A Travellerspoint blog

The Penvensie Children

Thursday, January 21, 2010

sunny -10 °C

My parents took a train this morning at 9:10 to go to Shenyang, my dad’s hometown. Even though their time in Harbin was short, cameras and words capture the best parts of it. I find myself avoiding most of stereotypes of studying abroad. Our AFS preparation books said that we will feel homesick before leaving, when we arrive at our new country, and when our parents come and see us. I have managed to avoid all three. I think there is a difference between homesickness and missing certain people. In the case of homesickness, one desires to have their home setting. Missing someone means you have missed the presence of that someone. Missing my family members has happened to me, but it has not evoked a homesick feeling. I don’t long for my old school or the environment where I have spent the last 16 years growing up. I have left that old life to join a novel experience.

At last Sunday’s lunch, I had made a comparison to the novel "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" written by C.S. Lewis. It reminded of back in 5th grade I had participated in "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" play as Susan. Coincidentally, when I was flipping through some channels, there was a short introduction to the movie based on the book. It reinforced my analogy that Zach is Peter, Nancy is Susan, Matt is Edward, and I am Lucy. Because of our age, we are by default placed into these roles, but I find some people play their roles better than others. Zach definitely fits the Peter role because he does have that knight-in-shining-armor image. Before winter break began, we had an ice rink at our school and Zach competed in a speed skating competition. Of course, he won and had exhibited his athletic abilities to his entire class and to his homeroom teacher. I can say everyone is proud of Zach and of his abilities.

As for Nancy, she is kind-hearted and caring. In fact, all of us do go to her to pour our thoughts and ourselves into her. Matt plays his role perfectly. Like Edward, there was a young, immature nature but since, Matt has grown to be more mature and understanding. I can say he’s my best guy friend in Harbin. As for me, you’ll hear in a second. These roles has helped defined our team to become somewhat like a family. In 5th grade, I had played Susan, but it was not a key role. However, since I have been in China, I felt I have taken on a larger role by becoming Lucy. Have you ever felt like you had taken on a larger role just by shifting your environment?

Not only have I been thrown into the Lucy costume, I have been thrown into a leadership position. Out of our Harbin AFS group, I had been hurled the position as leader. Last week in Yunnan our AFS liason, Ms. Li, automatically gave me the title as leader. I was to make sure everyone was present, lead group activities, and translate. The only reason why I would be given this position, which is the same reason I have been given for any important role, is because I have the most experience for the needed role. I knew the most Chinese and had exhibited myself as a leader at Harbin No. 1 High School. Just as Lucy had opened the wardrobe which had unexpectedly led her and her siblings to Narnia, I have helped my classmates interact with Chinese people. The task could be as insignificant as buying a cake from Holiland or as demanding as reporting a lost wallet. In either case, I feel useful to all and all cases useful to me because I improve my Chinese language skills.

Posted by myscope 07:33 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (0)

My Parent's Visit

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

overcast -17 °C

Running down the stairs on Monday evening was only the beginning of my appreciation for my real parents. Seeing my beautiful parents wrapped in their Italian coats, cashmere scarves, in Ralph Lauren, and carrying their Calvin Klein bags reminded me of how much I missed my family and where I came from. Having spent four months in China, I had forgotten the image of my parents and in some ways, of myself. When my dad squeezed my cheeks, it had not felt like five months had passed between us. However, seeing them again reminded me of my roots as a Chinese-American.

I remember a distant past of my old Merry. I cared about my looks, found socializing important, and hailed individualism. I still have these three traits, but I have since toned down the maintenance of them all. My experience in China has taught me to “go with the flow”. I have let myself try strange foods like sea cucumbers (bugs really) and adapt to the Chinese school system, even if it means wearing a school uniform for 12 hours. Having physically seen my parents, I was in awe of the length of my journey. I am no longer the extreme superficial—a preppy white-washed Chinese-American—but instead a 17-year old with a better understanding and preservation of her roots.

