December 20, 2010
I am munching on a banana and sipping some coffee as I write. I often find myself like this, sitting in bed, reviewing the lesson for the day. The sun comes up at something like 6:30 here, even in the dead of winter. China is all on one time zone, so the daylight starts and ends early in Zhengzhou. Chad and I had the appartment to ourselves for most of the weekend; Tricia and Russ went on a trip to Xi’an, so we played World of Warcraft a ton. That is the video game that I am hooked on. The game is so cool. Chad got off work early on Friday, and we had a solid two days to cook good food and relax before he had to catch a plane to Hong Kong early Sunday evening. When he was preparing for the trip, we found out how cool Hong Kong is, and told ourselves that we would take a trip there soon together.
Its also really cold here in the dead of winter. We do not have heaters for the common area of the house, but just heaters in our rooms. Add to that the fact that we essentially live in cement box, with no insulation and only plaster on the walls between you and the cinderblocks, and you can see how the living room doesn’t get a lot of use lately. My room is toasty most of the time, but so dry. And in the morning, we have to warm up the bathroom with the heat lamps before we take a shower, or the floor is too cold for our feet. Thank goodness for those heat lamps, or we would be facing a rather smelly winter with no showers for fear of freezing.
I really like days like this. Waking up early, stuffing my head under a pillow, snoozing, coffee, and planning. I wish every day started at 10:40.
December 14, 2010
I have started to drink caffeine. And it makes me a better person. If I have a cup o something in the morning, be it tea, coffee, or cola, I am a better teacher. I also get a lot more done in a day. The difference is astounding, actually. And this development cant have come at a better time.
This week, Tricia was a badass and planned the rest of our semester — lesson plans, tests, everything. She read all of the criteria for our tests, decided what day would be best, and considered all angles. She is a goddess.
In doing all this, though, we found out that it is crunch time. She has a visitor coming soon, and Chad is looking at heading to Hong Kong to figure out renewing his visa this weekend. This means that with travel and other things, time is tight. On top of all that, we have to administer and grade 7 more tests before the end of the semester in late January. So we have roughly six weeks to hammer all that out.
This also means that we have to make every moment of class time count. Today, I gave my students a crash course in essay writing. Because I forgot to drink a cup of tea this morning, I was a little unclear. But also, they still have such a hard time understanding my English when I cant act out a situation. I tried my best, but I still had to explain things several times.
And now, I have had a cup of coffee. Mom sent me a Christmas package, and told me not to open it until the proper time. Well, I was hurting for my vitamins and a little absent minded when I got it, and opened it anyway [sorry mom]. Boy, was I glad; she sent Starbucks instant coffee. I never liked that stuff in the states, but here it is like gold. She sent long-johns, some requested office supplies, and delicious candy. I wore the long-johns today, and had a cup of Rooibos tea to get me through our office meeting last night. It was really rather fun, too, because she packed everything carefully, and it was all swimming in packing peanuts. I found every last kit-kat, and stacked them up tall. She even thew in some Twix bars.
So this afternoon, I have had my coffee. 45 minutes later, and I have also cleaned my room, the kitchen, and arranged to have jugs of drinking water delivered to our house. I called the place and spoke in Chinese. I had my first successful telephone conversation in Chinese. I feel like a badass, too; a revved up, and caffeinated badass. And now, I have to grade some vocabulary notebooks.
December 10, 2010
I have been taking pictures, too. I got an iPod from my parents for my birthday and I have been taking pictures with it. Here are some good ones. The first one is of Tricia. She looks real good here.
Next, is Chad. He was moving, and it was nighttime, so he looks like a smudge.
If you look to your below, you will find an example of the crazy things that you see in China. This girl was wearing slippers. Not that wearing slippers is bad or gross or anything, but the ground here is nasty. And these slippers dont appear to be non-absorbant. Oh, and also this is our favorite smoothy place. Well, actually it is the only one close to us, but it is good. They have mango and strawberry, and blueberry in the summer. And they can make me one without milk 😀
This one, below, is another example of something most of you might find as funny as I did. Yes, that is Mickey. I hear that Disney is big here…
After that comes some Chinglish. This time, on shirts. This is next door to our smoothy place, in the night market.
And now, a note about my city. I know that some people who read this blog might be looking to come to china. I also know that I forgot to consider what this city would really feel like. It is a manufacturing city, and it is polluted. You can see below.
On the other hand, China is really awesome sometimes. I also forgot to consider walking by little plots of land that would be vacant if it werent for some savvy retirees who continue to make cash and food for their families with till and three-wheeled-cart. There are so many of these folks around here that all around our apartments, in unexpected places, people are growin stuff. And in December! This is me and some of those plots on my way home from work today.
