Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I miss all my friends and family, but not being able to talk to Sophie often is definitely one of the harder parts of being away. She understands me better than anyone, she's a great listener and super smart, adventurous, and thoughtful. She's doing amazing work at The Sonoran Institute and even though it's not typical for older sisters to feel this way, I look up to her in a big way. So, happy happy happy birthday to a wonderful woman. I miss you!
Monday, September 28, 2009
I almost felt guilty about how much I enjoyed the food, but I talked to Mal, who had her share of pizza in Wuhan, and I realized it's a silly thing to feel guilty about (as most things are). There's nothing wrong with some quality comfort food once in a while, especially since I'll be here for a year and the options for that type of food here are limited: mostly McDonalds and KFC. Chinese people seem to love KFC. And the Chinese students love McDonalds, because it's the only place that's open 24 hours for them to study. I may have already mentioned this, but not only do their dormitories lock at 11:00 pm, but their power is shut off. I'd say that's pretty unimaginable for most American college kids: University of Michigan undergrads had the option of hanging out in their co-ed dorms, partying all night, or going to the library, which closed at 5 a.m. and re-opened at 8 a.m.
Speaking of studying and the library, I should go study some more Chinese and prepare for class tomorrow. Or I may watch the 1976 classic thriller The Omen which just finished downloading on my computer. Let's see which wins out!
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Bern is a wonder. She takes great care of herself and has a terrific sense of humor, not to mention excellent wit and comic timing. (To an obnoxious early-riser friend: "Good for you. Why don't you get a paper route?") When I visit her, we usually grab food at Buddy's, my favorite Jewish deli in Queens, where the matzoh ball soup is delicious and the bowls are so huge you could swim in them. Then it's back to her place, where we browse her catalogue of over 200 movies, all on VHS and taped from television. She keeps a list of them in a little notebook, alphabetized and numerically labeled, because she is more organized than I could ever dream of being. I've seen tons of stuff with her, ranging from And The Band Played On to Gaslight to Primal Fear. But since I'm a sucker for Montgomery Clift, I think my favorites have been The Heiress or A Place in the Sun. Oh, Montgomery. How I love your brooding dark looks and your ambiguous sexual orientation.
She's a strong woman, my grandmother. She has dealt with all kinds of struggles, from family issues to major illnesses, and has persevered. Maybe I'm biased, but she raised two incredible people (my dad and my aunt) and ran my grandfather's washing machine repair business for many years after his death. So, props to you, Bernice Glass. I am always sad that I never got to know Stanley and Kurt and Erna, my other grandparents, but I am so lucky that I have you in my life, and that I have your support on this journey far from home.
Friday, September 25, 2009
FYI: My posting might be a little less frequent nowadays until I find better proxy sites. Our anti-blocking program isn't working and China is making it tricky to get onto sites like Blogger and Facebook. I updated this post through e-mail, which isn't my favorite way of doing it.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Also, I am inspired daily by the delicious-looking, healthy meals on Freya's awesome blog, Freya On The Run. So I finally got up early and went to the morning vegetable market. I bought carrots, broccoli, and Chinese string beans. (They're really just regular string beans, but lumpier and purplish-green in color)
I ate the other veggies this weekend - just raw or steamed, nothing special. But I bought so many string beans (that's what happens when you randomly ask for five kuai worth) that I had to do something with them. Let's look at the tools at my disposal, shall we?
One burner, one hot plate.
One toaster oven.
One sink. And one window. What's that I hear? You'd like to pull that curtain down? Go right ahead! I just did the other day and I got a nice surprise.
So, in the warm glow of a fake Miami sky, I started steaming and stir-frying and baking my vegetables. The stir-fried ones turned out the best. I put in some oil, soy sauce, salt and pepper, and then accidentally threw in some paprika, because the little jar was right next to the pepper flakes - but I think it actually lent a nice flavor. Ironically, despite the fact that I wanted to cook to avoid the greasy restaurant fare, I ended up making a pretty oily dish. Oh well. I thought it was tasty and Jessica did too.
