Monday, May 31, 2010


Living in a new culture that has different expectations, different time scales, different priorities, as Americans we often feel frustrated feeling that nothing has been accomplished. A typical Peace Corps mantra is "Be flexible and redefine success."

I redefined success a lot in Africa. I redefined it in China. The new definition of success had a simplicity about it, a personal one on one type of impact. I felt successful whenever I would leave my African house, would meet a new person, would carry rocks with the community to the mosque, would help a student with a math problem. I felt success when someone finally understood my Chinese only after one try, "Where is the W.C.?"

In Peace Corps success often comes in little packages.

However this past week, wow... super successful! Incredibly so!

In April, we went to Chengdu for a workshop and planned a project to motivate more students to visit the Tree House English Resource and Community Center. It is now almost June and we are slowly reaping the benefits of participating in that workshop.

Tuesday's Tree House workers want to host a nature festival where there will be dancing. They invited a foreign teacher from another school to come and teach how us to dance. Friday night over 50 students came to learn a dance from Israel and Greece as well as the cha cha and the twist.
Saturday was knitting club. The girls are getting really good at reading English knitting patterns.
Monday's Tree House workers want to host a dinner party to learn about Western manners. Tonight about 20 people came to the Tree House to get their dinner party invitations by participating in a short lesson about Western and Chinese manners. At the desk students read about Western manners, discussed them with the teachers, and then wrote a few rules on flip chart paper. In the couch area, the Tree House workers planned a skit for the dinner party and picked out the background music.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Knitting Frenzy

Today is knitting club. To show the girls what they could knit after they finish their cats or felted money purses, I am knitting 4 small projects- a ball, a heart, a pumpkin, a pocket bunny. It is a knitting frenzy. Put on the music or a podcast and go.

Do you have any suggestions of small projects that beginner knitters would have fun doing?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Blessings of Dance

Tonight the Tree House was jamming to learn traditional dances from Israel and Greece as well as the cha cha and the twist.  The energy of a room full of 60 plus dancing students was one of pure joy, laughter, and smiles.  It was wonderful.

Why do I write so personally?

When trying to understand myself, I usually think about nature versus nurture. After having a few conversations with my cousins, I have added a new factor to what influences personality and values- outside environmental factors like going to a historically black college and university, living in Seattle, living abroad. For some reason, I hadn't ever really considered how important outside environmental factors are. I always assumed family and one's genetics were the strongest influences especially as a child. I also wrongly assumed that our personalities are strongly formed while we are living with our parents. I think for me, who I was as a teenager was strongly influenced by family. Today who I am as an adult is strongly influenced from outside environmental factors.

Maybe you are wondering, why do I write such personal things on my blog?

1. introspection
2. analyze myself
3. correct the image people have of me

Why so publicly and not in private conversations and emails with people?

1. I don't have a therapist who is paid to listen to me
2. I am not strong at expressing myself with my voice. I tend to talk in two sentence stories and turn the conversations back towards the other person by asking questions.
3. Very few friends are interested in emailing. I have found a new email friend which is fantastic! It is rare to find such friends who communicate through long emails.
4. Because I live abroad, I tend not to be able to talk about everything that is running through my head with host country national friends who make up the majority of my friends.

Why not just journal about the things running through your head?

1. I do journal but it doesn't feel the same as knowing that other people are reading my questioning thoughts.
2. I feel by making my thoughts public, I am less alone. Maybe others also relate to what I write or have some insight about the topic.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Do you stereotype? Are you stereotyped?

In America, as a person of color whose self-identity was strongly connected with a naive high school idea that "I am white," I have had many lessons about how my skin color and physical features make me different. People have certain perceptions about me. People make assumptions and stereotypes about me.

My naive views about diversity were from the point of view of a teenager from white privilege. When talking and thinking about race- Be politically correct. Be color blind. Treat people as equals. Don't be prejudiced. Embrace the diversity of America without dividing it. Don't make stereotypes or assumptions. Ignore color. Clump everyone into the race of humankind.

