June 2010

My exams are next Wednesday and like the rest of the student population in China I’ll be getting little to know rest, sunlight, or fresh air for the next days as I cram for my exams, so the blog has had to take a backseat.

In the meantime, check out this article on so-called ‘cram schools’, popular not only in China but all over Asia.  The Chinese education system is based entirely on exams, and while there are rumblings of a need to change that system, it’s been ingrained in their culture since the time of Confucius.  I have a lot of personal as well as ideological issues with this system, of which I’ll have to write about at a later time.  Here are a couple more articles about the examination system in China.

Making the Grade in China-CNN

China’s College Entry Test is a National Obsession-New York Times

Yu Jian, “Education Without Heart”-China Geeks

High Tech Exam Cheating in China-Simple Thoughts

One difficulty I’ve had in learning Chinese is the number of verbs needed to describe similar but different actions.  For example, in English the verb ‘to play’ can be used to describe many actions,  such as, “I play guitar,” or, “I play soccer.”  The Chinese translation is a bit more complex than that.  The verb “to play,” translated as 玩 (wán), literally refers to ‘playing,’ as in, “The children play together.”

If you want to say “I play guitar,” you actually say, 我弹吉他 (Wǒ dàn jítā), literally translated as “I flick guitar.”

“I play soccer,” is actually 我踢足球 (Wǒ tī zúqiú), or “I kick soccer.”

” I play the trumpet,” is 我吹小号(Wǒ chuī xiǎo hào), or “I blow trumpet.

This makes learning Chinese verbs rather important, although you can often substitute words like 玩 (play) or 用 (use) and get your meaning across.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember all these different verbs, but I’ve also found that it’s a good tool for memorizing verbs that would otherwise be hard to commit to memory, especially because a lot of the phrases I find to be pretty cool.  I really like the idea of “flicking guitar,” and now I’ll probably never forget how to say flick in Chinese.

It’s summer now and the heat is borderline unbearable, and as a result a lot of Chinese men find shirts rather obsolete.  Even Mr. Wang, pictured here at what’s supposed to be a business lunch, opts to go shirtless.

In states, maybe it’s one out of every ten people that will take flyers that people are handing out on the streets.  But in China it’s literally every person that will take them.  I think it has something to do with the incredible consumer driven society.  But nontheless many of the flyers end up on the ground, so whereever there are flyers being handed out there are poor street scavengers, usually elderly people who can’t work anymore, who collect the little sheets of paper and return them to redemption centers for 2 mao (.2 yuan) each.

Sure there are grocery stores in China, but they tend to be overpriced.  It’s far more common for people to buy their fruits and vegetables at street side stands such as this one.

The number of cars in the road in China is growing by staggering amounts every day, but still most families opt for more economical forms of transportation, such as this three-wheeled motorbike.

Read Getting Whored Out, Part I

The problem with studying a culture as alien to me as China, is that I often have trouble distinguishing between what is a result of the culture itself, and what is the result of an individual’s character.  A lot of the social phenomenon I write about in this blog can be experienced in any part of the world, no matter what country or society you are in (see my post about Joe).  But of course no culture is alike, and while a certain practice might be prevalent in one country, it might be somewhat rare in another.  Here’s what reader Don Tai had to say about Getting Whored Out…Part I:

“In any country people will try to take advantage of you. If [Tony] was a true friend he would not have put you into such a position that either you or he would lose face. He should have given you a way out, but he did not. All this fluff about friendship and doing things you’re not comfortable with, that’s not Chinese culture but human nature.”

There’s a lot of validity to this statement, especially when he points out that Tony didn’t provide a “way out,” but that said, I still believe this story to be a good example, albeit somewhat extreme, of a common interaction between foreigners and Chinese people, especially Chinese business men, and here’s why.

