Monday, December 20, 2010

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful-

But here in O'hare International airport at least I'm not getting kicked out at 2 am.

I was supposed to get into Omaha three hours ago. Unfortunately it started snowing big American-sizey snowflakes around the time we touched down, and an hour after I was supposed to leave, my flight got cancelled.

Dude, I kid you not. At one time I had really good travel karma. No idea what's become of it.

So I was forced to buy Oingo-Boingo credit, forced to scour the airport for tampons and a USB plug (uhhhh, for two completely different reasons, and am now about to go see if macca's here has Reese's McFlurries on offer at 1:30 in the a.m. Because, you know, when in Rome, right?

Remember a few weeks back, that comment I made about quaint little places? >sigh< Yep.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Oh. Boy. Where do I even start with this? This is what happens when time picks up.

So about a month ago our Chinese principal tells me I have to make Christmas crafts for the charity bazaar that takes place during the school's pre-holiday extravaganza, and that I have to decorate the stage for the Christmas program. I - calmly and politely - protested that a month wasn't enough time for me. She - calmly and politely - informed me that the old art teacher didn't find this to be a problem so maybe I had been a poor choice for the position. I said that I'd get it all done, but that I didn't appreciate being told things at the last moment.

Yes. One month's warning is the last moment when it involves small children you see once a week making cutesy crafts.

Two weeks later, the coordinator in charge of the dog and pony show...errr...the extravaganza...comes and tells me I'm supposed to head up the parents' committee for decorating the whole school, as well. I - somewhat more forcefully than with the principal - inform her that I had more than enough to be getting on with at the moment. She once again lobbed back, "Well, the OLD art teacher didn't have a problem with it." My friendly neighborhood music teacher was standing by when this conversation took place, and she held me back from throttling said coordinator with the promise of talking to the Western principal about it. I went up to my classroom with steam streaming out my ears, and decided that I'd better have a look at my predecessor's schedule. And what I found was that SHE had been given four hours a week in her timetable dedicated to putting up displays. Yup. So I emailed a copy of this very enlightening document to the Western head and said, "Look, I know Music is talking to you - just so's you know, this was the schedule for last year, and I'll be more than happy to do whatever you want as long as it's not more than fair." And that is how Jo-Jo the Chinese/Art teacher got landed with it. And why the stage looks nice and the school looks like crap. Maybe next year I won't have to teach ESL and the school can look nice, too.

Two weeks later now, the stage is decorated, the crafts are as done as they can be, the art display (the only bit I knew I was responsible for a month ago) is up, my belly dancers have done their bit at the after-school concert (and they were SO good, I was really proud of them), and I've attended the bloody staff dinner.

Oh yes, the staff dinner. Pain. So much pain.

Don't get me wrong. I like my coworkers. Mostly. On the other hand, I don't go looking to spend time with most of them, most of the time. But we were basically told that it wasn't exactly optional, and I ditched the last one, so I cowgirled up and waited the half hour for the bus to come and take us into Xujiahui where we had a reservation at a Xinjiang-style restaurant. I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, but on the other hand, some of them WERE, in fact, the people I DO spend non-paid time with, and Xinjiang is the Muslim quarter of China, and I was curious what the food would be like. So it couldn't be too bad, right?

Yeah, actually, it could. Cause as we're pulling up to the restaurant someone mentions that our secondary campus was there, too - and this place doesn't look that big. We go downstairs and there are a few seats randomly scattered around the room - and the people I was hoping to sit with ended up scattered at different tables, while I was given the choice between sitting with two of my colleagues that I don't dislike but would rather poke out my eyes than make small talk with...or a table of secondary people that I've never met...Oh, no - wait! It turns out I HAD actually met one of them before. I thought at the time he looked familiar but for the life of me I couldn't figure out where I'd met him. Well, when I talked to Socrates, he tells me that his friend mentioned he'd sat next to me (I met this friend all of once, on a night when I was in just about as good a mood).

At any rate, I chose to sit with the people I didn't know. Yeah, awkward, right? My reasoning was that if I sat with my colleagues, I would have to make small talk and pretend to listen while my mind engaged in other business. With the total strangers, I could get out my iPod and read, and hopefully come down out of my temper. Or I could if people would quit trying to convince me to go sit with people I don't care for (which they did....eventually). So I sat down, said hi, and indicated that I would be playing the part of antisocial bitch for the evening, nothing personal.

Dad, if you're reading this one...try not to worry. I've managed to mostly succeed in life, in spite of my abrasive tendencies.

So - by this time it is around 5:45, and having had nothing more for lunch than cookies, I am getting pretty hungry. It was a half-hour before any food finds its way to the table, although there was a liter bottle of coke on the table which I proceeded to empty over the next hour and a half. Finally, the food began to come, and it was actually really good. Well, most of it - I don't eat seafood no matter what cuisine cooks it. And, as I've been told, it has a lot of similarities with Arabic cooking - although I think this was MUCH more flavorful - including the prolific use of lamb. Lamb's not my favorite meat, but I'm down with it...or at least, I am until they cart it out, roasted and whole, up to and including eyeballs and teeth, making a "Baaaaa!" noise. Eurgh! I mean. EURGH! I'm-not-a-child-I-grew-up-on-a-farm-I-know-perfectly-well-where-meat-comes-from-and-I-believe-if-God-hadn't-meant-for-us-to-eat-animals-he-wouldn't-have-made-them-so-delicious-but-I'm-sorry-I-do-NOT-want-to-see-the-face-of-my-murder-tasty-tasty-murder-victim-thank-you-very-much!!!!!!!

>gasp<

Yeah. So. Food good. I also noted, on my way in, that the wall had an image of a woman wrapped up in Isis wings, and the possibility that this restaurant might have a dancer was one of the reasons that I didn't leave when things started looking tedious (also, as I said, I was hungry, and figured if I had to cab home I might as well get something for my money). When the "stage" lighting came on, I found Giancarlo was back in my pocket and I was looking up before I became aware of what I'd just done. Two ladies and a man, all three of whom looked Persian to me (possibly because they were dressed in the costume that I've come to associate with Persian folk dance, although I don't know the style well enough to be sure), came out and started to dance, and I found that I was happy to be there. Even more so when the girls came back separately to "belly dance" for us. They were pretty okay - I've seen excellent dancers...hell, I've LEARNED from excellent dancers...and excellence is great, but the real show-stopper was when one went dancing up to our wee Irish principal, and dragged him out onto the floor. He's a great sport, and a fine comedian; I thought I'd bust a rib when she dropped to the floor and he kinda wobbled his way down to one knee! The next set saw her pulling -

Oh, I don't have a nickname for this guy! I'll call him Bilbo, cause he's about as tall as a hobbit, but isn't cool enough to be Frodo. A guy as short as Bilbo has only two options in how to live his life, and he chose the enlightened path. This guy does yoga and reads books on how to be a better man while cooking gourmet food for his Chinese girlfriend (cliche, he knows, but when you're that short, you have limited options and a Filipina would make him feel cheap and uneducated!) He's just so bloody earnest in all that he does, it's fricking annoying! Anyways, he was standing on the sidelines aching to bust a move when she pulled him out. Enlightened as he may be, he has no CLUE that when a belly dancer takes you out on the floor, the only expectation we have of you is that you bop along idiotically beside her for a couple moments - possibly mimicking some of her moves with nowhere NEAR her grace - before slinking back to your seat as soon as you can manage (embarassed and yet secretly pleased because YOU danced with a belly dancer). Oh no. He actually danced with her - twirling her over and over, or trying, because with her heels she was about four inches taller than him. And after his fifteen seconds of fame were over, he didn't slink back to his seat, but stood on the sidelines, so she pulled him back out, not once, but twice. It was so awkward to watch that it was painful.

Anyways, that was the staff dinner, and now it's over, and tomorrow, so will this week and school, too, at least until January. Shanghai is freezing, finally, I guess. Yesterday just past noon it started snowing. The kids went wild. I even got a little excited, until I realized that if it REALLY got going Socrates might not be the only one spending the holidays in Shanghai. I finally worked up some enthusiasm for the whole "home for the holidays" thing, as my darling Glamwhore will be in town, hopefully so will my niece, and Babysis invited me to go to the movies with her and a friend next Tuesday. Also - deodorant. I ran out last week, and rather than buying whatever I can get my hands on here, I'm just going without until I get back to the states. It really isn't as disgusting as it seems...well, not if you have good hygiene and don't eat too much garlic...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Half the Fun???

Whoever said getting there is half the fun needs to be drug out into the street and shot. Seriously.

Socrates, having been unceremoniously given the boot by the bastards at his school, managed to procure work temporarily at a school up the tracks in scenic Suzhou - VENICE OF THE EAST! I've been a bit miffed about it because it's left me largely without a walking buddy, but you gotta do what you gotta do. To make up for it, he invited me to come up and visit this weekend, so Friday I packed my stuff and headed up to the train station. I bought my tickets earlier in the week while my bike chain was being prepared. I didn't go to the station; it just so happens that there is a very handy little ticket office on Hongmei St. So I walked in, showed the lady a calendar, indicated the days that I wanted to go to Suzhou and come back, and what times, and she sold me my tickets. Easy cheesy.

On the other hand, I show up at the train station, and I look for the train number and time on my ticket, and it's not listed. I fight my way through the station, to information, and they inform me that the woman at the ticket office has sold me tickets for Shanghai station, rather than Hongqiao. My bad, I'm sure, for assuming that since I was physically IN Hongqiao at the ticket office that they would assume that was the station I wanted to begin and end at. Oh well, 20 minutes of my life later I had exchanged them for the correct tickets, texted Socrates to let him know I would be two hours later than originally anticipated, and found the Subway in the downstairs shopping area to kill some time (and 30 of my last yuan) in.

