Thursday, September 29, 2005

My First Test

My tingli ke (listening class) teacher told us that we would be having a very small test today. I had the feeling that our ideas of "very small" may be different, so I studied alot of characters last night. I am so glad that I did that. It saved my life.

My teacher's idea of a "very small test" was one that took the full two hours of class. The first hour of the test was dictation. Studying all of those characters really paid off. I still got alot of things wrong, but it was a much more reasonable amount since I reviewed so much last night. The first half of the dictation was straight transcription, and the second half was paraphrasing. Basically, the first half made sure we knew how to write, and the second half made sure we knew the meaning of what we were hearing. Alot of times you can get away with just one of those in class, but not today.

The second half of the test was listening and answering questions. In the first section, we listened to one-two sentences once and answered one multiple choice question directly following each. There were ten of those questions. In the next section we listened to dialogues once and answered one multiple choice question following each. There were eight of those questions.

After the second section was over, I could hear the sounds of panicking students around me over the multilingual profanity already being uttered repeatedly in my head. At this point, the test was just like the HSK. We got one shot to hear everything perfectly, read though the answers, and answer very quickly before the next started. This is the thing that killed everyone on the HSK. Luckily, though, because it was class and not a standardized test, we got one more chance to listening to each section once.

Honestly, I was doing much better this time than I did on the HSK. Granted, I would have gotten a terrible grade on those two sections without the second time to listen, but the score would have been better than my HSK score. To me, that is indicative of improvement. So, for that, I am very pleased. I still have a very long way to go, but at least I know I'm on my way.

The next section required that we listen to two paragraphs of text twice, and then determine if statements about them were correct or incorrect. The following section had eight sentences written in it with blanks next to them. The directions said to listen to five sentences, and then mark next to the blank ones the order in which they were said. Of course, the sentences spoken and written were different. We were given two chances to listen to the five sentences, which were said all together. Instead of trying to scramble through the eight sentences, which were poorly formatted to be on the front and back of one page, I just wrote down the most important parts of the sentences on a blank part of the page, and hoped that would help me determine the order in a less panicked fashion. I think that was helpful.

You really don't get a chance to think about what you're doing on these listening tests. If I hadn't been doing this for a while in class already, I would have been as panicked today as I was during the listening section of the HSK. Have I mentioned that I want to take that test again before I leave? That thing made me so mad, and I think I can do alot better after having studied here for a year.

The last sections were easy. We had to listen to sentences that we already had most of written for us and fill in what wasn't there already. On those missing words, we had to mark tones. That's not a problem when you get to hear it, though. The other of the last two sections was marking pauses on sentences. No problem.

I think that grade-wise I did poorly on the test. However, as grades are no longer something I'm considering here, I think I did fairly well. After completing the test, I felt like I had retained alot of the information that I learned, and that my listening skills have been really improving since I've been studying here. I'm going to go ahead and call the test a success in that regard.

Character Memorization Tips

I think I forgot to mention that I cut my hair again. I told the stylist to just have fun. I ended up with another haircut like Chinese pop singer Wang Fei. The man seemed so excited about having gotten to do that.

i've become a serious student

I look a little somber. Lately I have reached a saturation point with study. Tonight I studied and learned 100 characters to the point where I can write them when I hear them. To my counterparts in the US: you have it so easy in your Chinese classes. Stop complaining. It seems hard now, but you'll understand how easy on you your teachers are being if you ever enroll in a Chinese school. I formally retract any complaining I may have done about the twice weekly xiaokao (small vocabulary tests) at IU, or anything else relating to learning how to write.


These are my practice sheets for the night. I should note that I have a new method of studying characters now. I used to just write them over and over while saying them aloud. I have come to realize how inefficient that is. If you do that, you're not attaching any meaning to the characters. You're not learning them; you're learning a reaction. That is not helpful. What I do now is read texts containing the target characters I don't know, and then mark the pinyin beneath them when I come across them. If I'm unclear on the meaning, I look for the translation of the word. After I have some idea of usage I start the memorization process.

I write the characters down the page, and next to them I write their pinyin. Then I cover up the line characters, read the pinyin aloud, and then write the correct character. After writing a line of characters, I cover the pinyin. I look at the characters, pronounce them, and then write the pinyin. If I get both the character and the pinyin correct, I put a checkmark by the set, and don't work on it anymore. There isn't any point to reworking it constantly when I already know it. If I get either one of those things wrong, though, I continue the process. If there's a particularly difficult character, I start to memorize its component radicals, and then arrange them in my head accordingly. If I'm having trouble still, I close my eyes and write them in the air. I try to take a picture of them with my mind, and then redraw them.

I think it's good to memorize the component pieces, though. It's alot easier to see where the meaning of the character is coming from, and how that character is related to another one that has one of the same component parts. Trust me, Chinese language students, memorizing characters gets easier with the more of them that you've memorized. When you're first starting, you've got a blank slate, and it's completely unhelpful. Learn your radicals, even if your teachers aren't emphasizing them. Also, learn stroke order. If you're really having trouble memorizing how to write a character, you can fall back on being able to say the strokes to yourself. Sometimes I listen for the rhythms that writing them makes, too, and memorize that. That's surprisingly helpful.

Now it is much later than I should be awake. I have a test tomorrow in my listening class, and I need to be very conscious if I'm going to do well on it. I still have problems with the recorded texts, but I'm getting better.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

New Friends and Utensil Confusion

Last week I was complaining alot about how I don't speak enough Chinese outside of class. Since then I have found ways to remedy the situation. I started meeting with my language partner, I speak Chinese off and on with one of my friends, and yesterday I invited a Japanese girl who doesn't speak English to lunch. Her name is Yuko. She's one of my classmates, and she seems really cool.

I went to lunch yesterday with her and Donny, and it was nice to only speak Chinese. Furthermore, it wasn't a stilted conversation - it was a fairly normal one. Perhaps our topics were not the most sophisticated, but we were talking, and it didn't feel difficult. I hope I can hang out with Yuko some more in the near future.

