Time for a Head Check

As of now I have less than 3 weeks left in China. Quite honestly, there isn’t much going on lately, at least not in a “wow…China” sense. Most of me is biding my time until I can go home and just be thankful for what I have. However, all of this extra time has given me a chance to think and really see things from a different angle.

For those of you who don’t know me, I read books like an addict chases after a fix. At any given moment I am usually making my way through a few different books at a time, and researching the next stack to add onto the mile long list of books to come. In the name of this sacrifices need to be made, usually either my social life or my studies. I think I am finally learning that I can’t get all I want to know from a book. Instead, I have really been taking time and sitting down with my new friends while I still have the chance too. Normally I think of social situations in terms of gain, not in a literal material way, but as something that needs to be done efficiently, in a timely manner. Now, I am just happy to drift without expectations and my heart feels that much warmer for it. I’ve been in and out of a lot of social circles, especially over my college career, but I feel like for once in my life I am meeting genuine people that I know I will hold dear despite the distance we will face in the future.

As well as my social development, I am seeing my intellect grow in new ways. As something of a novice intellectual, most of my brain power goes into analysis and hoarding knowledge, never quite engaging with it. On top of learning language in China I have started taking up the Violin. Both of these pursuits take strong intentions of brain power in the same fashion as I am used to, but instead my mind is stretched towards more functional purposes; creating instead of analyzing.

This place, in this time, is one of a cheery limbo. I have time to breathe and think about my life. I am leaving this place of foreign adventure, but I’m not quite home yet, and as much as I miss it this is time to really look at things from afar and remember both sides before I go back.

Coming to a Turning Point

As of now, I have less then a month left of my stay in China. I originally planned to stay a full two semesters abroad, but I feel overwhelmed. I just miss home. I miss getting to sit on a normal toilet. I miss getting to eat food that isn’t full of grease and MSG. I miss my family, my friends, and my girlfriend. This country is definitely an acquired taste, and not for the light of heart.

In previous entries I wrote with a lot of excitement of the adventures of I had. They were all true: I’ve had a blast here, but I don’t know if my heart lies in this place. For one, I am a lover of freedom. China is not. You can’t get youtube or facebook here because its associated with “terrorists”. Even when I’m just searching on google I have a nasty habit of looking up subversive content. My curiosity drifts where it will and, often, I find myself getting blocked in the middle of reading a paragraph.

Also, Chinese culture is one of industriousness and polite respect. People are mostly concerned with duty and material wealth. There is little culture as far as music or art goes, because, quite frankly, most people aren’t interested. There are a few history museums, but most of it is contrived for tourists and contain few actual artifacts.

Regardless, this isn’t a bad country, it has its charms, but it just took me a long time to realize that its not quite for me. I booked a flight for December 21st. Originally my plan was to surprise my family and pop in for three weeks unnoticed, but now I am flying over for good. I’ve still got some time, so I’m living it up while I can, but as far as I’m concerned I’m ready to go home.

Best Wishes,
Liam

They Fixed The Heater!!! :)

Welcome to China! What’s new you ask?

Hmm…well…its COLD, really really, COLD!!

Sure, I’ve been in New Paltz for the last 3 years. I’ve had my share of cold winters, but its wet and cold in a place that’s supposed to be at the latitude of Macon, Georgia. This city was hot and polluted when I got here. It would never rain, and now when it just starts to get below freezing now it starts up at full force.

Its been like this for the past two weeks, and for the entirety of those two weeks I have had no heat. The heater, attached to the upper wall over my desk, just wasn’t plugged in right. I finally got a maintenance guy to come in and fix it for me, and OH how sweet it feels! Dreams of warm blankets and hot coco run through my imagination.

The down(er) side to this is that now, nobody really wants to go in. We all want to stay in our little warm hovels and hide from the outside world. I, however, managed to find the motivation today, to go all the way to the center of the city to buy my girlfriend a few gifts. I think she’ll be pleased with what I found. It was great, because the malls were less packed then usual. Mind you, it was about the concentration of a regular mall day back home, but with a population as big as China’s that’s a severe reduction.

