Tuesday, December 16, 2008

if i just listen, maybe i'll understand more.

sometimes do you just become overwhelmed with all the things there are to do in the world? this is something i have been thinking about lately- i have this deep fear in me that somehow i will miss out on something important, and i think that dictates how i live my life, and gives it this almost frenzied quality, like i'm constantly whiplashing trying to check things out. i am working more and more on being completely satisfied and content- excited even- with what is in my life right now. i keep being reminded of how amazing my life is. 
i have been speaking more chinese lately- it isn't coming easy, but i am having more conversations, and i feel like i'm pushing myself more. rather than just sitting in the taxi, i try talking to the driver the whole time. at the internet store, i ask questions (and somehow i won 20 RMB in the lottery!), and i try out my hand at teasing my doormen(i'm not sure if they laughed because i was funny, or because i seemed crazy). 
the past few weeks:
Part one: corban. 
about a week or so ago, the muslim community celebrated corban- which is a traditional remembrance of god providing a sacrifice for abraham because of abraham's faith and trust. here, they celebrate this by praying at the mosque and then going home with sheep to sacrifice. i slept in a bit too late to see the praying at the mosque (picture thousands and thousands of white hats moving in unison), but i woke up in time to spend the whole afternoon watching the sheep process. and i even made some friends!
 they had the fattest sheep 
  after spending about an hour outside of the mosque watching people haggle over sheep, weigh them, tie them up, and so on, i kind of wanted to see how they took care of the rest of the business. 
so i bided my time, waiting for the perfect moment to swoop in and discover the mysteries of at-home animal sacrifice. 
 super kind old man
i helped this man and his grandson pull their three sheep home from the fat sheep truck. they were supremely stubborn sheep- i guess i would be, too, if i were about to die. luckily, their stubbornness gave me a way to get into the party by seeming helpful, instead of nosey. also, his grandson spoke pretty good english, and was impressed that i knew about the holiday's meaning.
leading the sheep 
 it's kind of fun, leading sheep around. all of the boys were smiling, and the sheep were lively and moving. heading away from the mosque there were tons of guys with sheep, and trails of little sheep droppings. 
calm the sheep down and smile.
  this old guy was totally cool. at one point, his sheep carcass fell off a tree, and i caught it by the leg tendon. i don't know which was more unclean- me, a non muslim, touching the sheep, or the sheep's body falling into the dirt. either way, he seemed thankful.   
 i was really impressed that everyone was okay with me walking around and taking photos. i probably saw like 40 sheep get slaughtered that day, so i'm really familiar with the process now. 
this is how it goes: 
this butcher owned the place. 
a. pull the sheep home.
b. tie the sheep to a tree. 
c. the sheep will lay down (at this point, i think the sheep is in shock, because it has been led past a ton of it's comrades who have been killed) near the tree. 
d. put a cloth over the sheep's eyes. 
e. have the imam pray over the sheep.
f. slit the throat, and hold the head back while it bleeds out. (slip the imam some cash).
g. have the butcher come over, remove the skin, hang the sheep in a tree and remove the guts. 
h. clean out all the intestines with hot water, hack apart the animal, and share it with your friends and family. 
the cool thing is that they definitely use all of the animal in this tradition. i got invited to this man's house, and i ate intestines, liver and heart of sheep. i think. they were really kind and hospitable, and, as my friend told me "when you come into a muslim's house, don't plan on doing much beyond eating".
part two: chinglish.
this is the menu at my new favorite korean restaurant. beyond being amazingly cozy and providing delicious food, i can never stop searching the menu, laughing and dancing at the translations. really. 
my favorite? south korea is grim. i also like firing and employee.
part three: open mic night
this is my project. i miss open mic nights (namely poetry night) in america, so my friends let me use their coffee shop to have one here. at the first open mic night, a boy came and street danced. AWESOME!
this is carrianne. the green house is her coffee shop. she is fantastic. 
so far, we are having open mic nights once a month, on tuesdays. the first two have been really quite fun. 
part four: christmas party food decorations
if i could take a cooking class, i would learn how to do this. 
 to conclude, i have been quite busy. i have been having a grand time. i have been making new friends. today was my last day of teaching for a few weeks, and tomorrow i am getting on the train to go on vacation in south china. i am hoping for warm weather on the beach and delicious seafood, preceded by a fantastic cocoon of a train ride. you will hear from me in a few weeks. 
i hope you all had a marvelous christmas and that your new year will shape up in a fancy fun way. i love you. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

