Warning: I’m about to get cheesy.
I just wanted to say how much I love, appreciate and admire the individuals I have met on WordPress. I never thought my blog would last this long, but my readers — strangers, friends and new friends — keep me at it, and I am so grateful to you all for keeping me company during this transitional phase in my life.
As I have complained again and again — and you’re probably sick of hearing it — making friends has been quite rough for me in China. However, coming home to my computer and finding new comments and “likes” demonstrates another kind of friendship that I used to doubt (gotta love the digital age!). Meeting people online has always sounded a little strange to me, but the WordPress community has proven me wrong. Knowing that people read and sometimes even care about what I have to say is so reassuring that 1), my life is actually pretty interesting (no matter how much I insist it isn’t), 2) I am still capable of making new friends in new places, and 3) there are so many good people in the world!
I realize this is very cheesy, and I get this way
sometimes a lot, but I’m going away for two weeks to celebrate Chinese New Years and Spring Festival in Chongqing where I expect to be internet-less. And the only thing that keeps running through my head is, How will I keep up with everyone’s blogs? How will I stay in contact with my WP friends? I’m going to miss them so much!! I know, I know. Only 2 weeks. Actually, less, just 10 days. But see!? That’s how inseparable I am with you all!
(My parents hate it because once I turn my computer on, that’s where I’m glued for the next several hours. I sacrifice the size of my bum for you all. That’s how much I love you.)
See you in 10 days! Until then,
and KISSES TO YOU ALL!!!
Just hangin’ out on a Wednesday night.
Chinese people call me ABC, American Born Chinese; Americans call me Chinese American. “Twinkie” is what I and my closest friends call me (you know, yellow on the outside, white on the inside). Growing up, I didn’t want any of these identities. I wanted to be white like most of my classmates. I wanted a big house with a furnished basement, a backyard and a golden retriever; not a 3rd floor apartment with a live-in grandma who slept below me on our bunk-bed and who snored so loud I used to climb down my bunk to tickle her feet so she would stop snoring for a precious second. (Wait, I had to edit my post to add this: I love my grandma!)
In elementary and middle school, I secretly resented being Chinese. I refused to go to Chinese school every Sunday like most Chinese kids. I spoke only English to my handful of Chinese friends, and together we would make fun of other Chinese people. I never hung out with the Chinese kids at school, nor did I join the Asian Pacific American Club. I had nothing against them, I just didn’t want to be a part of them.
Aside from Chinese holiday gatherings, growing up in a home that smelled like mothballs, eating rice everyday, and speaking Chinese at home, I was totally Americanized. I mean, I am American. Right?
My identity crisis hit really hard when I started settling-in in China. To Americans I look obviously Asian (many can’t figure out what kind of Asian I am) but to Chinese folks I look foreign/mysterious/Chinese-but-not-that-Chinese/different/mixed. A lot of Chinese people think I am half-Chinese half-white. That flatters me, but also troubles me because they don’t regard me as Chinese so I am treated differently. Bargaining, for example, is tough because vendors jack up the price when they see me in case I am foreign. My funny unidentifiable accent and nose ring don’t help. In America my nose ring was cool, in China I’m a bull on the loose.
Internally I identity with the foreigners living in China and get overly-excited when I see one (when I was young and fearless, I would run up to any white-looking individual and tell them I was American and could speak English), but they don’t see the bond with me because outwardly I appear Chinese. The one time I actually was approached by someone, I startled him and he ran off. My newly acquired inability/obvious discomfort/awkwardness in socializing with strangers makes the process of making friends verrrry difficult in this country.
The thing that confuses me is I am Chinese because Chinese blood runs through my veins (a fact I grew to be proud of). But I was born on American soil so my nationality is American. I used to tell people I was American when they asked me “what” I was, but today, I think it’s weird when people ask Chinese-looking people (like me) “what” they are and they respond “American.” When people ask me that question now, I don’t know how to answer. Even my salary reflects my identity crisis: my salary is higher than my Chinese coworkers but less than my white English-teaching counterparts. I AM SO CONFUSED!
