September 2008 archive

(9 entries)

September 25, 2008

Hey, get outta there! You gonna make people sick!

  • Yes, I am definitely getting a cold. I am exhausted and am going to bed at 8:30 tonight. Whereas all the water in my body had been going into sweat production earlier this week, now most of it is going into snot production now. But don't worry! It's still hot and sweaty out! I am probably going to pass out from dehydration if I stop drinking water for five minutes.
  • I'm going to Nanjing tomorrow. I may not update this weekend.
  • But I have some notes and I will blog them when I can.
  • Zaijian!

srah | 8:25 AM
Tags: china, health, travel

September 24, 2008

Y'all way past the beauty sleep thing, trust me.

Today's China update:

  • I saw my first squat toilet in China! Fortunately, I checked the next stall over and that had the other kind of toilet, so I was spared from having to use it. Bringing tissues and hand sanitizer was handy, though, as there was no TP or soap.
  • I've refined my answer to "is there anything you don't eat" to "anything with the eyes still on it" and "anything that's still alive". Still haven't been confronted with these yet, but that's because I tell people up front. The little kid next to me at lunch was eating a crispy duck whose face was angled towards me. I don't think it's so much that I'm disturbed by food with the head still on, as that I don't have a lot of exposure and I don't really know how to approach it. Where do you start when you get a whole animal delivered to you? Do I have to eat the eyes? I will not eat the eyes.
  • I actually sat down to eat dinner for the first time since I've been here and didn't have to eat dinner alone. I was perusing/shopping at the Super Brand Mall in Pudong and then got up the nerve to sit and eat alone, so I stopped into a Japanese ramen restaurant. When they finally got around to seating the white guy in front of me, they thought we were together, so we decided to sit together (and had to do a lot of miming to the waiter to tell him that we wanted separate checks). He just graduated from Oxford with a degree in Physics (!) and had traveled from England to Shanghai by train as a sort of grand tour before starting work in the real world. Apparently it took 9 hours (with customs/immigration/police, etc) for his train to cross the Kazakh/China border. We bemoaned our inability to drink milk in our tea (although I think this is overblown, because the melamine was only added to powdered milk to bulk it up, not to the fresh stuff where you would kind of notice the weird plastic texture!).
  • The mall was full of Japanese restaurants. I got the impression that the Japanese like to come over to Shanghai to do cheap shopping, sort of like Europeans coming over to New York for the good exchange rate. I bought some clothes, since I've sweat through almost everything I brought with me, and some souvenirs.
  • Then I went up the Oriental Pearl Tower, carrying all my bags with me. I don't think I was very popular in the crowded elevator.
  • Then I tried to hail a cab for about an hour. I got a lot of offers from non-professional taxi drivers (people with regular cars who offer to take you somewhere) and turned them down, and when a cab finally stopped for me, it was one of the red ones, which I have been warned about! I was so desperate that I took it, and it all turned out fine. Got back later than expected/desired, but I'm proud that I'm able to stay awake until 11!
  • I think I'm getting a cold. I'm off to have some orange juice and green tea with breakfast! I think I've finally gotten the hang of the breakfast buffet (I'm not trying the to-go thing again) so I will probably have a little bit of the Chinese offerings as well as the American/English ones. Yellow cream bun and baked beans, anyone?

srah | 7:51 PM
Tags: china, travel

September 23, 2008

What do you mean you're not lucky? You lied to me? And what are you, a sheep?

More notes from China:

