Sunday, December 24, 2006

And we're off

to Beijing for a few days. Yay! Looking forward to writing all about it.
新年快乐!Have a happy new year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Public Transportation - Shanghai Style

Ah, transportation in Shanghai. There is many a blog posting about traveling by bus and train in this great city. It is wonderful, and wonderfully frustrating at the same time. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so this posting is picture heavy.

Bus Stop Sign
The bus number is a the top. The names of the stops and a red arrow that shows direction are underneath. If you can't read Chinese, you just look for the number and hope for the best.

Shanghai Public Transportation Card

This is the magnetic card that you can use for the bus, train and taxi. Similar to a metrocard in NYC, but no swiping. Most people don't take them out of their wallet, and some women just hold up their bag to the card reader. There is a 30块 deposit for the card, but you get a 10% discount if you spend more than a certain amount (70块, I think) in a month, so it is worth the deposit if you use public transportation on a regular basis. Plus, it is the only way to avoid having to buy a ticket every time to take the train, so it is also convenient.

Typical 2 块 Shanghai Bus

The bus is either 1 or 2 块. The new buses, with the Metro/ Transportation TV and air conditioning are 2 块. The older buses are 1 块. The older buses are definitely considerably older, most of them look like they've been around since before the 1950's. Some of the buses have a conductor that collects the fare, gives change, and holds a flag out the window when the bus is about to stop, so that the bikes know to get out of the way. All of the buses have a magnetic card reader, so you can pay with your Shanghai Public Transportation Card. A bus ride is not complete unless you are shoved out the way by someone getting off or trying to give the conductor (who sits behind the back door) their fare. It was on the bus that I learned that 98% of Chinese people do not say excuse me, or sorry, they just push, elbow and shove - and now so do I.

Subway Station in Shanghai

Looks like a nicer NYC subway to me. Cleaner and more technologically advanced, but the same basic setup as the subway in NYC.

Digital Media

The subway in Shanghai is new, and like most new systems it is efficient and technologically advanced. Each of the lines is a little different, some are above ground, some are underground, and you can tell which lines and stations are newer. All of the below ground lines have these ads, which are on the wall behind the tracks.

Next train?

The best thing about the train in Shanghai, for me, is this screen. It tells you what time the next two trains will arrive, as well as the current time. Actually the countdown ends when the train doors open, so at one minute the train is pulling into the station. The TV is Metro TV, a mix of news (entertainment news mostly) and commercials. Entertaining, although it is on a cycle that repeats approximately every 10 minutes, so it gets redundant if you are on the bus or train for more than 20 minutes. The next train here is just under 3 minutes away, the one after that 8 minutes, and the current time is about 3:30 (15:30).

In case you get lost

This is the station stop at Jing'An Temple. Like many of the worlds systems, Shanghai's signs and maps are bilingual. All of the important information is also in English, so it is very tourist friendly (provided the tourist can read English). It is also clean and well-maintained. There is a person with a whistle on the platform (one for each side), that blows it when the train is coming and departing the station - he (rarely a she) has a fun job during rush hour trying to get people to get on the train so it can stay on schedule. Delays cause fights and riots. Seriously.

Pulling Out of the Station

The sign at the top tells you the direction of the train, where you are, the previous stop, and the next stop. This is the #2 line. Each of the lines (5 so far) has a different color. And the station and train designs are also different for each line.

The Station

This is not during rush hour. You wouldn't be able to see the station during rush hour.

This is rush hour.
Rush Hour in Shanghai is not for the faint of heart. Trust me, I've ridden the train in NYC for most of my life. The Chinese push and shove during off-peak times, and so during rush hour you need your shoving arm. People will literally push you out of the way in order to get on first. And there is no waiting for the next train if this one is full, EVERYONE fits. In order to get on the seriously overcrowded train, I've had to throw a few elbows myself.

Above Ground Train

This is the train I take to work. Nothing like standing in the cold at 7:00 at night waiting for the train in a city know for its winds. Nothing like it. Anyone taking the train in Chicago, I have a new appreciation for what you go through, as Chicago is even colder than Shanghai. Oh, the feeling of sharp wind against your face...

The Signs

These three signs are EVERYWHERE in the train stations, above and below ground. My favorite is the last one, "No spitting". That's right, folks, the train is one of the only places (maybe the only place) in China where spitting is NOT allowed. And it seems that people generally obey the rule...the hefty fine imposed if you are caught probably helps a lot.

Pictures courtesy of:,!1psdFdW3uWZp-A3c-JeidiRg!1344.entry, and,,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Chocolate Dance

Bargaining. The only way to shop.

