Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thoughts on Beijing

I am back in Wuhan now, settled back into the world that I call "home" b/c you have to have one (a home--that is) regardless of what country you live in. Our trip to Beijing was lovely and fun and whetted the appetite--now I know exactly how and where I will want to spend my time when I return.

There will be more pictures and probably a video coming soon--I'll try to post it over the weekend. We hit most of the significant sights in the city--Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City, the Llama Temple, the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, etc...

The Great Wall was incredible but difficult to get to, the Forbidden City was neat but underwhelming, Tianammen Square is basically a big concrete parking lot without the cars--not as eerie as I expected considering its history. We hit the Llama Temple on Dec 24--strange to spend Christmas Eve in a Buddhist Temple--watching the devout reverence of the Chinese and asking the hard questions concerning Belief and Tradition and faith and righteousness and salvation that come when you watch others practice their acts of discipleship with solemn ceremony.

But what is Beijing like, you ask? Beijing is like every other metropolis in the world. There are a few distinguishing cites to see that identify the city as different from Pittsburgh or Berlin, and between the streets are dotted with KFC and McDonalds and large office buildings populated by men in Hugo Boss and women with Prada purses. Don't get me wrong, the Forbidden City is great and the Great Wall is astounding...but the rest of the city feels a bit like a gaudy knockoff of Chicago or doesn't even attempt NYC. It's like the Barberry or Pashminoo scarfs sold on the streets--the silver Rolez watches that turn your arm green if you wear them two days in a row. It looks right--and yet doesn't.

And like the true opportunists that they are--the Beijingwren offer up their few bits of authenticity as tourist traps. Here, you get only glimpses of the Orient that must have gut-punched Marco Polo: the breeze that carries the holy incense through the city near the Temples; the smell of spices at night that cuts through the cold air; the maze of hutongs clumped together in the Old City; the sound of a Chinese flute rising from behind the gates of the Forbidden City; the sight of the Great Wall crawling endlessly along the spine of the mountains.

It's all startling and marvelous and FOREIGN. And while the cites that I paid the ticket price to see were well worth the money--they left me wanting more. MORE of the great Orient--this civilization that spawned the firework, the compass, astronomy, spices, silk, and tantric sex. More of CHINA--this country that for dynasties thrived without a glimpse from Western eyes--that built and created and reasoned all while America lay young and primitive and undiscovered.

But there is precious little of the Orient remaining in Beijing. In fact, Beijing is not really the best place to be looking anyway--the most ancient dynasties chose Xian as their capital--Beijing did not become a city of prominence until later. Since then, the march of Time, the Japanese occupation, the Cultural Revolution and now the spread of globalism have changed the face of the city into more and more of another capitalistic bore. I found myself staring at the bland corporate offices and feeling a frustration bubbling inside of me--wanting to scream at the gray concrete "You are CHINA--not America! Act like it!!" in the same exasperated tone my mother used when she'd say "You're a big girl, Lucy--act like it."

But, in the end, Beijing is now what it is now. It is not ancient Peking, it is not a treasure of the Orient--it is the modern capital of a globalized nation with a bursting economy. The only thing to do is accept it and enjoy what this city has to offer--the shopping, the Russian district that must have emerged during the Cold War--the import grocery and English book store near the street with all the Embassies--TGI Fridays, the Sizzler, 7 Eleven, Starbucks and Subway sandwiches.

And enjoy it we did--believe me, a Subway sandwich has never tasted so good.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tis the Season

This is going to be a rushed post--I am in the middle of getting packed for a 4/5 day Christmas trip to Beijing!!! Justin and Rachel Bronson are going to the great city of the upcoming 2008 Olympics to meet their family for the holidays and graciously invited me to join. So, in a few days time--I will be checking The Great Wall and the Forbidden City off of my "must see" list (funny thing is--I don't have a must see list--these are all just lanyap!!). In the meantime, I thought I'd share a little of life here.

