A Travellerspoint blog

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sunny 79 °F

Sorry I haven't written all week! I was going to last night, but my sister wanted to use the computer.
Wow, this is going to be a novel because I have 7 days of adventures to share.
So I wrote down little bullet points of everything that happened this week, and I can't find the notebook I wrote it in. Why does this always happen to me?! arghh. I found it!! It was about a foot and a half away from me. fail.

Last Saturday

My phone was out of minutes (again), which was kind of freaking me out. My phone is a security blanket for me. I survived though. I went to lunch at Pizza Hut with 6 other girls from our Harbin group for Bekah's birthday. We planned to go to a theme park after lunch, but the weather looked questionable, and the price of admission was about $20--more than any of us wanted to pay to go to a Chinese amusement park. Instead, we went shopping on Central Street, the main street in Harbin which has lots of shopping and Russian architecture (and Russian people). We found a little underground shopping market and bought some stuff there. Bekah decided to get her eyebrow pierced. I watched, and I didn't even flinch :D. I was however a little worried by the sanitation factor (it IS China...and piercing...), but it turned out fine. She was really brave. We met a Canadian and an Australian at the little place where she got her eyebrow done. They're hear teaching English. It's always nice to see friendly foreigners! (unless they're creepy...I'll get to that later). After shopping, my sister picked me up, and we went to my host dad's dinner. It was a lot of fun. Everyone was super happy (my host dad is always happy actually) and I got to practice my Chinese a lot. I talked to the woman sitting next to me a bit, and I had some really good (mostly Chinese) conversations with my sister. I told her who Steve Irwin was and how he died, we talked about where I want to travel in the future, how to get into university in the States (here the test determines everything), and a few more things I can't remember off the top of my head. Soon enough, I looked at the clock and it was 8:31. I was supposed to be home to Skype with my parents at 8:30....oops! Sorry Mom & Daddy. I did get to Skype once I got home though, so it was all good.

Sunday

We were all told to meet at school at 8:30 AM on Sunday to meet with a woman from the American consulate. I expected some Hillary-esque diplomat/politician who would tell us about the Department of State and ask us questions about of our experiences, but instead was greeted by a young, fresh out of Cornell, Department of State intern who spoke minimal Chinese. She didn't tell us anything about the Department of State. She asked us about our experience, but she didn't seem to have enough information about it to know exactly which questions to ask. I felt a little badly for her because she was sent to do a job for which she probably was not the most qualified individual...which wasn't her fault at all. Anyways, after that event, I had to go exchange money. I went to one bank where they took my passport and money for about ten minutes then brought back my money, passport, and a copy of my passport, and told me that I needed to go to the Bank of China. So I (along with two school friends) went to the Bank of China, which was right down the street, and successful got some RMB, Chinese money. Afterwards, Alexis, Maggie, and I went shopping at Big World (Da Shi Jie) a giant six-floor market. I bought lots of random, cheap stuff like gel pens and also some touristy stuff to bring home. The shopkeepers on the first floor were kind of stingy and didn't want to bargain with us waiguoren, foreigners, (or maybe they just didn't want to bargain at all?), but we had more luck on the upper floors. Maggie went home afetr we all left Big World, and Alexis and I went to McDonalds. I had an incredibly nutritious and filling meal: French fries and a chocolate milkshake. I had forgotten how good McDonald's milkshakes are. I think I have been to Pizza Hut and McDonald's more times in China in the past month than I typically do in an entire year in the States. After eating, we left McDonald's and walked out to the street. I looked to the right and saw a guy dressed in a military uniform about 40 yards away. I looked at Alexis quizzically and said, "That looks like my driver. Wouldn't that be funny if that were....Alexis, what the heck. That's my driver...Nihao, Li Zhi Chao (Hello, Li Zhi Chao)!" Alexis got in a cab and went home, a little confused I'm sure. I asked Li Zhi Chao why he was in this area (it wasn't really close to my house, so it was just strangely coincidental that he was there.) He said that he was waiting for my mother and sister, who were shopping, and that he did not know when they would return. I asked him if I could wait in the car and then go home when they finished shopping; he said I could wait in the car, but he had to take Yitong, my sister to class (she takes math and Chinese classes during the summer), and then he didn't know where my mom wanted to go. Long story short, I avoided paying taxi fare to get home, and only had to wait about 15 minutes :D. Nothing much else happened that day, and I went to sleep at 8:30, I think. Hen zao, so early.

Monday

Monday was Bekah's actual birthday, and her family wanted everyone to come over for dinner. First, everyone wanted to go to Big World...even though 3 of us had been the day before. After that adventure, we tried to hail taxis to go to Bekah's house, but it was rush hour, so no one wanted to pick us up. Also, it's difficult for a lot of us to get taxis because Chinese people sometimes think we're Russian, and a lot of the people in Harbin don't like the Russians who live here because they are a little standoffish (from my experience, and this is not true of all of them), and they generally don't know any Chinese. Olivia, Maggie, and I ended up hailing a pedicab. If you don't know what a pedicab is, try googling a picture. It's basically a three wheeled cart-type vehicle with one open side. It's not exactly safe. It was so much fun though. I took several videos on my camera of riding in the pedicab, but they are all really shaky because we flew out of ours seats every time we went over bumps in the road. I did not, however, catch on video the part of this ride during which the driver drove onto the sidewalk and almost annihilated some elderly women. It was very GTA-esque. Oh, I wish I had that on video. Anyways, the guy initially took us to school because the addresses of school and Bekah's house were written on the same paper, and he got confused. By the time he actually got to Bekah's, the fare was 70 kuai--a little over $10 and WAY more than a taxi. I don't know why this fare was so exponentially higher than that of a taxi :(. We risked our lives by riding in a pedicab, and we had to pay more for it. Lame. Anyways, Bekah's mom gave us really good food, and amazing chocolate cake with actual real frosting, not that strange whipped cream stuff that passes as frosting here. We sang and some people played the piano for a bit. Then, we watched Inglorious Basterds (It's actually spelled that way), which is, by the way, an absolutely incredible movie. The whole evening felt very American and just...comforting.

