30 June 2009

This bike thing has required a lot of purchases.

So I'm in South Carolina right now! I'm here visiting some friends--Jimmy from high school who just got a job in Columbia and Austa who I met in Boulder, CO last summer while we were doing science and exploring the west together :). As i was telling some of my friends, I feel pretty guilty taking what is essentially a vacation right now because there is so much work left to do, and there are so many people back home, not vacationing, who have helped me do it. However, I suppose even in my first day and a half here I haven't stopped working. In fact I think most of what I have left to do doesn't require me to be at home anyway. Plus, this place has definitely proven to be good for my training. Haha. The hills are so much bigger here!! It's making me feel very unprepared, but I guess all I can do now is just keep biking!

Also, I've finally finished acquiring all my gear! Here's a picture of my bike! I probably risked a little getting a brand that no one's heard of, but from what I can tell it's a pretty nice bike, and I'm sure it'll make it to Florida :). I've also put clipless pedals on it... which are pretty challenging to get used to. Haha. Jimmy and I went for a ride last night--my first ride with the new pedals--and I think I nearly fell over 3 times... once when we were just out of the parking lot. Every time I clip one foot out thinking I can lean on it, and I somehow end up leaning the other way, toward the side of the bike that has my foot still attached to it :). I survived without any injuries though, haha, and after that ride and the one this morning, I'm getting the hang of it. It makes going up hills quite a bit easier because I'm using some extra muscles that were sort of useless before. The gloves I got also make a pretty significant difference. I rode yesterday without them and today with them, and today lacked many of the annoying vibrations. Woo. So with those upgrades to my collection of biking gear plus three pairs of fancy padded bike shorts, a multi-tool, spare tubes, a patch kit, chain lube, a three pack of cycling socks, and my new helmet, I've spent quite a lot of money on this bike adventure. But with those things, and a few bike related gifts from some friends and family (a fancy bike speedometer/odometer/altimeter as an early Christmas gift from Dan, a hydration pack from Josh, and a water bottle cage, and tire pump from Uncle Ron), I think I finally have everything I need to survive the ride! And I'm sure it's all going to be worth it--not only is it a good cause, but it'll probably be one of the coolest things I'll ever do!

28 June 2009

On fundraising...

I'm going to try to write at least a little every day now, I hope. Part of the problem has certainly been laziness, but I think a bigger part is the sort of self consciousness about the actual gravity of my thoughts that I always seem to feel. However, I was reading Chris's blog, my friend who's in Ghana right now as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and he inspired me. I know I'm not really a particularly awesome girl, and my thoughts, as I've suspected, truly aren't any more important that anyone else's, but I have taken advantage of a lot of opportunities that have made for some pretty sweet experiences in my life. If writing about it can inspire someone to take advantage of some of the challenging opportunities they have in their own life, I've probably done a good thing. So thus, I'm going to try to share my experiences. If nothing else, I'm sure I'll ultimately appreciate the record later.

Today I had my super spectacular Benefit BBQ!!! Haha. I've been pretty nervous about it for like 3 weeks now. Initially because I didn't think we'd get enough donations, and then later on because I was worried that we'd have too many donations and not enough guests. However, as these things usually seem to, our hard work paid off. It might not have been the best barbecue ever, but it was pretty fun and I'm seriously amazed by how generous people were. I collected $532 with donations, a chinese auction and a 50/50 raffle. Seriously! How amazing is that, especially considering that there were probably less than 40 people who showed up throughout the day. It's been one of the best things about trying to reach this fundraising goal--spending time with all the good people I have around me. And it seems like so many of the people who want to talk to me about it and donate to the cause are either complete strangers or acquaintances that I really never spent much time with before. It's really wonderful to know that there are so many good people around us everyday.

