Saturday, March 31, 2012

My heart may explode

There's a new little 3 yr old boy named Derry in my youngest class, and he's the sweetest, cutest most adorablest creature ever. He's always wandering around in his own little world, usually holding his stuffed doggie, and always whispering to himself while making hand gestures, as if he's holding both sides of the conversation. There are usually a few mornings a week when he gets off the school bus and comes into the kindergarten crying, and when the Chinese teachers ask him why, he says in Chinese "The bus is too loud." AHh, my heart! I seriously love this child. So I try to sing him a new song every day to make his tears go away, and this morning I'm not sure where this came from, but it worked...

Good MORneeng, lit-tle Derry-pooo
Why you feeling bluuue?
I feel a glowww, just thinking OF youuu
And the way-ay you loooook toniiiiight.

(I know, yeah, not weird at all)

One of my all-time fav cheesy movie moments

There's no reason real life can't be like this.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Ancient Language

This was inspired by a poetry prompt from the "naming constellations" blog.

This was a lot of fun, and it's funny how things just sort of come together. You can read about the prompt in detail via the link above, but the gist of it is to find something impermanent like a post card, basically something to write on that is usually intended to be temporary. Then write a poem about "the idea of ephemera, ephemerals, ephemerality, etc." To write about something disappearing, something you don't expect to disappear.

I set out to find something I have lying around my apartment that could be considered an impermanent piece of paper, post card, newspaper, anything. I have nothing. I left the United States a little more than three months ago, basically on a whim, without any prior planning. I booked a flight and less than 8 hours later I was on a plane, with just a backpack of some clothing, two poetry books, three harmonicas, and a passport. And in an effort to keep life simple, I haven't been collecting much these past few months, so I don't have any random bits of paper on which I can scribble a poem. I have a journal, but the common blank paper didn't seem unique enough.

However! I remembered that while I was in Kathmandu, Nepal in January just before coming to China, I picked up a few souvenir-type-things for friends that I have yet to send in the mail, one of which is a small Buddhist calendar made out of recycled paper. Talk about the very idea of impermanence...a single page of a recycled calendar -- February, a month gone by.

And when I flipped open the calendar and landed on February, I couldn't believe the image before my eyes. Fish! The reason this struck me as funny is because at the kindergarten where I teach ESL, the students have been trying to teach me the word for fish, which is yú (kind of sounds like "you" with a rising tone, as if it is a question). Just earlier today as I was standing with some of my students on the playground near the fish pond, and as they repeated the Chinese word for fish, and as my ears kept hearing the word for "moon" which is yuè (kind of sounds like "yway" I guess), we all broke out in laughter as I kept pointing to the fish while saying "moon!"

It's also funny that the Chinese word for month and moon are the same, so what better paper to stumble upon than a calendar page.

All of the elements of this poetry prompt, and the journey of putting it all together, was just too perfect and too fun.

The next step in this prompt is to leave my poem in a public place, so that's what I plan to do after work for its perfect home.

Update (Saturday, March 31st): I left the poem on this door of an old building...


Sorry, Friends:

Sorry, Friends:
I have business with the stars.
They are ready to improvise the next act, and
they need me
to stand in for Time. He's disappeared
again. I stand awkwardly in the background, eyes closed,
mouth closed, making imperceptible gestures
with my tongue
to mimic the conversation downstage.
The lights fall.
The curtains fall, and
the ovation beams me
to the mountain tops where the altitude of
my solitude leaves me

A poetry prompt from:
the imaginary garden with real toads

Word group: Altitude, Stars, Solitude, Improvise

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A moment

I take a long walk today
on a brick path along a street, busy with early evening errands:
mothers walk children home from school,
fathers pick up cigarettes on their way home from the office,
grandmothers usher diaperless toddlers in split pants, bare baby butts abound.
This is my new home called China,
where silent electric scooters fill the streets,
except for all this honking -
a defensive measure against swervitude -
and fruit vendors hack up pineapples
with tiny machetes
into intricate, alluring designs.
There is a slight breeze as the sun inches toward the horizon
and the evening is cooling. I am walking
into the breeze, into the sun
and I can't help but smile to myself,
to everyone passing by.

"All we have is now."
To hear these words is one thing,
to say these words is another,
but to know the truth of these words at the core
is something else
that melts away yesterday and tomorrow
as if they have never, will never

A woman walks by with her tiny dog.
A mother walks by with her tiny child.
And all of us realize, in this moment of smiles and laughter,
that cutie-wootie-patootie noises are vibrations
fused to our DNA.

A poetry prompt from Theme Thursday

Today I was a magician. An inventor.

Today I was a magician. An inventor.
No, god. Yes,
god. I saw him running to me,
arms outstretched, tears pulled
across his cheeks like pink
r  u  b  b  e  r  b  a  n  d  s
ready to snap
into anger or stretch
into an ocean
of three-year-old despair,
never ending. He jostled his way across
miles of arms and knees,
miles of desert sand,
miles of bombs, of course I mean rubber kickballs,
to arrive in my open arms.
As I lifted him from the battlefield,
he put his arms around my neck
and buried his soft cheeks into hiding.
It was my turn to absorb
the abyss. I instinctively hummed
a tune so sweet, so new
it could have, would have
stopped a thousand wars.
But this song, this breath was made just for him,
in that moment, soon
the only remnant of his sadness,
a meandering of fragrant tears
across my cheek.

A poetry prompt from Three Word Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Diving into the Wreck

In memory of poet Adrienne Rich, here is one of her poems that grabbed hold of me at an early age...

Diving into the Wreck

And here is a piece inspired by the same poem, stumbled upon while reading more about Adrienne's life...

Some days, like today

Some days, like today,
when I am beaming with a simple joy
and there is no thing as tomorrow
or yesterday, no
fabrication of complication,
only the truth of now, and now
my feet connecting me to earth,
my lungs ingesting, cleansing the whole world,
I lean into the warm wind
and whisper apologies

for a zoo

for a jar
     of fireflies



for humanity's creation
of broken hearts

American-Chinese Blues Fusion

An idea popped into my head this week, and I want to give it a whirl. I know some blues riffs on harmonica, and I thought, hey, wouldn't it be fun to translate some classic blues lyrics into Chinese and then stand outside and play and sing to the people walking by?

Right outside my apartment building is a pretty big parking lot with lots of little shops, markets, fruit vendors, etc. And there are always people walking around or loitering, or huddled together while squatting to play cards to pass the hours. Time moves slowly here, as do the people, and it feels like the perfect setting for some bluesy harmonica, Chinese style.

The people always stare at me anyway because I'm a foreigner, so why not entertain them since they're already staring? Maybe I'll make some new friends? Or depending on their tastes in music and my ability to play and sing, some new enemies?

Well in either case, at least it's a new experience. I've started trying to speak with quite a few of the regulars around here. Some of them are my neighbors and some are shop owners, and some I have no idea what they do or why they hang out around here so much. But it's fun to practice my Chinese with them.

So why not take things to the next level by sharing some good 'ol American blues? I think it would be fun to translate these lyrics to Chinese, especially since I'm not a man...

In addition to all of the reasons above, this fun lil project will also help me learn some new Mandarin. I dunno, maybe I have a little too much free time on my hands these days. Mmmhmm Ooooooh, yeah, ooh, yeah...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A joy ride through the universe

I had a dream right before waking up this morning...

I walked into a huge library on the campus of some prestigious university, and a librarian walked up to me and asked, "Can I help you find something?"

And I said, "Yes, do you have nice books?"

He paused and looked at me sort of funny. I then realized that "nice" probably wasn't the word I should have used. So I said, "Oh, sorry, not nice books. I mean, do you have history books?"

He said, "Yes, right this way..." and he pointed me to a tiny bookshelf that only had one book on it. Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time".

Yes! I was so happy to finally be checking out this book to read. I snatched it up and was turning to go to the counter to check it out, when a stranger walks up to me, puts her arm through my arm and says, "Hi! Now that you have this book, we can get this project done faster if we both work together."

I was confused so I asked "What project?"

She laughed and nudged me because she thought I was joking, as if the whole reason I came to the library was to work with her on this project.

I said, "No, really, what project?"

She pointed to her pile of notebooks that were laying open on the floor. "Our design project."

I gave her another really confused look and tilted my head in question.

She said, "We're going to build an amusement park!"

Outside In

Electric saws
of perpetual labor
grind the midnight air.

Some who aren't competing
with lean muscle and motion
gamble away the fluorescent hours
in tiny rooms of dice
and dominoes of cigarettes.

Where I once awoke
at the whistle of a distant train,
now I am pulled from slumber
by a return to silence

At 4am
a complete hour
before the swish swish of
the sweepers begin
to tell me it's ok to contribute my filth
to the common good.

If this is the common good,
then what is it called
when three people do the work of
three people? It might be called

But what do I know...
I am one person
doing the work of zero people,
paid to be un-Chinese. Proof
that red dollars can rent a dream
more vivid than my own claim.