Sometimes bargaining is like a pas-de-deux. Give and take, compromise, understanding, balance - a detailed and delicate dance. Other times it is like a cat fight. All claws. And, of course, yelling, pulling and shoving. I hate the fight, I am a much better dancer. My dance isn't quite a pas-de-deux, it is more like hip-hop. Some of the movements appear rough, but that's what distinguishes it from everything else. The casual observer might be taken aback by some of the more jerky, sudden movements, but they are all a part of the dance.
Saturday night, I went to the underground market with my classmates. We are singing together at the holiday party this Friday, and all of the guys are wearing red scarves. So, we went to buy the scarves, among other things. I had to take a break from shopping for number of weeks in the interest of fiscal responsibility. Which means, of course, that I didn't have any money. However, my three sweater rotation was in need of some assistance, and so I decided to pick up a 毛衣 (maoyi) or two. My classmates also had some shopping they needed to do, including gifts to take home for the holidays, and so off we went.
The underground market is an interesting place. Located underneath the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, there are a few entrances. The most obvious one is from the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum metro station. The one we used this time is less obvious, and involves a parking garage, dubious back staircase, and long corridors. Alas, you finally arrive at the market, and the obligatory men selling watches and handbags appear. "You want watch? Handbag? Prada. Louis Vuitton." Then the DVD guy, who entices you with the following spiel. "You want DVD? American movie. Kung-Fu movie. American TV show." And then more hushed but completely self-confident that now he is about to offer something you can't resist
- "You want sex tape?" I've heard it often (especially when I'm out with only one or two the guys), but for one of my classmates, this was the first time. She was utterly appalled and offended until I explained that it had nothing to do with her, that's just their line. "Watch." "Handbag." "DVD." "Sex tape." Ah, welcome to shopping in Shanghai.
Back Entrance Train Station Entrance
Our scarf budget was 90 块(kuai, used in spoken Chinese instead of 元-yuan or 人民币-RMB) for 9 scarves. We found place with appropriately masculine red scarves, and asked for 9. He didn't have 9 in that type, but he did have 9 in another, more expensive type. After looking at the scarf and deciding that it we would have to spend the entire budget, we asked him how much. He takes out the calculator, and enters 65 for each scarf, times 9 scarves. 585 块. We all burst out laughing and walk out. He comes out after us and asks, "How much?". "90" we say. "200" he says. And so it begins. 90. 175. 90. 120. Our teacher gave us 90块, that's all we have. 120. 90 or nothing. 120. 90. "Oh, just a little more," he says. We don't have a little more. 120. No. And we start to walk away. Ok, come back, come back. We walk back into the store. He looks for more scarves. He only has four, so he goes to another vendor to get 5 more. He returns with the scarves, we pay with a 100 块 note and he tries to keep the change. Finally, he give us back our 10 块 , and a receipt which we need to give to the office in order to be reimbursed. (Receipts are not customary in markets.) 9 scarves. 90 块. Not bad. Today in class we found out that the receipt is not valid, and most likely won't be accepted by the office. It's okay though, we are going to pool our personal receipts (taxi, clothing, whatever) and turn in those instead. TIC.
As we walked around the market in search of the various items my classmates and I needed, I heard my favorite Chinese word.
"巧克力!" (qiao ke li, qi - English "ch", ao - "ou" from "ouch" or "out", ke - "keh" and li - "lee" - so it sounds like chou-keh-lee)
So far, this is the only market I've been to where the vendors call me chocolate. I asked my friend about it, and apparently it is fairly common for Shanghainese people to refer to a lighter skinned black person as "chocolate" instead of "black". I do not know why, as chocolate in China is the same color as chocolate everywhere else, and most black people are actually "chocolate" colored and not "black". TIC and so I am a chocolate colored black girl. This is extra funny to me given my own personal desire for many years to be the color of milk chocolate, hot chocolate, chocolate milk, or any chocolate except white. I wanted to be browner and therefore prettier than the butterscotch of my youth or the almost caramel of my later years. And so being in China fulfills a childhood fantasy, to have someone describe me as chocolate. Ah the irony. Being with a new group of people, they got to experience the calls of "巧克力" for the first time. Even more fun.
After two failed attempts to get a sweater, I went into the third sweater shop of the night. I asked if he had the sweater I wanted, in the colors I like, in XL. (I have since gotten over my aversion to being an XL, and now just ask up front if they have big sizes.) Assuring me that he had what I needed, I asked how much.
680 he enters into the calculator.
I laugh.
"How much?" he asks.
"55" I say.
"You crazy," he says. "55 what? USD?"
I laugh. "55 块。"
"For what?"
"For two."
"For two what, socks?" he says in English as he lifts up his pants leg to reveal his socks.
"Oh, you're funny," I say in English.
"She making joke," he says in English to my classmates who have been drifting in and out.
"You're making jokes." I say to him in English.
"How much" he says, still in English.
"55" I say, returning to Chinese.
He laughs.
I walk out.
"Come back, come back" he says. He is the only vendor in his stall, so he runs and grabs my arm before I can get too far, pulling me back into the store.
I go back.
"How much?" he says in Chinese. "Serious price," in English.
I ask my classmate what she thinks. She got 2 for 55, but they were a lesser quality. So now I have to think of a new, more reasonable price. Because I still don't understand the pricing system here, this is always difficult for me.
We go back and forth.
He says he's giving me a special price because I speak Chinese.
My classmate (from Benin) interjects that we ARE Chinese, so he should give us the best price.
He finds that hilarious and asks if we are students.
Of course, I say, poor students, and two of us show him our school IDs as proof.
Finally we settle on 100 块.
Reasonable for two sweaters. I think. Tomorrow someone could tell me they got these exact sweaters for 30 块or 515 块. Either way, I wouldn't be surprised. TIC, and you never know what to expect.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Ku Xiao Bu De
I Don't Know Whether to Laugh or to Cry: A Collection of Anecdotes

The Top Five Questions/Comments About My Hair

1) Who make you hair?
2) You make me hair?
3) Does you hair cross by itself? (When I cornrow it.)
4) My hair is the same as your hair. (Speaker is Asian with thin straight hair.)
5) This hair very complicated.

Trophy Wife
Sometime in late Oct./early Nov., I started noticing that a segment of the population expected me to be American. This was surprising, given my earlier (and still common) interactions with people concerning my nationality. After some thought, I realized that these were all males between the ages of about 16 and 35. I still couldn't figure out why and I was completely baffled until I had the following interaction.

I was leaving work one evening and my Chinese male co-worker was shooting hoops. He's the tech guy, so he's one of the few people I know, as I work after school when most of the full-time employees have gone home. As I walked past the track and courts to the gate, I heard someone calling a name. It wasn't my name, so I kept walking. After another minute, I realized that there were only two people outside, and so I took a quick look around just to make sure and walked over to my co-worker.
"Who are you calling?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were the Filipino lady."
Although some Filipinos have African features and figures, this particular Filipino lady and I look nothing alike, not even from afar. My hair was twisted, we are different heights and body types. So I said to my coworker,
"Are you serious? We look nothing alike."

"Yeah, I know. I don't know why I mixed you two up. You look like a typical black American woman."
Typical, I thought, what does a typical African-American woman look like? Stereotypical? Is there a difference? How would he have any idea of typical? So I asked him.
"What does a typical black American woman look like?"
"Oh, well like you. When I watch...."
And now my mind is racing. TV. He got this idea from TV. Who do I look like on TV? Angela Bassett. Too dark. Too built. Too brown. Regina King. Still too brown. What American shows does he watch with black women? Oh, Phylicia Rashad. Wait, I don't think they get The Cosby Show in China. They get the Fresh Prince...but the first mom wasn't on long enough and the second mom was darker. Maybe the actress that played Hillary. What was her name? Is he even old enough to have watched Fresh Prince? Maybe TV shows are not good. DVDs are cheap, its most likely an actress. Light-skinned black female famous actresses...what black woman is famous in China? Oh, Halle Berry. Halle Berry? C'mon now that is just a fantasy. You WISH you looked like Halle Berry. Stop daydreaming and listen.
" The players you know..."
Is he about to compare me to a MAN? Oh my gosh, maybe I shouldn't have asked.
" look like their wives."
"You know what? I think you might be right. Have a good night."

