Tuesday, December 02, 2008

7 am Jams

I went to a Chinese funeral several months ago and now a Chinese funeral is happening right outside my second floor window.

The family mourners are dressed in white hats, sacks, and shoes.

It is a colorful occasion. People bring paper mache animals, towers, houses, cars, DVD players, TV's, clothes, shoes and big round paper floral arrangements that remind me of the flowers they give horses at horse races. They must burn enough goods so that the one in heaven will have a nice comfortable afterlife.

It isn't the gifts that make this particular funeral memorable.

No it is the music. There is a live band of traditional Chinese instruments right outside of my window including a singer with a microphone. Plus every instrument is hooked up to an amp.

At least this morning, the music started out relatively peaceful, a pretty funeral song with lots of somber horns. Umm... but just now the cymbals and the blasting toy like horn just started.

I wonder if this is going to last ALL day.
Today is my day off.

Teaching in China

In Chengdu during summer training, experienced volunteers and staff would tell us scenarios to prepare us to teach Chinese students. I got the impression that students were shy, would not volunteer answers, would not raise their hands, would not understand our American teaching methods of student centered learning rather than the Chinese way of teacher centered lectures.

What did I find?

Well students will not ask questions when I am standing in front of them on the stage at the blackboard. They will ask if I am walking around the classroom.

Students will not volunteer information individually unless I call on them directly and then most of them will answer in low voices. They will answer as a chorus, shouting out their answers when I ask a question. It is impossible to understand the 20 voices all answering the same question in a sporadic manner.

Students love to draw posters! We drew characters from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, from TS Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", and made posters about slavery while studying Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Students have done wonderfully presenting poems to the class explaining the literary terms and the difficult meanings of poetry written in difficult language.

They love role plays and acting!

They had a blast making a board game about Oliver Twist, having a Pride and Prejudice cocktail party where they had to find a suitable fictional husband or wife, learning how to do dance moves from the Jazz age of The Great Gastby, learning poetry by singing the ballads of "Auld Lang Syne", and writing their own stories about why they are in the snowy woods of Robert Frost.

After the Chengdu training, I would have thought teaching Chinese students would be like pulling teeth; however, they are so creative. It is what makes 10 hours of being with them per week bearable. I would have gone crazy if I had to lecture for 10 hours a week.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Few Days Late

Caitlin created a feast.
I was the errand girl/bus boy.

She cooked a pumpkin pie with a vegan pie crust, stuffing, a chicken, green bean casserole with homemade french onions, gravy, mashed potatoes and coffee. I went shopping for the drinks, the deep fried chickens, and made a cucumber salad. Plus I washed the dishes.

I am stuffed.

It was fun having a very American meal with six Chinese friends. It was the first time for some of them to use a fork. I didn't realize how different we Americans eat a meal. We pass dishes so that each person can serve themselves using a serving spoon instead of eating directly out of the dishes with chopsticks. We fill our plates instead of having a bowl full of rice and a bite size portion of food. We have salt and pepper on the table. We eat bread with our meals. We drink coffee and eat dessert instead of eating a piece of fruit.

The food was very American but it wouldn't have been Thanksgiving if it was just me and Caitlin eating the Western food. What made it like a holiday were the friends. Conversational music is what a holiday is all about. Now don't get me wrong the food also helped.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Turkey Day in China

Today I got a text from my students, "Hello Jen. Is today Thanksgiving Day?"

I knew Thanksgiving was coming up, but I had forgotten that it was today. Caitlin and I are going to cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal on Saturday for a couple of our Chinese friends. Living in another country, it is easy to forget the specific day of a holiday. Since we don't actually get any of our holidays off, holidays turn into weekend celebrations.

Tonight, we decided to go out to eat to celebrate. We went to the all you can eat buffet that is 30 RMB ($5). They have plenty of dishes to choose from, cold vegetable salads, hot dishes, soups, hot pot, plus appetizers like popcorn, dried kiwi, cake with sprinkles. Also, you can drink all the beer you want.

It was a disappointing meal.

My favorite tastes of the evening were the lime juice, the hot coffee, and the 5 different types of green vegetables that I could cook in my hot pot of boiling broth.

Other volunteers are celebrating Thanksgiving together; however, we are FAR from other Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs). The closest volunteer is 8 hours on a grueling bus ride and the PCVs in Gansu aren't even celebrating Thanksgiving there which means we would have to travel even further. It isn't worth it to have two days of hard travel for one day of eating celebration.

