So Stateside, if you’re looking for a particularly suitable place to bring your main squeeze out on a date, many places may come to mind. Depending on where you live, you may have your own local haunts where you go for the ambiance, the food, the beverage selection and whatever else lures you there. Since I didn’t take many girls on proper dates back in the States, I’m hardly an authority on this type of outing. But even in Akron, I can think of a few places that would serve the purpose well. But often these types of restaurants can be a bit pricey, particularly if you want food cooked with a specific culinary sensibility. But you bite the bullet anyway, reach for wallet and sacrifice your pocketbook for the sake of an overall experience.

In China it’s not much different. People want to commemorate their love for one another with profound yet refined, subtle, romantic gestures. And one of the most common is a nice well cooked, meal with comforting, welcoming surroundings. But you’d never guess what the hot date destination in China is.Not because the name is too foreign or because the experience doesn’t translate well across cultures. In fact, it’s probably so familiar to you that I’d be willing to wager that none of you’d ever guess what it was if given the chance. Here’s a hint. First of all, think of where NOT to go on a date. Especially for any type of anniversary or special occasion. My final hint is this: it delivers. At least in the States. By now you should have narrowed it down. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’ll just tell you, in China when you really want to delight your loved one, you take them to Pizza Hut. Yes, that’s right, Pizza Hut.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the Chinese are all cheap dates. It’s not like men and women in China are too thrifty to shell out the money for a real date. Pizza Hut in China is not cheap like it is in the States. In fact virtually nothing about Chinese Pizza Hut resembles its American counterpart in any way. First of all the menu is nearly 10 pages long. Its contains a wide assortment of food and beverages, including, imported French wines, authentic looking Italian pastas, sirloin steak and a varied selection of beverages. They even had escargot! And the desserts were rather extravagant. They had at least two full pages of delectable looking sweets that I’m going to have to try sometime. But as fancy as the place was, its prices were even fancier. I got a coffee ice cream float and that alone cost me the same amount (in Chinese money) as three entire meals if we ate elsewhere. But overall I think the experience was worthwhile. It satisfied my nagging desire for pizza. I’ll be good to go for at least a few months.

We kept it simple and just ate pizza, instead of the more complex or obscure menu items, mainly because we were all missing American food, particularly pizza. And the pizza was pretty good. We ordered two larges and got various meats and vegetables on them. One of them had popcorn chicken on it and I found that one particularly delicious.

But as for the references to dating and romantic gestures, all in all I believe in keeping it simple. Genuine connection with the one you love should never have a price tag behind it. Sure its nice to get all dolled up and starry-eyed and go out on a date to a fancy restaurant, regardless of the cost. But when it comes to Ting Ting and I, I’m just happy to be in her company. And I’m sure she feels the same about me. I can sit in a crowded loud, dirty, roach infested restaurant. A restaurant that serves great, simple food that doesn’t break the bank and still have a deep romantic sentiment. I can also have an equally romantic experience in fine dining restaurant. Because, after all, it doesn’t matter how trendy the place, how apt the atmosphere or how delicious the food is—the quality of the person you are with and the value of your relationship them is all that truly matters. To all you lovers out there, keep being amazed by one another, keep prizing your connection to one another and keep working strenuously to love one another naturally and fluently. You can check the website for Pizza Hut China just to make sure I’m not spinning a whimisical tale of fancy and making all this shit up. http://www.pizzahut.com.cn/phdi/index.aspx#!handler/menu.ashx?tagid=5 and also here

http://www.pizzahut.com.cn/phdi/index.aspx#handler/home.ashx?&tagid=&proid=

 

The other night I had another strange dream. I dreamt that I was in a biker gang. Only I wasn’t your conventional member, I was secretly, an undercover cop. And I was trying really hard not to be found out. I was among them, doing bikerly things and acting all tough when all of the sudden the tattoos on my arm changed and I had the wrong tattoos. Before I had the appropriate tattoos for this particular biker gang. But then, abruptly, I had the wrong tats. This awoke a startling rage in the other bikers. But I woke up before I could find out what happened next. Oh well, another equally strange, equally random dream. And they’re so vibrant too which is why I can usually recall them. I guess I must have watched too much Sons of Anarchy before.

