Friday, January 22, 2016

Swallow Antelope Officially Archived, Please Visit My New Site

Hi Everyone! Thank you so much for visiting my blog. As you may notice from the dates on my posts, it has been quite some time since I have last made an entry.

I have since graduated and cycled through several jobs, but my study of Chinese has remained constant. Learning a language is a lifelong endeavor. I believe that language is not something you accomplish, but something you practice.

Before I left for Nanjing, I scoured the web and found very little information on the Chinese Flagship Capstone Year. I was so scared and nervous, and not even the world wide web had any helpful information! So that was the original goal of this blog: to help future students learn about what they could expect with Capstone.

I originally meant to create a resource for Flagships students, but I didn't expect this blog to play such a profound role in my personal journey. Reading over some of these entries brings memories flooding back. I feel so glad to not only have been able to accomplish my original goal, but to also have a real time record of my personal experience.

Currently, I am working on my professional goals of becoming a Chinese>English translator. I have created a new website to share my professional experience. If you want to know more about what life is like after graduation with a foreign language degree, I welcome you to click the link below and to browse around.

Thanks for reading. If you are a current or past flagship student, I welcome you to get in touch to say hi or ask any questions. I always love to meet a fellow flagshipper or sinophile. Thanks so much for your support. With that, this site is officially archived! 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Train Travel is Best Travel

Since coming to China, I have found traveling by train extremely convenient, and I am more than satisfied. In a country full of bureaucratic difficulties, it was such a pleasant surprise to find out how easy it was to go traveling. With a super streamlined online ticket purchasing system, train stations located at city centers, immaculately maintained stations, all at a good price, I got to hand it to China. I have been extolling the virtues of taking the train for years now, but until I came here I had no idea that train travel could be so fantastic.

You average train trip looks like this:
1. Purchase your ticket about two to three days in advance online or at the station. Foreigners are allowed to sign up for web ticketing service!
2. Arrive at the station about an hour ahead of time to pick up your tickets.
3. Head to security check, should take a grand total of 2 minutes
4. Board the train, stow your luggage. Note that there is NO limit to the size or weight of your luggage!
5. Chill out until you arrive at your destination!

(disregard all of these rules if you are traveling during Chinese holidays, see article on Xichang)

This process is infinitely more simple that taking an airplane and has usually resulted in much less headache. I have only heard of a train being delayed once from all of my friends, as opposed to flying, where delays have seemed to me to be more of a rule than an exception. Also, as someone who moves around a lot, this unlimited luggage policy is really attractive.

Here in southwestern China, things go at a slower pace. Up in the more developed areas, there are regularly scheduled "D" trains, its speed only second to the "G" train, "gaotie" 高铁, meaning "high-speed rail." These trains are AMAZING- you can get from Beijing to Guangzhou in EIGHT HOURS, and costs about $150 USD. 1300 miles apart, thats like going from California to Kansas. I'm am just absolutely tickled when I think about it. They are hoping to extend high-speed rail service to Kunming by 2016, but for now we will have to be placated with th"T" for "tekuai" 特快 or "extra fast" and the "K" train, standing for "kuai" 快 meaning "Fast." These are glaring misnomers, as these trains are incredibly slow. But even though it takes 8 hours to get to the next cool city, they are still more convenient than flying.

I still am unable to understand why America has yet to understand the value of train travel. The last time I drove from San Francisco to Sacramento it took 4 1/2 HOURS. There is clearly no reason for this! I know that there is a rail line in this region, but archaically slow speeds coupled with stupidly expensive pricing makes people who own cars unwilling to use it. Imagine a world with no traffic and low risks for collisions. You just sit back and relax, unconcerned with any of the classic problems plaguing road or air travel. You guys, a well thought out train system is absolutely fabulous.