Tuesday

On Tuesday, my sister and her friend, Tian Tian, and I were supposed to go to a celebration at the military base. Wow. I just deleted a huge chunk of this post. That sucks. Continuing on...once we got to the base, we discovered that the celebration was already over. The new plan was to stay for dinner. I had eaten there once before, and the food was decent, so I was onboard with this plan until we sat down and nearly all of the food was seafood. I looked at Tian Tian and Yitong and said, “Wo bu chi rou (I don’t eat meat).” While they already knew this, my announcement alarmed them, and they told all of the adults that I don’t eat seafood. The adults replied that I could eat peanuts or whatever other miniscule vegetarian offering was on that table. I was fine with that because I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, but Tian Tian and Yitong were concerned that I might starve or something, so they told me that we would go eat outside (at a restaurant). I left with them, and later discovered that our leaving upset the soldiers (including Yitong and Tian Tian’s fathers). I felt guilty, but I guess it wasn’t totally my fault. Tian Tian asked if I wanted to go eat at Pizza Hut, but I had already eaten there about 34728947 times that week, or so it seemed. I asked if we could go to a hot pot restaurant because I had never been to one, and I was feeling particularly adventurous. At a hot pot restaurant, each person (or sometimes there is only one per table) is given a small pot heated by coals for cooking food. Each person puts the food he or she wants to eat in the liquid in the pot and the food is cooked. It’s actually pretty fun. However, I tried eating it, and it tasted like chicken broth. I don’t know whether it was or was not, but the possibility made me lose my appetite. I sat there eating raw lettuce by the pound (okay, not really, but I ate a ton of it). I told my sister that the salad was really good. She gave me a funny look and told me that it wasn’t salad because it didn’t have anything in it (true). I also lectured her about not drinking enough water…so that was an all-around interesting meal. After dinner, we headed home, and then we drove past home. I really had to go to the bathroom by this point because I had spent half of dinner drinking massive amounts of water since I didn’t really have anything to eat, and I had to do something. So this was karma’s way of laughing at me for telling my sister to drink more water, I guess. I asked my sister where we were going, and she said we were going to her father’s workplace to get medicine for her foot. It took about 15-20 minutes L. By the way, foot medicine for a sprained ankle is apparently goo taken from what appears to be a vegetable and smeared on the foot.

Wednesday

Another interesting day! At lunch at school every day, the eleven of us eat in a room on the side of the cafeteria. The table is a typical Chinese food table: it spins, and the food is shared, family style. The food they serve us every day is bland at best (rice) and of questionable edibility at worst (unidentifiable foodlike objects) On Wednesday, we realized that there is a KFC, a McDonalds, and a Pizza Hut very close to campus, so we made our escape plan. Our biggest dilemma was that we did not want to offend the cooks, who were eager to please the waiguoren. Jordan devised a game to solve the problem: Food Roulette. We spun the table, and we had to take a scoop of whichever dish stopped in front of us and take at least one bite. After repeating twice five or so times, it looked as if we had thoroughly enjoyed our meal. Thanks, Jordan, for saving our stomachs in a rather entertaining fashion. Alexis, Maggie, Lauren, and I walked to KFC for lunch. I wasn’t even hungry after Food Roulette, but I wanted to get off campus anyways. I ordered an ice cream and ate that and Alexis’ fries. When we sat down, we noticed something completely out of the ordinary: the man seated behind us, with an ordinary Chinese fellow, was not only a waiguoren, but he was also a heiren (black man)!! This was like finding a kanagaroo in a Minnesotan suburb. It was unexpected, and a little bit exotic. The only foreigners we ever saw were Russians. He introduced himself as a South African man who came to teach English here at a university. We all talked for a bit and then went back to our own meals and conversations. When he stood up to leave, he stopped at our table. Him: “I am going now. It was nice to meet you!” Us: “Yeah, it was nice to meet another friendly foreigner!” Him: “Would you like to help teach English?” Let me pause here and tell you that another man had approached us with the same proposition just a couple days earlier, but that man was Asian, not a foreigner, and he had addressed Jordan, not four girls. Something seemed a little off, but I couldn’t decide what yet. The idea of helping teach English was appealing to all of us! Him: “Can you write down your phone numbers, and we can meet again to discuss teaching English?” Maggie and Lauren wrote down our numbers, but, (and I’m getting this feeling again just writing about it) I had a weird feeling about it, so I changed the last number of my phone number when I wrote it down. Alexis wrote down her number even though I tried to nonverbally tell her not to do so. Him: “So can you all meet later tonight to talk about this?” Maggie: “We need to talk to our teachers to see if we are allowed to because we’re not supposed to have jobs.” Him: “Great, so I will give you a call. Maybe I can show you all around. I can take you to a club. You can meet many foreigners there--Russians, blacks. It will be lots of fun. Drinks on me.” Me: “Um, we have to get up early every day. We can’t stay out late. We have school.” Maggie: “Yeah, we’re only in high school.” Him: “I understand, you’re students. Would it be too late for you to stay out till about twelve?” Us: “We have host families. They don’t want us to stay out late.” Him: “Oh no. That’s not good. I thought you were living at school. So you cannot stay out late…well, when can we meet again to talk?” Maggie: “We need to talk to our teachers first about teaching English.” Him: “Okay. I will give you a call. Goodbye, nice to meet you.” And then he left. The thing that worries me the most about that situation is that I was the only one who had the intuitive sense to not give him my number. Everything will be fine; they won’t answer if he calls, and we told an AFS volunteer who speaks fluent English, but it was an educational experience for all. In the afternoon, we had a Chinese scavenger hunt at a mall instead of having a culture class. For the hunt, we had to find out how to say American brand names in Chinese. It was a fun change of pace. After school, Alexis, Maggie, Lauren, and I decided to hang out . Lauren and Maggie wanted to go to a Chinese bookstore, but Alexis and I were uninterested (we can’t read that many characters), so we parted ways there. Alexis and I saw the theme park in the distance, so we decided to walk towards it just to see how far away it was. It was pretty far. Eventually, we lost sight of it in the midst of trees and skyline. We stopped at a Russian billiards hall to use the restroom, and the Chinese attendant seemed thrilled to have some waiguoren guests who were not Russian. She seemed sad that we weren’t actually staying to play billiards. By this time, we had been walking quite a ways, and we decided to take a taxi to go get 30 kuai massages. We found a taxi, and it dropped us off, but I couldn’t remember how to find the entrance to the place (it’s kind of out of the way). I called my sister and asked her, so she sent the driver there. He picked us up in the car, and literally drove ten feet. It was completely unnecessary, and made me feel dumb, but I got a laugh out of it at least. After the Chinese massages, we contemplated eating dinner (it was 6PM by this time), but neither of us were hungry, so we just walked to…we didn’t exactly have a destination or a sense of direction. We ended up at a Carre Four store where we bought some chocolate and juice. There was a Pizza Hut, a KFC, and a McDonalds there, but we didn’t feel like eating dinner. We sat at an outdoor plaza eating our chocolate and drinking our juice while listening to some live renditions of foreign songs (including a Chinese version of the Numa Numa song…strange). We got bored of the performances and walked around some, and didn’t end up going home until eight-something. And we never ate dinner. Lol. By the way, I’m going broke because of taxis. I had a 40 kuai (only $6, but it adds up) taxi ride home. I think the guy scammed me.