It's a pretty simple dish, but it's the first real thing I put any effort into here in China and there will certainly be more to come!
Monday, September 21, 2009
Things I hope to ponder, peruse, explore while I'm here:
1. How Communist is current China? From what I can tell, there is tons of free enterprise and glorification of capitalism. So what aspects of modern-day China are still Communist?
2. Does the country's age-old preference for male children affect females (infanticide, childhood, psyche, social conditioning) in urban centers, or mostly just rural areas? How did the role of women change during Communism? After Communism? Now?
3. What do people my age think of Mao? The Cultural Revolution? The government?
4. How dangerous is it to talk about politics? How dangerous is it to speak out against the government? The China I'm currently living in feels pretty safe and open. However, this is a country with countless people in prison for political reasons; people who may never see a trial. According to Amnesty International, in 2008, there were 37 people executed in the United States under the death penalty. In China, at least 1,718 were executed, and that's a conservative estimate.
If anyone has any thoughts, I'd welcome them. I'm woefully ignorant on a lot of these issues, despite taking a great class with this dude my junior year. Lastly: I'd like to thank you all for reading my blog. I really enjoy writing it and I love being able to update everyone on my mini-adventures, thoughts, and experiences. So: xie xie!
Sunday, September 20, 2009
On Friday, Tae and I went to lunch with our Chinese class, which was really fun. It was a chance to get to know my tongxuemen (classmates), who I see mostly in class, at clubs, or standing by the window having a smoke during class breaks.
Anyway, I don't know any of them especially well, so it was fun to just hang out. I was really jazzed about talking to Sasha - she's a graphic design student from Belarus who will be in Dalian for three years, completing her studies comparing Russian propaganda posters and Chinese propaganda posters. I love graphic design, especially connected to politics and public art, and her work sounds really awesome. Our teacher, Ma Lao Shi, ate with us and it was nice to speak Chinese in a casual setting and not feel the pressure from class.
Then we got on a bus and sat in traffic for a while until we got the city center, where we went to a traditional tea ceremony. It was...boring. Not the tea ceremony, per se, but more the fact that the owners gave us a painfully long lecture on different types of tea. On a dry-erase board. All in Chinese.
After a while, I just tuned out and my thought process went through its usual progression:
1. This reminds me of a cool art installation/video piece/performance art I could do.
2. Come on. If you want to do that kind of stuff, you really need to go to graduate school.
3. Really, though? Who says? Don't I have the same right to make art as anyone else?
Thursday, September 17, 2009
It was just another long day in Chinese class where I made lists and doodled in my notebook, all the while wondering why I'm not making any progress. During the break, I went to visit Victoria, our university liaison, who had mail for me. One letter was from my mom, who sent me NYT articles about two of my favorite filmmakers, Atom Egoyan and John Cameron Mitchell, who both have new movies coming out. I also had a wonderful letter from Meredith. It was such a lovely surprise! Thank you!
It appears that it takes about 2-3 weeks for mail delivery. I now have to figure out the mail system (I can't seem to find envelopes anywhere) but once I do, I'll be in business.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
1. Took my first kaoshi (test) in Chinese class. I don't think I failed. But I also don't think I did particularly well. I impressed my teacher with my grasp of complicated characters (as opposed to simplified) but I'm not sure how long I can coast on that.
2. Jess and I went to IKEA. IKEA!!!! It was so magical. Just an oasis of Swedish calm. On the way there, we met an older woman who took the opportunity to showcase her massage skills. We were just innocently waiting for the bus, jangling our coins, having a friendly chat, and suddenly she is pummeling our shoulders, back, and butt. Then she rode the bus with us and tried to set Jess up with her 27-year-old ("very tall") son. Then we got off the bus and she held onto our hands (tightly) and hugged us (very tightly) and sang to us. It was awkward.
