Today’s blog includes some introductions and then the story of a trip to Liangshan Prefecture in Southern Sichuan. For this story you will need to know some of the players in our mini drama: Noah who is a UW Seattle student and my research partner and this story’s unexpected hero, David my little brother here in Chengdu and our “host” for this trip, Michael a resident of a small town in ZhaoJue and now a friend here in Chengdu, Simple another ZhaoJue/Chengdu friend, and Maria a student from NY who is studying Chinese at the Minorities University which is more commonly known as MinDa, and our surprising heroine GuGu Mu whose name I am spelling phonetically and whose family originally was from ZhaoJue but now they live in XiChang (she is also a student at MinDa but she studies art).
I begin my story with a reminder that my research in China through the UW Seattle and this exchange program is based upon the Yi Minority language and its preservation or loss in its own culture with the focus on those that live in Liangshan Prefecture which is considered an autonomous zone and includes ZhaoJue, XiChang, and many others. Noah and I took a bus from Chengdu to XiChang which took about 6 hours and is one of the most stunning drives I can imagine with its sweeping mountain views and elevated roads that overlook small villages and crop fields. It also boasts some of the longest tunnels in China, most likely the world.
Upon arrival in XiChang we were met by David and several ShuShus. A ShuShu is an uncle and that is a very loose title, it often means a person who is above the age of 30 who is part of the Yi community. I almost titled this story Everybody Needs a ShuShu because they are invaluable assets to any situation. In this case we climbed aboard the ShuShu’s motorcycles and headed about an hour above XiChang to David’s family’s house in SiHe a tiny area settled in the mountains just outside the “big city” of XiChang. These ShuShus are masters at avoiding potholes in an underdeveloped area with sketchy roads!
Immediately upon arrival at David’s house we were told that we could not bring out backpacks for the next couple of days since we were going to be on the move to several locations. We had to bring enough supplies for 2 days (which turned into 3, guess it was a good thing I took the monster purse I keep around for these situations). We then turned around and headed back to Xichang to take a bus to see David’s sister’s wedding. I have no idea what the area we were in was called, but it was a smaller town and we spent time with the bride’s family and then I shared a room with the bride for the night. We met a lot of really cool people at this event and I felt very fortunate to have met the bride and groom the next day for a late breakfast and celebration. Turns out that one of the big things at Yi weddings is changing clothes, well at least for the bride. She changed skirts in the car after being carried to the car by a family member, then she changed hats and skirts again at the location. She was super sweet and she said she was very happy to be with her groom and he also looked very happy when we got a chance to talk with him briefly at the table. For anyone that ends up attending a wedding like this in the future you can hopefully get treated to some expensive and interesting types of cigarettes which are handed out at favors to the guests from the family members. I don’t smoke but watching the different types was interesting, and by handing out, I mean they hand you the entire pack of smokes to show their generosity and happiness!
After the wedding we took a bus ride into XiChang and checked out an old street that had a temple and some interesting shops. David was in too much of a hurry for us to really enjoy ourselves, but we knew we needed to catch the next bus to ZhaoJue which could be a story in itself honestly. I am going to keep that part short since it was a barfer of a ride with the really bad road conditions, but the scenery was worth the entire trip. XiChang is towards the top of a large mountain range, but ZhaoJue is located above that, so we travelled up, and then looked down on XiChang. Truly spectacular views amongst the trees, that were then turned into glimpses of rivers with tiny villages and pastures of cows or water buffalos (whatever they are called here, it seems to be debatable) and sheep.
About the time we arrived in ZhaoJue I realized things weren’t going as planned. Granted there was no itinerary for this trip. Here is what I thought would happen: originally it was just going to be me going with David to SiHe and spending some time exploring his hometown and then I wanted to spend some time in XiChang shopping for Yi wares and if time permitted I would see if anyone else was in town to visit before heading back. I had planned on spending some time teaching English to David’s students as he is a teacher of Yi during breaks when students who normally are in school can attend his lessons since Yi isn’t taught in schools. Then Noah was available and we agreed this wasn’t necessarily a research trip, but more of a meet and greet or build good will trip. But adding Noah only meant I had good company and an opportunity to understand more of what was happening as his Chinese is far superior to mine. I had wanted to spend some time with David’s family, meet his mom, little sister and brother etc. Yep, almost exactly none of that was happening at this point in our trip.
Noah had been in contact with GuGu Mu prior to heading up to XiChang and we really wanted to spend some time with her and meet her family. They had gotten a small pig for a bbq celebration with us and we scheduled time to get with her upon our return to XiChang from ZhaoJue. That sounds simple doesn’t it? Sure it does…
Our arrival in ZhaoJue was in the evening and we were whisked away to meet people and see a small school where the headmaster was very welcoming and is one of David’s “brothers” (ShuShus are over 30, brothers are under that, sisters are under 30 generally and Ayis are aunts or women over 30ish). For some reason I have a hard time remembering this part of the story, but here is what I do remember. We checked into a hotel, dropped our stuff off, and then went out. I think we went to dinner with David’s brother the headmaster and several of his colleagues and friends. This is where we meet Simple.
Welcome Simple, oh how to do your personality justice?! Simple became my savior that night. Noah and I were invited to go hang out at KTV which is basically a party room with its own bathroom which is really convenient because most people are roaring drunk during KTV and having a bathroom centrally located is very important. The Yi people always spill some of their drink on the ground as an offering to their ancestors; simply translated this is disaster to my wheat allergy! Beer is flying, literally, through the room at and on me and I’m starting to itch so I tell David I absolutely have to leave and Simple offers to take me back to the hotel. Well, that was the original plan; you’ve seen how those are turning out right? Simple and his lady friend escort me out of the KTV building and into a taxi where he looks at me and asks if I want to go have bbq, “sure” is my immediate response since Liangshan has some of the best meat in China! I’m not even hungry, but who can turn down bacon over an open flame, psst…not me.
Diverted successfully to some tiny little bbq place we sit down to munch on some goodies and drink more. I’m very fortunate to find people who understand my allergy in this situation, they found me a bottle of plum wine to drink while we chatted happily about things like Obama, basketball and sports people I know nothing about (sorry Kobe!). I swear I met Michael at this time, but I’m still not entirely clear on that day’s events. Around midnight Simple and I realize David and Noah will be returning shortly to the hotel and they will find me missing. Of course my cellphone is dead since I had no time to pack the charger for this trip so we sneak off from the bbq to the hotel where I beat the boys back by less than 10 minutes.
