Sunday, September 28, 2008

And away we go!

To Wulingyuan! One of the top 20 most beautiful places in the world!! It's October Holiday again so we're joining the rest of the billions in China who take the opportunity to travel. I read a travel article about Wulingyuan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Geopark, before I came to China the first time and have always wanted to go! I'm off to catch the train--pics when I return!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tigers and Bugs

The Qiu Lao-Hu bit me--and I have yet to recover.

When I first moved to Wuhan, during the blur that is the first few days, I remember someone told me that the weather would be miserably hot, but would slowly get better and better--until the time when "The dead dog bites one last time." It would be about 10 days in September of excruciating heat and humidity--after which Autumn would arrive in its fullness. Summer's last attack.

This year I learned the more common phrase for it: qiu lao-hu, or Autumn Tiger/Tiger Autumn. I thinks it's roughly equivalent to our "dog days of summer" or "Indian Summer." 

And it struck with fury this year.

For several days I had forgotten about it. The heat was worse than usual and the humidity left us feeling bedraggled and exhausted and moody. Each day my online weather forecast indicated that it was going to, or was currently, raining. It wasn't. I suppose that with an 88% humidity rating, rain is an easy assumption to make.

And finally Monday came along--Red Monday, I'll call it--when the heat reached 98 degrees F. It began normally enough. I woke up late, threw on clothes and rushed to teach my 8:00 class. My first classroom has air conditioning units--very low powered ones that maybe bring the room temperature down by a few degrees or so--but a/c units nonetheless. I noticed that I wasn't feeling fabulous--but I never do before about 10:30 a.m. 

My next class was a brand new class. Postgraduate students don't begin class until the 3rd week of school, so I'd be meeting these students for the first time. I was excited because this was a Masters Advanced English class--the students are all about my age and that would create unique opportunities for discussion. The classroom, however, was a more typical Chinese classroom. One lone fan wobbled high above in the lofty ceilings. The bathrooms--not even equipped with squatty potties but instead with what could most politely be labeled a trough--were nearby and released a foul, fetid odor into the surrounding rooms. By this point the heat of the day was rising and had passed 90 degrees F. And I began to feel a rumbly-tumbly feeling in my belly.

A few days before, all of us Wuhan foreigners had gotten together as we do once a month. And there, lurking in either the food or the fellowship, was the Qiu Lao-hu--in bacterial or parasitic form. It seems to have attacked all of us who were there that day.

15 minutes into class, I was sweating more than I ever have in my life. And I've taken Hot Yoga--so we're talking serious! 30 minutes in, my nalgene bottle was nearly empty and I was getting shaky. The students get a 10 minute break in the middle of class---so I sat down and tried to breathe deeply and pull myself together. It didn't work. When I rose to teach again, I began to see black tunnels forming in the corners of my vision. "Don't pass out in China. Don't pass out in China," I just kept repeating to myself. I ended class early and trudged the longest walk home that I've ever endured. I had to stop and sit down three times along the ways, all the while repeating "Don't pass out in China."

I didn't pass out in China, but I did spend the next several days in bed. Apparently I, and everyone else, got a parasite when we were together, and we've all been sick in the same way to varying degrees. Thankfully, once we realized that it wasn't just going to "work its way out of our system," a good friend who is an RN was able to write out the Chinese name for the meds that we need to take to recover. In the meantime, we've at least been able to have some random moments of shared scatological humor--which does have a rightful place in the world, after all.

The Chinese are nearly militant in their insistence on escorting foreigners to the hospital at the first sign of disease. And at Chinese hospitals, IV drips come standard. It doesn't really matter what is wrong with you--when you get there, you get an IV. So I've spent the week fending off offers to bring me, or urgent suggestions that I should go, to the hospital. So far I've been successful.

In the midst of the parasitic bug creatures (microscopic though they may be)  multiplying exponentially within my body and warding off an unneeded hospital visit--the instantaneous shift into Autumn nearly went unnoticed. Last year, I wrote about how it's as if someone flips a switch, and BOOM!, summer disappears. It was the same this year. After the 98 degrees of Monday--Tuesday brought a day of steady wind--and on the wind came Autumn. It was the kind of day that makes you scan the horizon for Mary Poppins and her umbrella.

And the Tiger has flown away. Friday had temperatures in the 60's and today looks about the same. I'm excited that my favorite Chinese season is here--I can't wait to snack on roasted sweet potatoes and candied apples while watching the leaves blow around in the breeze. I have been back in Wuhan for one month now--and I'm beginning to really love it all again. Maybe more than ever. 


My flip-flop popped! 
On the way to class one day--the thong of my flip flop finally gave up the ghost and broke. These flips flops have been with me through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and all over China. I'm so disappointed. I had to walk with one foot barefoot to class--so for the walk home I decided to strap the flop to my foot with tape! This is the taped up rig for the walk home.

I got a hair cut.
It's pretty short this time--but I like the ease of it. This isn't the best pic but it's the only one I have of the new hair. 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My summer in America!

