Another year

Biggest news in my life right now: I’ve decided and have been approved to stay in China for another year.


The idea of staying for two instead of one year has been on my mind since last September, when I met the second year fellows of my program. We were all in Hong Kong for orientation, and talking with them revealed their obvious reflection on lessons learned in their first year as well as their anticipation for the coming year. I envied that. I wanted one day to have learned how to live and teach in China and then, be able to apply those lessons to a longer period of time than the lesser half of a year as has happened as I started my second semester here. However, I think the lessons learned and ideas developed over a year are exponentially greater than those learned over a semester.

So – America – I’m sorry. I will be home in July (for Wildwood!) and the beginning of August, but my permanent return has been slightly postponed. Plans for the summer include living in Beijing with my good friend and fellow traveler Lea Yu, volunteering at a public health/health-related nonprofit, adventuring in the city, avoiding heat exhaustion playing lots and lots of ultimate, speaking Chinese, and trying out new social situations to see how to successfully interact with different groups/types of people.

What have I been doing over the past 4(?!?) months?

In February, I returned to Changsha from a whirlwind two months of traveling. My entire trip took me to many places: Xiuning, Anhui; Shanghai, Shanghai; Beijing, Beijing; Chicago, IL; Somewhere on a hill, WI; Lexington, KY; Knoxville, TN; Washington, D.C; back to Chicago; back to Beijing; Harbin, Helongjiang; Tianjin, Tianjin;and Ansha, Hunan.

It was so refreshing and…weird for many parts. Being transitory while surrounding myself with very grounded people (with work, school, family, life) was a strange and constant juxaposition throughout those two months. In an email, I told my mom that I was looking forward to getting my feet back on the ground after returning to Changsha. She lamented the idea that my “ground” was now Changsha, but was sympathetic to my wandering soul.

I went on a few adventures over the past few months and I’ll detail those in individual posts.

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where I live (or uploading a video I took several months ago now that I’m in the land of super fast interwebs aka AMERICA)

So, I’m leaving tomorrow morning and have successfully spent my 3 weeks in the US busy enough that I did not have time to take full advantage of have access to full upload capabilities. However, before I leave, I will show you (my faithful readers) where I live in China.

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Laying out in China

I’ve had a lay out in three cities in China now: Shanghai, Beijing, and Changsha. I layed out in HK, but was fouled mid-lay and missed the disc, so that doesn’t count. Laying out in college was something I did. My first successful, real layout was in the summer between my sophomore and junior year. So, I’ve been doing it for awhile. However, since moving to China, in those split second instances before deciding to fling my body through the air, I’ve more often pulled up than gone for it. Reason: I don’t want to be injured in China. I know how to layout so that I don’t get injured (arms out in front, landing on my chest, trying not to tense up before landing), but I’m nervous about the ground I’m playing on or what the other players around me are doing. I’m nervous about all the things I have no control over, so I pull  up. BUT a few weeks ago, I had a lay out in Changsha for the first time 🙂

One of my teammates was talking to me on the sideline about how he wanted to learn to layout. I replied that it’s not too hard to learn, and that the hardest part is just going for it. It’s often the half-hearted attempts that injure people actually. If you land on your arms or bent legs in an effort to cushion the fall, bad things happen. So, I told him I would lay out to show him how to do it, if the opportunity presented itself in practice. About ten minutes later, it did. And I kept my promise

Oh it felt so good.

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Are you Russian? Are you French? No, I’m American.

Almost all of my interactions with people in Changsha go like this : “oh, you speak Chinese?” ; “yes, I do. But it’s not so good.”; “how long have you been in China?”: “about half a year.”; “where are you from? Russia?”; “No, I’m American.” And for the first few weeks I was here, that’s how it went. Now, however, I play around a little bit. With small children, I tell them I’m from Spain and then speak Spanish at them a little. With adults, I ask if they can tell by looking where I am from. Most of them, all of them actually, say they cannot tell. I ask them why they can’t tell. Sometimes they say because I look like I’m from somewhere else, others say something along the lines of all foreigners look alike. Recently, a few people have asked me if I’m from Xinjiang (an autonomous region west of China), which is weirdly exciting to me – looking ethnic.


