Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Remembering My "Heated Seat"

I didn't really realize what a huge role spicy/hot sauce played in my life this past year in China.

Until now.

and it's not as if I've been home a year and I'm super-late on this realization .... but it definitely just came to me in an "Ahhhh-Ha!" kind of way today.

Food is big in China, as I've mentioned before. ( especially staples regarding where you live/where you are from - Northern China- noodles/dumplings, Southern China- rice)

Since "self expression" can be kind of limited under a Communist regime, food is the one area where creativity can fully flourish!

When I arrived in Beijing last April, one night after our training, after my jet lag had worn off, me and Metis and Dailly, and Robert went out to eat at a Sichuan restaurant. I definitely remember ordering "Gong bao ji ding" - Kung Pao Chicken.

The Sichuan region of China is known for its spicy foods. And pandas. (only they're not spicy... just cute... and hopefully never eaten! - I'm betting that would only happen if they got smuggled into the Guangdong province!)

I've always kind of had a basic love for spicy foods - Indian, Mexican, Thai - but they were never a staple of my diet. Not an "everyday" kind of love. More like a casual "maybe I'll see you on Friday night?" kind of infatuation.

However, this past year, when we would order out for lunch at work and Metis was making the phone call and I was asked "Ni shan chu shenma?" ( What do you want to eat?) - my answer was usually short and simple. Something like- "spice. beef. noodles. no bones". or sometimes Mapo Tofu ( a spicy tofu) and rice.

I'm guessing the fact that the winter was REALLY cold ( despite never snowing- it was still that "damp cold" kind of cold - and the apartments are not heated- unless you buy a space heater ) in Foshan, made my desire for hot chilli an unconscious one. My body knew HEAT/CHILLI/SPICE could warm my bones!

It actually got to the point where I was using "Watson's Chilli Body Wash" in the shower every morning. ( I'm looking for a picture of it on Google now, but I can't find it.) Basically "Watson's" is like a "Duane Reade" or "CVS"  ( I think they're in Taiwan too). So Watson's was the "generic brand name" ... of this body wash.  At first I thought "Chilli" - like "chill. cooling. cold" -(despite it being in a RED bottle! ). But then when I USED it I discovered that ....

it HEATS your body. Literally, after you get out of the shower and towel off and put your clothes on, you will continue to feel WARMTH radiating from SELECT PARTS of your body! - for me it was usually my arms and my butt. Sometimes my legs. It reminded me of that one time I rode in my old boss Dalinda's BMW that had heated seats. My "seat" was definitely heated. But it was a good thing. Nice and warm. I think it was supposed to be a "slimming" body wash too.  Maybe it will help your metabolism? I don't know. I lost ( and have still kept off ) 10 lbs in China - but I wouldn't say the body wash did it - it was just the result of a complete diet change.

**ALSO- if you are in China/Taiwan or anywhere a chilli body wash is sold and you are about to purchase this product- use it selectively. It's not meant for .. ummm ..every part of your body. I'm sure in some areas ... like your... "eyes" and stuff .. it would be quite painful. I know I don't have to tell you. You're smart- you know this.  Use two different washclothes. That's my last word. **

ok moving forward ....

For the two weeks being home now, I've noticed different things. I've been "assessing" (as my father likes to say about my mother - who is a nurse - "stop assessing I'm fine!" ).

Before moving to China, I used to crack my finger bones a lot. Not my knuckles, but my fingers- pushing them back, stretching them, they would occasionally crack. In China - I never did this. I never had to crack them. ("hot chilli" is supposedly good for arthritis/good for your bones). I didn't even realize this until I came home though.

Also, I've noticed feeling kind of "body achy" at times since being home here. Not in the "post-dance class" body ache kind of way. More like a "bone-ache" ... like my bones are tired. I'm thinking maybe it's an allergic reaction to something. Maybe wheat-gluten? .... I don't know. I'm trying to figure what's different.

