Archive for August, 2010

Scribbles

August 25, 2010

August 25th, 2010

In the break room between classes the other day, I noticed over my shoulder an intern from England passionately scribbling notes onto a tattered piece of paper. I asked him what he was doing and he looked up at me and said writing. Is this what we all do? Reach for tattered scraps of paper to write it all down on to try and capture time, to capture a feeling or a moment? Is this what we are traveling for -to find something to scribble about?

I just said goodbye to my two German couch surfers, Han and Kyra. It was really great to have visitors. I had a light work schedule these past few days so I had a chance to show them around and hang out with them. They were wonderful guests, cheerful and easy going. With them here I got the chance to travel to parts of the city that I hadn’t explored well before and piece Wuhan a little bit more together in my mind. The experience reminded me how much I love couch surfing and what it stands for. To me couch surfing is a sign that the world is in fact getting better. People are opening their houses and their hearts to strangers from all over the world and I think that’s a great thing. It’s something I am really proud to be a part of. And I am pleased to be part of my surfers’ story. Wuhan and I are now part of their story; somewhere in their digital photos and scrap booking tickets.

Wuhan is in a competition with several other cities trying to win the title of China’s Civilized City. I think it’s laughable but kind of sweet. I noticed today on the bus a man give up his seat to an old grey haired man and it was touching. And I thought they do care. But now as I write this I think maybe it’s not us and them. Maybe there is no them; there are just people. Drifting dreamers madly scribbling to try and keep up with time.

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Happy Valentine’s Day in August

August 22, 2010

August 16th, 2010

Today is Chinese Valentine’s Day and so to celebrate my solitude I have invited all my girl friends to dinner. There will be a large group of us getting together to eat Thai food and drink cocktails and chat. I’m really looking forward to it. It will be an interesting collection of foreign and Chinese women that I have met in many different ways. Zhang Yi  (my Chinese tutor) and her roommate, Kaisa (an Estonian couchsurfer on a world tour), Taana (a kindergarten teacher from Texas), Shiny (one of the secretaries at New Oriental) and Elaine (my newest friend,) are all coming.

Elaine is a 25 year old Chinese woman I met a month ago. She came in for an IELTS practice test. During the test I could tell she was a really cool and interesting girl and after the test I asked her if she wanted to become my conversation buddy. My previous conversation buddy left for Singapore last month to teach in a kindergarten so I was looking for a new person to practice Chinese with. We started by meeting once a week at Starbucks and talking about our lives over Frappuccinos.

Elaine is a beautiful and endlessly interesting woman. She has a unique and special perspective and such an energy about her. She is also a newlywed and talked with such fervour about her love for her husband that I was greatly looking forward to meeting him. But then when her husband finally joined us for coffee it was fairly disappointing. His interaction with Elaine was hard to watch. He is arrogant and demeaning. He kept telling Elaine to shut up and that she didn’t know what she was talking about. If she even opened her mouth to say anything he would shush her. It was heartbreaking to see. Afterwards when she and I made plans to see each other again she apologized that he could not come and said that he is far more knowledgeable than her and she would try not to bore me. She was a completely different woman than before. He had brought her to that and it felt so terrible to see.  Her husband is a very wealthy man and can afford a kind of lifestyle for the two of them that many, especially in China, can only dream of. Though I do think she loves her husband I can’t help thinking money plays a big part in that love and it makes me think of something my mom used to say “those who marry for money earn every penny.” I only hope that they can grow, either together or apart, to be people that no longer hurt each other to get what they both need.

As for me, I am not sure what to do. Should I try and talk to her about it? Should I turn a blind eye? If that’s the way he talks to her in public I’m sure it’s much worse in private. I’m completely lost in terms of what I should do.

Strange neighbour

August 15, 2010

August 15th, 2010

The summer has been full of goodbyes. Friends keep going home to their countries and new friends are slowly trickling in. But China still sucks. The remaining friends sit in a pub and talk about the innumerable ways in which we hate China. The food, yeah I have been ill to my stomach more times than not.  But the biggest hatred of mine is the constant staring and strangers coming up to talk to you. Friday night I totally lost it on this guy who came up to my Chinese friend to ask her how old I was. I had a bit to drink and said what I’ve always wanted to say but couldn’t and it felt good. There are exceptions to every rule but I can’t help but see Chinese people as these lifeless drones without fun and flair living soulless lives totally focused on money. But somehow even if I hate China right now, I love being here. It’s a strange thing to try and explain. I’m happy, but China sucks.

I finally had a break from work. I have had three days off, so of course I have gotten sick. Whenever things calm down for me my immune system breaks down.  

I have written a note to my neighbour and stuck it on his door. I don’t want to spend my limited free time with him. He is a 35 year old Chinese man with a nervous tick who smiles at me awkwardly in the elevator and finally started talking to me a few weeks ago. He can’t speak English so our conversations are very limited. He knows my landlady Xiao Ayi, who by the way has been in the hospital after surgery on her leg. So we talk about her progress and each other’s jobs. Then last weekend, I heard a knock on my door and opened it to see him standing there holding a black baby. I asked him whose baby it was and he said the woman down the hall. The whole thing was rather strange. Then he tells me he likes my nose and his nervous tick kicks in and he starts blinking and squinting in his odd way. He uses the nose compliment as an in to ask me to dinner with him and I, startled, because I never get this kind of attention in China, don’t know what to say and agree. But after thinking about it for a while, I think it’s best that I don’t go. I wrote him a note in Chinese and stuck it on his door. And I’ll run away to Helen’s just in case he comes by.

