The Metamorphosis Begins (Chengdu)

Trip Start Jan 18, 2012
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Trip End Jul 01, 2012


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What I did
DuFu's Cottage
Tibetan Quarter

Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Saturday, April 14, 2012

3-29

I just had the most amazing meal--a bowl of mixed veggies in a very hot, tangy sauce. This of course came with a side of white sticky rice. Jessie then taught me some basic phrases in Chinese, so I can order food for myself better and also so I don't always have to get noodles. I told her I needed to limit my noodle consumption because eating them every day will make me fat. She is such a lovely person. I feel so blessed to have her in my life.

Teaching has actually gone better this week for some reason. I don't know why, but maybe it is because I have a really good lesson with pictures included. I am going to start using the Smart Board more. I was scared at first because the computer is in Chinese, but I used it this week, and it was really easy to figure out.

Although things are getting easier, I am still trying to adjust to my life here. I still feel really out of place. I don't plan on staying in China after my semester contract because one semester of teaching in this country is enough. Every day is an adventure, though, which is nice, but some days it is exhausting. I feel very alive here, probably because I don't zone out in front of a TV like I did in Colorado. Netflix really is evil you know....

I am trying to learn Chinese, but I think I am a hopeless case. My struggle with Chinese, though, helps remind me how hard it is to learn another language, making me more patient when teaching English to my students. When I first started teaching here, I would get frustrated when I would spend 40 minutes teaching 5 words, and my students wouldn't remember any of them. I only try to teach myself one word a day, but I still can't remember it the next day it seems. I still struggle with counting to 10!!! Jeez, I wonder why it is so hard for me. I know it is easy for people in my family to learn new languages; for instance, my Uncle Jim is fluent in five languages!!! Why didn't I acquire some of his genes?

3-31

This is the week that I have to work seven days in order to get three days off. That is how holidays work in China. A seven day work week is crazy, especially when I can barely handle a five day week!!! I was telling the kids that in America they would never go to school seven days in a row, and they said they are used to hearing this from their foreign teachers. This week we are only playing games in my classes because I don't think they should have to work on days that should be their weekend. They are educational games of course, but I want them to have a lot of fun because it is simply cruel to make kids go to school seven days in a row. That is my philosophy at least.

I had tea with a teacher from Buckland after work yesterday. He is very nice and is from Australia. He lives really close to me, so we thought we could at least grab dinner together a couple of times a week instead of eating by ourselves. That is something I have been doing a lot
of--eating out by myself. I remember Dennis telling me he used to eat out a lot by himself in his bachelor days, but I always thought that sounded miserable. Here I am, though, eating out by myself most nights. It isn't very fun, but when you don't have a kitchen in which to cook, it is so much easier eating out--not to mention the food is so cheap and scrumptious.

4-3

Things did not go according to plan this weekend, which is normal in China. I have yet to have a weekend where everything went as planned, but that does not mean I haven't had fun along the way. My goal this weekend was to go to Leshan, see the Giant Buddha, and then head to Emei Shan for the night. I was then going to get up to watch the sunrise on Mount Emei Shan, see the monkeys, and then hike back down the mountain in time to catch a bus home. Sounds pretty easy, right? I knew that because it was a holiday it was going to be extra busy, but I was still in shock when I showed up to the bus station on Monday morning and saw thousands of people crammed around the station. I stood out front to wait for my group of friends to show up (Cial, Colleen, Sarah, Helen, and Lewis) but had a hard time staying out of people's way. After what felt like an eternity, they finally showed up, and Cial, who is very tall, helped us push our way through to the ticket line. We were in line for probably an hour, got our tickets, and then headed outside for some fresh air. Only then did we realize that our departure time was for 4:00 pm. Apparently, all of the tickets before 4 were sold out. This kind of messed up our plans, but we decided to go to a park and hang out for 6 hours until our bus left. I actually really enjoyed this part of the day because we got to relax at the park, soak up some sun, and simply enjoy the beautiful weather. We decided to go directly to Mount Emei Shan, so we could see the sunrise the following morning. We would then go to the Giant Buddha after we made it down the mountain. It sounded good in theory.

We got on our bus and arrived in Leshan at 6:45 pm. We then jumped in a van that took us to the main section of town, so we could then find a hotel. There was a lady in our van, and Sarah said, "Nee-how." The lady then started talking to us, and by using our Mandarin book and hand gestures, we somehow explained that we were looking for a place to spend the night. Instead of saying goodbye to us after the van arrived at the destination, she explained that she wanted to help us find a place to stay because otherwise we would get ripped off. Her husband was also with us and was willing to help. We walked to a couple of different hotels, but she said they were all too expensive. We then stood outside another hotel for hours, debating with the owner about how many rooms we needed. We explained how we could have three to a room, and two people could share a bed, but they wouldn't allow this. They said that there could only be two people to a room. After hours of standing around and wondering why I drank that huge bottle of water, a car pulls up and the lady motions for us to get in. I needed a restroom, so I jumped in the car, thinking to myself, "I don't care where you take me as long as there is a restroom." The other people then piled in, but we still needed a taxi because there was no way to fit the 6 of us in the car. Sarah sat on my lap, which would have been fine if I didn't desperately need a restroom, but I figured as long as we get somewhere soon, I should be fine. We arrived at a hotel that is out in the middle of nowhere it seems, but I jumped out, excited that we had found a hotel. We all paid 67 yuan for the night, which is a really good deal, given that it was a holiday. We were told to be quiet about sharing beds because it is considered inappropriate, and I finally got a restroom. Thank goodness!!!!!

