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Wo zai pao Friday 9/25/09

September 27, 2009 Leave a comment
You know the drill–living in mainland China.  This is what I do when I’m not eating:

I met with both clubs, one meeting Wednesday at noon and including the rowdy back-of-the-room crowd from my EEP class, who dutifully volunteered for the tenor and soprano sections and one stranger and less relaxed group meeting on Friday. I wasn’t as relaxed either, as I had locked myself out of my office and was three or so minutes late, arriving to a room full of twitchy 17 year olds looking skeptical and expectant. In that situation, I decided the best course of action was to talk and smile a lot, even though I was shaken and mortified. The tactic did the job again, and pretty soon I had them up and singing (loudly, brashly on the men’s side, and mousily on the girls’ side).

On Wednesday, it took 10 minutes to persuade the Wednesday group to sing a chord all together, even when I was giving them the notes with a pitch pipe. After that though, I got them all to move up a half step together, which was slightly discordant—some people clearly didn’t get what was going on—but satisfying nonetheless. The Friday group didn’t get nearly as far, but livened up when I had them sing the round that we learned at PCPA camp when I was in high school.

“My friend and I were walking to our next class singing ‘Chum-chum chum—doobeedoobeedoo!” my EEP turned club member and self-proclaimed ‘Fan-ze’ (a pun on the Chinese word for rice, but also a bit of a tribute), Linda, said in front of my co-workers. They looked at me a little oddly. Apparently they thought the untrained musicians would be performing ‘Billie Jean‘ the first week.

H.P. Lovecraft got mixed with a DVD collection of eight Japanese horror movies, and I burnt myself out. So I switched back to memoir and biography—Stephen lent me Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains. It’s about Paul Farmer, a Doctor who works (worked? I don’t know, I’m not done) in one of the poorest areas of Haiti and spent a lot of time on ways to cure drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases and raising money for clinics in impoverished areas all over the world. I really like those Three Cups of Tea type books—a man (it’s always a man…) goes to a place in need and finds improbable ways to fill those needs, enlisting the help of a lot of crazies/caring people, both local and otherwise. Reading them helps me be able to put a finger on my dissatisfaction and remind me that this isn’t my final step. What a relief that is. When I first moved to Europe two years ago it was with a promise to myself that the places I went would grow more and more challenging until I was finally equipped to reach the furthest stretch of what I could offer and where I can exist. Zhuhai isn’t the last step, and neither is teaching privileged (albeit extremely fun and sweet) Chinese kids how to sing in rounds.

My co-workers and I have started training for the Macau half-marathon that’s happening in December, and I decided to buck up and go for a run into the village behind the University dorms through which our bus drives every morning and evening. Though I only ran for six minutes in and six minutes back out, it was a pretty big deal for me. The roads were paved, with concrete restaurants lining the road blaring techno from big black speakers behind barbeque grills. The telephone poles were maypole wrapped in green vines and flowers, peeking out from bright green grassy patches—the shag carpet of a giant—but they were still full of electricity. There was garbage, but swept from the road, and most of it had been reduced to ash loops.

That’s so bad for the environment!” One of my coworkers had gasped from the bus window. But I didn’t see any trash trucks. It might be bad for the air, but it was probably healthier for the people in the meantime than ever-growing garbage piles near their food and water and where their children are playing.

I’d gotten some stares, but mostly a lot of “hello-hello!”’s and some grins from the uniformed janitorial staff workers who were biking home from work into the village and probably knew exactly where I’d come from.

On the stairs back to my office I ran into Ryan from Whole Person Education. Despite my invade-his-office-expressed interest in WPE, Michelle the aspiring Chinese-English interpreter somehow got in after me and got invited to give a power-point presentation this Sunday. It’s in English though. I think it’s because she went to the village to look at his place when we were in apartment-panicsville (I’d given her the tip, granted), and he saw that clearly, she is braver and more hard core than I. I’ve never really been the jealous type, though. I really admire Michelle’s persistence and her ability to operate on her own without dragging the group of TA’s around with her wherever she goes.

Hey, I just ran through your village!” I said, to Ryan.

Beautiful, isn’t it?” He said.

I said yes, and asked him if he was on his way there. He said no, leaning back against the bars, lamenting the weekend of work he was going to have to put in for WPE training—8 hours Saturday and 8 hours Sunday. I told him I was going to attend the presentation Michelle was giving on Sunday.

Oh no, now you’re giving me the crazy look?” He laughed, asking me which look. “The ‘why are you doing boring work you don’t have to’ look?”

No I’m not!” he laughed again. “But yeah, why are you?”

