Using Courage over Comfort

I’m gonna start out with a bold statement: I lead an inspiring life.

I’m the kinda person that once I make up my mind to do something, I do regardless of how hard, or weird, it is. I’m not afraid to take risks, look like an idiot (or a egomaniac–clearly) and put myself in terrible, uncomfortable situations with no escape route.

Yangshuo, China July 2016

You could call my life unconventional, but I don’t really see it that way. I’m just not lead by the same things society tells us to be lead by. My values don’t include money, a big house, a good job, stable family or a career.

To me, having adventures, pushing myself, trying new things is what I value. Even if that means I lose a lot. Even if that means I look like an idiot more often than not. Even if it means people laugh at me (behind my back or in front.)

Because I know the benefits of what I get. I know the huge amounts of meaning, and gratefulness I feel all the time because of my life. I know that when you lose big, and look the idiot, the opposite happens every now and then and ultimately, even the losses and the embarrassments take on more meaning then a more “comfortable” life.

And with that knowledge, that sureness, comes a bit of cocky confidence. I’m basically bullet-proof. You can’t insult me, truly insult me, because your opinion doesn’t matter to me.

“Even though you dedicate so much time to badminton, why are you still so bad?” “Aren’t you embarrassed that your spelling and grammar is poor, don’t you have any pride in your writing?” “Don’t you feel embarrassed that at the age 40, you still take money from your parents?”

All of those things have been said to me, sometimes often, in the past six months and I’ll mock huff and puff, but I don’t take these insults to heart.

Because you don’t know me. Not like I know myself.

Sure, I’m an average badminton player now, but I was a miserable badminton player one year ago and I’ll be a great one one year later. Sure, I could improve my spelling and grammar, take a class even, but then I would become self-conscious, worry too much about how I was saying things, not what I was saying, and be paralyzed and unable to put anything out in the world. And yep, I’m a 40-year-old woman who is happily letting my mom pay for my airplane ticket back to America this summer. My dad, who’s not chipping in, said that obviously I’m embarrassed about that because I would never mention it on my blog. Well, no dad, I’m not. (She’s also gonna cover a rental car and, since I’m airing it all out, I use her Netflix too.)

My first badminton tournament, November 2016

Hell, I feel like I should be embarrassed about this very blog post, because I can’t imagine that I’m coming off as very likable right now. But here’s the thing:

I don’t need you to like me.

I love that you (yes YOU) are reading this blog. It makes me really happy. But if you don’t, I don’t care. I write this blog for me and would keep it up if it was the most unpopular blog in the world with the worst grammar you have ever seen.

I also don’t play badminton for you, I don’t look good for you, I don’t have a high paying job, or a house for you. I don’t act my age for you.

Basically, I give very few fucks about your opinion of me. And that’s where I think the inspiring part comes in.

Because it’s hard. It took a long time for me to get here, including a few near-death experiences,  to not care what others think. And yet it is a very fragile place to be. Even with me, and all my positive experiences and hoity-toity attitude to back it up. Even with my clear mind and understanding of myself I feel the pressure of what society wants and expects, and it weighs on me just as much as anyone else.

Freezing my ass off in Huangshan, Anhui, Jan 2016

I binge watch every episode of Gilmore Girls and think “Wow, Lorelei and Luke are perfect for each other, maybe I should have a serious relationship too!” (Even though I know it isn’t suitable for me and doesn’t make me happy.) I hear a friend lucked out at work and ended up with a huge bonus and I look at them admiringly (even though I don’t care about money, and know money doesn’t make a person great). I see a picture of a friends face, covered in makeup, and I can’t stop but marvel at her skill and beauty and wonder what she could do for me (even though I think makeup is the devil’s tool).

So what do I do? How can I stay on my own track? How do I hear my voice out of the millions of other voices constantly bombarding me? How can any of us do that?

I need to constantly inspire myself. I need to watch movies of unlikely heroes, listen to podcasts about Oprah making her own life, and listen to songs like “To the World.

I need to not only read poems like “Invictus” I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul, I need to teach them in class partially because I want to share my ideas with my students but I also need to reaffirm it to myself. I need to not only regularly read books like “Man’s Search for Meaning” and “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” but I need to talk about it with others, to really get the ideas soaked into my brain. I need to write blog posts like this one to remind myself at some later date how I feel now.

Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto Japan, 2016

Because the biggest problem I see with my healthy ego isn’t arrogance. It’s complacency. If I think I got it all figured out now, and forever will, then I will slowly be corrupted by the forces of society. If I don’t constantly question my motives and desires then I will be lead down the dark path of “what everyone else is doing.” Because it’s hard to go against everyone. If I just did things more normal, I wouldn’t have to confront these difficult things again and again. And it would be easier for me to make friends. I’d be normal, cooler, not an apparent narcissistic nut-case.

Yet, despite all my effort at constantly inspiring myself, sometimes I do get complacent. This week is a perfect example of that. Last week I thought everything was perfect and great and I had been as brave as I wanted to, and said everything that needed to be said.

But after randomly listening to a few podcasts, watching a few TED talks and helping a few students with a few life problems I realized that I had grown complacent. There were things I wasn’t addressing in my life because, deep down, I was too scared. Scared of rejection, scared of looking foolish, scared that I would reveal myself to be not at all together as I people thought I was.

So what did I do? I said “fuck it,” screwed up my courage and put myself out there. I decided to not care about my feelings, what was “right” or what I “should” have done. I said what I needed to say, and I made changes in my life.

The Becky Cup badminton competition, June 2016

So what happened? Well, when you do something big, changes don’t happen immediately. The results, and meaning, will come months or years later. But actually the results are meaningless. The meaning, and the value, comes from the fact I did it. I put myself out there and I made myself vulnerable. No matter what the results, I won today’s fight.

