Thursday, February 22, 2007

holla back y'all

Monday night I arrived in Chicago. It was a great feeling. . .to be in my motherland after being away for 11 months. I was also feeling relieved. For the first time in ages I didn't feel fat. In fact, the first thing I noticed when I walked through the airport is how fat other people are. This may sound a tad insulting and also a wee-bit obvious (ok, yeah, us Americans are fat, what's new?) but after being surrounded by 5 foot 90 pound Asian women for an entire year, this is a breath of fresh air. I'm no longer the tubbiest one in the room, in fact I probably on the smaller end. Or at least that's what I like to believe.

There are so many little things I'm happy to endulge in now that I'm home. Being with friends and family, of course, but there are so many everyday comforts and habits I'm happy to go back to. Not carrying around toliet paper everywhere I go because bathrooms here actually supply that for me. Being able to walk around the house in bare feet. Not having to wash my hands obsessively. Applying the 5 second rule. . .the floor's not that dirty after all. Drinking Diet Dr. Pepper. Life is good! I almost cried the other day when I saw a big, red barn with a silo next to it. Wide open spaces. Clean air. Cows. Things I haven't seen in ages now are all around me. The best is English. Glorious English. I can read every word on every sign and eavesdrop on any conversation at any time. I can say words like "bling," "phat," and "holla back y'all" and though I may sound ridiculous, people know what I'm talking about. Ah, yes, it's good to be home.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

out with the dog, in with the pig

Big class at Richland, last day of class
No fear, this is not about a recent meal. Rather, it's about the holiday season that has descended upon China. It is just about that time for the Chinese New Year. This year it falls on February 18th and on that day The Year of the Pig will officially begin. For those of you born mid-Feb 1983-early Feb 1984, this is your year. Congratulations. It only comes around once every 12 years. My year, the dog, is coming to its end.

Holidays in China are a strange thing. Western holidays are really starting to take over. Christmas is a big one, of course. New Year's (as we all know it) is also celebrated. Valentine's Day was yesterday, and that's increasing in popularity. But the Chinese seem to celebrate these holidays in a half-assed way. They don't really know the meaning behind them (but then again, sometimes I'm not sure if we do either), but do it because it's interesting. The Chinese New Year, however, is much more sacred. This is one monster of a holiday. This is my first time in China during the Chinese New Year and it's a very odd feeling being here.

In a country with 1.3 billion people, there are always people about. But where I live, it's starting to feel like a bit of a ghost town. I can compare it to Christmas or Thanksgiving Day, or a Sunday afternoon in Wisconsin when the Packers are having a great season (I've almost forgotten what that was like). Everyone is at home. Stores are empty, if they are even open. There's not a lot of traffic. This is what it feels like.

This is my last week teaching and the children are in the "it's-almost-time-for-holiday" mode in which they are hyper and don't want to do much of anything. A lot of the children aren't even in class because their parent's have taken them back home for the holidays. It seems that most people that live in Beijing aren't actually from Beijing. Almost all of my Chinese co-workers are from different cities and this is one of few times during the year that everyone can go to their hometowns to be with their families. The lines at train ticket offices are ridiculously long. Most trains have standing room only, if that. Buses heading out of town are jam-packed. Everyone in the country is either migrating back to where they came from or going on vacation.

But I am here, alone, stuck in Beijing until Monday. The day after the New Year. Ming left this morning to go back to Chengde to be with his mom. I'll have to experience this holiday alone, which is a little depressing since it is a family holiday. It's kinda like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the 4th of July all wrapped up into one. Children get gifts, mostly red envelopes with 100 RMB ($12) from all their relatives. There's tons of food. And finally, as I've already begun to notice, there are LOTS of fireworks. For such an important holiday, there are few decorations to be seen, mostly pigs, pigs, and more pigs.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Are you black?

not just the cat is black. . .

