Hello world!

It's so good to finally be able to write in my blog. You will have to forgive the fact that I am not putting captions with my pictures - for some reason over in China I can post pictures, but once they are uploaded I cannot view what they are. But what I will do is give a summary of my experiences and you can feel free to use your imagination of how they correlate to the images.

I will start with the plane ride. Most of us were traveling (in Eastern Standard Time) from about 3:30AM on May 9th (when we started driving to the airport) until 11:30AM on May 10th (Ariving at 11:30PM on China's local time). It was strange, because it didn't feel like we were traveling for 32 hours, and yet it seemed like an eternity. I slept for about 8 hours total of that.

The whole time we were laughing and trying to figure out what time it is in different areas. The scenery accross the United States was beautiful. We were trying to guess what state we were in and if we were crossing the Rockies or the Appalachians or anything. When we got to San Fransisco, we decided we all had crashed and gone to heaven because there was so much chocolate! And it was such a hippie atmosphere. It was so glorious. But we were only there for about 2 hours before we left for Beijing.

That flight (which lasted 12 hours) had 9 seats in a row and lots of televisions. Several movies played (Lego Movie, Hunger Games, Monuments Men, Saving Mr. Banks), but I wasn't really interested in any of them. After each movie they would give us an update on where we were with a screen showing us an image of a plane flying accross the world. It was probably my favorite part, being the nerd I am. Mostly on that flight though, I slept and talked to my neighbors and ate plane food (which wasn't too bad, by the way). It was a crowded flight and there was very little leg room. There was a kid behind me kicking my seat the whole time.

When we arrived in Beijing, we navigated customs and going through checking our luggage with a Chinese Airline for our next flight to Jinnan. We had 5 hours in that airport, so plenty of time to walk around, eat, exchange money, and have conversation. I ate with one of the other students at this Chinese Cafe (it was kind of an accident. We were trying to see a menu and they insisted that we sit and then brought us a menu and demanded that we order. It was sort of comical.) and quickly discovered that in China, everything meat is ground up with bones in it. This was the first culture shock I had.

I somehow navigated a Chinese ATM to pull out 300 yuan, which is equivalent to a little under $50. I bought several water bottles because you can't drink the water in China without it being bottled or boiled, and then we got on our flight to Jinan. The flight was my favorite part of the trip. It only lasted an hour, and I was the only person who stayed awake for it. They had a histerical video playing about safety precautions on a plane and why they are in place. Never on any plane have I heard so much detail about the things you should and should not do to be safe and the reasons behind it. And the humor! It was all in cartoons and they used Mario characters and other familiar characters. It was very entertaining. Apart from that, I began reading Game of Thrones.

When we got to Jinnan, we realized what a small airport it was. We experienced our very first Chinese toilet, which is basically a hole in the ground. Three Chinese people from Liaocheng University were waiting for us with a sign beyond baggage claim and they took us to a bus for the last 2 and a half hour bus ride to Liaocheng. It was raining, so there wasn't much to see. I continued reading the whole way because I didn't want to fall asleep right before getting to where I could really sleep.

We mostly just fell asleep that first night. A couple comments about the rooms and the initial "eh" feelings. We didn't have internet initially, which came as a surprise for most of us. Fortunately they made extremely conscious efforts as quickly as they could to accomodate us and that was sorted out as of last night. The beds are not soft... they are basically a plank of wood with what feels like a comforter over them, but we only have two people to a room compared to the six all the Chinese students live in. Our shower does not have a distinct difference from the rest of the bathroom, so when we shower, the water goes all over the bathroom floor. However, unlike the Chinese students who live here permanently, we do not have to walk to a whole other building to shower. Sometimes the water comes out brown, but they do offer us boiled water on the first floor to drink from or use how we please (most students have to walk somewhere to get boiling water). The water pressure doesn't really work so showers are interesting with my long hair, and they don't shave legs in China so I am definitely learning to live a little differently. I am relishing in spot bathing and washing my hair only every couple days. We can't flush toilet paper, so we have to throw soiled paper into a bin next to the toilet (we do have a toilet, as apposed to the hole in the ground which is the standard), but nobody seems to sell trash bags around here. Fortunately there was a very nice Chinese woman who gave us a few of her grocery bags (most places around here don't give you a bag when you check out).