Last night at dinner, Donny looked up from his Thailand chicken and said, "How do you hold a fork?" This wasn't a style question. I started fumbling with my chopsticks pretending that they were a fork. I had no idea. How to use a fork was something that temporarily escaped me. When I finally got something that I thought may be right, I tried lifting it to my mouth and knew that I was wrong. I realized that I hadn't thought about forks since I had gotten to China.

Today, though, I found out that I do, in fact, still know how to use one. My classmates and I all went out to lunch today. Someone had previously decided that we would go to an Italian restaurant in Wudaokou, so that is where we went. There were no chopsticks there. I didn't feel like I was in China anymore. That's actually good, though, in this case, because if the food had tasted like Chinese Italian food, I would have been sad.

The food was actually really good. I do think it made my stomach hurt, though, because it was so much heavier than what I've been eating for the past month. I've needed a change of pace lately, though, so lunch was a welcome one.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hanging Out With My Language Partner

I don't believe that I've mentioned James before. That would make sense considering the fact that today was the most interaction I've had with him since meeting him. A week or two ago, I was sitting by the pond with Donny and Ryan doing homework, and we noticed some Chinese guys putting bags and cups into the water. We didn't know what they were doing, so we looked up every so often. It turns out that there were small fish in the pond, and they were catching them. I still don't know why, but I think that remains irrelevant.

About half an hour after we noticed the guys, one of them came over to our table and starting talking to me. He said his name was James and that he was looking for an American friend to practice speaking with. An alarm went off in my head that sounded something like, "SHADY! DON'T GIVE OUT YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION!" I had been in that mode because of all the modeling offers I had been getting recently. However, James seemed nice, and he offered to help me with my Chinese for no charge. I gave him my email address.

A few days later, I realized how much trouble I was having speaking in class. My speaking was, and still is, just terrible. I decided that a language partner would be a good idea. Besides the benefit of free help with my Chinese, I really like helping people with their English. So he and I got in contact, met up, and talked about how we could arrange our practice times.

Today was our first day for practice, and it was Chinese day. I was nervous at first, as I always am when I'm speaking Chinese with new people. James is really nice and really patient, though, so I got more comfortable with talking. Looking back on it now, I think I can safely say that my speech became less stilted the longer we talked. I got more comfortable with making mistakes, too, so now I have some consistent screw-ups that I make corrected. That's really nice.

Our practice time today consisted of my getting my hair cut again, walking some, and eventually going to McDonald's. Before going in, we had what must have been a really entertaining conversation to the people walking by, judging by their expressions.

"What? You don't eat meat?" he asked.

"No. Not even fish. I know, I know. It's strange."

"Oh. But... how do you get energy? I'm always so hungry when I only eat vegetables."

"I seem to do okay, really."

"But... can you eat McDonald's?"

"Haha, I can eat a few things. But it's all so bad for your health!" I said.

"Huh? Really?"

"Of course it is!"

"I don't know about that. McDonald's makes Chinese people tall. I was only this tall when I was 16," he said, holding his hand at the middle of his chest. "But then McDonald's came and I ate it alot, and now I'm this tall."

At this point, we started talking about how McDonald's makes people grow up and out, to put it nicely. I told him about the movie "Supersize Me." He seemed both shocked and intrigued that someone would eat McDonald's for every meal for a long period of time. Shocked because it's a ridiculous concept, but intrigued because he thinks the food tastes really good. After walking and talking about McDonald's for so long, we decided that we would go in, but only for drinks.

Inside, I was the only non-Chinese person. That's never surprising when I get more than 100 meters from the campus, but the amount of staring that happened in McDonald's was much greater than it has been in other places. I was by myself at the table for about 4 minutes because James dropped his drink and went to get another, and people at surrounding tables were looking at me expectantly. I felt like I should have had a meiguo act ready. (Meiguo = United States).

When James got back, we talked about all kinds of stuff: people's accents, what the phrase "to make fun of" means, george bush, personality politics in presidential elections, a tiny bit about our families (that surprised me), and a few other political types of issues that I wouldn't have been expecting to discuss on our first time hanging out, let alone in Chinese. I fumbled like crazy with vocabulary in most of those issues, but I was apparently clear enough to be understood. At this point, I think that's the best I can ask for. He helped me with vocabulary issues, and then I had a few grammar questions after that. I think I have a much better idea of when to use this one particle in Chinese now. He explained it very clearly.

On the way out, an old man sitting at the next table asked me where I was from. I told him, and with widened eyes and a nod, he said, "Ah." He seemed pleased. That was the end of that conversation. I have that conversation several times a day when I'm off campus. I think people are afraid I'm not going to be able to speak anymore Chinese beyond that. Okay, I don't really think that. I think it's actually the case that people have never met anyone from the states before, and there aren't any specific questions that immediately come to mind.

I think this language exchange is going to be good for both me and James. I told him that if he wanted me to, I could work on pronunication with him. He seemed really excited about that. I think pronunciation is a point that he's nervous on with his English, but most people I've met never want to actually ask, "Um, can we do some really remedial pronunciation drills? I don't think I sound right." After I mentioned being able to help him with pronunciation, he said, "Oh! That is really good! I told my friends that I would be practicing with an American, and that I thought your speech was probably the best there is. I think your accent must be very good. Thank you!"

So, to conclude, I love people I meet in China. They're so nice.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Killing Spree

Number of deaths: 4 and rising.
Approximate time of deaths: 5.30am-5.50am
Location: the dorm room of BLCU student, Hillary Demmon. Alias: Ding Mei.
Suspect: Hillary Demmon.
Motive: self-defense.

Crime scene report:

After examing streaks of blood encased in dirt on two walls of the dorm room, it is apparent that the suspect chased the moquitoes and smashed them upon capture. One stray blood streak was found three inches above the bed of the suspect. This mosquito was likely smashed by a cloth-based object. Yet another streak was found on the spare sheets of the subject. The same, or similar, weapon was likely used to kill this mosquito.

The suspect was in an unstable condition during questioning. She held her arms around her torso and continuously looked towards the ceiling. The suspect was exhibiting many stress patterns, and was unable to keep eye contact for a sustained period. Her eyes, rather, darted back and forth through most of the questioning.