It's also been really difficult asking for money though. I was pretty sure that the fundraising would be more challenging than the biking, from the beginning, and although I can't officially comment on that yet, I think it's probably gotten pretty close to living up to the expectation. The other day Dan was generous enough to walk door to door with me through a neighborhood of complete strangers and ask for donations. It was pretty tough, even though no one was really opposed to me showing up at their door (except for the house that may or may not have let their dogs out on us :) ). It was ultimately a success though--in the short hour we lasted we collected $50. The hardest has definitely been asking family members for donations, because whether they truly want to give or not, as soon as the question is posed or they find out that another family member has donated there's and instant sense of obligation. That worries me quite a bit, but family have still chosen not to donate, while others have given volumes of their time and money. That sort of contests to the fact that I really need to think of this fundraiser as me presenting someone else with the opportunity to do a good deed. It is ultimately their decision whether they donate or not, but at least I gave them the option and perhaps a little motivation if they needed it. Regardless, I'm so grateful for all the help I've had and the countless donations everyone has made. However difficult it's been, it's really rewarding and, actually quite an honor, to be able to witness and perhaps even inspire good will in my friends, family, and random acquaintances.

06 June 2009


A few people have bugged me for quite a while now to update my blog, and now a new person has bugged me, plus I might be in the middle of the most exciting summer ever. SO! I think I might actually write a post or two! (I don't want to get anyone's hopes too high :).

