Sunday, July 29, 2012


     I put off writing this last post for a number of reasons, the most prevalent being me having no idea in what direction to take. Me being me, there were a number of ones that involved the pollution, China's role in the world, and the relationship between China and the US. There was one talking about the best/worst trip I've ever undertaken to the north, and another about simply what I want to do with my life now. However, after some serious consideration concerning my last blog post, and some introspective analysis into my own cynical nature, I finally realized what I would want to write about to close this trip up. And the post begins with today, in the States.
   Prior to last January, I had only traveled in the US (extensively) and Canada (but who counts Canada). I did not have any cool stories about meeting different nationalities, or learning the language and customs of a country that differs from the states (and in that case, the little valley I've been in all my life) and I could only stared wide eyed at people who would tell me these stories.  Now here I am, hanging with my old friends back in the ole' hangouts relivin the good ole' days.
    I absolutely hate it.
  The term is reverse culture shock, and it has had more of an impact on me these past few weeks than culture shock itself did going to Asia. What happens is an individual will go abroad for an extended period of time and upon returning, will have some issues adjusting back to their own culture. I've given it some pretty heavy thought, and even tried to talk about it with my friends. The only thing is, they haven't gone through it before, so they can't comprehend the troubles someone can (I emphasize can, some of my fellow China friends seem to have had no issue coming back) have upon their return. I ended up talking to my brother about it, for he had lived in Korea for a year, overlapping my time in China. After talking to him the only way I can describe reverse culture shock is going a little Robert Frost in my writing.
   Imagine you and your friends walking down a forested path. The sun is shining and everyone is talking, singing, and laughing. The path splits and you, knowingly, take the new road. All of a sudden, you can no longer hear your friends; they never peeked down your new road, and are unconcerned for they know that you will be back before too long. Well you start walking down this unfamiliar path, slowly and cautiously at first, at complete awe at the new scenery. You pick up your pace, enjoying it, occasionally glancing back, wondering what could have happened had you continued on the other road, and occasionally peering through the trees, trying to catch a glimpse or two of your friends. But you have new friends walking with you now, and new ones coming along endlessly. Just when everything seems wonderful and you're singing new songs, and hearing new laughs, fate (God, free will, what have you) plucks you up, carries you to your original path, and plops ya down. Bam, just like that you are thrown back into the old world, and a little more than dazed at how everything seems to have changed.
    And here I am, dazed at the new sights usually so familiar to me. So what happened? Why am I having such a difficult time adjusting whereas my closest friends from my travels are totally indifferent to coming back. The answer was a long time coming for me: I'm a cynic.
   While in China, I concentrated on my perceptions so much that at times I ignored my experiences. I worried about the air quality, the anti-foreigner sentiment in Beijing, and governmental control. Now that I am back in the states, all I have left are my memories, my experiences. And because I concentrated on my perceptions and opinions so much while there, I became cynical about the country. But now all that is gone, and every memory I have from Beijing always brings a smile to my face. In short, I, a lot of the time, could not live in the moment there, and now I'm wishing that I could repeat the whole experience this semester, and take better control over how I lived my time. Obviously I cannot, and thus my reverse culture shock.
  So here is my toast to my time in China, the experiences I had and enjoyed, with the people I grew to love. To Shawn, someone I've had Chinese classes for a while at UT, and we never talked until we flew halfway around the world. To Philip, someone who managed to find the best and brightest in any given situation. To my neighbor Sadie, and our many tea time conversations. Christina, who became delighted learning about beer pong. Rhoda, who I could always count on no matter what. To Mia and Xu Yong, the two best representatives of China that country could ask for. To all my friends from the north, forcing me to reconcile with my own beliefs here in America. To everyone that I might have only had passing conversations with nearly every day, just having those conversations made my trip far more enjoyable, hearing all the different accents and cultural views. And finally to my best friend Morgan, who I met there and spent many inseparable hours with, and got along with so easily. We were all brought together at Tsinghua, all on the same level, too. The Americans no longer were divided by liberal or conservative, religious or not, rich or poor. The Europeans would only talk about the crisis going on, never naming blame or raising voices. This is my toast to all of brave, stupid, or just plain adventurous enough to decide to travel and live in Beijing, China. For a young man sheltered by the bubble of the Tennessee Valley, it was my first experience abroad, and my first one having many friends from around the world.
   Will I ever be able to completely adjust back to my old life? My answer now is I hope not. Never before have my values and way of life been challenged, my intelligence tested, and my own character rediscovered again and again, ever fluid. Maybe next time, after having traveled already, the reverse culture shock will not be as strong, but for now, I'm going to cherish those times I had there, and try to bring the best of my own self that I discovered while there to my daily life here, my home in Tennessee. What that actually means in actual practice is for me to discover, but that doesn't have a place here on this blog. Thank you all who supported me, from those i could lean on, to those across the world, and thank you for every single person that read this and kept up with me while I was gone.

