24.07.2010 - 31.07.2010 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Hey, guess what? 16 days.