April 2012

Day 226 – Good Student, originally uploaded by bexadler.

At least once a week I receive an email in my junk mail with a subject line that reads, “Learn any language in 10 days. Guaranteed!” After having begun my Chinese lessons this past week, I am fairly certain that if I were to open that email, it would have a little asterisk that leads to a disclaimer reading, “Except Chinese.”

With that said, I am actually really enjoying my Chinese lessons. The above notebook was a gift from my Chinese tutor, Lavender, who is one of my top students in English. Lavender has offered to teach me Chinese in exchange for French lessons, which I of course jumped at immediately. She takes her job as my Chinese teacher very seriously. This is no laid-back gossip session as I had imagined.

From the first day she has been very concerned that I learn to take care of myself while I’m in China, making sure to teach me the important things first: How to ask for directions, how to haggle, how to say “spicy” or “not spicy,” and how to order take out. You may think I’m joking, but knowing these few things has dramatically changed my life in China. It also makes me feel like a humongous success every time I manage to order the right dish in the cafeteria or find my way to the bar on a weekend night. Granted, I feel like I have a mouth full of marbles every time I try to say anything, but it feels so nice to finally understand some of the things people ask me at shops and say to me on the street. The one thing I dread is the day that I will understand what people are saying about me as I pass by or when I’m standing there like an idiot ordering chicken that is most likely actually dog.*

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to speak Chinese, but at least I can finally read some signs (I’ve actually picked up quite a few Chinese characters in the past few weeks) so that I don’t have to look into every shop window to find out what it is they are selling inside. AND I learned my numbers last week so I no longer have to give cashiers large amounts of cash in the hopes that there’s enough there to pay for what I’m buying. It also means the street vendors and bus drivers can no longer cheat me by keeping the extra dough if I overpay. They must have thought I was tipping them before or something.

Anyway, this is all just to say that things are looking up in good ole’ China. I may actually be able to make some friends now! If nothing else, I’ve got Lavender, who is, by the way, the most glamorous girl in school. She also has a boyfriend named Fantasy. That is a boy that I would like to meet one day.

*Note: I went to Korea town the other day for dinner and actually saw four dogs hanging from meat hooks outside a butcher, so this is not me joking about the Chinese possibly feeding me dog. Many of the teachers here have told me about finding out they’d eaten dog by mistake here. Just saying.

The Great Wall of China, originally uploaded by bexadler.

I’ve been living in Shenyang, China, for the past month. I haven’t written about it at all because I haven’t really taken to China as much as I would have hoped, especially since I’ll be here for another year or so. And, well, I just don’t want to be a Negative Nancy about things. I figure it’s just culture shock and a huge learning curve, considering I live in a part of China where there isn’t a soul who speaks English and I don’t speak a word of Chinese.

With that said, China’s growing on me. I am so grateful for that, too, because otherwise I’d probably roll up in a ball and cry myself to sleep every night from now until I leave.

Instead, I have decided to get out of Shenyang as often as possible to see some of the more beautiful parts of China. First up, of course, was Beijing – mostly because it was closest, but also because I knew there would be rock climbing gyms and lots of Western foods so I could indulge my cravings for hot chocolate and croissants.

My favorite part about the trip to Beijing was not actually the city. It was the trip my friends and I took to The Great Wall. We drove about two hours outside of the city and then hiked a short way to the wall. The section is known as Jiankou, and is less visited than some other parts of the wall. This is partially because the wall is in a bit of disrepair at this section and has technically been closed to the public (rules, aren’t really rules in China though), but also partially because of the distance needed to travel there and the amount of effort it takes to actually walk this portion of the wall (my legs were definitely sore the next day).

Anyway, it was awesome to go to a part of the wall that is less visited and to actually go for a hike in the mountains. After being stuck among industrial era buildings and snow-covered streets for the past month, it was amazing to see trees and birds and squirrels. The wall was fantastic too, obviously. We spent three hours walking a good portion of the wall before turning back. I’d have loved to have continued on to see where it went but it was getting late in the day and we didn’t have any gear with us. Maybe next time I’ll bring my tent and see how far I get…