Friday, August 22, 2008

In Conclusion

China was hard, but so much fun.

I started this blog claiming that anyone who read it would be doing it out of pity. Now I've heard that for some people, reading this has become a part of their daily routine (and only one of those people was my mom). Following my stories, a habit! But all things must come to an end.

I've done a lot since I left. I was rerouted flying out of the country. I bought a cheap watch. Then tried to get a refund. I purchased a scarf for the first time, got unexcited about China, felt really embarrassed, slept in my roommate's bed. I chatted up the bakery girl, broke copyright law, ate dinner with a Chinese family and a secret vegetarian, grabbed a cab, and realized that Chinese really enjoy the NBA. And that was just in the first month.

I used to think that I wasn't good at finishing things, that I was doomed to having great ideas that I couldn't bring to completion. But I have consistently blogged for the last seven months. Cumulatively, about 75,000 words. That's long enough to be a book. Speaking of which, I've been writing a novel. I never finish my writing projects, but maybe I will this time. Anyone who's read through these posts has surely earned a look at the final product when I'm done (this time 2009?).

One final story. After I hung out with a bunch of my friends tonight, Jessica dropped me off at home. As I got out of her car, I started making sure that I hadn't forgotten anything. I hadn't been wearing a hat, I didn't have any bags, my wallet was in my pocket. Why think through this so assiduously? So that when the taxi drove off I wouldn't lose anything, of course.

That's silly, I told myself. You're not in a taxi. But my mind persisted in thinking the situation through: it's okay, I said. If I left anything behind, just make sure to write down the license plate number and I can find the driver. Who can I get to call the taxi company who speaks good enough Chinese to explain what happened?

And then, at the end of my chain of thought rested this dilemma: I could call Sophia, but now that I'm in America it'd be really expensive to get in touch with her.

And so it goes.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


And Will comes back from China. It's almost 1am here in Orlando (that's right, in America), but I think my strategy for quickly overcoming jetlag has backfired. I left Beijing August 20th, at 4:10pm and arrived in Chicago August 20th, 3:50pm (it was a fast plane). Florida is twelve time zones away from Beijing, so when I got on the plane I tried to think of it as being 4 in the morning. "Just like a night out clubbing," I thought to myself. "Although this airplane seat isn't as comfortable as Emma's couch." I slept until around 11, then decided I should be awake until I got home. That way my body would be convinced that it really is night. But I'm afraid I've held out so long it thinks night has just skipped and I'm already on a new day. Gives me energy for a blog entry.

The guy I sat next to on the plane was a Chinese guy with bad English coming to America for grad school. It reminded me of me seven months ago. I had to explain how to put on an airplane seatbelt, and helped him fill in his customs card, and taught him the word "soda." All in Chinese.

In general I felt pretty good about my Chinese leaving. Someone forgot to stamp my ticket saying I had gone through security, and a random American next to me knew the word "to stamp" when they questioned me about it. I'm not perfect. But I understand some things. I recently learned 乘客是上帝, the Chinese equivalent of "the customer is always right." And then the Chinese guy two over from me used it, only in English: (to the stewardess hassling him about asking for ice too late) "But the customer is God."

Arriving in America I felt out of step, like a marching routine that I haven't done in a long time and isn't instinctual any more. I was in Chicago trying to sort out Verizon's ridiculous rules about getting my phone working. ("I need the primary account holder [my mom] to approve me helping you." If I could call my mom to ask permission, I wouldn't need to talk to Verizon.) An older woman comes up to me trying to shuffle me toward a terminal. I told her I wasn't sure where I was going, and she went off to ask her supervisor to help me or something. When she came back toward me, I said to her, "Hey, I think I actually got it worked out."

"Don't call me 'hey,'" she says. "But that's good." I was so thrown off. "Sorry," I apologized, trying to think of what I was supposed to have said. Lao dama isn't English, nor is nainai...

Then on the subway I was watching people interact and heard a middle-aged guy say to his son, "Did you hear what I said to your mom when she left us?" Then he noticed I was looking in his direction and paused, sizing me up. "Mind your folly," he said, pointing his finger at me and going back to his loud monologue. I don't even know what that phrase means. I spent the rest of the subway ride a little confused.

But now I'm home. Rosie remembers me. I ate toasted Little Caesar's bread sticks and an apple that I picked right out of our gigantic refrigerator.

