Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Chengde and random ramblings

left: temple in Chengde
right: Chengde street

I managed to erase my previous blog. I guess I really need to commit the Chinese characters for "delete" to memory.

This past weekend I took at trip up to Chengde, my former home here in China. I haven't been there in nearly 6 months and it's amazing how much has changed in that time period. The rate of change in this country is remarkable. There are high rises were there used to be a dusty soccer field. New businesses everywhere, but they have yet to open a McDonald's, all they have is a KFC.

Here's globalization at it's finest. The breakdown. . .pretty much every city has at least one KFC. I'm sure Beijing must have 50. McDonald's follows second in popularity, but just can't seem to overcome the colonel (strange, as the Chinese find finger-licking a disgusting habit). Next on the list is Pizza Hut. But you know if a city's really made it if it has a Starbucks. Beijing, of course, has plenty. There's one right across the street from my apartment building. You ask: Is it any cheaper in China? No, it is not. I don't know who these Chinese people are who can afford a $4 cup of coffee. If you consider the average wage a Chinese person makes, it probably equates to spending (what feels like) $30 on a cup of coffee.

But I've strayed from my original point. So back to it. . .Chengde. I guess I didn't really appreciate the place while I lived there. I didn't realize how fresh the air is and how uncrowded the streets are. The people seem friendly and I feel really important there. Any foreigner gets a little bit of a celebrity status when living in a small city like Chengde. There are so few foreigners there, some of the Chinese seem to view us as an exotic species of human. In Beijing I'm just another whitey. I don't get stared at. People don't scream "hello" as I walk by. The don't try to take pictures of me on the sly. I'm a nobody.

While I was in Chengde I got to see my good friend, Apple. Laugh if you want to, but considering some of the other English names people pick (Vegetable Bird, Green Lemon, Cobra-just to name a few), Apple isn't all that peculiar. The name has actually grew on me a bit. Anyways, I really feel bad for Apple. She's a super senior at the high school I used to work at. What do I mean by "super senior?" Well, for those of you who have never achieved super senior status, a super senior is anyone who has earned the title of senior for more that one consecutive academic year. Usually this occurs in college, but in China this phenomenon also occurs as early as high school. And it happens to a lot of really smart people, such as my friend.

The problem is that going to university in China comes down to three precious days at the end of your senior year of high school. These three days inspire fear in the hearts of almost all students and their parents. These three days are known as "The National Exam." How you do on this exam determines if and where you will go to University. If the desired results aren't achieved, then the student can choose to repeat his entire senior year over again and take the test again. This is what Apple has decided to do. So for the second year in a row she will spend nearly 14 hours a day, 6 days a week in a small classroom of 70 other students. Then, she'll get to go home and study for a few hours before going to sleep for 4 or 5 hours. Luckily, I was in Chengde on Sunday, the one day students have to rest. So I actually got to see Apple!

I also was able to see mama again. It was a lot more comfortable being in her home than her being in mine. I guess I'm just a crappy hostess. But anyone is more than welcome to come visit me. . .

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