Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Add Oil!

I never had any aspirations to go to the Olympics. I don't know why it just wasn't something that ever occurred to me as a possibility. But now that I'm here in Beijing, and getting to see five very different competitions, I'm not complaining. Nope. I'm yelling "Jiayou!" (that's Chinese for "add oil") just like everybody else. Even if I didn't have any event tickets it would be hard to be in Beijing and not get pulled in by the spirit of the event. Riding on the bus and on the subway, and even visiting the idyllic outdoor summer palace, people are all gathered about together completely rapt by whatever sporting event is going on on the ubiquitous TV screens (and in the case of the summer palace, all with their backs to the gorgeous scenery) and everywhere you look people from all over the world are roaming the streets decked out in their country flair. China is multicultural all of a sudden; it's truly a sight to behold.

I've been thinking that in many ways the Olympics are a weirdly fitting end to a year spent abroad. I've never felt more American than I have this year living in Guatemala and China. We spend a lot of time in class and with friends talking about American politics and apologizing for our government, as well as discussing American culture. Here at the Olympics I'm getting the opportunity to express some positive patriotism. Last night I wore the American flag and sported China's flag in face paint. We rooted for China's women as they defeated Russia in volleyball, and then got the same support from the Chinese fans sitting around us as the US underdogs battled it out with Italy. Ethan led everyone in a chant of: "Mei Guo! Jaiyou!" (America! Add oil!) The cliches are all true: One world, one dream and all of that.

I've put together a little slide show medley of our time in Beijing so far. We've seen three events: Soccer (Belgium vs. Italy), Gymnastics (men's and women's floor, women's vault and men's pommel horse), and Women's Volleyball (China vs. Russia and USA vs. Italy). They were all fun and exciting in their own way, and especially fun of course because we got to see two of our women gymnasts win silver and bronze, as well as the USA women volleyball players pull out a win against Italy in an exciting 5 set game. In our event down time we've been visiting with some ex-pat friends in the area, eating great food (including an Imperial-style meal of venison, lotus seeds, lilies, and other unusual goodies) and seeing the sights we missed our first time around in April. Today we took a beautiful (and hot!) hike on the Great Wall at Simatai and yesterday we went to the Summer Palace. We have two events left: Diving and Athletics (hurdles and sprints) before we make our long pilgrimage home via San Francisco and then Vermont. At some point in there I'm hoping to get pictures up of our amazing travels in Cambodia and Thailand. But until then: Beijing and the Olympics!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gorgeous Guangxi

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday I was biking around beautiful Yangshou in the southern Guangxi province my mouth agape at the stunning Karst scenery and rice paddies spread out before us and today, after a 12 hour sleeper bus ride, I'm sitting holed up in a hostel in the middle of a typhoon on the border city of Shenzhen. Ethan and I thought we might be able to stash our stuff somewhere and hop on over across the border to Hong Kong for the day before our flight to Bangkok tonight, but with the typhoon and all we decided to lay low and recuperate after a night spent "sleeping" in our bunks on the bus (I woke up about every half hour wondering where something important was, though I couldn't remember what that something was. And I'm pretty sure Ethan was worse off than me.). At this point we're not even sure if our flight will be able take off on schedule - we hope, we hope!

The silver lining: with future plans up un the air, and Ethan taking a nap, I'm loving the chance to loaf around, reflect a little and post some pictures from the past few incredible days we've had exploring Yangshou. Yangshou is a small city by Chinese standards, but it's grown a lot recently catering to the tourist/backpacker industry. There are all sorts of things to do there: from biking, hiking and caving to a live late night light show involving six hundred fisherman that was dreamt up by a Chinese movie director apparently (we didn't make it there). Ethan and I kept it pretty simple. We spent one night in the city with the nicest couple at the West Lily Youth Hostel and then moved about 5 kilometers just outside the noise where we stayed at the Giggling Tree Hostel - a renovated farmhouse in a really spectacular spot.

In our two days in Yangshou we spent as much time as we could outdoors. The first night we got there we went on a an early evening walk out of the city among the limestone Karst domes that surround the bright green and gold farms. A lot of the scenery and the people reminded me of the rural areas in Guatemala quite a bit. The weather was very hot and very humid, and the crops that we could identify included rice (and plenty of it!), peanuts, chile peppers, squash, corn, bananas and grapes.

The next day we took a bamboo raft down the Yulong River - home of the image on the back of the 20 RMB note - but we liked it better in person. We spent about three hours on our river raft soaking up the scenery and ducking from the Chinese boys who were packing super soakers. After our trip we walked around the village, bought a few pieces of calligraphy from a local artist and walked by the peanuts laying out to dry in the afternoon sun.

The next day, after a night at the Giggling Tree, we packed up early and headed out on rented bikes. The bike trail took us all over the area, across the river three times (once on a bamboo ferry) through tiny farming communities and past idyllic swimming holes that we took full advantage of whenever the sweat became too unbearable.

Both nights in town we avoided the expensive western style restaurants and ate in this little hole in the wall spot where you go up to the stove and place a small portion of whatever you want in your dish on a small tin plate and then you sit communally with whoever else is waiting to be served. You eat the spicy dish with a small clay pot of sticky rice. Delicious.

Depending on whether or not our flight is delayed or cancelled, we will be heading to Bangkok next and then directly on from there in the wee hours of the morning to Siem Reap in Cambodia for a visit to Angkor Wat. The typhoon looks like a breezy drizzle right now, so I'm feeling optimistic. We'll see...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Artist shoots down her own sculpture with a pellet gun

"Clearly art by women in China is not confined to “women’s issues,” like family and home. Much of the art is about excavating a personal past and bringing it into the present, and about examining that present and how women are living it."

