It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap

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Hey! So I know it’s been WAY too long since I’ve written a post. Sorry about that.
First, I was kinda busy, then I was lazy, then WordPress got blocked by China. I mean, it’s still blocked, but I’m currently using my proxy to write this.
So a lot has happened since I last wrote (no duh, it’s been like 2 months).
I’ve eased up a bit, and grown a lot. A big thing I learned: sometimes it’s okay to not follow the rules if it doesn’t harm you or others. Just use common sense.
So now, I like never wear my uniform. I mean, I wear the jacket, and sometimes the pants, but the shirt is so ugly, no one wears it. I also wear jewelry every day, and makeup some days. If there was a problem, people would tell me, but no one says anything to us when we break the dress code, so I guess it’s okay.
Okay. So random story. Before I came to China I wondered if people would think I’m Chinese or a foreigner. People in the US think I’m Chinese, but if I go to a Chinese restaurant, the legit Chinese people don’t think I’m Chinese. In Beijing, people would always think of me as a foreigner, but then I realized it was probably because I was always with people who were obviously Caucasian. Once I got to Nanjing, and was away from the foreigners (just with my host family), people would only speak Chinese to me. It’s pretty interesting. One time, this sales clerk thought I was my host mother’s sister. But when I am on the bus, people speak to me in Chinese like all the time. I’ve figured out how to look foreign when I want to, but also how to look when I want to be Chinese. The difference is miniscule, but it totally works. If I put my hair in a ponytail, EVERYONE thinks I’m Chinese. In the morning, other exchange students have mistaken me for a regular Chinese person. At times, it can be frustrating when I look Chinese because people think I’m a translator or a tour guide. Or at school, there’s this guy who patrols when people walk into school, and he sometimes thinks I’m Chinese, so he stops me and asks where my uniform is. One time he’s like “ku zi zai nar?” which means “Where are your pants?”. But it was seriously 7:00am. I was not in the mood to explain that they were dirty (I only have one pair of uniform pants). So I played the foreigner card. Yeah. I don’t do that all the time, but sometimes it’s quite convenient. So I replied “ummm wo bu dong”, which means “I don’t understand” and I walked away. Yup. This happens sometimes. It actually happened again today. He kinda chased me down… But he’s like “ku zi zai nar? Ta men chuan yi yang de ku zi. Na ge ku zi shi xiao fu” which means “Where are your pants, they are wearing the same pants. Those pants are the uniform!” Once again, my pants are in the laundry so I said, “Wo bu dong, wo shi mei guo ren” which means “I don’t understand. I’m American”. So then he understood and let me go.  Sometimes with the other exchange students, the guard tells their host sibling to tell them to wear their uniform. Haha.
But I’ve definitely become a more “go with the flow” person. I mean, I’m never going to be as easygoing as my sister, but still, I have improved a bit. People in China change their plans all the time, and usually don’t know until the last possible moment. One of my classmates told me there’s a saying in Chinese that translates into “do something, then let people know”. Yup. That’s China. We had this camping trip a few days ago. We left on Thursday, but they didn’t tell us about it until Monday. So that was kinda random.
So Chinese camping trip, that was interesting. I was definitely dreading it. If you know me, you know I’m certainly not an outdoorsy girl. I mean, I won’t die, but I do NOT go camping unless I’m forced to. I dread school camping trips too. There were a mix of things that were better and more than I expected them to be.
I’m lazy so, I’m going to make a bulletpoint list of stuff I did and how it was:
 Plowed with an ox (well, other people did, I didn’t feel like it). The ox was interesting… It almost peed on some people
 Learned how to make rope with hay. This was the crafty part of the trip, so that was fun. I can now make a noose, bracelet, or jump rope out of two pieces of hay.
 Plowed with hoes, dug holes, cut down trees, planted “oil rape” (it’s this leafy plant)
o Lots of people were impressed that I could dig a hole. They were convinced that I do this in America, so I have practice. Haha. Wow.
 Sang a Chinese song I don’t know the words or tune to with the other exchange students for a performance in front of 500 of my classmates
 Sang Justin Bieber’s “Baby” with the exchange students in front of like 500 people… Don’t ask.
 Froze my butt off
 Watched Chinese people try to make a fire (they finally figured it out, but to cook dinner, they tried using ONLY hay, which completely failed
 “Learned” how to sign a Chinese song in Chinese sign language. That kinda failed since I didn’t know the meaning of the song in Chinese. But I learned a few words (love, failure, success, every day, friendship). We learned sign language because we were at a school for deaf, mute, and mentally retarded people.
 Ate really gross food. Chicken feet with claws, anyone?
 Slept in a mice-infested dorm that had bars on the windows… Also, the beds were planks of wood with a mattress that was more like a sheet. So the beds weren’t exactly comfortable.
So, it could have been worse, but it wasn’t good by any means. Our teacher was really nice to us, and shared some actually good food with us, which was really nice. She totally understood that we didn’t want to go. She explained it to us “if I was in a foreign country, on a camping trip I didn’t want to go on, I’d want someone to take care of me”. It was very sweet.
Oh, something kinda creepy. We were told lights out at 9:00, but we were still talking to our teacher at 9, so suddenly, there was this loud “whooomp” and all the lights went out. None of the lights would turn on. Not even in the bathroom, so it was pretty clear that they cut all the power… Also, something a bit strange: girls are allowed in the boys dorms, but not vice versa.
