A Warm Welcome             Sorry, again, that this posting

Aside

A Warm Welcome

 

            Sorry, again, that this posting is late. Chengdu was uneventful at the beginning of this period because I fell ill. But after that it picked up pace.

            So as I said, I fell ill so I spent the first week, the beginning of our spring break, laying around my room eating noodles and blowing my nose, whereas a lot of my classmates went out and about in Chengdu. Some students even went elsewhere; Beijing, Korea, Sichuan Bana, and even Cambodia. Before I got better, Nancy, Tong, and I went up to Jiuzhaigou for our vacation. Both my roommates had gone before and they described these beautiful clear lakes and waterfalls that just entranced us. So the three of us decided to go.

            The bus left at 7:30 am on Tuesday and for the first hour we saw nothing but city scape. Then suddenly mountains sprang from the horizon and for the remaining eight hours we drove through Sichuan mountains. I was the only person awake for the whole thing, mostly because I was the only goon who’d never seen snow-capped mountains and didn’t know how to contain myself. ImageOur driver had scheduled stops, but he stopped nearly every two hours and at each stop someone met him at his door with a cigarette. China doesn’t care about side effects of cigarettes, they smoke them everywhere; even the plumber lit up waiting for me to pay him! It’s my apartment, don’t smoke! Anyway, we arrived at the park at around 5:00pm and began looking for a place to stay. We had a list of about four, the first one we visited was definitely not what they advertised on the website. The area we were in was under construction and there was an ten foot hole in the front of the building…. we moved to the next one on the list.

            That hostel still felt a little unnerving… Not because of the location, or the inside quality, but because there were swastikas plastered everywhere. It took a random encounter with an Australian to finally understand why. Jiuzhaigou is largely a Tibetan settlement and that particular symbol means ‘purity’ in Tibetan. Hitler actually ripped this off and used the symbol in his war. So, in a way, they were swastikas, just in the original form without all the negative connotations. 

            The next day we set off early to visit the park. We only had one day before we left and everyone suggests two days. We chose to hike along the east side because there were more lakes and waterfalls to be seen. Naturally, as foreigners we are usually gawked at, but I’ve never experienced it like Jiuzhaigou. Not a lot of foreigners go there… actually we probably met all of them; Nancy, Tong, Australian, the couple from the bus, and me. I was definitely the most different looking. Everyone else in that list has dark hair, I’m as blond as snow is white. As soon as we entered the park, I felt all eyes fall on me. Before we got on the bus to go to the fist waterfall (Approx. 3miles from entrance) people were leaning over the side rails. At the first stop, I began to understand, this was going to be a long day. I was pulled aside for nearly five minutes, before my friends got tired and began to move on. I had to run after them! Because we don’t know what we were doing, we missed the next bus and were on the wrong side of the lake for the hiking trail, so we walked along the road and even jumped the barrier into the valley. No one was there to stop us…

            After many minutes of hiking we came across the second waterfall, one you could only get to by hiking! And a little while later we finally came across our first lake. Clear blue water surrounded by mountains. The view was spectacular. The further and further we walked into the park, the deeper the lakes and the more elaborate the waterfalls.

Image

            The next morning we boarded our bus for the return journey. The park had just received a thick layer of snow and the longer we were on the bus, the more and more snow we saw. However, at about the third or fourth hour the snow vanished and we were left with just the view of the mountains.

            That following week I did nothing. Studied a little and sat down to write this; however, I was stuck with a bad case of writers block so everything I did manage to write was very bland and only factual. “I was sick, but when to Jiuzhaigou. It was pretty.”  After a week of class I sat down on Saturday, around 8 am, to see if I’d overcome my block. I was just settling down with breakfast when my room began to shake, violently. I hit the floor trying to remember the ‘triangle of safety’ I read about before leaving and waited. It felt like thirty seconds but everyone keeps telling me the quake continued for five. Only a few things knocked over; my dresser mirror, a glass bottle I have in my window, and my empty water bottle. As soon as the room stopped shaking, I saw people evacuating the building so I joined them outside. Clearly the early quake woke a lot of people because most men had come out in their ‘tighty-whities’ but women were all dressed, not wanting to go outside looking indecent I suspect. Most people on the way down didn’t even lock the door behind them. I met up with a few of my peers and we waited for the aftershocks to stop. After about three hours we deemed it okay to go back inside.

             I found out that we had a 6.6 magnitude quake with the epicenter in Ya’an which is about two hours south of the city, their casualties and damage are much worse than Chengdu’s. So far I believe the fatalities are around 160 and injured 5,000. I’ve heard we’ve had somewhere around 2,000 aftershocks which means it almost always feels like we’re in an idling car, with a few strong enough to shake the building.

