Tuesday, August 31, 2010
I am still have a bit of jet lag but am not grumpy. I tend to wake up around 2 am and can't fall back asleep. It is all right though since I am a morning person. Never knew I was such an early early morning person though.
Monday, August 30, 2010
The best part about being back in China are my friends. I feel a great sense of comfort and ease talking with them. The food is an added bonus.
One thing that I noticed while being back in the states was the amount of gratitude and verbal thanks everyone was giving. It made me uncomfortable because I wasn't sure if I was saying thank you enough. In China, Americans tend to say xie xie (thank you) way too much and we make our friends and host families uncomfortable. In China, it is unnecessary to say thank you especially to friends and family. It is implied that everyone is grateful for helping each other because you have a close relationship and there is no need to say thank you. To strangers I think saying xie xie is polite. (I am not 100% sure if what I have written is correct. I'll have to ask my students to explain the culture around xie xie. If you know the answer, leave a comment.)
Saturday, August 28, 2010
I've often written about trying to find the answer to the question who am I? Living in other countries I feel that I've been chasing a memory of me, have been chasing a ghost, a Jennifer whom I thought I was, who I thought that by being in the USA I would become again. In the states there is a freedom to be open in ways I can't be while living abroad, so I always assumed that if I returned to the USA I would be a more truthful side of myself.
I went back to the USA for a month, returned to China and while eating a bowl of noodles, my first meal back at site, watching the street, what did I discover?
No matter where I am, I am me. There I am. All those labels, the ones I hide, the ones I present, the ones I change, the ones I become aren't me. My history, education, genes, clothes, beliefs and labels don't define my identity. My identity exists right there, undefinable, just there. When I peer into me, I know it, but there are no words to describe it.
My insecurities and fears cause me to think I don't know who I am, cause me to think that I am presenting a phony censored identity, cause me to defend that which is me. But there is no need because I exist, not because I think, not because I can write and write describing who I am.
I exist here, now.
Can you see yourself?
Can you hear yourself?
That being is you.
This being is me,
I find it funny that one month back in the USA could change my attitude towards China. Two years ago I had a lot of patience for China, but one month in the USA and boom, feelings of frustration and argh hit.
When I first got to the gate in San Francisco full of Chinese people waiting to go to the mainland, I felt giddy. I was once again amongst short, black-haired people, people who look like me. I was once again Chinese, feeling like I belong because I look like everyone. I was once again amongst a language I sort of understand, can filter out, and can live in the silent isolated bubble of a foreign language. As a tribute to my last hour in America, I sat on the floor, something you NEVER do in China.
In Beijing though... boom...
I got so frustrated with it all...
- the signs that make no sense as I was trying to catch my plane to Xian
- the new terminal that is like two miles from the terminal I needed to be at
- having to squeeze on a crowded bus to get to the airport terminal
- the inefficient lines full of thousands of people
- getting an expensive zippo gift for the waiban confiscated because lighters are not allowed on checked baggage
- standing behind the travellers with their bags full of liquids, waiting as the security people ran their bags a million times
- waiting five minutes for women to finish in the toilets
- thirsty with only boiling water to wait to cool off
After a month in the USA, I lost my ability to wait. Somehow the time scale in the USA had speeded up my time scale thus losing my ability to be patient with the uncertainties and different time scale of a new culture.
Actually though, now that I have arrived back into the safety of my apartment, I feel better. Plus I received good news. I thought I was going to have to lesson plan all day on Sunday to start teaching on Monday. Of course in China, nothing is 100% certain. Nothing is 100% scheduled. Things change in an instant. Even though everyone told me to be back to start teaching on the 30th of August, guess what. Classes don't start till the 6th of September. Yay for me! Now I can relax, get over jet lag, finish knitting my sweater, and go on bike rides.
I am once again happy.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
- I was riding in the bike friendly city of Ft. Collins and sleeping at a farm full of fat turkeys, a few horses, and egg laying chickens in a town nearby.
