Going to the Movies

After a bit of complication, my friend and classmate Avi has finally made it to Tianjin. He arrived really late on the 26th, instead of going to sleep like normal travelers who know about jet lag, we got dressed and made a 3:30am KFC run. After a satisfying meal, we spent the night talking to friends on skype and probably didn’t sleep until 6-6:30am. Nonetheless, I set an alarm for 12 pm and we woke up to do a few errands around Tianjin. We had to open up a bank account with the Communications Bank on campus (a requirement to receive the monthly scholarship allowance), visit offices, and print documents. Around 3pm, Avi and I set out to find the movie theater and finally catch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 2. I first asked the reception desk at the international building, but the lady had no idea where one might be, so I asked if Wal-Mart would have one (strange, but in China they usually do), she confirmed my suspicions and we were off! …Except none of the bus stops are actually called “Wal-Mart”, so Avi and I started asking everyone we met on the street which bus to take, but everyone was clueless. Their reactions were: “Wa-al-ma-rrt??” As if they never heard of this mystical land, then they would give an obscure answer. So I switched tactics and began asking young people, same response but finally I stumbled upon a girl who seemed to know where a movie theater was, even if she didn’t know how to get to Wal-Mart, take bus 643 to BinJiangDao (滨江道). After arriving, I was pleasantly surprised to have found a big shopping center here in Tianjin, it is chock full of shops, restaurants, and mini attractions. Not to be distracted from our prize, though, Avi and I asked everyone how to get to the theaters, the reactions were even crazier. When I asked the people they made me repeat the words “movie theater” over and over, as if they knew this word, but had never experienced it or something. I would just say maybe I was saying it wrong but my tones and pronunciation of the movies is on point, to put it modestly. So I tried saying “movie theater” with a northern Chinese accent instead to others, but same reaction. I actually had a store clerk say, “Well what are you going to do at the theaters?”…My response: “Watch movies (WTF?!)”

So it is just my wild guess, but I would assume watching movies isn’t a great, pastime here in Tianjin. After walking for two hours, our mission was a success, the allusive theater was found. What kind of sucked though was that there was no IMAX option to watch Harry Potter without it also being 3D…and I despise 3D movies. So we bought the normal screening of the film, but they were only showing it at 9:50PM that night, since it was only about 5, Avi and I had time to kill. In the middle of a square, we discovered a special advertising performance for a new cell phone, there were cameras, funny MCs, break dancing, and Avi and I got sucked into a karaoke competition to win the phone. Strange things happen in China when you have nothing to do. We sang an old classic hit, a Chinese song called Pengyou (Friends) by Zhou HuaJian. We sucked but being foreign on staging and singing Chinese has a way of pumping up the crowd, we walked away with free photo frames, even if we didn’t win. At 9:30 we went back to the theaters and waited for the movie to start.

 The funny part of going to the movies in China is that you get to choose you seats, as if it’s an airplane. Avi didn’t know this and was surprised by the row and seat number on our tickets (it was his first time going in China). I got us a bucket of popcorn beforehand, in Asia sweet popcorn is VERY popular, getting salty popcorn is actually hard to find. Luckily, I don’t really mind and we had a grand old time watching Harry save the day~


Cell Phone Use in China (I’m Not Illegal Anymore!)

Yes, it’s true I’ve now given up my life of crime, I am an illegal fugitive no more! As I mentioned before, my tourist visa expired two days ago on the 21st of August, but I stuck it to the man and went no where. Well, it really wasn’t that exciting for a life of crime, and my short stint on the dark side is officially over already. I just wasn’t cut out for it. Since my visa was to expire on the 21st, technically my current place of residence (the International College Dorms in Nankai University) was supposed to kick me out. When I came on the 11th to rent out a room, they actually booked me to check out on the 21st due to this little problem…but as with all things in China, nothing is actually impossible. So I just went up to the desk a few days ago and mentioned that I want to stay until the 25th instead, no fussing or fighting actually, just an exchange of money and my problem was solved. To get my visa changed from tourist to student, the Exit Entry Bureau had to keep my passport, so if they put up a fight I would have been camping on the door step anyways (every hotel needs your passport to book if you are a foriegner).

