marjorieinchina: (Default)
Since I've had a lot of time on my hands lately, I've been trying to make a point of leaving the house on a regular basis. When I remember, I take my camera with me.

Friday's walk was particularly nice, because the weather was pretty much perfect--very slightly breezy, not hot, not cold--and I found a new kind of flower. New to me, anyway.

Pretty! )

Anyone know what these are?

There were some trees nearby dropping small, hard, green fruit onto the grass, and I picked up one of these and tossed it in arcs between my hands (I keep thinking I'll somehow teach myself to juggle by doing this) while considering the fact that I'd just taught my last class. My work here, as they say, is done. I will miss pantomiming for the students--putting a hand in front of my face and hunching up my shoulders for "shy," throwing my arms and eyes wide open for "wonderful," flexing my not-at-all-muscular arm for "strong"--and saying things that make them go "Whoaa!" or, to be more phonetically accurate, "Hwaa!" I had a pretty good run of lessons at the end here, on subjects like musical theater and mythical creatures. The kids had all heard the song "Memory" before but they were amazed to see video of the actors from Cats in full costume and makeup. Also, the story of the birth of Pegasus will make any class kind of amazed and confused. It amazed and confused me.

And I'll miss the students, who have been hands-down the biggest factor in making my time here worthwhile. There's an innocence and earnestness in the classes here that I have a hard time imagining in an American classroom. I have some idea of where this atmosphere comes from--the students live in the school, and when they're here they're very sheltered, scheduled from 6 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. with the head teacher checking in during the afternoon nap to make sure no one is reading anything inappropriate (meaning anything that might take too much attention away from schoolwork). Introduce a new element like a foreign teacher into this environment, and the result is cheers and applause and requests for autographs--no exaggeration.

Because the student life here follows such a regular pattern, I've gotten a bit of a thrill from being the outsider who gets to break up the pattern. For my last lesson, I broke the students into groups by numbering off--everyone got a number from 1 to 10, and then they had to find the other people with their number. It's a more time-consuming method than just dividing the classroom into sections, but the room really comes to life when the kids get out of their chairs and sit with different people (and sit at a desk that doesn't have their own homework at it--this close to finals, I have had a lot of students trying to do other work during my classes). The class was about giving advice and produced some great moments:

Student 1: "Who do you like?"
Me: "Remember, ask for advice."
Student 1: "Okay, what kind of boy should I choose?"
Student 2, pointing: "This kind of boy!"
Entire class: "Hwaaa!"

On losing things (the student gave me the paper she wrote this on, so I can quote verbatim):
"You can remember, a boy called Li Bai has ever said, 'the sky gives birth to you, so you are so useful that thousands of dollars lost will be back.'"

On being unlucky in love:
"You can die together. Love is cruel."
(I felt obliged to advise against this.)

On being sad:
"You can listen to {student} sing. Why not listen to him sing right now!"

He didn't sing, but it was a good class regardless.

I have quite a bit of spare time before I go home, and some good intentions of using it to see a few more places. Let's see if I manage that without getting too distracted by the pretty pretty flowers.
marjorieinchina: (Default)
When I left off, it was Wednesday and we were arriving in Xi'an. (Here is a tiny bit of background info about Xi'an! It used to be the capital, way the heck a long time ago, and there are a lot of old things there! Okay, here is a little bit more background info about Xi'an, with my guidebook at hand so I can be sure I'm not messing things up: Xi'an is very near the capital of the Qin dynasty, which was the first dynasty and only really had one emperor, but since he unified the country and built the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors he gets to be a dynasty all by himself. That was a couple hundred years BC. Xi'an was the capital off and on for the next thousand years. There is, consequently, a lot of really really old stuff in Xi'an, and it's better-preserved than the old stuff in many other cities.)

It's strange to start a day by tumbling off a train into an unfamiliar station instead of, oh, taking a shower and having some tea. But once we found the taxi queue and got to our hotel we did all the usual morning things, and then, fortified with showers and oolong, we Set Out to See Xi'an!

Read more... )
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I flew to Beijing from the Quzhou airport on a Saturday evening. The airport here in Quzhou is very tiny and is frequented almost entirely by tour groups. I fell into the middle of one of these when going through security, but it still took only about twenty minutes to go from my apartment to the gate. It would be fine with me if this were the case every time I flew. The flight was full of shouting voices and passengers in matching baseball caps; I spent it writing in my paper journal and making small talk with the woman next to me, who had never been on an airplane before. "You are always writing!" she observed. This is not really true, but maybe it is something I should aspire to.

Read more... )

More pictures at my Flickr page.
marjorieinchina: (dragon)
(Holy verbosity, Batman, this entry is LONG. If you want to skip the words and just look at my pictures, you can hop over here.)

