Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A whirlwind! Just a whirl of wind.

There's lots to say about everything I've been doing, but a few words about my initial arrival: it was a lot harder than I expected. I normally enjoy being alone, but when I first got to Dalian I was more alone than I think I've ever been. I knew two people in a city of three million: my landlord and the university liaison. I had their phone numbers scrawled on a scrap of paper, but I didn't have a phone or an internet connection or a decent map. I had no idea how to do anything or go anywhere. Also - and here's a shocker - nobody spoke English.

So I spent the first day or two trudging out in the pouring rain, navigating the bus system (which thankfully lists the stops in English as well as Chinese), buying a few mystery food items, and hunting down an internet cafe in the city center. I managed pretty well, considering how rusty my Chinese is. By the time I came home, I was exhausted. I ate at a little ramshackle restaurant by my apartment and allowed myself to curl up and watch some CSI DVD's that the fellows from last year had left behind. I don't know if a show about gory murders was the best choice, but it felt comfortable and American. I woke up early in the morning to the sounds of the marketplace below my apartment. They start setting up a little before 5 a.m. and the whole thing is cleaned up by 10.

Tae, my co-fellow, arrived the next day and I met him in Zhong Shan Square. I pretty much knocked him over with my hug, I was so thrilled to see him. We explored the city center, went to the beach and the super touristy aquarium (officially named Sun Asia Ocean World), and had cheap beer at a little place on campus. On the bus, we were crammed in with some people our age, speaking accented English. Tae, being friendlier than I am, asked "Where are you guys from?" And thus began our inclusion in the small expat scene in Dalian. Yelena, Stefan, and Jane were from Serbia, France, and Belarus respectively, and were studying Chinese at the University. They invited us out to a bar that night, so after dinner we met up and ended up at "Friends," one of the expat bars in Dalian. It was a veritable United Nations in that tiny bar - one or two Americans, but everyone else was from Portugal, Russia, France, England, and on and on. It's a very funny and tight-knit scene. I was still tired and jet-lagged, so even though some of them were talking about going to a club, we caught a cab home around 2 a.m. A taxi ride from downtown back to campus costs about 40 yuan (6-ish dollars), so split between three or four people it is pretty cheap.

And so by the time Jessica, our other co-fellow, arrived yesterday, I felt like I had a grasp on my surroundings. It's a great hodge-podge of things, this city. Some of it is modern, some of it is old and cobbled together, some of it is dull ("Software Park," just a gray conglomeration of buildings), and some of it is beautiful, due to the beach and the campus, which is tree-lined and very picturesque, with lots of young Chinese people playing basketball and soccer and jogging and buying books.

Lightning Round:

TEACHING: The thing I'm here to do, I guess? Jessica and Tae begin this week, but supposedly I'm in a different department and don't start for a few weeks. I have been told that I am either teaching freshmen or post-graduate.

FOOD: Big bowls of noodles and vegetables and eggs, weird yummy crepe-like things from the street, dumplings, seafood. It's all pretty greasy and cheap. A big meal for two people with drinks and stuff comes to about five American dollars.

ANIMALS: There are tons of stray animals around our neighborhood. In general, I have a strict NO CATS policy because they're gross and creepy and awful, but I had to make an exception for the cutest kitten I have ever seen. I can't figure out how to post pictures on this Blogger proxy site, but once I do: get excited.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

China, then and now.

I've been to China once before, on a two-week trip with my high school. I was fourteen years old and totally, completely high on life. Oh, everything was so thrilling: wandering the streets of Beijing, photographing every Chinese kid I saw, taking advantage of the lack of a drinking age. I tried to speak the language, mostly by bargaining for cheap bracelets and knick-knacks. I was involved in some awesome ninth grade love triangles, which turned my journal into half travelogue ("Today we went to Tiananmen Square! It was so interesting!") and half frenzied boy reporting ("I love X! We talked all day! Then I talked to Y! He's so cute! Z sat next to me at dinner!") My diet for the trip consisted of white rice and Sprite. I wore bell-bottom jeans with denim vests. I was convinced I knew everything about everything.

Below are some photographs from that wonderful, ridiculous, whirlwind trip. It's been almost ten years and I'm looking forward to seeing China now, through very different eyes.

I leave Monday.