Saturday, July 31, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
So...15 hours on a luxurious method of transportation compared to buses in China, I made it back to Alabama. Chicago was a hassle with 1.5 hours of immigration and customs. The lines were long.
It is strange being back. I think the reverse culture shock is greater than my home leave from Africa to the USA. Humans are so flexible. Habits and expectations after 2 years change. Just like how China was a bit overwhelming when I first arrived, the US is now overwhelming. The USA seems to be the same except that I am different.
One big thing that doesn't seem to be the same from two years ago is the number of people who are occupied with their cell phones. You don't see people's eyes anymore, and the noise is people talking on their mobiles.
There were lots of moments of ding.... "Woah that is strange. Woah my habits aren't American anymore."
1. My seatmate commented, "Oh you don't want ice anymore?" My response was "Oh... there's ice?" I remember back in the day when I would drink every airline beverage with ice. After two years in China, I have forgotten about cold drinks and ice.
2. I was surprised that I could understand a lot of the Chinese announcements on the airlines and didn't mind if the airline workers spoke to me in Chinese first. I remember my first flight to China being super self-conscious about not being able to speak Chinese when everyone expected me to.
3. After four years of sleeping without a pillow, on a rope cot, and on a thin pad on plywood, I find the beds in America to be too soft.
4. Before I can remember to put the toilet paper into the toilet bowl, it is dropped into the trash can.
5. During my morning run, I knew that it was culturally appropriate to raise a finger in greeting to drivers coming your way, but it took me several cars before I felt brave enough to do it. It was like how living in Africa or China, I was sometimes too afraid to bargain even though I knew it was culturally appropriate. I find it funny that with a US custom I too would feel resistance to doing it.
6. Instead of dodging cars and people, during my run I saw only five cars, a frog, a turtle, a country mouse, kids and their goat moms and piglets and their moms.
7. Even though America has a huge car culture, Alabama seems empty compared to China. The streets are empty. The sidewalks are empty. Even the parking lots seem empty.
9. I am still Chinese in America. Because the doctor knew I was serving in Peace Corps China, I guess he assumed I was Chinese and asked, "So what part of China are you from?" It is the same question everyone in China asks me. I guess I will never escape that question.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Today is the last day at site. It feels weird to be leaving to go back to the states because I have a HUGE backpack. I usually travel with one carry on back pack, but I am pretending it is the end of my service. I have to take everything back home. My house is still full of stuff but it is all stuff that I will leave behind, clothes that are worn out, pastels, art supplies, CDs, speakers, and more...
I am packing my knitting case and preparing knitting projects. I am almost finished with one sweater, have prepared the supplies and notes for a second sweater and a small hat project. It is always confusing which needles are essential. Also are blunt tapestry needles even allowed in the carry on?
This week has been a good running week, five days of jogging a time pyramid 40 minutes, 50 minutes, 60 minutes and back down again. Today it was raining. Perfect weather except I hate the puddles. Even running on the sidewalk is annoying. The sidewalks are tiled so if you hit one that isn't fixed, mud and water splash into your shoe. Ugh... I had to do some major leaping over rivers that ran across roads. Felt like I was in a video game.
While running, a computer game idea popped into my head. Peace Corps Volunteer adventure game where the player has to overcome all the trials and tribulations of living in different countries while trying to get work done. For example, in Africa the player would have to find the right balance of eating, getting sick, and losing or gaining too much weight. They'd have to figure out how to implement a project and meet the right people so the project would be successful. They'd have to learn some words in a new language. They'd get points for bargaining and getting a good price. In China, the player would have to navigate crossing the street, or going on a bike ride without being hit or hitting anything.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
But actually for me a goodbye in Chengdu, doesn't mean I will never see her again. I'm planning on meeting the parents in Ft. Collins and then going backpacking in Crested Butte.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
This is the corner where workers gather to wait and be hired. This downtown pink building is a stinky one. Can you guess why?
