Friday, April 16, 2010

The Quest for Mickey D's!

I have been here now for 16 days. Other than the pizza I had last Saturday (which was average), and some spaghetti I made one night (with basically ketchup for sauce), I have eaten nothing but Chinese food 3 meals a day. Now don't get me wrong: I LOVE good Chinese food. But the same stuff every meal, every day get's OLD. SO, today I decided I had enough- I HAD to find some good American food, and had to have some soon! And what's better than the icon of American food but McDONALD'S! That's right, Mickey D's was on my radar, and I wasn't going to stop till I had it! So, I just had to come up with a plan...

The plan itself was quite easy, actually. I leave the campus, hail a taxi, and proceed downtown and walk around a but till I found it. BUT, I keep forgetting the one roadblock- I DON'T speak Chinese! So with a little thought and effort, here is how the day went down:

9:50am- Left my apartment and walked 5 minutes till I passed through the campus gates.

9:55am- Hailed a taxi to the city, no problem. I had my translator, Scottie, write me a note the night in Mandarin that said two things: Hello, please drive me to a certain area downtown, and Hello, please drive me to the Sports Institute and the address. This letter works like a charm!

10:30am- After a bit of traffic and construction, I arrive at my drop off point downtown. I don't know where the McDonalds is from here, but I am somewhat familiar where I am dropped off, so I started from there. The walk begins...

11:00am- After a while in the Carrefour (a kind of Walmart store), I started down the street in search for the golden arches...

11:15am-I pass a KFC, then a Pizza Hut, and feel that I MUST be getting close! Never saw a McD's, but DID find a Starbucks! BIG POINTS! I walk in and ask the barista if he spoke English, "Very Rittle" was good enough for me! He said it was further down the street 2 kilometers, which I figured to be not too far, so off I went.

11:30am- After a short walk and a few pictures of the city, I come across this HUGE building with 2 signs in front, both having the Golden Arches on it, and a bunch of Chinese writing underneath. Had I finally reached my destination? I walk in the large building which looked more like an office building than any kind of shopping center. After getting stared down by the class of school kids as I walked by, I proceeded to stop the security guard and locate my lunch. "McDonalds" I say, being sure to enunciate slowly and clearly. He repeats my words, then motions me to follow him. My heart rate quickens as I can smell the fries every step I take. Or is that just my brain jumping the gun? He leads me to a huge board that has all these businesses name and points to the 11th floor and nods as I say "THAT'S McDonalds?" So figuring that China may have now impressed me even more by having a 11th floor McD's, I take the elevator to the 11th floor. While in the elevator, I'm thinking to myself "Noo, there just CAN'T be a McDonald's in this building", and as that thought hit, I hear a "ding" and the door opens". I will admit I was crossing my fingers as I took a few steps out of the elevator, totally expecting to see a huge playground with dozens of happy Chinese children sliding, swinging, and playing gleefully on the McDonalds playground, as well as a line of happy patrons with money in their hands and gleems in their eyes. Instead, I see this: "McMillan English Language School". My heart pained and my stomach twisted as I sought the nearest window to jump out of. "How? How could this man dupe me like this? I said McDonalds, and he repeated it! How could someone, even with no English knowledge, get that wrong?" I knew I would never know the answer, but proceeded to the lady standing outside the door. "Do you speak English?", I asked, which I should now just go ahead and make into a t-shirt so English speaking people can seek ME out. Of course, the answer was no. "McDonald's" I said pleadingly, as if I really thought that was going to magically break the language barrier and make her understand my needs and desires. A shrug confirmed the worst. I went back downstairs, and left the building, dejected. Had I gotten so close, but can't find it just because of this language? Then a lightbulb went off in my head! I walked back outside to the McDonald's sign, and with my trusty camera, took a picture of the Golden Arches. I then walked BACK inside the building to find my "friend" the security guard. He smiled at me, like he had saved my day by showing where the language school was. Not quite, my dear Chang. I showed him the picture I just took, he looks at it for a moment, then in the clearest English- "OHHH, McDonalds!!" I wish a had a picture of me in that moment, I'm sure it would have been a keeper. We walk back outside, and he gestures down the street. I would once again start walking.

