Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dian Fei (Electric Bill)

We got our electric bill paid right before the deadline. You know how each month you get a paper in the mail that tells you how much you owe? Not so in China! Here your bill is posted inside the elevator on a huge spreadsheet along with everyone else's in the building. Privacy? What's that!? It was interesting to see the contrast between us and them. They pretty much don't use electricity and we do. Our bill was 7 times what they owed!!! Most chinese don't have a fridge, toaster oven, heater, washing machine, computer or any of the "necessities" of westerners. We don't even use them that often! Except for the computers of course. I guess they don't use hot water for showers either. Anyway, I had no idea how to pay it. Others pay theirs at local banks but you have to have an account and a card and the machine that accepts your payment doesn't always work etc. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to this. Then, a few days before the due date, I saw our real estate agent at the bus stop and she agreed to help me on Monday. Monday morning, I came down the stairs to find our landlord waiting for me. She wanted to help me. She took me to get the account number and we set out. After walking about a mile, with her talking about how much our bill is, she stopped at a little post office booth on the back side of the local wal-mart. This is where you pay, she told me. I gave the woman my money, she gave me a reciept and as easy as that, we were done! Who knew you could post letters and pay bills all at the same place? Wonder what else you can do there.? It was so sweet of her to help us. She even took me to her apartment on our way back to get a phone number for me. I couldn't understand a lot of what she said, but I think the number was to a company that sells regulators for electricity so maybe we won't use so much next month. She's so thoughtful. She also lives up seven flights with no elevator and that day our elevator was out and we live on the tenth floor. But my hyperventilating is beside the point.

My Brain Runneth Over.

We have finished the first volume of our textbooks! 15 lessons in 13 days! Our brains have not exploded, which I find peculiar considering the 300 new vocabulary words, many of which are made of two or more characters. I am still amazed when I do my homework in characters. I look down at the writing and wonder how it got there. I asked a waitress last week what one of my sentences said and she read it, clear as day! She could read my writing! Amazing! Our teacher is very creative. Today she made an exercise for us with stickers. We had to paste the proper words to complete the dialogue. That is incredibly creative considering that school children don't play games, they are drilled and can sing complicated songs in other languages but not comprehend the meaning. Memorization is more important than comprehension and proper usage. To find a teacher like ours is rare here. We tell her often how much we enjoy her teaching. We are supposed to compose a paragraph describing our families to read aloud tomorrow. For Chinese that is easy, most only have their parents. I have three sisters and their families and Frank has five other siblings! This could take awhile. We also have to prepare for our review of the entire book which is in a few days. I guess I better put the blog down and pick up my book. We will let you know how it goes.

Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages
Dave Barry

There is the fear, common to all English-only speakers, that the chief purpose of foreign languages is to make fun of us. Otherwise, you know, why not just come out and say it?
Barbara Ehrenreich

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Day

We have recently been experiencing technical difficulty with our internet. That is why you have not heard from us. I didn't realize how much I rely on technology until it was gone. We were going crazy! I find that rather sad. The weather has changed here and when the sun doesn't come out, it affects our mood, mine especially. But, just when I think I would rather just curl up, the sun comes out and rejuvenates me. This morning after studying, I went grocery shopping. Equipped with my backpack and another bag inside it, I headed out. I usually end up taking the bus one stop more than I am supposed to because I haven't figured out which one goes where in this area. Sure enough, I had to walk a long way back for the little western store I frequent. I can get cheddar cheese, bagels, muffins, oatmeal and get this, Campbells soup!!! And it is about .50 per can! Tomorrow I am making chicken tetrazzini. That is so cool! After that with my backpack so full I could barely zip it, I headed to the real market. Oh yeah, I bought a huge stockpot too. Only one hand was free and I was already leaning backwards from the weight of the backpack. I found strawberries, raw peanuts, onions, bokchoy and napa cabbage. That filled the extra bag I brought. Then I had to carry it all the way home and up the first LONG flight of stairs. The elevator saved me the rest of the way. Doing this weekly has built up my strength quite a bit. Now I have a huge pot of peanuts boiling on the stove. Can you smell them? A little bit of the south here in the east! Frank had a guy fixing the internet here most of the day. He is really nice. It took about four hours to get everything set up, then he told us there was no charge. "We are friends", he said. WOW! He sat and talked for awhile, then came into the kitchen to see what I bought. Then he opened up the fridge and the freezer. He wanted to know what foreigners eat. I guess he was satisfied that we weren't too strange. So funny!