Sunday, May 29, 2011

New Tailor Made Dress

I had this qi pao made for the opening ceremony; however, was unable to wear it because I had another costume to wear.  I still haven't really gotten over my African modesty and like keeping my knees and legs covered.  I want to get some summer pants made.  What color pants would match this dress?

Martial Arts Performance

I was going to perform in the front, but the students walked onto the stage too close to the stairs so there was no room for me.  Can you find me?

Tree House Opening

The five days before the opening ceremony for the Tree House was stressful!  We had to paint three HUGE advertisement boards.  One board was ruined by drizzle.  The other lost all of its paint because it cracked and fell off.  We had to re-do that board.  Then every night there were rehearsals, Tai Ji, singing, and planning of the games.  Plus the Tree House was open which meant that we had a FULL house of new visitors.  The check-out computer kept cutting off because people would form a Chinese line around the computer table and knock the cords loose.

Thursday arrived and with my stage fright and anxiety I woke up at 3 am to download the martial arts music we would need for the performance.  4:30 pm was when the ceremony was suppose to begin.  There was a nervous empty lull before the storm.  
After lunch we learned that ALL English majors had a mandatory class meeting from 2:30 to who knows when.  What?  What about our workers who were suppose to get the tables and water balloons ready for the ceremony?  
At 3:45 our Tree House workers started showing up and then the craziness began.  We had to setup the tables and squeeze in rehearsals of how to march onto and off the stage for the singing and the martial arts demonstration.  Singing students forgot their white chorus shirts and others forgot their Tai Ji outfits for the martial arts performance.  No one had ladders to hang the red banner above the stage and they had to stack chairs on top of tables.  The sound guys arrived and they couldn't figure out how to get power to the system because it was the first time our department ever hosted an event outside the building.  I accidentally broke a mic holder and people were trying to tape it together.  Then I was told that they couldn't play an mp3 player and needed a CD, so we had no music for the performances and musical chairs.  It was amazing that at 4:30 all of the problems had been solved and we started on time.  I don't get it.  It is incredible how it all just works out.

There were thankfully only three speeches, one from the vice-president, one from the Peace Corps program manager of Gansu, and one from Aftan.  I grinned as the students' mouths dropped open and cheered when she started speaking Chinese.  The singing of Tree House songs by workers and the playing of the Gu Zheng by Aftan were well received.  Students and teachers felt really proud that Aftan could play a traditional Chinese instrument.  Then about 15 students along with Aftan performed Tai Ji flipping open their red fans in thundering precision.  
As I walked onto the stage, the students cheered.  I love the feeling of being in the zone where you don't know what your body really is doing.  It is on automatic mode.  Students complimented my Kung fu, "It was perfect and so strong."  They were amazed that us foreign visitors could do so many Chinese things that they can't.  
For the last performance, the students played musical chairs.  The losers had to pop balloons that contained questions about the Tree House.  Participants won a free Tree House coffee ticket.  The last two games were cancelled due to weather.  As soon as we had cut the ribbon, a freak thunderstorm and dust storm hit.  It was a 5 minute shower ending in a rainbow.  After a tour of the Tree House, we went to a fancy three hour banquet where the automatically rotating lazy susan had a fountain and a garden in the middle of it.

Tree House Ad Board

Last weekend the Tree House workers spent their time painting three ad boards.  The new campus is full of ad boards so if you want to get noticed, they have to be big and eye-catching.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Busy Weekend

On the weekends there are no classes, so then why in the world did I have long working days this past weekend, arriving at school at 8 am and going home by 7 pm?  Thursday is the new Tree House's Grand Opening.  

On Saturday morning, we had a two hour meeting with the managers to plan the activities for the opening and to plan the Saturday worker training.  The Tree House has improved some of its rules and policies which the new workers had to learn.  Then in the afternoon we had a 2 hour worker meeting where students were divided into several groups:  decorate ad board groups, advertise the Tree House in front of the cafeteria groups,  Tai Ji performance group, singing group, clean up the Tree House group, plan the games for the opening ceremony group, and decorate the blackboard group.  Then we had an hour training about worker responsibilities, how to greet new visitors, how to use the computer to check out materials, and Tree House rules like no food on the sofa.  The meeting did not end there because the workers decided to stay and work on their advertising boards.  These boards are HUGE!  They put on the first coat of paint.

