Welcome to my China page!

As the 2007 Horton Scholar, I was provided the resources to design and carry out a major educational experience abroad in 2008.  I chose to travel to Dalian, China, in the summer to study language and culture at Liaoning Normal Univeristy, then to Shanghai, China, in the fall to gain international engineering experience as an intern for General Electric. This webpage is an online journal of my experiences in China.

Click here to download a pdf of my Horton Scholarship Portfolio

Please select a journal entry:
Shanghai Entries: September 3, 2008 - Present
Dalian Entries: April 17, 2008 - August 2, 2008
Map of My Travels in China

Shanghai Entries

Shanghai International Marathon | Sunday, November 30, 2008 8:09 PM

This morning I got up at 6:00 am to run in the 2008 Shanghai International Marathon.  I had originally planned to go for the whole thing, but about a quarter ways in I decided (for several reasons) to just do the half marathon.  Nonetheless, I took a rather slow-and-steady, casual pace, and finished the half in about 2 hours.  I never officially registered for the race, so I didn’t have a cool number on my shirt, but nobody really seemed to notice (or care).

When I stepped outside in my running shorts and sleeveless shirt, I immediately regretted my choice of clothing.  I’m guessing it was around 5-6°C (40°F), and I could see my breath.  The taxi driver gave me a strange look too, as if to say, “Crazy 老外.”  I explained that 18,000 people were running 42 km today, which only enhanced his look of confusion.  When we pulled up to 南京路, I could see the crowd already gathering, so I made my way to the center.

Around 7:25, the speakers blasted some Chinese drum and trumpet fanfare as the Chinese military in their green and red uniforms outlined the crowd.  The scene suddenly felt very Communist.  Around 7:45, the fireworks went off and we finally started running.  The first kilometer felt pretty much like normal rush hour at the 人民广场 subway station – people jammed together ridiculously tight, all fighting to get a few more steps ahead.  Another kilometer later, things started to spread out and I was able to actually set a pace. 

About 5 km in, the crowd started getting thin enough where the outside traffic could actually pass through the “blocked off” road, and they did.  The 5-10 km section of the race was half running, half huffing car exhaust.  This was the point where I decided to just run the half instead of the full.  I reasoned that if it was this bad this early in the race, then it would probably only get worse as the day went on and traffic got heavier.

About 12 km in, I ran into an American guy named Chris who stood out from the crowd with his cheering.  Throughout the whole race, ladies and children lined the sides of the road banging drums and cymbals cheering, “加油!”  (“jia you,” literally translated as “add oil,” and meaning something like “come on,” or “let’s go”).  Chris was about the only runner I saw who enthusiastically cheered right back, often times getting the whole side of the road (even the people waiting in traffic) excited.  We separated for a bit, then met up again about 6-7 km from the end.  Talking with someone while you run really makes the time go much faster, and I wish I had met up with him earlier in the race, because the first hour was rather slow.  Even though it was my last day in Shanghai, it’s always nice to make new friends.

Near the end, the ladies on the roadside got even louder, banging some pretty serious drums this time in sort of a drum role fashion.  As I turned the last corner, I saw other people who were running the full marathon finishing in front of me.  I wasn’t completely dead tired, but I can’t imagine how those people were able to run twice as fast (and twice as far) as I just did.  Of course, they’re pros, so they better be able to run like that.  At the end, we all got some snacks and drinks and spent about half an hour just cooling down.

Now it’s dark out, and I just finished packing up my bags.  After the race I got  a hair cut and took a nice nap before going out to dinner for the last time with my roommates.  We had some absolutely delicious Chinese food, and I realize now that it might be the last I get for a while.  My legs are pretty shot now, and even though I only ran the half I still feel like I can barely walk.  I’m hoping that won’t slow me down at the airport in the morning hauling my two most definitely over-weight bags. 

Well, this is it – my farewell to Shanghai and China for at least the time being.  It has been an amazing past 6 months and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.  Through the good times and the tough times, I loved it all and will never forget this amazing country.  Cheers China for making 2008 one fantastic year!
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Hong Kong & the First Ever HKLX! | Tuesday, November 25, 2008 11:52 PM

This past weekend I flew to Hong Kong to participate in the first ever HKLX (Hong Kong Lindy Exchange), a full weekend of swing dancing with dancers from all over Asia and the world. We danced at some of the most famous places in Hong Kong, including the Giant Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery, the Avenue of Stars by Victoria Harbor, and "Jumbo," the world's largest floating restaurant. In addition to the hours of awesome dancing, I served as a guest DJ for several sets throughout the weekend, including the last one for the whole event. It was quite an honor.

As the first ever Hong Kong Lindy Exchange, the event as a whole was top notch. Karen, the organizer, did a remarkable job putting the weekend together, and all the local HK dancers were incredibly gracious and welcoming. My host in particular, Owen, was a great sport and super helpful throughout the whole weekend - thanks again for everything Owen. The dancing was fantastic, and the international crowd made it the most diverse exchange I have ever been to. We had dancers from Vietnam, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, Xiamen, Taiwan, Beijing, Shanghai, East Timor, America, Canada, England, and Australia. Even the local Hong Kong dancers were a mixed bunch, with nearly half originally from other countries. Everyone had such different dance styles based on where they were from, and each dance was like listening to a different accent. The "it's a small world" moments were all over the place, as half of us knew the same people in the world of lindy hoppers.

Another thing that really set the event apart from other exchanges is how much of Hong Kong we actually got to experience. Other exchanges focus so much on the dancing that you never really get a feel for the city, but this exchange did an excellent job of fusing the two together. The Giant Buddha, Avenue of Stars, Junk Boat ride, and dim sum brunch really highlighted Hong Kong, which made the dancing even better. I honestly don't think things could have gone any better (well, ­besides that insane line at the cable cars - ­we'll remember that one for next time).

On Hong Kong:
The first thing I noticed about Hong Kong was everyone driving on the wrong side of the road. Having belonged to England for 100 years, Hong Kong's entire infrastructure was developed by the British, including all their backwards driving traditions and double-decker buses.

The second thing I noticed was the weather. Coming from Shanghai where it is getting to around 5°C (40°F) at night, Hong Kong seemed like a paradise at around 25°C (78°F) all weekend. It felt like Florida in the springtime.

The third thing I noticed was how crowded and tiny everything was. 20 million people in Shanghai makes the city feel pretty tight, especially during rush hour, but the streets are still fairly large with a little room for squeezing by cars and buses. Hong Kong has no squeeze room. The cars are inches from each other everywhere, and most roads are either one-way alleys or two-lane suicide paths just begging you to play chicken with the oncoming traffic. Accenting the tightness are vertical spires of apartments and towers surrounding every inch of pavement. Given so many buildings, we were nearly always standing in the shade. Housing seemed to grow out of every structure, like Lego blocks of single rooms soaring into the sky. The city really made Shanghai feel much more spacious than I had ever realized.

In general, Hong Kong seemed like a pretty cool place. The food was amazing (mmm¡­dim sum) and the unique Anglo-Sino mixture of cultures made for a seriously unique city unlike anywhere else I have ever seen. Walking around felt like a European city (or at least what I imagine a European city to feel like since I've never been to Europe). The sound of Cantonese and English on every corner kind of throws you off at first, and there does not really seem to be any single language that everyone speaks. English is your best bet, but you never know who will understand. The foreigners greatly outweigh the locals in many places in the city, and the international culture makes Shanghai look like southwestern China countryside in comparison. And despite its British-ness with the left-sided driving, the city's infrastructure and metro is unbelievable - arguably one of the best in the world. All in all, I had a fantastic time in Hong Kong, and I hope I can visit again in the future.
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Familiar Places & Familiar Faces | Tuesday, November 18, 2008 8:00 PM

This past weekend I flew up to Dalian to visit friends one last time before I go home in December.  I figured I should say hi to everyone while I am still in the country because I really don’t know when I will get to see them all again.  The weekend was great.  Arriving in the airport late Friday night was major déjàvu.  The plane taxied to the same gate that my summer began from back in May, and when I got off I immediately remembered how strange the place had seemed 6 months ago.  I remember how lost and confused I felt not being able to understand anything or anyone around me.  But this time it was different.  I knew exactly where I was and where I wanted to go.  I could read all the signs and I understood most of what people around me were saying.   It honestly felt like I was coming home. 

