Archive for September, 2014

I’m going on an adventure! Pt.1

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Kia Ora!

So it’s been a little while since my last post, but trying to find wifi while on a two week road trip is, as we learned, not quite easy. As I sit here in Mrs. O’s cafe thinking about the trip it becomes pretty clear that too much happened in these two weeks for only one post, so I’ve decided to break the trip down into two separate posts. That being said, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, sit back, relax, and bear with me as I try and explain the best two weeks of my life with some of the best people I’ve meet.

For most of us doing the study abroad program at Lincoln the only real exploring we had done so far had been centered around the South Island, simply because of convenience. When the reality of having a two week break in the middle of the semester set in it became pretty clear to most of us that experiencing the North Island was the only way to go, and what better way to do so than with a few good mates and a Jucy campervan. When the day finally came to leave we were five people with a van, stack of maps, and rough outline of where we wanted to go.

Our game plan

Our game plan

 

I know for me personally the trip started off with a bit of a rough patch. About 5 minutes after landing in Auckland with Matt I got a call from home to tell me that my grandfather had just passed away. Before leaving for New Zealand back in July we all knew that there was a very good possibility of that being the last time I’d see him just because of how sick he had been in the months leading up to take off, but I still wasn’t prepared for the news. Part of me is glad that the trip was happening when it was because it would keep me busy over the next week, but at the same time it kind of sucked because the lack of wifi access made it really difficult to talk to any of my family. I think it’s safe to say that right then and there at the airport was the most homesick I’d felt the entire time that I’d been in New Zealand. I am really thankful though to have had Matt, Malia, Kelly, and Peter around all week because they did a really great job of keeping my mind off of everything, which I can’t thank them enough for and I’m not sure they have any idea how thankful for them being there I am. So with that kind of news to start off a trip Matt and I decided that rather than hanging around the airport for 3 hours or so waiting for the others we’d go pick up Patty, our camper van, and go find something fun to do. It wasn’t until the rental company handed us the keys and I was sitting in the drivers seat did it hit me that holy crap we were really about to start this adventure. I thought I was going to pee my pants.

Matt getting ready to roll

Matt getting ready to roll

And off we go!

And off we go!

A lovely picture of our lovely Patty <3

A lovely picture of our lovely Patty <3

Now by this point in the semester I had only driven 2 other times, and they were the day before. So, needless to say Matt and I were both a little freaked out when we put Patty in drive and pulled out of the parking lot and on to the left side of the road. We had no real clue where we wanted to go or what we wanted to do, so we just took some random turns and roads and ended up finding Ambry Regional Park. The great thing about New Zealand is that almost everywhere you look there is some really cool landform or stunning landscape to see. That’s pretty much Ambry Park in a nutshell. We spent the next two and a half hours walking around looking at lambs, climbing on rocks, finding “frothy lava”, and starting a trip tradition of sitting on well placed benches and admiring this amazing country that we get the chance to explore.

View walking around the park

View walking around the park

View from my favorite bench of the trip

View from my favorite bench of the trip

Some of the cool rocks around the lake

Some of the cool rocks around the lake

Matt sitting on the first well placed bench of the trip

Matt sitting on the first well placed bench of the trip

The field the park overlooks

The field the park overlooks

 

Once we had our fun at the park it was time to pick up the others from the airport and start on our way. The first place that our journey would take us was to Pam’s house. Pam is this wonderful old lady who went to high school with Malia’s grandfather. Small world huh? When she found out that Malia was going to be in Auckland she invited us all over for some tea and cake. We sat and chatted with her about the things we hoped to see and do on our trip and she told us about growing up with Malia’s grandfather in Hawaii. When it was finally time to leave she took us over to her daughter’s house where we were allowed to park Patty for the night, which seeing as it was dark and none of us really knew what we were doing yet was a life saver!  I think it was when Pam said bye and the 5 of us were left in a driveway with a camper that it really hit us that we were actually about to travel the entire North Island in a camper van for the next two weeks. We had a lot of fun that first night playing cards and talking about what we were most excited for in the upcoming weeks. Now we knew that it was going to be a bit cramped trying to sleep 5 people and all of our bags in a van meant for 4, but man was that first night rough! After talking to everyone the next morning I’m not sure any of us got much sleep at all. Thankfully though Pam’s daughter was super nice and let us use their shower, so that made the morning better. After we had the bags packed in and our morning coffee, which would turn out to be a necessity by the end of the trip, we were off to Waitomo to see the glowworm caves!

Night numero uno

Night numero uno

Our makeshift card table

Our makeshift card table

I’m pretty sure that the ride to the glowworm caves was one of my favorites of the trip. Matt was driving and Malia was his navigator, so that left Peter, Kelly, and me in the back for a good two hours. It was your typical road trip day filled with Egyptian Rat Race, Uno, Never have I ever, and oh yeah Peter trying to braid my hair. By the time we got to the caves we had an braid train going in the back and Malia and Matt cracking up in the front trying to get used to driving Patty.

Matt on a roll driving Patty

Matt on a roll driving Patty

And here we go!

And here we go!

So this happened...

So this happened…

And then this.

And then this.

Road tripping shenanigans

Road tripping shenanigans

Waitomo was a cute little town that consisted of a few neighborhoods, a rugby field, and the caves. We signed up to do our cave tours with the Starlight company and before long were climbing into a van with an Aussie family and Norm, our lovely tour guide. Norm had been living in the Waitomo area for years and spent many of them helping to build the infrastructure in the caves so that the tours could walk through and experience the views. Having spent so much time down in the caves Norm was really knowledgable about how the caves formed, events that happened in them, the different ways in and out, as well as the best places to see the glowworms. After walking through the first cave for about 15 minutes we reached a stream and a boat. We were told to get in the boat and turn off our headlamps. Before we knew it our eyes were adjusting and above us was a sight similar only to a clear night sky full of stars. It was simply amazing. We spent the next twenty or so minutes going up and down the stream mesmerized by the glowing worms above us. I have always had a weird obsession with the stars, and going through those caves was the closest to seeing the stars on a clear night that I’ve ever experienced, which I find kind of ironic seeing as we were underground.