It is all right. I don't mind. I have celebrated Thanksgiving in different ways depending on the country. In Guinea I rode 5 hours by bike to Labe to celebrate a feast with the Fouta PCVs in the Peace Corps regional house. It felt more like the Fourth of July than a winter holiday as we barbecued meat on the outside grill. In Burkina Faso, I rode 2 hours by bike to the neighboring city of Kaya to celebrate with some PCVs. We cooked in three different houses and even had a HUGE turkey. Now in China, with Caitlin's microwave sized oven and her two gas burners, we will cook a feast of delicious treats.

It does feel like the holiday season here though. It is cold.


Because of a recent gift, I have realized that I miss cheese and peanut butter. I didn't know I missed American peanut butter with its extra sugar . I knew I missed cheese. Every time I would go into Ouaga or Conakry, I would buy some cheese and my mouth would die from the flavor. Here in China at the nearby big cities that I can travel to, you can only find soft spreadable cheese.

At the end of January I am coming home to the tastes of the USA. I think I will live cheaply on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along with ham and cheese. I only get like $12 per diem.

Living in China, I get a huge variety of food and don't miss food as much as I did in Africa. Here I can buy like 70 apples for $2. In Africa, one apple cost $1 and you could only buy them in the big city. The apples were imported from South Africa. Here students go out into the country and steal them off the trees.

At home, I hope to make dumplings for everyone. Dumplings are tastier than toe, an African staple.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Weeks without

Internet in my flat has been down.
I don't know when it will be back up.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My Flat

Sit, watch, listen, type
Cold impersonality
Human turned robot

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sleeping in till 8

I am a morning person and feel something is wrong. I am not waking up at 6 am these days.

In Africa I would wake up at the crack of dawn with the sun as it peered through my straw mat walls and mosquito net hung outside. School started at 7 am, so I had to be up. Even on the weekends I was up before 6 am. Sometimes I even had my hand-washed laundry up on the line and a pot of beans cooking on the stove by 7 am.

Here in China though, I am having trouble getting up. There is no sunlight and it is cold. I sleep inside with the morning light shut out by the curtains and anyways the sun doesn't rise very early here. It is only going to get worse. I doubt it will be as bad as Seattle though. And thank goodness the sun does come out everyday.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tell a Story

If you were to play the game where one person starts a story and then the next person continues the story and so on, where would you begin? Where is the setting? Who is the story about? What conflicts would happen?

Tonight I played this game in the Treehouse, an English resource center, with Chinese freshmen and sophomores. They loved it. They hung onto each other's words, quiet until the next part of the story was told, bursting into laughter with each funny turn, sighing with compassion when things took a turn for the worse.

I started the first story with, there once was an American. I was hoping the story would continue into China with the American coming to visit. Instead the American turned into a fat president who was chased by a fat dog that was owned by a beautiful women ending with the police capturing the dog.

The next storyline was started by a student. A long long time ago, there was a monk in a temple. Whenever he hit the gong a tiger would appear. Then the tiger turned into a beautiful women who fell in love with him; however, it is forbidden for a monk to marry, to drink alcohol or to eat meat. Even with the pressure of his mother who was very angry at him for not marrying the woman, he did not give into temptation. It turns out this woman was a princess from heaven who rewarded him with a job in heaven where he lived happily ever after.

I would have never started a story with a monk or a temple. It is fascinating to me how different our stories are because of the different cultures we grew up in.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Homecoming Week

The college I am teaching at has about 10,000 students with an old campus and a new campus.

I am on the old campus and am happy that I don't have to commute the 30 minute bus ride to the new campus that is isolated on the outskirts of town. The old campus is right in the middle of "downtown" Qingyang. Everything I need and want is in walking distance, even the yarn store and the big outdoor market. Right outside the back gate there are a line of street vendors selling candied fruit on a stick and fried sandwiches filled with potatoes, eggs and whatever else you may choose from a smorgasbord of choices.

