Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas week and the Harbin Ice Festival

It's hard feeling Christmasy in China. There aren't many decorations, and there certainly aren't Christmas carols. It's nice getting a break from the blatant commercialism but as Christmas came nearer it became a little sad for the expats here.

On Sunday I went to a house church. I'll write about that in detail when I'm back in the States.

On Tuesday I spent the whole day in Harbin. They have an Ice Festival every year, as well as a park that has giant snow sculptures. FK and I took the overnight train up and arrived at 6 am; we bought a map and got our bearings and first headed out for the snow park.

The park was across the Songhua River at Sun Island Park; by the time we arrived we were actually so cold we had to take a break in a McDonald's (never were we ever so happy to see the Golden Arches!). The river had frozen over completely, and there were horses and carriages as well as ice skating there.

We took the cable car over- it was 30 rmb for me, but 50 rmb for 'Foreign Visitors'...Fran wasn't terribly happy about that. The Snow Park seemed to have some Finnish bath theme, and it was only about half finished, but the giant centerpiece was completed and highly impressive.

The sculptures were still in progress while we were there- they made a giant box of wood planks, shoveled snow into it, then took down the wood which created a giant rectangle of snow to carve- but that made it cool without it being overwhelming. Plus, there were very few tourists around.

Then we went back over the river on one of the horse-drawn carriages, and slipped around on the ice for some fun. We thawed during lunch, meaning we spent about 15 minutes eating and 45 minutes chatting. We decided to head to the Japanese Germ Warfare Base of Unit 731, which is where the Japanese carried out gruesome medical experiments in WWII. We found a shady shared taxi there, since it was 20 km south of the city, and when we arrived we discovered Lonely Planet had their times wrong! The place closed at 3 and we arrived at 3:30! We were so disappointed, but had no choice but to take a bus back into the city. 

45 minutes later, we were back at the train station in the city center and it was completely dark outside. We decided to walk all the way to the Ice Park, since we'd passed it on the way to the River. On the way, we also went to the Church of St. Sophia, a gorgeous Russian church. Fran's picture doesn't really do it justice but I have yet to upload mine.

We finally arrived at the Ice Park; we could see the lights on from a couple blocks away.  This gave us hope because the Festival officially opens Jan 5, and the reason no one else wanted to come with us was because they were worried it wouldn't be open yet. Well IT WAS! It had actually opened the day before, on the 22nd. And, on top of that, it was a Disney theme this year!

I felt like such a child again; apparently I just had a look of "sheer delight and joy" for the longest time. There were even fireworks a few minutes after we walked into the park! I have pictures of that too, on my card....

We spent a couple hours there, going down the ice slides and taking funny photos and running around the park. I can honestly say there is only one experience in China that topped this, and it just barely wins- when I cruised through the Three Gorges. I had an absolutely fantastic, spectacular, amazing time; even despite the obvious parts of the park that were not ready yet (like the food shops and the random blocks of ice sitting around waiting to be carved up). In fact, we liked it better because again, there were very few visitors. Our pictures look so deadly because there weren't loads of people in them!  Aladdin's palace
 the giant ice castle (the ice slide wasn't ready yet- but yes, those are escalators and elevators!)

Finally we walked down the main cobblestone pedestrian street searching for a Russian restaurant. We found one after about an hour, and even though it wasn't that good, our legs were so tired from all the trekking of the day that it was wonderful just to sit. 

We took the overnight train back, and while the first night we played cards until lights out, that night we climbed straight into bed and fell asleep until we pulled into the Dalian station, at 7:30 am Christmas Eve.

That night Leanna came over, and we went to Tesco and bought a load of snacks and sweets and the tiniest bit of substantial food for dinner. Tropicana made this new fruit juice blend of pomegranates and peaches and whatnot and since we couldn't find cranberry juice, we settled on that instead. We splurged 16 rmb (~2 USD) on a cheese wheel and bought a baguette, then grabbed Korean takeout at the bottom of my development. We came home with our load and ate while watching the Santa Clause- the only Christmas movie I watched all season :( 

I met everyone else out at the clubs close to midnight- I decided not to drink though and let me tell you, watching everyone else be out off their face while techno is playing in a crowded club and you're bone dry sober...after a while, it actually gets tedious.

Christmas day I went for a massage with Carol- half an hour for 30 rmb (~4 USD) and it was amazing. The masseuse I had was a young guy, and he was really nice to me too, really interested yet not nosy about me being Chinese American. Then I watched a bit of The Godfather II and had Christmas dinner at 6. 

I had to choose between 160 rmb buffet at I-55, one of the first Western restaurants in Dalian, or a 200 rmb buffet at the Swissotel. I chose the former because certain people I thought would make me feel awkward were at the latter...but I regret my decision now. Though honestly, I think either one I went to would've made me feel awkward and out of place and wishing I was at the other, but at least at Swissotel the food would have compensated for it. Then everyone came over to my place afterwards (keeping in mind I only knew four of them, the rest I'd just met that night) and we watched Definitely Maybe until midnight.

So Christmas and the entire holiday season really had not gone at all like I'd planned it. The 26th is really hard too because it's the one year anniversary of when my grandmother died and I felt really alone without my family or any friends around...everyone was too busy working to come over. If there's any bright side at all to this month, it's that Harbin was absolutely magical and that I am now definitely ready to come home.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

As of late (pardon the depressing tone and cheesiness)

I haven't found much to do in Dalian anymore. I truly resent hurting my foot because I had to rebook a trip to Guilin, that ultimately was cancelled by the airline. My traveling partner has since decided to go there by himself. If I ever do see Guilin, it will be in a few years' time at the very least.

The weather has gotten extremely cold. Luckily I'm off the cast and off the crutches, for the most part. I have a limp though, and use a crutch every couple days or so to ease the pressure on my foot. China's extremely crutch-unfriendly though, so I try not to use it too often.

I had a coat, a dress, and two skirts tailor made at Erqi Square for 640 kuai (little over 90 USD). The skirts and winter jacket turned out quite well; the little black dress not so much. I didn't really give it much of a chance though; perhaps if I had let them refit it a little it wouldn't look that bad actually. It was just so different from what I had in mind for New Year's...not really fair to the dress now is it? The quality of everything in general though is fantastic, and fits perfectly to me. I'm still debating having a suit made, and a blouse to go with it.

As of the last week, I've become very intent on a project I've been working on. I have a lot of free time and if I didn't have this to focus on; I'd go mad. I'm alone now a lot. In the past week, I've gone from absolutely dreading going home to --> not wanting to come home but knowing I need to, to --> actually starting to get excited about coming home. I actually resent the events of late a little, because I don't want to be excited- it's such a drastic change in attitude in ten days- but it's better to be excited than still miserable, right?

I've actually started a list of Things I Will Miss and Things I Won't Miss about China. Some of it's quite amusing! I may post it after New Year's.

I'm a big believer in everything happens for a reason; I try to regret as little as possible.
That being said, I've finally seen who my real friends are, and gotten the chance to hang out with my good friends that I'd been neglecting quite a lot for the Aston teacher group.

The next two weeks won't fly by, but I have enough plans that they won't drag like the past week has. I'm going to Harbin on Monday night, spending a day there, and coming back Wed morning by sleeper train. I'll try to find a church service for Christmas Eve or Christmas morning...but I will be waking up alone on Christmas, with no family, no tree, and no presents. [It's not really a terrible issue though because Dalian has not been terribly Christmas-y, I mean it IS China, and my attempts at blasting Christmas music feel cheap and American.] Sigma is finally coming to visit Dalian on the 29th, to celebrate New Year's with me, and I return to Shanghai the 3rd or 4th.

The in-between days are really all I worry about, since every day for the past week I have been waking up every day at 7 am, regardless of when I go to bed. The days therefore are really long and sometimes difficult to face.

Overall, I know I will be okay. I still don't regret much of anything I've done here, including my decision to stay another semester. I know it's not just the ups, but the downs as well, that are part of the growing experience that has been this year, of being 19 and abroad...nothing could really ruin the memory of the life-changing year that has been 2008. I'm coming out of this a stronger and better person; and after all, the greatest gift of the Christmas season is the prevalence of Hope, and I am brimming full of it for my future.

Again, apologies for the cheese....sometimes you need idealism to get you by.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Thanksgiving, Chinese style, involved all the expats getting together at the Swissotel for the all-you-can-eat 180 rmb Thanksgiving Buffet (26 USD). It was expensive, yes, but absolutely tasty. Tom turkeys, lamb chops, giant hams, cheese, breads, fresh seafood, authentic sushi, dessert table, chocolate fountain...the only thing missing was pumpkin pie. On top of it all, I had nearly all my friends with me. Though mostly American this term, we of course brought the Irish, Brits, South Africans, etc. They loved it- though, who wouldn't love all that food?
It was a bit difficult to maneuver at first because I fractured a bone in my foot three weeks ago playing gaelic football and have been on crutches ever since. However, everyone helped me get food and because of the crutching about, I never got too full and kept eating plate after plate. After a while, people would leave the table when I sat down with more food because they couldn't stand the sight of more Thanksgiving dinner.

Afterwards, we decided to do the really American thing and go bowling at the 24 hour, three floors underground bowling alley. Obviously since I can't bowl on one foot, I played pool on my one foot instead. The games also became only 10 kuai ($1.50) after midnight, so we all killed time playing doubles pool until midnight. Fran came extremely close to bowling a 200, and for his fourth or fifth time bowling (apparently it's not big in Ireland) we were quite impressed. About one am we went home and slept off everything we ate, without the hassle of Black Friday the next morning. Though it was a great Thanksgiving on my own, living abroad, my only complaint would be that I do kind of miss the holiday buzz.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dandong-North Korea

Sunday I went with the BCA girls on another excursion to Dandong. It's a border city right on the China-North Korea line. Danny, our director, rented a van and picked me up at my place at 6:20 in the morning. It's a three and a half hour drive, during which we mostly slept.