The suspect reported that from the time she went to bed, circa 3.10am, she could hear buzzing near her head. The suspect said that she placed a blanket over her head to avoid bites from the mosquitoes in the room. Four times throughout the night, the suspect allegedly heard the same buzzing and swatted away mosquitoes. Around 5.30am, the suspect reports that she again heard buzzing and turned on the light to investigate its source.

Around her bed she reports to have found four mosquitoes. The suspect was visibly agitated when questioned about her subsequent actions.

"Yeah I killed the bastards! What do you expect me to do? They've been biting me every night, and I stalked down every one of them. Doesn't a girl have the right to protect herself and her living space? Those bugs had it in for me, and if the dorm office isn't going to take care of them, I'm going to take matters into my own hands."

The suspect is currently being detained overnight for observation. Her sleeping patterns appear disrupted. Psychological assessment may follow, contingent on the results of overnight observation.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Lesson #1

If you want to travel on National Day in China, you need to have a good idea of where you want to go far ahead of time. If you don't, you're going to end up like I did today.

My friend and I just recently decided that we wanted to go to Qingdao for our week long break. We both knew about the train ticket shortage that goes on around huge national holidays, but we thought we'd try anyway. We went today, and the only itinerary that was still available was from September 30 - October 10. That would have meant missing a whole lot of class, which we can't do. The trip was only 391 kuai, but missing that much class would be suicide. We had to turn it down.

I know they must have been selling out like crazy. There were only four seats left on the itinerary we saw. So what I've learned today is to get to that train station really far ahead of time to buy my tickets for the semester break. I really want to get down to some southern provinces.

I was trying to think of other ways we could get to Qingdao, but train was really the best option. Just interested a general idea of prices for rental cars, though, I checked online for quotes. There is nothing available out of Beijing for the holiday. That amazes me.

I think I'm going to wander over to Tiananmen, or some other huge national symbol, for National Day. I want to see what kind of fanfare goes on in the capital.

Friday, September 23, 2005

I Have My Passport

I retrieved my passport from the local police station today. The passport is looking pretty awesome these days. It has several stamps, two visas from China, and now a residence permit. I was just reading today about how you can request a 48 page passport at no charge. I hope that one day I'll be traveling so much that I'll need that.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Subtle Politics

My main teacher was telling us what the different bodies of water around China are called today. To illustrate, she drew China on the board. I noticed instantly that she drew Taiwan and Macau. This isn't any suprise to me, but I just thought the loud bell that went off in my head when I saw it was humorous. If I hadn't studied the China-Taiwan regional conflict in Professor Kennedy's class, I would have just stared on like the rest of the class.

She didn't pause at all before drawing Taiwan and Macau. It was completely normal, and nothing to be considered before doing. It was just a simple fact of geography to her. I haven't gotten a chance to really see what kinds of opinions on issues like this are ingrained in people's minds. I'm not going to seek out the opportunities, either, because I'm a foreigner and I'm using the Chinese government's money to be here. Talking about Taiwan, and a number of other things, are good ways to get in trouble. I was briefed on this in several ways when I arrived here.

In fact, the rest of this entry is going to be some flagged words that, if the censorship wasn't already in place on blogger, would get my page blocked in China.

Taiwan. Falun Gong. Jesus. Democracy. Independence. Censorship. Tibet. Xinjiang. Catholocism. Christianity. Uighur. Certainly there are more, but I don't know how deep the internet censorship goes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Why Am I Surprised?

I just went to take a shower. I've been doing the morning shower thing recently because I found that it helps to wake me up in the morning. When I turned the handle for how water, however, nothing came out. Not a drop. There wasn't even cold water in place of the hot. If this is what happens when someone uses all of the hot water, I think it's going to ultimately mean that someone is getting beat up by an angry little American girl next time.

Fine, BLCU. That's just fine. You want me to be dirty. Don't think I don't understand your tricks. You know that I'm not going to jar my muscles with freezing water in the morning. That makes it feel like I have a never ending supply of lactic acid flowing through them. I commend you, really. You were going to get to laugh at my expense either way - unhappy muscles or filth. That's great. Really. I'm laughing right along with you.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

My Kidneys Remain Intact This Moon Festival

Last night, I was up until about 4am playing an online RPG. Yeah, that’s right. I played World of Warcraft and was completely transfixed. I don’t think anyone has ever been aware of the draw that things like that have for me. It isn’t playing the game so much as understanding that so many people play it, and that there’s this whole alternate reality that people have created characters in that really intrigues me. People meet at places in the games, talk to each other, and function in this carefully constructed, virtual universe. I think those games must either be sociologists’ and psychologists’ dreams or nightmares to research. I haven’t decided yet. Regardless, I had fun learning about the game. I stayed up way too late with it, especially considering the appointment for my test shots in the morning quickly approaching.

Donny and I went to lunch with Gene around 11.30, and then headed to try and find Painabao Modeling Agency. I had directions from the scout who found me, and we hoped that they, unlike the directions we usually get from people on the street, might be helpful. It seems like no one knows where anything is around here.

Our cab driver found Peaceful Town, which is where the studio was supposed to be; so, we got out of the cab and started searching on foot. Painabao was supposed to be in building 28. That number was, of course, the only one skipped on the part of the street we were walking on. We stopped in a grocery store, and I asked a guard if he knew where the building was. He told me to try in back.

Of course. In back. Why hadn’t I thought of that? - with all of those numbers on the fronts of buildings on the street where the building was supposed to be? I must have been having an off day.

We walked around to the back of the building, and sure enough, building 28 was there. We tried to go inside, but the door was locked. I had a phone number to call in that event, but I didn’t really know what I would say. So we found another a guard and asked if we were in the right place. He did a great job of keeping everyone in that building safe when he opened the door for us without even asking what we were doing there. Sometimes, I just don’t know why there are all of these guards everywhere.

We took the elevator to the tenth floor at the suggestion of the guard. When the doors opened, I saw what I had been expecting all along – a dark lobby, and an even darker hallway. “Ah, now this is the part where we get our kidneys stolen,” I said. Donny clapped and one light came on, so I guess that was better than nothing. Turning left around a corner, we saw an open door and went toward the light like moths.

It was the correct office, but the people there seemed really confused to see us. I didn’t see Sandy, the scout, anywhere. I explained to the two people who approached us what we were doing there, and I saw something click with them. They told us to wait on the couch, and a few minutes later a photographer came out and asked me to come back to the studio.

