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Merry Christmas From a Lazy Traveler

December 21, 2009 1 comment

Everyone is going to Hainan for the Christmas vacation. When I say everyone I mean double digits–the TA’s, my boss Dave, and a high number of lecturers with surf boards in tow. Hainan is an Island way way way south of here, close to Vietnam. To get there, one takes a train that, eventually, boards a ferry (yes, the train boards a ferry), that continues onto the beach side paradise for cocktails and some yuletide sunbathing.

I, however, after the shame and difficulty of getting my job back after copious misunderstandings and phone calls between my uncomprehending boss and middle-woman, Jocelyn, don’t feel like asking for another Saturday off from tutoring. So I’m glued to Zhuhai, and it looks like Brian and I have a good 10 hours of the final seasons of Six Feet Under accompanied by several different types of cake lined up for that day. I can’t shake the feeling, though, that after staying only in Zhuhai for the past two months with no fascinating excursions to speak of since the momentous mud-wrestling at Qiao island that I am a boring, boring traveler. In my dreams I see myself as a miserly Scrooge stealing lollipops from babies (I am not exaggerating). Christmas? Train rides? Sunny beaches? Bah humbug.

Something about getting on a crowded 13-hour train trip, though, with nearly all of my co-workers in my department, awkwardly skipping a Saturday that could be spent making money and giving a potentially really fun Christmas-oriented English lesson…I don’t know. Would you want to spend your Christmas taking a Chinese train trip with everyone you work and live with every day of the week? Or would you rather hang out with your gay boyfriend from another department, eat cake, and watch quality television? Although it seems like a logical explanation, I wonder if it’s just a rationalization of the anxiety that arises in me when I think about bus or train trips where I have to communicate in Chinese characters.

I confessed this fear to Stephen over squid and broccoli last night, and he said in that psuedo-guru way he has, “Well you know, it’d probably be good for you to do things that make you anxious. Let’s take some bus rides together next term, ok?”

Yes, I know. I know, Steve. Why do you think I watch horror movies? Why do you think I went camping in the freezing dessert with you? Why do you think I went skydiving? Why do you think I moved to China? Why do you think I do anything that I do? Because it’s all safely within my comfort zone?

Honestly, though, the funk and misery of my former homesickness has passed at last. I was again salivating over pictures of the Beijing summer palace that Wendy, my Chinese tutor from another one of the nearby Universities, showed me, instead of just covering my eyes and ears and reciting “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

“Zhe shi shenme?” What is this? I asked excitedly, my pitch getting higher, as I pointed at a picture of terraced tiles and dark blue, intricately painted and molded signs.

“This is Tunxi Old Street—it’s also in my home province Anhui!” Wendy said. She looked a little undone by studying for her finals, small and lithe with artificially lightened brown hair all askew.

“How old is it?” I asked her.

“Oh, just like…” she looked up, thinking, tapping her bottom lip with her finger, “2,000 years.”

Just, like, 2,000 years, she said. I was so excited about the book that she gave it to me to bring home and browse, to return after the spring festival in February. It’s not like my Lonely Planet travel guide. It isn’t just colored pictures, places to stay, and which bus line to take. It is a boring, intensive, historical detailing of all of the famous sites in China, and at this point I feel like reading the whole darn thing.

And to be fair, to myself, I bought a ticket to Bangkok for February 2, and a ticket back to Hong Kong from Kuala Lumpur for February 20.

So anxious that nonsense, suckahs!

I hope that, given circumstances in many of your lives, you are having a good holiday season. That you’re happy and spent some good time with family. It’s been a rough month for a lot of you. For those of you that are having some positive Christmas firsts (with baby, with marriage, etc.)—awesome. My thoughts are often with you.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Theatrics and Hysterics

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

 

So we here in Zhuhai (I almost wrote Denmark—Freudian? Do I know the first thing about Freud…erm…) we have reached the 4-month slump. If you’ve lived abroad for more than four months, you know exactly what I’m talking about, particularly when that 4-month mark is coincides with the holidays that are happening at home, but are not happening here in any way. The weather, yes even here, is drippy with wet-cold. Everyone in the office either has a cold, a headache, some nebulous sore throat that-they-think-might-be-mono-maybe. Or they’re wiping out on their moped and wandering high and bloody around their apartment and scaring their friends. Or they’re mourning a death in the family as removed from the family as time zones and oceans will prevent. I have written about these things and posted them on my WordPress blog a couple of weeks ago. I know that many of you read this for escape and positivity, so I’ll do my best to bring it.

This is, after all, a pretty interesting place.

Take, for instance, today. the fact that one of my students called last night as Brett and I were putting on a disc of Six Feet Under, season 4 (um—chyeeeah!), and asked if I could help out with their movie the next day at one. I, happy to fill a free two hours, appeared today at the UIC gym, which is separated from the patio in front of the library by open air and a chain link fence, as if we were at decked out in work out clothes that ever since the cold wave that (I let) wreck my half-marathon training, I have neglected. As it turned out, I was the only extra in their movie, and when I wasn’t not-looking at the camera and lifting weights with my extra-buff biceps, I was sitting to the side not understanding their Cantonese and reading about a wily Scotsman who stole tea recipes from the Chinese during the 1850s.

