Category Archives: UNC Xiamen

I Column Like I See ‘Em: The Last Mandated Tour, or, Thinking Deeply Without All The Facts Hurts Brains


“The city we are going to visit is poor because there are lots of private businesses there.”
Say what, Tour Guide? I took out my earbuds. Lost in translation?
“They don’t like to pay their taxes so the government is weak.”
Oh, nope. Just China being oxymoronic… like usual… hold on a second, I see what’s going on here…

Train of thought (Moral of Story: Don’t make rash assumptions, especially when sleepy): Greed is pervasive in Chinese culture, even though the Chinese insist that they’re community-oriented (haha oriented)… but, those two things don’t go together, so China’s a hypocrite? Will I only find peace in studying China when I affirm that I can’t understand it because its culture is in flux? Wait… are my standards for hypocrisy different than the Chinese standards? Is it okay for concepts that don’t mesh to exist side by side? How do I say ‘standards for appraisal’ again, 评价的标准,right?Man, these seats are uncomfortable… am I, am I listening to Bob Dylan? Or is that Britney Spears?


8 am is way too early to start blowing my mind.

The gaggle of groggy undergrads and myself had flung our appendages about the tour bus seats (themselves so mod they would not be out of place on the cover of a geometry textbook), readying ever so gradually for what would be a taxing day. Part of participating in the Xiamen Program, Professor Yue’s pet project, is paying homage to a plethora of historical places. On Saturday, this meant spending a workday’s worth of time taking in various Confucian temple museums and the creepy robe-clad mannequins within. We weren’t so thrilled about rising with the sun and proceeding to involuntarily immobilize within seat constraints; I’d still managed to get a workout alongside khaki-clad businessmen at the track beforehand, as I anticipated sitting for the better part of the day. Even so, our group tries to make the best of edifying experiences, though why students would ever want to learn, I don’t know.


“No way,” I gaped, pointing at the tower of graduated roofs. “There is no way that is real. It looks digitally enhanced.”

We stood at the base of a skyscraper of a pagoda. It juts out from the ground in waves of rock, its peak seemingly flush against the clouds. I’m usually appreciative of architecture, but not maniacally so (buildings are just inanimate collections of stuff—a bunch of atoms you can’t really interact with [unless you count vandalism, but I won’t {publically} condone that]) but I’d never seen a pagoda before, and I was more impressed with rocks than usual; Too big for my scope of vision, it required more than a good stare, or even a scan of the eyes, to comprehend. While our tour guide gave us a lecture, Professor Yue simultaneously gave his own bonus lecture. Meanwhile, I noticed an expanse of chains reminiscent of a ropes about a ship’s mast at the top of the pagoda—structural or aesthetic, I wasn’t sure. I asked about them in Chinese (dumbdumbdumb), to which I received an answer (as expected) in Chinese, and came away with no new knowledge other than how to say ‘chain.’ I remain yet suspended in my understanding of suspensions.

We then checked out a giant wall embossed with three-dimensional images of creatures. According to the tour guide (who we understood despite the Chinese explanation this time), the big image in the middle was of one of the sons of a dragon that gave birth to nine ‘different skinned’ (unlike) children. This one happened to be, I think, a unicorn—but all the Chinese mythological creatures look equally four-legged, scaled, and fire-breathing to me in their temporal depictions, so I’m not sure. On either side of the ‘unicorn’ were cranes and a special kind of tree (whose name I didn’t understand despite the English explanation), representing Taoism and Buddhism, respectively. When I asked then, for which sect exactly is this yard intended, the tour guide and Professor Yue explained that while the yard is primarily Buddhist, conflicting faiths and ideas intermingle in China (Okay! Score!). Buddhism isn’t Chinese in origin, so it’s had to integrate itself into the culture with the help of native adaptations. According to Professor Yue, the laymen’s version of Buddhism isn’t even pure Buddhism. When we visited the yard’s main temple, presided upon by a family of intimidating golden buddhas, Professor Yue told me that I was right in saying that the purpose of Buddhism was to let go of material attachment—which is why it’s ironic that people pray to a Buddha. As he would mention again at the Confucian temple, people need something to pray too (I disagree), or something to ground themselves (I find plausible). I then asked about the tiny green aberration of a monster (in Chinese again- I NEVER learn) that was peaking out from behind a Buddha. Though my first stab at understanding let me to believe it was a bodhisattva, I later realized that it was a Buddha’s personal steed. In any case, it was seriously deranged in appearance; I could only imagine riding one at a rodeo. That would be one exciting way to re-enter the cycle of rebirth.