The train was fast, clean, and comfy. I have no complaints about the train. But when it pulled into Suzhou station, my life became complicated again. See, there's not a whole lot of guidance to get to the taxi stand, and once you do, you have the opportunity to be stared at and approached by beggars while you wait. Or at least I did. I'm sorry, little Chinese girl with the funny hands, but I teach your kind all week. Your adorableness has no effect on me. I was ready for the communication gap when I finally did get a taxi - I had the address Socrates gave me in Chinese up on my iPod's email - but the smell was none-too-pleasant, and when I texted Socrates to let him know I was on my way, my phone wouldn't send it. Crap. It also wouldn't let me call him. Double crap. But when we got to the business he told me to go to, I thought, "No worries, I'll pop in and use their phone"...only when I did, their landline wouldn't call his Shanghai mobile number. Triple crap. So what's a girl to do? Well, folks, this ain't my first rodeo. I pulled out my iTouch, found an unsecured wireless network, and emailed my partner in crime. For a lot of people, this might not work, but Socrates is the proud owner of an iPhone which (sometimes annoyingly) notifies him every time he gets an email. So two minutes later I got a reply that he was on his way. Problem solved.

Now, writing about all of this two days later, I have gained the proper perspective. I'm proud of my resourcefulness and can laugh at the comedy of errors that took place Friday night. However, when Socrates showed up at the rendezvous, he did not find a particularly happy camper. In fact, I had that feeling I always got when I went on one of my little adventures outside of Seoul, back in the days when I at least knew some of the language; ie, the feeling of WHY THE HELL DO I EVER LEAVE THE CITY?!?! I was also pissed off because people do this to me a lot. A LOT. "Right. When you get into the (airport, train station, bus station, etc) get the (taxi, train, bus, etc) until you get to (landmark) and give me a call." Being competent is a pain in the ass sometimes. On the other hand, if people coddled me the way I do anyone who comes to me, I'd probably get offended, so I guess there's no way to win.

Right.

Well, we went out for a few drinks once I'd finally calmed down, and had a reasonably early night. I went for a wander while he was doing job search stuff, and saw some of scenic Suzhou on foot by daylight, coming to the conclusion that it was not so bad, after all. That afternoon we saw Suzhou's Coiled Gate (which may be the last land and water city gate in all of China) and climbed up a pagoda (invoking fond memories of the Eiffel Tower and a reflection on the value for price of the two), and paid 15 kuai each to shoot crappy arrows with a crappy bow at targets that were way too close...which was enjoyable nonetheless. Later we met some of his colleagues and went to a rock (punk???) show at a youth hostel that involved a lot of screaming and a wee bit of talent, before hanging out at a place closer to home where I made a new friend. Suzhou touts itself as the Venice of the East - it is pretty enough, and full of beautiful places to see (more of which I will hopefully see next time I go, maybe I'll even rent a bike for the day), but comparing it to Venice it probably going a little far (as Socrates pointed out, "For starters, it's not sinking.")

Hmm. Shouldn't have mentioned Venice...now I'm wishing I was there. Oh well, two more weeks of playing Santa's workshop (actually, I might have misspelled something there...) and I'll be home for the holidays.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Doctor Who as a Metaphor for Life

There are so many things I could address in this blog. I could address our fat idiot of a principal threatening me. I could address the fact that Yew Chung eats your soul, even when you don't work there. I could tell you about the old Chinese man shuffling down the street backwards in his brand-new Converse All-Stars this morning on my way to church. But I'd rather talk about Doctor Who.

A significant number of people who have come into my life in the last six years have been Doctor Who fans, and this spring I decided to give it a try. I liked it alright, enough to watch two seasons, and enough to get excited and set the recorder when I found it on BBC America this summer, but it wasn't until a week and a half ago that I decided to start season three. It and four (which I'm halfway through after starting this morning) have been amazing. Why? Okay, I gotta say, I love the whole traveler of time and space thing - repeatedly the Doctor is asked what he does, and he replies, "Travel." That's kind of my life! But what's really doing it for me is the heroines from these two seasons. Don't get me wrong - I liked Rose, I liked what I saw of Amy, but they don't have the flaws that give Martha and Donna meaning. Or their strengths - I love the fact that after a season of pining over the Doctor Martha says, "Look. Enough of this. I'm getting out and moving on." Who has that kind of strength? And Donna, who we meet at the beginning of season three - she's kind of a loudmouthed idiot, but she helps save the world and, more to the point, pulls the Doctor back from the edge that he currently puts himself out on, then says, "You know what? No. Not going with you - ya kinda scare me." She comes to regret that decision, and by the time you see her again at the beginning of season four, she seems like a totally different person. Still a loudmouth, but more with it, more willing to embrace the world, even when it scares her, and still able to help the Doctor remember what makes him who he is.

I kinda want those qualities for myself.

I also love the fact that this show leaves you with that feeling that anything is possible. I don't mean aliens or time travel, but the little miracles of finding your strength, of moving forward and reaching for what you want.

It's November 21, 2010. I've been in Shanghai for three months and eleven days. In that time I've lost some weight - not sure how much, as it's been a while since I last hit the sauna - made some friends, and become a more driven teacher. But I've kind of been holding back. There's so much more I want to do - I want to belly dance again, not just practice but perform, in the body I had when I lived in Korea. I want to write and illustrate my book - I haven't even touched it in almost two months. I want a closer relationship with God. I realized today that the way I feel about one of my friends, who doesn't seem to really care about me unless I'm needed is probably the way I make Heavenly Father feel, even being the patient, omnipotent deity that he is. When I get home from school, there's not much dance in me, or much art for that matter, and let me tell you about how much I feel like hanging out with Mormons for three hours on the other side of town, let alone throughout the week. But I've been that version of myself before, on all three counts, and so it MUST be possible to be me again. And watching impossible things like Doctor Who makes me believe, somehow, that I will.

That's all I have to say, I guess. Except that I wish - OH, how I wish - that the weekends were just one day longer. I could really use another day.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Honeymoon's Over

So, I've been in Shanghai for three months now. In my experience, this is about when the whole, "ooh-I'm-living-in-a-foreign-land-kinda-like-on-vacation" period ends, and the reality sets in. In other words: the honeymoon's over.

But actually, I'm not sure I even feel that honeymoon period anymore. Maybe I'm just jaded, but picking up and moving to Shanghai hasn't been that exciting. Like any place where the majority don't speak your mother tongue, there are challenges, and like any international school, there are quirks, but on the whole it is, as they say here in Asia, "Same-same, but different." Same s-h-you-know-what, different toilet (in this case, one over which you squat, and which no longer comes with a hose attachment). I mean, Shanghai is basically a big city, and no matter where you go, big cities operate about the same way. It is modern and fairly clean, has subways and buses, and all sorts of foreign foods and shopping. It's not hard to adjust, under the circumstances, and I've gotten pretty used to communication gaps and being stared at, and the culture shock has quietly eased during my last two adventures.

In fact, if anything, I feel like I'm hitting my stride right now. I've gotten used to the pressure and angle the school uses when they jerk me around, and because this is my second PYP school, I can anticipate some of the things they're going to ask me to do. I'm getting over that awkward period you go through with new friends, and things are normalizing with old friends. I've found a good dance teacher. So maybe the honeymoon's over, but I'm sure the honeymoon gets boring eventually, and the mark of a good life is being happy to be home, and I guess I am.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pounding Pavements

This is the seventh night Socrates and I have gone walking since last Monday.

Our whole walking thing was a lot more convenient when he was living upstairs from me. The only effort required was one of us phoning the other and suggesting it. (This was not the only convenient thing about being neighbors - it was easier to convince him to bring his movies down to watch on the projector when it was a matter of taking the stairs rather than a taxi. Oh well). Now one of us has to go across town to meet the other. One of us being me. Don't go hating on him, though...I volunteered for it, and not just because I am so selfless that I will go all the way across town just to be sure he gets his exercise. Partly it's because I want the extra exercise of riding my bike over to his place, partly because I eat dinner over there every other night or so, anyways, and partly because afterwards I can stop at Coldstone's, if I'm feeling it. Okay, maybe the trip to Coldstone's negates some of the positive effects of walking for one and a half or two hours...but then, since I rode my bike over and back, I reckon I'm still ahead of the game.

And yes, I said one and a half or two hours. We never walked that long in RAK. Usually we made it forty minutes back then. Of course, there really wasn't anywhere to go in Ras al Khaimah. No sidewalks. Sand in your sneakers. Assholes driving up and ogling you. None of that's a problem here (okay, actually I get stared at quite a bit but I've just accepted that as a fact of my expat life, and I don't mind it when Asians do it), and there are endless tree-lined streets to beat. We've wandered the streets north of his place. We've wandered them all the way to my place. We've even wandered ones that we didn't know the destination of and, thus, ended up getting turned around to the point that neither of us were quite sure of where we were. It was fun...well, up to the point where he had a hypoglycemic episode on the ring road without a convenience store in sight. That was a little scary...as he was swearing and talking to himself about where the next convenience store was, I was having visions of carrying him piggyback up to the walking street (and so yesterday I stuck a pack of candies in my purse just to be safe, tonight he carried a can of coke).

Is it a pain in the ass? A bit. I haven't had the time/energy to work on Kashmir in a week and a half. But I'm enjoying the time with him, and I'm REALLY enjoying the fact that my clothes fit better - whether it's from the walking, or just plain old Asian magic, I can't wait til the next time I weigh in at the sauna!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Blind Man's Massage

Note: Nothing at all like Blind Man's Bluff.

So I met up with Audrey this afternoon to use the vouchers we got from the speed dating night. I couldn't actually find my voucher in the end, so instead of going to the posh spa that we originally intended to go to, we went to a massage parlor that she had been to before. Where 90% of the masseurs were blind.

