« November 2003 | Main | January 2004 »

December 2003 Archives

December 31, 2003

I'm beginning to determine that my problems with China have nothing to do with China and a lot to do with my co-workers. I've decided I have to do something about this.

I talked to Ing, who was the one who helped me buy my coat and who got me hooked up with my Wo Shu teacher, and she and I (and her husband) will go out tomorrow for something and have a talk. I really need to figure out if Lily just doesn't like me, or if there's something cultural going on, or if Lily is just Lily. (There's just lots of little things going on that I don't talk about because they're little and petty and they drive me out of my tree.)

I did spend a great day with Li Qing, one of the girls who works at the supermarket. She doesn't speak much English (I'd guess about 200 words, very few of which string into a sentence well), and we laughed and giggled and pointed at things to say their names in English and Chinese. She helped me get photos developed and I mailed of 177 RMB worth of letters and postcards home.

I've also been told what my holidays are. After this week (whether or not I teach tomorrow is still up in the air) I don't teach again till February. That's a month to bum around China. I'm thinking of waiting till Paul's back from Beijing and then hitting a few places I wanted to go. Shuzhou, Nanjing for a few days (they have a sizable foreign student population, so I should be able to buy cheese), probably Shanghai again. I'm not really sure. Part of me doesn't want to give up my Wu Shu lessons for long. But then, they're on Mondays and Thursdays. I can easily go out Tuesday and be back Thursday afternoon and consider it a full trip. I've certainly felt that way about Shanghai.

I'd like to stay mostly in Jiangsu, I think. I'll have to buy more film though - I'm down to my last roll. (And in B.C. my father is shouting that he can't believe I've only just now gotten to my last roll. Dad, you should have bought me a digital camera!)

Anyway, I'm going to find a place in Shanghai or Nanjing that will burn my photos onto a CD, and then I'll slam them up here for you all to mock.

Unrelated to anything else, until someone told me that today was the last day of the year, it slipped my mind that it was New Years Eve. Raven, I'll be thinking about you tomorrow.


It's really strange being a foreigner in an Asian country, not the least because you meet people from all over the world. In my life, I've only met one person from outside of North America. (That I can think of. Maybe more.) Now, I've met people from New Zealand, Australia, England... So far I've only met Ex-pats from either Commonwealth countries or from the States, but it's been interesting talking to them about the experiences of being away from your home.

One of the things I found most interesting was the question I'm always asked by ex-pats: "So, do you have that Canadian Flag sewn on your backpack?" This is always said with a bit of a nasty tone, their opinion on that habit of Canadians being very obvious.

To answer that question, no, I don't. I do have a Canadian pin on my jacket (a gift from Shani), and another one on my dress shirt. Since I get asked all the time where I'm from, I can now just point at the flag and say "Jianada!", and if I say it wrong they still know where I'm from. I don't have a flag on my backpack because a) I didn't bring a backpack and b) I didn't feel like buying a patch.

In Canada, we're always told by our friends, "Oh, make sure you have a Canadian flag on your backpack when you go overseas! You don't want people to think you're American." No, I'm serious. I remember being about fourteen and being told that American actually put our flag on their stuff so people think they're Canadian! I was an angry fourteen year old, and found this terribly offensive. How dare they! We'll lose our international reputation of being so nice if Americans go around impersonating Canadians!

People are always telling stories in Canada about other people being treated so much better once the natives in the country they were going to found out they were Canadian instead of American. Ah, you're Canadian! You're much better than your neighbouring country. We should go out and have lots of beer together! I'll buy. Granted, when I was in France we were invited to a bar after being confirmed as Canadian, but I think that had more to do with us being a group of seventeen year old girls and less to do with us being Canadian.

Editor's note: Pretty, giggling seventeen year old girls, no less. There was yummy wine, and we broke plates. It's been about a thousand years since I was seventeen, but I still want to find that wine. One day I'll go back to France and find that place again.

It seems that the habit annoys ex-pats, though. Ah, another bloody Canadian. *sigh* I guess if I was travelling a lot it would get pretty obnoxious after a while. I'm not sure how many readers I have that are either ex-pats or Chinese, and I'd love to get your opinions on this.

And no, I'm not going to run out and slap a Canadian patch on my brand-new backpack that I bought last week. I have a toque. As far as I'm concerned, that shows I'm Canadian. If they wonder where I'm from, they can ask. And trust me, everyone in China will ask. *smile*

December 30, 2003

And China rallies from behind to remind me why I actually like this country. Yay!

I spent a lovely evening with my Chinese teacher, ending with me teaching her Western Chess, and her agreeing that tomorrow she'll teach me Chinese chess. My new life goal is to learn as many different chess variants as possible in a bid to find a game that I can actually beat people at. Go me!

I'm having one of my "frustrated with China" days. The worst part of it is the knowledge that the stuff that's bothering me right now is not something China-specific. This stuff can and will happen anywhere.

I'm annoyed that I can't leave things on my desk in the office. I've had my pens and scissors disappear from my pencil cup, I've had my little display of photos taken apart more than once, and now one of the photos is missing entirely. I have no idea if someone took it or if it was tossed. Now someone took my pencil cup (which was a canister I got some tea in) and filled it full of water and left it. Since it's mostly cardboard, there is now a lovely mess of water all over my desk. I'm glad I moved my photos.

Now I'm annoyed because I politely asked for my t.v. to be fixed two weeks ago. Lily, of course, assured me that it would be fixed "tomorrow". For a week I asked her when it would be fixed, and for a week she told me "tomorrow". I finally started teasing her that her English isn't very good. When she says "tomorrow", she means "next week". Well, now it still hasn't been fixed.

It took two months to get the Chinese teacher that's mentioned in my contract. Two months. Why? Because the person who had to arrange it was Lily. She "finally" found me a teacher a month after I started, and then had to get it approved by the headmaster. Which I can understand, but every time I saw her she'd say, "The next time the headmaster is on campus, I'll get you your Chinese teacher." I'd seen him many times over the course of that month, so I knew he was available. What finally got me my Chinese teacher was when we had that group of foriegners show up, and the headmaster was asked by them why I didn't have a Chinese teacher yet, since I seemed so eager to learn Chinese. Didn't take long after that.

In comparison, I mentioned in passing, once, to Ing that I wanted to learn gung-fu while I was here, since I had the time. Within two weeks she had contacted a teacher, found out what days were good for the both of us, and lined me up. Poof. (Of course, my legs hate me for taking Wu Shu, but we'll ignore my legs for now.)

Today I just got fed up, frankly. I've mentioned a few times to Lily that I want to buy a plant. The first time was because I didn't know where to go to get one. The second time I just mentioned I was having trouble, since she asked me if I had bought a plant yet. Well today, out of the blue, she offered to help me buy a plant, since she had free time. I was so excited at the idea, but I've already learned better than to believe in Lily's promises of time. She told me to meet her after my classes were over, and I told her when I'd be done.

I waited, she didn't show. I waited some more, and she still didn't show. I finally gave up, and mentioned to Rose that, if she showed up, to tell her that I had gone to my apartment. Rose offered to call her, but I told her not to bother, because I figured she was sleeping. What I was really thinking was I'm sick of this.

Well, I ran into Lily in the hallway, and she was carrying all her stuff. She looked at me blankly for a minute, and then said, "I'm sorry, I forgot what time the class was over." I nodded and told her I understood (thinking, Ah, Rose called you.)

"I have to go the office," she said.

"Well, call me if you still have free time."

So, I haven't heard from her.

I have Chinese class tonight. I think I'll ask my teacher who I have to talk to to get my t.v. fixed. I'm going on holiday from teaching soon, and frankly it would be nice to have something in the apartment to watch besides the walls.

December 29, 2003

Wu Shu

I had my fourth Wu Shu class tonight. I'm in a different sort of pain. My body doesn't hurt as much as the last three times, but I feel queasy. I'm sure I'll get better eventually. I just hate feeling like such a klutz.