On Sunday, at 8 am the workers were back and spent ALL day writing, drawing, painting, and pasting pictures onto three HUGE bulletin boards that will be placed around campus to advertise the new Tree House.  Then at 6 pm there was singing practice.

This week is going to be busy because not only have classes resumed but every day we have to advertise the Tree House in front of the cafeteria, as well as practice singing and Tai Ji and Kung fu and plan the games for the opening ceremony.  

Friday and Saturday will hopefully be days of rest before it all starts again on Sunday, Women's Club and Yearbook Committee.

Thank goodness a 3 day weekend is coming soon for Dragon Boat Festival.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Joking Culture

As I continue investigating the fat jokes that my female students tend to make with their closest friends, I am seeing a trend that most students don't think this is rude where these types of jokes in the students' minds are actually an indication that they are really intimate friends.  I have come to the realization that the topic I should be investigating is the differences between the joking cultures of China and America; however, I have been away from America for too many years and have forgotten what do people in America joke about with their friends?  I do know that my friends never made jokes about my weight, about my clothes, about my ethnicity.
Could you help me out and remind me what do Americans joke about with their closest friends?
Americans make jokes about sport teams.  They make politically incorrect jokes.  What else?

Chinese Women: Survey on Beauty and Fat

Many of us foreign teachers have noticed that our female students tend to tease each other about being fat.  In America it is super rude and impolite to call your friends fat, so I've been wondering what do Chinese women think about the word fat since they use it with their friends?  In China does the fat teasing hurt women's self-esteem and body image and if so in what ways?


Ultimately I am trying to answer the questions:  Is there a cultural difference surrounding the word fat between the west and China such that we are reacting to it and using it differently?  Or are we all regardless of culture subconsciously reacting to the word fat the same way?


I interviewed 33 female freshmen and sophomore English majors, ages ranging from 19-21.


Question 1:  Is it impolite or polite to jokingly call your close, good friends fat?  Why?


50 % said, "It is impolite."

50 % said, "It is polite."

·         Not many girls like being called fat.

·         People will feel embarrassed.

·         People should use the word strong, not fat.

·         It is a natural body and such bodies shouldn't be criticized.

·         It is unfriendly.

·         It will make people feel angry.

·         It causes people to have no confidence to live anymore.

·         When it is with your close friend, they know each other and have a good understanding.

·         Playing jokes with friends is okay and it is important to tell the truth to friends.

·         It creates a happy atmosphere.

·         It creates a friendly kind atmosphere that is honest with true things.

·         Friendly joking is okay.

·         With your friends, they won't be angry.


Question 2:  How do women feel when they are jokingly called fat by their friends?


Positive Feelings

Negative Feelings

They feel healthy and strong.  Suitable fat is good.  They feel that they have enough power to do what they want.  They feel healthy.  They don't care because it is between close friends. They feel that their friends care about them because they are urging them to change and lose weight.  They don't mind because everyone has their own styles.

They feel shy, disappointed, embarrassed, angry, very terrible, sad, and feel like they must lose weight to avoid jokes.


Question 3:  Do you want to go on a diet?




58 %

42 %


Question 4:  When you are alone in a room looking into a mirror, what is your personal opinion about yourself, do you think you are beautiful?  Why? (Ignore China's culture of being modest. Don't think nali nali.  Don't think about your friends' and family's opinions.)


52 % Felt they were beautiful

48 % Did not feel that they were beautiful

I am beautiful because I'm an outgoing girl who has many friends.  I have long hair and am confident.  I have a quiet personality and am shy.  I am unique and am comfortable with myself.

I am not beautiful because my brother says that I am ugly.  My parents say that I am fat.  I am too fat and short.  My eyes are too small.  My skin is too black.  I have bad behaviors.  I have no confidence.  I am too thin.  I don't have any special clothes, looks, or characteristics.  I am a common girl.