Topic 1: CHINA!!! I just got back from a pretty amazing trip to China and South Korea. It was only three weeks long, but as someone who's barely left the country, and someone who has a rather intense and generally immediate love for new things, it was pretty exciting :).
A group of 12 Akron students and professors traveled through four cities in China under the excellent leadership of Dr. Ayers from the International Studies Office. First of all, I should say that Dr. Ayers is probably one of the most brilliant people I know and I was pretty amazed by his ability to put up with a bunch of 22 year olds on a trip like this. He could have easily, and probably warrantedly, freaked out on multiple occasions. However, he not only maintained perfect composure, but somehow found the constitution to laugh at our inexperience when it showed. When we were obnoxious on the street because we assumed no one could understand what we were saying, when some of us drank a little too much and stumbled onto the bus the next morning, or when we basically stormed into room full of monks rehearsing ancient Chinese music, he saw it as our unique, and probably rather effective, way of experiencing our surroundings. I think he was actually a little proud that we, however recklessly, experienced China so completely. I'm pretty certain other group leaders wouldn't have been so open minded :). But anyway, our first stop after a 6 hour layover in Chicago, a 14 hour flight to Seoul, and another 4 hour layover before our final flight, was Shanghai. There we met two professors from Hunan University who'd accompany us all the way through China--Jackie Chen and Mr. Ma (all Chinese people who have studied the English language seem to choose western names for themselves... so that's why we called him Jackie... but I'm pretty sure he just wanted his name to sound like Jackie Chan). Shanghai wasn't really much of a shock because it looked so similar to American cities, especially as we were driving out of the airport toward East China Normal University where we'd be staying. If it weren't for the Chinese writing on the road signs I probably could have convinced myself we were in the States. However, one big difference I noticed after a while, that even appears from distance, is the massive apartment buildings all over the place... which of course makes sense because there are so many people. And in addition to their apparently anomalous size and number, each apartment has clothes hanging outside the windows because drier machines just don't seem to exist in China. It may look ridiculous to our eyes, and certainly points out the poverty that still exists regardless of the many modernizations we saw... but it seems like a pretty good way to do things to me :). Shanghai is one of the most modern cities in China, and a lot of people referred to it as a "global" city, so it's had a lot of western influence, but when we got a closer look it still seemed pretty unique. For example, there aren't a lot of people who sell baby chickens and bunnies on the street in Ohio, and you don't generally see like the entire retired population in the park doing tai chi every morning (I went to :) ). Our second stop was Kaifeng--definitely my favorite city!! We took a 14 hour night train to get there, and although most of my travel mates were complaining I'm pretty sure it was one of the coolest things we did. We were in like the first class sleeper cars with 4 bunks in a room, and I basically slept for the entire train ride. It basically just cuts out the travel time because the travel time is also your sleeping time! But anyway... Kaifeng is where Jackie and Mr. Ma are from, and it's a much smaller city than the other three we visited. Being smaller, a little deeper into the countryside, and less visited by tourists we encountered a society of people there that very rarely saw anyone from outside of China, which was one of the most interesting things I experienced on the trip. If you think about it, it's totally normal for us to see people from different countries in our every day lives, but some of the people in Kaifeng have never even seen anyone from a different country in person. It's pretty incredible actually. After thinking about that I know I definitely took our country's diversity for granted... so I was pretty surprised to be such a celebrity. Random people on the streets wanted pictures with us all the time--especially the guy who was 6'5" or something, the one with blond hair, and Desiree, the crazy black girl :). Here we also climbed the Iron Pagoda (in the picture) and crossed the Yellow River--two rather epic accomplishments. There’s some ancient legend that says that one is not a true man or woman until you’ve climbed the Iron Pagoda, crossed the Yellow River, and walked the Great Wall… so after Kaifeng I was 2/3 of the way there!!
Hunan University, in Kaifeng, is the one that Akron recently formed the Confucius Institute with—basically just a special partnership from what I understand. So there’s actually a professor there from Akron right now teaching English language and culture, Paul Weinstein. He decided to plan a little party for the students from Akron and all his students from his 6 or so classes—it worked out to be probably over 100 Chinese students and about 10 Akron students all crammed into the only bar in Kaifeng, talking non-stop for like 3 hours. I was surrounded the entire night by at least 10 students at a time asking all kinds of questions, ranging from “what’s your favorite tv show?” to “what do you think about love?”. I actually didn’t even have time to get a beer, and I was a little sad because Dr. Weinstein was getting everyone else drinks and seemed to have forgotten about me. The students were very surprised to find out that most Americans work while they’re in school. In China there’s seems to be such an urgency about getting an education, if you have the opportunity, that students are almost required to focus entirely on school. One of the students actually said he wanted to marry me because I was so independent from my parents… he also asked me if I played video games, so the answer to that question may have influence that statement as well :). Afterward we enjoyed some very cheap drinks… until the bartender fell asleep and we served ourselves some even cheaper drinks…hahaha.
Also in Kaifeng we met some students from Beloit College who’ve been teaching English at Hunan University for the past year… a definite possibility for my future. EEK. The third stop was the ancient city of Xi'an which something like 13 of the Chinese dynasties chose as their capital city. The city and the surrounding areas are overflowing with artifacts and cultural relics, all of which are pretty amazing, but because it's such an interesting site, the industrious Chinese turned it into one giant tourist trap. Before we could go to any museum we had to go to the gift shop and hear a special presentation by the shop owner. At one museum there was actually a special tourist’s entrance separate from the entrance for the general public, which also happened to be the entrance to the gift shop... haha. How sneaky. All this made it a little difficult to enjoy, regardless of all the unwarranted optimism I’m usually able to muster. However, some of the sites were pretty amazing, like the terracotta warriors--an army of hand carved soldier statues that've been buried for a couple thousand years. Thinking about how many slaves it would have taken to build all those warriors was kind of sickening though... who could ever justify having that many slaves?? The mountains here were beautiful too... I miss mountains!! Also, all ancient Chinese cities had walls that completely surrounded them, but Xi'an has the only one that's been completely renovated, so we were actually able to ride bikes all the way around it--it was pretty fun!The final stop in China was Beijiing. Here we saw a glimpse of china’s more recent history. We visited Tiananmen Square, which is just a huge, mostly empty, paved area, surrounded by city streets like any other city square might be, but to get to in you actually had to go through underground pathways and pass a security check. It was a little eerie how heavily surveyed the area was for being a rather simple slab of concrete. Tiananmen Square is also where they keep Mao’s body, and although every account of Mao’s rule that I’ve heard sounds horrible, I lined up with thousands of people to file through his tomb and present flowers to him. It was amazing how blind such an enormous group of people can be to such a grave social injustice… it’s like they forgot or something. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that they were essentially worshiping the guy that caused them and their relatives so much suffering.
Anyway! That’s all for now I think… still getting used to the time zone change so I’m falling asleep right now.