When we arrived, we were at a riverbank, staring at a barren strip of land across from us. I joked, Please tell me that's North Korea...and it was! We took a boat ride up and down the bank a bit, and it was crazy because on our left we saw Dandong- skyrises, apartment buildings, restaurants, cars, colors, life, etc. On our right we saw North Korea- a barren wasteland of dead trees, one or two abandoned buildings, and loads of old decrepid boats lined up next to each other. These looked like fishing boats from the 1920s, like the tugboats you'd see in old cartoons. We even saw some North Koreans fishing and others washing cabbage for what we can only assume is going to be kimchi. We were only about 50 feet away from them as well in the boat; I can't imagine how painful it must be living there and staring at Dandong constantly.

Then we walked on the bridge over the river that was bombed by the US in 1950. The end was still pretty mangled but it looked redone; like they'd smoothed the edges and repainted the bridge. Next to it was the newer bridge that still goes over to North Korea, but not surprisingly there was no one crossing it.

We had lunch at a delicious Korean restaurant next to the river, then trekked over to the "Memorial Hall of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea" -or what we refer to as the Korean War. The museum was pretty cool, there was the general museum stuff such as artillery, propaganda, old pictures of soldiers...but what made it really neat was the viewpoint. Just like the name of the museum, everything there- all the captions, the summaries- was written in a very pro-China, anti-American voice. The US was referred to as "the US imperialists" and the propaganda they had displayed from the US side was even pro-Chinese. 

The propaganda was actually my favorite part; they all perpetuated the idea that the Koreans and Chinese were 'lenient with POWs' and seemed to even be pushing soldiers to be captured and 'end this useless war.' There were magazine clippings saying things like "Mrs. Johnson is happy now because she knows her husband is safe in a Chinese POW camp" and "Stop your mother from worrying about you. Think about it!"

After the museum we headed back home, arriving about 7:30. We'd only spent about six hours in Dandong but I think it was definitely a very productive trip.

 China--Bridge--North Korea

Also, a completely irrelevant sidenote- It started snowing today in Dalian!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election from abroad

It's easy to be left out of the loop when living abroad. I have no idea what movies or songs are popular back home right now, what the latest trends are, what's the big marketing campaign for Halloween and Thanksgiving, and I'm okay with all that because it keeps life simpler.

The only real downside was when it came to the election. I woke up Tuesday morning slightly excited about the election, about change on the horizon...only to remember that I was 13 hours ahead of the States (Daylight Savings Time couldn't have been pushed back another week, no?) and had another 36 hours to wait for results.

Wednesday morning I bolted out of bed at my normal time of seven am...only to remember again I still had yet another hour before polls started closing. Leanna was worse than I was; halfway through our first class she remembered about the election, after which she started to freak out, "What if Obama doesn't win?"

We get three breaks during our four hours of class, and during each break someone was running back to the dorms to check the votes. After the first break it was 77-34 Obama, but an hour later he had already climbed past 100. At the last break Sam, a Korean American friend, rushed into my classroom and raised his arms into the air and yelled, "Obama's our new president!!", effectively making all the Koreans and Russians very wary of us Americans.

To be fair, they had good reason to be wary. Many of us, like myself, had been abroad for the majority of the campaign season, including the climax over the last few months. Our celebration was weak at best, and constituted mainly posts on each others' facebooks and texting each other in all caps (it was only 1 pm our time after all), but we were rejoicing the fact that after all the turmoil we could only read about and missed out on, we had at least one reason to look forward to going home.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An interruption post about volleyball

I know I'm behind on National Holiday and my subsequent trip to Shanghai, but today was amazing and deserves its own post while I'm still reveling in it.

The Chinese language department had a volleyball tournament between all the classes over the last couple weeks, and my class had been doing pretty well. I always went home right after class so I never checked it out, but today Leanna had another class so I agreed to step in for her just for the first half hour because the rules stated every team needed at least two females.

Well turns out one of my classmates is actually a volleyball coach, and three other students (two Korean and one Russian) were also really good. I played on a team for two years, but that was like five years ago, so only basic skills like underhand serving and passing/setting really remain. I was more backup; but the coach and one of the tall Korean guys set up a set and spike almost every single volley, I was very impressed with our reaction times and strategic movement.

Our first two games we beat the other team 25-21 and 25-23, then the next two they beat us 25-18 and 25-20 (or something close to that). So going into the last game the refs (just young Chinese students) said we were only playing to 15 points...we ended up neck and neck the entire way, and the game finally ended with a tense 19-17. In all the games I played on a team I never was so into a game, nor did I enjoy winning a game so much. We ended up winning the Final as well after that, though it wasn't as much of a challenge.

It was fun as well because they mixed rules; you could use any part of your body- meaning you could kick the ball, bounce it off your head, etc...I made an incredible save by bouncing one off my shoulder.

I was impressed, I think every one of my classmates made it out to see the match by the end. So I got to interact with them outside of the classroom, and am now fully convinced we are the best class ever, we have the greatest personality and energy. They were all waving around trash bags making noise and the most enthusiastic la la dui (cheerleading squad), even when it started to drizzle and the sky started darkening at 4:30. My listening and intensive reading teacher even showed up. I'm so glad I decided to stay and experience the Chinese university life for once instead of going back to my apartment and lounging about on my laptop like I always do.

Four hours after we'd started, we finally finished taking pictures, getting our prizes (giant 'premium containers' of Nescafe) and congratulating each other, and we all went our separate ways...but I still get to see them tomorrow morning! As if leaving Dalian in two months weren't hard enough, now I'm in love with my class....

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wild Wild West Day ONE: Tombs, Movies Sets, and Helan Mountain

Right so I've been home about a week now. Time is really flying by, somehow I've managed to fall behind yet again.

Our first day in Yinchuan was freezing. The day started off on a great note when our driver, not even two minutes out on the road, accidentally rolled backwards into another car. There was a great deal of arguing between the two drivers over fault, and I got out of the van even to take pictures of the bystanders.
Our first stop was the Xi Xia Mausoleum, which were tombs from the Xi (Western) Xia Dynasty. Honestly, they just looked like giant anthills. The gloomy weather didn't help our lack of excitement either. But because there were four of us camera-happy girls, we took loads of funny pictures.
  Our next stop was a giant movie set where numerous films have been shot. Danny, our director, told us a whole generation of filmmakers who grew up during the Cultural Revolution used this set, because they would make films about the Sent Down Youth or the Re-education movement of the 60s and 70s. One of my favorite movies I recognized as having taken place there! To Live, which is from 1994 and stars Gong Li. Highly recommended. Anyway, we ended up exploring and taking more funny photos. There were also two tied up monkeys in the complex, they looked like they were going to bite my nose when I got close to them. The set is obviously just a tourist attraction now, but we could have spent half the day there if Danny let us, just taking pictures. My favorite part of the whole trip there might've been when a group of tourists kept trying to take photos of Brittney and Leanna just because they were white, and I started making funny faces whilst standing in between them. Imagine looking at a picture of two white girls with me in the middle scrunching my nose and sticking out my tongue...brilliant.
Our last stop of the day was Helan Mountain, which looked to be just giant rock formations but they actually had ancient carvings and drawings. I couldn't see a single one without having to stare at the same boulder for ages, but some of the others could really pick them out. It started to drizzle while we were there, and by the end of our walk through it, we were all just wet and cold. I ended up holding everyone up though because I was bargaining for some souveniers to bring home. I think the matter of contention was five kuai? So less than a dollar...but really, it was a matter of pride.  I ended up winning. Dinner that night was on Danny's contact in Yinchuan, who is the sister of a coworker in Dalian and whom Danny had never actually met. She's a professional singer, or was, and now gives voice lessons while her daughter is a news anchor on the local television station. Her husband turned out to be Shanghai born and raised, so we had a conversation in Shanghai dialect, which made me very happy, as it always does. The dishes at dinner were all fantastic, and kept coming even when we were stuffed. Because we were in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, where a good majority of the people (the Hui minority) are Muslims, lamb is a staple meat. One dish was lamb raised so as not to taste gamey, and it was so tasty, the meat seemed to melt off the bone. Even the tea we had -ba bao, or Eight Treasure tea- was delicious. The dinner was definitely a good experience not just for the culinary satisfaction, but also because through Danny's polite conversation and the way he acted towards these three, it was a perfect demonstration of how Chinese people form and maintain guanxi as well.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friday in Beijing and arriving in Yinchuan

Yesterday was a full day! Our train arrived at the station at 6 in the morning, and we high tailed it straight to McDonald's for coffee. From the moment we arrived though you could tell the sky was beautiful- I got lovely pictures of the sunrise. After breakfast we decided to check out the Olympic venues, so we hopped on the subway and when we arrived it turned out you needed special passes to get in! We got on these buses instead with Beijing 2008 on the side, and it basically went in a loop around the venues, stopped at like the Village and outside the Stadium, etc. We didn't get terribly close to the Water Cube or the Bird's Nest, but close enough to take pictures- the pictures just have lots of gates and buses in them!

Then we finished off the loop (the buses were really comfortable and the weather was gorgeous-Beijing really did a fantastic job with the air pollution) then went to Yonghe Lama Temple. According to Hack it's one of the rare temples that a. wasn't destroyed in the Cultural Revolution and b. is from a particular sect of Buddhism that's seldom practiced. The biggest sight was this giant Buddha carved from a single sandalwood tree- it actually had a Guinness World Record plaque outside the temple (for what record, I'm not sure, I'm assuming it's to do with height or building material. Or both).

