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.