Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Snape Kills Dumbledore

I think that pretty much sums up my life right now. I'm catching up on Harry Potter, and it's about the only thing I'm accomplishing. My parents brought me the first three, the family they were staying with has the rest, and I only have until next Friday before my semester's over and I start traveling for the summer. All the rest of the kids in my program are getting sad because they're leaving China soon; I'm just getting nervous that I might not be able to finish Harry Potter.

After last night, though, I think it's possible. I had my one day of language class Tuesday, try to get a bit of studying done yesterday, but spent most of it spending money and reading. I bought a sweet backpacking backpack (bright orange since I am a Florida Gator, even no one here has heard of Florida). I went to a going-away party at a Turkish restaurant for a guy who has to leave tomorrow.

And I read Harry Potter. The sixth one is by far the most exciting. I am continually amazed at how planned out J. K. Rowling had everything. It's not as apparent in the first few books, but the further you read, the more stuff there is to tie in, and everything works out perfectly. And then out of nowhere, Snape kills Dumbledore! I'd heard, of course, since I'm two or three years late reading the book, but I completely forgot until I read it.

I finished the sixth book late last night, then went to sleep in which I had a nightmare where I woke up (I'm pretty sure I screamed as loud as I could when I woke up, too, but one of my roommates was sitting outside on her computer finishing a paper and she didn't react, so maybe I didn't) and was convinced that the little red light coming from my power strip was the eye of some kind of monster Voldemort was going to attack me with.

I sat there in my bed, rigid, trying to figure out what to do. I figured that if I were Harry Potter, I'd be able to send a spell at it and blow it to smithereens, and even tried a spell in my mind to see if it worked. Unfortunately, it did not send my power strip reeling. Now, I knew that I wasn't really Harry Potter, but I also knew that Voldemort wouldn't bother with me if I wasn't powerful, so I just sat there, hoping it wouldn't notice me. After a few minutes the dream setting wore off and I remembered that I did have something in my room that always sent out a little red light.

On the upside, we just learned in this chapter how to say "nightmare." And, most helpful, I learned that in Chinese you don't "have" a nightmare, you "do" a nightmare. So now I'll be able to impress my language partner with a discussion about what happened to me at 4 am last night. I don't know the right adaptation of Harry Potter, though... maybe Ha Li Pa Da.

So now I have a week to read the last book. I don't have class until Tuesday, which means if any of the other people in my program had any money left, we could do a little traveling. If not, I might actually study Chapter 4 more and marvel at how useful my orange backpack is. And shake my head... Snape killed Dumbledore.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What I've been Learning Recently

We just took our last midterm on Friday. We have two weeks of school left officially, but since the end of this upcoming week is a national holiday, I only have one day of language class this week, two next week, and then our final. After that Alex and I will be flying to Xinjiang (in northwest China), exploring the culture there (since the language isn't related at all to Chinese), hopefully pop into Kazakhstan (that's right, "pop into" Kazakhstan), and then circle back to Chengdu before I continue my travels. By mid-June I'll be in Beijing ready to start studying again.

A big online high-5 goes to Katie, for correctly guessing that I gave my brother a Chinese brand of cigarettes for his 18th birthday. My mom, who delivered the package, was not amused.

I'd like to share some of the things I learned to take the midterm.

There were a random collection of words. We know so few words that almost anything is helpful. A smattering of words from one recent chapter included "to stuff", "thief", "to marry", "pity", "idol", "parallel", and "so-called." We learned a word that means "to complain/blame", which I thought was interesting, since I don't know if we have a word in English that means both of those.

We also learned several measure words. Measure words in Chinese are words that specify what kind of something a noun is. For example, in English you can't say "a sunglasses", you have to say "a pair of sunglasses". You used to not be able to say "five waters", you'd have to specify what kind of waters: five cups, five glasses, five pitchers, five gallons. In Chinese it's the same, but any time you want to specify how many of a noun, you need a measure word.

I think sometimes it gets a little ridiculous. I mean, how else are you going to measure people except in people? But when you go to a restaurant you can't say wu ren (five people), you HAVE to say wu wei ren (five people's-worth of people).

