Plato believed that we lived in a world of
images, three-dimensional shadows of the true one. What we see with our eyes is nothing more than a cheap imitation of its true state.
example, the chair we see before our eyes is nothing more than a shabby image of the true chair that exists. We carry on everyday with
flawed perceptions of the true ideal form.
Life After College:
Year 3 - In Transit
[Friday, August 18, 2006]
So, I learned in China that I'm not considered "hot" by Chinese standards. I know this because I found out today that the Chinese mainlander guys in my program made a list of the best-looking girls. Funny how guys do the same thing everywhere, and at every age. Neither me, or my fellow American team member D. made it. I guess this means I'll have to hack it on personality. Though if you ask my dad - my personality is the source of my problems.
A fight with my dad goes something like this: "Dad, the car won't start." "Jump it." "Okay. Hey, so - we've been having this problem on and off for a while. What did the mechanic say last time you took it to the shop?" "I'll get it checked out this weekend." "Well, right - but what did the mechanic say last month?" "I SAID I'll GET IT CHECKED OUT THIS WEEKEND." "..." "Listen - this is your problem. Sometimes you have to know when to stop pushing. This is exactly why you don't have a boyfriend."
Luckily, though I may not make a top 10 list in China, I like to think I can slide by on American standards. God bless America.
p.s. I ate my first solid food last night. The lucky meal was a McDonald's Big Mac. I made it through the night intact, and even had a McD's breakfast burrito this morning. I figured if my guts could handle that - then it was really ready for proper food. Hurrah!!
Posted by ink |
[Wednesday, August 16, 2006]
Poop goes here.
I had hoped to go through life without having to suffer the indignity of having to give a stool sample. But when the doctor handed me a white bin about the size and shape of a Cool Whip box, I knew I was in for it. So the procedure goes as follows:
1) do your business into the little contraption, which hangs from your toilet bowl rim. 2) put a lid on it, place it in a big brown paper bag and label it with your name (sort of like how your mom used to do with your lunches at school) 3) walk it down to the lab and leave it on their doorstep
I feel like this is supposed to be a joke. Are you sure I'm not supposed to light it on fire? I offered to give the doctor a sample right there in the office, especially as I'd already gone 28 times that day, but he respectfully declined, saying that the lab was already closed and they really prefer 'fresh' samples. Whose job is it anyways to culture bacteria from poo? And do they show up to their kids' elementary school Career Days?
So today, I set up the contraption in my toilet in Philadelphia and patiently began to wait. I figured it wouldn't be too long since for the past 2 days, I couldn't go 15 minutes without a mad dash. Except it's now almost 3 pm, and I haven't gone yet! Part of me is thrilled, and the other part of me is annoyed. How am I supposed to give a stool sample with no stool? Is it possible my large intestines have stage fright? What's the hold-up here? Though I was fundamentally against giving stool samples before, purely for pride reasons, now that it's been requested of me - I feel obligated to provide one, if only to prove that I'm not squeamish about such things.
Posted by ink |
[Tuesday, August 15, 2006]
The morning of my flight back to the States, I got sick with some sort of stomach bug. As an individual with frequent tummy troubles, I'm all too familiar with most things, but this blew everything out of the water. By the time I arrived at the airport, I'd been to the loo 6 times and thrown up twice. And then I was informed by security that I couldn't bring any water onto the plane due to new security involving liquids in carry-on bags. 13 hours later of frantically trying to flag down the stewardess to bring me water (which she did in tiny-airplane-cup increments), I arrived in the U.S. dehydrated and even sicker. Then I got on the Greyhound bus for a 2 hour ride back home with a maniacal driver with a hobby of weaving in and out of turnpike traffic. I've had better days.
I haven't eaten solid foods in about 72 hours, and the doctor said that my tummy sounded like the beaches of Normandy. I'm extraordinarily gassy (I keep burping and farting) and am too embarassed to leave the house. Besides, I need to be within close proximity of a bathroom at all times. I could never be bulimic (because puking sucks) or anorexic (because I feel like crap on this liquid diet), though by looking at me right now - you could argue that I'm probably both.
Will write synopsis on last week in China later. Am too tired. Walking down the block requires me to rest a few times because I just don't have the energy otherwise. I'm limited essentially to the first floor of our house because I can't make it up the stairs and have been sleeping on the couch as a result.
Posted by ink |
[Tuesday, August 08, 2006]
China fee, China fi, China fo fum.