I think I'll post once more, a kind of summing up of everything. Because now, I'm back! And I'm glad life is still interesting.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What I'm Returning to

My family

My friends

Shower curtains

"No smoking" policies

Real peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

The need for knives


Little smog

No public transportation

No ring roads

Signs that I can read

Unfettered Internet access

TV stations that aren't controlled by the government

Good music

No one outside at dusk relaxing

Babies with diapers

Several kids per family

Businesses, not shops

Miles and pounds

Fruit that I don't need to disinfect before eating


A racial mix in which Chinese are the foreigners

Religious freedom

A normalcy that I automatically understand


Classes taught in English


Restaurants with less than three waitresses per customer

The pressures that face college students


Video stores

A car that the government says I'm allowed to drive

What I left

Bible studies

The extravagantly wide street winding through Waterford

Speed limits

No trains

Toilet paper in bathrooms

Nobody squatting. Ever

Not being the tallest

Not being able to pick my nose in public

Haircuts that cost more than $1.20

UF football games

Non-negotiable pricing

Exercise toys that are the least used playground equipment, not the most

People who won't have experienced the same things as I have

Money that isn't colorful

Cellphone plans

Rosie, our dog

Pets in general

Privately owned grass

My mom's spaghetti and meatballs

The End is Near

This blog entry has been in the back of my mind since the first week I came to China, so even if it's not that interesting or whatever, I'm still going to talk about it, since tonight is my last night in China, and time is short.

I want to mention all the experiences I've had with music since I've been overseas.

On my first day in Chengdu, back in January, our group ate lunch a few tables away from a wedding ceremony. Weddings in China are a little strange, since they don't have the traditions we do--hence pastel blue wedding dresses. But what I haven't forgotten is that one of the songs they sang was "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands."

I went in to a music store once and tried to buy authentic Chinese music. One CD was Jay Chou, who's like a Chinese Backstreet Boy in popularity, and the other is... erhu. That's a two-stringed instrument which, played well, sounds like someone is moaning to death. I've gotten used to it, though, just like Mom taught us to eat fish.

When I went to Kyrgyzstan at the beginning of the summer, I had a picnic lunch with a few 10 year old boys I met. As we hiked, they broke out into an accented, thankfully incomplete rendition of "Smack That."

Later in Kyrgyzstan, I heard the latest American hip-hop song for the first time. I disliked it so much I was going to write an entry about how bad it was, but then I had other things to do.

When I was really overwhelmed living at the train station in Kazhakstan, I bought a CD of My Chemical Romance, a classic emo band. Most of their songs are about dying, but I've enjoyed having new music anyway.

I think I was in Turpan (that is, remote desert in China) when my taxi driver played "Numa, Numa." Several times. I doubt he's seen the video. (I'd link to it but China won't let me.)

And finally, during the Olympics, they play the Pirates of the Caribbean theme.

Links to old posts to remind myself what all has happened in the last seven months.

Monday, August 18, 2008

No, Fifth Time Really is the Charm

If you don't have an amazing time at the Olympics, try, try, try again. I met some cool people recently and hung out with them this afternoon. They had bought tickets online for the women's soccer semis, and I went with them on the subway since I didn't have anywhere I had to be. Then we got closer to the stadium and saw people selling tickets, and I couldn't resist. 300 kuai lighter (100 of that being Bekah's loan) I had a ticket to an important Olympic game.

America was playing, which made this twice as cool. And, of course, you might even have watched it (or will watch it, depending on NBC's mood) on tv. The New York Times had the result of this game on their home page! I was there. Watching us kick Japan's butt.

Japan was actually the best opponent we could have had, because after WWII, the Chinese hate Japanese. The 40,000+ crowd joined in bilingual cheers rooting on America.

The ticket I bought gave me a perfect seat: at the front of the second tier, right in center field. But I snuck into the lower level for the second half to hang out with the people I came with. We had a great time.

Afterward, we talked to one of the players' mom, since my friends knew their family.

Coming back home is part of the story, of course, but this time it has a happy ending. The game ended late and I only took the subway partway home. When I got a taxi, I told the driver, "Take me to Wangjing Bridge, South Nanhu Street." He said sure, then asked which place on the street. "I'll tell you when we get there," I said.

Again he agreed. "But there's a different way I could go," he said. Since I've been in Beijing a while, I knew that the road I was talking about was really long.

"The place I'm going is right by the bridge," I said. And that was the right answer, because then he said that his other route wouldn't be helpful.

I leave the day after tomorrow, (although with a hurricane coming, when I'll actually get home is a different question) and it was nice to have a chance to use the local knowledge I've acquired being in China so long.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fourth Time's the Charm--Almost

By far the most exciting (and expensive) tickets I had to the Olympics was for a morning of athletics events in the Bird's Nest. That is, this Bird's Nest, the steel nurturer for a nation ready to spread its wings, easing its way into Beijing's once-in-an-Olympics blue sky:

And from close up:

All I knew going into the morning is that our ticket covered whatever happened from 9am to 1pm, and that we wouldn't be seeing the finals of anything. But then we got there, Emma, another girl, and I, and the first thing to start was the finals... for the 20k walk. Don't worry, if you didn't catch the hour plus event on tv, I took pictures:

They're in a pack like that partially because it's the beginning, and you can't get a huge lead when you've walked half a lap; and partially because packs make things respectable, even if that's waddling like a seven-year-old rushing for the bathroom. Coming in first was Mr. Borchin, a Russian whose life story likely begins, "Back in my day we had to walk 10 miles to get to an outhouse..." I'm joking, of course. 20 kilometers is 12.4 miles, not 10.

