Travels in China: Photos:

88 Auspicious Things I Did :: Travels in China

In Kowloon, Molly presented me with a slim mostly blank book. The cover has several pig-looking cartoon characters and says "Buta" (a brand of stationary and other products). The subtitle is "We may addirm absolutely that nothing great in the world has been accompi." The only contents at the time were a list of "88 things to do here." My enterprising hostess had thought up small adventures to pursue and quirks to notice, something of a side game for our travels. This list was not the "Ten things you must see" variety you'd expect from a travel guide; this agenda was quite personalized. The book would later be used to jot down jokes like "NOM NOM NOM Chompsky," drawings like a can of mixed newts, and several rounds of Boggle played by hand from a list I'd compiled of die faces.

Below I have noted the date of completion of each task, some notes, and pictures (with tool tips) where apropriate. For activities that happened more than once, I have either recorded the dat of the first occurrence or of a particularly strong instance. Through my month in China I tried to avoid photorhea, so many of these items were not visually recorded for posterity. Use your imagination; it'll be good practice.

Why 88? The Chinese believe that the number 8 is very auspicious because it sounds like the word for prosperous. They also believe that doubled numbers are auspicious (for instance, the Dragon Boat Festival is on the 6th day of the 6th lunar month). Double eights, therefore, are very auspicious. It's no accident that the Olympic Games begin in Beijing on August 8th, 2008.

[Pointing out the locations of Hollywood and Molly's woods] Visit Yingcai campus during classes - 2/19
I taught a U.S. geography lesson to Molly's students. After drawing a free-hand map on the chalk board, I marked the location of all the cities, universities, and attractions the students could name. San Francisco was the first place they thought of. Houston took some prompting, even though Yao Ming plays there.
Soak at Ri Yue Gu hot springs - 2/17
I soaked in pools infused with lavender, rose, lemongrass, wine, beer, four kinds of tea, ginger, and curry. (Separate pools, of course. Even I would balk at lemongrass curry beer tea.) It turns out my superpower is scaring Chinese people out of pools. Perhaps they think my body hair is contageous. Or maybe they were weirded out by the released air bubbles from my baggy swuimsuit. Nonetheless, we had most pools to ourselves for as long as we wanted. At the end we let a pool full of Turkish hot spring fish nibble off our dead skin. This service cost extra, so my super power didn't work there.
Hear a pianoforte on Gulangyu - 2/20
Gulangyu is a small island a short ferry ride from Xiamen where cars and trucks are not allowed. Many buildings are European-built, dating from Xiamen's time as an Opium War concession port. Given the wealthy European fondness for pianos, the place is named "Piano Island." There's a concert hall, a piano garden, and paino music piped through camoflauged speakers along the esplanade. Watch out, though: the island is known for giant cephalopod attacks.
Walk down Zhong Shan Lu - 2/20
Along one of the main commercial roads in downtown Xiamen I bought over forty dingle-dangles for two kuai each, providing a gift for everyone who works in my office for a grand total of about twelve dollars. I also bought a pirated Chinese DVD because the cover had several over-the-top hats.
See from afar a giant golf ball on an oversized T - 2/16
Xiamen has some interesting skyskrapers.
See some vomit on the street with corn & rice - 2/17
Noted in the parking lot of an expensive sea food restaurant/bar. I didn't get up close and personal to verify the contents, but it looked like someone's gut couldn't strike a balance between the yin of Asian grain with the yang of North American grain.
Ride the number five-oh-one busline - 2/23
This originally said "number twenty six busline," which is a double-decker in Xiamen, the route of which Molly knew nothing. While I'm generally a fan of getting on busses to see where they go, I didn't see a number 26 bus until I got back to Hong Kong. I was about to get on and pay a fare when I realized my destination was only two blocks away and then remembered that the game master had switched this quest to the last city bus I took in Xiamen. We did ride the number two bus in Kunming, Guilin, Xiamen, and possibly Xiaguan, but never the number one bus.
Get a massage by a "blind" man - 2/10
In China, as in many countries, massage parlors are sometimes fronts for prostitution. However, if the sign says "Blind Massage," the place is legitimate, even if the guy who rubs your back can see. In China, massage was traditionally a vocation for the blind. Today, "Blind Massage" describes the style and it seems just as likely to be practiced by sighted people as the blind. All four of the people who massaged us could see. A "blind massage" is akin to what one would expect from a standard massage therapist in the U.S. The massagee lies on a table while the masseur uses pressure and positioning to bring the client's body closer to its natural alignment. Unlike the U.S., you can get an hour-long massage for less than $10, welcome news to any traveler who's been carrying a backpack all over the country.
