Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pan Shan and Chang Cheng

I spent this past weekend climbing, climbing, climbing. Saturday morning at 6:30, our whole program headed to Pan Shan, a mountain located about two hours outside of Tianjin in a rural, isolated region called Ji County. The mountain was beautiful, and we took a leisurely four hours to climb up to the top. On the way up, we encountered breathtaking scenery, a fascinating Buddhist burial ground, and several temples with very aggressive monks seeking donations.

For 50 yuan ($7) I took a cable car ride up to the very top of the mountain along with some other members of our group. We seemed to be rising above the clouds, although it was difficult to tell because of the thick mist accumulating in the high elevation. Another temple stood at the highest point of the mountain, and after taking some pictures and enjoying the lovely, fresh and clean air, we made the journey back down Pan Shan to eat lunch.

Lunch was served at "The Farmer's House," which was, quite literally, a farmer's house located at the end of a bumpy dirt road. The "restaurant" also doubles as a "hotel," at which Scott and I had been planning to stay Saturday night in order to visit a nearby section of the Great Wall. After taking a look around the place, however, we decided to go against the advice of our travel agent and seek more civilized lodgings closer to the town center.

The rest of the group went back to Tianjin Saturday afternoon. Since Scott and I still wanted to stay an extra night to climb the Great Wall today, our teacher helped us book a surprisingly great three-star hotel in downtown Ji County. For the even more surprisingly great price of 160 yuan (about $20) per night, we got cleanliness, air conditioning, real showers, and comfortable beds... we were in heaven!

Upon our arrival at the hotel, I had a hunch that Scott and I were the only non-Chinese in the entire town; that was confirmed when we ventured out to get dinner at the local KFC. Everyone we came into contact with was very helpful and friendly, but there was much staring, pointing, and loud shouting of "HAH-LOH!!" and "MEIGUOREN MA?" (are you American?). I'm finding more and more that a little bit of Chinese and a cheerful smile are the cure for all this. For example, I was standing in line to get a second box of chicken nuggets at KFC, being stared at intensely as usual. When I told a woman in front of me that her daughter was very cute (which she was), I was surrounded by instant new friends.

We'd arranged a cab to pick us up at the hotel and take us to the Great Wall (Chang Cheng) the next morning; he was there right on time at 7:30 am. The 40-minute cab ride was more like a dangerous roller coaster ride, but it was pretty fun all the same and we enjoyed the beautiful country scenery along the way. This section of the Great Wall was much more rugged than the more frequented one we'd visited outside of Beijing. The first side we climbed was extremely steep, and ended abruptly against a vertically rising cliff. To get to the other side of the wall, we crossed a river and then climbed up about 30 minutes of almost vertical steps with no railing cut into the mountainside. The view was well worth it, and the exercise felt great! Along the way, we talked to Chinese tourists about how we were Meiguoren and we all sympathized with each other about the rigorous climb.

After about four hours of climbing, Scott and I met the cab driver for the ride back into town. We collected our bags, got some lunch, and went to the local train station to get tickets back to Tianjin. The train station was located in a large warehouse-like room with no air conditioning and an outdoor communal pit for a restroom. We were excited (and a little apprehensive!) to find out that each ticket for the 2.5 hour ride back to Tianjin cost only 7 yuan ($1). The train ride on the circa- 1960 vehicle was an interesting experience. The seats seemed to be sold out at Ji County, but at each of the ten stops on the way to Tianjin we picked up more people, who had to just stand in the walkways. The restroom was a small box with a hole cut in the floor; passengers brave enough to enter the bathroom had the special treat of seeing the train tracks "whizzing" (haha) by underneath! Of course, Scott and I were the only non-Chinese on the train. Everybody was very curious to talk to us but we were feeling pretty anti-social and didn't bite. My postcard-writing attracted a crowd of people looking over my shoulder and trying to read the few Chinese characters I wrote on each card ("hello" and my Chinese name, "Mei Xiang").

