31 December 2009

Reintroduction to the great state of West Virginia

As my time in my hometown begins to draw to a close, I realize how good I have it here. During these sappy holiday times of family, stress, traveling, and food, I have had a lot of time to eat, sleep, and reflect. I have seen friends from high school and college and made new ones, and each person that I see makes me appreciate my doings. I love my small, boring hometown, and I am so thankful for my opportunities to go elsewhere.

Being back in the United States has been a true adjustment for me - no sooner than I had begun to get used to life in China, I feel that I had to come back and start all over! It seems like everyone here is speaking English and using forks - WEIRD. Anyway, my friends and family have welcomed me back and helped me with my declining English skills, even through their fits of laughter. And, yes, I'm thankful for that, too.

I am very eager to get back to school, even though I will be moving in and trying to start class in the midst of sorority recruitment and excited reunions with my fellow students. I think that juggling everything will prove to be a fun challenge for me after weeks of no responsibility higher than making it to my dentist appointment!

06 December 2009

Mission: Possible

I haven't died. I haven't forgotten about my blog. I haven't gotten lost. I haven't become too cool for the blogosphere. I haven't [totally] forgotten how to speak English!

Henceforth, I will update my blog about my last month in China...and my now ongoing adjustment to being back in the States! For now, know that I made it home safe and sound and am currently visiting Furman because I missed it a lot. I'll write again soon!

10 November 2009

Appreciate Suzhou Month

I decided, at the beginning of the month, that my time here in China has passed quickly - too quickly? Well, quickly enough that I still have many goals left unaccomplished, places left unvisited, stories left untold. For this reason, I unofficially deemed November “Appreciate Suzhou” month; I will spend (and have been spending, for the past week or so) my remaining days seeing and doing as much as I can and making up for any lost time. This means, for me, going to a few of the dozens of world-renowned gardens, further wandering the streets, and exploring the area surrounding Suzhou. Stay tuned for more!

09 November 2009

Conquering the French...supermarket

Due to various conversations with friends and family and my recent necessitated quest for calcium, I have decided that a blog entry just about grocery shopping in China might be worthwhile. If you have any further questions, feel free to comment or shoot me an e-mail.

Upon our arrival in Suzhou, we were given a pre-charged card that we could use at the local store (that our roommates call the “supermarket” but is really more like a convenience store) or in the canteen/dining hall. The store has a small selection of snack foods as well as school supplies and other random things; the canteen is frequented by other students but is not my favorite place to eat as so many of the dishes are either unidentified or contain meat (or both).

We are also given a per diem to pay for our meals - or, really, to spend however we like, as it is doled out in cash. I do spend most of it on food, though, whether it be on the street, out at a restaurant, or at a different dining hall, like the Indian mess across campus. I also have used much of this money buying food to keep in my room that I eat for breakfast especially but also for snacks and even the occasional meal. We have no access to any cooking facilities other than a microwave, so the most “food preparation” that I ever do is make a sandwich or heat up leftover rice. This also makes buying many foods pointless, as there’s no way for us to cook them. But I have survived thus far, I suppose...(please note that I, who used to not be able to cook anything other than canned soup, actually really miss cooking. Hello, kitchens in my house and in Furman’s dorms!)

Oh, yeah: I have spent a large portion of my allotted cash on plain drinking water. We can easily boil tap water here, and it is supposedly safe to drink, but I do not like the taste of the result, so I tend to buy humongous jugs of water that I subsequently transfer into my CamelBak or smaller bottles, depending on the situation.

ANYWAY, to get back to the point of this post: I buy the vast majority of my groceries at Auchan, the French supermarket that is about 15-minutes’ walk from my dorm. It is almost like Wal*Mart, but with less organization and many, many more Chinese characteristics. The food section comprises a large percentage of the merchandise, I think, as it takes up the entire left side of the store. The first five visits or so were incredibly overwhelming, because it seems that, no matter the day or time, the store is unbelievably crowded. This renders maneuvering with a cart nearly impossible; as my trips usually require me buying too many things to carry in my arms, though, I always brave the crowds (or mayhaps I should say “mobs”??) with a medium-sized basket (with which I inevitably run into at least five people before the trip is through. Don’t worry - I am probably bumped into at least two or three times for each contact that I initiate. The Chinese don’t seem to ever say “excuse me”; now that I think of it, I’m not even sure of the word or phrase that they would use. It is just a part of the culture to bunch and push rather than go orderly in a line, but that is another entry for another night...)

Auchan of course stocks Chinese staples such as rice, cooking oil, and soy sauce, the latter of which lends a not-so-appetizing smell to the same aisle in which they hide the PEANUT BUTTER - which is, obviously, available here, but can be a bit pricey and is not commonly consumed, so the variety is not too impressive (read: no Jif. Sad day.) They also have a large, if suspect, meat section (it never ceases to gross out me, the vegetarian), and a decent selection of produce (nor can it be completely trusted.) Imported foods comprise one special aisle and are unnecessarily expensive - but so worth it after days and days of fried rice and tofu. Things like cereal and other foods that are consumed in China but a foreign notion are fairly easily found (now that I have finally figured out the basic, albeit changing, layout and arrangement of Auchan), though there is not much selection. One of the things that I still have yet to find include grape jelly, so my PB&Js are made with strawberry jam - it’s not so bad.

Fruits such as oranges, bananas, various berries, and countless others abound and can be purchased from any one of the hundreds of street vendors. Of course, one has to be careful about sanitation, but when, in China, does that not apply??

Kathleen surprised me one day with a trip to Fresh Mart, the newest grocery store to open up in Suzhou’s SIP (industrial park, an area of primarily foreign and modern business and entertainment.) The outing was very enjoyable; Fresh Mart, it turns out, stocks almost exclusively imported food and has a very reliable-looking produce section. I splurged on my favorite cereal (Great Grains: Raisins, Dates, and Pecans) and some rice milk with which to eat it (I finished the box of cereal in less than 24 hours). I couldn’t afford much more and definitely cannot afford regular trips there to get such luxuries as Goldfish (mmmmmmm...) due to their OUTRAGEOUS prices. At least I know that those foods are there should I ever really need them...

My usual Auchan trip is warranted by a combined lack of any three or more of the following: apple juice, water, bread, cereal, (good) milk, granola bars, peanut butter. I like to keep these things on hand. Juice, water, and bread may be found at the convenience store down the block, but they are considerably cheaper at Auchan. The latter four can maybe be found at the random shop along a street, but for the most part, they are unique to larger groceries such as Auchan, and of course are cheaper there than at a smaller store.

See related: The Quest for Calcium

The Quest for Calcium


SUCCESS!!! I finally found milk that I find to be quite tasty! (Truth be told, I’m not sure that it is so delicious, as I hypothesize that I very possibly have forgotten by now, after a few months of milk withdrawal, what the milk that I used to love so dearly even tastes like; I fear that I now am open to anything. I suppose that we shall have to reevaluate upon my return to the States - which, by the way, is quickly approaching!)

Anyway, on an everyday trip to Auchan the other day to restock my foodstuffs after a 10-day absence from my dorm due to travel study, I decided to continue my Quest for Calcium. Since cataloging my first efforts at said goal, I have been, of course, consuming plenty of ice cream, and I have also even branched out and bought odd-tasting Chinese yogurt and expensive imported cheese to fulfill my body’s mineral needs. However, on this particular day, I was ready to go at it again and drink some potentially foul-tasting milk. I decided to try a red carton this time, labeled “CHINESECHINESE90%CHINESECHINESEFRESHMILKSKIMMED.” I figured that, since I am used to skim or 1% milk back in the United States, maybe this English/Chinese carton was code for “the milk that you used to drink back home, Emily.”

I brought home the milk and was not game to try it that day. When I felt ready, though (only a day or so later, because milk does not stay good nearly as long here as it does back home, for some reason), I poured it over some Multi-Grain Cheerios (with Chinese characteristics) and skeptically took a bite. I waited...chewed...no gross reaction! It was pure bliss due to the fact that I simply couldn’t detect a cheesy taste! I was FINALLY drinking MILK!!!

I have since consumed two full cartons of said milk with oatmeal, various cereals, and on its own, and am planning another Auchan outing to buy more. My only disappointment is that it has taken me so long to find it. Ah, such is life.

