Feb 28, 2011

6 months. Done.

On August 24, 2010 I tested positive for TB.

What happened after that would change my life forever. (dramatic but true).

My routine physical exam involved a PPT test. This was what tested positive. My chest x-rays were negative, meaning was just a carrier of TB, not sick at all and fairly common.

Because in America we have all but conquered TB, and because I tested negative the year before, it was determined that somewhere along the lines of being in Chinese hospitals and holding non-vaccinated Chinese babies in 2009/2010, I came across someone with full-blown TB, they snotted on me, and the germies got inside my body.
Not cool when you have to turn health forms into your new university (who has given you a full scholarship) 2 weeks later.

For normal patients in America latent TB is no big deal - just take some pills with some nasty side affects and move on. But things were different for me because in less than two weeks I was to return to my home on the other side of the world, leaving me to deal with monthly refills and blood tests in a health care system vastly different than my own and all the while speaking a foreign language.

Part of the shindig with Isoniazid (my pills) was that I was not allowed caffeine or alcohol for 6 months.


I can't believe I still walk upright.

I can honestly say that a positive TB test was one of the most formative things in my life so far. Getting latent TB has changed my life. Having TB has focused me, made me grow up quite a bit, and disciplined me. My social life has done a 180, I used to spend every weekend in the bar, dancing my brains out and chatting with fair-weather friends. I probably spent more money on margaritas than food.

I used to be a severe caffeine addict. I've been known to drink 8-10 diet cokes a day. I did this for years. I had tried to give up diet coke before but it never stuck more than a month or so. I always went back to the bubbly beverage of happiness and aspartame whenever I got sad. Diet coke made me happy. But this time, health was on the line. When someone tells you, "don't drink caffeine or your heart will explode and if your heart explodes, you have to explain it to a Chinese doctor," there is a sudden burst of motivation that was lacking during previous quitting attempts.

When I moved into my dorm, a few of the girls living here were excited because, "loud, fun Jessica" was moving in. But to their chagrin, loud, fun Jessica was exhausted every night by 10 because she didn't drink caffeine anymore and was not going to be joining them at the club because she didn't drink alcohol either. Talk about a serious change in persona.

It's been a big deal in my soul. It hasn't been an easy road, but it has been a formative one. I feel more stable, my emotions have been less up and down and I feel victorious over caffeine addiction.

For the past 6 months I've drank 15rmb bottles of Perrier at Chinese Starbucks because they don't serve decaf coffee here. Seriously, so many aspects of social life revolve around either caffeine or alc. It's especially hard in China where drinking with someone is a sign of respect. I have offended many Chinese people at dinner parties who were unaware of my situation when I politely refused their wish to cheers me. It's been such an experience in discipline to completely block these things out of my life and focus on taking my pills everyday.

And let's not even talk about the weird side affects - but they involve a lot of bodily fluids.

But none of that matters anymore because today I took my last pills.

Done. Donzo. Hao le. Game over.

It was very anti-climatic actually, because today was my first day of classes. There was just so much more on my mind that I barely noticed the pill bottle was empty.

This afternoon I reflected a bit on the experience. I've been in and out of the Red Cross hospital TB ward, stood in line while farmers bartered for their meds, seen positive TB charts strung on the wall while the patients cut me in line, had under the table blood tests done every month for free by my best Chinese friends, been told I'm too fat to take blood out of my arm, sat in the ICU waiting for people to finish surgery on infants so they could take my blood, worn an awesome monkey face mask, seen suffering and pain in the TB unit, and been exposed to the inner dealings of health care in China in a personal and real way that would not have been possible if I was not "sick." I truly believe that this was a small situation that has prepared me for something bigger later on in life.

According to my doctor friends, I can have caffeine tomorrow. Thursday I have my final blood test at the hospital and on Friday if all goes as planned I am allowed to have alcohol if I so desire.

It's cool to see how my care was set up long before any of this was reality. Who knew that my BFF's in China would be doctors and that I would get a job in a hospital the semester that I had to take these pills? Divine providence right there, people. It alls falls under a master plan and a reminder that sometimes the big man upstairs works in dramatic and attention-getting ways.

Tomorrow I have a Starbucks date after classes. And I'm not ordering a Perrier. It's gonna be a Venti Mochachinochoco-lovin. And I'm gonna get a refill. And then go shake in convulsions in the corner. haha. Or not. Maybe I'll get a tall. You know, because it's cheaper.

