XuLei drove me to church.  It was a little after 6 as we started driving, first down Huandao Road along the coast, past my old beach, before getting on one of the bridges over the ocean.  The sun was just setting behind the two giant new buildings dominating the horizon, and I was just overwhelmed.  

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I started crying.  It had been a few weeks, generously, since I saw anything that could be considered beautiful in Beijing, and going from that concrete world to a Xiamen sunset was almost too much to handle.  I was immediately certain that my wonderful memories were not airbrushed and my high expectations were not too high.  The dominant emotion, though, was gratitude.  For this sunset, but not just for that.  The phrase that kept running through my mind was, How was I so lucky to live here for a year?  China can be a difficult place, and Chinese can be a nightmare, and I am continually realizing the perfect path I have been led along in both, to fall gradually in love with them without being scared away.  Stronger people could perhaps fall in love with Beijing, but I needed the charm of Hunchun and the beauty of Xiamen.

XuLei let me off at the bus stop where I used to get off the bus to go to church.  I navigated with my phone, because I didn’t trust my memory, but the route was so familiar.  Other than the construction scaffolding I used to walk under, now a completed building, it was all just as I remembered it.  I got more and more excited as I got closer, literally exclaiming out loud when I saw people rinsing fish in the street because that meant I was close!  

When I walked in to the church, the first person I saw was Joseph Chen, one of the men who is always helping around the parish.  He smiled at me and greeted me by name, as if no more than six days had passed since we had seen each other last.  But there were changes . . . as I knelt to pray, the rhythmic sounds of Chinese chant surrounded me – they were praying the rosary in Mandarin, I quickly realized, but it was unfamiliar and strange to me.  Xiamen has a local dialect, Minnanhua, which was quite common among the older parishioners.  Daily Masses were offered in Minnanhua when I was here last, and it was the dominant language for personal devotions as well – to the point that I don’t think I ever heard the Hail Mary in Mandarin and still can’t recite it fluently.  

Everything is in Mandarin now, though.  Bishop Cai was appointed near the end of my time in Xiamen (after 20 years of the diocese without a bishop), and could see his influence all over.  They recited selections from the catechism after Mass, and reception of communion was orderly and more reverent than I remembered it.  

After Mass, Bishop Cai came over to greet me and “welcome me home”.  Sister Mangu came as well, grabbing my arm affectionately in the way of Chinese women.  As other parishioners and older friends gathered round, I took the opportunity to introduce Alba to them.

So, Alba is kind of a crazy story.  I had made it to church just a few minutes before Mass started, and there weren’t that many open seats.  I spotted one on the aisle and asked the woman next to it if anyone was sitting there.  She responded no, and I sat down.  It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realized I had found the only other foreigner in the church. We whispered a quick introduction – her name is Alba, she’s from Mexico, and she arrived in Xiamen on Wednesday.  She came by this afternoon to scope out the location of the church and, when she heard that Mass was in a few hours, just hung around.  She was sweet and enthusiastic and joyful and on this day of extreme gratitude I was determined to do whatever I could to make her time in Xiamen as wonderful as mine had been.  

So I introduced her to the bishop, and BinBin, and Little Brother.  And when Mangu whisked us off to drink tea (it was inevitable), I made sure she came along.  And when I said I was going dancing afterwards, and her face lit up, I told XuLei we were going to be joined by a friend.  I felt like her fairy godmother, swooping into her life bringing only the best things.  

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XuLei picked us up outside the church and we drove to the Nanputuo gate of Xiamen University.  This was where, on one fateful Saturday night – my first in Xiamen, actually – I got off the bus on my way back from Mass and heard music . . . The gate is under construction now, so we only found the place because we knew where to look for it.  This was one of those moments where I felt very profoundly the immense consequences of the most trivial-seeming events.  My time in China on this trip felt like one long chorus of “There, for the grace of God went I”, to paraphrase John Bradford.  What if I had been sent to my first-choice university, Sichuan University in Chengdu, instead of Xiamen?  What if I had discovered the closer bus stop a few weeks earlier, and never got off at the Nanputuo gate?  Or if I had been too shy to ask what they were doing?  People that know me know associate me with dancing, as if it’s this deeply ingrained personality trait, and it even feels a little bit inevitable to me, but upon closer inspection it seems a very precarious outcome indeed.  

Anyway, construction be damned, it was Saturday night between 8 and 10 pm and my dancing friends were there.  I often found life in China confusing and unpredictable, but this group of older men and women were a rock for me.  Every single Wednesday and Saturday, with the single exception of a national day of mourning, they met to dance for two hours.  Even more incredibly, they welcomed a complete beginner with childlike Chinese to join them.  They taught me almost everything I know about dance – they certainly gave me intensive instruction on following without communicating verbally, which is the basis of social dance.

