Monday, July 19, 2010

The Time has Come

All good things must come to an end. Actually, I don't think that's true. But in this case it's true. Unless an extraordinary, unexpected turn of events happens in the next few hours, I will be leaving China very shortly.

Even though I've been here for almost five months, I still feel like I hardly know the place, the culture or the language. China is still mysterious to me. But I suppose that's what makes it attractive. I can still go walking on the streets filled with a sense of expectation, curiosity, and wonder. As much as China has become "westernized," it is still rich with culture and unordinariness -- ordinary to them, for sure, but peculiar and interesting to my me-focused eyes.

I'm going to miss many things.

I will miss the people.

I will miss the buildings.

I will miss the non-Chinese people.

I will miss the streets and shops.

I will miss fighting crime with my friends.

And there are a hundred other things I will miss. Of course, there are also things I won't miss. I won't miss getting my hair butchered by the barber because I can't speak correctly to him. I won't miss the sound of jackhammers everywhere I walk. I won't miss the smell of pollution in the morning.

But then again, anything worthwhile is never easy. I feel like this is the place to insert a Lord of the Rings quote as Sam and Frodo talk about adventure and facing hardships, but I can't think of one. Imagine I did and that it was profound.

Now I have the task of returning home and processing what I've experienced. That shouldn't be too hard, as I have many friends and family who will keep my memory jogging.

Before I leave, though, I want to share one last story that has been on my mind a lot and still makes me laugh. When I was in Shenzhen (see last post), I was riding in the car with my friend Yuwei and his family. We started talking about English songs. They said they knew very few. But Yuwei's dad knew at least one.

All of a sudden, he started singing Jingle Bells. After the the first "jingle bells" the whole family immediately jumped in. Yuwei's parents can hardly speak English. There they were, happy as could be, singing Jingle Bells in broken English at the top of their lungs. I couldn't stop laughing because all I could think about was this famous scene from A Christmas Story. They get to Jingle Bells about 50 seconds in.

Those are the kinds of memories that will stick the most. Priceless.

Thanks for following me on my trip!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Welcome to Shenzhen!

As many of you probably noticed, I've been on a 10-day hiatus from blogging. That is because I left Wuhan to visit a good friend in a city called Shenzhen, just beside Hong Kong.

Meet Wang Yuwei (a.k.a. Derek):

Derek is a really good friend of mine from Kansas. He lived a few doors down from me in the dorms at K-State last year. He invited me to visit his home before I go back to the U.S.

He and his family treated me so well while I was with them. 

The past 10 days have been so packed full of adventure that I could never tell you everything we did in just one blog post. So, I will have to settle for a few short blurbs and pictures.

Derek took me to a few different theme parks. One of them highlighted the different minority groups in China. Each minority group "village" featured that culture's architecture, clothing, food, dance, etc. People from each minority group performed, usually dancing and/or singing.

One thing about these performances is that they like to pick volunteers to participate and make fools of themselves. I'm glad I wasn't picked.

That would have been really embarrassing.

I mean, you would think they would always pick the tall, strange-looking American in the crowd of all Chinese. I must have hidden myself well.

Can you imagine having to wear way-too-small clothes and flail around to try to impress a girl?

Or what if they picked you to do something in front of 200 people, promising that you won't get wet...

...then you end up being drenched with multiple bowls of water? I can't imagine what it would be like to spend a whole day at an amusement park with a soaked shirt, shorts, underwear, and socks.

But thankfully none of that happened.

We also went to a really neat park that had miniature replicas of famous places in China. It was a beautiful place.

Later, Derek and I had some free time. So we decided to fly to France.

The Eiffel Tower is bigger in person.

But we soon got tired of France, and Egypt wasn't that far away.

Actually, let me tell you a little secret. We didn't really travel to France or Egypt. I had you going, didn't I?

There is a really cool theme park called Window of the World in Shenzhen. It has "small" replicas of famous world landmarks. I say "small" because some of them, like the Eiffel Tower, seemed very close to the actual size. It was really impressive. And when you take a picture of many of them, you can't tell that they are fake.

