Saturday, October 31, 2009
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
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
- plastic screws for my toilet seat so that future guests don't go sliding off or have to sit on the cold porcelain bowel
- elastic to keep my knitted pippi longstocking knee highs up
- balloons for making Halloween pinatas
- 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.
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
Because China is full of yarn stores, I don't really need this item, but I kind of want it.
the beautiful multi-colored
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
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.
Yet why do I today let my hair grow out?
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
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
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
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
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.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
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
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
Monday, October 12, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
I still cannot figure out gauge very well. The first attempt was way too big, but from that ripped out start I calculated a better size. I started over again; however, the vest was way too short and I had to add 6-8 inches at the bottom. I learned how to undo stitches from the cast on side in order to lengthen it.
Undoing stitches from the bottom cast on takes forever. It took like 3 hours. I learned two techniques. The first technique from the book stitch n bitch was just unweaving the whole thing. It took forever which was why I was up till 3 am. It would have taken another million hours if I hadn't found the second technique of just snipping one piece of thread.
On my trip to Chengdu I found some soft beautiful yarn and forgot that I had told myself not to buy anymore yarn until I had finished up all of my stashed yarn. Oh well, I am happy with the purchase and finished a warm scarf with the free fat arm-length wooden needles that the shop keeper gave me.
Last night I sat for 15 minutes, counting breaths with closed eyes.
Knitting is not practice for meditation.
My mind wandered. It wasn't quiet. It was a speedy little bee buzzing from flower to flower from idea to idea. This was not the mind of someone who practices meditation. This was not the mind that I have felt during a longer stint of a meditation habit.
The only thing that was easy was sitting for 15 minutes. I probably can sit for hours. Actually I am an expert at sitting for hours. Traveling in China and Africa, I have learned how to sit, to wait, to have nothing to do, but sit.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
I wonder how much cell phones cost in the USA. I never had one stateside except when my mother gave me one for a few months since I was in Alabama before moving to Africa. I would have never had one in Africa or in China except a friend gave me one. That friend sure does supply me with a lot of electronics that I would never bought for myself: ipod, laptop, digital camera, wolverine, Solaris. (I had a cheap film camera that I left behind when I evacuated out of Guinea. That was a stupid idea not bringing a digital camera to Africa, but I was trying to be frugal and not a target for thieves.)
I wonder if knitting is like meditating. I am reading eat, pray, love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It has kind of inspired me to start meditating again. I wonder if trying to meditate will be easy or a challenge. Is knitting a type of meditation that will make sitting for 20-30 minutes observing my breath easier?
I wonder if Peace Corps would pay for a month home leave if I decided to stay one more year in China and do a fourth year. I have already had one month home leave for the third year transfer to China. I really want to come home and know sort of that it is important to maybe start making money, but there are times when I feel like WOW, I am really part of this community.
One more thought:
One of the biggest pieces of advice veteran volunteers give newbies is "Leave your house, flat, or compound at least once a day. Do not hole up there!"
In Africa, I found this to be easy. There were places to explore, cooler trees to sit under, tea to drink, and well the compound can get awfully boring with only books, music, paper and chores to entertain you with.
I do remember one time sitting at my desk in Guinea debating whether or not to go buy some freshly killed cow. I was a newbie scared to bargain, scared of not knowing how to choose which part and how much of the cow to point to, scared to look like a rich foreigner who can afford meat. When I finally got the nerve, the meat was all gone.
In China, holing up in one's apartment is kind of easy. Outside is cold and rainy. Inside is warm and full of electronic stimuli. As a veteran, I don't hole up in my flat, but it sure does seem like I spend a lot of time in there.
Today I had a Chinese lesson, judged a speech competition, ate in the cafeteria, and had a tea party with some students, American cookies with Chinese tea. I think in China because I have electricity the days are just longer and one has plenty of time to step out of the flat as well as spend a lot of time in the flat. Last night I didn't go to bed until 3 am.
Friday, October 09, 2009
I have stayed in three hostels in Xian: Han Tan, Shuyuan, and 7 Sages Youth Hostel and one hostel in Chengdu: Holly's Hostel.
Dorm bed price: 40-50 RMB
Location: West of the Bell Tower and Drum Tower, near the Subway restaurant, near Parkson shopping mall, near the Muslim quarter, near the airport shuttle. I had a hard time finding this hostel the first time. When you are near the Parkson shopping mall, look west and up. You should be able to see a small sign that says U-tels. It is the red door right next door to Subway.