Us before going into the first cave.

Us before going into the first cave.

When we finally reached the stream and the boat.

When we finally reached the stream and the boat.

The last picture before we had to turn off our head lamps.

The last picture before we had to turn off our head lamps.

Once we finished exploring the first cave we made our way to cave number two. Another fun tidbit about New Zealand’s North Island, it’s a pretty small island compared to home. So, that being said, it should have come to no surprise to any of us when we ran into the Brazilian study abroad students from Lincoln at the second cave. We all got a kick out of that and would later on laugh about it even more as we bumped into other Lincoln groups during these weeks. As cool as the first cave was, I personally liked the second cave the best (at least the structure of the cave and the rock formations. The glowworms in the first cave were the best of all).  As we were walking through this cave Norm once again turned out to be a really cool and knowledgeable tour guide. He told us about the different ways water formed the cave, a mud event that flooded the caves years ago, and showed us Moa bones that were discovered years before. All in all I think it’s safe to say that we had a pretty great cave experience thanks to Norm. When we made our way out of the second cave and back into town though it was time to move on South to Tongariro National Park which was a good two hours away from Waitomo.

IMG_3503 IMG_3486 IMG_3488

After spending the night at a campground in the park we woke up ready to hike! Two things we had all agreed on before leaving for the trip was that we wanted to see some of the film locations from the Lord of the Rings movies as well as do some hiking, so why not kill two birds with one stone? One of the best short walks in New Zealand is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing due to the beautiful landscape around the volcano an adventure associated with doing the hike. Oh yeah, and it’s also the location of Mt. Doom!!! This particular hike was probably my favorite part of our entire trip. We didn’t have the proper equipment to do the alpine part of the treck, but we did decide to do the Lower and Upper Tama Lakes. The first part of the treck is pretty easy. We were walking on relatively flat surfaces with Mt. Doom in front of us, beautiful snowcapped mountains to our right, and open plaines with a range in the background to our left.

The first view of Mt. Doom

The first view of Mt. Doom

Matt was ready to go!

Matt was ready to go!

Mt. Doom in the background

Mt. Doom in the background

Matt and me.

Matt and me.

It took a bit over an hour to get to the first Tama lake, but then again we did stop to take a bunch of pictures and throw some snowballs at each other. When we made it to the Lower Tama lake it was, as per usual, beautiful. We hung out there for a few minutes and then started to make our way to the Upper lake. That was the tricky part of the treck. Up until this point the trail had been mostly flat with a few inclines, but to get from the Lower to Upper lakes was straight up an incline made of loose little rocks and pebbles. That made it a bit more difficult because anytime you thought you were gaining ground you were really sliding down the hill a bit too. I also had a small issue with this part of the hike just because of my asthma. I really hate when it gives me problems during hikes and whatnot, so needless to say that about halfway up the hill I started to get a tad bit mad and agitated, but after awhile we finally made it to the top and man was it worth it! The views were incredible and so we decided it was the perfect spot to sit down and have some lunch with another really cool hiker that we ran into on our way. After lunch we spent some time climbing on rock and down some of the hillsides before making our way back down.

We made it to the Lower lake

We made it to the Lower lake

View from the Lower Tama Lake

View from the Lower Tama Lake

Hiking up to the Upper lake

The Lower lake while hiking up to the Upper lake

View from the walk up

View from the walk up

Upper Tama lake with Mt. Doom in the background

Upper Tama lake with Mt. Doom in the background

The view from the top!

The view from the top!

The way down, as expected, didn’t take us quite as long as the way up and before long we were back at the bottom of the mountain, but rather than going the same way back to Patty we decided to take a different path and go find a waterfall. Oh, and of course on the way down had to act out some scenes from the third Lord of the Rings movie.

"Come on, Mr. Frodo, I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you"

“Come on, Mr. Frodo, I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you”

When we made it to the waterfall we decided it was a good idea to climb around for half an hour or so and see how close we could get for some pictures. After leaving there though the rest of the walk about to Patty was simply that, a walk. As much fun as it is to climb up to high elevations and test your limits on hikes, it is still always a lot of fun to just stroll through some woods on a walk with some friends getting a chance to chat and just hang out. After finishing the hike and finally making our way back to the van we made ourselves some dinner and coffee and set out for Lake Taupo, 2 hours away.

Snack break

Snack break

So we found this waterfall

So we found this waterfall

Two of my Favorites <3

Two of my Favorites <3

Obligatory group picture

Obligatory group picture

We're basically best friends

We’re basically best friends

Let the drive to Taupo begin!

Let the drive to Taupo begin!

By the time we got the Taupo it had already gotten pretty dark and was starting to get late, so we though it best to find a campsite and just explore around more then next day. Before leaving Tongariro we called the information center and found a really great campsite called Reids Farm, and I sure am glad we did. We spent several nights over the course of our trip at our friends houses, outside of hostels, and in driveways, but it was Reids Farm that we all seemed to like the best. The campsite, while being free, was right next to the river, had a lot of really cool ducks (that apparently I shouldn’t have fed), and a really good climbing tree. It very quickly became our home base and felt like home by the time we left. That first night there though we were all really tired and decided that it was probably a good idea to just play some cards and hang out before catching some sleep. The next morning when we finally got a chance to look around the campsite we knew we had picked a good spot. Malia and I decided it would be a great idea to eat some breakfast and read in the nearby tree, Kelly was chasing ducks around taking pictures of them, Matt was taking it easy because he hadn’t been feeling well the night before, and good old Peter had a nice little fall into some mud trying to make his coffee! Overall a good morning.

