Clothes Lines and Open Minds, by Hannah Garland

Tags

,

Clothes Lines and Open Minds

 Hannah Garland is studying in Qingdao, China on a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship.

“Hello, I would like to buy a long line that you can hang up on things, like in a room, and can then hang clothes on it to dry. Where are those in your store?”

“…*blank look*…”

“Excuse me, I asked if your store has those long lines.”

“…Um…*look of pity at the foreigner* Let me help you look…I don’t think we do. Sorry, try the next aisle.”

“Ok, thanks. (Thinking: The next aisle?? Why can’t you lead me to the next aisle??)

Next aisle:

“Hello, I would like to buy a long line that you hang clothes on to dry.”

“Yes, we have those. Here they are.” *Points to an electrical cord*

“Um… I do not think that I can hang wet clothes on an electrical cord. That is dangerous.”

“Then, no, we don’t have any.”

“Ok…”

I then proceed to walk to the next aisle and find the CLOTHES LINES (which I do not know how to say in Chinese) hiding underneath the hanger isle. Yes, underneath.

____________________________________________________________________________

I have been living in Qingdao, China for almost three weeks now, for the main purpose of studying Chinese intensively. I have class daily, followed by tutoring and then several hours of homework. Though this sounds frightening, I am slowly learning how to manage my schedule so that I have the most possible time to go out and explore the city. Exploring cities in China, however, involve not only going out, sightseeing, taking pictures, etc, but many cultural aspects that one might not realize they will encounter. It is good to not be too shocked by these things when they occur, so to help, I will list a few personal tips and stories about life in China.

1. “Beware of her fair hair.” – Goethe

In China (Beijing and Shanghai are not as bad), if you are a foreigner and have a hair color other than black, people will take pictures of you. This can happen in front of a tourist destination, while you are walking to class, or even while riding a crowded bus (that is definitely the most awkward). At first I was a little annoyed when people would take pictures without asking me (like on the bus…awkward), but now I am getting used to it. As the Chinese always say, “Don’t think too much.” Follow their example on this one and ignore it.

2. Hot water is good for you.

Well, at least that’s what my Chinese friends tell me. Whether hot water is good for you or not, you will be drinking it at every meal. If you don’t like the taste, take some tea leaves to the restaurant and stick them in the tea pot. Everyone at the table will be grateful…especially other foreigners who don’t like hot water either.

3. Invest in a backpack dictionary.

In situations where you need to buy a clothes line (which is not literally translated “clothes line” in Chinese) or need to figure out how to tell someone about your allergy shots, it is really important to have some small kind of dictionary, in paper or on your phone, that you can rely on. Though it can be entertaining describing what a clothes line is to someone for twenty minutes, a dictionary can save unnecessary miscommunication, especially in important situations.

4. Don’t be afraid to try new things…

…as long as it is a safe situation or food that is well cooked. Though I already kind of regret trying the grilled starfish from the roadside cart, it is an experience that I will never forget. Great stories and lessons come from trying new things, making some mistakes, and learning how to do something right the next time. China is a land of new things, so it is quite important that one goes in with an open heart and mind, excited about what she is going to face.

Though there are countless lessons that can be learned in China, these are the ones I have time to list right now. Over the past few weeks, I have learned so many things. One main lesson, however, that has been hammered into me these past weeks is that of flexibility. Once you are more flexible about your life, you have the freedom to enjoy things, though they may at first seem a little unconventional. If you are not flexible, you will only end up being angry that things did not unfold the way in which you planned. Be flexible and enjoy the journey!

Between Two Worlds, by Tyler Prochazka

Tags

,

I have been on the other side of the world for about three weeks now and I’ve taken away a few things: Chinese squat toilets almost never have toilet paper, don’t eat street food if you can’t read the Chinese characters, and that you should avoid getting caught in the crossfire of Chinese spit.

Honestly, it took coming to China to accurately frame my perception of the country. Beijing is like a city caught between two worlds, symbolizing both the rise of China, and the weight of the enormous internal struggles China still faces. Think of it as a developing country’s New York City. It does not have the polish of an American city, but you can still see a thriving domestic market everywhere you turn. You can buy smart phones at every corner, but you still can’t drink the tap water even in one of the most developed portions of the country. This has brought me to the conclusion that there is still a tremendous amount of growing pains China will have to undertake if it aspires to become a great power (something I only considered in the abstract previously). I still think China is poised to be among the most influential countries in the world in the coming decades, but my experience here has more than tempered my expectations for China’s “rise.”