- I was in a tent in the middle of the aspen forests of Crested Butte sleeping by a rushing creek.
- I was at my family's home at the base of a mesa of Grand Junction.
- I was in a rustic cabin in the foothills of the surrounding area of Denver that only had the modern convenience of electricity.
- I was in an awesomely decorated apartment full of artifacts from around the world.
- I was hiking and biking in Boulder.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
I've looked in Africa.
I've looked in China.
What have I discovered?
That instead of narrowing down the answer into a nice neat little packaged Jennifer who is confident about who she is, the world travel has just made her more and more complicated. Instead of a nice concise list documenting her identity, now there are a thousand different Jennifers, each being as flexible as needed to fit in wherever she is living. At sixteen, she was limited by her few experiences and was the good Christian girl. After that though, the variety of interests and identities that she took on blew up into a million little segments of personality. She is happy in each of her roles, in each of her personalities, in each of her interests and passions, in each of the different environments but when faced with the decision to choose one of them and to try to pick the next adventure, it becomes impossible. You may think... just try to fulfill as many of the different parts of Jennifer as you can; however, there are conflicts between the different Jennifers. There is the traditional Jennifer and the totally non-traditional Jen. There is the English speaker, the Chinese and French speaker. There is the knitter and the construction worker. There is the athlete and the TV watcher. There is the non-materialistic camper and the computer user. There are just too many choices!
What am I going to do after Peace Corps?
I bought a book. What should I do with My Life? by Po Bronson
Thursday, August 12, 2010
For example, at a coffee shop I listen to the small talk of the regulars with the baristas and feel like a fly on the wall who just wants to be swatted, remembering when I used to be a regular. Or on Greenlake, watching people play Frisbee, volleyball, participate in boot camp, I feel like an out of place foreigner remembering when I used to do sprints and pushups. Or when I am walking and a guy slows down, tries to make eye contact, and I feel the energy of someone wanting to chat, instead of feeling complimented, I put my pretend wedding ring back on my ring finger, disliking the pick up culture that I remember from undergrad or going to Freaknik in Atlanta.
How do I explain what I am feeling?
I am not talking about missing China or Africa either. I don't feel a homesickness for those countries, nor do I wish that at this very moment I was just back in my Chinese hometown. I like America. I've been enjoying all that America offers. But my heart, my eyes, my ears, my head, just feel weird, feel sad, feel depressed? Something is weighing me down, and I can't put my finger on it. This one month home leave is neither heaven nor hell more like purgatory, a holding place until I get back to my Chinese life where for the next year I will be preparing for the next big adventure.
I've been looking up web articles about reverse culture shock and think fluff... more fluff... too obvious, not the answers or solutions I am looking for. Jwong's college course science paper, "There and Back Again... Re-Entering Reality," though is one of the more interesting explanations.
"This definition of post-travel-abroad depression, whether it is an equivalent to reverse culture shock or not, is a clear indication that significant alterations in depression-related chemicals in the brain occur as a result of neuromodulatory alterations in behavior... Feeling an overwhelming sense of discomfort with reality seems to make sense in relation to the idea that these students no longer possess a clear sense of normalcy in their lives. An interesting reflection on the topic of drastic environmental changes and disconnect between reality and one’s expectations is the concept of solastalgia. Coined by an Australian philosopher, Glenn Albrecht, the recently formulated term defines a form of depression or homesickness that combines the concepts of nostalgia, solace, and desolation (Skatssoon). Albrecht uses this term to explain the sometimes overwhelming sense of distress over a loss of “community” or “endemic sense of place” as a result of environmental change; however, these same emotions and the depression caused by imagining a lack of control over one’s destiny are emotions and brain patterns that can also be associated with the concept of re-entry shock after being abroad."