Unrelated to that, all of my kids know what the word "klutz" means. I mean, how could they not, I fall into holes, fall off the edge of the classroom (don't ask), and fall down stairs on a daily basis. I'd think I'd been dropped on my head as a child or something, but I'll just blame it all on being hit by a car in grade nine and leave it at that.

I'm going to crawl into a shower and try and make my body behave for a bit.

And just because I can (I'm horrible, I know), I'm ending on a song:

write down the things you don’t want
burn them in a glass
write down the things you dream of
make a paper plane that flies to heaven

and buy a ticket for a plane and come and see me baby
or drive your car all night by just starlight to Canada
that’s where I’ll be

December 28, 2003

Whistling in the Dark

A woman came up to me and said "I'd like to posion your mind

with wrong ideas that appeal to you thought I am not unkind"

I have a mission for my friends back in Canada. (However, it would be great if anyone reading this would do it, too.)

Mail me a postcard of some sort. The kids get a huge kick out of it when I get postcards from home, and they're really easy to do. My address is in the side bar. If you're stuck on what to write, just write:

Hey Anna! You're in China! That's so neat! Love (your name here).

I've gotten two postcards from home, and the kids go nuts over them. I have no idea why, but they seem to think they're the greatest thing since sliced bread.

So, yeah, drop me a postcard and win my undying love and affection. Or at least a chance to make me and about 700 kids happy.

I'm having a wonderful time but I'd rather be whistling in the dark....

December 27, 2003

I have now eaten my new strangest thing to eat in Jiangyan:

Little candied tomatoes on a stick.


Candied tomatoes.

It was surreal and tasted strange, when I was expecting an apple.

Ah well. Later I found pineapple on a stick, and that was better.


One of the problems I have in China is that, no matter what I do, I get told I'm doing a good job. This means I have no idea what I'm doing right or wrong.

Let me give an example. I laboured for a few days to try and say "envelope" in Chinese, since I kept having to buy them at the store. Xinfeng. I practiced, I wrote it out phoentically, I chanted it under my breath on the way to classes. Xinfeng. Yes. I could say this.

In every class, I would be asked, "Do you know any Chinese?" "Oh, just one word! Xinfeng." And the kids would stare at me blankly until I pulled the envelope out of my book, and they'd all laugh, and say, "Oh, very good!"

So when I'm told by my headmaster or my co-teachers that I'm good at teaching, I don't know what to think of that. I can't even think, "Oh, I must be okay, because they'd just say nothing if I sucked." They don't do that here, at least not to foreigners. With us, everything is "good". Every country we come from is "beautiful." It makes everything so surreal.

Back home, if someone told me I was doing a good job, I could safely assume I was actually kicking butt and taking names. Most people (and this is not a slam, just a statement of fact) think that, as long as they aren't telling you that you're awful, as long as they keep showing up, they're showing you that they think you're doing a good job. This makes the people who do the work feel like crap most of the time.

In one of his essays, Scarecrow refers to the desire for "commendation pay" whenever an employee would do well. Whenever a customer took the effort to tell the boss that you'd done a good job, you'd get a bonus. When you went above and beyond the call, worked extra shifts because someone called in sick, whatever, you'd get a cash prize of some sort.

It's just strange to me. No matter how often they tell me that I'm doing a good job, it just doesn't mean as much to me as the wooden plaque sitting on top of my computer back home that just says "Thank you". And little blue paradox spirits scattered around my apartment.

I guess a lot of it goes back to the alleged Chinese stereotype that foreigners are quick to anger. I have no way of confirming this except for a few scattered comments from Lily about how nice and understanding I am (again, though, how can I believe this isn't more placating of the foreigner?), and the fact that she expected me to go off the deep end about my internet connection. I just read about this stereotype, so I guess you can say it's a stereotype that all Chinese people think all foreigners are quick to anger. *smile*

The other thing I've been told in no uncertain terms is that it's a big deal to have a foreign teacher at a school, and it makes more students come to the school. (Is it that the students want to come, or that the parents want their children to have that special "forienger" stamp to their English?) Paul was told by one of his friends in Rudong that they'd be just as happy if they could have a statue of him out front, really. They don't care if he can teach or what he does, just that he's there. Here, I was told after being taken to a small country school, "Now that the students know you're at Li Cei, they'll want to come to our school next year!"

Factor in to all of this that my school is looking for two foreign teachers for the summer, and I think I might go crazy trying to figure out if I'm a good teacher, or just a good Western Face.

December 26, 2003

In a fit of extreme boredom I discovered that I am worth exactly $1,742,570.00. Want to find out your worth? Sadly, I can't recall how much my soul was worth.

Confirming the Chinese believe that I am a small child, I bought a little chinese lantern that you can turn on with a switch. It has a little stick you can hold, too. I'm in love with it, and I guess I'll tape it to the computer so that I can have light late at night.

I'm reading more letters to Santa, although nothing's beat the "I want the world" comment from the first class I did it with. I think I should give him extra marks for creativity. Most of them want a "teddy bear". Which is what I put in the example.

I'm at the stage of culture shock where you start to get really pissed off with the country your in. I'm working fairly hard at not snapping and killing anyone, since I was assured by Lily that I can't say, "But I'm a Laowei, everyone knows we're crazy!" as a defense.

It's not so much that I'm annoyed with China, but that I'm annoyed with myself. I'm not learning Chinese fast enough. I'm not learning the culture norms fast enough. Hell, I'm not even figuring out the food here fast enough. I just want to be able to wake up and know this stuff, instead of having to struggle and work hard for it.

The pure white walls finally started getting to me. In a fit of decorating, I put up an advertising poster for Orange Juice on my wall. It has four girls on it, one with black hair, one with purple, and two with orange. So now, instead of all white surrounding me constantly, I have white with a big orange blob. Somehow it helps.

I'm slowly beginning to make this place into a home, such as it is. I bought a snowman that hangs on your window, and put it up in the kitchen. The kids got me mobiles for Christmas (three of them), and I have them in various places around the apartment. I'm thinking eventually I might even buy a plant.

December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas

So, since it's Christmas Eve I went down to the KFC and ordered a bucket of Chicken. (There are now several people in Canada giggling and saying in a deep voice "you and me and a bucket of chicken and it's a date." Damn, I miss that.)

It's a much smaller bucket, and it was all legs and wings. I was pretty surprised. Plus, it tastes nothing like KFC chicken back home. It was a lot greasier, if that's possible.

When I was last there I had a chicken burger. I took a look at the patty, and it had green on it, so I opened it up to see what the hell it was. Peas. And carrots. I'm not sure if I got a chicken burger or some vegetarian thing. But the meal came with two pieces of chicken, so I suspect not.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to everyone.

Things I Learned Today While Teaching

Things I Learned Today While Teaching, a list, by jo

  • You cannot teach 60 children the "Hokey-Pokey" in ten minutes. Especially if they don't know English.
  • You will have equally large problems teaching them "Simon Says".
  • Children love the words for "monkey bars".
  • Children also love it when you impersonate a monkey.

So, after politely implying that I didn't study enough this week, my Chinese teacher asked me about Christmas Eve.

"Do you have any plans for tomorrow night?" she asked.

I blinked, a bit confused. "No.... Why?"

"It is Christmas Eve."

"Oh! I'd forgotten completely about it!"

Which, honestly, I had. Even though I had 150 children remind me multiple times yesterday, without the constant "It's Christmas" cues from the rest of the world, Christmas Eve had slipped my mind.

"I have plans for dinner with friends," she told me.

The light dawned. "Ah, okay. Then I'll see you next week. I promise to study harder this week!"

So, yeah. I've gotten a few Christmas cards and the like, and my teacher gave me a scarf. Really, it's just a non-issue. But I'm looking forward to multiple phone calls from home in the next couple of days, since everyone who has my number assured me they'd call.

December 23, 2003

So I'm listening to Christmas Carols and wrapping presents for my coworkers. Yes, it's Christmas Morning, but it's not Christmas unless you put off everything important to the last minute.

