Can we just take a minute to think about how, if I were to put up an identifiable nude picture of myself, on my own blog, taken in my own bathroom, it could come back around an ruin my life?
let’s just think about how, no matter what I do with my life - become a teacher, a lawyer, a scientist, a professor - a photograph of my naked body could render largely null and void the value that others would be willing to give to me.
It would not matter if I were a virgin - it would not matter if I meant them for a lover’s eyes only - it would not matter whether or not I did it for money - my own naked body could actually ruin my life and my work.
Can we just think about that? That is powerful, and not in a good way.
Yes, I have not posted in months, but due to urging from my family, and the few friends who have read this, I am going to finally write a new blog.
After living in Tianjin for 6 months, I have come to love and hate living in the city. The hate, well let me say dislike, stems mainly from the pollution and overall dirt and dust that accumulates almost everywhere. This dust, dirt, sand, combined with the incredibly windy days we have had of late create a wonderful sandstorm like effect which makes leaving your room with any skin exposed highly unpleasant. Like this weekend. I met up with a Chinese friend to go get coffee at the subway station near my apartment (if you can call where I live an apartment…its just a hotel converted to a dorm room) , since he did not know where to go. Silly me didn’t wear sunglasses, or have any facial covering what so ever, so by the time we reached our destination, about a 15 minute walk, not only was my hair a birds nest (since I haven’t had a hair cut in 7 months) but I had a delightful layer of dirt, sand, and grim all over my face, and in my eyes. Not to mention this dirt and pollution dirties up the inside of you. For example, on the bad days when I blow my nose, instead of it being a normal clear color, its black. Or this itch you get in the back of your throat and the cough that accompanies it. All of those things,lack of sun, pollution, and an overal grimy feeling after being outside, begin to wear you down.
But then there are these moments when those unpleasantries become nothing more then trivial matters. There are two times of the day that for some reason I almost always enjoy. First is during rush hour, usually between 5:30-8:00 at night. Now usually when I am walking around the city at this time I am either coming home from teaching, or leaving to go meet up with some friends, and I am almost always listening to my ipod. I think my enjoyment of this time may actually be due to how normal or mundane it is, combined with my music. It kind of makes me feel like im in a movie. I also sometimes get the random urge to dance down the street. I have yet to do this, but before I leave I think I will, just to 1. say I have done it and 2. because the people staring at me would be incredibly amusing. But more seriously, at this time of the day, even back in America the scene would be so similar. People rushing home from work or class, the smell of food cooking, horns honking, and the sun setting. Even when I was feeling terribly homesick, when I came home from class at this time of the day, there was familiarity and comfort in it.
The second time of the day I really enjoy in Tianjin is around 4 in the morning. Now all of you people (all 3 who read this) out there going “why is she out at 4 in the morning!” let me just say there is no real bar close in China. So while normally in the US at 2 o’clock sharp the lights are on and the bouncers are forcing you out the door, in China its quite easy to lose track of time. The reason I like the early morning hours in Tianjin is the contrast between the loud hustle and bustle of the daytime in the city to the quietness of night. All day you hear cars honking, people talking, spitting, coughing, hacking up a lung, or shooting snot rockets, but at 4 AM the streets are almost silent. As you walk home its almost serene. Unlike in America, I feel completely safe in a city of 10 million walking around alone. I don’t feel anxious that there is someone lurking behind the corner or back in an alleyway about to jump out and attack me. I have always been a night person, so being able to just walk around without be afraid is a great thing. The one con about loving this time of night is the fact that the gate to my building closes at 12, therefore I have to daringly climb over the fence, which can get a little precarious after having a few adult beverages. Luckily, that terrible wind/sandstorm from this weekend conveniently blew the rusty old gate right off its hinges so hopefully they don’t fix it anytime soon.
Now I know some of you out there are thinking “okay great, thanks for blogging again Alex, but where are all the fascinating stories from you ridiculously amazing trip to Vietnam?!” Well no worries my friends, those are on there way. I just need about a day to write out the short story it will undoubtedly turn into.
The need of small western comforts has already began to permeate my stay in China. Is it a bad sign that only a week in, I crave American food? Now don’t get me wrong, Chinese food, real chinese food, is absolutely delicious. But the thought of a fatty burger with a side of waffle fries, or a huge plate of fettuccine alfredo makes me almost start drooling. Here I am writing these very words and my mouth is salivating. Maybe this is normal, maybe not. Either way these pangs of desire for my favorite dishes are very real, and quite distracting. This may also be due to the unpleasant reality that as much as my mouth loves chinese food, my stomach is rebelling to all these new dishes. I may just really want to eat a meal without needing to take a stop in the bathroom soon after. I am just very thankful my apartment has a western toilet. Squatters are really just not my cup of tea.
Speaking of delicious western food (and straying away from the thought of the toilets in China), thanks to Paige, one of the foreign teachers who was in Tianjin last year, and Lindy, one of the sweetest people I have ever met, Amina and I found a delightful restaurant called Helen’s. Oh Helen’s. The food is all western, and to set my eyes on the menu was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Milkshakes, burgers, pasta, pancakes. What else can I ask for? Just one thing, coffee. And oh does Helen’s have coffee. Wonderful, mouth watering, coffee, freshly made from a french press. My absolute favorite way to have those delectable little beans prepared. At home, I usually must put some cream and sugar in my coffee, but in China, my deprived taste buds relish in the deep, nuttiness of black coffee. When the first bit of my favorite liquid reached my lips, it was love. That coffee could have been Folgers made in a french press, but to me, those beans were the finest in the world.
