Vaselaar, Rona

Name: Rona Vaselaar
Location of Study:
Program of Study: China
Sponsor(s): Liu Family

17 thoughts on “Vaselaar, Rona

  1. June 4th, 2013 – Pre-departure Notes

    As I sit here in New Jersey, only about a day away from my plane to China, I find myself worrying non-stop. Will I have enough copies of my passport? What if it gets stolen? Will I have enough clothing? What if my language level doesn’t get any better? And so on, and so on. I also find myself wondering what on earth life will be like halfway across the world. What kind of people will I meet? What will their expectations of me be? Will I ever be able to understand the culture?
    Fortunately, I have been able to experience a small portion of Chinese culture, thus helping me prepare for my journey. For the past week, I have stayed at my boyfriend’s house (his name is Andy Cheung; he is also an SLA recipient and will be traveling to China with me). Originally from China, his family fluently speaks Fujianese as well as Mandarin. Thus, I have had an opportunity to both speak the language and hear it, as well as hear other dialects of Chinese.
    To help me prepare for my trip to China, Andy’s family has taken me to Chinatown numerous times. In the older areas of Chinatown, Americans are not so very common, and people are much more traditional. In fact, most of the signs are in traditional Chinese characters, much to my surprise. On two separate occasions, they brought us to eat dim sum. At dim sum restaurants, waiters bring around carts of food and you choose what you like, put it on the table, and share it with those around you. It is a very intimate dining experience, and one that I enjoyed very much. Usually the eldest person at the table pours the tea, and to show your appreciation you tap on the table a few times (this was very befuddling to me the first few times!). Some of the dishes I liked very much – sesame seed rolls, spare ribs, and Chow Mein, to name a few. Some dishes were a little too strange for my tastes (i.e. chicken feet).
    I have spent my days wandering Chinatown and speaking to the locals, as well as in New York, doing the usual tourist sight-seeing. I have gained a lot of information on Chinese food – something that will genuinely help me when I go to China. It is nice that I have acclimated to Chinese food at least a little – this way, I won’t be getting too sick in my first few weeks.
    Although I have learned a lot about Chinese hospitality and politeness, there are still some things I am nervous for. For example, interacting with strangers or people you have just met still worries me. Andy’s family has been very lenient with me, as I am unaccustomed to their culture. However, I cannot necessarily expect the same treatment in Beijing.
    I anticipate that it will be very hard in the first few weeks to communicate with the locals. Although the Chinese teachers at Notre Dame are excellent, and we learn much more than most other first year Chinese students, we still lack the vocabulary to hold an in-depth conversation. I can only hope that people will remain patient with me and I struggle and stumble through the language.
    All in all, I am very excited to be going to China! I have wanted to travel to another country and experience its language and culture my whole life! Although the 16 hours of plane riding doesn’t sound particularly appealing, it is a small price to pay for what is in store. I can honestly say, however, that aside from missing my own family, I will miss Andy’s. They have been very kind to me and have treated me like I am their own daughter. They are very hospitable and excited to help me learn Chinese. They have been so helpful in teaching me about Chinese culture and characters!

  2. June 8th, 2013 – First day in Beijing

    Yesterday, I arrived in Beijing around 2:30 in the afternoon. Since then, I have moved into my room, had my first meal in China, and had a very good night’s sleep. Interestingly, the jet lag seems to have thus far made me a morning person – I should probably enjoy this while it lasts!
    Today I will be taking a written and oral placement exam. I am a bit nervous that I will be placed in year one instead of year two, but it doesn’t do any good to worry about it now. I brushed up on my characters before I left, so I am just doing some household things before the test this morning.
    Yesterday, after we had arrived at UIBE and were situated in our rooms, one of our teachers took us out to eat. There is a street right across from the college. It functions somewhat like Eddy’s Street at Notre Dame, except there are even more stores. Just walking down half a street, we saw a nail salon, a hair salon, and about five or six different restaurants. It will be very convenient!
    The restaurant was very nice. It had a rotating table atop the regular table. Our teacher ordered about twelve dishes and we all shared. It was far too much food for us, but it was very good. It wasn’t too spicy, which surprised me. While we ate, I met a lot of interesting people and had some great conversations. Many of the people in this program have studied abroad before. I can’t wait to hear more about their experiences – they are very interesting!
    A word about our rooms. Luckily, they are air-conditioned – Beijing is very hot in the summer! I have one roommate who going to be a senior at Duke this year. She is very nice! There are two beds in our room, not lofted, with a desk at the food of each bed. Two closets greet you as you enter the door, along with our bathroom. The good news is we have our own bathroom and shower. The bad news is the set up of said bathroom. There is a toilet, a showerhead, and a sink. The whole place gets wet when you shower. It’s very funny! However, the shower is actually pretty nice and the water gets nice and warm, so there are no complaints – it will just take a little adjusting. We also have a TV, fridge, and nightstand. The room comes with a bottle of water per roommate, which I have to use for brushing my teeth, drinking, etc. They also gave us shampoo/conditioner, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste. The room has a blow dryer, so I will not have to buy one. My favorite feature of our room, however, is the balcony. We have a small, enclosed balcony that has a table and two chairs, and the supplies necessary to make tea. It will be very nice for relaxing.
    The weather is interesting so far. It hasn’t been very hot, but it is very humid. The air pollution is quite visible. Although it doesn’t feel hard to breathe, the sky is brown. It seems to have a permanent cloud sort of hanging over it. However, Beijing is a beautiful place, and I know I will love it here.

  3. June 9th, 2013 – Placement Tests

    If I were to warn future students about one thing, it would be the placement test.
    I made the mistake of assuming there would be a test for each level. For example, I want to test into level two, so I must pass a certain test to pass into that level. If I wanted to pass into level three, it would be a more advanced test. This, however, is a dangerous assumption to make. In reality, there is one test, and it is very, very difficult. I knew perhaps 1/3 of the characters on the test, and even less of the grammar.
    What I realize now is that, as someone who is testing into 2nd year Chinese in the program, I am at the lowest level they offer (they offer 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year levels). Thus, it is perfectly normal not to know much of the test. If I were to give advice on how to express your level of Chinese on the test, I would tell students to focus on the written composition. You are essentially free to write almost whatever you want (the prompt is usually pretty broad), so you can use all the grammar and vocab that you know. The listening and reading comprehension areas are awful, so I wouldn’t focus too much on those (for those students going into 2nd year).
    After that, we had an oral test. In all honesty, it was very simple. It was essentially a 5 minute interview in which they asked us where we were from, what college we went to, why we wanted to come to China, etc. No need to worry about that.
    I also met my language partner today. Although she is very nice, I could barely understand her. She speaks fast and her vocabulary is very advanced (of course, she is a native Chinese speaker). I suspect she also uses a lot of colloquial language, which may also be what is throwing me off. Hopefully things get better with our first official meeting. We meet Monday through Thursday at 7 pm.
    Today was orientation. I am a little nervous about our being forbidden to speak any English – that may become a little difficult. However, it is true that total immersion is the best way to learn a language (speaking from experience). Although the idea upsets my nerves, I am also excited to try it out.
    For lunch today, we had Beijing roast duck. Anyone who comes to Beijing to study has to have this dish at least once. The roast duck is cut in front of you and is perhaps the most delicious dish I’ve had in my whole life. You use your chopsticks to select some pieces of meat, dip it in sauce, and roll it up in some kind of tortilla. It is wonderful! Interestingly, they include the roasted duck head on the plate of meat. Upon inquiry, my teachers explained that this was done for two reasons: 1) some people in Beijing like to eat the meat from the duck’s head, and 2) that way, you know for sure that it is duck they are serving you. This last part made me laugh a little, as in America it seems that we don’t want to know exactly what we are being served (I’m looking at you, McDonald’s!).
    Tomorrow is our first day of class. We start class at 8 am. I am very excited!

  4. June 12, 2013 – Good food and great conversations
    One of the best parts about Beijing is the food. Not only is it very delicious, but it also is very cheap. Duke recommends that you budget $10 a day for food. At first, I thought this would in no way be enough money, and many students were of the same opinion. However, it is very easy to eat cheaply in Beijing. For example, one of the foods offered on campus is a kind of burrito filled with sauces, a kind of tofu, and other toppings of your choice. It’s huge, filling, and very good… and it costs $1. You can get a huge bowl of noodles and meat, along with a soda, for about $4. It takes a while to find the restaurants and food that you like, and to know where to get it cheaply, but once you start catching on, it becomes very easy and cheap to buy food.
    Now, on to the best parts of the program. One of the best aspects of the program is the language partner assignment. Each student is assigned a UIBE native Chinese speaker with which to practice conversing. You are to meet with them four days a week, Monday through Thursday, and each day has a set of questions and topics that you discuss. I have learned an enormous amount of characters and vocabulary from my language partner, and it’s only the second time we’ve met!
    I would advise future students not to get discouraged if it is difficult to understand the language partner. Most of the time, I can only understand 50% to 75% of what she is saying. That being said, I am making leaps and bounds in listening comprehension and vocabulary.
    Conversations are the most valuable part of this language learning experience. Classes can be taken anywhere, but genuine conversation is hard to find outside of a native speaker. Being in Beijing is helpful because you have to use Mandarin to converse on a daily basis – whether at the supermarket, at a restaurant, or when you are chatting with a security guard. It is important to take advantage of your access to native speakers while you have the opportunity!