I didn’t really know what to do during the shoot. I told him to just tell me whatever poses he wanted, but he wasn’t’ very helpful. I still assert that I could be a better photographer for them than model. Fifty or sixty shots later, my test shoot was done. During the whole thing, I had heard a man in the office talking to Donny about something. When I came back into the office, their conversation suddenly became clear.

Donny was getting his measurements taken, and the people in the office were preparing to usher him off to have photos taken, too. I had a feeling that was going to happen. Before we went, he didn’t believe me, but I knew that they loved foreign models. While he was having his shoot, the office people took my measurements and contact information.

When Donny came out, he looked embarrassed. I don’t think he was prepared for having his picture taken. Furthermore, the office people had been saying all kinds of crazy modeling scout types of things to him, like, “I see it. You have a very… male feeling about you.” Hehehe. I think it went well, though. We left with our kidneys, and the potential chances to have our faces on billboards next to those of Wang Fei.

Later we went walking our school’s surrounding area. About 20 minutes into the walk, Donny pointed out a huge, glowing circle, and asked what it was. “If it weren’t so gigantic, I’d say it was the moon,” I said. We kept walking.

Another ten minutes of walking revealed that it was, in fact, the moon. It was huge! The drunk Chinese people all around and vendors selling little cakes on sidewalks finally made sense - it was the weekend of the Moon Festival. I don’t know why my professors didn’t mention this in class last week.

The moon was a really spectacular sight. It’s no wonder that there’s a festival for it. I tried to get a good photograph of it, but I just couldn’t capture how amazing it was. It lit up everything, and outlined buildings with a soft glow.

festival moon

We met up with the rest of our friends for dinner at a restaurant that we don’t know the name of, but frequent anyway. We’ve nicknamed it “Yellow Tablecloth” for reasons as obvious as the title indicates. I’ve seen the place crowded before, but this was ridiculous. Every table was completely packed, and I saw several Chinese men stumbling over themselves just on my way in. The table of foreigners was definitely the quiet table of the place. Every so often throughout dinner, one of us would point out something crazy the next table over had done. By the end of the meal, we saw an entire table passed out in their chairs and on the table. This is apparently the effect of the full moon around here.

It was great to watch everything going on around me. I’m really happy that I ended up lost in a less populated area during the walk earlier in the day. It allowed to get a really good look at the moon without as much light pollution as I would have had at the dorm.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Chinese Authorities Are in Possession of My Passport

I started to have an off day, but I fixed it eventually. I missed my kouyu (speaking) class today. It wasn’t because I didn’t wake up in time, or anything like that. I had another class before that which I attended. I only have kouyu once a week, and I’ve only had it once. I had no idea where my class was today. The class isn’t on my original schedule because I added it after school started, and in the last class the professor took the sheet from us with the room number.

I didn’t know where anyone from my daban (large class) was, and that’s probably because they were already at class. I ran up to the floor I thought the class might be on, and started looking for familiar faces. I was in the general area of the hallway that I remember my class being, and then I saw a girl who I had seen before. I asked her if this was the kouyu class, but she looked really confused. I don’t think she can speak Chinese yet. But two other people came up and asked what I was looking for. I told them, and they said, “Oh yes, this is the kouyu class. Come on in!”

I followed them and sat down in the last available seat. I was in the back of the room, so I had a good view of the room. I looked around and saw a huge bearded man. I realized that I was in the wrong class, because I definitely would have remembered that guy from last time. “Oh man, how am I going to get myself out of this without looking like a total moron?” I thought. People had started introducing themselves to me, and the chances getting out without complete embarrassment seemed to be diminishing. I looked at the teacher and had it confirmed without a doubt that I was in the wrong classroom. However, I had been there for about seven minutes, talking to people in Chinese.

I knew the professor was going to notice me as someone new soon, so I just stood up while looking intently at a piece of paper. I headed toward the door, apologizing to new people that I had to go. “Wait, why?” they asked. The professor looked at me. “Wait, wait. Where are you going? Stay,” he said.

“I’m terribly sorry. I can’t. I was only coming to observe for a few minutes to see if this was the right level for me. I have to go back to the office and let them know what I think.”

On the spot lying in Chinese – that’s what I did. I can’t believe I didn’t screw it up. Everyone just accepted the answer I gave because I gave it confidently and smoothly. I’m on my way to becoming a spy.
I make mention of becoming a spy because today I relinquished my passport to the local authorities in favor of getting a residence permit. Donny and I were both running out of time to get the permit, and after a long time at the bank, we went to the police station to register. Our permits are going to be ready next Friday, two days before our detainment would have otherwise begun.

This residence permit is going to allow me to enter and exit China with relative ease. It’s the closest to a Chinese passport that I can come to. I’m not sure if the permit goes into my passport, or if it’s just a separate document that I have to carry. Regardless, right now, I am without any identifying papers except for my student card issued from BLCU. The funny thing about that is the fact that it only has my Chinese name in it.

As far as anyone can be concerned at the present moment, my name is Ding Mei. I have a bank account in that name, have paid internet bills in it, and have an identity card with it. I feel like a spy with an alias. This is pretty cool.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Happy Birthday

Last night I was in Donny’s room studying again. After about half an hour, I fell asleep reading a text. Normally he’ll wake me up if I go to sleep, but he didn’t last night. I woke up when I heard the fan turned on, and looked up. He saw me and we both started laughing. “Uh, I may have fallen asleep.”

The third of Satie’s Six Gnossiennes was playing when I woke up, and that recharged me to keep working. I love that piece. I worked for a while longer, and then we took a break to watch something from the Dave Chapelle Show that used to be on HBO (?). I had never seen it, and it cracked me up. Then we watched some of his stand up. Around ten until 12, Donny said he’d probably better get back to work, and that he was going to study outside.

I was thinking about going to bed because I didn’t think I could do any more homework. Then I remembered what being outside at that time of night is like on this campus. There are drunk Chinese students all over the place. I decided to offer to come outside, too, and he said that’d be great if I had time.

