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Update

I was talking to my Oma and Opa (Dutch for Grandma and Grandpa) and they asked for an update. This isn’t the first time that they, nor many other people in my family, have asked for a blog update. But it was the first time I realized that I haven’t done a very good job keeping the people in my life up to date on my China adventures. So Oma, Opa, and all the other important people in my life here is the update:

Recap:

I just tried to check my blog, but wordpress is actually blocked in China so that didn’t happen. As such I am not sure when my last post was, lets just assume it was near when I left China in 2011.

August 2011- I return to SF after spending 15 months living, working, studying and traveling in China. My friend picked up from the airport and we went straight to dim sum.

Waiting in line outside of Hong Kong Lounge on 17th and Geary I am shocked by the amount of white people I am seeing, I make this comment to my friends and they give me a weird look. There are few places in America that you will find more Chinese than outside HK Lounge on a Saturday morning. BAMB! Reverse culture shock

September 2011- Start of first semester of senior year. I am President of my business fraternity, working 20 hours a week, taking a full class load, and have a GF to boot. I stay busy and time flies.

December 2011- First time going home in 2 years. Good to see family finally. Seattle is a much smaller city than I remember, but just as grey.

January 2012- No longer president, only taking 3 classes, no GF and not working -I lived with an old lady and did her taxes, in exchange she let me stay in her basement for free, thus saving me $800+/ month. So I quit on campus job.

Another reason I quit my job was to make room for my internship at ChinaSF. I could write an entire post about ChinaSF, but the short of it is that it introduced me to how business is done between China and US/SF, how stuff gets done in The City, and gave me a good overview of what my options for employment were after graduation if I wanted to do this whole Mr. US/China thing.

May 2012- Graduated. Ended my last semester with a 4.0 (dunno how that happened), cumulative GPA of Three point Sixty Nine…. hehe

May 2012-August 2012- Worked 40 hours a week or so at ChinaSF. Bartended to pay for ren… nope still living for free with old lady… bartended to pay for food and booze.

Also had till mid July to make up my mind about what to do in the fall.

Option 1. Stay in SF to continue working on start up that I had been developing over the last few months of senior year, while simultaneously getting a real job to pay for bills (old lady said she only wanted to give free housing to students, I had by end of summer to move out).

Option 2. Accept scholarship and move to Shanghai to study Chinese for 1 year.

It was a really hard choice, and I went back and forth on it MANY times, but in the end I chose Option 2.

September 1st- Landed in Shanghai. 1 year and 2 weeks after I left, damn I was glad to be back.

What am I doing?

I am on a Chinese Government scholarship studying Chinese language at East China Normal University in Shanghai

What do I spend my time doing?

My time basically gets spent in one of three areas: Chinese, projects/internships, social.

Chinese- This is what I mainly do. I have class for 3 hours M-F every morning, afternoons I also spend a lot of time studying. Every area of my life really revolves around this central theme; Chinese. How am I using it, what am I doing to better understand it. Etc. However, this isn’t to say that all I do is study Chinese. Another important aspect of studying Chinese understands the culture that goes a long with it. I spend a lot of time reading about China. I read Sinocism every day, because it’s the best. As well tech blogs, and internet gossip.

Projects/Internships- I am pretty entrepreneurial, and as such usually have a few projects going at the same time. In China this has included an American Accent Training program for Chinese college students/working professionals, founding the Univeristy of San Francisco- Shanghai Alumni Association (one day all of China), and writing a blog about launching your carrier in China (on hold). I would add to projects working out, which will get covered in a sec.

I have also had a number of internships. First I continued to intern with ChinaSF in the SH office. In January I started an internship with CTrip running an experiment looking at the way they value their Pay Per Click advertising. I was also a tour guide for Asia Institute, where I helped lead MBA students from Xavier on a weeklong tour including Beijing, Suzhou, and Shanghai.

Social- What I do when I am not studying or working. Shanghai is an amazing city to meet people. Obviously, there are a lot of Chinese in Shanghai and living on a university campus I am able to pretty actively engage them. But as amazing is the diversity of the foreign population, both on campus and in the city. I have fun engaging with both groups.

Oma wants to know, am I…

…Happy? Yes very much so. Just like I would anywhere, I have my unhappy moments. But I am living in the city that I want to live in, doing what I want to do. I am very happy.

… Healthy? Haha well… I guess I am as healthy as anyone can be in China. Between the air pollution, pigs in the water, H7N9, gutter oil, fake beef, and polluted water on the veggies, I do find time to go to the gym.