Get a massage by a smiling woman - 2/22
Chinese massage parlors not labeled "blind" typically offer services of smiling young women. On Friday afternoon we visited the "blind" massage parlor where a miscommunication led to two hours of massage instead of one. It felt like the guys were filling the time, so we were somewhat underwhelmed by the experience. At 11 o'clock that night, we set out to another massage parlor. There we were attended to by smiling young women from Sichuan who gave us Asian pear, Coca-Cola, Sichuan noodle bowls, and an hour of foot and leg massage before finishing the process with a backrub. All told, February 22nd featured three and a half hours of massage for less than $30.
[Girl in overalls] Find the statue of a girl in overalls on Xia Da campus - 2/21
Traveling through Yunnan and Guangxi, I saw very few public statues. Every temple had several religious statues, but the Chinese didn't seem to have the European fondness for bronze statues of animals, people, and dead heroes. But Xiamen, as a former concession port, has plenty of statues. Molly tells me this statue won awards.
[Duoshao qian i jin?]Try five fruits you've never tasted before - 2/7
With a mollybee as a travel guide, fruit stands are always on the itinerary. When I arrived in Hong Kong we made our way up and then down the Nathan Road corridor sampling fruits and pastries. I ate four fruits I'd never had within 24 hours of being near China, so I was sure this goal would be easy. Our visit to Xishuangbanna was quite fruitful; after one visit to a market and a park bench I ate five fruits I'd never tasted before and two that were new to Molly as well.
Hear someone yelling "Weeeii?!" into their phone - 2/13
"Wei" translates to "Hey" and is what the Chinese say when they answer the phone in the pattern "Wei? (pause) Wei, ni hao," or in English "Hey? (pause) Hey, hello." I thus heard this pretty much any time someone's cell phone rang. I noted 2/13 as the date for this item because we walked past two people about three meters apart simultaneously saying "WEEEEIIII?!?!?!" as if there were a bad connection. We imagined they'd called each other.
See a thin Chinese girl wearing stripes - 2/8
Even though the February weather was quite nice in most places, almost everyone wore their coats all the time, even inside. I thus didn't observe a lot of Chinese fashion, but girls in stripes definitely seems like a trend.
Walk along the sea boardwalk at night - 2/20
The beach is only a few steps from Molly's home, making walks along the Pacific waves a convenient retreat from stresses of the everyday world. Unfortunately, she no longer has a goat to play with as the tide comes in.
[Owner of a restaurant with good gong bao ji ding] Eat gong bao ji ding at least three times - 2/13, 2/18, 2/21
This is Molly's favorite dish, so this item was less a quest and more a promise. Even though I ate Chinese food almost every day for a month, this dish (kung pow chicken) was one of the few I was familiar with. That and "a bowl of white rice."
["All Night Long" club in Hong Kong] Spend at least ten seconds in a nightclub - 2/24
I didn't visit any nightclubs in the mainland, but I spent a few hours after midnight in Hong Kong drinking a Guinness and listening to live music and a disco DJ. The first band (consisting of six Asians) finished their set with a great version of "Play That Funky Music White Boy. The next band (four asians and maybe a Brazillian?) opened with a strained version of "Sweet Home Alabama," leading me to propose the Skynyrd rule: You're not allowed to play "Sweet Home Alabama" unless you've lived in Alabama and enjoyed it.
Pet Molly for hours and hours and hours - 2/15
The relationship between mollybee and trevorbear doesn't fit standard models. People who observed us holding hands, making jokes, and sneaking tickles in public would assume that we were "a couple." But unlike "a couple" we would often sleep in separate beds so we could get some good awkward-position sleep in. We nibbled on each other's ears, necks, and arms but didn't "make out." And we stayed in bed until 4:30 PM on the day after Valentine's Day tickling and rubbing and touching and biting each other's skin. We slept together, but didn't "sleep together." English doesn't have a word for this sort of relationship, but I don't think Mandarin does either. So I usually refer to her as "my friend." The one downside of a six hour tickle session is that we wasted our one day of good sunlight in the Guilin/Yangshuo region, so our collections of karst photographs are worse lit than they might have been otherwise.