I just spent an entire afternoon studying. This is has become commonplace for me and I’m not complaining one bit. Most of my classes aren’t that difficult at all. But my teachers sometimes use a higher vocabulary than the books and our reading text is especially difficult for me. So my vocab is improving by leaps and bounds. I knew how to read a lot of them before but I didn’t know how to write them.  In December I take the HSK again. This is test to see where your Chinese level is at. I took level 3 last time (there are six levels). I took it a few months before I came to China and I got a pretty decent score on it. This time I’m taking Level  4 which has an additional 600 words of vocab (1205 words total). Most words consist of two characters. But some of the characters are used in more than one word. This all may sound like a lot but it really isn’t when compared with the vast ocean that is the Chinese language. Oh well, I’m happy just to be at the shore, making my way into the depths step by step. Although my Chinese is a hundred times better than it was when I first came here, it still has quite a ways to go before I’m completely fluent. But fluency and beyond is the goal. I plan on studying the Chinese language forever. Or at least as long was whatever my little slice of forever ends up being. That’s the beauty of learning a language, there is virtually no limit to what you can learn. There’s always more to know.

It’s been a while since I updated this blog, but there’s a big reason for that, namely that I’ve become absolutely, completely, and entirely obsessed with the Chinese language. And culture and history and people as well. I have been spending hours on end practicing writing the characters. This is mainly because I have to catch up to the rest of my class in writing. I can read most of the same words and phrases that my class knows but I can’t write them. But I’m steadily improving in that respect.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that I haven’t been having fun. Or even that I haven’t been out and about and experiencing my surroundings first hand. I have. Even though I’ve been studying Chinese so much, I’ve still managed to find plenty of time to explore Kaifeng and interact with the Chinese people. Work hard play hard, is a good motto to describe my time here thus far. Weekends we don’t have class, which is contrary to the ordinary Chinese educational experience. Chinese students often have class on Saturday and Sunday but they usually get a day off somewhere during the week. Imagine if the US made that regular practice. Everyone would revolt. I know that at Akron they have the occasional class on Saturday but it’s very rare. And most people avoid such classes. And I’ve never heard of class on Sunday. That would be unheard of in the States. But they do have more breaks than we do. More holidays and a longer break than the US during the Winter for Chinese New Year.

I’m happier and healthier now than I have been in years. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. God has really blessed me. I have a beautiful, loving, intelligent girl who loves me and whom I love deeply. I’ve got more friends than I ever had even in my most outgoing years. But most importantly I’m doing something I love. It is my job to study Chinese. I’m actually getting paid, (not a large sum of money but enough for the local economy) to study Chinese. That’s right, as part of my scholarship we get money every month from the school. And every day, I get to use Chinese in everyday situations. It happens to me every day, I’ll learn a set of vocab words for the chapter we’re working on and sure enough, that very same day I’ll hear them in conversation with someone or hear them on TV.  Making Chinese friends has been extremely easy. It took a few weeks for us to get the ball rolling but eventually we met some and it set off a chain reaction opening up a flood of Chinese people for us to get to know. They really want to meet foreigners and are very hospitable. And most of them don’t know hardly any English so it is good for practicing.

The week off of school was good, it was nice to relax and catch up on my Character writing. We were off, not this week but the week before. We didn’t go to another city because there was too much planning involved and we didn’t know about the break far enough in advance. But it was okay because I just practiced my characters. But we did, the other Ohio students and one Kyrgyzstan girl, go to Karaoke one night. We went earlier in the evening in order to get back in time for curfew. It cost a little bit much but we got ample drinks for the night. And they do karaoke different in China than they do in the US. In the US and Canada you usually go to a bar and there is a microphone set up in the corner and a screen for you to look at and you sing in front of a bar full of watchful patrons. And I’ve done it before, but I don’t normally feel comfortable with my vocal range (or lack thereof) to sing this way. China makes it so much easier for you. You get a private room and you rent it out for a couple of hours and everything is set up for you. The rooms are really nice and you can have snacks or drinks brought to you. I think this is far better than getting up in front of a room full of strangers and attempting to Sweet Caroline off key. They had a wide selection of songs, including Chinese, American and Korean artists across all genres. They had Let it Be by the Beatles, which I of course had to sing. But as the night rolled on, I found myself loosing up more and more and comfortable around the other singers enough, that I randomly ended up singing Lady Gaga and Justin Beber. But the thing that was most shocking was they had Mumford and Sons. Ben and I sang one of the songs off their first album, I forget which one. But how random is that?

