Monday, April 26, 2010

Massive Winds

It is dangerous to walk around the English library. The strong wind is blowing heavy metal pieces off the roof and shattering windows.

I guess today wasn't a good day to do laundry. Everything will be covered with dust.


So yep, I am officially fat according to the Chinese tailor.

With my beautiful expensive fabric bought from Yunnan, I asked a tailor to copy an African skirt.

I got my new skirt today.

The tailor did not copy the African skirt with its wide waist band of 36 inches that fits perfectly at my hips. Instead the new skirt has a narrow waist of 28 inches that I cannot even button close.

Incredible waste of money!

What was the tailor thinking?

Then to add to the insult, the tailor changed the waist band on the African skirt from a skirt with a zipper to a skirt with elastic.

Now my favorite skirt if I were to find a new tailor cannot be copied the way I like it.

Who wants to wear a skirt with an elastic band?

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Living in a hut in Africa, I did not have a full length mirror. Not having a mirror to constantly remind me to judge myself, I tended to forget what I looked like and stopped thinking about it. Because of my unhealthy eating habits due to a lack of fresh vegetables and a carb overload, sometimes I would try to take pictures of myself to see if I had gained any carb weight. Most of the time though, I was not self-conscious of my body. Plus in West Africa it was better to be heavier than skin and bones.

In China, I am surrounded by skinny students and older women who have filled out a bit. I have a long oval mirror which I look into daily to see how my outfit looks or how my newly finished knitted goods fit. I eat out everyday meals full of noodles and the most delicious food, fresh veggies, meat and oil. I wonder have I gained weight.

Mirrors are deceiving.
My own self-image,
the image in my head
makes mirrors even more deceiving.
But with no scales,
what can I do,
but see the image of myself
skewed by how overweight I think I am.

Today meeting up with my teacher friends to go on a bike ride, a hike, then fishing, I weighed myself.

I am still 5'4" and 140 lbs just like I was in Seattle, but without the muscle mass. I wonder at what age does one start gaining weight because one's metabolism slows down, where even with a lot of exercise it seems near impossible to get rid of the extra pounds.

My teacher friend was a bit shocked that I weighed so much because she thought she was heavier than me. One's own self-image really messes with one's head. I always knew she was skinner than me. She is a bit shorter than me and only weighs 120 lbs.

I think I prefer a lifestyle without mirrors, a life where I can stop thinking about my body image.

Learning Math in Knitting Club

Today 5 of us walked to the knitting store and bought an array of colors to knit stuffed animals, cats and small felted money purses. We got ice cream on the way back and then went to the garden where 18 girls were waiting for us plus shockingly one boy. I did tell the boys that they could come even if they didn't want to knit. They could talk and eat the provided snacks. What was even more shocking was this boy could knit, both the knit stitch and the purl stitch, asking if he could knit a kitten into the purse. I was like wow.. that is hard, but if you want to go ahead.

We learned how to read a simple knitting pattern.

We had to do calculations in order to make buttonholes. I bet it was the first time in a lot of the students' lives to ever have to actually do a calculation in English for an actual real life purpose. They didn't understand the English I was using.

What is 24 divided by 2?
What is 12 minus 2?
I wonder if they have ever learned
how to do math in English.

The RELO grant wanted the project to be directed to English learning. This Saturday while knitting we learned how to do math in English.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Camera is Being Sent

My parents are sending me a camera.
It is really nice and generous of them.

Thank you mom and dad!

Are you still knitting?

Yes I am; however, since my camera needs to be repaired, I have been unable to post pictures.

By the way if you have two digital cameras because you recently bought an upgrade, interested in donating me your extra camera? My cousin from Colorado is coming to visit in May so you can send the extra camera to him. He will bring it to me.

What have I made this semester?

With yarn bought over the winter break in Western Sichuan, I have knitted 3 bulky raglan caplet like short sleeve sweaters and several fingerless gloves.

Then with leftover yarn from various projects, I knitted a kitty and a bunny plus a short sleeve sweater T-shirt which took 2 months because I have taken up the Chinese method of knitting where they use US size 2 needles.

I need a new project.

Should I learn how to do cables?
I don't know.
Don't think my heart is there yet.

