the last days; a picture every hour 07/05/2011
Tuesday, June 28th.
7:30am: Ran my fingers through my hair and called it done.
8:30am: Put makeup on the kids in preparation for their end of term performance.
9:30am: The performance is underway.
10:30am: It's all over, time to say goodbye :(
11:30am: Had a much needed nap.
12:30pm: Ate fried noodles from our street food friends for the very last time.
1:30 - 2:30pm: Escaped from the heat and watched a little TV.
3:30pm: Closed my bank account, got the money I've earned this year.
4:30pm: Walked over to the kindergarten to meet up with my colleagues for our end of term dinner celebration.
5:30pm: Arrived at a fancy Japanese restaurant.
6:30pm: Demolished a ridiculous amount of food while more kept coming.
7:30pm: I am stuffed but miraculously my colleagues are still eating up a storm... mind you most of these women look like they weigh about 90lbs.
8:30pm: Went to an outer space themed KTV club (like karaoke but in a private room with your friends without alcohol)
9:30pm: Still at KTV, eating more and singing our hearts out.
10:30pm: Home at last and ready to pack!
From my notebook while in Sanya 06/16/2011
German and I took a week's vacation to the beautiful island of Hainan. This was the one and only journal entry I made during our trip:
We've enjoyed our visit here so far, even through bouts of paranoia about being cheated by every vendor and food service person we encounter. At some point you just gotta brush your shoulders off and say, hey, so I was cheated out of 10RMB, I'm on vacation. We were also dismayed at the price of a decent sized bottle of sunscreen, after having been burnt thoroughly by this blazing equatorial sun on our first day. Me on my shoulders and back, despite the umbrella (or parasol, rather) I take around with me everywhere.
Oh well. We've learned not to go to the beach at high noon and now realize why it seems surprisingly empty at that hour. At around 5-6 o'clock when it is still daylight but the direct sun has relented somewhat, the beach is packed with Chinese tourists. My favorite are the men in tiny little speedo briefs, also wearing matching swimsuits with their buddies. And the stick thin guys with their grasshopper legs jutting out of something resembling saggy granny panties. I've noticed that in China, the males are the ones who dress scantily at the beach while the women remain pretty conservative.
Every morning when I wake up, I go to the little street by our hostel (Blue Sky) and pick up a giant water and some street food for our breakfast. The Hainan street food is GOOD! My favorite is this kind of burrito (that's what we call it), filled with egg, chive, and like vermicelli noodles. I'm in heaven as far as shopping, too. There are great markets nearby with beach stuff and racks of silk garments for 30RMB each. Also you can get cheap hilarious hawaiin shirts/shorts sets. .
For the last two days when we couldn't stand the heat, we've found respite in a nearby foreigner bar called Dolphin with pretty decent prices and good food. I ate some huevos rancheros there that could have been shipped directly from Texas they were so perfect. They also have free pool and foosball tables, which I always enjoy
Yesterday we finally got around to visiting the tourist information building and got some good info on things to do besides eat, shop, and lounge. Not that there is anything wrong with those activities. Today we'll take a 45 minute bus ride to see a famous buddhist statue. I'm a little meh about ticket prices at 150RMB but German is really interested in this and I know it's an important "China" thing to do.
Nights here have been just as lovely as the days with the fear of sunburn subtracted. Our favorite thing to do is buy drinks and sit out on the beach for a nighttime picnic. Last night German bought this amazing laser for 50RMB from a wandering vendor. Probably one of the best purchases of the trip. It rivals my silk robe.
China giveth and China taketh away 05/19/2011
I've experienced one of the negatives of China these past few weeks. The random, unannounced and unexplained blockage of certain websites followed by their sudden return. I have a tumblr blog I was kind of in to when home in the states that I accepted the reality of being separated from during China (http://zombielace.tumblr.com). Then one day, tumblr begins to work! I get obsessed again. Then just as suddenly it is snatched away again, along with its siblings Flickr, Weebly (this here website), and Gmail. I was plunged into a feverish withdrawal. Just when I was contemplating throwing myself in front of a bus... well I wouldn't have to throw myself, standing too close to the curb would probably do the trick in China... Suddenly they're all back. But who knows for how long? Just one more thing summoning me home.
