Friday, September 17, 2010

Saying Goodbye

As, I believe my other half once said when shutting down his first blog, all good blogs must come to an end. And I think this has been a good one, chronicling my journeys from university student to teacher, from Canada to Europe to Asia, all in all four years of my life. I am moving on, and I hope moving up, but not away from the blogging world. After some trial and error, I have begun to settle in to some new online "homes": my main, personal blog at karrijustina.wordpress.com, and I have another - just one other - in the work-in-progress stage - you'll have to check in with Monologuing to find out more about this soon! If you are on Twitter, you can follow my continued journeys and stories here.

This blog will remain online and alive as long as Blogger allows it - for me, a personal record of four very interesting years of my life.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Lovin'

Well, we made it home, if anyone hasn't been following my Twitter, Facebook, or new blogs. After some magic worked by our friends Li Shi and Erin, we mad-dashed our way to the Dalian airport Friday, July 2nd, ran Home-Alone-like through the Tokyo airport, and made our way to Vancouver one measly day late. Josh and I got our weekend in Vancouver, I flew home to PEI on Monday, and it's hard to believe but I've been here for more than two weeks and July is almost over.

I've decided not to close up this blog quite yet. Sometimes it's nice to have a place to vent, even if nobody's listening, or share what's on your mind. My other, newer, more structured blogs can be found at karrijustina.wordpress.com and fettleandfoodstuff.wordpress.com - the first being a "daily" photo/reflection blog about random things I see/think about/take photographs of, and the second being a blog tracking my food, fitness, and wellness journeys. While you're at it, check out my boy's biking-across-Canada blog at joshfinder.com.

Life right now involves spending as much time with family and friends as possible - the big Wilson and Pat Shea family reunion is this weekend in Tignish - apartment hunting, and generally getting ready for the fall. Being on vacation is nice, but I can't believe how quickly the time is passing!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Things China Has Taught Me (Sometimes Inadvertently)

1. Any colour, pattern, and texture CAN go with any other colour, pattern, and texture, if you wish it hard enough when you get dressed in the morning.
2. Jiaozi (dumplings) rock my socks.
3. Only the worst aspects of Western culture tend to translate into Chinese culture (rampant commercialism, bad pop music...)
4. Blue eyes and curly hair draw huge crowds. Papa-paparazzi!
5. Popcorn can be sweet. Also, it can be made in a dry, covered pan on a hot plate.
6. Similarly, all sorts of baked goods can be made in a temperamental toaster oven, as long as you don't turn the top burner on.
7. There is no such thing as too cute. Or too many sequins.
8. Truly elegant hair styles involve epic, and painful, amounts of back-combing.
9. Elbows out!
10. Cold winter night? Hot pot for dinner, baby!
11. The Company is your family. It is also God.
12. Downloading your tv shows isn't cheeky, rebel behaviour – it's a necessary evil.
13. Cheap is good. But it also breaks easily.
14. Seeing Avatar in a Chinese movie theatre means all of the Na'vi language is going to be subtitled in Chinese – too bad for you, English-reader! You have to read body language!
15. You can bargain for anything – unless you're a laowai.
16. Smile! You're on everybody's camera! Occasionally holding their kid while they flash a peace sign!
17. Good coffee, good pizza, and good sandwiches are a real art, and a luxury when found.
18. McDonald's really has taken over the world, and it sucks. I'm seeing way too many fat Chinese kids.
19. Fireworks are always awesome, in the middle of the day, early in the morning, whenever! The louder, the better! Throw in some dragon dances and drummers, will you?
20. “You're getting fat” is not an insult, it's a simple statement of fact as they see it. Face it, you will never be as skinny as that Chinese chick. And you will never fit into her 5-inch heels, either.
21. Chinese tea ceremonies are awesome, elegant, and peaceful. And impossible to recreate at home.
22. If you have light brown hair, blue eyes and a beard you will be mistaken for an Indian man. If you have dark brown hair, blue eyes and a ponytail you will be mistaken for an Indian tennis star.
23. Kids are kids, no matter where they're from.
24. The world is your bathroom.
25. Impromptu ballroom dancing anywhere there's space is a wonderful thing.
26. Despite the frequent pushing and rushing about, random acts of kindness do exist here, and they've happened to me.

Two Years Ago...

... I was still a student, and now I'm a teacher.
... I knew no Chinese, and now I can communicate basic ideas and understand a fair bit.
... I couldn't hike up a small mountain without fear of collapse, and now I can do an hour of intense kickboxing without losing my breath.
... I had never been a visible minority, and now many of my friends here are of Asian descent.
... I was probably far more easily grossed out than I am now.
... I'm sure I was far less patient than I can be now.
... I was broke, and now I have some savings.
... I had dreams of being a writer, and now – well, I'm working on it.
... I had never tried scorpion-on-a-stick – oh wait, I still haven't. :)

And We're Still Here

We said goodbye – to friends, to coworkers, to acquaintances, to restaurants we frequented, to streets we walked or drove each day. We were ready to leave Dalian. We had moved on.