This week I haven't had to teach two days because there has been an old campus Sports Meet and Chorus Competition. On the old campus there are five departments: P.E., Chemistry, Physics, Music, and English. Each department recruited a team for the Sports Meet and students competed in Track and Field events hoping to bring glory to their department, competition in the name of friendship. And what do Caitlin and I do? We teach the English students a cheer:

u-g-l-y, you aint got no alibi, you ugly, yeah yeah, you ugly
m-a-m-a, we know how you got that way, your mama, yeah yeah, your mama
d-a-d-d-y, you dont even know that guy, your daddy, yeah, yeah, your daddy
c-u-t-e-, that’s the way you wanna be, like me, yeah, yeah, like me
c-o-u-s-i-n, thats the only place you’ve been, yeah, yeah, your cousin
n-a-s-t-y, thats why go home and cry, you nasty, yeah, yeah, you nasty
b-u-t-t, thats the way you look to me, butt ugly, yeah, yeah, butt ugly

Yep. It's a fun cheer maybe not so appropriate for a Sports Meet in the name of friendship. We rationalized though that most of the students wouldn't understand it anyways even though all students have been learning English since primary school.

Last night I went to the Chorus Competition. The auditorium was filled with students. Attendance was mandatory for Freshmen and Sophomores. Each department had a choir of about 100 students singing two songs from Chairmen Mao's era. In between each department's performance while students left and filled the stage, there were solo performances of singers and electric traditional instruments played to the background of that cheesy New age like electronic music that is created with a keyboard.

This week has been like homecoming week where any student who wants to gets to participate in singing and sports. It isn't just the elite athletes or the best singers who get to participate. No. It is anyone and everyone. Instead of a spirit of individualistic elitism, it is a spirit of community coming together to create well-rounded students. The college provides opportunities for students to study and learn academic subjects as well as opportunities for the spirit.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I live here.

I live on the second floor of teacher flats.

My living room is full of conveniences.

I would rather live in a terrace where this is my view.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A modern flat or something more simple?

I live in an on-campus teacher flat. It is roomy with many modern conveniences; although, these days I sit in my flat feeling cold. The heat won't be turned on till November. I need to buy more layers, a couple pairs of pants to wear under my pants and a couple pairs of shirts and vests to wear under my big sweaters. I really need to buy a jacket that stops the wind. I am busy knitting and crocheting hats, scarves and gloves. My next project will be socks.

I like this modern flat, but honestly I would rather live in the country, in a farming community with a well and no electricity. I would rather live in this home that is carved into the wall. Maybe I can buy one for my retirement.

Culture Shock

I didn't get much of a chance to be in the states after living in Africa for two years. Two weeks stateside isn't long enough to feel the culture shock between West Africa and Alabama.

One of the biggest culture shocks I have had living in China these past few months is men and women talk to each other. In Africa, men gathered in gossip groups with men. Women gathered with women. In China I find it weird seeing men and women having dinner together, find it weird to see young people going out in mixed gender groups. I find it strange to see men taking care of babies, taking little children out for walks, holding children as they pee into the street.

Actually though I don't talk to many men here in China. In Africa, I talked more to men than women because men spoke French while women only spoke local language. Here though I talk mostly with female students. The English department is saturated with females. There is like a 5:30 ratio of men:women in the English classes.

Other than this, there hasn't really been a big culture shock. I do find that I am really disconnected to US culture. It seems like a culture from long long ago.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I love sports

The skies were blue.
The wind was strong.
I went to the tan track.
Lanes had been carved into the hardened mud.

Groups of students had gathered for PE lessons in Kung Fu, volleyball, Tai Chi, gymnastics, and track and field. I found the English major sophomores who were going to learn Tai Chi. I moved energy along and against the wind. I was soft and slow.

Next week I am going to be the wind.
I will join the Kung Fu students.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


I am Chinese.

The Chinese say, "You look like Chinese."
Foreigners say, "Wow you speak English really well."

I just have to face the music that I am Chinese.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Verb tenses?

Written in chalk upon the ground, at the busiest intersection of the city, written both in Chinese and English, a young woman was asking for money to pay for school tuition. With her head bowed, she was kneeling on a cushion in front of her beautiful handwriting holding a pile of cash. A curious crowd had gathered to read. It felt old and traditional. It felt honorable.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ball Hogs

I have been playing basketball with people from the English department. It has been years since I have touched a basketball. I am surprised that my body remembers how to dribble and how to shoot. It is like riding a bike. I just need to fine tune some of my skills.

I really like playing with the Chinese students, teachers, staff, and workers.

They are not ball hogs.

I was afraid that being the only girl out there I would never get to touch the ball. But they are NOT ball hogs. Even the worse player on the team gets to touch the ball. It makes basketball super fun!

