Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sweet Home Alabama

Our Backyard: All of the bird houses were built by my dad

Life in America is busy. There is always something happening. Someone to talk to. Someone to listen to. Somewhere to go. Time for breakfast. Time for lunch. Time to watch a movie (Despicable Me is a GREAT film. The 3-D version was quite amazing!) Time to sing karaoke on a PlayStation. Time to go for a run. Time to drive somewhere. We spend a lot of time in cars. Time to blend a fruit smoothie. I have barely been able to sit and knit, sit and write, sit and read. If I didn't get carsick while knitting, I could have finished a hat by now. I find it funny that while being surrounded by farmland that I am more busy here than I am in China. It feels like there is a busy schedule of things to do even though the things to do aren't really big things.

Custom Difference: My feet feel naked without house slippers. Walking around barefooted feels so American and now I understand why the foreigners in hostels walk around barefooted. It is our habit. We don't use house shoes.

Friday, July 30, 2010

China to Alabama

Wanting to have a nice closure and to say goodbye to a person I have gotten to know and have gotten close to over the past years, I decided to help my sitemate carry her luggage to Chengdu and keep her company for her few last days in China. She is one of the last of our group to close her service (COS) which could make Chengdu quite lonely.

The luggage though! Whew! The water distiller was HEAVY, actually not heavy but the weight was distributed on two tiny cords which cut deeply into my fingers that turned white with the weight. Her rolling suitcase was much heavier, but people helped her carry the thing up and down the train station stairs. We both had huge backpacks.

Note to COSing volunteers, try to take ALL of your PC stuff back to Chengdu during the COS conference! Or else suffer the consequences of having to lug books, a water distiller, a medical kit, plus all your own stuff. In the pictures do we look lighter? Yeah because in these pictures we have dropped off all the Peace Corps stuff. Were we such good sitemates that we even owned the same backpack? Nah... We traded packs so that she could pack her southern China basket that she will use to carry her future children in. We'll trade back our packs in a couple of weeks.
We left Gansu at 7 am on Saturday to catch a 1 pm train which was delayed till 2 pm. The train ride usually takes about 16 hours, but this time it took 34. The rains have been causing mudslides and we had to wait for at least 10 hours for the tracks to be cleared.
Luckily we had some great cabin mates, a family of four. It was fun. It was like having a host family. They fed us apples and seeds. We understood a lot of their Chinese and they communicated using gestures which is really rare to find in China. We played some oral English games to help the high school and college aged boys with their English. We played the same games in Chinese to help our Chinese. The mother even finished the collar of the sweater I was knitting for C, a going away present to the best sitemate ever. The mother taught me a new bind off method using a tapestry needle. So the 34 hours imprisoned on a train wasn't torture. It was a nice way to say goodbye to China, the loops that China throws you mixed with the learned flexible attitude of "Don't get mad. It'll all work out. Find a way to enjoy what's happening around you."

Here is the finished Plain and Simple Pullover pattern by Veera Välimäki. You can download the free pattern at the free knitting community called Ravelry.

On Wednesday we both left for the USA sharing the cost of a 5:30 am taxi to the airport. C's flight to Beijing was first, leaving at 7:30. My flight was next leaving at 10 am except after climbing two flights of stairs to board the plane, we all had to turn around and be driven back to the terminal. I followed the four obvious looking foreigners who were led by a non-English speaking airline representative back to the check-in counters going not through an exit, but through security backwards. The flight had been cancelled due to mechanical problems and we had to get new tickets. The foreigners were NOT happy because they were going to miss their flights back to Europe. We stood around the counter for thirty minutes trying to get new tickets. Everyone was stressed at missing their connecting flights and we were using customers who spoke English to help translate what the airline workers were trying to tell us. Eventually I heard the Chinese phrase, "Airplane. Good." We were handed our original tickets, ran back to the original plane, boarded it and I made my connecting flight. The others, doubtful. I am betting they got stuck in Beijing.

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.

8. Waiting in the back room of the doctor's office felt extremely lonely. Unlike China, where at the doctors' you are always surrounded by people, always accompanied by friends and family, being isolated in a small room felt really awkward.

