I’m writing this from a plane seat waiting to take off on a direct fight from Shenzhen to Shanghai. This week was my spring break, and I took advantage of it by tagging along with Ben Shaefer on his tour of Wuhan and Hong Kong. Wuhan is a mid level city (ONLY 10 million people) where Ben taught English for the ’09-’10 school year. We stayed with his former roommate Braden, his wife Yahui, and brand new baby Abigale. Braden is one of those guys who preaches the gospel to everyone he meets and loudly sings in tongues while making breakfast, so needless to say I felt right at home. Also, he introduced me to the band All Sons and Daughters, whom you should totally look up (http://allsonsanddaughters.com/). These days I’m also doing a bit of informal field work work for my SOCI 3001 final paper on Christianity in China, and I managed to have some good conversations with some Chinese Christians Wuhan as well.
We took the overnight train down to Guangzhou, and then went through Shenzhen to Hong Kong (don’t ask me where these places are unless you’ve already tried doing a google search). “We” at this point was Ben, his friend Darec and me, but in Hong Kong we were joined by another one of Ben’s former students, Candi who flew in from Singapore. I say former as Darec is also one of Ben’s former students. Wow, that was an awkward way to say that…. But yeah, funny story: when I was trying to congratulate Darec on choosing a reasonably normal English name, he disappointedly agreed that it was farily common, but pointed out that at least the spelling was unusual. I think I’m starting to understand why Chinese students name themselves things like ‘Zero’ or ‘Top’ or ‘Psyche’.

Anyway, Hong Kong.. Probably my favorite thing we did in there was take the cabel car up to Victoria Peak on Hong Kong island, but Disneyland Hong Kong wasn’t bad either, as far as theme parks go. And you better believe I drank milk tea like it was my job. Hong Kong actually reminds me a lot of San Francisco or Seattle, but with milk tea instead of coffee. It’s quite a lot different then mainland China anyway. For one thing, there was a lot less polution; Darec had never been outside of mainland China and had never seen blue sky on a horizon. But beyond that the whole feeling of the city is different. Maybe if you’ve ever noticed feeling a bit lighter inside after driving across the border from the US into Canada you know what I’m talking about.

Well, my flight is finally (11:25 pm) taking off after an hour and a half delay. I foolishly agreed to play with the worship team at Church on Sunday, so I’ve got to be up at 8 tomorrow for my hour-long commute to band practice, and I’m not expecting to be in bed before 3, so I’m going to try to get some sleep. TTFN!

Postscript: the only other thing that probably needs to be mentioned is that this one crazy cabdriver got us from the Pudong airport back to ECNU in 32 minutes, which is less than half the amount of time it should probably have taken, but the guy’s speedometer was broken, so I have no idea how fast we were going. I was also too tired to properly fear for my life, which is probably a good thing.

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Xi’an (and Pingyao) Preview

I realize my last post was kind of boring (unless you like hearing about me going to class), so I’ve elected to post the pictures that I used for my Chinese class presentation on my Xi’an trip as a way of making up for it. Unfortunately for you, almost all of these pictures have a back story (which is why I was using them in my presentation. Kinda duh, right?) so I guess y’all’ll just have to wait for the stories till I make my actual post. Till then, enjoy making up your own fun stories!

The Last “Month” Or So (Part 2)

(Note: I wrote this on March 30th, but due to an inability to access my VPN it was never posted, and then I forgot [was too lazy] to post it. Also, I really am gonna try to get a Xi’an post up soon!)

School started on February 12th. Or rather I should say my program started, but we had an entire week of orientation. (So although I’m officially ending week 5, I’ve really only been having classes for four weeks.) I live in the international dorms with my roommate 倪叶峰. Um, he’s Chinese….  He’s a computer science major, and he’s finishing up his last year with an internship. It’s a regular 9 to 5 job, so he’s not home very often. We actually mostly talk in Chinese, although he’s English is pretty good. I’m not sure if he was directly told to only speak Chinese with me, but I feel like most of the time it’s just easier than speaking English.

I have class Monday through Thursday. Every morning I have two hours of Chinese. All of my other classes are in two hour blocks. Which means that on Tuesdays when I have Chinese and two of my other three classes, it makes for an eight hour class marathon.

Besides Chinese language, I’m taking a sociology class called Issues in Modern China, a film class covering Chinese cinema, and a class on modern Chinese history. Chinese history maybe sounds dull, but I can assure you it’s not. More especially as the professor is an American expat who holds four official positions in the CCP. I honestly think the best way to describe him is as a crazy m———–. Maybe one of these days he’ll get his own post. He could very well be the one of the most interesting person I’ve ever met.

I’m off to Xi’an all next week, and I’ll try to get a post about that up soon.

The Past Month Or So (Part 1)

I realize that I haven’t updated my blog in almost a month. Before I was too lazy, and since school’s started I’ve been too busy. But I’m going to try to make up at least some of my back log this weekend. The last time I wrote, I was still in Wuhu I believe. I think in that post I promised pictures of fireworks and a report of the wedding I was about to attend.

Pictures of fireworks can’t really do them justice because there’s no way to capture how crazy loud they were. The wedding was definitely worth going to though. We had famous Wuhu duck foot for dinner, and I tried Baijiu for the first time. The wedding ceremony itself was pretty crazy. It was officiated by a man in a black sequin suit who had a bit of an Elvis-impersonator vibe. The exchange of vows took place in front of a giant TV screen playing what looked like the music visualizer from iTunes, and was accompanied by incredibly dramatic music and (I kid you not) pre-recorded applause. There was a whole media team who a couple times quite obviously angled their camera shots of the bride and groom so that I was in the background. But then again, who wouldn’t want some random while boy photo-bombing all your wedding pictures? Lydia’s friends were all pretty well-behaved, and we left before the relatives got too out of hand (each table was supplied with two fifths of baijiu, for starters) so needless to say I feel like I was kind of denied the full Chinese wedding experience. I spent the rest of the week hangout out with Lydia’s extended family.

I got back to the Shanghai apartment the day before Daniel left for Yunnan province for two weeks. It was basically just me and Teddy the dog for the rest of my time in the apartment, punctuated by weekday visits from the aiyi in the morning. Poor teddy is deathly afraid of fireworks, and I spent a lot of nights trying to calm him down. Besides that I was generally unproductive, although I did make it through Mere Christianity and The Five Love Languages. I’m putting in a bunch of pictures of the apartment complex where I was staying for everyone’s viewing pleasure. I mean, I don’t think they’re very interesting, but I’ve gotta do something with them right? Walking Teddy was pretty exciting; He’s pretty stubborn and likes to chase cats, which was a problem because there were literally cats everywhere. Get it? Literally?

Daniel got back late on Friday the 9th, and I spent most of the next day packing up my things in preparation for my move to the East China Normal University dorms early Sunday morning. Saturday I stayed up until 3 am playing San Guo Sha with Daniel and our French friend Thomas, so I looked and felt my best when I checked in to the dorms early Sunday morning.

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Xin Nian Zai Wuhu

As I write this, I’m sitting with the Tu family in Wuhu (芜湖) watching TV. I guess you hear a lot about 春节 (Pinyin: Chun Jie. Literally ‘Spring Festival’ but mostly known as Chinese New Year) traditions, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for when Lydia Tu invited me to spend Chun Jie in Wuhu with her and her family. But as far as I can discern, the only real Tu family tradition is to watch the evening TV specials. Everyone else’s prerogative seems to be to use their ample supply of fireworks to make as much noise as humanly possible.

We did also have a Chun Jie dinner that, to borrow a phrase from Arlo Guthrie, couldn’t be beat. I think the first phrase Lydia taught me after arriving in Wuhu was “吃饱了”. Her parents were really concerned that I wouldn’t like rice and roasted chestnuts, yet apparently hadn’t even considered the possibility that I wouldn’t like beef tripe or boiled pig’s feet. As far as the whole “reunion dinner” thing goes, Lydia explained that most families in the cities only have New Year’s dinner with their nuclear family. Her adorable fourteen year-old cousin 黄鑫 (Huangxin) came over though. Lydia said that the most important thing about Chun Jie is that you shouldn’t spend it alone. Wanting me to stay here with her family instead of going back to my hotel is the only thing she’s really insisted upon since I’ve been here.

