Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Oh My God, 1 More Month...

... until I am married! Consecutive thoughts running in my head in a span of a milisecond: "oh my god, i can't believe it, i can't wait, oh my god, is this really happening?, goodness i'm getting married, i am just the luckiest girl, oh my god, i can't wait that long, no i need more time to prepare, no i wanna do it now, oh my god, he's so beautiful, forever, this is my future, am i going to cry?, oh yea i'm gonna bawl, OH-MY-GAWD."

I can't wait to board that plane in a few weeks to go and see friends and family whom i so desperately want to see and hug and to meet my new friends and family in London and Jersey. I'm even looking forward to our 13 flights we'll be taking in a span of 2 weeks! We've been downloading a ton of movies to occupy our time in the air, just have to make sure we bring enough batteries for the laptop.

Having a ton of fun at the local YuErYuan (Kindergarten) where i'm volunteering 3 times a week. I've been given a challenge with one of the other teachers: come up with a dance routine to a disco song, teach it to all the kids in each class so that they can perform it in the public square in less than a month. Yes, I love a good project! Fond memories of doing dance routines with 'my girls' back in elementary school to Michael Jackson's "Black or White", Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" and god knows what else, I've been racking my brain for simple dance moves for these kids who, keep in mind, clap their hands/stamp their feet about a half-beat off of the main beat in any song. So i thought something simple yet cutsey would do. And a LOT of repetition. So far so good. I spent the good part of the past two days choosing a song and waving my hands and doing the grapevine, trying desperately to choreograph something that is simply entertaining but not pathetic. Tis a fine line, a fine line.

Still doing tennis twice a week, which is great exercise despite the heat which makes my salty sweat drip into my eyes after only 10 minutes, but i digress. Yesterday, I played with my coach's 11 year old son (school's out and all the kids are just loafing around, although i think it's well deserved considering the amount of stress and homework they are given 10 months out of the year). Her son and I played a mock match and i was so good, i let him win. Ha ha, right. It was great fun though and we shook hands like professionals.

I'm starting a class of about 4-5 students next week, 2 times a week, all between 10-12 years, all different levels of English. I have chosen kids that i've already taught, or kids of my friends who don't want their child's English level to plummit in the summer due to underuse. I thought about it a lot while doing laps a few days ago in the pool, and I thoguht about the many requests of private teaching that i've been asked to take on. Because teaching languages is not my ultimate passion and goal, i want to do it because i want to do it. And truthfully, i think kids deserve a break in the summer, especially Chinese kids (really, they get so much work it makes my primary school days look like a field trip to the park) and so my plan is to play games with them, watch movies, go down and play basketball or tennis (we have both courts on the 5th floor of our apt. building), cook/bake, etc. But all in English. My intention is that it shouldn't be a baby-sitting service but more of a day-camp atmosphere. All the parents are keen and understand and agree with my reasoning. We start next Monday. I'm really excited, both at the fact that i'll have a class of eager students doing fun and enjoyable things together, and also that i'll be helping my local friends for teaching their child) who have helped me enormously in so many ways.

Anyway, a lot of my week is full up and i like it. It took me a while to find my niche and get used to a routined schedule that i had to organize myself. Matt and I have also started getting together with friends once a week for a 'games night'. It's fun and relaxed and a much nicer (in my humble opinion) atmosphere than hanging out at a bar. So far, we've played Set, Uno, Cranium, and mah-jong! Yes, can you believe? I can see a lot of my cousins and aunts/uncles gaping open-mouthed at the screen right now. It's true. Although it wasn't at the same fast-paced frenzy that my relatives play at, it was fun to learn the game. Next time we gotta get out the gambling chips!

And so, filling up our weekly itinerary is a must in order to keep sane and not let the little things of Urumqi-living get to us, but it still does in its own special ways. Like how our sofa is made of fake leather (read: icky plastic) and everytime you get off of it, you must peel your skin off carefully or else risk plastic-burn. Or how the fridge is now unable to close properly unless you shut it with both hands and inspect it to make sure the magnetic edges have stayed shut. Or how people here still do not understand how a basic elevator works, and will push the button continuously with increasing urgency, as if that will speed up the process. Or how I manage to meet time and time again the same Avon lady in the elevator who will, for the entire duration of our descent/ascent, try to persuade me to attend their 'party' and sample a few of their beauty products because "even though i may have healthy looking skin now, i will grow old and become an ugly old frog.