Hodge Podge of a Day

Successful Lesson Plan
(even though there were only 5 students)

Last week we studied Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman's "A New England Nun" about an American woman who waited 14 years for her fiancee to return from making his fortune. Then today the students read a short story by a Chinese author Xinran who wrote the book The Good Women in China. We read the story "The Woman who Waited 45 years." I wanted to compare the two women who both were waiting for their fiancees to return.

I taught the story about the American woman and the students taught the story about the Chinese woman. It was the first time the students didn't stop for their 10 minute break instead they continued reading even after I said, "Time for break."

Then when the students became the teacher, it was the first time in the past 8 weeks that every student opened their mouths to answer the student teacher's questions. It was the first time that students volunteered information as I became a student learning about Chinese history and culture from the time period of 1946-1976. It was the most lively discussion we have ever had in the classroom.

I have learned that if I ever teach an English short story class again, I will teach stories in pairs, a western one and a Chinese one, comparing the differences and similarities between the two stories that share a similar universal theme.

Student's Question

During today's break, a student asked me, "Why do you wear boy clothes?"

I answered, "I like clothes that are of a single dark color and in China these types of colors are typically associated with males. I don't like a lot of color, prints, or decorations. Americans often like simple styles rather than flashy, doesn't necessarily mean that they are male clothes. I do like feminine clothes like skirts and sun dresses but often my feminine clothes are ethnic, styles from Africa. Also, in China I feel like feminine clothes won't fit me because I have broad shoulders."

The student commented, "Your dresses and skirts are too long."

I started wondering, hmm... in America I often do dress pretty masculine even for America, but wouldn't you say that American women dress more Chinese masculine than Chinese feminine? If we remember the 2008 Olympics, the American athletes, male and female both wore the same khaki pants and dark blue blazers.

I think in America there is less of a divide between masculine and feminine styles compared to China? Or have I forgotten what American fashion is like? In America are we as gender specific with fashion compared to China?


The one thing I despise about eating noodles in the restaurants surrounding the university is there are no vegetables nor meat in the mix. You might get a teaspoon of ground meat, a spoonful of egg and vegetables. You will get plenty of oil and red pepper though. Blech. Noodles and oil is not what I call nutritious.

Today during the 10 minute break in the 2 hour lesson, I asked the students, "What should I have for lunch today?"
They answered, "NOODLES."
I answered, "What kind?"
They then went through about 10 different noodles dishes and I told them I want the noodle dish with the most vegetables.
Their instant reply was, "Cai gai mian 菜盖面. You can order it in the Muslim cafeteria."

Around 12:30 after the crowds of students had finished eating, I went to the Muslim cafeteria and ordered. Out came a plate of freshly made linguine type of noodles and the worker asked me which vegetables I wanted. I pointed to the various trays of Chinese food all made from vegetables- battered fried eggplant, stir-fried celery, stir-fried mushrooms, ma pa tofu, and green onions.

I got my wish, a plate full of noodles covered with vegetables instead of oil.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Designing Projects

Two weekends ago, four of us, two PCVs, one student, and one teacher went to Chengdu for a Peace Corps workshop called Project Design and Management Workshop. We filled flip chart paper with ideas, visions, resources, plan of action, and budgets.

Our vision is to have a library that doubles as an English community learning center that meets the needs and wants of a large number of students and teachers. Right now we get an average of 11 visitors per night and want to increase that number. We planned a project where our Tree House volunteer workers would design their own project, creating an activity that might motivate other students to visit.

Tonight, our Monday night Tree House volunteer workers started designing their first project. Their vision is for Mondays to be Food Night. They want to host a cooking show and have a manners dinner party.

I wonder what Tuesday night will be.

The Blessings of Running

1. Running is a physical memory. It is like remembering how to swim, to walk, to ride a bicycle. Unlike reading books and studying for exams, physical memories stick with you for a longer time. While running along Lake Washington, in Africa, and in China the physical details, the heat, the road, the smells, the sky will be remembered a lot longer than conversations or visits to tourist sites. There is a memory in the body that is triggered every time I go running flashes of climbing the hill from Fremont to Queen Anne, or following goat paths in the middle of the flat land of Africa flow through my mind. By running in every place I have lived or visited, it is like having a photograph album contained in my muscles.