11:45am- I pass a foreign bookstore, which I decide to walk in and check out for a few minutes. Pretty cool place, I pass through aisles of books, cd, etc in French, German, and Spanish. I didn't know if I should laugh or look for the Chinese Candid Camera when I came to the aisles of my native tongue, which simply read on the sign- "Crazy English". Now I know that lots of our language is silly, but crazy? C'mon...

12:00pm- I walk just a bit past the bookstore, and what do I see on the next corner?? Could it be??

12:05pm- Salvation, I have arrived! I was giddy like a child before Christmas morning. I walked in, and immediately checked out the menu board- let's see, Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, Fish Filet's...yes, it's ALL here!! I walked to the counter, was greeted in Chinese which I totally ignored as I listened to the harmonious beeping of the french fry vats. I chose to enjoy a Big Mac Value Meal, my personal favorite. She nods, and proceeds to hold up both hands, as to simulate showing me the size of a large fish she just caught on a boat "YES, SUPER-SIZE IT!", I shouted as I clapped my hands together quickly. It's funny, language doesn't blur the meaning of such things as that. I gave her my money, which converted to dollars was a mere $2.30. I got my meal, sat down, and opened the package. JUST like home-the smell, the taste, the enjoyment...

12:30pm- I left McDonald's in a state of utter satisfaction. It was everything I had hoped it would be, and more. My mission was complete, my stomach was happy.

12:35pm- I hailed a taxi back to the Sports Institute. As I sat in the back seat slipping into a processed food coma, I smiled as I thought upon my day. All was right with the world.

Pictures from my journey are now posted on my Flickr page, which is on the left side of this blog page...

I leave for our National Championships Monday, and will be gone for 9 days. It will be the first opportunity to see my swimmers compete, and I am looking forward to it. I am taking my laptop, but don't know what to expect regarding internet, so this may be my last post for a while. But I will definitely take pictures and will report to you all when I return.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Birthday to Remember!

Birthdays are always special days to me, because it's a celebration of "well, I made it ANOTHER year!" Problem is, as you get older, birthdays come quicker than a Toyota heading down the freeway...

BUT, I will say that April 12th this year was one of the best birthday's ever! WHY, you ask? Here are a few reasons: 1) 12:01am on April 12th here was 12:01pm April 11th back home is the States. My birthday ended HERE at 12:01am on April 13th, which was 12:01pm on April 12th back in the States! SO, basically my birthday lasted 2 days! 2) I was surprised that my team and coaches threw me a surprise birthday party / lunch, and enjoyed the company of 75 happy and hospitable Chinese people, which was quite heartwarming. I have only had one other party with that many attendees (back in college, where it basically was a huge street party birthday, but that's another story) 3) GIFT-a-Rama! Every single person lined up and presented me with a gift. Some were handmade (cards, clothing, etc), and some were bought (everything from tea mugs, ceramic pieces, fans, chopsticks, books, etc). It reminded me of the scene from A Christmas Story, where the students lined up and gave the teacher a present (although I didn't receive any wind-up teeth!)

The swimmers then all gathered around, then preceded to sing Happy Birthday in Chinese, which was awesome! It's funny, the words are WAY different (being in Chinese), but the tune is exactly the same! After that, they really surprised me by singing Happy Birthday in Engrish! I have to admit, it was pretty good, and helped support my theory that the Chinese really CAN understand when I talk, just selectively :)

I also learned that wedding cakes aren't JUST for weddings-they are for birthdays here in China! Holy Moly, that cake was 3 tiers, and had lots of frosting and fruit embedded in the sides. After I cut the cake, one of my swimmers (a huge 6'2" guy), helped himself to 3 HUGE pieces of cake. I would have been in a coma after eating that...

I also received over 100 emails, calls, and messages from all of my friends from all over the world. I truly am grateful for my friends, they get me through tough times, and are the glue to my happiness!

Well, that's it for now. I have added pictures from the party to my Flickr page, which I have now linked to the left side of this page, I hope you enjoy them!