Yeah. When she told me that I went, "Whoa. Really?" But it makes sense, right? Your other senses are supposed to be stronger to compensate for the lack of sight, so you'd think a blind masseur would be better than a sighted one, that they would be more finely tuned to what they're feeling. And honestly, I can't complain - it was a really good massage, and I don't particularly care for massages. And it was cheap (they are, here), only about $15 for a back and foot massage. But the best part was when the guy who was doing her feet figured out I was American and started telling me (through Audrey) that he LOVES American basketball. He knew all the teams and all the players. It was fun.

And then afterwards I spent a half hour trying to catch a cab in the rain. I learned that it is not always possible to intimidate someone into NOT stealing your cab - this morning when I yelled at the guys doing it, they backed off, but this evening the bastard ran for it. Who says chivalry is dead? Thank goodness I am home in my flannel jammies and supersoft fuzzy Korean socks. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't leave the house tonight for love OR money!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Shanghai American

You've gotta understand something. For the last year, I've mostly associated with Brits. I'm not going to lie and say I haven't enjoyed it, because I have (mostly) - normally I can figure out what they're talking about and I quite like their dry sense of humor - but there are times when I've felt a little outnumbered, and even though I know what THEY are talking about, the reverse often proves not to be true (how can you not know what a cougar is? Or how to teabag?) A typical Friday-Thursday in RAK would be me, Socrates, our married friends, and the school drunk...who are ALL British, and actually all of whom have degrees in one science or another, so while they were nerding out on things like gravity I sometimes found myself wishing for someone who would understand why the joke about Toulouse-Lautrec and the prostitutes* was funny.

Oh, how the tables have turned! Last night was myself, Socrates, and two musicians from Minneapolis. It was nice to have someone laugh at my "your mom" jokes and to not have to translate. I could get used to this!

We went to see them play last week - they had a gig at one of the restaurants on Hongmei walking street. This is the "scene" in Hongqiao/Gubei, if indeed such a thing exists. You can get just about any kind of food on this street - Mexican, Indian, Thai, Japanese...not Korean, actually, but I've got enough of those on my street - and there are plenty of bars as well, many of which have life music. It's also a little artificial, as this is whitey central and you will bump into any foreigner in the area, if you wait long enough. Michael plays guitar and Joann plays cello and they both sing, so it was quite different from the electronic shit we suffered through (for all of ten minutes) the week before.

Before we went out last night I needed to make a run to the bank and Carrefour. The bank closes at five and I didn't want to waste money on a cab, so as soon as we were allowed to leave school I was off like a rocket. Uhh. A bicycle-powered rocket. In fact, I was in such a hurry that I ran over someone. Yep. Well, he wasn't at the crosswalk and he was crossing against the stoplights, so what did he expect? It could have been worse - I only hit him because he hesitated and I slowed down, so it was not enough to throw me from my bike or get more than his foot. If you're thinking that this did ANYTHING to the way I ride, the answer is no. I continued weaving in and out of the traffic like a drunken bat out of hell, and in fact, discovered that it is just as fast to pedal to the intersection of Yan'an and Hongmei roads...one of the families I teach left the school at the same time I did, and we kept passing each other, which the kids thought was pretty hilarious. I lost them at Hongmei.

Anyways, I made it to the bank, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I had a LOT of money left (possibly enough to afford that spontaneous trip to Beijing my partner in crime suggested last weekend), and went to Carrefour, where I wandered for a half-hour before I remembered what I wanted (as I was next in the checkout line...grr) - a mosquito plug-in. I am declaring mosquito jihad on the little bastards as they've kept me up twice this week. I always found it a little troubling when my Dark Lord and Master used to set them on fire while we sat on the smokers' deck at GDA talking, but after two months in Shanghai, I've learned. I am still trying to figure out what else to do to take the fight to them - for now, decorating the stairwell in the gym with their splattered bodies and getting a good night's sleep is enough. But I'll keep you updated.



*Q: What did Toulouse-Lautrec used to say to the prostitutes at the Moulin Rouge?
A: Got time for a short one? Get it?!?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Capital Improvements

I know the truth about the size of my body (how can you not, when you've been half-clad and shared a stage with Asian girls on more than one occasion?), but I've managed to put my insecurities far enough aside to get on with life. I do have insecurities, but in spite of being surrounded by girls the size of chopsticks, Korea did a lot for my self image. I could, for example, eat whatever I liked and still lose weight. There was also the fact that I worked for a man who was NOT one to spare your feelings, and when one night at the Beer Halle my Dark Lord and Master told me I was NOT a "big girl," I had to believe it.

And then I went back to America and gained 50 pounds. Life hasn't been the same since, so it was not a complete surprise when a person of my acquaintance called me - not too terribly long ago - a big girl. Still, I'm as human as any of you, so as you can guess, the insecurities were thrust back into the limelight, and now I find myself scrutinizing when I walk past a mirror.

What can you do? Well, I'll tell you what you can do. You can give up pop. Again. (Third time's the charm, right???) And I have - it's been a week since my last soda. You can stop eating chocolate bars for brekke and start eating two nice eggs with a little salsa for flavor (again). Okay, go ahead and laugh, tell me that of COURSE I've got some wobbly bits if I eat chocolate for breakfast, but it's been a staple of my diet. Ask any teacher from GDA between 2004-2008 about the Rebecca Teacher diet and they will tell you snickers and coke are breakfast foods (as I said before, I can eat whatever I want in Korea). But the fact of the matter is, I'm 31 years old now. Although at the rate my life is going I should have lived enough that I'm ready to die by the time I'm 60, I probably will not (as has been pointed out to me...I don't drink, smoke, do drugs or engage in other risky behaviors). And I don't want to be crippled and unable to enjoy sweets guilt-free if I do. Thus the changes.

I've been biking a lot this week, as well, but since most of those bike rides involved a stop at Coldstone's, the positive effect is kind of negated. And last night I went for yet another belly dance class. I've actually been to three teachers' classes now - a week after QiQi's performance class I went to the beginner class taught by Julia (pronounced Yu-lia), who is Ukrainian. She figured out at some point during the class that I was not, in fact, a beginner, and afterwards asked me how long I'd been dancing before suggesting that the following class with Tanya might be better suited to my level. This was the plan all along, so last night I finally (due to holidays and vacation) made it to her class. She's another Ukrainian if I'm not mistaken, and I've got to admit, I was not expecting to be impressed with any former Eastern bloc dancers. What can I say - I lived in the middle east, and except for Katia of Cairo, I've never seen a Russian dancer that was a dancer. If you get my drift. I still don't quite understand what they're doing here, but both Julia and Tanya were pretty decent teachers; whether or not they know all the fascinating cultural stuff that Azhaar knows, they can dance, that's for damn sure. Hell, Tanya put me through my paces so well last night that I've been sore all morning. And it's good to feel it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ramblings

It's never a good sign when you find yourself missing the hagwon (private English academy) business. Hagwon owners are dirty bastards who will sell their own mothers. And yet...there's something comforting about the predictability with which you get screwed over. I had this conversation with my own Dark Lord and Master just a week ago - and now I find myself echoing his sentiments. It's probably not hagwons I miss; it's him, and B, and the comfortable safety of GDA, which, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists. But all the same, on this day which found me catching curveballs before 8 a.m., a very large part of me was wishing I HAD walked to the English academy up the street and got me a job, bidding China a fond "zai jian!"

I don't really have anything important to say tonight, just snippets of memories from the last week. Like the importance of A Well-Placed Word, in this case, "chu-go-llae." I was trying to snag a cab to Bundang on Thursday, and some ahjjusshis (old men) on the other side of the street crossed over to MY side to steal the cab that was slowing down for me. I yelled out in frustration, and they looked at me as if to say, "Oh well, next time," as they climbed in the cab. I then shouted, "Chu-go-llae?" at them, it being the first thing that popped into my head. Now why the Korean words for "Do you want to die?" should spring so readily to my lips boggles the mind, I know, but it did, and whether they actually felt intimidated by a buxom ginger or because they were so amused by a whitey shouting death threats, I don't know, but it did the trick. They got out of the cab and sent it to me.

Then there are Things You Never Knew About People. Specifically, the fact that a former coworker whom I will not name used to do editorial work on erotic fiction (until the technicality of it got tedious and they started getting headaches trying to figure out whose fingers were in which orifice). How cool is that?!?

Also, Conversations You Can't Understand and Wish Would End. Emily asked me if I would go to the sauna with her, knowing how much I loved a nice long soak in a tub with staring ajjummas (old ladies), and I readily agreed (I've said it before, and I'll say it again, nothing says friendship like getting naked in a bathhouse together). We found one across the main drag of their neighborhood, and went there, and enjoyed ourselves immensely, even if it was a little ghetto by Bundang standards. Well, we decided to go for the hot room (after freezing our nipples off in the cold bath), and had settled in when an ajjumma decided to strike up a conversation with us. Except she didn't speak any English, and Emily's Korean makes mine look advanced. So I fumbled through, responding to her "O-di-yo"s with "America," then "Korea and China," then "hagwon and wei-guk-en hakyo (foreign school)," before she started babbling about something that I couldn't figure out, and since she wouldn't shut up Emily and I decided it was time to go back into the bath. Escape is always a good option.

A year back I wrote about how I was strong enough to go back to RAK, in spite of the fact that I was still finding my feet, and that when I began this life five years ago, I don't know if I could. It was Korea, all those years ago, and now I find myself longing for it so much - cross at being here. Being there I felt whole - I'd left my partner-in-crime here, and some friends that I have a feeling I will become quite close to, and yet, I didn't feel their loss like a huge gaping hole in my heart. So who knows - maybe after I finish my contract at my current school I'll be able to get back there.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Annyeong!

I’m sitting on the bus on my way back to Incheon writing this. It seems unreal that I’m already leaving; one week was not long enough to revisit all the places and people and foods I’ve been dreaming about for the last two years. Part of me is going, “But….but….you could get a job here today. You could walk into the hagwon (English academy) up the street and tell them you’re looking for a job and not have to leave.” Don’t I know it? But there are reasons why I left the ESL industry two years ago, and there are reasons I’ll be happy to be back in Shanghai, and a flight from Shanghai to Seoul CAN be relatively cheap and painless.

