Friday, August 31, 2012 0 comments

Wuhan: One of the Three Furnaces of China

Is it bedtime yet?  I nearly fell asleep at eight, which is unheard of for me.  I think it’s mostly the heat—they weren’t kidding when they called Wuhan one of the three furnaces of China, along with Chongqing and Nanjing.  Combine the haze of smog holding the air down, the summer sun, and the dozens of large lakes in the city, and you have a hot, sticky mess.  My campus is on a peninsula that juts out into Nan Hu (South Lake), so there's no escape from humidity here.  Seriously, it’s so humid here that I am drenched in sweat within seconds of walking out my door. Walk out the door, and it hits you like a wall; I know it's going to be hot, but I'm gasping for air in surprise every time anyhow.
I know it’s often this hot and sticky in Tennessee, too, but I worked in a bank there, and actually had to wear a jacket some days because it was so air-conditioned indoors.  But even there, I don’t remember having sweat dripping off of my and making my purse handles slippery just walking to my car.   

The first thing I do when I walk in the door to my apartment is run for the AC remote and crank it up; I live on the fifth floor, and by the time I hike up all those flights of stairs I just want to flop in front of the air and not move. But, tomorrow is the first of September...surely this heat can't hold out too much longer. 
Wednesday, August 29, 2012 0 comments

My (Short) Life as a Morning Person

The first week of adjusting to the thirteen-hour time difference between U.S. Central time and China time is always an education experience for me—I get to see what it’s like to be a morning person, something I haven’t been since sometime around middle school.  My natural rhythm is going to sleep at two and getting up at ten; my normal real-world adjustment is going to sleep around midnight and getting up around seven; but this week I’ve been going to bed around ten and getting up about five-thirty.  And not just getting up—getting up with energy and being productive.  Normally it does me no good at all to wake up early—I accomplish nothing I’m not getting paid for (powerful motivator to wake up, that) until at least noon.  

The last few days, six to nine in the morning has been the part of the day when I was most productive.  Usually, it’s about two to four in the afternoon and eleven until two at night; I can get more done after midnight than the whole rest of the day put together.  Anyhow, it’s nice seeing how the other half of you people live…by next week, I’ll be adjusted and hitting the snooze button four times again.  
Sunday, August 26, 2012 0 comments

My New Apartment in Wuhan

I'm having some trouble posting pictures to this blog; hopefully I'll figure something out soon.  In the meantime, here are the pictures of my new apartment:  Foreverfreebird Fotografia

I really like my new apartment; it feels like to 70s walking in.  I really have quite a bit of space--I have a dining room and an second bedroom (no bed, just empty).  I've never had a dining room, or even a table and chairs, for that matter, in any of the apartments I've lived in.  It will make it really nice when I want to entertain! 

Of course, these pictures are "before" shots; I haven't had time yet to clean, organize, and decorate to my tastes.  I'll post after pictures in a couple of weeks. 
Saturday, August 25, 2012 0 comments

Beijing Airport...Still.

And here I am at my new home! Oh…wait…this is the Beijing airport…still. 
So, we had a tight layover in Beijing.  And our plane from L.A. was late getting in.  And we had to collect all our luggage and walk with it through customs.  And it’s a major capital city of a huge country airport, meaning correspondingly huge.  If any little thing goes, wrong we could miss this flight…

Well, of course it did.  Oddly enough, it was the first group of us who got our luggage who missed the flight.  Somehow, we missed the place where we were supposed to return out luggage for the flight to Wuhan, and ended up out in the main part of the terminal.  We went to the check-in desk, but were sent to another, then to the ticket counter.  Oh, and in the middle of this, we had a Chinese man trying to be helpful and leading us in circles.  The long and short of it is, nine of us missed the flight.  Those who had taken longer to get their luggage and were behind us did not go the wrong way and made it, go figure.  
There was another flight an hour later, but it only had one free seat. Kevin happened to be first in line, so he decided to try and run for it.  Apparently he made it, because he never came back; we waited in the same area for a good while just in case.  Unfortunately, there were no more flights after that until the next day.  We managed to change our tickets to one person at 12:30, three at 1:30, and the last four at 5:40.  By the time we finished all that, it was 7:00 pm.  So…eighteen and a half hours to go for me (1:30) and even longer for the last group.  Definitely qualified as longest layover I’ve ever had… To make it even more fun, we were stuck for the night, with all of our luggage. 

