Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The end is in sight

It's been a while since I was actually committed to blogging, but there are a few things from this time in China that I want to remember, so it's time for a good ol' random bits and pieces post!

1. There comes a day in every girl's life when she must realize that she will never be a professional ballerina:

For me, that day was about a month ago. In early childhood I had grand aspirations to become a famous ballerina. And I suppose that there has always been a TIIIINNNNY part of me that believed that, if the opportunity came along, I could still be trained a la one of those reality shows where they take a nobody and teach them. I'm not ashamed that the delusion lasted a full 26 years.

Unfortunately, I'm gonna have to stick with my day job. A month ago our school decided that for their big 8-year anniversary celebration, all the teachers in the department would have to perform a traditional Tai Chi dance. Schools around here do this often, they hire you to teach English and then you discover that on random occasions you will be required to sing, dance, act, announce, and various other forms of playing monkey for the entertainment of the students. We gathered on the first day of practice and I was optimistic...I thought it would be cool to come away from China knowing a traditional dance and having video of performing it in full costume in front of a couple hundred people. Then we saw the dance.

This thing involved full body lifts, swooshy-swoosh dips, crazy leg loopty-loops and all other forms of whatnot! The above terminology, by the way, is how I defined all of our moves, "now we lean back for the swirly-swirl, then the high hoopa, now a wooshy-tuck thingy." You can imagine how much my instructor loved me.

We spent two hours practicing and only mastered 12 SECONDS worth of the entire 8 minute dance! At first the instructor patiently took the foreigners through the moves, but eventually tired of the language barrier and our obvious ineptitude and gave up after the first hour, spending the second half of class speaking only to the Chinese staff. In turn, we foreigners quickly gave up too...throwing out suggestions that perhaps the performance would be better served by giving us Ribbon Dancers and letting us frolic among the real performers.

In the end, the performance was skipped by all of the foreign teachers for one reason or another. I don't think anybody really minded either. But after feeling my brain go all fuzzy by watching the instructor, trying to mimic his movements, and failing sooo completely, I had the coming-of-age realization that professional dance is, after all these years, not for me. Thank God that my "day job" is teaching English and having adventures in CHINA....not to shabby. So I'm still happy.


Last year for my 25th birthday, I donned a wig and had the time of my life. This year I wanted to extend the fun to all my friends. Wigs are for some reason, surprisingly plentiful here in China, so to kick off the summer and also to have one last, great, epic bash before we all leave China for good, I gathered my friends together for a wig party about a week ago. It was amazing. My only requirement was that everyone had to wear a wig and that they also preferably wear a monochromatic outfit to match whatever color they chose. We all met at a great new Western restaurant near my apartment, where the owner was so thrilled for the business that the staff all wore wigs as well and gave us huge discounts. We danced and sang karaoke and had a great time before moving on to another place and dancing the night away. All in all I think about 15-20 people came and we all had soooo much fun. When I am back in the States, I'll post pictures. I was in monochromatic pink for the night and will remember it forever.

Some of the wig partiers at Helen's

Bonnie, Tara and Bob, some of my awesome coworkers and friends

Chen, our favorite waiter at Helen's, and now a great friend, showing off one of his many wigs!

Me and Josh being wig fabulous

Nico, Bon, Louis and Me and all the wonderful colors


It's getting to the hard part of the year, and of this whole China experience: saying goodbye. I've lived here for three years, and the people I'm here with are family. We've celebrated Christmases, Thanksgivings, Easters, loves, anxieties, tiny triumphs and everything else together. So we're saying goodbye to each other and also having to say goodbye to all of China...which is something I really haven't come to terms with yet. I REFUSE to do the sappy-senior-year-"Oh my gosh this is our last cafeteria lunch, and this is our last locker visit, and this is our last blah blah blah" business...but it's hitting the emotions nonetheless. denial, here are some things I've been really enjoying:

--My favorite music: I have decided that for me, there are 4 characteristics that make a song wonderful. I have yet to find a song that combines all four traits in one track, but if you know of it, please share. These 4 must-haves in Lucy music are: handclaps, countdowns/countups, harmonica, and electric fiddle. Handclaps and countdowns lately are the best...they never fail to put a smile on my face! ...TWO THREE FOUR...

--Chinese fashion: for some reason, it is fashionable for 30 year old women to wear Minnie Mouse barrettes. My students come to class with fuzzy teddy bears on their tshirts. And they are in grad school. It's hard to find heels that don't have pretty pretty plastic sparkly bows pasted and bedazzeled all over them. Yeah...on some days when I'm tired of China it repulses me, but lately I just find it hilarious. I love it. It's so random and out of place and weird...but it's what they wear.

--I found episodes of David Letterman online that aren't's on China's version of youtube (which is still blocked) so it's not uploaded alll the time, but I'm still able to catch a little here and there. I miss late night TV so much, so it's really cool to have it now.

--Dragon Boat Festival: I had a few days off last week for Dragon Boat Festival. I may have written about this earlier, but here's one of the origin stories of the festival--there's another one that explains the boats, but I only heard this one (as I was told by my students): There was a nobleman/poet in ancient China who was really innovative and introduced a lot of reforms to the land. Other members of the royal court didn't like change, so accused him of treason. He was found guilty and was so depressed that his loyalty had been questioned that he drowned himself in a river. To honor him, during Dragon Boat Festival, the people go drop rice or bread or zongzi (the traditional food of the festival, it's meat or raisins wrapped in sticky rice which is then wrapped in a bamboo leaf and steamed...not bad) into the river SO THAT THE FISH WILL EAT THE FOOD AND NOT THE BODY OF THE SUICIDAL POET! It's so dark and creepy of a tradition...the students all laughed when they were telling me...for some of them it was the first time they had viewed it from an outsiders perspective and actually thought about the tradition. I love it. We have plenty of creepy nonsense traditions too with our holidays, so it's fun to find the ones from other cultures. These days, very few people make their way to a river to drop in rice...but it's funny anyway.

