Beautiful Things

a collection of experiences

the day is over

I wanted to document a normal day.

The first time I wake up is around 3am to kick my cat out of the room. She sleeps curled up next to me or on my head for most of the night but she wakes up before me and such as a cat does, licks my eyelids until I wake up. So I throw her out and go back to sleep for a few more hours to re-awake at 7 or 8am depending on my schedule. First I put the kettle on to boil and jump in the shower. After showering and dressing I make a cup of instant coffee, feed the cat and clean her litter. I sip on my coffee and stare blankly for 10m or so until the caffeine hits my brain then I review what I’m teaching that day and make sure I have everything in my bag ready to go. Most of the time I make breakfast at home – 2 eggs and 2 sausages, maybe a piece of bread. All covered in hot sauce. A few days out of the week I’ll get Mcdonalds breakfast to change things up. I live 20 steps away from a McD and you really can’t beat a 6 kuai ham sandwich and “bing kafei” (iced coffee). Especially good on those days I’m really dragging. The iced coffee unlike its counterpart – the HOT coffee – has sugar syrup and ice cream on top, stir all that together and you’ve got crack. If it’s a mcdonalds day I’ll get my food “da bao” (to go) but I eat the food in the restaurant, I’m not sure why I get it to go if I eat it there – I think it’s because I like the little bag they provide for the coffee. Once I inhale my food I always leave in quite a hurry, only to sit on the steps across the street from some old guys playing majong. I watch them and sip my coffee. People stare at me and my foreignness and I stare back, occasionally saying “good morning” to some of my students or their parents as they pass by. Sitting there I feel like I’m soaking up bits of China and chinese culture.

Eventually I pick myself up and walk to school. There are three different campuses I teach at but they are all on the same street within a minute or two of each other. All of them about 5 minutes walk from my apartment. My earliest class is at 8:45, not too bad. I usually teach 2-4 classes in the morning, each are 40 minutes long with a 10-20 minute break between. I like the routine of entering the classroom, turning on the a/c, turning on the breakers, the computer, the projector, loading my powerpoint  , taking out all the papers and pens I need, ensuring the chalkboard is clean, checking the desks, making sure they are clean – and then I sit and wait patiently for my students to arrive. I teach the same lesson 4-7 times a day, two different lessons a week, but I don’t mind, gives me time to improve the lesson plan each class. I teach until 12:00 then I have a 2.5 hour lunch break. I usually grab something quick to eat, today I got some mushroom and beef at a little restaurant near by then I go home, play with the cat a bit, maybe chat online, rearrange my lesson plan if necessary and then I take a nap from 1:00-2:00 if I can. This is what chinese do, so this is what I do. I wake up a little groggy and grumpy but go back to school to teach another 2-3 classes. I’m always out by 5:30 at the latest. I get dinner -or if i’m lazy, I’ll order in pizza – and I pick up 2 beers from a little store near by apt. The man knows me by now, he practices his english, I practice my chinese. He says “hello” I say “ni hao” I say “liang ping pi jiu” he says “two bottles of beer.” We exchange the goods for money, he says “thank you” I say “xiexie.” The old man sitting off to the side smiles with several of his teeth missing, I smile back. I march back to my apt, give a head nod to the security guard and up my four flights of stairs to my incredibly chinese apartment and my incredibly chinese cat. I sit sweaty and stare blankly out my window for a few moments before turning on my computer and opening up a cold beer.”The day is over” i think and let out a sigh.

Basking

5th graders are my cure-all. I find that any cynicism I have for life instantly melts away when I’m in front of a classroom of 40+ of these little kids. Their excitement for life is contagious – during and a few special minutes afterwards I can hold on to their glow. I wish it’d last longer but it’s difficult to hold on to the enthusiasm a child has for life, it’s never quite the same once you’ve grown up. I just repeated the same lesson 8 times over the past 2 days and the last class was as good at the first – repetition means nothing for them, I enjoy it every single time and it gets to be enjoyed slightly differently with every class. Some are a little slower, some classes are brilliant and fast, others are loud and just want to play but I can adjust to them easily and every variety is wonderful. You would not believe how excited they are – I ask them a simple question like “who can tell me the body parts of a butterfly” and i kid you not half the class raises their hands. In some classes the kids are so eager they are literally jumping up and down saying “me! me! let me try!” – I smile just thinking about it.