When I stepped outside the airport, I realized how much I missed Dalian.  The city really is one of the most beautiful cities in China, and after spending 10 weeks in Shanghai the Dalian air seemed so fresh and clean.  There were no loud buses and massive crowds.  There were no foreigners on every block.  It was just nice.  It’s strange to think about Dalian that way, because I remember thinking the city was dirty and crowded back in May, but that was a comparison to Blacksburg, where the population is less than 1% of Dalian’s.  Compared to Shanghai, Dalian is a paradise.

Although I was only there for less than 48 hours, I had a great time just hanging out with friends.  We basically did nothing, and it was perfect.  We just ate good food and chilled at coffee shops.  It is much colder in Dalian than Shanghai right now so staying inside was nice.  Church on Sunday was the usual crowd, and it really did seem like I was only gone for a weekend instead of 3 months.  It was so nice to just relax and do nothing together.  Shanghai is such a busy city, and everyday here there is non-stop stuff to do.  There is always work, swing dancing, tango lessons, and late conference calls that make the days fly by way too fast, and I really haven’t had a chance to slow down since I got here.  It has been really fun and exciting, but sometimes you just want to get away from it all.  I’m going to miss China when I leave in December, but I think I will miss Dalian more than anything, and I hope I can come back someday.
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人生苦短 - Life Is Too Short | Monday, November 10, 2008 9:39 PM

It just hit me the other day that I only have 20 days left in Shanghai. Time is going by incredibly fast now. I thought the last post I made was last week, but I realize now it’s been almost 3 weeks since I wrote something! I guess I’ve just been having too much fun, because time is really flying.

The last few weekends, I’ve spent most of my free time with the swing dancers here, and it’s been awesome. It is difficult to realize how much you really love something until it’s gone, and I realize that now after this summer in Dalian. Although I did get to teach a few dance lessons, there was no swing dance scene in Dalian. When I arrived here in Shanghai, however, I was immediately welcomed into the swing crowd and instantly became part of the family. Every Saturday afternoon we dance for hours then eat dinner together. It is just like the dances back in Blacksburg, where we we all go out to eat together after the Friday night dances. It is remarkable to find such a similar crowd over here in China, especially when comparing our backgrounds. Within the group here, we have dancers from China, America, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. Yet despite our differences, dancing ties us all together. We’re the same bunch of goofy, high-energy, fun kids as back home in Blacksburg.

While I have 3 weekends left, I only have 1 left in Shanghai because I will be traveling for the next two in a row! This coming weekend I will travel to Dalian to visit my friends from this summer. I do not know when I’ll come back to China, so it’ll be great to see them one last time before I head home. The weekend after that, I will be heading to Hong Kong with the swing dancers to participate in the 1st ever Hong Kong Lindy Exchange. It will be an exciting weekend, with dancers coming from all over Asia. AND I will get to DJ while I am there, making it the biggest event I have ever DJed for. That leaves me with just one weekend in Shanghai – the last one in November. It is hard to believe that it is coming to an end, but it will be a good end, and hopefully the beginning of much more to come.
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Welcome To Take My Taxi! | Wednesday, October 22, 2008 10:09 PM

Every Wednesday and Thursday night, I stay late at the office to join in on conference calls with the U.S.  Fortunately, the office has a policy to cover the taxi fare for staying late, so I always take a taxi home.  Taxis are really a way of life in Shanghai.  With a city so huge, even Shanghai’s extensive metro doesn’t cut it sometimes and a taxi is the only option.  I’ve got to say that I LOVE taking taxis in China.  Here’s why.

First, if you’ve ever wanted to just ignore all the laws on the road and drive like a mad man, come to China.  I’ve always liked to go fast, and taxi rides in China are about as close as you can get to riding in a NASCAR race without seeing a checkered flag.  The only difference is while you’re going that fast, you are literally within inches of other cars, buses, bikers, and pedestrians!  I like to think of traffic in China more like a food chain rather than any concept of “right of way.”  It really comes down to size and who’s crazier.

First you have the buses.  Bus drivers are the craziest of all because they know they are king.  They’re huge, loud, and they have the best horns in the world (suitable for a freight train / shipping barge).  They’re also about the only thing on the road with a decent engine.  As such, they don’t stop for anything / anyone.  People don’t walk in front of buses.  Period.  Next you have your taxis and shuttle buses.  These guys aren’t near as big, but what lack in size they make up for in courage, speed, and general disregard for any kind of traffic signal or law.  Below taxis are personal cars.  These generally will slow up and be mildly accommodating for people crossing the road or heavy traffic, but don’t bet on it.  Bringing up the rear you’ve got your motorcycles, followed by mopeds, anything with wheels and a motor, bicycles, rickshaws, anything with wheels, then pedestrians.

Back to the taxis.  As taxis are members of the second to top level of traffic superiority, taking a taxi in China is really not for the faint at heart.  I have yet to have one “normal” ride in a taxi, where we don’t at least once nearly side-swipe a car, run down a pedestrian, massively run a red light, or drive inside any kind of form of a lane.  The excitement is high, and the danger higher, but the cab drivers know what they’re doing.

The last thing I like about taxis is chatting with the drivers.  If you want to put your Chinese to the test, strike up a conversation with the driver and prepare for some serious 听力课 (listening skills class).  It truly is a great way to work on some rather basic conversation skills in a way that you’ll definitely never get in a classroom.  After taking a taxi home two nights every week, my taxi driver lingo is getting much, much better.
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Southwest China | Wednesday, October 8, 2008 9:25 PM

As I stated in my last entry, the first week of October is known as “Golden Week” in China – one of only a few national holidays where the whole country takes vacation.  For my vacation, I decided to spend 9 days touring China’s incredible southwest.  Besides getting away from the city for a week, the trip for me was a chance to really put my Chinese to use on my own.  Besides my coworkers helping me at the start with getting a plane ticket to Chengdu, I basically was on my own.  I had to buy tickets, find hostels, use public transit, and basically “live” on my own in each city.  What follows is a summary of my travels.

成都 (Chéngdū)

Friday, 9/26/08
           I left the office on Friday around noon to catch my flight to Chengdu.  I took the metro down to the maglev station, which goes directly to Pudong Airport.  While a bit pricy (40 yuan, one-way), the maglev to the airport is the fastest train in the world, reaching a maximum speed of 431 km/h (268 mph), so I had to take it this one time.  I traveled about 30 km in about 7 minutes.  The train goes so fast it has to bank the turns at a quite significant angle, pushing you down into your seat.  While it felt like I was in the Indy 500, the ride was remarkably smooth.  I boarded the plane on time and was sat between a young man and a woman with her toddler, who was not too excited about flying to say the least.  I arrived around 5:00 pm to a monsoon of rain in Chengdu.  Apparently Chengdu had been under rain for over a week, and there seemed to be more puddles/small lakes in the streets than asphalt.  Nevertheless, I caught the bus into town from the airport and went straight to the train station to book my ticket out of town in the next couple days.  The earliest I could get was a night train to 攀枝花 (Pānzhīhuā) on Monday night, so I was set to stay in Chengdu for 3 nights.  After a little bit of confusion with public buses, I finally reached Mix Hostel at around 7:30.  I spent the night hanging out in the hostel and talking with other travelers.

