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.
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