Was watching "Friends" yesterday...usually not the most thought provoking show, but Ming manages to make things interesting by asking me questions. Although "Friends" doesn't exactly reflect the realities of American culture and society (let's not even get started on how nice their apartments are. And have you ever met anyone as flaky as Phoebe?), it does bring up some differences between China and America. The first thing that shocked Ming when he first started watching the show was how much the characters talk about sex. The topic of sex is forbidden on Chinese television and naturally mention of menage-a-tois, masturbation, girl-on-girl action and the like is not allowed. Imagine America TV without these things. . . .

While this is all shocking enough, there's more. So let us rewind to what particular episode we were watching last night. It was the one in which Rachel and Ross bring little baby Emma home from the hospital. They aren't married, of course, which to the average American isn't all that scandalous. Ming was quite taken aback by all this though. He asked me if the baby was "Black." Excuse me? Black? You mean, like, African American?

But he didn't mean that Black. He meant the "Black List" kinda black. The kind of black that means scorned, sneered at, and kicked to the curb. In China, if you are born to unwedded parents you are considered an illegitimate "Black." You aren't allowed any legal identification which means you cannot attend school, cannot work, cannot marry, cannot do anything. In China, poor little baby Emma would be a Black. And guess what-so would I. Or maybe not. Maybe my parents would have married for my sake. In China a lot of unhappy marriage must begin this way and later end inevitably in divorce.

The level of conservativeness here is a bit mind-blowing at times. I was really upset recently when I read an article about the regulations changing for adopting Chinese babies. People who are not married, people who are obese, and people who are taking anti-depressents will no longer be able to adopt a baby from China. This is quite a blow to gay and lesbian couples. It's no good news for neither those with extra poundage nor those who are TREATING a common disorder. I can sometimes overcome my frustration with a simple, "Not my country, not my problem." That's not a great stance to take, of course, but I also see how China is developing which gives me some hope that human rights will improve. But really, who would have guessed that all of this would have come from watching "Friends?"

Thursday, February 08, 2007

China Rage

It's been awhile, yet again. It's not that there's been no time to write. I have plenty these days. And it's not because there's nothing to bitch about. There's definitely things. But they changed the blogger site around (and it's completely in Chinese) so it took a lot of trial and error and swearing to figure out how to get into my account.

Now I'm in. phew. I was beginning to think the Chinese government shut me down due to all my sarcasm and clothing jabs. Evidently they're thinking of making all Chinese blogs be tied to a "real name" so that people will practice "responsible blogging." In other words, they can be tracked down and killed if they say anything to offend the wrong peps.

Just another thing to add to my list of Chinese grievances. I'll share my abridged list with you now:

1. People skipping in line. Particularly, people who skip in line when I'm waiting to use the toliet and really gotta go.
2. Bathrooms with no doors on the stalls. Bathrooms with no stalls, but just holes in the ground.
3. The staring. It sometimes lasts for what seems like forever. If you want my autograph, just ask already.
4. People drive like complete f%$*ing morons. They put whole intersections into gridlock because they are so damn inconsiderate.
5. Ugly little ankle bitters who run around freely (no leashes, the insanity!) reeking havoc on the community.
6. No decent Mexican food.
7. Complete strangers asking me what my monthly salary is.
8. Having to look in all four directions when I cross the street or otherwise risk death.
9. Strolling merrily down the sidewalk when a whiff of the vilest stentch hits my nostrils and nearly knocks me to the ground.
10. Friends, family, and Oscar are an ocean away.

You may sense that some things are getting under my skin. Some foreigners refer to this as "China Rage." Yes, there are moments (more frequently as of late) that I get a bit miffed. It's not that China isn't a wonderful country. It's great. But it's obviously a lot different from home. I miss going into a public toliet and knowing that there will be toliet paper made available for me. Such is not the case here. It's the little things like that (and the big things like being far from friends and family) that make me anxious to get home. It won't be much longer now. I can almost taste the burrito.