            As this is my first earthquake, I was and am still very unsure what to do. That weekend I spent most of my time outside reading. The Hunger Games actually. I found it helped curb my anxiety. In addition to all this, this week has been nicknamed “presentation week.’ All my classes with a presentation are having them this week, so I’ve been a ‘little’ preoccupied.

Aside

Queer Lodgings

 Image

            Sorry for posting so late, these last three weeks were more eventful then I thought they’d be. Starting two weeks ago, life was uneventful so I began personally debating my opinion of pollution. Smog is ever prevalent in China and one of the biggest concerns I hear foreigners discuss. But how can we discuss this matter without thinking of our own history involving pollution? The only difference now is that we can measure and report the levels. It’s just a discussion point. One of those topics that there is no black and white answer. Should modernizing countries know better now that science has shown us the result of pollution and thus stunt their growth because they cannot afford “green” items? And should countries that have already modernized to the point that they no longer need to pollute and can afford “green” items, condemn others? Is the environment more important then mankind?

            Anyway, my biology lab finally allowed me to work in the lab which was the result of a painful discussion about culture. In America if we do not honestly believe that someone can contribute, we tell them. In China they hate to say no, so they say yes. For the last few weeks I’ve been reporting to the lab only to be told there was nothing to do and I was beginning to feel like I was wasting my time. I didn’t want to bring this up because I didn’t want to insult anyone and didn’t want their efforts to include me to be in vain. However, I eventually reached my limit and had to say something. It was the most delicate conversation I think I’ve ever had; how to express my feelings without showing frustration to my partner’s culture. I’m just so use to my culture being so straight-forward that the passive discussions I’ve had with locals sometimes feels like we talk in circles. However, after our discussion I think I understand how he thinks and how to express my opinion.

            After our first day in the lab my partner took me and his peer out to eat at a local restaurant. They both have been living in Chengdu for several years and are therefore much more use to the spicy food, so he ordered dishes that he didn’t think were too spicy but because I’m an inexperienced foreigner, I ate the wrong part of the dish. They add some vegetable that actually absorbed excess spice so that the meat (the part you’re suppose to eat) isn’t extremely spicy. I ate the vegetable. At first it was fine so I kept eating it, but after a few minutes the spice began to burn. I could feel my face grow hot and every time I tried to cut it with a different piece of food it only burned more. I sat back, let it burn out, and at one point teared up and my partner asked if I was okay. Nothing will ever be as spicy as that dish.

            In addition, I finally found the answer: Since Americans have the expression ‘digging to China,’ does China have the expression ‘digging to America?’ Sadly, no, they do not.

            The next week we also had a USAC Shanghai student visit out humble city. Just the one student… Apparently Shanghai students didn’t want to see Chengdu, but I believe this girl had quite a lot of fun. She accompanied us to Leshan and Emei Shan, she held a baby panda, and went to the Sichuan Show! On Wednesday we all went out to see the Sichuan Show which featured traditional Beijing opera, Sichuan dance, traditional disappearing masks, and many other forms of performing arts including shadow hand puppets. But I want to focus on the disappearing masks. Now, the performance was mostly on stage, but at the end two performers came out into the Imageaudience and began to shake people’s hands. He eventually got to me, shook my hand, shook my neighbor’s hand, and returned to me. He pointed for me to touch his forehead where a slightly darker strip stood out. As soon as I touched it, his mask disappeared and I was staring right into his face!!

            Once the weekend rolled around I needed a break from not only the city but from my homework. Thankfully USAC had already planned out a trip to Mt. Emei and Leshan. These two locations are about two hours out of the city. I never thought air could smell so sweet! As we drove through the countryside I finally got my glimpse of China’s farmland and the view was spectacular! So beautiful I wish I could have de-bussed and taken pictures of everything. Every few feet we would come across something new but because of the trees and traffic I hardly got any pictures to show. As it seemed, Chinese farms do not have the same combines and tractors that we do back in the States, so villages all worked together to tend the crops. I even saw a few water buffalo working!

Image

            Leshan was our first stop of the weekend. We all gathered on a boat and floated out to see the big Buddha carved into the side of Leshan. As impressive as he was we were only there for a short period of time to take pictures before we set off to Emei Shan. Emei Shan is known for its Buddhist monasteries, beautiful scenery, monkeys, and stairs. So many stairs. When we arrived we hiked a little way up the mountain to two different monasteries. That day wasn’t too bad. The next our goal was to simply wander. Several of us decided to take the cable car up to the first low peak and the view was spectacular! However, we still had to climb stairs, so many stairs. We all rendezvous at a restaurant for lunch and from there we had the option of climbing higher to see the moneys. Three of us had a fear of moneys, especially since there were so many ‘rules’ about seeing them that we decided not to go. The Emei Shan monkeys are not afraid of people and actually bully them into giving them food. If they find a person they don’t like they will bite, sometimes the leader will lead an attack, and sometimes they just jump onto your shoulder without warning! They take your things too! Our director told us that if the monkey doesn’t like you, they some times take something of yours and destroy it. Like your camera! They make eye contact with you and then drop it off the suicide cliff. Those jerks.