Now I feel as though, in my quest to sate my cravings for western food, and describe the separation I have from these small comforts, I have left out a few gems of Chinese cuisine. One in particular, the hot pot. I am at a loss to why of all the Chinese food which has made its way to the States, hot pot has not become a widespread type of restaurant. I am sure many of you are wondering, what is this thing you call a “hot pot?” Well in the journey to understand what hot pot was ourselves, Amina and I found ourselves dining at a wonderful restaurant specialized in just that. But even getting a table at said place was a challenge. You see, hot pot is quite popular here, so there was a wait when we first arrived. We were handed a ticket with “2”, for our party number, and “7” which we mistakenly assumed was the time we should be back, since it was around 6:40 when we arrived. In reality we should’ve realized that 7 was indeed not the time, for they use a 24 hour system here, but alas, we concluded we had 20 minutes to wander around the mall area where the restaurant was located. Around 6:55 we made our way back to the front of the restaurant where we proceeded to stand awkwardly for a few minutes, eliciting stares from all those also waiting. Finally the hostess came up to us and mimed that was had missed our time. The number 7, as I already mentioned, was not actually a time, but a table number. So the nice women handed us another ticket, and around 15 minutes later, finally found ourselves seated for our first hot pot experience.
Although in The Shiz we were given a crash course in the Chinese language, Amina and I lack the skills necessary to communicate with others very clearly. Ordering itself is a challenge. Lots of mispronounced Chinese, pointing, and miming, we were thankfully handed a menu in English. Beef, vegetables, noodles, and shrimp, a pot of boiling spiced water, and a bowl of cilantro, garlic, sesame oil, and mystery sauce, all combined creates the dining experience of hot pot. You take these different ingredients, and toss them into the boiling water and cook away. When they are finished, you put them in the bowl of mystery sauce and BAM you have a delicious and entertaining meal. Entertaining for us, since we are not quite as proficient in the use of chopsticks as our Chinese counterparts, and entertaining for everyone else because they get to watch us look ridiculous. Looking ridiculous and be constantly stared at, definitely something to get used to. At least the being stared at part. I am pretty ridiculous on a daily basis. Normally I just blend in more.
Longxing Temple of Zhengding, Shijiazhuang, China—
China. Such a simple word, yet a definition of this place, these people, can not be so easily confined into two syllables. I have officially been in China for one week, and I have already seen, heard, smelt, and tasted so many new things that I already feel changed. So far the people here are warm and welcoming, so the language barrier, although an obstacle, does not deter our desire to communicate with each other. Food. Another simple word, yet one which also carries many different meanings across cultures. The sharing of food is a way to communicate, to share our lives where words cannot express. In the short time I have been here, it has become apparent to me that the consumption of food is not only an act of human need, but one of social interaction, and is something which can linger on for hours, enjoying the presence of each others company. The fast paced environment of the United States forces us to think fast, move fast, and eat fast, and we have sectioned off the joy of spreading out an evening of good company and good food to only special occasions. The Chinese seem to relish in these extended meals, and I think its something I can easily learn to enjoy as well.
The first city I found myself in, one week ago today, was Shijiazhuang, a place I will hence forth refer to as the Shiz. The Shiz, an interesting city full of many people, smells, cars, and bikes. Traffic laws as we know it do not seem to exist, but there is a unmistakable order within the chaos which I cannot make sense of quite yet. One would think being in a car in China would be a frightening experience, but I actually felt quite safe driving during my few excursions. There is a honking etiquette which I do not completely understand and while at time seems entirely random, once again has a clear purpose.
My host family, which I stayed at for one night, was incredibly welcoming and warm. They had a six year old son, and a fourteen year old daughter who spoke very good English. My mother was a very beautiful woman who spoke almost no english yet had a smile that was contagious and incredibly welcoming. Their home was modest, but comfortable and clean. They kept telling me to make it my own, to treat their house like it was my home. After being away from my family for a week now, the invitation to make me a part of their life was a moving experience. I didn’t feel the pangs of homesickness until after seeing their family together, and realizing it will be months until I see mine again. We woke up early in the morning to get ready to head to a museum which told the story of Chairman Mao and the revolution of Communist China. To view the history, and to hear my host father tell the story of the revolution with knowledge and passion was a very interesting experience. History is often a one sided story, so to hear the other version was intriguing, as well as thought provoking. My short visit with my family ended almost as awkwardly as it started. Standing in front of my hotel in the Shiz, yet as we said goodbye, I knew if I want, I could have a long lasting relationship with this wonderful and warmhearted family. They invited me to come back and share their home with them again, and I wholeheartedly hope that I will follow through with my promise to do so. While the Shiz may be a dirty city, full of unpleasant smells, it is also filled with wonderful people, which definitely outweighs the downsides. At least for a weekend.