Another night well spent hanging out with Patty

Another night well spent hanging out with Patty

Even if it is a little cramped

Even if it is a little cramped

Packing up for the day

Packing up for the day

Taupo was the point in our trip were we decided that taking it easy for a day or so wasn’t such a bad idea. We had only been on the move for 4 days or so by this point, but it felt like we had been going for a lot longer! I think it was the combination of always being on the move and having something to do as well as still not being used to sleeping in a van with 4 other people that drained us as much as it did. We started Taupo off add we did every morning, by finding a cafe for some much needed coffee. After finishing up there and looking at our maps trying to figure out what it was we wanted to do and see next we found the next best thing to a cafe, a library with free wifi! Needless to say the next hour or so of our time was spent letting our parents know we were alive and talking to friends from back home. Personally, I was really happy about finding wifi because with everything happening back home it was really difficult not having talked to my parents since Auckland. When I called my mom and dad were with my yaya at her house trying to get things packed away and ready for the funeral, so getting to talk to all three of them at once was really nice. Up until that point on the trip I had been doing pretty well keeping busy and trying not to think about it, but avoiding the situation didn’t make it just disappear. Talking to my mom and dad helped, but talking to my yaya was incredibly difficult. As much as everyone kept telling me not to feel bad about not being home for anything and as much as she tried to reassure me of that it’s impossible not to. At one point I started crying and I couldn’t tell if it was because I was upset with the situation or with myself for being half way around the world. As nice as it was to talk to them, the one person I still hadn’t gotten to talk to though was my brother Sal. He never does well with things like this, so he was the person that I wanted to talk to most to make sure he was alright, but he didn’t have his phone with him so that never happened. It was really difficult to leave that library because I wasn’t sure when we’d get wifi again and the thought of not knowing when I could check in with my mom or try and call Sal again really upset me. Thankfully, The Patty crew was great about the whole thing and before long we were on the move again. We spent most of that day walking around the town and checking out some of the shops along the main drag. Malia really wanted to going fishing while we were at the lake, so when she found out about a really great place to go from a local she was set on spending the rest of her day there. You know I don’t know what it is about Kiwi’s and not liking to make visible signs but I swear finding that fishing spot was one of the most difficult things we did on our entire trip! After dropping her off Matt, Peter, Kelly, and I decided to take a nice stroll around the lake and go out for dinner in town.

Walking around Lake Taupo

Walking around Lake Taupo

They found a cool bench

They found a cool bench

And I found a duck!

And I found a duck!

Matt and I keeping up with our well placed bench tradition

Matt and I keeping up with our well placed bench tradition

The city from along the lake

The city from along the lake

After dinner and picking Malia up again we decided to just stay at Reids Farm for another night rather than try and drive to Gisborne that night. That night we spent the same as every other, hanging out and talking in Patty and getting to know each other a bit better than before. Other than coffee and everything being 2 hours away we had another trend of the trip, not being able to get up and moving by the right time. Ever. When we finally decided it was time to get up we were behind schedule, so I ended up rolling straight out of bed and into the drivers seat to get us into town to shower (which we had been really lucky about the entire trip!). The only issue I found with being half asleep in the drivers seat is the fact that in New Zealand they drive on the left hand side of the road but sleepy Alex registers diving on the right. Thankfully Peter noticed almost immediately and called me out on it, and everyone else was still in bed so they had absolutely no idea. Well, that is until Peter decided that it would make for a funny story and told the others the next day. I still don’t hear the end of that one. After that little driving error though the rest of the day went pretty well. Remember how I mentioned earlier how the North Island is pretty small compared to the States? Well it is and I did, so surprise surprise when we run into Luke, another Lincoln study abroad student, on our way to get coffee. Matt, Kelly, Malia and Peter are all really awesome, but it was still nice to run into someone else we knew and catch up. He decided to drive his car up to the North Island and drive around by himself, stopping in any city that looked like it was worth stopping in. He was telling us about the wine tasting he had been doing the day before and some of the interesting things he’d passed on his travels so far. We all found that really helpful too because where he was coming from was where we were about to head off to. After chatting with him for a bit and drinking our coffee we were on the road headed for Gisborne. Along the way we needed to find a place to pull over and make lunch and, very much like what happened with Ambry Park, found one of the coolest little walks of the trip. What started off as a quick break turned into an hour or so hike through some woods to a waterfall. It’s the little things like this that exist just off the side of the road that make me love New Zealand so much. It’s as if everywhere you look there is something beautiful to see and fun to do.

The walk we found

The walk we found

I like taking pictures of flowers

I like taking pictures of flowers

Follow the stream

Follow the stream

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Another obligatory group picture