[Red and gold signs are for everything from fancy stores to home doors to cartoony adds on city walls] See a red sign with yellow/gold lettering - nearly constant
Among other things, red is the color of good luck and prosperity and gold or yellow is the color of weath and influence. Gold characters on red signs is quite typical for signs above stores, happy-new-year papers on home doors, and anywhere else a sign invoking positive feelings is needed.
Prepare tea in the Chinese style - 2/20
I need to shop around in Denver for a proper tea set so that I can share the tea I brought back in the proper style.
[Building with a light-up dingle-dangle] Find a building with decorative lighting - 2/6
Several hotels in Jinghong were outlined in colorful lights and I don't think it was just because of the new year. Xiamen is full of very lit buildings, including two I saw with giant light dingle-dangles.
Successfully avoid hitting any pedestrians - continuous
I didn't find most pedestrians very annoying, actually. Maybe if I spent a few more months living in China I'd be more likely to hit someone.
As a pedestrian, successfully avoid all vehicles - continuous
I grew up in a part of America where trafic is very orderly and traffic laws are almost always obeyed. I wouldn't last an hour driving in a Chinese city. But growing up in Boulder let me practice frequent jaywalking, so I was able to cross the street without incident.
[Dragons?  Check!] Check to see if ther are dragons in Bai Lu Zhou Lu park - 2/20
Lantern Festival is not as widely known as Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), but it's significantly more colorful than Twelfth Night.
Observe someone hock a magnificent loogie - 2/24
Traditional Chinese health advice is to rid yourself of mucus as soon as it arrives, even if you're (say) on a bus. Many Americans are disgusted by the walking down a street where someone's spitting every twenty meters, but I don't mind; I regularly spit on American streets, so this was my one opportunity to fit in with the natives. I listed the date for this item as 2/24 because choppy seas caused at least half of the passengers to use their vomit bags. The sound of 100 people wretching in unison is nothing if not magnificent. I can say so with full smugness as I'd spent the afternoon eating bread products and my stomach was too busy absorbing spongy matter to let anything disturb its slow and steady work.
[Temple offerings: fruit in red plastic bags, Buddhist prayer pages for burning, and half an orange soda] Real soon now see a red plastic bag within ten seconds - 1/29
At some point in the last few years, I noticed that almost all the Asian stores and restaurants in my neck of the woods place your purchaes in white plastic bags with "THANK YOU" repeated several times in red letters. In China, almost all purchases of small or medium size end up in a thin red plastic bag. And while they end up in landfills, they usually get two uses: one for carrying the fruit or nuts, the other for depositing fruit and nut shells. One might think it's ironic to see all the consumer products in bags the color of socialism, but plastic-bag red is a different hue than Communist-party red (and both are a different hue from lantern red).
See employees of a business lined up on the sidewalk - 2/22
I was on the lookout for factory workers at the beginning of a shift, but didn't see any. The best I managed was about five construction workers in a line as they put on their safety vests after lunch break.
See a public light post that changes colour - 2/14
Xiamen loves buildings and lamp posts that change color a few times a minute. I also saw color-changing lamps in Yangshuo.
See two people with matching shirts walking side by side - 2/14
With all the Chinese wearing coats in February, I only noticed this once. A young man and woman wore matching shirts and pants on the Li River cruise on Valentine's Day. Awwww.
[Kids watch Molly find some porcelain on Gulangyu] Find a bit of porcelain with blue on it on our beach - 2/23
Did a porcelain-bearing ship run aground near the Port of Xiamen? Or do the citizens throw their broken soup bowls and spoons in the ocean?
Notice a girl using a cell phone with a dingle-dangle - 2/10
Cell phones are as much status symbols as communication devices, so absurd acessories are to be expected. I believe on the 10th I saw a girl talking on a phone which was smaller than the stuffed dog hanging from the antenna.
[Molly buying fruit from a woman in a mauve jacket] See an old woman wearing a purple/mauve jacket - 1/29
When China is an old woman, she shall wear a purple coat. In China, red is the color of luck, purple is the color of old women keeping warm.
[Warning: trees vs. stone vs. stairs]Climb the hillside above Nan Putuo Temple - 2/18
I walked up stairs, around rocks, under trees, through portals, and along paths, all with a stick of incense burning.