Same Asia
An excerpt from an e-mail sent to me.

By the way, you might not have any informations about Japan.

I wonder you have the same image as China, cause it's the same Asia .
But I promise that you can really relax and enjoy staying in Japan.
We have morality, we have manners.

Bad Taste
Having learned most of the words for the parts of the body and the face, we played a few games after class one day to reinforce the lesson. After the games, we had to describe others, without saying their names. Then our teacher told us about Chinese beauty standards.

"Chinese people like long faces, not round faces. Chinese people like long noses, not short noses. We like thin lips, not thick lips. We like white skin, not black skin. Chinese people like big eyes, not small eyes. We like not too tall, not too short.
Shanghainese people like long hair, not short hair. A girl in Shanghai with short hair can not get a boyfriend. There is a Chinese model that is famous in France, they think she is beautiful, but in China she is not beautiful. To the French, she is a typical Asian beauty, but to us she is ugly. She has a round face with a chin that sticks out, small eyes, and thick lips. We think there is something wrong with French taste."
"There is something wrong with Chinese taste," I said.
"No, no, there is something wrong French taste," she says in the voice she uses when we don't understand.
"I understood you, I think that there is something wrong with Chinese taste. You don't like yourselves."
"WHAT? We like ourselves." (The Chinese are among the most patriotic and proud people in the world.)
"Well, Laoshi, Chinese people don't think that most Chinese women are beautiful. Most Chinese people have round faces, small eyes, yellow skin, and thick lips - "
"We do not have thick lips."
"I ride two buses and a train to get to work, I spend most of that time looking at people and I disagree. Most of the people I see have thicker lips, considerably thicker than mine. The beauty standard you just described is more like that of a typical European, not a typical Chinese. I haven't seen one Chinese woman yet that naturally has all of those features."
She changed the subject.

The following anecdotes are RATED R. They are for Mature Audiences Only.


This is an excerpt of a conversation I had with two of the guys a few nights ago.

"Have you dated a Chinese girl?"
"No, I'm scared of Chinese girls."

"You know, there is a law in China that you can not have sex with a woman you are not married to. The Chinese do not even respect this law. But if you are a foreigner..."
"Are you serious? The girl just has to tell the police that you had sex with her and off to jail you go?"
"There was a guy here a few years ago, from Burundi, remember him? (Yes, yes.) Well, he had sex with a Chinese girl. And it was the first time for her. In China, they do not learn about this in school, they can not talk about sex, religion, or politics. So, she saw some blood, you know? And she didn't know that was okay. So she asked some girls, I think they were American girls. I don't know what she said, maybe she didn't want to tell them that she liked the guy. But she went to his room. And everything was okay until after, she didn't scream or anything. The walls are thin here (he knocks on the wall) and if she made yelled, said No, I don't want to (he yells in Chinese), everyone would know (this is true, I can hear all kinds of stuff from my neighbors)... I don't know what she said to the girls. These girls told her to go to a doctor or the police. Eh, once she heard the word police, she was scared. She told the police. They asked her why she came to them, was she still bleeding? They laughed, but then they heard the guy was a foreigner. And they came to his room and arrested him. They wouldn't even let his ambassador see him. They said that prisoners in China have no rights. Three months later when he got out, they gave him 24 hours to pack his clothes and go home. We wanted to ask him what it was like, what happened. But he was changed. He was so quiet. We didn't have the heart to ask him anything. He came just to get his master's. And we were friends, me and this guy."
"Have you heard from him since?"
"No. No one has."
"Whoa. I dunno. That story sounds strange to me. I'm not saying it's not true, it's just a lot of guessing and hearsay and - "
"Okay. We have another friend. And he was dating a girl from here. And she wanted to marry him. So she put a lot of pressure. What are you going to do when you finish your studies? I want to get married. Promise me we'll get married. (In Chinese, imitating a Chinese woman.) So, he finally gives in (both of the guys snicker and shake their heads). And when he was finished with his studies, he told her that he didn't want to get married. She wouldn't want to go to his country, she wouldn't feel comfortable, she doesn't know the language. And he is not going to live in China. And she was angry. And she cried and yelled, and he said no. And she reminded him that he promised her, and he said but now he didn't feel the same way. And she went to the police. Do you know what they do to you in Chinese jail?"
"No. What?"
"Bleep. (This part is rated beyond R...I'm sure you can fill in the blanks. The Chinese did create very unique and world famous types of torture. Just imagine what men do to rapists in jail. And get creative). No no no. That is why I tell everyone. I'm scared of Chinese girls."

The Exam
I was talking to my black American friend the other day, and we were sharing stories. She had to have surgery on an ovarian tumor while in China, and she was telling me about the experience. Please note that privacy is a foreign concept in China, so when she says room, she is referring to a ward, with over a dozen beds. This is the end of the story.

So I'm on the table, and the lady is doing the exam. And she is rough, like extra rough. Chinese people treat each other like animals, you know? Pushing and shoving and all that they do on the bus, train, buy tickets and stuff, well that's just how they treat each other. She was not making an effort to be gentle with me. So, I was in so much pain already, then here's this woman just pushing and pulling and poking and prodding. Rough. I was really at my wits end, but in too much pain to say anything. So, I'm just lying there wishing it would hurry up and end. Then, she starts calling out to the other nurses, doctors, every person in the room - "过来,过来,看看 (Come come, look look)." And she is beckoning them with her hand, urgently telling them "COME COME, LOOK LOOK!" And folks start coming from everywhere to look.
At what?, I asked.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Idle Hands...