What can I write about? Not much happened yesterday.
With the rest of the grant money, I bought yarn and got 3.5 kg of yarn for about $25.
I bought some fabric to fix my Togo African print melange bag and hopefully communicated to the tailor that I wanted a new bag with the African prints transferred to the new one.
We had dinner with our counterparts eating the same food we ate the very first time we visited our site. It is amazing how our taste buds have changed and how our stomachs have gotten bigger compared to that first meal. The first meal was a bowl of battered fish in a soup of spiciness and a tofu sour spicy soup. Our counterparts remarked, "You didn't eat much during that first meal." This time there was nothing left.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
- food: tacos, brownies with melted Andes on top, peach pie, chocolate chip cookies, beef noodles, BBQ sandwich, and gazpacho
- seven hour bus ride movies: an extremely dramatic movie about the Sichuan earthquake and the heroes who rescued people, 2012 dubbed in Chinese, Chinese comedies where demons possess people and kill others, where a Tibetan monk goes to Hong Kong to find a Buddhist artifact to save the world, and a couple romantic comedies.
During the first year of living in Gansu, it was a pretty isolating year because there were only four of us volunteers and we were very far from each other. It was difficult to take a trip to see each other with only two days of weekend leave. Now though, with more than twenty volunteers in Gansu, it feels more like a Peace Corps region like in Africa where volunteers would get together and socialize. It is nice. I like it.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
These little farmers were helping their grandpa. I wanted to get a picture of the grandpa but then the brakes in my head didn't want to halt. I road past him and when I caught a glimpse of what was behind the cart, I had to stop and back peddle.
Yesterday while biking, a motorcycle road along side me and asked, "What kind of hat is that?"
I replied, "It is a hat I bought in America."
He replied, "Oh you're a girl."
I guess my biking outfit disguises me pretty well?
The bike ride yesterday was sometimes frustrating because I had to stop for traffic jams created by farmers who use up half the narrow country road that is actually a "major" highway to dry out their harvest.
Two big trucks with over thirty people sitting in the truck bed made me curious. Are they migrant workers? Prisoners? Workers being hauled to a factory? After about twenty kilometers, I found out. They were being trucked to a big empty field at the edge of a plateau to learn how to drive buses, cars, and trucks through an obstacle course.
I followed a taxi down a side road and ended up at another driving obstacle course and a "tourist" spot at least that is what the sign said. The tourist spot was a restaurant with rooms that are caves in the mountain with a great view of a valley.
I find it surprising that in the middle of nowhere, twenty kilometers in the countryside there are so many driving schools.
Monday, July 12, 2010
First there was a wasabi eating contest which resulted in some pretty funny faces. Then when the cake was brought out, everyone got whipped cream smeared all over their faces. Then they wanted to play spin the spoon to see who would get cake thrown at them. Being the good Peace Corps volunteers we are who want to share American culture, we described the kissing game, spin the bottle. Maybe we should have held our tongues coz the next thing we knew, we spent thirty minutes acting like middle school kids who have never kissed anyone and who are super embarrassed and too shy to kiss anyone. We were laughing with tears streaming down are faces with the nervous energy of teenagers. Thirty year olds refusing to be kissed, to kiss, or eagerly saying, "No problem," running over puckering lips to plant a wet one on my sitemate's cheek to only meet a back.
While biking with a helmet, a bandanna hiding my hair, and sunglasses wearing African shirts, I wonder if people recognize me as a Chinese person, a strange Chinese person, or a foreigner. I feel that my Chinese features are hidden behind my costume.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Friday, July 09, 2010
To which I then replied, "Only around Chinese people."
Lately I've been jokingly told that I am a foreigner hater. Here when I use the word "foreigner," I am not talking about the host country nationals, but about us, the foreigners who are visiting China. Why would someone say, "Jen, you are a foreigner hater"? Because in my city I tend to avoid social situations where there will be a lot of foreigners. What? Why?
