A Travellerspoint blog

Over the weekend

For a country whose primary eating utensil is a pair of sticks, they sure have a lot of slippery foods

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View China 2010 on MAx1992's travel map.

Saturday was a free day with our families, but after dropping Kim and his mom at the trainstation in the early afternoon, we didn't do much. My host dad was at work and my host mom took a nap, so I read, did some homework, journaled, and slept. It was a nice relaxing day.

Then yesterday we were supposed to go to Yancheng adn Wujin, a trip that included a park, a lake, and an amusement park, but since it was pouring rain, plans changed. We went to the Wuxi caves instead. They were pretty cool. We walked through one cave and got explanations of some of the different names of rocks (like the one that looks like an old man, or the one that looks like a left hand). Then we went into another cave and took boats along a type of underground lake. It was really cool. The only problem was that the boats were nothing close to stable and every time anyone shifted their weight they rocked and everyone was terrified, since the seats were on the very edge, so if it tipped too far, we had no chance. There were some places where the ceiling came down really low and everyone had to bend over, which was hard, since the boats were narrow and your knees were touching thsoe of the person across from you. After the lake, we had to walk up 800 steps (the tour guides sounded proud, but we sounded exhausted) in order to get out. Then we had to walk back down to the parking lots. It was still pouring rain, and things were slippery and cold. Needless to say, it was rather eventful. (Quick side note: no one in China wears rain coats. They only carry umbrellas, unless they are riding bikes or motorcycles, in which case htey wear ponchos. They still don't wear helmets, though.) The Korean students were with us yesterday. They seem nice enough so far, but they keep to their group a lot, so I haven't talked to many of them yet.

And my host sister finally came home! Chen Runyin, but it turns out her English name is Cynthia. I spent yesterday evening chatting with her. Her English is better than my Chinese, so most of the conversation was in English, but occasionally we spoke Chinese when I could. She's very bright, and we have some similar interests. We're both a little shy, but she's really easy to talk to. She's very nice. She's really funny. She knows American geography by NBA teams. The only cities she can name are cities with teams that she likes. She was really curious about American pop culture, since all she knows is Lady Gaga, who she thinks is crazy (I assured her that she was an extreme). She's also very well read, even in English. She had to read Hamlet. I was amazed, but she seemed a bit embarassed whne she said that sometimes she doesn't understand what Shakespeare is saying. I assured her that sometimes I don't understand what Shakespeare is saying. Some of her insights were both very astute and beautifully poetic. For example, I told her that one of my favorite American authors is Mark Twain, and she said that she had read Tom Sawyer. I asked her what she thought of it and she said that she thought that Tom is too naughty, but that Mark Twain " has the heart of a child." I couldn't agree more. All in all, it was a really fun evening, and she'll be picking me up after school and we're going to dinner.

Now, I'll take a minute to respond to some questions that people have asked. I keep forgetting to bring my camara's USB cable, but my friend Chloe has posted pictures. If you're interested, her blog is www.cuhloe.travellerspoint.com and you can look at hers. I've checked them out, and they're fun. Among my new favorite foods are frogs legs (don't knock them until you try them, they're delicious!), dumplings, homemade wontons, Chinese rice cakes, and xiao long bao. The beds and toilets were the same in Beijing, so I don't know if they're the same everywhere, but I'm down near Shanghai, so I figure they're pretty common. I've kind of adjusted to the squatters, but I'm really glad that they have Western toilets at my home, because they're still not fun. The beds are still an issue. I'm working on finding someone to give me a back rub because I'm so sore! The showers and baths have been normal, except for the one in my hotel room in Beijing. It was a normal shower, except that the drain was just in the middle of the room. There was a shower curtain, but nothing to block the water on the floor, so it was like the entire room was the shower. That was a bit of a surprise, needless to say! It worked out, though, and I do have pictures, but you may need to wait until I get home for them. Grampy, I'll have to ask about who they know about. That conversation hasn't come up yet :) As for my home and the views, mine isn't really average because my family's apartment is really big. I have plenty of room, and I don't have to share. I get my own bedroom and, shockingly, my own bathroom, which is wonderful. It makes everything much easier. When I look outside my window, I can see the city. There's a lot of construction in the area, because it's on the outside and there are a lot of new buildings going up, so there are cranes all over, and across the street from my apartment complex is a park, which is really neat. Well, I already described it. There's also a sauna club nearby (which I wasn't expecting) and there are a bunch of Japanese-style clubs a few streets over, which is a little bit odd, although Cynthia says that Japanese and Korean pop is really popular in China, so I guess it makes sense. I can't see too far because the air quality is pretty bad so it's really smoggy. But it's pretty neat. I'm enjoying it here :)

Well, I think that's all for today. We'll see if I can come up with any more insights for tomorrow. I'll work on that. And go Spain! They won the World Cup! Most of my AFS group was rooting for Spain, so this morning was pretty exciting. I would have been okay with either, since the Netherlands are pretty cool, but the hispanohablante in me was leaning towards Spain :)

Zai Jian!