By our hands
I am turning inside out.

When I speak
promise me you'll always be amused?

And when you stop staring
will I have disappeared?


April is National Poetry Month, and it's almost here! Academy of American Poets

So this year I decided to participate in NaPoWriMo -- National Poetry Writing Month -- in which I will be posting a poem a day here on my blog. A few weeks ago I signed up to

I am going to try to stick to at least one poem a day and not save them all for the weekends. The point is to dedicate some time each day to keeping the creative juices flowing. Should be fun!


Both yesterday and today after work I had a documentarathon. Between movies friends have given me on flash drives to free documentaries on Hulu, I watched...

Bob Dylan: The Folk Years

Bukowski: Born Into This

Zeitgeist Movement: Orientation Presentation

China's Century of Humiliation

Esoteric Agenda

Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean ( There are 13 episodes I'll be making my way through. Gotta love Carl Sagan.

Then I did some online reading about Carl Sagan, and eventually stumbled upon this little gem...

I love the universe.

The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it
But the way those atoms are put together
The cosmos is also within us
We're made of star stuff
We are a way for the cosmos to know itself

Across the sea of space
The stars are other suns
We have traveled this way before
And there is much to be learned

I find it elevating and exhilarating
To discover that we live in a universe
Which permits the evolution of molecular machines
As intricate and subtle as we

Happy Birthday in the key of C (C is for Crap)

Today is a coworker's birthday, one of the other foreign teachers, so I learned Happy Birthday on my C harmonica this morning so I could play it for him when I got to the kindergarten.

First of all, he told me yesterday that he rarely remembers his birthday, let alone celebrates it, and he doesn't like people to know about it or make a big deal.

So I thought, hey, I know, I'll bring him cookies and play him Happy Birthday on the harmonica in front of other people. He'll just love that.

I prefaced the Happy Birthday song with, "I have a present for you. I call it torture. Ready?"

And it really was torture. I learned the song really fast and haven't been playing much lately, so it was pretty crappy sounding. Well, at least he appreciated the cookies.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Professional

I awoke this morning
with cookie crumbs
in my belly button.

of a weekend filled
with decadent delirium.

I'm an amateur, I thought,
as I wondered
if I had deliciously descended to a new low.

amateurs don't wonder
if they've hit bottom.

They are more diligent when diving to new depths,
never stopping to ponder
the weight.

Only a pro knows
when to nurture
discernible delusion.

A poetry prompt from Three Word Wednesday

The Genius Of The Crowd

The Genius Of The Crowd
by Charles Bukowski

there is enough treachery, hatred violence absurdity in the average
human being to supply any given army on any given day

and the best at murder are those who preach against it
and the best at hate are those who preach love
and the best at war finally are those who preach peace

those who preach god, need god
those who preach peace do not have peace
those who preach peace do not have love

beware the preachers
beware the knowers
beware those who are always reading books
beware those who either detest poverty
or are proud of it
beware those quick to praise
for they need praise in return
beware those who are quick to censor
they are afraid of what they do not know
beware those who seek constant crowds for
they are nothing alone
beware the average man the average woman
beware their love, their love is average
seeks average

but there is genius in their hatred
there is enough genius in their hatred to kill you
to kill anybody
not wanting solitude
not understanding solitude
they will attempt to destroy anything
that differs from their own
not being able to create art
they will not understand art
they will consider their failure as creators
only as a failure of the world
not being able to love fully
they will believe your love incomplete
and then they will hate you
and their hatred will be perfect

like a shining diamond
like a knife
like a mountain
like a tiger
like hemlock

their finest art

I have a little shadow

I have a little shadow
on my fingertips, it lies
in wait, in touch
secretly it spies

And when I brush against you
to leave a bit behind
on sleeve, or skin
or maybe near your mind

I rarely think ahead
of futures to be spun
for love, for joy
or what will come undone

And no matter how I try
to wipe the shadow clean
it grows, it grows
that's just how it's always been.

A poetry prompt from Carry On Tuesday

Top 10 For Mom

My mom makes me laugh so much, always. She reads this blog and keeps up to date with my photos on Flickr, and she wrote this in an email to me the other day...

" really need to quit the smirky grins that scrunch your face all up."

But mom, I can't help it! And besides, maybe I learned it from watching you. (maybe?)

Ok, in attempt to get it all out of my system, here you go mom (but I make no promises that this will be the last of it). These are all within the last year...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Half Of Something Else

I love the song "Half Of Something Else" by one of my favorite bands, The Airborne Toxic Event...

On the night that we met
You said that you wanted
Something more from me
And it was all that I could do

I remember your face, like a child
The way that you blushed
The way that you smiled
Now it's all that I can do

And I wake up feeling used
There's so much more than I ever knew

So I think of all the years spent alone
It's like you're searching for something
To make you feel whole

Like you're half of something else
Like you're half of something else
Just a fragment of yourself

Don't take it so hard;
We did what we could
There were no easy answers
To be understood

It was all that we could do
We're the only ones who knew
Now all I think about is you

The way that you laughed
The way that you smiled
The way that your voice would
Shorten the miles
The way that you told
Told me I was wrong
And the way that you'd sing
When you'd hear a song

And the way that you answered
When you knew I was gone

Now I know that I'm blind
And that you're all I see
And yeah I know it's not clever
But I just want you with me

I'm only half of something else
I'm only half of something else
I'm only half of something else

The lyrics above are from the acoustic version. The lyrics are a bit different in the video below.

I love pretty much every song by this band.

Basking in Laziness (or The Human Puddle)

This weekend I think I spent more time lazing and dazing around in my bed than I ever have, ever.

Two days of glorious horizontalness.

And this bed isn't even that comfy. I must have wanted it. Bad.

And what really shocked me was the absence of self imposed guilt.

Always being one to jump out of bed first thing in the morning, and never able to sleep in on the weekends, and always feeling a sense of MUST DO SOMETHING at the first sign of stasis...this weekend was uh-MAZ-eeng.

In one single weekend, I think I exhausted the watchable movies on -- the free version where only the bottom-of-the-barrel movies are shown. I would start a movie, and then drift in and out of nappiness until the credits rolled. Repeat this scene about 50 times between Friday and now.

It was sooOooOOOooOOooo difficult to leave my bedroom Saturday for a couple of reasons. 1) The temperatures were cool due to a slightly overcast day, and the breeze coming in my bedroom window was delicious. It held me captive. 2) The mahjong parlor next door was having live performances or something, because all day long, floating in through my bedroom window was traditional Chinese music and singing from some of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. It was mesmerizing. I felt transported to another time, another dimension. When each song ended, the patrons would clap and cheer. And sometimes they would drum the tabletops in applause. Something about it all made me very happy. I couldn't budge.

I did manage to verticalize myself and get movin', eventually...

for a very long Saturday evening with other foreigners here on the island. A coworker invited me out for pizza at the main foreigner hostel in Haikou. It's a 15-20 minute cab ride, not bad, and totally worth it for the food and company. The pizza is fabulous, and getting to meet people from all over the world is pretty darn fun...Belgium, France, New Zealand, England and Iceland were just a few of the places people called home.

On this particular Saturday night, the foreigners had organized a night out, and everyone was required to dress up as a nerd. So nearly everyone I ended up meeting that night was dressed in over-the-top nerdy attire, like very high-waisted pants, suspenders, big framed glasses. And the best touch of all was a guy who strapped a large calculator into his belt. It looked like a gun in a holster...ready to calculate anything in a moment's notice. While a few of us sat around eating our pizza and talking, the nerds left for their night out on the town. Eventually we met up with them and had a great time. The night ended with a group trip to KFC. (McDonalds was closed.)

It was nearly 11 hours from the time I left Saturday to the time I returned Sunday morning. I'm not used to being social for so many hours in a row. So I took the opportunity to make Sunday even lazier than Saturday. I stayed inside all day enjoying another cool breezy day in nap land. And it felt wonderful.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Life is like a box of captchas...

You never know how many failed attempts before you want to jump off a bridge...

PS...this was all in good fun. I don't really feel this way. Unless the captcha is really annoyingly difficult.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The "Wrong" Song

I had a dream in which a bunch of us, myself and random strangers, were inside of a really big plastic bubble ball, and it was rolling down a street. We were running inside of it to propel the ball forward. And we were all singing this song…

This is wrong.
This is wrong.
A pace at which we all know is wrong.
This is wrong.
This is wrong.

No idea where we were going, but the song was pretty lively and catchy, and there was a general feeling of togetherness for all of us.

My pet gecko

What's worse...

the fact that I have a 'pet' gecko living in my kitchen?...

or the fact that I have a corner in my kitchen that looks like this?...

The corner, yes, I agree. At least the gecko eats bugs, right?

Mahjong Mystery

I live on the third floor of an apartment building in the center of Haikou. Across the little alley/driveway is another apartment building with a restaurant on the bottom floor. There are apartments above it. When I look out of my bedroom and guest bedroom windows, I can see into my neighbors' apartments on the second floor of the next building.