Over plenty of 一手店 chicken parts—feet and livers— and sausage, I felt my families unite. I easily compared the advantages of my real and host parents with the lifestyle that we had chosen to make. Luck and fortune had placed me in a similar class where I had been accustomed to living. By having the same class status and Chinese parents, the bonding was easier. My fathers laughed easily with each other as they drank Harbin beer. Fu Baba talked about his reaction to receiving my email and my mother talked about how she met my dad. Gao Mama talked about how proud she was to have me and my dad talked about how we have been generations of independent spirits. I saw the similarities between my parents and grew to appreciate the two environments I have experienced. The entire night was overflowing with happiness. We ended the night with a family picture.

On Tuesday morning, Gina and I woke up at 6 a.m. We were going to spend a day with my parents seeing Harbin’s famous tourist attractions. First, we went to Gloria Inn, my parent’s hotel, which was next to the FaHong Memorial Tower. We had breakfast at the hotel, which consisted of porridge, fried dough, eggs, noodles, and muffins. I ate plenty of bowls of porridge and ate plenty of fried dough. Usually, fried dough is supposed to go with hot or cold soybean milk, but I prefer it with porridge. Over breakfast, we talked about 心有余而力不足。My dad phrases it best as “Your will is beyond your capability”. I’m not sure in what context it was used, but it definitely rang true. An example would be someone who is extremely ambitious and wants to go to Harvard but with low SAT scores, mediocre grades, and only a somewhat athletic ability in tennis, that dream is pretty close to nil. Anyways, I like to take challenges in moderation, just as I should with anything else, like food.

After breakfast, we went to the Tiger Park which is located north of the Songhua River, outside downtown Harbin. This was my second time here, since the first time, my host dad took me along with international guests. However, this time was much better. There were more lions and they actively chased each other. I would capture the best moments with my own eyes. Of course, the tigers scared me by their size and their roars. After we finished the tour bus, I walked around the tiger park. One person had bought a possibly live chicken. One of the tigers jumped up and pounced on that chicken. He took it in front of me and one nasty crunch, yellow pus had squirted from the chicken. Immediately, the tiger began plucking the feathers and spat it to the side. I was pretty excited to see such a ferocious animal tear its prey apart. In my UGG boots, I slid to the exit. It was time to have lunch.

We went downtown near Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) to eat with one of dad’s classmate, who worked in the Environmental Science department at HIT. We went to Qilin Restaurant, which is fancy but the food is what made the place especially spectacular. I had one crab and took almost the entire time to eat it clean. Afterwards, I chow down on rice and tofu. There were plenty of leftovers, which I wanted to take back home. However, I had forgotten to take it out of the car when we switched to another one. I hope that before I leave Harbin, I can go back and eat more crabs. We visited HIT’s Environmental Science department. It showed me what a research facility looked but more visibly, smelled like. Its pungent flavor—smushed boiled eggs, dank dirt, and boiling chemicals—was enough to convince me this major was not for me. One cool thing was the rocking incubator. Tubes, flasks, and beakers swished their contents in a temperature-controlled machine. After the tour of HIT’s Environmental Science department, we went to St. Sophia. It is Harbin’s famous Russian Orthodox church. Even though this church was a block away from school, I had never stepped inside it. Like all, my eyes were drawn to the dome. As my eyes snaked their way up, I noticed that most of the walls had been chipped away. The frescoes and colors looked as if someone took a spade and scraped it all away. Instead, the walls hung with photographs from 19th and 20th century Harbin. St. Sophia was reminding me how fast we had accelerated the human civilization. We did not waste time in furthering our beliefs. During the Cultural Revolution, people had eagerly erased religion. Like cockroaches that thrive in all conditions on this Earth, religion does the same.

