Jul 26, 2013

forced from the nest.

There's many reasons I haven't been blogging regularly in the past two semesters.

Reason Number One: "If you don't have anything nice to say don't say it at all."

I felt that if I couldn't bring a story around to the bright side or find a sliver of hope or wisdom in an experience, then I shouldn't send that story into the e-universe to be absorbed. You didn't need to hear me complain about being called fat to my face for the zillionth time or hear about how I cussed out an entire line at Walmart because a woman reached into a shirt I was buying to check the size and then announced it to the line behind her while laughing. You didn't need to know how I felt massively frustrated by my work environment. You didn't need to know that I stopped going to the gym because I was sick of having my picture taken while I was on the treadmill.

It was like my patience quota for life just ran out. I found myself retreating away from Chinese culture because I was increasingly offended rather than trying to look for good around me.

But I'm trying. I'm really trying. And I'm hoping a blog come-back will help me to find the good. Because it's there. Just hidden under hardship. And hardship and blessings both deserve to be discussed, shared, hashed out because they are all shared experiences. Am I right?

So, with that long, drawn out intro and acknowledgement that I'll be discussing the messy(er) parts of China life, I give you...yesterday's events.

It was like any other summer day. I woke early for a sunrise hike on the mountain overlooking campus. Because our highs have been in the 110's, I've been trying to get my outdoor quota for the day done by the time the sun is high, and then retreating to my dorm room for the rest of the day.

I did some work on my thesis (ugh) and then met my good friend "Y" for lunch. "Y" is a masters student at my school and has been once of my best friends in China for years.

After lunch, we went around the 'hood doing some errands, visiting the veggie market, adding another month of internet at the telecom store, and stopping for gallons of water. (Tap water is not drinkable here). When we finally reached our dorm, we were sweaty, not thinking straight, and exhausted. That's what walking around outside in the afternoon during 106 degree heat will do to ya.

We walked into the dorm and the dorm worker who was on duty banged on the window and called her over. "When are you leaving the dorm?" he grunted in his farmer Chinese accent. "My scholarship is over next March," she replied kindly. "Y" had applied for an extension to her master's program. Because of circumstances beyond her control (like everything else), she was unable to graduate this past semester like she expected to. Extensions have been common and her advisor told her to extend, so she just did it, granting her another several months in the dorm.

Well. What was expected because of precedent turned out to be false.

"Y" was told by the dorm worker to visit the head dude in our dorm, who told her to check her email. She found within her spam folder, an email sent on July 22nd, informing her that no extensions were granted to masters students and that she had to start paying tuition (we go to school for free and are given a small monthly stipend), that her stipend would end, and that she had to leave the dorm by the end of the month. 9 days later.

"Y" had been on a vacation and did not receive the email until yesterday, July 25th. 6 days to move out. No more monthly scholarship money, and an unexpected tuition bill looming.

I was shocked. How could what seemed so sure a few months ago just come crashing down? It was never explained to the masters students who were filing for extensions that they might not receive them. It was just assumed. Because of years of precedent.

I sat with "Y", stunned that this was happening, and scared for my own self. What will they do to me? I know no one who has gone through the experience of school in China without some major catastrophe happening. I am hoping my catastrophe is behind me (the changing of my major incident of 2 years ago) and that this coming year will go well. But I'm prepared for the worst after witnessing this happen to my friend.

The dorm leader told her to call the international office to ask for a one-week extension in the dorm, just to sort through her things and figure out a place to go. So, she called the office and the conversation that happened surprised me, even after 5 years of communicating with Chinese people.

She kindly yet firmly said, "This is very short notice to be told we have to move out." He replied, "Ask your parents for help." I gasped when I realized this man who works in the international office has no idea about foreigners, he was assuming the situation would be dealt with in the Chinese way. Chinese college students are 100% dependent on their families as it is frowned upon for students of any age to work (or have relationships/internships, etc). A Chinese student's job is to sit in the library and memorize things, while a student's parent's job is to provide for their every need. This in turn is a sort of advanced payment method because there is no social security in China. A parent puts into the child's education so the child will be able to care for the parents when they are aging.

This of course, does not pertain to my 28 year old independent friend, whose single mother is unemployed and struggling to care for her other handicapped child who lives at home. Being told, "Ask your parents," was a slap in the face. Then it got worse.

