Written by Nikki Weiner (Barnard College), Student Correspondent
C.V. Starr-Middlebury School in China in Hangzhou, Spring 2013
This past weekend we headed to the Chinese fishing village of 象山(Xiangshan), which is near 宁波 (Ningbo), to have bonding time with our roommates. The Americans prepared for the trip by blasting “Vamos a la Playa” and throwing together a bag of bathing suits, towels, and a change of clothes, all of which took under 10 minutes and was completed 30 minutes before our departure; Meanwhile, our Chinese roommates had a more precautionary preparation. This consisted of a meeting the day before departure about how to prepare properly to go to the beach, and sending us multiple reminders through email, text, phone calls, and word of mouth to NOT FORGET to bring sunscreen, to apply said sunscreen (though we weren’t at the beach yet), to bring warm clothes, to drink lots of water, and to buy lunch to eat at the beach… oh and did you remember to pack your sunscreen? Chinese people deem pale skin as more beautiful than tan skin, a common contradiction between Americans and Chinese, so the sunscreen would prove to be a point of controversy throughout our vacation.
But after preparation and a 3.5 hour bus ride, we pulled up to Xiangshan rocking shorts, flip-flops, and tank-tops, while our roommates were dressed in flannel clothing. As to not let them know we hadn’t actually taken their recommendation to dress warmly we shivered subtly, very subtly, thinking S.O.S. After surviving the less than ideal first day weather, our first night at what some of our Chinese roommates called a Haunted Hotel turned out to be a rocky-horror like night. My roommate’s alarm went off at 3:00AM as she planned to watch the sunrise. Though the sunrise is at 5:03AM, a 2-hour preparation that would wake me up at 3:00AM and would ensure she wouldn’t miss it is totally understandable, right? Meanwhile, those living on the “silou”(4th floor), which has the same pronunciation as the Chinese word “to die”, brought forth Chinese superstitions. One Chinese roommate said he saw a ghost, heard someone calling his name, and saw things in the mirrors. Hmmm… And those sleeping on the 3rd floor came to breakfast complaining a screaming and yelling mother had woke them at 5:00AM, which ironically coincided with the sunrise, just want to point that out.
Despite a horrifying first night, we were going to “la playa” and nothing could impede our excitement. But getting to the beach wasn’t the traditional American road trip experience; a boat packed with Chinese travelers transported us to another beach where army men questioned our identities. Then a Jurassic Park-like tour car drove us to a mud-filled body of water, where the driver told us to walk straight until we reached a vacant beach (he didn’t tell us it’d be vacant, but it was, just for the record).
On the beach the bonding with our roommates began! Us Americans stripped down to our bikinis and our Chinese roommates left all of their long-sleeved shirts and pants on, applying sunscreen on top of their clothes, which is truly not too far off of reality. I tried to fly a kite with Lanlan, a Chinese roommate, but failed miserably. Then an hour later she came running over to me saying, “WeiWei, kankan!” (weiwei, look,look!) She was indeed flying the kite (though multiple experienced kite flyers had helped her). Meanwhile, Ethan was speeding around the beach on an ATV, and his driving skills proved to attract all of the ladies. Vivian, who is like Mother Teresa, collected trash on the beach, while the rest of us worked on our tans (using minimal sunscreen), which resulting in sunburns. Then we started a game of beach volleyball that gave our roommates an opportunity to show their true athletic skills, like their ability to make sure every time they received the ball it would fly out of bounds. I still would encourage them to “Manman lai” (take your time).
On our last day in 象山 we headed to the famous Movie City, where some of us experienced a 15-minute ‘time travel’ to ancient China and the future world through the 3D films “The Mummy Returns” and “Dinosaurs” in the 4D cinema. Wow, what a well-developed theatre… no seatbelts, no precautions, and tape holding together the seat arm rests. Water sprayed all over us, and our seats rocked all over the place, and some weird “things” (still left unidentified) slapped us, burning our sunburns. It was very zhongguo (China), to say the least. Finally, we had a little fun inside of the catacomb exhibit where we shot our version of the Blair Witch Project. This consisted of Jeremy using his iPhone to capture our reactions to the skeletons. Maia’s reaction to the Boxer skeleton, self-explanatory and totally comprehensible, a skeleton wearing one red boxing glove, was the spookiest or the funniest scene, you decide. And to finish off our trip, our bus ride back to Hangzhou included bathroom stops, a stop to get seafood at a seafood market, and a McDonalds run. We arrived back at school 5 hours later, with some serious laduzi (stomach problems)!
