Wednesday, February 27, 2013

方式 上海

Shanghai is everything at once but in a favorable way.  It’s all you would expect from a city of 23 million, not only the largest in China, but the world: the clamor, the energy, the purpose, the evolution.   Unhinged motion is contrasted by elderly steadiness.  Whifs of pungent sewage between hot steamed dumplings.  Car horns, yelling merchants, sizzling woks, rogue cats, laughing children, chirping birds.  And surprisingly, many trees and parks amongst towering concrete.  Granted, it’s not the rolling hills of the Finger Lakes or the rising slopes of the Adirondacks, but I feel the beauty.  It’s in layers and I’ve barely brushed the surface. 

For all the hype and preparation I’ve rattled through my mind, I’m surprisingly not as intimidated by the city.  It’s bizarre being amongst all these people I look similar with, but Shanghai is so in flux with migrants and foreigners, it’s incredible to recognize the diversity of the Chinese.  When alone, I’m not given a second glance, but I receive a lot of muddled stares when I’m buzzing in English with Caucasian-looking students.  This is our program orientation week and it’s wonderful meeting students from all over the U.S. (and abroad) who are curious and eager to explore China.  There already exists a delicate divide between those who are highly functional in Mandarin and those who are not.  At the same time, I’d challenge those students to apply the same skills in a Chinese household.  They may be able to order food and taxis smoothly, but it’s a confidence level I’m determined to achieve.  

Speaking of which, my host family is amazing.  I have never  felt so immediately welcome, accommodated, and honestly appreciated into a household this quickly.  I have a host mom and grandma, Wàipó; my mom’s husband works in Germany and her son attends boarding school in Boston.  They’ve been hosting U.S. students for several years now, and I’m their tenth!  Needless to say she knows the routine and has provided all the necessities for an awesome experience.  We live on the second floor of an enormous (at least 30 floor), pink apartment building; but that sort of size in standard in Shanghai.  Everything seems to be built up, since there’s no more room to go out.  Out of the 86 CIEE participants this semester, there are about 25 of us with host families.  St. Lawrence requires us to lodge with families, though it makes the most sense because it’s the best way to immerse into the culture.  I’ve already resurrected a lot of rusty Chinese from two years ago!   Oh man, and the food.  I don’t know where to start… that’ll have to be a post on its own!

From the right: my host mother, me, Wàipó, my host mom's sister and her cousin.  We visited on Sunday night to celebrate the end of the Chinese new year (lunar calendar), which was the lantern festival.
The food is delicious.  So many new textures, cooking styles, sauces and tastes!  I'm going to try everything at least once.  So far I haven't been disappointed, although jelly fish is more crunchy, slimy and tasteless.  When I arrived Sunday, I helped my host mom and her friend make pork jiaozi, or dumplings!  They are fantastic and at least 50 different varieties.     

A canal and lovely gardens throughout the ECNU campus.

I’m off to have breakfast now and continue orientation at East China Normal University.  Today we have a language proficiency test that will determine our Chinese class placement next week.  I’m also going to a tutoring training session with the intents of teaching English to migrant children every week.  Then CIEE has an acrobatics show planned at the Shanghai circus!  I’m quite tired and still adjusting to the time difference, but no doubt I am loving where I am right now.

Listening: "Help I'm Alive" by Metric.

Friday, February 22, 2013

China and What It Means to Me

I've thought about writing this for a while now, unable to decide if I should or not.  It's multi-faceted; I can't even articulate it well to myself.  Yet I suppose if I've invited you along for the ride, I should try to explain why going to China means so much to me, rather than simply a semester abroad.

Well, I can't write that part off-- studying abroad is a tremendous privilege.  At St. Lawrence, our small college of 2,400 students has an off-campus study participation rate hovering around 55%, and is even higher including summer programs.  It's natural to arrive at school and begin planning which part of the world you want to explore for the semester or year, after the first few days!  Especially for juniors, there's such enthusiasm for breaking out of the SLU "bubble" for a while, then upon return appreciating campus so much more.