Saturday, 9/27/08
            In the morning, I grabbed breakfast with Katja (German) and Phillippe (Belgian).  Phillippe was studying in Xian and he and his girlfriend were on vacation like the rest of China traveling around.  Since it was still raining and damp outside, we decided to spend the day checking out the city.  We first visited the 文殊院 (Wenshu Temple) just near our hostel, which was a vast and beautifully open structure with many gardens and rooms.  Most of the rooms had a Buddha of some variety with people bowing and praying in front of them.  I say “praying” for the lack of a better word as I am not familiar with Buddhist religious practices—“meditating” could also serve as an appropriate description.  After the temple we went to see the big Chairman Mao statue in the middle of town (which was surrounded by scaffolding as it was under repair), then we headed to the rare “Mao Museum”.  This was definitely the highlight of the day.  The “museum” was no more than a garage in a back alley off a main road.  We actually past by it several times until we noticed it.  Run by a very, very old man, the room was full of the most bizarre and random collection of Chairman Mao paraphernalia I have ever seen.  We took many photos and shared in the wonder of how all this stuff came to this one tiny room.  In leaving, the man asked us for some money, and when Katja showed some pity and gave a little extra, he gave her a Mao pin from one of his collections.  It was truly one of the best moments of the whole trip.  The rain would not let up, so we headed back to the hostel and hung out for the rest of the day.

Sunday, 9/28/08
            I got up early the next day to head down to 乐山 (Lèshān) to see its 大佛 (Giant Buddha), the largest sitting Buddha in the world!  The rain had finally cleared and I got on the 10:10 bus to Leshan.  The bus was a 2-hour ride with a young German couple and a young Israeli couple.  I became the “tour guide” for the day since I was the only one who spoke Chinese.  It turned out to be quite useful, as I was able to get us student discounts and helped navigate around the Chinese signs.  We spent about 3 hours touring the gardens and caves until we reached the giant Buddha.  Sitting 71 m (233 ft) tall, it was carved out of the side of the mountain beginning in AD 713, and it took 90 years to complete.  When we left the Buddha, a Chinese man offered to give us a ride back to Chengdu for a reasonable price, and despite his rather dodgy appearance, we decided to take his offer.  As we were loaded into a minivan on a muddy road, we were all questioning if we were actually going back to Chengdu. The driver took us to a tollgate, where he told us to wait for a bigger bus headed to Chengdu.  10 minutes of waiting seemed like an eternity as everyone began wishing we had not gone with this guy.  Nevertheless, the bus finally arrived and we were off.  30 minutes later, the same minivan came driving up beside the bus and we came to a stop.  To our surprise, the same man had gathered 4 more passengers to Chengdu and caught up with us down the road!  After finally arriving in Chengdu, we spent another good hour taking a public bus to the hotel, where we had dinner and relaxed.

Monday, 9/29/08
            After another early get up and breakfast, I headed out to the 成都大熊猫繁育研究基地 (Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding).  Katja and Phillippe again joined me for the trip, along with Paul (a Chinese American), and a British girl whose name escapes me.  We got there around 8:15 to catch the pandas when they are most active and feeding.  Fortunately, the crowds had not yet arrived, and we had a good hour to observe, photograph, and wonder how these creatures actually survived.  With less than 1,000 left on the planet, pandas are essentially dependent on man now for survival as a species, which is probably a result of man’s interference.  Regardless, pandas are definitely not “fit” for survival in the wild.  They spend the vast majority of their time and energy eating bamboo, which has virtually no nutritional value, and they only eat about 30 of over 600 different types of bamboo.  They rarely have sex (as little as once a year), and they are such cumbersome animals that the mother has been known to crush her baby on accident.  All this and more was explained in a 20-minute video in the panda park/research center, which concluded our visit.  Around midday, we took the longest public bus ride in my life back to the hostel, which included a “wreck” (scraped paint) and two bus changes.  All in all, it was too much bus for one afternoon, so I decided to relax at the hostel until I had to leave for my night train to Panzhihua.

丽江 (Lìjiāng)

Tuesday, 9/30/08
            My train to攀枝花 (Pānzhīhuā) arrived around 9:00 am.  From the train station, I hopped a bus to the long distance bus station where I met some Chinese college students from Leshan who were also going to Lijiang.  Unfortunately, the earliest ticket out was a sleeper bus at 1:30 pm, so we waited.  When we finally boarded, I found my seat in the very back on the bottom level.  The back of a sleeper bus is basically a two-story bed with about 6 people laid across each level like a double-decker can of sardines.  It was an 8-hour, bumpy ride across a mix of paved and dirt roads, and it was difficult to sleep while bouncing around in the back like kids in a Moon bounce.  The driver drove the massive bus down the winding roads like it was a Subaru WRX in a rally race, and he relentlessly smashed his horn the whole way like a kid playing “Mortal Kombat” on a Sega Genesis (it didn’t help that the horn seemed fit for a locomotive, not a bus).  Arriving in Lijiang at 9:00 pm was a relief, and after a quick phone call to Mama Naxi, I was in a minivan to Mama’s hostel.  I had dinner than night with an American couple and Tom from England.  Tom was also planning to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge, so he decided to go with me the next day.

虎跳峡 (Hŭtiàoxiá, or “Tiger Leaping Gorge”)

Wednesday, 10/01/08
            I got up early and shared breakfast with Tom and Todd, an American who happens to be working literally down the road from me in Shanghai as a teacher.  We hopped in a minibus at 9:00 am to 桥头 (qiáotóu), from where we begun our two-day hike along the Tiger Leaping Gorge.  Marine and Antoine, a young French couple also working in Shanghai, joined us for the trek.  After dropping off our big bags at the beginning, we started the trail at around 12:30.  We struck a good pace and hiked along for a few hours, not knowing what to expect around the corner.  After passing the Naxi guesthouse and taking a break, we pushed on to the 28 bends, the most grueling part of the hike.  It was more like 50 bends as we weaved our way up the mountain.  Thighs burning on the way up and knees beaten on the way down, we got through the bends and found ourselves starring at a most spectacular view of a shear mountainside.  It seemed as if we could reach out and touch it as the rock wall rocketed upward and into the clouds.  It’s no wonder that the province is called “云南 (Yūnnán),” which literally means “South of the clouds.”  After passing a man charging 8 yuan for a photo off a cliff (which he claimed he had carved out), we eventually reached Half Way House.  The hostel was built right into the side of the mountain and was remarkably nice—an oasis in the middle of arguably the deepest gorge in the world.  We all shared dinner and talked into the night over a few beers, relaxing from the 16 km hike we had just finished.  At night the stars lit up the sky, and I realized that it was the closest I have ever been to them.

Thursday, 10/02/08
            The next morning I had the saltiest eggs and sweetest coffee in my life for breakfast.  We hit the trail around 9:00 and by 10:30 reached Tina’s guesthouse.  From there we began the hour hike down to the actual gorge.  The trail was pretty straight down and many steps were over a meter deep.  We finally reached the bottom and found ourselves standing beside a gushing river and a shear wall of rock that reached up to the heavens.  The bottom of the gorge was by far the most magnificent and humbling experience on the whole trip.  We sat for a while staring in wonder, then after some photos began the hike back up.  We took the天梯 (Sky Ladder) route on the way back up, which was a pretty scary 10 meters or so up a rickety ladder of steel rebar fixed into the rock wall.  We reached the top around 12:30 and grabbed lunch at Tina’s.  After lunch, we all crammed into a tiny minibus and spent the most terrifying hour of our lives on our way back to Qiaotou.  The road back was mostly a rock-filled dirt path that was literally on the edge of a cliff.  Our driver, however, still found it necessary to pass other cars going too slow (basically anyone not going life-threatening fast).  Many times the left wheels came within inches of slipping off the edge, but our driver managed to traverse the steep terrain like a mountain goat.  After all the vigorous hiking, my heart never pumped as fast as it did on that ride.  At Qiaotou, the rest of the group caught a bus up to Shangrila while I got one back to Lijiang.  I bought my ticket to Dali and was back at Mama’s by 6:00.  I spent the night walking around the old town and hanging out with more travelers sharing stories.