That’s why I think I live an inspiring life. Not because I don’t feel shame or embarrassment. I do. It’s there, just as much as much as you feel it, possibly even more (I’m an introvert). But I don’t ignore it or fight it. I feel it but I don’t let it control me. Wherever the shame and embarrassment point, I want to walk towards, not away. And fuck if I’m not proud of myself for doing that.

I heard a question once on a podcast, and it’s one I have repeated to myself, in my diary and in my head, regularly. “Did I use courage over comfort today?” I can’t answer yes everyday, but I can answer yes more days than no, and for me that’s what’s important. How about you?

2016 will go down as a tough year in the world, but personally it will go down as one the the best. Let’s see if we can’t do better next year.

Bring it on, 2017!

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Post Typhoon Clean-Up

Xiamen typhoon

Cranes were everywhere lifting the huge, heavy trees. Or, in the case of this ginormous one, they lifted a platform with workers who proceeded to chainsaw the tree.

You know, whenever there is a natural disaster we always see real-time pictures and video over the drama that it wrought. But we hardly ever see the after pictures or any of the clean up effort outside of the first few days.

So how does a major natural disaster change a place long term? Seeing as I just lived through “the biggest typhoon of the year” and I’ve been watching it firsthand, I thought I would report.

Now, keep in mind, while it was one of the biggest storms to hit Xiamen in decades, the city was pretty ready for it. Outside of broken signs and a lot of shattered glass, the biggest problem was fallen trees. Not only did tens of thousands of trees fall in the high winds, but they smashed cars and buildings in the process. (Check out my previous blog post for pics on that.)

Xiamen is a gorgeous city with trees serving for more than just aesthetics. They are also necessary to keep things cooler in the unrelenting, sub-tropical climate. Losing them is more of a loss than just eye candy.

Luckily a lot of the trees just toppled right over, which meant their roots and the tree itself was still healthy. If they could be replanted immediately then they could continue to grow.

But first order of business was clearing the roads and sidewalks. China can mobilize large groups of people in a very short time frame and before you knew it there were groups everywhere. The military training in the school stopped immediately as the army guys who were leading it were called to help clean up the city.

Some volunteer group already had red vests and hats and you could see them all over the campus cleaning up the trees.

Some volunteer group already had red vests and hats and you could see them all over the campus cleaning up the trees.

Then the students, with no military training anymore, were called to go out in small groups and start cleaning up the campus. In addition different volunteer groups went out (including some foreign teachers who wanted to pitch in). In the expat community word went round for group cleanup days in different locations around the city.

Clearly, some of the volunteers had no idea what to do, This girl had a broom and dustpan and was just lazily sweeping at a piece of muddy ground. She could have used a bit more direction I think.

Clearly, some of the volunteers had no idea what to do, This girl had a broom and dustpan and was just lazily sweeping at a piece of muddy ground. She could have used a bit more direction I think.

Replanting

A lot of people chipped in and the main priority, after clearing the roads, was keeping the trees alive. There was a flyer being passed around social media where the government was encouraging people to at least cover the exposed roots of a tree with a blanket or towel and keep it wet, hoping that would be enough to save the tree before it could be re-planted.

Within about two weeks most of the damage had been fixed as best as possible. A lot of trees were replanted but for some it was too late. They continued to withered and die, and on my campus they went through about a month later and removed the dead trees or branches.

Before

Before

After

After

Elsewhere in the city you can still see a lot of missing signs, or some crazy bent metal on the sides of buildings. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone and I think it will be slow to fix. It’s been a few months now and while my coach fixed the doors in his badminton courts, he still hasn’t gotten a new sign (his old one was destroyed).

The last I saw of my coaches sign before it was cleaned up and thrown away.

The last I saw of my coaches sign before it was cleaned up and thrown away.

But the saddest, and most obvious loss is the trees. The ones that are still standing lost a lot of their branches and the sad little top-less trees are a reminder that the storm happened. Even when they were able to save the trees, the roots are now weak, and barely in the soil. So each tree has a little bamboo trio around it to keep it standing tall. Though if we get another typhoon they will be knocked down easily.

Xiamen typhoon

Also, more selfishly, waiting at the bus stop now SUCKS. There used to be one tree, a big one, and everyone would kinda gather under it waiting for the bus. Now there is nothing and the heat, mixed with the busy road and the sidewalk, make it pretty unbearable to wait for the bus (and this is in October, I can’t imagine how horrible July will be.) I felt like I was almost gonna pass out the other day, that’s how hot and unrelenting the sun was in OCTOBER. And there is no place within walking distance to stand, not even a store awning or anything.

This used to be a nice path to walk by. Now it's a sad, and hot, reminder of the missing trees.

This used to be a nice path to walk by. Now it’s a sad, and hot, reminder of the missing trees.

But considering the storm didn’t kill anyone here, or topple any major structures I think that’s a small price to pay. We have had a few typhoons since then, but they have hit Taiwan first, or gone further south, and all we’ve had was a bit of rain and wind. The sad empty trees have even started sprouting new green leaves thanks to Xiamen’s ideal hot and humid climate.

Xianen typhoon cleanup effort

In China, the answer to every sickness is an IV bag of medicine. Apparently the trees get the same treatment. Trees all over the city are being dosed with whatever tree medicine this is.

 

Categories: China | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Seeing the Chinese Military Makes Me Nostalgic

Five years ago I wrote about military training in China, and how it is mandatory for all freshman college students before classes begin.

I originally wrote about how it felt a little intimidating, but over the years my feelings have changed.

Now I find it a symbol of the changing year. Just like leaves turning orange or red and falling to the ground, military training signals another year here in China, and a new school year beginning. I’ve never participated in it, but seeing it happen, and hearing that familiar “One! Two! Three! Four!” yell across campus makes me feel downright nostalgic.

Military Training in China

“Another year has begun,” it says when I see all those bright eager faces peering out from under the camouflage. “The years roll by and students come and go, but there are new students to be taught, and new friends to be made.”