Pluses: The location is great and the western cafe is a nice place to chill. Plus you get a free coffee and a free beer. The free glass of beer is at the bar under the Shuyuan hostel, so you have to walk about 15 minutes to get it. Another benefit of this hostel is you don't have to walk outside to go the bathroom or use the showers. Free internet.
Minuses: The bathrooms and rooms are so so. This hostel feels like a cheap hotel. Also, I don't like bathrooms where you get the toilet all wet by showering. If you are afraid of dogs or allergic to them, this hostel has a dog.
Dorm bed price: 30-40 RMB
Location: Near South Gate, walk west along the wall. It is easy to find. Close to beer street and a street full of yummy cheap food like BBQ, two wings for 6 RMB.
To find the food street, walk along bar street toward the north of the city. At the end of bar street, near the bakery, turn left. Then at the next street take another left. That is cheap food street.
Also if you are looking for a place to sit for a while to get out of the heat and to taste a drink buffet with all you can eat ice cream and fresh fruit, try Bee Cafe (don't remember the exact name). It is 30 RMB per person. Walk out of Shuyuan hostel's front doors, turn left. At the end of the street, turn left into the parking lot (your back is facing the South gate). Walk straight. Cross the little street and keep walking straight and the first floor cafe is on your left. It is kind of hidden, hard to see from the street.
Pluses: Free coffee and beer. Good cafe and a bar downstairs. Good location near international food and tourist sites. Near beer street. Has a quaint Chinese atmosphere. Cheapest beds I have found so far. Free internet.
Minuses: During the winter, because of the open courtyard, it can be rainy and cold taking a shower and walking to the toilets. Also, the cheapest basement beds have a basement feel, claustrophobic, muggy smell, and no windows to the outdoors. These rooms do have fans. This hostel also has a dog if you are allergic.
7 Sages Youth Hostel
Dorm bed price: 40-? RMB
Location: About a 10 minute walk to the north train station. About a 30 minute walk to the tourist, shopping and international food area of Xian. Right around the corner from a local free park. Close to a lot of cheap local food.
I arrived at 6 am and it is located in a gated courtyard in the way back of the street. There is a doorbell though and then look towards the back of the car filled courtyard and you will see hostel flags.
The best nearby restaurant is a dumpling chain. It is on the south side of Xi Wu Road. From the hostel, once you reach Xi Wu Road, turn right (west), cross the street using the overpass walking bridge, and keep walking west. It has an English name and is right beside an outdoor bbq yard that has solid wooden benches. The menu is in Chinese; however, be patient. Even if you are hungry, just wait and see what they bring out for other people. Then choose and point.
Pluses: Unique ancient Chinese courtyard atmosphere. Great movie room. Nice outdoor and indoor cafe with excellent music. A good way to meet Chinese travelers. Close to the train station. Best showers I have felt in Xian so far.
Minuses: It is a hike to the Bell Tower. You have to walk outdoors to the very clean bathrooms and showers. This can be cold and rainy in the winter. No free internet. One dog and two cats if you are allergic.
Holly's Hostel in Chengdu
Dorm bed price: 25-? RMB
Location: A very quaint neighborhood, near Wu Hou Ci Temple, snack street, a university with tons of cheap street food, and Tibetan stores and restaurants. About a 30 minute hike to Tianfu Square.
Take bus 57 from the train station. It runs by the temple which is very close to the hostel. Bus 27 does not run by the temple, but runs on 1st ring road. You need a map if you want to try to find the hostel using bus 27. Lucky for me I had a map.
Pluses: Great neighborhood, big industrial fan, can walk to many local sites in Chengdu. Has a rooftop restaurant with cheap Chinese food.
Minuses: Dingy. Free internet for 30 minutes.
Sometimes during the summer my legs and feet would be covered with band aids and a huge number of flies would land on each covered sore. It was gross.
I could have stayed in Africa if I had been willing to wear pants, socks, and shoes, but it was so hot. Plus have you ever tried to pee in an empty field with your butt exposed to the world? Skirts were practical pieces of clothing, easy to go to the bathroom in, easy to create a bit of privacy in a country with few bushes and trees, easy to hide from the bush taxi eyes as they followed the foreigner who has to pee, easy to be modest and create a bit of respect from the Muslim men.
Lucky for me I moved to Gansu, a dry desert where the mosquitoes are few.
However, last week I went to Chengdu for the national holiday and mid-autumn's day. In that wet humid climate, a city filled with water canals, and a teahouse culture where you sit by the water drinking tall glasses of chrysanthemum and green tea for hours at a time, the mosquitoes attacked.
PS. Have you heard Peace Corps Guinea volunteers are being moved out of the country again? Remember when that happened to me?