Of course I haven't played with a group of seriously competitive players; however, my three point shot is coming back. I might soon be able to compete against the best. I definitely have the experience of looking at the court. I tend to be really good at assists since the players are not the best defensive players.

Tomorrow I will be up at 6 am to play basketball until 8 am. Basketball has become my new addiction.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

First Week Observations at Site

Students wake up by 6:30 am and fill the sports terrain. Imagine thousands of students doing morning exercises for five minutes.

Students then go fetch hot drinking water from pipes that run along the buildings. Imagine them carrying brightly colored thermoses.

Students recite their lessons to trees before class. Imagine our trees being the smartest ones.

Students pay about $1 to use a public shower that is in a separate building from their dormitories. Imagine that on a cold winter day.

Students were surprisingly enthusiastic when I asked them to draw one of the Chaucer Canterbury pilgrims. Imagine a classroom of 37 students filled with oohs and aahs when I pulled out the colorful markers.

Students share a computer screen with one other student in the technological learning lab for the audio visual class. Imagine students wearing bright colored booties to keep the lab clean.

Chinese American in China

Throughout my life I have been a minority.

In high school, my brother and I were the only Asian Americans. In college, I was the only Asian American living on campus. In graduate school, there were a lot of Asian Americans, yet I still felt like an outsider. Even if I look like other Asian Americans, I am not in touch with my ethnic heritage, my ethnically labeled culture. I was raised in a white American family, as an adopted Chinese daughter.

In Africa, I was the foreigner who got many stares and an occasional, "Hee haw." It was a greeting that became popular due to a West African comedian and a song that says hello in like 100 different languages. "Ni hao" had become "Hee Haw;" although, in Dakar, because of the many Chinese merchants, "Ni hao" was correctly said.

It is a confusing conundrum for me. I look Asian but I am not Asian. I have lived in many environments where I am the only Asian, where my uniqueness comes from the color of my skin and the blackness of my hair. But that physical label doesn't really say anything about me.

Now I am in China. I am Chinese in China. I look like everyone else. I am Chinese until I open my mouth. Even when people especially the older people hear my terrible Chinese, they hold fast to their idea that I am Chinese. Younger people nod in understanding when I say I am American Chinese. They are more aware of the huge population of Chinese in the USA.

Here in China, walking around silent, I am not unique unless I wear an African outfit, then I get stares like back in America when I shaved my head and dyed it pink. Walking around anonymous, part of the crowd I feel a sense of belonging, a sense of community rather than being an outsider. But as soon as I open my mouth, I become a curiosity and a center of attention. I become the outsider.

So who am I? To Chinese, I am Chinese because of my physical features. To Americans, I am Chinese American because of my cultural upbringing. To myself? I am an American who cannot run away from her skin color and it is my physical features that confuse me the most.

I was hoping to find answers in China.
Instead, I only find more questions.

How do I connect to my ethnic heritage? If I start acting Chinese, copying the customs and mannerisms of the population, will I become Chinese? Where do I belong? I often struggle with the idea of wanting to belong yet also wanting to be different, to be that outsider who is unique but who also has a community. Yet in my search for community, I instead find the solitude of an outsider.

Maybe the answer is as simple as, I belong with my own personal community of friends who don't think about my skin color or my cultural background. They just see me, their friend.

As a roamer from country to country, from culture to culture, I am a chameleon who can change to fit into my surroundings. Even if it may appear on the outside that I fit in, that I am the green of a tree or the brown of a wall, I am a lizard on the inside. The question is who is that lizard?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

2nd Day in My New Hometown

After a two day car trip about 17 hours of driving through beautiful China on its new expressways that cost like $20 at various tollbooths throughout the three provinces Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu, I finally arrived at my new home.

Instead of a dead campus, it has come alive with students, vegetable and fruit ladies, plus thermos bottle and plastic goods merchants and all of the street food noodles and stuffed thick pita bread sellers. All of it is right outside the back gate of my campus which is about a 5 minute walk from my 2nd floor apartment.

My PC site mate fixed a lentil soup for dinner and then we went for a walk, the busyness of the campus street died pretty quickly as we marched past the gate welders and the carpenters. Walking in what we thought was a square block, we learned it was a triangle as we surprisingly ended back where we started. The street had become filled with bright costumes, girls in white tutus and big green feathered headbands or big sunflowers attached to their fronts. We followed the parade of girls into a stadium filled with dance troupes, a huge outdoor stage setup along with stage lights and a huge TV screen. My site mate attracted many of those cute girls who speak more English than we speak Chinese. They asked, "Will we play hide and go seek with them?" We learned that they were practicing for a big show that will be happening the day after tomorrow.

