This Year I’m Springing for Wellingtons

A peaceful weekend.

The rainy season is in full force here, but that didn’t stop me and RP from taking a much needed break from work and our little city to spend the weekend hanging out in the hot springs of nearby Anning – I challenge you to name a better way to relax than sitting in an overly hot pool of lime green water vaguely scented with mint. We get the stupidly cheap package that allows you to sit in the springs all day, get your feet massaged and then get a VERY vigorous scrub down in the changing rooms by a kindly woman wearing exfoliating gloves. (You will be all red, but very soft, at the end.)

A quick detour here to discuss nakedness in China (I’m sure you’re curious!): As modest as the sexes are around one another in public, when things are gender segregated in a locker room people let it all hang out. I actually find it very comforting; people stand around naked, a little towel thrown over their shoulder, laughin’ and scratchin’ (as my dad would say). No one tries to hide their bodies, and no one appears to be embarrassed, unlike similar situations in the US. (Why is it that I know how to change from street clothes to a bathing suit without baring any skin?! So unnecessary.) Take note, America: it’s really so much nicer when you’re not ashamed of your body.

Ahem.

The weekend was made all the better since we got to stay in a mysterious and empty hotel (hotels in China are often empty – the mysterious part was the suit of armor guarding the rickety wooden staircase lined with faux-Euro oil paintings) totally free of charge. Something about the father of one of RP’s friends having good guanxi with the hotel owner. My new motto in China is: Don’t question it, just say thank you.

On top of that, RP and I took out an entire barbecued chicken basically in one sitting, walked through the woods in the pouring rain, and zipped back to Kunming in time for a home viewing of Reds and a very rare dinner meticulously cooked on our hot plate. (Have I mentioned that we don’t have a kitchen so we never eat meals at home? Seeing me stirring a pot over here is like spotting a jackalope.)

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting very much – life has been quiet and busy. I’m working hard and RP is writing his book. In between we’re hosting visiting friends and making wedding plans, and I’m realizing that I’ve seen this season before, which means that soon I’ll have been in China for one year. More on that as the anniversary approaches.

In the mean time I’m enjoying the many new and strange sights brought on by the damp weather, like this guy, who didn’t think a lightening storm was any reason not to tote a motorcyleful of inflated balloons through the streets:

Happy Father’s Day everyone! Dad, all of these are for you:

Staying Married

Today is my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. In case you’re wondering what they looked like celebrating their engagement, wonder no further:

When I was a small child, I didn’t understand how I was meant to celebrate their anniversary and didn’t quite know what it had to do with me. Now that I am getting married myself, I see the fact that I didn’t understand their anniversary’s significance as really good sign: I never thought that there was any reason that they shouldn’t be married. I assumed that marriage was their normal state, as was staying married forever.

It so happens that I don’t think that simply having been married a long time is a great reason to stay married if things are truly and irredeemably terrible. I do think that to get married you have to be an optimist, and to stay married you have to be a fighter. I count myself lucky that I come from people who value fighting for their marriage over fighting in it, and who know what real commitment means.

(And in case you should think it’s only on my side: RP’s parents just celebrated their 34th anniversary! If they would like to supply me with a fresh-faced photo of themselves from the late 1970s I would be happy to post it here as well…)

So today I’m raising a glass to another 30 years for my parents, congratulating them, and wishing I could celebrate with them. Love to you, Mom and Dad!

*****

And now for the interactive portion of the show: today I’m also taking that advice that you’ve always wanted to give but worried might make you seem overbearing and self-righteous! I’ve heard lots of advice on what it takes to stay married, ranging from “Don’t go to sleep angry” (which I totally don’t subscribe to…I believe in the healing effects of a night of sleep) to things that are not fit to print on a blog that my parents read.

Tell me, dear reader: what do you think it takes to stay married?

Back in a Minute

I have a lot on my mind right now about my work and life in China, so much so that I haven’t been sleeping. I’m trying to figure out how to put it to you all. I’ll have it figured out in the next few days.

