Wednesday, April 29, 2009

He Yelled at Me

Dressed in Muslim hats, male street vendors have been pushing large carts with a foot high cake filling an area of at least four Monopoly game boards. This curious block is decorated with chewy candies on top. It reminds me of Christmas fruitcake.

One evening while sitting at an outdoor BBQ joint, I saw the huge cake being pushed down the street. I try anything that is edible.

My language skills have improved greatly these past few months where my teaching load of 12 hours a week has taken a hit dwindling down to 4 hours a week. Teaching has been replaced with almost daily one hour lessons of Chinese; therefore, I was not prepared for being unable to communicate. Even during my first week in China, I was able to buy food and an umbrella.

Stopping the cake man, I understood the rhythm of his phrases, but did not understand the specifics. When I asked the price, I understood in general that he was saying a half kilo costs this much money. But I did not catch the specific details. He did not speak the Mandarin that I understand but a dialect completely foreign to me.

When in language doubt, I start guessing which this time was not a good idea.

I miss-assumed that food in China is cheap and miss-assumed that this cake was not heavy.

With body language, he asked us to show him how much to cut off. He cut a 12 inch by 12 inch, 1 inch thick slab. He asked me to help him with the bag and once he put it in the bag, I was like, "Uh oh. This cake is SUPER heavy!" It was a dense 15 pound slice of a nut cake.

I asked how much.
I understood, "8 RMB."
I handed him the 8 RMB.
And then he started yelling!
I kept saying, "I don't understand. How much?"
He pointed to a stranger watching and asked him to help us.
The stranger said, "I don't speak English."
The vendor kept yelling, coz of course the logic goes the louder you shout the better the person will understand you.
It worked.
I finally understood that he was wanting 80 RMB for the cake.
I was shocked!
I told him, "I don't have 80 RMB with me."
I handed him 10 RMB.
He cut me a new piece, a 3 by 3 inch sliver.

Twas an awkward miscommunication.
I hate being yelled at.
And the cake wasn't even sweet.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Easy Salty Rice Porridge

Makes about 6 helpings.
1/2 cup of rice
chicken bullion
sesame oil
baby bak choy
Add any other meats and vegetables that you like.


1. Except for the quick cooking vegetables like bak choy, throw everything into the pot. Add the quick cooking vegetables towards the end when the porridge is almost ready.
2. Add 12 times as much water as rice.
3. Boil for as long as you want. The longer the congee boils, the rice soup will become a thicker porridge.

Tips: I like to start boiling the rice with the water and then start chopping my vegetables and meat to add.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Two More Games!

Thank goodness Caitlin played tonight. We won 38-14 against Chemistry, a friendly game. I totally just walked up and down the court and didn't attempt to score. I was exhausted! Caitlin scored 30 points!
They then asked me to play one more game, a friendly game for show. Older men against female students majoring in PE. I played with the older men, but had to quit. I just couldn't play anymore especially a fast paced game against players who know how to play! It was real basketball compared to the rugby b-ball we had been playing all week.

I am tired!

FYI More pictures of the game can be found.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Last Game? Please!

English Department versus Grounds Keeping Staff 24-14

We won the Championship.

I am pooped.

I have been playing four 40 minute games straight now and they want me to play more tomorrow. I thought we had won the championship 2 games ago. It just keeps going and going and going. When will basketball end?

Yesterday's game with PE really wiped me out.
Then today running from half court to the backline to get the ball trying to beat the girl who was hugging me totally wiped me out.

At the end of the game, my missed layups and my last two free throws indicated just how exhausted I was- one brick and one air ball.

Hopefully Caitlin will be all better from her mysterious sharp constant pain and can play tomorrow! The appendix well, umm... that was a mistranslation from the Chinese doctors to the English speakers. She actually didn't have a problem with her appendix.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Women's Basketball 14-7

PE Department vs English Department

We had our first loss, but we are still playing for the championship tomorrow night against the ground keeping staff. The PE department isn't part of the championship since they are "professional." They are like the varsity team and everyone else is the junior varsity team. There is a grand prize of 600 RMB which is $100.

The PE department was wise to our game and in the first quarter I couldn't play. While playing defense, I was hugged and grabbed the whole time. Finally the refs started calling fouls on the girl even though I didn't even have the ball. The PE team actually started playing better once they stopped playing defense against my defense. They know how to move the ball and get open shots. Plus they can shoot. By guarding me, they were losing a useful player. I don't steal the ball. I play defense to let people play. I have no idea why they think playing defense against my defense is helpful.