Then because I physically look Chinese I grew up and realized people are not color blind. We make assumptions and stereotypes. We can say the right things but often internally we are thinking and feeling something quite different. It is hard to treat people as equals. The world divides itself based on race, on culture, on country, on gender, on sexuality, on religion, on class.

I was able to change my teenage white privileged point of view because I was forced to as a person of color, but if I had been a white American I probably would have held onto idealistic teenage views for a long time. What could have pushed me out of my American white majority privileged box?

Diversifying my friends? Reading books? Exposing myself to diverse films, music, and magazines? Talking to people?

Travel. Living in another country and becoming a minority could shake things up. One would realize how natural it is for people to make stereotypes and assumptions about people based on the color of your skin and based on the country you are from. People are not politically correct. People are prejudiced and treat people differently based on skin color.

In China, white Americans are assumed to be energetic, open and religious. They are yelled at in English on the street by strangers and are photographed like super stars by cell phone holding local paparazzi. They are invited to free alcohol and meals. They become a status symbol like owning a fancy expensive car. Skin color starts mattering. One realizes people are not color blind. People are not politically correct. One starts realizing you yourself are not color blind. You also return the stereotypes and assumptions right back to the culture you are living in.

In a country like America where diversity is a norm yet where many of the issues are swept under the rug, maybe more Americans need to travel and feel what it is like to be an American in another country.

Instead of ignoring, trying to be colorblind, and politically correct recognizing and acknowledging differences leads to understanding.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I just finished watching director, Jason Reitman's movie Up in the Air about a rootless man who lives most of his life flying from city to city firing people.

I felt a connection to the rootless traveler.  I too have lived a life where I am in constant motion, moving from city to city.  I just stay a bit longer than the movie character does.  Yet we still have the same results- lack of community, lack of home, lack of friends and a sense of distance with family.

Every one's final destination is the same.  Is the journey more enjoyable if we find and be with a co-pilot to make the journey less lonely?

I am without a co-pilot. 
Am I lonely?

The rootless traveler didn't know he was lonely until he met someone.  Am I lonely and don't know it because I am living this day to day habit where I am lying to myself about how happy I am?  The character in the movie seemed to be.

I really think I am happy, alone, without a house, with very few possessions, traveling from city to city, making new friends here and there, losing friends as I move away, and starting all over again each time I move.  I am experiencing life by wandering.

I am alone.
I am happy.

Tree House Project Updates

Monday Night:  Dinner Party
Students have designed a project to learn about Western table manners and are currently managing it.  They have discussed Chinese versus American table manners.  They have planned a menu for the main event, an actual dinner party.  They came up with a great idea that in order to participate in the dinner party, students have to come to the Tree House on Monday night to learn about western manners before the event.  Each participating student will be given an invitation ticket to the "by invitation only dinner party".  This is a great idea on so many levels. 
1.  We will know how many people will attend the party so we can buy enough food. 
2.  We can organize the students into different time groups so that we don't get 20 students showing up to the Tree House where the table only fits 12. 
3.  We accomplish our main goal of trying to motivate more students to visit the Tree House.
Tuesday Night:  Nature Festival
Students have designed a project to have an outdoor nature festival.  They have made pinatas and will soon paint them.  They  have invited a foreign teacher to come and teach them some Western dances.  The have made a list of games like watermelon eating competition and water balloon toss.  They have decided that their initial idea of planting a tree or flowers is not feasible because it is summer and not spring.
One interesting aspect that occurred during the planning of this festival was how we were reading the same words on the list of things to do but understanding the words differently.
1.  Invite a teacher to teach us how to dance.
2.  Invite a teacher to teach us about makeup.
When I read these words I assumed, we would be learning how to dance in order to teach participants at the nature festival how to dance so we can have a nature festival dance.  I also assumed we would be using the makeup skills to do face painting at the festival.  The students thought we were going to learn how to dance in order to prepare a performance for the festival and would have to put on a lot of makeup in order to be in the performance.  That was an interesting culture moment.
Creative Writing Club
Currently we are trying to write compositions and poems to put into the book, but I have suddenly lost a lot of participants.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about how my writing esteem has taken a hit through writing club because I have to pick something to publish.  Well guess what.  It has happened to my students too.  They feel a lack of confidence.  They don't want to submit their writing to be published.  All the free writing we did this semester, all the little gems written did not give their writing self-esteems a boost.  I am not a critical teacher, but an encouraging one.  We did no editing during writing club. 
The problem is the idea of having other people read your work is just scary!
Buying of books with RELO grant
Our Amazon China shopping cart is full with about 1600 RMB worth of books and about 200 RMB worth of shipping; however, we have not ordered the books yet because if we ordered them today the books would arrive in August when the school is totally shut down and closed.  No one would be here to receive the books.  We are waiting a month to push the shipment date towards September.  Good thing I am doing a third year with Peace Corps at this site.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Knitting Projects

