Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lady and the Tramp

I've been reading Lady and the Tramp to my 6-yr-old class, and it's proving a little difficult. I read the story, and the Chinese teacher translates everything as I'm reading so the kids can understand the story. The first problem came when I had to describe the title itself. The Chinese teacher wasn't quite sure how to translate "Tramp" and so we just sort of looked at each other with deer-in-the-headlights looks going "uhhh" while the whole class stared, waiting. So I quickly said "ok, just tell them it means "house dog and the street dog" because she also wasn't quite sure how to translate "purebred" and "mutt". Then when I got to the siamese cats part of the story, I totally freaked the class out by singing the "We are siamese if you please...we are siamese if you don't please" ::ba dum bum bum:: Their jaws were pretty much on the floor, with a hint of confused terror in their eyes. Then today we got to the part where Tramp takes Lady to the Italian restaurant, and so of course I had to speak Tony's lines with a thick Italian kind of sing-songy accent, which kind of freaked them out again. I think from now on I'll stick to Curious George or Berenstain Bears.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Friendly fruit gifts

I just walked into my kitchen and it struck again how incredibly friendly people can kitchen counter is lined with random pieces of fruit like lychees, grapes and mango. Whenever I'm out and about walking or at the market or little mom-n-pop convenience shops, people will offer up pieces of whatever fruit is most in season, or whatever they happen to be snacking on at the moment. I've also run into a fair share of unfriendly people, but for every unfriendly or rude encounter, there seems to be about ten more friendly ones.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Wanna know my secret for making so many insta-friends here, when I don't even know the language that well yet? I taught myself the phrases for "AWWW your baby is so beautiful! (or handsome for the boys)" Works like a charm. (Seems like everyone here is carrying a baby around.)

How old are you?

I'm trying to teach the little kids to say "I'm three years old" when someone asks them "How old are you?" and it's been going surprisingly well. The tricky thing for them is distinguishing between "How are you?" and "How old are you?" so sometimes when you ask them "How are you?" they now say "I'm three years old!" It's adorable, but we're working on it.

Today was especially funny though because I asked "How old are you?" to the entire class, and everyone responded "I'm three years old!" except for one little boy who stood up, put his hands on his hips and yelled at me "I'm FOUR years old!!" and then angrily waved 4 tiny fingers at me. I lost it. I don't think I'm supposed to be laughing at my students so often, but dangit, they're too cute!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chinese Rubik's Cube

My little 6-yr-old students have been bringing their Rubik's Cubes to school, and amazing me with how quickly they are solving them!

My friend Richard, a super-genius Rubik's Cube solver, got me interested in them about five years ago, and I haven't had the chance to play with one in awhile.

Yesterday while out shopping, I stumbled across the Chinese version of the Rubik's Cube at the supermarket and just had to get it. The Rubik's Cube here in China is called 魔方 (mó fāng) or Magic Cube, and they have different designs. I chose the shark.

I solved it this morning and took this photo for my friend Jen to show her the sheer excitement. (I ended up having to cheat and reference a few of the algorithms on this site but it did nothing to diminish the excitement and pure joy of lining up all the colors, woo! I love being 6 years old.)

(And I can't wait to go to school and challenge them to a Magic Cube contest. Watch out, kindergarteners.)

Bu De Bu Ai.....American-Style

I'm not sure what compels me to make a fool of myself, but hey life is short, and maybe this will provide some free entertainment.

Here's a link to the actual song and lyrics.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


One of my favorite parts of shopping today was when trying to find cockroach poison, the powder kind, not the spray kind, and I don't know the Chinese words for this stuff yet. I had to mime a cockroach to the lady in the bug poison aisle, so I sort of made an ugly face and make wiggly motions with all my fingers and made quick wing flapping motions, but she just looked at me funny. So then I found a picture of a cockroach on a bug spray can and she goes "AHHH!" and pointed me to all kinds of roach poison sprays but I tried to say no (because I want the powder kind, not the spray kind) and then mimed opening a small packet and pouring it into the palm of my hand and then when that didn't work I mimed sprinkling it onto the floor. She shook her hands "no" at me and then picked up a package of roach motels. I sort of made a 'no thanks' face and hand motions (because I really wanted the powder kind) but she seemed to really want me to get the motels, so she opened the box and pulled out the motels, and then mimed eating them like she was a roach and then cocked her head to the side, closed her eyes and stuck out her tongue like she just died. OMG I lost it, she was hilarious. And she won the mime-a-thon, hands down. I bought the motels.