We took the subway back, and after three trips to Beijing I finally made it to the Silk Market. I spent a good almost hour probably at this one shop debating over jackets- one I didn't buy, it was a nice dark green Inspector Gadget-type trenchcoat that was 200 rmb, but the one I did buy was a 240 rmb Columbia knock-off, that I'm incredibly pleased with. It's got two layers, and the inner sweater layer even zips out and can be worn alone, among other awesome 35 dollars I've spent in a while. I also bought a 'silk' skirt for 35 rmb (the lady was so upset though, she wanted 38 and I just wouldn't give in for pride's sake and she said, Where are you from? Are all females from where you live like you? I've never met anyone so stubborn/cheap from America.) then Hack and I were nearly threatened by a lady selling jerseys. We went to look at them and when we wouldn't agree to her prices (90 a pair) we tried to walk away and she got extremely red and wouldn't let us...I've never felt scared of vendors before.

After that we went back to Wang Fu Jing, where we had breakfast, and checked out a tiny little food street that had, among other things, seahorse on a stick. We ate dinner in the giant mall there, where we all made the comment that Beijing was way too Western for us, and how glad we were to be there only a day. Though, it was such a full day we felt ready to head back to Dalian, we had to be reminded there were still five more days to the trip!

We took a 9:20 pm flight to Yinchuan, where we arrived last night about 11:30. When we disembarked, I was realized buying the jacket was the smartest decision I've made in a while, it is Freezing here (46 F this morning)! We were picked up by contacts of Danny's and taken to this hostel where it seems to have been transfomed from an old factory building or something, and there's No Heat. No hot water for showers either; we asked this morning when hot water would turn on and the owner said probably not today...because their water is heated by the sun! I guess we're lucky they even have this old laptop for public use. There is this really cute collie here though in the lobby.

We're spending four full days here, and we're still not quite sure what we have planned. We could go to Inner Mongolia, or the desert and ride camels and go sand sliding, or raft on the Yellow's extremely cold and it's raining outside though, and the girls got about six hours of sleep (I got four because they moved back our pick-up time and I just decided to read books in the lobby instead of going back to sleep), so though it's not starting off on the right foot, as Hillary least we had a beautiful day in Beijing to remember if nothing else!

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Just a quick post since I'm packing to leave soon. Fall has hit, and amazingly Dalian's weather seemed to change instantaneously. One day it was humid and next day, it's windy and everyone's breaking out the jumpers. It also keeps alternating between raining and cloudy to extremely beautiful clear blue skies every other day. My mother just came to visit for the last three days and she caught two rainy days and one sunny day, though even on the cloudy day you could see how gorgeous the Dalian seaside is.

I've been in a ridiculously good mood today; I skipped class to drop mom off at the airport; then I went back to school to pick up my passport. I've got my residency permit all sorted out! Even though I had to rent a room in the dorms to pretend I was living there in order to get the new permit. (50 USD total for 8 nights in a room I never even stepped foot in...) Then I went to lunch at Amici's, a popular western food coffee shop, then F and I sat at the Xinghai beach for a good hour and a half just watching people, listening to the waves crashing and laying in the sun. Now I'm packing for my October Holiday trip -with BCA again -we're going to Western China for a week! Well, tomorrow will be spent in Beijing because of the way the train and flight schedules worked out, but then we'll go to Western China. Silk Road, Yellow River, some desert, Inner Mongolia...that whole area. I'm super when I return, I still have a full six days off of school!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Visa nightmares

I've known for a while my residency permit expires September 20th. I tried to hand in my passport last week, but the office lady told me to bring it back a few days later. Well thanks to the three day weekend for Mid-Autumn Festival, the next available day was today. Four days away from the 20th.

Chinese law states that whenever you come to China, you have to register with the local police station within 24 hours, or 48 hours, something like that. I moved into my apartment over two weeks ago and still have not done that because our landlady is out of the city- or country- I'm not really sure. Obviously there's also a problem with language since my one roommate (the one who dealt with the contract) is in Korea for the month, my Japanese roommate and I don't speak much Chinese, and my other Japanese roommate doesn't speak much English but speaks fluent Chinese. Oy. In any case, none of us registered because your landlady needs to come with you to the police station, so figured we'd all just wait. Except they luckily all have visas that can wait until she comes back from wherever she is.

So my school couldn't process my visa application until I had proof from the police station of my registration, which I couldn't do because 1. I have no idea where my landlady is 2. I have no idea where the police station is and 3. I have no idea how to register because my Chinese is barely conversational. I was freaking out all afternoon, because if I don't get this sorted I'd have to leave the country in order to do so- the most popular option being Korea, which is still a good 200 USD round trip plane ticket. I'll save my money woes for another post, but long story short I have nowhere near that kind of spare cash.

I finally reached my landlady though; the school office said she needs to grant 'official permission' to someone to bring me to the station on her behalf (she needs to show that she's allowed to rent the space, and get taxed on it, etc) so she asked her sister to do it. She's taking me tomorrow morning, which should be fine because apparently if I get it all completed by Friday at the latest the school can still renew my visa. Why some things in China only take a day and other things take months is beyond me, but I won't complain in this case. They may fine me for staying in the country without proper registration, but if they do they hopefully won't go by the on-the-books 500 RMB/day. The only silver lining to all this is since I'm going tomorrow at 10 am, I get to sleep in and skip both my classes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hong Kong

I realize I'm a crap blogger at this point; so much for those goals I'd made. But here we go, third attempt at keeping a regular blog....

August was a crazy month. I spent three weeks in the States, and came back to China with absolutely no plans. All I knew was I needed to end up in Dalian by the end of the month, since school started September 1st and I hadn't even registered with the new university yet.

I ended up just buying a round trip plane ticket to Shenzhen, and decided to let everything between the flight dates just happen. Turned out, I had a better time than I could have possibly planned. I stayed with a friend for over a week at his place; for the majority of those days we commuted daily into Hong Kong. It's about ten dollars round trip; twenty if you choose the first class metro seats.

The walk into Hong Kong is very anti-climactic though; you walk through this hallway, like those you find between airport parking lots and the actual airport, and in about four minutes you have officially arrived at Hong Kong Immigration. The first two days I actually was held up at Border Security because they couldn't figure out what the "C" in "Edna C Zhou" meant. On the plus side, my passport now looks like a proper passport should; it has red entry and departure stamps all over the place, I've like two blank pages left.

After that minor delay I was free to explore Hong Kong. The Metro system there is fabulous; at every major stop they have a giant map that details the local attractions nearby and through which exit you can reach them. E would head into work about nine every morning, which left me free to explore until lunch. After we met for lunch I would explore some more, then we would have drinks, a nice dinner, maybe explore some more of Hong Kong at night, and then cross back over the border.

I loved all of Hong Kong. Besides the fact that I'm an Anglophile and a big city girl- people are friendly, service is fantastic, there's very little pushing, everyone speaks English (even the taxi drivers), there's no spitting on the streets, people stand on the right side of the escalators to let people walk on the right....the only downside I could find was they speak Cantonese, which, in my opinion, is very unpleasant to listen to.
However, the rest of Hong Kong more than made up for that- even though wining and dining is expensive, the other attractions are fairly cheap, and very varied and abundant.

There's the city itself on display, which is always free and fun, like the Avenue of Stars or seeing Victoria Harbor at night. There's also places like my favorite spot in Hong Kong- The Peak, also known as Victoria Peak, the top of a mountain you can access by tram, from which you overlook all of the city. Roundtrip tram tickets cost 50 Hong Kong dollars (6.40 USD), and entry to the Sky Terrace- the roof of the buliding- is 20 HKD (2.50 USD). On those rainier days I spent a fair bit of time in the museums; a week pass for all the Hong Kong Musems (of History, of Science, of Art, etc) only cost 30 HKD.

Another favorite spot I decided to check out on my own was Ngong Ping, which is in the western part of Lantau Island-a 30 minute fast ferry and 45 minute bus ride cost about 50 HKD. The giant Tian Tan Buddha sits there, with the Po Lin Monastery and its vegetarian restaurant at the base. At the edge of Ngong Ping Village is Ngong Ping 360, a 30 minute cable car ride that takes you across to Tung Chung at the edge of the Island. It's convenient because TC is also a metro stop that easily takes you back to Hong Kong Island. A one way ticket cost 58 HKD, and it was worth every bit- the cable cars cross over all these massive green hills where the giant Buddha can be seen at a distance, as well as bodies of water (I have no idea which ones) and finally it comes over the last peak, where you see the edge of Lantau Island and all this development and modernity again. I was the only one in my cable car and I must've looked like a mental hamster in a wheel; I kept going in circles round the car because the view all around was so spectacular.

E also made sure I had a good time, since he was my host. After being stuck in a friend's house all day on an unexpected Typhoon 8 day, we decided to go to the Palace Theatre in the IFC Mall to watch The Dark Knight. That scene in the movie where Batman jumps off the giant building in Hong Kong? That's the IFC Building. It was kind of surreal, Batman jumping from the same location that I was sitting comfortably in, watching him jump on the big screen.

The night of the Olympic Opening Ceremony, we headed to Stanley, at the southeastern edge of Hong Kong Island. We watched the water and sat the pier for a while, then had some drinks until 8 pm, when the ceremony started. Everyone was absolutely entranced, the air was warm and electric; I personally was on cloud nine. After all the controversy and all the lead up, the Olympics had finally started- and not only was I in China to experience the hype, I was in Hong Kong, one of the most fantastic, cosmopolitan, international places on Earth!

