04 July 2011

You're a grand old flag!

Happy Birthday, America! Or, as I like to say these days "Meiguo duliri kuaile!"

Something like that.

Want to know what The Fourth of July is like in China?

It's just like the third of July, or the second of September, or even the twelfth of May. Except, today I wore my Boston t-shirt while I made a big pot of chili in lieu of a BBQ, and a Mark Bittman watermelon salad so we could pretend we were also attending a potluck get-together in someone's backyard.

By the way, the watermelons in Beijing are the tastiest I've ever had. For 15-25 kuai each, I gobble up at least one per week.

So, get out there today and celebrate all the outdoor festivities you can muster up. Have a hotdog and Sam Adams Summer Seasonal for me. Watch some fireworks and snuggle up on a blanket under the stars. Don't forget to wear your red, white and blue and some sunscreen. Now, it's time for us to make patriotic plaid look good:

17 June 2011

door number two

OOOOmmmm. I'm sitting here allowing an Origins active charcoal cleansing mask to stiffen my face into a state void of emotion. Have you ever tried smiling or crying with this stuff on? It's been two days since we made our decision to stay or to go, but in the meantime, I tried to distract you with my other musings. Now, I'm trying to distract myself from the swell of emotions that come from having to leave this kick ass place.

For example: I burst into tears at the beginning of yesterday's Mandarin lesson. That was classy. There I am, stumbling in another language through my, my, my sniffles and my, my, my sobs trying to explain that we have to leave soon, and why I am so upset because I didn't really prepare myself for that reality.  I try to express how much I am going to miss my teacher, my students, the cheap Popsicles sold at every street corner magazine stand, amongst other things, when the classroom turns into a frenzy of sadness and spattering. My teacher starts to tear up because I can't seem to pull myself together, and then my new Spanish classmate starts to cough uncontrollably, choking on the remnants of his last cigarette.  Three grown people running amok in the first ten minutes of the day's lesson. I was appalled by my own behavior - I forgot to chant the mantra "there is no reason to cry, so I will not cry!" At least my laoshi  turned the moment into a lesson. We learned how to say, "Are you OK?" and reviewed the ever popular phrase, "I do not know when I will return to Beijing, but perhaps we can Skype!?" A-ya - Chinese for  ehh, ugh, err. Composure is not my strong suit these days.

What I should have expressed to my teacher and fellow adult classmate, in a manner indicative of someone who's in control of her emotions, was that Z was offered a graduate student teaching position back in Boston, so...Responsibility won us a spot back in the states sooner than Adventure wants us to be there. We've yet to set a specific date for our return home, but we know that school starts the first week of September, and that means we have to leave enough time for putting our lives back together in the US. The thought of squashing everything into our four suitcases leaves me ill. How is it all going to fit?! We'll try to slow-ship some of our clothing and books as soon as possible, but the cost and the weight seem to add up so quickly. Tip for US expats on a budget: (a) don't purchase anything while you are traveling and living abroad or, more realistically, (b) don't fill your suitcases to the brim with stuff from the US before you get to your new overseas home. I've just got to get this Buddha back to Boston, dammit!

The rest of yesterday's lesson moved from weepy bouts of breathlessness to learning how to ask a fish monger to cut up a fresh catch, and from sayings like, "At first, I thought Sichuan food was too spicy," to "that beggar thinks you are very silly." If I wasn't still so frazzled yesterday morning, I might have inquired further as to why Beijing's community of poor and homeless is judging me these days. It's a big move, people!

Alright, time to mantra it up, and rinse away the grime. I'm hoping Origins will do the trick for now-literally and figuratively, of course.
promises I'll "breath a sigh of relief" after use

16 June 2011

pride vs ability

Is it still called "skiing" when the mountain snow is covered by a sheath of ice? Nevertheless, I can't let this one get by, even though it's a sticky, sweaty, exhausting almost-summer day in Beijing.

Skiing is becoming an increasingly popular sport for the Chinese. In and around Beijing, there are a handful of (read: five, maybe) ski "resorts" for snow-sport lovers. Z and I don't necessarily fit into the "snow-sport lover" category, but when you've been offered an all-expensive paid trip to Beijing's Wanlong Ski Resort, there's little reason to say, "no thanks" to it. Way back in February my name was drawn as the grand prize winner of Travel-Stone's  weekend getaway. So, before all the snow melted, Z and I embarked on our first skiing lessons together to Heibei province, four hours from Beijing, in the middle of March. The prize included the hotel, transportation to and from, ski rentals and lift tickets. And to think, I was just minding my own business picking out red wine in the supermarket, when I was asked to drop my name in the hat. Thanks, Travel-Stone!

