Southern Hospitality Widespread in Guizhou Province

The people of Guizhou province are the friendliest, most hospitable and generous individuals I have ever met in China. This observation is even clearer now that I’m back in Beijing, where everyone snarls at one another. Could be southern hospitality like in the States, though I wonder if I’d ever feel comfortable enough to ask a stranger to use their toilet in Texas…Probably not.

I was hiking down a hill toward a small village in Langdong when typical bouts of stomachache set in — bathroom emergency. The first house my friend, Yoyo, and I came across we asked to use the bathroom. Not only did the grandfather agree to let me let my bowels loose in his home (excuse the graphics!),  he also provided generous amounts of toilet paper!! This, being in a place where public bathrooms still charge tourists and everyone carries toilet paper on them at all times (except me because I always forget)!  I was so grateful I didn’t even mind the snorting hog in the next pen.

On my way out, the grandfather invited me and Yoyo to stay for breakfast with him and his grandson. We courteously refused — we wanted to witness the process of making handmade tofu at another home in the village — but we sat for a little while.

    

I was invited to “sit a while” by numerous neighborly strangers throughout Guizhou. I experienced a similar kind of welcomeness in Morocco where I was constantly invited to have tea and stay for free  in peoples’ homes. Sometimes yes, the hosts had intentions of making money. But in one of China’s poorest provinces, how could I not buy the handmade batik (wax art on cloth) that the nice lady overcharged my American companion for and then for which she offered me a “local” price? Especially after she voluntarily showed us around her ancient stone village?

Though Guizhou is home to many ethnic minority groups, I spent most of my time in Qiandongnan Prefecture where Miao villages are predominant. We saw people, most noticeably women because of their dress, from other minority groups such as Dong and Gejia, but most were Miao (Hmong).

When I told a Beijinger that I spent time in Miao villages, she remarked that Miao women are very beautiful. It’s true. Miao people have different features from Han (the majority–I’m Han). They have big, deep-set eyes and creased eyelids (now available via a simple surgical procedure), and their skin is darker from the powerful southern sun. Their costumes vary from region to region, as well as by age. In Huangping, for example, older women wear plain, bun-shaped hats while younger women wear more colorful ones. Old women just wrap towels around their heads, and instead of flowery garments, they wear undecorated royal blue robes. In Kaili, Leishan, Langde and Xijiang, women wear their hair in buns on the top of their heads, often supported by black yarn to resemble more hair. They decorate their hair with fake flowers and colorful pins and a special comb, but with different details from village to village.

Huangping

 Leishan

Photo credit: Judy Manton

Langde

(2nd photo credit: Judy Manton)

And how ’bout this fine gentleman sporting a Soviet winter hat in the middle of summer?

Stone Village, Anshun

Whole elaborate outfits are only worn for festivals. Women spend lots of time and money — often thousands and thousands of Yuan — embroidering, sewing, pleating and decorating these garments by hand. A small piece of hand-embroidery is worth hundreds, even thousands, of Yuan because it is so meticulous.

The silver they wear around their necks, on their heads and in their ears weigh a lot. But silver is believed to cast away evil spirits, so people always wear it, most often as a bracelet. Naturally, I bought one for myself.  I like to think that the silver not only protects me from evil, but also connects me to Guizhou.

It’s a relief to know that there are still people in China who are kind, un-abrasive, patient, and honest. I’ve been in Beijing for 3 days now and already feel anger and frustration in the pit of my stomach because people here can be so cold, which is ironic because it’s steaming outside.

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Sonya, will you be my Valentine?

In light of V-Day, I dedicate this post to my best friend, Sonya (don’t cry, Sonitchka!), with whom I have already shared 15 years of Grade A friendship.

This is Sonya kickin' butt all over the globe.

It all began in Mr. DeLong’s 4th grade class. At 9 years old, we went on our first double date to see The Man in the Iron Mask, chaperoned by her mom who ate all the popcorn (don’t deny it, Sonya). We spent so many hours of our childhood playing Rummikub and Spit, eating McDonald’s sneakily behind the bushes in front of her apartment building, hanging out on street corners and at each other’s homes playing Mario on old-school Nintendo, having sleepovers, watching Pay-Per-View and eating the best Russian food at her house, and giggling about boys like any girl at that age. I also spent Hanukkahs with Sonya’s family and their Russian friends. Then on Christmas Day, we would go to our school field to make snow angels while singing Christmas carols. That is one of my all-time favorite memories of us.

