Monday, October 24, 2005

glorious victory!

it only took a third of a year, but i finally got to speak with siara yesterday. it was heavenly....

Sunday, September 04, 2005

all apologies

hey everyone.

i'm sorry for taking my sweet time keeping you updated--things have been incerdibly busy this past week--and, if i wasn't scheduled to teach my first class tomorrow morning at 8 am, i would be writing you a great blog right now. unfortunately, this is just a quick note to tell you what's to come: tearful goodbyes (i love you, nainai!), constitutional oaths, volunteers gone wild, water ballets, the throes of lanzhou jiaotong university, the enemy rears its ugly head, and more...
i guess i'll also have a story or two about teaching my first class. how 'bout that?

talk to y'all soon....

Sunday, August 14, 2005

"Very Framous Panders"

Above is Pride, the official mascot of Panda Pride cigarettes (which my host father smokes). I got to meet Pride this morning when my family took me to Chengdu's Panda Breeding Research Base...but more on that later.

So, training's going well. My Chinese class and I are putting together a performance (in Chinese, of course) for the ceremonies at the end of training. As of now, it's about robot pandas who scheme to take over the world by stealing Hello Kitty's Atomic Bamboo. Perhaps we have too much time on our hands. The really fantastic thing, though, is a startling close complete with song and dance. It will be fantastic.

Otherwise, my oral Chinese has finally seemed to overcome the insidious second (rising) tone, or so my instructor tells me. It must be happening on an unconscious level as I still can't hear any aural difference when I'm speaking. I've lost a little gusto when it comes to studying vocabulary as well. A shipment of books arrived for me this week, so I've been fairly busy with those. I was eager to enjoy the new _Harry Potter_ (thanks, brother), and, after I finished, I wasn't too excited to return to Marx. So, yesterday, I started reading Naomi Klein's _No Logo_; I've been devouring it like candy (here, I was going to insert a western food that I missed the most, but as I started to brainstorm what that food might be, I realized that I was probably treading in dangerous waters and that it would be best to go with a safer, more generic simile--like candy. We have candy here). Anyways, I found a split infinitive about ten minutes ago (which I can generally tolerate if it's not in a published work), so I had to put it down--for a couple of days at least. It just irks me.

This weekend has been a blast. My friend Katie and I wandered around Chengdu Friday night, looking to make some mischief. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any trouble. We did, however, find a seventeen year old girl named Pepe who was drinking milk and chomping on a meat stick. She gave us balloons. Last night, my mother and brother took me to a teahouse where we watched a Chinese revue of sorts while enjoying a "very framous" tea. (P.S.-Everything in China is "very framous"). There were a lot of dancers dancing, one magician magicking, and some masked opera performers breathing fire and such. It was great. There was one performance in which a man played traditional Chinese instruments, one of which I've decided to call a Chinese fiddle. It was my favorite.

Then, today, of course I went to the Panda Base. The Pandas are adorable. But, I've kind of decided, that they weren't real pandas, just men and women dressed up in Panda suits. Their movements and actions seem too human. They're especially cute when they're chomping on bamboo. Pride, above, just loved to sit on that deck and roll over a whole bunch--he was hot. We also saw a horde of red pandas--the species that might be putting raccoons in the running for the cutest animal ever. They were all playing together and staring at the people and panting up a storm--I wanted to smuggle one under my t-shirt. The base has a museum of sorts with a bunch of taxidermied animals and old bones and such from ages long past. The wierdest thing, though, was that they had jars of panda reproductive organs in formaldehyde--it was creepy. In all, the base was great. Its a fairly large place, and you have to walk these thin, steep trails through a hilly, bamboo forest to make your way around. It was the perfect respite from the sounds and smells of Chengdu.

Well, my Chinese cousins just got here, so I have to run. I hope y'all are doing well. Take care.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Birthday Party Cake Fight!