Home. Bought a ticket. I have a month and 10 days remaining. I'm partially looking forward to it and partially heart broken at the idea. I really feel like I've found my place here and that I'm loved and have been a successful teacher. I feel like a rockstar every morning, or really every time, I walk through the kindergarten yard and little voices shout "Miss Katie!! Miss Katie!!" and I get more than my daily dose of hugs and kisses and human monkey bar treatment. I'm really going to miss them, realistically more than they will miss me. And I feel protective of them. Like... the next foreign teacher better not suck! She better be sweet and funny and patient and make them fall in love with her and continue loving English! Funny and patient. I think those are two of the keys to being the foreign teacher. Not even the teacher I guess, just the foreigner.
Springy thoughts 04/06/2011
Much of Tomb Sweeping day I'll recall in flashes of color.
Especially the last image will linger with me, because the whole beautiful sunny afternoon was spent with Keke, looking at me through the lens of her camera. She is my friend whom I can't really communicate with, yet yesterday we spent the whole day together quite contentedly. We went for a swim at the local gym, then on an epic bike journey all around Wuzhong to see the flower fields and the scenes of Wan Mountain. We ate strawberries and mangoes underneath plum blossom trees and rode really fast down hills. It was lovely.
But why is it that spring and all the buzzing love and life is always tinged with its yang of sadness? There always seems to be a reminder of decay, of impermanence, maybe because this season is so fleeting. It's like Spring is sort of drunk and dreamy, forgetful of all the hard edges surrounding the rest of life. We chose not to sit at one rock because on the other side, we saw the corpses of tiny puppies. This was also the day that a friend's heart was broken by another friend.
I find it amazing every time winter melts away. It's like it lasts so long and hurts so much, it's impossible to imagine life before it. But then the warmth and colors roll over you and make you intoxicated, and before you know it it's winter again.
welcome back, lil fella! 03/24/2011
The prodigal foot returns. A day early!
It's a little tender, but I'm just happy to have it back.
Also what was hiding under those bandages was shocking to behold when they finally cut me loose. Apparently while in its cast, my leg was not only heeling a broken bone, but undergoing a sex change and aging 20 years.
Wellp, have a great rest of your day!
lets talk about medical care 03/20/2011
Having broken a bone in 3 countries, I feel very qualified on the subject.
The first was a fractured foot in France, the result of running after a train (all of these broken bone stories are just as stupid and unexciting). I wish I could dig up a picture but the only place I know of one is on my late Facebook. EDIT: Mom found the pics!
Luckily I am tight friends with this amazing French family that I still miss so much, and they treated me like a daughter. They took me to the emergency room as soon as my train arrived. Here is where I got a taste of France's socialized medicine. (I want to point out that though imperfect, this care is completely FREE, which I think is better than going into debt or receiving no care at all.) The emergency room was chaotic Over crowded with people on beds in the hallways and doctors rushing in and out of rooms. I sat in a wheelchair unceremoniously dumped in the hallway and it was hours before someone even looked at my foot. There was a poster on the wall with a message essentially reading "don't be a dick, we are working as fast as we can." When someone finally did look at my foot, it was a very young medical student. She dipped gauze in a bucket of plaster and quickly paper mache'ed my foot. My French friends took me home with them. In the morning, the med student's ghetto plastering job became apparent as there were still soggy bits and even missing patches on the cast. Here's where having French friends proved invaluable. Yes, my ghetto emergency room story is what people in the US freak out about when they think of socialized medicine, but that's because they think for this you have to trade in your delightful family physician and all the comforts of your neighborhood clinic. Which is completely untrue it turns out. The next day my French friends called their family doctor, and he came to their house to see me. We then went to the "clinique" which is like your regular doctor's offices in America. It was very nice and clean; quiet waiting room, plenty of unharassed looking staff, fancy pants medical equipment... They immediately cut off the botched plaster job and gave me a very sturdy permanent cast, the kind that clicks when you drum your fingers on it. I got these forearm crutches which I like because they are smaller and lighter than the big armpit ones we are used to in the US. The downside is they are hard on the wrists and elbows.