BUT even if it could have happened in China, I'm realizing that, that never used to happen in China - because I consumed and washed my body with CHILLI peppers!! - which are supposed to be good for arthritis/bone/joint pain. They supposedly are a natural remedy to take the pain away.

I mean yeah, I had this great "flowery jasmine scented" body wash and also a great coconut-almond body scrub. But the "Chilli" was pretty much a staple - all the others came and went.

So maybe that's what I've got to change being home here now? I'm trying. I actually just had a bowl of elbow macaroni with carrots, spinach and dried cranberries with a home made little soy sauce/chilli sauce/sugar/salt/black pepper/olive oil dressing for lunch.

I'm thinking "Heat" might be my middle name. My Chinese name is  Li Xia Tian. Li is my family name ( given to me by Lisa) and "Xia Tian" means -Summer - (given to me by Metis)  Summer in China= hot, warm, spicy, lychee season, etc...etc.  I'm thinking it fits me - spicy foods, warm weather, and an abundance of lychees. That's the best! Also, in southern China, summer comes earlier than in the USA. The heat of summer comes in April in the Foshan/Guangdong area of China .... which is when I arrived last year.

Soooo, in addition to jet-lag, your body will probably feel different things- maybe allergies/body sensitivities when you come home from China or wherever you are now. Trying to remember "what you did differently" when you were abroad and adding those things into your everyday life back at home, can help with the re-adjustment.

I know for me, it seems like there is A LOT of food here in New York. A lot of choices and I'm kind of never sure what I want to eat. I'm not craving anything specific. I haven't even eaten "REAL" pizza yet ( or any kind- not even fake Pizza Hut pizza.) . When I've been in the city, I've been hanging around Koreatown a lot in NYC - gone to Kyochon for Korean Fried Chicken - (their honey chicken wings might just be something I start craving regularly! Seriously I forgot how- so bad/soooo good- they were.)

For now, ironically, when I really do crave something it's been dumplings or noodles.
I just gotta remember to add the chilli sauce. :)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cherry tomatoes on your birthday cake.

In pajamas. eating an english muffin, an orange, and a cup of coffee, watching "House Hunters: International" on HGTV...

at 4:50pm on a Sunday.

Paying homage to the goddess of lounging.

Last night was my first night out in NYC since being back and I think, ( even though it only involved 3 glasses of wine over the course of the night) my body was not ready for a late night out.

I caught up with my friend Kate at The Flatiron Lounge over drinks ( "keep it simple white wine" for me) , then we went for an oyster/seafood dinner with 2 couples at another restaurant nearby, before settling in at Henrietta Hudson's ( as my first trip to a lesbian bar after a year without, I think Hens is pretty good re-introduction for anybody! )

for a little dancing and bottle popping ( and by "bottle", I'm talking about the plastic, 20 oz water bottle kind, earlier, my body had told me that it is still re-patriating to NYC drinking and that it was done with wine/liquor for the night. )

took a midnight train upstate and got home around 2am.

Today is Sunday. I'm noticing a pattern where, on the days when I'm home, not in NYC, I turn the day into a kind of "cram school" - my own little "buxiban". TEFL study/work, Mandarin Chinese study, some reading (current book - "China: Fragile Superpower- How China's Internal Politics Could Derail its Peaceful Rise" by Susan L. Shirk ) lather/rinse/repeat.

Oh, and QQ.
whether it's posting a "status update", posting pictures, talking with Metis or even talking with the mom of one of my old Pre-K2 kids ("Hannah's Mom" friended me on QQ) . There is always some QQ time worked into the day.  So I'm sure I'll get around to all of this at some point here - even though I got a late start on the day.

and yes, I'm completing a 120 hr TEFL ("Teaching English As A Foreign Language" - I'm sure you knew that. But if you're my parents, you didn't.)  course online, I don't think I talked about it much earlier, but I'd recommend it, if you are serious about getting into the ESL teaching world for more than a "year away/a year abroad". It helps to have, to open up the door to an increase of teaching opportunities, with potentially more money with credible schools. I have not been "to school" since 2003 - so this is definitely a "readjustment" in addition to coming home. Revisiting "conjunctions" and "prepositions" and "auxiliary verbs" in addition to learning some new ESL teaching tools ... I feel like I'M learning English all over again! LOL.