My new city is a crowded place with a small town feel. Community is right outside our gate and people are curious about us wanting to get to know who we are, wanting to help us with whatever we may need.

I am also excited because I have been seeing little boys running around in TaeKwonDo uniforms and at the stadium that is right across the street from our campus' back gate, I saw big posters advertising TaeKwonDo. I sure hope they have classes for women who are my age. The biggest challenge will be to communicate how much lessons cost and how many lessons there are per week.

I am only teaching 10 hours a week of American and English Literature. I have a lot of free time and will be able to participate in many fun activities. I am hoping to take up piano again. The music department is on our campus as well as the chemistry department. I have been invited to give a few lectures on chemistry.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

From Simplicity to Modern Living

I imagined dark boxcars, the wall made of wood, the windows little slits at the top of the car, the toilets open holes where you can see the ground speeding by. Instead I found myself inside of an enjoyable air conditioned, big windowed train car that reminded me of a hostel. There were three bunk beds stacked on top of each other, 6 total beds in one cubicle. There were sinks, squat toilets, and all you can drink hot water. The views from the bay windows were breathtaking. The 15 hour train ride passed peacefully. I fell asleep for 8 hours. Thank goodness I am used to hard beds, and the Dramamine probably helped.

Arriving in Xian, we were instantly met by two people from the university, one from the foreign affairs office and the driver. It took us 6-7 hours to get to my new home in Gansu as we stopped for lunch, watermelon, and the traffic jams of two lane narrow highways where cars pass across solid yellow lines. The roads between my city and Xian are quite bad with bad drivers too. The combination doesn't make for timely travel. A new expressway is rumored to open in October possibly making the trip only 3 hours. We drove up and down plateaus into valleys admiring the beautiful views of farmland, corn and wheat, seeing the goats and sheep, the stacks of hay, and the rosy cheeked farmers.

My new home is absolutely decked out, fully furnished each room full of furniture including all of the electronics: computer, printer, TV, DVD player, stereo, Internet, scanner plus a fridge, microwave, and washing machine. There are two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and a dining area. It is absolutely luxurious!

The campus is small about 10,000 students split between two campuses. The English department has about 1,000 students. I will be teaching English and American literature about 10 hours a week. I am excited about using the extra time to play piano, to play basketball, to start a knitting group, and to learn a martial art. At the back gate of the campus is a block long market full of gorgeous fruits and vegetables plus stores and restaurants galore. The town is small (population 200,000) but feels like a big city because it isn't spread out.

Thursday I will be heading back to Chengdu, the two day trip. I do have a site mate who is also from Peace Corps, but we are pretty isolated from other volunteers. During winter it gets cold and may get lonely. I am not worried though. I survived the isolation of Africa.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Every weekend morning since arriving in China, as I wash my laundry, I have listened to the beat of drums and the crash of cymbals. When I peer over the wall of the outdoor patio of the 6th floor roof, I see a group of women marching, drumming, and shouting at the next door government building.

One of my friends Renee has a goal of wanting to have a meaningful conversation with older people. I thought to myself, the drumming group of women would be a perfect place to practice. I invited Renee and we went yesterday.

We were a bit worried because we didn't hear any drums but when we arrived a group of older women had gathered. One big red drum was on wheels. Hanging from the tree were bright colorful silk bags that the round snare drum shaped drums were pulled from. Other women were holding bright red velvet bags that carried golden cymbals tied with bright yellow cloth.

The women welcomed us with bright smiles and handshakes. There was such a warm feeling as women laughed, played, sung and danced, teasing each other and showing off, and we hadn't even started yet. Slowly women gathered their drums strapping them to their bodies with bright red silk straps, helping each other untwist and arrange the silk pulling out thick wooden drum sticks with bright yellow strips of long cloth tied to them.

Women lined up and I was feeling, "hmm... can we actually join in? We don't have any drums or cymbals." But then I noticed two women didn't have them either. One only had fans which she used as drum sticks upon an air drum, and the other used her hands imitating the cymbals. Renee and I would be cymbal players.

I thought it would be easy, and the first action was. One line of drums and cymbals rushed another line of drums and cymbals like two armies meeting on a battle field. But from there it got more elaborate as drums circled cymbals, as cymbals circled drums, as drums and cymbals looped and ran around in organized patterns, arranging themselves into set formations just like marching band. But with a smile, I just ran along.

