Thursday, September 29, 2011

District Conference

Memo to self: never confirm the content of a future blog post - it means you then have to write the post.  Actually, I suppose in this case it's a good thing, because I want to record some of my thoughts about district conference before they turn into fleeting, half-forgotten dreams.

District conference was the weekend before last in Shanghai.  We took the bullet train out to Shanghai on Saturday morning.  You need a passport or a copy of a passport to buy a train ticket in China, but my passport was at the immigration bureau awaiting my student visa, and I didn't have a copy of it on me.  Problem.  I decided to get up early and go to the bureau to get my passport before going to the train station.  I got there at 8:30, only to discover that it didn't open until 9, and my train was leaving from the other side of town at 10 and I hadn't bought a ticket yet.  So I nonchalantly got breakfast and reasoned that there would be plenty of time to get to the station after I got my passport back.  Right.  At 10 to 9, the guard opened the door, but there weren't any attendants at the counters.  Just before 9, some attendants started opening their stations, but apparently the worker with the keys to unlock the room where they keep passports hadn't arrived, so I was forced to wait.  And wait.  Finally, they called him and he came running in at 9:15.  At approximately 9:17, I had my passport and ran out to catch a taxi.  From there, it took 15-20 minutes to get to the station.  Meanwhile, the other guys had bought a ticket for me (they told the agent my passport number).  Once at the station, I had plenty of time before the train left, but it was nevertheless an Eye of the Tiger music racing through my head experience, adrenaline pumping.

On the train, four of us played Ticket to Ride on my iPad (appropriate, no?); the bullet train is nearly as comfortable as those in Japan, and we were only in economy class.  There are four or six seats around a table, and nice big windows affording views of the countryside (in our case, coal plants and factories with the occasional rice paddies).  From there, Jonathan, Chandler, Josef and I went to go check in to the hotel that Jonathan had booked.  There were two twin beds in a tiny room, so I decided we should push them together and three of us could sleep on them and one of us on the floor on the two comforters.  We started a game of Monopoly, having little time before the leadership meeting, and then Jonathan and I left for the meeting.  Four of us were there - Jonathan, Nathan (clerk), Ben (executive secretary), and me.  Elder Sam Wong of the Seventy from Hong Kong was presiding.  Nathan and Jonathan and I were sitting together, Nathan on my right and Jonathan on my left, and Elder Wong noticed us and that we were from BYU.  He asked us a question during the meeting, and then he called on Nathan to bear his testimony at the end.  Nathan has a beaming, angelic face, and he's one of the married BYU students here on Flagship, so it made sense.

Following that, we went to dinner and then had the adult session.  It was mostly focused on families and keeping our families strong in the gospel while in China/as the world becomes more opposed to family values.  My only comment here is that Elder Wong called on Jonathan out of the blue to bear his testimony on finding an eternal companion!  He usually cracks jokes and says outrageous things, so all of us were expecting a spectacle, but he gave a very nice testimony.

After the meeting, Joel introduced us to the wife of the Shanghai Consulate General, who his family knew in Beijing.  She said she had heard our accommodations weren't the best, and we were welcome to stay with her.  So we got her address and phone number.  Right after that, we all decided to go to Cold Stone in downtown Shanghai, not having had good ice cream for at least a month.  By this point, it was after 9:15 pm, and Cold Stone closed at 10, so we all ran to the subway station.  At the stop, no one could quite remember which subway exit to take to get to the mall where Cold Stone was, so we all ran around like mad in our white shirts and ties in the Shanghai subway.  I felt like I was in the Adjustment Bureau or the Matrix, all these white guys dressed up running through the metro.  We got to Cold Stone just as they closed, sadly, so we ended up getting smoothies across the street.