I think there are several reasons. One, the pool of foreigners is small and just because we are all foreigners doesn't necessarily mean that we are compatible personalities. A lot of the friendships are somehow forced just because we share a common first language. I don't like forcing friendships with foreigners. Another reason is because I am bad at small talk, so I was surprised when my counterpart made her comment.
Why do I mind forcing friendships with foreigners but not mind forcing friendships with host country nationals?
Because I am guest in this country and feel a great interest in learning about the people here, any of the people who are willing to talk to me. When I go back to the USA where the pool of Westerners is huge, I can then find the people I like and want to be friends with. Why force myself to interact with a few native English speakers? I think the difference is, making friends with host country nationals is about the country and culture. They are representatives of China. Making friends with fellow foreigners is about a connection between two personalities, two individuals.
What is the difference between small talk with Chinese people and small talk with foreigners?
Today I went to hot pot with my counterpart and with her friend, a stranger to me. I had no problem barging in and asking personal and friendly questions, but when I am around foreigners I tend to put on the silencer. I think when I am around Chinese people who are trying to improve their English, I go into teacher mode and just try to ask as many questions as possible to get them to use their language skills. With foreigners, I have to become a person, not a teacher. I have to open up and talk, have more of a personal one on one type of interaction with hopes of some type of personal connection with the real me, not the teacher me, the real me, not the censored me. After four years abroad, I have kind of forgotten the uncensored person which makes it hard for me to connect on a personal level with other foreigners. I feel like I am somehow, kind of phony, a shell of a personality. This phony diplomatic representative of Peace Corps knows how to make small talk with Chinese people. The real individual person has been lost and therefore silent around fellow foreigners.
I don't know how to really explain it. Anyone else out there know what I am talking about and maybe can explain it better?
In Guinea I thought I was going to die. I spent the whole night awake trying everything to cool off my hands. I blew on them. I put them in water. I rubbed lotion on them. I rubbed allergy lotion on them. I opened a can of milk poured it over my hands. Nothing worked. Eventually I guess the pepper chemicals wore off.
I've been knitting a project a day; however, I haven't been posting all of the pictures because I find the pictures to be a bit boring. I like the above picture because of the new shirt that was recently tailor made.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
I would highly recommend cleaning your water distiller regularly. Why?
1. At the end of your service, if the water distiller isn't clean, PC will charge you money. Trying to clean a distiller with two year's worth of minerals and metals is not easy.
2. If you don't clean it regularly, your "clean" water will start tasting like the metals and minerals you think are being left behind.
It took me a whole day trying to clean a six month layer of mineral. I've got to stop being so lazy and clean it more regularly.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Now that the students are studying and taking finals, there isn't much work responsibility these days. Secondary projects are finished. The Tree House is closed. No one has time to teach me Chinese. Instead I am left with a TON of free time that I tend to spend alone because everyone else is too busy and will soon be going home. I really like free time, but sometimes it drags. Then I become even more lazy. Plus sitting in silence all day, having conversations in one's head, and living in virtual worlds of books, movies, and TV shows makes one feel like they are going a bit crazy.
For an education volunteer, I think summers at site during the break can be some of the most isolating, alone dragged out moments that can feel like forever in a PCV's two years.
Monday, July 05, 2010
Today is laundry day except there is no water. The one thing I hate about daily exercise is the piles of laundry. Right now all of my workout clothes are covered in mud and I have no pants (both American and British meanings of pants).
Sunday, July 04, 2010
Today we had a "Western meal" with Chinese characteristics. Everyone thought my African peanut sauce was very Chinese. My sitemate's delicious lasagna using flat Chinese noodles and tofu instead of ricotta had the tomato flavor of Italian yet, still quite Chinese. I even made ice cold Southern sweet tea. People liked it and recognized that it wasn't a Chinese tea. I used the Welsh black tea bags my friends from Colorado left. The most American tasting dish was granola bars, a melange of ingredients from the soon to be abandoned cupboard of my sitemate.