Lately I’ve realized how many pictures of food I’ve taken. But I can’t help it! It’s all so good! It’s not all Vietnamese food either. There are so many choices in food here in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh including Japanese, Indian, French, and American, etc! So I’m dedicating this post entirely to food. Because let’s be real.. who doesn’t like talking about food?!
So below is a picture of what I eat for lunch on a normal day. This consists of rice, tofu, vegetables, and soup (and a finished ice coffee, which don’t be fooled, is very different from American coffee. Dare I say even better?!) This is a typical lunch because 1. It is delicious 2. It is convenient. As seen in the picture I’m eating and doing homework. This is because where I get this meal is located in a cafe about 20 steps out my door. So it’s a great place to get a good meal and do homework.
Below is a picture of field crabs covered in young rice (yes, that green stuff is some form of rice, and no I don’t know why it’s called young rice. That’s just the direct translation!) But these little field crabs are too small to pull the meat out, so instead we eat them whole. Yes, shell and all! These guys were not one of my favorite meals. Although the shells were cooked to be pretty soft, it was still a shell. So I probably won’t do this again. But I won’t complain. I love seafood!
This picture is of the very popular hot pot! To the left is my friend Catherine’s roommate, Tuyet Anh, and to the right is my roommate Linh. That night the four of us (including Catherine of course!) went out for hot pot! Apparently there are many types of hot pot, but we went for the seafood hot pot. How it works is they bring you the hot pot that has a burner underneath with some type of boiling soup/ water (unsure what?) in the middle and you pretty much cook the food yourself by pushing your seafood into the boiling liquid in the middle. It was really delicious. I can see why it’s so popular!
Below is a photo from my first experience with field crabs. Clearly not loving the little guys!
And this little pink, black and white Dalmatian looking fruit is dragon fruit! Is it in the United States? I don’t know, it very well could be! But I had never heard of or seen it before so I’m counting it as part of my Vietnamese food adventures. It doesn’t have much flavor but it’s so pretty and refreshing who could not love it?!
Last but very not least is sushi! There are lots of Japanese restaurants near where I’m living but this is the first time I’ve eaten sushi since being here and it will not be the last! It was so delicious! Maybe not so different from the states, but I don’t consider that a bad thing! I’ll always have a special place in my stomach for sushi! haha
That’s all for now! But I’m eating great food every day, so more to come!
So we’re a little over a month into the program and I think I can speak for everyone when I say time has flown by. Every week and every day is different here and it’s exciting yet extremely tiring at the same time. We’ve all been meeting new people and making new friends almost every day and the city is starting to feel homier. The last few weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time with my roommate and her best friends.
Sarah, Olivia and I have wanted to cook since the day we got here so one of my roommate’s best friends offered her kitchen to us last week. We went grocery shopping at a large supermarket on the way to her house and bought ground beef, hamburger buns, cheese, lettuce, Pringles …. Sarah cut the vegetables, chopped the garlic and onions and fried the hamburger patties. Olivia tossed a salad and made grilled cheese sandwiches for the vegetarians, and I seasoned the patties and got the hamburger buns ready. The dinner turned out delicious and everyone enjoyed our American dinner. We all ended up going to a Karaoke Bar and sang a mixture of American and Vietnamese songs and had a great time.
Last weekend, I got the chance to go to Vung Tau, a beach about two and a half hours away from Ho Chi Minh City with my roommate and her best friends. It was an awesome experience and I’m really glad I got to go. I got to see how the locals our age travel, how they live, how they eat and how they hang out. I was also able to have very interesting and insightful conversations about their culture and they were very curious about American culture as well.
Hello interested internet readers!