I’m actually surprised I like the primary school kids as much as I do, i was expecting to like the 9th and 10th graders more but in front of the little kids I can be silly and they appreciate it. I can show them how a lion roars or mimic a butterfly using its antennae to find it’s home or for today’s class, how I have spots (freckles) like the butterfly and going around the room to point out other kids with spots like the butterfly. I’m just happy to have made someone’s life better at least for those 40 minutes, there’s nothing more rewarding.

CONVERSELY, my 9th/10th graders are mostly jerks. They are bored by everything and ask me questions like “Why do you smile so much?” – the 5th graders would never ask such an impossibly dumb question.

I’m like a cat laid out in a warm patch of sunlight.

crushing

I dreamt I was in America, but had my life in China and I randomly packed up my stuff and decided to move to Russia in a hurry, but as I was waiting for the bus to take me to the airport I realized I had left a few things behind and I left my winter coat in an elevator, thinking, I’ll definitely need that during a Russian winter. Why was I going to RUssia? I didn’t know, I didn’t know anything about Russia, I didnt even know where I was going and I didn’t have a plane ticket. I thought – I should go back to China instead. Where I have a good job and friends and a cat. Why was I going to Russia? I never made it to Russia I think I changed my mind at the airport and went back to China instead.

 

I think part of the reason I haven’t been writing and posting is because it doesn’t feel like I can be as honest as I once was. If I’m not writing with absolute honesty than what is the point. So I’m going to try it and see if I can get myself to post it. Several people have lately had a re-newed interest in my blog and I really do feel like I should be documenting my days in China more than I do. So I’m going to give it a shot.

 

Life has become very normal here. Normal for me, hardly normal for anyone in America still. I started seeing a Chinese psychiatrist several months ago. She is one of the kindest women I’ve met in my life. I told her all my anxieties and she listened like a therapist more than a psychiatrist just there to pump me full of drugs. At first I was on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety since I was having severe anxiety attacks nearly every day at the beginning. Being in front of a classroom and dealing with children was just so far out of my element and then leaving the school to deal with the outside world – so foreign and busy. My senses were overloaded and for awhile I had crushing anxiety were I could barely leave the house. But I sought the help of a doctor. She’s not trying to drug me into oblivion but instead trying to find out what is really the problem here. I was doing good on the anti-depressants, life here was looking up. I went back to here a month ago and told her how well I was doing and what a difference the medicine had made but she changed my medicine to something I had never tried before – something for a disorder I never thought I had or even considered I had. I thought she must be insane or understood something I said wrongly. But I’m starting to see that she was right. She’s diagnosed me as Bipolar. I’ve heard of stories of people with this disorder and never felt in anyway similar. Perhaps it isn’t as severe but now, seeing the difference is astonishing. So the medicine is a “mood stabilizer” – as first I thought, ugh, thats the last thing I want. I want to be able to feel and I enjoy the ups and downs but at the time I didn’t realize how bad it was.