I've pinpointed what it is about China that I don't like. The travelling industry. Yinjialing village really saved China for me. It gave me another perspective on the people that didn't include badgering me for my money. Travelling in China means having to fight all the time. Fight for a good price, fight to be left alone, fight for spring water - not dusty spring water that's a year past the expiration date. Doing anything in China means being annoyed or harassed at least 60-70% of the time. D. summed it up well when she said that she likes living in China, but not travelling in it. I think I'd agree with that sentiment though she's much more qualified to utter it considering that she's been living here for a year. China's hard to get to in the sense that there seems to be a glass floor between you and the community, presented in the form of a renovated Great Wall and a shiny new facade for the Forbidden City. Interestingly, the only people you'll find at the unrenovated portions of the Great Wall are Westerners, whereas China's own local tourists throng Badaling - the renovated section complete with cable car. So the question is - do the Chinese not see beauty in the crumbling oldness of the ruined wall? The answer is no. What they see instead is a past they're trying to leave behind and forget as China opens its borders and begins to modernize. They see no purpose to the ruined sections. They want to look forward to the new "renovated" China. I don't think this is a perspective I could've had until now.
And the government doesn't represent the people. I think it's too easy to measure China by U.S. standards and see how far it falls short. I hear it all the time in hostel lounges. But it's easy to forget that China is in a lot of ways still a developing country. Yes, discrimination against minorities is rampant and absolutely wrong. Yes, the rich here are very rich and treat the poor in awful ways. But what surprises me is the fact that travelers here are so surprised by all this that the trendy thing to do is to complain about it constantly. What country doesn't have discrimination against their minority groups? What developing countries don't have a disparity and conflict between the classes. South Africa's wealth gap is so large that the rich feel the need to ring their homes with high walls studded with broken glass, topped with barbed wire, plus attack dogs inside - and yet no one is surprised by it there. Maybe because it's expected in a country like South Africa whose problems have been so visible to the world for so long. Whereas China hides behind a veneer of "face" and wants to be treated like a developed country though it's not. Then again, who -doesn't- want to be treated like a developed country. I hate it when I argue myself into circles.
The problem with China is that it wants to deny its problems so it hides them from foreigners, separating them from the local Chinese in hostels. It's one of the few countries I know that treats its own people with discrimination (a Chinese national calling a hotel will be told it's full, but they'll have space for an American). Part of it is wanting to show the "good" China to outsiders and part of it is simply the government sucking. The ex-pat community here is even worse. What I find the most interesting contradiction about China is that the most critical individuals I've met on the road are the ones who've stayed in China the longest (at least a year). Arguably, they've seen more of the bad parts of China, but yet they've still somehow managed to do it a) without learning to speak a word of Chinese or b) without learning anything about the community and culture. Its interesting especially because its so different from every other country I've been to where the travellers make it a point to learn about the communities. D says the problem lies in the recruiting for English teachers. China doesn't care about prior teaching experience - only if you're a native English speaker. D., as an English teacher herself, says its a shame that so many lowbrows are let in because not only are they poor PR for the country when they complain without keeping an open mind, but also an injustice to the students who pay for these English lessons. Also, a lot of them become part of the ex-pat community which has its own exclusive neighborhoods where Chinese aren't allowed, Chinese isn't spoken, and where the local culture and flavor is often a topic of disdain. What compounds it is a natural Chinese inclination to put foreigners on a pedestal to begin with.
So, I suppose the question is - what do I want to happen? I want people coming here to come with an open mind and try to understand the why's of the situation. I want people to keep in mind that China is still a developing country despite all its assertions that it's developed (like a teenager insisting she's all grownup). I want people to hate the government, not the people, and see that the government and the people are two separate things. I want people to see that I'm trying to make valid points, instead of only seeing my skin color and assuming that I'm defensive about my own "country" that's filled with people I share a language with but don't necessarily feel I identify with since they come from completely different places than me or my parents.
The hardest thing about travelling in Asia has been the thing I usually like the most - the other travellers I meet. Even in Thailand - it was all about the gross old white men with Thai wives. What is it about Asia that only allows foreigners to see the differences and not the similarities? That the Thai also have families and children they want the best for. That Thai women don't have a lot of choices (who would choose to marry a gross old white guy who can't even speak your language?).
The most interesting thing about travelling as a "hua ren" (Chinese born in America) is how much more willing the Chinese are to talk about the problems here. As a white person, the local Chinese are more likely to put on a smile and talk about how things here are okay - saving face. As a Hua Ren, they usually pat my knee and talk about how we're all Chinese here despite our birth place. And how they're proud that so many of China's seedlings have fallen so far from the tree and still managed to grow. And then they give their honest opinions about Mao, about the Cultural Revolution, about modernization. Most interesting was an account from a service person at Far East Hostel in Beijing. He spoke very nostalgically of the Communist era. I was astounded. Wasn't everyone poor? Yes, he said. But we were all poor together. Now, only some people are poor, and the rest laugh at them.