China is what’s known as collective society, where the well-being of an individual is directly dependant upon the well-being of those around him.  Traditionally the society operates by way of two interconnected social strategies known as mianzi and guanxi.  Mianzi can be loosely interpreted as self respect or self image, while guanxi can be translated as relationships or connections.  One gives and receives mianzi in order to build one’s guanxi.  Everything from familial relationships to business operates by way of guanxi and mianzi, and without them personal success and happiness are hard to come by. (Keep in mind that this is the traditional style of social interaction in China, and as the world’s most populous country is going through one of the most radical economic and cultural revolutions the world has ever seen, social strategies are changing as well.)

According to an article I came across on middlekingdomlife.com, “A recent study conducted by the China Youth Daily found that over 93 percent of the 1,150 respondents surveyed admitted that face is very important to them, with 75 percent acknowledging that making a mistake in public was, by far, the most humiliating experience they could ever have (Shan, 2005).”

This results in a general unwillingness to directly admit to personal mistakes, as well as an unwillingness to directly deny a request.  Usually a more tactful, roundabout method is used, that often times may border on what Westerners would classify as dishonesty, thus creating a culture in which truth and honesty are not held in the same light as they are in Western culture.  Chinese people employ ‘white lies’ on a daily basis in order to maintain mianzi and guanxi. (This is perhaps one of the reasons for Tony’s severe disappointment in my refusal to hand out flyers.  Had I come up with an excuse, whether it was true or not, it would have softened the blow and saved Tony and I a good deal of strife. Although, as reader Don pointed out, it would have been more polite for Tony to offer me a way out had it occurred to him that handing out the flyers would have caused me to lose face.)

So compared to Western society, Chinese society at its core tends to be less honest, which isn’t to say that in this instance Chinese culture is any way worse than Western as much as it just different.  Compounding the issue is the fact that China is in many ways still in the pioneer stages of capitalism, an economic system in which dishonesty can pay out big, and in my opinion that’s when you start to see problems.  Capitalism in America has evolved to the point at which there are general rules and regulations that attempt to provide the consumer with more rights.  False advertising is of course illegal in the States, but is actually a pretty common practice in China.  I asked Tony what they would do when the students arrived at the English to discover that there was only one foreign teacher instead of three as the flyers advertised.  Tony told me that they will “have an explanation” as to why Serena and I were not teaching.  “You mean you will lie to them,“ I said.

“Yes,” he said, “We will lie to them.”  Tony then translated our interaction for Mr. Wang, and the two of them had a good laugh.  I wondered if they had ever heard of Bernie Madoff or Enron.

All this dishonesty makes my involvement with their plans less than comfortable for me, but as the white face in the crowd I played a key part in their business plan, even though I wasn’t actually working for them.  I find this to be a really common experience, not only in business but in any given social interaction because foreigners in China are face giving machines.  The rarity of foreigners, the obsession with Western culture, and the importance placed upon learning English means that my presence goes a long way in improving someone’s image.

Joe’s parents picked me up last night in shiny black Audi with black tinted windows and leather seats.  They work parents work in the government and enjoy the fat pay check that comes with the job title.  As a way to thank me for teaching their son they offered to take Serena and me out for dinner.  It was apparent early on that this would be one of those how-the-hell-did-I-get-here experiences.

The Gang: Tony, Joe, Me, "Cool Brother," Serena, "Cool Sister"

Millenary Dragon is famous for it's seafood. 鲁菜 (lu cai) is one of the 8 culinary traditions of China. Originating in nearby Jinan, it usually involves seafood.

We drove across town to pick up Serena at her apartment, and along the way I informed them that it was her birthday.  We stopped at a bakery to buy her a cake, the most expensive one in the shop, and then headed over to Millenary Dragon, the most expensive restaurant in Liaocheng.  They presented Serena with a bottle of red wine, the most expensive red wine you could buy, and me with a bottle of baiju, you guessed it, the most expensive one you could buy.  We hadn’t even ordered and already Joe’s parents had spent twice as much money than I spend in a week, and they weren’t quiet about it.  It’s pretty rude to talk about money in Western culture, but it’s common, even expected in some cases.

Is coral an endangered species? Well, it tastes good anyways...

Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression here…you might assume that communist party members are stuffy, arrogant, hard to get a long with, but in most cases its just the opposite.  I’ve actually found most Chinese politicians quite chummy.  They like to drink and smoke and sing karaoke just as much as the next guy.  Joe’s dad was impressed with my ability to toss back the baiju, and kept filling my cup and laughing hardily with each shot.  He liked my mohawk and beard and decided to call me 帅哥, (handsome brother).  He slapped his knee when Joe said “fuck” and I explained the meaning.  我们走朋友了。We were buddies.


Serena picks up the mic, despite telling us all she can't sing...

We dined on steamed octopus, deepfried shrimp and eggplant bites, and vinegar soaked coral (which I didn’t know was edible.)  After dinner we made our way to KTV, the nicest one in Liaocheng.  Serena and I sang Micheal Jackson and Joe’s parents rocked out to Chinese pop tunes.  At one point the lights went out and a couple of dancers came in performed a hair-whipping evocative dance for our entertainment, and then left as quickly as they had appeared.  Like I said, how the hell did I get here?


This is probably an attempt to bypass China’s lackadaisical copyright laws, but I’d like to think that it’s some sort of communist propaganda geared towards toddlers.  By the way, I never really pictured Pooh playing with symbols.  He is always seemed to me like more of the subdued type.

Westerners living in China occupy a curious existence. Depending on where you are and in what situation, you are part celebrity, part honored guest, part freak of nature. Not a single waking moment goes by that I’m not reminded of my alien status in China.  From the exultations of “hullo!” wherever I go, to the multiple requests for dinner dates and number exchanges, to the evening news featuring my visit to the Guanxian Pear Garden, one thing is clear, it’s a big deal that I’m here.

There’s an ego-centric side of all of us that loves that sort of attention, but, just the same as it is for real celebrities, it can get a little irksome.  Mostly it’s just small annoyances— I struggle sometimes not to glare at little huddles of juvenile Chinese boy as they point and giggle at me from afar, all with the same little stupid conceited smile. For the most part it’s easy enough to get used to.  But now and then I find myself tangled up in a situation where my identity as a foreigner, as an American, as a white male, as me, is being exploited for the benefit of other people.  Nothing illustrates this phenomenon better than a recent experience I had with my friend Tony.

Before I get into what happened between Tony and I, let me start out by saying that Tony is a good guy, a real good guy.  If it weren’t for Tony and a number of other students at Liaocheng University my time in China—especially my first few weeks—might have driven me to the edge of insanity or, worse yet, on a plane back to the States.  That said, of all my Chinese friends Tony is perhaps the most guilty of using my status as a celebrity/laowai to improve his own situation.  For the most part, I don’t mind.  I do my best to operate the way in which Chinese people do, and since Tony has helped me so much I’m usually happy to reciprocate.  Besides, often times it’s a win-win situation in which all that’s required of me is my presence.  Tony has introduced me to many friends who have bought me dinner, and he’s even helped me find a job as an English tutor.

A couple weeks into my semester in China I was walking with Tony on campus when a man on a motorcycle approached us and began talking to Tony.  Mr. Wang, as he likes to be called, has founded and managed a number of private English schools in the Liaocheng area, and has recently undergone a venture to start his first one within the city limits.  English schools in China are about as common as KFC’s, but those that employ and associate with foreigners are always far more profitable.  So when Mr. Wang saw Tony and me walking together he jumped at the opportunity.  Tony, who majored in English in college, was offered the job as manager of the school, because, as Tony put it, he had something that Mr. Wang needed: me.  While I myself will not actually be teaching at the school, Will, my Ghanaian friend at Liaocheng University, will be, and my contacts with other foreigners in Liaocheng is a great asset to the company.  Mr. Wang, by way of Tony, asked Will and I and our friend Serena, to be in a picture for the school.

While I frowned at their obvious perpetration of false advertisement, I agreed to be in the picture as a way to help Tony, and was even able to convince Serena, who is also not teaching at the school, to come out for the picture.  This was an infringement of my own values, and no doubt made me a little uncomfortable, but it required little effort on my part and went a long way in helping Tony’s business venture, (and after all this experience is all about stepping out of my comfort zone).