大理 (Dàlĭ)

Friday, 10/03/08
            In the morning I said my goodbyes to Mama and after a kiss on the cheek and a few gifts I was on my way to the bus station.  On the way to Dali I rode shotgun, which gave me an incredible view of the mountains all the way there.  I arrived around 2:00 pm and immediately started searching for a bus to Kunming.  All I could find was a sleeper bus that left that night, so I took it.  The rest of the afternoon I walked around the old town and tried to see as much as I could before the bus at 10:00.  The town was jammed with Chinese tourists and I couldn’t take ten steps without an old lady asking me, “Hello! You want smoke Ganja?”  After lunch I took a bus out to 洱海湖 (Erhai Lake) and had dinner at a tiny restaurant in town.  At night I went to a small Tibetan café where I found an old guitar and played a bit in the back while chatting with a few people that came through.  It was nice to just spend some time alone in the city and relax.  As 10:00 neared, I walked around more and had a simple conversation with a few small children from Panzhihua that ran up to me in the street.  They couldn’t believe I could speak Chinese and their mother smiled as they asked me where I was from and what I was doing here.  The stay in Dali was short but sweet, and at 10:00 I got on the bus to Kunming.

昆明 (Kūnmíng)

Saturday, 10/04/08
            The “sleeper” bus was nearly impossible to sleep in, but I grabbed a few hours before arriving at 4:50 am.  As I crawled off the bus, I found three Canadian college students searching for a taxi who also happened to be headed to Shanghai that evening.  We split a cab to a hostel they knew and decided to get some real sleep.  Around noon I woke up and showered then met my friend who had my train ticket.  After buying some food for the train, I returned to the hostel, sent some emails, then left for the train station.  I was a little bummed about not getting to see Kunming, but it was raining and time was short.  It turned out that the girls were on a different train, so I boarded the 5:33 pm train alone.  42 hours later, I arrived in Shanghai at 12:30 in the afternoon.  It was Monday.  The train was long, but I got through 1.5 books and got in a lot of Chinese practice.  I went straight to the office then home around 5:30.  After 10 days of travel, I was home, and had the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had in China.

The entire trip was quite an experience, and I wish I had more time to explore.  With the southwest offering so much, I am excited to explore China’s other regions in future trips.
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Preparing to Travel Out West | Thursday, September 25, 2008 9:20 PM

Next week is Golden Week – a national holiday where everyone takes a week off - is one of only two major vacation weeks in China (the other is in the spring). For this week, my original plans were to stay in Shanghai and visit with some friends from Dalian who are coming down for their vacation. However, early this week my plans abruptly changed once I discovered that I would not be able to change the date of my return flight to the USA. I had planned to bump it back two weeks in December so I could travel around the country before I return. Delta, however, decided to charge me $900 to do this, so my flight stays. As a result, the only time I will have to travel out west is during Golden Week.

Tuesday morning I started making plans. With the help of my manager and a couple coworkers, I was able to find a pretty cheap flight out to Chengdu. From there, I have relatively loose plans of staying in Chengdu for a couple days then working my way down to Lijiang in the Yunnan province to hike the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge (arguably the deepest gorge in the world!). While out there, I also plan to visit the city of Dali for a day as I work my way over to Kunming. From Kunming I hope I can grab a train back to Shanghai, but being Golden Week, it is going to be extremely difficult. Everyone is traveling next week, and I am praying that I don’t get stuck with a standing ticket for a 1.5-day train ride. My itinerary is flexible though, so I expect things to change on the fly.

Tuesday afternoon I went shopping for a few basic supplies to make this trip happen. First of all, I have no hiking shoes, and Tiger Leaping Gorge is about a 26 km hike on some pretty serious terrain. Also, the gorge is way out near the Tibetan Plateau where snow caps the mountains all year round, so I added a jacket to the shopping list. I went to the closest market and started bargaining. I looked around for about an hour and was constantly swarmed (as usual) with the phrases, “I give you best price!” “You want watch, shoes, DVD?” and, “You good friend! I give you good deal!" I ended up getting a pretty decent pair of waterproof “North Face” boots and a “Peak” jacket for around 250 RMB (~$36). While I know they are definitely not legitimately “real,” the quality is essentially no different because they all come from the same factory. Regardless, they’ll do the job.

That night I decided to get a haircut because it is simply WAY too hot in Shanghai and I want short hair while traveling. I went to the closest, cheapest parlor I could find. As I approached, I could see the barbers inside all smiling and looking at each other in a mixture of excitement and worry about cutting a foreigner’s hair. They were shocked when I spoke some Chinese and their smiles grew even bigger. A Chinese haircut is different from an American haircut. First, you get your hair washed while a guy massages your head for about 10 minutes. While it was a little weird with a guy massaging my head, it was really relaxing and I got to chat in Chinese. Once the haircut actually began, I was surprised that the barber understood me (I was even more surprised that I actually knew how to describe what I wanted). We talked the whole time and he did an excellent job. It was honestly one of the best haircuts I have ever had. The best part was it cost me 50 RMB (~$7.50). While my haircuts in Dalian were only 10 RMB, this one was 10 times better.

My flight to Chengdu leaves tomorrow afternoon, so tonight I am packing for the trip.  If everything goes well, I should be back in Shanghai on October 5th.  I will definitely take many pictures and will post them up asap.  For now, back to packing.
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Shanghai International Jazz Festival | Monday, September 22, 2008 9:40 PM

This past weekend was the Shanghai International Jazz Festival – 3 days of incredible jazz performances by artists from all over the world.  Unfortunately, I only got to see the performances on Sunday, but they were amazing!  The event was held at 静安公园 (Jing’An Park) and went from 2:00 pm until 10:30 pm.  By now I of course already found the local swing dancers (it only took me one weekend to find them), and we all went to the festival together. 

I arrived around 3:30 during a local jazz trio of bass, guitar, and drums jamming on stage.  They were impressively good, especially the drummer.  After a few tunes a white guy got on stage with a trombone and started rocking it.  After the first song, he surprisingly addressed the entire crowd in nearly flawless Chinese.  Turns out he is also a local performer and was also taking the role of MC for the event.  His Chinese was quite good and you could tell it really made a difference to the crowd.  The Chinese hold great respect for any foreigner who makes an attempt at learning Chinese, and it was really great to see so many foreigners (on stage and in the crowd) that could speak at least some Chinese.  It was one of the greatest mixes of cultures I’ve ever seen.

After a few more performances we went out for some Thai food.  We returned a few hours later to one of the most brilliant Brazilian jazz ensembles I’ve ever heard.  Led by Alexandre Cunha on drums, the band was a simple quartet with piano, bass, and a remarkable lead flute/clarinet/sax player.  The lead was unbelievably talented with his solos, and the pianist was equally impressive with a very Chick Corea-ish sound.  While the original melodies were refreshingly new and surprising, they often contained the quintessential Brazilian jazz sound of full unison on the choruses, with the bass player even singing out the melody in “ah’s” as an added voice (if you don’t know what I mean, listen to the chorus in “Spain” by Chick Corea and you’ll get the idea).  They were the highlight of the entire festival in my opinion.

The last act was the famous Laura Fygi backed up by the local JZ Band conducted by Rolf Becker.  The JZ Band is a full jazz ensemble bursting at the seams with talent (nearly every lead in the orchestra also leads a band of their own outside of the JZ Band).  Laura Fygi is a born entertainer with a natural feel on stage.  Her lower range combined with a bit of rasp accented her diverse repertoire as she sang primarily famous French and American “Big Band” music.  All the swing dancers got up and danced at some point throughout her show (we just couldn’t resist).  She brought a close to the whole festival by singing the Chinese favorite by Teresa Teng "月亮代表我的心" (pronounced "yuè liàng dài biǎo wǒ de xīn," translated as "The Moon Represents My Heart").  Everyone joined in and sang together.

