The Most Beautiful High Speed Train in China

Publicity photo

Publicity photo

Last year my friend who came to Xiamen wanted to go to Mt Wuyi and took a 12 hour train ride to get there. This year, I decided to go to Mt Wuyi and it took a mere 3 hours. That’s because they recently opened a new high speed train ride that links Xiamen all the way to Hefei stopping at some of southern China’s most scenic spots in between.

This particular train is hailed as “China’s Most Beautiful High Speed Train” and I could not resist riding it. It took me a week total, as I stopped in two of the mountains on the way, and the train was speedy and clean. I was impressed with the speed and the service.

What I was not impressed with was the view. As almost the entire length of the line runs through amazing mountain scenery I read that building this line was hard. 86% of the track is built on bridges or tunnels due to the undulating topography. If I had to guess out of that 86% which percent was tunnels, I’d say 99%.

Yeah, that’s right. From the outside, the train looks cool as it dips in and out of mountains. On the train, meanwhile, you see a whole lot of black. Tunnels ain’t so fun to look at when you’re inside them.

What a tunnel looks like from the inside...

What a tunnel looks like from the inside…

The hour and a half leg between Mt Wuyi and Yellow Mountain was the one I was looking forward to the most. I imagined splendid scenery and as luck would have it, I landed a coveted window seat. Camera in hand, I was eager to see the scenery, especially as I knew my destination would have snow, so hopefully I’d see some start along the way.

Well, with so many tunnels, and nothing to do, I kinda ended up falling asleep. I opened my bleary eyes at one point and saw snow! Immediately grabbing my camera, we entered another tunnel before I had time to take a pic. I kept the camera (aka my phone) on my lap waiting to the end of the tunnel.

We came out again, I saw the snow, raised the camera and….back in a tunnel. This went on for an embarrassingly long time. In our few moments outside I would raise the camera, open it, and before I could get one pic, we were back in the tunnels. I even got my camera ready, poised at the window while we were in the tunnel so I could take a pic as soon as we got out. This is what I captured:

But there was snow! See?

But there was snow! See?

My camera didn’t even have enough time to focus before we were plunged back into the darkness of a tunnel.

So it’s fast, it’s cheap and a really convenient way to get to some great places. Just don’t expect a ton of beautiful scenery on the way, wait till you arrive.

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Finishing my Travels on Possibly The Worst Day–Chinese New Years Hassle

It’s really becoming cliche on this blog for me to bitch and moan about Chinese New Year (aka Spring Festival) but really, I cannot stop myself. I wish I could explain the importance of this holiday but it is so hard for anyone outside the country to understand. (Here’s me complaining about it in 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 )

And the stress around this holiday beats anything in the West. Combine Christmas and Thanksgiving pressures, traffics and expense and you still aren’t anywhere close. Famously called the “World’s largest mammal migration” you used to just have to worry about everyone going home. But now, with China’s growing middle class, you have to worry about a lot more. Millions now also take some time to travel around and as a traveler, that spells trouble for me.

But I’m a planner and I can book my places and tickets early and with the best timetable to set myself up for as much success as possible. This past holiday I went to some of the biggest tourist attractions and they were virtually empty (by Chinese standards) because I went during the week and had the good fortune of a cold snap which plunged the temperatures to arctic level which forced people to cancel.

But the Beast that is Spring Festival will not be denied. And in my ignorance and arrogance of a trip well planned the gods decided to have a little fun with me.

This is one of my earlier train stations. It was the train station at China’s most famous mountains: Yellow Mountain (Huang Shan). Expecting large crowds I planned the trip during the beginning of the week and an early train ride to beat the crowds. It worked. I was feeling EVER so proud of myself.

I felt ever so pleased with myself at how emoty and easy the train was because of my good planning.

This was the first day of “Chun Yun” the Spring Festival travel period and I giggled in glee at how I managed to avoid the mess.  

Basically most train rides were like this. I traveled exclusively on trains this time, booking my tickets almost a month in advanced and choosing the least busy travel times. Smart Becky, right?

But the gods must be obeyed. And they decided I must be punished for my arrogance. So a mere 6 days after that delightful empty train station I got stuck in this:

Hangzhou Train Station.

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This picture is one I took. The other two were from the news.

Yep, I was involved in a travel day so bad it was newsworthy. There had been some bad weather, cold and snow, and for some reason it crippled the train system. (It wasn’t that cold or that snowy so I don’t know why so many problems.) Trains weren’t arriving and therefore not leaving. I had no idea what was going on at the time, but with all the delayed signs I knew it couldn’t be good. China’s high speed trains are notoriously punctual so I knew something was up when I saw all the delays.