In the mean time: even though we were more of a Billy Joel kind of family, for some reason listening to Bob Dylan always makes me think of my parents. So for now I’m drinking a glass of cheap Chinese wine, listening to this, and missing my mom and dad.

Happy International Women’s Day!

I know you all have this day circled on your calendars every year, but I wanted to remind you all, just in caseā€¦

As far as I’m concerned, International Women’s Day should not be an occasion for giving women flowers and chocolates, or offering to do the household chores one day out of the year, or – as happened to me today – being offered half a day off work along with other female employees in China.

What it should be about is remembering that, even if you live in a society or class of basic gender equality and freedom, there are women across the world who do not: women who live in poverty because their gender means that they are not free to work, women who are made to bear too many children because they are forbidden from controlling their fertility, women who live under oppressive fundamentalisms, women who labor every day on land that their gender ensures they may never own.

Today should be a day for education and activism, a today for remembering that the systemic mistreatment of women not only harms women themselves, but reinforces paradigms of what constitutes acceptable, gendered behavior that harm everyone.

Here are a few examples of simple things you can do to honor International Women’s Day:

  • Remember that proposed legislation that would harm women does not have to be enacted. Send a message to your congressperson urging them to impose no new restrictions on abortion in the US.
  • Create a little feminist guerrilla art – just to remind everyone that you’re paying attention!
  • Watch the film The Stoning of Soraya M; learn more about how religious fundamentalisms disproportionately harm women here.
  • Attend an event celebrating International Women’s Day near you.
  • Donate some money to an organization working to end gender injustice. I’m sure your Googling skills and judgment are up to the task of finding something appropriate for your interests!
  • Be kinder to your female body today. Stop criticizing and punishing it for being too old/fat/dark/wrinkled/freckled/saggy/ethnic. Who knows – you just might like it.

How will you be celebrating this day, Dear Reader?

Image courtesy of gaelx

Turkeyabroad

Happy Thanksgiving, America!

Not going to be too much celebrating over here today – maybe some Peking Duck for a basic approximation of the festive bird – but in case you’re wondering what to be thankful for today, here’s a little inspiration:

Spot the turkey in this photo

EIGHT YEARS. Man oh man.

Autumn, I Hardly Knew Ye

Today I made a very scientific discovery about Kunming people: not a single one owns a hat. Except one old guy wearing a Houston Rockets baseball cap. The reason I know this is because it has very suddenly dropped to freezing temperatures in Kunming – something that I was not entirely prepared for – so I got to see a display of how Kunming people deal with this while scurrying between my office and my apartment.

(My theory is that this hatlessness relates to Kunming people’s vanity over their hairstyles – which are, in fairness, elaborate. In a sea of extravagantly teased bouffants and bird’s nest-like explosions, I am a ruddy-haired anomaly. But at least I know how to keep my ears warm.)

To give you some perspective, cold in China is not like cold in America, because there is no central heating. You may not appreciate the role that central heating plays in your life, but I will put it to you this way: I know several burly and macho Canadians who boasted about their ability to survive in their underpants in the frozen Yukon, only to be reduced to tears by a single winter in Shanghai. And Shanghai is hot.

So now all of my plans for making it back to America without buying a winter coat are now shot, as are the fuses in my office ever since we tried to plug in two space heaters at once so as to avoid frostbite.

The reason this cold snap is doubly cruel is because I was just getting ready to write a post about how I finally found Autumn! I got my dose of fall colors by going to Kunming’s Botanical Garden in the far north of the city over the weekend. So let us now bask in the warmth and glory of only a few days ago, as we sit and shiver in our fleecy blankets!

Act I: The Botanical Garden has a great walkway lined with trees that gloriously change colors before dropping their leaves. On the left-hand side of this photo you can see some of the giant camera gear that people hauled out to take photos of the leaves, leading me to the following further realization about US-China differences: Americans act like tourists only when they leave home for somewhere new; Chinese people act like tourists EVERYWHERE THEY GO.

