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.