Thursday

Thursday was not the best day ever, but it was livable. People were just getting on my nerves a bit. I ate lunch at Pizza Hut with Lauren, Maggie, and Alexis, but I wasn’t really hungry after playing Food Roulette. Alexis and I had plans to go to Big World after school, but those plans ended up being spoiled. A reporter from a local Harbin station came to interview us during our ping pong class, and decided she wanted to come home with me after school and interview me there. (Presumably because my host father is a high-ranking military official. She went to Bekah’s house the next day--maybe because she has a pretty singing voice and purple hair.) The reporter interviewed a few of us during ping pong class and then asked us to sing an American song together. There was a big debate about which song we should sing, which irritated me to no end. We are in China on a government scholarship. It would be almost irreverent to not sing the national anthem. After almost ten minutes of debating, we did sing the national anthem. Thank God. Anyways, Thursday was our last ever ping pong class. The handle of my paddle cracked, and I’m not even sure how. I was pretty happy though because I hate ping pong. I was barely holding the paddle together, and I could have just let it break, but I wanted its death to be epic. When the ping pong lao shi (teacher) called me over to play against him, the paddle smacked the ball and then smacked right onto the table…sans a handle. The teacher goes, “When did this happen?” Me: “Um, just now…you saw it happen.” Him: “No. When did it happen?” Me, through fits of laughter, “Just now. Ta se le! (It died).” Oh my goodness. It was amazing :D. He thought I did it on purpose. I wish I had thought of such a brilliant idea on my own, but I guess the paddle just felt unwanted and committed suicide or something. After school, the reporter woman came home with me. She interviewed me and my sister separately. She asked me what I want to be when I grow up and why, what I like about China, how I like my host family, etc. She told me I could answer in English if I could not answer in Chinese. I answered in about English about half of the time. I’m hoping the translations of me speaking are not intentionally altered once this airs. Then, she told me to sit on the couch and talk to my sister. Then she was like, “eat fruit. Laugh. Laugh again! Now go make noodles.” She wanted me to teach my sister how to make spaghetti on camera. During this process, she asked me, “Do you want to be a housewife when you grow up?” Anyone who knows me well is probably laughing right now. I looked at her and just said, “No.” She says, (this is the kicker, you guys), “Who will cook for you?” Me: “In the future, my husband and I will cook together, or I will marry someone who is good at cooking.” Haha. Yeah. Because I’m really going to learn how to cook…not happening! Plus, her logic was flawed. One can be a housewife and not cook or cook and not be a housewife. My sister said, “I do not know how to cook, but my mother says I am a girl so I should learn.” I don’t even remember what I said to that. Probably something like, “Yes, it’s important to know how to cook.” One more note on this day: just to illustrate how simultaneously out of hand and hilarious my class is, I’ll relay one funny incident. Anyone who has watched the Amanda Show probably remembers the girl who says “MER HER!” If you don’t remember, Youtube probably can remember for you. Bekah and Kenzie were making this noise in the middle of class rather loudly, and they asked Huang Lao shi, our teacher, to try to make it. She refused at first, so we all chanted, “Qing, qing qing qing!” (Please, please please please). Finally, she tried meekly, “mer her?” Then, she tried it again, a little louder this time. It was absolutely hilarious. I don’t know why no one recorded it. Funny things like that happen every day, but sometimes it’s frustrating because I feel like I’m the only one trying to pay attention and actually learn.

Friday

We had to get to school an hour earlier (7AM) on Friday because we went on a field trip to a Jin Dynasty museum. I ended up sleeping 20 minutes later than usual because I didn’t go running. The museum was not too interesting, but it got us out of whatever culture class we would have had that day (stone carving/paper cutting/calligraphy/ping pong). The bus ride was about a little over an hour each way. I was entertained by chatting with Li Lao shi’s six year old daughter, whose vocabulary is only a little more advanced than mine. For lunch, we ate at a jiao zi (steamed dumpling…Google it) restaurant. It was hao chi, delicious. We had Chinese class in the afternoon instead of the morning on Friday since we had gone on a trip in the morning. The last half of class went to heck though because the reporter was there. A few girls did a dance to “Bye Bye Bye,” then some people rapped to “Mo Li Hua,” a traditional Chinese song. It was kind of embarrassing. Then, after the reporter left, some people asked Huang Lao Shi why reporting is the way it is in China, claiming that they will only report that we are the picture that they already have of Americans, and they will only present the picture of us that they like, not the real picture, and that this was not right. I could not believe they actually said this to the teacher. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I wanted to say, “This isn’t America. We don’t get to force American beliefs on people. Even if that were our purpose here, Huang Laoshi has nothing to do with how the media is run in China.” It just seemed inappropriate to me. It’s hard sometimes, but we all (including myself) have to be careful to not have “In my country, this is how we do things” moments. After school, I went to the movies with Yitong and Tian Tian. We saw a Chinese film called After Shock about a real earthquake that killed over 200,000 people in 1976. It followed the lives of the members of one fictional family affected by the quake. It had English subtitles, luckily. It wasn’t a word-for-word literal translation, but it was an excellent translation, nonetheless, and I understood all of it. It was an incredible movie, especially for a Chinese film (they don‘t exactly have Hollywood). I hope I can somehow find it in the States. It’s sad though. The movie theater workers actually hand out cloth tissues with the tickets. I didn’t cry, but Yitong, Tian Tian, and most of the other people in the theater did. After the movie, we went to Pizza Hut for dinner. I knew all of the songs playing over the speaker at the restaurant. I told Tian Tian that, in the States, Pizza Hut isn’t fancy, and we only have pizza, not all of these other foods (tofu skewers, salads, pasta, etc.). She was shocked. She was also shocked to discover that I had never heard of eating ketchup with pizza. I tried it, and it was gross. I don’t like ketchup anyways. I told her that many Americans like ketchup, but I do not. One more side note about yesterday--Disney is re-doing High School Musical with Asian actors. I saw a preview for it. I am not making this up. Also, my host dad slept at work last night. He does that a lot, and I’m not entirely sure why. I hope it’s not because there are too many people in the house with me here. I don’t share a room with my sister anymore. I don’t know why that is either.