She replied that she could not be told to, "ask her parents," because the man knew nothing about her family's economic situation, She stated again that this was short notice to be told that everything was being taken away. To which he replied, "Your economic status is fine."

"Excuse me? You don't even know me or my family," she said as her tensions began to rise.

"Well, you should be comparatively better," he said. (The conversation took place in Chinese, and this statement when translated to English does not have the same harsh effect as it does in Chinese). FYI.

I was stunned. She was stunned. This office worker was telling her that the circumstances should not matter to her, because her finances should be fine (they are not) because she is an American.

Assumptions.

Dangerous.

She said something along the line of, "You people do not know how to treat people," and hung up.

I can't imagine a large, prestigious university in America (my Chinese university is one of the best in this nation), kicking out a foreign student with 5 days notice and revoking all privileges without any warning. This just wouldn't happen. There are organizations and programs and groups of people that form support networks for people like us in the States. Not here. There's no where to turn. No grievances are heard by any level of any office, and stating your opinions only gets you into more trouble. Even as a foreigner. Because when in China, you play by China's rules. (like anywhere else in the world).

I'm not sure if this comes across as shocking in text form as it did in person. I am ashamed for that worker that he would state those things to my friend, especially in her time of surprise and need. A simple, "I am sorry this situation has occurred and I wish you the best of luck," would have been sufficient. Rather than assuming her financial status is high because of her nationality and not hearing her when she asked for a tiny bit of grace. Just one week to decide her next step. Just a tiny amount of decency would have made the situation more humane - but alas, decency doesn't seem to be rationed by the Comnst. Party.

I'm worried about my friend.

I'm worried about me.

What will come this year? I am already anxious about invisible and unknown obstacles. It's going to be a big year of lots of decisions and changes. It's my senior year round 4: high school, undergrad, graduate degree, and now doctoral years. It's a familiar feeling of, "where to go from here?" Admittedly, my big life choices up to this point have come easily. I'm expecting the next step to be the same (I am working towards a goal in mind). Yet, along the way there will be China curve balls.

"Y" will be fine. She will find a place to live and then will figure it out from there. She is smart, she is adaptable, this will all be a funny story in a few years. But for now, it really sucks.

I appreciated something she said while we both stared into space after her conversation. Both too stunned to move and wrestling with what we had just heard. She said, 'I have been holding back figuring out where to go, and now I am being forced from the nest." 

Hmmm. There's a positive spin. That's a perspective I could learn from. There's the sliver of hope I was looking for, and thus thought, "hey - I could write about this!" :)

Please keep "Y" in your thoughts. Please send good vibes over here to us in Chinatown. We need it. Even us filthy rich Americans.




walk slow. xoxo.

Jul 21, 2013

finally.

Fourty-eight hours ago I was bawling my eyes out at an Italian public bus stop.

Not out of sadness, or even happiness. Just out of - fullness.

In this moment, I am seated on my single bed, in my dorm room, my cat at my feet and a pile of laundry on the floor begging to be washed. My backpack has been put away - having traveled to 5 countries in the past 24 days. That bus stop in Italy is so far away. But I have a strange familiar feeling in my guts when I remember the brief moment.

I think the feeling started at that bus stop 2 days ago as I began the 23 hour door to door journey across Europe and Russia and finally landing in my neighborhood in China.

Rejuvenation.

I just returned from yet another journey. And I "really needed that."

It had been 18 months since I packed up my trusty LL Bean backpack and jet set to another country besides America. India was my last great journey in January, 2012. Since then, I've been on other journeys called, "falling in love," and, "finishing a doctorate degree," and, "getting pooped on by your job." All legitimate journeys. But I tend to like mine a little more tangible. Dirt under your finger nails, tangible. 

I needed to move. To ride trains I'd never been on. To hold a slip of paper with directions scribbled in pen and hope I make it to my destination. I needed to find strangers hairs in my sheets at grummy hotels and mime things to people because I don't speak their language. I needed to decipher subway maps and new currency and eat foods I didn't know the name of. I needed to be alone in a city I had never been in before. That's my greatest adrenaline.

Luckily, my parents had the same idea for rejuvenation and planned a family cruise in Eastern Europe. Bingo! My ticket to a European adventure. I am not lost on the fact that this was an undeserved blessing. Timely, yet undeserved.