 

So I’ve been on the new medicine for a month now and it’s been a wonderful month. I started a new job and I’ve been working every day for the past 30 days but I’m okay with it – I really enjoy what I do and find it quite rewarding. I get excited about seeing my students and I have no worries about standing in front of a classroom of 50 students. This week I have off for holiday. The night before last I went on a bender and drank (too much) – I ended up sleeping over a friends house  and was therefore unable to take my medicine before going to bed. I woke up with a vicious hangover and spent the day resting at my friends house till the sun became less harsh and reality less awful. But as the day dragged on my hangover became less but with the medicine out of my system I could feel my brain shifting back to it’s old ways. My thoughts were scrambled and I had so many that none of them were coherent. I couldn’t rest much, I would stare at the wall and I would imagine the wall warping into something else and me moving into it. It didn’t stop, all day. I spoke some of my more coherent thoughts to my friend but as soon as the words fell out of my mouth I felt humiliated by the weirdness of what I was saying and the lack of sense everything made. THis is how it always was before the medicine. Lying in the blankness of his apartment made the colors of my mood so much more noticeable. I needed to get home and needed to take my medicine. I crashed pretty hard once I got home.

 

My sleep last night was anything but restful I had that weird dream I spoke of before and now that I’m awake the weirdest has carried through into consciousness. I’m hoping some coffee will snap me out of it. I’ve got some errands to run today but I haven’t returned to normal. I’m still feeling a weird shyness for the outside world. I’m not sure if I can deal with people today. Luckily it is holiday and I don’t have to go back to work until Saturday but my poor cat needs food and litter so I think I will have to force myself out today regardless.

 

My Chinese is not coming along so good on my own, I’m thinking now that I make a decent earning that I can afford a class or tutor for some hardcore weekend lessons. if I do 3-4 hours both Saturday and Sunday surely something will be absorbed. But I can’t start that until my 7 day a week schedule ends, which will hopefully be in the next few weeks. Anyway, working so much is good for my brain, it keeps me focused on something other than my consciousness which can be quite an annoyance.

 

Anyway, that’s all I got for now.

the 2-bedroom house

I guess I’ll be one of those bloggers that begins every entry with “I’m sorry I haven’t written in so long, it’s just…” The times I actually feel inspired to write are so brief and so often I’m nowhere near a computer or too busy. But this morning I got a slight urge and I rushed to work to type something quickly before it passed. Life has become exceedingly normal considering I’m living in a very unusual place. I have so many minor routines. My latest being going to Coral de Café before my classes on the weekend; the restaurant provides tables next to a large glass pane that overlooks the Haizhu Square metro station. From there I can watch people as I eat my ham and egg sandwich (with a hygienic glove, which comes provided) and sip on my iced coffee (I decided to switch to iced when I realized drinking hot coffee takes too long and it just became far too inefficient for me). It’s a nice routine that gives me some time to wake up and organize my thoughts before spending a day with crazy kids.

So what else have I been up to? Well, the quick fix I had done in Malaysia on my chipped tooth (re: motorbike accident) fell out as I was eating a chicken wing over dinner with my boss. Absolutely horrified, as I feel my smile is one of the few things I can offer to these children (I have no idea how to interact with kids). But the quick fix coming undone was for the best really. I found an English-speaking dentist recommended by several foreigners online and he fixed me up with a beautiful porcelain crown for 3000 kuai that looks more real than even my real teeth. Finally, I can feel confident in my smile again and stop zooming in on photos of me and noting how you can see my ugly Malaysian filling.

My anxiety has decreased substantially over the past few weeks. However, I haven’t been sleeping as well and I’m having incredibly vivid dreams.

For the past week I’ve been dreaming about this 2-bedroom house, in my head, in my dreams, I always refer to it as “my 2-bedroom house” – as if the fact it has two bedrooms is very important. At first I dreamt this house was in Florida, first in Fort Lauderdale and then in Miami, but last night I dreamt my 2-bedroom house was in New York, it was exactly the same house in all these dreams, just different locations. And the feelings I got from the house and talking about it were all very exactly the same. In my dream in New York last night I was in a café talking to someone and I asked if I could drink the tap water there and they said “yes, of course” my response was something like “well, I’ve been in China for the past year, it’s very weird for me to drink from the tap now.” And then I got a cup and filled it with tap water, took a sip and spit it out saying “it just doesn’t feel right drinking from the tap, I don’t trust it.” I wonder if this will happen once I return back to a tap-drinking country. In the same café I found myself looking through a Lonely Planet guide, I don’t remember for what country though, and a woman came up behind me and said she had written a segment of the book that I was paging through. I asked, of course, “how do you get a job with LP anyway? I’ve always been interested in guidebook-writing/research.” She didn’t really answer my question though and the conversation went elsewhere despite my curiosity. I guess no where in my brain is the answer to that question so obviously someone created in my dreams didn’t know the answer either.