California is making baby steps towards getting a north-south rail, and there are plans to expand on a national level. I think it would be a valuable means of transportation in the US, and I encourage people to support development in this sector. Just seriously: trains are awesome.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Working in China: My Experience at a Yunnan NGO

My internship finished last Friday, and I am still wiping the sweat from my brow. I spent the weekend properly by lounging on my couch watching ancient episodes of The Simpsons, sort of in a state.

These past four months have really been something; I say something, because I still can't quite tell what. Working with my group has been incredibly challenging, and I am still figuring out which combination of factors made it so difficult for me to adjust. Foreigners in China are prone to blaming their problems on "China" with a capital C, but since China is such a large country with varying cultures I try to avoid doing this. I am more apt to say that maybe it's a Yunnan thing, but I also don't thinks so, because we are actually pretty relaxed out here in comparison with the more developed areas out on the coast. I am at an NGO, which are notoriously fast paced and 辛苦, according to all of my classmates in NGOs right now.  There is also the intern factor, where they were just piling on the work because, well, I work for free. But then again I'm not even really familiar with what real American work life is like, so maybe I am just being overly sensitive about the whole thing.

I remember arriving at my office with my two classmates on the first day. Us three, along with my two coworkers and my boss Amy sat around that giant dark wood conference table eating watermelon. There was a small whiteboard and a giant piece of white paper absolutely drowning under the ink of hastily written Chinese characters, which I would soon find out was the plans for my four months of work. My work was strange and nebulous, hard to pin down: about ten different long term projects were plunked down in front of me, some of them of types completely unfamiliar. "Just begin like you are starting a qualitative research report," Amy says to me. "You can interview news media reports, it should be fun," Amy says-- please imagine the my dear-in-headlights look that might accompany these intimidatingly offhand statements. After four months, many deadlines, and an excruciating number of meetings later, a large bulk of these plans, plus some other projects added on top, were only about halfway completed. I completed the major ones, but I was disappointed to see so many slip by the wayside.

Working with my organization sure had its quirks. We are made up of university professors in the area who come together several times a week to plan and do projects. This makes for much running around between universities, extended meeting times, company meals, and rescheduling. Much different from the classic nine to five scenario, I didn't have a classic boss who came to check in on me very much, and sometimes I felt like I didn't have all the support I needed to get my work done. It even dawned on me that the professors themselves might not be entirely clear about the organizational structure of the group. Three to four meetings per week was not only a total time sink, but would also make it difficult to keep priorities straight as they would add on new and "important" projects for me to do.

On a more positive note, being with my NGO also gave me some really interesting opportunities to learn about Chinese life. I will never forget the ability of my coworker Geng to be able to buzz around gracefully keeping everyone's teacup full, or Yin to be able to graciously fill everyone's rice bowls at our lunch meetings. I reflected to my classmate that it was really foreign for me to pour tea for the professors and serve them as needed and took some adjusting, whereupon he cried "I would never do that!" Our workplace had an unspoken hierarchy in which I and my two coworkers were much below our teachers. Another very interesting experience I had was listening to my professors speak openly to each other about their opinions on the Chinese government and Tibet and other topics which I thought were off limits. There was even one of these discussions in which a government worker participated in! I was surprised and delighted to be included in on these talks, and to find that contrary to popular belief, intellectual Chinese people have no qualms about talking politics. Another major discovery I had was that academics are cool. It's where the young people are and it where the interesting progress is happening. I'm not sure why this surprised me, because America is similar in this respect, but I always sort of had a tendency to think that academia is stuffy and snobby. It's part of the reason why I never had the urge to immediately enter graduate school. But in this country where so many people don't even make it into high school, college students clearly have an advantage for understanding the global zeitgeist, and they were crowd with which I felt most comfortable and welcomed.

Overall my experience was surprising, interesting, and challenging. I am really thankful to my organization for accepting me into their group and having me work alongside. I feel that a position at another NGO is not in my immediate future, but they have successfully launched me on a good trajectory, and I am looking forward to new employment in a similar vein. Maybe getting a job that actually pays me money will put my work into a more positive light? We shall see! I am fast in pursuit of a new job, and hopefully I will be able to answer that question very soon!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

June in Kunming

I am 22 years old right now, and have spent almost as many years in public school, and I am obsessed with the month of June. These two things are no doubt related--after years of pavlovian training that June = Summer Vacation, I simply had no choice in the matter. 