2. Running makes me feel better about my body image and health. Even if I feel a bit over weight, running gives me the excuse that because I am exercising my body is fine the way it is.

3. Instead of getting frustrated and angry because no one showed up to my class for the 2nd week in a row, I can just feel at peace and feel what the other Chinese teachers feel, happy that they don't have to teach today. Running takes away my tension and gives me those happy endorphin hormones.

4. The soreness of muscles due to running remind me that I am alive.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Writing is Cathartic

Tonight's creative writing club was about conflict.

For man versus man,
we arm wrestled and wrote about it.

For man versus himself,
I wrote about the conflicts I've been having this week.

Discovered a cover, sung by Johnny Cash, "Hurt."
Watch the video.
Found it to be quite powerful.
In the right mood, tears will pour.

"Everyone goes away in the end.
I'll let you down.
I'll make you hurt."
-Trent Reznor

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Knitting in the Garden

This morning, after spending two hours on my bike in the quiet of my mind and the silence of the countryside, with dirt and dust surrounding me, I realized that I am awfully irked and tense this semester. Teaching 12 hours a week of senior classes where 0-8 students attend has been frustrating.

My motivation to teach and to do secondary projects has waned.
If no one wants to learn, why teach?

Today I waited in the garden for students to gather for the 2nd official meeting of knitting club, expecting no one to show. I hadn't posted any posters. I hadn't told anyone. I was just hoping that the 10 students who attended the first meeting would show up again, but a large part of me doubted the students. After one holiday weekend and after spending another weekend in Chengdu, two weeks had passed since the first meeting. Would anyone remember? Would anyone want to come? Would the knitting club just fizzle after one meeting?

Eighteen girls showed up.
It warmed my heart.

Only three admitted to being able to knit. The rest denied the fact that they had ever knitted before; however, I was a bit suspicious. Either they were all naturally talented, had learned how to knit through osmosis by watching their female relatives knit during their lifetimes, were super fast learners, or fibbed a bit about their knitting skills. All of them after one lesson had a small knitted swatch with very little teaching from me or from the three who admitted to knowing how to knit.

It was a brilliant learning English outside of the classroom opportunity.

They all spoke English, teasing each other with playful comments like "You're a grandmother." "So ugly." They learned new vocabulary- knitting, yarn, needles, knit, purl, cast on and cast off. They used the vocabulary they knew to express themselves, "Put the stick in the circle."

Next week I wonder how many students will come. We will start our projects. Some are even interested in knitting sweaters for people who lost everything in the recent earthquake. I suggested we start with hats.

After the third knitting meeting, I will be out of town two weekends in a row again. Will the knitting club die?

The last semester as a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) is great because you know your community, you know what they want, you know how to get things done. Secondary projects have the potential to be very productive during the last semester. You know what you are doing; however, during the last semester as a PCV you have the potential to be out of site a lot. There is a COS (close of service) conference and you want to use your last three day holiday weekends to see different parts of China for the last time before returning to the USA. The last semester is great and also not so great.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


All is well in my part of Gansu. My city is not close to the earthquake zone. Let us hope for an efficient relief effort and send our condolences to all the people who are suffering.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Life Tidbits


During a weekend trip for a PC workshop on designing secondary projects, my sitemate, a Chinese teacher, a Chinese student and I brainstormed ideas of how to improve the Tree House and how to entice more students to visit and practice their English
1. Feng shui the library room
2. Host activity nights planned by students

cold with about an inch of snow

no heat
using a sleeping bag and lots of layers
Knitted goods are useful for moments like these.

Monday's class
one student

Wednesday's class
zero students


What is the point of teaching in China if no one comes to class?

I have started packing trying to order my house, throwing away stuff, and trying to figure out what is really important to keep.

There is a new excitement in the Tree House to learn English outside of the classroom.

Tired of cafeteria food and noodles.

I need to return to Chengdu to get medically cleared so I can stay for a third year. This means I have to miss classes.

Currently I have a lot of questions running in my head about relationships, identity, life in China, as well as getting lost in the realm of Internet.

I have not been able to find time to study Chinese this semester because of my full plate.

Do I really want to go back to the USA for a month home leave?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Cafeteria Food

My gas tank is empty, and won't be refilled for a couple of days.

Tired of ramen, I am eating out.