Today--Saturday

Finally! I’m almost done with this sickeningly verbose post. I applaud you if you actually read this entire thing. Not much has happened today so far. I was supposed to go KTVing and then learn how to make jiao zi, but plans fell through. I went out to lunch with my family. I reached over to grab some rice (everyone shares dishes here), but my sister said, “No. You should finish the food you have first.” I pointed to one repulsively sweet pastry that I had taken one bite out of, “Wo bu xi huan zhe ge,” I don’t like this one. She says, “You should eat all of that bread. And the pastry. And (I don’t even remember what else I was supposed to eat). I ate all three pieces of bread. The bread was really good, but filling, and not exactly a nutrition spectacular, as my mom would say. I claimed to be “chi bao le,” full, after this. I think I upset my sister a little bit, and I’m hoping I didn’t upset my host parents. It’s not like I ordered all of this food though. They chose it, and they know I don’t eat much. They did ask me what I wanted, but I couldn’t read the menu, so it was a little difficult. After lunch, I went home, and my sister went to Chinese class. I don’t know where my parents are. I’ve been home alone all day relaxing. It’s kind of nice.

Peace.
Hey, guess what? 16 days.

Posted by saralovett 09:40 Archived in China Comments (8)

Avoiding Tigers

semi-overcast 82 °F

Wednesday
After school on Wednesday, a bunch of us wanted to go to a store called Big World that is supposed to be really cool and inexpensive. We (me, lauren, her sister, olivia, her sister, jordan, alexis, maggie, bekah) tried to get a taxi for a while, but apparently the taxis were not traveling to big world on that day(?)...I don't understand why. So we decided to take a bus because the sisters said it was a 20 minute walk. We're lazy Americans, so we waited for the bus. We sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the bus stop. We don't stand out at all! We waited for an eternity for the stupid bus, and we finally realized that maybe the sisters didn't know what they were talking about and that we should probably just walk. So we started walking, and after about 10 minutes, we got to a Carre Four (big grocery store type place with other stores on sub-levels...think unsanitary child of Wal-Mart and Costco). The two sisters told us that Big World closes in 30 minutes, so we decided there was no point in going. We decided to hang out at Carre Four instead. Bekah had to be home for dinner, so she left. The rest of us split up. Alexis and I (mostly me though) really wanted pizza, so we went to Pizza Hut (yes, I had dinner before 5PM). Pizza Hut is always pretty fancy in China, but this one was crazy high-class. THERE WAS EVEN A WESTERN TOILET. Three cheers for toilet paper and soap. We got a stuffed crust pizza, but it was thin crust, so it was just okay. I'm starting to remember that I don't really even like pizza. I just like the taste of Western nostalgia. Afterwards, Alexis and I looked in random stores. I tried to buy sunglasses, but they were about $10, and the lady wouldn't bargain, so that was a no-go. We went to another store where there was a cute bag, and the lady wouldn't bargain there either. I said "zai jian ke ai de bao!" (goodbye cute bag) before leaving the store. I was pretty much the saleslady's entertainment for the day. She went and told her friends what I said. Alexis and I also saw some really good Chinglish fail shirts. One had a random drawing of a girl and said "sin"...I had a nerd moment and was like "sine?! what the heck. Do they have a cosine shirt too?!" Alexis stares at me..."Sara, I think it's supposed to be "sin." Woah. I need to take a break here to interject...my house seriously smells like pee right now. I think it's some food that's cooking. Maybe it's fish? I hope it's something I don't eat. I'm scared. Moving on...we also saw a shirt that said "I'm ready!" in really big letters at the top, and the bottom said "to go to the beach and make brownie skins" in smaller letters. I think it was supposed to be about tanning. I couldn't decide what I liked most about that shirt. I'm kind of leaning towards the double entendre that only I understood. After we got bored with shopping, we tried to find the actual Carre Four store. We went down an escalator to a place I subsequently dubbed "Happy Fun World"...but maybe I should have called it "Sketchy place where small children play World." It was basically an ill-lit, smoke filled Chuck-E-Cheese minus the playground. It had some creepy looking doors with locks on them. Obviously, that's where they keep the bratty children. Why do we not have such doors in America? The sensory overload in that place was a little unbearable, so we ascended out of Happy Fun World. We finally got up to the level of the Carre Four store, and the first thing we saw (before entering the store) was a little manicure/pedicure kiosk. I look at Alexis, "Do you want to get a manicure?" Talk about spontaneity. I got a mani/pedi, and she got a manicure with a bunch of glittery stuff on it. I didn't even get color on my nails :p. It was overpriced for China but still really cheap for America. It took a long time, and afterwards, Alexis went to Carre Four to grab some juice and lemonade, and then we left. It was dark, and Alexis had never gone home alone in a taxi before, so I went with her. Afterwards, I was in the taxi alone in the dark on the way to my house. I've done that many times, but I was so much more comfortable with it in Shanghai because here I never know whether we're headed in the right direction. So that was pretty much my Wednesday. I got home at 9:18.