Incidentally, I didn’t realize green and black tea were both from the same plant. Also, I didn’t realize that the Chinese dyed tea to actually be colored green to sell to the English before their monopoly was broken—and that they dyed it with iron ferrocyanide (cyanide!) and gypsum, which breaks down to what in high doses is essentially a nerve gas. Did I know this? No. Am I surprised? Not really.

Anyway, lets get back to the show. Literally. Meg runs the drama club, and their performance was tonight and was divided into two parts, each part produced, written, and directed by the students. The first one was called “Fantastic UIC”, which centered on a time rift that caused Snow White, Cinderella (who feud violently a la Gossip girl), Godzilla (who is dating Cinderella), King Lear, and Troy (yeah, we don’t know why they think Troy was someone’s name in that legend—he steals Cinderella from Godzilla by distracting him with a Trojan Horse full of “sexy ladies), to converge together at UIC to fulfill the College President’s dream of making the school famous and prosperous. The second show was called “E.T. On Earth” and featured two aliens named “E” and “T” who were visiting Earth on holiday. Apparently the only places worth visiting on Earth were UIC, Britain (where Juliet was helped by her three fairy godmothers to win back a drunken Romeo’s heart), “Hamburger-America-Hamburger” (where they did a pretty rad Heroes knock off), China (where three girls on their way to the mall are accosted by a kung-fu master and kicked his ass), and Hollywood, where Spider Man and an old man have a fight against a black background, assisted in their “wire-work” by a group of men dressed in black wearing black face masks. I promise I’m not making this up. I promise.

At one point one of the students in the Heroes segment, dressed in a blue cape, yelled at the villain, “What gives you qualification to have what is in my brain!!!” I laughed so hard that I distracted the audience. Honestly, that’s probably the most American thing that they could have said.

I got a half an hour off and then went to rehearse with my Glee Club, an un-UIC-endorsed knock-off of my American Pop club that includes some of my enthusiastic club members. I’m playing guitar for them while they sing three pop songs to entertain people who have come for the English Language Center’s conference this Friday night. They’re singing “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, “Grace Kelly” by Mika, and “All These Things I’ve Done” by the Killers complete with choreography. That’s the good thing about being amongst people who don’t speedily catch on to sarcasm. They’re down for everything. I promise I’ll try to get video. I promise.

At the foot of the Casino Lisboa

Also, I finally went to Macau, despite the fact I didn’t run the half-marathon. Stephanie and I waited on Sunday morning for two hours at the border crossing until it was Sunday afternoon. The last time I threw that many elbows I was in karate. You have to, though. There was no line until we were wedged into metal-lined lanes, and the tiny women behind me pushed, put hands in between me and Stephanie’s linked arms, put their feet as far as they could from behind us in front of our feet, until I just decided to use my prodigious Swede-hips to let them know they had foolish ideas.

I won.

The only reason Stephanie and I went was to get a sandwich from Angela’s Cafe, which we heard was “on the second floor of some mall—when you get to the border you just get on the green shuttle and walk down the street and then you see a mall—Macau’s small, you’ll see it.”

That was a direct quote from more than one person.

About the fourth mall we walked into was it, after pursuing three different cross streets, walking into the Wynn Casino and watching a giant tree come out of the ceiling and change from bright green to gold, and panicking about all the traffic being reversed yet again. As we rode the escalator from the swanky make-up floor of a department store onto a swanky perfume-floor, I could see a wall of baguettes and croissants in the corner and nearly lost my cool. I built my sandwich: jumbo fresh croissant, pesto, mozzarella, tomato, roast beef and real sweet baby Jesus in his golden fleece diaper AVACADO!!! If you take these things for granted, well then stop it. Stop it right now.

Anyway, these have been my adventures. I’ve posted some new pictures on flickr (I’m emilysings) of Macau, and of some adventures with my students. Also the sandwich.

Categories: Homesickness Tags: ,

December 6, 2009

December 6, 2009 Leave a comment
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On Friday I got some pretty bad family news that gave me a really bad stomachache, and caused me to–at 9am–to call my boss and cancel Saturday’s lesson downtown in Gong Bei.  Too much vomiting and a jerky hour long bus ride sounded like a bad combination–also too much nausea and depression combined with really–really uncooperative children.
 
So I hung out with my friend, Brett last night, which has become a bit of a Saturday custom.  We ate at our favorite noodle place in Tangia, a place where all the noodles are handmade by strong-armed Uighyrs who whack the balls of dough against flour covered wooden boards and swing them like jump ropes until they form noodles.  While Brett showed off pictures of our friend Jim’s new cat to the children who had popped up at our table, I got a text from Megan.  She was waiting for me and Brett in Gong Bei because in my stupor I had forgotten we’d all made plans to meet there after I finished work.
 
It compounded with all the guilty feelings, the self-loathing that the death news had stirred up in me.  I apologized profusely, but she said it was ok.  She’d had other things to do in Gong Bei anyway.
 