For lunch I had African hot pot. African hot pot in China? Didn't even know Africa had hot pot. No, but Africa does have sauce d'arachide. This new hot pot chain serves a communal pot full of skewers with tofu noodles, beef, little sausages, melon, green vegetables, and so much more. What makes it African is the broth. It is a peanut sauce just like the ones served over rice in Guinea and Burkina Faso. It is good!

For dinner I checked out the four different cafeterias on campus, only a minute walk from my flat. Each one has a counter were you can choose from the pre-made food or order from a menu where chefs in the back kitchen prepare Chinese dishes over tall flames. Tonight I choose pre-made food. Noodles were boiled then mixed with oil, garlic, salt, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, and pickled cabbage. Because the vegetable noodle ratio is very small, I also pointed towards 8 big bowls picking and choosing different tofu, cabbage, snow pea, green vegetable dishes that were slopped into a single bowl. I also picked out several bread thingys for breakfast tomorrow: a fried egg bread, a huge muffin, three small dumpling fried breads stuffed with meat, and a sesame ball made of pounded rice and stuffed with red bean paste.

Total cost? $2

Anxiety before Moving to China

As I was sitting in front of a computer in Burkina Faso with an email saying, "Your application to transfer to China has been approved," my greatest anxiety about teaching English in China was I am Chinese American. Would my school accept me? Would they feel disappointed not receiving a stereotypical foreigner? Would they question my native oral English? Would they doubt my ability to teach English?

Arriving at my university in Gansu, I was accepted and welcomed with open arms. I was respected as a person who looks Chinese but who is American. Maybe I had an easy time because my university had paid teachers from the Philippines, so the school was used to the idea of Asian looking foreign teachers teaching English.

One thing that I had not considered was what it would feel like to be assumed to be Chinese and not American by fellow Peace Corps volunteers. I remember eating at a Chinese restaurant in Guinea and wrongly assumed that the African American volunteer was Guinean. I felt my shock at my inappropriate assumption.

While in Chengdu at PST, I was knitting in the lobby of the hotel. Sitting across from me was a white American Peace Corps volunteer.

He started a conversation in Chinese, "Hello. What are you knitting?"

I answered in my broken bad Chinese, "I am knitting a sweater."

Then because I knew he didn't know I was an American Peace Corps volunteer, I started speaking English.

He replied, "Wow your English is very good."

I replied, "Yeah I know."

He grinned and said, "You're a Peace Corps volunteer aren't you?"

Does it bother me that I am not a visible foreigner? Nah. I don't think I care, or do I?

After getting dehydrated from a 7 hour hike under clear sunny skies, I pedalled my bike to the first convenience store and bought a bottle of water. The woman said, "I feel that you are not Chinese. Where are you from?"

What about me caused her to think I wasn't from around these parts? Was it because I was wearing my poorly first ever knitted sweater that adult women rarely wear? In my Chinese city, I see children and men wearing hand knitted items. Students and women wear them a lot less. Was it my hiking gear, a waistpack rarely seen in my city? Actually, it probably was the bike helmet.

In Africa, I tried to blend in, wear African clothes, head wraps, cover my legs and arms. But I could never blend in because I was Chinese American.

In China, I do not try to blend in. I do not wear Chinese fashion. I do not wear my hair long. I do not try to lose weight to be skinny. Instead, I wear African clothes, hand knitted items, skirts that cover my ankles. I dress according to my own style instead of changing my style to fit into this culture. It doesn't matter though, my Asian features negate everything else, and most of the time I am assumed to be Chinese.

Maybe I'll write another blog How do I cope with people's assumptions that I am Chinese?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Pooped and My Feet Hurt

This morning, I biked to new campus to meet teachers to go on a bike ride. Because not everyone had a bike, the bike ride turned into a 7 hour hike. Under the blaring sun, we hiked flat land to the edge of the plateau and then plunged down the valley careful not to slide with the loose dirt of dry dry Gansu. The hillsides were covered with white blossoming trees and the river in the valley was nearly empty more like a fast running creek which had to be jumped over in a leap of faith praying that you would make it.

The hike made us all dehydrated and totally exhausted. After such a long day, guess what the six of us cooked for dinner. Pork and vegetable dumplings. We rolled out the dough, hand stuffed each one, and then boiled them. This is not a fast meal for hungry tired people but that is what we prepared.