Act II: In addition to photo-taking, there are lots of other pastimes to enjoy in a park if you live in Kunming, namely: putting on your frothy wedding dress and taking dramatic photos among the trees (sadly I do not have a photo of the woman who lay tragically among her swirling skirts on the ground, in the manner of the Lady of Shallot); and dragging your shiny new tent out to a crowded clearing and camping out until the park closes. Chinese people have a new-found fascination with outdoorsy-ness, and appear to express it by buying a lot of random neon exercise clothing and expensive woodsy gear.

Believe it or not, this is also part of a wedding shoot. A new engagement tradition in China is a day-long series of photos of you and your spouse-to-be dressed in absurd outfits, kept for future reminiscing and humiliation. But, you know, no judgment.

Act III: In keeping with my theory that children are the same everywhere in the world, the younger set may occupy themselves with the age-old activity of slaying the bad guy.

Goodbye, Autumn! Goodbye, feeling in my extremities! See you next year.

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

Sorry for my absence, All. I’m here, but have being doing a lot of scheming and thinking and haven’t been prepared to set it down in words. Still not prepared – maybe tomorrow.

I will say that the prospect of a wedding and – much more importantly – a marriage brings up many more thoughts and questions for me than I had ever anticipated. There have been few traditional rites of passage in my life, and this one comes after a period of many years of tumult and change, at a time of both uncertainty and deep hopefulness.

On a related note, today I’ve been listening to the album “Saints and Tzadiks”, a collaboration between Susan McKeown and Lorin Sklamberg celebrating Yiddish and Irish folk music. All at once! Lots of violins and phlegm-y consonants. Check it out. (Sorry for the linking- WordPress won’t let me upload.)

Saints and Tzadiks

Bird Goes Flying!

The past couple of weekends have exemplified a certain aspect of living in China as a foreigner: you can suddenly afford to do a lot of things you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t do in your home country. For example, today RP and I spent the afternoon lounging in the hot springs of Anning, a town an hour outside of Kunming. Total cost for several hours of soaking in pools of different temperatures, different scents (lemon! lime!), and one that had little fish in it to chomp away your skin impurities (YES IT WAS SO BIZARRE I HAD TO SCREAM A LITTLE), plus a foot massage and full-body exfoliation: just under US$20.

So that was all very nice. But last weekend we did something outrageously amazing: we went paragliding. Understand? We flew around over mountains and fields and lakes! (And a factory, because this is China. Whatever.)

Paragliding is something I’ve always wanted to try but never have because I didn’t feel like spending a thousand dollars in a single afternoon. But here in Kunming, there is a friendly Canadian paragliding “pilot” who will take you on a tandem flight a couple hours outside Kunming for around US$43.

It’s a little hard to process what is happening when you’re flying because it’s so silent and so smooth that you almost can’t believe it’s just you and a sail. It’s not scary at all; when you run towards the edge of the cliff, you actually lift off before you get to the edge. There’s no sense of falling – in fact, you sail upwards on pockets of warm air.

About to take off!

About to take off!

The Canadian guy steers you around for a while and then eventually picks a place to land. In my case, this was the middle of someone’s tobacco field – in RP’s case, it was at the edge of a lake.

Either way, one thing that I hadn’t anticipated was that local people who happened to be in the area would take a tremendous interest in random foreigners sailing off the side of their mountains and dropping from out of the sky into their fields. They actually didn’t mind at all – they just wanted to know how it all worked, and then stood around with me on the mountain top watching RP sail around, saying “Wow, they’re so high!” for 40 minutes.

Bearded Wonder

Bearded Wonder

(Click on the pic above to see all photos from the day.)

Sometimes it’s tough to be a foreigner in China. It’s not your home, it’s not your language, and you get food poisoning A LOT. But the chances that you have to do amazing things here – opportunities at work, travels of a lifetime, FLYING, etc. – that you wouldn’t even consider doing in America, make it all worthwhile.

Speaking of which: a few days from now I will have been in China for four months. Stay tuned for an update on culture shock.