I got a couple of "popping chocolates" for some of the girls I know. The wrapper has these chocolates with gold sparkles coming out of them. I'm very curious to know what's up with that. *smile*

Anyway, I got my first phone call at 7 a.m. From Paul, who decided I wasn't allowed to sleep in this morning. Apparently his first call came from a pub in Scotland that was so loud he couldn't hear anyone, and then it cut off after five minutes. Merry Christmas in Scotland!

Oh, and I'm watching Norad's Santa Tracker. I love it, because I'm kinda sad that way. This is the third or fourth year I've watched it, and it always makes me smile. I wish I had an oven, I'd make cookies for Santa.

December 22, 2003

So I gave my Senior One students a quiz today. The concept of "This is a quiz" seems to have passed them by, as many of them were giving the answers out. I had one kid just hand his sheet to a girl and tell her to fill it out for him.


Joke's on them, though. Since none of them bothered to think, they all got the first question wrong. Every single one of them. I'm suitably impressed.

Anyway, I went to KFC for supper again tonight because I had missed supper. The girl behind the counter knew very little english, but knew enough when I asked for Coke to say, "Is Pepsi okay?" I found that interesting.

I'm very anxious about Christmas here. I can't figure the etiquette at all. My Chinese teacher told me she got me a present, so I bought her a box of nice chocolates. I have no idea if that will be acceptable or not. I know that Christmas is supposed to be about the thought and all that, but China makes me so uncomfortable....

Speaking of uncomfortable, I had my first kung-fu class today. I am old and weak.

Letters to Santa

Today for class, I had my Junior One students write letters for Santa. Yes, this was a cop-out, but I'm bloody tired. There's only so much jumping up and down and being all "lively" I can do in a two month period, and after Shanghai I'm still pretty beat.

It took them about ten minutes, all told, so it wasn't too bad for them. By the end of that I was back up to my usual jumping around stuff.

I spent some time at lunch reading over these letters. I got some interesting answers. "I want the world!" "I want a girlfriend!" "I want a big car!" I love these kids.

Anyway, I decided to write my own letter to Santa.

Dear Santa,

I haven't been very good this year, but I've been very brave, and I think that should count for something. I haven't packed up all my stuff and run back home, and I stopped worrying that I was going to be held up at knife point on the streets of Jiangyan. And I'm really trying to learn Chinese. That should count for something, right?

For Christmas this year, I would like:

  1. Vodka.
  2. Kaluha.
  3. A phone card that works in Jiangyan.
  4. My mom's package to arrive.
  5. Kris' letter to arrive.
  6. To know that my letters home have arrived. (There's a real letters theme here....)
  7. Vodka.
  8. A better memory.
  9. More episodes of Undergrads when I get home.
  10. Vodka.

If you can only arrange one thing, please make it Vodka.

Hugs and Kisses,


P.S. One of my students wants a girlfriend, but I think he's too young. Can you get him a plane instead?

December 21, 2003

Interesting Things I Learned in Shanghai

Interesting Things I Learned in Shanghai, a list, by Jo

  1. I've been pronouncing it wrong all my life. Shang with a short "a".
  2. The line "You look just like a boy I've been dreaming about back home", or some variation thereof, is an acceptable pickup line.
  3. Foriegners have very interesting anecdotes about living in China. They are not for the weak of stomach.
  4. I am a sucker, and consider 35 RMB a perfectly acceptable way of getting someone to shut up and stop telling me to buy stuff.
  5. If you throw a rock on Maoming Lu or Nanjing Lu, you'll hit three foriegners.
  6. There will always be someone who speaks English.
  7. Ignoring people will not make them go away, but it may make them less obnoxious.
  8. No matter how many foriegners there are in Shanghai, there will always be some people who are shocked that you're there.
  9. Metro Stations in Shanghai have bookstores.
  10. Jumping from Platform Forbidden!

The metro was really overwhelming to me, but that's mostly because I spent too much time thinking about it. I guess I expected it to be more like Paris, which involved tons of lines and the real possibility of getting bombed. (When I was in Paris, students were bombing the lines in protest over something. You weren't likely to get hurt, but the lines would be cut, and you'd be stuck on the metro for hours on end. This was... god... long ago now.)

But the ladies that sold the tickets spoke English enough to get me a ticket, and the nice man fixing the broken gate showed me how to get through it, and I guessed which train to go on by the fact that I knew which direction the People's Park was from where I was. It was actually only two stops. I thought it would be longer.

The annoucements were about three minutes long in Chinese, followed by one sentence in English. There's a joke in there someplace, but I'm not coherent enough to make it.

Edited to add links to things.

I love Shanghai.

I love the fact that there's a McDonald's just down the street from where the bus drops me off, and I can go down and buy a Big Mac.

I love that there's a Starbucks just a block away, and I indulged myself twice in caramel mochachino coffees. I love that they say mochachino completely different, but it tastes just the same.

Most of all, I love the fact that I just don't stand out in Shanghai.

I can be as cranky or unhappy in Shanghai as I want, without worrying about what people will think of me. No one will care. Just another one of the many foriegners in the city. I don't even have blonde hair to make me interesting.

Of course, the fact that I don't care enough to pretend to be happy means I always have a marvelous time in Shanghai. (Always. Don't I sound like I've been there a hundred times? I've been there all of twice, including this trip.)

Through an amazing amount of luck I managed to show up at the bar where the Shanghai Bloggers were meeting only about 15 minutes before they scheduled to be there. This is significant because I missed the last few emails saying when we were going to meet. I decided (since I hadn't been able to get ahold of anyone to even confirm where the damned bar was -- I only had the street name) that I would show up on the street around nine, and if I didn't find Amber I'd just look around till I found a place to dance. As much as I wanted to hook up with the guys, I wanted to dance more.

Micheal, Brad, and Phil all showed up pretty quickly. I felt really uncomfortable at first, but the guys really set me at ease quickly. We talked for a few hours, just rambling from conversation to conversation. It felt nice to just talk to a group of people again. It's amazing the things you miss. Yeah, I can chat with the women I work with, but it's always so strained, with me trying to talk slowly and them trying to find the words. This was nice. They all had horror stories about Chinese bathrooms, Micheal talked about a friend's upcoming trip to Tibet, and we talked about blogging and why we were in China. Brad had a friend also show up, a delightful girl named Eileen. At first I thought she was very shy, but once I got her talking, it was great!

The bar was so full of westerners, it could have been any bar on Whyte Ave. The place was packed, to the point where people's chairs were being snatched up whenever they got up to go someplace. The music got pretty loud, so eventually we decided to move someplace less crowded and quieter. Or so was the plan.

The place we moved to had louder music, but there was actually a dance floor. It felt more intimate, and I didn't notice any other westerners. The guys started chatting, so I dragged Eileen up onto the dance floor and just relaxed. I haven't been dancing in ages, and I love it. Eileen kept telling me I should move to Shanghai, she'd go out dancing with me every weekend.

God, this so sounds like a letter to my mother. *laugh*

Anyway, the meetup was a blast, at least for me, and it was great to have faces to go with the blogs.

The rest of the time was just... overwhelming. I'm used to much smaller places than Shanghai, so I'm always overwhelmed there. I shopped, and bought presents for people back home. (Kristi asked for something "tacky and touristy". I found the tackiest thing I had seen in China. Ten minutes later, I found something even more tacky, but the idea of having a Chinese barbie doll dancing to It's a Small World sung in Chinese actually in my home turned me off entirely.) The best present I bought, I'm not entirely positive I want to give away. That's the problem with finding really kewl stuff. I just have to keep reminding myself that the intended recipient will appreciate it more than I will. Plus, I can always get another one. I probably will.

I wandered through parks, checked out a museum, and even braved the Metro. From my experience in Paris, I can tell you that the first time is always the hardest. At least in France I could read the damned signs. Ah well, the annoucements were in English as well as Chinese. I didn't catch a photo of the sign that said "Danger! Jumping from platform Forbidden!" I did get a photo of the overpacked trains. Think of the LRT when it's a game day. Now picture it a normal Saturday morning at 11 a.m. I can't get over how crowded it was. I also don't understand why the transit stops at 11. That's even worse than Edmonton.