While this whole thing sounds like a concert review (I guess it sort of is), I’m only writing it to try and express how awesome the whole experience was.  Besides the music, this was really the first time I have ever been surrounded by such an international crowd in China, and it was incredible to be a part of it.  I met someone from nearly every country in the EU as well as a few Americans amongst the giant crowd of Chinese.  The contrast to my summer in Dalian (where the idea of an international experience was going to McDonalds) is beyond description.  Nevertheless, watching so many people from every part of the world enjoy the same thing together was a really inspiring experience.  With many more weekends to come, I am already looking forward to the next thing Shanghai will bring.
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Work and Life | Friday, September 12, 2008 7:29 PM

I have now been officially working for 4 days, although Monday was orientation and it took the entire day, so it does not really count.  Monday was also the only day that I was able to leave the office before 9 pm because of conference calls in America.  As of now, I will have to spend every Wednesday and Thursday night at the office so I can participate in team meetings.  Working on an international team requires some sacrifices, but I feel it is worth it because the work is pretty awesome and the experience is invaluable.  I cannot disclose what I am working on, but I can say that I am on GE’s Wind Turbine Conceptual Design Advanced Technology Operations (Wind ATO) team and that I am working with some really smart people.  I am pretty excited about it and also pretty anxious to see how I can help and what I can learn.

On the life side of things, my body is finally settling down and adjusting to the time zone swap.  This time it was a little bit rougher than before when I went to Dalian.  I think this is partially due to the fact that I was only home for 3 weeks before I came back to China, and also due to the fact that I had to spend my first 4 nights here on a rock-hard bed in a cheap hotel until I found my house.  For one of these reasons or others, I did develop a small fever and was plagued with headaches for the first 4 or 5 days, making the entire house searching process previously described particularly uncomfortable to endure.  Now that I am in my apartment and finally sleeping well, everything is back to normal and I feel much better.  GE has a huge cafeteria, so for the most part I have been eating there 3 meals a day.  This weekend I am going to go shopping and exploring though, so maybe I can find some variety out in the city.  So far I have actually been living alone.  My housemates move in tomorrow, so I am pretty excited to get to know them better.  Once I get some time, I will take some pictures and post them up so everyone can see where and how I am living.  It is a little strange living here because it feels like I am just down the block from Time Square in New York City.  All the famous skyscrapers that are in all the pictures of Shanghai are literally just a few blocks down the road.  The only differences are outside everyone is speaking Chinese and my rent is a fraction of what it would cost to live in downtown NYC.  Well, I suppose that is all for now.  Next Monday is the Mid-Autumn Festival, so I get the day off.  Yay for 3-day weekends!
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Finding a Home | Monday, September 8, 2008 7:43 PM

This past Saturday, I finally found a house.  I spent all day Friday and Saturday walking for hours with a few coworkers as we scoured the Shanghai apartment market.  Friday we searched near the University region of Shanghai in hopes that living near the Universities might give me more opportunities to make friends with local students.  Unfortunately, the University district is about a 1.5 hour (if not more) commute to the GE office, and the only places we found were extraordinarily poorly made apartments for students.  By the end of the day, we visited 4 different places, none of which I would deem livable, and none of which were anywhere near conveniently located.  The better ones actually had a bed with a concrete-hard mattress while the cheaper ones only had a mat on the floor.  After returning empty-handed and disappointed, we searched the web for apartment ads in a place more closely located to the office.  After a few calls, we were set to go for the next day. 

Saturday morning we headed out again with 4 appointments set up.  After the first one, I was sold.  We found a young student who had an empty room he shared in a very nice, clean, and convenient apartment.  Everything was going great until we mentioned that I only needed to stay for 3 months.  After that it was an immediate “no,” and we were back to square one.  Hours of walking later, we were 2 more “no’s” closer to nothing.  It seemed that 3 months was just too short a time period - everyone wanted at least 6 month contracts.  Finally, hope came in a young couple at the bottom of the list.  They were both only a few years out of college and were looking for a place to stay in Shanghai.  The wife really wanted to practice her English, so when she found out I was American she got extremely excited.  We found a small, 2-bedroom apartment near downtown Shanghai just down the road from all the famous skyscrapers.  The place turned out to be the nicest one we had seen yet, and one of the least expensive.  It’s only a 20 minute walk from the subway and the shuttle bus to the office.  Finally, the search was over.  Sunday was move in day.  All we had to do was sign the contract, pay some money, and move in my luggage.  Unfortunately, this was not accomplished until 6 pm, because like all business in China, we couldn’t sign the contract without at least a few hours of literally screaming in Chinese only to come to a happy agreement where we first began.  It's just part of Chinese culture to argue over every penny when doing business, so between the homeowner, the realtor, and us, it seemed the contract would never get signed.  Finally, by the end of the night, I had successfully moved in my things and unpacked.  It was a long, long, headache-filled weekend, but I was unbelievably glad to finally have a home.
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Homeless | Friday, September 5, 2008 2:52 PM

So far I have spent 2 days now in Shanghai and I can already tell I am going to like it here, although I still have yet to find a place to live.  When I arrived on Wednesday, I was very relieved to find two of my coworkers holding a sign that said “John Helveston.”  We quickly grabbed a cab and headed over to the China Technology Center (CTC).  At the office, I was immediately introduced to everyone I will be working with the rest of the fall.  As usual, they were all very welcoming and showed me around the building.  That night we went out searching for a small hotel to house me until I find an apartment.  I have been staying there since and have spent my last two days in the office searching the web for a place nearby.  So far it has been quite difficult to find a place because nobody wants to rent a house for only 3 months.  Yesterday I travelled nearly the entire length of the city (which btw is indescribably huge) and only found some pretty shabby places very far from the office.  We have some promising leads though, and tomorrow (Saturday) we will go out searching once more.  Hopefully I will find a place soon.  I don’t officially start my internship until Monday, so for now I am just hanging out at the office getting situated.  I’ll let you all know what I find tomorrow.  Cheers!
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In Flight | Wednesday, September 3, 2008 12:00 PM (Shanghai Time)

Since I forgot to make a post before I left China, I figured I should go ahead and make one on my way back.  Right now the TV embedded in the seat in front of me is telling me I am at 40,000 ft flying over Tokyo, Japan, on my way to Shanghai, China.  I should be arriving in about 1:35 hours for a total of about 15 hours in the air. The last three weeks I have been at home in Chesapeake, Virginia, getting ready for my sister’s wedding on August 30, 2008.  It was great to spend a little time at home in between Dalian and Shanghai.  I also went over to Virginia Tech to help volunteer with move in week and see friends.  I even got to talk with the incoming Honors Community freshmen about my trip, which was pretty cool given that I am right in the middle of it.  Anyway, the wedding went great and now I’m off to China for another 3 months.  I’m pretty excited about this part – I am actually going to get to do some engineering work in China.  My only experiences thus far in China have been language study in Dalian, so this is going to be a totally different trip.  I don’t know what I’m more excited about – the actual work I’ll be doing or the fact that I’ll be in Shanghai.  I have heard so much about the city and I can’t wait to get to know it.  Well, the lights in the plane just came on, so it looks like they’re going to give us one last meal before we land.  Guess that’s my cue to put the laptop away.  Later!
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Dalian Entries

Last Dalian Weekend | Saturday, August 2, 2008 10:05 AM

Well, today is my last Saturday in Dalian, and I cannot believe that I have been here for almost 3 months!  I seriously feel like I just got here last weekend, except now I know where everything is in the city for some reason.  I’m pretty excited about getting back home and seeing friends, but in many ways I am really going to miss being here.  I’ve grown accustomed to living in Dalian now and I know that Shanghai is going to be very different.  I think most of all I am going to miss the people I’m met here.  I have made some truly awesome friends here and I really wish I could spend more time with them.  Fortunately, I will be able to see a couple back in the States, but I don’t know when or if the whole group will get to meet up again.  For now I am just going to live with hope for the future.  There are many things happening right now in my life that I know will greatly affect my future decisions, ranging from college and careers to faith and family life.  I also know that so much is out of my hands and that all I can do about that is pray.  Anyway, that’s enough thinking for now.  It’s sunny out, so I’m going out.  I’ll try and make one more post before I leave next weekend.  Bye!
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Chinese 101 | Sunday, July 20, 2008 10:46 PM

Since I’ve been studying Chinese for a little while now, I thought I’d give you a small example of what the language is like so you can get a taste of what it is like to study it.  First of all, there is no alphabet – only characters that each represent a word.  So for those of us who weren’t born a native speaker, we have to use a system called “pinyin” to pronounce new words.  Pinyin is a phonetic system that essentially uses English letters to spell the sound of words.  The biggest difference here is that Chinese is a tonal language with 5 tones: flat (1), rising (2), low (3), falling (4), and neutral (5).  This means that when pronouncing every word, you must raise or lower the pitch of your voice to indicate the meaning.  Tones are extremely important in determining the meaning of a word.  For example, the word for mother is “mā” (flat tone), while the word for horse is “mǎ” (low tone).  The characters for these two words are different as well:  mother is  while horse is

The interesting thing in Chinese is that while at first the characters may all seem random, once you study for a while you begin to discover thousands of connections between them all.  Most of the time, characters are made up of smaller radicals that each have a certain meaning.  For example, the radical for “woman” or “female” is .  In the character for mother, you can see that this radical is present on the left: . Notice also that it has the radical for horse: . This is in the word because the sound of "mother" is similar to "horse."  In fact, for most words, some radicals indicate meaning while others often indicate the sound of the word.  Therefore, while there is no alphabet, you can often guess the sound or meaning of a word by looking at its radicals.  For example, the following words all sound like “ma” just with different tones: , , , , and .  See the horses? 