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.

10. I was surprised at how much information was given out by public announcements at the airport. "The plane is delayed because we are waiting for another plane to leave the terminal." I was surprised at how well people followed rules and would wait at yellow lines marked, "Wait here," instead of bunching around empty space. Or would stay seated with seat belts fastened until the sign was turned off.

Friday, July 23, 2010


During the next year in China, I plan on learning how to knit, crochet, or macrame, the sandals and slippers in the picture.

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

Big Smiles

Today and tomorrow then we are off to the USA by way of Chengdu. Every night is a goodbye dinner. See what kind of fun we will all miss when she the sitemate leaves, leaves forever?

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

Pink Building

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

Cave Houses

Yesterday in front of my window was a loud funeral day. Family members dressed in white gather at a tent. Guests throughout the day bring colorful paper made arrangements from flowers to cars and houses. Firecrackers go off and music, a loud piercing horn, is played on every hour until 10 pm.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Countryside Carpentry

After riding my bike at least three times a week for at least seven hours per week for the past four weeks, I wanted to make my fifth and final week in China the peak of my biking and wanted to bike for fifteen hours in five days. Alas, this morning I woke up to a flat tire. Not sure if it is a flat because of a puncture or because of something else, so I'll pump it up and see how it is later today. I guess I'll go for a forty minute run.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chinese Wedding

I went to Lanzhou for four days to celebrate two PCV's birthdays and to say goodbye to a transfer from Benin whose close of service date is coming up after summer project. We were not the only ones celebrating. Here is a wedding procession with a bride hidden from view being carried to her husband's home.
The highlights of Lanzhou were
  • 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.
  • chilling

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

Little Farmers

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

Going Away Party

Last night we had a going away party for Caitlin with our best friends in China. These friends are the non-English teachers we go on hikes with, go on bike rides with, travel Henan with, play Mahjong with, and cook with. Pictures of them doing yoga at the Yellow River even made it into the China Peace Corps brochure. It was a crazy party!

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.

The night ended with the pointing game, where the group counts, "One, two three," then point at the person who will get smeared with cake. No one wanted to play the game except for our group's funny man. Guess who got attacked with cake.

Brick Factory

Maybe I should bring cigarettes on my bike ride. Cigarettes are often a way to appease angry people who have a voice of authority. I got yelled at for taking a picture of this brick factory, "What are you doing? What are you doing?" But then he calmed down when he couldn't understand my Chinese, "It's interesting. I am just looking. I am just looking. Bye." I hopped on my bike and escaped.

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

One Valley

One of my favorite parts about bike riding is following a random country road to the edge of the plateau. Pushing the bike back up is fun. The worst part is going down. It is super scary. I am afraid that my brakes won't hold, and I am not exactly sure how not to ride off the cliff when free falling at a faster and faster speed around curves. Hopefully my adrenaline will kick in and my desire not to die will overcome my inexperience of being on two wheels steering around sharp and steep curves.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Knitting Market

There are two large areas where people can buy yarn. Here are three yarn booths. There is another area that has a row of actual yarn stores. I usually buy my yarn from the yarn stores. I like being able to browse and touch the yarn rather than use my limited Chinese to point and bother the shopkeepers at the booths.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Foreigner Hater

Today my counterpart said, "You are good at small talk."
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?

Cars Used in Farming

Yesterday my hands had a slow light burning feel all day long. In Guinea they really BURNED and was super painful. Yesterday, I made a pork and bean red sauce with green and red peppers. In Guinea, I was in charge of chopping peppers for a PC trainee soft taco party with homemade cheese and tortillas.

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.

Thursday's Knitting Project

In one day, I started and finished these fingerless gloves using bulky yarn. The yarn is soft and works for this project even though I love the pictures of less bulky gloves posted on Leslie Friend's blog that has the Toast pattern.

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

A Bit Too Tight T-Sweater

When my sitemate's mom visited China last year she bought the commonly found fingering weight yarn and left it behind. So I got it and made the following T-sweater (modified Bad Penny by Stefanie Japel). It took two months because I used tiny needles, and it is a bit too tight. Why so many T-sweaters? My part of Gansu has short summers, and the summers aren't hot every day. For example today, it is overcast with a cool wet breeze. Two days ago it was overcast and humid. Three days ago it was sunny and hot. The weather as the students like to say, "The weather is changeable."