Little Joys

One of the things that I am enjoying most in living here are the teeeny tiny joys that hit you by surprise throughout each day. Here's one example:

I don't tend to be much of a searcher or a fixer when it comes to stuff. I have friends here who are all about going on a scavenger hunt through the city in search of some Western item that they want and that isn't widely available here. Though I admire their drive--I'm just too lazy. I take what I can find of Western junk food and whatnot (there's a store not too far away that has olive oil (many praises were sung on behalf of my arteries when i found that), mustard, Tabasco etc...and my local supermarket has oreos (the arteries are crying again), diet coke, dove body wash and pantene shampoo). There's really nothing that I feel I really need to find--although I am excited about the possibility of a Subway restaurant AND a Taco Bell in Beijing (Hallelujah). SOOOOO--when I come across something that I've done without and find it easily's like a gift! There's this JOY that rushes up and makes me want to dance and jump and sing--sometimes I do too (they all stare at me anyway--I might as well give them a lil sumpin every now and again).

This happened last week. The basic shops in China can be a little disorienting--there are basically rows after rows of open shops that all carry the same items inside--so I try to only go in a few when I'm looking for something. But last week, I was waiting for a friend outside of one shop and noticed the store next door. Going in, I found bins of chinese candy--which is basically dried fruit with sugar on it or sesame bars--so I wasn't very interested. UNTIL--low and behold--a bin of GUMMY BEARS, a bin of GUMMY WORMS, a bin of GUMMY SHARKS and....wait for'll never guess......JELLY BEANS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And the heavens opened and the angels rejoiced.

It isn't even that I necessarily want that candy very often--but now it's an option in my life again. Jelly beans are possible in Lucy's life. This is a gift.

Another wonderful surprise is the fact that Christmas DOES exist in China. Unfortunately--it is primarily in the form of consumeristic marketing driven by western-based companies--but it is Christmas nonetheless. There are Christmas trees in front of stores throughout the city. The campus radio plays Christmas carols! I have a Christmas tree set up in my apartment. The season is there--and it brings wonderful chances to share the Reasons for Joy with students and friends.

We celebrated Christmas in all of my classes this week. I made a cardboard tree and invited the students to make ornaments to decorate it (i'll post pics when I have more time). Then we watched Merry Christmas Charlie Brown (I never realized before that it is Linus's voice that I've always heard in my head as I read Luke) and I got to share some American culture with the whole class. We learned some great new vocabulary..."Jolly," "nativity," "reindeer," "savior," "carols"...and other words associated with our Christmas culture. I got to share the Story too.

Bigger Joys

I was reading my diary and realized that exactly one year ago (well 1 yr, 2 days now) was my end-of-the-year review with the pr firm I was working in. I wrote about how nervous I had been and my worries about the path that my life was on. I had a great job...a job of most people's dreams, wonderful coworkers, a great apartment with two of the best roommates EVER (Scharli and Kathryn--you'd better be reading this)--but I didn't feel like it was a very good fit for me. I wrote that I was so afraid to walk into my review and hear, "Well, at first we thought you were just a beginner at this whole pr/writing thing...but now we know that you're just plain bad at it." And though I enjoyed the work I got to do, I wondered if it wasn't true.

Of course--nothing of the sort happened. The review went well and I gained useful critiques and plenty of encouragement--but the uneasiness remained. I remember telling a coworker that I was terrified that my boss would ask where I wanted to be in 5 years--b/c I had no answer!

And now I'm here, packing for the night train to Beijing, finishing up grades for my PhD writing class. I cannot think of a better way for the last year to have happened! Of course, losing that PR job was a difficult experience, but I was soooo blessed to leave under the best of terms, with incredible options and support in every direction and with an immediate possibility of CHINA!!! I'm just thankful that my path isn't in my hands (except for those pesky times when I try to take too much control of it). I am filled with JOY for where I am now.

On another note: I taught my final lesson for my PhD Writing students this week. Next week they will only turn in their final papers and be free to go. As I finished the lesson for my first class, I told them briefly how thankful I was to know them and said a few typical goodbyes. The entire class then stood up and applauded me! Hahahaha! I felt for a moment as if I was the star of a made-for-tv "teacher tames the ghetto" or "coach inspires the world" movie! Jokes aside, it really was moving. The second class bought me a Christmas present--a 100% Chinese silk blanket that is made here in Wuhan at a place that we toured together--I actually SAW some of the raw silk that they use!

