21 September 2007
Subject: Natural Sequences

Salutations, Sweeties!

It appears that I have fallen into a mass-communication pattern similar to the Fibonacci sequence. That seems natural, though... as natural as pinecones, anyway. I am settling into a new life here, and my time is now allocated to creating detail inside of my new bubble. Inam less likely to find things to be remarkable as I become inured tontheir constant presence. These letters are changing their purpose, from capturing my first ignorant impressions while reassuring you semi-constantly that I am safely enjoying my decision to move here, to now refining my thoughts and composting my emotional epiphanies. You are the same treasured audience, though, so I will make the change gradually. Let us begin.

The primary school gave me my own castle in which to teach. No... really, they did. It has turrets and double wooden doors with big brass knockers and locks, and it says "English Club" on the door in formidably large letters, three times higher than eye-level for the tots. Inside they've set the stage (literally) with all sorts of colourful decorations and didactic materials. There are little animal thrones in a row against the wall, and lots of padded stools that look like different kinds of sports balls, all kept in neat little rows and columns. It has interesting shapes on the ceiling and unusual lighting fixtures-- lots of little spotlights. Altogether exotic and wildly different from their usual classroom.

I stay in my castle and rest for a few minutes between classes, waiting for the next batch of munchkins to arrive. They file down the hallway behind their teacher, chittering excitedly to each other and sneaking peaks at me through the ornate windows. They have to stand two-by-two in a double line against the wall until they settle down to perfect silence. The teacher asks "are you ready?" answered with a fist-bitingly adorable "YES I'M REAAADY!" Then they are allowed one-by-one through the portal into the Inner Sanctum where they circumlocate stools, I say "HELLO" and then oops, that's when they start wiggling again, and I've just undone all discipline their teachers have inspired.

It takes a lot of energy to keep class interesting for them, but it's fun. "Lesson Plans" are good things to have just in case, though it works better to just have a vague idea of what topics you want to cover. In one class last week, we were going over colours and I pointed to things in the room, getting them to shout them in unison. I pointed to a girl's pink shoe, so she took it off to hold it up. Within ten seconds, shoes were coming off left and right and I had an armful of smelly colours for them to exuberantly name. Everyone wanted their shoes to be the focus of attention; it was unbearably exciting!!!

For their first lesson, I thought we would cover numbers, and perhaps the alphabet. I walked in and we started counting. Past ten. All the way to 100, actually. I introduced the concept of zero. They already knew their alphabet, and not only did they sing the alphabet song but also they knew all the letters out of order. So I moved on to colours, and realized it was also all review. They learned "silver" and "gold" and soon we had said the colours of everything in the room. So I moved on to animals, to discover that yes, they knew those too. Not just cat and dog and bird, but also monkey, fish, snake, rabbit, tiger, horse, pig, cow, wolf, kangaroo, elephant, duck, butterfly, alligator, lion, bear, panda, and one kid knew dragonfly. I taught them "frog" and "turtle," the former causing predictable chaos. This was within half an hour, so we moved on to body parts. Which they also knew, and after a rousing rendition of Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, we named all the parts. They learned "elbow" and "neck" with everything else known without prompting.

These are first graders, keep in mind. Can you imagine a group of American students that age knowing all that vocab in Chinese? Mitch _cracked_ me up with his suggestions for my thirsty sponges... just come in one day and start out with "Okay kids, today we are going to learn about the wave particle duality paradox. Wave. WAVE. Particle. PAR-TICKLE. Par-tick-uhl. PARTICKLE. Du-al-it-y. DUWALLITEE. Du-aah-lih-ty. DUALITY. Pa-ra-dox. PARADUCKS. Pa-rah-dox. PARADOGS. Paradox. PARADOCKS. Good. Okay, so what is the 'Wave-Particle Duality Paradox'..."

Secret? I can't stand most kids. Like the one on my bus who, for an undiscouraged hour, lilled "LILLERLILLERLILLERLILLERLILLERLILLERLILLERLILLER"
But also? Some of my first grade students are little darlings that I toss up in the air with glee.

I am an animal. I display animal characteristics. Discuss:

Of all the "cultural differences" I suck up and deal with here, the one I'm least likely to come to terms with is smoking. I admit, I've been sweetly sheltered for most of my life, living in The People's Republics of Northern California and Boulder where it's illegal to smoke in restaurants and other enclosed public places. And I'm fine with people smoking in bars and clubs; I just limit my exposure by not going. But people smoke on public busses, at school, in the office! I don't care WHAT culture you're from, if you're smoking in my face and I don't have the option to leave, it is extremely rude and disrespectful. Contaminating the air with foul toxins is such a selfish and nasty thing to do when others are breathing the communal air. It's like pissing in the office drinking water, who the hell does such barbarities? There are few things I am adamantly protective of, to my acceptance and patience breaking point, and they are: 1) my time and 2) my health. You can abuse me in other ways, mentally or emotionally perhaps, and I will recover. But if you compromise my Time or my Health, beware my fangs. Smoking is, most people with a shred of a sliver of an education will agree, not healthy, yes? I must amend my estimation of the air quality here from "pretty crappy" to "god-awful." Just about all days are grey, and most days I never know where the sun is in the sky until it is a pink-red orb through the haze at sunset. NO2 and SO2 stenches are overpowering in traffic, and I can just /feel/ my mana draining. But wtf... one has to breath. And if I come back to Colorado, I am spending days on end hanging out with the rocks and trees and sky and just /breathing/. And then watching the stars all night, because I haven't seen them yet in China.