Because we were out in the middle of nowhere, we were not able to find any food for dinner. Therefore, we decided to get to bed, so we could get a good start on the next day, even though seeing the sunrise on the mountain was no longer an option because the buses don't leave early enough. In the morning, we walked to the bus station and were told it would cost us 150 yuan to get partially up the mountain and another 90 yuan to get down. We thought this was too much, so we talked to two Chinese boys who said they knew of a different entrance and that we could follow them. They said it was only an hour walk, so we agreed to go with them. The walk ended up taking over three hours I believe, but we made it to the entrance, only to find out it cost the same amount as the bus station. We also found out that after the bus drops us off it is still a 4 hour hike to the top, unless we pay another 60 yuan for the cable car. This trip was getting to be more expensive than we initially thought, but we paid for the bus and jumped in. It took about 45 minutes to get to the mid-section of the mountain, and when the bus stopped, we piled out, ready to start the climb. We climbed to the monastery and spent an hour hanging out, discussing our options. We could pay the extra 60 yuan to take a cable car to the top, but then we would have to pay another 60 yuan to get back to the bus. If we did this, we wouldn't have enough money left to get home, so we decided that we were happy having gotten half way up the mountain. We rested for a little while and then headed back down to the bus.

I was really sad that we couldn't make it to the top, but I was also running out of cash. More than anything, I just wanted to see the wild monkeys that Mount Emei Shan is known for. When we were climbing to the Monastery, people were selling bamboo sticks, which I thought were walking sticks, but a man told me they were used to fend off the wild monkeys because they can be quite aggressive. This only made me want to see the wild monkeys more!!! I was really sad as we were walking back down to the buses because I didn't get to see the wild monkeys. I had my head down, so I could study each step, since people were falling down due to the slushy snow. Yes....there was indeed snow on the mountain!!! I felt as though I was in Colorado again!! Sarah took a pretty good fall on the way up the mountain, so I wanted to make sure to avoid the slippery snow while trekking down the path. So there I was, studying each step while my heart was breaking because I didn't get to see the wild monkeys, when all of a sudden I heard Cial scream, "Monkeys!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Monkeys!!!!!!!!!!!! Look at the monkeys!!!!!!!!!!" I looked up and saw Cial run straight up to a wild monkey, so he could take pictures. I shouted, "Cial...watch out!!! He might attack you," but he got right up in the monkey's face and kept saying, "Look...a monkey...a monkey!!!" The monkeys must be used to people because this monkey didn't seem phased by Cial at all. I took a whole bunch of pictures and then saw wild baby monkeys on the other side of the trail. People were walking up and feeding the monkeys, and I was memorized because I had never been so close to a monkey before. One guy fed a monkey and then tried to pet it, but it got mad and showed its teeth. If he tried petting it again, I am sure he would have lost a few fingers. I have never cared much for monkeys, but monkeys take on a whole different importance when they are in the open and able to attack you. While I was taking pictures I heard screaming and saw an adult monkey jump on a girl because he wanted what she was eating. He was trying to take her food, but she didn't want to give it to him. He was getting pretty aggressive, but her parents pushed him away in my direction. Jeez... thanks!!! At least I didn't have any food in my hand. I screamed and then ran towards Cial and the others and exclaimed, "Did you guys see that girl get attacked by that monkey?" They didn't see the attack because they were too busy watching the monkeys that were further up. There were a bunch of baby monkeys, and they were scurrying about, picking up trash and scraps that people were throwing. One man gave a monkey a bottle of juice, and the monkey opened it and drank it all. How cute!!!

After enjoying the monkeys, we jumped on the bus that would take us down the mountain. I am usually pretty good at walking and hiking, but I had a pretty strong headache as I got on the bus. I don't know if all of the walking and climbing got to me, or if it was just a headache that would have happened no matter what, but I was not looking forward to the ride back down the mountain. I was sitting in the back of the bus, and a cute man from Australia started talking to me. I told him I was from Colorado, and he said that is where he wants to live someday but that he needs to find a wife in order to get a green card. He might have been the one for me, but my head was pounding so hard that I told him I couldn't talk because of the pain I was in. He asked his friend if she had anything for my head, and she handed me two pills that I eagerly took. I think the pills and the water got to my stomach because I started getting really queasy as we curved back down the mountain. At the half way point, the bus stopped so the brakes could cool down, and Cial asked me how I was doing. I explained that I felt really sick, and Helen got me some bags just in case I needed them. I felt like I was going to throw up, so I ran out of the bus but was immediately asked to get back on because they needed to get going. Cial asked me to let him know when I was going to throw up so he could get it on film, and I couldn't help but give him a weak smile. What a silly guy. After I got back on the bus, within 5 minutes I started throwing up in the bag. I apologized to everyone on the bus, but everyone was very nice and simply complimented me on my aiming skills. The guy from Australia said, "Good job!!! You got it all in the bag!!! Way to go!!" I threw up again towards the end of the ride, so I was beyond excited when the bus finally came to a stop. I told everyone I needed a restroom and ran to the nearest one. If I haven't made this clear in my previous posts, people in China are very pushy, so when I got to the restroom, Chinese women kept pushing in front of me. I usually let them, but that day I was not going to be considerate. One lady tried to push in front of me, and I yelled, "I was here first!!!!" Another lady tried to push in front of me when a stall finally opened, and I pushed her back, running into the stall and slamming the door in her face. I know this sounds horribly mean, but in China, you have to be aggressive or you will just be cut in front of for hours. I then threw up three more times. At this point, there was nothing left to throw up, so I felt much better. I then walked outside and was told that all of the bus tickets were sold out, but that for 100 yuan a person, we could get a van. I agreed to this because I still didn't feel a 100%.