Speaking of gifts...

I can't express the excitement that I've gotten from the kindness of some of you (Amy and Laurel, Tim, etc) I've recieved 3 packages since I've been here in China and they have been invaluable--not just b/c of the gifts inside but also for how INCREDIBLY ENCOURAGING it is to me! I love you all.

AND FINALLY--I'm going to brag for a minute.

I have to share with some of you the Christmas present that boyfriend Tim got me (yes--he's my boyfriend). When I return to the US for a few months in the summer, I will be going to New Jersey for .....wait for's better than jelly'll never guess......



Lemme just say--Tim knows how to give Christmas presents! Bruce has been one of my all-time favorite performers for MY WHOLE LIFE. His music is one of the only things that makes me remember my dad with fondness and joyful memories. His music is one of the only things I want to hear on summer days with the windows down. His music is what I jump around to in my bedroom when I'm having a great day. His music forms the soundtrack for multiple moments in my life! Magic, his new album...IS FABULOUS!!! Plus, old or not--the man is HOT (sorry Tim)! I'm already planning on what I'm going to wear and what I would say if I met him (white t-shirt, blue jean skirt--I gotta be a "girl in my summer clothes"...probably won't meet him BUT want to come up with something that says "I've loved you my whole life but that doesn't mean that you're too old for me..." or somthing like that). ANYWAY--there will probably be an entire blog post devoted to him soon--and probably an entire blog post devoted to the guy who's bringin me there--but for now I just wanted to shout the good news from the rooftops--TIM IS TAKING ME TO SEE BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


There's a quote somewhere from someone that you learn more about a person by the questions that they ask than the questions that they answer. In that vein, I asked my students to write down any questions that they had about me or America in general. I thought I'd share a sampling of what I received:


"I always feel puzzled about how to be a girl love by many of people. Do you have any advice?"

"Do you like football? I love David Beckham so much that I want to see him in America. Will go to Los Angols to see him when you return home?"

"What do you think of your girlhood? And can you imagine the life in 20 or 50 years later? Do you think the hi-technology will endanger us?"

"What do you usually have for breakfast? Is the life pace faster? What time do you usually have lunch and dinner? What do you have for dinners?"

"If you get married with a chinese what kind of wedding ceremony would you like to take?"

"Whether it is difficult for me to ask a American girl to see a movie with me in the evening? If I fall in love with a American girl What shold I say to her?"

"Dear Lucy, In my mind, all Americans are very rich. Do all Americans live a happy and easy life?"

"What do you think about the traditional Britishes?"

"What kind of people are most despised by American people?"

The most common question: "Have you had Chinese food? What do you think of it?"


"What's the main difference between America College Education System and Chinese College Education System?"

"How to write something with all of my words? Because I know many words, but when I write something, I just find a few to use."

"I have received from foreign guests who come from German, Canada, and Russia. The biggest problem is I don't know what are they? How can I go a step further?"

"What kinds of pressures in U.S.A especially the students?"

"Can we takes pictures of you?"

"America is the richest country in the world, is there any poor people there?"

"Do you feel angry that students copy papers from www instead of doing their homeworks?"

"If the American to lose liberalism, what can they do?"

"Did the Americans concern about Chinese people's life?"

"If an person in American is poor, how to he find happness?"

"Are there many pop stars in American? Which one would you like best?"

"You are young and beautiful. We all love you."

"What's the everyday life of an American farmer? Is his living condition the same with the people live in the city?"

"America is the strongest country in the world, but it seems so many American don't know China well, and many policy of American are to restrain China's development. What do you think about this problem?"

"Which college is best in America for studying rapeseeds?"

Pretty interesting would you answer some of these?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Yangshuo Imagery

Fawn and I in Yangshuo

The main shopping street, Xi Jie

Fawn "on top of the world"

Where's Waldo, Lucy Style
The view of the city from the top of one of the peaks

A place of my very own

Biking through the countryside

Moon Hill, where our "King Richard" (nixon) visited

"If Nixon can climb it, so can we!"

