Thursday, September 30, 2010

Flashback: Tales of Travel Woes Gone By

You may remember that I traveled to a student's home for several days at this time last year.  It was my first solo train ride, and both legs of the trip turned out to be memorable.  Hard seat train by night, bribe-purchased tickets, being marooned in the dining car, getting off at the wrong stop.... Ah, the memories:

 "Travel Tales"

If I hadn't taken this train trip by myself last fall, I don't know if I would have been confident enough in my travel skillz to undertake later trips to Beijing and beyond.  Although, when I think about all my bumbles during that trip, I see nothing that should have inspired any such confidence.  :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Flashback: "Trail of Toilets"

Remember this one?  It's a toilet travelogue from winter break last year.  I still get a chuckle when I think about that tree in the loo on the Vietnamese train.

"Trail of Toilets"

Heh heh heh.

Flashback: "Sniffles"

From time to time, I revisit favorite posts from the past.  And since I am traveling this week, it seems a perfect opportunity to let you revisit them too.  Enjoy the first selection, in which a common cold causes my nose to grow to alarming proportions: 


(From Beijing, in August 2010)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Updatito (A little update)

It's 7:54 pm and I am seriously contemplating an 8:00 pm bedtime.  Don't judge.

Anyway, it's been a fun couple of days, but I don't have enough creative energy at the moment to make them come alive for you, so I thought I'd give you a mini-update -- an "updatito," if you will.

The weekend didn't exist, because I had class.  That was OK, because we had three days off last week.

Yesterday I had a Chinese lesson in the morning, taught a sophomore oral class in the afternoon, had a group of students over to bake cookies, and had my book club in the evening.  We're reading Anne of Green Gables -- awesome.

This morning I taught a couple writing classes, had team stuff in the afternoon, and then had dinner with a few sophomores.  But actually, I had dinner with my team, too, so I supped at 5:00 and then 6:00.  Actually, if you count gorging myself with leftover cookies at our team meeting, I ate non-stop from 3:30 to 7:00.  Hmm.

Tomorrow begins my week-long holiday.  First I will go to Chongqing, then to Xi'an.  They are both new cities for me, and I am looking forward to meeting up with friends in both places.  Traveling in China over the holidays is always an adventure.  (An adventure full of crowds of people.)

El fin.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Big Picture: China has a new set of 43 big, beautiful pictures about China.  Check it out: Scenes from China.

And there are more where that came from.  I'm serious.  It's so good.

The link came to me by way of the blog Outside-In, written by a colleague in Beijing, who has posted tons of good stuff lately.  Be sure to check out her musings on mooncakes and her account of a Mid-Autumn Day brawl that interrupted her dinner at a Beijing restaurant.

How I Spent Mid-Autumn Day

Ah, Mid-Autumn Day, that elusive fall holiday that obeys the whims of the lunar calendar.  It's a day of gathering with family, or, if that should prove impossible, gazing at the same moon.  It's a day of eating and exchanging mooncakes, the fruitcake of the Middle Kingdom.

Here is how I spent my holiday:

First, I had lunch with the French teacher and the Chinese French teacher's family.  We ate at a restaurant called "True Beef," in which most of the dishes had beef.  I tried some new cuts: tail, tendon, and tongue!  This was a fun meal and I was happy to spend part of the day with a Chinese family.

Later a group of my former students, now seniors, came over to celebrate the holiday.  We had a meal and then played "Four on a Couch."

And of course, we all ate mooncakes.  My favorite flavor this year was date.  But that doesn't mean I like mooncakes.

The end.

Friday, September 24, 2010

UBC Snapshots

In another surprising leap of modernization (and Westernization?), Qufu has acquired its first coffee shop. The new UBC opened last week, and my team went to check it out. Tarah had a latte, Chip got a strawberry smoothie, Mallary had coconut coffee, and I had a cappuccino, which I quite enjoyed:

We also took advantage of the free wireless Internet and the lunch menu. 

The crowning delight was a menu full of Chinglish. "Business was brisk beef risotto," anyone? 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Honeymoon is Over

I've lived in China long enough to be over the honeymoon stage.  When you first arrive, everything is new and exciting and fascinating!  And the people are great, and the food is so interesting!  And look at those quaint little pedi-cabs!  Let's take 8,000 photos!

I distinctly remember the moment when I realized I'd lost my fresh eyes for China.  I was walking home from class last fall when it dawned on me that everything that was once new and exciting was now normal.  It was a sad realization.