Who knew after all these years not only would I not be nervous around hundreds of little soldiers in training, but I would find it sentimental and almost sweet.

A new year has begun. One! Two! Three! Four!

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Surviving the “Biggest Storm in the World!” (This Year, So Far)

Typhoons are just a part of life here in southern China, but I have never been worried about them. That’s because after two years and probably a dozen typhoons, nothing has ever happened. Sure, the media freaks out, trains and planes are cancelled, boats are called back to port, and some people stock up on food, but most residents are too smart and storm weary like me to be very concerned.

It’s because of Taiwan. Directly across from us, dangling out in the ocean all by itself, every typhoon seems to smash itself into Taiwan which helps to drain the power, or diverts its course, leaving Xiamen unaffected.

I remember once last year a city just an hour and a half away north by train got whooped. We didn’t even have rain. Thanks Taiwan!

Taiwan and Xiamen locations

The red circle is Xiamen. You can see Taiwan is across from us and gives us good cover. The purple dots are the path of the typhoon. It came directly to us.

But this year super typhoon Meranti wasn’t just a dangerous storm, it was a tricky one. It snuck south of Taiwan and continued at full strength hitting us directly in Xiamen.

It caught a well prepared city. Everyone had heeded the warnings and stocked up on food and water. As it hit at 3am, everyone had plenty of time to go home or take trains earlier in the day. My friends and I, all stuck in our new building, decided to have a party.

Snacks were prepared, tequila was drunk.

Snacks were prepared, tequila was drunk.

The winds were higher than normal all day and when the storm arrived we didn’t need the weather reports telling us it had. We knew. With winds of up to 230 mph (370 kph) even the deepest sleeper couldn’t miss it. Windows were rattling almost off their frames (many blew out), buildings were swaying and rain was going vertical.

My friends and I didn’t dare go outside, but we did stand out on a covered balcony for awhile. Besides being a deep balcony, and covered on all sides (except one) by a thick, heavy wall, we got pelted by rain and was afraid the items we we heard cracking around us would fly and hit into us. While we still had power we could see the building across from us, and we could see the roof tiles flying off into the night. We threw a frisbee out into the storm but it just flew up instead of out, and we lost track of it. When we lost power, we all ran inside to safety.

With no power, anything was used as a light source including a lightsaber.

With no power, anything was used as a light source including a lightsaber.

It was scary to live through but with friends it was nicer.

It was scary at times but with friends it was nicer.

Not that we felt very safe. With the winds so strong we couldn’t even open doors into the hallway because the pressure was too much and the windows were rattling so much we were afraid they would fly into us, cutting us to shards. In fact, someone even suggested we go downstairs and wait in the lobby in case the building was collapsing so we could get out earlier. You might think that sounds laughably paranoid, but actually my friends, in other parts of the city were doing the exact same thing! Buildings in China are not known for their quality work, and everyone’s fears about poor construction definitely came out that night!

To keep us calm, and because we had nothing else to do, my friend played guitar and we kinda sang along and chatted. The eye of the storm passed us by and we met up with other foreign teachers and walked around the hallways before the eye passed and it was back to howling winds and rattling windows.

By 5am the worst of it had passed, and exhausted, I went to sleep. When I woke up at 9am we miraculously had power, something almost no one else in my neighborhood was lucky enough to have. We didn’t have water for another 24 hours. (As I’m writing this, 2 days after the storm, my neighborhood still is mostly without power, so I’m not sure why we got so lucky.)

The next day my friends and I got out in the morning to explore. The typhoon hit the night before a 3-day holiday (mid-autumn festival) so there was already no class or no work. Students who were supposed to go home the day before had their flights and trains cancelled so pretty much everyone was still on campus so it didn’t feel lonely.

Typhoon meranti

Typhoon meranti

The wreckage was shocking but it seemed like there was no major structural damage. No buildings fell down as was rumored during the storm and no major catastrophe befell the city. No deaths were reported. Just a lot of broken glass, smashed cars, damaged buildings signs and saddest of all, fallen trees.

Xiamen is a beautiful city, lush with trees and greenery everywhere you go. But not anymore. Now it is a pile of broken trees and branches and when they are cleared I think the place is going to look very different. On campus several of the 100-year-old trees crashed down. Such a shame…

 

This is the busiest street in the center of campus. Now it's impassible.

This is the busiest street in the center of campus. Now it’s impassible.

The military came to help Xiamen clean up the roads so emergency vehicles could get through.

The military came to help Xiamen clean up the roads so emergency vehicles could get through.

Because of the holiday, sunday is supposed to be a workday (friday's classes). No word yet if they are cancelled but I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed it will be!

Because of the holiday, Sunday is supposed to be a workday (Friday’s classes). No word yet if they are cancelled but I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed! Not that I want all the classrooms to be this messed up, but hopefully enough are that classes can’t be held.

But really we were lucky. The last time we had a storm this bad was either 16 or 60 years ago (I’ve seen varying reports and I’m too lazy to do the research myself). The worst damage that affects me personally is my coach and his gym.

This picture just makes me so sad! My beautiful courts I play on all the time!!!

This picture just makes me so sad! My beautiful courts I play on all the time!!!

The courts are in a warehouse style building and there are garage doors along the side. Two of them blew open, exposing the courts to the rain and wind (which then ripped up a lot of the nice wooden floor).

The courts are in a warehouse style building and there are garage doors along the side. Two of them ripped open, exposing the courts to the rain and wind (which then ripped up a lot of the nice wooden floor).

This storm couldn’t come at a better/worse time. Like I said it was the night before a three-day holiday, Mid-autumn festival so we had the time off and the storm didn’t disturb things like working schedules or classes and people were off the road and not going anywhere which accounts for the lack of deaths I think.

But on the other hand, a lot of people go away for this national holiday and people like medical and emergency workers as well as staff in schools left and now aren’t around to help clean up or solve the myriad of problems that have arisen. They will have problems getting back too. So I think cleanup will be slower than if it happened during a normal week.