The only other time that my lack of passport was a problem was when I tried to buy a new sim card for my cell phone.  When I went out to buy a Tianjin sim card the other day, I needed my passport to buy it, which I didn’t have. Allow me to explain, I love me some China, but the cell phone business is very condaluted and strange here. In order to get a cell phone plan, one must simply buy a sim card and put it into your Chinese cell phone. There are only two mobile providers here, China Mobile and China Unicom. In my personal opinion, China mobile is better than Unicom, I had Unicom last summer and had more connection problems, while this year with China Mobile there are none. Also, I know we hate feeding into a monopolizing monster, but Mobile is a bigger company with a larger net, there are more China Mobile booths and stores, so there is added convenice with their service as well. Anyways, after you have selected a company, be sure to look at the details of every sim card plan, there are those that cost 10 Chinese cents for each text and 15/minute for calls, and some with better international plans but more expensive texts, etc. Choose the one that fits your personal needs (I got the one with the best texting rates). On this cell phone is where you’ll find your cell phone number, Chinese people can be very superstitious about numbers, so with an extra charge you can choose a number with only auspicious, lucky numbers. Or be foriegn like me, and not care. Cell phone use in China is basically like having a pre-paid cell phone, and there’s no other choice. When your money runs out, no one can call or text you until you find your companies booth/store on the street and add money. The most annoying part is, if you don’t use you sim card in 6 moths, the card service gets cancelled, so every summer that meant a new cell phone number for me. Also, calling cell phones numbers from other cities, for example a person from Shanghai calling a Beijing relative, cost more…So now I have to buy a new si card here in Tianjin, or risk having any new friends I make here complain about the “International rate” of calling me. Sidenote: (Wondering about bringing your own cell phone to China and using it here?) If you don’t have the latest smart phone, I think Apple is the best, or you may want to consider just buying a cheap cell phone here (My cell phone only cost me 250 RMB and it’s not too shabby). The reason why ordinary phones that take sim cards may not be ideal is because my friends who have done this in the past have problems where they can’t read text messages on Chinese. Very annoying when texting is so important here, everyone texts, a person is more likely to text than call, even to teachers (especially to teachers, which is strange to my American sensibilities).

Anyways, I’m expecting to get a new cell phone number anyday now…now that I am legal and can buy one that is 🙂

A Harry Potter State of Mind

Lucky for me, 2011 (this year) is the 90th year anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party!…Are you as excited as I am? Yeah, to be honest, there hasn’t been anything more exciting other than some new posters and statues added in the cities. The reason why this little fun fact is relevant: In honor of the 90th anniversary, China is taking it back to the olden days and regulating western movies more strictly. When Diana and I went to the movie theaters in Shanghai, I thought it was strange because there were only CHinese movies, and Kung Fu Panda II….apparently, western movies will not be screened in China until it reaches a certain number in the box offices. I’m not sure how long this little celebration will last, hopefully it’s only for the summer time. I don’t usually go to the movies anyways, so normally this wouldn’t affect me. But I love my Harry Potter, I’m not one of those crazies who sleep outside of the theater the night before a premiere, decked out completely in Hogwarts regalia…but I have read every book faithfully and have yet to miss a movie. Hell, Emma Watson is even my chosen lesbian crush! (Not that I swing that way, but my devotion is there damn it!)

So I’ve basically been waiting for the end of a majestic era Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows-Part II since mid January, July 15th (the premiere date in America) has been marked in my mind like a holy day. But alas, I found out a week before that I wouldn’t be getting my necessary dosage. Nope, in China Harry wouldn’t come out until August 4th, it made me so jealous reading all of those Facebook updates about how awesome it was even the 3/4th time around, and I couldn’t even get a shot. Unfortunately, by the time August 4th came, I was so busy with Chinese Bridge that I couldn’t sneak out and watch my film. I would’ve went right away, but I need someone else to go with, I have not stooped to seeing a movie on my own yet. Luckily, my friend and underclassman (underclass in terms of Chinese, he’s year 2 and I’m an OG-year 3), Avi is going to come back to China. He also received the Hanban scholarship to study abroad this year, he’s arriving the night of the 25th, so I am expecting to get my Harry Potter on by the 26th (in IMAX because my patience must be rewarded). I am currently in Harry Potter induced euphoria, re-reading the books and watching Deathly Hallows Part I, it has been a bad start but going to be a BEAUTIFUL finish. Preparing to wave a final goodbye to my childhood :’)

Having Natural Hair (In Asia and Beyond)

Growing up, half of my memories are of me sitting on the floor, with my mother sitting in a chair behind me braiding my hair. I used to fuss and squirm until it was over and I got to enjoy my nice new hair style for a week. I’m sure all of the black women out there understand perfectly what I mean. Well anyways my mom made this tradition of relaxing our hair right before our eight grade graduation, she felt that our scalps were healthy and mature enough at that age to take the chemical, permanent straightening. Looking back, I am grateful she waited that long, because walking around I see mothers who don’t want to even deal with combing and relax their daughter’s hair at age 3-4. Regardless of this fact, at age 13 I still didn’t want to relax my hair, but in the end I was forced to and I was happy for a few years.

