Thursday, January 31, 2008

Diversified Attractive Activities Await Your Participation!

The above proclamation was printed on one of the tourist maps for Yunnan Province in southern China where Ethan and I are headed tomorrow for a couple of weeks of travel before the semester starts and our teaching duties at Ocean University begin. Finally, after arriving in China more than a week ago, I'm starting to feel ready to participate - bring on the diversified attractive activities!

Qingdao's shore

Adjusting to life here and settling into our new apartment - let alone getting to our new apartment - was full of, the mostly expected, ups and downs. When we arrived in Beijing we didn't have any concrete plans to get ourselves to our new home in Qingdao and we quickly learned that winging it in the winter in China was a whole lot different than winging it in sunny Guate. After we landed at the airport it took us a while to find a cab that would agree to take the two of us, along with our embarrassingly enormous pile of luggage (this was my fault), to the train station. And then the cabbie who was finally willing to do it must have only agreed because he was too tired to say no and approaching hour fourteen of his work shift. Every now and then on the highway as his eyes started to close, and his speed slowed, he would smack himself in the face and scrape his fingernails over his bald scalp to stay awake lifting his weary eyes to shoot me an impish look in the rear-view.

Once at the station we planned to get an overnight train to Qingdao so we lugged everything over the overpass and inside the enormous terminal where I hunkered down to wait on our enormous pile of stuff. Every now and then fellow travelers would gather around and scold me about all of my luggage. "That's too heavy for you!" At least I think that's what they were saying. And, yes, it was. Ethan took a couple of stabs waiting in the freezing cold lines for the ticket window but after a couple of hours we decided to call it a night and stay at a nearby hostel. We would get the first train to Qingdao in the morning where we would call our contact, Steven, at the University to come and get us. However, when we finally did arrive in Qingdao - we couldn't believe we had finally made it - and plopped ourselves in another busy terminal, we were unable to reach Steven after several tries and ended up deciding to take a taxi to the school. After a Mandarin mix-up between the words for East and South (if it wasn't for Ethan's Mandarin I'd still be wandering around Beijing's airport) we finally made it to the University, well the gate leading to the massive campus, and Ethan set out to look for Steven while I hopped around pathetically in the freezing cold waiting with our luggage. Finally, with the help of a saint-like Western Literature Professor, we were able to track down Steven's office and in moments were transported to our new apartment. Setting down our suitcases never felt so good.

We loved our apartment immediately. It's enormous with three bedrooms and a balcony, and fills up with beautiful morning and afternoon light. But settling in and making our new place live-able was harder than we thought it would be. First, it took a few days for the apartment to heat up; now thanks to an insulation project involving a bedspread, two sleeping bags, and some rope spearheaded by Ethan it's feeling much more comfortable. Then we discovered that our water heater was broken so if we wanted a shower we had to douse each other with water from the kettle heated up on the stove. Adding to the general discomfort we were required to undergo "physicals" in order to apply for our teaching permit which included a mysterious ultrasound, getting hooked up to an antique EKG, and a trip to the radiology department. And then, after our first delicious (now suspicious) seafood lunch with our co-workers, as I was just starting to feel a little more human and a little more comfortable, I got slammed with a stomach bacterial infection.

Anyway, now that I'm not vomiting and can take a hot shower I'm starting to feel human and hopeful about our time here. Yesterday, Ethan and I explored the old part of the city for the first time. We tromped around the fish market, got great views of the coast from a hill top park, and also visited several churches built during the German occupation as well as a Buddhist temple. After seeing the sights we had Mike, our hero/Western Literature Professor and his wife, Monica, over for dinner. We cooked a "western" meal of buttery lemon chicken, mashed potatoes and broccoli, and Mike and Monica brought homemade dumplings as well as a traditional soupy dessert made from fermented rice that was full of tasty sesame flavored gelatinous bubbles (which despite my description really was yummy).

It was fun to get to know Mike and Monica and hear what they had to say about China. They're both from Qingdao, love their country, and expressed an interesting mix of political opinions: censorship and control of the media = bad; cultural revolution = overly criticized. It was all really fascinating and surprising. I have to keep reminding myself that China is still very much a communist country - probably because I feel surprisingly surrounded by consumerism, and rows upon rows of stores and mega-stores with pretty things to buy.

Below are some pictures of old city in Qingdao. I wish I had pictures of the newer modern part of the city which is less Bavaria and more Las Vegas or Times Square. For a "small" Chinese city Qingdao feels immense and also surprisingly modern. (the buses here are fully equipped with flat screen TVs playing non-stop clips of Yao Ming!) After living in Guatemala it's hard for me to think of China as developing, but maybe our visit to the south will change this perspective. I can't wait to travel south and into Spring weather tomorrow!

Slimy delicacies at the fish market


The city's Christian church

Temple decked out for Spring Festival