Friday, December 7, 2007

Xiamen University

I have neglected to post some pictures of my beautiful campus here in Xiamen. Xiamen University is known for being one of the most beautiful university campuses in China, and although I have little to compare it against, I believe it's an accurate reputation.

This is the center of campus, as seen from the 9th floor of my dormitory.

This is the view from my bedroom - the seaside! It's very lovely, but as you can see, it's often quite foggy (smoggy.)

The other direction, still from my bedroom window.

They have lots of statues and sculptures around, including these computer mice on the beach. I think they're so funny - a great touch of whimsy!

Some mornings I run or walk along the beach. The weather is nearly always perfect, and it's fun to watch the Chinese people doing Tai Qi in the morning or taking a swim (even if I would never dare to do so!)

This may be my last post, as I leave for Beijing early Wednesday morning. I should have some awesome pictures and experiences from my time there, but I may not have time to post about it until after returning home.

Monday, November 26, 2007

上海! (Shanghai!)

ChHappy Thanksgiving all! 10 of my friends and I went to Shanghai for our Thanksgiving break, and I had a fantastic time! Shanghai is a fantastic city - very cosmopolitan and Western. It's already gone on my list of cities I'd like to live in.

Here's a picture of the skyline - the pink building on the left side is the Oriental Pearl Tower - it's a very famous icon of the city.

We ate Western food pretty much over meal except Thanksgiving, oddly enough. This was our Thanksgiving dinner pretty standard Chinese fare, actually. No turkey, or even poultry to speak of. (And definitely no pie, which was the saddest of all.) It was delicious and cheap though, and we enjoyed ourselves.

I actually have some pictures of myself that I thought I would include this time. Here I am enjoying a steaming dish of rice and soy-braised beef. Yum!

We did some serious shopping while in Shanghai. There was an incredible range of options, from the Western brand name knock-offs, to very Chinese jade and pearls, to 9 story malls filled with familiar stores from home. This picture is from one part of a giant street of shops we spent the day at.

Gingerbread lattes at Starbucks are lovely, but we couldn't resist picking up some street food for breakfast on our way to the metro. Shanghai has a great metro system, actually. It was extremely convenient, clean, cheap and easy to understand. I had it figured out by the second day, and the well-translated English signs everywhere were a big help.

As you might expect a city of 17 million to be, Shanghai was extremely crowded. It was also filled with Western ex-pats. It was an off role reversal - normally when we travel in China, we Westerners are stared at by the Chinese people. Here in Shanghai though, we Westerners marveled at the huge amount of other Westerners, while all the natives didn't even bat an eyelash.

Shanghai at night is also quite a sight - lots of gorgeous architecture.

The Oriental Pearl at night - much less gaudy, in my opinion.

One last picture of me, with some of my friends. We're staring at the Oriental Pearl, actually, having just crossed under the Huangpu river via an underwater tunnel.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Temple of Ancestor Worship

Before the main point of my post, I wanted to share with you all how safe I feel in China. It's amazing - besides needing to of course watch my belongings and zip up my purse (pickpockets are a big problem,) I always feel safe. China has extremely low violent crime levels, and I always feel safe walking home after dark from a local internet cafe. When my parents were in town, one girl who was worried about moving to San Francisco for university, was horrified to learn she shouldn't walk home along at night - it's just not something you have to worry about, especially in a place like Xiamen. It helps that everything is open very late here, and there are always people around, no matter where you are or what time.

We visited a series of temples with my Chinese culture class last week. First we visited a local temple to a local, Fujian/Southeast coastal China deity - the Holy Mother. Then we visited a beautiful Daoist temple. The last temple though, a temple for ancestor worship, was be far the most interesting. It incorporated Buddhist and Daoist elements into its style and worship methods, and the decorations were fascinating.

Along one wall were dozens of paintings depicting scenes from famous Chinese moralistic stories. They are designed to teach filial piety. The one I have included above shows the story of a son who, because every night mosquitoes kept him and his family from sleeping well, took off all his clothes one night so as to attract all the mosquitoes to himself and allow his parents to sleep.

