Stephanie’s Reflections #2

What has been your favorite place so far in Tianjin?

I really loved the amusement park here (sorry, I don’t know its name). It was absolutely beautiful with pavilions full of breakdancing groups (the degree of talent these groups had was another question) and older people ballroom dancing. There was also the place where they put brass animals symbolizing the Chinese zodiac and I took pictures of others next to their zodiac (I couldn’t take a picture next to the dragon because it was the only one missing- BOO!). Little babies were running everywhere and people were smacking down cards during a picnic as if they were playing dominoes.   There was also a Ferris wheel and bumper cars but it cost around 50 RMB to ride them :(.  So, if you’re in Tianjin I recommend going to the amusement park that I’m sure Marsha will be kind enough to write out and the Joy City mall because of all the shopping you can do! I bought tops there and trust me, I am NOT a petite girl.

 

What do you think about my friends after reading about them and now finally meeting them? Were they what you expected?

I don’t know what I expected after hearing about your friends but I was pleasantly surprised. For some reason, when you described Moon (for those of you who don’t remember him…look back to check on the Moon Saga), I was expecting a spindly, awkward geek who sported taped glasses. Instead, I met a swearing stocky guy (my first impression was of him shouting “F**king stupid driver!” in English after our taxi got us lost trying to meet him) who can play a mean game of cards and walked like a yakuza character in an anime. I still have a mission to see what he’s like drunk before I leave because it looks like it would be hilarious.

Brandon wasn’t as buff as I expected but as I was sipping my rum and coke he got cuter and cuter. In my inebriated state, I told him he was a “hao ren” (good person) because he didn’t seem to speak a lick of English and that was one of the phrases I had in my extremely limited internal Mandarin dictionary. Even though I saw him that one time and didn’t really talk to him, he seemed alright.

Patrick seems really cool, especially since he had to chase my little sister when she tried to run out into the streets after inhaling about half a bottle of rum. He even let me pet his hair after a few drinks although he laughed when I described it as “soft and strong.” I even whispered to Marsha, admittedly tipsy, that I wouldn’t mind him as a brother-in-law while she was having the Awkward Date That Must Not Be Named with another guy.

Alex reminds me of the people who we used to hang out with in Boston – he has the dry humor thing that Northeasterners come out of the womb with down pat. He also seems into doing whatever, which is probably why him and Marsha get along so well. As a Midwestern boy, I’ve also had the pleasure to teach him some of our more…colorful…phrases such as “ratchet,” “doing the most,” “finna,” and various words in Kreyole which he was able to pick up fast since he took French. It was also hilarious to watch his expressions while showing him twerking videos. He’s cool peoples.

Avi’s hilarious with his unnecessary comments and the emotional abuse the group piles on him. Mustafa is a cool guy with an iron stomach (he drank copious amounts of sake and still wasn’t the least bit drunk). Nastya was awesome for shooing away that pervert in the club and for being another tall girl.  Overall, I think your friends look like good people…at least not psychotic haha.

Which place in China are you most looking forward to visiting?

It isn’t necessarily a place but I really want to do two things before I go: drunk KTV just because and light fireworks because I was always too much of a wuss to do it.

What do you think about Chinese food?

It’s definitely not like the Chinese food in America. If you ask for “fried rice” in most restaurants, you’ll get white rice mixed with fried eggs. The food here is more refreshing than the fare offered in America. I know that isn’t the correct term, but I can’t think of a better word to describe it. What I mean is that it doesn’t create the stick-to-your-stomach fullness that the other food gives you. But there are great dishes here that I wish they had in more American Chinese restaurants. One of my favorite things to eat was the hotpot, which you boil whatever you want and dip it in this yummy sesame sauce: beef, cabbage, chicken, eggs, anything. You even get a cute red apron to wear so you don’t stain your clothes. The only thing I miss about America is the salty snacks because there is no way of cooking in the hotel. The snacks in China seem to be on point when it comes to sweets but when it comes to salty ones there’s always something…off. Either I don’t like the flavor or there is a twinge of sweetness that I was trying to avoid. So, as long you pack up on the Cheezits and Doritos, you’re good to go!

This is Marsha again: About that “awkward date” that my sister brought up, i think it deserves a post of it’s own…look out for it! lol

My Preciousss

Hi, my name is Marsha, and I haven’t had cereal in over 10 months.