Tonight I walked in about 20 minutes to 10, to lots of smiles and waves and “what has it been, two years?”  Try five!  I got one dance in before they closed up.  Luckily, I’m not leaving Xiamen until Thursday, so I told them I’ll be back on Wedesday.  

We went back to XuLei’s apartment for some fruit (no one had really eaten dinner), then walked back down to the road to catch a taxi.  There were no legitimate taxis, but I wowed XuLei by haggling with a black taxi driver to take us to Haiwan Park for 25元.  (I didn’t think it was that impressive, because I think he started at 30元, but XuLei talked about it for days afterwards . . .) 

KK, the Chinese bar next door that we always used to navigate taxi drivers, is closed now, but “our” club, The Key, is still open.  They’ve rearranged the inside, and when we walked in, everyone was sitting at tables listening to the band sing “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran.  Not the atmosphere I remembered . . . but when they started the next song, I realized that it was the same band!  I talked to the lead singer a few minutes later when they took a break and she said it would get more dance-y later, so we decided to hang around.

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We first snuck outside to get some food – there are always street vendors that set up along this street of bars.  This was the precursor to my habit of In-N-Out after late nights dancing at Saddlerack!  I got a 肉夹馍 (Xian meat sandwich) and a mango smoothie while the girls got 烧烤 (barbecue).  When we got back inside, the music was more upbeat and everyone was dancing.  Alba is a great dancer, and a lot of fun to be around, especially when they played streaks of Spanish and Portuguese music.  There were also new pop songs – Roar, Up All Night, I Don’t Care, Bulletproof, Chandelier.  This band introduced me to all sorts of music – I heard Your Love is My Drug and Empire State of Mind from them first – so in the years since, I’ve occasionally wondered what it would be like to hear them play this or that song.  It was neat to hear all the new stuff, but I was also thrilled to hear I Gotta Feeling.  It was a new song back in 2009 and basically became my theme song for that year . . . And anyway, I did have a feeling that it was going to be a good night . . .  

We left at 2:30 and taxied home.  I Skyped with my parents (haha, the internet in my friends’ apartment in Xiamen is way better than the internet at the hotel in Beijing), then went to sleep!  First day in Xiamen has assuaged all of my fears, only to stoke new ones that the next few days won’t be as wonderful . . . 

On Beijing and Loving China

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2015 at 2:19 pm

I’ve lived in China for about 16 months now over a span of 8 years – 11 months in Xiamen, 3 months in Jilin, 2 in Beijing.  As my time in Beijing draws to a close, I feel compelled to reflect on this city and this country. 

I first came to China in 2007 as part of an Engineers Without Borders group, to work on sustainable energy project in China’s northeast.  I spent 9 days on a farm on the border of Russia and North Korea, building a wind turbine.  We lived with an American family who spoke Chinese for us, and I made exactly one Chinese friend, Zaibin, because he spoke English.  I don’t know exactly why I wanted to come back – it wasn’t the people and it wasn’t the language, yet.  Perhaps the food – Hunchun has the best lamb and beef sticks I’ve ever eaten – or the project itself, the way we “built things out of stuff”.

But for whatever reason, when I left my return was never in question.  The next summer I went back to the same place, this time for two months.  That time, it was definitely the food.  On the farm, we had the best of all worlds, it seemed like – crisp, cold water straight from the spring to the faucet; fresh milk from our cows and enough to make butter, ice cream, and cheese when we had the time; eggs from our chickens, some of which we slaughtered and ate; bread from wheat the girls ground every day.  Korean lunch prepared by Adjima, the farm cook, and generally some sort of Western dinner prepared by a rotating cast except for the one or two times a week we went into town to a Chinese, Korean, or Russian restaurant.  

But I also fell in love with the people and, through them, the language as well.  Most days, I headed a few kilometers across the farm to the shepherd’s residence where my project was based, walking or hitchhiking on the workers’ sanlunche.  I was kilometers away from the nearest English speaker, and was left to my own devices to get my design across to the workers.  From a combination of grunting and pointing, we progressed to simple sentences (你来帮我, come help me, was the first sentence I understood).  I bought a children’s picture dictionary at the supermarket and they were more patient with me, as I clumsily learned my first few hundred words, than most people are with their own children.  I thought these people were exceptional, and they were, but this patience and understanding with learners of their language seems to be a fairly common trait among Chinese, to various extents.  