I'm very tired and must go to sleep now. What a great weekend, and a wonderful introduction to the beginning of my career as a waiguoren (foreign) backpacker in China, which commences a week from today.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Chinese Friends

Well, it's getting down to the wire. We leave Tianjin one week from Sunday, and I wish I had more time here! I've finally started to make some Chinese friends, which makes a world of difference in helping me get around town and function as a normal, capable adult should.

I've found my friendships here very refreshing. Chinese college students have a certain innocence that's hard to find in girls my age at home. The feeling I'm trying to describe is hard to put into words... but it brings back memories of carefree summer days spent with neighborhood friends by the pool, getting ice cream, and just wandering around the neighborhood goofing off. It's the kind of feeling that I didn't realize I missed until I got it back.

Of course, my Chinese friends and I do more adult things like shopping or going out to lunch, but it's that same kind of wholesome, good- natured fun that makes silly games like Ghost-in-the-Graveyard a blast. A return to childhood innocence, perhaps?

ANYWAY, these are a few of my new Chinese friends:

Suzi is my homestay friend from last weekend. She's very sweet and innocent, but has a huge crush on a Korean pop star. Other than the Korean boy, her dad is her idol and she hopes one day to become a translator. Suzi's a self-proclaimed "optimistic girl" who "loves to smile." Here is the last e-mail she sent me:

I miss you..hahahow are you these days?It was really a good time you stayed with us.I will send you the photos,And,by the way ,dad said that if you have time ,he'd like to chat with you moreHe and my mother both miss you!
Well,it's late,I shall have a sleep now,best wishes to you!

Anny is Suzi's friend who hung out with us pretty much the whole weekend. She's a minority (non-Han Chinese) and a Muslim. On Saturday, she told me that she has a thing for German boys, because somehow she'd heard they're gentlemen. It just so happens that we have a German boy studying abroad with the FSU program... so we set them up on a group date. Last night Anny came over to the dorm a little early to get ready. Another FSU student, Sallie, and I did her hair and make-up beforehand... COMPLETE transformation- Anny looked gorgeous! Unfortunately, our German friend got sick last night but we rounded up some other boys for dinner and made the most of the situation.

Today, Anny sent me this cute e-mail:

Dear Janet,
I'm really really happy tonight! I know you and Sallie more deeply.You are both so kind girls that treat me by true heart.

Actually I don’t mind boyfriend. I just want to make friends.In China there is a sentence“We depend on parents at home ,but outside we need friends”. So please do not be angry with Farbien(not sure how to spell).I hope hell be better soon!

When I came back home,my mum and dad nearly can’t recognize me.Dad said,You’ve never been so pretty before. He~he~.So he wants to invite you and Sallie,of course the two lovely guys Jared and Brett to a famous Muslim restaurant named Hong Qi Shun.After I’m coming back from my sisters. I'll mail you,Ok?

Are all of you going to Pan Mountain this Saturday? And Sallie with other foreign friends will be back to USA on August 5th ,is that right? Please let me know.

I'm a fortunate girl to make good frinends with both of you .Thanks my friends tonight!!!
Loving you…
also your dear friend Anny

Shawna, my roommate Michelle, and I went shopping today. Shawna and I met at a mixer held for Chinese and American students my second week here. Since then we've had lunch, gone shopping, and I've got a pending invitation to dinner with her family next week. Shawna's very stylish and very "Western;" she doesn't like frilly clothes, knows what "lesbian" means (that was a pretty funny discussion!), and likes to go clubbing. She's an English major and working this summer as a dancer at a local restaurant (not sure exactly what that means); in August, she'll begin work as a translator for various Olympic teams.

Lena is my Chinese partner: she helps me with my Chinese while I help her with English. We've met a few times at Starbucks and she thinks my Chinese pronounciation is really funny (which I'm sure it is). Right now, Lena has three jobs and is enrolled in a Japanese class. I told her I never know what foods to order in restaurants, so she made me a five-page list of Chinese foods with characters and everything.