Each window shows an identical room, which has a table in the center and chairs surrounding the table. Usually in the evenings the families are sitting around the table having dinner. Then as it gets later, the setting changes from dinner to all-night-long games of Mahjong. This is happening in each of the apartments across the way. I thought, ok, so the apartments are identical, that makes sense. Then I thought, ok, each family chooses to use this particular room as their dining room slash game room, that makes sense. Then I thought, wow, every single family likes to play mahjong from 8 or 9pm until 3 or 4am, does that make sense? Do these people not work during the day? Or if they do work during the day, when do they sleep? And how much is their electricity bill?!

The fluorescent lighting from each room across the way floods into my bedroom. I can sleep through about anything, so it doesn't really bother me. It's kind of a nice nightlight, filtered through my lightweight bedroom curtains. But the thing I did have to get used to was the constant CLICK CLACKING of mahjong tiles and dice throughout the night. It's even louder or more noticeable than the people talking throughout the game. And again, this is happening identically in every single room on the second floor in the next building. I finally asked the principal of my school about it, because she owns this apartment, and she informed me that those are not apartments across the's an all-night mahjong parlor! Apparently people rent out the rooms to play mahjong and gamble all night long. MYSTERY SOLVED.

Sometimes when the CLICK CLACKING and chattering is especially loud or wakes me from my sleep at 1, 2 or 3am, I get up from my bed, walk into the guest bedroom where the entire wall is one big window, and I stand and watch the mahjong games in the rooms over yonder. Yes, like a big 'ol creepy neighbor.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A conversation with myself about a mosquito net, and damn you anyway Wikipedia

This morning I awoke, itchy and bumpy.
The damn mosquitoes got me.
What made them attack all in one night?
Ahh the weather changed, again.
This must have been a conniving bunch.
It seems they got me symmetrically,
a bite in the same spot on both sides of my body.
Left hip, right hip. Left shoulder, right shoulder.
The list goes on.
And what's this strange one on my left temple?
His partner must have abandoned his mission.
And anyway, how rude, to bite my face.
There's plenty of other meatier flesh.
I'm stubborn.
I refuse to buy a mosquito net.
If they want me, let them have me.
I didn't leave my life in the states
and give away all of my possessions
and comfortable lifestyle
just so I could be dirt poor
and continue to separate myself from everything else.
It may be just a net,
light airy mesh,
but it seems like so much more.
So come and get me, the buffet is open.
(And besides, I'm a little claustrophobic.)
There's no Malaria in China, right?
Oh well.
I've had Dengue Fever and lived to tell about it.
What's a little Malaria.
Ok, I just read the Wikipedia entry on malaria.
Maybe I'll buy a net.

Evergreen Park and Adventures in TaxiLand

This afternoon I was invited out for a run in another part of town in the biggest park in the city called Haikou EverGreen Park (海口万绿园). I was excited because I keep hearing about this park but it's about a 20-30 minute cab ride away depending on traffic, and not really walking distance unless you want to make it an hours-long event.

I threw on my running clothes and headed down to the street to hail a taxi. Luckily my friend texted me the name of the park in Chinese characters so that I could simply show the message to the taxi driver. Otherwise it is very difficult to communicate to the driver where to take me. I was lucky and got a cab pretty quickly. I hopped in the front seat and whipped out my cell phone to show him the message, he nodded his understanding, and away we went. I fastened my seatbelt -- I was in the front seat after all (which is totally normal here, even if you're the only passenger) -- and the driver looked at me and waved his hand and shook his head and said bu something something bu something something ("bu" meaning no) and I took it to mean that he was saying I don't need to wear my seatbelt. I've read on blogs and have heard from others that taxi drivers will usually do this. I think maybe they see it as an insult to their driving? I pretended I didn't understand him and I kept the seatbelt fastened. Sorry taxi man, you may be a great driver and all, but it still doesn't stop someone from ramming into the passenger side of the car. My safety is more important than your driving dignity, or whatever you like to call it.

Traffic was smooth sailing so I arrived at the park within 15 minutes. Awesome. My friend arrived and we ran an easy 3-4K and then stopped to use the exercise equipment. This park is amazing. It's huge, has great running paths, is full of beautiful palm trees and other flowery gardens, the lawns are nicely kept, families are playing and flying kites in the big grassy areas, and it's right on the ocean. The breeze feels wonderful. And there are lots of outdoor exercise equipment for about any muscle you can think to work out. And it's all free. This is my new favorite place.

As the run came to an end and we were doing a cool-down walk and chatting, a group of older men walked by, and a few of them shouted "Hello!" in English, smiling and waving. So I said hello and smiled and waved back, then continued speaking with my friend. As we were walking away, I could hear the men laughing and speaking, and I heard a couple of them shout "I love you!" in Mandarin. People get a real kick out of seeing foreigners here. Yes, I love you too, complete strangers.

I hailed another taxi for the ride home. My friend texted me the name of my cross streets in Chinese characters so I could show the taxi driver. I'm building up quite the collection of directions for cab drivers on my cell phone. Very useful stuff. The first thing I say to taxi drivers (and everyone else) as soon as they start speaking to me in Mandarin is "I can't speak." They usually smile and say "Ahhhh" and then lots of silence follows. My taxi driver started yawning a lot toward the end of the ride, so I said to him in Mandarin "You're very tired." I learned how to say "I'm very tired" the other week so I was so excited to try this one on him when I saw him yawning. He looked at me with a very surprised look, so I repeated it in case I had the intonations wrong and was confusing him. He smiled and nodded. SUCCESS!!! I am so happy when I learn new words and phrases and can practice on people, and they can actually understand me. Or maybe he was just smiling and nodding as if to say, "Good job lady, thanks for stating the obvious. You're a real genius."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On a midweek afternoon

On a midweek afternoon
as the sun is resting low
and the murmur of the day has made its shift
from bustling business to subdued evening preparation,

she loves to lie and watch the curtains breathe.

They know things,
answers for questions rarely asked.

There's a kitten in a cage at the fruit vendor in the alley.
It looks out of place, and it cries. Sadness floods the air,

but no one seems to notice how hard it is to keep breathing.

She walks to it every morning
and stands near the cage to send hope and love to her feet
as she admires the bananas.

She asks the curtains if the kitten can feel her warmth, and
white fabric fills the room.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

You're thinking there's an excess

Can you see the hard-ness
of the glass tabletop? If you look hard
you might see hard. Perceived through the eyes
as if pretending you've never grown fingers
to touch a forest, or feet
to learn where the trail leads.

You're thinking there's an excess
to capture.
Capture? No. It cannot be contained.
To recognize. Digest. Behold.
To see the blue of a new sky
while the lingering heaviness of the air after a summer rain
rests on your skin...what is that
that arises
when two things are sensed separately
with different organs? It's a new thing
different than the other things. Maybe
hard-ness can be seen
through something else.


This past weekend on a teacher's trip to a rainforest that was organized by the kindergarten, I learned what people in China say as they are about to have their picture taken. Because many hundreds of pictures were taken. And this word was said many hundreds of times.


What? Doesn't make as much sense as saying "cheese"??? Ok, it sounds better in Mandarin.

qié zi (sounds like "cheeyeh tzuh") (kind of)

As the massive amounts of picture-taking began, I thought I heard people saying the Mandarin word for eggplant but thought nooooo, that can't be right. And by the way, the only reason I even know the Mandarin word for eggplant is because I ate some the first week I arrived in China and it became my new favorite dish, so I learned to say the word IMMEDIATELY.

And now as I repeat qié zi, qié zi, qié zi over and over out loud (to myself, alone in my apartment…what? Stop staring)… I realize how similar it sounds to "cheese" and I wonder which came first?…the cheese or the eggplant?!

And here are photos of that day (I also learned that you're supposed to make the peace fingers in every photo)...

I'm an alien, visiting planet Nap.

Today I exerted so much energy at the kindergarten that I came home, changed into sweat-free, germ-free, kid-free clothing, and hopped in bed for a three hour nap. THREE HOURS. Can I tell you how luxurious a three hour nap is in the middle of the day? No, I can't. Because words fail me.

I've worked pretty nonstop since age 16, and usually over worked myself. It was my own idiocy really. Long work days and then some more work at home in the evenings, oh and don't forget weekends, and why? I'm not entirely sure. It's just always been a problem of mine. Must. Work. MORE. (and sleep less) And what are these nap things anyway?

Now I work seven hours per week. I'm at the school for about 18-20 hours per week, but only seven of those hours are spent teaching. This is still more foreign to me than living here in China. I've started to wrap my head around living in China...I have yet to even start to wrap my head around working so little. It feels weird. Like I'm on Candid Camera (do people even remember that show???) and I'm being watched to see how I'll react to some prank, but in this version of candid camera I know I'm being watched. Where did this overpowering sense of what it means to WORK come from? I'll save that for another day.