Whenever I got the ball and was dribbling, the would swipe my arm as I burst past them and I would lose control of the ball. Offense was hard too because they played a zone defense and our English teachers didn't know how to spread the court. I did score all of the points, but didn't make all of my free throws which probably could have made a big difference in the ending score.

Plus we didn't have Caitlin who was sidelined due to a stupid appendix. The pain woke her at 3 am this morning and she was at the hospital all day long. She is home but still isn't totally out of the red zone.

Tonight's game was a lot more fun than last night's game. There were a lot of PE students and English students cheering and you could feel the competition in the air. The PE department had to win. Their pride was riding on it.

Tomorrow's game will be tough! I bet the grounds keeping staff are strong.

Monday, April 20, 2009

More Women's Basketball

English Department versus Biology Department

Yesterday, the English department had a win against the the Biology department. Caitlin and I sat out for the second half and our English teacher teammates did really well. They played great defense, had great teamwork, and even scored several points.

16-6 English Department versus Library Staff

The day before we had been forewarned that the library staff was strong, but Caitlin and I had no idea what that meant. I have often heard that strong women in China means women who can play sports. I didn't know if strong meant physically strong or had strong basketball skills.

My two years on the rugby pitch did not prepare me for tonight's game. In rugby, I know how to give back what the opposing team gives me. In basketball, I don't know how to tackle the opposing team.

We started out strong with quick teamwork and good passing allowing our players to get close to the basket to make shots and score. My shots were not falling though, yet with good teamwork we still pulled ahead little by little. Our poor teammates were exhausted from playing such great defense. They really hustled for the ball and everyone on the team contributed to the score. I only made 2 free throws and 2 baskets.

Our biggest problem was that everytime one of our players would get the ball, several of the opposing team's players would pounce on her allowing no room to dribble, to pass, to do anything other than get grabbed, tugged at, scratched at, pulled down to the floor. It wasn't a free flowing running game. Turnovers were jump balls and fouls. We were exhausted from fighting for the ball, not from running up and down the courts.

Caitlin said, "My arm hurts it's so scratched up."

Even if I could dribble out, I could only bounce the ball maybe twice before being pulled back into the midst of three players and having the whistle blown for various fouls. This was happening at half court no where near the basket. As I would receive a pass, I would do face smashes against nails. As I would shoot, I would do body smashes against girls trying to defend their basket. While I was trying to play defense, girls would be turned facing me getting into my way, physically blocking me with their arms and bodies so I couldn't guard the person with the ball. They were playing defense against my defense rather than trying to offensively receive the ball to shoot.

It was a miracle that Caitlin could even up our score by six points because even with all of her height, everytime she got the ball she was pulled down smack to the floor by hoards of women two heads shorter than her. It was like Lilliputians trying to bring down Gulliver. "I almost threw up my fangbian mien or shit myself everytime they elbowed me in the gut," commented Caitlin.

I now understand what the forewarning of strong meant. It meant aggressively strong. The library staff also had pretty good skills. They could dribble and could pass the ball around. And their defense? Well, they prevented us from dominating and it was a basketball game, that Caitlin and I had never experienced before.

We have one more game. English department versus PE department. I wonder what that is going to be like. I saw them play a couple days ago. They've got game and I am out of shape.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Happiness: Yours or Mine

"Authentic intimacy is not brought about by denying our own desire to be happy in unhappy deference to others, nor by denying others in narcissistic deference to ourselves." Loving-Kindness by Sharon Salzberg

Having lived 3 years in foreign countries, I find the line between my happiness and the happiness of others quite confusing. Sometimes I have had to deny parts of my identity to make others happy, denial to keep me safe and socially accepted into a community. Sometimes as a foreigner, I was given special privileges denying others their happiness. Sometimes I had to accept situations that made me unhappy, but made others happy.

The most recent example of confusing happiness is the competition for a piano room.

One Sunday morning, I went to practice piano. I thought Sunday mornings would be slow practice mornings at my college. I was wrong. I was using my American assumptions that Sunday is a day of rest. The Chinese students' viewpoint is that Sunday is the day to get back to work after the weekend. The practice rooms were alive with slamming doors, scales, opera, and drums.

The key woman took me to the best piano and kicked a student out. He left with visible anger and unhappiness to practice on a lower quality piano. As the foreigner I was given a privilege. This made me unhappy. This made a student unhappy. Did this make the key woman happy? After realizing that the music department was full of students, I practiced for 30 minutes feeling guilty for taking a piano from a student and then left.

