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.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Friday, June 10, 2011
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Photo taken by Mathilde Verillaud
Life has been busy. I thought life would stop being so busy after the Tree House moved from old campus to new campus, was remodeled, and had its opening ceremony. I thought I would have a nice peaceful month waiting till I moved to Chengdu. Instead of a restful goodbye, one headache after another keeps popping up and bugging me. My life has been stressful.
Headache Number 1
At the Tree House opening ceremony banquet, the dean of the department asked, "Umm.. Jennifer I heard you could play the piano. Could you please play the piano for the Red Sports Meet happening in a month? Our department is singing red songs and needs someone to accompany us."
In China, it is impolite to say "no." It is more polite to make an excuse or to say a white lie.
"Umm.. Well I am really busy. I am moving soon. I have 150 ten minute interviews to give the freshmen oral English class and about 60 five hundred word essays to grade."
"Well, we won't be practicing every day. Only about once a week."
"Oh… well I was hoping to go to Lanzhou for dragon boat festival."
"Oh well you won't have to play the piano then because I have to first teach the teachers the songs."
"Oh… umm… well, I am not very familiar with Chinese songs. I have only played western music and Chinese music has different melodies and rhythms."
"I can help you."
"Okay… umm.. I will see."
I spent the weekend cursing my inability to say "no" in an indirect manner that would get me out of playing the piano.
On Monday, I went to the dean's office and he showed me the songs with the jian pu symbols, no staff with notes, just numbers and numbers underlined to indicate rhythm for only the right hand. It was at that point where I was finally able to escape the obligation to play the piano, "I am not familiar with this type of music and am not so good at improvising my left hand."
Headache Number 2
Even though it was a great honor to be nominated for the Dunhuang Prize, an award for foreigners who are making great contributions in Gansu for teaching, economics, science, etc, it was time consuming because I had to write 1000 words about my contributions. It would have probably been easier if my computer was running efficiently. Instead my computer freezes every other sentence.
Headache Number 3
A leader of the department asked me to write 15 lesson plans on American and British literature using four books for a summer school course for middle school teachers. When was it due? Less than 24 hours! Why didn't I say no? Because I knew it was impossible for him to read four books, to decide which 15 stories to teach, and to write questions for each of them in 24 hours. I had already taught the course and could do it. He had two other courses he had to prepare for the next day. Even though I couldn't use my own lesson plans but had to make new ones that consisted of 5-10 questions per story, I could still do it much faster than he could. I felt obligated to do it because he had nominated me for the Dunhuang Prize and that is kind of how Guanxi works. You rub my back and I rub yours.
It was NOT fun! Plus my computer is stupid, so I rode my bike to new campus at 6 am in the morning to use the computers there.
Headache Number 4
Women's club is great. Each of us are preparing a topic for each week and it was my turn to prepare a topic about conflict resolution and active listening to help your friends when they are in trouble. I spent the evening researching the topic, coming up with activities and questions. I decided that as a westerner I couldn't really teach conflict resolution because Chinese people tend to follow the philosophy of conflict avoidance. I did come up with cool activities for active listening though.
The next day, what did I learn? The students are required to practice Tai Qi from 2:30-5:30 every day. What time is Women's Club? 3:30-4:30. Women's Club is cancelled?
Headache Number 5
The students are required to practice Tai Qi from 2:30-5:30 every day for a month. They are required to miss class. In order to get through the 150 students, I had scheduled two weeks of oral interviews starting at 8 am till 4:30 pm. All interviews had to be cancelled and I had to think up a new way to give final exams.
Headache Number 6
Paperwork. Whenever you leave site, there is a lot of Peace Corps paperwork: a site guide, a volunteer reporting form, a description of service form, and paperwork that the people at your school have to fill out.
Headache Number 7
This past weekend was a three day weekend, Dragon Boat Festival. I was going to Lanzhou. I got a call the night before leaving, "Your writing final exam is due on Monday." In order not to have to work on the weekend, at 9 pm, I worked on the final exam on my stupid computer where 30 minutes of work takes about 2 hours because the computer freezes every other sentence.
Medicine for Headaches
Except for the 8 hour one way trip by bus, Lanzhou was super relaxing. I visited M. who was a perfect hostess. I ate real milk ice cream covered with real chocolate, a Magnum bar. I hiked a dusty mountain and had a picnic with yummy sandwiches covered in lemon mayo, cheese, and sausage. We took hilarious pictures. I watched a French comedy.
I went swimming and learned how to do the butterfly then ate a baguette full of cheese. There were two swimming pools. One was shallow enough that almost all adults could stand comfortably. The other swimming pool was much deeper and wasn't shallow enough to stand in. If you wanted to swim in that one, you had to pay for a 30 minute exam in order to swim it. I also got to wear a swim cap for the first time. That was fun.
I spoke French. I ate chicken wings, then bacon and cheese pasta and watched a hilarious movie called Rubber about a tire that kills people.
Headache Number 8
I don't know how to say goodbye and feel stressed about it.