I wish I could have referenced this article when I was still tutoring the VIP and arguing over "natural" male supremacy in the arts, academics, etc., etc.

click here to read about China's emerging female artists.

The photos are from the 798 Art District in Beijing, taken during our trip in April.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Packing up

It's hard to believe that it's almost time to go. Friday Ethan and I are leaving our home in Qingdao. We'll head to Beijing first, than travel a bit in the south of China, and on down through Cambodia and Thailand, and then of course back up to Beijing for the Olympics (Ethan's gonna have the gory details up on his blog soon). I'm sitting among the piles of stuff that are waiting to be dealt with, packed up or given away - but I still can't quite get a handle on the fact that we're leaving. On the one hand, I'm ready to hit the road and do some traveling but I'm also feeling a little sad about leaving behind our life here. There are so many BIG things that I will miss. But, here's a list of the smaller things that have been rattling around in my head this week. In no particular order...

1. The old men. I just love the old men here. For one, now that it's hot out they all wear their shirts tucked up above their bellies. Oh, how I wish I had a picture of this to show you. And for two, here in China they spend their twilight years working out. Seeing septuagenarians idly stretching a wiry leg on a railing above their waist or doing humorless pelvic thrusts is just part of the summer park scene here. Is it wrong that this makes me smile?

2. Taidong and the tailor. With the help of a very patient tailor and various friends who have come with me to help me bargain and spend way too much time looking at pretty fabrics, I've been obsessed lately with getting clothing made. So far I'm toting back a wool winter jacket, two silk dresses, two silk tops, and a skirt. Pretty, pretty.

3. Smiles from strangers. Sometimes I get grumpy walking around Qingdao. People stare at me on the bus, random people shout, "hello?" at me like they're answering the phone - being anonymous is just not part of the deal living in China. However, as much as I get annoyed when I see a camera-phone pointed at me surreptitiously, I kind of respect the straightforward curiosity and delight in difference here. And on my better days when I remember to smile back, I love the recognition and connections that are made in these small moments with strangers.

4. Tsingdao Beer. It's light and summery and comes in a bag.

5. Green city. I'm looking forward to Beijing, the excitement of the Olympics and seeing some foreigners I like. But, the smog, congestion and general craziness scares me a little. After a couple of days I'll probably be mourning tranquil Qingdao. Our two favorite places to escape: Fu shan, a rugged little fang of a mountain that sits just behind our campus, and in the other direction, the yellow sea.

6. I Almost forgot! - Hand holding. There's a lot of PDA among friends here. Women, and sometimes even men, walk arm in arm or hand in hand , down the street. I've even seen some of my male students just holding hands in class. I love it.

Bye Qingdao!

Friday, July 25, 2008

You should buy this book

When I went home for my sister's graduation in May my friend Julia at Simon & Schuster gave me a copy of one of her new books, "Out of Mao's Shadow" by Phillip P. Pan. I read it non-stop on my flight back to Beijing, unable to put it down mainly because it answers the question Ethan and I have been repeatedly asking ourselves and each other during our time in China: where are all the voices of dissent? Do they exist? Pan's answer: yes, they do. His book chronicles the stories of a number of individuals who in one way or another have gone up against the government and not backed down. Included are the stories of the doctor who blew the lid off SARS and later spent time under house arrest for speaking up against the Tiannamen massacre, a disillusioned young communist revolutionary who died in prison and was famous for the poetry she left behind written in her own blood, and a journalist who opted for prison instead of towing the party line...and many more.

For anyone interested in finding out more about where China's been and where it's going this book is a must read. I loved it - and Ethan's loving it now.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The torch and I are in Qingdao

The VIP couldn't help me with a pass to the torch relay so I followed the masses to nearby Qingdao University where we had a great view of the very tips of the flags lining the streets and the helicopter buzzing the pre-selected crowd - who do they know I wonder?

Apparently the torch has arrived.




{The other waiguoren who was snapping photos had to delete her shots of the officer. I was more sneaky. And quick.}

Here it is: the torch!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Boo for the torch relay?

So, Ethan's in Iowa having fun at a wedding and I'm here in Qingdao being "productive". This morning I was OK with that because on Monday the torch relay is coming to Qingdao and, because E and I are the only teachers in the summer program, I have the day off to go witness all the madness. However, this afternoon I heard from my friend Zhang Rui that "normal" people won't have access to the torch wielding fun. Zhang Rui works right near where the festivities are going down and she said that police are planning on setting up barricades barring pedestrians from participating. Apparently only a handful of people have been granted access. Hi-Sense, one of the prominent Chinese companies here in the city, has only given out 20 invites to its 20,000 employees! Not only that but Zhang Rui and her co-workers received an email this week stating that anyone who opens their office windows on the morning of the torch relay will receive a fine!

What the heck?!? I wasn't planning on boycotting but now I might have to.

I'm teaching the VIP as usual tomorrow morning - we will be practicing how to ask for and respond to requests: Can you get me into the torch relay? I'm crossing my fingers it's a yes. If I have to I will wear my "I heart China" t-shirt, but at this point only grudgingly.

In other news, this week in teaching Ethan and I went back to our roots herding teenagers. We took our students on a field trip on Monday and had them search for "bad English" throughout the city {the winning find: "Be your own brain" worn on a t-shirt}. After the scavenger hunt we went to a restaurant for pizza and then returned to the school for a screening of Men In Black. It was a fun day, but it threw everyone off - mostly digestively poor things - so much pizza!

Here they are. My favorites...

Acting Crazy

Training for America - for some, their first pizza experience

Inventive pizza eating