I have recently started doing the Strong Lifts 5×5 program. Few weeks in and its going well. My goal is basically just to be able to hold my own against my younger brother, who decided to become a beast after I left for college.

… Having fun? So much fun. Every day here is an adventure. I get to meet so many people, from so many different back grounds. I am learning so much more than just Chinese, and about so many more cultures other than just Chinas. There is an event going on ever night here weather at a bar, club, restaurant, KTV joint, on campus, or Game of Thrones Season premier at a friends house.

FAQ’s

How’s My Chinese?

A mess. When I was learning Chinese I spent 3 semesters studying at USF before the end of my Sophomore year. I moved to Shanghai in May 2010 and when I got off the plane realized I couldn’t say anything. I spend the summer listening to Chinese but was too afraid to speak.

When I went to Beijing I went back to Beginner because I wanted to do the intensive course, and was not ready for Intermediate. I spend the next 2 semesters getting to the point where I was not afraid to talk. By the time I got back to SF in August 2012 I could survive and was confident trying to speak Chinese.

In SF I didn’t study first semester, but I had Chinese GF and was surrounded by Chinese friends. Again, a lot of listening but no speaking. Second semester I was in Business Chinese, but being senior year I was facing serious motivational issues so there wasn’t much serious studying that went on. What helped my Chinese more than anything was ChinaSF, where I was constantly listening to and under some circumstances speaking Chinese.

I got to ENCU in September and took the placement test and got placed in the highest level of beginner (where normally you should be after 2 semesters of intensive study). Basically what had happened since I left China was that I had continued to speak and listen to Chinese, while pretty much avoiding reading or writing at all costs. Consequently when I entered in to a program that placed most of its emphasis on reading and writing (and testing, Chinese education system!) I tested very poorly.

Note: I actually tested into level 4 out of 5 levels of the beginner classes, but after 5 days of reviewing characters I was able to remember enough and test up a level.

In terms of speaking and listening the class was way to easy. I would often find myself talking to students in upper intermediate or advanced classes, and have them comment that my oral Chinese was better than theirs. Of course I was 客气and said that of course their characters were better than mine.

Ok, so… how good is my Chinese?

· I can basically say whatever I want to say. However, many times it comes out choppy and sounding like a 5 year old. Last semester I went to ask the front desk for an iron, in Chinese I asked for “the hot metal thing that would make my shirt look nice.” Then made the ironing motion. She got it.

· I can curse people out, and bitch at them when they: cut me in line, stare at me, try to rip me off, make rude comments about me assuming that I don’t understand, or try to take me the long route home to run up the meter.

· Taxi drivers say my Chinese is good. Well, rather they say they can actually understand me, which from the sounds of it is pretty impressive to them.

· I can go on dates, speak nothing but Chinese for 5-8 hours, and end it with more than just a kiss good night. But in all seriousness being able to hold real a conversations and actually convey my personality is a pretty big deal I think.

How much longer do I have to go? Well, as many Old China Hands have said, you can study your whole life and never “finish” Chinese. For me, I need to be able to talk about business, and then I will be pretty happy with my Chinese. From there it’s developing secondary vocabulary and mastering all those little grammar points that I neglected early on. I don’t care to be able to write Chinese by hand, nor do I wish to be able to read Chinese fiction. Dating and making money in Chinese is enough for me.

Will I be coming back to the US? Nope. I will visit, but my goal for the next 3-5 years is to launch my carrier in China. I will see where I stand after that.

Goals for this blog? I have thought of all the things I could do with this blog, but honestly other than being an outlet for my thoughts I don’t have any goals for it. Maybe one goal would be to update it more frequently that once every year and half, but we will see.

Good Bye China

I am now back in the San Francisco. Its strange, as it feels like I never left. I picked right back where I left off. Although there are subtle reminders that I have been gone for so long, and that China has impacted me. American beer is way stronger than Chinese beer, found that out the hard way. Crossing the street the other day I was surprised when I car stopped for me rather than trying to hit me. No one has treated me to a meal, not that I expect or deserve it. But coming form China, where I couldn’t pay for a meal my entire first week in a new city its kind of odd. The air in SF is amazingly clean, I can really feel the difference in my lungs. The internet is sooooo much faster, and nothing is blocked! I feel like i just discovered YouTube! The biggest shock? There are so many white people!!!

China was the experience of a life time. So much of who I am now, and who I want to be in the future came to me in China. I am glad to be back to the US to reflect upon my experience and learn from it. But to be honest I can’t wait to get back to China.