  5. June 13, 2013 – Minding your manners and daily schedules
    As I sit in various restaurants in Beijing and watch the goings on, I am always shocked by the difference in the idea of politeness between America and China. Restaurants are a great way to observe culture, as most people go to restaurants to spend time with family and friends. Eating food is a very important bonding experience in China. When you order food, you order it for the whole table and share it with your family. It’s much more sacred than in modern-day America.
    But I digress. In China, to get a waiter or waitress’s attention, you hold up your hand and scream, “fuwuyuan!” (waiter). When your server comes to you, you say, “give me this and this!” They get it for you, and that’s the end of that. Under no circumstances do you leave a tip. To American students, this often seems very rude. Admittedly, if I had not done some research before I came to China, I would also find this rude.
    In China, formal language is actually somewhat less polite than informal language. As explained in the book Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language by Deborah Fallows, the author states that, in Chinese culture, formal language (such as saying “please give me”) is often seen as a way of separating you from the person to whom you are speaking. It is seen as a sign of friendship and politeness to do away with the formalities and treat the other person as one would treat oneself. To paraphrase her words, you wouldn’t say please or thank you to yourself.
    Another thing that we learned in class about politeness is that, when handing a teacher or respected person something (i.e. our homework), you always use two hands. Bowing is not necessary, our teacher laughed as some of us seemed automatically to revert to this, but two hands generally is. I found this very interesting. It is a simple thing, but it takes more time and effort than one hand offhandedly throwing an item at someone, as we so often do in America. It forces you to slow down and properly acknowledge the other person. America, I think, could do with a little more of this attitude.
    Chinese people also have very interesting schedules and routines, and they routinely mess up the foreign students who come to study. Benjamin Franklin once said, “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” China has a very similar saying. In simplified characters, it is this: “早睡早起身体好。” Quite literally, this says, “early sleep early rise healthy body.” However, unlike in America, where this habit is somewhat overlooked in our busy lives, China takes it very seriously. For me, it is hard to sleep and rise early, as my brain is clearest at night (interestingly, Chinese people also believe the mind is clearest in the morning, and it is the best time to study). However, because I have jet lag, I have actually been falling asleep very early and waking up around 5 AM – and that’s on a good day, when I sleep late! Thus, I have been getting up early and studying, as well as sleeping early. Once my schedule adjusts, this will be impossible for me, I think, but I am enjoying it while it lasts.
    Every morning, I get up around 5 and begin reviewing the previous day’s lesson, as well as preview the lesson of the day. Before we get to class, we must know the characters, be familiar with the grammar, and have read the text and listened to the recording. Once I’ve run through everything one more time, I eat breakfast. Usually by now my roommate is awake, and we exchange homework and check each other’s work. We learn a lot this way, and it makes for a good review. Then I review everything AGAIN and head to class with Andy.
    Class begins at 8:00 with our dictation test. Once we have finished writing what we hear, we hand in the test and begin class. There are four classes each day. From 8:00 to 9:10, we have lecture, in which we go through all the grammar and vocab using the text. From 9:20 to 10:10, we have our first drill class, in which we essentially have class discussion using the new grammar structures. From 10:20 to 11:00, we have class discussion again, this time focusing on new vocabulary. Lecture class is larger, usually around 10 to 15 people. For our drill classes, there are only four students and we switch teachers (our drill classes are both taught by the same teacher, but she is not the same teacher who teaches our lecture class. Confusing, I know). Then, we each spend 20 minutes one-on-one with a teacher, discussing the topic of the day and any other topics that come up in the course of the conversation. Classes, as you can see, are very much conversation based. This is, in my opinion, the best way to learn a language proficiently.
    By 12:00, I am done with class. Andy and I go to lunch, often accompanied by our roommates and friends. We usually go off campus to a restaurant. Lunch usually costs around 30 yuan, which is about $5. For $5, you get a drink and a huge plate of food, so it’s a very good deal. As previously stated, food in China is quite good, while remaining very cheap.
    Once we are done with lunch, we return to our respective dorms to study. Usually, I start by doing my homework for the day’s lesson and reviewing. Then, I work on the next day’s lesson. Usually around 5:00 PM I meet with my language partner. Then, for an hour we discuss given topics and I practice hearing and speaking Chinese. After our meeting, I usually shower and study until office hours, which last from 7:00 to 9:00. Then, all us students go in to ask questions, get our homework, etc. Finally, Andy, Rachel (my roommate), and I go out to eat supper. Once we return, I study some more and go to bed.
    It certainly sounds as though I have no free time, but it really isn’t true. I spend a lot of time with my friends out at restaurants, practicing speaking and shopping at the stores that line the streets. Although during the week our time is a bit limited, the weekends are much better. Each weekend, we go to a famous place – this week, we will go to the Great Wall. Our Sundays are free to do as we please. And this Sunday is my birthday! So we will be going to eat Peking roast duck!
    A note on studying: From this blog, it seems that I spend almost all of my time studying. One of the pieces of advice we received from past participants of this program was to study smarter, not harder. This is very important. The brain works about 20 minutes at a time. That is, studies show that you can only pay attention efficiently for about 20 minutes of time. Then your brain needs a break to rest and consolidate the information. My favorite way to study is in small spurts of about 20 minutes. I review 20 minutes worth of characters, then take a five or ten minute break to go on Reddit (you know, for the cat pictures) and whatever else. I would recommend this way of studying to anyone in the program. It is easy to get overwhelmed by work. It’s best to give yourself plenty of breaks to walk around outside, explore the neighborhood, eat at a street vendor, buy souvenirs, etc. They say you should study between 4 and 8 hours everyday. I would say 4 hours of studying altogether is more than enough if you are studying efficiently.
    Another great way to study is with other people. When it comes to language learning, it can be hard to remember sticky grammar items and obscure words if you don’t understand how to use them practically. By working with a partner, you can practice constructing practical sentences with the given material to give yourself an idea of how to navigate the language. It is also helpful when it comes to pronunciation: oftentimes, other people hear mistakes that you don’t.
    As for me, tonight I am off to eat supper! We have our first test tomorrow (yes, we have tests every Friday), so tonight I plan to finish up preparing early so I can get to bed early and be well-rested tomorrow. More updates to come!

  6. June 14, 2013 – Hot pot, tests, and skinny chicks, oh my!
    Did anyone else read the, “oh my!” in George Takei’s voice? Probably not. Anyway, today was an amazing day! A lot of important things happened that could be important for future students, so I will take the time to detail them now.
    First of all, the tests. Today, we had our first set of tests. We have two tests each Friday. At 8 AM, we take a written test. It consists of a listening section (today’s was really small, and much easier than those of Notre Dame, so don’t panic) and writing sections. Today, there wasn’t a reading section, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be one in the future. As of now, the crystal ball is a bit unclear, so we will have to wait and see. After the written test, we got a few minutes to relax, and then we had to do an oral test.
    Oral tests are something we should do more of at Notre Dame. Yes, they’re totally not fun and completely terrifying, but it would be helpful. I’ve come to notice that my pronunciation is occasionally a little off due to my tones. This seems to happen to me more than to the students from Duke. I think having more oral tests at Notre Dame could definitely help correct this problem, as it puts you on the spot and forces you to learn the tones correctly, but that’s a decision for the school to make. At any rate, on Thursday we received the instructions for the oral test. Basically, we talked about the topics we had discussed in class using the grammar and vocab we had learned. We had to speak for 5-7 minutes, and then we answered some questions. It didn’t seem too terrible, but, then again, I haven’t gotten my score back yet, so we’ll see!
    Now, for the fun stuff. Every Friday after the tests we have Chinese language table. The Chinese teachers bring us out to eat, and we all chat in Chinese and have a great time. Thus, today, for the first time in my life, I had hot pot.
    Hot pot is a very famous Chinese way of eating that has apparently reached America, although I’ve never had it before. Essentially, the process is as follows…
    When you get to the restaurant, you order what kind of broth/soup you want… a little hot, a lot hot, or blazingly hot. Hot pot is a Sichuan dish, so you know it’s going to set your lungs on fire. Andy and I ordered a not-so-hot broth, which was a wise decision. As that was being prepared, we made some of our own dipping sauce by combining different components. Since I’ve never really had spicy food before, I decided to try a spicy sauce, and I mostly used chili-based sauces with peppers… that sure did the trick!
    Once they bring out the broth, they set it in a hole in the table in front of you. In the hole, there is a sort of stovetop that heats the broth to a boil. Then, they bring raw meat, such as lamb, heart, intestines, beef, and fish. You simply put them in your pot until they are cooked (it only takes about 3 seconds, but you can leave it in as long as you want) and once you take it out, you dip it in the sauce and eat it. This was easily my favorite dining experience we’ve had so far. Although I love roast duck, this was the most fun I’ve ever had eating a meal! I even tried the heart and intestines. The heart wasn’t great but the intestines were amazing! I was very surprised. There was also this kind of fish roll that I absolutely loved. We definitely have to eat there again sometime! They brought us hot water to drink after we finished the iced tea (which was very good and for some reason reminded me of Grandma Jeanne), which was somewhat counterproductive, considering my mouth was already in flames from the sauce. Hot pot is a very fun way to eat, and every student must have it at least once in China.
    Before I sign off for the night and prepare for my trip to the Great Wall tomorrow, a word on Chinese portion sizes, both in terms of food and people: Chinese people are known for being super skinny. In America, they are always portrayed as super short and ridiculously tiny, making them the envy of American women everywhere. However, this is a dangerous stereotype to make.
    It is true that Chinese people are, on the whole, smaller than Americans. This is due to, I would say, three reasons. First of all, America has a high rate of obesity – really, who isn’t smaller than us? Second of all, Chinese people have lighter frames, making them appear smaller, although they don’t necessarily possess relatively less fat or muscle. Their frames are built shorter and lighter, so, although they often appear much smaller, the are very much average in build, on the whole. Finally, Chinese people have a genius system of portion sizes.
    In Chinese restaurants, you almost never order food just for yourself. In America, when you go out to a restaurant to eat with your family, everyone orders his or her own dish and that’s that. In China, however, the family chooses a few dishes to share, which are then brought out on dinner-sized plates. Here is the next stroke of genius, get ready… Chinese plates are very small. The plate you eat from looks no bigger than a saucer. You take a few bits of food, put it on your plate, eat it, and then fill it up with a few more pieces.
    So, what makes this the best thing since sliced bread? The mind often tells the body how full it is by looking at the food on the plate, since it takes a few minutes for food to hit your stomach and tell your body that you are full. Because Chinese people use such small plates, they don’t take all their food at once. They take a little, eat it, and then decide if they want more. They do not eat in a hurried fashion, they do not worry about finishing their dish before dessert. They simply enjoy the food and company.
    In my opinion, if America could just switch to this kind of restaurant style, the obesity rate would drop tremendously in a matter of a few years. I find myself that I eat less than in America, but feel much better when I am done eating. I have enough energy to get me through the day, but I don’t overeat to the point of sloth and sickness. It’s a great, simple way to watch what you eat and stop yourself from overeating.
    Anyway, that’s all for today! I’ve got a busy night ahead getting ready for the trip tomorrow, so I’ll just finish up by saying thank you to everyone who’s watching this blog! I hope you all like it, and that it’s somewhat interesting!

