Saturday, September 7, 2013

Slam Poem

This is the first draft of my slam poem.

(Working Title)

I’m breaking up with you
and not like “we should take a break and see new people
until we get bored and come back to what’s safe
and familiar and easier to deal with than the thought of being alone.”
I mean the break off ties, burn bridges,
block you on Facebook kind of break up because
I’ve had it with the feelings of entrapment, suffocation and guilt
that simultaneously choke me every time I see your name
flash on my phone. Didn’t you get the hint
when I don’t comment on your post? When I ignore
your PM? When I never respond to your texts? When I delete
your voicemails without even listening to them?
I don’t want to talk. We have nothing to discuss except
“remember whens” and “I miss yous” which are both really depressing
and quite frankly I was in a pretty good mood before I was reminded
of your puppy dog love obsession with me. And yes – it’s still one-sided.
And no - nothing’s changed except now your attempt at a magnetic attraction
has pushed me further away. I can’t move on with my life because you won’t let me.
You cling to me like a toddler throwing a tantrum.
“Don’t go! Don’t go! Don’t go!” And I can’t just shake you off because
nobody should feel comfortable kicking a baby in the face.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

London Calling (May 13, 2013)

We went to AIFS orientation this morning. AIFS is an amazingly well structured program – the best I’ve ever traveled with. Orientation consisted of laws and cultural differences – American’s are typically louder than Europeans, open containers and general drunkenness is not tolerated, and traffic flows on the other side of the street than we’re used to. It was helpful but I think it was more structured for students staying longer than 20 days. After orientation, we had a couple hours off for lunch and my group ate Indian food by our flats. I had the lamb korma and I will never need anything else for the rest of my life. It was that good.

After lunch we went to Kensington Palace for afternoon tea. Surrounding Kensington Palace are acres of park grounds and gardens. We didn’t actually go inside Kensington Palace. Instead, we went to the Orangery – a greenhouse which was used in the past to grow citrus trees (hence the name) but has now been renovated into a teahouse for tourists. The majority of the tables were set for four people each. I sat at a table with Marek, Ben, and Adam. Each person had a fork, a knife, a napkin, a plate, a tea spoon, a tea cup and saucer. We drank English breakfast tea. The reading for the day discussed a debate among tea drinkers: whether it was correct/proper to put the tea in first (TIF) or the milk in first (MIF). I tried both ways but I think I like it better to put the tea in first. That way I can control how much the milk dilutes the natural taste of the tea. The sugar made the biggest difference, though. We were also treated to teatime snacks: finger sandwiches, scones, and desserts. I tried cucumber sandwiches for the first time and they were pretty good. While I tried everything, I liked the desserts the best. The food was served in a three tiered serviette. The sandwiches were on the bottom, scones in the middle, and the desserts were on the top. All of the china we used was really beautiful and really expensive. If the weather were nicer I would’ve liked to take my tea outside.

Once everyone was done with their tea, we explored the grounds together. Professor Lutze led us to the famous Peter Pan statue so we could take pictures. By this time Stan and I were getting antsy about sticking with the group since we were supposed to have the rest of the afternoon off. After looking at the map, I noticed the Museum of Natural History was close by so Kevin, Stan and I went off on our own. By the time we found the museum, though, it was closed. The plan at that point was to go back to the flats and change out of our nice teatime clothes but Kevin had forgotten his Oyster card so we wouldn’t take the Tube or a bus to get back. Luckily South Kensington isn’t that far from our flats. The problem was navigating our way home. We walked until we found an Irish pub called O’Neil’s and had dinner. I ate a hamburger on soda bread and it was pretty good. After we ate and set out on our trek again, we got lost. Kevin, our navigator, had no freaking idea where he was leading us. Turns out we missed our turn back to Earl’s Court at the very same pub we ate dinner. We back tracked and eventually made it home. I went straight to bed because we leave for the continent tomorrow and I needed rest.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tales from London (May 12, 2013)