But then Tony asked me to hand out flyers for the school on the streets of Liaocheng, and that was the point at which I decided to draw the line.  I have discovered that the hardest part of being in China for me is the constant reminder of my alien (pun intended) status.  I do my best to embrace it, but I’m not going to lie, it can be tough not being treated like a normal human being all the time, and coupled with the fact that I would perpetrating the fraud of pretending that I myself was a teacher at the school, it was just too much.  You can treat me like a freak, you can ask me to suspend my own morals for the good of my friends, but I won’t do both at the same time.

My reaction shocked and disappointed Tony, so much so that he appeared at my dorm the next day bearing gifts and offering to take me out to lunch (a common way to mend a relationship gone wrong.)  I tried my best to explain to Tony why I didn’t want to hand out flyers for the school, but it wasn’t something that he could understand.  “In China,” he said, “if you are friends you will do anything to help the other person, even if it means doing something you are not comfortable with.”

This is the point at which Chinese and American cultures clash in the most fundamental of ways.  China is a communal society, where the well-being of the individual has much more to do with the well-being of those around him, whereas American society (Western society in general I suppose) is more about the individual.  Each side of the story has its up and down sides. You could say that Chinese people are more selfless than Americans, while at the same time you could say that Americans have more personal integrity and are unwilling to demean themselves for the betterment of others.  While I value the way in which they look out for each other, I wonder what this does for the self-esteem of an individual.  For my own personal mental health I know that the middle road is the best.  I will agree to do certain things, but when it’s taken too far I have to draw the line.

Read part II here.

When most people think of Chinese films they tend to think of the grandiose historical/kungfu epics such as Hero and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and if you’re talking kungfu it’s hard to include Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.  While all these movies bring a certain badassness to the table, and in their own rights are some of the best films in Chinese cinematic history, it would be a mistake to assume that all Chinese films are kungfu pics.  Here are a couple of movies I’ve seen here in China (both with English subtitles by the way, I’m not there yet) that do a good job of representing modern Chinese culture, both in what they depict as well as the sort of film that the makers set out to make.

Getting Home is a sentimental comedy by director Zhao Yang, starring one of the most well known comedians in China, Zhao Benshan.  Zhao plays a construction worker who journeys across the South of China to bring the body of his best friend back home to be buried.  It’s got the potential to be, but this is no Chinese version of Weekend at Bernie’s . Zhao meets a long his journey a plethora of lower tier Chinese citizens (very characteristic of the South of China, especially the West), and along the way travels through some of the most beautiful and bucolic scenes of rural China.  This movie is a huge crowd pleaser.  My only gripe with it is it’s lousy English name.  The Chinese name is 落叶归根, (Lùo yè gūi gēn), or The Fallen Leaf Returns to the Root.

This movie finds its way into most top ten Chinese movie lists, and for good reason.  It’s beautifully filmed (perhaps some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen) and executed with Sergio-Leone-like patience and deliberateness.  Guei is young man who moves from the Chinese country side to Beijing and is left in awe of modern society.  He get’s a job as a courier and is given a bicycle, the metaphoric key to the city.  When the bike is stolen Guei must find who took it or be in debt to his employers.  For it’s violence this movie was at first banned in China, though the ban was eventually lifted.  While it might not make you smile in the same Getting Home does, this movie is truly worth seeing, especially for those who are interested in modern Chinese culture.  The Chinese name is 十七岁的单车(Shí qī suì de dān chē), literally Seventeen-Year-Old’s Bicycle.

Anyone else out there got any Chinese films they enjoy that don’t involve emperors, swords, and lightning fast moves?

I took this snapshot of a couple walking together in Qingdao.  It’s pretty common to see couples wearing matching t-shirts.  Clothing companies even make his and her shirts, and sometimes you even see a young married couple and their baby wearing matching shirts.  There are a lot of things that I can change about the way I think…but I’m sorry, this is just tacky.