Hope you enjoy.
December 10, 2010
As we speak, I have a message waiting for me from the federal government. They are notifying me that my account with them needs only a couple last steps before I will be paying them. I have other loans too from school, and they just kicked in. I have put a lot of time into not looking at the reality of my student loan situation, and was loath to consider how much I actually owed. A couple days ago, I finally bit the bullet, and called around and figured everything out. I have plans for getting money from my Chinese bank account to my American one to pay the bills, and I will have some spare for saving and getting by.
Today, I taught Tricia’s classes on account of she’s still sick. Did you read that she has pneumonia? She has been the prettiest picture of sickness and she is getting better already. And I was a damn good teacher the past couple days. I got up, ate breakfast, and well rounded meals. I had tea in the morning. I feel like I am joining the ranks of other people who have meaningful lives, who contribute to society.
The kid in me feels like even wanting these things is so grown-up, and like I am betraying some part of myself. But I done turned into a grown up, simple as that. Today, I even did sit-ups and push-ups, was more conscientious than usual, and leaned even further into my important work. I feel like I can think about life, that I can handle myself, and that I can carve out my happiness from pretty meager circumstances.
It is in this way that I feel content.
December 7, 2010
In Greek mythology, there is this idea that the world was chaos, and then the act of creation put the some order into the world. In fact, every origin myth I have heard of smacks at the same idea; first there was disorder, and then there was order. I think most people have a similar approach to life. They go about making some system of meaning to sort and make-meaningful the things they perceive in their lives. Every moment of awareness is spent taking in the things that we sense, and sorting these things into patterns, words, and feelings.
Coming to China was really jarring for a lot of reasons. But a really central reason is that the whole system for making meaning of the things that happen every day in the US, well, that system didn’t work here. So since coming, we have had to work out ways of understanding the chaos that is around us. We have had to make guesses, assumptions, and stereotypes in order to grasp the world around us. Through confusion, laughter, and deep sadness, we have been stretched to understand.
This leaves us longing for the familar, and clinging to each other. The westerners here like to hang out with each other. They like to go to the bar and find other westerners to chat with. I think this goes way beyond wanting to have someone to speak English with. I think it has everything to do with commiserating in our alienation from the China that we work with every day.
China is hard not only because we dont know the culture. It is hard because their system of meaning is so utterly different from mine. I dont see the patterns in the chaos that govern the meaning and lives of millions of people.
I walked home from work today, and that wind has come back. The winter has held off so far, but the wind that ushered in fall is blowing again. There is a vacant apartment building across our alley. The doors on the upper floors are unlocked, and some of them have come open. And the wind, it blows through our alley something fierce. And those doors, they flap in the wind. Slam! ….. Slam! .. Slam! ………………. Slam Slam! ………. Slam! You never know when the next is going to slam.
The doors keep me awake at night, and give me nightmares when I am trying to sleep in in the morning. Their uncontrolled randomness puts my mind a little on edge – my brain just cant make a pattern out of it all.
December 5, 2010
Last night, we had planned to go to V8, a dance club where we are treated like B-List celebrities. We go there, we get a table, we buy some booze, and because they want white people to come back, they give us a plate of watermelon. Last time we were there, it was a really fun time. They had live entertainment, singers dancing on bars, and lots of Lady Gaga videos playing on the TVs that hang from the ceiling. When we go there, we stand out. A herd of 6-8 white guys and a 1-2 Chinese girlfriends in a sea of China is hard to miss.
But last night, we ended up being lame. Which is exactly what Chad and I were hoping for. Despite the bar being fun, if you can’t drink alcohol, you might as well plan on only staying for an hour or so. And Chad and I both werent going to drink. And we wanted to play video games.
I should tell you that I am getting in deep. I play this one video game a lot, and I have a lot of fun doing it. So this morning, after playing video games last night for a few hours, it is time to do so again this morning. More details to come about video game specifics, as well as fuller update of status and the haps, as well as pictures is on the horizon. But for now, I have some Orcs to kill.
December 3, 2010
Sorry for my absence again.
I imagine that all my readers in the States are gearing up for Christmas. I hear wind of Michigan receiving lots of snow this year already. Well, I can tell you that in Zhengzhou, we haven’t seen snow yet. Cold nights have been passed inside my toasty room, playing video games. The food on this side of town just slightly worse than downtown, which, after a long stint here, has yielded little other than sheep on a stick, chicken legs, and this fancy new place where you can sit on couches and eat. They have steak [or something] and it is pretty good. They soak all their steak in spicy sauce, though, before they cook it. [Wish they wouldn’t] And it is still a half hour and 25RMB to get to the nice place. [I eat a lot of fried rice and chicken leg.]