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ba ge ling

I’ve been having some trouble planning class – 准备课 – while working in my own room. Also, even though I recently moved my desk around and purchased new, pretty sheets, my room is still a little on the depressing side with its white, bare walls blaring down on me. I plan on getting some decorations soon, but for now, my solution is to move else where. I did a simple google search of cafes in Changsha and then picked the one closest to where I live. The cafe I chose was a bus ride away and was called “Wings.” It advertised itself as a Hong Kong chain, but I never saw one in HK while I was there. So, it was an adventure in the making.

When I got there, the place was nearly empty. The thing I usually say when I go to a restaurant or cafe – “ni you weizi ma?/你有位子吗?/do you have a seat?” – seemed a little inappropriate in the obviousness of its answer, so the three waitresses hanging out at the front (China: the land where often there are more servers than customers) and I just stared at each other for a while as I tried to decide what to say. I eventually blurted out, “wo yao he kafe./ 我要喝咖啡。/ I want to drink coffee.” and I was shown to my seat.

I sat down, ordered a coffee, and then asked if they had wi-fi. The waitress responded that yes they did, so I further inquired as to what the password was. She responded “ba ge ling.” (I’ll wait on the proper translation) Without thinking as to what she actually said to me, I typed “8g0” into my ipod touch [my new, life-saving piece of technology.THANKS MOM!]. The waitress burst into laughter and said “bu bu bu bu/ No no no no.” She repeated, slowly, “ba ge ling.” Right. Ba ge ling – 八个零 – eight zeroes. In Chinese, when speaking about items, you have to use what are called measure words. You can’t just have three cokes, you have to say three bottles or cups of coke. The most general measure word is “ge/ 个.” The waitress was not using phonetics to spell out the password, but instead giving me the number. Bah!

She then spent the next 10 minutes telling the rest of the staff about our miscommunication. While I am perpetually having experiences like this, so it wasn’t terribly exciting to me [just this morning I got on the wrong bus and went completely out of my way because I misread one character] I can imagine how amusing it must be on the other side of things: witnessing a foreign girl, struggling to speak Chinese and getting some of the simplest things wrong. Yet, all the while I keep a smile on my face because the great thing about messing up is that it is one of the best ways to get better. Along with perpetual miscommunication, I am perpetually grateful for how patient some people are with me….even if they go tell their friends all about it afterward. If it helps me improve my Chinese, I’m down to be laughed at a bit.

A great, wonderful update on my trip to America and Shanghai and Hangzhou will be coming soon!

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And then I climbed a fence…

A few weeks ago while we were hanging out in Hong Kong’s history museum, my friend Doug explained this study he read about that was done on the 1949 ( I think, in the late 1940s) graduating class of Harvard University (audience: hisssss) to me. It was a really comprehensive study that looked at people’s happiness over the years. It found that among all the participants, the ones who achieved the greatest level of happiness were the ones who invested time in relationships. Or so it was explained to me by Doug.

This idea has meant more and more to me over the past few weeks as I settled into what is now my semi-permanent home. It didn’t hit me as much while I lived in Beijing because I was surrounded by other students, from Yale and other schools, and the girl who lived next door to me and I became instant best friends. We even joked sometimes that we were soulmates. I also made a bunch of friends playing ultimate who all spoke English and who I saw on a pretty regular basis (Monday practice, Tuesday Trivia, Wednesday practice, Friday/Saturday go out, Sunday summer league).

Now in Changsha, things are quite different. I’m living with one other person, who is great, but we have different interests, so I often venture out on my own. The other Yalies in town live 20-40 minutes away depending on traffic. And the ultimate team I play on is made up of all Chinese people who all speak Chinese.

However, there have been some real gems that have recently really improved my standard of living: Teresa, Wen Juan, and Summer. And my intermittent, yet growing courage has led me to make good friends with the people on my Ultimate team using Chinese as out medium of communication. I have some friends 🙂

Besides those three wonderful ladies and my teammates, another person came (back) into my life this past week: Hui Hui. Hui Hui and I were partners for the service trip I did in Hunan two years ago. She graduated from Hunan University in May, like me, and is now studying geography at a graduate student in Beijing. She came back to Changsha for the Mid-Autumn festival and to visit me 🙂 Like how I am shy about my Chinese, Hui Hui was even more shy about her English. So, we spoke almost completely in Chinese with each other the whole time she was here, and it was totally awesome.

