You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2009.

Leaving today to go to Jinan for the big 60th anniversary of Mao’s revolution.  Then off to Yantai (coastal town) for a few days.  Will be seriously updating the blog on my return.  Hope all is well!

26 September 2009

Much of our time here is spent alone.  We plan for classes alone; we stand solo in front of a class to teach our lessons; we exist quietly alone in our apartments during free time.  However, meals here are quite the contrary.  On a daily basis, wide-eyed students gape at the passing site of their foreign teachers marching off to lunch—promptly at noon—or dinner—promptly at seven.  Sometimes we return to our favorite spots, other times we venture into the melee of street vendors selling piles upon piles of kiwis and pomegranates and apples, past small restaurants where Muslim masters kneed and twist flour and water into perfect noodles, and where the overwhelming scent of vinegar and chili burns in our lungs.

This is how Allie and I spent today’s two hour lunch break.  We pushed our new bikes out into the fray of honking trucks and pedestrians who don’t get out of your way, and brought them to rest outside one of these noodle restaurants.  We were ushered in with Chinese by a man with a small white cap on his head, and served by a sweet face after a common and always funny conversation that involves no words, but rather expressive hand gestures, nodding and frequent grunting.

So what if we were eating potatoes and noodles in the same dish?  There were peppers thrown in, too, and we got a side soup with cabbage and mushrooms.  Allie and I were Lady and the Tramp, slurping up noodles, shoving them into our mouths as quickly as our clumsy chopstick skills would allow.

Whether it is eggplant, mushrooms or dumplings, eating is a greedy frenzy of flying chopsticks, spinning lazy susans to get more tea, grabbing for one more bite even though our stomachs could barely handle the last one.  I could, I will, I do eat Chinese food for every meal, and I still can’t get enough.  I don’t care about the grease. I don’t care about the spice.  I just want more.  Though I am thoroughly frustrated by cabin fever, a controlling government, and a school that doesn’t want me to travel because I’ll get swine flu, at least I have a meal in a few hours to look forward to:  a little braised eggplant, some veggies thrown into a wok and briefly stirred up with a little oil and vinegar to be piping hot and delicious, a roasted duck you can smell three blocks away…

If there’s one thing I’ll miss, it will be this.

My new t=shirt

My new t=shirt

17 September 2009

Beijing was ominous.

The Great wall was an out of body experience; I’d write about it more, but how do you write about something that has survived through centuries, where dynastic armies patrolled their country’s borders, where millions of tourists come each year to see the snaking curves of stone along the crests of the surrounding mountains?  How do you write about the space, the calm that descends on your mind as you trudge up the uneven stairs even through a claustrophobic crowd of pushing people? There’s a reason it’s one of the seven wonders of the world.

Now, I am settled in Qufu.

It’s about midnight.  I can’t sleep.  I’m listening to the crickets outside—the city has finally gone to bed, except the bugs and the cats in heat.  One cricket, as long as my thumb, plump and hopping, has found its way into my apartment.  It’s a little disturbing wondering how it accomplished this (what other things are lurking in the darker corners and crevices of this place that doesn’t quite contain the comforts of American households, yet?).  I just hope that, unlike the endless numbers of mosquitoes, it won’t keep me awake.  However, tonight, it might not be the bugs, rather the cats.  Well, who am I to deprive them of their companionship, when here I am with only my keyboard to make love to?

I feel like I should have a low ball glass of scotch beside me and a half burned cigarette that needs to be ashed hanging out of my mouth, right now.  There are a few problems with this “feeling.”  Fist, there is no good scotch or any alcohol for that matter to be found in Qufu.  Second, even if there was, I don’t really like scotch.  Third, I never really liked cigarettes either except the image they suggest of a complex-artist/writer-woman defying gender stereotypes by being deeply engrossed in her creative work, half way around the world.  I think I need to stop watching so many movies.

Also, I actually thought about how that last paragraph was a “listing” paragraph, something I just tried to teach my students about today, but to no avail because even though they write beautiful English, when it’s spoken they can’t understand it for shit.

When Allie and I went for our run today, the only things we talked about were lesson plans and how to get our students excited about homework.  And to think that one can talk about these subjects with so much gusto! Oh, we did indeed.

