Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In Hong Kong/Reflections on Qingdao

So, I guess I lied about the whole last post thing and I'll write a quick one here. We're somewhat settled in to our hostel in Hong Kong. Today was an extremely difficult and heart wrenching day. I said goodbye to some of the best friends I've ever had. It really felt like I was leaving the people who have been my family for the past four months. Several of my friends cut the last class of the morning to come and see Maeve and me off and there were tears from all of us. At this point I think it hasn't really hit me yet that I'm not just going to wake up in Qingdao tomorrow morning and go eat a baozi (包子) breakfast with my friends before class. It's hard to process that that amazing group of people will probably never be in the same place again and that I'd have to go all around the world to see them individually. Before coming to Qingdao, my heart was already split between two countries; the country of my birth and of my family, and the country that has captivated my academic interest for the past few years. Now, my heart is scattered around the world with the friends who I've grown to love. Given that a high concentration of these friends are located in Europe (France, Germany, Italy, England, Austria, Czech Republic, The Netherlands...), I really hope that I can get the chance to go and visit them. These have been the best four months of my life and I wouldn't change a thing.

Well, that's about all of the reflection I can muster after an exhausting travel day. This may (or may not) be my last post for a while. Though, we will be in this hostel for the next five or six days, so I will have regular internet access.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I apologize for the lack of posts in the past few weeks, and I apologize again that this may be my last post for quite some time. Tomorrow I leave Qingdao and head to Hong Kong where I am meeting my professor to start or research in the next few days. I am currently stressed out trying to get all of my junk into suit cases in a semi organized fashion. I'm extremely sad to be leaving Qingdao and all of the friends I've made here (in particular, a cheeky Iranian and an adorable German). I'm also really sad to leave the life that I've made here. Yesterday I finished all of my exams and my favorite teacher gave me a lovely present (a dictionary of Chinese idioms, 成语) and she included a really sweet inscription. Today I went in and said goodbye to my class, which included several invitations to come to Korea. I really wish I didn't have to leave. At the same time, however, I'm really excited for the next month in southern China. I'm excited to see my two friends from The Rock who will be meeting us there and I'm excited to see my professor Chris and meet his family.

When I am home in August, I will have more time for reflection and writing about my trip as well as more picture uploading. I will try to write several more posts here at that time. Because I will have very limited internet access over the next month, I don't know if there will be any more posts before I get back.

I hope everyone has a lovely month of July (oh, I guess that's when I turn 19). Also, enjoy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II! I am sad to have to miss that premier.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Yesterday I received a phone call out of the blue from a Chinese girl I had met my first week in Qingdao. She and her friends met us while they were on vacation in Qingdao. We spent a lovely day together, but then they were leaving to go back to their city. I've only talked to this girl a few times online since, so it was quite a surprise when she called me.

She was just making a friendly phone call saying that she missed me and asking me when I was going back to America. After a couple of minutes talking, she stopped and asked if I remembered the first time we met and the fact that we could barely communicate. I remember clearly how awkward it was to hang out with this group of Chinese teenagers and how they would laugh when we tried to communicate with them. This time, I understood everything she said and was able to respond appropriately.

I can't believe the improvement that I've experienced with my Chinese over the past three months. I feel like I am fast approaching a vital juncture at which I will start to feel more comfortable speaking Chinese in any situation, so I am sad to leave this conducive learning environment. Several of my Chinese friends have been commenting lately on how much my Chinese has improved and that now I can understand almost everything they say. It feels really good.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

More food adventures

So, being in the foreign students' dorm and going to class with all foreigners (I use the word here to mean not Chinese) means that we get an introduction to far more cultures than simply Chinese. Most of my classmates are Korean and I've learned a few phrases. Several of my friends are Italian and I now have an extensive vocabulary of Italian swear words. And because one of my friends is Australian, last week I had the pleasure of trying vegemite. My friend Katie had us try vegemite with butter on toast. I had heard interesting things about this substance before, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. After the first bite, I thought it was disgusting, but by the time I finished the toast I liked it enough to try it again on a cracker. I am certain that I couldn't handle eating it every morning for breakfast like many Australians did, but nonetheless, I did (mostly) enjoy it.