On a more personal  note, last weekend the clan at PiB (Princeton in Beijing) went to the Great Wall, as is required of all American and foreign tourists in China. It is impossible to describe how incredible it truly is unless you actually have visited. You have to let it sink in how amazing it is – it stretches on, seemingly into infinity (or what seemed like it after 3 hours in Beijing heat hiking up and down the wall).

Along the wall, there are all kinds of “entrepreneurs” that sell everything from soda to “hand crafted ancient figurines.” One of the women who was trying to sell a classmate an umbrella followed us up the Great Wall hoping we would change our mind and buy it. These people really wanted to make the sale: one woman, after she failed in selling us a picture book, gave it to one of her associates to try again as she watched from behind a bush. It, er, didn’t work. I was able to get three t-shirts for $10, so I’m pretty satisfied.

Last Friday I did the final focus group interview for my research. My immediate takeaway from these interviews is that some of my initial assumptions were flawed about how exactly Chinese students view the role of China. We’ll see where the next phase of the research takes me. I am working with a graduate student here to decide the best method to widely distribute a survey, and will be working with Dr. Zhang to possibly send the survey to other locations in China.

I won’t bore you with too many specifics of my class work, but for those who are wondering here are a few stats: we learned about 1000 vocab this week, around 50 grammar patterns, wrote two essays, completed five quizzes and one two hour test on all of it. Also, for those of you curious about what some of that vocab is, we have focused on homicide and sex this week. So class discussions have been… interesting.

A Week with the Dragon, by Tyler Prochazka

Tags

,

Tyler is studying in with the Princeton in Beijing program, and has described his first week:

After a 19 hour flight, when I finally arrived at the Beijing Airport, I was hurriedly shuttled into some man’s car who said he was a Taxi driver. I quickly realized there were no markings to indicate as such. In fact, I am now sure that he just printed off his own business cards and shuttles foreigners around. During the hour long drive, I decided to ask what his impression of America was. He told me he loves Americans, but not Obama, who he said he sees as two-faced, or the American government, which he says is encircling China. Nonetheless, he told me that he thinks the U.S. and China will maintain good relations. He also told me that Japanese citizens are afraid to come to China due to the Diaoyu island dispute (with periodic protests at the Japanese embassy) and that a war between China may occur as Chinese nationalists demand it.

When I arrived at my hotel, I was given a free Chinese beer (there is no drinking age) and a American-style hotel room. Luckily, no squat toilet. The next day, I found an international relations professor to assist me with my research, and found the dorm at Beijing Normal University I will be staying at for two months (also no squat toilet – thank the lord).

The professor I met with, Dr. Zhang, was incredibly enthusiastic about my research proposal and set me up with a graduate student to assist me. Last night, Dr. Zhang and I had a two hour conversation about the future of China that certainly set some ideas I had in perspective. He does not think that China has the skills necessary to be the next great superpower, and does not wish to challenge the United States to become the hegemon. He asked me what I thought of Chinese socialism and their government system. And I also had a lot to say.

Yesterday, I also took a bus ride through Beijing to visit Tiananmen Square. A couple of Chinese students helped me find it, and they even basically gave me a tour of the Beijing’s national museum for two hours. When I went in, they told me my mini Axe spray that I had accidentally left in my backpack (I took a backpack from high school with me – don’t judge) was a dangerous item and must be stored in a safe location. I wasn’t even allowed to throw it away. I was also forced to show them my water wasn’t poison. They take museum security quite seriously.

This Saturday is my placement test to decide what level of Chinese I will take. I have no idea where I will end up, but I know just staying a week in China has drastically helped me grasp the language. Image

Seconds, Words, and Bravery, by Dare Norman

Tags

, ,

“Love you lots, you brave girl,” Dad said.