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I am a good eater. I can eat and eat and eat. I have a bottomless tummy. Chinese banquets, do I ever feel full? Not really. I can always finish the last course, a bowl of noodles. But in America, wow... The portions are huge and the food is heavy! I can eat and eat and eat, but I feel painfully full. I am learning that it is easier to just take home half the plate, and eat it for dinner. Also, I feel like I am eating unhealthy. I am lazy. I don't really cook for myself. For five years in Seattle, I ate lunch on the Ave and dinner on Broadway. In China, I eat out almost every day, but I eat a lot of vegetables that feel like salads. The eggplant, green peppers, celery, leafy greens, tofu, cucumbers, and potatoes aren't raw, but they are still crisply crunchy after cooking.
Hanging out in Fremont then at Gasworks Park under the sun watching the planes land and take off of Lake Union with the Seattle skyline as the backdrop, I realized that Africa and China has changed me. I feel safe and peaceful within the isolated silence of one. I have spent four years learning to be by myself. I am not so good around people anymore. I am a bit quiet and quite socially awkward. I am used to sitting for hours, just waiting, taking paper out and sketching whatever is around me. I don't seek people or community for company but find ways to amuse myself.
Walking home from the store, I realized that Africa and China has changed me. I no longer rush. I remember writing a blog post while living in Seattle about why don't people run from place to place:
Sunday, February 04, 2001
Why do we walk everywhere? Why don't we run?
Yesterday I was running everywhere. Running to catch a bus that just passed me but was stopping a block away. Running down blocks and blocks trying to make sure I caught the 12:14 am bus.
I think we should run everywhere instead of walking. It is much more fun and you get more exercise.
I used to pride myself for being a fast walker. After living in the heat of Africa, I am like why? Why walk fast when it is so hot? Slow and steady is the mantra. In China, I do get frustrated by being stuck behind the hundreds of slow walkers. Because there are so many people on the sidewalks, walkers tend to just mosey on. Everyone follows the same pace and don't have to worry about dodging in and out of the crowds. I must have picked up the habit of walking slower. Today while walking back and forth from the supermarket, I realized that I walk at a peaceful pace.
My taste buds have also changed. I have always had a sweet tooth, but for some reason I am not eating sweets when the stores and coffee shops and cake shops are full of them. Instead I drink coffee, black. I eat salty food like a bagel and lox. I don't feel a strong urge to eat a sweet. I find it a bit strange and feel kind of happy that no longer do I feel the need to drink coffee with a doughnut, to stop by the ice cream parlor, to eat chocolate. It is a bit weird though coz in China, there are many instances when I feel an urge to eat a sweet. How does one explain that?
The last thing I have noticed is my inability to spend money. I am angry that at the supermarket you have to have a card or else everything will cost twice as much. I don't go to the movie theater just to watch a popular sci-fi action movie because the ticket is $10. I probably would pay the $10 if it was a unique film that might be hard to find again. I prefer to bike rather than spend $4 on a round trip public bus ticket. I don't mind spending a lot of money on a special dinner or on books, but everything else just seems really expensive.
I've changed over the four years. My taste buds have changed. My spending habits too. I have become quieter somehow, more of a loner, and I don't rush or try to be time efficient. I just be and know that no matter what, everything will work out. I wonder how long it takes to change back to the American I once was.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The best part of the coffee shop experience is the music and art on the walls. The background music in China is bland pop drivel repeating the same Chinese love and relationship vocabulary over and over again.
The gray sky is a poor motivator to get out of bed. I am cold and don't want to get up, but the gray sky is perfect weather for biking. Sweat turns the gray into yellow happiness. Riding the routes from the north past old rugby fields to the Burke Gilman passing the IMA and the stadium, riding the routes of the Seattle marathon around Lake Washington and touching base again with the Jen who went to a gym, ran, and biked felt nice.
Today while speaking French, eating Senegalese food and drinking iced bissap (hibiscus tea) a flood of images touched me in such a I miss Africa and want to go back way. I wonder why I don't mind facing the memories of Africa compared to facing the memories of the scientist who died five years ago upon graduation.
It is weird.
I ran into an old group member who had just arrived in town a few days ago from NYC where he is doing a post doc. What a coincidence. Does it mean anything?
What is on today's agenda?
Bike down to Seward Island/Ranier Valley, a 26 mile trip, to eat Senegalese food for lunch.
Monday, August 09, 2010
I think if I had more of an opportunity to bike in Alabama as a method of transportation, it might have changed my interest in Alabama as a place to move back to. The heat though is really hard. Seattle has great weather for sports enthusiasts. Slight cool drizzles are perfect for athletes.
Coffee: I forgot that good coffee is not bitter. My sitemate swore by Americanos so instead of the usual latte, I've been drinking a daily Americano. They are yummy. The instant nescafe of Africa and China is ugh... I can't believe I've been drinking the stuff for the past four years. No wonder I add so much milk and sugar. Americanos are delicious black.
Food: I've been having trouble spending money. In Alabama, my parents generously treated me to restaurants and let me try to eat a dent in their stockpile of food that fills two freezers, a fridge, and a walk-in pantry. Now that I am living on my own, I have a really hard time spending more than $5 on a meal. I ate pho which was relatively cheap. Instead of getting a bagel sandwich ($7), I just ate a toasted whole wheat bagel with butter along with soup ($3). I don't mind spending money on coffee though coz it feels cheap compared to buying a cup of coffee in China. I don't know why I am feeling so frugal. I have the money. Shouldn't I be eating it up while I am here?
I think food is less interesting this time because Chinese food is pretty good. After Africa, I was dying for a variety of food. This time my palette seems to only want to feast upon American bread covered with French cheese. Desserts don't really tempt me either. They just seem way too sweet and need to be shared rather than eaten by one person.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs): I've been people watching and sometimes think, hmm... I wonder if that person is a RPCV. There is something about them that is different, a piece of clothing, a bag, jewellery. I bet Seattle has a lot of RPCVs. If we loved the fashion of the countries we lived in, how long does it take for us to totally stop wearing those clothes? In China, I tend to still wear African pieces of wrapped cloth as skirts and African shirts when I exercise. In Alabama, I wore all the sundresses I had tailored made using African prints.
Jet Lag: For some reason both in Alabama and in Seattle, I feel wide awake at midnight, wake up at 4 am and then feel exhausted by noon, taking a LONG nap.
Sunday, August 08, 2010
It is a city of past memories, of a younger Jennifer who feels nostalgic for the past but can't see Seattle in her future. She loved Seattle and who she was as a student in this cool hip healthy exercising city. But now? Now... she feels old. She feels out of place. She feels Seattle has remained the same, and she has just gotten older with a desire for something new, a new adventure. She doesn't feel the desire to live in the past of a younger Jen.
Maybe it is time to try making money. Is that an adventure? Instead of picking a place for an adventure, try what the rest of the world is doing? Working a nine to five? With no passion to guide her to a new place, no questions she is trying to answer about herself, maybe it is time to just give up, settle down, and put money into her Roth IRA.
Questions of self-discovery have always led her from place to place, from jumping to one dream to the next. It started with college. What will it be like to live independent of her parents amongst a minority group of the USA? Then, the question is she a city West coast (Pacific Northwest) girl? led her to Seattle. Africa helped her answer the question will she be able to thrive and enjoy living with only the basic necessities of life without modern conveniences? Currently in China she is discovering, is she Chinese?
At 33, she feels like she has run out of questions to lead her to the next quest. Instead she is left with the natural life progression of an American citizen, job, house, life partner, family, retirement. Will her next adventure be work, feel tired, flop in front of the TV, dream of retirement when she'll be free again?
Friday, August 06, 2010
Thursday, August 05, 2010
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
Monday, August 02, 2010
- For $20 and the cost of our diet food, you can lose weight. "I lost 45 lbs."
- Are you weak and unbalanced? Then buy this bracelet that will put your body into the right frequency. Look at these real people and how they become stronger and balanced when wearing this magnetic bracelet.
- Buy this juicer and you'll no longer have to eat solid unhealthy food.