The Market

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I suppose I knew this would happen eventually while living in China, but I’m officially becoming a vegetarian. Today, I witnessed a lady plucking of feathers from a very recently alive duck, and it’s ducky comrades sitting near awaiting their not-so-lucky fate. My intention was to walk around outside the apartment to find something delicious for lunch, and instead, my appetite vanished into thin air. Just kidding! (About being a vegetarian convert, not about the gruesome end to the duck.) Please excuse the following pictures. Some are a bit graphic. C.J. and I walked around an indoor supermarket and we saw more appetizing sights of squirting snails and pigs hooves.

Yesterday I ventured to Xiamen University with Maranda and her friend who went to take graduation photos. We walked around some of the campus and I took pictures of the students taking pictures of everyone in their graduation garb, which is quite similar to those of the USA. The campus is also a popular tourist attraction and after seeing some of the pictures, I’m sure you can see why!

I went to dinner at the cafeteria with my friend Connie, a student at XMU who visited U of I two years ago. It is always great to catch up with an old friend! I had some noodles that vaguely resembled tapeworms although they tasted great! We finished off our meal with what a call an “ice mountain.” It is shaved ice just like the consistency of fresh snow with a drizzle of mango sauce and mango chunks. They love their mango here! I’m not complaining 😉

My fantastic day was ended at a tea store where they let you sample all types of tea. My roommates and I tried Oolong and black tea. The tea lady? matron? I’m not sure what to call her, how about Judy? Her English name is Judy and she is a former student of King’s English. I learnt a lot about Chinese history, religion, and …tea of course! We exchanged numbers and I will certainly visit her again.

It takes a RIDICULOUSLY long time to download photos on here…so I hope you appreciate them 😛 Now I’m off to have dinner at another interns home. He is doing a homestay and he and his host mother are cooking for us. All of the other interns who aren’t working today are joining us. This will be my first home cooked meal. Hooray!

Quotidien

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Since when has it been two weeks since I’ve arrived? It seems like just yesterday I hopped off the plane and was immersed into the bustling crowds of Xiamen. I keep having these sudden realizations, either while dining at a local street-side restaurant among the locals, casually waiting for the bus to work, or sitting in my office preparing a lesson plan, that I am not visiting China, but LIVING and WORKING here. I can’t imagine that being a tourist in China would offer the same knowledge and experiences as a person who actually has a regular working schedule. Although there are plenty of things that continue to bring about a shock and awe factor, I feel like I’ve been here for months!

And I am trying to determine if that is a good or bad thing…

When you have a rigid work schedule from 1-9PM, then come home, then wake up around 10 or 11pm to get lunch, then go to work, then clock out and maybe go to the pubs to relax, and then wake up and get lunch and go to work…Well it seems rather cyclic doesn’t it? Which is why I’m trying everything in my power to restore my touristic roots! I am a stranger to China, no doubt. I came here to experience this country to it’s fullest and although I am learning an incredible amount through my friends, colleagues, and students, it is time to venture out sporting the most tacky Hawaiian shirt, tennis shoes, broken Chinese, and camera around my neck. I want to see it all!!!!! (Okay, sans the Hawaiian shirt).

Last Wednesday, I joined a girl from AIESEC Xiamen University (XMU) and her friends to go to Gulung Yu, an island off of Xiamen. It’s a very popular tourist attraction in China and appears to be heavily influenced by Western architecture. No motor vehicles are allowed on the island! We climbed to the top of the island and stood at a look out point called Sunshine Rock. The breeze at the top was a nice break from the humidity of Xiamen. Because of the island’s beauty, many Chinese couples come here to take their wedding photos. I snuck a few shots of them in their gorgeous dresses.

Gulung Yu

View of Xiamen from Sunshine Rock

The next morning C.J. and I went to Zhonglun park across the street. On the way there we saw the most wild looking bug I’ve ever seen! I showed pictures to my students and they couldn’t believe me when I said I saw it in Xiamen. There was also this adorable stray dog that I had to do everything in my power not to scoop it up and take it back to my apartment.

