Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Blog

My new job keeps me pretty busy, but sometimes I still write.

My new blog can be found at Letters from Yunnan.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Goodbyes are strange
Many said in a lifetime
Poof gone forever?

I am off for a new adventure in Yunnan Province, Kunming first, Lincang, then Yunxian.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Night Before Goodbye: Haiku 11

all day at office
subway, bus, and paperwork
banquet with college

Today I went back and forth from home to the PC office twice, each leg of the trip from 30-60 minutes.  I didn't bring my bike helmet coz I had thought that if the bike helmet was raggedy we didn't have to return it to the office.  Unfortunately I was wrong, so I had to return home, grab the helmet and go back to the office. 

Dinner was a delicious feast of expensive Sichuan dishes, lots of fatty pork then ice cream and coffee at Ikea to say goodbye to my host sister, counterpart, and sitemate.

Today I've been in a sour mood, trying to protect my heart from feeling which resulted in a stoic, blank gal who had a distracted aura about her unable to concentrate on the people surrounding her trying to keep her company one last time. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Countdown to Goodbye: Haiku 10

Waiting till home leave
to buy a new computer
Job provides PC

I have almost checked off everything from the list of things to do before I COS on Thursday except for one big anxiety of should I purchase a computer that costs at least 200 USD more than in China.  Today I learned three wonderful things:

1.  Teach for China is working to get their staff all on PCs which means they might purchase me a work computer.
2.  I will start work this Saturday.
3.  This summer I will probably be staying in a job provided hotel which means I won't have to spend my new salary on housing.

Today was a good day.  I went to a museum and looked at vintage photographs by famous photographers.  Even though my bike is broken, I still got a lot of exercise walking in the sun from the subway to tea houses, a museum of Chinese paintings and hot pot restaurants.  I have finally been contacted by Teach for China and learned some great things.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Countdown to Goodbye: Haiku 9

Bike rear brake box died
After 5 noes by 5 shops
I have given up

I got an ancient looking used clunker last summer for 100 RMB ($16) and it has slowly been falling apart.  The chain falls off at least once every day.  The chain guard fell off several months ago and now the back wheel is extremely stuck.  It won't move unless the chain is off the gear wheel, and I am assuming it has something to do with the contraption that is attached to the back wheel which might be a band brake. 

Anyways, I don't want to waste time wandering the city looking for someone to repair my bike getting fed up with no after no.  I'd rather sit, read, write, and relax this last week as a Peace Corps volunteer.  I'm trying to treat these days as vacation before starting my new job next Monday.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Countdown to Goodbye: Haiku 8

Yogurt granola
Tea for hours among friends
Sunshine heating peace

Sunday brunch followed by hanging out.  Twas a good day.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Countdown to Goodbye: Haiku 7

Loved the 1 hour run
And whole day biking in sun
but two goodbye meals?

Today was an awesome day browning in the sun biking from 8 to 8 around the city stopping for gifts for and meals with friends, but little things seem to keep falling apart.  First it was my flat's electrical sockets, then it was my school loaned computer, and now it is my bike.  The back wheel is stuck tight and will not turn.  It was a long walk back home when my bike broke down.  I also feel my personality, heart, or mood is somehow breaking down too.  Not exactly sure how to explain what's going on.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Countdown to Goodbye: Haiku 6

Goodbye to students
Hugs, Kisses and I love You
Emotional times

I am not sure if it is because they have watched so much western TV or listened to so many English songs or if it just the Chinese way, but for some reason my students as a goodbye would say, "I love you," followed by hugs and kisses and tears in the eyes.

The students hosted a 2 hour goodbye party with entertaining dances, songs, and games.  Without prior notification, I had to do a performance on the spot.  Thank goodness for my kungfu.  There were eating contests both oranges and watermelons and balloon games.  They even had a 2 tier cake.

Gifts:  A T-shirt had a huge group photo of the students and I.  A second gift was lovely black Chinese traditional shoes with a peacock embroidered on them.  The third environmentally friendly gift from the class I taught about trash was a video, a 10 minute creative production of students using English to give me their goodbye messages.

For the last class of the term, we went to an open and un-gated golf course where we were chased off by guards.  We then went to a grassy hill beside a river alongside a castle to have a picnic, little Germany.
I think the biggest difference between my Gansu students and my Chengdu students when it comes to goodbye parties is singing versus dancing.  My Gansu students sang while my Chengdu students danced.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Countdown to Goodbye: Haiku 5

Haiku 5
Electric is back but
virus killed the computer
with a reboot loop

In the past 4 years, I have witnessed six computers killed by viruses.  The last time I bought a computer was in 1999 and now i need one for my new job.  Maybe it is the lessons of fate and experience that are whispering, "Do you really want to turn a blind eye to the content control software in many mainland computers that are being sold?  Bite the dust and pay the extra cost of buying one in China.  A Golden Apple may be your only choice."

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Countdown to Goodbye: Haiku 2-4

12 Haiku to Goodbye
Haiku 2
volunteer no more
CONSUMERISM takes over
books will be first
I've started browsing on-line bookstores searching for new books my favorite authors may have published in the past 6 years.  I am excited about the idea of reading books that I want to read and not just forcing through whatever I can find.  Michelle Tea has a new one as does Alison Bechdel, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Murakami.
Haiku 3
Finals done and graded
But sockets keep shorting
Excel inputs wait
I can't find the breaker box.  Every time I turn on my computer it blows a fuse and the night is spent reading instead of surfing.  The next morning a repair man comes while I'm out and upon returning home, the computer is switched on and a fuse is blown.  I feel like I'm in a cycle that is preventing me from leaving Chengdu with a peaceful flow of finishing school responsibilities, packing, and goodbye parties.
Haiku 4
Jog turns into 1 hr
Passing shufflers at 6 am
When will I be slower?

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Countdown to Goodbye: Haiku 1

Haiku 1

Rain postpones long jog
Racial safety, cultural maintenance
Brewing in cafes

Today I read an article by Lynet Uttal called "Racial Safety and Cultural Maintenance, The Child Care Concerns of Employed Mothers of Color."  There were two main ideas addressed.  The first idea was about how mothers seek out child care providers who consciously develop a multicultural curriculum that would aid in keeping their children safe from racism.  The second idea was a concern of how to retain and/or retrieve traditional cultural practices and values.

I wonder if maybe one of the reasons why it is easy for me to remain in China year after year is because there is comfort in being around racially similar people even though we are culturally different?  Maybe there is a sense of racial safety here.  Maybe there is a sense of cultural maintenance too where by living in China satisfies some subconscious desire to retrieve traditional cultural practices that are dictated by my physical features?

Or maybe, I just like the lifestyle of being able to walk and bike everywhere and live on $250/month, rejecting consumerism.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

I miss libraries

Today was a perfect Sunday.

It started with a 45 minute run cut short to 30 minutes because lately I have been having drained energy on my jogs around the track, fatigue on both the mental and physical side.  The fatigue might have been due to a Saturday college sponsored all expense paid for, day long outing including a three hour hike on an incredibly beautiful, lush mountain dotted with temples and Taoist monks, but I kind of doubt it.  For the past week, my exercise routine has been been off.

Brunching with a fellow volunteer, I treated myself to a yummy authentic eggs Benedict plate with all you can drink coffee sprinkled with thought provoking conversation, about sorely missed topics- culture, values, morals, diversity, etc... Questions like what kinds of actions are worse than cheating on a lover?  What happens when you mix Chinese and American college graduates in an intense 6 week training where they live as roommates, 4-6 to a dorm room?  What does forgiveness look like?  Do American women feel less threatened by Chinese men than American men?  Where is the source of my passion?  It was great!  Four hours of just drinking coffee and chatting.