Bless Noah for being such a sport! He was my champion and diverted the attention from me and was able to buffer me from the drinking at every meal and event. Since I can’t drink beer and there is really nothing else in China worth drinking I am not the best party animal. He caught me at the hotel that night and warned me that David and headmaster brother were going to a meeting and probably would come get mea t 7am to head out. That allowed me to prepare and get a much appreciated shower and relax a little in the morning knowing the plan. Sure enough, early morning comes and they come to get me, but I am a little surprised that Noah isn’t there with them. Turns out he was taking a much needed rest from the night of debauchery and would meet up with us at noon for lunch and our next engagement. No problem, buddy, rest, relax and feel better.
Ha-ha, ever been to something where you understand almost nothing? I could have held my own better at a physics convention, or anime event (I have no idea about either of these subjects, seriously none at all). So, here is what I can share about this meeting: It was the first meeting amongst the Yi people who come from various locations in China about the preservation of their culture and traditions. Yep, that is super important to my research, too bad I don’t speak Yi! Most of the conference was spoken in Yi, except for a couple of folks who spoke Chinese who I can’t thank enough for helping me piece things together.
Interestingly enough I found out while listening to a super nice young man speaking Chinese that not all the Yi people speak the same language, let alone use the same writing system. He pointed out that many in attendance could not understand the meeting because of this and that was why he was speaking Chinese. Later I caught up with him and got his contact information since he was the only person there that seemed to speak from the heart and showed any compassion towards his companions from different areas and groups.
Noah was able to join us for lunch and our next unplanned event. This time we were expected to make a presentation in front of a high school group at the small school our headmaster brother runs. Our speech starts in 2 hours, umm, what are we supposed to talk about? We were told it started at 2pm, so we planned to return to XiChang on the 4pm bus, and we knew that if we were running late we could hire a driver to take us down the mountain with GuGu Mu’s help. We also knew that travelling that road in the dark was out of the question. Well, Chinese time and clocks in general don’t mix well. 2pm turns into 3pm and we begin, but there are a lot of speakers and no one wants us to leave until the pictures are taken. I’m starting to get irritated with everyone saying, “10 more minutes” when I ask when it will finish.
Simple and David both gave speeches, and we met Action who is a gal from ZhaoJue who studied really hard to get into a great school in the South. About 4:30pm I’m getting pissed, because now we are finding out that everyone expects us to go to another celebration dinner in ZhaoJue not head back to XiChang. Noah prevented me from walking out the door and leaving without anyone knowing where I was going. He was very calm and despite also being frustrated was much more level headed than I was at that time. I told you he was the hero right? My Irish temper was definitely begging for me to rebel and do my own independent thing which might have been a little dangerous but at least I would have had my freedom.
Well, we made it through the meeting and the pictures at about 6:30pm and then went to dinner. I could also mention at this point that we were given a person to translate our speech, but she got really flustered and wasn’t able to help at all, so Noah again saved the day and spoke in Chinese for us. We decided to share a room that night so that we could make our escape to the bus early in the morning without interference and we did just that the next morning. We did call David from the bus after we were headed out of town to let him know we were going to meet with GuGu Mu in XiChang for that pig we’d been dreaming about. I unwound a little bit on our rough trip down the mountain and was looking forward to our time with GuGu Mu and her family.
Her family is awesome! They were so welcoming and just super cool. Her mom and dad sang a song for us, her uncle performed Tai Chi and everyone was relaxed and happy to have us. We really relaxed and had a wonderful time with the best food I’ve had in China, no kidding! That pig was delicious and superbly cooked, the strawberries were from their garden, and everything was perfect and peaceful. David joined us at the end of dinner and we headed back into XiChang for the evening at a bar after meeting up with Michael and walking around the lake in XiChang for a while. It was a beautiful day, filled with friendship and good will.
Michael turns out to be a young man from Liangshan who has one of the best smiles I’ve ever seen. His posture is disturbingly perfect and he is a warm and friendly person who Noah and I both enjoyed spending time with. He spent more time with us the following evening as well and was a welcome addition to our group. FYI Simple stayed in ZhaoJue and returned recently to Chengdu for school, we have dinner plans with him, Michael and Abraham another young man from Liangshan. All of these guys are wonderful, kind and intelligent people who I am honored to know and call my friends.
That night we took separate scooters to SiHe, but there were some mishaps with that too. Recall that nothing went as planned on this trip, why would that change now?! I guess that Noah and David’s scooter broke almost immediately after we headed out. My cellphone was useless since it was well past dead and had been for a couple of days now. So where are they? The ShuShu I was riding with was as puzzled as to our missing comrades as I was. So now it is midnight 30 and I don’t know where I’m going, or where my host and friend are. It was nerve wracking until they finally showed up after waiting in a really secluded area for about 20 minutes. Lesson learned: always have one working cellphone per bike.
That night was really cool; we stayed at David’s home in SiHe and drank wine under the stars in the mountains above XiChang’s brilliant lights.
Remember when I said I was expecting to teach a little English at David’s home based school? Yeah, he told me to prepare for about 40 minutes of teaching, turns out that I was expected to teach for 3 hours to two separate groups of students. Nothing like finding that out the day of! We also found out that Maria would be joining us and that she was also an English teacher for kids like I am in Chengdu so I knew help was coming. Things went well and we made fast friends with Maria and some other folks who came to join us for the lessons. I had not expected to be stuck at the house all day, and was a little miffed I couldn’t just go explore the area except for briefly during our lunch break.
That evening we went to town, met up with Michael and several other fabulous and funny people for dinner and spent the night in XiChang so we could catch the morning bus back to Chengdu. I left the festivities early due to my allergies and not wanting to have issues with KTV and beer again. I heard it was a blast though no one took pictures that I could find.
Maria and I have kept in touch since our return to Chengdu. She and I went to have some Pho at the Global Center and we have plans for early next month. I have several dinners planned with various people from this trip and I have some fond memories of warm and kind individuals who I hope to keep in contact with for a very long time. GuGu Mu has become a fast friend and looking at her artwork always amazes me, she is truly gifted. Her heart is filled with generosity and independence and I love her dearly. Simple and Michael will most likely be good interviews for our research, but most importantly they are our friends and I value their friendship more than their ability to help me find information. Noah proved to be a huge asset and a brother to me. He was always a friend, but after his cool head and willingness to buffer me from some of the situations we got involved in he became my brother. Anna, David’s little 16 year old sister who you read about briefly in DuFu’s Cottage is my sister now and I am trying to find a way to bring her to America to visit or attend school.