So, welcome to China.  Welcome to the world where the description on your shower soap reads:

“French romantic hippocampus rich perfume essence and nourish a variety of components, which can effectively eliminate the sweat Taste, improve rough skin, moisten pay, so that smooth sky, enhance skin elasticity, the skin smooth after bathing such as silk, the dissemination of the charming, elegant, romantic atmosphere, so that more women soft, so that Man is more taste…Bubble-rich delicacy, delicate fragrance and elegant, bringing its refreshing, light Song pleasant bath new feel!”

No editing.  No joke.  I guess this is why I am here, but gosh…is there any hope??

26 August 2009

Today I meet the group—strange because the past week and a half has been spent solo, or with people who don’t know me very well.  I’m used to handling things by myself now, it will be strange seeing people I’ve known for more than a year, having someone else take over the trip planning.

As the plane touched down in Beijing yesterday, I realized how much I had been wanting to come to China, made evident by the movies I’ve watched and books I’ve read.  I don’t’ think it was much of a coincidence that I chose to live here for a year.  But it was always in the cards—don’t know if the movies/books are what made me want to come, or if they were what prepared me.  But here I am with a shit-eating grin on my face…

24 August 2009

Delhi again.  But this time is the complete opposite of the last.

The all-night bus ride was a foggy dream from its beginning—Amala gave me only one kata because I’m going to China, not back to America.  I sat next to a French woman, who comes to Dhasa often to help with environmentalism in the Tibetan community.  Someone got sick—the smell unbearable for a while.  The AC was too cold, no windows to open so condensation within the bus left us damp when we awoke from the jolting vehicle, the beeping, the music from shop windows as we passed through towns.  My mind was hazy from lack of sleep.

I am used to a rougher side of India.  So when I got to Kail’s house to see a guard at the gate, peacocks in the garden, and servants shuffling me inside, one could imagine my shock.  It was about 8 am.  I hadn’t really slept.  Was this a dream?

Chetan welcomed me into his home even though my visit was a surprise to him—his wife, Manya, had forgotten to tell him I would be coming.  But all was well.  We ate custard and pomegranate seeds for breakfast, drank fresh squeezed orange juice.  He called the girls to tell them I was on my way.  He called the driver.  I was shuttled from one Seth house to the next, where Lakshmi put me to bed for a couple hours.  When I awoke, Ambika, one of Kail’s three stunning step-sisters, was there to greet me.

Ambika says I am adventurous.  Again I’m not sure whether it is adventure or craziness I seek, but whichever one, it was wonderful to be in good hands.  The Seth family has redeemed India for me. However, I am inclined to ask myself if this redemption is due to indulgence in a security built on a little wealth.  When I told Ambika that I was glad to see a little Indian culture from their eyes (I had really only seen Tibetan), she echoed her step brother’s retort saying, “I’m not sure if we live like real Indians.” In any event, it was enough.  Just to meet them, to dine with them, to listen to their lives and see their homes, to go into the markets and pick out red and gold fabrics together—bartering in broken English and Hindi, to listen to their stories of their brother—a great friend to me, it was all enough.  I have depended on the kindness of strangers, and they could not have been more kind.  Though this brief vacation, transition, journey (whatever you may call it) has been stressful, I have been humbled and realize how truly blessed I am.  I am already fortunate to have such beautiful people in my life, but it is overwhelming to keep adding them to the family.  And that is exactly how I was treated this week, both in Dharamsala and in Delhi, just like one of their own.

I don’t think I will ever be able to fully comprehend India.  Perhaps this is the reason why I am both drawn to it and repulsed by it, a country of contradictions.  The beauty of the people, architecture, textiles, harshly set against a background of unending poverty and filth. Countless authors and historians have tried to make sense of this place.  Their statements have so much truth sometimes, others are just vast generalizations that can barely be applied.  Someone once said that while other countries were going to war to conquer more land and peoples, India was trying to conquer the meaning of the cycle of life and spirituality.  Again, this is both true and false.  India did its fair share of going to war.  But like so many, I will return here, forever drawn to this soil in search of an understanding that extends from human life to human existence to our divine identity.

