A Travellerspoint blog

In the land of China, they don't go to Church on Sunday.

Bonus: a new classification system for restrooms

overcast 90 °F

In case you couldn't guess, we watched (or rather, started) Forrest Gump this morning. We also had a test (I got a 96) and went through a couple more lessons in our books. Chu was our teacher for the day, since our usual teacher was gone. He was so much better! We're trying to get him to keep teaching us. I don't know if it's going to work. He said that they had already paid for the teacher. Yesterday afternoon we did calligraphy again, which was fun, even though I'm still not very good at it.

Last night Cynthia and I had a fantastic conversation that covered everything from U.S. and Chinese relations with South Korea (and her insights on why the Chinese aren't very fond of South Koreans) to high school in China and the U.S. to travel and exchange programs. I quoted the president of AFS. He's from Paraguay and he spoke at the AFS conference in Baoding. He talked about the goal of AFS being to "turn places into people." Cynthia and I agree that that is exactly what needs to be done. It was a really interesting chat, and I really enjoyed hearing her insights on everything.

That's really all that happened over the last twenty-four hours, so I'm going to share my new classification system for restrooms, which has changed completely from the one I use in the U.S.

Nice bathrooms include: toilet paper, stall doors, working sinks, and squatters that flush.

Really, really nice bathrooms include all of the above, plus: stall doors that lock and paper towels or hand dryers.

Unbelievably exquisite bathrooms include the above, plus: soap and actual toilets.

For the first few weeks, I'm going to get incredibly excited every time I walk into a public restroom in the U.S. I also have a a couple of quick additions to my essentials for travel in China list.

One only applies to women, but women don't shave here. If you aren't comfortable going without a shave for the duration of your stay, bring your own razor. They don't sell women's razors here. You may also want to pack your own shaving cream, since that is also hard to come by.

Another goes for everyone. You need hand sanitizer. As I said, only the awesome bathrooms here have soap. I didn't think to bring any, and when I realized that I needed it, I thought that it would be easy to find. Wrong. For unknown reasons, people here are pretty paranoid about airborn things, but they don't have hand sanitizer. I haven't found it anywhere yet. Neither has anyone else. Bring a stash with you. Worst case scenario: I'm wrong and you have a ton of hand sanitizer that you don't end up needing. It's better than needing it and not having any.

Until tomorrow!

Posted by MAx1992 21:45 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Ta es ein... No, that's wrong.

I know I'm not Chinese, but why is the assumption that I speak English?

overcast 87 °F

In explanation of the title, that is a sentence that came out of my mouth while explaining something to my host sister. "Ta" means "he" in Chinese, "es" means "is" in Spanish, and "ein" means "a" in German. I don't even remember what I was trying to say (or what language I was trying to say it in) because I spent the next few minutes sorting everything out in my head. It was slightly alarming to think that I didn't know any foreign languages anymore, but when I centered myself, I got full sentences out in all of them. I think I'm still alright, although I can still see myself asking what tone something is in Spanish class next year. No, wait, I'm not taking a Spanish class next year. I need to work all of that out. There are several ways I can do it, but it'll have to wait until I'm back in North America .

Anyways, yesterday we learned Chinese painting. We were supposed to do it again today, but the teacher is going back to calligraphy with us because the painting is too hard for us. I have to agree. I did do some pretty nice bamboo, though. Last night was the most fun, though. My family took me out after dinner to visit a lotus flower park. It was really pretty, except that it was already dark out and it wasn't very well lit. I got a few pictures, though. They just didn't come out too well. The story from the park is that while I was trying to take a picture, I heard two little voices behind me saying "Hello! Hello! Hello!" and "英国人! Yīngguórén!" which means "English person." I turned around to see two little girls, probably about five, with their mothers. They were waving at me and shouting "Hello!" and when I turned around they started adding in "I love you!" It was pretty funny and very cute, so I corrected them to "美国人. Měiguórén." American. One girl came over and started asking me basic questions in English ("What is your name?" "What do you like to do?") so I answered in English and then asked her the same questions in Chinese. When she didn't know how to say something she would ask her mother for help. It was pretty funny. It got less cute when they followed us for five minutes, poking me and saying, "Hello! Hello!" Eventually their mothers took them a different way. Still, it was a fun encounter.

I find it interesting that when people see me they assume that I speak English, even if they haven't heard me talk. My fascination with this is heightened by the fact that this trip has made me realize that not all white people speak English. I would assume that most do because English is a very widely-spoken language, but it isn't necessarily their native language. It is, however, the default assumption. If nothing else, I've certainly learned that English is an international language. It also interests me that people assume that I'm either Yīngguórén or Měiguórén. Again, I've learned on this trip that my subconscious assumption that all of the white people I run into are American is false. (That point was driven home during the conference at Baoding, when I saw white adults and thought, 'Oh look! Americans!' and then realized that only two were and the rest of the white people were from various European countries.) However, once again, that's what everyone jumps to when they see me. Maybe it's a default for them, or maybe I just look American or British. I haven't quite figured that one out.