I find it best when I really really want to get involved in something to go to everything even when I’m not invited,” I said. Jealous type maybe not. Brazen-sunnofagun-type, absolutely and always. My sting seems to have gotten me attention anyway. My default away message on g-mail is “Emily Einolander—and the spiders from Mars” and I opened my mailbox last night to a one-liner from Ryan that said “I like David Bowie :).”

Maybe not the attention I am after, but at least now I’m on the map.
Keep in touch everybody!  I’m going to Vietnam next week, getting out of the country for the national holiday.  Cars are already driving up and down my street shooting fireworks out of the windows.  So my update will be a few days late but hopefully very awesome!
Cheers,
Emily
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Culinary Research and Pest Control 9/24/09

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment

9/24 My reading of the Wikipedia page about Saigon wasn’t very comprehensive. I did read the entire page: remember that the country was owned by the Chinese until 938AD, that the Nguyen dynasty gave way to French colonialism gave way to some very messy recent history of which I’ve read lots in my Global conflict classes, that the main currency is the dong (with an exchange rate of 1 to 8000 something??!!), and that they’re a member of the WTO and ASEAN. The whole thing, however, quickly reduced to obsessive reading Anthony Bourdain travel blogs. Through this process I came across what is most necessary for my journey—even more so than a visa: the addresses of every restaurant Ho Chi Minh City where he ate in the Vietnam episode. I went to dinner with Sadie and her Chinese friend, Nicole, who had studied in Minnesota with her. A Chinese girl named Dora joined us as we walked to Canteen 2 who smiled as she sidled up to me after a particularly loud guffaw and said, “You are enjoying yourself very much.” True. Today’s menu item of choice was Jiaoze—pork dumplings! I don’t know if I spelled it right, because for some reason it wasn’t in my bilingual photo-dictionary. What kind of a photo dictionary in mandarin doesn’t have “dumplings,” one of the most ubiquitous meals in China? There is a word for edam cheese however. It’s yidannailao (I can’t find a font for tone marks so just think: 1-1-3-4). Also one for burger bar, chicken nuggets, hot dog, and crepes. Chances are if you are ordering these things, you don’t need to really know Chinese. Then again there are a lot of KFC’s here. Yes. I have eaten there. It was delicious. Aside from the UV resistant umbrella (sheer genius! Literally!), I’ve reached another level of initiation to the world of China. The biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen came and died in the middle of my floor. The fact that it died must mean it starved—so we’re not disgusting people at least; although the fact that I let it lie there for two days might void that previous statement. Tonight I had to wash some clothes in order to be able to run tomorrow, and I figured it would be a good time to sweep the dead roach over the balcony. As I chucked it from the yellow dustpan onto the roof ledge below, I saw something dart into the house. I stepped slowly into the kitchen in my atrociously bare feet and bent to look below the counter. An EVEN BIGGER roach skittered away from my looming head toward the fridge and I ran screaming from the room. I came back, wielding the broom, and the thing ran for the door. I opened it, swatting at it with the broom, and it flew off of the balcony. Our apartment is now (as far as I know) roach free.

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Six kuai per rickshaw for grass skewers September 23, 2009

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment

9/23

We have group tutorials, and so far three of the team leaders have contacted me. Their team names are “Free Loop”, “Disney” and my personal favorite “Penicillin.” I assume they chose things that were very successful (except Free Loop, I have no idea what the deal is with that). A couple groups that I wish I were tutoring: Team “Obama,” “The City,” “Mastermind,” “Tiramisu” (delicious!) and “BEST!”

Also, today I held a kitten at the barbeque restaurant. It was the size of a toddler shoe, roughly. And no, jerks, it wasn’t for eating. We went to dinner late after waiting twenty minutes in our apartment. Sabrina said the landlord was going to show it to someone at 8 tonight but they didn’t show up. Stephen, Chad, and Andy put a deposit on an apartment and the HR department told them they weren’t allowed to move into it until after the break. Apparently we might know then whether there’s room for us in the UIC dorms or not. In the meantime we seem to be getting this place sold out from under us.

It’s ok though. I’ve got a sleeping bag and a meat cleaver. I can sleep under the staircase at work for a couple weeks. In fact, screw it. I’m vacating China and going to Saigon. Next week. Sha-zam!

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“Nothing is Impossible, including the impossible!”???

September 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Yesterday morning as I walked down the rain-soaked steps to the bus stop, I heard a flurry of indignant animal noises. They were coming from the direction of a well-dressed Chinese man standing beside a silver luxury car. I began to stare like those Chinese kids who scream “Hello! Hello!” at us as we walk down the street, because he held a ripped plastic bag with a live chicken’s head peeking out of the top.