Right now, I’m doing okay. I’ve got my heat running on high, an extra blanket I brought from home, and a couple extra layers I bought from Wal-Mart (they have’m in China). If I can brave another month of this I think I’ll come out in one piece when its all over.

Warm wishes (hehe),

Liam

A Trip to The Spa

I really need to apologize in advance, it seems that I always forget to right about my best adventures. Usually, I am in such a lull of excitement afterward, that words seem to spoil the experience. So, I retell this adventure of mine, about a week after it has transpired.

I need to say firstly that I have one of the greatest Chinese teachers. I may have said it before, but it is worth repeating: she is my speaking teacher, Hou Xiao Fan, but her English name is just Kiko. This is the same teacher that took us to the crazy shopping center at the edge of the city. She is ridiculously funny and always has an answer of strong experience whenever we have a question about anything Chinese. Of all things, our wonderful teacher decided to take us to a spa resort for the weekend.

This place was unbelievable! It had about…let’s see – seven different kinds of baths. There was one filled with wine, one filled with tea, one that was boiling hot, one filled with flowers, one for “medicinal” purposes, one just for swimming, and my favorite (probably the most interesting) baths filled with little pucker fish that nibble at your skin.

Its a total head trip. They have one with tiny little fish, and one for fish that are a little bigger. Mind you, these were all outdoor baths, and when we arrived it was already night time. When you first get in its hard to see what’s in there. If you sit still and get in just the right spot they’ll come right up to you and pucker at your skin. It doesn’t hurt one bit, I swear, but OH does it feel strange. Me and a friend challenged ourselves to stand straight up and let them swarm at our legs, while we twitched and uttered strange noises. I’m not sure what I actually got out of that experience….but hey its China! 🙂 When in Rome…

Best Wishes,

Liam

Bananas and Cultural Relativism

China is a “developing” country so any visitor end up in some sort of strange cross section between the modern and the old. There are a few new commodities coming into this country that Chinese people don’t seem to grasp. Why do Chinese people wear high heels on the sports track and why do they always use umbrellas when it is sunny out? If something seems strange it is easy to write it off, but when it comes to how they eat their bananas, I think they may have us beaten.

Someone may think I am kidding, but I am serious. The “normal way” has always been to grab from the top stem and pull down; seemed logical to me. In China they pinch the bottom and peel it open. The first time I saw this I thought that they just “didn’t understand” bananas, yet. I was curious and tried it their way, and much to my disbelief, its actually easier. Even if its unripe, it just pops right open every time. Try it sometime, you might not want to go back to the old way.

Thank you China, and your funny eating habits, for showing me a new way, and for getting rid of a few of my biases.

Below is a few pictures of the method described above.

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Pictures from Nagasaki

Okunchi 1

This is from the Okunchi festival, the main strip of activities and food stands was near the heart of the city, in front of a place called Yume-saitoMegane-Bashi

river front at Megane-Bashi

These shots are from a place called Megane-Bashi, translated from Japanese it means “Glasses Bridge”. This is a very famous place in Nagasaki, it was the first bridge to be built in Japan that used the roman arch. It gets its namesake from its appearance, when the double arch is reflected in the river they say it looks like a pair of glasses

main shrine at Koshi-byo

Koshi-byo lanterns

Koshi-Byo main gate

These images are from Koshi-Byo. It is the only Chinese Buddhist temple outside of China that was built by Chinese hands.

Oh where oh where have I gone?

To Japan actually.

I’ve been living in Nagasaki for a little over a month now. Nagasaki is a quaint peninsula on the southern island of Kyshu. It is wonderful to be living by the ocean again, but the mountains here are steeper than any I am used to in New York.