Anyway, this is another one of my rambly posts. I actually have a lot of thoughts to add to this one later, but I wanted everyone to know I had a fantastic time, I bought many many postcards, and I found Jeanne-Marie's letter in my coat pocket again. I am going to hell.

One of the things living in China has taught me is how little a common language is necessary for having a good time with someone.

I just came back from the on-campus supermarket. From what I can gather, it's run by a large family, but I love each of them. My favorite is the father, and we've mutually decided to run away together one day, as soon as he can get rid of his wife, and I can turn Chinese. It's a lovely arrangement we've made through pantomime, written word, his faulty English, and my occasional few words in Chinese. Every time I'm in there, I laugh.

Today when I was in there we danced, we laughed, we talked about Shanghai and Christmas, I met his wife (in that he pointed her out and kept making sure she wasn't looking when he blew kisses at me, much to the amusement of the rest of his family), and I took a bunch of photos. I also bought more Christmas stuff, and was advised that I like cola a lot. In fact, they've started just pulling out two 600 ml bottles of coke whenever I show up, so I just buy it even if I don't want it. Heck, I see nothing wrong with having a stockpile of caffeine in this place.

The family there is wonderful, and even though the majority of them speak no English (the grandmother laughs every time they can get her to say "Hello"), they manage to always make me feel welcome there.

December 19, 2003

As a note to my beloved friends and family back in Canada: If it's bright out in Canada, likely it's dark out in China. As much as I love hearing from you, please don't forget that China is 15 hours ahead of Edmonton, and 16 hours ahead of Vancouver.

Not that I don't love hearing from my dad, but it might have been nicer if I had been awake when he called!

That being said, I'm awake now. He picked a good time to do it, all things considered. I forced myself to go to bed before midnight for the first time in a while, so I actually got about as much sleep as I usually do anyway.

I've been reading the forums over at Living in China, most specifically the thread on "Do you have a Chinese Name?" Since I've just started my Chinese lessons, I've had more thoughts on this question. I've been told by Lily that my full first name (which is Joanna) is transliterated to mean "Bridge - Peace - That", which instantly makes her giggle. I've thought about telling people here to just call me Anna, since it's easier for them to say, but I'm not really sure of the etiquette of nicknames here. The thread addresses that to some extent, but I'm always so uncomfortable with it. Plus, there's the whole thing where I got rather used to be called by my full name at work, with just my friends calling me various nicknames.

Since I've gone by the nick "Trouble" for... god... almost ten years online now, I thought about taking that as a name. (Considering I have kids whose English names are Ball, Partisan, Orange and Fish, I'm thinking this wouldn't be as odd as it sounds.) However, I don't like the sound of it as much. "Ma Fan." Plus, the characters confuse the heck outta me.

Ah well. The kids call me "Teacher", except the senior students who can actually say my name. I have this one kid who insists on calling me "Miss JoAnNa" (that's how he says it), and I find that rather endearing.

I've also considered trying to find something that has a similar meaning to my given name. It means "Gracious Gift from God". However, having heard the Chinese word for gift many many times in the past two weeks, I don't think I could handle that as a name.

What I find most intimidating is when someone from China asks me to give them an English name. I'm always caught flat footed. First, I don't think there's anything wrong with their Chinese name. (There is something wrong with my tongue that I can't say it.) Second, I'm lacking creativity there. I once ran a game where every female NPC had a variation of the name "Elizabeth", and I didn't notice. So, really, asking me to give you an English name is a very bad idea.

Ah well. I might change my mind sometime in the future, but for now I'm content.

Paul went to a Christmas "meeting" in Nantong on Wednesday, and was climbing the walls from boredom. However, the food was good, or so he tells me.

The reason I'm mentioning this is because he ran into a bunch of people who came over with the same recruiting company he and I both did, and had the same impression: It sucked.

Everything turned out okay in the end, but I found the experience really frustrating. The person who met me at the airport didn't speak a word of English, and I'll tell you that was quite frightening. I kept having visions of being sold on the black market, and trying to explain to my parents several years later what had happened. "Well, I trusted someone who had my name on a piece of paper. Yes, I know that was silly, but the Canadian government saved me, everything's okay now!" The fact that Kris insisted on telling me horror stories of what could happen in China every night before I fell asleep really didn't help with things.

(On the other hand, it also put things in perspective. Could be worse. I could end up as the next Manchurian Candidate.)

My "warm welcome meal" was me, so tired I could barely keep my head up, Donny, and the guy in charge. Guy in charge spent the entire "meal" wandering around the restaurant yelling at the staff. Donny kept me sane, told me what everything was, and assured me that this was all normal. A few jokes about having to sign three year contracts were cracked at my expense, which I might have been able to handle better if I hadn't just spent upteen hours on an uncomfortable airplane. Note to my friends back home who are taller than me: Fly AirCanada.

My promised tourist stops in Beijing never materialized. They weren't even acknowledged by the head of the company, and I was ultimately told by one of the other recruits that their tour guide had "quit recently", so there wasn't going to be any tours. I find it very frustrating because the first thing anyone ever asks me if I mention I was in Beijing was if I saw the Forbidden City. So I've stopped mentioning I've been to Beijing, because all I saw was the hotel.

Third, the school I was supposedly being sent to kept changing every time I talked with the guy. First I was going to a college. Then I was going to an elementary school. Then Paul and I were going to be in the same town, but at different schools. Then Paul was going to be teaching elementary, and I was going to be back in college. *sigh* I thought I was going to go mad, since I hated not knowing what was going to happen.

When trying to get my expert's certificate, I got asked by Lily for my resume. I had spent weeks on the thing, trying to rewrite everything on it to make me look like a great candidate. I had spent another week writing my cover letter, calling up random people I knew to read the thing outloud to them. But the school never got any of this stuff. They didn't get my transcripts, my letters of recommendation, or my passport information. All they got was a photo. It was like they were told, "Eh, she's got a pretty face, hire her."

{Editor's note: I was going to write "She's got great tits and a nice ass, hire her!", after a comment I once got at a bar I was working at, but then I remembered that my parents read this blog.}

So, I hastily rewrote my resume and thanked whatever gods were watching over me that I had brought along copies of my transcripts.

Paul had equally nasty problems, having been told that he didn't need to have gone to college, and not to worry about bringing over any of his stuff from high school. (I guess high school is much different in New Zealand. He didn't get a school leaving certificate, and can't get his transcripts.) The school is having a bitch of a time getting him a visa, I guess. Luckily his initial visa was for three months. Mine was for only a month.

Donny, another guy we met up with in Beijing, was told it was no problem that he wanted to be at a school where he could play soccer all the time. But he was also told he was being "too difficult" when he said he didn't want to go up north.

Well, Paul ran into people in Nantong who had had similar problems. One guy who wanted to go up north was told he was "too difficult" and the company wasn't going to pay for his lodgings in Beijing if he kept up with it, which is why he's in Jiangsu. Another girl was told everything was all lined up, to come on over, and then waited in Beijing for days while she was told the same stories I was.

I wonder how much money he's charging the schools for this "service". It didn't cost us anything except the plane ticket over, and it's not like he saw any of that. *shrug*

Ah well, it all turned out alright in the end. I'm happy with my school, Paul's good with his, and I get Donny's doing quite well for himself in Wuxi. I just wish the beginning had been more related to what I had been promised.

Unrelated to anything, I finally went to the KFC here in town. I've mentioned before that I used to work at KFC, and the smell of the cooking chicken still makes me want to go back to Bubbles in Vegreville and buy more alcohol. I liked Tom before we worked together, but I think getting drunk three or four nights a week to handle working with surly teenagers was what really made our friendship as good as it is.