Again back to Chinese food eating adventures...

This week I met up with a seventeen year old Chinese girl who will be going to America to finish her last two years of high school and then hopes to go to an American university. Before she leaves for America, she is learning how to cook Chinese food so that she can do so for her host family. Therefore, a couple days ago she invited me to learn how to make dumplings with her. Her housekeeper/nanny type person is rather an expert at it and she spent several hours teaching us. The last time I made dumplings during immersion week at Simon's Rock last year, we used store bought wrappers, but this time we made them all from scratch. While the dumplings that the two of us made were distinguishable from those of the nanny due to how ugly they were, they all tasted great and only one out of the whole batch broke.

In addition to dumplings, her nanny made a bunch of different dishes and then my friend told her mom to pick some more stuff up on the way home from work. What her mom came home with was bags and bags of rather strange food items.

So, here are the strange new things I tried at dinner:

1. Duck neck
2. Chicken feet
3. Pig feet
4. Duck head
5. Pig liver

So far I have maintained my position that I will try anything offered to me once (as long as it isn't an animal that I've once cherished as a pet).

So, the verdict on these interesting foods?

Duck neck was actually quite delicious. It was extremely spicy, but I enjoyed it a lot. I would definitely eat that again.

Chicken feet...I'm not so sure about. While the flavor was alright, the texture was rather disgusting. It was sort of scaly and slimy. There was also not really much of anything to eat off of it.

Pig feet I also didn't enjoy so much, though it was better than the chicken feet. I think from now on I'll just stay away from animal feet in general. Most of my dislike for it was also a texture thing.

Duck head (by which I mean the entire head, beak, eyes, and all) was a little more daunting than the rest of the foods I tried. When they offered me one at first I said no thank you because to be honest I was a bit grossed out by the prospect of eating it. When they said again that it was really tasty and that I ought to try it I said, truthfully, that I had no idea how to eat it. They showed me that you can eat it with your hands by holding the beak and basically gnawing at the head. I toughed up and tried it. To my surprise, it was actually extremely delicious. I quickly got over the disgust at the fact that I was chewing on an animals head and enjoyed it thoroughly. I didn't eat the brain since I knew from my last trip to China that I don't particularly like duck brains. I would definitely try that again.

Last on the list of interesting foods for the night was pig liver. All I have to say about that is EWW. The flavor and the texture were enough combined that I had serious difficulty not throwing it up or spitting it out. As my friend was watching me I tried to stifle my gags and swallow it practically whole. That I will not be trying again.

There is this really cool food street that I went to last weekend that has even more crazy things like insects, lizards, and all sorts of weird looking seafood, so I hope to go there and try things before I leave. When someone isn't telling me to eat something, though, I'm not sure if I'll have the courage to do it. I told one of my friends this and she told me she'd buy for me just to enjoy watching me eat the crazy things. I really want to try scorpion on a stick......I wonder if you risk stinging your tongue?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Once again, I have to apologize at the start of a post for how long it's been since I've written anything. I'm not really good at or accustomed to this whole blog writing thing, so I forget that I'm supposed to be doing it sometimes (or I just can't be bothered to). Anyway, here is a long overdue post about my trip to Shanghai during our week long break. 

We only spent five days in Shanghai and therefore didn't get to see all that much. We also didn't plan anything more than a couple of hours in advance (we purchased our hostel rooms online Friday afternoon and our plane tickets the day before that). I'm usually someone who likes to prepare for things, but it wound up being really nice to be able to be spontaneous with two friends in a big city like Shanghai. We spent a lot of time just walking around the city and getting the feel of it. 

On Saturday, we made our way to the main area of the city and went to a park called People's Square. It was not a very nice day as far as the weather went, but the park was really pretty and peaceful.

It was really cool to see the tall buildings looming over the trees.

My lovely travel companions Maeve and Cedric.

Myself and my (fake) gay French boyfriend, Cedric.