  7. June 15, 2013 – The Great Wall
    Guess where I went today? As if the title already didn’t tell you… the Great Wall! I was very excited, and it was worth all the trouble it took getting there (more on that later). Because being a tourist in Beijing is a lot different than being a tourist anywhere else, I will detail my experiences very carefully.
    In the morning, we met downstairs and our teachers gave us breakfast. One of the great travesties of America is that we often skip breakfast, and when we don’t actually skip breakfast, we eat very little (really? One doughnut is supposed to be enough for me? Pssh as if). For breakfast, our teachers gave us: 1) a sealed cup that you punch a straw through, containing some kind of rice stew sort of deal, which was actually very good, 2) a Chinese burrito-style food that had lots of veggies and some kind of tofu, 3) a hard-boiled egg, 4) water (of course), and 5) a doughnut. It was an amazing breakfast, and it kept me going throughout the day! Another Chinese habit that Americans should adopt.
    The bus ride to the Great Wall was about an hour, perhaps a little more. The section of the Great Wall we visited was in Mutianyu. On the bus, our teachers gave us a handout that states, “The Great Wall at Mutianyu was built and restored in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), on the remnants of a Wall originally built in the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577).” Naturally, I was very excited to see something that was completed in the 14th century!
    Once we arrived in Mutianyu, we began to walk towards the entrance to the Wall, and were immediately assaulted by street vendors, screaming about their wares and calling to each person in the hopes that someone would buy one of their ridiculously priced items. Although many tourists who come to the Great Wall are Chinese people who simply come from other areas, there are also many foreigners, and it is to these foreigners that the vendors cater. They had every item imaginable, from water and beer, to Chinese-style chess pieces, to Chairman Mao’s Quotes books. They are very clever, memorizing American phrases and telling American girls that they are very beautiful. On my way back from the Wall, I bought a parasol. Parasols are very popular in China because of the standards of beauty (more on this later). They are also very beautiful, all full of lace and delicate embroidery. The woman I was to buy it from wanted 360 yuan – about $60 – for it. I was disappointed, as I hadn’t brought anywhere near that amount of money, and was about to leave, when my teacher said (in Chinese), “360 yuan?! That’s ridiculous. Lower the price.” I watched them barter intensely for a few minutes, and settle on 120 yuan – about $20 – which my teacher STILL thought was too cheap. In America, that parasol would have cost at LEAST $60, or more, so I was ecstatic to get it at such a low price.
    By far, the best part about these vendors is the American items they try to sell. They have Obama backpacks (which are very strange – they show his caricature in what appears to be Chinese soldier clothing, so that was pretty interesting) and shirts that say, “I <3 北京,” which means, “I love Beijing.” My favorite item, however, was the American translation of that shirt, which simply read, “I <3 BJ.” All of us that saw the shirt laughed a good deal, much to the puzzlement of the Chinese vendors.
    Now, there are two ways to get to the Great Wall. The easiest, but most expensive way, is to take a cable car up the mountain. The second way, which our teachers opted for, was to climb the stairs. And, oh, what stairs! They seemed to go on forever. They were uneven, ancient, crumbling, steep stairs that made me shudder just to look at. But up we went.
    As we essentially scaled the mountain, we’d all been complaining about how tired we were. We also all were looking down at the stairs as we climbed – this is something that all Americans seem to do as well. Rather than look at your surroundings as you walk, you simply stare at the ground to get from A to B as fast as possible. Although in most cases that has some deep meaning, here we really had to look at the stairs to make sure we didn’t miss a step and break our necks. At any rate, about halfway up I stopped to rest and looked up.
    The view – even from just halfway up the mountain – was breathtaking. You can see forest-covered mountains stretching out before you forever and ever, or at least it seems like it. The cloudy air created a fog that obscured the distance, and the whole effect was that of grace and beauty.
    Once we’d finally reached the entrance to the Great Wall, and climbed up onto it, the view was even better. From left to right, as far as the eye could see, stretched the Wall, with its many battlements and towers. It is truly a marvelous piece of engineering, constructed to always give the Chinese soldiers the higher ground in battle, a very strategic move. It was full of Chinese tourists, American tourists, German tourists, African tourists… everyone you could imagine seeing in your life was at the Great Wall.
    What really surprised me, however, was the amount of children.
    The first time I watched, panicked, as a two-year old girl tottered up the steps that were almost as tall as she was, I thought to myself, “why on EARTH would you bring such a young child here?” The Wall, while magnificent in its grandeur, is also very dangerous. I shook my head and thought, “shame on you,” until I saw even more families bringing their children. After a while, I began to put the pieces together and realized what it meant.
    As I explained in the earlier sections on dining, family time is very important in China. Meals, as aforementioned, revolve around the family structure. Families are very close, and spend a lot of quality time together – yet another thing that the US is currently missing. Because many Chinese families only have one child (due to the One Child policy), they treat their children like treasures. They clearly value quality time over material items. In fact, as I was standing in a fort built on the wall, I watched a girl who could have been no more than 7 or 8 bouncing around with an extremely expensive camera that her mom had given here to take pictures with. Instead of screaming at her to be careful – as per usual in the US – she simply smiled and laughed, and entreated her daughter to take a picture of her by the window. It was one of the most touching things I’ve seen in a long time, and it really made me think about the way we treat our children in America – oftentimes, more as burdens than as the treasures they are.
    Anyway, back to the Wall. It was great fun to walk around and look through all of the forts and towers. We walked for quite a long time and didn’t seem to change places at all – it’s so long, it’s sort of mind-blowing. Finally, we got to an area where you walked down some stairs on the side of the wall and landed on a little plateau with tables, chairs, bathrooms, and the entrance to the cable cars. Our teachers rested a bit, and gave us about two and a half hours to explore what we wanted to. Andy and I looked through a fort or two, but then mostly rested and watched the world go by, looking at the scenery and enjoying our lunch.
    After a while, we returned to the small plateau area to hang out and relax a little with the teachers and a few other students who had returned early. Once I had sat down, I saw a little girl staring at me with intense interest.
    Americans, while not very rare in Beijing due to the amount of business deals that go on there, are very captivating to Chinese people. It is due mostly to the standards of beauty Chinese people hold. Generally speaking, very pale white skin and large eyes are considered beautiful in China. Hence, the parasols – they help stop Chinese people from tanning (and from getting sunburn). This is quite a difference from America, where we cook ourselves in the sun just to get a tan. When Americans come, our skin is usually much more pale that that of the average Chinese person’s, and our eyes are naturally much wider. We also have a tendency to have lighter hair, which China (along with other countries) finds very exotic and interesting.
    Thus, it comes as no surprise that this tiny Chinese tourist – who, perhaps, had never seen an American before – was so interested in me. So, I smiled and waved and said, “你好!” and went back to my conversations. Occasionally, I would look back up, see her staring at me, and wave again.
    Finally, her mother sent her over to ask for a picture. I was delighted! She was so precious, and I don’t often get asked for pictures, so I bent down and she threw her arm around me and we got a few good ones. If I had had time, I would have taken a few for myself. When she went back to her mom, she said, “谢谢,姐姐!” which means, “Thank you, big sister!” It was precious! It’s lots of fun to talk to Chinese people. They are very fond of Americans, and like to engage in conversations with them, especially if said American speaks or studies Chinese.
    Once everyone had returned, we walked back along the wall, back down the stairs, and past the vendors until we had returned to the bus. Those stairs are quite a workout, whether you’re walking up them, or down them. In America we have mall walkers. In China, they MUST have Great Wall walkers. I can’t imagine a better way to exercise!
    Upon going home, I immediately fell asleep on the bus, listening to my Chinese music. Although the trip was fun, it zapped all the energy out of me. However, it was a valuable experience and I loved every minute of it.
    And now, a few words on safety for future students.
    Sunscreen. It’s important. Even if the sky seems cloudy, the sun’s rays will still get through and burn your skin. You need a high SPF – at least 50 – to make it out alive (only partially joking with that last part). Also, bug spray. When you see the nurse at Notre Dame, they will let you buy a foreign travel medical kit, which you should buy, as well as some bug-repellant cream. GET THE CREAM. It must be made from some miracle substance because I didn’t get a single bite while I was out, and I’ve been covered in bites since the day I got here. Ultimately, I should have brought more of the cream, but I didn’t think I’d need it. It would be nice to be able to wear it every day, and I will see if I can buy some more, but it’s definitely worth the extra money to get a good bug-repellant.
    One last thing that I wish I had known – things are cheap in China, including converters. You will need at least one converter so you can charge your phone and computer. I think my mother and I bought two chargers for $20 each (don’t quote me on this, I don’t quite remember). In China, they are 3 yuan apiece – that’s 50 cents. Biggest mistake ever. Buy your converters here, and save yourself some trouble.
    Well, it’s time for me to sign off and work on homework! Tomorrow is my birthday, and I would like to relax. Andy and I will be ordering roast duck by ourselves for the first time, so updates to come. Peace out!

  8. June 16, 2013 – Happy Birthday! Task 5’s completion… or, rather, complete and utterly hilarious failure!
    Mistakes. They’re a part of life. They happen on a daily basis. And they are the most valuable part of the language learning experience. At least, that’s what the optimist in me says. The pessimist says, “Your Chinese is terrible!” But, mostly? I’m just laughing at myself!
    But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our story starts this morning, when I got up at 7:00 AM, all excited and giggly because today is my birthday! I turned 19 years old today, and my roommate (who was already up and studying, like the overachiever that she is!!!) was the first to wish me happy birthday. I wore this pretty dress that my mother bought me, and some pretty earrings that Andy’s mother gave me as a gift. It was great fun! The dress is definitely my favorite piece of clothing that I own. It attracted a little attention on the street, which is usually something to be avoided, but it was a special day so I didn’t worry about it.
    After I had finished getting dressed, Andy and his roommate, Kale, and I all went to a little café for breakfast. They make these great waffles (that are really more like pastries than waffles) so I had one topped with blueberry and cream cheese. Later, I came back to my room for a nap. When I woke up, my roommate had given me a teddy bear! I had seen it in a shop window and commented how cute it was, so she got it for me! She is very sweet, and we get along quite well.
    I also found, outside our door, a very fancy box addressed to me with a note from Andy on it. Inside the box was a very fancy cake from a local bakery! Once I finish writing this, we will have some. It’s chocolate – my favorite, of course!
    Later, my roommate, Andy, and I went to eat supper. We had noodles, and they were quite good. We are becoming very good friends, Rachel and I. We all get along quite well, which is very nice! It’s good to have friends when in a foreign country.
    However, you are all waiting to hear about China! Excuse me for being just a little self-indulgent! When we last left off in our story, our heroine was planning to order Beijing roast duck without the aid of teachers for the first time. And how did it turn out?
    What resulted shall be known as the Beijing Roast Duck Fiasco, since it’s catchy and fun to say. When Andy and I arrived at the restaurant, we were immediately seated and given a menu. We found the page with the roast duck and it had a few different prices. There was something for 68 Yuan, something for 120 Yuan, and something for 150 Yuan. Now, we couldn’t read the characters, and no one at the restaurant spoke Chinese, so we thought, “to heck with it, we’ll get the 150 Yuan one!” Keep in mind, this is about $20, so we weren’t too worried about the price.
    The waiters, seeing just the two of us, seemed a little surprised by our order, but we paid it no mind… until they brought out the food!
    A fun part about Beijing roast duck is that they cut it in front of you. It’s a very famous dish, and so it is fun to watch it being prepared. The waiters were all very good sports, and let us take pictures with the food. They also let me get a picture with the cook who was cutting the duck. He was very amused by my request, but very polite as well.
    Beijing roast duck is served with little pancake-style wraps, sauce, and various cut vegetables. You essentially make the wraps yourself, and it’s very good. You dip the meat in the sauce, add some veggies, and presto! You have a really great meal ahead of you.
    Andy and I were just getting started when they brought out some minced duck as well, with bread to put that on.
    So, now we started thinking to ourselves, “huh, that must have come with the meal. Well, great, even more food!”
    …And then they brought out the soup, made from the duck meat.
    By the time they finished bringing food out, we had so much that we couldn’t even begin to eat all of it. Fortunately, they let us take the rest home in doggie bags, so we will be eating leftovers for a long time to come. It was a good deal, however. For all the food they gave us, it only cost around $30 (as we had also foolishly ordered an appetizer, and we each had a few Coca Colas). In New York, $30 barely buys a pizza. It’s interesting how different things are here.
    Now, as an SLA participant, it is my duty to do certain journaling projects. When I was looking over the tasks, I found one that seemed interesting. It reads as follows:

    TASK 5: Identify a food/dish/cuisine that is unique to your location of study. Go to a local restaurant and order the food. Engage the waiter/restaurateur in discussion of its ingredients, preparation and presentation. Ask about the historical or cultural significance of the food. Why is it so popular locally? What distinguishes a good preparation from a bad preparation. Note the culturally-bound attention to food and its role in nutrition, social interaction and/or national identity.