    Sincerely, and with much love and hope,
               Landon Monday

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cultural Musing

   The end of the semester is finally here, as in I'm already done with finals and just kinda moseying around until travel time. It was an odd mix of feelings: thank god I'm not doing Chinese four hours a day every day coupled with people leaving. My closest friend left bright and early this morning, and a few others are already out of Beijing, not to return until fate decides. I suppose that right now I'm wanting to be all introspective and recall my entire semester in some hopeful and mature fashion, much akin to J.D. at the end of every Scrubs episode, but I'm resisting this urge right now to talk about something much more interesting, my trip to a Chinese hospital.
    Beijing is this up and coming city, with new building popping up every week and the standard of living going up with them. Tsinghua is one, if not the, top school in China, so when I walk into the hospital here on campus and feel like I just stepped into a B movie horror set, I was feeling less than thrilled. Luckily we had a translator with us, so my extent of being able to express my temperature and if I was allergic to anything was thankfully not tested(we don't learn too much "I'm about to die" words in Chinese, they're fairly optimistic it seems). Though they did want to take my temperature and I started to wonder what method was going to be used. Thankfully they had learned that armpits are a good source for 發燒 measurements, and so I sat in an empty room with hooks above every chair and a distinctive "I haven't been cleaned since you were born" feel to it for ten minutes. The only upside to this was the nurses giggling at my 16 year old license and asking me various questions about it in Chinese. After this I was sent to have a blood test(trying reading the results of one that's only in Chinese) and then given some different antibiotics and some special tea. As I looked at how many pills I was taking a day, twelve to be exact, I realized that they were nuking my body and hoping for the best. Though I am feeling better now, so maybe I'm one of the few who actually survive the horror movie.(P.S. they never told me what I had, I self diagnosed myself with Strep and the antibiotics seemed to be geared toward it).
   In other news, nothing really has happened. I'm ready to come home I think. As wonderful as an experience as it has been here, there's so much I can do back home that I cannot here. Maybe if China catches up with the idea of suburbs it would be more enjoyable. Though I must say, Beijing is unlike any city I've ever dreamed of. There are times when I feel like I'm back home, on some stretch of rode lined by trees and no tall buildings around. But then the metro loudly goes by and ruins that illusion. It is interesting though, the city is not a city founded of skyscrapers and clogged up roads, but rather a collection of areas that all happen to be connected through five massive roads and the subway. The whole city is dotted with massive parks, every road lined with plant life, and there is really not too much in the way of futuristic architecture of technology. To me, used to seeing movies of New York, Seattle, or London, this city is more like hundreds of huge suburbs than an actual thriving international city. It just happens to have terrible pollution and a general lack of cleanliness as well as the country's government is seated here. I will both miss it here and talk about it's flaws. I will dream about a time of taxi's and subways, and also say that driving yourself is the only way to go. But more of that later.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Maybe I'm Growing Up