Life is never boring in China, and rarely do plans turn out as expected I’m finding. Maybe that makes the experience more real and exciting.
Ok, I’m sorry. I effectively fell off the face of the earth this last month or so, but to be fair I was busy getting pictures and doing stuff worth blogging about! Today I want to tell you about DuFu’s Thatched Roof Cottage. From here on out, I’ll call it DuFu’s. The reason it took me so long to write about him is because I kept writing Dufus, say that out loud and don’t laugh, I dare you! Basically, every time I tried to write I would bust up laughing and couldn’t continue. I’m not the only American that calls this place Dufus's Cottage though, I asked around when I couldn’t control my snickers in public.
For this blog I need to introduce you to John, Noah and Anna. John and Noah are also UW exchange students here in Chengdu and part of my program. We are a close UW family and when we have time we call each other up and go do things as a group. So my first trip to DuFu’s was with John and Noah (Noah is also my research partner and you’ll hear more about him soon).
Anna is my little sister here in China. She lives in XiChang and is technically David’s little sister so really that means she is my little sister too. I met Anna on my trip to Liangshan last month and she immediately became my family. She is a darling 16 year old with a huge and kind heart, and when I got back to Chengdu I invited her to spend a week at my apartment seeing Chengdu with me. Thanks to the family knowing me, Anna was allowed to come and get a brief introduction to Chengdu. I think I wore her out, but she got to do lots of fun things while in town with me including going shopping and drinking Starbucks at Wanda Plaza Mall. I think she really liked DuFu’s and the Global Center which is the largest building in the world regarding square footage according to Wiki.
Now on to DuFu! He was a poet, a prolific poet who had a really hard life back in the 700’s. I feel bad for saying this, but he wasn’t all that interesting to me. I can’t read his poetry, but many people in China think he was very important and his poems were significant to their history. What I do like about him was that he was supportive and sympathized with the impoverished people of China. That is extremely rare, in modern times and historically.
After DuFu passed on his house and land was owned by a concubine named Madame Ren (?). I will have a picture of her on this blog for you to check out. She was stunning. She wasn’t a concubine to royalty, but rather to a military man. She changed around the landscape a little, but kept the herbal gardens and trees that DuFu had planted in his time.
Who I did find interesting was Li QingZhao, a Song Dynasty writer/poet and one of the few exalted females in China’s history. I will have a photo of her bronze statue which is prominently displayed at the front of an exhibition hall at DuFu’s. Li was an outgoing noble woman whose family was very scholarly. She wrote of beauty, patriotism and women’s strength and courage. You can Google her to find her poems translated into English.
What Anna, John, Noah and I all noticed about this secluded park, was it was beautiful and naturally peaceful. You can hear birds, bees, smell the plum and peach trees when they blossom, and listen to the gurgling waterfalls throughout the grounds. DuFu’s place is one of peace, art and nature. It is amazing to find such a place, literally in the middle of a city that holds 9-14 million people. I hope if my readers get a chance to visit Chengdu they will choose to visit DuFu’s Thatched Roof Cottage. It is worth the admission price of $10 USD or if you are a student in China half that.
Today David, my Chinese little brother, and I went to SanXingDui which is an archaeological site just outside Chengdu. If you remember I also visited JinSha Site with David a while back. SanXingDui was actually the first site found in this area of SW China that held artifacts from the Shu people. JinSha was a later site used after the Shu people moved the 25+ miles SW from SanXingDui for either resource issues or possibly boredom. It is unclear why they moved locations, but it definitely the same people but the artifacts are from different times in history.
I want to live like a local here, not some spoiled rich American kid like many of the other exchange students are acting like. I’m very glad and proud of my group from the UW for not showing this tendency of acting like brats and rude twits in China. Most of us have found convenient bus routes and can communicate directions to the taxi drivers. I haven’t needed the metro yet but I know where it is for the day I decide to check it out. I just hope it isn’t like the metro in Shanghai that was nutso! I wanted to get to the SanXingDui site using transportation means that the locals would use. Most touristy people hire a driver or go with a tour group on a bus. I had gone online to find out what locals suggested and we decided to take a bus up.
So weight in here people. I think it is a bat. What do you think?
David and I met and took a bus to the North Railway Station. When we got nearby we stopped for some lunch on the street then went in search of an elusive ChengBei Bus Station which is supposedly situated beside the train station. I don’t think that neighborhood is very safe. I’m being generous and mild when I say that. I would never tell a foreigner to go to that bus station without a local too protect and guide them. I’ll be telling the website that suggested we take that bus about putting up the name in characters and cautioning travelers about that area within the week. Nothing was in English in that part of town and the signs for the station were not easy to locate.
Good news, we found the bus station and secured a couple of seats for the next departing bus. Like most Chinese people David promptly fell asleep when the bus left the station so he missed seeing a lot of the surrounding area. North Chengdu is not the richest section and that was rather evident by the dwellings and people living in lean-to and squat buildings. I saw plenty of tarp houses and a couple of box houses which always makes my heart sad for those people who live there. We passed plenty of factories and constructions sites as well.
Our bus took us through XinDu which is a small area in the north of Chengdu that is trying to build up into a nice and prosperous area. XinDu has a Wal-Mart. They also had a Coach store. I saw other fancy brand stores in that area. If I was going to estimate, I’d say XinDu was halfway between North Chengdu and SanHui where SanXingDui is located. I saw what looks like an expansion of an elevated railway through that area as well though it was obviously still under construction. SanHui was a small city for Chinese standards. It shows some signs of prosperity, but ultimately it is a factory town like most of the area between Chengdu and the city. It has some hotels and some shopping though it is mostly for the locals to purchase household items and clothing from the city. One of the groups of people on our bus got out in the outskirts and they had about 20 boxes of shoes. They probably run a store that sells shoes from the selection I saw.
There is one bus station in SanHui and it is not large. We managed to take a taxi to the site and had a couple of hours before closing to enjoy touring the exhibition halls and the grounds. SanXinDui has some different exhibits than JinSha and they also have a cool courtyard that has a recreation of a sacrificial altar. There is a flock of metal chickens outside one of the buildings. They are taller than humans and each one is a little different in its design. They were fun to look at!