Good morning,” he said to me in English as I stared at the chicken muttering in his hand.

“Hi,” I replied.

“Have you ever tried this?” He said, nodding at the clucker.

“What, putting a chicken in a plastic bag?”

“Yes.”

“No. It looks very difficult.”

“It is.”

“Ok, well have a good day.”

“Good day.” As it was the first thing that happened all day, I figured it would be something like that.

In the midst of the almost non-work day I came into contact with a former TA named Ryan who now is the golf pro and works in a department called “Whole Person Education”–basically the department that provides access to extracurricular activities for the students. I’d met him while standing with Jessica’s boyfriend, Joel at the High School Musical/MJ-aganza last Thursday. In a very uncharacteristic move for a guy our age, he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, “If you need anything, my office is right here. Come by any time.”

So yesterday I did. I went in to ask about the volunteer program, but without even asking me why I was there he was pulled up a chair and offered me tea. Not even offered, insisted really. Shoved it under my nose. He made comment about how tea was as elitist here as wine is at home, loaded with the discomfort with luxury that usually betrays a humanitarian, letting it drop that his girlfriend had bought it in Beijing for some exorbitant amount of money. He asked me how I was adjusting, I mentioned that it’s been a little disorienting but I was trying to be relaxed and accepting.

“You’re not one of those people who is sending those e-mails to HR complaining about housing, are you?”

Man, am I glad I’m not.

“Did you know that a lot of the Chinese staff are starting to get evicted from the dorms here with one or two days of notice?”

I asked about five questions that made me blush at my own naiveté and want to shove a whole dragonfruit in my mouth—which staff, the ones in the cantines? No, they aren’t students and aren’t employed by the school. They live in the blue roofed temporary houses and the huts by the lake across the street. The IT staff and the actual office staff were the ones getting evicted, and they’re promised a dorm room in their contracts the same way we were. Except when our contracts weren’t followed we were put in these very nice apartments and they are being evicted from their poorly built dorms. I was a bit amused by myself for being so surprised. Before I came from the US, when I was taking global studies courses and watching documentaries and vigorously reading the news, I knew what kind of injustices happen here. Some even questioned me about the morality of living in a country that has such a record of human rights violations (although, don’t we all?). Why wouldn’t these same injustices be present at the University where I work? My impression isn’t so heavy that it seals the morality of every place I live and work, not to any extent. Not by my mere existence, anyway.

Ryan let me know what programs they’re considering this year—definitely visits to Cantonese rest homes. “Most of the students don’t speak Cantonese, so it’s mostly a lot of patience, company keeping and nonverbal communication.” Lucky me! They’ll be just as confounded as I am on a daily basis. He suggested implementing a system for HIV/AIDS education and testing, and public clean ups (both desperately, desperately needed around here). He also said that it was up to the students to lead the projects, and even though they have been taught from a young age to follow those in authority they can be extremely innovative when encouraged.

After getting some grant money, a group of students went into a village with a lot of tarp plastic that had been heading for the landfill and hired some unemployed women to make them into handbags. They won third place in the entire country in a competition for entrepreneurship for their project. I also learned that what goes into the recycling bins at school just ended up separated the garbage sitting out on a beach in a big pile not-decomposing in the sun. Ryan found this out walking around “where I wasn’t supposed to be.”

He made it sound like he does this a lot.

I asked him how he gets around here to do all this stuff. He says he only has about a four hundred word vocabulary and can read about twelve characters (I’m already up to 7!). With that, he says, people here are helpful and willing to point one in the right direction, which I already can see.

Megan and I talked later about it, and she said that spending our weekends doing projects with him was undoubtedly a better way to spend the weekend than eating romin with the guys and watching The Wire on bootleg DVD. We also figured, with all the group-inward turning and isolation we’ve been experiencing, it would be not only a good way to connect with students, but a good way to feel like we’re not keeping the country at arm’s length. I have been worrying that my reticence to fight anything in the department might be part of a greater complacency and pass-the-buck attitude that I’ve been wired to find hideously immoral. Now I think it’s just that I haven’t found any of the challenges presented so far morally outrageous. Clearly I haven’t been talking to the right people until yesterday.

Today Megan and I are stuck inside—typhoon warning, no work, heavy horizon-obscuring rain to replace horizon-obscuring pollution. I’ve got HP Lovecraft, yoga, and a refrigerator full of green beans and rice. Go-go snow day!