And the moon went with us

On the VERY TOP of Moon Hill--as in, above the moon.



Fawn got the chinese symbol for "small deer" or uhhh...."fawn"

This is "guan" the Chinese symbol for Light--"Lucy" means "bringer of Light" and given my purpose here, I thought it was appropriate

Yangshuo night life

Takin it to them, American style

Well....I tried

On our boat cruise of the Yu Long River

Lazy afternoons along the river

The scene from the back of the 20 Yuan bill, in person

For EVEN MORE photos--see my photo album here:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I've always been surprised that I was drawn to China. I have been known to breeze past Asian-inspired food, history, art, decor etc...even when I knew that I'd be coming here, I was quickly bored when Mom wanted to linger in the Asian Art wing of the Met during our NYC vacation. I worried when I arrived about how I would decorate my apartment using only Chinese prints and fabrics.
After trips to both the massive Three Gorges and now to the karst scenery of Yangshuo, that boredom has passed. When you see the limestone peaks that protrude straight up out of the ground with no warning, you know that only Chinese art can come close to capturing the grandeur. I am hesitant to post pictures because they simply will not do the scenery justice.

Seeing the peaks reminded me of the earthquake scene from The Land Before Time, when cliffs spike forth out of the ground to the sound of cymbal crashes and screeching violins. I don't quite remember much of the film, but looking at Yangshuo, I felt sure that something like that must have happened here.

There were several moments of awe and wonder that struck Fawn and I--both relatively measured and even cynical girls--during our trip. The first occurred sometime between 5 and 7:30 Thursday morning, as we rode the bus from Guilin to Yangshuo. The sun began to lighten the sky slowly until, glancing out the window, we could see the peaks set in dark against the sky. Is was as if, boom!, we were in another world. The previous one of Wuhan haze and industrial filth and cramming and tight trains and cigarette smoke melted away and this new one was edged with green topped cliffs and clear rivers and warm sunshine.

The second major "wow" moment came on the Yu Long River. We floated through the scenery filmed in the movie The Painted Veil and that also appears on the back of China's 20 yuan bill. All of a sudden, a collective gasp went up from the boat. I hate to admit it, but I think that I may have grabbed Fawn's hand in my rapturous state. There, as we rounded a bend in the river, was a massive yellow moon emerging from behind one of the peaks. It was still low and heavy in the sky and looked close enough to touch from the pinnacle of the nearest peak. We shot pictures but none of them show the awesomeness of that moon. I've never seen it that large--it inspired me to do a quick Google to see if the moon is actually larger in China. I never did find out, but for now, I'm saying that it is!

As for the rest of the week, we perfected our bargaining skills on Xie Jie, the main strip of Yangshuo that overflows with kitschy Chinese souvenirs; we enjoyed relatively well-done Western Food, including hamburgers, pizza and the best Sunday brunch that I've had in a long time; we made friends with travelers from Beijing, Greece, Scotland, Germany and Canada; we rented bikes and rode through "Faamas Weeliges" (we pronounce them as Farmers' Villages") and climbed mountains, even following the footsteps of our "king" Richard Nixon, who visited here on his historic journey to the East; we burned permanent memories of our time in China into our wrists (just wait for pictures!); we shared our overly analytical observations of life and people and ourselves with each other; we took naps and slept in; we posed for the obligatory photos with Chinese children and middle-aged men; we met Fawn's incredible friend John who works in an orphanage here; we ate some more; shopped some more; and had a great, relaxing time.

Fawn is leaving for America in less than two weeks and I can't really express how bummed I am about that. She was a perfect traveling mate--smart and obsessed with figuring people out, incredibly hilarious, a ham in front of the camera, filled with spiritual depth and intuition, and just one of those really fun and spirited people who are perfect to spend a full day, or several full days, with. We're hoping that she'll return to China in a semester or two...but we'll have to see what His plans end up being for her, so I'm trying not to pout or try too hard to persuade her to stay. For now, I'm going to miss having a travel buddy who I know I'm compatible with.