HOORAY!

31 October 2009

Happy Halloween!

Last night, we threw a Halloween party for our roommates and friends. They don’t celebrate Halloween in China, so we were determined to make this party a good one. We planned it for a week or so and invited more than 40 people. I think that it turned out to be a huge success!

The night began a bit behind schedule, as the hour that we had reserved to set up turned out not to be enough time to make our haunted house, let alone the fact that we ran out of garbage bags. Nevertheless, our roommates and their guests (they were allowed 2 each) showed up around 7:30, just as we told them, so about half of us Furman students worked on the haunted house while the other half entertained the guests with a welcome speech, snacks, and chit-chat.

Finally, at 8:30, we were ready to perform in our three-room haunted house, which contained mental patients, the undead, the ghosts of mass murderers, a vampire, spooky story-telling, and a chance to touch human body parts, among other things. Almost everyone who went in had never been to a haunted house before; they were really scared! (If you are wondering, I was the ghost of a murderer who appeared to be missing from my chair and then snuck up behind people with a foam sword. I wore a creepy plastic mask and a garbage bag to cover my clothes, and apparently, no one could tell who I was because it was so dark that they couldn’t see my hair!)

Around 9:15, after everyone had been through the haunted house, we switched to a dance soundtrack, courtesy of yours truly, and commenced, well, dancing! I tried to include a mix of Chinese and Korean popular songs (they tend to like Korean music and film here), American pop circa our middle school days (i. e. Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, etc.), and popular rap and hip-hop that we dance to nowadays. I also put in quite a few novelty songs and songs to which we could teach them the dances, such as the Cha-Cha Slide and the YMCA. Of course, not everyone danced, but it did seem to be a much more popular option than sitting in the provided chairs and snacking. We sadly had to end our party a little after 10:00, though many of us were ready to dance for at least a couple more hours.

All in all, I think that everyone had fun mingling and dancing. I know that I had a blast! We were initially a bit worried, but the decorations, planning, and everything seemed to come together at the last minute. Oh, yeah, and I was a fairy with my roommate, Orange. It was a good night!

Tonight, I’m going to Shanghai with Andreina to meet up with our friends Yonathan and Yulia. Happy Halloween!

The Quest for Calcium, Episode I

I’m sure that all of you have been hanging by the seats of your pants for these past few weeks, just waiting to begin the Quest for Calcium series. Am I right? Well, either way, it’s time.

I’ve been biding my time, documenting my calcium quest for weeks now. I know that I can get my necessary calcium through cheese, ice cream, or even supplements, but really, I just miss milk a lot: cow’s milk, soy milk, whatever. I still have yet to find a winner here in China, but fear not - I have hope. Anyway, I have devised a scale of 1 to 5 points, 1 being not worth buying again unless it were the only beverage left on Earth, and 5 being...well, truthfully, nothing has ranked that high yet, so if I find it, I’ll let you know.

Mission #1
The beginning of my quest occurred way back in early September, and, at that point, I wasn’t even sure yet that I was on a quest. I bought a bag of milk - no, that’s not a typo, and yes, you read correctly: a BAG of milk - from the supermarket near my dorm. It was recommended to me by my Seattlean friend, Matisse. I poured it over some cereal and was unimpressed - actually, before I ever even used it, I had to refrigerate it myself, as it had been room temperature in the store. (Is that safe? I don’t know.) Then, when I went to pour it, I had to be ever-so-careful not to squeeze too hard or tip the bag so as to not spill the milk. And when I finally tried it, it was whole milk, which I have come to find reminds me distinctly of cheese, which I prefer to not think about when enjoying my cereal.
1/5

Mission #2
The next drink that I tried was okay. The bottle has a lot of Chinese but calls the beverage “Nutri-Express” in English. The picture is a slice of apple splattering into a bowl of milk, so I went into this mission imagining apple-flavored milk. That is more or less what I got, so, if the drink is cold (which, of course, it never is on the shelves in the store) and I can go into it thinking of not milk, but apple milk, then I can stomach it. I can’t say for sure, due to the Chinese label, but I at least hope that I am getting some calcium out of this thing. Negative points for having to refrigerate it myself again.
3/5

Mission #3
The same day that I tried Nutri-Express, I bought a small plastic container of what looked like soy milk. It was in similar packaging to the Little Hugs that are found in the U.S., but the liquid was opaque, and the bottle was much tinier, so despite the completely Chinese label, I was pretty sure that it was not a sugary, watery drink.

It turns out that my assumption was right, as near as I can tell. It was weak soy milk. It was unflavored. It was alright, but I’m not a huge fan, and I can’t say for sure whether or not it has been fortified with calcium, so that pretty much defeats the purpose, I guess.
3/5

Mission #4
The fourth attempt that I made at finding milk was purchasing a half-pint carton from Auchan. I tried this on my cereal, as well, and was met with a similar outcome to Mission #1. Fail.
1/5

28 October 2009

A Dreamlike Night

I attended a party last night with Robert, Geena, Staci, Caitlin, Andreina, Karim, Kathleen, Tim, and Yonathan. As I recounted to Robert, I was very confused throughout the ordeal: I did not know exactly where I was, who was throwing the party, what I was doing, what time it was, why I was there, or how I’d arrived. More than the basics “on a bus,” “in a room,” “with Chinese-speaking people,” I did not quite understand anything going on. All I knew was that Kay had invited all of us a couple of weeks ago on behalf of another group of students; I had obliged and then promptly forgotten, not realizing how much homework I was sure to have on our first day back. To make a long story short, I ended up attending and having fun - we watched various performances, snacked on strange Chinese treats, made dumplings, and chatted it up, but the whole evening was very dreamlike. To tell you the truth, I’m still not quite sure that it occurred; it could have been a wild, sress-induced illusion.

I was reminded last night of the Chinese’s apparent fascination with foreigners, especially those with blonde hair and blue eyes, like Robert and I. I knew of this thanks to my first trip to China and was pretty used to it coming in this year on our first national tour. I guess that being in the international dorm here at SuDa has just caused me to forget and feel normal once more - no dice. Last night, countless college students were ever-so-eager just to talk to me and to even take it a step further: to take a picture with me (or of me - talk about creepers!) I think that they were impressed with my Chinese language skills, minimal as they are. It was flattering, sure, to be reflected in so, so many lenses, but, honestly, it gets annoying and tiring. Why does this fascination exist? If the visa regulations were to be less strict, would that mean that more foreigners would visit, and we would be rendered less interesting? I would be okay with that, for sure. In the meantime, I would be interested to look at some tourism statistics and see just how many Americans and other Westerners do visit each year and to what places they go.

22 October 2009

The Biggest City I Have Ever Visited

I am in a city of more than 33 million people. 33 MILLION. Can we just try to wrap our heads around that?

21 October 2009

Class Trip, Pt. 2

Our flight from Guiyang to Chongqing has been delayed about an hour, so since I have my laptop with me, I figured that I would catch up on some computer matters.

The trip has been great so far! We’ve visited four Miao villages, an old Han village, a traditional Ming/Qing dynasty town, a batik factory, an aluminum factory, a market, a minority museum, and the biggest waterfall in China. All of the minority villages were really neat and gave us a lot of bai jiu (“white lightning”), or strong, locally-made rice wine. I enjoyed seeing the costumes and getting to talk with the villagers about their jobs, living conditions, and traditions. In one village, we stayed in the home of the village chief and feasted upon some of the most delicious food that I have had in China. The rooms and facilities were not the nicest, but it felt good to be authentic - especially after we had worked up a sweat plowing fields and harvesting potatoes outside.

The old Han village was really neat in that we saw a traditional opera performance up close and personal and the village seemed very un-touristed. The dynasty town was one of my favorite stops of the tour thus far: we saw a variety of religious places, including a Catholic church, a Daoist temple, and a Buddhist temple, and we also were provided with lots of unique shopping opportunities to buy everything from food to bags to clothes to crafts. The batik factory was another favorite stop of mine, as I love the batik style. We got to see the entire process, and we also made a Furman/FiC-inspired small cloth that we are going to have made into group t-shirts.