Trees, lots of trees are present in this time for the Shu people. They had holy money trees and sacred trees that lead a person to Sun or Heaven. These trees are magnificent, but terrifying. The tree limbs have zhangs and chickens that help guide people upwards. That doesn’t sound scary until you figure out what a zhang is. A zhang is a large sacrificial weapon. The end has a forked section for cutting and it has areas on the sides with axe-like teeth for sawing. One on exhibit there is big enough to sacrifice an elephant. Really it is too big for a human! We know from all the elephant tusks from the site that they did sacrifice elephants to the gods at both sites, wild boards too. There are also large spears and axes on some of the sacred trees. I think you have to sacrifice a lot to get to the top of the tree, but the chickens are there to guide you on the plus side. It’s also possible the chickens are there to mock or judge you, then that just sucks. I have some thoughts about these trees but I am reserving those observations for my own amusement and I should just say that they were amazing, intricate and empowering to view.
They were chicken worshipers. Well, at least that’s what it looked like in the beginning. Really, what do you expect me to think when there are metal statues of chickens outside and bronze and stone chickens in every room of this vast museum?! Even the altar featured a really huge chicken at the base. Ok, finally towards the end of the tour David and I came upon a write up about the chickens. They are roosters actually, which kind of makes sense but in Chinese they just say chicken without differentiating between boy chickens and girl chickens. I wish I was able to get a clear picture of that write up. It explained a lot! The Shu people are similar to the modern day Yi people in Liangshan where I am doing my research. They are sun worshipers and they hold the rooster in high esteem as he welcomes the sun over the horizon and ultimately heralds the beginning of a new day.
There is a large bronze exhibit, some cool masks are on display and some beautiful jade artifacts drew my attention. The site’s name in English is the Three Star Piles, in case you want to look it up online. I am amazed at the sophistication and talent of the ancient Shu people. They made beautiful works of art out of gold, bronze, and stone. Their art shows their passion and dedication to the Sun and nature in all its glory. Sure, they made weapons, but they made them to be practical and scarily beautiful.
Go figure there are no buses after 5:30pm in SanHui! There are no taxis out that far from town either, so when we left the site we took a car back to town from some man who was parked near the site waiting for people like us who missed the last bus. He was nice enough and warned us that getting back into Chengdu wasn’t going to be by bus that late, so either we were going to stay in a hotel or find a car to take us into the city. Sure, everything in the brochures about being a safe tourist came flooding back to me as we got into the personal car of a man who agreed to take us back to Chengdu. I think we did everything wrong according to that brochure! We hired a man, not a taxi or tour company to drive us in the dark back to Chengdu. I would never do that if I was on my own. With David there I felt much more secure in the situation however. Our driver got us pretty close to the area we asked him to drop us off to. We at least made it to my area where I know how to get around easily.
David left to go back to his campus and pack to return to his hometown for the break. I made it home and crashed. Actually, not entirely true, I got home and ordered food to be delivered to my apartment. Without the light in my kitchen I can’t see at night to cook and it was pretty late by the time I got home. Funny story, KFC in Chengdu delivers, but it isn’t like KFC in America. The menu isn’t even close to resembling what I’m used to. Case in point: EXO-M a Chinese pop boy group has done a promotion this month by “specially designing” a sandwich which must be the most disgusting thing I can think of. It is a chicken patty rolled in puffed rice and deep fried, then instead of lettuce it has seaweed. Yuck! I hate seaweed! But if you order that or one of their other promotional sandwiches you get an EXO-M toy. The chicken and bacon sandwich isn’t bad actually. I just don’t eat the bread obviously. Joe, you are one lucky fella to be getting 2 EXO-M toys thanks to late nights out and local delivery
This evening when I was reviewing our pictures from our trip I came upon one that really captured how I feel here in China. I have an open and excited smile while I pose in front of a super cool looking tree at the site. I think that picture captures how happy I am here in Chengdu, especially when I am in the company of people I care about and who join me in my adventures. David I want to thank you for taking that picture and sharing the day at SanXingDui with me.
No, my kitchen lights have not been fixed, but I have come to terms with my hideous lamp. It has become almost a quirky friend every day it sits upon my washing machine providing light where nothing else does.
There is no celebration of Christmas in China. That sounds sad, but means those that wish to celebrate can thanks to stores that want to capitalize on Christmas gifts and decorations and specialty shops who stock ingredients and “proper meats” for foreigners to cook this time of year. For Christmas I was able to order cream of mushroom soup (GF), a version of city ham, and made mashed potatoes, everyone was also able to find China’s version of Hershey’s Kisses, and Dove chocolate bars which I watched a documentary about and it is true they put less sugar in their chocolate here.
Photo of people taking a selfie, I enjoy capturing those moments.
My teacher, Ms. YaWei Li lived and taught in the US for 4 years and knew almost her entire class was getting holiday blues. She suggested on 12/19 we have a potluck party to practice Chinese and also enjoy ourselves for all the hard work. Our class has people from all over the world. The only individuals not used to celebrating were the Japanese and Korean students.I brought cheese, which is a very difficult to find food here and one that most people don’t get to eat often even though most of us love it dearly. I also brought a version of candied sweet potatoes with dried cranberries for people to nibble on. The girls from Nepal brought some traditional foods that are similar to Northern Indian dishes, and we had apples with peanut butter which only the American’s recognized, chips and salsa (yay team America!), Japanese and Korean snack foods and Mandarin Oranges. The French speakers brought Belgium and French truffles, and drinks for everyone. Ms. Li brought her mother’s homemade jiaozi which are pork dumplings, maybe we call them pot stickers if we pan fry them.
This is Ms. Li and our classmate from Nepal whose Chinese name is Sha Ke.
The 19th was very busy for me as after our potluck I went to work, taught the kids Jingle Bells, and we colored stockings to give their parent’s for the holidays. I then booked it back to school to celebrate the annual UW Crew Christmas with Noah’s host family and friends. We had a great time with fantastic food! His host family cooked a leg of lamb and Alonso brought a traditional Mexican family dish (quite possibly my favorite dish there!) and we drank mulled wine and made hot cocoa from milk and Dutch chocolate powder. After that we went and did our secret Santa exchange at a local bar. I got exactly what I wanted because my secret Santa went shopping with me the week before and I found a fluffy panda hat that I mentioned I really liked so she went back later and bought it for me. It’s adorable, not sure I have pictures of it yet, but no worries, they will happen.
Meet BoBo, Noah's host mom and extraordinary cook!
