Archive for the ‘Exploring this World’ Category

Haven’t posted here for a while.  Right now I’m hanging around in Shanghai, staying at a hostel until we have to leave tomorrow.  How much I post after I return depends on how busy things get, I have one last semester of college and some job searching to do, though I do have at least one draft that I want to get to (not China related, and a very belated topic).  Anyway, I will be flying out of Shanghai tomorrow, and after what is sure to be a terrible travel experience given news of even more ridiculous security procedures coming our way.  I think if there is a Hell, my own personal version would likely be being eternally stuck in the international air travel system constantly switching between impossibly long flights and never reaching a destination.

But this time I’m sure I’ll get home eventually.  See everyone there.

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Originally uploaded by gacorley

This happened to me a while ago, but I was recently reminded of it:


A few weeks ago, I went to a little noodle restaurant near our school. I had already eaten those items I could read on the menu, so I ordered something I wasn’t quite sure of. What I ordered was 猪肝面 (zhu gan mian). I knew what 猪 meant (‘pig, pork’) and I like to eat noodles (面), but I didn’t know what 肝 was. Looking at the character, I noticed it had a “meat” radical so I knew it was an organ or a part of the body, and I knew how to pronounce it (gan) because of the phonetic element 干, but I didn’t know what part of the body it was.

我和朋友在谈这件事,希望不是那么奇怪的东西。旁边的桌子有两个中国姑娘,其中有一个会说英语。会说英语的姑娘听到我们的谈话,想了一会然后告诉我们”It’s the liver of the pig.” 不久以后服务员端来了一碗猪肝面,我一下子发现很好吃。现在我常常去那家饭馆吃猪肝面。

I talked about this with my friends, hoping it wasn’t something too strange. At the table beside us were to Chinese women, one of them could speak English. The one who could speak English heard us, thought for a moment and then told me “It’s the liver of the pig.” Not long after that, the waitress brought my 猪肝面, and unexpectedly I found it very good. Now I often go to that restaurant to have some pork-liver noodles.

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Hong Kong Wrapup

Sorry for the delay in updating. Last few days have been pretty busy. My last full day in Hong Kong was probably the best. Cherry very kindly took the day off to hang around. We went to the history and science museums and then to the Sun Yat-sen (孙中山) museum during the day, and then after dinner she and I and Summer and Lok Yan went to the Peak to take some pictures of the "night scenery" (夜景). Unfortunately my camera ran out and I had to use Cherry’s for that day, so no pics until I can get them from her (or if you’re following this on Facebook, she may have posted them).

The next day I took a bus to the Shenzhen airport and flew back to Hangzhou, and am now back safely in my dorm (and behind the GFW, unfortunately). I loved Hong Kong, but on the bus to Shenzhen I somehow felt much more comfortable once I was consistently seeing signs written in simplified characters.

General impressions of Hong Kong:

1) Big city. Hong Kong is definitely a large, international city. English is incredibly prevalent, and I saw many non-Chinese on the streets, not just Westerners but Filipinos and others. It also has the culture of a metropolis, as opposed to Hangzhou, which around the university at least feels very similar to Morgantown in some ways. Traffic patterns, both pedestrian and automotive, reflect this. (ex. I had to get used to actually caring a bit more about walk lights.)

2) Language. Mandarin wasn’t very useful or necessary. In Hong Kong there are enough English speakers that a foreigner can almost expect to be greeted by restaurant wait staff, various service personel, and even people on the street in English. That isn’t to say that everyone speaks English, but usually non-English speaking service workers will default to Cantonese, and won’t think of speaking Mandarin to a foreigner, at least not unless it is specifically requested. Announcements are all trilingual, Cantonese, Mandarin, English, in that order — though signs generally use Mandarin (written in traditional characters) usually paired with English or with romanized Cantonese pronunciations.

3) British influence. I saw bits and pieces of British influence throughout. Cars drive on the left side of the road, the coins some similarities to British coinage (I even saved an old one with a picture of the Queen on it), and I saw several signs referring to "King’s XXX" such as King’s Road (translations made this even more clear, using the term 英皇 — literally "English emperor"). But I think at it’s core Hong Kong really is a Chinese city, albeit with a unique colonial history and a measure of independence that set it apart.

In any case, I hope to be able to go back to Hong Kong some day and see some of the things I missed both through personal stupidity and lack of time.

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So, as if I needed any more proof that I don’t know what I’m doing by myself in Hong Kong, I had another very interesting and confusing day.  My intention was to go to Ocean Park and have some fun.  Unfortunately, despite getting on a bus that had a stop specifically labeled “Ocean Park”, I was surprised when the bus suddenly reached the end of its route.  The best that two bus drivers could do is point in a certain direction, presumably suggesting that I walk.  (Note:  Despite what you will be told, do not assume that all service personnel in Hong Kong can speak English, a couple times I have run into people who spoke neither English nor Mandarin.)