Then I went home and opened up a sociology textbook, Race, Class, and Gender, edited by Margaret L. Andersen and Patricia Hill CollinsAs I read the stimulating essays, I realized that I miss libraries.  I miss university bookstores full of textbooks mirroring the latest trends in hot topics.  I wondered what kinds of essays Chinese sociologists are writing about their country.  After reading a Cornel West "Introduction" to the book Race Matters, I wondered if because I am Asian American I too might be one of the "rootless, dangling people with little links to supportive networks that sustain some sense of purpose in life."  I got angry reading an essay titled "Economic Apartheid in America" by Chuck Collins and Felice Veskel, an essay that reminded me of the trends that I fear about America, "less free time and more working hours, fewer households with health insurance, and diminishing retirement security."  In China, my mind tends to get lazy, numbed by too much Internet TV and conversations with beginner English speakers, so today's college reading material got the gears turning.

Compared to Gansu where the major topics of conversation were about family and weather, moving to Chengdu has been somewhat refreshing where colleagues start conversations on the environment, food safety, corruption, prejudice, luxury items, differences between the cost of living in America compared to China, and education.  Often the details are backed by something someone read off the Internet.

The thing is the Internet scares me even though it is the information age.  Do you believe that information leads to freedom, leads to truth?  90% of my students felt that Internet was a necessity instead of a luxury.

What percentage of the info on the Internet is well-researched opinions/ideas and not just some info byte issued by an interest group trying to further their own agenda?  There are so many outrageous "truths" believed because the point of view is well-written with a tone of authority.  With the emphasis on rote learning, the lack of critical thinking about Internet topics becomes apparent with the following questions I have been asked by both leaders, colleagues, and students:

"The local bank received an e-mail about the Nigerian government requesting to deposit money into their bank.  Could you please help me understand this email so I can translate it into Chinese for my friend who works at the local bank?" 

"Is it true that in French museums Chinese people aren't allowed to enter because then Chinese people will discover that France has many Chinese artifacts?"

And more that are a bit too sensitive to post here.

Feeling myself being pulled into a black hole of monotony, existing withing thinking, of living the cycle of working and watching instead of having books to read, how do I prevent myself from becoming a mindless person? 

Libraries or Internet?

I wonder why I never really got into gathering knowledge from the Internet preferring libraries and bookstores.  Maybe I am just out of date and need to get up to speed.  Buying English books in China is difficult, so maybe abandoning books to surf the world wide web for info is a habit I should adopt?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Few Suggested Coping Strategies: Asian Americans Living in China

There are many different ways to deal with stress, unwanted attention, defending one's identity, teaching about diversity, and facing people's assumptions.   Here are just a few that may or may not work for you.

-If you are just beginning to learn how to speak Chinese, learn a few phrases to explain your identity in a culturally understandable way.  Even if they don't understand your explanation, try to find a way to be at peace with people not understanding who you are.  There is really no point in fighting.  In your heart, agree to disagree.

-Smiling, being warm and friendly, people will be more open to hear what you have to say.  Laughing together helps ease the conflict of not being understood.

-Ignoring unwanted attention doesn't always make the attention go away.  Instead it can often instigate people's anger as they lose face because you are ignoring them.  Say hello.  Be friendly.  Toast them with your glass.  Answer their questions and then leave if you don't want to spend the night drinking with them.

-Find a friend or a journal who will listen to your frustrations without judging, trying to solve the problem, or defending China.

-Surround yourself with a local community who is open to learning about who you are on a more personal level and grow together teaching each other about diversity, being American and being Chinese.
-Give yourself permission to have a day off from China and enjoy a vacation alone in your flat reading a good book, creating art, listening to music or watching a film.

-While in public like on a train or with a shopkeeper, if you don't want to have a long conversation full of personal questions, put up some barriers.  Don't make eye contact.  Wear earphones or be totally absorbed in something else like a book.

-Take a break from your community.  Go on vacation.

I think one of the hardest things to cope with is the isolation one feels when no one understands who you are and are pigeonholing you into someone you are not.  If you have any suggested coping strategies for that, do let me know.

Being Asian American in Chengdu versus Gansu

There are some advantages to being Asian American in China.  I blend in and don't get yelled at by complete strangers nor do people stare at me.  While alone on the street, there is a sense of being invisible, a peaceful relief.  In the classroom, students think they can understand my English better because I look like them.  Colleagues and strangers feel a certain level of comfort around me because in their eyes we share ancestors.  Some feel connected to the familiarity of my physical appearance and that somehow breaks the ice of shyness making it easier to connect.  I don't get called upon to be the token foreigner, the non-Asian face that can dance and sing and give an impromptu speech with a 10 second notification.  It seems like being Asian American in China can be so much easier than for other Americans.

In Gansu though, it was mentally wearing as I often fought and defended my identity as an American who spoke broken Chinese and was trying to understand Chinese culture.  People shouted out hello to my sitemate as we walked past, but I was the one who was attacked with curiosity, a barrage of questions about the foreigner sitting with me.  It was exhausting having attention as the assumed translator, followed by a million personal questions as people tried to understand why my Chinese was so poor when I looked like a Chinese person.  I had to learn how to deal with people not understanding why in my eyes I was American.  I had to learn to accept that even when I explained my adoption story and used the Chinese phrase American with Chinese ancestors, I would forever be defined as Chinese because our definitions were just different.  In Gansu, one was defined by one's physical appearance rather than one's mannerisms, ways of thinking, language, and passport.  Because of my black hair,  I became Chinese by default, an owner of a green card, but someone who totally understands Chinese culture because of my skin and can learn the language faster because of my genes.

During my stay in Gansu, I didn't realize how exhausting it was until I lived a year in Chengdu.  In Chengdu, people asked, "Where are you from?" 

"I am American with Chinese ancestors."

Most of the time, the questions ended there.  I was not assumed to be a translator.  I was not assumed to be fluent in Chinese.  I was not stared at because I spoke English.  Many people in Chengdu understood what it meant to be Chinese American and didn't try to force me to match their notions of me being a Chinese speaking woman from China married with children.  I was left in peace.  Living in Chengdu as an Asian American was easier than living in Gansu because I didn't have to expend energy to defend my identity against a wall of assumptions.  Just like how it was easier to live in Seattle than in small town Alabama, in Chengdu I lived without daily conversations that were sparked by my skin color.

Some may think, "Who cares if people assume that you are Chinese.  You blend in and don't get unwanted attention.  Or isn't it fun to help people become aware of their stereotypes and assumptions?"

For all of us who get unwanted attention or have to defend our identities especially if it persists for days, months turning into years, we face the draining weariness of battle fatigue.  Constantly hitting that wall of rarely being understood leaves its mark even if it's unconscious.

It has been a breath of rejuvenating energy living in Chengdu where I can breathe a sigh of relief as people accept without questions that I am a foreign guest in their city.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bad Bargaining Skills

In four weeks my 6 year reign as a Peace Corps Volunteer will end.

Life has been busy.

I just got back from a nostalgic trip to Lanzhou for a weekend Project Design and Management Workshop.  I visited a partially deserted- due to the cold and rainy weather- snack street and ate my way up and down the shoddy stalls, trying morsels of BBQ innards and chunks of lamb and fish, washing it all down with boiled milk chuck full of dried fruit and grains.  I was reminded of how it felt being an Asian American sitting beside Caucasian friends attracting the attention of middle aged men, drunk on foul smelling rice wine, trying my best to ignore them, but having all of their attention directed to me because I am the "Chinese one" who is assumed to speak the language and translate their drunk slurs.  Chengdu has been a much easier place for me being Asian American.