Alonso and Patti part of our UW Crew!
The sweater team, John, Noah and Patti (seriously jealous over the authentic sweater direct from Norway John)
This is Stone, Noah's host dad. I enjoy taking pictures of other people taking pictures, its fun!
The morning of the 20th Patti our coordinator and Michelle her girlfriend caught a flight to the US for Christmas. John of the UW Crew and I caught a bus at OMG that’s early! to go to QingCheng Mountain which is just outside Chengdu. We spent the day exploring a really interesting and authentic “ancient town” and climbing a mountain covered with temples. I also got about half an hour of foot soaking in the mineral spa before we spoke with the tourism bureau about our trip and what we like and don’t like about Chengdu. It was a really fun day and I am glad I got up early after being out so late to go!
Seriously the biggest incense stick I've ever seen!
In case you are wondering why I liked this “ancient town” VS some of the others I’ve visited it… This one had local foods, sausages, smoked meat, baked in clay blocks chicken legs, etc. You could even purchase local produce, which makes the whole thing a lot more real than any of the others I have visited. Most of these “ancient towns” feature panda outfits, and cheap toys for kids. I think I saw some of those, but for the most part this location had interesting buildings, temples, and people making food on the street using ingredients I saw growing on the mountain on our bus ride up.
David and the Christmas Tree. Thanks for hosting Maggie, David and Ruth!
Christmas Eve was spent studying, so was Christmas Day. I did mention they don’t celebrate Christmas in China right? We had class, I decided to enjoy my day off and I made the ham on Christmas Eve and prepared the foods for Christmas Day at Maggie and David’s house. Maggie is my classmate and friend who is from Turkey. David is her fiancé. Ruth, David’s sister has also come to Chengdu recently to work as a teacher. David and Ruth are from Australia. Ruth is the one that coined “proper meats” when she saw I brought turkey breast and sliced ham. Let me admit I have never made green bean casserole, ever. I’m a bad American, I know. I did make it this year though since my friends had never heard of it. I even made it gluten free which was interesting but very successful! I fried onion slices with GF pancake mix and ordered GF cream of mushroom soup for it. It was delicious and I’ll probably not be afraid to make it again.
We had many traditional Turkish dishes, including an awesome bean salad and yogurt sauce and an eggplant dish with tomato sauce. We also had a traditional Australian dessert which Ruth made. Everything was delicious! I will make sure to post some pictures of our spread. We also drank lots of red wine and watched Home Alone. We had lots of presents and really enjoyed spending Christmas together without any real stress which was unusual for David and Ruth who have a large family and often there is bickering about where and who to spend their time with. I feel very fortunate to have such great friends here in Chengdu to celebrate and relax with.
The weekend after Christmas was spent studying for finals. My comprehensive Chinese final was on Monday 12/29 and my listening and speaking final was on Wednesday 12/31. I didn’t leave my apartment for 2 days so I could study. I also spent most of Tuesday studying and practicing speaking which I sincerely hope paid off. I got a 93.5% on my comprehensive final which is really good and I’m pretty proud of myself. I don’t know for sure what I got on my other test, but I would venture a guess about an 80% or so since my hearing is a little rougher than I mean to admit to. I also am tone deaf and can’t speak using tones as well as I’d like yet. After purchasing my books for next semester I spent the evening teaching classes to the K-1 kids and then watched fireworks from my bedroom window. It was a great way to ring in the New Year!
I now have no school until March 6th. I still teach on Wednesdays and Fridays, but my time is freer to study, explore, and maybe join a gym if I find one I like. I made a goal to visit one site of interest in Chengdu every week. That means more pictures for all of you! I also wish to finish a class I’m taking online and prepare for next semester as well as spend some time in XiChang with David and his family for the Chinese New Year in mid-February.
I hope you are all well and starting 2015 out strong and healthy!
Lots of mini adventures have happened since David’s debut. I got the stomach flu, the following week I got hit by a car and broke my finger and banged up my arm. It wasn’t actually a big deal but it has made writing extremely difficult. It was neither my fault, nor the driver of the car’s fault that we smacked into each other. We were going pretty slow due to traffic and got blocked in. Luckily I didn’t need to see a doctor. I told you about hospitals already! I think I won’t ride my scooter if it is raining though, that made a huge difference in visibility and traffic congestion.
The day after my little bump with the car was David’s birthday. I went to his campus and we had a terrific dinner and saw “Interstellar” the movie. What impressed me that day was that the Yi restaurant where we ate had real bacon and sausage. First time in China I’ve had real smoked bacon that was cut correctly. The sausage was also the best I’ve had in China and rivals European pork sausages. The movie was interesting and I found I liked it despite it not being my normal type of movie. It was also rather nice to watch a movie in English. The biggest problem I had was that the subtitles in Chinese were really bad. I understand why the Chinese people liked the movie less since the translation was so terrible. Yes, my Chinese is improving!
So after some ups and downs here’s how the last week played out, my light in the kitchen burned out Thursday. That leads to a really bad set of jokes that go something like this: How many people does it take to change a light bulb in China? Answer-Where do you buy a light bulb? Not Wal-Mart, there are no Home Depots and since you are without a car you can’t just drive around trying to find a store. My answer presented itself Friday night when I was taking the bus home and saw a small store near a bus stop by Small North Gate that sells only light bulbs.
My monstrosity of a floor lamp:
It gets worse… It wasn’t the bulb that burnt out, my electricity no longer flows to that part of my kitchen. So we repeat the joke with a different answer: How many people does it take to change a light bulb in China? Answer: 6 people. Apartment renter (1), friend who speaks Chinese (2), another friend who speaks better Chinese (3) and can write a text message to the apartment management company liaison (4), landlady (5), and an electrician (6)! So until I get a text back that an electrician is coming I have resorted to using the monstrosity of a floor lamp that came with the apartment. It’s a hideous lamp, and it has to sit on top of my washer since it is the only outlet I can use.
So during this episode about the light in the kitchen where it is too dark most of the time I am home to see without a good light… I came home and watched a news show about the water shortage in Beijing. That night the construction guys outside my apartment were using their nice heavy drilling equipment literally all night from 9pm until 9am when they broke the water main. Irony strikes. Here water is spilling into the streets causing cars to show extreme caution and walking that stretch is not possible. Yet Beijing has a water shortage. I took some pictures. I think everyone else did too! It was rather impressive and I noticed more than 5 smoke breaks were required before the right materials and individuals were here to resolve the issue and fix the massive leak. They were really good though and only had to turn off the water for about 2.5 hours during the day. Then I had the pleasure of listening to them continue to work through the second night in a row. There are no laws here about when you can run heavy machinery I assume.