I will close with a few more "Observations" that I have made here:

1) The Chinese LOVE the NBA. Every meal I have to sit and watch highlights from last night's games. The Chinese have no problems saying "Shaq" or Kobe"...
2) Unless you are VERY clear in your communication, your message will be lost. Example: Ron (to my translator, Scotty)- "What time does the dining hall close?" Scotty- "Yes." This happens QUITE a lot...
3) The Chinese, like in the States, drive on the right side of the road. They also, like the English, drive on the left side of the road. Depends on which side of the road is clear.
4) In China, you look both ways before crossing a one-way street.

That's it for now, will write more this weekend!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Just updated a few pics and a short video. You can now click the Photostream link under the pictures on the left side to access pictures.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A few observations...

Hello all! Things here are great, can't believe I have been here for 9 days already! After a few days of observing all of the groups, I have now increased my training group to 9 swimmers. Recently added to the "stable"- 2- 4:18 500 Free guys, a 1:58 IM girl, a 47 100 Fly guy, and a 19.7 50 Free boy (just turned 17). This should balance out the group, and provide some great training opportunities, I can't wait!

We leave on the 18th for a big competition in a city called Shaoxin, in the Zhejiang Province (similar to our states back home). I have NO clue where it is in China, just know that it's a 5 hour bus ride. The competition doesn't actually begin till the 21st, and last 6 days. Championship meets here run VERY long, and include the 50's of everything (which is probably why 6 days for the meet). But it will be my first chance to see these guys race, which will be great to see!

So I have started a list of things that I notice are different / unique / strange in comparison to our culture. I will update this list as I note new things!

My Observations:

1) Daylight Savings time doesn't exist here. Today the sun was up at 5:15am, and it sets at 6:30. and JUST when I was all excited about longer days!
2) The Chinese wear shirts that have American words, but the words don't make ANY sense (example- One of my swimmers wears a shirt that has a picture of Charlie Brown on the front, but says "Have Face Charlie Brown". She has no idea who Charlie Brown is...
3) The Chinese youth are easily the most disciplined and respectful group I have ever seen. They are not late, do not talk back, do not whine, and do every single thing they are asked. Hmm, how WILL I get by?
4) I am finding that I am starting to use "broken English" when I speak (which is what I use to make sure my interpreter understands). Funny but scary as it sounds, I find myself thinking thoughts in that same English (thus why I need to speak to people back home a LOT, lol!)
5) As I mentioned earlier that everyone stares at me a lot, I passed the first dog I have seen on campus today, and he stared at me as well the entire time I walked by. Not wagging his tail, not excited, just STARED...
6) Everyone here in China has a washing machine, but dryers cost 2-3 time more, and are considered a "luxury", which means 99% of the population uses clotheslines.
7) Me saying "ok, we will start the set in 2 minutes" takes 5 minutes to translate in Chinese.
8) Things here are UNBELIEVABLY cheap! You know the 20 ounce sodas you see in the stores or in machines that cost anywhere from $1.25-$1.50? They are 25 CENTS here! I bought a TON of groceries the other day for only $20. I like this :)
9) I have now learned how to eat soup with chopsticks. I will make a video of that soon.
10) Traffic here is bad, but not nearly as bad as Cairo (see my other blog for video of that), which has the WORST traffic on the planet. People here drive in whatever lane they can make, and I still don't get the horn blowing for no reason...
11) Napkins in China = Tissue in the States (a box of Kleenex is on every table).
12) The Chinese just can't pronounce the letter "L" as I can't pronounce maybe 20 of their words.

Looking forward to heading out to the city Saturday night and checking out the nightlife! More to come!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Hey all! I finally have some pictures from my first week here, you can see them at my Flickr page. Here is the link!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ni hao!

It was the first thing I learned in China. And although my obvious accent saying “hello” causes everyone to smile, I usually am greeted back with a warm “herro”!