After the first set, we rested and yes I was sweating. We were surrounded by smiling women all very interested in why I couldn't speak Chinese and where I was from. Everyone tells me that I am Chinese and there is no way I can convince them that I am American. I just nod and say "I am Chinese and I live in America." My limited language is not strong enough to explain the diversity of America especially to women who speak a Sichuan dialect while I am learning Mandarin. They asked if Renee was from France. They asked her age and when she told them they smiled happy to welcome her rejoicing her age and their ages, a joy of being older.

The leader of the group was gorgeous with a glow to her and a smile that showed an unforgettable spirit of joy. Her inner beauty shined through the glow of her face. The way she moved and danced while directing the band of similar glowing women is the type of essence I seek.

In my older years, I want to live in such a community where women get together every weekend to drum, a community where you can walk to the local farmer's market where the possibility of running into your friends is easy.

I want to find the love and touch of people rather than the TV babysitter and the walls of cars.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Individual Responsibility Toward the Environment

Many individuals in China do their part in helping the environment.

The apartments have squat toilets which use less water.
Many reuse water, saving it for other uses.
Many don't use disposable diapers.
Many recycle anything that is recyclable.
Many use electric motor bikes.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Life in China Tidbits

Model school ended on Friday. It was a three week model school but I only taught for 7 days. My teaching partner taught for the other 7 days. On the last day of school, our students did presentations and since our theme was Summer, we had a summer picnic and played Frisbee. We had started out with 32 but on the last day only had about 10. I think summer is a busy time for students and they want to go home to visit their parents.

What were the highlights of model school?

The biggest highlight for me was all of the laughter and noise. Noise meant that the students were speaking English which was one of our teaching objectives. My students did interviews for a summer job, did speed dating, and played taboo like games. It was a good learning experience.

My computer crashed which made it slightly inconvenient to prepare lesson plans. The nice thing though is that one of my students is going to help me fix it.

I had to take two buses to where my student lives. The first bus was easy. The second bus was a bit more difficult.

Where do I get off? Which direction do I go?

My limited Chinese was understood by the bus driver and he told me where to get off. My limited Chinese was mispronounced and confused the 5 people I asked at the new bus stop. I didn't know which direction to take the new bus. I had to cross the busy 8 lane street 5 times as each person told me something different. Finally one man corrected my Chinese, not shi da, but shi fan. Since he finally got what I was saying, I trusted his directions and ended safely at my destination.

Now I have 3 hours to spare, waiting to meet my student. Cyber cafes are everywhere. Plus I can go window shopping; although, I don't have a lot of money. We get $5 a day. Food is cheap only $1 a meal, but clothes are more expensive maybe $10 for a really nice skirt. I like the skirt. Shall I splurge?

The other day I got a haircut, boy short (very few young women here have boy short hair). It only cost $2 and it took like an hour. The hair washing and head massage lasted like 20 minutes.

Life is China is wonderful.

In a couple of days I will learn where I am going to be living for the next two years and then will all by myself go visit either taking a train or a long distance bus. Hopefully my Chinese will be correctly pronounced and understood.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Living in Luxury

Living in campus university apartments for staff and teachers, is a step up from living outside with the frogs, stars, mosquitoes, and scorpions of Africa. My host family is pretty well-off. The father is a retired Chinese language teacher. He was the vice-president of a university.

Our apartment is on the fifth floor, the top floor and is a huge living space. There are two floors with the top floor having an outdoor patio with a lot of plants and where the washing machine is kept. There are 4 bedrooms, 2 sitting rooms, a small kitchen, and 3 small rooms plus two bathrooms. I still have a squat toilet though. It is a nice one. It flushes.

The living room probably will indicate to you just how luxurious my life is at the moment. Notice the pears on the table. My family always has fruit sitting out for me. We never use the tall air conditioner.

My bedroom is lovely. I have a hard bed which reminds me of sleeping on the rope cot in Africa, a taste of home. Back in the states I didn’t have time to get used to the soft beds. I have a nice desk where I spend most of my evenings learning Chinese or working on lesson plans. During practice school, I will be teaching English for 7 days on the theme of Summer. My teaching partner and I came up with the theme.
My bedroom has a clothes rack and I have the bottom cabinets of a bookshelf to put my clothes. There is a lovely big window which brings in a cooling breeze. The one bad thing about my room are the mosquitoes. I thought by moving to China I would escape from those tiny insects. I do have water though, so I don’t have to worry about staph which basically ruined my skin. My room has a guess what, air conditioner. I don’t find China to be too hot so I never use it. My host family noticed and gave me a fan which is nice. The fan is all that I need.