So why do I now need 7-8 hours of sleep per night AND a 3 hour nap? There are 148 reasons why, and they each have two hands, two feet, two ears, two eyes, and one giant explosive force that is expelled in my general direction. And somehow, without even realizing it, I give it all right back to them, and then some. I look forward to going to work in the morning, and I find myself going out of my way to interact with them more than required...sitting in on other classes during my free time, greeting them longer than required in the morning as they come in from the buses, exercising with them during the morning exercise time, playing with them during recess, and their new favorite thing: chasing them with "tickle fingers" even when it's 100 degrees out and we all want to pass out. Don't worry, everyone is forced to drink lots of water throughout the day. It feels like while I'm at work, my energy is constantly renewed. By them. But about a half hour after I get home, I can feel the effects. Maybe it's a combination of the heat and the energy expulsion. Or maybe it's old age. Whatever its source, it's my new favorite feeling.

Daring to rhyme

I think writing poetry reflects
how I experience my existence.
I start out on a journey
not knowing where I'm going
each snapshot a hopeful phase
of contemplation and transcendence
the path can be uneven
and jagged at the turns but
the motion carries forward
until at last I arrive
tiptoeing gently around the cosmos
balls of mystery dripping from my soles.

Monday, March 19, 2012

National Anthem

On Monday mornings we participate in the flag raising at the kindergarten. Each classroom of students comes down to the large open playground area and lines up, two lines per classroom, facing the flagpole. A song plays over the loud speaker and we all clap along to the beat as two students are selected to raise the flag. This is a proud moment for the two lucky chosen ones, and their faces can barely contain their smiles as one of them carefully holds the flag from touching the ground while the other pulls the rope through the ring at the top. The flag raises high, and all of the children watch as the clapping music comes to an end and the national anthem begins.

The People's Republic of China National Anthem plays over the loud speaker, and all of the children raise their little hands to their foreheads in salute as they look up at their flag. It's right here where I feel a little awkward. Do I salute simply as an example for my students? Do I stand there with my hands at my sides because this is not my home country? Should I care or be concerned with what the other teachers and school administrators think in either case? On one Monday morning I thought, ok, I'm here in their country, I will salute as an expression of both being an example to the students and as an appreciation and immersion into the culture. I saluted. Now, I've never been super patriotic. I love my country and feel very fortunate to have been born in the USA. Especially now more than ever before, now that I'm living abroad and experiencing how fortunate we are in America by comparison. And it was in that moment, as I stood there with my hand to my forehead, facing the PRC flag, that I felt a mixture of confusion, alienation, sadness, pride, nostalgia, and joy. And in my mind I was thinking, this is ok, as long as my hand is where it is, this is ok. I still don't even know what to make of such a mish-mash of feelings, but it was certainly a new experience, one that I'm not likely to forget.

Then I came home and just had to listen to my national anthem...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Intimate moments

This weekend my school took its teachers on a quick getaway to a different part of the island. They organized a big bus to haul everyone down, but since one of my coworkers has a car, he offered to drive a few of us so we could also go visit a different part of the island on our way back the next day.

On the drive down on Saturday we pulled into a gas station/rest stop area to get gas and use the restrooms. It was still pretty early, but the temperatures were already climbing and the humidity was off the charts. I think "off the charts" is how the humidity always is here, so I'm not sure how to effectively describe it anymore. I'll try to get creative. Anyway, we got out of the car and walked up to the restrooms, which was a smallish building, right side for women, left side for men. The men's side of course was smooth moving, free flowing, and everything else that describes how efficiently men do their business. The women's side was jam packed, people overflowing to the outside, and yet still women were pushing their way inside. I peeked over their heads to the inside and saw most women with looks of disgust on their faces as they held their noses, waiting for their turn in the stalls. An odor wafted out, and I caught just the beginning of it and ran backwards as quickly as possible. No thank you. I had to pee very badly, but I could think of nothing that was worth waiting any amount of time in that mess of a situation. And!...if the smell was THAT bad, just think how the conditions of the squat toilets were going to be once I did make my sweaty smelly way to the front of the line. Yikes.

Just then I saw one of my coworkers come from around the back of the building as he whistled. He looked pleased and relieved. I asked him if anyone was around back and he said no and that he would stand guard for me. So I ran to the back of the building. I saw a small grassy area, and then I heard my coworker yell, "Just watch out for all the poop!" Glad he mentioned it. Guess we weren't the first ones with this idea. I looked over across the small stretch of grass and saw another woman with the same idea. I never thought I'd be ok with 1) squat peeing behind a rest area (I was always terrible at even peeing in the woods while camping; always required an outhouse), and 2) squat peeing with a total stranger. Well the past two months of living here in China keep proving to me that I can do things that I was previously not cool with, and that I have less and less sense of shyness or self consciousness as the days go by.

I looked at the woman, she looked at me, and we smiled and gave each other a tiny nod as if to say, "Yes, we're in this together, and that's ok. It's better than what's going on inside that building. We are the smart ones. We are victorious." Or something.

I walked back around to the front of the building where my coworker was standing guard, and where the situation on the women's side of the building looked even worse than before as the tour buses kept pulling in...and I'm sure I looked as pleased and relieved as he did just a few moments earlier.

A Summer day in the woods

I remember a Summer day in the woods, probably around age eleven or twelve, goofing off with cousins, trying to pass the long hours. They found a shady pond, and just at the edge was a thick rope hanging from an old tree. It didn't take long before they were climbing the tree, swinging from the rope, and letting go at just the right moment. Splash. Laughter. I watched from a small nearby clearing in heavily filtered sunlight just off the trail we followed into the woods. They were having endless fun, and even though they couldn't see or hear me, I was smiling and laughing right along with them. I was standing next to a tree, and when I looked down, I saw something growing at the base that told me, hey, this is poisonous. I don't know, but growing up in rural Illinois there must be something that gives us this sixth sense about poisonous plants. How many times have we suffered rashes and blistered skin from unfortunate encounters with poison ivy, oak and sumac. I looked back to my cousins splashing and dunking each other in the pond and then quickly scrambling up the bank for another swing. It did look like a fun scene, especially on this hot and humid mid-Summer day. I looked back to the curious leaves at my feet. In the next moment, I kneeled down, plucked a leaf and rubbed it on my arm. Whatever compelled me, it was irresistible, and it filled me with a satisfaction that was deeper than that pond and warmer than the day.

The boiled chicken foot

I think I accidentally ate one of these yesterday :/

I was eating dinner with my coworkers, and it was family style where they bring lots of dishes to the table and you all just dig in. They brought out a plate of chicken and it was boiled and still in the shape of a they just plucked and boiled the chicken whole and then took a carving knife to it and sliced it into layers, or like the chicken mistakenly jumped into a pot of boiling water and then jumped out and accidentally ran through a slicer and landed neatly on a plate. He was having a bad day.

Anyway, everyone dove in, chopsticks first, and before I knew it I was chewing on something very rubbery and not so pleasant. I felt that people were looking at me (even though it was probably just in my head) so I gave it a few more good chews like a good sport, trying not to think about what it was I was chewing up, and trying desperately to find my happy place. Then I slyly spat it out onto my plate, and it sure did look like a mangled chicken foot. When I moved to China I made myself a promise that I would never eat one. And I think I broke my promise, and when I recall the experience of the foot in my mouth, this is the only face I can make...


Friday, March 16, 2012

Slushy Slopes

I always love waking up from a dream laughing. This morning it was because the dream ended in me asking this question to a friend... "Is there anything about skiing that isn't totally disgusting?"

It makes no sense.

Unless you were in the dream and were one of the dozen of us in skis trying to walk up a steep snowy slope that kids at the top were peeing down, and we kept slipping and falling in the yellow slush. I have a feeling this is work related.

The Lake

Remember swimming in the lake that one Summer day?

In this memory I feel the sun
and see sparkly white light bouncing off slow waves
as our laughing eyes and mouth go below and above the surface.

When all of a sudden
the bottom turns over
and floats to the top.

Engulfed in unknown sewage
and other things,
more terrifying than bathing in a tub of leeches.

Murky chunks of lake bottom against our skin,
stomachs turning, we franticly swim to shore,
to be dry, to be clean.

They say this happens often,
the lake revealing its secrets. As if this makes us feel any better
as it's happening.

I have to stop asking why

I have to stop asking why.
The word escapes
faster than I can remember to stop asking
questions of futility
threaten the order of this place. I pretend
no one heard me, and go about the business of eating my rice.
I fool everyone with my mastery of chopsticks. Clack clack,
this grain is a willful fly, and it's his lucky day. Release...
I dropped a piece of boiled spinach on the freshly mopped tile,
and I could not stop admiring the contrast, despite almost blowing its cover. So
I moved my foot closer, a shoe hideout for the ministry of muscle. He appreciated
the gesture, while he gathered his wits. I am no one
and every one white female in the world. I am a prostitute
because no one assumes I am American, I am
the other white meat. So I smile and nod
in the most tasteful of ways
to keep them from losing their lunches,
and continue wowing them
with my chopstick sleight of hand.