I got to my gate where there was a line of hundreds for the train leaving before mine. Then that train was delayed 10 minutes, then another ten minutes, then briefly cancelled, then delayed again. I was just kinda standing around (no seats available) for over an hour, being pushed around by all the people unsure where to stand when suddenly my train, to Xiamen, turned green. I had been looking at all the other gates and not a single gate had a “green” which meant boarding.

Except mine.

I didn’t even know how to get to my gate since there was so many people packed tightly in line blocking the entrance. So I kinda snaked around to the side gate entrance and a woman clipped my ticket, and hissed in English, “Hurry!”

So I hurried, pushing my way onto the train and into my seat and just sat back as chaos exploded around me. I don’t know exactly what was happening, but the train workers, a bunch of ladies, were storming up and down the aisles screaming bloody murder. Wailing harpies had nothing on these ladies and they were shrieking so loud I couldn’t understand them. The only thing I could make out was, “Do you want to go home?! DO YOU WANT TO GO HOME?!”

They moved all the standing passengers to another car, there was a blessed moment of quiet, and then all the extra passengers were herded back through my car to another. Then the shrieking women came back and literally pushed these people out of the train. There was a security guard on the platform restraining some of these people who were waving their tickets and trying to “reason” with the train attendance.

The attendants coolly stepped back into the train, the doors slid shut and we took off. The stranded passengers threw up their arms in frustration as we left them behind.

Out of the 30 or so tracks at the Hangzhou train station, mine was the only train to leave at that time. Why? I have no idea. The next stop was also filled with chaos and this time aside from the screaming attendants, one of the male conductors joined the fray. I could understand him a bit better and he kept saying *something* was too dangerous and if we did it the train couldn’t go. So he pushed people around (saw him smack a kid out of his way) and finally, after about 4 stops and an hour later, we had settled into a controlled sort of chaos. They even made up the time on the train and I pulled into Xiamen seven long hours later exhausted and achy but in one piece.

Mind you this was one whole week before the actual holiday. It only gets worse as it gets closer.

See, the thing is this happens every year during this time. With millions of people traveling one little delay of one train can send the whole system spiraling. I see the pictures of the mobs, hear the stories of people stranded, and always thought “if that was me I’d just high tail it out of there, get a room and wait it out.”

But when you are in it, you kinda just get sucked into it. Luckily I didn’t wait that long and I didn’t fight to get into the train station like in Guangzhou where thousands were stuck outside. But now I’m wondering what my tolerance really is.

Luckily I hope to never find out. I’m now finished traveling and back in Xiamen and will stay put for the rest of the month. I had an amazing month of travel which I’ll be writing about soon, but here’s a tiny smidge of a preview:

Not from a website, my actual picture of a place I was actually at. Still have trouble believing it.

Not from a website, my actual picture of a place I was actually at. Still have trouble believing it.

 

 

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Packing my Bags–Winter Holiday Travel Plans

Final exams are done and grades are submitted, so it’s time to pack my bags and hit the road. Although this time, I am reluctantly packing my bags. Why? Well, I just suffered through 8 months of the hottest, hellish weather and I’m leaving right when it gets nice?! Noooo. I want to spend winter in Xiamen but I have itchy feet, and want to feel some real cold even just for a few days.

So what to do? I decided to take just a quick 3-week trip this winter so I could spend most of my 7-week holiday here.

I’ll start my trip here in the south. Living so close to Hong Kong, you would assume that I would jet there for a weekend all the time, right? Yeah, I assumed that too, until I factored in the weather. See when it’s 40C/100F+ degrees in Xiamen, the last thing I want to do is go somewhere hotter. Hong Kong is more south and more hot. So hellllllll to the no on that one.

But now’s a good time. I’m gonna go to Hong Kong finally to see some friends, do some hiking and eat good food. Then I’ll cross back into mainland, visit a friend in Shenzhen and then I’ll skip the cities for nature.

I'll take a break from climbing mountains to take a relaxing bamboo boat ride in Wuyi Shan.

I’ll take a break from climbing mountains to take a relaxing bamboo boat ride in Wuyi Shan.

First nature stop: Wuyi Shan (Mount Wuyi) a UNSECO World Heritage Site in western Fujian province (the province I live in). Yes, this is somewhere I have wanted to go, but, again, the weather. I’m not climbing a mountain in the sweltering heat and humidity. But winter I can. It also helps that recently they opened a new high speed train from Xiamen to Hefei that is being hailed as “the most beautiful high speed train ride in the country.”

