- They have already taken their finals and I will teach them again next semester. Why teach a lesson plan that I will need for next semester?
- In Gansu I participated in the kung fu P.E. class and the way the teacher administered the exam was to have all the students just sit around while he watched one student do the routine. Having students sit around while I grade their notebooks is somewhat similar but instead of just being bored, they get to watch an English movie.
- Watching a movie is like a treat that I want to give to my students for their hardwork this semester.
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
In a previous post I wrote, "but I am not really doing the footwork that is necessary to start a secondary project."
But umm... one kind of fell into my lap without much effort.
I have lunch with my counterpart on a weekly basis and we talk about Chinese culture, teaching, and my experiences in Gansu. I mentioned in passing without really any intention of starting a resource center that in Gansu we had a really cool English library where students volunteered to run the library and we helped write grants to shelve the place with English books donated by Darien Book Aid Plan.
Today we invited our counterparts out for a thank you hot pot lunch because they are awesome counterparts who notify us in advance about exams, and school related announcements, have been super friendly inviting us to dinner and lunches and to play badminton and have provided us with valuable information about Chinese culture. Lo and behold, what does my counterpart say, "I told the Dean about the resource center in Gansu, and the Foreign Language Department would like to provide you with a room." A room that is supported by the school is the first step and usually takes a lot of meetings with leaders.
But Wow!!! So easy. Incredible!!! Weird!!! I have never had a secondary project just fall into my lap. Crazy lucky?
Saturday, December 24, 2011
The day before the party, I received a text message from my counterpart saying, "Are you free to attend a meeting hosted by someone in Chengdu? You will represent us there."
"I am free. I can go," I text back.
She sent me the address via email and I would have biked if the rain hadn't been pouring down. One thing I love about living in a new city is the exploring of streets, bus lines, and getting lost but eventually finding my way. The meeting was held in a hotel on a street that I had already walked along during one of my exploratory walks through Chengdu. It was a street full of bright fabric, dance costumes, hostess ball gowns, and ethnic clothes used for performances.
I assumed the meeting was about the safety of foreigners in the city. I remembered that the Lanzhou volunteers had to attend a session with the police on how to be safe in the city. Instead the banner read, Welcome to the 2011 Foreigner Party welcoming us to a room full of balloons and plates filled with sunflower seeds, peanuts, candy, oranges, and cookies.
I arrived early wanting to give myself plenty of time to get lost in case it was a hard to find location. Plus I had 90 listening papers to grade which I graded to Christmas elevator music whose 2 songs ran on repeat. By the time the event started, I had finished about 50% of the work.
The room filled with a small number of about 20 foreigners which was surprising because the city has a TON of foreigners. The party opened with 30 minute of speeches, then two people sang Christmas carols, then we were asked to play games- a balloon race with a partner where you can't use your hands, musical chairs, with your feet pop the balloons that are tied around two people's legs, and organize three people to somehow be on the smallest area of a piece of newspaper. It was a strange surreal atmosphere where as the party progressed the numbers dwindled from 20 to 10 to eventually 5.
People in China love playing these games that I often consider are children's party games. I remember sitting at a Chinese restaurant watching adults play musical chairs and have a watermelon eating contest to receive a free plate of fish or a water bottle.
I did mingle and make small talk learning that many of the foreigners were primary and secondary education teachers and their biggest challenge was classroom management with 60-80 students. Not sure why my college was invited, but I did learn new games that I can use in my classroom or at parties I might help organize in the future. It wasn't a total waste of time.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
It is hard to wrap one's head around being a volunteer and living in such a city of luxury. I feel like I am back in Seattle riding buses to music shows, biking to museums, feasting on international food, and sipping coffee in a different tea shop every week. The buses are packed and it is hard to find a seat. You are always standing. The subway with its one single line that runs north and south is way less crowded but more expensive.
At first I had culture shock moving from small town to big city, but I have adapted and now am loving big city life.
Because I am working so much with the PC community, I tend not to have as much energy for my Chinese community. Also because I am only here for one year I have a different mentality towards community integration. I am holding office hours and learning about my students' lives. I am inviting people out to dinner and learning about the lives of Chinese teachers, but I am not really doing the footwork that is necessary to start a secondary project.
If I had been assigned Chengdu for my two years in Peace Corps I would have become more involved. Even though there are foreign teachers in this city making $1000 a month compared to my $220 living allowance, I think as a PCV there is a different mentality when living in the community. As a PCV, I tend to want to integrate, to learn language, to find people to work with, and to start secondary projects. I try to do more than just teach. I am not here for a salary, for hanging out with ex-pats in foreigner dominated venues, but am here for the Chinese experience, for the culture exchange, for the idea of serving a community.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Back in the states, I would wander Seattle, eat out, drink Earl Grey in coffee shops, attend shows, bike around Lake Washington, and every once in a while meet up with old friends and make new friends.
Returning to a city whose weather reminds me of the dark winters of Seattle, overcast without sunshine, the life here feels somewhat familiar as I wander the city, drink lattes, eat sushi, attend shows, and bike to lakes, yet I feel like a stranger to this city person who feels somewhat familiar but who also feels like something is missing.
I have somehow lost part of my identity. Which part?
Back in Seattle, I felt surrounded by strangers and felt this urge to take part in my own personal social experiment where when riding the bus, I would dare myself to say hello to someone new. Going to a party, I would take a deep breath and give myself a pep talk to start a conversation. I was trying to see if by forcing myself to talk I could turn shyness into something new. I was trying to see if the world was actually a place full of friendly people who all just want to make a connection with another human being.
I have lost my American identity. With students, I am the American teacher. With strangers, I am Chinese.
There are two worlds, the Chinese one and the foreign face one. I wander an in-between world of having an Asian face who can't speak Chinese yet inside know that I am just like the foreigners with non-Asian faces visiting China. With foreigners, I am silenced by the expectation of a language barrier. People won't even say hello unless they know Chinese and I am too afraid to say hello to break that barrier to announce to people that I am American with my accent.
In the Chinese world, people will say something to me in Chinese but if I don't understand their words, they are quickly silenced by their fear of embarrassing one of us because we are having trouble communicating. When I see a bunch of Chinese bikers all wearing the same biking clothes, I am too afraid to approach them to say" Ni hao," even though I know that they would be friendly.
I feel caught in between two worlds. I am Chinese who can't speak fluently. I am American who isn't obviously outwardly American. In a city where foreigners seem to flock together or where Chinese people want to make foreign friends, I am ignored.
The reality though is I am the one who is imprisoning myself in my own solitude of fear unable to break through the wall and say a friendly hello in English or Chinese. I have lost the ability to have a conversation, to reveal little bits and pieces of myself, to tell my story. This part of me has been replaced with teacher mode, the person who can ask questions to get students to speak English. If you're not my student, then using Mandarin I can start a typical Chinese conversation about food and where you are from, but find the conversation to dead end pretty quickly making me wary to even start the conversation. Using English, I have lost the ability to reveal myself replaced with question after question about another culture. If we are both Americans living in China, then I don't know what to talk about, what questions to ask.
I feel socially awkward and lost so then I hide away in silence behind my knitting.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
The roads were wide and the cars were few. Along this route would you believe that I passed two drive-thru McDonald's?
It was a chilly day to ride but with only 3 top layers, a bandanna to cover my ears, and mittens, I was warm and toasty except for my feet which turned completely numb about halfway through the ride. I'm still trying to thaw out my toes.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Living in a dormitory on the teacher floor where the other floors are used by students is a rare glimpse into the lives of Chinese college students. Every evening Chinese and English pop music blares through the speakers till 9 pm. Then at 7:30 am, music with a fast beat is our morning wake-up call. At 8:10, all of the students stand in formation for their 30 minute morning reading.
Monday, November 14, 2011
If you are doing an awesome secondary project or know of any other Volunteers who've got a cool project, we'd like to continue recognizing projects in the bi-monthly newsletter. I know that everyone has to fill out the vrf; however, it is usually done at the end of the term. The newsletter comes out more frequently. Please send pictures and/or a write-up to your Program Manager or contact me directly. If you aren't into writing, I am actually also looking for people who'd be interested in having a phone interview about their project. Contact me if you'd like to be interviewed.
Friday, November 04, 2011
Personally, for me as an American woman, the issue is how to define myself as a woman and self-define my role as a woman including how to have a voice to express myself. I have so many choices that are my own. I can have a professional career or be a stay at home mother. I don't have to worry about money because I am confident that I will always have a job to support myself. I can choose to get married or to remain single and can choose for myself who I date and love.
Educated American women have many opportunities and the freedom to make their own choices to create their own futures.
In West Africa, during my two years there I saw so many issues that were fundamental to survival. Education was not equally provided to all genders. By the first year of middle school out of 100 students, only 20 were female. By high school, the number of female students probably dropped to one hand. Health care and health education was an issue. I helped with handing out food to mothers whose babies were under-weight and mal-nourished. Women had little choice in who they would marry and how many children they would have. Women did a majority of the work yet didn't have control of money or have the opportunities to support themselves. In West Africa, the issues for women revolved around how to survive the hardships of poverty while trying to keep their children alive.
In China, I asked my students what are the women's issues for young Chinese women and for older Chinese women. In no order of importance, they listed the following problems:
- working towards the position of women becoming more equal to men's
- the lack of job experience
- domestic violence
- body image, losing weight, high heel shoes, companies hiring based on height and beauty
- can't deal with stress as well as men
- can't drink or smoke like men
I asked Chinese teachers the same question. They listed discrimination in the work place, marriage and mother-in-laws, and domestic violence as issues for women. They further explained that women have a great pressure to marry and have a child. If they don't get married or don't have a child, then society will think something is wrong with them. Marriages often have a lot of conflict because of the family. There is a saying that I have often heard in China, "You are not marrying a man but his family."
In my opinion, Chinese women have more choices than African women but fewer choices than American women. Chinese women are equally educated, have their own careers, and have their own money. They, however, unlike American women have a greater pressure to get married and to have a family. Because of this pressure, Chinese women tend to get married sooner and quicker. They get married to men who might not be their first choice but choose a man whom the family supports. Even with a cheating husband or a bad marriage, Chinese women will stay married for the sake of the children.
Women's issues are different depending on the environment, culture, tradition, and even the laws of the land.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Am I living the American lifestyle?
Too tired after full days of work to even do laundry?
Of course after a flooding, my washing machine has been broken.
Doing laundry by hand takes extra effort.
Today I finally had an afternoon at home for the repair guy to come and fix the broken hose.
Tried Salsa dancing tonight with students, but realized after
being dipped and twirled and spun and moved all over the room in crazy steps
that they were preparing for a performance.
They weren't just learning Salsa for fun.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Peeled off to a single layer of skin already dry
Vulnerable to the day's responsibilities waiting in the wings of pre-productivity
Cleansed with a baptism of cup after cup of warm water
Splattered mud mixed with sweat rinsed clean from a bright pink bucket
Wrapped from head to toe
with soft creative colorful creations of
a slouchy hip hat
a maroon triangular bulky gartered scarf
pink and orange fingerless stockinetted gloves and
purple and red striped fitted socks
Head to toe
warmed by colorful uniqueness
knitted with a single strand of yarn
a memory of the pleasure of creating
in front of a bright screen
with bullet points
typing for cold hard cash
when my soul today
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Saturday, August 06, 2011
On an empty Saturday, living in a hotel can be a bit boring, so I decided to scope out my new home.
My university is in a neighborhood of new wide sidewalks and streets, empty of cars and people. The place is like a research park that only fills up from 9-6 pm then becomes a ghostville. Luckily there is a subway entrance right outside of the front gate of the university that will take me to the back alleyways of Chengdu. The area is actually a biking paradise with its wide streets empty of cars. I even bet the countryside is just down the street. Even though I am surrounded by new buildings rather than back alleyways of food, color, and Chinese flavor I am in a place where I will be able to bike and have quick subway access to markets, food and colorful sights that I love.
I feel like my new neighborhood is like Huntsville, AL or Redmond, WA. Who would have thought I'd end up living in a research park in China? At least I'll be able to commute safely to and from the PC office by bike and there's nothing to spend on coz the few places that do exist are too chic.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Thursday, July 07, 2011
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Saturday, July 02, 2011
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Monday, June 27, 2011
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Friday, June 24, 2011
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
I tried to predict China to control my future, to make a schedule, but China gently slapped me on the wrist and said, "You can't do that."
If you want to know what is going on, you have to ask students a lot of questions to discover any rumors that anyone might have heard. You have to visit the office and teacher lounge to make small talk with office workers and teachers. You have to observe how China works because even though it is unpredictable there is a predictability about the unpredictable or I thought there was.
The English department has been practicing a fan Tai Qi performance for months now and performed it for the sports meet last month. Before the performance, one day of class was canceled for the dress rehearsal. They have a second performance this weekend.
Because I knew about the unpredictability of China, I canceled my 10 minute oral interview final exams. I had no idea when the students would or would not have class. If they missed a day I would have 360 minutes/6 hours/20-30 students to reschedule which would be a nightmare! I changed the final to be a 2 minute performance where each class could be done in two hours.
I assumed that because last time, class was canceled the day before the final performance, that would be how it would work this time. The performance is on Sunday, so I assumed that Friday classes would be canceled. I moved the two Friday finals to earlier in the week. I thought, "Yeah! I predicted unpredictable China."
Nope! I was wrong. This time 4 days of classes have been canceled. Because only two classes have been able to take their finals, I now have to make-up 3 finals. This past Monday we had class. All other days? No class.
China gently reminded me that humans have no control. It is fate's playground.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
The most obvious thing to watch out for is things in your pocket. When you are using a squat toilet, cell phones, keys, wallets, etc tend to fall out then down into the pit of ick.
The second thing to watch out for is dripping pipes from the squat toilets on the next floor up.
The third thing to watch out for is exploding pipes that spray water everywhere when you hit the flush button. Water gushes out all over your shoes, all over the stalls next to yours, pushing all the human waste out onto the floor. When you flush those, stand back and be ready to jump backwards to avoid the geyser of water and waste coming out at you.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
|A month ago I had this red shirt tailor made (150 RMB which included the fabric). My co-workers commented that it looks like a shirt for teenagers since it has no sleeves. I was like oh... I guess I need to find something to cover my shoulders when I wear it to school.|
There is less pressure saying goodbye to my city since I am moving to Chengdu and am not actually saying goodbye to China. These are not my last meals or my last few moments experiencing Chinese culture. I still have a year to eat Chinese food, to have more clothes made, and to go on more bike rides.
Yesterday I gave away my colorings. Visitors to the Tree House went through the 100 pastel pieces and I signed them along with little notes. It was fun seeing which art pieces the students choose. One student asked, "Why did you color so many?" I said, "It is my hobby."
Also, my gmail account is down. Send email to my yahoo account. Thanks.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Monday, June 13, 2011
Sunday, June 12, 2011
The second goal of Peace Corps is to promote a better understanding of Americans by host country nationals. What if the host country nationals don't believe you are American?
This is a typical conversation I have with friendly strangers:
"Where are you from?"
"I am American."
"American? But you look Chinese."
"Yes I am Chinese American."
"Oh Chinese American, so you are Chinese."
As an American, I know I am American. I speak American English. I have American mannerisms and values. I have lived in America for most of my life.
Is it my duty as a Peace Corps volunteer, to try my best to convince host country nationals that I am American so that I can promote a better understanding of Americans?
I have had many conversations in my limited Chinese.
"I'm American. I was born in Taiwan but my Chinese parents were too poor. They gave me to American parents."
"Oh. Four parents?"
"Yeah. I was three days old when I was given to my American parents. I don't remember my Chinese parents and can't recognize them."
"Oh… I'm sorry. Do you want to find your Chinese parents?"
"Well, now that I can speak a little bit of Chinese and know more about Chinese culture, it is more of a possibility but still not my priority."
I have had this conversation many times. Did I convince people that I was American? Nah… Americans are white. Everyone else isn't American. It is about definitions and it is difficult to change a belief system. In America, we label people by citizenship and skin color. In China, people label others by skin color.
So we are arguing about different things. Chinese people say, "You look Chinese," while I am saying, "Yes, but I have an American citizenship and am culturally American."
Just by having the conversation people realize that they aren't talking with a local but are talking with someone very different than themselves even though we look alike. It is in a very small way introducing people to Chinese Americans and the diversity of America.
The question though is, "With locals, how hard should we debate whether or not I am American?" Do I want to every single conversation discuss my adoption and try to explain the concept of citizenship and culture? Do I want to become frustrated when we are arguing two different ideas, physical features versus culture/citizenship?
I think in order to stay sane, I pick my fights and try not to let people's non-belief bother or irritate me. It isn't worth the energy. With people who can't understand that I am American, in my heart I agree to disagree. With some, I just say, "I'm Chinese American," and leave the conversation there even though I can see it in their eyes that they don't believe I am American. With others, like students and friends, we explore and have conversations about the various ideas about diversity, stereotypes, and Americans. My students all believe that I am American. I have never had a problem with students not believing me. Sometimes it just takes them time to shift and to open up their understanding of the world.
What are some coping mechanisms for the "You're not American," accusation?
1. Find a Chinese phrase that can be used to explain where you are from, a phrase that you are happy with and that people will somewhat understand.
2. Be content knowing that you are American and don't feel pressured to convince everyone in the whole world that you are. Some people are just stuck in their own belief systems.
3. Remember that the people who interact with you regularly will come to understand that you are American.