3. After IKEA, we stopped in at Metro, where you can buy Western-style food. I bought juice. JUICE! That's what I've been craving. If you buy orange juice in Dalian, it's more akin to orange soda. It's gross. The stuff I bought is no Tropicana, but it's 100% juice and I'm tired of drinking water and soda and beer all the time.
4. Kindergarten continues to be super fun and sort of nuts. It got me thinking about the One Child policy in China, which has created a nation of only children, at least in urban centers. I have heard more than one Chinese person say that it results in a lot of spoiled kids - and that when you can only have one child, it's easy to focus all your hopes and dreams and knowledge into that one kid, as well as just smothering it with affection. I'm not trying to make that case for all only-children everywhere, but it's an interesting thing to hear and process while I'm working with little kids here in China.
A while ago I saw a really incredible exhibition of contemporary Chinese photography in New York. One of the artists was Zhang Dali, who chisels out profiles of heads in the walls of soon-to-be-demolished buildings in China. According to one gallery, "Zhang Dali's intention throughout his body of work is to call attention to the changes taking place in Chinese society primarily due to the destruction of long standing communities. He wants to enter into a dialogue with his compatriots whom he sees as becoming increasingly estranged as the drive towards modernization continues."
Perhaps he got his start by working on the elevator in our apartment building...?
Sunday, September 13, 2009
On the heels of hearing about a glorious win by Michigan vs. Notre Dame from Old Man Mahanic (Go Blue!), today I set off on a hike along Dalian's coastline with Jess, Chris, and Tae. We did about ten miles of it, which left us all happy and tired.
At one point, we scrambled over the rocks in our flip-flops and hung out in a little cove over the water. Some guys were scooping up the jellyfish to bring back for...jellyfish soup? Something?
Did I mention that these were giant jellyfish?
Friday, September 11, 2009
In addition to moving to a new city, doing PiA means being presented with a new set of friends. Not of your choosing. For a year. That's a situation that could get dicey, so I'm really grateful that Jessica, Tae, Chris, and I get along so nicely as a group. We're all easygoing (perhaps to a fault) and immensely respectful of one another. But we are all very different people (or perhaps I just feel different, which is usually how I feel), so what happened Thursday night was that much more wonderful and funny.
We were in a taxi heading back from Free Club and I'm not sure how it happened, but suddenly we're all belting out the score to Les Miserables. Yes, our little mixed-gender group knows the entirety of Les Mis, a musical I have seen at least five times and know by heart. It's admittedly not the hippest of musicals - it's probably closer to CATS than to RENT in terms of coolness - but that makes it all the more remarkable that we can sing of Jean Valjean's plight together. Drunkenly. Verbatim. The driver must have thought we were nuts.
On a somewhat related note, we've decided where we're going for our holiday in October. We get eight days off for National Day (it's the 60th Anniversary of the Republic), so we've settled on Chang Bai Shan. Also called Baekdu Mountain, it is a dormant volcano on the border between North Korea and China. This was my first choice for a trip, so I'm really excited we're going. It involves a 20+ hour train ride (yes!) and we'll probably stop in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning Province. A quick Wiki search for images of Chang Bai Shan turns up something like this:
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
The freshmen (my future students) are all required to do military service for a month prior to college.
Kindergarten: I taught two classes today on the campus kindergarten. The students were about 3 years old, super cute, and totally nuts. (A lot of shrieking). I was given very little instruction on what to do, so I sang some songs with them, which went okay despite my forgetting some words to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." ("Up above the...sky...so high...") Then I drew animals on the board and taught them the English words for them and we all pretended we were animals and crawled around on the floor. That was much more successful.