After I spend a few days climbing Wuyi Shan, I’ll continue the “most beautiful train” to one of China’s most famous places: Yellow  Mountain (Huang Shan). I went to Huang Shan years ago, but it was pissing rain and they closed the mountains, so instead I went to the ancient villages nearby. I have never climbed the iconic mountain, so now’s the time to get it done. (Also–I’m hoping the high elevation will make it snowy and cold.)

I'm hoping for some chilly vistas atop the mountain.

I’m hoping for some chilly vistas to take pictures of at Huang Shan. 

Afterwards I’ll continue the “beautiful train” to the terminal station (gotta do the whole thing, right?) and then catch a train to Shanghai where I will hang out with my friends before going to Hangzhou to do more hanging out then I’ll catch a train back to Xiamen.

So it’s not a crazy adventure in uncharted territories like I usually do, but rather a chill little trip to see places I have wanted to see (and friends I miss). The unique thing about this trip is it is 100% train rides. No planes, no buses. The high speed train system in China has really developed and here on the east coast there isn’t anywhere you want to go that doesn’t have a high-speed train going there.

The longest straight trip is Hangzhou to Xiamen which is 882km (550 miles) in a mere 6 hours. Cheaper and less hassle then going to the airport. Not bad.

Also, I have an embarrassing confession. It’s gonna be cold in the mountains, so I actually have to borrow a jacket from a friend. Since we all live in Xiamen, and there is no need for any real winter clothes, I have one friend with one jacket. She went to Harbin (in the far north) for a few days recently and needed to get a jacket for that trip. Since then whenever anyone goes to a cold temperature we borrow the jacket (dubbed “The Harbin jacket”) and I will use it for my trip. That’s right folks, in all my friends in Xiamen only ONE has a winter jacket and we all borrow it. That’s how pathetic we are. My hardened winter New Hampshire self is embarrassed of this new “soft” me. But come on, owning a winter jacket would be a waste. I took a hike the other day in a t-shirt. A t-shirt. In January!

When I get back I’ll have one more month before classes start and approximately two months before the heat becomes too sweltering for me, so I’m gonna use the time to explore more parts of Xiamen while I can handle the weather. I get out and do a lot of hiking and adventures but there is still a ton of places here I have never been. So I’ll focus on local traveling, and go to the parks and mountains I haven’t seen yet.

 

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Watching China Change Through My Class

Since I got here almost 7 years ago, I have made all my own lesson plans–dozens over the years. They have been tested, honed, and perfected where I know they will get the maximum class participation while teaching something useful. In the past several years, say about four, I haven’t changed much. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right?

My topics haven’t changed, but my classes have. A lot. That’s because the students change and my class is active with a lot of participation. (Not me just blah, blah lecturing all the time.)

So, examples?

Three years ago I wrote about a class about the 10 most influential Chinese people. I still do that class, still have the students come up with their own list, and as it is “of all time” I kinda always expected the same answers: Mao, Confucius etc.

But a new name has popped onto the list and not just in the low digits, but very high up.

Chinese classroom

Move over chairman Mao and Confucius. There’s a new player in town.

Jack Ma is the founder of Alibaba (which had the highest IPO in American stock market history) and Taobao, the worlds largest shopping app/website. Taobao has been around for awhile, and popular, but things have really taken off only in the past few years. Alibaba also pioneered alipay which is a mobile payment system and it has basically changed the face of China (I’m gonna write more on this soon). So yeah, I don’t disagree with my students. He is incredibly influential.

Another class decided that Mao and Confucious is more influencial but Jack Ma secured the third spot. Not bad.

Another class decided that Mao and Confucius is more influential but Jack Ma secured the third spot. Not bad.

You’ll notice another new name to the list “Xi Dada.” That’s Chinese president Xi Jiping. What’s interesting to me is he wasn’t included on the lists before. Maybe because he was new a few years ago, or maybe, because he really picked up steam in the past year and a half or so. Also, notice the students all refereed to him as Xi Dada, which means Papa Xi. It’s a cutesy nickname (which I’m guessing started in the government) to kinda give him a softer image with the people.

And it’s working! In the past everyone referred to him as Xi JingPing. Now it’s all “Xi Dada,” and nothing else. You can watch this video of foreigners in China talking about “cute” Xi Dada to see how hard the government is pushing this idea.

Famous people aside, there have been some other changes, specifically in my students acceptance of others.

In my first class, with new students, I always let them ask me any question they want. We go around the room, one-by-one and they usually ask me the typical things: What school did I go to? Do I have children? How many places have I traveled in China?

Over the past few years questions about gay people have entered the conversation. Usually along the lines of “do you have a gay friend?”  I think they think Americans are modern and open-minded and are curious about it.

