Monday, November 30, 2009

We keep on goin...

Another Thanksgiving in China has come and gone...and the mood of the day seems to be "good riddance."

The problem with holidays in English language learning is that by the time they finally come around, you've been teaching culture class lessons on the day for so long that you're sick of it! For example, in the weeks leading to Thanksgiving, I spent one hour-long class teaching the food vocabulary, another hour class of "Thanksgiving dinner role play," one Q&A session (2 hours) on the history and culture of Thanksgivings past and present AND attended a 3 hour, school organized Thanksgiving party for our students...which included teaching 3 groups of students the craft of making a turkey out of their handprint. Then, my boss took all of the foreign teachers out for a Thanksgiving Brunch complete with round-the-table "What I am Thankful For" speeches. All of this was before the actual Thanksgiving day. Then, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, our group of foreigners in town always gets together for a traditional meal, so that was another round of thanksgiving!

Anyway...I AM thankful for all of it and DID enjoy it all thoroughly. There was great food and fellowship throughout the events. But I can honestly say that I'm perfectly comfortable with moving on.

Especially because Thanksgiving was the last big thing to do before coming home! Now the path is clear up til Flight Day!

I still feel a bit in denial that I am about to go. It doesn't seem real to me, that so soon I will be back home. Someone asked me what I missed the most about America, and besides my friends and family, I can't really name anything specific. It is as though I have forgotten that the things I once missed exist. There is just this vague haze of memory of the things in the US that I don't have here...cheese, milk, little debbies, Chili's, citywide sanitation...and I can't quite FEEL anything specific--longing, desire, anything--about them. They all just comprise this blur called America. I just know that it is good. That I like it. That it is home. I'm ready for my vacation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nothing to tell!

In China, at least in my life, sometimes the lack of a story is a story all its own. Every week is filled with possibilities of disaster or adventure or both. What are routine errands in the States become massive quests here in Wuhan. A recent expedition to a friend's house for dinner, for example, involved a bus, a taxi, two long walks, a case of roosters, and a sweet potato.

With so many opportunities to be waylaid by some random bizarre detail, you begin to prepare well in advance of an errand for the fact of unforeseeable detours. For example, you need a needle and thread to repair an undone seam: you state that on Tuesday you will MAYBE go to the fabric market. You don't make any other plans for Tuesday and you don't even try to guess at how long it might take. You gird yourself for the adventure and hope that whatever comes, you will 1) get the supplies you need and 2)that the adventure will at least have a smidge enough humor to provide some good laughs in the retelling.

Anyway, I say all this because I've begun to complete all the large and small tasks that must be done before my upcoming trip to the States. I wanted to get my teeth cleaned and buy new contact lenses--both tasks that are much cheaper to do here in China. I also needed to buy a few Christmas gifts and exchange some money.

All of these tasks require preplanning. There are locations to be found, appointments to be set (except not really), Chinese friends to be requested as translators, dates made etc. After hearing friends' stories of dental or optometry visits, I was sure that I'd return with some excellent tales of culture clash. I spread out the trips and secured 4 free mornings to finish it all. I was prepared to be exhausted by the end.

I don't know if it's because I've lived here for long enough that I'm too comfortable to notice the issues. Or maybe Wuhan's massive growth has caused the city to become more globalized and efficient. Or maybe the stars all just aligned in my favor....

Because I have nothing to share! I completed all of my errands with the help of a friend in one day. It's all done! There were no delays, no surprises, no frustrations. My teeth are clean and healthy. My contacts are supplied. My gifts are purchased. My money is American. I feel just all seemed too easy!

All that's left now is for me to get all my laundry done and pack! But since those initial errands went so smoothly, I have some extra time on my I suppose the procrastination can begin now! I'm sure by the time I board the plane, I'll have some sort of near disaster to share. I am still me, after all!

Monday, November 16, 2009

First Snow and I couldn't wait...

Wuhan is all snowy today. The snow was mixed with sleet and slush yesterday, but this morning we woke to a light frosting and all day it's been coming down. Though the accumulation has remained as nothing more than a dusting...I couldn't help but get the Christmas music going!

In class this afternoon I taught my students to sing "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow." All day I've been rearranging my Christmas songs into the combinations that I like best.

And never before has the song "I'll be home for Christmas" made me sooo happy!! Just thought I'd share!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Disaster Highs

It's 3 a.m. and I can't sleep. The world just ended 3 years from now. It was awesome.

I'm speaking of the new disaster flick 2012. I blame the fact that my first kiss followed a viewing of the movie Armageddon, but I'm a huge sucker for a good full-on disaster film. The more ridiculous and formulaic, the better it is in my book. Aliens, asteroids, nuclear warfare, perfect storms, volcanic eruptions, sinking ships, mountain avalanches, splintered freeways, tornadoes throwing cows around... you name it--if it's on the big screen, I'll be joyfully there, gnawing on twizzlers in stressed out rapture.