However, for many others, studying abroad isn't second nature.  In 2010, the U.S. had 20.3 million students of higher education, which includes associate's degrees, 4 year schools, graduate school, etc.  According to the Institute of International Education, there were 273,996 students abroad for the 2010-2011 academic year.  I guess that gives a sense of where my peers and I fit in the larger context of privilege with our educational opportunities.  And for me, being able to study in a foreign country for the second time!  

I was one of the students that knew exactly which programs I had to take advantage of as soon as I was accepted to St. Lawrence: France and China.  In retrospect, France was dissatisfying in the sense that our program was so well established, that we were essentially coddled.  Having a group of 12 students in the same classroom, on every trip together, interacting daily, with the same recurring conversations-- was exhausting.  I wished for greater immersion with other French students, in spite of the institutional, social and cultural boundaries.  I did achieve that a bit, exemplifying the importance of taking risks beyond the comfort zone and reaping the rewards.  Regardless, I had an incredible semester, tested my confidence and intuition, and realized my capabilities (sort of).  I have deep fondness for la vie francaise, so I'll definitely keep going back.

China, on the other hand, may prove to be an entirely different level.  
I was adopted from the People's Republic when I was two months old, at the glorious blessing of my parents  who are from Buffalo/Rochester/Honeoye/currently Florida.  I was abandoned at a hospital without any records, documents, notes; whisked away to an orphanage and fortunately placed under the foster care of a British missionary.  I've known my entire life that I was adopted, but the circumstances are merely up to speculation.  Growing up has included the defense of my cleft lip surgery ("Why are your lips so weird?" quipped second graders), the frustrating moment when my middle school science teacher scolded me for not filling in the genetic inheritance section of my homework (and he knew my parents, so...), and the sobering insult from a Chinese student at college who blatantly said that because I cannot speak Mandarin, I am not really Chinese.  That one hurt.  But it's true: I am American, born Chinese.  This past fall I did intensive exploration on my cultural identity, trying to ease myself psychologically into the pending trip.  I'm bracing myself to return to my country of birth for the first time in 20 years. 

The hand over... there ain't no turning back now! 

 Hi, Mom.
 Chubby cheeks since November, '92.

At this point, I'm so thrilled to finally be on my way.  This has been the longest winter break ever, but actually I've appreciated the time to reflect (and tan).  I have to admit, though, that I'm scared.  I'm scared of misunderstandings, scared of feeling lost, scared of discovering things or not finding what I want, scared of wanting to fit in and not knowing how, and scared of feeling so different.  But this anxiety is overcome because I know that I have the endless support from my family and friends, their love and faith in me that has carried me this far.  It's going to be tough, but this is what I want to do, what I have to do.  My goal is to embrace China and any of its rough edges, and hopefully reconnect in some sense to my heritage.  Patience and an open mind will guide my way.

Thank you for taking this time to read this personal explanation of why going to China means so much to me.  I'm leaving tonight, at 9:45 from Boston with two other SLU girls in my program.  I still can't conceptualize this, but ready or not Shanghai... here I come.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Apply, deny, and move on

Well, it's that phase of life again.
That time where you start defining yourself on a single sheet of paper.  Neatly aligned, perfected margins, though minimized breaks between lines so you can type as much as possible.  You tailor, you proof, others read, you revise and the process continues until you're sick of reading you're gloating and accomplishments.  Yet, if you believe that you've represented yourself in the best way possible, you're on track.  Attach, cross your fingers, and hit send -- because nowadays most employers prefer the efficiency and sustainability of electronic applications.  Then, reel backwards with spirit fingers and a rush of adrenaline, relief, and uncertainty, mentally begging the powers that be to shed favorable light so that you're offered the job, internship, or admission (what, does no one else do that?).

It's like senior year of high school: the all-too familiar process of applications.  It's anxiety-inducing, throwing yourself out there; for judgement, for their decision as to whether you're worth something or not-- worthy of their employment, at least.  Occasionally I wish that I was a Buddhist monk living in Laos with an active focus on existing the present, because all this future-pushing is nauseating.  Especially today, in a world that thrives from innovation, initiative, and staying ahead of the curve.  It's frustrating and disappointing too, because all of three of my major potential plans for the summer are now down the drain.