We piled all the luggage together around a group of three seats near the ticket counter; a few people stayed to guard it all while a few of us did some recon work.  Laura found that we could get passwords for the free airport wifi from the information booth.  Kelly and I went exploring downstairs for a better home base; we found a quieter bank of chairs with plenty for everyone, and also the hourly lounge, which had beds and showers.  In the end, we all cheaped out and stayed out of the lounge.  We set up home base on the last row of seats.  It turned out to be nice that there were so many of us; we could take turns guarding the luggage, sleeping, and wandering off to find food, shop, etc.  Samuel found a row of outlets around the corner, where we could recharge our laptops.  

Although no one was particularly excited at another night in an airport, we made the best of it.  I got to know teachers who would be at different schools, who I probably would never have made much connection with otherwise.  We played balderdash.  We ate some particularly unappetizing Burger King food (my last meal in the U.S. and my first meal in China were both Burger King…sigh; I’d hoped for at least a Taco Bell in L.A.), we sponge-bathed, we took exploratory walks, and skyped relatives.  We watched a group of window-washer rappel from the roof, cleaning the glass wall of the terminal as they swung back and forth. Finally, I got through to Ed, so he could inform those who were supposed to be picking us up our new arrival times; however, most of the schools were ahead of us and had already called the airport and got the information themselves.  Sigh, the things you can do if you speak Chinese… 

And finally, we did make it to Wuhan.  And all of our luggage made it with us.  And you know the funny part?  The group who made the original flight didn’t get their luggage until the next day—it waited to fly with us!  So, an adventure either way around. 
Friday, August 24, 2012 0 comments

32000 feet from Alaska

According to the mapping program showing on the screen on the back of the seat in front of me, I’m 32000 feet over Alaska right now.  It’s interesting the routes that airplanes take due to the curve of the earth and wind currents and all; to get from L.A. to Beijing we flew up the coast, over Alaska, and then we’ll cross the Bering Strait and part of eastern Russia, then follow the Russian coast down into China to Beijing.  Several people have referred to this flight as ‘crossing the pacific’, but really we’re only over open water a minor part of the trip.  

Flight-themed songs keep popping into my head; I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again…right now you’re thirty thousand feet above me, I’m just out here watching the planes take off and fly…when the plane goes down, I’ll remember where the love was found…okay, maybe I shouldn’t sing that last one too much.  

I love these maps they do on long distance flights now; this is the best one I’ve ever seen.  It offers a variety of views: entire route, what’s outside the left side of the plane, what’s outside the right side of the plane, the cockpit view, the external view, overhead, 360°, and you can even set it to cycle between them.  I like knowing what we’re flying over, and how far we’ve come, and how many hours are left to go (exactly seven right now).

It’s a good thing I’ve got the map view, because I can’t see outside for sure.  This plane is set up with nine seats across, three three and three.  I’m in the aisle seat of the middle set, which is quite comfortable since there’s no one in the middle, giving us some space to stretch out.  I’d have to look over three people and an aisle to see the window, and then even if I do that, I’m over the wing, so all I can see is white metal.  And then, it’s apparently really bright out there because everyone has kept the windows firmly shut nearly the whole flight.  

I did have some good window experiences in my first two flights, though.  We took off from Nashville at 5:30 am flying south east; as we flew, the sky turned pink and then orange and then we watched a brilliant sunrise.  I slept the first part of the flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles, but when I woke up we were over the deserts of Arizona.  I saw canyons (not sure if I saw the Grand Canyon, but possibly), mountains, and what looked like salt flats displayed beneath me; I took quite a few pictures then as I had a window seat for once.  

It still doesn’t seem quite real that I’m passing the Bendeleben Mountains on the Alaskan coast (especially since I’d never heard of them before), and that in just a few hours I’ll finally be back in China. 
Thursday, August 23, 2012 2 comments

Volare! Flying Out!

And I'm off!  I'm leaving in about an hour for my brothers' house in Nashville, and I'll go to the airport (in the middle of the night) from there.  I can't believe the day I've waited on for so many months is here!  And everything I even thought of taking fit into my suitcases with no problem--but, I am the Packing Queen. :) 

Darn, I wish I'd loaded Volare (classic Italian song; Volare means 'to fly') onto my mp3 player!  Maybe I'll remember to do that while I'm at my brothers' tonight. 
Wednesday, August 22, 2012 0 comments

A Day in the Air

The most common question I get about moving to China is "How many hours is the flight?" Well, in fact, it takes four flights, but the total in-air time is looking like it'll be about twenty-one hours this time. 