After that, we played in the courtyard and took pictures with shocked Chinese children. It was here that I would make one of my worst puns to date.

“Hey Alex,” I started, as Janice, Jaydee and Keeli climbed the roots of a fichus to pose for a picture, “how many Asians fit in a fichus?”

“I don’t know, Hannah. Do I want to?”


I should have hung my head in shame, but Alex took it upon himself to complete that task for me.



We stared at the ground, ambivalent. At a point in the distant past, the entire dome of the mosque’s prayer hall had caved in, covering the ground in priceless relics. The keepers of the mosque decided to build a new prayer hall rather than clear the scene, and time had allowed the ground to reclaim the dome and cover it with a lush layer of grass and other weeds. “If you like treasure, you should dig here!” our tour guide joked lightheartedly. I hoped that there were no imams in earshot.

The mosque also had a mini-museum with various documents detailing the ‘pedigrees’ of some families and ‘genealogies’ of others. Racism, or unintentionally poor translation? I never asked.

Other exciting stops and the inside jokes that accompany them (this post is long enough already…)

STOP NUMBER FOUR: LUNCH AT THE BLUE NUN (or, The One Where Everetttook our pictures as we ate Buddha only knows what)

STOP NUMBER FIVE: THE CONFUCIAN TEMPLE (or, The One Where I made even more bad puns, just like everywhere else, and Professor Yue taught us that Confucius is prayed to as a god even though he tells people that he can only help people who help themselves)

STOP NUMBER SIX: THE MARITIME MUSEUM AND ISLAMIC CENTER (or, The One Where we, tired, expressed Zoolanderesque astonishment at the model boats [‘Let’s hire different engineers, these ships are too small, and hey! Why are they testing their ships in stagnant water? There’s no wind here!’ ‘This rock is the first and only rock used as a boat.’ etc.).

As we walked through the museum, I accidentally turned off the filter between my brain and mouth and started rambling inanely about my personal philosophies.

“My conscious is telling me that I should feel bad for generally not appreciating museums, but, people are too attached to attaching meaning to things. They should just accept that this stuff is just matter (oh boy materialism, here we go) doing nothing right now. I know that on a deeper level they’ve HAD meaning before, and in the context of human existence they’ve meant major turning points in innovation, but… I just don’t feel like appreciating them. I’m utilitarian. Is it wrong that I only attach meaning to things when they apply to my life and ungraciously deny meaning to things that don’t directly influence my existence or help me? Or…”

At this point, Rich stopped me (thankfully, ‘cuz I probably wouldn’t have stopped myself).

“Woman, you’re trippin’,” he said, “most people don’t think this much. It’s a rock. A ROCK. Maybe you should just recognize that these stones and ship models are kind of boring and move on. Stop analyzing. Take a nap or start making sense.”

I was struggling to isolate my conscious from my ego while simultaneously trying to find meaning in the fact that I wasn’t finding meaning. Rich is right: no way these models, or anything really, deserve that much of my mind.

STOP NUMBER SEVEN: THE CONFUCIAN TOMBGARDEN er GRAVEYARD (there goes my English, oh dear) (or, The One With the yards that look like empty pools, replete with unused towels, and have really bad paint jobs; also, The One Where Rich decided that if when he becomes Ruler of the World, he will spend government money on creating a sculpture of a giant man on a horse with a raised hand to complement the one that exists on a hill at the cemetery, to represent The Most Epic High Five The World Has Ever Seen (‘Isn’t he just shielding his eyes from the sun?’ ‘NO IT’S A HIGH FIVE!’)