We decided we'd better fight at the Colosseum.

In honor of my brother, I even sang opera at the Sydney Opera House.

I'm belting out a high B flat.

Derek thought that being in the African portion of the park made him stronger.

These different amusement parks also had very good stage shows for free. I've never seen a real Broadway musical, but I would guess that some of these shows could be shown on Broadway. We also went to an ancient Chinese war re-enactment on horseback. It was really neat.

But we didn't spend all of our time at amusement parks. We played basketball and tennis and badminton together with Derek's parents and their teacher friends. I watched my first ever 3-D movie and my first ever 4-D movie. I was really impressed.

On the weekend, Derek and his parents took me to the beach. We spent two days there.

I loved the mountains just off the beach.

And of course we swam a lot.

Since I didn't bring a swimming suit, I had to buy one there. Unfortunately, Chinese guys don't use the shorts-like swimming suits most guys use in the U.S. Instead, they use speedo-like swimming suits. That was another first for me. Now I will be coming home with a new swimming suit I probably will never wear again; but, on the bright side I do think it made me swim faster.

After going to the beach Derek and I spent our last day together at an amusement park called Happy Valley. This is a pretty standard amusement park with roller coasters, rides, over-priced food, etc. It was fun and tiring.

So now I'm back in Wuhan with a sunburn and many good memories. I won't be here much longer. My plan is to leave on July 21.

Stay tuned for another blog post before I leave.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Dr. Pepper Breaches the Great Wall

One day when I was teaching English here two years ago, my students asked me to tell them about American food. That's a hard question to answer when you think about it. It seems like we steal other countries' foods.

But one thing we did not steal...

Actually, I mainly mentioned it because it is my favorite drink in the U.S. No one in the class knew what I was talking about. So the next day I brought a picture of Dr. Pepper. Still, no one had heard of it or seen it. That is 170 Chinese college students that have never even heard of Dr. Pepper.

Then I started looking around. I couldn't find it anywhere in Wuhan. When I went to Beijing (one of the most "Western" cities in China) I still couldn't find it anywhere. Not once did I see it then, and during my whole time here this summer I have never seen it. Pepsi, Coke, Sprite, orange soda, and grape soda are all very popular here. But I could never understand why Dr. Pepper never made the cut.

When I came to Wuhan this summer, I met up with a few of my students from two years ago. During one of our very first conversations after meeting each other again, one of them mentioned Dr. Pepper out of the blue. He said that ever since I mentioned it in class he has been looking for it and has never seen it.

So he was psyched when I told him that I brought some to China this time. After telling them all two year ago how good it is, I felt bad leaving them hanging. So I brought some, and I was really excited to hear that they had been dreaming of tasting it.

Today, they finally got that chance. During a going-away dinner in the cafeteria (funny, right?) I brought the bottle of bubbly. This was a going-away dinner because I will be traveling to another city on Monday to visit a friend, and they will be traveling to Shanghai.

If you've been following my blog, these faces will be familiar to you. These guys took me to the botanical gardens a few months ago.

So what did they think? Dream come true?

Tao eagerly sipped.

Thinking about it...

Not exactly the face of ecstasy. In fact, when he noticed I was taking pictures of him, he gave me this face:

Hmmmm...maybe Zhongyuan will like it.

It looks like it burns going down.

Zhongyuan's thought: "How do I politely tell my American friend that this drink is HORRIBLE?"

He lifted up his head with a plastered-on smile and said, "Not bad."

Soon, the third person of the trio showed up. Remember Hua?

He was focused.


My favorite expression so far.

And, naturally, the forced, nervous smile follows.

Maybe it's better after the second sip, right?

OK, maybe not.

I asked them what they thought it tasted like. Hua said it tasted like the metal of a car tire (extra points for creativity). Zhongyuan said it tasted like a bitter peach. Tao said it tasted like medicine.