Then I biked home.

I'm waiting for my water heater which takes two hours to heat the water. I want to shower off the dust!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Chinese Post Graduate Interviews

Several seniors have come to the Tree House to ask for advice about their post graduate interview. They passed the written portion of the post graduate exam and now just have to pass the oral interview.

As an American, when I hear the word interview, the image that comes to mind is one person asking a lot of questions and the other person answering trying to impress the other and sell themselves.

In China, I am not sure what a post graduate interview is.

The students also do not know.

Student: Can you help me write my introduction?

Me: How long does it have to be?

Student: Don't know 10 minutes?

Me: How long is the interview?

Student: Maybe 20-30 minutes?

Me: What do you want to tell the interviewers?

Students: My background, age, name, why I want to go to graduate school. I am a hard worker and a good student.

Me: Is it a speech? Will the interviewer interrupt you?

Students: No. I don't think so. I think they will ask questions after my introduction.

Me: What kind of questions?

Students: I don't know but I am really nervous that they will ask me general knowledge questions that I don't know the answer to.

I am not the right person to be giving the students advice about a post graduate interview that neither of us have any experience with.

Reading their introduction speeches makes me think about an English speech competition. Whoever does the best 10 minute speech, will win. Most of the speeches are exactly the same, flowery words saying nothing specific, general adjectives that can describe every student I know. "I am a diligent, hard-working, dedicated girl who has perseverance. I want to further my education to better myself and gain knowledge."

The winners of speech competitions are the ones who catch the judges ears by their presentation skills plus their English pronunciation and fluency abilities not by what they are actually saying especially since most of them are saying the same thing.

I wonder is that how they pick the post graduate candidates, presentation and English skills rather than the content of their introduction speech?


Growing up adopted by white parents, I never understood that I was Asian American, that I was racially Chinese. Instead, I was a visitor to Chinese culture. It was something to be studied and learned about. Being Asian American wasn't my identity.

In his article, Adopted Asian Americans, C. N. Le writes "many adoptive parents were open to cultural exploration, but not racial exploration -- "Asian-ness" was seen almost like a commodified culture, rather than a racial identity."

It wasn't until college when I was doing research for a paper about international adoption that I even realized there was a stereotype that Asian women are seen as exotic flowers catering to men's sexual fantasies. Didn't even really start exploring my personal views about yellow fever until I moved to Seattle.

As a child, I never explored my racial identity. When my brother and I at the skating rink or on the school bus were made fun of, I just explained it away as kids being kids, mean and stupid, focusing their insults on things that made us different. Everyone had something different to be made fun of glasses, hairdos, slanted eyes, flat noses. I was just like any other kid who had something unique about them, fuel for the insult fire. I considered my Asian features as a physical feature. I didn't understand how those Asian features gave people fuel to make stereotypical assumptions about me.

As an adult I was forced to start understanding my racial identity in relation to the world, in relation to me.

Are people dating me because they have yellow fever? What are people's first impressions of me because of the color of my skin: submissive, quiet spoken, unemotional, stoic, nerdy, anti-social, socially inept? Or is it really my personality, does my personality actually re-affirm the stereotypes?

At the Tree House the other night, we talked about stereotypes.

The Chinese female students told me the following stereotypes:

Americans are very open.
Africans are strong.
Japanese women obey their husbands.
Japanese men work a lot.
Korean women are beautiful.

Chinese women are traditional, only want to find a good husband, and believe their children are always right and will defend them no matter what.

Chinese men are the responsible bread winners of the family and are required to support everyone. They are jealous and control their wives social activities forbidding them from talking and socializing with other men.

I was surprised that the stereotypes listed were not the stereotypes that Americans have about Asian people. It was eye-opening. I wonder if Chinese people make assumptions about me from their point of view about Chinese women or with a viewpoint that I am Chinese American and therefore maybe different, maybe an open traditional woman?

Then somehow we got onto the topic of gay marriage. According to the Chinese students, in America it is legal for gay people to marry. One girl explained that many Chinese people believe that a person's family, background, and social circumstances caused the person to be gay. It is not genetic. She said, "I'm trying to find the scientific evidence that it is genetic, but can't."

Conversations definitely lead to insight about a different culture.