KOREA!!!

For the past two weeks Sean and I have been in Korea enjoying ourselves and celebrating the completion our time in China. Because of course, the best way to celebrate a year in China is 2 weeks in Korea.

Why Korea?

Well it all started last September in Beijing. Two Korea dudes were living across the hall from me; I introduced my self and then went out to a few dinners with them. Over time they brought more and more Korean friends to our dinners, it was awesome! Hanging out with Koreans was so fun.

In my opinion Korean and American college students drink at about same frequency, so a lot. The difference is that while American students get drunk then go club hopping till the wee hours of the morning Koreans do what I call “restaurant hopping.” I actually had my theory of restaurant hopping verified by my friend recently, except it he called it “the three rounds.” It goes like this: meet at 6 or 7 and go out to dinner (usually Korean BBQ) at dinner stuff yourself and drink a lot of Soju (Korean alcohol). Then you proceed to a new restaurant, normally a 15-20 minuet walk or cab ride away. At the second restaurant (usually a fried chicken place or Korean Pizza Place) you order food and Soju or Mokoli (spelling?). Mokoli is a rice drink and is about 6% alcohol. After round two come round three, another restaurant that caters to late nighters, of which my favorite is fried chicken. At the third place along with the food you usually order beer. As my friend explained, “it helps you sober up.”

The best part by far has to be that after all this I normally get to bed around 12 or 1 and wake up feeling rested the next morning. This compared to clubbing till 4 or 5 is amazing.

I had such I fun time with the Koreans I invited Sean to the next dinner. He loved it and the Koreans loved Sean. Most of the Koreans we met were from the same university. The second semester while most returned home two of them staid in China, Sean and I leveraged this into meeting the new batch of Koreans. Another amazing semester with Koreans came and went.

After two semesters of drunken promises to visit Korea we began to actually seriously consider it. After going through many different possibilities we end up settling on the first two weeks of August for our time in Korea.

Now that I have finished two weeks in Korea here are my thoughts. Its effing awesome. I describe Korea as the best of the US and the best of China put together. It is in everyway a developed country, but its culture is still based on traditional Confucian values. Streets are clean, retaruants are cleaner, people are polite and cars wait for you to cross the street rather than trying to hit you. Also, pretty much everyone spoke some English, and even if they didn’t they didn’t get mad at you for not speaking Korean. All of this was a nice change from China. (as a side note, I kept trying to speak Chinese to Koreans, Saying Nihao, or xiexie has just become reflex) Korea is however absent of the “I don’t give a shit” and “to cool for school” attitudes that exist in the US. Everyone, and I mean everyone really takes care of the way they look. No sweat pants, hoodies and flip flops. I am not saying everyone dressed like a model, though many did, but they took the time to put on pants and clean shirt, and then tie their shoes on the way out the door.

Another example was that at the beach lifeguards were not letting people in the water as the waves were really big and the current strong. They stood in the surf whistling at people who tried to come in the water. I was surprised at the fact that everyone listened to the lifeguards. In the US I am confident that there would have been a bunch of ass holes trying to get attention by seeing how far past the life guards they could get without getting kicked off the beach.

Korea was amazing, and I can’t wait to come back. However, my heart is still in China and that’s where I will return to when I come back to Asia. China is not an easy place to live, and every day is an adventure. But that’s what makes it so great, you are constantly challenged and learn something new every day. Although I think my carrier goals have changed. They are now: Work in China and spend my weekends in Korea.

Thanks to Sean for all the pictures!

There is a conversation that I have had so many times in China that I cant even venture a guess at the number. It starts of me talking to a Chinese male, between the age of 18 and 25. After exchanging names, where we are both from, me telling him how tall I am, and the other pleasantries he slips the question “so how much does a house cost in America?” Easy enough question to answer. “It depends, on location, size of house or apt etc.” I then ball park the price rage for apartments in bigger cities like SF or NYC , and then for houses in suburbs and other cheaper locations. Chinese guy doesn’t really care; he wants to talk about housing prices in China and what that means for him.

Housing prices in China are more or less on par with those in major US cities ($1million for apt in SF probably 1$million for apt in Beijing) the problem is that the average graduate in China makes far less than the average US graduate. While a US graduate might make $4,000-5,000 a month a Chinese University graduate will only make RMB4,000-5,000 or $680-850 a month. As many many many Chinese people have explained to me, with this kind of salary you either save up for many years and deny your self other luxuries (car, dinners out, travel) to eventually buy a house, or you rent and live a comfortable life, but forgo all hope of buying a house.

