Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Today's Language Lesson: Dreams

In Chinese class today, my tutor asked me "What are your dreams?"

I told her, "My dreams were to live in Africa and China."

She asked, "What are your dreams after China?"

I paused and realized I have accomplished my dreams and have no more dreams.

So what will drive me to the next stage of life?

The American dream?


I fear the American dream of getting caught up in the working world of responsibility, working towards retirement for a safe haven in old age.

Doesn't 35 seem long enough, a long enough life of accomplishments and satisfaction for all that I have done.

Pay to Sit Alone

I want to go to the all you can eat breakfast buffet that costs only 10 RMB ($1.46).

I am not hungry though. I just want to go be around people, to people watch, to knit, and to write. It is like coffee shopping in the USA. You are alone by yourself but are not really because there are people surrounding you, which is a sharp contrast to the silence of an empty apartment.

But is 10 RMB worth not eating? 10 RMB is kind of a lot of money. You can get 3 large bowls of noodles or 20 Chinese breads stuffed with meat or 10 large chunks longer than your hand of pineapple on a stick or 5 go's at having your shoes shined. You can get 3 meals for 10 RMB.

However, if I were to go to a bakery the nescafe drink would be 3 RMB and the cake would likely be around 4-5 RMB. Therefore, 10 RMB might actually be worth the all you can drink nescafe and juice de citron, along with the tasty crunchy vegetable salads and stir fries and all you can eat fried eggs.

I like Chinese breakfast because mostly it is savory and you get a healthy selection of slightly cooked vegetables.

I guess I will go around 9 am closer to lunch time.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The less furniture the better

I love my Chinese bed.

It is a simple bed, a thin 1/2 inch thick mattress laid upon a bed frame made up of wooden boards.

Why do people not like sleeping on the floor and enjoy being high?

My Chinese bed's hardness is like sleeping on the floor but with some padding.

My Chinese bed would be even better if I didn't have the extra furniture of the bed frame.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Less Dedicated Pianist

Last semester, by the ping pong tables, I found piano rooms. Unfortunately, they were locked. By asking around, I learned that there is a woman who lives in a room in another building who has all of the keys to the doors.

Going through official channels, I wrote a letter to the dean of the music department, asking for permission to use the rooms. A fellow English teacher accompanied me and helped translate. We drank tea, sat in big chairs, and I listened to an old Chinese folk story about how music is a language that crosses language barriers. Then I was officially introduced to the key holder of the pianos.

Now I practice piano. My fingers are a bit slow and the rooms are a bit cold. The piano I have been using lately is really nice except for one sticking key that is quite important for the Shubert Impromptu No. 2 in E-Flat.

There are rows and rows of piano rooms, more piano rooms than Alabama A&M. There is always music coming out of this building and the rooms are not very soundproof. It is intimidating being in that music building. Listening to the other pianists, all I can say is WOW! Where in the world did these students learn how to play piano? I really doubt that their families owned pianos. However, I bet if a piano student was given the opportunity to practice piano, they would be 100% dedicated just like how our English students studied a ton while in middle and high school.

The attitude that hard work will bring success is extremely strong in our students and it shows in their work/study ethic.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My First Knitted Clothing

I finally finished my first piece of knitted clothing. It is a tank top made from Karen Baumer's pattern in stitch'N bitch by Debbie Stoller. I didn't want to deal with sleeves for my first attempt of knitting something the right size.

Am I happy with it?

Well, the yarn is a bit bulky therefore doesn't really compliment my body very well. It isn't form fitting nor is it tight fitting. However, I am pleased that it fits. Doing a ribbed pattern is great coz even if you make mistakes, it will likely fit. I am going to try the pattern again with smaller needles and without side seams, basically a large tube for the body. After my second tank top, then I might actually try something a little more complicated that is form fitted using things called pintucks.

April 15. Today I finished my second tank in a different color. I think I like it better.