That night Blair, CJ, and I were craving some good ol’ Americano cuisine… PIZZZZZA. The Pizza Huts here are somewhere you would get dressed up nicely for and ask your significant other out on a date or something. We thought this concept was quite entertaining as every Pizza hut joint I know is pretty funky. The pizza hit the spot! We didn’t know how to add any other toppings so we just pointed at a pepperoni pizza and chose the most expensive choice because we assumed this was the larger size.

The next evening I met up with a friend from Xiamen that I met two years ago when she visited U of I. We went to a KTV (karaoke bar) and then went to the clubs after. I’ll explain KTV in more detail later, but right now I must get ready to go check out Xiamen University. It’s meant to be very beautiful. I’m trying not to let this constant rain put a damper on my day! Zijian!

Getting Settled

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Ahh. I finally feel refreshed! This is my first night since, let’s see, June 5th, that I’ve had more than 4 hours of sleep. Jet lag, my friends, is an evil beast to conquer. Yesterday, I hit an all time low…I drank coffee! I find the stuff repulsive. I know, I know, what type of college student doesn’t drink coffee? Me! I’m hoping this nice 10 hours of sleep will finally set me on a normal sleeping schedule, because yesterday I could hardly keep my eyes open. Part of it may to do with the fact that when I got home Thursday niAhh. I finally feel refreshed! This is my first night since, let’s see, June 5th, that I’ve had more than 4 hours of sleep. Jet lag, my friends, is an evil beast to conquer. Yesterday, I hit an all time low…I drank coffee! I find the stuff repulsive. I know, I know, what type of college student doesn’t drink coffee? Me! I’m hoping this nice 10 hours of sleep will finally set me on a normal sleeping schedule, because yesterday I could hardly keep my eyes open. Part of it may to do with the fact that when I got home Thursday night I fell asleep and was woken up by my roommates yelling, “Get up, get up, it’s your first full day in China we have to celebrate!!” My droopy eyes and exhausted demeanor did not convince them that I would have been just as satisfied by sleeping on our hard as brick mattresses. I decided that I’m here to experience China and as my friend Colin O’keefe put it, “You can sleep when you’re dead, Kaitlyn.” I called up my friend Maranda, a Chinese English teacher from King’s who has impeccable English and a top-notch radar for party locations.

Maranda was an absolute lifesaver when I first arrived. She showed me how to get to work from my apartment and helped me buy all the necessary things I wasn’t able to bring from home. Anyways, she said she could join us at a nightclub called Soul Bar. This was the first time I’d been out dancing since we’ve got out of school, so you know I was having withdrawals! I immediately jumped on stage and danced my heart out. Maranda came and got me and said that they workers were going to get us a table…meaning, we had just been upgraded to kind of like a VIP status. They gave us free drinks, and by this I mean, free bottles of alcohol, along with quite the spread of dishes including: fruit bowls (I tried some dragonfruit!), chicken, and even French fries with ketchup. The bartenders kept on asking us if we wanted more drinks even though we still had half filled bottles on our table. The bartender gave Maranda her number and asked her to call if she need anything else and that they hope to see us here again soon. What a great night it turned out to be!

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I’m jumping all over the place; it’s hard to keep my thoughts straight when there’s so much to tell! Before I started training, which was Thursday, Golf, a worker from HR in charge of the international interns, helped me get my SIM card and a bank account. She was so helpful! After I signed my contract and then Maranda took me to Topaz, the name of the branch that I work at. For all you shoppers out there, I work…in a shopping mall! And I don’t mean anything like the malls in Champaign or Springfield, I’m talking high quality expensive name brand shopping mall, Gucci, Mercedes, H and M, to name a few. Even with all of these incredible brands, the toilets don’t have any toilet paper. I’m thankful to say, that I did not learn that the hard way. The foreign teachers at my branch are all guys from Canada. I like to ask them “why China?” “How’d you end up here?” Some of them were drifters, just looking for adventure, and one of them came here to work as an accountant, but ended up quitting and chose to teach English instead!