Xiao Zhang, Xiao Li, Lao Liu, and Han XiaoGuang were the first Chinese people I loved.  And because Chinese was the way that I communicated with them, I think I started to love it too.  I remember Timothy expressing surprise at how quickly I learned – the fastest he’d seen, he said – because language learning seemed like a male thing, stemming from a desire to dominate.  For me, it’s a desire to communicate, to interact with the people around me.  When people ask me why I’m studying Chinese, and I don’t want to give the whole story, I jokingly respond that “I like to talk, and it gives me 1.3 billion other people to talk to.”  It’s a joke . . . kind of.

It was on this trip, and even more so on the next – a quick 10-day follow-up visit to the farm that fall that was extended by a couple snowbound days in Yanji – that I experienced and embraced the adventure of living in China.  When I travel, I “adventure” towards a destination – hoping to eventually get there, but remaining open to experimental modes of travel and possibly even alternate destinations if they come up as options or necessities.  But even outside of travel, adventuring is a way of living, really, being open to the joy and surprises that await when you allow yourself to be flexible and have “yes” as your default answer.  

When I was offered a scholarship to study in China for a year, this seemed like the ultimate adventure.  I delayed graduation, sublet my apartment, and moved to a tropical island to study something completely outside of my major.  Xiamen was a daily feast of all the things that I loved about China – wonderful people, both those native to the country and those drawn to it for various reasons; delicious food that often surprised and always seemed to be worth more than it cost; constant improvement in my language abilities and constant positive feedback on my progress; and an endless supply of adventures.  

The magical spell of Xiamen was further enhanced by my freedom in most respects.  I had no long-term commitments, no pre-existing demands on my time, no purpose other than to learn Chinese – which is to say, to live in China and experience it fully.

It was hard to leave Xiamen after that year.  I remember mostly wanting to go back to Tulsa to prove to others and myself that I still wanted to be an engineer, that Chinese wasn’t everything to me now.  But it was my first time leaving China without knowing when I would be back.  

As it turned out, nearly five years would pass before I came back again, this time to Beijing.  It’s hard to isolate variables and identify what differences I observe are due to the temporal distance, and which to the spatial, but for the moment suffice to say that there have been differences.

I haven’t loved Beijing.  I don’t tend to love big cities anyway, so it’s not too much a surprise, but even among big cities Beijing is a  tough one to love.  It was bad enough, that sometime during Week 3, I did some soul-searching, asking myself if this was it, if China had lost its charm for me.  

A month later, most of the factors that prompted that despair having changed, I’m still asking that question, although I’m pretty sure the answer is ‘no’.  It’s hard for me to articulate why.  Maybe there are just enough threads connecting my experience in Beijing to happier times elsewhere – the people I’ve gotten to know are as wonderful as those I’ve known elsewhere, the food is still delicious and still cheaper than the US, and I am pleasantly surprised almost daily to discover that I can speak and understand and read Chinese – that I can recognize the good things as being Chinese, and attribute the more negative ones to the city only.

I’m glad for the opportunity to experience Beijing, although I am grateful on literally a daily basis that I got to spend a year in Xiamen and two months in Beijing, instead of the other way around.  I am also glad for the opportunity to think critically about my feelings about China, to examine the reasons I’ve wanted to come back for so long and to consider whether or not they still hold.  

Beijing is definitely the third-best city that I’ve lived in, but honestly after Xiamen and Hunchun, most cities in China would be lucky to get third place.  I’m not in China for the history or the politics or the economics, so Beijing was never going to be my jam.  Most of the things it’s known for (the clear exceptions being the Great Wall and roast duck) are just not important to me, and some things I value are missing (here I guess I’m referring to breathable air and any discernible trace of beauty).

Probably my favorite thing about Beijing is that, as a big city and major hub, people are always passing through at one point or another.  This is one of my favorite things about the Bay Area, too – people just tend to end up here, for a day or a few years.  It was great to reunite with a friend from California now working at Apple in Beijing; family friends who visited with the son they adopted from China; a Stanford friend in town for a conference.  This never happened in Xiamen.  And Hunchun?  Don’t make me laugh.  

Unfortunately, this goes for me, too, though.  I’m confident that there will be plenty of opportunities to come back to China, but many of them will be to come to Beijing.  

My secondary objectives in coming to Beijing with EAPSI this summer (the primary objective being the project) were to make professional contacts and work on my technical Chinese.  My tertiary objectives were to make friends, eat well, sing, and dance.  On this basis, my trip was a great success, and it’s due mostly to my labmates.  If it hasn’t been clear from my writings, my labmates were the shining stars of my time here at Tsinghua.  Their friendliness, kindness, generosity, patience, sense of humor, and assistance in every facet of my life never failed to put a smile on my face.  