Meeting myself for the third time

I'll never be
a first draft writer
a sword fighter
a high diver
I'll never be
the dirt under your nails
no matter how much we play
how little we say
I'll never be
the dancing hula girl
on the dashboard of life
unless of course, she's wearing an eyepatch
I'll never be
prone to growing long and tangly roots
but that won't stop me
from trying.

Happy birthday, Julie.

My best friend Julie's birthday is next week, so this is for her...

March 21, 2012

Today you would be
thirty five, a very round number
to be.
To be
away from our lives, you fly
in and out of my thoughts
and dreams, daylily.
Winsome and bold
of course it would be you
who swam to the depths -
touch -
teach me, tell me what you learned
when the water became wetter
by your tears.
And what it was like to never stop building
a fantastic dream-
world for us all.
To be
so much the same
and more,
forever the other side of our coin.

Colorful Chairs

Today I made up a new game on the fly and it actually worked! Well it's most likely a game already out there, but it's new to me. :)   I'm a little surprised, because every day in teaching ESL so far is experimentation in what works and what doesn't work. Even the time-tested and approved methods and lessons don't always work every single day. This is my first time teaching 3 and 6 year olds, and first time teaching in China of course. And it also seems that what may work on Monday, doesn't necessarily work on Friday. Each day is a lesson in reading their little moods the moment I enter the classroom, and then tailoring a lesson plan on the fly to suit the general mood of the class. I feel like I'm improving, slowly but surely.

So today, since it is Friday, and since today was the first sunny day in over a week, and the kids have been cooped up inside for an entire week with no exercise or outdoor play time due to the rain, they were a bit wild to say the least. So for the last 15 minutes of my older class, the 6 year olds, we played a game I named Colorful Chairs. It's basically musical chairs, and it uses some of the flashcards we've been using in their lessons on teaching colors. I put a color flashcard on each chair, and we set out only 6 chairs since we didn't have a lot of room, and then selected 7 students to start. We had the rest of the class sing a song they like (instead of playing music on a CD) and when I yelled out a color, whichever student sat on the color got a point for their team, and the other kids then had to scramble for a remaining chair. So we used both traditional musical chairs along with the words they've been learning and points for competition. They loved it. And the singing kept the rest of the class involved. We had to have a practice round first so they could grasp the objective, and the Chinese teacher helped translate since there was a bit of confusion at first. But it worked! I was surprised it worked so well and that everyone had such a great time. Definitely keeping this one in my "it's Friday and the kids are done learning for the week" bag of tricks.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rubberband gun violin

I dreamed I was playing in an orchestra. First Chair Rubberband Gun Violinist. My instrument was a rifle rubberband gun carved from wood, with a long thick rubberband stretching from the tip of the rifle barrel to the clothespins at the end of the gun. The clothespins rested near my chin when I brought the instrument up to my face to play. To make music, I moved my bow across the rubberbands, back and forth, back and forth. And I squeezed the wooden rifle trigger to bend notes down a half step. The curtains raised and the concert began. The director motioned for me to come in at my starting point in the music, and at that moment I dropped my rubberband rifle violin, crashing down onto the wooden stage at my feet. It was quite difficult to hold properly, a very awkward instrument. But everyone gasped in disbelief anyway. The concert continued, and time after time I tried to begin and always dropped my instrument just as I was about to play.

No offense, Radishes

but I think onions are more interesting.


I sat down this evening to write a poem about what separateness feels like,
but my eyes are so heavy after my walk...
all I can see are the faces
floating by
by the dozens
few variations in expression
worth noting, worth noting
and then a guilt stings me
so I look again, almost to the point of staring
searching for a smirk, or
a sparkle
a questioning
a knowing.
I feel a sense of looking into
two mirrors facing each other
endlessly repeating
reflections of my expression.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Circle dream

I am led to my new office, and it is gray and dim. I see my new coworkers already at work, our desks cramped together. With his compass he's drawing countless tiny circles. They're all the same size, evenly spaced. He is fixed in concentration, but emotionless, like a machine built for a singular purpose. She too is drawing countless tiny circles. She is smiling and cheerful. Her hair is returning to its natural color, and it's all the more beautiful now, even with the remaining streaks of blonde lingering at the ends. I am making a candle with a colored plastic wrapping. I am cutting a circular opening at the top for the wick and flame, but with my scissors I only cut crooked lines that will surely catch fire. She sees my struggle and comes to help me. She draws a circle with her compass so that I can cut cleanly along the line.

This Rain

This rain seems never-ending
a constant dripping soundscape
to the day's routines.
It's funny to think
of this great stretch of gray sky
that seems to block out the world
is really just a thin fog
between us
and sunny blue skies,
a passing...
But I suppose that's how
most phases seem
to last forever
dense and


There's a little boy at school who, whenever he sees me, pretends to be talking on the phone with me. He makes the telephone with his hand, thumb to ear and pinky to mouth, and says repeatedly, "wei? wei? wei?"

"Wei" is a common way to answer the phone in China, and it's pronounced like "way." I'm guessing it's an informal way to say hello, or maybe it's like saying "I'm here" or "I'm listening." I'm told that people don't really use it in face to face conversation, just over the phone.

So then I put my fake telephone to my head and talk back to him, "Is this Bingo?" (yes his name is Bingo). "Bingo! Nice to hear from you, how are you?" And of course he doesn't understand what I'm saying since he's only 5 and I'm speaking English. So I've started saying "No way!" in response to his "wei?" and it cracks him up so bad. And now the other kids in his class have started doing it to each other… "wei?"… "no wei!" and they laugh like crazy. I love kids.

Tests, tests and more tests

On Friday the school's two vice principals came to each of my four classes to test me on knowing the names of all 148 of my students by going around the room to name them one by one. I named 147 of them... I'm so sorry tiny sweet little Dennis, I blanked. I'll make it up to you somehow.

So on Monday, guess whose name I said several times, giving him lots of attention. I think I figured out why his name wasn't sticking. He's absent most of the time! Jeez, Dennis, get with the program. You're making me look bad.

There's another 'test' this Friday supposedly. I will have to sing all of the songs the school requires teachers to know. There are two pages of songs, ranging from Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, to the I Love You You Love Me song, to songs about standing up and sitting down, to the days of the week, to the kindergarten's school song. I am not a singer. I'm terrible. I sing to my students everyday for two reasons 1) because I have to, and 2) I love it when they sing along because it makes them so happy. I feel so sorry for them, being subjected to my singing. I sit there on my teenie tiny little chair, stare my tiny students straight in the eyes with an apologetic look, like in those awful movies where the bad guys make innocent people torture other innocent people and you can see the emotional trauma in the torturer's face because you know he doesn't wanna do it and it's going to scar him forever, yet he does it because if he doesn't 1) then the bad guys will kill him, and 2) then the bad guys will find someone even worse to do the torturing. It's a no win situation.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The sleeping word

She's walking softly, backwards
out of a crowded room, hoping
no one takes notice
of the curtains. Exhale.
There's a curious word, a word
that lies dormant in her mind, sleeping
a sleeping word. Loneliness. She wonders
what it means, is, of course she knows, but
what does it really mean. To mean,
to be felt, to understand from the guts. Yes,
the guts. The place where all important words are
digested. Surely they're still there, inside, churning.
Her guts remember a time, a time, a time ten years ago. Ten
years this month, a week of blackness. A void. A
void. It was just a word passing through, then
a doubling over, life breath turned to tears. And
something happened, a line in the sand perhaps, a
crossing over. To cross over is to never return, at least
not as it was then, not as you were, not as she was. Now
a sweet sadness, a sad sweetness quietly covers
the memory, like snow so soft it would melt from the heat
of your skin, her skin, on one of those shadowless nights when
the fresh fallen cloud has dampened the noise, encased
in a moment. A scene not to be disturbed
by repetition. And so time moves forward from the line. Linear
movement, solitary in its journey, the only luggage
the sleeping word.

Monday, March 12, 2012


when I think back on
my life: actions I've taken, thoughts I've had
that have led me to this moment,
I'm watching a black and white stop-motion film
very grainy, coarse
unpredictable, jerky
in which the character is gradually turning
away from shadows to stare at the sun
a little bit longer each day, hoping
to become more enlightened before
she goes blind.