When we got to high school, we still spent every waking hour together. We walked to school together every morning, until I could drive, then I would pick her up. Sometimes we’d stop in Starbucks for a slice of Lemon Loaf and a Caramel Frappucino, or at Finagle a Bagel for Lox. At lunch, we’d go to Sealey’s, a nearby diner, for tuna melts and turkey clubs until we decided it was too greasy and changed up our routine to include Virginia’s deli-sandwiches. For dessert, we’d pop by Eddie’s, a snack truck parked at our school, for ice cream. Sonya and I were obviously very health-conscious.

Without exaggeration, Sonya and I were attached at the hip throughout elementary, middle and high school. It was rare to see one of us without the other.

Unfortunately, college severed the invisible cord and we became individual beings, an inevitable part of growing up. While she stayed in Boston I went off to Ithaca (is Gorges), NY. We made new friends and new memories that didn’t include the other. Naturally, we grew apart a little bit even though we saw each other here and there. We reunited after college when she moved to New York City, and while it wasn’t the same as our childhood years–we were more health conscious, more mature, had jobs, and had our own friends–Sonya and I still share something untouchable.

A happy Sonya is a happy Emily.

Funny thing is, we are very different people. She’s clean, I’m messy. We have different interests and taste in men, and we view the world differently. Somehow, even though we agreed we could never be roommates because we would eat each other alive, we are still friends. What I love most about Sonya are her sense of humor and maturity. She’s very different from most people because she’s real and does this thing I call “craugh” where she laughs and cries at the same time. She doesn’t beat around the bush like I do, and she’s a fierce debater. We often bicker about stupid things like whether palm trees can grow indoors (she won this one), but we get over it and laugh about how ridiculously the other person behaved.

(circa 10th grade)

While I am showering Sonya with compliments, here’s another one: Sonya is a goddess in the kitchen (and probably in other rooms, if ya catch my drift…oh lala!). She can bake a mean apple crisp and stir up chicken fajita like nobody’s business. I haven’t had this in years, but I’m still reminded of it any time I see strawberries. In middle school, Sonya blended me the best strawberry milkshake in the world, one that I cannot recreate without her magic touch. Whoever she ends up with–somebody who will never be good enough for her according to my standards–will be one damned lucky fella.

Sonya, I know I can be difficult and say stupid things and date even stupider men, but I still hope you can be my Valentine…for the rest of my life!

LOVE YOU LIKE A FAT CHINESE KID LOVES DUMPLINGS (I’m talking about myself of course)!

Me and Sonya all grown up with the tip of our triangle, Jett. We are the Triumphant Trio.

UPPITY WOMEN UNITE! UPPITY WOMEN UNITE! UPPITY WOMEN UNITE!

(I had to come back and insert this video:)


The End of Spring Festival. Hallelujah!

Today is Lantern Festival, the 15th day in the first lunar month and another one of China’s million holidays. Best of all, it marks the end of Spring Festival which means all the droning sounds of fireworks that reverberate through my bones can legally stop after tonight. Thank goodness. I’m tired of feeling my stomach turned inside out from sudden BOOM!s that explode in front, next to or behind me. Sure, fireworks are pretty. Pretty annoying. They’re nice from a distance, or on the 4th of July which happens only once a year. But these incessant explosions resonate through my neighborhood–and the entire country–and resemble sounds of what I imagine would be a war zone.

Fireworks are traditionally used in China to ward off evil spirits, but for a country that has been bombed in cruel quantity I’m surprised the explosions don’t cause a psychological fury among the older generations who lived through those years. Instead, it is probably more of a nuisance, or more likely they have drowned out the ruckus. As this is my first Spring Festival here, I’m still getting used to all the noise, but I can’t say I like it very much. The thunderous sounds startle me to the point where I feel a slight heart attack coming on. I don’t like thunder. I also don’t like fire, and fireworks cause fires all the time.

One guy was blinded, several homes caught on fire because sparks got in them (you can set off fireworks literally anywhere, like right outside my window), an outdoor market selling fireworks exploded. All shitty ways to start a new year. Hate to be Negative Nancy here people, but fireworks are dangerous. And they’re detrimental to the already hazardous air quality here. I’d like to live a little longer. No more fireworks, PLEASE! 