I had the most random dream the other night. I dreamed I was back in the US and I was registering for an adult soccer league. This is random because I never played soccer except one season when I was like five. But what’s more random was I went to pay for the season and for some reason all I had was Chinese money. Then I was like oh shit, I’m not in China anymore. How did I get to the States? Then I woke up and was reassured because here I am, still in China. I have the most random dreams.

They installed TV’s in our room. I like to have them on to hear try to improve my listening. They mostly have serial dramas either period or present day, talent shows and a lot of infomercials. One of the strangest infomercials was for this box that you put your shoes in and it steam cleans them. I can only imagine how rank that must smell after a few times of cleaning. The other thing I noticed is that they advertise a lot for hospitals. They have loads of different kinds of hospitals, women’s hospitals, men’s hospitals they even had a urology hospital advertised. But every other advertisement is for a hospital of some kind.

This past Tuesday was officially the hundredth anniversary of Henan University. Classes were cancelled for the day and we went to a big gala at the New Campus. The new campus is actually a little far from the Old Campus where we study. We were in this big courtyard with giant screen TV’s and a stage. There were dancers and singers and really state of the art computer generated videos on the big screen. There were masters of ceremonies and they even had a series of short musical plays that took place at different periods of history. I couldn’t understand very much of what was being said, they spoke so fast and my listening skills aren’t what they should be. But the highlight of the whole production for me was a song that was sung and danced to about how much they love school. They love their teachers and their books and they love school. That would never fly in the States with our often love hate relationship with learning and our general complacency about school. I thought it was kind of cool. They really care about school. They study far longer than most American students, and I studied pretty hard myself in the States, and they’re really happy to be in university. The other thing is most of them enroll in college right out of high school and finish in four years. They don’t take over a decade to finish like me.

My classmates are literally from around the world. Including the four from Ohio there are only six Americans studying here. The rest of the students are from other countries, mostly Asia but also Africa and the Middle East. There are a bunch of Students from Kyrgyzstan. It’s a small country that was in the former Soviet Union that borders China to the Northwest. Their culture is Muslim, they speak their own language and Russian and they look Asian or slightly Asian.  There are also students from South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Laos, Mongolia, Russia, different parts of Africa and the Middle East. But most of them don’t speak much English so we have to communicate with them in Chinese. I really appreciate how international our school is.  We are in the mostly monoculture of China and it can be refreshing.

My classes aren’t too difficult for the most part. Most of my classes use vocabulary I’m familiar with and if they don’t it’s easy to learn the vocab words for the week. But I am very behind on my character writing. I can read and speak just fine but there are many characters I can recognize I just can’t write. So I plan on spending a lot of my free time writing the characters. It’s what I’m here for after all. I find that for the first time since I started at Akron last fall I’m towards the bottom of my class. Most of the class is far better than me in Chinese. I’m used to being the best in every subject. I believe God has allowed this to happen because he wants to humble me. It’s good for me not to be the best all the time. It just means I have to work that much harder. I’m understanding what’s going on in class and I’m learning all the vocab, so even though I’m towards the bottom, I’m keeping up. But my reading class is especially hard. There are loads of characters I need to learn.  I have to look up almost every other character. It takes me a couple of hours to read a couple of paragraphs. But I’m not alone in this; everyone else is having problems with the reading text. It’s just that much harder. I don’t know why they have such a huge disparity between the Chinese levels of the texts but that’s just the way they arranged the class. It’s good because it means the other students won’t get bored.

I have the next week off for National Day 国庆日 and Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋双节. National Day is the celebration of the beginning of Communist China the PRC. I wish I could travel but because it’s a holiday I would have already had to have my tickets. I suppose I could go later in the week but I’m saving my money for my six week break in January. Then I’ll probably hit up the usual spots, Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an and visit some old friends who live in other provinces.  But this week I’m going to explore Kaifeng and try to go to Zhengzhou the nearest big city. I say nearest big city because Kaifeng has 3 million people and in China it’s considered a small town. It’s considered the boonies. But I want to go to a night club, not to drink (I don’t really drink that much) but to experience the night life China has to offer. I also want to go to Karaoke sometime.