I have to make a confession before moving on with this narrative, this story about my travels all over Asia: I'm not really brave enough to go traveling alone all over Asia. Try to send me on a solo trip through, say, Vietnam, and I would probably discover some urgent other thing I had to do. What I really did was a tour of the former British Empire in Asia. This meant that I got used to looking right before crossing the street, but mostly it meant that there was widespread English everywhere I went traveling.

I spent a moment feeling slightly guilty about this imperial manner of travel and how it stuck, if not within my comfort zone, then as close to it as I could reasonably get on this side of the world. But I got over it as soon as I arrived in the Hong Kong airport on Friday morning, after a sleepless overnight trip from India, and found a place to buy a blueberry muffin and a pot of Earl Grey.

The western food in Hong Kong was more or less the best thing that had ever happened to me. I've been eating Chinese food pretty happily since October--there is weird food, but it's hard to get tired of rice and noodles; the dumplings are always decent, vegetables are plentiful, and I've gotten rather fond of some of the more distinctly Chinese flavors even though I don't know what to call them. (Just today I had some tofu in a sauce that tasted kind of...caramelized? Weird, but good.) And the food in India was marvelous, except on the couple of occasions when it was too spicy for me. But I didn't realize how much I missed pastries and the coffeeshops where you can just sit and have a slow cup of tea and read your book or check your e-mail and everyone else is doing the same thing. As I recount this part of the trip, you can assume every day starts with "First I went to Starbucks/Delifrance and had a muffin/scone/croissant and it was amazing."

So, I went to the Delifrance in the airport and had a muffin and it was amazing... )


Apr. 24th, 2010 04:44 pm
marjorieinchina: (Default)
Bangalore (officially Bengaluru, but I never heard anyone call it that) was my last stop in India. We flew down there from Delhi, a relatively short flight (and a direct one, which was a relief after some of the traveling I'd been doing recently).

Delhi is part of north India and Bangalore is part of south India. Stating this probably has some of you rolling your eyes, but I didn't know this sort of thing before traveling to India, and the distinction is important. In Delhi, the predominant language besides English is Hindi; in Bangalore, it's Tamil and also Kannada, which are written in entirely different alphabets. The food was spicier in the south, too, which is something that seems to hold true in most places.

Read more... )

I had two weeks in India but this was barely enough to scratch the surface. I need to make a list of places to visit, so that I can put "back to India" on the list. But the trip wasn't over yet! Hong Kong was actually better than I expected it to be, and I'll be back to tell you about that sometime next week.


Apr. 20th, 2010 12:33 pm
marjorieinchina: (Default)
Hello friends! I'm sorry I've been so absent in this space, and I hope some of you are still reading. I've been all in a tizzy about deciding on an MFA program, which together with teaching has kept me rather preoccupied all the time. But I have decided I will be in St. Paul to start an MFA in the fall, and I have my lesson plan set for the week, and I am going to pick up the thread of my travelogue where I left it off lo those many weeks ago.

So! When last we saw Our Heroine, she was on a bus from Jaipur to Delhi. We got to Delhi late in the evening and were greeted by Sam's parents' driver, who brought us to Sam's parents' house. The next day (Tuesday) was India's Republic Day, and we basically spent it at the house, watching the parade on TV and making plans for the next week. (My paper journal reminds me that we also watched Nigella Lawson on TV.) On Wednesday we went shopping at a number of markets, which were very crowded and characteristically Indian, and I bought some clothes for vanishingly small amounts of money. (Thanks are due to Sam for haggling for me.) I kind of wanted to take pictures, but didn't want to stop in the crowd with a camera in my hands. Then we went to an incredibly strange dance performance, where we spotted a number of people who had been at the Jaipur Lit Fest.

Read more... )

More photos can be found on my Flickr page. The Delhi photos start with this one.
marjorieinchina: (Default)
My first week at the school has been a little unorthodox, because the school is having its week-long sports meeting. On Monday there was an opening ceremony. It started at something like 8 a.m. I'd been up since 6--ah, those morning bells!--and saw the commotion from my window, so I decided to go out and have a look. I loitered next to the ping-pong tables for a little while, watching the huge crowd of students congregating and sorting themselves into groups on the field, and then Maggie found me and took me into the athletic area.

This was when I discovered that everyone wants their picture taken with me:


--except the band, they were kind of busy, and then they put their instruments away.

Each grade did a dance for the opening ceremony. I think everyone did the same dance, though the junior school students may have done something a little different.

After that, all the teachers did two laps around the track while the students cheered. I joined in, and all along the track students shouted "hello!" as I went by. Then there was a tug-o-war tournament, but I didn't see much of that because a bunch more students wanted to have their pictures taken with me. Then the races began, and they continued, more or less, for the next three days.