France sucks for the handicapped. I lived up several flights of stairs and had to use lots of stairs in the charming old chateau-like university. Lots of cobblestone roads too. But honestly I don't remember it being so horrible. I took the bus a lot and still went on adventures with friends. After my cast came off, I had lots of physical therapy, more than I actually wanted. I felt very well cared for.
I broke my right wrist in my first and last snowboarding experience. There is a little emergency clinic right on sight there, so I got checked out right away and was given a rough splint and sling. I was at work at the time, and was supposed to drive the van of students home again, but instead we got permission from the school to let someone else drive home. German was with me, and as soon as we got home, we went straight to Emory's emergency room. It was just your average every day American emergency room experience. Waited for hours, went into different areas and exam rooms, saw different people, waited more hours... Bla bla bla. If I remember correctly, I got hooked up with a removable cloth and velcro brace and was told to see my personal bone doctor for follow up.
This is the only picture I could find of that injury. It was mostly just a long annoying process, but pretty straightforward. In the comfort of my own culture, familiar with the habits and accepted wisdom of our medical tradition, able to communicate in my native tongue to my caregivers, I felt quite secure in this heeling process.
And then there's China. OH China. Where do I begin? I broke my right foot in just as silly a manner as all my other bones have met their doom. I rolled over it wrong while walking. Apparently my bones are made of chalk. The next morning when I realized I couldn't walk, I called the FAO (Foreign Affairs Officer, the person who takes care of us foreign folk) and 4 hours later she arrived and arranged for the hospital shuttle to come pick us up. The hospital is surprisingly quiet and uncrowded. I didn't have to wait for hardly anything. Nothing is free but it is extremely cheap compared to back home. I've probably spent less than 1,000RMB on everything including crutches and X-Rays, which is a lot of money to someone here but about 150 dollars.
They rigged my foot into a kind of primitive cast... it's like an L shaped splint made of plaster tied in place with gauze. They told me to come back in 5 days to have it changed, which I thought meant this was just a temporary cast and then I would get one of those hard plaster ones like I had in France. But actually, when I went back after 5 days, they just unwrapped it, replaced the cotton lining, and rewrapped it the same way. Every week I have gone back to have this done. I guess it's kind of nice because my foot gets to be free for a moment, and in this type of cast I can wiggle my toes and stretch my ankle which was impossible in that other kind of cast... but by the end of the week-long period, this cast is tore up and just plain nasty. I've had this current one for 10 days and have 5 more to go on it, the longest stretch yet. And it is not pretty. It's stretched and frayed and about as dirty as a mop.
China is not really a place for germaphobes. This cast has been dragged around the school and touched the floors of restaurants and bars and general groundiness. Not to mention toilets. Yes, magically I have managed to use squatters with this thing. And then I climb into bed with it every night. I haven't had a proper shower in forever. I sponge bath. As for my hair, I usually wait til I can't stand how disgusting it is another second and Erik is kind enough to take me on his scooter to a barber shop where I have had some interesting hair washes.
Hygiene standards and stuff are just different from what we're used to in the west. In fact, sometimes I think we can be a little too obsessed with cleanliness back home; our fear of germs results in a lot of wasteful behaviors. But growing up with these hygienic values can make some things you encounter in China startling to your sterilized western sensibilities. I'm not saying I feel the hospital is unclean or that I fear my health is at risk, it's really fine. But for example, when they asked me to hop onto the X-Ray table, I saw there were drops of blood from the last patient. I pointed this out and my FAO is the one who got a wet rag from somewhere and wiped it up. The technicians and nurses didn't seem to think it was a big deal. Something like that would not fly in a hospital back home. Another example comes from the government hospital in Yangshuo where all the newly arrived teachers had to get health checks before being sent to their schools. People were smoking in the corridors and dropping cigarette butts wherever they like. We had to give a urine sample, basically in a labeled dixie cup, then put the cup on a cart sitting out in the corridor with no lids or anything, just a big ole cart of pee, right there in the middle of the hall.
Another difference: the privacy we are used to back home when we see our doctor is nonexistent here. Several people at once crowd into the Doctor's tiny office, and people have no problem gawking at each other's injuries and craning their necks to get a look at other people's X-Rays. Needless to say, I get stared at A LOT. I've had an old guy wander into the room I'm having my cast rewrapped in just to watch, completely unembarrassed. This kind of thing gets under my skin because it makes me feel like I'm being treated subhuman, like a spectacle. In the West, we take it for granted that our privacy is a right, something we are entitled to. But it's just not the same here. That dude believes he is entitled to have a look at something that sparks his curiosity. I know it's a cultural difference so I try not to let it bother me, but I just can't help it sometimes.