The thing that bothered me most on that trip is that it was like being in middle school again. We’ve (the exchange students and I) noticed that Chinese people generally act 4 years younger than their age (compared to typical Americans). Yes, this is very stereotypical, but so far, it’s been quite true. They constantly have to fight with each other (with sticks, saws, fishing poles, etc.), the petty meanness because someone is “weird” or has “social issues”, and the truth or dare that has people hug or ask if so and so are dating. It just gets somewhat frustrating to constantly be around people who act so much younger than you. It probably doesn’t bother other people, but it’s one of my little quirks. Oh well. It’s all good.
So after like the first 3 weeks of school, all of the exchange students realized that Chinese class is really boring because we don’t understand anything. So we started doing other things during that time. Sometimes we chill out in the classroom and study. Sometimes we go out and explore the city. Yeah, we’re not supposed to, but this is far more productive and fun. I know can almost get around downtown Nanjing (Xin Jie Kou) by myself. But we go shopping different places, get Starbucks (I get it more often here than I do in the US, and now I’m slightly addicted), and get American food. I don’t go out as much as I used to, but several times a week, I’ll go out and have some fun  I have also learned the buses I need to take to get certain places, and which ones I can and cannot take back to school.
Things with my host family are… interesting. I don’t really talk to my host sister because she’s always so busy with school. Host father doesn’t come home till late. I can’t understand my host grandmother most of the time. She’s from Changzhou, and has a really strong dialect/accent thing going on. Instead of saying “zuo tian wan shang” she says “zu ti wa san”. So it’s pretty crazy trying to understand her. Host mother gets home late sometimes, but she’s the one who’s always in my room super late.
I’ve tried talking to her, and asked for her to be out of my room by 10:00 so I can have some time to myself before I go to bed, and she agreed. But then she violated it. Every night. So then I had my AFS coordinator call her and explain it in Chinese. That didn’t do anything, so I tried to deal with it. A month later, my coordinator kinda checks in and asks if things have changed. Things have not, plus new things have come up. They don’t knock on doors here, so people have walked in on me in the bathroom, getting dressed, and even showering. Not cool. So she calls my host family again reminding them to leave my room by 10, and to knock before opening the door. Still nothing. Ugh. So just last week, she asks again if things have improved. Nope. So she said she’d call again. And still. Every night she is in here, past 10, sometimes past 11. Always after I have turned the lights off and attempted to go to sleep. GR.
Even though there was a ton of bad stuff, I have been productive recently. I study a lot, sometimes I keep a diary in Chinese. I just started one in English. So last time I wrote, I talked about how the other exchange students are all into exercise and stuff. Well, their habits kinda rubbed off on me. I used to run every day, which I knew would not last long. Now my goal is to run several times a week. So that’s good. Ummm. I also try to eat more veggies. That doesn’t always go well, so sometimes I go across the street during lunch to buy some carrots from the Suguo (a mini supermarket).
So this following paragraph will probably come as a shock to some people.
After much discussion and deliberation, my family and I have come to an important decision. I am going to spend a semester in China, rather than a year. I am doing this because of my future. Just next year, I will be busy, applying for colleges. And I really want to be a doctor. When I was 3, I told my mom that I wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. I don’t want to be a pediatric neurosurgeon anymore, but I still strive to be a doctor. So when I apply to colleges, I want to look into programs with a heavy math and science emphasis. If I were at school in America this year, I would be taking pre-calculus, AP US history, biology, and other classes. My senior year, I plan to take AP calculus and anatomy (granted that it’s offered). If I do not take pre calc and bio, then I can’t take those classes. I planned to teach myself pre calc and bio (that didn’t go so well…), but then I found out from my school that I can’t get credit for those classes unless I take a legit class. That makes sense. But still, it would have been nice if I could have tested into those classes. So me, being the planner I am, planned my senior year schedule in seventh grade. There are been a few tweaks, but the main courses are still the same. I have gotten to know myself better, and I know that I would NEVER forgive myself if I didn’t take those classes senior year. So I will take classes at the community college next semester.
I honestly wish that I could say that I want to stay, but I don’t really want to. I think that this is what’s best for me. I’ll be happier, I’ll be learning, and I’ll be getting prepared for senior year.
I’ve gotten the okay from my parents and my college counselor, so it’s all good. Before I made my decision, I really wanted my college counselor’s opinion because I wanted all of the facts before I did anything drastic. Would it completely screw up my college apps? Will colleges flip out if they found out I was supposed to do a year? But she said it would be fine. She even thought it was a good idea. That made me extremely happy.
During this whole thought process, I have spoken to a few friends and teachers. One of my friends told me that there isn’t a right or wrong decision, and that I should just choose the one that’s best for me. My teacher told me something similar. She said that decisions aren’t just black and white. We all have the power to view it from a different perspective and make it positive. I got some really great advice. Even if I’m not perfectly happy for next semester, at least I will know that I’m getting prepared for my senior year, plus I will also be with my family and friends. I think it’ll be okay. I have a plan.
