Before China (1st entry) -written 8/30/09

Wow! What a crazy whirlwind it has been so far. It surprises me every day, because life shouldn’t be this good. Contrary to what my confused logic tells me, things just seem to be getting better and better. I have just come away from one of the best summers of my life. I started my summer off learning Russian martial arts at a Sufi retreat, hidden in a little pocket of upstate New York. I wandered back home at some point to discover a new social side of myself; getting to be the life of parties I never thought I would have been invited to. I have read more books this summer than at any other period of my life, delving into every subject I could get my hands on, from neo-Gnosticism, to fashion, and Dominican history. I have done everything I could have possibly wanted this summer, and now, of all things, I am going to China, to attend Nanjing University, for a full year! I have got to be the luckiest guy in the world.

My job right now is to get everything together. I need to check and double check every little detail to make sure I don’t forget anything. In all likelihood I probably will miss something, but I could care less. I will live in a cardboard box if I have to. I am that excited. Before I had this opportunity, my friends always joked that I would be the first illegal immigrant into China. Most of the time it is hard to focus and in this moment my world seems too unreal to me, since I know I am going to leave soon for bigger and better things. I have never actually been out of the country before. The furthest I have ever traveled was to Florida when I was twelve. So, this is going to be quite the leap for me.

While I am still somewhat grounded I want to dedicate this entry to the people who made this possible. Firstly, I want give my overwhelming appreciation to everyone at the Levin Institute and the Chinese Government. They are the ones who offered the scholarship that is allowing me to go. I hope I can prove myself worthy of their kindness. Any success I have from this trip is done in their name. They are really going to change the world with the work they are doing.

I want to thank Carlton Rounds, the Assistant Director of Study Abroad at SUNY New Paltz. You have been unbelievably patient and knowledgeable every step of the way. I wish words could express how truly grateful I am to you, but I imagine you wow people all the time with your charisma and abundant compassion. So, it’s probably nothing too surprising for you. You truly are a great man who I deeply admire.

I give my thanks to the many professors who helped me get into this program by showing their support. Professors Heath, Appelbaum, and Elstein of the philosophy department all helped with my recommendations and I know I couldn’t have done this without them. Most importantly among my teachers I want to thank Professor Chien, my first Chinese instructor. I know I have had my struggles in the subject over our time together, but I hope I can make you proud with my success abroad. You have been a great well of kindness along my road to learning the language.

Most importantly I would like to thank my Mother who put all her time, energy, and love into helping me along this road. I have no doubt that she is going to miss me, but for the most part, all she feels is pride at seeing me live my dreams. I know I give you trouble sometimes [like any good kid should do for their parents 😉 ], but in the end my feelings only amount to profound gratitude. I love you, Mom!

This is the beginning of a new era, for me and all of my loved ones. I look forward to the ups and downs that will come with this new adventure. I stand jittery from excitement, but face this change head on, prepared for things sublime and wonderful. In the future, I will do my best to say here, all the crazy things that I encounter in China as they arise, but I know that some things you just can’t put into words. For now I will do my best to take things with an open mind and an open heart.

Wish me luck!
Liam

Karaoke Pictures

Me trying to sing at the Karaoke place. (sorry if my back is turned)

Me trying to sing at the Karaoke place. (sorry if my back is turned)

Friends trying to do the Macarena.

Friends trying to do the Macarena.

Its always Christmas in Nanjing! (Decorations to the entrance of the lounge).

Its always Christmas in Nanjing! (Decorations to the entrance of the lounge).

Amazing Food and Amusing Dialogue

If you ever come to China just be aware, the food is pretty mediocre. It’s not terrible. I’m not saying that at all, although there are things you probably want to avoid. It is just profoundly banal. Everything is greasy, or lathered in sauce, and piled on with rice for filler. Any given restaurant doesn’t offer many vegetables, so don’t expect a balanced meal. If you get a bowl of soup with noodles you’ll probably get one stalk of a green something thrown in there, but don’t expect much more than that. I usually ask for extra tomatoes put into my noodles and they are usually happy to do that much for me. I would say that the best food I’ve had in this country was from the student cafeteria; which is either a great compliment to their facility, or a vast insult to this city. Regardless of how you choose to read that, last night changed my mind completely.

