Thursday, October 28, 2010

China, get out of my head.

I wonder how many Chinese values have started to make their inroads into my value system. One traditional value, especially in rural areas, is a preference for having boys over girls.

The other day, a student was telling me that when she was about 7 years old, her mother got pregnant. Her belly got very, very large. After her mother returned from the hospital, she (my student) was shocked to walk into the room and discover two newborn babies laying on the bed. I asked whether they were boys or girls, and she said they were twin boys. The three other students immediately said things like, "Wow!!" "Boys!" "So lucky!"

The weird thing is, I had the same reaction. Wow -- twins are awesome! Boys -- even better! Really, I don't actually think that. But something about hearing story after story of families trying for baby boys and finally getting them ("so lucky!") has given me a Pavlovian association that boys = good. China, get out of my head.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Good Cause

World Vision is asking for help to contain the cholera outbreak in Haiti. Sounds like a good cause: Donate here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Abstract at Yi River

Book Club

Do you love to read? Do you want to practice your oral English? Are you a junior at Qufu Normal University? Join the book club!

Every Monday night, about a dozen junior girls come to my apartment for book club. This semester we are reading and discussing the wonderful Anne of Green Gables. It's a lot of fun. Tonight there was such a heated debate about Anne and Gilbert's future that Caroline had to stand up and shout to make her opinion heard. (Caroline believes that they will eventually become a couple.)

Since I believe that good books and good food go together, I try to bake something for the book club each week, and sometimes I have the girls help. Last week we made a cinnamon oatmeal cake, to which we also added beans. Because, hey -- this is China! Why not?

Most of the girls are students in my writing class. Today, I discovered the following entry in one of their writing journals.
Last night, I went to Alison’s home for reading. The members of the book club were almost there at 7:00.

Our first sight in the room was several bananas on the table. At first I didn’t show any surprise at them. However, as Alison took out an instruction for food, we were all puzzled with excitement. “Aren’t we going to talk about the book? Are we going to learn cooking?” Later, Alison took out the needed ingredients and told us that we would make some banana cakes. That’s really waked our mind up. In one minute, we are ready to begin. Rosy smashed three bananas in a big bowl. Windy .D churned up the butter, oil, eggs, and flower. The rest of us added salt, sugar, baking soda, etc. in it. And lastly, Alison and I put the ready mixture into a oven. Because we had to wait for about one hour, so we took use of the time to talk about the book we had read during the national holiday.

“Wow! Ca sent bon!” Evry cried out in French, when she smelled the delicious cake. No long after that, we got the chance to have a taste. It’s soft, sweet-smelling and warm. The banana cakes tasted so good! Thank you, Alison!”

For the record, the students "Windy .D" and "Evry" are actually Wendy D. and Avery, and we cooked with oil and flour, not butter and flower. If you ever want some soft, sweet-smelling banana bread, feel free to drop by some Monday night.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Counting Fingers

Did you know that Chinese people can count to ten on one hand? They have special hand signs for the numbers 6-10, and they are frequently used whenever numbers come up (for example, when giving prices in the market). Sometimes these hand signs help distinguish between 4 (si) and 10 (shi), which can sound alike.

Here is your mini-tutorial:

I also just came across a cool page that gives the meaning of gestures in the West and in China. There's some great Chinese translation on the page for those of you learning the language, and also interesting descriptions and pictures for the rest of us. Here it is.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Welcome to Part 2 of my Xi'an adventures. After the first day wandering around the city by myself, a bunch of friends from my organization arrived. Excellent.

Scenes from in and around the Seven Sages Hostel:

Twice we went walking through the Muslim Quarter, where you can find meat on a stick, art, dried fruit, and zillions of people. We also ate one of the local specialties, yang rou pao mo.

We went to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, an army of soldiers who have been busy for centuries protecting the grave of a dead emperor. They are famous for being individually crafted, each one different. (There was also an army of tourists there, and even getting into the restroom required a bit of a fighting spirit.) The highlight of this excursion was eating Subway sandwiches.

We biked on the old city wall at sunset. This was awesome! It took us an hour or two to get around the whole thing. It was bumpy and dark. The view of the city was great, and the wall was lit with beautiful lights and red lanterns.

We saw the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which was in the neighborhood of some other important attractions (Papa John's and Dairy Queen, for example).

We played Settlers of Cattan:

And then I went home. Thus ended my favorite trip so far in China.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Around Xi'an

I went to Xi'an for a few days over October Holiday. It's pronounced "shee-ahn," and it's the home of the Terra Cotta Warriors and other historical legacies which you can read about here if you so desire.

I arrived by plane from Chongqing in the afternoon, half a day before any of my other friends arrived. So this post is a photo chronicle of my solo wanderings in Xi'an.

First, I got to the city center by the airport shuttle, and there were people EVERYWHERE because it was the holiday. No words or photos can fully convey the crowds at a Chinese tourist destination during a major Chinese holiday. I hung around long enough to look at the beautiful bell tower and drum tower:

The Bell Tower

The Starbucks near the Drum Tower

I couldn't get a cab to my hostel, so I ended up paying a guy 10 times too much to take me on his motorcycle. After checking in, I walked to a park near my hostel. It was like every other Chinese park I've visited: Willow trees, pagodas, a pond with cheesy boats, old people, kids, and more. It was a beautiful day.

People gathered around a small Peking Opera performance at the park

Walkway to the pagoda where old guys were playing traditional instruments and a woman was singing traditional songs, pumped through the speakers at top volume

Drawing and playing

Lots of little girls were in these outfits, which were for sale throughout the park. Why not? It's a holiday!

I left the park and found some rice noodles at a little hole in the wall on my hostel's street.

Veggies & noodles

Styrofoam on the move

At last, it was time to wander back to the bell tower neighborhood to meet my friend Sara.

As far as I could tell, this kid was raising money for a children's acrobatics troupe.

Flag and tourists

Bell Tower by dusk

Hooray! Sara arrived.