Ting Ting’s mom went back to the States, back to North Dakota the other day. She still keeps in touch with me online and wants me to watch after her. She is really protective of her daughter and Ting Ting hasn’t been that independent in the past. But I really think she can take care of herself. After all, she’s 27 years old. But I’m still going to watch out for her. That’s part of being in a love relationship and I promised her mom I would. Things are going well with Ting Ting. I’m amazed at her patience. I spend most of my time studying and she seems content to keep herself occupied and entertain herself. And she really helps me when I’m stuck on a particularly hard part of my reading or when I run across vocab I don’t know. This week I really want to spend more time with her and go out on a few official dates. I still haven’t thought of what would be a romantic thing to do but I’m content just to spend time with her. She has a luminous smile and laughs at the most random moments. It is a pleasure just being with her.

It’s been a little over three weeks and I finally feel like I am “used” to being in China. But at the same time I have moments where I’m like “Oh my God, I’m in China.” But it’s usually a pleasant moment. I really am beginning to like it here. Not that I didn’t like it before, it’s just now I know my way around more, my Chinese has improved and I’m growing more accustomed to the way things are done here.  I still have a long way to go in all those categories though.

Monday we had medical examination at a building in Zhengzhou. It only took a few hours and the entire examination was done in one building. We had a chest X-ray, and EKG, blood sample and urine sample and it was all done in one building and relatively quickly. I thought that more convenient then the way we do it in the States where you have to go to a bunch of different places to get those things done and you pay a lot more. It was 320 RMB which is really cheap in US dollars (about 53 dollars.)

I went to a Chinese zoo with Ting Ting. It was actually a little sad. The animal’s hair was all scruffy and shaggy and they were in tiny little cages and everyone was feeding them random food. They even had dogs. I did a double take but in a cage right next to the wolves there was a German Shepard.  It was pretty random.

I’ve found my favorite dish in China so far. It’s called 热干面re gan mian. It has sprouts and vegetables and noodles and peanut sauce. It’s extremely tasty and it costs only 3.5 RMB which is about 50 cents. I’m still amazed at how cheap things are here, particularly food.  I haven’t been spending too much money lately.

Tuesday is the 100th anniversary of Henan University. There’s going to be a big party and we get to meet one of the Vice Presidents of some sort of international function of Akron University and our teacher from the States is coming too. I’m excited for it and it will be interesting to see what they’ll do for the hundredth anniversary.

I got Ting Ting onto Facebook and it was really funny to see her adjust to it. She didn’t understand it at first but after a while she caught on to it. At first she didn’t want to add any friends but after a couple of days she started adding friends.  They don’t really have Facebook in China because the government blocks it but there are ways of getting around it by using a VPN established with a network from the States. I have a VPN established with the University of Akron.

Classes started last Tuesday. There are two classes one is a beginner class where they start with the basics and one is more advanced. I got put into the more advanced class and the other students from Ohio got put into the beginner class. They are definitely at the top of their class. I’m definitely not the best in my class but I understand everything pretty easily. Most of the vocab is stuff I’ve already learned and so most of my classes are really easy. But our reading class is from the next year of study and it is really difficult. I have to look up almost every other word and I have a lot of difficulty understanding what I’m reading. But it is good for me to learn.

One of these weekends we’re going to try to make a trip into Zhengzhou. They have a Starbucks there which is especially excellent. One thing I’ve missed is coffee. I know I can get instant coffee from the supermarket but it’s just not the same. I have yet to try the coffee shops around town but if they’re anything like the ones I tried on my last trips to China they will be God awful.

