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.