sick day storytime

i woke up this morning feeling awful.  i don't know what it is about rushing from the bed to the bathroom every few minutes to empty various parts of my body that makes me feel like a seven year old child, but all i want is my mother. i am simultaneously thankful that my roommate is on a trip right now, because it means that i can be thoroughly and disgustingly sick without feeling self conscious or apologetic about the whole ordeal. i still miss my mom. 
now, though, i am experiencing a reprieve from the nausea and it is time to tell a story. one thing that i often miss while living in china is listening to the stories of the people around me. this is part of what pushes me to learn chinese, though i am growing more and more aware of how difficult real fluency will be, and it will certainly not be attained in just one year. but now that i am meeting more and more english speaking people, i am being given the opportunity to hear more and more stories. these stories are so different from ones that i know, and sometimes it takes me weeks to wrap my head around them- some things are so different from anything i have ever been used to- and i'd like to hope that these stories change me a little.  this is one i have been thinking about for a month or so:
i was talking with a girl the other day. she is my age, a university student, from a family of three children. she is intelligent, asks questions uncommon to china, can argue, and wants to travel. her english is admirable- she has been learning for two years and we can carry conversations that avoid weather, favorite foods, and the hobbies we often partake in.  
and so we are talking, and i ask of her family, does she have siblings, where is her hometown, does she (like so many others) want to return there? and she responds: two siblings, her parents live in a large city in a different province, and she wants to travel.  
how do you have two siblings? i ask. 
in a place where the one child policy has been dictating birth and family planning for almost thirty years, it is unusual to meet people my age with families of more than two children. there are a few exceptions- from what i can tell, urban ethnic minorities are allowed two children, while their rural counterparts are at times able to have three or four. the han chinese (the people group that accounts for about 92% of the population) are given stricter guidelines: rural families are allowed two children on a case by case basis, and urban couples are allowed one child. if another child happens, the family is punished with a fine, and they have to pay for the extra child's schooling. if the first child a couple has is a girl or is disabled in some way, they are able to petition for the right to have another child (hopefully a boy). if they are allowed another child, they usually have to space it out by 5 years. and that is it. there are exceptions made for twins (twin boys are especially lucky), and the actual execution of these rules varies by province and officials, but this is pretty much what i understand about the one child policy. 
so, you can imagine my surprise when i heard this han girl telling me she was from a city and had two other siblings. she went on to tell me her story. her father is the only man in their entire family- she has a few aunts, and none of them had male children. according to the family,  it was now up to her father (and mother) to produce a male heir and thus continue the family line. or something like that. i still can't quite grasp the full import of being totally responsible and accountable to the family.  or the seriousness of the need to have a boy.  in this family, the first child was a girl. not good. her parents were ready to try again, so they (and the rest of the family, i guess) petitioned the government to allow them to have a second child-to try for a son. the officials said 'have at it, in five years' and they did. five years later, the mom was pregnant with a baby boy, but seven months in, she miscarried. and the family was devastated, especially grandma. at the pressing of the family, they tried again, and a year or so later, my friend was born. grandma had the foresight to have her daughter-in-law give birth quietly at home, so there was a small conference as to what to do with this second girl baby.  there was no way the government would let them try for a third child, but there was also no way that grandma was going to not have a male heir. so they hid her. they did not kill her, but they sent my baby friend to the countryside to live with another grandmother, and then they told everyone the baby had died at birth. 
about a year later, they had another baby. at long last, they had a boy, and everyone was very happy. even my friend is very proud about her brother. there was a little prince to carry on the family after her father's death. my friend stayed in the country, was raised by her grandma, and saw her family once ever year or so. as long as she can remember, she has understood the importance of her brother, and she accepted that she had to be hidden from the government officials. until she was fifteen or so, she hid among the other children in her grandmother's village, and she knew that everyone else in her family (besides her parents and siblings) thought she was dead.  around this time,  in order to give her a better education, her parents confessed. i don't really get the details of this part, or why they waited so long, or if they intended to confess... but they did. and they paid an enormous fine, and her mother went to jail for a few weeks, and now she is in college and her sister is in college, and her brother is in college but prefers gambling and alcohol to learning.  
the most impressive part of this to me is that she is not bitter or angry or hurt. not at all. she loves her family, loves her brother and her grandmother. this is what they had to do. perhaps she is even a bit thankful for not being completely abandoned or even killed. these things happen here, too.  i do not know if this is the formative story of her identity, or if this is the part of her story she tells to foreigners because she knows it shocks them. there are so many things that i do not know about her, but this story she told me keeps me thinking about how similar we are, and how differently we have lived. 
other news is this: somehow the internet is magic and i am able to have a washington based internet telephone number. skype, for a small (extremely small) fee, has now given me a phone number and a voicemail and also free calling to the united states. what this means for me is that i can call people without spending 2 cents a minute, but what this means for you is that you can call me just as if you were calling me when i was living in washington. for the same amount of money, which is maybe free if you have a good plan. if i am on my computer, i will answer. if i am not on my computer, it will go to my voicemail, where you can leave me a message filled with love and kindnesses. or a poem or a song. and then i can call you back.  so, if you are simply dying to call me every day and leave me loving messages, my number is (360)746-2780. it is always nice to hear from friends. especially around the holidays (hint). and i will try to reciprocate. i love how magical the internet is sometimes.  