The events, memories, and experiences are growing exponentially by the day. Each day I experience something new, and there is something refreshing about a place where you can always discover something new (Mind you, the size of it is sometimes also be overwhelming). We have finally developed a pattern. Our days have a certain rhythm that we have become familiar with, but as familiar as the routine days are becoming, surprises are just as frequent. Allow me to elaborate:
We attend formal classes five days a week: Chinese for two hours in the morning and other elective courses in the afternoon. I hope that as you read this, your mind does not stray to the routine college classes where you can sleep in if you want to, you weigh out how many quizzes you can drop or time you can become “sick”, you can camouflage in a class full of students and day dream…no. It’s a natural mistake, as I also expected at least some of the routine college classes when I arrived here, but it has not been routine- organized and logical, yes- but not ordinary in the least. It is any scholar’s paradise: small classes, teachers at your disposal, and the freedom to think independently. This is what waits behind the mystical doors of Beijing.
The other weekend we went- by ditie, of course- to Tiananmen Square (天安门). The fantastic thing about China is how the past meets the present, or I guess, a better way to say it would be, the past is, in fact, still the present (or the present is still the past, you understand)- “古今并存”. We read about Tiananmen in out Beijing in the 21st Century class and it was interesting then but still just “history.” It was when we stepped inside of Tianmen that it all came together and the reality of the events hit.
Besides academia, there is also stardom in Beijing. Go anywhere, practically, and become famous instantly. At Tiananmen Square, after being there for no more than ten minutes, three men- one a paid photographer- walked up to me and asked to take a picture with me. I looked around awkwardly at first, but then agreed. I mean…this was my Beyoncé moment! The photographer took a few pictures, my friends took a few pictures, and I stood, awkwardly making the peace sign, in between two men that looked like just ordinary businessmen. After that, at least four other people came up asking for a picture of my classmates and I, either with them, or, as one old lady did, picture-after-picture directly in my face.
Later on in the day we took a stroll with our teacher, David Moser- who is “nearly a house name in China” (a Chinese person’s words not mine)- to have lunch in Qianmen. After lunch, we found my favorite street sweet… tanghulu! This is truly an underappreciated delicacy in the world! Perhaps I’ll bring it back to the states? At the least, anyone who hasn’t tried it and has a taste for the sweeter things of life MUST get a hold of this! It can be found on most street corners in China; just listen for someone calling it out or look for the sticks!
Carpe diem is true here. I wake up strangely early (I am not a morning person at all.) It may be because I have an awesome roommate? Or maybe the delicious zhou and baozi that await me in the Muslim cafeteria each morning? Or both?… Either way, I wake up early to grab a delicious breakfast with my roommate and study a little before Chinese class.
The roommates and people we are meeting here in China are the best. This past Sunday we went to “farm” and BBQed with our roommates. The morning started off slowly as we had to wait for people to get dressed (or wake up), but once it began, it was a blast from beginning to end! We rode- 14 students, hip-to-hip and one person on my lap- almost an hour to arrive at the BBQ place, where we found pool, ping pong, badminton, and plenty of food. The roommates began work on the grills and soon everyone was grilling food, passing it around for others to try their creation. It was the perfect picture of an international family reunion!
We have been asked by countless Chinese students to help them with their English. I love these opportunities! I am not only able to help someone else improve in an area where I am comparatively more proficient, but I make a new friend out of it and get a Chinese study buddy too. I think that this is important to do anywhere you go: interact with the locals, make friends, and engage in cultural and linguistic exchange!
Some of my classmates teach English to older people in and around Tuanjiehu on Fridays. That program has a brother-program on Sundays that I attended last Sunday…talk about a great time. For two hours we were able to talk and share stories with people of all ages. One five and a half year old girl told English stories in front of the group that would have put child-Omega to shame. An older guy named Bill kept conversation constantly moving and even acted out a meeting with a foreigner on the ditie for the rest of the participants. It was a fantastic time!
China is a fascinating place full of wonder and many discoveries. The city would be dull to me, however, if it wasn’t for the aforementioned people and events. My days have been full on much joy. Of course I feel homesick; I believe that this is especially true because so many things here I would love to share with my family, but my community helps me push through it. I am building a new family here in China that is unique to this program and place, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. This is only a little over a month and a few ditie rides in. I can’t even imagine what is in store at the next “stop”…