I won’t get to go back to my old school until my senior year. It would just be way too inconvenient to try and catch up. So I am going to homeschool myself. I’ll take classes at the community college, study Chinese at home, prepare for the SAT and ACT, volunteer at the hospital and cat shelter, and spend time with my family and friends. Yeah, that’s a lot on my plate, but I think I can do it. If I’m really that determined, I will find a way to make it happen.
Again, like a month has gone by since I wrote the above paragraphs. Wow. I’m so bad at this whole blogging thing. So I went through the whole process of trying to get myself home. Once I was sure about my decision, I had to tell my host family. I told my host sister and my host father (they’re the easiest to talk to). My host sister seemed a bit sad, but she said she understands my reasoning. My host father agreed that it would be the best for me, so he supports my decision. The next day, I had to talk to my teachers and the other exchange students. I wasn’t nervous about telling my teachers, but I was super nervous about telling the other exchange students. When I got to school, I took a deep breath and told them. They were mostly understanding, but a few seemed uneasy with my decision. Then I told Ada (my teacher and AFS coordinator). She was like “Okay. Do you think I should call AFS China?”… Oh goodness. So yeah. That was it pretty much. I’ve told some people back home, but not everyone since it wasn’t set in stone. Until today. After much hard work on AFS’ part and my mom’s, I finally have a ticket to come home. This process was definitely not easy, but it wasn’t impossible either (even though it usually felt like that because of lack of patience).
I told my AFS coordinator. She told AFS China. My mom talked to AFS USA. It took my mom such a long time to get a hold of a real person. So that was frustrating; but once she got a hold of someone, she really helped a lot. From what I’ve heard, the AFS lady was super understanding and helpful. We finally found out that NSLI would pay for my ticket back (such a relief!). So while she was working things out with the State Department (my scholarship is through them), I was doing my part in China. I talked to the NSLI person who may or may not be AFS (honestly, I don’t know) when she visited Nanjing. I told her pretty much everything about everything. So then she was going to talk to the State Department. Then I found out that my mom and I needed to write official statements to AFS/the State Department, requesting early return. UGH. It seemed like it would never end. So then AFS had to review them and then send them to the State Department. In the meantime, my coordinator texted me and asked me to come to her office. Then she told me that AFS USA is refusing to buy my ticket until they “fix” my host family. I asked what that entailed, but she kept telling me she didn’t know. Then she kept asking “does the stuff you wrote in your statement about your host family really happen (aka them walking around in their underwear and staying in my room really late)?”. So I told her, “Yes, it does. And I told you this in September…”. Then she proceeded to tell me that them doing all this is fine, and that I’m selfish for wanting them to alter their lifestyle for me… Goodness. So then I was all confused, so I emailed my mom and told her to ask AFS USA what exactly they are trying to do with my host family. The next day, I got a reply saying that AFS USA is actually waiting on AFS China, so I’m not really sure what my coordinator was talking about. Then the AFS USA woman connected my mom with the travel lady. They were discussing getting me back before Christmas. The lady said that they had just gotten someone a ticket back home, and it was for early January, but it was to a different country, so it might be okay. So then I, being my impatient self, researched all these plane tickets and their prices. I sent them to my mom to prove that there are still plenty of tickets available between then and Christmas. The AFS travel lady confirmed that there were tickets available, but we were still waiting on the State Department. Oh the joys of bureaucracy. So I could have my ticket and be back before Christmas, but unless the State Department gave it the okay, then I’d be stuck in China until they got to my request. Very nerve-racking. My mom talked to them on Monday (America’s yesterday) and they approved it!!!!! So today, Tuesday, they are purchasing my ticket. It’s my Tuesday night, so I don’t know when the ticket is for yet, but when I wake up tomorrow, I shall enter the date and post this.
I am still going to blog when I get back to America. Even though my China adventure is over, doesn’t mean my adventure is over. I’ll write about how things are going. How I’m settling in. My reactions, my goals, my reflections. Maybe I’ll even get better at writing more often. Nah. I highly doubt it.
It’s like 10:00, and I’m tired. I’ll add pictures or something soon. Maybe.
Oh. We had a Thanksgiving here. The girls did all the shopping and cooking. It was kinda fun, and the food was pretty good. I’ll post pictures.
I also want to go to the zoo before I leave. I may or may not go after my Chinese class on Thursday. I mean, I HAVE to see a panda. I’m in CHINA.
So, when I hear from my mother when I’m coming home, I will add it to this post.
I really appreciate all of the support I’ve gotten from everyone over the past year. It really means SO much to me. I could not have made it this far without you.
Oh. And my email signature thingy says “Unlimited, my future is UNLIMITED”. Yup. I quoted yet ANOTHER musical. Sue me. Back to the point. I really believe that my future is unlimited, and I want it to be that way for as long as possible, and by coming back, I am doing it in the interests of opening as many doors for my future as I possibly can.
I really think I’m going to go to sleep now.
I will be home on December 20th.

