Friday, November 12, 2010

11.9.10 - Qingdao Starbucks

My computer has had a lot of problems recently accessing the internet, including today. I am at Starbucks where I am pretty sure I should be able to get WIFI, but my computer is not able to pick it up. That’s actually one of the reasons why I’m here on my day off, so it’s extra frustrating. Sorry friends and family, I was going to try to Skype and update the blog, but no luck. Fortunately all is not lost, as most outings do lead to amusing adventures.

I got here right at 10:00AM. I haven’t had my usual Starbucks favorite of a skim vanilla latte (thanks sister Lindsey) since leaving so I was excited to finally enjoy one. I asked the girl at the counter if they had skim milk. She replied yes in a way that I felt silly for even asking. I ordered my grande vanilla latte with skim milk and the price came to 51 RMB. That my friends, was crrrazy. I glanced up at the board and noticed that a grande latte was 26 RMB (around $4) and then wondered how much the shot of vanilla cost me. She handed me the receipt and there were two charges, written in Chinese symbols of course, one for 20 and one for 30. I didn’t want to be so bold, but I asked her what they were for. She said the vanilla latte was 30 and the skim milk was 20. Wow, I thought, it’s a high price to be healthy in China. As I a grabbed my latte, found a table, and waited for my computer to turn on, I began thinking about my next blog. It was going to be about how impossible it is to find healthy things to eat here. As my mind kept rolling about what to say, and then I felt discouraged noticing that my computer couldn’t access the internet, the girl who took my order brought me my mug of warm skim milk.

Who knew that being a coffee drinker would be so confusing?! Erin, go’head and pour one out for a little calcium.

10.27.10 - Contact Sports

Everything in China has the potential to be a contact sport: getting onto a bus, bus rides, walking down a busy sidewalk, etc. Today grocery shopping was added to my list.

Today is my day off this week. We needed toilet paper. I had to go to the store. Imagine the mall on the day after Thanksgiving, or imagine Disney World on a day when the entrance tickets are selling for half-price. That’s what it was like at the R-T Mart this afternoon. I hated every minute of it.

I knew it was going to be bad when a maybe 75-80 year-old man pushed me aside, as he was behind me, just to grab a grocery cart. Mind you, there were many available grocery carts. I’m not so sure about his rush. Maybe he spotted a set of great, oiled wheels that he knew would be perfect for maneuvering around the crazy crowd.

The chaos continued. People continued to run into me. There was an old lady who stopped in front of me so I stopped as well. Too bad the lady behind me didn’t feel like slowing down, she rammed her cart into my behind to get me to move. I just turned and looked at her and tried to give her my teacher eyes I give to my first graders. No luck. She just pushed herself around me and the old lady both, though the old lady didn’t seem to be as annoyed as I was. I was blocked from aisles that I wanted to go down, and some worker got pushed into me and dropped a couple of her things into my hand-held basket. She got her things and we both squeezed through the aisle in opposite directions.

I won’t even go into standing in line to check out. Just know that Chinese people aren’t always as sweet and quiet as they seem in pictures.

At least I have my toilet paper. I went ahead and bought a value pack.

10.25.10 - Celebrity Status

Brad and I had the very special chance to attend a wedding on Saturday. The girl whose job it is to organize our weekly schedules and basically make sure our every last need is taken care of, was married. She was very kind to extend an invitation to us. We gladly accepted.

First of all let me say this: weddings in China are very similar, yet still very different from weddings in America – sort of like everything else. Cheny and her husband Gao were actually married at the beginning of February. They’ve already had pictures taken together and she’s already worn a white dress… in pictures… which she rented. This past Saturday was basically their wedding reception. For the reception she wore a beautiful standard white bridal gown first and then changed a little later into a more traditional red Chinese wedding dress. I’m not sure if this change always happens, but I’m going to guess so. Both of these dresses were purchased. Talking with other guests at our table we learned that wedding receptions are usually at noon and are a “sit-down dinner” style where people sit around round tables. (A placard by the door to the reception told us all which table was ours. It was quite easy to notice that Brad and I were assigned to table 10.) It takes approximately 2 hours for the party. In fact, the time on our invitation was 11:58 – 2:00 pm. How funny is that? Don’t be late! Oh, and the dress was “casual.” Many people came in jeans and one girl even came in those kind of J-Lo sweatpants with writing on her butt. Classy.