After that, it was around 11, and our stuff was still at the hotel, which we hadn't checked out of.  So we took the subway back, got our stuff, and then took a taxi for 35 minutes to where the Griffiths lived.  It ended up being worth the hassle.  They have the entire 33rd floor of a downtown Shanghai apartment building to themselves, two apartments combined into one, with incredible views of the city, and it's a full service apartment (basically there are maids to change the sheets and empty the trash and clean every day like in a hotel).  We stayed the night in their guest wing, complete with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.  I about died when I saw the bathroom - it was almost the size of some of our apartments in Nanjing, and so nice I would take it over my apartment.  Showering was heaven, as was the bed.  All of us agreed the next day it was the best night's sleep we'd had since coming to China.  The best part, though, was having fresh baked bread and apple walnut muffins, zucchini bread, and banana bread for breakfast.  So good!  My breakfast here usually consists of nothing, occasionally with a sesame bun or fritter I buy on my way to school.

Conference on Sunday was also really good.  In the general session, Elder Wong asked me to bear my testimony (three for three of the guys he noticed at the leadership session)!  I was slightly nervous speaking in front of several hundred people, but it went fine.  Afterwards, we had a single adult luncheon and a fireside for the young single adults in the district.  I met a couple of Russian girls and enjoyed talking to them during lunch, although the one I was more interested in already has her master's degree and has been working for a few years at least, so she's probably not interested in me.  Oh well.

Best part of coming back to Nanjing: stepping off the train and feeling a rush of cool, crisp air!  Fall is officially here. :)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Neighbor update

Funny story:

So when I first moved in my neighbors gave me their internet password.  Then they changed it, so I went over and asked for the new one, and they gave it to me and didn't let me pay them for using their internet.  A week ago, however, right before district conference, I discovered that I couldn't use their internet once again.  So I chalked my neighborly overtures up as failures and decided to get my own internet.  My roommate moved in a few days later, and we went to a few telecom places.  It turns out the cheap internet company doesn't come to our building, and the other one only sets up year contracts, the cheapest of which would have been 1500 kuai (about $250), compared to 120 kuai for three months with the other company.

At that point, I decided not to get internet unless something else turned up.  That night, my roommate discovered that there are three unprotected wifi signals that he can use with his computer.  I had tried them already without success, but it turns out you need a Windows computer to use them.  So he's happily online and I am left with a useless Apple.  Frustrating.  I decided to not get internet, since at least he can get online at home and I can make do with the internet at school without forking over the cash.

Then tonight, while walking home, I ran into one of our neighbors from below.  He said, "Sorry about our internet lately - our router broke and we just got it fixed.  Here's the new password," and gave me their new password.  I felt bad at having assumed the worst of my neighbors...but now I can go online again!  And thus (hopefully) ends the saga of Ian's internet woes in Nanjing.

A few random observations about life in Nanjing/China

Food is everywhere!  I haven't gotten tired of it yet, although I can foresee the time I might get tired of rice, noodles, dumplings, tofu, vegetables, and meat with lots of bones.  Anyway, there are little places on every corner, and most of it is very cheap.  Lunch here usually runs from 5 to 12 kuai (under a dollar to almost 2), and dinner maybe a little more expensive depending on where we go.  I haven't cooked a single meal here yet, and it really would be more expensive and more hassle to do so, although perhaps healthier.  Also, I am going to turn into a really impatient diner here.  Food often comes within a few minutes of ordering, especially ordering one dish at lunch.  We went to a place that had pizza and pasta a few nights ago, and waiting 25 minutes nearly drove me insane!

I like my roommate a lot.  His name is Xin Qiang, and he's from Dalian, a city on China's northeastern coast.  He studied law for his undergrad, and now he's doing a master's degree in translation.  We stayed up late playing card games a few nights ago; he taught me some Chinese card games, all of which use jokers, apparently.  And in Chinese, you call all card games 'poker games', so I thought we were going to play poker at first, and then he was like, "This is how you play this kind of poker!" and I realized he just meant a card game.  He's really extroverted for a Chinese guy, and we talk a lot.