So far I have been soaking it all in, and experiencing everything I can. I went to Nagasaki’s Kunchi festival, which is one of the most famous in Japan. I got a prime seat for watching the Dragon dance and it went though downtown. A couple weeks ago I experienced an onsen in Unzen, which is a small tourist town on a volcanic mountain. The geysers were beautiful and the spring water for the onsen was fantastic. I climbed mount Inasa, I’ve seen a number of Buddhist and Shinto shrines, I’ve seen traditional musicians and a Jazz festival, I’ve walked down the streets of Dejima, and Huis Ten Bosch, I’ve pet a penguin, seen some Monkeys, I took a nap in a park, and have met indescribably wonderful people. I am grateful for all of it and everyone.

Last weekend I helped out at the school culture festival. Every language region had their own stand where you could buy food specific to that country; there were Korean foods, Chinese foods, English foods, French Foods, German foods, and of course American. The JASIN students bounded together under the strict command Megan, the student in charge of the stand. We Jokingly called her our Taisho, which is Japanese for General. had a food stand, we made hamburgers, blooming onions, We made hamburgers, cheeseburgers, crab rangoon, blooming onions, and cheesecake.

After the festival quite a few of us went with some friends to an elementary school to participated in Halloween activities with the students. Unlike America, Halloween isn’t very big in Japan but its gaining popularity.

Ive noticed that small children tend to be shy and a little frightened when they see foreigners. Misa, a Japanese friend of mine, says she thinks it because they don’t see foreigners very often, and that its even more surprising for them to meet foreign individuals that can communicate in Japanese. I suppose since I grew up in the world’s melting pot, I’ve always taken America’s cultural and racial diversity for granted.

Feeling the Love

You know being in China is not easy. It is a real challenge to my sensibilities, and has been something of an initiation by fire. Not only have I been thrown head first into the culture of the East, but almost all the students in my surrounding dorm are from other countries. I’ve had to find ways to adapt to multiple cultures at once.
If there’s one thing China has taught me, its that I love my country, very dearly. I am very sure of this. Sometimes that expresses itself as homesickness, but on the whole, its just a clear, glowing gratitude for what I have. Sometimes, when I’m facing my trials here I think of what I have at home, and I wonder if I should be there instead.
I recently encountered some conflicts with my room mate, who is from Belgium. He made it clear from the beginning that he didn’t like Americans. His biases created a base for our tension that has just built into something nasty between us. I don’t like it one bit. Moments like this make me squirmy and start me wondering how it would be in New York.
Yet, I have found so much here. I have been adopted into the circle of a wonderful group of English folks, coming out of their native city of Sheffield. When I wonder what I might be doing elsewhere, besides China, all I can think is how many adventures I would miss with them. As of now, we are planning to take a trip to the ice festival, up in Harbin (northern china), during the winter, and every weekend there is always some sort of spontaneous excitement I can expect to come out of their circle.
I have no real worries right now. I am rather content, and am in the midst of getting ready for bed, but I don’t think I would enjoy myself nearly as much if I didn’t have my pals around to keep my head in the game. For now I rest thankful.

Best wishes from China,

Liam 8D

Bearing the Smog

The Nanjing Skyline from my bedroom

The Nanjing Skyline from my bedroom

As a study abroad student in China I feel I am in a very unique position. If I were to go to a country like Australia, England, France, Japan, etc. I would get to be part of well established programs in well developed countries. However, I’ve never been one for the easy choice so I am here in Nanjing in a program that clearly hasn’t been around very long, in a city that is very obviously still developing.

When you look out into the skyline of this city you can’t see much further than five hundred feet before it fades into gray. Its rare that you see the sun or the moon, let alone the stars, and every day the weather report reads the same: “Haze”. The pollution here is constant and hard to hide from. On a day like this it makes me feel sluggish and unmotivated.