Posted by ink |
[Sunday, August 06, 2006]
Yinjialing village, Shandong
Monday, July 24, 2006 The village (nong cun) has been simultaneously a relief and a disappointment. Internet access, proper beds (well, proper Chinese beds, which means planks, a thin mattress pad, and bamboo), and showers anytime I want as long as I heat up the water with this little machine that sings to notify me that the hot water is ready. We also have a passive aggressive teammate with an inferiority complex about not having ever studied abroad.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006 I'm a little surprised that when I first got here, I had exactly 3 numbers in the cell phone my uncle got me. My uncle, my friend Ed in Shanghai, and this random boy I met in Yangshuo who forced his number upon me. Now, after Red Guard training, I have 15 numbers. I never thought I'd be txtmsg'ing at 2 AM to other RCEF volunteers asking how they are. So how am I doing? Outside of the nightly meetings, which are really little more than public lashings, I think I'm doing okay. The kids seem to like me despite the language barrier and I thought things went smoothly outside of normal first day ripples like shyness and some lack of participation. It's strange to be held to a different set of standards than the ones I'm used to meeting. There's no A for Effort in China. We have a regular peanut gallery here that gathers every night. A peanut gallery that has had very little personal teaching experience of their own. Some of it is so ludicrous that I have to make an effort to not giggle in the middle.
Thursday, July 27, 2006 I'm surprised at how accustomed I've become to things. Bugs were dropping out of the air onto the table during dinner today, and I simply picked them out of my rice. I similarly flicked them off my notebook when they fell out of the sky while I was lesson planning. I'm generally tired and worn out, but steadily gaining an appreciation for how hard teachers have to work on a daily basis to lesson plan and teach.
Today's first aid class was a lesson for both of us. I taught them the Western way of dealing with cuts, burns, choking, and unconscious victims who have vomited. When first posing scenarios to them - I expected no one to know how to react. Instead, they all clamored to be called on. These were some of the answers I got.
In case of burns: Pour soy sauce on it. High quality expensive soy sauce. Then you put "medicine water" on it. When I asked what was in medicine water, they stared at me and said matter of factly - medicine. Like duh.
In case of unconscious victim with vomit: Press your thumb into the victim's philtrum. This is a pressure point that will help them regain consciousness. Place them on their back and pump their knees up towards their chest. This will help push blood flow back to their heart.
Most of the class nodded emphatically in agreement with all of these and I didn't know what to say. I couldn't tell them they were wrong or say that the American way is the "right and only" way, because I didn't know that. I did feel instantly very un-Chinese and very American in a very intrusive sort of way.
Friday, July 28, 2006 The Wall of Fame was supposed to be a place for kids to compliment each other. Instead, it became a huge love letter to the teachers, thanking us (multiple times) for teaching. There's very much a teacher-worshipping culture here that's offset by a lack of teamwork among themselves. This came out especially during the relay races when they'd yell at other teams for cheating, at each other for being too slow, and at me if they felt I wasn't referee'ing enough. Some kids wouldn't even play, saying instead "Wo bu hui", which means literally "I can't" as in the way handicapped people can't do certain things, not "I don't know how to." The families themselves have been very nice and welcoming. Everytime D. and I go out for popsicles, someone invites us into their home for watermelon. I've eaten two whole watermelon in the past 2 days, leaving my stomach bloated. I don't think my ploy to lose weight here is working. Last night, we ran into one of our students on the street. We sat on stools with him, his mom, and a few neighbors, burning a type of brush that repels mosquitoes (and smells like pot) and chatting in the twilight. It was nice.
Saturday, July 29, 2006 The weekend. Glorious glorious weekend. 2 days too short. Monday starts the last week of teaching. We got more Jinan University students. One of them is pretty attractive, but I can't tell whether this is by U.S. standards or by "I've been too long in China" standards. Med school seems further and further away, as does my life in the States. The bathroom is still a source of nightly terror due to the gigantic spider that comes out at night.
I'm settling into the school and getting to know the kids more personally. Times like this make me really love teaching - when you can see the impact you have on the kids, when you see behavioral changes in unruly kids who then settle down because you're the one who's teaching, when the kids come to school on the weekends to hang out and play frisbee with the teachers and eat popsicles together. It's great.