That all being said, the initial "everyone wants to be here!" thing had finally worn off, so I was able to get served pretty quick. The girl behind the counter got quite flustered and called over one of her coworkers who could speak enough English to tell me what my total cost was, but since it was nicely displayed on the till, I wasn't concerned. They also kept assuring me it would be "very quick". They made the fries fresh, and it all tasted good.

I find ketchup here strange. Not enough spices in it.

But now I have more things for my collection of "gum wrappers, ketchup containers, labels and other weird things from China" that one of my coworkers in Edmonton asked for. So far I've just mailed her the labels from coke bottles and and a few gum wrappers. I'm sure she's regretting this now.

I'm leaving for Shanghai in a few hours, so I should probably get some other things done. I'm determined to have a good time, and there are all sorts of people and groups I intend to hook up with in Shanghai. Besides the Shanghai Bloggers, there's also a group of ex-pats who meet every Saturday morning (or is it Sunday morning? I have to check that out) at a Starbucks there. And I have to tell you all, I'm missing coffee from Starbucks almost as much as I miss Casey's ice cream floats.

December 18, 2003

Woo hoo! I'm now at cold 3.5 since arriving in China a mere two months ago. And I'm going to be on a bus for Shanghai in less than 24 hours! Go me! *laugh*

At this point, I am sick to death of teaching people how to sing Jingle Bells. It's my own damned fault. I could have chosen to ignore the existence of Christmas, but I decided to bring it up in every class. So I've now taught 1500 people to sing Jingle Bells. I know by next year I'll be able to love the song again (it was the first Christmas song I learned how to play on the piano), but right now it's evil.

I'm drinking much hot water, and I'm beginning to feel better. I've got to stop ignoring the people who tell me to drink more hot water. They're completely right. It always makes me feel better. How strange.

So, my advice to everyone today is: wear more clothes and drink more hot water!

December 16, 2003

My Never-Ending Phone Card Quest

Since arriving in China, I have bought seven phone cards. I have managed to make and complete a phone call with one of them.

The first card I bought in Beijing, at the airport. I was catching my flight to Nanjing, and had an hour to kill. The man at the recruiting agency had told me about IP cards and IC cards, and since I was waiting right near a bank of phones, I grabbed an IC card. (IC cards work in payphones. IP cards work on landlines.)

I ripped open the package, stuffed it into the phone, and attempted to call Kris.

"We're sorry. This phone cannot complete this call."

I tried another pay phone, but I got the same recording at each one. I sighed, stuffed the card in my pocket, and waited for my plane.

The second card I bought in Shanghai. By then I was with Paul, and since he had made several successful calls home, I figured he could help me pick one out that would work. We found a place that sold them, I picked up a nice card, and stuffed that in my pocket, next to the IC card that I still hadn't used. I made a joke about how, in case of emergency, I would rip open the plastic and call home.

When I tried to use it, shaking because of how much I just wanted to hear a familiar voice, I got a new recording:

"We're sorry, this card will not work in this region."

Needless to say, this upset me. A lot.

I've tried cards that don't work for overseas calls. Those frustrate me. I have a growing collection of these damned Chinese phone cards right next to my phone, taunting me every time I try to call home.

Last week I finally began to snap. I was going crazy. I went into the office and asked the teachers there where I could buy an IP card. They directed me to the front gate of the school. Where no one spoke any English, and nothing I could say would get "phone card" across to anyone. I thought I would go mad.

I decided to wander over to the supermarket on campus, because at least one person there speaks enough English for me to talk to. He wasn't there, and I once again tried the pantomime-writing-drawing technique that so far has not worked. With a group of people around me, I tried to explain that I wanted to call Canada, that I needed a phone card.

They finally brought me out a card with bees on it, and told me it was 30 RMB. I just nodded, paid, and left, determined to call home, to hear some sort of familiar voice.

I got through to Kris, and listened in frustration to the answering machine message. I had forgotten how many rings it picked up on, and since I was already being charged for the minutes, I left a message. Then I tried calling Tom.

I actually got through to Tom and Carla. It wasn't much of a conversation, as the second sentence out of my mouth, after "How are you?" was "I want to come home!", followed immediately by incoherent sobbing. Carla, being a wonderful person, handed the phone over to Tom, who had just woken up. He mumbled a bit, I cried a lot, and then, seven minutes into the call, it cut off. No warning, just the end of the card.

I stared at the phone in shock.

I decided I didn't want anymore of those cards.

On the weekend, Paul took me to the place where he buys his cards, and I bought another 100 RMB card. I once again joked about how I would open it in case of emergency, but I tried it as soon as I got home.

"We're sorry, this card will not work in your area."

I've decided that whatever fates that are watching over me have made the choice that I will not be calling home from China.

December 14, 2003


Well, I'm back from an excellent weekend spent in Rudong with Paul, and greeted with many wonderful emails and things to read. I am very content with the world.

For those of you who asked, I got an email from my brother's young lady friend today. She tells me that my dad is doing great, and he'll be home on Monday. I can't tell you what a load that is off my mind. I don't know what I would have done if something had happened while I was here.

I tried practicing my Mandarin while visiting with Paul. At his school, he has a woman named Lily who helps him out, and she's very... hmm... blunt. I tried to say "Open the door!" and she laughed at me, so I guess I got it wrong. Ah well. I'm proud of myself because I can say "trouble" with the best of them. ma fan. Yay me!

I'm so happy-tired, I just don't have anything fun or interesting to say. I hope everyone else had a great weekend, too.

December 11, 2003


I come from a country where "patriotism" is synonymous with "beer commercial", and we identify ourselves primarily as being "not American". I found it an interesting comment on all of that when I met Paul, and he was so impressed that I didn't have a Canadian flag on my bag. "God, that's really annoying," he said. Couple that with the article Tom forwarded me about how American's see Canadians as boasting a lot, and it's been an interesting month for thoughts on patriotism.

If I'm asked what nationality I am, I always answer, proudly, Canadian. Back home, it's immediately qualified: "No, where is your family from?" Um, Canada. "No, no, no... What's your ascenstry?" I usually sigh at this point, and respond with: "We were Vandals. We sacked Rome." This usually shuts people up. Except History majors, who usually insist on telling me that I can't be a Vandal, they all died out. I ignore them.

I've started thinking a lot about being Canadian. I have a song that defines Canadians as "...we like to stand in line, and if you ask us how we're doing then we'll say 'Just fine!'." Which is true, I guess. We have this international identity as being "polite". We're "nice". We're "dull".

It's not that I've rejected that. Paul gives me a hard time over how polite I am, how I always say "thank you" and "please" and stuff like that. I've been told that friends don't say "thank you" in China, which I find strange. My advice to newly married couples is always "Don't forget to say Please and Thank You. Just because you're married doesn't mean you don't have to be polite to each other!".

But I've come up with a better definition of what makes someone a Canadian, especially overseas:

Canadians know how to dress for the weather.

I can't tell you how often I've had a varation of this conversation:

Lily: I am very cold out here!
Anna: Oh? I have an extra pair of gloves you can wear.
Lily: No, they are ugly.
Anna: Suit yourself.
Lily: I am very cold!

On the phone with Paul last night, we were talking about how cold he is trying to sleep. I mentioned that when it gets to cold out here, I just toss on a pair of sweat pants or a sweater or something.

His response: "How can you do that? That's so uncomfortable! I'd rather be cold!"

Then I listen to him complain about how cold he was last night. *sigh*

Me, I'm very rarely cold in China. If it starts to get cold, I put on a hat. If it gets really cold, I throw on my scarf. Occasionally I put on gloves. It just got cold enough here during the day to see your breath, and I heard from a friend that it's -19°C back in Edmonton. Which means it's warming up.

So, I'm a proud Canadian. I wear my cute little duck gloves with pride. Because I know how to dress for the weather.

December 10, 2003


I had my first Chinese lesson tonight.

I'm finding it a bit ironic that as soon as my father gets admitted to the hospital for his surgery, and thus can't ask me "How's your Mandarin coming?" every other day, I actually start learning the language. At least the speaking part. My teacher, Miss Wei (?), is focusing on getting me speaking. I was hoping to learn the characters at the same time, but at least I'm learning the pinying.

