A Travellerspoint blog

Everything is an adventure

What would life in China be without a little spice?

semi-overcast 99 °F

First, I'd like to edit my entry from yesterday a bit. I realized that I explained it wrong. It isn't like going back in time to the American Industrial Revolution, because China is definitely a very modern place, with thousands of years of incredible history woven through (there are still old buildings and things all over). It's more like an industrial revolution of the twenty-first century. That's more what I was going for. I was too tired yesterday to be able to figure out what I wanted to say.

Anyways, I don't know if I've said this, but you could seriously make a movie/sitcom out of our lives here. Honest. Not a day goes by without some sort of adventure. Take yesterday, for example. Yesterday afternoon, we got done with things at a weird time. Chloe had been out of school, but Mikaela and I wanted to go to the supermarket near her house, since we ride the same bus so it was on my way home. We decided to go another day, though, since we only got done about half an hour early and that really wasn't enough time. We didn't want to leave early, though, so we decided to go across the street and down a block to the Gucci mall (I don't know what it's really called, that's just what we call it). The Gucci mall has a lot of brand name stuff on the ground level, but according to our Canadian friend, there is a foreign food court down a little, and Julie Ann told us that if you go up you can get to some cheaper stuff. We decided to explore that. So we went in and found an elevator and hit the '-1' button, since we were on the first floor and wanted to see the food court first. It went up. We shrugged it off and gave up on visiting the food court that day, and hit the highest button, 8, just to see what Julie Ann was talking about. Since she had said "up" we assumed it would be the top floor. People kept getting on and off the elevator, and it didn't take us long to realize that they were all wearing white button-up shirts and black slacks. We both looked down, trying desperately to keep straight faces as the same thought crossed our minds: this was the staff elevator. Oops. Then a boy got on in street clothes, which made us relax a little bit. In any case, when we got to the eighth floor, we basicallly ran out of the elevator, only to look up and realize that there was no merchandise. We were standing in a white hallway with a lot of closed doors that had plaques in Chinese. We turned back to the elevator, both blushing, in time to see the doors open again and the boy in street clothes saying, "Do you need help?" We got back into the elevator, trying to explain what had happened. He laughed and said, "The eighth floor is all offices." "Yeah, we got that." We went to the ground floor and left. Seriously, the simplest things become huge adventures, if you just go with it. We blamed this adventure on Julie Ann, who thought it was hysterical when we told her.

When I got home last night, my family was gone. They warned me last night. They had to go to Shanghai for something. They'll be home today, but a cousin was waiting for me there. She's an English major, so communication wasn't too difficult. She was nice. We chatted, then I studied and went to bed. Today we had a different schedule, though. Our community activity was in the morning. We thought that we were just going swimming. Turned out we had to go to a neighborhood thing first. It was really odd, since all we did was listen to some people talk and then leave. Swimming was really fun, though. It felt so good. So we have class next. I think I'll spend the rest of my computer time seeing if I can check out the common app or even get it started while I'm here. Yippee for college applications! Zai jian!

P.S. We leave for Shanghai and the World Expo tomorrow morning! I'm so excited. But I won't be able to write for a few days. I will when I can, though.

Posted by MAx1992 21:47 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (4)

In our own little corner of the world

What you have to learn about outside of it

semi-overcast 98 °F

Yesterday's scavenger hunt was fun. We didn't learn many characters (the instructions were written in Chinese, but they were explained to us in English) but we had a blast. I was my team's captain, and I had Luke, Chloe, and three Koreans whose names I don't know. We came in third (of four, so we didn't lose). It was a lot of fun despite the weather (a hundred degrees, with about 45% humidity, which is what it is again today). We were all sweaty, since we ran a lot, but I felt so good after running! I really need to start doing that again when I get home. This morning in class, we had another character test. I got a 94, which was really impressive since I only missed six out of forty-four words and when I started studying yesterday I knew ten of them. I've got fifty more to learn for tomorrow. I see a long night in my future.