Probably the best day of the whole trip was the Sunday two days after that. E and I went into the city, and I decided to wear a summer dress I'd picked up when I was home- an orange and brown halter that I knew I had to have the moment I saw it on the Wildwood Boardwalk. When we arrived in the city it was lunch time, so we went for dim sum at this classy restuarant- the best dim sum I've ever had. Fresh and succulent, it raised the bar so high I probably won't ever be satisfied in any measly US Chinatown. We then went for true Italian coffee at Segafredo Zanetti, where I continued my food binge with the tastiest, frothiest cappuccino I've never had (and I like to think I make a mean cappuccino at work). All while in this dress, feeling fabulous.

We then started walking for the Peak, but when we saw the hour long line for the tram, we decided to grab a taxi. The first driver wanted no less than 80 dollars, and refused to run the meter. The next person we tried quoted us "maybe 50" and ran the meter without us asking, so though it was only 40 HKD to the top, I gave him 50 anyway. We walked around a bit, taking pictures, staring out at the city, and timed going up to the Sky Terrace just right so that we saw the skyline as the sun was setting, then watched the lights switch on until the whole of Hong Kong was fluorescent and glimmering. It seemed silly to be so awestruck at something wholly manmade, but for a city girl, it was the pinnacle of urbanity, the ultimate display; the very soul of Hong Kong reflected in those lights.

To finish off the evening, E treated me to Wagyu, a restaurant that was good for a half casual, half fancy dinner but where I also felt like I belonged in the dress; I wouldn't have walked there in just jeans and a T-shirt. We didn't make a reservation so while we waited for a table, we went across the street for drinks with Olympic diving playing on the televisions. Once seated back at Wagyu, we started with a beef carpaccio appetizer that felt like it melted in my mouth; it was then followed by the juiciest, flakiest salmon with buttery mashed red potatoes. I felt so spoiled, having the best food I'd ever tasted all in one day; like I was on a constant stream of culinary nirvana. I can't imagine what it's like to be a food critic.

Everyone I know who's gone to Hong Kong claims there is just something about the city that makes it indescribably cool. I was completely enamored after only a couple days, but for different, hard to pinpoint reasons compared to why I love Shanghai. It has an incredible juxtaposition of nature and city, history and modernity, culture and wildness; all living side by side, something for everyone. I'd fallen in love with Hong Kong so fast I didn't want to leave when it was time to head back to the airport. (Though actually, my flight was cancelled so I didn't leave til a day later, but I stuck that one out in Shenzhen.)

It was also the first time in my life I didn't look at price tags but just did whatever I wanted to do. I hung out with awesome people- E and his English friends mainly- saw fantastic sights, enjoyed amazing food, and just had an overall incredible time...I never felt more carefree and at ease than during that week. On top of that, or perhaps because of it, I loved the feeling that I wasn't just a tourist; with E and his friends I felt like I was an international, debonair woman...even if it was an illusion for just a few short days. That week, I felt nowhere near a 19 year old student on her holidays.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Productive start to August

Sadly, today I have spent entirely on uploading pictures to facebook. I finally finished the week of May Holiday, and am now only three months behind on photos instead of four, wooo! Though I'd like to clarify it only took so many hours because the computer I'm using is incredibly slow, Not because I'm a moron. Plus I make sure everything is in chronological order, tagged properly, etc....I'd say my albums are pretty stellar.

Yesterday was much more exciting; Kelly and her parents took me to Zhouzhuang Village, an hour and a half outside of Shanghai. Though they'd all been there before, none of them recognized the place when we arrived because it's now become so commercialized; whatever was there previously (probably houses) has been replaced by stands of small stores, each selling the same touristy junk. Even after we passed through the official entrance, we still saw nothing for a while but crap shops and stands selling the famous local dish, pigs' hooves.

Once we actually reached the village it was pleasant enough to walk through; in older times it was a water-way town, think mini-Venice. Don't feel it was worth the 100 rmb ticket, but I guess it's a worth-seeing-at-least-once kind of thing. The bridges and streams and old houses were excellent for trying artsy stuff with my camera- working with different lighting and angles, black&whites, that sort of thing. I imagine it used to be incredibly relaxing to live there, along the water, before the tourists started coming (and being artsy all over the place). Then for dinner, they offered to take me to a really nice Korean restaurant since I mentioned I enjoyed Korean food after living in Dalian for a semester. I fell asleep in the car and when I woke up....we were outside Ben Jia!! I hadn't realized they were a chain, I just thought they only had the Dalian branch because of the Little Korea there....

After being dropped off at home I enjoyed a long, cold shower (out all day in the Shanghai heat, not pleasant), then went to The Hut to chill for a couple hours. Accurately described to me as 'the dive bar of dive bars,' it eased me back into the expat scene- which I sadly don't plan on becoming a big part of when I return to Dalian. Should've saved the shower for after The Hut though...I decided I'd walk home since the apartment was a few blocks away, but with the winds gone, even at midnight it was about 85% humidity, making it feel like 90 F (thank you, weather channel).

So I've got a few relatives here, who(m?) I've been somewhat ignoring all day; they're saying goodbyes to my eldest aunt and middle aunt who leave for the States tomorrow. Funny thing is I postponed my trip to Shenzhen so I could see the bunch, yet I've spent maybe ten minutes total in the same room as them (dinner) and then leave before they do tomorrow morning for the airport. I rationalize it that they'd be discussing people and things I don't know about anyway, and all in Chinese that's above my level. But to be honest, I also don't feel like talking about what my goals in life are and what I'm doing with my future because that's where the conversation always ends up. No surprise, they're the relatives on my dad's side. Plus my baby cousin is here and I really don't like children. They're always sticky, they're always throwing stuff, and they're so gosh darn needy.

As for Shenzhen, I leave out of Hongqiao tomorrow; got an 8:20 flight and E's picking me up at the airport at noon. My father got pissed cause he's a concrete planner and I'm a go with the flow-er, so after a week of arguing about travel ideas he told me I'm on my own and that I'll just have to "beg" for money from him when I return to Shanghai. I'm pretty sure I can make my 4500 rmb last eight days in Shenzhen, even with three or four daily trips into Hong Kong and saving some for my big weekend with Carol in Shanghai when I return. It's almost 650 USD, I think I've got bigger problems if I blow that much in a week.

Friday, August 1, 2008

WYR is slowly disappearing

The typhoon winds are continuing to breeze through Shanghai, which alleviates the humidity a bit and makes it quite pleasant to go outside. Last night Kelly and I went to the Bund to see the lights- a sight I'm still not sick of after over 15 years of summers here. They tore down the winding road with the great view of the Bund back in February, and have replaced it with a walking bridge that connects both sides of the street (previously, you had to cross underneath). It was gorgeous, as always, but somehow the combination of a warm summer night and the lights on the Bund was made infinitely better by the breeze. Honestly, I found it just as relaxing as when I was on the top deck of the cruise ship on the Yangtze, watching the Three Gorges pass us by on both sides. One of those moments that you let sink in, while you just sit and appreciate the beauty in life. Well, the beauty in China at least; I haven't seen much else to make a proper comparison.

All that beauty-soaking made it all the more depressing when I arrived back at Wuyuan Road and it hit me, like it does every time I come back, how Western the neighborhood is becoming. I remember summers here when I was younger, the lane would always be bustling before the sun even rose with street sweepers and fresh vegetable peddlers. Now the entire block where the little family shops were are a mess of concrete, while staring from across the street are endless dress shops trying to appeal to the foreigners living in the area with what they perceive to be current fashions. You see those cliche pictures of rapid growth in Shanghai and it's some gigantic silver building shooting into the clouds and in the foreground is a pile of rubble? That's my neighborhood.

Every time I come back, the Western-ness increases...three weeks ago when I left for the States, there was a dress shop on the corner that just went out of business. Yesterday when I passed by it again, there was this suave new cafe being renovated out of that shop, it looks ready to open in a few days. One lane over from where I live is Club Bonbon and Huaihai Lu, so foreigners are always spotted walking those streets...yet on my street, you still mainly see the Chinese who've had these apartments for over half a century, like my family. We actually look like the minority here.

It's not comfortable, not by Western standards. One room encompasses bedroom, spare guest room, living room and dining room, with a communal kitchen and bathroom shared by all on our floor. However, the location of our place can't be beat- 3 subway stops from People's Square on Line 1; people would pay good money to live here save for the conditions. That's why I'm always terrified they'll decide to level the entire lane one day to make way for more Western establishments. They've been creeping in for the last few years, and now only one apartment, literally no more than 20 feet, separates that new cafe from the old neighborhood ladies who do tai chi at 8 am every morning.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I'm back...

...but I'd rather not be.

Maybe it's the way I left things at home, or maybe it's that I don't have anything to do here, but if I'm going to be doing nothing I'd rather be doing nothing in the States. At least there, I've got American television and my car. Here, I've got Olympics excitement practically slapping me across the face and Chinese traffic deterring me from wanting to really go anywhere.

The trip over wasn't so bad; the check-in guy was the same one who'd checked me in back in January, so we struck up a conversation and next thing I know he's handing me a new ticket at the gate and tells me, "I upgraded your ticket"- first class to Chicago! Then on the flight to Shanghai I found he'd placed me in the very first row in economy- plenty of leg room and a tv screen right in front of my face, with none of the responsibility of sitting in an exit row. I've never had a better 22 hours traveling. Certainly beats the 22 hours I spent on that bus to Taiyuan.
(However the taxi driver at the airport was upset with me; he said the drivers there wait five, six hours for a customer and I should've told him where I was going before he started driving cause he wouldn't make enough going to my destination. And my trip from the airport cost almost 100 kuai!)

So for this next month: originally the plans were a week each in Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai before going to Dalian. Now one by one all my plans are going to crap. Beijing's been scrapped (don't want to deal with that madness anyway) which leaves me with two weeks open in Shanghai, post-Shenzhen. However, I've been on travel sites for the last two hours trying to plan the latter trip and still have no true inkling when I'm leaving or coming back.