So I guess it comes down to this.  China’s greatest asset and biggest draw for me is its people.  They’re really the only thing that’s making it hard to leave Beijing, but they sure are making it hard.  

Sarcastic English

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2015 at 10:07 am

Summer has finally started at Tsinghua.  Not just the ridiculous heat (over 100F these few days), but graduation was last weekend and people are moving on.  The graduated students came in today to clean their desks out, and there was a new guy at dinner – an undergrad working in the lab for the summer.

(Undergrad is taking the TOEFL in August.  I asked if he wants to go abroad, and he said America.  Where in America?  MIT, Harvard, Yale . . . . . [long pause] . . . Stanford, of course.  I think one of my other labmates whispered something about it being my school.  He caught on, though, and next said that Stanford was his dream school.  Good choice, kid!)

At lunch, GuoYang was talking about Bruce Lee and made a high pitched noise in an attempt to mimic the sounds he makes when fighting.  I took this opportunity to teach them “go home you’re drunk”.  Between that and “nice try”, eating with GuoYang and ZhaoYan is like eating with two Chinese Martin’s.  This is a great exchange; they’re teaching me technical Chinese and I’ll teach them sarcastic English.

Somehow we got on the subject of driving at dinner.  GuoYang was asking about the driver’s test, which I honestly don’t remember too clearly because I took it 10 years ago.  He then asked how I am at driving.  How does one answer that?  I’ve been driving for 10 years, so I guess I’m alright. In return, I asked him how he is at driving.  

It was another one of those days, those days when instead of eating I mostly pick up food with my chopsticks and fling it all over my clothes.  GuoYang was making fun of me and said, I drive like you use chopsticks – sometimes there are accidents.  Hahaha!

I am always the last to finish my food, probably due to some combination of me talking a lot and the accidents I sometimes have with my chopsticks :)  Today GuoYang commented on how our table was like four simulations, but although the initial conditions were all the same (we got our food at the same time) the results are not the same.  Then we got into a discussion of why the water at the bottom of the watermelon bowl had a striped pattern.  It’s wonderful to realize that nerdiness crosses language barriers.  

As much as I love these meals with the guys, I have lingering questions about why no women eat with us?  Today I invited ShaSha to eat with us, and she seemed to agree . . . then rode over on her scooter and ate by herself.  And I still can’t get over this new information that ZhaoYan’s girlfriend works in the same building (it’s confirmed – I ran into her in the bathroom today) and she has never once eaten with us.  What am I missing here??

After Xu Lei and I set our travel dates yesterday, I spent some time looking at tickets while my simulations ran.  Hunchun is soooooo far away.  It’s an hour and a half beyond the last train stop.  But, looking at tickets makes it feel more real and I am undeniably excited.  Hunchun is the site of my Chinese childhood, where I learned my first words and clumsily learned my way around.  Returning in 2010, I got to see the city with the fresh eyes of literacy, and I’m excited to see what new perspectives I will have this time.  

In Xiamen, my friends were mostly from the university or church, and most of them are young.  It’s been pretty easy to keep in touch with them over the last few years, using some combination of QQ and WeChat.  Hunchun, though, is a different story.  The only young friend I have there is really the son of two of my friends.  We’ve kept in touch online although I think his parents can barely type.  The other people I want to see when I go up there are our DVD salesman, our machinist, our taxi driver, the man who worked on the horse farm, and the old woman who lives by the power plant.  The DVD salesman has QQ and WeChat, but the others . . . I have five-year-old phone numbers for some of them (and in the case of the old woman, only a rough idea of where her house is).  I think the people I’m in touch with can help me get in touch with the machinist and taxi driver, but I have no mutual friends with the man from the horse farm.  

So I think I’m going to have to call this old phone number and say, Hi, it’s Maria, the American, and just see what happens.  I’ve done this before, never after a five-year absence, but after a few months or a few years.  I called up the DVD salesman to say I was in town once and he insisted on having me over for dinner.  Another time, I called some other workers from the farm to wish them a happy new year, and I think I just said 你好 before they said they knew it was me.  

I’m never really sure how memorable I am.  Our interactions were very special to me, and the times I spent in Hunchun have been defining in both my China journey and the rest of my life, but what was it from their end?  Do they think of me often and fondly, or is it more that I’m “the” American to them, easily identified and remembered although not particularly missed?  Does it seem strange, unnecessary to them that I want to look them up every time I make it back up there?  Like, okay, we had a moment but the moment has passed?  Maybe everyone’s just being polite.  I don’t know, but they always make me feel welcomed and missed and loved, so I’m looking forward to being up there in less than a month!