Two weeks later, through indirect communication, I learned that the student had been criticized gravely for showing his emotions of anger and unhappiness for having to give up his piano to a foreign teacher. I was told that music students have bad manners since they are weaker students than the academic students. I was told to come back to the piano rooms to practice. I haven't been back since that incident not because I was afraid of taking another student's piano or because I was offended by the student's manners, but because I have been busy with sports and organized outings these past weekends. I wonder what the key woman assumed by my actions of not showing up weekly causing her to send me an indirect message through another teacher.

This incident is an example of the confusion of happiness. Culturally it is acceptable for a teacher to deny students' happiness for their own needs and wants which resulted in the music student's criticism. I would be happy using a piano that was available. I would prefer to be told that the practice rooms are full and to come back later or to be given a piano that is not the best one. I am only playing piano as a hobby not as a major. What would make the key woman happy?

Who is right in this situation? I could comment that the Chinese culture is wrong to deny others in narcissistic deference to ourselves. But saying that another culture is wrong and my culture is right isn't helpful. The Chinese could criticize me for denying my own desire for a piano in deference to others or could say, "Why don't you accept our kindness of trying to give you a good piano to use?" There lies the confusion. Do it my way. Do it our way. We are just culturally different. I am the guest in this country. It is my role to somehow fit in, to find a balance that I can live with and still make those around me happy, right?

If my language skills were better, I wonder if asking the key woman to give me a piano that is free no matter it's quality, would that offend her? It makes me uncomfortable kicking a student out to be given the best piano, but maybe it would make her uncomfortable giving me a poor piano. So the best solution is to try to find out when the rooms are not busy; however, the best piano will always have a student won't it? The situation will always come back to the competition for the best piano.

Maybe I should just find a way to be comfortable with always being given the best piano even though I feel it is wrong for me to take a music major's piano and should just be thankful for the key woman's kindness.

Sharon Slazberg wrote, "Of course, in different life situations, many different courses of action might be appropriate. But the point here is that metta (loving-kindness) does not mean that we denigrate ourselves in any situation in order to uphold other people's happiness."

When am I belittling myself, sacrificing too much, denying my own happiness, feeling that I am not worth the kindness of another versus trying to be independent? Am I being a people-pleaser because it makes me happy or because I don't feel the self-esteem to take or even know what I want to be happy? When am I being too culturally sensitive and flexible? When is denying my own culture to make the foreign society that I am living in more comfortable, not healthy for me?

Living in another culture I must create a balance. It takes work, self-awareness and understanding of the other culture. I have learned to be a chameleon. I can only hope though that by adapting and changing to fit my surroundings I am not losing something important.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Be Flexible and Find Another Adventure

I was nervous yet ready to play.

Today's activity was to play basketball with the teachers of the English Department against the library staff; however, when Caitlin and I arrived, the gym's two courts were full of other sports. One court had a volleyball net. The other court had a ping pong table. We were waved over to the sidelines to sit down by an English Professor. He was observing P.E. graduate students who were interviewing for a job at our college. The applicants had to show their skills by playing sports.

No one had told us that our basketball game had been postponed till Sunday. It was another lesson in flexibility.

So instead Caitlin and I went biking in search of dirt for Caitlin's patio garden. Carrying dirt on the back of a bike is like the days in Africa, carrying bidons of water or rocks. Why rocks? Why to make a stone walkway from the front door of my house to the latrine in order to avoid the puddles of rainy season of course.

Loading heavy objects on the back of bikes and riding with heavy objects take a lot of practice.

During today's adventure we thankfully had the expertise of several observers who laughed first then helped later to load up our two bikes.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Win 22-10

English Department vs Math Department

About 3 weeks ago, the English department Party Secretary told me that Caitlin and I were signed up for the campus wide teacher basketball tournament. Then two days before the first game, we went shopping for our basketball T-shirts, and tonight was the first game.

Tonight was the first time we had ever met our teammates. Everyone was nervous! I had never practiced with these teachers. I had never seen them play and was doubtful that they had grown up playing basketball. One of the teachers told me that this was her first time playing.

But it was an amazing game! It was full court and a 40 minute game. I loved it! Sprinting and sweating is like a drug to me. It is so much fun!