This is because my two aunts and cousin are leaving for the States on Sunday, and while I'm extremely happy for them that their visas were approved, I'm expected to stay at the Wu Yuan Road apartment until they arrive to say my goodbyes. I planned on leaving Friday evening for Shenzhen, but upon my arrival this morning at WYR I'm told no one's arriving til Saturday at the earliest. Mum says I can go ahead and leave Fri but please. I was raised with some sense of Chinese manners- I'd lose FACE for putting travel ahead of family. Good ol' face, the cornerstone it seems of all Chinese relationships.

Anyway so now I'm slightly peeved but mostly bored. What do I do for the next three days?? Again, if I'm going to be bored I'd rather be bored at my other aunt's place, with my own room, air con, WiFi and an ayi. Here, I feel guilty for asking them to put on the air con, am treated like I'm 12, practically force-fed every meal, and my laptop becomes nothing more than a glorified personal DVD player. At least I don't need the air con right now because of all the thunderstorms- the weather's actually quite windy and pleasant, an unusual statement for the end of July in Shanghai.

I should probably go out somewhere, but I've done all the sightseeing, minus some less popular sights like Sun Yat Sen's residence and the Shanghai Library. Besides, right now there are so many foreigners bustling about for the Olympics out there I'd rather take a nap. All the business of trying to figure out exact flight dates and times for the Shenzhen trip have worn me out, as well as the bleak prospects for the next three days. Those who know me know my biggest pet peeve is time-wasting*, yet it seems that's all I'm going to be doing....

*Those who know me would also argue I do a lot of time wasting. The distinction here is that I despise Unnecessary time wasting; time that is wasted because plans are up in the air, not time that is wasted because I don't feel like doing anything.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bad Timing

Honestly, I don't think there is a single day that would be worse for me to leave than Monday, because I have so much unfinished business here in York.

If I hadn't spent almost a week in Jersey and Philly, I think I'd be ready to return. But when you spend one week, in the middle of three, on vacation from your vacation....the other two weeks just feel wasted. The first week I was terribly jetlagged so I spent a lot of valuable family time napping, and since I got back from Jersey/Philly, it's felt like a prepare-for-the-trip-back week. There are so many friends that I have not had a chance to see, and I've seen my family even less than my friends.

Of course, the fight with my father has done nothing to improve the family bonding situation. I only saw my sister for an hour on her birthday on Friday, for which I will feel awful about for a long time to come. I've started spending every night at Ryan/Lys/Nikol's apartment, so when I went back today to start packing, my mother and I had words. I've never seen her so disappointed in me, but it can't be resolved before 5 am Monday morning. Over 10 years of pent up issues do not become unraveled in 30 hours. Plus I'm just not at that stage in my life where I feel like I can put the past in the past and suddenly open up to my mother. How do I explain to my mother who I am, when I'm still trying to figure that out and it's changing on a monthly basis?

I also have no idea what I'm going to do once arriving in Shanghai. Whose house am I staying in, and for how long? If I stay with my aunt in Pudong, I most likely won't be able to venture out at all because her villa is so isolated. If I stay in my grandmother's apartment in the heart of the city, I'll go slightly mad of a humidity/over-concerned relatives combination. I've scrapped Beijing out of my August plans but do I still have the money after going to Shenzhen to tour the cities close to Shanghai? Hell, am I even still going to Shenzhen?? I'm really a go-with-the-flow kind of gal, so I wish I'd booked a hostel for my time in Shanghai, just to have for whatever the days and nights end up bringing.

In comparison to wanting to see my friends and settle things with my parents, this last reason's more selfish laptop's gone haywire and I wanted it fixed before I left. Lately it's been loading only Skype and a few random sites (yet not Facebook or Google) so I uninstalled Firefox with the goal of reinstalling it, but after I did that it just went mad and nothing is reliably working anymore. I want to just reboot the entire system but I need to find my drivers first, which thanks to my mother's packing methods are hopelessly lost in the boxes in the garage that contain my entire life pre-China.

Though going to the Jersey Shore was definitely what I needed to finally relax, if I had just one more week, seven measly days, I could gain so much more out of this "recharging trip" that I'd originally planned. I'd see more friends, go shopping with my mother, eat at Texas Roadhouse, try out the Wii my sister got for her birthday, eat at least one sit-down meal with my family, play tennis and go running....

I feel like I've not done right by a lot of people these last 19 days, and when I next return to York it will be 2009, it will be winter, I will have two cousins and an aunt living in my parents' house, and I will be a second semester Junior in college. From half a year in China I felt like I grew so much as person, in light of the ups and despite the I feel disappointed in myself again, kicking myself for lost opportunities with people and not knowing who I am or what I want in life. Something about being here seems to always do that to me, perhaps it's best I leave? Even if I am leaving only to face completely sketchy Shanghai plans.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Starting Over

I don't know why exactly I stopped writing. In fact, so much has happened in the last three months that I wouldn't even know where to start, were I to catch up from April 24th on.

What I do know, however, is that I have missed blogging. I read through my old entries and wish I'd kept with it, if anything just to laugh at my predictions for the future. The only excuse I have (and it isn't much of one at all) is that so much was happening, so fast, that I felt overwhelmed by it all and eventually gave up on blogging about it and focused on just surviving life in Dalian.

SO! I have decided to bring back the blog. I am spending another semester in Dalian, another five months in China altogether starting on Monday, and my first step in the grand scheme of my life is to outline some goals. (Hey, baby steps.)

1. In the next five months, I want to update at least three times a week (when internet access is available)
2. I want to focus less on making money and socializing and more on becoming proficient in Chinese.
3. I want to seriously consider taking the HSK.
4. I want to NOT know exactly what I want to do, but perhaps do research into grad schools or other career paths post-graduation.
5. I want to spend no more than 500 kuai a week (~70 USD)
6. I want to talk to my sister at least once a week.


For those who are interested, a brief recap of the last three months:
-May Holiday was a week on the Yangtze River, and a day in Chongqing/Dazu and a few hours in Beijing, during which I really started to become close with Andy Z and Leanna
-I returned to training with the Dalian Wolfhounds Gaelic Football Team
-Celebrated Cinco de Mayo with Kathleen and some close friends
-Sichuan Earthquake hit on May 12 and while we were about as far away in China as possible, it was extremely impressive how the country reacted
-My expat friends started getting stopped for visas and passports quite frequently
-Went to a housewarming party of another friend...became very social in general
-Went back to Beijing the weekend of the 16-18 with BCA again, met with Etowners
-Cancelled my trip to Shanghai for my birthday and celebrated with friends in Dalian
-However, because of the 3 day bar ban that resulted from the May 12 Sichuan Earthquake the week before we didn't really have anywhere to go after dinner
-Went to Beijing for the All China Gaelic Games June 6-8 => so far, the best weekend of my life
-My father visited the second week of June and after seeing Binhai Lu and Xinghai Square, loved the city
-Started tutoring a Korean student in Math and English for the Dalian minimum: 150 rmb/21.50 USD an hour
-A friend opened up a bar/restaurant called Brooklyn that is doing extremely well among the expats
-Come June, everyone started leaving! Expat turnover in smaller cities like Dalian is constant
-Finals were a mess! I really lost focus the last two weeks of the semester
-Went to Shanghai July 6th, met some friends, left the 9th back to the States
-Since being back in the States, haven't done much, but did go to Cape May, NJ to stay with Andy Z for a few days, then stopped in Philly on the way home to visit Amiekay for a night as well
-Yesterday was my sister's 12th birthday, but my father and I have had huge issues discussing my Future so I am currently living with Lys, Ryan and Nikol in their new apartment and feel bad about not being close to my sister
-Was not wanting to go back to China because of pre-Olympic madness, but since row with father, don't really know where I want to be right now. The US has my friends, but I can't stay at home; while Shanghai is extremely humid and housing is tricky...was going to travel but now don't know since my funds are low and my parents might not want to help me with expenses anymore....

So that's a decent, if not brief, overview of what my life has become in Dalian and the summer so far. I'll write more in the morning, I'm exhausted from the last two days of family drama.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Spring Fever

Spring Fever has hit Dalian. Right after midterms ended, the sun came back out and now everything is in bloom. It's still a bit chilly and windy, but I that's what you get when you live in the north, by the sea.

Everything is now in bloom; it's crazy to think what's happened in the time since I last saw proper flora. I feel like last September/October was years ago- SO much has changed, both good and bad.

F and I went backpack shopping in Victory Square the other day; we walked all the way down and back, and it's a decent half hour walk maybe. While at Victory we saw some Chinese in camo all lined up in three rows, doing drills of some sort. They were counting off, marching back and forth in the square, and overall seemed very disciplined- it was really neat to watch. There were also some Navy people in the small base down at the bottom of the hill who seemed to be running drills as well, and they're fun to watch because they have those tassels hanging off their sailor caps and it looks ridiculously cute for a military officer.

On the way back to Dawai then we saw money in huge silver briefcases being transported into a bank, and the van with the money in it was surrounded by about six Chinese men- two with walkie talkies, two with clubs, and two with guns that looked like they could really mess you up. That was also quite exciting; F and I were like WHOA at the guns haha. I mentioned that I'd never really been that close to a gun before and F goes, "Really? But you're from America."

So now that midterms are over I've basically checked out mentally; everyone has. Lots of people have been skipping class in favor of going outside or catching up on sleep; Leanna and her class even convinced their teacher to take them to Labor Park and ride bumper cars instead of teaching their second class. Although some people have the HSK today, which is the Chinese proficiency test, so they've still been studying.

However, after that, I know everyone is pretty much checked out as well because May Holiday is right around the corner. I don't know how many people are traveling, but I think it's a decent amount just because the Koreans can go home so easily.