    Ok, I thought. No big deal. Just ask the waiters about how they make it! What worried me, however, was my lack of vocabulary. I have only studied Chinese for one year, so my speaking is not as advanced as many other students participating in the SLA program. Nevertheless, Andy and I set out with brave hearts, empty stomachs, and a notebook to write notes in.
    Once we had a moment, we asked a waiter about Beijing roast duck. We asked him a number of questions. We asked why it was famous, if he liked eating it, how it was made, etc. Tons of questions… none of which he understood. We tried asking a variety of different ways, changing our tones, but ultimately, we couldn’t communicate, no matter how hard we tried. Fortunately, our waiter was very nice. He simply laughed it off with us, and left us alone for the rest of the meal.
    Thus ends our escapade with the first journaling task. I did look up some info on Beijing roast duck, and it has a very interesting history. Perhaps by the end of the trip, I will be able to communicate better with the waiters. One can always hope!
    The end of our story takes place on the walk home, at which point we saw a guard standing near some building whose usage I haven’t figured out. There is always someone standing guard at this particular spot, and they’re usually very polite if you have questions, if not a little intimidating.
    As my dad is a police officer, I decided to work up the courage to ask for a picture. After a few minutes of trying (unsuccessfully) to calm my nerves, I walked up to the guard. After a few stuttered words in Chinese, he smiled and said, “可以,” which means, “yes, you may.” So, we got a picture. He also seemed very amused by our request, but was ultimately very nice.
    As today draws to a close, I would like to address two final things. First of all, pictures. If you’re all wondering where these wonderful pictures I’ve taken are hiding, the truth is I haven’t figured out how to post them yet, as I am dreadfully bad with technology. Hopefully, by tomorrow I will figure it out, and I will include pictures from the Great Wall as well as from the restaurant.
    Secondly, there’s a few thank-yous I’d like to make here. First off, my parents. For my birthday this year, they gave me a very special present. When I decided that I wanted to study abroad in China, I know it made my parents worry a lot. I’m still very young and I’ve just completed my first year in college – no doubt they worried how I’d do on my own in a foreign country. However, as I tried to scrounge up some money to go on the trip, they decided to help me finance my trip. They helped make it possible for me to come. As a result, they have given me the best birthday ever. Thank you.
    Next, I want to thank my sponsors, the Liu family. Grants such as those offered through the SLA program are very important. Students who are could not afford to go on their own often look to such programs for help. Without the generosity of the donors, however, none of this would be possible. So I want to say thank you to my sponsors. They have done me a huge favor in helping me get to China. After having only been here a few weeks, it’s changed my life and my studies completely. Thank you.
    I also want to extend one more special thank you – to my grandmother, Shirley Vaselaar. She has supported me constantly since I was a young child, clambering about being a mad scientist and a spy. From the moment I mentioned that my major was Chinese, she has supported my intentions to study and go abroad. She has supported me and given me advice throughout my life, and without her to guide me, I wouldn’t be here today. Thank you.
    Well, it’s getting pretty late… all right, it’s only 10:40, but I’m already exhausted! So it’s off to bed for me! Tomorrow, another week of class starts! I’d better be ready. Thank to everyone who reads this blog! I’ll have more updates soon!

  9. June 17, 2013 – Fashion, Tattoos, and Witch Doctors
    I’m sure I’m giving my parents a heart attack as they read the title. A tattoo? On our little girl?! Don’t worry, guys, I’m not getting a tattoo… especially not in a foreign country! However, during today’s conversation with my language partner, I learned a lot about the Chinese view on tattoos.
    Tattoos are as not popular in China as they are in America. In fact, they often signify delinquency or a criminal record. For example, apparently if a man has a dragon tattoo, it means he has been to prison. People do not often get tattoos at all, and find it very interesting that people from other countries often have tattoos.
    Interestingly, Chinese people do not seem overly interested in bodily modification. In America, girls often cake their faces with makeup, so much so that you can’t even really see their true face. In China, women often don’t wear makeup in public. It is most common to see makeup in a work setting, such as female waitresses. Out on the streets, it’s not so common. Neither is dyeing hair… although, this is understandable, as dyeing black hair is somewhat difficult! Although you do see earrings, and occasionally earrings on a guy (though this is somewhat rare), I have never once seen a tattoo or facial piercing. Even Chinese advertisements feature women with natural-looking makeup. To me, this is very interesting.
    Which brings me to my next observation – fashion. Particularly, women’s fashion (as I am not as familiar with men’s fashion).
    I am a big fan of the clothes Chinese women wear. At first, you notice a lot of shorts and tee shirts, much like in America. However, the more fashionable clothing is quite exquisite, and not at all like I expected. Chinese women seem to be big fans of delicate clothing. Clothes are decked with frills, lace, beads, and bows. Oftentimes they wear pastels. Silk is very common, as are other delicate fabrics. In a way, they look somewhat like dolls, with their delicate, young clothing. Baby-doll dresses are common (I know my mom is squealing with delight, now) and non-fitted clothing is also popular. Parasols make the perfect accessory to top off any outfit. Women’s fashion here is very picturesque, and I like it very much (although I haven’t been able to find a clothing store yet).
    One of the topics in today’s class is Chinese witch doctors. Well, I’m calling them witch doctors. The Chinese term is 中医 (zhongyi). Throw this into Google translate (my favorite invention since Mac ‘n’ Cheese) and you get “TCM – Traditional Chinese Medicine.”
    TCM is very popular in China. It is an ancient art, and TCM practitioners are about as common as modern doctors. They offer medicine in the form of bitter beverages that are apparently very hard to swallow. They often offer services to those whom modern doctors cannot help. They also do such things as acupuncture.
    In America, such doctors are somewhat looked down upon, and are usually not called doctors at all. They are often criticized as not being effective as their practices are not base in science. Thus, I was surprised to learn that my language partner had been to a TCM doctor many times.
    When I explained the American view on such medicinal practices, she responded by saying, “well, some of the doctors are bad, and their medicines do not work. Some of them are good and have good medicine. It depends on where you go.” Ultimately, TCM is very common, although our actual neighborhood does not have a TCM pharmacy, unlike most places.
    Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of this. If any of you have ideas about TCM, feel free to email me and we can discuss it!
    At any rate, today has been pretty uneventful other than these few observations. I’ve finished my homework, and am procrastinating studying a bit before going to eat supper. School can be very draining, and oftentimes I don’t have a lot of energy for studying. So, time to rally and get to work! See you all later!

  10. June 18, 2013 – Language learners, and a bicycle built for two
    A young Hispanic man approaches an American male dressed in a business suit. The youth asks for help, and tries to stutter out a question in broken English. As a part of his language class, he must practice directions with an English speaker. As he struggles to produce grammatically perfect English, the businessman snaps and said, “Geez, can’t you Mexicans speak any English?” even though the youth is Columbian, not Mexican. The businessman then storms off, leaving the youth frustrated and confused.
    This scene is all too common in America. Even though English is considered one of the hardest languages to learn (second only, as a matter of fact, to Mandarin Chinese), we seem to expect everyone who steps foot into this country to speak perfect English. As people struggle to order food in a language completely different from their own, we snap, “I can’t understand you, ask someone else.” When someone tries to produce an English sound through a thick accent, we snarl. But what we often forget, as my roommate mentioned one day, is that, “we should respect people who speak English with an accent, because that means they know two languages.”
    In China, I was fully prepared for similar treatment. Although China has many different dialects and accents, I somehow knew my rigidly formal Mandarin with an American accent wouldn’t quite fit in. As I stepped off of the plane into a rainy Chinese afternoon, I prepared for the worst.
    However, you know what they say about assumptions.
    When I stutter out my poor Mandarin, struggling to find the words from my limited vocabulary that could possibly convey some kind of meaning, I am almost always met with smiles and exclamations of, “oh, you are studying Chinese! That’s good, that’s good!” When Chinese people see foreigners stumbling over the language, they wait patiently for the person to finish speaking, and do their best to communicate with them. They go to great pains to make foreigners feel welcome, and to make them feel at home with the language.
    I remember my first time ordering by myself in a restaurant. I asked for a Coca-Cola, stuttering over the words to remember a tricky grammar item (measure words – they get me every time). When I got to the actual FOOD part of the menu, I was horrified to find that I couldn’t read any of it. While the waitress waited patiently to order, I picked something that looked not-too-terrifying and pointed, absolutely mortified at my incompetence. The waitress simply pointed at the menu item, as if to ask if I was sure. I nodded, and she said it out loud so I knew how to say it. She said it several times as I struggled to produce the sounds, to make sure I got the pronunciation down, then went to place my order. Rather than getting immediately irritated and snapping at me, she helped me through the ordering process and the rest of the meal.
    At first, I couldn’t believe it. “No, this isn’t right,” I thought to myself. “Certainly not everyone is like this! I’m butchering their language, that’s got to be irritating.” In China, the Chinese language is an art form. It is one of the oldest art forms in existence, as a matter of fact. And it is very sacred in China. For a long time, it was illegal for a Chinese person to teach Chinese to a foreigner. It is one of China’s greatest treasures, and here I was, foolishly trying to gain access to it. Were people really going to let this slide?
    It just so happens that Chinese people love it when foreigners try to learn Chinese. In fact, China is very globally friendly. Because Beijing is a major center for Business, many street signs are in English and other languages. Rather than demand that your Chinese be perfect the first time you speak it, they are encouraging and kind, as though they want to share their language with the rest of the world.
    So, instead of a poor Columbian boy lost in the big city, surrounded by surly Americans, we have a curious American girl essentially being led around by friendly Beijing inhabitants. It’s a very striking difference, and one can’t help but wonder if China, perhaps, has a better understanding on the importance of language. Whereas in America we are apt to say, “I shouldn’t have to press one for English!” in China, they are more apt to say, “here, let me help you with that word!” Something about it is touching, in a way I can’t explain.
    Although American tourists are known around the world as being ultra-friendly (believe me, this surprised me about as much as it probably surprises you), Chinese people must be even moreso. Take, for example, the tandem bicycle.
    All day long, I was humming in my head, “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do…” as I walked down the street towards class. Why, you ask? Because everywhere you walk, you see them. Two-person bicycles racing down the street.
    However, these are not the sort of tandem bicycles that you normally think of. They do not have two sets of handles and two sets of pedals. Rather, there is an extra seat on the back for the passenger to sit. It is very interesting, if not somewhat dangerous.
    When I first saw this, I was reminded of my mother. She once told me a story about when she was younger, and she and one of her siblings had a mishap trying to ride on the same bicycle at the same time (I’ll have to ask her about this later, as I can’t quite remember what happened). I, for one, had never seen a tandem bicycle. In fact, it wasn’t until I went to New York a week before I came to Beijing that I saw one in person.
    Seeing people bike in such a fashion down the road is interesting, and often precious. You will often see a father with his little girl holding onto his back for dear life as they speed across a busy street. Then, you’ll see a boy riding his sweetheart around while she holds a parasol over their heads to keep them out of the sun.
    At first, I didn’t really understand why I found this so odd. Bicycles are really common forms of transportation in other countries (moreso than in the US) so what’s the big deal?
    The big deal is how important it is to people.
    Just to see dad having fun with his little girl while going to the store, or the two lovebirds to bond on two wheels is a grand experience. In America, we are supposed to get from A to B as fast as possible. No stops, no breaks, get in the car and go, go, go! But in China, life is almost at a slower pace – at least in this part of Beijing. People don’t drive if they don’t absolutely have to. Oftentimes, they bike or walk to wherever they want to go, meandering down the street, looking into shop windows and stopping to see what the street vendors have in store for them. Watching two people riding the same bicycle and actually laughing together and enjoying the experience… it makes me sad that, to an American, that is initially very puzzling.
    It is important to stop and look around at life once in awhile. Since I’ve been in Beijing, I’ve taken to wandering around the streets near the school (the very safe, well-policed streets… in case my mom is reading) with my friends until we find a restaurant that looks good to eat at. We often meander along the sidewalks until we find a store to look at, or saunter around campus, looking at the dorms and discovering new areas. At Notre Dame, I find myself walking to class with my head down, eyes focused on the ground, and legs working just as fast as they can. In China, I get to stop, and look around, and enjoy life.
    Ultimately, there are many things about China. But, really, it’s the little things that get me every time.

