Tuesday, April 24, 2007

We Had a Ball

Well, spring has sprung in Xiamen. If it wasn't for the constant shifts from rainy to hot, sunny days I would say its basically summer. The month has been filled with long days prepping finals papers and presentations.

Today was the first day it began to dawn on me that the school trip is nearing an end. Quite sad. One of my buddies celebrated his 21st today, and the lot of us got together to share a drink and meal with him. It was one of the few times the majority of the group was together at once, really helping to put the trip into perspective. In a word, its been amazing. As is said, one travels as much to find himself, as discover any foreign place.

Monday, April 9, 2007

A Summary of My Spring Break

This first week of April was a welcome rest from my constant traveling/schooling. While others took the week as an opportunity to travel around (some went to Tibet, Hong Kong, Tokyo etc...) I was about traveled out. So I (along with my friends Alex and Chas) took the week and "kept it local" as they say, recharging my batteries.

I will now fill each day with a short synopsis, giving a peak into the daily ongoings of my Spring Break.
Day 1 - The highlight of my first night on break was taking the time to visit a local bar that is actually owned by two sisters of which we've become friends with. I had never visited the bar before, but it turned out to be a nice, trendy little bar. The way it featured such bright, clean atmosphere, it almost felt more like it should be a coffee shop than a bar. But after a few drinks in me, it was clear that it most certianly was a bar in ever since of the word. Especially after we worked our way through some darts (just like home) and a few rounds of the very popular dice game Bo Bing (no so much like home).
Day 2 - My second day was the previously detailed Xiamen Marathon.
Day 3 - The last of the nice weather for break. If only I'd known the sun was about to disappear for the following week...instead of finding the beach, we treated ourselves to our favorite dumpling house. This place deserves a journal entry all its own, as its become one of my favorite little nooks in Xiamen and is frequented all too often by myself. In fact, I had lunch there again today. For a mere 6 Yuan (about 90 Cents) they will bring out a plate of 20 Dumplings for your eating pleasure. The dumplings come in all sorts of stuffings, the best I've discovered are the Mushroom and Egg Dumplings by far. Its a great little place that has treated me far too well, for far too cheap.

Day 4 - Monday's as usual, are my day's working at Common Talk. Not much went on this week as they had no new assignments. I edited some other work and wrote up an opinion piece on my experience as an English judge for their Speaking Contest. Hopefully that will be published in the near future.

Day 5 - One of our requirements by Prof. Grasso before leaving China is to visit the nearby city of Jie Mae. Its about an hour outside the city and is the home of one of China's greatest contributers to education. I visited his home which is now a museum as well as a park dedicated to his memory. The man was amazing and gave all of his time and energy to promotin and establishing better schooling throughout Southern China. I'm going to copy my Jie Mae write up to this blog probably in my next posting, so stay tuned to read more about the trip.

Day 6 - After our trip to Jie Mae, the weather had clearly taken a turn for the worse. No end was in sight and it was only getting colder and rainier day by day. This was the time to take advantage of my Nintendo Wii and truly just rest. We spent an undocumented amount of time in my room playing Madden NFL football, taking the Bears from Week 1 all the way to the second round of the playoffs...only to be utterly defeated at the hands of the @#$@#% Minneasota Vikings. Good times good times.

Day 8,9 - Gulanyu, the small little island only 10 minutes from my campus is a great get away for anyone looking for some peace and quiet. I'd visited a handful of times, but never actually stayed there. Alex and I made a point to find a good bed and breakfeast and really explore the island. No cars, motorcycles etc...are allowed on the island. Making it one of the most relaxed places you can find...anywhere. Beautiful scenery, beaches, and lots of quiant, old english architecture dominate the island. AKA Piano Island, Gulanyu used to be the home to all the englishmen who once inhabited and worked in Xiamen. Strangely enough, it features the most highly concentrated amount of piano's in the world. Who would think China of all places would hold that claim?

The night was ruled by a trip to KK, the number one dance club in Xiamen. Giant video screens, beautiful girls, rich businessmen, and the hottest music dominate the scene. The last time we tried to get in the club we were actually turned away as our dress code wasn't up to snuff. We didn't realize this was that sort of club. Despite its "high-maintenance" character, I actually spent no money while out. Its an amazing phenomena here in China, but, me being a westerner, I get treated to the equivalent of a blonde bombshell in any given bar in America. All my drinks are bought by Chinese eager to hang out with westerners and everyone's willing to have a conversation with you. Its a very new and strange phenomena to me, as I've never had DD breasts.

Friday, April 6, 2007


I kicked off my Spring Break with a phone call from one of my buddies at 8am reminding me it was time to wake up and head out to glimpse Xiamen’s biggest event of the year: the Xiamen Marathon.

Having never been to one before, I can’t really draw accurate comparisons between Xiamen’s and other city’s marathons. However, I can comment on the local’s high levels of enthusiasm. Going into its 5th year, the marathon has become a huge draw for local industry and is always listed as one of the major highlights Xiamen has to offer. In fact, the McDonald’s down the street has completely decorated its upstairs with giant pictures of past year’s marathons.

Some of the local friends I’ve made were actually participating in the event. None of them were trained for the professional 45 km run, but it was impressive to see these young locals being excited and proud to be taking time to run the initial 5k length. Outside of Mr. Ault, my badass High School chemistry teacher, I can’t think of a single person I know stateside who runs marathons for fun, while in my short time here I’ve met 4 people my age who are doing it, 3 of which are girls!

It’s an interesting note, and I think it’s a good example of what I mean when I say this marathon is a BIG DEAL here in Xiamen. The Chinese are active people by nature. I’ve yet to meet a person who drives their own car, they all rely on public transportation, bikes, and walking from place to place. I walk everywhere here and sometimes catch myself complaining, while the locals I’m with simply remind me, “but it’s good for you.” Judging from the extreme lack of overweight people here, I’m beginning to take their advice very seriously.

The marathon takes place on the main ring road that wraps itself around Xiamen (it is an island after all). Luckily, our campus is very near the water and it was only a 10 minute walk to the south gate where we could watch the runners go by. As you can see by the pictures, they just kept coming and coming. I’m going to try to find some official numbers, as I’m curious to compare how many participants their were as opposed to some of the larger marathons run in the states.

After watching that vantage point for awhile, the three of us grabbed a bus and headed to Jung Shan Road, one of the major shopping streets in Xiamen. We were there to investigate some pirated video game retailers and grab some brunch. While eating in this one cafeteria-like restaurant (famous for it’s Peanut Soup), we were lucky enough to catch the end of the marathon on tv.

The entire upstairs dining area was clamored around the television watching in anticipation. Two runners were out front with no one else in sight. One was a local runner, the other was an African runner. Talking with some friends before the start of the race, I had learned that in all 4 previous years, African runners had won first place. These runners are some of the best trained running machines in the world, and the Xiamen marathon is one of the highlights on their annual circuit.

So to see one Chinese person left running just a step in front of this expected winner was enough to get the locals in the restaurant very excited. We sat and took our time eating as we watched the final 3km on TV.

The Chinaman looked very tired, and on the verge of passing out, while the African looked almost bored and as if he may just be warming up. Maybe it was the legions of cheering fans running alongside the local, but somehow, in that final 1km stretch, the Chinaman managed to actually increase his lead over the favorite. It was a moving sight to see and very exciting for everyone involved.

When the new local champion crossed through the banner cheers shot up through our entire restaurant, as well as could be heard in the streets (televisions line the streets on Jung Shan Road). It was pretty moving and a very satisfying ending to a much hyped event. Although we couldn’t help but wonder if the African had been paid off by the government or something…haha no just kidding.