Thursday
I had plans to go shopping on Central Street (Big, Russianized walking street downtown) with Lauren, Alexis, and Maggie, but I was really tired and slightly sick, so I decided to text my sister and ask her to send the driver to come get me after school. When he showed up (my driver is really cool by the way), he said something about going somewhere that wasn't home, and I was getting extremely bummed because I did not cancel my plans so that I could go out somewhere else! I just wanted to take a nap. Eventually, he had me call my sister, who explained to me that we were going to my dad's military base. We would eat dinner there, and then we would go home. I tried to tell her that I was really tired, but nobody really cared :(. But they wouldn't really understand that even people who require next to no sleep in the real world need immense amounts of sleep when forced to speak difficult foreign languages all day long. So when I got there, my sister and dad had me take pictures with a bunch of military dogs (there were German shepherds, chow chows, golden retrievers, and random other dogs). Afterwards, they took me to see the military band. The band played just for me! It was cool/awkward. After they were done, Yitong had me take a picture with the conductor (who conducted with a big staff/rod thing). After that, she asked me who else I wanted to take a picture with in the band. She asked who I thought was handsome. None of them were handsome, but I wouldn't have told her even if they were. How awkward is that!? So the conductor decided for me and had me hold the conducting staff while taking photos with various band members. This must have gone on for 15 minutes. Afterwards, I was told that we were going to dinner, but that was a lie. We were going to look at more dogs. They were all really loud, and it wasn't really extremely interesting. Eventually (I stress that word), we went to a main building where I saw some military "museum" (really small, so it wasn't quite a museum). I found out that my dad is the current leader of his unit, and also, that a few years ago, there was a female leader. I think that's kind of cool...even though there was only one. Then, we got to eat dinner! I wasn't even hungry; I was just sick of walking around. We ate at a special table with cushy chairs :D. I still find it hard to believe that my dad is the head hauncho. He's about the size of a toothpick, and he's pretty short too. He's constantly smiling. Outwardly, he's a pretty amiable dude! I definitely can't imagine him going to war. After this event, we went home. I went to sleep around 9 :D.

Friday
Today, we were supposed to take a class trip to the Harbin tiger reserve after lunch. It's a big tourist attraction, but I really did not want to go. My real dad has been, and he said they starve the tigers, and people pay money to feed them live animals such as goats. I find that highly unnatural and disconcerting. Plus, whenever this topic came up among our school group, it created a huge uncomfortable disagreement between a few classmates and me. I decided it would be really convenient to get sick, but I didn't want to lie. Luckily, I actually seriously started getting a headache...which I think was primarily psychological. I could have survived it, but I was uncomfortable/tired/in pain, so I told my teacher that I had a headache and wanted to go home. I called my sister, and she asked if I needed to go to see a doctor or take medicine. I told her that I didn't need to see a doctor and that I don't like medicine. I just needed to sleep. I stayed in the classroom for a bit longer, but a lot of people were yelling during break time, and it wasn't really helping my headache, so I waited for my driver at the front gate. He finally got there and told me that I had to eat something. He pulled up in front of a Chinese restaurant and started to get out, so I decided to push my luck. I pointed to a McDonald's across the street and asked if I could eat there instead :D. He was like "sure, no problem!" (In Chinese). He told me he doesn't know what I like to eat, so I should go with him. I decided on fries and an Oreo McFlurry...mmm, more food of champions. I felt so spoiled eating American food in the car on the way home after leaving school early. My headache was already starting to go away. Once I got home, I took a nap for a few hours and then went on the computer to email and do college research. My mom randomly came home about 2 hours ago. She was visiting her father and was supposed to return on Tuesday. I hope he didn't die or anything. He is really sick because he has throat cancer. He doesn't have any vocal cords. I think my mom's return means that I have to share a room/bed again. Yitong has been sleeping in my parents' room this week. Not much else to say, so I hope you enjoy reading this.

Peace.

Posted by saralovett 23:35 Comments (6)