This year I was asked what I thought of gay people. It was a girl that asked and there were no giggles or any embarrassment from anyone.

Gay rights still has a long way to go in China, but acceptance is beginning to grow. I can see it in my students.

Gay rights still has a long way to go in China, but acceptance is beginning to grow. I can see it in my students.

“I think they are just normal people,” I said. “Who cares if a guy likes a guy or a girl likes a girl? It’s normal and natural.” The class nodded thoughtfully with me. Then another student asked “What’s your sexual orientation?”

I was flabbergasted for two reason. One–that’s really high level English and this was from a freshman class. Where did they learn that vocabulary? And two–what a really sensitive way to ask that question. Very PC, which China is not known for. Again no one laughed or giggled (and they always giggle) and they all looked at me curious. I felt like they had all gone through sensitivity training or something. But this is China and I know there is no way they did. Not at a government university.

Talking about gay people has come up a lot in class, but usually when the students have known me a long time, and when it’s relevant (say, when talking about marriage).  This was on the first day of class, and by students who didn’t know me at all. I was very impressed to say the least.

I’ve been here a long time now, and the fundamentals of my job haven’t changed: college kids, same age, same lessons, mostly girls, yet I have seen such changes in their thinking and their behaving. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, my students continue to surprise me, and teach me as much (if not more) than I teach them.

Categories: China, Chinese Culture, Teaching English | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

*Obligatory Sappy Year End Post*

Look, I can’t dent it. This year was kick ass. Trying to sum it all up is too overwhelming. So instead I think I will do it with pictures.

Life in China

In January I started running with a new gang. Little did I know this gang would lead my down the path of depravity and french pastries. (And by depravity I mean more french pastries.)

Life in China

February I dedicated myself to writing and wrote a 115,000 word novel in a mere 20 days. The story just puked out of me. But I would crawl out from under my mound of words to go out sometimes for food and hikes and activities with friends. My wounded leg was finally beginning to feel better, though it still ached when I walked too much.

Life in China

March was a big month for me. Our little group gelled into “Xiamen Top 14” and soon in addition to the sports, all the dinner parties started. Also, it was the month I started playing BADMINTON. Though it was just a silly activity I sucked at and just played for fun to be with my friends.

Life in China

April is the month the heat came. God I hate the heat.

Life in Xiamen

May was the month of the beach. Beach frisbee, beach frisbee tournament, beach parties and beach hanging out. Also used my filled up passport as an excuse to go to Shanghai to see my friends (and add pages to my passport).

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Birthday month! And the month I began wearing my sweatband 24/7. I wouldn’t stop wearing those sweatbands until late November. Also the month I began thinking serious about badminton. Was this something I wanted to continue….?

Life in China

July is the month of goodbye and freedom! With the school year ending there was a lot of farewell parties and sad goodbyes. Then I started my trip out to Gansu and Xinjiang Province.

Life in China

More traveling and came back to indoor parties. I even stopped going to frisbee it was so damn hot. The only exception was camping (the middle picture) because I could just swim in the clean water for hours. (Literally. That’s all I did. In the cool water from when we arrived to when the sun went down.) But decided that badminton was something I wanted to take serious and began playing twice a week. Also, realized I needed a teacher as I was miserable and knew nothing.

Life in China

Talked to friends. Got a lead on a potential badminton coach. I also walked 25km in one night because….why not? I had nothing else to do? Also, more food and fun with Top 14.

Life in China

‘Nother big party month with one of the Top 14 getting married! Had some visitors, started having one-on-one badminton classes, began to feel a coolness in the breeze (though wasn’t cold. Not yet.)

Life in ChinaFinally the weather broke and while a daytime jacket wasn’t necessary, a night time jacket was which was exciting as hell for me. I started annoying my friends by talking about how nice the weather was (continuously, non-stop). Can you tell I’m a bit obsessed by the weather?

Life in China

Invigorated by the cooler temps I played badminton, went to frisbee, hiked, and spent all day everyday outdoors. Also, saw my first snow in Xiamen when a Christmas market hired a snow machine for the entrance. The day was in the 60’s (17C) but it was nice to see even fake snow. Also, we had our first ever Xiamen Ultimate Open in which 300 people from all over China (and Hong Kong and Taiwan) to play.

 

So it was a whirlwind year! Met amazing people, did amazing things. Not everything was perfect (there was one major dark cloud stemming from something that happened exactly a year ago tonight–but the less said the better) but I kinda can’t help but marvel at the life I fell into. Moving to Xiamen was all gravy, and I really have my friends to thank for that. They are 100% responsible for all the fun and good things that have happened to me here.  Just don’t tell them I said that. I don’t want them thinking I’m getting soft.

