Thursday, December 24, 2009

Butter

After sitting in the Tree House for a couple hours then unable to hail a taxi, I took a bus to one of the American middle school teacher's flat and spent a pleasant Christmas Eve under the glow of the tall plastic Christmas tree gorging myself with butter. Mashed potatoes, salmon, and broccoli were prepared and Christmas cookies were served as dessert. Food tasted amazing. I had forgotten how butter is just so delicious.

The hostess gave me a beautiful basket that will be perfect for stashing yarn. It was full of edible goodies and I handed out tea cozies, bookmarks, and cards that entitled the bearer to a free knitted gift of their choice.

I find it a bit hypocritical of me handing out trinkets that fill people's houses with stuff. I don't like filling my house with stuff, and I don't like receiving stuff. Food is a perfect gift, but tea cozies and bookmarks are just plain crap, beautiful crap, but none the less crap. Why do I do it? Why? I don't like receiving such things so why do I give them out?

Well,
  1. What does one do with small balls of yarn but to make small trinkets?
  2. I have to keep my hands moving which results in a ton of homemade clutter.
Anyways, now I am tired and am ready for bed.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

A Wallflower and December Parties Galore

It started in November with a Thanksgiving dinner

then December arrived.....

Beer pong night
Hanukkah lighting of candles
Tree House Christmas party for the campus
Chinese friends' Christmas hot pot with two cakes
Swedish Advent Coffee
English Department's Christmas Banquet
English Department's Holiday Performance
Christmas Eve dinner
Christmas Day brunch
Boxing Day party

Of the 11 invitations, I only went to 6 of them.

In perks of being a wallflower, chbosky wrote, "Sometimes people use thoughts to not participate in life."

I participate in life. I just don't participate in every single thing. I am a home body, enjoy being close to home and want to turn in early. I don't like walking empty streets at night or taking a taxi back to campus. In Africa I never went dancing because of the problem of how to get back home safely. So yeah I guess my thoughts and fears of being out late keep me from participating, but also my body keeps me from participating in a night life. During social events especially ones held at night, my energy drops drastically. If you want to get up at 5 am and go for a run or lift weights, I am wide awake, but if you want to party and laugh the night away I am not the gal for that.

I participate in things that I like to do in life.

I like dressing up in costumes and even if I don't know how to put on makeup, I will attempt to do it. The time I tried to draw vines all over my face using black eyeliner or the time I tried to paint big eyelashes like in Clockwork Orange or do the makeup of Dr. Frank-N-Furter or glue on a fake beard always looked super amateurish and not very cool but hey I like dressing up.

I like coloring with oil pastels and will do 20 paintings of the same scene never getting better coz umm... my art has never been through an art class and is a bit like that of a 4 year old child. You should see how I colored my Christmas stocking or how I cut out gingerbread cookies freehand when I didn't have a cookie cutter. At least, I have supportive friends who don't judge.

I like to dance and have no idea how I look.

I like to learn about different cultures and interact with the local community. I rarely decline offers even if I know it might be boring. It is the way to start integrating into the local community and to make new friends.

I participate in things I like to do in life.

After reading, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye in high school, I vowed never to be phony, never to have phony conversations that fill time and space, never to kiss up to the big wigs. I think this is why in America, I have a hard time making small talk and have a hard time creating a professional network. This is why parties full of strangers is not for me. Most of the time in order to get to know a stranger at a party, small talk has to be made. One can't just dive right into intimate topics.

This strong dislike for small talk only exists when I am in America. For some reason, in an international community, I almost never have problems with the idea of just chatting the time away about nothing important. It is a way to practice my language skills and plus living in other countries, I am a visitor who feels I should "in Rome do as the Romans do." In China and West Africa, small talk and sitting for hours talking about the weather are important aspects in being part of a community. In America, I am an American and can make my own rules on how to be an American. Internationally I feel the push to conform and respect the norms, traditions, and culture of the place I am visiting.

I do think a lot, but I don't think that I am like chbosky's wallflower who thinks too much failing to participate in life. There are times when thinking gets the best of me and my anxiety rises, but in order to cope with that I just ask myself the question, "What is the worse that can happen?"

I answer, take a deep breath and get through whatever it is that is causing my anxiety.

How to always be loved

The desire to be loved is strong.
The desire to be accepted is strong.
Conformity often results.
To be different one must be ready to accept criticism and judgement.
One must be strong enough not to be loved.

Even when people attempt to be unique individuals,
are they really?
Since the world is united in the human experience,
what is being done today has been done before and will be done again.
Is anything really unique?

But the real question is how do you find you, the inner you, the you who is truly you, not the you influenced by them, by the past, by pain and rejection?

How do you find you?

By sitting in silence listening to yourself?
By writing and exploring the inner you?
By connecting to the love and joy created by you and you alone?

I walk around in a black skirt with an embroidered big red flower, the hem dragging on the ground being kicked and tripped over by my well-used scruffy boots, and the students gasp in admiration when I walk into the classroom. But it was the fun and joy I felt before entering the stage of 62 eyes that I knew that the skirt was truly me. I love the way the skirt moves with me, and in realizing that I am in love, I find me.

I wonder though, if the class had gasped in horror, would I be strong enough not to be loved, to continue wearing the skirt I love but others hate?

Maybe to find the true you, all you have to do is create. Instead of wearing and buying items from the mass produced, create your own world according to you.

The skirt was made in Africa according to my instructions. I created something that was me.

I knit and often feel that my color combinations are all wrong. Wrong because in the world of mass production, I have never seen that color combination? Maybe the colors I decide to combine are actually right, are the colors I am truly feeling in that moment, but the fear of rejection makes me doubt the combined colors?

When I was in high school, how was I a Spinelli Stargirl, a girl who is so in tune with what she loves and is so confident being herself that she ignores peer pressure? To be herself, she is strong enough not to be loved by the people who judge her, the people who want her to be normal like everyone else.
  1. For Valentine's I stayed up all night making homemade cards for my classmates.
  2. During sports games and camps, I was the lone voice who continuously cheered and even during basketball camp got picked by the head coach to move to his gym because my voice wouldn't stop, a lone cheering voice amongst hundreds of girls.
  3. During 11th grade prom, I brought my dad.
  4. During 12th grade prom I spent the whole night on the dance floor, most of the time on an empty dance floor, sometimes joined by other dancers. I asked the boys who didn't bring a date to dance, but was only met in silence.
Have I lost the Spinelli Stargirl now that I am 32?

I have gotten lazy, and instead of doing and creating, I get lost in watching.

I love kung fu.
I love riding my bike.
I love spreading color on paper with my fingers.
I love meeting people from a different culture.
I love exploring a city.

But currently I am stuck in my apartment full of excuses.
The weather is too cold.
I am too tired.
The weather is too cold.
I love knitting, and therefore, spend almost all of my free time knitting at the sacrifice of other loves.

Watching media is one hurdle I face when looking for me to love, but my biggest struggle comes when I am with a partner. I cannot bear being unloved. I conform to their ideas, to their wants, to their needs, all because I want their love and have forgotten my own love for myself. Loving myself is sometimes so hard especially when there is another person in the picture loving me. Instead of living off the love created by myself, I tend to live off the love that the other person gives. Another person's love isn't very reliable.

Jen, you've got to find your inner Stargirl and keep her close. If you can hear her, then you will always be loved.

Monday, December 21, 2009

tack me to the Wall

Today my sitemate gave me the book the perks of being a wallflower by stephen chbosky. I have only read like 4 pages and am already identifying with this kid who is still in high school and who is a boy. I mean, I am 32, grownup, and am a woman, what does it mean that I am identifying with some high school kid?

I am kind of scared to go on.

The first few pages have already talked about some heavy stuff and the other night at writing club I was writing about some heavy stuff and I am like scared of all this heavy stuff, heavy stuff that is the kind of stuff that sometimes goes on in my head.

Before reading on and figuring out why the author named the book as he did, I decided that I might as well write about what I think the perks of being a wallflower are. I label myself as a wallflower and personally struggle with this problem more so in the states than abroad; although, this holiday season has put me face to face with my wallflower personality as I decline invitation after invitation and debate whether or not to decline three more invitations to parties at the end of this week. I am being a BIG FAT scrooge.

