I’ve gotten lax about keeping this updated, and a lot has happened over the past few weeks, so be prepared for an exceptionally drawn-out, painful, sudden bowel moveme- I mean blog post. When I left off, I was just starting to get used to the pace of life here. And then I was whisked out of my room at 8:00am sharp, thrown in a bus, and took the train to Qingdao with all of my classmates for a week of learning about tea, beer, and everything else that the previously-German city has to offer. But instead of giving you a neat summary of the city that you could find on Wikipedia if you actually cared, I’m going to tell you about things that happened to me, because that’s why you’re here!
I had the opportunity to visit the tea fields of a generous tea company based out of Qingdao, and the chance to pick my own tea! Was it a green or a red, might you ask? It was both, and neither! because as I learned, tea only becomes green, red, white, yellow, black, or qing (the six types) during the processing stage. How egalitarian! Any tea leaf can become any type of tea. Incredible.
From there we were invited to learn the art of the tea ceremony from the current tea-making champion in China, Ma Dashi.
The one small hiccup to this plan is my daily dose of Chinese diarrhea, which never fails to make an appearance when it most unwanted. Like clockwork, just as we sat down at 10am with Ma Dashi, I hear the first signs of a grumble from down under. In China, we take toilet paper with us everywhere. What one cannot take on the go, however, is a western toilet. I want everyone to think long and hard about the implications of diarrhea on a squatting toilet. An hour into Ma Dashi’s lecture, the sweat was beading up on my face and the world was starting to slip away from me. And now, what’s this? I’m nauseous too? Apparently drinking green tea on an empty stomach can get you ‘tea drunk’, which involves motion sickness and nausea. Wonderful. At this point my Professor, Yueping, eagerly tells me that whenever she gets tea drunk she immediately elects to throw up. She looks expectantly at me. I elect not to go force myself to throw up, fearing what possible reverberations that might have on the rest of my body. By the time lunch rolls around, most of my sanity has rolled off in the other direction. My entire body is drenched in sweat and I can barely hold myself upright. It’s not just your normal diarrhea, I won the Chinese food lottery, I’ve gotten food poisoning.
Yueping decides that since two of us — Morgan and I — are tea drunk, we’re not going to take the planned thirty minute bus ride to our scheduled lunch, but that we’ll be going to the mall instead. I perk up at this, hoping that the mall might have a western toilet. Once we arrive, I make due haste and follow the signs towards salvation, making sure not to run, no matter how much of a hurry I am in, knowing just how cruel a body can be. Once I get to the bathrooms, I run in and– disaster. A row of squatties. I contemplate the fate lying floor-height before me, and after long consideration enter one of the stalls. I get as far as bending down into a squat, but I just can’t do it. I can’t force myself down this path. It’s far too terrifying. There’s no putting it into words. I walk out of the bathroom in shame, pain, and sadness, and see my friend Morgan, who’s also suffering from the diarrhea blues, or should I say browns. She couldn’t manage it either, which makes me feel slightly better about myself. And that’s when I see the handicap toilet– an ethical argument begins to unfold in my brain, about whether or not the plight of my privileged diarrhea justifies using the one handicap toilet in the entire mall. Let’s just say that I rushed towards the handicap toilet, to find that the cleaning staff uses it for their lunch break. The intermingling of shame and terror and sadness experienced at this moment is difficult to describe. Sweating profusely, Morgan and I shamefully walk back to the rest of our class, who are waiting for us by the escalator.
During the rest of the afternoon, I grin and bear it, in one of the most painful and nerve-wracking experiences of my life. While attempting to learn from Da Mashi, as he has us walk back and forth with books on our head and hold expensive looking tea cups, I fight my own internal battle, wiping sweat out of my eyes as the room tilts sideways. I try not to break down in tears as he presents us with a signed copy of his book, the grin on my face simultaneously expressing sincere appreciation and utmost agony.
The next day, fully recovered (but never for long, here) we headed off to the Qingdao beer museum. This would have been much more enjoyable if I hadn’t been assaulted by a group of Hunanese boyband types and their entourage shortly after arriving. I take back everything I said in my previous blog post; being jumped on by 20-some people all screaming at you and pulling at your hair and clothes is not fun and I refuse to enjoy it. I’m sending back the red carpet, I don’t want it anymore. Roll it back up. The silver lining of the trip was the very enjoyable ~drunk room~, which is built at an angle so that you never feel entirely in control of your footing whilst inside. On top of that, it slowly rocks back and forth to give you a sense of inebriation, without the actual intoxication! Thank god the free beer part comes later, as otherwise we’d be having clean up on aisle drunk room 24/7.
Luckily I managed to keep my food down in the drunk room, which is especially good because if I hadn’t it would have turned into a veritable aquarium in no time. Seeing as Qingdao is perched on the edge of the pacific ocean, the local cuisine is just full of delicious little fishies and friends to snack on (apologies to my veg(an)etarian friends!).
One night we had the pleasure of walking to the ocean itself, and I got to see one of Qingdao’s architectural marvels in all of its nighttime glory.
As we approached, we could hear a dull chanting from far away. As we got closer, we noticed a group of hundreds of people with their fists in the air, running as they circled the monument. No, this wasn’t some sort of protest, it was Qingdao’s city exercise group. Every major Chinese city has one, silly me! Hundreds of people getting together at night, wearing matching costumes as they run around a giant structure chanting and moving their arms in unison, duh! Why wouldn’t I expect that? Classic China. Trying not to stand out as a tourist, I jumped into the fray for a lap and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I need to find out where they do this in Jinan!
On our last day in Jinan, we traveled to a Daoist temple. It was gorgeous, and full of beautiful ancient architecture, freshly constructed for our consumption. I jest. Some of the sites and trees we walked among have been around for as long as 2,000 years, and have incredibly rich and powerful histories to boot.
I had the pleasure of learning about them first hand, from a wonderfully kind Daoist who saw me lost in contemplation (soon to be translation!) and decided to say hello. He didn’t know any English, and spoke a dialect of Chinese that I’m not too familiar with, but his overwhelming warmth and kindness caught me off guard and made my day. He took up Daoism right out of high school, and is a true believer. He believes that talking to foreigners such as myself is the only way for Daoism to spread, so he always takes the opportunity to do so whenever he can. It’s small moments like this when I am struck by the intense compassion and good-heartedness of the Chinese. He made up for the Hunanese boy band ten times over.
As we finished up our wonderful week long excursion with take out food hurriedly stuffed down while waiting for the departure call at the train station, our Chinese professor, who also accompanied us and served as our wonderful photographer, caught a candid snap of me wolfing down some rice.
Since this has turned into a glorified photo blog, I’m going to throw in a picture of the delicious scallion pancakes I’ve been eating every morning. Just looking at this picture is making me go weak in the knees.
Much else has happened since I’ve gotten back, but I think that’s going to have to wait on the rest for now. I promise to be more punctual with these updates in the future. Look forward to posts on culture shock, English language instruction in China, and an update on my research project! And a collection of the funniest photos I’ve taken so far.