I just introduced Ting Ting to the music of Elliott Smith. She liked him, which is definitely a good sign. She plays piano too and I’m sure that’s part of it. I also caught her listening to the Beatles on my IPod.  Looks like this may work out after all. The only problem is, now that’s she’s discovered my IPod she won’t put it down. She’s been listening to it non-stop. She also discovered my Bukowski poems on there and he’s a little rough around the edges to say the least. I just hope she doesn’t find my Dr. Dre and Wu Tang. Who’s telling what she’ll think of that. The Chinese have a level of simple pure heartedness not found in most people in the States. I don’t mean simple as in simple minded or unintelligent. I mean built into their culture they have a level of innocence. They are warmhearted and friendly to strangers. It’s a pleasure and a joy to experience this kindness firsthand. I know I will have more opportunities to experience this as my time in China stretches on. I really love it here. It’s like I’m coming home. It’s been 8 years since my last trip to China and I’m happy to be back. Some things have changed. Some things have remained the same, but overall it’s good to be back.

While on Facebook I saw an ad catered specially for me. It said, “Confused by your Chinese girlfriend, click like and we can help.” I thought it was both funny and scary. It’s funny because that’s simply a hilarious statement to make. It’s scary because it means Facebook somehow knows I have a Chinese girlfriend. The all seeing eye of Mark Zuckerberg has spoken.

I have been praying which is good. I find true comfort in a God who stretches across cultures, and leaps across and finds us at any frame of mind or geographical location and defies all human logic. Church has been an interesting experience to say the least. I can only make out every other word of the sermon and I try to follow along in the song book and I recognize characters every once in a while. I can sometimes even get the general gist of the song being sung. And the people are so warm and easy to get to know. None of them know English except for Ting Ting so my conversations with them have been limited.

The other students from Ohio have arrived here already. They came in this morning. I’ve been set up with Ben as a roommate. He’s a student from Ma Lao Shi’s Chinese 201 class that I sat in on from time to time. He’s one semester ahead of me in his studies but I think it’s possible we might end up in the same class. Also with him were Dannysha and Amber. Dannysha is from University of Akron like Ben and I. Amber is from Kent State. I knew these students from our meetings before we came to China. Dannysha was in the 202 class with Li Laoshi which I sat in on sometimes. She is two semesters ahead of me in Chinese. The students have arrived wide-eyed and hungry for new experiences which I know they will begin to face almost immediately. They seem like a good bunch, open-minded and easy going which will make them great guests of this illustrious country. I look forward to getting to know them over the next few months and sharing many adventures together.

Now I love Ting Ting. Yes, we’ve gotten to that point in our relationship. And I love spending time with her. So far we’ve seen each other the better part of everyday I’ve been here. But part of me wishes I could go out into the streets of Kaifeng alone or with my classmates and use what little Chinese we know to navigate the streets of Kaifeng. But Ting Ting always translates for me. Her English is much better than I first thought. But I know a good compromise. I can spend at least a couple of hours a day maybe while she’s taking a nap, venturing out into the unknown alleyways of Kaifeng City. Or when I do go out with her maybe I can step up and speak Chinese for myself. I know that part of a love relationship is knowing when to count the cost and press on knowing that overall the negatives are outweighed by positives. And not only that, but the positives carry more weight because they are the multiple facets that make up the one you love. You’ve got to take the bad with the good because you know the good is surpassingly good and whatever struggles you face you face them together. We have a long road ahead of us, but I believe we can traverse it together. Oh yeah, and she found my hip-hop. I caught her rocking out to Ghostface Killah.

This is a post I wrote after my first week in China. 09/07/2012

I have been in China for one week now and I have already faced my first bout of homesickness. It came on real quick and lasted for a few hours. I was walking with Ting Ting hand in hand through the campus and all around me there were people speaking Chinese. I could understand just enough to make it frustrating. And suddenly I wanted to be in my parent’s house eating pizza watching some American program on TV. To walk the streets of Akron to my house on West South street and have everyone around me speaking a language I can fully comprehend. To eat steak or barbeque with my roommates while drinking American beer.

So I after I said goodnight to Ting Ting I put on my headphones and listened to the Smiths, just like I do when I’m depressed at home. Morrisey’s ridiculous lyrics can always bring a smile to my face. (Let me get my hands on your mammary glands and my head in you conjugal bed. See even typing that now makes me giggle a little)  The other thing I did was I started practicing my Chinese characters. Suddenly as easily as the depression started it stopped and ironically I slayed my homesickness with the repetition of writing Chinese characters in my character workbook from last semester.