I've learned that when talking to people who don't speak fluent English, the "right word" isn't as important as any word that they understand and that gets my point across. Normally, I'm very picky with which words I use, because I know what I want to say and I have the vocabulary to communicate exactly what I mean. I've abandoned that habit. Now I'm picky with my words because I consciously choose the simplest word that communicates what I need to get across. I'm also quite sure that the speed at which I speak has dropped considerably. I now make an effort to slow down and enunciate carefully. I wonder how long that will last when I get home.

That's all I've got for today. It really is interesting how much writing in this makes me think about what I think about. I've discovered so many unconscious assumptions that I carry, which have been exposed to me during this trip and while writing here. It makes me work through my thoughts and experiences. A diary does something similar, but I think that I look deeper into my observations here because I'm explaining them to others, and not just documenting them for myself. I recommend something similar to those who like this sort of thing. While travelling, it's a really nice tool. I can look back on it later, but it also allows me to share experiences with my family and friends back home before I forget everything that I did. I enjoy it. It's also pretty theraputic when I'm homesick. I'm not today, but on those days, it makes me feel like I'm talking with people without actually calling and making the homesickness worse. All in all, I'd like to thank the people here who suggested blogging and actually found this site.

再见!

Posted by MAx1992 21:29 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

Wuzhen and Hangzhou

Plus a language bonus:

overcast 89 °F

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!

Posted by MAx1992 21:40 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

包子

Success!

semi-overcast 89 °F

Last night was relatively uneventful, but after dinner, Cynthia and I walked over to the bakery together to get breakfast for this morning (which was delicious, by the way). I can't remember if I've talked about the bakery yet, but even if I have, it bears mentioning. It is called Happyness, and it truly is happiness. It's delicious. They have some things that are a bit odd and aren't really to my taste (for example, I'm not too fond of red bean things) but overall it's delicious. For anyone travelling in China, it is a worthwhile stop. Mmmm. When we got home, I helped her out with her English homework a bit. She has classes all summer, six days a week (I'm still trying to figure out where her holiday comes into play). Anyways, she asked me a bunch of questions, and I did my best to explain words and confusing grammar, but it was hard! I need to relearn English. I can't remember who it was that said that "grammar is a piano that I play by ear" but that's true for me. I know when things are right or wrong (most of the time) but I'm not usually sure why, which doesn't help her much. I tried, though. It was interesting. She was working with some SAT practice sheets, and they were difficult. After that I went to bed a little bit early.

This morning's class improved somewhat. Over the past few days, the first half of our class has gotten better. We'll actually work on things and I feel like I'm really acutally learning things. Then we have a half hour break and we come back to watch a movie. So far this week it has been Mulan, Rush Hour, and Kung Fu Panda. So the second half of our class isn't as productive, but it's a significant improvement that we're getting stuff done in the book and such. Besides, during the movie I have time to work through my childrens' books. It's nice.

During today's break, Chloe, Julie Ann and I went out for an adventure. I was starving (I ate breakfast, but it was just one of those days) and there are a bunch of stands outside of the school that sell things like baos. Baos (or, more appropriately, baozi) are delicious. They're white buns that have a filling in them, like vegetables or chicken or whatever, and they're usually served for breakfast. When they're hot and fresh, there's nothing better. Well, almost nothing. I don't want to back myself into that corner. Even better, they're super cheap! I bought one of the more expensive ones, and it was 80 fen (a yuan is 100 fen) so it was essentially twelve American cents. It was so completely worth it. Yummy. The difficult thing about it is that the people selling them speak no English whatsoever, but I ordered a vegetable bao and paid for it with absolutely no problems or confusions. It was so exciting! Being able to order food was one of my goals at the beginning, and I feel like I've gotten a step closer to that. It was wonderful. I felt very triumphant with my bao.

I ate that while the three of us headed over a block to the bookstore and went in for various items. Chloe wants a dictionary and a cute notebook. I want the kind of notebook that Julie Ann has for writing down new words, because it has columns for the character, the pinyin, and the meaning, and a Harry Potter book. I think Julie Ann was just wandering with us because she loves going out and practicing. She learns fast. While I was browsing the shelves, a woman, probably late twenties, approached me with a little boy, who I assume was her son, hiding behind her skirt and peeking out at me. She said, "I make friend you?" So of course I smiled and said, "Ni hao!" We had about a five minute conversation that was fifty percent English and fifty percent Chinese. For once, her English and my Chinese were about equal, so we jumped back and forth in an effort to make the other one understand. We didn't talk about much. Most of the conversation was me explaining what we were doing here and that Chloe is, in fact, American, and doesn't speak Chinese. The woman was very nice, just a little bit shy about talking to us, but it was a wonderful experience. I had so much fun, and it was like a second success for me. Chinese is truly starting to feel like my third language, not just a language that I'm not really learning. I'm so excited now. Well, I was before, but that just brought things home to me a lot more. We didn't end up buying anything because that conversation took most of the time that we had in the store and the lines were really long, but I felt like that was a perfectly acceptable alternative way to spend my break.

