Saturday, March 28, 2009

So far

I've got some time on my hands, so I'll do a little recap of some of the main events that have happened for me in 2009 so far:

  • The first school semester came to an end -- with it was a dinner that the department paid for to reward it's employees for their hard work. Wisely, I brought a camera.

The biggest table I've sat at so far. Before everyone sat down, they made a huge deal out of me and Michael sitting down first, and made sure that we sat facing the door. The location of your seat and the order in which you sit is apparently a sign of respect. We just wanted some grub.

Michael knew what he was getting into. He's done this before. Me.... I sorta had an inkling, but it was made immediately clear as soon as I tasted a microscopic amount of bai jiu (white wine). The bai jiu they make in China fucks you up.

A dinner like this isn't really a dinner. I mean, for me it is. I calmly sit down, taking as much of the food in as I could, drinkin a little bai jiu here and there... This dinner started with a table-wide toast, then some more toasting between certain employees at the table, and then everyone sat down, which was my cue to eat. Mostly everyone else, though, walks around the table with the glass of bai jiu in their hand, toasting each other for a job well done.

It takes about 30 minutes before everyone's wasted. The older guys from my office who can't speak a word of English start to give me cigarettes, which there's no way for me to refuse politely, so I take them and try to not look like a joker. The little girl in this picture definitely made a toast with me, which was not fair at all cuz I had this monstrously alcoholic drink, and she had orange juice or something. Michael and I enjoy a good drinking time, so this kinda thing only boosts our image in the eyes of our coworkers. Drinking is always a great way to bond with the people you associate with.

  • New foods -- I was able to scratch many different items off of the "things I have never eaten" list. My ballpark guess is around ten. I am also becoming a big fan of "huo guo" style restaurants. Huo guo means "hot pot." You get this sesame paste on the side as a dipping sauce... it kinda tastes like peanut butter except it's a bit more liquid. My bosses took me to a huo guo place before the holiday where I ate a bunch of really crazy crap.

It's probably pretty obvious how this works. They give you a plate of some ingredient, e.g. potatoes, lotus root, thin slices of meat, cabbage, tofu, etc., and then you let the ingredient settle in the hot pot for an amount of time of your choosing. Root vegetables stay in the pot for 5-10 minutes, while the meat and leafy vegetables usually only takes about 30 seconds to cook (the meat is in very thin slices). Remember though, this place was pretty fancy, so there were more unusual ingredients being offered. First, beef lung. Really wish Mr. Dong hadn't told me what that was. This actually isn't that fancy of an ingredient, but in some places in China it is a delicacy. Second, Hard boiled quail egg. I've always wanted to try these and they were good! I mean, they were basically just like normal eggs, but smaller. Third, and most disgustingly, duck blood. I know, it doesn't make sense. It was explained to me by Steven as duck blood, I checked to see if he knew what blood meant, and he definitely knew. I don't know what to say about this. It actually wasn't bad. I'm never eating it again, but not bad.

Oh yeah and that's sea cucumber. Pretty special thing to eat apparently, but disturbing as hell to eat an entire animal, let alone one that looks like that. When you eat it, you can feel every detail... it's smooth exterior, thick gelatinous skin, and "ambrulacal feet" covered underbelly.

  • Gym -- I've gained about 7 pounds since the beginning of the year, and am about 7 pounds away from my arbitrarily chosen target weight of 77 kg (170 lbs). I've been pretty true to my new year's resolution so far, going to the gym at least 4 times a week since early February. Though I'm still drinking more coke than I want... baby steps I guess.

  • Poker -- I play poker about once a week. I haven't lost money in a long time. In fact, I haven't needed to go to an ATM for cash in about a month. I don't joke around when I'm playin. I mean I joke around, just, I like winning.

  • Chinese -- I have a tutor, she's been teaching me a ton of stuff, not only about the language, but also about the geography, culture, etc. I think it's a good investment at this point, cuz I really think my speaking is coming along quickly. The language has a bunch of hard words to memorize, but a lot of words are just simple combinations of other words. For example, Cell phone = shǒu jī = "hand machine." That's a pretty logical connection. Another example, bread = miàn bāo = "noodle bag". Bread can easily be seen as a noodle bag. For some reason I am pretty good at memorizing sounds (probably a result of my line-memorizing days in theater class), so I'm at the point now where I can talk to people for extended periods. Of course I sound like a clown, but they're very tolerant of my inability.

  • And finally, I decided to stay in China for another year. The why would take too long to explain...I guess simply put, I like it here. I want to find out how I can use what I know, what the long term plan should be for me, and how best to go about doing that. But nowadays, these things revolve around my head with another idea -- finding out how I can do all that in a place like this. I don't know what I'll find out, but these days, I'm starting to feel strangely confident about how my future is starting to shape out. Very odd indeed hehe

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wuda making news

The big news around campus is about a mother and daughter, who recently visited the campus to have their pictures taken under the cherry blossoms. Perfectly normal -- the only problem was that these Chinese women were sporting Japanese Kimonos (which, btw, are hot as hell if you ask me). They were verbally harassed to a harsh extent, enough that my boss (Mr. Dong) felt ashamed on behalf of the university.

