Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Recap

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! My internet has taken a break from hating me, and I'm using this opportunity to recap our holiday, which was really nice.

First, we got all dressed up and went to the New World Hotel, downtown. There were a bunch of other Westerners there and while they're perfectly nice, we were all feeling horribly anti-social and sat at our own nice little table and drank red wine and ate delicious Western food and mostly ignored everyone else. The food couldn't compare to my aunt Adria's cooking, but it was still pretty good - turkey, lamb, pasta, vegetables, sushi (!), bread, cake, and so forth. I think we were all really happy with the whole meal.

After the food and the red wine I was feeling tired, but luckily for me, my friends have lots more energy and force me to do things that I'm later grateful for. So it was onwards to a jazz bar, which turned out to be awesome. It was a weird, dark, oddly romantic place with lots of bizarre old-fashioned furniture and paintings and expensive drinks.

And of course, since this is Asia, they had to add flat-screen TV's and neon lights - just in case the room was too classy or something.

To add to the fun, the saxophonist came over and chatted with us (well, mostly Tae) while his son crooned English songs and his wife played piano. We all just hung out and drank and felt very old-fashioned with our high heels and martinis. This photograph doesn't even capture it, but Chris looked 100% like he could have walked off the set of Mad Men.

While parts of me really wished I could have been in New York or Maine (Andy, that whole thing looked amazing! I'll blow out some metaphorical turkey candles in your honor), I had a very nice Thanksgiving. Next celebration I'm excited for? 我的生日!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Some Thoughts, Courtesy of Nicholas Kristof

I've been having some conflicting thoughts lately, about the Chinese people and repression and government and the private thoughts of everyone around me. I asked my students whether they considered American cities to be safe or dangerous, and they all shouted in unison, "DANGEROUS!" My instinct was to disagree, to tell them that they've been swayed by the media, but then I thought: well, in comparison to many Chinese cities, they're right. Some American cities are much more dangerous. So whose perspective do we privilege here?

Luckily I'm reading a book now that articulates my thoughts better than I can. Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn wrote "China Wakes" in the early 90's, but I think a lot of it still applies. It's a great book, very smart, and has Kristof's trademark sense of childlike wonder, combined with some fairly scathing criticism. Today at lunch I was reading a chapter that seemed to glorify capitalism too much for my liking (a free market is not the answer to all of life's problems!) when then I came across a passage that really resonated with me:

"I couldn't help thinking what would happen if a Chinese journalist roamed the United States reporting about crime. He would travel around, visiting the urban slums, entering the crack dens, interviewing the rape victims, consoling the children of the slain. No doubt he would be indignant at the senselessness of the crime, at the government's failure to control guns, at society's inability to confront the drug problem. And his passion would come through in his articles. His material would be accurate, and it would leave his Chinese readers feeling that America is a violent, dangerous, uncivilized country. Talking all the time to crime victims, he might well conclude that the United States is a society reverting to the jungle. The government would seem fundamentally immoral for looking the other way as people are gunned down in the schools and the streets.

But when this reporter dropped by ordinary middle-class homes - like those of the Kristofs in Yamhill, Oregon or of the WuDunns in New York City - he would find conversations a bit puzzling. The Kristofs and the WuDunns would certainly agree that crime is terrible, but then they would cheerfully move on to other topics. The reporter would single-mindedly bring the conversation back to crime, asking how they could live with the knowledge that they might be shot down any time they walked on a public street. The Kristofs and WuDunns would shake their heads soberly and grumble that the streets really are awful, and then they would move on to discuss the day's news or some recent book or film. The reporter would ask about rape and burglary and bank robbery, and a few awkward silences would result. If the Chinese reporter asked whether the United States government would collapse in the next few years from the crime problem, he would get funny looks. And when he left, the Kristofs and the WuDunns would say to each other, "This guy may know his crime statistics, but he sure doesn't know America."

As I flew back to Beijing from my interview with Boss Zhang, I wondered if that was the kind of role I was playing. Was I so obsessed with human rights violations that I missed the rest of the tableau of China and the buds of a civil society? Was my writing so focused that, however accurate, it was misleading? Was I deceiving myself?"