For 10 days I had them all to myself in a new (and very comfortable) place. We cruised on an NCL ship from Venice to Greece and it was fabulous. We had a penthouse. We were spoiled. I never want to see a chocolate chip cookie again. (just kidding, ha!). I am forever grateful to my family that they make time and effort to see both my LA-based sister and myself. It's the most stabilizing force in my life - my family.

But alas, the cruise had to end, and they left me all by my lonesome on an overnight train to Paris. I was deciding where to go a few months ago, and was hit by the reality that I could actually go anywhere I wanted. That's insane. A few weeks later, I had a difficult event at work and was feeling down in the dumps about myself, my life, my future, the state of the universe, etc. My boyfriend asked me what he could do to make me feel better. "Nothing," I said as I turned to him and a light bulb went off in my head, "I'm going to Paris." And that was that. Work could be as dumb as it wanted because I was going to Paris.The birth country of my Mamaw, a place my family visited together 14 years ago, a place where I have vivid memories of enchantment as a child. I would go to Paris to make it all better.

So I did. And it worked.

I went to Paris and then traveled the Eurostar under the English Tunnel (so cool!) to see a good friend and old classmate from Chinese class a few years ago. Seeing London with a local was awesome. If you've never had clotted cream, you need to stop reading my dumb blog and get yourself to the nearest fancy bakery ASAP. It's luscious. So luscious. Uhhhh take me back there now and feed me. Even the memory makes me hungry.

After traversing France and England by train, I flew back to Venice for my return flight home to China. That's where the feelings hit me.

I thought about money and time and energy and how it's not "fair" that I have the time, finances, and health to just jet set wherever I feel like. I thought of my Chinese friends and the bubble they live in. I thought of the new visa laws that went into place in China on July 1st and how they may or may not affect my life in China. I thought about the dreams I used to have and the dreams I now have and how they have morphed as I see the world and study new things. I thought about faith. The having and the lacking and the need for more. I thought about how heavy my backpack was and how bad I felt for myself having to carry it because I'm not a youthful 22 year old anymore and my back (and everything else) hurt. I thought about how happy I was to see my cat. I thought about how crazy I am to miss my cat so much. I thought about my boyfriend and how I had this adventure without him and how I wish we could be in two places at once. But I thought mostly about my family, who gave my sister and I (and themselves) this great gift of a vacation and also allowed me to continue on traveling alone. I'm forever grateful.


I'm rejuvenated.


Let me share it with you: 

Greece is GORG


the fam in Santorini

beware the Santorini donkeys


Mykonos, Greece

Can you spot my parents? In Venice.

Corfu, Greece

Our home for a week. Lucky ducks.

<3 br="">

Venice, Italy

Vacation selfies in Paris, France

My proper English friend treating me to afternoon tea!

Touring Cambridge, her alumnus. (smarty pants!)

British meat pie = calories what? Don't care. SO good.

Big Ben doesn't seem that big in person.

I love that backpack.

China bound.


Sometimes it takes getting out of your life for a bit to realize how thankful you are for it. Ya know?



walk slow. xoxo.




Apr 16, 2013

what the boston marathon means to me.

I remember the plane ride like it was yesterday.

I was in highschool and my dad had been trying to qualify for the Boston marathon for the first time. We were flying home from a race, I forget where it was, and we thought that my dad had missed the race qualifying time by 40-something seconds.

Dad was quiet. Pensive. Upset, but not wanting to show his disappointment while we were traveling home. He had worked so hard for this goal and missing it by mere seconds must have been heartbreaking.

Then, during the plane ride, dad chatted with the dude next to him who was a race official of some sort. "No," he assured my dad as my dad related his story, "the qualifying times include the whole minute."

I remember the wave of relief over my dad and our family. Dad had done it. He had qualified for the elite Boston Marathon, a dream of serious runners across the country. I'll never forget his face on that plane. My dad had held himself together so well in the face of personal disappointment, and then his hope that this stranger's promise was true took over for the sadness.

We checked online as soon as we got home and confirmed the man's words. Dad would be heading to Boston.

It didn't only mean a lot to my dad, it meant a lot to us. In his qualifying, we also qualified. My sister and I were shown an example of what it means to choose a goal and work for it.