After he said that, I told them that it was originally created by a doctor (hence, the name) and was used for medicine. They just couldn't understand why so many Americans like to drink medicine.

In fact, I haven't met a Chinese student in the U.S. who likes Dr. Pepper. That eased their consciences a little.

In the end, this going away dinner didn't end with the "bang" that I'd hoped for, though I can't exactly say I dashed their dreams. After all, they did finally get to taste Dr. Pepper. Unfortunately, there's something wired differently deep within the D.N.A. of Americans and Chinese.

And it wasn't all bad on my end, either. I got to drink most of a bottle of Dr. Pepper for the first time in over 4 months.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Finally Cooling Off

Today the heat index here was 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

The other day it was 114 degrees Fahrenheit.

I have plans to play (outdoor) basketball with a friend in two days. I covet your prayers.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cultural Conundrum #13: T-shirts

Yesterday a thought came to my mind:  "I should buy a Chinese T-shirt." I haven't bought any clothes the entire time I've been here, and I don't necessarily need any new clothes. But I have always thought that a T-shirt with Chinese writing on it is a novel thing to have in the U.S. You don't see them very often.

Then a second thought came to my mind: "I don't recall ever seeing a Chinese person wearing a T-shirt with Chinese writing on it."

So, on my way to and back from lunch I paid attention to the T-shirts everyone was wearing. I took statistics in my head.

I counted 77 T-shirts with writing of some form or another on them. Of these, 72 were only in English, and 5 had Chinese writing on them. Of these 5 with Chinese writing on them, 2 only had the university logo on them (which is just one Chinese character); 2 others had both Chinese and English; and only 1 consisted of more than one Chinese character and no English.

After living here for a few months, this doesn't come as a surprise. Most Chinese students I've talked to here greatly envy Americans. Very, very few would turn down the opportunity to live in the U.S. At times it is frustrating talking to some of them because of the idol-like status some of them have of Americans. I would even go so far as to say that there is an obsession with America among many people here -- especially the younger generations.

One of my friends said when she was growing up she would always complain to her mom that she wasn't white. She didn't like being Chinese. 

There has been a massive infusion of American culture into this society. For example, Chinese people (or at least university students) mostly watch American movies and listen to American music. In fact, most of the people I've asked don't even like Chinese movies.

From my perspective, over half of the advertisements on billboards and posters around the city have Americans (or at least white people) on them. "America" is trendy.

And fashion is no exception. It's trendy to wear clothing with English on it. Much of the time there is some mention of "America" on it (or places in the U.S. like New York, California, etc.). Sometimes the English doesn't make sense at all, but no one knows -- or no one cares.

So, I probably won't be coming home with a Chinese T-shirt. I have yet to see people selling them. I did, however, see a T-shirt of President Obama dressed in a Chinese communist outfit. I'm not sure what they are trying to communicate through that one. I have a feeling it largely depends on whether you wear it here or in the U.S.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cultural Conundrum #12: Firearms

As I venture outside of campus, it is hard to walk for one minute without passing by a man or woman squatting on the edge of the sidewalk with a sheet spread out in front of them on which an array of carefully arranged items rest. These are what I have dubbed the "sidewalk salesmen" (or "sidewalk salespeople" for the p.c. police).

These items range from electronics, like mp3 players, to hand-made crafts, like bags, to no-one-could-possibly-ever-pay-money-for-this stuff, like used pencils (sold individually, I might add),  to hand-held accessories, like...


When I first came across people selling guns on the street two things came to mind.

1.) This is illegal.
2.) Does everyone have a gun?

As a matter of fact, guns are illegal in China. Citizens aren't allowed to possess guns. Furthermore, hunting is illegal. There are no kinds of permits that allow ordinary people to carry firearms.

What makes these scenes even more strange (and frightening) is that the guns aren't limited to small hand-helds. There are submachine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, and even sniper rifles. During my first few weeks here, every Sunday morning on my way to church I would walk across an overpass lined with people selling guns. There must have been ten different people selling them. After a couple of weeks I decided to take my camera, but they were gone. I figured they had to keep on the move so that they didn't get caught.