While there are some fundamental problems with China, for sure, I sometimes wonder how much of a double standard I have about my own country. Anyway, "China Wakes" is great food for thought. (Oh, and Freya, I plan on reading River Town very soon! Thanks for the recommendation!)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Even though it's the middle of the night in The States, it's officially Thanksgiving Day in Dalian, China! As my sister says, I am the future. Tonight we're going to a hotel, where we all plan on eating a disgusting amount of food, in the American tradition. I'm going to borrow Jessica's royal blue dress and just live it up. The dress sort of makes me feel like her.
So what am I thankful for, this Thanksgiving? Many things. 
1. Wonderful family and friends back home. 
2. My health, and the health of my loved ones.  
3. Having the opportunity to travel abroad. 
4. The community of people I lucked into, here in Dalian. 
5.  Access to good movies, books, newspapers - free of censorship! (At least when I'm in America).
There's a lot more (mostly involving food) but that's enough for now. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Conversation with my Speaking Partner

Last week I met up again with Anne (not her real name) and we had a nice time, as usual, practicing our respective foreign languages. During our English time, we talked a lot about President Obama and his recent trip to China. She's a pretty big fan of Obama's, as am I, and so we chatted about why we like him. She is optimistic that he won't interfere in China's business, and I like that he's smart, thoughtful, and a good communicator. I also mentioned that I liked him much more than his predecessor, and an interesting conversation ensued. (Keep in mind that these issues are still very sensitive here, and that they don't have freedom of information or press). 

Anne: Why don't you like President Bush? 

Maggie: I didn't like President Bush because I didn't like a lot of his policies. Also, we went to war in Iraq, and during that time there was a lot of torture and human rights abuses. 

Anne: Do you think China has human rights abuses?

Maggie: Well, I think a lot of countries do, including America. But yes, I think China does have some human rights abuses. For example, people being in prison for a long time without a trial - 

Anne: But, have you seen the movie - the Shank...?

Maggie: The Shawshank Redemption? Yes, I have.

Anne: Well, that man was in prison for a long time and he was innocent.  

Maggie: Absolutely, it happens in America as well, and it's terrible. But I think it also happens in China. 

Anne: Perhaps there are a few cases, but I think the news you get is not always right. It's not always accurate. Do you read the BBC news?

Maggie: Not really, I mostly read The New York Times. 

Anne: Well, sometimes one event will happen, and they will take a photograph of another event, and use that photograph in the story. It happened this summer, with Xinjiang. It makes me so angry! China is not an aggressive country. When there are problems in Xinjiang or in Tibet, they have to go in there, just to...I'm not sure how to say...

Maggie: Keep the peace?

Anne: Yes! To keep the peace. China just wants to have harmony. Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang - it is all one China. 

[Awkward pause]

Maggie: Well, that's why it's good for me to talk to people like you, and see what you actually think. Because you're right, the news I get in America is not the same news that you get. 

We talked some more, but that gives you the main idea - I still think she's super smart and spunky and awesome, but as an official member of the CPC, she clearly believes the party line. I may not be an expert on the country, but I do know that China has lots of human rights issues. I would check Amnesty International to give you some cold, hard facts, but the website is blocked - of course. Oh, China! 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We Are Sinking!

About a quarter of my students have a lot of trouble pronouncing certain sounds in English, especially "v" and "th." I'm trying to work on it with them, but I figure this is a good way to bring some humor into the situation. I showed it to one class yesterday and they really got a kick out of it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

40 Hours in Beijing: Part 3

After I left 798, it was time to catch a cab and head to the Silk Market. I didn't think it would be a problem - in Dalian, there are taxis everywhere and they're pretty cheap. However, as the sun was setting and traffic was piling up, there were no cabs to be found. It was dark and bitterly cold and far from the subway - I was not a happy camper. There were buses, but I didn't know which one to take, so I kept trying to hail a cab, and 30 minutes later, I finally got one.