Women here play differently than in the states. You might think inexperienced players would be timid and shy. Au contraire my friend! Defense is aggressive and almost like football. As soon as a person gets the ball, whoomp, two girls attack giving her no space turning almost every pass into a jump ball. Lucky for me I have dribbling skills and can quickly get out of such a mess.

Offense was surprisingly not panicked. We had some great teamwork. The ball would move quickly and shots would be taken. Our team spread out on the court and didn't cluster around the ball, but got into good positions so that good shots could be taken.

The thing I love about playing basketball in China is that it is more community oriented. Everyone gets to touch the ball. Everyone passes the ball to players regardless of skill. Everyone shoots and tries their best. That is what I think is amazing. Americans can tend to be ball hogs. It is our competitive individualistic nature. But of course someone has to shoot and score. I think I made at least 16 points. I was holding back though coz well, it isn't nice to beat a team too badly right? It is all just friendly competition.

I had a blast tonight. I have been in a funk lately and playing sports I believe will be my cure.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

13 Hour Field Trip: Come Visit Qingyang

It was a day for the 10 foreigners of Xifeng to take a private bus provided by the government to travel all around the neighboring sites of interest being pursued by two video cameras and 10 digital cameras of the Chinese paparazzi. We stopped in Heshui first where we walked around a museum looking at many old Buddhas whose heads had been rebuilt. We even saw a mammoth that had been dug up in the area; however, it was only an "original replica" so indicated by the sign. We had a tasty organic meal provided by local farmers using local farm vegetables as well as rabbit and deer or was it donkey? Then we went to a grotto where the green of spring was popping up amongst the brown of Gansu. We stopped at another museum, more of a folk art museum, then stopped at a store that specialized in embroidery. The last event of the extremely full day was a meal like I have never had before with an actual ox steak, turtle, and pigeon. It was super fancy and super rich. I am tired after such a long day and can't really write a good travel blog. Maybe the pictures will entice you to come visit.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

When is flexibility too flexible?

This month I am only teaching 4 hours a week because my seniors are doing student teaching at local middle schools. The Dean of the English department so kindly invited me to come and observe the seniors doing their practice teaching with actual middle school students. It is kind of exciting to witness the future lives of English graduates from our university.

However, I am mad.

This morning at 10 am I got a phone call. Tomorrow they want me to reschedule my morning class so that I can go observe a teaching practice at a middle school. My freshmen have a quiz scheduled for tomorrow and rescheduling is a bit difficult because it is a combined class of two classes, class 3 and class 4. Finding a time when they all can meet is a hassle.

Anyways, I told the department that they have to reschedule the class. If they can't, then I will teach it tomorrow at 8 am.

I teach two days out of five days. Why make a simple invitation complicated? My schedule is pretty easy to work around. Why do I have to be so flexible? Why do my students have to be notified at the last minute that their class is rescheduled? Why do we live in this land of unknowns where schedules are so flighty? Since I am the captain, will they want me to reschedule my classes again if the teacher's basketball tournament takes place during one of my classes?

April 20, 2009

I should have known that everything would work out. Having served 2 years already in Africa, I am a Peace Corps veteran. One major lesson that I have learned is that by being flexible, everything always works out. You just have to have patience to wait it out and see that everything always works out. There is no point in getting frustrated or mad at inevitable changes in schedules and last minute plans. Other cultures view time differently than America. Be flexible and go with the flow. It always works out.

I watched seniors practice teach. I taught my class on Friday. The freshmen weren't mad but fully understanding. And I played basketball during the weekend. Why get mad?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Caretaking: Good or Bad?

When does caretaking become not admirable?

I am a caretaker, get pleasure out of helping people, and kind of feel like it is my duty to please people. Am I like this because I have been raised as a woman, trained to put aside my wants for others? Or am I honestly caretaking without feelings of resentment of sacrificing my wants, giving and helping because it is a noble thing to do? Anyways, why and when would sacrificing one's wants for the greater good be wrong?

In Africa, at a rare special meal of care-package sent cheesy tortellini, who would help themselves to a huge portion leaving very little for the other 20 people who are eating? It is considerate to take a small helping, sacrificing your desire for cheesy tortellini so that everyone can have some, right? So why at the end of the line do we run out of sauce and tortellini? Why am I the one who gets a spoonful rather than a plateful? And why am I okay with that, feeling it doesn't matter if I get any as long as everyone else got some.