            So then the three of us slowly took our time climbing down the mountain, enjoying each other’s company and the view. We passed several waterfalls and followed the crystal clear river down stream. At one point we decided to jump to the other side of the river and sit with our feet in the water; however, the water was freezing! So we jumped back to the sidewalk, except, one girl was afraid to because the sidewalk was higher than the ledge. This chaos ended up attracting a crowd. People were laying down their walking sticks for her to walk across, lending her a hand to encourage her across the stream, and eventually she rounded up enough courage to leap across. YEAH!

            Now, last week we had our second round of final tests, but on the side of good news, my gate guard who has been determined to have a conversation with me, finally had one :) My chinese is indeed improving. Yay for having four semesters of class in one!

Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire

2013 03 08_1255_edited-1These last couple of weeks have been a blur; spring festival, finals, a job interview, a short break, and back at it. Spring festivities went on for over two weeks ending in the lantern festival. For the lantern festival we headed down to the river after filling our bellies at Pizza Hut. The lake was beautiful; trees lit up with lights, buildings and fireworks glittering back on the smooth river which carried paper lilies with candles, people lighting lanterns and releasing them into the sky. It was like that scene in Tangled were people light the lanterns, but not so serene. Actually, those lanterns were illegal where we were, so people had to do it in secret before the cops saw them. In one case the police snatched it out of the sky and stomped out the fire. Another person was carried away by police. Literally, one cop on each limb as his mother cried/screamed in the background. Later that night when we finally made it home, fireworks shot off into the night until dawn.
As for the job interview, that fell on the inconvenient week of finals, yes, finals already. We are fitting two semesters (two years for me) into one semester of Chinese, so regular tests = finals. The interview was at the Chengdu Institute for Biology doing research on alternative uses of Duckweed. The whole process has waked me up to Chinese culture and navigating the confusing labyrinth of conversation. So far, I’ve found it interesting but now I’m really busy, 18 credits and now a job… we’ll see how this ends….
Last week was mostly just me being busy running between the job and school, but on Thursday my art class went to two museums. One largely centered around historic artifacts and the other around the ancient craft of shu embroidery and brocade. I loved the later of the museums, but what I thought was the most amazing part was how much the final pieces cost. One was worth the same as my parent’s house! Honestly, I think they just ran out of space on the tag and started using 9’s ($99,999). That’s not even in Chinese currency!
I mentioned in my last post that vegetables are really cheap and easy to get here, so my diet has been mostly fruit and veggies with the occasional side of noodles or rice. As a result, my pants are too loose. As a curvy Scandinavian woman there aren’t a lot of pants here that fit me. Pants vary between American sizes 00-4, with the occasional 6. I figured I’d go to H&M because they’re a European store that would maybe have my size. Out of all of their pants I found two pairs that fit.
Despite not fitting in most Chinese pants, Chinese people are always an ego booster. Although I don’t speak Chinese very well yet, I do hear “Your Chinese is great!” or “You’re very pretty” on a daily basis. Thank you, China.

Riddles in the Dark

Riddles in the Dark 

 

Sorry for the delay. I am unable to get to this website from China and therefore need to find ways to get around the “Great” Firewall. 

 

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about culture lately. The word sounds so solid, so easy to understand; but when it actually comes down to talking about it and experiencing it, it becomes liquid. The differences between two people comes down to preference, experiences, and environment. But is that all that culture is? Is culture individual? Although I claim to be an American, more specifically I am North Dakotan. There are smaller cultures within the “American” culture. For instance; both my roommates are from two different states and neither of them thought I might be a little taken aback when they didn’t wait for me after our class to walk home together, something I know to just be…polite. It sounds small, but it’s kind of like the “North Dakota good-bye.” As one of my out-of-state friends pointed out, most people in North Dakota have really long goodbyes. Also, we talk about the weather a lot. Even here in China I find myself talking about the weather more often then my peers. 

 

So is culture tradition? Or is tradition part of culture? What specifically is tradition? Is it habit? Is it individual to each person or family? Is it tradition that people in North Dakota wait for each other, or is it habit? Is eating lefse a preference, tradition, or culture? Can culture ever be defined? 