"Nothing good comes from boredom. It's said that idle hands are the devil's workshop, an old saying dating at least as far back as Chaucer in the twelfth century who called idle hands the devil's tools." (The Phrase Finder)

Along with working, going to school, making new friends, staying in touch with everyone, and experiencing Shanghai, I FINALLY took out the crochet case and got to work.
First, I made some leg warmers. The yarn was not elastic enough, and so I only wore them once. Then, one day I realized it was cold outside and I was not prepared. I didn't have any yarn, so I frogged (took out) my leg warmers and made a hat and scarf with the yarn. It is a green set, so I wear it when I am not wearing my super-fly coat (doesn't match), mostly on the weekends in the daytime and on the days I don't work.
After seeing my leg warmers-come-hat and scarf, one of my classmates asked me to make her some leg warmers (yes, she paid for them). So, I went and purchased the yarn in her requested color and began to make them on Thanksgiving Day. I FINALLY finished those at 4:00 Monday morning. I was working on the first one for about two weeks, and I kept inadvertently adding and dropping stitches. Eventually I got fed up, put that one aside, and started a new one - which went perfectly from start to finish. Then I made the other leg warmer, which went almost as perfectly, except that by the end I was sleepy...and if you don't know what that means for a crocheter (or knitter), then don't worry about it.
I still have no idea what was going on with the initial one, but I'll be frogging that to make something soon enough. The finished pair has a little string inside so that she can tighten the top to keep them from falling down if (when) they stretch out. I think they are pretty cute, and I'm thinking about making myself a pair (in a different color).
I LOVE being able to crochet. The ability to wake up in the morning and realize that I am in a foreign country, winter is coming, and I need a hat and scarf...and have one by the afternoon that looks and fits exactly the way I want it to...I love it. I am not an amazing crocheter yet, but I am good enough that I can make things for others, and get paid to do it. Lots of women here knit (more on that in another posting), but not many crochet. So, my skills with a hook and yarn invite more stares, questions, and comments. And these ones are not negative. I'm Lovin' It (McDonald's is big here)!
So, now I'm working on a scarf for another classmate, keeping my hands busy and the devil out.

Classmates Leg Warmers

Hat and Scarf Set (Gotta love the model)

If you don't know what a crochet case is...

Outside of my Crochet Case (Yes, I made it.)

Inside of my Crochet Case
Contents: Hooks (in size order), pins, blunt needles, safety pins, scissors, short pieces of yarn (for marking stitches), stitch holders
Inside the pocket: 2 stitch counters (1 peg type, one push type), labels, needles and thread (various colors, for sewing labels), tape measure (usually, I think I lost it)

The yarn I purchased here. Each bag was 60 块, and I still tried to bargain. I told her that was expensive, she told me I was crazy. So, I paid her 120 块 for both bags. As you can tell, the balls are not all the same size, but you can mix and match colors once the total weight in the bag is the same. It is 100%wool (according to the label) and lightweight, so most of the green was used on the leg warmers (held double). Half of the blue (the three in the middle) and most of the grey are being used on a scarf (I haven't finished it yet). I am going to try and make myself some leg warmers out of the remaining blue, with the white as an accent color.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Last week, Wu Lasohi announced that the school had some last minute tickets to a Chinese opera, and so we had to tell her immediately if we wanted to go. I, of course, signed up. And so, on Sunday night I boarded a charter bus with my fellow international students and headed to one of the most famous streets in Shanghai. I should have known better than to expect anything to go as I thought it would. First clue - TIC as we say, This Is China. Second clue - at the door, the girls handing out the programs said in English "Here's your menu".Third clue - no orchestra or orchestra pit.
So, as I sat in my coat and scarf (Shanghai is in the "warm" part of China, which means that most buildings do not have indoor heating) I began to wonder if this would be another strange China experience. The lights dimmed, the curtain rose, and out came a woman in normal attire, with a microphone, speaking Chinese. Well, not only am I completely unable to understand her (Let's play "guess the word". Oh oh, I know that word,上 . Oh wait, she just said 晚上好. Did you catch that? 听.) but now I am also utterly confused and laughing hysterically at my classmates attempts to listen for words they know. Finally, she finishes, the red subtitle screens on the walls adjoining the stage go dark...and the next image we see makes everyone. . .
take out their cameras and start taking pictures.Yup, TIC.
Is it an opera? No. Is it a concert? No. Well, what is it? It is the "Romantic Charms of Han Tang Dynasty" performed by the Young Dancing League of Beijing Dance Academy, and it is absolutely amazing. Even I, with my extensive knowledge of reasons why you should not take pictures of performances (copyright NOT being one of them, because TIC) - joined the crowd of people snapping and clicking away until I was asked to stop by one of the ushers. I tried to turn the flash off...

From the lighting, to the set, to the costumes, to the was one of the best performances I have ever seen. They did a wonderful job of combining East and West, in a way that was tasteful and beautiful. Imagine . . . astounding arabesques and pulchritudinous pirouettes followed by Olympic worthy tumbling routines and world class acrobatics, juxtaposed with the motion of a man doing a martial-arts move where his entire body spins while parallel to the ground. It was absolutely beautiful, and I am so grateful and glad that I had the opportunity to experience it. I'm truly thankful that TIC and it wasn't an opera after all!

And then today, one of the students in my Mothers ESL Class told me that she is going back to Japan at the end of Jan. So, she invited me to come and visit. She said she would be honored to have me as her guest, and she will take me wherever I want to go. Just to take it back for a minute ... WORD. She asked if I like "nature or artificial things", what I know about Japan, and what I would like to do. She told me to look at some books and decide what I want to do and tell her, and whatever it is, she will take me. So, I said..."Well, I'd be honored to be your guest. I am so grateful for the invitation. I know you will be busy, and perhaps it is too soon, but what about this date in Feb.?" This is an opportunity that I can not let slip through my fingers. The prospect of going to Japan and not having to be alone or spend exorbitant amounts of money (Tokyo is expensive) filled me with so much gratitude that I wasn't sure what to do.
I bowed so often and deeply that I didn't have to do my regular ab workout.