It’s not that I don’t feel like I belong here. I believe I belong everywhere! I felt like I belonged in Bushwick, Brooklyn where people thought I was the owner of the local laundromat, and when people called me “Jackie Chan” in the streets of Barcelona and Marrakech. When I was staying overnight near Erg Chebbi, one of Morocco’s sand dunes, the man who worked at the lodge asked me if I was a girl from the neighboring town! I belong. I just don’t know how to identify myself.
In these past few weeks, I’ve more or less come to terms with my exhausting identity crisis, perhaps a first step in “finding myself.” From now on I should just consider myself a unique individual. Maybe that’s the answer I’ll give the next time someone asks me, “So what are you? I mean, where do you come from?”
“I am a unique individual. I come from nowhere in particular. And yourself?”
Last week, I received a text from my student that said this (in Chinese):
“Emily, this is Wendy. Do you have time the day after tomorrow? It’s my birthday, I want to celebrate it with you. You are my favorite teacher and friend now. Is that okay?”
My heart crumbled into a million little pieces. She not only said I was her favorite teacher, but that I was her friend. How could I say no to that?
We spent the following Thursday watching a terrible Chinese movie while gorging on Chinese-movie-theater-snacks, eating hot pot, and doing a little shopping. Despite the few awkward silences, it was actually a pleasant time, and I think Wendy genuinely enjoyed her 15th birthday. I gathered this from her jumping up and down screeching “I’m having so much fun!”
Going to the movies was a rare treat for Wendy. Like my other students, Cindy and Tanya (who are also my mom’s music students), every minute of her life revolves around studying for the entrance exam to a renown music school. All three of them moved to Beijing from their hometowns in Northeast China to devote time to studying music. They left school, their friends, their extended families, to begin intensive preparation for the exam, basically the biggest deal of their entire lives because it will determine everything thereafter. Personally, I think having a proper childhood is more important, but who am I to define “proper” here?
When I look at Wendy, Cindy and Tanya, I thank the-big-man-upstairs for my teenage years surrounded with friends, fun and plenty of time for leisure. I admire their drive to succeed, but where is the harm in enjoying life? I guess from their parents’ point of view, fun comes after a lifetime of hard work. This has some truth to it; it’s just not the lifestyle I would choose.
I’ve been complaining about not having friends in China, but I am happy to say, alas, I’ve found some company in Cindy, Wendy and Tanya. I don’t know how long our friendship will last, but I’m glad to have them call me their friend for however long they need me. After all, I need them too.
I just read an editorial piece in the New York Times about classical music and it’s place among the Occupy Wall Street movement that got me thinking about my own family. “From the Medici family and Ludwig of Bavaria to Andrew Carnegie and David H. Koch, classical music, like other performing arts, has long depended on the 1 percent,” writes Anthony Tommasini. This is not so far off in China either, at least not nowadays.
The arts are an important component to China’s cultural inheritance. Mao himself was a poet and a lover of music — granted, the only music allowed during his regime were “Red Songs” with lyrics from his own poetry, but it was music nonetheless. Classical music was not introduced to China until the late 1970s under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership. A professor from the Central Conservatory of Music had written Deng a letter requesting permission to enroll students after a 10-year dry spell during the Cultural Revolution–a timely request as Deng was set on modernizing China, opening doors to western influence, and consequently classical music. Permission granted, 17,285 people lined up for the college entrance examination. Narrowed down to 105 total enrollments, my mom was one of 20 singers from all of China to join the ranks. This was the first wave of a new revolution — what I call the “Classical Music Revolution of China.”
My dad followed my mom’s footsteps shortly after, and post graduation, followed her to the United States where she pursued her career in opera, and had me. Growing up, classical music and the arts in general, surrounded me. (I am writing this post while my mom’s student is roaring Italian lyrics downstairs.) Our family friends were literally all involved in the arts, and while I dabbled in it, I did not end up a musician–a great mystery and shame to many.
In the west, my mom could study music with American and European teachers, while in the east, the field was still developing. I remember as a child touring around the States watching her perform in Madame Butterfly, La Boheme and Carmen, among others. She also traveled all over the world, singing operas in various European languages. Her career flourished in the west, where opera was an occasion for dressing up and showing off wealth and culture. In the wake of rising tuitions and increasing economic disparity, this is one of Occupy Wall Street’s arguments; performing arts are elitist.