And here we are again, June. I have been waiting for you.  June means that it is still warm and light outside even well into the evening. It means swimming in the lake. It means sleeping with just a sheet on and with the windows open, and taking cold showers.  

June is usually the month when I quit my job and leave where ever I happen to be staying to go to the mystical OUTDOORS. Ah yes, you might have heard of it. It is everything which is the opposite of being indoors: cramped spaces, stuffy air, computer screens, beeping electronics-- none of these things are allowed during the month of June. They are all replaced with the warm smell of hot dirt and pine needles, big mouthfuls of tart lemonade, and the sounds of a choruses of buzzing bees.  

I remember this time last year I was cruising down Highway 101 heading north with my family, looking out of the open backseat window of our car and over the ocean, feeling the cool coastal air. My silly family--we just drove and drove and drove until we decided to head home. 

This June, I will be much farther above sea level than I was last year. My Mom is going to brave the trip to come see me here in Yunnan, and we are going to have a look around down here. We will do some hiking in Dali, lounge for a few days in Lijiang, and check out Lugu Lake where the mysterious Lugu people live. Think Chinese cottage towns with criss-crossing cobblestoned alleyways, and great green plains where livestock graze underneath towering mountains peaks. Mostly I am excited to be with my mom, and for us to just wander around out there together. We will have a lot of time to spend taking rides on the slow train to remote locations, sitting around in tea houses eating sunflower seeds, and seeing the sights. We can enjoy the sun again, and be free. 

Now that I am graduating, I suspect that me continuing to asking for June off into my professional life will not be as socially acceptable. I've been applying for what have been known to me in college as "real jobs." But seeing as I am unemployed for the time being, I will continue to indulge myself, if not at least for just one last time, in June.

Friday, May 30, 2014

5 really cool things I bought in China

When I came to China, I had a really lengthy shopping list of things like custom made qipao dress, majiang set, tea set, etc. It turned out that these things are all either very expensive or very heavy. Also it is reasonable to accuse me of being a cheapskate. But for one reason or another I just didn't get to everything on my list.

But I did get some other unique items for not too expensive either, I thought I could share.

1. Fengyoujing 风油精 This small glass bottle contains a bright green, oily liquid inside, and which has a very pungent menthol scent to it. It is very effective for relieving the itching of a mosquito bite. This stuff is a god send if you get bitten a lot like me.

2. The sparkliest nail polish I've ever encountered and some neat nail polish remover sheets. Would you just look at this nail polish! It was only 10 yuan and was of pretty decent quality. The nail polish remover sheets are really great too, which smell like blueberry and claim to be organic.

3. A Chinese medicine scraping tool made out of ox horn. I originally purchased this as just sort of a novelty trinket. It is very pretty, but I never expected to actually use it. One day I picked it up and tested skin scraping out, I found that it actually feels fantastic, and does improve you skin! I have used it similar to a skin brush, scraping in long broad strokes, but I know that shorter, more intense strokes can also be done near strategic accupoints to relieve sickness. The pointed end can also be used to stimulate accupoints throughout the body for good health. I probably should have stayed away from the animal products, but I thought, what the heck. This was about 30 yuan.

4. This sweet ball cap. Just look at it! 15 yuan!

5. THIS BASKET. This basket is definitely at the top of my list. For one it is absolutely beautiful. And two, it is totally functional. I could probably fit about 20 pounds of stuff in there! I take it with me to the vegetable market, and all the sellers comment on how pretty it is, and how good it is to carry. So what if you have to make wide turns with it?!
It was about 45 yuan, about $8 USD. Don't ask me how I am going to fit it in my suitcase, but by george I'm taking it with me.