Posted by MAx1992 21:55 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

Fun things I did yesterday

From calligraphy to wontons.

overcast 83 °F

Yesterday in class, we did more calligraphy. It's pretty fun, even though I'm not great at it. I have a final product, now, though, so at least I have something to show for my efforts. It's ancient Chinese and it means "the breeze comes slowly" and it's really pretty. Apparently, in ancient Chinese, you read from right to left. Even with the breeze, though, I haven't seen the sky since I got here. This morning was the clearest we've had so far, and it was just slightly blue.

After school, when I got home, we made wontons. It was really fun. It reminded me of making ravioli at home. Mine weren't great, but I sort of got the hang of it. I think for every one I made, my host mom, her mom, and Kim's mom all made about four or five, but I still contributed. They were delicious. I also went to my host grandmother's apartment, since she lives in the same complex as my host parents, just a different building. She says I can come over whenever I want. It was decorated very traditionally, and it was pretty. She also had an "er hu" which is a traditional Chinese instrument with two strings, but it's kind of like a violin. Kim played a little bit to show me.

After dinner, we went to the park. It was really fun, since that's where a lot of people in the area go to kill time in the evening. I didn't get too many pictures because the lighting was really bad since it was getting dark, but I'll go back before I leave and amend that. There were a lot of people there, and there was music, and people were dancing outside in the park. It was really cool! You don't see that happen informally in America very often. We walked around for a while, and we discussed a lot of things. For example, (Iain will be proud of me) I explained the Articles of Confederation to Kim, and then we discussed various events in China, like the Cultural Revolution. This was all sparked by Dad's ping-pong democracy story. It also came up that people in China use the story of George Washington and the cherry tree to teach their children honesty. I thought that was great. I also had to explain Freddy vs. Jason, because I was telling him about why my brother wanted to name my cat Jason. It was really interesting to talk about those things.

On our way back, we walked through an alley of small shops, one of which sold silk fabric, and there were a bunch of majong tables in there and people were playing. It was really cool. There must have been five tables crammed into the little room. It was one of those places that I would never have seen if I was here as a tourist. I really enjoyed the different perspective that it gave me. I got to see real China.

As a side note: sometimes we feel more like a display than a class. The press was in class for the second time today, and they actually took us to the library so that they could get shots of us reading Chinese books. The only problem is that none of us speak that much Chinese, so we were basically told to pretend to read so that they could get some video of the Americans reading Chinese. It was kind of a waste of our time, since we didn't learn anything. Mikaela's host sister (who helps in our class) helped me out with a few characters, but that was about all we did. A few people got interviewed briefly. It's interesting. The class hasn't really gotten going yet because our real teacher is finishing up exams, and won't be with us until next week. We also have some Korean students coming next week, which we're all really excited about. It'll be really good when it really starts, because the group is really fun. I like all of them.

I don't think I've talked about Chinese beds yet. They make me really want a Chinese massage. Mostly for my shoulders. The beds are extremely hard, like lying on a board. Mine actually has a bamboo mat on it. So does my pillow, actually. As a result, my shoulders are really tight. But I'm surviving. I actually think I'm getting used to it, but I definitely miss my own bed. A lot.

Well, this weekend we have free time with our host families on Saturday and then a trip to a park and a museum on Sunday with the group, and I think that we'll meet our Korean classmates then. I'm excited. I'll have a lot to say on Monday, since I won't be able to update this over the weekend. That said, I think I've said all I had for today, so I'll talk to you all next week, and have a great weekend!

Posted by MAx1992 21:29 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (4)

A little bit more about China

overcast 32 °F

I'm back! Dad was right. This is kind of theraputic. I mean, I'm writing stuff in a journal, but this is a different forum that allows me to tell my family and friends back home all of the stories that I want to tell them. It's nice.

Yesterday I learned Chinese calligraphy. I'm not great, but it's fun and very relaxing.

Last night, Kim and his mother took me to dinner with his mom's high school friends. There were husbands and kids there, too. It was just like those gatherings in America. The adults were talking loudly and drinking, and the kids sat back, bored and praying for it to end. It was interesting. Kim and I were chatting about cultural things. It was in English, but I realized that the cultural exchange is really easy with him because he tells be about China (and Hong Kong) while I tell him about America. It works. He also teaches me funny words. Like in Cantonese, "oolong" (as in the type of tea) means "stupid" and when people mix different types of wines together, the translation from Mandarin is "tail of the chicken."