I love them all!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Host Family Weekend

This weekend, I stayed with a host family here in Tianjin. Their daughter, "Suzi," is a multinational business student at Tianjin Foreign Studies University, and just about the sweetest person I've ever met. From the minute I met her on Friday afternoon, I knew it was going to be a good weekend: she's very skinny, very friendly, and very very giggly. :)

After Suzi and her friend picked me up from campus, the three of us rode the subway about 25 minutes to her apartment, which was nicer than I expected and very, very clean. Suzi's family lives on the sixth floor of a building inside a gigantic apartment complex. Her bedroom is up in a loft; the kitchen, bathroom, master bedroom, living room, and a spacious balcony are located on the first floor. They had a computer and air conditioning (which unfortunately they didn't turn on much!) Suzi and I shared the queen-sized bed in her parents' room- they slept upstairs in her room so that I wouldn't be too hot.

I met her parents and gave them the Florida coffee table book and FSU souveneirs I'd brought as gifts. They politely looked through the book and displayed the Ziploc bag containing an FSU lanyard (yes I just said lanyard), garnet and gold juggling balls, and Seminole tattoos prominently on the living room table. After a chat, we all had dinner together: a duck and mushroom dish, rice, soup, fish, and several different vegetables. I made sure to exclaim "Hao Chi!" (Delicious!) on a regular basis. Suzi, her friend and I went for a walk down the street and wandered through the supermarket for a while. Later, I looked through some of the family's photo albums- there were several black and white pictures of Suzi's father and grandfather in Mao jackets and caps and tons of a little chubby-faced Suzi doing various cute things.

Saturday started bright and early at 7 am. After an interesting breakfast (a bowl of grease with egg floating in it), Suzi, another friend named "Anny," and I rode the light rail for about an hour to Tianjin's Economic Development Area, which also has a very nice riverside park. We met up with a fellow FSU student, her host family's daughter, and two more of Suzi's friends; the six of us wandered around the park and took tons of pictures. Later, we tried to go ice skating in a nearby soccer arena. The rink was closed, but the guard was nice enough to let us into the arena for a few minutes... everybody scampered around for a while, giggling and taking more pictures.

When we got back to Suzi's house, Anny decided to stay for dinner; we all sat down to a delicious dumpling dinner with her parents. After dinner, I chatted with her father for about two hours while Suzi translated for us. After a flurry of picture-taking with the family (including one of me for her dad's cell phone), we went to bed around 12.

In the morning, Anny came over for breakfast and brought some soup to share. The soup was colorless with a Jello-like consistency and olives and nuts added in. The girls served me a huge bowlful and watched me take my first bite. I almost gagged.. but put on a good face for them. As soon as they went into the kitchen for a moment, I scooped most of the soup back into the container and continued to talk about how good it was when the girls returned. Whew! Suzi made us a second dish- her favorite food- for breakfast, which I actually really enjoyed. It was kind of like a whole bowlful of hardboiled egg whites with salt, pepper, and another kind of seasoning added in. Sounds gross but I loved it!

After breakfast, the girls took me back to campus. We all parted ways with tons of hugs, air kisses, and promises to keep in touch through e-mail.

My chat with Suzie's father was the most interesting part of the visit for me. Her dad is a very intelligent man with a good knowledge of international news and current events, so it was really interesting to hear all of his impressions. He's worked as an electrician at a nearby factory for the past 20 years. Suzi's dad asked me all sorts of question about Americans' impressions of Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Japan, Pearl Harbor, WWII, the Korean War, Iraq, Taiwan, Virginia Tech, Chinese in the United States, Chairman Mao, and more. I tried to give diplomatic but honest answers, and I hope that I represented my country well! A couple of the tricky ones (Mao, Taiwan) I avoided answering for fear of giving an offensive response.

Suzi's dad told me the first phrase he learned to say in school was "Long live Chairman Mao." When I asked him about the modern Chinese impression of Chairman Mao, he responded with the standard Party line, "He was a great leader, but he made some mistakes." Interestingly, this is the same answer he gave when I asked him about his impressions of President Bush. I decided to be daring and asked what he thought about Tibet; he had no idea what I was talking about.

I also had a lot of fun hanging out with the girls. They were all just so sweet and full of questions about my life in the United States. After I told them about my house in Winter Springs, "three cats, one dog, four people" became a catch phrase for the rest of the weekend: every few hours, one girl would say it and set everybody off giggling. I taught them all how to French braid, we gossiped about boys, and did plenty of laughing. The whole weekend felt like an 8th grade sleepover!

