Monday, June 29, 2009

Streets and streets full of shop windows

One thing that I don't like is the constant bombardment of shop windows filled with female mannequins dressed in the latest Chinese fashion. Every time I leave my house, I am in a shopping mall. It is worse than TV advertisements. I feel this great need to buy, buy, and buy some more fashionable clothes or at least get some tailored made since the clothes here don't fit me. But, I don't want a wardrobe full of hardly worn clothes. I prefer wearing the same outfit over and over again until the stink has to be washed out. Yet, every day, I think of something new that I think I need, need because I see it in a shop window.

Tomorrow I guess I will head to the tailor and put in an order for a summer wrap skirt, ankle length. (I am still not over 2 years of modestly covering up in West Africa. No knee high skirts for me even though I see them everywhere here in China. I even see short shorts worn over tights or short shorts worn with pretty strappy sandals with ankle high nylon socks.)

I have no self control. ugh!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

First of hopefully many more overnight bike trips

As a Peace Corps volunteer, one must get approval from one's school for any trips away from site. My school gave me a very definite direct NO. Their reason was it is too dangerous and too far. But then Peace Corps called them and lo and behold, I got approval. My depression instantly turned into joy.

In China, ups and downs come very sudden and often come at the very last moment possible. A yes can turn into a no an hour before you are ready to leave. A no can turn into a yes the night before your trip. A command, "Come to this meeting," can be given 5 minutes before the start of the meeting. Remember the Peace Corps mantra, "Be flexible."

Xifeng to Heshui
Distance 54 km (one way)

To Heshui 4 hours
Highlights: Racing down a HUGE winding mountain praying that my brakes would hold.

Surprise in Heshui: As I was wandering the one street city, I decided to check out the bus station and lo and behold I ran into one of my students. The world is small.

Difficulty in Heshui: I woke up at 4:30 am ready to get on the road as the world becomes light around 5 am, but I was locked in. It took me 20 minutes to wake up the desk manager who had to check my room for any damages in order to give me back my 100 RMB deposit. Then she had to wake the gate keeper to let me out. I was on the road by 5:10 am.

Back home 5 hours
Highlights: Pushing my bike 45 minutes up the HUGE winding mountain praying that two trucks wouldn't come at the same moment.

Biking on pavement even with the one gear bike is faster than biking on a 21 speed mountain bike on dirt roads in Africa. I miss biking for long distances. Riding through the empty streets at 5 am this morning reminded me of the many trips in Guinea.

Enjoy the few pictures.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Do I need a vacation from China?

Do you think there is a phenomenon called culture fatigue?

As the semester comes to an end and as I wait in purgatory, waiting to hear when our summer teaching project will start, I am tired, exhausted kind of.

I don't have much work.
I am not teaching anymore.
I finished grading my seniors' finals.
Now I am waiting for my freshmen to take their finals.

The sun is shining and I have plenty of lovely chill moments eating watermelon at the outdoor stand, hanging out at the local shou kou (BBQ) garden and going on bike rides in the countryside.

So why am I tired?

Even though I don't have any official school work, maybe I am always on, always working because I live in another culture. Even though I feel I am settled into my Chinese community, maybe it takes work to actually just live here: working through the cultural differences, always talking in another language, working to understand the various nuances of this culture, often being the center of attention, and having one's expectations dashed.

These past weeks have been a struggle. My sitemate and I pushed hard to go to Tianshui, got permission, and then had our passports taken away. We have met new people and try to figure out what their body language means, their tough attitudes. We have had day long outings with colleagues and their families which was relaxing but also tiring, spending a lot of time socializing and speaking Chinese. I spent a couple of days grading finals with so many copied verbatim answers for the writing essays and for the independent study. We spent a couple of days trying to crack the department's rules and regulations about cheating, about whether or not we can fail seniors who didn't make a 60 on their finals, and about what type of format to submit grades.

Is there a way to rest from culture fatigue?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cheating, Dust, and the Military

I am in a funk.

Summer has arrived and school is coming to an end so I should be in a happy mood, instead I am in a funk: a funk in teaching, a funk in cleaning my house, a funk in thinking about my life and future.

I just finished grading my first senior literature final and will have another senior literature final to grade tonight. Then I will have a week off before grading my freshmen finals.

Grading and catching cheaters is one of the worse parts of being a teacher. I hate realizing at the end of the semester that my class actually had 32 students instead of the 22 who came regularly. I hate failing students but what can I do when they don't score well on the final even with their cheat sheets and their pencil written essays on their desktops almost invisible even to them which is why it was easy to catch. Why was she staring so hard at her desk and not her test paper?

There were several students who did extremely well on the final. I am not out to get students or to fail them. My tests are what I teach. But if they don't come to class, what can I do other than hope that they have good friends who take good notes or are really good cheaters. Today in class I caught 2 cheat sheets with tiny writing on them and 2 more sheets with the multiple choice answers. Multiple choice is so easy to grade, but so easy to cheat on especially if you can't have A/B tests. With cheating I would rather just not know about it.

My house is a mess. I try to sweep and mop everyday, but all of the windows are open because it is hot. Dust fills the apartment, not as bad as in Africa. Here in my Chinese apartment, there is so MUCH MORE stuff to get dusty compared to my African two room one car garage. Also, is it me or is it because I am a teacher that my house is full of papers and junk? I need to get rid of everything.

One more year and my Peace Corps service will be over, truly over. No more extending or transferring anymore. At four years, I think Peace Corps will kick me out. Plus I am getting old. Maybe it is time to think about earning some money before I am too old.

What am I going to do when I leave Peace Corps?

Try to find a job in China?
I think I need to make some money. In China I could possibly make about $800 a month and after living on $100 a month on the PC stipend, I know I could save a lot. But I am tired of teaching. An unmotivated teacher does a lot of harm to her students. I don't want to be that teacher.

Go back to school?
I was glad when I finished 10 years of a university education. I hate tests. They stress me out a LOT coz I am a high achiever and study too much! Plus the applications? The worrying about how to pay for it? Going into debt when I have been debt free my whole life? I don't know. It sounds like a hassle.

Join the military?
I enjoy physical and life changing challenges. It would be an adventure and I would get paid doing it. The only thing I worry about is being placed in a job that I hate and having to endure it for four years.

Get a job in the USA?
I am reading a book The Working Poor. It is so discouraging!

So there you have it. My options with none of them seeming to be really that great.

Yep, I am in a funk.

Although even in a funk, there are still beautiful bits:

Long bike rides on flat roads in the almost car-less countryside

Sitting on a bench in the back gate eating watermelon as the Chinese fashion show walks by accompanied by the cutest babies and smiling children

Eating 4 sticks of fatty delicious grilled lamb in the setting sunlight