Friday, September 29, 2006


Speaking of Chinese food, I should have probably said by now that
everything is eaten with chopsticks. You probably knew that, and so
did I, but it was still quite surprising when on my first day here I
had to use them in a restaurant. Fortunately, I had practiced a bit
on the plane on the way over (you get 4 meals I think from Chicago to
Shanghai), so it wasn't a completely foreign task, but I was by no
means proficient in their use, nor am I know, though of course I've
improved considerably. Eating rice from a bowl with chopsticks, which
sounds challenging, is in fact quite easy since they can be used as a
shovel with the bowl held close to the mouth. The problem comes when
eating other dishes. As I mentioned in the previous post, the meal
usually consists of many dishes which many people share. At one
restaurant, and I imagine this is true of most but I haven't been to
many with a large enough group of people, the circular table had a
raised, rotating center (leaving just enough room for your plate
outside of it) on which the dishes were placed so that people could
try everything without having to pass the dishes around. I wish I had
gotten a picture of it. When that isn't the case, though, chopstick
skills are a must since one risks dropping a piece of food onto the
table or, worse, into another dish. This has happened to me
innumerable times, and it's quite embarrassing. Fortunately the
people have been very forgiving, and my skills are improving much
faster than my language abilities.

rain rain rain

It's been raining here since Monday, and will probably continue to rain for the next week, so I went out today and invested in an umbrella. I'm told that it's usually pretty dry here, except around the beginning of October when it rains quite a lot. It hasn't been raining very hard, but just without stopping. Quite strange, and a pain to do laundry since nothing will every dry in such a moist environment.

Next Monday is Chinese National Day, so the whole week is considered a holiday. I'm not quite sure what I'm doing, since major travelling is a bad idea beacuse the whole country is off of work and will be doing just that. I don't mind being a tourist, but when everyone and their whole family is travelling, I don't think I'd have too much fun. Instead, I'll try to work more on my Chinese. It's coming along pretty slowly, which is frustrating, but at least I'm making progress.

In general, other than the rain, everything here is great. The Chinese seem to place a lot more importance on food than most people in the US, which is good for me since the food here is so wonderful. Yesterday I had dinner cooked by my friend Mr. Shi for me, one of my Chinese teachers, another teacher from the university, and Keith and his family (he's from Texas, his wife's from Panama, and they and their three young kids are here studying Chinese). The meal was amazing. If dinner for 2 or 3 consists of 3 dishes, rather than making more of those 3 dishes to serve more people, Chinese people tend to make more dishes, which means you get to try a little bit of many different things. The table is covered with many small dishes, and then more are brought and set on top of them. Soup is served at the end of the meal because it supposedly helps with digestion.

Well it's getting to be dinner time so I'm going to go - I just wanted to update you all on what was going on here.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Terracotta Warriors

On Thursday I went and saw the famous terracotta warriors. They aren't too far from here, and were quite incredible. There are three different excavations sites, all in separate hangars, which is really the only word to describe their immensity. There are large portions of them which are still not unearthed, due in part to the tremendous amount of time it takes to dig them up without damaging them, and also since the archaelogists are hoping that in the future we'll have better technology that may allow for better preservation of the relics. All the statues have individually-made heads, so you see different hair styles and different facial expressions on each one. Origninally, they were all painted in bright colors, but either the colors fade once the statues are exposed or the paint has turned to dust and it falls right off. In any case, all the visible ones are the same shade of light brown, but hopefully the aforementioned technological advances will allow for future warriors to be displayed in their original colorful glory. A few pictures so you have an idea of what I'm talking about:

Site 1
Site 1

The first row of soldiers in Site 1
first row

Site 2, and some people restoring it
restoration of Site 2

Site 3, supposedly the headquarters for the army
center of Site 3

Unearthed but not repaired



Kneeling archer
kneeling archer

Bronze horses and chariot

The terracotta warriors are an amazing sight to see, mostly for the immensity of the army and the detail of each one. According to the video, they were made over 38 years by an enormous number of crafstmen, 700,000 according to Wikipedia. They form part of the tomb of the first Emperor of Qin, Qin Shi Huang. He declared himself the first emperor of China and united many different kindoms. About five years after his death, though, his son was overthrown and his tomb, at least parts of it, was destroyed and burned. That's why all the warriors are broke - the roof caved in on them and smashed them.

After visiting the warriors, we went to Li Shan, a famous mountain with a garden at the base of it that had been used by various rulers of China throughout history, and also was the site of the "Xi'an Incident" when Chiang Kai-shek was arrested by his own generals and forced to stop fighting the Red Army, leading to his eventual exile in Taiwan.

Li Shan

tourist garden

A bath, filled with natural hot springs, built by a Tang dynasty emperor for his lady
crab apple flower bath


Walking around the park was a nice change from walking around the city, but it was pretty crowded with tourists, and we didn't really go up the mountain very much since we didn't have too much time to spend there. Maybe once the weather cools down a bit more and some leaves start to change colors I'll go back and walk up higher.

