I left my suitcase in Beijing

Even though the semester just  started, I’m already looking at plane tickets to go to Beijing this summer or to visit Germany again. Don’t get me wrong – my semester has been going pretty well so far, and I like (almost) all of my classes. My favorite classes this semester are Immunology and German. My German teacher is an amiable British bloke whose jokes in German seem way funnier than in English, just because I can actually understand them, and so I laugh more heartily as a reward to myself and as a sign that I actually got the joke. Today in class he played a song by the famous actress Marlene Dietrich, who, along with many other artists, lived outside Germany during the Third Reich in voluntary exile in defiance and insistence that there was another Germany that existed during that time. She always had a love for the Germany of her youth, and eventually was buried in Berlin after living in Paris for most of her life.

In her deep, velvety voice, Dietrich sings metaphorically about a suitcase that she still has in Berlin (link to song here). Even though she enjoys life in Paris, Rome, and Vienna, she still has a suitcase full of the blissful times of the past waiting for her in Berlin. The song expresses a perfect nostalgia that does not necessarily neglect the happiness of the present, yet dreamily yearns to return to the pastThe song was absolutely mesmerizing, and a wave of nostalgia with a tinge of sadness hit me. The first wave was for Beijing, my second home, and then the second wave was for Stuttgart, which also occupies a special place in my heart after studying abroad there last summer. I began to think about my transitory dreams to travel back and pick up the suitcases that I’ve left around the world. Some people can’t understand why I have to retrieve them, especially if I’m enjoying my life here in the USA. But Marlene understands my nostalgia, or, rather, I can understand hers. Once you’ve traveled or lived abroad, you know the places where you’ve left suitcases, and the places that will always beckon you. The more I travel, the more I leave my “luggage” around the world. Who knows which suitcase I’ll find, re-open and add more memories to this year. 

Authentic Texan Experience

20171215_214540

After taking Erica to eat authentic Mexican food, we decided to give her an authentic Texan experience at the Fort Worth Stockyards Championship Rodeo. After eating delicious Texas barbecue, we made our way to the rodeo. During the patriotic intro with the song “I’m proud to be an American,” I couldn’t help but look over at Erica and feel a tinge of awkwardness as the whole arena sang, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” I did not have that same awkward feeling when I went to the rodeo a few years ago, before spending a semester in China. Travel sure has wrecked me from my nice happy, patriotic life. Now I over-analyze the patriotic songs I grew up singing, the size of our fridge, the number of cars we own, and the plastic cutlery we waste.  But it was fun watching Erica throughout the evening-I couldn’t help but think if she would also struggle singing Chinese patriotic songs after going back home.

1513434843945

Authentic Mexican Food

1513369075763

I took Erica home with me over the weekend after finals week to visit Texas and taste some authentic Mexican food. We went to the most hole-in-the-wall place we could think of –“Taqueria La Original.” The salsa there is spicier than most Americans can handle, the TV in the corner plays dramatic Spanish soap operas, and the street tacos don’t have any shredded cheese on top. So to me, it seemed pretty authentic, but to be honest, I’ve never been to Mexico, so I can’t say what authentic Mexican food is like. Although the large photographs of London that hung the walls made me doubt the “Mexican-ness” of the restaurant, it still is one of my favorite Mexican restaurants. It did make me wonder if my judgement of authenticity is actually accurate, especially considering that many cuisines have become a blend of many different cultures here in the melting pot of the United States. That’s probably why when people ask me to take them to a good American restaurant, I shrug, and take them to a Mexican restaurant instead.

Confucius Institute Day 2017

In October, OU’s South Oval swarmed with curious students carrying plates of traditional Chinese food, making their way through the various cultural booths during OU’s yearly Confucius Institute Day, the institute that allowed me to study abroad in Beijing for a semester. After grabbing some spicy pork and fried rice, I made my way through the booths, sampling Chinese tea, learning about traditional Chinese instruments, and practicing calligraphy. I joined a group of students practicing Chinese hacky sack (毽子) for a while, remembering the time I watched a group of older men in Beijing that were hacky sack masters. It was a nice break between Microbiology classes. Later, I ran into some of my international friends at the booths, and we took a break to grab a free snow cone–a first experience for them!

mmexport1513352080136

More sisters!

