I have been so busy lately! It's mostly by choice, because to be honest the temptation to be bored is getting stronger all the time. Our time in Liaocheng is almost over, and we have done just about everything there is to do and seen everything there is to see. There is only so much shopping you can do before you begin to get bored, though I will admit to overshopping as a result of being bored as well. I've been trying to keep myself busy by studying hard and hanging out with Chinese students though. On Sunday I think I am going to KTV (which is a popular entertainment chain in China for Karaoke that is sort of like a bar, but it's popular because they love karaoke - particularly American music - not because of the alcohol).

My Chinese has improved significantly since I have been here. I am starting to realize I am going to miss speaking the language, and it is sad that I won't be continuing to learn it when I get back to America. I have really fallen in love with the Chinese people and the language. It's a shame that I have to pick Chinese or Accounting. I really wish I could have both. There is a huge part of me that wishes I could teach English here. I guess I shouldn't write that off as a possibility just yet - anything can happen some day - but it definitely isn't in my foreseeable future at the moment. But, I'm afraid that by the time it could be a possibility I wouldn't remember any of the Chinese I have learned.

I'm trying to think positively and remember that the point of this program isn't to make me fluent in the language, but to introduce me in a very real way to another culture and to open my eyes to a world bigger than what I knew before. It is certainly succeeding in that. I would like to think I might be a better person as a result of my trip here. It is truly amazing.

I have decided that my ability to speak Chinese is strongly influenced by my mood and by my attitude. Since I got acupuncture last week, I have been feeling really good and more relaxed which has helped my attitude to get better. Things that are uncomfortable aren't bothering me as badly, and overall I feel good. I can't explain it. I am still getting bug bites and we didn't have power all day yesterday or the day before, and today I took a cold shower, but it doesn't seem like as big of a deal as it would have before.

Last week I got my legs waxed because it was only 10 American dollars and it seemed like a good idea. I laughed because they used newspaper. I don't think I'll be doing that again while I'm here. Another thing I've noticed while I've been here is that shaving is not a universal thing. The whole idea that we should get rid of our hair is so silly. By no means am I never going to invest in hair removal again, but I'm realizing just how not big of a deal it is. Hippies have a few things right, in fact, I am starting to think that they might be more sensible than most of the "normal" people.

Speaking of Chinese culture, I found out some very interesting things about Chinese higher education. At least in Liaocheng, the Chinese students do not choose their dorm or their room mates. They are roomed in dorms with people within their department, then their major, then their academic year, then their grades. My jaw unintentionally dropped when they told me that the smartest people in their grade live in a room together, and the "dumbest" people live together. The girls who told me this are room mates and they said they aren't very smart. I don't know how I would handle that if I were in their situation.

Taking off a year or two from school either right after graduating high school or somewhere in the middle of their academic program is completely normal. And, seniors don't have classes. Once again, my jaw dropped. I'm a senior next year and the idea of a self-study your senior year sounds amazing. However, every senior has to write a long paper and defend it in front of a board, and I think they all have an unpaid internship/job sort of program that they do. At least all of the Teaching Chinese as a Second Language majors all do work for the professors. We kept asking if the paper is a thesis or a dissertation or something, and they keep saying no, but that is what it sounds like to us. Regardless, in some ways it sounds more stringent than most undergraduate program requirements in America.

Also, there are tennis majors here.

Another note on education, Chinese doctors usually only have a bachelors degree. Before 20-30 years ago, higher education beyond a bachelor's degree didn't exist in China. I guess that would explain why their medicine isn't superb. But on the note of medicine, I've been thinking about how we are the opposite extreme in America. Theirs is mostly natural medicine, and the few things they have that are more western are a fraction of the strength of a normal dose of anything in America. I'm sure this causes problems because they don't have some of the basic medicine that saves lives in America. But in America, we give out strong perscriptions like candy which is also problematic.

I was talking to one of the Chinese students about how in America, young children who misbehave or are hyperactive or don't pay attention in school are put on a psychological medicine that is capable of being abused as a drug. They asked me to define what kind of behavior the kids display and when I described it, they gasped and said that almost all children in China behave that way and then they grow out of it. I believe that they must grow out of it, because you look at them in college and as young adults and they seem to be extremely well behaved and they do well in school. It's very interesting to me.

We had a lecture last week on staying healthy through natural means from a science teacher here. He used all kinds of diagrams of DNA and Graphs and a lot of scientific vocabulary that is beyond me. One of my classmates said that it was all chemistry that he was talking about. It gave me a whole new level of admiration for all the science people in my life who can understand that stuff. I immediately thought of my boyfriend and how he had to take chemistry last semester. I don't think I could handle it.

Last weekend I found the Chinese equivalent of cliff bars in America. They are delicious. They are fully of protein and according to the Chinese students have everything you need to create energy to go hiking or just as a snack. But, they look a little like MRE's and are called "Compressed Biscuits". They could probably be used as a weapon in case of an emergency because they are so hard. But, once they come out of the packaging they break/crumble very easily and melt in your mouth. I can't believe it took me this long to find them. I've posted a picture.