Can I hide my stupid hunger? Fake some confidence and cheer?

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I am finally in Nanjing.

It sure wasn’t easy getting here, and it isn’t exactly easy now.  Before I get into all of that, I’ll talk about the end of Beijing.

The last week of classes and field trips was… interesting.  We had done a ton of walking, which was not great on my ankle, so I skipped going to the museum of something.  Fine by me.   I didn’t want to walk around.  Plus I don’t like museums anyways.  So I stayed in the hotel, studied, listened to music, and played on the internet.  It was a nice break.  Nice to have privacy.  I love my roommate so much (even though she’s not my roommate anymore :{ ), but it’s always good to have some alone time, since with this orientation/class thing, you’re ALWAYS with people.  So I also wanted to skip the next day’s field trip to the Temple of Heaven.  Maybe it’d be kinda pretty, but I’m just a touristy person.  I could honestly care less about seeing touristy places.  But I had an internal argument.  The more mature side won.  I decided to go.  We were told that we would not take our usual fancy bus.  Instead, we would be taking public transportation.  A metro bus.  This was my first time on Chinese public transportation.  It was sooooo cramped, plus there wasn’t AC.  Within like 2 minutes of getting on, there was this huge crash and lots of people fell over.  I almost did.  This old man flew out of his seat, and this other guy fell on top of him!  Yeah.  Our bus hit someone’s car.  I don’t think anyone was hurt…  There was a lot of yelling in Chinese.  That part was overwhelming.  Cramped space, hot, stressful, yelling in a language I don’t understand.  Not the best combination.  So then we had to get on another bus, then we took the subway.  They gave us free time at the temple.  Kristin (roommate and friend) and I went to this one place, and sat for like an hour.  It was grossly hot, and our feet hurt.  Then we tried to get back to the meeting point.  There were these maps all over the place.  They even had an English translation.  On the map, it tells you were everything is (no duh), and then there’s this little red triangle, which indicates where you are.  Yeah.  None of the stupid maps had a little red triangle.  So we wandered around for awhile and finally found it.  We were definitely ready to go back to the hotel and relax.  Apparently, the other people in our group wanted to go out for dinner where we were.  Ugh.  The teachers gave us the option of going with the other kids, or them.  Me being me, I of course decided to go with the teachers.  We got hot pot.  It was really good!  I got these rice noodles, some spinach, and these pork things (not good).  So yeah.  Then we met up with the other people to go back to the hotel.  The teachers said we could take a certain bus all the way back to the hotel.  Yeah… We missed our stop or something.  Then we had to figure out where we were.  I’m not exactly confident the teachers knew where we were.  Some of the kids did, so we followed them a mile back to the hotel.  The teachers felt bad for getting us lost, because when we got back, they bought us all BIG ice creams.  It was really good.

As sort of our “final exam” for our survival camp (the two weeks of lessons in Beijing), we had to do this performance.  We were in a group of 6, and we had to use the stuff we learned to do a skit that was about 20 minutes.  Haha.  Fat chance.  We had like 3 days to prepare (write the script, memorize, and block).  In the end, the skits were about 10 minutes max.  Pretty good.

After our lovely performances, we got our bags and got on the bus to the train station, where we would split up into our different cities.  I, of course, sat next to Kristin.  I missed an opportunity to have a nice conversation with her because I fell asleep. Yes, whenever I am on buses or in cars for a long period of time, I fall asleep.  I can’t help it.  Even if I’m not tired, I still fall asleep.  Perhaps it’s the infant in me?  So we got to the train station and said our goodbyes.  It was quite sad.  The train to Nanjing wasn’t for a few hours, so we hung around at KFC.  The KFC in China is pretty good, but alas, no biscuits.  They do have really good french fries, though.  And ice cream.  Yum.  We eventually got on our train.  It was so crowded.  In like an 8 ft wide space, there were 6 beds and a very narrow isle.  It was like bunk beds, but with 3.  Very “cozy”.  It was late, so I was going to sleep pretty soon after we got settled.  Then the people next to us started smoking.  Ew.  I was totally choking.  I think they got the hint (or got yelled at), because they soon stopped.  We finally arrived in Nanjing around 8 am.

So I love all of my luggage, but not maneuvering it through a crowded train station.  Two rolling bags?  Not the best idea ever.  But I eventually got to my host family!  Baba (dad) took my luggage, and I went with Mama and Shelly (sister) to the dentist (appointment for my sister).  I sat in the waiting area for like an hour and a half.  I don’t even think they saw the dentist.  They were really overbooked or something (China quick fact- a lot of dentists are in the hospital, rather than in an office building).  We made a few stops after the dentist, and finally went home.  I met Nainai (Baba’s mother).  She made us lunch.  It was pretty good.  Then I rested for awhile.  I got up in time for dinner.  Baba and Mama were both gone.  It was me, Shelly, and Nainai.  She made us jiao zi (dumplings) from scratch.  They were amazing. (Side note: Nainai sometimes calls me “Jaede”, but she often calls me “Fenfen”, which is my Chinese name that I got from the orphanage.  My teachers call me Fenfen too.  It’s pretty cool.  Everyone else had to get a Chinese name, but I already had one, and it feels really cool to respond to it.  As if I were another person.  I still like being called Jaede, but Fenfen from Chinese family and teachers makes it a bit more authentic).

Day two: We went to Mama’s parents’ house (wai po and wai gong).  Random cool thing about Mama’s baba: he’s a surgeon, and he’s into photography.  My mom (in America)’s dad is a doctor and he also likes photography.  Weird, right?  So, they made us lunch, and then my sister and I walked to a mall to get me some Chinese clothes and things for my hair.  The mall was really cool.  All individual shops.  No chains like Forever 21 or Old Navy (not that I don’t LOVE Old Navy).  But clothing is really expensive here!  Most stuff is cheap in China, compared to it’s converted American price.  Not with clothes!  A pair of shorts is 200 something kuai, which is like 30 US dollars.  I’m frugal.  I will NOT spend that much on shorts.  So I got hair stuff instead.  They are these really cute hair bands with bunnies on them.

