Sunday, December 19, 2010

There are no goodbyes in heaven, right?

It finally hit me tonight. 

I'm not going to see these people, again.  I'm saying goodbye to the most difficult, unique, and beautiful chapter of my life so far.  Last night and tonight have been my first final goodbyes to some friends.  The bestowing of farewell gifts has begun, and I feel bad knowing that most of them won't make the final cut into my suitcase.

These next 3 days are sure to be the shortest and longest of my life.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


In less than two weeks I'm not just losing a place that I've called home for 14 months, I'm losing about a billion moms in my life.  This mothering certainly rubbed me a bit in the wrong way for a while.  Okay, sometimes it still does.  But because I'm leaving soon I'm going to view everything about China through rose colored glasses.  Deal with it.

These days, when my students chide me about my milk tea addiction, when everyone who visits me tells me I ought to keep my windows open for good health (it's 20F outside!), when my girlfriends insist I only drink hot tea during my time of the month (or as they phrase it: "When my Aunt is visiting"), and every single one of my students insists that I don't wear enough clothes (meaning they don't think I don't dress warmly enough) I wonder how life will be post-China: How will it be when I'm back in a place and people no longer are concerned about the clothes on my back, my health, and the foods I ingest; when cute little store ladies don't tell me what to buy, and certainly don't switch goods from my basket without my permission; when my bike won't be latched onto someone else's by the time I come back for it, should I leave it unsecured; when none of my friends are tossing food into my bowl throughout a meal, whether I want it or not; when most people in polite society won't ask me the reason why I'm not married; when random strangers on the street aren't asking me how much money I make, and telling me I should demand more; when a small comment about being tired doesn't incite questions about what time I go to bed, and instructions on how to get a good night's rest? How's it gonna be? (Cue Third Eye Blind song)

I'll miss you, Mama China.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Taxi - 出租车 (Chūzū chē)

They honk. NON-STOP.  The careen around corners as if roads are typically empty (and in China, they're never empty.).  They speed up and hit the brakes between every. single. speed bump.  In other countries (I'm not saying which, because I am so not comparing.) drivers might just slow down on a road with speed bumps or sudden curves, but no, no, no, not in China.  Gas = Yes.  Brake = No.  It must be a question on the licensing tests around here.

A friend of mine visiting from the states made an interesting observation in his second or third week here:
He said, there are two rules for driving in China.
1. Never, ever let someone in front of you.
2. Never hit someone.

Number one, is number one for a reason.  Driving in China, is a never ending game of chicken.

Picture this: One lane is about to end. Two cars, side-by-side are racing to cut in front of the other. Who will be the game's loser, thus losing all kinds of face, and brake first?? Dah, dah, dunnn!

But, believe it, or not, I have witnessed fewer accidents here than in the US.  Now, this may not be a fair comparison, seeing as I am not on the road as often while I'm in China. I live on campus, and go downtown via bus or taxi a few times a week.... but as crazy as the driving strikes waiguoren (foreigners) like myself, it seems like I would have seen more than two accidents in a year and half, a fraction of the number of accidents I saw in only two months at home this summer.

And, believe it, or not, I am going to miss these crazy taxi experiences.  Tonight, I managed to actually have a real conversation with my taxi driver that varied from the usual.

The usual:
Me: San Xia Da Xue (Three Gorges University)
Taxi Driver: *grunt*
Taxi Driver (after several minutes of studying my foreign features in the rearview mirror): Ni shi na guoren? (What's your nationality?"
Me: Meiguode (American)
TD: Nide hanyu hen hao! (Your chinese is very good!)
Me: Huh?
*he repeats himself*
Me: Oh. HA.
TD: aegqbeixgbenagb (something indecipherable and far and beyond my language skills)
Me: ehh?
*he repeats himself*
Me: Ting bu dong (don't understand)
*he laughs*
..Several minutes pass...
TD: bgosnhrgbwgb (something else I don't understand.)
Me:  Dubuqi, wode zhongwen bu hao. (Sorry, my Chinese is bad.)
TD: hai, bu cuo! (still, not bad!)
And we may go through several rounds of this where I yell out random answers to questions taxi drivers usually ask ("I'm an English teacher! I like Chinese food! I've been in China for a year!)

But, tonight.  Tonight was different- my taxi driver using dramatic gestures, spoke slowly and clearly. I wanted to kiss him.  Someone who actually understand how to speak with someone with limited knowledge of the language?!? It was a Christmas Miracle.

