Happy last day of November, everyone! Christmas is upon us and the thought of soon returning home is hovering overhead in a cloud of mixed feelings. There are real clouds in the sky, too: the greyish snow-filled kind.

See? Here is the weekend weather forecast:

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Yes. It’s cold.

And this isn’t even the “Feels Like…” temperature!

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This is post-snowball battle, maybe the most intense of my life. My hometown doesn’t have terribly cold weather; my with-snow experiences are few and muddy.

Left to right: Austin, Yale-student choir friend and the greatest whistler on the face of the Earth; Zhongzheng, Mongolian-Chinese but honorary 美籍华人; two snow-bunnies and a snow-soccer ball that we found someone had made; myself; and Ethan who goes to church with me on Sundays, really loves Sigur Ros, and has a magnificent fur hat.

(Photo by Colleen O’Connor)

Besides bundling up against the frigid weather and making sure to leave our socks on the radiator overnight, we have been very busy with extracurricular activities! There is always lots of studying Chinese, but here are some of the more interesting events of the last two weeks:

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Thanksgiving dinner at a fancy Chinese seafood buffet! Crab meat, pumpkin soup, and all the angel food cake, pudding, and tea that I could possibly hope for. It was so great to share dinner with my friends!

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Five friends and I also participated in Harbin Institute of Technology’s International Student Performance Night! My friends and I represented America through swing dancing to classic rock-and-roll (Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”).

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Two nights ago Zilu, Emily, Colleen and I went to a get a massage – about 10USD for an hour and a half. This was my first experience with Chinese medicine.

After changing clothes and shoes we did 泡脚 pàojiăo, a hot tea foot-soak. This was my favorite part because most of the massage was sort of painful. I don’t know about in the US, but here the massage was a lot of pushing pressure points and noisily slapping and rubbing muscles. It made me laugh. The man kept having to tell me, “放松! fàngsōng! Relax!”

At one point, the massuese took a small round object from his medicine kit. He lit the ball on fire, placed it in a glass jar, and proceeded to approach my exposed foot.

“哦?在干吗?! ó? zài gàn ma?! Ah! What are you doing?” I asked, alarmed.

“别动。 bíe dòng. Don’t move.”

That was the brusque reply as he popped the jar on my sole. The flame suffocated, taking all the oxygen with it and vaccuum-sealing the jar to the sensitive skin of my foot.

拔罐 báguàn Cupping, he explained, was a traditional Chinese medicinal practice to relieve tension. “Wind” gets into your skin, and the suction of cupping removes the “wind” and stops any aching – that’s according to my drills professor, who I asked later. I still don’t fully understand what that means, but it was certainly an experience!