So anyways, that's over. Whewwww. Put it in the life experience box and treasure it. All this reminds me of some of my favorite words in the Bible, "And it came to pass..." haha, I love that. It came to pass. It's always how the Gospels start stories and it is just so cool. It came and it passed. It came TO pass. Awesome.

Now time for some homework that definitely came to pass. I'll go hit the books, you go think of 3 things you are thankful for, starting with something health related...kapeesh?

walk slow. xoxo.

Feb 27, 2011

Return to Shenzhen.

Reunions are good.

My two bff's in my grad program came back to visit, so I went down to Shenzhen to see them. They were my traveling partners for 2 years and as per tradition, we decided to take a little trip. Our "little trip" turned into a 6 hour bus ride to a city called Dan Sha Shan that was seemingly empty when we got there.

Our 24 hour trip included foot massages, hitch hiking back to our hotel because there were no taxis, hiring a tour guide to take us through a national park, a boat ride, and paying homage to two giant stones that look like male and female genitalia. I'm not kidding. Chinese people are weird in what they build parks around. We had no idea we were going to the genital capital of China. I'll spare you the pictures, but trust me, they were giant in size and scarily true to anatomy books. God has a sense of humor to put those rocks in China.

We also saw a strawberry field and a rock that looks like a panda (top right). Can you see the panda?

The town seemed deserted except for the children walking to and from school.

Back in Shenzhen our time was filled with eating, KTV, shopping, massages, and more eating.

and babies. I love yellow babies. I want to make/buy/steal one. And they love me in all my redhaired glory. They either cry or stare when being held by a red-headed monster. This one was a starer. So much more peaceful of an experience than the cryers.

Shopping for shiny things, picking out food at the seafood bazaar, and just being together...

After this trip I am completely broke and missing my friends all over again. But I am so glad they came back. It's weird that they have "moved on" to America and I'm still here. But alas, we'll always have "the good ol' days."

"The Crew" as we call ourselves has traveled together to Thailand (Phuket and Bangkok), T.ai.wan, Hong Kong, Macau, Xiamen, Beijing, Harbin, Guilin, Yangshuo, Ma Ping, Guangzhou, Nanjing, and Shaoguan. We've been to HK Disneyland, across borders, jump roped fire (them - not me), been through an earthquake in Tai.wan, stayed with villagers, pet wild water buffalo, stayed in sketchy hostels, shared a double bed, ridden dirty overnight buses playing questionable videos, lit fireworks for Chinese New Year in Beijing, scuba dived in the Thai Sea, and countless other random memories.

That's a lot of traveling togetherness. I miss those doodies.

Thanks for the new memories. Crewunion 2012, same time, same place.

walk slow. xoxo.

Feb 26, 2011

Monkey Reunion.

My favorite Chinese monkies treated me to lunch today. They are always the first people I see when I come back to Chinaville.

We talked about our break. They only got one week, so their time was condensed while I've been gallavanting the globe the past 4 weeks. So we told stories over plates of paella, salad and bread at a new fancy schmancy Spanish restuarant in town.

It's always nice to chat. I learn so much from them. Gaining the trust and friendship of Chinese people is hard and tedious. Friendship is work. But I count it a victory and a blessing to be able to say I have 3 great Chinese friends. (Stone wasn't at lunch today, just Christina and Michael).

I just love these boogers.

They told me that one of my students (a 30-something year old doctor who works on leukemia patients in the blood unit) broke up with his girlfriend over the holiday (the shame!). I told Christina to get with him and she said someone has already told her that. haha. Her reaction was that he is "too blue" and she is "too red." Translation: he is depressed and she is not.

We talked about depression and how rampant it is amongst the doctors at the hospital. Because my student's job involves witnessing a lot of death in the leukemia unit, he carries a lot of burdens. Michael told me that because the insurance available to families is not sufficient, most families with a child sufferring from a long-term disease will spend their life savings, only to lose their only child after about 5 years. The doctors then carry the pain of the family's as well.

I love this about my friends. That they teach me real things. That I am learning the ins-and-outs of life in a developing (though powerful) country. I'm not sure how to address the depression topic. It seems to come up a lot in conversation with my students at the hospital. Hmm...maybe I should be thinking about that when making lesson plans for this semester...? I don't know much about depression, but I do know a gateway to hope and healing found in only one place. Not that a higher hope solves depression, per say, but that life doesn't have to be meaningless while coping with loss. Anyways...got lost in my own brain for a moment...back to our lunch conversation...