University: I substitute taught a class for Lucy tonight. It was my first real DUT experience and it was so much fun. They were all advanced freshmen, really nice and talkative, and we did a big interactive lesson/presentation about our respective hometowns. They really got into it and I learned a lot about Liaoning Province. In the last fifteen minutes I managed to take all that good energy and destroy it with a reading I adapted from an awesome New York Times article about Alzheimer's and dementia and night care. It led to an interesting discussion, but it was very Debbie Downer.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Today is going much better than yesterday, although I'm tired from staying up late talking with Sophie on Skype and getting up around 6:45 a.m. for...
CHINESE CLASS! There are fifteen of us in the class, hailing from: America (me and Sebastian, a college student from Clemson), Canada (Tae!), Belarus, Mexico, Thailand, Japan, Italy, Nigeria, and Sweden. It's pretty cool to have such an international group. The class itself is sort of odd: the lessons we're doing are very basic - however, the teachers speak solely in Chinese and sometimes quickly, so in that aspect it's challenging. To move up a level would definitely be too hard for me, so for now I'm staying put. The teacher asked us if we had Chinese names, and I told her I did, but I didn't like mine. So she gave me a new one that is much prettier: Ma Mei Li.
After class I went to hunt down my ATM card, which was surprisingly successful. I had a nice experience taking care of it, because I realized I am slowly losing my terror of conversation. Usually the second I hear a word I don't understand, I freeze up and the interaction is done for. But actually being in China is so different than learning Chinese in the States. Living here is not like taking a pop quiz every day. There is context. The postal worker isn't going ask me what my temperature is and the waitress isn't going to ask me what my mother does for a living. So when I went to the bank in Wu Si Square and some dude asked me: "Something-something-something zai shenme difang?" I actually didn't panic. I know that zai shenme difang means "in what place" so I figured he was asking me where I lost my card. I told him the University and he seemed satisfied. So while for every answer I get right, I know I'll get a million wrong, I think this context stuff is a sign that I am heading in the right direction.
While I was riding the bus home, happily clutching my ATM card, I again felt so lucky to be in this colorful, awesome, vibrant city. It's a really great match for me. The bus system is fantastic and there are all kinds of interesting neighborhoods to ride through. My whole life here is walkable, and I can see blue skies and the stars at night. (Rare in many polluted Chinese cities). I am very grateful for all these things, because while I definitely enjoy dancing and drinking and going out (Gayle + Aebra: "Let's go to Rick's!!#$@"), I can't deny that my heart is closer to this:
Saturday, September 5, 2009
So it was my first time trying it, and it was delicious. It basically involves a big pot in the middle of the table, filled with hot, spicy-flavored water, into which you toss all kinds of raw ingredients: meat, shrimp, mushrooms, vegetables, even pumpkin.
Hilda and Ernie, a Mexican couple who are studying & teaching in Dalian, bought Lucy a fiery musical birthday cake.
Next up was karaoke, where we belted out songs and drank baijiu, which is some sort of alcohol that is super cheap and high proof. Everyone sang together, which was good for me, since the Glass/Obernbreit family line is not known for its vocal talent.
The last 24 hours have been less fun, for reasons somewhat unrelated to China. The euphoria of being in a foreign country has worn off a bit, and I hit a tiredness wall last night. On the way to Chris and Tae's place, I tripped and fell in the mud and bruised myself, and when we were at Free Club I dropped my phone and broke it. I was not really feeling the party scene and was terribly thirsty, but tap water is kind of off-limits for us and things like Coke were really overpriced. I took a cab home, went to bed at 4 a.m. and had insane dreams. And then today, when I went to the ATM to take money out for a new phone, the machine ate my card. So most of these things are just total klutziness on my part, but it still sucked, and being far from home exacerbates everything. Thanks to the magic of G-chat and us both being awake twelve hours apart, I was able to have a really nice talk with Freya and it lifted my spirits. I'll let the Golden Girls take this one home: Thank you for being a friend. Travel down a road and back again. Your heart is true, you're a pal and a confidante.