On Friday night, Suzi decided that it was time for "girl talk." She told me about her "idol," a Korean pop singer; we talked about my boyfriend- she's never had one, although there are lots of boys are school who like her; she said her father is another one of her idols: he reminds her of a panda but he's also a very wise, learned man. Saturday night before we went to sleep, she sang me a good night song, which was so adorable I almost started to cry. At one point this weekend, she told me, "I am a very happy girl. I am almost never sad. My parents love me and my friends love me. What do I have to be sad about?"

It was so touching- and a lesson to my spoiled self- to see someone who had so few material possessions but yet was so content. Suzi and most of her friends all had some sort of link with the Western world: one girl's cousin studies at UC-Berkeley; another's relative is currently in London; another's father lives in Paris. They were so excited when I told them I'd been to Europe- I even showed them some of my pictures online. The girls seemed hungry for knowledge about the United States and life outside of China. I really couldn't help but wonder how their lives would have been different had they been born in the United States.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Different Kind of Guanxi

Last night, Scott and I decided to try out the "Western Food" restaurant located on the third floor of the student cafeteria. The so-called "Western" menu items looked a little strange, so I ordered fried rice instead. As we were struggling to order in Chinese, a very nice English-speaking Chinese woman came to our rescue and also invited us to eat with her and her husband.

We chatted a little bit in Chinese but mostly in English. She's an English teacher at Tianjin Foreign Studies University, and he's a Ph.D. student in economics. It turns out that Tianhai Xie, my Chinese teacher at FSU, was her classmate. She taught in Houston for 9 months, and her husband will study in Australia next year. They both have traveled quite a bit around the eastern United States, so we chatted about general impressions like "New York City has a lot of people" and "Washington, D.C. is very historical." After dinner, we parted ways.

We have a world map in our classroom here at TFSU, and I look at the distance between Florida and Tianjin a lot. Little encounters like the one last night remind me that no matter where I am in the world, people are just people. For example, a random meeting between two young Chinese and two young Americans- in a third floor cafeteria... at Tianjin Foreign Studies University... in China- turned into a pleasant conversation about a mutual acquaintance and shared impressions of American cities. And to me, that's really comforting.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Frills, Frills, Everywhere

Since we're staying at a Chinese university with mostly female students, I've had plenty of time to observe the fashion statements being made by Chinese girls my age. As far as I can tell, there are two distinct syles among teenagers and college students here: ultra frilly, and ultra trendy.

The "ultra frilly" girls love to wear baby doll- themed dresses and skirts in pastel colors, with as many bows, sequins, ruffles, etc. as possible. I hear this is the current fashion in Korea, and it's rubbed off on the Chinese girls in Tianjin. Take for example my Chinese teacher, who is a cute, sweet, but nerdy young woman a few years older than me. The outfit she wore today (for the second time in three weeks) includes all components of the typical "frilly" look: a pale lavender chiffon dress with a satin bow in front, with a cream- colored, gauzy sweater-shawl and baby blue rhinestone-studded strappy sandals with little tiny heels. A ponytail tied tightly with a big scrunchie completed the look.

On the other hand, there are the super trendy fashionistas who look better for class every day than I ever have for a night out on the town. These girls favor tight-fitting skirts, pants and tops in bold colors. A Chinese friend I made last week falls into this category. When we met for lunch, I was wearing a polo shirt, shorts, and sandals... she showed up in a bright blue halter top with sparkly gold VERO MODA lettering, a short leather skirt, and high heels.

I haven't seen anybody wearing much make-up, and overly revealing clothing is non-existent, even amongst the fashionistas.

Updates on last weekend's Xi'an trip coming soon!!


I'm back at "home" in Tianjin after a weekend in Xi'an. The trip was a very busy one: from our departure on Friday at 6 am until our return to Tianjin around 1 am on Monday, the weekend was a whirlwind of terracotta warrios, shards of pottery on exhibit behind glass, and other such ancient things.

Xi'an is a smallish city by Chinese standards (about six million people) and is the traditional Chinese capital. The original city wall along with several beautiful old temples and towers in the downtown area are lit up at night, giving the city a festive feel.