We just went to the aluminum factory this morning (to really work in the environmental aspect of this class trip): that was enlightening. I did not know anything about the process before, but now, I feel much more educated. The market the other day was very interesting, as well - it is where all of the local villagers go, so we saw the carpentry section, the ironworking section, and lots of clothes and food. We also went to a distillery and tried fresh plum liquor. The minority museum was nice, but a little small, and since we visited after we had been to the actual minority villages, it was a bit anticlimactic.

Our trip to the waterfall yesterday was great. I kept being reminded of Blackwater Falls in West Virginia, though the height of the falls here dwarfed Blackwater. The amount of water flowing seemed to actually be less, though I was told that this is more of an off-season. One of the coolest parts of our journey was that we walked not only to all four viewing platforms but we actually went behind the falls into a cave that was full of natural windows from which we could look out and sometimes even walk out and touch the plummeting water. I got wet, but I luckily had my poncho in my bag, so I was a lot dryer than I would have been otherwise.

Along the way, we have had lots of good talks at meals, on the bus, and in the rooms, and we make sure to take evening walks around the cities in which we stay. I don’t want to jinx this, but everything is going well so far!

19 October 2009

Class Trip, Pt. 1

I am so glad that I brought my laptop with me on this trip. It’s pretty much like I thought it would be - a fairly heavy responsibility - literally - but much more convenient than trying to write lists, my class journal, and these blogs by hand - or, worse, waiting to do them and forgetting details or not writing them at all. That said, Internet is, as I had expected, sporadic, and I’m hardly in a hotel to use it, anyway. Thus, though I’m writing this blog right now, Monday morning, I realize that it probably will not be posted for a few more days, at least.

Our trip thus far has been, I think, much more interesting to me than the first national tour that we took as a class. It’s been a totally different feel, not only because we are with Dr. Kaup and Xu Laoshi rather than Zhang Laoshi and Dr. Khandke but because, rather than seeing main tourist attractions and some of the most important parts of China’s history, we are seeing an often forgotten and much lesser known area and some of the most impoverished and unique areas of the country. Last year, one of my favorite parts of the trip was going to Yunnan province, which is an area heavily populated with minorities. I liked it there because of the different feel - different visually in the appearances of people, clothes, and buildings, and also different because it was a part of China that Americans don’t learn about in the history books. Now, in Guizhou, we have seen four different Miao minority villages, and they have all charmed me. I am fascinated by the issues with minority policy, land distribution, and wealth gaps, and that I can see these carried out in real life is, I realize, an opportunity that most people do not have.

16 October 2009

Itinerary for My Field Trip

Dr. Kaup, our professor for “Issues in Chinese Politics: Environmental Challenges,” will be leading all ten of us from Furman (along with Chinese language professor Xu Laoshi) on a ten-day excursion to China’s poorest province, Guizhou. On our trip, we will encounter many different minority customs as well as lots of environmental sites. Our journey culminates with a three-day cruise down the Yangtze - through the Three Gorges Dam! Please see the tentative itinerary below:

Friday, Oct. 16 - depart Suzhou for Guiyang (bus-->plane); ride on bus to Kaili
Saturday, Oct. 17 - visit a Miao minority village; transfer to Xijing and partake in home stays with local Miao families
Sunday, Oct. 18 - visit Qingman, Shiqiao, and Boji Miao villages
Monday, Oct. 19 - visit Kaili folk museum; travel to Qingyan; transfer back to Guiyang
Tuesday, Oct. 20 - bus to Huangguoshu, stopping in Jichang to view an opera performance; hike from Jichang to Tianlong; visit Huangguoshu waterfall (China’s largest); bus back to Guiyang w/a stop in Anshun to visit a batik museum
Wednesday, Oct. 21 - visit Qianlingshan Park and Jia Xiu temple; bus to airport; flight to Chongqing
Thursday, Oct. 22 - visit the panda center in the Chongqing Zoo, the Porcelain Port, and the Three Gorges Dam museum; board Yangtze River cruise ship
Friday, Oct. 23 - cruise; shore excursion to Fengdu, Shibaozhai, or Wanzhou
Saturday, Oct. 24 - cruise through Qutang and Wu Gorges and Three Gorges locks with a shore excursion to Daning River Small Gorges or Shennong Stream in between
Sunday, Oct. 25 - visit Three Gorges dam site before departing at Yichang
Monday, Oct. 26 - visit Sturgeon Museum and Sanyoudong; return to Suzhou

I’m going to finish packing and go to bed so that I can be ready to go tomorrow morning!

15 October 2009

Macau: In the words of Ani DiFranco, “Falling is Like This”


Caitlin, Karim, Kathleen, and I had long planned for Tuesday to be our day to journey to Macau, another of China’s Special Administrative Regions. Owing much of its heritage to Portuguese colonization and now often coined “The Las Vegas of the East,” Macau provides a unique look into a totally different kind of China.

Upon our arrival, we found a man who offered a free shuttle to Macau Tower with the payment of the entrance fee to the tower. Since we were going to have to pay anyway, we obliged, and the man took us on what seemed like a rather scenic, albeit quick, route to the tower, taking us by a couple of interesting statues and more than one of Macau’s long bridges. Once we got to the tower, the man showed us where to find A. J. Hackett, our bungy jumping company. (Mayhaps I should point out that Karim’s and my desire to bungy jump was the impetus of our entire Hong Kong trip...)

In the elevator, we were joined by three foreigners about our age who looked as if they had just had the most fun and thrilling time of their lives. When I asked, they replied that, yes, they had just gone bungy jumping. As the four of us were still trying to process the fact that we were going to plummet ourselves 233 meters in air attached only to a small cord, this response exhilarated us (well, it exhilarated me, at least.) We arrived at the A. J. Hackett floor, got off the elevator, previewed some pictures and videos so as to decide what package to purchase (we all ended up getting the picture CD, DVD, and all), and then got started: we bought our tickets, changed into required clothing (an A. J. Hackett Macau Tower Bungy t-shirt), and got to it! We emerged from the changing room more than a little nervous but mostly excited. Patrick and Tak helped us get into our harnesses, and then we waited for the platform to clear. Because of something related to weight, I was deemed to be the first jumper: hooray! The four of us were then ushered outside to the platform.

As Mick and Tony helped me suit up and attached me to all of the necessary lines, a videographer interviewed me as a photographer...well, photographed me. With the sounds of a disco mix of Imogen Heap, my three friends cheering for me, and the workers counting down, all of a sudden, I was in complete free-fall over the city of Macau. The fall itself was really only a few seconds, but the controlled rebounds allowed me time to somewhat process things and also to enjoy the view. Thinking back to the falling feeling still gives me a feeling of utter abandon and euphoria - I loved it! The scariest part was standing on the edge of the platform, because a counterweight was attached to my feet that made me feel very unstable for the few seconds that I was standing there. (Never fear - Tony and Mick had my back - literally.) During that time, though, I could look out and see SO FAR in all directions - we were 61 stories in the air, after all! I would go bungy jumping again in a heartbeat. (Incidentally, Karim and a friend from back home who have been both bungy jumping and skydiving say that I definitely need to try the latter. It is on my to-do list!)

I was finally lowered onto a giant cushion, where a Filipino guy and a Macanese guy (both A. J. Hackett employees, not randos) helped me out of my equipment and chatted with me as I waited to watch the other three come down. The Filipino guy (I didn’t catch either of their names) led me to the best viewing area when it was Caitlin’s turn to jump.

After Caitlin and Karim jumped, while we were waiting for Kathleen, I somehow befriended a Filipino woman named Joanna...and then met her entire family...and posed for pictures with them...but not on my camera, dang it, because we had to leave all of our things in a locker up in the tower! That’s okay - it was an interesting, random, fun experience, nonetheless. We then went back up into the tower, collected our things, told everyone goodbye, and stopped at the observation deck floor on our way out of the building.

