Saturday, October 03, 2009

my first time speaking Chinese

Today, I was at Safeway, at the customer service desk. A woman was pretending to punch a card and making small shooting noises. She had grey hair, was tiny, and spoke very, very little English. I was imagining a re-enactment of a situation on a bus in Ithaca, where a dark-skinned, silent Asian man had been trying to do something, and the frustrated bus driver finally turned to me and asked, "Do you speak... your language??"

Thus, I tried to avoid the customer representative's eyes, but the woman herself turned to me. "Chinese?" I then proceeded to translate her wants and needs. The rep didn't seemed phased or surprised, merely responded to me as though it happened every day. As for me... I haven't spoken much Chinese since coming back, and none at all on the street, so it was kind of fun to get back into it.

So do I have culture shock? Strangely... no. I lived for a month in rural Oregon, and the isolation helped ease me back. Now, I'm in a much more diverse area than China, and definitely Oregon, but it's a welcome change. I miss Kunming sometimes, and I'm sure I'll get the urge to go back soon enough, but for now... I'm back in the U.S.A., baby!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Just wanted to write a quick update.

Transitions, transitions. They are truly difficult. I don't feel the same as I did two posts ago. Now that I'm about to leave Kunming (for what? where? not sure yet, but I'm 95% sure I'm leaving China), I love it.

The life here is so easy, so amazing! I've just been sucked in. I can get massages for three bucks, facials for eight, a meal for two (and not just noodles!), an apartment to myself for less than two hundred a month, etc etc.

Chinese culture? Of course it's confusing, and it's bitten me in the ass more than once - especially since I look Chinese - but in the end, sometimes things work out so strangely that all you can do is smile. Don't like China? Complaining about it often? Leave. No, seriously.

I am truly picking the worst time to leave, though. The economy is horrible, I don't know what's going on with my life, I can't get a job. But if I stay here much longer, I'm just gonna get sucked in. Or I'll revert back to the me-a-few-months-ago, whining about being here for too long.

Now is the perfect time to go. I'm gonna miss it so much, and when I come back, it won't be the same. I never want to be just a tourist, which may be part of the reason I keep going back to the same places over and over again, rather than exploring new parts of China. (Though my summer may hopefully include a trip to Gansu and Xinjiang, two must-see places on my list.) It's nice to be recognized, to be able to communicate with people, to really try to connect.

China, you've been good to me. Sorry if I'm being corny, but I have about a month left and I'm scareed!!

PS, BTW, if you talk to my dad, don't tell him anything. I'm avoiding him at all costs due to the fact that I have no answers for any of his questions :)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2009 approaches...

... and I will have been here for .. two years and three months? Wow how time passes! I actually didn't have that much to say. Just wanted to let people know that I am yes, still alive, and will be here until May.

Participated in my first ever bike race this weekend. It was pretty intense and I didn't do that great (7th... out of 12 women... haha), but apparently it's one of the hardest races my friend has done so at least I finished it! Crazy uphill but a great view of Kunming at the top. Here's a not very flattering photo but you can get a glimpse of it. About 200 participants! Pretty crazy that there are THAT many bikers here. :)

I really want to go to SE Asia, since I love it, for Chinese New Years. It will be pricey, esp. since I'm planning on going to Japan for a wedding in Feb. However, I haven't been for a year (when I went to Laos) so I think I will need to just spend the moolah! Right now I'm thinking either a bike trip into Laos, or perhaps beaching in Thailand. Suggestions?

Friday, October 17, 2008

being abroad

From an email to a friend:

Strangely enough, sometimes I wonder if being abroad has a negative effect on people, making us more cynical and close-minded than we used to be. After all, I now have extreme road rage in the streets of Kunming, and turn ugly when dealing with crowds and frustrating customer service. Some of my friends who have been in China for “too long” can lo longer enjoy the country. “China this,” they complain. “Chinese people that.” Yet my friends in Oregon, none of whom have been to China, are careful about not offending me. “I’ve heard so-and-so about China/Chinese culture,” they say. “But I wanted to check with you first.”

Why does this happen? Why are American (and Israeli, German, etc.) tourists notorious for being obnoxious? Why do people abroad feel justified in making broad statements about the local people? These are, of course, stereotypes. There are plenty of people abroad who are respectful and nonjudgmental (which is, of course, something I am not always able to carry off). There are also plenty of people in the states I wouldn’t want representing me (which is probably why they are not my friends).

However, I do sometimes wonder if I would be a better person if I had stayed in China for only, say, a year. I feel people getting bored with me when I complain about being here for way too long (a total of over two and a half years), about how I need a change. If I had left earlier, would I still see China as a mysterious, adventurous country?

Anyway, I think a lot of this is the homesickness talking. Was able to FINALLY visit home for the first time in two years, and it wasn't quite enough. Kunming is beautiful right now, and I'm not as unhappy as I have been, on and off, these past few months, but there's still something that can be said for living at home, near loved ones.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

hello! I'm not dead

I will work on a good blog entry about what's been going on, but I decided to write something so that any stalkers will rest assured that I'm still hangin out in Yunnan Province.

Some news: An article I've been working on/stressing about since June (ugh) is up! Rural Eco-tourism in NW Yunnan. If you read the editor's comments about the fate of this website, you can sort of imagine a bit of the nightmare this put me through, also. But it's DONE and possibly won't be there forever, so check it out. :)

Also... I am looking for a job. In a big Chinese city, or SE Asia. (Both rank as "civilization" in comparison to Yunnan.) My visa runs out at the end of November and I don't have a plane ticket home which potentially puts me at a dangerous and expensive situation. Hoping for a miracle but maybe some of my friends can help me out, too;).

