Monday, November 26, 2012

A Chinese Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Or as we say in China,  感恩节快乐! (Gan en jie kuai le)

Here in China we managed to have our own American Thanksgiving! It wasn't easy to pull together, and of course we didn't have some of the staples (Turkey, cranberry sauce, dressing), but we made due. And in the end, it was a really special Thanksgiving that I'll never forget.

In addition to America, there were 5 other countries represented at our Thanksgiving feast. Myriam, from Mexico, brought a salsa-chicken casserole. Our resident Italian, Marika, helped make macaroni & cheese and delicious pumpkin soup. The Indian family, Anupa, Papa and Arnab, provided the mashed potatoes and their house. Sarah, Matthew, and Jada (China) fixed a green been casserole. Laura and I fixed a to-die-for sweet potato casserole (with pecans and marshmallows on top!). Carter also made an appearance. Sara's Chinese coworker and her husband brought a Thanksgiving cake, which made up for the lack of a pie. While there may not have been a large bird on the table, our friend Bahar comes from Turkey! While most of us had our own dish, we generally helped out with everyone's food.

As we passed out plates, Myriam brought in some baijiu (a kind of Chinese liquor) because there cannot possibly be a celebration in China without some baijiu! All the Guiyang first years took a shot together. I don't really think anyone was very fond of it. I don't mind mind it- just kind of sickeningly sweet and really strong. 
Thanksgiving Baijiu!

Note our Viva Mexico plates! How cultural.
Sara really didn't like the taste of the baijiu

After our meal, we all went around the room and said what we were thankful for. Some of our "thanks" was for an experience in China, new friends, spouses, family, hospitality, new adventures, and even a first date in a McDonalds parking lot. It was a very memorable Thanksgiving. Sometimes I don't think we think about how much other people mean to us, or vice versa. Most of us have only known each other for a few months, but we have developed some really special friendships.

It was really neat to share this part of American culture with our friends from across the world because it was the FIRST Thanksgiving any of them had ever had. I know they had a great time, and I was on cloud nine after seeing how happy they were to experience this holiday with us!

Sharing American culture with Chinese friends

Arnab, Myriam, Bahar, and Laura
In the end, I didn't have Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle in North Carolina, my mom, grandparents or cousins as usual. Instead I had a Thanksgiving with my Indian aunt and uncle, my three big sisters from China, India, and Mexico, and new cousins from around the world! My Guizhou family is pretty awesome!



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thankful in China

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States. To me, Thanksgiving means enjoying a great meal with some really awesome family members I don't get to see that often. Easily one of the most relaxing and joyful days out of the entire year. Here in Guiyang the weather is getting chillier, leaves are changing colors, and instead of smelling like trash or stinky tofu, the air smells like fall! Even though on facebook I posted that I didn't know where to find a turkey, we figured out how to celebrate our own version Thanksgiving in China this year (my first Thanksgiving not with family ever!), but those festivities are tomorrow, and will be in a blog post this weekend. Right now I wanted to share a few things I'm really thankful for right now.

Make New Friends...

From Mexico to Italy, Turkey to Tajikistan, America to Australia and everywhere in between. I've met some of the coolest people from all across the world with such great stories, right here in Guizhou, China! My new friends from class, the dorm, the badminton court, or even the bar have affected my experience in China in such a monumental way. The first few days after I arrived I felt pretty lonely due the language barrier and not knowing anyone. Now I couldn't be happier. Learning Chinese songs, spending 4 hours on a bus, game nights, trying to figure out the bus system, throwing dance parties in the dorm, and  practicing for the next day's speech class presentation are just a few memories with these new friends. Thank you to each of you for making my time in China so special!

Olga (Russia), Bahar (Turkey), Laura and Anna (USA), Mint (Thailand)

Carter and Xiaoxiao
Mexican dinner night for Myriam's birthday!

Jorge and Myriam (Mexico), Me, Marika (Italy), and Pan (Laos) at Muse

Liam (Australia), me, and some new Chinese friends

But Keep the Old...

And of course, even with all my new buddies, I cannot forget the awesome skype/facebook/email conversations with my family, and  friends from Charleston, Virginia, etc. I'm especially thankful for the wonderful postcards I get! But I guess nothing beats an IN-PERSON visit!! Earlier in November, my friend and fraternity brother Qi came to visit me during his "return to the homeland/whirlwind tour" of China. It was pretty rainy for the few days he came, so I guess he got the proper "Guiyang Welcome". Nevertheless, it was awesome to see him in China!

Thanks for the moose,
Lily Hunt!
A visit from Qi; FIJI reunion in China!
This path looks cool! At Leishan (Thunder Mt.)

Some Are Silver...