After work I decided to go to Wu Mei (like Wal-Mart, Target, etc.) and pick up a few things. While perusing the aisles, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. Thinking it was one of my classmates, I turned around to see a woman with brown skin, curly hair and a Midwest accent. Yippee! Turns out she is from Michigan, 29 years old and has been in Shanghai since the end of September. She lives within walking distance of Tongji, and will be here for another year. Oh, you should have seen us in the store, it was like a reunion. Laughing, high fives, exclamations, whispers - everything except pictures of the kids.
It was so good to meet her and trade stories, share experiences, laugh about the funny stuff, and vent about the frustrating stuff...without having to give the background, speak slowly, or worry about offending. It was an extra blessing for me, as I've been struggling with isolation and loneliness quite a bit in the last few weeks, feeling as I don't quite fit in any of my social circles (black with the white Americans, American with Africans, etc.) despite the wonderful blessing that all of my friends here are to me. At the end of our "reunion", she showed me something I didn't even know Wu Mei sold...notebooks with brown girls on the cover. I yelled when I saw them and bought both types just to support. (She, of course, already owns both.) What a wonderful 24 hours.

Here are the brown-skinned Asian girl notebooks. Cute huh? Glad you think so, 'cause if you are under 21 you just might be getting one in the mail. I would just like everyone to take note of one detail. Do you see those thighs? Those are not just bowed-legged girls, those are negative thighs. See what I mean, a space the size of Mt. Everest, even in a cartoon...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Been Thinking About...


And not the ones on the dinner table either. You see, in China there seems to be a lack of thighs - on the women at least. Now usually I do not walk around staring at womens' thighs. I tend to notice other things, like epicanthal folds. But it is a little difficult not to notice when most of the women walking down the street have a space the size of Mt. Everest between their legs. Okay, it's not that big. But honestly, most the women I see have a gap of at least a few inches, and some have a space that appears to be as wide as their thighs. And it isn't just the skinny women. As the Chinese people are getting larger, so are their thighs. But it seems as if their thighs get bigger on the outside long before they have gained enough weight to close the gap.

On the whole, Chinese women are very tubular in shape. No 36-24-36 women here...I think the measurements would be more like 24-20-24. Now why is this an issue for me? Well, I figured that I would be able to buy clothes in China, and packed accordingly. As I typically wear a US size 4/UK size 6, I knew I wouldn't be a "small" in China, but I thought that I wouldn't have any trouble finding clothing that fits. I went shopping with some girls from Mali, and they wanted jeans. Aside from thighs, we discovered another obvious problem...hips and butt. Even the largest pair of jeans wouldn't fit the smallest of us (about my size in the waist and hips). If they could squeeze their thighs in, the squeezing stopped there. Oh, well, we said, and moved on. I saw a skirt I liked, and decided to buy it. A skirt should be easy, and it was A-line, so thighs, hips, butt - no problem. Not knowing my size here, the saleswoman asked if she could measure me. Oh, of course. As she put her tape measure around my hips, she made an expression that no woman wants to see on the face of someone with a tape measure around their body parts. Uh oh, I thought, maybe this isn't going to be as easy as I thought. She then moved to my waist, and as I looked at the tape measure, we breathed a simultaneous sigh of relief. 21 inches. I think that is about average for a woman of my height and build, maybe even on the smaller end of the range. And after that hip measurement (you didn't think I was posting that online did you?), my fragile ego was beginning to be restored. She handed me my skirt. POP. What was that? Oh, that was the sound of my bubble - bursting. Apparently a 21 inch waist gets you an XL in China. After 15 minutes of bargaining I paid for my skirt and left to locate my vanished vanity.

Of course, now you are wondering if women in China are really that small. The answer...yes and no. I have seen plenty of women here that are larger than me, and quite a few that would be considered overweight in the US. And I have no idea where they go shopping. One day, I think I'll ask someone. China is nothing if not populous, and so seeing plenty of overweight women does not negate the fact that there are millions of thin women. And aside from the lack of general curves - they have
plains and the occasional gentle rolling hill where I have peaks, valleys and mountains - the most obvious thing to me is the lack of thighs. Even my 12 year old sisters have thighs that meet, and both of them are slim girls. I am related to quite a few petite women, and when they walk down the street, you can not see inches of space. Even in dance class, when we stood in 1st position parallel, there was skin-to-skin contact. These women standing in a similar position, no contact. This lack of thighs is strange to me, it borders on abnormal. I do not understand how even with two and three pairs of pants (winter layers) you can still have inches of visible space.

And sometimes, when walking down the street, I feel as if I have too much of everything. From my hair to my color to my figure, everything draws stares, comments, pointing...and I'm left searching for my self-esteem. And so, I decided to walk down the street and hold my head high, no matter what. Oh I notice the looks, and understand some of the comments (some neutral, some shocked, some mean), but I am not going to let it affect me. This is me, I am brown, buxom, bodacious - and proud of it. It is a struggle, but it is one I am willing to fight...and as soon as I learn some more Chinese it's going to get even more interesting. Last week, while walking to work I was really fighting a battle with my self-esteem - it had been a rough day. I noticed these old men staring at me, and immediately began to construct my wall. As I walked past them one man asked where I was from, and the other one said, "because you are beautiful." I was so completely astounded that I stopped in my tracks to say thank you. Ah, there's that ego.

Last night as I celebrated Thanksgiving with my countrymates, we talked about Chinese women and their lack of thighs (and a few other curvaceous body parts.) As we discussed the reasons for their tubular shape (genetics, diet, bike-riding, etc.) we also talked about our own weight gain and loss in the time that we've been here.
Then one of the girls says to me "You look good, you have a nice figure."
"Oh, thanks," I replied.
"I hope I look that good when I'm your age."
"When you're my age? You said that like I'm 76."
"Well, you're almost 30. I hope I look that good in five years." (I'm 26, she's 21.)
My ego was so confused - it didn't know whether it should run and hide or jump for joy. So, it stood still.
I might have big thighs, and in China I'm a little overweight, but in America I'm fine - and apparently I'm aging well. There was my lesson in gratitude this Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Food and Gentlemen

I just returned from a two-day trip to Lin'an, a town about 4-6 hours from Shanghai (we were on a bus, and we got lost). We climbed DaMing Mountain, which is not in Lin'an, and spent a cold morning on a boat on a lake. For the first time in approximately six weeks, it rained - and the weather is still cold, dreary and raining. Great timing. The trip wasn't spectacular, we have beautiful mountains in the States, and after Machu Picchu it would take a lot to bowl me over. Also, we didn't get an opportunity to really see Lin'an, which I might have enjoyed. Nevertheless, it was okay for 50 RMB, and a good opportunity for me to see more of China. The two things that really stood out to me after the trip were food and how spoiled I am.