And I finally met my host sister today. I ran into her in the bathroom. She was very nice, and her English was pretty good. She just came up and asked if I was Miranda. She said that her family said I as nice, so I assume that they described me to her as well. I don't know if I mentioned this, but I hadn't met her before because she lives at school and this week is her exam week. She'll be coming home soon, and I'll get to know her better then. I'm excited.

I also have some more observations.

The Chinese love pale skin. A lot. In America, everyone spends their time tanning, because that's a part of our cultural perception of beauty. Tan skin is good. Honestly, I'm not sure why that's true, because it's actually not healthy, but that aside, China is the opposite. People wear what look like arm socks a lot when they're outside and it's hot, so that they can be wearing a t-shirt, but they want to cover their skin so that it stays pale. As a result, people in supermarkets compliment me on my skin, because Snow White over here wins the pale skin competition. My hair is kind of a big deal, too. They don't usually see curly or red. Changzhou also isn't really a tourist city. Aside from our group, I haven't seen a single non-Chinese person here, so, naturally, we're kind of a novelty.

The Chinese are also brilliant. We all received cell phones for our time here, and Sarah (from Virginia) found the greatest invention in the history of cell phones. It has a fake call application. You can type in a name and number that the "call" comes from and then set a timer, and after that amount of time, you receive the call. Perfect for getting out of a crappy date, right? Anyways, needless to say, we all have a new favorite hobby.

The Chinese are very loud eaters. In America, we tend to eat quitely. We don't make a lot of noise when we chew and we don't slurp. Not so in China. It's a little bit difficult to get used to. I think I'm adjusting, but I'm having a hard time mimicking. My eating habits are so heavily ingrained in my everyday life, that it's hard to break them.

That said, quick note on the food here: even when I recognize things, they don't taste the way I expect them to. It's not bad (well, sometimes I don't like things as much, for example, pickled things xp) but it's weird. It's hard to get used to. They have a totally different palate, and some of it is not really to my taste. Some candy is good.

I also can't wait to go shopping. They have such pretty dresses and shoes, and it's all super cheap. We saw some nice dresses for 30 yuan. Translation: 5 dollars. I'm psyched.

Gotta go! They're kicking me off. Bye!

Posted by MAx1992 22:05 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (5)

Day Two of Classes

And some lessons on Chinese (and American) culture.


Yesterday was much better in terms of speaking Chinese with my host family. Kim was very helpful and taught me a lot of words. I've forgotten more than I've remembered, but every time I remember, I get excited. (A side not about Kim: since he's from Hong Kong, his first language is Cantonese, which has 9 tones. Mandarin is his second and English is his third, and he's fluent in all of them. He used the word "allocate" correctly in a sentence yesterday. So he is teaching me his second language in his third. Wow. I also had to explain Afghanistan to him, because he didn't recognize it in English. I finally resorted to "It's one fo the countries that America is at war with." It was really embarrassing.) My family was impressed with how much I learned yesterday, and keep telling their other relatives that I'm really smart. I'm trying really hard, so hopefully it pays off. And they also gave me a Chinese name. "Miranda" is really, really difficult to pronounce, so now instead of "Miranda" I'm "Mi Lan."

Yesterday, class ended with several demonstrations of American culture, including a spectacular rendition of "Reflection" (from Mulan) by Mikaela (from Madison), a killer cover of the Thriller dance by Joseph (from Kansas), and the entire group participating in the Cha-Cha slide, Cotton-Eye Joe, and the YMCA (with music provided by iPods). The Chinese people in the room all participated. I'm pretty sure they all thought we were crazy, but they had fun. I could tell.

That said, I have a few observations about China that I'd like to share.

One: The rules of the road in China are just like those in California and the Pirates' Code. They're more like guidelines than actual rules. The only thing is that Chinese people don't really like to follow guidelines either. The traffic lights only sort of mean something, and pedestrians and bicycles don't necessarily have the right of way. There are also a LOT more motorcycles and bicycles here than in the US. I haven't managed to get a picture yet, but there are hoards of them! It's insane. And they have no fear. When my bus stopped this morning to let people off and pick people up, it stopped in the same place that American busses do. About four inches from the sidewalk. As people were getting off, an old man on a bicycle came scooting along the curb. His bike was on the road and he was using his foot to push himself along between the bus and the curb. I was flabbergasted.

Two: Chinese people think it's funny that Jackie Chan is the only famous Chinese person that we recognize (well, him and Mao), but they love him too. As a matter of fact, I've seen him in two commercials since I've been here. He sang in one of them. I didn't know he could sing, but he can. I've also seen a kung fu movie. It's awesome.

Three: It's socially acceptable to hang your underwear in the window. To dry, of course. We were all a little bit uncomfortable when we walked past apartments and dormitories and saw everyone's clothes hanging in the window, including bras and undies. But everyone does it (including my family). In America, doing that is really awkward, but here it's the norm. It's just one of those things that you have to get used to.