What’s even more interesting to me is the way in which young Chinese couples behave.  In comparison, dating in America is pretty casual.  Perhaps it’s our independence, but people in America rarely end up staying with their first partner for the long haul, and it isn’t unheard of for people to marry for the first time in their forties (maybe even their fifties).  In China, all young people are under pressure by their parents to be married and have a kid on the way by about age 25.  On top of that, most of the kids I know didn’t start dating until college, or perhaps very late in high school, and kids from some of the more traditional families plan to marry their first partner.

This puts a whole lot of pressure on finding LOVE, and as a result relationships are often saturated in gushy, fuzzy, pink, heart covered romance.  The students aren’t allowed in rooms of the opposite sex, and so at night, in (semi)dark corner of my campus, you can find a love-soaked Chinese couple stuck each other like a couple of wet leaves.  And they’re everywhere.  There’s usually about two or three within a twenty foot radius of my front door from 8:00 at night to 11:00.  It is, to say the least, uncomfortable.  This of course only applies to the younger generations, and the older generations like to blame the influence of American movies.

Bought this on the street in Qingdao.  Didn’t even get to see the tag until I got back to the hostel.  Brilliant

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural sensitivity and how much I have to suspend my own values in order to better understand those of others.   When I first got here, I was so enthusiastic about simply being in China that in my eyes Chinese people could do no wrong.  If some guy had picked a fight with me I may have blamed myself for some misunderstanding of his cultural values.  Now that I’m approaching the homestretch of my time in China, my thoughts have turned to making conclusions about some of the things I’ve learned about life here.  Everyone knows that as a general rule it’s good to be as open-minded and accepting as possible, but I’ve found that for the sake of progress (both personal progress and cross-cultural)  it’s never healthy to accept every aspect of a foreign culture.

What I Love (And Hate) About China.

I hate that it’s so hard to find cheese in China.  I love that it’s so easy find dumplings.

I love it when you have those short moments of listless contemplation, when you’re doing something like staring at your feet in a taxi, and you literally forget where you are, only to be jolted back to reality with alarming re-recognition.  I hate waking up in the morning and wondering if I have enough energy to make it another day.  I love going to bed and thinking I might have just one more in me.

I hate the way I can never ask advice and get a straight answer from some of my Chinese friends.  I hate that a woman who smokes is blanketly given the title “bad girl,” not to be trusted, maybe a prostitute.  I love that every time I sit down to dinner with a middle-aged Chinese man he offers me cigarettes, tea, food, and liquor, in that order.  I love all the cheap plastic crap, the singing dancing golden tigers, the tiny pink kindergartener chairs, the mp3 players.  I hate that if someone or something decides that this blog is dangerous, it could be blocked.  I love my riding my bike through the streets.

I hate the way teenage boys shout “hullo!” and all their friends cackle and howl and they all run away.  I love the way little kids shout “hullo!” and all their friends cackle and howl and they all run away.  I hate the way “guanxi” and “mianzi” have the capability to tie a young Chinese boy into a knot-like social catastrophe.  I love the way middle class Chinese people have this kind of swagger about them, that isn’t so much about arrogance or ignorance, as much as it is about pride and enjoyment.  I love the way Chinese poor people have this march of humble determination.  I hate the way rich men drive their Audi A4’s down dirt roads, laying on the horn and flashing their lights, and the peasants all scatter.  I hate the way everything is becoming more modern, more industrial, more Western.  I love the way everything is changing.

I hate it when people stare at me like I’m from Mars.  I love telling people I’m from Mars.  I hate getting sick, it always seems to happen when I’m traveling.  I hate that the Chinese education system does little to make their students interested in what they study.  I hate that Chinese people often take stereotypes and generalizations as fact.  I love seeing the everyday things that remind of where I am, like a man riding a bicycle with a refrigerator attached to the back.  I hate that I can’t speak their language.  I love trying.

I love the cranes, great urban beasts that invade the sky-line of every Chinese city.  I love street food.  I love shrink-wrapped tofu.  I hate 1,000 year old eggs.  I can tolerate stinky tofu.  I haven’t had sea cucumber but I’ve heard they’re good brain food.  I ate sheep testicles once, but didn’t care for it.