Supermarket Shopping in China

Shopping here is interesting. In some ways good, in some ways wanna-run-out-of-the-store-pulling-my-hair-out bad.

The good: Plenty of selection/variety/options, get to practice speaking Chinese with lots of different people and when I fail to understand or be understood it's always a fun and silly display of mime-manship between me and the sales clerk, get to try all kinds of new and wacky treats like a bazillion different kinds of wafer snacks, and most everything is very cheap.

The bad: The quality of products is usually lower (but hey, they're cheap, you just have to buy them more often), some markets are a maze to get in, through and out of so I usually get lost and have to pee really bad and can't find a restroom, can't read the labels so buying basic things like soap, toothpaste etc. is usually a guessing game (and I've mastered the art of opening things to truly understand what I'm buying and repackaging it back up like it was never opened), always coming face-to-face with a wall of shrink-wrapped slimy chicken feet delicacies (they're not pretty), and the thing that makes me want to run away is the beauty products section (like soap, shampoo, deodorant, face wash, etc.) because the supermarkets usually employ 10 times more sales girls to work the floor of the beauty section than is actually warranted and they swarm around you to try to 'help' you which means they are usually waving products in front of your face and quickly placing them in your shopping basket before you've even seen what it is let alone indicated that you want it, so I'm constantly taking things back out of my basket and putting them back on the shelves and trying to sneak away (which never works). It's pure claustrophobia.

I think the key is to walk briskly and look really focused, like you're on a serious mission and know exactly what you want. But overall it's an educational experience and it's fun to see all kinds of foods and products I've never seen before.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Haggling for coconuts

Tonight my Chinese/English study partner drove me around town on his electric bike making me speak Chinese to random fruit vendors. Such good practice!

We stopped and I haggled for a coconut, bought the coconut, and then drove around to 4 or 5 more fruit vendors haggling for coconuts but not buying any. It cracks me up that the vendors get so confused...they hear me ask in Chinese "How much does the coconut cost?" and they look at me funny because I'm holding a coconut, and they say in Chinese, "But you already have a coconut" instead of telling me the price. This happened several times. Well, why can't I buy more than one coconut??

Sidenote, it's also very scary how quickly they chop the outer shell off the coconuts in order to chop it down to size so they can poke a straw in it for you. I was very nervous watching the woman seemingly almost hack all of the fingers off her left hand. Yikes.

Learning Chinese: Trying everything and finding what works

I've really been neglecting my blog this month. I guess I overdid it in April with NaPoWriMo and making multiple posts per day. Instead of writing much poetry this month, I've been studying Chinese for hours every single day, and it's starting to pay off.

I think I mentioned before that I'm using a variety of methods or tools because I don't want to burn out or get bored. I downloaded all 3 phases of Pimsleur's Mandarin Chinese conversational lessons, which I highly recommend for learning how to speak standard Chinese. The entire package includes 3 phases with 30 lessons each, and each lesson is a half hour long. That's about 45 hours of lessons. I'm currently on Phase 2, Unit 4, which means I've completed about 17 hours, woo! I repeated a couple of lessons because I didn't speak everything correctly, so tack on a couple of hours for that.

I'm also reading children's books which is not only fun because I know the stories in English and can grasp the context easily, meaning I can better grasp how words and phrases translate, but it's also helping me understand my students at the kindergarten better since I'm reading at their level :)

I'm also speaking more Mandarin with my Chinese coworkers, and they are very kind to correct my pronunciations and grammar. They also teach me the more casual phrases so I don't sound so formal when making small talk with people.