However, Dalian wasn't ready for us to leave. Shrouding itself in fog thicker than any I'd ever seen, it conspired, perhaps with the weather control centre in Beijing, perhaps as an “Act of God” like those cited in the JAL terms and conditions of flight cancellations, to keep us – and everyone else at the airport – right where we were. The airport shut down entirely – right down to its information screens –
no one was getting in or out.

It was surreal to come back, after six hours at the airport, beg our empty apartment back from our landlady, and go for Japanese yakatori and plum sake with friends we'd already hugged goodbye. To walk the streets, and continue to speak Chinese. This morning, we thought we were leaving this behind.

We still know nothing. Josh and I are confirmed to be flying out on the 18th of July, which of course is unacceptable to me, and I will pay the $1000 fee myself to book with another airline to make my Air Canada connection in Vancouver on the 5th. Josh has fewer commitments and is willing to see what happens – he'll just be doing less visiting on his bike trip. We are still on waiting lists for this weekend,
and our school is supposed to be trying to work something out for us. So much for a romantic weekend in Vancouver before Josh and I said goodbye for the summer.

Josh's photos kind of sum up the day today – check them out here. Updates when I know more – watch my Twitter/Facebook for info.

Happy Canada Day.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Announcement

My life is changing, and so is my blog.

In the last two years, this blog has served primarily as a way for me to stay connected and keep people updated on my life in and thoughts on China. As I return home, the need or desire for constant updates on what I'm up to seems not so urgent - isn't that what Facebook and Twitter are for? So, with this in mind, I have made the decision to retire this blog of four years - every journey comes to an end.

But never fear - I am not leaving the world of blogging behind. I have begun a new blog, a new format, a new project: "A Moment Each Day" - an image and reflection upon just one moment every day that makes life meaningful for somebody. If you read between the lines, you'll find that the updates about my life and thoughts continue - just in a different way.

Bookmark it - A Moment Each Day begins upon my return home in July.

Glam Teaser





Sunday, June 27, 2010

Four Days Left

It's Sunday, my last Sunday in China. The month of June has been filled with report cards, packing, field trips and last-minute socializing with coworkers and friends we will soon say goodbye to. The new China experiences aren't quite over yet, however, as this morning I'm about to head to my first China spa experience with Pamela and Kristine (and the thing about China spas is that nudity is the norm - segregated, of course). Tomorrow we pick up our China Glam photos (which I'll be sure to share online) and may go for a BBQ at the beach. Our last day of work is Wednesday, and we fly to Tokyo and then on to Vancouver Thursday, just in time to celebrate Canada Day on Canadian soil.

It's hard to believe that another school year is over and that we're saying goodbye to China for good. I have a few more planned blog posts coming reflecting on our time and experiences here - watch out for them in the next few days!

Four sleeps til Canada - eight til Prince Edward Island.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shanghai Journal

Friday, June 18th, 5:30pm - enroute: Dalian to Shanghai

It's our second last weekend in China, and I've decided to spend it in Shanghai with colleagues and friends Pamela, Kristine, Edgar and Shannon. We're planning to hit up the Expo and do some shopping - and I for one have made it a goal to do Element Fresh and Cold Stone Creamery before we leave. Just finished report cards and a concert so it has the makings of a fun weekend.

I had two distinct but unsettling "laowai" experiences today. The first was during a field trip, as I was ushering several students out of a mall and onto a busy sidewalk (an unsettling business in itself). A few local men started talking to the kids. When I attempted to reply in my limited Chinese, one man started to laugh and make fun of me, starting with the standard exaggerated "ting bu dong" (listen, no understand) and ending with "if you want to live in China, you need to speak Chinese."

I was so mad that all of the Chinese I did know went right out of my head and I was unable to reply. Instead, I gave my most incredulous, meanest look and hurried the kids away.

Technically, he's not wrong - I am ashamed my Chinese is not better after two years here. But the way he said it made it such a hurtful thing to say - I felt very much like he didn't want me in his country.

The second incident happened just now at the airport. Shannon and I were standing in line for security when a Chinese man blatantly pushed ahead of us - his second attempt. Feeling pushed around enough, I elbowed my way back in front of him with a firm "no!" Admittedly obnoxious, yes, but no more than he. My friends and I rolled our eyes a bit, and then another Chinese man spoke up in English - berating us for behaving rudely and then loudly muttering about the "laowais" - not the friendly term - to his Chinese friends.

What I wanted to say was this: "If I am pushy, it's because I learned to be pushy here!" I do feel bad about the eye rolling and about potentially misrepresenting Canadian culture overseas, but I feel like I shouldn't have to feel bad about asserting myself when I'm getting pushed around.

I think if I wasn't leaving in two weeks' time these incidents would bother me more. What I have to do is remember things like the time a few weeks ago when I was taking the bus to school with a heavy tote and the bus got snarled in traffic two stops away from mine. Already late, I disembarked and only had to struggle for a hundred metres or so before a lady guard from the hospital across from our school insisted on helping me to carry it. We hadn't limped another fifty metres before a man on a scooter stopped and offered to take the tote the rest of the way. A simple kindness, but it really meant a lot to this laowai.