Another obligatory group picture

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And finally the falls

And finally the falls

One of my favorite things about living on Farm Road with everyone is how close you become with your flatmates and neighbors. It really is it’s own little community. So it was no surprise when my neighbor Sean offered to open his home to us while we were traveling around for a few nights. We got to Gisborne a little after dark and right around dinner time, so we decided to go grab some food in the main town area while we waited for Sean and his family to meet us after they were done with tea. We had some time to kill and decided to take a walk down to the beach and hang out around the water. Now when Sean said that we could come and stay with him we were expecting to pull Patty up in their driveway and sleep in there like with Pam’s daughter, so when his parents said that we were more than welcome to spend the night on the couches in the living room and spread out on the floor we were quite happy! We had spent every night so far of the trip cramped in the camper van  with no room to really move. It was the best feeling in the world to sprawl out on the floor! We were all out cold that night, especially Malia who had barely slept at all since leaving Lincoln. The only thing that made the already wonderful situation any better was Ruby, Sean’s amazing dog who became my best friend! Ruby was this little ball of energy who loved each and every one of us because we would pet and play with her. I could have easily spent all day playing with this little ball of sunshine! However, there were things to do and places to see. The weather in Gisborne while we were there wasn’t all that great, but we drove around and saw some stuff anyways. The first place tour guide Sean decided to take us was to a pretty cool pier about an hour or so away from his house. We really only spent a half an hour or so there though because the rain started a few minutes after we arrived. From there we went and got some ice cream and then went to our first wine tasting. The tasting was really interesting and a lot of fun. I think Kelly and Peter liked it the most though because of their wine appreciation paper they are taking this semester. It was pretty fun sitting next to them listening to the different things they had to say about the taste and colors of the wines though. Matt, Sean and I all got white wine while Kelly and Peter got reds. Going into the tasting I really thought I was more of a white wine fan, but by the end came to the conclusion that red was the only way to go. We went at a really great time too because an acoustic performer had just started playing and she was quite talented. We ended up spending a little over an hour there enjoying the wine, talking about all that we had done, and listening to the guitar. Overall it was a really great experience and I am really glad we had the chance to go. The man who worked there and was presenting the different wines to us was really cool as well. He knew a lot about what he was talking about and looked exactly like I’d imagine someone doing wine tastings would look like with the fancy mustache, hat, and all.

Ruby Doo!

Ruby Doo!IMG_3961IMG_3948

Hanging out on the pier.

Hanging out on the pier.

The view from the pier

The view from the pier

Our wine tasting

Our wine tasting

After we left there we made our way back to Sean’s house where his mom made all of us dinner. I’m not sure about the others because we never really talked about it, but that helped a bit with any homesickness I’d been feeling. I normally don’t get homesick and I think the only reason I had been was because of everything with my pap, but for whatever reason I had been and staying with Sean and his family helped. There’s nothing quite like going to someone’s home and having a home cooked meal with their family. It had been a while since any of us got to do that, and it was really nice. It was easy to sit around the table and talk about how the semester had been going, what all we still had ahead of us, and what it’s like for them to live in Gisborne. We ended up spending quite a bit of time just sitting around talking to him and his family about anything and everything honestly. We even ended up watching a movie with them after dinner. When it was finally time to head to bed we had all had a home cooked meal, showered, baked banana bread, and had a pretty great night just hanging out and laughing with each other. The next day it was time for us to move on again, but of course not before playing with Sean’s sheep and cows! You’d think by now we would all be used to seeing sheep and cows everywhere, but that is just one thing that never gets old! After cleaning up all of our stuff from their living rooms and packing Patty up for the second half of our trip we said Goodbye and thank you to Sean and his family and were off again.

Oh hello there

Oh hello there

Bahhhhtter blend in

Bahhhhtter blend in

Matt made a new friend

Matt made a new friend

hey mooooove over there

hey mooooove over there

The cow really likes Peter's boots

The cow really likes Peter’s boots

Inventing All Sorts of Excuses: “Cultural Differences” and Letting the Lesson – Finally – Marinate

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014 8:11 P.M.

Cultural Differences.

…. must be one of the most overused phrases to excuse bad behavior.

All these random things about what is so different between this foreigner and this native person are used to try and smooth over what is clearly complete nonsense.

It is always important to be mindful of the cultural differences that may factor into the decisions that people make. Yet, those factors shouldn’t prevent you from standing up for yourself when you do not like what is taking place…particularly if it already has and can become even more of an inconvenience.

This is not my first rodeo facing this sort of thing abroad…but even so, there is definitely something I am learning about myself that hasn’t really marinated until that specific thing was called attention to earlier today – by someone who doesn’t even know me at all, at that.

I tend to explain my perspective over and over again.…as though the other person doesn’t understand. But they do. I allow myself to be distracted by the fifty reasons a person might be giving for why they did something and waste my time responding to each one. I recognize the excuses but I have a habit of automatically starting to explain my side with more detail…as if the detail even matters. It takes me a while, after I’ve wasted my breath, to finally reaffirm what I already knew to myself (likely because I don’t feel like talking to the person anymore): “This person knows that they did something wrong. This person is trying to get out of getting into trouble by changing your mind.”

I do know myself and I do know this is a problem that I need to change.

Now. Not later. Right now.

It’s a lesson that I keep noticing as a problem for me AFTER THE FACT…and it’s like, “No. Shirley. Just stop doing it because you already know you’re not supposed to be doing it. Just stop. That’s all. Save your damn breath!”

I know it won’t happen again… know why? Because my first round of making that mistake abroad…was way too much culture shock and so much at once. I remember what it did to me. I remember how I internalized it. While I eventually started making heads roll hard…took way too long, way too much pent up, “how dare …blah blah blah” before I started to handle my business.

This situation right now allows me to recognize what COULD have happened if someone else hadn’t said, “…uh why are you even doing that? Why are you even a, b, and c? Why? You had that conversation for an hour? Why.” This situation allows me to recognize the problem in the fact that I wasn’t able to call myself  out. On my own.

So. Ok.

That forces me to think about it all in a different way. Truly forces me…in a way that will ensure that this lesson MARINATES.

Time to handle my business and move on…so many other things to do than to put up with this nonsense for an extensive period of time.

I don’t have the time.

Going abroad, living in a different culture and wishing to respect it should never ever mean that you disrespect yourself in the process.

I bet it might have taken me a bit longer (another decade…let’s be real) to fully realize this bad habit if I hadn’t been faced with reasons to face it while in unfamiliar surroundings. Under these circumstances, I HAVE to think about what I do automatically that might be detrimental to me within unfamiliar confines. And I HAVE to think about the thoughts that I already have in terms of problem solving that will be extremely useful to me. What you learn while surrounded by the unfamiliar can definitely be a great help when things get really familiar again.

