Last weekend I went out into the city for the first time (well, for the first time that was more than basically crossing the street). It is huge. We have been arguing over whether or not Atlanta or Liaocheng is bigger, and we can't decide. The people here don't think this is a big city, but to me it seems huge. Of course, we are walking everywhere.

The first time out we walked for about an hour to get to a mall. We walked into the mall and felt like we were in an entirely different country compared to everything else we have seen. Everything is extremely expensive at the malls, even by American standards, and they have American brand name items. We couldn't help but wonder after our experience here WHO in this community can afford the items there and where they are. There were 6 levels in the mall (they build buildings up here, not out), not including the two basement levels that included a parking deck and a huge grocery store that also had a lot of household goods in it. In that grocery store we found peanut butter, and on a day like today, it was worth every penny that it was (apparently) overpriced.

The traffic is crazy here. It would be so easy to get run over. There are very few traffic laws, and even fewer that people here actually follow. The only one I've seen them follow is when there is a traffic light (and there are very few) they do wait until the light is green to go and generally stop at some point after the light turns red. There are crosswalks for pedestrians, but there is no rule for stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks. Maneuvering traffic here is dodging traffic. Usually we just wait until a Chinese person decides to go because if they have lived this long, they probably know when it is safe. Many of the older people boldly cross the road as if there are not vehicles moving at whatever speed they like. That's another thing. I'm pretty sure there are no speed limits. Traffic is just stop and go, stop and go. I'm sure it is awful for their cars. Oh! And there are very few parking lots or anything like that - people just park on the sidewalks (I have a picture of that I think I uploaded).

On our way back from the mall, we saw a Chinese Opera! Apparently they weren't speaking the "common speak", because the girl we were with didn't understand it either. But it was interesting to see an opera on the side of the road with hundreds of people gathered to watch - and nobody had to buy a ticket. We also ate at a Chinese style diner that was pretty good. We ordered zhurou xianrbing which translates in English to Pork pancakes, and they were delicious. However, they are definitely not pancakes.

On Saturday of last weekend we went on a bus to tour three places that Liaocheng is famous for. The first was the Shanshan Guild Hall, which they told us was an opera house that was built in 1743, but when I looked it up I've been reading that it was for merchants and an assembly hall/temple. There wasn't an opera going on or anything, but the architecture was beautiful. It looked like a palace when we were walking in, and the top was intricately carved wood that was then painted. I have posted a picture of me posing at the door. It is metal on the outside, but the other side of the door is red.

One cool thing that they were telling us is that it was built on donations and they put the names of the people who donated on these plaques all over the place. It was very neat. They asked us if we did that in America, and I thought of Olympic Park in Atlanta. On the stage was a double chair that (before we understood that this was an opera house) we thought must have been a throne. The courtyard where people watch it from had no chairs, but they had these two giant trees that they told us were several hundred years (or maybe a thousand, I can't remember. It seemed impressive) old. We all took selfies with the giant Kylin in the courtyard.

Then there were these rams we saw that had red paint on their eyes. The Chinese students who went with us said someone probably painted it that way but couldn't give us a lot of explanation. Jerry (one of the Chinese students) sat on one like he was riding it to be funny, and we all followed suit. Then we went into the little tourist shops in the opera house and I bought a couple of really neat gifts there. The lady liked me so much that she gave me as a gift something I had been looking at but decided I didn't necessarily need. She was so sweet and ceremonial in giving it to me, too.

After that we got on the bus to head to our second destination, which is the big body of water in the city (Liaocheng has been nicknamed the "water city" in recent years because there are so many lakes and canals and rivers in it). Getting there was a trip in and of itself. First, the bus driver backed up on the road we were on causing lots of honks and vehicles moving around and went around traffic by going through a construction site that was the kind of dirt only big tractors and such are really made to drive on. We stopped and asked permission and they said yes (presumably because we were a big group of Americans). Then, our pretty little tour guide got out of the bus to lift up a barrier that is meant to keep out vehicles over a certain height so that we could cross a bridge. Any time we are in a vehicle, it is an adventure.

We finally got to our destination which was a boating dock. We got on a pontoon type boat and drove all around the lake. Lots of families stared and waved and there were beautiful strange structures that we all wished we could have stopped at and discovered.

When we were done with that, we went to our final destination, which was this really neat tower in a part of the city that looked more traditional Chinese as we imagine it in America than most things I have seen since I've been here. I posted a movie of the view from up in the tower, but my camera died shortly after that so any other pictures I mostly got from my room mate. That place was pretty neat too. We want to go back to check out that part of Liaocheng again.

That's pretty much it about the city of Liaocheng. The only other thing of interest I can think of that really shocked me was how the children run around basically naked. My grandparents mentioned that they had a hole in their pants but I really could not have imagined this. They literally have a big, oval shaped hole in their pants. They don't use diapers, they just let their children poop and pee whenever they want anywhere. I have actually seen a baby in the process of pooping. I'm not convinced this is sanitary. To be honest, it's probably the weirdest thing I have experienced about China.

Since I don't feel like writing another blog, I'm going to keep writing here on some other topics. We figured out that you can get peacocks excited enough to make noise if my room mate Kate makes this strange noise (video attached). Also, we discovered what some Chinese college students do for fun on the weekends - breakdance. There were a few guys breakdancing on a platform in a central area and people stopped and watched. They missed the memo about the cardboard though, and struggled with slipping everywhere. It was funny because we were hooting and cheering them on but the Chinese people just clap politely. It's a huge difference I have noticed. Chinese people don't really call out from accross a way for someone or loudly yell to get someone's attention.