“Can” being the operative word there. Thank goodness I don’t have the same flight plan going back as I did coming here. Now doesn’t seem the time to go into THAT disaster; suffice it to say that you shouldn’t plan on staying overnight in a small provincial airport, just in case it isn’t – you know – open overnight.

‘Nuff said.

I told you about seeing friends, and I told you about Penis Park, and I’m not sure what else I should write. I still kind of maintain that just have to experience it to know. I got up each morning and walked to work with Emily, breathing in the “fresh” morning air, walking along the streets of Gangdong and exploring little alleys. I ate galbi (Korean barbecue) and dalkgalbi (spicy fried chicken and cabbage) and tons of little dishes made of tofu and my favorite street foods. Seoul has this great, lived-in feel about it. Dubai didn’t have it because everything’s been built in the last ten years…and sometimes Shanghai has a little too much of it. And it’s gotten even better since I left – they now have 50,000 won notes (before the biggest note was equivalent to about $10, which makes for a pretty fat wallet when you take $300 out of the ATM), AND they have cherry coke and Taco Bell now (I saw the Taco Bell with my own eyes, but I was on my way to Chili Chili Taco, down the street from Noksapyeong – Seoul’s original burrito shop and home of some good looking young burrito artists). Emily took me walking along the Han River with it all lit up at night, and yesterday I walked around the lake at Yuldong Park, and got teary eyed to see Korean anklebiters running around their teacher shrieking at each other in their little voices.

I didn’t go to GDA, though. Some of my last students are there, apparently, but it wouldn’t be the same – and I’m not sure they would even let me in. Nobody’s left from my days there, and apparently they’ve tightened up security since the days when any old looney from the Uber School (a neighboring preschool) could walk in and offer us legal support…

Then I had my lesson with Belynda, but only for an hour, because I didn’t read her directions and went all the way across town from where I was supposed to be. Oops. Just like old times…err…except for the fact that there’s a lot more of me to jiggle when I go into a shimmy. Unfortunately. We did the chunk of “Kashmir” between the intro and what I think of as a taqsim and she considers a drum solo, so when I’ve got those two bits figured out, I’ll have half a choreography. I’ve got half a costume at the moment – the bus ride to Samcheok gave me plenty of time for sewing – and maybe by the time I get the whole thing together I’ll have half a body as well.

A girl can hope.

Then I went BACK to Bundang (like a typical weekend in the old days, traversing the city twice) to see my Dark Lord and his family, hoping that his business trip had fallen through so that I wouldn’t be the only adult speaking English…and it had! I met Jung-Hwa and Michelle at the place formerly known as Samsung Plaza, and later my Master made it home (luckily – because Michelle was so worn out from her midterms that she crashed after we got home).

And that was it – my last night in Korea. Around 10 he took me back to the subway and we said goodbye and I started the long haul back up to Mark and Em’s, where I sat up til past one, tired, but not wanting to waste precious time in sleep. (Sleep? I can sleep when I’m dead.) And so annyeong for now to Gangnam, to Itaewon, and Namsan and Seoul Tower, goodbye to the Han and the 63 building. Goodbye my wonderfully irritating people, pushing ajjummas and spitting ahjjusshis and screaming children. Sarang-heyo ~ I love you all!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Phall- Play

You'd think, living in a fairly small country for three years and being fairly active that I would have seen all the places I meant to before my grand departure two years back. Not so. There are actually quite a few things I never got around to, and this trip presented an opportunity to rectify at least one of them. But first...a little story...

(Be warned - this tale is not for the faint of heart or prudish of mind.)

So, long ago, in the days when people wore folk dress because it was what they wore and not because it was a special occasion, a young woman drowned in the East Sea in a little fishing village south of modern-day Samcheok...

Soon after this tragedy, the fishermen of the village began to lose their livelihoods to inexplicable, dwindling catches...

One day some of the local fishermen had to relieve themselves, and in the process, aired their gochu's (peppers) to the world...

The next day they caught more fish! The problem was solved!! This unfortunate young lady had died a virgin, and it was her sexually frustrated spirit that was causing the bad catch!!! Thus Haesindang Gongwon, or Penis Park to us whities, was born. What virginal young spirit wouldn't be appeased by a memorial full of phallic imagery???

I mean, it would work for me! (No, that is NOT my customary "one-size-fits-all" sarcasm, as you can plainly see....)

Yes, those are boots I am wearing with 3.5" heels. I didn't actually INTEND to go hiking in them. I wasn't sure exactly what I was getting myself into when I got dressed this morning, but I knew it involved a long bus ride. Oops. As it turns out, hiking in heels is a rite of passage to Korean womanhood, so I can now TRULY say that I'm Korean. (You may think I'm joking, but I'm not - Korean girls wear heels EVERYWHERE...to the beach, to go hiking, and of course for more mundane things such as riding the subway or clubbing).

Why did it take me three years to make it there? Good question, but I'm glad it did, because Belynda got to come with me, and I wouldn't have such fabulous pictures without her!

I could sit here all night and upload penises of all shapes and sizes, but I'm sure I'm about to hit a quota for inappropriate content so I'd better cut this off (that COULD have gone on the list of things heard in Samcheok...but it wasn't..."Would you like some nuts?" and "Onward and upward," however, both were). It was a great day spent with a great friend in great weather, and if you ever get bored of Seoul on a weekend, I highly recommend it!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Home!

After being in transit for entirely too long and in entirely too stressful circumstances (a tale to be told some other time), I made it to Korea. Stepping off the plane into Incheon airport was like coming home. I don't know how else to explain it - literally all became right with the world.

I'm here on vacation for our Chinese National Day holiday. This is the first of our holidays, and there was nowhere else I would have rather gone. Even if it hadn't been a cheap ticket, it's been two years since I've been back, and in the week before I left I was actually giddy at moments when I thought about seeing my Dark Lord, and dancing with Belynda again, and the food - OH, THE FOOD!

As I said, I felt at home when I had my feet on Korean soil again. Maybe this means I'm messed up, but I understand the way things work here. I know how to get around, I know what to do in an emergency, where to look for things. During the three years I lived in Bundang, I often had the impression that Seoul was just a big amusement park designed exclusively for me; that is how safe I felt here, and how much fun I had. I'm glad to say that I still get that feeling, and watching the city come into focus as I rode the airport bus through the middle of the city to where Mark and Emily are living was like going past all my favorite rides again (the 63 building, where we watched the first sunrise of 2005...Namsan tower, which Annika and I hiked up to, discovering Chili Chili Taco on our way down...the Han River...Gangnam Dae-ro...) But enough reflective prose. Let me tell you what I've been up to.

I got into Mark and Em's place after two yesterday, and spent a good long while chatting and catching up. We worked together my last year in Korea, and I gotta say, they are two of the coolest people I worked with at GDA. Mark is the most laid-back person I think I've ever know, and Emily is mad in the absolutely best way. We relived our glory days and caught up on gossip until I realized that if I didn't leave I was going to be late to meet Belynda and her students for dinner in Hongdae.

Hongdae is actually a pretty cool area that I've never spent much time in. It's basically a campustown, and as such, is home to THE club scene of Seoul (some people prefer Apgujeong, but it's "trendier" and thus, pricier). We ate dinner and then managed to find a Tom-n-Toms for coffee and dessert (honey butter bread...amazing that I remember this after two years and I only ate it the once right before leaving, but it was just. that. good.) So we caught up and I made plans with Bee to go to Samcheok later this week.

Samcheok is one of those crazy Korean destinations that I never made it to. I'll leave you to ponder why it's special til later this week.

Afterwards I came back here and crashed (and I DO mean crashed), but not before I got ahold of Jill and made plans to get together this afternoon. We met up at noon, talked, got lunch, talked, walked to COEX, talked, talked, talked. (We had a lot of catching up to do). We'll go to Dongdaemun to the bead market later this week. Maybe on Tuesday.

And tonight I got to see my Dark Lord and his family. As I took the Bundang line down and started to hear the old familiar names - Yatap! Imae! Seohyeon...SEOHYEON! - I started to feel nostalgic and a little emotional. Two years is a long time, and this place and this man were at the center of my world for a very long time before that. And yet it's a blink of the eye, and you realize that - oh damn, am I really going to say this cheesy line? - the heart remembers the way. The names of those places were like music to my ears, and the cafes of Jeongja, the neon lights of Samsung Plaza, like art to my eyes. And as for my Dark Lord? My gosh, I missed him, and his daughter (his wife...well, she's a little harder to get along with, but she didn't comment on my weight, so we're making progress). Michelle has gotten so freaking tall - I couldn't believe how old she is! - she gets the jokes that her dad and I make in English and can banter right back with us, she's just awesome. Unfortunately she has midterms on Tuesday, and dinner was just a break in the studying, so after dinner she and her mom went home, and Diablo and I went down to Samsung Plaza (supposedly AK Plaza now, but as he pointed out, nobody's gonna call it that for at least 10 years). He told me that the ahjjushi who ran the convenience store next to our school now owns one there, too, and I was really happy to see him and his wife when we stopped in. Then we sat in Starbucks and compared notes on our current jobs and just shot the breeze until they closed at 11 (I thought this was ideal, because if I left when they kicked us out I wouldn't miss the last train out of Bundang).

And now I'm caught up after lying here on the floor at Mark and Em's and it's past my bedtime, but Seoul doesn't sleep so why should I?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

No more classes, no more books...

No more students' dirty looks.

This is the second time I've really slept in since arriving in Shanghai. No sooner had I straightened out the issue over which I've been waking up early than our 8-day stretch began. Yes, you read that correctly - 8 days. They are making us make up our holidays. After day 5 I was feeling pretty bitter over the whole thing; luckily that was the night I talked to my Dark Lord and Master, and HE reminded me that he regularly works 8-day stretches. I've never done more than 6, even in retail...the whole "Sabbath is a day of rest" thing is a wonderful part of my religion.

