Mahavira Hall

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What's Next

 Now that I've been back for about 3 weeks, China is starting to fade from my immediate thoughts and I'm focusing more on what's in front of me.  Its my first week back to medical school now, and I'm struggling a little as I remember all that I've forgotten in the past year.  I've already got loads to learn and study and I need to start investigating residency programs to apply to in the coming months.  

 At the same time, I'm trying to wrap up a few of my projects from last year; one of my papers came back from the journal reviewers yesterday, and I have some work to do on it.  Another one is almost ready for submission - so I'm not quite done with my China work yet, but it will be much more diluted now as I move on to other things.  I'd like to thank the Fogarty for giving me this wonderful opportunity to live and learn in China this past year.

 I miss some of my friends and acquaintances from China, but I'm also glad to be back and moving on with my life and career.  Its exciting to be on the cusp of committing myself to a specialty and deciding where I will get my practical training!  I am ever so glad I took a year off and feel that I learned valuable skills and truths while abroad, but I am also happy to be back at home and moving on into such exciting things!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chinese Apartments

Adam, Alison, and I all managed to pick up quite a few Chinese souvenirs during our year there, many of them apartment oriented.  Adam mentioned to me last week that his apartment looks very Chinese, and I imagine with several wall hangings, a Xinjiang rug, pillow covers, etc, that it at least reminds them of their time there!  I also have quite a few things up in my new apartment that remind me of my last year, which is fun.  Its a nice way to integrate my recent experience into my everyday life now.  And I live in a 2-story condo instead of on the 19th floor of a huge building!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reverse Culture Shock

Overall, reverse culture shock wasn't nearly so bad as people make it out to be.  Maybe I wasn't in China long enough, or I hadn't truly integrated into the culture enough, but I haven't found most things all that 'different' or strange about American cities and living.  A few things I have noticed include:
-the blue sky.  its amazing, and so sad that its so polluted in China that many Chinese people don't know it can make a day beautiful
-lack of people.  especially in stores - the grocery store in Beijing is CRAZY with salespeople yelling, people jostling carts and bags, kids pooping, etc…I went to Meijers with my mom and sister and felt a little insecure the aisles were so big and empty!
- sky-high prices.  I was expecting this, but it kills me that I can't spent less than the equivalent of 100 RMB for dinner at a medium-cheap place here.  for the first few weeks I kept thinking of how much money I was spending…its gotten better though.
-my stomach.  My stomach actually didn't like being at home for a few days - I guess I got more used to Chinese food than I thought! (or maybe French food I guess…)
riot of readable signage.  i've gotten used to blissfully walking by most storefronts, ads, billboards, roadsigns, without having the faintest idea what they say - for a few days it was information overload when I got back.

And that's about it - after being back in the US for about 3 weeks, I've mostly stopped noticing things, although I still occasionally wince when buying things.  My utilities for my first month will likely be more than they were for my whole stay in China - I paid $100 for 10 months of gas, water, and electricity - crazy!  And there are so many nice things about being home - seeing loved ones, being back in familiar places, short travel times between things in the city, and being understood in stores and offices.  I feel so lucky now when I go into an office or a store and I am helped immediately, with little to no misunderstanding, but only if I initiate contact, without any pushiness!  Amazing!  

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chicago to Lexington

My last spoken Chinese was not actually in China, but in the Chicago airport.  There was a family of Chinese from my plane who really could not figure out where to go to make their connecting flight, and I was able to tell them to get on the inter-terminal train, and then when to get off.  I'm sure it was pidgin Chinese but it worked!  And that is probably the last time i'll say anything informative to anyone in Chinese!

I actually had an 8-hour layover in Chicago, so I went into town to meet up with some of my friends from med school who are just starting residency programs there.  My experience on the metro was enlightening…no one talked…there were TONS of empty seats…there was blue sky outside…and english road signs.  Incredible!  I had a fantastic lunch with Kara and Marlon and headed back to the airport to make my flight to Lexington.  And who should meet me there but my entire family with flowers and a balloon!  Even my brother came into town as a surprise that night from Virginia, where he lives, and my grandparents arrived the next day.  It was nice to see everyone again and helped me gloss over the culture shock since I basically spent the first week at home with close relatives.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Trip Back

Unfortunately due to the scholarship having paid for my original plane ticket, I had to fly back to China before leaving for the US.  I left France on June 14th, arrived back in China the 15th, and left again for the US on the 16th!  Craziness!  I arrived back at my apartment in Beijing around 12 noon on the 15th, and after sweating through my clothes on the short walk from the bus stop to my apartment, was glad that I will not be around for the worst of the humid Beijing summer!  I got dumplings from my local dumpling shop for lunch, and spent the afternoon cleaning my apartment and repacking my stuff.