I hate how consumer driven Chinese people can be.  I love how they will do anything for a friend.  I love how family oriented they are.  I love the role of grandparents in a Chinese family.  I love that little Chinese boys have mohawks.  I love to watch people exorcise in the park.  I love how goofy they are. I love how kind they are.

I love being able to say what I love and hate about China, and know that I’m at least not lying to myself. I love knowing the fact that my opinions have and probably will change.   I love knowing that I will never fully understand China.

For better or for worse, here’s a glimpse into the life a Chinese married couple.  That is of course to say a Chinese couple and not all.  Do not mistake any editorialized writing as an attempt to sway you’re opinion in one direction or another regarding gender roles and familial life in China.  I have simply taken one example of a Chinese family I’ve found amusing and presented the facts, albeit somewhat emphasized towards the funnier side of it all.

I met  石作香(Miss Shi) through Will, who’s been in China close to three years now, has traveled, studied and taught English. Miss Shi is a lawyer and, like many middle class Chinese professionals, an entrepreneur on the side.  She has dipped into the business sector of English schools (a hot item at the moment) by way of Will’s contacts with foreigners.

Miss Shi has unbelievable focus.  At no point in her actions does it seem that she is wasting time by deciding what to do next.  It’s as though she wakes up every morning and already knows exactly what she’s going to do for the day, right down to when she rests her feet.  But for as punctual and driven person as she is, there is nothing rigid about Miss Shi.  Her eyes rarely show it, but she is in actually an easy-going person, with the ability to improvise, with the ability to wander off topic (she just choses not to).

Miss Shi seems to thrive off of serving others.  She and routinely delivers bags of vegetables and bottles of cooking oil to Will’s apartment, which she arranged and signed the contract for.  She prides herself on her cooking, on her clean home, on her job as a lawyer.  As the mother of two, she is the rock of the family.

袁斌 (Yuan Bing) is a truck driver, and Miss Shi’s husband.  The first time I met him he ambled through the doorway of Will’s apartment, sleepily lifting a half smoked cigarette to his drooping mouth.  He tossed the cigarette and shook hands with Will and then spotted me.  He gave me this sqinty-eyed grin, the kind of smile a young guy might expect from one of his dad’s old drinking buddies.  He spent most of our afternoon together snoring on Will’s bed while Miss Shi and I chatted.   One time I went to their apartment for lunch, and when I got there, Yuan Bing was passed out in the bedroom while Miss Shi bustled away in the kitchen.  He eventually woke up and joined me in the living room, shirtless and smoking.  He knocked back two and half cups of  白酒 (rice wine) during lunch, smoked another cigarette, and went back to sleep.  Miss Shi is the fussy one.  The one you call in a jam.  The one who always knows what to do.  Yuan Bing is the chilled out one, the one you’d want to share beer and swap dirty jokes with, the one that always makes you feel comfortable, cuz hell, he’s pretty comfortable.

In one my recent posts, Chinese People Are…Volume III, I made the assumption that Chinese people are bad singers, to which reader Tdok responded by saying,

“I disagree that Chinese are bad singers. They simply love and more willing to sing even if they are bad. Whereas in the US, people scared to death of getting caught singing; thus, you don’t really know how bad they sing.”

I can definitely understand where Tdok comes from on this one (although I’m sticking to my guns here), but what’s more he stirred up something that I’ve been thinking about for a while.  This could be something that my own over developed imagination has come up with on its own, but it seems to me that Chinese people have a propensity for doing things that might not necessarily come naturally to them. It almost seems to me as if they have this humble fascination with challenging themselves.  Now this would only apply to singing if you agree with my assumption that Chinese people are bad singers, as well as my assumption that it has to do with the fact that Chinese is a tonal language.  But what actually got me going on this theory is the phenomenon that is basketball in China.

Despite the fact that it’s an import and far from the national sport in China, I would venture to say that basketball is by far the most popular sport in China, especially amongst the youth.  Every tiny village in China has at least one basketball hoop, even if it’s just a piece of plywood with a basket nailed on, and during times in which there is no class at Liaocheng University, the basketball courts are always the busiest centers activity, perhaps second only to the cafeteria.  Yet ask any Chinese basketball fanatic and they will tell you that Chinese are not good at basketball. Now of course they’re comparing themselves to the NBA, an unfair comparison to say the least.  But still, China has never been closer than 8th place to winning the Olympic Gold Medal.