Days three and four:  First and second days of school.  Kinda weird.  We (exchange students) each got assigned a different classroom in the same grade (I’m in Senior 2 Class 2, which is like 11th grade).  I sit in the back of the classroom (class size is 57 students).  I don’t know very much Chinese, so I have no idea what is going on in any of my classes.  Kinda a waste of time, honestly.  I mean, I’m in the back, no one explains stuff to me, so I bring other stuff to do.  I read, study, teach myself biology, and sleep.  Yes, sleeping is bad, but the actual students do it, and the teachers don’t care.   I don’t get a grade in the class, nor am I forced to participate.  Sometimes, I’ll try to guess what’s going on, by the characters I recognize.  That never gets me very far when I can only identify the characters “san” (three) and “ge” (measure word).  So they’re talking about three of something.  That sure narrows it down…  Some exchange students really like sitting in on these classes, which is great for them, but I need to be active.  I need to be learning.  Some people feel gross if they don’t exercise.  I feel gross when I don’t learn.  I need to be constantly challenging my brain, which is why I love my school in the US.  I’m always challenged there, and the best part is that sometimes I don’t think I can do it, but they would never ask me to do something that I can’t do, so I eventually figure it out.  Yeah.  I kinda have an obsession with learning, but it’s very different from the Chinese students.  I learn because I crave knowledge.  They learn because they have to, it’s a huge part of their culture, and some of them probably want to learn, but it’s for different reasons.  Yes, I want to go to a good college, but even if I didn’t (trust me, I will), I still like knowing stuff for fun.  It’s a hobby.  I do research for fun.  It makes me a nerd, but I’d rather be hungry for knowledge rather than drugs or alcohol.

I now have some Chinese language classes (with the exchange students), but whenever we’re not there, we’re in regular class (blehhhhhhh).  The school gives us money for lunch, our phone bill, plus a bit of spending money.  I have a lunch card, but I don’t really like the food in the canteen.  We’re not technically allowed to leave for lunch, but we do sometimes.  There’s this really good bao zi (steamed bun) place across the street.  I can get one big bao zi for 1.5 kuai (there’s 6.5 kuai to every US dollar).  So it’s a really good deal.  There’s a convenience store across the street (they have American food, but it’s imported, so it’s crazy expensive (a regular sized bag of goldfish is over 5 US dollars, absurd, right?).  There’s also this sketchy market with vegetables and meat.  Yeah.  I probably wouldn’t buy anything there.  Well, I take that back.  There’s a mini bakery where I get cake and other pastries.

If you are curious about my daily schedule, read this.  If not, that’s your problem (just kidding, skip this part (hey!  Problem solving)).

I wake up at 6, leave the house at 6:50 (6:40 on Mondays), get to school around 7:10.  School starts at 7:45 (7:30 on Monday), then school for me ends at 3:40.  Most grades have classes till later, but I don’t have to stay for those.  So yeah.  I take the bus home, eat dinner, do homework, do brainless stuff (online shopping), shower, and go to sleep around 11:00pm.  Not a very interesting thing.

Yes, we have to wear uniforms.  It’s a white collared shirt with a windbreaker.  I also have swishy pants.  So it’s like a track suit.  People complain about it.  It could be SO much worse.  I’m not saying I like it, but it’s definitely manageable.  I think there’s a picture up on my Flickr.  If not, I’ll add one soon.  Oh.  No makeup or jewelry.  Grrrrrr.  I mean, I don’t go crazy with either of them in America, but I like them at certain points.

I speak mostly English with my host family (yes, shame on me), but without English, we would have nothing accomplished since I can’t understand very much.  I add Chinese in when I can, but my family teaches me Chinese words in exchange for the English translation.  It’s pretty fun.  Once I learn more Chinese, I’ll slowly start adding in more Chinese every day.

According to AFS, things are “not good, not bad, just different”.  If that is true, then here are some different things my friends or I have been served:

Pig feet, pig noses, duck tongue, duck blood, intestines, and pig kidney.  I’m sure there’s more, I just can’t think of any at the moment.

Cultural impressions:

China: People dress nicer.  No one goes out in sweat pants and a t-shirt unless they’re exercising.  Women wear dresses, suits, skirts, blouses, and heels.  Guys wear collared shirts.  The food is healthier (they don’t deep fry, they just cook in some oil, plus there are less fatty foods).  They walk everywhere.  If something is in the general vicinity of where you are, you walk.  Half an hour to an hour walk? No problem…  Yeah.  I drive everywhere in the US.  The Chinese also like to use ALL of their resources.  Like they eat almost all of the animal.  When you order an animal, you get the whole deal (chickens come with head and feet and bones).

America: lazy (in everyday things, such as, China doesn’t generally have drive thrus, they don’t have machines wash their cars, and they don’t usually have dishwashers or dryers).  I’m not saying that all of America is lazy, but compared with some aspects of Chinese culture, it seems so.  America also has a more relaxed feel to it.  I’m not saying that Chinese culture is really strict, but I feel very out of place if I were to just chill around in grungy clothes.

So I’m still pretty homesick.  People have told me for a month that talking to people back home just makes it worse.  Personally, I really disagree.  If I hadn’t been able to talk to my family and friends, I am positive that I would have come home already.