I went to the doctor a few days ago and got the Chinese version of my medications. This might be part of the reason I was feeling blue. It will take my body at least a few days to get used to this medication. Luckily school doesn’t start until next Wednesday. On that day I will take a test that will determine which Chinese class I’m in. This is why I’m practicing my characters. I want to be put in a class that isn’t too easy. With my illness part of what gets me in trouble is idle time. When my mind is occupied in things like studying I am less likely to have an episode or have depression.  I know for certain I am in the right place and this is where I’m supposed to be. I’m supposed to study Chinese at Henan University and I’m supposed to be dating Ting Ting. She demands a lot of time from me so I hope things can still go smoothly once I’ve started classes. I’m going to have to study every day so I can keep up with the coursework.  I was first in my class in Chinese back in the States. I want to do even better here. I have one year of school studying nothing but Chinese. And I have chances to practice it everyday. Everyday I find an opportunity to speak Chinese. Many people I run into don’t speak English so the only way I can communicate with them is in Chinese.

When I was staying in the hotel before I moved into the dorms I was walking by the lounge when I man stopped me and said, ‘hello’. I went into the room and had an hour long conversation about a variety of things ranging from what I’m studying, to my girlfriend to American presidents. They thought that Lincoln was the first President. Which is better than my knowledge of Chinese leaders, I know who the current Premier is (Hu Jintao) but I couldn’t tell you who was in office before him. We drank Oolong tea and smoked Chinese cigarettes. There were times when I didn’t understand a word they were saying but I fought through it and enjoyed myself thoroughly. 

On Sunday I went to my first day of church with Ting Ting and her mom. It was a Chinese church through and through. It lasted 3 hours and there was lots of singing repeating the same songs over and over again. I followed along in the book as they sang and I picked out words that I knew. Also, since it was my first time ever there, they made me stand up and speak to the congregation. I told them who I was, where I was from and that I’m studying at Henan University. I did this all in Chinese and they seemed to understand me.

I keep getting words mixed up. If word normally has two characters sometimes I only say the first character and not the second one or the second one and not the first. This can cause some misunderstandings.  I went to a stand to get some Chinese milk tea. It’s 台湾奶茶。Or Taiwan Nai Cha. The word for cow’s milk is 牛奶or niu nai. I asked for 台湾牛茶。Or Taiwanese Niu Cha. I should’ve asked for 台湾奶茶。Taiwan nai cha. Niu means cow or beef. Nai means milk. I asked for Taiwan beef tea. I asked for it three times before I realized my mistake. They looked at me blankly and couldn’t understand what I was saying until I corrected my mistake. It was pretty embarrassing.

I met some of the teachers at the school today. They introduced themselves in Chinese and told me if I had any concerns or problems I should not hesitate to come to them and get the help I need. I got the head teachers cell and he told me to call him if I need any help. Everyone has been so friendly and warm and easy going. People in China are far friendlier than people in the States. I’m sorry, but it’s just a fact. In China people bend over backwards to make sure that you are okay, that you’re enjoying yourself and that you have what you need. The cab driver on the way from Zhengzhou to Kaifeng gave me his last cigarette and insisted that I have it despite my protests otherwise. Ting Ting’s painting teacher gave me a painting for free and then treated me to lunch. She asked me a couple of times when Ting Ting wasn’t around, if I was going to marry her or if I’m preparing to. I just said huo xu, maybe. I do want to marry someday soon and I do love her, but I know we have to get to know each other better. And we have ten months to do that and maybe even longer if she comes to the States.

Speaking of which, I got to know a little more about her mother. Never underestimate the power of a Chinese mother. The service people at the dorm don’t speak any English. And they were telling me and her that she wouldn’t be allowed in my room. She would have to wait outside in the lobby. Not even during normal hours. The rules explicitly said no visitors allowed in the dorm rooms. Ting Ting’s mom talked with them on the phone for a half an hour. They still said no. Finally she came down to the dorms in person and talked with them for another half hour or so. Finally they were persuaded to let her visit me in my dorm room. Never underestimate the power of a Chinese mother.

Oh yeah, I shaved my beard. I haven’ t shaved it off in 3 or 4 years and I did it because of the girl. And because I thought it was time for a change. But mostly for the girl.

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