Needless to say, I was pretty stoked to be out of there at 2:45 yesterday. On the other hand, that was a bone of contention as well. The GOVERNMENT mandated that the schools should close early the last two days (traffic flow problems with people leaving for National Day). Mine ignored the issue on Wednesday. I'm not sure how they can get away with that, but obviously, they have.

I guess this is the first time that I've written much about the school. I'm so much more motivated this year, and the fact that I have most of the year groups and that we don't even teach the youngest three ages we had in RAK makes my life much more interesting. But on the other hand, I definitely have some issues. They've been renovating the gym and pool, and done a beautiful job, but it wasn't finished until a week ago, so I had to teach in a temporary classroom, with all the hassles that come with it (including getting out of it on fairly short notice). Not to even mention the fact that when I finally got into my art room it was in such a mess that I am STILL trying to get it into a reasonable semblance of order. Maddi Austin, I hope you rot in art teacher hell for what you left me with. You think I'm being harsh? When I got into that room, all the tables were pushed in the middle and stacked on top of each other, the other furniture was pushed up to the pile, all the supplies were thrown willy-nilly into tubs with very little rhyme or reason, and the waste - OH THE WASTE! On top of that, there were no new supplies ordered for me - I've had* to clean up her shit and make it work. So yes, I wish her classes of 30 students in which they do only papier mache for the rest. Of. Her. Life.

Then there's the ESL issue. In our first specialists meeting, our PYP coordinator dropped the bomb that we foreign specialists were to be the ESL team's backup - they are a teacher short, and we have the free periods in our timetables. Their leader told me that I would probably only be teaching one ESL lesson a week, and I was fine with it. A week later ESL and PYP came to me and told me I'd be taking the kindergarten four times a week for ESL, and I was still kinda okay with that. I actually started testing them to see who needed the help, and found it to be a calming experience. But testing requires a lot less time and energy than teaching, and when I heard that class was going to be split, I could have shat rainbows. See, the kindergarten gets art twice a week, so my timetable was going to be way too full for me to take them for ESL. And during this neverending bloody week, as I've been finishing up units and really hitting my stride in my art lessons, I was super glad that I wouldn't have to plan and write ESL lesson plans, and assess them, and write feckin' report cards. I would have SO much more time to concentrate on being a really GOOD art teacher.

Hold that thought for a minute.

Now, while you're on hold, let me tell you about the Chinese/art teacher. We have one, and he has been sharing year groups with the art coordinator. This year he has 2 of our year 3 classes, and I have the other, which means he should be doing the planning; however, since he began at the school he has been coddled and coached and never actually made to stand on his own two feet. When I asked him to collaborate with me on this grade at the beginning of the year, he told me Maddi had planned the lessons and he taught them...and since I would rather have someone teach my lessons than have to teach theirs, I went along. Until the day he came to me and told me he was going to do something different in his next week's classes. At that point, I went to the PYP coordinator and asked her exactly how she wanted things done; if I was going to bully him, I wanted to be sanctioned in doing so. Instead I was told that he needed to collaborate with me, but the planning and paperwork and ordering were his responsibility. Which was fine with me. But early last week, as I was starting to plan my next units, I said, "Gary, you need to start planning what you want to do with grade three." Late last week (ie, early in the 8-day stretch) I emailed him the unit overview we do for the year groups, with an email explaining what is was and when they needed it. Midstream in this ongoing hell, I went to him again, asking what he was going to do. He asked me if I had any ideas. Rather than telling him, "Yes, Gary but they are MINE!" I referred him to the year group leader, who spoke of wanting some art integration with their unit on mapping. An email from the group leader, another talk with PYP, a unit overview and lesson plan written IN CHINESE, working with me AND Music (who is our specialist coordinator), and PYP decides to upend the entire timetable. Here is what she did:
Give Gary the whole of grade 2.
Give me all of year 3 and the 2 new hours of kindergarten.

Shall we do the math? Story problems are GREAT for teaching English!
Ms. Becky teaches 18 hours. She loses 4 classes to her idiot coworker. Then she gains 2 classes from her idiot coworker. Finally, kindergarten is split and gives her 2 new classes. How many classes does she have now?

Think about it....did you come up with the same number you started with? So did I, and the fact that the email PYP sent out listed "accommodating more students in the ESL program" as the reason for the change makes me PRETTY sure that even though ESL isn't on my official timetable that I'm about to get screwed over, and NOW I'm pissed, because I have WAY more hours than the other specialists as it is, and after eight days of teaching in a row my tolerance has snapped.

In the words of my immortal Dark Lord and Master...."WOO-SAAAAAAAAAAAAA...." So the moral of the story is, this vacation is well-deserved and even if I were staying here for the holiday, I would be happy just not to have to do anything with the school. As it is, I'm blowing out to Korea, to party with my nearest and dearest and eat dalkgalbi and just have an overall kickass time.


*"had" is probably too strong a word, but because I am a conscientious person I would never just scrap things and start over. Also because I believe that art teachers who waste supplies and order things they don't need give administrators just cause to believe that cutting art would be a great way to fix the budget.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Anticlimax

Well, we finally did it - Socrates and I went to the Expo. I decided our day off for the Mid-Autumn Festival was the perfect day to go, and maybe it was. It was cool and cloudy (even rainy at times), and I really don't think it was as busy as it would have been on the weekend. But that doesn't mean there weren't lines. Oh no. I promised him "trendy" pavilions, and we made a beeline for the Japanese one, thinking we would use the reservation system and avoid the lines. Well, as it turns out, the Japanese pavilion isn't on the reservation system...not that it mattered, because the reservation machines we found were not working. I did some research about the different pavilions the night before, and had quite a few that I was interested in, but they ALL had long lines. The volunteer at the Japanese line told us it was a six hour wait. Later on we saw a message board that listed the waits for ALL of those pavilions on my list as longer than 3 hours. It also suggested that next time we should make better plans for visiting the Expo.

...

Yeah, sure. And although we both had books, neither of us felt like standing in line for 3+ hours. So what did we see? Uzbekistan and Ukraine. Wednesday's expo was brought to you by the letter U. We joked about seeing the US, UK, or UAE pavilions, but in the end, we walked from the middle, to the north end, to the south end, and back to the middle to catch the subway home, looking at the outside, at least, of the structures along the way. Can't say I didn't get my exercise that day, at any rate, but it was probably not worth the 160 kuai we each spent on admission. Still, part of me wants to believe that there are hidden treasures to experience there, wants to go back some night after school (for the reduced admission) and see the pavilions lit up at night, believing the lines would be shorter at night and if not, that the sight of them all lit up would be worth it. Maybe it wouldn't. But I'd at least be able to get into the Thai pavilion without waiting - turns out my friend from Speed Dating night works for a company involved with them, and can get me on the VIP list. But if not, I have to remind myself that, unlike my Chinese co-patriots, I can go to any of these places whenever the mood strikes me (and whenever Mr. Plastic is up to the task of getting me on a plane), and be satisfied with the experiences that I've had in the countries themselves.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Worlds Collide

The better part of four years as an international educator went by without intersecting realities. It wasn't until I was about to go back to Korea for the third and final time that I finally saw someone out of context, and seeing Dietrich in St. Louis hardly counts, since it was our common Missouri residence that drew us together in the first place. More than a year after that went by before it happened for real, with my mother coming to Korea, but it was not until I got to RAK that things really got interesting - I saw Evil first in Singapore (with Kit, even stranger!), then in India, and finally in the Emirates. I was with Socrates in Paris, and then London. You think this is no big deal, but it throws you for a loop, seeing someone in the wrong context. You lose your place in space and time.

I think Shanghai is going to be the most topsy-turvy place of all for these moments of displacement. Forget the fact that I've got three friends here from past lives - Shanghai is just perfectly placed to encourage these sort of encounters. Johnny V is a couple of hours away in Wuxi (there is a reunion in the works for next month), and the flight from Incheon to Shanghai is only a couple of hours long. And that is how Ange and Kat came to be here this weekend.

It's strange enough, seeing friends from one place in a completely different place. It's even weirder when you haven't spoken to them in about two years. And as the three of us walked down the streets of Pudong to the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, it gained an added dimension of oddness, as Shanghai has some marked similarities and yet, very subtle differences from Seoul...the river, the two sides of town, the subway, the tall, shiny buildings, but then you notice that the wash is hanging outside the windows, something a Korean would never do.

It was a nice visit, although I'm afraid I almost fell asleep every time I sat down (due to the fact that I only slept two hours the night before). We saw one of the world's worst tourist attractions - the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel - in all it's spacy, garish glory, as well as a kind of cool bronze mirror exhibit and a very lame aquarium. Took a walk along the Bund and looked out at the Dubai-esque upcropping of modern architecture on the other side of the Huangpu River, and grabbed a bite to eat at Shanghai Grandmother (decent food and not too expensive), before taking them to Yuyuan Gardens for a bit more traditional Chinese architecture. Most of these places were on the city tour my school took us on at the beginning of the year, but it was so bloody hot that I didn't enjoy it. Instead, I was now seeing them with friends on a fairly pleasant afternoon. Bonus. Unfortunately I sent them on to Nanjing Rd and People's Square alone - just a short trip up line 10 from Yuyuan - and went home to sleep the rest of the afternoon away with dreams of people in the wrong places at the wrong times (probably as much the result of the mind-altering Bund Sightseeing Tunnel as the visit of friends from Korea).

Monday, September 13, 2010

On Speed

Last fall - or was it this spring? I don't remember...at some point in the craziness that was life in RAK I decided that this summer I was going to track down my favorite chingu and drag her with me to whatever speed dating event I could find in one of our cities...Minneapolis, Omaha, St. Louis...SOMEWHERE in the frickin midwest had to have one of these things going on, and Dietrich, bosom buddy that she is, was up for it.