Afterwards, we walked to Gloria Inn. On the way, we all bought 糖葫芦, which are sugar-coated fruits on a stick. This was my second time getting one and I got pineapple and one sour fruit. The most common one is a sour red ball. We changed into our snowpants before going to the World’s Largest Ice and Snow Festival. Luckily, it wasn’t as cold as my first time at the Ice Festival. The night was -5 to -11 Celsius degrees. Finally, I got to see all parts of the festival and got to slide down many things. In addition, I rocked a bicycle. The front wheel was replaced with a piece of metal. However, I still pedaled around the arena. Afterwards, we went to a coffee shop where I had watery chocolate milk for 20 yuan in a small Dixie cup. I bought a sour fruit 糖葫芦for 8 yuan. In addition, I got to play on a spinning circle that flipped me so much that the sides of my butt hurt from banging into the seat. My hair did flips as well and my throat was dry when I got off the ride. Overall, I enjoyed the night. Afterwards, we went back to the city to eat at 东方饺子王 and I ate 3 ½ plates all by myself! It was 三鲜饺子,双玉米饺子和蘑菇饺子。Spending the day with my parents and Gina had been enjoyable and unforgettable.

Today, my parents had their last day to explore Harbin. However, my dad unexpectedly got a fever after lunch. He lay in bed shivering or sweating. It is possible that since he is not used to China’s environment, his body is reacting to bad sanitation. I massaged him and kept him company. Even though my dad had gotten sick, I was able to spend time with my dad. It was a quiet daddy-daughter experience but one I was grateful for.

Posted by myscope 20:45 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (0)

One New Year's resolution

overcast -19 °C

Happy New Year! I’ve made a few New Year’s resolutions, one being keeping up with this blog. I’m sorry that I have left a huge gap between what happened in September and December. All I can say is that college essays are so stressful that I couldn’t do both. I did keep a diary, but mostly I’d rather share some of my personal experiences when I get home. But fear not! I have plenty of pictures that have captured my favorite events of 2009. I will slowly upload my pictures. Besides, I find pictures easier to describe events than my words.

Anyways, I have spent these last couple days reflecting over some of the biggest lessons I have learned. I have decided to list one:

Flexibility: Residing 27 km away from my school makes it pretty difficult for me to meet up with my friends. Truly, I was fine staying at home where it is peaceful. I might have missed hanging out with my friends, but it was a chance for me to study and not be pressured to socialize all the time. As I have found, socializing can be very exhausting—physically and mentally. Or, it’s being flexible and eating strange dishes. The other night, I had sea cucumber. Sea cucumbers are these large expensive cucumber-shaped slugs. When you take your fork and poke at it, it wiggles. I could easily mistake it for greenish-black jello, only it wasn’t sweet at all. It was a strange, rubbery feeling. I tried three bites, and then I couldn’t swallow anymore of it. It reminded me of the time I tried fried silkworms. It was a fried silkworm kebab. To eat it, I had to bite its butt off (the smaller end), savor the meat, and use my teeth to take out its abdomen (?). Lastly, suck before spitting. But if you were brave enough, you could eat the rest of it. As for the flavor, it was spiced but smelled like poop. I tried eating two, but both times, I almost gagged. I immediately drank Sprite, but then I made my Sprite taste like the fried silkworm. For me, I can’t adapt to all foods, but at least I’m willing to try.

Yawn. I am tired. I actually went to school to clean up the classroom. In the afternoon, I watched Avatar. I actually expected to see the cartoon boy with the big arrow on his head. You know, the one from Nickelodeon. It was definitely an amazing movie, but I think a little creepy. And especially hard to understand since it was all in Chinese and there were no English or Chinese subtitles. I managed though. It was just funny-looking blue creatures getting their home destroyed, betrayed, but then having the humans moved off their planet, right? I manage :)

Posted by myscope 06:26 Archived in China Comments (0)

On the same wheel

It's all the same, except for the drama.

overcast 23 °C

Even having been through three weeks of school, I still haven’t adjusted to the daily routine.
Here’s a basic schedule of what goes on during the week:

5:10 am Get up and brush. Then return to bed.
5:50 am Get up and get dressed
6:00 am Eat breakfast, which is usually one egg, porridge and leftovers
6:15 am Leave for school
6:47 am Arrive at school
7:00 am Enter class. Depending on the day, I may go to my Grade 1 class. Otherwise, I go to my foreign students’ classroom. During this half-hour, it is self-study time. On Mondays, the flag-raising ceremony is held during this time.
7:30 am Class begins. They last for 40 minutes.
8:10 am 1st period ends. Have a 10-minute break. Only teachers move from classroom to classroom.
9:20 am I have my mid-morning snack that consists of yogurt, one egg, and some crackers
10:05 am Everyone goes outside to do morning exercises. Grade 1’s exercises is a military routine.
11:55 am 5th period ends and lunch lasts for 50 minutes. I usually go out to eat because the cafeteria food is not tasty.
12:55 pm Study hall begins and lasts 30 minutes. Afterwards, class begins.
4:20 pm 9th period ends and I am free to leave the school. However, Grade 1 and 2 students must stay until 6:00 pm. I stay near the school until 6 because I wait for my sister Gina to finish class. I have been going shopping on most days because I still need to buy many items. On Thursdays, Gina has evening classes so my dad picks me up at 5:30-5:40.
6:40 pm Arrive at home and have dinner right away.
7:10 pm Finish dinner and go up stairs to study. Sometimes, we take a walk right after dinner.

I take a shower between 8:00 and 9:30. I spend most of my nights reading, doing homework, and talking to my mom back in the States. I usually go to bed between 10:30 and 11:00.

So some other basics about the high school system:

There are three grades in high school It’s easier for me to say Grade 1, 2, and 3. But you can think of it as frosh, junior, and senior. Each grade has its own uniform. Grade 1 has a green camouflage outfit. It’s the same uniform as what construction workers wear. The ugliest part about it is that there’s a butt patch. The Grade 2 uniform has a white jacket and dark blue sweats. The Grade 3 uniform is a blue jacket with dark blue sweats.

Here, I am taking English, Math, Physics, History, Geography, Music, PE, and Computer with my Grade 1 Class 10. All classes are taught in Chinese. My Chinese class lasts for two periods each day. For this class I am with my AFS students. My schedule is the same for each week, but not for each day or alternating days. Therefore, on some days, such as Friday and Monday, I only have four classes to attend. My busiest days are Wednesdays and Thursdays. During the school days, students may have one or more periods of self-study. During these periods, a teacher may be present. But during these periods, I help students from my class improve their English in a separate room.

In honest truth, a school day doesn’t seem like it lasts forever...unless I am in History or English. My most difficult classes are History, Math, and Physics. I can’t 98-99% of anything the history does. He writes in cursive and he speaks in words I never heard. In this past week, I got a desk partner. He’s Korean but he’s lived China for 5 years. Before he became my partner, he used to sleep often in class. But now with me depending on him to help me decipher the words on the blackboard or a teacher’s lecture, he’s staying awake.

Yes, I do believe that my presence has made a difference for some people. I notice that when I come to class, he already has his head buried in his arms. But now during class, I always count on him. We sit in the back of the classroom in the second row from the right. My seat is surrounded by guys. The only girl nearby, Wang Li, would be diagonally left in front. Wang Li was helpful during the first week and a half. She let me borrow her textbooks and taught me the military moves for the morning exercise. But lately, we’ve drifted because I spend most of my time asking guys for any help or talking to other girls.

Everyone is friendly and my classmates wave to me. And I’ve gone out for lunch with a few of my friends. The awesome part of being a foreign exchange student is that there are no barriers between ages. I think it has to do with me not wearing a uniform. I am not automatically judged for my age nor am I just any regular student. This has allowed me to have friends in all grades, but mostly in Grade 1 because I attend the same class.

Stick around friends, sorry for the late post. There's actually a lot going on behind this general cycle. For example, an H1N1 panic.

Posted by myscope 03:00 Archived in China Comments (2)

New Blogspot!

Redirected from captain-merry.blogspot.com

sunny 24 °C

Over here in China, blogger.com is absolutely unaccessible to me, except for the home page. So if you've missed my introduction, please read it at captain-merry.blogspot.com.

I have written on a blog for 10 days so I've left you all with an empty gap of the beginning of my journey in China. I must say it's been eventful and uneventful. So bear with me as I try to highlight every part of my journey up to now.