The van ride was supposed to take around two and a half hours, but it took a lot longer due to the intense holiday traffic. The ride itself wasn't that bad because I felt much better and was no longer sitting in the back of a crazy bus. Along the way, we sang a lot of songs and talked about the differences between England, Australia, and America. In our group, four people are from England, one is from Australia, and I am obviously from America. One thing that I have been told by several foreigners who have visited America is that American's are simply too patriotic. They go on and on about politics and think that their country is the best and that we must protect it at all costs. Apparently some countries such as England and Australia are not this way at all. They love their country but don't need to talk about it all of the time; in fact politics is not the focus at all. I find this to be very interesting.  We then tried to figure out why Americans are the way they are and decided it probably has to do with the fact that Americans can travel within their own country and see all different types of terrain (beaches, mountains, city, desert), so Americans don't need to travel outside their country as much because their country has so much to offer. Granted, Americans might go to Canada and Mexico, and the lucky ones might find a way to explore other countries just for the fun of it all, but it isn't as common. People in England travel all around Europe because it is convenient and that is what families do on holidays, since most of the terrain in England is the same. When people don't travel outside of their country, they sometimes can't see the big picture. America focuses a lot of attention on politics, national pride, and security, and people naturally absorb what they hear on the news and through others--whether they want to or not. My friends said that England is not like this. China also isn't like America since the philosophy in this country is "The less you know the better." I was talking to a teacher the other day and asked her what country she thought was the best. She of course said China was the best country but that she didn't like how people were left in the dark about everything. We both agreed that the reason the population at large is not informed of every issue is because it keeps people from having to worry. Why inform the people of every problem when it will only cause panic and maybe even affect the economy? I think there needs to be some kind of balance, but I must say I have enjoyed not watching the news or hearing about the election. It is important to know what is going on in the world, but I am glad I haven't had to watch the campaign adds this year.

After we sang tons of songs and debated different subjects, we finally arrived in Chengdu, but the driver wouldn't take us any further than Tianfu Square. We got out, and he demanded 800 yuan when we had agreed to 600 yuan. I don't know what the discussion was before getting in the van because I was too busy throwing up in the restroom, but apparently they agreed to 100 yuan per person. Maybe they were charging us more because of traffic, but either way, we didn't have anymore money. I paid my 100 and walked away. 3 other people walked away as well, but Helen and Lewis felt bad and tried to find out why they wanted to charge more. After debating for a while, they finally walked away and said, "Wow...we should have walked away when you did, but we wanted to do the right thing."  I then jumped in a taxi, so I could get home, and man....home never felt better. Only sleep could cure what the bus had done to me.

4-7

Last weekend I watched Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2 and absolutely loved them!!! I am going to try to be more like the main character Po; he just goes with the flow. Even when horrible things happen to him he lets it go, probably because he is too busy eating to notice. I won't be like him in that way I hope. In the second movie, he has to find inner peace in order to defeat the evil peacock. I am going to also look for inner peace while living here because the littlest things seem to get to me. The Chinese people are hard for me to be around sometimes, but if I find inner peace, their spitting, picking their nose with their fingers, blowing snot out of their nose by holding down one nostril with their finger (I see this several times a day!!!), smacking their mouth while eating, and chewing with their mouths open shouldn't get to me as much, right? I need to find a way to tolerate all that is around me because there is always going to be something. Po found inner peace by allowing a rain drop to flow across his arm, behind his back, and then down his other arm, where it was then gently placed on a leaf. More than anything it had to do with his controlled mental state and his gentleness while doing a slow and stable Tai Chi move. I tried doing some Tai Chi in my apartment yesterday but got pretty bored and started doing some crazy dance instead. I then got in the mood to dance, turned on some Shania Twain, and pranced around my room, irritating everyone in my apartment complex I am sure. These walls do not keep in sound. I then started singing along really loud and decided that I need to do some karaoke soon. Maybe next weekend.

