Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I'm Not Sick

Word has reached me, through my sister, that my mom suspects I might be sick since I haven't posted lately. Mom: Never fear -- I'm not sick, just busy giving and grading finals.

My teammate, however, is not so lucky. On Christmas, she thought she was coming down with a bad cold. By the time she woke up the next day, she was dizzy, achy, and had a low fever. She called our foreign affairs officer, who arranged for an ambulance to come pick her up because she was too dizzy to walk out and get a cab to the hospital/clinic. Now, when you think "ambulance," you perhaps are picturing a shiny, siren-y vehicle stocked with medical supplies and a couple of uniformed EMTs. Let me disabuse you of that notion.

The ambulance that came was a dingy white, and there was no stretcher in sight. The back had a thin blue mattress on the floor for the patient, with a bench beside it where we sat. It was staffed by two or three people wearing facemasks, one of whom drove the vehicle while the nurse sat in the back ignoring us, except for telling Lisa that the "pillow" she was laying on was actually an oxygen tank and she should stop laying on it. I saw no other first aid or medical equipment. We made our bumpy way through Qufu with no siren but making liberal use of the horn, which did nothing whatsoever to speed along the pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vehicles in our path.

The hospital visit was quite efficient. We went to a small office where a doctor asked some questions and arranged for Lisa to get a blood test and a chest X-ray. In order to do this, you take some little slips of paper from the doctor and go to the various places in the hospital to get the test, and then take the completed slips back to the doctor. She (the doctor) decided that Lisa most likely had the flu and prescribed some medicine, after which our foreign affairs officer drove us home.

In honor of this adventure, I give you the bottom 3 and top 3 things about my first glimpse at healthcare in Qufu.

Bottom 3:
-Facilities. The ambulance left much to be desired. The clinic/hospital was dirty and there wasn't much to it.
-Hygiene. I didn't see a single person wearing gloves or washing their hands, even the tech who did the blood test.
-Language. I can't blame China for this, but doing healthcare through an interpreter isn't ideal.

Top 3:
-Efficiency. My teammate had a doctor visit, a blood test, and a chest X-ray, without having to wait more than 10 minutes for any of it.
-Cost. Total pricetag for all of the above was 35 yuan (about $5.25). The medicine was more expensive (about $40).
-Result. This is most likely not true for every ailment, but the medicine and advice that my teammate got seem to be working. She's feeling better.

In addition, our foreign affairs officer (FAO) and her assistant were AWESOME. They dropped everything to come with us and stayed with Lisa the whole time, helping interpret and arrange things for her. At the end of the visit, our FAO returned to the wedding luncheon she was hosting for friends from out of town, which she had left for over 2 hours to help us. In China, sometimes it's frustrating to have so many people over you telling you what to do, but the flip side is that they are also responsible for taking care of you. At our university, we have a good relationship with the people over us, and we are well taken care of.

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Gift to You

Dear blog readers,

I have decided to give you Chinglish for Christmas. Please enjoy this picture of "Melody Fashion Melody Boy," a student giving a nunchuck performance at a recent student event I attended.

Thanks so much for your readership, comments, and interest in my life in the Middle Kingdom.

Alison (Chinglish aficionado)

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

In the last day or two, Christmas decorations have started popping up everywhere. I went to the department store today, only to be greeted by a big "Merry Christmas" sign and a little Santa display outside. Inside, I saw another Santa display in the entry. Please, PLEASE pay attention to the little marshmallow toddler with his mother. The Chinese sure know how to bundle babies! As I shopped, there were little fake trees every 20 or 30 feet, and all the employees were wearing Santa hats. I saw a couple clerks blowing up some neon-colored balloons to add to the decor.

At the market, a special stand has been set up to wrap apples in pretty plastic to give to your friends. Apparently the word for "Christmas Eve" in Chinese is "Ping An Ye," which sounds like the Chinese for apple: "ping guo." So it has become a recent fad to give apples for Christmas -- I've gotten 2 so far.