My next days off are Tuesday and Wednesday. We get off two days a week, but because I’m new, it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting off the weekends. I work from 1-9PM for 5 days a week. It’s quite a hefty work schedule but the students I’ve met are so eager to learn it hardly makes my job seem like “work.” Today I taught my second class! It was actually quite a difficult lesson because we were discussing controversial topics: abortion, corporal punishment, legalizing drugs, gay marriage, etc. Regarding gay marriage- the only guy in the class said that it’s okay if other people are homosexuals, but he wouldn’t be okay if any of his family or friends admitted it. I asked him what would he do if his son was gay and he said that, “well, I think something might be wrong with his mind, but maybe he will learn so good advice from the other man.” He softened his opinion when it was related to his personal life. A woman in the class said it’s okay to get married, but then she added she didn’t know anyone that was gay. I wondered if her opinion would change drastically if she knew someone close to her. I have mountains more to tell all of you, but I really want to get this post up. Expect more later 😉

Arrival

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I don’t have too long to write this up, however, I wanted to post this before I forget everything. I’m sitting in the Hong Kong airport after a 15 hour plane ride from Chicago. Hooray for free wi-fi here! I was lucky enough to sit next to a nice young couple from Hong Kong. The woman studies at University of Chicago and the man at University of Wisconsin Madison. They requested to sit on the aisle seat because they like to get up and do exercises…I thought they were just trying to snatch up my excellent seat location, yet I discovered that they would in fact stretch and walk around the cabin. I joined them for one of their rounds and had a good conversation next to the kitchens (where they conveniently served snacks and drinks during the flight). I had a small sandwich and they said that if they eat cold food it gives them stomachaches. I couldn’t imagine getting sick from cold food, especially as sandwiches are my go-to college food staple. They both agreed that the oddest thing about America is that we drink cold water no matter the season. They wonder why we drink ice water when there is snow on the ground! After traveling only domestically for the past 4 years or so I forgot what a quality airline was like! My flight to San Francisco last winter didn’t even give out pretzels and you had to pay $8 or more to watch a movie. Cathay Airlines offered multiple box office hits and many films from Asian cinema, along with arcade games, and television channels. All for free! I asked my seatmates for a movie suggestion and ended up watching Fight Back to School.  There was a lot of slap stick humor and there were many dirty jokes and violence.

We talked about Chinese zodiac and they told me about the legend of the Monkey King (My sign is monkey). They said, and I hope I’m remembering this correctly, that the Monkey king was the only creature to subdue the power of the dragon. He also overthrew the ruler of hell but failed to takeover the heavens. While trying to conquer the heavens he afflicted major damage to the heavenly courts. Here is the animation they said to watch regarding the incident. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSV7041mZCw. They told me that the dragon was legend to have been created after a Koi fish jumped out of water over a fence. This is not to be confused with the fire breathing animal portrayed during medieval times.

They conjured up a Chinese name for me by taking my name and thinking of Chinese characters that are similar. They came up with Mi (for Miller), Kai Lin. Separately each character is Mi-Rice, although many last names don’t have alternate meanings they are just passed down from generation to generation. Kai means Victory and Lin means Jade.

Kwok Wai speaks primarily Cantonese and Guangxin speaks primarily Mandarin. When they speak with each other they use a mixture of both to be fair in communication. Guangxin said the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese is more than the difference between Italian and French.

My seat-mates also mentioned that I should wake up early and go to a local park because one will often see people dancing, singing, or even writing calligraphy on the ground with water from a nearby pond.