So… I suppose this is not only about other people making excuses to me. It is also about Shirley not making anymore excuses to herself.


Malade

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

So there’s been a cold going around the group and I did so well avoiding it…until the day before yesterday. I’ve been busy for the past few days, so I got less sleep than I should have. On Tuesday, Rebecca and I went to a meeting at Sciences Po, and then to Tracy’s art exhibit. I had lots of fun with Rebecca; she’s a sweetheart. Unfortunately though, the exhibit was outside and it was a cold night. The following morning, I woke up feeling very worn out and congested. I know that the change in season explains a lot. I’m trying to preempt a downturn by drinking orange juice. I also swear by Emergen-C packets and lots of water. Yesterday, my big highlight was dinner with Kelsey and Alyssa. Alyssa came up and cooked up the steak, which we paired with salad and some peppers. The three of us swapped stories, and grins about how great meat was. Most of us have been eating relatively simply, and thus it’s a big treat to have a nice home-cooked meal. Today I woke up for French class, but immediately wanted to go back to bed. I made a brief appearance in class, and then I had to leave because I was so groggy and congested. The bus ride home is great, because I don’t have to walk through Montparnasse metro, and I get to see scenery. The best “sight” today goes to the gentleman with the stellar moustache! I wish I could have taken a picture. As for now, I am drinking tea and orange juice and reading in bed.

A Breath of Home

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

A few days ago, I had the joy of seeing my parents. They arrived from the airport exhausted, but I got to spend a good amount of time catching up. I stayed with them in their budget hotel in Porte de Bagnolet, on the outskirts of the city. Then the following day, the three of us went around to see some of my favorite spots in Paris. I showed them the Centre Pompidou and the Marais. We had the typical Parisian café crème overlooking the square. Next, I took them to my apartment, which they were impressed with (it is big for Paris). Of course I brought them to see my school and the nearby Jardin du Luxembourg as well. That evening, my mom took us to see her friend Tracy from college days. That was great for me, because not only did I get in touch with Tracy, but I also made friends with the American graduate student who was renting out a room. The student, Rebecca, gave me her number and told me she’d introduce me to her classmates at Sciences Po. Before turning in that night, my parents and I enjoyed a waffle with hazelnut ice cream- what a treat! Then on their last morning in Paris, my parents took me grocery shopping. The hypermarche out by the hotel is astoundingly huge and cheap, so I plan to return there for next week’s provisions. Finally, Mom and Dad treated me to a good Parisian steak for lunch. Goodbyes were sad, but I feel that their visit renewed and excited me for the rest of my stay in Paris.

 

Art and Lights

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Bateaux Mouches   Living in Paris is a culturally-enriching experience. For example, it is an astoundingly diverse city with tourists and immigrants from every corner of the world. It is rich with history, from the Roman arena to World War II landmarks. Paris also has extraordinary museums and art exhibits on practically every street. And I’ve been to some of the greatest ones: Musee Rodin, Musee d’Orsay, Musee du Louvre, Centre Pompidou. It’s been said that Paris is the city of light. Here are some reasons why I agree with that expression. Every night after sundown, all the famous monuments and buildings are illuminated. My friends and I have often gone to the river, where the lights dance off the water. It’s very popular to pass time there with a bottle of wine or two and some good company. The Eiffel Tower is even more incredible at night. After sundown, it shimmers and flashes on the hour. Additionally, cinemas of all varieties abound; film is fondly called the “seventh art.” These movie houses add their bright neons to Parisian nights. Last  weekend, I went to a spectacle that gave much credence to the city of light nickname. At La Defense, half the city’s population gathered in a huge modern square to watch a fireworks and light-show called “Ici et Ailleurs,” which mimicked the rhythms and images of places far and wide. There were images projected on the huge square arch itself and strobe lights, search lights and more reflecting off the shiny skyscrapers.

哈如宾式:Big Breasts and Pizza

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014 10:30 AM

Yes, I know… Pizza in China? A first-generation American, Ghanaian woman…eating Italian food…in China. “What a small world, ” as a friend put it to me. haha! I must say…it is certainly worth discovering how Asian restaurants choose to flavor foods that are very popular at home…

What a small world, indeed! :-)

The family who runs this pizza place  (pic to the right) have been SO, SO warm to me the last two weeks. I love them! Their children are absolutely adorable too! The first time I talked to them, they family was excited to show me photos they’d taken of other foreigners who had come to their restaurant over the years. The husband joked with me that one of the German men really liked one of the Chinese female students and said she never knew though. “Poor guy,” is what he said. Haha! The first time that I went there, they were also so excited when they realized that I could speak Mandarin. Told me that most of the foreigners that come to their restaurant are unable to say much. (Small moments like these, you have to be proud of…it is the interactions with native Chinese that show you if your language is advancing or not. :-)!

The pizza restaurant!

The pizza restaurant!

SO…how do big breasts relate to pizza?

Well. They don’t, but they can. Haha!

I just got back from a pizza place… While I was waiting for my pizza, a Chinese woman walked by and just stared at me, observing me, while eating some sort of tofu soup thing. I glanced away but could still feel her eyes on me. She just stood there and continued to stare, so I glanced back and say “Hello!” in Chinese. Instantly,  the widest grin spread across her face. She scooped a big spoonful of this glob-like pudding stuff(She later told me it was some sort of Russian pudding) and offered it to me. I don’t share a spoon with anyone but my Mama so I politely but readily refused every single time she offered it. Haha!