I'm currently working on a long post about my time in Gansu. In the meantime, please enjoy this photo of tonight's multi-birthday party. From the left, my host mother's brother (shushu=uncle), my friend mary, me and neinei (fyi: she is, of course, standing). Mary's was last friday, my uncle's tonight, and neinei and I share August 8. The cake fight was followed by a dance party during which I taught my extended family the Electric Slide. It was, quite obviously, a blast.

Take care. Check back tomorrow for my post about the past week.

Gansu Calling

Well, I've had quite the week. The train ride wasn't that bad, after all, and we had a great time. It was wonderful to see so much of the country. Sichuan is very lush and beautiful, so it was incredibly interesting to watch the scenery metamorphose into the desert as we traveled north. Camels and mountains and dunes, oh my! Unfortunately, I forgot my camera as I was packing, so I don't have any photographs to share. I'll make sure to keep it handy when I travel back to Gansu next month; the scenery really is breathtaking.

We pulled into Zhangye after thirty-six hours on the train. The China 10s (we're the China 11s) were waiting for us at the train station, and they immediately took us to our hotel. They gave us about an hour or so to shower before dinner, and then we had an excellent meal at this little hole in the wall resaurant. Gansu is famous for its mutton and sweet-and-sour pork--both of which we enjoyed. After dinner, they escorted us to a dance club, where we were allowed to play our own music and dance about on top of this multi-colored glass platform. Dancing my little heart away, I eventually shattered a section of the glass and decided to take a break for an hour or so. As we were preparing to leave, Weezer came on, and we all had to rush back to dance. Unfortunately, a China 10 (whose way was graciously prepared by yours truly) did some more damage to the dance floor, so we had to rush out of there pretty quickly. The bonus, I guess, was that the second crash provided a quite emphatic end to "Say It Ain't So." This incident has already made us, the Gansu crew, quite notorious amongst our colleagues.

We woke up bright and early the next morning (Sunday) to hop a (hot, sweaty and extraordinarily crowded) bus to a Tibetan minority festival up in the mountains of the province. After only six hours on bumpy, twisty, and quite frightening mountain roads, our bus driver told us that the roads would only continue to worsen ahead, so we best turn around. Well, it was certainly a disappointment, but, trying to make the most of it, we turned around and held a picnic outside of this very small, very beautiful mountain village. There was a number of people who had set up tents as a kind of base camp about an hour from the festival. They slaughtered a sheep for us and cooked it right away. They also shared some rice and wine with us. We had an excellent couple of hours trying to communicate with them and wondering around the hills. My friend Katie and I befriended this nice old lady who showed us around a small Buddhist temple in the village. I ended up getting sunburned pretty badly in the altitude. After the short break, we re-boarded the bus for another six hours back to Zhangye. Even though we never reached our destination, the trip was a great success--it gave us more time to get to know the older volunteers and was, frankly, just a lot of fun. Misadventures seem to have a way of being perfect.

Monday we began our summer project. We assisted the 10s in teaching a melange of primary and secondary school English teachers about Western methodologies and culture. Despite my reservations about teaching more experienced teachers how to teach, I knew that I could help the teachers learn more about American culture and decided that, hopefully, this knowledge could help them to engage better their students. Also, their oral English was surprisingly poor, so I hope that it was helpful for them to converse with a native speaker. On Monday, we basically just observed our older colleagues. I was assigned to the "Culture" group (the others were Environment and Current Events). Tuesday, I aided a 10 on a lesson about American dating. There was one hilarious moment when I tried to explain speed dating to the class; I have never seen a group of people look more bewildered. I guess it is a fairly confusing concept.

The following day, I taught a literature class on the balcony scene from _Romeo and Juliet_ (after introducing the lesson with a fairly awesome explanation of "hump day"--thanks Jess). We read the scene and did some role plays, and then I had the students rewrite the end of the play. Here are my two favorite alternate endings:
1. In heaven, Juliet is very ugly. When Romeo comes upon her, he does not recognize her as his mortal love but falls all over again regardless. He subsequently mauls his face so that she doesn't feel physically inadequate, and then they have many gorgeous babies.
2. Following Romeo's experiment with pharamceuticals and Juliet's dalliance with seppuku, they both turn into beautiful butterflies and live forever.
I find it truly amazing how the Bard could have overlooked these clearly more fantastic endings.

