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.