It makes me think of LISA and her desire to learn English .... I PRAY that she remains MOTIVATED and OPTIMISTIC and is kind and forgiving to herself in her learning everyday. I hope that she  just focuses on "the present" .... and doesn't worry about the "past tense" or the "future perfect"...

As far as my "everyday" here. It's been about two weeks home now. I still feel like a visitor here but at the same time I feel like I've only been away for a week. It's a strange combination - like pickles and ice cream. Or cherry tomatoes and birthday cake. ( I found this in China - a lot of the birthday cakes were cake/cream/ and fruit - and sometimes that "fruit" topping included cherry tomatoes).

Just still adjusting....

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lisa Li 12:06:15  (QQ message sent the day after I left China)

I know you leave China · · · time · · · a kind of indescribable emotion and sadness, but hope you will return to U.S. · · · everything is OK!

Thank you for me to do everything on the thing to the United States · · · · I will wait for you to give me the most detailed information · · ·can · · · · · This year I will study hard English · · · I go abroad to do the most basic preparations. We can do this together!

and this ( QQ message sent after our dinner, but before I left China)

Hear you say I can past the United States · · · I really hope so .. if only to learn English well and only need some money, will be able to in the past I really want to in the past .. I like living abroad· · · ·also want to experience .. I hope there will be a · · · be able tosolve the room and board can · · · · katy `` `` your information I have received ..· I'm sorry did not respond promptly to your message · · · · · that night to meet or very memorable · · · · is thetime to meet this parting next seems a bit put off indefinitely · · · ·look forward to next meet! I hope you all are getting on

Shapeshifting: From Expat to "Repat"

"Repatriation", "Repat" ... it sounds like I'm trying to turn into something that I used to be.
( I don't believe that could ever be 100% possible, but it's an interesting term(s) ).

Today is the first day since being home that it feels like I've "stood still". I've "stopped".

After the initial 48 hrs of jet lag when I was first home ( a little over a week ago now) I went to Aunt Joan's for two nights and got my haircut ( for the first time in 6 months) and did a little shopping, then I spent Easter Weekend with Aunt Mary and some of my cousins out at her beach house in Westhampton, Long Island. Then yesterday I went to New York City for my first visit and spent the day/night taking a Zumba class that one friend taught and then a Hip Hop dance class that another friend was teaching and commuting on the train.

Today? I sat still. I practiced my Mandarin Chinese, I read, I watched tv, etc. etc.
I've spent the entire day in my pajamas.

( and it's a good thing, because after ONE day of TWO workouts that came after a whole year with very little working out,  I am SORE.)

but today was also the first day that I cried for my kids. The day that it all really sunk in.

With me sitting here all day steeping like a cup of tea, it was easy for thoughts to seep in.

I've been talking on QQ with my TA Metis and told her that I missed the kids. I've also been looking at the school blog- seeing the pictures - especially seeing Natali - in one picture in the blog especially- looking soooo terrified, scared, unsure, with Dona teaching the class the first day that I wasn't there - I wished I could pick Natali up and hug her -- ( and she would probably try to pull down my pants or pull up my shirt-- and giggle - because she's naughty and she wants all of my attention - she knows that she can GET my attention by being a little naughty.... lol.)

Metis told me that the kids have asked "How is Katy? Is she ever coming back?" ... and that just broke me today. That was it. Tears.

I told her to tell the kids that I WILL come back to visit, that my family in the USA missed me and I have to see and be with my family now. But that I love them and I think about them EVERYDAY. I hope to find a way to setup a video chat at some point with at least the kids (at least my PRE-K2 class) and me.