Food, ah, food. I spent the majority of the past two days hungry, and grateful that I had purchased a few snacks to share - because I ended up eating most of them myself. Food in China is generally hit or miss. The one major advantage to eating in this country is that food is CHEAP. I rarely spend more than 10 RMB on a meal (it's about 7.8 RMB to 1 USD). I eat lunch for 3/4 RMB on a regular basis. If I get something to drink, then its 6/7, if I'm really hungry then I spend 10. Food here is plentiful and cheap, and that works well for me.

On the other hand, the Chinese really do eat almost everything. Yes, including dog - which is a delicacy, and does not come cheap. So don't worry, you won't get dog instead of beef. You will see people eating things that I consider insects, rodents, or just gross. The general hygiene standards are not quite the same as what I am accustomed to back the States. Nevertheless, the only time I had a problem I ate at a more "high-end" place, so we'll have to see how much longer that rings true. I almost always eat Halal food, given my food preferences. This also means that the food is generally fresher (esp. the meat), and the hygiene standards a little stricter, which contributes to my general lack of stomach problems. I know some people that have had some bad experiences (stones, rocks, glass, live animals, worms), even when eating on campus. In China, you do have to be very careful about what and where you eat. And there aren't any "Grade A" signs posted anywhere, you have to figure it out for yourself.

While on the trip to Lin'an, I was generally disappointed by the food. They gave us a bag lunch, which included a roll filled with bean paste, a black egg (egg boiled in black tea), a piece of fruit and some type of ham sandwich ( I got the Halal lunch, so no ham sandwich for me). Our dinner that night, as well as breakfast and lunch the next day were at the hotel. Lunch was better than dinner, but I still didn't eat much, it just wasn't 好吃(good tasting) to me. Breakfast was interesting, we had 包子 (steamed dumpling filled with meat usually), noodles (lo mien in the States), and lots of egg dishes, potatoes (small ones, boiled), soy milk (a staple) and a few other things. And the OJ was boiling hot. I ate some noodles (on a plate the size of a saucer), hot watery OJ and then ate muffins that I brought with me. Interesting to say the least.

I have had some wonderful cuisine experiences while in China. Although they caution foreigners not to eat from street vendors, because you can see everything they do, I don't think it is always a bad idea. Some of the street vendors are cleaner than some of the restaurants. And so between some of the good restaurants, the clean street vendors, and the Halal dining hall, I've been pretty content with the food (and its price) so far. Like I said, it's hit or miss. I'm sure I'll have more postings about food in the future, because food is essential for life.

Now, as for me being spoiled...I know, that's not anything new. Nevertheless, being off campus with a good number of the guys this weekend made me think about how wonderful the majority of them are, even though my last posting might have made it appear otherwise. When I am with them, I don't have to open doors,
pay for meals (or transportation, etc.), stand, carry bags, worry about my safety, etc. Last weekend one them even gave me a piggy-back ride when I mentioned that I was tired. You might think I am too old for piggy-back rides, but I really was tired and he offered. It was hilarious. Overall, they always make sure to look out for me, and they are chivalrous, which always appeals to the Brit in me. I am a lady, after all. And I am so grateful for the blessing of having them in my life. I just hope I don't have too many issues readjusting when I go back to the States. I'll have to remember how to elbow guys for a seat on the train.

Monday, November 13, 2006

If you touch me, you will die.

Some of the themes in this posting may be inappropriate for young readers. Parental guidance suggested.
If you read that sentence and wondered if it was okay for you to read this, then you need to ask your parent or guardian for permission.
Generally speaking, I have good relationships with most of the guys on campus. The majority of them are in their early twenties, and in conversation I often refer to them as “the boys”. They call me 姐姐(jiejie - elder sister), and I refer to them as 弟弟 (didi- younger brother). Even in our lightest moments, I am given the honor that comes with being an elder, and I am ever conscious of being the 姐姐. Between us, there is laughter and camaraderie, laced with respect. Not all of the guys are young, there are also guys that are a little older/more mature, and so when they are included in the group I will say “the guys”. Between these men and myself there is generally mutual respect and trust, and some of them have become good friends. These older guys are the people with whom I spend time talking, and who are giving me an education about their countries, genocide, colonization, AIDS, and things of that nature. And so, the overwhelming majority of my experiences with the males on campus have been positive ones, and I know that many of the guys and I will still be friends long after I leave China.

Alas, this is obviously not about the positive experiences. This is about the outliers.

I think that there a number of things contributing to my experiences with the outliers. The first of these is basic statistics. It would be completely unrealistic of me to expect not to have any problems, the more people you put into a room the more likely you are to have … everything, good and bad. You all know how that works. And so, of course, out of a group of people, there is going to be at least one that is a little questionable, or worse. The second contributing factor is the way in which American women, especially black American women, are often portrayed abroad. In this case, in the music and movies often aired on the television and radio stations of many African nations. There appears to be a pervasive view that black American women are willing and ready to sleep with anyone that is bold enough to ask. Some of the guys and I have held conversations about this portrayal and its accuracy, when we talk about the Diaspora and blacks in America. Obviously, these guys are not the outliers. The third contributing factor is the population. There are five black women that live on campus; two are from Mali and under 21, one is from Tanzania, also under 21, and has a boyfriend at the school she transferred from, the fourth is from Sierra Leone and getting her MA (she is over 30), and fifth is me. This creates interesting dynamics when you take language, country ties, age and community into account. The male to female ratio is about 6:1, which adds a different dimension to the dynamics and social interactions, especially if there is a group of 7 or 8, with only one female. Perhaps the outliers are, plain and simply, horny.