Last Thursday, two days before the wedding, Cheny emailed us with our schedule for this week and also to ask if one of us would speak at the ceremony (reception). Brad immediately put his finger on his nose indicating “not it” but I talked him into it anyway. Thank goodness! The next day on Friday Cheny emailed again asking for the speech so her selected interpreter could have a chance to look over it ahead of time. At least he had plenty of time to figure out what to say! Nonetheless, Brad’s speech was perfect. It was so nice and sweet, complimenting of Cheny’s personality and of his new relationship status with me. He ended by reading the common verses, “Love is patient; love is kind…” Cheny seemed to love it. He did a great job and I was so proud of him.

The wedding was at a hotel that was very close to the sea so after the wedding we walked along the water’s edge for a while. The city of Qingdao has built a 40 kilometer walkway along its border with the Yellow Sea. (On that note, how cool is it that I live by the YELLOW SEA?! After all this time I have taught about it and desperately tried to remember exactly where it was year after year to just APPEAR to be smarter than my students, and now I LIVE here! Go ahead, hand me that Asia map!) The walk goes past places of rock, beach, and stone wall. There were so many different things going on. Apparently, people spend their Saturdays doing different things! People were crabbing along the stone wall, playing different sports and playing with children at the beach, and (drum roll please) taking wedding and engagement pictures everywhere else! I have no idea how many brides we saw. This is not the first time that we have seen brides getting their picture taken on a Saturday. We saw them in the park in Hangzhou and have seen them in Qingdao, but obviously we had yet to hit the bridal jackpot. My parents talked about this when they described Qingdao to us, so it wasn’t weird to see them, but the engaged couples were a first. We didn’t see nearly as many engagement shoots, but in every one we did see, they were all matching, one couple even in matching red flannel plaid shirts and jeans. Maybe they were wishing they were going to the NC state fair? (that's for you, Jillian)

Back to being a celebrity…

Earlier last week a member of the English club here on campus stopped me on the road back up to our dorm and asked if I would come to their “English Corner” that weekend. Of course I said I would, and so Brad and I did on Saturday night. We got lost trying to find just what building it was in but finally made it about a half-hour or so late. We walked in this classroom through its back door and about, I don’t know, 75-100 Chinese students all turned around and started whispering excitedly to each other. A few people immediately came back to talk to us and I felt so badly for the guy upfront who was trying to sing his (I’m sure repeatedly practiced) English song. We were immediately given little Chinese traditional trinket gifts and then were asked if we would “talk about our culture, sing a song, play a game, or something...” I was afraid of that. We chose the first option. That guy finished, was clapped for, and the next guy stood up to come to the stage. This second guy talked for a bit and then sang I’m Yours, by Jason Mraz, a cappella. He did a really good job! Next was our turn. We talked a little about our wedding (since I’m Yours was almost our first dance) and about American football. The students literally were on the edge of their seats, leaning forward. We sat down for a bit, not wanting to steal the whole show, but then were asked again to stand for a time of Q&A. The students were shy, but did have questions. A very interesting comment/question came from a medical student. She wondered how close our high schools were to the show Gossip Girls. She understood that American high schools (because of shows like Gossip Girls which I actually have never seen) were very easy and kids could just party all of the time. She said that Chinese students have heard that many kids in America pass the ‘test’ to go to college, but then many students don’t make it through school because the classes are too difficult for them. Brad and I had heard the opposite about Chinese students, which is that it is very difficult to pass their college entrance exam after their 12th grade year, but once they get into college, it’s usually pretty easy to get through. We told them about this stereotype and asked them what they thought.

That was cool, but the celebrity status didn’t end there. After the club session officially ended, the club leaders wanted to take a big club picture with us. Unfortunately they made some of the members leave the picture because it was too hard to get everyone in. ..A.N.D. T.H.E.N… multiple people got out their cell phones and kept coming up asking for pictures. The photo sessions with different Chinese students may have taken 15 minutes or more. A.N.D. T.H.E.N… everybody wanted to stick around to chat. They had so many more questions and just wanted to talk about anything! A.N.D. T.H.E.N. Brad and I finally took it upon ourselves to leave about an hour later. Some people followed us out of the room to say goodbye.

The next day, thinking life was back to normal, I nonchalantly walked around Taidong for a little while in between my two tutoring classes. I took out my camera to take a picture of a guy selling boxed tea, and the girl he was talking to got so super excited. She asked me where I was from and when I said, “America,” she shrieked again and gave me a huge hug. What just happened?... She was so cute and her big smile actually made my day.

You would think that with those stories this type of thing happens all of the time here. It doesn’t. I guess I've had my 15 minutes... plus some. :)