Our plane departed Washington D.C. at 7:55 on Friday morning. A short layover in Chicago, fourteen hours of napping and squirming over the ocean, another transfer in Shanghai, three hours of death-heavy sleep on my first non-American flight, and a bumpy half-hour bus ride later, we stood outside Zhongfang Grand Hotel, a smallish hotel/karaoke bar on Hong Kong Middle Road, Qingdao, Shandong, China.

Are you brave? 

     I hope so.*

This is my second experience in China; my first was in Harbin, Heilongjiang, through CET Academic Programs. As a First, China was charming. I loved the fruit vendors and the bicycle-singers, the candied sweet potatoes with warm soy milk, the underground markets and the snow (and I still do!) – and I adapted to the pollution, the traffic, and the language barrier smoothly.

Now, China is a Second. Traveling a Second is much more difficult because the novelty is mostly faded and the expectations are higher.

The very next morning after our arrival, we sat through several hours of on-site orientation before meeting our individual tutors, volunteer students from Ocean University of China. Another day of orientation and pre-class preparation, then Tuesday morning at 8:00a classes began. Since then, I have written most of a 1400 character essay, read three-and-a-half textbook chapters and various essays, and given two oral reports – all in a Mandarin-only language environment.

Is that brave?

Today I jaywalked alone across an eight-lane highway in urban China, but that wasn’t brave – that was dumb. In my self-confidence, have I acted on another foolish idea? Or am I, in my fear and Second-guessing, maybe brave?

My dad thinks I am. Those words ring in my ears:

“…you brave girl.”

I do hope so.

Chinese Survival Guide by Sidney Ehrenborg

Tags

,

Sidney is an incoming Freshman in the 2013 Flagship Cohort. She is participating in a program in China prior to joining us, the NSLI-Y program for high school students or recent grads. This is her first trip to China, and she is sharing her experiences with first impressions.

Hello all!
Thank you for tuning in. I just wanted to write some tips today about how to survive in China.
  1. Get used to squat toilets. They are very common. Most, if not all, public restrooms will have them.If the toilet is not a squat toilet, it is one that flushed differently than the ones in America.The  water to flush comes from the bottom up. It is very different.
  2. Americans are seen as very beautiful, mostly because we are foreigners. When I went to a museum with my host sisters, I had a group of boys tell me I was beautiful and wanted to talk to me. They act very shy, it’s quite funny.
  3. Chinese families will try and get you to continue eating, even after you are full. It is seen as bad hospitality if a guest leaves hungry.
  4. You will eat things that you have never seen before, and many things that you won’t even know what they are. Try everything, even if you think you might not like it. You could be surprised.
  5. Some foods, even if you aren’t partial to them, you should get used to eating. Sometimes its just better to grin and bear it.
  6. If you are coming to China, and don’t know the language (like me), you will get frustrated. Very frustrated. Don’t let it discourage you, use it to fuel your desire to learn more.
  7. It is very hot. Get used to sweating. A lot.
  8. Don’t be stupid. I was climbing on a rock at the beach and decided to try and climb down the wet side rather than the dry side and slipped and got my clothes all wet and dirty.
  9. Traffic is crazy, and not like America. People are supposed to watch out for cars, not the other way around. Pay attention, or you might get hit by a car.
  10. Chinese people are very good drivers. I have yet to see a car that has a single scratch on it, which surprised me, due to the insane way they drive. But, they know what they are doing.
  11. Typhoons are serious, and can actually happen…. The more surprising thing is that they actually cancelled school for it here! (and make it up on the weekend)
  12. Nothing is soft here. The beds are like sitting on a concrete slab with a blanket underneath you. I swear I have bruises on my hips from sleeping.
  13. School goes on for a very very long time. I have class from 8:30 a.m. to 5:10 p.m.
  14. Taking the bus isn’t that scary, just memorize your stop if you cant read Chinese (like me!)
  15. Taking the bus and then walking home takes a long time. (For me it is about 50 minutes. 30 riding the bus, 20 walking.)
  16. Bring a good umbrella, preferably one that works… (unlike MINE!) in case of a, oh I don’t know, typhoon or something.
  17. Wear sandals.. Not tennis shoes that don’t dry.Don’t get frustrated because are terrible at speaking Chinese. you can’t learn it in a day!

