And the guessing games begin…

This morning, after a relaxing breakfast and browse on the Internet, I decided to take a shower. I turned on the gas, turned the handle that directs hot water to the shower, and went to start running the water in the bathroom so it would heat up. I turned on the faucet and immediately knew something was terribly, terribly wrong. The water only trickled out in a pathetic, sickly way. So I tried the shower, and then the kitchen hot water faucet. All the same — no water. My cold water and toilet (thank goodness) still work for now. My laundry machine does not. I have come up with three possible reasons:

1. I didn’t pay my bills. Bills in China are a little mysterious. They don’t get mailed to you, you just seem to have to know when to go to the bank and pay. Last month I got a bill stuck to my gate for water and gas, but this month I didn’t, so I figured bills aren’t paid on a monthly system. My other foreign friends who have lived here for months said they only got one notice on their gate as well, and they seem to still have working amenities.

A few weeks ago, my phone suddenly stopped working, which after I went to the bank I discovered was because I hadn’t paid my bill. How I was supposed to know to pay in the first place remains a mystery.

2. There is construction going on and the building’s hot water got shut off. Seems likely they would do this without warning anyone.

3. My building is janky. This is pretty self-evident.

I guess I’m going to the bank today to see if that’s the problem. If not, I guess I’m calling my landlord, who will probably not be able to do much if it’s anything that’s a real problem. Great.


So after ruling out the late bills, my landlord came over and wiggled some knobs on my hotwater heater. I guess something was just a little loose or sticky or janky, because he got it working again. So for the folks out there who had big money riding on this, the winning answer was number three: my building is janky.

Yeah, I’m a nerd

I am taking six classes: advanced Chinese, basics of writing, Classical Chinese, classical Chinese literature, modern Chinese literature, contemporary Chinese literature. All of these classes have a lot of new vocabulary and the teachers tend to speak quickly during lectures, so the pace of learning new material is pretty fast.

I’m not really into technology, and I normally kind of like using my beat up little pocket paperback dictionary. However, everyone else in my class has an electronic dictionary, and after the past few days boy do I know why! It’s really hard to keep up just using a paperback dictionary, because to look up a Chinese word you don’t know takes several steps.

Last night I finally bought an electronic dictionary, and I am in love. First of all, it was on sale and was way less than any other dictionary I’ve seen here. But it has more than enough features for me. From what I could tell it was way less money than the others because it doesn’t have a color screen. Oh no! How will I ever learn without colored dictionary entries?!

The saleswoman did make a very convincing pitch for the updated model from the same company; that dictionary could translate whole sentences. She showed it off by writing 我现在在物美, which came out in English as “I am thing pretty.” It should have said, “I am at WuMei right now.” Needless to say, I had little faith in it’s sentence translation to begin with, and had even less after a demonstration. That dictionary was about 500 kuai more expensive, so after long deliberation, I went with the cheapy.

It comes with several different dictionaries in it, including a Chinese idiom dictionary and a CLASSICAL CHINESE dictionary!!! Yeah, in case you can’t tell, I’m really stoked about that. Having an easier way to look up classical Chinese words will cut my homework time down by a lot, and it will make reading classical Chinese for fun much closer within reach. It also has a bunch of stuff I’ll never use like games and calendars and whatnot.

One of the coolest things is that it comes with a stylus, so I can write a character and it will look it up for me. This is really useful when I have no clue how a character is pronounced and I don’t want to go through a multi-step process to look it up. Anyway, I used it a bunch in class today and was very pleased with it.

High school dramz

Sometimes I feel like I’m the new kid in high school. There are school bells that tell you when to start and end class. Everyone in the same grade level has all their classes together. We don’t really get to pick our classes or class times. We get up ridiculously early. The teachers don’t expect too much. There are cliques.

The other day, I went to a new class. When I got there the room was mostly full of students who already knew each other and were talking rowdily. Being the somewhat shy girl I am, I went to a nice looking girl and asked if I could sit next to her. Without so much as a hint of charity, she said “seat’s taken,” a la Forest Gump. Not to be deterred, I sat nearby, only to watch that seat remain empty throughout the entire 90-minute class.