Okay so I didn’t have time to finish my post before my departure…here are a few things I witnessed first hand! The airports in HK offered prayer rooms right next to the bathrooms. When I arrived in Xiamen and gave the custom officials my Chinese arrival card the lady couldn’t recognize me with my glasses on when reviewing my passport. She asked “is this really you?”  I immediately took of my glasses to show that it was in fact me. Phew that was a little nerve-racking! The driver from King’s English was directly outside the exit. He didn’t speak English, and well, my Chinese is less than impressive. Needless to say, the drive to my apartment was relatively quiet.

There is something surreal about arriving in another country. It’s also probably one of the hardest things to explain to someone who doesn’t travel often. However, I can say it is always, hands down, the most exciting thing to experience. Can any of you try to put it to words?

While on my way to the apartment the car next to me had an infant sitting on the front passengers lap. Many people were on these motorized vehicles that were a mix between a bike and a moped. The air was incredibly humid, I’m talking suffocatingly humid. I’m hoping I will adjust quickly. Mark, the driver, handed me a straw pillow, keys, and air conditioning remote for my room. He then proceeded to carry my heavy suitcase up more than 5 flights. I kept telling him “xie xie, xie xie” which means “thank you.” What I really wanted to tell him was “I’m so incredibly sorry you have to lug my crap up all these stairs, let me help you.” After a warm welcome from my roommates, both students from the US, I said good bye to Mark and immediately sat down for a nice beer and a good chat with my roommates. They’ve been here for around a week and have already set up wireless (niceeee) and had our toilet fixed. I’m glad I showed up a little later! We stayed up to about 1:30 AM talking. The apartment is more impressive than I was expecting and I’ll definitely have to post pictures soon!

Sleeping was a hassle. I went to bed around two and woke up every two hours until just getting up at 6 am. Hence, why I’m awake and typing this up! The mattresses feel more like a slab of wood with a decorative sheet over it, which will definitely takes some getting used to.

I think I’ll stop here and try and get more sleep…Thanks for reading! 🙂

Warm Welcome

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I have to say, the Memphis area has certainly lived up to their “Southern hospitality” reputation.This place exudes kindness! Even the cashier in Target went above and beyond to see how our day was. My sister and I just looked at each other in awe. My mom was in the check out line for walmart and the woman in front of her, not the cashier, turns around and asks “how are you doin’ today?” Sure, the people in the Midwest are cordial, but my goodness! Everyone has made us feel welcome here and it’s only been a few days! Yesterday my family met the mayor of Memphis. Once again, what a nice person! He gave us his card and told us to give him a call if we need anything at all.

There is one other prominent characteristic of the South that you notice right away. The heat. It’s common for people from all regions to mention the weather during small talk, but nearly everyone we’ve spoken to says, “good luck adjusting to this heat!” I take it as more of an encouragement than anything. I mean, they’ve survived this far, so I suppose we’ll make it through the summer. The pool at our apartment complex certainly helps to beat the heat! There’s also a pond here so I plan to do some fishing before we head back for Hanah’s graduation.

Night scene of Memphis

Today hasn’t been all that productive. I did manage to purchase two extra SD cards for my digital camera, a Chinese phrase book, and a translation book for my trip. Let’s just hope that they arrive in time! I’ve been learning some Chinese (mandarin) phrases, and let me tell you, it’s not easy. They have, four or five tones, and many many characters. From learning French and reading up on the usage of the Chinese language, I’ve noticed the tremendous amount of emphasis put on honoring your elders, strangers, or those with a higher position than you. The US strives for a more egalistic society, whereas other countries will address authoritative figures (either through age or job title) with far more respect. I learned that the character for nin (polite form for “you”) is ni (a more casual form of “you”) with the character for “heart.” So it’s like talking to you with all of my heart. I’ve always loved learning new languages, and Chinese will certainly prove to be a difficult but fulfilling challenge.

The movers have left!