We went looking over by the pond for a table to sit at, but they all were occupied by Chinese students with huge bottles of beer. He said that there might be one across the bridge, so we walked in that direction. As we started up the stairs of the bridge, I heard a strangely familiar tune being sung across the way.

My friends Ryan, Jason, and Gene were coming toward the bridge with packages, smiling and singing Happy Birthday. I was totally caught off guard. I had no idea that was going to happen at all. When they finished singing, Gene pulled out a plastic thing with candles on it. I call it a thing because I honestly had no idea what it was. Gene didn’t look like he exactly knew either. He was trying to light the middle of it with a piece of incense. Finally he managed to light something.

Fire shot about five inches up from the center of the thing, and petals with candles fell outwards while the plastic thing started playing Happy Birthday. I think it’s safe to say that that thing scared the hell out of everyone for a brief moment. Apparently none of them could really tell what it was supposed to do when they got it. Regardless, though, I made a wish and blew out the candles. The thing kept playing Happy Birthday, but we thought it would stop soon.

Oddly, the thing didn’t stop. It just kept playing it, and no one knew how to turn it off. Gene eventually held it under the surface of the pond, thinking that the water would short it out. It seemed reasonable enough, but we could still hear it playing faintly. He took out of the water, and it sounded with full force. He held it back under the water and left it there while I opened presents.

The first package was a voltage converter. I’d been having such a hard time trying to figure out what it was called and where I could get one, so that was great to see. The next two packages were DVDs. There were two Korean movies, and two of this Chinese singer, Zhou something. I should remember this, and I know I will soon. I just don’t recognize the second character, and I was a little overwhelmed last night for retaining new knowledge in Chinese. Those will be great, as I need to make up for a lot of lost time in learning about different pop cultures in East Asia. I loved the wrapping paper one these. It was purple with clocks, hearts, and flowers in boxes; but in some boxes was written, “Maybe I didn’t always love you but you were always on my mind.” Ha!! Classic.

The third package was huge. They told me to close my eyes while opening it. That was a little difficult past the wrapping paper. There was another bag inside with a zipper, and I didn’t know that. They opened that part for me, and then told me to first feel the gift before opening my eyes. It was really soft, and I had no idea what it was. Someone meowed and scratched my leg.

They finally let me open my eyes, and I saw that it was a huge, fluffy, pink bathrobe. I started cracking up. I’d joked about how I previously envisioned myself a spinster, walking around everywhere in a fluffy, pink bathrobe, yelling at children out of my window, and they definitely remembered.

my new bathrobe

I was still laughing really hard when Gene said that I then needed the compliment to the bathrobe. He pulled a box wrapped in an orange bag out of a larger bag. I had no idea what that was going to be, even after he got the box out of the second bag. When he opened the box, I was ecstatic. It was half chocolate, half hazelnut gelato! – my favorite! I won’t go into the details of how much of that I ate while sitting there. I’m sure you can guess already. I cut myself off so I could still have some today. While I was still eating, Jason started to pull something out of his backpack. “And to go with that…” He handed me a huge bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream.

That whole thing was so nice. I was completely surprised. They said they wanted to be the first to tell me Happy Birthday, so that’s why Donny and I went out just about a minute after midnight. I can’t get over how nice that was. That made my night and day today. It was really great to have my new friends remember my birthday. That was so fun.

When we were getting ready to go back to the dorm, Gene got the Happy Birthday candle monster out of the water. It was still playing. He was ready to stomp on it, but Donny talked him into trying to just cut a wire on the inside. Gene messed with it for a few minutes, and then it stopped playing. It ended up in the bag with the gelato, which had to go with Ryan and Jason to the freezer in their room. Apparently the thing started playing randomly at six this morning. Oops!

And then, this morning when I awakened, I opened my email and saw that I had three new emails from Andrew. Each had an mp3 attached of songs that he wrote and recorded for me. I listened to all of them two or three times each before headed to class this morning. They’re so great. I love them.

I’m having a good birthday. I’m not a teenager anymore. Other people have told me that they dreaded turning twenty, but it’s been pretty good for me. :D

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The First Batch of Laundry

I know that the title of this entry is not perfect English. I know laundry does not happen in batches, but I really can’t think of what it does come in. I’ve been having this problem a lot lately. Just forgive me, laugh at me if you must, and move on. I’m sure it will only get worse. (Bushel? Grr, what is it?!)

As I mentioned before, I will be handwashing my laundry here. I don’t trust the washers if the other people don’t. We don’t have any dryers, either. It’s a completely manual process. The first step of this new procedure was to gather my materials.


I’d like to you to meet my new washing machine: an oversized bowl. In it I put a few articles of clothing. I couldn’t wash more than six. The bowl just wasn’t big enough. I used a bar of laundry detergent and scrubbed those clothes with my bare hands. Also, the clothing hooks are for hanging everything afterwards.

washing and soaking process

The next stage was to fill the bowl with water, soak the clothes, scrub the clothes with the bar, and then proceed to beat and wring the dirt out of them. My forearms hurt now. Think of it as kneading bread for five hours without a break. If you’ve never done that, then just pretend that someone has removed an inch of the tendons in each of your forearms. They’re tight. I’m going to be sore tomorrow from doing laundry. To me, this is a hilarious concept.

I had to the take the bowl of clothes outside for this photograph because our “laundry room,” is really dark. It consists of an unused washer, and a long sink in which people really do all of their laundry. I think the washing machine is just for a decoration, and to indicate where we come to wash our clothes. Otherwise, they might have people trying to wash their clothes in the hanging pipe room that they call the shower room. That’s another story, though.

hang drying

This was the last stage. I couldn’t really reach the line to hang my clothes on. Across the way, there is an apartment complex, and I think the men on the balcony were laughing at me. I couldn’t figure out how to get things hung without them rubbing up against anything outside, which would have made them instantly saturated with dirt. So I ended up holding hangers in my mouth while shaking things out over the balcony. I know it looked ridiculous. I’ll get better at it.