Michael showed off his new iPhone and told me that last Monday there was a "gathering" of students at one of our city squares. Apparently they were doing it up Egypt-style until the local government shut down the internet and arrested a bunch of people. Michael was pissed last Monday because he couldn't access his email on his iPhone. Dang world revolutions. ;)

They talked to me about my new boss and how she really likes me. I told them that I am soooo soooo happy to have a new boss and then they told me how to work it so that I tutor her kid on the hospital's dime. haha. Scheming and dealing.

We talked finance, marriage, Spanish cuisine, and how to pronounce "omelette." I gave them heart shaped boxes of Ghiradelli chocolate from Downtown Disney. They sat at the table and scarfed it down before our lunch was served.

I love them. With a true, deep down love that is only reserved for few people in life. The people who are divinely given to you - because without them, you wouldn't make it.

Do you have people like that in your life? People who you know are masterfully twisted into your life? I hope so.

Enough of the deep talk. I'm off to wash 8,000 piles of laundry.

walk slow. xoxo.

Feb 25, 2011

Guess who's back...back again...

Hello friends near and far!

Sorry for the blog hiatus. I have been MIA. Making Intense Awesomness.

48 hours after I landed in good ol' Chiner, I jetted off once again. This time to the Kong Kong border city - Shenzhen. My traveling companions, partners in randomness, best friends from my grad program came back to China to visit! (They both moved back to the Land of the Free this year...leaving me here with no one to late night text in fits of China panic and no one to plan spontaneous trips with.)

I spent the last week down south with slews of old friends and was hard pressed to come back to my "normal life" today. We just had so much fun. It was like fake life - shopping, eating, traveling to random cities, group dinners, spa visits, massages, hotels...

I'm still going through the pictures from the week. So for your viewing pleasure, here are some of the reading selections from the Shenzhen Airlines magazine that was in the seat back pocket on my flight home tonight. I spent the 2 hour flight trying to figure out how someone gets qualified to be a content editor in China and why these topics were chosen for an airline magazine...

First up we have an article entitled "More Sexy" complete with photographic tips that look like couples yoga - showing a white dude and a Chinese chick or a Chinese dude and a white chick in each pic. Oh, hey.

Next up: Does your valentine want some "Funny" gifts? (Funny is the normal translation for "interesting" or "amusing" ---oh, Chinese.) Apparently, funny gifts include underwear sets, perfume, or cell phones.

Or, if funny gifts guides aren't your thing, what about reading, "Beard is a Sexy Conspiracy"... also complete with picture guides featuring Chinese men showing you step by step how to get your beard to look like George Clooney, Justin Timberlake, or some other famous white dude I whose name I don't know. Mmmmmm sexy conspiracies. Perfect reading at 30,000 feet. (?)

Or...if you crave something more "native," how about some, "Fun Stories of Chopsticks?"

Last but not least, let's not skip over the article detailing, "Haagen-daz's Magic." The world needs to know. Or at least patrons of Shenzhen Airlines need to know.

Oh, China. So amusing, down to every detail. I can't even take a short flight without a hearty chuckle.

Too bad the only things translated in the magazine were the headlines. I sure would love to have read some fun chopsticks stories. Maybe next time.

walk slow. xoxo.

Feb 17, 2011

it's a small world after all.

The last 48 hours have been full of loneliness, hilarity, randomness, encouragement, and all the other greatness that comes from flying around the world.

I wish I could remember all the conversations that I was a part of or overheard over the course of the 22 hour journey home. People are funny. Heck, culture is funny.

But what really struck me as awesome was just how small the world is.

When I was boarding my Delta flight in Detroit (bound for Shanghai) I was meandering my way along the aisles in economy class I looked down and saw an acquaintance who lives in HZ doing the same grad program I graduated from!

That was fun. He came back to my area about 8 hours into the flight and we chatted for a few hours. That made a huge chunk of time go by quickly. We talked about being a muslim in China (he is) and graduate thesis' and Europe and how we were both feeling kinda -blah- about returning to China. What a great thing to have a friend on board.

To add to the fun, my seatmates from my flight to America three weeks ago were also on this flight, in the same seats. I was one row behind my seat form the last leg, so we were able to talk a lot, but I was also able to get some alone time. (thankfully).

They are a Chinese mom and college son who were visiting their hubby/dad in Texas where he is stationed for a year for some engineering program.

I loved hearing about their trip in America (because of my suppressed nationalistic tendencies).

The mom cornered me by the water station and talked my ear off about how she wants her son (a sophomore in college studying math) to "go study in US and stay in US."