The event really brings to light the awkwardness of these trees. I guess I'd never really thought about the context that much... I mean they're so beautiful, people pay to get into the university to visit them. The university advertises them in their brochures and website. And yet, they can be seen as a symbol for a very dark period in China's history, one which has certainly not been forgotten. Many older Chinese people still feel a strong bitterness towards the Japanese, and the relationship is certainly awkward to say the least.

Mr. Dong tried to explain the situation to me. He read an article which wondered if the students took it one step further. These trees, like Kimonos, symbolize Japan. So the article raised the issue: if it's ok to harass people wearing Kimono's, it suggests that what has happened in the past between Japan and China should be eschewed, in which case the cherry blossoms should be cut down from the campus. Although the trees serve as a beautiful, although disturbing, reminder of what occured, I'm sure most people agree that what happened should not be forgotten, and that their patriotism can be more displayed in more respectful ways. After all, that's what the article told them to think... :)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

You know it's Spring in Wuhan when...

Small history lesson: In 1938, the Japanese and Chinese were in the middle of the second Sino-Japanese War. As both Beijing and Nanjing had been taken by Japan, Wuhan became the wartime capital of China because it was a hub of industry and transportation (having both the Yangtze River and several important railways). The Japanese predicted that the fall of Wuhan would be too harsh a blow to the Chinese, who had already succumbed much of their country to Japanese control. Thus gave way to the battle of Wuhan, a major battle which ended in Japan victory. The Japanese military chose the most beautiful area of the city to set up shop -- Wuhan University.

So the school is pretty famous for its beauty -- The architecture has a unique style, the university is built around a mountain and next to a lake, and the plant life is as various as it is pretty. BUT, as if it wasn't beautiful enough, every year around this time, the cherry blossoms that the Japanese planted here begin to unfold. People from all over come to the campus to see them.

I took some photos cuz I told my dad I would as a way to do something for his birthday, so here are some of the highlights:

The rest are here

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just to get the wheels movin again...

It's been awhile... There is some good to it though -- I've been keeping myself pretty busy for the last few months.

The social life's changed a lot. I've met several expats through poker games, business dinners, and sometimes just an odd circumstance. The two guys I hang out most with are chris and johnny, because the three biggest ways I enjoy spending my free time here are also their favorite things to do -- poker, frisbee, and going to the gym. They also live very nearby.

They're both nice guys. Chris is from North Carolina, went to Haverford, and is teaching at a university like me. He's very charming and definitely a talker, but despite this, he finds himself getting people a little uncomfortable and sometimes angry at him. Johnny was born in China, moved to New York when he was seven, and came back to Wuhan after college for studying, though he still works as a teacher. Johnny is in great shape -- he goes to the gym very often and is really into frisbee and poker. He's definitely a smart guy and likes to control and set up things. Both of them have sortof been showing me the ropes of life around here.

It ain't all sunshine though. When my little sister got her first job, she was being shown around by her boss, a person whom she could immediately tell didn't respect her. She was introduced to a few of her coworkers, "Hey guys, this is Mimi. She's the new girl here, so she doesn't really know anything." Hehe. But it's kinda the same feeling when I'm with these guys. The conversations are usually more about them educating me about what impressions they have of life around here than anything else. That's fine, but the problem is that I'm not being perceived as a peer. If I try to talk about something else, it's quickly extinguished. If I try to tell a story, I get halfway through it.

I wish I was a clever writer. I'd probably try writing a book about living here and the relationships I've made. The clever part would come when I'd subtly indicate that my interactions with the Chinese people and with the Americans here are equal in the sense that a lot of what I say is falling on deaf ears. The Chinese, because they can't understand what I'm saying, and the Americans, because they don't really care. There's some strange common bond between the majority of people here that I'm still trying to figure out. Maybe it's because they're all teachers who, like me, spend the majority of their time preaching to a bunch of people who can't fully comprehend what they're saying. Or maybe it's because they're all americans, I mean I guess it used to be pretty hard to find people who listened well.

Don't worry though, there are exceptions. It's funny that the person whom I most enjoy talking to is still Ms. Han, who's command of English is, at best, basic. She still gets most of my social time, and deservedly so. She's a beam of energy, and is always smiling despite her shitty as hell job. I bring her flowers pretty regularly just to keep charming her for being such a great friend.

Other than all that drama, and teaching, the next biggest time-eater is that I'm getting tutored in Chinese. A girl, Li, comes over to my house twice a week for about 40 rmb/hour. My latest big accomplishment with Chinese -- talking with a cab driver for the entire ride to class.

Not sure what else to say. I'm still enjoying my time here very much. I guess I should say that I'll try very hard to get back to the pace of updating that I was goin at before. It's still pretty interesting to live here i guess :)