Anyway, it’s not something I’m eager to repeat, but we survived “the biggest storm of 2016!”

Typhoon xiamen

Categories: China | 3 Comments

What it’s Like Taking a Intensive Chinese Class

Intensive Chinese classSo I just got back from a four-week intensive Chinese class, the second time I’ve taken one of these, and for those of you who are thinking of doing the same thing, I thought I’d write about my experience so you can decide for yourself.

Four years ago I was a student at Keats School, in Kunming, China.

This summer I went to Omeida, in Yangshuo, China

I’ll just start off by saying both were great. They both had similar teaching techniques and methods, and both were well run, organized, with good food and comfortable single rooms. In Keats I lived in the same building as the classrooms, so going to class was a matter of a elevator ride, while in Omeida I lived in a hostel (operated by the school) right down the street.

The Most Important Thing You Need to Know About Taking an Intensive Chinese Course

A intensive Chinese course is only as good as you are motivated!

These are schools for people who want to study Chinese on their own. They aren’t for an official degree and you don’t have years of class to get a diploma. The teachers can try to push you, but it’s really all up to you. There are no tests, no grades and if you don’t do your homework, you don’t get into any trouble. Your progress is really all on your shoulders.

Luckily, these programs attract self-motivated people and your classmates will probably be next to you studying as well, but if your not self motivated. or easily distracted, an intensive course might not be for you. Perhaps a more traditional degree program is what you need.

I am a big fan of writing and my teacher let me write several essays and gave me some extra reading as well. I also liked practicing the characters and while my classmate would only learn 5 words a day, I would remember 15-20. Then I asked her to test me on my last class of all the 300 new words we learned. I did pretty good! Only forgetting one word entirely and getting just a few words wrong.

I am a big fan of writing so I focused a lot more on charcaters than my classmate did.  She would learn 5 a day while I would study 10-20. Then I asked my teacher to test me on my last class by randomly asking me to write a selection of the 300 new words we learned throughout the 4 weeks. I did pretty good! Only forgetting one word entirely and getting just a few words a little wrong.

Student Know Thyself

Another important factor for these types of courses is they cater to the individual student. Sure, they all work from standard textbooks, but with the small classes (one-on-one in the case of keats) they can, and do, cater to each students interests.

Before you arrive they give you a little interview to test your Chinese level and to figure out your goals. It’s not just idle chit-chat, but they take your goals into consideration while deciding what class and level is best for you. Your class will focus more on reading and writing if you are, say, preparing for a test or need it for business, while they will focus more on speaking and common topics like food and travel if you are living in China and just want survival basics.

Your teacher is told your goals and in class you will find more topics and conversations aligned to you specifically. This is way better than a standard semester course which just works from a book and has little student participation. Of course, it kinda sucks for the teachers who have to do a lot of individual prep work everyday, but hey, this is from the students perspective, so it’s all good.

You need to have specific goals, and know what those goals are to get the most out of it.

Intensive Chinese class

You Learn More than Just Language

Intensive courses are much more than language learning. If you want, they will take all your free time. Weekend trips, culture nights and more are all par for the course. Keats has additional evening classes like calligraphy and Tai-Chi, while Omieda would hook you up with a Chinese student from their sister English school who would be your chinese “buddy” you would talk to everyday.

For people who are new to China, or just here for a brief period, I think this is great. As for me, I don’t need to make dumplings again, or learn about the Chinese holidays, but even after being here for 7 years I found myself going to the paper cutting class and weekend trips.

I heard from other students how excited they were to meet real local families and have dinner at people’s houses and other meaningful experiences. Despite my “been there, done that,” attitude I ended up making a bunch of Chinese friends too. It wasn’t as new and exciting for me as for some of the other students, but it made the whole thing more fun.

We had a performance of "face changing opera" in the student lounge one day after classes. It was very interesting.

We had a performance of “face changing opera” in the student lounge one day after classes. One of the many culture classes.

Bottom line is I’d recommend taking an intensive Chinese class if all the above doesn’t put you off. It’s the best way to learn very quickly and it seems to really boost everyone’s confidence no matter what the level. You don’t just kinda learn, but you begin using and speaking it very quickly and even the total beginners were conversing out of class in Chinese.

As to which school I would recommend? I would easily recommend both. They are both in great parts of the country, both offer great classes and I would happily go back to either. As I don’t do a lot of formal study, I think taking one of these courses every few years is a really good way for me to get a bit back on track, and push me academically in a subject that I usually only use socially in my life.

Learning Chinese isn’t easy, especially for me, but I think these intensive Chinese classes are the best way to learn quickly and begin to really use your knowledge right away. And there is no better place to take one of these courses then China itself.

 

Categories: China, Chinese Culture, Learning Chinese, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back from the Month-Long Paradise of Yangshuo, China

So I’m back from my summer holidays, and like always it went by so fast. (How can people even stand a week-long holiday? That must be over in a blink.)

I was in the small village of Yangshuo in Guangxi which is in southern China, studying Chinese. I’ll write another post about what it is like to go to a month-long intensive Chinese course soon, but first I wanted to share some pictures.

Yangshuo is beautiful. I first went there almost seven years ago during my first winter holiday in China. I stayed for a few days and moved on and I had great memories. But being there for a month gave me an opportunity to really explore the karst peaks, the scret spots of the river, and tiny ancient villages in the countryside. Except for the jagged karst mountains shooting up everywhere, the land is flat and is perfect for biking adventures.

So before I delve into the reason I went there, the studying, here are some pictures I wanted to share of some amazing sights I saw this past month.

Yangshuo is famous for the karst peaks that take over the landscape. Some are climbable, and getting up high gives you an amazing view.

Yangshuo is famous for the karst peaks that take over the landscape. Some are climbable, and getting up high gives you an amazing view.

This was the view from my hostel room. I loved waking up tp these mountains and some rainy mornings they were covered by a wispy, thin clouds that twisted and curled around them like a traditional Chinese painting.