My City

My city is a metropolitan area of a population of about 325,000. It is a tightly compact built city where you can walk anywhere important in 10-20 minutes; although, the best hot pot restaurant is on the outskirts and takes maybe 5 minutes by taxi. It is only a 20 minute bike ride to the edge of town where you will see the vast amount of tan, mud-barren, winter farmland that is sprouting its first greenery of spring. The streets are never empty except in the mornings. The city is not an early riser, yet it goes to bed early. At 9 pm the streets feel empty. On Sundays, you can barely move due to the crowds that take to the streets to shop in its many stores. Also, you do not want to do errands when school lets out for lunch. The streets become a critical mass of bikes. There are five bus routes (1 RMB, $0.16) and a ton of green taxis that charge 4 RMB ($0.66). It is a walkable city yet everyone loves to take a taxi. There is a church, a mosque, and a Buddhist temple. There are three fast food chicken places and several western restaurants where the pizzas are terrible.

It is a miniature Chinese city, a shrunken version of the bigger ones. It has all of the same stores, restaurants, and even has the same look. Maybe the uniqueness of my region comes with the homes built within the clay walls of the plateau, but that is the countryside. My city reminds me of all other Chinese cities except it is smaller, yet the number of people doesn't feel any less.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What if I get sick in China?

Today I had a tour of the local hospital.

The inpatient wing is totally new with lots of fancy machines and with a floor full of labs that test for many things even HIV; although, that particular lab was locked and empty of technicians. There is even an MRI; although, that fancy machine is in a half torn down building. The outpatient wing is an old run down building, but right beside it is a new building being built. As soon as the new building is finished, the hospital will ask to be inspected again and hopefully will get the highest ranking that a Chinese hospital can receive.

So I am not nervous about the facilities.

What makes me the most nervous about getting health care in a foreign country are communication, cultural differences, and the psychological effects of not knowing what is going on while in pain.

At least, I am not in Africa anymore where health care was a day or two car trip to the capital.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring the Season of Life

Walking home with chocolate covered sponge cake, I heard the chirping of a chick looking for its mother. Around the corner I met its adopted mother, a little girl in a bright pink jacket. Squeezed between both hands she had a bright orange chick and a bright pink one was poking its head out of her left hand pocket. This little girl had gathered a crowd of little boys who all wanted to see her new babies.

I wonder how long the chicks will survive.

Last week I saw a yellow baby chick sprawled dead upon the sidewalk at the bottom of the trash chute. Maybe these freshly born and freshly dyed ones are its replacement.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wear Pants

The sun has warmed up the city and I wore a long skirt, ankle length to teach in today. It was a maroon skirt that I often would wear in Africa, similar to the khaki skirts that my African female students would wear. In my mind it is a very modest skirt.

Today my Chinese language tutor commented that often in middle and high schools, female teachers are not allowed to wear skirts and dresses. If a teacher wore a skirt to class, the students would love the teacher but the headmaster would scold the teacher. I was shocked.

My African side feels like skirts are the best way to be modest, but then my sitemate pointed out, "ummm... Jennifer have you seen the types of skirts and dresses women in China wear with their knee high boots?"

Teaching ONLY 4 hours a week

This semester I was assigned to teach 12 hours:

American Literature 3 hours Seniors
British Literature 3 hours Seniors
Movie Class 2 hours Seniors
English Speaking Culture 4 hours Freshmen.

Well now I am down to 4 hours a week.

My seniors are doing student teaching and are looking for jobs for like 1-2 months which means that I don't have to teach 8 hours of class.

What am I going to do?

Well I have started looking for Chinese tutors. I hope to have maybe 6 hours a week of Chinese. I am knitting a tank top, my first piece of knitted clothing. I will probably watch movies and TV shows. Do you have any suggestions? I should start biking and doing kung fu again. I heard about a TaeKwonDo class that is given downtown. I might look into that. I have also started reading every book in the Treehouse starting with the author's name beginning with letter A. I start a book, but if I don't like it I put it down. I am not forcing myself to read books I don't like. I am just dipping in them to see if I like them or not.

I lived in Africa. I am good at keeping myself occupied.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chinese Female Athletes

Last night I went to the PE students' basketball championship.

At my college you can major in physical education. If you do you will study sports and have to play different sports. Each grade in the PE department forms a team, is coached by the their head teacher and plays in a tournament. Last night the girls' championship was between the seniors and juniors.

The girls were quick and strong. They hustled and were very aggressive. There was a lot of physical contact on the floor and a lot of fouls that took girls to the floor. I was shocked.

