31 July 2008

Summer China Experience, Pt. 1 - Suzhou

Why didn't I write about this the first time? Honestly, I think it's because I have yet to finish my actual assignment from this trip, which, coincidentally, is transposing my travel journal and submitting it to my professor. Oh, well, maybe this will get me in the mood...

As I ready myself for my second yard sale of the summer, I am feeling rather disgusting. I think that a shower would do wonders. I often felt this way whilst in China.

June 26 through July 13, I was in a near-constant battle with heat and humidity. This grapple started, as I said, on the 26th, at which point the sixteen-person Furman delegation (consisting of twelve chosen freshmen, two political science professors, and an older couple who paid for everything) had yet to leave Greenville and were instead bonding on the FU ropes course. After a 15-hour plane ride followed by a 2-hour bus ride, we finally thought that we would get some time to relax in Suzhou, our destination and base for the first seven days of our three-week journey. Alas, our evening was filled with foreign meal customs and awkward moments between us future Furman students and our assigned Chinese roommates. To make matters worse, I would not find our dorm room's air conditioning unit until days later.

Let's fast forward through a week of sweating - my days consisted of meals and classes, much as I imagine my Furman ones will, also; though my nights were marginally more exciting (this is not to say that my days were not interesting; I was fascinated by what both Furman and Suzhou U. professors discussed with us and took diligent notes), they can generally be summed up by saying that our roommates were desperately studying for their final exams, so we mostly found our own fun. I will note three highlights of my time in Suzhou, though: Magnum bars, karaoke, and July 4:

1. Magnum bars (right) - Dr. Brent Nelsen, chair of the Political Science department at Furman, introduced us to these rich, creamy ice cream bars within a day or two of our residence in China. He had apparently spotted them at the local supermarket, and from that day forward, we were hooked. Too bad they are not sold in the United States...we're looking into franchising opportunities, though ;)

2. The karaoke bar - Wednesday evening, July 2, we went to a karaoke bar in town. I had been SO stoked, only to find that it was not what I had expected - but it was a load of fun, nonetheless! All 24 of us students plus Harrison, our pseudo-guide, and his wife, Sharon, were crammed into a dim, red room with a large TV on the wall in the center and tables and block-chairs on the opposite wall. In the corner was the operating computer system that let us choose our songs (in either English or Chinese). We stayed for about 3 hours, I think, and took turns singing everything from New Kids on the Block to Savage Garden to Britney Spears to some names that I can't spell or pronounce.

3. Independence Day (U. S.) - This was our last day in town, which culminated with an extravagant farewell dinner and light show. Before all of that happened, though, I'd like to relate a memorable Fourth of July moment: in the afternoon, after our required class, we had some free time in which we could relax, go shopping, or attend a lecture led by Dr. Hong, the man who had taught us that morning (left). I, Dr. Nelsen, and three other American students decided to attend, escorted by Harrison. When we arrived, Dr. Hong took a moment to introduce us (the class had already started), and then we took a non-committal, demure seat in the back - or so we thought. All of a sudden, the Chinese professor stopped his talk completely and called Dr. Nelsen up front. Dr. Nelsen, being as quick on his feet as he is, went up, gave a bit of background about our program, and then stated that he was a professor of political science and would be glad to take any questions that attendees, who were big-name diplomats and business leaders in China, might have. They asked some tough stuff, including how we felt about China-Hong Kong relations and who would win the upcoming American presidential race, before Dr. Nelsen's time was up. At the conclusion, we three students were introduced by name and asked by Dr. Hong to write our names on the whiteboard up front. He then asked us to share something about our home state - mine being West Virginia. I told everyone that West Virginia is known for its mountains, but I live on the river, and then, to my astonishment/amusement, Dr. Hong asked me with a smile about the song about my state. He wanted me to sing it, and everybody else did, too! So, on the Fourth of July, in front of uber-important Chinese businesspeople and leaders, I sang a rousing rendition of "Country Roads" by John Denver. (Dr. Hong asked me for an encore that night at dinner (below.)

Stay tuned for "SCE, Part 2: the National Tour" (top right)!

I've never had a blog before...