    • Rona,

      Sounds like you are having a great time! I must say that I have to giggle at some of your experiences. I, remember experiencing the language barrier. If you ever want to ride a tandem bicycle, let me know – I have one. Tom and I love to ride it (I have to be in the back b/c I can’t reach the ground to balance if I’m not standing up and I can’t stand up in the front b/c of a bar.LOL).

      Things are very slow here, We’re all getting in vacation time :).

      Take care.


  11. June 19, 2013 – The Masque of the Red Wedding, 老师,and Scooters
    It’s about 3 in the afternoon. My roommate and I are sitting on our beds, simultaneously studying and bemoaning our workload, when we get a knock at the door. “请进,请进,” we both instantaneously call out.
    Before we have the chance to make fun of each other for saying the same thing at the same time, in walks our teacher.
    Surprised, we stare for a moment, speechless, before we can sum up the courage to ask if there was something wrong. In most colleges in the US, you won’t see a teacher walking into a student’s room. It’s probably in violation of a thousand different rules, plus it just seems… strange. Teachers and students do not share the same living space, both literally and figuratively. Teachers are authoritative and above their students.
    While this registers in my mind, I see our teacher pull out a pair of earplugs for each of us. “I heard this dorm is loud at night because of the construction next door. I thought you might want these!” (Note: this is a rough translation of her Chinese. We do not speak English at all during this program, aside from when we call home to assure our parents that we aren’t dead in a ditch somewhere.)
    My roommate and I, both amazed, smile and repeatedly thank her. Her only response is, “在中国,老师照顾学生.”
    This reads as follows: in China, teachers take care of students.
    “老师,” pronounced, “laoshi,” is usually translated to “teacher” in English. However, this translation is not exactly accurate. A better word would be “mentor.” In China, it is important that teachers are mentors to their students. They are teachers, not only in the classroom, but also out in real life. When a student is upset, 老师is the first to comfort him/her. When a student is lost and needs help finding his or her way back to the college, it is 老师 that helps them find their way back. If a student is trying to buy something and the price is too expensive, it is 老师who teaches them to haggle.
    In China, being a 老师is very serious business. The job is not for everyone. You do not simply teach the class and let them out 10 minutes early. You have to point them to where they need to go. It reminds me of a saying by Bruce Lee, “It is like a finger pointing toward the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.” It seems as though it is assumed that 老师will be your guide, the one who points you to the moon. As an American, where oftentimes there is little importance placed on the actual teacher, this is an intriguing idea. It is not uncommon for students in China form close relationships with their 老师。In America, this idea is rare, and a teacher who acts like a 老师is hard to come by. That really says something about education in America.
    Red, red, everywhere. It’s the color of good fortune in China. As such, it is supposedly a very popular color. And, whereas red clothing in America is usually used to convey a sultry disposition, in China, red is representative of one of the most sacred acts of love – marriage.
    So, as we rode the bus to the Great Wall, I was surprised to see an ad for a wedding store, featuring a bride decked out in white.
    Of all the influences that the West has had on China, this has to be the most striking. Picture this. An American wedding, with a bride with beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes, and a brown-haired country boy for a groom. With the groom dressed in a smart tuxedo, standing at the altar, the whole congregation turns to watch the bride enter the church… and she’s wearing a blood-red dress.
    Now, this would certainly cause whispers, not only because it is strange, but also because white signifies purity, and if you aren’t wearing white… well, we’ll probably make a snap judgment about your pre-marital relationship with your fiancée.
    In China, traditional wedding clothes for the bride are, of course, red. Lately, however, ads depict a beautiful Chinese bride, her hair done up in a neat bun with a white veil, and a fitted white dress to match. She is often swooning in the arms of her husband-to-be, showing off her beautiful clothing. The man, of course, is always dressed in a black tux.
    Now it gets even more strange. What do you think white symbolizes in China? Why, a funeral, of course! Rather than covering themselves in black, Chinese people celebrate the life of the person and mourn their passing by wearing white. Now, to anyone from the US, this is a confusing concept. But there you have it. So, in short, red is love and white is death. And now, white is being used for love, creating a confusing mix of culture.
    However, it is a beautiful thing to see two cultures, so different from each other, exchanging ideas. There are many signs of Western influence in China – the music, the clothing… and yet, despite all its Western accessories, Beijing manages to retain the beautiful culture that belongs to the oldest civilization in the world. In many places, modernization and globalization means the loss of culture. It seems to get swept away in all the confusion of progress. But, in China, culture and progress meld together to create something beautiful.
    To shift gears a little bit, lets talk about shifting gears. Scooters. Motorized scooters everywhere.
    On the UIBE campus, there are numerous signs forbidding the usage of motorcycles. Their English translations, while occasionally somewhat grammatically incorrect and hilarious, offer a clear message on why they are not allowed: “lots of accidents and deaths caused by motorcycles! Impossible to get legal license! Absolutely forbidden!”
    However, motorized scooters, patched together with various mismatched parts, self-repaired and maintained, are perfectly legal. The first time I watched one of these death-traps roar down the street, I wondered how on earth they could be street legal. In America, there’s no way that thing would even get near a country road. Nevertheless, they are a very popular form of transportation in China.
    Why is this? I couldn’t tell you for sure. But it probably has a lot to do with China’s infrastructure.
    Currently, as our book tells us, the number of people buying personal cars in Beijing is increasing drastically. The development of the roads, however, is not able to keep up with the amount of cars being bought. As a result, Beijing traffic is a mess, and driving a car can be terribly inconvenient. A scooter is more compact and easily maneuvered through traffic, cheaper, and simply more convenient.
    Still a death trap, and there’s no way I would get on one, but, hey, they’re pretty cool to watch from a distance.
    As much as I would like to expand on the philosophical meanings of scooters and death-mobiles, it’s time for my meeting with my language partner. Until next time!

  12. June 20, 2013 – Nursing homes are for sissies!, the Pirates of Beijing
    It’s about 7:30 in the morning. The sun is (finally) out, the parasols are in full bloom (I was pretty proud of myself for coming up with that metaphor, by the way) and I am trudging my way to class. I’m thinking about how comfortable the sidewalks look, and if I could just lie down for a minute I’d be so happy, when I see a spry man of about 85 pedaling along on a bicycle, boom box hanging from handlebars blasting a Chinese talk show. It caught me by such surprise that I completely forgot how tired I was and watched him leisurely make his way down the street.
    In China, health is an important issue. Whereas in America we often throw away health so that we can gain money, Chinese people have found a way to incorporate both their jobs and their health into their lives.
    Take Chinese food, for instance. In America, we often cook everything separate. By that, I mean we grill (or, more often than not, fry) the meat, steam the veggies, and take the buns out of the oven, place them all on separate plates, and we are good to go. In China, everything is cooked together (usually in a wok). Vegetables are cooked with the meat so that, no matter what you order, you can usually get a little bit of all your daily nutrients. Rice is the main carbohydrate, and is eaten with pretty much everything. By cooking the meat with the vegetables, the different flavors meld together and create something that is just wonderful. As a person who doesn’t like eating just vegetables, this is the perfect solution. Chinese food wouldn’t be Chinese food without the vegetables.
    Furthermore, Chinese people get a lot of exercise. It’s very troublesome to own a car in Beijing, as noted earlier, and most people walk to wherever they need to go. Being out in the scorching heat doesn’t impede their work or their progress. They have more energy than I had at five years old – which is really saying something.
    Interestingly, nursing homes don’t appear to be very popular in China. What is more common is being taken care of by your children. Chinese parents give their children a monthly allowance, even when they are in college. Chinese students often deposit this money, rather than spend it right away (you know, like we American kids do). Thus, by the time they graduate, they have accumulated a hefty sum to sort of give them an advance while they find a job and begin their careers. Then, once the parents are too old to work and need someone to care for them, the children provide for them. You hear that, mom and dad? Better start giving me a monthly allowance! Then you guys can live in my attic!
    However, what I’m really excited to talk about is my favorite accent in the whole world – the Beijing accent.
    Now, that’s a pretty bold statement. After all, there are British accents, Australian accents, Irish accents… and, as a girl, all of these make me swoon. However, it is the Beijing accent that is the most fun.
    The first time I really noticed it was when I was getting directions to the bank. I asked the security guard at our dorm (who is very nice, by the way) if he could help me. He told me to go to West Gate. Now, West Gate is written, “西门,” and the pinyin is “ximen.” It is pronounced, “sheman.” However, what he said was, “shemaRRRRR.”
    Now, this surprised me a great deal the first time I heard it. Instead of the word ending with some sound you expect – an ‘n,’ perhaps – it abruptly comes to a stop with a hard ‘r’ sound. It always reminds me of a pirate. You know, the whole, “arrrr, matey!” sort of deal. It is definitely the most interesting accent of all time, and it is unique to Beijing. Fortunately for me, it is the accent that with which I am most used to speaking Chinese. Thus, I get to develop my own Beijing accent! I hope to join the Pirates of Beijing, as I call local Beijingers, very soon.
    Well, tomorrow I have a test (which is making me quake with fear) so I better get to bed so I can wake up early in the morning (you know, Chinese people think the morning is the best time to study). Thanks everyone for tuning in! See you (hopefully) tomorrow!