I would give up my first child for a nice big bowl of cereal right now. That looks very insensitive, but I can’t stop how I feel! In America, I eat a bowl every morning; it used to be why I got up, the highlight of my mornings! Yummm, Special K was my favorite…any flavor would do. Milk is kind of a scarce commodity in China, the milk that they sell here come in strange packets that don’t need to be refrigerated.  So I am too suspicious to drink it. Not to mention, cereal is freakishly expensive, a small box costs about 5-7 dollars…American dollars. I am not starting myself on such an expensive habit. So for now I must buck up and keep strong. I need to stay on the wagon!

In addition to missing cereal, I also would love to get a nice big serving of Haitian food. But I won’t even get started on that because I will just become depressed. Le sigh*

Happy International Woman’s Day!

Yup, it’s finally arrived, March 8th, the day that we wait all year for, Woman’s Day! Well, maybe there isn’t that much anticipation, but it’s nice to be recognized anyways. I’ve only heard of this holiday mentioned in a passing joke one time, Woman’s Day can also be referred to by the date it falls on (March 8th), which in Chinese is 三八节 (literally the numbers 3 and 8 Day). Why is this funny? Because 3 and 8 can be used as a derogatory term for a crazy person. *Shrug* Can’t win ‘em all right?

I was asked two weeks ago to perform for a Woman’s Day celebration, which took place yesterday. I was skeptical at first, but found no way to get out of it (you all know that I am trying to slowly step away from the lime light). In the end, I’m glad I did it. One of my Tianjin Language Competition co-competitors KeXin was also doing it so I was glad to get more time to hang out with her. We left from our school yesterday at 3pm; it was a rented bus that carried us, some teachers, and about 20 other female classmates. It took an hour to arrive, I’m assuming it was a place on the outskirts of Tianjin…literally, I saw a sign that said “Beijing: This Way”, haha. Surprisingly, for a place in the middle of nowhere’s land it was pretty snazzy. There were chandeliers, well dressed hostesses, and observantly speedy waiters. The room with the stage was set up in banquet style with a good sized stage at the front. Also, all of the tables were decked out in top-notch finger foods and desserts. KeXin and I were very nervous about performing, no matter how many times you do it, performing it again you feel just as nervous as the first time. There were many lovely performances before ours (we were number 8), like acapella choirs, a lion dance, an award winning singer, and Beijing opera solos. All of the acts were performed by women, one was even a mother-daughter singing duo, and the girl was only five but sounded SO mature and sang so well! Finally, it was our turn, all I could think in my head was that I was going to mess up on my opening clapper section and hit someone in the face….luckily! That was not the case. It went well and I didn’t make any mistakes that I noticed, plus the crowd loved it so it doesn’t matter 🙂

After the banquet finished (there was an Italian opera performance from an American woman that was fantastic, by the way) we were bombarded by photographers and met some of the “Outstanding Women” guests. There was a really tall, skinny one who is a famous volleyball player, and a shorter woman who is a part of the Olympic Chinese Taekwondo team. We had to take “candid” shots with them, and then retired to our bus. The teachers surprised us with a free meal at a nice Chinese restaurant nearby. I met a bunch of people I didn’t know before yesterday, plus got a gift bag, a free meal, and 100 kuai that the head of the Department surprised us with today. All in all….a very nice way to start off Woman’s Day~

Temple Cruising, Camera Bruising

I must begin this post by stating the internet is driving me crazy! It goes on and off at will, and mind you I am still trying to upload my Face book pictures while I can. Gosh, fate just doesn’t want me to finish. Anyways, back to my life as a tourist.

I went to sleep pretty late last night, but woke up at 8am anyways to get ready for our big day of touring. Nastya was tired so I used the bathroom first, but after I finished she didn’t get up for a while still. This is typical so I didn’t think much about it other than not wanting to be late for our meeting with Sun Tong, but I tried not to be a bitch about waking her up. Good thing I wasn’t too, because she told me later that she felt too sick to go out for the day. No need to worry, it’s just a common cold, coughing and stuffy nose, but it definitely is easier to get tired when sick, and resting is better than pushing one’s self and getting sicker. I offered to run down to the drug store and get her more medicine but she said she just needed sleep. So off I went on my own!