After leaving Macau Tower, we realized that we were really hungry. I was interested in finding cheap and local food, so we took a taxi to a central area of town. We walked around a bit but didn’t find much to our liking, so we decided to just head to The Venetian, the world’s largest casino and our next goal destination. Wanting to see a bit more of the city and also not wanting to hail another taxi, we hopped from one casino/hotel shuttle bus to the next and, after a walkthrough of MGM Grand Casino and a quick order at McDonald’s, we finally made it to The Venetian complex. When we got there, we saw that we were across from a Hard Rock, so we headed there, only to find that there was no Café attached to the hotel. Sad day. Still hungry, we curiously cut through City of Dreams on our way back to The Venetian - and are we glad we did! There was a free “dragon show” in “The Bubble” that night, so we went to the box office and got tickets, having no idea what we were in for. It is hard to describe via words and pictures, but suffice it to say that the show was absolutely amazing and one of the best decisions of the night.


(If you still have no idea what happened, you are not alone: neither do I! The show was a combination of lights and projection and water and smoke and music and narration in an elliptical dome in the middle of a huge casino/hotel/shopping complex. It was as if we were transported into another world. Sheer brilliance!)

Finally situated at our destination, we went in search of food. By the time we found restaurants, though, they were actually closing, so we ended up ordering some noodles in a 24-hour place in the middle of the casino area that were actually quite good! We then spent a good amount of time just observing the sheer size of the place - not only the casino, but all of the high-end shops outside. One could wander around The Venetian for days, I think! Thus, it ended up being a late night.

Macau definitely has a different flavor than any other place that I have been. There were people and accents from all over the world, that’s for sure. Though we only spent a few hours there, I do feel that I got a decent feeling for the area, through not only doing things but just observing the architecture and activities from bus seats. It was fun, to say the least, and I would definitely return.

14 October 2009

Cool Breeze and Autumn Leaves

I think that fall has arrived in Suzhou - but I don’t want to speak too soon. The temperatures have cooled down this week to highs in the low 70s. (It feels cold, alright?!) Days are often breezy. Students have broken out jackets. However, beyond this, fall in China is...anticlimactic.

It doesn’t smell the same as back home. The leaves are not changing. There are no apples, pumpkins, or bonfires - or at least, no more than usual. There are no Halloween decorations, no leaves to rake, no back-to-school clothes. I miss these things! This week is Homecoming/Spirit Week at both my high school and college back in the States, and those both carry happy memories for me. There is no such celebration that I know of here at SuDa.

As much as I don’t look forward to autumn each year (because I know that it means that winter is coming, and I do not particularly care for winter’s cold, barren, dry months), I find myself really missing home during this time when the only reaction that I see to the change in weather here is people wearing more clothes.

Hong Kong: Wrap-Up

Wednesday morning, all we did was pack up, check out, and take the fabled, historic tram (I swear, every single thing that I read mentioned it at least once!) to Victoria Peak. It was a totally touristy thing to do, and maybe it wasn’t as spectacular as touted, but it did provide a pretty amazing view of much of Hong Kong. Also, the area at the tram terminus has been incredibly built up to provide enough shopping and eating for about three days. The four of us actually did spend the better part of the day at a Pacific Coffee there, just chilling out and enjoying exploring one or two or three at a time so that at least one person could stay back with the luggage and we didn’t have to tote it around. We got lots of sorely overpriced, last-minute gifts and souvenirs there before finally finding our way to the subway back to China in the evening.

Once we made it to Shenzhen, we didn’t really have much in mind: we were hoping to get a room or two at a decent hostel for one night, but we were also prepared for everything to be full and to instead spend the night in the airport, waiting for our flight the next morning. After a very convoluted and confusing hour or two and with the generosity and helpfulness of many non-English-speaking foreigners, we finally arrived at what turned out to be a very nice and reasonable hostel, indeed. As neat as it would have been to explore, we were exhausted, so we divided up between the two rooms that we’d rented (with NORMALLY-SIZED beds, mind you) and went to bed. The next morning, we enjoyed a nice breakfast prepared on the premises before taking a taxi to the airport...only to find out that our flight had been delayed. For almost two hours. No matter - we made it back to Suzhou eventually. :)


All in all, my trip to Hong Kong was expensive but totally worth every penny. I got to see totally different cultures than those that I had previously experienced in the PRC. Hong Kong was very entertaining; I would recommend that everyone go at least once in his or her life - there is something there for everybody. I noticed that Hong Kong was cleaner, better lit, and seemingly busier than the mainland. It seemed more diverse, as well. On a somewhat random note, McDonald’s and 7-11s are EVERYWHERE. On the negative side, there were a lot of annoying hawkers, though the government apparently is (and has) cutting down on that, and prices are significantly higher than in the rest of China - no more $0.14 meals, that’s for sure! However, that is not to say that one cannot have a relatively cheap vacation there; lots of what I think are the best things to do are free, anyway. Aside from money, as mentioned, Hong Kong abounds with possibility to keep people of all ages and preferences amused: museums, shopping, beaches, Hong Kong Disneyland, beautiful views, and green space that is great for hiking and camping are all easily found. I could definitely see myself spending a longer amount of time there; there is so much left to discover!

Hong Kong, Vol. IV: Buddha (on a biscuit)


Monday was our last full day to spend in Hong Kong. We planned to spend it on the island of Lantau, one of the dozens (hundreds?) of outlying islands surrounding the main area of Hong Kong. We left late, per usual, but arrived in time to grab some food before taking a cable car to see the world’s largest outdoor Buddha statue. After taking lots of pictures and reading about the construction in the inside exhibition hall, we walked to the recommended Wisdom Path nearby. Our appetite for the outdoors not having been satiated, we decided to continue hiking a bit on our own. After exploring lots of small paths near the Wisdom Path, we finally found some promising boulders in the distance. Walking up and down hills through tall brush and climbing through trees proved worth it when we all finally climbed onto the big rock to see one of the most gorgeous vistas that I have ever witnessed in my life: we watched the sun set over the Buddha in the distance, with the Wisdom Path behind us and the mountains around the water before us. Needless to say, we took lots of pictures - though, I might add, it is mighty difficult to fit four people into one photo taken with an extended arm, let alone to get the view in the background, let alone get all four of them to smile at the same time!

We nearly didn’t make it back to the mainland, as we left so late, but we obviously did. FUN FACT: it was in large part thanks to us just following a monk. Anyway, the glory of the day continued when, after a short rest in our room, we ventured out to treat ourselves to dinner at an Australian steakhouse called Black Stump. Really, we were only going because Karim had seen a coupon advertising kangaroo meat, and he wanted to try it, but all four of us ended up thoroughly enjoying our delectable meal. Later, Kathleen and I headed to Lan Kwai Fong to check out the expat haven that had been recommended to me for its restaurants and nightlife. It was, I think, the perfect cap to an amazing day.


Oh, about the title of this entry: it is an inside joke of sorts, but I’ll let you in on it: at the Museum of Art, we saw a porcelain sculpture entitled “...Buddha [something something something] on a biscuit.” Obviously, Buddha was not on a piece of bread or other food, but (he) was clearly sitting on a pillow of some sort...this phrase was the name that Kathleen and I chose for our trivia team at Zapata’s the other night, and if any of us ever opens a breakfast café, it will be the name of that, too.

10 October 2009

Hong Kong, Vol. III: being the most tourist-y tourists we could


Thanks in large part to the publications that we had picked up at the tourism office (and also to Kathleen’s Lonely Planet: China guide), we had a lot on our agenda - and nearly all of it screamed “tourist!” But we didn’t care - we WERE tourists. So, to kick off our Saturday morning, we decided to ride the last remaining authentic junk boat in Hong Kong.

This was a good plan, in theory: we wanted to catch the earliest ride at 10:00 from the nearby pier and then alight across the bay in another district that we wanted to explore, Central. We would then spend the day in Central and come back in the evening to partake in a lantern festival and dragon dance. The foil to this plan was our combined severe lack of alarms/ability to wake up in the mornings.

We drifted in and out of various stages on consciousness in the morning before realizing that if we did not all get up and get showers RIGHT THEN, we were going to miss the junk completely - it only ran two days a week from two locations, and we were going to be pushing it to make our last shot at it. We got into gear, hurried around the subway station in what we vaguely knew to be the right direction, and made it to the pier with about twenty minutes to spare. We were unclear as to whether or not we needed a ticket to board, and we had no idea, if so, where we could purchase said ticket; so, we just waited at the pier and hoped that we could glean some understanding either by watching other potential passengers or just talking to the crew when the boat arrived.