Rejections can be rattling.  A few years ago, the college application processed consumed me.  Mainly, I think, because I had basically worked seven or eight years towards the 'dream' school.  Even then I was infuriated that somewhere, heartless admissions officers could discard my transcript that I had dedicated so much of my life to in one glance because numbers didn't fit the bill.  Well, not all schools are like that.  Fortunately, I still landed at my dream school although it wasn't the most academically rigorous, and I learned     a bit more about the people and processes surrounding college admission (assuredly complex).

The point is, it sucks to be told that we aren't good enough.  I love the idea of setting standards for ourselves, but reality tends to pin us to the standards of someone else (and society for that matter).  When these expectations aren't met, it's a difficult realization, sometimes a condescending sit back down and wait your turn.  I'm just here to remind me, you and everyone else that a rejection isn't a judgement of your character, nor a testimony of your self-worth.  Just because you were not the right person for them today doesn't mean you won't be the right person for someone else another day.  Heck, if the world isn't reacting, you could carve your own niche and watch others flock your way.  You are intelligent, you are capable, and the things that you do matter.  Regardless of what a cordial e-mail (or even better, a typed letter!) reads, you are still awesome at life.  Okay, so maybe this was more of a pep-talk for me, but really; put forth your best, wallow if it doesn't work out-- though only for a moment.  Keep the vibes positive.

So I'm back at square one, vigorously applying for internships while I'm still in a familiar location (because I have the feeling that moving to China while render me a bit busier).  As I stand back up in this battle for recognition, acceptance, and experience, I'm not only reassuring to my parents that I have a regard for the future; it's a vague reassurance to myself that there are always more things to come, and an assertion to the world that I'm willing to take it on.


On a more fantastic note from the weekend, my parents and I visited the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota!  I have fondness for aquariums, as I was vaguely interested in pursuing marine biology growing up.  My dislike for the technicalities of science clearly swayed me otherwise, but I'm still enraptured by the marvels of the oceans and seas.  It's like... who needs to find new planets and galaxies when we already have an entire universe encompassing 70% of this Earth?!  According to Discovery News, two-thirds of the planet's marine species still remain unknown.  Though what I was able to see, touch, and smell at the aquarium was utterly captivating.

Clown fish + anemone = quintessential oceanic harmony (symbiosis). 
Jelly fish that look like they're defying gravity in a space shuttle (it was a thin glass tank)!
The other-worldly, chameleon cuttlefish.  I once saw them on t.v., and in real life they're just fascinating.  Most of them in the tank convened in the corner, all the same sandy shade.. it's cuttle time!
More jelly fest.
Sea horses!  There were also sea dragons.
Another alien cuttlefish caught from behind, it's fins fluttering and propelling away.
You didn't think I'd leave out a manatee picture, did you?
Mote Aquarium has two of this big boys, born in 1984 and '87.  These thousand-plus pound floating, drifting mammoths (actually, an aquatic relative of the elephant) consume 150 pounds worth of lettuce a day, plus treats like carrots, apples, celery.. by far my favorite vegetarians.  Oh, and one of the mantaees was the one who squashed his nose against the tank glass.  They're so cute it hurts.

 Mote is unique in that it is one of the few remaining research marine centers in the U.S. that not affiliated with a university and independently funded.  At $18 (discounts for children and seniors), you have access to the main aquarium building that presents the various marine ecosystems of Florida, a huge shark/ray/fish tank, an interactive tide pool (I poked a few starfish and sea cucumbers), trainings and shows that are more tendered for children but informative nonetheless, a bird sanctuary, and a turtle-dolphin-manatee rehab and care center.  This visit reminded me of how spectacular the world is (and how little we know, along with how much we need to do to protect it).  And my day continued, irradiating a bit more curiosity and joy.  If you're ever in the area, go there.. rr any aquarium for that matter!  It might reignite your inner Jacques Cousteau, or Steve Zissou

Listening: "Flamingos" by the Fruit Bats"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Alone, but not really