Grampy posted a comment that made me remember a conversation that Julie Ann and I had with Shu over the weekend. Shu is one of our volunteers. He's 19 and he spent a year in the U.S. during high school and now attends college there. He's a lot of fun, and he has a very interesting perspective. He's Chinese, but he's very Americanized (I sometimes forget that he isn't really American) so he has the perspective on China of both an insider and an outsider. As Julie Ann pointed out to me, his age also factors in. He is also willing to talk about things that probably make a lot of Chinese people uncomfortable (subjects that I haven't been brave enough to broach with my host family). The conversation started at lunch. Shu mentioned a trip that he had taken to Japan, and since Julie Ann spent a summer there a couple of years ago, they started comparing experiences. Shu said something about the policemen in white gloves and Julie Ann commented on how important cleanliness and respect are there. Shu nodded and said, "Yeah, that's ancient Chinese culture. It's sad that we lost it." When I heard that, I joined in and we talked for a while about how the Communists had destroyed thousands of years of history in just a decade, and how Shu's generation was the first since that to prize education. It was a fascinating conversation, and I feel like I learned a lot and saw a really unique perspective. I doubt that many people get the opportunity to talk to who sees things from that particular angle.

As for the specific questions that you asked, Grampy: I'm not quite sure whether or not the one child restriction is working, but I know that there are a lot of issues around it. A lot of kids grow up lonely because they don't really have time to hang out with their friends and they don't have a sibling at home. There are also a lot of kids who suffer from that "one child syndrome" that people talk about. They're whiny and selfish and don't like sharing and aren't used to not getting their way. Like my dad said, they're Little Emperors. I know that this isn't true for all of them, and I don't think it's even a majority. Most of the kids I've interacted with have been great. Our volunteers are great, and so is my sister, but a few students are having a hard time dealing with their siblings. I know that they get lonely. As far as the "reverence for old age" goes, it's still sort of there. I mean, people give up seats for the elderly on the bus and things (they get really excited if a foreigner does it) but I haven't noticed a lot of what I expected. They don't use "nin" (the polite form of "you") as often as I anticipated. I guess I'll say that it exists more strongly here than in the States, but it doesn't exist here as strongly as I thought it would.

Another conversation that I've had with both Julie Ann and Mikaela is about China's development. Since it's considered a world superpower, I had sort of expected that it would be in the same place as America, but it isn't. I'm not quite sure if I can explain it, but it feels like I'm visiting a different decade. Anyways, China, or at least the parts that I've seen, is much more industrial than the U.S. I'm not sure why I was surprised, or if I should have been or not, but I was. There are a lot of little things. Maybe it's because I'm not used to living in a big city (instead of the suburbs) but on some streets there are garbage piles (which, in 100 degree heat are smell pretty bad). The air quality is bad. As I said, we don't see the sky a whole lot, there's always a haze or something. Everything is really cheap. I feel like this is what it would be like in the United States if I could take a time machine back to the industrial revolution or something. Maybe that isn't accurate. I'm not too good at history, and I don't feel like I have a complete understanding of everything. I definitely don't comprehend enough for that to be entirely accurate, but it's different. I'm quite sure that it isn't just the difference between living in the city and living in the suburbs, but I'm not entirely sure of what it is. Maybe I'll be able to describe it better in person and someone can help me figure out what I'm trying to say. I realized suddenly that this description sounds negative. It's not. It's just different. I'm observing and reporting.

Well, I hope you all enjoyed that. Maybe it's given you something to ponder.