Thurdsay, Katie and I taught a two-part lesson on American slang. Our lesson plan was adopted by another volunteer, Matt, on Friday who tweaked it just a bit. For example, I walked in to Matt's class as his thirty, Chinese, middle-aged students said in unison: "Man, I'm wasted! I've been boozing all night with my homies. Keep it on the down low from the old lady, but I got into a rumble cuz this dweeb trashed my new kicks." Yeah, Katie and I didn't teach that. That night, our China 10s invited us to a toga party at one volunteer's apartment. Although I was convinced that they were just hazing us trainees in an attempt to have us crazy foreigners wander the streets of Zhangye wrapped in bed sheets, I acquiesced and dressed myself up like Caesar. When we got to the party, we were fortunately not the only ones in togas, and we all had a great time getting to know each other better. The 10s are pretty serious poker players, so we played Texas Hold'Em with Jiao (Chinese cents).

The following day I taught a fairly interesting lesson on party culture, during which I had the students play a game I ripped off of "Who's Line Is It Anyway"--in which a "host" had to guess the profession or identity of his or her guests by asking a series of questions about him or her. Then, we played Pictionary to review vocabulary from the week.
The experience, as a whole, was a pretty wonderful one--our students were really interested and felt like they had some new tools for their own classes. One last highlight involves my roommate Clayton teaching a class on Cowboy culture: rodeos and ranchin' and such. Anyways, he had the class listen to Willie Nelson's "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" and fill in some blanks as a listening activity. He then got the class to sing along with him. The best part was, however, this one woman who adamantly refused to sing along because she very much wants her son to be a cowboy. It was fabulous.

Later on Friday, we hopped back on a train to return to Chengdu. We arrived Sunday afternoon, and my family promptly carried me off to the multi-person birthday extravaganza. To clear something up, cake fights are not commonplace at Chinese birthday parties--we're just a lively bunch. After we cleaned up the mess, we had a mini-dance party. First, my cousin performed a traditional dance; next, Nainai spent about ten minutes trying to teach Mary how to box step. Then, I gathered the family around to teach the Electric Slide, which we eventually enjoyed while dancing to Avril Lavigne's "Skater Boi". Chaos ensued, and I sang "Complicated" to a gleefully flabbergasted Nainai before calling it a night.

Unfortunately, the rest of this week hasn't been quite so spectacular. I've gotten a cold and a fever which comes and goes. Luckily, I don't feel too sick and am still attending class and moving along as usual. I hope you all are doing well, and I apologize for not having blogging sooner. Take care.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


On Friday morning at 9:35 AM, Standard China Time, I'll have boarded a train. For the next thirty-two hours I will be in transit to the Gobi desert. I will arrive in Zhangye, a city in the Gansu Province, at 6: 30 PM the following day. I will remain in Zhangye for the following week of my training--while there, I will work with other trainees in a teaching practice session led by current PC volunteers. On the morning of July 29, I will board another train which will carry me back to Chengdu over another thirty-two hours. I must say, I am not particularly thrilled about my travel plans (I can't believe PC isn't flying us for such a short trip); however, Gansu is supposedly very beautiful and significantly less developed than Chengdu--which I find thrilling.