  • I am kicking myself for getting my hair cut before leaving for China because a) it's got some weird bits that don't look right and b) it's not long enough to put in a ponytail anymore. I am collecting a lot of sweat on the back of my neck. I am gross.
  • I sat in on a class where we learned to sing the birthday song in Chinese. ♫ Zhu ni sheng ri kuai le...
  • That semester of Mandarin I took in college keeps coming back to me in little pieces. Unfortunately, it is all mixed up with the other things filed in the "Not English" section of my brain, so I keep mixing it up with French, Spanish and Arabic. Then I saw Italian and German tourists today and started adding in what little bits I know of those languages too. My head is a big mess. Mostly I've been sticking to "ni hao" (hello) and "xie xie" (thank you) rather than trying to speak actual sentences in Chinese. I did go zai tushuguan, though I didn't say anything about it in Chinese! And I understood a whole sentence that someone said, too!
  • Mandarin is pretty much a made-up language, like Modern Standard Arabic, which no one really speaks as a native but which is accepted by speakers from various dialects as a standard way to communicate across dialects. It's based most heavily on the Beijing dialect.
  • Before I came, I was warned to keep an eye out for people getting up to all kinds of bathroom-activities in public. So far I haven't seen any of that, but I have seen an excessive amount of spitting, complete with loogie-hocking. I hate public spitting. I would almost rather they were peeing.
  • I finally had Chinese food! It was good! My host asked me if there's anything I don't eat, and I thought about it for a while and then answered, "I don't eat anything with the eyes still on it." Fortunately, there was none of that. There was some kind of pastry made with durian, though, which one of my hosts described as tasting "both sweet and oniony", which turned out to be exactly right. I am making do pretty well with chopsticks, and haven't embarrassed myself too much on that front.
  • I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. Or at least for the last two days. On Monday, I arrived at campus and there was no one to meet me at the gate, so I asked the guard for directions, but he couldn't read the Roman alphabet, so he called over a few passing students who read the building name, walked me most of the way, then pointed me off in the right direction. A few minutes later, I was passed by two English-speakers on bicycles, so I called out and they confirmed that I was going the right way. Finally, I made it all the way to the director's office without any help from his staff! Today, the story was much the same, except that I had to ask two different Chinese students, and I was wandering around the wrong side of the campus to start with, so I ended up much sweatier.
  • Sweat. Seriously. What's the deal? Make it stop. It is so ridiculously humid here that even when I'm not sweating, I'm soggy from all the moisture my clothes have absorbed. How come I show up at the office looking like something the cat dragged in, and all the locals just go about their business looking fresh as a daisy?
  • The number 8 is lucky in China because it (ba) sort of sounds like the word for rich (fa). (This is one reason the Beijing Olympics started on 8/8/08). Apparently in China, license plates, phone numbers and house numbers with 8s in them are more expensive than other numbers because people are so fascinated with 8s. The word for 4 sounds like "death", apparently, so that's a very unlucky number to have. You can get a phone number with a 4 in it for free. The thing that's weirdest to me about this whole thing is that you have to pay for phone numbers. What?
  • Best thing I've seen so far? The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. What the heck was that? Whose idea was that? It was insane.
  • CNN in China broadcasts The Daily Show, or at least it did one day this week. I haven't seen it since. It also shows a lot of commercials trying to entice tourists to Malaysia.
  • This hotel is a little too fancy for me. They have a turndown service where they deliver a robe and slippers to your bed around 6pm (if you're out at 6pm, which I've only been once), put packages of cookies on your pillow and turn on a little night light. Also, when I checked in, the desk clerk (manager?) gave me her business card, walked me up and showed me the features of the room. When I went to breakfast on the first day and asked if I could get some tea and a croissant to go, one of the hostesses walked me around the buffet with a plate, then had me tell her what I wanted, which she would pick up and put on my plate until I said stop. I just wanted a croissant and she started piling stuff onto the plate! Then she boxed it all up and put it in a gift bag. I'm surprised she didn't put cinnamon and a sprig of holly in it. It's ridonkulous. I don't know what to do with myself in such a place. The fussing is weird. The place is about the price I would pay for a hotel room on a business trip in the US, but I guess that buys you a lot more hotel attention over here. I do like the concierge service, though, because they do all the translating to tell the taxi drivers where I want to go. Then when I want to go back, I have a card that says, "Take me to my hotel! Here is the address!" (though perhaps not in those exact words) in Chinese, so all I have to do is manage to flag down a taxi (yipes!) and show it to the driver.
  • People keep asking me if Shanghai is hotter than Miami. I've never been to Miami, but this is even harder to explain to non-English speakers than to Americans (which is hard enough!), because in most languages besides English, the names for the school in Florida and the one that I work at are the same. This was especially confusing because I introduced myself to someone and he said, "Ah yes, the hurricane. You are fine now?" and I was surprised that our windstorm damage - which got almost no coverage in the US - was news in China. Turns out, he was talking about the other Miami.

srah | 6:52 PM
Tags: china, food, travel, weather

September 22, 2008

Dishonor on you, dishonor on your cow...

Fun facts, observations and gross generalizations that I have made/learned so far (mostly gleaned from reading Lonely Planet China or from sitting in on a class at one of the study abroad programs I visited today)

  • In Chinese, every syllable ends in n, ng, r or a vowel.
  • The Chinese sayings: "entice the tiger away from the mountain" and "a dragon on the beach can be teased by shrimp" both mean that things are weaker outside of their usual environment, like "a fish out of water".
  • Lonely Planet China has a section titled "Visiting the Han, Solo" which I'm pretty sure they wrote just in order to be able to use that title, especially since the content of the section doesn't seem to be focused on travelling alone.
  • Due to population control and the preference for sons, there are about 23 million Chinese men (my age and younger) who will never find a Chinese wife. I think this is particularly interesting because when I was in San Francisco's Chinatown in March, the tour guide pointed out that there is a significant population of elderly men in Chinatown who never married or had children because of the restrictions placed on female Chinese immigration. This puts somewhat of a strain on the community, since the ideal situation is that the elderly will be cared for by their children. Maybe China just needs to institute an official policy of polyandry. (There is some culture in Asia that regularly practices polyandry. Is it in Nepal?)
  • Rather than central air, most places seem to have individual air conditioning for each room, leaving the hallways unconditioned. This is definitely more efficient than cooling every single place that a person might go, but it does get kind of weird getting all sweaty every time you leave a room.
  • When I say "most places" I mean "hotel(s) and classroom/study abroad administration building(s)" because so far that's most of what I've seen of China.
  • In a class that I visited today, in describing the difference between US and Chinese cultural values, the US was referred to as a guilt-based culture (based on an internalized value system) whereas China is a shame-based culture (based on adhering to the norms of a larger social network). I think that's a pretty neat idea, because it seems like every religious group (Catholics, Jews, etc) thinks that they have a corner on guilt, but I think it's just an American thing.
  • So far since I arrived in China I have eaten: a granola bar, a croissant, a pain au chocolat, black tea that tasted suspiciously Liptony, bulgogi and some kind of kimchi pancake thing. I look forward to actually eating some Chinese food, although the guy in the seat next to me on the plane here was originally from Chengdu and is rather dismissive of Shanghainese cuisine, because it's bland compared to the spicy Sichuan style. He owns a restaurant in the Atlanta area, so if anyone's around there, you might want to check it out.
  • Because I haven't reset their clocks, my camera and pedometer both think that a new day begins at noon. I am weirded out.