She came on Wednesday of this week, and we spent that first morning catching up as we munched on some baozi for breakfast. Then, we went over to one of my teammate’s (Zhang Fang) house for a Mid-Autumn lunch. Zhang Fang is from the autonomous region XinJiang, so the food he makes is a different type of Chinese food and absolutely delicious. We ate and drank and ate some more and drank some more. The Chinese tradition of toasting continued throughout.

Afterward, Hui Hui went to visit a friend, and the rest of us went to look for a place to play some pick up ( or so I thought). What we actually ended up doing was going to the music festival being held on 橘子洲 (Orange Island). ZhangFang was actually working it as a photographer, so he was able to borrow some of the other workers’ passes to let us in for free. Unfortunately, I could not pull off looking like any of the pictures on the IDs. So, Reddick (the captain of the ultimate team) and I went around the side to climb a fence and sneak in. I CLIMBED A FENCE! Me, the girl who runs into walls and falls down stairs and trips and faints and gets hurt like all the time. I successfully jumped a fence and sneaked into a music festival. It was so awesome.

After spending time at the festival, I went back to my house and Hui Hui returned as well. We watched After Shock the movie about the earthquake in Tanshan. Hui Hui cried so much 😦 but said she like it. I tried to find some vocabulary I had learned to express how I felt about the movie ( I cried at one part too), and all I could come up with was 动人 (dongren), which means ‘moving.’ We then looked at some pictures from our trip two years ago and chatted about things that happened.

In the morning, I went to see a wedding, and Hui Hui went to hang out with Summer. We ended our visit with a meal between the three of us later that night, throughout which we continued to speak in Chinese even though Summer is nearly fluent in English. Hui Hui’s visit really helped me get more comfortable with expressing myself in Chinese, even when I don’t exactly know how to say the message I’m trying to get across.

So, I’ve been climbing fences literally and metaphorically. The next one I have to get over is getting out of bed at a reasonable hour, but I guess that will take place in two weeks. Tomorrow (hopefully*), I will fly to Beijing to wait for two days and then fly to NYC for Yale-China’s 100th year bash. I am so excited to go back – to be in America, see my Uncle, see my Mom, see a few of my friends, and just relax for a few days. After that, I head back to China for some adventuring with Lea. We’re going to Hanzhou 杭州 for some paper, silk and tea tours.

*Hopefully – the residency permit office has my passport currently, and will hopefully get it back to me before I need to leave on my plane….

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Little Victories

I’m still getting used to life in China, slowly but surely. Last week, I received a couple good pieces of news. First, I can take Chinese class for free at the university I teach at. Score! Next, I have a research project. Double score.

My sleeping schedule has been off since I’ve moved here because I teach in the evenings, and have little to do during the day. So, I stay up and sleep in late. The institution of Chinese class in my mornings will definitely add some much needed structure to my life and get me back on track.

Last Saturday, I met with Dr. Dabao Xu – I went out to dinner with him a week or so ago – at his office in the Xiangya third hospital. He is the head of the gynecology surgery department there, so I am so extremely lucky for him to be willing to help me. We met at 8am, and I was there until about 3:15pm. We started out the morning by chatting a bit about the hospital and about some of the patients there. Then, I went on rounds with him and the other gyn doctors. We visited each of his patients, so I got to see several different types of diseases and complications. The most common one – which will be part of my research – is IUAs or interuterine adhesions. An adhesion is like a scar on the inside of your body that often occurs after surgery, and all of these women have IUAs because of previous abortions. The adhesions many different symptoms, one of them being infertility. After rounds, Dr. Xu had to perform surgery on  a patient with a huge, benign growth on her uterus. I thought he would say goodbye and head on out to surgery, but instead HE INVITED ME TO WATCH. I got to wear scrubs and slippers (surgeons wear sandals in surgery instead of their shoes).

I was nervous about standing for two hours as well as watching the surgery. I had watched some surgeries while working at Yale-New Haven, but one of them ended with me almost fainting. However, I made it through totally fine this time. Everything was so interesting that the time flew by, and while I felt a little light headed in the beginning, I never felt as if I was going to faint. The mass on the patient’s uterus was amazingly large, and had hair and some bone growth because it was a teratoma. It was so neat to be in the room during surgery. Below is a picture from after the surgery – I am in purple and Dr. Xu is in green.