Aug. 19 -21

My plane left at 8 a.m. for L.A. The night before, I had been still packing up until 11:30 p.m. I was definitely feeling stress and I packed all my absolute necessities, but when I lifted my luggage, I was so shocked. I had to take out my shampoo, lotion, and college brochures. I really miss some of those necessities. At L.A., AFS was having our pre-departure orientation. I got a chance to make new friends and meet people who were going to other countries such as Japan, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. It was so nice to see a variety of people. My roommate, for example, lives in England but she went to an American school. I had such a long orientation that covered information about safety, AFS’ history, and some general information about our specific countries. I found out some people had been studying Chinese all throughout high school. For example, Yony from Philly studied it all high school and he told me he was better at writing the characters than pinyin. Pinyin tells the pronunciation of a character. After dinner, we had a toast and made a pledge to be good kids. I met everyone that was going to Harbin with me. Their names are Zach, Matt, Nancy, and Diane. Each one of them is interesting and I enjoy their company. We all went to bed as soon as we could because all of us heading for China had to be checked out by 4:30 a.m.

In short, the uneventful part of this beginning was feeling sick. I had felt nauseated when I entered the L.A. hotel where we stayed. When I woke up the next morning, I felt unusually warm and I had a little bit of breathing difficulty. My upper body muscles, especially my shoulders, were so sore (I think from my backpack and dragging my heavy luggage). I had my temperature taken and it was 99.5˚ F. I came dangerously close because if I went over 100, to not getting on the plane. We took a coach bus to get to the airport. On the bus, I talked to this very nice girl from Phoenix, Arizona named Jing. She was adopted when she was 18 months old from Nanjing, China. We became really good friends, especially after we got to Beijing. She’s going to Jiamushi, which is 3 hours away from Harbin, my city. I spent some time talking with Jing and Yony. Our 8 a.m. flight would take us to San Francisco for a connection (dumb, isn’t it?) before we boarded the cursed United 889 for Beijing. All the while, my heat and breathing problems never went away. On the plane flight to San Francisco, I sat next to Ben, a very cute guy from Portland, Oregon. Nancy had the aisle seat in our row, but we both helped him with his Chinese. The scenery was beautiful and it reminded me of a time when I took a family vacation from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I fell asleep for most of the plane ride because that was when I didn’t have to fight with my body aches.

After arriving at San Francisco, we headed for the international terminal. Now this part was gorgeous. There was a Gucci, Coach, Burberry, and a Duty Free Store (DFS) Galleria that had items from Chanel (my favorite!!) to Godiva to Shiseido. I went around taking photos before we had to board the plane. I waited until the last minute to board the plane because of my shoulders. I had seat 35G but another guy named Ben wanted to switch. I think it was because the guy next to his seat (37G) was Chinese and he probably didn’t feel comfortable. I had no trouble switching and I actually talked to the man for quite some time. He warned me about the traffic and the cold. Both of these things I’ve heard so much from my grandparents, but I could see many people cared about my safety and health. For the next 11.5 hours, I spent it pretty miserably. My stomach felt like someone had punched it. I could never feel comfortable with the temperature; I was always too hot. Being cooped up in a plane for 11.5 hours meant that I developed more muscle pain. As always, my breathing difficulty never went away. I drank plenty of water and orange juice. Most of the plane ride was spent with my eyes closed but music always playing in my ears. I managed to watch most of the movie Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, featuring Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner. At meal times, I hated the food. The man next to me always asked for seconds and I always asked for more drinks.

