Wednesday, October 21, 2009

中秋节快乐!

"Friends are the family you choose."

-Anna Doherty

Happy (late) Mid-Autumn Festival! During my October break, there were not one but two holidays: National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival, a traditional Chinese festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival was October 3, so I celebrated it in a small town in Hunan, where I was visiting a friend. We had the good fortune of making friends with some locals who invited us to celebrate the festival with them. That meant playing traditional Chinese music, singing, drinking tea, and eating moon cakes.

The Mid-Autumn Festival centers around the moon. One traditionally gives "moon cakes" to one's friends. Moon cakes are little cakes filled with different flavored paste fillings: fruit, bean, meat, peanut- you name it! Many of them have an egg yolk in the middle, to symbolize the moon. I'm not such a big fan of the egg yolk; I like the plain fruit-flavored ones the best.

One is also supposed to gaze at the moon on this night, and think of friends and family in other places who are also staring at the same moon. This festival then was particularly poignant for me, as I am separated from most of my friends and family right now.

Below I've posted a video from our night. You can see and hear the traditional Chinese music - be forewarned! It's very different from Western music.


video

This festival was a good time not only to think of loved ones in far away places, but also to appreciate the people I have around me here. For example, when my 2 day stay in Shanghai turned into 2 weeks, I felt like such an imposition on the friends I was staying with. They honestly didn't think anything of it though. My friend said to me, "So many people have helped me. I'm happy to help you out too."

I think that when you move so far away from everything and everyone familiar, you have to construct a new support structure, one that plays the role of "family" in your life. So all of us ex-pats support each other whenever we can - when I needed a place to stay, my friend in Shanghai opened her home to me without a thought.

Similarly, when I traveled to Guilin (on my way to Hunan,) a friend there let me stay with him. And when his money ran dangerously low because his employer was a week late in paying his (first!) salary, I was happy to cover meals. And when I arrived home in Quanzhou at the end of break, though they were both 2 provinces away, it was my friends in Guilin and Hunan that checked in with me to make sure I'd gotten home okay.

So don't let me fool you into thinking I'm too brave or independent, because I've got lots of help.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

国庆节快乐!


Happy (belated) Chinese National Day! October 1 was the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Not long after was another important Chinese holiday, so I had a long break - October 1-8. I used my time to do a bit of traveling and visit a friend in Hunan province, west of me.


He lives in a very small town in Hunan though, so the nearest airport is five hours away by bus in a city called Guilin. Guilin is pretty famous for being beautiful, and all the pictures in this post are taken during my brief tour of one of it's parks: the Seven Star Park. I had the chance to see a little of Guilin before heading to Daoxian, the city in Hunan where I was ultimately headed. Unfortunately, all the best sites in Guilin require at least a day, if not more, to travel to and see, but this park was a good sampling. It really was quite beautiful, but it's hard to tell in the pictures, as the day was overcast and my photography skills are amateur.

Even in this little bit of preserved greenery in the middle of Guilin, there were signs celebrating the 60th anniverary. China was quite proud, and the celebrations in Beijing were very impressive. It was similar to the scope and beauty of the Olympics' Opening Ceremony. China certainly knows how to put on a show.

It struck both my friends and I as a little odd though to be celebrating the 60th anniversary of a country that was first unified in the third century BC, and has had a continuously used writing system and recorded history and culture ever since, but as it is, China is celebrating its anniversary as a nation less than half as old as the United States.

Pictured above is Camel Mountain, typical of the karst formations in Guilin (and neighboring, even more beautiful, Yangshuo.) If you ever get the chance to see a Chinese 20rmb bill, you will see Chairman Mao on the front, and Yangshuo's river on the back.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Settling In

I'm starting to get into the swing of things around here. This is my second week of classes, which I've really been enjoying. I especially like teaching writing to my undergraduates. English was usually one of my favorite classes, so it makes sense. I'm excited to see improvements in their writing - because of what I taught them!

I hope everyone is staying well; I've heard the swine flu is in full swing in the US. Here it's not yet very widespread. There has only been one case on campus, but he was immediately taken to the hospital. Now all the foreign teachers are required to have their temperature taken before we leave the building every day. I'm not sure for whose protection it is, but we can just report a tempterature that we take ourselves in our room, so it's not really any inconvenience. I heard that during the SARS crisis they completely closed campus for two weeks - no one in or out! I'm hoping nothing so serious happens for the swine flu here.

Katherine, another foreign teacher, moved in next door to me last weekend. She's from Toronto, but born in Quanzhou, so her family showed me around the city. We went to the beach for a seafood restaurant they really like, and then we visited a tea house a little outside the city proper. It was really beautiful, so I've included a couple pictures.



I've also been cooking my own meals. I love cooking, so I couldn't resist showing a few of the dishes I've tried to make. Apologies to the non food-obsessed. :)


Fish balls and baby bok choy - the first meal I made for myself here! There should be rice too. Rice cookers, I would like to add, are magic. Really. Perfect rice without any fuss.


I tried to make quail eggs into a dish. The dish didn't work so well, but i think the eggs look really neat.



Carnations - a gift from Katherine's family. They looked so neat, but when I added them to the soup...