My parents bought me a camera and my recent visitors, my cousin and his fiancee brought the camera with them. It is great! Thank you mom and dad. Thank you aunt, cousin, and cousin to be. I've been away for like 10 years and it doesn't matter. Family still helps you out. It is completely fantastic that even through time and distance family sticks with you.

Now I can take pictures of all the clubs and activities I'm involved in. Plus I can show-off my knitting projects. (All links go to the knitting pattern.)

Raglan Cardigan and Caplet

It took me 2 months of knitting! Using size 2 needles makes for slow progress, but almost every single Chinese woman I see knitting has a project on US size 0-2 needles. When in China do as the Chinese.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Getting a haircut

I alwayItalics believed that people in China would be able to cut my hair better than people in America. The hairstylists here are familiar with my straight, coarse, black hair. They cut my hair type every day. They have had a lot of practice.

However, I did not realize that the small town hair fashion in my city is not the same as the types of hairstyles that I want. Plus, my communication skills are a bit lacking while sitting in a barber's chair.

People in this city wear their coarse, thick, straight hair, BIG, fluffed out, high above their heads, layered up, pouffy, teased and blow dried into BIG 80's hair. I like my coarse, thick, straight hair lying flat, as flat as possible, even buzzed super short during the summer months when I am not working.

Not only am I fighting the style that the barber thinks would look good on me, I am also struggling with my ability to communicate with elementary language abilities.

While pointing at different areas of my head I say,
Here short. Here long. Here I want to see my ears. Right now, can't see my ears. Want short here so I can see my ears.

What is the result?
A nice 80's haircut.

Next time maybe I will bring a picture and buzz most of it off.


that would have made a BIG difference this semester!

This spring I taught a senior course titled English Short Stories which had an enrollment of 100 students. Twelves hours a week, I would show up regularly to the classroom and sometimes zero students would appear, sometimes one, at the most 5. It was a frustrating semester.

Last night I learned some news that would have made ALL the difference. I could have been less frustrated. I would have made the class less academic but more like a book club. I would have combined all the classes into 4 hours a week. Instead of teaching the same lesson plan three times a week to an empty classroom, I would have only taught it once a week to a somewhat fuller class.

What was the big news?

The information that no one thought was important enough to tell the teacher was

The English Short Stories course is an informal course with no grade or final exam.

ARGH!!! My students spent $5 on photocopies for the course, and I spent over $100 this semester making photocopies for the students because there was no book. I didn't want my course to cost too much money out of their already empty pockets. If I had known it was an informal course, I could have found a way to make it cheaper for all of us.

Self-censoring myself

The creative writing club had its first meeting in October and we have had a total of about 20 sessions. We are getting ready to take some of that writing, edit it and compile it into a book.

During writing club, I write different things than what I would write for this blog. Sometimes I focus on a setting, or conflict, or character development, or a dialogue. Here are some of the titles of short passages I am thinking of submitting to the book.