Other than that tourist excursion, I haven't been up to anything new. Everything is going well, my Chinese is slowly improving, very slowly, but at least I'm learning. I finally have the text books I need for my classes, so that should help things move along well. The classes I'm teaching are also still going well - it looks like it will be an interesting semester, since my students for the most part seem willing to talk about interesting things, and since it's an oral English class that's really all I need them to do.

Well now it's a bit late here, so I'm going to get some rest. I'll try to write a little more often with some more details about daily life since there are plenty of small differences that I encounter every day.

Friday, September 15, 2006

good classes

Sorry it's taken me this long to let you all know that my first days of classes went well. I didn't have any problems, and I think the students liked me, which is always helpful. Hopefully I'll be able to get them to be interested in class and willing to speak, since their English in general is quite good and all they really need to do is practice what they already know.

My Chinese classes are going well, but a bit over my head since the Korean girl I'm studying with has been here for 3 months already and I'm only just beginning. However, if her progress is any indicator, I'll be able to carry on a conversation in no time. To do so, however, I'm going to need more books than just a dictionary, so tomorrow morning I'm going to Xi'an again to buy them, since there aren't any foreign language bookstores here in Xianyang. I'm going to go with Mr. Shi, a new friend of mine here at the university. He doesn't speak any English, so just being around him forces me to put into practice what little Chinese I know. Also, he's an amazing cook and has volunteered to teach me how to make some amazing food. Hopefully next time I see you all in person, I'll be able to make you a nice meal that you'll have to eat with chopsticks.

It's been a long day, though, and I need my rest since I think I'm getting a cold (fall's just starting, you know). I'll give you some more details about Mr. Shi and my Chinese learning in the next few days.

Monday, September 11, 2006

classes start tomorrow

My classes start tomorrow, both in English and Chinese. I'm going to join a Korean girl in learning Chinese from the International Exchange Division every morning from 8:20 - 12:00 (I think those are the hours). Hopefully it'll work out okay because she already knows some Chinese, which definitely puts her ahead of me. Maybe that'll help, though, in that I can learn from her and from the teachers. It sounds like a fun adventure in any case. I even went so far as to go buy a notebook for the class. Once I learn to write some Chinese characters (like my name), I'll take a picture of them so you can see. I guess this whole learning to write a whole new set of characters is a chance to not have messy handwriting.

My English classes also start tomorrow afternoon. I'm not really worried about them, but I am quite curious to see how they go. I know what all I'm going to say and do, but I'm not sure what sort of wrenches they'll throw into my plans. Once again, I'll keep you posted.

I also may be tutoring a 14 year old outside of school a couple of hours a week. I just need to check with the university to make sure that's okay. I'm pretty sure that it is as long as I let them know, so I'll do that tomorrow morning and as long as it is, I'll start that Wednesday night. Today I met the boy and his family. They seemed very nice, and even gave me some tea to bring home, and you all know how I like tea. Speaking of tea, I found a pretty cool tea stand in a market yesterday, and was given tea there too on the condition that I go back sometime to buy some more. Quite a giving people these Chinese. Here's a picture of the kind merchant (who even spoke some English) and part of his store:

tea store

I also don't think I've written about the other fourteen year old Chinese boy I now know. He too knew the other foreign teacher who lived in my apartment (that's how I got in contact with the aformentioned tutoree), and came by to see if he had come back or if he had been replaced by someone equally interesting. I'm not sure if I fit the bill, but he keeps coming back so I mustn't be too boring. He also gave me some tea. I sure do like tea, and China is the place to drink it. Anyway, he comes by pretty regularly to practice his English and teach me a word or two of Chinese. Soon I hope to be able to practice what I learn in class on him, since repetition is the key to language learning. Here's a picture of him (his name is 王帆 (Wáng Fān)) and a friend of his who also came to meet me:

amigos chinos

And while I'm giving you pictures, here's one of my living room:

my living room

And of two different 1 yuan bills I've had in my possesion (there's also a coin):

1 yuan

I think that's about it as far as news and pictures go. I'm going to go ahead and review my lesson plan (don't I sound like a real teacher now) and maybe listen to a podcast that teaches me Chinese before getting some sleep now that I have somewhere to be in the morning.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Today I visited Xi'an with Ron, the other foreign teacher who lives across the hall.  It's a much bigger, more touristy city than Xianyang, and since it's only about 1 hour and $1 away by bus, I can visit it most any time I want.  I didn't take my camera with me today, so I'll have to go back sometime soon to post pictures for you to see of the old city walls that surround the city (apparently you can walk on them, all the way around, which I imagine I will do), and also the old Bell Tower and Drum Tower in the middle of the city.  There are a number of souvenir markets in town, so if you want any particular Chinese souvenirs, let me know.  Otherwise you'll have to trust my judgement.  I also found a Chinese-English dictionary in a bookstore there for a much better price than I would have paid in the U.S.  All in all it was a nice day, and I think I'll be visiting Xi'an fairly often in the future, if only for a change of scenery.  Now, though, I'm pretty tired from all the walking so I'll head off to bed.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