1 1/2 pounds of butter + several hundreds of grams of sugar and chocolate + a few table spoons of crème de menthe liqueur = An intoxicatingly (yup, just made that word) delightful combination for the human senses, in the form of mint chocolate brownies.  With an electric beater they were deceptively simple to make, though next time I may tweak the butter ratio with applesauce and oil so I'm not heaving over in pain later.  BUT IT'S WORTH IT.  You can find the recipe here!
Yup, I baked those while my mom was playing bingo with other ladies (biddies, did you know, connotated older gossipy ladies, not necessarily the girls throwin' it down in booty skirts?) and my dad had his 'bachelor night' with a nice glass of Evan William's cherry reserve whiskey on the rocks.  I learn from the best.
I gave the smaller dish to my dad's aunt and uncle who now have moved into Florida down the street, and my parents and I are in the process of working on the big pan.  Happy Valentine's Day to us!

But more importantly:

I'm not a consistent viewer of Parks & Recreation but Amy Poehler rocks my world for establishing Galentine's Day.  I'm not hating on Saint Valentine, because he definitely had his heart in the right place, but this is also International Quirkyalone Day and simply.. another day.  I'm not rejecting the actual romance and sentiments expressed between lovers; just the gag-worthy, Hallmark couple-industrial complex that polarizes those with and those without 'someone special'.  There's also too much pressure to make grand statements on this day-- why can't we express love in our own way, on our own accord?  Maybe I'll change my mind if I ever have a particular Valentine that sweeps me off my feet.

I participated in a fair amount of self-love today with some new clothes, a solo trip to the movies (Warm Bodies, can't wait to gush about it), a delicious restaurant date with my parents and no guilt for eating the brownies above and ordering cheesecake from said restaurant.  After hugs and long-winded letters, love resonates with me most clearly through food; but that's another story.

So to demonstrate my own hypocrisy about overblown gestures: I'm making a grand blogging statement to the ladies of my life, near and far, that keep me sane while supporting my insanity.  Although I'm alone, I'm not really, thanks to my friendships with you.

Through the dances and tears, secrets and fears, the laughs we've shared, regardless of the time we've known each other, you all mean an inexpressible amount to me-- I have your backs, as I know you have mine.  For that alone, I couldn't feel more loved.  The main point the New York Mag and I agree upon is that we don't need Galentine's Day because we should celebrate friendship on a regular basis, but I am all for it today.  Love you, sistas!

To anyone else who's reading, I hope you had a beautiful day.  Don't forget to you love yourself, and that you are worth something special to your family, friends, the world and me for being such a great audience.  Cheers!

Listening: "Gone" by M83

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Everglades

Yesterday, we drove to Everglades National Park that encompasses the lower 20% of Florida.  According to Wikipedia, it's the largest subtropical wilderness and third-largest national park in the continental U.S. (after Death Valley and Yellowstone).  It is an International Biosphere Reserve, a United Nations World Heritage Site, a Wetland of International Importance-- and one of only three locations in the world to be categorized as this combination.
The tremendous wetland is a system of forests, canals, estuaries, lakes, rivers, mangroves, fresh and saltwater.  At practically a million visitors every year, it's possible to observe 350 species of birds, 300 species of fish, 40 species of mammals and 50 species of reptiles.  The ancient, brilliant American alligator is easily spotted wherever there was a stream of water and a sunny embankment.

It's incredible to find these creatures everywhere that withstood against the tests of time, evolution, climate change, humans and everything in between.  This alligator here was an easy 13 feet in length..!
Even amidst the marshes and swamps, there was charred evidence of brush fires.
We actually didn't go too far into the park-- it requires a lot of driving, or $40 a piece for an airboat ride-- but we explored a bit of the Big Cypress National Preserve.  The bald cypress tree dominates the coastal plains of the south with their unique root system that grows stump-like knees to maximize water absorption.  I was astounded to learn that they can be over 1,700 years old!  Talk about another well-evolved specimen.

I loved the air plants nestled in the nooks of trees.  They are bromeliads with dangling roots, but secure water and nutrients by growing on other trees.  Pineapples are bromeliads, if you didn't know!