Monday, I attended "Identity Matters: A Diversity Training for PC China Staff."

Then the rest of the week instead of catching up with the responsibilities of lesson plans, exam prep, COS paperwork, and packing, I entertained a visitor.  We found a hot pot buffet for $7 and I learned that even though I have been in China for 4 years I still think like an American.

My visitor wanted to buy some black, baggy, cool pants like the ones that I had recently bought.  I had bargained from 300 RMB down to 150 RMB, but thought that I had given in too easily.  After buying the pants, I felt the price should have gone for 80-100 RMB and was ashamed of my terrible bargaining skills.  My friend on the other hand is much much better at knocking down prices.  I assumed that it would be safer for her to go into the store alone because once the store owners recognized me, they would be like, "Yeah.  That is the Chinese American we ripped off and we can do the same to her friend."  I waited down the street.

My friend walked out empty-handed, "They wouldn't budge.  They wanted 160 RMB and kept saying that I had American dollars."

As we walked away disappointed, the store owner caught my eye and called us back into the store, "Oh our American friend.  We sold her some pants a couple months ago.  We will give you a good price."  They went from 160 RMB down to 120 RMB right away.  Then as my friend tried the pants on again, we made small talk and I reminded them that we were Volunteers.  They said, "Oh that is so good.  Okay okay, 100 RMB."

Even after being in China for 4 years, I totally misread the whole situation and assumed that because I had gotten ripped off the first time, my friend would also get taken advantage of, easy targets if the store owner remembered how bad I was at bargaining.  Instead, the thing that was most important, was the guanxi, the relationship we had formed the first time I visited their shop.

One Photo, Two Points of View

During office hours in the new Resource Room, the students looked at poster sized photos that RELO sent as a resource for teaching.  (This packet of photos can be found in the PC China IRC.)

My students and I observed the following:

In a photo of an American middle school classroom, what drew my attention was how different the classroom was to a Chinese classroom where instead of being overcrowded with students, each American student had their own desk.  Instead of white walls, the American classroom was full of color and projects hanging around and crowding tables set up along the walls.

One student pointed out, "Look at that student.  He is writing with his left hand.  In America are you allowed to write with your left hand?  In China, my grandparents would hit me if I used my left hand."

In a photo of four middle aged diner cooks sitting down taking a break, what drew my attention was that there was an Asian man in the picture.

One student found it strange that the cooks while on break were ALL reading a newspaper.  She commented that in China, cooks on break wouldn't read but maybe listen to music.

In a photo of a kindergarten class sitting on the floor listening to the teacher read a story, what drew my attention was how cute the kids from diverse backgrounds looked.

The students commented, "What poor conditions in the classroom.  There are no desks.  They have carpet instead of tile.  I can't believe the young students are sitting on the floor!  How dirty."

Sunday, May 06, 2012

the ins and outs of the monotony of daily life

When the new English Resource Room opened for the first time last week, 30 students showed up and obvious leaders stepped up to the plate discussing the purpose of the room, making a list of rules, and creating a list of names to vote for, names like ABC English Room, Jay's Room.  I put my foot down when they wanted to name the library after me.

On the countryside campus, since I wake up at 6 am and don't start teaching till 8:50 am, I went to the new English Resource Room and two students followed me to study.  Studying to me means a quiet atmosphere.  As I tried to read my new book, one student recited an English story and then vocabulary words.  The other student recited speeches in Chinese.  I was amazed at the noise level of two students studying, astonished by their ability to focus on their own material even though their voices mixed loudly.  I cannot imagine 6 roommates studying in their dorm room.

Because I am going to Gansu for a weekend workshop, I had a ton of lesson planning to do on Saturday.  For my writing class, we will have a resume competition then for the second class will write metaphor poems and 6 word memoir poems (idea from Runnin' The Great Wall blog).  For my listening class I worked on a lesson to prepare for the CET4  and a lesson on consumption and trash using 3 clips from a BBC report on how countries deal with their trash and the educational short, "The Story of Stuff."

I am also preparing a 20 minute presentation about American high schools for an audience of Chinese high school students who have lost their motivation to study They have been arguing that America is such a good country and the students there don't have to work as hard as Chinese students do.  Their teacher wants me to refute that argument and help motivate the students to keep studying diligently.  The only problem is umm... I graduated high school in 1995.  America's education system has undergone huge changes.  Good thing, I know how to research a topic that I am unfamiliar with.

I edited a friend's 20 page math paper on inpainting using partial differential equations.  I think it is so hard for students in China who are trying to get their PhD.  Technical English is hard!

During a 5 hour bike ride in the rain and fog with incredibly loud trucks along a barely used newly made wide lane highway into the small plots of farmland carved into hills, the quiet, sporadically disrupted by low flying planes above, made my Sunday perfect.  I love riding my bike.

A lovely surprise lay staring at me in my take-out bowl of duck.

Lastly, I stepped in poo for the first time since being in Peace Corps.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Random Tidbits from a Relaxing Weekend

Monday night I wanted to patch a flat but found a razor that slashed too many places to be fixable which meant I needed a new tube.  My plan for a Tuesday 80 km bike trip to and from the Zebra Music Festival came to a screeching halt. 

I have realized that I don't sleep well in Chengdu.  It is just too noisy living beside a construction site that never seems to stop working.  There is always some type of machine that drones on throughout the night.  Then when I am just about to fall into a deep slumber I wake up because at 4 am the machine suddenly stops, disrupting my body's attempt to adapt to sound waves attacking my ear drums.

I have realized that my runs aren't peaceful because I lesson plan while going round the track.

I read a Time's article that reported exercise doesn't always help people lose weight because after a run people will reward themselves with food thus canceling out any good the burnt calories might have had.  There is evidence that claims the better way to lose weight is to record what you eat.

Today while eating beef and rice, the person I was sharing a table with asked in Chinese, "Which ethnic minority are you?"  I wonder what about me today made me look like an ethnic minority instead of Han Chinese.  I was wearing a black T-shirt, a necklace bought in Gannan, a T autonomous region of China, and a black leather bracelet.  Maybe it was the necklace?

I can't decide which type of day/week I prefer.
Is it better to be extremely busy or to live a relaxing day of non-productivity?  Stress versus guilt?
I loved my relaxing weekend, but then today I started feeling a bit of a depressing guilt creep in. 


I am dreading it but also thinking maybe it is healthier- back to the grind on Wednesday.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Relaxing before the attack of future tasks

I am so lucky and am definitely feeling the great relief of having a 4 day weekend because of the official 3-day May holiday. 

Since I had to miss my Chinese lesson for COS conference, my tutor found some unexpected free time on Friday and I was able to make-up a 2 hour Chinese lesson on dating.  I picked up my perfect newly made black Mary Janes except that they are leather and need to be broken in.

Saturday, I spent the whole morning lesson planning/grading, but then relaxed in the afternoon by hand-writing 5 short notes to friends and finished a book.

Sunday, I was actually able to finish two knitted hats.  It has been so long since I have been able to knit.  I've got 1.5 months left and feel a need to use up my stash of yarn.

I found the most gorgeous African Wax that I want to purchase to have a sundress made.  I've been trying to find the best design for the dress and have been researching what I want- empire waist, long waist with an A-line skirt, or fitted.  I love v-necks so that is definitely in.  Send me photos of cool sundresses that could be tailor made.