It looks pretty good, no? But you can't see the flowers at all. The petals shrunk into near invisibility. (The soup was still delicious.)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

My New Home

"Returning from seeing a friend off at the shore, one feels as far away as the horizon."
-Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi


My move is finally complete. I left behind my friends in Shanghai for a completely new life here in Quanzhou. It was hard to say goodbye, but I was ready for the change. Though I've only been here a week, it seems like I'm where I am supposed to be. I taught my first few classes(!), which were incredibly intimidating but also really enjoyable. Creating syllabi, correcting papers, teaching writing skills, and reviewing grammar: it's all kind of fun for me. I only have 10 classroom hours per week, so I also have plenty of time to work on my Chinese. I've found a Chinese tutor, and I'm so excited to start seeing some improvements!

Huaqiao university has quite a beautiful campus, of which I've included some pictures here:


This is the view from my window of campus and the surrounding area. The place where I am is set into the hills - rather picturesque, no?



One of many tree-lined streets. The buildings here tend to be rather block-like and uninspired, but there are lots of trees and gardens to make up for it.



The rather impressive entrance to the school. Note the blue skies!



There are lots of palm trees to remind me that I'm living in a tropical area, as if the heat and humidity weren't enough. I'm told that it will cool down in the beginning of October. Agh!



The following pictures probably fall into the category, "things in which only a mother would be interested." I've posted some pictures of my apartment, which, by the way, is HUGE. I have a study which I've pretty much abandoned, as I just don't need that much room. Overall though, it's a nice apartment, if rather spartan. The only downside? It's on the 6th floor, and there isn't an elevator.



Here's the entrance. I love the coat rack! My bookshelf needs a lot more books though.




My living room furniture is made of hardwood, which is lovely, but not very comfortable.




My cute little kitchen table. I'm currently using a scarf as a tablecloth until I have the money to buy a real tablecloth. It's not like I'm going to need a scarf anytime soon anyway. ;)



My kitchen! No oven, but a perfectly serviceable stove and microwave. They even provided me with a rice cooker and a wok!




My (already messy) desk. I put a map of Carrboro up above it, in case I get homesick. The desk used to be in my study, but there was plenty of space in my bedroom.



Lastly, my bed. Hard as a rock, of course, but I'm already used to it. In the background is a second desk, which I'm using as a vanity of sorts. It's also covered by one of my scarves right now...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Soft Landing in China

I did it! I made the jump across the Pacific to China, although I haven't quite reached my final destination yet. On August 12, a friend and I flew from Charlotte to Toronto (where I had my first - great - couchsurfing experience,) to Shanghai. One of my friends from studying abroad in Xiamen has been living there for a year, so she kindly offered us a place to stay the night. It was so wonderful to have a "soft landing." I was only supposed to stay for 2 nights, but because of some problems with my work permit, I ended up staying two weeks! (My friend and her roommate are saints for letting me extend my stay so long!)

It's been a really fun two weeks. I've gotten to see more of Shanghai, a city I loved from my brief visit here two years ago, and hang out with my friend. Not to mention watch a few episodes of Mad Men and other TV shows. I do love cheap Chinese DVDs. ;)

Most of my time has been spent in a district called the French Concession, as that is where my friend lives. I've seen People's Square, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and a lot of interesting things right on the street-side - like the Bird, Fish and Insect Market, or the street vendors selling delicious peaches. Nothing is ever boring in China! There is a lot of construction here right now, in preparation for the World Expo. In the picture below you can see the remnants of the sidewalk along the street where I've been staying.



Meet 海宝 (Haibao,) the mascot of the 2009 Shanghai World Expo:

(I think he's supposed to be the sea personified, or something of that sort.)

Shanghai has lots of great, ultra-modern architecture, mixed in with old European style buildings. For example:




Cross your fingers for me that my Chinese improves greatly while I'm here. Currently, my Chinese is TERRIBLE. I can order food like a pro (Would I like it to go? Yes, please. With rice? Of course.) But everything else? Nada. My friend had someone come to install a shower curtain rod while I was there during the day, and I was no help at all. Do I know the word for…:

Scissors?

No.

Extension cord?

No.

Towel?

No.

Anything at all useful?

Nope.

Haha, luckily the gentleman was VERY patient.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Europe, Abridged

Amanda and I had a fantastic trip to Europe. We visited Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, and Prague. Berlin hadn't originally been included in our trip, but it was cheapest to fly in there. It was lucky for us though, as it ended up being our favorite city! It seemed like there was something going on around every corner, like the flea markets on Sundays with impromptu outdoor karaoke sessions, or the couchsurfing meeting that we were invited to. (More on couchsurfing later.) We had a great time in every city though, so I apologize for condensing it all into one small entry.

Highlights from each city:

Berlin: amazing graffiti, delicious food

Copenhagen: riding bikes to the beach, a cathedral converted into an art museum

Oslo: Lysefjord, the Oslo Live music festival

Stockholm: amazing subway art, Nobel museum

Prague: free walking tour with introduced us to Prague's incredible history

To illustrate, I've chosen a few of the best pictures:










Couchsurfing, by the way, is a website (couchsurfing.org) that connects travelers with places to stay with locals. So if someone has an extra couch or guestroom, they can host travelers. It's a great way to meet really interesting people! On my way to China, I tried it with a friend of mine on our layover in Toronto, and we had such a positive experience. We stayed with the most generous couple there. Given that the alternative was sleeping at the airport, it wasn't hard for the night to be a success, but we had such a wonderful time.