Ping Tracker

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pollution = Tired

So, as my of you know (or may not know), Lanzhou is a very polluted city - voted the world's worst in 1998, I believe. Today it's not on the world's top 10, but it's in the top 30 or something like that. Most days it is hardly noticeable as far as daily life is concerned. It's always visible, obscuring parts of the city in the distance and always putting a veil between the city and the surrounding mountains. 
On some days, though, it is pretty bad. It will make you feel exhausted after only walking for 20 or 30 minutes and probably a little bit contributes to that 'brain drain' sensation I get after classes. It can irritate your eyes and make them feel like you've been up for days - just really dry and heavy. It also probably contributes to the weather here, which can literally change like that *snaps fingers*. 

One day it can be really nice - in the 60s or so, and the next day it will snow and be below freezing - what the F?? It's strange. The overall environment here definitely took a week or so to get used to. I hadn't thought to really write about it because it was such a basic thing, but I suppose it is important.
It's so freaking dry here - I love it! It is not the slightest bit humid whatsoever….talk about different from Texas! The only tiny tiny downside is you have to drink a lot more water than normal….or at least that has been the case with me. It's been slowly warming up and the weather the past couple of days has been downright nice! Yesterday was the first time I went to classes without a jacket….wonderful!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Long Post, But Good (I Think)

Today has been a good day so far. The other two international students, Jack and Dinah, who are from America, were sick today, so I did not have to split the classes with them today, which was really good for me, I think. I got to spend more time with Mrs. Zhu, who is a fantastic teacher (she teaches my Comprehensive Chinese Class) and I got to work on my listening and speaking with her, which was great. As I was in class, I begun to realize just how much better my Chinese has gotten since I got here. I'm really beginning to pick it up - in Mrs. Zhu's class at least - I guess she annunciates better and speaks at just the right speed for me. We found out today that we have the same birthday - "你的生日是一月三十一日?真的吗?我跟你的生日一样!!"
Mr. Li and I had a good time as well talking about Chinese hospitality and banquet customs. He is really pleased at the progress I am making and I am getting much better at translating and reading the textbook for his class (Chinese Culture). Him and Mrs. Zhu are beginning to get a good feel of where I'm at and how best to talk with me. Mr. Shang (my Chinese Writing teacher) still seems nervous and fidgety - we both need to work on our language skills; it'll get better! I still am not a fan of my listening class because it's so difficult, but I don't feel like killing anybody when I leave the classroom anymore, so that's an improvement! Xie Mei is a good teacher, although her English is limited. The moments when we actually connect and understand what the other person is saying are great.
 It's an incredible moment when you realize the true depths of language and how it really is a bridge between cultures and lives. It's easy to take it for granted when everyone is comfortable in their native language and no other languages are around. I'm really glad that I had that realization
I have been spending more time with my radio lately - it's been helping little by little with my listening. There is a good bilingual station called CRI that I listen to - it's China's only bilingual station and it's out of Beijing. 
It's so strange how some days I can be so encouraged and some days I am just down in the dumps about my language. I really am having a good time overall!
Whoa….I just realized I've been in China for one month today! On the evening of the 26th, I will have been in Lanzhou for one month! The time just seems to have flown by - it's crazy….one month already….dang. In some ways it feels like a month and in others, it feels like I just got here.
I really love the students here - they are so amazing. I remember Robert saying "If you ever want to feel like you're famous - you should go to Lanzhou" - it's so true, man. When I'm at the West Campus, especially. There are no foreign teachers or foreign students there, so people get really excited to meet and talk to you if you are American or English-speaking. They have a genuine desire to learn English and to be friends. They always want to treat you to lunch/dinner/drinks, show you around, and just talk. It's great here.