My Damned Blessings

August 15, 2010

August 9th, 2010

This weekend is Lucy and Bob’s last weekend. We will have a big party to say goodbye and it really won’t be the same without them. I will miss them both a great deal. In January though Lucy’s life adventures will take her to India and I have sworn to her and myself that I will go visit her before I go back to Canada. So this will make the goodbye not so hard. As for Bob though, I will miss his lively spirit and good nature.

The whole draw of travel has really worn out for me. I believe it is over-rated. I am always meeting people on backpacking excursions across Asia and it seems to me lately that travel is the new consumable. It’s no longer just about who has the nicer cell phone or laptop computer but also about who has been to Burkina Faso, Burma or Bolivia. Just because you have been to a place doesn’t mean you have seen it. I have met lame people who have travelled the world; they were lame before they left and they are lame upon return. Travel is just a distraction. Spend thousands of dollars just to impress the neighbours.

Meanwhile I have been thinking very deeply about my own reasons for being here and they seem to be getting foggier and foggier. As Candace says, we often don’t even know what path we’re on. We do things for reasons that don’t become clear until much later.

Lucy is a friend who’s helped me a lot to try and stay positive. She leant me a book with a great quote in it “no one has lived your life or my life before and no one will ever live them again. Our lives are unique stones in the mosaic of human existence – priceless and irreplaceable.”

Some days I wake up and it’s so easy to see my blessing. I am so blessed to have this life I am living. I have such a sacred opportunity to teach. I am given classrooms full of bright eyed and optimistic kids who want to go to my country. They are interested in my country, in what I have to say and they are thrilled at the chance to meet me. I am truly blessed. I can teach them (within reason) what I want and encourage conversation and sharing. What an opportunity. And what an adventure! I have this excellent opportunity to learn Chinese, to live in the environment and culture and to get as much one on one practice that anyone could desire. As a woman, I live the kind of life that others can only dream of. I am independent and make my own money. I earn a good wage and the work is not strenuous or physically exhausting. I have a degree from a western university and the freedom and encouragement of my parents to marry if I choose and who I choose. I am young and healthy. I am financially secure and have no financial burdens to worry about. It seems a far cry to find anything to worry about. I am truly blessed.  

But other days, I feel the anger coursing through my body and it seems to have a life of its own. Too many hours of Dr Phil have allowed me to see the anger comes from my desire to control things. In China, that is like beating your head against a brick wall. But still, sometimes I just wish they would stop spitting, pushing and cutting in line. Is that too much to ask?

Community

August 15, 2010

Tuesday July 27th, 2010

Every day I tell myself the same thing before I can’t into bed, “I really need to clean my apartment.” I’m too embarrassed to invite people in and find myself stammering when neighbours knock on my door, awkwardly standing barefoot in the hall. Today the young mother down the hall came knocking on my door. She is a beautiful African woman who cannot speak Chinese or English. I cannot imagine it. I feel isolated as is. Imagine being a first time mother in a foreign country not able to speak to anybody around you. I have resolved to be a better neighbour and visit her more. But first I will have to clean my apartment.

Lately I’m so busy I only come home to sleep. I’ve been teaching countless numbers of classes and taken up a job doing voice recording for English learning textbooks. All of July I’ve been working a lot and it’s been hard to get used to. Three weeks of chores have piled up as my exhaustion after work leaves me with little left but to stare at the dishes in the sink and then resolve to eat at Helen’s again.

Helen’s Café has become my home away from home. It’s the western style restaurant I talked about in an earlier passage. The food is okay, but really I go there for the people. Helen’s is my Chinese Cheers. I go there at least four times a week. I know everyone who works there by name and even their family members that come to visit. I get a lifetime discount and my face is on their flyer. Last time they went for supplies I joined them and did my grocery run. And last weekend we all went together to sing karaoke. Helen’s is the kind of place you can go to alone and be sure you won’t eat alone. The owner (you guessed it her name is Helen) comes to sit with me and chat about my day. And best of all they can almost speak no English so it’s a place where I can practice my Chinese with a laugh. On slow nights, when I come with friends, the employees all sit with us, they treat us to a case of beer and whip out a guitar. We take turns playing English songs and then Chinese ones.

Chen, a young Chinese guy from Xinjiang, is the only one who can speak English, but it’s fairly broken. He’s a sweet tempered guy, quick to smile and easy going. His favourite song is Halleluiah by Leonard Cohen though he doesn’t know any of the words, so he always just asks me to sing. I like that.  He Lei is the youngest, he’s only seventeen. My heart bleeds for him; he dropped out of school and is working as a short order cook far from home. I worry about him a lot though he doesn’t at all seem to share my concerns. Like everyone in China, He Lei likes to smoke though whenever I catch him I try to take the cigarette away. It’s become a game between us. The other day, I saw him smoking and I told him that I really wanted to smoke and would he please let me have a drag. He passed the cigarette to me and I quickly butt it out. I thought he might have been annoyed, but he just smiled. I think he misses his mom.

Then there’s Helen’s little boy Mumu, who is 7. He really is the youngest but he doesn’t work there. I always teach Mumu a few English words every time I am there. I have taught him his colours and animals. He helps me with my Chinese too. He taught me how to say mosquito (wenzi). I bought Mumu the book the Little Prince in Chinese and now he shares his snacks with me. Whenever, I walk into Helen’s I hear his voice calling me “Ni hao Baoli Ayi” (Hi Auntie Baoli!).

Community, it makes all the difference.