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.