Do you ski? Do you have any idea what it's like to learn how to ski in another language? It's not that your body acts differently altogether, but it's that it takes a bit longer for your brain to process what your body is supposed to be doing.  It goes something like this:

A - "Damn! Why didn't I look up the word for ski in the dictionary before we left!?"
Instructor - talks for a good three minutes, gesturing his arms this way, while his legs move that way.
Z - "Yeah, he's just saying to follow him. Look at what he's doing."
A - "Well, I got as much. I know he's saying the words body, left, right, and something about slowing down."
After a two hour lesson, which we desperately needed, Z and I were told we were ready to graduate from the bunny slopes - the easy-breezy, fun-loving, perfectly acceptable, there's no shame in staying on the bunny slopes if you ask me - to the blue square trails, or "intermediate" trails.

Since I am being totally honest with you here, I'll tell you how this all went down.

Z and I boarded the ski lift, and for five pleasant moments we traveled up, up, up. The sun was shining, and from our point of view the snow looked fluffy, even welcoming. Just as we were about to get off the lift, Z shared a little story with me about how his parents went skiing once and fell off the ski lift together. Ha. Ha. That's all it took to psyche me out, and within seconds, there I was flat out on my butt, while Z watched from the standing position a few feet away. While I was laughing at myself, I was simultaneously being dragged away (literally, dragged) by the lift operated. I'm certain he was swearing at me, and found no humor in my stumble as the next skier approached us at ferocious ski-lift speed.

Now, I understand that the whole point to learning how to ski involves falling down and getting back up.
Fall down. Get back up. Falling down is easy. Getting back up while you search for your sunglasses and your left ski is not so easy. 

We reached the top of the blue square trail, and off I went, at an unnerving speed. I had it! Total control of my body until, seconds later, I realized how fast I was moving, and then I lost all sense of my own body's movements. As I whizzed passed Z, he later told me "She's got it! She's really good at this. Wow!" And then, out of his sight, and finding no other way to stop myself, I threw myself to the icy patch of mountainside, feeling totally out of control of my limbs and senses. As I tried to lift my bruised body off the ground, searching for my recently snapped-off skis, I wondered what was taking so long for the ski instructor and Z to come rescue me! Then I realized Z had taken his own tumble, at the same unpredictable ice-induced speed. 

The rest of the mountain seemed impossible to me. Tumble after tumble, I slowly made my way back down to the security and innocence of the bunny slope - mere memories at that point.

How do you say "I'll just go down the hill on my butt!"?

After what seemed like a missed opportunity to snuggle up inside the ski lodge with a cup of hot cocoa, I eventually made my way down to a safer, less-inclined position. Z went back up the Mountain of Fear and Shame to prove something to himself that I was all to comfortable accepting: skiing is not my cup of tea. The mountains, the green blue skies, the nature outside of Beijing, and the hotel's heated floors and over-king-sized bed  - yes, that is for me. But skiing, it was nice to meet you.

oh, the safety and security of the bunny slope

15 June 2011


At the prompting of a very special person, I've joined yet another source of social media.

I've tweeted my first 
This morning's haiku

check it

My high school students rock! Three of the five students I have been working with since early November were selected to interview for an opportunity to attend a United World College - a two-year, pre-university school made up of an international student body, that teaches the International Baccalaureate Diploma...in other words, this chance to attend a UWC inevitably will lead to the student applying to and being accepted by an American or European four-year college. For a group of students who have never been outside of China, this means that one of them will be changed forever. Literally. Her world view will expand far beyond the struggles that she faces as a child of migrant workers, and she will continue to work toward directing her own future. One of the students wants to teach Chinese as a foreign language, another wants to be a television host traveling around the world to raise awareness of social issues and charity, and the third student wishes to change the world through politics and economic reform. I've no doubt that each one of them will accomplish her goals. With only eight days notice, and eight straight, 12-hour days of mock interviews, soul-searching and critical thinking they all did phenomenally well. I think the UWC committee was impressed by their thoughtfulness and by their English speaking skills. The process was exhausting for all of us, but I am so proud of the way they expressed themselves. I am thankful I do not have to make the choice about who will attend the UWC, as we anxiously await the final decision.  