srah | 6:53 AM
Tags: china, travel

September 20, 2008

Highlight of my trip so far

I'm in the Dayton airport and Jerome the Laptop is plugged into the bottom plug of an outlet shared with one of those cell phone battery boosters that they have in airports. While I do not consider myself particularly strong at estimation, I don't think it would be exaggerating to guess that about 50% of the people who walk past actually remark out loud, "Look, cell phone recharging." The number is pretty impressive, considering how many of the other 50% are travelling alone and are therefore probably only remarking it inside their head, instead of to their travel partners. This is what people get excited about around here.

(Of course, my poll may be slightly biased by the current conditions: I'm pretty sure there are people in Dayton who are still without power after last week's storms, so the possibility of recharging cell phones may be exciting and novel and at the forefront of people's minds.)

A haiku I wrote about the trip so far:

O brave TSA!
Protecting us from liquids
But not terrorists

(This haiku is not entirely accurate, as I forgot to remove my bag o' liquids from my carryon and the TSA didn't notice. So I'm not even protected from those.)

God, I'm bored.

srah | 5:20 AM
Tags: airport, dayton, travel

September 19, 2008


I listened to this song right before I went to bed last night and as I lay there trying to fall asleep, the song was in my head. Then I dreamt that I was unable to say the word Australia without prefacing it with "shiny, new". I would say that I probably talk about Australia at work more than the average person (except maybe someone who works in Australian government/diplomacy or something), so when I was advising students, I would say things like, "If you want to study in an English-speaking country, you might want to consider looking at Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa in addition to the more popular countries like England and shiny new Australia."

When I woke up in the morning, it was in my head again.

srah | 10:37 PM
Tags: dr horrible's sing-along blog, dream

Nimen hao! Wo bu shi zai tushuguan!

Oh, by the way, I'm going to China tomorrow.

I'm going to Shanghai for work for the next ten days. I probably would have blogged this earlier, except that I've been insanely busy with a) work, then b) having no power/internet at home, then c) running around like a chicken with my head cut off, preparing for this trip. And d) more work.

But here we go, finally! I leave at 6am tomorrow. The flight is 18 hours long, and actually requires me to fly east (Atlanta) before flying west (Shanghai) in order to ultimately get to The East¹. I am, on the advice of my coworker, packing Tylenol PM in order to sleep on the plane. It shouldn't be too much of a problem, though, because I have plenty of sleep to catch up on. I got somewhere between 3 and 4 hours of sleep last night (due to packing, nerves, and the combination of packing and nerves that causes you to hop out of bed because you've been lying awake and just remembered another thing you needed to pack), and I'll probably get about 4.5-5 tonight, too, since I have to get to the airport tomorrow. So if I don't sleep on the plane, I will be ready for a huge breakdown right about the time that I land in a country where I know no one and don't speak the language. It is a very exciting prospect.

Anyway, nervous, excited, nervous again, and sleep-deprived. It is very exciting to be me right now!

Watch this space (or this space) for pictures!

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

srah | 10:04 PM
Tags: china, sleep, travel

September 15, 2008

Hello, my name is Sarah and I am an Internet addict

Due to big storms in the area, I have no power right now. But fortunately the university does! And even more fortunately, classes (and work for non-essential personnel) were cancelled today before they knew the university would get power back. So I'm dropping into my office to check out the Internet. Hello!

srah | 2:58 PM
Tags: weather

September 2, 2008

I'm not dead! I don't want to go on the cart!

Usually when bloggers apologize for not blogging, it's because they have an exaggerated sense of their own self-importance, and no one actually noticed they hadn't been blogging. But I actually have had complaints (well, a complaint) about the lack of bloggery since my big birthday moustache post, so I guess I should write something.

My birthday fell on the first day of the new semester (actually the second, but I took the first day off, and my new colleague has been plotting to kill me ever since), and it turns out this semester is way busier than any semester ever before. So far, being 28 consists of working like a madman all day until about 6pm, then going home and crashing for the whole evening. Oh, that and I got food poisoning or something this weekend. So... all in all, very exciting. And I'm afraid that between all the working and the crashing, I haven't had time for blogging, or even thinking about blogging. I'm too busy to think.

Someone give me a meme? Those require very little thought.

srah | 9:58 PM

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