I have to start with the language bonus: I found out what Tiananmen means today. It literally translates to "Heaven Safe Door." I couldn't help but laugh at the irony.
Alright, so now I have to talk about the past few days, since I haven't gotten on since Friday. On Friday afternoon, Julie Ann and I went back to the bookstore with our volunteers, Chu, who goes to Ohio State, and Phoenix, who is a university student here. While there, I bought Harry Potter and a little notebook to keep track of new words. We also saw some computer disk versions of "Li Yang's Crazy English" which is the English camp that is here. I said, "Hey, look, it's that guy from the posters at school!" and Chu said, "Yeah, Hitler!" Clearly this isn't a cultural divide. The volunteers have noticed it, too. On the bus home, since Chloe stayed after with some other people, I was alone, and a woman came and sat by me to talk to me because she wanted to know who I was and where I was from. Apparently she's seen me on the bus every day for the past three weeks and her curiosity got the better of her. She was very nice and we had a good chat about the program that I'm on.
Saturday morning, I got up bright and early and we drove to Wuzhen, a.k.a. the Venice of the East. It's a very beautiful city with canals running through it and traditional Chinese buildings. It's quite spectacular. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it hadn't been 2000 degrees and humid. One girl, Christina, went missing right before lunch and we didn't find her for almost an hour. It turned out that when she couldn't find us, she had gone back to the bus to wait. It was an adventure, in any case. Unfortunately, it ate up all of our shopping time, so I didn't get to buy any souveniers. But I did get a lot of pictures. After that, we headed off to Hangzhou. Apparently, in the sky there is Heaven, and on Earth there is Hangzhou and Suzhou. When we asked where Hell was, Chu turned around and said, "That's in Changzhou." We all got a good laugh out of that. We were supposed to take a boat out on the West Lake (at least, I think that's what it's called), but it started raining and thundering so they closed the boats for the afternoon. Again, there was no shopping time, but I got some fantastic pictures. It was really gorgeous, especially since the sky was overcast but not dark, so the lighting was very surreal. There were some great photo ops. Of course, that resulted in me, Chloe, and Julie Ann getting left behind because we took atvantage of those opportunities. We caught up, though, so no harm done.
That night's dinner begs a quick call-back to an earlier entry about Chinese restaurants. Remember how I said that food comes whole? Well one dish (which someone said was dove, but I'm not actually sure about, since I didn't have any) was chopped up, but all of the parts were present, including the head, which Rachael accidently served herself. She was slightly scarred by that and refused to have any of it. The reason I backed out of it was because Joseph, who was sitting next to me, took the head and cracked it open and ate the brain. I can handle anatomy class, but not when it's on a dinner plate. I stuck with the other dishes on the table. Everything I ate was very good.
Sunday morning was another early wake up call and we went to the Shuangxi river, where we were loaded into ox-carts. We took those up to the dock that the bamboo boats left from. It was a lot of fun. A lot of people had water guns (available for purchase, cheap) and so, needless to say, war broke out between all of the boats on the river. We all ended up soaking wet, but it was a blast. The boats were flat and, quite literally, were made of bamboo poles. There were seats on them that weren't attached, so more than one fell over. The driver, for lack of a better term, stood on the back and pushed us along with a long bamboo pole. It was quite an experience. After we got off the boats, Holli and I saw some horses that they were giving rides on (for a fee, but they were cheap). Neither of us had ridden in years, and so we both decided to do it. I can now say that I've ridden a horse in China. It made me miss it even more, though. Next time I'm out in California, I really need to find the time to get out to the ranch and ride, if I can. Everyone changed on the bus, and then we ate lunch and went home.
Last night, I went to bed early, since we had all stayed up really late talking the night before and I was exhausted. Even so, I went out with Cynthia after dinner to get breakfast from Happyness. We chatted about the differences in our educational systems (for example, she has lessons every single day, weekends included, during the summer and I, well, don't) and in college applications. I told her that we apply to many universities and that the application process is fairly long and arduous (although I used a different word) because we have to tell them basically everything about ourselves. In China, they apply to one university, and the one that they can apply to is dictated by their score on an exam that they take during their last year of high school. One exam decides their entire future. I'm so glad I live in the U.S. just because of that. And because if I had to go to math class every Sunday during the summer, I'd scream.
That actually brings me to a quick suggestion for any exchange student: even if you're exhausted beyond belief, do something with your host family/new friends. Don't opt out because you're sleepy. Even if it's just a walk to the bakery, gather your energy and go. You can sleep later. You can sleep as much as you want at home. How many times are you going to be here?
Another suggestion for exchange students is not to discuss what they miss too often. We spent a good hour talking about things that we missed (primarily foods, actually) and I ended up with another bout of homesickness. It only lasted last night, when I was really exhausted on top of the discussion, but that was definitely the trigger. China specific warning: you won't get any food aside from Chinese. You can get some McDonald's, but that's about it. Even KFC and Pizza Hut are different, so I've heard. I now have an intense craving for NYC pizza, Italian food, German pancakes, and creme brulee, none of which are available to me here. I guess I have to make it for another three weeks without. There are some things that I'll miss from here when I get home, though. But I can probably get them in Chinatown. I hope so, anyways!
This experience has also made me consider applying to a foreign university even more strongly. I probably wouldn't try China, since I really don't speak enough Chinese to get through an entire day on my own, let alone college courses, but I'm seriously thinking about applying to schools in the UK or in Spain. I guess I'll need to figure that out shortly after I get home, won't I? I'll keep mulling it over. At least now I know that I could definitely handle it. After this, western Europe is a breeze.
Well I'm pretty sure that's it, and I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be kicked off the computer soon, so zai jian!