Will write more soon!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Buyi women and trash collecting

I have so much to write about… I still need to play catch-up but, for now, I absolutely need to write about Tuesday afternoon and night.

The migrant center also works with another Buyi minority community that is about a 30-minute walk away. With this community, they work not with the kids but with this group of women who do something called “Theater of the Oppressed,” which involves singing, dancing, and a short play involving a reenactment of their lives. Many of them collect trash for a living, and can make about 30-40 yuan a day (after working about 7am – lunch, then 4pm – through the evening). They are from Guizhou, and the stereotype here in Kunming – that people from Guizhou are the trash-collectors – does ring truth. This job pays a decent amount, if one can handle it.

A Hong Kong volunteer went with them on Tuesday to record some sounds of Kunming to put in their play (as background noise) and I was able to follow along. It was such a bittersweet experience – I knew it was an incredible opportunity, yet I soon realized it was certainly not just some exciting adventure. These women took the time to give us a glimpse of their day, yet it really was only a glimpse – usually, they push through intensively, and split up to make their rounds. This time, three of them came with us and, for our sakes, didn’t collect as much as they would have during their shortened shift.

That is the beauty of it – their overwhelming kindness. Even while working this difficult, humiliating job, they were able to make it accessible for us and we could see a bit of what they go through everyday. They come from China’s poorest and probably most underrated in terms of culture and beauty (though I wouldn’t know; I haven’t been there yet) province, and they have come to Yunnan to find a better life. The things I have been able to learn informally at this migrant center, all without conducting any formal interviews, have been invaluable. I can’t wait to spend more time with those women.

Here is a video that I uploaded myself onto Youtube. Slightly impromptu - they knew we were recording, but I was trying to be discreet. This is them walking and singing a Buyi minority song after a short rest.

Later that night I got to watch them practice at a public square. They brought some of their children with them, and went through their routine. I felt a bit of déjà vu from my own high school drama experiences, although, this was still drastically different. No director, no space to themselves, just a routine to go through over and over again until they get it right. If you are in China, maybe someday they’ll be coming to a stage near you!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

don't you wish your food was hot like mine?

A long time without updates - I apologize! I will post more after this, I'm just going to try to catch up for now.

My cousin came to visit during her year-long Asia backpacking trip. It was great to see her for the first time after a six-year separation. She came to the migrant center and to the other NGO's office, and got to slowly acclimate herself to China. Being from my mom's side of the family, she doesn't speak Chinese and I became her food host. While I am a noodles girl myself, I tried to present her with some delicious meals.

Without further ado, here is a selection of some yummy things. None of the credit for these pictures is mine, although I did recently get a camera, so... watch out you blog readers!

1) A (slightly pricey) Chinese meal! We met some Chinese friends at a nice restaraunt (see the glasses and plates?) and had... whatever it is there.

2)Crossing bridge Yunnan noodles. Famous here, there are many chains available to try a taste. They bring out a bowl of extremely hot, oil-filmed soup and depending on what you ordered, you pile it in and in a minute, you have your meal.

3) Isn't this a great shot? Dumplings... the handsome couple who runs this stand near my office has a child about to test for college. Their business is always excellent during lunch, but they manage to handle the flow very professionally.

4)Korean BBQ meat! I'm only just now realizing just how popular Korean food is popular is here. I myself am starting to enjoy it a lot. This resteraunt was really enjoyable, as you can tell by my ridiculous grin.

5)Crab "hot pot"... mmm mmm! Difficult to eat, but spicy (a must for both of us) and delicious.

6) Us grabbing a simple meal while at the migrant center! Since we don't close till 7:30, 8, sometimes we get food delivered while in the office. This is my co-worker, who is famous for her previous work with many orphanages.

7)And our favorite... roast duck. We came here at least three times during Yen's stay. And it probably wasn't enough.
8) Dim sum. That's all visitors want when they come to China, isn't it? Well I'm sorry to say that in Kunming I've only had it twice - it's a Guangdong province thing! And compared to what we had in this picture, well, it's better in the States.

9) Of course, street meat! One of my favorite parts of this city is being able to grab some munchies throughout the day and most of the night.

10) We went to Xishuanbanna for the Dai New Year. The Chinese Dai minority have many similarities to Thais, and they celebrate their new year with a (now very touristy) event called Watersplashing festival. Unfortunately, we have few pictures of the fun, but we do have a couple of food. Here is a picture of our first meal after crawling off the sleeper bus. My friend has a Dai aunt who lives in Jinghong and was sweet enough to take us to lunch. This picture does Dai food no justice!

11) Later that night we ate some real Dai barbecue. Most of it was wrapped in leaves and was deliciously spicy.
12)Migan - a sort of rice noodle. Yen pointed out that it looks a little like pho, so like true vietnamese, we dug in.

Chinese food may make you think of stomach problems, and stomach problems may make you think of health, and health may make you think of the recent news involving Chinese pharmaceuticals and exported goods, such as the antifreeze toothpaste in Panama. Well, China's former drug regulator is now facing the drug sentence. I can't say I agree with this punishment, although I do have to say I'm a bit worried about what's been going into my body. I did see a (actually, two - well, actually... six, in the loose sense of the word) doctor at a Chinese hospital last week, and while it was an interesting experience that cost me a whopping 50 cents (my flea medication - oh, by the way, I got fleas on my recent field trip - came to about 5 dollars), I'm not sure I would repeat it, nor am I regretting that I didn't buy the antihistamines prescribed to me (which would have cost about two dollars).