We arrived in London the morning of May 12 - it was a Sunday and everyone was pumped up with adrenalin. Unfortunately, Professor Lutze's bag never made it on the plane and was stuck in Chicago. Once he submitted his contact information, we boarded a charter bus that drove us to the flats. We're staying in an apartment complex that AIFS owns and operates like a dorm building. We are scattered around the building in various partnerships of roommates. I am rooming with Malika - not the ideal situation because I wanted the opportunity to meet new people but it's still nice. The flats are very comfortable - they have personal bathroom and kitchenettes for us to use. I could see myself living in a small space like that easily - which is good because I anticipate a similar set up in China. After arriving we were allotted a short break for us to shower and prep for our afternoon activity. Lutze and the AIFS people don't want us sleeping today because it would make the time adjustment more difficult, and I'm inclined to agree. By the time we were set to depart for Hampton Court Palace, everyone was still buzzing with excitement. One of our RA's (Shawn) escorted us to the Tube (London's Subway) and gave us our Oyster Cards. With these cards we can go anywhere within zones one and two of the city via bus or subway for free - the world is our oyster! Shawn didn't travel with us to the Waterloo train station, though, that part of the navigation was left up to us. Not wanting to appear like a controlling know-it-all, I let some of the other members of the group take the lead. I only had to step in once we got turned around and couldn't find our meeting location (platform 11 at Waterloo). We arrived a good 20 minutes before Professor Lutze, which caused some people to be extremely anxious. He showed up just in time for us to hop on the train - his taxi driver had gotten lost on the way to the station which is why he was late. On the train he handed out our meal stipends (60 pounds for five days worth of meals). Everything seems much more expensive here in London, but since I'm on vacation I'm trying not to dwell on how much I'm actually spending. Instead, I'm going to be conscious of how many pounds I use and how much I can save.

Hampton Court Palace (HCP) was a pretty cool place. As the name might imply, it's an old palace that has been turned into a museum. We were lucky because the day we went actors were performing "live history." Meaning, they acted out historical situations as historical figures. In the show we saw, King Henry VIII was tired of his wife and wanted to marry Ann Bolin (sp?) instead. Furthermore, he was prepared to break away from the Catholic church so he could divorce his previous wife. The actors were stationed throughout the palace for visitors to interact with and ask questions. Professor Lutze was one of the most prominent participants. He told us that, on a previous visit, he was dubbed the Duke of Illinois and he took his responsibilities as diplomat very seriously. He was concerned with the goings-on of the English court. Periodically, the actors would meet at a rendezvous point to perform a scene that furthers the plot. At one point the men and women were split into separate groups where the actors consulted the visitors for their opinions on the events unfolding. Ann Bolin wanted to leave the castle (without the king's permission) because she didn't think the king actually loved her. Additionally, she feared she would become a spinster if she waited around much longer. A funny dialog occurred between her and me that went like this:

Ann: Now I know you ladies will all step back and gasp when I say this, but I think you ought to know that I am thirty years old.
(I stepped back and gasped on cue. I was the only one to do so)
Ann: I know it's shocking but don't worry young lady (me) becoming a spinster is not contagious. You are still young and pretty and may God bless you with a good husband.

Ann Bolin thinks I'm pretty.

It was a fun trip and kept the jet lag at bay. Professor Lutze, Duke of Illinois, sent us on a scavenger hunt to find evidence that there was trade between England and Asia - I found multiple porcelain vases and figures from Ming Dynasty, China. By the time we finished and headed over to dinner, everyone was very very very tired. We were provided dinner by AIFS at a British pizza chain restaurant. Each of us got a personal appetizer, pizza, and dessert. After that we returned back to the flats and went to bed for a much needed rest.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Weekend Trip to Shanghai 2011