In the years that followed, my father's running passion and ability skyrocketed and he would face the Boston Marathon starting line 7 consecutive times. What had once been a distant goal, a barely scraped by achievement became expected and tradition. Sometimes my sister and I went, sometimes we stayed home. Two years ago I flew home from China and did the Boston Marathon 5k with my mom. Last year my Mamaw and Gramps went to Boston with my parents and my Mamaw did the 5k. It's tradition, it's family time, it's part of who we are - runners, cheerleaders, sign-makers, and picture-takers.

This year was the first year my dad failed to qualify. He never has shown his disappointment, and he has accepted his knees that have faced the surgical knife and hips that scream from the repetition of years of running with grace and poise. My parents made the decision to journey to the beautiful Big Sur Marathon in California next weekend, meaning that they would not be spending Patriots Day Monday in Boston for the first time since 2006. The streak was over.

This morning I was awoken by a text from my little sister. "Have you seen the news about Boston?"

"No," I replied, not expecting her answer.

"Bombs?" I didn't understand. Maybe a crazy shooter, but bombs? It took a few moments to process.

Bombs exploded across the blue and yellow finish line? Bombs exploded across from the stands where I had sat year after year cheering on runners? Bombs exploded where my parent's friends were running? Bombs exploded where my mother would have stood if they went back this year? Bombs exploded outside the running store we always visited after the race? Bombs? In Boston? 

Thank God Mom and Dad aren't there. 

I am saddened and disgusted along with the rest of the country. I am sorry for the victims and those who are hurting. But closer to my core, I am utterly grateful. I am so happy my sister and I were not texting trying to get news about our parents on the East Coast while she is on the West Coast and I am on the other side of the world. I can't imagine if they were there. I am eternally thankful that my dad's knees are achy and he did not qualify. I am thankful for a dream deferred.

After the news sunk-in, I began to think selfish and defensive thoughts. "Now I am going to have to answer about this to all the Chin.ese people who will tell me how dangerous America is." Bah. Having to be the voice of America to random Ch.inese people I encounter on a daily basis is exhausting. Luckily, only one random person approached me on the street. "Why do so many people attack in America?" he said, wearing elastic waist pants and a smug smile. I replied, "I don't know, it's so dangerous, never go there." (I have been snarky/sarcastic lately.)

I love the Boston Marathon. I love the Boston Marathon because I love my dad. I love that we have created traditions around the race, that we have "favorite spots" in the city, and that I have memories of cheering at that finish line that will last my lifetime. I have learned the value of hard work, the resilience of the human spirit, and the limitlessness of the human body. I have witnessed the comraderie of the running community at the early morning bus drop off for runners, on the "T" with family members of runners chasing their runners around the city for photo-ops, and at the finish line. Feet from where the blasts went off.

If there is one thing I know in all this, it is that the running community is strong, united, and will not be broken by this tragedy. Any group of people who push their bodies to the limit for 26.2 miles surely will not be sidelined by an act of hate. Nor will their families who support them. The Boston Marathon is an elite family, though not a pretentious one. And I am proud that my family has been a part of it all thanks to my dad's own dream.

For every casualty of this crime, there are thousands more who were there whether in person or in spirit who are praying for them and thinking about them. For every act of terror there are millions more acts of love.

I hope my dad goes back to Boston one day. He has been pin-pointing "fast-races" to use to qualify for next year. Boston is still on the horizon and still a possibility for my dad's speedy legs and crazy-in-shape heart.

No matter if he qualifies again or not, the Boston Marathon will always be a part of our family. Where we watched our dad achieve a dream and carry us along with him.

No bomb can take that away from us.

Let's pray for the victims and their families. For those injured and those involved in every which way.

And let's be grateful for our families. Mine are in safe in Florida. Thank God. Oh, thank God.





walk slow. xoxo. 

Mar 27, 2013

our story.

I don't really believe anything is, "over sharing."

If you spend more than 10 minutes with me on a given day, you know the status of my bladder, my feelings about my students, work, school issues, what I ate all day, how I'm feeling, and what I think about what you are wearing. I don't hesitate to put personal things on my blog because I have the, "everybody poops," perspective that we are humans having a human experience. We can relate to each others short comings, joys, mishaps, and adventures. If we can't laugh with/at each other, what do we have?

Except when it comes to my relationship. This junk is private.