I am, unfortunately, not sure who the figures in the painting represent. Venerable town ancestors, I would guess. I just liked the painting, which was on the door going into the temple.

The amazing things about nearly every site we visit in China, whether historical building, temple, or tourist shop, is that they are all inhabited. The temple of ancestor worship had beds along the opposite wall, but here you can see their table and cooking area. This was not in a back room, but simply in the temple proper.

Here is someone's bicycle leaning against part of the entranceway.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Tribute to Better Internet (with pictures)

Orphanage update: as was perhaps inevitable, I have fallen in love with the children at the orphanage. They are growing up so quickly! Only a couple could walk when we first started going, but now about half of them can walk around, especially with help.

One of my favorites is a little boy who almost never shows any emotion. He never smiles, except that I have figured out if you tickle the bottom of his feet he will just barely crack a smile. Generally though, he sits back and observes what is going on around him. His very serious, pensive mannerisms have led us to nickname his the “little old man” “xiao lao ren,” in Chinese.

My absolute favorite though is a little girl who will be all smiles and laughter if you tickle her. If you smile at her, she will always grin back. She is so adorable – I have to be careful not to play favorites with her. I never used to understand how a couple could choose a child to adopt – how could you choose between so many children? And how would you know which one to choose? But now I think I understand. Don’t worry! I’m not going to bring back a baby from China. I will miss them all though when I go.

More on food: (an integral part of Chinese culture - apologies if I seem like I talk about it too much.) I have tried both silkworms and a fresh coconut, and I must say, the latter tasted much better. The silkworms were stir-fried, I think, and tasted salty and crunchy on the outside, and kind of bread-like inside. Not great, but not completely disgusting either. Given a choice between that and starving to death, I would survive.

Fresh coconuts though are fantastic - I quite recommend them. First I drank out all the juice, then I dropped it to break it open and eat the meat. Not terribly exotic, but I was delighted.

While I'm making very un-Chinese recommendations for your palate, let me recommend a british mini-series for your free time. I have been watching Planet Earth for a few weeks now, and I can't say enough about it! I feel like a hippie after watching an episode, because I'm always so in love with our world - it's such a cool place! Again, not very Chinese, except for the (probably) pirated status of my friend's DVD.

Below are more pictures from my bus tour. We visited a beautiful park, and saw lots of Chinese people doing recreation. It's another custom we really should import.

Here are a group of people being led in song. You'll notice in all my pictures, that the people participating in the activities are adults, very different from what you'd see at most parks in the US.

Here is a group of people playing a Chinese version of hacky-sack. They're extremely good at it!

Here is a father teaching his son some sort of martial arts. In the background you can kind of see some people practicing Tai Qi - also very common in Chinese parks. If I get up and run in the morning, I always see people (generally elderly) practicing Tai Qi around campus.

As you can see, the park was very picturesque. We didn't have time to rent paddle boats, but they looked fun.

This is a phone card that a friend of mine bought, and once I saw it, I had to take a picture. The panda character is one of the 2008 Olympic mascots. To be fair, it's probably just illustrating one of the shooting events/competitions. Probably.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sadly, still no pictures. I was able to load pictures when I went to an internet cafe nearby yesterday, but just as I was finishing my post my time ran out, and I lost everything. Next time I go back there, I will keep a better watch on the time so I can put some pictures up. For now, I will relate a couple of unrelated anecdotes.

I recently read an article in the NYT that said that 80 percent of the food sold domestically in China is not up to safety standards. Exported food is nearly all considered safe, as the government is working hard to improve its products’ imagery abroad, but the same cannot be said for domestically sold food. Reading that though, I’m surprised by how little trouble I’ve had with the food. I've had food poisoning once, but no other incidents to speak of. Most of the other people in my program haven't had any problems either.

