Tag Archives: zhuhai

Away on a New Adventure

We survived the long-haul (15-hour) flight from Chicago to Hong Kong and have settled into our hotel room for the night.  I thought I’d update a few random thoughts in my head before I attempt to sleep.  Being in Hong Kong is more emotional than I thought.  We are so close to Zhuhai; just across the channel; a few dozen miles.  My heart is suddenly aching for our old home, my bicycle rides around Tangjia, and friends we made there.  It was two years ago this week that I first arrived in China and I will treasure the experience forever.

But tomorrow, we are headed someplace else.
Penang, Malaysia.  We’ve been talking about this trip for such a very long time, it seems.  Now it is finally happening.  

If you ask Simon what is happening, he will tell you: We are going on a new adventure. To Malaysia. We will have a swimming pool with a blue slide and a mushroom fountain. And someday after we get to Malaysia, we will meet out new baby. 

That’s a pretty good synopsis, actually.

The rest of the story, featuring pesky details that only adults would care to know, are as follows.  Joel is leading a group of students from his school, Gustavus Adolphus College.  The students will enroll at Universiti Sains Malaysia, taking classes with local Malaysian faculty.  Joel is the trip coordinator, mentor, accountant, and whatever else the students need.  I will serve as co-director of the program, assisting Joel and the students where I can.  The students will arrive in about 10 days.

And then there’s the baby, since people tend to have lots of questions about that.  S/he is due in mid-March and we’ve found a highly-recommended doctor at a hospital very near our apartment who will assist with the delivery.  More on that later, I suppose.  Then we will all come home at the end of the spring semester.

So far, our travel has been incredibly smooth.  Perhaps we are just traveling on a charmed day. Or maybe there’s something about flying trains-Pacific with a toddler while 34 weeks pregnant that makes people want to be helpful to you.  Whatever the case, it’s been great.  I’m not one to show a lot of brand loyalty but I have to say that Cathay Pacific has been wonderful to us.  The flight manager set us up with two full rows of seats, so that I could lay across a whole row to nap. Joel and Simon had extra space in the row right behind me.  Moreover, the staff were incredibly attentive, stopping by very frequently to offer me extra water, extra snacks, extra pillows, and diversions for the three-year-old.  

And I hadn’t contemplated this, but out little Xiao Pianzi still has his game.  Simon got the nickname “Little Hustler” in China because he was able to use his blond hair and forward personality to charm just about anything out of anyone. The flight attendants, airport staff, and fellow passengers still fall for it.  I’m going to spend the next few months keeping his ego in check. 

Anyhow, it is late and we fly out early in the morning on our last flight to Penang.  I will have much more to say once we get there!


“The Orlando of China” at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom

Last Monday, Joel’s college sponsored a staff day at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom. This theme park, which just opened in January of this year, is located in southern Zhuhai. The Chimelong Group has indicated that they plan to turn the area into “the Orlando of China.” I’d say they’re well on their way towards that goal—for better or for worse. This park is ocean-themed and quite reminiscent of Sea World.

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As in the U.S., it turns out that the last Monday before public schools close for the summer is a smart day to tour a theme park.  I’d been warned to expect the crowds of Disney with the shoving of Chinese tourists, but the park was mostly empty, especially in the morning.

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Joel’s not a fan of rides, so he kindly watched Simon as I took my turns on the park’s major offerings. Their star is a ride called Parrot Coaster, which is located in their Amazing Amazon. It’s a steel sing coaster. There’s a central cart attached to the track, but the riders sit on “wings” that jut out to the sides. So there’s nothing above you or below you as you ride along. I sat in the outer seat and was only connected via the seat next to me. It has a fantastic (gut-wrenching) first dive. The whole way up, I kept wondering about the safety and inspections of Chinese amusement park rides. Fortunately, the guy next to me was so scared that I spent the rest of my ride worried that he was hyperventilating. (He was OK by the end.)

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We took Simon on one ride: the Octopus Carousel. As you can see, he wasn’t a fan. I had to pull him off the horse (er…turtle) before it was over.

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I also tried out the Walrus Splash, after purchasing my 10-yuan poncho.  Surprise feature: the car turns around backwards for the first drop.  Nobody was expecting that!