If you haven't guessed, I am back with the boy that was the dramatic focal point of my heart-break post in October. It's true, he broke my heart by returning to Chi.na and then choosing not to jump back into a relationship with me after I had broken up with him (twice) previously. 

Our story is so complicated. So interesting. So personal. The only people who know the whole extent of it are us. And it's good that way. But in the spirit of sharing life, I want to catch my blog up to date on my relationship status. I've asked him how much he is comfortable being discussed on the blog and he answer is, "not a lot." Homeboy is a private soul, and thus teaches me to be more discretionary as well. But he also said that our story deserves some air time. Even if only to encourage others that perseverance and faith can reap great rewards.

We think we are a miracle. And we routinely congratulate ourselves for working for our relationship and not giving up.

We met in the wee hours of Valentine's Day 2012 on a dance floor. He called me the next day and asked me to dinner. We were both smitten and intrigued. We dated. I freaked out and broke up with him. He took me back. I freaked out again and broke up with him again. He returned to Ethiopia. I investigated my heart and my ideas of cultural faith. We missed each other. He started calling me. I found out about our age difference. I forgave him for hiding it from me. I asked him not to see other people. He returned to China for me. He freaked out on me because of our age difference and left me a week after returning to China. I hunted him down and begged him back. He said yes because he loves me. And I love him. We recently celebrated our 13 month anniversary. 

See...a miracle! We are inter-racial, inter-cultural, inter-religious (Greek Orthodox/Protestant Christian), and have a large age gap. (I'm older.) Yet somehow it completely makes sense. It's like this is how my relationship was meant to be. 

I have found the person who loves me unconditionally. I want to be the person that he sees when he looks at me. We make each other better. It turns out the fluffy Hallmark card crap is true...being a pair rather than a solo rider can be amazing. I had no idea! ha.

He loves that I have lived several years of adult life alone and that I know exactly who I am and what I want. He loves that I have opinions and ideas and big dreams. He keeps me from being destructive and provides insight when I am being dramatic. He laughs with me, believes in me, and loves me more than I think I deserve. I love that he is a listener, a thinker, a peace-maker, and a leader. He provides my life with adventure, exploration of a new culture, and discovery. We both think we are the lucky one. What a dream. 

We both agree that we'd rather have an unknown future and be together than be apart because of "rational" reasons and be miserable. I don't want to live safe. I want to be with the person who makes me ridiculously happy and then answer the big questions when we get there. There will always be big questions in life. And through this experience I have learned to let go, allow the unknowns of life to remain unknowns, and take risks, especially in the name of love.

So that's the basic story of my, "little relationship that could".

Blog update - complete.

Isn't he a gem? :)

(And aren't our babies going to be the CUTEST THINGS YOU'VE EVER SEEN????!!!) Wait - I get ahead of myself sometimes. haha. JK.












And that's the story of how I became a, "we."



walk slow. xoxo.

Mar 24, 2013

State of JG Address.


Whoohooooo! I'm back in action! I feel like I have an old friend back! (you!)

After some intense google-action, I figured out that if I install a different browser (Firefox rather than my trusty friend, Safari), than pictures will most likely load around the Chi.na fire wall. And golly-gee it worked! Yay! Thank you, Google and Firefox!

Here is a long over-due state of the union address so that I can get back to telling stories about the random crap that happens while living as a student/teacher/redhead in Chi.na.

A few nights ago a dear, dear friend of mine and I were chatting on the phone. Our conversation had taken a turn toward deep-ville and we were reminiscing on our "journey's" in Chi.na. Somewhere inside the conversation she said to me, "Jessica, you are the happiest I have ever known you... I like stable, contemplative Jessica." I replied with a pause, a reflective moment, and then a, "Honey, the crazy is still there, just under a layer of contentment."

And it's true.

I find myself in a great stage of life these days and I'm in no rush for things to change. (As all things must, alas.)

I have a decent job, a full scholarship to school with an awesome PhD advisor, I am able to study a language I love for free, I have a cat who is my pride and joy and calms my biological clock, and I have a man who is sweeter and kinder and more patient and thoughtful than I ever thought I would find. Between work, school, the cat, and my man, there is really nothing lacking in my life. I feel fulfilled, challenged, cared-for, validated, and peaceful.