And then, due to lack of car and significant finances, I failed to actually SEE her this summer, so it never happened. Oops. But the idea terrified the crap out of me, which in my world is usually a pretty good indicator that I HAVE to try something. And that is why Saturday night saw me step out of an elevator on the 65th floor of the Royal Meridien on East Nanjing Rd in a somewhat petrified state. Yep. I was on speed. And I was flying both solo AND free, while shaking in my booties.

The ladies from Ok-Deal! were nice enough to give me the RSVP price, even though I hadn't RSVPed, and it included a drink, so my cost for the evening was not bad at all. Less that twenty bucks (even better - they included a 100 kuai voucher for one of the spas, so I guess I'm going to be getting myself a manicure before this weekend's big bad Irish shenanigans). But as I took my questionnaire and cherry coke into the lounge (with its 360 degree view of the Emerald City), I realized that I was the only whitey in the room. And there was a disproportionate number of women in the room. That struck me as funny, the more I thought about it. I'm in China, home of, "Here's hoping for a bouncy, baby boy!" and yet, the women outnumbered the men. Well, I made a new friend that night, a Shanghainese girl with the English name Audrey, and she told me that men definitely outnumber the women, but when you change the group to college graduates, that the proportion becomes inverse. Suddenly there are more women than men. Interesting. Maybe we're not as useless as we've been led to believe...

Well, the fact that there were only six men (one of whom was married and had only come to get his lonely single friend to go) to 17 women would have been irritating if I'd actually gone there hoping to meet someone. But I hadn't. My motives, in case you were wondering, were a.) because the idea of trying to have conversations with people I don't know, let alone try to flirt with them, is one of my recurring nightmares and I need to get over it at some point, and b.) because it sounded like a hoot, if, you know, I could get over the terror. And I did. Audrey helped - she actually came with a friend, but the friend left before the dating part got started, and as we talked before the event we became pretty comfortable with each other. Her English was fantastic, even if she'd never been to the US, and as it turns out, we made good wing-girls for each other. Five out of the six Chinese dudes were either expats or foreign schooled, so talking to them was relaxing, and there were two that I wouldn't have minded seeing again. It was actually a really good time, I got out of my shell and flirted - even with the guys that I had no interest in - and made a new friend.

I did not win "Most popular woman," unfortunately...but what can you expect? I know better than to compete with cute little Asian girls on THAT front. The winner, it turns out, said that her parents pressured her into coming - what self-respecting guy could resist that? Neither did I make a "match," but Audrey did (with one of the two pretty cool guys), which was exciting, and I was happy to see that the guy whose married friend had come along for moral support did, too. I might even do it again...but probably not til I'm back in whitebread country, because you can't always count on having THAT level of English saturation! Til next time...

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Inaugural Meeting of the Naked Teachers Club

You KNOW you're really friends with someone when you've spent a couple of hours naked with them. We don't realize this in the West, because we only get naked with people if they are doctors or lovers. And if you are western through and through, you will probably live your whole life without experiencing this, and be no worse the wear for it. But I lived in Korea for three years, and while my physique is nothing to brag about, I have no major body-image issues, which is good because I feel like I would have missed out if I'd said, "No," when Ange first invited me to go to the bathhouse with a group of friends from church.

It's been almost six years since then, and there's a bathhouse half a block from my new apartment. I mentioned at the housewarming last week that I'd been there, and several of my new friends expressed an interest in coming along, so Thursday three of us went and checked it out. Yep, it's pretty awkward the first five minutes or so - when you cross that line from "just a normal girls' night" to "Ohhhhhhkay...we're not wearing any clothes." Heck, in the sauna here they don't even give you your towel til you finish the bath, so you don't even have that tiny bit of modesty to get you through the changing room. But pretty quickly you realize it really is only that...we're not wearing any clothes. That's all.

Unless you've skinny dipped at some point in your life, I don't know if you understand exactly what a luxury true bathing is. Here you are, in a big warm pool of water, soaking your skin and relaxing the stress of the day away. And because you're with friends, you have someone to talk to - I go by myself but it gets boring quickly if you're alone (also, the locals might think you're weird, because it IS a social thing for them...also also, if they've never seen foreigners, it's nice to have more than one of you getting stared at). We all agreed we'd have to do it again soon...and it was wonderful to realize I'd found friends with the sort of temperament to enjoy these wild and crazy things.

Also wonderful? Weighing yourself and discovering that you've lost almost 7 pounds in three weeks....another one of the things I do when I go to the sauna.

Another night this week I went for a nice long bike ride, winding up and down the streets of Hongqiao, and for the first time in Shanghai I discovered one of what I like to call the "senior fitness hours." Outside a small mall there was a horde of mostly old-ish Chinese people doing light aerobics together. I swooped in on my bike to marvel - this is China! You get old, and rather than sit at home after dinner petting the pooch next to the fire, you put on your tracksuit and go meet 150 of your closest friends for a little exercise. A middle-aged Chinese man noted my wonder and started a conversation with me, asked if I thought it was weird. We chatted about it and America and China for ten minutes, and then went our separate ways. China's set to inherit the earth in another 20 years or so (maybe less), and moments like this make me hopeful about this probability (there are bits that make me terrified, too, but we'll leave this post on a positive note). Let's hope the Krispy Kremes and Coldstones and, of course, McDonald's don't ruin it for us in the meantime.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Soul....dancing.

So after a grueling day of teaching, I made my first trip into town to check out a belly dance class at Souldancing. I had mixed hopes. On one hand, I'd seen a Chinese dancer at Shanghai's 1001 Nights (the first time I saw a restaurant dancer was also in China, at the Beijing branch of the same restaurant), and she had pretty good technique, even if her musical selection was somewhat uninspired. Also, one of our teachers took classes there last year and said they were good. I had reason to believe she was right - Souldancing actually equipped one of their studios with poles just so they could teach pole dancing, and you don't have the kind of capital to invest in that sort of venture if you're amateur hour. But on the other hand...well, let's just say that learning from Azhaar for most of the time I was in Korea has spoiled me. I know there are better teachers than her, or more experienced, blah blah blah, but she has a sense of humor and is caring (how often did our lessons stretch on long past two hours as we bitched about our own problems to each other?!), not to mention has a vast knowledge of the dance, technical skill, and makes up the most beautiful, evocative choreographies...even if she can't remember them.

So yes, mixed hopes...but as I said in my last post, I am disturbingly out of shape, and I still love this art form, so I pinned my heart on my sleeve and slogged into the heart of the Emerald City, to West Nanjing Rd, and down a side street crowded with shops selling everything from clothing to Tibetan artifacts and everything in between, in my yoga pants (still splattered with Saturday night's strawberry shake, dropped as I was unlocking my bike) and Gap tee. Sweating and bloody hot, I went in and paid my money, filled out the form, got rid of my shoes, and started stretching. Luckily I had plenty of time to do this, because when QiQi came in she laid into us almost immediately. She drilled us in shimmies, hip lifts, shimmies, chest drops, choo-choo shimmies, 3/4 shimmies, and arms. To be fair, she warmed us up a little, but she transitioned fairly quickly into kicking our asses. Also to be fair, this was an advanced class, "Performance," which hopefully (thanks to my years with Azhaar) I didn't embarrass myself too badly in, out of shape or not. After brutalizing us for half an hour, QiQi moved into a choreography. I don't know how to describe the music - it was slow and sensual and had an unmetered feel to it, but was neither modern/fusion nor classical (unless I'm mistaken). And the combinations she put together for it were absolutely suited to the feel of the piece, and not simple ones, either.

In short, I was impressed. I can't wait to see what the other teachers have to offer.

Afterwards I walked back up to the metro, and the lights on Yan'an road were lit, painting me blue, and the trees on Nanjing Rd were lit, giving the place a festive quality...I wanted to go for a wander, but I was slaughtered, so I just stopped long enough to eat at subway and then headed for home. Today I noticed body aches in all sorts of places, and it brought back all the happy feelings of the night before.

Wow. That sounds dodgy. I mean that in a strictly belly dance sorta way.

Today I learned something about my school. Apparently we are a great experiment. We are a Chinese international school. By that, I mean that we are a Chinese school that offers international curriculum to Chinese students. Most international schools here have strict laws laid onto them about who can attend...essentially foreign passport holders (there are similar laws in Korea; I don't know about the Chinese, but if my Dark Lord's word can be trusted for anything, most Korean parents wouldn't want their kid going to an international school in Korea because it's not hardcore enough). This came up this weekend during the trip to Anting, when I said our majority was Chinese, and I was told they were probably Taiwanese instead. No, Virginia, they are, in fact, Chinese students. There's some sort of loophole. And we are, definitely, a Chinese school...remind me later and I'll tell you about the flag raising ceremony.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Huzzah for the Weekend

Monday always comes as a bit of a letdown. It's not just the fact that it's a work day (for several years Thursday was my favorite day of the week), and in fact, I should be relieved that it's not worse - I don't have that Sunday night panic that plagued me so severely in Korea and, to a lesser extent, in RAK - and that my life is such that there's never enough weekend for me, but the fact remains. Mondays suck.

This weekend started with a bang. The Roomie and I had a housewarming party Friday night, with all my favorite locals. There was music and conversation and things didn't wrap up til 2 in the morning. Fantastic. There was also the point where one of our company (who shall remain nameless due to the fact that I suspect she will murder me if I reveal her identity), went to pour a drink and ended up setting a bag on fire (I had a candle on the table, and someone had brought wine which came in one of those nice, tall, top heavy bags, and let me tell you, it went up like a torch). Luckily, whether she'd been drinking or not, Siobhan (the black girl with an Irish name who has been included in the group description as white twice in the last week - once by me...errrrr...so all Westerners are equal in my eyes. This is a step forward, right???) was quick thinking and miraculously got it to the sink and doused it before damage could be done. (Later, this same nameless friend got on top of a chair to determine the height of our ceiling in beer cans, and as the chair started to wobble, my memory hearkened back to a time when a drunken Bronte climbed up on top of someone's shoulders and then fell off, almost cracking her head open in front of the movie theater in Samsung Plaza. I heard her screeching, "Where the f*** were you? WHERE THE F*** were you, and came out of my revery in time to clutch Nameless' leg and stabilized the chair. Otherwise there could have been blood to go with our fire, which REALLY would have made for a kickin' party!)