 

In addition, my homesickness is starting to sink in. I do miss being around people who understand some of the small things that make me “North Dakotan.” To not always have someone, or anyone really, to practice these North Dakota traditions with. At least before our spring break, there is one professor who will be visiting with the Shanghai students who is from Minnesota. He and I hit it off in Shanghai. We sat at the same family-style table of about ten people, talking about Hockey! We teased each other about it: he’s a Gopher fan. The other people at the table seemed so confused at our conversation; like they’ve never heard two people go on about their hometowns, weather, family traditions, lefse, ect. 

 

Saturday 6:30 pm: after Huanglongxi Ancient Town 

 

Things in China have been good. This week I’ve been very lazy but found a new place to go shopping. It is, however, filled with western stores like Gap, H&M, and Subway. Everyone here says they’re import prices; which means they are more expensive than other stores in China, but the same as they would be the States. 

Today we went to Huanglongxi, Ancient Town, which is kind of the equivalent to our Renaissance Festivals, but with more flashy kid toys. In several places there were ‘minstrels’ competing with Beyonce in the background, people selling goods, and tourists wearing ancient clothes for pictures. Overall though, despite the tourist trap, it was really nice to get out of the city and breath fresh air. 

 

 

Wednesday 2:30 pm: Well this sucks 

 

I’m sick. Mostly it’s a sore throat and all I want is soup. But I have to leave the apartment to get soup and the farthest I want to walk is to the kitchen and back. Outside people stare at me regardless if I look awesome or like I haven’t showered and my hair is sticking out at odd angles. I now understand why famous people are cranky when people stare at them. 

 

Sunday 11:00 pm: The day after Chinese New Year 

 

Oh boy, Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year is most certainly not like American New Year, it varies in basically every factor. Chinese New Year has the family orientation of Christmas, with the fireworks of the 4th of July. Before, I’ve heard rumor that if one has Traumatic Stress or is nervous around the sound of gun shots, don’t go to Chinese New Year. I now understand. The whole city sounds like a battlefield! Also, there are no regulations on fireworks in city limits so some people end up shooting them out their window! 

 

A lot of the festivities didn’t start until dark so I spent the morning Skyping and then headed over to Jinli street for the lantern festival. It was amazing! I’ve never seen so many lights. It was the middle of the night and I could see as though it was noon. Lanterns above, figures lighting the sides, and trees lit up with flower lights! In the center of the festival was a small pond that glowed with reflections. 

 

Apart form the lights, Jinli had venders selling souvenirs and candies! We had a skewer of sugar covered strawberries, nut bars, and cotton candy made in whichever design we ordered. There were performances every two hours on the stage showcasing several different cultures including Russian, Tibetan, and Hispanic! 

 

 

After Jinli street we went back to the dorms and got coerced into going out and shooting off fireworks. 

 

As we approached midnight the fireworks became more and more rampant, and at midnight they peaked! Festivities were slowing down by 1am and that’s when we headed back to the apartments. In the middle of my street were large firework boxes that must have released quite the sound and show. The sidewalk was littered with firework remains. Fireworks continued going off into the early hours of the morning, but as for what time they stopped I couldn’t say, I finally fell asleep at 3am.

 

Happy Year of the Snake! 

Over Hill and Under Hill

Monday 7:00

Last week we started classes and I can’t believe in the matter of a week we have covered what it would take my UND class over half a semester. We are moving at lightning speed and need to memorize over 15 characters a night just to keep up. Every day we start class with a dictation quiz, so we always need to be ready. We have class three times a week for three hours each, totally nine hours of class time. We don’t really go over the characters (that’s independent study), but we focus on new grammar and listening/speaking. Nearly every class we spend the last hour only speaking Chinese in a very informal but interview like setting. Professor Song asks us questions and we’re to answer them with our own experience and with the grammar points.

On Saturday we went out to the Panda Research Base which was amazing!

 Image

Just as we arrived it was feeding time, so all the pandas were out and visible. Unfortunately it was cloudy and hard for me to get a crisp, clean picture. Also, unfortunately, I earned myself a reputation for getting lost. I wondered away form the group because I wanted to see the Red Panda nursery which turned out to be really cool, but also really hard to find. 

Image

I ended up finding it just half an hour before we were to meet up. I knew the way back from where I entered, but got turned around in the nursery and ended up on the way wrong side of the research center. I figured out where I was five minutes before we were to meet up, I was at least a twenty minute walk from the front. Thankfully the USAC group waited for me, some grudgingly, but waiting nonetheless.

Afterword we had lunch and a city tour. I finally bought my first Chinese souvenir, I even attempted at bartering! I failed, but I still think the price was reasonable, $13. I’ll get better eventually. I mean, I have too, we’re going to the Antiques and Art street soon and they barter like it’s their job!