I want to try doing Tai Chi with the people in the park, but I get so many stares that it is hard not to feel self-conscious. Maybe I will find inner peace when I can do Tai Chi in the park and not care or notice people watching me. I am going to try to be positive because I think it will make my stay here much better. I just can't stand Chinese people half of the time, but maybe I should give them a chance. This is a completely different culture. If I was never taught not to pick my nose, spit, or chew with my mouth open, maybe I would be the same way.

4-8


I am going to get my Kung Fu on and start applying for jobs hardcore. I am also not going to let ANYTHING bring me down or defeat me; culture shock will not deter me from what I came here to do. I am going to be more positive and try to see the beauty in this country.

Although I brought up the term "culture shock" in my previous posts, I don't think I had a good understanding of it. My behavior the last couple of weeks has drawn some attention, and when my friend Scott said, "Hm....I think you are going through some serious culture shock," I decided to take another look at the term. According to the British-German Association, "Studies show that predictable stages occur when people enter a new culture, country, or environment. The length and intensity of each stage varies from person to person. The steps involved are:
  • The Honeymoon Stage:
    When you first arrive in a new culture, differences are intriguing and you may feel excited, stimulated and curious. At this stage you are still protected by the close memory of your home culture.
  • The Distress (Disintegration) Stage:
    A little later, differences create an impact and you may feel confused, isolated or inadequate as cultural differences intrude and familiar supports (e.g. family or friends) are not immediately available.
  • Re-integration Stage:
    Next you may reject the differences you encounter. You may feel angry or frustrated, or hostile to the new culture. At this stage you may be conscious mainly of how much you dislike it compared to home. Don't worry, as this is quite a healthy reaction. You are reconnecting with what you value about yourself and your own culture.
  • Autonomy Stage:
    Differences and similarities are accepted. You may feel relaxed, confident, more like an "old hand" as you become more familiar with situations and feel well able to cope with new situations based on your growing experience.
  • Independence Stage
    Differences and similarities are valued and important. You may feel full of potential and able to trust yourself in all kinds of situations. Most situations become enjoyable and you are able to make choices according to your preferences and values.
My Honeymoon Stage lasted for about a month and was quite thrilling. I remember how every second was new and exciting, but once I started working, I entered into the Distress Stage. If I hadn't started working, I think the Honeymoon Stage might have lasted another month because even after entering the Distress Stage, I was still enthralled by everything around me. I think the Re-integration Stage started showing itself when I lost my temper at the bus stop. When that Chinese man started swinging his bag of apples into my legs, I decided China was a barbaric and heartless country. Once my temper settled down, I laughed at myself, and the apple guy became one of my friend Jessie's favorite stories. Whenever she introduces me to someone, she says, "Wait until you hear Tara's story about the guy with the big sack of apples. It is so funny." I never get tired of telling that story. The last two weeks have been very hard for me, and as my friend Scott pointed out, I must be going through one of the harder stages of culture shock: the Re-integration Stage. Although I will never get used to how rude Chinese people are, it has been getting to me a lot more the last couple of weeks. I can't understand why they can't use a kleenex!!!

I think the Re-integration Stage can last as long as you let it. Some people never get past this stage and leave the country in a hurry. I too had some thoughts of jumping on a flight home, but I need to remind myself that I am here for reasons I have yet to figure out and that I need to stay strong and complete this journey. For me, there is only one path to follow right now; I will not let myself be drawn away from this place. I know I am meant to be here, teaching these kids in this city. Therefore, I am going to force myself to enter the next phase--the Autonomy Stage. In fact,  as I read the words I am typing, I feel as though I have already entered this stage.

4-9

I went shopping after work today and bought a ton of fun stuff. I need to stop spending all of my money though. I don't think I will be bringing any money home--that is for sure. I am really excited because I bought a fake Louis Vuitton wallet, and it looks pretty legit. I also bought an adorable sun dress and presents for people back home. Shopping in China is very expensive but also very exciting. I adore all of the random things I can find. I might have to have another suitcase in order to get everything home though. I realize now I didn't need to bring as many clothes as I did because I am only wearing half of what I brought. I don't know what I was thinking when I was packing, but I packed enough to live here for years. Was I initially planning on never coming back to Colorado? Maybe in the back of my head I thought I might fall in love with this country and never leave, but I will be ready to leave in 3 months. China is great in so many ways, but I don't think I can live here for very much longer.

Although I am home sick and miserable at times, I know this experience is changing me into a much better person. I can feel the changes taking place inside me, and although it has been a painful metamorphosis, I have never felt so good.