Here are some photos I took in between my complaining. I have to admit it is pretty cool to see fireworks from where I’m sitting, but my sanity can only handle so much.

Firecrackers

Yeah. Imagine hearing that every second of your day. For 2 weeks straight. Mmhm. That’s what I thought.

Here's what I see walking down the street towards home.

View from balcony in Chongqing

Right next to us...mmmmhmmm that's how fires start.

Looks like a fire is starting already!!

I’ve posted some videos so you can feel the agony my ears are going through but also see the admittedly beautiful views from my window and rooftop.

(Don’t make fun. I laugh like a moronic hyena. A doofus. I sound happy in these videos because I was excited to see fireworks up close and I’m easily excitable. Obviously that enthusiasm has since faded.)

(Don’t make fun. I yell for “mommy” in the following video. Yes, I admit it. I still call my mom mommy and my dad daddy. I’ve been doing it since I could speak, and therefore got used to it and it stuck. I’ll probably still be calling them mommy and daddy when I’m a mommy. Deal with it.)

(Those of you reading this blog freshly published probably can’t see the last video because it’s taking FOREVER to upload onto youtube. Check back in 2 hours!! Apologies.)


I’m Back!

For the past 2 weeks I have been visiting Grandma He and paternal family in Chongqing to celebrate 春節 (Chūnjié), Spring  Festival/Chinese New Year  (Year of the Dragon!). This was my first Spring Festival, a 15-day celebration (1/15-2/6), in the motherland. In the States, this holiday meant little to me but huge potlucks with our Chinese family friends in Boston, an annual event that sadly diminished as I got older.

Grandma He, the cutest most grandma-ey-ist grandma on earth!

The spirit of Spring Festival is equivalent to the entire holiday season back home which explains why the spirit I was missing around Christmas was far but made up for. Red lanterns hung everywhere, businesses offered special 春節 discounts, train tickets sold out, a week off from work, traffic cleared up (AMAZING), bags packed and most everybody was back home with their families, and I with mine.

Spring Festival has a lot of traditions that I don’t think my family keeps to. But the ones we did maintain this year included eating a Reunion Dinner,  cringing as we watched the annual Spring Festival Evening Broadcast (6 hours of flashy, cheesy music, dance, and comedy) on TV, exchanging red envelopes ($$$!), eating “rice dumplings” filled with black sesame (nom nom), and setting off fireworks (terrifying). I read in the China Daily that at least 70% Chinese people gain weight over this break, and according to my scale, this is accurate.

Right next to our balcony!

We did a whole lot of sitting around this holiday, but that’s part of the tradition: being at home. However, when I wasn’t at home learning how to knit socks with my grandma, stifling her dogs with my love and affection, munching on snacks, playing games on my phone, sniffling because of my cold, and freezing my buttocks off because there’s no indoor heating in the south, I was out and about with my parents, throwing ourselves in the mix of massive crowds. My uncle, a Chinese history professor turned businessman, took us to several awesome places I never knew existed including Dazu Mountain, Longxing Ancient Town, the former Communist Party headquarters in Chongqing, and Baigongguan (Kuomintang’s cruel prison for Communists in the 1940s). We even took a 2 hour train ride to Chengdu, the city with the best food–and pandas–in the world! Don’t you worry, I’ll write more about that trip in another post.

If there were a sudden natural disaster, we would all be doomed. (Photo taken at Ciqikou)

Sakyamuni Entering State of Nirvana at Dazu Mountain

Longxing Ancient Town: Mahjohng Haven

A room in the Communist Party headquarters (photographs were not allowed so don't tell!)

Cave for Interrogation at Baigongguan

Me and Yoshitomo Nara's Little Red Riding Hood at Chongqing's Three Gorges Museum

I’m back in Beijing now, 10 degrees colder outside but infinitely warmer and more comfortable indoors, and fireworks are still exploding (quite an annoyance). I have many, many more photos to show you but I’ll post them in installments to keep you comin’ back for more!! I will, however, leave you with this:

My dad.


What it Means to Be Born in the Year of the Dragon

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)!

Personality

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.

Health

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!

Career

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.

Relationships

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.”

Dragons and the 5 elements

Website:

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.