Now I'd like to comment on going abroad. There are a lot of people (from everywhere, I'm not picking on anyone) who are happy to stay in their own little corner of the world. I know that I can't change anyone's mind about that, and I'm not going to try to tell anyone what to do, but I'd like to give my opinion on this topic. There is so much that you don't know you don't know. Trust me. I considered myself pretty worldly and well-travelled. I had been to Europe, I had stayed with a family in a country that doesn't speak English. I'm pretty bright. I've learned a lot, I've read a lot. I thought I had a good understanding of most things. I was so wrong. I think it was Sophocles who said, "All that I know is that I know nothing" or something to that effect. I used to think that I knew what he meant. Again, I was wrong. I've learned so much here about myself, about America, about China, about people in general, about the world, and I've realized that I don't know a thing. I can't really explain it to anyone who doesn't know about it from their own experience. It isn't something that you can be taught about. You have to learn it yourself, because it's different for everybody, I'm sure. But I think that going abroad is the only way that you can learn it. I mean really abroad. Way outside of your comfort zone (which will expand, I'm sure). You can go abroad however you want. You can study, volunteer, work, be an exchange student. Being a tourist doesn't cut it. In a perfect world, I think that everyone would spend at least a year of their life living in another country. That's the only way that we're going to have peace. But I know that that can't happen. Not everyone can go. Some don't have the means financially, and some people don't have the right mindset. If they aren't open to it, they won't gain anything from it. All I can say is, when you go abroad, be ready. Open your mind to everything. Accept everything. Observe. And be prepared to come out of it a different person. In a good way.

Posted by MAx1992 21:35 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (4)

Chinese Amusement Parks

"Nuh-uh!"

semi-overcast 98 °F

What a weekend. Let's start with Friday afternoon. Chloe, Mikaela, and I had quite the adventure with changing money and fixing Chloe's phone. A few days before that, we had gone to the bank to change money for her, and she had tried to use her driver's license, but they wouldn't use it. They said they needed her passport, which was annoying, since Lao Shi still has ours for Shanghai (we need them for the hotels, apparently). The volunteers told us that she could do it with a copy of her passport, which we had, so we tried that on Friday. No dice. We needed the real thing. So we went over to the phone store to add money to her phone and she tried to use a Visa card, which they wouldn't take. So we had to go back to the school, find Lao Shi, get her passport, and start the whole trip over again. This was all during sports time, and after we had finished those errands, we had some time left, and headed across the street to see the Gucci mall that just opened. While we were waiting for a walk signal, a white woman came up and asked where we were from. She was from Canada (Ottawa, I asked). We walked together for a while. She was as excited to meet us as we were to meet her (for once). She's been in China for a year teaching preschoolers. We wandered around the Gucci mall for a while after we parted ways. It was nice and air-conditioned inside, which was spectacular because the weather here is beyond hot and humid. Our Canadian friend told us that there is a foreign foods place downstairs, but the problem is that there is no way to get downstairs, so we didn't get to see what was there. Then we decided to try finding a different bus stop, instead of walking all the way back to school. That didn't work, though. We ended up having to go back, anyways.

On Saturday, we had a free day, theoretically to spend with our families. A lot of people's families were like mine, though, which meant that the parents were at work and the siblings were at lessons, so we all met up at Dinosaur Land. Chloe and I took a cab together successfully, mostly because my sister had written a note for the driver. We spent most of the day there. I left at 5:30 but a lot of people stayed later. It was a fun day, even though the rides weren't very good and the lines were incredibly long. They probably averaged an hour and a half. For those considering going to amusement parks in China: push back. Chinese people, or at least the ones there, are incredibly rude as far as lines go. I've been shoved out of the way at the bus stop when I was lining up to get on, but that was nothing compared to this. First, a group of people lifted four or five children over the fence right in front of us. They got chewed out. We got a translation because some of the younger host siblings didn't have lessons and had come with us. At one point, a group of people wanted to get by us and cut in front of us in line. Joseph positioned himself carefully to block them and shouted "Nuh-uh!" But the woman behind him kept pounding on his back and shoving. She knocked him out of the way and bowled through the rest of us, since we weren't prepared, and a dozen people followed her. We were pretty mad. We laughed at JoJo, though, for his method of stopping her. His explanation was, "Yeah, nuh-uh! I thought that was universal. Apparently not." That was the worst it got. Over the course of the day, we all improved in our ability to block line-jumpers. We also leaned how much the Chinese love drama. A man who had left the line to get drinks started shouting at the guard who wouldn't let him back in. By the end, two guards were working on calming him down. He was making a huge scene. I would have been embarassed to be with him, but his wife was getting into it, too. She had stayed in line holding their place. Their poor son looked miserable, though. Anyways, everyone was watching this go down. I've never heard so many people be so quiet. The only other voice was Luke's host brother explaining what was happening in English. He was disappointed when it ended. It was almost like a real-life TV drama. I must admit, it was pretty interesting. When I went home, I had a bit of an adventure, because I had to take a cab by myself. He got me to my apartment and I checked the red numbers, which said 9 kuai. I know that they charge one additional kuai, which would make it ten. I handed him two fives and waited for my receipt. Instead of giving it to me, however, he said, "si kuai." I couldn't tell if he meant four or ten, because some people around here have an accent that makes the word for ten sound like the word for four. I was confused and couldn't understand the rest of his sentence, so I pointed to the price and said, "shi kuai" and pointed to the money and said "shi kuai." Ten kuai for both. We argued like that for a good couple of minutes before he said something else. I only caught "xia che" which I know means "get out of the car." Based on his tone, the whole sentence was something like, "Forget it, just get the hell out of my car." I explained it to my host sister. We agree that he was probably trying to overcharge me. I think it's funny that I don't speak enough Chinese to get ripped off.