It has pretty much been like this from the beginning, but there was a period where I actually forgot about it. During their Mid-Autumn Festival, China shut down most of its factories for eight days. During that time the sun shined nicely and you could actually see a few stars at night, but ever since that its just gradually built back to its original condition. I went on a trip to Guangzhou that week, and I think my opinion of the city may have been distorted because people have told me that its far worse than it is here.

Depressing, I know, but its a reality I feel I needed to talk about. I have a few things I need to do today, and an adventure to take part in later in the day, but on a day like this its hard to find the motivation. It makes me wish there was something I could do about it, but really I just have to suck it up and bear it.

Berobed in Bedlam

On Thursday a funny thing happened to me. I was loitering out on the front steps of my hotel, reading a book, when a friend came up to me, “Hey, Liam what are you doing this weekend?”

“Mm, nothing yet.”

“Wanna go on a free trip?”

There’s not really much else you can say an offer like that. I had some vague suspicions, but otherwise, I was ready to have a blast of a weekend. I have been holed up in my room most of the time studying, and I thought an adventure off in some obscure part of china would be good for the spirits. I somehow managed to wake up at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning and we were off on a bus ride to Shouxing, China, in the Zhejiang province just south of here.

Before my friend’s offer I had never heard of Shouxing before, so for those also in the dark: Shouxing is China’s “wine capital”, but this really just means Chinese White Liquor. If you haven’t heard of this drink before either…well, if you like drinking paint peeler, smelling of dank cheese, then be my guest and try it. I’ve never actually tried it myself, but I know a friend that’s made himself sick for a the past three weeks drinking half a bottle. I would only recommend this to someone who is either really passionate about the Chinese culture, or someone just trying to prove their own bravery.

On top of that Shouxing is China’s textile region. As a matter of fact the entire region pretty much only has textile shops. Really, that’s all there is in the city. We tried to find a place that sells ice cream, but we walked up and down a radius of a couple of blocks and couldn’t find anything, but fabric dealers. Apparently that’s why we got to go on the trip for free. A travel agency was hired to help bring publicity to the local Textile Convention by bringing in foreigners. A big affair certainly; There were cannons being fired, performances, and the marching of military processions, but it was still such an intensely dull place. Regardless, thanks to the good spirits of a free trip, and the energy of a few good friends we managed to turn a very drab place into a party.

We arrived at a gorgeous five star hotel. Each of us was given a room to share with another person. We all walked into our rooms to find gorgeous queen sized beds and full accommodations. This was the kind of place that was so classy it even had telephones in the bathroom. We all felt so at home that me and all my friends promptly decided to slip into bathrobes and never came out of them the rest of the night. Mind you we were there under the auspices of doing “business”. We were supposed to hobnob and schmooze at our best, but even when the cocktail hour hit, we went into the room, with full confidence, in our bathrobes.

We had ourselves a massage, which brought us all to a nice mellow state, and we decided to go to the karaoke lounge across the way. I think the front desk was a little shocked when we walked in, but we just acted normal and they let us into see our friends who had gotten there before us. We walked in to see a room of half alive, awkward people; half singing, mostly sitting and staring. In we walked in our bathrobes and the party began. None of us held back and the rest of the room really took to that. The party evolved from singing, into a private dance party in full force. It could have gone all night, but dancing in a robe is pretty hard. It’s far too warm and tends to start falling off when your moving.

From there, our berobed tribe wandered back to our rooms and decided to make a steam room out of our bathroom. The hotel actually had a sauna, but it was only for men. We had much more fun creating one for ourselves. We sweat it out the rest of the night, telling stories and enjoying each other’s company, until we all got tired and wandered back to our respective spaces.

The next day we got up early for breakfast and a few trips through the textile areas: nothing too eventful, and we packed up our stuff and made it back home. I wouldn’t recommend anybody spend time in this city unless they have to do business, but for us it was a total blast. In some roundabout way it will probably go down as one of my favorite adventures here in this crazy country we call China.

Best Wishes,
Liam