And so, here I am trying to figure out how to make myself heard without having a fight. I had an interaction with one of the outliers a few weeks ago during which he used physical force when I did not feel it was warranted. Though touted as protective, his touch was aggressive. And as I stood there partially immobilized by the amount of pressure he had placed on my arm, I realized that this was not going to work. I tried to be nice, to be gentle, not to cause any problems, but I have to take care of myself. After intentionally avoiding him for a while, I saw him again one day two weeks ago while eating lunch. He waited until his friend left to get a drink, and then from two tables away, he said, “Sister, I want to ask you something.” When I told him to go ahead, he replied that he wanted to talk to me in private. With all of my usual sass, a straight face and firm tone of voice, I told him that he had no hope of ever being alone with me, and that from now on he could only speak to me when we were with a large group. He hasn’t spoken to me since.

This brings me to another outlier. I have only given my phone number to three people on campus, and so when a guy that I rarely speak to began to call, I was a little surprised. From the outset, he called multiple times a day, which wouldn’t be problematic except that 1) he doesn’t speak English well and 2) we don’t have anything to talk about. And so, when he asked me out, I told him I was busy, which I was. The next day, I told him “I don’t like the idea”. But, he is nothing if not persistent, and he keeps kept calling. So today I said, “No, I don’t want to go”, because trying to drop hints wasn’t working. “Why”, he asks. The answer to this question is fairly simple and straightforward, except that the asker doesn’t speak enough English to comprehend the response. Finally, I settled on “I don’t feel comfortable.” Too advanced – I spent five minutes trying to explain that I wasn’t sick. After that was over and he began to understand what I was saying, he told me that he “will be very angry”, and that “you can’t say no”. “Why”, he continues to ask, and he chuckles, but I am not amused. I tell him that I am going to hang up, and he shifts gears. Now he tells me I will break his heart, I can't dissappoint him, he will die. This is too much. “Goodbye,” I say, and hang up the phone. All of this from a person that is generally considered soft-spoken and gentle…well, soft spoken was gone the minute I said no. Will gentle disappear as quickly?

The outliers behave as if I should be so flattered that they have even given me an invitation, that my saying no is not even an option. They are completely offended and utterly appalled that I am not interested. And in response they seem to favor the “if a girl doesn’t like you, make her” route. Force her physically, use intimidation, or try to manipulate her (“I’m going to die.” Are you serious? I can’t even begin to get into the plethora of responses that flashed through my mind at that moment.) Well, fellas, when a woman says no, she means no. So, that means, no I don’t want to talk to you in private, no you can not touch me, no I don’t want to be in a room alone with you, no I’m not going to eat the way you tell me to, no I am not interested in having sex with you, no I do not want to have dinner with you. NO!

Last week, the Tanzanian girl with the boyfriend told one of the guys not to touch her as he tried to put his arm around her. She said “If you touch me you will die. They will kill you. I am serious, they will kill you.” He laughed, but his arm returned to his side before he finished the first "ha". I’m seriously considering printing out the picture I have of my younger brother right before he left for Iraq, the one with him in fatigues holding a large semi-automatic firearm. I’m going flash the picture and say, “If you touch me, you will die.”

Sunday, November 05, 2006

International Acrobatics Festival

Young Chinese acrobats perform at the closing ceremony of The 7th China Wuhan International Acrobatic Festival in Wuhan, in the capital of central China's Hubei Province Wednesday Nov.1, 2006. More than 300 acrobats from over 8 countries, including Russia, the United States, Germany and Taiwan took part in the event. (AP Photo/EyePress) CHINA OUT

Blurb and photos from yahoo! news

Thursday, November 02, 2006

shanghai creek restaurant

Shanghai Noodle Breakfast
This should keep you entertained while I study for midterms...

La Duzi and Nightgowns

You know you are studying in China when...

We have learned the words for various illnesses, including head ache, tooth ache, cold/flu, cough, and (to have a) temperature. So yesterday, we learned the words for stomach ache, feces, urine and diarrhea. Yup, I can now tell my Laoshi that something I ate gave me diarrhea. If I'm feeling ambitious, I can also describe the basic color and consistency. 昨天我因为拉肚子了,所以没有来上课。 Translation - I didn't attend class yesterday because I had diarrhea. I don't remember learning how to say that by the 27th lesson in Spanish. You know that you are studying in China when after 2 months, you can say diarrhea, feces, urine, and enteritis.

It was quite a surprise to me to discover that there is a "shower building" on campus. The dorms do not have showers, and so the Chinese students must go to the "shower building" to bathe. They get 3 complimentary showers a week, and must pay for additional shower usage. Additionally, there is only hot water between 12:30 and 22:30, and so there are always crowds of students going to take showers after dinner. Walking, on bicycles, and a few on scooters and motorcycles. All with shower caddies or wash basins, some with a change of clothes. It took me three weeks to figure out what was going on every night. And because wearing your pajamas outside is acceptable, students often leave the shower building in pajamas. It wasn't so bad in Sept., but now it is cold outside in the evening. Can you imagine American college students having to go outside to take showers, especially in the winter? You know that you are studying in China when you see girls with wet hair walking on campus at 6pm, in their nightgowns.

Ah, back to studying...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ah, midterms...

"Starting today you need to review every day for five hours."

And so begins studying for midterms. Five hours a day of review, in addition to my normal 2-3 hours of studying and homework. I wonder if I am dedicated enough to put in the work that Wu Laoshi thinks is necessary. I want to do well on the exam, but I don't want to study for 7-8 hours a day. I studied a lot last weekend, and I was still "mamahuhu" (so-so) on Monday's dictation. I've already started to review in preparation for the midterm, but minimally. Midterms are next week Thursday and Friday, and there is a limit to how much additional information I am able to learn in a week.

Nevertheless, I know that I do need to review. I've forgotten a considerable amount of the vocabulary from the first book, and those characters - Hanzi is "tai nan le!" Translation: Chinese characters are extremely difficult. The writing can be a challenge but it is the memorization that I find arduous. I don't have the "feel" for them yet, and forgetting a stroke is not always akin to spelling a word wrong, sometimes it means that you have written a different word altogether. Apparently, the best way to memorize characters is to write them. And so I write. Last weekend, I wrote each of the vocabulary words from the last three lessons 40 times, which means that I wrote about 3000 characters. My hand begins to pulse just thinking about it.

