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!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

New Year's Eve

I'm tired so I'll make this quick....

Today was New Year's Eve so we went to my cousin's grandfather's grave (on her mother's side, not related to me) and set off fireworks and burned paper money and offered food, etc- the reason why, I didn't quite catch, but I figure it was because it's the last day of the calendar year....?

Then we skipped lunch in order to really feast at dinner that night- we went to a restaurant, 16 of us, and had about 30 dishes total, including an endangered fish that is toxic if cooked improperly...

...There was also much wine and warm Coke (that's right. they served us heated coke.) and bai jiu -a very concentrated liquor. People were standing and making toasts about every five-ten minutes but it was fun. It was loud. Eveyone's faces were already red after the first couple toasts were made! I actually felt comfortable and welcome, for this little while.

We went back home and watched soccer- Iraq vs. China (they tied 1-1) and then around 11:45 the fireworks started- it's not like Fourth of July fireworks here; it's every man for himself fireworks- I came thisclose to getting my feet blown off by a firework set by a 14 year old when it turned on its side at the last minute and flew towards the wall instead of the sky.
I did set off a couple by myself though- about five or six, evenly timed, came out of what seemed like an enormous spitball shooter. For being a whole bunch of fire and gunpowder, it was enormously exciting.

It reminded me very much of American New Year; there's much anticipation (and a spectacular tv special) and it seems as if the Eve is much more fun than the actual day- although I know tomorrow we're going clothes shopping (of course, per tradition) and we're going to be doing Karaoke after dinner. Things are looking better here in Sichuan, but I'm still not sure how we're going to pass six more days.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


So after two days of driving (about 12 hours both days) we're finally in some city in Sichuan (I forget the name) and I am so. Miserable.

I would type out why, but my hands are too numb to continue. Basically I hate every aspect of this trip and feel very much trapped and alone; I would have been sooo much better off staying in a hostel by myself, chilling with expats and visiting more of MY family. We're leaving the 11th or 12th, and I am -almost literally- counting down the minutes. I hate it here.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


I went out last night with an Etown alum who lives in Shanghai; it went down exactly as I imagined being an expat in Shanghai on a Saturday night would.

For dinner, he and his wife took me to this pretty posh looking sushi place where we had to take off our shoes to sit down; they also invited along a couple other friends they knew. The sushi was great, the sake was sweet, and I liked listening to them talk about their different projects in Shanghai. All four of them know more Chinese than I do.

Then we walked down a couple streets to the Eager Beaver, which was full of expats; it seemed the whole area we were in was marketed towards foreigners. Directly across the street from us was Abbey Road, which looked like a Beatles themed bar. Back in the Beaver, I watched rugby on the TV and played some foosball; some guys started playing though who were way too hardcore about foosball, so I just talked to some more people, and observed the others in the bar. After one rolled around, I just grabbed a cab home.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Oh China.

So I've learned that this horrible weather I've been speaking of is not just me exaggerating; it's being called the "Chinese Katrina"- the English paper Shanghai Daily ( has pictures of thousands of people on the platform on the Guangzhou station; as trains and planes are being delayed and cancelled. The Prime Minister even flew from Beijing to apologize to the stranded people at the station; ironically he was delayed because he had to fly around some of the bad weather (

Of course, this is the week before Chinese New Year, which is like the US Thanksgiving and EVERYONE goes home to be with their family. Seriously, what are the odds? The snow alert was raised to "orange," which is the second highest level; Apo isn't going home until the 4th (maybe). Probably the craziest thing about this all- the amount of snow (10-15 cm) is probably enough to call for a two hour delay or one day off of school back in York. But since it does not snow often, they're not used to it- today at Nanjing Lu I saw a worker shoveling snow, using what looked like a skateboard, minus the wheels, attached to a stick. Snowmen are popping up everywhere.

