A Travellerspoint blog

Olympic-ally Inspired

February 18, 2010

snow -17 °C

Since the last week of school before winter break, I didn’t have the chance to skate until today. My sister wanted to skate at the ice rink that is on You Yi Lu and by a popular morning supermarket. I’m talking about the kind of supermarket with no shopping carts, fish gutted with bare hands, and flies on bloody chopped pigs. You can even watch how sausage is made! The first time I saw this kind of a supermarket was when I was with my real grandparents at least a decade ago. I have to remark it captures the Chinese spirit of bargaining. Some prices are negotiable and the buyer has a chance to interact with the seller. Anyways, I didn’t go to the supermarket. I came to this area to skate.

When we were on our way to this ice rink, we had to cross the bridge. 700 meters before reaching Sun Island and the Ice and Snow Festival, some cars had decided to turn around on this right side of the road. I saw cars parked on the right. Apparently some people didn’t want to wait out the traffic jam, and others wanted to drive at a later time.

I changed into my skates with Gina while my cousin Tony rented skates for my cousin Li Nan. While I waited for the rest of them to come onto the ice rink, a girl had stepped on. She looked very similar to one of my Chinese classmates. Anyways, it felt so good to finally be back on ice and watching the Olympics really inspired me to work on my skating. I skated many laps around the rink, but I couldn't find the perfect area to practice my figure skating. However, the only area available was very bumpy. In the center of the rink was for hockey games. I even saw some people dressed in the full gear. Seeing these hockey players reminded me of Zach and how he was very good at skating.

I stopped once to watch my sister do backward crossovers only she would make five strokes and then could not complete a circle going backwards. In my mind, I think skating backwards means you’ve mastered it as well as skating forwards—skating straight and doing crossovers. While I was watching my sister, a 40-year old man spins around me and grabs my hand and takes me skating backwards. Only, I built up too much speed that he had to let me go. I still have to work on controlling my backwards speed. Else, I’ll never be able to make infinite circles. Having the man teach me how to skate reminded me of my friend Lony. She’s a professional figure roller skater at our school and she figure skates as well. I forgot some of the moves she taught me. If there was one move I could learn, it would be to spin very fast.

The middle-aged guy was telling me to leave less of a gap between my legs when doing my crossovers. Therefore I made circles skating counter-clockwise. There wasn’t much he could teach me and actually, he was trying to show backwards crossovers and fell down. His “last” lesson was doing a parallel stop, similar to skiing. I realized that skiing and skating have their similarities. If I couldn’t go from side-to-side when skiing, that meant my knees were having trouble bending together in the same direction. The man said that to do the stop, we had to jump and slash (do the parallel stop). I thought it wasn’t right because I would fall if I did that…

I speed skated a straight and did my parallel stop. My left leg is the one that goes out and I lift the heel of my right leg. Gina was practicing behind me. Another girl that was also skating with the old man was behind us. She was the same girl I noticed when I was waiting for the others. She watched me do my parallel stops and copied me. As we skated together, I got to learn more about her. She skated since she was little, but never had any formal lessons. She went to the second best high school in Harbin and was extremely interested in hearing me describe my background. We exchanged phone numbers and now we keep in contact. I made a new friend today, and it was all because of the old man.

My legs are sore now from skating three hours and taking only two breaks. Alas, I have a conclusion of all of our skating skills. I can skate pretty, Gina skates faster than me, Li Nan just spins like crazy, and Cousin Tony is the fastest skater among us. I have to watch out for Li Nan because if she latches onto you, you’re bound to fall down together. She can’t stop very well and spins in circles.

We were picked up so late because my host mom was getting the birthday cake for Cousin Tony. He’s 21 now and it’s hard to believe he’s so much older because he looks like he’s 19. We ate the cake that had pretty flowers and the words “生日快乐”written on it.

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Li Nan lit the cake, Tony made his wish, blew out the candles, and then we dug into the delicious cake. In the evening, we played China’s famous gambling game: Ma Jiang. The birthday didn’t have flowing alcohol like how I sometimes see it on TV in America, but that’s because there’s no legal drinking age in China. Instead, it felt like a day similar to the rest.
However, skating was the sparkling gem of my day.