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What Shamu is to Sea World, the whale shark is to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom.  The aquarium is the heart of this park, and it holds multiple records.  At 22.7 million liters, it’s the largest aquarium in the world.  True to Chinese fashion, there’s a row of Guiness World Record plaques lining the entry, just to make sure you know.

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And the whale sharks!  I’d heard they weren’t on display everyday, so I didn’t have my hopes up.  But there they were!  Two juvenile females.  Those are some big fish.  And to think they’re only babies!  I’d still love to see one in the wild someday, but this will hold me over ’til then.

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In addition to the fish, Chimelong has some other animals on display. We spent some time in the penguin house because it was so cold–what a relief from the steamy air outside!

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You can learn a lot about a culture by how they define their wildlife.

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I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: China is like America in the 1950s. IMGP1822 (1280x848)

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Mom, this isn’t very culturally appropriate, is it?


We caught the afternoon parade, which was full of freaky costumes.

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These guys kept spinning and shuffling in circles. I thought they were hydrothermal vents, but Joel says they were coral.
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The octopuses rode Segways.

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Proof that I’ve been in China a while:

I was walking around looking for something to eat.  I stopped at one kiosk and asked the lady what she was selling.  She opened the lid to show me cups of fish.  I shook my head and sauntered off.  Only later, when I passed by again, did I realize they were meant to be fed to the sea lions.

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In my defense, the nearby cafe was advertising two different specials: Korean roasted squid and a bowl of octopus tentacles.  And those are intended for humans.

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We ended up eating well, though.  Our entry included dinner at the swanky hotel buffet.  On the way to dinner we met the mascot, the Chimelong tiger.

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High fives.

After dinner, we roamed the hotel lobby and gift shops.  It was a modest, understated facility.

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Sadly, we went home with no merchandise at all, though I was sorely tempted by the hammerhead shark googly-eyed hat.

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Another Day, Another Island

Last weekend, our friend Geoff pitched an idea: a daytrip to an island just offshore of Zhuhai.  There are actually hundreds of islands dotting the coastline here–we can easily see a dozen from our apartment balcony.  Most are small and uninhabited.  A few large ones, like Qiao, are connected by bridges and roads.  Others are slowly (by Chinese standards) being developed into tourist destinations.

One such island is Dong’ao.  It has a few hotels catering to Chinese tourists and a handful of small restaurants and shops.  But a Club Med will be opening later this year and everything is about to change.  Such is life in hyper-developing China.  We met two expats who are working at the soon-to-open Club Med.  Right now, the hotel is running a special wherein a couple can book a stay in the most basic room for “only” US$400 per night.  This ain’t the 7 Days Inn, folks.

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Blue sky, blue water.

From Zhuhai, there are two daily ferries to Dong’ao.  We caught the earlier one.  The ferry ride is about one hour and makes a quick stop at another island before reaching Dong’ao.  Once you disembark, you come upon small strip of convenience shops and a couple restaurants.  Here you can pick up a snack and a beverage, along with any beachy essentials you forgot: hats, swimsuits, inflatable duckies.

There were four of us–Geoff, Grace, Joel, and me.  (Simon stayed home with Ayi Tan for the day.)  We set off on one of the paved pedestrian trails around the island.

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The water is so blue!
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Geoff and Grace.
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Always so much of the up and down walking. Why can’t pretty places be flat?

What a beautiful view!  The water was much cleaner here than in Zhuhai.  And although we still saw occasional bits of floating debris, you could see clear to the bottom in many places.  Back in Zhuhai, I’ve noticed advertisements for snorkeling and diving around Dong’ao and I bet it would be quite nice if you could just get a little ways offshore.

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A beacon tower from the Ming dynasty.

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We saw a couple of blue-tailed skinks but I never got a good picture of one.
We saw a couple of blue-tailed skinks but I never got a good picture of one.
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Nice warm water.
Relaxing in the hammock chairs that are placed around the island.
Relaxing in the hammock chairs that are placed around the island.

Man, was it hot, though.  After a few hours, Joel took the early ferry back to Zhuhai so that he could pick up Simon at the end of Ayi Tan’s shift.

The remaining three of us set off in search of lunch, which we found in a hilltop seafood restaurant.  This was a “choose-your-own” style place.  Quite common in southeastern China, these restaurants feature big display aquariums with live fish.  You point to what you want, and they cook it up for you, as fresh as if you caught it yourself.

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View from the restaurant.

Joel and I have walked through such restaurants many times, forlorn at what we see: lots of threatened and/or endangered species.  Big groupers, the subject of Joel’s dissertation research, are a very popular choice.  They are tasty fish, after all, but their life history can’t keep up with the growing appetites of China’s 1.3 billion seafood lovers.

Geoff and I selected two fish and some mussels.  They soon arrived at our table, steamed and prepared with minimal spices.  The mussels had some garlic, hot peppers, and ginger.  The fish were in a light soy-blended sauce.  Both were quite tasty, but we really ordered too much food and had to stuff ourselves to eat it all.

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The menu, such as it was.
Weighing our fish.
Weighing our fish.
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Lunch, before.
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Lunch, after.

After lunch, we took a shuttle (10 yuan per person) to the far side of the island and went for a quick swim.  This side of the island faced towards the ocean and had bigger waves.  Thus the water was a bit murkier with more floating seaweed, but there was an official swimming area.  After 20 minutes in the water, we dried off and returned to the ferry port to catch our ride home.  The heat and the water had sapped our energy but I was happy to have finally had a swim in the South China Sea.

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Sage advice.

Of Bicycles and Buffalo (A Morning on Qiao Island)

This morning, we decided to get outdoors early in an attempt to beat the heat.  We had a lovely morning on Qiao Island, but if the truth must be told, I think the heat beat us.  The high today was 92*F and the heat index got up to 115*F.  Good thing we went out early.

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We took the #85 bus from Tangjia onto Qiao Island and hopped off by a roadside bike rental stand.  The sign by the road says bikes are 10 yuan for a day.  The woman at the shop insisted they were 15.  Perhaps they cost extra because Joel’s was a mountain bike (multiple gears, oooh) and mine had a child seat.  Or maybe they were extra because we’re foreigners.  Whatever the case, we made our payment and were pedaling by 9:00.

Qiao Island is still quite undeveloped.  There are lots of wetlands, fish farms, and patchy little farms with shacks nearby.  Are the shacks living quarters?  Or just a shady spot for workers to hide from the heat?  I don’t know.

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Typical roadside attractions.

Our path started out paved but turned to a dirt road soon enough.  Dirt.  Mud.  Whatever.

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The path we chose went up a steep hill.  We gamely tried to pedal it, but it was no use.  We wound up pushing our bikes most of the way up, only to ride down the other side at white-knuckled speed with brakes that don’t really work.  Oh yeah, and I’ve got a kidster with no helmet on the back of my bike.  No biggie.

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After a while, we came upon a big pasture with water buffalo in it.  I confess, these are the first water buffalo I’ve seen in China.  On previous visits to Qiao, we’d noticed other signs of their presence, but this was the first I’d caught glimpse of them.

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They’re big and their horns are quite impressive.  I remarked to Joel that I was quite happy to have a tall barbed wire fence between me and them.  We paused for a photo break and to let Simon “oooh” and “wow” at the hoofstock.


“Nope, Simon, they’re not puppies.”



“No, sorry, kiddo…”

We started pedaling again.  The buffalo were walking at the same pace as us, just on the other side of the fence.  And then, all of a sudden, they stepped through a hole in the fence and wandered right into our path.  Oops.  So much for the security of barbed wire!

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Fortunately, they weren’t interested in us.  The lead buffalo had his sight set on a pond on the opposite side of the road.

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Pool party!

In they climbed, one by one, until nothing was visible but a bunch of heads and horns.

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They don’t call us “water buffalo” for nothing.

Had we bicycled by just ten minutes later, we might have crossed right by that pool without ever even noticing the dozen buffalo chilling within!

We turned back, as I was still a little nervous about the general proximity.  Perhaps if I didn’t have Simon, or the roads were solid enough that I could have pedaled faster, I’d have felt more comfortable.  We biked back into Qiao Village.  A lot of the homes here are in rough shape.  Actually, to be blunt, they look like they’ve been bombed out.  I wish I knew what was going on.

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Realtor says, “Panoramic views! Natural air conditioning!”

And yet despite the generally dilapidated, abandoned feel of the neighborhoods, there are tidy, healthy vegetable gardens in many of the courtyards.  Somebody still lives here, and they have green thumbs.

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Peas, corn, bananas, and more.

We were hot and tired.  Simon wasn’t the only one who needed a nap.  We returned our bikes and hopped on a bus home; back by noon.  We were thirsty, hungry, and very, very sweaty–and we’d earned our right to laze about in the air conditioning for the rest of the hot afternoon.

Pumpkins Aloft! A Tour of Zhuhai’s Agricultural Garden

On the map of Zhuhai, there’s a spot in the northwest that we’ve always wanted to visit: the “Marvelous Agriculture Center.”  It’s up near the Meixi Arches and theoretically, one could visit both locations in one day.  The weather looked promising, so Joel and I headed out to explore.  We started on the 69 bus (our old standby) and switched to the 26 near the Aeon stop.  (Admittedly, we could have transferred sooner, but I wanted an iced mocha from my favorite drink stand near the Aeon bus stop.)

On our bus ride, we met two ladies who were visiting China.  They were Chinese-Australian and headed to the botanical garden as well.  It was lovely to have translators as we searched out the place!  The entrance was a good 100m away from the bus stop, around a corner, and not readily identifiable.  Same old, same old.  But once we walked up the little dirt road, we knew we were in the right place.  Admission was 30 yuan per person; quite reasonable.

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Cycads make brilliant toppers for giant carrot statues. Very clever.
One of the well-manicured gardens.
One of the well-manicured gardens.

By far, the highlight was the Rare Gourds Garden.  A common sight throughout the garden was the trellising of vegetables that we normally grow on the ground.  But this was at its most remarkable when we walked into the Rare Gourds greenhouse and saw huge pumpkins dangling over our heads!

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Juggling pumpkins.
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Gourds aloft.
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Tempting fate.
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The squash jokes just make themselves, really.
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The giant pumpkins were too heavy for a trellis and had to be grown in the Huge Pumpkin Garden.
Can't wait for Halloween.
Can’t wait for Halloween.

In addition to dangling gourds, there were many other impressive vegetable greenhouses.  The Tree Crops Garden showcased an enormous cherry tomato plant that created a beautiful, shady arbor.

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All that stuff over Joel’s head is one cherry tomato plant–you can see the spindly little stem in the round planter.
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Tomato ceiling.

The botanical garden, like so many sites in Zhuhai, feels like it was built for a grander purpose.  Some of the greenhouses were incredible, but others were a bit neglected.  Everything was well labeled (in Chinese, with Latin scientific names).  The grounds could have been better kept and one of the gardens on the map was just a flat patch of weeds.  I’ve become accustomed to the treatment of animals in China, but it was tough to see some of the animals languishing in small cages at the Small Animal Center.

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Poor monkey with a chain around its neck.
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We preferred the immobile animals.
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The desert diorama lost a camel in a tragic accident.

It would have been a lovely place for a picnic, and I mean that on two counts: first, because there were many quiet, shady little corners with benches, and also because they didn’t really sell food on-site.  And we were hungry!  We settled on ice cream from the small convenience shop.

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In the name of science: Joel’s fish ice cream measures up to his angler fish t-shirt.
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The verdict: an ice cream cone pressed into the shape of a fish, with mango (?) flavored ice cream and a thin layer of red bean paste, all sandwiched inside the shell.

The last place we visited was the Beancurd Production Area.  (That’s tofu.)  Two little kids and their mom were giving it a shot.

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Dry beans and water are poured in the top, then you spin the crank to grind them into soy milk.
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Later, the soy milk would be poured into wooden molds like this to produce the classic square tofu blocks.

Turns out, getting rid of cucumbers is a global problem.  These were at the entrance/exit gate.

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Please buy our cucumbers…please?




There’s No Easter Bunny in China

Easter isn’t a big deal here.  No Easter bunnies.  No egg dye kits in the grocery aisles.  None of that weird fake grass.  And needless to say, there are no Easter church services because there aren’t many churches in the first place.

Well, we did see these rabbits and parakeets for sale in Guangzhou last week.
Well, we did see these rabbits and parakeets for sale in Guangzhou last week.

My favorite part of Easter is dyeing Easter eggs, so I decided to uphold that tradition.  I wandered the produce section of the local grocery store, scouring the shelves for foods that stain.  In the end, I came home with curry powder (for the turmeric), red wine, purple sweet potatoes, and mulberry juice. Nothing came out wildly vibrant, but they produced a lovely mix of earth tones.

Earth-toned eggs.
Earth-toned eggs.

After Simon’s morning nap, we packed up and headed to Yelidao, or Yeli Island.  The name has multiple suggested translations, depending on where you look.  “Wild Raccoon Island.”  “Wild Beaver Island.”  “Wildcat Island.”  With such confusion about its animal inhabitants, I decided we might as well assume it to be Easter Bunny Island.  Yelidao is a popular weekend hangout in Zhuhai.  From the Xiangzhou neighborhood, you simply cross a small bridge on foot to get to it.  There, you find people flying kites, bicycles for rent, souvenir stands, ice cream carts, kids with dipnets, and lots of green space for a picnic overlooking the seawall.

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Quad-cycles for rent at the entrance to Yelidao.
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Man selling kites.
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This path circles the whole island.

A picnic is just what we had in mind: I packed ham sandwiches (so Easter-y!) and little pastries from one of the shops in Tangjia.  We ate our meal and let Simon wander to his heart’s content.  He was particularly interested in the sea.  He’d walk to the seawall, point at the water, and open his mouth to say “wooowwww” but was so excited that no sound came out!

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The silent “wow.”
Family selfie!
Family selfie!

A Reunion of Saint Peterites

Our friends are visiting us from Saint Peter, Minnesota, USA!  Sarah and Drew arrived Wednesday evening.  They spent a little time in Hong Kong first, and plan to travel to Beijing and the Great Wall after Zhuhai.  We are so thrilled that they are visiting us!

On their first night in Zhuhai, we took them out to dinner at the Szechuan restaurant in Tangjia, which is one of my favorites.  Everyone agreed that the food was spicy but very good.

We took it easy on Thursday.  Well, we tried to.  I promised Sarah I wouldn’t make her walk more than four miles but I lied.  Walking is a major part of life here in China.  “It’s been a long winter!” she insisted.  “I’ve been hibernating!  I need to ease my way into being active outside again!”  Having lived in Minnesota for six years, I totally understand.  That’s one of the aspects of Minnesota that I find hardest–the fact that you’re really trapped indoors for several months every winter, and then you feel like a just-awakened bear once spring finally (finally!) arrives.

I took them to the wet market and we bought some groceries.  Then we took the bus to Joel’s campus, United International College.  I couldn’t have planned a better visit.  One of the American (Minnesotan) teaching assistants was holding a lunchtime discussion on “Perceptions of Americans.”  Sarah and Drew were a living show-and-tell.

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We broke up into small groups to talk about stereotypes and impressions.  My group covered pretty tame issues–we talked about families living long-distance, technology, grad school, and America’s “car culture.”  I told them that I appreciated the communal aspect of Chinese culture, and that people are always gathering in public places to socialize.  Sarah’s group wound up discussing all sorts of hot topics: rape, homosexuality, the American medical system.  “Can you bribe a doctor to take better care of you father?” asked one student.

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For lunch, the three of us walked to CCT, the popular dumpling restaurant on campus.  From there, I gave them a quick tour of the rest of college and we had coffee at the campus cafe.  Then it was on to Joel’s class to catch the end of a lecture on the Opium Wars.

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Sarah’s super-strong mocha from the UIC cafe.

During the noon discussion hour, some of the students mentioned that their fellow students were nervous because today was “tai chi examination day.”  All freshmen are required to take a tai chi class and this was a major review.  We were encouraged to go to Plaza A and watch the students perform.  When we finally found Plaza A (the campus is small but not well-marked), we asked the instructor if we could observe.  No, was the answer, but we could participate in the warm-up exercises.  We weren’t expecting that!  Sarah and I were wearing skirts but we took the chance anyhow. What an awesome opportunity!

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We really have no idea what we’re doing.


It sure looks pretty from a  distance, though.
It sure looks pretty from a distance, though.