Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bobbing for Apples

Yesterday we experienced our first Tianjin rain. Since it was kind of a gray, smoggy day anyways, it surprised us. After grabbing my umbrella from the dorm, I tried to make my way to the cafeteria for lunch. After only a few minutes of rain, the streets and sidewalks were already an inch or two deep in water. Something you would only notice after it has rained, is that there is no real storm water run-off system over here. Being in the city, most everything is paved over in one form or another and there are not really any gutters or grates for the water to run off into, so it accumulates in the pathways.

Last night, Janet and I went out for dinner. It was an adventure since at the place we went to, nobody spoke English. We struggled with our nascent Chinese and my phrasebook, but managed to order something. It turned out be a pretty good dish of roast duck and a plate of dumplings. Afterwards we wandered around the city for a while before returning back to campus.

This morning we went with a group to a nearby bookstore. It was massive, taking up seven floors with tens of thousands of books. On the first floor was a number of books for Chinese people trying to learn English. I flipped through a few of them, enjoying the interesting simple sentences inside. My favorite was "Americans love bobbing for apples at Halloween."

While I stood in that aisle, I made my first official Chinese friend. A girl flipping through books beside me introduced herself as Zhang De Li (last name first) and explained that she was an English major. We talked for a while and I tried to explain to her where I was from, but I think the only city she knew in the southeastern United States is New Orleans. We eventually agreed that I was from New Orleans.

I think I mentioned before, but our food is progressively becoming more authentic Chinese cuisine. Today among our selection of dishes was octopus tentacles, pan-fried with spicy peppers. They were actually pretty good (taste like a spicy version of Calamari) as long as you don't look at them for too long. Something about the little suction-cup things on the bottom of the tentacles is kind of disturbing to look at before you eat them.

Tomorrow, our group is leaving for Beijing to visit the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and other tourists sites. I'm looking forward to the weekend excursion and will post all about it after we get back!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Chinese language and people

We have now started our language classes which were labelled as "intensive" and they are living up to their name. In each class, probably only a handful of English is spoken during the whole period.

We'll be having a lot of studying to do in the coming few weeks just to keep up.

I also wanted to use this post to confirm a few things about the Chinese that some of you may have already heard, but I can now vouch for their accuracy...

1) Honking Horns - The Chinese love to honk horns when they are driving. The streets are filled with the sound of horns of all tones. They honk when they change lanes, they honk when people are in front of them and sometimes they just honk to make sure their horn is still working. Of course, since everybody constantly honks, nobody pays attention to it anymore.

2) Staring - The Chinese don't have the same cultural norms against staring at people that we do. In the store the other day, the man behind me was visibly staring at my shoes. I looked at him and smiled. He smiled back, then returned to staring at my shoes...

3) Affection - It is very common for Chinese of the same gender to be much more physically affectionate with each other than in the United States. It is very common on campus to see girls walking and holding hands. Couples of the opposite sex will not do this during the day, though at night it is a different story. Once the sun goes down it is not uncommon to see couples sitting on a bench kissing, in plain view.

4) Foreigners - so far I have been surprised that there has not been too much interest in us. Yesterday we were in a public park and spoke with some older people, but for the most part, there has not been anyone approaching us to speak. I guess in a bigger city like Tianjin, seeing a foreigner has become somewhat commonplace. Probably when we travel to smaller areas, we will attract more attention.

5) Bathrooms - I'll keep this one quick. Most restrooms in public places do not have western-style toilets, but instead, just a "hole in the ground." There are also trash cans behind the toilets, where you are supposed to dispose of any toilet paper used as more often than not, the plumbing in not able to handle it.

That's all for now, but I'm sure there will be many more observations to come in the near future...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Second Glance

Yesterday we opened a local bank account and went to Century Mart for shopping. It is kind of like a 3-story, very chaotic Wal-Mart. We stocked up on some basic supplies (like toilet paper) on the second floor and then picked up bottled water and a few other food supplies on the third floor. My total was 45 yuan, or about $6.

Last night we had a welcome banquet and orientation. The food so far has been amazing. We eat three meals a day in the cafeteria and everything is laid out buffet style. There are generally about 10 or so dishes to choose from. I was initially worried about losing weight, but with our meal plan here I don't think that will be a problem.

Today we will begin classes. For the first week our classes do not start until 1:30 since it is the final exam week for regular students here. After that, we will begin classes at 8:30 and they will run until about 12:20.

As of right now, I have not yet found a way to get pictures online, since the computers in our dorms do not have USB ports, but I'll try to find if other computers on campus do. Also, I can update my blog, but can not actually view it. So, I can't see any comments that are left or even my on updates once posted. If you want to say anything about a post or ask a question, please send me an e-mail and I'll be able to get back to you.

That's all for now. I just wanted to leave another post to let everyone know that things are going better and I think Janet and I are both feeling a bit more confident now, though the language barrier is still going to be a big issue for a while. Hopefully as we begin classes today we can begin working towards overcoming that...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

First Impressions

Yesterday was a long day.

Janet and I made it safely into China and are now in Tianjin.

Our plane, a 777, was fairly nice, but I was only about to get about 3-4 hours of sleep during our 13.5 hour flight. Needless to say, we were both very tired once we finally arrived at Beijing. As our plane was descending on the city, I was wondering when we'd break through the clouds so we could see the city. After we landed, we discovered it was just a smoggy, gray day in Beijing. The one nice thing, was not having to change my watch, since it is a 12-hour time difference (we are 12 hours ahead of EST).

After getting our bags and finally getting onto our pass, we had a nearly 3 hour drive from the airport to Tianjin, despite the fact that the cities are only about 85 miles apart. The traffic was terrible, the skies bleak, and the cars do not brake for pedestrians or bikers. In all honesty, it was pretty miserable.

Last night we checked into our dorms. I'm temporarily in a somewhat removed and older dorm into the regular students finish classes next week and me and a few others can join the rest of our program in the regular dorms). After eating, I went to bed to pass out.

This morning, after finally being able to sleep, I feel much better. The skies outside are blue and I am feeling a bit better about being here for the next year. I think over the coming couple of weeks we will get adjusted and begin to enjoy our stay as we get to visit the tourist spots and start to learn a bit more of the language.

No doubt there will be many challenges ahead, but I am already feeling more optimistic and looking forward to getting into the swing of things.