Many people start conversations with me while I am eating, the usual time for socialization. Most of the conversations go: Them- "Do you like Chinese food?" Me- "Yes, I do." Them- "Wow, you know how to use chopsticks!" Me- "Yes, I do." But I've also had the following conversation numerous times: Them- "Wow, you know how to use chopsticks!" Me- "Yes, I do." Them- "Do you like Chinese food?" Me- "Yes, I do." See, the conversations are sort of similar, except the question order is reversed, did you notice? Allow me to pre-clarify in case you were about to ask: Yes I like Chinese food, and also... I know how to use chopsticks. That is to say, I know how to use chopsticks, and also... I like Chinese food. Seriously though, stop asking.

Personally, things are moving along pretty well in this department... so to speak. Publicly, toilets are generally holes in the floor, I may have mentioned. Still with plumbing, but definitely built for squatting. Mitch and I gave a lecture to our class this week about excretion and some of the common euphemisms, like dropping the kids off at the pool. I illustrated on the chalkboard the difference between "#1" and "#2." We also covered major faux pas that might be different between our cultures. Mitch gave a stunning impression of his real-life TIC witness-hood of a dainty lady on the bus suddenly vomiting all over her shoes, and then just continuing to read her paper unperturbed, then a girl coming up and sitting down in it, un-bothered. He had me doubled over belly-laughing. I demonstrated through the window, the hocking of a magnificent loogi. I think we are a pretty fabulous teaching team, and I'm sure the students get a lot out of our lessons.

I get around fine on buses, at least the ones I have learned for my purposes. Especially now that I have taken up a second job at another school, teaching more classes after my 13-hour time investment for Yingcai. But in terms of auto-perambulation, I haven't done much walking aside from a couple of weekend days hiking up behind the South Putuo Temple, and the occasional traversal of XiaDa campus getting home from our bus stop. I am sorely lacking proper exercise, though my schedule is awful tight and the air quality doesn't recommend anything aerobic. This is a sadness.

Several of you have asked if I would consider dating a Chinese person. That's neither here nor there. But yes, I would consider it. I don't find any of the men to be physically attractive, and while the women are, it's not a possibility. But the most prohibitive reason why it's not likely is because it is difficult to redirect my heart when it is carved into pieces and cast across an ocean. My emotional confusion notwithstanding, I understand that it is difficult for foreign women to meet and date Chinese men. Chinese women flock to dance with Mitch when we go out. Whereas I stand alone, looking about aimlessly while men fastidiously feign aloofness when not covertly staring at my strangely-shaped face, hair, shoulders, breasts, legs, etc. Anyway, my mind-space heart-on-a-stick is not available. Oh, and I'm a Molly, so that's a prerequisite for any sexual activity, unlike for some others. >.> And even then, I may hesitate for too many months, afraid to melt my circuits or destroy an important friendship.

Mitch commented one night that he heard about weddings and births, but never deaths. And he wondered why death was not more visible, though he didn't wish to bring it about by mentioning it, knock on wood. Later that night, I saw that Yang was lifeless at the bottom of the turtle tank. We had a several-day-long wake, and then Mitch stood at the edge of the sea and read aloud a passage from the Tibetan Book of the Dead before tossing her into the waves.

My personality in Chinese is sweet, charming, and pleasant. It's not because I'm suddenly not snide and sarcastic and needling... it's just because I haven't learned the words to express myself that way, yet. ...Yet.

My emotional state, as mentioned, is fairly roiled. Most of the time, I set it aside because 1) I am in China and 2) They the Tri-departite are each unavailable in their distinct ways, irrespective of my proximity. But being jubilantly irrational, I imagine I'll keep precious rocks as placeholders in the spaces they are not, thus guaranteeing my romantic infatuation based on what little I knew of them when they were the They I used to know. Part of me realizes the futility of kindling-searching for phantom fires, but more of me is glad to have something to romanticize, however invented. Although, and let me be clear, it is not invented by me alone, but with due participation from the sources, which, flames in hearts and sparks in eyes, are very much roaring in their own bright incendios.