They download music for free here. They have this government sponsored app that they install on their computers and phones and kindles and they use it to download and watch any movies (from any country) and listen to any music (also from any country) that they want. I'm sure it doesn't have everything and that the government regulates what they find appropriate, but nobody pays for movies or music. I'm sure American record companies and hollywood are thrilled.

And finally, I get to my eye. I woke up this morning and I looked like I had been punched in the face. My left eye was really swollen. I've been freaking out for the better part of the day over it. My teacher let me skip the rest of my class after taking our test this morning to go with a couple of Chinese students to the school infirmary to have it looked at. They gave me some sort of topical liquid that looks like eye drops and Vitamin C and told me it was some sort of allergy. That was all they could tell me.

I took some benadryl and slept for several hours, and when I woke up it was twice the size. I am so grateful for my room mate, because even though I'm capable of being level headed and helping someone else when they have a problem, when I have something wrong with me I panic and struggle with knowing the right course of action a lot of the time. She had me call my professor and when I reached her, she hooked me up with a Chinese student who has named himself Henry to take me to "the best hospital in Liaocheng".

Henry is probably my favorite Chinese person I have met here. He learned English by watching American comedy television shows, so he understands our humor and makes jokes and speaks English better than just about anyone I have met. But at the same time, he pushes us to try to use our Chinese. It was so good that he came with us.

We took a taxi to the hospital because it was rather far. My room mate came with us too. We went to the "registration" windows and everyone looked at each other when they realized there were two white girls in their hospital. I am pretty sure that's never happened before. They couldn't figure out how to put my name in their system, so Henry helped them out. Then, we had to purchase (for 1yuan) a money card and put money on it. Henry put 100yuan on it (we get back any money we don't spend at the hospital) and 1 yuan of that went towards the card. Then we paid 5yuan to go see a doctor. They told us to go see the dermatologist (Kate and I both looked at each other like that didn't make sense, but when we asked about it, we were told that doctors don't specialize. They all study the same material) and were directed up to the third floor. By the way, the layout is like a mall in America.

While we are walking around, children are running away from us towards their parents to announce our presence with much excitement. We really are an anomoly here. When we find the dermatology area, we literally just walk into a room with a doctor in it and Henry starts telling her my problem. Chinese people hanging out in the hospital keep coming in and listening and staring. There is no such thing as medical privacy laws or anything like that here. She takes out this notebook and starts writing notes in it and when she is done, writes on the bottom of the page a prescription of some sort. This is the equivalent of a medical folder here that they would put on the back of your hospital room in America.

We leave and go back to the registration window where we give them my medical notebook and use my card to pay 60 something yuan for the three medicines she has prescribed, and they reimburse me the other 30Yuan that wasn't used from my card. Then we walk across the room to a counter where they are constantly filling perscriptions that I assume are being called in from the pay counter all day long. They bring mine out, and they tell me over and over that because they think it is an allergy I should not eat spicy food, beef, mutton, or seafood, or drink alcohol, then we leave. From the time we left campus to the time we left the hospital was a total of 2 hours. That doesn't happen in America.

After we left, we were hungry and craving comfort food, so we went to this delicious buffet that had pizza and SALAD and fresh fruit. It was extremely expensive compared to anywhere else we have eaten (9 American Dollars), and a really upscale place. It was all you can eat, and I stuffed myself. It made me feel much better even though my eye still felt like I had a tennis ball coming out of the base of it. On a side note, I have been eating gluten. I really couldn't survive here if I wasn't because SO much of their diet is wheat based. I haven't had any problems with it though, so I'm guessing that my issues in America really are based in the fact that the wheat we eat isn't really wheat.

When I got back, we looked at the medicine I got and tried to translate it. I got some sort of allergy medicine that I'm supposed to take by mouth once a day, a topical cream that I'm supposed to put on twice a day that our best translation is "black big bird ointment" (it is a nice brown color), and boric acid that I'm supposed to water down and use as a compress liquid twice a day. Several people from my class came by and asked how I was doing (people were pretty worried) and even the Ghana boys came by to check on me. They were extremely helpful - especially with the Bolic Acid stuff. My friend Kate wanted to get a picture of them, and then they said we should join them in a picture. I said I was embarrassed to get a picture with them with my eye so swollen and one of them suggested that we all would just cover our left eye, so we did! They were very kind and I'm grateful for them too.

So, what was it that caused this allergic reaction and all of this drama, you might ask? I didn't figure it out until I was talking to my mother tonight. When I told her that they told me to stay away from seafood, she mentioned that seafood often does give a similar allergic reaction. When I thought back to what I could have eaten, I remembered that yesterday I had eaten these strange white things that looked like quarter sized octopuses and tasted like chicken (but didn't have the texture of chicken) and I had also eaten something someone thought was squid. Then, it turns out my great-grandfather has had the same symptoms as a result of a shellfish allergy. That pretty much settled it in my mind - I must have a shellfish allergy.

I can't explain what a relief it was to find the root of the issue. At least now I know that it will go away and it doesn't ever have to come back. I was having images of dying in a Chinese hospital and other such dramatic things. But I am okay, and it will be easy enough to stay away from mystery meat from now on.