We are in the middle of a city which is loud with honking horns and every morning at 5AM we hear the tune for "We wish you a Merry Christmas" coming from somewhere. But being in a city there is so much energy and we can also hear children singing from the primary school next door and there are birds singing all the time. We are locked in the building between 10:15PM and 7:00AM every morning. It is supposed to be for our safety, but the sun rises at 5AM every morning and we would like to go out and excersize. I know I would like to start running. They are doing their best to make it so that we can leave at 6AM to accomodate us. There are some bad smells around the city, and the buildings are not very asthetically pleasing, but everyone is always smiling and they take such good care of the greenery. There are random gardens and tree farms everywhere. They relish the beauty of nature above everything else, and they do a wonderful job in that.

It's definitely different than what I expected. I've had to remind myself how grateful I am to be here and how good my life is on a regular basis. I've tried to keep things in perspective and remind myself of how good my life is and for the most part I think I have kept a good attitude. I do my best not to complain and to look at the positive things. That helps a lot. Now on to the really good things that I keep reminding myself of.

The food is amazing. I haven't had anything really that I haven't liked. Everything is so full of flavor. There is a bakery just out of campus accross from the hospital that is so wonderful. You walk in and it smells amazing and there is bread and other foods. The street vindors we were warned about, but I have found one that makes a delicious egg and some sort of meat and lettuce sandwich in the mornings. None of us have gotten sick yet, so we think it is okay. And the dining hall is delicious. The way it works is different from what I have ever seen. It is literally food in a bag everywhere here. In the dining hall you put a plastic bag over any dishes and go through a line to serve yourself a variety of dishes that are sitting out. You eat it in the bag in the bowl and then throw the bag away (or you could have taken it to go). When dining out, a whole bunch of small dishes are ordered and they place them on a table top which turns so everyone can try a bite of everything. The table just keeps moving around and you just eat a little at a time - but you eat for a long time.

The Chinese people are wonderful. They are so warm and helpful and excited that we are here. We went shopping yesterday because we needed some basic things and when we were struggling to speak we would do our best to ask for help with our limited vocabulary and hand gestures and they always figured it out and helped us very enthusiastically! It was such an experience. And everything is so cheap! That 300 yuan I pulled out on Saturday at the airport - I have only used half of it and I have had to buy a lot of stuff. I'm amazed by how far I am able to spread $25.

I've decided everything in China is cute or pretty when it comes to items for a household or clothing. They are all brightly colored and so many things have girlish designs on them. The people are so stylish. They don't dress as casually as we do in T-shirts and athletic pants or jeans. One of the Chinese girls studying here was telling me that she thinks that Americans are much more fashionable than they are. She was just googling over how amazing she thinks we are based on television shows. But I would say that they are extremely fashionable - and dress nicer much more regularly. I will probably be doing some shopping... So many long skirts!

Since being here I've had some frustration with my ability to speak Chinese. I'm definitely feeling some inadequacy and I don't like that feeling at all. The people speak so fast and their accents are so thick that even when they are asking me questions and using vocabulary I know, I can't understand them. And I find that my sentences are so broken because I'll get nervous and forget basic vocabulary. I hope I can get better, but sometimes I just feel discouraged.

On Sunday we took a tour around the university campus. It is huge and so beautiful. I do love it here and I love the random parks and greenery and little private places in the middle of a city. There is a public peacock zoo which was very cool. I can walk anywhere, and it feels very safe. I really like it. In the evening we went to dinner with our professors and the Dean of the program and my room mate Kate celebrated her birthday there.

On Monday we had our classes start at 8:30 and go until 11. Between 11 and 2:30 was when I got my shopping done I needed to do. At 2:30 we had our afternoon lessons in culture and then we met some Chinese students. That was overwhelming because mine spoke better English than probably I do.

Today we had classes from 8AM to 9 and then we got to go on a tour around the city again. On our way to the bus all these children from the primary school next door came running over to the fence and were yelling "Hello! 你好!" at us. They were so cute! I hope we get to go say hello to them another day. We saw more beautiful gardens, and went to this building called "the experiment buildling" which had a model of the entire University campus in it. It was all very neat.

Then we met with who I believe was the President of the University. He was very very kind and we had a very formal welcome to the University in a Press Room over tea. The girl serving us the tea kept taking pictures of us subtly. We introduced ourselves and thanked them and he gave a speech in Chinese (which was kindly translated for us) that was very inspiring and warm and diplomatic. He gave us a gift of some T-shirts and took pictures with us. Then we went to a banquet with him and the Dean. It was a very positive experience. I just love the Chinese people and culture and food.

That is all for today. I have more homework I need to do. I'm still getting over jetlag too. It's not awful, but I am excited for when I am fully adjusted. I know that was probably way too much to read but it was good for me to get it out! More soon.