So we are going to Jinan this weekend. We leave tomorrow morning. Today is my birthday, and apart from going to class this morning and going to one of our professors' wedding reception for dinner, I have nothing that I have to do. It feels good to relax. I got many happy birthday wishes from people from all over the world this morning - even from people twelve hours behind me in America who recognized it was my birthday already in China. It made me feel very special and I appreciate it so much.

My room mate bought me flowers for my birthday. They are so beautiful! I had mentioned that my favorite flowers were white lillies to her in passing, and she made sure there was a white lily in the beautiful bouquet. They smell lovely! I don't have a vase though. I was trying to figure out how I could water them, and then I realized that the flowers were in a bag that holds water. I am not sure if that is how Chinese people normally do it and if they don't use vases, but it works splendidly! I just filled up the bag and they stand up on their own in their beautiful ornamented paper.

In the middle of class one of the professors came and brought me a cake that came with a birthday hat and candles! The cakes here are extremely fangbian (convenient). We didn't use the candles though. I am going to save them. The cake had these chocolate shavings and fruit on top. We asked today how long Chinese people have been celebrating birthdays with birthday cakes, and they said since the Open Door policy started and they began becoming more westernized. She also said that before that, they did eat a sweet cake-like thing that had peaches on top, so I guess the fact that their birthday cakes still have peaches on top is keeping it traditional.

Yesterday one of the other American student's room had their power completely cut off - air conditioning, lights and outlets. We discovered that all of our rooms have an energy cap on it on a per month basis. They can turn it back on, but it is a complicated process, and only the first time it happens is free. The guys room who had theirs cut off had been keeping their room on 20 degrees centigrade (new English vocabulary word of the day) 24/7 and are not energy conscious, so we figured we were fine since we keep ours at 26 degrees and turn everything (including the air conditioning) off whenever we leave.

This morning when we woke up, all of our power was out. We used up our first free time. I don't really know how we could be much more energy conscious. I suppose if we left our room more (we probably seclude here a lot more than some other people due to the fact that there IS air conditioning and we are big on doing our homework and doing it well) maybe that would help, but we are at a loss. I guess we might just have to pay some for the energy next month.

I have been feeling slightly ill for the last couple days. It's a cold that has been going around our group and our professor got it too. I wonder about the germs here, because people don't really use soap to wash their hands. There are sinks in restaurants and in public bathrooms (there are very few public bathrooms), but none of them (save for at the club we went to) has had toilet paper or handsoap. It is hard to find hand sanitizer or anything like that either. In the campus dining fascilities, they have sinks on the wall that they wash dishes in and that we can wash our hands with, but really, all you are doing is rinsing them.

Because my room mate is awesome, she has brought me breakfast back when she goes out in the morning two days in a row. I finally got to take pictures of what the breakfast looks like to share with the world. I already posted them. As I have said, breakfast is in bags. Hardboiled eggs, hot doufu milk in a bag with a straw, and an oil stick (youtiao油条). That is my breakfast every morning.

One thing I haven't mentioned but I had my camera so I took a picture of it on Wednesday, is that people bounce on trees for exercise around here. It is all elderly people. But they do it a lot in front of our building. They just lean up with their back against a tree and hit their back on it. It is supposed to be good for your health.

Also, magpies! I have been seeing these giant birds all over the place since I have arrived here. They are beautiful! I have been wondering what type of bird they are (and correctly guessing that they are magpies) and I finally took some pictures and googled it. Magpies are considered an auspicious animal in China, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me since there are so many of them.

I'll end with one more note: on pandas. The Chinese people like the word "ambassador" and use it much more than we do in America. They call us ambassadors from America, and themselves ambassadors to America by communicating with us. In class this week, we learned that the pandas that we have in America are ambassadors to America from China. They said that they gave us the pandas as a gift to be an ambassador explaining their intentions for friendly relations with us. We asked what we gave them in return for the pandas, and they said nothing - except they will get their pandas back some day. Once again, my mind is blown.