So, for those of you wondering what a conversation with a Chinese taxi driver might look like, let me share with you: (I will spare you of each time the question had to be repeated due to my poor understanding.)

He asked me where I was from.  He asked me what I did.  He asked me how I like Yichang.  He asked me if I was married.  He told me I should find a Chinese husband.  I laughed. He asked if I had an American boyfriend. I said yes. (It's hard to describe "seeing someone" in this culture.) He told me something where he blew air between his lips and clapped his hands together, which I have a feeling was some kind of talk about relationships, and caused the cars behind us to lay on their horns because traffic had moved on ahead of us. I told him I was leaving China in two weeks. He asked me why.  I told him I'd been in China for over a year and needed to go home.  He grunted in understanding.  He asked me if I knew my numbers in Chinese.  I counted to ten for him.  He asked me to read something on a sign.  I looked at it and told him I couldn't.  He pointed to another sign, I told him I only knew 300 characters.  He said that wasn't bad.  I directed him to my apartment. He was impressed by my knowledge of "turn left" and "go straight".  I paid the fare.  He said bye. I told him to be happy everyday because I didn't know how to say anything else slightly meaningful when saying goodbye.

"Be happy everyday!" written: 天天快乐!(Tian tian kuai le.) It's a common "best wishes" kind of statement here. And I still can't get over how strange and cheesy it sounds to us Westerners. Now, be happy everyday, everyone. That's an order.

**No, that is not my taxi driver in the picture. I stole this photo from the internet.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I was in the middle of jumping up and down while turning in circles when I look over at the door and see two of the administrators gaping at us from my classroom door-- Hmm. Maybe playing Simon Says with the high school class on the last day of my part-time job wasn't such a bight idea; Well, at least they missed the part where we were all jamming to non-existent music just minutes prior-- Just as these thoughts enter my mind, the administrators timidly step inside and ask if they can video my intriguing lesson. They smile widely behind a camera as we take turns choosing students to step in front of the class and play Simon-- My instructions? Order us to do whatever they please as long as they can express it in English. (In case you are wondering, Chinese High School students are far and beyond more innocent in nature than American High School students.)  Later I receive an email thanking me for my excellent English lessons. Go figure.  

Sigghhh. I'm going to miss teaching English as a second language.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


As I sit here reflecting on all that has happened since my last blog post, my head spins with the possibilities of subject matter to relive as my fingers flicker across my keyboard. Instead, I suppose I'll hit the highlights:

  • Found reason on three occasions to pull out the "holy wooden tub" from the junk room of my apartment (Thus named for the endless leaks it produces without a tarp as much as its use as a bapt*stry-- How's that for discreet?)
  • Renewed relationships with friends from Jingzhou, Wuhan and even an old family friend from Pennsylvania.
  • Celebrated Thanksgiving alongside the Oldhams, Kelleys, and my sweet friend Madison after baking 3 Apple Pies from scratch.  (I mention this whenever I can.  eg. "How was your weekend?";  "Well, I didn't bake 3 apple pies this time, but it was productive enough."
  • Become as comfortable with Shine as I am to my left arm.  (And I'm left handed.)
  • Traveled to Fenghuang for the third time of my stay in China-- 8 hours on a train is nothing to cheap souvenirs and quaint coffee shops.
  • Discovered that being separated by 8,000 miles doesn't stop some relationships from growing.
  • Signed up and studied for the HSK Level 3... and then skipped it. (Mind you I use the word "study" loosely.  I was ill prepared, would be an understatement.)
  • Managed to put recipes left from my friends Katie and Elizabeth to use and overcome my phobia of being domesticated.
  • Spent enough time with Daisy that words are no longer necessary in communication.  We merely blink at oneother and understand.
  • Come to habitually speak such a simplified form of English that my Chinese friends think the English on movies and television shows must be in a different dialect.
  • Finally become what I would deem as wholly self-sufficient in this foreign land. (With two weeks to spare!)

Sunday, October 17, 2010


October 1st marked my 25th birthday.  I won't pretend that I didn't have a bit of what I've coined "My Mid-Twenties Crisis", but it was a grand day despite my lack of enthusiasm for being a year older and spending the majority of my "shengri" on a hard seat, in a packed, smelly train "dao" Guilin; My friend Kara flew from the States to accompany me on my travels, and I had a week of vacation and adventure to look forward to.  On a grander scale, October 1st marked the PROC's 61st Anniversary.  Besides the suffocating crowds in every public arena and the patriotic music they played a few times on the train, I can't say I witnessed much of the celebration this year, but happy 61st, nonetheless, Communist China.