Some of the most interesting words come from more abstract ideas.  For example, the word for “righteousness” actually has a Biblical reference.  The character for “me” is and the character for lamb is .  In the word righteousness, the “lamb” is placed above “me” as Jesus was sacrificed for me:  . Some words come from more ancient meanings.  For example, the word for “immediate” is , which literally translates to “on horseback.”  If you think about it, until modern ages the fastest way to do anything was indeed on horseback. 

As you learn more and more words, the web of connections between them grows tremendously.  Actually, most languages work in the same way, including English.  Consider the English suffix “-ology.”  Any English speaker can quickly recite several different subjects of study that all end in “-ology.”  This suffix is a common link between those words that indicates the meaning “the study of…”

I hope that this helps you see why I am interested in learning Chinese.  Every new word is another link in the web and I find it incredibly intriguing.  The best part is when you actually start using it to talk with people, which is why I’m in China now!  :)
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Beijing, China | Monday, July 14, 2008 8:44 PM

I just got back from Beijing on Friday, so here’s the rundown of what we did while we were there.  I’m going to post up pictures asap.  Get ready, because this is a long one:

Saturday, July 5:  My Korean friend John Lee and I took the night train from Dalian to Beijing and arrived around 8:30 Sunday morning, July 6.  We took the “hard sleeper” but it was actually a very soft bed and not too crowded. 

Sunday, July 6:  We were greeted by my friend in Beijing, Ai Leen, and she helped us get to our hostel.  Since it was Sunday morning, our first stop was the Beijing International Christian Fellowship church.  The service was pretty good and it was really impressive to see such an international crowd all worshiping together. However, when we arrived I was once again reminded that I am in China because there was a sign that said “Foreign passport holders or foreign ID holders only beyond this point (According to Chinese law)”.  The Chinese government does not want Christianity being spread about – definitely not in America anymore.  We spent the rest of that day planning for our week, and my friend Will from VT met us at the hostel that afternoon. 

Monday, July 7:  John and I went to the Forbidden City early in the morning and took a ridiculous number of pictures.  We spent just about the whole day there and at Tiananmen Square.  The city was a really awesome sight and full of history, but it definitely would have been way more awesome if there had not been thousands of people everywhere.  The place was incredibly crowded and it really took away from the awe of the city.  That evening we spent an hour on Bai Hai lake driving a little boat we rented for about $3 each and relaxed. 

Tuesday, July 8:  In the morning we rented some bikes for 10 yuan ($1.45) and took a short bike ride around the Hutong (ancient section of China) until it started raining.  The rain persuaded us to head to the market and do some shopping because it was the only thing we had planned indoors.  We went to a clothing market first which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment (every floor had just about the same cheap stuff) then headed to the Pearl Market – jackpot!  While the Pearl Market does sell pearls, the rest of the place had all kinds of cool things, from electronics, to backpacks, to traditional Chinese souvenirs.  I bought a bunch of tiny gifts for everyone back home and a couple things for myself.  The best buy I got was a really nice 55 Liter hiking pack for 215 yuan ($31).  I was going to need another bag to get all my stuff home anyway, so I went ahead and bought a pack I could use back home.  The most fun part of shopping was how absolutely crazy the merchants were.  They would literally grab you as you past by and pull you to their tables to sell you something.  One of them even took John’s book and would not give it back to him like he was playing “keep away” in Middle School or something.  Bargaining the prices down was a really fun experience, and every time I ended up paying less than ¼ of the original price offer.

Wednesday, July 9:  Perhaps the coolest part of the trip – hiking the Great Wall!  Everyday our hostel hosted a pretty intense 8 km hike of an ancient section of the wall.  The cost of the hike was 240 yuan ($35), which included the 3 hour bus ride there and back.  The great part about it was that this section of the wall had no tourists and only a few peddlers trying to sell you things.  For the most part, we were completely by ourselves and could really enjoy being on the wall.  It was an absolutely incredible experience (and incredibly tiring) to hike up and down the crumbling steps for nearly 4 hours.  By the end our shirts were soaked, but our cameras were full of some really awesome pictures.  I’ll post those up asap.

Thursday, July 10:  For our last day in Beijing Will and I got up and went over to the Summer Palace.  Again, the Summer Palace was jammed with tourists which made the whole thing a bit of a disappointment, but the sections of it we saw were still remarkably beautiful.  It was really hard to believe we were in Beijing at the time after coming from the hostel in the heart of the dirty city.  That afternoon we went over to the Olympic Stadium and took pictures of it through the fence.  Not too surprisingly, the place was still under construction (but almost finished).  Keep in mind that is was about 1 month before the opening ceremony is scheduled to begin.  The Chinese really push it to the last minute.  That evening, John and I headed out to the airport to fly back to Dalian.  Unfortunately, our flight was cancelled do to heavy fog in Dalian, so we were rushed off to the “Beijing 100% Perfect Hotel” (I’m not joking – that’s the English name for it – check the photos).  In the hotel we met an English speaking local from Dalian named Trevor and he spent the night with us in the hotel.  Trevor studies in Pennsylvania and was a great help to us during the whole flight cancelling fiasco.  As you can imagine, it was a little difficult to understand what was exactly going on when we were surrounded by a plane-load of irate Chinese people.  Nonetheless, the room was free and they even served us dinner at about 1 am.  We finally left back for Dalian around noon the next day.

The entire time we stayed at the Downtown Backpackers Hostel, which was one of the best hostels I have ever seen.  The place was run by a few Chinese girls who all spoke pretty good English and were incredibly helpful in telling us where to go and how to get there.  The whole place was spotless and the bathrooms were cleaner than my room in Dalian!  We stayed the first two nights in a 3 bedroom for 85 yuan / night ($12.50), then spent the last few in a 6 bed room for 65 yuan / night ($9.50).  While we were there we met some really cool travelers from all over Europe and had a great time chatting with them.  If anyone is planning a trip to Beijing, I highly recommend staying at this place.

