Sunday, October 29, 2006

I made it back safe and sound

Whenever I told anyone I was going to Hua Shan, they would tell me to be careful, that it was dangerous. From what I had read, though, that wasn't really the case, and fortunately this turned out to be one of the few situations in which the guidebook was right. Sure, I could have fallen off of the mountain if I had wanted to, but it wasn't likely to happen by accident. Unlike most mountains I've walked around on, this one was covered with stairs and railings and chains to hold onto, and dotted with hotels and small restaurants and souvenir vendors. Not exactly the "untamed wilderness," but there were trees and rock and some squirrels. The view would probably be excellent on a clear day, but there was dense fog all day long at ground level, so from the top I could really only see other mountains and hills poking their way through the white blanket down below, and up above there were more clouds still. It was a fun time, though, but quite tiring since like walking up any mountain, the goal is to get to the top, which inevitably takes more energy than you planned for. In fact, I'm still feeling all those steps in my calves, so I'm going to head off to bed to hopefully let them rest before standing and teaching all day tomorrow. I'll put up some pictures and more information tomorrow.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Hua Shan

Early tomorrow morning I'm going to head to Hua Shan with a friend of mine.  Hua Shan (literally "Flower Mountain") is not too far from here, maybe a 2 hour drive, and is said to have spectacular views.  From what I've been told it won't be quite as breathtaking as the Smoky Mountains in fall, but I'm positive it will be more attractive than the city, and pretty certain that the pollution will be less out there.  I'll be back probably on Sunday, so there should be some pretty pictures here for you to see on Monday.

This week has been going quite well - my classes seem to be learning things, and my Chinese is starting to improve noticeably.   Of course, I still can't say anywhere near as much as I want to, and my classes aren't quite talking as much as I'd like them to be, but things seem to be moving in the right direction.

I need to be getting off to bed now, though, since I probably have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.  Enjoy your weekend!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I realized that I've been a bit negligent with the photos, so this post is just to catch you up on things I've seen since I've been here, especially on my trip to Gansu.

little brother's house
The house where I stayed, Mr. Shi's younger brother's.

Some caves seen from the road - apparently people in this part of China used to live in caves, but have since stopped for the most part, mainly because there were moisture problems.

a view from the temple
A view from the temple we visited.

This is a statue of one of the generals of the emperor who had the temple built.

steps up to the temple
Steps up to the temple


bell up close
up close

play the drum
and me playing a drum, just so you know I was there

good place to drink tea
What looked to me like a good place to drink tea, but unfortunately I didn't have any with me.

Incense outside the main temple

inside the temple
Inside the temple

also inside


offering table
A table for making offerings, supposedly the largest in China, and Mr. Shi's nephew

reading & photographing
My Chinese teacher Mr. Shen reading a poem, and Mr. Shi's mom having her picture taken by her eldest son

Looking down on one of the temple gardens

Terraced land that doesn't seem to be used for agriculture - maybe it was terraced a long time ago?

cave dwelling
A cave dwelling that still seems to be in use


from the garden up
Looking back up

lower part of the temple
Another part of the temple

traditional Chinese doctor
A traditional Chinese doctor weighs out some medicine

traditional Chinese medicine

Eating fresh sunflower seeds

drum tower in Xi'an
The Drum Tower in Xi'an - sometime I'll go up it, maybe when the weather is nice

PBR: the only beer from the US I've seen here besides Budweiser

A group of kids who were saying hello to me, so I turned and said hello in Chinese and took their picture, causing a bit of mayhem

mah jong
Some women playing mah jong, which is a common sight. Apparently some people get really involved and stay up all night playing.

hung out to dry

Thursday, October 19, 2006

new classes and tea

This week, as I mentioned in the last post, the rest of my classes started.  I have 4 new classes of freshman, half English majors and half broadcasting majors (though one of those classes is on the bigger side), and they seem to have gotten started on good notes.  The English classes in particular went quite well, as did my sophomore English classes this week.  The students are finally willing to talk a bit, which has been my goal since the beginning of the semester.  It's a little more difficult with the broadcasting majors, though, since their English isn't quite as good and they are therefore more reluctant to speak in class.  They are much more comfortable reading aloud or following a script than composing their own ideas.  Unfortunately, they get plenty of practice at that in their other classes, and somehow I need to motivate them to communicate their own thoughts and feelings in English, which is no easy task, but things seem to be improving at least in my sophomore classes.

This evening I finally got around to buying a proper Chinese tea set, or at least the beginnings of one.

my tea set

It's pretty simple but functional, and the first tea I brewed in it turned out pretty good.

my first tea

The experience of going to the tea shop, though, was by far the best part.  When you walk in, you're given a tea to try, and then usually invited to sit down and drink some more, which I did since I already knew I was going to buy something there and didn't feel bad taking advantage of their hospitality.  The tea we drank was of course very good, and it was a great opportunity to practice my Chinese, which is coming along pretty slowly, but improving nonetheless.  The conversation consisted of me often saying "Ting bu dong" (literally, "I hear, don't understand," which is the easiest and most common way to say you don't understand what's being said), followed by repeated explanations and hand gestures.  Usually I was able to figure out what they were saying without too much effort, and like I said, it's great practice.  They invited me to go back and drink tea anytime, as well as practice speaking, and of course teach them some English.  Every tea shop I've been in has done the same thing, though, so I'm not sure how sincere of an offer it is.  We'll have to see when I go back.

