Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Small Challenge

One of the biggest challenges I face as a PC volunteer both in Africa and in China is traveling to and from the Peace Corps office.

In Africa especially Guinea, the trip was long, dusty, hot and squished. It would take at least two days, one day to get out of site, and one day to get down to Conakry. In Burkina Faso, the trip was a lot easier except for all of the sitting and waiting since the one bus to and from my site never had a reliable schedule.

Unlike Africa, China has paved roads. One might assume that transportation in China would be a lot easier and in many places it is. From my site though, the route just makes me sick, literally sick. It might be the drivers who speed and stop weaving at unpredictable rates, making a 2 lane road into a 4 lane road as slow trucks are passed. It might be the windows that don't open with warm air flowing out of the ac system. It might be the noise pollution blaring from the DVD player. Whatever it is, a wide mouth nalgene bottle is useful when no plastic bags are available.

A bus from my city can take two routes, the fast highway or the slow road that passes through a bunch of tiny towns looking for passengers. One route can be as fast as 3-5 hours while the other can be anywhere from 5-8 hours. Whether you take the freeway or the slow roads, there is no bypassing the hill. The hill is terrible where the pavement has been scraped off leaving a washboard of a road.

If you hit the hill at the wrong time, be prepared to wait for 30 minutes as 20 workers spread several inches of black sticky tar. Then wait for another 30 minutes as a rolling pin tractor smooths it flat. The last wait will be another 20 minutes as the traffic reorganizes itself from the mess it made while waiting impatiently.

Once traffic is stopped by a road block, cars don't stay in their lane. Instead they move out of their lane and speed forward until they hit the road block. A two lane road turns into a one way street. Two one way streets meet at the road block, a wall of headlights with a mountain on one side and a ravine on the other. Then what? Another 20 minutes for the cars to rearrange themselves into passable lanes.

This is not the worse of it. The bus then makes it the outskirts of Xian and sometimes drops you off at a bus station and sometimes at some random corner in Xian. At both places one has to take a 30-40 minute local bus into downtown Xian where the train station is located.

The whole trip takes FOREVER and my weary mood cannot be cheered up even with a delicious steak salad, one of the best I have ever tasted.

Once I make it to the train station, I have a 16 hour trip down to Chengdu then a 50 minute local bus ride to the university, then a 30 minute walk to the office.

This is the trip I took on Sunday to get a flu shot and to bring back a flu shot for my sitemate.

Instead of returning by train and making the trek over 2 days, PC decided to fly me back to Xian. At 6 am, I had to hike 40 minutes to the local bus that takes an hour to get to the airport. I wanted to be early in case I had problems getting the syringe and medicine through security. The flight was only an hour and a half, but the Xian airport is miles outside of Xian. I had to take an hour bus ride into Xian, stand in a line going out the door to buy a bus ticket and then trek home sitting on a bus for 6 hours. Luckily the bus was full so instead of driving on the slow road passing through towns we rode to the end of the freeway, got caught up in a hour of roadwork, made it up the hill and finally arrived at site at 7 pm. It was a long day.

Guess what, I am going back to Chengdu tomorrow for a week long vacation. Why do I torture myself? Lucky for PC though, coz while I am on vacation, they can give me a vaccination that they forgot when I was there on Monday.

Friday, September 25, 2009

First Full Week of Teaching

I taught a full week of 5 classes this week, a total of 10 hours.

My four Freshmen listening classes are full of sweet bright eyed bushy tailed students. I spent Wednesday teaching 6 hours, teaching 6 hours of the same exact thing three times. I thought it was going to be super terrible. Instead, it was kind of fun. The students make all the difference.

I received several sweet texts from new students.

"Miss Jeniffer, I'm Joceyln, is a freshmen. I'm so glad to learn from you!"

"Miss Jennifer. I'm very glad to see you. sincerely! By your words, I can feel your strong heart. I want to be friends with you which makes me so happy! sincerely :) "

Next week is a National holiday. If you haven't heard it is China's 60th Anniversary. It will probably be at least 3-4 weeks before I have another full week of teaching.

This weekend I am going to Chengdu for a flu shot.
Cheeseburgers and milkshakes here I come! Yum!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Online Dating Useful?

The other day I wrote a blog titled, Pointless for Me to Online Date. Maybe it isn't all pointless. It actually sometimes is useful.

I wrote the blog because as the day, I return to the states, approaches, I have been wondering how to meet people. Living abroad for 4 years has shrunk my social circle into a loner circle of 1, moi, so how do I widen that circle?