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“bu ming bai” means “I don’t understand.” 9/6/09

September 15, 2009 Leave a comment

As my teeth passed through the powdery McDonald’s beef, I realized that my timidity was getting the best of me. Stephen and I escorted Tom, a Brit who tried to rationalize to me the pleasure he took in James Clavell (he finally admitted it was because of his brash hatred of Americans), to the noodle place where we’ve already eaten two and three times. After, as we walked back to the Metro Agile, I remarked on how hard it was for me to get up my courage to explore my new surroundings on my own when Xander or Michelle—our valiant Chinese-speaking co-workers—weren’t accompanying me.

“It’s weird that having a crutch makes one more fearful than not having one,” he said. Then he levitated himself to sit on top of the building in the lotus position.

I spent yesterday inside reading. I spent today inside reading. He went into Gong Bei and back on the bus with Andy for ten kwai. I’d been told that I needed some kind of special pass to ride that bus and was kind of waiting around for it to be handed to me by someone in authority. I’m like one of my students who could write one word of a sentence then pass it to the person next to them without being told how twelve times.

On upside, I can now say “bu ming bai” when clerks ask me questions in the store. It means “I don’t understand.”
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Jigga jigga what?? September 10, 2009

September 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Tonight I went over to Chris and Zander’s apartment and found out that even though it’s short for Alexander, he spells his name with a Z. So, behold the correction. Chris had read from the UIC e-mail account on the bus this morning that we do have to stay in Agile Gardens after all. Then he pretended to be upset along with everyone else. Tonight the two of them taught me to play Chinese chess, which so far I lose just as deftly as I lose Western. And also enjoy just as much.

So Zander didn’t come out to dinner with Andy, Chad, Steve, and new Jessica from the political science department. We fumbled with awful Mandarin. Steve ended up ordering four dishes by accident, including a boiled shallot/chicken feet plate. It tasted like boiled skin…which I guess it was. I would not recommend it. Steve didn’t include it in the box collection he took home (da bao!).

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Wei–Wo shi Mei Guo Ren! (Hey–I’m an American!)

September 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Things got better after I posted on Sunday—I went out to the public square with Steve, Stephanie, Megan, Chad and Xander where we happened upon a huge crowd ballroom dancing in the roped off concrete area. A middle aged man in a tucked-in t-shirt man steered me through the crowds of sundresses and high heels, and when our dance was done, thanked me, pointed from Steve to me and jerked his thumb toward the floor. The music was heavy on the waltz beat, like a mallet on the head of a snare drum, and consistently had a warbling soprano to ride over it. Megan joined me in an electric slide-style line dance that everyone seemed to know. I picked it up pretty fast thanks to 10 years of dance classes. Megan didn’t have the same experience.

Afterward, a crowd of young people laughed uproariously at something on their video camera screen. Megan looked over their shoulders and faced us with tragedy-mask in place. “They filmed me trying to do the dance,” she cried.

We might be completely lost a large part of the time, we might not be sure whether we’re moving into the city or staying out in Zhong Shan, and we might be eternally unsure of our schedules and whether or not the bus is coming, but there’s a lot of kindness dispensed by those around us.

“Why do you look so happy all the time?” A student asked me in class today.

It may be from lugging my guitar back and forth on the school bus, or the eagerness with which the girls attempted the fifth-above harmony on our rendition of Heal the World (UIC, is such a special place/for you and for me/ it’s the school we should embrace), or maybe the gusto with which Michel laughed at Dinosaur comments when I showed him www.qwantz.com.

They’re not all amazing singers, but they all sing with enthusiasm—particularly the boys. I asked if their primary school teachers ever told them not to shout, explaining to them that everyone had to sing at the same level so all the parts could be heard.

“Then everyone must shout!” Eric said.

I asked them to sing like they were singing to a baby, and not to make the baby cry. They all sat down, dropped the octave, and sang a dirge.

I reminded them that they probably liked the baby and were maybe even smiling at it. That time they got it. When I told them to give each other high-fives, they all just gave me an air high-five.

Running on the all-weather track in the late-afternoon is one of my favorite after work activities aside from milk tea. For all the butt Chinese people kick, they have yet to produce a Flo Jo or a Prefontaine, and I usually feel like a rock star as I pass person after shuffling person. They’re often in jeans and a t-shirt—which probably doesn’t help speed. Every time I go I see the same bespectacled girl who always waves at me as I make my rounds. I don’t think she’s one of my students. She likes to walk backwards on tip toe on the edge of the track and do calisthenic exercises of some sort, and she’s always got a smile for me.

I think I’m close to hitting my stride. It should happen in the next couple of weeks.

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