Well, I’ve been typing this on my breaks throughout this crazy Saturday at school. Most of you that know me would never imagine me doing what I do here. I play games with kids. I make weird noises and show them how to act out “alligator” for a game of charades. It’s ridiculous. My life is ridiculous. It’s around this time, at the end of the day, that I start feeling like if I have to slowly repeat the same three-letter words one more time I’m just going to snap. Worst part is – I have to do it again tomorrow, all day. Best part is I pretty much only have to do this two days a week.

On Monday, Rob & I are going to Hong Kong for the first time. Hurray!

Also, you should read the story he wrote about us eating dog in Yangshuo.

http://www.sabotagetimes.com/travel/eating-dog-meat-in-china/

Here’s a photo of me being very teacherly with some students. Enjoy.

between here and there

The time I need to “think” has increased substantially since I was a teenager. I never thought I’d be setting aside time to think, it always just seemed like something that was going on in the background. But now I find myself leaving dinner a little early so I can sit and think about the day before slipping into bed. If I don’t do my thinking pre-bedtime then I do it while in the bed which makes for a sleepless night. I don’t think this is one of those “growing up” things though – I feel like I’m regressing if anything or maybe I’m becoming more retarded? MORE retarded? That doesn’t even sound right.

The point of writing that has got me thinking, of course. The other day I was having dinner with a friend and he had taken a phone call and I heard him say something along the lines of “Yea I’m going to be here for awhile, come join us.” I was immediately filled with panic. WHO is this person. What do they do. Do I need to know them. Do I want to know them? And the answers to all my questions (in my head) was NO! NO! NO! I was not prepared for a surprise third party. You just can’t throw that kind of curve ball at Christina. My anxiety went from minimal to through the roof in just several minutes the more I wondered about this person while trying to prepare myself for the arrival of the third party. I couldn’t do it! I explained to my friend the best I could that I had to go, I didn’t want to meet someone new right then. Of course, in retrospect  this must have seemed weird to someone who doesn’t know and/or “get” me, but I ran away from that dinner table horrified. Horrified at the thought of someone just randomly showing up to our dinner, horrified that my friend would just randomly invite some random person knowing how skittish I am about these things and really horrified at my reaction to all of this.

I walked away from the restaurant as quickly as I could, heading to the metro, heading home I guess, but I didn’t want to go home, but I didn’t know what else to do. I sat on a street corner to think about it. I got stuck on that street corner for three hours. I got stuck on that street corner for three hours thinking, or rather, processing what had just happened.

A lot had happened in those three hours, in that sacred space between here and there, I was in no-man’s land, or every-man’s land. I was in the middle of the city with tons of rushing lights, cars and people all around me, but I was alone. It was nice. I watched the couples hold and kiss one another, I watched a drunk man throw up i the median and I even witnessed a small ceremony of sorts. About five feet from me a woman and a man lit two candles and burned some papers and prayed. Maybe someone they loved had died there. Maybe I had died there, I thought. Maybe I’m dead. About two hours into this a man set up a speaker and a microphone across the street from me and started to play his guitar and sing. It was pleasant. I felt like he was playing for me. He existed in that moment for me because that’s what I needed. My body began to relax. Before the music I was a tense ball. My head and limbs twitched with anxiety. But he relaxed me. I started to breathe regularly again, after two hours of what felt like I was holding my breath. Breathe, easy now. I began muttering to myself how stupid this was, why couldn’t I just get up. I imagined myself getting up and walking into the metro and going home,  but my body wouldn’t do it. I was too tense. I was frozen.