Life is good. I have no complaints. My biggest challenge is learning Chinese.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Daily Life in China

What is my school week in China like?

I wake up at 4 am and study Chinese.

6 am I go for a 30 minute run then eat a breakfast of yogurt sucked through a straw, a piece of bread and fruit.

7:30 I head to school, a 7 minute walk. (I am living on Chengdu University's campus in teacher's housing.)

8:30-10:15 Chinese language class

10:30-12:00 General session on cross culture, teaching English, safety security, or health

12-1:30 Lunch on your own

1:30-3:15 Chinese language class

3:30-5:00 Another general session

6:30 Dinner with host family

9:00 Bedtime


As a young girl, my favorite food was Chinese dumplings called jiaozi.

Here in China, it is one of the first words Americans learn, an easy dish to order at a restaurant. We only soon realize that restaurants don't serve jiaozi. You have to find the special hole in the wall places that sell dumplings and noodles.

Today, my family left the house early to go to the market to find the freshest vegetables on the day when veggies disappear quick, a Sunday full of thousands of shoppers. The market is such an interesting lively place full of wriggling eels, huge frogs, plucked geese being blow torched, peaches, and watermelon and hundreds of other food goods. We bought bak choy, dried tofu, green onions, eggs, thousand year old duck eggs, ground pork, cucumbers, and jiaozi wraps.

Freshly made jiaozi wraps! Yay! Dumplings for lunch.

It was super fun watching my Chinese host mother make dumplings and helping her stuff and squeeze them shut. I did a good job coz none of mine broke open when placed in the boiling water. I was proud and was rewarded with a tummy full of the most delicious things ever.

For dinner the ingredients we bought became a cucumber and thousand year old duck egg soup, a bak choy stir fry, a dried tofu and green onions stir fry, and jiaozi leftover from today's lunch that was rewarmed by deep frying. Yum yum!!!

I am excited about learning how to cook Chinese food.
I shall invite you to Chinese meal when I get back to the states.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Things Seen

The veggie market is gorgeous! It reminds me of West Africa's food markets except there are a lot more greens and other veggies.

Girls are very feminine here, not sure how I will adapt to that. Will I change into a femme who wears high heels and cute little dresses? My host family has already commented that I don't wear lipstick and I shouldn't eat too much. They don't want me to get fat.

The food is simple and delicious. The flavor is the vegetable itself. My host mother cooks about 5 veggie dishes each evening. It takes her two hours. We don't eat much meat, maybe a bite or too. The meals suit me just fine.

The family is very close. The first Sunday I was here, the father, the mother, the daughter and me all went to a clothing store and helped her pick out the best dress that everyone liked. She changed 4 times allowing us to see the two different dresses several times to help her make a decision. It took us about an hour to make the decision.

Men here walk around with their bellies showing. They hike up their shirts coz it is so hot.

I do not find Chengdu hot. Africa was A LOT hotter. I have no complaints about the weather. The other day we had a rain storm, lightening bolts from ground to infinite sky, tremendously powerful strikes seen from the glass wall of our language class.

When a little kid who hasn't been totally potty trained yet, has to go, his parents hold him out in the street and make sounds, "Shh, shhh, sway.. shhh..." I guess to help the child go. Children who are not potty trained yet wear clothes that have a slit in the crotch.

Gender roles are different here than in Africa. I see both men and women going shopping for veggies. In this household the mother cooks and the father and daughter clean up. There seems to be more equality. In West Africa most of the Peace Corps staff were men. In China, most of the Peace Corps staff are women.

My most difficult challenge so far is learning Chinese. It is hard.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Don't let Jennifer order if you are a picky eater

China is very different than Africa and is an exciting new place.

One of the main reasons I wanted to live in China though was to experience my ethnic heritage as an adult; however, being Taiwanese American in China has its challenges. I have heard about these challenges and yes they did scare me a bit, but I know that I am strong and can overcome difficulties proven by my two years of living in West Africa.

One major challenge is looking like I should be able to speak Chinese and not really knowing a word.

