Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Trip to Dandong

So this last weekend I had the chance to go to Dandong with CET. Dandong is on the eastern edge of China surrounded by the Yellow Sea and North Korea. While we were there we stayed on an island named Daludao Island (which when literally translated means large deer island). Getting to and off the island threw a couple wrenches in our itinerary because the wind was too strong to get to the island the first day so we had to wait a few hours. Then the next day when we wanted to get off the island we had to wait most of the day because the wind was again too strong. The free time on the island was fun though. This island is apparently considered one of China's paradises and the writing a bus on the island said it was "China's Hawaii." Now I haven't been to Hawaii to compare at all, but this island was definitely beautiful and peaceful. My roommate and I during our first free time went and rented a tandom bicycle for an hour and had a great time filled with lots of laughter as, me being in the front, I attempted to keep from killing us both. After this excursion we went out with two other classmates and rode in sand buggy, which was rented by the circle, and then we rented an awesome four person bicycle. The four person bicycle was an absolute hoot and we successfully managed to get every person that passed us to stare at the two Americans and two Chinese people. I think they thought we were a bit crazy as we laughed the whole way down the street.
After getting off the island we headed to Dandong and had the night free to get dinner, etc. My roommate and I ate dinner with a large group and I enjoyed my first Korean food at a table where you sat on the floor. After dinner we all walked down to the river and we got our first look at North Korea. My first look was pretty interesting. Standing on the riverside you look across and see...a black abyss. Compared to the lit Dandong with building, street, and even bridge lights. North Korea really did look like nothingness. The most interesting part was how the colorful bridge lights ended at the North Korean half of the bridge.
The next day we made our way to the eastern most half of the Great Wall of China. I was incredibly excited and who wouldn't be excited to climb a wall that was built thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, I wish I had been warned ahead of time that along with climbing the Great Wall comes scaling a mountain! I should have been smart enough to put together that this being "Tiger Mountain Great Wall" it was not going to be any easy day hike. The beginning of this Great Wall is pretty deceiving too. It starts out as a nice sloped incline and then all of a sudden you come to a mountain wall that has stairs, and I think to myself "oh, those stairs aren't too long, this won't be too bad at all" not knowing that I can't really see all of the stairs because they immeadietly turn left and I find myself scaling steps that are abnormally deep and go on for what seems forever. As soon as you come to a landing you look up and see a ton more of steep steps. After a climb that was harder than expected I got to the top and it was well worth the climb. We were able to see North Korea from the top. (A little random thing about North Korea: in Chinese they do not refer to Korea as north and south. South Korea is simply Korea and North Korea is called Chao Xian. ) So after a nice view from the top we make our way back, but we don't go the way we came. We go the other way that eventually lead around the mountain itself and not actually on the wall. It was quite the surprise to first be walking down incredibly steep steps, that made someone without a fear of heights a little nervous, and then to find myself hiking a mountain on a dirt/rock trail that was bordered by mountain cliff on your left and a green fence on your right. The green fence was quite helpful when we found ourselves practically rock climbing. :) All in all it was a great experience and quite the workout all at the same time.
After the Great Wall we got an up close and personal look at North Korea by boat on the river that divides the two countries. Then after lunch we headed back to Harbin. The train ride back was pretty fun because I was succesfully able to learn how to play new card games in Chinese, granted the practice rounds and the showing with the cards helped alot.

I have officially been here for a little more than a month and I am now in my fifth week of classes. It's pretty wild to think that in a couple weeks my midterms will be here and then soon after that my finals. Time is beginning to go a lot faster here as I have gotten into a routine with school. Now I'm at that point where there are so many things I want to do and see around the city that I don't know if I'll actually get to see them all, but I still do have a lot of time here. Anyways, that's all for this update. I love and miss you all.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I Learned Something New Today...

So this morning at about 9:00am in my conversation class, we were taking a short break and I began to hear sirens outside. I quickly asked my teacher what it was and come to find out they were air-raid sirens. She proceeds to tell us that today is 9-18 and that in 1937 on this day, Japan invaded China from the north and made their campaign down to Beijing. She said that Japan had come saying they wanted to "help" China, but instead they attempted to take over the country for its resources. So every year on 9-18 in order to remember what Japan did, China sets off their air-raid sirens. My teacher said that if Japan were to apologize, China would stop remembering, but to this day Japan has yet to apologize. I found it incredibly interesting to find out that China and Japan still did not like each other very much. So anyways that's what I learned. I hope you find it interesting.