As some of you may know in China owning a house is more or less a prerequisite for a women saying yes to a mans marriage proposal. If a man doesn’t own a house, the woman is likely to say no, and even if she wants to say yes mommy or daddy will likely veto. The reasons for women (and woman’s family) putting so much emphasis on a house was explained to me, by a Chinese woman, like this:

It goes back to that idea of security mentioned in the previous post. If some one comes to a top tear city for college they are most likely going to want to stay. Unlike in the US, migration of people from city to city is controlled by the government through the Hukou system. With out a Beijing Hukou you can’t legally live in Beijing. Sure lots of people, mainly migrant workers, do it anyway and there is little consequence. But why the woman is concerned is that with out a Beijing Hukou it will be hard for her to find good work and impossible to send her child to a top school in the city. Owning a apartment provides that Hukou and there for allows for her to ensure that her child will go to a good school. It also ensures that she can continue to live legally in a top tier city and find employment easier. Its about security, plain and simple.

This is one of the biggest fears many Chinese men my age have, I believe. But the ironic part is that many of the people I talked to have accepted it. There is little they can do, and for the most part they are counting on the government to do something, even though few believe the government actually can or will.

I really don’t know how to end these conversations; they usually turn in the Chinese guy venting, and me trying to console him until he is ready to move on to the next topic. Its hard because this is not my reality, and I will likely never have to face this problem, but to many of the young Chinese people I have talked to this is a big burden in their lives.

Conversations

Talking with locals is really the best way to learn about some place, at least that has been my experience in China. Pundits and scholars all have different things to say about China, different conclusions and different solutions. While I take into consideration the words of these people I prefer to draw my own conclusions about what’s going on in China.

Sean and I were having dinner with two Chinese friends a week ago, and on the walk home one of them asked us a rather interesting question, that I think gives good insight into some of the differences between China and the West. She had recently watched the movie Revolutionary Road, which (from what I remember) tells the story of a middle class American couple and how getting stuck in the same routine day after day makes them very unhappy and drives them mad. Her question was something along the lines of “If they have a car, a house, two kids, and a good job, how are they not happy? How are they not satisfied with their lives? I don’t understand” After hearing this question Sean and I paused for a moment and looked at each other, “ummmmm…” We did our best to explain, but this is a big, complicated question, and with our friend we were using Chinese. We tried our best to answer this question, but I don’t really think she got it.

I would say the majority of Americans understand the emotions and feelings of the characters in Revolutionary Road. The fear of getting stuck in the Monday through Friday, 9-5, two weeks off a year grind is very real in our society. We want more than stability in our lives, we want substance, we want meaning. For the average Chinese its not the same.

Hear is how I have come to understand it:

When was the last time you had to worry about having enough food? I’m not talking about forgetting your bag lunch or wallet, I mean really worry, genuinely not knowing when the next time you would be able to eat is. Not one meal, not one day, but for your entire life, when was the last time you had this? What about your parents? Your grandparent or their parents before them? Chances are its been a long time if ever, and it’s the same case for the majority of American and other westerners.

Looking at Chinese history this was a fear as recently as the mid seventies. In the height of the Cultural Revolution food and stability were all people craved. This has been the case for the majority of Chinese history. Now if you are worried about finding food and feeding your family do you really you have time to worry about the excitement in your life, or the “larger meaning.” Also if you could eat and provide for your family do you think it would matter to you if you got stuck doing the same job day in and day out? The answer is pretty clear.

In China today this survival mentality persists. Many of my chinese peers have had food on their table their entire lives, but their parents likely haven’t, and chances are this had a large impact on how the child was raised and what they want out of life. My parents raised me to pursue my passion, to do what I love, I was raised to believe that this will make me happy. My Chinese friend who asked the question was likely raised to want to find a stable job, so she could afford to feed her child, buy a house and car with her husband, and just not have to worry about money as much. This is what she believes will make her happy.

At the end of the day I think it comes down to the fact that people want what they don’t have. China for the majority of it history has not been a stable place. Few people until more recently have enjoyed the comfort of owning a home or car, and being able to put food on the table every day. In the west we have these comforts, and we have had them for a while, so we move on and long for other things.

To make a large all encompassing statement about China, to say something is Chinese, or to make generalizations about China is almost impossible. One of the main reasons for this is because the place is so big. With this size comes a hoard of other underlying issues that make the place so complex.