I guess I’m only just now making some sense of it, a few days later. I’d probably still be on that street corner if I didn’t have to pee. I don’t think anything was resolved, but maybe that wasn’t the point, maybe I just needed some time and space to think about it, some place between here and there where nothing much mattered.

I was embarrassed about what had happened and I was hesitant to tell my long distance love-interest Rob and anyone really. I thought Oh God, he knows nothing about me. How can I expect him to understand this or deal with my retarded need to think. But I told him the story and he did understand. He understood it more than I did, more than I could have, confirming how god-damn lucky I was to have met him. He said all the right things and made my head stop spinning. I found someone that could stop my head from spinning off and out of control. Truly, the most beautiful thing.

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Canton Tower & Stuff

on: post-mortem

Oh gosh. Sorry it’s been so long. Living here definitely isn’t anything like traveling. This even extends to my ability to write about it. Some interesting things have certainly happened but for some reason I’m not as compelled to write about it as I was when traveling. But I also feel exhaustingly busy all the time here. Even when I have nothing to do I feel mentally occupied, not being stimulated certainly isn’t a problem. I made four new friends here from the vast interwebs, but in truth one has been taking up all my time. The first day I met him he shared with me his theory that every ex-pat in China is “dead.” Now, I know a lot of you don’t want to hear that I’m dead and are probably cursing this guy already for telling me I’m dead. It’s kind of morbid, I’ll give you that, but I’m warming up to the idea. It does sort of feel like I’m dead here. NOT in the morbid sense, but dead as in totally isolated from any former reality I knew.

My new friend has given himself the title of psychopomp, literally someone who “guides the soul” into the afterlife. Everything we watch in the movies about people dying has that in between moment (between life and death – or even well into death) that the person doesn’t realize they’re dead. It takes some convincing. Typical per the movies the recently deceased ask themselves questions such as “How did I get here?” “Where am I?” and “Do I deserve this?” I’ve found myself asking all of these questions on numerous occasions. Sometimes I have to remind myself of the whole process it took to get here, finding the job, contacting the director, setting up the skype interview and then returning home to file for my work visa and all the efforts that followed. Oh and of course, going through all my possessions as if I myself had already died. Sorting through my belongings as if they were someone else’s – thinking, what are the things I need to keep to remember this person, what is sentimental and what is just junk from another life. It’s an eerie process, no doubt. I’ve freed myself physically from the ties I had to earth (i.e. America). My dearest possessions are kept closest to my heart (which, yes, still exists in the afterlife). But I do feel distinctly detached from that other life.

I just paid for a VPN here in China so that I’d be able to access the blocked websites and well, the internet is just faster through a VPN. As much as I really did not want a VPN (because I associated it with access to facebook) I realized it was just necessary to be able to use the internet in any meaningful and efficient way. For awhile I thought, paying $70/yr for a VPN meant paying $70 for Facebook, which now provides a sort of looking-glass into my old life. It’s only as two-way as I want it to be, sure I can also post things about what’s happening in my life, but who really cares,  facebook is a tool of narcissism and less about “connecting.” For me, I find myself spying. I’m locked in almost a meditative state staring fixedly at people’s lives, their photos, their relationships, the things they find funny and/or stupid and/or important. Why do I do it? In this whole theory of being “dead” facebook is the equivalent of being a ghost. I’m watching MY world continue on without me.

Everything continues, the blip that is Christina has vanished, but everything is exactly the same. SO maybe that makes it harder to convince myself that I am actually dead. I am gone, certainly. I’ve gone somewhere. China is less of a place, and more of a state of mind. The foreigners here aren’t here for nothing, something has to drive you to China and whatever that thing is isn’t normal. I came to China thinking I’d be an “adult” – I’d grow up and find some responsibility to take on, but the longer I’m here the more I think this is just a way to run away from doing just that. Moving to China to “grow up” sounds silly now. Move to NYC if you want to grow up, if you want your ass kicked by a city, Guangzhou isn’t about to give anyone an ass-kicking. It’s exhausting, sure, but challenging, no. Living here will only be as hard as I want it to be. I can stress myself out about a lot, but what’s the point? There’s no stress in the afterlife. Pretending there is is just a way to hold on to my old life, to feel connected to the way I’m used to feeling.