I'll post photos as soon as Fawn and I do the exchange--and hopefully will even have video coverage for the true fans out there. Coming Soon! If you click on Fawn's blog--she'll probably have her account posted pretty soon--so you can read her version of the week! I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Running from Thanksgiving

There are things that we don't do here. We don't talk about the food that we miss. We don't reminisce over family traditions, our favorite ways to relax on a Sunday afternoon or the best place to find a wide open highway to speed down in your car. "we," I mean "I."

It's just a mistake. You start thinking about home--and before you know it, you're crying in a McDonalds as you order a Big Mac (hasn't happened to me yet--but could). Instead, you focus on life NOW, here, in China. And life here is fabulous. It's magical. It's new. It's vibrant. It's thrilling!

And then Thanksgiving comes and smacks you in the face. Everyone at home is preparing for time with family, great food and the comfort of yearly/generational traditions. And suddenly it's a little harder to remember how much I love it here. And suddenly I feel that maybe my family needs me to be home. And suddenly I miss turkey--and my family doesn't even EAT turkey on Thanksgiving--we don't like it that much, so we grill steaks instead!

So--I'm practicing the age old avoidance tactic of denial! Fawn and I are leaving tomorrow afternoon for Yangshuo, where we will spend 4 days among the stunning limestone karst peaks and rice fields along the Li River. Yangshuo is an international backpacking colony near Guilin (it's in the South of China--so it should be fairly warmish). We will live fabulous lives in China and completely forget all that we are missing at home. There are plenty of foreigners gathering in Wuhan to celebrate Thanksgiving together, but I think that since nothing can compare to real home, we might as well make use of the time off from teaching (our schools give us Tgiving and Friday off in deference to our culture).

I'll be sure to take plenty of pics to share when I return! If you want to get an idea of what we'll be seeing, type "yangshuo" into Google Image Search and feel incredibly jealous of me while you eat turkey and watch the Cowboys. I love you all! Happy Thanksgiving!

Until my next post, here are some pics from the past month or so for your enjoyment!

A student gave me these slippers and I wear them almost everyday now--the apt floors get really cold!

"Here, feel it kick.."

Just kidding--the backpack is filled with all those sweet potatoes for the mashed sweet potatoes that Fawn and I made for our last Wuhani gathering.

Me and the D's (one of my PhD classes--we spent a Saturday afternoon touring a bunch of empty buildings--it was when I got to know many of them)

"I've got JOY like a fountain" with Adam on a Tuesday evening Celebration meeting

Ok--these pics will need an explanation! One afternoon, Adam, Jeremy and I were invited to go to a National Day Celebration with the Governor of the Hubei Province. On the way--I was informed that I'd be receiving an award! A former teacher of our university was being honored, but since she had already left the country, I accepted the award on her behalf.

I've been here 2 months and already have been honored by the Governor.

"I'd like to thank the Academy..."

From Honors to Lizards:

This darling creature was IN MY APARTMENT! I'm not even going to try to be cool about this--I freaked out. I live on the 5th floor! How did a lizard/newt/salamander get into my apartment??? I screamed when I saw it and Adam, man that he is, stomped on the thing. It was awful--his first stomp didn't do the job (man that he is)--so he had to keep stomping to put it out of its misery. Hopefully, no animal rights activists are reading right now! To be fair, I may have yelled for Adam to kill it---but seriously, a girl can't be held responsible for her shrieks when there are lizards in her apartment.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Descriptive Paragraphs

My English Writing class was assigned two paragraphs a few weeks ago. They were to pick one object and write an objective description with one paragraph--using facts only. Then they were to write a subjective description of that object--sharing how they feel about the object, memories, associations etc...