So, different nouns go with different measure words. One measure word is roughly for long, thin things, so you use it on roads, pants, etc. Another is for large flat things like pictures. But this chapter we've learned a measure word, gu. Here's the definition: (a measure word for strength, smell, or a long, narrow thing, etc.)

What drives me crazy about that definition is the "etc." at the end. As if strength, smell, or long, narrow things constitutes a category I can add to. I asked our teacher what in the world we're supposed to use gu for and she just paused, said, "Oh," and then said that it's used for some abstract nouns.

I've also been learning about Chinese culture from our book. There was a dialogue we had to read in which one person was asking the other person how to deal with Chinese people asking really personal questions. Here are his answers:

"Where are you going?" If you don't want to say, just make something up or saying you're going home. No one will mind if it's not true. They're just being polite.

"How much money do you make?" / "How old are you?" Just lie.

"Are you married?" Just change the topic.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Buying a Birthday Present

Today was by brother Andrew’s 18th birthday. My parents just flew out of Chengdu a few days ago, but it wasn’t until the night before they left that I realized that they would be able to take back any present I bought him. It was already 9 pm, but Carrefour didn’t close for another hour and a half, so I figured I would be able to find him something. The problem was that Andrew has already been to China, so I couldn’t get him a random trinket, and my parents already bought him everything he asked for as a souvenir. And I only had an hour or two to find him something.

I had a great idea before I got to Carrefour, though, and after I bought his present, found a little wrapping paper and a box to put it in, I was set. I thought to myself that I could give Andrew a page of hints and he still wouldn’t be able to guess, so I’m going to, and you can see if you can guess his present.

What’s funny is that Andrew could have bought my gift when he was here, but when he went back he wouldn’t have been able to. I didn’t buy him something rare, though, because now he could buy them if he wanted to. I’m not sure if they are used more in China or in the US; I bought him a Chinese brand.

In fact, it was the cheapest kind I could find. There are whole stores dedicated to them, so I could have spent a lot of money, but Andrew won’t even use his, so I thought it wouldn’t matter. If somebody gave one to me, I don’t think I’d use it either, although several people here in China have asked if I’d like to. It’s a favorite among taxi drivers, although some foreigners don’t like it.

It’s a small package, really light, and easy to carry, but using it will set you puffing. My wrapping was superfluous, since most of it is wrapping, but the important part is quite potent. They are used year-round, for all occasions or no occasion. Some people use them to relax, kids use them because they’re exciting.

You need something else to make them work, but it’s not nearly as complicated as electricity or Internet access. We’ve had the tools to make them practically since Prometheus’ time, but they haven’t existed in their current form for more than a hundred years or so.

You can find a picture of them on every plane and in most establishments. You can’t eat or drink it; it’s not a rock; it’s not alive. I hope he laughed when he saw it, although they’re no joking matter. I assume it went through fine at customs on the way to the US, because my parents didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell them what it was either.

Andrew’s gotten my present now. Can you guess what it was?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Becoming Fluent in Chinese

Becoming fluent in Chinese is difficult. Now that my parents have left, I have nothing to distract me from the grind of class, so this entry is devoted to trying to explain why I am still not fluent in Chinese.

Aside from the obvious reasons (tones and characters stick out) I've developed a sense of the differentness of Chinese. People always talk about how learning different languages is supposed to make you think different ways, but I've never understood what they were talking about. I took Spanish for four years and only learned that "extraterrestrial" (with an accent on the last 'a' if I remember right) is the word for... "extraterrestrial." But don't get me started on my Spanish experience.

In Chinese, they put ideas into different categories than we do. Some categories we don't have. For example, in English we just use "carry" to mean almost every kind of carrying. In Chinese, there's standard carrying, but then there's "carry with both hands up in front of you (like a server in a restaurant)" and "carry across your shoulders on a pole."

It's easy to adjust to extra categories. What's difficult is when categories overlap, because then it's not as easy to sort out.

We just learned a few words for "memory." One is jixing, the other is jiyi. They have the same first syllable because that means "to remember." If I want to be cute, I can say I ji the character ji. Now, jixing in English means "memory," but it really means "the ability to memorize." For example, I can say I have a bad jixing, because whenever I take a test, I freak out and can't remember the answers.