It's strange because it feels like I've only been away ( from the US) for a week. But I know that's not true. I am experiencing some "reverse culture shock" but it's not too "shocking" ... just different, and some of the things are kind of funny to notice. Here's a little list.

Things I Noticed Within The First 48-72 Hours Back In The USA 

1.  My mom talks a lot - sometimes to herself. assessing things, etc.. ( "Shhhhh. Let's enjoy the quiet." - me to Mom on the 2nd day I was back.)
2. The sky is SO BLUE here.
3. Pollen is here too ( coughing, mucous, allergies - did not happen at ALL when I was in China)
4. It feels like I've been away for a week rather than a year. Time FLEW!
5. Jet lag was more difficult coming from China to New York ( first 3 nights in NY - went to bed around 6:30-7pm, woke up around 4-5am)
6. I miss using chopsticks regularly.
7. I miss my kids.

I was LOST in Starbucks in NYC yesterday without the choice of my usual "Cafe Americano" that I'd get in China, I ordered a "Tall Medium Blend" ( not really knowing what the heck I just ordered???!!! ) however, when the barista said "One Tall Pike" - it registered and I knew what it was. BUT I took out a $10 bill when it was only $2. - ( in China it would be 21 RMB so I guess I thought $10 would be right.)

I love being around ASIAN people here. I want to know their stories- how long they've been in America. How and when their families came here ( although I have not asked any one person/random stranger directly yet, it's just a fascination that I've noticed). I went to Koreatown in NYC and got dumplings for lunch at Mandoo Bar yesterday. I was going to be in midtown for most of the day and didn't want to trek down to Chinatown, so Koreatown was a good option to cure my Asia withdrawal. ( I know that I will take a day and tour Chinatown and take pictures to post to QQ soon).

speaking of QQ.... since being home, I've taken pictures that I want to post to my QQ page (NOT to Facebook). Pictures of NYC and chopsticks and dumplings and the beach .... things that I want to share with my friends ( especially Lisa) in China. Usually when I think of sharing pictures, I think of FB. But now... it's a little different... it's changed.

These are just some things I've noticed/some things I've been doing. I've also been less interested in reading "The New York Daily News" - less interest in local news and more interested in "The Wall St. Journal"- international news. However, I watched 2 episodes of "Khloe and Lamar" on E! today as well as "Giuliana Rancic's E! True Hollywood Story" soooo... I guess I've still got a little sweet tooth, still got a taste for some fluffy US pop culture.

"What if the challenge isn't me getting her to want to/be able to come here..... what if it's that I would rather move/settle there? ( in Taiwan - and/or some city in Asia with a good sized GLBT population) "  -- this was a question that caused me a few minutes of legitimate heart palpitating anxiety last night. While I was waiting for dance class and feeling a little disconnected .... I wondered. BUT I sweat it out, let it go.  We'll deal with that, when it gets closer to reality ....

I think it's a different kind of "reverse culture shock" though, ( maybe a more mild version?) because there's a buffer to protect me from the full impact. Knowledge is ... safety. I know that it's a "vacation", a "trip" home here now. I'm "going back to that side" -- despite not being in the same area/school. I'll be "closer" and it's also exciting because Taiwan will be both "strange and new AND familiar" - new country, new people, similar language, similar food.

Sitting at the dinner table with mom and dad the past few nights,  I've PRAYED that Lisa finds a really good school/ good program in Guangzhou where she will take ENGLISH CLASSES and study hard and LEARN ENGLISH. I've also prayed for my kids. Tonight was the first night that I had tears ....I choked... the tea bag broke. But I will continue to pray for them every night.

as I told Metis, I think about them EVERYDAY.
and if thoughts can truly become things, I believe that I will see them again soon.