1. Dreams of a Person who Cries
2. Chinese American in China
3. One Girl Growing Up

Even though I really like the One Girl Growing Up vignette. I am not sure it is appropriate for the book. It feels too raw somehow. In the midst of student stories about going to a net bar, about being afraid of the puppy who is living in the dorm room, about getting a phone call from an old classmate, about friendship, my writing feels too emotional, too open, too exposed and revealing.

Maybe I should just keep it in my writing journal, self-censor myself, and not submit it to the panel of judges who will decide which stories will be in the book.

One Girl Growing Up

DP hates herself and it gets her into a lot of trouble. When she was younger she believed she was a good girl who was always doing what the big G asked her to. She followed His rules and moral principles. Every day she thanked Him for all the wonderful and beautiful gifts He gave her. She even thanked Him when she got her first boyfriend.

It was that first boyfriend though that led her down the path of evil, away from morality into a realm of bad choices made for selfish reasons. No longer did the big G's love satisfy her. Now she only wanted people to love her, so she would do anything and say anything just so a person would love her. She grew fearful of not being loved and the fear turned her self-love into self-hatred.

Once hate took over, all of her troubles began and ever since that first boyfriend she has left a battlefield of wounded souls, a river of pain flowing from her fingertips into each and every person she meets. Bitterness and anger is all that is left. Hate and bad choices have become the norm. She no longer knows what is right and wrong anymore. Instead all of her decisions are made for selfish reasons. She'll do anything to be loved, anything except listen to the real truth. By ignoring the truth, she makes promises so that people will love her, but they are promises that cannot be kept since they are based on lies. So she takes out her knife and stabs the ones she desires, the ones who could love her and stabs them in the back.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Blow to my Writing Self-esteem

After tonight's creative writing club meeting, I have realized that I am a writer limited by my lack of vocabulary, lack of creativity, and lack of descriptive detailed images. I write not because I am good at it, but because I want someone to hear me. I just don't want to force anyone to listen. So I vomit my thoughts onto the paper and let you choose if you want to read it or not.

Is writing like drawing? Can it get better with practice and persistence? I have been writing a blog since 2001. I have posted a total of 1066 posts which is probably around a half million words. Unlike my drawing ability, I cannot see any improvement in my writing. How discouraging! What can I do?

Actually now that I think about it I believe the reason that I am feeling a bit blue about my writing is because of the fear of having to choose one of my written passages to put into a book. Having my writing judged feels scary and my self-esteem takes a hit.

Why did I go to Africa and China?

I went to Africa to live the simple life, back to the bare necessities of life, to find truths that exist without consumerism, excess, salaries of money.

What truths did I learn?

I learned that I can live a happy life with only the bare necessities: food, water, shelter, air and human companionship.

I learned that the peace of such a lifestyle was amazing. I somehow found the root, the source, the rawness of my own heart, of my own breath, of my own soul.

I learned that without money and without a good health care system, life spans are short. For me personally if I was happy and had peace during a short life span, I would be happy dieing at 40 or 50 instead of living till I was 90. If the life had been wonderful, I would die a happy woman; therefore, I do not feel the need to make a lot of money to prolong my life because of a fear of retirement or bad health.

I went to China to discover who am I?
What parts of me are Chinese?
What parts of me are American?
What parts of my personality are due to nature versus nurture?

Have I discovered who I am?

Not really. It is still confusing because instead of comparing myself to my specific family gene pool, I am comparing myself to a nation of Chinese people.

I definitely know that I am strongly American. I can see the differences between my American self and the Chinese culture.

I am still uncertain about which parts of my personality are due to genetics. Do I sacrifice my personal desires for the harmony of the group, for my friendships and relationships because I am genetically Chinese? Why is my lifestyle philosophy so different than my parents and my brother if I was raised in their family? Why am I not religious when they are? Why didn't nurture influence my life path more?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

To Beginners Learning to Draw

I do not have a natural talent for drawing.

When we were growing up, my brother was always putting pencil to paper, using crayons to decorate self-designed tennis shoes and cars, using pen to create elaborate wars and battles. He was naturally talented. I could draw a rectangle with a triangle roof, a circle for a sun, and stick figures of different heights to represent mom, dad, my brother and me.