That night we celebrated Tyler’s 21st birthday. I went to his apartment and tried his 13 year old whiskey he brought from home, but when they started getting ready to hit up the bars and clubs, I wished them goodnight. I’m not yet comfortable walking around Chengdu sober, let alone when I and everyone I’m with are drunk. It was fortunate I went home. One of the girls kind of knew the bartender and the he gave them a round of free drinks. As it turns out, liqueur is also one of the knock-offs here. When you’re not carful bartenders will give you some homemade stuff that can be downright lethal. In one story our directer told us, a bar was giving out drinks made with rat poison. However beer is 99% of the time legitimately beer. That night these guys were not drinking beer, they might have been drinking rat poison though because most of them were not in school two days later.

On Sunday my roommate Anna showed me where to get some groceries. I can mostly get essentials at the market just down the street, or fruit and veggies from the street venders.

 Image

It’s surprising to find out what US brands have here. For instance, Oreo is huge! There’s the original cookie in vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, I’ve even heard of lime and cake. Also it comes in wafers, cookie straws, and soft cookies. At nearly every market I’ve been to, a good portion of shelving is used for Oreos. And odd, obscure flavors of Lay’s chips. There’s one labeled Hot and Numbing Pepper Lay’s chips. KFC is also everywhere, along with Starbucks. It’s good to know whenever I’m missing home that KFC is within walking distance. 

Now that I don’t have the distraction of TV or Netflix, I’m focusing more on studying Chinese and even writing. I suppose I could get a subscription to a stronger VPN, but they are sometimes unreliable and you have to pay for them. Well, with UND’s I have access to facebook and pinterest and that’s all that really counts, right?

Little by little I’m seeing what is accepted in America vs. China, and even what I’m personally comfortable with. How food is presented was a big one, how things are purchased was the next, and overall manners. Food is largely presented in family style on a lazy-susan, the one who is paying sits in a certain spot, and arguments on who is paying usually involve people wanting to pay. In America when you are shopping you are able to putz around with little attention from the shopkeeper and buy the thing for the labeled price. Here, the shopkeeper is very attentive, making you feel like you have to buy something, and then you barter. This difference is a little unnerving for me and makes shopping a little stressful. However, some of my fellow students absolutely love it. It’s like gambling. You bluff, say it’s too expensive, say I don’t have that much money money, walk away, and then the shopkeeper comes to you. Overall manners are different. We were always taught “It’s not polite to stare” and “stand in a straight line.” Here, when we went to a Tibetan restaurant we sat near the picture window and there gathered a bunch of Tibetans and Chinese alike. Nothing is in a uniform manner except nature which is oddly very uniform and controlled in China; people on the other hand crowed around and even budge in line. Even some behavioral things are different like people approaching us because we obviously speak English, and simply wanting to try out their English. Sometimes though said person wants our phone number and address so we can meet up. I understand they want to practice English, but I’m still skittish to give out my information to someone I met five minutes ago. It’s just interesting to notice these differences; I’m just not sure yet what to make of them.

 

Friday 6:00 pm: The end of week two in Chengdu

Sorry everyone in North Dakota, I’ve heard you’ve had a rough week. Here in Chengdu we’ve had abnormally warm, sunny weather. Mostly I’ve spent my time wondering around campus, enjoying the weather, and buying fruit. I also found a street vender who sold Harry Potter books in Chinese. I got the last book for a dollar, my roommate got the first for $0.30. Speaking of which, Harry Potter has been helping me fight off homesickness. I’ve taken a hiatus from HP for various reasons, but now I find it comforting. Even Harry in music form (A Very Potter Musical) does the trick! Maybe it’s my lake of TV / English movies / Netflix talking, but I think I’ll be watching more of HP.

 

Saturday 7:00 pm: after a day of shopping

I think I hate bargain shopping. Scratch that, I really hate bargain shopping. My roommates and I went to a mass bargain market with the aim to buy shoes. The place was packed! It was just like crazy Black Friday shopping. I couldn’t get through anywhere without shoving someone, I even think I knocked someone over. As we wondered through the area, I noticed that the same product kept repeating itself, each vender had the same shoes as the other, the same t-shirts, pants, and jackets. It was just the same products displayed in different areas. 

However the non-bargain markets are less crowded, you just end up paying a little more. I think I kind of prefer that even if I’m paying more, at least I don’t have someone shoving me in order to get to the other items.

Tonight we’re staying in, eating pizza, and watching Les Miserables. Poor Ann Hathaway is making me cry.  

 

A Short Rest

 

Sat. 4:00 pm: 3 hours until my flight to Newark, NJ:

 

I hate flying. I have obsessively unpacked, checked TSA regulations, checked my flight status, repacked, Skyped with my mom, and now all I can do is wait.