Despite some really odd moments I had a very productive week. I bought almost all my Christmas gifts for my friends here in Chengdu. I will finish that shopping Monday with my friend when we go to Decathlon. I think the best advice I can give someone coming to Chengdu is to find Ikea and Decathlon which are literally across the street from each other between 2nd Ring Road and 3rd Ring Road. Those two shops save my bacon quite often.
Ikea is the only place I trust purchasing salmon which is sold downstairs in the food area freezers and very near to the chocolate. Decathlon is similar to a Big5 store and carries European sizes so if your feet or body are larger than your average Chinese person you will definitely need to find clothes and shoes there. Most of the folks that I meet in school and in my life from Europe and other foreign countries have found that shoe shopping on the streets is disappointing since their largest size is a 38 or 39 which is a women’s 7.5 US. For the men, the biggest size I see is a 43 which is about a size 9.5 US. Decathlon has a good selection of larger sizes and as a nice bonus they sell warm jackets and swimsuits all year!
Finals are coming quickly. I will post a picture of my apartment. I’ve written down every character in our books since the beginning of the semester and now have some very useful wallpaper in my apartment. Joe doesn’t appreciate it, but all my friends and student friends love it and come to practice their vocab.
We will not be having Christmas off from school, but since it is Li Laoshi (our teacher Ms. Li) I don’t think most of us mind too much. If we had another teacher who we were less loyal to we would probably all skip the 24th and 25th. Our finals are the week after, so the 29th through the 31st and then we have a couple months off of school.
I will continue to work at the Kindergarten until the middle of February when I plan on joining David’s family in SiHe Township which is very close to XiChang and about 6 hours away from Chengdu. I hope to spend some time studying during the break with my classmates and to travel around to the local places I’m interested in. Most of the UW students have extensive plans for the break, but as far as I know no one is planning on returning home for the break which I think is good. Pulling away from this intense situation where we are constantly using the language and learning about little quirks could set someone back very quickly.
I hope to have Christmas pictures from our parties for you all to see next time. The spirit of Christmas is not strong in China. However, those of us that celebrate will spend time with our loved ones who are close and we will think fondly of those we love in our home countries.
Who says you can’t choose your family? I have 6 sisters who share no blood with me, and now 2 brothers in my life. I have possibly the perfect little brother right here in Chengdu. I mentioned in a previous post that I now have a Chinese little brother, his name is David (JjipShyGixHxa is how you pronounce it in Yi, in Chinese it is said JiShiGeHa吉史格哈 ) and he is 23 years old. He is from the minority group called the Yi and his family is from a very small township called SiHe (四合乡) where the main means of survival is tree farming. David goes to XiNanMinZuDaXue (西南民族大学) which is a university for minorities, and has been studying the Yi culture and literature as well as taking courses in English because he wishes to continue his studies at a sister university in Australia.
Why is he the perfect little brother? Because he is willing to go almost anywhere I want to go to visit and is happy to translate and chat so that he can practice his English. Yes, having a pal to visit museums, archaeological sites, city gardens, go to see movies with etc is very important because those moments are often best shared with others. His passion for culture and history are also similar to mine and we get along swimmingly when we have discussions about artifacts and ancient warrior heroes.
So far David has given me a tour of the Yi museum on his campus, accompanied me during a conference about Yi Culture and Literature, seen the Penguins of Madagascar movie with me in Chinese (hilarious when the voices are so different from what you are used to!), and gone to the Jinsha Site Museum. Most of my Chinese friends are too busy studying to come with me for stuff like this, but David has been entirely free giving with his time. I think what is most impressive to me is that he does something wholeheartedly and expresses his happiness and joy openly while many people I know hold back their feelings. He has also been a joy to photograph and more than happy to pose in odd positions for the perfect shot. David has mastered the use of my camera to get flattering pictures of me as well which I feel very grateful for!
Jinsha was amazing. I really could just leave it at that, but I know you want to hear more. I met David near his old campus which is only a 20 minute bus ride from my house. We took a few buses and arrived at Jinsha midday. I wish I could say the sun was shining, but this is Chengdu, there is no sun, well if there is we can’t see it beyond the pollution and clouds. Nevertheless it was a nice bright day to visit the site. When we entered the first exhibition hall we were in the actual dig site. Similar to Xi’an this museum has the pits all preserved and has built pathways and left some artifacts in their original locations for us to see and feel like we are in an actual dig site.
After a nice walk along a river we came to the exhibition hall and saw many artifacts and some recreation scenes. We both learned about the muntjac which neither of us had heard of until today. It is a small deer with little horns, totally cute. I seem to remember a picture of this deer on the currency in Taiwan from when Missy was staying with us. David and I got some fabulous picture of the recreation scenes and of the animals represented in those mock sites. I’m still having a hard time believing that 3000 years ago there were elephants in this part of China, but all the evidence from the site says there were because many of the artifacts were elephant tusks and it was during a time that not much trade was happening so they had to be somewhat nearby.
There were 5 halls to explore, filled with jade, bronze, gold, pottery and so much more! Above us in the building was a giant recreation of the sun surrounded by the immortal birds of the Shu people. What David and I noticed was that the Shu must have been closely related to the Yi as their symbolism is almost identical and they used the same colors and designs in their works of art and religious items. The immortal birds were almost exactly like what I looked at when I was researching Ancient Egypt for the phoenix, though David told me that the phoenix is only one of the immortal birds (fascinating, tell me more!).
After rummaging and taking some interesting pictures in the building we toured around the site and traipsed up a hill that led to a water stream. There were some cool rocks to climb on and then we stumbled upon what is called a deer park. As best I can understand, these deer were rescued and taken to the park to live a comfortable life amongst other deer. It was really neat getting close to them and seeing them relaxing while people waved and kids poked their heads through the fence. The grounds at the site are stunningly beautiful. Bamboo, gingko trees whose leaves are turning yellow right now, flowering trees, and rolling hills mixed in with streams all made a very strong impression upon me.
I found the coolest spider web! I couldn’t get a picture of it, despite some heroic efforts. It was 3 dimensional. I could put my hand in one area that was between another section of web and then reach towards the funnel that connected the pieces. Both of us explored that web and marveled at its intricacy and architectural genius. Finally I remarked that it must have been a rather large spider to create such a big web and I pulled myself away to continue strolling through that section of the site before the spider returned home.