I think my clothes got pretty clean, overall. Washing my clothes by hand was a kind of satisfying experience, in a sick way. The appeal has already worn off for me. I should really do laundry every three days so I don’t have to do huge batches. It will drive me crazy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

People Say Stupid Things in Other Languages

In the several years that I have taken Chinese now, I’ve noticed that people are willing to say all kinds of things they would never say in their native languages. This comes about for several reasons. One - if the professor calls on you, you want to have something to say. It’s often the case that you don’t know how to say your true answer to her question, so you just make something up. Two – if you’ve been frustrated for a long time about not being able to communicate, you’re happy to be able to say anything. Three – in a language class, you’re transformed back into a three-year old child. This ends up meaning that you start finding things really humorous that you haven’t laughed at for years (read: really juvenile humor). If you can make people laugh in a Chinese class, it feels great. It makes you feel a little less like a failure.

Today in my listening class, we heard a dialogue between two people who had lost their bicycle lock keys. Our teacher asked us afterwards, “Has anyone else had an experience like this? One where you forget a lot of things?”

The Canadian in my class replied, “Yeah, I’m always misplacing my pants. I just go outside without them.”

Laughter erupted in the room. I promise that if that same exchange had happened in English, everyone would have looked at him like he was the most immature person in the world. Not being able to talk well really changes how you act. I feel like I have a different personality when I’m trying to speak Chinese. I’m this whole new person who is trying to find out very different things than the person who speaks English at other times. I have a whole different set of priorities when I’m speaking Chinese.

Complex ideas aren’t important to me when I’m speaking Chinese. I don’t care about the greater impact of some political issue when I’m speaking Chinese; I’m just happy if I can say the name of one of the countries involved. Taking these classes is returning me to an earlier state, and I think that’s kind of interesting. I actually have a well-functioning memory now, and I’m able to remember being frustrated in not being able to express myself. Perhaps children have tantrums because they just can’t tell you what they’re trying to say. They’ve got it in their heads, but they give up and scream because they can’t form it into language.

I’m a much simpler person speaking Chinese. I’m not intelligent anymore. I’m not creative. I’m trying to survive, and get basic ideas across. I’m so excited when I do it, too. It feels so great to be understood. But I think that’s true no matter what.

And on a completely different note for today, it’s:

sweater weather is here (for now)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Short Interaction to Illustrate Why I Love China

Me: I can't believe it's so close to the middle of September.
Donny: I can’t believe we're so close to being detained for not having a residence permit.

Living in China cracks me up. There are all of these laws hanging over my head - much more so than in the U.S. - and I’m just living with them like they’re nothing. They’re immediately relevant to my life, too. If I don’t have that residence permit by the 25th, I’m getting thrown in jail if there’s a surprise check. I’ll be fined when I get the residence permit, too, if I get it late.

The school is supposed to be aiding us in processing the residence permit, but they keep telling us to go away and come back at later dates to turn in the rest of the forms. The most recent date I received to come back is the 12th, which is tomorrow. Hopefully they’ll take my forms and money then. I’d rather stand in line for a few hours to get that taken care of than get thrown in prison.

Though, actually, today at lunch we were discussing how our wooden slabs of beds are not even as nice as beds in prisons in the states. People get some kind of mattress in those cells. They don’t know how easy they have it. I’m telling you – China’s got me ready for anywhere.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Hong Qiao Pearl Market

Yesterday I went to Hong Qiao Pearl Market with Donny, Gene, and Gene’s parents. I was there in May, and it was every bit as crazy this time as the last. I need to find some sucker to come with me who will agree to hand me 20 yuan every time a shopkeeper screams to me, “Hey! Hey! Pretty lady! You come here and look. Pretty lady, you want a necklace? An underwear?” At least no one grabbed my arm and pulled me into a store this time.

The market is indoor and has four floors of stuff. The first floor houses mainly electronics and kitschy, Chinese knick-knacks. The second floor is where to find clothing and scarves. The third floor has what seems to be verging on two-hundred stalls full of knock-off bags and shoes. The fourth floor, however, is the main attraction of the place.

Even going to the market for a second time I was just astonished by the huge number of pearls in one place. Hanging on the walls of each stall were about 50 strands of pearls complimenting the showcases of them on countertops. Women on both sides of the walkway were stringing pearls into necklaces and adding the clasps that customers picked. I can’t do the place justice, really. I’m going to have to go back and take photos if the shopkeepers will let me.

I bought a necklace yesterday. I almost bought one like it last time, but as I was running out of money, I told myself that if I still wanted it when I got here for the year, I could get it. I love being able to speak Chinese. Bargaining was a much more streamlined process this time around. I didn’t feel awkward doing it, and I got a decent price. Do you see what practical things I’m learning? It’s going to be strange to not haggle on prices when I get back to the states and see all of the overpriced things that were imported from China.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I Have Two Red Spots on My Arm

Alarming title, eh? Don't worry - I haven't caught any terrible diseases yet.

I went to a mixed martial arts class today to check things out and see if I want to take it on a regular basis. It was pretty awesome. I got the extra challenge of getting my lesson in Chinese, which turned out to be pretty awesome. I started by wielding a large stick as a weapon. I was supposed to pull it up to my chest, then push it down toward my hips, and then lunge forward and stab at some invisible opponent, all while making the end of the stick wave around like crazy. It's much harder than it looks. That is for sure.

Then I asked laoshi how to spin the large sticks like the other people were doing. It took me forever to learn how to do it, but he was really helpful and patient. Also, he understood my questions in Chinese, so something was going right. I think my friend Jason videotaped this, actually. I must look ridiculous. I hit the stick on the ground so many times, and I couldn't figure out how to coordinate my hands. And thinking about it, I also hit my leg a few times. What can I say, though? I had never attempted to attack anything with a giant stick before. With that considered, I may not have actually done that badly.

We all went inside after stick practice outside. Once inside, we stretched, and then laoshi got out some arm pads to wear. When it was my turn for the first exercise, he told me to kick the pads 20 times with the outside of the lower half of my leg. I started slow, and then he just kept saying to go faster; so, I did. Did I ever feel dead after that. Wow. And then he told me to do the same with my other leg. It's almost needless to say that I felt like falling over after that.