When we got back to class and realized that we were watching Kung Fu Panda, Chloe and I decided that we were hungry (I know, still), so we went to the store (quick side note about stores in China: check the expiration dates on everything because they don't take it off the shelves if it's too old. We realized yesterday that the milk teas we've been drinking daily are four months past their prime). They sell cup noodles there, which sounded really good to both of us. When we walked out after making our purchases and went to the hot water to make our cup noodles, we saw something truly shocking: there was a white man sitting at a table with a latina woman. They were the first non-Chinese people we had seen in the school aside from our group. So, while our noodles cooked, we chatted with them. The man was from Texas, but has lived in China for ten years (his family must have moved when he was young, because he couldn't have been more than twenty) and the woman was from Argentina. They were both teaching English at the Crazy English camp (did I mention that that's actually what it's called?). They were very nice and we had a good long conversation. They were really supportive and thought that it was cool that we were exchange students. It was an interesting encounter. They were fun to talk to, though.

We're planning to go back to the bookstore during sports, so that we have some more time and might actually be able to get the things we were after. Who knows what our next adventure will be.

Posted by MAx1992 21:34 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (4)

Chinese restaurants

Six degrees of separation: I can get to the Pope in three.

semi-overcast 94 °F

We're already halfway through this trip! I want to thank everyone on it. They've all been so wonderful, and I have a huge family now.

This morning we had a productive class for the first half (finally) and then we watched Rush Hour. That was kind of productive, too, though, because Christina put makeup on Joseph, which has gotten hilarious reactions from the Koreans and the Chinese. Yesterday's class was fairly uneventful. We learned about Chinese folk music, and during a break I climbed up a pole. I was the first to make it to the top. I was pretty proud, especially since I haven't done that since about fourth grade. After school, my family went out to dinner, which was weird since it was the second night in a row. We met a woman and her young daughter. They appeared to be family friends, but I'm not quite sure. They gave Cynthia and me each a book of stamps, which was nice. Dinner was good. I went to bed a little bit early, since I was thoroughly exhausted.

I'd like to take this time to explain Chinese restaurants. The tables are large and round, at least for large groups, and in the middle there is a glass thing that spins. The waitresses put dishes on those, so that it is easier to serve yourself. If what you want is on the other side of the table, you just spin the Lazy Susan. It's actually a lot of fun. We have more than one video of someone putting their camera on it and spinning it. Anyways, that's the basic run-down of the table set up. These are a few more things.

Don't put your napkin in your lap. I did that on the first day out of habit, but it turns out that napkins are not used the same way here as they are in America. They will be folded nicely on your plate, like in some restaurants in the States, but the waitress will come around and unfold it and put it under the plate, like a table cloth. You will be given a damp towel to use as a napkin. It's easy enough to get used to, but it can be a bit awkward if you don't know.

In America, the bulk of the meal comes at the same time. There may be an appetizer, but then the main course dishes come together. Not so in China. They will bring several dishes and then leave for a bit, and then they'll bring in another. Then another. And another. And another. This will continue for a long time. Again, I messed this up the first couple of days. I saw the four dishes on the table and thought, "Well, I'd better load up on this." So I did. I didn't expect food to keep coming. So the moral of this story is save room. You can always take more, but start out with taking a little bit of everything. I promise that there will be enough.

Table manners also differ here. In America, at least if you are being polite, you shouldn't lean your elbows on the table and you shouldn't talk with your mouth full. You most definitely shouldn't burp or fart at the table, at least not audibly. Throw that out the window. People do it all the time here. It's a cultural difference. That has been one of the hardest things for me. It still grosses me out, but I'm getting better at tuning it out.

One of the most difficult things for me as far as eating goes is that people don't drink with their meal. Sometimes at a restaurant the waiters will refill your tea throughout, and I'm allowed to have water at home while we eat, but it is never offered. It's very weird. I'm used to drinking a lot of water with every meal, but here, for some reason, that just isn't normal. It's hard for me to eat when I'm thirsty, so I need the water. It's something to adjust to. I've gotten better at it. But I still never know if my tea will be refilled at the restaurant. It's difficult.

Everything in China (at least everything that I've noticed) is cooked whole. If you order fish, you will get the entire fish, and chicken comes with a head and feet. Nothing is de-boned, and few things are de-gutted. It took me a while to get used to my food looking back at me. That is just something to be aware of. They think that it makes the food more flavorful and that it is better for you. In any case, don't scream when you realize that Chicken Little still has a face.

Those are just the comments that come to mind right now about Chinese restaurants. We'll see if I remember anything else later.

And in closing, I'm not making my six degrees up. I now have the Pope, Hillary Swank, the Black-Eyed Peas, and Justin Timberlake. I can't wait to see who else I end up knowing through these people.

Zai jian!

Posted by MAx1992 21:29 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

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