I don't know why the quality turned out so low on this...sorry for the blur!

A look back at the summer! Set to Bruce Springsteen's Growing Up--a song that reminds me of hometowns.

  • The long flight home
  • Arriving
  • Tim and I having adventures while riding the ENTIRE 34 MILES of the Virginia Creeper Trail from Whitetop Mtn (near the VA/NC state line) to Abingdon, Va!!!!
  • Lunch with Marisol in Huntsville
  • The ol' youth group gang all happened to be back home on the same Sunday morning!
  • Goofing around with Mom in the antiques stores
  • Exploring SW Virginia with Tim--Big Stone Gap, Keokee, Appalachia, Norton etc..
  • A 27 Dresses theme party (we were all to wear bridesmaids dresses--so I picked one of my mom's from the 80's)
  • Tim and I traveling to Asheville, NC for a She & Him concert (the lead singer is Zooey Deschanel--the actress who is in Elf, Bridge to Terebinthia and Failure to Launch)
  • Our semi-family (we were missing Laura and Scott!) BEACH VACATION at Carolina Beach
  • Our typical Pyeatt Family Vacation Museum Stop--this time in Raleigh NC when we heard the Dead Sea Scrolls were on exhibit--pretty awesome exhibit--if you're ever in the area
  • Shots around town
  • Tim took me to see BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN in concert in Richmond, Va--so while we were in the area, we also checked out: Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Monticello, the Natural Bridge and Roanoke (where I once lived as a child)
  • Finally--some shots of my last week in the US--recovering from oral surgery--pathetic.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

America, land that I love...

What I LOVED during my summer in America: Signage 

Here in China, we like to laugh when we find funny signs with ridiculous Chinglish translations. Having been so tuned to search for such hilarities, I found plenty while in America to keep me amused. Maybe China isn't so backwards after all!

A little late afternoon shopping....very late afternoon!

Death dates? For once you've made your casket purchase? 

I know what this means--but it's still funny to me!

Please notice the hot dog shooting Custard with an arrow!

ESCAPE from Dinosaur Kingdom: Taking a bite out of time!

The sign isn't actually funny--it's just funny that places like this make $$.

And it did rock!

FOAMHENGE: an EXACT replica of Stonehenge made out of...wait for it...FOAM! (We didn't pay to get close enough for a better pic.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Happy Mid Autumn Festival

"Mei feng jia jie bei si qin."
"One will extremely miss the family members when the traditional festivals are around the corner."
-Wang Wei, poet, Tang dynasty

Once, a very long time ago, the sky held 10 suns. It was so hot every day on Earth that the people could not grow crops and life for them was very bad. So Hou-Yi decided one day to shoot down 9 of the suns. He shot them down with an arrow and life on Earth became much better.

Hou-Yi was a hero on Earth, but he and his beautiful wife, Chang-E, were very poor. Chang-E was very resourceful though--since they did not have much food, she would make very small cakes for dinner and fill them with delicious flavors. These were her and Hou-Yi's favorite meals. 

As a reward for Hou-Yi's bravery, the Queen of Paradise gave him some magical pills. If he ate the pills, they would give him immortality--but he was warned that he mustn't eat them all at once or they would cause problems. Hou-Yi brought the pills home and showed them to his wife before hiding them away.

One day while Hou-Yi was working in the fields, robbers came into the house looking for the gift from the Queen of Paradise. Chang-E tried to get them out, and there was a scuffle over the pills. Frantically, Chang-E grabbed the pills and ate them all in one gulp. Immediately, Chang-E began to feel lighter and lighter--until she was floating in the air! She began floating higher and higher--up, up, up into the sky.

Chang-E begged the King of the Sky to let her go back down to earth, but the King of the Sky was angry with Hou-Yi for changing his sky and shooting down the suns. He cursed Chang-E to remain in the sky for all of her never-ending life. She moved into the Moon Palace, where she lived alone, except for a rabbit (?) and another man cursed to live on the moon, Wu Gang (Wu Gang had accepted a bet that he could chop down any tree--so he was sent to the moon to cut down the only tree there. He began cutting the tree with his ax, but the tree was so alive that it would immediately grow back where his ax had been before the next stroke. He was cursed to chop at that tree forever).

And so Hou-Yi was left to die alone on Earth while his wife was doomed to live forever alone on the moon. Once a year, though, Hou-Yi would make the delicious cakes that he and his wife had loved so much together and sit out on the 5th full moon of the season to gaze at the moon and offer the cakes to Chang-E. Chang-E also made the cakes up on the moon, and once a year would cast them down to the Earth in sadness. 

Moon cake

And now the Mid-Autumn Festival gives us 3 days of holiday. The Chinese people give moon cakes as gifts to each other and gather as a family for a large, delicious meal and then sit together as a family outside under the full moon. History says that proof of moon cakes can be found all the way back to 700 A.D. The moon holds a special role in Chinese culture--it's sacredness is used to illustrate a very sacred love: "She is a full moon in my heart," means that she is a true love. And so families take time on Mid-Autumn Day to gaze at the moon together and feel its light.

