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)!

No comments:

Post a Comment