Plus one of the main reasons, I am coming home is because I miss connecting to people where my full identity doesn't have to be suppressed and hidden. Volunteering abroad I hide a lot of my identity in order to be accepted by the community. For example, if I was living in a community of traditional religious fanatics, what type of identity would I have to present in order to fit in, and what would I have to hide? I am tired of hiding and want to go home to join again the communities that accept me, all of me.

When I did a short bout of online dating back in Seattle, I met a lot of people. I met a lot of people I did not connect with. I met a lot of people with whom I felt a bit awkward with, but gave them at least one more date to try to get over my stranger anxiety. During two dates, I would try to overcome my wallflower personality of meeting a stranger for the first time. Practice makes perfect. Little by little I was learning how to make small talk and be less afraid of meeting someone new. Yet, my new ease at talking to strangers still didn't help overcome the lack of chemistry between us. I would have lovely meals with people, but nothing to push me to want to see them again and again to allow a friendship to bloom. This is what happened with the majority of people I would meet, and I slowly started feeling that online dating was a waste of time, until....

Until, I met two amazing people I actually connected with, two people who had similar lifestyle interests, two people with whom I could explore the city, cooking, art, nature and the deeper questions such as who we are and what type of lives and connections we want to have. Online dating led me to making a connection with two awesome people, so it can't be all bad.

In small cities, online dating is probably pointless. There just isn't a big enough pool of people and a big pool is what one needs when searching for a connection. Seattle on the other hand is full of interesting people. There are tons of pools full of different types of people, the outdoor lovers, the hi-tech engineers, the artists, the hippies, the Burning Man clicks, and the alternative lifestyle people.

The big question is "Am I willing to spend a lot of time searching for that connection?" Is there a way to streamline online dating such that you only go on dates with people with whom there is a high probability of connection?

Online dating might not be all that pointless. Sometimes it is good. I met two amazing people, but am I willing, to sit through many forced dates to try to find that connection again?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Lazy Sunny Day

Today was a lazy Sunday.

During my 1 hour Chinese class, I learned how to properly use the words, before and after.

Then I went on a 5 hour bike ride with my Chinese friends to what seemed like a national park that had a great big valley, a couple of lakes, and a small waterfall. I walked down the hills not trusting my brakes and then back up the valley pushing my one gear bike.

I watched a couple of episodes of Stargate Atlantis.

I visited with freshmen at the Tree House.

The day ended with an evening Thanksgiving meal with all of its fixings prepared by Chef Sitemate.

Now it is time for bed. I have to teach at 8 am tomorrow and hopefully weather permitting, I will be able to bike the 20 minutes to New Campus, teach and come back for my afternoon class plus buy a train ticket to Chengdu. Peace Corps wants me to reschedule my classes and come in for a medical checkup and a flu shot. They will fly me back so I can give my sitemate her flu shot before she goes off for the week long October holiday.

September has been a teaching month where I barely teach. I wonder how October will be. Will I have daily lazy Sundays or will I actually be teaching?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pointless For Me to Online Date

Shifting through years of my dating history, from my first partner at 19 to my last partner at 31, I have realized that I date people because of a certain chemistry or because of proximity. There are very few people with whom I have felt the sting of chemistry, the chemistry of attraction, that certain high that one gets with certain people for some reason or another whether it be their dreads, their rebellious statements, the way they think, their deep intensity, or how they look on a bike.

Because I am mostly unemotional and because I just go with the flow, my friendships tend to turn into relationships through proximity not because of the attraction of chemistry. When I write attraction due to proximity, I am talking about the idea that because you see a person often enough, some type of connection happens, a connection that results in a relationship.

For example:
I frequently see the person.
I like the person.
We become friends.
We hang out.
I feel comfortable with them.
We become a couple.
Things just naturally progress into a peaceful relationship.
This is the proximity rule at work.

Then there is the other side of the card, chemistry, the type of attraction that is a sweet feeling, a heart thumping misleading feeling that my logic fears.

My brain says, chemistry never lasts.
Be practical.
Practicality is more important than some unnamed emotion.
Compatibility should win over those high feelings of chemistry.
Feelings come and go.
It is the other person and all of their faults and conflicts that you will be left with.
A friendship turned into a relationship is more stable than an attraction because of chemistry.

A relationship based purely on chemical feelings will quickly die out. Who is able to hold onto emotions? No one. A relationship formed because of chemistry is destined to fade, to die, to disappear into the passage of time. Are the memories of emotional highs worth an inevitable empty bed? Or is better to play it safe than risk attempting a go with chemistry?