Halfway done, Halfway left

sunny

I don't really know what to write, but I haven't written in about a week, so here goes! My most exciting news has nothing to do with China, but I got my AP scores yesterday, and I was really happy about them especially my Statistics one. Hooray! That's not what this blog is about though haha. On Thursday, the Harbin kids took an overnight train to Beijing. The train was nicer than the previous trains we had taken because there were only 4 beds per car rather than 6, and there was an actual door to the room that we could close. I roomed with Alexis, Jordan, and a Chinese girl named Kelsey (we gave her an American name) who is going to Denmark. I really wanted to learn Danish after talking to her. Denmark sounds amazing :D. It's definitely in my top 5 on my travel wishlist. Anyways, we were all headed for the AFS volunteer conference in BaoDing, China. None of us actually knew what this was at the time, so I will tell the story chronologically and leave you in the dark as well. Anyways, we got to Beijing the next morning, and then we went to KFC for breakfast. Lots of random happenings occurred there: writing down the astrological signs in order with Alexis, talking to another foreigner...I don't remember where he was from, but he was Middle Eastern, talking to a Chinese boy who was probably 9 years old because he approached me spontaneously with his mother and talked to me in English (I subsequently asked him to take a picture with me), and eating an egg and cheese sandwich...with mayonnaise on it. After this eventful meal, we all went back into the train station and got on a train to BaoDing. This train had seats rather than beds because it was only an hour and a half ride. I watched the first half of Watchmen on my iPod with Alexis. We got out of the train (by the way, at this point we we are tired and stinky and just wanted to reach the destination...wherever that was...), and we were herded towards taxis. I ended up in a taxi with Joy and some lady who was presumably a chaperone. I asked where we were going...in Chinese of course...and she said a hotel (I think). Joy and I just kind of sat there for the next 15ish minutes hoping we weren't going to be kidnapped/raped. Finally, we got to the stupid hotel. We got a schedule, but it wasn't useful, and we weren't allowed to go to our rooms yet. The hotel people also made each room pay 100 kuai (roughly $17) which would be refunded at the end of the weekend. Luckily, my roommate, Bekah, had enough because I was basically out of Chinese money. I didn't end up going to an ATM until Sunday afternoon. (Until then, I borrowed money and paid people back in American money). Anyways, we were finally allowed to go to our hotel rooms. Most of the people from my city planned to go out and get lunch/go shopping somewhere, so I let Bekah shower first so that she could go with them. After she left, I finally got to take a shower. However, after that, I realized that everyone else in my city was gone and that I was alone in my hotel room with no food. I ate a Fiber One bar because it was the only food I had on me. I read for a while, and eventually got bored and ventured out of the hotel to a nearby store (note to world: it's usually not a good idea to wander around foreign cities alone especially when no one knows that you even left, but I was really hungry, so it was quasi-excusable) and bought ice cream and grape juice. I was careful though and made sure there were multiple people working in the shop and that some of them were women before going in. I walked around with my ice cream and grape juice for a while and discovered a random koi pond in the hotel, so I sat next to it on the ground and watched Charlie Wilson's War on my iPod for a bit while enjoying my lunch-like meal. Soon after, I got a call from Bekah. She wanted to get into the room, and I had the key, so I went back upstairs and let her in. I then watched the Bekah/Kenzie/Olivia rendition of the "Bye Bye Bye" dance...it was quite entertaining! Then, we all had to meet downstairs in the lobby to go to dinner. The Beijing kids were in the lobby when we got there!! I got to see my friend Jen! We all got on a bus and headed for Hebei University for dinner. The cafeteria was filled with half of the NSLI-Y kids (we were still waiting for the Anshan and Changzhou kids), AFS volunteers from around the world, and Chinese kids who are going to embark on various study abroad programs this September with AFS. After dinner, we NSLI-Y-ers all went to a small lecture hall/ meeting room at the university and a couple of Chinese volunteers asked us what we were/were not happy with so far. In the middle of the meeting, the Anshan kids arrived, and us Harbin and Beijing kids literally jumped over desks to greet them. I got to see my friends Sammi and Wisconsin (Michelle). We all chatted noisily until the volunteers called for order. The rest of the meeting was relatively uneventful. We all headed back to the hotel afterwards. A lot of people went upstairs to catch up (and/or party in the case of some certain boys in the city of Beijing who will remain unnamed :p), but I stayed downstairs in the lobby with Jen and Becca from Beijing. We were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our Changzhou friends! Finally, their bus pulled up, and we ran up and hugged all of them. I was thrilled to see Paul and Joseph, my closest NSLI-Y friends who are, unfortunately, in a different city :(. The CZ kids got there room assignments, and then a bunch of people met up and hung out until really late. I didn't go to sleep until 4 and woke up at 6 :p. Oh the joys of catching up with friends! Haha. Anyways, the next day, we had a bunch of random assemblies about AFS/different cultures/studying abroad/etc. Half of it was in Chinese, but it was pretty boring in any language. There was a cultural show that night that was pretty interesting though. On Saturday afternoon, we all visited a Sino-Japanese war monument which was about a two hour bus ride away. If it's significance had been more sufficiently explained, then it probably would have been really cool. I did get to see and walk through some tunnels dug during the war though! That was cool. Anyways, I hung out with Paul and Joseph all day, and we decided to go to McDonald's for dinner with our friend Holli because we were all sick of the cafeteria food. We got the address from the front desk and when the taxi driver dropped us off, he said it was under the building. We were all confused and looked everywhere for the McDonald's and asked a bunch of people. We eventually gave up and ate street food. My meal consisted of a giant piece of cantaloupe, juice, and half of a Fiber One bar (not street food). We headed back to the culture show at the university, and after that we went back to the hotel. I hung out with everyone again and ended up going to sleep at 1 and waking up at 6. Not TOO shabby. The next day was more of the same. We (Paul, Joseph, Wisconsin, and I) went to Pizza Hut for lunch, and it was absolutely blissful. I ate four pieces of pizza! That was a lot especially considering I barely eat anything here. Anyways, the Changzhou people had to take a bus back to CZ, and the other three cities had to take a bus to Beijing, so we said our goodbyes on Sunday afternoon. It was really sad because I won't get to see them again for almost 4 weeks (August 13th), and they are the people on the trip to whom I am closest :(. After many hugs, the three remaining cities trekked to some room in the university where we had stowed our luggage, and then we boarded the bus. I sat by Wisconsin and got to hear her life story :D. Once we got to Beijing two and a half hours later, we dropped of the Beijing kids somewhere without a real goodbye, and continued on. The Harbin and Anshan kids got off at the train station, and we went our separate ways. The other Harbiners and I were taken to a Chinese restaurant WHICH WAS RIGHT NEXT TO A MCDONALDS AND A KFC....torturous. The four (yes, four) vegetarians in my city were asked whether we liked mushrooms. The two of us (Bekah and me) who did not were taken to a dumpling restaurant next door, and we had some yummy jiao zi (dumplings), and I had strawberry juice. Finally, some Chinese food that I can still tolerate/even enjoy! Finally, we got to the train. By then, I was in an irritated mood because I had been taken away from some of my really close friends and was also really tired and wanted to take a shower, and the combination was just unpleasant. I shared a room on the train with Alexis and four Chinese people, but it didn't matter who was there because I just slept the whole time. We were supposed to have a half day of school the next day, but we were all exhausted and needed to shower, and I was losing my voice, so I asked Li Laoshi (teacher Li) if she would allow me/all of us to go home, and she agreed :D. My driver and sister came to pick me up from school at 9, and they said Yitong (my sister) had to go somewhere, so I should take a taxi. they hailed a taxi for me, and I got in. This was an interesting taxi situation because there was already another passenger in the taxi who had to be dropped off before I did. I was a little skeezed out by this, but I'm not really sure why because by this, of all things, wasn't really too sketchy. I think half of my worry was rooted in the fact that my cell phone was almost out of battery, so if I had needed help, I may not have been able to get it. The first guy was dropped off, and then I was taken to my home. The taxi driver overcharged me, I think, but I didn't care too much at that point. I went up to my 18th floor apartment, and tried to get in. Um, keyword=tried. We have three keys to get into our apartment. The first opens up to a hallway shared by my family and one other family. The second opens into our personal hallway, and the third opens into our house. I opened up the first two just fine, but I had some trouble with the third. I tried to open it for probably fifteen minutes. It was an unpleasant experience because the light in that hallway is a motion sensor light, so I had to slap the wall or stomp my feet every few minutes in order to keep the light on. Eventually, I went downstairs to ask the guy who works in the lobby for help, but he was outside smoking, so I did not bother him. I went back upstairs, and tried some more before calling my sister. She told me that I should try again, but I told her I had been trying for the last 15 minutes!! She showed up about 10 minutes later and let me in. She told me that I could help myself to the food on the table, and then she left. My mom was (and still is) out of town, and I think my dad was at work. I took a shower because that was the one thing I wanted most. I ate a peach, a Fiber One bar (thanks for making me pack food, Mom!), a piece of chocolate, and two pieces of cheese for lunch. Definitely the meal of champions. I hadn't eaten since breakfast, yet this was hardly a real meal. I spent a couple hours on the computer and then took a four hour nap. When I got up, my sister and dad were home, and I did finally eat a semi-substantial meal. After dinner, I emailed some more, and I got to Skype with my real mom!!! Yay! I went to sleep at 11 and got up "late" at 5:45, so I only ran about a mile this morning. School was pretty educational today, so I was happy. I had ping pong class though. Ping pong class is atrocious. The teacher doesn't like me because I couldn't care less about his class. We actually had some free time to just play the fun way rather than the "right" way with each other today, so at least part of the class was enjoyable. We got out of school early today, and my driver picked me up and took me home. I was home alone except for my ayi (maid/cook). She made dinner for me, and, luckily, she is beginning to figure out what food I like. I got to eat purple rice, mangoes, cheese, and toudousir (shredded potatoes). I actually ate a normal amount of food, and it was sort of healthy! Go me! I'm exhausted now, and this is a ridiculously verbose post considering I had nothing to say :). I hope you all enjoy reading it!