It turns out that we actually did need a ticket beforehand; it could not be purchased upon boarding. The crew member must have noticed my crestfallen glance, though, as I processed this information, so he offered to let all of us on - for free, even though we had our money out and ready to pay! The ride was relaxing and fun; we got to see a lot of the bay area and bask in the warm rays of sunlight while gently swaying to the waves.

(And we still went back to eat lunch at the Subway that we had spotted earlier - we had resigned ourselves to no boat ride and decided to just enjoy a meal before our luck had changed. But even after we received said boat ride, we were still craving that good ol’ American food. Might I add that it was absolutely the most delicious Subway meal that I have ever tasted? After watching Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle the night before, I believe that the following is an appropriate comparison: Subway was our White Castle that day.)


We spent the rest of the day strolling along the Avenue of Stars and shopping at a large market/bazaar. That night, we tried (in vain) to view a local dragon dance (at least we tried, right?!)

The next day, Sunday, we deemed our Learning Day: we started with the Hong Kong Museum of Art. It had less exhibits but more chances to interact than I had expected - all in all, it was probably my favorite part of the day. I could spend days in art museums. To add to my good mood, on the way out, we stopped at the museum café for some delicious food: I got a Caesar salad whose dressing was more like a cross of Caesar and honey mustard than just plain Caesar - it sounds gross, but it was wonderful - and Kathleen got chips and salsa that were the perfect combination of crispiness and spiciness, while Karim and Caitlin each got a dessert. And to top off our art museum experience, leaving the café led us straight into an arts and crafts fair reminiscent of the PCMS Octoberfest in that dozens of local artisans set up tables with their wares while musicians performed for a casual audience. I got a henna tattoo at one booth and greatly enjoyed viewing everything from jewelry to paper cutting art to crocheting at the others while hearing the sweet sounds of jazz and jamming in the background.

We lingered so long outside the art museum that we nearly missed our planned excursion to Kowloon Park to see Kung Fu Corner - but we didn’t. We found the park easily and then got lost inside, finally arriving to see twenty or thirty minutes of the show. It was impressive! We saw students and teachers demonstrate individual and team fighting techniques with and without props. It was worth the walk there.

When the show ended, we decided to hit up another museum, the Hong Kong Space Museum. It was clearly geared toward younger kids, as nearly everything was interactive, but we didn’t mind - that made it fun! There wasn’t much to see that I hadn’t already seen at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. - especially seeing as Hong Kong is not particularly known for their advancements in space exploration. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the exhibits.

We hurried back to the hostel from the museum so that Karim could meet Ameen, a friend of his father’s, to go to a local prayer hall, or jamathka. Caitlin worked on the computer while Kathleen and I napped for an hour or two, and then the three of us met Karim and Ameen, at Ameen’s invitation, downstairs. Ameen treated us to dinner and a ferry ride across the bay before showing us a collection of lanterns in celebration of the 2009 East Asian Games hosted by Hong Kong. He also walked us down a few streets in our Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood, pointing out good places to eat. After he dropped us off back at Cosmic, we decided to venture back out to a bar that we had passed - Ned Kelly’s Last Stand - to hear some good jazz. There was reportedly a live band that night. We arrived to find the band on break, so we waited around for a while until they came back. When they did, it was as if I was back in high school - I was ready to jam with them on euphonium, as ludicrous as that sounds. It was a fun night, though.

Hong Kong, Vol. II: Ronnie & co.

My first priority when we arrived in Hong Kong was to get to the tourism information board office, which had been recommended by every website or book that I had read prior to our trip. Of course, it was not open when we arrived in the city late at night, and the next day, we got easily sidetracked. When we finally made it, though, it turned out to be just as beneficial as I’d hoped.

The four of us took enough pamphlets to plan a month’s worth of travel to squeeze into the four or so days that we had left. We got maps, schedules, and coupons. And when we happened to ask a worker a few questions (What’s the best way to get to Macau? Is there a China Construction bank here?), we were met with friendliness, helpfulness, and enthusiasm from an older Chinese man who told us that he had studied in Texas. His name was Ronnie, and he was our new best friend! He diagrammed things on our maps, gave us recommendations, and even let us take pictures with him.

We finally departed and decided to go back and rest in our hostel for a bit after exploring the nearby mall first. At this point, we commenced studying our booklets and planning the next few days of our trip. We then went back out, we wandered the nearby streets and ended up finding a BEN & JERRY’S, from which I purchased the most delicious Ben and Jerry’s ice cream that I have ever tasted...mmm. Coconut Seven Layer Bar FTW! Or perhaps it was just so good due to a combination of my hunger and lack of Ben & Jerry’s over here. Hmm...whatever the reason, it was good. At any rate, Karim didn’t get ice cream, so he lured us into a McDonald’s, of all places, where we all ordered and sat for a good hour or so before returning to our room around 1 or 2 a.m.

That was one of my favorite things about Hong Kong: it truly is a city that never sleeps. No matter what time of night, you could find food, people, and transportation. That’s my kind of lifestyle! Now, if only I could convince the world to run on MY schedule and ban colleges from having class before noon...:)

Oh, and before I forget: we did try to go back a couple of times after that day and see Ronnie and thank him again, but each time, he was nowhere to be found. Sad day. But at least we have our picture!

Hong Kong, Vol. I: A Race Against Time

I’m back from Hong Kong, safe and sound. I’m not sure that I want to be, though - my trip was incredible! I’ll start at the very beginning, a very good place to start:

Last Thursday morning, I hurriedly completed my final paper assignment for Zhang Laoshi’s class while simultaneously watching the National Day celebration in Beijing on TV as an assignment for my internship (I then wrote a reaction that has probably been published by now, but I truthfully have yet to check) in the midst of last-minute packing and goodbyes to everyone. Phew!

We left only about 15 minutes late, which I would later learn was astounding for us. We went via taxi to the bus station, then rode the bus directly to the airport. Obviously, we then took a train...just kidding. We flew to Shenzhen, which is a city in China on the border with Hong Kong, and then followed some other white people onto a bus that (thankfully) took us to HONG KONG! We made our way to Kowloon, the district in which we were staying, and ended up at an upscale bus terminus/shopping center called Elements. After lugging our things around for a few blocks, we finally arrived at Cosmic Guest House in Mirador Mansions around midnight.

The four of us stayed in a room with four twin beds that are some of the smallest beds I have ever seen - thank goodness I’m short! The room itself was pretty small, too - no two people could pass in the aisle between the beds - but apparently not as small as even some of the nicer places in London, for instance. (I wouldn’t know.) Anyway, because we had to pay more to get the nicer room, which was the only quad available when we booked, we had clean-looking tiled walls and flooring, sconces on the walls, and some sort of gold throw on each bed. My favorite part of the room, though, was the ensuite bathroom area: a shower with thirteen nozzles (I kid you not!) (not that we could ever figure out how to work more than a few of them) was in the same approximately four square feet of space as the sink and was separated both from the toilet and the rest of the room via sliding doors. The toilet area was so small that your knees barely fit when you sat - again, thank goodness I am short.

We finally made it to bed - on top, not under, the sheets - and took our time getting up the next morning before wandering around the area. We decided that we wanted Indian food for lunch, so we headed to the arcade of Chungking Mansions, another building just down the road that is also full of slightly sketchy guest houses, where we had heard that good Indian food abounded. After being harassed by one too many hawkers, we decided to just sit down and order somewhere, as it was already past 2:00 and we were HUNGRY. The food was a bit pricey, but the bhindi masala and nan that I got ended up being DELICIOUS. Satiated, we headed out and were soon transfixed by Heritage 1881, a complex that we later found used to be the headquarters of some city/government offices (Marine Police, for example, if I remember correctly) and is now home to upscale shops and is apparently the place to be for either wedding photos or a bridal shop’s photoshoot. (Yes, there were that many wedding parties - we really couldn’t tell whether they were all getting married or they were models.) We looked around for a while before finally making it to the Star Ferry Pier, home of the Tourist Information building.

03 October 2009

News from Hong Kong

Before I cause any confusion, this is Billy, Emily's boyfriend. I'm updating for Emily as of right now; she left her computer back in Suzhou, and she's on her Chinese vacation for the rest of the week.

