There are cities where you go to spend a few days eating like the locals, visiting the sites, people watching, and soaking in the culture and then leave feeling satisfied that you’ve checked it off your list and don’t need to return.
Beijing is not one of those cities. It’s big, bustling, beautiful and utterly bizarre. Even after two trips there, I still don’t feel like I’ve had my fill of the capital city. I’ve maybe had a drink and an appetizer, but I’m in no way ready to lay down my napkin, push my chair back and pat my stomach contentedly. Continue reading Photo book: The Beauty of Beijing
It was my first taste of China, so many months ago. It was there that I struggled to slurp up soupy noodles (and ended up spraying Sam with broth and spices in the process). It was where I realized the words I’d learned on Rosetta Stone – “cat,” “sister,” “flower” – weren’t going to be much help ordering food, getting housing or interacting with people on a personal level. And, it was were a few other Drake teachers and I started to piece together an understanding of this beautiful and bizarre country.
Continue reading Thoughts on second visits
Driving in Asia is like playing Frogger in a blender. It’s a frenzied dance of thousands of bikes and cars threading their way down the street. Horns are used unsparingly. Verbal altercations while driving are frequent; crashes are common. It’s chaotic.
I bought a used motorbike back in October – a clunky, temperamental, maroon beater of a bike, which due to it’s diva-like tendencies I named Queen Elizabeth II. Her Majesty has broken down at least a half-dozen times, and each time I have had to enlist one of the other teachers to tow my motorbike using their motorbike. I’m sure it’s a sight to see for the locals: one foreigner bobbing through traffic on a fully functional motorbike, with a rope extending from their bumper to another non-functional motorbike, the latter of which being ridden by a wild-haired blonde woman and is swinging back and forth in the chaos like a crazed water-skier. But despite the bikes frequent temper-tantrums, I love the freedom it provides. Continue reading Tips and tricks for driving in Asia
My life seems to be divided into chunks of time and people. Growing up in Wisconsin, where I was ferried from one sports practice or school activity to another; Des Moines and Drake, in which I lived and breathed newsprint and rowing; a spell in Australia, with long ago memories of Vegemite and my host families goose farms; a semester in Italy, a blur of gelato and cinema studies; Texas, a summer of road trips, romance, and magazine internships; and Madison, a brief taste of a quasi-adult life. Now there’s China. So stark in how it stands out.
No move is easy, but no move has challenged me like China has. Part of it was the (many) cultural differences. But another part was the difficulties of adjusting to a new gig.
I’ve been working or interning for newspapers and magazines for over seven years — writing is something I get. Like a bartender who constructs cocktails without measuring, or even really looking, I was self-assured. I was confident that I could ask the questions that were needed to get good responses; could weave nouns and verbs together well to create a mosaic of evocative quotes and facts.
Continue reading Finding the teacher groove
Nobody is ever going to write about the Li River with the same reverence as the Seine in Paris or the Arno in Florence. There’s nothing sexy about it. It’s not like Woody Allen could look at the polluted stretch of water running through Guilin and think to himself, “Yes, right here. Right next to that dilapidated boat is where the characters will conduct their tête-à-tête. Ah, I can imagine it now: a scene full of rat-a-tat dialogue and floating debris.”
Regardless of its lackluster appearance, I love the Li. It has been the backdrop for many nights of shaokao and black “beer” – a particularly potent potable that tastes more like grape soda than beer and has a proclivity for extending a hand of friendship, which proves to be incredibly short-lived when you wake up with the hangover to beat all hangovers the next day – and is a prominent character in every photo I take from atop an one of the many karst mountains in Guilin. Continue reading Mornings by the Li
It’s no secret that I love Christmas. As soon as it becomes socially acceptable to start putting up Christmas decorations – we’re talking ASAP on the day after Thanksgiving – it looks like a Pinterest board exploded in my house. Last year I turned our fridge into a snowman and hung origami mistletoe from our ceiling fan. My roommates and I called it “extreme mistletoe.”
I might have gone overboard on the Christmas cheer this year to get my festive fix. It could probably be likened to the scene from “Elf” where Buddy prepares the department store for the arrival of Santa. I didn’t turn an etch-a-sketch into an ornament bearing the likeness of Mona Lisa, but I did festoon my ceilings with blinking lights and paper chains and assembled a massive artificial evergreen tree that dominated my tiny living room.
And while I didn’t dump syrup on all my food a-la Buddy the Elf (“we elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy corn, candy canes and syrup”), I did marry one of his main food groups with one of mine: coffee. Put enough candy canes in your morning java and eventually you’ll get a mutter of ‘Christmas’ and ‘peppermint mocha’ from far, far away. Continue reading Creating Christmas cheer in China
At some point in the first few weeks of being in China, one of my fillings fell out. Horrified with the prospect of going to a Chinese dentist – I’ve seen full-on dental surgery done on the dirt road behind the spice market, with discolored tools floating in grimy cleansing solutions and ancient foot-pump powered drills stuttering and rattling along – so I resolved to take my brushing to obnoxious levels and hope that it would hold out until I got back to the States.
We’re talking toothbrush, paste and mini Listerine bottles in purse levels of obnoxious, here.
Alas, just before Thanksgiving my tooth started to really ache and I conceded that it was time to get it checked out. Continue reading Dental (mis)adventures in China