Even just in the opening paragraph I identify with the protagonist who writes, " I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn't try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist."

I know these people exist coz well I am one of them, but there are nights when I am like I don't want to be one of them. I want to be that other person who is the life of the party, flirts, and makes out. I try so hard sometimes to be someone that I am not trying so hard to break out of my shell, forcing myself to socialize, believing that with practice I'll be able to leave the wall. But alas, my all out attempts as I swallow my fear and try to be the life of the party often end in disaster.

I wrote this poem years ago
____________________________________

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Were you ever shy?

If you were ever shy
always sitting against a wall
amongst a crowd of butterflies
afraid to let go of your protective wall
of silence
rarely flirting that would lead to a much
desired make out session
always going hoping to connect
but always leaving feeling dejected

Well then
come to my school of wallflowers
and
we will learn to be social together.

May we help each other out.

Tonight I am going to a party full of dancing, sexy people.
____________________________________

Umm, yeah, sooo, don't come to my school of wallflowers. That party ended in disaster sending me back into my shell for a long long time. Run! Claim that you are tired, leave the party unfashionably early and run. Run in the opposite direction of all get togethers.

So yeah perks, what are the perks of being a wallflower?

Well I can stay in my shell and avoid things that I don't feel like doing. I can claim that my anti-social skills are because I am a wallflower and can hide inside this weird, quiet, hate talking on phones loner. It is safe hiding behind the wallflower persona.

It is really weird though, coz I am not someone who hides. I am a teacher. I do presentations. I join sports teams and start clubs. In school I raise my hand. I have traveled and lived across the globe. I face the things I fear, yet under certain circumstances I hide and say yep, that's just me the wallflower. It's like an excuse and a way to keep everybody away from me when I don't want to be social or friendly.

I guess that is kind of a perk. Right?

Another perk would be, as a wallflower, I attract wallflowers. So being a wallflower isn't always lonely. Being a wallflower is just lonely when the room is full of flirty social butterflies. Sitting quiet in intimate conversations with a fellow wallflower is nice. There is a connection. I like my fellow wallflowers.

It is only 9 pm. I guess I should get back to the book.

To Do List

Knitting and doing laundry on a cold sunny winter day with ice water coming out of the taps is not a good combination.

It has been a productive morning:
  1. Washed sheets, socks, and undergarments
  2. Worked on a Christmas Powerpoint presentation
  3. Started using my last two balls of yarn to knit red and gray striped socks
  4. Washed dishes
  5. Boiled fresh noodles to eat with tomato pork sauce (After Africa where I ate spaghetti constantly, I have not been able to bring myself to cook the wonderful dish. The other night though I watched Costanza eating a mouthful of spaghetti. So tempting!)
  6. Wondered if drinking noodle water is unhealthy. Every noodle shop serves it as a hot drink.
  7. Watched a cute knitting animated short, "The Last Knit." Like me, she just needs more yarn (youtube or youku clip)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Start a Library

If you ever want to start a library for your college campus in China, here are a few books that our students tend to enjoy, books that continue being checked out several times a semester. Our students want to read the classics and often Pride and Prejudice, Tom Sawyer, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Dickens, and Hemingway are checked out; however, I kind of find it hard to believe that any of those books are finished cover to cover. They are difficult.

Instead these books are more accessible and interesting to our students.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
Are you there God? It's me Margaret by Judy Blume
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
Heartbeat by Sharon Creech
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Witches by Roald Dahl
His Dark Materials Series by Philip Pullman
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer
The Good Women of China by Xinran Xinran

Also, the Illustrated Classics are a good compromise to the unabridged classics. A lot of our students will read Oliver Twist the Great Illustrated Classic.

One may think that Harry Potter would be a great selection of books. We have the whole series; however, it is hard for students, too many strange words.

We might be writing another grant to get more books, any other suggestions?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas: We waited an hour.

Tonight we had a low-key Christmas party for the students of the college.

We spent 2 hours shopping for candy, sunflower seeds, and a Christmas movie. Found the food, didn't find a Christmas movie, but as Christmas tradition dictates and even though it had no subtitles, we decided to show ELF again this year, our one and only Christmas movie. Okay I lied. We do have Home Alone, but it has been seen a million times in China. Last year only like 5 students showed up to watch it.

We hung signs up on Thursday.

Free Tree House Movie
5 pm Reading Competition Awards Ceremony, Christmas Singing, and Stocking Making
6 pm Movie

At 5 pm with Christmas music blaring, Santa hats donned, craft supplies waiting, and sacks of candy and sunflower seeds ready to be given out, we stood in an empty classroom wondering, "Where is everyone?" We had already postponed the party from Friday to Saturday due to the claims that everyone would be too busy on Friday because of the National exams on Saturday.

Saturday arrived and no one showed.

But because we are experienced volunteers we knew, if you wait long enough someone will come.

At 6 pm, with 6 students we started making paper stockings, using yarn to sew up the seams and markers to decorate.

At around 6:30 people started showing up. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors had just finished up their National exam, but very few freshmen made an appearance. Apparently a performance rehearsal was suddenly scheduled and many of our students were required to attend that. We still had a good showing, not too big, not too small just right of about 50 students.

We cut out, sewed, and decorated Christmas stockings and Santa's elves visited filling them with candy. We lit candles passing the flame from one candle to the next as "O Holy Night" played in the background and then sang "Silent Night."

Last we watched ELF.

Thankfully, with a little bit of patience, an empty classroom turned into a Christmas celebration.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Organizing my Flat and Knitting Fears


Winter Cleaning


After watching a youtube tour of a China PC volunteer's flat, I was like whoah, "His place looks organized and not cluttered. Why is my flat so messy?"

Yeah, why is my flat so messy? I have not bought much since arriving in China except for yarn. My house does fill with gifts from students plus all of the newly finished knitted goods. So even though I don't spend much money my house does fill with stuff. I am not a decorator yet my house is full of brightly colored Chinese embroidery hangy things and hand crafted wall hangings that sit on my chairs because well I don't know how to hang anything on these concrete walls.

I prefer having fewer possessions than more because the more possessions you have the more things you need to buy to organize and store your possessions in. Without cabinets, closets, and shelves, a house full of things will look like a tornado hit it. This is how my apartment looks at the moment, but I do have cabinets, drawers, closets and shelves. They are just empty, so I am working on filling them and organizing my things.

I don't know why I am not a neat person because my brain tends to be an organized brain. I love charts, tables, and diagrams. I like turning complicated concepts into simple pictures. When I was studying for my various graduate school exams, I would file all of my study notes into a binder including a table of contents and dividers. So why am I not like my brother who has a super neat and organized house? Why do I like piles? Why don't I like folding my clothes and putting them away? Why does my desk fill with stuff, a bowl and chopsticks, a tea cup, a Nalgene bottle, five knitting projects, pens, and paper, a battery, knitting supplies, and balls of yarn? It is chaos!

Anyways, I am doing a winter cleaning.

Time to Knit a Sweater

As my stash disappears into knitted socks, hats, ear warmers, scarves, and cup cozies, it is time to start thinking about buying yarn and finding a sweater pattern.

Ugh!

Sweater patterns are easy to find. I like simple. I like one color. I like v-necks. I like sweaters that I can wear a collared shirt under and look professional.

Yarn shopping though!
Super ugh!

I hate yarn shopping. I hate picking out colors. I don't know how to pick out the right yarn weight or fiber for a pattern, and figuring out which yarn matches which pattern seems like an impossible daunting task.

I don't want to look like a fat sausage because of a color, yarn, pattern combination. So then should I knit a loose sweater? What? And add 2 pounds to my hibernating winter eating figure? Ugh....

The experienced knitters say, "Look, just take one for the team and knit your first sweater."

"Fine! Fine!" I declare with a sense of argh, "I'll knit one."

Winter break is coming and long train rides to Chengdu and Harbin are in my near future.

Anyone want to go yarn shopping?

Monday, December 14, 2009

I didn't know

I am out of the loop.

This morning I was out of the loop coz I had no idea that I would be biking to school in the dark. When did the sun stop coming up by 7 am? Or maybe the sun was hidden by unseen clouds which I couldn't see in the dark?

During today's class I was out of the loop coz I thought maybe today was the last class of the semester, but then learned by a raise of hands that we have another one in two weeks. Hmm... What about January?

