Saturday, November 29, 2008

I'm thankful for...

As anxious and churn-y as it makes me each year, I realized that I really do miss the "let's interrupt this elongated prayer by having everyone around the table announce, in a cleverly opaque and general way, what they're thankful for this Thanksgiving" tradition. Also, the family and food and the night-before-Thanksgiving tension that runs through my parents' house like static electricity.

People--even when I don't want to be around them.
I had this grand idea when I decided to move here that, to spare myself the awkwardness of spending the winter holidays with people I didn't really know or care for, I would spend them alone (hopefully while traveling). Instead, I went for a western-ish food at this strange HK bistro with Jared and Dallas. It was quite tasty; I had snake (meh), salad, a Cajun-seasoned chicken breast, and a piece of walnut pie from Paris Baguette (an out-of-this-world Korean bakery that's sprouting up all over China). I was glad to spend it with them and not by myself; as much of a self-pitying masochist as I can be sometimes, it's nice to...well, not be that.

One of my former students died this week. He was 19, and suffered a heart attack. His girlfriend is one of my E-mail correspondents, and I had the grave misfortune of standing next to her as she received the news via telephone. If you've never witnessed someone receive such news, let me tell you: it's chilling.

When I think of my aunt's stint as an ex-pat in France many years ago, I often wonder how she managed to survive on her own with only postal mail and the (very) occasional, expensive phone call. My experience has lacked the emotional sacrifices I was looking forward to since I'm so connected to the shadow of my old life thanks to the Internet, but I'll gladly waive that personal growth.

Time, and the non-existence of time.
I'm glad that I took this opportunity when I did. I'm glad I'm 24, and that the stars aligned and that I left for Anywhere at just the right time. I'm also glad, conversely, that no matter how old I am or what year it is or what day of the week it is, it is always the right time to do something important for yourself.

I just opened a Christian E-card wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving from one of my Chinese students. What next... (Also, Christianity is seen as a networking ploy by most of the Chinese "Christians" I've run into over the months. They assume that "all" westerners are Christian, and feel like it's a club they should join to better acclimate themselves to their surroundings. Ugh.)

Yes, you.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


So, Foucault talks about the base and the superstructure: the base being the real reason an action is perpetrated, and the superstructure being the advertised rationale (have I discussed this here before?). When the US engaged in war with Iraq, for example, the superstructures of "freedom" and "democracy" and "defense" were waved on blood-soaked banners, held proudly by gray suit-clad CEOs of Exxon and BP.

During dinner with Dallas, I learned that two older teachers at my school, a married couple from Canada, were holding "bible studies" in their apartment for students at our school on Saturday nights. I knew this couple was of the evangelical persuasion and that they were a wee bit...eager about it, but this was shocking news to me.

I'm not angry about the subject matter they're celebrating at these meetings, per se. Had they been reveling in Wiccan, Republican, or anarchist shindigs, I would still be upset at their abuse of power. How could these people take advantage of their positions in such a calculated, back-handed way? "Oh, here, come to our house to practice English. It's King James English, but English nonetheless."

Not only does the Chinese government forbid proselytizing, but its people are more than 70% atheists. In this post-mission world we live in, nearly everyone has access to some sort of organized religion, and the means to explore others IF THEY WANT TO. There are several churches of several denominations in Tianjin; everybody knows about them. How dare you convert your students' eagerness to improve their English into something obscene like this?

I am really churn-y right now.

Friday, November 14, 2008


UN Report Sees New Pollution Threat

IN other news, I forgot how draining teaching can be. It's also draining being so gosh-darned popular. Teaching a class of 60 when you only planned on teaching a class of 20-25? Yeah, it's kind of hard.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A retrospective.

The last month of my life has filled me with dream-like memories from which I refuse to wake up. Theo mentioned, as he said goodbye to me before he went to work, that he hoped I was able to do 65% of the things I wished to do while I was home. I'd say that I exceeded that percentage by quite a bit. Concerts, dinners, drinks, parties, walks along the lake, drives with the top down and my spirits up--if I had any doubts about where my heart called Home, they are but a distant memory, like the smoke trail behind an airplane.

I couldn't have chosen a more ideal denouement to this novella than watching Barack Obama become our next president from Grant Park. Although I haven't always been the most ardent supporter of (H)is campaign, it fills me with a patriotic pride I've never known before. Is it homesickness or home-wellness that makes my eyes well up with tears each time I read a new biographical sketch of this man or watch as yet another eloquent personality describes her new-found hope for our country? Of all the post-election interviews, my favorite is by far the CBS interview with Dr. Maya Angelou. Amidst the happiness, I wrestle with reality as Proposition 8 and its fellow-initiatives sow discrimination into the soil of our country's fields. Nevertheless, I hope that one day I will be able to look back at my own subculture's struggles and proudly declare, "Still we rise."

Still I Rise
Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A return to serfdom.

Amidst the various stresses of returning to China, I am currently dealing with some changes that were made to Skype in my absence. Apparently, the Chinese government wishes to be able to spy on all Skype users through modifications made to the Chinese version of Skype. As I have the American version, I am no longer able to connect to Skype using my more secure version. I am now downloading--at molasses-slow rates--the new version.