I exist best when alone. Why? Because I don't have to figure out the balance between pleasing a partner and making sure that I am not sacrificing too much. When you are with a partner, life decisions become complicated because you are suppose to consider the other person's needs and desires. You can't just be selfish and consider your own, or can you? And whose greater good would you consider: the most money, the most stable job, the life adventure of living in a poor village?

I easily fall into the habit of taking into consideration other people's greater goods, other people's needs and desires rather than my own. Is that when caretaking becomes non-admirable?

Here in China, I am often asked to drop everything to take care of someone else's want or desire. 5 minutes before a meeting, I am called to be there. 30 minutes before basketball practice, I am called to be there. Edit this 100 page thesis in two days. Of course I will. At banquets, drink the red wine and down the white baijiu (hard alcohol). To this I put my foot down, because I don't drink at all. Often people would sacrifice their time and wants for me if I had some kind of need or want. In this culture it is an exchange of favors, but saying no is not admirable. It is expected to say yes or find some indirect way of saying no. Also, saying no to someone who is hierarchically your superior seems like a big no no.

In a culture, where saying no is not admirable, I easily fall into a habit of caretaking, of always saying yes and doing what others want of me. I don't know how to balance my need to people please and my desire to be my own person who doesn't sacrifice too much.

Also, often, I don't feel like I am sacrificing anything, but then I fear maybe I am being taken advantage of. Am I just way too flexible with no backbone? The thing is often, I don't care if I have to be somewhere with only a 5 minute warning or if a superior says, "No you can't take vacation," I just shrug my shoulders and say, "Okay." But then am I letting others have too much control over me?

Is there an answer? Do you have any advice?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Today's Vow

The bus from Xian to my city is terrible and I vow NEVER to take it again.

Today though, I was hopeful that maybe today's bus would be fast.

At the bus station, a bunch of men and women asked us where we were going hoping to find more passengers for their taxis or illegal vans and buses. Instead we marched straight to the information desk, asked if there were buses to Xifeng, went to the window and bought a ticket for 8:30 am giving us plenty of time for McDonald's.

I do not like McDonald's breakfast but thankfully this McDonald's served everything for breakfast so I had a hamburger and a fish fillet while Caitlin had a Big Mac and refillable coffee. Imagine that, refillable coffee. What a treat!

Next we went back to the bus station to catch our ride. As Caitlin was tearing the ticket to give me my half, a crowd of men gathered to catch a glimpse of our tickets. It was suddenly known by the whole station that we were going to Xifeng. Even while we were waiting at the toilets, these two women started having a conversation about us and even knew where we were going.

"You skipped the line. Those two were in front of you."
"No I didn't. Those two don't understand anything."
"Yeah they do."
"She looks Chinese. She must understand Chinese."
"They are going to Xifeng."
"Do they understand us?"
"Nah, they don't understand us."

I just laughed at the whole thing. Caitlin and I had given too much space in the bathroom line in our American way. As soon as the woman cut in front of us, we scooted to the door barring it from any other line cutters. It is important to be first in line in a bathroom coz for some reason Chinese women take like 10 minutes in the squat.

The bus was a nice spacious one, big, nice seats, clean with drapes for the windows, and a flat screen TV playing Chinese music videos.

We left right on time at 8:30 am.
But then....

We wandered around Xian for an hour and a half looking for passengers.
We pulled into a different Xian bus station and waited for 10 minutes.
We drove super slow, looking for more passengers.
We hopped onto the freeway and then got off of it after 10 minutes.
We took the crappiest local roads that had a great need for repair.
Going down a ravine, we got stopped by roadwork. Men dressed in bright orange jumpsuits were laying asphalt.

When they finally ran over the sticky black tar with their big machine with a flattening wheel, they let us pass. But then we got into another traffic jam as two lanes on a narrow curvy road tried to become 4 lanes, two lanes in one direction, and two lanes in the other direction. This caused problems for the big buses around the curves. One bus's wide mirrors ran into another bus's side. We stayed there for a good 20 minutes, watching a crowd of men argue and stuff.

We kept going stopping, letting people off, stopping letting people on to replace empty seats.

I slept the whole way, trying to sleep away the terrible, stuffy, hot, long, terrible, terrible ride!

A 3 hour trip by private car took us a freaking 7 hours!

I think the private car is worth the 50 RMB extra.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Strange Ice Cream

Have you ever had

green ice cream that was flavored green pea
vanilla ice cream filled with lentils
ice cream that was corn shaped and flavored
oatmeal ice cream?

There are so many flavors that come on sticks; although, finding ice cream that you scoop is difficult and I am still looking.