My father is going into the hospital for open heart surgery. Words like "bypass" are being used, although I can't remember the number of things that will be bypassed. They finally got around to mentioning this to me when we were waiting for my connecting flight to Tokyo. I can think of better places to mention it, but at least I got told when I was still in Canada, and not over the phone when I was in China.

We started with simple words. I had already learned how to write the numbers, and she took me through trying to say them. I fail miserable at saying "four" and "ten", which makes me feel stupid, but at least I can write both of them. It's the "s" sounds in Chinese I have trouble with. Si and shi. My mouth just doesn't want to form them. I can hear that I'm saying it wrong, I can hear the correct way of saying it, but I just can't reproduce it.

I've been keeping Kris updated about everything, forwarding along my father's emails. I got a reply today: "I admire your father's optimism." I responded very simply: "Yup. Proves I'm a foundling." My mind will not get past "My father is in the hospital for surgery. And I'm in China." I don't know why I'd feel better if I were in Edmonton. He'd still be in Vancouver. But the fact that, in an emergency, I could likely fly to Vancouver and be there in a few hours is more comforting than the idea that, at best, I'd be home in a day and a half.

Miss Wei lhelped me learn hand and foot and head and coat. She tried to teach me hair, but I guess I sound like I'm saying hat. I like the fact that she's honest about it. It reminds me of Paul, trying to say "It's very cold." Everyone said, "Oh, that's right, you are very clever." His friend pulled him aside afterwards and told him he was actually saying "The wolf is coming." I keep picturing a Simpsons episode: "It's cold, and there are wolves...."

Both my parents have told me, often, that everything is going to be okay. The friends back home that I have talked to about this have said the same thing, with anecdotes to back it up. But this is my father, and I'm worried about him. I want everything to be okay, for him to wake up and give me a call and laugh at me for being so worried. No matter how much I want to believe that everything will be okay, part of me still thinks it won't. Because that's the way the world is.

I'm going to look back at this post once he's out of the hospital and feel stupid.

I keep trying to say "Close the door!" but I say "Look at the door!". And I'm satisfied that I'm at least saying "door" properly.

So and thus.

Miss Wei taught me the Chinese alphabet, and it's beautiful to listen to. I'll have to sing the alphabet song to Dad when he calls me.

Xia ke.


For the first time in my life, going shopping for clothes made me happy. It was a rather unique experience.

A week ago I was down in the office talking to one of my coworkers, Ing, about how lonely I was. Back home I was used to being very busy, and I'm not really happy unless I'm very busy. Here, I teach 3 classes a day. That's it. And since each class is only 40 minutes, that's a lot of free time I have every day. Since the promised Mandarin lessons still haven't materialized, I'm pretty bored. There's really only so much wandering aimlessly around the city I can do before I start to go a bit wonky.

I was telling Ing about the things I wanted to do, and how frustrated I was that I couldn't do them, when she grabbed onto something I said. I'd mentioned how I really loved the traditional Chinese jackets that some of the women I saw in the street were wearing, and how I'd love to get one, but I could never find one that would fit me.

"Well," she said, "there's a tailor in town who could make you one very easily. I have some free time right now, let's go."

I love Ing. Love love love.

Anyway, she took me to the tailor, pointing out a few places along the way, and just chatted with me about Jiangyan and her life here. I found out her husband teaches music at another school, and really likes classical music and opera. She told me that the bunches of flowers in baskets lined up outside a store meant the store had just opened, and all of the friends of the owners had sent them flowers. She pointed out where her house used to be when she was growing up, but it was destroyed when the widened the main road.

We eventually started down a narrow street, and she talked to me about how new clothes were usually made for the new year. Fireworks we going off, and she asked me what we called them in Canada, and if they were set off often there. I talked to her about how we usually only have fireworks on Canada Day and New Years Eve, and how I was looking forward to the fireworks display for Spring Festival.

When we made it to the tailor, it turned out that he was already gone, but his wife helped us pick me out a jacket. It's all black, with red hilights to it. Ing and the tailor's wife got into a barganing session, and Ing finally turned to me and gave me the price. I smiled and nodded, happy to pay anything for this chance to have a nice jacket from China. I have no idea how much it would cost to get a jacket custom made in Canada, but it's working out to about 50$ CDN here.

Last night I went for a fitting, sadly without Ing to hold my hand through it. They brought down the "rough draft" of the jacket, and had me put it on. It's just the main part of the jacket, the sleeves weren't attached yet.

The tailor was there, though, and man... I've always had this image of tailors being little old men bent over from age, with pins in their mouth. Let's just say (since my father reads this blog) that this was not the case. The tailor is definately a nice looking young man. Too bad he's married. And doesn't speak English. *laugh*

Although the tailor's wife had taken several measurements when I was there the first time, the jacket didn't quite fit properly. They had... hmm... miscalculated the size of my breasts, to be frank. I'm not particularily surprised at this. But, twenty minutes later they had taken the seems apart at the back and resown them, and this time it fit over my breasts perfectly. They marked where the buttons would go, had me try on the sleeves to get the right length, all sorts of nifty stuff. I felt so special. I get the impression (although I could be wrong) that custom fitted clothes aren't that big a deal in China, but I'm used to attempting to buy off the rack.

So, from what I was able to piece together, the jacket will be ready on Sunday. I can't wait to wear it. It's so beautiful.

I will make one other comment: I always make it a point to speak like everyone around me understands what I'm saying. At least twice now I've found this to be a good assumption. You can get a feeling when people are translating what you're saying to the people around them, and I got that feeling again last night, when I was attempting to talk about this jacket to the tailor. I think his wife understands English, or at least enough to get what I was saying and asking. They knew I was saying it was beautiful, and understood what I was asking when I asked when to come back to get it.

They had some other designs of jackets there that I liked, too. Ing wants me to get one in bright red, and I'd love one in green, too. Of course, he also had one on display that was a long jacket, like a trench coat but it buttoned up differently that I totally fell in love with. I feel so decadent!

December 9, 2003

So I walk into my office and four of my workmates are sitting there drinking yogurt out of a drink box.

Yogurt. To drink. This is wrong.

I stare at them for a moment as they continue to talk in Chinese, and then I finally snap:

"Lily, yogurt isn't a drink! You don't drink yogurt! You eat it! With a spoon!"

She looked up at me, takes the straw out of her mouth, and says: "We don't have spoons in China." Then she went back to drinking her yogurt.

I had to concede her the point.

So I've actually now had drinkable yogurt. It's not as thick as it is back home. I picked up a one liter container of strawberry, and poured it into my brand-spanking new happy face mug.

{BTW: Kris, I bought myself new happy face mugs. Yay!}

It tastes a bit like a milkshake, really. I ended up enjoying it. I could definately make sure that I get my calcium intake this way. But don't tell Lily I said that, because yogurt is supposed to be eaten. With a spoon.

Editor's note: Of course, now I keep thinking "There is no spoon." I'm hoping someone quickly comes along and kills me.

December 8, 2003

I'm not a religious person.

When I was a little girl, I remember going to Sunday School, but I can't remember doing anything there. When I was older, I took Religious Instruction, but could never figure out why. When I was a teenager, we went to church at Easter and Christmas. Religion was something I was aware of, but not something that affected my life in any significant way.

When I went to college, I started meeting people to whom religion was very important. My four closest friends back in Edmonton all have very strong faith. Out of respect to the friends I made in college, I started studying religion, to the point where I took enough Religious Studies classes that I could have listed it as a minor, I'm certain. I've read the Bible, the Apocrypha, Luther's Small Catechism, The Case for Christ, the Jesus Seminars. I've banged my head against the wall when watching movies like Stigmata.

If you asked me, I would tell you I don't believe in God.