My hello began a 30 minute conversation entirely in Chinese.  Throughout that 30 minute conversation, she kept giving …very extended ‘glances’ (aka blatant long stares)… at my chest. At first, I thought, “What is she looking at?” Several times, I gave quick glances at my sweater to see if I had a stain down the front of it or something….but there was nothing. As the conversation went on and she asked why I was in Harbin, why I felt Mandarin grammar was much harder than English grammar, she CONTINUED to just STARE at my chest. I began to feel a bit uncomfortable…got to a point where I was thinking, “What the hell does she keep looking at?” I always wanted to just ask her!

Then I began to just tune in to the uncomfortable feeling that I was feeling…she had been staring at my CHEST. O_O Once I accepted what she was staring at, I almost threw my arms opened wide and told her to just grab a handful and alleviate her curiosity. I remembered, in Taiwan, how women had been interested (and even asked) some of the students in my program about our chest sizes because they were not accustomed to see breasts that big… Haha!

At one point, I wondered if this woman was even going to blink. She KEPT staring at my chest for LONG periods of time. The periods of time got even longer.

Gotta love pizza in Asia... you get gloves! When this happened in Taiwan at a hamburger restaurant...I'd never been so amazed at something. Haha!

Gotta love pizza in Asia… you get gloves! When this happened in Taiwan at a hamburger restaurant…I’d never been so amazed at something. Haha!

She eventually asked me if I was female. Haha…this is not the first time I’ve been asked since I’ve been to China two months ago.  I am normally asked this when I wear jeans and a t-shirt. I told her that, “Yes, I am female.”  Haha! She asked about my hair and I told her that I cut my hair this way because I like it this way. I threw in a joke about how I can’t stand hot weather and this is the way for me to survive!

She then said my breasts were big. As my eyebrow began to rise…she signaled to my chest and made big round circle motions and told me they were very big, exaggerating her speech to indicate just how humongous she thought they were.

…and simply smiled in my face…while I stood there in silence, eyebrow all the way up my face, and STUNNED…not knowing what the hell to even say.

Well. How desperate was I to change the subject?
(…this is probably THE only time that I would call myself “黑人“ (black person) to anyone in China…because it doesn’t sit well with me when I am pointed at and called “黑人, 黑人”…BUT  I wanted to change that topic. Badly.)

So, I offered my hand to hers and started to compare skin tones. That was the only thing I could come up with. Nosey passerbys stared at us as I ended up having to convince her that I wasn’t black because I drank lots of coffee. Somewhere in there, I miscommunicated a message about the President and now she thinks I know him. More specifically…she thinks President Obama is my boyfriend.

#OliviaPope

#OliviaPope

Whatever. As long as the First Lady doesn’t hear about this. *cough*

I must admit… this exchange was entertaining. I an not going to forget this woman for a while. Before I left, I told her that I was excited to meet her. Haha! And I was! She helped me practice my speaking… If anything, she knows a lot about me. I know a lot about her too…though we spent most of the time discussing me. I promise we talked about other things aside fro my ….uh….apparently out of this world humongous set of breasts.

She was astoundingly curious about how I was American if my parents are from Ghana. I find that a lot of Chinese people believe that you are from where your parents are from so the concept of anything different is extremely strange to a good amount of them. It makes me want to talk to people about…what if  I was adopted…by a Canadian Father and a Puerto Rican Mother… how would that be thought of in people’s minds?

If anything, she learned a whole lot that night. I think I delivered a good experience to her. :-) She was especially impressed with my Chinese. Hell, I was too… I only used Pleco…3 times throughout our discussion. Otherwise, my ability to think fast enough to use words around a word that I may not understand in order to understand what is being said has significantly improved!

I have had many moments where I have interacted with curious Chinese people. In this case…a good amount of people in my location are used to foreigners…some are not. Haha!

As hilarious as this whole exchange is…I’m just proud of myself that I am getting out there and talking to people. Some may know that something like that is an incredibly big step for me.  It warmed my heart to have this family see me, a stranger, and after interacting with me for almost an hour tell me that I am family. It is the Chinese people that I need to be able to interact with, to understand, and to be understood by.  It is the Chinese that I need to be able to learn from in many ways that are not only essential to my career, but essential to my personal growth. :-)

Until next time!


Grateful.

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

It is truly a beautiful thing to be able to be in your twenties and to travel.

You’re only obligated to yourself, you’re living out your passions and creating new ones… the world is at your feet and you’re going to learn new things about yourself in the most unsuspecting ways.

It is absolutely beautiful what I am being exposed to here… so much culture, so many people from different walks of life and mindsets. So many endless possibilities if I open myself up to them!

I’m very grateful that I can live this out while being productive in terms of my future career goals at the same time.

Life is Good!

Life is Good!

 

 


Un portable…enfin!

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

I’ve spent many an hour searching online for the best cell phone plan  and I found Free Mobile. Unfortunately though, Free Mobile’s website is a piece of $h&@. I was able to purchase a SIM card and the first month of service. Then the second go around when I tired to purchase a phone, the company redirected me and annuled my transaction yet still posted charges to my bank account. I was worried that I was stuck. After much frustration, I discovered that I could buy an unlocked  dumbphone  at FNAC- France’s version of Best Buy. So I have a phone! I inserted the SIM card from Free Mobile and my new phone is up and running. I’d just like to warn anyone who might require a new phone in Europe, it’s complicated!

Learning the ropes

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

I’ve had a great couple of weeks in France. My French class started on Monday but my  international studies courses haven’t begun, thus I’ve had plenty of time. Primarily, I’ve been getting to know the other six people in my program. I’m glad to report that they are equally as curious about other cultures. Better still, they are equally as passionate about travelling as I am. As a group, we’ve been to many of the famous spots in the city.  We’re eager to venture off the beaten path as well.