My newly tailor made dress is pretty, but I fear it makes me look short and pregnant with a natural waist line belt/line that seems to accentuate the area where I carry my weight, my tummy.  Also, a v-neck instead of the round neck would have made it more hip.  The dress feels a bit dated, like something I would wear to church when I was a teenager.

Every day I went for a 45 minute run and even though I wanted to go on a 50 km bike ride on Sunday, I got a flat 10 minutes into the ride.  I then got lazy as I walked home to fix it.

Lesson Planning
I am teaching some experimental, new (for me) lesson plans using differential instruction to teach listening skills and vocabulary for the national CET4 exam creating various project areas for the students to choose from.

COS Conference
As always COS conference is a tough time, emotionally strange, the excitement of memories and of feeling the sense of accomplishment of completing one's Peace Corps service, mixed with feelings of anxiety and apprehension about the future including saying goodbye.  Plus there is the realization of an added list of paperwork and responsibilities that must be finished before one's COS date.

During an optional session reflecting on who we were, who we have become and how this PC experience will affect our futures, I realized that I can't remember who I was 6 years ago living in Seattle, an American about to go to an isolated village in Africa.  I feel like I have definitely evolved -values, thinking, reactions to situations, tolerance for things- but compared to other PCVs who seemed to easily discuss examples illustrating the shift of frustration to acceptance and understanding, I feel like my life has somehow normalized.  It is hard for me to see the before and after.  Life is just the way it is.

For example, PCVs talked about the challenges of sending packages by China Post, the senseless paperwork at our schools, the value of giving up independence and self-reliance to ask for help, accepting and listening with an openness to different ideas, the comfortableness with a different level of privacy, how multi-tasking isn't actually all that effective, learning how not to be in control, etc...

I on the other hand had nothing to say.  Crazy!  It kind of makes me afraid. 

Going off to Africa was a great unknown.  If I ever return to America, it feels like it will be an even bigger challenge than Africa because I "know" America so it doesn't seem as exciting.  In reality though,  I don't really know America anymore and will have to go through many frustrating moments before my American lifestyle feels normal.  If I can shift the belief that I know America into I don't, maybe I'll be open to the adventure of discovering the unknown American me, thus making it easier to adapt back to America?

Future Tasks
I don't even want to write about it.

It is time to get back to relaxing before the attack of future tasks.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Leather Shoemaker

I have spent a month looking for shoes.  I even gave my students some money so that they could buy a pair of shoes off of a famous Chinese online shopping site, but they thought the shoes were too ugly and the shop wasn't reliable enough.  They did not buy the shoes and gave me the money back.

Last night I went and had a Chinese meal near Sichuan University's west gate.  Lo and behold, I found a leather shoe making shop.  I am getting a pair of shoes made using a male sole that is wide and a feminine Mary Jane top. 

There are two reasons why I have been having trouble finding shoes:
1.  Shops rarely carry size 8.  China size 38 which is the longest that most shops carry is just a bit too small for me.
2.  The shoes for females are really narrow and I feel like I am walking on a balance beam.

I am happy that I found the shoemaker and can mix and match what I want.

PS.  To the commenter about cost of living in China- I can't reply to comments because I don't have a VPN and my blog is actually blocked in China.  As a Peace Corps Volunteer I live comfortably on $240/month, but I don't pay for rent.  I heard rent in Guangdong is like $400 which can be shared between two people.  In Yunnan I am not sure, but I am going to guess rent is a lot cheaper.  Actually I will be trying to find cheaper rent in Guangdong because $200 is way too much for me.  If you want to learn more please provide me with your email in the comments.  Comments are private.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Last days in China: 10 Positives

I've been feeling exhausted, but I will write about 10 positive things instead of the heavy workload, long list of things to do, mid-term exams, essays from my writing course, Chinese lessons, workshops, inability to stop eating and 24 hr construction outside my bedroom window.

1.  A quarter slice of a whole pineapple is only $0.25 and it is served on a stick!
2.  I've been running and/or biking every day; although, I am finding it a bit strange that my feelings of stress haven't felt lighter because of the daily exercise.
3.  The new resource room has just been furnished, so office hours will be moving to the new room next week.
4.  I bought new clothes and LOVE them.
5.  I am picking up a new blue and white flower tailor made dress tomorrow.
6.  My COS date is June 14th with cash in lieu.  My start date with TFC is June 18th.
7.  The dean of my English department approved and is cool with the above timeline.
8.  I have a pile of books to read and just finished three from the series, The Mortal Instruments.
9.  No cavities found by the dentist.
10.  I was able to commute once by bike to my countryside campus this week. 

Monday, April 09, 2012

1000 Shoes

I spent hours wandering the first floors of malls in the downtown shopping area of Chunxi Lu of Chengdu.  HOURS!!!  I saw a thousand glittering shoes- flats covered in diamonds, bright colors, bows, and flowers; hundreds of pumps all with some type of heel; and sandals with a high top clunky wrap for the ankle.  Looking for an extremely comfortable shoe that could endure 6 hours of teaching a day or hiking through cities during vacation I tried on 5 pairs of plain black shoes and realized 3 things:

1.  Cheap shoes ($30) are of extreme low quality.
2.  Chinese shoes are not only short but also narrow.  Rarely could I find a size 39 or 40 and if I did, my foot flattened by years of playing sports and by my weight did not feel supported on the narrow soles.
3.  Chinese women want to look tall.  It was extremely hard to find a shoe that didn't have some type of heel.

So in conclusion, I hate shoe shopping in China.  I spent HOURS looking and came up with nada!  I am not sure how I am going to deal with the dilemma of needing a good pair of sturdy summer shoes.  After 6 years, I still have my Chaco's, but they aren't very professional.

I did find an amazing Chinese sleeveless traditional, form fitting gray linen shirt with tie-dyed purple flowers and awesome black, baggy pants with embroidered hot pink flowers.  They were expensive, over $20 each, so I didn't buy them.  I am waiting to see if I really really want them.  I will probably buy them.  Stay tuned for pictures.

A terrible day of shopping did end well though with all you can eat sashimi with friends.

Friday, April 06, 2012

2 sizes bigger

Living in Chengdu with all of its temptations, going to Paris, going through a 4 stage interview process, and teaching full time wile doing the PCVL job are things that have not contributed to my waistline in a positive way.  I tend to eat my stress or if there are tempting delights like in Paris, then my self-control if I ever had any goes out the window.

Last semester I didn't worry so much.  I was commuting by bike at least 80 km/week.

Instead of wearing my ethnic skirts and colorful tailor made dresses and blouses, I decided to buy one casual blue/gray professional outfit.  I really hate shopping in China because everything is too small; therefore, I went to a store with a western brand that actually had larger sizes.  Not having a scale in my house, I really have a hard time knowing my weight fluctuations.  In Africa it was even easier not to care about my body image since there were no mirrors except for the small round one that would sit on the desk.  It was in that Swedish store that I learned the truth.  I had gone from US size 10-12 to size 14-16.  Bleh.  I had the data.  I haven't bought a piece of American sized clothing in 6 years and voila, I had solid proof that my waistline had grown.

I love food.  I don't diet.

Instead, I have started exercising more.  Last week I went on a 4 hr bike ride that turned into 6.5 hours due to getting lost, and then yesterday I went on a 45 minute run.  I got up early to go to the track, but all of the gates were locked even though there were a bunch of people exercising on the football field.  I ran from here to there and finally found the person sized hole torn in the metal gate.  Ah China...  it tries to have strict rules.  No one is allowed on the sports field.  Look at the locked gates.  Alas, its citizens find a way around it.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Unemployment Update

So yes, I will not enter post-COS (close of service) as unemployed.