You know, it's not really sappy, and some of you reading might think it's pretty silly, but I'm so thankful my deodorant stash hasn't run out yet. I've also never been more thankful for having a dryer in the United States. Waiting almost a week for your clothes to completely dry is not fun. Not fun at all. I really appreciate breakfasts and lunches that only cost $1 -2 US! I'm also grateful for the care package Mom sent me with warm clothes- my dorm doesn't have a heat/ac unit, so it gets rather chilly at night time. Without those winter clothes I would probably be an icicle by now! Oh! I managed to save the pictures I thought I lost from earlier November. I'll add some in periodically.

One of the two campus monkeys
"You sit it on a coconut
and wait 20 years!"

And the Others Gold...

I've had some pretty once in a lifetime experiences in Guiyang, and I'm so happy for that. Can you believe that it's been 85 days (a little under 3 months)? It feels like I've only been here a few weeks even though I've done so much. Time flies when you're having fun! With this being said, I've come up with some fun blogging topics for those weeks when I don't have much to write about. Look forward to topics like: "Navigating a Chinese Market", "Dogs, Dogs, Dogs!", and "Ten Chinese Surprises". If those don't spark your interest, you're in the wrong place! :)
Floating stage for the opening ceremony for the hot springs

Drummers at hot springs opening ceremony

Water Ballet- they floated around just on one bamboo log
Miao ladies near Kaili

Monday, November 19, 2012

November 1- 19 in Five Parts

Well folks, I have some bad news- I lost the pictures from most of the events in this blog post. It's really too bad because during the past 3 weeks I have gotten to do some really amazing things! I'll try to put in some semi-relevant pictures, so read on! Okay, maybe they aren't really relevant at all...

Of course we have a roller-blade club!

I. Hot Springs Adventure

November has pretty much been a series of some great and exciting memories! First, some of the Confucius Institute Scholars were invited to attend the Hot Spring Season Grand Opening of one of the largest "natural" hot springs in Guiyang. Jada took Mathew, Sara, myself, and two other students, Erik (USA) and Andy (Germany) to represent Guizhou University's global diversity. Xiao Xiao tagged along for good measure because, hey, who wouldn't want to come to a grand opening of a hot spring?! Once we arrived at this huge resort we were escorted outside to a patio on the edge of a massive pool. In the middle of the pool someone had constructed a floating stage, where the hot spring owner came and made a speech. We were also treated to some performances including a Guiyang cultural song and dance, some girls playing drums, a water ballet, and a synchronized swimming show. Wow, talk about a warm welcome! After the opening ceremonies we got to try out some of the hot springs and even get a Turkish Fish foot massage, where little fish eat the dead skin on your feet. I did the fish thing in Cambodia a few years back, and it was just as entertaining this time. It tickles so much. Anyways, being VIP guests at Guiyang's biggest hot spring was a great way to spend an evening! 

My campus's new rock. That's a niiiice rock.

II. Basketball Game

The week after the hot springs adventure Myriam, Jorge, Marika, and I got free passes to a basketball game. We thought it was the Chinese National basketball team at first. Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity! It turns out it was just a regular games in the Chinese NBA, and since neither team was from Guizhou, the crowd wasn't really getting into the game as much as I thought they would be. Every time someone scored everyone cheered. Well, I guess that's a pretty good moral boost for each of the players. One thing that was kind of interesting, and I should have expected, was that the teams had imported more than a few players. There were a handful of players from the US and Latin America. We had a good time cheering along with the other spectators. On at least one occasion I caught some Chinese people taking our picture. Come on guys, there are foreigners on the court right now, they are a whole lot more interesting than us! After the basketball game we went to hang out at Muse Club for a bit with our friend Liam (Australia).

III. Guizhou English Competition

On most Saturdays here I catch up on sleep from the previous week, wake up for lunch and take a walk around Huaxi. Sometimes I make it into Guiyang to do some shopping, but usually I try to keep it more low key- a pajamas all day kind of day. But on November 17th I woke up at 7 AM to GO TO WORK! "Whaaaaaat Elliot?" You may ask, "Why on earth would you give up your relaxing Saturday? Especially one with good weather?" Well, I was asked to participate as a judge for "The Ninth Star and Torch English Talent Competition of Chinese Youngsters in Guizhou Province". Picture a competition like American Idol, but before they get to the big stage! And instead of singing, it's talking in English! Woah! I got to judge Chinese elementary school and preschool children on their oral English skills. It was so funny! The kids had to introduce themselves, do a performance (skit, monologue, song, or dance), describe a random (or not so random, as I later found out) picture, and finally answer a few questions from the Question Master, who happened to be *cue dramatic music*... ME! 