Jiyi in English also means "memory," but this is more memory of something. I have memories of UF, I have memories of eating lamb skewers, etc. So far in this explanation, the two words just separate ideas that we use the same word for in English.

But then I asked my language partner if you could count jiyi. She laughed and said of course you couldn't. I told her that in English we could say, "I only have two memories of when I was a kid: whatever, and whatever." She said that was silly, and that you can't do that in Chinese. Apparently, in Chinese, you can ask "What jiyi do you have from when you were a kid?" just like we would in English, but Chinese memories can only be described, not counted.

Another example has to do with the word for "emotion." In English, we either say that we "feel" sad, or that we "are" sad. We describe the sadness as either an emotion or a feeling, using both to mean exactly the same thing.

In Chinese ne, (sorry, I couldn't help putting it in. It would be perfect if we had a word for ne in English) there are several. All I've got figured out is that gan has to do with emotion, and any compound words probably have to do with that idea. The problem is that our teacher wants us to actually understand Chinese, and so we have to sort through ganshou (emotion), gandao (emotion), and ganqing (emotion). Ask me in a semester how to use which one and I might be able to tell you.

So that's why I'm not fluent in Chinese yet. I can't accurately say that sometimes I just feel frustrated at my slow progress.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tasting America

With Mom and Dad in town, I've gotten more than just parental attention. Last night Mom said she would cook for me. At first I thought she meant some Chinese dish, but then she clarified that she wanted to make something that she would make at home. I was skeptical that this was possible in China, but the friends my parents are staying with have an oven, so it wasn't as out of reach as I thought.

Of course, I chose spaghetti and meatballs, only the best dish ever. Mom went shopping all day to buy ingredients and talk to people in Chinese, but Dad was interested in something cultural, so we went to Dufu's Cottage.

Dufu's Cottage is where I recited my poem at the beginning of the semester, so I'd been there several times. When I went, though, it was the dead of winter, and I think it happened to rain every time I went. Yesterday was a beautiful day, though. The sun was out, there was a slight breeze, the air was warm. Dad and I enjoyed all the scenery. Dufu's Cottage is in memorial of Dufu, one of China's most famous poets. He lived around 750 AD, spent a few years in Chengdu where he built a thatched-roof cottage, and now they've reconstructed it and made it into a huge park.

And when I say huge, I mean it. Dad and I wandered leisurely for about half an hour, looking at one little museum after another, and gradually learned about Dufu through the signs in fairly good English. The park was not big on signs on the map, though, and we had a difficult time finding the main deal: Dufu's Cottage.

Eventually we got tired and wanted to find the cottage, but we couldn't. I tried to ask some people, but since the whole park is called "Dufu's Cottage," asking where Dufu's cottage was didn't get me anywhere.

Dad and I finally started to leave without even seeing Dufu's cottage, but as we got lost on our way to the right exit (there were three), we stumbled onto the right path and finally found it.

When we got back home, I ate spaghetti and meatballs with my parents. Tonight we went out to the new Papa John's pizza place, and after that we walked to the city square and I ate Dairy Queen. It's a good thing I got to taste so much of home, because once Mom and Dad leave Tuesday, I'll have an even longer time of not seeing them than I did before they came. I don't come back to America until late August, which is still four months away. It's a good thing I can hug my parents now.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Having Fun like Crazy

With Mom and Dad here, excitement has abounded. A few nights ago we had dinner with my Chinese family and their friends. Mom held up the conversation and charmed them all, so we planned to hang out with them again last night. Thursday night I went to a birthday party at an Indian place. Yesterday we did so much that by nine at night we were all exhausted.

First, in the morning I didn't have class because there was an athletic event going on that they wanted us to attend. I didn't really understand the significance of it until we were already part of it, but the opening ceremony that we had to march is a huge deal to colleges in China. I took video of it the whole time and will shortly be posting it to YouTube, where you can get the condensed version.

After we stood on the field for a few hours, we took a bus back to our campus (we were at the new campus, which is far away), and then I ate lunch with Dad. Then my Chinese mom picked the three of us up and we went to go teach.