Image that you have fewer than eight days to apply for college, by completing a series of essay questions and preparing for an interview in front of an international committee of educators and administrators. Force yourself to do some major meditative self-reflection to answer the questions "why do you belong?" and "what can you contribute?" Now imagine doing all of that in another language. I know. Try not to feel so bad about yourself now. There's no point in measuring yourself against these kids. They'll win every time.

a visit from my Mom in April! The students are wearing shirts from Mom's Mount Olive Middle School.
On the chalk board - the lesson on "What's Your Slogan?"

14 June 2011

back by popular demand

D-Day approaches, my friends. You might be thinking I've gotten my historical dates mixed up, and missed my mark by a week, but this D-Day is personal.  Decision Day tomorrow. Time to get your game faces on. The Future is just beyond the horizon, and Z and I have to make some tough choices about our time in Beijing. First, let's examine how we've gotten to this point. After all, I've kept you out of the loop for so long!

It's during the times of chaos and activity and happenings that I should be writing. I should have been telling you all along about our many visitors, my kick-ass English classes with my high school students, my private tutoring, my nonplussed reaction toward Beijingers non-reaction to Osama's death. Hell, I've even gotten my hair cut again since I last wrote, and let me tell you, it was another memorable experience. But instead, I retreated. I tried to avoid the inevitable by claiming writer's block, or a busy schedule, or sheer exhaustion at the thought of having to write at the end of my sixth visit to the Great Wall. But as my students say, "It's all pomp!" (still, by the way, I'm not exactly certain what the interpretation of this saying is...), and time marches on. I'm not going to fizzle out. There's more you may endure from this chatterbox.

So, what exactly have I been doing during the month of my hiatus? Here's what I've spared you up until now:
1) Revisiting the fact that time and again all this "free time" on my hands is simultaneously frightening and liberating. Living in Beijing has taught me that I am a person who is (a) more capable of accomplishing things I never thought I would, but also (b) pretty damn lazy when I want to be, too.
2) Rediscovering that saying goodbye to friends and family never, ever, ever gets easier. Cue downward spiral into horrible homesickness which then leads to questions about...
3) What am I doing with my life!? What am I going to do with the Chinese that I've learned? What kind of job can I get when we return home...which then leads to...
4) When are we going back the US?? How can we unpack all that stuff in storage? Maybe I should just give it all away? I don't feel ready to leave China...
5) But sometimes these decisions are made for us. Especially when mula, cash, dough, kuai, money is involved. Z and I have had to ponder the fact that the grant we have been waiting to hear about for additional funding was (suddenly?) CANCELLED by the US Department of Education. Congress has allocated zero funding for international educational exchange for doctoral candidates for the 2011-2012 fiscal year under the Fulbright-Hays program. Notice came by way of email. A short, bureaucratic, non-apologetic, don't blame us, blame others kind of email. I accept the fact that we are lucky to be here are here because Z worked really hard to get us here. We shouldn't look our noses up at the lost opportunity but be thankful for the opportunity we have already been granted. words, words, words. We're still disappointed.

Do you see how quickly and naturally I progressed into this state of anxiety?

After nine months in Beijing I felt I had settled into Comfortable Me, and forgotten briefly what it's like to be Working Full-time Me, or Searching for Another Apartment Me, or  Having to Pay the Cable Bills Me ("cable TV" is $15/year here and I've learned to live without the onslaught of 24 hour news and entertainment). I've known all along that life in Beijing was not going to be permanent, but man, does it have to end so soon?!  Before long, will I return to the country where the college students' gut reaction to the death of the world's most sought after terrorist is to chant "USA! USA!" in roving groups? Do you have any idea how to explain this kind of behavior to a Beijing taxi driver? I'm still searching for the right way to express the phrase "morally troublesome" in Mandarin.

decisions, decisions...
So, we've given ourselves this deadline of June 15 to come up with a decision, because student visas don't last forever in the land of dumplings and Mao memorabilia. Find a job in Beijing that could keep us here for another six months, or return to the US and start our Boston life together? If it's the latter, then I am going to have to start a list of things I am looking forward to doing back in the States. If it's the former, then I better get myself to that Confucius Temple I've been meaning to check out right quick. T-minus six hours until tomorrow. Maybe we'll give ourselves until June 15, eastern standard time.

can Boston make us this happy, again?!

04 May 2011

an "I miss you" haiku

Things I miss today:
dishwasher, clothing dryer
and Michaels (Craft) Stores