Here But Not All There

Trip Start Jul 03, 2006
Trip End Aug 21, 2006

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Friday, July 7, 2006

Two and a half days in Hangzhou,'s what's up:

Sorry there are no pictures yet. I took a lot yesterday, but was not able to upload them to the site. The connection was too slow, but my roommate said that it might be better today. Here are some stories instead.

First, the first thing that hit me about being back in Asia is the proverbial hard bed. Yes, Asians like to sleep on wooden planks with thin pads on top. While initially very uncomfortable, I find that I sleep better in Asia than anywhere else. I've woken up every morning so far before my alarm, feeling well-rested. Anyone who has ever had the unenviable task of waking me up in the morning knows that this is a small miracle.

Second, the second thing that hit me about being back in Asia is being noticed in public just because I look different. This doesn't bother me; actually it's kind of neat. Probably it's because there is usually a smile on the face of the person who is calling me out. For example, yesterday, I was taking a walk around campus (not lost, but looking around curiously) and three girls came up to me. They asked me where I was going, and I wasn't going anywhere, but I told them I was going back to my dorm (but I didn't say which dorm.) They enthusiastically pointed to the direction of my dorm and said, "You live right there." I thanked them and they waited to make sure that I walked in the right direction. Later I asked my roommate how they knew which dorm I lived in and she said, "Everyone on this campus knows where you live." Apparently, my dorm is the "foreign student dorm." It is the nicest on campus.

A word about my roommate. Her name is Jing. She's a sophomore...I think she's 19 years old, but I haven't asked her outright. She's from a town near Hangzhou. She has been an unending source of help to me since I have arrived, both showing me around and speaking to me slowly and patiently so that I understand. She is a godsend.

As for the dorm, like I said it is the nicest on campus. The room is big but only two of us live in it, as opposed to other dorms that have eight to a room. There are two twin beds, as opposed to other dorms that have eight bunks. We have our own bathroom, as opposed to other students that have to use outside public bathrooms. We have air conditioning, as opposed to everybody else who doesn't. The furniture and appliances (toilet, sink, airconditioner, desks) are old and beat up, but they work. There is a removable shower head. We are living in extreme luxury by Chinese standards.

One thing I must comment on that I still cannot really believe, is the cheapness of stuff here. I thought Taiwan was cheap, but this is a whole different ballgame. One hour of Internet usage costs about 40 cents. Yesterday, four of us went to a fancy restaurant and ate lunch (a plate of duck, a plate of spiced pork, two plates of vegetables, rice, and tea) which we couldn't even finish because it was too much. We each paid $2.

The last thing I will tell you is about something that shocked me. I want to warn you that it is disgusting and has to do with animal cruelty. Please do not keep reading if you have a weak stomach.

This morning I ventured off campus to get some breakfast. On my way I passed an indoor farmer's market, so I thought I'd take a peek. I find you can learn a lot about a culture by their markets. So I started browsing and marveling at all of the interesting fruits and vegetables on sale. Then I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. I saw a woman using a pair of scissors to cut up a turtle. Then I noticed a crate full of live ducks. A man came up and bought one. The woman took a blade, sliced its neck, turned it upside-downm, and handed it to the customer by its feet. The man carried it away while it twitched and splashed blood onto the floor, not far from my feet. A crate of live, chickens was next to it. A customer came up and the owner reached in, grabbed a squawking chicken, and snapped its neck. Then I saw a man slicing the heads and pulling the legs off of live frogs, his comrades croaking and leaping away in a cage to him. It was a market of horror and death. First time I had seen anything like that in my life. It made me want to scream and throw up, but the floor was already messy enough with duck blood. Instead, I hung my head and walked out of the market. I don't know if I'll go back.

A little while later, it dawned on me that the slaughter of live animals also happens in America, but it's hidden away from me in slaughterhouses. It's not so settling when it's out in the open for everyone to see. Makes me regret a little bit that I like eating meat so much.

Well, I must run to a meeting now. I miss you all at home.
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