DIY Dorm Room Feng Shui


It is a truth commonly acknowledged that a student studying abroad is in want of cosmic help from even the most marginal of sources. I am one such academic in a far off locale, and my sentiments are consistent with the above. Being in East Asia brings with it a host of opportunities to ‘grasp at strands,’ or more likely ‘make poor attempts at picking up the last kernels of rice with one’s chopsticks,’ the most popular of which is known as 风水 (Fēngshuǐ).

According to the teaser website for Feng Shui for Dummies, the most advanced guide in which I should be dabbling, Feng Shui is an art concerned with manufactured direction of energy flow through a space. Most concisely, Feng Shui is “the simple interaction of humans and their environments.” Rather than hinder the flow of the natural world’s essences in inefficient layouts of one’s own choosing, one should attempt to revert the concrete world to a state as easily navigable for Energy, and indirectly for oneself, as possible- efficiency of movement is key. Therefore, if my roommate Keeli and I want to exploit the positive vibes inherent within the pocket of the Universe in which we currently reside, we have to keep our room in tip-top shape- which might explain the passing of a few situations as messy as our desks.

If Keeli and I were to construct our room in the fashion most advantageous for college students, our Student Feng Shui (学风水,xuefengshui) would go as follows:

1. Place fire hazards near hole in floor.

Reasoning: In the words of Rich Schmittgen, “In the event of flames, you can stomp the electronics through the floor, making them no longer your problem.”

2. Mirror Imaging.

The sun rises at 5:30 a.m., at which time so does a body that’s light-sensitive. In the event that neither you nor your roommate remembered to close the blinds the previous night, position all reflective surfaces in the room such that the first ray of light will bounce along a path that ends at your sleeping roommate’s face; consider the blinds closed.

3. Let the Clothes Line Chill Out.

Run a clothes line along the bottom edge of the 空调(air conditioner) in an attempt to dry clothing in less than three days. Make sure the clothes line parallels the same wall as the air conditioner, else you inadvertently create not only an energy-hindering room divider but a walking-hindering booby trap for tall friends.

4. Place kettle equidistant to our desks…

…thus minimizing the amount of time and space we each need to cover in order to acquire hot water and hence coffee.

5. Push beds together, and place in corner of room.

This decreases wasted space and, when one comes home after a late night of doing homework/crocheting/bocce/whatever the kids do these days, all a student needs to know is the general area of the room occupied by the bed and they have a pretty good chance of stumbling in the right direction. As the bed is larger than usual, and in the corner of the room, if they happen to just sort of jump towards that corner in the dark, there’s a smaller chance that they’ll miss the bed (but they might not miss the wall, or their roommate- Student Feng Shui is an imperfect science). Also, this layout promotes roommate bonding through cuddle time and girl talk which are both emotionally advantageous.

6. Exploit available energies by turning the curtain into a fort.

One person’s yard of light-reducing fabric is another’s ghost story habitat. While the pillars/rulers stuck to the floor with glue necessary to keep the curtain from falling back towards the floor are energy-path-hindering, the increased light energy flowing into the room (until it’s time for rest) and attracted energies of every student jonesin’ for storytime will increase the chance that some energy will reach the necessary regions of the room, albeit with some tension; for the sake of Student Feng Shui, it’s not always the specific energy’s path that matters, but sometimes the collection and homogeneous dispersion of energy throughout a space. Only invite cool people so you get quality energy over quantity energy, and also less particle overcrowding. Like all good sciences, Student Feng Shui accepts apparent truths i.e. things it can’t prove in total as basic laws. Totally unrelated: (thanks Kylstron).

7. Don’t play Chingy.

Bad music= bad emotions= bad energy. Don’t let this be you.

8. Place garbage can at roommate’s bedside, if giant bed plan is foregone.

Encourage a clean habitat through convenient receptacle placement.

8 is a lucky number and thus a good place to stop.