What neat windmills at Huaxi Park
So a few things I learned from this experience: (1) Chinese education system is big on repetition and recitation, which isn't good once you divert from a specific text. Some of these kids could give a monologue about Chinese-American trade relations or a backpack that looked like a panda, but if you asked them to define "trade" or "what color is a panda bear", they would have no clue what to say. For this reason, most of my questions were very basic. (What color do you like? What are your hobbies? How old are you?") They know "pre-programmed" answers to many questions, but if they are not asked in the order they learned, they cannot function in a conversation.  (2) More and more children over here are starting to learn English at a younger age. Maybe fifteen years ago, students were learning English starting at ten years old. Now, there are preschoolers who can carry on very basic conversations. Imagine what their level will be when they are 10! (3) I never ever want to hear the story of the three little pigs, or this story about a boy who lost his axe in the woods again. After hearing 20 preschoolers tell me those two stories I was ready to huff and puff and blow the building down. That being said, I heard a really cute versions of Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Over the Rainbow from Wizard of Oz, Queen's We Will Rock You, and You are My Sunshine. Oh, and this chubby little boy who could have been the human Winnie the Pooh told the story of Pooh eating honey and getting stuck in Rabbit's house. Everyone in the audience was laughing. (4) The other two judges were Chinese professors who taught English at Guizhou University. Of the three original judges from American Idol I was totally Randy, my scores were not as high as the guy on my left, and I was a lot nicer than the lady on my left.

By day a building, by night an instrument
(Lee Hom cannot play this)

IV. Wang Lee Hom Concert

What has thousands of heads and more colors than Rainbow Fish? A Wang Lee Hom concert in China! For only 208 Yuan I got tickets to a really awesome concert, and hey, with a basketball game and a hot springs adventure I had to take it to the next level this week in November. Xiao Xiao, along with probably a third of the girls in China (and a ton of guys, too) is a huge fan of Wang Lee Hom. This guy was born in America to Chinese/Taiwanese parents. He now lives in China as one of China's biggest superstars and he's a classically trained one at that. So when Xiao Xiao learned that she could get discounted tickets to the show, Carter, Mathew, Sara, Laura, and me also ended up going. I'm so glad I did! I had already heard of a few Lee Hom songs because they are played everywhere (supermarkets, the park, KTV,etc), but I really had a fun time just enjoying the atmosphere and music at the live show. The concert was held at the soccer stadium close to Guiyang. Even though the tickets were not sold out, it was still so packed, sometimes living in Huaxi you forget how many people actually live in China, but at huge events like this you really get a feel for the enormity of the population. I did manage to take pictures and videos of the concert so I'll post a few of them here!
(More concert pictures at the end)
Oh, that's nothing special-
just playin' piano 20 feet in the air

Yup, more colors than Rainbow Fish.
Everyone had glowsticks and light up hats, Minnie Mouse bows, etc.

V. Of Course it was not all Concerts and Competitions...

A mini corn-hole set. You know, cause they
have those tiny corns in Chinese take-out?
In between all these particularly grand events, I also had a lot of fun hanging out with classmates and friends, exploring more of Guiyang, and going on a dog hunt in Huaxi. And of course I cannot forget schoolwork. Each week we seem to have more and more quizzes to study for. I'm learning a lot though, and I know my Chinese is improving. More updates later this week!

Two new classmates on the left: An and Ran Huang Nan, and Ming laoshi (teacher)

(More Concert pics- sorry if they are blurry- seats were pretty far away.)
The Venue-Outside
The Venue- Inside

Groupies?  Uhhhh... Maybe just Xiao Xiao.

Wang Lee Hom: The Music Man II

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 31: 祝你万圣节快乐!

Dear Friends and Family,

Have a very Happy Halloween! I hope you're enjoying the Fall weather! It's finally getting cold over here, but we are still blessed with mostly sunny days! Halloween is not really celebrated over here in China but I "carved" a "pumpkin" anyways to get into the spirit of one of my favorite holidays! I also wore a costume to a birthday party dinner tonight, but I'll get the pictures tomorrow.

Maybe it was a cantaloupe and maybe I just drew on it with a sharpie. 

Happy Halloween in Chinese: Zhu ni wansheng jie kuai le!



TGIF: Thank Goodness it's Fall!

October 1-7: National Holiday Week


The first week of October was a week of celebration! In China people celebrate 中秋节, or Mid-Autumn Festival. Another name for this celebration is the Moon Festival. During this time people are supposed to go back to their families and eat moon cakes. Have you tried a moon cake before? I ate a few different types; they were interesting to say the least. One had pork fat in it, another had egg yolk, and the last (and I believe one of the more popular ones here) was a bitter bean paste. Guess which one I liked. Definitely not the pork fat...