So there you have it, my top six purchase in China! Thanks for reading everyone, see you next time 下次再会~

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How to buy a plane ticket.

When the time rolled around for me to purchase a plane ticket to China, I had no idea where to begin. Now I feel sort of qualified to tell you about my experiences, and hopefully it can help you out.

The first time I came over, I felt overwhelmed and didn't know where to start. So many online travel sites! So I just had someone else do it! Travel agents can come in handy in this respect, because they do all the footwork for you. It was such a weight off of my shoulders to have someone just handle it for me. Travel agents in the US have been somewhat outmoded, but there are still some hiding out in the woodwork in the U.S. See if your more experienced friends (read: seniors) can recommend a travel agent to you, or just do an online search. Contrary to what I originally thought, travel agents get paid by their airline partners and do not charge you any cost for the tickets.

If you are feeling brave enough, you can try online airfare sites. I discovered that they were extremely easy and convenient to navigate. Most major travel sites directly link to each others' prices when you search for airfare. All the prices are provided right in one place, cutting down on the hassle of going to each sight individually. Most sites also had very similar prices, and a direct flight on any given day would only vary by a few dollars or so, so don't feel like you have to look at every travel site on the internet. When viewing ticket prices, make sure to note if the price includes tax or not.

This time around, I purchased my flight about 8 weeks ahead of my departure date from, and I felt like that I got a pretty good deal on a one way ticket (about $600 for a one way flight plus taxes, totaling about $850). Start monitoring websites about 10 weeks ahead of time, and just do a quick search once a day. When I was looking recently, prices started at about $1200 (tax included), but eventually came down to something more reasonable. Round trip seemed to be much cheaper than buying one-ways, so if you know when you are coming back, definitely spring for the round trip. Also, be ready to purchase tickets when you see a good deal; there is no reason to wait and worry and wonder if a better deal will come.

That just about covers it for my tips. There are not a whole lot of info here, because purchasing a ticket was actually much less mysterious and difficult than I anticipated. Just watch, wait, and the price will come down. If the price is right, buy it and be on your way! Go check it out and see how easy it really is.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Yunbike is best bike, or a tale of two bicycles

In my crusade to make my life better and more exciting, I rented a bicycle. This was a GREAT idea. I rented it for one month from a bike shop in my neighborhood. Little did I know, this bike shop was magical.

So the boss rented me this great bike. They tuned it up all nice for me and gave me a helmet and a bike lock. It was pretty red and white, slightly flashy, definitely new-ish and rust-less, as opposed to ancient like most of the bikes people ride around here.

So I had this bike for a grand total of FOUR DAYS. I thought that bringing the bike up into my apartment building to the sixth floor and locking it to the fence would be plenty fine theft prevention. After all, its a pretty schmancy place, and I didn't think that anyone would take it. But lo and behold, I come out of my place on Thursday morning, to an empty fence with a cut lock on it. Who would do this!!

So I'm pretty bummed out, and I don't know what the heck I'm gonna tell the bike boss. I'm like turning this over in my mind, thinking of ways to turn the story to make it seem like its not my fault, thinking of how to argue my way out of paying for the bike, etc.

I head over to the shop the next day, fully prepared to have a chinese yelling match about not paying. I get there, sort of nervous, you know, and just lay it on him. "You're bike got stolen." -------

And the the boss just kind of looks at me, slightly bummed out, and basically just says, "oh, well."

And then, he invites me to go biking with them on Saturday. And I'm thinking, well you know, I don't have a bike anymore, so... And he says just says to go ahead and take the other rental bike. What!! This guy is the best ever!

So on top of having gone on the most epic bike trip that I have probably ever been on today, I also have a bike to ride for the next month! Totally excellent.

If anyone is coming to Kunming and looking to get hooked up with a bike and an awesome biking group, go to --->Yunbike<--- they are totally the bomb. Also if you are coming to Kunming and thinking about biking, it might be worth it to schlep along those U-locks you've got, apparently bike theft here is awful, ahem.