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Posted by myscope 08:05 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (0)

Chinese New Year with Fireworks

February 13, 2010-February 14, 2010

sunny -14 °C

On the eve of Chinese New Year, I had a large celebration with my family. I woke up around 9 in the morning and was dressed in a T-shirt and black sweatpants. Apparently, no one else dressed up either.
In the afternoon, my host parents bought posters to decorate the doors and walls. The colors red and gold were everywhere and they symbolize happiness and good fortune. This year is the year of the Tiger. Already, I feel like the New Year is such a blessing because as I was writing my diary that afternoon, I saw fireworks right outside my window. It was a small fantastical show, and definitely one that I would never have seen in America. Those fireworks were only a part of the explosions and sounds that went on throughout the day. My cousin taped the word Fu (福), which means fortune and luck, upside-down on the window. We turn it upside because of a play on the word. When the Fu is upside-down(倒), it has the same pronunciation as the word arrive( 到). Therefore, it means fortune and luck has arrived.

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In the early afternoon, I saw a part of the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. I am extremely lucky to watch the Olympics when everyone else is at school in America. Gina also returns to school on Feb. 22nd. Not only have I felt that the New Year and its events are aligned in my favor, but I have gained an immense sense of gratitude.

I am excited to have celebrated Chinese New Year in my motherland. Finally, I have come to China at one of its liveliest times and had a great cultural experience. The numbers of family members grew from five to fifteen. IMG_2891.jpgAt the dinner table, we had to pull another table up to fit everyone. Sprite, Coke, Harbin Beer, and white wine were found at the table as well as a mountain of chopsticks and a skyscraper made of bowls. However, you wouldn’t have found rice at our table. With all that meat, vegetables, and seafood, the rice would only have filled up your stomach that left no room for the goodies. Us kids gave our warm thanks and wished everyone the best in the New Year. I spoke in English while Gina translated. When I finished, I translated for Gina. My host mom was the last to speak. She added more praise to me and expressed how lucky she was to have me as one of her daughters.
Immediately, I felt this was a flashback to the Mid-autumn Festival. The Mid-autumn Festival, which is similar to Thanksgiving, helped me appreciate my host family because they had taken me to see their hometown. They never had to show me their roots, but they wanted to give me the cultural experience from their point of view. I am especially lucky to have my host family to appreciate me and love me very much, especially my host mom. She never minds driving me into the city so that I can see my friends or join an activity. Not only have the five family members taken care of me, but my host relatives make a great support system. I can visit the eldest aunt to wait for my host mom to come and pick me up. The second eldest aunt took care of me when my host grandparents were in the province Szechwan. Lastly, I met my youngest aunt beginning February 12. She never ceases to praise me and takes good care of me as well—asking if I want to eat some fruits, attentively listens to when I describe my real family, and remarking such maturity I possess. These aunts plus my host mom makes the Four Sisters. They will always have a tight-knit relationship.

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I might not always feel like a significant member in the family, but at the Chinese New Year Eve’s dinner, I was truly proud to be me. In the evening, we watched the Evening Ceremony, which is something traditional for all Chinese families. I could understand some of the skits but humor isn’t something easy to pick up from another’s language. At the conclusion of the Year of the Ox and the beginning of the Year of the Tiger—we set off fireworks.

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After 11 p.m., I went outside to light fireworks. It was my first time anywhere near fireworks and I was very excited. I spent most of my time taking pictures, but then I got to set off rockets. Li Nan, my cousin from Japan, would aim her rockets at us or at our house. I mostly took pictures, but I got to light firecrackers and sparklers. Despite the cold, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. At 2 a.m., I was given my red envelope, which contains money given to children and teens by their elders. I got 200 Yuan from my mom. The next morning, my grandma gave me 100 Yuan. I called my real grandparents and relatives and wished them a Happy New Year.