These didn't really follow the directions, but I thought they were beautiful anyway. I have a few poets in my class--it's a shame that our activities have nothing to do with creative writing. I'm supposed to prepare them to write academic/professional articles for publication in scientific/agricultural journals. But still, the poets work their way into the class, it seems. Here you go (typed in original grammar):


As we know, monkey should live in the forests, but I saw it in the street. It was a small ,brown and ferocious monkey. There was a rope tied around its neck. Many people were playing with it . They gave it a bottle of water but the bottle’s cap was shut tightly . The monkey wanted to drink, however couldn’t get. So he shouted and jumped , and the around people were laughing aloud.
Saw it. I think the monkey is lovely but pitiful. It’s only a toy of the people and a tool of making monkey. They had lost their natural personality. That says the monkeys are no longer monkeys.

A landscape painting

There was a landscape painting in my bedroom and it was a beautiful picture. Mountains, sea and sky made up into a fresh scene. The painting was full of blue and green colour. Of course, that’s the colour of life. So many sea gulls circled in the air, and it looked as if they were enjoyed liberty.
If I was the gull, good feeling would come out soon. As opened my eyes slowly and looked around, I had noticed where the light come into my room. After then listened carfully to see if there were any new sounds surroundding me. Suddently, I filled with my body and sensed the freshess in the air. Yes, it’s a bright day ,and also it’s a new beginning for my life.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Odds and Ends

Many apologies for the delay in posting--sometimes it's just the day-to-day and more important to live life than write about it. My thoughts are scattered these days--it probably means that I'm avoiding laundry or some other responsibility...

So here's what's been happening lately:

Halloween--This was a fun holiday to share with my students. I dressed up like a witch for each class and handed out candy--we watched It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and looked at pics of Halloweens past that my mom was gracious enough to email me. Sometimes you forget how charmed American life is--and then you explain that as a child you dressed up as princesses and angels (and all the other stuff) and went to every house in your neighborhood til you had a bag bulging full of candy. I think my students had fun.

Yichang Girls Retreat--Sisters from all over Hubei gathered in Yichang (5 hours from here by bus) last weekend for a few days of fellowship, conversation and Celebration. We focused on "Becoming Virtuous Women" like the one in Prov 31. I was the guest speaker Friday night and shared a lesson on "The Ideal Woman"--which I am OBVIOUSLY more than qualified to discuss! Hahaha! Seriously, there were about 50 girls in all from Enshi, Shiyan, Wuhan, Yichang, Danjankou etc...and I am amazed at the organization, creativity and patience of Beth and Amy in Yichang--who hosted the weekend. I think everyone had a really uplifting time. Many Thanks to Him for that!

Living History--As I've been getting closer to my students, I'm beginning to hear fascinating stories of their lives during the past decades. My PhD's are a treasure chest of information--one student shared his story of living for 3 years as a child in caves in the mountains--his family had been rich landowners and his grandfather fought on the wrong side of the civil war--so when the government changed, they were in danger. They hid out for 3 years and then lived in a shack for 10 years after. Another student had a grandfather who was a teacher during the CR, so when the students rose up against the authorities--he was attacked. He had a mental breakdown during that time (common for many during the CR), and he never quite recovered. He passed away a few weeks ago.

This is all very cryptic, I know....I can only share bits and pieces online. All this is just to say, read up on Chinese History of the past 60 years or so. It blows my mind--and now that I have people who are sharing with me their stories, I can't get it out of my head. I'll tell you all the rest when I come home to visit or something!

Celebrating Single Men--tomorrow China celebrates National Single Men Festival (this is how my students translated it--not sure if that's the actual title). It's every Nov. 11--so it's on 11/11, get it! It is the day when all of China's single men join together for a big meal and lots of alcohol to celebrate their bachelorhood. Why would this be a national holiday? Hmmm....maybe it's to make up for the fact that due to a certain period of history, there is an age bracket of youngish people with 50 million more men than women! (Again, these are my students numbers, Lonely Planet says 23 million) It's called the "bachelor bomb." Guess they should have thought that through before they drowned all those baby girls, huh. So I guess this is China's way of saying, "oh, we're sorry we killed off all your potential wives as babies. Have a drink, on us....not really, it's on you." I've been warned not to eat alone tomorrow night--all that alcohol and machismo could be a little taxing.