Last Friday we had a horrible wind storm. I legitimately thought we were going to have a tornado and ran from my room so if the windows were to break open I would be okay. There were things flying off of buildings and trees blown over and broken branches. It was very frightening.

Last week I I bought some art that some of the art majors here made. It is amazing! I posted a picture of me holding the scrolls of art. Also in a picture I posted recently, is me on the back of an electric bycicle. The guy with me is Henry, who took me to the hospital and learned English by watching the comedy "Friends". He has been so helpful and has helped us bargain and get good deals sine we have been here, so since we are leaving soon I treated him to dinner as my gift for him to thank him. It was strange because I felt safer on the back of one of these bikes than I have in a taxi or walking in the city. I want one so bad. Some of my friends here have looked it up and I can get one in America and put it together for $100. I think I might need one for riding around Dahlonega. Especially with the seat on the back! It is so much fun!

The last topic that I would like to mention is rather serious. My room mate Kate is older than the rest of us and is a graduate student. When she was an undergrad she studied Japanese, and stayed in Tokyo for six months. In fact, she teaches Japanese on the Gainesville campus at North Georgia. I've been talking to her about her experience in Japan because it has given her a huge advantage over everyone else here as far as adjusting and knowing how to learn a language. She has told me that her experience in China has been so refreshing because it is so different from her experience in Japan. In a couple words, she said that the Japanese as a culture, hate women.

She went over there with a program of 70 people, and she said that every one of the girls had negative experiences. All of them were spit at or on, some of them were chased and several of them who didn't get to safety were raped. The police did nothing, because it is considered rude to get involved in "someone else's business". They saw Japanese women get raped in public while people turned their heads or watched passively. People were consistently rude to them. They learned to only travel in groups and with knives and pepper spray.

When I listened to this, I was shocked. This is the last thing I ever would have imagined thinking about Japan. I asked Kate why what she told me isn't common knowledge, and she told me that there are several reasons. She said one of the primary ones is that the Japanese people are extremely private - especially with outsiders. The only reason they saw it is they lived with them. She said that it took a couple months to really start comprehending the depth of it and to see it clearly. She started understanding the things they would say in front of her, thinking that she couldn't understand Japanese.

Another reason is that Japan isn't a place where Americans have much interest anymore. Women who do business there are fine because they are in and out and protected because they are there on business. Tourists stay in tourist areas which in pretty much any country are safer than other places. And last, she said the experience of men is completely different. She said that the guys who went with her group were treated with respect and kindness, which meant it took them a lot longer to notice that there was a problem. As Kate put it, when things are not happening to you it is easier to turn a blind eye to them.

I suddenly want to rush into Japan and start a feminist movement. The things I heard from her sound like human rights violations. I am horrified. Kate said the strangest thing for her is coming to China and finding that it is so opposite here. Women here seem to be loved and cherished. She said that in Japan, the women seem to have accepted their lot in life to be one of potential violence. I wish that I could do something for these women, and I think a start is for people to know that there is an issue.

Since then, because Kate and I are so baffled at how China seems to have really taken a turn to having respect for women and viewing them more and more as equals (while Japan clearly has not), we have been asking some people in China about their view on women's status in China and on how they are treated. We have asked why they think that their culture has turned around to favor women. Most of them think it is the fact that women are allowed to work in government jobs and that those jobs are slowly becoming higher level positions. Some think it is because they are being educated and that there are more and better job opportunities than there used to be.

One person confided something that I have not seen, probably because I live in a college environment. He told me that China does have an issue with domestic violence against women. My heart broke. He told me it is looked down on to beat your wife, but it does happen, and more than he would like to admit. Somehow I guess I got this romantic idea that in China, the people are so perfect and nonviolent. I guess we are all human everywhere. Either way, I think that China needs their feminist movement to expand.

Well, that is basically all for tonight. My poor room mate is ill. She has had diarrhea all day and she thinks she has a low grade fever. She left around 5:30 to go to the hospital. I just heard from her and they gave her a shot and she has been on a saline salution for a few hours. She said she should be coming back soon. I hope she will be okay.

Our trip is almost over, or at least it feels that way. We only have a week left in Liaocheng, and even though we will have 2 weeks in Beijing, it still feels like the end. I am fairly confident that Beijing will pass very quickly and be very full of activities. Tomorrow we go to a primary school to see how they work and meet some children learning English. In addition to class in the morning, next week on Monday we hear about the Peking Opera, on Tuesday we go to a Tea House, on Wednesday we have our last KungFu lesson, and on Thursday we have a 5-6 minutes presentation on our cultural experience here. With the presentation we have to write write a paper. We leave next Saturday morning for Beijing. There is a part of me that will definitely miss Liaocheng.