After 6 years with Peace Corps as a volunteer, I will soon be officially employed.  I have formally accepted the job offer as Program Manager with Teach for China, a 2 year commitment with opportunities to stay and climb the career ladder.  It is kind of funny that I will be living in China for another two years.  I never studied Chinese with an intensity because of a motivation to find a job in China, but here I am after 4 years in China, language skills still somewhat basic, starting a job where strong language skills would be an asset.

Am I lucky or what?  I tend to jump from opportunity to opportunity, getting to explore incredible cultures from Alabama, Seattle, Africa, to China.  Am I living the dream, or just settling for opportunities because they are offered, making decisions based on the fear of not having security?  Have I stopped and really explored what I want to do?  Well I do know that my resume with its career objective was written way before I ever heard about the positions at Teach for China, a perfect match with my resume. 

Am I following my heart?  Well, at least I am out of chemistry and I will not be a classroom teacher.  Those are two careers I am sure about.   I can cross them off my list.  What about Alaska or Antarctica though?

Anyways enough philosophizing.  Now, I need to buy a computer.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Is it stupid to...

ride a bike for 1.5 hours in heavy rain whose raindrops sting when they hit and you are soaked through, shoes little puddles, a poncho strapped to the back useless against the torrential storm, riding in amazement at how waterproof skin is compared to the cotton long sleeve shirt, afraid of what is hidden- manholes missing their covers- under the the muddy rivers flowing in the street?

For teachers and students, festivals in China can be annoying.  A 5 day work week becomes a 7 day work week which means more lesson plans and more classroom time.  Saturday and Sunday are make-up days, so that Monday-Wednesday can be 3 days off where Wednesday is Tomb Sweeping Festival.

The only cool thing about this 7 day week is that I was finally able to ride my bike to the countryside campus.  Unlike last semester, this semester I have not been able to commute by bike because I teach one morning class on the city campus and then only have 1.5 hours to commute to the countryside campus.  It just isn't enough time for unforeseen bike troubles plus a shower before class. 

This 7 day work week though allowed me to bike to the the countryside campus.  It was heaven, the weather divine.  The fields blooming with yellow flowers.  The trees covered with pink.  There was a cool breeze and the sun was at perfect strength.  I even considered teaching my Haiku lesson so we could go outside and celebrate nature with poetry.

After 4 hours of class, I hopped back on my bike to ride home but the spring weather had turned into a dark and stormy night.

Sometimes, I might not be the smartest cookie in the jar.  Being all hardcore and biking in the rain, I was lucky.  I saw two accidents on my way home. 

I shivered for 30 minutes waiting for the water to boil for a bucket bath, thinking.. so... hmm..stupid?  

BUT, I LOVE my bike!  The stupid things we do for love eh?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I thought I was right

Never having access to a projector in Gansu, I rarely created lesson plans that needed a computer.

In Chengdu, every classroom that I teach in has a computer and a projector.
I observed a Chinese teacher and she used Word for her lecture.
I thought it was strange, as she struggled changing the 10 pt font to 16, but figured that maybe she didn't know how to use Powerpoint.

Then yesterday a student asked, "Why don't you use Word in your classroom?  Why do you use Powerpoint?"
It was then that I realized, "Teachers at my school usually use Word for their lectures and never use Powerpoint."

Funny...  I thought I knew the right way to give lectures, but here there is an opposite ways of thinking.

I am an American teacher who thinks Powerpoint is the best for presentations.
Chinese teachers at my school think Word is best.


Up until midnight things were fine.  I was busy knitting a bright turquoise hat listening to Rubyfruit Radio.  It was when I lay my head down to sleep that I noticed the bruit outside my bedroom window.  From midnight till 4 am, workers used shovels to move construction debris into a metal dump truck, a consistent scrape, clunk, scrape, clunk rhythm that kept me awake all night.

Earplugs are important if you are a light sleeper.  Unfortunately my many pairs have been scattered across the globe these past 6 years.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What is a good salary in China?

What is the cost of living in Chengdu?

Living in Chengdu, I have met so many people from all walks of life!!!  My social life is booming.

Rent in Chengdu ranges from 200-2000 RMB/month ($32-320)

200 RMB is for a room in a three bedroom apartment (800 RMB/month; $130) where each bedroom is lived in by a different family/person and the kitchen and bathroom are shared.  This apartment is up by the train station, a not very safe location and probably very very old apartments.  Two people live in one of the rooms- a mother who is a motorbike pedicab driver who earns 3000-6000 RMB/month ($475-950) and even has time to play mahjong in the afternoons and her daughter who works in a clothing store who makes about 3000 RMB and gets two days off per month.

One of my friends, a college graduate, who worked for a tourist magazine lived in a furnished room that was 600 RMB ($95) in an apartment that she shared with one other stranger.  Her salary was super low at only 1500 RMB ($238) and she decided to quit to return to Suzhou, a much better paying place.

I heard that hairdressers make about 3000 RMB ($475) per month.

Teachers at my school make about 3000-4000 RMB ($475-635) and some of the teachers pay an apartment mortgage of 2000 RMB ($320).

I met an 18 year old student who still hasn't graduated from high school.  She makes 3000 RMB ($475) and is given free housing at her place of employment- a cigarette and alcohol shop that is open 7 days a week from 9 am-11 pm.  She gets 2 days off per month and gets 20 RMB ($3) per day for food.

The salary at the KFC in Gansu was 4 RMB ($0.63) per hour.  Here in Chengdu it is more like 20 RMB/hr ($3.17).

As a PCV, my living allowance is 1500 RMB ($238) but of course I don't pay rent.  Also, we get that special bonus when we return to the USA with the readjustment allowance.  Plus we aren't trying to support a family or think about future security.  1500 RMB is a sweet deal; although, it feels weird that an 18 year old non-high school graduate is making more than me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

3 good things

1.  The weather has turned for the better and I no longer have to sleep in my sleeping bag anymore.

2.  I got a job offer in China that is not teaching.  I am not sure I will take it though.  I am doing my pro and cons list but the likelihood of me taking it is strong.

3.  I got an awesome Chinese tutor and am doing Chinese corner at least 3 times a week.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

One Yummy Chinese Snack

I don't like Chinese snacks. 

I have lived here for 4 years and can walk up and down an aisle without much tempting me.  After trying many of the packets of meat shaped tofu, crackers, cookies, and dried fruits, I have come to the conclusion that most of it is strange and spiced with strange combinations of glop, chemicals, spice, and oil.  I still try though, just coz it is kind of fun eating weird things like cuttlefish with their spiky skeletons even though I doubt I will ever buy that fishy bag of dried yellowed shapes again.

Tonight though, I found a yummy snack, the first one in years.

It is sliced, dried, sweet potato slivers melded together into a rectangle wedge with caramelized sugar. 

I like sweet potato french fries covered with salt.  I like popcorn covered with salt, but for some reason China likes to sweeten the things that I like salty, even the bread.

The sweet potato squares though, good!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Different Sites- Different Opportunities

After teaching in Gansu for 3 years, teaching in Chengdu is pretty much the same except:

1.  Because the city students have access to Internet in their dorms and often have at least one computer that is shared amongst 4-6 roommates, the students like to send me email.  This is new and some of the more shy students feel more comfortable communicating through written English which I hope will lead to them being more confident to use their spoken English in class.