   It has been quite time since I last wrote. My family came in to visit me for two weeks, which was absolutely fantastic. We went all across eastern China and saw some awesome sights. It was great fun to haggle my brother, banter with his girlfriend, and see another part of the world with my mom. But then two weeks was over, and they hopped onto a plane back towards Tennessee. It was at this moment when the most incredible of realisations hit me: my life right now solely concerns China.
    This sounded like an absurd epiphany, even to me at the time. I had at that time been here for nearly three months, but it still had not occurred to me that I lived here. Whenever I was on a vacation to the north or southwest, the north or Canada, I always returned back to a simple home in the rolling hills of the Valley. After traveling once again with my family, and them returning and I staying, made me fully realize this is my home right now. So rather than talk about all the places my family and I visited (I'll be sure to post pictures), I'd rather talk about this feeling I had of China being a home, and my reaction to it.
  My reaction to it was fairly violent, at least in terms of ethnocentricity. I began to react against everything and everyone that wasn't Tennessee(meaning how I was raised). I began to complain ceaselessly about the pollution, and how it covered every single sky my family and I attempted to see in our travels. I began to boycott the food, and would only rant about how they ruin good, fresh food. I even began a campaign agaisnt the very language I am here to learn, only studying it mediocrely. My friends here received the worst of my anger of being here, for I began to nit-pick at every northerner, coastie, and/or European and their culture. My reaction to my home no longer having a lake to swim in, trees to climb, healthy food to eat, no car to drive and no sky to see was almost on the verge of madness. I was mad at myself for leaving my friends back home, mad at China for not being a more developed country, and mad at the people here for being so complacent with everything. I became everything I was proud of not being: an ethnocentric typical American not caring for the rest of the world and wanting only to live in between some mountains for the rest of his life.
   Why did I have such an extreme reaction? I had complained about the food and air, but went living on nonetheless before this. I hadn't really met many Chinese people and maintained a steady friendship with them, so why be angry at them? The government controls most of what happens here, but the influx of capitalism has made the people happy, most of them gaining better life styles. As a result, I wasn't living in too different of a place. As a matter of fact, McDonald's even delivers here, there's a few subways, and Lotus is just a different name for Wal-Mart. So again, why should I suddenly despise this place, and everything it contains?
   Most of my free time is spent with some people from New York City. Some of these people are from the west coast, as well as attending a northern school. Now in the South, we love to joke about those yankees and their odd ways. But being with these people made me realize that for some, there still is a major difference. I began to even realize, that compared to their views on life, politics, and religion, I was easily seen as the traditional Southern Baptist preacher(we all know the stereotype), whereas I'm usually seen as the most liberal. I had not the same extreme opinion on guns, gay marriage, or religion that most of them share. My views on drugs and drinking also were very conservative. As I looked around, I saw that many of my European friends shared the same views as my American ones. Then my family came, all of us from the same place. Then they left, and I was again thrown back into a world devoid of "ain't" barbequed ribs, and talking about UT football. As I mention previously, my reaction eventually came to startle even me.
   Of all things to jar me back into sensibility, it was a tourist spot in Beijing to do so. A long awaited beautiful day finally dawned just last Wednesday. I looked out from the classroom I was pretending to pay attention in, and saw nothing buy puffy white clouds back-dropped by a deep blue sky. It wasn't hard for me to convince myself to skip work, and my friend to skip class, and an hour later we were off to the center of the city. It was to the Temple of Heaven  that we trekked to. And after stopping and asking people for directions in Chinese, we finally arrived. Walking around this place and looking at the signs, I realized I could read the majority of what was written on them. This startled me a bit. Today, I didn't mind the always-in-a-Chinese-tourist-spot crowd that was there. I was in love with the view before me.

      It was then my brain reached into the recesses of itself, and pulled out a memory, of me talking to myself, in fact. I was promising myself that the reason why I wanted to go to China, when very few people supported, was that I always heard about how great of a place America compared to the rest of the world. About how we are the light and so on. I always scoffed at that, and now here I am thinking exactly like those people, all the people I despised with their bigotry. At this realization, I remembered all the wonderful things I've seen and done here. All the friends from around the world that can speak four, five, even six languages. The Chinese people not as complacent as I believed, with petitions being made, and organisations wishing to protect cultural sites always at work. As I gazed at the people bowing and praying, burning incense and only making whispers, I was appalled at myself for not being able to see the good in something I was now becoming a part of. I may sometimes be embarrassed to be an American, but this trip taught me I love my home, my culture. However, this trip has so far also taught me that we do not have all the answers, and are not even close to figuring out half of our problems. Just because a country has different food, different sites and different rites, doesn't mean I have to hate it. Nor does it mean I have to love where I'm from.  I now appreciate coming here, and now again appreciate wanting to learn the language. All this paragraph amounts to is that while yes I know now that I am proud of my roots, I also know that the roots are only the beginning, and if I don't branch out, I won't ever be able to see what's around me.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