Here’s to another spin around the sun. *Cheers*

Categories: China, Chinese Culture, Chinese Food, Traveling, Writing | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

I Won an Award!

 

Yes it was a sports award, no it wasn’t badminton, and no it wasn’t for playing.

I won the #1 Fan for the Xiamen Ultimate Frisbee Bailu Team! I can almost hear some of you laughing but let me ‘splain how awesome it is.

We had the year end party recently. I should say that last year, at this same party, I had few friends. I had arrived in Xiamen only a few months before, and besides my co-workers and a few others, I didn’t know many people. Yet, it was the MOST FUN party of my entire year in Xiamen and I consider it the start of my social life.

The team is made up of a very diverse group of people: foreigners, Chinese, college kids, recent grads, and “old” folks like myself. (Right now the oldest player is in his mid 40’s, the youngest 13.) We all live in different parts of Xiamen, all have different kinds of jobs, and different social circles, yet we come together every week to play and to hang out.

The party one year ago where I knew very few people. yet almost everyone in that room became my good friends after that night.

The party one year ago where I knew very few people. yet almost everyone in that room became my good friends after that night.

So, fast forward to this year. Since it was the year end party, the coach likes to give out awards. It was a traditions he started only last year but will continue annually from now on.

They had ten awards, and the captain, co-captain and coach took turns introducing each prize. While the coach and captain are foreigners, most of the players are Chinese and everything was done speaking Chinese. Each award was begun with a vague “the next category is for the Most Improved. This player has changed a lot and….” They purposely didn’t say “he” or “she” or give away any specific detail so all of us were kept guessing during the introductions. Then, when the name was announced at the end, we would all nod in agreement and clap, finally understanding who was winning the award.

That worked for the other awards like “Most Commited,” “Best Leader” and “MVP – male and female” because several people could fit into each category as the team is all dedicated, leaders etc. But when the Outstanding Fan catagory was nominated everyone knew who it would be. There really was no contest. As the Captain, Will, said in the introduction, Xiamen Bailu doesn’t have a lot of fans but there is one dedicated one who comes each week, and constantly promotes Ultimate in class, on Facebook and blogs. As he was speaking, people kept turning to me and smiling.

Will said my name and I got up in front of all of them, took pictures with the coach, captain and vice-captain and gave a short speech in Chinese.

I had to give a little speech in Chinese when I accepted the award. Luckily, everyone seemed to understand.

I had to give a little speech in Chinese when I accepted the award. Luckily, everyone seemed to understand.

“I’m not a fan of frisbee,” I said. “But I’m a fan of you. I come because of you.”

And it’s true! See, once a week (sometimes twice) I go to Ultimate practice in my team jersey, throw a frisbee around for a few minutes, then sit down and watch. I’ve been doing it every week for a year. And I never miss a tournament. I tried playing, a long, long time ago, but I really hurt myself (tore my calf muscle and couldn’t walk proper for months) and I haven’t had any desire to play since then.

And I know it’s weird. It’s downright nerdy. If I had no friends or a boring life maybe it would make more sense. But I have plenty of friends and lots of stuff to do, yet I always make time for frisbee. During practice I am often by myself on the sidelines, watching everyone else play. I am not only the #1 fan, but the #1 most behaved fan because I purposely don’t bother them (I don’t want to be a distraction), so I am quiet.

Sometimes when they are busy with strategy or planning I take stealth selfies, just to amuse myself.

Sometimes when they are busy with strategy or planning I take stealth selfies, just to amuse myself.

I don’t know strategy or game play nor pretend to (I’m a fan, not a poser) so I don’t know if they are in proper formation and can’t give advice. But I do actually sit an watch them. I don’t sit and play on my phone and wait for them to finish. I like watching them. I’ve been watching carefully, and for so long now, that I really see their skills increasing and their on-fields personalities grow and work together as a team. While I don’t know the strategy behind what they are doing, I now see the team moving in a methodical way they didn’t a year ago. And I’ve seen some players that kinda ran around unsure now run (faster) with more confidence. While Bailu might not be the top team in China, they are the top-hearted team, giving it all during practice, even when the temperature is over 100 or when they’ve been at it for hours with no break.

But, of course, the fun stuff comes in all the time we spend off the field. We’ve gone camping, eaten countless dinners and had more than a few late nights together. I’ve seen team members get married, have babies, get together and break up. It’s that cliche about a team being a family, and in our case it’s true. When members are sick, or having problems, the team is always there for them and willing to help them out, in any way they can. (Especially the co-captain Waiwai, who is somehow knows the exact way to fix most problems, or if she can’t, the exact words to say to make you feel better about it.)