I wanted to write about some funny and also frustrating observations I made this weekend. Scott's online journal ( has a more detailed account of the trip itinerary. :)

Elderly people in China like to sing and dance together outside at night.
While walking around on our own Friday night, Scott and I stumbled across a large group of elderly Chinese gathered in a square in front of the beautifully lit city wall. Wielding decorated fans and brightly colored umbrellas, everybody marched around the square to the beat of a drum in a seemingly random series of steps. They maintained deadpan, serious expressions while weaving around and around, waving their fans and umbrellas. Nearby, there were several groups of people singing traditional Chinese songs together. Everybody was out, just enjoying the night air and the pretty lights.

Yesterday, I asked my Chinese teacher about this tradition, and she said the older people in Tianjin do the same thing. In fact, her daughter likes to tease her by asking, "Mom, when you get old, are you going to dance around with a fan, too?"

Chinese tourist attractions are not very attractive.
The terracotta warriors, or "terracotta warriors-horses," as our tour guide David kept calling them, were quite impressive. However, the way in which they were displayed was not. From what I've seen so far, the Chinese tourism industy makes no effort whatsoever to make attractions attractive. For example, the museum holding the terracotta warriors consisted of three stations, tantalizingly entitled "Pit 1," "Pit 2," and "Pit 3." Pit 1 had a great display of intact warriors and horses, standing in their long lines just like I had imagined them. Pits 2 and 3, however, had just a couple of dozen broken warriors and a whole lot of dirt. It really looked as if immediately after uncovering the warriors, all archaeologists were dismissed and the museum was opened the very next day.

Another stop on our trip were the Huaqing Hot Springs , the site of much merrymaking by a 700 A.D. emperor and his favorite concubine. The springs and surrounding grounds were beautiful indeed, but again, they just didn't live up to the potential that anyone with a little bit of tourism know-how would have been able to extract. The pools in which the emperor and his concubine used to bathe were on display, but they looked as if they'd just been left to their own devices for the past 1300+ years to mature into their current states: dried- up, dirty, and crawling with bugs.

Travel agencies like to draw their unsuspecting charges into tourist traps.
The tourism industry here is all about the guanxi (connections): the Chinese travel agent's top priority is not serving the customers, but instead taking them to expensive tourist traps in hopes of receiving kickbacks from their purchases. The entire day Sunday was spent visiting such places.

David (the tour guide) took us to a "jade factory," which turned out to be a government-owned store with ridiculously high prices (although, "just for us," there was a 40% dicount). Even including the the so-called discount, a small bracelet embedded with five small pieces of jade cost $2000; a chunk of fool's gold cost $100; and a Koko-sized jade sculpture of an elephant sold for $25,000.

A stop at a museum and a couple of hours later, David took us to yet another souveneir shop, promising it was "where all the locals go." Predictably, it turned out to be a clone of the first "jade factory" with one difference: this store boasted a 40% discount... again, "just for us."

The trip had a happy ending. Despite wide-spread frustration with his "guiding," David won back the hearts of most the group when he took us to a four- star hotel for a buffet dinner... which included custom-grilled steaks, perfect French fries, and American-style spaghetti. Ok- I take it all back- the trip was amazing! :)

Monday, July 9, 2007

Look, A Foreigner!

Last night I was meeting Scott outside of Century Mart to do some shopping. I stood there in front of the store, which is located at a busy intersection. As I waited, I watched hordes of Chinese people going by, riding bikes, talking loudly, hailing taxis, spitting, and going about their normal Chinese lives.

Then, in the distance, I spotted Scott making his way delicately across the busy street: a tall, slender, fair young man with a backpack and very large hiking boots. Even I couldn't stop myself from staring... I realized what the two of us must look like walking around the city. And then I started laughing. :)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

It's the end of a fun weekend in Tianjin. Scott and I had originally planned to take the train to visit a section of the Great Wall located a couple of hours outside of Tianjin, but it didn't work out so we decided to spend the weekend exploring our home base.

