Learning to walk straight

Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
Trip End Dec 22, 2007

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Flag of China  ,
Sunday, September 16, 2007

In an attempt to get away from the noise, commotion and chaos that is China, Jessica Maria and I wandered into a small coffee shop. As we climbed the stairs to this small business we could hear Jack Johnson softly playing overhead. Coffee shops are geared towards Westerners in China, both because people mainly drink tea and because the prices are so high for coffee that most of the locals cannot afford the prices. This one in particular had large comfy couches (a great change to the hard wooden chairs that most resturants use) inviting lighting and giant windows that looked over the street.
It was so nice to get away from it all. It has been less than two weeks and I have love every minute of my time here, however I still grasp at the few things that remind me of home. Nothing can explain this more than some of the "American" foods we have had the last couple of days. For example, today Jessica and I ordered a plate of spaghetti at the coffee place. Granted I know spaghetti and coffee don't usually go together but we were both tired of "Chinese" food and the picture looked pretty. Well, the spaghetti was delivered to the table and it was noodles, ketchup and some sort of mystery meat.... the best part? It tasted good. Jess's friend Ryan said it perfectly, "It doesn't matter how the food tastes as long as it is American it is good." He says this as he bit into a hamburger from "Good Eats." An American restaurant that serves hamburgers, chicken burgers and other American dishes. We ate there as well and I dont think I have ever had better tasting french fries. Knowing full well that if I was eating this in the US I probably would have never returned. I realize how silly this all sounds, but man eating rice three meals a day gets tiring!
All of this is a constant reminder of how entrenched we all are in our own cultures. Its hard to forget those habits and patterns that have formed our lives from the time that we are born. When we travel outside of our comfort zones we have to force ourselves to change.
A perfect example: The Chinese don't really have any terms for phrases likes excuse me or bless you. You just push your way through to where ever it is you are going to go, and if you hit someone to hard enough sometimes you say "Dui bu qi" (sorry). However, most people don't even do that. Now it is a lot harder to give up saying excuse me, than one might think. I usually still say it in English which of course does nothing but get more blank stares. This applies to driving as well. We have quickly come to learn that the constant honking and ringing of of bells from the cars and bikes is not an attempt to be obnoxious is a reminder to keep walking straight because someone is passing you. Its not smart to move in any other direction or to stop because that will certaintly lead to death. People go where they need to go, when they need to and somehow (and not by luck)everyone gets to where they need to go safely. Everyone except us Westerners seem to have this concept down... Its quite a incredible system. Would our "polite" American driving mannerisms would never work here, I am almost certain the answer is no. No one would ever get anywhere! Its not necessarily that one culture is more right in their way of doing things, but its about doing what works best. The craziness is actually an ordered process. I have made it my goal to figure this process out and ride a bike through the streets of Suzhou. We will see.

On a completely different note, ONE WEEK OF CLASSES DONE! It has been quite an experience. I think that my Kou yu ke (speaking class) teacher is determined to make sure that I get up to speed with my fellow Korean classmates who already speak near perfect Chinese. To do this she calls on me for every question that everyone else doesnt know. And when I also do not know she just stares for a VERY long time. And then speaks in Chinese close to the speed of light, to "clarify" the question. Which does nothing more than get me more flustered. Still not knowing the answer that I never knew I meekly whisper "wo bu zhidao" (I dont know), she stares a little longer and than moves on. We have 30 people in our class, you would think she could try calling someone else. Its quite a fun process.... My other class however Han yu ke (Chinese language class) is quite fun, and much easier for me to follow. So YAY!
To celebrate last night we decided to invite the floor to KARAOKE also known as KTV. After knocking on all the doors on the floor and discovering 1) inviting people to do anything in broken chinese is hard and 2) Korean people like to study on Saturdays we found 3 other people to join us to Karaoke. Now karaoke in China means getting your own room with plush couches and big screen tvs. We were room number 870, it was INSANE. It also could have been that we accidently choose the most expensive place in China. It was 119 kuai for the room rental and than 119 kuai for each hour. I know that is close to $35 but when you are used to paying $.25 for dinner it seems like a lot. haha. Anyway we get into this room, and you have to realize we all have to speak Chinese to each other because we have one person from Japan, one from Korea and one from Malaysia and Chinese is the language we all "know." It was quite an experience. The best part? There were only three songs we all knew: Baby One More Time, Winter Wonderland and Old McDonald. Yup... AMAZING! I added a short video of us singing Old McDonald.... classic. We had quite a great time until we realized we had 30 minutes to get back to campus to make our 11:00 curfew. (This makes me bitter everyday). The second best part all the gates close at 9:30 except the one at the front of campus which made it like a 2 mile walk from the KTV bar. We definetely had to run. What a sight that must of been... haha.
Alright that is all I have for now. I could write forever about my experiences here, everyday is filled with stories... Except a great quote from today that speaks to our experience so far.
-Jessica: "I'm proud of us.  We're all becoming desensitized to China....."
-All of us: "HOLY SHIT"
Somone had lit a box of fireworks in the middle of the street into a bunch of trees as cars drove by trying to dodge the explosions.
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