Despite everything, not studying is not an option, and so off I go. When I return from my trip to the land of a hard-working
Tongji student next week, I will have stories of parties and outings and all things stimulating. Hopefully. Until then, "zaijian"!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hei Meiguoren

The conversation often begins innocently enough.
“Where are you from?” “America.” “America?” “Yes.” And now it gets interesting. For with brows raised and eyes wide, they ask “Really?” in English if they speak it and the conversation began in Chinese. “Really?” they ask, as if perhaps I will change my mind, or reveal that I was only joking. “Yes, really.” and then, “Oh, I thought you were from Africa.” always in English. Always in an interrogative tone, as if giving me the opportunity to save face and change my answer, perhaps to give me the chance to say “Well, I was born in…” or “My parents are from…” I reply, “Oh, well, I’m from America.” Sometimes it ends here, other times it continues, as it did a few weeks ago when a German guy asked “But, where are your roots.” This question after he had already asked the birthplace of my forefathers back 5 generations. So I asked, “What do you mean ‘my roots’?” He finally stumbled on to the fact that he was trying to get me to say Africa. Although his unabashed questioning in search of my roots I can perhaps chalk up to the ignorance of an individual, it seems as if in the land of the yellow man, no one knows that the black man can be from almost anywhere. This, for me, is how the longing began.

I often wonder if others have this yearning, this hope inducing longing for an end to the knowledge of distinction. I find myself searching, seeking, scanning crowds, queues, restaurants, buses, trains, groups for the shape of an eye, the curve of a lip, the definition of a nose with the familiarity that brings about wellsprings of joy. I watch for the texture of hair, the hue of skin and listen for the resonance and intonation of voice, to remind me of my connection to a land beyond the one in which I currently dwell. The history therein, although sordid and unfortunate in its telling, lends itself to knowledge of the connection to my unspoken self.

The constant staring, the whispers, and especially the occasionally successful attempts at touching have begun to wear down my resilience and indifference. Mine is not the attention of a ravishing beauty, if only the looks were so kind. Nor is it the surprise of seeing fiction morph into tangible and verifiable reality, the innocence therein is lacking. No, all too often, there is disgust, shock and repulsion that emanates from mere pupils and irises. Other foreigners have remarked that to be with me is a reprieve, because they go virtually unnoticed. Suddenly, they pale in comparison. This perception of me as a novelty, like a child’s play thing, to be amused with and soon discarded, dirty and broken, can not even appeal to my ego to lesson the blow.

In this no-man’s land of distinction, where do I stand? “Meiguoren” means “blond hair, blue eyes, and white skin” as I am oft informed, as well as wealthy, educated and enviable. It carries with the loftiness, pride and high standards of all things Western. “Meiguoren” brings with it a desire for closeness in a land where white skin is lauded, blue eyes are rare, and wealth and education are universally respected. “Guo” is country and “ren” human being, and the character for “mei”, well it means “pretty, beautify, satisfactory, good”. Oh, America the beautiful. “Fei zhou” – Africa. The very word is an insult which most Chinese will avoid speaking unless they aim to offend. “Zhou”, continent, at least they got that right, I don’t have to explain that Africa is not a country. And “Fei”, well that character means “no, negative, wrong, wrongdoing, censure, blame, non-”. Perhaps then, Africa is the non-continent. To be African means to be poor, uneducated, and unworthy of consideration. Low expectations, blatant disregard, disrespect, and the desire to create distance and enforce superiority all become evident with saddening frequency. Here I am called black (hei), and “hei” means African, and African does not mean American. In China, there is no hyphenation.

And yet, there are moments of side splitting hilarity. The day in the market, for example, when the a vendor with a sly smile decided to call me “chocolate”, a three syllable word of which he was sure to draw out the last. And I was quite surprised by the honesty of a man selling postcards on the street, who gently informed me that he understood why I couldn’t buy his postcards, because “it is hard for black to get job and make money”, a statement which is not a pleasant fiction here, but an often cold fact. He subsequently left me alone, and continued to harass the others members of my group. I will have to remember that line the next time I am bargaining.

Despite my efforts to take it all in stride, to be objective, indifferent and even amused, there are times when it is difficult to laugh, or even smile, in response. These are the times when I stand still, unable to choose, and perhaps intentionally deciding not to. And so, those around me make the choice, they decide if their stares, their questions, their treatment of me will be with the respect and desire provided to my kind, or the disrespect and repulsion also provided to my kind. As it goes, a book is often judged by its cover. It is interest in the cover that will prompt most to read the blurb on the back. My blurb says that I am undoubtedly American, but many will never read it for my title is “Fei Zhou” and my cover is decidedly black.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Food Poisoning, Wu Laoshi, and e-mail

Three things came together in the past three days that caused me to start this blog. Food poisoning, an e-mail from a friend, and Wu laoshi (laoshi = teacher). And so, here I am sitting in a friend's room, which he nicknamed the "African Embassy" using the computer to compose a blog. My, how things change.
So, you may be wondering how these three things conspired to bring about this wonderful glimpse into my life in Shanghai. As it turns out, I'm willing to let you know. First, food poisoning. While sparing you all of the gory details, more than 6 hours in the middle of the night alone in a bathroom give one much time to contemplate numerous things - from death (just end the torment) to e-coli (which I thought I had for about 3 hours) to blogs (wouldn't everyone love to hear about this). Hehe.
And the second, a few people suggested before I left the States that I start a blog. But, I thought, "Who would want to read my stupid blog." Well, as it turns out, I read other people's blogs. And then, today, after getting some pictures I e-mailed to her, a friend of mine said that if I started a blog to let her know. So, I thought, "Hey, she'll read it."
And third, a conversation with Wu laoshi, my wonderful Chinese teacher. Today, after 6 weeks of trial, she told me that I am doing well in her class. A few weeks ago she told me that Americans don't study hard, she thinks we are lazy, and that it will be difficult for me to keep up with the class (which is a beginner's class). With that in mind, today's post-class chat was a big self-esteem booster for me. And I thought, "I want to share this with the world, I feel smart again!" Given the endless jokes I have about my "big brain" and how it's worth at least $150,000 USD (if you don't believe me, I'd be more than happy to have you pay off my student loans), feeling smart again is a big deal.
So, here I am, a Black (Caribbean, British, Portuguese, African) American woman in Shanghai. Sometimes I feel like that explains everything...