The Old Must Go for the New to Come

In January 2010, I crammed 25 years of my life into two little 50 lbs bags and headed out on a China-bound plane to educate the young and inquisitive minds of Dalian on all things American. But why? Why leave a coveted associate producer position at CBS (and six years of journalism training to boot) and head off to a lowly English teaching position in China? Why? Because, frankly, I've learned getting what you think you want out of life isn't always what it's cracked up to be. What follows are the tales of my trials and triumphs (like overcoming my fear of the dreaded squatty potty) and the lessons I've learned along the way...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Year of the Tiger and the Thrill of the Fight…

A few words about Chinese New Year…First of all, it’s technically inaccurate to call it Chinese New Year (even though, everybody does) since it’s celebrated by Koreans, Indonesians, Japanese, Mongolians, and a host of other Asian peoples in addition to the Chinese. But here, it is more commonly referred to as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. And well, it’s kinda a big deal. I’d say it’s definitely the equivalent to a U.S. Christmas and New Year’s complete with presents, vacation days, family gatherings and tons and tons of food—only instead, of Christmas cookies, candy canes, turkeys and ham, they like to feast on sunflower seeds, fruit, nuts and dumplings (and you wonder why Americans are so fat.) Oh and I mentioned the fireworks in my previous post, but let me just reiterate the fact that NOBODY does fireworks like the Chinese. They’ve been shooting them off for TWELVE DAYS STRAIGHT NOW…morning, noon, and night…all hours of the night…and early, ungodly hours of the morning…Crack! Pow! Hiss!…Whistle! Snap! Pow!...Boom! Bam! Apocalypse!  I wake up with shell shock. I don’t even need a freakin’ alarm clock anymore!

But despite, my mild irritation with waking up to the soothing sounds of firecrackers in the morning, there is definitely something sublime about watching sparklers, crackers and roman candles snap, crackle and whiz through the air amongst a thousand others as far as the eye can see and the ear can hear. During New Year’s, I and a few other teachers from my school stayed with the family of one of our Chinese co-workers. Our host informed us that as part of the Chinese New Year tradition we would all partake in three very important New Year’s traditions: we would prepare the New Year’s Eve dumplings (which were DI-VINE!), we would light the New Year’s Eve fireworks, and we absolutely HAD to watch the New Year’s Eve Concert special on CCTV-1 because EVERYONE in China watches it ( fyi, in China, there are about 50 channels all entitled “CCTV-something” because the government owns ALL the Chinese networks.) Shortly before the clock struck 12, we headed outside and pranced around with sparklers in our hands like a bunch of giddy eight-year-olds on the Fourth of July. And at one point, I just stood there mesmerized by the green and pink explosions that seemed to speckle every corner of the sky. And as I watched the dozens of sparkles etch up to the tops of high-rise buildings all adorned with big and small red lanterns, I couldn’t help but thank God for allowing me to be alive in that moment…to get a glimpse of humanity from a world away…to watch people fellowshipping, feasting and celebrating the precious gift of life. You can change the names and faces, but I believe the overriding theme of holidays everywhere is celebrating the gifts God has given you...and to Him, I am forever grateful for the gift of my experience here in China. Xin nian kuai le, everyone! 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

From Chinatown to the Mamaland

"It's kinda like one gigantic Chinatown." That's been my ignorant little mantra for describing Dalian to friends and family back in the states and it's what I keep telling myself to make the whole notion of being thousands of miles from everything I know and love seem less overwhelming. It's been a little over a month since I crammed 25 years of my life into two little 50 lbs bags (actually, I was told at the airport that one of my bags was 10 lbs over so I had to pay that stinkin' $25 fee), and headed out on a China-bound plane to educate the young and inquisitive minds of Dalian on all things American. But why? Why go from a coveted associate producer position at CBS News in New York to a lowly E.S.L. teaching position in China? Why? Because, frankly, I've learned getting what you think you want out of life isn't always what it's cracked up to be. I thought I wanted to produce news for the rest of my life...turns out I kinda hate it...I'd rather do something more meaningful with my teach English in China...Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it's the Lord's purpose that prevails (Prov. 19:21). True story.

