Monday, February 18, 2013

First days in 杭州!

A couple things I realized I hadn't written about: 高琳's mom's brother brought her a live Chinese New Year rooster, which sat tied up in the bathroom until 高琳's Dad killed and plucked it. Also, I received this handmade luggage tag and more baozi and mantou than I could eat for the trip.

I was once more surprised at the appearance of toilets! And so were others apparently.

I'm glad to hear this one!

After an exciting day of travel I was greeted by my adorable new roommate(佳丹) who immediately handed me an electric water bottle-like-thing and insisted I eat some fruit. After a few days of orientation, we've all settled in! There are only 9 foreign students, we all live in double rooms with a Chinese roommate. We also have our own bathrooms(with toilets) and hot water heaters, so pretty much really nice.

Part of orientation was foot massage!

There was fire involved! 

First dinner with some of the group!! My photo-shy roomie is in the pink on the right.

After a morning of orientation we found some cheap huge baozi for 1 kuai each. Plus 2 kinds of veggie ones, so they were great.

Cool house we saw when we were walking around.

Lots of nice running paths! All along the canals! 

Delicious milk in small glass bottles for 60 cents.

And my view this morning! 

So this was a lackluster post, but I'll post again with more info about my schedule etc :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Countryside and leaving

One of 高琳's mom's friends has relative in the country, and for spring festival they all returned to their house to make baobao. They invited me to come eat dinner at their house and help- well actually I was just invited to dinner, but the helping was unavoidable and fun. Driving to the country! The car's windows were tinted, so I'm surprised the pictures turned out as well as they did.

After dinner the making began! Here is on of the many fresh pieces I was given to eat, despite the fact that we had just eaten a very filling dinner :)  Cute baby (and 高琳's mom)!

OK, so to make this food, they start steaming huge pots of rice every morning. The steamed rice is then scrapped into pots, and the pots of rice are tossed onto an angled table which has a funnel like head leading to the rice grinder. The grinder slowly releases the compressed and ground rice in the form of a stream of baobao! It's really hot, and someone has to cut the stream into chunks, then toss them onto a table, where lots of people (me too!) roll them so they don't stick to the cloth while they're so hot. Then other people carry the "cooled" baobao to a tray to cool further. Your hands get really hot but it was fun.  There were lots of jokes about how I was the american working in a Chinese factory, and that we should go into business together- a joint US-China venture. Also suggested, somewhat inevitably, that I marry into the family. During the night one of their dogs, still a puppy, fell into their toilet and proceeded to evade capture for awhile, until he was caught and bathed. During the night one of the implements used to scrape the cooked rice into the grinder fell into the grinder, which meant the grinder had to be disassembled- while this was happening I learned how to play that game with a string/loop (cat.. something? I don't remember) from the small boy in the picture below and 高琳. This is the family photo!

Lots of baobao! They sent me back with four, but each one weighs.. 4 lbs? so I only have one right now :) 

The next day was Spring Festival! After a sumptuous dinner, we joined the rest of the city and bought some fireworks! And a red lantern, which was my favorite. Despite some initial problems lighting it, it ended up successfully flying away. 

The day in between these photos I forgot to bring my camera, but we went to another Auntie's house and studied Chinese/English respectively. 

Then we decided to climb the mountain we hadn't yet climbed! Our optimistic beginning.

The path was steep.

GaoLin and I both don't like heights.. note her makeshift sunscreen! She thought she looked like an old woman with it.

View from the top!

On the way down we stopped at the temples for 高琳 to pray, she bought these incense which I held for her while she prayed. 

After all this adventure, we were very hungry, so we got some quail eggs (?) on a stick!

That night I learned how to play sichuan mahjiang and went to my first bar! Which wasn't actually a bar, more of a tea shop, because after mahjiang with one group of friends, we met another to say goodbye/discuss their lives since they were leaving the next day. As usual, I was not allowed to help pay for our overpriced tea. 