Danny, our director, is taking the six of us BCA kids on a six day trip around China: We leave tomorrow morning on a 7:35 flight to Wuhan, from there take a four hour bus to Yichang, board a boat there, spend three days going up the Yellow River and seeing the Three Gorges Dam and get off at Chongqing (most people go from Chongqing to Wuhan so it will be cool to go the opposite direction), tour there and Dazu, fly back to Beijing, spend about five hours there, having dinner at a Peking duck restaurant that's supposed to be really good, then arriving back late Friday evening. We'll be missing Monday and Tuesday classes (Wednesday starts the school break), but there's some sort of school-wide sports competition going on (like Track and Field Day back at Central) those two days so we're not missing much.

Then when we come back, school is still out til the 7th or 8th so we have four or five days yet to relax. So today I have to meet a new tutee from 11:30-1:30, tutor my regular girl from 2-4, then buy a backpack, pack for the trip, and then I'll be all set to go for the next week and a half.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Midterms are this week. Or, as F from Australia calls it, Mid-sems. The weather was beautiful all weekend, and then the Sunday it suddenly turned overcast, and has been raining/drizzling since Sunday night. The weather certainly matches everyone's moods; most students are walking around with a kill-me-now look on their face. Both my teachers this morning made mention of the fact that we were all there physically, but none us actually seemed there. [In my head I couldn't help thinking, "Someone's got a case of the Mondaaays!" ...but I would strangle someone if they tried to say that to me.]

I mean midterms are never fun but midterms in another language? And it's a language like Chinese, at that, where you could know the definition of a word but not the character, the character but not the defintion, or the character and definition yet still have no idea how to write it. I'm so glad I quit my job last week; there was no way I'd have any time to study with the commute being what it was.

I was pretty stressed all weekend due to a combination of factors, so I'm exhausted physically and mentally, but my roommate makes me feel even worse: I'm pretty sure in the last four days, she has spent 70 some hours studying. When's she's not sleeping or eating, she is in our room studying. I woke up at 2:30 this morning to find her STILL at it and made her go to bed because I know that she wakes up at 6:30 every morning. I have also never seen her smoke more than a cigarette a week before this weekend, now I believe she's onto her fourth one today.

I just want to get them over with; once I take the last one on Wednesday I am definitely going to just chill out for the four days we have until we leave for our big May Holiday trip Sunday morning.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Highs in the 70s

Dalian has been warm ever since I returned from Taiyuan, and today was BEAUTIFUL. After lunch I went to Olympic Square with F to get new shoes and I actually changed into shorts for the day! It was amazing how much the sunlight seemed to energize me. I was practically skipping along I was so happy. I got an ice cream cone from Macca's (how I call McDonald's now) and felt like a little child, even though I was walking through the dirty little alleys behind the football pitch. Then when we returned to the dorms a group of us just threw around a football so F could break in his new sneakers for two hours. In fact, they're still out there, playing with the football. I had to shower and get ready for dinner and KTV tonight haha. Today's been so lax; the combination of only having one class and the fantastic weather's made it feel like it's a Saturday rather than a Thursday.

However, one drawback was that everyone was staring at us: F for being a foreigner, and me for wearing shorts. The girls here who do wear shorter skirts (never shorts) either wear stockings or high boots to cover up their legs; the fact that I show mine bare really is a testament to my Western upbringing. (Although, even at home, my dad yells at me about my shorts too. I think that's a combination of him being Chinese and being a dad.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Weekend in Taiyuan

I had a fantastic time in Taiyuan. Regardless of the bus ride, it was really good to travel again and to see Sigma, who I have not seen since her 21st birthday party back in late 2006. Who knew when we saw each other again we'd both be living in northern China?

The city was not as bad as I expected it to be. Size wise, it seemed just like the areas right outside the heart of Shanghai- busy, but not overcrowded. I heard it was horribly polluted and there was not much to do, and I think those things are true on some level, but I was expecting much worse. The pollution seemed to me to be about the same as in Shanghai; the sky was generally a hazy gray and you could see the sun and moon as colored, somewhat distinctively shaped blobs in the sky. As far as things to do; well I'm sure for a weekend I was greatly satisfied, but the nightlife was definitely sketchy (our time at bouncing floor club was short-lived but very interesting). There's always KTV in China though, and that's what we did Saturday night. I can't believe I'd been here over two months and still hadn't done KTV with friends yet.

It was cool as well to see how the teachers live; I mean my expat friends here in Dalian are all teachers as well but with Sigma I actually lived the teachers' life, haha. I stayed in her provided "apartment" that was really just a permanent room in the school hotel, I went with her to a teachers' meeting, had lunch with two of her best students, and we even paid two students of one of her friends 50 yuan to clean her bathroom (it was just a little on the sketch side). Oh, and Sigma had a motorcycle too that we rode around in for a bit, it was awesome to feel the wind blowing in my hair.

Saturday I actually cut off most of my hair. It would have been my grandmother's 88th birthday, so I cut off about nine inches and am going to donate it in her memory. The people at the hair salon were soooo confused though as to why I wanted them to just chop off all my ponytail and stick it in a ziploc bag, and I even had to threaten to leave before they would agreed to just cut it off first, and then discuss hairstyles. It turned out pretty well; it's uneven but I've learned at this point that I will never be happy with a Chinese haircut so I am just grateful I look decent with a short haircut.

Sunday then Sigma and I had pictures taken! Photography studios in Taiyuan were so abundant, and all around China in fact, and they're relatively cheap and loads of fun. For about 55 dollars total we got to dress up in two outfits each (the package we got was meant for one person so we had to split some aspects of the deal), get our hair and makeup done full out, and had a professional photographer take our pictures and make us do silly poses and whatnot. I'd actually had it done in Shanghai for my senior photos back in 06, but the guy in Taiyuan actually had a crew! He had people that would just fix our dresses and the lighting and whatnot so all he had to do was call out the poses and take the picture. They turned out GORGEOUS, I mean Sigma's did anyway- especially the ones with this huge black hat (I'll post pictures later). She's going tomorrow to the studio to sort through them and decide which ones we want to keep.

Then I had lunch with my grandmother's younger sister. We went to a hotpot restaurant, and her daughter (my dad's cousin), son-in-law, grandson, and his girlfriend came along too. It felt nice to be surrounded by family again, even though I'd never met any of the other four, since I haven't been around any relatives since I left Shanghai. She reminded me so much of my grandmother, and then she took me to her apartment after lunch and was so kind I just became overwhelmed and started to cry. It was a good kind of cry though; I was really glad I had been able to visit her.

After that then it was almost time to leave for the airport (there was no way I was doing anything but flying back after the horrendous ride out) so Sigma, Aussie David and I went to this tea bar where for 18 yuan a person you had all-you-can-drink teas, and bubble teas, and smoothies and more. Our favorite was this yogurt drink with REAL strawberries mixed in, it was so delicious to have proper dairy again.

Then Sigma saw me off in a taxi; the taxi driver made a comment later in the trip that "your friend didn't look like she wanted to let you go" and I think I wanted to stay more than she did! But the taxi driver also tried to rip me off twice that trip so I wasn't very happy with him in general. I thought for sure I was going to miss my flight because he was taking his grand old time, since he was mad I wouldn't pay him a flat rate of 60 yuan to go to the airport and told him to run the meter instead. (It ended up only costing 40, and when I handed him a fifty he refused to give me change at first claiming he had to pay a toll along some part of the road).

I made the flight though, and actually ended up talking to someone who lives maybe a ten minute walk away from me. He even had a driver and gave me a lift home, saving me quite some time and taxi fare. In fact when I got home I realized I still had time to make Trivia Night, and arrived in the middle of just the second round. It was really nice to be able to recognize so many people when I came home as well; I didn't realize I'd made so many friends in the last month. Since going away to Taiyuan, I think I'm actually going to miss Dalian when I leave in less than three months. The weather also jumped up about 20 degrees while I was gone, which makes me incredibly excited to see this city in bloom. I'm a Shanghai-er, that's for certain, but citites I never thought I'd be able to survive in, like Taiyuan and Dalian, have definitely managed to take a hold of me as well.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sleeper Buses and Illegal Fruit Transportation on the way to Taiyuan

My trip to Taiyuan was definitely an experience I won't forget, nor was it one I will ever repeat.

I arrived to the bus station a little after ten, knowing the bus left at noon. Suddenly I was surrounded by people all asking me where I was heading. I shrugged them off, saying, I just want to buy a ticket at the ticket booth. They all agreed- oh no, you can't do that, you have to buy it at the bus itself.

So I decide to follow one of these guys, who takes me to a bus that didn't look right, and after some confusion found out it was the bus to KAIyuan. I didn't even know there was such a place. Then after telling them Taiyuan, they kept giving me dirty looks and muttering something I'm sure was about tones.

So I buy the ticket- 350 yuan, or 50 USD- and they tell me I can't get on now, I have to wait until 11:30 to board the bus. So I eat some street vendor food and bananas and come 11:30, I try to board the bus and the driver and the bus hostess lady tell me they don't recognize me or my ticket, Who sold me my ticket? I pointed to one of the guys and they're like nope, not possible, don't recognize you, get off this bus. I was freaking out, I thought I'd just given 350 yuan to some random person, but then someone ran up and confirmed I had purchased the ticket.

The BHL didn't look terribly happy to let me on, especially since I didn't look terribly happy to have to take off my shoes to board the bus (because I am terribly OCD). So after I settle down in a bunk, she points to the one in the very back and tells me, you get this one. Whatever, fine, I move all my crap over, make peace with my surroundings (staring, stinky, mostly late twenties men and discarded mattresses) and we finally get going.