We were assigned three classes of 5-6 year olds. The problem with doing kids that old (I know, thinking that 5-6 year olds is old is crazy) is that they've learned so many words the teachers can't keep track. We were assigned to teach the kids the body parts so they could sing "Head, shoulders, knees, and toes." They already knew those words, though, so we had to make stuff up on the spot. I was glad that as we were coming in to the class, I predicted it to Mom, though.

Mom used to be a teacher, though, so she knew all the techniques to make the kids pay attention, laugh, and learn. Tina, the girl who helps me, was so impressed that she got Mom's email address so she could ask her about her teaching methods later.

Since there were three foreigners yesterday, they had to take lots of pictures next to the graduating kindergarten kids. Then we had tea with the principal, then we were off with my Chinese mom to have Chengdu specialties.

We drove for quite a long time, since there was bad traffic. Mom talked to Mrs. Xiong herself while Dad and I talked to Tina. She speaks a little English, since she's an English teacher at the kindergarten, so it was a strange mix of Chinese and English. If felt weird to have her there because then Mom and Dad and I couldn't talk in English without her hearing some of what we were saying. Finally we came to this place that's kinda like a Chinese mall. Mom and Dad were amazed at the affluence of the plaza, since when they were here, Chinese people couldn't afford to go to them.

We ate spicy food and tried to make conversation with everyone there. Then, karaoke was on the docket, but Dad said he was too tired. We had already driven out to a nearby town to teach, worked our way through Friday night traffic, and had dinner--all in Chinese. I stood in a field all morning, so I wasn't far behind them in feeling exhausted. Mom and Dad collapsed and I recovered from thinking for so long in Chinese.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Seeing Pandas Again

I've been to see all the "historical" and "cultural" places, and except for the museum with shoes for women whose feet were bound, I wasn't very impressed. I have a fairly low tolerance for appreciating stuff just because I'm supposed to.

My main outing, then, with Mom and Dad here, was to go see the pandas. The friends they're staying with recommended a guy who could drive us, wait around for a few hours, and then drive us back, so we decided to do that.

The three of us combined managed to have a reasonable conversation with the guy. He looked to me for pronunciation, I looked to mom for listening comprehension, and she looked to Dad for grammar help when she wanted to say something. It was a team effort. The guy who was driving us was very nice and spoke reasonably standard Chinese. Best of all, he had a great sense of humor and laughed when we were trying to be funny, showing off his rotten, yellow teeth (it did seem like he had a full set, though).

Seeing the pandas was fantastic. All of us USAC students went in the first few weeks, and I thought we were lucky to see a panda climb a tree and then the trainer have to follow him because he wouldn't come down, but something was different this time. There are several enclosures, designated by age of panda. We found one pen of adults to be the most active.

At first, one ate sugarcane while the others meandered over.

Then the first went over to a different part and started munching on bamboo. Despite there being a huge amount of bamboo piled up, a second panda started eating the other end of the same stalk. Eventually, the other pandas came over and each ate with careful consideration for how their body was angled for all the tourists' cameras. This picture gives you a good idea of what we saw for several minutes.

Mom and Dad were really impressed. Pandas are so much more magnificent than I had thought of before coming to China. And, in honor of my parents actually being in China right now, here's a third picture with them in it. Actually, there isn't, because the Internet isn't happy with me now.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Giving my Parents the Tour

Saturday morning I picked up my parents at the airport. It was nice to see them. They said when they saw me they thought it was somebody else (claiming my hair has gotten darker), and it was only my persistent waving in their direction that convinced them that it was me until they got closer.

We took a taxi back to the family's house that they're staying at. A taxi should cost about 35 kuai, so when I noticed that it was 32 and we were only halfway, I started wondering what was wrong. It turns out the guy's meter was set for more than twice the rate. I asked him about it, he said something that we didn't really understand. Dad asked him about it, he grumbled about it and stopped the meter. When we arrived, Dad only had a 100 to pay him, which is really risky because you should never ask a taxi driver to give you a 50 since they're almost all fake. I had heard stories of people getting ripped off that way, so I started checking to make sure the 50 he gave us back was real. I'm not an expert at determining counterfeits, but it didn't feel real to me. I asked him about it, the guy grumbled again, and said if I thought it was fake I could have two 20s and a 10.