So what I am trying to say is that I am becoming less of a grinch. For the last few years, I have hated Christmas a bit. Last year’s just about killed me. Twice.
This year, though, Tricia and I talk about what we need to do to make space for ourselves to experience the holiday. We have decided that it is really important for us to enjoy Christmas, to feel a little taste of home here and there. We talk about doing stockings, and giving little gifts. I am not a gift-y kind of guy, but the thought does make my heart a little fuller.
And aloof as I have been from all of you, the truth is that I spend a lot of time engaging with you, thinking about you, and remembering you all the time. I walk to class and I think about video games with Niko and JD, and last Christmas, and living in Grand Rapids. How good that all was. And how much I miss you all.
So I have come to China, adventuring. I am here figuring things out; things that I never knew I could figure out. I am changing a lot. I am growing, and sometimes I am squirming because things suck here from time to time, too. But after a year of two, I know that I will need a time to recover and feel connected again. No regrets, so far, but I am really look ing forward to July.
November 20, 2010
China is a set of minor disappointments.
With China, you always know the best possible outcome for every situation of concern. You get the visa, no hassle. You transition to a new job, and have no problems with authorities. You find the visa office in the concrete jungle of Chicago, despite the erroneous address on the consulates website. You don’t have to work last minute on Saturday.
You even know the worst possible outcome: You do not get the visa and have to stay in America and flip burgers; You get deported because your previous employer has too much 关系 to let you stay in the PRC after leaving your contract with them; you work every Saturday and are never told to plan on it.
But the worst part of it is that you are pretty sure that these outcomes that you can anticipate are the least likely. The most likely is somewhere in the middle. And before the fact, you have no clue as to what the middle looks like. So China is a pretty anxious place for people who need to know.
On the other hand, China is a place that FORCES you to go with the flow. Especially when I want to know the likelihood or details about my future, I constantly get the vibe from Chinese people that they don’t know, and I don’t know, so we should just chill out. Either it will work out well or it wont, and that will have to be good enough. Very Daoist. And Daoist is a good place to be.
So I guess what I am trying to say is that the transition to China is hard. And it takes a reworking of how my mind works, and a whole lot of figuring out what is important: knowing what will happen tomorrow, or being okay with whatever does.
November 9, 2010
Sorry I have been absent lately. I have been occupied with new friends and midterm stresses.
Thought you might like to see some more moments from my day today. They start with ginger and honey tea:
And then culminate with a couple looks at our walls. Tricia has been putting a lot of interesting things up, and I appreciate her aesthetic so much! Hope you enjoy too!
Speaking of Couch Surfers, Noam, our first, came back for a spell. He is studying martial arts in Dengfeng, a city to our south. That place is home to the famous Shaolin Temple. I am seriously considering studying some internal martial arts there over the spring holiday…
November 2, 2010
In Chinese, one way to say happy, or delighted, is 开心 (kāixīn). It means open-heart. I really like this notion. Because I think about it a lot, it has changed the way I think about being happy. Contentment is coming at me really easily. I can be all sorts of discontented, and I still look at my life and am pleasantly pleased.
Another funny and meaningful thing to note about the Chinese above is that the word for heart, 心, is also the same general meaning as your mind. For Chinese speakers, it is the same thing to have an “open heart” and an “open mind.”
Similarly, 开, open, has other meanings. To drive a car, you use this word. To turn on a light, you also 开. And Chinese is full of this stuff. In fact, the English language has a total of over 250,000 words, according to Oxford. Estimates range from 20,000 to 75,000 words for the average college grad. In Chinese, there are over 56,000 characters in use in Chinese, and at the very most about 70,000 words, set phrases, and examples. To be fluent enough to be a professional interpreter, you must know some 11,000 words. To be a fluent, educated person in English, you must know seven times the words that an educated fluent Chinese speaker would. English is specific, accurate, and direct; very useful in many situations. And Chinese is floaty, contextual, and dense. But it makes for such wonderful word system.
I tell people that I like learning Chinese because it changes the way I think about the world. In order to understand the language, you really have to wrap your head around how these words are the same thing. When these things become native to you, you really have a different perception of the world.
And so my “happy” is always linked to an open heart and an open mind, since learning some Chinese, and I thought that I would share. :]