After surgery, Dr. Xu and I ate lunch in his office and discussed my research project. There are a few restrictions to what I can actually do – 1. I am not a medical student or doctor and 2. I do not speak Chinese (well). So, we decided that I would survey patients with the help of an interpreter. Dr. Xu’s personal research has to do with the surgical procedure fixing IUAs, and because of this, the patient population available to me is the women with IUAs. What we decided on was a survey focused on determining the main factors that play into how or why these women failed to use contraception. I will go into the hospital on Saturdays and interview patients. The goal of my project is to discover some themes among women who are now suffering from IUAs in hopes of improving care through prevention.

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how am I still sweating?

The high for today – September 19th – 37 degrees Celsius, approximately 99 degrees Fahrenheit. And then, there’s humidity. Gah! Last Wednesday, I gave an open lecture to about 200 hundred students at Xiangya, and quite nearly died. While any room with that many eager medical students is sauna-like enough, let alone 200 Chinese medical students listening to a lecture on the history of birth control in America, the weather was also similar to today’s. I was a hot mess, and not the cute kind. Half-way through the lecture, one of the student near the front tiptoed up to my podium and graciously handed me a water bottle. Ten minutes later, she complimented that water bottle with a cute packet of tissues. I was visibly sweating, visible to everyone.

I made it though. After my lecture, I invited the student’s to ask questions. Of course, none asked in front of the whole group, but when I dismissed the lecture hall, a neat group of 15 or so came to the front with a ready-to-go arsenal of questions about birth control and abortion in America. They were all so interested in what I had to say, but asked such general questions that it was hard to give them the concrete answers they were looking for. I tried hard to work against my bias in offering several different answers to the same question or explicitly explaining that I was answering in a certain way because of what I believe in. Naturally, as a new teacher, I’m am constantly concerned about indoctrinating my  students to think like me.

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week 2 in Changsha

Quite truthfully, this start of this week was a bit difficult. I’m finally settled into my house! This is comforting, but it also has created a sense of antsyness whenever I spend to much time in it. I want to go out and to explore and to live in this city, but sometimes the big-bad Chinese-speaking world out there is quite intimidating.

BUT as with many things, the pendulum swung back and the second half of my week was great. Wednesday night I explored my neighborhood a bit. Food is quite cheap here, so there isn’t much monetary incentive to cook. However, as I am now a grown adult (or so society tells me) and I no longer have the dining hall to rely on for all my meals ( Lin and I can actually eat lunch at the campus canteen, which is just across the street from my house), I have the desire to learn how to cook (eatable) food. So, I used Wednesday afternoon to explore a bit and shop for food. There is a market-like street west of my house, so I went there first. I bought two eggplants 茄子, one red onion 洋葱, two tomatoes 西红柿, some ginger 姜 and some garlic 蒜. I also purchased noodles 面 and oil 油. I meant to go to more of supermarket-type store after, but Gang called and invited Lin and I to dinner, so I saved that for the another day.

Lin and I went over to Gang’s part of town for dinner, and afterward we went on the city’s ferris wheel. I had mentioned to Lin that I wanted to go, so he brought it up during dinner, and we decided it was about time. Gang also told us his theory on ferries wheels: All cities should have one. It was a little pricey – 30 元 for students (yes, I continue to use my Yale ID to get deals when I can) – but the ride and view were worth it.

On Thursday, I spent the morning and afternoon at the Xiangya School of Nursing. In New Haven, I met a woman named Wenjuan who had been studying at the Yale School of Nursing for a year as an exchange student. We only briefly met at a dinner for the new fellows in May, but promised to meet up once I arrived in Changsha. So, I met her Thursday morning, and we went straight away to the Dean of the Nursing School’s office. There I met Dean He and an assortment of other administrators, teachers and students. Dean He didn’t speak very much English, so Wenjuan acted as translator when I couldn’t understand his meaning. He was so welcoming! He said something that was translated as “new students and exchanges students are like waves crashing against the base of a mountain and moving it forward.” His enthusiasm for international cooperation and progression through change encouraged me so much at a time when I really needed it. Wenjuan’s excitement for introducing me also made me feel especially welcomed into this new community.