Sooo...that's everything for now. Things continue to be generally wonderful...sure, there are days when all I want is a Jersey Mike's sub sandwich and days when I wonder how Effective I'm being at my Purpose...but as a whole, this is all just a good fit for me. I love my new friends, I love the Connections that keep happening, I love seeing how BIG my Father is. I can't imagine anything better.

That said, I love and miss all of you at home like crazy. I am Lifting you Up all the time. Have a Happy Bachelor's Day!

Sunday, October 28, 2007


As a Waigoren living in China, you quickly learn that there is one necessity needed on all outings into the city that is as important to a year-long tourist as a good pair of walking shoes or travel-sized hand sanitizer--it is a state of mind, perhaps an apathy, a distance or just indifference to the visual chaos surrounding you. Step outside the apartment gate and the entire world, on some days, can seem to attack your eyes. Indecipherable characters, graphics that in no way relate to their advertised product (why is a fat man with a baseball bat on the packaging to my chocolate cookies?), building after overcrowded building spilling out into tiny alleyways that have no directional rhyme or reason, face after strange face staring at you on the bus, on the street, in the market, can be a bit much for two little eyes to take in all at once. Especially if you haven't had your coffee or coca-cola fix in a while.

If you don't keep your wits about you, it can feel as if you're standing on a street corner with the whole world spinning around you in a distorted panorama of funhouse-mirror swirls. There's a panic that can arise deep in your chest, a lump in your throat, a pain against the base of your skull that is caused by nothing other than looking down a street and seeing absolutely nothing familiar to the eyes. Your eyes dart from one image to the next in rapid succession--searching in vain for something they can identify--anything that, when they shoot it to the brain, will return a response of a word, a definition, a memory, an understanding. When they do come across that something--they seize on the image, soaking it in, proud to show off the awesome one-two punch of the visual-cognitive process that we so often ignore.

It's what we call "a sight for sore eyes."

And it was in search of such a sight that I hopped off my bus two miles ahead of my stop several days ago. Weeks before, a wayward taxi brought me home via an obscure route--much to my annoyance at the time. The meter was already 7 kwai more than usual and I was seething at the delay when all of a sudden--my eyes were arrested by an entire row of familiar looking stores outside my window. And these weren't the chinese-attempting-to-seem-western-enough-to-be-trendy stores that fill the shopping areas of Hankou (the downtownish part of Wuhan), these were real Western stores. Sure, I didn't recognize the names--but they looked like anything you'd see in Nashville along West End Blvd--cute little independent shops and restaurants that have a great 'walk in off the street' vibe.

There was a Joe's Bar, Sylvia's Patisserie, a Cleaners, Red Rose Beauty Salon, a Mocha Coffee, Sports Goods, Stationer, and Le Lotus Bleu Bar and Restaurant. They had decorated storefront windows and individual entrances. The store signs used simple, elegant fonts and clean imagery--no Chinese characters. A boardwalk path and iron park benches completed the ambiance. My heart lept while my eyes tried to soak it all in as we sped past.

It seemed I had found an oasis. But I tried to temper the rush of excitement and discoverer's pride with a hard dose of cynicism. After all, there are over 50 Americans in Wuhan through our program, and they instantly shared with us the Western get-aways that exist throughout the city--Mr Mais coffeeshop that serves great tacos and lattes, Giano's American/Italian restaurant, Aloha Hawaiian restaurant, Metro, Wal-Mart, and Carrefour shopping plexes etc... It was unlikely that they would not have already found this place. Plus, there are plenty of places in Wuhan that pose as Western-style restaurants or shopping areas but are as American as Wendy's mandarin salad bowl combos are Chinese.

So when I had some free time on a Friday evening and couldn't stomach going an inch further on my sardine-crammed bus, I squeezed my way off the bus and began walking toward what I was hoping would be my western Mecca. It was a lovely fall night and my path took me down a tree-lined street that ran alongside one of Wuhan's many lakes. I could see my destination on the other side of the lake, the storefronts casting a golden glow on the water. I daydreamed of Joe's Bar being run by a friendly American grandfather type, serving sub sandwiches to ex-pats who just wanted a place "where everybody knows your name." After a brisk 25 minute walk, I was there.