2.  In Gansu, I did not hold office hours but went to the English Library and Community Center for 2 hours, 6 days a week.  Because I currently don't live on the countryside campus where my students live, I hold office hours once a week when I stay overnight at the other campus.  Thursday evening about 20 students came to my office hours which is a bit much.  I cannot give individual attention to everyone.  I spent about 30 minutes having 4 minute private conversations with students and then walked around to join in the conversations that different groups were having.  My Chengdu students do find the value of speaking with each other in English compared to my Gansu students who often felt they could only improve their English by speaking with a native speaker.

3.  More students have the opportunity to go abroad at my 3 year Chengdu college.  I know 3 students who are going to America, one for graduate school and two for a work and travel summer program.  They will work at KFC for a couple of months and then use the money that they earned to travel around.  Also, students are having interviews to work in Dubai.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Daily Life Update

So I have been busy.  With what?

1.  Lesson planning-  During the even weeks I have to prepare 4 lesson plans.  Luckily for my writing class, I have lesson plans from Gansu which I am currently using.  During the odd weeks, I have to prepare 5 lesson plans (2 writing lesson plans), but again I still have all the lessons from my writing class in Gansu.  Later I will run out of lesson plans though because the Gansu writing class only had about 14 lessons; whereas, this Chengdu writing class needs a total of 30 lessons.  There is a lot of lesson planning this semester, but I cut my work in half by planning a detailed speaking class and then just use the listening book and its activities for the listening course.  Lastly, I have to grade essays from my writing class.  At least it is a small class of only 20 students.

2.  Secondary projects-  I sleep on the countryside campus once a week so that I can hold office hours that every student must attend at least once.  Also, there is a room that the school wants us to make into a Resource Room, so that is another responsibility.  Another task I have been doing this semester is helping students practice their English by answering emails from students.  In Gansu, students didn't have daily access to internet; whereas, these Chengdu students have computers in their rooms with internet. 

3.  Job hunt-  I have applied for a job in China with a NGO and have been going through a rigorous interview process.  The first one was a written interview where I had to do three tasks, even reading and commenting on a 20 page document, a rubric for the qualities of an effective teacher.  Then I had two interviews over Skype and have another interview in a week.  Preparing and having interviews is mentally wearing, the beforehand background reading and reviewing of one's accomplishments and work experience, then the after the interview replays where at 3 am in the morning one starts having conversations with oneself, answering the questions again but better.  Even if I don't get the job, it has been a great experience going through all these interviews.  Good prep for my future job hunt.

4.  Chinese language-  During one of the interviews, I had to do a role play using Chinese where I had to talk with a middle school principal about the exam scores of an English class.  I did not have the language to do it which means I need to really start studying Chinese again.  This week I have started having Chinese corner with my students.  We met 2 times already and talked about Women's Day, personalities, and traditional women and men.  I need to find a tutor.

5.  Office work-  PC newsletter, PC Annual Report, preparing for COS conference and PDM workshops, helping the PMs figure out a more efficient way to write letters of recommendations

6.  Fun-  The American Consulate offered free tickets to a musical evening of an American opera singer and Sichuan opera singers.  I love live music and it was fun to invite fellow colleagues to attend.  I was actually surprised that they accepted my invitation because opera is not the most popular musical genre, but they really appreciated the opportunity for the exposure to American culture.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Mutton Stew

Yesterday, I played badminton with my counterpart, her high school friends and their wives and husbands.  My counterpart is in her mid-twenties and I found it fascinating that she still hangs out with her high school friends.  Instead of going out for dinner, watching a movie, going camping, or having a wine and cheese party, they rent a badminton court at a local gym and play badminton.  Fun!

I have lived in China for 4 years and have NEVER eaten a mutton soup hot pot.  It was amazing.  A lamb broth, not spicy, filled with chunks of meat, liver, lung, and stomach that is placed on a gas stove.  After fishing out the meat, we then added to the boiling broth plates of vegetables- lotus root, greens, potatoes, dumplings, and rice noodles.  I would highly recommend that if you haven't had mutton hot pot yet ask a Chinese friend to take you.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Live Music

I love drums.

Mongol Folk/Rock was the three word description on the online Events Calendar.  Inviting as many Chinese friends and teachers, we paid 30 RMB, a small risk for us all as we debated in anticipation about whether or not the music would be good and what we might hear.  It was a bigger risk for me especially since the 1,500 RMB living allowance deposit from the USA has been delayed for a week.

It was an incredible music filled experience standing amongst a people packed tiny space in front of a tiny stage where there was a drummer, two singers, two people playing traditional string instruments, a guitar player and bass player, crammed onto a tiny stage all within a hand's reach of each other.  There were about 100 people in the audience and compared to America, most people were short, perfect for this 5'3" woman.  The crowd stood as still as statues as melodic strings filled the air, as throat guttural sounds vibrated, and as the drummer and singers built the energy into a frenzy.  By the end of the 1.5 hour concert, the crowd was slapping their hands raw, bobbing their heads, and shouting for encores as the band explained that they had no more new music.  Wanting to continue to rock in the Mongolian language, the crowd refused to believe them,  "Play another one," they shouted.

Going to the new Little Bar last night was absolutely wonderful.  Throughout the evening, my feet couldn't stop moving and my spirit was filled with the frenzy of joy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hot Pot

Seattle hot pot...  I remember it being delicious, meat packed, and spicy?  I actually don't remember if it was spicy.  I just remember it being fun, eating all the meat cooked in broths.

Gansu hot pot...  I enjoyed the mushroom flavored non-spicy individual fondue pots used to boil thinly sliced meat and veggies.  The sesame dipping sauce was divine.

Chengdu hot pot...  Chengdu is famous for its hot pot where there is a debate between the sanitary conditions of re-using hot pot oil versus recycled oil making the food taste better.  I enjoy the spiciness of a huge pot of redness full of numbing peppers, shared by all.  Also, I love it when Chinese people order, so yum- duck tongue, brain, intestine, seafood, seaweed, chicken's feet, and more...  It is an exciting array of textures and flavors.  Love that gritty, crunchiness of tendons and bone dipped in a bowl of oil filled to the max with freshly chopped garlic.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Teaching Techniques that Work in my Chinese Classroom

For a PC China TEFL certificate, I had to submit a lesson plan and a one-page reflection on how I integrated what I have learned regarding culture, language, school system, students, and social context into my lesson plans and style of teaching in a Chinese classroom.  I mostly wrote about lesson plans and did not touch on teaching style.  Here are some of my thoughts about successful strategies that have helped my teaching.

choral recitation- The students have been reciting texts ever since they started school, so in order to gain students' trust and build their confidence in my classroom, I tend to sometimes request the students to recite a dialogue, a poem or lyrics as a class.

call on the students-  Having observed Chinese teachers, I noticed that they do not usually wait for students to raise their hands and volunteer an answer.  Instead they just call on a student.  In my class each student has an assessment card that I use to keep track of a student's progress.  During each 2 hour course, I use these cards to call on every single student in my class to answer questions.  It is a way for me to take roll call, and it forces every student to speak out loud to help them realize two things.  First, it isn't scary to speak English in front of our class.  Secondly, everyone must speak, not only the best English speakers.  By the end of the term, I am pleasantly surprised to have students raising their hands to volunteer answers.

silly games, theater, songs-  Students love laughing and playing silly games.  They love acting outrageous roles, doing dialogues that have twisted conflicts, and using expressive emotion in their skits.  They love English songs.

walking around the classroom and speaking personally to every student- This is the one way where I can cater to each student's English level by having personal conversations every class.