Which leads me to my bigger realization today: I am incredibly lucky to live in the States. I claim to dislike it; Americans are ignorant and bullies and the government is run by morons. But after talking with Kelly today, I've realized that (CHEESY WARNING:) freedom is really actually something not to be taken for granted.

The snow had damaged some construction work at Nanjing Lu; it had become too heavy for the bamboo structure to hold it and it collapsed- a minor little roof, actually. But the police taped it off and put like 20 guards in front of it; naturally a crowd gathered and someone took a picture. Instantly, three policemen were on this Caucasian; then they made him go through the pictures on his camera one by one. I assume they made him delete the ones they didn't appreciate being taken.

Seriously though, it just looked like he took a picture of some snow. There was a mini snowman right in front too; I mean he could have been taking a picture of that. I did; in fact, I took the picture right in front of the tape, with like five officers in front of me- how they couldn't have noticed me, I have no idea, yet I didn't even get a dirty look. Did they really not notice or was it because I look Chinese? I'll never know.

Another thing- Kelly and I were discussing cultural differences over our lunch of Shanghai cuisine and she told me that here, there is a law stating how old one can be to get married: Men, 21; Women, 20. I mean they're reasonable ages, but the fact that it's a law seems unfair to me; isn't it a personal choice? It's the same with the one child policy; how can the government dictate what you can do with your body and your life? I was told that recently the law has been changed; if you are an only child and your spouse is as well; you may have two children- this is because the law is 28 years old; and those who first grew up under it are now getting married and having children. Yet, Kelly said many are choosing not to because they are used to being 'spoiled' as only children and are scared of not being able to properly raise two children. Or something like that- sometimes our talks get lost in translation.

She also told me that last year, or maybe the year before, a couple at a college campus were caught kissing, and they were expelled.

And the whole 'free speech' thing- the government censors everything. Obviously there was controversy over when Google went along with it a few years ago; but I didn't think it'd be a big deal until I got here. I mean, Wikipedia is blocked! Wikipedia!! How am I supposed to do any research?!?! (I'm kidding. Kind of.)

This one's kind of trivial, but Kelly also told me when we passed police officers on the highway that they were checking plates. Apparently, Shanghai has so many cars that during rush hour it is illegal for cars from other cities to come through; however some people have other city plates because it is cheaper to buy. Plates, she said, are about 50,000 yuan. I don't know how much cars cost, but she said hers goes for 100,000 yuan when new. Can you imagine buying a $20,000 Honda or Toyota and paying $10,000 just for the license plate?

So although I do enjoy being here, and China is becoming a world power and all that, I still think I prefer to live in the States. Maybe I could move to Europe, but the dollar is just becoming too weak; I'd have to be poor for a while I think before being able to live comfortably in the EU. And here, the exchange rate is now (barely) 7.2 Yuan to 1 dollar. In 2002, it was around 8.5; summer of 2006, when I was here last, it was about 8.2. I don't even know how to end this post, I'm just so disgusted with economics and politics right now.

Seriously though., check out the pictures. It's ridiculous.

OH OH important note though: we also went to the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium this morning...and I SAW PENGUINS REAL LIVE PENGUINS THEY WAVED AT MEEEEE and it made my life. The end.

Friday, February 1, 2008

My Apo

Tonight I am going to have a farewell dinner for my Apo; she came to work for us when I moved to Shanghai when I was two or three; 17 years later she's going back to her home village of Zhejiang, near Ningbo in Zhejiang Province. She stayed on after I went back to the States to take care of the household for my grandmother; she's become very close to the family and is the best cook I know in the entire world. The World. I am not exaggerating.

So with the snow; we're not quite sure if she actually is going home tomorrow, but I want to see her anyway, because she's been a constant in my life. I always associated a few things with going to China as I was growing up: My grandmother, the apartment at 84 W. Y. Road, and Apo and her cooking.

Now my grandmother is gone, my Apo is leaving, and the apartment will never be the same.
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