On Friday, I tried to go to my 8 a.m. class. First I went to the room I thought it was in, but another class was in there. Realizing I had written the wrong room number down, I ran to the department office and checked the bulletin board. To my surprise, it said the same room as the room with the wrong class in it. Realizing something was awry, and that nobody was working at that hour who could help me, I trooped home and took a nap. When I asked some classmates about it in the next class, they all sort of laughed and explained that the room had been switched, and nobody had corrected the posted room number.

It’s strange. I don’t feel bummed out by these high school snubs and mishaps. I kinda think it’s funny.

Spoken Engrish

On our way to the large tour bus that would eventually take us to the boat dock in Guilin, we rode in a minibus driven by an eccentric, hilarious yet somewhat misguided driver. From what we can tell, he learned his English from an American idiom phrase book. Every sentence was constructed of several idioms or movie references, including the following:

1. I’m the real McCoy

2. Left in the dust

3. I’ll be back (ala Awnold)

4. Okie dokie

5. Too bad, so sad

6. Between the rock and the hard places

7. Pedal to the metal (yes, from our driver mid-intersection while cutting other cars off)

8. I’m not a kamikaze, but I’m not a Sunday driver

9. I drive by the book

10. That’s one small step for man, one great leap for mankinds

11. Every cloud has a silver lining (in reference to the recent cloudy weather)

12. Make hay while the sun shines (in reference to the literal sunshine outside)

13. No ifs, no ands, no buts

14. Air Force One (his nickname for the large tour bus)

15. Hakuna matada (he actually had no clue what it meant, which he admitted)

16. We’re the king of the road!

17. They’ll eat my dust (I’ll leave it up to your imagination what was happening on the road at this point)

18. The cutting edge

19. It’s A okay

20. Hasta la vista, baby

For your consideration, this all happened in the span of 10 to 15 minutes, and after each idiom he would crane his neck around with a big smile, to make sure we heard how good his English was. It would have been a little sad if it weren’t so funny.

The Journey Begins

All right, the journey began last Tuesday, but this is the first really stable internet connection we’ve had.

Tuesday morning, we set out for the train station for a big adventure.  Caitlin had been worrying because I didn’t have a plan or much input on the trip, but my plan was to play things by ear and do things as we go along.  It turns out that China sort of expects you to do this, since we pretty much had to buy tickets the day before we left.

We had heard moderately scary things about train ticketing and travel, so Caitlin had been hesitant to take the plunge.  We finally got to a place to buy tickets and talked to the guy behind the window.  He was mumbling a lot, but Caitlin understood that there was a train leaving for Xi’an at 8:30 p.m.  Since it’s a 13 or so hour ride, it’s best to leave at night, sleep the whole way, and wake up in a magical new land.

Once we walked outside, Caitlin looked at our tickets and realized they left at 2:30 p.m., meaning we would get to our destination at 3:30 a.m.  Suboptimal, and it had us upset for a little while.

By the time we were leaving, however, we were in much better spirits:

We got to the train station two hours early, because Caitlin wanted to make sure everything was in order.  I guess she assumed we were traveling internationally and had to go through TSA…

Once inside, I was struck by the sheer Asianness of the place. Chinese people everywhere!

It amazed me how few white people were there. I figured that with the Olympics freshly over and all, the tourists would be filling this place up, but there was not a Caucasian in sight.

Not only that, but it turns out that it’s the norm for the trains to be pretty much entirely Chinese. Aside from the usual semi-English signs, there was nothing that catered to foreigners. The locations on the giant sign were entirely in Chinese, the menus at the cafe were entirely in Chinese. Even (not surprisingly, though) when Caitlin noted that she wanted rice with her meal, the server yelled across the restaurant, in Mandarin, “The foreigner wants rice!”