As for the last issue, China is not very handicap accessible at all. Many places have no handicap toilet (hence my squatting experiences) and elevators are extremely rare. Really, come to think of it, I have never seen a person in a wheel chair in 7 months of living here. Every now and then I see someone with a cane or crutches, but that is rare. I wonder about that. There has to be handicapped people like anywhere else in the world. Where are they? How do they manage? What about really old people with bad backs or something?
Anyway, this Friday I am finally free free free! They are cutting this nasty rag off! These last 3 weeks have gone by excruciatingly slowly, but I hope the next 5 days will fly by.
I already have plans to throw my foot a welcome back party!
Things I can't photograph.
With the warming of the season comes the frequent bursts of fireworks I had almost forgotten about during the winter. A blast that sounds like it's right in my kitchen causes me to nearly drop a cup of hot noodles. But I hobble over to the window and am treated to a front row view of explosive color. I'm not sure what the fireworks are for. I just know they happen several times a night, sometimes muted and unseen tucked away in the mountains, sometimes erupting from the lot next door. Doesn't watching fireworks just wipe your mind blank? When they're over, sometimes the smoke of the barbecued lights drifts in through the window and I can smell them. If I stand quietly at that moment, the sound of car alarms and barking dogs also drifts in.
I hit the literal bump in the road 03/05/2011
It hit me back, and I paid the price of one right foot.
This was about a week ago now. I wallowed in self pity for awhile, but that wasn't really accomplishing much, so I decided to accept my new one-footed reality. It's really more inconvenient than it is painful. I used to love walking everywhere, and then there was that whole "carrying objects while walking" ability that went so unappreciated. Never again. Oh well though, what are you gonna do? Live off of instant noodles and watch Naruto for hours on end sounds about right. I took the week off of work and intend to go back into it carefully as of Monday. Not being able to hop skip and run definitely puts some limitations on my teaching style, but again... whaddaya gonna do?
I didn't let it interfere with enjoying my birthday! Luckily I have some great friends who don't mind walking slowly and sitting down for hours and carrying my purse. We went to a famous restaurant in Suzhou, then a bar called Backstreet that was way cozier and cute than the name might lead you to believe. I almost forgot my foot was injured at all.... until I had to use the squat toilet....
But you wanna hear the really weird part of all of this? When I lived abroad in France, I broke my other foot in the exact same place in much the same manner. I know! Weird, right? What will happen the next time I attempt to live in another country? I worry for my hands.
Home again home again 02/19/2011
Or have I left home again?
Back in Wuzhong, I have that same strange feeling I had in America; that no time has passed and I've been here all along and the time spent away was something I dreamt. I wonder about myself sometimes. I wonder if I can fall in love with every place I move, and if so, how will I ever settle down? I still miss France and long to return. And there are so many places I still want to experience. It's not enough to be a tourist; I want to really be part of the places I go. I guess the price for that is that those places end up owning a piece of your heart. You'll always miss them once you leave.
Not that it's all been wonderful being back here. I got sick probably the second I stepped onto Chinese soil. Also I screwed up my calculated day of arrival with the time change and was a day later than I had told everyone, including the driver I was to pay 600rmb to drive me all the way home. I felt very sheepish to learn he had waited several hours at the airport for me the previous day. Naturally I still have to pay him his 600 kuai. Well instead of a cushy 2 hour ride in a car and the peaceful nap I had been looking forward to, I ended up taking a long stressful commute on a bus, a train, and a taxi. For someone who claims to love travel, it sure does stir up a lot of panic attacks and tears in me. Navigating stepping off the bus to the ticket office and then the train is particularly challenging, and once on the train it's easy to be nervous about not knowing what's going on and possibly missing your stop. But I've been lucky. Every time I've had to ride the train, I've been fortunate enough to make friends with some Chinese people sitting near me who help me the rest of my way. The first time it was a nice man who let me use his cell phone and made sure I found the legit taxis and saw me on my way. This time it was a nice couple, the husband taking charge of my enormous suitcase and both of them seeing me into the taxi. She texted me later to make sure I got home safely. The people in China can be so unbelievably wonderful like this. I think the trick is you have to be friendly to them first, otherwise they are likely to be shy and reluctant to bother you. Ask for help and I have found you shall receive! More than you need!