Tonight I went out to eat with three other Peace Corps trainees and felt the attention right away.

We walked through the alleyways between tall concrete polluted black coated buildings. We passed people sitting at hole in the wall quick eats looking for the noodle dumpling place we had gone to at lunch. Lunch was easy because our host country national trainers ordered for us. Instead of an opened restaurant, we saw the doors were drawn with the mom and pop preparing the dough for the next day. We continued down the alleyway that was just big enough for one car and walked into a noisy restaurant.

As soon as we sat down I was the person who all Mandarin was directed toward. All I could do was say, "I don't understand. I don't understand," in Chinese.

A crowd of 10 waiters surrounded our table. It was like being in a full bar with the music blaring except this place was only half full with no music. People know how to have a good time when going out to eat. There was so much noise and everyone was shouting at us. I was the only one smart enough to bring the menu that Peace Corps provided us that had Chinese dishes written in characters and explained in English. Since all of the shouting was directed at me, I had to make the decisions.

I got up and went to a table full of good food and pointed at the green vegetable dish that looked inviting. Then a waiter who spoke a little English pointed at various items on my Peace Corps provided menu and we picked two items: a pork vermicelli dish and a hot spicy tofu dish. Then the main waiter said something which I understood to mean that we had four dishes coming our way. We thought we had only ordered three.

So our three dishes came and then a HUGE pot filled with hundred of dried peppers and licorice like peppercorns filled with red oil and big chunks of fish arrived, our mystery dish finally making an appearance. But then another dish arrived, a HUGE bowl of clear broth with cabbage and a HUGE fish head. Lucky for me Africa taught me all about fish heads.

It was a meal to remember, savory, tasty, and cheap only $14 for the whole meal.

Plus I survived my first challenge, the challenge of being in a confusing atmosphere of language barriers where the locals can't understand why I can't speak Chinese and where I feel the stress of having to communicate somehow. It was intimidating but I survived. Lucky for me my dinner partners were not picky eaters.

Friday, May 23, 2008

China Bound 2008

Letters from Burkina Faso will soon become Letters from China

I have been medically cleared to go to China as a Peace Corps volunteer. I will be serving another two years along with 3 months of training. I will be teaching English at a university living most likely in a city with an apartment.

I leave Burkina Faso June 13th and on June 28th will leave Alabama for Washington D.C. where the Peace Corps volunteers will meet up before heading for China.

I am super excited!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

April 19

The Peace Corps hostel in Ouaga has about 20 beds in the form of metal bunk beds; however, it is too hot to sleep indoors.

Still it is luxurious sleeping in Ouaga. I pull a good firm mattress off of the bunk beds and take it to the screen enclosed porch and place it right under the ceiling fan. It is a step up from village where I sleep under a mosquito net hanging from the rafters of my straw covered porch, sleeping on a rough, firm nylon strung cot.

Yet last night I was unable to sleep.

Why? Was it the lack of the braying donkeys, dogs, and guinea fowl? Was it that I was too cold from the cooling fan?



Not your ordinary ants, like the little black ones that will quickly cover a chocolate chip cookie.
No, these were those big ones where you don't need a magnifying glass to see the different balloon parts of the scurrying creature.
Scurry here, scurry there, scurry all over my bed, and all over me.

It was like a dream, but not.

April 14

The UN is calling for international support for the World Food Bank. A food shortage is foreseen for the future. The rising cost of food will create famine.

The people of Burkina Faso are protesting the rising cost of goods demanding the government to do something. Little did I know that this is a global problem, one that is complicated. I am a chemist not an economist.

April 13

Last summer a group of us dug up dirt, mud, clay-like earth and moved it by the bucketful to raise the front porch in front of my door. We had a tapping fest packing the earth into a hardened floor, no need for cement.

This is the floor I live on. It is the floor of my living room, my kitchen, and my bedroom. Each day it fills with trash onion skins, mango skins, the stems of the wild eggplant plants from which we tore the leaves, peanut shells, candy wrappers, and bones from a goat stew. Trash is thrown onto my living space ground. Each evening before dark, I sweep the dirt using brooms made out of dried grass. Amazing how clean dirt can become and how dirty I become in the dust cloud.

Today one of my 2 year old visitors announced, "I have to pee."

But before she could get her underwear down and off to the latrine she peed right on the spot where I lay my head each night to sleep. Dirt is easier to clean than carpet. Is potty training easier in a life lived outside?