Straight Hair

Then I started noticing that even though my hair would be silky and flowy for a few days (after getting it done), I would always have to start putting it in the mid-week pony tail, and not even get to enjoy my hair. Not to mention, I started adding up all of the dollars it took to get my hair treated, I had aunts who worked in the hair salon business, so I got great deals…but still paying $10 a week to get it washed and $20 every 6 weeks to get a relaxer is too much. So my sisters and I started on a healthy hair trend, we read books, blogs, and forums about the proper way to take care of hair. We learned what the chemicals in relaxers really do to the hair shaft and follicles, what products provide the most moisture, and “protective” hairstyles. After about a year of taking better care of my hair, I started questioning my image of beauty. I’ve always been something of a rebel, you know-hate any show/movie that’s popular, take spanish just because all of the other Haitians took french-that sort of rebel. Anyways, one day while looking at my roots, I tought to myself, why can’t my natural hair be beautiful on it’s own? What exactly am I conforming too? Will my daughter be ashamed of her own hair the way my mom is? (I’m not saying relaxed hair is shameful or anything, it’s just that when my mom sees natural hair she compares it to poor, homeless people…and that just isn’t right) So in May 2010 I took matters into my own hands and cut all of my relaxed hair away. The next morning I was so scared to show my mom! I snuck around her for a day before I bucked up and let her have it, she moaned about the loss of my “beautiful” hair, but I felt empowered.

Braid Out (1 year post)


Ironically enough, all of the negative comments I have ever received about my hair has come from the black community (though of course only a few don’t like it, not everyone hates). So it’s been over a year now since my big-chop, and I am at that awkward stage between having enough hair to do something with it, and it being too short still. I have down different types of afros though and have fun doing it. The reactions I get from Chinese people are pretty funny, my friends tell me that people stare in amazement when my back is turned. Surprisingly, there has only been one surprise attack on my fro, an old man walking behind me decided to feel one spring, and I wasn’t angry at all. My Chinese friends don’t even ask if they can feel it (every single one of my American friends have asked to have a feel, which is ironic since Americans are supposed to be the more experienced of the two). Topics that involve my hair always go with the Chinese person admiring my hair, then asking how much it costs to curl it like this….I hate to disappoint but it’s natural! Their faces are always priceless, because paying to have your hair curled is the rage right now (grass is always greener on the otherside-blacks have curly hair so we straighten and Chinese have straight hair so they curl). When I get back to America next August, I am considering getting my hair done in sisterlocks, it’s a more feminine (expensive!) version of dreadlocks, and I think it’s really cute.

Long Sister Locks

I’m not going to lie and say I never miss straight hair, it is so much easier to be considered “beautiful” with a long, flowing mane. With that aside, though, it’s also great to not have to run away from rain, wash it myself, and not carry an arsenal of heating products. As for now, I am going to stick it through because I’m happy to be nappy!~

Tianjin and Visa Woes ~

It has been so long since I posted a blog! Honestly, everyday that goes by I think of a new topic to write about, but then I remember the posts I still haven’t written and think to myself, “Oh I have to write those first.” Then after a few days, I don’t want to write anything because I am so behind that it would take forever to write them all. It’s a never ending cycle, so now I am going to write about what’s been going on with me recently, and get back to those posts I haven’t done later….If I don’t do it this way I kow I won’t ever write again, haha. Anyways, Tianjin is a city 30 minutes north of Beijing, and also the city where I will spend the year studying at Nankai University. When I first left Shanghai a few weeks ago to participate in Chinese Bridge activities, the TV producers automatically bought me a return flight to Shanghai for the 10th. Of course, I had no plans of returning to Shanghai, why would I do that when Tianjin is so close to the capital, right? I was just going to miss the flight in the airport and hop on a train to Tianjin, there’s a bus/train every 30 minutes for only 70 RMB. Being a nice person though, I felt bad having the show spend money uselessly, so I told Mrs. Zeng to cancel my ticket. This caused her to freak out though and demand where I was going, so I told her about my plans and before I could put up a fuss she was canceling and rebooking my flight; this time from Changsha (the city where the finale was filmed) straight to Tianjin. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except that the cancellation fee and the ticket price difference amounted to 150 RMB, a price I had to pay, so I was pretty livid but what could I do?