Other interesting stuff that I've encountered/come across...
If for some reason you ever decide to come to China, particularly Harbin, and want to take the bus, here is how to successfully survive using the bus system. First, get over any sense of a bubble. This is the most important thing because every single bus is always full to the max and it is squished standing room only. The only limit I've noticed to how many people can be on a bus is if you physically can not get on the bus because there is absolutely no room. (This actually happened to a group of us once.) Next thing to know is that the bus will not wait for you, whether you're getting on or off. If you want to get on the bus you'd better know exactly what number bus, and as soon as you see it you follow it till it stops completely then join the mad dash to get in. You have to be kind of pushy to get on because you don't want the bus driver to leave without you, and you have to be standing by the door with your money ready as soon as it stops. To get off the bus you must make an attempt to move through the sea of people to the back of the bus where the exit is, about one stop before you need to get off. When you reach your stop be sure to move quickly to get off because if the driver doesn't see anyone trying to get off within a few seconds of stopping and there's no one getting on he will leave before you can get off. If the doors do close before you get a chance to get off you can yell in Chinese "xia che" and the bus driver will open the doors. Be careful though, I've observed the bus driver get very upset at someone not getting of the bus quickly enough. Lastly, while riding on the bus be sure to hold on tight because the bus does a lot of jolting and stopping due to the crazy traffic. If you're not paying enough attention you could go flying forward. (This actually happened to me, it was pretty entertaining.) So now you all know how to ride a Harbin bus, and since you all know you should come and visit me now. :)

Classes are still going well, still challenging, but I'm learning lots. I bought a Chinese copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and I'm looking forward to attempting to tackle it. I'm liking the food here, but it's definitely interesting trying new food items because I never really know what I'm eating. I think I've begun to adjust to life here. I still have a lot to learn about how to live in a city though. It's a far cry from the small, quite town of Pullman. Love you all!


Monday, September 15, 2008

My First Chinese Holiday

So this Sunday was 中秋节(zhong qiu jie) or mid-autumn festival. It was quite the ordeal and was really fun. For the past month there have been people everywhere selling mooncakes. Mooncakes are these little round bread things that are filled with stuff. The filling can be pretty much anything. So far I've eaten a green tea mooncake, a red tea mooncake, a white lotus mooncake, a sesame mooncake, a coconut mooncake, and a bite of an unknown mooncake. The filling is generally kind of a jelly-like consistency but more just like a mashed up something. The taste is definitely different and some are better than others. I liked the white lotus mooncake the best, but it is still something I would not eat everyday.
In China this holiday is generally a three day break and they compare it to our Thanksgiving in how big of a deal it is. Families are supposed to get together and eat food, mooncakes, drink alcohol, and enjoy the moon. Sunday night my roommate and I and four other people went to a big shopping street that is a pedestrian only street. At night the buildings are lit up. The combination of the lights and the crowds of people because it was a holiday made me feel like I was at Disneyland, along with the mickey ears and minnie mouse ballons that could be spotted frequently. We went there and ate some dinner at a very nice restaurant. Afterwards my roommate and I did some shopping, watched fireworks, took pictures, and enjoyed laughing together. There were a lot of people that were lighting these wishing lamps that had a flame at the bottom so the lamp would float like a hot-air ballon. After hanging out watching fireworks my roommate and I took a taxi back to the campus and bought ourselves some mooncakes. We ate the mooncakes in our room and watched a little TV while I studied. I had school the next day so I had to go to bed earlier than she did. :(

This weekend I was able to get out and see a lot more of the city. I didn't understand how big this city actually is. I've spotted my first and second Mcdonald's so far. I've also seen their Wal-mart. They have a lot of Russian stores here and a lot of Russian looking buildings. I'm looking forward to exploring the expance of the city and finding all the fun places to go and see. The weather is starting to get a little cooler here already. It's cool in the mornings and evenings, but still in the seventies during the middle of the day. We get thunder storms pretty often here, and by that I mean we've had maybe three or four since I've been here. I'm taking a calligraphy class now, and that's been really fun. So far I've only learned how to make a dot :) I like my roommate alot and as my ability to communicate increases we are able to bond more and more. Classes are still pretty challenging, but I've decided it's good for me.
I think that's all I've got for now. I love you and miss you all!!