All in all the trip was a blast and I am really glad I got to see Beijing.  After returning to Dalian, however, I realize now how glad I am that I’m studying in Dalian and not Beijing.  Dalian is so much cleaner than Beijing and the weather is much cooler than the 100% humidity in Beijing.  This place has really become home for me now, and I am really enjoying spending my time here practicing my Chinese.  Okay, until next time, thanks for reading the book I just wrote!
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4th of July | Friday, July 5, 2008 3:05 PM

Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day here in Dalian with all the Americans, and it rocked!  It started on July 3rd when we spent about 3 hours searching the city for fireworks.  A couple friends and I went all over the city and could not find any fireworks!  I couldn’t believe it – I mean, we’re in China!  Fireworks are what China does!  Anyway, July 4th apparently is not a real big firework seller here in China, given that it’s all about American independence and whatnot.  Eventually my friend made a phone call and got someone to pick us up some out in the countryside where they still had some left over from the Spring Festival.  We kicked off last night with an original American classic – chilly cheese hotdogs and baked beans, and these were the real deal dogs unlike the wantabee Chinese hotdogs.  After grilling it up, we broke out the marshmallows and made some smores with the left over coals.  Besides all the weird looks we got from every Chinese person passing by (we were doing all this right out front of the apartment complex), we had a really great time together.  After we finished with the smores, we promptly lit off a bunch of firecrackers and some of these really cool fireworks that shot up super loud balls that exploded in the air.  It was about the most American experience I have had yet in China, and I am so glad I had good friends here who welcomed me in to share it with them.  Now I’m off to Beijing – I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.  Cheers!
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Planning for Beijing | Tuesday, July 1, 2008 1:55 PM

Wow I can’t believe how long it’s been since I updated, but that’s mainly because lately there hasn’t been too much excitement going on outside of everyday life.  For the past two weeks I’ve spent most of my time going to class, studying, or just hanging out with friends.  Probably the coolest thing that’s happened lately is I got to perform in a music competition with some of my friends here.  I played bass and violin with two different friends and they placed 1st and 3rd.  It was so much fun to get to perform for my first time in China.  I’ll try and get some pictures up from that, maybe a video.  With the semester ending July 4, most of the American friends I have made are all getting ready to go back home soon.  Some have already gone, and by the end of next week there will only be a few left for the rest of the summer.  Though I ought to spend more time with Chinese to better learn the language, the short time I have had here with my American friends has truly been awesome.  They have been an incredible group to spend my time with and I would not have done it any other way.  Now I am looking at 5 weeks left here in China until I return to the U.S. for my sister’s wedding.  I’m planning to take a train over to Beijing this Saturday (July 6) to visit and do some site seeing for about a week with a friend coming over by train from Moscow.  He will have been riding the Trans-Siberian for about a week by the time he gets to Beijing, so it’ll be nice to spend some time together in the capital.  I’m hoping to get to go camping on some un-restored sections of the Great Wall – we’ll see how that goes.  Once I return, I will spend my last month in Dalian continuing my Chinese studies.  Time is flying by – I can’t believe I’ve already been in China for 2 months!  I’m going to add some photos soon, and I will let you know how my Beijing trip goes once I get there.  再见!
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Chinese Clinic | Monday, June 16, 2008 3:56 PM

About two weeks ago I started getting a small cough from my friend Chuck. It wasn’t really anything too bad, so I just tried to rest and wait until it got better.  Well, now that I’ve had it for two weeks, the cough has turned into a full blown sinus infection.  We’re all calling it “the Chuck,” and just about everyone has gotten it.  It got so bad that I could not sleep more than about an hour at a time without waking up coughing up a lung.  So this past weekend I went down to the local clinic to get some medicine.  The doctor did the usual routine, holding the stethoscope to my chest and asking me to breathe.  His diagnosis was that it was not too serious, so I was expecting a prescription and I’d be on my way.  Instead, I was taken to a side room where they stuck me with an IV and I sat and read my book while two small bottles of some liquid flowed into my blood.  I was pretty skeptical at first, but my tutor said that they give you an IV for just about everything here.  Oral medicine is just not common I guess.  Of course I made sure the needles they were using were fresh and clean, so don’t worry about that.  So anyway, I got the treatment Friday and Saturday and it worked like a charm!  The last few nights I’ve slept great and my coughing is going away.  It just seems a little strange that giving you an IV is the preferred treatment for the common cold, but in retrospect if it only takes a couple treatments and you get instantly better, it might be a better method.  Anyway, long story short, yeah it was a little scary getting an IV in a foreign country, but the doctor knew what he was doing and I am finally getting better.
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An Average Day | Wednesday, June 11, 2008 1:33 PM

Now that I’ve sort of gotten into a routine daily life, I thought I’d give you a quick run through of what an average day is like.  First, I usually wake up around 6:30 and after showering and getting dressed get some free breakfast downstairs (since I live in the hotel I get a breakfast card).  Breakfast is usually some 粥 (“zhou” – rice soup) and a couple 包子 (“bao zi” – steamed bun stuffed with some kind of sausage and vegetables).  I head over to the school (right next door) for classes at 8.  There are 4 classes that go until 11:30 with breaks in between.  The first two are reading comprehension and grammar classes, and the second two are pronunciation and speaking classes.  After classes I usually grab lunch with classmates or the Americans, then head home and study.  I spend the afternoon practicing violin / studying for the next day then get dinner later.  Dinner is usually at one of the local restaurants and is almost always rice or noodles with some kind of meat and vegetables.  I know about one dish at every place now, and they’re all actually really good.  At night I usually either go back to studying or hang out with some friends, which half the time ends up turning into watching a movie or playing a game.  Sleep, repeat. 

It doesn’t sound all that exciting, I know, but when you’re studying another language, even doing the simplest everyday routine things can be fun because it’s another chance to practice language.  Looking back at a month now of living in China, I remember how intimidating it was when I first arrived and it seems so weird.  I’m getting pretty used to life here, and despite a few pretty extreme differences, I’m finding way more similarities than I ever expected.
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Hiking | Monday, June 02, 2008 9:58 PM

Yesterday was again a really good day.  I again went to church and it was again awesome.  It's the strangest thing - I came to China to learn Chinese, and while that's definitely happening, I feel that what's growing the most is my faith.  I am surrounded by awesome people who love God in a place where so few know Him, and that is awesome.  Anyway, after lunch we went hiking up the mountain that's across from the school.  The pictures don't even come close to showing what the view was like up there.  Afterwards I went to Pizza Hut (called "bi sheng ke") for the first time here, and it was not too bad.  It tasted almost the same except they're pretty skimpy on the sauce here.  Anyway, until next time, Bye!
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Church and Swing Dancing | Monday, May 26, 2008 2:41 PM

Yesterday was a good day.  I started the morning off by going to church for the first time in China.  I went with the Americans from Missouri State, and it was a really unique and awesome experience.  Since the church here does not have an actual sanctuary, we all got in taxis and rode down to someone's apartment for worship.  When we got there I felt like I was truly at home.  There was even real coffee (which I haven't had yet since I got here).  Even though we were in an apartment, I felt like this was what a real church should be.  It doesn't matter where we are - a church is the people, not the building.  We sang some worship songs together and watched a recorded sermon with a really great message.  Afterwards we went out for lunch.  It was just like a normal Sunday back home in the States, and I am so thankful that God put such an awesome group of people here in my life.

That night I got to do another first in China - Swing Dancing!  Together with the same Americans and some Chinese and Australian friends we all went to this beautiful restaurant downtown.  We made an agreement with them that if we all ate there, we could use the floor to dance later.  Turns out there is another guy here from Texas who's done some swing too, so together we taught everyone the basics, and about an hour later everyone was dancing away.  It was one of the most unique classes I've ever taught with such an international crowd, and I couldn't stop saying to myself, "I can't believe I'm in China swing dancing!"  Everyone seemed to have a great time and we may do it again.  

Yesterday was a good day.
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A Taste of Home & Almost Arrested | Thursday, May 22, 2008 2:43 PM

A few days ago I finally found the Americans here.  Missouri State has a small campus here in Dalian that is literally right next to mine, so I met a few of the students there.  We quickly realized that we all love ultimate Frisbee and before we knew it were out on the track field tossing around.   A few local Chinese joined in while a small crowd gathered at the fence watching us.  Most people have never even heard of a Frisbee here.  Anyway, last night I was invited to the usual Bible study on Wednesday nights.  The ritual is we all go to McDonalds then go meet at someone’s apartment.  So we got to McDonalds and I already forgot how good a Big Mac tastes.  They are surprisingly exactly the same here, so that was nice to break the chopsticks diet for the first time in almost two weeks.