By the time I made it to the Silk Market and met up with my friends, it was almost time for dinner. I was okay with that - I hadn't planned on doing much shopping anyway, plus the vendors are pushy and aggressive, and I'm not really in the market for a fake Louis Vuitton bag or Prada sunglasses.

We then made our way to a restaurant to eat duck, that classic Beijing dish. Kim and Nick joined us, as well as a bunch of Pat's friends and Jess's friend. It was a really nice mix of people, delicious food, good conversation. We took a lovely group photo, in which I am the only one making a ridiculous face. (I was mid-laugh).

After dinner, about half of us went over to a cozy little bar close by, where there was live music. We went upstairs and sat in a warm, smoky room on pillows and bean bags, and drank White Russians and chatted some more. It was the ideal bar for the mood I was in, and I think everyone had a really nice time.

Us at the bar. I really like this photo, despite my nose, which seems to have decided to assert its Jewish pride in the last couple years. How does that even happen? Oy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

40 Hours in Beijing: Part 2

Ah, internet, you saucy minx! Now that you're working again, here is part two of the Beijing adventure:

After wandering around the hutongs, I took a subway and then a cab to meet up with my friends at 798, a contemporary art zone. I know most people attribute these feelings to mountain-climbing or meditating in a forest, but visiting 798 rejuvenated my soul. First of all, the space is incredible. It's an old factory complex that has been re-purposed into a sprawling art center, featuring tons of galleries and cafes, mostly housed in the old factory buildings. Like P.S. 1 or Dia: Beacon, the space alone was worth the visit.

I stole Jessica's camera and took some photos.

They've kept many pieces of the original factory machinery as part of the exhibition space:

A smaller gallery:

Some of the art was patriotic...

Some of the art was edgier:

Some of the art was incomprehensible - even to me, and I usually love that kind of weird, avant-garde stuff.

Also, this wasn't art, but it was still pretty confusing:

Anyway, the whole experience just felt really good. It's not like I spent all my NYC time at art museums, but I tended to visit The Whitney and P.S. 1 pretty regularly, and MoMA once in a while, and I took that easy access for granted. My friends had left at this point, but I stayed to check out some more galleries. I was so high on my art experience that I felt compelled to take a cheesy self-portrait. Here I am...jazzed!

Monday, November 16, 2009

40 Hours in Beijing: Part 1

Back from my weekend jaunt to Beijing! There's lots to tell, so I'll break it up into a few entries, as not to overwhelm my loyal readers.

Friday night was spent eating Xinjiang food (spicy, noodle-y, delicious) with other PiA-ers and then going out to a bar, which I was not in the mood to do. I had been up since 6:30, taught two classes, took a plane to Beijing, and had all my stuff for the weekend in a backpack, which was awkward to schlep around. I really just wanted to relax and socialize, not get drunk, plus the bar we went to was like a terrible overseas version of Rick's. The neighborhood seemed filled with the stereotype of obnoxious, inebriated, young American ex-pats. It was gross. I was not feeling it.

However, Saturday I woke up with a spring in my step, and went out to attack the city. It was a cold, but beautiful day. I took the subway from Wu Dao Kou, where I was staying, to Zhang Zi Zhong Lu. The subway system is easy to navigate, but it still took me a while, since Beijing is pretty spread out. Once I hopped off at my destination, I went looking for some hutongs to wander around in. Hutongs are little narrow alleyways, courtyards, and residences, mostly found in Beijing. They're hundreds of years old, and while many have been razed to make room for developments, many still exist.

It was a quiet walk through the historic hutongs, and I didn't spot too many tourists, which was nice. The only indication that it's a real hotspot were the public restrooms that dotted the streets,. They're squat toilets with no doors, which meant I walked in on a bunch of middle-aged women hanging out, peeing together, but that's pretty par for course here in China.

Next up: I visit a fantastic art space! Eat classic Beijing food! Make new friends! And more!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Warmer Days

Today was cold and rainy and gloomy. I was tired. No caffeine for days. Sort of dizzy from the antibiotics for my UTI, which I've successfully overshared about with everyone. A PiA director is in Dalian for the day, and he sat in on my class, which definitely wasn't the best class I've ever taught. So I felt sort of down about that.