Let me tell you, it is truly a surreal experience to wander through a Chinese department store practically tripping over tacky Christmas decorations while Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas is you" tickles your eardrums. It made me laugh, and it was fun to know I'm not the only one celebrating the holiday this weekend. On the other hand, it is sad to see a culture borrow almost everything about Christmas, from consumerism to Mariah to artificial trees, but not borrow the one thing that is supremely worth celebrating. Americans may be slowly forgetting our awe and gratefulness for the Word made flesh, but many of the people here who so glibly offer their "Merry Christmas" wishes have never heard about Jesus in the first place.

Friends, "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." So let's rejoice.

Merry Christmas from Qufu!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas is Coming

Today I taught my last class of the semester. Finals are next week. If I close my eyes and conveniently forget the stacks of grading I have to do, I can almost believe I'm on break already.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and the next day is Christmas. I'm excited! Although I live in a mostly secular country, Christmas festivities are still not lacking:

Sunday was the "Fair Ladies' Club" Christmas party, complete with balloon-bedecked fake Christmas tree.
Tonight was a holiday banquet hosted by the university president to thank the foreign teachers from our two campuses.
Tomorrow I will sup with my teammates (sup! hehehe), and then we'll take a cab across town to check out the church's service.
Christmas day we will gorge ourselves on Christmas brunch and calls to America.
The next day, we're having a potluck for all the foreign teachers in the building.

I love Christmas! And having a couple packages from home makes it even better -- Thanks to my family, friends, and Trinity!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Friday After Class

When I walked home from class yesterday, the sky was bright blue and the sun was shining like it meant it. I found myself behind this colorful foursome. They're walking to their dorms with the lunch they just purchased from the cafeteria -- see the plastic bags filled with rice and veggies?

I wanted street food for lunch, so I walked out the north gate and saw an older guy adjusting his wares for the noon-time rush. He's selling candied haws, which are haws with a super-sweet brittle coating. They are popular with the students even though many of them say they don't like foods that are too sweet. On a few occasions, students have bought them for me. I usually take a few polite nibbles and hope they don't notice I'm not really eating it.

One stand I often buy food from is the little window that sells Chinese McMuffins (my name for them). They fry up an egg, some shredded potatoes, some vegetables, some spice, and sometimes some meat, and then stuff it in a flat, round bread. If you come to China, we'll go out and get some of these for a quick meal. I'm not sure why the workers are in camouflage.

I decided to try something new, so I stopped to watch this couple frying up a mess of green veggies, carrots, lettuce, and egg. When the filling was done, they put it between two big flat sheets that looked like tortillas and rolled it like a burrito. I will henceforth call this creation the "Chinarito," or perhaps the "Churrito." I didn't like it all that much, but it was a lot of food for a small price.

The last picture shows my lunch: Churrito as the entree and Twisty Goodness for dessert. It was nice to walk into my warm apartment and enjoy a ready-made meal after my crisp, sunshiny walk home from class.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

He's alive!

The formerly headless Joseph featured in my nativity scene has made a stunning recovery thanks to my cute Chinese tutor, who fished some glue out of her bag after our last lesson and went to work.

Going to Market

One of the best things about living at Qufu Normal University is going to market. You can get fresh produce, bread, meat, eggs, or street food any day of the week just by walking the three minutes to the north gate. (For an even larger market, walk the half-mile around campus to the former east gate.) This is quite a treat compared to living in Iowa City, where the farmers' market only runs for a few hours each week and only in the summer and fall.

