So, originally, I planned this to be another day update with a few strange culture things, but something happened this afternoon that I would like to discuss.
But first! This wouldn’t be a travel blog post without a few updates on events.
Right off the bat, I would like to apologize for any grammar/spelling mistakes in my past and future posts. I often write these late at night in around an hour, and rarely have time to proof read before submitting them. Of course, if I had more time, these posts would be much better, but lack of spellcheck/google/internet/time means worse quality. Don’t get me wrong, I notice most of the errors, but after the posts are published, I cannot always fix them due to the sluggish internet.
Anyway, with that off of my chest, let’s start this off with a tongue twister (in Mandarin, of course)!
Alright, so, as some of you may know, today was my first day of language classes, and we mainly focused on pīnyīn writing and pronunciation. So, I just wanted to share this little warm up:
4 shì 4 (sì shì sì)
10 shì 10 (shí shì shí)
14 shì 14 (shí sì shì shí sì)
40 shì 40 (sì shí shì sì shí)
Now, just saying the words above is difficult, but then try adding in the tones to each word. Try it? Not so easy, huh? Oh, the joys of Mandarin… (fun fact: if you say “Mandarin” to someone that speaks Mandarin, chances are they will have no idea what you’re talking about).
So during lunch in the cafeteria today (which I described in an earlier post), I found myself rather hungry (which was shocking to me). However, the lunch ladies selling noodles and dumplings (etc.) only speak Chinese. No English. At all.
I was rather pleased when I ordered an ice water by only using Chinese, but honestly it wasn’t that big of an accomplishment since ordering cold water requires two words: ice and water. But, the reward was incredible; nothing like a bottle of ice water in a land of blistering heat and hot drinks (still don’t quite understand that logic). Of course, water wasn’t going to hold me over to dinner (although, I was strongly considering skipping lunch to impress my host family by eating more).
The real challenge? Ordering food without English.
With my shoulders back and a determined gaze, I approached a vendor and said “mian tiao” while pointing at a box of noodles…
Well, I thought she would nod her head and quickly give me some noodles, but no. She started jabbering… very quickly… in Mandarin… and gesturing wildly… So what did I do? I just kept smiling and nodding.
Well, I don’t know what I agreed to, but she poured a red sauce on my noodles… it was very spicy. Very spicy. And everyone that knows me knows that I don’t do spicy foods. I can’t.
But I didn’t realize it was spicy until after I found a group of my helpless and confused friends huddled together in a group attempting to conjure enough vocabulary to order a cup of tea. I stepped right up to the group, and they all gazed at me in shock; “She got food!”
Yes, everyone, I got food! All by myself! So, of course, standing gallantly in front of everyone, I coiled the thick noodles around my chopsticks and shoved them into my mouth victoriously…
This moment of victory did not last long. Not two seconds after swallowing, my eyes bulged, my face turned bright red, I started gagging, and I downed my entire water bottle.
It was quite embarrassing. But, oh well, it makes life interesting.
My friend was kind enough to switch dishes with me, so I gave her my demon-hot-fire dish in exchange for a soothing bowl of regular noodles in broth. Thankfully, she loves spicy foods, so we both won. At least I know what to do tomorrow for lunch!
Following lunch, I few friends and I wandered around campus to find ping pong paddles and balls to play on the tables that littered the campus (there are probably 30 scattered between the buildings and courtyards). All of my guy friends became rather competitive, and eventually started inviting some students at the university to play them. Let’s just say that the college students here really know how to play ping pong.
Oh, and word of advice, if you invite an elderly Chinese man to play ping pong with you, you’re going to lose.
As we played, we chatted with the locals a little. One guy wouldn’t stop talking about Maroon 5 and Michael Jackson, but I think that’s all the English he knew…
Okay skip ahead skip ahead… Right! The walk home!
So, I live about a fifteen minute walk from my university campus, according to my mother and father. However, when you’re terrified of being approached, the walk takes about five minutes. My parents showed me the way to and from the university about two times, and then told me that they would both be out of the city when my school ended, meaning I would need to find my way home.
With my apartment key, 2 phones, and school books in my bag strapped across my chest, I walked home.
Here’s the thing about walking home (I’m sorry, I just really like that kind of an introduction… I’m definitely Holden). If you look confused, you’re prey. If you look small, you’re prey. If you look tired, you’re prey. If you look uncomfortable, you’re prey. If you look foreign… You can intimidate other people (which is super fun).