On the Border

In Uncategorized on September 22, 2011 at 10:25 pm

So, last week I spent a few days visiting my grandparents in El Paso, TX.  It’s one of my favorite places in the world, probably because it’s kind of like TWO of my favorite places in the world.  This is because El Paso reminds me A LOT of the farm in Jilin China.  Why?

It is literally ON the border.  El Paso is almost like half of a city, inconveniently located where a national border runs through it.  From many places in the city, you can see the Rio Grande and the enormous flag that sits just across the river. 

Hunchun isn’t quite that close to the border, but you could see the Russian border (a line through the trees and a guard tower) from anywhere on the farm) and the road to town ran along the Tumen river, which formed the border with North Korea. 

The regions are heavily influenced by the culture from across the border.  Immigration (legal, illegal, and refugees) has led to a significant percentage of the population coming from/identifying with the other country.  The other language is widely known, widely used, and widely accepted; it’s almost as easy to get by in the other language as in the official language of the country.  Their food is easily available and pretty authentic – score!

There are mountains.  Lots of them, but not too big.  And they fade into the distance . . . I love it.

Also, I only really know old people in both places. 

 

So, I was thinking about this as I left El Paso and headed west to Tempe, Los Angeles, and eventually Stanford.  And as I crossed the border into California, I again had the sense that I was back in China.  Probably part of the reason was that going through a “customs” of sort at the border made me feel like I was entering a foreign country. 

Also, there are the stricter laws.  My Oklahoma friends complain about how you can’t carry a gun with a clip containing more than 10 rounds; in China you can’t have guns at all.  There just seems to be a lot more government control here, which reminds me of China.

And there are a ton of Asians here.  I overheard at least 4 conversations in Chinese while at IKEA, and the congregation at Mass on Sunday was strikingly Chinese. 

The palm trees, proximity of both ocean and mountains, and the availability of fresh and local fruit reminds me specifically of China.  Stanford even has a Palm Drive like XiaDa’s West Gate!

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I really appreciate the similarities.  It’s good to be someplace familiar : )

Saving the Best For Last

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2010 at 11:53 pm

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but what I’m discovering right now is that impending absence makes the heart infatuated. I’ve been more and more unhappy with some aspects of my life here in Xiamen the last month or so (okay, mainly my room, the laundry, and the peeing cicadas) but none of that matters right now. I can’t remember why those things were such a big deal to me. All I can think about is how much it’s going to suck to leave my friends here.

It’s not like I don’t have friends back home, obviously. But for some reason, I’m finding it harder to go back than I did to come here, even though last year I was heading into the unknown and this year I pretty much know what’s waiting for me at home. Maybe it’s that I don’t know when I’ll be back? That was definitely the case when I went to visit my friends in Jilin, and Xiamen is even worse. Except for the people at my parish, my friends in Xiamen are not stationary; even if I came back in two years most of them would probably be gone, graduated, working in other cities. And those are the Chinese friends – the foreign friends are either home already or headed back in a matter of time. Once I leave Xiamen, there’s no coming back to the city as I currently know it.

Bishop Cai invited me for a farewell lunch, so I went over to Lundu at noon to meet a large group of church friends. We had a buffet at a nice hotel (fried frog, anyone?), where I sat at the main table with the bishop and Fr. He, visiting again from Taiwan. I was so happy to have a last chance to talk to them! I told them that this year in China, I had seen my first ordinations of deacons, priests, and a bishop, and we all pondered the possibility of the ordination of a Chinese pope. Maybe someday?

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In the afternoon, I had plans nearly a year in the making. Directly next to XiaDa is Nanputuo, a Buddhist temple. It is so close that the tall building offers a perfect view of the temple grounds. It is so close that the bus stop named XiaDa actually serves the temple. It is so close that mere steps from the university’s south gate brings you to the entrance. It is so close, yet I had not been.

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It’s partially because I’m not that interested in Buddhist temples, and partially because it was just so close that it seemed I could always do it another day. But after the 9-month mark or so, I decided that I might as well go on the very last day. And so I did.

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My tour guide was BinBin, the leader of our church’s youth group. He grew up in a Buddhist family but converted to Catholicism in college, so he was a fun and informative guide. He explained the different statues and images, differences and similarities in our beliefs, and things like that. I felt like I got the bonus tour!

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After looking around the temple and the monk school, we climbed the mountain. It’s not a huge mountain, but climbing in near-100° heat with 70% humidity was a little bit ridiculous. I sweated through my shirt in minutes, and had to cool off for a good 10 minutes before taking pictures at the top.