After class I was out of the loop coz it was snowing. I missed the weather report that there would be snow. It was the first time in my entire life that I have ever biked in snow. That was umm... fun.... snowflakes blinding me.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wake up! You can't be a volunteer forever.

When I was sitting in downtown Seattle at a coffee shop looking out the window as the people were rushing home after work, waiting for a friend to finish up with his job, and writing my thoughts about future African adventures, it never occurred to me that I would be overseas for 4 years. I thought I'd be in Africa for 2 and then return to the states in mass confusion trying to determine what to do next. 2 years in Africa was a short postponement of starting a career, a career life I have never dreamed of having, but due to societal norms feel the pressure to have.

Instead I have made a career out of living overseas. 4 years is a long time. In four years, life changing evolutions happen as teenagers move away from home, live on their own for the first time and graduate from college. In four years, personalities evolve as they finish working on a masters or a PhD living in a totally different city than the little traditional ones of their hometowns. In four years, somehow people grow, change, form new habits and new opinions.

I have a friend who after three years overseas has finally changed her tune and now instead of wanting to be a nomad traveling across the world wants to settle down, wants a wife, security, a health plan, and a retirement plan. Why hasn't this happened to me? We're both the same age.

Four years overseas has made me into a SUPER wallflower. In the states, I was a wallflower, but now I am a SUPER wallflower especially around foreigners not around locals. Around locals I am extroverted, friendly, and know how to engage socially, but around foreigners, I clam up. I hide in the kitchen. I decline invitations.

Returning to the states I wonder what kind of community I will find and become a part of. SUPER wallflowers have difficulty finding community. After living overseas for four years, I fear that maybe I will hide in an isolated corner of the states and never come out. I wonder if I will start dating; however, living overseas I have learned that I am okay alone and don't need a partner.

My attitude towards not having a career has been reinforced by living overseas. I feel the joy and peace of having free time, of living on the bare essentials, of not having excess but just the right amount to feed, clothe, and house you. I don't care about having a high paying career, but feel that I can exist anywhere no matter what the salary is.

I wonder if someday a wake up call will hit me. Am I too idealistic and will American reality change my tune?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Yarn Stash: Good Gift?

I am still working through my yarn stash. I only have two skeins left with lots of little balls. I feel like soon I will be able to buy a new stash of yarn to start on a sweater.

Here is a recent project, a cup cozy, a re-usable cup holder to keep from using the cardboard ones at coffee shops; however, here in my city there are no coffee shops. I just use the cozy for my glass tumblers, a way to keep the drink hot and keep my fingers from burning.

Basic Cup Cozy by Janet Gallagher

I rarely see tall glass tumblers as coffee or tea cups in America. They are very popular in China. I love them. Do you like them? Would these glass cups make a good gift for friends when I return to the states?

Exploding Rice and Constructive Criticism

Today's Chinese lesson was a disaster.

I had a mess to clean up and picked an episode that was too high for my level.

We started with learning how to use the word "would."
For example, how would you say, "If you hadn't gone to China, what would you be doing?"

Then, my tutor described how to make rice porridge and I re-told the procedure using a few newly learned words. We took a break and ate some porridge that had boiled onto the floor making a mess of starchy goo, a large puddle of glob. The porridge that had managed to stay in the pot had a bottom layer of burnt rice with a top layer of edible porridge. Note to self, when cooking porridge in a rice pot check regularly and don't wait till the cooker automatically turns off.

Next we watched a cartoon episode whose dialogue was way over my head. The father and son discussed promises and trust along with the habitats and toys of bears.

At the end of the lesson, I was told that I really need to work on my tones.

Ugh.... Discouraged am I.

I don't know how to work on my tones other than to go back to square one and start memorizing all of the tones of all of the vocabulary I already know. Does anyone know how to improve the tones of spoken Chinese?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hot Pot and Dumplings

Last weekend was full of accomplishments in the realm of language and community integration.

I have always felt that I would never be able to order hot pot because there are too many choices and too many things you have to order:

1) type of soup
2) type of dipping sauce
3) type of meat
4) type of vegetables.

My vocabulary and ability to read characters is very limited in the food realm; however, on Saturday a pretty nice hot pot meal was ordered with an awesome tomato based soup along with a garlic dipping sauce and vegetables and meat galore. (Well I kind of cheated, by walking around the restaurant having the waitress follow me as I pointed to the vegetables we wanted, but hey you do what you gotta do.) Not only was that cool, but the meal lasted like 2-3 hours which is very Chinese. It was a meal of leisure of eating and socializing, not this eat and go type of attitude that I have had a hard time giving up even after living abroad for four years.

Then on Sunday I had a full day hanging out with friends cooking and making pork and celery dumplings. It was a day of pure Chinese. These friends have stopped translating even just the theme of the conversation where knowing the theme often makes it easier to correctly guess what is going on. Instead I was on my own, but I didn't feel alone as I stood in the kitchen having a conversation with the cook learning about her wedding and how to cook. Learning language by being in the real world instead of sitting in a classroom, my Chinese improves by leaps and bounds.

It was a good weekend.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Environmentally Friendly Chopstick Tote

Idea by Molly and Pattern by Jennifer
The environmental impact of disposable wooden chopsticks is tremendous. According to The Independent in China there is an estimated 45 billion pairs of chopsticks that are thrown away which is about 25 million fully grown trees.

Why not crochet these easy chopstick covers to carry a pair of chopsticks with you wherever you go?

Nylon string
Hook D

Chopsticks
bottom width 0.375"
top width 0.7"
length 10.75"

Chopstick holder for a pair of chopsticks that are narrow at the bottom gradually becoming wider towards the top.

Instructions for the chopstick holder shown in the picture:

Row 1: ch 2, 6 sc in second chain from hook.
Row 2: 2 sc in first sc, sc in next 5 sc. (7 sc)
Row 3-21: sc in each sc acround.
Row 22: 2 sc in one sc (8 sc)
Row 23-36: Repeat row 3
Row 37: 2 sc in one sc (9 sc)
Row 38-75: Repeat row 3, finish off.

General Instructions:

This is a simple custom fit pattern where an occasional increase (2 sc in one sc) is done as the chopsticks become wider. Throughout the project place the chopsticks in the holder to determine when you should start increasing. When the holder becomes too snug increase by one sc.

Row 1: ch 2, 6 sc in second chain from hook.
Row 2: 2 sc in first sc, sc in next 5 sc. (7 sc)
Row 3: sc in each sc acround.
Next rows: repeat row 3 until chopsticks fit too tightly then do an increase row
Increase row: 2 sc in one of the sc
Repeat row 3, next rows, and increase row until chopsticks are fully covered or until desired length.

Dark Skies

The snow is falling fast and in swirls
White blasts of solid cold

It's like watching a still painting
with static disrupting the picture

Falling
to the icy ground
sticking
into inches of slippery mess
boot dirtying black icy tracks
foot-printing into my white tiled floors
little puddles forming around each shoe

Sliding and bumping into
each car
each person
each bike
smashing
and
falling

Ugh snow

but

Because of the
snow
Christmas music is
now playing...

so

Maybe snow isn't ALL bad.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Fighting: What is it Really About?

Writing club is still going strong! Tonight was our 7th meeting. Every Sunday, we have like 7-9 participants, some are regulars, some are first timers. It is a great club. The strength of this club lies in the mixture of voices teachers and students freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors everyone learning from each other strengthening their English skills by writing, speaking, and listening as well as working on creativity.

This semester we have been working on short writing exercises to improve specific skills like writing metaphors, describing detail using the five senses, shrinking big ideas into smaller ideas, brainstorming, using random words to motivate a poem, and looking at photographs to inspire.

We have just been writing, not editing.

Tonight we worked on dialogues, had a guest speaker from number 2 middle school, a teacher from Canada.

Next semester, I am hoping to expand the writing club such that each student will be a leader presenting a writing lesson to the other club members. Also, hopefully we will start writing longer pieces that will be written, re-written, edited, then self-published. Maybe we could even have a reading party to promote our book.

I am not a fiction writer. I rarely write dialogues. I love writing club because it helps me get out of my writing box and even if the writing is poor, one has to start somewhere. This might be one of the very first dialogues I have ever written. It is awfully cheesy, but if read out loud is quite a fun expressive read. Reading a dialogue out loud I can put in the tone and the mood, but how does one do that with written words?