4-10

I had a pretty good day today. I grabbed lunch with Jessie and had a great time talking with her in this amazing cafe that reminded me of America. The cafe was really clean, smelled like jasmine, and was playing American music such as Frank Sinatra, Jack Johnson, Mariah Carey, and other familiar artists. I couldn't help but sing along to the songs because I was so excited to know the words. Granted, China plays a lot of American music, but they play Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber, Katy Perry, Backstreet Boys, and Rihanna. Although these artists are great, I am pretty sick of them at this point. The vibe of the cafe and the good tunes made me forget I was in China for a few minutes. The instant I heard Frank Sinatra's voice I was no longer in China, but back in Colorado, eating at an Italian restaurant with my Mom and Dennis. I could picture it perfectly--including the part where Dennis would be singing along to Franky while swaying back and forth. I couldn't help but laugh when I pictured this. It was the best feeling in the world, and all I could do was smile. Jessie asked me what was so funny, and I explained how this was the first time in three months that I didn't feel like I was in China. She just laughed and said, "And you wonder why I want to get out of this country so bad." We laughed and went back to making small talk. Jessie is a very smart girl and is very different from most Chinese. She tries to have manners and really looks up to foreigners--not because they are different but because they have what she calls class. She doesn't feel as though she is meant to live in this country, which is why she is planning on furthering her studies in Canada. Chinese people really love Canada for some reason. For instance, when I asked my students what their goals were the first week of class, a lot of them said they wanted to travel and possibly work in Canada someday. Very few mentioned America at all because they think America has too many issues economically, politically, and socially (must we always be in a war?). It is interesting seeing how Chinese view our country.

After lunch I headed to work, and as I was walking, I passed by about 8 buses that were all lined up at a red light. Each bus had a ton of Middle School students packed inside. They must have been going on a school field trip or something, but these students weren't from my school. As I was walking by, all of the students from one bus stuck their heads out and yelled, "Hello!!! Hello!!! Hi!! Hi!!," and I waved back and said hi. Then all of a sudden the students from each bus started yelling and waving at me. I was laughing so hard because it created a huge scene. There were probably 60 students in each bus, so I had around 480 students all waving and screaming hello. It was the funniest thing I have experienced so far in China. People on the street all looked my way to see what the commotion was, and they too were laughing. Why didn't I have my camera!!!

After work I headed back to my apartment, and the security guard motioned for me to sit down and talk. He always does this, but I usually just wave and motion that I have to get up to my apartment. He says, "English, stay and talk." I shake my head "no" and then walk away, hearing him in the distance shout, "English!! English!!! Come back!!! English!!" You might be wondering why he says "English" when he sees me, and I think it is the name the security guards have given me. My first encounter with them was during my initial weekend in Chengdu when I didn't have power, and during that weekend, they helped me get in contact with Sonny. Although they saved me from losing my mind that weekend, my conversation with them was very limited. It consisted of my pointing and acting out different scenarios, almost like a game of Charades. The only thing I really said to them that first weekend was, "I don't speak Chinese. I speak English." Whenever they tried to talk to me, I would say, "English. I only speak ENG-LISH." So, I think they decided that I should get the name "English," and I honestly find that the name fits me quite well, given that I can ONLY speak English no matter how hard I try to pick up Chinese. Although the guards are quite charming, I usually walk by them really fast, hoping they won't motion for me to sit down. Today, though, when the security guard yelled, "English" and pointed at a chair, I decided to try to be nice. I sat there while he rambled in Chinese, and I said "Ting Bu Dong, Ting Bu Dong," which means "I don't understand." Then, although I don't know why he thought this would help, he started writing Chinese characters on a piece of paper. Why would I be able to read Chinese if I can't say basic phrases? Even people who can speak Chinese well struggle with reading the characters. I guess he just wanted to see what he was up against. I shook my head and say, "Ting Bu Dong" over and over again. He got frustrated, threw down his cigarette, and started stomping on it. I don't think he was mad at me but just really wanted to talk. We decided not to talk, and he showed me pictures on his phone. I think he showed me a picture of his wife, his daughter, and some of himself when he was younger. Another girl walked out of my apartment complex, and he dragged her over to me. I asked her if she spoke English, and she said that she spoke a little. She then acted as our interpreter. Here are some of the questions the guard asked me while she was there to interpret: How old are you? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you have a husband? How long have you been in China? How much longer are you going to be here? Are you a student or only a teacher? How much do you get paid?" After I told him how much I got paid, he pounded his fist and shook his head. He said that they aren't paying me well enough and that I could be making a lot more. I told him that I am going through a company, so a lot of my pay goes to them. He was still really upset. The girl then said she had to go to the market, and I said goodbye to them both. The last thing the guard had the girl tell me was that I should stop by and talk whenever I want. Look what I started. Hahahaha

4-13

Today was the Spring Gathering for all of the teachers at my school, which means the school paid for all of us to have a fun-filled day together. We took a bus to Nongke Village, where we socialized and ate free food. On the bus ride, I had a very interesting conversation with a fellow teacher. She spoke amazing English, so we could talk about more than just the weather. Her name is Julia, and she is 28 and in a relationship with a doctor. When she told me her boyfriend was a doctor, I exclaimed, "Wow. How lucky!!!" She seemed confused by this, so I had to explain how in America, good doctor's get paid pretty well, which is why people want to date them. She said this is not the case in China. We then talked about love--how to find it, if you should even look for it, and when you really know you have found it. We both agreed that the really good looking guys are usually not very nice and don't know how to treat a girl right, or they are just surrounded by other girls. The not so good looking guys are usually really nice and make good companions. She told me stories about the handsome men she had dated and how horrible they treated her. I then told her a few of my stories (I only have a few stories because I don't usually date good looking men). I asked her if her current boyfriend was cute, and she said, "No..he is quite ugly." We both started giggling like little school girls, and others on the bus looked at us with curious grins. Once we were done laughing, she stated, "Although he is not a good looking man, he is a good person inside. He treats me right and loves me very much. Because he treats me with love and respect, I have come to find him good-looking both inside and out." I was really touched by this and then asked her if she planned on marrying him. She stated, "I have no choice; I have to marry him, and our parents said it has to be within a year. As a woman in China, it is shameful not to get married, and usually it is expected to happen no later than 25. I am already shaming my parents because I am 28 and not married." She seemed really sad that marriage had to happen so soon, but she also seemed numb almost--as though she had found a way to deaden a few nerve endings near her heart. She was in pain, but the pain was bearable because she had accepted her fate. I don't even know if "accept" is the right word. It seemed more as though she was resigned to follow the path her parents and country had paved for her, mainly because in her eyes, there is no other path.