The legend of Mid-Autumn festival was taught to me by groups of my sophomore English majors. The above story is a compilation of all their lessons.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Oh yeah...I have a blog!

Sorry, sorry, sorry! I have been here for two weeks now and am finally finding words worth sharing rumbling 'round my head again! Here's a random and timid reentry to the bloggin life!

Cleanse and Purge:
I have moved 8 times in the past 6 years. Some of those moves are obvious--I was a college student, therefore, each summer required the great Pack Up N' Move Out operations. Those make up 4 of the moves. I include the summer that I lived in Texas as one move--even though it was only for about 3 months. Then came the post-college apartment, way back when I thought I was going to spend a large part of my 20's working as a public relations associate. I remember moving into the apartment and commenting how I would be glad to settle into a place for more than a year at a time. Oh, how plans change.

Of course, when our first year's lease ran out, I was packing for China. And again, when I decided to stay in Wuhan for a second year, I verbally stated my excitement at not having to move--only to have my joy squelched when the school informed me that the apartment would be redecorated during the summer and all my things would have to be moved out until I returned.

And so, during the past two weeks, I have been partaking in the oh-so-familiar task of unpacking my life and finding a place for all of it again. This year though--I've been reflecting on how good it has been for me to be forced to reevaluate all of my possessions on an annual basis. In college, I took a lot of pride in the fact that my entire life could fit neatly inside my '89 Honda Accord. Now however, I have both a closet in America filled with boxes of stuff waiting for me to return and set up house--and an apartment in China filled with the stuff/junk of life. My stuff is officially spread across the world!

I'm grateful to have the chance to objectively look at all that stuff and ask whether I need it or not. I'm grateful that my tendency towards sentimentality and packratism (oh yes--I DID just make a new word) has been systematically lessened through move upon move upon move. I'm grateful that on an annual basis, I have been forced to fill trash bags with the unneeded refuse of day-to-day life, and to give away the items that shouldn't be trashed. 

Here's the thing, though--and I guess my prayer for today: How do I commit to using these much-needed lessons should I ever get a life that stays geographically stationary for longer than 12 short months? I hope that it's something that someday I can focus on.

I have hired a housecleaner. I feel like an indolent snob.

No offense to all of you who employ a Cleaning Person. I am just dealing with the guilt of asking another person to clean up my own mess!

My excuses are that 1: Wuhan is incredibly dusty. The dust flies in through every crack and you really do have to sweep once a day to keep it out. And I mean, really...who does that! 2: It is far too easy to get sick here, so every measure you can take to ensure the sanitation of your own living space is helpful. And 3: it provides employment to someone who could use it. There are a lot of people in China (understatement of the century) and there aren't always a lot of jobs (understatement of the decade). So, I am providing one.

She will come once a week and begins on Saturday. I amused my foreign teachers officer, Mimi, (the one who helps me with all-things-China) today trying to make sure that the salary of my cleaning person is fair (it is incredibly cheap to have someone clean your house here). Our conversation went like this: 
Mimi: "You must pay her x kwai for one hour."
Me: "Ok--but should I pay more?"
Mimi: "You pay her x kwai an hour."
Me: "I know, but is that a living wage?"
Mimi: "I am sorry, but she cannot live with you. She can come one time each week."

My supply of oh-so-soft clothes cleaned with washer AND dryer in America. This makes me so sad.

What I LOVED over the summer: Issue 1:
There are soooo many things to include here, so I'll just start with two for today.

#1: Russell Brand: HE IS HILARIOUS. These two interviews are seriously two of the FUNNIEST late night moments I've ever seen. As is to be expected--the Conan interview includes some PG-13 content. You've been warned. The Letterman interview is appropriately clean. (if I post this correctly, the videos should be in the two posts beneath this one)

This website lists nearly all the major chain/franchise restaurants and shares little know facts about menu options that are the best/worse choices. I ADORED browsing through the website before we went out to eat. The creators' point is that you CAN eat out and still have a great meal that you enjoy--but that you should know that some options are a BILLION times better than others. 

For example: the "Hidden Danger" at McDonalds? Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips (5 pieces) with Creamy Ranch Sauce. With 830 calories, you could eat 20 mcnuggets for the same caloric price! ALSO: at Chili's (my favorite), if you order the Old Timer Burger on a Whole Wheat Bun instead of a Big Mouth Bun, you reduce calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium by about HALF. It's an easy choice--and you're still eating a great burger! 

Seriously, check it out before you eat out! It is really awesome!

What I LOVED over the summer: Video #1

My favorite lines:
#1: "We'd make a mockery of Lindberg's achievements."
#2: "You're Rod Stewart, you've conducted yourself in a terribly sexy manner!"

What I LOVED over the summer: Video #2

My favorite line: "Youthful folly, jubilance, and hyjinks."