In the late afternoon, I headed over to the massage place I had previously been to with my friend Hao and got a full body massage as a late birthday present to myself.  It was fantastic and I know I won't be having any $24-1hour massages anytime soon!  After that, I met Hao and Unench, another friend from lab, at a ramen noodle restaurant for dinner, followed by a dessert place.  It was a great opportunity to see the best of my Chinese friends and have some of my favorite food for the last time before leaving.  It was pouring down rain all evening, again, I don't think I'm missing much in Beijing in the summer!

The next day, I crawled out of bed at 3 am and did a last check around the apartment before my landlord came to take me and my stuff to the airport.  It was super nice of him to do that, and he gave me back my deposit at the same time.  (In Chinese yuan, which I thought would be a problem, but turns out you can deposit RMB in a Bank of America checking account for no fee, woohoo!).  I was at the airport a little early but managed to use one of the scales and get all my suitcases to be the proper weight before checking in.  And then I slept the entire flight to Chicago!


After leaving China at the end of May, I actually headed to Europe to spend some time with my boyfriend, Max, before going back home to the States.  He has an excellent post on our vacation on his blog, including video slideshow of panoramic pictures that we took while we were there: Unfortunately, the text is in French, but the pictures should speak for themselves!

 Overall, our vacation was fantastic, and it was a good way to transition away from China without too much of a shock when I finally did arrive home, since France/Corsica is still a foreign country where things are different than at home, albeit much more familiar to me than China.  Corsica is absolutely beautiful, with towering mountain peaks in the center of the island, and dazzling golden beaches outlining sparkling blue and turquoise water on the edges.  We did a lot of hiking to see waterfalls and rock formations, lazed around on the beach and by the pool, and had fun camping in Max's parents' old tent (which was surprisingly still waterproof, as we found out the day it poured!).   I enjoyed Max's cooking and the fact that I wasn't worried about getting sick after eating every meal!  The skies were fantastically blue and the air was so clean, I was in heaven.  

Do check out Max's blog for pictures if you like!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Goodbye China

The goodbyes started several weeks ago actually, as Ben, one of the medical students in Beijing for the year on a scholarship similar to mine, left right before we left for Portugal.  He celebrated his departure in a typical Chinese way, by going with his friends for kareoke, or 'KTV' as it is called here.  Chinese people LOVE kareoke, and it is even included in some more official business meeting dinners, with kareoke after dinner to let everyone have some fun and break the ice.  I had participated in one kareoke sesson in southern China when I went on a site visit with Adam and Dr. Qiao, but I had never been with my friends.  Instead of singing in a bar in front of strangers, in China you rent a room by the hour and then just sing with people you know!  There is generally still quite a bit of beer involved to get everyone loosened up to sing, but I thought it was much less stressful to be just around my friends instead of random strangers.

Ben, Alison, Adam, Esther, and a friend of Ben's

Adam and Alison singing one of their favorite songs ;)

The next goodbye was the banquet the office threw for us this past Thursday night.  We were told it would be a 'picnic' in the park, but it was actually a buffet dinner at a restaurant in the park, complete with certificate presentations, short thank-you speeches by Adam and I, and toasting.  Adam and I went around to every table with our drinks (in my case, peach juice) and toasted the people there to show our appreciation for their hospitality and help this year.  The food was not-so-good, but it was very nice of them to show us off like this.  Everyone took loads of pictures:

Adam and I with Shangying and Li Rong, our Fogarty twins, and Dr. Zhao, our cervical cancer mentor

Adam and I with Shaoming Wang, next year's Fogarty, and Hao, last year's Fogarty

Some students from our 6th floor office

The central guy is Unench, one of our better friends from the office

Everyone eating and making toasts

Dr. Qiao with us

After the picnic, the rest of the Fogarty folks got together for dinner and smoothies as we are all leaving China around the same time.  We are all heading back to different medical schools and probably won't see each other much after this, so it was a little sad.

The next day was my last day in the office, and I spent much of the day running around delivering goodbye gifts and saying goodbyes to people.  In China, you give a gift when you leave, and your closer friends will give you a parting gift back.  I got a set of really nice scrolls to go on the wall, along with some other 'schotsky' as Adam would say - things that sit around and collect dust, but were super nice of them to give.  After all the gifts were passed out and Adam  had left for the day due to having nothing to do, it felt weird in the office - no one wanted to work like normal, since it wasn't normal, exactly, but it was hard to know what to do otherwise.  One of the students, Luliang, solved the problem by breaking out his guitar and we had a minor jam session in the office.  We carefully kept the door shut in case any of the teachers from down the hall should wander down, and enjoyed ourselves.  Luliang played several Chinese songs, and then he asked me to play one - turns out Chinese students know 'Take Me home, Country Roads' just as well as American students!  I love singing and listening to others play the guitar and sing, and somehow this ended my last day at work on a good note.  Somehow the music expressed my mixed feelings of sadness and excitement about leaving, and I feel like all of us kind of connected with those feelings and each other through the music.

Sun Huikui showing off his new Western bandanas

Lu Liang playing the guitar