At this moment on the bus, a little kid said something in Chinese, and everyone on the bus laughed. I have a tendency to laugh when I hear laughter, so I also laughed, even though I had no idea what he said. Julia asked, "Do you like children?" I shook my head "no" and explained that they are okay to be around every once in a while. She laughed and said, "I agree with you completely!!! They are just not that cute, and I don't see why everyone thinks they are." I then asked, "Do you plan on having kids someday?" She gave me her sad yet numb look and responded, "I have no choice." Silence. Complete and utter silence, except for all of the chatter on the bus. It felt as though I could hear a pin drop, but that would be impossible on a Chinese bus because people talk so darn loud. I must have blocked out all of the sound when I heard that reply: "I have no choice." What do I say to a response like that? Americans are raised being told, "You live in a free country, so you can make your own decisions; don't let anyone make them for you! You don't have to follow your parent's expectations--simply follow your own. Who cares what others think--you are your own person. Be independent and love every moment. It is all about you!!!!" I think sometimes Americans take this too far and are often times very selfish. Although I sympathize with Julia, it is interesting to see how much Chinese people love and respect their parents. They want them to be proud of them, so they usually follow their orders. I think there are ways to take care of yourself without hurting others, but maybe that isn't as true in China.

She then asked, "How do women have natural births in America? I just don't see how that is possible!!! In China, we all get c-sections. We don't even try for a natural birth because that would be too hard." I then explained why some women want a natural birth and also explained the use of an epidural for the pain but how some women (such as my Mom and sister Nicole) are super-women who want to experience the whole ordeal naturally for the health of the child. She had a horrified look on her face when I told her this. I then assured her that my Mom gave birth to me naturally, no painkillers, and that the intense pain was over the instant I was born and that all the agony was worth it once she held me in her arms. Granted, I still think my Mom tells me this story simply because she doesn't want to scare me from having kids someday, but still, Julia was impressed with the super women in my family.

Once we got to the gardens, Julia, a group of her friends, and I walked around and took pictures. We then had lunch and sat around, trying to think of what else to do. Everyone else was playing Mahjong, the most popular game in China. Everyday as I walk along the streets of this amazing city, I see one table after another with people deep in thought, playing this game. I talked to some Chinese people who said it was really hard and required a great deal of skill, so I was worried I wouldn't be able to pick it up but decided to at least try. One girl explained the rules in her broken English, and I somehow found a way to keep up. The rules go something like this: There are a set of tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols; each player begins by receiving thirteen tiles, and the dealer gets 14. In turn, players draw and discard tiles until they complete a legal hand, forming four groups of 3 and one pair, or 7 pairs. The rules seem to change, depending on the group of people you are playing with, but these are the basic rules that can get anyone started. There are some standard rules on how a tile is stolen from another player and is thus melded, but overall, it is simply a game of rummy. A pretty complicated game of rummy, but with practice, it is quite easy to catch on. By the end of the day, I won every hand, one after the other. Everyone was screaming, "You are so clever!!!," while clapping their hands and taking pictures. They said this is a very complicated game, and that people seldom win so many times in a row. Needless to say, I am pretty proud of myself, especially since I couldn't always remember the Chinese characters on the tiles. Most of the time, if I couldn't figure out what the Chinese character on a tile symbolized, I would just discard it, knowing all too well that it could have been very useful. I am definitely going to buy this game and bring it back to America with me. I know my Aunts and Uncles on my Mom's side will love to play this Chinese game.

