Monday, June 8, 2009

Bamboo Ladders and Telephone Wires

During a bike ride this week, I saw this scene and had to stop and enjoy it. I love what I see: 2 men "holding" a ladder, which seems to be more like standing beside it smoking while their coworker does all the work. You can see the man in the foreground has his pants rolled up, which is pretty common here. When its even hotter, it's not uncommon to see guys who have pulled their T-shirts up so it rests on top of their beer belly.
And their coworker...
Yikes! It caught my attention when out of the corner of my eye, I saw him walking across the wires, holding the top ones while his feet slid across the lower wires.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fabric Market

I went with a friend to have some sheets adjusted, and it brought back fond memories of my first week in China. Chinese say that foreigners are large and very round (my teacher compared my eyes to Thomas the Tank Engine!), but I think mine were especially that shape my first week here because everything was so new and different.

One of my first experiences was buying custom-made sheets for my bed. K brought me to this place, and I looked through spool after spool of fabric, and, after deciding which one I wanted, bargained with the seller. Er, K bargained for me, since my Chinese was limited to about 2 words at that point.
After buying the material, for the equivalent of about $10, we walked around the corner, where 5 women waited for sewing jobs. We took the material up to one of the seamstresses, and K explained the dimensions of the sheets. The woman didn't seem too pleased, and after a short conversation, K turned to translate back to me. She said the woman thought it was a hassle to sew a fitted sheet, and this would cause it to take longer and gave her a reason to charge more. The amount of time? An hour and a half. The cost? 20¥, or just under $3 U.S. Expecting her to state a much higher cost and amount of time, I happily handed over the money, and a couple hours later, picked up my new sheets!

some women looking at sample sheet patterns
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Parallel Parking is Overrated

This is the street I live on and ride my bike on every day to go to class. This week, on my way home, I saw this:
Here's a closer look:

I thought at first that maybe the driver had crashed into the tree, but a closer look revealed that he/she probably just felt like the car wouldn't fit in the parallel parking space along the street, and that it was easier to park like this than to try and find another place to park. I haven't driven a car much in the last two years, and I'm afraid some of the Chinese driving "rules" will rub off, but I don't think you'll ever see my car parked like that!
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Monday, May 11, 2009

Hua Shan

Last year on a three day weekend, some friends and I decided to go climb Hua Shan, one of China's five Daoist mountains. When we got to the bus station, however, we changed our minds because of two factors: the hoards of people going somewhere because it was a three day weekend, and it started raining. Since that time a year ago, I've been waiting for a chance to try again, and that chance finally came! The view from the top was absolutely beautiful.From the bottom, we hiked 5 hours of steps until we reached the North Peak, the first of five. Some parts were steeper than others, but almost all of the trail was made of stairs carved into the rock.
This was only the beginning!
taking a break
From North Peak, we climbed over to Central Peak, then East Peak, where we spent the night before hiking the rest.
the sun setting during our hike over to Central Peak

The next morning, we woke up early to see the sunrise. It was somewhat cloudy, but still awesome.
After the sun rose, we headed over to south peak, where I walked the plank. I had seen pictures of this before that looked scary, but when I saw the plankwalk, I knew I wanted to do it! We were clipped in with two carabiners, then walked along wooden planks that were secured along the side of a cliff. On the other side was, well, nothing but a really long fall. It was fun, though!
Hua Shan was beautiful, fun, invigorating, cold, and tiring. I love being outside and enjoying nature, but can't say I'm a huge fan of thousands of stairs! It's certainly not a mountain for the faint in heart, or the not-in-shape. I'm glad I finally had the chance to climb it, was worth it!

You can see more pictures here.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Jay the Starbucks Employee

Saturday morning I lugged my laptop and a couple books over to Starbucks to get some reading and work done. I ordered a latte, then settled in for the morning. After a few minutes of reading, the Starbucks employee that had just made my latte came up and asked if I wanted to try some coffee. Confused, I asked him to repeat his question. He asked if he could make me some coffee. Still confused. He repeated his question several times, in Chinese and English. I understood the words coming out of his mouth, but had no idea what he was saying! Finally, thinking that he was planning to make a sample of coffee but wanted to make sure that it would be worth it, that people would drink it, I said yes.

A few minutes later, Jay the Starbucks employee walks up holding a tray. On the tray was a French press and two little coffee cups, as well as a pastry...for the two of us to share. The next two hours were spent on a psuedo-date with Jay the Starbucks employee. Only once did he have to get up to actually work by answering the phone; the rest of the time, even though he was on his shift!

After two hours of talking, I told Jay the Starbucks employee that I had to leave. Walking out to the street, I tried to catch a taxi to go to a friend's house. There was another guy, around 40 years old, also waiting. I commented on how hard it was to get a taxi, and he agreed, then asked where I was going. I told him, and he said that it was near where he was going, and we could ride together. Thinking his idea made sense, I continued to try, unsuccessfully, to flag down a taxi...until the guy's friend pulled up in an Audi to pick him up! Then I realized that he was a completely different page than me, but everything I said made perfect sense with what he was thinking, and vice versa! But he held open the car door for me, insisting it wasn't a big deal, and we headed off to our destinations. I was glad to have a ride, at least, until the driver dropped off the guy who had offered me a ride, awkwardly leaving just me and the driver for the last half of the drive.

Every day in China I experience something I have never experienced before (and it's often something I couldn't have thought of myself), but Saturday was a bonus, with two big adventures in one morning!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Here's what I've been up to this week - the "ING's" of my week.