My Chinese conversation partner, Wensha, or Wendy, and I have gone out to dinner together a couple times, and I have since decided that arguing over the bill is my favorite Chinese cultural practice. Of course, this practice depends on sharing dishes, which is not often done in the US. At the end of dinner the first time, I wanted to treat her to dinner, but she wouldn’t here of it. She even quickly whipped out money and handed it to the waitress before I could, as I was also going to try to give me money to the waitress first. Next week when we went out again, I insisted on paying, and she acquiesced.

The wonderful thing about one person treating the other(s,) is that it feels nice whoever “wins.” If I get to pay, I feel so generous and magnanimous (not to mention I, will admit, rather proud of myself for having the cultural knowledge to understand that this is an important gesture) and of course, if I am being treated, well, it always feels nice to be treated to dinner, doesn’t it? Of course, the other advantage of paying this way is that you never have to figure out splitting the check, and paying for a friend ensures you will go out with them again, as they “owe” you a meal.

Friday, October 26, 2007

General China blog

I have been trying to load pictures, but I have not been getting good enough internet lately. I have decided to skip the pictures for now and post anyway. I hope my words alone can keep you all interested!

I thought I would update you all on my life here. It's still quite warm - it gets up into the 80s most days. Occasionally in the evening I need a sweatshirt, but mostly it's just plain gorgeous.

I'm sure you've all been curious about the following:

Chinese bathrooms: not so great. I'm not a big fan of the squatting toilet. On the bright side, there really shouldn't be any bathrooms in the US that will bother me, save perhaps at the State Fair.

The food: great, and not to mention super-cheap. I do miss Western food sometimes, and there are certainly days when all I really want for lunch is a sandwich, but for the most part I like Chinese food just fine. I'm a big fan of bubble milk tea - it's cold tea sweetened with milk, and these little black tapioca balls at the bottom. Odd at first, but extremely addicting. You can buy it at pretty much every other eatery, we find. We have also recently discovered the wonders of street food. There are street vendors along most of the streets selling extremely delicious, ridiculously cheap, and horribly unhealthy food. One night last week we were wandering a street we hadn't been to before, and there were no restaurants in the vicinity, but there were street vendors selling fried rice, dumplings, and other fried lovely things that I don't know the name of. It ended up being one of the best dinners we'd had yet (for about 75 US cents!)

Other students: Living in the international students' dorm, I've met a lot of other foreigners studying abroad in China. Our group often hangs out with a group of students from Holland and another group from Korea. It's especially neat to spend time with the Koreans because the common language tends to be Chinese! They can speak a bit of English, but we actually tend to communicate better via Chinese. It's really cool!

A typical day for me: I have Chinese language class for 3 hours every day, and culture class for an hour and a half Tuesday through Thursday. My homework load tends to be very manageable, and 2 to 3 times a week I try to work out with some of the other people in my group. One guy used to be a professional trainer, so he designs some great workouts for us. It's really fun to work out with everyone, and it's nice to get some exercise.

This Thanksgiving we're going to head to Shanghai for the long weekend, and I hope to have some cool stories to tell.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Unfortunately, I'm having some trouble bringing up pictures from my bus tour of Southern China, so I'm posting a much earlier day trip we took. One of the first places we visited in Xiamen was Gulangyu, also known as Piano Island. It's famous for its piano and organ museums, and high number of piano prodigies. There are also no cars or bicycles allowed on the island, so it's a very pleasant place to visit.

This is a picture of the island. You can see why it's a popular tourist destination - it could hardly be more picturesque!

This picture doesn't pertain to Gulangyu at all, but I thought it was a neat picture of a fishing boat in Xiamen's harbor.

This a statue of three men playing a ball game outside of the ferry station to get to the island.

Gulangyu is also known for its many gardens. This is one that we visited.

Gulangyu used to be controlled by the Dutch, and it was for a while a very international city. There are many different embassies from Western countries on the island, and it boasts an impressive collection of eclectic European architecture, as you can see here. There is no longer a substantial foreign population on the island, ever since the Communist Revolution, but the buildings bear testament to its cosmopolitan past.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

apologies for the tardiness!