Only question now, is there life after death? Will I come back to America? And who will I be when I do? Will I be a walking ghost or will I come back reborn, will I have a blank slate or will I remember everything learned in the afterlife? Will I be wiser or more disillusioned?

New Photos from CNYE!

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Christina_in_China’s photostream

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ni hao!

Living in a city is infinitely more tiring than traveling through one, well maybe just Guangzhou. Holy cow, I’ve been exhausted since arriving. I now worked three days! Everything has been wonderful, better than expected, better than I could have hoped for even. The classes are very small, so far the largest class has been three! I much prefer it this way, I’m able to get to know the kids a bit more, figure out their strengths and weaknesses and I feel less overwhelmed with a crazy bunch of kids because let me tell you – they can get crazy! I had this idea that Chinese children would be so much more well behaved than American children but kids are kids it seems. OKAY, so they’re probably not the little jerks American kids can be, but they have so much energy, they’re just zooming around the room DYING to be stimulated. The school is very small and only has a few teachers, I’ve only met three of them and they’re all so very very nice! My role in the classroom is small but important. Often I’m just playing games with them or helping them with their pronunciation. I’m only in each class for the last half hour so it flies by, the day as a whole goes by very quickly which I’m happy for. I was expecting a sort of drudgery involved but there is none. Back in the states I’m known for not liking children but I’m sort of vibing off their energy over here, they’re so excited about everything, it makes me excited to be there with them! The atmosphere is also very casual which I like a lot. All the teachers are very friendly with no another, it doesn’t have that employee-employer feel at all. I guess that’s what happens when you live with your boss though. Speaking of which, Geoffrey has been amazing! He sat with me for over an hour today setting up a bank account which quickly became a nightmare because I typed in the wrong PIN number twice but I didn’t know what I had typed in so they had to redo everything. Some things are very advanced in China others make absolutely no sense. We also had to spend some time setting me up with an ID for the community. All these things take so much time and had to be done before work, so it was another long day for me. I think I need to spend a week in bed, luckily I have the week of the Chinese New Year off, so just a few more days of work and I can rest and rest and rest.

I’ve barely had anytime to dedicate to studying Mandarin but hopefully that’ll change once I’m settled in and don’t have to run all these errands to set up things for ID, banking, insurance, and visa. I was only in the office from 1pm until 6 today and I’m SO DEAD. The commute home is exhausting in itself, packed trains and long walks. My knee is still hurting despite the wonderful massage I got yesterday. All in all I’m very happy here so far. I just want all these pains to go away so I can begin to explore, I just feel too exhausted right now. All I can do is go straight home after work and pass out (usually before 9pm!) I miss being able to chat with people after work. I have no one to call here (except Ray and I don’t want to bug him too much), but everyone back home is asleep or just waking up when I get home and by the time they’re awake, I’m asleep! So all I have are e-mails and these blogs and it’s just not enough. I need to make more friends but really don’t have the energy right now. I’ve got to take it easy for awhile, my knee needs to fix itself and my body needs to stop being so sore.

oh! tomorrow is my first “conversation class” – this is the only class I’ll be totally on my own for. This week I’ll be talking about “mind, body & health.” I put together a powerpoint and lots of notes and questions to hopefully generate some conversation. I’m sort of excited about having a more involved role since I’ve really been doing so little so far, but I’m nervous as heck! Anyone that knows me knows how much I hate presentations and public speaking in general. But it’s only a class of 5 students and well, I’m the expert here so I feel good about that.

I’ll let you know how it goes, for now I need more rest. Goodnight loves.

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