Friday, December 17, 2010

One Big Long Catch-Up

Today is my day off, and consequently the last day I have to pack and get ready to leave my most favorite place in the world (so far).

A lot's happened since my last post, when I was just getting re-accustomed to life in the Bay Area.  Among those things, the big ones would be...

I got married.

To this guy.

We had a beautiful...

and delicious...

and rockin' out with your hair let loose...


We went to Cancun, Mexico on our honeymoon.

Where we ate some amazing food.

And enjoyed a body of water that wasn't the great Pacific Ocean.

And I had an amazing six-month run with some of the greatest people on earth.

Now, we're off to visit my folks in Oregon, then it's back to China.  Which leads to the obligatory tradition of collecting as much stuff as I can squeeze into my suitcase that I know I can't get in China.

I've been reading up on the "Six Items or Less" experiment online, in which people are challenged to go for an entire month wearing only six items of clothing.  It's an enticing prospect, simply because nice clothing that isn't covered in sequins, ruffles, or bad Engrish is certainly hard to come by in Beijing.  Perhaps this could become an experiment due to necessity.  Something to ponder... but it definitely means I'd have to choose my six items while stateside.

More updates when more interesting things pop up in the next few months.

For now, I bid the SF Bay Area a tearful farewell.  I love you.  I miss you already.  You are unlike any other place in the world... and I am forever grateful for your existence.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Oh, geez

K-Town.  "An Asian American version of Jersey Shore."  A newscast subtitle that reads "Jersey Shore with Asians: They So Horny."

And a group of ridiculously good-looking Asian Americans having the time of their life.

I'm not finished commenting on this one, but I have a feeling when I know how to process this, it'll be a doozy.

I love you, America.  But I didn't miss this.  At all.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Back to the Bay!

Long time since last post, I know.  But this is what happens when you're too cheap to buy a VPN and you're stuck behind the Great Firewall of China (unlike those stupid Mongorians!).

So... we're back!  We'll buy a VPN once we head back to China February 2011, but in the meantime, I'm enjoying basking in the glory of the freedom of information back here in America (notice my little Youtube link up there?  Not to be taken lightly anymore, friends!).

 We flew into LAX about two weeks ago and stayed down in southern California for the week for a friend's wedding, then flew up to SFO on Monday.  Do we miss China?  Hmm... not yet!  But I have to say there are some aspects that I certainly do miss.  So here we go, Little Fish's top five things I miss about China after being away for less than two weeks:

1)  Public transportation.  Do you know this face?  It's not constipation.  It's not gas from gorging on Mexican food after being away for a year (although that did happen). 
It's called the "I'm in LA.  I'm in a car.  I hate my life" face.  Do you notice the writing on the windows in the background?  My guess is that the rest of the sign reads, "Holidays blow when you have to drive in LA."  Call me nuts for being an American who hates driving, but I really do.  I REALLY dislike driving.  Put me on a bicycle, bus, or subway any day and I'm happy as a clam.  Put me in a taxi and pay and I'm even happier.

2)  My students.  I know, it sounds crazy, but I really do miss my students.  God was so good to me this semester and gave me the most amazing batch of students a teacher could ask for.  They're the absolute best, and I know I'll miss them forever.

3)  Joohee & Joosun.  Joohee & Joosun are my friends' kids who live in Beijing.  Over the last few semesters, we've gotten really close and I miss these two little rascals so much.  Even though their mom and dad tell me that I'm going to be a great mom someday, I have to say that I love being Auntie Grace to them and I'd hate to give it up any time soon.  This is one of my favorite videos of Joohee demonstrating how to use a hula hoop.

4)  My apartment.  Sure, the paint was cracking and coming off the walls.  My TV only played three channels that used English.  And my sofa was just my spare bed stuck in the living room.  The internet connection sucked and my kitchen was just a closet with two gas burners in it.  But after living there for two years, it is a little strange knowing that I won't be back.  After all, there were some good times had in that little apartment of mine.

Like this time, when Jason fell asleep on my sofa and I went a little nuts pwning him with some black make up that I don't use anymore.

Maybe I took it a little too far...

This is Christmas dinner 2009.  I made it all in my tiny 2-burner kitchen and it was pretty tasty!

This is a throwback to the first student party I had in my tiny place.  We baked cookies and made paper snowflakes and paper chains to celebrate Christmas.  It was very successful, as evidenced by the huge mess that was left behind.

5)  Enjoying the simple pleasures.  Back in the comforts of the USA, little things like getting a fresh cup of coffee at McDonald's, finding a decent pair of shoes, cold soda or beer, baking fresh bread, or finding a good movie on TV just don't hold the same value that they do in China.  Of course, it's all a matter of perspective, and making sure to not get jaded by the amazing privilege we experience here is going to be a daily struggle.  But the changing mentality that I've gained is something that I hope I will never take for granted.

I have to admit that it was a struggle for me to come up with five measly things that I miss about China, but I'm sure this list will grow over time.

'Til then, here I go to have brunch with some of my most favorite people in the world!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mid-Term Blues

Sometimes, teaching English is a great, engaging, and fun job.  Easy?  No.  Never.  Especially on days like today, when your students are zombies sitting in chairs, looking at you hoping that you'll pull a bunny rabbit out of a hat while bouncing upside-down on your head and teaching them the key to perfect American English pronunciation.

And yes, nearly all teachers can recall at least one day each semester where they nearly lose it with one of these classes.  Usually, it's nothing a stiff drink or a lot of prayer can't solve, but it's also usually the sign that it's the mid-term and it's time to take a vacation.

When these signs aren't apparent, an email from a student like this one might be the last glaring signal that you need a break.