Despite the expected difficulties (not "specifically expected difficulties", more like "difficulties in general" kind of difficulties) I had an extremely pleasant week and have the pictures to prove it.  We rode on bamboo boats on the beautiful Li River, biked 6 hours in the mountainous countryside, satisfied my Western food cravings (well, some of them), bargained and shopped until our bags could hold no more, and chatted with complimentary locals until I was almost fooled into thinking I'd become fluent in Chinese overnight:  The trip was a success.  All things included, though, I'd have to say the most invigorating part of my trip was the companionship granted that I miss most when I am in this Asian land.  Kara, besides being a treasured friend from college, is a Christian, an American, a girl, and unmarried-- all coming together to form the sort of rare and invaluable sort of companion that I could not have appreciated more at this time.  I am blessed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Night on the Town

Last night I decided to treat my friends, Daisy and Lucinda (their English names), to dinner at Pizza Hut, being that they had never eaten at said fine establishment-- Oh, who am I kidding? I wanted to take a break from Chinese food and eat pizza.  As we entered the restaurant, I immediately spotted a group of what could have possibly been Americans; but, sometimes it's hard to tell.  I turn to Daisy and Lucinda and point out the "Waiguoren" (foreigners).  My friends laugh and Daisy replies, "You are like a Chinese!"  Ironically, I didn't even mean it as a joke.  Without even realizing it, I had looked at people that look similar to me, and called them outsiders, inadvertently and erroneously considering myself on the inside.

I eye the wide eyed travelers for a minute; they eye me; and we all dutifully look away, replacing our looks of curiosity with indifference as good Western people do.  Daisy nudges me: "Go talk to them in English!"  I shake my head.  "Why not?"  I respond, "Oh, well, where I come from people don't usually talk to people they don't know."  Blank stare: "真的吗?/"Zhendema?!" (Truly?!)  I pause and think about it.  "Yeah, typically it's a little strange to be so friendly."  Daisy and Lucinda look back over at the strange foreigners, most likely seeming even more strange to them now.

We eat our dinner and fill our stomachs until we all declare: "我吃饱了!" (wo chi bao le: "I can't eat anymore")  And I suggest that we go across the street and hang out at 夷陵广场 (Yiling Square).  Being the day after the Mid-Autumn Festival, Yiling Square is host to even more dancers taking part in their style of choice: Traditional Chinese, Latin, and Ballroom.  Every corner of the square is occupied by a separate group with their own powerful stereo competing against the blaring music from the next group. I watch, mesmerized, as the most petite little children move in perfect unison to a Backstreet Boys Song.

 I try to follow along with a group of people doing Latin dancing, but end up causing a scene, as everyone who sees me starts to stare and laugh.  Not malicious laughter, rather, good-natured smiles and chuckles that so often are bestowed towards me in daily life in China. Still, fearing that my dancing attempts look insincere, and wishing, not for the first time, that I didn't stick out so severely, I give up.

We then cross through a large group of Ballroom Dancers clogging the center of the Square where Daisy and I assume our positions and butcher the art together as best we can, while Lucinda looks on, shaking her head at us, as she often does.  I ask Daisy how to dance correctly, and she tells me "Oh! ..我不会" or "I can't".  And so before I realize what's happening Daisy and Lucinda begin stopping dancing couples and requesting that they teach their American friend how to dance.  The first couples shake their heads in modesty and embarrassment, insisting they don't dance well, and I continue to insist to Lucinda and Daisy that it doesn't matter, until a lady much shorter than myself marches up from nowhere, takes my hands in hers, and with surprising force pulls me into step with her.  With a strained smile plastered on my face, I clumsily try to keep in step and turn and twirl in time while keeping my head up.  After several long minutes, however, I begin to feel the rhythm and catch on to her routine. Suddenly, her look of determination turns to complete joy as I begin catching on, and I can no longer force myself to wipe the smile from my face.  Meanwhile, Daisy and Lucinda continue to laugh hysterically and take pictures with their cell phones.

Soon after thanking my gracious dance teacher, and waving to the many curious observers, we realize the time and and scurry off, managing to cram into the last bus headed back to the university for the night.