Ha, and that's the end of the nature lesson.  It was a cool opportunity to see a culture and ecosystem that is truly distinctive of the American South.  The cities are far and few between, but I had the distinct impression of struggled existence.  The Everglades greatest threat is human development.  Yet, the only people you saw were tourists and southern transplants in trailers, between the rickety, wooden crab traps, abandoned boats and restaurants far past their hey day.  Then again, we just drove through.
At home I finished another acrylic painting on stretched canvas, this time of manatees!  As you probably know, I'm quite fond of these docile sea cows.  I was trying to push the envelope a bit and go beyond my usual one-note realism of landscapes.  The original inspiration came from a painting we saw in a store, but I took my own creative license: repetition of brush stroke movement and slightly surreal, fauvist color usage.  
Yay manatees!

Major Florida vibes goin' on here.  I have one week to crank out a few more paintings, roller blade my heart out and soak up the sun before I leave for Boston, and 9 days until China!  I'm rewriting my notes from my freshman year of Chinese, but I'm worried that it won't stick.  If I won't do well on the proficiency exam, I'll end up in a lower level class relearning everything, rather than progressing.  Ah, the curse of procrastination; or better yet, selective productivity (doing everything except what needs to be done).  Whatever, things will come together as they always do.  Happy hump day!

Listening: "Waste" by Foster the People

Monday, February 11, 2013


So Grace Potter & the Nocturnals performed at my college last night.  It's her band's 10th anniversary and she attended St. Lawrence for two years, while co-founder Matt Burr is an alum.  Apparently everyone was drunkenly crazed for the sold-out, Sunday night show in the old field house!  I'm not surprised, and it sounds like a riot!  If you haven't listened to Grace yet, you should look up her song "Stars" which was on the sound track for the Disney movie Tangled.
While 1,500 miles south, I was watching the Grammy's.  This is not a pity party, I swear; I'm definitely making the best of things.  I spent the day with my parents and relatives from Ohio who just bought a house down here, and we went kayaking with the manatees again.  I paddled more closely to them this time, like the adorable, 4 foot, 60 pound baby manatee that bobbed up and down in the shallow waters.  Regarding the Grammy awards, hell yeah to the Black Keys for winning 3 from the rock genre.  I commend Jack White too, for remaining his grizzly, no fucks rock n' roll self.  I was also pleased to see that no one really 'swept' the awards across the board.. that tends to be boring.  My favorite part was Bruno Mars' performance of "Locked Out of Heaven" that morphed into a Bob Marley tribute with Sting, Rhianna, Ziggy and Damian Marley.  (Sorry not sorry for the pop culture reviews, but that's what happens when you have an extra three weeks of winter break and an accessible television :B)

I was delighted on Friday to receive a huge photo order from an iPhone app called Postal Pix!  I printed over a year's worth of photos, in 2x2" square format, regular 4x6" and even a collage.  I'm a complete photo junkie, so I love that these memories are finally tangible.  Although they have to come down next week, the photos are now displayed in my bedroom with string, tape and paper clips.  Now I can clear up my phone memory for more photography in China..!

And coming soon to a mail box near you... painted post cards! :)
Along with some emotions on paper.  I may continue this as a series.

I just finished this canvas board acrylic on Saturday.  It was inspired by a sketch from freshman year studio art, referencing the natural, stylism of Japonisme.
 "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa", a wood block print by Japanese artist Hokusai  c. 1829-1830.
Still ruminating on a title for this one!

As much as I try to resist the temptations of purchasing new clothes --I already have enough clothing and a certain guilt for the social and environmental costs of consumerism (off shore outsourcing to underpaid workers in tax-evading corporate zones, also known as EPZs ... and that's why when I frequent thrift stores for clothing, because the products are recycled to someone else who may love them, rather than a dump or contributing to further production) -- I went shopping today.  It's particularly counter-intuitive at this point because I'm travelling and the majority of clothes are manufactured in China anyway!
Socially conscious irony aside, I went to Target for tights and came out with two polyester/spandex dresses that actually are quite flattering, at my mother's urging ("I'll buy it for Valentine's Day and if you ever have a job you'll need new clothes" -- thanks, Mom).  Oh, and three pairs of tights.  According to style guides online, the Shanghai ladies are quite stylish and opt for skirts with tights instead of jeans, even in the winter.  I gravitated towards tights frequently when I was in France so that should be fun.  These dresses are of the same design but different pattern, and they have a lot of potential since I didn't own a LBD, and I probably wouldn't have picked out the abstract blue pattern on my own.  That places always wins me over.
I'll kick myself in a few months if these dresses aren't worn, but I think I've become a better trained, selective shopper.  Some day I hope my self-esteem is secure regardless of what I'm wearing; but for now, the clothes bolster my confidence on its way.