Now, I usually get stopped by old men on the streets and get honked at by cars when walking around China even with my host mom. But, I discovered the trick. Don’t look at them. Look straight ahead, with your shoulders back, a straight spine, a lifted chin and a fixed gaze as if the world depends on you arriving somewhere on time. No one will bother you. Yes, people will stare, but they will not approach nor harass you.
And, if they still try to talk to you, ignore them.
If that doesn’t work, then glare at them.
You’re weird, you’re different, you’re confusing. Make them feel cautious around you. Use your differences as an advantage, and in the end, motorbikes will be swerving out of your path to avoid eye contact. It’s really fantastic and super fun ’cause you can glare at whoever you want and they’ll still think you’re beautiful ’cause you’re American.
So, I got home just fine. It was actually rather fun, too. Tomorrow I’ll be walking home with some friends after getting some tea, and honestly it just feels great to feel independent (there ya go, mom!) I mean, I have my own key to an apartment in China and I can walk around the city without being bothered (I was made for this city).
And skipping forward again… I made pasta!
This one will be quick: I made pasta… Yup. Just like it sounds. Yuan Yuan bought me Italian pasta from the market and a jar of tomato sauce, which we heated up and also prepared a sautéed dish with chicken, tomatoes and mushrooms. It wasn’t that bad, honestly, except no one ate it… Yuan Yuan had a little, but I think that was to be nice. Anyway, I’m going to make my special pancakes for them sometime this weekend, I think (for those of you that don’t know about my pancakes, they’re killer good).
And skipping forward again to the best part of my day.
Yuan Yuan took me out for a walk along Xi’an’s wall that protects Old China. The leaves from the trees hang down to form the most beautiful canopy overhead, and lights curl around the bases of lamp posts and signs to light the cobblestone paths coiling around the wall. Huge stone statues of lions protect each entrance, “warding off bad spirits,” as Yuan Yuan explained while affectionately caressing the animal’s carved mane. There were groups of men and women in all ages practicing taiji in the gardens to peaceful wind-flutes while the breeze swept leaves into the moat around the wall.
Suddenly, Yuan Yuan pulled me aside and pointed to a circular courtyard, where a man in a white, silk robe was preparing a class. Quietly, she herded me over to a stone bench and sat me down, gesturing me to watch him. The man waited calmly as his students assembled and formed a pyramid with him as the point. Music swirled through the air, and his robe shifted as his arms spread out. The students copied as the man swayed with the night’s wind and directed his energy throughout his body, and through every muscle. His robe shined brilliantly under the moon, and I could feel his warm energy so close to my heart, that I started to cry.
There’s no way to describe the sight and the emotions that hit me. It’s like trying to take a picture of something absolutely beautiful at night; you just can’t capture all of it in one photograph because it’s too dark- you have to be there to see the beauty in natural light. I’m actually becoming overwhelmed while writing this paragraph because I can still feel the push and pull of energy throughout the courtyard.
The culture is absolutely beautiful. I… I can’t even begin to explain the impact that man in the silk robe had on me. I don’t even really know how to interpret it, or why it struck me so suddenly, but it opened my eyes.
I will try to go into more detail about this in a later post, but I’m still processing it.
On the flip side, Yuan Yuan and I had an amazing time. We discussed languages, and she encouraged me to tell her everything I learned in class today. She told me stories about the wall that have been passed down for generations that you would not read in a history book. I taught her English words and she taught me Mandarin. It’s strange; I always forget that she doesn’t speak English fluently, because it feels like we’re communicating even when we aren’t muttering a word. That, is the kind of silence I adore.
*Deep breath* okay, so Yuan Yuan shared with me some very personal information regarding her family life and beliefs, and as much as I would love to share all of the wonderful conversations we had and all of the brilliant things I learned about her culture, I will not mention any part of what she said to me. It was such an incredible honor for her to trust me the second full day that I’ve been in her home with her husband, his parents, and their child. Perhaps I will find a way to mention the cultural challenges that people face in another post, but for now, that is sacred information between us. Let’s just say that we all have a lot more in common than one may think.
At the end of the night, she told me that I could be her younger sister.
Goodnight, and I hope you all had a wonderful Independence Day.