I watched a good bit of the athletics, but since I have a pathological inability to stay interested in sports for very long, and because I was sitting right in front of hundreds of students, I spent most of that time accepting kids' offerings of candy, giving out autographs (no kidding), and answering questions about my favorite singer/favorite actor/hairstyle (several students have asked me if my hair is naturally curly, which is confusing to me because from my perspective it isn't curly at all). I had lunch with one group of students, and dinner with another, and they all acted completely enchanted to see me. All this specialness could go to my head if I'm not careful.

On Wednesday, after two days of watching other people be physically active, I climbed a mountain!

The mountain is called Jiu Hua, which apparently means "Nine ___." I think "hua" means "flower," at least sometimes, because the same word is what they call jasmine tea here, but that may not be relevant.

The walk up was longer than I expected, especially when the teacher and her friends who took me hiking all seemed to be in ordinary town clothes. Turns out it was rather a strenuous hike, just one that people mostly take on in clothes they could easily wear to go out to lunch. On our way up, we passed a group of women in sharp-looking jackets, dress shorts, tights, and platform shoes. I say we passed them, but actually their group and ours took turns overtaking each other on the way up, and they had lunch at the summit at the same time we did.

It was hard to take pictures on the trail, because there weren't many open spaces with a good view even at the top. But it was so beautiful I had to try:

On the way up )

This is the temple at the top of the mountain. I asked Emma, the teacher who'd brought me, whether it was okay to take pictures inside. "Usually not," she said. So I'll just have to tell you that there were three distinct buildings in the temple, that you walked through each one to get to the next, that each one had a large Buddha in the middle, and along the sides were huge, brightly painted statues of Daoist gods. They were amazing, not so much for the craft that went into them as for the powerful, frightening expressions on their faces. These gods were serious. I wish I could show you.

The second chamber/builing of the temple is still under construction, after a landslide seven years ago destroyed a lot of the buildings on the mountain. There were stacks of timber lying around and unpainted statues I couldn't interpret: old men holding books, or walking sticks, and one with long, long eyebrow hairs that hung down over his face. There's so much here that I don't know anything about.
marjorieinchina: (Default)
Well, here I am in China!

The trip was long, but everything went very smoothly. My first flight, from Minneapolis to San Francisco, was in the early morning, and when I got to the check-in desk we found out that one of my bags was 13 pounds over the weight limit and that it cost $150 to have an overweight bag. I was completely baffled by sleepiness and had no idea how to react to this information. In the end my parents took some things out--mostly books--to ship to me in China, and I moved my winter coat into my carry-on bag. The final weight of the bag was 50.5 pounds, which the clerk declared good enough.

I slept most of the way to California, had about three hours in the airport to get breakfast and buy some magazines, and boarded the plane to Shanghai. We all spent the entire trans-Pacific flight with absolutely no idea what time it was. The flight crew instructed us to pull down our window shades, and we spent about six hours pretending it was nighttime while it was perfectly bright outside--mid-afternoon in San Francisco, early morning in China. Then they gave everybody a bowl of instant noodles and said "good morning." Whatever works, I guess. On the plane I watched pieces of the movie Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian and reflected that if this is how America portrays itself, it might not be terribly easy to explain to people who have never been there what America is really like. The film included the Lincoln Memorial coming to life and saying "I never lie!" a lot, General Custer giving everybody very bad advice, an octopus in the Reflecting Pool, and the main hall of the Air & Space Museum filled with come-back-to-life pilots trying to launch all their aircraft at once. Everyone spoke in inscrutable accents.

Anyway, we crossed the International Date Line into Thursday and landed right on time, and customs at the Shanghai airport went very smoothly, and Emily was there to meet me. She and I and a driver who didn't speak English got into the school's car and drove the five hours to Quzhou, and I got to my new apartment a little after midnight. I spent some time settling in and got to sleep around 1:30, only to be awakened at 6 by the school's wake-up call and morning exercises. I will have to be more careful about going to bed on time.

Today I unpacked, figured out how to use my shower, met the school principal, and had lunch with four members of the English department and the two British guys who are also teaching at the school. All of the English teachers we ate with have been to Red Wing, so there were a lot of little reunions and hugs going around. Maggie, who stayed with my family when she was in Red Wing, was worried the food would be too spicy for me, but it was delicious. I got the leftover sesame dumplings to take home. This afternoon I'll have some errands to run, but in the meantime I have a bit of a break, so I took some pictures inside my apartment: Click for pictures )

So far, so good! I'll keep you all posted of further developments.


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July 2010



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