Sunday, December 28, 2008

christmas really does exist in china...sort of

alright, here it is. the story of christmas in china, my first christmas away from home:

i spent the first half of the week on vacation and i came home to christmas! i spent christmas eve running around like a crazy person getting everything ready for people to come over. i made microwave brownies and bought oranges and cookies and things. it was pretty good. corey came over early and made me spaghetti, which was awesome.

then danny and lizzy came over and then thai and simon and a bunch of their friends, who were cool. we all hung out and tried to stay warm in my freezing apartment (stupid china and lack of central heat!). we eventually brought out the space heater, which was really nice until it blew the fuse. i found some candles and it was actually kind of nice to sit around in the dark with the candles. the security guy came pretty quickly, though, and we were back in business. then simon got Fred Clause going and we had some christmas movie time, after which we were all a bit dead and everyone went home except thai and danny, who spent the night.

christmas day was really nice. we woke up and chilled for a bit, then the boys cleaned up and did dishes while i made pancakes. i didn't even mean for them to, i just started making pancakes and the next thing i know the apartment is clean, the dishes are washed and thai is asking for a broom. it was awesome. anyway, we all ate pancakes and sort of did our thing until thai had to leave for work. bummer. so i skyped my family and opened my presents and hung out with danny. we spent most of the day on the couch, trying to stay warm in the apartment that refused to warm up.

as far as christmas presents go, my mom is pretty awesome. i opened my second box to find a veritable treasure trove of surprises. she sent no bake cheesecake mix, chocolate chips, toothpaste, awesome fleece pj pants, fun earrings from ten thousand villages, a where the wild things are christmas ornament, some shirts, febreeze and, the best part, wheat tortillas. i still can't believe she actually sent them from the US in a box that left a month ago. and they're still good. needless to say, it was a good day. she also sent pj's from vegas that say "that's how i roll" which is funny b/c that's one thing that i actually do say and that confuses my british friends here. thanks, mom, you pretty much win.

i had christmas dinner with janice, which was very relaxing and wonderful. she made beef soup, which made me happy b/c the beef reminded me of roast beef which is one of my favorite things to eat. we chatted and watched american tv while we ate Ihow long has it been since i've seen oprah?) and waited for her new refridgerator to come. it's funny the things that change when you live in a new place. i didn't realize how long it had been since i had seen what would be considered a normal-sized refridgerator in the US. the chinese ones are all very small. it was strangely exciting to peer into this side-by-side refridgerator and remember being at home for a bit. it makes me wonder what stupid little things i will really notice when i am home again.

all in all, it was a very nice christmas. i won't lie, i did miss the traditions and people from home. there is something about them and something about home that really makes it feel like christmas. there is something in the air that just doesn't happen here. perhaps it is simply knowing that all around you people are gathered in their houses enjoying each other and celebrating the same things. it's strange to be celebrating an important day knowing that everyone around you is going about their normal lives. in the end, though, i managed to spend it doing things i enjoy with people i care about, which is really what matters. i hope i am always so lucky.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the things you miss...

i keep fantasizing about driving down 9th street and i really can't decide how i feel about that. the thing is, i don't really want to go home. i just want to go drive around for a few days and then come back.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"i live in freaking china."

when i first got here, i would occasionally pause in whatever i was doing and say that to myself, in a pathetic attempt to make that sentiment feel real. i thought that i would eventually get over this and stop saying it. now, however, i find myself still pausing randomly throughout the week to say this to myself with incredulity at how normal it seems. somewhere along the way living in china went from surreal to normal and i can't get over that. i suspect that i will continue to say this to myself throughout my stay, with varying sentiments attached, but always with some amazement.

Monday, December 1, 2008

i love days like this...

i generally spend at least part of the bus ride home from work figuring out what i need/want to do with my evening. today the plan was to run to people's square to buy a christmas present, grab groceries on the way home, eat leftovers and lesson plan. somehow, though, things never quite go the way i intend.

i did manage to run to people's square in time to find the christmas present store very very closed. a little bummed, i turned to leave and was approached by a chinese 20-something with a camera. expecting to be in the photo i smiled my best foreigner smile and said hello. to my surprise, she asked me to take a picture of her and her friends with the expo mascot and i happily agreed to this refreshing request. after the picture, she asked me where i was from and we got to chatting. turns out they are university students from xian here in shanghai for a week on a school trip. we talked a bit about the sights in shanghai and they asked me if i had ever been to a teahouse, which is actually one thing i hadn't done yet but wanted to try. (note the "hadn't.") they were on their way to visit one and invited me to join them. i decided the groceries could wait and happily agreed.

(side note: it turns out this is commonly a scam. people will befriend you and invite you to a teahouse only to disappear, leaving you with an outrageous bill. lucky for me, my friends were perfectly legit.)

the teahouse was on the second floor of a shopping mall behind a shopping mall. if everything good in houston comes in a strip mall, everything here comes in a giant mall. or a cart on the street. always extremes in china.

it was a fun experience. we tried 6 different kinds of tea and learned a little bit about the culture behind the teas. the cups all have their own significance and you drink different teas in different cups. some of the teas were made especially for the emperor back in the day and they each have their own special properties. one was good for coughing, one for the liver, lungs and heart, one was full of vitamins, etc. we tried
  • ginseng (a little bitter with a sweet aftertaste - very good; looks like little rocks),
  • jasmine (sweet-smelling; a little bitter; comes with a smelling cup and a drinking cup; rolled into a ball that resembles a dragon's eye),
  • pink lady (12 dried fruits and dried roses; very red and very sweet; served in a clear glass cup),
  • green tea (i think it is bitter, but it is the most common tea; you can tell how good it is by the color, aroma, flavor and shape of the leaves),
  • black tea soaked in lychee juice (sweet with a bitter aftertaste), and
  • some kind of flower tea (when you put it in water, the whole thing opens up and there is a big flower with jasmine leaves around it; not a very strong flavor).
the teahouse girl was full of information and my chinese friends were great. they translated everything for me and we even managed to make jokes, which is commonly very difficult with the language barrier. the most interesting thing i learned was that chinese doctors can take your pulse and know what is going on inside your body. for instance, if you are pregnant, you will have two pulses. i had no idea.

at the end, we bought some tea, exchanged email addresses and they walked me to the metro with instructions to call them when i go to xian. i even hugged them goodbye, which is a bit uncooth in chinese culture, but i didn't care.

as i walked myself to the metro, i couldn't help but wonder at what had just happened to me and smile, because it was a great evening and because hanging out with chinese people does wonders for your self-esteem. i am beautiful and it is like music when i talk. so thank you, china, for screwing up my plans, yet again.