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"!