You might have expected this to be a post about disillusionment with China, but it's not.  My post-honeymoon love for China has become a steady, warm affection, which I hope will keep growing.  I've seen some of the good and some of the bad of this place, and I still want to be here.  This afternoon I was trying to take a nap, but instead I found myself reliving snapshots from the last couple days:
  • toasts of friendship from the university president at our opening banquet
  • having our students and foreign affairs officers watch out for us on the night of the stabbing
  • chatting with a student about a confusing relationship
  • reading my students' sweet and sappy classmate introductions
  • biking down a dead end in the village with my teammates and having an old man laugh at us
  • enjoying Qufu's attempt at a pizza (mayonnaise, anyone?)
  • posing for photos with giggling strangers just because we're foreigners
Nothing new and exciting there (in fact, I didn't take a single picture), and life here isn't always this wonderful.  But today I'm full of thankfulness for this stage in my China life, and I wanted to tell someone.  So share my joy with me -- I'm in love with China!

Friday, September 17, 2010


"So do not fear, for I am with you;
       do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
       I will strengthen you and help you;
       I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

-Is. 41:10

Yesterday a student was stabbed by her boyfriend.  They closed the gates of the school until they had taken the man into custody and rushed the girl to the hospital.  The news spread like wildfire on campus, and many girls were afraid to walk back to their dorms.  (Today's rumors say that the girl is doing better and has passed the critical stage.)

During my morning quiet time, I was thinking about what I could say to students who might be afraid.  I started to notice that the Word doesn't say, "Do not fear, because nothing bad will happen."  Instead, the reason not to fear is the presence of a strong and loving Father.  "Do not fear" -- Why? -- "Because I am with you."

The topic of fear came up again at dinnertime, when some students got to talking about horror movies.  One guy postulated that he is particularly prone to bad dreams from horror movies because of the traditional beliefs in the village he grew up in.  People in the town believed that the ghosts of the recently dead could "infect" you, and he went several times to see an older lady who did some traditional tests to see if he was "infected."  (This involved having a pair of chopsticks and an egg stand on end.)  As it turns out, he was infected by the ghost, and the cure was something like acupuncture.

But really, acupuncture can't deliver us from fear.  We need a strong and loving Father walking by our side.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Lunch to Remember

On our first weekend in Qufu, we went to the local registered church for Sunday service.  We arrived a little late to the 8:00 service and found places on pews in the back.  They've maximized the space in the church by packing the pews very close -- pewback-to-kneecap close.

There was some singing, during which a helpful churchgoer loaned Chip and Mallary a hymnal (which they couldn't read a word in).  Later were a long message and a time of prayer.  The service closed with everyone praying the Our Father together (I think).

We had spotted two girls who looked like students and introduced ourselves after service.  Sure enough, they were students at the other branch of our university, and we chatted a few minutes.  Suddenly, half a dozen middle-aged women swooped in and invited us all to lunch.  They marched us out to the road and put us in a car, where we sat laughing and wondering what was going on.  I think they realized one of them needed to accompany us, so an older lady squished in the back with us three girls and we drove a little way to her home.

We were ushered into the living room, which was decorated with a child's wall doodles, a picture of Jesus, and a picture of a European cathedral.  At first, only the older lady, another woman, and the woman's girl were in the house.  We sat sipping our hot water.  Other women from the church arrived slowly.  Then came the funniest part of the day.

Someone had gone to buy fruit -- enough fruit to feed at least 30 people.  But we were only four people.  Soon, peeled bananas were being thrust into our hands, only to be replaced by another peeled banana as soon as we had nibbled our way to the end.  Plates of juicy watermelon slices sat on each of our laps.  Apples were being offered from all directions.  Mallary made the mistake of pausing for a second, so a lady walked over, took her hands, helped her pick up a slice of watermelon, and lifted it up to her mouth.

During this time, we were trying to get to know our hosts.  They had snagged the two students we were talking to, so the students helped translate a little.  Tarah found herself talking to a woman who was apparently giving her testimony, but all in very fast Chinese, so who knows?  The women were so friendly and fun.  We sang them a few songs, and they sang us a few songs.

The meal followed about an hour later -- several wonderful, homestyle vegetable and meat dishes.  When it was time to leave, we were full to the brim of food and fellowship.  The ladies prayed with us before we left and then gave us some oranges for the road.

Wonderful, exhausting visit.  Enjoy the pictures.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Me Through Students' Eyes