  13. June 22, 2013 – The Yinshan Pagoda Forest, the Silk Street Market, and Subway Adventures
    Sorry in advance, but this post is going to be a long one. It’s been a few days since I’ve written a blog post because I was so busy! I have a lot to talk about, so I better get started.
    On Friday, our teachers took all of us students to the Silk Street Market. This is a pretty famous place among foreigners, where you go and practice bargaining with the local vendors. When this was being described to me, I instantly had a picture in my mind of a dirty street lined with simple shacks, packed with clothing and touristy items.
    However, as soon as we arrived, I realized I had been completely wrong.
    The Silk Street Market is a huge building, very modern and beautiful. As we looked at each other, baffled, my classmates and I filed in to find that it was packed with glass-fronted stores. There were perhaps as many as a hundred stores per floor, lined up in rows, with aisles between them. Each floor had different items – clothing, handbags, art, jewelry, and more.
    As you walk by the stores, all you hear are the English words, “Hey, pretty lady! Buy something here! Cheap, cheap!” However, although the stores all looked interesting, I knew what I wanted to buy right away.
    Qipao. It’s a Chinese-style dress and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Since I began studying Chinese, I have wanted to buy one. Now was my chance. So, I picked a clothing store, walked inside, and started looking.
    Immediately a saleswoman was by my side, showing me every article of clothing in the shop. As I stuck by the dresses, she began to chat up Andy and I. Of course, she began by speaking English… until she realized that we were Chinese speakers.
    “Oh, you study Chinese?!” She seemed genuinely surprised by this. I wonder how often they actually have Chinese-speaking Americans coming into this market. We chatted for a while and told her about our studies. During this time, I managed to find the perfect pink dress – and they had one in my size! I regret to inform everyone that I am an XL in Chinese styles. I like to tell myself that it’s because I’m too tall, but I think we all know that I’m fooling myself.
    The woman looked at me after I’d tried the dress on and said, “For tourists, we charge 1,000 kuai (that’s about $160 for all you Americans out there). However, since you are Chinese speakers… I’ll give this to you for 420 kuai, ok?”
    Now, I was supposed to be bartering with her. But the dress was something that I really wanted, and I probably WOULD have paid $160. 420 kuai is only about $70. In America, a dress like this would easily be $160, if not more. Furthermore, my language partner had told me that paying about 400 kuai for a nice dress was a reasonable price.
    As I was about to simply accept, Andy gave me a chastising look. He leaned over and said, “You’re supposed to practice bargaining, remember?” I reluctantly looked at the saleswoman, and blurted out, “Well… we’re supposed to practice bargaining for my class…”
    She smiled at me. Of course, I had just made myself a very easy target. No doubt she told all Americans she’d give them this special price. I probably could have gotten her down to 200 kuai or less, but I was especially nervous. I only asked for 400 kuai, and she gave me 410. Andy was less than impressed by what I considered a marvelous success. After all, you don’t bargain in the US (not anywhere I’ve been, anyway). It just seems awfully rude.
    But, I had my dress. So I decided I would keep on trying to bargain for items that were less important to me.
    Pretty soon, I found a really cute Chinese-style shirt. I walked in and took a look, and decided to go for it.
    “How much is this shirt?” I asked the woman.
    Now, I don’t remember exactly what she said the price was… I think it was around 400 kuai or more. Andy gave me one of those, “are you serious?” looks. I played along and returned his gaze.
    “I think that’s a little expensive,” I said.
    “Definitely too much,” Andy added.
    “Could you lower the price a little?” I was hopeful she would lower it a fair amount so I didn’t have to bargain too much.
    Well, she only lowered about 20 kuai. Now, the trick to bargaining is to shoot for a really low number. It can oftentimes make them come down a fair deal. So I said, “what about 60 kuai?”
    “Too cheap, too cheap! 300!”
    “No way! Give me 200 kuai.”
    “280, deal?”
    “Fine, 270. Ok?”
    I figured that this was as low as we were getting, so I took it. My teachers said it was a pretty good price, so I was pretty proud of that (they think I got ripped off on the dress, but I think it was worth every mao). I also ended up buying a doll/figurine for a pretty low price. All in all, it was successful, and I found that I really enjoy bargaining. Whereas I’d been afraid of offending people at first, I found that they were extremely used to bargaining and didn’t find it strange or rude at all. Words cannot express my relief!
    After that, Andy and I had pizza. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Pizza?! In China?! What craziness is this! Well, there was a pizza place in the mall, and we were curious.
    Pizza is definitely very expensive in China. A dish of food is usually around 20 or 30 kuai, and that’s for an entire bowl of something. A small pizza cost us about 100 kuai. However, we were really, REALLY curious so we went for it.
    To our surprise, it wasn’t bad! It was definitely not the same as American pizza. We couldn’t tell what was different – the sauce, the pepperoni, the crust – but it was pretty fair.
    Now comes the fun part of the story: the subway.
    You see, we had taken a bus from the school to get to the Silk Street Market. What we were not expecting, however, is that the bus wouldn’t be able to take us BACK. No, we were told that we had to find our own way back.
    Before I had time to panic, the teachers gave us a subway map and told us exactly how to get to where we were going. Andy, two other students, and I all set out to try to find this illusive subway station.
    Fortunately for us, it happened to be right by the door to the mall. We descended into the darkness, hoping against hope that it wouldn’t be too crowded.
    Our hopes were definitely in vain. Never in my life have I seen that many people in one place – and I’ve been to Times Square! Once we had bought tickets, we had to go through a security check. Then, we attempted to find the line we were taking.
    Now, the subway map we had somehow didn’t have the lines labeled (I know, totally unhelpful, right?). So, we stopped a security guard officer and he pointed the way. We ended up taking line 1, then switching to line 5 after two stops, at which point we had to wait 8 stops to get to where we were going.
    Once we were on the subway, we were essentially packed in like sardines in a can. We had to watch our bags closely to make sure no one stole from us. The best part, of course, was that we were THE ONLY non-Chinese people on the subway. Literally NO ONE ELSE from America was with us. As such, we were the subject of many stares for the trip.
    At one point (after some stop with a name I can’t remember) I ended up not having a place to hold on. I remember looking around, panicked. I was somewhat separated from my friends by a few people and was beginning to get overwhelmed by all the curious eyes staring at me.
    Just as I was about to start SERIOUSLY panicking (and my mom knows what a big deal THAT is) a very tall, buff Chinese guy looked down at me.
    I looked up at him with my big, round eyes and thought, “crap. I’m dead. I’m dead I’m dead I’m dead and my mom is gonna KILL me.”
    To my surprise, however, he gave me a huge smile, and moved his hand over so I would have a place to hold on.
    Who says knight errantry is dead? I stood next to him for the whole ride. Although he never said a word, at the next stop, he pushed everyone back and cleared a path for me so I could join my friends. I’ll never forget the smile he gave me, or how absolutely grateful I was to have found a friend to help me out.
    When we finally got off the subway, we emerged into the street and look around for the school.
    Of course it was nowhere to be found.
    By this time, I was getting pretty frustrated. While everyone was contemplating what to do, I decided enough was enough. I marched up to the nearest Chinese guy who was sitting alone and said, “excuse me, could you help me? I’m a foreign student and I need to get to UIBE.”
    “I don’t know where it is.” He looked at me curiously, but this was the only answer he gave.
    Not to be deterred, I walked up to a Chinese father holding his little girl’s hand. I asked the same question. Hurriedly, he pointed down the street, and walked off.
    So, we headed in that general direction. We had to walk about 10 minutes before we actually got to the school. But, when we did, I think I was more relieved than I have ever been in my entire life.
    And, thus, my first adventure on the Beijing subway ended. Although I am sure we will have to take the subway again, it was a very nerve-wracking experience that I’m not sure I’d like to repeat.
    With that journey over, I came back to my room and changed into my Chinese dress so Andy and I could go to dinner.
    This probably sounds dumb, but I’ve never felt so happy in a piece of clothing before. I felt more beautiful than when I wore my prom dresses. Now, I know what you’re all thinking, there’s no way a short Chinese dress can in any way compare to a prom dress. And you’re right. The Chinese dress is so far above my prom dresses that it would be unfair to compare my prom dresses to it.
    I think I felt that way because I finally found the place where I fit in. Yes, looks-wise I will never fit in in China. I’m clearly not of Chinese descent, I know. But, when I’m in China, everything is perfect. The food, the clothing, the weather, the people – everything fits me perfectly. I love it here and I wouldn’t trade this trip for the world. I know that August will come much too soon, so I have to enjoy myself while I still have time.
    After supper, I went straight to bed (you have no idea how tired we all were!).
    Saturday morning came much too early. I got up at 7, got dressed and all set to go, and was downstairs by 7:50. We left around 8:30 (we were supposed to leave at 8 – we never leave in time) and got on the bus to go to the Yinshan Pagoda Forest.
    I’m ashamed to say that I had absolutely never heard of this place in my life. The bus ride was a little over 2 hours, and once we got there it was raining lightly. Fortunately, I had my umbrella.
    We got off the bus and walked a little way until we came to the ruins of the Fa Hua Temple.
    The ruins are from the Ming Dynasty, if my teachers were correct. There are essentially a few towers, beautiful examples of architecture, in this open space. They are of different heights and styles, and I’m not sure exactly what that means but I’ll look it up later. When we arrived, a woman was walking around the base of a tower, chanting to herself.
    My teacher saw me watching her curiously and explained, “People walk around the towers while praying. It gives you health and (wealth?). For this particular tower, you must walk around 3 times.”
    Once we’d taken a few pictures, our teachers let us set out on our own. Following some ragged-looking steps up into the mountain (seriously, what is it with Chinese people and hazardous steps? We almost died about 20 times), Andy and I set off on our own to go exploring.
    As we were confronted with tons of paths, I immediately began to fear we’d get lost. Great, I thought to myself. This is just like in the Blair Witch Project. Andy and I are going to get completely lost, we’re gonna go crazy and get eaten by a crazy Chinese dragon spirit. We don’t even have a map, so we can’t re-enact the whole Map scene. We’re gonna die, it’s gonna be a really short movie, it’s DEFINITELY gonna be a flop, and I’m gonna have to talk to the director about this.
    As it turns out, all of my crazy rambling was actually for nothing. Andy and I stayed pretty consistent with our paths (we essentially just kept going up) so finding our way back was not an issue.
    We twisted and wound our way up the mountain, stopping to look inside caves and little huts hewn out of the rock. We climbed up rocks, took tons of pictures, and had a blast. Eventually, we found ourselves at a high point, having reached the Bell Pavilion.
    The Bell Pavilion is a plateau with a bell in the center. Sounds pretty anticlimactic, I know, but it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. It overlooks the mountains and the temple ruins. The bell still has the log set up so that tourists can ring it. The plaque told us that Buddhists used to ring the bell and sing a bell song so that they could have health and wealth, and their problems would disappear. Of course, I rang the bell. My Catholic mom is probably frowning at that, but I thought, hey, I might as well. I didn’t sing any songs, so I should be good!
    The Bell Pavilion was definitely my favorite place on the mountain. We were so high up that we had become a part of the mist that surrounded Beijing. It was incredibly peaceful and beautiful.
    As I looked out on the mist, I kept thinking of the Misty Mountains from Lord of the Rings. Now, I should preface that by saying I have only read The Fellowship of the Ring. I tried to make it through The Hobbit when I was younger, but it didn’t work out. Eventually, I read The Fellowship and got halfway through the second book when I decided that watching the movies was satisfying enough. I’m sorry, but Tolkien is SO long-winded. I mean, seriously. Ents are tree people. There, not that hard. Sorry, Mr. Tolkien, but you didn’t have to take 20 pages to describe the colors of their leaves. It’s not an efficient use of my time. (I know my dad is shaking his head at me now, as he loves those books!).
    I also took the time to do a picture recreation.
    For those of you who are unfamiliar with Internet culture, photo recreations are very popular right now. You find an old photo of yourself (oftentimes with your friends or siblings), get together with those in the photo, and re-enact the scene. You take a picture, and there you have it. It’s the same picture, but you’re about 20 years older. They make great gifts (when done correctly).
    Well, when I was younger, my dad took me on motorcycle trips. I remember that every summer he used to set me on the motorcycle to see if my feet reached the pedals. He told me that, once I was tall enough to reach the pedals, we’d go on our first trip. I used to cry because I wasn’t tall enough, and had to wait a whole year before I could (maybe) go. Well, one year, I was tall enough that, if I stretched my toes out, I just BARELY reached the pedals. I looked at dad anxiously. He stared at my feet for a minute, shrugged, and said, “alright, let’s go!” We went on our first motorcycle trip together. If I remember correctly (I was pretty young, so I could be wrong) we just went up to Pipestone to a campground. But it was the most fun I’ve ever had. We got to camp in a tent and we bought glowsticks and they had this great playground. It was ridiculously fun.
    When we were there, dad took a photo of me at some touristy area. It was an area overlooking a forest, and I put my hands behind me on the railing, leaned forward, and gave my best cheesy smile. It’s one of my favorite photos. So, I walked to the edge of the plateau, grabbed the railing, leaned forward and grinned. Andy took the picture (I will send them in to be posted, I swear!). So, mom and dad, you should have that to look forward to!
    Afterwards, we went back down the mountain and waited for the rest of the class. Since it was raining, we only stayed until 1. The rain wasn’t actually too bad, and I ended up ditching my umbrella and throwing it in my backpack (it was so cumbersome on the way up!) so we hung around the ruins and took pictures until the group arrived. Then, we all piled in the bus and came home. I, of course, fell asleep on Andy within minutes of the bus ride.
    Today was one of the most fun days I’ve had in China! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED the Great Wall, I really did, but to me, nothing could compare to this place. It’s amazingly beautiful.
    In the end, it’s easy to fall in love with Beijing. I knew this was where I belonged the minute I stepped off of the plane. Some people find their happiness in small-town Minnesota. Others find it on the bustling streets of New York. For me, the source of my happiness lies in China. Although I love Notre Dame and my home, I will always belong in China.