This was the view from my hostel room. I loved waking up to these mountains and some rainy mornings they were covered by a wispy, thin clouds that twisted and curled around them like a traditional Chinese painting.

 

One weekend we went to Gudong waterfall, a place where you actually hike up in the middle of the river. You had to wear safety helmets that seemed more harmful then helpful to be honest.

One weekend the school had a trip to Gudong waterfall, a place where you actually hike up in the middle of the river. You had to wear safety helmets that seemed more harmful then helpful to be honest.

We had to wear these traditional woven style shoes that again, kept slipping off and sometimes made walking more difficult than it would be with bare feet. But I never slipped so I guessed they worked.

We had to wear these traditional woven style shoes that again, kept slipping off and sometimes made walking more difficult than it would be with bare feet. But I never slipped so I guessed they worked.

Climbing one of the many waterfalls!

Me climbing one of the many waterfalls!

There was a lot of tourists at the beginning, but as you can see from this pic, soon everyone spread out and it didn't feel very crowded.

There was a lot of tourists at the beginning, but as you can see from this pic, soon everyone spread out and it didn’t feel very crowded.

But it wasn't all waterfalls, yangshup is a small village (for China) and the surrounding countryside has even smaller and more ancient villages.

But it wasn’t all waterfalls, Yangshuo is a small village (for China) and the surrounding countryside has even smaller and more ancient villages.

 

In one village I left my friends behind and wandered around on my own. Some had their ancient houses open to the public (like this one in this picture) but when I looked into the doorway of an old couples house, the old man waved me in and showed me his clearly ancient (though also delapitated) house. It had some very old woodwork in it, but he was only speaking local language, not Mandarin, and I couldn't understand what he was saying. I thought it was a scam, that he was gonna ask me for money or try to sell me something but he just let me look around and said goodbye. It was very nice.

In one village I left my friends behind and wandered around on my own. Some had their ancient houses open to the public (like this one in this picture) but when I looked into the doorway of an old couples house, the old man waved me in and showed me his clearly ancient (though also dilapidated) house. It had some very old woodwork in it, but he was only speaking local language, not Mandarin, and I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I thought it was a scam, that he was gonna ask me for money or try to sell me something but he just let me look around and said goodbye. It was very nice.

With the sparkeling clean Li River running right outside town, swimming was a common activity in the summer heat. While there were many popular places to swim, my friends and I chose instead to find the quiet places with no other tourists. The benefits of living in a place for a few weeks, we could explore!

With the sparkling clean Li River running right outside town, swimming was a common activity in the summer heat. While there were many popular places to swim, my friends and I chose instead to find the quiet places with no other tourists. That’s the benefits of living in a place for a few weeks. We could explore!

Watching the sun rise is a must-do even there.

Watching the sun rise is a must-do.

The summer is quite hot and humid, but the nights are a little cooler and in the morning, if you wake early enough, you can see the karst peaks shrouded in clouds. By the time the sun gets too high, they are already burned off.

The summer is quite hot and humid, but the nights are a little cooler and in the morning, if you wake early enough, you can see the karst peaks shrouded in clouds. By the time the sun gets too high, they are already burned off.

Most weekends were filled with a lot of activities and 30km bike trips. But one day me and a few friends just swam for hours, then had a quiet lunch together in the countryside before heading back home, weary but happy. It was one of my favorite days in Yangshuo. Just one of those lazy summer days.

Most weekends were filled with a lot of activities and 30km bike trips. But one day me and a few friends just swam for hours, then had a quiet lunch together in the countryside before heading back home, weary but happy. It was one of my favorite days in Yangshuo. Just one of those lazy summer days.

So it was a great summer. It wasn’t as active as my summer trips usually are, but it was very peaceful and quiet. Yangshuo is a big tourust center, but it’s not a city and there are more bikes than cars on the street, which is always a nice change from the big city life of Xiamen. But my purpose there was to study Chinese, and in my next post I’ll talk about what that was like!

Yangshuo, China

Categories: China, Learning Chinese, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Being the Token English Speaker

“Becky, I think I made a friend mad,” a student wrote to me out of the blue.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I asked one of the foreign teachers for some help looking over my resume and he refused and was angry,” she said.

“What did he say?” I asked feeling a little annoyed. Students are kinda fragile and I think teachers shouldn’t just fly off the handle with them.

The student then sent me photo’s of the chat she had with the teacher and I immediately got it. Apparently, a few weeks prior the teacher had asked her for help doing something and she said she would but didn’t.

So when she asked for a favor, after blatantly not helping him he got mad. “Why should I help you with something after you refused to help me?” he asked. Can’t blame him for that.

You see, native English speakers, especially teachers, get asked to do a lot of favors. On an almost daily basis I am asked to help write resumes, proofread articles and personal statements, asked for advice about college essays and much, much more. At least once a day I am hit up for some free English help or lessons. It is regular part of my life.

Most I am willing to help because they are students or friends and we have a good relationship. But some really piss me off in the entitled way they ask.

workphoto

“What’s your e-mail? I need to send you something,” a former Chinese co-worker texted me out of the blue. I haven’t seen or chatted with him in over two years. I sent my e-mail and asked “what are you going to send?” I knew he was dating another colleague and I kinda had it in my mind he was sending me an e-vite to their wedding.

“I want you to look over a book review I am submitting to a paper. I am writing it from a native speakers point of view.”

Yep, that’s it. No pleasantries, no “how are you doing?” not even a “please.” In fact, he never once even asked me if I could do it. He treated me like his paid employee and told me I would do it.

And the thing is, this happens all the time.  I have one student who regularly writes to me with requests like, “In Martin Luther King’s speech, what did he mean by….”

Once I was in Shanghai and I actually stopped what I was doing, sat down on a bench and wrote back and forth to her for close to 20 minutes helping her to interpret a piece of literature. What was the last thing she wrote to me? “I see. Okay.”