Question 5:  Other than being teased about being fat, what other things do friends joke about?

Friends joke about everything from clothes, hairstyles, body, teeth, height, eyes to whether or not I have a boyfriend, how many children I'll have, and what my future career will be.


Discussion and Conclusion:  After talking with 33 Chinese women about beauty and fat, I feel like women in the west and women in China are both struggling with their body images.  Very few of my female students said that they weren't beautiful because they were fat, yet a majority of them wanted to go on a diet.  In America, the diet culture is huge.  The word fat in both cultures have a negative connotation and is considered to be rude except amongst my students where half believe it is rude and the other half believe it is friendly if the word fat is jokingly used amongst their close friends.  In terms of beauty, my female students are concerned about their small eyes, short heights, and black skin.  American women are also concerned about their bodies but just with different parts.


In conclusion, the word fat is used differently in American and Chinese culture where in America we rarely use the word fat to joke with our friends; whereas, in China amongst best friends it is okay.  In both cultures, as women struggle with their own body images the word fat is most likely subconsciously affecting both American and Chinese women in similar ways.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A two week pause from teaching and I was called fat

My 10 hours of freshmen oral English was replaced with two weeks of all day military training.  Dressed in their camouflaged uniforms and hats, all the freshmen of the university practiced marching around the playground.  They also learned Kung Fu combat.

Because of the remodeling, the Tree House has also had a major pause.  We recently finished with the paint job and the organization of the books and furniture; however, all the workers have been dead beat tired.  They have been either in military training and/or Tai Chi practice.  All of the English department freshmen and sophomore females were required to be in the 32nd University Sports Meet Opening Ceremony.  They have including my sitemate been practicing 4-6 hours a day, so we the PCVs offered to open the Tree House one hour a night from 6:30-7:30.

Classes were cancelled for the sports meet which is a 3-day competition for all of the teachers and students of the university.  Each person can volunteer to participate in various events from track and field to fun events like the three legged race or the slowest bicyclist.  The participating teachers of the School of Foreign Language were given off-white baseball caps, bright neon pink polo shirts, and dark blue pants.  For the opening ceremony, all of the departments dressed in their new clothes fashion from white blouses and black skirts, to red ties and black pants marched in ordered formation into the stadium shouting slogans about health and physical fitness.  

I've never had the opportunity to participate in track and field events and was excited to volunteer to do the 100 meter dash; however, there was a mix up and I ended up having to do the long jump.  I have NEVER done the long jump except during middle school at the French school while living in China.  I had a crash course.  Run fast.  Touch the white line but don't touch the colored line and snap your body or something.  People tried to demonstrate but I didn't really get the snapping of the body to fly forward into the sand pit.  It didn't matter.  Out of the 6 women, I was still able to get first place with a measly short distance of 3.2 meters.

A leader of the PE department who was watching, who took my picture, and who congratulated me on my win, with a smile jokingly asked why I was so fat and maybe I should stop eating so much.  This was kind of coincidental because recently amongst the China PCV community there has been a dialogue about the frequency of students calling each other fat and how this is detrimental to women's self-esteem and body image.  I kind of wonder though, are we as westerners judging the word fat through a western lens, our own value system?  Is the word fat a universally across all cultures, a negative, self-esteem and body image damaging word?  Are our Chinese students hearing the word fat the same way as we women from the west hear it?  Are our Chinese students reacting the same way we from the west would react if we were called fat?  Being called fat is such an impolite insult in the west and hurts us to our core.  Polite people in the west just don't call each other fat.  So then if we in the west and people in China react and view the word the same way then why do Chinese people call their best friends fat, their grand-daughters and their daughters fat, complete strangers fat?  

Is there a cultural difference surrounding the word fat between the west and China such that we are reacting to it and using it differently?  Or are we all regardless of culture subconsciously reacting to the word fat the same way?