  14. June 24, 2013 – Rat tails and mohawks, Children’s world, Battle cries and lyrical screaming
    One thing that has taken a while to get used to here in Bejing is the hairstyles.
    Now, in my whole life, I had never actually seen someone sporting both a rat tail and a mohawk. I mean, really, what era does that even come from? Whenever I see something like that, I always feel like it’s the ghost of decades past, coming to haunt us for the terrible fashion decisions we made.
    Naturally, the first time I WOULD see this duo is in China. And, of course, it wasn’t a grown metal fan or punk kid wearing this interesting combo. It was, in fact, a little boy who could have been no more than 5 or 6.
    While Andy and I were trekking our way through the Yinshan Pagoda Forest, we happened upon a mother walked down the mountain with her son. The son, as noted before, had this very interesting hairstyle. Now, normally I would not recommend giving this haircut to your child – or any child, for that matter – but he was just so darned CUTE. Whereas most children seem to be wary of strangers, he had no problem smiling at me and walking up to me, even without his mother’s prompting.
    Mom, of course, wanted a picture. She kept asking me for one, even though she’d clearly already decided, as she took out her camera. She kept asking her son to “stand by the pretty girl.” The poor guy, however, was just not having it. He was too busy wandering around, looking at the flowers and trees, not paying any attention to his mother. It took us about seven tries to get him to let me put my arm around him and hold still long enough for a picture. Now, I know my own mother is wondering where my copy of this picture might be. Since the path was narrow and it was pretty dangerous, I only stayed long enough for mom to get a picture before I went on my way (sorry, mom… I promise I will get one next time!).
    It is very interesting how indulgent Chinese families are towards their children. In America, the stereotype is the Chinese Tiger Mom, a woman who is impossible to impress that pressures her children into becoming the best at everything, a cold woman who has no interest in feelings or love. This is the most laughable stereotype I’ve ever heard, now that I’ve been to China.
    Because of the One Child Policy, parents and grandparents simply gush over their children/grandchildren. Parents proudly display their children in public and shower them with affection. Grandparents visibly gush over their adorable little grandchildren, seeming to have eyes only for them as they walk down the street.
    Interestingly, the one thing I don’t see much is a child misbehaving in public. At first, I found this very strange. A topic often found in our book is the spoiling of children. As parents and grandparents are so fond of their one child/grandchild, it is often thought that the children will inevitably end up spoiled. However, the children I have all seen mind their parents pretty well and never cause a fuss (except for the very, very young children).
    At first, I thought that certainly they must be strongly disciplined at home. That’s the only logical explanation for how well-behaved they are, right? Certainly, it’s possible that they come from strict homes. However, the behavior I’ve seen thus far does not indicate a strict upbringing. So, what is it?
    In the end, it once again comes down to the lifestyle in Beijing. The city is more kid-friendly than most places in America. Now, that sounds a bit insane and illogical. How can a city be kid-friendly?
    In America, everything is a formality. In restaurants, waiters and waitresses must plaster on fake smiles to serve their clients, and are almost never caught joking around with other waiters in front of the customers. Shop attendants are expected to be professional at all times, giving no hint that they are actually human. Meetings in public are quiet, well-organized, and professional. Everyone is, in a word, uptight.
    In the world I’ve entered, however, formality is almost non-existent. True, in more expensive restaurants, the staff is crisp, formal, and impersonal. In the smaller, family-owned restaurants that we are more likely to eat at, however, the waiters and waitresses joke around while serving the food. The families often take breaks to eat together in front of the customers. In the shops, the attendants talk to their friends and family as though they weren’t even working, and leisurely attend to their work. People are relaxed and friendly, and everyone is family.
    Now, this is certainly different than in America, where there are very specific degrees of formality that vary with your relationship with another person. But what does this have to do with children?
    In America, children have no place in this formality. It is as the old adage says, children should be seen, not heard. Children are an accessory to the parents, often more of a burden, that are dressed up and trotted around for the sake of looks. They have no place in society until they can pay their own bills.
    China is a much more family-oriented place. Restaurant owners take their children down to the restaurant, and play with them during more quiet periods of the day. On a few occasions, I have seen a certain teenage male waiter dancing around with a tiny Chinese girl in the middle of the restaurant while she laughs and laughs. Oftentimes, children play outside of the restaurant, without having to worry about being an inconvenience to their families. It strikes me that children here are very happy, and so are their parents.
    In the end, it is not necessarily that Chinese children act any differently than their American counterparts. It is, rather, that Chinese children live in a world that wants them the way they are. There is no need for their silence, and there is no place for a rigid formality that excludes them.
    Now, I must make a small disclaimer before I move on to my next topic. It should be noted that I live in a more poor area of China. The people here don’t have a whole lot of money, and so perhaps this is the reason that there is less formality. If this is the case – if it is a matter of money rather than culture – I believe I understand why Jesus wanted us to learn from the poor, and why he believed that they are blessed.
    Now, onto the screaming.
    Every Friday, class ends early because we have a test rather than a regular lesson. In order to help us maximize our time in Beijing, UIBE and the Duke program offer several classes on Friday afternoons for Duke Summer in China participants. There are three classes, to be exact. The first class is a Tai Chi class, a very famous and highly respected form of martial arts. The second class is a singing class. The third and final class is a cultural arts-and-crafts type of class. I participate in the first and third classes, of course (singing is just not my thing – I have the voice of a dying bullfrog).
    My first day of Tai Chi class was completely different than what I expected. I have taken marital arts in the past (Tae Kwon Do, if you’re wondering) and I really enjoyed it. However, I was a kid, and I lost interest pretty quickly. I was expecting Tai Chi to be the slow sort of dance-like exercise that you see in movies. That, of course, is only one type of Tai Chi, and it was not the type we were learning.
    When our instructor walked in, the first thing I noticed was that he was incredibly in-shape. He was, of course, clearly the martial artist who would be teaching us – it was easy to tell that before he was introduced. He started off class with a demonstration. He sunk into position and his whole body stilled. My favorite part of watching martial arts is watching the artist’s eyes. They become eerily still and motionless while the artist concentrates, and they leap into action as soon as the artist throws the first punch. Here’s some homework for you all: watch a Bruce Lee film – any film, although I would recommend Fist of Fury – and just watch Lee’s eyes during the first fight seen. In all of cinema history, there is no more powerful image than this.
    Now, as he was getting ready, I was waiting for the slow motions of the Tai Chi you see elderly Chinese people performing in the park. I was not ready for what happened next.
    He began to move into a fast, active martial arts form, punching and kicking so quickly it was hard to actually see the movements. His concentration only grew the more he fought the air around him. We were all fairly amazed by this performance. Once he was done, we automatically erupted in applause. I’d never seen this form of Tai Chi before, and it was a very valuable experience.
    With this, we began class. Our instructor speaks no English, so it is a little difficult at times to communicate with us. At one point, he was trying to tell me I was standing too close to the wall (he didn’t want me to throw my elbow into it) but couldn’t find a way to say it, so he simply walked over, grabbed me by my shoulders and pulled me forward. Martial arts is a lot like this, actually. It is straightforward and simple, without regards to propriety or formalities. It’s one of my favorite art forms.
    Around the middle of class, we began to learn how to scream. I know what you’re probably thinking. Screaming is pretty natural, right? I mean, you don’t have to LEARN how to scream… right? Well, in martial arts, screaming is a big part of intimidation. It’s actually a very important component in fighting. To demonstrate, our teacher began a round of punches. As he threw each punch, his face contorted into some kind of hellish smile, and he screamed, “HA!” It was almost like watching The Joker (from Batman, for all you non-nerds out there) in action. It was perhaps the most terrifying thing I’ve witnessed personally – and I’ve lived through tornados.
    Screaming takes a while to get used to. When I was younger, I never could quite get a handle on it. Now, however, I find it much easier. Our class progressed smoothly, filled with kicks, screams, and laughter. It’s perhaps some of the most fun I’ve ever had doing a physical activity (read as: I am not very athletic).
    Afterwards, I had an hour’s rest and then went to the culture class.
    Culture class is very interesting. We are making all sorts of things, which we essentially talked about today. We talked about paper cuttings, calligraphy, clothing and such. However, the most interesting thing we covered (in my opinion) was Beijing Opera.
    Beijing Opera is not the same as American Opera or any other kind of Opera I’ve ever heard of. There are a few stock characters, if I understand correctly (mind you, there’s a great chance that I didn’t) and so the faces are the same. The makeup must take HOURS to do. There are certain faces that are always good, and certain faces that are always bad. You can tell which are which by the color. I don’t know all the colors, but I do know for sure that red is good (it always is) which is much different than I expected – it looks like a demon’s face to me!
    To introduce us to this art form, our teacher decided to play us a clip from a Beijing Opera performance. We watched as a heavily-made-up woman walked onto the stage. We were all big eyes and batted breath…until she started singing.
    Now, I’m not a big opera fan to begin with. I don’t understand the point of the over-exaggerated vibrato, and the high notes hurt my ears. This, however, went way beyond that level of craziness. Her voice, nasally and high, when into registers I didn’t even know existed. As I looked at my friend, my face automatically contorted with distaste. She looked at me the same way, so at least I wasn’t the only one who didn’t exactly understand the appeal. I definitely need to become more accustomed to it before I can ever hope to sit through an entire performance.
    Beijing Opera is interesting because much of it revolves around martial arts. It sort of blends dancing and martial arts. In fact, many martial arts movie starts originate from the Beijing Opera or Cantonese Opera scenes. Point in fact, Bruce Lee’s father was a Cantonese Opera star, so Bruce Lee had an extensive background in Cantonese Opera. We watched a clip in which the male opera star performed some martial arts. It was very impressive. He could catch swords in the air with his sword, which was very cool to watch. In Beijing Opera, martial arts is blended with dancing to make it look more smooth and somewhat more melodic. It also exaggerates the movements, making them more visible to the audience. It is very beautiful.
    Well, that’s actually all I have for today! A little short, I know, but I’m pretty exhausted. School has been very busy lately! However, I will update soon (probably tomorrow, provided something interesting happens). Thanks for tuning in!