I just want to say it again -  It's an incredible moment when you realize the true depths of language and how it really is a bridge between cultures and lives. It's a profound realization for me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

3/21 - the latest


Ugh….I hate the internet here. It's so dadgum unreliable. Oh, well….that's life. I'd love to put more stuff on my blog or YouTube, but I can't and it totally sucks. Facebook too. 
I'm really excited about how my reading is coming along - my Chinese Culture textbook has been really helpful with that. It's all in Chinese characters with a few vocabulary words, so I have to do a lot of translating and all of that stuff. It's immersion, book style. I've been really struggling with my listening/oral vocabulary, but everyone tells me that is normal and it'll get better. Molly went with me to get a radio and the CRI station here has been pretty useful with my listening. I still don't have the vocabulary for it, but I am getting better at keeping up with the words and tones. 
I went with Jay and Chiquita to get some stuff for my kitchen, so yay! I got a stove and pots and a few knives and junk. Great, I can cook now! Maybe I can make Mexican food for my friends :) That would be fun - I'd love to treat my friends for once!
I think I am still very much in love with China, although I have been having some problems with the oral language. I have had some doubts about the use of my classes here, but I think they are ultimately good for me, as frustrating as my listening class may be. It is a lot of work in class, but once I get home, the workload is okay. Beijing was my romantic encounter with China, and Lanzhou has been my grounding in reality. Lanzhou also has a lot of history and cool things to see, but I'm not nice and comfortable in being able to speak English to everyone - I need to work here, it's not a vacation.
The next thing I need to work on is my confidence. I am so "unconfident" (is that a word?) that it's become a little detrimental. I need to spend more time with people on the main campus - I guess I've been having too much fun on the West Campus. Janson and Freddy and Ethen are totally awesome, Zhu and Jing have become good friends too. I got a call from Sandy today and I'm meeting her here tomorrow, that should be fun - I was really surprised at how good her English was!
One of my favorite things here is probably Chinese people talking about American curse words. Whenever Janson says "oh, sh*t" or something else, I just crack up...hilarious. Chinese people are great. 
I really love QQ - it has been such a good tool to help me communicate and work on my 汉字 in a real situation. It's great! It doesn't really help with my oral communication, but I need all kinds of practice.

PS - I might be on TV with some other foreigners to talk about life in Lanzhou, culture shock, and other stuff like that. It should be cool. I don't have any other info about it at the moment - It's going to be next Thursday. The taping, anyway - I don't know when it will air.

Monday, March 21, 2011

“You are the First Foreigner I Have Ever Met”

"You are the First Foreigner I Have Ever Met"
If someone says that to you and it doesn't rock your world, I don't know what will.
This past weekend (3/12-13) was an amazing weekend - Rayna took me to her parents house for lunch and her parents cooked us a huge 6 or 7 course meal with some amazing food - oh man...homecooked Chinese food is the best.
Her parents did not speak any English, so of course I had to bust out my very limited Chinese, but it worked out very well - her father was very happy that 我会说一点汉语。 We talked about Chinese culture and history, the earthquake in Japan, what I was studying and where I was from, and just other random stuff like that. Where we couldn't communicate, Rayna stepped in as our translator (very often). 
It was really humbling to be considered an honored guest of a family who invited me into their despite never having met me before. They treated me so well, I am overwhelmed by some people's kindness here. As much as I know you would like to see pictures, there are just some situations where you don't want to pull out your camera - it seemed impolite. 
The next day - Sunday, I visited the West Campus of L.U.T. - 西校区,as they call it here. The campus is massive and you can tell it's a fairly new campus. The copious amounts of dust that have stained the buildings here hasn't quite taken a hold on the West Campus. I went to meet 3 friends, but our numbers eventually swelled to around 10 or 15 at the peak of the day. 
Everyone at the West Campus stared at me - apparently there are no foreign teachers at all on the West Campus, so many people have never met or actually seen a foreigner, which is something that still blows my mind. It's so different than America - America has every type of people from every country because it is on top for now and many people want to come to America to live or visit. Because of that, we see people of every race every day - not so here in Gansu, China. Everywhere you look, it is just a sea of Chinese people - sure, different ethnic groups like the Hui, Dai, Yi, and more, but they all come from the basic genetic pool - black hair, the Asian eyes, shorter in stature for the most part, and roughly the same skin tone. Someone like me REALLY sticks out. It is a continual reminder of where I am.
The students at the West Campus have been really cool - I got invited to a random person's apartment and they made a massive meal for the whole crowd in the room. After the meal, we all just sat around and chilled for a while and talked and then they showed me the campus. It was a great weekend and I got to meet a bunch of people and see some cool stuff. 