Speaking of small talk, it's pretty much nonexistent in China from what I'm experiencing and from what the locals tell me. Well, it's not like the small talk a lot of westerners are used to. The most common thing I'm asked, no matter who I meet, bump into at the market, my neighbors, coworkers, anyone really, is… Have you eaten? They ask me this in Chinese (Ni chi le ma?) which sounds like "knee chur luh muh?"

When I receive phone calls from the couple of friends I've made here, I answer the phone "Hello?" and almost before I finish saying "Hello?" they ask me in English "Have you eaten?" And I learned early on that I should always answer "Yes." I used to answer "no" pretty often and people would give me a concerned look and sort of do one of those 'taken aback' inhales, kind of like a 'tsk tsk tsk' thing. Like I'm not taking care of myself well enough because I haven't eaten. I still wonder what timeframe they are really asking about. Maybe anytime within the past 24 hours? Not sure yet. I also wonder if they are really even asking about eating real food, or if it's the equivalent of asking "How are you?" And maybe by answering "no" it means I'm not doing well? Maybe someday I'll figure it out :)

Another thing I've started adding to my study program is listening to Chinese music. I have gone out karaoking with people a few times and it's a lot of fun, and pretty educational. When others sing the Chinese songs, I follow the Chinese characters on the screen. This is helping me learn how people pronounce words, and also helping me learn the characters. It's also helping me learn some of the pop culture-y way of speaking. And the bilingual people I'm with usually explain the songs to me in English so I can grasp what they mean.

I've also found some great websites for learning Chinese songs. I think I'll add another blogroll soon for all of my Chinese learning links. It should help me stay organized. There is so much information out there!

I also contacted Hainan University here to learn more about the Chinese proficiency exam, called HSK. It's the standard exam for people whose first language is not Chinese, and it's used as an entrance requirement for the universities here, and I hear employers sometimes use it as part of a job application. Luckily I have a job for now, but it couldn't hurt to pass this exam someday…something to have in my back pocket. The university sent me a link to the HSK resources website, and there are sample tests and study guides and a ton of downloads to keep me busy and truckin' right along.

Lastly, I've made an acquaintance who wants to study up on his English since his employer is going to be testing him again soon, so he said he would tutor me in Chinese in exchange for English tutoring. So we are meeting frequently to have English and Chinese speaking sessions.

I have been using most or all of these language learning methods on a daily basis, and it's working. I gain a teensie more confidence every single day, which keeps me motivated. And I'm not bored yet, in fact, the more I learn, speak and read, the more interested I become in the language and the culture. Hope I can keep up this momentum!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Summer Sijo

I envy this Summer rain storm, how it reaches all
simultaneously, stunning and illuminating -- resounding
presence, how it gives me context.

A poetry prompt from naming constellations.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hey babe

Hey babe it's been a long time now
It's so good to see you smilin'
With that mouth of fame and fancy
But those eyes, they look like cryin'

It's ok we all go through it
So we borrow someone's glory
While we plagiarize the plot line
Tryin' to write our own story

You still diggin' in a sandbox of cliches
I ask, which one you gonna play with today

Yeah we lived on the Pacific
On the edge of this great big world
Babe you made me feel terrific
But my heart was always at sea

You showed me how fast the world turns
When staring at the horizon
Something in my chest always burns
When the last sliver of sun slips

I was swimmin' in an ocean of cliches
You said, one of them's gonna drown you someday

I remember many mornings
Waking to your generous touch
Wish you were still undressin' me
Babe you always had the smooth hands

Sometimes I wonder what happened
But that's life, so they like to say
It's frightnin' how the years fly by
Until you see the light of day

We're livin' in a tired world of cliches
And we're wakin' up 'n strippin' them away

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My heart is a wax slab

My heart is a wax slab
I'm warming up to you
Tread softly, gentle stab
Your mark, it's overdue