 

Sat. 10:30/11:30 pm: Arrival at Newark, NJ:

 

YEAH, that part is over! Now, in order to get use to China-time I’m staying up all night. China is 14 hrs ahead of our time. So, as I get on the plane at 10am, it is midnight in China. Then, once we are in the air, I plan to sleep for the first 8 hours.

 

Sun 6:30 am: Meanwhile, back in Newark, NJ:

 

Well that was a weird night. I made my goal of staying up all night, well at least until 5:00am when I finally passed out.

Anyway, On my flight here I sat by this ‘nook couple’ who simply read their nooks the whole way. Not a very chatty bunch, but pleasant nonetheless. So at Newark I found my terminal and started to nest in for the night. Shortly after midnight this official who I’d seen driving around the concourse stopped and said they had a few extra rooms reserved at the Crowne Plaza, where they set up first-class flyers. I accepted it hesitantly, it seemed too good to be true. One room, already paid, I’m exhausted. If it hadn’t been for the ‘nook couple‘ walking up and also receiving a free room I probably wouldn’t have done anything.

The couple and I followed the officials directions to the shuttle pickup, probably looking like two grandparents and their grandchild, but the shuttle never arrived. I was giving up hope that this place existed, but everyone assured us the shuttle would arrive. Finally, this one driver who’d seen us waiting said he’d drop us off there.

The ‘nook couple’ and I parted ways once we got to Crowne Plaza, from there my night finally became calm. I watched several TV shows to keep awake, re-packed my carry on (not that I changed anything), showered, and eventually took a nap. Since it took me and the ‘nook couple’ over an hour to get to Crowne Plaza, I decided to leave for the airport early. About two and a half hours early because now I had to re-check my carry on. I finished all of this in half an hour. Now I’m wishing I slept more, but I really should leave that for the plane ride.

Since I have all this time I ran around trying to look for free, safe wifi, but turned out unsuccessful. Hopefully there is some on the plane so I can update everyone; I’m fine :)

 

Sun 10:00pm (North Dakota time)/ Mon 12:00pm (China time): On the flight to Shanghai, China

 

I’m officially tired of flying and just want to land. I’ve been on this plane for 12 hours and I’m starting to loose it! I’ve barely slept so I’ve been up for like two days. The ride has gone progressively like this:

 

1st hour: Yeah, I’ll snuggle in watch some “How I Met Your Mother” and fall right asleep.

 

2nd hour: “Miss do you want chicken or beef”

“Zzzzz…”

“Miss, Miss”

“Huh?”

“Chicken or beef?”

“What?”

 

5th hour: I just want to go back to sleep, why can’t I sleep?

 

6th hour: Oh, they have Brave.

 

8th hour: That’s right, I packed dramamine!

 

9th hour: ZZZZZzzzz

 

11th hour: I WANT OFF THIS PLANE! what I still have four hours left! AHHH

 

12th hour: Please land.

 

Tue 9:00 pm: After my first day in Shanghai

 

Wow. So yesterday I flew in at around 3pm and took a taxi to my hotel. Nothing makes you feel like you don’t know the language like a fast talking taxi driver. I told him I don’t speak much Chinese, but he kept going… Okay…

By the time I got to my room I had enough energy to get into bed. After that I remember having to let my roommate in who I accidentally padlocked out. Then I went back to bed and slept for 12 hours!

At 8am we started the tour of Shanghai. First we went to the Bund, a harbor that was quickly modernized by the western world. It felt nice to breath in some of the fresh air. After that we went to Yuyuan Garden, which was conveniently located by a shopping center. I didn’t buy anything; something about shouting and people pressuring me to buy things makes me run away. Instead I wandered around the garden. It was nice and traditional; however it was quite the maze.

 Image

After that, we were treated to a dumpling restaurant where the dumplings had some sort of soup in them. I was so full I could hardly move!

Then, we went to Pearl Tower, the tallest building in Shanghai, were they had a museum on the lower levels. We rested for a little while and then had supper with the USAC Shanghai students and ate like KINGS! While we were still digesting we walked over to the Shanghai Circus Center and watched an acrobat show! Overall it was a very good day, and as I read back through these entries, I can hardly believe three days have passed (remember I skipped a day due to the time change).

 

Thurs 11:45 pm: Whow

Okay, so the last two days have been intense. We went to Hangzhou, a very rich, very posh neighborhood about 2 hours outside of Shanghai. We went to West Lake and wandered around this very beautiful scene on the lake. From there we took a boat to the pavilion on the hill. The scene from atop the pavilion was amazing; rolling hills, the lake, the trees, the other pavilions, and the city on the shore.