I leave Nashville at 5:30 am Thursday morning--so of course I have the be at the airport a couple of hours before that.  Right now we're planning to go to my brothers' place in Nashville Wednesday evening, and then go from there, instead of going from here at two in the morning. 

My first flight is to Atlanta--yes, going the wrong direction.  I find it quite entertaining to search for flights sometimes; sometimes the routes seem so nonsensical.  The flight to Atlanta takes just over an hour, and then from Atlanta I fly to L.A. (about five hours), then from L.A. to Beijing (thirteen hours), then from Beijing to Wuhan (two and ten minutes, if I remember correctly).  None of my layovers are too long, so really we're making pretty good time.  I'll be meeting up with some of the other American teachers who I met in June in Nashville and L.A. 

When I arrive in Wuhan, it will be 9:00 pm Friday night.  This schedule may seem a bit crazy, but really it's pretty well designed--I won't get much if any sleep Wednesday night, so I should be able to sleep on the flight to L.A.  Therefore, I'll be awake flying into China, but tired and ready to sleep when I finally get to my apartment sometime Friday night.  I have to flip-flop my day and night due to the time zones anyhow, and it's easiest to do it in route like this. 

When I do tell people the flight plan, I get a lot of grimaces.  Twenty-one hours in the air?  You poor thing!  Why do people hate flying so much?  I love traveling and every part of it--I don't think I've eer been bored in an airport.  There's shops, restaurants, and of course endless people watching.  Besides, you have books, magazines, other travelers to talk to, and the view out the window of planes taking off and landing. On the long flight, there's usually so many movies I haven't seen yet that I can't fit them all in.  Even after all the flying I've done, air travel has not lost its magic.  I just love being on the move.   Now, if only airlines had a better record of getting luggage to the same place at the same time, flying would be perfect.  Please pray for my luggage. 

Flying over the lakes of Wuhan, February 2010

Sunday, August 19, 2012 0 comments

The Great Hot Pot Experiment

When I lived in Jingzhou, we got very attached to our local Hot Pot restaurant.  I’d never heard of hot pot before Janice, one of our waiban (Foreign Affairs Office employee whose job it is to deal with foreign teachers), took us there, but after that we hardly went a week without going back.  I’ve talked about hot pot in this post.  

Just before I left China, Jordan, one of my Chinese friends, helped me find some packages mix to make the boiling spicy soup to do hot pot at home; I intended to have a party once I got back to the states for my family and friends to try it.  However, I couldn’t find lotus root, bean sprouts, mahua, rice cakes, or the right kind of mushrooms in my home town (not exactly a world-culture sort of place); I’d have to go to one of the international stores in Nashville.  Every time I was in Nashville, it was too late at night, or I was too busy, and I didn’t want to spend the gas just for that, and you know how it goes…a year and a half later, the mix is still in a bag in my closet, and I’m a week away from going back to China.  It was now or never.  

Mom and I made a trip up to Nashville to a place on Charlotte Pike after work one day; we picked Hayden up on the way.  I figured I might find one or two of the things I wanted, but to my surprise I found all of them quickly.  Saturday night, Doug and Sue came over, and I tried my best to recreate the hot pot restaurant experience.  
We used a fry cooker and an electric skillet to get the soup boiling on the table; Mom and I spent half the morning chopping things to go in it.  We fixed everything I could remember liking in it, just to try it all: potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, lotus root, bean sprouts, mushrooms, rice cakes (not the crunchy kind health nuts like; these are more like little round rubbery pasta), chicken, beef, shrimp, and mahua (twisted crackers).  We completely covered the table, even though it was extended with a leaf.  

I was so afraid that it wouldn’t taste the same, and that we would waste all that food, and that no one would like it even if it did taste right.  I’d waited a year and a half for this, and talked it up for so long—I didn’t want to be disappointed.  Fortunately, the Chinese seem to be quite adept as packaging food in plastic—it was just as I’d remembered it.  Hot enough that I drank two cans of Pepsi during the meal, and with that unique flavor I’ve never found anywhere else.  Mom and Dad and Doug and Sue got into it, and learned quickly to just keep dumping things in.  While I don’t believe it will become their new favorite meal out as it was for me, as Sue said, it was “a meal I won’t forget.” I’m glad I got to share a little bit of my China experience with them.  

For a full slideshow of the pictures, go to my photo blog, Foreverfreebird Fotografia.