In four years, there has been one challenge that I haven't been able to overcome.  Students will not listen to a fellow student who is giving an in front of the classroom presentation.  I ask the students to take notes or to be ready to answer questions.  I stand by the talkers and glare at them.  Because I am not a stern teacher, when a student is giving a presentation, I have trouble fighting for the silence of the classroom.  I do believe if I were consistent with my rules and expectations and with positive/negative reinforcement, I'd have a respectfully quiet class listening to their classmate.  I never taught a speech class so I prefer giving different types of tasks rather than battle it out with the talkative students who don't feel like they can learn anything by listening to a non-native speaker.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Teaching Schedule

Teaching schedule for three courses that meet twice a week with the same students:

1.  Writing
2.  Listening and Speaking (Tourism listening book)
3.  Listening and Speaking (Business listening book); repeated with different students

10-16 hours and 2-3 days off per week
Odd weeks, teach Thursday and Friday, 3 lesson plans (Sweet deal with a 5 day weekend.)
Even weeks, teach Monday, Thursday and Friday, 6 lesson plans  (I am not too worried.  I will figure out a way to slim these 6 lesson plans down into the same plan.)

No more biking to the countryside campus because I will be teaching on two campuses in the same day where in the morning I will teach on the city campus, and in the afternoon I will be on the countryside campus.  The lunch break is not exactly long enough for lunch and biking.

I am feeling a little overwhelmed especially since the school is going to assign me 3 students to start working on an English resource room, plus a bunch of other PC responsibilities like two Project Design Workshops, a Resource Room workshop in Lanzhou, a 2011 annual report, newsletters, COS conference and more...

Will I have the energy for Chinese corner and job hunting?

My teaching schedule and other responsibilities aren't really that overwhelming or am I kidding myself or am I acting like a whiny baby?

As a Volunteer, at what point does one put one's foot down and say, "Sorry I can't.  I don't have the energy to do that."?

I think it will be fine.  Once the semester starts on Thursday, I will find a rhythm and all will be good?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Blues turned Colorful

Would you believe that Paris, Guangzhou, then two weeks of PC IST (in-service training) got me out of my depressed funk? 

Knowing that negative criticism rises to the surface more often than positive feedback due to people's personal frustrations leading to constructive complaints, I tried not to worry so much about pleasing as many people as possible, yet IST was still a responsibility anxiety.  Surprisingly, it still somehow refreshed me.  Other than having to deal with daily tiring things, IST was overall enjoyable.  I liked learning Chinese 2-4 hours a day.  I liked meeting and talking to people.  I discovered new things in Chengdu- an anime convention, a bar that hosts independent artists, a 6 RMB waffle shop, and a new community of people I've hidden away from over the past 6 years. 

Over the past 6 years, my Peace Corps service has mostly been a peaceful, lovely journey except for the months when I struggled with break-ups and rejection.  I thrived in the isolation and depression rarely reared it's ugly head.  This past semester though was one of my biggest challenges.  Taking on the added responsibilities of "real" work in a faster paced office with deadlines and meetings was stressful.  I struggled with having a "real" job on a volunteer's allowance.  It was weird how money, something I never cared about before, had somehow entered into the equation these past few months where I felt my worth would be better measured with a paycheck.

I love being a volunteer where I find my life meaningful through donating as much time as I am willing and receiving the rewards of exploring a culture and of feeling the students' happiness as they learn.  I use my leisure time to refill my need for alone time by coloring, reading, and biking.  This past semester though I was working for a machine, keeping the gears oiled, but in the ambiguity of doing a minuscule part to keep the organization working.  I liked the work.  I really did, but the rewards of seeing the happiness of people I interacted with was lacking.  For the work of sitting in front of a computer 8 hours in a day, I think I prefer a reward of money.  If I could do such work with sufficient leisure time, the leisure time would be a reward and I would care less about the money.  As a full time volunteer teacher commuting and living on 2 campuses with a part-time American job, I got worn out.  The leisure time was no longer leisure time, but recuperation time.

Today though after a month and a half of vacation, I'm rejuvenated.  Instead of hiding away in my flat for days depressed, knitting a million hats, and trying to escape the cold while recuperating from the anxiety of fulfilling responsibilities, I am back to exploring the town, finding new restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, and music.  I visited Ya'an and explored a new city, finding a sword shaped bone in the head of a local fish speciality.  Today I discovered a new Starbucks and a DQ opening a block down the street from the other one, both in my neighborhood.  Today I met with an amazing local couchsurfer who is only 23, but has already travelled to 2-3 other cities in China looking for new experiences, working part-time jobs just to make enough money to live far far away from home.  I am coloring reading, and writing letters.  I feel happy with my productive leisure time.

Monday though, school starts...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Empty Campus and Career Objective

I left my college when it was still full of students with only one week left of finals.  I returned to a campus where the only people living here are the workers, the people who sweep the grounds, the handy man who fixes anything in a flat, the cafeteria workers, the fruit family.  I wonder why they didn't go home for Spring Festival.

Chengdu, a city of millions, feels like a ghost town.  It is pretty incredible how empty this place is; although, Auchuan was packed.  When I went out to buy food I had to go to Auchuan, a French superstore, because everything around my campus was closed.  That place was packed and I had to wait in a long line for 20 minutes to buy a head of cabbage and meatballs.  I wanted to buy a bunch of dark green leafy veggies but they were super expensive!!!  5 RMB per jin when in Gansu they cost like 0.8 RMB per jin.  I haven't really cooked yet in Chengdu, but after all the wonderful home-cooked meals I have had over the past few weeks, I think buying from the neighborhood farmer's market and cooking would be nice.  I bet when school starts I won't be cooking anymore though.

Next semester I will be teaching writing and oral English on two campuses.  What a nutty commuting schedule I will have again!  Bleh!

I have started applying for jobs.  Is it suppose to take a person hours to write a cover letter?  I think I am too detail oriented somehow trying to match my skills with the job description.  Anyways, if you hear of any openings, let me know. 

Here is my career objective:

Utilize my international experience in West Africa and China along with my science and teaching background to work in a multi-cultural environment to support international education and/or development programs through a capacity in administration, program development, evaluation and training

Any constructive criticism?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Flow of Thoughts: At my student's home

1.  Loner 
I struggle!

a conflict between
my desire
for solitude
the known
health benefits
of being social
and having friends

For when I spend
too many hours
in happy isolation
my thoughts
betray me
drowning into
worry and anxiety
when I am
surrounded all day
by people whose
language I only
understand 5% of
my heart is somehow
at peace
even as I sit
here writing
alone in bed
before lights out.

2.  Spring Festival
In a deserted countryside
factory town
where rain keeps
the fish ponds full,
the banana groves green,
and puddles expanding in the streets,
I spend my time in a row
of cold concrete rooms
each with a door opening into the rain,
a row of sheds next to
a cardboard box factory
empty of workers
on holiday.

A business family
follows their youngest son
who before completing high school
ran from Gansu to the
province of opportunity

A 50 year old father
with dreams of giving
his son
a rich future
lives with
the bare necessities of life
devoid of luxury,
lives in their factory.

In Chengdu,
visiting the home
of a newly married 27 year old teacher
in a newly bought flat
filled with
huge flat screen TVs,
Ikea furniture mixed with
lavish fairytale castle extravagance
a lush show of money
economic prosperity,
it is easy to forget that not
everyone lives that way.

Even a factory owner in the
rumored golden land of Guangzhou
owns only
an old beat up used car,
a tiny TV,
lives in one room with his whole family
a cold concrete floor
devoid of privacy
with a queen sized bed for the parents
and bunks for his son and daughter.
This one room opens into a warehouse
filled with stacks of metal racks
burner grates for gas stoves.