The other day, I was so pleased with my purchases from the market and from the grocery store on campus that I decided to take a picture for you. I got...
2 pears
2 loaves of bread
3 rolls of TP
4 onions
2 peppers
1 bunch of cilantro
6 tomatoes
7 bananas
2 cartons of milk
1 jar of mayonnaise
2 loaves of bread
1 bottle of date-flavored yogurt (yum)
1 box of orange juice
8 eggs
...all for about 25 minutes and a price tag of 70 RMB, or just a little over $10. And that's from the north market, which is the more expensive one. Life in Qufu has its perks. :)

Monday, December 14, 2009

"20 years from now... will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

(Often attributed to Mark Twain)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Leaf Sweeping

Wednesdays are cleaning days here at Qufu Normal University. None of the students have afternoon classes, so they are expected to clean their classrooms, their campus, and their dorm rooms. They will be fined if their dorm room isn't clean enough. When I dismiss my Wednesday morning class at noon, within minutes there are students standing on chairs cleaning windows, wiping down the black board, and dusting the sill by the building door.

I wanted to share these pictures with you, which show the wide brooms that are always used to sweep leaves and trash. I've never seen a rake here. (I've also seen these wide brooms being used on snow and even on water.)

Don't you love seeing those bright winter coats on a rainy December day?

Friday, December 11, 2009

May happiness follow you everywhere... Just like we do.

I laugh every time I read that. "May happiness follow you everywhere, just like wedo." What a lovely sentiment: happiness is an obsessive stalker! It appears on the cover of a notebook which is, fittingly, emblazoned with the word "Romantic" in beautiful script.

My writing students are required to keep journals for class, and many of them have cute little sayings on the front, often in Chinglish. Hope you enjoy this small selection.

First Chinese Haircut

After rocking a mediocre bob from home for the past 5 months, I decided my hair needed a little sprucing up. I didn't want it much shorter, but I wanted a few more layers and to get the ends thinned out a bit. So I turned to my adorable and stylish student, Jessie, for some help.

She took me to a salon in the East Market, where she knows the assistant manager. He is the man in the white and black shirt who cut my hair. When we arrived, all the stations were full, and they were waiting for the water to heat up to wash people's hair. (You can see the water heaters near the ceiling.) They never did quite get working that day, but soon enough it was my turn to have my hair washed by the assistant.

Then I walked over to my guy's chair. Jessie told him what I wanted, and he spent about 30 minutes meticulously sectioning off my hair, thinning the ends, and fixing my bangs. Overall, he did a pretty good job. At one point, I asked if he could do something about a particularly annoying piece of hair that always wants to flip out. His solution? He suggested that we chemically straighten my hair. I was a little tempted, but decided that I couldn't live with a year of bad hair if it somehow got ruined. When he finished cutting, the guy just used a blow dryer and comb to style my hair. No product, no curling iron, no straightener. I don't even think they had used conditioner.

Of course, having a foreigner in the salon created a bit of a stir, since foreigners are few and far between in Qufu and don't often frequent the salons in the East Market. I could hear the customers and stylists asking Jessie questions about me (where I'm from, how old I am, what my job is, etc.), but my Chinese isn't good enough to catch everything they said. The girl next to me decided to request exactly the same haircut as me, requiring her to chop off about 8 inches of her hair!

The best part about my haircut? I got it washed, dried, cut, and styled all for the low, low price of 8 yuan. For a mere $1.20 a pop, I could go back every week!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Catch 22

A blogging dilemma: When there's nothing to blog, there's plenty of time. When there's plenty to blog, there's not enough time.

My eyes are drooping and I should go to sleep instead of regaling you with tales of life in the Middle Kingdom. But never fear -- I have been amassing pictures and stories for your viewing pleasure. Soon, you will have the pleasure of vicariously enjoying at least some of the following adventures:

First haircut
Superhero skits
Student friends
Chinglish notebooks
Joseph's resurrection

Yes, my friends, these tantalizing treats -- these delectable morsels of China life -- are coming soon. Until then, good night!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Progressive Christmas

My teammate Lisa teaches a sophomore culture class. To help the students experience some Western holiday traditions, we invited them over for a progressive Christmas party. They were split into groups of 12-20 students, and they spent 25 minutes in each of our three apartments:

1) Lisa -- listening to the Christmas story, eating oranges and candy
2) Tarah -- learning Christmas songs
3) Alison -- gift exchange

For my apartment, each student had to bring a wrapped gift worth no more than 5 RMB. We had a white elephant gift exchange (although most students were too nice to steal desirable gifts from their friends). I've never seen so many stuffed animal keychains, cutesy piggy banks, and cell phone charms in my life. The most popular gift was a shapeless gray blob with an LED light inside. Seven different colors. So beautiful!