I didn’t sleep until 5 a.m. that morning because I was playing a Chinese card game called Dui Zhu (对驻). One team needs to reach at least 40 points whereas the other tries to stop them. If the team gets 40 points, then they become the defense team. When you begin, the set of 3 is the second strongest cards, second to the Jokers. If the defense team keeps winning, then the second strongest cards increase to the set of 4, and so on.
Chinese New Year exhausted me because I was up since 7:40 and tackled many TV shows such as China’s famous comedian Zhao Ben Shan (赵本山). The next three days after Chinese New Year are just as important. Therefore, I have been spending time with my family. I played Majiang, a famous Chinese gambling game, and watched plenty of tv.

For the past four days, I haven’t gone a day without hearing fireworks. Last night at midnight, someone had given a large fireworks performance. It startled me and I couldn’t sleep until 12:45 a.m.

Posted by myscope 19:09 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (0)

Publicized Volunteering

Did we just get used? January 31, 2010

sunny -20 °C

Last Saturday was the first time I had ever been on T.V.

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Zach, Nancy, and I volunteered at a senior center. Once we entered the building, we were ushered to the side and given orange polo shirts to be easily identified as part of the volunteer group. There was a lot of commotion around us because a journalist came and interviewed us. We were filmed as we greeted seniors and as we made dumplings with our fellow volunteers.

Zach was a super star because he turned flattened balls of dough into thin discs. Nancy struggled because she had never made dumplings before. I filled each disc with the 酸菜,sour cabbage and then I folded the dough and pinched the sides together. I made ugly dumplings, but they didn’t fall apart. After we had finished making our dumplings, we were pulled to the side to be asked about previous volunteering experience and our current volunteering experience in China.

Next, we washed our hands and cleaned the hallway and a bedroom. Zach swept the floor before Nancy and I mopped it. Several elders came out of their bedrooms to watch us sing, dance for them. We three sang our Harbin No. 1 school song. We should learn more American and Chinese songs. We played Latin and Cha-cha music. I’m not a very good dancer, but I am pretty good with moving my hips. Overall, the entire day was a great experience.

Lately, I have wanted to dance badly. The night before, I was twirling my sister in the hallway before we watched T.V. Gina and I watched Chinese Paladin 3 Template, 仙剑奇侠传 3…until the series finished a few days ago. The popular and handsome Chinese actor Hu Ge is defeating this magician who had killed his mother-in-law by using magic and sword-fighting skills. Last summer, I watched an older series called Fairy from Wonderland,天外飞仙. I recommend watching Fairy from Wonderland because it teaches some great life lessons and it is comedic. MySoju offers it with English subtitles so you can check out one of my favorite Chinese TV dramas. Click here to watch.

Speaking of television, we showed up three nights ago on哈尔滨都市零距离6:00 and 9:00 news. Finally, I watched myself get on the news! Gina interjects and says that she’s been on TV at least two times. That bums me a little but don’t worry, I will get on TV some other time in my life.

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Even though we were there to brighten up the elder’s day, we were beneficial to many other people, such as this organization. The volunteers use us to practice their English and specifically, their translation skills. What irks me is that I don’t need volunteers to help 90% of the time because I can understand main ideas fairly well. As they continue to translate, I nod and respond in Chinese so that I can get my practice. I understand that it’s important for people to seize their opportunities, but I think they are seizing it with the wrong person. I will encourage them to speak to Nancy, Zach, and Matt more. I am upset, but I’m not sure why…maybe it’s because with people wanting to translate all the time around me, I feel caged. I am seeking independence, a chance to test my Chinese skills in all environments.

We Americans are their treasure pieces to their organization because we can provide a new perspective on volunteer activities and help them receive publicity. For example, today our volunteer work made it to the Harbin Daily. Publicized volunteering is better for the majority of the people. I can smile at the fact that I got on television, but I frown at the fact that I am being used.