These small factories
are dying becoming
replaced by
newer, bigger, hi-tech monsters.

Families visit each other
drinking tea and eating seeds
of all colors
white, green, black, brown.

Mothers prepare at least 3-5 banquets
to feed 10-20 guests at each sitting.
The dishes are meat heavy.
The prosperity of China
is heard with the laughter
mingled with the clacking of Mahjong and chess
pop, pop, pop
attacks of red dynamite
bursting into sporadic explosions.
The prosperity of China
is measured by the
duly noted amount of leftovers
just enough to reveal that the food
was delicious but also too much.
TV is ignored.
Past grievances are put aside for
harmony's sake.
Gifts are given.
Baijiu is drank.
Troubles are forgotten
for at least a few days.
Zhong Shan 1 hour outside of Guangzhou- January 23, 2012

A Flow of Thoughts: The Return to China, Guangzhou

1.  Mad 
Mad I was to have someone ask me
to change from an aisle to a window
so two people could sit together,
but actually
Mad I was to be leaving Paris,
but more truthfully
More Mad I was to be returning to China

2.  Flight
China Southern tried to copy
Air France's menu
but did a terrible job
except for
the wedge of Camembert
that no one wanted to eat
so I could to my heart's content-
3 wedges happier

The PG movies were old news
mostly for teenagers, kids, and romantics

The hum of the plane was painful
right behind the eye.

Miserable bumpy trip of
artificial light
that was happily
over quick
coz no matter
how terrible
a 12 hr plane ride is,
it is a million times
than a bus.

Then China
welcomed me
with nasty toilets
stopped up with wads of TP
and spittle on the floor and seat

What a jarring wake-up
call not to be in Paris anymore

At least customs were efficient
compared to
baggage claim
of flights from
Vietnam, Paris, L.A.
all at turntable 1
jammed pack with
empty luggage trolleys
not even an inch of space
available for a step near
the edge to drag a bag off.
But after 30 minutes
when my pack finally appeared
the crowd had thinned down.
A poor tiny woman got whacked
when the fast spinning rotation
took my bag from me.

Guangzhou felt deserted
in the aftermath
of the migration to
hometowns for
Spring Festival-
the incredibly super fast high tech metro
near empty at 7 am,
the bus too

The campus devoid
of students
except for the few
stragglers of odd women
nonconforming to the
labeled weird
for preferring to celebrate
the biggest Chinese holiday
rather than with family.

3.  Food
In Paris, I tried to go to
a Vietnamese restaurant
but twice
it was closed
maybe for the
New Year Festival.
In Guangzhou
found plenty of
rice noodles
fish sauce
veggie rolls
and even
evening dim sum
set up outside like
Chengdu BBQ
right next door
to my hotel
in the countryside
of the foothill
of Baiyuan Mountain.

4.  A Gansu Student
It is lovely
to meet up with a former student
who graduated into graduate school
to see her evolution from uninformed
to eyes wide open

University professors
pushing the box of
conformist thinking
to forming well-researched opinions
the Community Party
the development of China
the economic state of a developing country
the pros and cons of the residential card

5.  Volunteerism
Chinese students at uni
join volunteer clubs where they
clean up the campus
visit the elderly
help with the aftermath of earthquakes
visit orphanages
donate blood
raise money

The Confucius Institutes that
are being formed
to share Chinese culture and language
is another way Chinese citizens volunteer.

Volunteerism is alive in China,
but for the older generation
where security and salary
are a priority
volunteering is not understood.

January 19-20, 2012


Paris was absolutely wonderful.  There were streets to explore; parks to sit in; shop windows to browse; museums to visit; films to see; and English bookstores to spend money in.  I loved the metro and the bikeable, walkable city.  I even liked the late night 8-9 pm dinners which gave a person more hours in a day to enjoy life.

Paris has tempted me back to the west.  All the things I cringe about that exist in the USA- car culture, fast food, television, the security of the American dream- were forgotten.  Only the lovely things that I miss while living abroad in Africa or China existed while I was on holiday.  Yes, I know the honeymoon phase of a vacation, in no way predicts the reality of the future, but at least I caught a bit of the western spirit making me ready to finally leave China.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Eating in Paris

As a PCV going to the west for home leave is always a treat for the food; although, due to the sparsity of food in Africa home leave from there was much more exciting than from China. Chinese food is just more plentiful in nutrition, veggies, and lovely spices and flavors. Home leave in Paris? My mouth hasn't left food heaven in days and I am never hungry!!! With the heaviness of big chunks of meat and milk products, I probably only need one meal a day, but it seems like three meals a day is pretty important here in Paris even though breakfast is simple and dinner starts at 8 pm or later. I was afraid that I would be starving by that late hour. That was until I realized how filling lunch would be.

One observation I have had whether you are eating at home just with family and invited guests or eating out at a restaurant, there is always a special procedure to the meal. At home in America at least in my family we just put everything on the table and chow down. Here as the meat is finishing its last 10 minutes of oven time, we start with an aperitif of sausage or some meat spread with a knife on bread or radishes or baby tomatoes. Then there could be a salad which could come after the main course. Next there is a meat entree with a vegetable side. Last items are a cheese plate, then dessert, then maybe an after dinner digestif and coffee. There is so much food that after every meal I feel like I will never be able to eat again.

What have I been eating?

Home cooked meals with Mathilde's family
  • Pâtes aux Cèpes (Mushroom pasta)
  • Shrimp and zucchini wok and a Galette des Rois
  • Beef roast with green beans
  • Chicken with morilles mushrooms then tiramisu
  • Lamb and potatoes
  • Pizza made with bread dough bought raw from a bakery
  • Raw scallops covered with lime and olive oil with artichokes

Restaurants/Out and about

  • Falafel in the back streets near Rue de Rosiers and the Metro station Pont Marie
  • Mint tea at la grande mosque
  • Beef steak and fries with garlic mayo at L'Ecurie in the Latin Quarter around the corner from Le Panthéon
  • A bakery cheese and ham sandwich eaten in the Luxembourg Park
  • Cuban tapas, fish, and spinach at Calle 24
  • African peanut sauce, and plantains at L'Equateur
  • Cocktails, scallops, and food on a stick amongst the actors at a TV series premiere, "Les Hommes de l'Ombre"
  • Sushi at Sushi Boubou in the 10th arrondissement

If you are ever in Paris definitely check out L'Ecurie for its lunch plate and the unique ambiance of an old tiny restaurant.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First Impression of Paris

Paris is fantastique!

I am having an amazing experience- the cheese, the bread, the chunks of meat, the life of drinking mint tea and connecting with friends amongst architecture dating to the 1600's-1900's where mini elevators have been added and bay windows open onto tiny balconies from which the Eiffel Tower can be spotted and quaint narrow Parisian streets with people scurrying from here to there in their dark clothes can be seen down below.  Bakeries are on every corner and people even sit at outdoor cafes in the middle of winter.  The Metro gets you everywhere.  The lines outside of museums are long but move fast.  We visited a free exhibit by the artist Sempe who is known for his Paris scenes and covers for the "New Yorker."  Theaters are super warm where I had to strip down to my last layer to see A Dangerous Method by Cronenberg.  Walks in parks and streets are full of wonderous sights from the river, trees, and statues to the shops, towers, domes, gargoyles and columns,   Supper is served late and dinner parties start at 8 pm and go until midnight.  What is this lifestyle of rich pleasure?  Is it for me?