The Coach, Captain and little old me. (I look positively child-like next to these two giants despite being the eldest.)

The Coach, Captain and little old me. (I look positively child-like next to these two giants despite being the eldest.)

But if we are a family, I’m the crazy aunt that’s not blood related and everyone wonders how I got an invite to the Christmas table. I’m not a member of the team. I don’t high five during a game with my teammates, or know the dirty exhaustion of post-tournament. I don’t even show up on time, usually arriving a few hours after they begin practices. (I like to watch the games, not the drills.) And with my low level fluency a lot of what they say in Chinese goes right over my head. Basically I’m the perennial outsider. (Story of my life, eh?)

So that’s why this award is so meaningful to me. Because they didn’t have to give me one. I mean, they only had 10 awards for the whole team and there are players who deserve one way more than I do. But, the fact that they did means they care about me. That they consider me a member of the team, despite my strange status, and somehow, I matter to them. It’s important to hear that sometimes.

Thank you Bailu! Love you guys! And for anyone interested in getting more info you can check out Xiamen Bailu’s Facebook page, or website! 

Me and Shulei, the female MVP, wearing our awards. It's a hat designed by one of the player. It says "Amoy" which is the old name of Xiamen, and has a hand throwing a frisbee. Stylish and functional is the Bailu way.

Me and Shulei, the female MVP, wearing our awards. It’s a hat designed by one of the player. It says “Amoy” which is the old name of Xiamen, and has a hand throwing a frisbee. Stylish and functional is the Bailu way.

 

Xiamen Ultimate, Team Bailu!!

Xiamen Ultimate, Team Bailu!!

(This is a cross post with my other blog: Badminton Becky)

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After Seven Years I Finally Have a Thanksgiving Dinner

This is my seventh year avoiding the western holidays. But maybe it’s my last. Despite my best attempts at moving halfway across the world to a communist country the holidays have finally found me. Christmas is unavoidable, and it looks like Thanksgiving, the American-only holiday, has landed as well.

I’m not complaining. It’s been seven long turkey-less years. While the joke is that Chinese people eat anything, they definitely don’t eat turkey. It’s not a native animal and hasn’t really broken into the mainstream poultry market.

So to have a turkey you need to pay big bucks and pre-plan and order one. Too much trouble for me, but not for my friend Drew who is a big Thankgiving fan.

So what does a thanksgiving in China look like? Here’s a few pics:

American's don't like heads, but Chinese do. So turkey in China comes complete with the little head which, thankfully my friends did not cook up.

American’s don’t like heads, but Chinese do. So turkey in China comes complete with the little head which, thankfully my friends did not cook up.

 

Ovens are also not standard in China. If people have them, they are like this, what we Americans would call a toaster oven. So my friends shoved the 17 pound turkey in this little sucker and hoped for the best.

Ovens are also not standard in China. If people have them, they are like this, what we Americans would call a toaster oven. So my friends shoved the 17 pound turkey in this little sucker and hoped for the best.

Side dishes are also not the same as home. With a mixed guest list, we had some unique side dishes. Spicy lotus and veggie salad and some shrimp veggie dishes.

Side dishes are also not the same as home. With a mixed guest list, we had some unique side dishes. Spicy Sichuan lotus and veggies dish, and some shrimp veggie thing.

But my friend Drew, the host and a traditionalist, insisted on some of the basic dishes, such as mashed potatoes and some roasted pumpkin/squash stuff cooked by an Aussie.

But my friend Drew, the host and a traditionalist, insisted on some of the basic dishes, such as mashed potatoes and some roasted pumpkin/squash stuff cooked by an Aussie.

 

This was a mixed group, but mostly foreign as it was arranged by a foreign teacher and it was such a large group of foreigners going he couldn't open the guest list to many more. About 20+ people all together. We held it in a restaurant on the campus he lives in. They were kind enough to let my friend use the kitchen freely.

This was a mixed group, but mostly foreign as it was arranged by a foreign teacher and it was such a large group of foreigners going he couldn’t open the guest list to many more. About 20+ people all together. We held it in a restaurant on the campus he lives in. They were kind enough to let my friend use the kitchen freely.

 

Finally the turkey came out, quite late. Maybe 9:30pm. It had been cooking in that tiny over for 6 hours and we had already eaten most of the side dishes by the time the main event came out. I lined up and was first to get a piece of my FIRST turkey in China.

Finally the turkey came out, quite late. Maybe 9:30pm. (Of course it’s not an official holiday and we all had class and work during the day so later was okay.) It had been cooking in that tiny over for 6 hours and we had already eaten most of the side dishes by the time the main event came out. I lined up and was first to get a piece of my FIRST turkey in China.