We happened upon a man playing the traditional Chinese guzhen in the park.

And of course, a Starbucks.

A couple taking wedding pictures in the street.

I was amused by the fact that they had Pocky in the vending machines.

In China, and even more so in Shanghai, they have McDonald's ice cream windows. It's basically drive through for pedestrians, but they only serve ice cream. Some of them were attached to actual McDonald's stores, but this one wasn't. Cedric had a hard time stopping himself from getting ice cream every time we passed one.

He's quite adorable (and unfortunately, back in France already).

I believe this was a museum with a really cool statue outside of it. We had just gone shopping in an underground market underneath it.

The weather was pretty terrible 4/5 of the days we were there.
 We also joined Australian friends Katie and Sean who also came to Shanghai and went together to Suzhou. Suzhou is often called one of the most beautiful cities in China and it is only a half hour train ride outside of Shanghai.
Mao's predecessor 周恩来 (Zhou Enlai) on the front of a train.

This was a touristy (but also historical) street in Suzhou.

Katie in the back of a rickshaw. There were three of us in it. The driver told the two boys to go together in the other one because they were the 'heaviest,' though I think we were all heavier than Cedric.

We stopped for an afternoon snack (meal) in a bakery which had this interesting cake for sale.

In Suzhou, even the bus stops are pretty.

Back in Shanghai

The Chinese said 巧克力世界 which means chocolate world.

We went to the Shanghai museum with a half Japanese half Hong Kongese boy we had met the previous night.

This guy's super attractive.

Buddha with a (reversed) swastika on it's chest. I hate that it is no longer, and will never be a symbol of peace like it once was.


Cedric posing like the statue.

Yes, he's stepping on a baby.

Clothing of Chinese ethnic minorities (there are 56).

This was the first day with clear skies of the whole trip. It was lovely.

The famous Shanghai skyline at The Bund

I was doing terribly at taking clear photos, but this one at least looks cool.

Overall it was an extremely enjoyable and relaxing vacation. We found an amazing hostel thanks to the recommendation of two German friends who had stayed there before. It was 45 yuan for each of us per night which amounts to about 6 USD. What we had paid for was a mixed dormitory. What we didn't expect was that the dormitory only had four beds and that we wound up being the only three people in the room. For 6 USD a night, we had a clean, decent sized room for the three of us. They also had a free breakfast every morning! The hostel was a bit out of the way of the main city center, but it wound up being extremely preferable. We were able to see a calmer side of Shanghai, including a traditional Chinese market street right behind our hostel that sold a whole variety of live animals for food (I forgot to bring my camera for that part). We were also five minutes away from the nearest subway stop. I was shocked at how nice the Shanghai subway was. It was clean and efficient, unlike in New York.

While I would definitely love to go back to Shanghai on vacation, I don't think I would want to live there. What I like so much about Qingdao is that it is not too huge, but also not too small. I think I would be a bit overwhelmed in Shanghai. Also, I've grown accustomed to the fact that in Qingdao as a 外国人 (foreigner) I get a lot of attention. In Shanghai, there were foreigners everywhere! I prefer being somewhat unique, or at least unexpected. Also, I think because of the size difference, people in Qingdao are a bit more friendly.

Anyway, when we got back to Qingdao on Wednesday evening, I was happy to be home. We still had half of our break left and it was nice to go back and relax a bit. I saw some Chinese friends and slept a lot.

Also, I just realized that I am meeting Chris Coggins (my professor) in Hong Kong three weeks from today to start our research. AHHHHHHH! While I'm really excited for our month of research, I'm already dreading leaving Qingdao. I've loved it here so much and I have so many great friends from all over the world who I'm not sure when I'll ever see again.

Okay, so I hope this long post will somewhat make up for my negligence over the past few weeks. Once again, I'm sorry. I know my mother has been reminding me frequently that my "blog reading public," whoever that includes, has been growing restless as of late. I'll try to be better, but as my time here is winding down, I don't think I can make any promises.

Ciao for now (I have several Italian friends).