Sunshiney Day

It’s one of those days where everything is dandy and not necessarily coming up roses, but pretty yellow weeds.

My view

The sun is up, the sky is blue, the pollen content is off the charts, the wind is strong and all the girls (including me) have to hold down their skirts because they didn’t wear the right underwear today.

I’m enjoying a very romantic moment by myself, waiting for my department’s International Friendship Day Picnic (yes, do laugh at this!), sitting in a little park on campus next to running water from a man-made pond, pondering the meaning of friendship and wondering if there will be enough food at the picnic. 

What a perfect afternoon…

**SNEEZE** 


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.


Brooklyn, The Place Where People Say Hello

I have been in New York City for 2 weeks now, visiting friends and places I’ve missed in the past 9 months of living in Beijing.

As happy as I am to be surrounded by friends again, I can’t help but feel out of place here. Feeling out of place in the city I considered “home” is a truly shitty situation to be in when I only have 2 months to re-immerse. Perhaps it’s counter culture shock, or I feel lost because I can’t remember the name of every station and connecting line of every subway train, or maybe I’ve just changed a lot. I can’t pinpoint the exact reason for this strange feeling, but it better go away soon because I’d like to enjoy myself thoroughly this vacation.

Now how about the good stuff. Well as the title of this post says, Brooklyn is a place where people say hello and it’s awesome! I’ve done a lot of strolling these past few weeks, reacquainting with my old neighborhood. During these strolls, countless people said hi, waved, smiled, nodded, said hello in Chinese, cat called. One guy, middle-aged, waved hello and said hi to every single person he walked past, including people in cars. A little boy with long, curly blonde hair ran past an elderly man sitting on a lawn chair in front of his Park Slope apartment on a busy sidewalk yelling HELLLLOOO! These are just two instances of friendly greetings that put a gigantic smile on my face.

When I was walking up 2nd Ave. in Manhattan, I noticed a short, Latino man karate-chopping some scaffolds. I gave him a smile, acknowledging his Jackie Chan-equivalent skillz and continued on. Then I heard, “China (‘chee-na’), China, do you like to eat?” to which I responded, “YEAH I like to eat (duh!!!)” “You wanna get some lunch with me? Or some coffee? I’d like to buy you something to eat.” “Oh, no thank you, I just ate. Look at my leftovers! Maybe another time.” “Alright…another time baby.”

At the Delicate Steve show last night at Mercury Lounge, somebody mistook me for the Asian keyboardist of the opening band, People Get Ready. I was chatting about China with a bouncer I used to know from my days of frequenting bars. The bouncer had just said something about me wearing all red (haha, China, Communist, get it?), when another dude interrupted to ask me something. I thought he asked, “Are you a spy???” thinking maybe he was just chiming in on our China conversation, so I said, hahaha yes, I AM a spy! He was like, huh? Well, did you? Did I what? DID YOU JUST PLAY? I finally understood he thought I was the girl from People Get Ready. No siree, I know all of us Asians look exactly the same and I’m flattered you thought I was her because she was beautiful and hip, but unfortunately I am not her. I am Emily He, queen of all that is good and holy.

I’m sitting in a sunny cafe called Tiny Cup drinking delicious Counter Culture coffee (HOW IRONIC) and life is good. My mind is all over the place, likely from too much caffeine in one sitting. The brownstones on all the tree-lined streets and people hanging out on their stoops are so Brooklyn-y. Drinking coffee, listening to indie music and blogging on my Mac is so Brooklyn-y. Mommies pushing their babies around, mail-men and -women chatting with the locals and kids running through the streets after school is all so Brooklyn-y. Everything takes time. It’s going to take time for me to get back in the swing of what it means to be Brooklyn. But wait, I think what I loved most about Brooklyn is that everyone can be exactly who they are and still find their niche or niches or even complete isolation if that’s what they want.

So, I need to let down my hair (after I get my haircut tomorrow!) and just be myself and embrace every moment I have in this awesome city I once, and still can, call home. Oooooh, optimism is a good feeling. It’s good to be back.

 

 


Emily, The Awkward Turtle 2: Never Set Emily Up With A Boy

An interesting thing happened the other night. Someone tried to set me up with a Taiwanese man. A girly one.

I went out to dinner with Dingding, her boyfriend and a couple of new folks, Frank and May (not real names). Frank and May are having an affair; May married with a child, and Frank, a coworker. May explained to me that she wasn’t cheating on her husband because she was having an “affair.” That confused me because I thought having an affair was cheating. And so, I asked el internet. (I’ll get back to my Taiwanese encounter as soon as I figure this out.)