Again a lot of this is speculation, but from everything I’ve noticed of street culture in my city, Liaocheng people do seem to be willing to make fool of themselves more than Westerners, especially men.  Now that it’s getting hot there becomes less need for a shirt.  It’s pretty common for Chinese men to be shirtless in public.  Sometimes they just roll up the bottom of it so they’re 啤酒肚 (beer belly) hangs out.  Of course there’s a time and place for everything, and it’s not like you’d go to a business dinner not wearing a shirt, but still, they just seem so much more relaxed about initial appearance than we do in the West.

…so I haven’t gotten into it much but yes, I’ve gotten food poisoning in China before.  My first time it kicked in during a three-hour bus ride from Dali to Kunming.  The bus had a toilette, but it wasn’t working.  I used it anyway.

The second time I was lucky enough to be near a fully functional pot, but it was probably the worst I’ve ever gotten it.  I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

Other than that I deal with the occasional upset stomach from eating food that my tummy hasn’t grown fully accustomed too yet.  This round of queasiness I believe was brought on by a bad starfish I ate in Qingdao (and it didn’t even taste good.)  It doesn’t compare to the pain an anguish I felt with my last bouts of food sickness, but after a six-hour train ride with a revolving cast of drunk, smoking, shirtless Chinese men posing for pictures with the ‘laowai’ and yelling in my face for the whole trip, I think it’s time for me to go to bed.  To keep everyone satisfied, here’s a picture of my friend Serena and lady with a badass haircut.

Ever since I arrived in China I’ve wanted to visit Qingdao, and finally got the opportunity this past weekend when I decided to skip my Monday class and go with my friend Serena for a little bit of a vacation.

Qingdao was a German colony for about twenty years during the early 1900’s, and despite having a relatively short period of control, Qingdao retains many aspects of German culture, the most famous of which being Tsingtao beer (pronounced the same way as Qingdao), which is the most famous beer in China and I believe the only that’s exported, or at least the only one worth exporting.

Qingdao is also an historically important city in China, both in ancient and modern times.  It’s coastal location has always made it an important and desirable sea port.  Qingdao, as well as the rest of Shandong, was given to the Japanese as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI, which ignited a nationalist movement in China known as the May 4th Movement, a critical turning point in modern Chinese politics and history.  Check out the wiki article on Qingdao for a more in depth understanding.

The former German Governor's Mansion in Qingdao, not all it's built up to be in the guidebook, but a perfect example of the German architecture still present in the Qingdao Old Town.

Shifu explains how one eats starfish (not a fan, but at least I tried it!) while a plethora of other sea dwelling creepy crawlies are on display at a sea side cafe.

Oysters!!! I think if I had to I could probably live on seafood alone, and Qingdao has no shortage.

Ahh, fresh air! It's been stifling hot in Liaocheng recently, and what with all the dust and pollution, Qingdao was a welcome respite.

The Qingdao lifestyle is a far cry from that of Liaocheng. The warm summer air coupled with the cool breeze that floats in from the ocean makes for a wonderfully refreshing change of pace.  Serena and I spent our weekend cruising around the city on rented bikes, consuming beer and oysters by the seashore, and simply loving life.  I plan to come back to China and teach English after I graduate college, and I’ve always assumed that I would go back to Kunming in Yunnan province, but my short time in Qingdao has brought that assumption into question.  I might even go as far to say that Qingdao is my new favorite Chinese city, and the small taste of life here has made the prospect of a whole month in Liaocheng hard to swallow.  But in the end I realize the value of being able to make a life for myself in Liaocheng, where I am forced not only to speak and read Chinese to survive,  I  can’t help but feel a wee bit of pride in my ability to do so.  Afterall, I suppose that that’s what this journey of mine is all about, leaping out of my comfort zone just to see if I can make it out alive.

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