And there is only one way to prevent that and that is to use Avon products and hey, why don't you follow me to the 22nd floor where we're having a beauty product sampling party now?" Ok, the frog part's my doing, but honestly, you'd think saying no the first time round is enough to ward off any imposing salesperson. But not here, nope. I would have gotten slapped if i insisted with the same fervor as she does when i was selling electricity door-to-door back in Ottawa. God, i can't believe i did that, yikes.

Anyway I know it probably sounds like a bunch of lame everyday occurrences i'm listing off, but it's the little things that build up and they are just signs. Signs that change is needed and welcomed. At the end of the day, i can't help but feel this is just a stage in my life - which i try to enjoy to its max - before starting anew as a newlywed .... wherever and whenever that may be, and THAT IS EXCITING and it is what keeps me going when i'm just bored and feel trapped in a city that is, in its own way, trapped between the mountain ranges and the desolate deserts, far away from any other major city where lies comfy soft sofas, refrigerators that close properly, people who understand and adhere to elevator etiquette and salespeople who are trained to be professional, respectful and polite to their (potential) customers. Wow, well that felt good to vent! :D

Looking ahead and on the bright side, as we tell ourselves we should always do, I look increasingly forward to going to Canada and Jersey, where I will be literate again and where things are just, in a nutshell, easier.

Because two foreigners cannot get married in China (unless one of us becomes a Chinese citizen, which is out of the question for too many reasons) we decided to get married in Jersey on July 29th. Why the 29th? Well, according to the Jersey registrar's rules and regulations, we have to be physially there no less than 3 days in advance.

It was quite a process in order to book the date/time, they are quite keen on their 'long birth certificate' requirement (meaning that the birth cert. must state the full names of the parents, which, as all we ontarians know, is not included on our wallet-size birth cert. So mom had to call the hospital of where i was born, ask them to look it up on their old data files, have them draft up a letter stating their full names, and then send it to Jersey for approval.

Unfortunately the hospital messed up and mispelled mom's name and so the whole process had to be repeated, but what's more unbelievable is that they didn't even keep the original letter on file! It appears that they just type up a letter and on the record they mention that a letter was written for so-and-so on this date. Incredible, what a waste of time! Sounds like something that would happen in China, ah, but i shouldn't just overlook my birthtown like that. Hmm.

But it looks like it's ok now, and all we have to pray for is that our plane is not delayed going into Jersey as that would mean technically LESS than 3 days prior to the ceremony. My parents will be coming over for that event also, followed by a dinner party at L'Etable (The Thornington residence) surrounded by Matt's side of the family. I'm beginning to see how even that signing ceremony will be very special, even though we don't want to make a big deal out of it. For us, our real wedding celebration will be here in Xinjiang in September.

Despite my grumblings of daily life here, I have to keep a cool head about things and realize that a lot of people would give a lot to be in my shoes, that i am lucky enough to love someone so much who just returns it right back to me. And just the mere fact that we will come back to Urumqi legally married is just so fantastically exciting! I'm sorry, I'm holding it back, I've just got to exclaim it one last time: Oh My God!

Saturday, June 25, 2005


I met up with two of my ex-students from when i was in Zhozhou last night for Peking Duck. Susan, an elegant woman who lives in Urumqi, and Liyan, a fiesty (sorry, feisty) newlywed here on business for a few days from Dunhuang in Gansu province. I've seen Susan several times since arriving in Urumqi but it was the first time i've seen Liyan since i left Zhuozhou in Nov. 2003. There are some people in your life whom you say goodbye to knowing that you'll probably never see them again. But by some miracle or sign, your paths cross again and it's a glorious reunion.

This morning I received a phone call from a good friend back home in Canada. It was such a pleasant surprise, and only until we hung up did i realize how i needed to talk to a friend, to hear a familiar voice and to talk about familiar things.

I'm not religious whatsoever, but i do believe there are signs that come into our lives that help us learn certain lessons, realize things that we may have put to the back burner, accentuate various points of views we may have missed, make us remember to be grateful and kind to one another, and to bring the fact home that there are people who you did, and continue to today, make a positive impact on.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Calling Babe at Table 731

Last night was definitely one of the most "interesting" nights i've had yet in Urumqi (which btw, i'm nearing my 9 month mark - whoa!). It started out with a simple but absolutely delicious meal at a Uyghur restaruant a little bit out of town. There were about 10 of us, all going in separate cars. We followed one of them to this restaurant, which was an event in itself: the driver of the other car was obsessively weaving in and out of the traffic, not caring that it was rush hour and obviously unaware of the fact that it was simply dangerous to be driving at such high speeds when people and children were crossing the roads like chickens, bicycles and mini tractors were crawling along in the middle lanes, and that we were trying to follow and not run over anything that was in motion, or inanimate for that matter. We got there alright, but i would have preferred it if it wasn't at the cost of my pulsating heartrate and clenched fists. I sincerely have faith in my fiance's driving (there's no way i could possibly survive driving in China that's for sure, not in this lifetime), but i don't trust anybody else on the road.