   One of the most unusual things I had to adjust to here in China was the lack of religion. You won't see anybody on the street passing out the Koran or even the Vedas. I get asked quite a bit by people back home about religion here. One of the questions I am most asked is more of a statement of "Isn't religion banned there" (coming from people in the Southern US it refers to only one certain religion). The short and easy answer is no, it is not banned. One of our teachers wears a cross and reads the Bible before we come in. She also told us about a church nearby. Communism, ahem excuse me, the People's Republic strongly believes in separation of church and state. Strongly. Everyday people, however, are free to practice what they wish, but only in proper places (You won't find the anti abortion people here). As a matter of fact, one of the biggest breaks here is a traditional Chinese holiday stemming from the old belief system. Tomb Sweeping Day usually falls on the 5th or 4th of April, with students getting three days of the week off. On the actual day of, families reunite and visit the resting place of their ancestors, bringing flowers and incense and cleaning the area. As international students however, and having no Chinese ancestors, a few of us had a different idea.
    To the east and south of Beijing, on a small peninsula jutting out into the Yellow Sea lies the small city of Qingdao. Next to Qingdao is China's highest coastal mountain: Laoshan. My friend Fil, along with Andrew and Rhoda and myself all bought high speed train tickets and saddled in for the 5 hour journey across China's eastern seaboard.
  In all honesty, there is so much I could say I do not even know what to write about. I could go on about the history of Qingdao, starting out as a German town. Or maybe that the small city of Qingdao is bigger than Atlanta in both population and size. I could go on and on about how fantastic our hostel was. Don't even let me start talking about Laoshan, one of the most scenic areas I've ever experienced, and it was still Winter. Me and Fil and our lemur adventures. We also did activities such as flying kites in the park, biking around the city, biking along the coast, and cementing my dislike for seafood. I took more pictures in those five days than I have on any other trip in the States. In short, that trip forced me to like China, and I did so very willingly. I say "in short", but who am I kidding? This is going to be one long ass blog.
    As I mentioned, the journey south was on the high speed rail. The trip was pretty uneventful, besides passing thousands of greenhouses. Again, that is not a hyperbole, there were thousands of them. I sat with a friend from my class, slept, and studied some Chinese. Fours hours after starting the trip, we arrived in Qingdao. Eager to experience somewhere new, I rushed out of the station, barely noticing the hawkers selling stuff I'll never need, and burst into the night air. The first thing I noticed was the air. The clean, crisp, and salty smell of a seaboard city was definitely, without a doubt, missing. This fact bothered more the next day than at that moment, and we'll soon get to that part. We still found our hostel without any trouble, checked in and dropped off our bags, then headed out. We found some district full of seafood, and I, attempting to be a brave soul, endeavoured to try some. All in all, seafood and me might have to wait some time until we agree with each other. The four of us heading to a pier/scenic spot and bought some small necklaces from the vendors there.  However, we all went to bed early that night, for the next morning was beginning at 5a.m.
   Laoshan is a Taoist sacred mountain next to Qingdao. While not being one of the five sacred mountains that a practicing Taoist must pilgrimage to, it is the highest mountain on China's 18,000 mile long coast. Many people each day wind their way up and around on a meandering path made in the shape of the Taoist symbol, with eight gates representing the eight stages of life. It is also thought to be the main cradle of Taoism. But at 5:30 in the morning, it was the place of "Why the hell am do I want to go there". All four of us, even though we promptly rolled out of bed and left the hostel for the first bus going to Laoshan, were very quiet and-at least myself-a little grumpy. My grumpiness was less because of the hour, and more so because of the air. As I looked around, I realized that you might be hard pressed to find an eastern city in China with consistent blue skies. My grumpiness deepened as the sun came out and did not lift the "fog" as a Chinese person insisted on it being. As a matter of fact the fog (which was only in the air) was still there at eight, when we bought our tickets, and had not moved in inch when we were on our trek up the mountain. At that point though, I hardly cared.
    A few steps in, me and Fil found some boulders situated in a creek. It instantly reminded me of the streams in the Smokies. We spent the next hour scrabbling around these rocks, leaping from one to the other, calling ourselves lemurs. It was fantastic, kid fun. The trip up the mountain seems nearly a blur by now. A blur of four friends climbing thousands of steps up and up and up. Scenery that reminds me of Rohan from Lord of the Rings. Gigantic rock formations at the oddest angle jutted from a nest of evergreens, and all the while we were wondering what the other side looked like. This blur of a memory cements itself by the impressive nature of the mountain, while even though Winter was still upon it, managed to have incredible beauty. At the top, with wind that toppled me over more than once, I was again reminded of the "fog". The unheard of view of the sea was at that time unseen as well. That still didn't stop me from having my breath taken away though.