Posted by saralovett 12:09 Archived in China Comments (8)

Weekend Numero Yi

storm

Hey, I don't know if I can fit everything in here, but I need to go over my Friday-Sunday adventures.

Friday was extremely strange. We went to a temple/museum for a school field trip, and it was kind of boring because I have been to Chinese temples before, and this one was less cool, and the tour guide only spoke Chinese. I kept zoning out. I felt kind of rude...anyways, after that, a bunch of people went out to eat with Olivia's family. The restaurant was a combination of a country club, zoo, Vegas, mini-golf, and an amusement park. I don't even know how to explain it AT ALL. There was seriously an amusement park behind the restaurant (which was outdoors). Some lady taking tickets at the amusement park tried to charge us 75 cents to go to the bathroom, and then other people told us we couldn't go in unless we paid money for the amusement park. It was really confusing. The restaurant was buffet style, and there was a big diamond-shaped field in the near the food. We eventually found out that weddings are often held there. In the middle of the field, there was a carriage with a fake horse attached, and there was a (real) woman singing in the carriage. In front of the field, there was a stage where people later sand karaoke songs including "Hey Jude" and "Don't Know Why." Behind the field, there was a fake waterfall with a piano on top of it. Behind the waterfall, there was a huge ferris wheel. I promise this was real life and not some bizarre dream. OH and there were also caged birds between the restaurant and the amusement park. Really, really weird. We ate dinner, and in the middle of dinner, Olivia's mom asked if it was okay if some little kids came and sat with us. We were so confused because we weren't with any little kids, and there weren't even any around. We said okay, and some small 11-year-old girl randomly showed up and sat by us. She was adorable, but her existence just added to the weirdness. Then, we met a Russian woman and her baby, and I used my one Russian word ("Privet"...probably spelling that wrong). She lives in Harbin. We ended up speaking with her in Chinese. After dinner, Olivia's parents all gave us really nice books that are apparently the Chinese equivalent of Shakespeare. I probably won't bring them home though because they're heavy and I don't know how to read them anyways. That was basically all that happened on Friday.

Saturday was weird too. Everyday is weird. I went to a lake with my host family. In the car, I was with Yitong and her friend Tian Tian. She (Tian Tian) likes American music, so we listened to Justin Bieber for a little bit. It was a two hour long car ride! I'm not sure where we went, but it was definitely outside of Harbin. Once we were there, we went on a boat ride. It was scenic, but I was really tired and literally almost fell asleep. Afterwards, my host family told me I could go rest in some hotel that happened to be where we were. (Sidenote--this event was some sort of military family gathering). So I went to the hotel room (they had a key for one) and took a two hour nap. When I woke up, Yitong, Tian Tian, and some other lady were in the other 3 twin beds, sleeping. I eventually got up and we all went to eat lunch, but I barely ate because I felt really sick of Chinese food. Then, we drove home in the rain. We didn't go straight home. We went to Jessica's 16th birthday party. It was lots of fun! Her parents even got her a cake THAT SANG. After the party, I went to see Knight and Day (Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz) with Bekah, Maggie, Yitong, Tian Tian, and Maggie's sister. Tian Tian told me that it had English subtitles, but it did not. It was a little bit ridiculous because I didn't understand all of it. I'm pretty sure the plot was just really empty though regardless of the language. The action was decent. My favorite part was when the intense looking African-American woman spoke in dubbed Chinese. Amazing.

Today is Sunday. I attempted to make cookies with Yitong. I soon realized that I wasn't going to find vanilla extract at Carre Four (grocey store), so I bought a cookie mix instead. We then went to my family's 2nd apartment (???) and my driver got out and got a MICROWAVE OVEN from the house and put it in the trunk. I was sitting in the car, extremely confused. Finally, we went home and Bekah and Tian Tian came over. We realized that we didn't have an oven or a cookie plate. We put the dough in a plastic container (which Yitong said was okay...Bekhah and I were skeptical) and cooked it in the microwave. We burned the cookie and made a small hole in the container within about 5 minutes. We tried again and created a gooey, yummy thing that resembled a cookie. Then, Bekah and I played Slamwich and listened to Counting Crows on my iPod. In a strange, twisted way, I felt very American. Then, we all went out for Russian food. I had fruit pizza and a strawberry smoothie. I only had one slice of pizza, and the pizza was really small. That and large quantities of strawberry flavored juicy goodness filled me up very quickly. I think my stomach is shrinking. I have school tomorrow, and I'm not even sure why I just wrote this whole thing. Hopefully I'll write again soon.

peace.