4-17

After reading Cial's blog, I was worried about going to a Chinese movie theater. This is what he had to say about Chinese cinemas: "If anyone is ever contemplating on going to the cinema in China, don't bother, although it is a funny experience. The only film in English was Mission Impossible 4 (in my opinion there should of never been a first). Once we were reminded that the film was produced by Tom Cruise, directed by Tom Cruise, and starred Tom Cruise in the opening credits the chaos started; phones rang every 2 minutes and a chorus of “Whey’s” were heard as some people even stood up and paced up and down the cinema continuing their phone calls, which to me just sounded like “ha hahaha ha ha, byebye." Considering the lack of dolby digital surround sound, the constant hour and a half long rustling of a plastic bag by the woman sitting next to us as well as her husband's heavy breathing and even snoring (yes, snoring….loud) was highly off putting, but for us, highly hilarious. The only thing missing was someone to make the horrible hockeling noise they seem to make here, until the quietest part of the movie came on, and boom there it was--a nice mouthful of spit from a member of the audience, lovely. Well we could not control our laughter any longer, every possible form of annoyance thrown into a 90 minute space. If this happened at home, they all would have been thrown out. In a nutshell: China cinemas are a no go and so are Tom Cruise films." I read his blog and decided I was going to pass on going to a movie in China, but when my friend Jessie said that she really wanted to go to a film, I decided to tag along. I decided I should experience every aspect of China, even the annoyance of a Chinese movie theater. I think the trick is to go in the middle of the week because I did not encounter a single problem in the movie theater I went to. I saw the movie Battleship and enjoyed every single second. I am not sure if I was just mesmerized by the big screen, since I haven't been to a movie in 3 months, or if it was actually an amazing movie, but it made me sooooo happy. I highly recommend the film and Chinese movie theaters. They are so comfy--way better than in America. My seat reclined further back and didn't hurt my neck like American theater seats do. I can see how going on a weekend could be insane; I mean I live in a city of over 14 million people!!!!

4-21

I am exhausted!!! I am quite certain that in the last two days, I have walked at least 30 miles. I am not exaggerating!!! I know I walked at least 15 miles today, and I think I did yesterday as well. This is what happens when you don't have a car and don't want to take a bus every 5
minutes. At school on Friday, one of my students asked me if I would hang out with her and some other students this weekend. Her name is Yadadsj Hskfjskjs Jdkjsf Hsjfsj, or something like that (her name really is 4 words!!!). Because her name is quite impossible for me to get down, I call her by her English name--Clancy. She has asked me all semester if we could hang out and talk because she wants to practice her English, so I finally agreed to this weekend. I was hesitant because Western culture has taught me to avoid socializing with my students when outside the classroom. I accept this logic in America and would never hang out with my students when in my home country, but in China, it is expected for the foreign teacher to socialize with their students. Chinese schools consider foreign teachers as great role-models for students because they encourage them to further their education in English and also give them a reason to practice the language.

Therefore, on Saturday I met a few students at 2 pm in front of the school. They were screaming with excitement, and Clancy kept saying, "Thank you, Tara. Thank you so much!!! This means so much to me." It was really cute. We talked for a little bit, and then some of the students had to leave. I was then left with just Clancy, and she said she wanted to take me out on the town. She guided me to a huge shopping mall, and I saw a sign for Walmart. I screamed, "Clancy!!! We have to go to Walmart!!! I want to see what it is like!!!" We then walked around, but I was disappointed because it was a Chinese Walmart, meaning it was nothing like Walmart in America. It sold Chinese items such as chicken feet and other nasty animal parts; it also had that typical Chinese smell, which is a combination of raw meat, rotting garbage, and peppers. I will never forget the smell of China. It isn't the worst smell in the world, but it is pretty close. After spending about 1 min. in Walmart, I was ready to leave, but we couldn't find our way out. I think the Walmarts in China are actually bigger than the ones in America.

Once we found our way out, Clancy insisted on buying me some Chinese ice cream. It tasted like sugary milk but was quite delicious. We then headed to the East Chengdu Music Park and took pictures. It was great!!! I taught her some new words, and she tried teaching me a few phrases in Chinese. I think she found me to be a poor student, though, so she gave up. We then walked to the university, so we could meet up with some other students and run laps. Yes, I said run laps!!!!!! I do not know why I agreed to this, but I did and am paying for it today. We started hanging out at 2 pm, and it was now 7 pm. Within that 5 hour stretch, we walked non-stop for 4 hours, which is why I think we walked at least 15 miles.

Once we arrived to the track, I started running laps with the girls. I was not wearing running shoes, but I somehow kept up. After two laps, I needed to sit down because I was simply whipped!!! I told the girls to go on without me, and then a lady from Minnesota ran up to me screaming, "Hi!!! Where are you from?????" I told her I was from America, and she started jumping up and down, pointing at her shirt that had a huge American flag on it. "Me too! Me too!!!!!!," she exclaimed. We talked for a few minutes, but I eventually told her I had to get back to running laps with my students. That was the first time a foreigner had shown excitement when seeing me. I have only run into maybe 5 foreigners in the last 3 months, and they either usually glare at me or nod at me while walking by really fast. I think some foreigners don't want to be bothered by other foreigners and, therefore, try to keep their distance. Looking back on it now, I feel like I should have gotten her number. Woops. Oh well, I will be leaving China in about 2 months.