I think safe is a better bet. Getting to know a person because of proximity, becoming their friend, then their girlfriend is the way to go. I have never had a long term relationship with someone with whom I had chemistry with; therefore, online dating is pointless for me.

As a woman, I can meet a lot of people through online dating, but how many of those would I click with, have some sort of chemistry with in order to continue seeing each other? Out of the hundreds of profiles to look through, which ones would I like enough to even try to get the proximity rule to start having it's influence?

When I did online dating, I would meet people and we would have one or two dinners. If there was no chemistry, why would we even try to meet again? If we never meet again, how can the proximity rule create a friendship turned relationship?

Plus, most of my relationships that started because of chemistry died early.

So in conclusion, internet dating is a waste of time for me. Why?

1. I have to meet a ton of people to narrow down the field to someone I have chemistry with.

2. Chemistry would allows us to meet again and again thus forcing the proximity rule to result in becoming friends and then lovers, but according to my dating history, relationships that start because of chemistry never last.

et voila, online dating is pointless for me.

Instead I will just play a sport, hang out with a group of people with the same interests and maybe, just maybe I will find a friend.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My First Class, for Real

After many weeks of thinking I would teach, I finally taught today. My first student came in and instantly started asking me a ton of questions in Chinese. I politely said hello in English and proceeded to turn on the energy and the computers to activate the listening lab. About 70 students filed in and it was funny to watch their faces slowly start understanding that this class was being taught by an American in English.

Today was the second day of sun in weeks. I rode my bike to work. I forgot how much fun it is to actually use a bicycle for transportation and not just for pleasure and exercise.

It is funny how work can jump start productivity other than knitting. Tonight we picked our Tree House Library volunteer workers and have lots of ideas for other projects from a book reading competition, to writing clubs, French clubs, and an English tutoring center. Also, I am making a peanut butter soup full of veggies and pork. Instead of just eating jello and instant noodles, I actually cooked. Teaching jump starts productivity.

Today was the first day of teaching and actually it was the only class that I am teaching this week. Next week I will have a "full load" of 10 hours leaving plenty of time for secondary projects and of course knitting.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This semester's second Chinese lesson

My language learning has hit a wall, and I don't really know what to do next.

Today I had a fun language lesson of just talking in Chinese for an hour, writing down new vocabulary, and learning sentence structures for particular phrases that I wanted to use.

For some reason, I have a strong dislike and a very low motivation for trying to learn how to read, but maybe that is the next step that I really need to walk towards in my language learning. Is my dislike for reading the wall that I need to break through?

When I was in Africa, during Peace Corps French language lessons we had 4 hours of conversation a day. We sometimes learned new grammar if it came up while we were talking. We were building our vocabulary by using it and were learning how to just communicate with the vocabulary we already had.

In China, because my Chinese was non-existent, Peace Corps training was very structured with a book that we used 4 hours every day.

Now that my Chinese skills have reached a certain level, I just want to do it the African way, but is that really helpful?

Any Chinese learners out there with any advice?

Friday, September 11, 2009

A busy day

Today, still in my pajamas, I had my first Chinese lesson of the semester. I mistakenly thought the lesson was for Friday morning.

I may have a new motivation to learn Chinese. If I would like to try for a high paying English teaching job in Taiwan, I need to be able to speak some Mandarin.

Today I went to a wedding. I saw a beautiful bride dressed in white with a red scarf covering her face. I saw a groom dressed in a suit and two red sashes. There was fog. There was bright yellow shooting sparks. There was a huge meal full of meat, including turtle soup, shell, head and feet included. There were loud singers and a man who played a wind instrument with his nose. The meal was eaten and zoom, everyone left in a huge crowd pushing their way out of the banquet hall. With the ceremony only lasting 10 minutes, it was an eat and run wedding.

Today I went to a coffee shop, sat on a big comfy couch, knitting an ugly multiple-colored experimental knee high sock and drank peppermint tea out of a bottomless tea pot.

Today I learned that I won't have to teach next week except for two hours. My 8 hours of Freshmen listening classes will have a different teacher for next week. He will educate them on how to use the listening lab.

Maybe next week I will start knitting a sweater.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Did living in Africa, change the way I do things?

When I first moved to China, I was still wearing African fashions, the big airy shirts that add a couple of pounds and that allow the skin to breathe under the hot sun. I was still wearing a lot of skirts and was not feeling really comfortable wearing form fitting pants. Plus they were hot and skirts were more practical for squat toilets.
Nowadays though, I live in a part of China where the weather is cold. Pants and long underwear are necessary. I have given up my desire to be Little House on the Prairie modest in long ankle length skirts and have adopted the more practical fashion of pants. I am still not very comfortable in tight jeans; although, lately I have been wearing them and have gotten used to them again.