Anyway, walking in that direction didn’t take me to Ocean Park (I’m sure there was some way to get to it, as the drivers both repeated “Ocean Park” to me.), instead, I ended up in Victoria Park.  Ah, well, it was alright, and I did manage to get some nice pictures before my camera died.   I hung out for a couple hours there and then explored around until I came upon a subway station and decided it was best to go back to the hostel and rest a bit.

EDIT:  Friend of mine told me what I did wrong.  Apparently I went to the wrong MTR station.

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OK, so first of all, my story of getting to Hong Kong.

Traveling alone probably wasn’t the best idea.  Neither was flying into Shenzhen (深圳) to save money.  Yes, I saved about US$150 but between my flight being delayed over an hour and not knowing what to do when I got there, I could have easily gotten stuck.  Luckily I got out of it.  Here’s how things worked out:

I got to Shenzhen airport much later than I expected, and when I tried to take a bus into Hong Kong, the map I got was not helpful — again, travelling alone to a place you’ve never been can be an issue.  I tried to call Hong Kong only to discover that my Chinese cell phone can’t call Hong Kong, and though I specifically asked the woman I bought a phone card from if it could call HK (the pay phones in the Shenzhen airport do not take coins), it did not.  I did manage to roust up one HK friend on MSN via airport WiFi, but he couldn’t help besides tell me to take a train.  So what did I do?  First, I got a taxi:

Me: 地铁站 (Subway station)
Driver: 什么地铁? (Which one?) <list of place names I didn’t understand>
Me: 最近的地铁。(The closest subway.)

That got me to the Shenzhen subway system.  From there I was able to find the route to 罗湖 (Luohu) station which is one of the entrance points into Hong Kong, go through customs and immigration (which were apparently in the middle of a big shopping center, was lucky in that I could follow the signs saying “to Hong Kong”) and eventually got onto a train and navigated to Fortress Hill (炮台山) station, which I remembered was close to the hostel I had reserved.

All in all it took me about five hours longer to get into Hong Kong than I had planned, and I missed meeting one of my friends, but now I’m here for a few days, may as well enjoy things.  I’ll do another post later on my impressions of the city.

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Before I leave for Hong Kong I thought I would share a couple stories of Chinese people that I met since the start of my break. I felt it was important because, as I have mentioned before, our living situation at Zheda doesn’t really encourage international students to meet Chinese friends (though it doesn’t really inhibit it, it’s just that the effort has to come from you). Both of these are situations where I sort of “stumbled upon” some potential friendships.

First, I met a couple of girls at the No. 4 cafeteria. I had bought a food card and been eating at the cafeterias for a while specifically hoping that I would “bump into” some Chinese people, and it apparently worked. I’ll hold back on names just for now … well OK, their English names are King and Cherubin. We had a long conversation after dinner that covered a wide range of topics from Chinese food to Chinese and American perceptions of Mao Zedong, and today I had a long walk with Cherubin around West Lake and another long chat.

Second is a bit funnier. After I had got back from dinner that day, there was an older gentleman in the little shop inside our dorm who wanted someone to help him practice his English. At first I wasn’t so interested, but it is difficult to say no to old people in China. We talked for a while over coffee and then he invited me to dinner the next day (at a fairly fancy place, with dishes including duck tongue, hundred year old egg, and New Zealand beef). I found out that he was 53, has a son and a daughter, and that he will be retiring when he hits 60 and wants to travel to America after retirement. He also called his son-in-law, who works for local government, so I could talk to him and judge his English abilities. I didn’t spend much time with the man (who I know as Mr. Wu), but that little bit of practice did seem to do some good for his English.

Finally, I have been having conversations with the staff off and on. Some of the staff at the international dorm really like to talk to foreigners, and ask me about where I am from, etc. Of course, I will always hold that a big part of the experience of studying in Chinese in a Chinese university is communicating with non-English speaking staff. It’s essentially a certain amount of language practice that you cannot hope to avoid, even if it amounts to the laundry lady berating you for having too many clothes (more on that later, probably after Hong Kong).

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Travel Plans

OK, I was holding off on posting this until everything was settled.

Tommorrow is the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. All schools get a week off for this holiday (starting on October first, rather than covering that week, oddly). As such, I won’t have any classes until the 9th. So, I decided to travel to Hong Kong to visit some friends of mine.

I’m not leaving immediately, as I was late getting things arranged and can’t find a place to stay the first few days. Instead, I will be flying to Shenzhen on China Air Lines flight 6327 and then taking a bus on my own into Hong Kong. I normally would not travel alone, but I was unable to find anyone to go to Hong Kong with me (most are going to Beijing or Shanghai, and a lot of the "undecideds" I’ve talked to don’t have multiple-entry visas), and I have friends in Hong Kong that I haven’t seen for several years, and I’m hoping to get one of them to meet me when I get there, or at least show me around a bit (of course, I know I’ll be on my own some of the time, workers in HK don’t get the week off, though mainlanders do).

Anyway, Hong Kong friends, send me an email or MSN if you can (not sure if I can get to facebook even through Tor right now).

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