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Annnnd my house is now empty. Bon voyage boxes! It’s weird to think after almost eight years in one place, that we’re finally leaving. BAM. Done. Fini. Sayonara. I suppose the one nice thing about coming back to a place that we’ve called “home” for so long is that there’s this unmatched level of constancy that is maintained. Sure, new buildings pop up here and there, my brother gets two inches taller every time I see him, and the seasons change, but home is basically the same. We used to move every 2-4 years, so after these 8 years we are all rearing to go somewhere new. We still have a house left to clean, oh joy. If you missed it on Facebook, here will be the disaster I’ll be dealing with tomorrow. The movers asked for a cold drink, we just had warm soda, I put in the freezer to cool for a bit. Forgot. And ta ddaah. It exploded. My mom opened the freezer, I peeked over her shoulder, and then ran away yelling “it wasn’t me, I swear.” However, I guarantee you that while cleaning that mess, I’ll be delving into that lovely french silk ice cream you see here:

I’ve realized that although I am incredibly excited for my trip, I feel like I’m completely unprepared! I need to read up on common practices in China and buy a english–>Chinese dictionary. Tonight, I’ll be on youtube searching for basic Chinese lessons. Anything that I should note before I go abroad? Maybe things that I should be aware of so I don’t make a complete fool of myself? Have any stories about miscommunication in a foreign country to share?

Here’s the first lesson I clicked on! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubZS7i34GIY&feature=related 

Wanderlust

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Why is it just recently that I’ve stumbled across this word?

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I think it captures my sentiments perfectly! I have an insatiable desire to travel the globe.

Can you believe that the last time I stepped foot in another country was more than four years ago? Yes, yes, I know, I talk like I was abroad just yesterday, but going overseas leaves a huge impression on me. Four years ago, I was munching on baguettes, strolling down the Seine, taking pictures from atop la tour Eiffel, dancing at the Moulin Rouge (to my parents and future employers: I’m kidding!), and sampling the world’s finest pastries (seriously, milles feuilles are oh so good). The city of love is certainly a far cry from the Eastern world, and that my dear friends, is exactly why I chose China over  returning to Europe. I really wanted to experience something entirely different from the US. I’m curious to see what it will be like if I was to abandon my individualistic ideals by completely immersing myself into a more collective society.

However, cultural differences were not the only reasoning behind my decision. Thanks to AIESEC, my roommates and I had the opportunity to host a student from Wuhan, China for three weeks while she assisted me with outgoing exchange (more information on AIESEC later). Susan Jia and I had many  conversations discussing the differences in our societies: the education system, cuisine, dating, etc. My roommates joked that she should replace me (after all, they argued, she is much neater.) Susan arrived as a stranger and departed Illinois as a dear friend! Although our conversations were absolutely fulfilling, I  just had to learn more! Shortly after she returned to Wuhan I told her I would 100% be going to China. She kindly attempted to teach us some basic Chinese over skype…so far Bethany (my former roommate who will also be teaching in China) and I have perfected “where is the bathroom?” and “you have a beautiful smile.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard two people butcher words as badly as we did, but at least we have two phrases mastered!

Thank you Susan for your patience and friendship!

Pre-departure

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Before I pack my suitcases, I must pack up my home.

My family has never been known to live anything less than a dynamic and downright chaotic lifestyle. My siblings and I have been globe trotting from a young age and we are used to moving across the country, or even across the globe. This summer, for the first time since our Miller clan was established, we will be on three different continents. I will be teaching in English in China, my sister, mother, and brother will be visiting my grandfather in England, and my father will be settling in his new job in Memphis. Before we all embark on our summer trips, we will be packing up my house for my family’s move to Memphis. (My sister and I will return to Illinois in the fall for our college education).

My itinerary:

05/21-Movers arrive

05/26-Visit my dad in Memphis

06/02-Return to Springfield to watch Hanah’s high school graduation (congrats!)

06/03-Head up to Chicago for Hanah’s orientation at UIC

06/05-Fly out of Chicago

In short, the next couple of weeks will be very hectic!