Four: They are amazing at ping pong. That isn't a joke. During our free time, we played with some of the Chinese kids who come to our classes (I think to help us). Our teacher jumped in, too. The only times we scored were pure luck (and a few of our best players have skills). Anyways, we got owned, by everyone from the middle schoolers to the teacher. Other things they're really good at: chopsticks. I thought I had those down. Not so much. I had a really hard time with some potatoes last night that were slippery. It was really funny.

That's all the time I have. Until next time!

Posted by MAx1992 21:55 Archived in China Tagged educational Comments (1)

The first few days....

Orientation, the Great Wall, Changzhou, host families, and school.

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Hey everybody!

I'm not too used to blogging, so bear with me. It may take me a few days for this to be good.

So, the history of where I am and why: I'm 17 years old, and I won a NSLI-Y (National Security Language Initiative for Youth) scholarship. So I travelled with AFS to China, where I'll be staying with a host family here in Changzhou (which is in southern China, pretty close to Shanghai) for 6 weeks. Welcome to my story!

We (a group of 49 students) arrived in Beijing in the early afternoon on July 3rd. We had a brief orientation in a hotel there. On the 4th, we went to the Great Wall. I don't know how far I walked, but it was 95 degrees (F) and intensely humid, so as far as I'm concerned, it was far enough. I never realized how steep it was! It's enormous and it just kept going and going and going.... I was walking with Eleanor (from Seattle) and Chloe (from South Pasadena), both of whom are cool people from the group. Eleanor asked how far a girl has to walk on the Great Wall in order to become a man. When we felt like we were going to pass out, we decided that we had gone far enough and were men. Then we had to go back down.

That evening, we split up into our city groups. We had kids go to Harbin, Anshan, Beijing, and Changzhou. My group (which has 14 people) caught a sleep train down here. I wish I could say more about the trip, but I slept most of the way. There were four poeple to a compartment. I got a top bunk, which left me with very little head room, but it was fun to monkey my way up there. We reached Changzhou early in the morning yesterday, it must have been something like 6:30, but our families met us at the train station, and we all went off with them.

My host parents picked me up with their nephew, Kim, and his mother, who were visiting from Hong Kong. Kim is 16 and speaks fluent English, which is helpful becuase I barely speak Chinese, but unfortunately I haven't gotten a whole lot of Chinese because of that. First we stopped at a Dim Sum restaurant and had breakfast, which was very good. Then we went to my host father's parents' home and stayed there until lunch. There were some other relatives there, visiting. These were from Houston. There were two girls, one in 6th grade, one in 7th, and they had grown up in Houston. As a result, I heard more English and got extremely homesick. I'm from Vermont, but having Americans (outside of my group) around made me sad. It was also pretty overwhelming to have so many people there. We went to lunch, where I tried frog legs and shark belly (the legs were great, but the belly was pretty rubbery) and had to politely refuse the live shrimp. I was pushing myself far enough, I couldn't do that.

After that, we finally went to my family's apartment. I haven't met my host sister yet, because she lives at school and this week is her exam week, but she will come next week. The apartment is really big, and I have my own room, which is really nice. I also have my own bathroom, which makes things a little bit easier. I took a nap until dinner, and then the whole group plus my host mother's parents went to dinner. I ate so much yesterday that I'm still full from it!

This morning, I got up early (okay, it was just another 6:30 day) and ate the egg and cheese sandwich that my host mom made me, and then she, Kim, and I got on the bus to go to my school, Changzhou No. 1 Middle School. It was a 40 minute bus ride. It was kind of nice to have the time to sit and think about things and just let my mind wander, but it was uncomfortable because I got so many stares. Let me explain: I'm very pale, and have green eyes, and curly, red hair. I don't exactly fit in. So everyone who got on the bus stared at me as they walked by or while they were sitting. It was a weird.

So this morning, we had a tour of the school and a brief lesson on the Chinese educational system, and then an opening ceremony, which was attended by all the important school faculty and the local reporters, for TV and newspapers. There were cameras galore. Paul (from Michigan) even got interviewed, which was exciting and really funny because he looked extremely nervous. But who could blame him? We ate lunch after that, and Chloe, Julie Anne (from Philidelphia), and I went to find the restroom. The toilets were squatters. I've had to use them a few times now. I'm getting used to them, but they're still difficult. I guess they take a whole lot of practice. I like to think I'm getting good at them, though.

That was the last thing we did, so now we have an hour of computer time, which we will have every week day, so my plan is to update this then. I'm keeping a journal, and a notebook of words I learn. Until next time!

Posted by MAx1992 21:43 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (5)

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