Rummaging through my backpack on my birthday, I found the star-twig that Chris-with-the-tail discovered for me on the magic tree. It made me inordinately happy. A non-numbered happiness that is 1) out of order and, (inconsequential non sequitur:) 2) enumerated lists with two datum are silly, but 3) there is still no third thing. Also opened on my GoodBirdsTag: a card from my mom and the chocolate Nathan gave me, which I've been jealously guarding from the weather since I arrived. I celebrated my birthday morning by learning some key Chinese phrases, and then going alone to the bank to open an account. I then took myself, hand-in-hand to the post office to wrangle the mailage of a love-letter. If it successfully gets through, I'll send others. Back home, Mitch, hands shaking slightly, cut my hair-- my vanity only previously cut by family or lovers. Feeling dolly-like in my short curls, I was taken out to a coffee shop to meet up with others. I played a couple of teaching games of weiqi (go) with Robert and Jean, and then Bjorn arrived and I discovered an equal match in the lank Swede. Then Mitch took me out with George and Jean to a tasty dinner at Revolution, a Dongbei food restaurant with a comical Maoist decor. Thick as ticks, we sauntered towards an undisclosed location, which, upon arrival, turned out to be a KTV (Karaoke Television). And THEN, I opened the room door to find our students-in-lurking aligned as beautiful stars behind a table-load cloud of fruit, lights dimmed and faces shining. We sang and chatted and danced a bit, with other friends joining us. Mostly, it was a glorious chance for the students to relate to each other in a non-classroom environment as at the boarding school. Team-building, let's call it. George, Jean, Mitch, and I then wandered home with four full bags of fruit in hand, and sat about debating whether or not to go out to K.K. I had my way, and the four of us went to get massages at one in the morning. Delicious delightful delirious massages for an hour and a half, foot and back massages with hot pebbles and all sorts of techniques. Mitch and I rolled home at three in the morning to end the best birthday I've had in China, but also the best birthday I've had all year!

It should be noted that I've been developing some naughty habits. First of all, I have a green tea addiction. I hope my kidneys are as pleased as my lovely liver with the daily titration, cuz if not, I'm in deep sh** or maybe steeped pee. Also, I've developed a parasol problem. They are so shiny and lurvely, but hopefully I can stop with just two. Less likely to be limited and also shiny-- nail polish. Thanks a LOT, JOHN. Just... really GREAT. And of course... the fruit fixation. Apparently, I am a super-raucous fructiferous corvid with an eye for the Shine and differentiating Chinese characters.

I have a few ideas. We need the Official Laowai Stamp with which we can mark all the documents in Chinese that are thrust upon us as if we understood. It will be round and red, of course, and state "BU DONG!" in big characters. This amuses me for a great many reasons.

I teach English classes to all the Primary School English Teachers. I taught the advanced group some Latin and Greek prefixes and suffixes, explaining how they can take many words apart to understand the general meaning even if they have never seen them before. I showed how I use a similar technique to learn Chinese, starting with the basic bushou, and grokking how they are all put together. I used as an example, that I am from big sheep jade in the box. Meigua, beautiful country, America, is sheep over big, with jade in a box. Makes little sense, but maybe a big sheep is considered beautiful, and a country is where you keep your national treasures. At least it helps me remember everything.

Mitch, when our kids start speaking too much Chinese, makes the students talk into his shoe. What a fabulous teaching technique!

If I invented a literary instrument that used similar-sounding words to play puns as music, I would call it the homophonica.

I should end this now, before I dig it deeper.

But first!~ Product Poetry:

"About aesthetic avant-garde fashion, art worship extravagant beauty, absolutely not miss the tip of expression!" --nail polish bottle
"Cures attentively, source in specialized technology: Chooses the material excellent, receives the traditional process; Strives for perfection, to gather together length of the numerous families; Feeling Longmei, the feeling taste beautiful is mellow." --package of rice-bean sweets
"When alarm and sleeping flag is not activated, that is to say both alarm clock and sleep are closed, only when alarm is activated, press UP sleep is valid."
"Attentions: 1) Avoid fierce concussion and falling. ... 4) Please reload the batterry when the display is unnormal for pulling out the isolating slice. ... 7) Don't detach inner component." --alarm clock instructions

Love you all,

P.S. I found out that I am meeting my brother at the train station tomorrow. (Two numbered exclamations: 1) Tomorrow?! and 2) I have a brother?!) His name is Yaning, he is Chinese, the son of my father's bride, and is coming to Xiamen tomorrow to stay with me for a while. I'm pretty excited!

P.P.S. I am planning to go to Wuyi Shan for National week vacation. And the week before that, on Friday, China is hosting a banquet for Foreign Experts teaching English in Xiamen. The /government/ is inviting us to dinner... this doesn't happen in the U.S.! And eventually I'll be taking a trip to Hong Kong to make my visa status here long-term.

P.P.P.S. New photos up at mollybee.org/china.html Even more soon.