-reading...Wild Swans, a book about a Chinese woman's grandmother, mother, and her own life in China

-studying...Chinese. It never ends!'s finally getting warm enough to use my bike for more than just necessary transportation

-playing...with my little friends who live in the foster home. They came and helped me make dinner this week.

-hanging out...a lot with friends. Hosted about 15 people for a friend's birthday party, which included delicious fajitas and a food fight later with the cake!

-cleaning...the cake off the floor after people left that night.

-opening...the windows. Rain was in the forecast, so I closed them when I went to class in the morning, but it never did rain. I opened them back up as soon as I got home.

-wondering...if I can get my tutor to laugh. I had to work pretty hard at it this week, but did eventually get a couple little chuckles out of her.

-enjoying...watching all the kids play outside with their grandparents, now that the weather is warmer. the sounds of China: fireworks celebrating a business opening (this happens daily within my hearing range), the Happy Birthday garbage truck, cars honking.

-watching...a fight. One morning as I was reading, I heard people yelling, so I looked out my 23rd floor window to see grown men throwing punches down on the street.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Living in China seems to be a catalyst for stories. During March, Stacy and I took off on what we thought would be a restful and fun weekend trip, and a good chance to see more of China. What I hadn't planned on, though, were the numerous stories to come home to tell!
After a 14 hour train ride to the city, we boarded a bus for a couple hour ride out to Qinghai Lake, the largest inland saltwater lake in China. Once we got there, a 19 year old guy pulled up on a motorcycle, trying to convince us that he could get us to the lake for ¥20, even though there was a ¥50 entrance fee. After asking a lot of questions to make sure he wasn’t trying to cheat us, we decided to take our chances and trust him. At one point when I was asking him questions, he told me, “I’m Zang minority! Of course I’m not trying to trick you!” That wasn’t exactly a convincing argument, but nonetheless we went with him. I kept telling him we wanted to find a place to stay first, but he was insistent on taking us to the lake first. Stacy and I hopped on the back of his motorcycle, with our backpacks, and rode out to the lake. Once we got there, there was a chance to ride horses, so with our packs still on, we rode horses along the beautiful lake, which was frozen over.

After riding, our new friend took us back into the little town. I've seen villages in China, but I've never seen any that can compare to tiny Nebraska towns. (When I went to the kid's home in December, the driver told me that the "village" had a population of 250,000!) But this place didn't have a lot of life going on. Apparently quite a few tourists come out to the lake and the town comes alive, but only in the summer - not March. While I did see quite a few restaurants and places to stay, not many were actually open at the time. No longer with the option of going back to Xining to stay, we began looking for a place to stay. Motorcycle Man told us he knew of just the place we could stay, for only ¥20/night, so once again, we loaded up on his bike, and took off. A short ride later, we arrived at this home that was made of three rooms and a hallway connecting them. We were shown our room:
The first thing that caught my eye was not that there was carpet on the mattress, but that a mattress existed! It's not uncommon in places like these to just have a little mattress pad instead of a mattress. This makes for extremely hard beds and ridiculously long nights. But this place was high class: not only did they have a mattress, but a mattress pad, er, carpet, on the mattress! I turned to the owner and asked about heat: yup, a space heater would be provided, with electricity turned on in the evening. So far, so good. How about showers? He looked at me with a little bit of a strange look, and told me that hot water would be provided in the morning. I looked at Stacy, and we both kind of shrugged. When you're roughing it, you might as well rough it, right? And my last question: where are the bathrooms? This time, he definitely gave me a strange look, as if wondering how I could ask that question, and said, "Suibian!" which means, "It's up to you!" or "whatever!" Perfect! We told him we would take it (only to find out later that the only way to get around the corner from the house was to face the street to use our suibian bathroom! The street was quite a ways away, though.)

With the lake behind the house, these mountains made up the view from the front of the house. Finding snow on the ground the next morning made us even more thankful for our heated room!The next morning we rode up to the main road to catch a ride back into town on the public buses. The buses didn't come too frequently, and when they did, the driver would lay into the horn as he drove by, expecting people to flag him down if they wanted a ride. That morning was particularly windy, so our friend from the day before told us that his friend lived right on the main street, so we could wait for the bus in his pharmacy/home. It didn't take too much to convince me because of the wind chill. We sat down inside, enjoying the warmth. Hoooonk! Hoooonk! We jumped up and ran to the window, only to see a big truck zoom by. Nope, not our bus. We sat back down and kept waiting. After a while, we heard honking again. Our friend ran outside, but missed the bus. It drove by without even slowing down. I'm began to doubt the ability of his strategy to succeed, but wanting to stay warm, I was willing to risk it for a while longer. After several more trucks drove by, another bus rolled in. Running out and waving our arms, we waited for it to slow down. I'm sure it saw us - there was nobody else outside on the street - but for whatever reason, it didn't stop.

At this point, Stacy and I decided just to wait outside for the next bus, even though it was cold. Another 1/2 hour went by, without a single bus. Looking down the street, we saw a tourist bus parked outside a restaurant. Out of hope for the public bus, the two of us decided to ask if they were headed back into town and if they had any extra room. Every head in the restaurant turned to look at us as we walked in with red ears and windburned lips. The tour leader told me the bus was going back into town, and they did have room, so we piled on the bus with their tour group, sat in the back row, and enjoyed the ride back into Xining!

Once in Xining, the day passed without too much adventure. Mosques dot the city, including Dongguan Mosque, one of the 4 most famous Muslim mosques in China. I love seeing the influence of different people groups on a place.
We made it back safely after an hour flight (note: train ride - 14 hours; flight: 1 hour) and with lots of stories and pictures!

You can find more pictures here.
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