I stopped by the ever-famous 7-Eleven on my way to the subway, and picked up chips & a sandwich. I first intended to eat them there, but a creepy African man affirmatively helped me change that plan, I practically bolted for the subway and just ate them later, haha. I made it to Sham Tin station to meet with Sun Tong by 10am, thank goodness because I hate being late…strange for a Haitian right? We walked around and found our way to the Ten Thousand Buddha Monastery, it was a climb! It was a surprisingly hot day, it felt like summer time…but I’m assuming it’s a very mild version of their summer so I am grateful. It was sunny and a great day to hike around temples, because all of the trees and plants looked beautiful without bugs to ruin it, haha. Starting at the very base of the mountain were two lanes of gold statues of monks, each looked different from the other, some holding dog/lion puppies, some shy, some aggressive, bored, indifferent. I took pictures of the funniest ones in my opinion, so when I get back to my room (I left the plug for my camera and computer in Tianjin) I will upload them~

Next, we took the subway to another famous temple, I only remember the Mandarin name…Cantonese names are hard; it was called Che Gong Temple. It was nice, but comparatively small, the most interesting part about it was the wall of red papers hanging down. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was the “examination list”, History lesson! *puts on glasses* : Back in ancient China, there was a very difficult, long annual examination one would take to become an official, which would mean all of the money, whores, and power you could dream of. The only problem was passing it, there are many stories of famous authors who took this test every year but never passed, for example Pu Songling. If you passed, then your name would be posted on a board in red paper. So the Chinese people here make donations to the temple and write down their son/daughters name, it’s a good luck on your test kind of thing. I made my friend Sun Tong do one for her boyfriend, coincidentally he was taking Grad School tests today, haha.

We took a lunch break and continued onto NanLian Garden, it’s a free park in the middle of a busy area, and surprisingly so peaceful and pretty. It almost made me become a nature lover and want to go camping on my spare time…almost. I was finally able to buy a few souvenirs, I am in such a dilemma. I am trying to buy souvenirs for six Chinese friends. Chinese people are the worst people to buy souvenirs for in China. When I give gifts to my American friends, they will love anything in a red color with characters on it, but these people know Chinese, haha. Also, Hong Kong doesn’t have any particular special thing that can be a souvenir, like a type of food, or something like the Eiffel tower that I can buy key chains of….Gosh, life is hard. Then we went to another one, it was nice but, um, I forget the name…they begin to blur after a bit. Also, funny story, at this last one, I broke my camera….yeah, I broke it. It happened in slow motion for me, we were sitting on the second floor balcony, and I felt something slide from my lap, between the railing posts, I look over and it is my precious camera. I didn’t scream or anything, haha. I looked over and felt happy that at least it didn’t fall into the lake, it actually landed on the bridge, so it was a close call. I am a glass half full kind of gal. At least this way I can still get all of the pretty photos, even if my camera’s a goner, haha.

Afterwards, I treated Sun Tong to some milk shake, and my other friend Justin called and met up with us. It was really funny, because his English is amazing, but Mandarin so-so, while Tong’s English is okay, but not perfect either. We were switching between the two languages so much, that even I had trouble keeping up, haha. Luckily, they both really liked each other, while walking around, Justin decided to take us to his favorite KTV in Hong Kong’s Time Square (yes, they have one too…copy cats~). The way they do it is different from Mainland China, you pay a fixed rate by person, rather than by hour…and it was expensive! It came out to 235 HKD per person, PLUS a required 10% tip (I had to pay this tip charge on the milkshakes too, a reason why I like China more than America, no tips!). A perk though, was that on the bottom floor we had access to an amazing buffet, there were cakes, fruit, hotpot, seafood, chicken, rice, flan, chocolate drip machine, sushi…I mean there was everything. The KTV room had its own bathroom too, but that was where the good ended, because they didn’t have that many American songs. My friend explained that American songs are expensive and because Hong Kong does things legally they are behind Mainland. I wouldn’t mind, because I sing Chinese songs too, but there was no option to write in the Chinese characters or search songs by name, actually you couldn’t even search the singer by name either. You could only select Male, Female, or Group, and from there, the country…the artists weren’t even put in ABC order, oh gosh! Regardless, we had fun and sang until my voice sounded like a man. I was so glad to spend that time with them and I will miss them a lot. But they could always come to Mainland to see me right?