In Africa, laundry was done by hand, two buckets, one with soapy water and one with clean water for rinsing. In China, I have a washing machine that uses electricity to agitate the soapy water, spin one way, spin the other. One must manually add water and drain the water. There is a spinner that is like a scientific centrifuge that spins out water while stretching out your clothes. I still do part of the wash the African way. I use a bucket to rinse out the soap and use muscle to squeeze out the water.

In Africa, I did not have a refrigerator. I would sometimes put leftovers in a clay cannery to keep the food cold. If it smelled all right and didn't have a slimy texture, I might eat it for breakfast.

In China, I have a refrigerator, but haven't figured out how to fill it. My fridge right now is completely empty. In a city, where I can eat out, three meals for $3 a day, I don't cook much and even if I did, I'd probably walk to the supermarket once a day like the locals do. For some reason, vegetables don't keep very well in fridges. They get slimy by the next day.

So did living in Africa change the way I live life or do things?

Not really.

What changes the way I do things, is what is available in the country in which I'm living. In Africa, I wore skirts, cooked small individual sized meals, and washed my clothes by hand. In China, I use the washing machine. I eat out and shop for food like the locals. I wear pants.

When I return to the states, I will probably start using a dryer unless I am living in the countryside. I will probably cook with an oven and drive a car unless I am in a bike friendly city.

Living abroad has taught me that I adapt. I don't hang onto my old ways, but follow the ways of the place I am living. Will I adopt the wasteful ways of the US? I hope not, but my track record of adopting a particular country's ways tells a different story.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Start of the Semester

Today was my first day of class.

I left the house at 7:08 am to walk three minutes to the front gate where I boarded the school bus, destination, New Campus, a campus 5 km outside of the city in the countryside surrounded by farmland.

It was a wet day, a drizzle in the air. Hopefully if the weather turns for the better, I will be able to ride my bike to new campus twice a week. Today though, I needed a guide to show me my classroom and to show me how to use the equipment.

My new classroom is shiny and new. It is huge with 66 computer screens and 132 stools. It is a listening lab, and I am there to push play.

However, today NONE of my sophomores showed up.

Some kind of mix up?

In China, I live in a world of an infinite number of unknowns. I have learned to just shrug them off and go look for something else to do. I have stopped asking why and have stopped trying to figure things out. Just breathe and move on.

The next school bus wouldn't be leaving until 10 am, so I walked around the campus feeling the atmosphere of freshmen arriving with their one piece of luggage looking for their department's booth, being assigned dorm rooms, and standing in long lines to pay money.

Since my next 4 classes are Freshmen, I have no more classes to teach this week. They don't start till next week.

Will anyone show though?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

School starts Monday, but not really

On Monday I will teach my first class of the semester. It is an 8 am listening and speaking class of sophomore non-majors. After that, I will be back to knitting for a week plus lesson planning for the next week. I have four Freshmen listening classes that start one week late and then in October they will have two weeks of military training. I might not see them at all in October since there are rumors of a week long holiday.

I have started knitting knee high socks, a pattern out of the book stitch'n Bitch The Knitter's Handbook.

Some of the most important items to pack for a Peace Corps tour are things to do. Even if they are heavy and if you really believe you will use it, pack it. I packed a heavy knitting book. It has been my first knitting teacher and has provided months of entertainment as I slowly knit up the many projects.

In Africa, I brought boxes of oil pastels and large coarse paper. My walls in Africa become covered with abstract blobs of smeared color.

Peace Corps packing tip: Pack items that will give you something to do for the many hours of free time.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Knitting till school starts

I started a bright green stole, ran out of green, and added some hot pink yarn, but then half-way through a row I started dropping when I should have been knitting. I didn't know how to fix the mistake and just made it worse.

The stitches were a funny droopy, loopy type of stitch that made the stole very holey. The directions for this particular drop stitch were: Act as if you are going to knit one stitch as normal, but instead of just wrapping the yarn around the needle once, wrap it three times!

I was almost done with the warm stole, but decided to rip it out.

So instead I decided to knit some easy dishcloths (Grandmother's Favorite) out of some yarn bought in the USA that a volunteer left me.

et voila
What should I knit next with the bright green yarn? It's color is almost like the green in the dishcloth just a shade darker.