Emily's in Hong Kong right now. She actually has Internet, but she's not in the hostel much. She's been all over Hong Kong with her friends and they're all having a good time. The trip to Hong Kong went very smoothly. She'll be posting more details about her trip soon.

01 October 2009

China’s National Day

I just watched about an hour of Beijing’s very impressive celebratory parade for today, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Festivities for today in conjunction with next Thursday, the main day of the ensuing Mid-Autumn Festival, apparently warrant a week’s break from classes - and I’m not complaining. Anyway, the production was very impressive, from the totally-in-sync marching to the air show to the sheer number of participants. Check out the link in the title for more on preparation, and I’m sure that various news sources will be reporting later on today’s other activities.

Hongkau

I hurriedly write this entry as I prepare to set off for “Hongkau” - the term that Kathleen and I deemed appropriate for our imminent vacation to Hong Kong and Macau. She and I, along with Caitlin and Karim, will spend the next seven days and six nights doing everything from hiking to bungee jumping (from the highest platform in the world!!) to shopping to eating to wandering the streets of these now-strange lands.

I must hurry to catch a taxi to catch a bus to catch a plane, or I would write more of my enthusiasm. Just know that I don’t plan to have Internet access again until next Thursday, so this time, when my blogging is conspicuously absent from your life, I have a valid excuse.

Wish me luck!

28 September 2009

My Last Two Weekends



Just because I haven’t blogged about any events these past two weeks doesn’t mean that I haven’t done anything blog-worthy. No, I haven’t jumped from the highest bungee jumping tower in the world or anything (YET!), but I’ve done a few interesting/fun things:

The weekend before last started early, on a Thursday night. Even though we had class the next morning, Kathleen, Karim, Caitlin, Yonathan, and I finished our homework early and went back to Zapata’s, our favorite quasi-Mexican restaurant in SIP. We really just wanted some good food, but near the end of our meal, the owner came around to our table and asked us if we wanted to participate in a game of bar trivia that would be starting about 20 minutes later. We still had some time before our curfew, so we obliged and began to think of a winning team name.

Well, our name - “Beer and Skittles FTW” (it’s an inside joke) - came in second in that contest, and we actually placed third in the trivia competition - not bad for some first-timers, we thought! Question categories included food and drink, movie posters, sports movies, flags of the world, caricatures, and true or false. We vowed to brush up on our knowledge and return soon!

The next evening, we took a class trip to see the Suzhou Opera. It was short, but none of us (not even our Chinese teacher) could understand anything that was being said - it was all in Suzhou dialect. That being said, I liked it much better than the Beijing opera; the music was soothing and had a bit of a bluegrass feel, to put it in American terms.

After the show, we convinced our professor, Xu Laoshi, to come out to a hookah bar with us. It was a tad disappointing, because the place was out of the cheesecake and tiramisu that we had heard about online, but Kathleen and I passed the time there by making up our own board game with provided pieces. It was a chill evening, and for the rest of that weekend, we all slept, studied, and did little else.

That week passed with classes and few notable events. The next weekend, which is last weekend, was slightly more eventful, as we again started off the weekend on Thursday, celebrating Mexican Independence Day (September 16!) at a different SIP Mexican Restaurant, Casa Zoe, followed by a trip to our favorite, Cold Stone Creamery (yes, they have one here!!) We took another class trip Friday afternoon to the Suzhou City Wall: it was most enjoyable, as the walk through the surrounding park was peaceful and gorgeous and Xu Laoshi then led us in a rousing Chinese language game atop the ancient bricks. Yonathan, Karim, Caitlin, Andreina, and I tried out a new bar/club Friday night (FAIL) and then Caitlin, Karim, and I wandered the streets of Suzhou for SIX HOURS Sunday evening (WIN). Most exciting for me, though, was meeting Wil, the editor of More Suzhou, the website that we refer to for EVERYTHING in this town! Andreina, Caitlin, Karim, Kathleen, Cao Chi, and I had just gone to get some food on Sichuan Jie when a white guy casually strolled by and murmured “That smells good” about our cooking food - and voila! We struck up a conversation. I was in awe.

Last week passed relatively smoothly, as well, with a few events meriting blog entries. However, they will just have to come at a later time, as I have yet to complete tomorrow’s homework.

27 September 2009

Update

I just wanted to let everyone know that I’ve posted three (well, this makes four) new blogs after my unexplained 2-week absence and that I have not died or been detained or forgotten about my blog or anything. Rather, I have been out DOING more things rather than sitting here writing about them; in addition, my 8:30-class-everyday-schedule seems to have finally caught up with my nocturnal lifestyle, so I have been desperately trying to log more sleeping hours. I feel that I am caught up now in terms of rest, so while I am still not simply hanging out or chilling at my desk very often, I will respectfully try to catch you up on my recent (mis)adventures within the next day or two. Happy reading!

The Quest for Calcium - Introduction

I like to think of myself as a nutritionally aware person. Being vegetarian, I believe that I have to be extra-concerned so as to assure that I get necessary vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients and that I am eating a variety of foods of a variety of colors from a variety of food groups. Besides, I just LIKE nutrition - I am interested in it.

So, early in my journey to China this fall (but not before I left, thus leaving myself no time to mentally prepare), I remembered from last summer that Chinese people just don’t drink milk - at least, not the kind of milk that we Americans are used to. Barring studies on how we really shouldn’t drink milk and it is bad for us and yadda yadda yadda, I consume skim milk as a main source of calcium back home. Here, however, as I quickly realized, I could not do the same. I therefore set out on a mission: THE QUEST FOR CALCIUM.

Stay tuned for Episodes I-III!

26 September 2009

PLANS

China has a national holiday, the Mid-Autumn Festival, coming up this week. Because of huge celebrations happening all over the country, we receive a week off school - think Fall Break with Chinese characteristics. From October 1 through October, no one works or goes to class, and everyone eats moon cakes (LINK). Since last spring, when we learned of the event (but not exact dates), us Furman students have been eagerly anticipating a full week rather than a weekend available for us to travel.

To make a very, very long booking story short, Karim, Kathleen, Caitlin, and I will be traveling to Hong Kong and Macau for these eight days. We are flying into Shenzhen, China, on the evening of the 1st before taking a train or bus across the border and staying in a hostel in Hong Kong for the next six nights. During our stay, we plan to eat some unique cuisine, wander the streets, maybe shop a little, explore some nearby mountains, trails, and sights, and go into Macau for a few days to complete the HIGHEST BUNGEE JUMP IN THE WORLD and mix things up with a bit of Portuguese flavor. On the seventh night, we will travel back into Shenzhen with the help of our re-entry visa and spend the night there in order to catch our flight back to Shanghai the next morning. We should arrive back here in Suzhou around dinnertime to prepare for class the next morning.

I am so excited! Karim and I talked about this bungee jumping trip before we ever left the U.S. Now that we have our plane tickets, things are actually starting to seem real. I am just eager to get out of China (well, kind of) and see another part of the world. It should be a fun week with friends!

21 September 2009

Leader of the Pack? (Vroom-vroom)

I slept on and off until 2:00 yesterday, as I had stayed up late the night before watching Ratatouille after roaming late at night with Karim, Caitlin, Andreina, Cao Chi, and Kathleen. When I woke up, I was hungry, so I quickly got dressed and headed outside into the nice weather to hit up Snack Street for some Korean tofu (yum!) When I walked out of the dorm, though, I met up with Robert, Matthew, Geena, Allu, and Rajesh on their way back from lunch after church. Allu was letting Robert and Geena have a try on his friend’s e-bike. When they urged me to try it, too, I excitedly yet timidly accepted, because I had only ever even been on a scooter once or twice, let alone having driven it.

Allu sat behind me and told me what handles and levers controlled what, and we were off! I got the hang of going straight pretty quickly - in fact, I saw Caitlin and Karim on their way back to the dorms after I had only been driving for a few seconds, and Karim said that I looked like I knew what I was doing in that I wasn’t veering to one side or the other. I took a few left turns around the block, never going too quickly for fear of all of the other pedestrians and bikers, and ended up back where I’d begun.