(I am sorry I haven't posted much lately - my internet is really, really, really unreliable. It's so hard to get on). I have 3 or 4 more videos made, but I haven't been able to post them - sorry :(


(this is a little bit of a rant post, but I think it's true of how I've been feeling lately)

As I go about my time learning Chinese in classes and with friends, they are constantly trying to improve their Chinglish in favor of learning English. Because of that, I am constantly bombarded with phrases like these on QQ or conversation:
"Are you came to the West Campus by yourself?"
"did you lost your telephone?"
"did you played basketball?"
and quite a few others - some of which I could not even begin to figure out, but I am in NO position to judge anyone, because I have really been speaking Englinese...and that thought made me laugh a little bit. The students and I are really in the same boat - meeting a new person who speaks a little bit of the other's language, but sometimes not enough for either one to be able to communicate.
Being here has made me realize how much there really is to a language - how many different types of words, tenses, situations, and more….it's crazy and really difficult! It is frustrating - really frustrating at times when I try to communicate with people. I am so much better at reading and typing, but my listening and speaking is basically zero - it is really embarrassing and makes me not want to talk to people, which is exactly what I don't need to be doing. It's a vicious circle….
I'm not really much of an outgoing person anyway; I don't like talking to people I don't know (how in the world do I make friends?), so when I get the courage to talk to someone, it usually goes fun.
I guess I just have to keep working - one of my friends took me out to buy a radio to help with my listening, I think that's helping with recognizing the different tones and words (though I still don't know what they mean). When I was studying Chinese in the States, it was so easy because it was just something I did in my spare time for fun, but it's a whole different story here. This is WORK and it's completely necessary to do anything.
If I were to give any advice to someone thinking about doing something like this, I would tell them to work on their speaking and listening and forget reading and writing. Those are what I focused on before I came here, and they've helped with my textbooks, but have pretty much done zero for my everyday communication. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


So far, after living in Lanzhou for almost 2 weeks, I feel like I have pretty much fully adjusted. The weather here is still a little annoying because the temperature varies a lot during the day. I have learned to drink hot water instead of cold, I have learned how to really use chopsticks, I have learned to walk a mile-ish to class and the library every day, I have learned how it feels to be in a place where everything is new. It is difficult to explain the concept of everything being new. New language, new people, new university, new culture, new habits, new home, and a new family of sorts. 

I have come to appreciate so much here. I have come to really appreciate friends - it’s easy to forget how much better friends make life until you move to a place where you don’t know anybody. I have been invited to eat with my teachers and friends, and it literally is the highlight of the day when I see someone I know and experience that little bit of familiarity. 

I think I’ve just begun to reach the point where people are not freaked out by me and are asking me if I can hang out on the weekend - it’s Wednesday and my weekend just got booked! It is impossible to explain how much it means to me when I get invited to someone’s home for a simple meal - it really makes me feel like I’m important to somebody here and not just another student who doesn’t really matter. I can’t explain it, I really can’t. My value of friendship has exponentially grown and although I'm making friends here, that doesn't mean I don't miss people back home.

( My ETBU Roommates - great guys)

I have been given so much and I have been really humbled at times by people’s kindness. The first few days here were not very fun and they were lonely, to tell you the truth, but I believe I have found a good group of friends and support in a lot of good people. My teachers Ma Lin, Jodie (who, by the way both have awesome kids, they are really shy and hilarious), and Stacie have been especially kind to me because they have traveled abroad and know exactly how I feel here and they know the kind of advice to give and how to deal with the different issues that come up.