AND being one of about 10 black women in this entire country, (I exaggerate, I've seen about three others here in Dalian, but still, it gives a whole new meaning to the term "minority") I feel it behooves me, to use this venue to share my experiences with those of other black women currently living or considering living in China...because, let's be real, there are some issues that ONLY black women have to deal with in this country (like finding hair care products!) So far, in this past month, I've only been to Dalian, Benxi and Beijing (all cities in the northern region of China) and I don't profess to know much, but here are a few of my observations and initial impressions, thus far:

1. Censorship-- Just so there's no question, despite the claims, the government most certainly does censor the information that its citizens can access online (and it will probably block access to this blog too, if it has not already). When I first arrived here, I was unable to access facebook, myspace, cnn and even some articles on msnbc. There are ways to get around it but I probably shouldn't disclose them here :o)

2. Americans-- Many of the Chinese seem absolutely fascinated with Americans. One of Intel's headquarters is based in Dalian, so it is more common to see Americans and other foreigners walking around here. But in other cities, it is a far more rare sighting. Even in a major metropolis like Beijing, people will stop, stare, whisper and point. A fellow teacher equated it to how people in the U.S. react to seeing an Amish person. In America, it's like "OMG, look, Amish people!" Here, it's like "OMG, may gwo ren! (Americans!)" I may have this totally wrong, but I get the impression they think all "Americans" are beautiful, rich and cool...and when I say "Americans" I actually mean white people...which brings me to my next point...

3. "But She Doesn't Look American"--Think white people get a lot of points and stares in this country? Try being black (or brown). From what I gather, when the Chinese think of Americans, they think white people (yet, they all know and love President Barack Obama, go figure.)...They tend to associate black people with basketball and hiphop (both of which they also love.) I was forewarned by other black people who've traveled here before that I could expect to be pointed, stared, and prodded at like a freak show. However, I have to say that my experience here in that regard has been endearing at best and humorous at worst. Yes, there will always be ignorant people no matter where you go, but so far, everyone I've dealt with here has been so sweet and approached me with such genuine, innocent curiosity and fascination that I can't help but be amused even with the ignorant comments.  "She doesn't look American" a woman once said when I introduced myself. "Do everybody carry guns there?" another young lady asked me once when I told her I was from New York. "You are very beautiful" a man told me at a karaoke bar. "Your hair is wery special" another lady told me (and they all freakin' LOVE my hair.) "I like blacka people" another woman once happily declared. I've also been told by some of the other American teachers at the school that some of the Chinese teachers wanted to know why my skin was so dark--which is ironic, since I'm always considered the one with the lightest skin out of all my black friends--but they'd been advised by our boss (who is also American) not to ask me that question...but I kinda wish they had.

4. Can a Sistah Get a Press and Curl?--Amazingly, there are people here that do black hair! (Or so I've been told) One day, while I was at school, a man came in from Intel with his wife who just so happened to be black. I noticed her hair was straightened, so I immediately went up to her and asked her where she got it done. We talked and exchanged emails and so far, she's sent me the names of three different people I can approach about a wash and set! So excited! So I guess when it comes to getting your hair needs met, you just got to work those networking skills.

5. Fireworks--Think they do it up big in the states for Fourth of July and New Years? Think again! During Chinese New Year, the Chinese take firework displays to a whole 'nova level!!! They do not play! I swear every single resident in this entire country puts on their own fireworks display. On New Year's Eve the constant flashes, cracks, and booms of the 10,001 fireworks going off were so prevalent, I could barely hear the words of the people standing right beside me. And it doesn't stop on New Year's Day either. They just keep going! It has been like freaking Baghdad for 10 days straight now! On Thursday, while I was visiting Beijing, there was reportedly a 6.7 level earthquake that should have been felt all throughout city. However, I didn't have a clue about the earthquake because I probably just assumed the earth shaking was just a result of all the dang fireworks going off!

And so ends my first entry on my first reflections on my first month in this amazing country. You may argue that it's filled with ignorance and unfounded generalizations and assumptions about an entire population of  1.3 billion people who have a diverse array of customs, mannerisms and opinions, and to that, I say, you're probably correct. I mean, I've only lived here a month. What the heck do I know? But I'm learning...and that's the beauty of the journey.

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