Fly in the Air

One hundred twenty nine listening grades have been submitted. No one failed this time, and the average of the class was 79 with about 8% making nineties and about 14% making the passing grade in the sixties. I have submitted the Peace Corps Volunteer Report Form. All that is left to do is write the RELO grant reports.

My Water Distiller

In Africa, using PC provided filters, and using a knife and fire we built a two bucket gravity water filter. Pour well water into the top bucket and wait till it drips down into the bottom bucket. Here in China, they lend us a high tech electric water distiller that leaves behind a visible layer of minerals and metals.

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

Harvest Time

Today is grading day, 136 freshmen listening final exams. I am lucky. Other teachers have anywhere from 200-300 exams that they have to grade or 130 exams for the writing course. I am SUPER lucky with my five part exam.

Next semester I will be lucky too. I will only have to grade sophomore listening exams. I will be teaching two non-graded classes: English Songs and English Short Stories.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Useful Sidewalks

Ever wake up one morning, feel super lazy and don't want to do anything? But then you realize that there isn't anything actually to do today and the length of a day of nothing overwhelms you? So finally you are like, "Fine. I'll go on the bike ride even though I don't really want to"?

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


Do not step on manhole covers.
You might think they are stable pieces of ground, but be warned they are not. This is the manhole where I almost lost my sitemate. She stepped on it. It seesawed, and down she went almost losing her Birkenstock, scrapping up her front shin. You have been warned.

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

Jujubes and Raisins

One time a student gave me a bag of the pictured red date called the jujube. She said, "Use it for tea. It is good for women and their blood." I use the green raisins in my oatmeal re-hydrating them with hot water. Does anyone know why some raisins are plump while others are like dried bark?

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

American Meal in China

What would you cook if you were preparing an American meal for your Chinese friends?

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.

Bike Lanes

The best thing about the city's bike lanes is they are almost as wide as country roads in Alabama. The bike lane in the picture is an old one and will soon be repaved like the rest of the lanes in the city.

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

China Inspired Drop Stitch Scarf

In China they sell rolls of super bulky yarn. Trying to make a stockinette, garter, or ribbed scarf out of it creates a fabric that is very stiff almost rug like. To knit a scarf with some flexibility, knitting an open mesh is the best way. This scarf was inspired by all those drop stitch scarves out there.

Yarn Super Bulky
Needles US Size 11
Size 8 in x 60 in

CO 12
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

k: knit
yo: yarn over

Consequence of Living Abroad

Living abroad for four years, I feel like I have forgotten American mannerisms, culture, ways to socialize except that I haven't really forgotten because it is such a strong part of my core. It is impossible to forget twenty two years of being trained in American culture. So it is a bit strange when I hang out with Americans because I know the customs but can't figure out why they feel a bit awkward. Why do they feel awkward? Why do goodbye hugs feel weird? Why am I socially inept and quiet around American conversations?

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.

Market Day

It is on a bike in China that I sometimes feel the closest to Africa. Because I live in a big Chinese city, every day is a market day, but while bike riding on the same road for the past four days, this weekly market popped up just like how in my first village in Guinea, there was a weekly market. Instead of using three wheel vehicles, Guineans would on their heads carry tomatoes in buckets or would ride in the back bed of a large twelve wheel truck from the big city of Labe. School would end early, and we would all trek the five kilometers to market buying a week's worth of groceries.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Sandwich Lady

It was a strange morning. I woke up at 6 am, looked out the window, saw blue skies, and immediately got ready for a long sixty km bike ride. I was excited for sunshine because during yesterday's ride I got soaked and my whole back was covered with a layer of mud. I got dressed, washed dishes, ate oatmeal, plugged in the water heater, filled my water bottle and then lay back down for 5 minutes. The next thing I knew it was 9:30 am. Strange. I am a morning person and it is hard for me to sleep in.

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.