The big screen is the key though. I don't care for any of these once out on DVD...the mildly witty humor, obvious deadpan comments, vague moments of semi-scientific explanations, absurd escapes, heroic sacrifices and human togetherness need to be seen and heard in massive proportions to be any fun...a tv screen amputates away all the mindless vibrant joie de vivre of the genre.

Over the past few years, one of the things I've missed most was having great, mild date nights of food and movie. It's plain and routine and I love it. The movie theaters in Wuhan seldom show anything in when they do, we usually make a point of trying to go. For this reason, in the past year, I have seen 3 movies in Wuhan theaters (and 2 in Beijing...which gets a bunch more of the international it doesn't count in this discussion): Valykrie (or however that one with Tom Cruise as a German was spelled), Transformers 2, and now 2012.

The first two were obviously duds, and it is a testament of Americans' innate love of a movie date that we all went at all. AND WE ENJOYED IT. The joy of movie theater movies is that if the movie is crap, you can laugh and make fun of it together while enjoying the atmosphere. The AWESOME joy of CHINESE movie theater movies is that you can also mess with peoples' minds. A row of foreigners draws attention....and so when that whole row of foreigners laughs simultaneously, everyone's going to notice. When those foreigners all laugh at a dramatic moment on cue from a pre-agreed-upon signal, everyone's going to get confused and wonder what their subtitles aren't telling them! And maybe they're even going to laugh along, pretending that they get the humor as well. It's wrong...but so fun.

Anyway, as soon as I heard of 2012, I knew I desperately wanted it to come to Wuhan. A review mentioned that the scientist character would utter "My. God." NOT JUST ONCE....but TWICE! And that the director...whatever his name the type who's perfected worldwide disaster to the extreme...he's not just going to crush the White House, he's going to crush it with the USS John F. Kennedy battleship! He's not just going to have water flood some mountains, he's going to have it be Mount Everest! How could you ask for anything more!

And obviously, it did open in Wuhan. Disaster movies do well in China with only subtitles (not the usual redubbing) b/c you don't have to worry about everyone understanding the plot for it to be enjoyed. Plus, China actually has a role in the plot of the movie, so when we arrived, the first 2 showings were already sold out. We had to wait till 11:30 to see it, and the theater was packed! The movie did NOT disappoint! Cars drove through buildings!, airplanes brushed mountain peaks!, limos jumped cliffs!, California fell into the water!, the President was noble!, the expendable bumbling idiots met their end!, families found the love!, humanity found the love!, my heart raced and lots of cola was sold!

Without giving anything away, the movie is much more enjoyable if you:
1. Play your own version of a drinking game anytime there's obvious foreshadowing
2. whisper "dead dead dead" to your partner anytime a new character appears who will obviously not make it
3. Insert the line, "Wanna procreate?" into the dialogue any time the couples who will obviously be united by the disaster speak.

Ok, I'm finally coming down from the rush that was 2012 and will finish this up and go to bed. I don't know if I would ever recommend this movie in the States...the point of all of this is that I've lived over here for almost 2.5 years, so anything English in theaters is a drop of water in a parched land.

In closing, I'll share the line that got the biggest laugh in the Wuhan theater (foreigners and Chinese alike....though I think we the foreigners laughed harder at it):

Character 1 to hero as they fly in a small bush plane away from disaster (paraphrased for understanding): "So, where does this secret map that you just almost died to retrieve tell you the secret location is where we must go to save our lives?"

hero opens map to reveal the PRC with the word "CHINA" written in red across the country

hero: "We're gonna need a bigger plane."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Remembering the Summer Commute

I wrote the following during the summer, but somehow in the haze of heat and work, I never posted it. Now that the weather is chilly and descending into cold, I thought it might be appropriate to pause and remember what was. I mostly write these descriptive posts for myself so that I can remember the little details when I'm back in the States. Not sure if they're as enjoyable for the readers though...oh well! Hope you're all enjoying the scarf weather wherever you are! ~LucyP

The Summer Commute

There is construction noise at all times, without end. First comes the sound of hammers and drills, then a welder and you can see sparks falling from somewhere above you. This morning, they are replacing something outside, dangling from windows and scaffolding that you can’t quite tell without leaning out the window—which is a bad idea. It is 7:30 and the noise will continue in various forms all day. Later, they will replace cabinets next door. Then it will be the building that’s going up down the street. Horns and the wail of the cardboard cart passing far below. You wake to urban life. The bed is hard and the sun is partially obscured by the adjacent high-rise.