This may not sound like a very exciting trip, but I definitely enjoyed it. I was also proud of myself - I hadn’t believed that I was capable of maneuvering the omnipresent e-bike - and I half-expected Allu to have to take the wheel (okay, so there was no wheel) halfway through - but I did it!

NOTE: I like the song that I reference in this blog title, but a true electronic bike does not make the vroom-vroom noise. Sad day.

10 September 2009

“Oh, I’m the Intern”

Well, today was my first day on the job.

I LOVED IT!

Instead of reporting to the Suzhou Daily office between 1:30 and 2, as we had decided yesterday, right after class, I received a call from Ms. Yang inviting us to an English interview this afternoon. (It’s a good thing that this was invitation was given over the phone; if it had been in person, I very likely would have awkwardly jumped into our boss’s arms.) Obviously, I accepted on mine and Stephanie’s behalf, so we met Ms. Yang outside the building at 12:30 and walked about 15 more minutes to a hotel, the interview site.

Our subject was a Finnish man of about 60 who has lived in Suzhou for almost 11 years and regularly reaches out to the community through volunteering and teaching English. He has become somewhat of a local celebrity through various tasks he has completed.

Today, Stephanie and I took notes as Ms. Yang translated for her colleague, who had a short interview with him; we then watched him participate in a judging panel of a skills contest at said hotel. Then, we went back to the office and, before proofreading a page of the Suzhou Review, WROTE A STORY ON HIM TO BE PUBLISHED ON PAGE TWO OF THE REVIEW ON MONDAY!!! Ahhhhh...I love my job! I’ll try to post the finalized story once it comes out.

Chinese Calligraphy and Painting


In addition to our three regular classes and our internship, we have the option of taking an extracurricular class during our time in China. While I was initially disappointed in the sparse selection (okay, so there was only one offered), now that I have been to two classes, I am so glad that I’m taking it!

Every Tuesday afternoon, we go to a middle-aged man’s house (at least, I would assume that it is his house) to learn traditional Chinese painting and character calligraphy. You know all of that Chinese art that you see on the streets and in the movies, with some ink and a lot of white space? That’s what we’re doing, in a nutshell. Our instructor is apparently quite famous, in Suzhou, at least. He speaks very little English, and his method of teaching consists of painting something for us to copy with the occasional stroke on our own paper. Yesterday, he actually took my hand and moved it along the path in which it needed to travel - that really doesn’t happen too much, so I must have been really screwing it up. Anyway, it took a while to get used to, but now, I like it.

At our first class, we jumped right into painting, recreating scenes of a stone, bamboo, and a mountain. Yesterday, we switched gears to calligraphy and wrote the characters for “big,” “under,” “horse,” “people,” “day,” and “white.” I assume that we will alternate weeks between painting and calligraphy. I prefer the painting, but I do think that his calligraphy looks really cool (just not mine - YET.)

I just want to say that the ink that we use smells SO...GOOD. It’s like incense or something! Oh, that might not make sense if you haven’t taken Chinese with Zhang Laoshi or traditional painting with this guy (I don’t know his name)...you do a little something like this:

1. Take brush out of the water in which it has been resting.
2. Swirl brush in the water on top of the block of black ink.
3. Squeeze out the extra moisture by pressing the brush on the side of a bowl or the ink...plod.
4. If painting, paint. If writing calligraphy, make sure that the brush is held upright with three fingers. Then calligraphate. Calligraph-fy? Mayhaps it is only “write calligraphy.” Thoughts?

So, that’s basically what we do for an hour and a half. It’s harder than it sounds.

Internship briefing!

Today, in my Chinese Society class, which is taught by Meng Laoshi, a. k. a. Harrison, who, incidentally, is also our Program Facilitator, Professor Meng talked a bit about the internships that he had been organizing for us. We had not been given very much information about them to date; Dr. Kaup had only asked our preferences back at Furman and vaguely mentioned them. Anyway, today, we got a finalized list of five choices, and we each chose our location. I, of course, chose to work as a proofreader and editor of the English section of the Suzhou Daily, the local newspaper. Little did I know that my internship there would actually begin today...

At the end of class, Harrison mentioned to Stephanie (the other FIC girl who will have the same position as I) and I very casually that we would go this afternoon to meet our editor. No big deal, right? Right, except that, sooner than expected, we were off to Shizi Street to meet our boss and discuss our job, which starts TOMORROW!

Basically, I know very little right now: our boss, Ms. Yang, speaks good English...sometimes. For instance, she could describe the newspaper very well, but when I asked her whether or not there was a dress code, she told me that I could help with interviews if English skills were needed. Hm...from what I can gather, Stephanie and I will go to work in the Suzhou Daily building (Free Spirits: it’s not USA Today, but it is rather classy) on Thursday afternoons for an hour or two. We will take turns each week either proofreading a page with local news in English or editing a different English page. Though the newspaper comes out daily, the special English section, which has grown in the past four years from one to four pages, comes out on Mondays. We are also allowed to contribute to the paper, for which we will be compensated, assuming that our writing is published. (The rest of our job is for no pay.) We will get our own ID pass to get into the building and then report to a cubicle on the second floor next to Mrs. Yuan’s and her assistant, Carrie’s, cubicles.

I am so freaking excited.

Stay tuned!

FUN FACT OF THE DAY

Props to Maddie Horrell for sending me the tie-dyed Collegetown Bagels shirt for my seventeenth birthday. (At least, I think it was seventeenth...) Today, my Chinese professor saw me wearing it and said that he had frequented that bagel shop during his time earning his doctorate at Cornell! Small world! (And awesome Zhang Laoshi) Peace, Love, and Bagels...

07 September 2009

“I Gotta Feeling...”

I don’t know about everyone else, but Friday night, I had some of the most fun that I’ve yet had on this trip.

Before the evening even began, a group of us watched a >$1 copy of “The Hangover” - hilarious! To everyone who had been telling me to see it all summer: thanks, and you were totally right! Yes, I’ll admit: I was a bit skeptical of its merits before watching, but it really was quite funny. I now understand a lot more of the jokes that people have been making

I hurriedly showered, changed, and got ready to go out with everyone. Fourteen of us (nine from FiC, two former Furman students-turned-Suzhou-profs, our Mexican friend from our hall, a random Swede living downstairs, and one of our Indian friends) went via various taxis to the Industrial Park (SIP) to see the laser/water show that we saw last year. It was no less amazing nor any less beautiful the second time! It reminds me of Burkowski’s Christmas lights in Vienna each year - water, fire, and lights squirt and burn and shine on and off over Jinju Lake to different songs for 30 minutes each Friday and Saturday night. If you ever come to Suzhou, check it out - just be careful not to sit too close, or you will get soaked (as we did)! I’ve included a 30-second video clip of it - it’s rather poor quality, and you can’t get the true experience by just watching it onscreen, but it’s a start.

In our haste to change gears from relaxing movie time to “hurry-up-and-get-to-the-show-on-time” time, many of us had neglected to eat dinner, so we opted for some faux-Mexican at Zapata’s, in a huge shopping center just beside the lake. Andreina and I ordered an appetizer plate of nachos to share, as we thought we weren’t that hungry: THEY WERE THE BEST NACHOS I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE. Man, they were good. All it was was beans, cheese, peppers, olives, and tomatoes on top with guacamole, sour cream, and salsa on the side, so even now, I’m not sure what was so good about them, but we absolutely dug into them to the point that we were scraping cheese off the plate after we had eaten every single crumb - and then, we ordered another plate! (They were pricey by Chinese standards, but still cheap for Americans.)

After our dinner, we split up into two groups, one of which returned to our dorms, and one of which decided to check out a popular disco in the area called Club Scarlet. (Guess which one I was in!) I had hoped that there would be a bigger group to go dancing, but the six of us who went - Yonathan, Allu, Geena, Staci, Andreina, and I - had a good time, anyway! At least, I did: when we first got there, it seemed loud and crowded (well, it WAS loud and crowded), but once I got used to that and could appreciate the classy decor and fun atmosphere, I realized that there was live music going on. First a girl and then a guy were singing and moving from platform to platform about the club. After that, the club put on a mix of American songs, including, but not limited to: “Low,” “Right Round,” “I Know You Want Me,” AND “COUNTRY ROADS” - the techno version! It was at this point that I jumped up onto the platform and rocked out myself. (Unbeknownst to me, Geena caught this on video - I will post this in a later, once she uploads it for me.) Alas, after one last song - the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” - it was time to leave. Sweaty, thirsty, smoky, partially deaf, and exhausted, we quickly hailed taxis and headed back to SuDa to make our curfew.