Hi, Grace

I am very sorry for making you so depressed and let you almost lost your temper this afternoon. I consider I owe you an apology for my inactivity in your class. 

I think that the awkward silent air in class can definitely make any oral English teacher mad at her students. Please calm down!, we are still your students. For myself, I wish I could speak English fluently. I wish I had ever had a good English teacher like you teaching me when I started learning English. And I wish I had been more active today.

So, please forgive us for our inactivity in your class this afternoon.

Boy, Michael.  I knew I was a peeved at you, but I didn't realize that you were making me depressed!  I especially like the pleading tone when he tells me to, "Please come down!" followed by a badly misplaced comma.  It really is time for a vacation!

Domestic Travel: Luoyang, Henan Province

The beginning of May marks the Chinese "May Day" Holiday, which is basically the equivalent America's Labor Day.  It originally was called "Golden Week" and was a week-long holiday created by the government to boost the economy and increase consumption.  I suppose the Chinese simply weren't spendy enough to make it worth giving them a whole week off (and forbid it that anyone should ever be allowed to have a holiday just to rest or enjoy life), so it got shortened down to just a 3-day weekend.

Our school provided a guided trip to Luoyang and Zhengzhou down in Henan Province.  The whole trip, including admission, food, and transportation, cost a cool 500 RMB (that's less than 80 USD, folks!) so I took advantage of the opportunity to see more of China.

After a pleasant overnight train trip, we arrived in Luoyang at 6:30 am and were off to the Longmen Grottoes.  The word "grottoes" conjured up thoughts of the Playboy Mansion or peg-legged pirates, but this couldn't be further from.  Sadly, our fairly useless guide didn't tell us much about the history of Longmen, but we gathered what information we could from the propaganda information outside of the site.  Although I don't share the Buddhist belief, the human feat of hand carving each grotto was very impressive.  It's unfortunate that many of the Buddhas have been decapitated by the Cultural Revolution "factitious natural erosion."  (Factitious, as you may have guessed, would be the opposite of fictitious-- which means it is, indeed, a fact.  Oy, China.)

The grottoes were carved around 490 BC and are mostly in tact today (aside some of the factitious natural erosion).  The detail that remains is pretty incredible.
A wall of tiny little Buddhas

 These little caves are also filled with carved Buddhas and statues.

These giant Buddhas are the main attraction.  You can see them compared to the people standing below for size reference.  They are HUGE!  Again, the detail is amazing and there are amazing carvings in the walls and to the sides of these giant suckers.

Being that it was a major (albeit short) holiday, all the major landmarks in China were flooded with tourists.  People back home complain about crowds at Disneyland on a Saturday in the summer.  That's China on any given Friday.  I don't think I've ever grown to enjoy the insane crowds in China, but I think my tolerance for them has certainly improved.

A sea of black hair, sun umbrellas, and tourist groups.

The ants go marching one by one, hurrah!  Hurrah!

Despite the crowds, I was still able to find a few moments of solitude and quite in the midst of the tourism madness.

After our rushed tour through the grottoes, it was back on the bus with our useless tour guide for an hour-long journey to Shaolin Temple nestled in the foothills of the famous Song Mountain- a gorgeous mountain range surrounded by green.  And yes, Shaolin as in Shaolin Soccer. 

But more importantly, Shaolin as in the birthplace of Kung Fu (Gongfu, for any of your die-hard Mandarin speakers).  A little-known fact is that much of my parents' early courtship was marked by frequent trips to the local Kung Fu theater to watch old Bruce Lee movies.  Then- according to my mom- my dad would romantically whisk my mom back to his apartment and put the moves on.  No, not those moves.  He would show off his mad nunchuck skills.  Yes, my parents really are that cool.

So with that in my history, I was actually really excited to tour the birthplace of Kung Fu.  Unfortunately, a LOT of other people were, too.

The line of cars leading up to the parking lot for the Shaolin Temple.  There's nothing scarier than a crowd of Chinese people than a crowd of Chinese people behind the wheel!

After some time in the car, we made it into Shaolin Temple.  The temple itself was not spectacular- once you've seen one Buddhist temple in China, you've pretty much seen them all until you head up to Tibet.  But the most interesting part of Shaolin was the Pagoda Garden, which puts our American cemeteries to shame.

An interesting Buddhism tidbit that I learned was that you can learn a lot of information about a monk from his pagoda.  Since Buddhism runs on the merits/demerits system, the more merits a man has, the higher his pagoda is.  This doesn't come as a surprise to most, but what was surprising was that you can earn a huge amount of merits if you raise money for your temple or for Buddhism in general.  The monks won't keep the money to themselves, but if you happen to garner a larger amount of donations or contributions to Buddhism during your life, you might end up with a few more levels on your pagoda when you pass on.

There were also a lot of monks (some perhaps more authentic than others) peddling goods like prayer beads, and one old man who was selling these interesting herbs.

A doorway at Shaolin Temple.

Rice paddies in the surrounding area with the Song Mountain in the background.

Of course, you can't go to the birthplace of Kung Fu without taking in a Kung Fu show.  Because of the traffic, we missed the last show at the temple, but our guide took us to one of the many surrounding Kung Fu academies near the temple.  We actually went to Bruce Lee's Kung Fu academy and saw some of the students perform Kung Fu.  

Our guide said that the school probably has 4000-5000 students and costs at least 100,000 RMB per year!  This is a fairly typical Chinese practice.  Parents will enroll their children into a school specializing in one skill, and they become experts in that skill at a very young age.  This also explains why China is kicking major butt at a lot of Olympic events like gymnastics, diving, and figure skating-- they've been doing it since they were popped out of the womb!  

 Why settle for one Bruce Lee when you could have thousands upon thousands of pocket-sized Bruce Lees?