I need practice and tips.
I need examples.
Your mission if you are willing to accept it is, write a breakup dialogue.
Accept the mission.
Write me something.

It's Not Really About the Flowers

John walked up to Anne and gave her a big hug pulling a red rose out from behind him saying, "So Happy Valentine's day beautiful. What do you want to do tonight?"

"Oh John. You know how I hate Valentine's day. It is just a day for stores and restaurants to trick the masses into spending gobs of money."

"But Anne..."

"I can't believe you spent money on a rose! They are so expensive and will probably be wilted by tomorrow."

"But Anne..."

"You know I hate romantic things, and we're poor college students. You don't have any money. Why spend it on a stupid dead flower?"

"But Anne..."

"John, you and I are just so different. We value such different things. You are into that whole romantic love thing. I'm more practical and logical. It just makes me so mad that you waste money on stupid things like flowers."

"But Anne..."

"But what John? What? What do you want? I just can't take it anymore. We never have anything to talk about. All you do is watch boring sports. You spend money on worthless things."

As Anne handed the rose back to John, turned her back on him, and walked away, she couldn't hear John as he said, "But Anne, I love you."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wash Chinese Tea Leaves?

Today I drank a berry tea, a western tea bag sent via a care package to my sitemate. As I poured the boiling water over the tea bag for the first time, the water turned into a deep purple with a rich, strong berry taste, a bit bitter. As I poured the boiling water over the tea bag for the second time, the drink turned into a murky brownish dark liquid with a taste of hot water. I didn't even try pouring the boiling water over the tea bag for a third time.

Are American tea bags that weak, can only be used once?

Usually, I drink Chinese tea and can pour liters of water over the same green leaves, brown leaves, flowers and have a tasty drink of tinted color for hours.

I do wonder though, are the tea leaves dirty? What is the process of drying leaves in China? Should I be washing the tea leaves with hot or cold water? Why are Chinese tea leaves stronger than tea bags? Is there really tea in those tea bags?

A couple digressions:

Last night's Thanksgiving feast and this morning's leftover dessert breakfast of pumpkin pie and apple crumble was yummy. Thanks to all of the cooks. Because my gas tank was empty, I instead of cooking bought a garlic covered Chinese salad of an unknown green vegetable and a deep fried chicken for the Thanksgiving potluck.

I am still knitting, but because my camera lens is not working at the moment, I have not posted the pictures of the 4 recently finished projects: socks, neck warmer, scarf, ear warmer.

Podcasts that I have been recently enjoying are Rubyfruit Radio, Cast On and maybe a new one called Quirky Nomad.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Teaching Breakthrough

Yesterday was a frustrating teaching day on new campus with one hour of greatness. I have been having difficulties teaching non-English majors, but finally I had a breakthrough.

During my second hour of class I had my first and only good hour in the whole semester, a semester fraught with failure after failure of activities. I used an activity on the Peace Corps China Wordpress Site. The activity of listening to a story and making decisions about what to do about a monster attacking the city has been an all around success. It can be made more difficult and can be made easier depending on the class level. In my English-major freshmen listening class, giving each student their own character to act out was successful. With my non-English majors just having the students as leaders of the university think about what to do was a success.

Finally my non-English major students sprung to life laughing, gasping, and speaking English!

Hopefully this is the start of many breakthroughs after weeks of failure after failure of being able to engage the students. I have tried activity after activity in my teaching bag of tricks only to be met with empty stares and penetrative silence.

The best parts about teaching on new campus are

1. I get to bike 45 minutes a day.

2. Students who take initiative and ask about how to volunteer and whether or not we can start some type of club on new campus. I am always looking for ideas initiated by the community.

(If you want to read a longer detailed rant about my frustrations, just pop me an email and I'll send it.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Surviving Abroad 101

During my Peace Corps service living abroad for four years, one of the biggest lessons I have learned is find peace in the things you cannot control.

In America we have a different attitude towards time. Things start on time. Don't be late. Time is money. Do things quickly and efficiently, multi-task. This attitude creates a belief that we have some type of control that if we do A and B then C will result. We expect if we take our car to have its oil changed, it will be done in a timely manner. We expect if we have a doctor's appointment for 1 pm that it will somehow start around 1 pm or at least we'll be given some type of attention by being put into a little room and having our blood pressure checked. We have this expectation that things should be done in a timely manner and if it isn't then by complaining to someone something will get done. We have this idea that we can control the situation to create the outcome we want.

In America we have this attitude that things for the most part work. The bank works. The postal service works. School works. Your house, your plumbing, your electrical wiring, your gas, basic utilities work. They don't fall apart. There is a sense of order, of schedules, and of reliability. This safe atmosphere creates an attitude of expectation, a feeling of a sense of control, of self-entitlement. If there is a blackout people complain and expect the lights to be on soon. If water is cut then there had better have been notices indicating when. If your mail or newspaper didn't arrive, someone will pay!

In other countries, things work differently. Flights are canceled as you are waiting at the airport. Electrical sockets suddenly burst into flame. Toilets may not flush for a year and the workmen who were suppose to show up on Friday never show. The last day of the semester and when finals will start is a big mystery. A listening lab filled with 100 computers doesn't work for a whole semester. A teacher will arrive to class and for some reason or another the students don't show up. A person is locked out of their house because a poor quality lock was installed that only after 4 months breaks. The driver of the taxi stops for an hour banquet just 40 minutes outside of your destination after being in the car for 5 hours already. All of these things, each and every one of them happening in just one week. In other countries, things work differently.

Living abroad one has to let go.
Let go of expectations.
Let go of control.
Let go of your faith that things work and will work in a timely manner.
Let go of your belief that you should be informed of important information.

Unexpected things are always happening and there is nothing you can do about them in a fast efficient way.

Be patient,
wait,
and find peace in the things you cannot control.

Yesterday, I waited a whole morning for a man to come fix my lock who was suppose to arrive at my front door at 9 am. Instead he arrived at noon. Why get mad, stressed, and impatient over something I cannot control. Instead while waiting, I had a nice breakfast, a 40 minute walk around the playground, a nice hot berry tea, and read a good book.

Be patient,
wait,
and find peace in the things you cannot control.

Everything works out in the end.

I was able to take a shower and get to class on time, and even if the man hadn't come until late evening, I still would have found a way to be stinky and teach my class. Things tend to always work out in the end, maybe just not exactly the way you would want them to.

Survival 101
Be patient, wait, and find peace in the things you cannot control.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tired but actually Quite Happy

Every week I only work a few hours. I teach for 10, lesson plan for 4, have Chinese lessons for 6, and sit in the Tree House for 12. According to American work standards, I don't do much during the work week but hey I am a volunteer. One could assume that the weekend would be super relaxing. Today is Sunday, my day off, and yet counter to assumption, I am exhausted, mentally and physically.

My clothes are wet and stinky from steam coming off my exercising body in the chill of winter, steam caught in my heavy non-breathing water/wind proof shell making me soaked from the inside out. I went on a 6 hour outing, biking against the wind, biking on dirt roads, fighting melted snowy mud, hiking down a mountain that almost killed me as I slid down the mountain in the layer of slick dirt. My body is tense and needs a massage. My face is tired and needs to smile instead of this worn tense frown. My tongue needs water and I want a warm place to sit and relax.

But no! The world hates me today. After my long day out, I can't unlock my front door. It is probably due to the kid who is always putting keys into my lock, banging on the front door, and running away. Yesterday I heard him and his friend fiddling with the lock, shouting laowai, then banging on the door with his fist and running. I didn't even get up from my nap to answer the door coz I could hear every single word that was going on through the thin walls.

Exhausted I am from naughty boys and physically tired from a full day outside. Exhausted from spending 6 hours trying to speak and understand Chinese. Exhausted at not being able to get my lock fixed because the guy who helps take care of the flat is in Langzhou. Exhausted at missing a phone call tonight because I'll be sleeping in a strange bed instead of my own comfortable house. Instead I'll be trying to relax in another person's home, not my own, a place where the toilet doesn't even work. Exhaustion will not go away today, but I bet I will sleep well tonight. Exhaustion gives a sense of accomplishment, a full day, a job well done. Today my soul can smile.