The day continued on, the trip was supposed to last four hours, according to the Lonely Planet. We left that mountain at 7 p.m., after nearly twelve hours of hiking. The highlight of the day was hiking up to one of the many lookout points. It overlooked the other side of the sea, away from the city. Next to this post I noticed the outcropping next to us was rather tall. A closer inspection and I realised that it went up and became the 2nd highest point next to the observatory peak. An even closer inspection and I discovered that it was very difficult to climb up, maybe impossible if someone had never climbed before. This rock face, coupled with the fact it was not allowed reinforced my wish to conquer it. Fil joined me and together we managed to get all the way up.                                                                                                                               
A view from the Top
We made a view videos, wrote some things, took pictures, then headed back down. The pollution had finally lifted a bit and the views on the way back were far better than the morning and afternoon. Continuing our former lemur adventures we leapt from the rock into a tree in order to descend all the way. The day's adventures were for the most part completed, as we headed back to the base, took a black taxi to the nearest bus stop, ate some phenomenal pizza, and crashed into our beds.
   Sunday rolled around, and we all realized we absolutely loved this city. All four of our tickets had us leaving Qingdao that day, but each of us wished to stay. We ended up going to the train station and switched them out. Rhoda and I would be leaving Tuesday, Fil and Andrew Wednesday. Then we hit our next hurtle. I had only booked our hostel for two nights, not four or five. As being the top rated hostel in town and on a holiday, they were booked. WE could still leave our stuff there, however, and they had a bar where we could eat and play games and lounge. I began practicing my Chinese on one of the ladies at the front desk, and soon discovered it was she who managed the place. About an hour later of talking, she mentioned that since there were no rooms, that two of us could sleep in the full bed in the DVD room, and the other two in the bar, all for 20 kuai each. This was possibly the greatest deal ever, and we all four unanimously agreed. The next two days passed by with biking adventures and flying kites. We saw as much of the city as possible, made some friends, and simply explored. The last day we four, along with to other Tsinghua students we ran into there, visited the Tsingdao brewery, the most famous beer in China and it's origin.
Us acting stupid in front of the Beer Fountain
Rhoda and I left that day, and one quick journey on the train, we were back in the hustle and bustle of Beijing. However, this blog does not end here. There was a specific reason why I wished to return of Tuesday. I mentioned before that this break was due to Tomb-Sweeping Day, which fell on that Wednesday. One of the places I wanted to visit was the Ming Tombs, and I decided it was rather poetic if I did so on Tomb-Sweeping Day.
   Rhoda, Shawn (a fellow Vol) and I took the rather treacherous journey a good hour outside of Beijing to get there. And once we did we found ourselves at an extremely busy tomb. Cars were all around us, tour groups waved their respective countries' flags. Chinese tourists abundantly snapped a million pictures. This was not at all what I imagined. I checked the other tombs' information and found that one of them was supposedly serene. Another black taxi ride later, and we arrived at the Zhaoling Tomb.
   It is impossible to describe this garden, for tomb does nothing to conjure up the proper image. We were the only souls around, and the very old cypress trees stood sentinel. The palace was magnificent, and the views even more so.
We found some bamboo brooms in that very Soul Tower, swept it with vigor, then looked at the view of the mountains we were in.
   That holiday showed me parts of China that I had always imagined it to be. The walls, palaces, temples and scenery all finally became a reality from a boyhood imagination. This was only made better by spending it with some of the best people I've met. I might not have understood what is to be religious in China, or even what their belief system truly is, but as I stood on that palace, overlooking the plains and hills, I understood the majesty of such a land, and why it evoked so much wonder in the people of the past. It certainly showed me that China has much more to offer than any one city.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tsinghua 大學