Wikipedia: 

An “emotional affair” can be defined as follows:

“A relationship between a person and someone other than (their) spouse (or lover) that has an impact on the level of intimacy, emotional distance and overall dynamic balance in the marriage. The role of an affair is to create emotional distance in the marriage.”[1]

In this view, neither sexual intercourse nor physical affection is necessary to impact the committed relationship(s) of those involved in the affair. It is held that an emotional affair can injure a committed relationship more than a one night stand or other casual sexual encounters.

Oprah:

Are you wondering whether you are having an emotional affair?

  • Do you avoid telling your partner how much time you spend or talk with the other person?
  • Do you tell this person more about your day than your partner? Do you even tell him about your marital dissatisfaction?
  • Do you “ready your appearance” to see him?
  • Is there a sexual attraction (spoken or unspoken) between you?
  • Would you feel guilty if your partner saw you together?

If you answer yes to two or more of these questions, get out of there. You are cheating!


Okay. So according to Wiki and Oprah and several other internet sources, an emotional affair is worse than infidelity, which is physical cheating. I don’t know how many yes’s May has to Oprah’s questions, but she defines her relationship with Frank as an affair and regardless of what Oprah and Wiki say, I’ll just take her word for it that she’s not cheating. She just has feelings for a man who is not her husband.

I miss feelings. I miss having crushes on people like I’m in middle school. I don’t like people setting me up with others unless they’re actually really cool and attractive. Sound shallow? Well, there are certain things people should be picky about. A potential mate is one of them.

As I was saying at the beginning of this post, I was at dinner with Dingding and friends (at this DELICIOUS, 1.5 hour wait, tiny mom-and-pop Sichuan cuisine shop). I was the 5th wheel, but I didn’t mind. Not having a partner means I get to have full portions to myself. F*$! sharing. I’m an only child with a big appetite.

We are all chatting having a grand ol’ time until May decides to set me up with one of her friends. John, the Taiwanese fella, lives nearby, so she calls him up and he comes on over. Black button up shirt, black slacks, a shoulder bag. Meh, not my style, but not terrible. He says hello cheerily to all the others and looks at me like he knows what May was stewing. I give him an awkward, overly friendly wave, he sits down and begins chatting away with Frank and May. Fine with me! Then May nudges me and asks me why I’m not talking to John, who’s sitting just a few seats away, putting me in a very awkward situation. Well because he’s sitting there waving his hands and fingers all over town like a valley girl, not looking at me ever, WHICH I AM FINE WITH, and to be honest, he’s not very interesting. Did I forget to mention that I’m not into Asians? “Oh, he’s really nice. I’m just really awkward.”

(These are some of the photos that came up under image search “awkward”:

Can someone please explain why there are so many animals involved with “awkward”?) 

So May, a friend I might have to cross off my list, starts talking about me to John, saying things like, “Emily is from America,” and “She’s going to Taiwan in July.” Of course I’m not going to Taiwan in July, but okay, to humor everyone else at the table. This is what I chime in, “Taiwanese food is so good!” to which he responds, “Mmhm.” We were a match made in heaven.

Then as all new friendships progress, everyone exchanges Weibo (Chinese twitter) information. As John is busy doing so, I violently, but hopefully not too conspicuously, shake my head at Dingding as to say, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO to her sudden interest in this “set up”. I’m a little shocked that she thinks John and I would make a good couple. My friends back home (in America) would NEVER set me up with a John, and for that, I love them so so so so much.

We finally leave the restaurant and thank God — if there is one — that John is not coming to the bar with us. As we bid him farewell, forever from me, John begs May, “Please don’t say anything yet! Please please please, not while I’m still here!” I think he was just as disinterested in me as I was in him. Phew. Although also a little bit insulting. People always wants what they can’t have, but in this case, I still don’t want him.

As we head over to the bar, May asks why I’m not interested in John. But before I can answer, she explains to me how many Taiwanese men are quite girly. The way John spoke, the way he flicked his wrists when speaking, just part of his Taiwanese nature. I’m sure this isn’t true of all Taiwanese men (HELLOOO? Jeremy Lin!), but John, he’s just….not for me.