In college after a breakup, to fill the empty time I bought a book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Edwards, and tried to learn how to draw. I started learning how to see angles, shapes, and relationships between lines.

It has been 10 years since my first attempt at learning how to draw.

I have taken up the pen and pencil again and am amazed that I am not back at square one, am amazed that I haven't forgotten everything that I know about drawing. My ability to see and to draw what I see comes to me faster than it did when I was 19. My drawings are no longer just simple line drawings but actually sometimes have some shading. I never understood shading before, but suddenly it has started happening. I still have a lot to learn. I make a lot of mistakes, yet my bag of drawing skills is becoming more full.

Even people who are not naturally talented artists can learn how to draw, how to paint, how to color. So if you are just starting to learn how to draw, don't get discouraged. If you keep practicing, if you keep drawing, your skills will improve.

Lifetime alone?

In a recent email to a friend, I wrote, "You sound SUPER DUPER passionate about science, NMR, and research. I am passionate about stuff that I have always been passionate about like drawing, knitting, exploring a new culture, human behavior. None of that though will direct my future after I finish with Peace Corps. What am I going to do?"

His reply was "Today I will provide the secret answer to all your troubles! For free! It's simple: just don't ever go back to the US! Hehe! So what do you think?"

Wow. What do I think? I haven't ever really considered living most of life abroad. Staying in Peace Corps for four and soon to be five years has just been an easy way to continue the lifestyle that I am passionate about. Once Peace Corps is finished though, it will be time to make another life decision.

Is it hard to find work in Europe?

A friend is applying for a UN job in Afghanistan.
Should I try to go to the middle east?

Try another Asian country?

Do I really want to stay abroad for a lifetime?

There are definitely big parts of my identity that have been suppressed for the past 4 years living in traditional cultures. Maybe it is time to return to the states where I can live free rather than repressed.

One argument against living abroad for a lifetime is the difficulty of finding a person to have a relationship with. It is much easier to find a partner in America in the bigger cities that are more open to a diverse group of people who don't fit into traditional boxes.

So another question to think about in the debate about living a lifetime abroad is am I willing to live alone for a lifetime?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tear down the new

My city is being torn down and being rebuilt again.


Was it old, run-down, falling apart?


When I first arrived in my city 1.5 years ago, it felt new, wide roads without potholes, new empty buildings that shined. It felt like a brand new polished city with only a few back alleys and avenues left of the old traditional courtyards and houses with tiled roofs made out of mud built into the walls of the earth.

Yet the city is still being torn down and being rebuilt again.

The roads are being uprooted. The bike lanes have disappeared. The sidewalks have become skinnier. The roads, the lamp posts, the railings of the city avenues are being uprooted and hauled away.

After lunch yesterday, I sat in a bakery on the second floor eating cake in the dark with two red candles lighting the table.

The city is being torn apart.
Electricity is cut.
Water is turned off.

The whole city that was already brand new is being re-constructed anew.


No idea.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Perfect Happy Life

One of my greatest fears is waking up one morning and realizing that I have somehow walked onto a life path that I was pressured onto because of society's norms, because of responsibility, because of the examples of the good American citizen climbing the career ladder with their white picket fences, mortgaged homes, bank accounts full of money for their children's university degrees and 401Ks for retirement.

In an early Chengdu morning after walking for an hour along the river of fishermen and retired people exercising by the way of sword tai chi I arrived at the downtown shopping mall to a closed doughnut joint that wouldn't open till 9 am. I guess in China, doughnuts are not really a breakfast before work food yet. After spending hours eating doughnuts, drinking coffee, writing, drawing and watching the western pop music of Britney, Madonna, and Christina Aguilera, videos that after living abroad for 4 years seemed extra shocking, I walked back to the PC office along the main drag bombarded by shop after shop, by restaurant after restaurant, a never-ending street of consumerism. I had a whole day to "waste" waiting for a TB test to be checked and waiting for my 9:20 pm train to depart. I sat in the PC office reading books about personality traits defined by genetic coding and personality characteristics defined by learned behavior: What color is your Personality? by Carol Ritberger and Finding Your Own North Star: claiming the life you were meant to live by Martha Beck.