Friday, September 4, 2009
After taking care of business, we bought some more baozi (steamed dumplings) and headed home. Besides the fact that it was a gloomy day, we just wanted to stay in and semi-recover from the night before. Chris (2nd year PiA-er) took us out on a grand tour of bars and clubs, which was a lot of fun and terrible for our livers. After dinner - where I successfully opened a bottle of beer with chopsticks after many failed attempts - we went to Hopscotch, a bar with an awesome red interior and crazy weird lights and posters and comfy couches and knick-nacks. It really appealed to me. We did some shots there, and then went to Dave's, another bar. Dave's was pretty quiet, and so after a drink there (with some complimentary watermelon), we went to a club called 2046. The name reminded me of the Wong Kar Wai movie, so maybe it's a sign that I'll meet a young version of Tony Leung, one of my many Celebrity Crushes (p.s. Jordan, I'm sorry I dropped the ball on guest-blogging for you, but I am going to hop back on that wagon soon!) It was kind of a ridiculous place, but we danced a lot and that's always a good time. Plus they played Sean Kingston's "Fire Burning," a personal favorite hot summer jam.
Despite it being a fancy-seeming club with fancy lights and fancy stools and fancy cocktails, the toilets are still just holes in the floor. I have yet to come across a public restroom that has a Western-style toilet, but I have to say that I'm getting better at using them. It's kind of like camping, except that instead of being in the pristine wilderness, you're in a filthy, graffiti-covered bathroom littered with cigarette butts. So I consider not peeing all over myself or the floor one of my many Small Victories here in China.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Once you've picked out something tasty, you can wander the cool, summer night with your food, or you can sit in a tiny makeshift eating area (see photo). We opted to walk a bit, then had some beer back at our place. Beer goes very well with spicy food, and they have plenty of both in Dalian.
Since I'm on the food topic, I'll mention what I ate this morning - which was thankfully less greasy than the other street food I've been sampling. I woke up at seven, ate a banana, took a walk, read a little of "China Wakes" (a terrific book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn). Then I was hungry again. So I stopped by a little place selling steamed dumplings (baozi) and asked for five dumplings. However, she thought I was asking for 5 kuai worth of dumplings, which came to roughly a million dumplings. I have no idea what was in them, but they were so delicious. I ate a bunch and put the rest in the fridge.
My morning got even better when I had my a Skype session with my sister and then my parents. I've only used Skype once before, so I acted like an elderly woman trying to use a cell phone, i.e. I spoke REALLY LOUDLY THE ENTIRE TIME. I think my roommate may have been laughing at me. This is a friendly reminder to all of you to get Skype so I can shout at you through the computer.
Right now I'm in my lovely, breezy living room with Jessica and Tae, who are lesson planning for their class on Western Culture. Their students all have English names, and while a few have pretty funny ones (Sonic, Fox, Hercules, Candy), the two best ones I have heard so far are: Skywalker and Wall-E. Wall-E went so far as to ask Jessica if he knew of any women named Eva around for him to date. Whattttttt.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
teaching fellows offered it to us when they were moving out and the
landlord was kind enough to hold it for us over the summer. The place
itself is great: two large bedrooms, one big open living room, a big
bathroom (with a real shower and a non-squatting toilet), and a tiny
green kitchen. Coming from New York, it's so nice to have all this
space! And a hallway! And while I'm already in bragging mode, we're
each paying about $150 a month.The trade-off is that I'm living in a
country that does not understand how amazing cheese is.
The neighborhood is nice too: we are right near the north gate of the
university, and our street is full of little food stands and
restaurants and internet cafes and shops all jumbled together. Every
morning there is a market where they sell fruit and vegetables and
fried things, and there are also a lot of old people holding tiny
The university has four main entrances/gates (North, South, East,
West) and while there is quite a bit going on near me, a lot of the
restaurants and markets are by the West Gate. My problem is that I
keep calling it the West Bank. It's mostly been in my head, but I
slipped once and said it out loud. I need to practice calling it West
Gate: West Gate. West Gate. West Gate. West Gate.