You might be wondering why my 14 yr. old girl students wanted to run laps on the weekend. They most certainly do not run laps because they feel out of shape or because they enjoy it, but, instead, to prepare for their physical examination. In order for students to be accepted into good schools that will further their education and, ultimately, further their life, they have to get a good score on the running test. It is a difficult run that I would have failed at their age and would most likely fail today. They must prepare for a long distance run and also a sprint. I think it is good that these students have to do well on the test because it is teaching them to push themselves in ways they never would otherwise. I think America would benefit from a system like this because it might encourage students to get off the couch, put down the remote, turn off the video game, and get outside. These students are very active already because they walk to school and everywhere else they want to go. Americans are not naturally active like Chinese people are, so American P.E. classes need to be taken more seriously. I know my sister Nicole would agree. She was a P.E. teacher for over 10 years, and instead of her students putting their all into performing well physically, they spent most of their time coming up with excuses so they didn't have to participate in class. Although technology is amazing, I think it is really hurting the younger generations. All of my high school friends spend every waking moment playing video games. What happened to going outside and exploring everything the world has to offer?

After running laps and stretching, Clancy showed me a traditional Chinese dance. It was simply amazing. I was sitting on the field, the sun was creeping behind the buildings, and this 14 year old girl was dancing the most beautiful dance I have EVER seen. She is so young, yet she danced as though she knew the meaning of life--so confident and perfect were her moves. Chinese dancing is very beautiful but also very precise. Every move has to be a certain way, or it is wrong. She told me she can teach me, but I don't even know if I will ever dance as well as she did that night. Her dance was so pure and beautiful that I actually got chills.

At about 9:30 pm, we went our separate ways, and on my walk home, I saw a group of women dancing a similar dance to Clancy's. I stood there and watched every move, dying to join in. Before I leave China, I HAVE to learn traditional Chinese dance. It is from another world--a world before computers, before guns, before corporations, before everything that is and was. It is a dance that was passed down from the oldest person in the oldest civilization in the world. I want to learn this magical dance, so I can bring it back to America with me. That way a part of China will always be with me.

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Comments

JOHN TRYGG on

DEAR TARA,
I HAVE READ EVERY WORD OF YOUR VERY EXCITING AND EXTEMELY WELL WRITEN STORY FROM CHINA. YOUR TRIP BRINGS BACK ALOT OF MEMORIES.. AS YOU KNOW MAY 1 IS AN IMPORTANT DAY IN CHINA AND IS CALLED MAY DAY AROUND THE WORLD. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK. WE WERE VISITED LAST WEEK BY MY FAMILY FROM THE VAIL VALLEY THEY LIVE IN MINTURN JUST WEST OF VAIL. THE SCHOOLS WERE ON SPRING BREAK. THEY HAVE HAD ONLY A LITTLE SNOW THIS WINTER . HOWEVER WHEN THEY WENT OVER VAIL PASS THEY HAD A WHITE OUT. THEY WERE HERE FOR 5 DAYS. TAKE CARE LOVE JOHN AND JOHN

tara.krenek
tara.krenek on

I am so glad you like my blog! I haven't seen any snow here, except when I climbed Mt. Emei. I will probably see snow when I go to Tibet because I am going to travel to Mt. Everest. I miss you so much and hope to see you this summer. Much love, Tara.

Bob on

Hi Tara,
You are too cool..............Karole and I have so much enjoyed reading about all your experiences in China.........
You will cherish your experiences for a life time .. We love you .. Uncle Bob

Sharon on

Get out there and keep getting out there....face it all head on....suck up every spec of all of it....it is a chance of a lifetime and ride that wave till it hits the shore....Bring yourself down the narrow slopes baby girl and ride like the wind....You are changing before my eyes, you are inspiring me for my future and encouraging me to "put aside FEAR and let my face feel the wind.....Life is so imperfect at times, but You my lovely are teaching, without even knowing you are teaching. You are evidence that taking a CrAzY chance on an adventure can reap rewards if you concentrate on the GLORIOUS things that happen every day and ignore the nose picking and spitting that happens in all our days.....birds still croon sweet lullabys-new foods tickle our tongues fancy-monkeys can be ridiculously scary and adorable at the same time, Pandas are a perfect example of a wonderful life, and that life is not a threat to fear but a thing to grip with both hands and hang on for the wonderful ride. Every time I hear from you it is like opening and envelope with the possibility of being a winner of the Publishers Clearing House Lottery, for you are a prize and I delight in following your wonderful, exciting, and experiencing of LIFE....LOVE you honey , keep us in the loop of life reminding us that each day has something to offer besides fret and regret....love you honey have a chart topping experience today. Love you love you and as I am wildly packing here I put up so many things you have given me in the past 5 years and they each spark a memory of YOU love you love you
Mammmmmma SHAR

Marcia on

Your blog is amazing. I loved the pictures too. So good to see your face. You look absolutely beautiful. I couldn't have hung in there with days like the trip to the mountain. The monkeys were awesome! I could not believe the huge class you have! Your blog gives such a clear picture of life in China, would be good for people going there, have an idea of what to expect like people pushing you out of a bathroom line!

Mom on

Hi Darling! I just finished reading your blog and I just loved it. I do hope that you put it all together when you get home. I'd like to read the whole thing over again in a book form. You are such a good writer and you make everything so interesting! Hugs and Kisses! Mom xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Mairead on

Love the blog! I did Buckland in Fall 2009 (placed in Hunan Province), and it looks like you are having a blast~ keep up the good attitude & China will treat you well. :) ENJOY!

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