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

four shower november is OVER!

this will surprise my mother, but i took 3 showers in the month of november. 
yes. sometimes it was disgusting. 

Friday, November 14, 2008


since i arrived in china, i have been doing two things consistently:
• not capitalizing (unless something is of the upmost importance)
• making lists
these are life shaping lists, experience lists, lists that i will look back on when i am old and say "ahh, i accomplished that", or "now i must do this before i can die", or maybe even "i am glad i never got around to doing that: what a foolish girl i was". it is a cathartic habit.
one of the lists i have been continually revising is entitled:
items cover a broad spectrum: get a tattoo, eat fermented duck eggs, eat pig feet, walk barefoot in the street, hock a loogie in a restaurant, ride in the hard seat section of the train, go to the hospital (again), etcetera, etcetera.  
just so you are aware that i am not a huge lame-o who does not want to experience culture, you should know that there is a much longer list of things that i do want to do while i am in china.  
anyway, since the last time i was in the blessed middle kingdom, i have been appalled by the practice of eating chicken feet. thoroughly disgusted. i admire the determination to not waste any part of the animal's body, but ever since a woman tried to sneak a chicken foot into my instant noodles* on the train from lhasa two years ago, i have had, at the top of my T.I.D.N.E.W.T.D.I.C. list:
and also, at the top of my list of things to do in china:
avoid chicken feet.
i have had people say "amy, it is a cultural thing, you have to try it. blah blah blah."   to this i say: THEY WALK AROUND IN POOP THEIR WHOLE LIVES! 
i, for one, am not in the habit of eating poop. no thank you. 
chinese people explain it like this: 
"we eat the chicken feet because we do not enjoy the large pieces of meat. the chinese prefer the smaller, more delicate portions of the chicken, and of the other animals also- pig feet, chicken wings, chicken leg, intestines, pig nose. we can not eat portions as large as the breast of the chicken, it is just too much."
today at work we were talking about finding turkeys for thanksgiving. my boss, a chinese businessman, asked me 
"do you eat the turkey feet?"
after confirming that we do not, in fact, eat the turkey feet, he continued; "what a waste! you could make much money from the turkey feet. they would be quite delicious! what do you do with them, just cut them off and throw them away?"
i don't really know what we do with all the thanksgiving turkey's feet. i told him that maybe they grind them up and make them into strange canned meat, or perhaps use them for some sort of animal food or fertilizer. i do not know. but, i do know that i do not want to eat them, or even have my friends eat them. 
once, on that same train from lhasa, i watched a couple munch chicken feet for hours and hours. it is a stomach turning process, if you think about it too much. the feet are cold, often pickled, and are fleshy little buggers. and this is the most terrible part: the nails are still attached! here is an example:
look closely, and you will notice the little claws that scratch around in the poopy dirt all the time. mmmm. 
in order to eat these delicate appendages, one must gnaw. a lot. which brings me to my recent experience. 
one of my students, a fantastic 14 year old girl named katie, invited me to her house for dinner with her family. i met up with her, and arrived at her family's apartment** to find that her grandparents and aunt had all shown up for the occasion, which is awesome- i was really excited to be around older chinese people, because most of my time is spent with the younger generations. while the adults were playing ma zhong, katie showed me her sims family, and then we sat down to eat. 
lo and behold, there on the table, amongst plates and plates (probably 15) of tasty looking food, there were the chicken feet! i thought to myself i'll just avoid that, there is so much food, there's no way they'll notice if i don't take some of the chicken feet. and i'll avoid those other dishes that look like they are only skin. okay. dig in. what do you know, but her dad, after pouring me a glass full of baijiu***, plopped a chicken foot and some pig skin down on my plate. i couldn't avoid it. there were three generations of expectant faces watching me. to avoid looking completely ridiculous trying to navigate my way around a fleshy claw, i played dumb.
 "ummm... this is my first time with one of these... how exactly do i eat it?" 
first, katie said that i didn't need to use chopsticks, and then came the fateful words: "now put this part, is it the nail, into your mouth, and bite it off. then put it out onto your place." so i did. and then i found my way into the next joint, and bit it off and gnawed and gnawed until i had pried some of the cold skin loose, then i removed the bone from my mouth and put it in my bone dish and continued on to the next joint. and then i ate cold pig's skin. all to be polite. i now have hella guanxi(good relations) with that family****. 
so, was it that bad? i think i will borrow my friend joel's description: it is like biting into a pencil covered in rubber-bands. and you are trying to EAT the rubber-bands! and they are cold, and a little wet, and they do not have much give. and the whole time you're eating it you're thinking this has been walking around in poop for it's entire existence. not pleasant. 
overall, i am rather proud of myself for eating the chicken foot and the pig skin (and also skin gelatin and intestine) for the sake of good manners, but i am not about to try to do it again, unless i absolutely have to. you can be proud of me, too!
the fresh product:
notice the nails. 
*just a little thing about instant noodles: in chinese they are called fangbianmian which directly translates to "convenient noodles". it is one of my favorite words to say. 
**another note: katie's family is loaded. i knew this because they have a stuffed eagle with it's wings outstretched mounted on a rock in their living room. awesome. also it is positioned under an enormous set of deer antlers.  
***say it: "buyjo". it is like the most intense grain alcohol ever. well, that i have tried. it tastes like what i imagine kerosene or rubbing alcohol would taste like.  he said white wine, and i said yes. i sipped the thing all night and never finished. 
****later in the meal, katie's Grandpa had a stroke or something, i'm not really sure. now he is in a larger city's hospital because they found a brain tumor. it was very intense, and i honestly thought he was going to die. thankfully he did not, but please keep him and his family in your thoughts. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