My eyes felt that same relief of gazing at something known, familiar, definable. They rested on the shops and I felt peaceful. My pace slowed to a stroll--I wanted to savor this discovery. I ambled up to the first shop, the Patisserie--the door was locked, it must have closed for the evening. No matter--I'll just look in the window, I thought. But no, it turns out the windows were more like display cases--there was a wall that closed them off to the rest of the store. I moved down the street.

Store after store--locked. Window after window--enclosed. It was only 6:30--but Joe's was dark. Hmmm--I guess I'll have to come back during the daytime. Then I looked closer.

At Christmas time in the States--department stores decorate their shelves with Christmas presents. Do you remember as a child the first time you realized that they weren't real? Underneath the shiny wrapping and curled ribbon was a styrofoam cube. Or in the bakery section of Kroger, did you ever dare that one time to stick your finger into the icing of the displayed wedding cake, only to rub plastic? For the sports fans--you know the way you felt when you heard of Sammy Sosa's corked bat, or McGuire's steroid use (I don't know what I'm talking about here)? For music fans--when you found out that Milli Vanilli was lip-syncing...

I was prepared for the possibility that these stores would use a Western look to market their Chinese product. I was not prepared for blatant fraud.

It took a few seconds for it to all sink in. My oasis, my beautiful, urban shopping street was a sham. The doors led to nothing. There was nothing but a hard concrete wall behind those window displays. Nothing. Taking a step back, both literally and mentally, I looked around and began to piece things together. The background of the street, which I had ignored until this point came into sharp focus. There it was--I was standing in front of a high-class apartment complex called Le Park...the elaborate entrance to which was made to resemble a typical street in the US or Europe.

I felt like I had been slapped in the face. My eyes were suddenly stinging with tears. I was hurt, silly and a little ashamed. Why would they do this to me? I had believed in this place--I had hoped in it. Why had I let myself be fooled? How could they justify this?

And then I got mad. How dare they! The fakes, the liars, the cheats! I wanted to spraypaint SHAM! and CHARLATAN! and other more un-printable words in graffiti across their elegant sans serif store signs. I wanted to start an LA-style riot and throw bricks through the windows. I felt duped, hosed and swindled. And I wanted revenge.


There's a quote from somewhere that I've always remembered: "What happens to the broken-hearted? They move on, baby." And of course, so did I. I turned around and made my walk back along the lake until I could hail a taxi to bring me home. And in reality, I suppose that I'm glad that globalism hasn't spread its tentacles all over my city with Western enclaves at every corner. I suppose that I like going for blocks without seeing anything reminiscent of home. I suppose that this is something that I actually moved to China to experience. I suppose.

Once back on campus, I went to a street-restaurant and ordered chao fan (fried rice) for dinner. The cook is an older, white haired man who likes to hear me try to speak Chinese. He always says enthusiastically "ok! ok! ok!" when I order. And this time--he remembered my name.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Finally posting pics--Yangtze River Cruise

I thought I'd finally share some images from my travels through the Three Gorges of the Yangtze! Hope you enjoy!

Our cruise ship, the Yun Xiu. We spent most of our time on the top deck (after paying 30 yuan for the privilege--ahhh, holiday inflation). Our cabin was on the second level.
Posing at the front of the ship--right after doing a fine rendition of "My heart will go on."
Notice the house beneath the cliffs
V is for Victory--what you don't see in this pic is all the Chinese behind the camera taking pics of us. From left to right: Rachel, Virginia and me.
check out the ancient stairs leading to the cave:

Creepy night vision of a temple we visited--unfortunately, most of the inside has been rebuilt--everything in China is a replica of something that was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. I think this front gate was authentic though.
A suspended coffin:
The whole crew on our Sheenong Stream excursion: Rachel and Justin, me and Virginia

A riverside town: the 175 M sign indicates how high the river will rise once the Three Gorges Dam (the largest in the world) completely closes its gates. We are so grateful to have seen the Gorges before it's all underwater.

If you want to see all my pics from the trip (there are some really good ones, I promise!) just click on this link to see my facebook photo album!