Navigating Paris is like navigating most big cities; there are metro lines criss-crossing everywhere and endless winding streets and grand boulevards. In essence, one could easily become overwhelmed or lost without a little planning. Our orientation leader armed us with a thousand maps, but I’ve come to rely on my sense of direction and it has served me well. I now can swipe my Navigo pass (unlimited metropolitan transit for a month) and be on my way. I have found some of the best places to shop and eat.

I have eaten lots of delicious foods, including some that I’m unfamiliar with. The first night of orientation for example, I had avocado spinach soup, red wine, and roast duck at a marvelous Art Nouveau restaurant. Then a few days later, we went to a Basque restaurant. I didn’t recognize anything on the menu so I picked tripe. It turns out that was intestines. Most of the time, I stick to a more simple palette consisting of produce, bread and cheese from the supermarket.  Prices are quite high coming from America, so a simple menu keeps me within budget. I will admit that I have made some splurges, such as the delicious crossiants aux amandes that I had one morning.

In Harbin!

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 10:35 PM

二零一四年。九月。二号。 星期二
In Harbin!
在哈如宾!

I finally landed in Harbin at 7 PM earlier on tonight.

Before my flight, I was really feeling the feelings… My little brother dropped me off at the airport, helped me bring my things in, restrained me when I started asking the flight attendant how checking out two bags for free on an international flight magically changed as a rule overnight, restrained me again as I bitterly paid the extra $100.00, and wished me well when we finally parted ways.

As I walked away, I admit, I was starting to tear up and was blinking them back feverishly, saying to myself, “This is not the time. This is not the time. This is not the time.” It was even tougher when I had to speak to my Mom over the phone.

-_- 啊呀。。。

Of course, I’d unintentionally run into ways to amuse myself. I enjoyed Face booking from my phone, using every bit of time that I had left before I was going to encounter the Great Firewall of China…aka…China blocks Facebook and you must use…other…means for it to be accessible. VPN power! I made my way to the gate to wait to board my flight from IAD and couldn’t help but notice… that it felt like I was back in China! There were many Chinese people, a sprinkle of white people, and only one black person (myself).

中国式 !哈哈! Felt like home. Haha.

Well. My Gulliver’s Travels began with a 13-hour flight from IAD to Beijing, then a 2-hour flight from Beijing to Harbin. The first 13-hour flight wasn’t bad. I thought I had been permanently spoiled from the last business class treatment but apparently not. This flight was very comfortable. I kept myself very busy and FOR ONCE, I was wearing the right comfort clothes. That last bit made ALL the difference!

The ONLY thing that made me raise my eyebrow over the Beijing to Harbin flight was security… And, yes, you guessed it! It involved my clippers!!! I didn’t have enough space so I put my new clipper set in my book bag. They didn’t have a problem with it in the U.S…but in China? They opened up my brand new clipper box and pulled them out and my eyebrow went UP…

….like…I gave him the People’s Eyebrow. That’s how much attitude was in that eyebrow raise. You ALL should know by now… I was NOT going to let there be a Part 2 of Suzhou without my clippers! The first pair were $80 and the second pair were in the same range. No sir! I was ready to engage in arm-to-arm combat if I had to!

Seriously. The tone that I took … Anyway. I got my clippers…but he took my scissors that came with the clippers. That was truly a 真的吗!? “REALLY!?” moment. He just calmly responded to my questions and attempts to keep my scissors. Finally, I just shut up… he didn’t care about my struggle. Not even a little bit.

啊呀!

All that madness aside…the flights were not bad at all. For the first flight, the entire time, I

Almost done with the first one. Glad I came prepared with a second one!

Almost done with the first one. Glad I came prepared with a second one!

was journaling. So much happened in the last three weeks while I was at home… very important things that I didn’t want to lose track of. Both the good and bad had become very fond memories for me because of the realizations that I had about myself from both angles.

On the flight, several Chinese people came up to me and said that I had 漂亮 handwriting. Ha! I was flattered…but I couldn’t help but wonder if they could read what I was writing. O_O I proceeded to cover my writing for the rest of the flight…I noticed my seatmate glancing over at my writing more than once. Heck, I wrote more than twenty pages. I think the whole plane had noticed that all I had done for 13 hours was write, write, and write some more. (It was funny seeing the aisles crowded with elderly Chinese people, stretching their legs out and either ignoring or not understanding the flight attendant ladies howling that they needed to stop blocking the aisle and get back to their seats.)

When my hand was tired, I went back to read some of my old entries… and realized how much I had matured in some aspects. Just seeing those changes in myself encourages me to keep writing. Many have advised me to maintain a journal and I definitely intend to continue writing.

Ever since Taiwan, I’ve been writing a lot in my journal. When I first got it, I went a whole two years barely writing in it… going abroad has certainly given me a lot to think about and reflect on….even when I’ve come back to the U.S. for a bit. With every new challenge, with every galling and good experience, with every unexpected surprise that I never even could consider I’d ever experience personally, I’ve matured and changed in some way.

If you know me well enough, I pride myself on being mindful and being meaningful. I don’t want to just go through life…even if I’m bitching and complaining, Even that, I want to be something that I can be mindful of in the moment or reflect on later. It all matters because there hasn’t been even one time where I haven’t reflected on an action I’d taken – good or bad – that didn’t serve to inform me in some way.   I always appreciate that – even if, at times, it takes some time for me to be able to appreciate it.

So. Goodness! Right now…here I am… ready to start living a different life. This feels like Part 2… and in many ways it is exactly that. I wasn’t prepared for a lot of what went on in Suzhou. Not at all…the only preparation that I had was the ability to be perceptive, the ability to seek out perspective, and the ability to stand up for myself. Though…at the time, it felt mostly like the ability to be angry and emotionally and physically exhausted all of the time. (And, rightfully so, in my opinion).