These pictures are all from the first day of our bus tour. We visited hakka houses, or ke jia tu lou. They are large round multi-storied buildings that served as both fortresses to keep out invaders or thieves, and houses for many families. The walls are made out of rice, dirt, and sugar.

I generally amused by English translations here, but this one takes the cake! We're still not sure what they meant to say.

The countryside was absolutely gorgeous. I took many pictures here that remind me of what I expected China to look like before I came.

This is the outside of a hakka house. This one was built in the early 1900s, so it's not actually extremely old by Chinese standards. We visited a Buddhist temple which was built in the 1200s.

I apologize for the tardiness of this posting. My parents came to visit me couple weeks ago, and the week after we went on a 9 day bus tour of Southern China, and then last weekend we went on another short bus tour. I'm really looking forward to having a free weekend. I'm posting pictures from the bus tour. I have a ton of good pictures from the tour, so it's hard to choose which ones to share with you. I have chosen these for now. I will try to post more frequently.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

James Taylor in China

I have to note that I'm listening to James Taylor (a singer from NC who sings "Carolina on My Mind") in the wonderful cafe here in Xiamen, and I must say it's kind of surreal.

Last Friday Sandra, another girl from UNC, and I went to an orphanage in China to volunteer. We played with children aged 1-2 for about an hour and a half. That was all they wanted/needed us to do: play with the children, so it was very fun. The children were adorable, and they were young enough that they didn't mind (or understand) my very poor attempts to speak Chinese to them. I feel privileged that they let us help out.

Yesterday we visited Xiamen's Coca-Cola factory. The Chinese translation of Coca-Cola is a transliteration, but it also has a great meaning: roughly: delicious happiness. Very clever naming! The bottling machines were incredibly cool, and they gave us free Cokes at the end.

I apologize for the short entry. I haven't uploaded my pictures to my computer yet. My parents are coming to visit me next week, and I'm sure I will have lots of pictures after that.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Da Jia Hao

Da jia hao! (Hello everyone!) I'm currently at an adorable little cafe (with wireless internet!) that could be sitting in Chapel Hill. It's so lovely - they even have really good coffee, which is a rarity in China.

Life is going well. My classes aren't too bad, but they do require daily studying and homework. I had my first test on Friday, and it went very well except for the listening comprehension. It's a definite weak point for me.

China is quickly turning me into an extreme cheapskate. The other day we decided to go to the restaurant downstairs in our dorm instead of the dining hall, and I remember being a bit put out because that meant lunch would cost me 10 yuan instead of 5. (I recently bought a very expensive dictionary, whether you count it in yuan or dollars, so I’m trying not to spend too much money on food.) Of course, once I reminded myself that this meant the price of lunch was increasing by about US$.70, I was fine. (It’s about 7 yuan to 1 US dollar.) Now, not that 5 RMB is the price of most meals in China, but that fact that I can get lunch for about 70 American cents points means I’m going to have a hard time buying food in the US.

We went to a Pizza Hut for dinner, and at 50 yuan per person, it was one of the most expensive meals I’ve had here. (roughly US$7.00) The prices were so “expensive” because it was actually a nice sit down restaurant – appetizers and everything. It occupied the entire top floor of a building downtown (21st floor, perhaps,) so it boasted an impressive view of the city.

I’m not the only cheap person in China though. They had a salad bar that costs 28 RMB, which is a lot for China, although it’s also the only place I’ve yet seen that offers salads. A woman there was really getting her money’s worth out of it though! She was starting to stack up pieces of watermelon when we ordered, and by the time we got our food, she was still there, with layers of watermelon cubes and cucumber slices about 9 inches high! It was incredible. One of the girls wanted a picture, so she and a couple guys went over, and at first they tried to take it without her noticing, but then they asked if we could take a picture, and she was fine with it. She even posed with her tower for them. I don't have the picture, otherwise I'd post it.

There is a large Buddhist temple just off campus, and they have gardens there as well. These lily pads are probably a couple feet in diameter.

This is also from the temple complex. I actually haven't been to the temple proper, as it started to rain while we were exploring, so we decided to come back another day.