We both had a really good time today. I can speak for David as he voiced this to me several times during our trip. I want to take Joe there when he comes to visit next July. It is a truly amazing site and David was the perfect company for my visit there. He said there is another archaeological site in Chengdu that is even older and he knows a lot about that site and will take me there. I can’t wait!
Oh and did I mention he rocks at scoring us the student discount
I have many things on my mind as the day before Thanksgiving slowly fades away. I mastered the confounded machine that holds packages to win my shipment of coffee (Thank you Amazon CN). I’ve spent the last 4 days with the stomach flu and was only able to make it to one class this morning where I taught other nationalities that Caucasian’s can turn colors like green and grey within moments and with seemingly no provocation. It was funny, except for how I felt during those moments (Thank you Western Medicine for saving me). This afternoon I spent my time on the phone coordinating tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Dinner which will be held at my apartment (thank you whoever invented countertop ovens). I even ordered 2 Christmas gifts to be delivered to my house in America where Joe can wrap and deliver them (Thank you Costco Photo).
I have much to be thankful for right now, but there are some things that are bigger than others. I will always be thankful for my family, friends, and those that have shown me kindness and offered assistance, but this year I feel thankful for some new reasons as well.
Being in a foreign country I find things to be thankful every day, from the ability to order Australian cheese to be delivered to my apartment, to being able to get help from a friend purchasing a bus pass so I can get to work cheaper on Wednesdays and Fridays. I think the biggest thing I am thankful for this year is the incredible patience and kindness the people of Chengdu have shown me as I struggle to live and thrive in their country.
Here is one of the many stories about their kindness: This morning I went to get my scooter from the parking garage and noticed they were shutting down that section. I had no idea why and since I literally had not left my apartment since Saturday due to illness I hadn’t spoken with anyone about it. Last week I found out that the woman who waxes my eyebrows lives 3 stories below me in my building. Yes, exactly 3 stories below me which was really funny when we figured it out and realized we both were Gluten Free in China. This morning after arriving in school I texted her asking about parking situation, I knew she also has a scooter since we talked about it. She was kind enough to explain that our parking area has changed to a more secure room near the security guard’s post. This was most helpful when I rode home feeling terrible and nauseous.
When I got to the area where we now park our scooters one of the parking attendants was kind enough to spend some time trying to explain what was happening and how we have a new system of paying monthly. He took the time to get me a receipt and write out what he was talking about regarding the new system. I’m sure we spent at least 10 minutes trying to discuss the new system and make sure we both understood what was happening. He has always been nice, but today he was exceptionally helpful and doing everything he could to help me through our language barrier. I am thankful for people like him, who take the time, show patience and kindness, and honestly want me to be happy and understand what is going on. People like that are rare, but in China I have found more than I ever thought existed and I am thankful for every single one of them.
So this year, I add being thankful for my newly extended network of friends and family (I have a little brother now, his story will be coming soon), and a special thanks to all of the people, strangers and friends alike, who have helped me be comfortable and happy in China.
Please meet part of my extended family, the UW Family, some of whom will spend Thanksgiving with me:
And as I finish this blog, I realize I am also thankful for "Chester" my neighbor's dog who barks with happiness on his way to the elevator and reminds me of home. Chester's not his real name, but he doesn't seem to mind me calling him that.
Will the adventures never stop?! I’m guessing not. So since my last post I have been very busy learning about Chengdu’s hospitals and medical system. I’ve also gone on a field trip with my school to another “ancient town” and visited the Giant Buddha of Leshan with a group of 6 year olds. I might mention I’ve also been studying and making more Chinese friends.
I did despite my hectic schedule find time to watch the new Penguins of Madagascar movie this weekend with David, a friend from Liangshan who goes to school in Chengdu. We watched it dubbed in Chinese and I had no trouble understanding it. That was rather encouraging actually to watch a movie and understand maybe not the fine points but what was happening and mostly why. Yes, I highly recommend everyone go see this movie, it was very funny!
Today I want to get you all some pictures of the “ancient town” and impart some of what I have learned about hospitals and medicine in Chengdu as I think it might be rather helpful if any of you visit China in the future. If anyone plans on studying in China in the future please remember that all campuses have a hospital that you can visit for simple things like colds and sprains, even cuts. My friend is the one who is sick, so we started there with the assistance of an excellent translator.
My audience needs a background: my friend had an accident about 7 months ago and suffered a concussion as well as a deep gash on her head. Since that time she’s been having headaches and been extremely dizzy, nauseous, and having a hard time with her senses and finding her concentration. She was getting worse with the dizziness and her vision was blurring a lot, when her hearing became quite impaired I made her go to the doctor.
So the campus doctor said it was out of her league and suggested the Sichuan University Hospital/Medical Campus which we went to that night. Our translator was wonderful and we got into the ER without any problems. We got the necessary referrals etc, I won’t bore you with those details.
Here is what you need to know about procedures: You will need a card from the cashier. You will pay upon arrival and be given a card and a book for your doctor to write in. The card is a way for the doctors to communicate with each other as well as with the cashiers who need to know what you are doing so they can charge you appropriately. Say you only need to see the doctor for a check up, they will charge the office visit prior to setting the appointment, then you can take the receipt and your card to the info desk for assistance setting up the appointment itself. Your receipt will have the doctor’s name, location and what times to show up, as well as what number patient you will be. You won’t see the cashier again until your doctor asks you to do something, then you see the cashier to pay for it and then go take the test or see the other person etc.
In short, you will go back and forth between the cashier and your appointments and tests many times. Be prepared for this, but it is not expensive nor terribly time consuming. Our worst experience was my friend’s MRI which needed contrast. We paid for the test, scheduled the appointment and showed up to be told she needed an IV put in. That translates into: please go to this desk which is not terribly sanitized, place your arm here and prepare for this really grumpy young lady to jab you maliciously with the IV and then let you wait for an hour for your appointment in searing pain. Seriously, that girl must have had a fight with her boyfriend or something because she was mean to everyone not just my friend.