Their basketball skills though were not that great, a lot of passes going to nobody, a lot of panicked decision making, and a lot of open players who never got the ball. After 3 quarters the score was 24 to 26. The juniors were winning because they were able to score off of fast breaks. Offense was a bit all over the place. On the team of seniors it seemed like there was only one girl who actually ever was able to hit her shots.

Watching the Chinese students play, reminded me of myself, the quickness and hustle, giving it your all even if you lack the skills.

Next week is a teacher's basketball tournament. I wonder how the English department's female team will be. If I play and if Caitlin plays, we might have a chance. Caitlin is like super tall compared to everyone else. The problem is, if the other players aren't good, it will be hard for Caitlin and I to play well.

When I have played with the boys, having a point guard who looks at the court helps me score a lot. I do backdoors all day. But not having such an experienced player who looks makes it harder, coz then I will be the one having to look, passing it to an open player who probably can't shoot.

Oh well, it is about having fun, not about winning.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tired of Chinese Food

Chinese food is so delicious and I am TIRED of it. My vocabulary is not big enough to get a good variety of food.

The campus is surrounded by the same types of food: various types of noodles, dumplings, and vegetable sandwiches. If I go to a restaurant that serves dishes, my vocabulary is limited to a variety of vegetables, the green ones, potatoes, and eggplant.

Thank goodness I am learning how to speak more Chinese or else I would never eat again. Can you believe that someone who had a 2 year diet of spaghetti and cans of tomato paste along with the bland local food in Africa would complain about Chinese food?

I have recently learned how to order
cucumber pork soup
sweet and sour pork
pork that comes with pancakes to make "burritos"
a crepe like tortilla fried with eggs and filled with lettuce and carrots.

I am eating again.

Plus I got my gas tank refilled and made a pork and green vegetable soup. Yum.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

From the US to Home Sweet Home

It took 15 hours to fly from Atlanta to Shanghai.

It is incredible that we could be in the air for that long. Thank goodness the airplane was empty and I had a whole row to myself, a perfect bed for the surrealness of being on a dark airplane for 15 hours, watching personal movies on the screen in the headrest of the seat in front of me, knitting, and in a grogginess waking up for a drink or food.

The trip back to my city of Xifeng took forever.

Plane Huntsville to Atlanta 1 hr
Plane Atlanta to Shanghai 15 hours
Plane Shanghai to Xian 2.5 hours
Bus Xian to Xifeng 6 hrs

And that doesn't include all of the waiting time. I had to spend a night in Xian since I arrived at 8 pm.

Xian to Xifeng can be quick, 3 hours, if you spend $20 or can be slow, 6 hours, if you spend $10.

The cheap way is terrible! My site mate and I got to the bus station at like 9 am. When we asked for tickets, the ticket lady said no tickets and then a long flutter of incomprehensible Chinese.

Caitin and I were like ummm what are we going to do?

She went out the guarded gate where there were security people checking for tickets but because she is white she was able to go through without a ticket. I would have had a lot harder time sneaking through the security check.

When she got to the bus they said no more tickets just like the ticket lady. Then a guy approached her and said he can take her to Xifeng for 100 RMB. She agreed and returned to get me taking me to an empty van. I was like uh oh. We are going to have to wait forever till this 20 passenger van fills up.

At noon after waiting for 3 hours, the van finally got 10 passengers but as we were leaving the police stopped the van and started video taping. The driver gave us back our money and directed us to the previous bus that supposedly had no more tickets. There was plenty of room. It must have been some type of scam where scammers would buy all of the tickets and then try to get you to take the van. A bus ticket is only 65 RMB compared to the van price of 100 RMB.

So we left Xian at noon and got into COLD Xifeng at 4 pm.

I went to sleep which was probably a bad idea. I slept solid till 8 pm and then tried to keep sleeping but around 2 am couldn't sleep anymore. I read one of my books and started another book and then read all of the trashy magazines I brought for my sitemate. Around 5 am I washed all of the floors coz everything was covered with dust.

And now I am back into the swing of things, no longer jet lagged with already two weeks of teaching under my belt: English and American Literature and English Speaking Culture which is basically a history course.

It feels good to be back to China. I just want to learn how to speak more Chinese so I can order a variety of food rather than the boring noodles and dumplings that I eat almost everday.