However, dinner was interrupted when the local police showed up and demanded to see all of our passports.  I think someone called us in because there were about 15 Americans eating at McDonalds, and you know how intimidating a group of 15 Christians can be when they’re eating dinner together on their way to Bible study.  The police were nice enough to let us finish our meals, but then immediately made us go across the street for questioning.  One guy with us who speaks excellent Chinese explained that we’re just eating dinner and that we didn’t bring our passports because they could easily be lost.  Regardless, they demanded that everyone go back home and retrieve their passports for examination.  So about and hour and two taxi rides later we let them see our passports and were all free to go.  It was a totally ridiculous evening, but exciting nonetheless.  I asked my teachers today if they knew why this happened (other than simple racial profiling) and one hypothesis was that yesterday was the last day of the 3 days of mourning for Sichuan.  She said they might have just been checking foreigners nation-wide during those 3 days.  I still stand by my hypothesis that there were simply 15 Americans in one place and someone got scared and called the cops.

Also, perhaps even more exciting news is that I found swing dancers here!!!  The Americans said one of their friends is teaching them how to swing dance and I exploded!  I had to explain to them that swing dancing is my life and that I teach all the time in the U.S., so this Sunday we’re having a dance lesson and we’ll see where that goes.  They also all go to church at a small American church, so we’ll do that too on Sunday.  I’m absolutely amazed that I could find these things here in Dalian.  While the culture shock is still catching up to me, it’s nice to find a few American things every now and then, even if it means almost being arrested by the Chinese police.
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Experiences and Observations | Monday, May 19, 2008 2:50 PM

I've now been sucessfully living in Dalian for a week and I've already had a ton of cool experiences and observations, so here you go:

1) It's crazy how small the world is.  In the mall downtown yesterday, I ran into two Americans.  The guy was a recent graduate from Radford University and his girlfriend was visiting from UVA!  I could not believe it!  I haven't seen another American yet here and the first ones I see are from Radford and UVA.
2) I found out yesterday from a Korean friend that there is an American church here in Dalian that has maybe 30 Americans or so, so I'm going to check that out next Sunday.  The cool thing was I met him when he was playing guitar and I knew the song he was playing because it's a common contemporary Christian song in America.  It was so strange to hear something so familiar over here.
3) Food is actually really good here.  It's nothing like American food, and nowhere near Chinese food in America, but it's really good.  I eat with my classmates and other friends often, and the portions are huge!
4) So far I've had to explain that I go to Virginia Tech and that it is the school that had the big shooting last year every time I meet someone.  I'm pretty used to talking about it and explaining it because I've had to do so a lot back home, but it is a little different because a lot of my classmates and friends here are Korean, and it's a little touchy sometimes because Cho was Korean.  I try to explain though that he was insane and that Americans don't dislike Koreans because of him.

1) There are no dumpsters here (or at least I haven't found any).  Rather, there are just flat slabs where people pile bags of trash, and the trash trucks are just old pick up trucks that they load tons of trash into.
2) You can smoke just about anywhere, and most people do.  This includes the hallways in school and in every lobby, so just about every building you go in smells like cigarette smoke.
3) Food is dirt cheap.  I eat easily 3 large meals a day for about 30 yuan (about $4).
4) Dental floss is virtually unheard of in China.
5) Most Asian girls all walk arm in arm where ever they are going.
6) There are stray dogs and cats everywhere and they all look incredibly pathetic.  It's kind of depressing, and I heard that in Beijing the government is telling business owners to kill any they see because they make the city look bad.
7) Every barber shop blasts loud techno music all day long.  It feels like you're going into a dance club when you go in one.
8) It is common for clothing stores to not have any changing rooms, so you have to drop trow right there in the middle of the store if you want to try on a pair of pants.
9) The sun rises here at like 5 am, so you always feel like you're late until you look at the clock and says "6:00"

Okay that's all for now.  I've posted up some pictures now, so check them out if you want.

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Life in Dalian | Wednesday, May 14, 2008 7:58 PM

Besides the hot water pretty much being hit or miss in the mornings, life in Dalian is pretty good.  It is by no means like America at all, but it's not bad.  In terms of the city, it reminds me of being in New York City, but much older. The sidewalks and roads are all pretty broken up and everything is pretty dirty on the outside, but inside it's nice.  My room is pretty big and besides the randomness of hot water not bad.  It does have a not-too strong but distinct smell (think a mixture of Ramen noodles and left over Chinese food inside an old refrigerator).  My bed is hard as a rock but I bought a foam thing to help. Food is all pretty good if you like Chinese food, but there are a lot of Korean and Japanese restaurants as well.  It's actually a really strange experience living in the international student dorm here.  Most students are Korean, followed by Japanese, then a few Russians (then me, the only native English speaker).  It's so weird because they will all speak their own language in little groups to each other, but when they come together they all have to use Chinese.  So you'll see Koreans, Japanese, and Russians all speaking Chinese in a group, and every now and then they'll say something to one of their friends in their native language.  It feels like we're all at some kind of UN of Asia gathering and Chinese is the only thing linking us together.  I think most people still think I am Russian unless they talk to me because they give me a kind of "who the hell are you?" look in passing (the Russians are apparently not too liked here).  Once they find out I'm American though, they all want to be my friends :).

There are definitely some major differences from America though.  One of those is the traffic.  In China, the lines on the roads are pretty much just a suggestion, and everyone drives like they will die in the next 3 seconds if they don't get to their destination NOW!  Pedestrians most definitely NEVER have the right of way, even in the light is red and the "safe to cross" light is flashing (crossing the street, think "frogger" on expert level).  Another is there are way more poor people.  All along the road there are tons of poor people doing anything to make a buck, from shoe shining to selling newspapers.  There are a bunch that simply have one tool, like a power drill or a hand saw, and do simple construction work anywhere they can.  The last interesting thing I have noticed is that it seems everything here has a mascot.  Just take the company logo, add big Anime eyes and two skinny legs, and now you have your company's mascot.

That's all for now.  This weekend I will take a bunch of pictures of the downtown and more of the college, and I'll tell you a little bit about classes, which have been a blast so far.
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Dalian Day 1 | Sunday, May 11, 2008 8:00 PM

I arrived in Dalian last night at around 11:30 pm and was extremely relieved to find Mr. Wang waiting for me outside. After a wild taxi ride to Liaoning Normal University, I finally got to my room and crashed.  I was in transit for a grand total of about 31.5 hours from the moment I left home until I got to my room in Dalian.  I slept like a baby, even though my bed is harder than the floor.  This morning Mr. Wang and I walked around town for a little while after getting some breakfast at a small place down the street.  The people there thought I was Russian and were very surprised when I spoke a little Chinese.  Apparently my pronunciation is not too bad (thanks to Guo laoshi).  We then went to the supermarket then over to the music school where I met this phenominal pianist who played some Chopin for me.  I am going to try and play some violin with him later.  Well, the time zone swap is starting to get to me, so I am going to go sleep for as long as I can.  Tomorrow classes start, so I'm going to need some good rest.
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Beijing Airport | Saturday, May 10, 2008 4:00 PM (Beijing Time)

Well, I sucessfully made it to Beijing.  Now I have a rediculous layover until my flight to Dalian at 10:00 pm tonight, so I found the closest internet cafe, dished out 80 rmb (total rip off, but the drinks are free), and now I'm killing some time. I also just realized sitting here that it's 4:00 pm here and it's still only 4:00 am back home, which is so weird because it's like I am living 12 hours in the future.  Anyway, well I ought to pack up and get on over to the other terminal and get through security and all that.  I'll make a post as soon as I get to Dalian.  Bye!
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First Entry | Thursday, April 17, 2008 2:00 PM


This is my first entry in this journal.  I decided I should keep track of things as I prepare for my trip to China, so I set up this site.  Three days ago I went to the Chinese visa office in D.C., and last week I bought my $1429.65 plane ticket to Beijing.  I leave May 9 at 6:15 am.  I can't wait for this semester to be over so I can start my journey.  Yesterday was the 1 year anniversary of the April 16th shootings here at Virginia Tech.  I still can't believe it's already been a year. Everything is going by so fast.  Only 10 academic days left now.  I think everyone is still trying to digest last year.  I know I am.  Anyway, I've got to get back to some intermediate dynamics work now.  Test 2 tomorrow!

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