Well, that explains it. I’ve got my red underwear on (for good luck–it’s tradition!) ready to rock n’ roll into the next 364 days.

The Christmas Grouch

I woke up a real Christmas grouch.

I know how you feel!

From having to work at 8:30 a.m. to misplacing my itouch and prickling my finger fumbling through my bag in search of it (don’t worry, I found it), to doing a mad-Christmas-gift-dash in the busiest part of the city, to coming home to an empty house, you might understand why I was not feeling the spirit.

Christmas Crowd

Yesterday was more eventful. To start the day off pleasantly, I received a package all the way from Boston from my friend Grace, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more awesome.

!!!!!!!!!!!

I requested that if my friends ever send me anything in the mail, it be themselves. So, thoughtful as Grace is, she sent me a mini-cardboard cutout of herself (to the right of the cookies) on top of the best box of cookies ever, a life-size Santa hat and a children’s book which I’ve already read twice to my students (Grace and I have a tradition of giving each other children’s books as gifts–I think that’s pretty cool). It’s hard to beat those gifts, especially when my students came over later with gift-wrapped fruits and a can of cola. I was so confused.

Rather than calling Christmas Eve “Christmas Eve,” the Chinese refer to it as Silent Night, or literally translated from Chinese, Peace Night (pinganye, 平安夜). The tradition–I now understand–is to give apples (pingguo, 苹果) to wish someone peacefulness. I also got an orange (juzi, 橘子) to symbolize good fortune and a can of Pepsi (kele, 可乐) to symbolize happiness. Clever, but also a waste of plastic–oh negative Nancy, it’s the thought that counts!

As for Christmas Day, my spirits were eventually lifted when my aunt and uncle arrived from Kunming, and we rushed off to catch my cousin perform in a typical Chinese “gala”–the kind of event you see on any Chinese TV channel–which consists of food, drinks and live performances. We ended the night eating hot pot, not exactly Christmasy, but it was shared with family. If I recall correctly, this is the first Christmas since junior year of high school that I’ve spent with my parents because they were always either working or were already in China. Growing up, I mostly celebrated Christmas with family friends, which–while I consider them family too–was always still a bit lonely.

Well, Christmas flew by this year; it came and went. But this is just the beginning of the holiday season! I expect Chinese New Years to be explosively festive (lots of fireworks involved I hear)!

Any-Cindy-Lou-Who, it’s time for bed. Stuffed to the brim, it’s going to be hard to fall asleep tonight…

To end another Christmas, I leave you with a classic. Wham!

Merry Christmas (to those who celebrate)! Happy Holidays!


It’s Thanksgiving! Here’s What I’m Grateful For:

  • a full stomach
  • loving parents, no matter how unbearable they can be at times
  • friends for the rest of my life, who love me for the silly way I am
  • WordPress, because I’ve learned so much, shared so much, and have met so many inspiring people I would never have met otherwise
  • the ability to see, hear, smell, taste and feel
  • my parents, again, for working tirelessly their entire lives so that I may enjoy all that I now have in my life (including the new pair of boots I got today!)
  • mobility–including the privilege of travel which has opened my eyes wider than any book or lecture (and just to take a moment to brag, these are the countries I have visited: Guatemala, Morocco, Portugal, Amsterdam, Spain, Germany, Japan, France, and Italy.)
  • public transportation, though it can be such a hassle
  • my college adviser, June, who I admire so much for her compassion, brilliance and kindness
  • my “almond shaped” eyes and dimples (thanks to mama dearest)
  • being bilingual–my salary is higher because of it
  • a conscience that told me not to accept the job teaching English at a monster corporation (New Oriental, it literally has an office in every corner of China) that robs students of their money and teachers of their sanity.
  • Gmail/gchat because I can keep in touch with my friends across the ocean
  • Time Out Beijing.com because it just informed me that a Hello Kitty themed restaurant is opening up in Beijing (I haven’t had the chance to mention the Hello Kitty store I came across in Chongqing yet). Keeps my life exciting!
  • farmer’s markets (in the US) because their produce is just so fresh and the prices are unbeatable!
  • not just one, but several roofs over my head. I feel like I have a home wherever I go. That’s surely something to be grateful for.

There is infinitely more I am grateful for, but it would be impossible to list them all here.

So, Gobble Gobble to those who celebrate Thanksgiving! And Thank You, to those who make life worth living!