Sunday, we went to Yan Cheng, which is another theme park, but it also includes cool things about Confucianism and an old city (which you can't get into without buying another ticket :/). Mikaela and I spent a while wandering around the park and seeing the old architecture and things (my camara died, but she promises to share pictures). We bought some souveniers and gifts, and had some fun conversations about us being Americans. (A lot of people respond to that with something to the effect of, "Ah, wonderful country." Joseph says thank you when they say that.) Eventually we headed to the rides. They were more fun than the ones at Dinosaur Land and there really weren't any lines. Most people had already ridden a bunch, so Mikaela and I rode with just the two of us. It was a fun day. We had a good lunch, and then went to a museum about ancient Chinese things. It was pretty interesting, but I have no idea what it was called. While we were there, Joseph proved me wrong. I had heard that if you lick someone's elbow while they aren't paying attention, they won't notice. I thought that was a lie. Apparently it works. Mikaela and I got done with some time to kill, so we wandered around the shops next to the museum (there was a little courtyard). They were all too expensive for us to buy at, but we saw some beautiful 7000 yuan paintings and scrolls. When we walked out of one of them, we saw our bus pulling away with everyone waving at us through the windows. We knew they wouldn't leave, but just for the heck of it, we chased them for a few yards. Then we drove twenty minutes to a beautiful lake, where we got out, walked along the edge for ten minutes, got back on the bus, and left. I still don't understand. When we got home, I went out to dinner with my host family and a family friend who I've met once before. She doesn't speak a lick of English (to quote Luke) but she's very smiley and sweet. I tried a bunch of things there that didn't freak me out, but in hindsight, probably would have a few weeks ago. Sea snails and mystery meat (according to my sister, "it is like the frog, but not frog"). They were really good. I also got lamb for the first time since I've been here, and it was delicious. Yum.

Today, we had our characters test. I studied hard all weekend, and I got all of them. Now I need to learn two new sections for tomorrow. I think I have about 25 characters that I don't know. I worked on them during the movie. Today it was the new Karate Kid, with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. We haven't gotten far, but it's pretty good. Very fun. If you want to know about my experience in China, watch the first twenty minutes of that movie. It is so accurate! I have a new appreciation for it. After this, we're going to have a photo scavenger hunt. We'll be split into teams, and the lists are all in characters. I don't know my team yet, but I know I'm not with Mikaela, Paul, or Julie Ann, all of whom I wanted in my group. Oh well. I guess I'll deal. It should be fun either way. And on Thursday we're headed down to Shanghai for the World Expo! I'm so excited. More tomorrow! Zai jian.