The morning was really exciting. What I didn't understand was that they do three or four events at once. So while the women's shot put is under way on the field, the women's heptathletes are warming up for the long jump and the men's steeplechase heats are taking place. It was like having seven tvs, and whenever one thing finished--the women's 100m heats, for instance--a flying discus would catch my eye until it fell, and then I'd notice half of a pole vaulting attempt.

I took pictures of all of the events, but they're uninspiring. But, when I slipped past the "don't cross this unless you have a ticket" rope to get a picture of the women lining up for the 100m dash, the picture came out pretty well. Credits to Grandad for teaching me that it's not a real picture unless you broke a rule to get it:

But then I had to get home from the Olympics. Although it was my fourth time to see an event, it was also my fourth venue, but lots of frustration, several subway stops, and a taxi ride later, I made it home. I made myself a late lunch of leftover rice and sliced apple-pear, and took a nap. When I woke up, I realized that the way I had locked the door left my Chinese mom locked out for the last forty-five minutes. What stress I had relieved sleeping was back in an instant as I insufficiently apologized.

But when you talk to Norwegian Olympic athletes on the subway about innovations in swimming, and see scenes like the one pictured below, there isn't much room for dissatisfaction.

Friday, August 15, 2008

End of the Term, No Exploing

I came across a blog today which shows that good writers can have a successful blog. I thought being in China might compensate from any good writing skills I haven't acquired yet, but maybe I should start putting up cute pictures of kids. Or use CAPITALIZATION or cuss words.

I did teach my Koreans some bad words yesterday. You have to start at low-level words because their vocabulary isn't good enough to work on words that they might only have an opportunity to say once in their lives. They've already mastered "crap." I did find it interesting that when I said I was willing to trade bad words in English for any bad words they knew in Chinese, the two boys who are bored out of their minds by English scrambled for paper and a pencil. The most studious girl sat there with her head in her arms

Speaking of my Koreans' progress, I brought home the essay Sky (a boy) wrote in class today. We've been reading Harry Potter, and today we read the first scene in the third book where the students encounter boggarts. Boggarts, as you'll remember, are the monsters that take the shape of whatever you fear most and are only destroyed by laughter. The assignment was to pretend that they saw a boggart.

Sky writes: I'm scared of teddy bears. I'm a president, but I scaring of teddy bears. so students laugh at me. So my boggart is teddy bears. It is cute. so I sayd, "It is cute!!!" So It exploed.

And yet, with several weeks down and only one more lesson to go, I think I've helped them make progress. I've tried to convince them that the past, present, and future tense are not the same; that nouns need qualifiers; that sentences generally consist of more than three words and lots of pointing; that verbs are important; that "He is 155 cm height" is not a proper sentence; that "Me, too" should be "Me, neither" if you're concurring with a negative statement; and that "died" is not transitive.

I had my last day of class today. I attended reading class, because it was the last day and I still have that elementary school urge to think that my attendance will affect my final grade. It was a waste of time.

But I've made it to the end of the term, and haven't exploded. China can still work me over when it wants to, as my most recent trip to the Olympics shows, but I've survived. And here's an icing-on-the-cake story.

When I was younger, my mom would occasionally let stories about learning Chinese slip out. One time she was trying to tell me about how the Chinese have a proverb for almost any situation you can imagine. I asked for an example, and she told me the only one she remembered. "A poor man walks by a bakery every morning and lingers to smell the great aroma of the bread baking. The shopkeeper gets mad at the poor man for enjoying something he didn't pay for, and starts to demand payment. When wise Asanti gets there, the baker explains the situation and says he wants 10 kuai for all the smells the man has gotten as his expense. Asanti says that that sounds reasonable, but the poor man pleads that he doesn't have the money. "No problem," Asanti says. "I happen to have a whole purse full of money here." When the baker sees the pouch, he gets really excited. Asanti jingles the coins. "The sound of money buys the smell of bread," he says, putting the pouch back in his pocket and walking away with the poor man.

I'm bracing myself this morning for reading class, when what do I see? This same story. The story that represented Chinese to me when I was seven is the last thing I study before leaving the country. Isn't that cool?