Once we were done with lunch, we had a solid hour to kill before our train left.  The Chinese not only like to get to things early, but they also have this weird obsession with lining up.  It doesn’t matter what it is, if they see a line, they have to

  1. get in the line
  2. and

  3. get to the front of the line.

In this case, it meant that no matter what we did, we weren’t getting a seat in the waiting room.  So we waited our time on the floor, getting shooed away arbitrarily by one of the officials.

Finally, we passed through all of the shoving and pushing, finding our way to the platform, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel — the first of many, many tunnels (both literal and figurative).

Getting Home

The Olympics tend to draw large crowds from around the world, so it was inevitable that there would be someone I knew in the city.  As it turns out, I knew a couple of people, one of whom we actually decided to have dinner with.

Dinner was lengthy and enjoyable, and beforehand we even got to see the Beijing equivalent of Fremont street:

It turns out my friend was one of 300 international Olympic volunteers.  To put things in perspective, there were 100,000 volunteers of her category.  We had noticed there were different classes of volunteers, so we asked about the old people who sit around on every street doing pretty much exactly what they do every single other day, only wearing the Olympic shirt, and she explained that they’re there just in case someone needs a question answered.  Also, since there could potentially be a lot of questions, they are the largest class.  To quote our source, “There are a million of them.  Literally.”

During the course of dinner, I made it known that I had been wanting the Olympic polo shirt worn by the 100,000. I had even devised a plan to attack a lone Chinese girl, beating her up to steal the shirt. Fortunately, my lone American friend was so sick of the uniform, she offered the whole thing to me.

Unfortunately, this involved going to her place to pick it up, which wouldn’t be so bad, but Caitlin had to go back to her place to get ready to welcome a friend who would be staying the night. That meant I would have to get home by myself.

Getting across town was easy. I had a two-month local to take me on the trains, even mapping out my return to familiarity. As we were switching lines, however, we hit a bump in our plan. Waiting for the train to arrive, we watched it go right past us. More Chinese people collected, all looking confused:

It turns out the station was closing, but there was another train that stopped before we were out of luck.

We got to the right district, I got a new outfit (including the issued elastic-waisted pants and sock set), got shoved into a pre-informed taxi, and somehow made it back safely.  In fact, aside from the fact that I said nothing the entire time aside from “xie xie” when departing, I’m not sure the driver knew I didn’t speak Chinese.

Anyway, I did something in China without Caitlin!

Caitlin is a silly girl

The other day, Caitlin and I were cleaning her apartment, working our way through her dirty kitchen.  I was cleaning the stove diligently, and she was cleaning the pipes.  Well, that lasted a few seconds.

She let out a shriek and leaped off the stool, nearly curling up into the fetal position.  I bet she would have if the floor weren’t so dirty.  She pointed at the pipe and made me look.  I found this:

Of course, that picture didn’t come easily.  She wanted it to blog, but she didn’t want to have to look at the thing.  I wanted her to blog about it, but I didn’t want to have to clean my horrendously greasy hands to take a picture, then get them all greasy again.  She refused to take the picture, eventually leading to a heap of shuddering fright and depression curled up on the bed.

A little while later, I took the photo.

EDIT: Caitlin’s friend Sam just saw it and said, “I can’t believe something came into your kitchen and died because it was so dirty.”

Apartment of Horrors: The Bad and Ugly

My landlord has had the apartment for ten years, and it pretty much seems like it hasn’t been cleaned in all that time. A lot of my free time has been spent making the place clean and liveable, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. So aside from the dirt and the washing machine flooding, there are a few things I’m not so happy about.

I don’t think the stove vent grease catcher has ever been cleaned. Yes, that’s about 12 cubic inches of grease. mmmm….

Before Jeff arrived, I went a little crazy getting ready for his birthday celebration. I bought a ton of pastries and fruit and was really excited to have them for his birthday. When I got home, I put them in the logical place — a drawer with pictures of fruit and veggies on it. Apparently in China, that means it’s the freezer, so a few days later all the fruit was pretty much ruined. Boo.