Posted by MAx1992 21:31 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

American Culture

Journey, the Star-Spangled Banner, and a Pledge without a flag

overcast 94 °F

We had another cultural presentation yesterday. We had to change it because of how little space there was. The room was tiny! And they tried to cram about fifty people in. We did the Pledge of Allegiance, but Paul had forgotten the flag, so we just kind of pledged to the wall. We also sang the national anthem and our own rendition of "Don't Stop Believing," and taught the YMCA. And, of course, Joseph did the Thriller dance. It was pretty funny. We had planned to do the Tai Chi that we learned, but there wasn't even close to enough space. There were people there who did other things. The Korean kids did their national anthem and a dance to some songs that were in English, but I didn't recognize. A woman sang Peking Opera, two girls played erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument. A man carved some fruits and gave them to Holli and Chloe, Julie Ann received a Chinese painting, and I got a calligraphy scroll, which is much nicer than the ones I made. Throughout the presentation, people were bringing their children over to American students and having them take pictures together. I got three or four little girls. One sat next to me and talked to me throughot the presentation. She was very shy, but I think that her fascination with me beat that out.

After that, since we got done two hours before we usually end and were released, we went back over to the shopping mall where we get to haggle. Mikaela got a shirt down from 190 yuan to 50. She probably could have gone lower, but I figured that that was still an achievement. Most of that time I was with Mikaela and Julie Ann because everyone else wandered around for a bit and then went back to H&M, but we stayed. I got a few gifts for people and a cool tea mug for myself (it's got a thing in it to hold the tea leaves that you can then take out and have the tea). I liked it a lot. We all headed home at about 5:30. Mikaela and I took the bus together, but since Chloe had gone to H&M, she wasn't with us. When I got home, only my host grandparents were there. I talked to them just a little bit, since they don't speak English and I can't hold much of a conversation in Chinese. About twenty minutes later, my sister walked in on the phone and asked me if Chloe had taken the bus with me. I said no and explained why, and she said, "Oh, okay," and went back to her rather intense-sounding conversation. I didn't think much of it because I've realized that if Chinese people sound angry or worried or something, it's just because they're excited. Amercans can easily mistake their emotions. It's just a cultural difference. When she hung up, I thought about it and asked why she had wanted to know. She said that Chloe hadn't gotten home yet. I was surprised, so I called some of the people that she had been with to see if she had left. The problem with reaching Chloe is that she used up all of the money on her phone and hasn't refilled it yet, so it doesn't work. It turned out that she had left nearly an hour before. I got really worried, because I knew that she could get to the bus from where they were and that it shouldn't have taken her more than forty-five minutes. My family sat down to dinner, and I waited for a call from Chloe's sister. After dinner, my family took me out to Metro, which is kind of like Costco. By the time we got there, Chloe had been missing for two hours and I was getting seriously concerned. Then my phone rang and I saw a number that I didn't recognize. I answered and it was Chloe calling me from her sister's phone. It turned out that she had gotten home right after her sister called mine, but her sister had forgotten to call mine back and say that she was home. It was quite a fiasco. Chloe is going to refill her phone today.

This morning we had a test on characters. The problem is that we've been learning words, but not focusing on characters and we were told last night that we had a test on forty of them today. I didn't know more than maybe fifteen. I learned as many as I could last night, but I just can't learn that many characters in such a short time. Most of the class had the same problem. We have to make it up next week. I knew the pinyin for all of the words, but that wasn't enough. I've been studying them hard since that announcement, even though he turned on "Roman Holiday" with Audrery Hepburn. As I pointed out to Chloe, that's why everyone failed. I'm enjoying the movie, but I focused on my studying. The teacher also said that we're going to have a test on about forty characters a day next week. Again, I don't know any of them. I'm really frustrated at the unreasonable expectation that puts on us. I'm okay with high expectations, but when I don't have free time where I can study until 8:30 or so, I don't have time to learn that many characters. The best way would be to learn 5 or 10 a night, so that I really learn them and I don't get them mixed up. But this way I feel like I'm being set up to fail. Of course, since I feel that way, I absolutely refuse to fail. Maybe it'll work out this time. We'll see. I'm really working on characters now. I hope it improves. Maybe the fact that we're all fighting for a passing grade on a test and we're studying the characters, we'll remember the words better. Then at least I'll have words. No grammar yet, but words are better than nothing.