Last week in writing class, I asked the students to write a short biography of me based on some items I brought to the classroom.  I haven't taught this group of students before, and I told them nothing about myself other than my name.  Here were the items I brought:
  • Chinese-English Bible
  • photo of me, my parents, my brother, and my sister
  • book about China
  • book about Iowa
  • University of Iowa sweatshirt
  • globe
  • bike helmet
The items that caused the most confusion were the Iowa stuff (representing my home state and my alma mater) and the bike helmet (representing that one of my China hobbies is biking through the countryside, and also representing the fact that I didn't have much cool stuff to bring, so I grabbed it on the way out).  Here are a few excerpts:
Alison is a big fan of bicycle.  She has traveled around the world for many places by bike. 
She likes riding a motorbike with a helmet and she thinks it feels great.  
Like most Americans, she likes traveling, especially by bike.  As a student, she also rode bike with her bike helmet and Iowa shirt to travel around.
I guess you must like riding bike.  You like looking at the scenery when riding bike.  Maybe you also like making race with other people.  
She has a IOWA shirt.  She is good at IOWA.  She has a book about IOWA, so she must know well about it.
I don’t know what the IOWA is.  But whatever, I’m sure she’s crazy about it.
I love that last one!  Let me quote a few of the biographies in full, so you can see the range of writing ability and enjoy some of the creative imaginations of my students.
"Alison loves China.  One day (maybe she was very young) she found a place on the globe which interested her a lot.  The place is China.  As she grew up, she came to China to realize her dream.  But the life in China lacks the warmth of her family.  She always put a photo of her five family members in her table.  She misses her family very much.  As a standard Christian, she puts the Bible around her and view it as the holy book.  But in China, she can only buy the Chinese-English edition.  About sports, she likes riding bike, and often wear the bike hemlet to travel among the small city around Qufu.  She has great interests in Iowa and the Iowa shirt is very precious for her.  She often put it in a remarkable place in her home.  Because that’s which best friends give her."
"Alison is a Christianity.  Alison wants to have a journey of China.  Alison is crazy about bike and her favorite sport is bike.  Alison likes taking photos.  Alison is learning knowledge of China.  Alison is a member of Iowa."
"I think Alison may be believe in Christianity.  And I guess she is graduated in the major of geography for she likes using globe to introduce her.  She must interest in Chinese culture very much.  I think IOWA may be a ruggby team that she likes most for I guess the helmet is a ruggby team used.  I guess Iowa must a team that has long history and Alison is its fan from she was young.  I guess Alison came from a family of five, maybe her handsome brother is a government official."
So there you have it: I love China, I love my family, and I'm a Bible-toting, photography-loving, geography major biker chick who plays rugby for the historic team named IOWA.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Life in China isn't that Hard

It occurs to me that many people in the U.S. assume that living in China as an American must be inherently more difficult than living in America. I don't think that's true. I bet almost anyone could do it, and like it, and have just as good a life as if they stayed where they were.

(So come on over.)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Freshman Move-In Day

At 8:30 this morning, I hopped on my bike to go pick up some flowers for our office.  Horns were honking, people were everywhere, and for once the campus streets were full of cars.  At one point I was going so slowly as I weaved through the traffic that I had to get off my bike and walk for awhile.  (I usually consider it a point of pride to stay on my bike no matter how dense the crowd, so I knew it was busy when I had to get off.)

"What's all this dadgum commotion about?" I thought to myself.

As I approached Confucius Square, I saw rows of orange tents and lots of students milling about.  Some of them were with middle-aged folk, and many were carrying bags or looking lost.  Aha!  Today was freshman move-in day.  There was more activity on campus today than almost any other day, which was fun.  They even turned on the fountain -- that never happens!

There were lots of parents accompanying their students

Only in China?

Orange tents galore!

The fountain in action: a rare sight

Later in the day, Mallary and I went to our department to clean our office.  In Confucius Square, we saw some of the English students manning a booth to assist the new freshman English majors.  Once inside the English building, we met another group of students manning the door, where they directed incoming freshman to the classrooms that will be their study home for the next three years.

Jackie, a senior English student, with other foreign language students helping direct the freshmen

Our office, looking cleaner and prettier than usual after today's efforts

Unfortunately, I don't teach any of these wide-eyed, sparkling new freshmen this year.  However, I will look forward to watching the required military training they will undergo during the next two weeks.  After that, they finally start their classes -- all 8.000 of them.  Welcome, freshmen!

 Painting a welcome sign

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pearl Buck on Chinese Children

Author and long-time China resident Pearl Buck gave the following words of advice to American servicemen about to leave for China during World War II:
Chinese children you may thoroughly enjoy.  They are friendly, jolly little souls, delighted with anything you can do to amuse them.  They may surprise you with the number of their dirty faces -- the average busy Chinese mother washes her children's faces morning and night and what happens between she considers none of her business.
From China as I See It by Pearl Buck

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Qufu Scavenger Hunt

We are immersed in five days of required team-building time.  Today's assigned activity was a photo scavenger hunt around Qufu, which I will share with you by giving you the requirement followed by the photo.

2.  Team in a taxi (one of you pretending to drive)

3.  Team each with a different piece of fruit

5.  Team in front of your school's university sign

6.  Team with FuWas (Olympics mascots), or Shanghi Expo mascots

11.  Team trying to stand in line at the post office

12.  Team near a campus landmark

13.  Team on bikes

14.  Someone on team standing by an ATM

15.  Everyone on team holding a cell phone

18.  Someone in a tree with a banana

19.  Someone in a barber's chair looking like they are getting their hair cut, or whole team getting hair washed together

22.  Team each reading a book in your lending libraries

27.  Team using the equipment in an exercise park

28.  Team with a place of historical and/or cultural significance in your city

There you have it!  We enjoyed our day exploring Qufu, and included many activities that weren't on the list.  Mallary said at lunch that she really likes this town, and I agree.