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But no matter, it was well worth the climb. The mountain overlooks my university (looking down even on the Tall Building) and the view is truly incredible. XiaDa’s entire beautiful campus, Nanputuo’s temple grounds, the smooth white highway bridge system, the ocean, and Zhangzhou across the water.

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We reached the top in the late afternoon, before the sunset but well after the harsh midday sun. The sun was low, almost behind the mountains, so the entire vista was bathed in a perfect mellow gold. If I have to say goodbye to my island at some point, it might as well be this way.

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After we came down off the mountain, I took a much-needed shower, then went to West Gate to have my hair washed. #18 was there and free finally, so she finally got to wash a foreigner’s hair. Napping while having a scalp massage is one of the simple pleasures I will miss from China.

I met some friends at West Gate at 8 for my farewell dinner. Even with so many friends already gone, there were still 16 of us. I ordered all my favorite Chinese dishes (at Green Chairs, one of our favorite restaurants) and we ate our fill.

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At one point I frowned because I was sad to be saying goodbye, and I guess a bunch of people saw my ridiculous frown for the first time.

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This led to a showcase of Stupid Human Tricks – lots of silly facial expressions, double-jointed movements, and crazy flexibility. The funniest thing was not what some people could do, but what others couldn’t! The Chinese girls had a really hard time duplicating any of our faces, even simple things like winking and raising eyebrows. They just don’t show their emotions that way, they said.

I wanted to spend my last night in Xiamen on the beach, so a few of us walked to Baicheng to lounge on the sand.

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Eventually it was just me, Carlos, and Bo – oh, and the guy who was walking alongside the waves playing a saxophone. No, I’m not kidding; I couldn’t come up with something that perfect on my own! Once he stopped we played our own music, a combination of English, Spanish, and French songs (I introduced Bo to Tryo!). I played them my going home song, Caledonia by Celtic Woman:

I don’t know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I’ve been afraid
That I might drift away
I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs
That make me think about where I’ve come from
That’s the reason why I seem
So far away today

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

Now I have moved and I’ve kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way
I have kissed the fellas and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes, there’s no denying
I have traveled hard, sometimes with conscience flying
Somewhere with the wind

Now I’m sitting here before the fire
The empty room, the forest choir
The flames have cooled, don’t get any higher
They’ve withered, now they’ve gone
But I’m steady thinking, my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
When hands have shaken, the kisses float
Then I will disappear

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

After the beach we took one last turn around Furong lake, then Carlos gave me a ride on the back of his bike. That’s the last item I’ll get to cross off my bucket list, I guess!

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Why the Chinese Carry Umbrellas

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2010 at 12:59 pm

After a late rising and a meal of mangos and egg tarts (breakfast of champions!), I 爬山-ed up to the tall building.  I registered for my completion-of-studies certificate and finally got my HSK certificate, officially verifying my 中等B季 (B-level intermediate) Chinese skills.  Sweet!

I kind of started packing before I met XuLei for dinner.  I’ve been teaching her an English word a day recently, starting with “party pooper” when she refused to stay up all night to watch the World Cup final.  My goal is to find useful words that native speakers actually use and ground them with a personal experience – it is the best way to learn after all.  So we started with “party pooper” (It’s like a bunch of people want to have a party, but you poop on it) and, when the conversation turned to plans for my last night in country, I taught her “skinny dipping”.  Hahaha.  She was mortified. 

Carlos and I had plans to play games with his work friends again, so we headed out to meet them after dinner.  Carlos had told me about a different version of Catan he had sighted in a board game shop, and through the power of suggestion we became convinced it was Cities & Knights.  (Cities & Knights is the awesome expansion to Settlers.  Cities is to Settlers what milk tea with pearls is to its pearl-less counterpart; regular milk tea is good but you don’t realize what excellence you’ve been missing until you try the 珍珠.)

But, seeing as Settlers of Catan has both cities and knights, it proved to be very difficult to discuss the game clearly.  In the end, no one had Cities so we just played a game of Settlers with 6 players.  And to add insult to injury, I lost!

Afterwards, the owner of the board game shop suggested another for us to try: a French game called Dixit.  It’s like Dictionary (a.k.a. Balderdash) mixed with Apples and Apples, featuring artsy French illustrations.  Everyone has a hand of six picture cards (all unique); one person lays a card face down and somehow describes the content of the picture with words, sounds, or actions.  Everyone else chooses the card out of their hand that best fits the description, lays it facedown in the piles, which is shuffled before people vote on which card they think was first laid down.  You get points for guessing correctly or causing others to guess correctly. 