I will be sad to leave my training group this quickly as I'm travelling the farthest and we've become very close very fast, but, fortuantely, we'll only be gone a week this time and have a whole month together before we're sworn in as volunteers. And the more I find out about Gansu, the more excited I become. Although I will be leaving the bougie, Peace Corps heaven of Chengdu and all its wonderful ammenities for god knows what, I'm not too down. If I'm assigned to the capital city, Lanzhou, I'll be living on the Yellow River and the Silk Road. Apparently, all the civilization along the Silk Road is terribly fascinating--having been used as a trade route all throughout the Roman Empire, it seems to harbor quite the cultural and biological melange living along its route, and, on the river, it's something of an oasis in the Gobi. Much like most that's happened since I left San Francisco, I never imagined I'd be living in the Gobi Desert, so that's obviously exciting. And because we'll be so much farther north, we'll have central heating in the winter! And, although I'm not convinced that sand storms are worth the trade for a more manageable interior climate during the winter months, I am looking forward to seeing a new part of the country so quickly. Also, tonight at dinner, my host father said he'd be sure to come visit me, an offer which, despite the outcome, was very kind and uplifting.

Anyways, I have to study. I leave you with the follwing quote from my Lonely Planet, China:
"A rugged, barren province consisting mostly of mountains and deserts, Gansu has long been a poor and forgotten backwater controlled only loosely by Beijing." Awesome, eh?

Take care.

P.S.-My friend Todd and I have decided to put together a Chinese vaudeville troupe.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

like a peppermint eaten away...

i apologize for being so lackadaisical about blogging, but i've just been too busy lately. between language lessons, pc protocol briefings, homework and new friends, i just haven't gotten around to a computer, and the temperamental internet connection at my host family's house hasn't helped one bit.

however, i'm doing quite well. being this short for time is at least quite good from preventing a sudden onset of homesickness. i'm coming along with mandarin adequately, i guess. consoling my wishes of learning a little more quickly, i've read that culture shock primarily results from expectations set too high, so i'm trying not to be so hard on myself. this weekend, i thus determined, was to be enjoyed to the fullest without language study conducted in a militaristic fashion. i went to a dinner party at a fellow volunteer's host family's house and had a great night.

the food was delicious, and, besides having to bite my tongue at some fairly ridiculous gender expectations (such as some of the chinese women chiding the female american guests who did not join in the joyous practice of dumpling-making), i had a very pleasant time. katie's family was exceptionally kind (as i've found almost all of the volunteer's hosts to be), and her younger host-sister proved to be quite the accomplished pianist who entertained us with some traditional chinese music. we had a very jovial discussion with the family about our motives for being in china and what we hoped both to gain and to give from our experiences here. and the evening culminated with katie's cousin escorting us several volunteers to a wonderful back alley of teahouses where some of the more liberal chinese students tend to gather.

we settled at a table outside the "chinese che teahouse" (as, having observed a sign decorated with a very distinctly chinese che guevara above our table, that is what we decided to name it) and enjoyed a discussion about the general insufficiencies of language which segued into our frustrations with mandarin. all in all, it was an awesome evening, and i've been back to the che guevara teahouse every night since to study.

otherwise, things have fallen into a fairly steady routine. today, we had a medical briefing on the avian flu. for some reason, i've come to enjoy our medical breifings the most of all the presentations we're required to attend. today i got to thinking about influenza in general. at least the last two global pandemics (i'm not sure about the third most recent, the spanish flu, but i imagine it originated in europe which was highly susceptible to disease after world war one) began in or around south east china. there was also the sars scare a couple of years ago, and now the possible threat of the avian flu transforming so that it could pass between humans. anyways, there seems to be this interesting, and frankly quite frightening, phenomenon occuring right now: it seems to me that the cradles of civilization are, for at least the past century or so, under a constant barrage of maladies from terrorism, religious zealotism, war and occupation in mesopotamia to more biological threats here in asia (and i haven't even said a word about the awe-inspiring amount of pollution here which is even more abjectly connected to western capitalism). and it's beginning to disturb me that we, as a people, don't think about why this is strange. not that i have any answers--i just find it disquieting. and interesting, i guess. where's brian when you need him?

anyways, i'm off to bed. tomorrow, i'll find out where i'll be stationed for the next two years. take care.