*ALSO -- I just got off my stomach ( ohhh the pain! - seriously- I think my body's going through it's own reverse culture shock here working out again ) to EDIT this to add .... that I AM HAPPY to SEE and BE with my FAMILY and FRIENDS here in NY .... it's just.... different. I'm taking my time, taking it all in, enjoying the quiet ....and working hard to keep learning about things ( immigration/language, etc.) and working for the future ..  I'm excited to do new things while I'm home here ( maybe tour the Statue of Liberty, possibly take a hot air balloon ride with Mom and Dad) I've been BLESSED by ALL of the souls who've touched my life. Truly. It's all love.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Back in Kansas ( with my portal key to OZ)

It feels like I never left. But at the same time it feels like I have a connection to another world that I remember and that I want to hold onto and keep connected to.

Like in the (trippy... really bizarre.) 1980's movie sequel to "The Wizard of Oz",  "Return To Oz" (starring Fairuza Balk as Dorothy) where Dorothy is given a special mirror and is told by her blond fairy-girl friend that "if you ever want to return to Oz, I will make it so". 

Two happiest moments so far: 

1. talking with this friendly, talkative, Chinese-American security guard when I was crossing through customs. Asking him ( in Mandarin) if he spoke any Mandarin or Cantonese (speaks Mandarin, not much Cantonese), telling him happily that "I'm going back in a few months!" ( to Oz/China/Taiwan), and talking about teaching/education in general.

2. updating QQ/downloading the newest version on my laptop here and logging in and seeing messages from both Metis and Lisa! QQ works here in the USA ( some Chinese people did not think it would.... I don't know why?... maybe because Facebook "doesn't work" *wink.*in China? )

I know... saying "seeing my family waiting for me at the airport!!!" would be the most logical, expected happy answer... but honestly, it wasn't. It was VERY GOOD, but not my "favorite"part. Maybe that's some reverse-culture shock talking, because I do love them and I was happy to see them, I'm just being honest in what I was feeling/experiencing in the moment, coming home yesterday.

Sitting on the plane, waiting to get off, I was feeling kind of disconnected and unemotional. Kind of frozen for a minute ( despite all of those teary "email reading" days/nights in Starbucks in China) wondering how I would feel. Wanting to feel that longing to be home, despite not being able to believe that I WAS/AM home already. "They've missed you and you have MISSED them terribly at times just... remember that" - is what I tried to tell myself to bring myself back.

However, any emotion that I was feeling, or attempting to "revive" was overshadowed by the fact that I thought that I lost my luggage. It was taking forever to come down off the plane onto the belt. Then I only saw one of my bags and thought either that #1 - someone had taken the other bag off by mistake thinking it was theirs or  #2. that the bag had been lost. They didn't come off together and I was already figuring what I had lost ( mostly clothes in that bag) and what I would have to do next. Report it to someone? 

Luckily it came down and I got it and "the wheels stopped spinning" so that I could get back to feeling/realizing that I am HOME.  Coming around the corner and seeing Mom and Dad, and waving to them... crying and hugging ... all of us. It WAS good. They look the same and honestly, it felt like I had been away for a week rather than a year! It felt like no time had passed. Luckily also, I was feeling energized and awake at the time so that I could engage in conversation when Mom started talking " a mile a minute" updating me on everything and everyone that had happened/what had happened to them, while I was gone. They had hired a driver that my friend's sister and her girlfriend have used before. He/We stopped at "Dunkin Donuts" on the drive up, when we hit Westchester and so my first food on US soil randomly became a small french vanilla coffee with milk and sugar and an everything bagel with veggie cream cheese.

I unpacked a little, watched some tv, ( don't remember what I was watching now... maybe it was a little CNN?), didn't start to feel sleepy until around dinnertime. Mom made chicken soft tacos and we talked a little about China and North/South differences, languages/dialects ... it's good that, so far it's not like a Q & A session. They haven't pressed me, don't want to know everything that happened during the year all at once. Very relaxed. I have a feeling it will all unfold in lots of conversations ( and of course showing them pictures and videos here on my laptop!) over the next few days/weeks/months. 