The next exercise was another kicking one. I had to do high kicks in the same manner as I had just done the low ones. I felt like just letting him kick me in the kidney and end it right there. What a workout! After that, he had me hold onto a pole to practice doing straight-out kicks that had to be perfectly aligned with my whole body. That took some time to have explained to me with my current level of Chinese, but I eventually got what he was telling me. Of course, he told me 20 on both sides. Following that, I had to put gloves on and beat the hell out of a punching bag while guarding my face.

Finally, I sparred. First, I sparred against my friend Ryan. I think that's how I got the red marks on my arm. He didn't have gloves on, and one time I felt his fingertips jab into my arm. If the marks aren't from him, I don't know where they're from. Jason, the other person I sparred against, had gloves on. Jason is some kind of Tae Kwan Do champion, and I didn't really want to spar against him. Thankfully, he didn't beat me up. Haha, I'm joking, of course. I didn't think he'd unleash a fury of kicking on me. Even still, though, I'm glad he took it easy on me.

I'm exhausted. Now China has not only beaten me mentally with classes, but now also physically with martial arts. Soon, it will break me spiritually after I spend more days doing homework for 6 hours. China is toughening me up so much. Yes.


I apologize for the lack of update. I promise that it has been for good reason.

My classes are really hard. Any one of you who reads this and knows me well also knows that it takes a lot for me to make that statement. Let me tell you – these classes are whipping me into shape. I have studied more for one of these classes than I have for my finals in the states. I don’t think I should ever have a problem studying for class in the states again. The past few days, I have studied in most of my free time. The rest of that time was spent at meals. Allow me to provide for you an example of what the past few days have been like for me.

Yesterday, I awakened around 7.30am. It took me a while to get acclimated to being conscious, and by that time, I was already on my way to class. I started class at 8.30am and heard nothing but Chinese for the next four hours. I did exercises in class that I still didn’t understand fully after all of the voluntary homework and extra study I had done the night prior. Luckily, I felt a slight bit of improvement over the day before, so I was encouraged.

After class, I met my friends for lunch as has become customary as of late. After lunch, my friend Donny and I decided to study together so we wouldn’t be tempted away by our computers. The computer is the enemy of study, by the way. I’m sure you already knew that, but I am here to tell you definitively. We studied at the library for about three hours after lunch, and then decided to take a short break to let our minds digest everything, and our stomach to digest the “ice cream” we were preparing to feed them (“ice cream” is a whole separate post. Oh man.). After the break, we went back to the dorm to study more before dinner. I think that period of study was about an hour and a half, or two hours. It gets difficult to keep track of. Then we went to dinner with friends, and after coming back, studied another hour.

If you lost track, that was six hours of studying yesterday, and that was just for a normal class. Donny was preparing a grammar lesson, and I was preparing my listening lesson and memorizing characters. I feel like some kind of Chinese-studying robot.

I feel like I must have really slacked off the past two years with the how important studying is here. The thing that really gets me about my Chinese lessons, though, is the amount of off-the-record stuff we have to know. We get lists in every class of new vocabulary, so it adds up to about 50 every two days when you subtract the overlapping words. However, in every class, we get a huge list of more words that we’re just supposed to be reviewing on our own. You have to make sure you get them down when they come up, or else you’ll be lost the next day. I, fortunately, figured that out from the outset and have managed to not get too lost in new vocabulary yet. But seriously, from yesterday alone, I got an extra fifty words to know, in addition to words I should have already known that I had to write down to learn.

I’m studying so much that I’m falling asleep doing it by the end of the night. I have never looked forward to a weekend so much in my life. And I was going to say something else here, but I forgot because I started thinking about characters. I even had a dream about brush strokes covering over the earth during one of my studying catnaps yesterday! I figure that I’m probably learning a lot, but I also think that my mind must have a saturation point for taking in unprocessed information. I’m so glad Friday is soon.

If I can’t speak, understand, read, and write Chinese by the end of this year, everyone needs to seriously reevaluate their perceptions of my intelligence.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

New Hair

I did it. I went and got my hair cut today. Here are the before and after shots.

Before After

The woman cutting my hair today went on and on about how straight my hair is. "What country did you say you're from? The U.S.? I just can't believe it. Your hair is so straight! That is the best kind. You have beautiful hair." A few people walked by the room I was getting my hair cut in, and then came back. "What country are you from?" they asked. When I told them, they seemed shocked. "Oh! I thought you were Japanese!" I never know where this kind of guess comes from.

But anyway, the hair is cut. I'm quite happy with it. It's choppier than the picture lets on, and I think that's cool.

Monday, September 05, 2005

I Have Decided

For better or worse, I have decided to stay in my assigned class. I studied for maybe three or four hours last night in my room, and while the material was a review, it was a necessary one. There are some words and some grammar patterns that I just never internalized while I was at IU, and they’re going to come back to haunt me if I don’t get them well-established in my mind. This might not mean great things for advancing in rank for Chinese classes when I return to the states, but I know now that level doesn’t matter as much as learning. If I need to establish a stronger foundation, then I just have to do it. I don’t want to have superficial learning, and I’m willing to pay the price in time that it may cost me.

Furthermore, I examined the book more closely while studying than I previously had, and I realized that it certainly couldn’t be a year’s worth of material. I wasn’t even sure that it could be a semester’s worth of grammar and vocabulary. So in class today, I asked my teacher how long we would use the book. She said that in October we would be finishing that book and beginning book 3. That’s the book I thought was perfectly appropriate for me. I think this will work out very well. I’m going to have a month and a half of very necessary review, and then I’ll move onto the new material.

Honestly, I don’t think my decision is going to really set me back. The next level up is just a month and a half ahead of where I am right now, and I’m not really sacrificing this time if I’m fixing some problems and going into the next course stronger. BLCU’s program is far faster than most of the accelerated programs I’ve heard of in the states. I’m sure I’m going to learn plenty of Chinese, especially with assignments like the one I received today. I’m supposed to approach Chinese people and ask them about what phone plans they use. I have to write a report. Ack! - talking and writing! ☺

In other decision areas, I’m considering a haircut. I think to really get a feel for where I’m living I should try out some of the fashions in addition to just talking to people. I have several choices for fashionable Chinese hairstyles. I think the most prevalent around here are the feathered mullet-type of style, choppy layers with an extra long one in the back, and the very thick, long, front third of head framing bangs combined with one of the above styles. We’ll see. I’m going to let myself be convinced by my friends, I think.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Another Look at Traffic

My friend Gene has taken several photos since we arrived in Beijing, and I want to share one that I think helps to illustrate the traffic and road situation near the campus. So, without delay, I give you the photo.

in the middle of traffic
This is me (far left) with some of my friends from BLCU in the middle of a street (L to R: Donny, Catherine, Caitlin, Jason, and Ryan). You wouldn't think the intersection was very busy if we were on a corner, but we were standing in one small area where cars weren't supposed to go.