China is often viewed as a country, consisting a homogeneous population, of which 94% are ethnically Han. They share the same culture, same writing system, same history, so for the most part they are the same. During my time hear I have come to view China not as one large country, but rather as a small continent comprised of many similar yet clearly different groups. The best parallel I can draw is Europe.

Each country in Europe has its own distinct language; some countries even had parts where different languages are spoken all together. China is exactly the same; distinctly different languages are spoken in different parts of the country. I am not talking about accents, but completely different languages. Cantonese, Shanghainese, and standard mandarin are completely different languages (all though they do use the same writing system). Throw into the mix 52 different ethnic minorities, many with their own distinct languages and one could argue that linguistically China is more diverse than Europe. Now the government has done a good job making Mandarin the standardized language, and most people above the age of 50 can speak it. But much like English in Europe, even if its used in school, its not the language people grew up speaking, it’s not the language people speak to each other in stores or parents to their children. You can get by with it, but if you don’t speak the local language people know your not one of them.

Food is another way in which China is drastically different region to region. Rice does not grow in the north, and for most of Chinese history northerners have eaten wheat noodles as their staple. In the south rice is abundant and the staple. One of my roommates, who is from Fujian province (the south) told me that he didn’t eat noodles because “noodles are a snack, they are do not make a meal.” Sichuan food is know for is spiciness, while many people from Shanghai are worse at handling spicy food than me, they prefer sweet food. Beijing food is salty, where as food from Guangdong is fresh, light and normally steamed. Saying “Chinese food” is pretty much like saying “western food”. Italian, French and German cuisines, while they might have some similarities, are distinctly different. As it is with food in China.

Now we move to something that is a little less concrete and easy to describe, but something that I believe is nonetheless important, and that is the people. Anyone can tell you that the majority of Chinese belong to the Han ethnic race, and with this point my parallel with Europe does begin to weaken a little. But I would argue that even though they are the same ethnicity people from different parts of China are physically different. People in the north are taller, those in the south shorter, and girls from Sichuan have the best skin. I once had a friend tell me that a woman on TV had a very standard “southern face”. To the untrained eye all Chinese people “look the same”, but live hear long enough and I think you can start to pick out differences based on where people are from. Today people move around much more than in the past, so it starting to become harder to do, but again there are noticeable differences. While it’s not as concrete as something like food or language I believe it exists nonetheless.

Lastly I want to mention the way people from different places behave and think. While this is something that I have nothing but my own observations and those of my Chinese friends to support I think it’s valid, and in many ways might be the most important difference from region to region. Girls from Chongqing are said to be extremely forward and direct, girls from Sichuan are said to be “spicy” and those from Shanghai… well I’m still not sure what to make of Shanghai girls, but they are very different from those in other parts of China to be sure. Northern men are said to be more manly and taller than their southern counter parts, while men from Shanghai are often spotted on the street carrying man purses and groceries, as they many do the cooking and house work while the Shanghai women bring home the pay. People in the north, and Beijing especially, pay attention to politics, where as those in Shanghai and Fujian are more concentrated on business rather than what is happening in the capital. Guangzhou, it seems follows the lead of its neighbor to the south Hong Kong more of than that of Beijing.

Just like any big country there are going to be differences region to region but I think that the idea of China as a whole needs to be reexamined. In many ways the idea of “one culture” is similar to the ideas of “freedom” and “democracy” in America. They are there as something people can unify around and take pride in, but when you begin to peal back the layers many questions arise.

Winter Vacation Pt. 2

Arriving in Haikou at 6:30pm Christmas day Sean and I were not in the best of spirits. We had spent the past 33.5 hours on a train, hadn’t showered since the night before Christmas Eve, and had been eating mainly instant noodles. The bus ride from the train station to the hotel didn’t help our moods either. We were standing, crammed against people as the bus jerked into town. 45 minuets later we found our selves at the hostel. Banana Youth Hostel in Haikou was nice; we had a large room for about $10 a night. We decided to try and salvage the rest of our Christmas, which had been memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. We quickly showered, ate and then made our way to the local bar street.

The first bar we went to was packed, it seemed all of Haikou had come out to celebrate Christmas. But when I went to the bar to order a beer I was told that I had to order 6 beers at a time. Next bar. The next place we went was just as full, but didn’t require you to order 6 beers at a time. Out side the entrance there was a skinny Chinese guy dressed up as Santa, he failed to properly fill out the costume and the beard sat awkwardly on his face. I loved it though and thought it was hilarious.