Monday, May 16, 2011

old Dog, new Trick

As many years as I have been riding a bike, I have never been able to ride without holding onto the handlebars.  It's kind of like how I never learned how to roller skate backwards.  I've always felt jealous of those bikers who can pedal, holding an energy bar in one hand and a water bottle in the other.  Guess what I can do now.  It's weird.  How can during one day it be impossible to ride without losing my balance and then the next day I can throw my hands up into the sky look upward and pedal without holding on, a new found freedom, giddy joy washing over my body as it does a new trick?  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Independent and alone vs Social Painting

If I were to paint a classroom, I would use a paintbrush to do all the edges, then use a roller.  I would start in one corner and work in a systematic way around the room.  If there were many workers, I would have the people who were painting the edges start first.  They would go around the room and the people with the rollers would follow them.  Edging is faster than painting a full wall.  Once the edging was done, I'd have them change their paintbrushes to rollers and start at the opposite end of the room working their way around the room in the opposite direction in a systematic way to meet in the middle with the other rollers.
My students tend to start working in a systematic way but then will skip large sections of the wall to follow their friends.  If their friend is painting the edges, then they will paint the wall near their friend then move to the next area where their friend is edging.  Once their friend is finished edging they will just start to repaint the walls near their friends who are resting.  There were huge areas of wall that hadn't been painted yet because they skipped sections to catch up with their friends who were edging.  The students weren't aware of it preferring to stay close to their friends and just repaint the wet painted wall. 
If I had realized this earlier I would have placed the resting friends along the parts of the wall that hadn't been painted yet.  I unwisely asked students to paint the part of the wall that hadn't been painted; however, they'd start but somehow migrate back towards their friends without ever finishing the unpainted section of wall.


Thieves in China I would assume are different than thieves in West Africa.

Last night I arrived home to a burglarized apartment.  My bedroom had been turned upside down with the bedsheets all askew, the Peace Corps medical kit dumped out, my journal open and on the floor, my nightstand and cabinets gone through.  In the guest room, a suitcase full of free items for students had been dumped out and six used watches which were donated by an ex living in the USA for the reading competition were on the bed.  In the living room, drawers were open.  In the kitchen, the mosquito screen was in the sink and there was a tiny hole punched into the kitchen window, just enough to push the latch open, making it the entry way of the thief to my second floor flat.

What would a thief in Africa steal?  Any and all electronics as well as money  

What did a thief in China steal?
The thief was looking for money, but unlike in Africa I do not hide cash around the house.  There are banks everywhere in China.  In Africa, I went to the bank so rarely that it was best to withdraw as much money as possible and hide it around the house recording the hiding places in code in a little book so that I wouldn't forget where I hid it.

The thief found no money coz there was no money in my flat except for a little blue purse full of 30 American dollars on the coffee table that the thief overlooked.

Did the thief touch my ipod, the desktop computer, my CD player, the DVD player, the watches?  Nope.  What about my passport or American credit card?  Nope.  

So what did the robber steal?  He/She got my small camera and found two rings that I had sitting in a drawer.  One was a steel one.  The other was a custom handmade white gold decorative band, a gift.  That particular ring has had the worst luck.  The first time I lost it was while washing my hands in Africa.  It slipped off and went down the pit latrine.  My ex made me another one and umm... here in China, it got stolen.

The university called the local city police who came to visit and wrote up a report.  They took pictures and had a kit to dust for fingerprints.  They found sole marks upon the white window still   They asked me questions and I had to put a red inked fingerprint over each of the written parts of the report.  The most unique question was "Have any of your knives been moved?"

The burglar picked the wrong flat.  I find it pretty incredible that out of all of my possessions there was so little that a Chinese thief would want.  Should I feel offended that the thief didn't want any of my stuff?

Is it weird that I feel a sense of satisfaction that I own nothing that causes me to feel grief if I lose it?  I have never wanted to live to own possessions and have never wanted to feel attached to material things such that I would feel pain and anger if I lost them.  Why don't I get angry or emotional over these kinds of things?  Why am I so laissez-faire?

"Laissez faire et laissez passer." -Colbert-LeGendre 
("Let do and let pass.")

Life goes on...