On the plus side:
1. One of my favorite students gave me a candy bar.
2. I had a long-awaited Skype session with Talia. It felt good.

So I thought I'd post a little video that I took back in September, just to remember the warmer days in Dalian. This is a campus road near North Gate - it features a funky barbershop, copy shop, dumpling place, etc. I tried not to make it too shaky, but I don't know how successful I was. So here is a small piece of my leafy, green, pretty campus: enjoy!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Only Warm Place In My House

My room! It's cozy and toasty - unlike the rest of the house.

The weather in Dalian has turned cold, very suddenly. After a mild weekend, the week started off with chilly temperatures and strong winds. I've never lived in Chicago during the winter, but I imagine it's a lot like this. Michigan had its windy days as well, so I think I'm well-equipped to handle it, but it's a rude awakening after months of sunny Dalian weather. Oh, and the heat officially does not turn on in this city until November 15th. So, there's that. Luckily, my room has a space heater and it's very effective, but the rest of the apartment is pretty cold and unpleasant.

Today was long, but my students are continuing to be my daily elixir. This week we talked about jobs and interviews and work vocabulary - I made half of them "employers" (bakery, law firm, university, construction company, etc) and half of them applicants. Then we had a mock job fair, where the applicants had to go find jobs and ask questions about salary and work environment and promotions. They enjoyed the activity and had a lot of fun ("He's going to clean the toilets in our restaurant!" "We will give him a high salary - and a car!") But by this afternoon, it was my fourth time teaching the activity and I was sort of tired, so when a student presented his job and said he wasn't going to get paid as much as his friend, I looked at him quizzically and said, "为什么?" (wei shenme?) which means, "Why?"

The reaction I got from them was totally insane - they just could not handle it, they were so amused. I don't know if it's because I have a terrible accent, or if they didn't know I spoke some Chinese, but either way, they loved it. I tend not to use Chinese in the classroom very much, but it's a good way to break up the tedium and make them laugh. Then I put on my semi-serious face and moved on to our next project, which was filling in blanks I had made in the lyrics of the song "Mad World," the Gary Jules version. Then I made them all sing it a couple times. Operation: Turn My Students Into A Bunch of Hipsters is underway!

Lastly, some important events that happened recently: Aebra Kelsey Coe - poet, journalist, rugby player, ginger kid, friend - turned 24 a few days ago. Happy birthday, love! I miss you so very much.

My former boss, rad feminist, and the woman who taught me everything I know about pelvic exams and patient's rights, Amy Jo Goddard, director of At Your Cervix. Happy Birthday AJ!

And lastly, not a birthday, but my mom went to an event commemorating Leora Kahn's service as President of The Blue Card. Not to harp on something superficial, but Charles Grodin was there. Who is he? He played C.C. Hill in Rosemary's Baby, the movie I've watched on repeat for days and am mildly obsessed with. Oh, New York. I miss you. But seriously, Leora is awesome. Congrats!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Back In Action

Now that my internet is functioning, sort of, it's time for an honest-to-goodness update. Things are going well here! I had a very busy week, full of teaching and learning and not sleeping and watching "Rosemary's Baby" over and over. I love that movie. Also, it was my wonderful papa's birthday yesterday. Happy Birthday Robert Jay/J. Glass! (The famous Jay/J. controversy - just a little family inside joke). I miss you lots and I hope you had a beautiful day.

Some points of interest from my week:

SPEAKING PARTNERS: I had a second session with my lovely speaking partner, who I will call Anne. She's very smart and I felt badly because halfway through the English part of our session, she asked me to speak faster. I tend to fall into two modes of speaking, Normal Speaking and Teacher Speaking - and since I have freshmen, my Teacher Speaking mode is very slow and very articulate. But Anne is a junior, and she's really intelligent, and therefore doesn't need my drawn out, over-enunciated Teacher Mode of speech. Some interesting facts: she watches Gossip Girl to improve her English (I felt compelled to tell her that the show does not even closely resemble reality), she has a boyfriend, takes yoga once a week, and is a member of the Communist Party. It turns out Party membership is very competitive, and as an undergraduate you have to be at the top of your class to even be considered. At that point, a teacher has to recommend you, and other party members must vouch for you. I just assumed that membership was either open or even mandatory, so I found this to be very interesting.