In side we struck up a conversation with two local girls, they both went to college out side of China, one in Vancouver BC and the other in Hong Kong. Me growing up in Seattle, a mere 3 hours from Vancouver BC, and Hong Kong being the next stop on our trip Sean and I had little trouble connecting with them. Wendy the girl studying in BC has actually become one of our very good friends and we went back to Haikou to visit her three weeks ago.

The next day Sean and I spent the morning biking around Haikou, which as a city I like a lot. Its small and is very much a Chinese city, the pace of life there is much slower than in the big cities and people seem to enjoy themselves, it is also extremely beautiful. In the evening we met up with Wendy and her friend for dinner, and a trip to the hot springs after that. The next day was more of the same, relaxing Haikou style. We took a trip to the park where we drank coconut milk straight from the coconut, and I got to fly my kite.

We left Haikou on the 8pm train, and arrived at the Guangzhou train station at 8am. The Guangzhou train station falls into the category of unorganized mass of inefficiency (Please see previous posts about train stations), fortunately we did not have to spend much time there, as we made our way to the much nicer and newer Guangzhou East Train station. From there we took the hour or so train to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong: It’s a magical city. Its like being in China but with out all the bad stuff. People are polite, they wait in line, the toilets don’t smell and they have toilet paper, the food is amazing and they don’t even add MSG, the metro system is quick efficient, reaches every where and no one pushed me once! Our time in Hong Kong was pretty much spent eating, window-shopping and exploring. My friend Kamal from USF lives in Hong Kong, and fortunately he was able to show us around. One after noon we went on a hike out side of the city. Not only is Hong Kong amazing because of the city, but also the natural beauty of the area out side the city makes it a paradise for nature lovers. We spent new years eating and then watching the fireworks from across Victoria bay on the Kow Loon side. After 5 days in Hong Kong it was off to our final destination, Xiamen.

We chose to take an over night bus form Hong Kong to Xiamen. The bus ride was an experience that, while I am glad I have it, I am not looking to relive any time soon. There was a moment when we were going through customs and everyone had to line up. No one did so it became more like a mob around the one gate we were all going through. Ah, yes, we were back in China.

The sleeper bus was kind of cool, three rows of little bunks for us to sleep in. I didn’t really fit, but at my height its something I have gotten use to in China. Sean and I unpack our backpacks and then fall asleep. At 4:30am the next morning the bus worker lady comes by and wakes us up. She snaps at Sean to wake up, we are arriving in Xiamen. “When?” He replies. “Now” she says, “get off the bus!” Oh snap! Sean and I scramble to get our things together, still half a sleep, I check for passport, phone, and money. Throw my shoes on and off the bus we go.

We get of the bus and find ourselves on the side of some highway, pitch black, with not a taxi in sight. Fortunately there is some lady with a van who for 70 RMB per person will drive us to our hotel. Great, except for the fact that Sean and I are holding 500 Hong Kong dollars and no RMB! Good thing we planed ahead.

Luckly for us I had left some RMB in my backpack, and we were able to negotiate the price down to 50RMB per person. The van drove us into down and dropped us off right at our hotel. We stroll into the hotel lobby at 5:15am, “Hi, what time can we check in?” Looking a little confused the front desk lady explained that normally check in isn’t until 1pm, but she could try and have our room ready sooner, maybe around 11am. “Great!” we replied, “we are going to go sleep on the couches over their until they are ready.” The rooms were ready before 11.

Xiamen is my favorite Chinese city. Again another second tier city that doesn’t attract as much attention as Beijing or Shanghai, it has a slower feel to it. Life is different, people enjoy themselves, and don’t get as caught up as much in politics or the rate race for money. Located on the coast it is a port city, with great seafood and clean air. In many ways it reminds me of Seattle and San Francisco, which is probably why I like it so much. Our routine of eating, sleeping, more eating and then meeting people staid pretty much the same.

Xiamen is home to one of my favorite Chinese dishes, banmian or literally stir noodles. They are simply noodles covered in a peanuty sauce and I am in love with them. During my four days in Xiamen I think I averaged three plates per day.

After Xiamen it was back to Beijing to start a new semester. Another day and a half long train ride up the coast, during which I met with the much feared old Chinese man/Baijiu combination, and I was back in the fridge north. I had seen China, more than doubled the number of cities I had been to and expanded what I know about this country and its people. Much of what I will write about in the coming days is something that I observed, learned, or started to question along this trip. Although it was short, it has plaid a large part in both my experience in China and my understanding of the country.

Please see the video that Sean made of our winter trip. Its pretty cool: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpgvgSnoECQ

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