Smell the lotus flower - 2/7
And I've already forgotten what it looked like. The nose doesn't know.
[New hat and other fashion innovations] Purchase an interesting hat - 2/1
I bought a batik/tie-dye style reversible crushable hat with a round brim. I washed it when I got back to the states and somehow the blue and white hat turned the water red.
Observe someone force their way (cut) into the line - 2/16
Lines are a significant part of modern Chinese life. Like any other component of everyday life, behavioral norms develop within the culture. The line norms in China are quite different than in Britain, the stereotypical queueing culture. Lines needn't be single-file, when a new line opens a mad dash is expected, and when you're at the front of the line you may still have to fend off people intent on getting quick service before you.
[Some of the ingredients of our lunch]Eat something and have no idea what it is - 1/30
As we walked up Xi Shan, a little lost and after a morning of blood sugar issues, a woman invited us to the garage-sized "restaurant" next to her house. She showed us several tubs of mushrooms, roots, leaves, and other items. We didn't recognize most of it, so asked her to make us something tasty. Deliver she did, with a large omlette and three bowls of stir fry.
Eat of the lotus root - 1/31
Flower root on a stick! Covered in spicy powder!
Hold on to a plastified drink container for support - 2/19
Some of the busses in Xiamen have juice boxes inside hard plastic handles. Before Molly pointed it out once we were in Xiamen, I was wondering what sort of drunken state I would have to be on to find stabilization in a plastic cup.
Learn to count to ten in Minnan Hua - 2/17
Min is a Chinese language found in the province of Fujian. It seems closer to Cantonese than Mandarin and the numbers are more fun to say, specially five (ngaw) and ten (sap!). Molly's neighbors said my accent was better than hers, but maybe they were just being polite to the newcomer.
Find, for sale, a dark green metallic umbrella so I can buy it - 2/13
A quest for a present for John had us looking at every umbrella display in China. I found a dark green metallic umbrella at an umbrella store in Guilin, but it wasn't quite the right shade of green. But I still found it, so this item is checked off.
Sleep on a really hard bed - 2/11
Most Chinese beds are harder than most American beds. Unfortunately, I find it hard to sleep unless I'm lying on my side. I can sleep on my back if I have a pillow under my knees, but most of the places we stayed didn't have extra pillows on the bed. The hardest bed I slept on was a bunk in a hostel in Kunming. The following night's rest on a train was much more enjoyable.
Intimately witness a construction zone - 2/1
On 2/1 I walked past some guys mixing concrete more or less by hand in old-town Dali. The process was contained in the lot for the building they were constructing. In Xiamen, the sidewalk at Xi Men (West Gate) was in a different phase of development everytime I walked on it. In America, they try very hard to keep people from walking on unfinished sidewalks. The best Xiamen offered was yellow plastic warning tape.
Safely ride a motorcycle taxi - 2/11
A three-wheeled motorcycle with a couple benches and soft walls is a no-frills lots-of-fun way to get around Jinghong (or any other city, really).
Find a good luck sign over a door that's upside down - 2/19
I asked "Is the door or the sign upside down?" and was told the sign. Actually, the sign is rightside up, but it has an upside down character (gold on red, natch). Lots of homes and businesses have these paper signs on their doors, but if you don't read Chinese well you might gloss over the fact that the character is upside down. Let me know if you grok the symbolism.
Eat some roasted chestnuts/boiled chestnuts - 2/2
I'd always heard the song lyric "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" and associated it with snowy European winters. But the first time I had a chestnut roasted on an open fire was on a hot February day in Xiaguan. Soft and tasty!
[I put on my hoodie and wizard hat and cast a spell with my fruit wand!]Eat fruit skewered on a stick and candied - 1/29
"On a stick" is a suffix which makes food more appealing. And really, how can you turn down something this awesome?
Eat something else on a stick (shau kau) - 2/18
Shau Kau stands offer meat, tofu, and vegetables (mostly roots) brushed with chilli flakes and cooked over fire. Like any good "on a stick" option, the stands are open late for those times that it's eleven o'clock and you say "Know what would be great? Spicy tofu on a stick!" More American cities need cheap meat-on-a-stick for sale on the street late at night.