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Observations for a rainy day

So this morning it rained a lot, and I made some more observations that I've added to my growing list of cultural observations. I thought I would share the ones I can think of with you.

1. EVERYONE uses umbrellas. I find this one kind of entertaining because coming from a state that supposedly rains the most, we hardly ever use umbrellas. I find this one very practical though and it makes walking in the rain quite a bit less miserable.

2. If you are a foreigner expect to be stared at wherever you go. Walking down the street or minding your own business in a supermarket you are being stared at. It's not the worst thing in the world, but it can definitely remind you that you stick out like a sore thumb. :)

3. They have a Chinese version of pizza here. It's interesting how they have taken the concept of pizza and put very irregular toppings on it. It tastes good, but I never would have thought that a pizza with either curry or corn would taste good before.

4. Chinese people like buffets...I thought that was only an American thing.

5. There is a lot more PDA between couples here than I expected to see, but still conservative compared to what you might see in the states.

6. You can't take your bag with you into a shopping store. They have these giant cubby things with a door on each cubby that you have to put your stuff in before going in to a grocery/supermarket type store. You also can't take any drinks or food in.

7. I have yet to see a Mcdonalds here....I've seen one KFC, but no Mcdonalds yet.

8. They do sell forks and spoons here. I definitely wasn't expecting that, however in the cafeterias they have a giant chopstick dispenser. Kind of like a straw dispenser but for chopsticks.

9. If you are a foreigner you are easily memorable and people you buy from have a high likely hood to remember you.

10. Taxis are cheap.

11. I haven't seen grass, but there are quite a few beautiful willow trees here.

12. They use chalk boards here in the classrooms. It feels like a flashback to elementary school.

13. They sell lots of tea here. :) and bubble tea too for those that like it.

14. It's different being able to walk to class in about two minutes and not have to scale any hills to get there. :) The largest hill on campus is nothing but a slight slope, and I mean slight. I will have to rebuild my cougar calves in a year.

15. There are a lot more buildings on this campus than I thought. They are really close together and it's a little confusing because things look different from a window than from the ground.

That is all that I can think of for now. I hope you all enjoy these few observations. Till next time. :)


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My first week in Harbin.

Hey everybody! So I have finished my first week of classes and I have officially been in China for a little more than a week. So far it has been difficult to adjust to living in a new country and speaking a foreign language 24/7. They told us it would be hard though, and it should get better in another week or so. The city of Harbin is fairly large and has some cool underground shopping areas. There are also lots of people and a fair amount of Russians. Walking outside reminds me of being in New York. The pedestrians don't have the right of way, but you can also cross where ever you want. In some of the cross walks it's pretty much a battle between person and car for who gets the right of way. If there are enough people to stop the car, the people win. If it's only a few people, you pretty much dodge cars to get across the street. The city buildings and such are necessarily appealing to the eye, but the inside of many buildings are pretty nice. I have a video up on facebook that shows what driving is like.

I have a total of four classes, and all but my one on two class are two hours long. So every week I have 21 hours of class. My earliest class starts at 8 and my latest class ends at 5. My teachers are difficult to understand because they speak quickly and use a lot of words and structures that I haven't learned yet. I've already had to learn several new words to express things I already knew how to express. For example, we all learned homework as "gongke" but here they say "zuoye." I'm taking a Newspaper class, a Conversation class, a one on two drill, and a one on one tutorial. The one-on-one tutorial will be the hardest because the words I have to know are far beyond the "hi, my name is..." words, but so far I have been successfully learning about economics in the class.

The food here is pretty good. I've only eaten a few things so far that I don't like. The only difficulty is it's hard to tell exactly what I'm eating. I'm sure though that sometimes it's better not to know. The cafeterias are nice and to pay for your food each counter that has food has a machine that is like the pay pass machines. So, you tell them what you want, they type it in the machine, and then you touch your card to the machine and you've paid for your food. The lunch rush is huge so you have to be kinda quick and decide what you want or it will all be gone. You can also buy some food and everything else you might need at the grocery type store on campus.

The campus is pretty big and it took me a while to notice how many buildings there are and how tall and close together they are. It is definitely a far cry from the WSU campus but it will end up being home for a while for me. The campus is gated, but I've never seen the gates closed. The dorm is the international dorm and has several floors. I'm on the fourth floor. Today I successfully did my first load of laundry in a foreign country. :)

So I think this is all for now. I hope I have answered everybody's initial questions. I miss and love you all!