A bee

A bee flew in the window of the classroom this morning. I was sitting in the back of the room observing as the students sitting cross legged on the floor followed along with their teacher, everyone oblivious to the bee slowly bobbing overhead. I followed it quietly with my eyes secretly hoping it would remain invisible. And my mind wandered back a month and more ago to when i was sitting on a patio enjoying a cup of coffee. I picked up the tin cup of milk to pour a bit into my coffee, and I noticed a bee inside the tin, trying for a taste. The bee didn't budge as I lifted the tin, so I tilted it carefully to pour the milk around him. But he must have spooked because in the next moment he was in the milk, legs up, buzzing and frantic. I quickly picked up my spoon and carefully scooped him out and placed him gently on the table, flipping him onto his legs so he could walk and dry himself. I was hopeful, even optimistic as he began to walk and clean his wings. But then he started to slow, and he came to a stand still. As I watched, something in me became desperate. His body started to slowly curl into a fetal position, and tears welled up in my eyes. He was gone. It felt as if an hour had passed, but it was only a minute. My chest clenched and I felt I could barely breathe. I let the tears fall.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Musical exploration

I played harmonica to an orange this morning
key of G, note by note, listening
for a response to let me know
it was primed for consumption.
Slipping off my shoes and slipping into bed
I lay there waiting
for the vibrations to echo
wavelengths of perfect pitch,
but I felt nothing
other than an orangey aftertaste
and that was all right, I suppose
it would prefer the key of C.

A return

I see the certain death
of my body and breath
as images time lapsed
in vibrant hues and sepia blues
my soul is loosed...
A quickening of life
bones slowly revealed
in three flashing bursts
of beautiful decay.
A truth no fear of seeing
the final unhiddenness of being

An impulse

you raise your finger high above
and make twirling
motions as if swirling
whip cream into coffee
inventing a new creamy richness

you walk that way for quite some time
paying no mind
over matter entwined
to mime interweaving
this beautiful existence away

Friday, March 9, 2012


Last night I had a dream that I was on an airplane, sitting in economy class, writing a poem on an airsickness bag. I was leaning over it practically laying on my tray table to hide the poem from the man sitting next to me because he kept trying to see it. Here's the poem:

When my spirit
animal comes for me
he will have the body
of a seal
and the voice
of Seal

I'm chalking this one up to being really sick right now and getting lots and lots of sleep last night. Maybe too much sleep.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Healthy gossip

Something happens nearly every day here to clue me into some top secret hidden underground gossip ring that seems to be lurking jussssst out of reach. Word travels quickly here. Whether it's good or bad or just eh whatever, word of mouth is crazy fast. There have also been many times when I've been let in on it, but only those times when it concerns me in a very harmless way. Usually it's some sort of curiosity about me or Americans in general that some of the other teachers will be gossiping about, and then finally one of the teachers who speaks a little English will ask me the question.

Is it this way all over China? Or just where I live? Or just in my school? In any case, it's very amusing, and it's become a big curiosity of mine as to how this gossip underground works. Maybe when I learn more Mandarin and am able to eavesdrop more effectively, I'll uncover its mysteries.

Anyway, what made me think of this is yesterday one of the teachers who speaks a little English came up to me after class, and she looked like she had something important to ask, but seemed a bit hesitant. She said, "Some of the other Chinese teachers were wondering...uh, can I ask you a question?" and I said, "Sure, of course." And she said... "They are wondering...what do you eat?"

Oh boy. And this is right on the heels of me feeling extra huge here because I can't find clothing my size. (Btw, I'm about a size 6-8 in U.S. sizes, so I feel pretty average by American standards.)

I sort of giggled out of surprise at the question, and asked her, "What do you mean? Like what do I like to eat, or what do I cook at home...?" and she said, "Well, they think you look really healthy, so they are wondering what you are eating here."

The first thing that popped to mind was...what does "healthy" mean here? Is it a healthy glow, like rosy cheeks and good skin? Is it healthy like she's got a few extra pounds on her and is definitely not starving. Or do I look so huge in comparison to other women that they are fascinated as to what foods could be causing this??

And then she said...

"Do you eat a lot of rice. Do you cook rice at home?"

I laughed and pointed to my stomach and said, "Because I'm so fat?!" and she laughed and said no no no, and I'm glad she has a good sense of humor.

I told her I eat a little rice at the school (the kindergarten provides lunch and there's always a little rice with lunch), and at home I mostly cook vegetables and sometimes with noodles. She still seemed curious and asked what kinds of vegetables, so I told her.

It was a funny conversation and I'm still not sure what to make of it, but at the end of our conversation, it really did seem like a genuine curiosity. But what sparked it? No clue. As an American, do I naturally try to find hidden meanings and pick up on the undertones in everything people say? Is it just me? Does it happen in Chinese culture as well? Regardless, their curiosity is continually sparking my own.

From shock to shrug

Before I came to live in China just a short time ago, there were two things that, when encountered, would instantly turn me into this woman...

Cockroaches. And mold.

One of the first things I saw on my first day in China when I first entered my apartment was a dead cockroach on the kitchen floor. A couple of days later as I was cleaning out the cupboards, I saw a live one scurrying away. A couple weeks ago I found another dead one in the kitchen. And just the other morning as I woke up and flipped on my bedroom light, I saw one run under the bed.

But the sight of mold is probably even worse than the sight of dead or live cockroaches. Seriously, nothing is worse than when you go to the kitchen, reach into a loaf of bread, pull out a piece and see green specks all over it. Ugh, the worst. Not only did you SEE the mold with your delicate eyes, but you just TOUCHED the mold with your skin. Your SKIN! It's terrifying. Deeply terrifying. I can't wash my hands enough after touching something moldy.

But after living in Hainan, a very humid part of China, for just a little over a month now, these two things bother me a whole heckofalot less. So now I feel more like this when I see them: like hey, I see you, and I'm gonna try to be cool with that...

Cockroaches and mold are just a part of life here. I clean my apartment daily, and still these things exist. I'm told that no matter how much you clean, there's no getting rid of them completely.

I hear there's another part of life here that I will be getting used to...rats. Huge rats.

I just thank my lucky stars I haven't seen a single one yet. (and let's keep it that way, rats.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Essence is of the time

Today I held up a flashcard with a bus on it
and a student yelled, "scooter!"

And I thought
here is a moment in which I could correct the student
you know, really teach him something right
I could reply, "You know what, yeah, it's a scooter, why not?!"
and then march the three year olds around the classroom
fists in the air
chanting, "the wheels on the scooter go round and round..."

It's so arbitrary, the relationship
between signifier and signified

But today wasn't the day for anarchy
or thinking outside the box

Maybe tomorrow I will lead the children in a revolt
when their minds have forgotten the moment's pause
between bus and scooter

What's the plucking point?

Why are we so afraid to let our eyebrows mingle? What would they say? What would they do? What havoc would they wreak? You're right, it's probably best not to find out.

It feels kind of nice to not kill things

I just took a major step towards coming back as something higher than a termite, when I saw a spider in my bathroom and placed an empty bottle under him, and he descended into it as if he was waiting for his ride, and I carefully let him out on my window ledge.

String Theory

There's a sameness running through us
at speeds faster than light
If we could see it
I imagine it would look like a multicolored string
like the kind we used
to make friendship bracelets

I remember not liking the floss that changed from color to color,
because I couldn't predict what the bracelet would look like in the end.

I suppose things have changed
when all I can do now is
search for a changing thread
stringing us together like fish on a line

in the same boat, so to speak

I love to imagine
what must be happening at microscopic levels
as the string changes from blue to green
when it exits you and enters me

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Strange dreams

I'm still keeping the dream journal, which has been an interesting experiment in 1) trying to improve my memory, and 2) seeing deeper and deeper into my increasingly weird subconscious.

The other night I dreamt I was in a porn shop, but I wasn't browsing porn, I was browsing books on one of those circular spinny book holders. I started reading a graphic novel about the United States' involvement in Iraq. It looked very Neil Gaiman-esque and was all about the dirty secrets the U.S. is trying to cover up in Iraq. Dreams are interesting...I could see vivid detail of the artwork/drawings and could read all of the words. Where does that stuff come from?? (I don't even watch the news!) I read the book, put it back, and then bought some candy and left the store and walked down the street while eating my candy.

Last night I dreamed I was watching a YouTube video someone had posted to their blog. The blog name was "One Hair, One Body" (what?!) and there were these two girls who were probably high school age, identical twins for the most part, except one was born with the hair, and one was born with the body. The girl with the hair was a normal-sized girl and she had a full head of straight shoulder-length black hair, but she had no face. It was just a smooth skin surface. And her sister sitting next to her had no hair, completely bald, and had the face of a monkey. The girl with the monkey face was doing all of the talking in the video (obviously)...but I forget what the video was about. She was giving instructions on how to do something, but I forget what.

If dreams are really our subconscious trying to work out problems, I wonder if I should be concerned.

First run

This morning I woke up at 5am and went for a run (in my man shoes). And didn't die! It's been nearly three months since leaving the states and having any real exercise and was starting to feel slothy. The run was fantastic, and I can only assume that living and exercising for nearly two years at altitude in Denver, CO has made me feel superhuman living back at sea level. It was pretty warm and humid for 5am, but there was a nice breeze and it was very peaceful. Since there wasn't really any traffic yet at that hour, the only sounds were of the city workers out sweeping the sidewalks with the huge whisk brooms...swish swish swish. After the run I stopped in front of my apartment building to cool off a bit before going inside, and so I did some light stretching and some standing yoga poses. Then a little old man walked by, and then he turned around and walked back by, and then back by and so on, just staring and staring. People are constantly staring anyway because I'm a foreigner, but he must have been freaked out by the strange foreigner doing weird movements all alone in the dark in a parking lot. If there's one thing I like about being here, it's that whatever self-consciousness or shyness I may have still had is now completely gone. When people are always staring, making fun or making comments, and you can't understand most of what they're saying about you anyway, you begin to exist in a very happy-go-lucky ignorance-is-bliss sort of state. And I like it here.