Touring Around

Walking around, Nastya really wanted to eat bakery food, so we walked in search of one. I personally didn’t care what I ate, so I grabbed a chicken &celery sandwich from 7-Eleven and was good to go. By the way, 7-Elevens are so freaking popular in Hong Kong, there are more 7-Elevens than McDonalds…it’s hilarious. Anyways, we still walked around in search of the ever allusive bakery, when we took a staircase to cross the road and stumbled upon a shopping mall. There was Calvin Klein, Gucci, and more, twas heaven. What’s even better is that the Christmas/ New Year’s season is sale season here; I can’t wait to come back here when I’m rich. It will be soo awesome.

Since sale priced brand names are still out of our college budgets, we moved on and walked to the Arts Museum we saw across the street. The building itself was interesting and artistic, so I fully anticipated the exhibits within…BUT it was closed for redecorating. So we walked around the back and found that we were on the famous Avenue of Stars, on the floor was stars with signatures and hand prints of famous Chinese actors and actresses. It borders the coast, and the other Hong Kong Island, Central, could clearly be seen, a great photo taking place. We walked, found a Starbucks, and then made our way over to the Museum of History (I told you all that our hostel’s location was awesome, all of this in walking distance).

I usually don’t like history museums, I find them to be boring and dry. Just a bunch of old pottery and clothing in glass, but the Hong Kong one pleasantly surprised me. It has three floors, the first started before human activity, with fossils and dinosaur bones, and then moved through the Paleolithic and Neolithic Ages. The English descriptions of the items had no grammatical errors and made perfect sense…a novel idea in China. Also, they were interesting, pointing out how those people lived there lives, and things like burial traditions. The second half of the 1st floor had many replicas of Chinese traditional weddings, ceremonies, and festivals. These things were so funny and interactive that we spent an hour and a half of this floor. The museum closes at 6pm, so we ran out of time, but didn’t regret it, haha.

Then we met up with my friend Justin. I met him in America last year, but he was born and semi-raised in Hong Kong. He is a great partier and a funny person, so I was excited to go out and get dinner with him. He took us to a seafood restarant that was technically outside. The appetizer came out, it was semi-raw cockles, and by semi-raw, I mean they were boiled but not completely dead so I had to go savage and kill my own food…I screamed as I poked into the shells, those poor babies, but they were suffering and someone was going to eat them anyways, right?

The next day, we met up with my Japanese friend Koki. He is a Japanese Diplomat learning Chinese in Nankai in my class, he actually just started working so he’s not even old, just 24, so I think he is impressive. Also, he is hilarious, I am so glad that he is in Hong Kong traveling at the same time as me. So we both don’t have cell phones, Mainland phones don’t work in Hong Kong, so when I go out I have to plan the day out, complete with times and places, with everyone beforehand. It’s a hassle but there’s no other way right now. So I told him I wanted Mexican food, and we planned to meet in front of a place in Central called El Taco Loco at 1pm. Of course, the place was so hard to find, so we ended up arriving at 1:30, but it was okay, we ate and talked for almost 2 hours, we had nacho appetizers and quesadilla and enchilada entrees. I was so happy. Being an American, going so long without Mexican food is almost a cardinal sin; I shall never go so long again. Then we went to a huge mall to watch the new Hollywood movie, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was soooooo good. I was jumping and waiting in suspense the entire time, if you haven’t seen it yet, I fully recommend you do. I will probably go see it again too, haha.

It ended later than expected, and we were almost late to meet my friend Sun Tong at the pier to take a cruise on the Victoria Harbor and watch the 8pm light show. So we ran around, took the subway, and rode a taxi the rest of the way. The unfortunate part was, I told Sun Tong to wait for me at the main entrance of the Convention Center right beside the pier, but I didn’t anticipate how big the Center was. We walked to so many entrances and still couldn’t find her, eventually we gave up and had no way to call her, it was a sucky situation. Regardless, we grabbed a bite to eat, and then went to Hong Kong’s beer street. Which I will write a post about later. I am tired and need to be well rested for our full day of touring.