But it was clear from the first cut that the bird wasn't done and dangerous to eat. So my friend cut off some of the meat and back into the ovens it went while we ate dessert and cleaned up.

But it was clear from the first cut that the bird wasn’t done and dangerous to eat. So back into the ovens (cut up to cook quicker) it went while we ate dessert and cleaned up. Some non-Americans were willing to try it anyway, but luckily those of us who have spent our whole lives being cautioned away from under cooked turkey stopped them. Pro tip: cooking a turkey in a toaster oven isn’t the best method.

 

When the cooked turkey breast came out about an hour later, we grabbed it with our fingers and pulled off pieces of flesh like the savages we were. By this time we had already eaten all the sides, dessert and had cleaned up (the restaurant was closing) so fingers were our only option. I was pretty stuffed by this point but the turkey I grabbed was delicious.

When the cooked turkey breast came out about an hour later, we grabbed it with our fingers and pulled off pieces of flesh like the savages we were. By this time we had already eaten all the sides, dessert and had cleaned up (the restaurant was closing) so fingers were our only option. I was pretty stuffed by this point but the turkey I grabbed was delicious.

There were some traditional elements to the party too. Before we cut the bird (which turned out to be raw) we went around saying what we were grateful for. I said badminton ‘natch. I also got into a fight before dinner with some of my co-workers. (One co-workers, who was not the host and didn’t even say he was coming until the very last minute, ended up almost tripling the guest list when he opened the invitation to seemingly everyone he knew. The host reluctantly said yes to the first 4 people added, but then students and a friends roommate was also added, I freaked out and told him no and he couldn’t invite anyone else. I found it the height of rude to be inviting people to someone else’s house for dinner, and my co-worker got all mad at me.) But arguments and tempers flaring are traditional at thanksgiving right?! At least we didn’t fight about politics.

So it was my first thanksgiving in China. And the verdict? It was okay. Personally, the curmudgeon that I am, it wasn’t worth the time and money the host spent on it. But as a guest, who contributed some plates and store bought fancy cookies and did nothing else, it was fun. I could just hang out and relax with friends and eat.

It wasn't exactly a typical American Thanksgiving, but it was nonetheless.

It wasn’t exactly a typical American Thanksgiving, but we managed to have fun nonetheless.

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100 Day Milestone!

IMG_2209So I think by now you know I’m pretty obsessed with my Xiaomi bracelet. It’s a fitness bracelet ala Fitbit, but made my a Chinese brand that I love. (The fitbit is $88 the Xiaomi one is $10 and works better.) It tracks your steps, and your sleep as well. I also bought the xiaomi scale and it attaches to the app and keeps everything in one place so you can see your progress. I’m a total xiaomi nerd.

Anyway, one of my favorite features is that it has a “goal.” You can set it for anything, but it defaults at 10,000 steps a day, the recommended number for a healthy life. Everyday you meet the goal it congratulates you, and if you meet your goal day after day then it begins to add up the numbers. For instance, the longest I had gone was 56 days in a row before I got sick and stayed home in bed all day.

Until now.

I am super psyched that today was my 100 days of walking at least 10,000 steps a day. Continually.  That’s more than three months of everyday getting out and walking. And not only that, but I blow away the 10,000 and am averaging more than 16,000 steps a day.

It’s partially because of badminton. I play three days a week and get 10,000 within the two hours. It’s also partially because of class. I teach in a new classroom which is a twenty minute walk from my place. My friend has offered me to use his bike so I can get there quicker, but I haven’t done it. I like the walk, even if it means I have to leave early. The two days a week I have class there, I get 10,000 steps before lunch. And when I have class and badminton I average 20,000+ steps.

The day that is hardest for me is Fridays. Mon-Thurs I have class and/or badminton. On the weekends I do hiking, Frisbee, general fun stuff that gets me out and about. But Friday I’m worn out and tired from the week, have no class or badminton and if I do go out then it is later at night usually just for dinner or whatever. So I have to force myself to get dressed around lunch and go out and do something (food shopping is a good one,) just to get at least halfway to my goal. If I get at least 5,000 by early afternoon I can make it by night. But that’s the most dangerous day.

Also, the good news is I haven’t been sick in a long time! Almost. Last week I got sick while playing badminton. Shivers, muscle ache, skin sensitivity. I had already hit my goal for that day, but the next day I had resolved myself to just stay home, sleep, get over being sick.

Notice the time. It was mid-afternoon and I had only gotten up to pee and get some food. I had given up all hope of getting to 10,000. But then I had to meet my mom for dinner and I turned it around.