People tell me a lot about culture shock, but I don’t think I’ve had any.  I mean, I expected this in terms of Chinese culture.  Yeah, I miss my own culture frequently, but I think I was pretty well prepared to dive into these cultural differences.  In fact, a lot of my life in America is similar to Chinese life.  I spend most/all of my time studying, I don’t go out, I hang with my family a lot.  I mean, it’s really not that different.  Yes, in America I can drive and hang out with my friends.  I mean, I miss that, but I don’t hang out with people that often, so it’s not that much of a change.   Now, not being with them at school every day is a HUGE change.

I’m having a bit of trouble finding friends.  Some of the girls in my Chinese classes are nice, but they’re not exactly the kind of friends I’m looking for.  They only seem interested in the boyfriends I’ve had, and what I’ve done with them.  They’re not allowed to date (against parental and school rules), so talking about boyfriends is the ultimate gossip.  Someone told me that if you fake confidence and a smile, it will actually help you (totally reminds me of “I Whistle a Happy Tune” from “King and I”).  So I’m doing that and hoping for the best.The other exchange students are nice, but they’re not exactly like my friends at home.  It’s pretty difficult to connect with them.  I think my expectations are too high.  I’m not looking for anyone who is just like my friends in America, but it would be nice to have someone similar.  My friends in America have different interests than me, but when it comes down to the core morals and attitudes about life, we are very similar.  It would be nice to have someone like that here.  Nothing against them (the other exchange students), but we just have different interests.  They’re into parties and exercise.  Yeah.  If you know me, you know I don’t like parties or exercise.  I’m the one who still dresses up for Halloween and watches Disney movies.  I get so excited when new Disney movies come out, or I find them on youtube.  They also seem older than I am, not just in age, but in interests and personality.  I’m the youngest, and I still feel like the little sister of the group.  I’m always worried we’re gonna get in trouble for taking the elevator (we’re not allowed to, but we have class on the 7th floor.  It’s not like I’m gonna take the stairs {see my previously noted abhorrence to exercise}), I’m afraid we’re gonna get in trouble for going out at lunch (we’re not technically allowed to, but the guards don’t really stop us).  I’m the girl who always wears the entire uniform, because I’m scared of getting in trouble.  Sometimes the other exchange students wear it, but sometimes they don’t, and they don’t get in trouble.  I would like to not wear my uniform one day, but me being me, I’m worried that I’ll of course be the only one to get in trouble for not wearing my uniform.

As you can see, I’m definitely not the risk taker.  I’m perfectly fine with staying at home all the time.  I am perfectly happy staying at home, in bed, watching Grey’s Anatomy, online shopping (love me some ebay!), and eating canned chicken noodle soup (that sounds so unbelievably good right now).  It really does not take that much to please/entertain me.

So I guess I’m still getting settled.  Still trying to find my place in this school and this family.

I found myself. In Wonderland. Get back on my feet. Again.

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I’m doing a bit better.  I’m not gonna lie.  The past two weeks have been the hardest of my life.  I wanted to come home more than anything.  I’d cry several times a day.  Every day.  For almost two weeks.  But I survived.  Yeah, people survive so much worse all the time, but for me, this was unbelievable difficult.  I talked to my mom and friends a lot.  That helped a lot.  People say that doesn’t help, and it makes it worse.  Not for me.  It really helped.  I felt like I was losing myself.  My friends helped me find myself again.

The mornings were the worst.  Every night, I would dream of being back home with my family and friends, and when I’d wake up, everything was gone, and I was all alone.  I had to force myself to get dressed and go to breakfast.  The rest of the morning was just as bad.  Panic attacks through class (we’re in Beijing, doing a two week intensive course called “Survival Chinese”).  Then after lunch, we’d either have more class or a field trip.  Then it would get a bit better. I also had visits from friends who live in Beijing.  That helped a lot.

The food is getting better.  At first, all of the AFS people who were going to China were here (around 200 people), so they had to provide a lot of food.  We had really gross buffet food.  I mean, maybe it wasn’t all terrible, but when you’re really nervous and homesick, you’re not inclined to try it.  Now that it’s just the NSLI-Y people are here (about 14 of us), we get legit meals.  They’re pretty good, but the food is getting a little old.

We have been a few places so far.  I was too tired and homesick to go to the Great Wall, so I missed that.  I mean, it’s too bad that I didn’t go, but I don’t really regret it.  I went to the Bird’s Nest (the Olympic Stadium), the Silk Market, the US Embassy, and the Forbidden City.  They were all pretty cool.  It sounds weird, but my least favorite was the Forbidden City.  I always imagined it as the place in Mulan, but when I got there, it was so touristy.  There were stickers and signs all over the old stairs and buildings.  People were selling stuff everywhere.  It wasn’t just a site.  I’m just not a touristy person.  While we were there, this random guy asked to take a picture with me… Strange.  I also liked the Silk Market.  I walked around with my friend, and we bargained a lot (If you didn’t know, you can argue prices with street vendors).  I got a shirt, Harry Potter shoes, socks, and (fake) OPI nail polish.  My friend, Kristin, got a really pretty dress.  I kept telling Kristin to ask for a really low price (10% of the original price), and the shop lady got mad at me (they all speak English).  She was like “I hate you”, and she kept hitting me and pinching my cheeks.  Then this other lady tried to get me to buy guy’s underwear.  She said, “Get this for your boyfriend”.  I told her I didn’t have one, so she replied, “Maybe you need this”, and held up this weird lingerie that was like suspenders and garters.  I had a really shocked look on my face, and I was like, “I’m only 16” and walked away.  So awkward…  Oh.  I also saw this shirt that I almost got that said “most of my friends are white people”.  It made me laugh.
I’m kinda grrrish right now.  I put my clothes on the toilet seat when I showered, but apparently, the shower leaks, so now my comfy sweatshirt (that I wear EVERYDAY) and fleece Cheshire pants are soaked.  UGHHHHHHH

Also, there’s not really anywhere to do laundry here, so I had to buy a bar of detergent and hand wash my clothes.  It takes forever for stuff to dry, and if you know me really well, you know I CAN’T wear wet clothes.  Major pet peeve.

I also had Peking duck last night.  It was really good.

Another thing, I’ve decided to take pictures with my Cheshire Cat when I’m at famous places.   I’ll make a separate album on my Flickr later.  I’ll also have a separate ones for funny signs/translations.  Lunch is in like 30 minutes, so I don’t have time to upload pictures.  I might do it after lunch if I have enough time.  Maybe tonight.  Maybe tomorrow.  I don’t know.

There’s this bakery a few buildings down that is really nice.  Their food is so good!!  They also play American music that I sing along with.  Like Beauty and the Beast.

So things aren’t great yet, but they’re getting better.

Cause what doesn’t kill me, doesn’t kill me. So fill me up for just another day.

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Hey people! So I’m in NY, we’ve finished orientation. So the title seems kind of negative. But in a way, it’s kinda not. It’s what I’ve been thinking of the past two days. I wasn’t nervous at all before I left, which is totally weird since I worry constantly. But these past few days have been the hardest of my life. If you’re thinking about exchange, I definitely don’t want to scare you, or talk you out of it. It’s probably going to be a great experience. I just get soooo nervous. It’s just the realization that I’ll be away from friends, family, and everything I know for a whole year. I seriously don’t want to scare anyone, but I’m supposed to be documenting my adventures, and this is basically my starting point. Back to being nervous. Actually, I’ve been more than nervous. I’ve been shaking, I’ve been so nervous. I’ve been crying almost nonstop for two days. It’s just been terrifying. I’m surrounded by people I don’t know. I’m just at that point where I’m doubting everything. Is exchange really for me? I don’t do impulsive, risky things. Ever. This is just not who I think I am. I’m seriously like, “What the heck am I doing here? Why would anyone ever let me, or convince me that this is a good idea?” So yeah. Lots of freaking out. Crying. Being kind of miserable (mind you, this should be temporary misery). So I’ve talked to friends a lot. AFS says not to, because it will make you miss home even more. Well, if you work for AFS, sorry. I guess I’m a bad person for kinda not going by that. My friends (and family) are not the kind of people who will be like, “Aww! You’re homesick? Then you should totally come home.” They are the people who give me pep talks and tell me that they know I can do it. And you know what? I think it’s working. I’m still really nervous, but I think I’ll be okay. I’m taking it one day at a time (refer the title). Spending one more day apart from home isn’t gonna kill me, so why not?
During my dark period (these past two days), I’ve thought a lot about coming home early. I wished that I could be home more than anything, but if I come home, then I’ll be a quitter. How would I explain that to people? Umm yeah. I was too much of a wimp, so I came home early (if you did come home early, I’m not calling you a wimp. I swear. This is how I view myself in my mind). What would I tell colleges?? So there wasn’t much I could do.
I also found out that I have language sessions for two weeks in Beijing, so it will be even longer before I get to meet my host family, and get permanently settled. Not good for my anxiety. I asked where I’ll be staying for those two weeks, and they don’t exactly seem to know yet. Also, no good for my nerves. I just have that control issue where I need to know EVERYTHING that will, or even might happen. Hopefully that will get better this year. AFS people also told me that I can reevaluate in about 3 weeks. If it’s really not working, I should take care of myself and come home. I personally don’t think giving it 3 weeks is long enough to make that big of a decision, but then again, if I felt like I have the past few days, I can’t imagine staying past the first week. But I even talked to the woman from the State Department, who was in charge of awarding scholarships to exchange programs. So I shared my fears with her, and she was so nice about it. She told me to give it time. She was in the Peace Corps when she was younger, and she was terrified to go as well; however, once she got settled in, she stayed even longer than she had originally planned. So she basically told me that she hopes I will stick it through, but if not, trust my heart and do what is right for me. That helped a bit too.
I’ve gotten a lot of help from my friends. They tell me that I CAN do it. Even though I feel very incapable right now. It’s difficult. Everyone keeps telling me how brave I am, but I definitely don’t feel brave. No one else in my program is freaking out like I am. Crying all day. People tell me that this is normal to be freaked out, but no one else seems to be. Me, the only normal one? Nah… I don’t know. I had a really good conversation with my friends tonight (one being someone who spent their junior year abroad, and knows EXACTLY what I’m going through). No joke. She read my exact thoughts. But my friends are brilliant. They tell me I can do it, even when I’m sure I can’t. And somehow, I always believe them. They keep me going.
I was told that when I get to China, to only contact home, maximum of once a week. I’m not sure I can handle it right now. I’ll try to figure it out myself, but I’m not gonna make myself miserable, if I know my friends and family can help. I’ll definitely cut back on the communication, as there is no facebook in China. Also, I won’t be texting people. But I don’t know if I can limit my communication to once a week. Maybe two or three times, just until I get really settled.
Just taking it one day at a time.
Breathing.
Slowly.
I can do this.

I couldn’t be happier!

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I finally got my host family!! I’ll be in Nanjing, in the Jiangsu province.

I’ll live in an apartment. Compared to my current apartment, it seems like the size of a house. It has two floors, and I even have my own room! I will live with a mother, father, sister (who is 15), and a grandmother. We have pet hens! I don’t live very far from school, so I might bike or take the bus. Nanjing is a pretty big city! There are eight million residents. That’s a lot of people, compared to Saint Louis’ 2.8 million. I can’t wait. I would have been fine being placed in Changzhou, but I’m pretty excited about being in a really big city. Based on the information AFS sent me, Nanjing can be about 100 degrees in the summer, and about 10 degrees in the winter. Sounds kind of like Saint Louis.

On a slightly different note–
I got a luggage scale a few days ago (thank you, Heidi). So I weighed my checked bag (this must be 44 lbs or less). I still have stuff to pack, and it came up as 34 lbs. I certainly had some readjusting to do! From the time I leave home and eventually get to my host family, I will have worn about a week’s worth of clothes. I might have another outfit or two, but I think that’s all I need. I’m planning on buying a lot of clothes in China, plus I’ll have a school uniform. So after my rearranging, my checked bag now weighs around 25 lbs! There’s also a good amount of space in my checked bag to bring stuff home. I also still have 6 lbs I can add to my carry on. I’m not sure what I’ll add yet.

Next week, I have so much to do! I’m hanging out with friends and doing last minute packing. I also have to get my host family presents. I’m still not totally sure what I’ll get, but I have a much clearer sense, now that I know who I have to buy for, and what they like. Getting my host family was quite exciting, and it also helped alleviate some anxiety. Now that I know there are real people who will be taking care of me, being away for a year isn’t nearly as scary!

It’s pretty late.  I should probably go to bed now!

Goodnight!

So anyway I’m leaving, I thought you’d like to know

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Hey! So this is my new blog.  I had a Blogspot, but I found out that the website is blocked in China.  If you want to look at my previous posts, the link is: http://defyinggravityacrosstheocean.blogspot.com/.

So, my previous blog was more about the idea of going to China, fundraising, the application process, and finally getting accepted by AFS-China and receiving a full scholarship from NSLI-Y.  So now, this blog will be more about my experiences in China.  I’m not sure how often I’ll update my blog when I’m in China.  I guess I’ll have to figure it out once I get adjusted.  It will depend on how much free time I have, and where my internet access is.

I’m getting really excited, but also pretty anxious.  I still haven’t gotten my host family.  Maybe I’ll hear next week.  Hopefully.

I’m still trying to figure out what to get my host family (it’s customary for exchange students to give their host families gifts that represent where they’re from, and their culture).  So far, I am thinking that I’ll get them t-shirts from my school.  I wasn’t exactly sure what else.  I could get some sports memorabilia from the Cardinals (baseball), the Rams (football), or the Blues (hockey), but I don’t feel that it represents me.  I don’t really have a big interest in sports, so I’ll find something else.  I finally decided to give them some of my artwork.  For those of you who don’t go to school with me, all 10th graders have this class called “Art in Perspective”.  I have to say, it was one of the most frustrating, most fun, and most rewarding classes I have ever taken.  One of our assignments was to create a freedom stamp.  This stamp was supposed to convey how we view freedom.  I chose an airplane.  It represents the freedom my parents have given me to travel abroad for a year.  I had to print this stamp on an image of some kind.  I found this picture of the American flag and Chinese flag blended together.  I think it turned out really well, so I have decided to give it to my host family.  It shows the uniting of two families and two cultures.  I also took a darkroom photography class.  One of my favorite classes as well.  I chose one of my darkroom prints for my host family.  I’m not really sure what else to get.  I think it will depend on if they had children.  If they do, maybe I’ll get a board game or a movie.  I don’t really know yet.  Maybe I’ll have more of an idea once I get my host family.

Packing.  Craziness.  I get a checked bag that must be under 44 lbs, a carry on, and a purse.  I’m also debating what to bring in terms of clothes.  I’m only taking two pairs of shoes.  I want to take some basic things, but I’ll have a school uniform, so that makes it easier.  But I also want to buy a lot of my clothes in China.  I have a feeling the clothes will fit me better (considering that I am Chinese, and a lot of clothes in the US are way too long on my short torso).  I’ll also get some shoes.  I’ve been to China before, so I’m really excited about getting some clothes.

I’m also trying to figure out what to bring on the plane to entertain me.  I am SO easily distracted, and I tend to get bored on airplanes.  I’m taking my laptop and some books.  Does anyone have any suggestions of something I can bring that won’t take up a lot of space?

So I figured out my travel arrangements.  I am leaving a few days early to fly to Newark.  My China Sister (this is what I call the girls that were adopted at the same time, from the same orphanage as me), Molly, and her family are going to pick me up from the airport, and I’ll stay with them for two days.  I’m super excited since I haven’t seen her in a long time!  They will take me to the hotel in NY where my orientation is.  I’ll stay in NY for two days, fly to San Francisco (craziness), then fly to Beijing for an orientation.  (So I’m going from Saint Louis to New Jersey to New York to San Francisco to Beijing in a span of 5 days).  I’ll definitely need some sleep!

I will definitely let you guys know when I get my host family!