  15. June 26th, 2013 – No means no, A trained observer
    Americans have a lot of stereotypes around the world. As a part of my preparation for study abroad, I was researching them. Some of them were pretty believable – that Americans are exceptionally promiscuous – but others sort of threw me for a loop. For instance, friendliness. Supposedly, Americans are known around the world for being super mega ultra friendly. Now, that can’t be right, I remember thinking. I mean, I sort of always assumed Americans were stuck up jerks when they went to other countries. Apparently not! Well, as it turns out, my only problem has, in fact, been my friendliness.
    I come from Minnesota, where we have a little something called Minnesota Nice. Essentially, it means that all people in Minnesota are creepily friendly. We greet strangers on the street. We don’t mind helping complete strangers, say, change their car tire. We are nice to everyone, regardless of whether we like them or not. We’re kind of like Canada, except we don’t get as much recognition and, thankfully, we are NOT the birthplace of Justin Beiber. (Side note – my computer always tries to autocorrect “Beiber.” Well played, Apple.)
    Now, this usually doesn’t get me into too much trouble in China. Sure, I’m really nice and friendly. I don’t mind greeting random people. However, it’s not a problem because I’m generally with Andy. When people see us together, they assume that we are dating, and they automatically give us distance and act more respectful. Maybe that’s helped by the fact that Andy is of Chinese descent. I’m not really sure. But I think it’s interesting how polite people usually are.
    Well, a few nights ago that all changed. I was with Andy and my roommate, Rachel, eating at our favorite restaurant (the one with the waiter who tried secretly taking a picture with us). We have gotten to be pretty good friends with the staff, who like us, I suspect, because we spend a lot of money there, and we were eating really excellent food. We were having a great time, practicing our Chinese, working on vocab, all the stuff. It was a great time.
    But that all changed when the Fire Nation attacked. (I wonder if anyone other than my brother, Eldon, will get that Avatar reference…)
    We were so busy having fun that we didn’t even notice the table of seven or eight guys sitting behind us. I eventually noticed one get up and walking toward us, but since we were near the door I just figured he was going out for a smoke.
    I should add a quick side note here to let you guys know that smoking is still all the rage in China. I think about 70% of the men I see in restaurants have a cigarette in their mouths. Moreover, smoking in public places is usually allowed, it seems. I haven’t quite figured out the reason for this. I’ll report back once I can figure it out.
    It had just hit me that he didn’t need to go outside to smoke (this restaurant, like many others, allows smoking indoors) when he stopped at our table and let out a “hello,” accompanied by a thick Beijing accent.
    Taken aback, we stuttered out our greetings. It’s not very often that people come up to us and talk to us, unless we are traveling to a tourist attraction where there are country folks who rarely see foreigners. As we were sitting in shock, the guy began to ask us if we remembered him.
    Now, I have met tons of people since I’ve been in China. Of course I didn’t remember… until he gave us a reminder. About a week ago, we’d been at the same restaurant and had been greeted in English by a few guys, but I hadn’t thought anything of it.
    Once we had finished these little formalities, our guest looked me in the eyes and said, “would you please come have a drink with us?”
    This is where things become uncomfortable. As a Minnesotan, I felt really bad for the guy. I mean, it’s really hard to ask a girl you’ve never met, using another language, to come drink with you and your friends. But I was not about to join a group of random teenage boys that I didn’t know. I have a feeling Andy wouldn’t have appreciated that. Also, I didn’t really feel like dying. So, I tried to politely decline.
    “Oh… I’m sorry, I can’t drink. I have an illness that prevents me from having any alcohol.”
    “Well, you can just have Coke, then, it’s no problem! Please? My friend sent me to ask you. He thinks you are very beautiful.”
    Andy and Rachel were giggling, but I could tell they were nervous giggles. With a sweet smile, I said, “oh, well, I’m sorry but I have a boyfriend.” I gestured to Andy, hoping he could steal some of the attention.
    The guy stuttered out some apologies and explained that he meant no disrespect. Just as we thought he would leave it at that, he said, “so, can you come drink with us?”
    Now I was starting to get irritated. In America, usually, ‘I have a boyfriend,’ really means, ‘if you talk to me one more time I will break your face.’ Again, I tried to politely decline. Before I could get any words out, he said, “you know, in China, asking your friend for a favor is a big deal. If I don’t get you to come over there, I will lose face.”
    The clever jerk was trying to appeal to my compassionate side! I desperately looked at Rachel for help. Rachel has lived in other countries before, including India, so she was pretty good at these situations. It was as such that Super Rachel swooped in to save the day.
    “You know, in America, we have this saying: the third time’s the charm. Tell you guys what, if we meet you again, that will be three times, and then we will drink with you.” She gave them such a sweet smile, I thought that she could easily be the best actress on this earth. In my head I gave her a silent applause.
    “Well, we don’t have that in China, and as you guys are in China you should adapt to Chinese customs!” Although he was acting very good-natured, I was starting to get very nervous about everything. Eventually he left us alone. I planned to get the bill when he came back with a friend.
    This time, he and his friend HUGGED Andy and put their arms around him and talked to him, commending him on his “pretty girlfriend” and asking him to have us all go drink with them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look as uncomfortable as Andy did at that moment. He kept laughing nervously, trying to decline their offer.
    They left and we called for the bill, only to have them come up a third time and ask again.
    Now, Rachel was beginning to lose her patience. She said, “I’m sorry, but we are NOT INTERESTED. We have a test tomorrow, we really have no time to spare.” Then, we quickly paid the bill and left. We had to walk in the opposite direction of the school to wait to see if they would follow us. Thankfully, they couldn’t pay their bill quickly enough (I think they called for theirs as soon as we called for ours, which is why we worried about them tailing us).
    Fortunately, we three adventurers escaped without injuries. Unfortunately, we worry that we can’t go back to that restaurant ever again. We’re thinking it’s probably ok to go there for lunch, but not so much for supper. However, if we see the guys again and they keep pestering us, maybe I’ll just lightly drop the hint that American women don’t need their boyfriends to protect them.
    Now, onto something more fun!
    I think I’ve probably mentioned this before, but outside of my window is a construction site. They’re building some kind of new building for UIBE, and at first I didn’t take much note of it. However, the longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve become interested in their building process.
    What I like to do is watch the work from my window. I’m on the fifth floor, and can easily see how much progress they’ve made by the time I get back from class. It’s astounding. They work incredibly quickly. I worry sometimes that someone will get hurt – this line of work doesn’t seem a bit safe – but mostly it’s just fun to watch them erect this building.
    Now, it just so happened that one day, as I was walking up the stairs to get to my room, I stopped at one of the windows on a lower floor to watch some of the construction up close.
    As I was watching, I suddenly heard a voice call, “hello!!”
    I looked down and saw some of the construction workers waving. Smiling, I waved back at them. I was a little surprised at first. Usually, they are so intently focused on their work that they don’t notice me watching from the window.
    Soon, word had spread to the rest of the men that there was a foreign girl standing at the window. They all started waving and calling out their English hellos, clearly amused by the little game.
    And so a game it became! Every day after lunch, I pick a window and stand by it, watching the work go by. It’s fun to wait and see how long it takes them to notice that they have a visitor. If work is particularly rough that day, they often won’t even notice. But most days after about thirty seconds, I start hearing the English greetings. It’s very interesting, and somewhat amusing!
    Today, I managed to get up pretty early. I find that I don’t have the energy to quite do all the studying I want. I can cover class material pretty well, but we learn so much in such a short time that I often forget older material. I also don’t have that much time to study extra vocab I hear in class. Although I’m trying to solve this problem now, I feel somewhat worried. I wonder if other students have this problem. Although, to be honest, it really doesn’t matter if they do or not. I’ve never really been like other students, so why should I start now?
    Well, it’s almost time for class! I hope you all enjoyed story time! I’ll be back soon with more updates (I’ve just got to wait for something interesting to happen… so I’ll probably have an update by the time class is over). TTFN! Ta-ta for now!