Listening: "Blood Bank" by Bon Iver

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Beyonce Bowl and the Beach

I have a more positive rant on lady power tonight.
Yup, berate me as a complete hypocrite for watching two-thirds of the Superbowl on Sunday, but I have no shame because I was able to witness Beyoncé freakin' Giselle Knowles-Carter take over the world during the half time show.  BEHOLD:

Haters gon' hate, I know.  I'm scoffing at those who deny her talent (you try to be a multi-million dollar artist for over a decade, dancing that hard on the most-viewed stage in the world Sunday for 14 minutes), cry out at her exhibitionism (again, she needed to be dressed that way to dance, and what about the mid-drift, booty-skirted cheerleaders?!), and lack of class (she is a performer and damn did she put on a show) -- I don't want to hear it!
Did you see that her stage production was completely women, looking powerful, sexy and confident (though the two aren't always equated)?  And she shared her glory with her friends!  Kelly and Michelle were also marvelous, if only Destiny's Child would come back.  I could go on, but there's certainly enough of this around the web.  It was an exciting, dynamically executed performance that will now be the pick-me-up on days I'm feeling less than [Sasha] Fierce; if only I could make stadium lights burn out!  Jay-Z is one lucky man and my high school Beyoncé phase has definitely been reaffirmed.

Other than that, nothing too wild going on in this Florida-world.  We went to an outdoor market that's held every weekend in Punta Gorda right outside the county court house.  It was small but had a great balance of farm produce with local crafts and specialty products-- like a cupcake van and European baked goods!  That morning my parents and I went to a pancake breakfast and I drew the 50-50 raffle ticket, which happened to be my mom's (she was thrilled because she never wins those kinds of things), and we made out with $80!  Then at the market, she let me buy a jar of tupelo honey and honey chèvre imported from France.  Snacks and salads these days have never tasted so good :)

 And here we have the causeway leading to Sanibel, an island strip on the Gulf side of Charlotte Bay.  You have to pay a small toll to cross the bridge, but before the island there are roadside beaches.  We pulled over and soaked in the sun on the bay side, I dozed off and eventually we switched to the breezier Gulf side for another repose.

  I like to think of Florida of having no rules (even though there are countless more than the existence I'm used to, but whatever) and this absolutely extends to my clothing.  One reason is because I only brought select articles from my closet at home, though the main reason is because I don't care too much.  I try to stay comfortable more than anything because I find sweating that isn't exercise-instigated severely uncomfortable.  Here I'm wearing a fluorescent peach top with mesh on the neckline, which I bought in Boston on impulse and subsequent regret because the day before I was just saying how I don't do highlighter colors.  Hence, this was my first outing with this shirt, rather than a weekend dance party I was envisioning.  And the overalls, oh this wonderful Target find!  I remember my mom waiting outside the dressing room, and when I chose these over a pair of cargo pants her skepticism was clear.  Yet three years later, they are my adventure-alls that I've hand- embroidered with colored thread and danced my way through the day and night.  And yes I know, they are complete man-repelling status and make me look 10.  I don't consider myself a hat person, but I top it all off with a wide brim, woven cowboy's hat.  It gives lovely shielding from the harsh sun.  My sandals are my fourth pair of the same style from another obscure beach store down here, and the rubbery-plastic can withstand anything.  Except my own stupidity when it comes to weekend debauchery (Asia Night. No further explanation needed).  

It's ridiculous, but somehow works.  Like life, right?
(the mandatory 'in the water back-facing contemplating the beauty' pic)
Hope you're having a beautiful week so far!

Listening: "Ten Cent Pistol" by The Black Keys