There is no doubt that classical music has historically been limited to the upper class, but as Tommasini points out in his article, there is today an abundance of free and affordable performing arts events throughout New York City. Similarly in China, attending a performance at the National Center for the Performing Arts is not a cheap ordeal. But there are events scattered throughout Beijing that are accessible to those who are curious or interested. The school my mom works for (the high school attached to the Central Conservatory of Music), for example, often puts on free performances for the public. Too bad the turnouts remain to be low.
Many of my mom’s students come from the wealthiest of families — sons and daughters of leaders in the coal industry, an army surgeon, TV/movie stars, political figures, and various successful businesspeople. This is a major difference between music students today and music students from my parents’ generation. My parents were extremely poor when they began schooling, as were all families during that time, but again, classical music was just a budding interest then. Now that the west has full-blown influence over Chinese society and culture (much to Hu Jingtao’s dismay), classical music has become a popular career path. However, only those who can afford the education can find a place in that field, unless you are blessed with a voice that penetrates the heart and soul of the judges at your audition.
I completely agree with Occupy Wall Street protestors that “the main issue regarding performing arts institutions is not inaccessibility but insularity,” because as I said, you have to have the funds to pursue this career. I have questioned my parents’ morality for working for government-run and arguably profit-oriented schools, but after having witnessed their frustrations, the dead ends, and watching my mom teach tirelessly, my mind changed. My parents’ passion for music and grounded dedication to their students are reason enough for my admiration (besides being their only child of course). And from personal encounters with these students, they’re not so bad. Sure, some are snobby teenagers with brand name clothing and a private apartment, but where in the world are there not such people? They are like any other child striving to achieve their dreams as musicians–just like hip hop artists, baseball players, doctors and lawyers–who happen to come from the 1% (most who work their butts off to support their child’s dreams).
There are many things I find wrong with Chinese society (as you may have determined from my previous posts), but one thing I have come to appreciate during my time here is the cultural fervor. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that many Chinese artists are suppressed, exiled, jailed, because I am lucky to have an outlet to both eastern and western news, but just knowing that they exist excites me because I sense the kindling of a counterrevolution. And knowing that my parents are part of this movement — whether they see it as that or not — makes me very proud to be their daughter.
Life is definitely different now that my parents are classical-music-big-shots as opposed to lower- to middle- class immigrants, but I will never consider our family elitist. We are just a loving bunch of teachers committed to passing on what we know to whoever will listen.
I’d have an extra 365 yuan by 2013! (That works out to be about 100 nose-pickers a day=100 pennies x 365 days=365 yuan/6.2=$58.87)
Well so it is! 2012, year of the dignified Dragon (and the end of the world?!?!), a much sought after Chinese zodiac sign that symbolizes power, strength and good luck–so badass the Emperor of China used it to symbolize his imperial power. Parents have long been planning their pregnancies around this new year so that their children can take after me, a proud Dragoness of 1988.
I always brag about being born in the year of the dragon because Chinese people always respond excitedly to it. Now that I have lived through 2 cycles oblivious to what being a dragon child actually means, I decided it was time I find out how it defines me. So, like any other credible academic, I googled “chinese zodiac dragon” and found www.chinesezodiac.com at the top of a long list of results. Below, I seek to understand how my life has been subliminally shaped by the most superior Chinese Zodiac sign in the world (I don’t actually believe it’s superior, but it’s up there)!
Website: Occupying the 5th position in the Chinese Zodiac, the Dragon is the mightiest of the signs. Dragons symbolize such character traits as dominance and ambition. Dragons prefer to live by their own rules and if left on their own, are usually successful. They’re driven, unafraid of challenges, and willing to take risks. They’re passionate in all they do and they do things in grand fashion. Unfortunately, this passion and enthusiasm can leave Dragons feeling exhausted and interestingly, unfulfilled.
While Dragons frequently help others, rarely will they ask for help. Others are attracted to Dragons, especially their colorful personalities, but deep down, Dragons prefer to be alone. Perhaps that is because they’re most successful when working alone. Their preference to be alone can come across as arrogance or conceitedness, but these qualities aren’t applicable. Dragons have tempers that can flare fast!