...unless you count my Xanga. That worked out well for me in middle school. When I was little, I used to always try to keep a journal, but I never did fill up a book before starting a new one with a fresh approach. I've traveled to Nicaragua twice and, most recently, to China, and I kept a fairly diligent travel journal each time...until it got to the point that I would fall asleep from exhaustion while writing and I would be reduced to hurriedly describing my many adventures on plane rides home. Writing is my life, but I'm as focused on it as I am on most other things. My newspaper experience is a testament to my ability and my persistence, but I'm not usually so willing to share personal happenings as I am to write a sarcastic, clever, and/or pleading opinion column. Anyway, I'm turning over a new leaf, what with my entrance to college and all. I'm going for all of the experience that I can get - hence the creation of this, my BLOG. You know, now that I think of it, I'm not sure why I don't have a blog yet - one might think that my dedication to journalism and my travels would have led me to create one by now. ::shrug::

For application and review purposes, I will make my first blog entry about a summer experience. Last night was a unique example of the melding of summertime and the relationship between my best friend, Daniel/Danny/Scott/Daniel Scott (right), and me.

What's that? Couldn't I just pick a name to call him, you ask? That's not so easy: his first and middle given names are Daniel Scott, and for the seven or so years that we have been great friends, he has always been Danny to me. However, upon his graduation a year ago, he felt the need to flee to a college five hours away and become "Scott." Now that he's back home, his new friends and employers call him Scott, his old friends and my parents still call him Danny, I would assume that his parents call him Daniel, as they always have, and I call him whatever tickles my fancy at the moment - when I am with a new friend, so as not to be completely confused by their reference to "Scott," I usually choose "Daniel Scott;" when relating an adventure to someone here, it's "Danny"...you get the idea.

So, he finally admitted to me last night that I just have bad ideas, which I know but tend to ignore, and he knows but goes along with. This is a good lead-in as to why, at midnight yesterday, you could find us 30 minutes from our hometown working on a half-gallon of ice cream with chopsticks (well, I used chopsticks) and fourteen day-old doughnuts.

Since a fun, spontaneous adventure to Marietta, OH last week (left, below), we have planned to go nightswimming at his grandparents' pool before we leave to go to our respective colleges. We deemed yesterday a wonderful time to do so, as I had returned from my brief stint of pretending to be a counselor at my old church camp and he had had to mow at his grandparents' house, anyway. So, I picked him up at his parents' house (I'm still not sure why he didn't just stay at his grandparents') and we headed to Reno (on the way to Marietta) at about a quarter to nine.

We arrived to find his grandparents presumably asleep. Before diving in, we reclined on the patio furniture and, after setting up his iHome, I had him listen to R. E. M.'s "Nightswimming" - epic. Everyone should learn this song at some point in their lives...preferably right now. Anyway, we then dove in to the Garden State soundtrack and...well...we swam. He taught me how to do different strokes (seeing as he's the lifeguard, I figured that he would know) so that I won't look like a TOTAL idiot trying to swim laps at Furman. Then we floated on rafts and talked between bites of potato chips (note to self: never ever try to eat potato chips in the pool again) before deciding that we a.) NEEDED ice cream and b.) could make it to Dairy Queen before it closed at an unknown time.

Thus followed the epic clean-up involving a good bit of hopping, dripping, and tossing. We left the house at 10:51 and made it into the DQ parking lot at 11:00 on the dot only to find that it had already been closed for quite some time. So, we continued on into town, searching for someplace other than Wal*Mart or McDonald's that sold ice cream at such an hour. As we were turning around to go back to Kroger, which looked most promising, we saw an array of lights still turned on in McHappy's. Neither one of us had been before, as we later discovered, but we found that said eatery was a 24-hour bakery proudly serving Broughton's ice cream...and they didn't tell us until we got inside that the ice cream counter was only open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; ipso facto ergo, it was a half-gallon or bust. And as we were arguing over Cherry Nut or Moose Tracks (Moose Tracks eventually won; even though I was for Cherry Nut and I won the coin toss, I was feeling charitable), the only other person present (the cashier) was persistently advertising the two-for-one day-old ("Fresh Yesterday"!) bags of one half-dozen doughnuts on the rack beside us. Even though I don't even like to eat doughnuts, this sounded like a great idea to me. Hence, we ended up with a half-gallon of ice cream and fourteen doughnuts (we found two what I like to call "bonus bags" of seven doughnuts each) at midnight (left).

If you're still wondering why I used chopsticks, that may be explained by the fact that I recently traveled with Furman on their Summer China Experience and have henceforth carried a pair with me in my purse at almost all times.