This semester as part of my participation in CESL (Center for English as a Second Language), I spent time with a group of students from China, including, of course, a weekly trip to Walmart in a car full of rapid-fire Chinese that was sometimes hard for me to keep up with.

chinese-car

A few weeks into the semester, they invited me over to their apartment for traditional Chinese food. For dessert, they topped cinnamon sugar toast with moose-tracks ice cream, an invented delicacy that seemed like an appropriate American conclusion to the Asian meal.

In exchange, I began to invite them over to my house on Monday nights for a home-cooked American meal and a window into my college life. I was surprised when they turned down the chopsticks that I offered and instead grabbed up a fork to eat the spaghetti I had made. “Forks are way more convenient!” they said, an honest confession to the superiority of Western cutlery. As we ate the simple American meal, we all reminisced over the delicious Chinese food at BNU’s cafeteria–凉面 liangmian, 包子 baozi, 火锅 hot pot, and 八宝粥 eight treasures porridge– admitting to the supremacy of Eastern cuisine. After dinner, Yedda gravitated toward my guitar, so I taught her a few chords and a basic song. Erica sat in our big velvet-green recliner and read Ovid for her classical mythology class. Wuyan pulled her Japanese textbook out of her bright yellow backpack and pored over Japanese. Jo chatted to her friends on WeChat while reading a book. I sat contented, studying Microbiology, enjoying the presence of my instant friends, in the back of my mind knowing that our time together would quickly come to an end.

During Monday of finals week, Erica told me (around 10 pm) that she just found out that it was Jo’s birthday. In the crazy hour that commenced, we pulled off a surprise birthday party, complete with snacks from the nearby 7-11, and a birthday card. I’ve begun to realize that nobody in Traditions locks their doors, because we all just walked right into her apartment, went to her room, and woke her up to wish her happy birthday!

midnight-birthday-party

A few days later, as we said our last tearful goodbyes, promising that we would see each other again in the future, I remembered my own goodbyes when I left Beijing 2 years ago after studying abroad at BNU for a semester. I remembered making the same moist-eyed promises to my Chinese family. I’m grateful that in the last two years I have had the opportunity to see some of them again in unexpected places — England, Poland, and California! Even though we will still stay in touch over WeChat, that evening I couldn’t help but look at flights to Beijing during spring break — a visit is way overdue!

Germany: Immigration and Integration

This semester I attended a lecture on the topic of immigration and integration in Germany.

It has taken Germany a long time to realize that it is built upon migration. One in every five Germans comes from a migrant background. Migrants make up more of its population than the USA. During the refugee crisis in the last 3 or so years, over 2 million people flocked to Germany from Arabic countries. At the peak, 12,000 people were arriving every day. Angela Merkel, Germany’s prime minister, decided not to close its borders, and as a result, the federal department that deals with immigration had a 50% increase in staff, but even still, takes months to settle cases.

Integration courses for language and orientation emerged to facilitate these refugees entrance into German society. Merkel said that integration is an expectation that refugees will learn German and abide by German laws. But the recent political climate is shifting against welcoming the refugees, mainly due to security concerns. The recent election has given rise to a new leftist party which maintains a stronger stance against the refugee influx.

As one who has been to Germany and witnessed the influx of refugees from Arabic and Farsi-speaking countries, I recognize that behind the large and looming numbers like “2 million refugees flooded into Germany,” and “6 month wait time for asylum status,” are real people with families back home and unpredictable futures. I admire Germany’s welcoming efforts to ensure that these people transition smoothly to the German way of life. I hope that Germany continues to keep its borders open and maintain its welcoming stance towards migrants.

Ich bin ein Berliner

Hallo aus Deutschland! I’ve been studying German here in Stuttgart the last 6 weeks, and it has been really ausgezeichnet. It’s very different from China, but I like it a lot. I wish I could stay longer – 6 weeks is so short! I decided to make a rough list of some of my favorite new foods. If you go to Germany, be sure to try them!