That all being said, I was surprised at how disquieted I was at the idea of going into a Buddhist temple. The smiling people around me told me this temple was to the Goddess of Mercy, and they wanted me to show respect to her as an ancient Chinese god. One part of me was going Cool, I get to see a temple! A real temple, not one in a photo! The other part of me was feeling very uncomfortable. I'd never been in a temple. I've walked past synagogues, I've studied Greek temples, I've written tests about Shinto and Buddhism, but I've never been inside a place that represented someone's faith, other than a Christian church.

"There are monks living there now. Maybe we will see them!" His English name was Liam. He'd told me his Chinese name, but I could only remember the translation: Mr. Left. He led me over to where a store was selling incense, and we bought two packages each. I looked at the bundles in my hand, tracing my fingers over the Chinese writing, and thought about Mercy.

As they led me back towards the gates, I started chanting in my head: Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee...

I was surprised at my reaction. Like I said, I'm not religious. I know Hail Mary because of a song I like. But it seemed like the right thing to keep in mind.

We went up in a gondola, and I watched the view get larger and more beautiful. Most of the people in the gondola with me didn't speak English, and those that did just assured me I shouldn't look down, and that we were safe. I ignored them for the most part, staring down at the park we had passed on our way. It was beautiful down there, and I was disappointed that we didn't have the time to walk through the park, to indulge my desire to see everything here.

We got off the gondola and walked up the stairs in the mountain, and I was once again awed by the view. This time I could see the Yangzte River, so wide across I could barely pick out the opposite shore. It was beautiful and timeless, and I could have been content at that point to just gaze out at the water.

"When I was attending college, I used to take my girlfriends for walks along the river," said Liam, and I smiled at him. He was very polite, very sweet, and the only person there who made sure I knew what was going on. I wonder now if he sensed my unease, but it's hard to say. Body language and facial expression seem so different in China, but I can't put my finger on what the difference is.

He told me a story about how Buddha had made all the wolves promise to stop killing people and animals in the area by making a bet with them. He had bet that he could make the sky dark, and the wolves, not knowing who he was, had laughed and agreed to the bet. When Buddha tossed his cloak up into the sky, it grew larger and large until the whole area was dark. The wolves, realizing then who they were confronting, left the area, never to return.

By now we were at the top of the steps, and the temple was behind us. I looked up at it, and thought about the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me.

I've always considered myself very open minded, and never thought much about religious preferences. I know what I believe, and what I don't believe. I accept what other people believe. I question about religion, but I don't question faith. Standing there, confronted with definitive proof that other religions existed, I was surprised and disquieted. I'm still attempting to figure out why.

We walked up to the temple, and each of us in turned bowed and genuflected to the first statue, tossing a few coins into the box before it. I did as the others did, but stared up at the statue, wondering at it. It was a large statue, the typical laughing Buddha that we've all studied in school.

"He is always laughing, always smiling at life's misfortunes. Just like you!" said Mr. Left, grinning at me.

We walked past two large statues reaching up to the ceiling. I recognized the style, but couldn't tell you what they were or what they represented. Garishly coloured, their faces were dark brown, and their smiles were fake. They looked frightening.

We continued to walk through the temple, stopping every few minutes to bow before another statue. I never became truly comfortable with it, and clutched my packages of incense to me between bowing. I kept looking at everything, wanting to touch it, to have someone explain everything about this faith, this temple, this lifestyle to me, but everyone was in a rush, and I wasn't comfortable asking.

We passed a statue with many arms. "She is using all of her thousand hands to give blessings," Liam told me, and I looked at her hands, trying to decide what she was holding.

We eventually got to the inner sanctum of sorts. I stood outside it, feeling very uncomfortable. Mr. Left pointed to the statue inside. "It is a tree," he said. "The people of China carved it into a Buddha." I heard a bell tolling, and saw a monk banging against a stick against a large bell.

In the half-light it was hard to see what he looked like. I only have impressions now, of a robe of an off-red colour, and the sudden thought that he actually looked like a monk on t.v. I guess I assumed that t.v. got that wrong. He sat down at a table in front of the statue, holding onto a feather duster, and I smiled.

I finally bowed at this statue, too, and when I looked up at the face of Buddha I thought again of golden calves. I quickly stepped away, and out onto the highest balcony.

Liam led me to a fire, and told me that I was to take my incense and toss it in there. I looked at the packaging again, and he pointed out the Chinese characters. "This one means that you will have good luck in the new year," he said, pointing at the first package. "This one means you'll get lots of money." I smiled at that, and stepped forward, tossing both of them in the fire. I couldn't smell the incense, and was disappointed, but I watched it burn for a few minutes before I was led to the cushions in front of the fire, and asked to bow again, in thanks for the blessings.

After that, there wasn't much left. We walked back down from the temple, got back onto the Gondola, and into the van. We were heading to the t.v. tower, where they told me I would see an even better view of the city. I just closed my eyes, leaning back against the seat as we started to move, and pondered everything that had just happened.

I knew I wanted to come back, to look at everything by myself, and to wonder at faith and religion and my own feelings about them.

December 7, 2003

Eating in China

Interesting things I have eaten in China, a list, by jo

  1. Turtle. I found it tasted like fish. It was a very interesting experience.
  2. Pig's Ear. Eh, I didn't like the texture, or the appearance, but I tried it because everyone insisted I should. By itself, it's not that good, but I liked it dipped in vinegar.
  3. Pig's Feet. Tastes like pig. Strange looking bones. I have no idea how someone would prepare this, though.
  4. Pig's Skin. At least, that's what Lily told me I was eating. I hate the texture, and I'm not too fond of the flavour, either. I'd say pass, if you're asked to try some.
  5. Crabs. I know I can get crabs in the shell at home, but I've never had it. These crabs are about the size of my fist. You crack them open and eat them out of the shell. I have yet to do this properly.

All in all, I haven't had the influx of strange foods that I thought I would. I guess the fact that I rarely have someone with me to tell me what I'm eating may add to that.

Hmm... They're doing a Best Asian Weblogs thingy. (Yes, that was very descriptive of me. I can see why I'm teaching English.)

I love reading China blogs, because I like reading about people who are in the same boat as me, or reading about people who are more involved with China. I want to read their stories and see their images. So I'm all excited about this "Best Asian Blogger" thing because I just click on the nominees to read some great stuff.

Those of you who are interested, check it out. I'll put up a better link later.

I got a goat!

Editor's note: This is a fairly boring, mundane post. I meant to say something significant in it, but got distracted.

I've been starting a lot of conversations lately by saying "I got a goat!"

I find it interesting that everyone automatically assumes that someone in China gave me a real goat. I think it says interesting things about people's perceptions of this place.

That being said: I got a goat!

I got "invited" (as in: "We're going tomorrow, be here at 6 a.m.") to go with some of the teachers to another school and observe their teaching techniques. From what Paul and I have been able to put together, this is something that is very very common in December in China. We've had a day of it at my school (the same day the overseas students came up), Paul's just done one at his school, and I've been to the one at this other school. It involves a bunch of teachers from all around sitting in on classes in their specialities, and then discussing the teaching techniques. Which was an eye opening experience, I assure you.

So I sat in on two English classes, which was okay, I guess. Nothing too exciting there, except that it really brought home to me how impossible it is to teach the students here the way we teach the students back home. I haven't been able to figure out how often a week the kids get English classes, but back home we had French four times a week, with usually 20 to 30 students. Here they typically have 60. They do chanting instead of speaking. And yet, lot of the kids are good. At least, good enough to understand about half of what I say when I talk slowly.

Afterwards we had a big lunch. It was surreal, because it was the first time since I came here that I've sat at a big table of Chinese people. They poured a Chinese wine into bowls. I don't know the proper spelling, but it's pronounced "biejo". Anyway, every few minutes someone would stand up with a toast, and we all stood up and drank. I finally got to the point where I would just put the bowl to my lips, because I didn't want to get drunk. They brought out dish after dish of food, and I had pig's ear (which isn't too bad if you dip it in vinegar).

I had been asked earlier in the day if I would give a demonstration class. I wasn't really warned what they meant though.