      I've spoken some about China and Beijing, the interesting place that it is, and some of my ethnocentric thoughts concerning it. Now this next post will look through the microscope and I'll tell you about the university I am at: Tsinghua.
   To throw in some more ethnocentrism and egotism, I'll start with the history of Tsinghua University, which begins with the Western powers stretching their fingertips into the east. The Boxer rebellion in the late 19th century began as a cry against foreign spheres of influence and fear of colonization (which western powers would never do something like that in that specific time period...). The Qing Dynasty government supported the Boxers, and declared war on the Eight Nation Alliance (Britain, France, US etc.). The Chinese were beaten, and forced to pay an unimaginable amount of money to the foreign powers. The States decided they would reduce the debt to them if they set up schools prepping Chinese to be schooled in America, who then would return to China in hopes that they would spread the glorious, eternal light that is believed to be America. In 1911, a Qing prince's garden in northern Beijing was taken from him by the then newly formed Nationalist Party, and thus began the legacy that is Tsinghua.
   Closed during the Cultural Revolution due to student in-fighting of anti CR and soon to be Red Guards, and an active participant of the student protest of Tiananmen, Tsinghua now boasts the largest selection of the most stereotypical nerdy Asians you could imagine. The only thing is they are all smarter and more diligent than every student at every ivory league, science school, or military prep academy in America. Their ability to study, study, and only study astounds me, and to a point of jealousy almost. My friend Mia who goes here, I've mentioned a few of her achievements already, is now going to D.C. for the international speech contest in June. Another friend is an international student who studies law here, and while she is at the top of her class amoung the foregn law students, she is not so near the summit once the Chinese students are accounted for. What's the price for all this hard work? Well a suicide occurred this week, and not one student was shaken by it. As a matter of fact, this is the second one this semester (you read that right) and is apparently long overdo for another one. Bbut the ones that do pull though add to America's universities: Tsinghua is the number one undergrad school that produces the most Ph.Ds in America (
   The campus is an interesting mix of 1950s buildings and the more not-the-exact-same-color-and-style modern buildings. The gym would be a tragedy for us used to TRECS, as it is a room no bigger than a classroom, and not even open until 5p.m. Treadmills are non existent here, but there are ample amounts of tracks here on campus. these tracks are all made of revolutionary technology called concrete, which absorbs all the impact from your knees. But inside every track is a soccer field, and where there's soccer, I'm happy.
  Inside the buildings, only one door is unlocked:the south facing one. This is because of Beijing's fengshui, the mountains surround Beijing save for the south.(Another reason is that we believe Chinese buildings are built to herd people, but let's be optimistic) This is all very cultural interesting, but annoying as hell when trying to find a shortcut to the outside. Not only are all other doors closed, but they are also bolted, with metal covering the doorknob. This makes for a fun imaginary scenario if something like a fire happens. And speaking those, there have been several in the dorms. Due to mostly the AC power supply is like the energizer bunny from hell, and leaving your charger in for too long starts some sparks. I always see the notices for these fires, saying nothing was harmed, or luckily the maids managed to get to it, and then realized, I never heard anything at the time of these fires. A quick inspection around my room and sure enough, no fire alarms.
   All of this happens on a large campus, that as I said before, was a dynastic garden before the acquisition of it by the government. What this means is the campus in incredibly beautiful. That is easily seen even in the winter. Here are just a few picture.

Gotta love ice

This week we have a short break, which I'll be using to visit the coast, and some parts of the Great Wall!