No thanks, no asking me what I was doing, how I was doing. Nothing. One week later she was back at it. “Becky, what does it mean in this letter where it says…”

Actual requests I have gotten with little to no warning or pleasantries.

“Becky, I want to open a shop for foreigners. What do foreigners like to buy?”–From a student I taught one semester, 4 years ago and haven’t talked to since.

“You will help me with my final thesis after a month or so,” –a very casual acquaintance I met two times about 3 years prior. (The thesis was more than 20 pages and these were the exact words he used “You will,” ummm, nope. I won’t.)

“Becky, can you please read and correct this (5 page) thesis paper? My teacher already graded it, but I want to see what you think of it.” –From a student I don’t even remember teaching, though apparently she was in my class once, maybe 6 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some people I love helping. Most requests I comply with immediately and cheerfully, even if they are bugging me. One student, from three years ago, has her own code. When she just wants to chat she writes, “Hello lovely teacher.” When she wants a favor she begins with “Hello beautiful teacher.” It always cracks me up and I’m happy to help her.

There is a former student in Hong Kong who I help a lot with her work related stuff, but we chat and even hang out all the time. And if an answer is quick and easy, such as a “Becky, what does this word mean,” kinda way, I write back immediately.

I don’t need a big gushing thank you and I don’t have time to chat with everyone all the time. But I need some semblance of concern about me as a person. I need to feel like the person asking me a favor actually knows that I’m a human being with my own life and not just an English auto-bot.

So what happened with that book review? Well, he sent it to me while I was out for the day and I told him I would probably be able to get to it the next afternoon.

“Tomorrow? It’s due tomorrow. Can’t you do it tonight?”

“No,” I said, even more annoyed that he waited till the last minute and expected me to rearrange my whole schedule to help him for free. “I’m busy. I won’t be home till late tonight.”

“Okay, you can wake up early and do it in the morning,” was his solution.

“Don’t count on it,” I wrote back. I actually did wake up early the next morning, but I deleted the email without even opening it. Then I wrote this blog post. Some people….

 

Categories: China, Teaching English | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Class is Over, Time to Hit the Road

Final exams have been given, grades submitted, and lots of selfies with students have been taken. The semester, and subsequently the school year, is finished! Boom. Add another notch to the belt. Year seven complete.

Teaching English in China

So what to do now with my 2 months of freedom? Well, when you live in the Miami of China, summer has a way of finding you without you even trying. “Anyone want to go swimming?” a friend asked me on my first day off. Yes please!

You hear a lot about China's pollution, but not all of the country is blanketed in thick smog as this picture proves.

You hear a lot about China’s pollution, but not all of the country is blanketed in thick smog as this picture proves.

There was some kids in the pool as well, but mostly we had it to ourselves. Another china sterotype proven wrong. Yes, there are a lot of people here but sometimes you can find a quiet pool.

There was some kids in the pool as well, but mostly we had it to ourselves and I could practice my handstands I learned so many years ago. Another china stereotype proven wrong. Yes, there are a lot of people here but sometimes you can find a quiet pool.

After swimming we got food delivered and just sat and read an chatted. The sun finally got too much for us, and the pool was way too warm to cool us off, so we retreated back to the a/c comfort of our homes, but it was a classic "American summer" day reminiscent of my childhood.

After swimming we got food delivered and just sat and read and chatted. The sun finally got too much for us, and the pool was way too warm to cool us off, so we retreated back to the a/c comfort of our homes, but it was a classic “American summer” day reminiscent of my childhood. I don’t have a lot of experiences in China that remind me of my suburban youth, but this was one.

While I could spend the whole summer hiking, swimming and lazying around in the Xiamen tropics, I won’t. But I’m not going traveling this summer either. Well, not exactly.

I’m going to dedicate my summer to studying Chinese. My Chinese has improved over the years, and now I have dozens of friends who don’t speak English, but truth is, I haven’t actually studied in years. The last time I took a serious class was in Kunming four years ago, and the last time I studied seriously was for the HSK three years ago.

So, I figure it’s time to give up a little bit of fun and freedom and shackle myself to books. I won’t be doing it in Xiamen and as much as I liked my former school in Kunming, (Keats,) I like to try new things and go to new places. So I’m gonna head to another school in China to try it out.

Four weeks, intensive classes in the morning, language partners and cultural events at night. Last time I had a surreal, life-changing experience in Kunming because of the people I met. I know that summer can never be recreated and I don’t want it to. I’m gonna really try to buckle down and focus totally on studying and occasionally playing badminton.

One thing I have to keep in mind, is this summer marks the final stretch of my “walk 10,000 steps everyday” thing. August 16th to be exact. Unfortunately sitting and studying all day isn’t conducive to walking 10,000 steps, but with just a month left to reach my goal, I’m gonna have to be really vigilant about it.

I've said before that when traveling I schedule trains and planes late in the day. Unfortunately it didn't work this time, and I'll be spending basically the whole day (from 8am to 6pm) on trains. The good thing is I will be changing several trains and have a bit of a break between them, so I'll have to make sure to get some walking in around train stations.

I’ve said before that when traveling I schedule trains and planes late in the day so I can get my 10,000 steps in before I travel. Unfortunately it didn’t work this time, and I’ll be spending basically the whole day (from 8am to 6pm) on trains to get to my school. The good thing is I will be changing trains and have a bit of a break between them, so I’ll have to make sure to get some walking in around train stations.

So while all my students get to close their books for the summer, I’m opening mine up, and waking up early everyday to study. And paying for the privileged. And yet? I’m pretty excited for it. *Packs pocket protector.*

 

 

 

 

Categories: China, Learning Chinese, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Little Update

So a few things have been going on lately I wanted to mention.