I'm warming up to you
A will too bold to shake
Your mark, it's overdue
I'm so afraid to break

A will too bold to shake
My palms upon the floor
I'm so afraid to break
The silence come before

My palms upon the floor
I trust you'll let me hear
The silence come before
There's nothing left to fear

I trust you'll let me hear
Tread softly, gentle stab
There's nothing left to fear
My heart is a wax slab

A poetry prompt from Poetic Bloomings. An attempt at the pantoum poetry form.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I Remember

I remember the moment I witnessed
how shopping carts stack together.
Until that moment, when I saw
someone push a cart into another cart,
the metal flap raising like a secret door,
a chain of shopping carts was a complete mystery
to me. A single cart meant something entirely different
when it stood alone, before you pushed them together.
Sometimes I still feel this way
about words and sentences
and people

I remember what it was like to admire someone,
to harbor a profound respect,
to hold in such high esteem. Sometimes
I wonder where my heroes went, but I know
they're still there
then or now, sometimes I wonder
which is better

I remember things I shouldn't remember,
things I should have never known, things
no one should ever know. These are the things
that bring me to my knees, to laugh until I cry
or cry until I laugh, it works both ways
and to give thanks, for the impossibility of it all,
for a life unlike any other.

A poetry prompt from NaPoWriMo

Ramble on. A brain dump.

Something keeps bothering me…

Is there another word for dragonfly?

I could have sworn we called them something else as kids. I'm constantly surrounded by dragonflies here in China, which means I'm constantly questioning to myself, "Dangit, what did we call them?!" Oh well.

There's a particular path I walk along when I go on long walks or runs, and there are always swarms of dragonflies…hmm "swarms" sounds eerie and disturbing, which isn't right at all. What do you call a friendly gathering of dragonflies? A Dragonfly Sunday School? A Dragonfly Potluck? Anyway, these schools of dragonflies are beautiful and create a kind of peaceful feeling. (And they get bonus points for being mosquito-eaters.)

Yesterday on a long walk down the path around noon or so, the sun was directly overhead, and the dragonflies were out in full effect. They created the most beautiful and mesmerizing scene of shadows on the grass next to the brick path. I stopped, stood for awhile and stared at the tiny dragonfly shadows swirling all around.

…with bodies of silvery green sequins
and fairy dust, or so I imagine
if I could bring myself to look away
from their swift and spellbinding shadow play,
they zip through sweltering air of mid-day…

Today I went for a run along the same path, but didn't see nearly as many dragonflies. Instead, I was surprised by a tiny dog that came running up from behind me and then passed me and kept on running. I looked around but there was no one. Apparently I was the only one crazy enough to be out and about (and running no less) during the hottest part of the day. I do get strange looks from the people who ride by on scooters, because noon to 2 or 3pm is when most people take their naps. It's like the whole city shuts down for nap time. But in an effort to not hold myself hostage in my apartment because of the heat and humidity, I decided to start going out a little bit each day during the hottest times so I can get more acclimated to this weather. I think it's working! Anyway, the dog…

I caught up with the lil guy after awhile. He had stopped to drink from a puddle on the side of the path. I stopped to chat with him for a minute, and to take a breather to keep myself from bursting into flames. And during our chat, he extended his front legs down into the puddle (it was a small puddle circumference-wise, but pretty deep) and cooled off his dog belly. I was like wow dog, that's the smartest thing I've seen all day. Then I bent down to feel the water, and it was HOT. Like hot, hot. Not just warm. This place is nuts! Speaking of hot water, it's usually a challenge for me to finish my walk or run before my once-cool bottle of water turns too-hot-to-drink.

I just looked at today's weather, and during the time I went for the run it says the temperature was 95 degrees fahrenheit with 80% humidity. Hmm, maybe I'll rethink this mid-day exercise thing.