As you can see from the pictures, there was one point in the evening where Joseph from my nativity scene committed suicide by jumping off the shelf. Overall, the event was fun and I think everyone had a good time. Except maybe Joseph.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ao Ba Ma

Chinese word of the day: 奥巴马 aobama. It's the Mandarin transliteration of "Obama."

Most of you know that President Obama visited Shanghai and Beijing during a recent trip to Asia. I didn't pay too much attention to his visit, although a couple pieces of news stood out: Obama meeting with Chinese leaders to cooperate on issues of global importance, Obama's remarks against internet censorship, and Obama's chilly visit to the Great Wall. There's an interesting article at Asia Times Online about the cooperation between our two countries:

Anyway, sitting around with my teammates talking about his visit, someone wondered aloud if Obama had slid down the alpine slide after visiting the Great Wall. This began a flurry of speculation on what only-in-China experiences our President enjoyed while he was here.

Sliding down the alpine slide?
Walking through the row of vendors? ("Hey, sexy man! You need a man bag?")
Using squatty potties?
Walking arm in arm with his new friend, the premier?

Our favorite one was imagining Chinese president Hu Jintao pinching Obama's sleeve to see how many layers he was wearing. "Wear more clothes!"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Were you an active student?

One of my students asked me today what kind of student I was like. Was I quiet or did I raise my hand and participate in class? In fact, I was a fairly passive student. You don't need to participate to learn, right? However, now that I teach, I tend to think that my students aren't learning unless they participate. Hello, hypocrisy.

My student said that she guessed I was a quiet student, because I'm sort of a quiet teacher. My students often comment on the fact that I'm more subdued than the other foreign teachers. For example, my teammate Tarah majored in theater. She is outrageously expressive in class, and the students love it. My other teammate, Lisa, isn't quite as dramatic in class, but she's always outgoing, friendly, and full of hugs for her students. I find myself wishing I had a more active personality. Hello, envy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chinese Students: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

A couple weeks ago, I had five freshmen over for dinner as a reward for winning a challenge in class. As they walked in the door, the first girl handed me a gift. And then the second girl. And the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. You can see in the picture that I got quite a windfall from those girls: two cups of instant milky tea, two hand-drawn cartoons, four bags of chips, a gift-wrapped trinket, two packages of frozen dumplings, a bag of crunchy snacks, some gummy fruits, a pair of wrist warmers, a bag of popcorn, more oranges than I could eat in a week, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Chinese manners dictate that you shouldn't arrive at someone's house without a gift in hand. (It seems like the gift is often fruit.) But I have never gotten quite so many things in one visit. Thanks to my generous students!

A couple days ago, I received another generous gift. One of my junior students, Gloria, gave me a pillow that she cross-stitched. She has been working on it since this summer, and gave it to me as a thank-you for a couple times I had invited her over. I don't know Gloria very well, so I was surprised and touched that she would give me something she had put so many hours into. You can see from the picture that the front expresses the sentiment "I love pig." The back has a lovely Chinglish fabric, which you can't read in the photo, so I will transcribe it here:

"Have a dream, a song
to sing to halp me cope
with anything."

"A friend is so-
meone who know-
s the song in yo-
ur heart and co-
n sing it back t-
o you when you
have forgotten
the words"

"Friendship is themo
st preoious thing in
allhappiness which
comes to life wisdom."

I love my students and their gifts. Their friendship is preoious indeed!