Thanksgiving Away From Home

My first Thanksgiving away from home! And I survived it, I guess you could say. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, our Chinese teacher mentioned, “What are you guys doing for the holiday tomorrow?” Our first reactions were (there were only three of us) one of surprise and realization, Thanksgiving just snuck up on us. I didn’t notice before how much those change of merchandise and decorations in stores signal the arrival of holidays for me. Now that they aren’t here, I can appreciate them more, haha. So we thought about it, and decided to go with some Americans we know to a buffet, Western preferred.

The kind of “Western” restaurants that can be found in China mainly just have hamburgers and pizza…that is definitely not Thanksgiving material. We were searching for roasted turkey, corn, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Another group of Americans we knew found out about a buffet in a nice restaurant across town, the type of food we wanted was advertised to be there, but it was 270 RMB, so we were reluctant. Patrick and I looked into the expat Tianjin website to find suggestions but there was nothing!

On Thanksgiving morning I went to grammar class (it is practically useless but the teacher is funny) and got an ambiguous text message from one of my Chinese friends. She wrote, “Happy Thanksgiving! What are you going to do later?” I consulted two classmates and the funny teacher to figure out that she probably wanted an invite, so I mentioned we were going to a buffet around 7pm and she did jump on it, so I guess I was right. I was busy that day practicing for a competition (I will describe it in the next post), but Patrick found another buffet to go to (168 RMB). Sure, it was Japanese food, but hey, we’re in Asia after all. An Asian Thanksgiving is appropriate.

Henry, Avi, Xiang Wen (the Chinese friend who wanted an invite), and I headed over to the restaurant. The interior was really nice and we were seated in front of the chef on the open grill. Avi and Patrick annoyed me at the beginning, they were arguing over seat arrangements because they both had girls coming and wanted the seats to be just right. Then the both of them had this crazy idea that our Chinese-American friend, Hank, might have a crush on Xiang Wen, so they started pestering me to switch seats so I wasn’t between them. This whole attempted love fest set me off, and I stormed off to the bathroom, when I got back my plate was switched and she was sitting next to Hank anyways. Sneaky bastards. I forgave them after some all-you-can-drink sake and beer, though. But now onto the most important part, the food! The menu items were SO expensive, so having the all you can eat and drink buffet was a great deal. We literally held the menu and pointed to everything just saying, “Bring six servings of this/that”, it was quite liberating. We had a little bit of everything; there was steak, duck, pork, shark, bullfrog, snail, and horse…though I sadly was too stuffed to order the horse at the end. The frog tasted amazing, it’s like a cross between fish and chicken. Everything was amazingly seasoned and I did not regret my first Thanksgiving without turkey~

After stuffing ourselves to within an inch of our lives, we stayed there until 10:30drinking and chatting, then when the restaurant shut down, we moved the drinking and chatting over to Helen’s Bar. The place was packed with friends and acquaintances so it was a very fun way to spend the holiday.

The ending kind of sucked though, one of the people in the Spanish group was going back to Spain the next day, so they wanted to go karaoke. I should have paid attention to the troubling signs. There is a fantastic KTV right in front of our university, but when I suggested we go there instead of the far one they wanted they said, “There are no English songs there right?” To which I negated, this KTV has the most up to date American song list I’ve found in Tianjin, and it’s convenient. I wondered how they could have missed that, but persevered anyways. It literally took 45 minutes to get people “ready” to go, by then I had had enough, I started shepherding people out of the bar like they were sheep! I then helped everyone get in cabs and find the way to the KTV. Annoyingly, when the first half of us arrived (nine in total), we had to wait for the other nine, who all happened to be the Spanish people and the REASON why we were there. Because they were slacking, I went to the counter and got the room reserved. After they all arrived no one was making the initiative, so I started collecting the 13 RMB per person, while doing this, I also had to teach the others how to order songs off the machine. No wonder they thought there were no English songs, they were typing in the full name of the song, in KTV you are only supposed to type the initials. After hunting each person down for money, I went down to pay, and when I got back it was a mess. Songs were being played that no one had any idea how to sing, people were screeching into microphones (when they didn’t know the lyrics they would just curse into it), not to mention the machine was apparently still a mystery, because someone kept accidentally hitting the repeat button half way through the song. After twenty minutes, Avi, Josh (another American), and I got the hell up out of there. Unfortunately in my haste I forgot my cell phone…I got it back the next day after some unnecessary hassle. Regardless of the end, it was a fun Thanksgiving…even if there was no turkey. 🙂