Ride a bicycle built for two - 2/18
Growing up, I knew two things about the people of China: they rode bicycles instead of cars and they used chopsticks instead of forks. These days, motorbikes seem more numerous than bicycles, but there are still more bicyclists than in most American cities. Molly's neighbor rents tandem bicycles, so we teamed up to make it to shau kau one night. We even briefly rode a bicycle built for three. Turning was a challenge, though.
Hold a Chinese baby - 2/10
I thought this task might be a challenge. Was I supposed to speak Chinese well enough to convince a mom to let me hold her kid? But when the neighbors have a baby and laowai visit, the bundled baby is quickly set up with the fuzzy newcomer for photo opportunities.
Pay way too much for something and not feel bad - 2/10
The bus driver from Damenglong didn't take us to Xiaojie like we'd asked because he wanted to get the full fare to Jinghong. We only gave him the 20 RMB it cost to get to Xiaojie, shorting him 40. We then discovered that all the hotels in Jinghong had raised their rates for the weekend after Spring Festival, so we paid 40 more for our room than we had the last time through town. Conservation of energy, conservation of currency. But at least we gave it to a nice woman at a hotel desk rather than a smoking asshole bus driver.
Pay way too little for something and then realize it wasn't - 2/14
In our hostel in Guilin we reserved a room at its sister hostel in Yangshuo for 60 yuan, 10 less than list price and 40 less than we'd paid in Guilin, so we thought we had a reasonable deal. Then we met some folks we'd encountered before and learned they'd found a room for 30. Oh well, the difference is only about two U.S. dollars.
Buy an object with Chinglish on its package - 2/21
In addition to the word choice and grammar, notice the punctuation and lack of spaces for this gem. On a corner of the front of a package of dried "west plum:"
  • Delicious or choice excessively delicate or
  • Refined of exceptional quality or refinement
  • Something delicious
On the back:
  • GuangDong YiXin Food Industrial Co. Ltd.
  • Add:Gongshan Mianhu Town Jiexi County
  • Tel:0663-5229388
  • Fax:0663-5229838
  • Postcode:515438
  • Http://
  • Preservation Way:Hermetically save,Put it in cool and dry.don't put it in sunlight
  • Using method:use directly
  • Executive Standard: GB/T10782-2006
  • Sanitation No.:Yue Food
  • Sanitation Recognized[2005] No.5222A00134
  • Shelf life: 12 months
Eat "hot pot" style dinner/lunch - 2/3
In the "Ask Trevor any questions you want about himself" phase of English class, one of Molly's students asked "Do you like hot pot?" I responded in the affirmative and the kids all laughed. Molly followed up, "How many times have you had hot pot?" "Twice," I responded, "Once at home and once in China." "That is why," she explaiend, "He likes hot pot." I suppose I might not be so keen on it if my family ate it every night for dinner.
Send a short text message in Chinese - 2/19
Molly composed a short message to a friend in Chinese and I hit the Send button. I carried a cell phone around Xiamen for a few days, but it didn't have any money on it, so I couldn't call out. I'm not sure I could've figured out how to message in Chinese on it either.
Use a public bathroom - 2/1
I'm kind of glad my nose was stuffed up or runny for the first week I was in the country. Yeeech.
[Incense offerings at Nan Putuo Si] Burn incense at a temple Buddha - 2/18
As a religious eclectic, I quickly picked up the local style of incense burning. Taking a step back, burning incense in front of a Buddha statue isn't much different in form than lighting a candle in front of a statue of Mary.
[Tea and dried vegetables and herbs for sale in Kunming] Taste tea in a tea shoppe - 1/29
Some things are much cheaper in China than in the States. Visiting a restaurant, for instance. Some things are much more expensive in China than in the States. Quality electronics, for instance. Some things cost about the same in both places. I think I paid about the same amount for similar quality tea in China and Chinatown.
Play an instrument unusual to you - 2/6
The hulusi is a Yunannese flute with a chamber next to the mouthpiece and up to two drones. My dad's studio has a lot of interesting instruments and musical memorabilia, so I figured it would make a great gift. The saleswoman knew enough English and body language to show me how to play it, but seemed to think I was doing it wrong when I experimented with blowing techniques and fingerings. In Xiamen, I bought an erhu for my brother who'd previously suggested that Molly should "Learn to play an unusual Chineese instrument like the erhu." Is musical justice like poetic justice?