So that was Friday night. Saturday morning the glass man was due to come at 7. Urgh. Luckily (if you want to look at it that way) I have been waking up early anyways, and so when he arrived - for the second time - at 6:50 I was already awake and skyping with Glamwhore. And was still skyping with her when I got an invite from a teacher I met from another school to go to Anting with her. I extended the invite to Shermeen, and 11 (an ungodly enough hour if you had company over til 2 a.m. the previous morning) saw us on the train to Anting. It was a bit of a trek, but well-worth it. Anting's old town is scenic and makes you feel like you really are in China after all (up to and including the the men's underwear hanging to dry in the historic woodwork...wish I'd taken a picture when I first saw it, but it was gone by the time I got back, so you'll just have to imagine). We went to a Chinese restaurant there after strolling up and down the street, and it was pretty delicious, even if you have a hard time ignoring the fact that the chicken's head is actually on the platter with it's delicious meat. Shermeen has been my saving grace when it comes to Chinese food - I have no idea what I'm ordering and I've been too chicken to walk into a restaurant and order on a wing and a prayer. If you knew me when I first went to Korea, it's pretty much the same as I was then...except now I have even fewer reasons to be adventurous, since my global palate has expanded dramatically since then and Hongqiao alone has more options than Bundang did back in those days. On the other hand, nearly everything I've eaten, I've liked, so I suppose there's hope for me yet.

That evening Shermeen, her colleague Janice, and I went back to the flower market. I was kneeling down making a decision about which goldfish to get when I finally figured out where the muscle pain I'd felt twinging at me all day had come from. One of the topics we got onto Friday night was belly dance, and the different styles, and I went into the difference between how the styles do floorwork, descending to the floor twice without warming up. I haven't actually danced in many many moons, and it made me realize exactly how out of shape I am. When I got home that night I sat down and opened up youtube to look at some of the combinations I wanted to incorporate into...well, I WAS going to do Kashmir, but....well, hell, why shouldn't I do Kashmir. I wanted to do it. I was going to do it. So I got out my veil poi and started working on it. It was therapeutic. It also resulted in the quite spectacular destruction of one of the cheap plastic cups the Roomie bought. It also got me to think seriously about what I was going to do here as far as dance lessons go, and I think I've got a plan: I'm going to get the 8-lesson, 880 kuai membership to SoulDance, use those lessons to decide which - if any - of their belly dance teachers I'd like to study privately with, and then get their 20 private lessons for 6,000 kuai (the more you sign up for, the cheaper they get, so the 20 lessons ought to last me five months and get fairly close to what I used to pay Azhaar, even if I can't imaging any teacher being as good as she is).

And then it was Sunday. I went to church, and actually stayed the whole 3 hours (I had plenty of sewing to keep me awake), and actually actually bore my testimony in Relief Society. I'm not the best Mormon in the world, I've even been called a hypocrite once, and I guess I can understand why. I do badmouth the members some. When the person responsible for getting you to church has basically become inactive because other Mormons expressed opinions over something that was NONE OF THEIR DAMN BUSINESS, when you have been called out over the pulpit in all but name for being happy and living your life rather than pining away on your hope chest waiting for Prince Charming to ride up and whisk you away, I would think it's a little bit understandable. They say "Love the sinner, hate the sin;" I would add, "Love the church, hate the culture." The gospel has made me who I am today (at least, in all the good ways...I'll take most of the responsibility for the negative aspects, although my Dark Lord and Master did play his part, bless his blackened little heart), and I do love it, even when it's hard. And that's why I got up and bore my testimony...in spite of everything, I DO still have one.

So yeah. Good weekend. And now it's Monday night and my ass is officially kicked by my busiest day of the week, but it was a good one, and I like the kids, and I have every reason to believe all the wrinkles will work themselves out. Plus, I'm (excuse the phrase, but I have to use it, it's a time-honored tradition) popping some jjimjjilbang cherries on Thursday night...ahssah-byo!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Typhoon Day?

Very similar to a snow day, except with rain. We were supposed to start teaching today. Instead, we got a typhoon warning, so the kiddos didn't come to school and the teachers only worked a half day. It was nice to have some more time for planning, and I had a very nice nap (until I was rudely awakened by our downstairs neighbor)...but part of me just. wants. to. get. on. with. it.

The downstairs neighbor didn't speak English (didn't speak Korean, either, although that probably wouldn't have helped much). I made my first call to the Foreigner's Help Line of the day to tell me what it was she wanted. Apparently, the leak from my toilet and accompanying clogged drain that I haven't bothered to complain about has extended itself through her ceiling. Hmm. Not good. So I decided it was time to find the management office and have it taken care of. So call number two happened when I found myself in the security office (although I didn't know it at the time...they had to translate that for me, as well). Call Three, in the actual management office, explained my issue and got Mr. Fix-It following me back to my place. Call Four was the last one of the day, in which the guy explained - through the interpreter - that I needed to pay him 40 kuai for the part he installed (and since I had to pay for it, I kind of want to take it with me when I move out) and that he would have to return tomorrow to unclog the drain in the floor, since apparently they are off at 5 and he couldn't get to the tools he needed. There should have been a fifth call, in which they explained to him that I had either 30 kuai or 100 kuai, but I'd already hung up and was too embarrassed to call them yet again. I don't know how I would have gotten by without the service though...actually in the last five years of living abroad, I haven't needed it, since I was living in school housing and they always took care of whatever needed to be done. Oh well. More incentive to kick ass during the next two years so that I can work at a GOOD school next time around.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Market Places

I found my new happy place, and it's just up the street. The year 3 group leader told me about the flower market off Jinhui Lu (just up the street) last week, and after a couple of failed attempts I finally made it tonight. It's at the side of one of the canals, down a picturesque little walk that is deceptive if you don't know what you're looking for. Fortunately, I DID know what I was looking for.

For more than a week now I've been mourning the fact that if Shanghai has the equivalent of Seoul's Express Bus Terminal, I haven't heard about it. Well, now I don't miss it nearly as much. The flower market is pretty big, and has lots of everything...plants, of both the potted and cut variety, ceramics, pillows, handicrafts, and animals - for pets, not to eat. I was looking forward to the animals, because I wanted to get some goldfish (actually, I didn't get them tonight because I bought a huge bowl to put them in after buying a pot of jasmine, and there was just no more room in my bike basket...hell, there wasn't enough room for the two things I'd already bought), but at least a few of the stalls had other animals. One of them even had THE quintessential Asian pet...crickets! Yes, you heard me right, crickets...some of them in woven grass cages, others in the more fancy cricket cages. And they were chirping for all they were worth! And these were big fat crickets, not the little guys we are used to seeing in America. Kinda crazy.

So what is the point of all this shopping? I have, for the first time in my life, a window seat. It's posh. I want to dress it up. I bought some candles when we went to Ikea last Sunday, and am going to go back for some pillows. How cool will it be to have a cozy nook to cuddle up in and watch the snow when winter hits?

The other market I've been missing from Seoul is, of course, Dongdaemun's fabric market. Not for the fabric (however great) but for the beads and findings on the fifth floor. Well, I don't think Hongqiao Pearl City will ever replace Dongdaemun in my heart (not least because I haven't been there with Azhaar and Jill), but it DID have some pretty cool beads, a string of which I snatched up to go on the new belly dance cossie I'm working on. I need to do a more thorough investigation of it one of these days, but at least I'm starting to figure out where I can get the things I'm going to use. Starting to feel a little more competent in Shanghai. And - I've got to admit it's still strange, because I've never been much of one for lots of different groups of friends, but rather than a few very close ones - but I've got all these friends from all these different schools, and I've gotta say, I'm really grateful for them.

One more day til school officially starts. I'm SO not ready.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Better City, Better Life

This is the motto for the 2010 World Expo here in Shanghai, and while I haven't been to the expo (yet), I've got to say that I already agree. The last few days have been orientation for the school and the PYP, not the most exciting stuff but necessary. You can't expect to be paid for living a fab life in a foreign country without doing some work. But - as our new principal pointed out - work hard, play hard...and I don't think that's going to be hard here.

Don't get me wrong. Hongqiao is not the most exciting place in the world to live, but on the other hand, it's not without its charms...and I'm not talking about the Korean sauna a block away from my school. We've got the zoo, for one, and a charming little town called Qibao not too far away. But more to the point, it is IN Shanghai. We can go out on the weekend and the taxi's only going to cost four bucks either way. I took the subway clear across town to church on Sunday, and it was less than a dollar. It's a proper city. I love it.

And if Hongqiao isn't in the thick of it, so what? Last night (a week after landing) I decided to go to Carrefour and buy my bike. I've been thinking about getting one since arriving and finally caved after seeing two of my new colleagues pedal off from school on theirs yesterday. It cost me just a little more than a hundred dollars - it's black, an Athena, made by Giant. Yes, for those of you who know my love for Greek mythology, the name was one of the reasons I chose the bike I did...I was actually planning to buy the red Giant next to it until I realized that it was called Athena. Now, Athena is the goddess of wisdom, which may prove ironic since riding a bike in China can be a bit dicey, but I guess we'll see. I've never been one to wear a helmet and if I start now I'll get laughed off the road by the Chinese.