I thought I was really helping us out but it looks like the taxi driver had the last laugh: we were eating out today and when Dad tried to pay with the 20s, they said one was fake.

It's strange having them in China. They lived in China for four years long ago, so they used to speak Chinese. Their vocabulary hasn't been accessed in seventeen years, though, and their tones, which Mom claims were never very good, have gone down the drain. Nevertheless, they can understand conversations that Chinese people have, which I can't do.

Today we were walking through Carrefour, the French bigger-than-Super Walmart chain in China. It's two floors of everything you could need in life, from perfume to pork to imported cheese. Mom wanted to buy an electric tea pot for when she goes to Spain once a year, except we didn't know how to say "tea pot." They're game for talking in Chinese, so she got the salesclerk to understand what she meant and then tried to talk with her for like five minutes about how she wanted a cheap one and she didn't really care about the quality because she's only going to use it once a year.

I gave them a tour of my apartment yesterday. It's hard to complain about the hole in our ceiling when they were happy to have hot water back in the day. We had lunch at a small place nearby and Mom thought the food was way too spicy, even though it was barely spicy at all. We relaxed (they took a jet lag-induced nap), went to dinner with some family friends, talked with them for a while. This morning they came to church with me and this afternoon I did my own thing, so I don't know what they've been up to.

We're headed to the panda reserve tomorrow, so we might get some cute pictures. Here's one we took today, though, during lunch.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Looking Forward to Awesomeness

I was going to write about how strange it was to think that my parents were flying to China while I was in class, but I took too long and got a call from them an hour ago saying they were in Beijing conquering jet lag now. Tomorrow morning I'll pick them up at the Chengdu airport, and then we'll have a week and a half to do fun things before they leave. I can't wait to see them.

The reason I waited until this evening to blog instead of this afternoon is because I got caught up playing cards. I rode a bus until I got tired, got off, and started looking for excitement. I found too much excitement at first when I walked down one street and saw more than five brothels in one block. I went down a different street and saw something much more to my liking: people playing cards.

I've mentioned before how fascinated I am by the three-person card game they play called Beat the Landlord. The people I found playing today were perfect. They were really friendly (they even had stools so onlookers could relax while watching), they played with low stakes (50 cents as a unit instead of a whole kuai), and they were interested in the foreigner. I watched them for quite a while. In between hands they asked me the usual questions about where I'm from and how long I've been in China.

Then I asked if I could play and they were very patient. Everybody is so fast at getting their cards organized. You get one third of the deck and you have to sort them to figure out how good your hand is. Then they expect you to make decisions lightning-fast, and I was more like the speed of sound than I was the speed of light. I expect that the more I play—or maybe the more money I spend—the better I'll get at it. I noticed that by my tenth hand I wasn't fumbling to get my cards in order as much as I was at the beginning. There's light at the end of the tunnel.

Language-wise, we've just started into our third semester's worth of Chinese. We finished our old book and are now working on a ridiculously hard book. It's frustrating to have to answer a question when you have to look up more than half of the words in the question, let alone figure out the answer. Our teacher encouraged us today by saying that she thinks once we get through this, it'll be downhill from here. I'd like that to be right. I think if I could get a feel for the hundreds of new words they slide in (literally, just in the text for this first lesson there were over fifty words that weren't on our vocab list that we hadn't seen before) I'd really know what I was doing. I'm looking forward to being really awesome at Chinese.

To show that I am making some progress, I just learned how to say "looking forward to": pan (fourth tone, for those interested, with mu as the radical and fen as the rest). But here's an interesting linguistic note: Chinese has words that get attached to verbs that tell you what happens with the verb. One of them is dao, which means "to arrive." For example, I can say that tomorrow my parents will dao Chengdu. If I'm on the phone and I can't hear you, I can say that I didn't hear dao your voice. Okay, so here's the phrase that I can't translate: pan dao. "Looking forward to something until it came true" sounds awkward, and so does "my looking forward paid off." I think the best we can do in English is to say "I was looking forward to something, and then it happened." In Chinese it only takes one clause, though. Isn't that cool?