It was fun and interesting, but I was really bad at it.  It may have been the fact that they all knew each other, because it’s pretty important to understand how others think when playing.  Like the one time Carlos said “James” (the name of one of the guys playing with us) as a clue and three of the six people played cards that had some sort of sword fighting on them.  But at least once there was an allusion that I caught.  The clue was “China” and cards included a girl being rescued from the jaws of a monster, a crowd of eggs or possibly houses, a thermometer filled with blood showing a high temperature, a table covered in food, and a map and compass.  Lots of possibilities there, but the 5 of us foreigners all chose the correct one – a sun shining over a sea of umbrellas – from the available choices.  The pictures are all a little ironic, or have something not quite right about them (umbrellas in the sun??), but in this case this one was absolutely perfect for the clue (yeah, if you’re in China!). 

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We took a taxi back to West Gate and then Carlos and I walked home across campus.  We took a route I don’t usually take, Carlos leading the way.  Suddenly, he stopped and pointed to the tree in front of us.  “Look!”, he said, and I looked.  The tree indicated was surrounding by a glistening wet patch, and in the light of the streetlight next to it, we could see a torrent of water drops falling down.  It was weird looking – a rainstorm confined to the tree’s surroundings – but in a pretty way, because the water drops looked like jewels in the yellow light.  “It’s cicada pee,” he told me. 

My mind processed this information immediately.  Yesterday when I was walking under those trees by the supermarket, those drops were not air conditioner water.  DISGUSTING.

In 7 days I will land back at home.  Between the road trip my brother and I have planned, and the hordes of peeing cicadas here in Xiamen, I am totally ready. 

Xiamen Has Wonders For Us Yet

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2010 at 10:44 pm

For my final final, I had to talk about my favorite holiday for 3 minutes.  Congratulations, you’ve now finished . . . kindergarten.  Grades are in, and as proof that I do better when I’m challenged, they are the worst semester grades I can remember.  I got 93 in Oral and 90 in Grammar, but 86 in Listening and HSK and an 82 in Newspaper Reading. 

Aleid and I celebrated by going to massage.  I asked for a man for the first time, and could really tell the difference.  Everything was much harder – mostly in that “hurts so good” way but sometimes beyond that.  At the end, he sat me up and did my shoulders one last time; it hurt so much that I nearly couldn’t breathe!  It felt like getting beaten up, honestly.  But at least it was only a 38 kuai beating!  (And I did feel good afterwards.)

We had lunch at a Thai restaurant (curry!!!) and then walked around exploring a nearby park that she’d always meant to explore.  The park was surprisingly big and completely Chinese, populated with men sleeping on every available horizontal surface and a crew shooting a TV show. 

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We also hit up a store we’d never been to, in which I discovered a game that looks like Chinese monopoly!  Xiamen has wonders for us yet.

Aleid took me to a place on campus to get passport photos taken, so that I could have a nice one to be pasted on my graduation certificate.  I got a bunch printed, although they’re completely unnecessary in the US.  The only time you need passport photos is for, well, passports, and as a specialty product they come at a premium.  I remember getting some done last-minute for a Chinese visa application and paying the standard rate of $10/two photos.  The lady here even photoshopped me up so I look nice, but I only paid $5 for a sheet of passport photos and a sheet of 1” photos. 

I returned the favor by taking her to XiaDa’s souvenir shop, similar to our campus bookstores where you can buy university gear.  We were both looking for t-shirts but left empty-handed.  The thing is, universities in China don’t have things like mascots or school colors, so there was nothing especially ‘XiaDa’ about them except the seal.  Sillhouettes of trees, random blue ball wearing a mortarboard, lots of hearts – none of that would remind me of XiaDa. 

Shopping done, I met up with a friend to get pictures.  BinBin is the leader of the youth group at church and my go-to guy for official pictures of Bishop Cai’s ordination in May.  I used to think that BinBin didn’t like me, but now I think he was just busy.  He was surprised to learn that I was also an ME student (which, he said, explained why I was able to edit his thesis on helical grooves in cutting tools so well), and between that and the church, we talked for maybe two hours while the files transferred. 

I learned that he comes from a Buddhist family in the north of Fujian (my province), and joined the church after the example of some Catholic friends at university in Nanjing.  He said he would like to go to seminary but his family won’t allow it. 

He spoke several times about the lack of freedom in China – both generally, as opposed to America, and specifically in religion.  Apparently there are government officials who attend each Mass (at least on the weekends) and they call the bishop if they hear something they don’t like.  He says there are a lot of things they aren’t allowed to do – all stuff that never penetrates the language barrier to come to my attention.  I also, for the first time, heard a Chinese Catholic talk about underground believers.  He was introducing me to a friend who was headed to America soon, and said that he was also Catholic but “doesn’t come to church”.  I thought he meant a fallen-away Catholic, but then he clarified his meaning.  A lot of the underground Christians try to get to Europe and America, he said, but unlike other Chinese who go to make money and come back, they stay there because the situation is not good back home. 