This is the worst of all. A few days ago while cleaning the kitchen, I decided to tackle the layer of grease that has coated all the pipes and levers in the kitchen. I have to turn the gas on and off when I want to cook or have hot water, and it was getting old that my fingers would get coated in sticky black grease every time. Just as I was really getting into it, I discovered this on a nearby pipe and let out a shriek. Please only click on it if you’re sure you want to know. It’s not for the faint of heart, or those who have eaten recently.

So I freaked out, because obviously that is worse than cockroaches. I hopped around the kitchen for a while going “ew ew ew” and then begged Jeff to take care of it. After a discussion that ended in him threatening to throw the thing at me, I ran into my bedroom and proceeded to hide under the covers for a while.

It’s been a few days, and we still haven’t disposed of it, although I have faith that Jeff will do that soon. Every time I turn the gas on I have to avert my eyes so I don’t see it perched up there just six inches away from my hand.

In sum:

1. things will get better after I get everything more or less clean.

2. bleach is a wonderful thing.

3. Cockroaches aren’t so bad. Plus ever since the first night I haven’t seen any more of them, so I guess they must hate foreigners.

Apartment of horrors: Moving Day

Last week I finally moved into my apartment, and hilarity ensued. ICYC, it’s the one all the way at the far end, second from the top.

The first day I moved in, I cleverly enticed my friends Dave and Ellenor into helping me move my things into the apartment. Having bought way too many books before moving, I immediately regretted living in a sixth-floor walk-up. My landlord came over and helped me get my locks switched, after which he showed me how to use the laundry machine. Then I went shopping with my friend for cleaning supplies, as my apartment looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in about ten years.

Some time while I was out, I got a text message from my landlord that translates to “I haven’t been living in the apartment continuously, so please don’t flush the toilet before going out, so as to avoid a water disaster in your apartment.” Needless to say I was a little put off.

When I finally returned home, it was well after dark. I’m pretty independent, so the idea of living alone hasn’t bothered me much, but I have to admit I was a little creeped out to spend my first night alone in a new place. It didn’t help matters when I opened the door, groped around for the light cord, finally got the lights on and saw little cockroaches scattering under the fridge.

On a side note, the toilet still has not flooded the apartment, but the laundry machine usually does.

Terribly spooked by my roaches, I turned all the lights on in the apartment, ran to my bed, turned the TV on and cowered in the middle where I figured roaches wouldn’t get me. Now, one delightful thing about renting in China is that electricity is pre-paid. Of course, my landlord hadn’t prepaid very much for me. Just as I was beginning to feel more secure about the roach situation, and was enjoying the Olympic gymnasts soothing flips on TV, all my power suddenly went out.

Now I was really upset. Afraid of the bugs, I slid into my sleeping bag for protection and listened to my ipod, but really didn’t sleep most of the night on account of the paranoia and lack of air conditioning. The next morning I took a cold shower before going out to purchase electricity.

It was a rough start to what has been tempestuous relationship.

Olympic (birthday) baseball

On Tuesday, I “surprised” Jeff with tickets to the Olympic Korea vs. Cuba baseball game. Sadly, Jeff doesn’t like baseball, but these were the best tickets I could get to celebrate his 22nd birthday. The game was pretty much like any minor league game in the US, meaning that most of the fans didn’t really care who won, the game was poorly attended and the outcome more or less meaningless to me.

It was about 2 billion degrees out (scientific measurements were taken by proper authorities, I assure you). Because of these dumb pollution-reduction measures, the sun was fully visible and directly shown down on us. In addition, the stadium radiated heat, creating a miserable setting for the game. The family behind us lasted exactly one inning before succumbing to heat and leaving.

Of course, we all had to suffer because obviously the shaded seats were completely full.

Probably the best part of the game was watching the fans. Our section was mostly Koreans, who did actually care about the game. They had a lot of songs and organized cheers, which were fun to watch.

The Chinese reaction to the Koreans was also entertaining:

Jeff and I ended up leaving around the seventh inning because we were too hot and miserable. Neither of us being baseball fans, it seemed logical. Please don’t be mad.