well then, what do you like?

i like when things get better. 
recently, i have been having a pity party.  it's been going on for a while, and ultimately ended with a giant three day festival called "amy can't quite bring herself to get out of bed", at which point i realized that i was being ridiculous. sure, i'm a bit homesick: culture shock is setting in.  yes, the weather is changing, and teaching english is a little challenging... oh, and chinese is not the easiest thing in the world. but really, i need to put things into perspective. or at least start looking on the bright side of things. 
so. the pity party is over. now begins the "buck up amy g, you have a fantastic life and people love you and you are trying new things and your country elected a new president who seems to have a heart and also immaculate articulation" party. okay. on wednesday (because of the time change) i sat in my bed (this was during the pity party) and watched obama's speech probably 8 times (not all the way through- i was just waiting for it to load) and cried. i was in a fragile state already, but i am a sucker for hope and passion. and elocution. i am excited/hopeful. but, as a woman (so rudely) pointed out to me in a coffee shop the other day "not EVERYONE is excited", so i am staying more quietly glad, and hoping that mr.obama will do things that will earn the respect of his detractors. 
some of you may be wondering something like "amy, you're away from everything you've ever known, including: your family, your best friends, the ocean, normal bread, convenient dairy free options, and stores that stock your size of shoes. how on earth are you not having a pity party all the time??"
let me show you:
reason i am not having a pity party #1.
 the food is too good (and cheap) to be sad for too long.
these 面条  (noodles) are handmade to order. 
this is a piece of sheep stomach. and also some lotus. i ate both of them at...
i love hot pot. i am now the proud holder of a v.i.p. card for the hot pot restaurant 2 minutes from my front door! 
reason 2. the plant market.
i can go here whenever i feel sad, and walk around in the enormous greenhouse. and buy things.
my friends joel and jesse help me transport my bounty. 
3. fall colors happen in china, too!
my weekly scrabble challenger lives down this little alley. there are apple orchards on the other side of the trees. i like to walk here. 
we went on a camping trip here, and while the experience was laughable at best, 
the trees were changing, and that was cathartic in itself. 
number 4. children. 
this it the sports school near my house. these children start at seven am. i like to watch them play soccer and basketball, and yell things like "foul" "traveling" and "nice pass". 
i met these boys in the alley behind my favorite market. they buy these crawdad creatures from the seafood vendors, then they race the animals. 
this girl was on vacation. i was going swimming, she was a twirling fairy. 
5. glamour shots.
reason 6.  beer testing.
we were walking past the beer aisle one day... and decided to try them all. 
pabst: highest alcohol content of all contenders.
the contenders:
chill (carslberg)
pineapple beer
ginger beer
lychee beer
pabst knockoff
harbin wheat
another ginger beer
the winner: ginger beer. but we hear lhasa beer is good, so we're holding our breath and hoping. 
7. nice people who help me.
this is my roommate. her name is Tseba. she is an ultra smart girl: besides her heart language, tibetan, she also knows english, and chinese. she is a translator. also i am becoming a cleaner person, because she likes clean space. 
this is my chinese teacher, Sheila.  she also has a lot of languages: chinese, qinghai dialect, english and korean. she is a teacher at my school, and she is ULTRA patient. 
reason 8. you know... chinese things.
hey halal festival!
this baby goat thing loved me. it wouldn't come to it's mother's bleating, and i think i should have taken it home. see how much it trusts me. 
these are polite chinese fingers. it is what classy chinese ladies do to get the men, and the respect. i do not have delicate fingers, so it is a tough thing for me to get the feel for. 
 9. it is getting too cold for this sort of thing.
which gives me a reason to dress cozy cozy. 
now i have a new jacket, and i am working on my "keep the heat in" outfit. last year it was
  -50ºC. yikes. 
so. the pity party is over for now. here's hoping it doesn't try to repeat itself anytime soon. tomorrow i am going to dinner at a middle school girl's house- i met her at an english corner that i help out at. we just got done texting, and i'm hoping that my "i like to try new things: surprise me" response to her query about what i'd like to eat was not a mistake. her grandparents and parents will be there- i need to not lose face. she is ultra adorable too- she just texted me:
AMY~i hope we
can have a good time
tomorrow right?
and i am so excited
just can't go to sleep. 
i know. so sweet, so honest, so direct. it is lovely. 
wish me luck. love you. 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