Since I seem to have accumulated items while in 文山, we went to the wholesale market to find some cheap luggage. This was too good not to take a picture of. 

We ate this for 1 kuai- still not sure what exactly it was, maybe rice cake? But it was good.

These are the Miao(?) people, famous for their silver works. One of the many ethnic groups you see in Yunnan regularly!

Our last restaurant excursion! Gaolin carefully considers what is vegetarian. The menu had some really good chinglish. 

We met other friends for dinner, mahjiang and wandered around their old high school/middle school. Morning was packing a pictures, which I haven't uploaded yet. Anddd now I'm waiting in the airport in Kunming, after the 4.5 hr bus ride from WenShan. Though I'm excited to start a new semester/get to know another city, it was really hard to leave 高琳 and her family. Frankly, we were both crying a lot for a while, our only consolation was that we both said we'll visit Dalin or another city in the future when we have disposable incomes and free time. She really made my time in China super excel

Friday, February 8, 2013

昆明 and 文山

We woke up to a gorgous day, and I for one could hardly believe how clean and warm the air was! We joined "little black" (高琳's friends nickname, as his skin is so dark) and his two cousins for a stroll around the lake/park, and found some lunch. Then back to his apartment to collect baggage, and then off to his friends hostel. Though initially somewhat dubious about it- it was located off an alley off a main street, on the 6th floor, and showed no sign of being anything other than an apartment- it ended up being clean, cheap and convenient. The proprietor gave us a set of keys, we chatted for awhile (as par Chinese tradition, we called her 姐姐 or "older sister")and we were off to have dinner at a russian style restaurant. 

There were interesting things on the menu! 

The next day we went to the zoo in search of cherry blossoms (a sight everyone had assured us was a must see) but as you may discern by the lack of photos, they weren't actually blooming yet, seemingly contrary to most denizen's beliefs. But it was interesting to see all the animals/zoo. Not many were very well cared for, and most had cages which were way to small.

In the afternoon, we took a bus to the big bus station, and got on the 2:30 bus to 文山, 高琳's hometown. It took about 4.5 hours to get there, but she says that before they built all the tunnels, it took 6-8, so I consider myself lucky. We sat next to some talkative people, but it was sorta like that scene from Hot Fuzz, where multiple translation is needed- One of the men had an extremely heavy accent that another had to decipher, and then sometimes 高琳 had to repeat what he said in common Chinese. But it was very interesting, people always ask about wages, cost of living and money related questions, but don't seem to ask about social issues or the like.

On the bus!

At the halfway point/stop! Looks sorta like California. 

We were greeted by 高琳's parents, told to take a shower(they had turned the hot water heater on for us) and then fed a delicious dinner. In the morning, I went for a run during which I could almost feel the pollution leaving my lungs. Then we went for a traditional breakfast of rice noodles and spices. My bowl is the one which is pale- not much spice for me :) 

We walked around the city, then studied some Chinese and English. The next day I accompanied 高琳's mom on what I thought was a trip to play mahjong, but turned into an adventure in which we accompnied a cousin to the police station to report the theft of her bag(lots of smoking, and some heated discussion took place on the safety of the city) and then to register her new car (I think? Still not sure what happened, but they fed me a strange ice cream bar and some sunflower seeds, so that was fine by me.) That night most of the family that lives in the area came over for dinner and mahjong playing, which I observed, but did not yet dare to participate in. The next day we went out for KTV with 高琳's friends, as little black's cousin was having a birthday. I was asked to take many photos with people, and also to go to a different room (there were two rooms filled with people, KTV loudly playing, people smoking cigarettes, and lots of drinking) to introduce myself. Apparently, introducing myself would usually consist of me drinking with them, but since I don't drink, fruit juice was procured for me (watermelon!) and so I knocked my juice with lots of beers, and everyone spoke very slowly and simply in common Chinese to ask me questions. At one point I was asked if I could find an American boyfriend for one of the girls. I was repeatedly asked whether I had any of the Chinese social media accounts (still don't) and also asked what I thought of the people of 文山, to which the only appropriate answer seemed to be "very friendly/welcoming!".