Pretty soon, we pull over and stop to load things onto the bus. Half an hour later, we pull over again. And again. Soon there's no room below the bus so they have to move everything on board; turns out they were boxes upon styrofoam boxes of FRUIT. Styrofoam makes a horrible noise when it's pushed against more styrofoam, by the way. The fruit was some cross between an apple and a peach, from what I could tell of the fruit they kept stealing out of the boxes to feed to everyone, and green leaves were dangling everywhere.

By the time we finally load all the damn fruit on board, it has taken up probably a good third of the back of the bus. Anywhere they had free space, they filled it with fruit. Now these buses are cramped to begin with- they are the same size as a coach bus, yet have three rows of beds with an upper bunk and lower bunk. I went from having little space to maneuver, to having absolutely NONE. They filled up the fruit from the back all the way up to where my bed ended, and also from the floor up to where my bed was. It felt very Cask of Amontillado-ish, for those who know Poe.

THEN they tell me, we don't have enough beds for the people coming at a different stop; we have to put this random mattress between you and the fruit. The mattress was wider than the space between the fruit and me, so it cut into my bed space (which was maybe half the size of a twin mattress). The girl who ended up getting on didn't feel comfortable sleeping with all this creaking fruit around her, ready to crush her at any second, so they placed another mattress on top of some more boxes in the other aisle, and she slept between two people.

I on the other hand was lucky enough to have the alternate driver nap right next to me. I was so uncomfortable with this situation I slept for a while sitting up, with my head rested in my hand and my elbow digging into my knee. But when this became too uncomfortable (because I woke up staring at the man's rear) I decided to risk lying down, my face about four inches from his. Of course, a few minutes later, I get completely elbowed in the side of the head when he decides he can toss and turn in this little bed space of his.

So I can't move my legs because there's no room, and this made my injured ankle very sore. I also had to go to the bathroom since about four, so I ended up holding it for the next 15 hours. Why 15 hours? Because besides the extra two hours spent loading FRUIT, at some checkpoint, the police decided to get on board for a standard check and ended up holding us there for another two hours. It led me to believe the fruit was all illegally being transported, since as soon as we found out we were stopping the guys raced to throw blankets on top of all the boxes of fruit. Because massive blankets covering up almost half the bus does not look sketchy in the least.

I couldn't fall asleep, obviously, and every time I did manage to doze off I would have some crazy dream (I have really fantastical dreams when I'm not sleeping well, and realistic ones when I'm sleeping peacefully) and wake up to find I only took like a two hour nap. Finally at 5:40 I woke up and thought, Well they said we'd arrive at 6, we should be close. We weren't. We ended up not even in Taiyuan until about nine, and then the bus driver took three wrong turns trying to find the bus station.

But I'm Finally here in Taiyuan! Sarah picked me up at the bus station and we went to McDonald's (or Macca's as I've become fond of calling it thanks to the Aussies) for breakfast. The rest of the day she's been introducing me to some of her coworkers, and we had lunch with two of her best students. She even organized a party tonight so I can meet everyone; it's a "classy" party so she let me borrow a dress and -she just told me she's putting on makeup as I write this haha- the guys are supposed to dress up and wear a tie and all. Basically, we're supposed to dress like adults and act like kids, and then we may head over to a club that has bouncing floors?

Tomorrow is also going to be very adventure filled- it would have been my grandmother's 88th birthday tomorrow so I am donating a little over eight inches of my hair. After the haircut then Sarah and I are getting pictures taken; because photography studios in China cost very little, are super fun, and turn out fantastic portraits. Then she's taking me to some Tea Cafe with supposedly yogurt with Real strawberries mixed in, and Brazilian BBQ for dinner. Sunday then I am visiting my grandmother's younger sister who happens to live here as well, and then Sunday night I head for home. But I don't want to think about that yet. I'm just super excited to be here, traveling on my own, crashing at my friend's place, exploring this new city and meeting more people.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The First Month

I've become quite fond of life in Dalian.

My foot is healing slowly. I've been invited to the Beijing Games for gaelic football June 7th and 8th, which would be totally awesome but I have to first play the game and NOT take myself out. Is two months enough? Don't know.

I've been making progress on my Chinese; not as much as I'd like with vocabulary though. If I made a conscious effort to pick that up, then I'm sure I would, but I'm focusing mainly on recognizing characters so my spoken Chinese is still only conversational. And I refuse to pick up speaking errrrrr hua, pronouncing Ws like Vs, and actually saying the H in any word that starts with Sh or Zh. After 15 years in PA who thought I'd actually prefer being a "southerner"? haha.

I should probably hang out with more native Chinese speakers, but
1. there are none my age here since everyone here at Old Dawai is a Chinese language student and therefore...not Chinese
2. that basically means hanging out with Andrew and Caleb, since I think they know the most, but they're actually from Jersey and Baltimore haha
3. hanging with expats is terribly fun. There are few Americans here in Dalian; it's a lot of Europeans and Canadians, which I find incredibly interesting. Plus the expat community is pretty small so everyone knows each other; it's not like Shanghai where you can meet someone and never see them again (that's right, I actually listed a negative aspect about Shanghai haha). Most everyone I've met is around 23 or 24 and is here to teach English, while either learning Chinese or just trying to explore the country because they've just graduated.

I've also been teaching for the past month now at an elementary school every Tuesday and Thursday, on top of my tutoring job on Saturdays. I get only the minimum wage for English teachers here, 100 rmb/hour (14.28 USD) but it's nice to have a little extra spending cash. I was going to quit after my first couple days because it's a 40 minute commute one way, and I don't like children, but my five year olds really took to me and then I couldn't bring myself to quit. Even still some days I go thinking, I really hate this job, but when I arrive, they all start yelling to each other, "Ed-i-na's here!" and come hug me and I can't bring myself to leave.

It's been interesting though observing how the Chinese interact. The teachers can touch the children and it's not considered inappropriate- I can hug them, they give me kisses, we take pictures all the time before and after class. My Chinese counterpart Elva has smacked the kids a couple times when they're not paying attention, or being disruptive. At least once a week she will completely lose it and single out someone and give them a good berating in front of the whole class. Then she'll turn to me and say in a normal voice, "I'm sorry. Continue." And I just stand there like OH MAN and these five year olds are like, whatever. He had it coming.

Elva and I might go out to dinner one night though; I asked to exchange numbers tonight after class (which was me acting like a total buffoon trying to teach the kids the words "fly" "jump" "run" and "swim") and she gave me a hug she was so happy. She's 26 and I think she wants to improve her English, even though her English is decent already. Oh, random sidenote: Our principal studied in London, so when she speaks to me it's with a British accent. I love it!

So the weeks have just been flying by. I mostly stay around Dawai; the only time I go out is for a Carrefour run or when I go to work. The weekends usually involve going out Friday or Saturday, and then always Trivia Night on Sunday at Hopscotch. The nightlife isn't much, but now I think it's kind of cozy actually. Hopscotch is definitely my fave.

Thursday I'm finally going on a trip! Ever since last August, I haven't gone more than three weeks without traveling somewhere (last semester was chock-filled with traveling- I went to DC four times in one month), so being stationary for five weeks in one place has me aching to pack up and I'm visiting Sarah-Laura out in Taiyuan. I've heard it's a horribly polluted city, but I'm excited nonetheless to take that 19-hour bus trip and spend the weekend with her. Plus my grandmother's little sister lives out there; I plan on visiting her as well since Saturday would have been my grandmother's 88th birthday. I'm also doing something else in memory of my grandmother but that's a surprise for now....

I think I've struck a balance between being comfortable, and still stepping out of my comfort zone here. I could manage to put myself out there a little more, but hey, baby steps. I'm having a blast and wouldn't change anything about my experience so back to the mountain of homework I have to finish in order to enjoy this weekend.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"It's only a flesh wound"

So I'm a relatively "safe" person; I've never broken any bones, had my first surgery when I was 17 and usually luck out in terms of being healthy. (Except for that one time I woke up at 3 in the morning with a huge purple swollen eye and had to go to the hospital to discover I'm allergic to soy.)

So wouldn't it figure that the one time I actually need to go to a hospital, I happen to be in China?

I was playing gaelic football last night at Olympic Square; they meet once a week so I had been looking forward to it all day. We start warming up with the ball, and someone kicks it to my left. I chase after it, only the turf goes into a depression where the seats are at the edge of the field. I completely trip over that depression and hear a crack and had to grab a taxi home after being there all of like 15 minutes. (Not to mention paying a 10 kuai field fee.)

So when I woke up it wasn't any better so I called up my director, who took me to the Zhongshan Hospital of Dalian University. They have this really nice foreigner wing and examined me the minute I walked through the door, which is better than the US hospitals.

They took me to get an x-ray in this really outdated-looking room where the machine kept making a weird whirring noise and the positioning posters on the wall were black and white and looked like they were produced in the 80s.

So 20 minutes later the x-rays were developed and even though my ankle was ridiculously swollen, they said there was no break and just prescribed a boatload of drugs.

Overall, the bill came came to 6 yuan for the consultation -that's like 86 cents, kids-, 16 for the "western medicine" (ibuprofen that I already have a stockpile of in my room), 110 for the x-ray, 16 for them to put this black paste and gauze on my ankle, and....126 for "Chinese medicine."

Which turns out to be four boxes of this anti-inflammatory pill I'm supposed to take three times a day, three pills each time, and some weird gauzy things. 18 USD for that? Ridiculous. At least I have money; the Chinese hospital system is pay-as-you-go so if you don't have money, you're SOL. So much for communism.

Anyway, so now I'm on crutches... and I live on the fifth floor of my building, which is on a HILL, which has only squatting toilets, and has showers only in the basement.