I gave a class about Christmas to about 780 people. It was overwhelming, and frustrating, and fun, and great, and I laughed a lot. I got the kids to laugh, although whenever that happens I'm reminded of what my brother said when I left. "I tell all my students that the important thing is to know when to laugh. It doesn't matter if you get the joke, just know when to laugh." I wonder often if the kids only laugh because they think they're supposed to.

Then we all piled into a van, and got taken to Nantong. They showed us a Buddhist temple, brought us to the top of a t.v. tower, and took us on a boat trip on the canals within Nantong. I want to write an entire post on each one of these things, because they were so interesting that they deserve the time and effort.

The frustrating part, though, was one of the teachers from the other school, Jocelyn, kept talking to my like I was seven years old. She'd point at the t.v. tower and say, "What's that?". I smiled and went along with it, but it was so frustrating. I could understand if we were talking in Chinese, but it was all in English. Ah well. I think she had fun, and I know I had fun.

When they drove us back to our school, they gave everyone large boxes to take home. I carried it up to my apartment, speculating on what was inside. I actually assumed, from the way it was thumping in the box, that it must be a bottle of liquor. I also hoped it wasn't. All kidding aside, I'm not a heavy drinker, and any bottle that would be in a box this size would likely end up coming home with me, unopened. (Which could be a lot of fun. I have drinking plans that involve Tom and biejo. And alcohol poisining.)

By the time I got home, I was completely exhausted, but I opened the box, and inside was a goat!

It's a large wooden goat, good for coffee tables or displaying on a mantle of some sort. If I were educated properly, I would be able to tell you what kind of wood it is, but I don't know. It just know that it's beautiful, a dark wood, and it's carved all in one piece. The goat is standing with one foot on a Chinese coin, the type with the square cut out of it. There are four Chinese characters on it. Hopefully I'll be able to tell you what it says one day.

Looking at this goat reminded me of some of the reasons I decided to come here. I've talked often about how it feels to be over here, how other it is, and how the world is a very small place that we make choices about seeing. I like the idea of coming home with this goat, the first of my souveniers of my travels around the world. Every time I get lonely or sad, I look at my goat and think about how rich my life is becoming with experiences. Yes, the day to day stuff can drive me insane, but there's so much I can experience here if I want to.

December 5, 2003


Long time readers of my blog (from the not-anywhere-on-the-web archives time) will know that I made it a point to not talk about my emotions very often on the blog. I'd talk about my plans of moving, my lesson planning, boring stuffs like that. Occasionally I'd rant about something.

I'm about to rant but good.

I am grounded.

Bad enough that I get told "Oh, don't go out at night, it's dangerous" without any definition of when "night" is, because it gets dark here at 4:30. Bad enough that whenever I go someplace I have to tell people where I'm going and when I'm going to be back. Bad enough that I get questioned when I'm walking places after dark on campus, to make sure I'm not going out.

Now I've been "asked" not to go to Nanjing tomorrow. (Plans to Shanghai have been postponed.) I've been "asked" not to go anywhere alone anymore.

What the fuck? I'm old enough to make my own choices, thank you very much. I was going to Nantong and Nanjing by myself before. I don't know what the hell changed, but it's really pissing me off.

Anyway, they've gotten my Chinese teacher approved. I haven't met her yet, but at least now I can safely seek her out without worrying about offending someone else.

Eh, I'm in too bad a mood to talk about the good things that have happened.

December 1, 2003

Easily Distracted by Bright Sparklies

There is something completely different about hurting yourself in a foriegn country.

Before I get a bunch of concerned phone calls from home, I'm fine. No bones are broken, and I didn't hit my head.

I had skipped supper tonight because I wasn't hungry, and then got hungry around 7:30. I decided to go out for a walk, maybe try the KFC that just opened up, or just buy something at the store. However, when I got to the KFC, it was packed, and I'm bored of the stuff at the grocery store, so I decided to keep walking.

Something I've found strange about China is the lighting. The streetlights back home are bright enough you could read by them. Here, everything feels like it's lit in gaslight. Little globes just barely bright enough to allow you to see the street underneath them.

However, the buildings are always lit up. Neon lights flash everywhere, signs are always glowing, and there are led lights running along the edges of buildings. Everywhere I look when walking downtown I see these bright lights. I find it very distracting sometimes, and I wonder whether the lights back home are as bright. The streets of Edmonton are so well lit that the lights on the buildings are washed out. The lights here look like the lights are supposed to in Las Vegas, all bright and flashy and neon and strange.

I walked along, chasing after bright lights, trying to find something that would satisfy my cravings for sweet. I turned down various streets, looking into windows and doorways, trying to decide what it was that I wanted.

Eventually I went into a store that sold gloves and scarves, and bought the cutest pair of gloves, with ducks on them. They're perfect for the not-cold that we're having here. As a Canadian, I know how to dress for cold weather. I have problems dressing for the not-cold weather, though.

Anyway, I walked down to the end of the street, and still couldn't find what I was looking for. I was beginning to get tired, and decided I'd had enough of chasing neon lights for one night, and started to head back. I walked along the street, keeping an eye out for traffic.

Sadly, not keeping an eye on the actual street.

I fell into a hole.

I took a step, and there was nothing below me, and I fell, hard, onto my tummy. I was so shocked I just lay there for a moment, trying to figure out what was happening to me. Several people were suddenly next to me, and helped me up, talking to me in very fast Chinese. They all looked very concerned, and very friendly, which I greatly appreciated, because I had just fell into a hole. (I'm still having troubles with this. I fell into a hole. On the street. Who does that?)

I was quickly pushed into a chair, and more concerned Chinese people came to me and asked me questions. All I could say was "I can't understand you, I'm sorry. I just fell into a hole." This was not very effective, and one of them went back outside. I didn't know where he was going, but I frankly didn't care that much. I just kept saying "ow" a lot, and poking at my leg to make sure it was okay.

Through pantomime a woman asked if I had hit my head, and I shook it quickly. I was also asked (I assume) if I had broken anything, but I hadn't.

The man who had disappeared came back and I was gently led to a waiting rickshaw. I pointed in the direction that I wanted to go, and leaned back, waving good-bye and saying "Thank you!" to all the nice people who had helped me. Then I closed my eyes, and wished that I had my mother with me.

I actually had to fight back tears on the way home. It's not that I was that badly hurt, but I fell into a hole! In China! And there wasn't going to be anyone at home when I got there to fret over me and tell me that everything was going to be okay! I was very upset about this. I fell into a hole!

Then I realized that I had fallen into a hole on the street. And realized how incredibly funny that was, and started chuckling to myself. I mean, really, who falls into a hole, right?

I got back to the school, tested my leg and confirmed that I could walk back to my apartment. I walked into the supermarket on campus, because I still hadn't had anything to eat, and that's when I realized how dirty I was. A woman pointed at my jacket and said something, and I replied, "I fell down." She looked at me blankly for a moment, and then pantomimed falling, and I nodded. She laughed, I laughed, several other people laughed, and I bought something sweet and walked back to my room.

I called Paul, who loves "Anna Fell Down" stories. I told him what happened, and when he was done laughing (momentarily), he said, "Well, at least you have something funny to write in your blog."

I said, "Yup. I even have the first line already figured out."

Photo Op

Interesting Comments on My Photos, a list, by jo

  1. "She must be the princess, right?" A comment on Theresa's wedding photos.
  2. "She is a dancer?" Looking at a picture of Jeanne-Marie. I was very surprised at this comment, mostly because it's of Jeanne sitting in a chair with her legs outstretched, listening to her walkman.
  3. "Is this a rockstar?" Picture of Kris. I find this very, very funny. Kris is all gothed out in the photo.
  4. "Is this you?" I should appologize to Clayton for this question. Clay has long curly blonde hair. I have long wavy brown hair. But I was actually asked if Clay was me. Poor Clay.

Hmm... I thought I had more of them. Guess not.

About December 2003

This page contains all entries posted to Anna Overseas in December 2003. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 2003 is the previous archive.

January 2004 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.