Settling into Nanjing, by Kevin Worthy

Tags

,

Nanjing, China, a city with over 6.1 million people living in it, is my new home for at least the next six months. As I was walking through a fresh vegetable market today, avoiding the fresh meat market right beside it, I was reminded of why I fell in love with China. I realized I truly enjoy the hustle and bustle, the cars honking for seemingly no reason other than to be obnoxious, people weaving and dodging to get there where they need to go, people spitting anywhere, the hundreds of tiny shops with trinkets being bought and sold, the occasional stank smell of China (really no way to explain it), and the persistent staring at me as a foreigner, which makes me feel like I left the house without putting pants on. It all sounds awful, but it adds up to be this beautiful country whose people and culture I have come to love. It definitely is not a place for everyone, but I am realizing once again that it’s a place I want to be, at least for a while.

Settling into Nanjing has been quite a fun, yet exhausting experience. Getting here was even more difficult. In order to save a couple hundred bucks I decided I would take a train from the airport in Shanghai to Nanjing. In hindsight maybe that wasn’t the best decision when trying to lug around two suitcases full of a year’s worth of clothing. Nonetheless, after getting to the train station and missing my first train due to two cute little kids who wanted to practice their English with me, I finally arrived in Nanjing. After taking a taxi to my hotel I’m pretty sure I fell asleep on the bed without even taking me shoes off. It had been over 30 hours of travelling and my body was ready for sleep.

The next day I decided to get right on apartment hunting so I called the realtor that many of the students before me have used and she told me she would be picking me up in five minutes. I hadn’t even showered or gotten dressed by that time, I figured it would be a while before she could meet. I was excited to ride in someone’s personal car in China. Up to this point I had only ridden in a taxi and bus in China. As I waited outside the hotel for her, I was surprised to say a lady on an electric bike (not a moped) coming towards me waving her arm. To say the least it wasn’t the car experience I was expecting, but I think it was much more. I rode around on the back of that bike all day looking at multiple apartments until she finally decided she was too tired to drive anymore and made me drive. If you think biking in traffic in the states is tough, try it in China where street signs and lines in the road don’t matter all while having an extremely energetic lady on the back of the bike moving around to point things out.

After a long day of apartment hunting, I had decided on one, but wanted to sleep on it for a night before I made a decision. The next day I went to the apartment to sign the contract, which consisted of me sitting there while the landlord and realtor squabbled over minor details that somehow didn’t concern me even though I was the one renting the apartment. Not sure how that works, but it’s China. I was finally able to get my contract signed and moved in that day. Although it was really clean thanks to the previous Flagship student who lived here before me, it was nice to tidy it up and make it seem more like home. It is now probably my favorite place that I have lived including where I’ve lived in the States. It still needs some posters on the walls to break up the massive amounts of light, but it’s slowly coming together.

We started orientation today, which was consisted of a lecture on safety, a welcome, and then two surprise placement tests that none of us realized we had until yesterday. Thankfully it’s just a placement test and holds no weight when it comes to our grades. The group of students is a small group of 9, compared the group of 30+ the previous semester had. Tonight we all went out and had 北京烤鸭 Beijing Roast Duck which was delicious as is to be expected when it comes to this dish. Tomorrow is another round of orientation and then Monday we begin classes. After this first week of classes I’ll give an update on how those are going. For now though, it’s time to turn on my electric blanket and sleep on my bamboo mat bed.

November (by Dare Norman)

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:

Image

Yes. It’s cold.

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

Image

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:

Image

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!

ImageImage

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”).

November 2012 007

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!

Inner Mongolia Adventure, October 22-26 (Fall Break!) by Dare Norman

“July is the best time to travel Inner Mongolia, not October,” he wheezed out a laugh, scratching the stubble on his chin. On his head was a beanie like a black knit gourd, and his brown eyes were framed with heavy lids and smile lines. Our driver, Mr. Zhang.

It was not the first nor the last time we were criticized about our timing. Inner Mongolia is known for its grasslands and rolling hills: riding horses across green pastures, sleeping outside by a bonfire and eating hand-roasted meat…you know, Genghis Khan. In the autumn, they said, the plains are only brown and cold. How could that be exciting?