He made a few comments about how if I do end up getting my certification and staying in China we could be roommates.  We spent about ten minutes frolicking around the apartment talking about acquiring new armoirs and dishes and entertaining and other such things.
 
This, however, was after we took care of our mutual friend, who had laid down his moped earlier that day and–embarrassed by all the attention he got by the surrounding crowd of  chinese people, had gone home with a minor head injury and a ripped up leg, rather than the hospital.  When we got to his apartment, he was carrying the stray cat that he’d found and bathed yesterday, and finishing a bottle of brandy.  He wasn’t wearing pants, and the entire side of of his leg was scraped.
 
In Jim’s passport picture he’s a handsome, slim, muscular man with strong features and a healthy head of hair.
 
This picture was taken before he started working on his PhD dissertation.  Although he is still extremely hairy.  No pants, kids.  No pants.
 
While I was sitting with his kitten in my lap, listening to him ask the same questions over and over, Brett ran home for his hydrogen peroxide.
 
“So were you close to your grandpa?”  Jim asked me after telling the story of his accident for the fourth time, slurring.  Every move was punctuated with curses, and apologies for curses.  I stared at the dried blood like day old raspberry pastry dotting his ankle.  I made a few comments about the complicated nature of families, the complicated feelings that get dredged up when part of your family is gone (which I did not assume he didn’t understand).
 
He asked me if I thought people were inherentlly good.  The kitten flipped over in my hand and started to attack the fingers I dangled over it’s face and paws.  Bits of it’s blonde fur was matted with Jim’s blood.
 
I’ve had many a good conversation with Jim.  He’s a former HIV counselor, who has no qualms with personal and explicit questions, who also I trust to hold them inside himself like a tomb.  Also, I figured that if I were delirious, in pain, and half naked, I would be grateful for company and forgivenes, and the fact that someone would open up in conversation to me.  I told him that I didn’t, that I thought that we were neither bad nor good, but that we were both and different parts of our badness or our goodnes appear at different times, because of different stimuli.
 
Due to head injury, maybe, he had forgotten I’d answered his question.  He had told me he thought that people are basically good.  “What do you think?  Do you think that people are basically good?”  I had helped him out onto his balcony for a cigarette, keeping the cat behind the screen door with one foot as I shut it.
 
I decided to answer differently this time, even if it wasn’t quite a real answer.  “I think that it’s healthier to think all people are inherently good.  That way you’re less suspicious when people treat you well, and are better able to receive love.”  He burst into tears.
 
We were out there, my arm around his shoulder, when Brett came back with the peroxide to doctor Jim’s leg.  He wet rags and dabbed as Jim demanded over and over I hold his cat and “give it some love.”  The kitten, undoubtedly overwhelmed by the attention, disappeared into the vcr space of the TV cabinet.
 
After we left, after some compulsive and hysterical giggling in the elevator, there were some poor and undoubtedly dangerous decisions made.  I won’t say exactly what happened, but I will say that in Thailand, some prescription drugs are sold over the counter.  I remember Brett saying, “I promise if you take this you won’t have a hangover tomorrow.”
 
He was right.  I just slept until 6:30pm on Sunday evening.
 
I called Megan, after some of my music class students (oh thank tin hau) cancelled our 8pm rehearsal, to see if she wanted to get our favorite slimy garlic and eggplant dish at Lao Beijing.  I met her at her office, and we got into the elevator.
 
“Do you know Mrs. Zhai?”  She asked me.
 
“I don’t know, I don’t think so,” I said.  “Why?”
 
“I got a job!  Two of them!  And she told me to come back next week at 10:30.”  She said.  She had applied to work at a kindergarten a few weeks before but had been turned down because she didn’t have enough experience with children.  I was happy for her.  I told her so.  She told me she was happy we would be working in Gong Bei at the same time on Saturday so we could meet up afterward and blow our money on manicures and KFC.  I asked her what Mrs. Zhai’s first name was.
 
“I don’t know–I don’t think she has an English name,” Megan said.  We walked down the uneven stone steps in front of the library.  “She’s about thirty-ish.  She has a son named Johnson?”
 
“Oh,” my stomach seized up all over again.  “Where are you teaching?”  I asked.
 
“Gong Bei primary school,” she said, her eyebrows starting to pull toward one another as if in a terrified embrace.  “I teach about seven kids.  Johnson, Julie, Cindy…”
 
“…Angela, Kili, Charlie, and Teddy?”
 
“Um…not Kili this time I guess…no fucking way!!  I can’t take your job!”  Christine, I suppose had misunderstood my fourth repetition of, “I’m feeling sick, I can’t come in today.  I will see you next week,” as a resignation, and decided to replace me with my best friend without telling me first.  Otherwise she just decided I was too flaky.  There was, after all, the time I had missed the morning lesson because our bus had been stopped by the police for forty-five minutes to search for a missing cell phone.
 
Not a happy China week.  And from what I’ve heard from everyone at home, not really a happy week for anybody.
 
I’m really, truly sorry that I can’t be of more help.
 
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