Highlights for visiting hospitals in Chengdu: you wait in the hallway, sometimes you get a chair most of the time not. People bring their entire family with them it is very crowded. You will keep visiting the cashier who will scowl at you while taking your money. Doctor’s don’t always listen, if you find a good one keep them and write down their name! The tests here are using old equipment and techniques, you will feel like you transported back into the 1970’s but please don’t wear the fashion despite this nostalgic feeling. Most of the doctors speak some English, if they don’t their assistant might so don’t freak out. There are also hospital staff that can step in and help if you don’t bring your own translator (I’d still suggest bring your own but sometimes they are not available because chances are they are also students). There is no privacy in hospitals here, you won’t be alone with your doctor and everyone in the hall is snooping and curious about you, it is ok. They don’t speak English and it is just the way of China I’m finding.
Bring money to the hospital with you at least 1000RMB just in case you need a test. If you need an MRI or CT you’ll pay about 2000RMB which isn’t much USD maybe about $350 but the doctor only costs approximately 30RMB which is $5USD.
Most important: if you wish to avoid Chinese hospitals you can. There are plenty of Global Doctors and Western Medicine Complexes in most big cities. I don’t know if their shots or IV’s hurt any less but you will be guaranteed an English speaking doctor as well as clean and nice facilities. You will pay out your nose though. Example being, just to enter the door of the Global Doctors it costs 1300RMB which is about $220USD. That covers you being seen but no tests or blood work and no medicine. Oh, medicine is cheap here FYI! You can also get antibiotics over the counter if you know what to ask for. I think I paid $5USD for a Z Pack which costs with insurance at least $30USD in America. Yeah, don’t fear the cost of medicine here.
I hope this was helpful and this is definitely a subject you are welcome to ask me more details about. Yes, my friend is doing much better now we know she fractured her skull (CT and MRI were very helpful in getting this detail) and her body is fighting to mend itself. She is tired and dizzy because of all the work her body is doing to heal and that is a good explanation from the one doctor we liked and trusted.
I’d talk about the “ancient town” but really it wasn’t so special,the architecture was kind of cool and it has a dragon statue that leads from the river into town along the stream that divides the town down the middle. I had a good time there with my classmates and at Leshan’s Giant Buddha with the kids. I’ll revisit the Buddha when I don’t have oodles of kids involved.
After taking my midterm this morning, and feeling pretty good about it, I went to work teaching 3 classes of children English and returned home to find I had some packages waiting for me. Said packages were not at my door, which is probably good as I don’t think most people have neighbors as awesome as I do. Some time I will tell you about my awesome neighbors and apartment complex! I went down to speak with the security guard near my building. The guards are always super nice and friendly and I always say hi when I walk by.
With a little bit of Chinese saying I had a package but didn’t know where it was, I showed the guard my text message which showed the delivery info. He pointed at a large machine close by. I had always assumed it was a package dispenser of some sort, but I’ve never had to use it before. I walked over and looked at all the buttons and looked back at him with a very confused expression. He graciously came over and tried to help. Here is where things get interesting…
Problem: don’t know what 6 digits to enter on screen, he doesn’t know either
Solution: find a lady passing who knows how to use machine
Success: first package located, door opened and package retrieved
Problem: I have 2 more packages! What are the digits? Not in same text message!
Solution: return to apartment find correct digits
Success: found digits and raced back down to confounded machine
Variable: man working on machine, it probably needs maintenance. Man asks if I have a package I indicate I have 2. He lets me input the digits I found which are correct but the machine can’t figure out which doors hold my packages!
Solution: man inputs admin code and looks up my phone number and tracking info from text message and finds package number 2.
Success: package 2 found and after signing and providing my phone number on his paper we look for next package
Problem: package 3 is in the old package door where things will soon be sent back to sender! We found this out after much digging!
Solution: repair man had to reboot machine to get the door open
Success: package located and handed over
Gloating required: walked by security guard showed my packages and waved happily
Lesson learned: being nice gets you really far, but showing text messages is more effective!
Other lesson: the confounded machine probably will work better after the repair guy gets a chance to work on it tonight, but I am very lucky to have run downstairs during his visit! I would not have received my packages otherwise I believe.
Payoff: 2 packages of American coffee since really you should bring your own if you have any liking for nice coffee, 1 large package of hot cocoa mix, a bread pan which was half price online and very much needed for baking gluten free bread and meatloaf.
Hello Everybody! On October 18 Sichuan University took it's Foreign Exchange Students on a field trip to the Dujiangyan Irrigation Project and what they call and "ancient town." Some of my classmates joined me, and I met many other exchange students who are in different classes. It was a really fun time getting to know them, where they come from, and also about the area around Chengdu.
My friend Diviya who is wearing a plaid type dress, is from Nepal and is studying medicine in Chengdu as well as learning the language with me. Qing Qing is the gal in the red coat from the top picture, she is from Vietnam and is super sweet. She is studying finance in China. The other gals are from Bhutan and their names are escaping me at present. All these ladies are exceptionally nice and friendly and we enjoy practicing our limited Chinese together and hanging out after classes.
I'll be honest, the trip to the irrigation project was difficult to see since the pollution was really bad when we got there. I couldn't take many great pictures of the dam itself because it was invisible behind the smog screen. We did get to walk over a suspension bridge though which was pretty cool. I also saw some really neat architecture and statues. I'll try to include the one with the intricately carved elephant in this blog.
The "ancient town" wasn't so ancient. Considering the Dujiangyan project is over 2000 years old, that is ancient, the town is not. So basically this town has been converted into a giant tourist trap full of shops that supposedly tourists want to visit. I saw people making silk scarves, bone combs being carved (only thing I purchased was a water buffalo horn comb that I got engraved while I was there), and people performing in the streets carnival style. I did get a great picture of grandma and her grandbaby singing for the visitors. At this "ancient town" my group of ladies met up with Michiel who is from the Netherlands. Nice young guy, also an exchange student with us.
So the trip was fun, not for the history, or the sights, but for enjoying the company of others and seeing places we might not get a chance to without the school taking us. I learned that I do want to go back to Dujiangyan simply because I didn't have the time to do what I wanted there. There are many unexplored gardens at the site and I would like to revisit and see them.
Beyond that, my life is busy. I have a nasty head cold for which I bought some flower tablets which help with the cough but also leave me groggy. I also got a job working at a school teaching K-1 students English 2 days a week for a couple hours each day. I like those kids a lot, and if you know me, that is saying quite a bit! I need to study now as we are getting mighty close to midterms and I want to do well. I realized I miss America in ways that aren't always evident, but when I hit my head again on my stove's fan hood I realized I miss things being of what I consider "normal" height, not half a foot lower like everything is here.