But the weather's really getting nicer! :)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Life in Dalian

So after two weeks of classes, I should probably update. [I swear I meant to last week...but time just gets away from me somehow]

Overall I am happy here. I was a little sad at first because Dalian is nothing like Shanghai (everything closes at either dusk or 9!), but I have accepted that and am doing well.

Classes for most people are from 8:30-10 and 10:20-11:50. Tuesdays I only have one class at 10:20 so I can sleep in. Unless I want to shower of course, because the showers only run hot water from 6:30-8:30 in the morning. They are also in the basement, which means that I have to walk down five flights of stairs every morning I take a shower. I also take calligraphy and er hu electives in the afternoon, and a Modern China and a Chinese Foreign Policy class with my program director.

After classes everyone gathers outside the dorm for lunch; that combined with the set class schedule makes it very remniscent of high school. Dawai (that's its nickname) is located on a hill and so all the shops up and down the hill cater for the college students. Every day we can choose from Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian, street vendor barbecue, bubble tea, sweet rolls, etc.

The campus itself is the "old campus" since "new" Dawai is actually about a 45 minute bus ride away and is the one offering all the different classes and majors and where 90% of students are attending Dawai. Old Dawai is just one big building; most of it is dorm rooms and then at the other end of the building are the classrooms; there are five floors of them with about seven classrooms on each floor.

The dorms are not as bad as my first impression led me to believe. We have central heating (or had, I think it gets cut off today) and lockable closets for our valuables (apparently the ayis like to roam around people's room sometimes). I bought a new pillow, pillowcase, bedsheet, and comforter, so now that my OCD is put to rest, I sleep like a baby every night. My roommate is Korean; she speaks little Chinese or English but she is incredibly nice and polite. She also likes to blare gangsta rap from the States when she's not studying. When the warmer weather arrives any day now; I'm also going to stock up on Raid because I saw my first bug last night in the sink while I was brushing my teeth. I also have to pay for my internet- a 20 hour internet card costs 25 yuan (a little over 3.50 USD) and I'm already on my fourth one in less than two weeks.

From what I've been told some of the students that are here are only here because they can't get into college back home, so learning Chinese is their chance at having a marketable skill. Most of the Russians here are terribly stereotypical and makes me believe that about them. The biggest population here is Koreans since we are 200 km from the North Korean border; whereas in Shanghai all signs are in English or Chinese, in Dalian all signs are in Chinese and Korean, then Japanese, then English, and sometimes even Russian. It's a very international location. There's also a great number of Italians here, mostly from Venice. I don't know why.

So the culture shock I had really wasn't so much towards Chinese culture, but more internationalism in general. Sure, I had to get used to the northern China "rrrrrrrr" accent, and the way they say "v" instead of "w" (as in, do you go to Davai?), but I'd never really known any Koreans or Russians or Italians before I came here. Many people here know at least two or three languages; my friend's roommate is ethnically Korean but was born and raised in Russia and therefore knows Korean, Russian, Japanese, and English. Personally, I'm picking up bits of Korean and Italian; Beatrice down the hall is teaching me conversational Italian and I love it.

What does bother me about this city (again, besides the accent) is the blatant racism; my Caucasian friends have jobs paying 150 yuan/hour (over 20 USD) tutoring Korean kids, but their parents won't take me because I look asian. Almost every single person I encounter assumes (doesn't even ask, just assumes) I'm Korean, and then when I tell them I'm from China, they either refuse to believe me or ask why I look like them and yet am learning Chinese. I even had a Korean guy ask me what part of Southeast Asia I was from once.

I was once showing my friend how to work the laundry machine, and the cleaning lady in there told me my English was very good. I told her, "Well I am an American" and she does a double take and just stares and me and goes, "Really? But you don't like him!" and points to my friend and I go, "What, him? He's not even American. He's Australian."

I did manage to find a job though, teaching five year olds at an elementary school English. They are not terribly bright, have no attention span whatsoever, and I think they just repeat words but have no idea what they actually mean, but they are so darn cute I couldn't bring myself to quit. Which I was about to do on Thursday because it's a 45 minute commute one way, and the going pay rate from the Chinese is only 100 yuan/hour...but it's a job, and it's an experience (I mean, it's legit, so I can totally put it on a resume). I also may have a tutoring job as's hard to find jobs because I always get, "Why do you look like us? Were you raised in the States? Do you go to school there?"
I had to put the character "Mei" (from "Mei Guo", which means America in Chinese) after my name on my business cards just so people know I'm an American.

I have made a great group of friends here though; three of them are from my study abroad program, two are from Juniata and the other girl of the group is from Winthrop, in South Carolina. I'm also friends with Italians and Australians and Koreans...though not so much the Koreans...yet. I have also really developed a fondness for Korean food, it's pretty fantastic (but not kimchee). Anyway I am in the middle of preparations for spending another semester here abroad because I really don't feel a semester is enough for me to grasp the language, plus I don't want to leave the internationalism of it all. Because Etown says I have to withdraw to do so though, I am actually researching schools back in Shanghai.... Either way, I probably won't be back to the States until the very end of this year.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

First Impression of Dalian

So I just arrived in Dalian this afternoon, and I miss Shanghai already.

Besides the fact that I have friends and family, and it's uber metropolitan; Dalian pales in comparison. I feel like Shanghai is actually a country on its own, and Dalian is being in actual China. I'm guessing it's comparable to living in New York City and then suddenly moving to like Lancaster. Still a happening city, but nowhere near as fun or exciting. Maybe Dalian will prove me wrong though.

I mean, there's not even a subway. The main mode of transportation I was told is the Bus 23, which will take me pretty much almost everywhere I want to go around here. The weather's been nicer lately (today is quite warm for what I was expecting of a northern city) and the beach is maybe a half hour cab ride away. It's a growing city, and I have heard nothing but good things about Dalian, but the expat community is much smaller, though maybe that's a good thing for me.

I also feel like I came the wrong year; Danny the director told me that 90% of the students have been moved to the new campus, a 20 minute cab ride away, and that my school is mostly the international students and uh, not as smart students/night class students. So basically, like, the leftovers go here. Next academic year is when the schools will be switched apparently.

My dorm is very simple (read=crappy), but I love the fact that each floor has a "dorm ah-yi" or someone to take care of the floor. Like if your RA was a housekeeper. I'm guessing, of course, I just got here.

Also, Dalian is on the seacoast really really close to North Korea, so like Shanghai has many signs in Chinese and English, Dalian has lots of signs in Chinese and Korean. Japanese is also somewhat prevalent. My roommate, I'm told, is Korean. I have yet to meet her though. Danny told me the Koreans have now switched their top investing country from the US to China [that sentence is really awkward but I don't know a good way to write it]. Maybe I'll get really hooked on Korean dramas while I'm here. That seems like a popular thing among the Chinese anyway.

So later in the semester we're taking a trip to Beijing, and then there's a toss-up between the Three Gorges and a trip to Xi'an and ...Pinyao? I forget the name. But I think I could actually convince them to take a trip to Shanghai; I pitched the idea to Danny and he said to bring it up to the other 5 people (Yes, that's right, there are only 6 of us here in the BCA program) so I could possibly be headed back to Shanghai earlier than I expected :)

So the next few days are Orientation, getting my visa switched, a health exam, whatever and then classes start on Monday. While I definitely miss Shanghai, I'm totally open to spending the next four months exploring the 'truer' side of China, I guess. Plus I want to make a trip out to the North Korean border (200 km away!), maybe Taiyuan to visit Sigma, and Beijing on my own maybe when Dr. K comes with the Etown crowd (roomie reunion!).

For sure when my 19th (or by Chinese standards, 20th) birthday rolls around, I'm heading out somewhere awesome and celebrating -maybe even take the time to go back down to Shanghai and get an awesome ridiculously decorated cake and celebrate with some relatives...I don't recall the last time I did that, if ever. I feel just like I did when I left for Shanghai - excited, but nervous thinking about how much time I'm going to be spending away from 'Home' -but this past month seems to have just flown by, and I'm sure the next four will as well.

(and yes, I will write all about Shanghai later.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Yeah I've been seriously slacking on the blogging front.

This is partly because so much happened that I didn't feel like writing about it every day, but at the same time, every day was kind of the same in Sichuan.

The day would usually start around noon, we'd head up to the Second Uncle's home, maybe tour somewhere in the afternoon, and then every night we would go out to a restaurant for dinner. [We ate out six nights in a row; I feel ridiculously overweight.] Two of the evenings, after dinner, everyone went out for karaoke. Usually I would go home after dinner to be online, and they would come home after midnight sometime.

Some days we went shopping in the afternoon; another day we spent in the mountains (and left right before dinner, of course) with some distant relatives- that day was really fun because we went hiking in the mountains and played in the snow. Another afternoon I went to the temple of the only female empress of China. Our last dinner (last night) was at a Mongolian style outdoor restaurant where we all danced around a campfire and sang karaoke. I started out miserable, but when we left this morning the Second and Third Aunt were crying, and I actually did feel a little sad to be leaving Guangyuan. They made me feel like a part of their family so in the end, I'm glad I came and stuck it out.

Anyway so now I'm in a very nice hotel room in Xi'an (that's why I'm still up at 2 in the morning on the internet). It was a four hour drive here from Guangyuan, and coming from that town in the mountains of Sichuan, Xi'an feels like Shanghai with its malls and city life and whatnot. We ate at a hotpot restaurant and then walked down to the Islamic Street Market which was packed with people and vendors selling food and souveneirs and all sorts of things in between. Tomorrow we're going to see the Terra Cotta Soldiers and I am extremely excited about that, then we're making the two day drive home to Shanghai, arriving home on the 14th.

More adventures will ensue from there; hopefully I get some decent rest in the next week!
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