I’m itching for some companionship, but being set up is not the way to do it. It/I was too awkward and uncomfortable. I prefer doing it my own way, whatever that way is, even if it takes a million years and a lot of mistakes. At least I can learn from my mistakes. But do I?


to be a kid again

If Peter Pan showed up at my window and asked me to join him in Neverland, I would fly away in a heartbeat. I’m only 23, but I can feel that as time ticks away, so do bits and pieces of things I treasured most in my childhood, like my imagination.

When I was little, the rooms of my dream house were connected by tunnels and slides. I built forts out of sofa cushions and blankets and it never felt small. One year the Tooth Fairy left me a purple crystal with my tooth in it, and other years she left me money under my pillow. But now that I’m an “adult” who “knows better,” I won’t expect an allowance under my pillow when my teeth begin to fall out, because that’s Life, as much as I wish it wasn’t.

The other day I noticed a little girl, maybe 2-3 years old, who stood wide-eyed before paper butterflies that hung from the ceiling at a mall entrance, marveling at the slight flapping of their wings from the breeze of the swinging doors. I had walked by this display earlier and thought how cheesy the decorations were, but watching the girl in fascination over the fake flowers and butterflies, I realized how much I miss seeing beauty in the ordinary. For a second I tried to envision what the girl saw–a thousand rainbow butterflies floating above a colorful meadow, sparkling with reflections of the sun. In that moment, I too could see the beauty of the cheap  display at the mall entrance. But a moment later, I walked out the swinging door and yelled at a driver for running a red light.

One of the reasons I love kids so much is that I am fascinated by them. They find beauty in ordinary things; they can make things come alive; they find life in obscure places and aren’t afraid to approach them; they don’t complicate things unnecessarily; they don’t discriminate; and they are fearless. Life can be taken at face value when you’re young and untainted. And when Life gets hard, kids can escape to worlds conjured up in their own minds, whereas adults hide their pain behind beer and pill bottles. It’s a shame we have to grow up.

Before I got into my first relationship, I remember wanting to feel heartache. I thought it was part of growing up, of  being human, and I wanted to experience it. Of course it hurt a lot when it actually happened, and rather than having spent hours upon hours analyzing what went wrong, I wish I could’ve just escaped to Neverland, or to an island where the Wild Things live. Reality would have been much easier to cope with.

After my parents’ divorce, I was glad to be far away from them so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Unfortunately, like Dementors, Life seeped its way across the ocean to interfere with my usual cheerfulness. During that time I often wished to be a kid again, where living in blissful ignorance innocence veiled any and all miseries.

No one should have to grow up “too fast” but when they do, it’s nearly always a painful process. My family members often tell me how 单纯 (danchun), “simple, naive” I am, a fact that I think is ascribed to my Americanized upbringing. My cousin, on the other hand, grew up in China with divorced parents — still a taboo at the time — and a mother who didn’t act like one. While her parents carried on with their own misery or when her mother was absent, my cousin had to fend for herself. Besides what she dealt with at home, she saw ugliness outside too. She learned about Life and all its hardships at a young age when kids I grew up with in Brookline, Massachusetts were playing tag and painting pictures at daycare. Now at  22 years old, my cousin looks, acts and thinks far beyond her age, and definitely far beyond me. The painful part of all of this besides a lost childhood? She wants to be close to her mother.

Perhaps this is a generalization, but from my observations and conversations with adults and children alike, I’ve concluded this: Chinese kids grow up too fast. By the time they’re teenagers, imagination is drilled out of them. One of my biggest difficulties when teaching is getting my students to be creative. They are not yet adults, and they are playful, but their minds have been molded to fit exam bubbles. And this is just the result of the education system; Life, as it was for my cousin, is the other predator.

I started volunteering at a migrant worker community center on the outskirts of Beijing a couple weeks ago. Just being around the kids there is uplifting and even refreshing. They remind me how even the simplest things, like throwing a hackeysack in the air by yourself, can be fun. And getting dirt on your clothes, hands and face is no big deal (as long as you wash up with soap before sticking anything in your mouth). My responsibilities at the center are lacking, but just spending time with the kids is worth the 1 hour 45 minute commute.