Well, now I'm looking forward to trying out my new microphone by Skyping Dan and Mallory. My next post will have a picture with my parents in it!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Day in Guizhou, part 4

We were pretty tired by this point, but still in relatively good spirits. Now that I had money, we could be lavish enough to hail a taxi to take us to the hotel the couple on the train had told us about. This time we were going to make sure that it was the right place. One eye on the taxi, one eye on the hotel, we eased toward it and found that it was closed.

The taxi driver made up for the other one. He left his car in the street and came over to figure out what the problem was. No one was there. No problem, he said, I know this other hotel nearby. In Guiyang taxis are a flat rate for anywhere in the city, so if he would take us somewhere else he'd be doing it for free. We drove to the one he was thinking of--too expensive. We drove to another one--no availability. I didn't mention that Friday was a national holiday and it seemed like all of China was traveling, so hotels were scarce.

We drove to three or four more, and each one was either too expensive or all full. Finally we arrived at one that seemed appropriate, said goodbye to the taxi driver, and started to pay for the room. Then we discovered that the price was for one person, and that we would have to pay double for both of us to have somewhere to sleep.

It was 1:30 then and we just wanted to go somewhere. As far in the past as it seemed, we had woken up in Guiyang that morning, so we did know of one hotel that wasn't too expensive. We took our third taxi of the night to get there and discovered that they had rooms available! The first night we stayed there it was 139 kuai, but now they only had 159 kuai rooms. The extra 20 kuai got us a sitting room and larger bathroom. The shower wasn't as good, and since we weren't planning on having guests over to our hotel room, the sitting room seemed superfluous. But we had finally found somewhere to sleep.

We woke up in Guiyang, went to Anshun, the waterfall, the caves, and back to Guiyang, had an ATM card eaten, and then past 2 am we went to sleep. Needless to say, I don't like Guiyang very much. What a day.

When Alex went to the bank the next morning, they happened to be open, and we could fly home like normal. This is a picture of me and him at the caves pretending to be bridge-guarding dragons.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Day in Guizhou, part 3

Alex and I found a bank before we found a hotel, swiped our cards to enter, and then started trying to plead with the ATM machines to accept our cards. Sure, our cards are supposed to work in China, but some days the ATMs decide that we shouldn't feel at ease so much and gives all kinds of error messages. Out of the four machines, one was out of service, one would tell me my card wasn't authorized for transactions, and one didn't have the option to withdraw. Alex was working the fourth machine, which gave the impression that it would give him money, but the seconds would tick by, no money would come out, and when the internal timer reached 100 it would give him an error message and return his card.

Alex tried two or three times, and then started reading our guidebook while he waited for his withdrawal to fail. What he didn't realize was that the machine had a "safety" feature where, if you didn't take your card within fifteen seconds, the machine would suck it back in so no one else would taken. Alex finishes reading his sentence and reaches for the card right as the machine pulled it back. "Sorry," it said. "You took too long to get your card." His bank card had just been eaten by the ATM.

We were in China, in a different province than usual, planning on leaving the next day, late at night. Moreover, it was a Friday night, so the bank probably wouldn't open until Monday. He started calling all the Chinese people he could think of who would still be awake and could speak English so we could figure out what to do.

I joked about just sleeping on the floor of the bank, but then a bum forced his way inside the sliding glass doors and did just that. After that I didn't suggest sleeping in the bank.

It looked like Alex had three options: a) report the card as "lost or stolen"--that takes six to eight weeks to get a new card even in the States; b) stay until Monday--that would mean paying for a new flight and missing his teaching engagement which he had on Sunday; c) hoping that someone in Guiyang could get his card on Monday and mail it to him--that might not be allowed for security reasons.

Things were looking pretty bleak, and we still didn't have any money. We considered whether we had enough cash to afford staying in a hotel. Since we couldn't get his card, we figured nobody else would be able to steal it, so we would leave and he would come back in the morning.

We started walking and eventually found an ATM that accepted my card, so our money problem had gone away. Alex was still sans-ATM card and we hadn't found somewhere to sleep yet. It was about 1 in the morning.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Day in Guizhou, part 2

That's right, quite a cliffhanger. Check out what happened next.