A friend of mine from college is putting together a project to publish textbooks for Tibetan primary schools in China.  Please let me know if you are interested, or know of anyone else who might be interested in funding the project. Thanks!

Here’s the email he sent:

Dear Charlee,
How are you? Hope you had a great summer. My summer was great. I spent most of my time in Xining with my friends and my parents.
Some of my friends, teachers from Qinghai Normal University I ( involved in editing during this summer vocation) put together 24 Tibetan Language and math review/practive books for Tibetan primary school and junior high school students. The project exceeds more than 1500 pages. The books are well edited and the Provincial Education Bureau approved us of distributing them in Tibetan areas in Qinghai Province if we have the funding.
So, I am wondering if you know any public as well as private organizations might be interested in sponsoring this project?
The books we attempt to publish are Winter Vocational Tibetan Language Review Books for Tibetan Primary School students from grade one to six (Six Books). We intend to publish 24.000  copies of them. The total budget for this overwhelming number is roughly 60.800 RMB or 8.901 USD {(Press Mark = 8.000 RMB)+ (2.2 RMB/book X 24.000 books = 52.800) = 60.800 RMB} The requested budget is 7.729 USD
Sincerely,
Spencer

23 August 2009

The ani (nun) who lives next door does not speak English.  I barely speak Tibetan, but even with my little knowledge I realize we don’t need words to speak to each other.  Over Amala’s thenthuk or tsampa, we look at each other with so much to say behind our eyes.  Even with a shaved head, draping red cloth for clothes, she is strikingly beautiful—she reminds me of another “nun” I know in Chicago.  Amala doesn’t understand why she became a nun, for this reason—she could easily find a husband.

Even with no words to speak to each other, it is still difficult to say goodbye, for I will be leaving Dharmasala this evening to venture back to Delhi and on to ten months in China.  A brief hug, a squeeze of the hand, and she is off to Namgyal Temple to pray, to search for enlightenment for herself and for her people, to search for peace.

A memory, looking back on Dharamsala:  Kelsang, Jamyang (my “brothers) and I at the corner table, our favorite, over beer.  Jamyang stated he didn’t know what it was like to be free until he came to India.  If they do go back to Tibet, what will they do?  Now they know freedom.  Freedom of speech, action, thought.  For me, it will be the opposite.  I will have to visit China in oder to know freedom—I must not know freedom in order to find it.

Later, the two of them illustrated their frustrations–they will only know their place.  They cannot move.  For now they are happy in India, content with their community, their “band of brothers,” the job at First Cup Cafe, the easy repetition of their lifestyle.  But then, yet a little later, Kelsang mentioned that his heart is always in Tibet.

Again, at MClo’s:  Using salt shaker, beer glass and lighter, Kelsang illustrated why it was good for me to go to China.  The salt shaker represented America, the beer glass was Dharamsala. “First, you are here,” he said in his broken English as he pointed to the salt shaker.  “Then you come to India and you think like this.”  He pointed at the beer glass.  “Now you go to China and you will think like this.  I think it’s good you go to China.”  He didn’t point to the lighter that represented China.  He pointed to an empty spot on the table in between the three objects.

20 August 2009

Last night I walked alone along the busy evening streets of Dhasa.  I met my “brothers” on the top of Tsongka, my favorite restaurant.  The roof has a spectacular view of the city and the peak that towers over the valley.  At dusk, when the city is in shadow, this peak gets the last drops of sunlight, a pink and gold glow against the rising stars.

Where else can I sit at a bar with seven or so who hardly speak the same language, and, over shitty beer get tipsy to a conversation that contemplates the meaning of human life—it’s complications, its difficulties, its happinesses?

This is part of why I feel alive here, awake rather.  Because people here are awake to life—to family and community and spirituality—to simply living.  It was here I found the importance of those things, so much that I returned back to America to search for them there.

One is faced with life here in the  simplest of tasks.  One is involved in the task, there is very little to separate you.  Buying meat- you choose from the whole which part you want.  We use our hands instead of toilet paper.  There is no shower head to wash away the chore of staying clean—we heat and pour and scrub the water over ourselves, connected with carnal nature.  Money is to survive rather than be rich.  Money is to get back to The Land of Snowy Mountains, to get back home.

September 2009
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