Posted by myscope 02:53 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (0)

Even Though We Are Miles Apart

January 26, 2010: My Brother's Birthday My poem to him, even though it's a little rough.

sunny -11 °C

My little brother is growing too fast,
With each passing the years get more exciting.
Remember to pause and let the moment last.
And yet, I can’t believe you’re really sixteen.

This year I won’t be singing the birthday tune, be certain,
Instead others beside you are there to help celebrate.
Three nights from now, under a starry curtain
Rock out with your date and mates.

You have been my best friend,
Confiding my secrets in you
Each time I think of the past
I wonder if you miss me too.

On steep slopes, racing at terrifying speeds,
To reach a bliss, there are little needs.
Soon you will be driving your own car,
But life doesn’t need one to go far.

On the night of your birthday,
I will still be thousands of miles away.
But keep me close to your heart,
And the distance won’t set us apart.

Posted by myscope 07:20 Tagged events Comments (0)

A Little Princess

January 25, 2009

sunny -10 °C

Since I am on winter vacation until possibly March 1, I have been given plenty time on my hands. One day I spent letting time pass through my hands—sleeping eating little, and watching a bit of television. However, I have realized what a mistake that was and have since picked up a 英汉对照, English-Chinese novel called “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. When I was in 6th grade, I read this book. This time around, I am revisiting the story in Chinese. Therefore, I would recommend students with advanced foreign language skills to use one of these books and to read something they had read in the past. Having the past to guide the reader makes reading a favorite book exciting.

What makes reading “A Little Princess” interesting is that I have a fuzzy memory of the details but I’m sharpening my image by rereading. I had expected reading a novel in Chinese comparable to watching satellite T.V. on a rainy day. However, I found I had a pretty clear image and the English version on the left –hand side of the two pages. During reading, I have two tools: A highlight and a pen. The highlight marks unfamiliar words. The pen writes pinyin, underlines phrases, and writes the English translation for the words. I hope that when I finish this novel, I will reread and translate the Chinese into English. Though my English skills will not be as fluent as Burnett, I will enjoy the experience because it will feel like solving a jigsaw puzzle.

I am already on page 133 and a few paragraphs away from the novel’s major turning point where the protagonist Sara Crewe finds out her father has died and left her penniless. Sara’s immediate downfall brings her from the status of princess to pauper. However, she does not lose her princess-like grace. And how she will keep her head high at the young age of 11?

As I was intrigued 6 years ago with Sara’s character, I have often thought about how pretending is necessary. Sara pretends to be a princess because it is her form of escape from the present’s troubles. She can overcome the grief of her father’s passing and still be charitable to others even when she is needy. I bet if you were having a drink with Sara is her poor state, she could cheerfully say your glass of water is half-full. In a few more paragraphs when she becomes a pauper and a scullery maid, she will need her pretending ability more than ever.

Imagining Sara pretending to be a princess gave me a stronger appreciation for my environment and motivated me to show more grace. However, it made me wonder if I had a host family who could barely provide for me—burnt green beans and sticky rice every night—could I pretend? Pretending might sound like silly business, but it can shift one’s perspective for the better.

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When I was in Yunnan, I enjoyed the bus rides—even though most days we sat in the bus for over 6 hours. Looking out at the scenery, I thought about the lives of Chinese peasants. I thought about the millions of farmers who worked tirelessly and rarely if never have enjoyed the comforts of a shower in a bathtub like those found at a hotel or the one found at my house. Then I thought, those who lived their life in the city was surrounded by sparkling skyscrapers and fancy automobiles. Citizens of the city were as a Chinese proverb describes best, “frogs sitting at the bottom of a well”. When frogs look up from the bottom of the well, their view of the sky is limited. Both countryside and city folks have their limited perspectives. However, I would like to step into a farmer’s home and spend a night. Any opportunity to experience another’s life brings me closer to their roots. I believe that to truly understand someone, you have to begin at their roots.
I will have to write another blog entry about this.
Anyways, I have never experienced such a drastic shift from class. But if Sara can pretend to be a princess, I can pretend I am one too if I am in the same situation.

Posted by myscope 04:22 Archived in China Comments (0)

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