Saturday, February 9, 2008

xin nian kuai le!

happy (belated) chinese new year!

ive been in hong kong for about a week now, and its been really good and interesting! i had to get used to the fact that everyone speaks cantonese here instead of mandarin, so basically ive been doing a lot of reading subtitles on tv and stuff... but hopefully thatll help get me ready for my written placement exam! i leave for beijing on wednesday!! very excited, but of course nervous, toooo... (only a little, i promise)!

for those of us born in 1986, i found a good hororscope for us... although only after i panicked and called my mom after id spent the morning reading a mildly un-optimistic horoscope on some site... naturally, being judy, she searched high and low to find the nicest, most positive outlook for us tigers in the year of the rat:

"the year of the earth rat is a high energy time for exuberant tigers. your social calender will be busy. it is especially fortunate for travel and expanding your horizon. romantic dreams will come true, new friends bring exceptional new adventures. there is so much going on, you have to be careful before jumping into things. review legal documents and take advise of down to earth people before investing in changes. hard work will bring lasting rewards."

sweet! i cant wait for this year :))))

chinese new year celebrations were way fun! lots of delicious food including some of my favorites i havent gotten to have in years!! everything here is made of really simple ingredients but somehow comes together and tastes so so good! although there have been a few suspect things ive seen on the menu, including frogs ovaries and pickled pig hands. i went ahead and passed on those... hopefully ill get more adventurous once ive adjusted more!!

i saw an awesome parade with all these dancers, floats, lights, and music, and even some people balancing on bicycles and stuff, which was what i was kind of expecting and glad to actually get to see haha! and last night i saw an amazing fireworks show!! i took a video, ill put it up once i get my own computer onto the internet... its pretty awesome, and in the background theres about a thousand tourists going ooohhh wahhhhhhh!!!!!!!! it was so funny :) although getting to the fireworks was not without incident. i had just made it back thorugh customs (i went to china for the day for some special shopping... the lengths we go for good deals, man) and got back to see the first firework go off on television!!! so, since i was going straight out that night, i booked it about 3/4 of a mile in a dress and high heels (heels! and running! me!) to catch the final fifteen minutes of the show!! totally worth it, though!

ive already bought about a million things for myself. its weird, some things are ridiculously cheap, like i took the bus for 3 cents, and the ferry across hong kong to kowloon for 23 cents, and bought a leather purse, hat, and two pairs of shoes for like... 45 us dollars. but then, i still managed to spend 25 us on two drinks at a bar... thats like half a pair of shoes in my mind. getting used to the exchange rate is funny. i took a cab the other night and it was like 79 rmb, and i was like SAY WHAT. but then i realized thats like 10 bucks. so okay.

ps. bubble tea for less than a dollar here (6 rmb), but starbux is still like 4+ dollars (36 rmb)! dont worry, i didnt get starbux in hong kong ;)

so, this is a really long post, so i think ill go now, but i hope youre all doing well and i cant wait to hear from you!!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Happy Pancake Tuesday!

"Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving things up. So Pancake Tuesday is the last chance to indulge yourself, and to use up the foods that aren't allowed in Lent. Pancakes are eaten on this day because they contain fat, butter and eggs which were forbidden during Lent."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

What's the craic?

Hi guys!

So Belfast is pretty great. Yes, there's a lot of beer and a lot of potatoes and a lot of rain, but the whole experience has been really wonderful so far. I fell in love with the city soon after arriving, when our bus passed "Thai Tanic," a little restaurant nearby (the titanic was built here, FYI). So punny, right?! They have a lot of punny establishments, in fact. I walk by "Streats" on the way to classes, and during our day-long stroll across the city, we came across "Ginger Snips 2", a salon (see facebook for pics). The Irish love puns. Today in class, the professor split us up into 4 groups and wanted us to come up with team names. I suggested the "b-sharps," since it was a music class, and WAY more people found it funny than I expected! Sigh--its great.

Its been a pretty smooth transition for me, except for the fact that I'm terrible at entering and exiting buildings. First off, the direction that doors open is not standardized like in the States (you could have to "pull" AND "push" just to get through one entrance!). Luckily most doors have a little sign that says push/pull, which helps a lot, unless the door is transparent like the one today, and of course I read the backwards "push" before the forwards "pull." Shambles. The best part, though, is the random buttons that unlock doors to exit buildings. For example, our dorms. Soon after we moved in, I got a frantic call from Erica, "How do I get out of here!?!?!?" We have an unlabeled button like 5 ft away from the actual door that it unlocks. Basically, I've spent the past week and a half looking foolish.

(pause- there's an old couple smooching on the couch across from me in this coffee shop. Don't they have coffee breath?!?)

Oh, I almost died yesterday. I was walking on the sidewalk in front of this gas station (a.k.a. petrol), and this car was stopped waiting to pull out. Let's just say, pedestrians do not have right-of-way here. The guy kinda shoveled me across the sidewalk a bit, and then gave me a nasty look. Of course, I went straight home and told everyone I know (like 3 people). It could be that I'm just bad at being a pedestrian here, though. I still have no idea which way to look, so I wait at intersections for somebody else to cross and just flank them. I probably look like a creeper, but I'd take that over roadkill any day. I still find myself looking at passing cars, and freaking out, "Nobody's driving that vehicle!!!" Luckily, its a silent freak-out.

Everyone here is pretty friendly, although I haven't had much of a chance to be chummy with my flatmates yet. I've mostly been hanging around the other Americans in my program, which is hopefully going to change, as its turning into a little too much of a clique-y thing. We hang out with the other international students here too, as all the Irish kids go home on the weekends. (the coffee-couple is going at it again...) There are these really fun Dutch guys that we've been chillin' with. One of them is named Yessa, so of course I ask him if he has any friends named Noah. He didn't get it at first.

Today we went to Belfast Castle, which is on this big hill that overlooks the entire city. It was all stormy and overcast today, so it looked very impressive against the gray. The whole castle is open to public, so I did a little exploring. I poked around on the second level where all the prep rooms are for wedding couples (they host a lot of marriages there). Let me just say, the Bridal Toilette was fantastic. I'm hoping to go back when its a bit nicer out, as they have a hiking trail that goes to the top of the cliffs next to the castle.

So I think about all of you guys a lot and miss you tons. Hope you're all doing well in your respective locales across the world. I'm off to do my first round of laundry in a foreign country.

Love, -Ben.

PS- Craic (pronounced "crack") is the catch-all slang word in Ireland. Here it means "what's up?" FYI