Drink a Chinese beer - 2/2
I'm told there are no really good Chinese beers. The standard beers in the country (Tsing Tao is probably the best known in the U.S.) are similar to a medium-quality American lager; a step up from a bottle of Coors or Budweiser. 70 cents for about 20 ounces of alright beer isn't a bad deal.
Say something in Mandarin while eating a mandarin - 2/9
With a slice of a mandarin orange in my mouth, I announced "Hau chi!" (Literally: Good eat! Translation: Tasty!)
Observe someone walking backwards - 2/5
Americans are way ahead of the Chinese on "Don't smoke and you'll be healthier." But the Chinese are way ahead of the Americans on "Get daily exercise and you'll be healthier." Walking backwards and clapping hands are apparently a nutritious part of your complete exercise regimen.
Eat spicy fish stew - 2/20
On Gulangyu Molly asked in Chinese how much the eel and shrimp were. The restaurant employee responded in English "nineteen" and "fourteen," so we had him kill and prepare an eel and half a kilo of shrimp. We also ordered a big bowl of spicy bony fish stew from the menu, thinking it would be the most expensive item. I'd never eaten bony fish before, an interesting experience. When the bill came, we were shocked to see a number close to 200. The waiter (different person than the guy with the eels) said (in Chinese) that the eel was 90 and the shrimp 40. Jing! After paying, Molly cornered the fishy guy in front of his boss and loudly explained that when he told us "nineteen" he meant "ninety" and when he told us "fourteen" he meant "forty." The lesson? When you ask a price in Chinese, make sure they answer in Chinese, even if you're white. For extra clarity, use Chinese finger counting.
[I'm actually terrible at keeping a hacky sack going]Use a Chinese hacky sack - 2/14
Somewhat between a hacky-sack and a shuttlecock, these toys are two or three heavy coins at the bottom attached six or seven feathers about six inches long.
[Molly passes through Long Men] Walk through/under a very fancy gate - 1/30
Fancy gates are quintessential Chinese building elements. The gate at Long Men (Dragon Gate) wasn't especially fancy, but earned points by being carved on the face of a cliff.
See a child peeing on the side of the road - 2/1
Chinese parents don't use diapers, instead training their kids to communicate the need to pee and poop whenever they need to go. The parents then help the kids use the nearest bush or sidewalk edge.
Have someone say "man you" (go slowly) to you - 2/17
People probably said this a lot, but I didn't usually pick up the words, just the context. Molly instructed me to listen as we left a second-floor restaurant and, sure enough, I heard it. Being cautious when descending stairs is good advice.
See a Chinese TV commercial - 2/11
Long distance busses often show martial arts action films. Maybe Greyhound should start doing that. City busses often show music videos and commercials. RTD better not start doing that. Chinese TV has a lot of the same things American TV does: stupid game shows, political talk shows, nature programs, and annoying commercials. I don't think Mao would be pleased.
[Dingle-dangle duck, doorless delivery] See a dingle-dangle in a doorway - 2/3
Known more formaly as Chinese knots, dingle-dangles with a hanging string, a decorative knot, a distinctive object, and a red tassle are the universal good luck charms of China. Most automobiles, including busses and transport trucks, have one hanging from their rearview mirror. Businesses usually have one hanging from the wall, and they hang in people's apartments. I brought back over forty dingle-dangles as gifts, most purchased at liang kuai stores.
[Year of the mouse at Xia Da Bai Cheng] Become proficient at saying "Xia Da Bai Cheng" - 2/17
If I'd gotten lost in Xiamen, I could've hailed a Taxi and given that destination to get home. It's good to have an emergency plan.
[Auspicious round things and friendly vegetarians]Eat dumplings or something round for New Years - 2/6
We chose Mama Naxi's vegetarian option for New Year's because all the meat on the menu looked overwhelming. We ate quail eggs, chicken eggs, tomatoes, peanuts, carrots, and a fwe non-round vegetables.
Notice a woman wearing a jade bracelet - 2/2
A popular fashion item. I probably would have seen more if they weren't covered by the sleeves of purple coats.
[It doen't get any fresher than passion fruit sucked through an egg roll] Drink a fresh fruit smoothie - 1/29
The Kunming fruit drink store loved to play an album by The Cranberries.
Observe a girl who's convinced she's fashionable - 2/2
Lots of girls thought they were fashionable. Many were. But some were hopelessly misguided.