Three hours before we landed, I saw a girl named Tristen had called a stewardess over because an AFS student sitting next to her had thrown up. I think there was something wrong about the plane food or the plane ride. Finally, the plane ride was over and I was definitely in a bad state. My temperature must have been high enough to be considered dangerous. Therefore, I was taken aside to have my temperature taken. They gave me a thermometer and told me to stick it in my armpit. I obliged, and I think I heard them say 38˚ C, which translates to 100.4˚ F, but I’m pretty sure I was higher than that. I was taken to another temperature checkpoint to have my temperature taken again. By this point, I was freaking out and I didn’t want to be quarantined. I didn’t tell them about my muscle pains—because I didn’t want to qualify as being ill, or worse, having swine flu. I kept quiet and I passed the temperature test. I went through customs and took a free shuttle to the baggage claim. Looking around, the Beijing International Airport had changed so much since the last time I came, which was in ’07. There was more glass and moving sidewalks. I definitely liked the change because it was letting the outside light illuminate the inside. AFS China came to pick us up and took us to the cultural village where the rest of the AFS students were as well. The bus ride was an hour long. We checked in and I brought my luggage to my room. My roommate was Nancy. I wanted to lay down so bad just to shake off that muscle pain, but I figured I probably should go make new friends like the rest of the AFS students were doing. I walked out of the room and was greeted by a huge group of AFS Thailand students. I mean, surrounded by the Thailand group. They were friendly and genuinely interested in me. I saw an AFS Germany student named Katarina who was also going to Harbin. I went to go get water with her and we met a girl named Lizzy who just came from Australia, but she was studying in Thailand. We all went to dinner together and I sat down with Kat and another Germany student, three from Italy, two from France, and Lizzy. I became good friends with Thomas and Samantha, who were both from Italy. After dinner, I went for a walk with Samantha, Thomas, Lizzy, and Cecilia (a girl also from Italy). When we went back to the table, Lizzy and I sat with all Italians. The thing about sitting at a culturally diverse table is that most people will speak in their native tongue for comfort. Everyone introduced themselves by saying where they were going. Afterwards, I went back to my room to sleep.

August 22, 2009

My stomach hadn’t felt any better, except for the last hour before I was woken up. I had breakfast and that was really exciting. I watched this guy named Patrick, who was from AFS USA spread bread jam over some peanut cookie. He also took a ton of salty vegetables that are commonly eaten with porridge or congee. After breakfast, I went to orientation with Nancy. I saw Jing there and she came up to me to stand in line because we had temperatures checked constantly. Thankfully, I passed and entered. Orientation was extremely boring and the worst part was that they made us practice the morning exercises. My poor stomach could barely keep up with our instructors. The morning exercises consist of kicking, stretching, and jumping jacks. Some of the AFS volunteers were taking pictures and they liked to have the camera focused on me. Maybe it was because we were placed in the front row. Afterwards, it was lunch. I sat down with my former roommate Alex and a sweet girl named Pausha. To Pausha’s left was an extremely handsome French guy, who I think his name was Arterie—but that’s probably wrong. After lunch, all the USA students had to be quarantined for the rest of the day because some of the people had fallen sick. All of us headed back to our room. Jing and I spent the whole afternoon together talking about everything from guys to Korean dramas. We became such good friends because we had so much in common. And the best news of today? My stomachache went away!! Finally, the uneventful part of my journey was over, and it was over for good.

August 23, 2009

Today we went to the Great Wall. I climbed 3.5 towers. It was unbearably hot. Oh yes, I recommend that anyone who visits China in the month of August to bring enough summer clothes to last you for at least a week. I made the mistake of not bringing enough summer clothes. Jing was so nice to give me a pair of her black shorts. I trekked most of it while going up with Jing but coming down, I went at my own pace. I took plenty of pictures of the Great Wall and I saw a sign from a recent past: Beijing 2008 One World One Dream. Huh, that’s really something that reflects AFS’ mission to unite all the countries together in understanding each other’s culture through one dream: world peace. That dream is definitely achievable. Each one of us can do our part to represent ourselves and our country well. I didn’t realize that the 2008 Olympic motto would show its significance. I think it’s really funny that I’ve been hearing people sing “One World One Dream” on television and radio and it just never clicked with me! There are symbols everywhere supporting cultural exchange, and now it’s time for me to spread that One World, One Dream.

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I’ve written so much but there’s definitely more I still need to cover as soon as I have time!

Posted by myscope 02:48 Archived in China Comments (2)

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