Of course, the crazy is still there. But what I have found is that if there is contentment, if I am looking for my blessings and acknowledging them, then the crazy is allowed to co-exist. I think this is called "growing up," but I'm not sure.

This semester is a great reprieve from last semester. You are probably happy that I wasn't really blogging last semester. I had bitten off more than i could chew with taking on 30 students. I was a mad woman. But somehow it all got done. And my cat didn't die. And my relationship grew strong. And my friends didn't forget about me. (I think). This semester is a billion times more calm. I now only have 17 students. Hallelujah. I have decided that, "manageable," is a key word for the rest of my career. This semester is manageable. Work has been busy with a dinner meeting in Shanghai last week with the provost and several all-day meetings with university partners in Hangzhou. It's going well.

The weather in Hangzhou has gone from freezing, wet snow to semi-cold, wet Spring. It is our rainy season and I am determined not to let the rain affect my over-all mood like it can. Seasonal affective disorder is real, people! Luckily, there have been some gorgeous sunny days in the mix for outings and hikes in this gorgeous city. This time of year always replenishes my belief that I am lucky to live here. The winter drags on and makes me want to buy a one-way ticket to Bali and never look back, then Spring arrives in all its glory and I'm like, "Oh, ya! I love this place!" ha.

Well, I guess that is enough for a, "state of life address." I'm so excited to blog again and keep this e-journal of hilarious and sometimes serious happenings.

I'm so happy that you can join me here.

Have some eye-candy...

Spring is here! And so are the imported tulips and windmills. Oh China.

My darling angel boo boo butt.

weekly, free, and mandatory Mandarin class.


morning hike by West Lake.


all official and stuff.



walk slow. xoxo.

Mar 23, 2013

The Chinese Internet Hates Me.

It does.

I can't upload any pics.

But I can write. So, here's a special story from today.


I visited the little dumpling shop across the street from my dorm before joining a friend for a blind massage. (One of the most fabulous ways to spend a Friday evening and a "Pro" for wanting to stay in C.hina longer.) One of the dumpling shop workers is a formidable woman who is taller and larger than me with slicked back hair and a huge smile whenever I visit. A few years ago I found myself back to back with this giant to see who was taller (her - by a smidge). Finding a 5'11" woman in China is like finding Bigfoot. Needless to say, this woman and I have some sort of unspoken comraderie. We are both existing in a world that is built for people 5'1"-5'7", males included. Although, I consider myself to be the lucky one because everyone just attributes my height and stature to being Russian. Which I am not.

Anyways, I had not visited the shop in quite a few months and I passed by the tall lady dumpling maker on my way to the cash register.

She nudged my elbow. I turned to look her in the eye.

"You have gotten fatter. But you must dance really well," she said.

"Um, thanks," I replied after pausing to make sure I heard her Chin.ese correctly.

So there you have it, folks. I may not be writing as much, but the natives are in full-force awesomness as usual.

And she's right. I've gotten "fatter." And I'm one heck of a dancer after a few glasses of wine.

Dumpling ladies know everything. Especially the large ones.






walk slow. xoxo.


Feb 7, 2013

Why Chinese is Easy.

(Post was written yesterday, but because of crappppp internet, is being uploaded today. Thanks, Chinatown censors!)

People don't believe me when I tell them that Chin.ese really is not a difficult language to learn. It's really not. If you can wipe all Western logic from your brain and speak from a new reference point - one that involved putting words together to form literal meanings, then you can totally speak Chin.ese easily.

I'm always finding holes in my language arsenal that make me think I'll be here forever if fluency is my goal, (it's not). For example, today I realized I don't know the word for "solution," i.e. "contact solution." I know how to say, "contacts," 隐形眼镜 (yinxing yanjing - 'invisible glasses'). But had no idea how to say contact solution.

Nevertheless, I marched myself across the street to the glasses store (the only place you can get contact solution, they don't sell it at Walmart - go figure), and announced that I needed, "隐形眼镜水“ (yinxing yanjing shui - 'invisible contacts water.") It was just a guess.

"MMMhhh," the worker dude grunted in typical Chi.nese fashion, "Inside." And he led me to the back to gaze at the glass case of contact solution formulas and pick out my favorite, "invisible glasses water."

My hunch was correct. Invisible glasses water = contact solution.

It makes so much sense.

Ch.inese is so easy. Trust me.




walk slow. xoxo.