Monday, May 09, 2011

Today's Tidbits

Last week, I was a bit apprehensive and tired with the new commute and long days, but now I like commuting to the new campus by bike.  The new campus is cool.  Why? 
1.  The cafeteria has a great selection of food that is new and not boring.  Today I had candied potatoes.  Yummy! 
2.  The Tree House is awesome!  With the new furniture I have great desks to do work on.  I have bookshelves full of books to read.  Today I read the Peace Corps culture book and realized that even after 5 years abroad I still have a lot to learn about the inner workings of different cultures.  The new couch with pillows is extremely comfortable and it is just a pleasant atmosphere when there is good music playing from the donated speakers.
Today it was raining so I rode to campus under a poncho holding an umbrella.  That was fun.  I've never ridden a bike holding an umbrella before.  The big puddles that don't drain though are a pain because cars splash water all over drenching me.  I was totally culturally inappropriate today wearing plastic house slippers all over campus as well as to teach in.  My shoes and socks were soaked.  I figured it was better to buy some cheap plastic shoes to keep my feet dry.  I got laughed at though so maybe it wasn't a wise choice.  I think I lost a few notches of respect by non-majors.
I even don't mind leaving at 9 am and getting home at 8 pm.  It is funny how easy it is to adapt to new daily habits.   

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Moving to...

Some of my more dedicated readers and friends may be wondering about the PCVL position that I blogged about a week or two ago.  I just recently heard that PC Washington approved my 30 days of special home leave so I accepted the position and will be a PCV for a sixth year in Chengdu, a huge city. 
I haven't blogged about it because well...  it hasn't really felt real yet.  I am still digesting the idea of being a volunteer in a new position in a new city for a 4th year in China.  Not sure how I feel about it.  I've been too busy to really process it.  More later once I figure it all out.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Differences in Painting in China versus the USA

  • Brushes are cheap.  The shops say, "Throw away the brushes."  We don't have cleaning supplies to clean the paint off the brushes nor special soap to get the paint off your hands.
  •  The paint shops had no shallow flat pans for the rollers.  They suggested just dunk the rollers into the buckets coz the buckets are big enough.  Imagine that!  Dunking rollers into paint and then dripping it along the floor to the place you want to paint.  MESS!!!!
  • We can't find a tall ladder for you.  Here is a step stool or pile up classroom desks to paint.  Pile up desks?  Oh my gosh!  The compromise I could find was to use the step stool to climb up on a metal bookshelf to paint the walls near the ceiling.
  • Paint over the cracked and moldy old paint. 

Painting the New Tree House

The university is quite proud of the Tree House English Library and
Community Center. Before old campus even moved to new campus, leaders
made a guarantee that the Tree House would also move and move it did.
While I was at COS conference, my sitemate, the Tree House volunteers,
and the students of the English department moved all the furniture and
all the books into a full size classroom on the first floor of the
School of Foreign Languages. The President of the university came to
visit and said, "Write up a furniture budget and make the Tree House a
comfortable place with a western style."

We wrote up a 10,000 RMB (1,500 USD) proposed furniture and paint
budget where a couch was the most expensive item 4,000 RMB. 10,000
RMB is a lot of money in China. I only get as a PCV about 16,800 RMB
(2,500 USD) per YEAR so 10,000 is a HUGE chunk of money. We also
submitted a proposed cheaper budget of 3,000 RMB itemizing all the
same but lower quality furniture. Surprisingly on Thursday the Tree
House was granted 10,000 RMB and the leaders wanted it all ready by


I have become a Job Site Supervisor, not only dealing with writing
budgets, dealing with leaders, having meetings with different
departments, meeting deadlines, buying materials all over town via
bus, bike, and taxi but also supervising student volunteers who want
to help as well as doing the work myself. In two days, the department
wanted the Tree House painted so we could move in the new furniture.
When it takes 4 hours to purchase paint because we are traveling by
bike, bus, foot, and taxi, a paint job is not an easy task especially
in China where there are language barriers and different standards and
ways of doing things.

The year between graduation and shipping off for Peace Corps Africa, I
spent a couple of months doing odd jobs working with my dad. He
remodels houses and builds duplexes, a hobby during retirement. I
also worked as a temp worker on different construction sites getting
up at 3:30 am to make it to the temp agency to stand in line with a
bunch of men for the daily jobs. I like working with my body and
hands. I like the fatigue of a full day of physical labor. I do not
like the combination of physical and mental stress.