The flight to Tianjin was supposed to leave at the ridiculously early time of 8:05am, so I got Mrs. Zeng to change it to the 8pm flight. I didn’t want to miss out on hanging out with all of my new, awesome friends and free meals just because someone got too antsy to see me off. The last day of Chinese Bridge was bitter sweet, we only knew each other for almost two weeks, but it was an intense, activity-filled two weeks. It felt like summer camp on speed, we laughed, cried, and partied together. The day before last we all went to our favorite club in Changsha called True Color (本色), then danced and drank the night away. I learned a truly shocking fact that night, apparently grinding is a dance form mostly done in the Americas, therefore my European friends were all newbies at it and actually prefer the 80s-dancing-in-front-of-each-other thing. I adjusted quickly though and still had a good time (Note to self: Find a pack of Americans to go clubbing with though, because I don’t know if I can handle a whole year without grinding! *shudders*). We got back around 5am, said our goodnights, and had a long, restful sleep. We were all up in time to eat an early lunch though (around 11am), good thing too because about one third of the students left right after and I had the chance to say goodbye. Among that group, some of my favorites were Natalie and Liliane, Natalie is a pretty South African girl engaged to a Chinese man. We fell in love over our common love of Chinese food, she’s skinny but she can pack it away! Liliane is one of the first people I met and she’s from Mexico, she’s staying for the year in Beijing studying. Since Liliane is in Beijing studying and Natalie’s fiancé is from Beijing I expect to see them again this year 🙂

Just an hour after that, the rest of the participants were being shipped enmasse to the Changsha airport to go to Beijing, then fly home. There were so many people to say bye to, it was a never ending flurry or hugs, email exchanges, and pictures. In the end I know there are a handful of us staying for the year, so hopefully I will see them again, my Irish friend is going to be in Hangzhou though so that one may be a stretch. On the bright side, there’s still my German friend Lutz, Natalie, Liliane, and Italian roommate, Cinzia staying nearby in Beijing, so there’s still hope! Also, my Australian hunny bunny, aka Jessica, has parents who work in Kunming, China; so she will be back here for Christmas, and she invited Lutz and I over to spend the holiday…I smell a road trip!

Jessica had a morning flight, so it was just us two after everyone left. We bought snacks and holed up in my room watching movies like, The Adjustment Bureau (it was ok) and Inception (much better).  At 6:30, I was on my way to the airport in a taxi provided by the show, I called ahead to my hotel in Tianjin to let them know of my arrival time, when (of course with my luck) they ask me at the end if I am a foriegner, and sorry but they couldn’t house foriegners. That may sound strange but it actually is common here, hotels and certain buidlings have to have permits and liscences to house foriegners, I think it’s a security measure so those without visas can’t stay in the country easily. I just wish I knew that when I booked online, they could have put it on their website for christ’s sake! Assuming foriegners can’t read chinese to book the room anyways? So there I was, on my way to the airport with no living accomodations when I land, and no current internet access. Luckily, I had one of the producers cell phone numbers and gave her a call, she found another place for me to stay and booked it. The only snag was I couldn’t check in after 10, which was when my plane was supposed to arrive, she told me it would be no problem, and to just call them and let them know. That would have been perfectly fine, except right at that moment my cell phone ran out of minutes…Also, my plane was about 3 hours delayed, so I didn’t even land in Tianjin until a whopping 1:30am. With no garauntee of having a room, I spent the night homeless in the airport instead, I slept with my head on my backpack, and legs and arms around my other two suitcases. That goes up there in my “Wosrt night ever” category for sure.

Around 6am, I hopped into a cab and finally got to my hotel, it was only 80 RMB and relatively pain-free. Finally in my hotel room, I was really tired, but jumped on the internet to try and solve my visa problems. China has very strict visa regulations, there is no grace period like in many other countries, whether you are here for an hour or twenty weeks, you need a visa for that. My current visa is a 90 day, multiple entry tourist visa, meaning everytime I re-enter China this year I get to stay for 90 days. Not bad, except I came to CHina May 22nd, therefore my visa is up for expiration on August 21st (yes, a few days from now). I was freaking out! I called my friend Victor who just got back to America from China, he reassured me not to listen to what others are saying online and to visit the international office in Nankai. The forums online about changing visas was scary, people had me thinking that at best I would have to go to Hong Kong to apply for a change of visa status, wosrt case, go back to my home country. Before any of you do anything drastic like that, remember that there are always Entry-Exit Bureaus to take care of that. It was pretty simple, I went to the office, a teacher helped me fill out an application, told me where to get my physical done, and just two days ago I had my interview with the officer to get my new visa. It’s not completely over yet, they have my passport and paperwork (walking around China without my passport is a bit unnerving) and I can pick it up on the 23rd. So I have two days (the 21st and 22nd) to experience life on the wild side, I am going to laugh in the face of the law!! …Well, not really, but at least I don’t have to leave the country 😀