I don't think I've blogged about district conference yet.  Have I?  I'm typing this on my iPad right now, because I don't have Internet (another story; my neighbors changed their Internet password again, I'll have to go back and offer to pay a month or two for them, I guess, because otherwise I'll have to sign up for a year contract and waste a lot of money).  Anyway, on the way back from district conference, a few of us ran across a Chinese doctor in the train station and talked to him for a while.  He got his medical degree from Beijing University and then spent five years at Dartmouth doing research.  He worked in Boston and lived in the US for 25 years.  Anyway, he gave us his card and told us about a medical conference in Suzhou on Tuesday.  One of the Flagship guys, Seth, is going to med school for neuroscience, so we gave him the doctor's card and he left the day after we got back to attend this conference and make contacts.  While he attended, there was a presentation on intellectual property and biotech patents by a lawyer from a prestigious law firm in Beijing, so he went to that and got his card, which he gave to me when he got back.  Tortuous method of getting someone's card, no?  Anyway, I emailed him on Friday with my resume asking him if there was any chance of an internship at his law firm next spring, and he emailed me back the next day saying of course and that he wants to meet me when he's in Nanjing next week and that we'll discuss details then!  Score!  I still need to research his firm a little more and maybe hold off on deciding, but for now this looks very promising.  He's the senior partner and has represented Google and other well-known companies before the Supreme People's Court of China!

Five of us went to Xuanwu Lake for the afternoon last week.  It was probably the most beautiful day of the year, and we decided on a whim to rent a boat for an hour.  We didn't fit in the four-person paddle boat, so we got a motor boat instead.  I say motor boat, but it was about the slowest, most pitiably weak excuse for a motor boat I've ever ridden in.  Still, we had fun.  We pretended to ourselves not to know Chinese and proceeded to boat under some bridges we weren't allowed under.  After the first one, I got on the roof of the boat and sat there for a while.  We crossed under another bridge and some girls waved and took pictures of the crazy foreigner!  I wanted to shout my email address or phone number at them so they could send me the pictures, but didn't.  They wouldn't have heard clearly anyway...

My roommate is now looking up movies online of different accents in English and making me mimic them - why did I get a translation major as my roommate?!  :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The week in review

This week has been both better and worse than I expected.  As far as studying goes, finding classes has been slightly frustrating – the second-year law classes I was going to were all really boring except for one, and it turned out to have too many prerequisites for me to hold my own in the class, even though it was really interesting.  Oh well – now I’m looking at first year law classes and some international relations and higher education research classes, so we’ll see how that goes.  Flagship classes have been good – a bit slow, but I think they will help me improve my Chinese.  The media class is especially interesting, because I’ve never really paid much attention to the structural foundation of Chinese media and its relation to society.

Apart from study, life is great!  I feel acclimated to Nanjing, and everything has gone pretty well.  I’m using my downstairs neighbors’ wireless Internet connection – they’re Nanjing Daxue students too, and they gave me their password when I first moved in.  Funny story: they changed the password over the weekend, but I didn’t want to set up my own connection, because I’m only going to be here for a few months and the cheap Internet service here doesn’t come to my building, so I decided to offer to pay part of their monthly fee to keep using theirs.  I went over a couple nights ago and hung out with them for half an hour, watching them play Starcraft and making small talk.  Finally, right as I left I brought up the Internet, and they agreed to let me use it and didn’t even let me pay them!  I felt very Chinese, not mentioning the real purpose of my visit until the very end and doing everything the guanxi way.  Basically, they circle around issues and don’t mention them directly unless absolutely necessary.  I need to invite them over or give them a gift or something, though, because I am definitely in their debt right now.

The roommate I found told me his family opposed him living with me, so I’m back at square one now, even though we were supposed to have found our roommates by today.  Oh well – I’ll call the other guys I met with again and work something out.  Once that’s settled, I’ll feel a lot better about everything.

I love the crowds of people!  I always felt like Provo was empty, but here there are people everywhere.  Joel and I went to Xuanwu Lake on Sunday and walked around it, and there were throngs of people everywhere we looked.  This good-looking girl was sitting on a bench and taking pictures of herself as we walked up to her, making flirty eyes at me in between shots.  We came up to her, and I asked if she wanted me to take a picture of her, which she did, but then she got what she really wanted, which was a picture of me and her together.  I fell right in her trap.  At least it was a fairly innocuous one!

We have district conference in Shanghai this weekend.  I’m really excited – I’ve flown through Shanghai, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually been.  More on that when I get back.