After talking for a while, he invited me and some of the other students out to lunch. We went across the street and had some delicious Changsha food. My tolerance for spicy food is definitely increasing, which is a relief as most of the food I’ll be eating for the next year will be spicy. Dean He placed the head of the fish we ordered on my plate when most of the meat was gone. It seemed like that was some sort of hospitable gesture. I scrapped off what meat I could, and then Wenjuan and I ate the eyes. I made the mistake of biting into it, but quickly swallowed when the taste hit my tongue. And then gulped down a good amount of tea. Even though we did not order beer – I was able to use the excuse that I had class later to politely decline, tea was substituted as the tool for toasting, a traditional aspect of Chinese welcoming meals. It might be a part of all groups meals in China, but I have yet to witness one of those. To be further investigated.

I want to schedule some time during my week to spend at the nursing school, either sitting in class or observing in the hospital or just hosting an English corner. I really want to better understand the medical system in China, especially the role of nurses, and I think this could be a great opportunity to do just that. And, with every new relationship I make, it is just another perfect opportunity to improve my Chinese.

Thursday afternoon, I met with a women named Shelley who takes care of the foreign teachers in the English department of Xiangya medical school. She is one of the most genuinely cheerful people I have ever met. We talked about the teacher’s class I was about to start teaching and about staying safe in Changsha. I mentioned to her that I wanted to continue studying Chinese, and we talked a little about the possibility of getting a tutor. She then said that I could take class as well. FOR FREE! So, I’m gonna do that, and I’m so excited about it. wo会提高wo中文的水平! my wo3 character (“I” or “me”) isn’t working this evening for some reason. It keeps coming up as 我. hmf!

Thursday night, I made my first meal in China – noodles with stir-fried eggplant, tomatoes, and onions. I used the garlic and ginger to season. I couldn’t get the stove to work, so I ended having to call my shifu 师傅 to help me turn it on. But after that, it was smooth sailing. I dined well that night on food I had purchased, prepared and made. Great success!

On Friday evening, I went out to the market again in search of some different items – eggs, yogurt, soy sauce, and carrots. Lin and I spent two hours that afternoon helping an English teacher in our department and some administrators from the Hunan oncology hospital translate signage  for a new building. It was quite long and tedious, but interesting. Before that I went to the post office and successfully sent a letter. It may seem like a small feat but it was huge to me. I was able to express myself in understandable Chinese to actually get something done. Another success!

While I was out gathering goods to cook, my new friend Teresa called me and invited me to dinner. I could not help but feel absolutely giddy that I had made a friend in Changsha. I nearly skipped home from the market. We went out to a Xinjiang restaurant, and it ended up that some ultimate frisbee guys were invited as well. After dinner, we went to play some pool and later on, we ended up on the west side of the river doing KTV (karaoke)  with some other friends. What a night!

On Saturday and Sunday, I went out to play Ultimate. Before moving to Changsha, I had told some friends that I might lay low in the ultimate scene for the first month or so while settling in. I thought it would be good for me to really delve into the city and get to know it before I started committing time to anything. However, I’ve quickly realized (again, I realized this in Hong Kong and Beijing) that playing ultimate and becoming friends with the other players in town is really the best way for me to get to know a city. I not only get to practice my Chinese with my teammates, but they take me to new restaurants all the time and to new places in Changsha. In October, I will travel with them to a neighboring province and play a tournament in the city WuHan. And even next week, during Mid Autumn holiday, I might travel with some of them to places within Hunan.

As I said in the beginning, I’ve finally settled down for the first time since leaving Yale so long ago (or so it feels) which has been a relief. Schlepping is really my absolute least favorite thing to do. But now that the dust is settled, I’ve really had to put forth a concerted effort to make Changsha feel like home in terms of making friends, finding comfort in my neighborhood, figuring out how to properly feed myself, and everything else that comes with moving to a new place as an adult.

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我搬家了, so I moved my post too

I moved to Changsha, and found out my internet was slow as well as frequently unstable. Only after living here for two weeks have I been able to get establish a vpn connection. So, I’ve decided to move my blog to a new website that is not blocked in China, so it does not require a vpn connection for me to post :).

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