First, go over to Travis Lee’s blog to check out an interview with yours truly. He asked some good questions about my time in China and the changes I’ve seen. It’s kinda nice to remember how things were different before and how much China, and myself, has changed. Thanks to Travis for giving me the opportunity to reflect on it all! Check out the interview here and check out Travis’ novels on his website as well.

In other news, I want to share this amazing portrait my friend Anna made for me. Anna is a friend I met on an Western Woman/Asian man chat group I’m a part of. (Anna is married to a Chinese guy and they are expecting their first baby soon.) She is the blogger behind Lost Panda, where she blogs about life in rural China and dealing with an intercultural relationship.

But art is her passion and  talent and I want to show you an amazing portrait she did of me! I sent her one of my favorite pictures of me from Thailand, and I can’t believe the results. She took pictures of the process and it’s amazing!

Becky Ances painting

Becky Ances painting

IMG_1312

Becky Ances painting

Becky Ances drawing

My favorite part is the hair. My hair has a lot of colors and I was in a shady part but some parts was caught by the sun and some parts was in the shade. That she got it all to look so realistic is amazing. Also, the reflection in the glasses is amazing too.

If you are looking for a special gift for someone, a special portrait made just for them by Anna would be an amazing gift and I would totally recommend it. To contact her, or look at some more of her art, head over to her art website annazzart (she admits she doesn’t update it as much as her Lost Panda blog, but don’t worry, she’s still very active.)

And to connect these two stories, you’ll see the picture in Travis’ blog is the same one Anna painted for me, haha. I told you it was one of my favorite pictures of me.

Categories: China, Writing | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

The 2016 Becky Cup Badminton Tournament!!

This weekend was the 2016 Becky Cup! The event I have been planning and thinking about for months. How did it go? I’ll let the pictures do the ‘splaining:

As the cups namesake I was the defacto host. But as the courts owner, and my coach, my coach was right besides me to help out. Since it was an international crowd, I spoke a mixture of Chinese and English and my coach filled what I missed. (Btw, check out the shirts I had made throughout these pictures. They turned out amazing and I love the logo on the front!)

As the cups namesake I was the defacto host. But as the courts owner, and my coach, my coach was right besides me to help out. Since it was an international crowd, I spoke a mixture of Chinese and English and my coach filled what I missed. (Btw, check out the shirts I had made throughout these pictures. They turned out amazing and I love the logo on the front!)

There was a professional photographer at the event and he made sure we did some group picture before the games started. (If you live in Xiamen and need a photographer, make sure to call my friend Bong Antivola to shoot the event! Almost all the pictures in this post are his.) Look at how many people participated!

There was a professional photographer at the event and he made sure we did some group picture before the games started. (If you live in Xiamen and need a photographer, make sure to call my friend Bong Antivola to shoot the event! Almost all the pictures in this post are his.) Look at how many people participated!

2016 Becky Cup badminton competition Xiamen China

2016 Becky Cup badminton competition Xiamen China

2016 Becky Cup badminton competition Xiamen China

2016 Becky Cup badminton competition Xiamen China

I'd like to say the event was smooth sailing, but I shouldn't lie. I didn't know all the participants (my coach got a bunch of people to play) and I didn't know their names. And then I screwed them up (mistaking a mixed doubles team for a men's doubles team). Also, it was a double elimination seeded bracket tournament so I had to follow a specific order. The first few games were rough with a bunch of last minute changes and even a few games stopped (because I screwed up who they were playing) but after the first few round, it smoothed itself all out.

I’d like to say the event was smooth sailing, but I shouldn’t lie. I didn’t know all the participants (my coach got a bunch of people to play) and I didn’t know their names. And then I screwed them up (mistaking a mixed doubles team for a men’s doubles team). Also, it was a double elimination seeded bracket tournament so I had to follow a specific order. The first few games were rough with a bunch of last minute changes and even a few games stopped (because I screwed up who they were playing) but after the first few round, it smoothed itself all out.

We also had an injury early on! Poor Barbora (center) twisted her ankle. It wasn't serious enough to go to the hospital, but she couldn't continue and her teams had to forfeit their games.

We also had an injury early on! Poor Barbora (center) twisted her ankle. It wasn’t serious enough to go to the hospital, but she couldn’t continue and her teams had to forfeit their games.

Yet, despite the snafu's, everyone seemed to still have a good time.

Yet, despite the snafu’s, everyone seemed to still have a good time.

Even I enjoyed it after things calmed down.

Even I enjoyed it after things calmed down.

2016 becky Cup badminton tournament Xiamen china

2016 becky Cup badminton tournament Xiamen china

2016 becky Cup badminton tournament Xiamen china

2016 becky Cup badminton tournament Xiamen china

So how did I do? I only played in the mixed doubles with my coach as my partner. I was so busy and frazzled in the beginning I didn't even warm up or hit the birdie at all before the first game. Somehow, we managed to win (thanks to my coach).

So how did I do? I only played in the mixed doubles with my coach as my partner. I was so busy and frazzled in the beginning I didn’t even warm up or hit the birdie at all before the first game. Somehow, we managed to win (thanks to my coach).

Our second game was even worse. He told me to "not move" and basically get out of his way. Well, "not moving" isn't my strong point and I was kinda so hepped up with energy and nervous excitement that I was basically a mole on the wack-a-mole machines, popping up in random places and getting in his way every shot. "Xiao Bing! Stop moving!" he'd yell exasperated and I would giggle uncontrollably. Needless to say, my mind wasn't in the right place. We lost, but it was a double elimination tournament so we still had a shot.

Our second game was even worse. He told me to “not move” and basically get out of his way. Well, “not moving” isn’t my strong point and I was kinda so hepped up with energy and nervous excitement that I was basically a mole on the wack-a-mole machines, popping up in random places and getting in his way every shot. “Xiao Bing! Stop moving!” he’d yell exasperated and I would giggle uncontrollably. Needless to say, my mind wasn’t in the right place. We lost, but it was a double elimination tournament so we still had a shot.