Trip to Shanghai

Day 1

Friday morning I woke up and I was so excited about the trip to Shanghai that I didn’t want to go to class at all – I just wanted to hop on the train and go. I didn’t get to go to Shanghai during my last trip to China, so I was excited to see someplace new.
To get to the train station we took a bus. Courtney and I shared a suit case since she didn’t have one small enough for the three day trip. Once we got to the station, we took turns dragging it around. Li Laoshi had to go find Ryan, who was meeting us at the station after his internship. This gave us time to go find something to eat before we got on the train. The group I was with – which was comprised of my four friends Lily, Courtney, Maryanne and Nicole – opted to go the easy route and got some sandwiches from Burger King. Fast food is not as fast when you don’t speak the language, by the way. Once we got our food we met up with everyone else and together made a mad dash to the train.
The trains in China are not structured like the Amtrak trains. The seats are organized based off of a sitting section rather than rows. One group of six sits on either side of the aisle and there is a small table that divides the six seats in the section in half. The three people on each side face each other, so it’s a more social environment than that of the trains back home. I sat in the section with Lily and Maryanne while Courtney was across the aisle from me. Lily was intent on studying during the train ride so she brought her dry erase board to practice writing characters. We took turns writing individual characters then phrases and finally complete sentences. I was proud that I was able to construct sentences on my own, even if I made mistakes with stroke order and overall character structure. Mistakes are the best way to learn something so I stayed positive. We created quite a spectacle on the train just being foreigners, but even more so when we were writing the characters. The people in Courtney’s section watched intently as I struggled to write the characters correctly. It was a lot of pressure, but we laughed it off. When we were approaching Shanghai and Lily began to pack up her things, I showed my ID card from Zhejiang University to the nice woman in Courtney’s section. She seemed to be very impressed and was even surprised to find out that I was only 20 years old. It was nice to socialize with ordinary people for a change. I can’t wait till I can hold a complete conversation in Chinese with someone.
When we got onto the platform in Shanghai, Li Laoshi split the group in half to see who could get to the hotel the fastest since we had two possible subway routes. My group included Courtney, Maryanne, Lars, and Li Laoshi. The entire way I was texting Penny about how we were almost to the hotel and how we were going to win the race. At one point I texted her that we had already arrived to which she asked what color the sheets were and what could I see outside my window. I responded, like a smart ass, that the sheets were white and that I could see Shanghai out the window. In the end Penny’s group beat us to the hotel ten minutes early.
The hotel itself looked like any other building in the city. The lobby was on the second floor and the building itself lacked a 4th floor. This is an important characteristic of Chinese culture because the number four is considered unlucky. The reason for this is because of how the number four is pronounced. If it is mispronounced the word changes its meaning to death.  Interesting, isn’t it? It took a while to get checked into the hotel because the front desk had to verify our passports. Courtney and I roomed together because we were sharing a suitcase, though, I think that I could have roomed with any of the girls in our group comfortably though. I’m so happy that we all get along as well as we do. Once we got to the room (which was on the 5th floor) we threw down our stuff and grabbed our cameras so we could go look at the cityscape.
The Bund is the section of Shanghai that is most well known because it is the most photographed. This area of the city includes the needle and the other tall skyscrapers that are featured in the famous image of Shanghai. The Bund also includes a great deal of classic Western architecture. Since this area is so close to the ports, this was where the foreign businesses set up camp. There are banks from all over the world along the bund, each with a very distinct and very European style. One of the most memorable buildings we saw was the Peace Hotel. This hotel has a very interesting history. Not only was it the first building in China to have an elevator, it was also the place where Chiang Kaishek met with foreign ambassadors during his reign as the leader of China. I found it ironic that right across the street from the Peace Hotel was a statue of Mao Zedong. Unfortunately my camera doesn’t take good pictures at night, so the photos I have of the cityscape are not that great.

Day 2

            Saturday we woke up early so that we could go eat breakfast at a famous dumpling restaurant. The restaurant was located in the center of a shopping district. The stores that surrounded it sold the same tourist junk that I’ve discovered is sold everywhere in China. I wasn’t too keen on shopping this early in the trip so I only bought a set of postcards.
            Next to the restaurant there was a really cool bridge that zigzagged across a pond. It was made of white marble looking stone and had intricate carvings all over it. The bridge was designed this way to keep wandering spirits from crossing. The spirits would get lost and confused when they tried to cross the bridge because it was a zigzag. Eventually they would give up and move on – hopefully toward the afterlife. The bridge led toward the entrance of a garden, which we visited after we finished our breakfast. As far as gardens goes, this one was the largest we had visited. Visiting gardens in China is like visiting churches in Europe. If you go to enough of them, they start to all look the same even though there are distinct differences when you look at the details. This one had a lot of courtyards for us to visit and the plum blossoms were in bloom. They varied on the spectrum from deep pink to white. I think looking at the plum blossoms is my favorite part of visiting the gardens. After we left the garden we went in search of the city temple ‘Cheng Huang Miao.’
While walking to the temple, I was reminded of how annoying it can be to be a foreigner in China. We were repeatedly accosted by peddlers selling everything from watches and purses to roller blades you can snap to the bottom of your tennis shoes. I was reminded, fondly, of my first trip to China when the most important vocabulary word I knew was “Bu-yao!” which essentially means “I don’t want it!” These peddlers were persistent, however. They followed us for a while insisting they had something that I wanted to buy. Once, when we had paused for Li Laoshi to orient herself, a man who was offering to shine our shoes bent down like he was going to start working on Maryann’s shoe. Seeing this I stepped in between them and told him (again) that she didn’t want his services. If he had started his work, even if we stopped him midway through, he would have insisted that we pay him for the work he had already done.
We went through the temples fairly quickly since we were all getting hungry for lunch by that time. On our way to the restaurant I saw an oil painting that took my breath away. It was a black and white picture of a little girl. She was wearing her Red Guard uniform and her hair was braided on both sides in long pigtails. The only features of the painting that had color were the red star on her hat and the red string she was playing with. The girl had made wound the string with her fingers into a star shape and was holding it up in front of her face. It didn’t obstruct, however, the view of her piercing gaze. It was a gorgeous painting and if I had been able to afford it (500 yuan) I would have bought it. But then I would have had to carry it all day and I don’t know how I would have transported it back to America. So I guess its better that I didn’t get it, even though I still think about it from time to time. Maybe if I get the chance I’ll swing by Shanghai before I leave and pick it up.
            Our final destination for the day was the Shanghai City Development Museum. Li Laoshi and Penny left us on our own at this point because they were both tired and had to prepare for the next day. The museum gave detailed depictions of how the city of Shanghai has changed and developed over time. There were pictures from the 1800s that were pretty interesting to look at. The coolest part of the museum was the enormous model of city. All together it filled a space the size of a conference room. It was mind-blowing to see how large and spread out Shanghai really is. There was also a guide of noteworthy places to visit in the city. After we finished looking through the museum I texted my friend Cheryl (she teaches English in Shanghai) to see if we could meet up for dinner.
            To kill time before dinner, a couple of us (Jamie, Lars, Lily, Courtney and I) went in search of a Pearl Market to go shopping. We had to navigate the Shanghai subway system, which was no problem. The issue arose once we got off the subway and were back on the street. Chinese street signs are not as prominent, nor are they as frequent as American street signs. We had some trouble finding the street we needed to go on. Coincidentally, the Pearl Market was in the same area of the city as the restaurant I was meeting Cheryl at later. I did my best to mentally prepare Courtney to haggle and fight off shop venders. My previous experiences in Pearl Markets (in Beijing) taught me to be an aggressive buyer. I told her that the sellers would pull her into their stores and all but force you to buy something. This was not the case, however. This Pearl Market in Shanghai was much tamer than the one I had visited in Beijing. It was a relief because, though I was prepared for it, I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of aggressive shopping. Courtney and I were pressed for time since we were both meeting Cheryl for dinner so we quickly walked through to see if there was anything she was interested in buying. We happened upon a DVD shop (all fake) and found a copy of “You’re Beautiful” – a Korean TV Drama that we had both grown to love. I already had a copy (authentic) of the DVDS at home so Courtney bought a set for herself. After that we left the market and set out to find the restaurant.
            This proved to be a difficult task, even though we had the address. We were already on the street we needed to be on, but we couldn’t figure out the address numbers on the buildings which seemed to increase and decrease sporadically. Eventually, we had to back track past the Pearl Market and back toward the subway station. To find it we had to walk down a side alley and into an area that looked like a piece from Epcot or Six Flags. All the restaurants in this corner of the city were constructed to look like authentic architecture from different countries. There was an Indian restaurant next to a Japanese restaurant across from our restaurant. The restaurant we were looking for was called “Peter’s Tex-Mex” and I had eaten at a different chain (in Chengdu) during my previous trip to China. Since Cheryl was a part of my group during that past adventure, I figured it would be appropriate to reunite at this location. The outside of Peter’s was designed to look like a ranch house and the interior was painted to look like a Mexican restaurant. It really felt like a little oasis from Texas had appeared in China. Courtney and I met up with Penny and Maryann then the four of us waited for Cheryl and her friends to show up.
            Once Cheryl, Cary, and their mutual teaching friend arrived we ordered our food and proceeded to chat about our different experiences in China. Cheryl was preparing for her second consecutive year of living and teaching in China. She enjoys her job, most days – not any different from any other employed person, I think. She teaches at a kindergarten, just like Courtney, and the two of them were able to laugh together about the frustrations of working with small children. Penny got to try all the foods we ordered so she got a good sampling of Tex-Mex foods. The food itself wasn’t as good as home, but it was enough to pacify my spirit. It was so nice to be able to see Cheryl again and visit with her.
            That night, I logged on to facebook in the hotel and saw a message from my Aunt Julie asking me if I was alright. Confused I went to Yahoo to see what had happened to warrant such a message. That was how I found out about the earthquake in Japan.

Day 3

The first thing on the agenda for us was to eat breakfast at the hotel. The hotel served breakfast in a rooftop cafe. Interestingly, the hotel did not have a 4th floor. When numbering the floors they skipped the number four and just went straight from 3 to 5. This is because of a superstition that the number 4 is unlucky. It’s unlucky because, if mispronounced, the number four sounds like the word for death. Because of this, it’s common for buildings to be missing a 4th floor. The conversation at breakfast mainly focused on the earthquake in Japan. I would tell people what I read online and Li Laoshi would tell us what they had said on the Chinese news stations. There was a sense of anxiety when she talked about the nuclear reactor, but there was nothing we could do about it. It was better for us to spend our energy on enjoying our last day in Shanghai. After breakfast we checked out of our rooms. The hotel let us keep out baggage in one unused hotel room while we were out and about for the day.
We took the subway to Shanghai’s Science Museum. We were given a few hours to wander around the museum. It was pretty cool as far as science museums go. It was definitely geared toward children and sparking within them an interest in the world. There was a large section of taxidermy animals from all over the world. It was strange to see animals I consider common – raccoons, possums, and cougars – on display and labeled as exotic. My favorite parts of the museum were Robot World and the Health and Wellness section. In robot world they had a lot of cool exhibits. There was a robot that could play Chinese chess. This one was very popular and people were waiting in line to play. Another robot was programmed to play the piano and people could sing along with the songs it played. This was both cool and cruel. It was cool because the robot was able to play complex songs as well as simple songs. It was cruel because every small child wanted to sing the songs – 不好聼!The best part was the archery range. You were given 3 chances to shoot a bow and arrow at the targets to see how your accuracy measured up to the robot. I did this multiple times because archery is really fun. The Health and Wellness section was a collection of fun activities. There was a room where you could play ping pong and another room with stationary bikes. The coolest thing was the soccer section. It was like an arcade game with a projection of a goal keeper on a wall. The object of the game was to score as many penalty kicks as you could. You had five chances; I made four out of my five shots. Needless to say the Chinese spectators (mostly children and their parents) were impressed by my skills.
We reconvened for lunch and afterwards Li Laoshi gave us the opportunity to visit a nearby shopping district. Due to its proximity to the ocean, Shanghai is the best place in China to buy pearls. Everyone was keen on getting a strand or two, except me. I spent this time offering my opinion to those trying to decide between ‘this necklace’ and ‘that necklace.’ Lily found a stand that was selling strands of different stones. She took so long to make a selection that I ended up buying a strand of blue tiger’s eyes. I had the vender make it into a necklace for me. I figure the only reason to go to Shanghai is to go shopping. One can buy anything and everything there. Other than that there isn’t much that attracts me to the city.
Our next attraction was the city aquarium. Li Laoshi had gone back to the hotel at this point to take a nap, leaving us with Penny as our guide. Again we were given a couple hours to look through the aquarium. I really like aquariums. It’s peaceful to just sit and watch the fish swim around in the water. My favorite animals at this aquarium were the seals because they were really fat and really cute. I could have watched them for hours. The main attraction of the aquarium was the ‘Under Sea Adventure.’ You got to stand on a moving sidewalk and it propelled you through this long glass tunnel where you could see all sorts of fish and sharks swimming over your head. The aquarium claimed it to be the longest underwater tunnel in the world. (I’m not sure if that claim is true or not, but it’s still cool to think about.) After we were finished with the Aquarium, we went back to the hotel to reclaim our bags and pick up Li Laoshi. We then took the bullet train back to Hangzhou.

Week 10 Hangzhou, China 2011

Week 10

As a reward to the students and to celebrate the end of exams, the International College of Zhejiang University organized a trip to Wuzhen for all of the international students. The reserved at least 8 charter buses to take us there. I know this because I was on bus number 8, though I suspect there were more. We had to be on the bus, ready to go at 6:50 in the morning. Unfortunately, that morning, my alarm didn’t go off (probably because I didn’t turn it on the night before…). Maryann knocked on my door at 6:45 and woke me up. Thankfully I had taken a shower the night before and was able to scramble to get myself ready quickly. The bus ride to Wuzhen was mostly uneventful since everyone was sleeping.
            It was raining that day and rainy days are never fun. I probably would have enjoyed the trip more if the weather were better. That goes without saying though. When we arrived everyone piled off the bus and the teachers just pointed at the entrance to the traditional village we were visiting. I felt like we were a herd of 500 international cows being corralled toward a holding pen. Once we all got inside everyone split up and wandered around the narrow winding streets at their own pace. Traditional Wuzhen is a canal town. Within the town were various themed mini-museums you could visit. One was a traditional Chinese bed museum. I’m not a museum person, so it didn’t really thrill me. I would rather do something than walk around and look at things. I need to be engaged in my activities for me to really appreciate them.

Li Laoshi too us on an excursion to Shaoxing the next day and it was a much better trip. Lars, Jamie, and Maryann opted not to go since they had visited Shaoxing the previous weekend with their Modern Chinese Literature class. Lily and Nicole are also in the literature class, but they still went with the rest of us. Lily didn’t go on the other trip because she was sick that day and Nicole didn’t mind traveling to Shaoxing again.That morning, Li Laoshi rented a van to chauffer us around for the day. This was much better than taking the long distance bus, in my opinion. On the way we talked about the things we were going to see that day.
Shaoxing is the hometown of a famous Chinese writer: Lu Xun. He wrote a lot of short stories during the New Culture Movement and most of his stories contain social commentary criticizing traditional Chinese society. His most famous story is “Madman’s Diary.” This story is structured like a diary and is narrated by a man who, the readers are lead to believe, has gone insane. The narrator has delusions of persecution, convinced that the people in his village want to kill and eat him. It’s been a tradition in this village to eat people, and even though they know it’s morally wrong they continue to do it because of the tradition. I highly recommend reading it.
The first place we visited was Lu Xun’s home, which has been turned into a tourist location. The site was a collection of homes that Lu Xun’s family owned throughout generations. All the houses were next to each other. The homes were structured like most traditional Chinese homes. There are sections of the house that have different rooms (all with individual and different purposes) and each section is separated by a small courtyard. Instead of spreading out width-wise, the homes have depth. They go back from the entrance. Every doorway has an elevated threshold that rises about a foot off the ground. When entering a room, it’s important to step over this threshold and not on top of it. Doing so would be a sign of disrespect. Just like today’s societies, the larger the homes, the wealthier the family living in it.
Directly opposite from the houses were typically tourist shops selling food and souvenirs. It was in this place that I was introduced to the scent of Chao Doufu aka “Stinky Tofu.” It’s a special kind of tofu that, when cooked, gives off a distinctive unpleasant odor. Seriously, it smells bad. I can’t bring myself to eat it because of the smell. I’ve been told that it actually tastes really good. I guess, since I’m not eating it, there will be more for those who enjoy it.
The second place we traveled to was East Lake. West Lake is in Hangzhou and it’s one of the most popular locations to visit in the city. East Lake, though smaller, was still beautiful and fun to visit. The first thing we saw when we got there were these giant inflatable balls, big enough to fit a person inside. It was an attraction that allowed you to get inside the balls and float around on the lake. We all got really excited when we saw this and immediately wanted to play in them. I was the last one to get into my ball, which was tethered to a dock so I didn’t float away aimlessly. It was really surreal – like being inside a bubble or a balloon. The only sounds I could hear were the ones I made myself. I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying to me from the outside of my ball. I immediately fell down the second my ball got in the water. It was impossible for me to keep my balance. Everyone else had figured out how to stand and run in their balls and were busy crashing into each other. I tried and tried again but it was no use. I felt like a toddler learning to walk for the first time – constantly falling down with a ‘plop’, sitting confused for a moment before stubbornly standing up and trying again. Eventually I gave up and enjoyed the sensation of laying on the cool water. That was a dangerous decision because, after a while, my paranoia began to kick in. What if the ball got a hole and water started to leek in? How would I get out? Would they be able to reel me in before I drowned? What if I suffocated while I was inside? Just as I was beginning to have these thoughts my time was up and I was pulled back to the dock. I’m glad I got to experience this because I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. I’ve scared myself too much.
We rented boats (a little larger than canoes) to ride around the lake. Interestingly, the drivers of the boats use one foot to row the boat. They have a second oar they use to steer. It’s a part of culture that is going out of style, so all of the drivers were old men in their late 60s early 70s. The boats were small so only 2 – 3 people (plus the driver) could ride at a time. All of the drivers were interested in seeing us (foreigners) and were very eager to say “Hello” to us when they saw us. They were all very nice and friendly people.
The last place we went to that day was a Calligraphy Garden. This place was made to honor one of the most prominent calligraphers in China’s history. It is said that his calligraphy (essentially his handwriting) was so beautiful, even today professionals cannot match his skill. The park is not only set up for people to observe and appreciate his calligraphy, but they can also practice their own writing as well. There are multiple venues where people can practice. First there is a sand pit where people can write characters in the sand. There are also slabs of stone that people can write on with water. The stones are special because they allow the water to evaporate quickly. A person could essentially practice writing their calligraphy for hours with these stones. Li Laoshi tried to teach me some techniques, much like you would teach a child to write. She took my hand and guided it as I held the brush. Calligraphy is difficult because not only do you have to remember the stroke order of the characters (which is VERY important) but you also have to remember how much pressure to apply to the brush in different parts of the character. Too much and the line will be too fat, too little and it will be too skinny – both are signs of ugly characters. A good piece of calligraphy is a well balanced character in size, proportion, and line prominence.
Needless to say we were all really tired when the day was over so most of us slept in the van on the way back to Hanzhou.

Week 9 Hangzhou, China 2011

Week 9

This week we took our midterm exams. The way the courses are structured the only grades that count are the two major exams: the midterms and the finals. We had an exam for every language class: grammar, speaking, and listening. As the class president/representative, it was my responsibility to make sure everyone knew where the testing room was and what time it was. There was an entire day set aside for each exam, even though the exams only took 2 hours at the most to take. This meant, for us, that after our exams were finished, we had the whole afternoon to a) study for the next exam and/or b) relax and enjoy the feeling of relief that comes after tests are over.
The grammar test was the typical written exam. We were expected to write the correct character when presented with the pinyin in one section. I still have trouble remembering how to write all the characters we’ve learned so that was the hardest part for me. Other sections were comprised of constructing and correcting sentences – which I’m pretty good at that so I felt confident about these sections. The last part of the test was to write a 100 character essay about one of three possible topics: a friend, your family, or your average day. I chose to write about Maryann because there were a lot of things that I knew how to write that involved her. I feel really good about my essay because not only did I prove to myself that I’m really learning something, but I wrote a solid essay.
The speaking test was the day after the grammar test. I was most nervous about this one. We were given six topics and we were expected to prepare a 3 minute speech for each of them. The teacher administering the exam would then pick one of the topics for us to then talk about. The topics were: my habits, my friend, my average day, my school, my birthday, and something I’ve bought while in China. Our teacher did not inform us about the other aspects of the exam, though. In hindsight they were minor and the most important thing was the 3 minute speech, but still I was thrown for a loop when I found out there was more to the exam than just my speech. We also had to recognize characters and create sentences using different points of grammar we had learned. The topic the teacher chose for me was my average day. I talked so long (because I had prepared speaking points the night before) that she had to tell me to stop when the three minutes were up. Yay!
The last test was listening and that was no big deal. It was just a test version of what we do regularly in class. Mark the tones of different words as you hear them and choose the correct answer between two similarly pronounced words. The only difference was: When we would listen to a dialog, they did not write the question on the test. They just provided us with our four multiple choice answers and we were supposed to listen and understand the question when it was asked in the recording. That threw me off because I wasn’t expecting it. So I know I missed at least a couple questions since I wasn’t sure what was going on. But that’s alright because a lot of people I talked to had the same problem. They were caught off guard just like me.

            One night this week, a group of us were walking back to the dorm from the Central Office/Apartment and we saw a new banner hanging up on campus. At first glance all we could read were the letters CUBA. Now, keep in mind, a week or so ago, we got a huge group of new students from the UK. Putting two and two together I assumed that we were getting a group of students from Cuba on campus. However, upon looking at what else was written on the banner (and having Lily explain what it all meant) we learned that CUBA was actually an acronym for China’s University Basketball Association. What we then dubbed as “April Madness” was coming to our campus.
            For the entire week basketball game after basketball game was being played at our school. During the day the games were free and at night the tickets were less than a dollar. The stands for the games during the day were almost entirely vacant, which was weird for me because I thought that more students would come watch. It was interesting to watch the games because 1) I don’t know much about basketball and 2) I was able to observe the differences between college sports in America and college sports in China. The most striking difference, for me, was that Chinese universities don’t have school colors. For example, IWU’s school colors are green and white. Since the Chinese schools don’t have school colors, the uniforms for the games were always the same. There was always a white team (home) and a purple team (away). To tell the teams apart you had to read the name of the school on the front of the jersey – and since I couldn’t read I had to rely on Felix to tell me who was who. He came and watched most of the games with me, which was nice. The two of us went to one of the night games together and that was more like what I imagined a regular college game would be like.
            The game was between Zhejiang University (my school) and Ningbo University. Felix is from Ningbo so he was interested in the outcome of the game. Since this tournament is similar to ‘March Madness’ this game was televised. Before the game started, each team’s captain came out and introduced their teammates. After the introductions were over, everyone stood and honored China’s national anthem. I felt awkward and out of place mostly because I kept waiting to hear the familiar words “Oh say can you see…” but it never came. It was interesting to see because, unlike in America, everyone was standing and even stopped what they were doing to honor the country. In America (even at professional games) you have people who chose not to stop what they are doing or even chose not to stand for the anthem. It really irritates me when I see these people, so it was refreshing to see a display of united national pride for once.
            The game itself was really exciting (or as exciting as basketball games can get). Zhejiang University won the game by one basket. And much celebration was had.

Week 8 Hangzhou, China 2011

Week 8

            I’ve recently been debating on whether to grow my hair long again, or if I should keep it short. I kept putting off making any decision because part of me was nervous about getting a hair cut in China. It’s not like I’m a boy and all I have to say is: “Just make it short.” I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to communicate what I wanted. But after three consecutive bad hair days, I decided to bite the bullet and hope for the best. Besides, I’m going to be in a lot of pictures in the months to come, I want to make sure I look good. I grow my hair out again when I don't need to care about how it looks when it’s in those awkward middle stages. Just to be sure I got something close to what I wanted, I found a picture of a similar hair style to what I had before and brought it with me to show the stylist. Chen Rong went with me to the salon because Penny was busy. And besides, she wanted to get her hair cut too. The place we went to was much nicer than any salon I had ever been to. Chen Rong explained that it was one of the nicer places in town but the hair cuts were still cheap. First we got our hair cleaned. We had the option of a ‘wet clean’ or a ‘dry clean.’ I didn’t understand the difference so I just chose the same as Chen Rong (dry clean). They just applied some product to our dry hair and it lathered like shampoo without water. The employees (who were all men, strangely) massaged my scalp while working the product into my hair. Then we went and rinsed it out of my hair. Since I couldn’t understand what he was saying to me, the employee had to physically push and tug me into whatever sitting/laying back position he needed me to be in. I felt bad for him, but at the same time this vocabulary wasn’t covered in my class yet so what could I do? The next step was an upper body massage including my neck, shoulders, arms and hands. I wasn’t expecting it but after I got over my initial shock, I really enjoyed it. It was much needed because I was still sore from riding horses and playing soccer. The hair cut itself was in a different room from the massages. Again, all the actual stylists were men. This was the first time a man had ever cut my hair so it was a weird concept to wrap my head around. He was extremely focused on his task and made sure to take his time. Or at least that’s what it felt like because it was also the longest hair cut of my life. I think he had to focus more because my hair is a different texture from Asian hair which he was used to working with. I asked if he could give me some bangs like in the picture I had picked out. I have a cowlick that usually prevents me from having bangs, but it was a part of the picture I showed to him so I expected him to just imitate the picture. He found the cowlick, however, and told Chen Rong that he couldn’t give me bangs because of it. Chen Rong explained to me that the Chinese word for cowlick translates to something beautiful. So to have a cowlick is like having a beauty mark in Chinese culture. I am happy with how my hair turned out and now I know that I have a reliable place to go to when I need to cut it again in a month or two.