Okay, so back to the experience of buying my bike...when I got this impulse (shortly after receiving my reimbursement for my plane ticket, strangely enough) to drop a thousand kuai on an ongoing near-death experience (joking!), it was not, actually raining. By the time the taxi got to the Carrefour in Gubei, big fat drops of rain were falling. Hard. I sat down at Macca's and tried to wait it out with Jason Bourne (courtesy of my friend, the GlamWhore) while snarfing down fries and a coke (I've learned my lesson when it comes to the chicken sandwiches). It seemed to get lighter, finally, so I went up and picked out my bike and a bunch of accessories...helmets I may not do, but I'm not totally stupid: I got a basket, a light, and two locks, because I figured if I was the kind who steals bikes I'd go for the posh one with the gear shift and everything....which the very helpful sales clerk who spoke some English installed for me while I went upstairs to exchange my receipt for a fa piao invoice. Then, after I'd stalled as long as possible, I left Carrefour and rode out. Into a downpour. As it turns out, it is a LOT faster to cycle between Gubei and Hongqiao, but those raindrops are a lot more annoying when you're hitting them at 20 mph. And although you'd think once you were thoroughly drenched (after about 5 minutes, the way it was coming down) that it wouldn't matter if you got WETTER, trust me when I say that you still feel it. Not that it bothered me...I was having the time of my life. But I preferred it tonight when I didn't have to peel off my clothes and find a place for them to start dripping dry when I got back to the hotel. And it was my ride tonight when I came across the expo signs that proudly proclaimed, "Better City, Better Life." Hell, yeah, it is.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The comfort of Korea, the excitement of Shanghai

It is the end of day four in Shanghai. I like it, but it's bloody hot...I was rolling my eyes at Socrates for moaning about the heat, because, c'mon, we've lived in the Emirates. Then I walked outside yesterday.

Oh. My. Heck.

I will not deny the fact that in the past I may have criticized military and government expats for the fact that they basically live an American lifestyle in a foreign country, so they don't really get to experience the culture in quite the same way. Well, I've become one of those people, except because I'm abnormal, I'm living a Korean lifestyle and not an American one like I ought to be. Since getting off the plane on Tuesday I've eaten Korean food three times, been to the jjimjjilbang, and then, there's the little matter of my apartment hunt.

For the first time in my expat life, I have to find my own apartment, which is a pain in the ass when you're jetlagged and don't speak the language. The school gives me a RMB 3000/mo stipend to pay for this, which is not in any way, shape, or form, feasible. A nearby school gives them the choice of school housing, and if they decline, gives them RMB 6000/mo. So this has been the first hassle of my adventures in China, especially because I've been a little wishy-washy about what I want. One bedroom? Two? How much extra will I go over the stipend? Where do I want it? As we say in Korea (when we want to start a fight...): AISHSHIP'PAL!!!

Well, one thing I DID know that I wanted, although I'd been told was not to be had, was ondol. If you've never had the pleasure of Korean-style radiant floor heat, you're missing out. Nothing compares to waking up on a cold morning and stepping onto a nice, warm floor. Nothing compares to coming home chilled to the bone and sitting your buns down on a toasty floor. And since there were SO many Korean businesses around, I made a leap of logic and hoped against hope that there must be SOME apartments nearby with ondol (the Korean style of heating in which hot water is pumped through the floors). When I asked the realtor, it turns out I was right. But here's the catch: they're expensive. Still, I couldn't help asking to see one, even though it broke my heart when I did. Because the apartment she showed me was lovely - 2 balconies, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms...way more space than I needed, but a lovely place with a view straight into the heart of SUIS. I wanted it. I couldn't afford it. There were other thoughts running through my head, but basically I couldn't afford it, and I really thought I'd rather live on Hongmei Road, where there's a little more action.

So I saw a few more places...cheaper ones relatively close to the school...and went home to clean up before going out to meet Roisin. She and I both worked for GDA in our previous lives, but not at the same time, and I was excited to finally meet this enigma that both friends and favorite students were both so fond of. I am glad to say I was not disappointed....she's good craic and really knowledgeable and helpful, and it was fun to relive old times. She also made me rethink this whole apartment thing. She was amazed that I'd found an apartment with ondol and urged me to find a way to afford it, because those nice warm floors would be SO worth it.

And there was one.

I just didn't want to use it, because it involved me getting a roommate. Roommates can be wonderful things. I LOVED living with Sara, and there are a few people that I can say it was a pleasure sharing space with. There were also quite a few that made my life hell. But the moral of the story is I just didn't want to, for reasons that, upon reflection in the taxi coming home, didn't hold water. Also upon reflection, I would get to live a lot more comfortably, and would probably be in a better mental state. Plus there is a really sweet British girl who has been desperately trying to find someone to share an apartment with, and this apartment gave me the chance to do a good turn for her while getting something I wanted. I didn't even need to go home and pray about it (although I kind of wanted to, just to stall the inevitable)...I knew this was the right thing to do. So I texted Gemma in the cab coming home and asked her if she was still looking for a roommate. And thus it looks like I'm going to be living next to the school sharing a fabulous apartment with a nice person next year.

Life could be worse.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Defying Gravity: Reprise

It's been almost a year since I began this blog, and I found myself, in the last week, right back where it began, madly shopping, trying to get everything packed and cleaned before heading out. It was a strange month home...I worked, and worked out. I ate very little junk food until right at the end (which didn't really help me lose any weight, but whatever) and made it 30 days without pop. I went to the Duncan family reunion, hiked up Deer Leap Trail, went to the Henry Doorly Zoo for the first time in Ages...

...Three thoughts from that here:
1. The cave exhibit in their "Kingdoms of the Night" makes me want to go spelunking.
2. The swamp part of it makes me want to go down to Bon Temps and do Bad Things to you.
3. I've finally figured out how to explain my lifestyle. If you've ever wondered what it's like, buying a ticket and landing in a strange land, relying on your wits and the kindness of strangers to get by, basically think about being in a zoo...then take away all the cages and - in the case of the HDZ - the air conditioning, in other words, the safety and the comfort, and it's kind of like that.

Anyways, I made it through my version of exile (pretty posh exile, surrounded by family and free housing, I admit), and made it to Shanghai. I'm writing this in the hotel room my school has kindly provided me with for the next two weeks (in which time I can hopefully find an apartment), after being out to dinner with Socrates and Shermeen. It's been a long day, and I didn't nap, but I will probably wake up at 3 again, anyways. Jet lag's like that, even for a professional bonne vivante of my caliber. I hate to be hasty, and tell you that life is swell, because honestly, I've been in the country for less than 36 hours, but here's the deal - I'm working in a school wedged into a bunch of Korean businesses in a city with fantastic public transportation and - for once - I actually KNOW people (plural, even!!!) here, so, really, life could be much, MUCH worse. And that's not my typical brand of cheerful pessimism, my friends: what you are experiencing is the rare Great One careful optimism. Crazy, I know.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

On the Ground in Munchkinland

I'm back in the states, back to the places where I came from...for all intents and purposes: home. It's been almost two weeks since I got here, but I can hardly believe it's been that long. Two days after touching down at Eppley I was on the Duncan farm just west of Wheaton, Missouri. A week ago tomorrow we drove back to Iowa. Four days back I started working at B&N again. Today I went to church for the first time since leaving RAK.

And as of today I have 29 days until I leave.

I always feel a little bit of disconnect here. People's lives go on while I'm gone. I finally got to hold my niece, the Princess, the evening I got back. She's too cute for words. Saturday while I was floating down Sugar Creek, Shaggy was moving her, his wife, and the cat and dog to Utah. (Ugh.) I saw my cousins for the first time in seven years at the reunion, and it was good. I don't feel like I have to pretend to be anything but what I am with them. Sarah and I shared a canoe for the traditional "float trip," and I went to Roaring River with Dad, Matt, Micah, and Uncle Wayne last Monday morning, where I hiked up Deer Leap trail, fed the fish, stared into the depths of the spring, and poached wifi from the lodge while munching on peanut butter m&m's (ahh, the good life). They, on the other hand, fished. I used to try to fish, but this year I didn't even get a tag. As I was watching them reel 'em in, I thought of the day before, when my dad had shown us what a killdeer does when its nest is threatened, its frantic cries as it risked its life to save its babies...not knowing that he was just kidding. I guess I'm getting soft in my middle age, but I couldn't stand to watch, and I felt a little bit of the same for the fish.

It was sad, leaving, since this may be the last reunion. We celebrated my great uncle's 80th birthday, the last of his five brothers, who all died (in birth order) before their own 80th birthdays. I have a lot of love and respect for JD - we've had lot of common experiences, fifty years apart - and the thought that he might be gone before I come home again was another strand of sadness.

But life carries on. I've worked three days at the bookstore, and mostly I'm happy to see everyone again. Things haven't changed much. I haven't been in kids' at all, which is weird, and a little hard, because I always knew what to do back there. Out on the book floor there are long stretches of boredom. At least I know that I'm leaving in less than a month, and that fact makes the temporary annoyances a little easier to handle. (Borrowing books makes it MUCH easier to handle).

And my greatest fear - the idea that I might gain a bunch of weight whilst home??? I'm fighting it with everything I've got. I won't lie to you; I was AWFUL at the family reunion. The best I can say for myself is that I stayed off the pop, and that I borrowed The Fat Flush Plan (a diet book...which I will NOT, it seems, be following to the letter because I'm lazy, but it DOES have some ideas that I can easily integrate into my life) from my aunt Barb. Wedding cake, birthday cake, cookies, biscuits, cheesie poofs...all down the hatch. But since getting home I've managed to be a bit more in control. Not perfect, by any means, but I joined the YMCA for the month, and have been using their gym and pool, I took a walk with Babysis around Glenwood Lake Park, haven't had a single sugar cookie from work (because I know once I do, it's ALL over), and managed to avoid temptation a few times, in addition to using those Fat Flush ideas and having something light for one of my meals each day.

So I've not gone mad yet...but there are four weeks and a day left to go, so the potential still exists. Luckily I'm in New York City for my birthday with the Glamwhore in another three weeks time, and have only a week after that before liftoff; there is a very good chance I might get to Shanghai with my mind and my figure intact.