I think this is all the program participants. I think this is from the day we visited an old military fort, but my camera ran out of batteries. At some point I hope to get someone's else's pictures.

KFC and McDonald's are incredibly popular here. There are some slight menu variations, for example McDonald's serves taro pie instead of apple, and you can buy egg custards at KFC. The Chicken McNuggets taste the same though!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


I thought I would post about Japan, before I spend too long in China and forget about my brief overnight in Narita. Our group flight out of Raleigh Durham took us on through Tokya/Narita for one night before we flew to Xiamen. We flew via All Nippon, which was the best airline I've taken yet. They served quite decent meals, and Haagen-Daas ice cream for dessert! It was lovely - as were the stewardesses, actually. Apparently they have very strict appearance standards for the flight attendants - basically, they have to be tall, thin and pretty. Kind of appalling actually, but they were all very friendly.

Once we got to Tokyo/Narita airport, we discovered that it would take far too long to get into downtown Tokya for us to go there, so instead we explored the suburb that the airport is in - Narita. It was very nice and quiet. We found a huge temple complex with beautiful gardens, and a shopping mall that was eerily similar to SouthPoint or Carolina Place.

I've managed to post a few pictures, so enjoy!

This is me at the temple complex. We came straight from our flight from Raleigh Durham, via Chicago, so we were all pretty tired and rumpled.

That's a bamboo forest - there were even bigger ones that we walked through on our way to the temple. The hazy look in the pictures is not some mysterious Asian mist, but the sweltering humidity that occasionally fogged up my lens.

More at the temple complex. We were the only ones there!

A funny store name at the mall. I think it was just a regular clothing store, that happened to be called Drug Store's. That of course is only the first of many funny English translations I've seen since coming to Asia.

I apologize if this grosses out or offends anyone, but I have posted a picture of a "squatty potty" (a squatting toilet.) They're the main form of toilet facility in Asia, and I can't say I am too keen on the concept. As you might imagine, they're often unclean and smelly. Not to mention awkward to use. If you plan on traveling to Asia, consider yourself warned!

And finally, the temple that we saw. I unfortunately have no idea what it's called, since I can't read Japanese. It was quite impressive though.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ni Hao!

Greetings from China! My access to the internet since I've gotten here has been appallingly limited, so do not expect frequent updates, though I will try my best.

I also do not foresee nearly as many pictures as my Australian posts, as the connection is much slower, and uploading pictures could take awhile. I'm just guessing at this point though, as the real reason for no pictures in this blog is that I have not loaded any of them onto my computer yet.

Aside from terrible internet, my university also has teeny tiny dorm rooms (I don't even have a desk in my room,) and rock hard beds. Food here is all covered in heavy sauce, oil or both, and water needs to be boiled before it is potable. Of course, all of these minor complaints are made up for by the beautiful campus, the ocean view from my room, the fantastic other participants in my program, and the exoticism of it all.

My Chinese is, as I thought it would be, completely inadequate for even daily funtioning. I needed help from one of the fluent participants to buy a hair dryer, and my ability to order meals is limited to "I want a chicken dish, not spicy." I am optimistic though that I will improve immeasurably. My Chinese class is very intense, and if nothing else completing three semesters worth of Chinese in one will certainly make for a big improvement in my skills.

Normally I would welcome comments, but I'm not sure I will be able to view them. Blogs seem to be censored here, and while I can post entries, I cannot even view my own blog (so far as I can tell right now anyway. The blogging website is in Chinese characters here, so I could be doing something wrong.) In short, email me!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Rapporteur's Report

This is my final blog about Canberra. I have a few final photos to share, along with further details of my internship.

Final thoughts about my internship:

I think I have neglected to write enough about my internship, especially considering it’s the whole reason I came to Australia, not to mention I’ve been working there full time since I got here.

I’ve been interning at the Australian Institute of International Affairs (a lot to say when I answer the telephone!) Most people immediately ask: What does the AIIA do?