Monday, March 12, 2012


       This post is going to be about the, how shall I put this, quirks of Beijing. I say Beijing and not China, which is something I feel is very important. If someone visited only New York City and claimed that's how all Americans are, there would be a minor altercation/reeducation. So here goes.
   Let's start with a interesting yet serious matter, which incidentally, does pertain to all of China (my bad). I have made a good friend here who is a regular student at Tsinghua. Now first let me tell you what it is to be a Tsinghua student. In 2011, 10,000,000 Chinese high schoolers took the standardized test that decides what kind of college you are allowed to apply for. Of those 9,500,000 students, 3,300 are allowed into Tsinghua. Around .00035%, give or take. The education that these kids go through make the Marines look like kindergarteners. They would wake up at 4 a.m. (their teachers would insure this was so) then go to class at 10, then study all day until 11 at night, when they fell asleep. Every single day. And they pride themselves in this(which in all honesty, they have every right to), and my friend has more than once said that I grew up a "lazy American" (which, save for soccer, in all honesty.....). How important is education to these families that only get one, sometimes two kids? My friend's Chinese name says it all. QiHua, a.k.a. Mia. Qi means chess, and Hua is art, so that her name would not only grant her cleverness, but ability as well.
    Onto other, more local things. How about the weather? A clear blue sky day, trees swaying in a gentle breeze, walking to class on a wonderful end-of-Winter day. Sounds great huh? Except here's the Beijing version. Wake up, the forecast is for a beautiful sunny day. I get outside and take a good, long hard look at the sun. That's right, you can stare at the sun here. Clear blue skies here equals, the smog is so damn thick it might as well be about to rain. I fear for my lungs everyday. It truly is terrible. These past few days, extreme winds came from the mountains, which blew much of this south, so they have to worry about it now. But for the first month, I never saw the sky (no that is not a hyperbole). Smoke stacks never stop pumping...whatever it is that seems to perpetually need to be forced into the air. On an actual weather note, the temp is around 29 degrees, and the wind chill brought it down to 12 for the past three days.
   I might have alluded to the taxi drivers here, and I honestly say a quick prayer before everytime we start getting in one. Traffic light? Just a suggestion. Road lines? Who needs 'em? Pedestrians? Five points for a Chinese, twenty for a whitey. I'm not even sure if there are driver's tests, because no one, not one taxi driver, would ever legally be allowed to get behind the wheel in the States.
   Oh the potty squatties, how wonderful you smell. Not only does your inadequate plumbing have you smell like roses on a fresh spring morning, the lack of toilet paper anywhere around you just makes me smile in happiness. In all seriousness though...yeah I can't take these things seriously. I have thus avoided the squat usage of these(sometimes I'm so glad to be a guy). My friends claim they are getting used to these, and, well I won't give any more details about these conversations, but let's just say I'm happy that my room comes fully equipped with a I-sit-on-my-ass toliet.
   And speaking of my room, here's my mattress.
                                                     The bottom white is my mattress

   My Chinese pengyou says this is good for your back. My back says that it hates all my Chinese pengyou's.
  Some other quirks of my current hometown
     Alcohol is more than likely not what you think you're ordering
     An entire Chinese conversation always ends in 拜拜 (ByeBye)
    The food is incrediable (but super super oily. Watching the muffin top grow is not enjoyable)
    You also never really know what you're eating.
     There are more basketball courts on this campus than in Tennessee entirely. Not only are they always full, but everyone is really bad at basketball.
   Brothels are next to English schools(I accidentally found this out first hand on my way to a job interview)
How do YOU dry clothes?
       Most of blogs have been/will be deeper and more thoughtful. But letely, I got so homesick thinking of UT coming alive and me not being there, that I needed to look at everything in a different light. This is a place of extreme mystery, that I know I never will fully understand. But I'm starting to enjoy myself again, doing things like this.
I'm eating something that may or may not use to bark...