amy teaches chinese children the importance of safe sex

don't be nervous, just ask.
and always always always keep a rubber on hand. 
thank you, new cambridge english. now, i will never forget the sound of 50 9 year olds reciting this to me. 

Monday, October 20, 2008


this week, i was responsible for teaching about one hundred and twenty children about body parts. it pretty much resulted in the most fun saturday and sunday i have ever spent teaching. on saturday we played the hokey pokey for hours, and i took them all outside into the courtyard in the front of our school building and we made a huge huge hokey pokey circle. on sunday, we drew MONSTERS! then talked about their body parts
i think my favorite thing about these past few days of teaching is that it was so encouraging.  sometimes i get really nervous about the kids not having much imagination because so often they are taught like robots, and praised exclusively for being able to regurgitate information. i shouldn't have worried, because they LOVED dancing outside and singing the hokey pokey (maybe because i was pretty much making a huge fool of myself in front of a bunch of adults, maybe because the hokey pokey is awesome), and their MONSTERS! are incredibly individual. i was rather expecting them to copy the basic boring monster that was in the book, and i think only one or two kids did. 
this week is my teacher observation, where i will prepare a lesson and teach it to all of my coworkers- both the foreign and chinese teachers- and then they will critique me. i'm a little nervous, because i am not really confident in my ability to teach a cohesive and interesting lesson.  after watching one of the veterans last week ( a man named jim who has an incredible amount of wisdom) i have become even more aware of my lack of things that take age and experience to accumulate. 
i have been responding to my lack of experience by being slower, not rushing, and not letting myself feel harried by my students. i am trying to change the way i present myself, and i think that my past attitude has been one of "you're going to learn english OR ELSE!" and now i think i want it to be one of  "hey, i want YOU to learn english if you want you to learn english". i am working on letting kids have a bit of leeway when they are goofing off, and having them adapt to more of a team mentality. this is the first time in my life maybe that i have felt like i need to become more consistent and reliable in my attitude and treatment of situations in order to be fair to people around me, especially my students. 
i think this past weekend they really did well with my change in attitude. we were able to do fun learning things, then calm down incredibly quickly and get back to  less fun, but necessary stuff.  i am getting more and more hopeful about these kids and my ability to teach them, i really hope that the observation this week does not shatter me.