I’ve been having a wonderful time in Wuhu though. As I alluded to before, they felt that their apartment was too small and insisted on putting me up in a hotel. I remarked to Lydia that I’d ask to help pay for it, but that I knew she wouldn’t let me. She looked at me very seriously and asked how I knew that. I replied that I’d already spent two weeks with an Asian family. It turns out that Lydia’s favorite thing to do when she’s home on break is to sleep in and watch gritty war films all day long. It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven. Her favorite movie right now is Saving Private Ryan, and I’m taking my job of introducing her to Band Of Brothers very seriously. Of course her parents are dreadfully worried that I’m bored out of my gourd, and tomorrow we have to go into town to keep them pacified.

Wuhu is a four hour bus ride south of Shanghai (or five and a half hours if the traffic is bad. Guess how I know that). It’s a small city, having only about 4.8 million residents, so roughly the population of Singapore and the size of Portland metro. I’ll be able to give a better report after tomorrow, but as far as I can tell Wuhu is pretty representative of most of the mid-sized cities in China; modern enough, but still not quite in the 21st century. It reminds me a lot of what I’ve seen on former communist bloc cities in Eastern Europe. People live comfortably enough, but outside it’s dirty and there’s lots of what we’d call “urban blight” in Eugene.

Lydia’s, and even Huangxin’s English is quite good, but when Lydia isn’t around to translate, I’ve been able to communicate with her parents without too much trouble (although it’s true that most of our conversations only consist of asking whether I’m hungry and/or if I like what’s on TV). The TV specials are apparently hilarious, but I can’t understand much. There all variety shows with comedy sketches interspersed with song and dance performances, and here and there a magic show. While I can’t understand much, the dancing is really interesting (some of the acrobatics are pretty amazing), and as Lydia says, “Music is universal.”

I’ve spent most of the evening writing and showing Huangxin my pictures and old Chinese homework. She liked reading through my old Chinese end-of-the-term skits. At first she thought Taylor London must be a girl. I guess she assumed this because his Chinese name (罗泰岚) sounded feminine. I told her people have the same problem with his English name. At exactly midnight, all hell is supposed to break loose. And by that I mean, every poor yokel is going to put on a firework display that would rival most professional shows back home. And as I said before, noise is the main object. I’ll try to snap some pics while I’m walking back to the hotel, so I can post them with this tonight.

新年快乐!

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Subways And Websites

Shanghai is basically just like I remember it, except with a couple more subway lines and a couple more blocked websites. And really cold. Okay, to be fair, not any colder than Eugene this time of year. But it was quite a shock after Singapore’s balmy mid-80s. Also, I kind of forgot how gray it is here. There’s so much pollution that there isn’t much of a horizon, especially because this time of year it gets really foggy too.

We got from the airport to the hotel without any trouble. There was a bit of a miscommunication about how to get me registered. In China, Americans have to register with the 公安局 (local police) within 24 hours of arriving. The guy at the hotel said I needed to register at the university where I’ll be studying, and the university staff said I needed to register at the hotel. In the end it turned out that the university staff was right, and when I was registering at the front desk, the hotel guy reminded us that this is really what he’d been saying all along. Welcome to Chinese bureaucracy.