I also had to cut today's run short due to some pretty bad foot pain. I hurt my left foot the other day at the gym, at least I think it was at the gym, and I tried to rest it somewhat since then. I definitely overestimated its recovery today. It hurts worse now than it did before. I never claimed to be brilliant. I think it was injured at the gym when running barefoot on the hardwood floors. Running barefoot on a hard surface is a new thing for me, so my body is still getting used to it. It's part of the warmup the boxing teachers have me do before they give me boxing drills to work on. I haven't been to the gym since Sunday, and the people there ask me in Chinese "You come tomorrow?" each time, and I said yes and now I haven't been there in two days. And I don't really know if I should be contacting anyone (not that I even know any phone numbers) to let them know I won't be showing up since we don't really have set appointments. I just show up and we work out. Maybe "You come tomorrow?" is their way of setting an appointment? I wonder if it's ok to be flaky here like it is in the US? :) I think I'll stop by there tomorrow to check in and maybe do some weights, or non-foot related exercises.

Speaking of this gym, the people there are so incredibly friendly and helpful. They even gave me a used pair of boxing gloves as a gift, which is great for a newbie like me. I can try 'em out without having to run out and buy some, especially since this is a new sport for me. They also gifted me a brand new pair of the wraps that go around your hands before putting them in the gloves. They're really long canvas-strap-like material. They even gave me a lesson on how to properly wrap my hands. They don't have me punching anything yet…still punching the air…but I have a feeling it's coming soon! The've taught me a series of punches and footwork but I have no idea what the proper names of the moves are (outside of what I've heard them called in Rocky and Million Dollar Baby!), because my boxing teachers know that I don't speak much Chinese yet, so they just demonstrate the movements and make me follow along until they're satisfied that I'm doing them correctly. They speak entirely in Chinese, but they do use the English word "no" a lot :)

I started doing my favorite yoga routine again recently after not doing it for about a year. It's a DVD called "Yoga Conditioning For Weightloss" that I've been doing on and off for over ten years now, and after slacking off for ages, I'm already starting to feel stronger again. I've tried a lot of yoga DVDs and classes over the years, and this routine suits me really well. I'm already noticing the flexibility and muscle tone coming back. And it just feels so darn good and makes for a great start to the day. I can do most of the routine with my bum foot, so that's a plus.

Hmm, what else is new.

Today I finished a book that I've been savoring since February, meaning, I didn't want it to end so I purposely only read a little bit at a time and tried to stretch it out as long as possible. It's by the philosopher Heidegger and it's called "The Essence Of Truth". It's basically a series of lectures he wrote in the 1930s that an editor compiled and translated. It made my head spin more than any other book I've ever read. And I'm going to read it again, maybe later this year, to make sure I really grasped it and can fully absorb everything he intended. I love how philosophy and poetry go hand in hand…there's a lot of great inspiration in this book. I wrote one poem for NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) last month that was inspired by something he presented in the book. ----- A Lecture From Heidegger

Speaking of NaPoWriMo, it's the reason why I had an urge to sit down and ramble out a big long blog post this evening. For the entire month of April I focused mostly on posting poetry here. The goal was to write 30 poems in 30 days, but I ended up with over 70 (if you count every single little itty bitty teensie weensie terrible one), hooray! I plan to keep writing and hopefully trying to improve, if I can muster up the patience involved in such an endeavor!

So what's the goal for May? Well I am diving face first into Chinese. Full blast. Full speed ahead. Take no prisoners.

I've been picking up bits and pieces since moving here in February, but it's been slow going for the most part. I feel like I should be able to communicate a bit better by now. I bought a few children's books the other day and am already noticing a big improvement…in just 3 days! Very exciting, very motivating. It's just an all around interesting language. It just seems so dang complex due to the tones, the characters, the same word meaning SO MANY DIFFERENT THINGS. The list goes on. I did accidentally make myself laugh the other day when I was studying. I came across the Chinese character for "love" and thinking that it should be much simpler I immediately said out loud to myself "wow, love is complicated!"… then I died laughing with myself for a moment after realizing how so very wise I just accidentally was.