Image

Inside were paintings and carvings of the story; the white snake goddess trained for years to turn herself into a human because she fell in love with a man. She succeeded and they loved each other; however, another god found out and locked her away in the pavilion. There she gave birth to a son and sent him away. He eventually came back and broke the spell binding her there. Underneath the new pavilion are the ruins of the old one, which just makes this story a little more heartwarming.

The hotel we stayed at was also quite posh, but so… splendid. The bed was large and soft I fell asleep as soon as I laid down at 7pm, the shower had a head that made it feel like it was raining and made me feel like an etherial princess, the continental breakfast, oh the breakfast had everything and then some! I was actually sad to leave this hotel, part of me just wants to go back and live there.

We went to the silk museum and saw the process of silk making. There were things for sale, 100% Chinese silk, but it was all really expensive. I was looking at these beautiful scarves but they were going for 315 , $50 each. I’ve been promised that I can still find 100% Chinese silk scarves in Chengdu so I passed, but boy were those scarves pretty and soft.

After an hour and half in the bus we arrived at Xitang water village, the filming site for a portion of Mission Impossible 3, something the town is very proud of. It is essentially the Venice of China. People live on the water with channels and rely on boats to get them around.

 Image

Once we arrived back in Shanghai we were free to move about as we wished, so I ended up going with some of the Shanghai students to the shopping center to get dinner. Afterwards we split into two groups: those going back to campus and those going out. I wanted to go back to campus, I’m tired and I really don’t want to deal will a bunch of drunk people I just met. However, as we found our train it was about to leave. The other two girls made it in time, I was just a second short. The subway took off and all of a sudden I was all alone in Shanghai, without a cell phone or emergency contacts even, all I knew was the name of my university in Chinese. Lucky though, I paid enough attention to kind-of understand how to get back. I made it back to my hotel without seeing the girls, I thought she motioned she’d met me at the next stop or the last stop and walk back to university, but I didn’t see them. I couldn’t text them so I headed back to university. I was sure they figured I’d figure it out.

I was about to go back to my room when I ran into two of my fellow Chengdu peers who were looking for alternative places to be because their roommates were on skype. I offered my room and we played some card games. They said some of the Shanghai students came over to look for me, I figured it was the girls because I got a little lost walking from the subway to university, but then they said it was the Australian guy and his friend. I was confused but shrugged it off. Later the two girls knocked on my door a little breathless but thankful to see I’d made it back. Apparently she motioned for me to stay, not reminding me to go five stops. So the girls looped around only to find I wasn’t there. I felt so bad that our calm, uneventful night turned out to be so stressful.

 

Friday 10:00 pm: Final day in Shanghai

Today we were given a free day. Right away during breakfast everyone was talking about what they wanted to do, and one guy piped up saying that he really just wanted to relax. After he said that I couldn’t agree more. We have been busy for the last four days, I’m tired. So he and I sat around talking, mostly about photography. Then we had a late lunch/early supper at a Korean place just down the street from the university. It was very confusing when they brought out a small stove, put it on our table, and set down a raw soup dish. We were warned not to eat Hot-pot for at least a week, and we were not sure if this was hot-pot. It followed the description we’d been given. They eventually figured out that we had no idea what we were doing or how long it needed to cook.

 

Sat 9:30 pm: Chengdu

We flew out of Shanghai and landed in Chengdu today. It took a long time to get into my apartment and by the time I brought everything in, it was time to meet back up to go to Carrfore. At Carrfore we were to buy the things we needed; bedding mostly. We had an hour and a half to buy it but we were all so confused about what sizes or what other necessities we needed. I had just enough time to run my new things up to my room before we all headed out to Supper. We were going for Tibetan food because we’re located in a very Tibetan area, but the restaurant we were planning on couldn’t fit everyone. So, we split into two groups. Man, I wish I would have stayed with the first group. We ended up at some hole-in-the-wall with faded fabric lining the walls. They gave us hot water with things floating in it that I knew was not tea. Needless to say I ate very little.

 

Monday 9:00 pm

Sunday was just mean but awfully amusing. We had three hours of orientation and then a tour of the campus.

Image

After a short break we rendezvoused at the lobby and were split into four groups of six for our scavenger hunt. The rules were: get to your location by using some means of public transport, get to the rendezvous point by five and win a dessert. My group didn’t make it til 6:30. We were to go to the people’s park, and it was amazing! Teenagers breakdancing looking like they were made of jello, middle-aged couples line dancing to “Butterfly (Where’s my Samurai).”