(Sunday night writing club's writing activity. 1. Make a list of emotions. 2. Pick one emotion. 3. Brainstorm ideas for that emotion. 4. Write about the emotion. My emotion was exhaustion.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

In the Valley

Today is one of those sad days. In the cycle of living abroad, there are up days and down days. Today is a down day.

My Chinese lesson was excellent though. I was able to answer 5 questions about my childhood in a full story paragraph talking about my mother being afraid of me going to school on a school bus and getting lost at the age of 5 not knowing any Chinese and looking Chinese, talking about being yearbook editor in high school and not having a boyfriend, talking about making mud pies and going swimming in the front yard pond to gather clay at the bottom to make pots, the Alabama sun as the drying oven, and talking about the different animals we had on our farm. I was also able to listen to a joke on chinesepod and watch a Chinese cartoon before class and retell the joke and what the cartoon was about.

I feel though that my spoken Chinese has hit a wall. Everyday, I have been studying how to recognize characters and have been typing different dialogues and homework on the computer, but my spoken Chinese has taken a hit. I stutter along. I wonder if my brain can't do both at the same time. At some point everything will come together, right?

Back to the down day. Why today?

Well in a world where I spend a lot of time with students or had a week with a bit too much socializing, I need a break and just want to sit cooped up in the house knitting and having a Star Wars' marathon, eating ramen water heated by an electric kettle because my gas tank went empty the night before while cooking a bean soup. Cooped up is not a positive thing. It feels like being an old person like my grandmother when I was living with her. That world revolved around meals, TV shows, naps, when the mail arrived, and then bedtime. It had a quiet restless unproductive feel to it. But there are times during the week that I too feel the need for such a day but then once the day is over it feels not so good.

I did leave the house once today to have dinner at the restaurant mall, four stories of restaurants, had a plate of sizzling noodles, and eavesdropped on a couple with whom I was sharing a table with in the crowded restaurant. They spoke of the food, spicy, sweet. They spoke of the weather and of what majors are good to do in college. It was small talk boring talk but I understood it. If that is all couples talk about then the language barrier wouldn't be a problem if I wanted to date someone Chinese. I bought 50 miniature oranges from one of the many vendors pushing bikes around with baskets full of mini fruit. I ate candied strawberries on a stick and stopped at the new bakery where the workers speak English. Chinese bread tends to be sweet even the ones they claim are salty.

Now I am back home working on a blue striped sock.

Tomorrow will be another day. I've been invited on a bike ride. The people I went to Henan with during the summer will all be back in Xifeng for a week. It will be warming to my heart to be reunited with all of them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Strange Food Bits

PC visited and we had a huge fancy banquet with the President of the the school along with a lot of delicacies imported from other regions of China. Dog was delicious, very tender and meaty.

My yogurt this morning was full of raspberries and red beans.

My student brought me a huge bag of wrinkly red dried fruit that looks like dates, maybe figs, but nothing like the African dates and figs I ate in Senegal. The Chinese ones are more light and airy. She said, "Put them in your tea. It helps the blood of women."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ugh, Snow Ugly

I come from Alabama a place where any snow and ice will completely shut down the city and will close schools. 

I am not a snow person.

Because I had just finished two years in Africa, and only had Seattle weather in my memory, I only brought a fleece to China.  Boy that was a mistake!  Lucky for me I got a couple of care packages with thermal underwear and heavy jackets.

For about a week now, we have had snow, all types of snow.  Snow that turns into ugly dangerous ice.  Snow that turns into black slush.  Snow that is fluffy and crackles when you walk in it. 

Fluffy snow is somewhat beautiful but even such fresh clean beauty doesn't magically turn me into a snow person. 

I still don't like snow.
I don't like how you have to walk cautiously.
I don't like how suddenly your feet slip from beneath you.
I don't like how cars can't stop and go crashing into people and other bumpers.
I don't like how my clothes get all wet.
I don't like how snow sneaks into your collar and ears.
I don't like having to take a bus instead of biking.

I remember not liking a lot of things about Seattle's weather like the rain and like never seeing the sun almost always seeming to be in some type of darkness. After 6 years, I got used to it and barely noticed those depressing clouds.

I guess I will get used to snow.  It might be a nice thing to get used to.  It does remind me of Christmas postcards and it is fun to knit for; however, my knitted gloves, hats, and scarves are not warm enough.  I need to line all of my knitted items.  I am probably going to cut up some extra fleece pants to line my crafted yarn.

In other news, our one flight a day to and from Xian has been canceled due to the weather.  PC site visitors will have to take a car.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Not an A-Line Bob

Looking for pictures online, I found some great A-line bobs with a high shaved nape. I even found a cartoon picture for hairstylists to stress the point that I wanted a sharp angled bob and not a straight bob. I found a picture to indicate that I wanted the back to be short and high.

My bangs are not long enough yet and still have to catch up with the rest of my hair, so I thought I'd shave off the back which was getting too long-could almost be put into pigtails- and get a new clean cut.

Some of my students recommended a salon and wrote down the hanzi for me. China has thousands of barber shops, and I went along the street checking my notebook against each barber shop sign until I found the recommended one. In I went, showed the 10 workers the pictures, informed them that I wanted my bangs to be the longest part of the hairstyle, asked how much (10 RMB), got my hair washed, and sat down in the chair, pictures in hand waiting to see what would result.

As I was poked and cut three times on my cheek, I told the hairdresser I wanted my hair to be shorter than what she was doing.

She said, "It won't look good."

What does one say to that? Usually I don't really care for public opinion but when a hairdresser says, "That won't look good," it is advice that is kind of hard to ignore while sitting in the chair.

I like hard extreme lines. Unless you are a person with a crazy hairstyle who works in a hair salon, extreme is not a common hairstyle in China which makes it hard to get someone to cut my hair the way I want.

So voila, compared to the shag I was wearing before, here is my new haircut a clean style cut to my female hairstylist's preference. It is longer than what I wanted. Because my bangs are not the longest part of the haircut, it is not a slanted bob but some type of widow's peak like hairdo except on the side of the face instead of on top of the head.



I will get another cut in January, a short short cut. Next time my bangs will be the longest part of the hairstyle and everything else super short!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Language Boxes in My Head

My head has three language boxes: English, French, and Chinese. During French club, my brain gets frazzled as it jumps from box to box. Sometimes I hit a wall in one of the boxes and can't get out of the Chinese box to enter into the French box or vice versa. Sometimes I think I am in the French box believing that the words coming out of my mouth are French when in reality they are Chinese. Ta and toi which one is which? Being in a tri-lingual atmosphere hurts my head as I stutter along jumping from box to box and sometimes getting stuck in one box when I want to be in another.

Monsters Who Torment Poor Freshmen

Yesterday I taught a listening lesson on Halloween and then last night about 6 freshmen visited the Tree House. I asked them what types of scary things are in China. Witches and vampires are not so common but ghosts and zombies, plus monsters, are. I didn't understand their description of the monsters though. They kept talking about a little rabbit. I didn't understand how a little rabbit could be a monster.

Then I asked them, "Since there are no witches, who does magic in China?" They replied that even today villages have men with yin yang compasses who determine where good water is, where a good place is to bury the dead, and other things. Then we talked about fortune tellers who can tell you stuff from throwing coins, from your face, or from your palms. The students laughed when discussing it not believing in that kind of stuff.

Then they told me about the bad boys who live in a building right next door to theirs who throw trash into their dorm room through the window. They have a corner room on the 4th floor and the boys are on the 5th floor opposite their window. The poor bullied freshmen had to pay a huge sum of 18 RMB (6 meals) to have the window fixed and replaced.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Snow and 3 Pairs of Pants

Today we had our first snowfall.

Growing up in Alabama I am not an experienced snow girl. Walking in snow is like walking in the rain. You get wet and it might be smart to carry an umbrella. Who knew?

Tonight I realized that I have missed so many musicals: Wicked, Spring Awakening, Billy Elliot and I am sure a ton more. How sad.

What else have I missed? books? graphic novels? film festivals?

As they dig their way through the free box, students ask, "Why do you like to knit so much?"
"I have to keep my hands busy. Instead of just sitting and twirling them, I like to keep them moving, building a single thread stitch by stitch into fabric. It is really amazing how a piece of yarn turns into something else."