I cut our conversation short because I had still more errands to run.  Eunice and I went to the shoe repair man, where I got two bags fixed and she got the sole of her shoes nailed closed.  We argued with the guy a lot – he didn’t want to do it the way I wanted him to do it, and he wanted too much money from Eunice – so finally she went off on him in Minnanhua.  It was totally unexpected, as I didn’t even know she spoke Minnanhua (the local dialect)!  All of a sudden she was just ranting, and although I couldn’t understand what she was saying I could tell that she was saying it fluently.  So.  Jealous. 

When I finally got around to taking a shower after running around all day, it was well into evening.  It’s good this way, as Xiamen becomes bearable after the sun goes down and the shower has a shot at “staying”.  We grabbed dinner to go – Peking roast duck from the supermarket and a bag of lychee from next door – and took a bus to Bailuzhou Park to catch the fountain and light show.  It was really impressive, actually, especially for something that happens every day!  I’m glad we made it out there before leaving Xiamen.  It was the perfect night to be outside, enjoying the show and engaging in a discussion of politics with a new Dutch girl. 

In one week I will be in the Hong Kong airport; only 7 days left to enjoy what Xiamen has to offer. 

I Have Come Back, But Have Not Yet Gone Back

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

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

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

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But again, the pagodas were nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m On A Boat

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2010 at 10:19 pm

I slept as late as possible (as I had, after all, been up until after 4 a.m.) but once I woke I up I had to hit the ground running.  We were supposed to meet at West Gate at noon, which meant that we trickled on to bus about 45 minutes later.  We were down three people but up two, and somehow all the food had showed up, so it was slightly chaotic but turned out okay.

There was a mix-up at the pier where we got on a boat but it turned out not to be our boat . . .

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. . . But nevertheless by 1 or so we were out on the open water.

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We sailed past Gulangyu and the statue of Koxinga, and headed for an island much further away (not, despite popular demand, Taiwan).

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Our boat was a long wooden contraption, painted green and other bright colors.  There was a little cockpit for our crew (and old woman and an older man) while the rest of us chilled on the open deck, partially covered by a roof.  We had stools to sit on and laps to eat off of – what else could you want?  The spread included bread, salsa, pasta salad, potato salad, barbecue, peanut butter and chocolate bars, cookies, and so much beer that it looked downright silly as they brought it on board.

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Our group was as diverse as Xiamen get-togethers usually are – 29 people from 15 countries.  There were 6 Chinese, 4 Americans, 3 Germans, 3 Dutch, 2 British, 2 Filipinas, and people from France, Ukraine, Thailand, Burundi, Austria, Romania, South Korea, Sweden, and Kazakhstan.

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It really was a melting pot, which is about as American as apple pie.  (Sadly, there was no apple pie, but we did have watermelon!)

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And the four of us Americans treated our guests to a rousing rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, which has to earn extra America points, right?

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After an hour or two of sailing, we arrived at our dream beach.

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Haha.  No, seriously, I think the captain actually wanted to drop us off there but we said no, on account of it looking like Hades and all.  Instead, we turned around and went to a different, only slightly more hospitable-looking island dominated by insanely sharp pointy rocks.

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But it was good for exploring and the constant threat of death by impalement on said sharp pointy rocks kept things exciting.  I cut my toe on one of them, which actually just complemented the cuts I had on both of my pointer fingers from chopping vegetables and grabbing broken beer bottles, so it was okay.  Also, my fingers ached all day from the capsaicin embedded under my fingernails from last night’s salsa-making and I somehow lost part of a toenail . . . But believe me when I say I had an incredible time!

The weather was simply amazing – hotter than heck back in my room, I’m sure, but there was a steady breeze on the water.  We stayed on the island a few hours, then headed back while we fired up the barbecue.  A few of the guys took care of the fire, so I was free to relax on the side of the boat, enjoying the gentle light of the sunset, the rocking of the boat, and the sound of friends’ laughter.

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By all accounts, it was one of the best days in Xiamen.  It was the first Fourth of July for many people, and perhaps the most memorable for me.  Happy Birthday, America!

PS – The Onion did a special America edition.  Please enjoy these classic articles: Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence, Report: U.S. May Have Been Abused During Formative Years, Third Amendment Rights Group Celebrates Another Successful Year, Supreme Court Rules Supreme Court Rules, and Life In The Navy Rocks Even Harder Than The Commercial Implied