The son followed me as I got up to go to the bathroom for the 49th time and we had a nice chat also. He told me about how Washington DC was his favorite city he has ever been and talked for 4.7 minutes straight about the squirrels that "just come right up to you." He also talked about how clean and polite everything/one in America is and said, "China has a long way to go."

I about high-fived him.

But instead, I was diplomatic and pointed out that all countries have good things and things that can be improved. But really I just wanted to high-five him. Or go feed squirrels with him. One or the other.

Between my conversations with the mother and the son I have so many observations and interesting things I want to remember. I'll def be doing a post just on them in the near future. I need to remember everything first, and jetlag doesn't help that cause too much. ha.

Arriving to Shanghai and the night in the airport hotel was uneventful. It's old hat by now.

I was a slight jerk when checking in. I can tell if I need to pray if I refuse to speak Chinese. I was checking in at the hotel and the english-speaking helper girl gave me my bill and told me to, "sign everywhere." I asked her to repeat herself, and she said again, "sign everywhere." Instead of turning on the Chinese to make the situation move more smoothly, I told her, "that doesn't make sense," and she started to shake. (normal to encounter a shaker, usually nervous 4 foot 2 males).

Once I figured out where to sign, I gave her a big grin and thank you because I felt bad that she felt bad about her english. I didn't mean to make her feel bad or nervous, I just didn't want to sign everywhere or speak Chinese. Not yet. Not wanting to accept where I was in the world just quite yet.

Then this morning I woke up at teh bum crack of dawn thanks to the gloriousness of jetlag and proceeded to push my 2 50lb. luggages to the long distance bus to HZ.

I made it just in time because a huge family came on board right after me, yelling and making a ruckus about not having enough seats. There was much hullabaloo that could have been averted if one of the ticket sellers had any balls and just said, "don't get on the bus if there aren't enoughseats for you, we can't just create seats." We set off 30 minutes late. I just thought to myself, welcome back to inefficient China.

To add to the small-worldness of my thought from the plane, my Japanese classmate was also on my bus back! His flight from Tokyo arrived this morning. We didn't get to talk, but that was a fun little addition to the morning.

One we arrived I helped a b-e-a-u-tiful Belgium guy get a taxi to our school. It's his first semester and he had no idea what what going on. Oh how I remember those days. He was walking around with a printed out sheet and taxi drivers were refusing to take him. I asked him where he was going (turns out - my school) and asked him to show me the paper. It was all in English. I was like, dude, you've gotta get it printed in Chinese! I said, "I'm Jessica," and he just stood there. After a minute I asked, "What's your name?" he answered,"Floriugguggghghn. What's yours?"

haha. Note to self: don't just say, "I'm Jessica" say "My name is Jessica." This clarifies it for the non-native speakers. :)

Soon a taxi pulled up, and I waved the beautiful soul goodbye and goodluck.

Once I was home, I hauled my stuff up the 4 flights of stairs and added my electricity for the month of Feb. The dorm workers commented on how "fat I have gotten in America." Welcome back to China. Abrupt, nonsensical, hilarious, inefficient, wacked-out - China.

There's no where else I'd rather be.

How else would I be able to randomly get on a plane in Detroit and see a friend? Or chat it up with people from a completely different culture while 33,000 feet in the air? Or help a gorgeous European named Floriughhghghghhgn? All in a span of 30 hours?

Alrighty, the break from life in America is over. Let the randomness commence.

It's 7pm and my jetlagged self is going to bed. Unfortunately there won't be much sleeping because today is lantern festival. This day marks the end of the Spring Festival. And there are fireworks going on right outside my window. And car alarms ringing. And probably 800 housefires within a one mile radius. (ok maybe that's exaggerating, but it's a real threat). The fireworks won't stop until the sun comes up tomorrow.

Welcome back to China. :)

walk slow. xoxo.

Feb 15, 2011

Greetings from Tampa Int. Airport...

And I'm off again...

Tampa - Detroit - Shanghai - hotel night in the airport - 3.5 hour bus ride - ten minute taxi - a walk down an alley - my dorm room.

It's 10:35am EST time. I'll get to Shanghai in about 21 hours - tomorrow morning 6:30am EST (7:30pm Beijing time). All systems go.

It's been another amazing visit home. I'm so blessed to be able to visit several times a year. But for now, it's back to "the real world" hahaha OR NOT - more like, "the weird world."

I hope your day goes well. And if you think about it, send up a few thoughts for safe travels...
See you on the other side...

Walk slow. xoxo.

Feb 14, 2011

To China, Love Egypt.

by Langston Hughes
Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

Is a strong seed
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.

walk slow. xoxo.