Note to self. Stop knitting hats. Chinese students do not wear hats. Unlike Americans who believe we lose heat through our heads and chests, Chinese students believe in order to keep warm you must wear three pairs of pants.

Because today was a full day of teaching, I went to the school cafeteria to eat; however, today I wandered into each of the four cafeterias only to be met by a wall of students. Everywhere I turned there were students, and I didn't have the patience to push my way to the front waiting my turn by inching my way forward with my nose, shoulders, and body jammed against the disorderly crowd of a line where an inch of space would mean giving someone else my place in line. Instead I stood outside being snowed upon wondering what to do. An English graduate from Xian who speaks Japanese, who works in the English department's office and who was having the same dilemma as I, invited me to eat with him at a restaurant off campus. That was nice.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Learning Chinese Characters

For some reason I have had a very bad attitude towards learning Chinese characters (hanzi). I started with the PC hanzi book and gave up after only two chapters. I felt discouraged at not being able to write the characters. For some reason, I had this idea that in order to learn characters I would have to be able to write them.

Learning Chinese vocabulary has so many steps:
1. Learn how to read pinyin
2. Remember the tones
3. Learn how to read hanzi
4. Learn how to write hanzi

So far I have only semi-mastered step 1 and I still sometimes make mistakes when I read pinyin.

This past week I had an epiphany.

To learn Chinese characters one does not have to write them. You can just read them and learn them through recognition!

I wish I had realized that earlier.

I can use a computer to do my homework instead of having to actually write out the characters. This makes learning the Chinese characters a lot easier! Yay!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Learning: Go to a class or read a book?

I am an independent learner. I tend not to learn from teachers or from other people. I am a type of learner who goes to the library and researches how to do it. I learned how to knit, how to draw, how to juggle, how to fold paper, how to cook, how to use computer programs from books. Teachers were people who gave homework and grades. I learned from books.

I have never participated in a writing class. The writing club though is super fun! It is pretty amazing how writing activities inspires us, how talking about writing with students inspires, how sharing our writing inspires. Maybe there is something beneficial to learning through interacting with people compared to my usual method of the lone independent learner.

Unexpected Gift of Writing Club

Writing club is an excellent way for students to improve their English skills. For an hour, they are reading, writing, speaking, and listening. They are free writing which is an attempt to continuously think in English. This is hard for the students especially for the freshmen. For the participants of the writing club, I believe the hour of thinking and trying to express themselves in English is the most useful skill for them to practice.

Personally for me the best part of writing club is getting to meet the students through their writing, through the thoughts they put on the page, through what ideas they decide to write about triggered by the prompts. I have spent a year getting to know students through the questions I ask about love, family, culture, conflict, and school. Because they are shy it is hard for them to bring up their own topics to talk about; therefore, everything they talk about is somehow influenced by me, by the questions I ask. I am not really learning who they truly are. Their experiences and thoughts are somehow filtered by the one who asks the questions, but with the writing club there is a free flow of thoughts and ideas coming from within them.

As writers, we write from our experiences, from our feelings, from our philosophies. We write about things that are dear to us. When given writing activities, the prompts inspire writing based on who we are. Sharing our writing with each other leads to cultural exchange, leads to an exchange on a very personal level. I am learning more about the students from what they write about than from the many conversations that I have had with them.

Today we did two writing activities: 1. a warm-up of writing an emotion poem 2. using random words to inspire us to write a poem (Random Words Epigraph).

What have I learned about myself and my students ? I learned that I in contrast to the students write about pain, tension, conflict, a pessimistic world while they write about happiness with very beautiful peaceful imagery. But then I also learned about some of them being in love with crying, about the prison of anxiety, about the freedom that kite flying invokes, about how it is maybe better to be weak when there is a fight. We shared with each other how we view different emotions and situations differently. We opened ourselves up and revealed ourselves in ways that answers to my questions never seemed to touch.

Writing club has surprisingly had some unexpected results. I was hoping to just practice my writing and to help the students practice their English skills. Instead I am seeing a new side to Chinese students and they are seeing a new side to their American teacher.

Newest Hat

Hopefully during the winter break I will be able to go to Harbin to visit a student who graduated last year. Harbin is cold. I need a warm hat. I finished it today. (Leef's Ear Flap Hat)

My yarn stash is almost finished. Yay! Soon I will be able to start on a sweater.

Today has been a quiet day. I planned a lesson and prepared tonight's writing club exercise. I cooked a tasty piece of pork with some potatoes. I finished watching the movie UP, and my desk has become a mountain of chaos full of knitting stuff.

Friday, November 06, 2009

General Update

Class
Wednesday I had listening class all day, a day without electricity. I had prepared a Halloween lesson plan; however, because of the lack of a computer, I was only able to do half of the lesson which was the vocabulary listening quiz, the history of Halloween, and the telling of a spooky story, "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs. The rest of the time we listened to each student's homework while writing down each question practicing listening to the different ways students pronounce words. Their homework was to ask 5 questions to their classmates, listen to the answers, write down what they heard and then present one question and answer to the class.

Yarn
I was asked to knit two hats. I finished both of them. I have found the bookmark crochet pattern that I will be using to make Christmas gifts. It is a pretty fast project. Today I made 5 of them.

Chinese Corner
Chinese corner with 11 people was a loud affair exactly how Chinese banquets should be which really indicates something positive about the 6 foreigner's Chinese. It was an 8 course meal: a salty instead of spicy hot pot filled with vegetables, plus other dishes, eggs and tomatoes, chicken with green peppers, a spicy string mushroom salad, eggplant, green beans, fried tofu, ending with a fermented rice egg soup that was sweet with kind of an alcohol after taste. Twas a cheap $20 and I should probably take pictures next time.

Chinese Class
FYI if you ever want to learn Chinese by yourself, Chinesepod is an excellent site plus they give PC volunteers a discount. Today I learned my first Chinese idiom: "Be there or be square." I am not really into learning idioms, slang, or bad words, but today while searching on youku.com for lessons, I found a 4 minute lesson on an idiom. I also found this guy from Africa teaching Chinese with like over 50 lessons. It is kind of strange watching an African guy teach you Chinese.

5th Year in PC
Currently I am in my fourth year with Peace Corps. Next summer will be the start of my 5th year. Shall I stay for that extra year? Peace Corps will pay for a month home leave. I feel that because I was evacuated out of Guinea and placed into a new country, I didn't really become a part of any local community in Africa. It really does take time to adjust to a new village and for that village to accept you. However, in China because I have been here for two years, I am connecting with people, making friends, learning the language and developing ideas for secondary projects. Plus I have a strong desire to see some of my students graduate. I would need a third year to continue down this path.

Health
I cooked a peanut butter stew the other night which included beef bones, mushrooms, bok choy, garlic, ginger, and potatoes. I left it out for over 24 hours believing that my apartment was as cold as a refrigerator; however, I was sadly mistaken and spent a night waking up every hour with stomach pain and a trips to the toilet. I think mushrooms are a tricky food for one's stomach, even my stomach which after 4 years overseas is not delicate at all.

Mood
My mood these days feels strong emotions brewing deep in my chest. I have a strong desire for isolation, solitude, and lonerville. I don't know why. I am happy when I leave the flat and interact with students and friends. I am happy when I participate in clubs, class, and dinners. I feel fine; however, I also feel a sense of freezing cold. Maybe as I sit in my 3 season sleeping bag, a hat on my head, a scarf around my neck, with three top layers, and three bottom layers including 3 articles of knitted clothing, the freezing cold is influencing my mood and piercing into the depth of my soul forcing me to face the dark personal issues that I have been hiding and avoiding so well.

Weather
Winter has arrived.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

French Club

Last night was the first meeting of French club. No one really came, except for two other foreigners, one student, and a teacher. The reason I decided to start the French club was because several teachers on campus are studying French. To go to graduate school people have to take the post graduate exam where they are tested on a third language other than English. Our school only teaches Russian. Other schools, bigger schools teach French, Dutch, Japanese, and others.

We had fun doing French Bonjours, Saluts, and Ca Vas plus the alphabet.