Monday, September 5, 2011

VPN To The Rescue!

I'm sitting in my apartment typing a blog post!

I met my downstairs neighbors two days ago, and got to know them while helping them stuff dumplings. When I left, they gave me their Internet password! Rich American guy bumming Internet off of Chinese students...nice. Just kidding, they're rich by Chinese standards or they wouldn't live below me.

Then I just downloaded a VPN app for my iPad. It lets me access the Internet as if I'm in the States, hence this post.

Technology is a wonderful thing!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

School? Bring it on...

So they want us to take master's courses here, because they're easier than the undergrad courses, which usually have midterms and other assignments, whereas the master's courses only have final exams/papers to deal with.  Master's classes started last week, so I went to a few law classes to check them out.  We have until the end of September to officially decide which classes we're taking.

About half of the classes didn't happen - apparently the first day of class is pretty unimportant here - so I'll see about those this week, but the ones that I did attend were a mixed bag.  Financial law was understandable but a bit boring, intellectual property was in a huge classroom and I could only make out about half of what the professor said, and comparative constitutional law was fantastic.  I'll probably stick with it, though it's going to be a lot of work.  It's a second year master's law class, and they all took US constitutional law last semester, so they're familiar with that already.  This semester is research into French, German, and British constitutional law and their differences with Chinese law.  The professor is great, though, and the class is 50% participation and 50% the final paper.  There are only about 10 people in the class, so I'll get lots of discussion experience.  We'll see how it goes this Tuesday.

I'm probably only going to take one law class this semester.  They're a lot of work, and we have an advanced written Chinese class, a Chinese media class, and a grammar class that everyone in the program has to take.  For my other elective, I'm going to try out several other classes this week, one a higher education research class and maybe some poly-sci and econ classes.  On top of classes, we have service hours to do and reports to write every week, and we have to do 5 hours of tutoring each week with our live-in tutor roommates.  So here I was thinking I had escaped the BYU flagship workload, and it turns out that it's the same here.  At least I won't be practicing 25 hours a week on top of that!

I haven't found a roommate yet.  I met with both of the people they gave me to select from in the last week, and they were both pretty good, but not really what I want.  The first is a third-year law student from a tiny little village in Henan.  He would be a good tutor, but he's doing an internship this semester that has him working from 7 am to after 6 or 7 every day, so tutoring wouldn't be very convenient.  And he really has no interests besides law.  The second is a philosophy student who also plays the piano pretty well - they figured we would get along well, I guess.  The plus for him is that he's more interesting and we would have more to talk about.  He's not very outgoing, though, and he might have an internship and classes this semester, so he's not entirely sure it will work out.  The search continues.

Well, I'm more familiar with Nanjing than I was a week ago - I've been on the subway three times and bought a bike a few days ago.  Yesterday I went to a big furniture mall to look for a couple of ottomans or beanbag chairs for people to sit on in my living room.  I had heard this place had a huge selection and range of prices.  I was slightly deceived, however.  Picture the nicest furniture store you've ever been to.  Now make it even pricier.  Now imagine two shopping malls full of hundreds of stores just like that one.  That's basically what Hongxing furniture mall was like.  This place went on forever, and every store looked like some movie star or royalty's fashion guru personally designed it.  The prices were outrageous; after walking around for an hour I had only found three places that even sold anything like what I was looking for, and their beanbag chairs were over 600 kuai (100 dollars), more than a nice couch at IKEA here!  Needless to say, I didn't buy anything.  But I might go again just to gawk at the furniture and pretend I'm filthy rich.

Church this morning was really inspiring.  I love bearing my testimony and hearing others bear theirs, and that was exactly what I needed today.  I've been feeling a little low spiritually since I got here, but church was a helpful boost.  We have a gospel principles class in Chinese, which helped me feel like I was back on the mission, and priesthood with everyone in flagship was nice.  Even though I've had classes with them for a whole year, I've never really seen them completely as they are.  Being in the same priesthood quorum will be a great experience.

Flagship classes start tomorrow morning; wish me luck with all of my homework and finding a roommate!  I'll need it.  I can't believe I'm putting myself through more school...