Tonight I went for a walk. Someone yelled in English, "Hello, how are you?!" I turned to look because so far I'm the only non-Chinese person I've seen (outside of my school) and so whenever I have heard anyone speaking English so far, it has been directed at me. He was laughing with his buddies in that "look at the silly American" way, and they didn't seem very friendly, so I quickly replied in Mandarin, "I can't speak English!" and went on my way. I doubt they believed me.

wǒ bú huì shuō yīngwén ("I can't speak English" -- I hope this is right, but may have the tones wrong.)

Does China have worker's comp?

It's very hot and humid here lately, and my kindergarten gives the kids a water break after every class. They have a routine… class time, water time, potty time, repeat.

I have about a 50 minute break between a couple of my classes, so I usually either go help another class with the kids during "pencil time" in which they practice writing English words or do some drawings, or watch cartoons with one of my youngest classes if they're forced to be inside during their usual exercise time due to rainy weather, or today since the weather was beautiful I did exercise time with a few of the classes.

Exercise time consists of putting on a CD of music to blast over the loud speakers and then doing a bunch of fun actions and dances with the kids to get them moving around. The actions go along with each song on the CD, so it's pretty routine. It's so much fun jumping and dancing around with them. I can't believe how much I love these kids and how natural it feels to act like a complete dork all day long. I find myself doing just about anything to put a smile on their faces, no matter how ridiculous I look to the other teachers or principals. It's a blast.

Today after exercise time the kids were gulping down more water before heading back to the classrooms, and they each have their own water bottle they bring from home. I was goofing off with some of them while they were having their water. One kid was swinging his bottle around by the strap just for the heck of it, and it smashed into my knee. Most kids have a plastic water bottle, but this one was metal. Holy crap I about fell to the ground. I immediately started limping around, half cracking up laughing and half on the verge of tears from the pain. Wow! He had no idea that he even hit me, and he was still in his own little world swinging his bottle around. However a few other kids saw what happened and almost peed themselves laughing. So then I chased them around with a limpy leg as they scream-laughed their faces off.

I now have a bruise on my right knee.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Will found our little project from back in 2003 when we were teaching ourselves how to use Adobe After Effects. It was a lot of fun making this...

I was in a two-year program at Santa Monica College's Academy of Entertainment & Technology, and Will (my ex-husband) and I were dating then, and we decided to teach ourselves After Effects by creating this little music video. I was taking a video editing class at the time and learning a bit of After Effects in class, so this was a great way to practice. The multimedia program was so much fun (and so much work!)... graphic design, storyboarding, animation (both old-school pencil animation and computer animation), video editing with Final Cut Pro, sound editing with ProTools, web design and development, Flash animation and programming, etc. etc. I wish I had held onto my old projects but they seem to have disappeared over the years and throughout many computer changes and hard drive crashes.

Little by little

My new favorite Chinese word:
dumpling (with meat and vegetable stuffing)

We had these for lunch last week at the kindergarten, and they are delicious. The principal told me that even the kids go home and ask their mommies to please make the jiǎozi like they do at school.

Not only is jiǎozi delicious, it's a fun word to say. Sounds like this: jee-yow-tsuh (I think!)

This morning we took the kiddos to a nearby farm to pick strawberries. The kindergarten does this trip once a year, and the kids love it. The weather was amazingly beautiful, the sun was shining brightly, warm breeze blowing, and the 100+ kids running up and down the rows of strawberries with their floppy hats and wicker baskets was just too much. There were times I just stood there in the middle of the field looking around, laughing at how much fun the kids were having, feeling the breeze, and appreciating life.

After school today my coworker drove me to another part of town and I had acupuncture on my foot again. My left big toe goes numb from time to time, and sometimes it is painful, and sometimes the numbness spreads to other toes. It's been better these past couple of weeks. The first time I got acupuncture, a couple of weeks ago in Hong Kong, the doctor was very gentle and I barely felt a thing. This time the guy had a less than gentle touch, and he poked the needle really hard into my big toe. He did that twice and didn't leave the needle in, so not sure what that was all about. But it hurt enough for me to go to my happy place, doing some deep breathing. Then periodically he would twirl the needles that he had stuck into the other points in my left foot. Not painful, but not pleasant.

Today as I was standing waiting for the elevator to go back up to my apartment, there were two women waiting right next to me. They looked at me and then looked back to each other and started talking, and I heard one of them laugh and say, "She doesn't understand what we're saying..." and I quickly interjected in Mandarin, "I understand a little!" They whipped their heads to me with eyes all big. Then I smiled and said, "nǐ hǎo!" (hello!) It's going to be so much fun keeping people on their toes as I learn more and more Mandarin. Or I can just pretend to not know it and eavesdrop on all sorts of conversations.

Today's encounter reminded me of the other day when I was on a walk, and as I was walking by a man and woman sitting outside in front of a shop, they looked at me and I heard the woman say to the man "lǎowài" (rhymes with cow pie, I think) which is a term used to refer to foreigners. And from what I understand, depending on the tone, it can be used in a derogatory sort of way. So I quickly snapped my head to the woman and smiled really big, and she just sort of froze, again with the big eyeballs, like oops, got me!

Tonight I went for a little walk right before dark just to feel the evening air and cool off a bit since it's been so sticky humid here, and I stumbled upon a clothing store very near my apartment. They had gobs of clothing in my sizes, so I picked up some shorts and t-shirts and a pair of big 'ol flip-flops for my giant feet, success! Due to the sweaty humid weather, I've been doing laundry nearly every single day and taking 2 to 3 showers a day. It's nuts. Hopefully my body will either adjust to the climate and these things won't be as necessary, or maybe I'll just stop caring about being so sweaty.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Silly rhymey poem

somewhere a field
of berries and wheat
purple and gold
a shimmering heat
what kind of tree
does the silkworm eat?
a mul-ber-ry
the sweetest of treats

Unwelcome Guest

Sometimes I see something
out of the corner of my eye
a shadow, a sparkle
and I pause
but I don't look directly at it
because I know I would be spying into another dimension
one that sits slightly askew to ours
and frankly
I don't care to know what goes on over there
it would be too enticing
to obsess about how to slip inside

Woes of a curvy woman in China

Today I took another long walk, this time the goal was to find some warm weather clothing. All I brought with me to China was Winter clothing, and it is really warming up here these past few days. The weather this weekend was spectacular!

I also wanted to get some workout gear so I can start running again now that I've settled in here. On my walk I happened upon a Nike store AND an Adidas store. I'm not 100% sure the merchandise was legit. The Nike swoosh (swish?) on the shoes looked a little hokey, but who knows. The Adidas stuff looked good, so I tried to find some shoes there. I wear a size 40 but they only carry shoes up to size 39. Dang! I took a look at the mens shoes but decided against buying some. I left the store and went on my way. I knew somewhere up ahead was the Carrefour, which is a huge mall type of place, and was hoping they'd have larger shoes.

I was wrong.

But I did find some capri type of pants and lightweight tops. I had to buy the pants in XL and they are still a little snug! I have hips, there's no mistaking it. But dang. I left the mall feeling very huge. Even my hands feel humongous after not fitting into some of the pockets.

On the bright side, I now know the Mandarin word for "big" and how to emphasize it like so, "biiIIIIIggGGGGGer!!!" because that's what every single salesperson said in disbelief as I tried on clothing after clothing that were too small. It's as if I was a giant freak of nature that they could not believe had somehow managed to squeeze herself into their store to go shopping.

I also needed to buy a sports bra for running. Talk about mission impossible. No one seems to sell sports bras. I got very good at miming it since I don't know how to say it in Mandarin. It goes something like this...

Point at your boobs. Run in place. Point at your boobs. Run in place.

I'm amazed that every single salesperson understood this.

I returned home feeling somewhat successful and more than somewhat large. Tonight I decided to return to the Adidas store, and I purchased size 40 men's running shoes. They don't look all that manly.

Despite having big hips, big bones, big feet, big hands, and big butt, there are two things that I do have in common with many Chinese women...

I will have no problem finding a bra my size.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

No Bugles?

On today's walk around Haikou I saw this sign...

No Bugles? No Trumpets? No Cornets? And why??? So confused!

Here are more photos from the walk --

Just out for a stroll

To enjoy this beautiful Saturday I decided to take a long walk. It turned into a three hour walk and was both sweaty and lovely. The sun is shining brightly and there is a light cool breeze, close to perfect weather. Even the humidity doesn't feel so bad today. Today is the first day in the month I've lived on Hainan island that I actually feel like I'm living on a tropical island. Looking forward to more days like this!