Me: Okay, I consider myself “mighty” but I’m neither dominant nor that ambitious. I have dreams, but I’ll find excuses for why I’m not carrying them out. I do like to live by my own rules, but I always credited that to my being an only child. As for challenges and risks, I’ll take them if I’m feeling spontaneous, but I won’t break the law (not big ones). Passion and enthusiasm only surface for certain occasions, like my birthday or a new love interest. But, as the website profoundly indicates, I end up exhausted, unfulfilled and oh so regretful.
As my friend Jett suggested I put on my OkCupid profile (did I really just publicize this?!), I am generous and compassionate. I do tend to help others, like give up my seat on the subway and donate a dollar here or there, but nothing of “grand fashion.” I don’t disagree that I have a colorful personality, which I take to mean happy, upbeat, fun, etc, but I also have a dark side. I will lash out if you so urge me.
Website: Considering their hard-working nature, Dragons are healthy overall. They do get stressed and suffer from periodic tension/headaches, likely because they take so many risks. Dragons could benefit from incorporating mild activity into their lives. Yoga or walking would be good as these activities can work both their minds and their bodies.
Me: I had a horrible headache yesterday! Must be all the risks that I’ve been taking–quitting my full-time job (for part-time), eating sour noodles (gone bad), and buying Christmas presents at the very last minute. It is on my New Years Resolutions to exercise more. In fact, my parents and I did a good deal of walking/shopping after dinner today. I’m off to a good start!
Website: Dragons prefer leading to being led. Jobs that allow them to express their creativity are good choices. Some good careers include: inventor, manager, computer analyst, lawyer, engineer, architect, broker, and sales person.
Me: It’s true. I hate being led; that 9-6 job was awful. I prefer teaching, where I make all the rules. “Teaching” isn’t on the list of “some good careers include,” but the website can’t be right about everything. I am definitely not cut out to being a computer analyst (I can’t analyze anything that deeply), a manager (I’m too nice, people would walk all over me and I’d be left without any managing power), and certainly not a lawyer (I don’t do public speaking). I am a good sales person though.
Website: Dragons will give into love, but won’t give up their independence. Because they have quick, sometimes vengeful tempers, their partners need to be tough-skinned. Dragons enjoy others who are intriguing, and when they find the right partners, they’ll usually commit to that person for life.
Me: Oy, I give up my independence too easily. I fall into “love traps” that lead me to become vengeful if the other person does not live up to my standards. I will, however, commit to whoever it is I’m with–maybe too much so that it drives
men boys away. I read on Thought Catalog that guys are attracted to flakes. I guess I’ll add “be flaky” to my list of “Resolutions.”
Metal Dragons – Years 1940 and 2000
Metal strengthens this already strong sign. Metal Dragons are more determined and they’ll fight for what they believe in. They enjoy the company of those who feel mighty enough to challenge their beliefs. They’re true leaders and usually find plenty of others willing to follow.
Water Dragons – Years 1952 and 2012
Water calms the Dragon’s fire. Water Dragons are able to see things from other points of view. They don’t have the need to always be right. Their decisions, if well-researched, are usually better since they allow other’s to become involved.
Wood Dragons – 1904 and 1964
Wood Dragons also are willing to entertain the opinions of others. Their artistic side is strong, and Wood Dragons enjoy being creative and innovative. They get along with others, but will always be the dominating force.
Fire Dragons – 1916 and 1976
A Fire Dragon’s emotions can flare instantly. Fire Dragons put themselves on pedestals, and because they react quickly and recklessly, they sometimes make wrong decisions. Fire Dragons need to slow down and keep their tempers in check as that’s when they’re best.
Earth Dragons – Years 1928 and 1988 (this is me!)
More rooted in the ground, Earth Dragons make better decisions because they act more rationally. Earth Dragons are level-headed and able to control their behaviors. They’re more supportive of others, but they prefer being admired by others.
Me: Ahh! “More rooted in the ground” — “Grounding My Roots” This website is genius! Although, I can’t say I make rational decisions because I’m not level-headed and have trouble controlling my behavior in love, life and at the dinner-table. I will support you, friend, but I also want you to admire me because I’m just that awesome.