Good question. The stated goal of the AIIA is to “increase awareness of international affairs in Australia.” They do all sorts of things to achieve this goal. They publish an academic journal (the Australian Journal of International Afffairs) and a book series chronicling Australia’s foreign policy over 5 year periods, organize conferences such as the National President’s Forum I attended in Brisbane, hold lectures and other events for their members, and lots more.

But what do I do? Like the Institute, all sorts of things! I open and sort the mail, answer the telephone, and other administrative (intern-y) tasks. I also get to do really important projects, like copy-editing and writing the abstracts and keywords for a special issue of the International Journal of Global Energy Issues, drafting the Strategy Day papers, etc.

My last project was planning a new publication for the AIIA – the Emerging Scholars series. The National Office hosts many interns who are writing papers for academic credit, like me. Now these papers will be published! This is one of my favorite projects, as I think it’s a great development, and I have control over every aspect of the series. Not to mention, there’s also a good chance that my paper will be published by the series (once it’s finished, of course.)

Here are Martha and I. We were dressed to go out for a function at the US Embassy. I am going to miss Martha; we had a lot of fun together. My last afternoon at work we used GoogleEarth to find maps of our hometowns. Charlotte is not in 3D yet, but Groningen, Holland was (it was lovely!) She also showed me where she lived during her gap year in London, and true to form, as we took a virtual stroll down the streets, we got lost!

I’m not sure how I let this happen, but I didn’t get a picture of myself with my host family until the night before I left. (Please pardon the fact that I am in my pajamas.) They were so wonderful, and I really hope (and believe) that the feeling was mutual. I look forward to going back to visit. Perhaps in the summer next time…

This blog post had a relatively large number of pictures that included me. The picture above explains why: this is what I looked like every day commuting to work, and it’s not a pretty picture. The brown boots with the black “tracky-daks” (track pants) are not as obvious in the picture as they are in real life, but trust me, it was not pretty. I was warm though, and that’s about all I cared about.

Next post: Sydney!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Australian Cuisine

In reality, Australian food is very similar to American food, albeit with a more British influence. Morning Tea and Afternoon Tea are official meals, which I love. I have fallen in love with scones with jam and cream. Scones here are a bit similar to a Southern biscuit, but without the heavy salt and grease.

Crumpets, another "tea" food, are also fabulous. They're like a cross between pancakes and English muffins - extremely good toasted with butter and peanut butter.

Bangers and mash, a very British dish, is also a popular Australian dinner. (It's sausages and mashed potatoes.) Even more Australian, I think, though is a lamb barbecue or roast. It would be roughly analogous to an American Sunday pot roast - a classic.

Below is one of my favorite Australian foods - the Lamington. It's sponge cake dipped in chocolate and coconut. It's so fantastic!

Sometime they have cream in the middle: yum-o! (As an Aussie would say.)

Those are meat pies. Pies in Australia, much like in the UK, are generally savory. The only sweet pie they really eat is apple pie.

The quintessential Australian product: Vegemite. It's concentrated yeast extract, and it tastes about how you might expect concentrated yeast extract to taste. I can't say that I enjoyed it very much, unfortunately. It's a bit of an acquired taste, I think. Australians enjoy Vegemite sandwiches, and it functions much like peanut butter in the US.

I am going to miss these. Tim Tams are fantastic - they're a bit like chocolate covered oreos, so as you can imagine, they're wickedly delicious.

I know this isn't Australian, but I had to post proof of Krispy Kreme's transpacific move. As far as I knew, Krispy Kreme was just now making it in to the northern part of the US, so I was floored when I heard they have it here. It's extremely popular, needless to say.

The only food I have heard of that is not available in Australia is the graham cracker, which means they don't make s'mores! It's a tragedy, really. Roasting marshmallows just isn't the same.

Many foods are the same but are called different things. For example, raisins are called sultanas and bell peppers are called capiscums. Lots of brand names are different as well - Rice Krispies become Rice Bubbles, etc. And people might look at you funny if you ask for a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich, as Jelly is Jello here. (You'd have to ask for Peanut Butter & Jam.)