05 September 2009

Navigating the Laundry Room

The day that I arrived in Suzhou, I was aching to do laundry. I don’t particularly enjoy the act; however, I DO really enjoy feeling clean and smelling nice...or at least having people willing to stand next to me because I am wearing clothes that are at least relatively odor- and stain-free.

This was easier said than done. Remember that I am in China...naturally, all of the buttons are in Chinese. After an initial attempt to do it myself, which failed, and then asking for help from a woman next door who apparently speaks no Chinese, my roommate, Andreina’s roommate, who is one of my roommate’s good friends, and I all went down together. This was very helpful in that they could, for example, translate and tell me what the buttons said and how much detergent the chart on my bag told me to use. However, neither of them had used a washing machine before, which just made for an interesting mix.

After some time and lots of questions from all of us, we each found an empty washer and put in our garments. Forty-five minutes later, when the cycle was supposed to be over, we found that mine had, in fact, never started...never fear! Just press some more buttons and try again. At least, that’s my strategy, and it seems to be theirs, as well.

Somehow, the other FiC participants seem to think that I am the laundry authority because my clothes “smell good” after coming out of the washer, and theirs apparently do not. Maybe I just put in too much detergent.

India

My knowledge of India, of all places (yes, India - not China or Japan or the United States or anywhere else seemingly logical) has increased tenfold on this trip. It is not because our national tour suddenly veered far West or because I have been doing independent research in the library whenever we don’t have class. It IS because I, along with many of the others in our Fall in China group, have met and befriended many SuDa fourth-year male medical students who are from India.

When Robert, Geena, Staci, and I were leaving church last weekend, a man named George came and introduced himself to us because he was also an American who has had to navigate SuDa. (We introduced ourselves during the service, and he sought us out.) He had ridden his bike to the building and thus would be returning on it, but he kindly directed us to the shuttle, which had a drop-off point near one part of the massive SuDa campus. So that we would surely know our stop, he also took the time to find other English-speaking SuDa students on board. We sat in front of them and chatted for the 15-minute or so ride. We found out a little bit about them and their studies, and then we walked along the same route to our respective dorms for a few minutes. When it was time to part, they invited us to eat lunch with them in the “mess hall.” We were hungry and eager to explore new options, so we of course assented!

This mess hall, which serves all Indian food, all the time, is now probably my favorite meal option. The meals are nearly always exclusively vegetarian, always DELICIOUS, and I can get more food than I can eat for 11 yuan - less than two dollars. Plus, it seems that every time we go, our friends are there, who introduce us to their friends and their friends’ friends...so we now have a network of Indian buddies. Last night, one of them invited a group of us to go out with him to a show, which turned into a show, dinner, and a disco, and the night turned out to be some of the most fun that I’ve had in China!

In addition to expanding our network and having great food, I’ve also had some meaningful conversations with some of the guys. We have talked about everything from school to 9/11 to country comparisons to family to tradition to China. I definitely have learned a lot from them, and they seem to be interested in our customs, too. Their English is sometimes a bit quick or garbled, but I’ve become used to it (with the help of Karim. haha) They’re really nice guys, and I’ll be forever indebted to their exposure of me to daal, roti, gobi, nan, samba, and more (all foods, of course!)

Church: A Gateway to the Suzhou Expat Community

I went to church last Sunday with Geena, Staci, and Robert. I had initially been looking to get the experience of Christianity in China. To my disappointment, I found out that it was actually an international church - and Chinese citizens were not allowed to go, per local government regulations. I’ve asked around, and I now believe that it has to do with funding. Still, my roommate was interested in coming with us, but she couldn’t, and once we got into the service, it didn’t even feel as if we were in China. I’m not sure whether I like that or not. It’s not that the service itself was not good - everybody was nice, welcoming, and international; there was a lot of music; everything was in English - but I’m just not sure where to direct my frustration now.

[For those of you who may have questions regarding China and religion, I can give you my very limited understanding: China is often deemed a “Communist” country because it has a system of one-party rule, and this party is currently (and has been since 1949) the Chinese Communist Party. The official religion of the party is Atheism, so government officials and all hopefuls may not practice religion of any kind - at least, not legally. However, there are five religions that are recognized by the government, and as long as said recognition is granted, believers are allowed to practice in peace with I think relatively few restrictions. You want to know the five religions? I knew that you would ask...I believe that they are Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism...and I can’t remember the last one. They’re major religions, anyway.

In addition, China is 92% Han nationality and also home to 55 recognized minorities. The qualifications for approval of a minority group include a unique culture, which often includes dialect, dress, religion...so traditional religions are practiced, as well.]

So, this visit to the international church opened my eyes to what I’d been hearing is a fairly sizable expat community in the city of Suzhou. More on that is surely to come...

01 September 2009

Shanghai Tour


Our time in Shanghai was originally short, as less than 24 hours were allocated for our stay in the city. It was made shorter, however, due to both a plane delay and then rain on the evening of our arrival.

Nevertheless, we found ways to make the best of our time. From the airport, we immediately went to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, which is the highest building the Shanghai and I believe the third-highest in the world. One of the observation decks a few hundred feet up has a glass platform surrounding it on which you can walk and view everything below; of course I took advantage of this and walked around the entire circular deck on the clear glass.

It was after this visit that the rain started, so we went back to the hotel. I think that everyone in our group took advantage of the next couple of free hours before dinner as nap time; at this point, the last day of our ten-day tour, we were all dragging, and many (not myself, thankfully) were feeling somewhat under-the-weather.

We woke up, had dinner, and then embarked on a short riverboat cruise down the Huangpu (Yellow River), which led to Shanghai’s main port. I so wished that there had been music; it reminded me simultaneously of the eighth-grade and Free Spirit D. C. cruises on the Potomac.

That night, Andreina, Geena, and I decided that we wanted to go out. (Originally, more people had agreed, but due to a variety of reasons, it ended up just being the three of us.) We wandered around outside the hotel, eventually ending up at our proposed destination, East Nanjing Road. The street reminded me of Times Square: it seemed to become even more lively at night; it was big, bright, multicultural, and cosmopolitan. The three of us strolled down it, stopping in a store here and there and eventually finding a bar where we partook in beer and fries (don’t worry; there’s no drinking age in China) before heading back in a taxi in order to make Zhang Laoshi’s hotel curfew. The next morning, we departed for Suzhou.

Yan’an Tour

We entitled our Yan’an tour “Communism Day” because we visited many former residences and meeting rooms of Communist revolutionaries from the 1940s. I sat in Mao Zedong’s chair in his old residence! After viewing those places, which were in town, we traveled out of our way to see a very rural village, which turned out to be a perfect example of communism at work: basically, the government gave some farming land to a community of people. The people who worked more received more; everyone was comparatively poor but relatively equal.

FUN FACT: Zhang Laoshi was very excited to see a lot of the sites - I’m not sure whether or not he had been to them before. Incidentally, his camera battery was also dead. Well, one thing led to another, and I ended up being his photographer and thus now have about five pictures of Zhang Laoshi posing in front of various buildings on my computer.

That night, we had a traditional hotpot dinner. Hotpot, huoguo, is basically just that - a pot of boiling, seasoned liquid into which you put, well, whatever you want, really. Typically, there is a lot of meat, so I actually had a completely separate hotpot (yes, I initially felt bad, but I wouldn’t have had much to eat otherwise!) into which only went noodles, vegetables, and tofu. Um, can you say delicious!? It was double-sided; one side was seasoned with vegetables, and the other with pepper and spiciness. Guess which one I preferred!

Anyway, the trips to and from Yan’an were supposedly four hours but were, in all reality, around seven. This was not fun, as you might imagine: our bus was very hot, and we did this trip two days in a row. We did everything from talk to sleep to play camp games, and it still was just plain two days of driving, more or less. HOWEVER, I got some sweet souvenirs from a Communist paraphernalia shop and we ate lunch at a revolving restaurant, so the trip was almost worth it.