It's starting to get late though, so I'm going to practice writing some Chinese caracters in my hand notebook (see below) and get some rest.  'Night.

Chinese writing notebook

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

more classes

It's just about time for me to leave for Chinese class, so this post will be brief.  I'm just writing to let you all know that this week the rest of my classes started since it's the first week for the freshmen.  I'm still not sure exactly how many classes I'm teaching since there are some problems with the schedule they sent me.  Hopefully those will be cleared up today.  Yesterday I ate for the first time in the school cafeteria, and it wasn't bad, certainly much better than the food in the dorms at the U of I, but all of the students and teachers say that it could be much better, and in fact many teachers bring their own food to heat up in the microwave.  There are plenty of choices, but it's not a buffet.  Instead, there are many different windows lined up around the walls and you can order what you want from them and pay for it there with some sort of electronic card which you hold up against a card reader.  Unfortunately, I don't have such a card yet, so I had to go to the cash register, guess how much money I would spend, and then go back and order.  And of course ordering is a hectic, noisy, Chinese-language affair, so since it was my first time I had a Chinese student help me.  The chao mian and soup that I had were both, like I said, better than dorm food, but not quite as good as other food I've had here.

Time to go.  Take care.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

my trip

It's pretty late here, and I need to be getting to bed, but while the New York Times articles about North Korea are loading, I should be able to give you a brief description of my trip. Sorry it's taken so long to write this, but as I'm sure you know, it's much easier to go somewhere than it is to describe a trip in words.

I went with my friend Mr. Shi, my teacher Mr. Shen and his wife to Mr. Shi's hometown, Qingyang, in nearby Gansu province. We left early Sunday morning on what was supposed to be a 4 or 5 hour bus ride, but it ended up taking 8 because it was a holiday (National Day) and there were many people on the road, and to make matters worse, the road was closed at one point so we had to double back and take an alternate route. Nonetheless, we arrived without any real problems just in time for dinner on Sunday at Mr. Shi's family's house. We had a hot pot, a common type of fancier meal here. The basic idea is that in the middle of the table there's a pot that's, well, hot (usually done with an electric hotplate underneath it) and filled with some sort of broth or soup-like liquid. You then place uncooked food into the pot and take it out and eat it when it's cooked. The flavors all mix together, and you can have your food cooked as long as you want since you're the one who puts it in and takes it out. It works great if you know how to use chopsticks, but I sometimes had difficulty with soft food breaking when I tried to take it out, such as potato noodles or tofu.

After dinner we went into downtown to a trade fair that was selling clothes and other items from all over the country, but nothing that really interested me. Then we went to a dance hall that reminded me of the past, though of course I've never really been to the past. Everyone was dancing in couples, some even waltzing, to music of all tempos played on a synthesizer. Certainly not my kind of dancing or music, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

The following day we all went to a nearby Taoist temple, which was a very nice place to walk around. I think most of the buildings have been restored and were not original, but it was still nice to see more or less the design of the temple. I'll put some photos here in the next day or two so you can see it too. The best part of the temple, though, was the peaceful setting, which I'm not really sure I was able to capture on "film." It was, though, the highlight of the trip for
me. Just wandering around there seemed like the ideal way to spend a sunny fall afternoon.

The next day was our last there, and we left around 4 in the afternoon. Before that, though, we attended part of a wedding. Here, the wedding begins at the bride's family's house with lots of food. The party then travels to the groom's family's place for some sort of ceremony or traditional activities followed by even more food. We just went to the first part at the bride's house, and since my friends didn't really know the family that well, we basically just ate and
talked with the people at our table a bit and then left. It was still nice to see a bit of what a Chinese wedding is like, and I did see the bride, dressed in white.

The bus ride back was only about 6 or 7 hours, since the road was still closed but generally less crowded. It's nice to be back here in Xianyang, but going away made me realize how polluted the air here is. It was very bad when we first go back since the farmers nearby were burning the dead corn stalks in the fields. Thankfully the smoke that enveloped the city cleared in a few days, and I haven't had any difficulty breathing. That first day back, though, was pretty amazingly smoky, with visibilty down to about 2 blocks, and burning eyes after being outside for too long. I opted to stay in most of the day.

Well now I need to read about the aftermath of North Korea's nuclear test and then get to bed since I have Chinese class bright and early tomorrow. Enjoy your day!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I'm back

I just wanted to let you all know that I made it back safe and sound
from my little trip. It was a great time, and a good way to start
travelling in China since I was with other people who knew where they
were going. I can only hope that all my trips go that smoothly.

I'm a bit tired now, though, so I'm going to get to bed. I should
have some pictures and a description of the trip for you in the next
couple of days. Hope you're doing well.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Today (October 1) is the Chinese National Day. Most people spend it
with their families, like many people in the US do for the 4th of
July. I'm going to go to my friend Mr. Shi's hometown with him, one
of my Chinese teachers, and his wife. The town is about 3 hours from
here by bus, and we'll be there for 2-5 days depending on how things
go. I've been led to believe that there are mountains near there, so
I might come back with some fun pictures of scenery. I'll let you
know how it went when I get back. For now I need to finish packing
and then finish breakfast.