Nights Not Planned

It’s always those spur of the moment nights out that are the most fun. Last night Avi and I were deciding what to do and where to go, lazing around at 9 Avi got a text from my Japanese classmate, Lisa, detailing a get together at a local bar called the Basement. We have been there several times before, it’s the kind of bar that go back-and-forth between fun and boring, totally depending on the night. The place itself is in an actually basement (shocker right?), it’s a laid-back kind of bar, with a fooze ball table and full lights. It’s also hard to find because the cabs never know the place but we always find our way somehow (even walked there one time). It was one of those fun nights at the Basement, right at the door, I ran into a guy from Turkey I met before and his friends from Ukraine. I smuggled a bottle of soju in with me (yes, I am cheap) and drank half of it, I must have been feeling good, because I greeted acquaintances as if they were long-lost siblings. We knew everyone was there for a birthday, but it was hilarious because barely anyone know who’s it was. In the end I realized it was the birthday of some one I already greeted as long-lost family, and did it again anyways. I met some really cool, new people there as well. Avi introduced me to a blond guy from Tampa, FL…what are the odds right? We hung out for a while and he seems really nice. After that, I hunted down this Japanese guy I saw from across the room (the brave acts of those in their cups). He had a goatee, baggy pants, and a NY cap, despite all this he looked cool and not contrived. I started up conversation with him and interrogated him in his preference in women, I knew he had to like them black! And of course I was right, I spent some time flirting with him and he’s interested, but I’m not really, just did it for fun. After a few more drinks, we all headed for the best club in Tianjin, Xi Tang (昔唐). Walking over there I started talking to an attractive, Ukrainian guy who was at my side. He’s really interesting not only because of his looks, but because he is Hindu, so he visits Indian frequently and doesn’t eat meat or drink alcohol. I think that’s so cool. We went into Xi Tang, and it was so packed there was any room to dance, but I prefer packed to empty so I had no problems. The first person I danced with was an ABC from my Chinese class, his name is Patrick and he is pure Texan. I can’t remember if he was good or not because it was only for a second. Then the Ukrainian guy, Demi, came around, coincidentally he is Patrick’s roommate, but that is of no real import. He danced in front of me in the way where I know he wants to dance with me, but Avi’s roommate came up next to him and did the same thing. We did this hilarious round of dancing in front of each other and I couldn’t show too much attention to one guy because I knew he would come behind me to dance, which would make it REALLY awkward for the other guy. Sigh, clubbing is so complicated. So anyways, I ran away into the crowd so I wouldn’t have to make a decision…brave of me I know. Demi came after me anyways and so I danced with him since the other couldn’t see and he gets a prize for being more persistent, right? Everything was just a whirlwind of dancing after that, by myself, with people, on the stage, off of it, after a while it became overbearingly hot so I went outside for some air. There I met more acquaintances and strangers from all over the world, all of my friends were up there as well. After a few minutes, I decided I wanted to go back inside, but everyone was content sitting out there. Avi’s roommate, Abu, and his friends were going back in so I went with them. Somehow he got my hand or something, in the end I know we ended up dancing for forever, I thanked my maker for him because he’s good at it and it’s been too long since I’ve had a great dance partner. The night ended with an aggressive Indian, KFC meal, and a nice walk home. I love spontaneous nights out 🙂

In other news, the Hot-pot social went exceptionally well. We met at a famous hot-pot chain, 海底捞, it was the most high-class hot pot experience I’ve ever had. We had two tables, because there were about 15 students and 3 teachers all together. We were given cute aprons, hot towels, and platters of fruit as we got situated and ordered. The food was delicious and everyone had a great time conversing and giving toasts, the service was incredible, the waitresses would hand me whatever before I even knew I needed it, haha. They also put the food into the hot-pot for us and would serve it to us when it was done, good for me because I can never tell when something is cooked. At the end we got complimentary manicures…yes I really mean it, manicures. I said it was a high-class place haha. In the end we each paid 60 RMB, expensive cost for a meal here in China, but I would expect to pay 100 USD easy if it were in America, so I will never complain!

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