  1. Berliner — aka jelly doughnut. I had to look around to find one in memory of JFK’s famous blunder during his speech in Berlin when he said that he was a jelly doughnut instead of a Berliner (as in, someone from Berlin). They are lighter, fluffier, and not quite a sweet as American jelly doughnuts. I like them a lot more!
  2. Apfel Shorle — a magical bubbly apple drink. A German favorite, and now, one of my favorites. (side note–Germans LOVE sparkling water. I’m pretty sure they drink more sparkling water than regular water. I need mine to be apple flavored before I’ll drink it.)
  3. Muesli — my breakfast pretty much every morning. I love it — it’s a hearty, tasty granola, and flavors range from fruit and nut, to banana chocolate.
  4. Abendbrot — literally “evening-bread” which is a simple assortment of breads, meats, cheeses, cucumbers, tomatoes, and anything else. In Germany, you can have bread, meat, and cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  5. Peanut flips. Think cheeto puffs, but peanut butter flavored. So addictive.
  6. Döners — Turkish kebabs on every street corner. About the only place that’s open on Donnerstag (Sunday).
  7. Maultaschen (German dumplings) and Käsespätzle (German mac and cheese) and all other traditional Swäbisch foods, although food is a lot saltier here.

After being immersed in the food, language, and culture of Germany, I can echo JFK and say, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” or at least I’m on the way to becoming a Berliner. The more Berliners I eat, the more German I become.

The Little Yellow U Bahn

Having grown up in the largest city in the US without public transportation, I was intimidated by the transition to Stuttgart, Germany, a city where not using public transportation is like not having legs. But after adapting to the trains, downloading a transportation app, and sprinting to make my train more times than I can count, I have fallen in love with the little yellow U bahn where you get to mingle with local Germans going about their daily life. Sometimes to practice my German, I would comment to a friendly-looking older lady about the weather or something innocuous, and then see what would happen. Most of the time she would take the bait and launch into a long-winded monologue. I would just smile, nod, and remark as genuinely as possible, “Ja!” or “Das ist sehr interessant!” or “Naturlich!” even though I had no idea what she was talking about. It was always a little awkward when she finished and looked me expectantly, and then the conversation would just end with a half-hearted “Ja…” and then I would be relieved to find out that my train station was the next stop. If I didn’t make conversation, I would do some last-minute homework, or catch up on some reading. One time, I accidentally left my purse in the S bahn, and of course, I proceeded to call my bank and cancel all my credit cards. But less than an hour later, I received an email and Facebook message from my German hero who found it, turned it in, and told me exactly where he left it. The interactions I had with local Germans on the U bahn are definitely unforgettable.

20170606_145735

Wang Anyi — Newman Prize Winner for Chinese Literature

This semester I got to meet the famous Chinese writer, Wang Anyi, who came to OU to receive her award for the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. I went to a Chinese Salon conducted only in Chinese where a panel of top Chinese writers, thinkers and interpreters took questions about Chinese history and writing. I understood about 40%, but one point I did manage to grasp was that Wang Anyi is not just a skillful writer, but also a thinker. In her writings set during the Mao era in China, she skillfully captured fundamental themes such as love, family, revenge, and death, themes which do not change despite the tumultuous outward political environment.

After the salon, I got to take a photo with Wang Anyi, along with another Chinese girl I met who has the same Chinese name as me. I also had the opportunity to take a photo with a Peking University professor.

M&M — my two German conversation partners

Through the German Club at OU, I was connected with two girls from German (both with names beginning with M) to be my conversation partners. They both are Master’s students in petroleum engineering, and speak English fluently. I’ve only taken one semester of German, so the first meeting was mostly in English. I quickly realized that I was nowhere near a conversational level,  so instead they taught me some basic survival vocabulary as we sat outside Second Wind Cafe sipping our chai tea lattes. They helped me work on the German “r” sound as well as o, u, and a umlaut. I was happily surprised to realize that some of the sounds mimic Chinese letters, but then caught myself wanting to reply to German questions in Chinese. I will not be surprised if while in Germany this summer, I accidentally blurt out a few lines in Chinese. I’ve heard that it’s easier to learn a second language once you’ve learned one, but I think German is still pretty difficult, and nothing like Chinese at all. It’s going to be a challenging next few weeks studying abroad, but I look forward to being able to converse proficiently with M&M in German! I hope to meet up with them again in Germany and have a meeting in German instead of English.