Supervisors and job site managers in construction often talk about how
difficult it is to find good workers. They love me because I do a
good job without having to be told what to do and during the temp work
I got a taste of what it feels like to be a manager. My boss would
leave me in charge of the other temp workers. That was a challenge
because the other temp workers didn't like their work nor did they
want to be there. Their philosophy was work as slow as possible so
that there would be a job tomorrow. I decided even though I like
construction labor, supervising wasn't really for me; however, because
of my work ethic and ability to lead I naturally get placed into
supervising positions. If I worked in construction, it would be
difficult to escape such responsibilities.

In Peace Corps especially Peace Corps China it never occurred to me
that I would be supervising a paint job and have to make decisions
about how to paint. Currently the room's walls are full of peeling
paint and water damage. To do a quality job, we would need to scrape
the old paint off, sand the walls and re-plaster the areas with mold
and water damage; however, the leaders say that there is no time.
Just paint over it. My sitemate and I shake our heads in disbelief
and remark, "In China buildings are built in a day and torn down the
next to build a new one." Our philosophies are just different and we
must put aside our western ways of thinking to do the job the Chinese
way. The leaders did say that in two years, they will repaint the
Tree House properly.

Not only is the paint job too big for just two people it needs to be
done in two days; therefore, my sitemate and I needed to supervise a
team of volunteers. Painting can be extremely messy. Good painters
leave no mess. Inexperienced student workers umm… put too much paint
on the brushes and rollers, leave massive puddles and drip marks
everywhere. They put down wet brushes in the dirt, on newly painted
shelves and other furniture. They wear new looking clothes.

Yesterday was the first day on the job site and I was a bad
supervisor. I hate being a micro manager, but with inexperienced
helpers I have to become a better teacher. Instead of assuming and
expecting good work, I have to teach those skills. Hopefully I will
learn how to be a better supervisor and the students will learn how to
be neater painters.

Today we finished painting the bookshelves black and the walls green.
It looks fantastic! I am proud to say I was a much better supervisor.
Before anyone started painting I made three rules: 1. Do not make a
mess. 2. Do not put too much paint on the brush. 3. If you see wet
paint NOT on the walls, clean it up. This time instead of actually
doing the work, I just walked around helping people, telling them what
to do and shouting, "Mess," which would have a student come running to
clean up the wet paint.

My sitemate went to buy furniture with a 5 person delegation from the
English department. It took them a long time because everything had
to be bargained for. Funny- getting quotes, then writing a budget and
then bargaining? Not sure how all that works.

Tomorrow morning the books will be moved to the newly painted
bookshelves and the furniture will arrive. Next things for the Tree
House to plan? An opening ceremony, an American wedding, game night,
yearbook and photo club, teacher night, a broadcast, and activities
for different departments when they come to visit.

This blog is dedicated to my DAD who has helped me become the
construction worker I am today resulting in the success of leading
along with my sitemate our first construction project whose volunteer
workers from six different departments were also amazing!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Would you eat hee haw?

A new restaurant has opened next to the front gate.  It is a clean place serving meat sandwiches, soups, steamed stuffed bread and plates of thinly sliced red meat.  Covering the walls are large signs giving the history of the food along with pictures of herds of donkeys.  

The place was packed and I sat down with a couple who were enjoying their meal and ordered what they ordered, a soup and baozi, stuffed steam bread.  I choose the cheapest meat baozi coz the donkey stuffed one was too expensive.  I have no idea what kind of meat was in that bread.  It wasn't one of the main meat groups fish, beef, chicken, or pork, nor was it donkey.  

I lost my appetite after drinking half the soup.  The soup was really strong.  Strong soup means strong parts of an animal.  This soup was definitely made up of donkey ear cartilage, stomach lining, and when I pulled out dark gray skin covered with black bristles, I stopped slurping the soup and gently put my spoon down.

Donkey meat sandwiches are delicious and I will try theirs next time.  This time though I just ordered some of their delicious bread, went home, and covered it with strawberry jam for dessert.