On my way home, a man bicycled up next to me and starting talking, so I tried to make conversation and was doing pretty okay for awhile. Then he said something that I didn't understand so I made the universal gesture -- palms up, head tilted slightly -- to let him know I don't understand what you're saying. And this was after using all three Mandarin phrases I know for "I don't understand" or "I don't know."

Then he replied with another universal gesture -- put thumb and index finger together to make a circle with one hand, put index finger of other hand through the circle, pull index finger out of circle, put index finger back into circle, repeat three to five times.

A mime is worth a thousand Chinese words. I politely declined his offer and continued on my way.

That was the most...colorful...experience on today's walk. Another, less flattering encounter, was when a man walking toward me got right up in my face and yelled. I'm not sure what he said, but it didn't sound friendly. In fact, it sounded very threatening. I just smiled, moved out of his way and continued walking.

There were a few other friendly encounters where people smiled, waved and yelled "HELLO!" Out of all three types of greetings today, I have to say I like this one the best.

Friday, March 2, 2012

My heart is an apple

My heart is an apple
that I'm sewing, sewing
Flesh piercing needle
yes I'm knowing, knowing
And when I've gone
to seed
oh timeless thread
be free

Banking in China

Today I opened my very first bank account in China. I had no idea it would be such an ordeal. Luckily my coworker, who is very fluent in Mandarin, took me to the bank and did all the talking. I definitely could not have accomplished opening an account on my own.

No one working at this particular bank spoke English, and the application form was all in Chinese. They took my passport to make a copy, to have on file I suppose, and three of the bank employees stood holding my passport, scrutinizing it for a good 15 minutes. It was bizarre. From what I could tell, and I could be completely wrong, it seemed as if they were trying to figure out how to translate the English characters into Chinese so they could enter my information into their computer system, which maybe only takes Chinese characters? Who knows.

For some reason they made me complete the application form three times. I couldn't understand why at first, but turns out I kept writing in English and they needed the form completed in Chinese. My coworker doesn't write in Chinese, so on the final attempt to complete the application, we settled on me writing my name and passport number and having the bank employee complete the rest of the form in Chinese. Who knows what they put on it or what's in their system now.

And now I have a Chinese bank account! They opened the account, I deposited some cash, and they gave me my ATM card right then and there after I entered my PIN. I immediately walked over to the ATM to make sure the card works and the money was deposited correctly (I wasn't really left with a warm fuzzy feeling after all of the confusion) and ta-dum, it worked. I can now have my paycheck direct deposited, hooray.

Humid Haikou

I just read a blog post by another foreigner living here in Haikou, and since I couldn't have summed it up better myself, I'm going to be extra lazy and share his blog post about what Winters are like here...

Today's humidity has been especially awful. Every surface at my kindergarten and in my apartment is wet wet wet. Not just damp, but WET. The mirrors in the bathrooms are dripping. This morning I did a load of laundry and left it to hang in my spare room before heading out to school (before I knew how humid today was going to be), and now the spare room is nearly foggy...those clothes won't be drying any time soon. Sometimes I even have to wash them all over again because they develop a severely icky musty smell before they've had a chance to dry. I can't wait until Spring. At least I hope Spring brings less humidity!

Yesterday the Foreign Affairs Office gave me this hat that says "Sunny Haikou" ... I've only been here a month and I've seen the sun maybe a few times (maybe?), but I'll trust that this hat isn't lying to me...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Space Jobs

What's the difference between an Astronomer, an Astrophysicist, and a Space Scientist?

Sounds like a setup to a joke, but no really, what's the diff?

Actually maybe it could be a joke...

An astronomer, an astrophysicist and a space scientist walk into a bar...

(then what? ok, this one needs some work.)

The China Process

I don't know what else to call this blog post other than The China Process, because what a process it has been! Even with great help of the staff at my school (I came to China to be an ESL teacher), I still found the process daunting and confusing at times, so I hope this post sheds some light on some of the steps involved in coming to live and work in China for anyone considering it. Each foreigner I've spoken with about this process has shared a different story, so take this for what it is -- just one person's experience. By the way, this entire process has taken place between January and March of 2012.

By the way, I have been told that the exact process I have gone through is not necessarily typical, however many of the steps are the same; they just may not be in the same order or may have to take place in different locations (explained in more detail below). I have also been told that the visa regulations have changed recently here in China, so it is sometimes confusing on what the exact process is these days. I found it difficult (impossible?) to find all of the information online in one nice and tidy package. And please feel free to comment if you have any questions or think I am mistaken on anything here. The last thing I want to do is give misinformation for a process that is already somewhat difficult to navigate. Thanks!

First off, I can't thank my school enough for their guidance throughout this process and for handling most of the planning, coordination and expense. I was told early on by a good friend who has been living and working in Beijing for years now that I should find an employer (a school in my case) who will handle the visa process and expense for me, and I'm glad I listened to his advice. I was deciding between two different schools -- one in Haikou and one in Beijing -- and one of the reasons I chose the school in Haikou was because they offered to handle everything for me. Now after experiencing the process first-hand, I'm very happy about this decision.

Secondly, you can never have too many passport-sized photos. I've probably gone through about 15-20 throughout this entire process, no exaggeration.

Here's a quick summary of the steps I've gone through. Again, you may not be subject to all of these and maybe not in this order...
  • tourist (L) visa
  • invitation letter (and possibly contract of employment)
  • physical exam
  • work (Z) visa in Hong Kong
  • register with local police
  • interview with foreign affairs office
  • foreign expert certificate
  • residence permit

    1) I entered China on a 30-day tourist visa (L Visa). This is the step I'm told is not typical. I applied for and obtained the tourist visa while I was in Nepal, and I paid extra for same day service. Even though I applied for a tourist visa of longer than 30 days and for multiple entries, they told me they could only grant me a 30-day 1-entry tourist visa. If you intend to work in China, you should apply for and obtain the work visa (Z visa) in your home country before traveling to China. Due to a rushed timeline (the new semester was starting in two weeks at my school, so I needed to arrive in China and start working in a very short time) I was allowed to enter on a tourist visa and handle the rest from inside China. I was also not in my home country when I applied for and accepted the position. I was living and studying in Nepal, and it would have been extremely expensive and time-consuming to travel back to the US to obtain the Z visa before traveling to China.

    2) The invitation letter is prepared by your employer in China. I don't know much about the details of the letter itself, but it's an official-looking document that provides proof to the authorities that you have been officially invited to China for some purpose, whether work, study or business. I think this is one of the documents you are required to present to the visa office when applying for the Z visa. I also had employment contracts with my school, but I'm still unclear if these were required during any part of the paperwork processing for the visa or foreign expert certificate.

    3) The physical exam. I'm still traumatized (half joking here) and in awe of the experience. I wrote a little about it here: The final result is the clinic giving you one of these, a little booklet that contains the results of all of the tests performed...

    If the clinic doesn't provide a fancy little booklet, then they should prepare the medical form as required by the visa office. Either the booklet or medical form will be required by the visa office when you apply for the Z visa. If applying for the Z visa in your home country, I assume you need to get the physical exam in your home country as well. Make sure it is a Chinese government approved hospital/clinic.

    4) Once I had the results of the physical, and my school had the official invitation letter prepared, they flew me to Hong Kong to obtain the Z visa. This process was pretty straight forward because I had all of the appropriate documents completed and in order (passport-sized photo, invitation letter and physical exam). I overheard other foreigners in the visa office having a not-so-easy time due to incomplete paperwork. The visa office makes no exceptions from what I hear, so be prepared. Oh and a side note, be sure to have some sort of medical insurance and have the policy number and provider with you, as it is required on the application. Since I no longer had medical insurance from my previous employer, I purchased a cheap traveler's policy online right before traveling to China. I paid extra for rush service for the visa, which in this case was the next business day. The Hong Kong visa office does not provide same day service.

    5) A few days after returning to Haikou from Hong Kong, my school took me to the local police station to be registered. I'm not even sure what is involved or required, if anything, other than showing up at the station and saying hey, I live here now. The Vice Principal of my school took me, and she spoke with the police officers in Mandarin, and I had no clue what was said or done. All I know is they spoke a lot of Chinese and typed a lot into their computers, and took my photo with a digital camera. I'm not even sure if this is required throughout all of China or just here in Hainan Province. It's worth inquiring though, because there could be fines associated with not registering if they find you first.

    6) After returning from Hong Kong with my Z visa, and a few days after registering with the local police, my Principal took me to the Foreign Affairs Office here in Haikou for an interview with the Director. I wrote a bit about it here: I'm told this is a fairly new requirement by the Foreign Affairs Office here in Hainan, so I'm not sure if this applies anywhere in mainland China. Again, worth inquiring.

    I have yet to go through the next two steps, but I'm told they are happening in the next week or so. I'll update this with more detail soon...

    7) Foreign Expert Certificate

    8) Residence Permit