Many Chinese students returned home during this national holiday week, so the International Student Office helped the International Students throw a little celebration. We made jiaozi (dumplings) and ate mooncakes, and listened to some music.  

Century Eggs
I also ate pidan, which is a type of preserved egg. According to tradition they are buried for a hundred years or a thousand years in ash, and then you eat it. (There is now a chemical process so I think it takes a month or less to make, nowadays.) After a chemical change in the composition of the egg, the egg white turns black and jelly-like and the yolk is blue-green. Talk about an interesting looking meal! I managed to eat half of one. They taste like very old boiled eggs. I usually like hard-boiled eggs, but I got psyched out by the color and texture of the egg and wouldn't finish it. 

黔灵山公园 (Qianling Mountain Park)

View of Guiyang from the tower on top of Qingling shan
In addition to jiaozi and mooncakes I planned some small Guizhou excursions with Jada, Mathew and Sara for the week. We went to Qianling Park (a Mountain in the middle of Guiyang that is well known for the monkeys that live there) on two consecutive days. The first day Mathew and Sara and I went to see the monkeys and the second day we all went paddle boating and climbed to the peak of the mountain. Once at the summit the view of Guiyang city was phenomenal!

 In addition to the monkeys, good scenery and paddle boats there were all sorts of other representations of Chinese culture. A few men were writing stories of their hometowns on the sidewalks by using water and huge brushes. I discovered a group of musicians playing the pipa, erhu, and several other instruments. Near the top of the mountain there is a Buddhist temple with a wall depicting the 9 dragons. 

Don't feed me century eggs!

Tower on top of Qianling shan

On the hike up to the top of the  mountain we fed the monkeys some snacks like bananas, pidan (see above), and nuts. The loved most of the food, but not the pidan! I guess monkeys and people are pretty similar in some aspects. Hahaha!  One of them even walked up to Jada on 2 legs and reached his hand into her pocket looking for food. Talk about brave monkeys! They were pretty much in charge of the middle section of the mountain.

I think that maybe every medium sized Chinese body of water has paddle boats you can rent. When I was in Yanqing we went out on one that has a bicycle pedal paddle. Not too tough. This time we got one with oars. We tried to cross the lake, but it took so much longer than we originally thought- so we only made it halfway. It was still a lot of fun and we got a bunch of strange looks and hellos from some Chinese tourists.

天河潭 (Tian He Tan)

Our next mini-vacation was to see the caves at Tian He Tan! This is probably one of the most well known tourist destinations in Guizhou province. It took a long time to get out to the actual park because it is not in the middle of the city. We trekked across the "100 Steps Pond" (actually 178, but who's counting?) and then  walked by a really neat old water wheel. The main attraction, however, was a boat ride through some caverns followed by an hour long hike back out to the open air. Here are some cool pictures from the caves and rest of Tian He Tan.
100 Steps Pond

There were a lot of multicolored lights in the caves.

Entering the caves!

These lights are obviously NOT NATURAL! But very pretty

I felt like I was in Candyland or a warp tube or something.
I just liked the way the light plays off the rock formations in this one.

At the end we zip-lined all the way back to the park entrance

Kaili and Leishan

Mountains around the Miao village
Hotpot! 1 side spicy, 1 side plain
Really pretty bridge outside of Miao village
So the last short trip planned was the longest! Jada, Sara, Mathew, Anupa, her husband, Arnab, and myself all went to Kaili for three days. Kaili has a large Miao minority population. While we were there we went to a Buddhist temple, a very sad zoo, and a smaller Miao village out in the countryside. It was a really interesting trip because I hadn't really been able to interact with many minority people. We also sat on buses a lot. In a spread out province like Guizhou, nothing is very close- except the snack shops! While in Kaili we mostly ate hotpot- when you're eating with Jews and Hindus in a city that doesn't serve chicken, kosher protein options are few and far between. I wasn't too excited about the hotpot, but we did try a Kaili specialty one night, a type of spicy fish hotpot. We also had a hotpot that used frog broth.

I just loved this sign!
A Miao girl and me
Traditional Miao dance

At the Miao village we ate some traditional food that I thought was better than hotpot. We also saw some cool dances and listened to traditional music. The best part about this particular village is that it wasn't overrun by tourists. We got to go inside some Miao people's houses and actually check out how they live for real instead of just "seeing a show", albeit, some of it was obviously just for profit.

The next day we went spent 2 hours in a bus on the way to Leishan. When we finally arrived we saw the fog outside and then took about 2 more hours back. No seriously- it was a bummer that the weather was too bad for this to be a good day. At least I caught up on sleep while riding the bus. 

And that was how I spent my Chinese National Holiday.