It was a perfect day: walking, observing people, writing, drawing, reading, watching music videos, eating sushi buffet for dinner, experiencing life at a slow pace full of the things I love to do.

Some people say, "Jennifer you are crazy for wanting to stay in Peace Corps for 5 years."

After reading and taking a quiz in the book Finding Your Own North Star, I have realized that I am living the life I am meant to live. I am on my true path, a path guided by my true nature, the joys of the things I love to do, to see, to experience.

Sometimes though I doubt this life I am leading and start worrying about my future, the career I am told that I must have, the money I am told I must make, the security I must save for retirement and poor health.

I haven't figured out how to combine the life I am meant to live with the responsibilities that society warns and pressures me about.

Maybe though I actually don't have to find the balance and if I did find a balance maybe I wouldn't be on the right path, wouldn't be living the life I am meant to live, would actually have to read more self-help books like Finding Your Own North Star from front to back and find a life coach to find my way back to today's life, the one that I am happily living.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

After 24 hours

I have arrived back home after two nights in Chengdu.

Coming home was first a 17 hour train ride full of male energy, snoring, spitting, smoking, slamming doors, and sleeping in your boxers only.

Then a 7 hour bus ride that under the best circumstances can take as little as 3-4 hours.

Three traffic jams...

During the first one we had to wait for a bunch of men to dig out a big heavy truck. There is a mud mountain that no one wants to pay to pave; therefore, it is a spot where lots of accidents happen. Usually it is a dry dirt road but today it turned into sliding mud. Lots of spinning wheels and braked wheels still continuing down. One truck ran off the road. Luckily a tree kept it from continuing down into the valley.

The next two traffic jams were faster than usual. I think because of the rain there wasn't much traffic out on the streets. Right now the little countryside road is having major construction done so large parts of the road have become one lane. Sometimes there is traffic police stopping traffic. Other times it is a free for all. Tonight there was traffic police plus not a lot of traffic so an hour wait was only 10-20 minutes.

Still 24 hours is a long time! I think I would prefer a 24 hour train ride rather than a train then a bus. Buses are too unpredictable and have no toilets.

Chengdu medical was fine:
  • no cavities
  • no illnesses
  • no large weight gain, still haven't hit the over 145 lbs yet
  • will have my cheek mole that is growing removed in the US by a plastic surgeon who will try not to leave a large scar
Chengdu eating was delicious:
  • Indian food
  • Japanese buffet
  • loads of coffee
  • sadly no hot pot or shou kou; it is hard to eat such a meal alone

Monday, May 10, 2010

Venus Blood Sucker Trap

Last night I could not sleep even though it was a cool evening in Chengdu, rainfall cooling off the usually muggy city.  Maybe I had one cappuccino too many or maybe for once in my lifetime I was a night-time plant, waiting for dinner in the dark of night instead of being the usual morning animal who gets up at 5 am.
I tried to lie as still as a dead animal
only my face peeking out of the sheets,
soft skin risking a bite,
to tempt a blood sucker to land,
listening to the high pitched sound
feeling the flutter of tiny wings and thin legs,
a long mouth attaching itself to my fatty cheek,
then whap,
you little fat juicy bugger. 
Then the wait began again,
for the whole night. 
During the first 10 weeks in China during pre-service training, every trainee had a personal interview with a staff member to talk about what type of site they wanted to be placed in.  My only request was no mosquitoes.  Gansu unlike Sichuan is dry.  Thank goodness I am living in a place where mosquitoes are few.