Friday after class we played a little bit of tennis. Just as we were leaving, a Chinese student (his English name is Jackle) asked us to join in a doubles match with him and a friend. Between rallies, Jackle and I chatted a bit: I discovered he has a sister in Minnesota and he's visited Miami, which he called a "tropical paradise."

Later, Scott and I headed to Goubili, a restaurant famous for its dumplings. Goubili looks like a four star hotel: it even has a red carpet entry-way. The dumplings were a bit pricey, but they certainly lived up to my expectations! Dumplings are my favorite Chinese food so far. I've encountered two kinds, both delicious: baozi are steamed, large dough puffs filled with meat (usually pork); jiaozi are smaller, shaped like little burritos and are best when fried. I need to watch my dumpling consumption though... not exactly a healthy food choice!

After dinner we went to Cozy's Cafe in search of student drink specials. The rumored "special" turned out to be a 20% discount. I'm surprised at how expensive mixed drinks are in China; they cost considerably more than drinks in a college town bar: usually about $7 or $8 apiece. Anyway, Cozy's was fun because of the ghetto rap music they played... it reminded me of driving down Tennessee Street in Tallahassee!

Saturday was spent exploring. We walked about 45 minutes from campus to the Tianjin TV Tower and rode the elevator to the top (1197 feet) to check out the view. Then we enjoyed Cokes ("kele" in Chinese) inside the rotating restaurant near the top. After a semi-Western lunch at Hank's Sports Bar and Grill, we got on the bus (a ride costs 1.5 yuan, or about $0.20) to see what else we could discover. We walked around Tianjin University, a beautiful campus with elaborate fountains for several blocks inside the entrance, and went into a few of the mammoth shopping malls that seem to be everywhere in the city. After dinner and a movie at TFSU, we were beat.

Sunday was another adventuresome day. First we visited Cultural Street, which consists of several blocks of vendors and stalls selling upscale souveniers such as Chinese paintings, jade, pearls, swords, calligraphy sets, and so forth. I like Cultural Street particularly because the vendors aren't pushy; you are free to look at the merchandise without being harassed. This is a rare treat in Tianjin. Even in Century Mart or a Western-style mall, the moment I enter a store, the workers aggressively try to convince me to buy the most expensive items.

We walked along the river for a little while and enjoyed the attractive Romanesque- style bridges, reminiscent of those along the Seine River. However, this was definitely NOT a stroll through Paris... the sight of a man relieving himself in plain view beside the river, dozens of people fishing on the banks, and one man taking a leisurely swim through the gray, murky water to the other side shot that illusion right out the window.

Lo and behold, we spotted a Wal-Mart! Like flies drawn to the light (or American students drawn to the big yellow smiley face) we wandered in. Tianjin's Wal-Mart featured many familiar American brands as well as many odd-looking Chinese items. Watch out for falling prices! A couple of shopping malls later, we headed back to TFSU.

I really enjoyed my time out the the city; it gets easier every time I go out. But after a whole weekend of trekking through traffic, honking horns, smog, and staring hordes of people, I'm taking some much-needed huddle/ recovery time tonight in my dorm room.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Qi Yue Si Ri (Fourth of July)

Happy belated Fourth of July from China! Yesterday was definitely different from a traditional American Fourth, but I had a great day nonetheless.

After classes in the morning, Scott, my roomate and I decided to treat ourselves to Pizza Hut for lunch. Pizza Hut over here is an upscale dining experience, kind of like a very trendy California Pizza Kitchen. They had real bathrooms with toilet paper and soap, a pink "We Love Our Customers" sign on the back wall, and mixed drinks on the menu. I got a cosmopolitan and it was delicious. Anyway, the three of us stuffed ourselves with pepperoni pizza, American style. Then we headed back to the dorm to catch a Chinese calligraphy class (taught in all Chinese) and Tai Chi lessons on the soccer field on campus.

After Tai Chi, I joined in a soccer game with some Chinese students and some other study abroad kids. It was a lot of fun, even though I just kind of ran around aimlessly trying to look like I was doing something while at the same time staying as far away from the ball as possible. But, I do think the little guy with the Del Piero jersey was getting annoyed at my tight "man-on-man" defense.