Alex and I decided that if there were still trains running, we might as well ride back to Guiyang that night so we would have all of Saturday free before we had to fly out. The taxi driver dropped us off at the train station and we went in to ask about tickets to Guiyang. The lady said there weren't any, so I went to the bathroom before we left.

Alex called me while I was in the bathroom, though, (that's right; I'm so good at the squatty potty now that I can even answer the phone while going to the bathroom) and told me to hurry up because we might miss our train. When I got out, he said that he asked someone else and they said that even though the train didn't have any tickets left, you could still board the train and hope for standing room.

We took a train on the first night we got to Guizhou, and it was pretty packed, so Alex and I were preparing ourselves to stand amidst tons of sleeping/smoking Chinese people for the hour and a half ride to Guiyang. When the train approached, we and about seventy others all rushed on and found to our delight that the train was practically empty. Alex and I sat next to each other opposite this cute young Chinese couple.

Gradually we started chatting with them. They were from Guiyang but worked somewhere else. They knew all the places to go, though, so they gave us recommendations which hotel to stay at. We talked for the whole ride there, and then when we were getting off the train I think we were supposed to pay for having ridden it, but the guy said something to get Alex and me through. We were feeling pretty good because we had not only found a train to take, but had also found some friendly people to talk to, had a comfortable ride, and didn't have to pay anything. It was only midnight.

The couple told the taxi driver which hotel he was supposed to take us to and off we went.

But as it turns out, the taxi driver didn't know where the hotel was and dropped us off in front of a random hotel. Alex and I didn't know any better, so we paid the guy and got out. When we discovered the hotel was out of our price range, we started off, half looking for a hotel, and half looking for an ATM, since we realized we were both dangerously low on cash.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Day in Guizhou, part 1

(The font on this post might be a little funky, since I'm in an Internet bar in Guizhou province. I think my font problems just add to the flavor of blogging from China, though.)

Alex and I are on the last day of our trip to Guiyang, but I have to interrupt our fun to blog about our day yesterday.

We woke up in Guiyang at around 10, since we were tired from the night before. There's nothing to do in Guiyang itself, but a few hours away is Anshun, a town that has a famous waterfall and cave system nearby, so we decided to see those during the day.

We didn't realize that it was a Chinese national holiday and that everyone and their nai-nai were trying to travel. Alex and I got to the bus station (which was a task in itself, but I'm compacting the story) and there were swarms of people. Buses leave to Anshun every 20 minutes, but from how many people were in line you would think a bus left every 20 seconds. Alex and I split up. I did it the American way standing at the back of the line, he did it the Chinese way standing at the front. Half an hour later I had moved ten feet forward and he had tickets for us.

We rode a few hours to Anshun, and as soon as we got off the bus a guy starting persistently asking us if we wanted to go to the waterfall and caves, because he would take us. We did want to go to the waterfall and caves, and couldn't think why we shouldn't let him take us, so we agreed. He said that somehow we wouldn't have to pay the entrance fee, which sounded good to us. He drove at 140 km/h to the waterfall, which felt nice compared to the slow bus. Soon we pulled up to a house, where he led us up a few flights of stairs to his own backyard view of the waterfall. We had to admit that it was a great view, and that saving 80 kuai on the entrance fee was worth it. It was really beautiful and once I get back to Chengdu I'll upload some pictures.

Next he drove us to the caves and said that if we couldn't find a ride back, we could call him and he would come pick us up. We got talked into a guide, explored the caves, and then when we were done it was about 7:00 and we needed a way home. I hadn't eaten since breakfast, so we paid an exorbinant rate for an attendant's bowl of rice. I called the guy who said his friend would come pick us up, we tried to communicate where we were, and then we started waiting.

After I finished the rice, we wanted to move up to the parking lot nearby, but the guy who gave me the rice kept telling us that we shouldn't. We couldn't understand why not, though, so we moved to the parking lot which was right by the road.