Conditioning Clockwork Orange Style

If you had to sit on a bus for 6 hours and were forced to watch a TV screen with a volume set at blast where even your personal
earphones attached to an ipod cannot drown out, which of the following would you choose while trapped for your viewing pleasure?
a.  Chinese Soap Operas
There are several types:  the bad guys versus the bad guys usually one triad against another where big bosses are killed along with their families, girls are kidnapped then shot to death in front of their boyfriends who are being beaten while trying to save them and plenty of chase scenes and mob fights with machetes.  Then there are the sugary sweet loves stories chock full of drama, slaps to the face, crying, and plenty of fainting.
b.  A live taping of a variety performance show
These shows are LOUD.  The performers sing at the top of their voices and the MC's shout full blast into microphones while the crowd goes wild while double fisting plastic toy plastic hands that clap when shaken.  There isn't much entertainment value to these shows.  There might be a 30 minute cheering competition where the MC's try to get their side of the audience to cheer and laugh louder.  Maybe you will watch the singers chug beer handed to them by the audience.  Maybe you will watch a skit where a girl flirts with a dumpy guy to convince him to go hit the big macho guy in exchange for a kiss.  Or maybe you will have the pleasure of watching a guy dressed in a skirt sing, change shirts, and then sing opera with a woman who acts like she is 6 yeas old.
c.  B movies
While riding the bus, I have see Dragon Wars 4 times, Street Fighter Chun-Li, Elektra, James Bond dubbed in Chinese, 3000 Miles to Graceland twice, and a bunch of Chinese films.   
In order for me to leave my city, I have to take a bus.  I live in one of the rare cities that does not have a train station; although, it does have a tiny airport with two flights a day, one to Lanzhou, one to Xian.  For a 30 minute flight to Xian, maybe the 160 RMB is worth the cost compared to the 60 RMB bus ride. 
I am not exactly sure what the bus rides are conditioning me for, but I do feel a strong aversion towards buses and therefore only leave site when necessary.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

More Tailor Adventures

After the frustrating results from one tailor, I decided to try another tailor, one recommended by a foreign teacher who has been living in my town longer than I have.

I rode the escalators to the third floor of the downtown shopping mall and arrived at a little corner shop full of fabric with several customers waiting and gossiping. I found a soft feeling green bolt with etched curvy designs reminiscent of African basin and asked the saleswoman if it could be made into a skirt.

I requested that it be made long, down to my ankles, one that fits on my hips, not near my bellybutton. Next I twirled to indicate that I wanted the skirt not to be tight fitting but twirly. Price? 90 RMB for the fabric which I felt was pricey, but I don't really know anything about fabric. 25 RMB for the labor. Seemed reasonable? I paid the deposit and left.

Today I tried on my new skirt et voila, amazing fit, hangs well off the hips, amazing twirling action, and exactly the length I wanted.


Also, I have figured out a way to fix the two skirts that the other tailor had sewn too small. I think I might ask the new tailor to fix them for me.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Who am I?

Do I have a strong personality?
I feel like I am a silent person
who never says anything,
but then maybe I am not self-aware,
unaware of what is coming out of my mouth,
unaware of people's reactions around me.
I do know that I tend to ask a lot of questions,
questions I think are interesting,
but maybe the questions are
too personal and shocking.
Sometimes strong personalities are those
who don't know when to be quiet
because they are oblivious,
unable to read social cues.

Do I have an emotional personality?
I feel, but I feel softly.

After watching the movie Me and You and Everyone We Know I felt a great sadness while watching the lonely characters wanting to be loved and connected but somehow closed to each other.

Then the next day....

As I was sitting in a speed boat with an empty gas tank, looking up at the red cliffs, I felt the silence of self-reflection: am I closed to love? have i ever loved? been in love? do males and females feel love the same way? how am i not open to love?

Productive Office Hours

The Tree House was hopping busy tonight.

We had one corner of freshmen knitting kitties.

In another corner two freshmen were making Friday night's movie poster and planning next week's Free Talk.

In another corner a non-major was talking to my site mate.

Then next to me a freshman was telling me how to cook spicy noodles.

Then a teacher came in and asked if I could help him with some questions about Roald Dahl's "The Umbrella Man" that he is trying to translate into Chinese.