Posted by saralovett 16:46 Comments (6)

Long Day

rain

Today, school was not fun. I didn't run this morning, but the extra hour of sleep was so NOT worth it. I didn't get my morning endorphins, and I also didn't get my total alone time. I love running here because nobody tries to talk to me in any language whatsoever. FOR AN ENTIRE HOUR! I got really annoyed at school. Everyone was on edge, which sucks because yesterday was an awesome day group-bonding-wise. I became extremely annoyed with all the girls today. I can't stand the fact that there are 10 girls and only 1 guy. Girls annoy me even when they are really cool and not dramatic like the ones in my group. I can only take so much togetherness with them, yet the ones in my group are really incredible! It doesn't matter how cool they are though. I don't like being in big groups of girls for long periods of time. I needed major alone time by lunch, so after lunch (during break), I wandered off on my own and listened to music while I texted my friend who is in another city in China. I felt a little bit better in ping pong class because I was running around, but I would have rather just gone on a run because I detest the (sport?) ping pong. After school, I asked my sister if she wanted to come with me to get a massage, and we went to a place about a half an hour away. It was amazing and only 30 kuai!! (About $4)....about a third of the cost in Shanghai!!! The lady who works there wants us to come back every day...I'm so tempted...it's way too far away though, and I'd much rather experience life. Afterwards, I asked her if Harbin has Starbucks. Unless our communication failed (entirely possible), Harbin meiyou Xin Ba Ke; Harbin does not have Starbucks. This is so weird to me. All cities have Starbucks! I don't know why this is such an upsetting fact to me. I don't even like Starbucks coffee much, but I realize it's probably better than anything local. We ended up going to a restaurant/coffee shop. The coffee was pretty bad, but it was black coffee, and I have only had coffee one other time this week and it was extremely weak, so I relished it. I ordered eggplant, and it took a million years to cool down (obv hyperbolic), and then we realized it had meat in it. What. the. heck. We both had asked the waiter, so it wasn't even my communication fail this time. They offered to bring me more, but at that point, I didn't want it because I would have to wait ANOTHER million years until I would not scald myself, so I ordered fruit. They also gave me rice, which pretty hao (good). I also had a bit of some vegetable thing that came with Yitong's food. At the table, there was a fortune telling machine that showed astrological signs. We both put in coins to get our fortunes told!! It was fun. I have my fortune. It basically says the regular predictable horoscope jumbo (you will find love, have new interesting ideas, etc.) Yitong's said she would have bad health, though! I had never heard of a negative horoscope until today. I took a picture of the machine (it's small), but I cannot post it because the power button on my camera is not working. I will send it in to get fixed tomorrow. Yitong and I had really cool conversations (half in English half in Chinese.) Actually, it was mostly in English, but I really had to be creative when explaining things. We talked about school and she wanted to know what kind of math I learn in America. I had to explain calculus, algebra, geometry, and statistics. Stats and calc were especially difficult to explain!!! I now can say all in Chinese XD!!! We taught each other how to say Pythagorean Theorem in our respective languages. Now I know all I need to know..."pythgorean theorem; gou gu ding li" and "dinosaur; kong long." In other words...Gou gu ding li: a^2 + b^2=KONG LONG^2. Sometimes I love Chinese. Especially when I can say random things. I try to be creative with practice sentences at school because they're boring. We were supposed to say to our partners what we do at 5AM...we could say anything, so I said I see dinosaurs (in my dreams, of course)!! It's such a useful word. Oh dear. I just spent 5 sentences ranting about dinosaurs. Anyways, Yitong and I also talked about physics (even though I haven't taken it yet). I actually remembered one of them from 9th grade--the equal and opposite forces one; I believe it's the third law. We had a cool Chinglish conversation about physics. I bet physics would be cooler if half of it were in Chinese. Seriously, Chinglish should be a real language. I could teach it. I would probably add in some Spanish too! I also taught Yitong some slang. She thought that Americans said "I beg your pardon." I told her that the phrase is definitely correct, but we do not use it. I told her that I sometimes say "pardon," but other teenagers don't really. I told her that "I didn't catch that" is probably the most colloquial (didn't use that word of course) way to say "I didn't hear/understand you." I didn't realize we had so many ways to say that. It's way simpler in Chinese. I think the world should take the simplest parts of all languages and merge them! That would be so exciting. Communication is so key in everything--EVERYTHING. For example, the fact that me getting my own room meant Yitong and Mama sharing a bed and Baba (Dad) sleeping on the couch was totally lost on me, so I told Yitong today that I didn't understand that initially, and she was welcome to share with me if she wanted. She and I will share and room and bed. It's going to bother me so much because I majorly need my personal space/room, but it's whatever. I will survive! I have exciting days ahead of me. Tomorrow I will have a field trip to a temple that was converted into a museum during the last half of the school day, and then I will hanging with friends after school. We had set plans, but now it's up in the air. I have to be home at ten, but I don't know what I'm doing yet. On Saturday, I am going to go to a lake with my family and then returning to Harbin (lake is 2 hours away) for my friend, Jessica's, sixteenth birthday party. On Sunday, Yitong and I might return to the massage place and then go see a famous Russian Orthodox church (St. Sophia's) about 30 minutes away from our home. I also promised Yitong that I would teach her how to make cookies--my idea :D I'm so excited for cookies!!! I tried to explain cookie dough...so far "cookie dough" and "mascot" are the only indescribable concepts. Many things are difficult to describe. My Chinese and English communication skills are improving a lot. I told Yitong that I am having trouble with the grammatical structure of the word "ba" (to make/ let), and she deliberately uses it in sentences now. It's so awesome. We had serious sister bonding time today. I enjoyed it! Okay, that was long, and I have emails still, and I MUST get up to run tomorrow. More later, chicas y chicos <=== Not Chinese he he he

P.S. It was raining. Rain siempre puts me in a bad mood. >:(

Posted by saralovett 06:20 Comments (23)

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