It was a friend’s birthday party and he wanted roast duck, so about thirty of us went down to a fancy restaurant down the road. In China you generally don’t order separate dishes, you figure out what the whole table wants and they put it on a big glass turnstile in front of you. We ordered three whole ducks by the end of the night (priced at 50 “big” RMB each, or $7 American). Each is enough to serve a whole family, and they divide the duck into three different dishes, spring roles, deep fried duck, and duck soup (also the title of a favorite movie of mine interestingly enough). The spring roles are supposed to be very dainty and neat, but I was just hungry and didn’t have the patience to eat beautiful food. It was so delicious it felt sinful to take bites. I ended up wolfing down each one whole, to the chagrin of my esophagus, and the joy of my stomach. By some stroke of hedonism we also ordered about 8 other sides, and yes, every single one of them was delicious too. The whole experience makes me wish I knew how to cook so I could take all these with me back home. Of all the side dishes, my favorite was probably the simplest: edamame with a bit of lime juice. I think these could easily replace popcorn for me when I’m watching movies. They’re these brilliant little soybeans that you just pop in your mouth and enjoy. My fingertips hurt from touching so many salty bean pods by the end of the night.

After my belly was contented (and it definitely was) we topped off the night at a karaoke lounge. It was a good night indeed, and another mark on my list of adventures.

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A brief dialogue from a recent encounter:

Me: Hey, I saw your ad online. I am looking for a tutor to supplement some of my class work.

Tutor: Okay, when would you like to meet up?

Me: Is Tuesday okay? I’m busy Monday.

Tutor: How about at 6?

Me: Okay sounds great. How much do you charge by the way?

Tutor: Haha, you should have asked that in the beginning. I’m very expensive. You might not like my price. (wholly serious)… 50 RMB ($7 American) an hour.

Me: (keeping my poker face on) Hmm…okay why don’t we see how our first session goes and then we’ll talk about price.

***I love China. I live like a king where ever I go.***

United Springdom

“You alright, yeah?” is a typical greeting among British youth. I hope you are alright indeed, and I apologize for the posting silence. As finals are now done, I have been travelling around the UK, and seeing things that I have always dreamed of.

I returned from Switzerland and Germany (a ten-day trip) on the Queen’s birthday. It was really a fitting day to fly back. During my time in Europe, on the continent, I was homesick…or rather, home-base sick, for the UK. Upon landing, I vowed to myself that I would dedicate the rest of my time abroad this semester to seeing the UK and all that it has to offer!

To celebrate our return to England, my friends and I went to Cambridge. Like Oxford, Cambridge is a university town, but with much more open space. The highlight of our day was our punting boat ride down the river Cam, which weaves its way past the various college campuses!

Cambridge

Just two days later was one of Britain’s biggest holidays: May Day! The first of May is a Bank Holiday, but more importantly, the cermonial start of Spring! Kingston had its very own May Day festival called “May Merrie”. The local park green was completely transformed into a fairground, with rides, games, booths, puppet shows, and a jousting competition. I honestly forgot I was just right around the corner from my flat!

MayDay

My favorite part of the day was seeing a real “Punch and Judy” puppet show. “Punch and Judy” originated in the 17th century and is the oldest puppet show in Britain still performed today. The main character, Mr. Punch, is a naughty man who beats his family members and the local police officer with a giant stick. Despite the violent nature of the show, “Punch and Judy” has retained its popularity for over three centuries.

The following week, my friend Niki and I attended the “Punch and Judy Festival” in London’s Covent Garden, where over ten puppet booths were set up at a time, running numerous shows at once. Different models of Mr. Punch and the other characters graced the various stages, each putting their own spin on the classic storyline.

More UK Springtime adventures to come!