Image

Unfortunately we were on a schedule so we took some pictures and hot-tailed it out of there. We figured, according to the map we were given, we needed to go east. So we walked east. Too far east. About 45 minutes too far. We needed to get on bus 66, but at some point the bus disappeared. So we took another bus to bring us back to people’s park to find bus 66. We got on 66 and after about 6 stops realized it was going the wrong way. We took another bus to bring us back to people’s park to get on the right bus 66 going the right way. We made last place but won a basket of sympathy-nachos. As it turned out, the rendezvous point was a Western Tex-mex restaurant. Up until that point I had only eaten Chinese food, but for the first time I realized, I really just want some fries.

I forgot several things at Carrfore and ended up going to Trust-mart just down the street form the restaurant. I got the thickest, heaviest blanket I could because most rooms in China don’t have heating. Yeah, I may have 45 degree weather, but that’s outside and inside. My classroom is like a fridge, it so cold. But the worst part is trying to sleep in it. I had my under-armer, yoga pants, and sweat pants on, a sleep shirt, sweater, and sweater cardigan on, and I was still cold under my down comforter.

When we were done at Trust-mart, a branch of walmart (they had walmart written on their carts) we headed back on the bus. We gave the map and directions to one person who, as it turns out, left early. We started to go back by memory of what Wentao said. We got it kind of right. We eventually got where we needed to be, unfortunately I couldn’t remember exactly were my apartment was. Won helped me out, he was coming over to show me how to work my heater. So thankfully I got lost with someone to help me out. We got back to my place and turned the heater on. Such a beautiful thing, but so expensive to run.

To you in America, be thankful you have heating.

On Monday, today, classes started. Three hours of Chinese. We got through the whole first lesson, part 1 and 2!! Thankfully I’ve taken up to lesson 5 in this book because tonight and into tomorrow I would have to be learning 30 characters! Afterwords I was done for the day and finally had time to unpack. No more living out of a suitcase. Can’t say I’ll miss it.

 

Wednesday 6:00 pm

Fairly uneventful day yesterday. Had class, took pictures, got some fruit, had some roommate bonding time. Nothing really anything exciting. As I was taking pictures I was approached several times, mostly by Chinese wanting to practice some English. One sweet gentlemen was excited that I took pictures because he too liked photography, he even pulled out his Canon film camera to show me!

Image

Today I started with Chinese Conversation class, and for the majority of the class I was lost. We covered how to use /bi, than (a comparative), which I’ve already learned, twice. However, the way she was explaining it made me very confused. Maybe it was because she added another purpose to it, maybe it was because I couldn’t understand her train of thought, or maybe it was because she taught the entire class at a level 4 Chinese. I’m level 2. Either way I was lost. Some other level 2 students admitted they didn’t understand the concept but she would then just re-explain it in Chinese. I hate to say it, but my Chinese hasn’t gotten any better in the last 13 seconds.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow though, Chinese class and then I’m sitting in on ‘Art in China.’ I may end up dropping Conversation just to free up enough credits to take it. For my program we are only allowed to take up to 18 credits, I’m already at 17.

Roasted Mutton

I had to say some of my “see you later” ’s these last couple of weeks. It’s still strange to think I won’t be seeing everyone next semester; it’s beginning to make this whole ‘study abroad’ thing more real. Up until now I’ve been dealing mostly with ideas, numbers, dates, and pictures. Now I’m dealing with the more personal side. For my last night in Grand Forks, several of my friends and I went to the midnight premiere of “The Hobbit,” which actually has deeper meaning to me right now. Not only is it the prequel to the “Lord of the Rings,” one of my favorite epics, but it’s also the last outing I’ll have with my friends until I see them again in the fall. Although, there is a rumor of a reality-show like blog to keep me connected. In a larger sense, Bilbo and I can seriously relate to each other right now. We’re both going somewhere with people we don’t know, to some far-off place we’ve never been, and we’re both going to encounter dragons (mine will probably be less dangerous). It is this connection that sparked the theme of this blog.

As every other student who’s studied abroad I’ve hit that anxious/excited state. The emotion’s I’m feeling are intense, I’m just not sure which emotion it is!

Image

All of these. All at once.

Now that I’m done with finals and have all of this time off, I’ve been volunteering at the Red River Zoo more often; getting around and working out some of my excited energy.  Or, when I stay at home, I stress-clean; this at home method has been met with little objection from my mom. At this point I have nothing left to do but wait and pack; which, by the way, is seriously one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Because, naturally I need all of my clothes, books, shoes, movies, game-boards, cleaning supplies, a microwave… wait this seems familiar: . Yep, that’s about right. I have packed-unpacked-repacked-unpacked-repacked at least a dozen times, and I still feel like I’m bringing too much and yet not enough.

 In a week (a week to the day!) I will be boarding a plane. That’s a scary thought. I think I need to start taking dramamine…