I fell asleep at 7pm last night, and now it's 3am on April 2nd here now. So my jet-lag is mixing things up a bit. But it's not like I'm sleeping through the day. I'd rather go to bed a little early than sleep from 10am to 5pm and sleep the day away.

I opened some things that I had ordered online, to be shipped to my parents house, while I was away .... and so I had a "little Christmas" - a new BOOK to read "Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception" by Maggie Stiefvater, some Cafe Bustelo Coffee, a pair of "Chinese reflexology sandals" (that I had seen on Samantha Brown's  Singapore episode on her Travel Channel show.... :p) 

and apparently a copy of Jane Seymour's book that she wrote in the 1980's, a fantastic, hardcover beauty titled "Jane Seymour's Guide To Romantic Living" . I forgot that I ordered this! haha I remember back in the 90's when one of my best friend's was a big "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman" fan, she had found this book somewhere. Lots of beautiful, great pictures.... tips to live a "Romantic Life ( for yourself - with or without partner) Everyday!" I think I must have been feeling nostalgic for the 90's the day that I clicked the "Order" button.  But it's a great coffee table read :)

Back to China...  the "Tomb Sweeping Festival" has started in China. It is a holiday to remember your ancestors ( or just relax and enjoy two consecutive days off!) I think most people will be off from work on Monday and Tuesday. 

In the QQ message that Lisa sent me... she ended it with "Wo men yichi jaiyou!" - "We'll do this together".  Talking about her desire to move to the US to live and work permanently one day. I told her that she has to learn more English, she has to take English classes. It is the #1. thing on the list. It is SO important in the long run. Now that I know that she really wants to do this, to live here and work here someday, I am getting a real education in US Immigration Law.

I've come to realize and really respect people going through the process ( and am envious of those I see who have already gone through it ..... there was a sweet, old, friendly Chinese man at customs yesterday talking with the guard and he mentioned his "green card")  Getting that Green Card and/or eventually US citizenship, is ( often time consuming and expensive) work. So my deepest and most sincere congratulations to anyone reading this who might have just gotten that green card or citizenship.

I have been sending FB messages with my friend's sister's girlfriend - who has gone through the process ( although she moved here from Australia, so learning English was not a priority for her). She told me that she has a great immigration lawyer that we can use if and when the time comes. Lisa has a degree in Economics and she currently works for Land Rover in China. I feel like she has the discipline and motivation and energy to get a job here, it's just a matter of ( learning English) and finding one.

At this point I am really motivated and energized and excited to learn more about US Immigration and to do the footwork and "brain work" to help her from "this side".

It's interesting (and frustrating) to note that although gay marriage is now legal in several states, because it is not recognized at the FEDERAL level, a gay couple- one American, one foreigner- cannot get US citizenship for the foreigner through marriage ( like many heterosexual couples can, and do). So it has to be through your job sponsoring you.

I don't know what everything will look like in the next 2-3 years. All I know is that I want to help Lisa to eventually live and work permanently here in the US. I know that between now and then I want to live in Asia and to travel/learn/explore more of that side of the world. But I think ultimately we will come back to New York permanently at some point (?). Or maybe she will come visit me in Taiwan and we will get so comfortable there that she will not want to leave? ... I don't know. I just want her here. I want her in my life. That's all that I know for now. And I'm willing/excited to help to make that possible in any way that I can. "Wo Men Yichi Jaiyou" - we'll do it together.

Right now I feel very happy to have my "portal key" to keep me connected to my other "family" in China - not just Lisa, but my TA Metis, "Bella Jeh-Jeh", and Jenny and her family. I ALSO know that "Auntie Em" and "Uncle Henry" here are happy to have me home here for a bit.... and I'm happy to be here and to see them too :). It feels more like I've been away for two weeks as opposed to a year. I'm happy and excited to be "on this side" again now at this point. I also know that a year is truly not a very long time and I will "Return To Oz' very soon.

(hopefully avoiding any "Wheelers" and/or "evil headless women who keep a variety of heads with different hairstyles in their closets" the way most women keep their shoes, in the process!)