I got motivated to finally fix the problem with the TV/DVD player which for the past year has only played discs in black and white. I borrowed my sitemate's DVD player and when the same thing happened, I was able to eliminate one variable. My DVD player was not broken which then pushed me to play with the Chinese settings on the TV. Through the process of elimination throught button pushing, voila color. Then my Chinese friends got the cable box to work.
The guests brought a HUGE watermelon. I mean HUGE! So after they left, I invited students over to finish the other half of the watermelon. Only two showed up. The rest were worried about tomorrow's final exams.
I (had/have?) forgotten how much I enjoy hosting food and art parties. The last parties I remember hosting were in Seattle. In Africa, almost every day I would cook lunch for students and the children hanging out around my house. I don't really count that as a party. Instead it was more like cooking large portions because of my habit of always having leftovers. Without a fridge, the food had to be given away.
Because of the Tree House, a space to hang out with students, I tend to use my apartment as a quiet private haven for a hermit, a place to be alone, an escape from the outside; however, I think I might start hosting more cooking, film, and art parties.
Today was fun.
Saturday, July 03, 2010
I have no clue. I feel like Americans eat meat, bread, cheese, mashed potatoes, salads and steamed veggies. I prefer stir fried Chinese dishes to steamed veggies. With no cheese, I feel anything I cook will be more Chinese than American.
I've been invited to several meals cooked by Chinese people. They prepared at least eight courses. If I was in America, I might prepare a lasagna, bread, and a salad. I feel that my Chinese friends will feel that my table is impolitely empty with the salad and peanut sauce over rice that I am cooking.
In Africa, the western dishes I cooked were no bake oatmeal cookies, pancakes, mashed tubers and spaghetti.
In China, there are a lot more ingredients in the supermarket, yet I still feel lost about what to cook. If I was in America, we would just have a Fourth of July BBQ. Bring on the chunks of meat and grilled veggies.
This past week has been a vacation. I bike. I knit. I cook. I go to ice cream parlors. Next week I will probably spend two days giving the listening final and grading it. Then summer vacation really starts. Today though I have a book reading, a hot pot gathering of the authors and guests of the Tree House creative writing book. Tomorrow my sitemate and I will be cooking Western, African, and Chinese dishes for friends.
Friday, July 02, 2010
Yarn Super Bulky
Needles US Size 11
Size 8 in x 60 in
Knit 2 rows
Row 3: *k, yo 3 times* repeat and end with k
Row 4: k across and drop all yo
Row 5: k
Row 6: *k, yo 2 times* repeat and end with k
Row 7: k across and drop all yo
Row 8: k
Row 9: *k, yo 1 time* repeat and end with k
Row 10: k across and drop yo
Row 11: k
Repeat Rows 3-11 until desired length or create your own pattern of yarn overs and drops
End with 2 rows of garter
Optional: Add a fringe
yo: yarn over
It is a paradox.
I yearn for the familiarity, the comfort, and the freedom to be me, an American amongst like minded people, yet that which I desire for some reason is uncomfortable. So then instead of socializing and being friendly, I end up choosing to be alone with my knitting.
Thursday, July 01, 2010
I did not go on the sixty km ride. Instead I only rode for two hours because the sky grew gray and the wind was tough. I am not a fan of biking against wind.
Before heading north, I stopped at the back gate sandwich lady to get homemade bread stuffed with tofu noodles, onions, cucumbers, and radishes. She is one of the nicest people I have met. She always gives me free food, free porridge, free eggs, free sandwiches and free advice.
I waited for a fresh batch of bread and watched the playground that had people with disabilities practicing for a sports meet. The bikers were back but this time their helmets were being worn the way I would wear them. One biker was missing a leg and their coach was missing an arm.