Last night I met two teachers who study French by themselves and who have never been in a French classroom. It is shocking how much French they know, how motivated they are to study! It makes me feel guilty about my measly 4 hours a week of Chinese small talk with literally no sitting at a table to study Chinese. Even with only 8 months left, I need to get my butt in gear. Why waste an opportunity? If people who have zero opportunities to speak French are learning French, then I need to be studying Chinese with a vengeance. I am living in China for goodness sake where everywhere I turn I could be practicing Chinese.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Rice Pudding

Two questions Chinese people ask as small talk are

"Are you used to China?"
"Yes I am used to China."
"Do you cook for yourself?"
"No I do not cook for myself because I don't like washing dishes."

I usually eat one meal out and at home snack on apples, oranges, sunflower seeds, yogurt, jello, ramen noodles, oatmeal, and tea as I lesson plan, knit, and watch movies.

The other day I opened this can of what I thought would be deliciousness but instead found a hard mass with no moisture, with a middle of red bean paste that smelled like cat food. Canned rice pudding turned into trash food. I am not sure if I was suppose to cook it, heat it up, or if it had just gone bad.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Local Crime Report

Last year as they were walking the busy street on a Sunday afternoon, a Swedish couple saw a man with long chopsticks pulling something out of a girl's back pocket. They hollered and the man ran away while the girls turned quickly and saw crazy looking foreigners yelling.

A month ago, screams were heard from the girls' dormitory as a cat burglar snuck around the sleeping rooms stealing cell phones and money, hiding out in dark corners until the morning when the building would be unlocked again.

Several weeks ago, in the darkness of the evening in front of her apartment, the purse of a middle school English teacher from Israel was snatched right offer her shoulder. She lost 800 kuai. Also, that same day, her bike had been stolen.

Last Thursday, as I was walking in the market, three men came screaming towards me and two of them tackled the other landing at my feet, pulling out large shiny silver handcuffs. They roughly picked up the middle aged man and cuffed him.

Last night at 9 pm, at one of the only dance clubs in my town- an empty club with about 30 people moving and shaking and plenty of chairs to sit in- while dancing, out of the corner of my eye just like a Hong Kong action movie, I saw a man fly through the air trying to kick another. The crowd raced off the dance floor and watched from the wings as the two men tried to hit each other with beer bottles, throwing them, missing each other, grabbing another and trying to hammer them on each others heads, while their women with tears running down their faces screaming at the men, tried to pull them away from the fight.

And that ends my crime report.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'm not sick

It is a bit unsettling being surrounded by 4 burly security guards and having a gun pointed at my head, a temperature measuring gun that is. Every time I leave and return to my gated campus my temperature is checked. There are rumors of a handful of flu cases on campus and the school has implemented some cautionary measures. No English corner. No free talk. No English movie nights, and no Halloween party. No students are allowed to leave the school grounds and one of my freshmen classes today didn't show up for my listening class about the weather. I was also informed that in a few days the H1N1 vaccine will be given out to foreign teachers.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Saturday Shopping

This weekend was a weekend of errands. I only needed to find three things and it took 6 hours to finally make it home. Errands in China can take some time. It is like a challenging scavenger hunt where you don't even know where to start, but I met my Chinese tutor at the front gate on Saturday morning. She would at least be able to ask where is an item and teach me new vocabulary. It was a language field trip.

List of Errands
  1. plastic screws for my toilet seat so that future guests don't go sliding off or have to sit on the cold porcelain bowel
  2. elastic to keep my knitted pippi longstocking knee highs up
  3. balloons for making Halloween pinatas
  4. lunch
  5. Sitemate needed a large toilet doo hickey. Her toilet has not flushed with a press of a button in over a year. She uses the bucket method.
The most important item were the toilet things. We headed to the Longdong Open Market and found no western toilets. We asked around, and they replied, "Go to the construction supply market."

Then we wandered around looking for balloons and then elastic. Those items were easy to find. The balloons were in the wedding stores full of flowers and red decorations and the elastic was found in an alleyway on tables run by three older women selling buttons, zippers, and embroidery items to decorate insoles. We had to walk in huge circles and did a lot of doubling back. Longdong Market fills a city block.

Shopping took an hour and finally we were able to sit down to a lovely Chinese meal full of tofu soup, a green salad, beef and baby potatoes, and spinach filled crepes.

Then we took a $0.50 taxi to the construction market that was all the way across town and actually really wasn't that far. It would have probably taken 30 minutes to walk there, but the sky was gray, ready to start dumping water. We found stores stocked full of toilet items. I found plastic screws. Sitemate found doo hickies.

With no umbrellas in sight, it started to rain and we were about 15 minutes from the university but only 5 minutes from UBC coffee an expensive western place where you can get a pot of tea for $4 or a latte for $5. Waiting out the rain we shared a pot of Russian black tea filled with sweet dry strawberries and finally made it back home at 5 pm.

It was a long day. I used a lot of Chinese, marked off all of the items on the list, and finally fixed my toilet with the new plastic screws. I had to use a knife to modify the screws so that they would fit my toilet seat. Plastic screws are not going to last long and they are probably going to snap like the other ones did. At least I know where to find them again.

Buying the balloons was pointless since all large gatherings except for class have been canceled due to an outbreak of flu. No more studying in self-study rooms. No more movie nights. No more English corner, and no Halloween parties.

And last but not least, as the weather turns colder and colder and as the water pipes sit silently cold, my socks no longer gather at my ankles but keep my calves and shins warm.

Twas an atypical shopping day in China. Usually I come home empty handed unable to find that which I am looking for, but I have learned if I really want to get something done ask someone to help. It is hard. I like my independent ways, like not having to bother anyone, like trying to do it myself. Sometimes though I have to do it the Chinese way and do errands as a group instead of as one person.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Christmas Wish List

Living overseas, I rarely have ever asked for anything coz well I am happy making do with the goods of whatever country I am living in. I did need Dramamine which my mother kept me supplied with. Thank you Mom.

Because China is full of yarn stores, I don't really need this item, but I kind of want it.

The one item on my Christmas Wish List is

the beautiful multi-colored
Noro Yarn

If you are interested in giving me some, you can either send it to Colorado where some of my friends are preparing to come visit China in December or you can directly send it to my college in China. (Email me and I will send you whatever address you need.)

You can even throw in an extra ball of yarn and request that I make you something. I love knitting and make too many of everything filling the free box full of knitted goods. Put in your requests and I will knit it for you. It would be so much nicer knitting for someone specific rather than a random free box.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Newest Hat, A Baseball Cap

As I make my way through all of my yarn, here is the third hat, Buggerloo by Crystal Shadrick. I had some leftover wool from a felted bag project and decided to knit a felted hat. I made a few changes. I used a different brim from a previous hat. I also used bigger needles like size 8 and 10.5. Before felting, the hat looked like a rasta hat, but it did shrink after 30 minutes of washing in scalding water. Now it fits loosely.

Pressure of Conformity

The last time I was in China back in 1989, I just let my hair grow out. I don't even remember getting a haircut during the two years of living in China. I don't remember my parents taking me to get my hair cut nor do I remember asking to get my hair cut. When I returned to the USA entering my first year in high school, I had waist long hair. I remember standing in the lunch line and having students comment that my hair was like the tail of a horse, so black, so thick, so long.

I cut it all off my senior year in college, my hair getting shorter and shorter with each medical school rejection letter until it was a chin length slanted bob. In graduate school, I shaved it all off after a breakup.
Today I like having a short boy haircut. I do not like having long hair. I do not like having a feminine haircut.

Yet why do I today let my hair grow out?

Conformity

People in Africa and in China like my hairstyle when it is longer, when it is more feminine.

The thing is I know that I get stared at as people try to guess my sex and often mistakenly label me as male when I have short hair wearing winter clothes covering up my curves. My winter jacket is black and is a jacket that Chinese men would wear in China. I don't wear high heels and wear collared shirts which would look amazing with a tie.

Students give me compliments when my hair is longer and I am sure there are comments made behind my back when I have short boy hair. I am sure men who like having long hair face this issue in China too. They receive compliments when they cut off their locks and are secretly commented about when their hair is long.

Peace Corps asked men to cut their locks in D.C. before taking the flight to China.

We conform to be accepted, to be respected, to make our jobs easier as we integrate into the new community.

As my hair grows longer and longer, I feel this strong urge to say NO to conformity and chop it off. But what will the consequences be?