Meanwhile I have been a total weakling in standing up to jetlag. I've let it make me its slave, hence this being written at 4:30am. My first day back I woke bright and early and did some unpacking and whatnot, went to lunch with Erik and his visiting friends, did a Rosetta Stone lesson, then allowed myself to fall asleep.... until midnight. I tried to keep sleeping but just couldn't anymore by 3am and watched some movies instead. I've been going to bed about 7 or 8pm ever since. A perverse part of me kind of likes it. I like having lots of time in the morning to wrap my mind around the coming day. I like getting 8-10 hours of sleep. Am I a grandma at 23?
No but I really do need the time and sleep because my new schedule is a doozy. The kindergarten has given me a TON more responsibility. I have basically taken over all English aspects of the program when before I was just a supplementary lesson. It's a lot more work and is already kicking my ass, but in a good way. Like, I feel challenged and stimulated. And I feel like a legit teacher, an equal with my Chinese colleagues. It's just the taste of early childhood education I need to determine if I am capable and willing to go into this field. I'm stoked about rising to the challenge! The downside to my schedule is the school wants me to do 4 primary lessons on top of this: two 3rd grade, two 1st grade. And I REALLLY don't want to. I am negotiating it now and trying my hardest to get out of it. But I might be stuck.
Fingers crossed for that, the swift return of my fading vocal chords, and my ability to keep up with the elevated expectations of the kindergarten. Now to try and squeeze 2 more hours of sleep out of this night.
time warp 02/10/2011
My short visit home has intensified the feeling that I am living in two alternate dimensions at once. The life I left behind in America has continued steadily like a moving sidewalk, and I hopped back onto it with surprising ease the moment my plane landed. But it's taken the longest time to shake this queer feeling that my five month absence is something I dreamed. Weirder yet is accepting that in a few days I'll be returning to that strange reality where I'm sure these moments in the motherland will take on a dream-like feeling. Being here is not unlike falling into a worm hole, or the way people might feel after being abducted by aliens. I also feel like I have split personalities, my Atlanta personality that emerged after a few days of coaxing, and my China personality which I hope hasn't gone too far into hiding during my stay here.
China habits that don't go well here: Throwing trash on the floor in restaurants. Spitting. Not wearing a seatbelt.
America features I'm not liking so much: Cold drinks. Expensive food. Needing a car.
Upon my return to this fine nation, I promptly took care of the things I miss most in China by visiting a dive bar and seeing a live show. It was fantastic to see my best friends again and we shared a pitcher (something else I miss in China) and headed to 529 to check out a metal show. Maybe a lot of it was a buzz from the beer and the glow of being around my kindred spirits after such a long absence, but I really dug this show. Metal is usually not my thing, but I was caught up in the energy. It was just so American, ya know? It's a subculture that just doesn't exist at the same level in China. There were lots of long haired bearded people in black band shirts. The basist of the band had cornrows and, I shit you not, a forked beard. The lead singer introduced his songs with an affected demonic voice saying things like "this song is about you. It's called.... SERPENT TONGUE!" then noise and energy would blow up the room. The songs were about Satan but I was in heaven. I must have looked a little pathetic rocking out with my fingers lodged in my ears because someone tapped me on the shoulder and offered me some earplugs. Thank you, kind metal show samaritan. These are the kinds of experiences that I really miss having in China.
I've filled the rest of my time with other things I've missed, particularly veggie burgers and Mexican food. I've tried to see as many friends as I can. I've watched a lot of my parents' fine cable and visited my old stomping ground in Down Town Atlanta. It's been a whirlwind but an interesting whirlwind. I just hope I don't feel as weird and out of it when I return home (or should I say to China? Or is it home?) because I'm going to have to start work like the next day. And I can't afford to be in a daze, my mind boggled by philosophical mysteries of space and time, when there are third graders to wrangle.