Laundry Issues

I haven’t seen anyone on my floor use the washing machine. As far as I can tell, it’s free. To me, this means that something must be wrong with it. I’ve seen people washing their clothes by hand every day. I think on this one, I’m going to follow the crowd and wash by hand, too. We already have to hang up our clothes on lines because electricity-sucking dryers aren’t available. What’s an extra step of hand washing, really?

A few of my friends are coming to the time for laundry. I went with them to a store today after lunch for supply purchasing. None of could read the labels for the detergent. We knew that getting one with a fabric softener would be best for having clothes that aren’t like cardboard after baking in the sun to dry. We had no luck finding anything, though, because we don’t know the word(s) for softener. Some kind of Tide detergent was the prevailing choice amongst my friends.

One friend just instant messaged me, though, to tell me that the instructions on his bag of soap tell him to find a household soupspoon and measure the amount with that. For some reason, this makes me laugh a lot.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Nothing Much of Note

I’m not sure what is going on. My hair is in incredible condition right now. I don’t know if it’s the dirty water I’m washing it with, or the increased amount of tofu I’m eating. Regardless of the cause, my hair is shiny and thick, and it has never looked like this before. Thank you, China.

As you can probably tell, because I’m writing about my hair, nothing much is happening lately. I’m really just settling in right now and meeting a lot of people. Last night I experienced a bit of Beijing nightlife when I went to a dance club on Sanlitun with a bunch of friends. I don’t know why, but I really wasn’t expecting what I saw at Sanlitun.

The streets were lined with bars and dance clubs, and there was music everywhere. It looked nothing like the Beijing I know so far. Flashing lights covered the awnings of buildings, and drunk people stumbled around the streets. I tend to think of Beijing as more reserved than the scene I observed last night. I guess that I was quite wrong in my preconceived notion.

I was skeptical about going to a dance club because of how I have heard they are in the states. Last night, though, I figured that because I was with four guys who think of me as their younger sister, it would probably be fine. Indeed, it was fine, and even a little fun. I could have definitely done without smoke machines and being in such close proximity to other people, but it wasn’t the awful scene I was expecting a dance club to be. My friends kept an eye out for me, too, and I stuck with them the entire time.

I don’t see myself going very often, just because large situations like that aren’t exactly my cup of jasmine tea. I can say, however, that I won’t immediately disregard the possibility of going in the future if I’m invited by a large group of friends. I got a good chance to speak Chinese last night, too, when locals looked interested in hanging out with our large group of foreigners. It was extremely loud, so communication was somewhat limited. Nevertheless, we were all dancing with the locals and having a nice time. So, all in all, my first dance club experience was a good one.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Class Update

I went to room 1018 this morning at 8.30 to take a different test for placement. I found out when arrived that they had made similar deals for many people. I got shuffled to another line, though, and eventually had to find my name on a posted piece of paper. After finding it, I had to take the number written at the top and find the person attending the table that housed the number. Mine was 46, and the woman at that table handed me a slip of paper telling me to be in classroom 516 at 9.30.

I thought it was for the test, but in fact, it was my first day of class. They just put us into classes. Granted, the class was higher than my placement test indicated that I should be in. After looking through the book, though, and talking in class, I decided that I would probably need to move up one more class. I talked to my teacher after class, and she had me come look at the textbook for the next course up. That book seems perfect.

I let her know, and she said that I should come to class on Monday, just to make sure the class is too easy. When it does turn out to be, she said that she will come to the office with me to switch me to the next level. The next level seems perfectly suited toward my current knowledge of Chinese. I think this process is going to go smoothly. The teacher seemed very nice. I almost hate to change classes.

Luckily today in class I felt like I really fit in. This had nothing to do with my Chinese, and everything to do with the fact that I bought a pencil bag yesterday and fine-tipped pens to fill it with. I walked into class with my supplies today, and set them down on the desk proudly. I was so ready for class.

The kit includes two black pens, one blue pen, one pencil, one eraser, a case of 30 lead, and the pencil bag.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Low Pollution Index Day!

Hurray! The sky is blue, the humidity has lifted, and a cool breeze is blowing through Beijing. It’s a low pollution index day! The greenhouse effect has been diminished, and there is actually direct sunlight. When I walked into the hallway today around 10.30am, I thought it felt awfully cool. I walked onto the balcony and thought the season had changed overnight. It’s such a beautiful day. I love life without pollution.

I studied outside today so as to take advantage of the clarity of sight that the day afforded me. I can actually see the skyline! But anyway, while studying, I was approached with my third job offer since I’ve arrived here, and the second of the two modeling jobs I’ve been offered. Everybody wants a foreign model. While this particular agency seemed legitimate (unlike the first) I am still suspicious. Nevertheless, I am still humoring the scouts. The one today seemed so nervous to talk to me that I couldn’t help but be extremely nice to him. His hands were shaking when he tried to take the pictures.

Perhaps instead of hiring me as a model, these agencies should hire me as a photographer or scout. I realize that it wouldn’t achieve their implied purpose of getting foreign faces in product advertisement, but nervous people like the guy today aren’t going to help them too much, either. I’m confident that I could do what that guy did today much better than he did.

I think it’s funny that if I’m outside for more than 30 minutes and not moving around too much, I get approached with a job offer. This has been consistent so far. I’m so suspicious of people. I keep giving out fake contact information. I think I’m just being safe, though. I’ve never lived here before. How am I supposed to know what is legitimate and what is a way to unwittingly find myself in the middle of a drug trafficking ring? Alright, that’s a little extreme, but my point still remains.

However, if I can find an opportunity that I can verify, you may soon be seeing a digital photo of my face on a pack of Happy Cat hangers.