I have a completely new perspective on the international students of ETBU and anyone who is part of an exchange program now that I am a part of one as well. I have so much respect for those people who come to the U.S. to study for their entire college careers - that takes a lot of guts. One semester is not so much, but still not a weekend trip, but a year or 4 years is a long time to be away from family and familiarity.

It is hard to believe I have only been in Lanzhou for less than 2 weeks - I feel as if I’ve been here for a month already. I have already begun to lose a bunch of weight from the healthy food and the sheer amount of walking - it’s crazy! I certainly have learned a new respect for the complexity of the Chinese written language - GOOD GOD….hard as freaking anything I’ve ever done. 

I spent 4 or 5 hours translating 1.5 pages of Chinese - it took forever…..but of course, it’s what I want to do and expected to do. I knew it would be hard, but knowing it will be hard and actually sitting down and working are two different things. I will learn so much, I can already tell. Till next time!

Monday, March 7, 2011

1st Day of Classes

Early March (2011)

Had my first classes today - just two, I guess they wanted me to take it easy my first week. I appreciate that, because those two classes wore out my brain - especially the second one. I had my Comprehensive Chinese class and my Chinese Culture class. Mrs. Zhu (pronounced "Jew") is my Comprehensive teacher and Mr. Li is my Chinese Culture teacher.  The comprehensive class went very well, I feel like I'm going to learn a whole lot from Mrs. Zhu - she is clearly an experienced teacher. The stuff we went over today was review from what I already knew, really - but she made me write all in 汉字 (means 'Chinese Characters'),which was challenging - I haven't done much writing with my Chinese characters. She also gave me a Tang Dynasty poem to memorize called 春晓, (pronounced Choon She-ow) Chun Xiao, which means "Spring Dawn" - I copied it down, but I don't want to put it up on here right now.

Mr. Li's class was far harder because my textbook is all in the Chinese 汉字 and I couldn't really figure out what we were supposed to do before the first class, so I didn't really prepare much. He came in right off the bat and started asking me questions in Chinese that I had no idea what they were, which was very embarrassing, of course. He asked me to talk about myself in Chinese, which was some more embarrassment, because I hadn't really prepared anything...after all that, he asked me to read the first section of the textbook - which I said I couldn't - not even close. So, he went character-by-character of the first little section in the textbook while he interpreted and asked me to repeat and tell the meaning of the sentence.

It was all about the different minority groups of China and how they used to fight amongst themselves, but now are all at peace. It was really draining. From what I could infer, he's expecting me to learn how to read all this stuff and have everything translated before class starts and be ready to talk about it. If this is really the case, I expect to be pretty much fluent in reading by the time I get back to the States, but holy crap - it's a lot of work! I just translated a couple of paragraphs and it took me just about an hour or so! Man, this is hard.....but the rewards will be worth it

Gotta get back to it now, I'll talk to you all later! Remember - my Skype name is acousticmusic10 - add me

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hunger and a Guy Named Kitty (non-related)

Hello from Lanzhou!

You know how people say that if you eat a big Chinese meal that you'll be hungry again in a couple of hours? IT'S SO TRUE!! I always seem to be hungry and it's kind of annoying, really. I guess I'm just waiting for my stomach to shrink down or something. I eat and I'm totally full or past full, but yet, 2 hours later, guess what??

I'm hungry again. I don't really know what to do about that. I hate to be snacking all the time; it makes me feel like a fattie, so mostly I try to just wait it out. Luckily, one of my teachers brought me a bunch of fruit, so I can have bananas or apples or little baby oranges for the next week or two....she brought me a lot!

Classes start on Monday, which is a good thing - It'll be nice to have something to do and a teacher-student setting to learn my Chinese. I got my textbooks yesterday - 4 for 155元, which is about 20$ or something like that in US$. It's SOOO nice compared to one textbook for 100$ US....oh man, I love how cheap stuff is here.