The Hos took it upon themselves to act as my surrogate parents as long as they were in Shanghai. Uncle Kah-Choy was there for business and had to work most days, so Aunty Shi-Ane took me around to do all the things I needed to get done, as well as to do the whole tourist bit. They both speak Mandarin quite well, and I really don’t know what I would have done without them. Our second full day in Shanghai (Wednesday, the 11th) Aunty Shi-Ane took me to the East China Normal University campus to meet the CIEE program staff (don’t ask me what CIEE stands for; I don’t think the staff even know). They were wonderful, and I think it’s going to be a really good program, if a little intense. Although I applied to live with a Chinese host family, the university didn’t have enough qualified applicants. I’m still kind of disappointed, but they did at least put me with a Chinese roommate. The CIEE housing director took me on a tour of the CIEE international dorms, which were very nice. Besides my UO VPN, I can also access the CIEE VPN in the CIEE computer lab, which is nice. Aunty Shi-Ane performed her mom-duty flawlessly, asking all the questions I never would have thought of, like ‘Where will he eat?’ ‘Where will he do his laundry?’ ‘How does he get his bed-sheets changed?’ etc.

Later that day, I went to Grayson and Jessica Stallings’ for their cell group meeting, and got to meet some people from the church. Basically I love them all. A more welcoming, friendly, Christ-like group of people there never was.
On Friday morning I moved in with my brother’s friend Daniel Allegri. He’s house sitting for another family while they’re in Germany. It’s a nice, big apartment on the south end of town, and I’ll be staying there till my CIEE program starts on February 12th. Besides Daniel and me, the only other occupant of the apartment these days is Teddy (aka 特弟) the big, puffy, copper-colored dog.

Aunty Shi-Ane and Uncle Kah-Choy returned to Singapore that Sunday. Saying goodbye to them was kind of hard. Not just because they’d been so kind to me, but also because in a funny of way, they were my last bit of home. I’ve been left in very good hands though. Church on Sunday was really good, and afterward Daniel, a couple other guys and I all went to get massages.
Mid-week my Chinese friend Lydia Tu called to invite me to spend Chinese New Year with her and her family. Her wonderful friend helped me buy a bus ticket to her home town, and I’m writing all this from her living room now.

For worship at the beginning of cell group two Wednesdays ago, we all did praise reports instead of the customary singing. So I guess I’ll write down what I said then: It’s amazing to be in a totally foreign country on the other side of the world, and to be totally taken care of by surrogate parents who speak the language (and who don’t even know you that well to boot); and three days after landing to be worshiping God together with other Christians, who are all incredibly welcoming, wonderful people. It’s really amazing how blessed I’ve been since I’ve been here. I’ve already got good friends and an awesome church. I feel like I’ve really been able to hit the ground running, and I’m really excited for what the next four and a half months will bring me.

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Singapore

I’m going to try to condense my time in Singapore to a single post, which maybe is a mistake. Mostly  I feel that my time there deserves more fanfare than a few hundred words and some pictures.  But after all, as far as the reader is concerned, I suppose if anyone really wants to know every little detail they can just ask me. But for now, the gist will have to suffice.

As I’ve said before, I arrived at 6:30 in the morning on Saturday, December 30th, after some 36 hours of traveling. Thankfully, due to some timely emails from my mom, my hosts the Ho family had been informed of this and didn’t come to the airport too early. Singapore has a nice airport, and it was lovely to be met by Janelle, Uncle Kah-Choy (aka Casey) and Aunty Shi-Ane. For those of you who don’t know, Singapore conforms to the Chinese custom of using the designation aunty or uncle for anyone older than you. For a guy from the West Coast, where it’s not unheard of to find kids who call even their parents by their first names, it took a little getting used to. I think it’s a nice convention though, and definitely preferable to sir and ma’am, or even Mr. and Mrs., really.

The first thing we did after putting my bags in my room was go out to lunch. At first I was pretty alarmed by the number of meals Singaporeans seamed to eat. It was only at the end of my stay that I learned that this is a common misconception, and that Singaporeans in fact only eat one meal a day, which starts in the morning and lasts until you go to bed. Another way I heard it said was that in Singapore, you don’t eat until you’re full; you eat until you’re tired.