QUIET WEEKEND: Jessica and Tae are both in Shanghai/Hangzhou this weekend on a traveling jaunt, which left Chris and I to our own devices this weekend. It was actually somewhat of a relief - our weekends are often a little too high-octane for me, plus we'll be going to Beijing next weekend. So I just relaxed and took care of some business, and Chris and I got dinner at the Xinjiang restaurant and watched "No Country For Old Men." I thought I would understand that movie on the second go-around, I like it for the atmosphere and the acting, but I can't say I totally get it. Chris and I started to talk about it, but I was distracted by the fact that I had to go to the bathroom every five seconds. Which leads to...

BLADDER INFECTION? I think I have a bladder infection. Or a UTI or whatever. I tried to hunt down some cranberry juice today, as I think that usually solves the problem, but it turns out Chinese stores don't carry it. Sure, they carry plum juice and blackberry juice and pear juice and jujube juice, but cranberry juice was nowhere to be found. I schlepped down to Trust Mart, but they didn't have it either. Frustrated, I left the store, and passed a little pharmacy-type place. I decided to give it a go, and asked for cranberry pills or something of the sort. She handed me blueberry pills, gesturing to my eyes. "眼腈?" No, no. "小便," I said, which means "to pee." She didn't understand that, so I awkwardly said in Chinese, "我想去厕所, 可是 我不能" which roughly means, "I want to go to the bathroom, but I can't." Or more likely, "I want to visit the restroom, but I can't." There was a glimmer of understanding in her eyes. She asked me if it was for men or women. "Women!" I said joyfully. Then they handed me a bottle of imported New Zealand cranberry pills that were so unbelievably expensive that I can't even tell you the price. Because I bought them. Because I decided that peace of mind was worth every penny. I just hope they work. Because tomorrow I have to teach my...

STUDENTS! I continue to love my students, while mixing up their names and being a generally disorganized teacher. Why do I love them? Because they say things like, "Martin Luther King once said, 'I had a dream.' And today, I too have a dream" when talking about the possibility of co-ed dormitories. Because they describe the experience of listening to the Backstreet Boys as magical and life-changing. Because they express genuine concern for me if I am sick, and sometimes laugh at my jokes. Because, for the most part, they are very smart and hardworking and sweet. Perhaps my feelings towards them will change in the coming months, but I'm going to enjoy this honeymoon period while it lasts.

I'll Be Back Soon

I'm sorry for the dearth of updates. My internet has been funky lately, so I've been forced to go to the local cafe to use their WiFi. I genuinely like this place (called "MOREFUN") for the atmosphere, but their prices are kind of high and their food isn't great. 

Will write more soon!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Profiles in Awesome: Rischa Gottlieb

Another segment in an all-important series! Today this blog post is dedicated to Rischa Gottlieb, who I met my first year at the University of Michigan. When we met, there was lots to bond over (being out-of-staters from New York, but not Long Island, being Jewish, being chatty, etc), but I think it was reminiscing over our middle-school penchant for dark lipstick and dramatic clothing and chokers that cemented our bond. If you can imagine me as a 7th grader, you will understand that that look did nothing for me (especially with braces). With Rischa's Haitian roots, I think she probably pulled it off, but still.

Anyway, by the time college rolled around, I think we had come to our (fashion) senses and quickly became friends and had long talks about sexuality and relationships and books. I'm especially grateful that we lived in the same city/borough for the past few years - if there was anything weird and artsy and bizarre and awesome going on in New York City, I could always rely on Rischa to be game for trying it out. And friends like that are really important. Plus, on a completely shallow note, she's gorgeous.

So here's to Rischa! Proud Queens resident, girlfriend to the equally awesome Randi, future graduate student, and all around sassy lady who makes me laugh. Oh, and I know she reads this blog, so this is a totally transparent way to thank her & keep her as a loyal reader...