I love the students here - the ones that come up and talk to me rather than just stare, anyway. They really are very nice and very polite and genuinely excited to be speaking English with a native speaker - I met two guys yesterday who could barely speak at first because they were so nervous/excited; it was really funny.

Anyway, I really liked them, their names were Freddy and Kitty (yes, Kitty)...he didn't have an American name yet, so he told me to call him Kitty. Hmmm...interesting. I'll have to help him with that name soon, because Kitty is awful. They said it was their first time to ever talk to a native English speaker, which kind of blew my mind, really. Wow...

Freaking Kitty.

A guy named Kitty.

I've posted up a couple more videos on YouTube if you want to check them out and leave comments or video responses or whatever:

Hope everyone is well!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

First Lanzhou Post and Video

Okay, so I know that I haven't posted anything on here in a while - I've been busy trying to solidify email connections, people addresses, all kinds of junk like yeah. Not an excuse, really, but anyway, I'm back now. I've been told to blog everyday, but who REALLY wants to read a blog every day?? I don't. Or at least, I haven't ever found one I'd want to read every day.

I have a journal that I've been writing in and I guess that's been my 'daily blogging'. But really, there's not much going on this week. I arrived last Saturday (the 26th) at 11pm in Lanzhou and received quite a shock from my Beijing-ed up mind. I was thinking that it wouldn't be too different from Beijing, but man was I wrong! Lanzhou seems like a great city, don't get me wrong, but it is abundantly clear that it isn't a tourist city by any stretch of the imagination. It is polluted, dirty, and smells like industry (or at least it did for the first couple of days here - I don't really notice it now).

One of the first things I could really see was this bridge here - it has constantly changing colors - red, blue, green, yellow, and all kinds of crazy stuff. At the top of the left column in the picture, there are green spotlights that make random patterns that look like tentacles. Hopefully I'll be able to get some video of those lights, because I haven't ever seen any videos of the bridge lights. There are still tons of decorations up from the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) - the highway getting into Lanzhou was packed with lights for literally about 5 miles - I've never seen that many lights. I didn't take any video or pics because it was so crazy and I was crazy tired....I'll try to go there soon and get some of that as well. It really was beautiful.

I've been settling into the daily life here on campus. I usually eat at Cafeteria Number 3 here because it's familiar and decently good - their steamed stuffed buns (包子)are amazing as well as their breakfast food - which are kind of like crepes, but cooked with green onions and some other spices and things. Good stuff.....really good.

I don't know really what to say. I know that I'm really lucky to be here and I'm making history of sorts, because I'm the first international student at this school and from ETBU, but that's really a lot to think about and I don't like to think about it. I'm still really nervous about my Chinese, but I have to get over it sometime. The students here leave me alone and don't talk to me, which is nice, but lonely at the same time. I suppose we are mutually nervous to talk to the other person. I really do garner stares - I really didn't believe people when they said that to me. But.....yeah, I do get the stares. It's disconcerting...I know people are curious, but I still have this nagging suspicion that I'm about to be robbed or something. I don't like feeling like I'm about to be robbed. (Does anyone, really?).

I'm really glad that I brought a bunch of movies over here, they've been really comforting as well as the internet itself. It's strange how something as simple as being able to read the news and get on Facebook can really make me feel like I'm at home (or at least closer). Bob Marley's "One Love" has also really helped me, for whatever reason I just can't seem to get enough of it although back home I didn't really like the song that much. Also, some of Sam Tsui's YouTube music has been nice to listen to as well as Pomplamoose's YouTube Channel - great music, everyone should check it out!

Speaking of YouTube, everyone knows I have a YouTube account and I've made a few videos - 5 total. I'm going to do more with more details of the campus...but yeah

I've been hesitant to bust out the camera, because I don't want to stick out more than I already do...but yeah, I gotta take pictures sometime. No day like today, right? I keep trying to put pictures on here from my computer, but it doesn't seem to work. It only seems to work from URLs, and Blogger doesn't seem to like Facebook URLs/Pictures.

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