Notice the time. It was mid-afternoon and I had only gotten up to pee and get some food. I had given up all hope of getting to 10,000. But then I had to meet my mom for dinner and I turned it around.

But my mom was in China visiting, and it was her last day, so I managed to drag myself out of my house to meet her for dinner. After dinner I went to Walmart and by the time I headed home I was past the 5,000 mark.

Now, I wasn’t feeling better. But you see, I was the 95th day. If I didn’t hit my daily goal, I would start over at day zero. And it was day ninety-friggin-five!! So I bribed myself.

My throat hurt, ice cream would sooth it and there was a McDonald’s in the opposite direction from my house. So I told myself to get ice cream at McDonald’s and take the long way home. It worked. I hit 10,000 by the time I got home. Then I crashed into bed exhausted but felt better the next day.

Other sacrifices I’ve made are showing up to places late because I got off the bus three stops early to walk, taking the long way to places, and even walking around the block while waiting for friends to show up just to meet my goal.

And to me, that’s the real value of these bracelets: the consistency. My friends say that if I can so “easily” meet this goal then I should up the goal to make it more of a challenge (to say, 15,000 or 20,000 steps). But to me that defeats the purpose. I am not a “run harder, jump higher” person. I don’t care if more people walk more than me. In fact, with all my super sporty and active friends I fully expect it. Pushing myself to the breaking point everyday holds no appeal for me.

My monthly averages.

My monthly averages.

Cause I’m a slow and steady kinda girl. I’m not the best but I’ll keep showing up. My consistency in steps reflects that the clearest, but I think I take this attitude into everything. I have most of my friends not because I’m so awesome or interesting, but because I just kept calling them, or showing up at things they were doing and eventually they got used to me. I wrote a book not because I was inspired and passionate everyday, just because I sat down and wrote. Having this walking goal everyday, and keeping it consecutive, is a way for me to get past my lazy tendencies and get dressed and go out even on those days when I don’t want to.

So of course I want to keep this record up, and see how long I can keep it going. If I make it to 120 days, that will be one-third of a year. And if I make it to 120, then 150 is just around the corner, and then 200 and so on. At some point I’ll break, be stuck on a plane all day, hurt my leg, get a serious flu. And I hope I won’t beat myself up about it too much.

But until that day, I’ll keep walking.

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War on Christmas (in China)

I know that right now there is a kerfuffle against the plain red Starbucks cups. It seems like it is this year’s battle in the never ending “war against Christmas.”

Well, I’m in China, so who cares? In this Communist, developing country, Christmas is far, far away from me. Right?!

The sign on the door, on November 1st said "Are you ready for Christmas?" And I wanted to scream out "Nooooooooo!!"

The sign on the door, on November 1st said “It’s Christmas” And I wanted to scream out “Nooooooooo!! It’s only November.”

Nope. It’s followed me even here. The day after Halloween, every place was decked out including Starbucks. (While westerners were still sipping their pumpkin flavored stuff, we were already dealing with Christmas flavors.) I’ve talked many times about how burnt out I got with Christmas back in America, and how I am happy to not be dealing with the holiday frenzy anymore. This will be my 7th year being away during Christmas and actually I don’t really care.

Gingerbread cookies

What I do care about it being harassed by the holiday here when it isn’t even celebrated. It’s like I now get all the annoying parts of the holiday (the shopping, the advertisements, the constant Christmas music) without any of the good stuff (the holiday cheer, the extra smiles on people’s faces, the big meals and deliveries of homemade cookies). In fact in someways it is even worse because being foreign, people want me to be included in more things to give it a “real Christmas feeling” (Actual words people have said to me to get me to go to their parties or meetings.)

It didn’t used to be like this. Just a few years ago, Christmas was a vague idea and decorations were left up year round. No more, now it’s not only well-known and popular, but growing and growing. If China’s no longer safe, where can I move to get away from it all?!

Bah Humbug!

 

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Graffiti in the Girls Bathroom

Just like in every country, there is scribbles and scrawling on the walls of the bathroom stalls. A few short words, a number to call. But instead of the expected “for a good time” graffiti, it has another message. You’ll see this same graffiti in schools across the country.

Graffitti

Sorry for the blur. Bathroom was a bit dark and I didn’t want to spend more time in there than necessary.

It says “level 4 & 6 test” and then gives the number of a tutor. You could call it graffiti with Chinese characteristics. Instead of sex, or slut shaming, the graffiti is for a tutor for a test all college kids have to take. I assume the same graffiti can be found in the men’s room (though I didn’t check). Poor kids, can’t even get away from the relentless test pressures while taking a quick pee break!

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