Tuesday, August 1, 2006 A few bombshells. 1) my roommate is moving out, giving me a grand total of 2 weeks to find a new roommate after I get back. 2) I'm teaching sex ed tomorrow. As the Health Ed director, I had to ask for male volunteers to teach the boys, and then instruct the volunteer on a few points I think are important to cover. Or, the points I imagine are important to cover since I don't really know what happens in a guys' sex ed class. The biggest challenge though, wasn't determination of content, but communication of that content to the volunteer teacher. I had to look up words like "erection", "testicle", and "pubic hair" in my Chinese-English dictionary ahead of time (and surprisingly, they're listed) and then stumble through the teacher discussion, mispronouncing most pertinent terms and having to resort to explanations or in worst case scenarios, charades, to convey my meaning. I keep telling myself I'm going to be a doctor and I shouldn't be embarassed by this, but I am. Horribly so.
Wednesday, August 2, 2006 So I'm quickly running out of Care Bear band-aids. I hadn't planned on having to use so many for the kids and had only brought 10 for blisters, thinking I was really playing it safe considering that I only brought comfy shoes. Every day, someone falls on the playground, and as the medical student - people look to me to bandage the wounds. I've handled more cryingkids than ever, and kissed more boo-boo's than is hygienically healthy considering the infrequent washing and lack of toothbrushing that goes on here. The kids are pretty knowledgeable about their own hygiene and what they're supposed to be doing - but a disconnect lies between knowing and action. They simply don't have a habit of brushing their teet, nor do their parents, so it's not reinforced in any way. The state of their teeth makes me shudder so I've taken to asking the kids every morning if they've brushed in an effort to pester them into doing it.
I'm glad to say the Sex Ed class was a huge success. The girls weren't shy at all, they asked questions, giggled, and were overall curious. You could tell it was something that'd been on their minds for a little while. Mental note: need to be more specific next time and draw clearer diagrams. i.e. Bleed from where? The vagina. I spent all morning drawing really bad renditions of uteruses. We even ventured into sex since someone asked why we need men to have babies. I'm pretty proud of the girls. They handled it really well. I even had the opportunity to visit the village clinic today - where I found out that shots and an IV are started for everything (including colds) and penicillin is entirely overprescribed. When I asked why they drip everything in through an IV, they said that it's faster-acting that way. I couldn't explain why the West uses oral meds as a first line of defense besides saying lamely that it's less invasive. Being here makes me appreciate things in America that I take for granted. Like the education system, the democratic system, and the sanitation system.
I'm currently wearing a wristband of death. I taught the kids how to make friendship bracelets yesterday and that's all they've been doing. I received a stone bracelet from the class pun Zhu Xi Ning as a sign of friendship, and a red yarn bracelet from Xue Yin - which she made slightly too short but was determined to tie on my wrist nonetheless. It's slowly cutting off the circulation in my wrist but I can't take it off. Literally. It won't come undone.
Thursday, August 3, 2006 Next to last day. Feeling a bit conflicted. Am glad to be free of obligation and can travel on the road with no other duty but to please myself. Am glad to be able to have personal space and my own internet time. But sad to be leaving such a dynamic group of people and such a great set of kids. YinJiaLing is unique in the sense that lots of NGO's pass through the community school. Right now there's RCEF, Duke's DreamCorps, Jinan University's SVRS, and a Malaysian NGO. It's an interesting meeting of minds since there's no more than 3 reps per group. The community school is also a bastion of revolution. The head of the school is very pro-democracy and a few years ago, succeeded in getting democratic elections instated in the village. The school also provides law classes so the villagers know their rights and put on a mock court so if they're ever arrested - they'll know what all these people do. The head of the school was a music major in undergrad, but he changed to education afterwards because though he loves music - music won't save the country. Education can. Either he'll become a hero, or go down in flames - shot as a revolutionary. There's really only two options for people who burn with that kind of passion. Part of me wants to come back every year so I can see how the kids are growing, how they turn out, who they get married to.
Friday, August 4, 2006 *Looks like my train ride to Lanzhou will not work out after all. I'm slightly disappointed as I was looking forward to travelling by train.
*My clothes somehow smell worse after I washed them than before. Doesn't speak well for the water.
*I've run out of bug spray. Not that it matters as I've gotten used to picking bugs out of my food and beer.
*I love green bean popsicles.
*I've ordered a new laptop online. Thinkpad! Excited to get it. May make my Dell laptop a backup laptop or give it to my parents.
*Today's last day of class was exhausting. We put on a performance. Will miss the kids though. Especially Yang Guo Zhun, who D. and I call Student Council President, because that's who he would've been in the States if he wasn't living in a rural Chinese village.
big change, the choices we make
in life, gut instincts, on-the-whim
hairpin turns, the search for truth, the desire to be happy, the journey to finding out what
makes us happy.
being young and clueless, hoping
that we're not blindly leading ourselves to our own demise with every
tentative step we take, the pitfalls of dating, the trials
and travails of being a young woman in the post-feminist era.