And so you brew your favorite tea and play the music that reminds you that God’s grace is sometimes just moments of peaceful breathing in the midst of chaos. Morning is for tea and coffee and toast and fruit and responding to emails and reading news headlines and whatever else comes along.

But then the hour comes and you must step out into the blazing street, radiating heat stored from years of summer and dust that smacks your eyes while your nose can now smell only the putrid puddles tossed from the street vendors along the curb. And you merge into the pedestrian traffic of all mankind and walk the twisted jittery line of fitful bump and dodge and halt and speed-up that is the daily walk to the bus stop. There is the hobbled man collecting plastic bottles out of the trash bins, the grandmother holding a toddler by both hands as he walks in wobbling half-steps, his baby genitals on proud display framed by the traditional split pants found everywhere here. There are the stands jutting out with jiaozi and baozi and zongzi, smoke envelops you briefly passing Xinjiang shaokao, the lamb skewers heating over open coals and somehow it always smells like dirt even when it tastes so good.

Now you pass the hair salon and this gets dangerous as they claim all sidewalk space in front of their shops blasting with Korean pop music and you skirt onto the road with the motos and bicycles and whizzing taxis and buses. Don’t swing arms too wide and look before you venture further away from the curb to avoid the grate that is clogged with strips of cabbage and corn husks and green shoots from nowhere in particular. Now you cross the street and look both ways regardless of the lane you are crossing because there are cars around you on all sides with no solid yellow lines seen in the eyes of these drivers. It is frogger but it is life, so you do it now with everyone else and without blinking and forget that it is a strange thing to see cars use the sidewalk as a lane, or to watch a bus form its own lane between two streams of oncoming traffic.

And then jump onto the bus as inches forward, never actually stopping because a full stop seems to make it stall. It just slows to a crawl at the stops, so you learn to hit the ground running. Wedge and squeeze your way to the back and maybe find a seat while now the heat of the street is replaced by all too many bodies crammed together. The windows will be open in the back and on the 2 kuai buses the a/c will be running weakly, so there might be slight relief enough to wipe your brow of the grit that is everywhere. Lurches, jolts, screeching brakes, the bus gets more and more packed along the route. Flashes of life pass blurred: a family of 6 all on one moto, a bicycle loaded with full 5 gallon water jugs so high that they hover over the rider’s head, a peasant carrying a splintery wooden yoke on his shoulders with sheets of glass wrapped in plastic hanging from both sides, so many women wearing tight cheap heels on the broken jutting tiles of the walkway, stores overflowing with chintzy plastic jewelry, blankets spread out on the sidewalk filled with parasols or rubiks cubes or knives or zip drives or watermelons, all for sale by the peasant squatting beside, idly fanning themselves with a feather fan.

Then it’s your stop and you know without sight because the stinky doufu (a fried toufu that’s known for it’s gag-inducing smell while being cooked) vendors congregate here all day every day. Wedge and ease your way off the bus and it’s the jigsaw dance of the pedestrian sidewalks again. The buildings are taller here and giant outdoor screens loom above you, casting their luminous digital tech or LCD colors onto your face advertising lexus cars and whitening cream and wahaha pure water.

The streets are busier and you use the crosswalk, but you must control yourself because the crosswalks are tiny battlefields over and over again all day long. The ranks stand shoulder to shoulder on each side waiting for the light, and at the signal of the flashing green man, they advance upon each other, banners waving the in wind of passing traffic. A wall of humanity marches straight for another wall, closer and closer and you wonder if you might all pause and begin yelling Red Rover Red Rover. But no, everyone keeps walking, a game of chicken, who will turn aside first. And something of a warrior or just an American rises angrily in you and you ask why you must be the one to make way for them to cross, why they can’t figure out that there are walking lanes just like traffic lanes and everyone should stay to their own right-hand side of the crosswalk instead of fanning out like an old-fashioned infantry. And so depending on the day and the goodness in your heart, you either swoop your shoulders to the side and walk sideways through the onslaught, dancing to the right then left then far right and making way for them to pass you as you pass them…or…you steel your face and square your shoulders and set your jaw and look straight forward with head held high and eyes of fire and you march. March! You march and you dare them to barrel into you or brush your shoulder. They do the same.

And then, after all the fury of the street, you are standing in front of another nondescript skyscraper of 60 floors (maybe) and walking through the revolving doors that are always too slow for you because you’re always so close to being late. There’s no a/c in the lobby but it’s cooler in a dark cave kind of way. The elevators on the left take you to the 10th floor. The office is modern with glass walled classrooms and new computers. You go first to the washroom to wash your hands and tidy your face and try to cool down, grab a water, and finally, it’s time to teach.