The last few days have been long and tiring. After a 30 hour trip to China, I have finally adjusted to the new 12 hour difference of time from South Carolina and the jet lag is almost gone. As I arrived in Nanjing, I was greeted at the airport by a small contingent of people: Scotty, my translator, is a very nice 28 year old fellow who usually is an English teacher here at the Institute, but is now my full time interpreter during my time here. His English is quite good, and he loves American sports, especially NBA! Coach Kong, the Head Manager for the team, is a former National level swimmer, and is very accomodating. She is very organized, and makes sure I get anything and everything I need here. Although she doesn’t speak English, she understands the gist of things quite well. Coach Sun, the Assistant Manager, is also very helpful, as he helps me with things that are outside of Coach Kong’s expertise (anything dealing with cell phones, electrical, errands…he is a Jack of all trades!).

Upon arrival, I was taken to my apartment at the Nanjing Institute. The NI is basically a college here of about 3000 students, and broken into 2 divisions: an academic half and an athletic side. The campus is very beautiful, and sits on the east side of Nanjing in a lush green woodsy environment. In the distance are views of rolling fields and mountains with a few ancient Chinese architecture homes. The weather has been nice, partly sunny in the 60’s during the day and low 40’s at night. There is always a nice breeze blowing, and some of the students here take advantage of this by flying very colorful kites in the fields. My apartment is what I thought it would be. It’s on the 4th floor of one of the main buildings, and is basically like a huge hotel suite. In one side is a double bed (VERY comfortable), a large desk with lamps and a telephone, wireless, printer, a bookshelf, a dresser, and a TV (I have 3 English channels including HBO, so life is good!) The bathroom is a normal one, so nothing special there. The other room in the apartment is more of a kitchen, with a stove, fridge, table, sink, and all dishes and utensils. There’s another bathroom in there as well as a washing machine (no dryers here, everything is hung out to dry!) It’s a very cozy place, I like it a lot…

Yesterday, I had lunch with a number of management from the NI, including Coach Zhong, who is the Director of all sports here. He is a very important and busy man, as there are 11 sports teams here. He is also the former Head National team and Olympic Coach of China, so I am fortunate to have someone here who really appreciates and supports swimming! The lunch was held at a very fancy restaurant, and as typical Chinese meals like this go, we were brought a number of different dishes (at least 20, no lie), soups, and drinks. I never thought I would see the day where I could say I had eaten chicken claws and stomach of shark soup, but that day had arrived! The soup was actually quite tasty, as were the other dishes as my taste buds went through a cornucopia of experiences!

My first day of coaching was awesome. The pool here is a 10 lane 50 meter pool, with a separate weight training center, which has all the equipment I need. Although some of the equipment is old (I haven’t seen some of that stuff in 30 years), it will do! I met the team, which are made up of about 40 swimmers, half boys and half girls. These swimmers range in age of 16-24, and are all very talented! There are 6 other coaches here, 4 men and 2 women who have various degrees of coaching experiences. They are all very nice and welcoming. The swimmers have been somewhat shy to meet me, but I kind of expected that (as Scotty says, it’s the nature if Chinese people in general). I have spent the last few days evaluating the swimmers, and will select the group I want to train on Monday, which will be around 3-5 swimmers, who all are world class swimmers and will train for the 2012 Olympic Games. Some of the girls on the team literally walked up to me and stared me in the eyes for like 30 seconds and said something in Mandarin. As Scotty is always right at my side, he told me that they were looking at my blue eyes, as they had never seen an American before. I am sure I am an oddity to many of them, haha!

All of the meals here are in the dining hall. It is much different than food in the States: lots of rice, dumplings, and noodles that I can’t make heads or tails of, but it’s all good! There are some things I shy away from (porridge, fish, milk items), but maybe I will muster the courage soon…

So that’s it for now! It’s been a great experience, and I look forward to Monday and a new week! Hopefully I can still use this blog for a while, as Facebook and my other original blog don’t work here. If you have Skype, we can chat through that! My skype name is globalswim65, as is my aol IM name. Drop me a line sometimes!

*POST NOTE- Got a great VPN tonight, so my blog and Facebook are back in business!

Zai jian! (goodbye)