Call me gullible, but for over a month I thought all of this was real -- an underground gun market. Then one day I expressed my concern to one of my Chinese friends, only to be comforted by almost uncontrollable laughter. It turns out they are all fake.

At least some of them (like the ones pictured above) shoot BBs (still dangerous in my book). Though, I'm puzzled by the larger guns, such as the sniper rifles. A sniper BB rifle is a pretty hardcore BB gun. Perhaps some of them are just for show.

But one thing is certain:  they all look genuine. Not one of them is painted neon green or orange. Even more surprising is that the main consumers appear to be children. Even after discovering that the guns aren't real, it is still frightening to come across an 8-year-old boy running around with an AK-47.

Still, I can't blame them. I most certainly would have bought one (or two, or three) if I grew up here. 

This boy and his friends all bought their own guns. Actually, even more concerning, their parents probably bought the guns for them. They go on "missions" together.

I wanted to get a picture of them all together, but recently they swapped their guns for roller-blades. Maybe it was just a fad?

But the guns have their own share of adult fans, too. I really wish I had my camera with me two weeks ago. I was walking up a long, uphill street when all of a sudden a grown, 26-ish-year-old man came running full-speed down the middle of the street holding a giant sniper rifle.  China never gets boring.

But some guys think it's a bother to carry around a 4-foot-long gun. After all, they don't conceal well. That is when a glock comes in handy.

Still, I wonder. Could it be that there are legitimate guns secretly mingled with the decoys? Could this all be an underground, international conspiracy to arm the nations most dangerous criminals?

When I tried to take a picture of the guns one man was selling, he freaked out, put his hand over my camera, and started yelling at me. Since that incident, I haven't seen anyone selling guns. Everyone is gone again.

What a coincidence.

On another note, does anyone have any suggestions how to get a small rifle through airport security? Surely they'll believe me when I assure them that it's not real, right?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Five Random Blurbs

- One -

I spent five  minutes running around my room trying to kill a GIANT fly with one of my textbooks. Seriously, this fly was as big as a bumble bee. It almost never landed.

But because this fly was so big, it flew quite slow. So, my strategy was to literally bat it in the air with my textbook, then chase it to the place I knocked it to and smash it. Remarkably, the fly survived this multiple times. At one point I smashed it really hard, and when I lifted the book to see what happened to it, it was gone. Disappeared! A moment later I heard buzzing again.

But alas, it met it's match.

- Two -

I have had the classic Christmas song Winter Wonderland stuck in my head ever since I arrived here. At least three times a week I will catch myself humming/singing to it while I'm walking around campus.

I have no idea why this song originally embedded itself into my mind or why it won't get away. Wuhan is one of the "Four Furnaces" of China. The summers here are really hot. Maybe this phenomenon is a way for my body to cope with the heat.

All in all, it's not a bad song to get stuck in your head. There are much worse.

- Three -

I have seen a sudden surge in dogs recently. I've even gotten to pet a few. It's strange how some of them even look Chinese.

But along with cute, fun, people-loving dogs comes almost unbearable pangs of longing for her, my baby...

I'm coming Kiah!!! Just a little while longer. I know you've been thinking about me every day. I'll be home soon. Be strong!


- Four -

Yesterday I was eating in the cafeteria again. I was eating a bowl of three kinds of Chinese dishes mixed together. About two minutes into eating I discovered a hair in my food. I took it out...

...and kept eating. I was hungry, I didn't want to go get new food, and I'm pretty sure you can't get any disease from eating a piece of someone's hair. The heat kills the germs anyway, right?

So, I kept on eating. About two minutes later I discovered a nail in the same food. A nail! Not a fingernail. A metal, pointy, hammer-into-a-piece-of-wood nail. I took it out...

...and kept eating. This is the kind of affect China has on a person.

After about another two minutes of eating I discovered a chicken claw in my food!

...oh, wait. That's supposed to be there. Never mind.

- Five -

Kids are fun(ny).