food and classes

I'm still doing alright here in Xianyang, but, as expected, the language barrier is pretty intimidating. I went out for lunch yesterday, but of course the menu was only in Chinese and no one there spoke English. I tried to order by pointing to dishes that others were having that looked good, but that wasn't working, and since I couldn't say "I'll have that" or anything else in Chinese, I just picked something at random from the menu to have. It turned out to be chicken (I think) with corn, green peppers, and ginger. It was pretty good, and I successfully asked for rice to go with it and more tea. For dinner I had some bread with fried pork in it (and cinnamon, at least that's what it tasted like) that I had had for breakfast on my first morning here with Pingde, the man from the Foreign Exchange Division who I talked to online to get this job. Ordering that was a bit easier since it was the only thing they were serving, and I successfully asked for two of them (I do know my numbers in Chinese, but am a bit shy about using them). We'll see how today goes. I was planning to go to the market this morning to buy some fruit, vegetables, eggs, and maybe some chicken so that I can make my own meals (at least breakfast - going out isn't expensive. My lunch yesterday, for example, cost just over a dollar and was quite good, but I don't like the idea of going out for every meal, mainly out of convenience. Also, Chinese people tend to eat in groups (as do most people), and order multiple dishes to share. I really like that when I'm in a group, but trying to eat alone is difficult because it seems strange that you would only want one dish, but of course I couldn't finish more than one on my own.). Anyway, as I was saying, I was going to go shopping today but it's been misting/raining all morning, so carrying lots of things doesn't sound like the best idea. Still, it's now lunch time so I think I have to go out and find something to put in my stomach. I'll let you know how it goes.

Oh, classes: I spoke with one of the English teachers yesterday and she gave me my preliminary schedule. It looks like I'll be teaching two oral English classes on Tuesday afternoon and another two on Wednesday afternoon at the Xi'an campus of the university, which I'll have to take an hour-long bus ride to. The bus doesn't sound like fun, but I don't have much of a choice, and of course having to take it means I have less room in my day for classes, so it could mean less work for me. Also, it could afford an opportunity to practice Chinese, if I can make a friend on the bus. Those classes actually started this week, but since they just told me about the yesterday afternoon, there was no way I could make it to them. I should be getting the textbook sometime today or tomorrow, which would give me plenty of time to prepare. Even if I don't, the first class should be pretty easy, since I'm sure they'll have lots of questions for me, and I'll have plenty for them too.

Now I'm getting hungry so I'm going to head out into the wet world in hopes of finding sustenance.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

travel photos

Here are some pictures of my journey here and of my apartment as it was when I more or less first got here:

Last view of Cincinnati
last view of Cincinnati

Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan


Airport in Shanghai
airport in Shanghai





I still haven't taken any pictures outside of my apartment (looking like a tourist is no fun, but I'm sure I'll get over it soon enough), but when I do I'll put them here too.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I made it

I'm writing this post from my apartment on campus at the Shaanxi University of Science and Technology. I'm pretty tired from the plane rides over here (about 24 hours of traveling, 4 of those in airports), so I should be getting off to bed to try and eliminate any jet lag, but first I want to let you all know that I made it here without missing any flights (though I came close in Chicago), losing any luggage, or having any other mishaps. There's a 13 hour time difference from EDT where I came from, but my body feels like it's bedtime so I guess it's okay. My apartment here seems pretty nice - certainly bigger than the one I had in Santiago. It has a living room, bathroom, kitchen, small dining room, bedroom, and "office" with the computer I am typing on and an extra twin bed. I'll put some pictures up tomorrow.

Okay, I think that's about it. I guess I should mention that I finally got to meet the director of Foreign Affairs (I think that's his position) with whom I'd been talking via email to get this position. He was at the airport and brought me here (in a Cadillac I might add), pointing out a few sights along the way (it was dark, but still it's nice to start getting oriented).

I don't really have much else to add now, so I'm off to bed.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Revision of itinerary

The last leg of my flight has been changed to China Eastern Air 2158,
departing Shanghai at 7:50 pm, arriving Xianyang 10:10 pm.

So it looks like I'm actually going. Today's been a hectic day
packing and dealing with American Airlines's horrible customer
service. Fortunately that should all be over now, and China will be
mine to experience.

Just so you know, I should be able to keep posting information on this
sight from the Orient. If that is not the case, I'll find some way to
make that known here and let you know where I will be putting that
information. There will also be a picture site as soon as there are
some pictures to put on it.

Back to my last minute preparations . . .

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Tentative plans:

Flight 1
Depart : Cincinnati (CVG) at 9:27AM - September 03, 2006
Arrive : Chicago (ORD) at 9:38AM - September 03, 2006
Class : Coach Seat(s): 10A Meal(s): Food for purchase
Flight 2
Depart : Chicago (ORD) at 10:55AM - September 03, 2006
Arrive : Shanghai (PVG) at 2:20PM - September 04, 2006
Class : Coach Seat(s): 39J Meal(s): Lunch, Dinner
Flight 3
Depart : Shanghai (PVG) at 6:15PM - September 04, 2006
Arrive : Xi An (XIY) at 8:30PM - September 04, 2006
Class : Coach Seat(s): unassigned Meal(s): Snack or brunch