Since it's Friday, that's it for the weekend. I don't think I have anything else to add.

Zai jian!

Posted by MAx1992 21:37 Archived in China Tagged educational Comments (1)

Pictures are free, admission is not

An outing

overcast 93 °F

Yesterday afternoon we were let out of classes early. A few people went shopping, but Julie Ann, Mikaela, and I went over to Tian Ning Temple, which is just a few blocks away from the school but we hadn't visited yet. It's a beautiful temple, and it's huge. So we took our camaras and went on a little excursion. When we arrived, however, we realized that we had to pay to get in. We were too cheap to actually want to pay the price of admission (even though we had our wallets and it's China, so everything is inexpensive), so we wandered around it, passively looking for side doors in the surrounding walls, but actively looking for good places to take pictures of the temple over the walls. What we ended up finding was a park that we (or at least I) didn't know about. It is just on the other side of the temple. It's really pretty, and it had a lot of really picturesque spots that we took advantage of. The other thing we took advantage of was the fact that if you stood on the benches near the fence, you could get some pretty cool pictures of Tian Ning. We continued on around the park and found a bridge, which, in some places, provides an excellent place to stand to take pictures with Tian Ning. We had a lot of fun. While we were goofing off on the bridge and taking clever, artsy pictures, a woman approached me with her little girl (who must have been three or four) and had me take a picture with them. Mikaela took one on her own camara, too. It was really funny. At first the mom wanted me to hold the girl, but she wasn't having any of that, so she held her and stood next to me. I truly think I understand how movie stars feel now.

After we got through the park, we headed over to Starbucks, where Mikaela and I were meeting the others so that we could go out to dinner and go do karaoke (Julie Ann and one of our two Christinas didn't come because they were doing things with their families). On our way over, we walked past a bank, which had a glass box in front of it. The glass box had doors and inside of it was a guard standing at attention. Julie Ann saw it first and elbowed me and pointed, and Mikaela and I stared. In an attempt to stay subtle, we continued walking and held in our laughter until we were out of sight. As soon as we were, though, Mikaela said, "In emergency, break glass!" We couldn't resist it anymore, and we agreed that we needed pictures. So we went back and realized that he had left the box. We were upset, so we waited for a little while, pretending to take pictures of the surrounding buildings. Just as we were about to leave, he returned to his original position, and we got the pictures. As we walked away, Julie Ann said, "Wait half a block, then we can high-five." It was quite the adventure. I realized during this excursion that I wasn't used to being a tourist here. I've gotten very used to being a local, albeit a white local. It was really weird to be taking pictures of things and acting like a tourist. But it was a lot of fun, and quite worth the wonderful pictures that we got.

When we arrived at Starbucks, Julie Ann took her leave and the rest of us went out to dinner and then to KTV, which is a karaoke chain throughout China that a lot of people go to. High school students on the rare occasion that they have time, college students, and, of course, visitors. It was a lot of fun, but there isn't a whole lot to tell. We sang songs. When I got home, which was at just after nine, Cynthia was still up and we had another one of our interesting conversations, this time about our favorite subjects and what makes a good teacher so good. It's so fun to chat with her. She has a lot of good insights. I wish my Chinese was better, because I feel like she could tell me so much more if she could speak in her native language. Although, I'm sure that that's true of a lot of people and their second language. I'll have to find out what we're going to do this weekend, since I have all of Saturday with my host family.

Our Chinese classes haven't improved too much. I'm spending more of my own time on memorizing the words that get thrown at me during class, but as Paul pointed out, we aren't learning grammar. "I know what the word means, I can say the word, I can write the word, but that doesn't do me any good if I don't know how to use the word," was his way of putting it. I really hope that I can enroll in a Chinese class when I get home. I think I've learned enough to have a bit of a leg up, and this experience, while most beneficial in other ways, can certainly have linguistic benefits for me if I can supplement it shortly after I get home. I'll have to see how that works out. With any luck, I'll manage to make the most out of it. I'd like to think I'm pretty good at that.

Posted by MAx1992 21:33 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

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