 But mostly, my days, nights, and sleep all consist of my education of Chinese. One of my new found study tips I have labeled "Character Suicides" after the soccer conditioning exercise.
You try it
         All I do is study, study, study. One day, after two full weeks of nothing but writing and remembering, I fell asleep while riding my bike. All I had done was class, eat, sleep, and study. My brain quite literally declared mutiny on this never before experienced abuse. The reward, I hope, will be worth all this effort, and China will have been worth the visit. It certainly is so far.

Monday, February 27, 2012


     There is something I've wanted to do since I was a kid. Well actually there are plenty of things I've aspired to since I was that little loner of a child. One of those very dreams finally came true last weekend. I hiked a part of the great wall.
   However, as the quirks of a history major go, I first wish to write about the history of this monument. The Great Wall itself started as several smaller walls during a time when China was broken up into multiple dynasties. The first uniting emperor of China(Qin, 200B.C.) ordered that some of the walls be connected to combat the Huns. However, it wasn't until the Ming dynasty ( circa 14th century, also the Golden Age of China) that large scale construction of the wall began. This would bring the total distance (keep in mind the Wall is actually in many different sections) to almost 5000 miles.
    Now the section I have been the most excited about is the Jinshanling sectio. It is secluded, not touristy, and its last renovation was in the 16th century. It is also two hours outside Beijing, and I wanted to see the sunrise. Myself, along with 9 other people, awoke last Sunday morning at 3am so that we would make it by six. I had all the preperations ready. All the information was correct, and I was excited. After all my very thorough research, I discovered all the to dos and not to dos. Just one thing all the sites and books I read didn't mention: no taxi driver wants to drive two hours north at 4am.
   Over and over we tried, always getting the same shake of the head, and a cloud of CO2 coming from the retreating taxi. Not only was I immensly emberassed by all of this, I was feeling incrediably put-off. I woke everyone at 3am, keeping from them a night that which they would have gone to sleep at that time instead, and here we were unable to get to where I wanted to go. I bit my pride, and told our taxi driver to take us to the most dreaded place of Great Wall hikers: Badaling.
   Badaling is an hour drive (if that) from Beijing, and as such is the spot most attractive to tourists. I was leaning on two facts however, that might make everything work out. 1) It would be 6 in the morning when we arrived there and 2) It was below freezing on a wintery, February Sunday. Not too many people make those two things meet, except for ten very grumpy and sleepy college students.
   We finally arrived, and dawn was slowly approaching, as if the sun too was reluctant to shine upon this tourist hell we were in. The Wall didn't open until 7, so we waited in the taxis, and I negotiated with the drivers about waiting for us. The misty morning upon the mountains was brilliant, yet it was too dark for me to work my settings on my camera, and honestly too cold. Even as I tried our driver came out and kept on calling me crazy, saying "leng le"(cold!). Even as i took pictures, and he looked through my camera, he would give me a toothy smile and say "Crazy!" and walk back to the cab. Whether I was actually crazy for being outside at that time or not, I'm fairly certain this is the only word in English he knew.
   Regardless of my sanity, seven rolled around, I bought everyone coffee, and we walked to the gate.This is the first site that greeted us, other than an empty courtyard.
    We were finally here. The Badaling section has two different directions to go, so we chose the one that rather than having 5 people, had none. It was incredibly steep, and winding its way alongside the mountain. I had hopes of walking it to the top of the mountain range in the distance, but only the restored part was allowed, the rest would be tresspassing; which my rebellious nature took as an invitation and I hoped the wall and hiked with Coby, my Canadian friend, for a bit before returning to the others. We walked back to the center, by this time, quite a crowd was gathered on the other side. As i gazed at this part of the wall, I realized that the crowd ended at a certain point, but a trickle of people continued on, and even fewer people beyond that. My eyes finally found the blocking point, where only one person sat, and only a few were walking torward.
     Five of us endeavored that hike, the others going to eat. It was a painstaking walk, many times literally climbing up stairs. At long last, after five miles of hiking, we arrived at the very end, and turning around I saw all that we had done.

It was a great day, despite the complications and problems that arose. At the end of it, as the five of us stood, panting and looking out over this monument and testament to what humans will do, I smiled. It was vain of me to have this thought, and untrue perhaps, in a logical perspective. But for the first time since I had arrived, I finally realized, I was here. I was in China.