This Sunday I will be leaving the dorm I am currently living in and moving in with a host family for two weeks to spend the Chinese New Year with them and their families. I am really excited and a little nervous. Living with parents who don’t speak the same language is such a foreign concept to me. However, looking at it, it will be a great opportunity to really improve my Chinese. Below is a picture of me with my host father. There is a slight differential in height, but I heard his son is my height so we will get along well. He also has a daughter, and both have learned English since they were young so we will be spending a lot of time helping each other continue our learning. I have no idea what the house will look like or the living conditions, but I’ll keep an open mind and have a blast. I’ll send more pictures and stories as things progress. In Chinese we say, 新年快乐(xin nian kuai le), or Happy New Year! More posts to come next year!
Every morning, my roommate Mike and I go to this little street vendor. It doesn’t matter if we are late for class or not, we make it a priority to go there. For just six kuai (~$1) you can get what’s known as 培根鸡蛋饼 or a bacon and egg with lettuce fold over. This has become the staple Chinese breakfast for us, and many of our classmates. It is made in about two minutes. It has other items that you could swap out for bacon, or add into to make the morning even better. Above is a picture of my roommate Mike and the establishment, as well as the fold over itself.
Currently, all 16 of the Fulbright scholars are living in a hotel on the campus. The accommodations are great. We get our beds made every morning, towels changed, toilet paper, even the occasional packet of tea. Our room originally was much smaller than the pictures show. Mike, my roommate, and I took it into our power to rearrange the room to better use the space. One of two problems is that the heater is always on, and it is very hot. We asked the front desk about it and the whole hotel is controlled by the same heating system. So we end up opening the window at night to counteract the excessive heat. I wish I didn’t have to waste such energy, but it’s nearly unbearable to sleep in it. The second problem is the pluming. The pipes go through each room from the last creating a very smelly system. As I mentioned, the room gets very hot, and the bathroom tends to get just the same way. The system is set up so the sewage floors down each floor, so whoever lives about you is the determiner of how your bathroom smells, unfortunately. I have no idea who lives above us but he must not like us. There is this stench that, if I hadn’t had a cold all this time, may have killed off my olfactory sense. We finally got something to take care of the smell, but it only covers it. But besides those two problems we have a pretty good set up going.
We will be moving out of this hotel soon unfortunately. Originally we were supposed to stay for the entire 8 months here, besides the home stay, but they are redoing the pipes system and need to evacuate the building for a few months. Thankfully they took our complaints seriously. We are moving to a nearby hotel also on campus. I’m not sure what the living situation will be like there, but I’m a little sad to be leaving the room we’ve put so much into.
I will meet my host family this weekend, so it will be good to have a meet and greet. Obviously a little nervous, with the language barrier, but I’ll do my best.
Once we got ourselves introduced we were invited to the banquet or 宴会. This was a bountiful feast where dishes seemed to be endless. All in all we had about thirty different dishes, ranging from, fish to pork and everything in between, each dish different than the last. To my surprise it wasn’t just the taste that had me excited, but also the presentation. There were two dishes in particular, a fish dish and a fried chicken dish that they had basically given you the whole thing. I did my best as an amateur photographer to capture the inner beauty of the animal. I will leave it up to the readers to decide how I did.
There was one other dish I was skeptical of trying, but I found it to be not too bad, pig intestines. Now, I think I can safely say I’m not a picky eater if I venture that deep into a pig.
Because we are going through the Fulbright program, we have to fulfill certain requirements. One of these requirements is to meet with various directors and principles from surrounding schools and Shaan’Xi Normal University. We sat in a boardroom and discussed our ideas for group projects to bridge the gap between the Chinese and the American culture. We discussed using various types of music, movies, cooking, and even common misconceptions between the two. The board of directors loved our ideas. Afterwards they invited us to go out to eat at the dining hall for a banquet.
Later that day we had our classes. Since I’m in the speaking and listening part of the five-week program we have both a speaking and listening class. We alternate those as each day passes for 3 hours a day. Afterwards we have our modern Chinese history through documentary movies class. It’s been a very intense first couple of days.
And once my roommate Mike and I got back to the dorm, we encountered a problem. We had both had beef noodles while earlier and we dumped the remaining water and bits and pieces of remnants down the sink. So, when we returned the sink was clogged. I had tried to unclog it, and before I knew it, the elaborate plumbing system fell apart and dumped water all over the bathroom floor. We asked the people at the front desk to send someone up 3 times before it actually happened. But lets just say brushing your teeth in the shower sure is a strange experience.
After we went to Tiananmen Square, we went out to eat at this nice restaurant. We ordered a variety of dishes, from chicken, to pork, to vegetables. But my favorite was duck in a bun. This dish was served in a central bowl with chopped duck and mixed vegetables. You then took a bun that was open into a bowl shape and scoop the duck into it.
Traveling is finished, I made it. However, the journey wasn’t an easy one. Arriving in China from anywhere, the Chinese government has regulation that they must sanitize all people coming into the country. They told us it was happening, but it still was a little strange. The smell of it was noticeable and I wonder what they sprayed us with. Obviously, not harmful for people, but still a little strange.
When we arrived in Beijing on Sunday night at 11:30 pm (11:30 am Boston time) we had a tour bus waiting for all 16 of us, plus our two program leaders. Our flight wasn’t until Monday evening at 5 pm. We were able to spend some time in Beijing. The first place we went to was Tiananmen Square (天安门)。 This was the most exciting part in Beijing. I’ve always seen the picture of Chairman Mao over the gate entrance and heard the stories and history of Tiananmen Square, but it was just so much different being in there in the flesh. However, it didn’t take long for the locals to realize myself and the group was there. Part of what we are required to do as part of this program is to be American Ambassadors, so I wanted to bring something to China that is relatively unknown, football. This quickly became phenomena while the “olive ball” mesmerized onlookers. Many of them actually called it a 西瓜 which means watermelon. They would also try to squeeze it and it was so foreign to them. It was like watching a baby see something for the first time, except these people weren’t babies, they were grown men! However, the police took notice and told us to stop our “show” we were putting on. Afterwards we got to get close to the gate at Tiananmen Square. A cool piece of history, the picture of general Mao is hand painted every year and replaced. Every morning they have a flag ceremony when they lift the flag for the sunrise and take it down at sunset.
One thing that I couldn’t get over was the air quality. In both Beijing and Xi’an, the air quality is the worst it’s been ever, during the last three days. It’s said to get better as time goes on, but right now it’s really challenging. The air has such a thickness to it, kind of like the asbestos situation at Johns Mansville. Its thick enough that you can taste it in your mouth too. It makes it hard for me to breath without issues. Thankfully, when I arrived I had made a mask out of my scarf that helped filter out a lot of the dirt.