This morning we went to see a tower on the East Mountain. The original one had been there for a long time, but was destroyed during WW2. This new one was built about 20 years ago. 

We made it up all the stairs!! 

Dragon found!

Since Spring Festival is quickly approaching, lots of people are walking around with live chickens. Really a lot of people. The city is suddenly full of chickens. This seems to be the preferred method of carrying them, though one morning while running I saw a man walking his- he was call for it and it would come, but its memory was short, so he had to do this every few steps.
高琳 looks at the street her old house is on- it's in the older part of the city, which is being torn down to make way for more apartment buildings. 

The river I run along! 

And a new fruit for me! Initially unsure about what it was, it proved to be delicious (a sequence of events exceedingly common for me now- I'm rarely sure about the nature of the food I am eating, other than being veg of course) 

Homemade fried rice! So good. So good. 

This is the view from the top of the tower! Well, one of them, it's 360 degree view, so I had to pick and choose. As you may see, though 文山 is rather off the beaten path, it has developed very quickly, and is pretty big.

Since it's sunny here, 高琳 doesn't want her skin to get dark, so the umbrella is a must. She is very surprised that I don't like using it, and that I luxuriate in the sun. This was also when I tried sugar cane! Really cheap, but I think it is too sweet for my tastes. As 高琳 pointed out, it is what is used to make sugar. 

We also went to a Chinese bookstore, where I got a book of middle school essays (高琳 says they are written very well, she says reading them makes her feel as if her writing should be better, I feel the same) and some calligraphy books. Speaking of which, I'm off! Hope this finds you all well! I'll try to stay more current in the future :) 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Leaving Beijing

My last days in Beijing were super busy, as we had two finals- two oral reports which we should at least partially memorize, and a written portion. As we learned a lot of characters in 3 weeks, it ended up being a fair amount of work. But here is photo from our last real lunch.

Last small class! Our teacher is on the right

To top off all the studying, we also had to prepare that afore-meantioned skit! But it ended up being very enjoyable, starting off with the MCs performing an adaptation of "California Girls" with Beijing related lyrics(all in Chinese of course). A choice line translated is, "One month without seeing sunshine", which had us all laughing. Hard to capture the show in one photo (especially since I didn't take that many), but here is one of the first section of C section's skit.

Last run in Beijing! After several days of heavy pollution, it cleared up just in time for a last good run.

Graduation! Here is C class, (separated into 3-4 sections usually) and some of our teachers too. 

It was with mixed feelings that I left Beijing. On the one hand, the air quality is hazardous for most of the time, but other than that and the other usual problems big cities have (wealth discrepancy ), I found myself really liking the city. But we had a flight to catch, so after a bus/taxi combo adventure, in which we thought we would miss our flight, we made it to the airport an hour early. And then it turned out I had missed a 7 when entering my passport to buy the ticket, which could have ended badly, but they said it was no problem.  Though you can't see the sign, we made it through security.

The plane we took may have been bigger than the one I came to China on! And they fed us for free! Because our flight was delayed a bit, we ended up landing in Kunming around 2:20am, and got our bag around 3:00am, which meant we missed the last bus to the city. Instantly swarmed by cab drivers when we left the terminal, we settled on a female driver, who after some haggling agreed to drive us for 70 yuan, about 11 dollars. The new airport is rather far from the city, and to drive either way also requires paying tolls, so this was a very reasonable price. Additionally, after driving us to Gaolin's friends apartment's address, she waited with us until the friend appeared. And so, at around 4:00 am, we met her friend (who was from her hometown, they had been classmates through elementary and middle school, he had been watching over his cousins since he started his break, and would be leaving to 文山 the next day) and settled in for some sleep.

And so I arrived in the land of warmth, rice noodles, and clean air! More coming up.