Feb 11, 2011

you know you've lived in China a long time when...

You return to America and...

1. You find yourself standing incredibly close to the people in front of you when waiting in line.

2. You take 5 minutes to pull out of your neighborhood when driving because the oncoming traffic is driving so fast. (and you are not used to driving).

3. You gain 10 pounds in 3 weeks. (sugar! cheese! portion size!)

4. You find yourself in a large group of people and love the anonymity. AKA being in the majority is comforting. ("No one is staring at me/pointing at me/taking my picture!")

5. You can't sleep at night because it's so quiet.

6. Seeing the night stars makes you want to sing opera to a lover.

7. You point out every.single. sunrise or sunset to your family. "Look at the sky! Look at the colors!"

8. You can't go to a Target or Walmart store without spending 2 hours looking at all the pretty things.

9. You can't stop smelling freshly cleaned laundry.

10. Just being in a warm home, with carpet, dogs, and cable tv is the greatest and most content feeling in the world.

walk slow. xoxo.

Feb 5, 2011

Why walk slow?

America is still wonderful.

I've seen stars at night, Florida sunsets, spnt 800 hours in either Publix, Wal-mart of Target, spent over 100$ on deodorant, hair products, makeup, and shoes not available in Chiner. There is just so....much....here.

I've gained at least 5 pounds in the past week and a half. Darn you, Klondike bars and Chick-fil-a.

Anywho. That's not what I'm hear to chat about today.

I want to answer a burning question I am sure all 3 of my readers have been itching to ask. Why end each blog post with the signature "walk slow"?

Well, 3 readers, here is the answer! The Chinese have a saying, "man zou" (walk slow). It is used as a farewell or goodbye. I first started hearing it when leaving restaurants or shops. In these cases it is used in the same way the english phrase "take care" is used.

"Thanks for coming to our shop. Walk slow."

The phrase is interesting to me because the Chinese do in fact, walk slow. Sidewalks are jammed with people walking four in a row and at a snails pace. I have difficulty walking slow, which I think is true for most people of my culture.

When I get off the bus for work and have 4 blocks to walk to the hospital, it is the time of day that highschoolers are leaving class. They block up the alley streets and walk incredibly slow while eating their after school snacks of ice cream and meat on a stick. I find it hard to walk slow behind them, this challenges me to be a more patient person.

In a digital age like the one we live in, to walk slow means to mind the journey, to watch where you step. If you are walking slow, you will not fall. Don't hurry, life will continue on whether your heart rate is up or not. I love this. It's endearing, right?

"Man zou" is as much a phrase as a cultural philosophy.

So, walk slow, my dear friends.


Feb 4, 2011


Happy Chinese New Year!

I have a confession to make: I miss China.

Thinking about CNY traditions like eating dumplings, wearing red underwear, and explosive fireworks makes my insides twinge with a bit of homesickness. But alas - I am celebrating with the greatest New Year tradition of all - time with family.

My parents obliged my need for some Asian fare and took me to a local Asian restaurant that is so so good. My mom even used chopsticks like an old pro. Yum. Then my sister arrived home from college for the weekend and all was well. We are all together again. (so rare).

My first CNY (year of the ox) I was in Beijing with my 2 best traveling partners running the streets lighting sparklers and getting chased by the police. We ate Peking duck and were frightened by the close proximity of firecrackers everywhere.

My second CNY (year of the tiger) I was in Thailand on a bus from Phuket to Bangkok. And it was also Valentine's Day.

My third CNY (year of the rabbit) I am home with family in America. There is a Chinese "fu" symbol for luck on our front door and I am taking little rabbit wall decorations to my mom's 3rd grade class. You know, teach that globalization.

According to the Chinese zodiac, the year of the Rabbit falls on 2011, 1999, 1887, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939. (there are 12 animals in the zodiac, so every 12 years the animal reappears).

Anyone born in an rabbit year must wear red underwear (or red in general) to ward off bad luck every day of that year. Leading up to the big day, you can find red underwear, bras, and socks on sale on the street, in markets, and even in grocery stores.

Chinese New Year is the world's largest migration of people. And it happens yearly. Parts of me are very glad I am not home, because everything in town literally shuts down. Everyone goes home. You have to stock up on supplies like drinking water and food because there is nowhere to go. It is eerily quiet (except for the fireworks) - no horns honking, no taxis, no military planes flying overhead.

Here are some photos from CNY Beijing 2009 year of the ox:

Put on your red undies, eat some dumplings, and hug your family - it's Chinese New Year!

walk slow. xoxo.