Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What I've been up to lately: NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo - ever heard of it?  NaNoWriMo stands for "National Novel Writing Month." It's a challenge that happens every November -- can you write a 50,000 work of fiction in 30 days?

The point is just to write that book you always said you wanted to try.  You have no time to edit or revise, so you get to build without tearing down... create without destroying.  As you can imagine, the end result is filled with plot-holes and problems.  Only a handful of the hundreds of thousands of novels that get written during this month ever go on to become something worth publishing.

I did it in 2007 and ended up with a truly mediocre junior high mystery.  My four characters were just bumbling their way through seventh grade when somehow the FBI asked them to help solve an underground art ring that was being operated out of a secret basement in their school.  Realistic, I know.

I learned three things from that experience:
1)  Writing a book is harder than it looks.
2)  Writing fiction is REALLY even harder than it looks.
3)  It's satisfying to start a big goal and actually complete it.

So this year, I decided to NaNo again and have been holed up every night tapping out my required 1667 words.  I just validated my word count at 11:12 p.m. tonight, less than an hour before the deadline.

Here's what my stats looked like the moment after finishing.  All month, I've been watching those blue bars slowly inch over from nothing, to halfway, to almost there, to full.

The reward for finishing is a pdf certificate that you can print out and write your name on.  I will most certainly be printing my certificate tomorrow, and then I might actually sit down and read what I wrote.

It's sure to be dreadful.  I don't really care.

Now that NaNoWriMo is done, I'll be back on the blog a little more.  See you around!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Wish from a Student

Dear Alison,
Happy Thanksgiving!
I love every class that we spent together.
I love the Uno that we played together.
I love your smile and your voice.
So I'm thankful for you.
And may lively songs linger around you every moment; may happy year accompany you for ever -- respected and beloved teacher.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  May you enter the Lord's gates with thanksgiving in your hearts today, and may lively songs linger around you every moment.  I'm thankful for you!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

White Privilege and a Haircut: Seventy-five Cents

I got a haircut today, and if you've been reading my blog for awhile you know that getting a haircut always makes me wax eloquent about my life in China.  (See here and here.)

Chinese haircuts are long and give you ample time to think.  From start to finish, I don't think I've ever been in the salon less then two hours.  Today I arrived with two sweet students who had volunteered to help me translate.  One of them also wanted to get her bangs cut, but the stylist told her she couldn't because they were already short enough.  One small detail to show how considerate my students were: They had bought an English-language newspaper for me in case I got bored during my haircut.

Most of the stylists were boys (as usual in China) and looked about 17 years old.  They were skinny guys rocking skinny jeans and huge hair -- picture a lollipop effect.  Most of them had hair that was either permed or fanned out in some way and dyed brown, orangish brown, or (in one case) purple.  The guy who worked on my hair looked a little older and seemed to be the one in charge.

It didn't surprise me that the boss was the one who cut my hair.  In fact, I expected it.  I am always given the boss.

I go for a haircut and the best stylist does my hair.
I walk down the street and make someone's day just by saying "hello" to them.
I sit at the dinner table and my students gush over how beautiful I am.
I always get a seat on the Rizhao-Qufu shuttle, even when others are sitting in the aisles.
I am treated to an expensive banquet three times a year, along with the other foreign teachers and the university president.
I am occasionally offered English teaching or tutoring jobs by strangers.

I am white, and because of my race I often get offered the first thing, the best thing, the unexpected praise, or the benefits not available to locals.

China has a strange fascination with foreigners, especially foreigners from developed countries.  Because the stereotypical view of Western people is that they are white, we white folk get considerably more foreigner-worship than (for example) a Chinese American in China.  This explains why perfectly unqualified white Americans can show up in any Chinese city and quickly find an English teaching job, sometimes getting a higher salary than their more-qualified Chinese counterparts.  It also explains why many Chinese are eager to flaunt their foreign friends -- it gives them face to be associated with us.

For an extreme example, read this recent ad from, which offers 1000 RMB ($150) for someone to sit in a meeting and be white.

Living in China has made me far more aware of my race, because people take one look at me and treat me differently.  Giving someone extra favors just because they are white is racism - there's no other word for is.

The scary thing is, when you live in this reality, the race distinction becomes expected.  I expected to get the best hairstylist -- why wouldn't I?  I'm clearly the only foreigner in the room.  In the same way, some of the extra privileges given for my race have ceased to be a surprise and have become not only routine, but expected.  (Expected, not demanded.  I am using the word in the sense of "knew it would happen," not "wanted it to happen.")

And here I come to my point.  Being part of a privileged class soon feels normal, to the point where you almost cease to notice the race distinction whether or not you agree with it.  Let me state for the record, I don't.

But if I were part of an underprivileged class, I wonder if it would ever feel normal or if I would ever cease to notice it.  What if I walked into a salon and they took one look at me and made me wait for an hour for a haircut with the worst stylist?  What if I got on the shuttle and they took one look at me and made me squat in the aisle?  What if I arrived for a job interview and was told that my race was going to take a few thousand dollars off my salary?

I wonder if one of the factors that has allowed white privilege to flourish for so long in so many places is that even when the white people themselves don't necessarily believe they are superior, the status quo feels normal and comfortable.  If the status quo was reversed, we'd feel uncomfortable pretty fast, and maybe we'd work harder for a more egalitarian world.

Just some thoughts as I got my hair cut this afternoon.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


As seen walking through one of the classroom buildings around 8:30 p.m.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Revisiting Qufu: Daily Life Edition

Qufu is a great place to take pictures of small-town China life.  I noticed when I was back there last weekend that I saw a lot more people biking than here in Rizhao.  When I lived in Qufu, sometimes I would even get caught up in a bike rush hour around 5:00 p.m.

So here are way too many pictures of my visit to Qufu last weekend.  Students studying among the shrubbery, badminton in the courtyard, Confucius statue by night, ponchos in the rain, East Market vendors, grannies on bikes, little stores, morning aerobics, and card games on the street... It's all here.  Enjoy!

These are all very familiar scenes around my old campus.  Could you figure out what's happening in each picture?  

Revisiting Qufu: People & Food Edition

Last weekend, I went back to Qufu for a visit.

Here are some pictures of former students, friends, and favorite restaurants:

Free talk with a favorite former class

Not the best photo, but it shows my former apartment with the foreign teacher who lives there now having a jiaozi party with students and friends.

This noodle dish is apparently called "ants crawling up a tree"

It was fun to run into students I knew walking around campus.

Feng Wei Qiezi -- one of my favorite Qufu dishes

The "Campus Restaurant" -- movin' on up!

Qufu still felt like home after less than five months away.  When I first got into town, I was fondly thinking, "Ah, nothing ever changes in Qufu" -- the same dirty streets, e-bikes and regular bikes everywhere, and students streaming through the East Market.

But one thing changed:  One of our favorite restaurants, featured here in "Where Tasty Food Trumps Tasteful Decor", has moved.  It moved from a grime-covered, germ-infested house of cards to an upstairs space in another building that actually looks like a proper restaurant.  (See the last few pictures above.)

When I asked the proprietor if she remembered me, she said yes and then rattled off a list of my favorite dishes.  It was good to be back. :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Not?

Giant monkey-head muff

Angry Birds hand cream

Spicy packaged chicken necks