As you can probably tell I’m reminiscent of childhood (but I wouldn’t go so far as to start acting like a baby). I like to believe that some of my imagination is still intact and that the rooms of my future house will be accessible by slides. Also, perhaps as subconscious resistance to growing up completely, I find the most enjoyment in stories/plots with child protagonists. Stories like The Little Prince, Where The Wild Things Are, Harry Potter, and Millions take me back to the best days of my life and remind me how precious it is to be a kid. Yes, they are all written by adults, but by adults whom I admire very much for their ability to tell stories from the point of view of size 2 shoes, a wolf suit, and a crown.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m living at home again, or the fact that babies are everywhere in China, or the fact that Life throws negativities once in a while that has stirred me to think about my childhood so much lately. I also recently read Dave Eggers’ The Wild Things. More likely, though, it is a combination of all these factors. I can’t remember when my first time saying “I wish I were a kid again” was, but it has since become a commonly used phrase in my life. I know it’s never going to happen, but maybe if I wish for it at my next birthday and blow out all the candles, it will come true.

Meanwhile, I’m just “drafting through Fairyland…”

I thought I should mention, as I was writing this post, “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell came on, brilliantly summing up everything I just babbled about and gently bringing me back to earth. The world works in funny ways, even for adults, doesn’t it?

Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star

Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like when you’re older must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game *

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels thru the town
And they tell him take your time it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

– Joni Mitchell


Babytalk: A Phenomenon!

Does every couple develop a dialect/accent/language/voice of their own? Particularly babytalk? Is it necessary for lovers to speak to one another in babytalk in order for the other to understand? Do they think it disguises what they’re saying from others around them even though it’s a universal language?

I haven’t been in a relationship in a while and I can’t remember if my ex and I had a secret language. Yes, sometimes I spoke to him in a higher, goo-goo-ga-ga-ly pitch asking things like, “Do you really love me? Do you REAAAAAAAALLLLLLY love me? How much? THIS much? Okay okay, I wuv you tooo!” I’m exaggerating, but it seems like all couples have a special way of communicating such insecurities. But must we talk like babies to do so??

I have a friend who-shall-not-be-named who shares a special dialect of English/Irish/babytalk with her boyfriend that is mostly used, from my observations, when talking about their feelings. If their conversation transitions into something more serious, like about work and school, they use regular English. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very cute accent they share, but I’m still curious as to why their voices digress to infant-hood when wishing each other good night?

Another friend who-shall-not-be-named seems to have permanently engaged babytalk. Her boyfriend has adapted to this language very well, and I dare say 75% of their conversations (at least around me) are spoken in this obnoxious pitch. To get in on the dialogue, I had to adjust the level of my own voice to match theirs. If this offers any explanation to the phenomenon, they are Chinese, and from what I’ve seen on Chinese television, babytalk is commonly used by young women.


In fact, the baby is so darn cute these days that adult women not only emulate them in speech, but also in habit. At a restaurant several weeks ago, my cousins and I were appalled to see a 20-something Chinese woman suck on a baby bottle!!!!! Filled with milk!! In public!!! All the while she was taking photos of herself with puckered lips and too much hair in her face. The woman sitting across from her, presumably her mother, was unmoved. My cousins and I, on the other hand, oh we were moved. We were moved by the way she couldn’t actually suck the milk out of the nipple so she unscrewed the top and sipped from the rim. She’s an adult after all! 

It just occurred to me that my friends who have been in really long relationships – the married type and the soon-to-be married type – including my parents and my friends’ parents, do not break out in special languages/accents/dialects/babytalk with their partners. I wonder if it’s because they grow out of it, just like babies do? Or maybe because they master keeping it an actual secret? Or because couples who have been together for so long no longer need to express their feelings through absurd voices?

Like I said, I have not been in a relationship in a while and can’t remember what it’s like communicating with a lover. But I hope when the next boyfriend rolls along, we won’t confess our love for each other like overgrown babies. At least not in front of other people.


Emily is M.I.A. (yes, just like the Sri Lankan electro-pop star)

The reason I haven’t been posting/commenting/liking/responding to anybody is because I’ve been busy doing this:

Jumping for freedom at the Forbidden City,

getting my exercise on at the Great Wall,

curing my sweet tooth at the Summer Palace,

(not) getting lost with my best NYU-comrade (Lucia's visiting from Americuh),

and crowd-surfing at Chinese "rock" concerts. Just kidding. That's not me, but next time it will be.

A picture says a million words. I gave you a 5 million word explanation for my absence. I can get really, really, really, really wordy.

Anyhow, Lucia and I will be off to Hong Kong (29 hour train ride) tomorrow, then to Guilin (23 hours back), my momma’s birthplace. We’ll be back in 9 days, simultaneously pooped and refreshed!

Until then, my friends, as the 13 year-old-boy I used to AIM chat with said, “Love, peace, and hair grease”.

(Like my new shades? Got ’em today during our crazy shopping escapades which I’ll get into later!)