I would be in big trouble if I was never able to recognize when I needed perspective. I appreciated the time and space that familiar surroundings provided in order for me to attain that perspective. Now I’ve got all the perspective that I can handle…and I am determined…no matter the highs and lows, to make this year a year where I come out attaining my goals to significantly improve my Chinese and to enjoy learning about Chinese culture.

Heck, I’ve added some other goals to the pot….before I ever came to China, my goals were those of someone who’d never been to China before : “I want to learn Chinese and attain an advanced level of proficiency and want to experience the diversity of China.” While those are great goals, those goals become much more meaningful when you’ve got some experience under your belt…the goals become more specific and you recognize what areas you want to specifically develop more than others…rather than just having a general idea.

Now, I want to learn about China because I want it to become like home. Before I came to China, I didn’t understand what that meant, thinking that I did. Now I do. It is this ability to be specific about my goals in terms of career advancement and my goals in terms of personal advancement that will help me to make China home and encourage me to maintain perspective no matter the challenge that I face. I am interested in seeing how I grow in terms of handling conflict under good and bad pressure that I wasn’t born and bred to understand.

Harbin is certainly different…but I have not yet seen Harbin in the daytime so I look forward to that. The night is nice with a nice cool breeze. America can keep the heatstroke. Barely got to IAD alive! So far, I’ve met my Resident Assistant (RA). He picked me up from the Harbin airport once I had landed. Franklin, is first generation Nigerian American.

On the cab ride over to On the way over, Franklin told me that there are students of different ages here…the oldest are PhD students who are here for a month crash course in language training for to conduct research in China with the Fulbright grant. He asked me if I had studied Mandarin before and that started a discussion about my success in attaining the CLS, Fulbright, and Boren Awards.

As most people are, he was shocked that I turned down a Fulbright and asked why I wanted to study in Harbin? I told him that in the long run, using my time to attain language proficiency will help me to be able to conduct my own research once I reapply for a research grant with the Fulbright. Like Mr. Craig Allen said at the CLS orientation…you cannot rely on a translator. Translators can have their own agenda and intentionally miscommunicate your message during important negotiations. Because you don’t understand how to navigate the cultural streams of China, you are not mindful of the cultural nuances in order to truly function in the environment that you’re trying to research. To what extent are you truly conducting research under those circumstances? Not by much. On top of that, you don’t have the respect of the people that you’re trying to get answers from. In some cultures, more than others…proving that you can communicate is paramount!

Now is the time, while I have no wrinkles around my eyes, to live in dorms, backpack for hours until I can’t feel my legs, hang out in bars, and just travel without out any obligation to anyone but myself…and to do it all while speaking Mandarin. There is no better time than now to learn another language…everything else will have to wait for now. J (Including my Mom’s claims that I should be married by now..like everyone else.) Haha!

Franklin asked me, “Why Harbin?” Well. Everyone goes to Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing. Everyone! There is something to be said to be a Ghanaian American woman learning to function in an area that most people do not think of when they think of China. Combined with my attentiveness to cultural sensitivity, I have the opportunity to develop solid cross cultural communication skills. Learning Mandarin is never JUST about speaking the language…you speak the language in order to inform yourself so that you can get below the surface in ways that you would never had been able to if you had a translator next to you.

As we neared the dorm building, he then told me, 现在你开始说中文。大家说中文。Me: 好的。每天我说继续斗。。。可是 真的。。。学中文太难了!

I’ve met my roommate… her English… MAN. LOL If I can speak Chinese as well as she speaks English after the first semester, I’ll be happy. Haha! I really like her though… she is dead serious about keeping to the language pledge and I appreciate that. Tonight, I’ve had nothing but conversations with her in Mandarin. She’s been patient with me and said that I was weird for knowing how to read and write significantly better than my listening and speaking. She said it is usually the other way around…not the first time I‘ve heard that one. I appreciate that she is excited to help me adjust here.

Ok. Here’s an “all in my feelings moment.”

Not that I don’t always take notice of this, but I have been realizing just how deeply people believe in me. I always say that I appreciate that but I can’t begin to say just how much. I know that I don’t talk to a lot of people too often, but I appreciate that they know – like I know – that there is a mutual appreciation between us. It is truly a beautiful thing when people believe in you and are interested in your growth. Sometimes you don’t always believe in yourself and it is good to have people remind you of what you already know of yourself: that you are resilient, that you are strong, and that you’ve got this no matter what challenge gets in your face. For someone like me, believing in myself is damn important because I had to learn the hard way that attitude is everything long before I stepped foot in China.

So, I will continue to do everything that I need to do to ensure that Shirley remains confident, resilient, and ready to get shit done. And with a newfound view of ‘failure’ in mind, I can do it! J

All I know is that I tend to learn best when I am dropped in the middle of something… the whole “sink or swim”/ “Are you choosing to survive or die on the side of the street” mindset tends to work on me.

Always trying to inflict pain on myself. Haha!

Wait.

I have to talk about one last hilarious thing. I think I’ve already got a bit of exposure to Harbin already. Hahaha!! On my flight from Beijing to Harbin, I sat next to an elderly Russian couple. The husband had, literally, no filter. He told the attendant that he didn’t want the dinner she was handing out because. He said, “you know your food is bad.” And he repeated himself to ensure that she heard him…then called her back to collect his wife’s tray. She says, “I don’t need this”, and he’s like, “What kind of food is this?” THEN when we get off of the flight, he starts scolding this Chinese man who cut in front of me… “She was there first, you need to back up.” The Chinese man ignores him… the Russian man keeps talking, even after I get my stuff. Then another Chinese man …says something messed up judging from how red his face was. The Chinese man was, literally, in the Russian man’s face, pointing his finger in his face, telling him to… who knows. Likely telling him to ‘shove it’.

I beat it like Michael Jackson. O_o It was time for me to go.