Sunday, June 20th, 8:30am - Shanghai

We put in a full day yesterday at the 2010 Expo, and what a day it was. Leaving our hostel at 7am, we fueled up at Starbucks and took the subway down to the Expo site. After a relatvely short line to buy our tickets, we then made our way to a very long line to enter the park. Luckily we had purchased little China-style fold-up stools for just such an occasion. By 9:30 or so, we were finally inside the park after being coralled along like cattle for about an hour. After getting our bearings and gaping at things like the massive China pavillion and the already-five-hour-line for Saudi Arabia, we heading into India to see their "green" pavillion made of bamboo.

A couple of samosas and a yoga demonstration later, it was off to the elevated walkway to take a look at all the other Asian pavillions from the outsdie. We decided that we should venture into the idyllic North Korea pavillion, hilariously placed right next to Iran's.

With this, we returned to the elevated walkway (complete with much-needed misters!) to make our way to the B section, where the Southeast Asian and Oceanic countries were found. After a stop in Brunei for Pam, Edgar snuck us in the restaurant door to the Philippines. They had a lively pavillion complete with nightclub lighting, dancers and musicians. We stopped for lunch and to "ooh and ahh" at the misty, cloud-like MeteoWorld weather pavillion, then made our way to Europe in secion C.

After snubbing the long lines for France, Switzerland and Germany, we made our way to Happy Street, the Netherland's wacky, cartoonish and entirely outdoor pavillion. A stop in the warehouse-like African pavillion introduced us to all kinds of countries we never knew existed. We wandered into lineless Tunisia before finally making our way home to Canada. After taking far too many unsuccessful "jumping" pictures in front of the sign, we decided to try our luck at skipping the line via our Canadian passports - and it totally worked! (Canadians take note.) As soon as they heard we were Canadians, they ushered us in the side door and gave us a mini-tour of what to expect before leading us directly to the beginning of the display.

Let me tell you, this is where the party got started. The Cirque du Soleil designed the Canadian pavillion, and it had everything from wacky TV screens to water that changes colour when you play with it, to bicycle-run movies and more. We check out the souvenir shop, had some poutine and got some tips from one of the Canadian expo workers before heading back out into the rest of the world. It was good to be home.

From there, it was a whirlwind of ever-shortening lines:

the Carribean - lots of fun, colourful displays and Chinese people running around getting their passports stamped at each one before tearing off to the next without a glance
Chile - really neat upside-down apartment, high-rise optical illusion display, and a wine bar!
Austria - AMAZING six-man beatboxing band. AMAZING.
Turkey - Impressive displays of ancient civilizations, 360 degree screen.
Ireland - celtic harp, lots of Irish-y things

We called it a day at 11:30pm.

Thursday, June 24th, 7:15pm - Dalian

Sunday was spent checking off the rest of the list - shopping (jacket - check, purse - check, excessive LeSportSac bags - check), Element Fresh, and Cold Stone Creamery - the latter involving a 25 minute deadline, two taxis and a mad dash through a shopping area while Chinese tourists shouted "kwai! kwai! kwai!" - Pam's and my proudest moment.

Our weekend was complete.

Moment

They'd just come from dinner - their favourite pseudo-Spanish date night restaurant - and he'd insisted on walking to their next destination. It was June, so the night was warm. Their walk took them past the usual China suspects - sidewalk markets, globs of spit, compost piles, tiny well-dressed dogs. As they drew near the plaza in front of the Big Vegetable (and many other things) Market, they noticed tinny music, and then a crowd. They paused, considered walking on, and then, with sheepish smiles at one another, they let the music draw them over.

It was dancing - ballroom dancing, slow-dancing, tai chi dancing, do-your-own-thing dancing. Couples of every age, friends practicing together, all coming together in a casual performance for the crowds the music drew. As they watched, an old man next to them, not one of the dancers but jigging along to the beat all the same, looked over and smiled in a welcoming way. They smiled back, and when they smiled at each other again, there just may have been tears in their eyes as they realized, for real, that they were leaving.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

China Glam

Yesterday Josh and I went with some friends to our very first professional China-style photo shoot - ten hours of hair, make-up, costumes, and posing that will result in 30 or so highly photoshopped photos to serve as a fun reminders of just how much nutsy fun China can be.

Scene 1: I wore a fantastic red dress and we went "shopping" on a "city street"
Scene 2: Full ancient China emperor fashion, complete with fans, umbrellas, and swords
Scene 3: Brown and gold jazzy park theme, we brought out the trumpet and clarinet!
Scene 4: Formal, black tie evening gown and tux, white faux piano, conducting shots
Scene 5: Cutesy white lacy China fashion for me, all white suit with fedora for Josh - pink and blue backgrounds

Every scene meant new hair and accesories for me, and plenty of uncomfortable heels. I was literally stuffed and pinned into dresses meant for tiny Chinese women. The photographer posed Josh and I in all kinds of romantic, nauseating and cutesy poses and then we got to take some fun ones with our friends. We go to pick out our 30 shots today, and when we get them back in a few weeks I'll be sure to post a few! It was possibly the longest Saturday of my life, but actually pretty fun, and we got to play divas and divos for a day. Now to see the results...