Then, our school put on a really nice Fourth of July barbeque for us, complete with fried rice, beef kebobs, bean curd, and roast duck. They played loud heavy metal music the whole time- I think they were trying really hard to make it "cool" for us. It was so sweet, and the food was awesome.

After dinner, our study abroad group went to Bar Street, which is aptly named because it's where most of Tianjin's nightlife is located. We took over a place called Scooters- by the time I got there a little bit later than everybody else, by which time those crazy American students had guzzled the bar's entire supply of frozen drinks. We all headed to a karaoke/ disco bar next and sang Backstreet Boys songs together. A good time was had by all.

Today has been good so far. I had lunch earlier with my first real Chinese friend. Her name is Shawna, she's an English major and is interested in traveling and shopping. Her family lives in Tianjin and she's all ready to show me around town as soon as she's done with final exams.

Well that's all for now, more later!!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Delicious Chips, Anyone?

We have a nice grocery store nearby our dorm called Century Mart. They try really hard to make it Western-style: the store offers a wide variety of good for really cheap. You can get a 12-pack of 600 mL Tsingtao for about $4, a tennis racket for about $12, and hair dryers for about $10. They also have a lot of nice snacks, including familiar brands like Oreos, M&Ms, Lays, and Pringles. Today, while browsing the junk food aisle, I noticed some of the chip flavors for sale and thought some of them were pretty funny. The titles are just SO.... descriptive and APPEALING!!! And I quote:

Finger Licking Braised Pork Flavor
Sizzled Barbeque Flavor
Spicy Seafood Flavor
Crispy Roasted Chicken Flavor
Cool Cucumber Flavor
Thai Curry Crab Flavor
Crispy Drumsticks Flavor

AND... my very favorite one...

Italian Red Meat Flavor

Ups and Downs

Well, I've been living in Tianjin, China for a little over a week now. I've had many varied impressions of China since my arrival & with those impressions have come a wide array of emotions, ranging from smug self-satisfaction to down-trodden misery. Life here is such a massive undertaking that it makes the United States seem like a dream come true. However, in a strange way, I like it here: maybe because the challenge of getting by makes the accomplishment of everyday tasks makes me feel like a rocket scientist.

Anyway- a little about where I'm staying. Tianjin is a city of 10+ million people about an hour train ride south of Beijing. There are at least 10-12 universities here, and a lot of young people. Despite the city's size, the people are still pretty surprised to see foreigners walking along the street, especially tall blondes with big feet (yes, a lot of people have been staring at my feet).

I'm staying in the dorms at Tianjin Foreign Studies University. Before I got here, my idea of a dorm was Gilchrist Hall at FSU. Not a thing like my dorm here. At first I was shocked by the condition of my dorm room, but after talking to the Chinese students at the university, I realized that I was actually lucky to have air conditioning (the Chinese students have none) and only one roommate (they typically share a dorm room with 4 or 5 other students).

The city is a nice one. It's got a lot of European architecture and plenty of parks scattered around. I visited one last week that's just a few blocks away from the university. The large group of American students I was with soon attracted quite a bit of attention, and we were promptly invited to join a Tai Chi lesson with a group of elderly Chinese. It was quite amusing when they likened one "larger" African American young man to Ruben Stoddard and demanded that he sing for them (which he gladly did).

Last weekend we made a trip to Beijing with the group. Between Friday and Saturday, we visited the Ming Tombs, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tian'anmen Square, and the Summer Palace. I especially enjoyed the Great Wall, and we were able to take a lot of good pictures (uploading them has proven somewhat difficult, however). It had rained in the morning, but cleared up by the time we got to the Great Wall, so everything was misty and had a very "ancient China" feel.

The official trip was over Saturday, but Scott and I opted to stay an extra night and take in some more of the sights. This was my favorite part of the trip. We managed to get ourselves around the city all day without once taking a cab (we even rode the bus SUCCESSFULLY several times!) and bought our train tickets back to Tianjin IN CHINESE with no trouble at all. I was pretty proud of us. After our first McDonald's since leaving the U.S., we wandered around Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City Sunday afternoon before heading back to Tianjin on the train.