I think the only real point of culture shock was the language barrier. While it’s true that I speak English, and that Singaporeans speak English, we definitely don’t speak the same language. “Singlish” as they call it is a pigeon language of English, Chinese and Malay. While I knew about this before I went, I still wasn’t prepared for having no idea of what people were saying. As soon as more than one person started talking at once, I was done for, and some people I just simply couldn’t understand for anything. As Migiwa Kato remarked to me later, “For the first two weeks I was here, I thought everyone was speaking Chinese!” I did notice some improvement in my comprehension over the 10 days I was there, but it was still weird to need Janelle to translate English into English for me. Also, I think that just knowing it was English, and not an actual “foreign language” added a level of frustration to the whole equation, more especially as everyone understood me just fine. My inner linguist did have kind of a field day, however.

I managed to stay up all the first day, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. I slept something like 11 uninterrupted hours the first night, which I think was mostly due to having gotten only 10 hours of sleep in the previous 72, though it might also have been the melatonin I took. I was active enough the first weekend, but I’m afraid that the first Monday and Tuesday of my visit I prevailed upon my hosts to let me stay home and rest.

 

Wednesday Janelle and I went to the Singapore Zoo. The Zoo is out on a peninsula away from the city in the middle of what I would call the jungle. As far as Zoos go, it probably ties with the Columbus Zoo for the best I’ve ever been to. We went to a show exhibiting an extremely exotic sea creature; a sea lion. At one point a three foot long lizard sauntered across the path in front of us. I thought it was escaped, but Janelle informed me that they just hane those in Singapore, and told me a story about being chased by a giant monitor lizard when she was little. It also seemed a little superfluous to have so many monkey exhibits when there was a huge population of wild ones just running around. I’d say probably my favorite part was the big, netted bio-dome with loose birds, lemurs, flying-foxes and insects.

 

I also had the honor of attending Janelle’s grandma’s 80th birthday luncheon. As I mentioned earlier, I could barely follow the conversation, which was kind of hard for a prolific eavesdropper like me. But I had a good time, and got to try a lot of really good Chinese food. All of it tasted pretty foreign to me, and not really at all like Chinese food back home. Some of the dishes were the same, but the spicing was always different. At one point they brought out a pear soup, which Janelle said tasted weird. That’s right, the pear soup tasted weird. Not the squid tentacles or stingray or who-knows-what. I think I can say as an objective observer that the pear soup was definitely more tame than anything else we had.

I’m still getting the hang of using chopsticks. Interestingly, the remark about my chopstick use I got the most was something along the lines of, “Ohh! You hol’ yo’ chopsti’ propa’ly!” Apparently nearly all Singaporeans hold their chopsticks “wrongly”. And while they all seem to feel guilty and deeply insecure about this, no one seems particularly intent on reforming either.

Other activities we did included going to Sentosa, the great southern resort island, getting Indian food in Little India (which I can assure everyone, is as spicy as its reputation makes it out to be), and going to see the Australian cast production of Wicked at the Singapore Sands Hotel. I’d never seen Wicked before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Having seats in the second row didn’t hurt either! Uncle Kah-Choy got busted for taking pictures, but it was easy to pretend we didn’t know him.

Janelle flew back to Oregon on Friday morning, and Josh left later that night. I spent most of Saturday with Migiwa Kato. She drove me all over the Island, and we had a few laughs comparing notes on Singaporean idiosyncrasies. We went out to what I would call the countryside to an organic farm, drove along the straights between Singapore and Malaysia, went to the east coast beaches, and went to a club on top of the Sands Hotel. The craziest thing that happened to me that day was probably stepping on chewing-gum. No no, it’s true! I went to Singapore, where chewing gum and spitting are both illegal, and managed to step on a nice, big wad.

Aunty Shi-Ane, Uncle Kah-Choy and I spent the rest of the weekend preparing for our flight to Shanghai. They managed to get me to sing in their church choir (Aunty Shi-Ane is the church choir director) even without Janelle present for emotional support. I was the only white person in the whole church, and they put me right in front of a microphone. The lady in the row in front of me sat down the whole time too, so the whole congregation got a good, long look at me. Don’t tell either of them, but I actually really enjoyed it.

Monday the 9th we flew into Shanghai, but now I’m getting beyond the scope of this post, which is already way too long.

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