Next weekend I think I will cut my hair.

Friday, October 23, 2009

My Bathroom and Another Hat

Last night as I was brushing my teeth, I realized it has been 3 years and 3 months since I have looked at myself in a mirror brushing my teeth. In Africa, I was always brushing my teeth with a plastic goblet in one hand and a toothbrush in the other, cleaning my teeth out in the field in front of my mud house making white spit marks upon the dust. In China, my bathroom does not have a sink. It is a TINY bathroom where the western toilet takes up all of the room. I even have to sit sideways so that my knees fit. I would have preferred a squat toilet. It would have made taking a shower easier and not so claustrophobic. I use the kitchen sink to brush my teeth. No mirrors in there.


FYI When in China, don't flush toilet paper it will only clog up the system.

Here is the Austin Newsboy Cap (pattern) that I finished last night at 2 am.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Class and Poor Boy Cap

Yesterday I had a full day of Freshmen listening classes plus two hours in the Tree House. It was a full American work day, 8 hours, and I am not used to that. I feel asleep at 9.

In class, students were volunteering every which way and were showing their enthusiasm by trying to stand faster than their classmates to speak English and tell me about their dreams and the dreams of their parents. The dreams of Chinese students were to be able to travel, to have a happy and healthy life, to become translators, and Chinese teachers to foreigners, to make a lot of money. Their parents' dreams were that their children would finish college, find a good job, and have a happy life with their own family. We spent the first hour doing boring listening exercises out of the book and then we switched it up and had a lesson on dreams using the clip of Britian's Got Talent's Susan Boyle.

This morning before my Chinese lesson, I finished the Poor Boy's Cap (pattern).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crochet versus Knitting

I started learning how to crochet while living in China back in 1989. My dad got a job at a nuclear power plant and my family moved to Daya Bay in Guangdong Province. I was 12 years old living in an ex-pat compound full of French families, a few British families, and a handful of American families. The place was full of stuff to do. There was a beach, a swimming pool, and a club house full of squash courts, ping pong tables, movie room, even a skater's park plus kids and friends galore.

It was there where I met a woman who taught me how to crochet. My very first project was a pair of slippers. Ever since my first lesson, I have been crocheting. I would bike to the local market and buy hanks of yarn. I learned how to roll balls without making big tangled messes. I can crochet just about anything doilies, afghans, cool hats (made a butt load of them for the rugby team), and stuffed animals. I even attempted clothing, made a vest in high school and wore it every day. But it was a piece of clothing dear to my heart only because I had made it. In reality none of the clothes looked professional or beautiful. I gave up the pursuit of crocheting clothing.

I just started learning how to knit a year ago when I moved back to China into the winter cold. Two years in Africa made Gansu feel freezing. Even at this specific moment as I type this blog, I am sitting in a sleeping bag. I am cold!

When a person is cold, knitting brings warmth to the heart.

Yesterday I finished a pair of mittens.

Knitted clothes look amazing.

Which craft do I prefer now? I see the benefits of both. I would never knit an afghan. Crochet is fast and easy. I doubt I would ever crochet a piece of clothing. Knitting is the craft for that.

Living in China has taught me two important skills how to crochet and how to knit. All is good.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Secondary Project: Writing Club

I dream of becoming a writer, but I know that my writing is a bit dry, a bit too scientific, and not very poetic or descriptive. I am not a storyteller nor a fiction writer. I am passionate about human truths, more specifically my truths.

David Eddings wrote, "Start early and work hard. A writer's apprenticeship usually involves writing a million words (which are then discarded) before he's almost ready to begin. That takes a while."

I am 32 years old and I am working towards those million words.

Tonight was the first meeting of the Tree House Writing Club. I had 4 people show up plus myself, making a manageable total of 5 wannabe writers. We did the 6 word memories exercise blogged about by Phil and Patrick. I can only hope and do strongly believe that with each writing exercise creativity and the ability to write improves.

If you have any suggestions of activities for the writing club, do send them my way.

Thanks.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Gender Equality: America, Africa, China

In America, the fight for gender equality has become a subtle fight where probably most Americans feel that the big war is over and now we are just trying to fine tune it. I never feel like a second class citizen just because I am female, and I rarely feel that I am treated differently than males. America's history for the fight for gender equality has created a day where females take it for granted that we are equal to men.

In Guinea and Burkina Faso, there has not been the fight for gender equality. Instead the conditions are being prepared for a future war. Women and men are not equal. Men have power, status, education and the leisure to relax and play. Women are second class citizens who do most of the work with little recognition, have babies, and struggle every minute of their lives to please the men, to keep their children alive, and to keep themselves from drowning in the poverty of West Africa.

As the visiting foreigner, I felt like a third gender. I was female but I had power, status, education, and the leisure to relax and play. I was not seen as a second class female citizen, but as a gender closer to males and was treated as such. Being on the top of the hierarchy, I didn't ever really personally feel that I was being treated differently just because I was female. As a daughter of the American fight for equality, I of course noticed the gender inequalities.

If I had been married, it would have been a different story, and I would have personally felt the gender inequality. I would have been ignored while my husband was acknowledged. Messages would have been passed to me by way of the male of the household even if it had nothing to do with him. He would have been asked to fight my fights, to solve my problems, to be the leader of the pair as I just sit quietly and look pretty.

In China where I see road and construction crews with a noticeable female worker presence, I wonder what is the status of gender equality in China? Did the increase of female employment during the Mao era create gender equality? One of Chairman Mao's sayings was "Women hold up half the sky."

Okay so I hold up half the sky; therefore, treat me as an equal. It is here in China where I have personally felt the inequality of being female. At a wedding of a personal friend who we have known for over a year, neither I nor my sitemate were asked to give a speech. Instead, the newly arrived American male foreigner who worked at the bride's father's school was asked to say some words. He had only arrived three days ago and had never even met the bride.

Another time that I felt the effects of gender inequality was at a restaurant. There were three of us, one American male, and two American females where one of them, me looks Chinese. The waiter come up to our table and started giving us a speech. No, let me rephrase that, the waiter instead of talking to the table and talking to everyone, turned and faced directly towards our American male and proceeded to explain something to him in Chinese. Maybe the waiter incorrectly assumed that our male companion had amazing Chinese language skills. Maybe the waiter didn't notice the Chinese American girl who is always assumed to speak Chinese. Or maybe gender inequality is still strongly alive in China.

One could assume that in China there is a push towards equality. Girls are educated as boys are. Women work and there is a claim of equal pay. There is an idea that women can do work that men do. But the true answer I believe is in the day to day interactions between males and females. Males are acknowledged and females are ignored. Males still have the higher status and females have very little.

Every country has its problems with gender inequality and I can only hope that we continue the fight, continue educating, continue thinking and acknowledging the problems. Change does happen. Sometimes it takes living in another country to realize just how lucky I am to be female living in America and how thankful I should be towards those women and men who fought in the war for gender equality.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What shall I do for work?

Some knitters and people who crochet like complicated patterns, like airy lace fabrics, like creating fancy motifs, like following a chart, like having to keep their brains on in order not to make a mistake.

I am someone who likes repetitive plain and simple knit and purl, someone who likes a pattern that is easily memorized and repeated throughout the piece, a pattern where I don't have to concentrate but can watch a movie, listen to a podcast, or have a conversation.

My knitting personality might also indicate the type of work I like. Yesterday I spent 6 hours teaching three listening classes that were exactly the same. I liked it. I wasn't bored, but enjoyed the ability to fine tune the lesson plan into something great for the lucky last class of the day. I do the same thing when I knit. I have ripped out completed projects and knit them again in a better way. It doesn't bore me.

I enjoy practicing towards perfection.

When I think back on my school days, what did I enjoy?
I enjoyed figuring out a problem and redoing them over and over again.

When I think back on my laboratory days, what did I enjoy?
I enjoyed washing dishes.

I worked in a bakery.
I worked at a temp agency doing construction.
What did I enjoy?
I enjoyed the repetitive movement towards a finished project.

I was looking at government science jobs online and I cringed as I read the job duties.

One day I shall return to the states, then what?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pick a bookmark

I crocheted three bookmarks last night and am wondering which ones I should make more of to hand out as gifts. Please vote.

Bookmark 1


Bookmark 2


Bookmark 3