It was dark and a little cold, and soon after we came we saw headlights that headed right toward us. They kept coming, slowly, slowly toward us, and we couldn't see what the lights belonged to, so we kept backing up and wished we had listened to the guy's advice not to come up here. But then the truck stopped, and it turned out that it was just a trash truck having engine problems.
We laughed it off, the guys got out to fix the engine, and then as the truck left I saw that one of the tires had a huge lump. We were just wondering about the lump when the tire exploded and the car started rolling down into the side of the mountain.

Before we could figure out what that was all about, five or six pre-teen locals came by. They were intrigued by the foreigners and tried to chat with us for a while, which was difficult because their local accent made it difficult for us to understand them, and our horrible Chinese made it difficult for them to understand us. They laughed in between everything that was said, so that slowed the pace of the conversation, too.

By this time we had been waiting 20 minutes longer than the guy told us we would have to, and started to think maybe we should confirm that he really was coming. I called him and had a frustrating time. I kept telling him that the guy wasn't there, he kept telling me that he had arrived, but when I said that he wasn't there he thought I hadn't understood, and repeated in r-e-a-l-l-y slow Chinese that the guy was in fact there. I finally managed to explain where we currently were and we hung up.

Then a group of adults walked by who the kids didn't know. I thought it was so weird that anyone was there because all there was in the area was the entrance to the caves and a vacant hotel. The trash guys were still fixing the truck in the background.

Then the guy found us around 8:00 and we were picked up, on our way back to Anshun.

But our night wasn't even halfway over.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Eating Tibletan

I was going to cover up that I'm talking about Tibet in this post, but then I realized that China is already blocking my blog. What do I care if their computer robots see the word Tibet? I still liked the sound of "Tiblet", though, so I kept it in the title.

A few days ago we decided to go to a Tibetan place for dinner. I think that says a lot about the current state of things here. Sure, there are cops cars with their lights flashing that just sit along Tibetan street outside of school, and they didn't use to be there, but that's the only change and it's just to be an impressive display. I haven't even seen official-looking people in or around the cop cars. Although I do have to say, now that I'm in a place where I'm above the average in terms of size, seeing Chinese policeman without even guns (policemen don't carry guns here) makes me much less intimidated than if they were the size of the guys on UF's football team. I'm not going around being rebellious just because I'm taller than the policemen, but it is kind of fun to observe.

Well, we decided to go to a Tibetan restaurant because it was Collin's birthday and the birthday person always decides. We didn't make up our minds until about 8:00, though, so after casually disregarding the idea that the restaurants might already be closed, we made our way to school.

When we got there, we happened to run into two people we knew who were hanging out with a Tibetan. Since none of us knew where to go (I'd been to a Tibetan place, but I didn't remember how to get there) we asked them for directions to a good restaurant. Somehow the person leading our group heard that we were supposed to turn right at a certain intersection instead of left, though, and we wandered about fifteen minutes the wrong way.

When we finally found the place we had been told about, it was closed. We wanted to give up, but that wouldn't leave us any less hungry, so we kept walking and happened to find a different Tibetan place that was open.

There were a few Tibetans eating when we came in, so they led us upstairs to the table or two they had there. After we ordered, Collin set in on his birthday beer and the other five of us drank whatever we had asked for. I didn't know that Sprite had been ordered for the table, so I submitted my small glass to something alcoholic, which I was forced to finish before I could have some Sprite.

After waiting for a while, we noticed the TV set in the corner playing Tibetan music videos. There were lyrics in a slanted Tibetan script and laments over lost Tibetan lovers—or at least that's what it looked like.

The longer we watched, though, the more of a difference we noticed between American music videos. There are all kinds of music videos out there, but the ones we saw took the cake: as the Tibetan pop star faded out, you could see them slaughtering yak. Each scene was a different animal. One woman grabbed a little furry cat-like animal by the tail, swung it around to get some momentum while it tried to resist, and then whacked its head on the ground. During all this peaceful Tibetan songs were being sung.

The food itself was amazing. Everything you order at a Tibetan place has yak in it, but they cook it a different way. The yak slivers they had was seasoned particularly well, and we all really liked it. And then we left, and that was our experience with Tibetans recently.

Tonight Alex and I fly to Guiyang, and I don't know if we'll be able to find hotels with hot water on our trip, let alone places where I can get online, so count yourself lucky if there are any posts before Sunday.