Our train had arrived in Hailaer early Saturday,  and my first, waking awareness was of glittering white on the window: snow. I bolted awake. The sun had just risen and was tickling pink across the soft mountains in the distance, reducing me to awe until a friend dragged me to disembark.

Outside, the hiss of steam from the engine was a thick white cloud, and breathing equaled brain-freeze. I slid my pack over my arm and happily snuggled into the crowd of travelers, customers, and merchants haggling in the street.

“Car rental!” One shouted in that thick northern-Chinese garble, “600 kuai!” After some fierce negotiation and multi-lingual discussion (having a foreign language at your disposal – in this case, English – can be rather convenient when bargaining), we reached an agreement. Seven people, six bags, a few water bottles and a dozen beef baozi  packed together in a tiny gray van, Chinese club music in an endless cycle, a Mao Zedong pendant dangling from the rear-view mirror. So our adventure began.

Image

I had no last look at Hailaer; with all our belongings, there was little space to turn for a backward glance. It was simply forward, pushing thirty miles an hour over hill after hill of frozen grassland.

It was the most breath-taking road trip: hiking snowy mountains, trekking along the Chinese-Russian border, and, of course, experiencing interesting meals. China has all sorts of interesting cuisine, but when it comes to eating sheep Inner Mongolia wins.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After three days of bitter cold wind, pink sunsets over icy ravines, shooting stars from the Milky Way, greasy game lunches, and the smell of cigarette smoke, we arrived in Enhe, a small tourism town near the Russian border.

I had been sleeping, snuggled between the packs on my left and the puffy coat of my friend on the right. Outside were bare trees, empty hostels, a few stray dogs, brown grass and patches of thick snow. A man sidling down the hard dirt path.

“Eiy!” Braking, our driver rolled down the window. The burst of frosty air shocked me awake.

“I have six foreigners here,” he called. “There a place to stay the night?”

The man responded rapidly and slurred his words – I didn’t understand. But when he gestured to a small house nearby, our driver followed.

Our crew clambered clumsily out of the van and was quickly herded into the house by a kind-faced woman.

“Poor things,” I heard her mutter as we shuffled by. “How pitiful!”

I suppose we did look a bit pitiful:  hungry and chilled, tired from uncomfortable car-naps and less-than-recommended hours of sleep each night, sore from hiking, oily and rank with no opportunity to shower. But from our faces beamed smiles, and my heart was happy.

That morning, I remember waking up warm inside and out. Our room was stove-heated and stuffy, the memory of a blazing fire in the grate beside the bed. Fog on the outer window, layers of thick quilts, and one of the softer mattresses I’ve encountered in China.  I had probably dreamt of dinner from the night before:

火锅 Huŏ guō Hot pot is a typical North-Eastern Chinese method of feeding lots of hungry college students on a chilly autumn evening. There are lots of fresh meats and vegetables involved, and a large bubbling pot of spicy soup and bean oil.

Whatever you want to eat – pumpkin slices, parsley, sweet potatoes, duck, baicai (a type of Chinese cabbage), mushrooms – you simply boil on your own right there at the table. There are dipping sauces, too – a sour, red, fermented-tofu sauce or thick sesame paste.

This was all served to us with love and care by the hostel-owner’s wife Anna. They were a perfectly interesting Russian-Chinese couple. He loved to talk, to tell stories and explain Chinese colloquialisms in a brusque, difficult-to-understand accent. She would fuss at him quietly in Russian as she, smiling, served us hot milk tea.

When I told them that I was studying music at my American university, they asked me to sing a bit.

I remember singing a verse from Les Misérables through the stuffy, fragrant warmth of the dining room, laughing through a group rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and then dinner was over. Anna hugged us goodnight, and I fell asleep brimming with happy.

The best was yet to come: breakfast.

Yes, sir. Behind Mr. Zhang’s tea cup: those are pancakes.

Scrambled, peppered eggs with sautéed onions; sweet, soft bread; three or four different fruit jams; Chinese breakfast cabbage. Two buckets – buckets – of fresh, warmed milk and milk tea.

That was the perfect highlight of our trip to Inner Mongolia.

The days later were filled with riddles and road-trip games, walking on ice-covered creeks, trekking along the Russian-Chinese border. The weather warmed up, and on the last day we boarded a train in Manzhouli bound, once again, for Harbin.