Be observed by people who're convinced you're strange - continuous
I wonder if I'll stumble across a picture of myself on a Chinese person's website with the caption "Look at the furry white guy!"
Hear the "happy birthday song" out on the street - 2/17
Just as ice cream trucks have particular jingles, the water trucks that wash the streets of Xiamen play an instrumental Happy Birthday melody as they cruise the town. Someone alert the copyright holders; I doubt the water trucks are paying royalties.
Observe someone in green/yellow in the middle of traffic - 1/28
Trying to make our way in the rain outside the Guangzhou tran station surrounded by tens of thousands of Chinese whose trains home were canceled was the defined low point of our trip. "This is so much better than a Guangzhou train station" we'd announce when a minor frustration got in our way in Yunnan. As a symbol of the futility of train travel from Guangzhou, city workers were trying to sweep the water off the streets with brooms.
[Motorcycle and a friend] See an army-green motorcycle w/ sidecar - 2/21
Most of the farm produce vehicles I saw in Yunnan looked like they used to belong to the army. I'm not sure if the sidecar motorcycles in Xiamen have particular uses.
See a boy carrying a girl's purse for her - 2/12
She's got him wll trained.
[I was chided for wanting to pick the ingredients of an entré, though] See a restaurant with a live menu diorama - 2/1
Buckets of vegtables and fish on the sidewalk let you know what you're getting. Make sure you know what you'll be paying, though. See the entry under "Eat spicy fish stew."
[Hinayana and the art of motorcycle riding]See a monk on the street doing something unmonklike - 2/8
Even though I grew up in Boulder, I'm not an expert on the rules of Buddhism, especially not in the Hinayana tradition. I know that different Buddhist sects have different rules on everything from food to sex, but the stereotype of a quiet, vegetarian monk removed from contemporary society remains. I saw monks in saffron or gray robes
  • Buying spicy chicken feet
  • Riding a motorcycle
  • Smoking
  • Playing pool
  • Talking on cell phones
Notice a shirt with English that seems nonsensical - 2/8
Learning English is very popular in China and Chinglish translations are often quiet amusing, so I expected a lot of T-shirts of befuddling English. But the only one I saw was on a Polish girl (though it was purchased in China). Maybe there are more nonsensical English shirts, but since nobody takes off their coat in the winter, I couldn't tell.
See a sign for a KTV - 1/29
Karaoke bars are popular in China. Singing poorly while drunk is not limited to just one culture.
Ganbei someone and be ganbeid - 2/19, 2/6
"Ganbei" is said at the end of a toast to tell the person you're toasting to empty their glass.
Hear a song that contains the words "wo ai ni" - 2/15
I've heard that songs with "I love you" in the lyrics were banned by the Communists until the 1980s. I heard "Ni ai wo" ("You love me") more often than the other direction. I'm not sure if that's a reflection of Chinese culture or just the snippets of sappy pop songs that I managed to make out.
[On the other side of the Pacific from Elk Cove, Molly still gets to watch the sun fall to the water] Watch the sunset over water - 2/20
Very few places in China have water to the west, but Molly can watch the sun set over the sea from her bedroom window on the southwest corner of the island. A bee and a goat watched without worrying that dishes needed to be washed.
[Statue of a book at Nan Putuo Si] See a statue with/of a book - 2/18
The statuary of Xiamen doesn't stop at bronze sculptures of people. Books are glorified in several artistic statues in and near the university. And the botanic garden has a section devoted to many styles of calligraphy carved into stone.
[You can't get more iconically Chinese than red lanterns] Notice red lanterns hanging together - 1/27
I'd managed this before I even had a list of things to do. Red round lanterns are easier to find than street signs in China.
Learn these ten characters & write them here - 1/29, 2/18
Sun (ri) A window to a nice day
Moon (yue) The sun with feet
Bright (ming) Sun and moon
White (bai) Sun with a stem
One hundred (bai) White with a top line
Understand (mingbai) 明白 Bright white
Mountain (shan) Three peaks
Sheep (yang) With six legs and horns
Goat (shan yang) 山羊 But how do you say "mountain sheep?" And is a "mountain goat" a shan shan yang?
Xiamen 厦门 Tall building gate, the city where Molly lives
Stone (shi) I'm glad my last name is so easy to write