And to top it all off seniors were coming in and out of the library to have their English Short Story notebooks graded.


I have lived abroad for almost four years now and rarely am around American culture. During the vacation in Lanzhou, I hung out with Peace Corps volunteers and realized that I have forgotten many things that I had enjoyed while living in the USA.

So, what kinds of things have I forgotten or miss about living in the USA?

  1. Extremely personal conversations that lead to personal insights.
  2. Conversations about topics that cannot be discussed in traditional Gansu.
  3. Being introduced to great music.
  4. Sitting through amazing films with friends.
  5. I have forgotten what my dynamics are like with guys. For the past four years I have lived in a female dominated society. Female dominated? Because the countries I've lived in are strongly patriarchal a trend that results is that females socialize with females and males socialize with males. It is a bit more rare for both sexes to socialize with each other; therefore, I feel that a lot of my socializing over the past four years has been mainly with females. I have forgotten how to interact with males. I tend to migrate to women circles following the examples of the women who have been surrounding me. I feel a sense of shyness and timidity towards talking to guys from the USA.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Awkward Social Personality

This past week while on vacation up in the Lanzhou area I was surrounded by many different personalities. I got to speak a little French. I got to speak a LOT of speed English. I met a lot of new people from all over the world plus got to know some of the Gansu Peace Corps volunteers (PCV). It was the first time in a long time that I felt like I was part of Peace Corps. While isolated in my city, rather than feeling like a PCV, I feel like a regular foreign teacher just without the salary. I went from feeling isolated from fast English speakers to a week of a lot of socializing.

What factors influence my social personality?
home environment?

My social personality in group situations is often a quiet listener who knits or hides in the kitchen doing dishes, and who tires quickly ready to leave the situation way earlier than everyone else. I tend to do better one on one, but with groups I don't know what to do or how to carry on a conversation. I do better in group situations where something needs to be accomplished, where we are working together with a bit of socializing on the side.

Can I learn to tell stories, to carry on conversations, to be more engaged with people rather than engaged with knitting? I think so. I always believe that a person can learn anything. They might not be the most naturally talented, but they can always try to learn something new. Practice can lead to an improved skill set, social skills could be one of them.

I think part of my social personality has to come from my genetic makeup because I get tired. Getting tired is out of my control. That is chemistry directing my body to tire out when interacting in large groups.

Another part of my social personality comes from American culture. At this moment, I am not exactly sure how American culture influences my social personality. But I know it does. American culture influences a lot of my personality like for example how independent I am. I like shopping alone and don't want people to come with me. In China people rarely go shopping alone. They always are shopping in at least pairs.

How has my family environment influenced my social personality? My father is a great story teller. I wonder why I didn't learn the skills from him. My mother is more of a quiet person; however, my family rarely interacted with other people. I lived on a farm surrounded by land and rode a yellow school bus that picked us up at 6:50 in the morning since we were so far out. We didn't invite people over for dinner parties. We weren't invited either.

Did extroverts have different family environments that taught them how to be social butterflies?

I am theorizing that maybe genetics is the strongest factor for determining our social personalities. What do you think?

Vacation Highlights

Gansu Provincial Government sponsored a two day trip for foreign teachers. Only cost 100 RMB so it was well worth the trip, plus it made it easier to travel up to Lanzhou to visit Peace Corps volunteers for the May 1st holiday.

Liujiaxia Dam of blue Yellow River water
speed boats
dinosaur footprints
Buddhist grotto
danced around a bonfire
slept in a pine wood cabin
fishing in stocked pools
5 Chinese banquets
Peace Corps taco night fest
saw a cow and pig farm on a hill
zip line
Italian buffet
saw awesome movies:
Me and You and Everyone You Know
Mad Hot Ballroom
Paris je t'aime

Monday, May 03, 2010

6 day vacation

I've been away in Lanzhou and just got back after a 13 hour bus ride that normally takes 8 hours. We spent two hours fixing the bus then because of road construction spent another two hours sitting in traffic only about 20 miles outside of my city.

Tired I am, more later...