Ok, soon I'm sure I'll pull myself together to share what all of this experience has meant to me and whatnot, but for now this will have to do. I have about a month and a half left of living in Wuhan, then will travel for a while. None of it seems real yet, but this weekend one of my best friends returns to the States, so I'm sure I'll have to face reality soon. Until then, enjoy your summer everyone!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Turns out, Soccer is pretty fun!

I haven't blogged in a while, mostly b/c it's a chore using these proxies and also b/c I've had plenty on my plate, but I had to take a break this afternoon to share what's been happening among the foreigners here in China. It is, obviously, THE WORLD CUP.

It started last week and I didn't really register that it would be anything significant in my life. Or in China. But I was wrong.

Although China doesn't have much of a soccer league and isn't participating in the Cup, the country seems pretty jazzed about it. This year a large number of Chinese league soccer officials were fired on charges of massive corruption, and there is a small whispered hope in some editorials and among some of my students that next year might hold a chance of reform, leading to the hopes of one day joining the world in competition. There's also plenty of cynicism that it will never happen...but the conversation is there.

Mostly, however, the World Cup as I've experienced belongs to the ever growing waigoren (foreigner) population in Wuhan. Wuhan, over the past year especially, has turned into one of China's newest boomtowns as China invests capital and infrastructure development into more central Chinese cities. I'm not sure if it's due to this or to the fact that I have larger exposure to the hangouts and enclaves of foreigners through my company and new friends, but Wuhan has blossomed into a place with a few great bars and restaurants catering to the foreign students, teachers, researchers and businesspeople of the city. And they all seem to know the importance of the World Cup to this displaced population.

And so, despite the fact that the 3 daily games of the World Cup are shown live at 6:30 pm, 10 pm, and 2:30 a.m., these places are staying open all night, and it seems, each night, are filled with people watching. I honestly don't know how these soccer fans are going to keep this up for a month, but several of my friends have loyally attended each night of the first week! I've been to two nights so far, and tonight will be up until 4 or 5 in the morning to watch the US play at 10 followed by England at 2:30.

So here's the thing, I know absolutely NOTHING about soccer except that it doesn't hold a candle to my favorite sport of FOOTBALL. I'm skeptical of any sport that allows games to end in a tie on a regular basis and in which one fluke shot could determine a winner even when the shot is made by a team that is consistently inferior throughout an entire game. I like a narrative to my sports, a systematic drive towards a goal, and a confidence in the outcome being based on the events of the ENTIRE game, instead of chance or luck or whatever. And soccer doesn't seem to fit these needs. Plus, Americans aren't very good at it.

However, I'm a sucker for any type of communal passion. I think it's one of the closest secular experiences of the Kingdom. Well..sometimes. And I have several British friends, so it was worth getting into the Cup just to bring out some Revolutionary War era trash talk during the US-England game. When else can you call someone a redcoat and so frequently reference the Boston Tea Party, right? I even got in a few jabs at Churchill while I was at it. Hilarious.

So I'm on the bandwagon. And it turns out, soccer is fascinating. I started reading up on the World Cup just to store away enough knowledge to a) not look like a total idiot, b) find a few clever conversation starters--"they sure don't make em like Pele anymore these days" "yeah, but what about the loss of a Brazil's artistry in all of this?" and c) find more ways to trash talk my British friends.

A note on objective b: it's AMAZING when you find one-liners that get people all riled up! It's like magic, you utter one sentence in a crowd and they all go crazy about the topic, carrying the conversation and you just sit back and enjoy what you started. With Canadians, all you ever have to do is say, "So, how bout those Albertans, eh?" and they're off like rockets! Seriously, try it! You will not need to speak another word for the next hour while they share with you all the ways that the people of Alberta are either destroying or saving their country. With soccer fans, so far, a few lines have been: "But what about this new ball they're using?" and "so if Argentina doesn't win, will you still think Lionel Messi is the greatest player in the game" and "Does it really matter WHO the coach is during play?" So far, these lines allow the people who really know what they're talking about to go on and on...while you sit back and eat their french fries.

Moving on-- so I've been reading up on "football" and after a few podcasts, and cursory readings of ESPN and the NYT World Cup section, have more of an idea of what's at stake, how teams advance, and the amazing endurance that it takes to win a tournament like this. This is a MONTH and soccer has to be one of the more totally-mess-with-your-head games that exist. I will say that I truly feel that soccer requires more actual SKILL than any of our major American sports. But for all that skill, the element of luck plays a greater role than any of our sports as well. It's incredibly frustrating. And fascinating.

So I'm hoping that the US can hang in there for a few more games and actually have a shot at advancing to some of the quarter finals at least. I doubt that we will, especially b/c our tie w/England was based solely on the British goalkeepers error (not much pride there). But I want us to. Then, I'm moving on to pull for either Argentina or Brazil. Anything could happen. I'm enjoying the camaraderie for now...but I will say...I return to the U.S. this year just in time for NFL season. sooo....Go Titans!

Josh, Me and Anney dressed up for the US game in the World Cup

My nails all done up for the US game in the World Cup