Our third game was the most anticipated game. We were against Xiao He (left) and Rebecca (next to me). Xiao He, Rebecca and I are the Three Musketeers of badminton. We have a chat group, just for the three of us, and we talk about badminton all the time. Xiao He is at a much higher level than me, but not as high as my coach. In fact, Xiao He was the one that introduced me to my coach, so I have a lot to thank him for. Anyway, we figured that with Xiao He, and my coach, our two teams would be playing in the finals. We had been smack talking for weeks about who was gonna win. Sadly, we both lost so instead of meeting at the finals, we met at the quarterfinals. And thanks to my lack of focus, my coach and I lost. Now my friends have leverage on me to mock me forever. Although, they didn't win either, as they got knocked out in the semifinals. So there. Neener neener, they suck too.

Our third game was the most anticipated game. We were against Xiao He (left) and Rebecca (next to me). Xiao He, Rebecca and I are the Three Musketeers of badminton. We have a chat group, just for the three of us, and we talk about badminton all the time. Xiao He is at a much higher level than me, but not as high as my coach. In fact, Xiao He was the one that introduced me to my coach, so I have a lot to thank him for. Anyway, we figured that with Xiao He, and my coach, our two teams would be playing in the finals. We had been smack talking for weeks about who was gonna win. Sadly, we both lost so instead of meeting at the finals, we met at the quarterfinals. And thanks to my lack of focus, my coach and I lost. Now my friends have leverage on me to mock me forever. Although, they didn’t win either, as they got knocked out in the semifinals. So there. Neener neener, they suck too.

The whole thing took about four hours, and finally we had the awards ceremony. I had the medals made, but as an added bonus my coach has sponsorship from the Wish company, and the winners got a brand new racket! It's actually the racket I use, so I know it's a good deal. These are the winners and second place winners in the women's doubles. (My coach and I got all up in every pictures as the hosts.)

The whole thing took about four hours, and finally we had the awards ceremony. I had the medals made, but as an added bonus my coach has sponsorship from the Wish company, and the winners got a brand new racket! It’s actually the racket I use, so I know it’s a good deal. These are the winners and second place winners in the women’s doubles. (My coach and I got all up in every pictures as the hosts.)

The winners of the mixed doubles was two teams I didn't know before. But notice the one woman is the same as the runner up in the women's doubles. She was the only one to get medals in two events. She was awesome and I'd like to play with her more.

The winners of the mixed doubles was two teams I didn’t know before. But notice the one woman is the same as the runner up in the women’s doubles. She was the only one to get medals in two events. She was awesome and I’d like to play with her more.

Men's doubles was the most exciting to watch. These two teams were miles above the rest and they gave an awesome show for all of us to watch.

Men’s doubles was the most exciting to watch. These two teams were miles above the rest and they gave an awesome show for all of us to watch.

But everyone's a winner at the Becky Cup and I made a few dozen cupcakes (decorated with the letter B on top) so everyone could have a treat after the hours of hot and sweaty play.

But everyone’s a winner at the Becky Cup and I made a few dozen cupcakes (decorated with the letter B on top) so everyone could have a treat after the hours of hot and sweaty play. The boy, standing behind me, helped me bake them the night before.

Somehow we managed to make it through and everyone had fun! As his first foreign student and friend, I think my coach was totally bemused at the management style of the tournament (I gave everyone cupcakes at the end too. I mean hey, it was my birthday right?) But I know he had a good time despite the (or because of?) the craziness. I also can't thank him enough for helping me out not only in this tournament, but in the badminton world in general. He's an awesome guy.

Somehow we managed to make it through and everyone had fun! As his first foreign student and friend, I think my coach was totally bemused at the management style of the tournament (I gave everyone cupcakes at the end too. I mean hey, it was my birthday right?) But I know he had a good time despite the (or because of?) the craziness. I also can’t thank him enough for helping me out not only in this tournament, but in the badminton world in general. He’s an awesome guy.

If that wasn’t stressful enough, at night I arranged a party on a rooftop of a local microbrew. So despite being exhausted we somehow managed to eat and drink the night away. Other friends who weren’t at the badminton tournament showed up and we got to tell them all the exciting details.

Xiamen china

Xiamen, China

Most amazing was a cake my friend made especially for me. He's a french pastry chef and is famous for his cakes, but it was unbelievable he took the time to make one especially for me! He didn't even come or play at the tournament but he knows me and what I like.

Most amazing was a cake my friend made especially for me. He’s a french pastry chef and is famous for his cakes, but it was unbelievable he took the time to make one especially for me! He didn’t even come or play at the tournament but he knows what makes me happy, haha.

As the birthday bully queen, I decided that the big piece of french chocolate was for me only. But after a few bites I realized it was too rich and I was forced to share it with my friends before it melted. Sad. Wish I still had it now. (I also know I look a bit crazy but this was near midnight and you have to understand how exhausted I was.)

As the birthday bully queen, I decided that the big piece of french chocolate was for me only. But after a few bites I realized it was too rich and I was forced to share it with my friends before it melted. Sad. Wish I still had it now. (I also know I look a bit crazy but this was near midnight and you have to understand how exhausted I was.)

So, all in all, it was an incredibly successful day. At one point in the tournament I just kinda stopped and looked around at all the people playing on the courts, people on the sides, watching, laughing, wiping sweat off their face, and I felt so damn happy. I’ve never been a sports person, never played at a tournament, much less organized one, and yet somehow it worked. People from all different backgrounds, countries and languages had come together to have a fun day. And I made it happen on my 40th birthday.

Five years ago I was living in China but my life was completely different. I could never in a million years ago guess what I would be doing on my 40th birthday or who I would be doing it with. And I hope I bring this sense of adventure and gratitude with me as I get older. Even if it failed miserably I think I would still be proud that at least I tried.

And on that note, check out this brief video my friend Bong made! An epic video for an epic day.

This is a cross post with my other blog–Badminton Becky

Categories: China | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment