Thursday, March 24, 2011

Artwork upon my Wall

Do artists hang their artwork all over their house, covering their walls with the things they create?  Is it self-centered to hang your own artwork all over your house?  I do it because by staring at the various creations, I problem solve the mistakes then am inspired to do another one differently.
I sort of feel like I am going a bit insane as I spend hours trying to cover my living room wall with color.
Over half of these colorings, the trees and colorful rice paddies, are inspired by photographs by M. Verillaud during her travels in Shanghai, Suzhou and Yunnan.

Artwork: Color upon a Wall


Do artists hang their artwork all over their house, covering their walls with the things they create?  Is it self-centered to hang your own artwork all over your own house?  I do it because by staring at the various creations, I problem solve the mistakes then am inspired to do another one differently. 

I sort of feel like I am going a bit insane as I spend hours trying to cover my living room wall with color. 

Over half of these colorings, the trees and colorful rice paddies, are inspired by photographs by M. Verillaud during her travels in Shanghai, Suzhou and Yunnan.   

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Leaders Urge me to get Married

Every culture has its socially accepted small talk topics of conversation.  In the USA, we tend to discuss the weather.  In China, polite small talk questions that Americans often feel are too personal are asked by complete strangers on the train.

How old are you?
What is your job and what is your salary?
Are you married?
Do you have children?
How much did your cell phone cost?

In China I have had several conversations with male leaders telling me that I should get married soon.  I can't tell if this topic of conversation is socially accepted small talk or is a type of patriarchy of father knows best; however, it does reflect Chinese values where a woman's social position is directly related to her marriage status.  With my female teacher colleagues, I have not felt the pressure to find a husband nor is marriage or finding a boyfriend a typical topic of conversation.  My curious students who have few unmarried female role models often ask, "When are you getting married or why aren't you married?  Don't you want children?" 

At official banquets that are usually made up of male leaders where token Chinese female guests are rarely seen, my younger fellow volunteers often get teased with "We'll help you find a Chinese boyfriend," which receives a polite smile and a joking reply, "I'm too tall for Chinese men."  Are the dating habits and future wedding goals of a female colleague a socially accepted topic of small talk?  In America we would never discuss this with the dean of a department and if given dating or marriage advice by our boss we would think how inappropriate.

Every Monday afternoon, during the 10 minute break, I sit in the teacher's lounge and practice my Chinese.  There are only two of us, my Kung Fu teacher from last semester and me.  He is in his late 50's and is the dean of the P.E. department.  Can you guess what we talk about?  Somehow the conversation moves towards marriage and boyfriends. 

He says, "You should get married." 

I reply, "All the men in our city who are older than me are already married with children, and if there was a single male I doubt he would want a wife who has a PhD in chemistry." 

"Yeah yeah," he nods in agreement.  "That is true.  There is a woman in the P.E. department who is 30 years old and has a PhD.  It is not impossible but hard for her to find a husband.  Maybe in a bigger city you can find a husband."   

(I have spoken to many Chinese women who fear getting higher degrees because it will make them less desirable and make it harder for them to find a husband.)

We have this conversation every Monday.  Maybe it is a socially accepted topic of conversation in Chinese, but then with a different dean I also have had long English conversations about the pros and cons of finding a Chinese husband versus an American one.  He sits me down regularly and tells me that my next priority after Peace Corps should be finding a husband.  "You're not getting any younger," he says.  "Women's biological clocks are ticking.  You want children right?" 

I don't think in this instance it is just polite small talk.  It is more of fatherly advice where he is concerned and knows what is best for my future.

I wonder, "Why is it the male leaders who are putting pressure on me to get married?"  I find it curious that it isn't women who are pressuring me.  I would have first assumed that peer pressure would come from one's female peers.  Instead, it seems like the pressure is coming from the patriarch.  Why does it matter so much to male leaders whether or not I get married?  Are unmarried women somehow a threat or abnormal?  Is it seen as the male's duty to make sure there is harmonic balance in society where all females become wives?

I am probably reading too much into these finding a husband conversations with men who are twice my age; however, by observing Chinese culture where a person's marriage status has turned into a socially acceptable small talk type of conversation where instead of having conversations about my thoughts and opinions, we are having conversations about finding a husband,  we can see that as a female I am reduced to the status of single or married.  This shows how important one's marriage status is to one's gender identity in China receiving more respect married rather than as a spinster.  This seemingly innocent socially acceptable topic of conversation about finding a husband reflects Chinese values where having a family is extremely important.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tidbits of a Life before COS

There are only four months left of my last semester of Peace Corps and it feels like I can hardly breathe because I am so busy.  Every weekend there is something going on and if there is something official going on, I have to dig into the bureaucracy to get everything signed and approved.  It means less time with the students and more time sitting in people's offices explaining and waiting for decisions to be made.

Next weekend my sitemate, three students, and I will be flying to Chengdu for a workshop about secondary projects.  It will be the first time our students have ever flown.  It is perfect timing too because the Tree House English Resource Center will be moving to new campus mid April.  This means that instead of being on a campus with only 2,000 students, there will be 8,000 students hopefully all wanting to learn English.  The Tree House needs to prepare for an influx of new participants.

Then in mid April, actually during the week when the Tree House will be moved to new campus, I have a close of service (COS) conference along with COS medical.  How many COS conferences have I been to?  One in Guinea; although, that COS conference lasted like a month so I'd count that one twice.  One in Burkina Faso and soon, one in China.

I have been enjoying teaching Sophomore writing and Freshmen oral English.  It is nice having 30 students in one classroom instead of 60.  It's a more personal type of teaching.  I can talk to each student and correct their writing.

I also need to start applying for jobs; although, there are a ton of Tree House activities that we haven't even started yet because of all these big events as well as the near future closing of the Tree House to prepare for the move.  It will be a big transitional semester.  Maybe Tree House activities will be put on a backburner as we prepare for a grand opening on new campus.  Maybe I need to stop with the secondary projects and focus on my own future back in America.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Site Exchange

I don't think many volunteers in PC China do site exchanges; therefore, I just want to give an example of our recent site exchange.  Maybe other volunteers might also try to grab the opportunity and do their own exchange.

1. What are your specific goals for requesting a site exchange trip?


Goal 1:  Students and staff of my university will have the opportunity

l        To see how students at a different university are using English to describe photographs about China by attending a photo show of the Gongda English Photo Club

l        To listen to a lecture given by a visiting PCV, M., about self-portraits as well as watch a documentary about children taking photographs about their daily lives

l        To use cameras provided by the Gongda English Photo Club to take their own photos about a particular theme as well as write about the photographs in English


Goal 2:  Tree House participants who are interested in working on a Tree House yearbook will learn about photography and about writing about photographs so that they can use the knowledge to create their own yearbook.


Goal 3:  Students of the Gongda English Photo Club will have the opportunity to discuss our students' photographs and writing.


2. What do you plan to do and what organization and/or people do you plan to visit?





March 10


Travel to my site (6-8 hours by bus)

March 11

12:30-4:30 pm

4:30-9 pm

Photo show

1.5 hour lecture and movie

March 12

9am- 5 pm

Students will borrow cameras to take photos

March 13


Travel back to M.'s site (6-8 hours by bus)


Later during the semester, after the film has been developed, students who took photographs will gather together to write about their photographs and then publish a book of their photographs and English writings.

Success:  About 300 students, teachers, and community members participated in this event.  The photo show was probably one of the first public English language and art displays my university has ever hosted which in my opinion is super cool.  Living in China, how often have I been given the opportunity to attend an art show?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Growing up, my parents always told me, "Jennifer you need to learn to be more patient."  My Galatians bear, a Christian toy my parents sold to bookstores, had patience on its belly.  Patience was a virtue I had to grow into.

In graduate school, I asked many questions but for some reason never had the patience to hear the full answers.  I tended to listen to a 10 second sound byte and then ask another question, then another, and another.  People lost patience with my inability to listen because I was always jumping from topic to topic, never actually seeming to want to know the answer.

In Africa and China, I have a LOT of patience.  Time is not money living abroad.  I can sit for 6 hours in a hot bush taxi going at 50 km/hr stopping every 10 km trying to go a distance of 100 km.  I can sit for hours on a curb waiting for the bus to fill every seat or to be repaired.  I can sit sleeping at a border waiting for it to open.  I can stand in enormous lines and can wait for meetings that never start on time.  Shopping is never efficient, and I can spend hours walking to and from the market trying to buy vegetables.  I can sit for a day in silence with community members at funerals, weddings, ceremonies, and festivals.  I can work on a project that in America would take one week but takes more than 3 months in Africa or China.  I can listen to broken English for hours on end and can spend lengths of time trying to communicate in Chinese.

Tonight at the Tree House for Women's Day, the students were trying to find the best word to describe me.  They decided, "Jennifer is patient."

Funny that they would vote for that adjective because today was one instant when I was totally impatient.

I do not have patience for the amount of time it takes to get my haircut.  It takes FOREVER!  I hate it.  Barbers in China are meticulous and spend an hour cutting my hair, using scissors, electric razors, then a blow dryer.  My head is like a landscape sculpture where each leaf needs to be in the right place.  Instead of being like Edward Scissorhands who is done in seconds, they spend so much time shaping my hair, cutting individual strands that are sticking out.  For $3 that includes a washing, I don't understand why they would spend an hour cutting my hair.  I do like the haircut though.  It's my usual cut of long bangs, short sides and back.  Was it worth my time to sit in a barber's chair for what felt like all day?  Not really!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Knitting: Red Raglan

This sweater, a free Ravelry download, Simple Summer Tweed Top Down V-neck by Heidi Kirramaier, has been a pain in the butt.  Using 2 mm needles I started it at the end of December 2010 and have just finished it.  Lots of mistakes, kind of lopsided and terrible gauge problems.  Many of the people who knit this sweater commented that the pattern was for a big loose sweater with lots of ease.  Afraid of knitting a sloppy sweater that looks like a bag, I accidentally knit a sweater that is too tight.  Hopefully it will stretch out?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Mobsters and gangsters give the advice, "Don't sit with your back to the door.  Be aware of your surroundings."  In westerns, with a bunch of cowboys playing poker, the smart ones sit with their backs against the corner walls.
At my favorite backgate noodle place, I shall warn you, "Do not sit with your back towards the door." 
The restaurant is a small closet of a space that is usually full of about fifteen people.  It is a hole in a wall where I only point to the picture of my favorite long noodles covered with pork, bok choy, white beans, and red hot chili peppers.  I am afraid to actually say the name of the dish because it sounds too much like toilet noodles, and I am not confident with my tones and pronunciation.  I don't want to accidentally order toilet noodles.  It might be kind of impolite.
As I was writing in my journal waiting for a small bowl of lunch, I was suddenly attacked.  A little four year old boy, son of one of the waitresses, snuck up on me, cocked his tiny arm, and threw the hardest punch he could.  The woman behind me gasped as she saw this preschooler hit a customer.  I am short, so bam right into the ribs.  It was a hard punch, but I'm a tough cookie and can take harder.  I ignored it thinking he was just looking for attention.  After a minute, he snuck up again and wham, another punch right to the ribs.  I ignored it again.  
After living in Africa and dealing with rock throwing kids, chanting kid mobs, kids who will run alongside your bike for five minutes, kids who will sit outside your gate for hours staring and taunting you, I have a high tolerance for behavior that is different than what I am accustomed to.  I find the best coping method is to ignore it or tell the older sibling what their younger sibling is doing.
My noodles arrived, and as I was staring out the large window, the kid appeared.  He pulled down his pants, and instead of turning towards the street, he turned towards his older sister who was talking on her cell and proceeded to pee on her shoes.

Artwork: Tree

I identify with trees and just absolutely love them.  They are curvy and sexy, and feel grounded, stable, and everlasting.  Even the wimpiest trees feel like they'll be there forever.  Within a tree, I see the stillness and peace of living off the earth only needing a few necessities to just exist within time.  I enjoy their shadows against concrete and brick walls, reminders of the moving sun.  I see the loneliness and emptiness within the starkness of a tree in winter as the seasons continue to cycle through another year reminding me of my mortality.  Trees feed my imagination where aliens and fantastical creatures look like they could just climb out of the ground and walk upon their roots, tall and proud.  Sometimes I wish I could be a tree, but instead I just draw and color them.