Anyway, back at the restaurant, we feasted on the freshest and sweetest fruits i have ever tasted (watermelon that came from the most Eastern coast of China, the other end of where we are!). The driver is a fruit-connaisseur and it was he who arranged this delightful spread of citrus. Apparently there are over 70 kinds of apricots, 10 types of watermelon, and god knows how many types of peaches, plums, grapes. I enjoy the fact that at a Uyghur meal, fruit is served first, wetting the appetite - literally - for the other sumptuous tastes to follow. In Chinese meals, fruit is served last and is usually limited to oranges and apples.

Meat with a capital M was this dinner's theme, we had rabbit, pigeon, mutton, gorgeous-tasting kebabs, sheep filled baozi, Uyghur-style pizza, finishing off with a divine noodle soup and cold plum juice.

Honestly, that dinner ranks up there with my top 5 dinners in China.

Afterwards, we trooped down to this disco/bar place that was situated a few steps away from EF, where i used to teach. You would never know it from the outside, but on the 9th floor of this inconspicuous building lies an innovative hotspot for Urumqi dating. A bit sleazy and on the verge of skank, this place's unique attribute is the concept of having a telephone at each table where people can dial one another from their own table, chat it up, and if all goes well, arrange to meet. Each table has a number above it so you know what to dial, although one has to be careful not to misdial or a lot of embarassment could result. It's such an intersting concept, this telephone-flirting thing. It gives both parties the open door to assess each other without meeting face to face yet, but both knowing that they're in the same room and not needing to make eye-contact. And the beauty of it is if the telephone chit-chat all goes downhill, there is no obligation to follow up and the most important part is: there is no loss of face. Ingenuis.

Anyways, i had no idea this kind of thing existed but i was intrigued at its creativity of allowing shy and introverted people, whom there are a lot of in China, to be given a chance to meet others, even if it does seem like a desperate alternative to conventional dating methods. But i digress, what is conventional these days? And hey, at least you know that for the others who are there dialing each other up four feet away, they too are just as desperate. There's a little comfort in solidarity.

It's the next day and I'm still kind of bewildered at it all; it's amazing how you can be instantly transported into a completely different world of laser lights, dark booths with see-through curtains, high tables and stools, scantily clad women, and the likes... all this by stepping into an elevator and pressing a button. Unreal. And just outside is the regular routine of people rushing about, cars swerving to miss pedestrians, spit and snot littered on the ground every few seconds, and other sights and sounds and smells of China that i'm just so accustomed to now it's scary. It's not even strange anymore to hear Christmas music (IN JUNE!) blasting out of fast-food chains to passer-bys like we heard last night. Oh, China.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Alas, a bit of coolness

The rain yesterday brought some pleasant cool breeze today. The countdown continues until we go to Canada and Jersey - I cannot wait to see my friends. I miss them terribly, especially those late night chats at the 24 hr Timmy's or the endless intimate conversations over ice-cream and cake. I miss it all, so much.
I also am excited to see my grandparents. It's been too long, and so much has happened.

Monday, June 20, 2005

I'm so hot

Bargaining wears you down, way down, and it seems that it's a steeper decline to utter frustration in China than in other countries where bargaining is also practiced. From what i can remember, it was never as annoying or mind-numbing as it is here. I try to make it fun sometimes, sweet-talking my way as their buddy or sister or friend; in the end i'm usually given a decent price and a genuine smile, it's a nice little bright spot in your day where you are made to believe you got a cheap rate and where the shopkeeper seemed to have had a little bit of fun. However sometimes (most times) i can't be bothered in China, just gotta grit your teeth and wade your way through the gruelling process.

Matt and I bought 100 carpets over the weekend which we'll be giving them away to guests when we visit Canada and Jersey. The indoor market which we were in had prob close to a hundred little shops, some fabric stores,......... will continue shortly, sorry.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

peter pan had the right idea

For certain moments in my time at the Kindergarten, i forget where i am and am immersed in a sea of little children. Their tiny bodies and skimpy limbs offer so much light and magic. I see for split fractions of a second how precious and honourable it would be to be a parent and to lead a child to learn about the world and about him/herself. I get a very rousing "Bonnie Lao Shi!!" welcome everytime i go; kids hurl their whole bodies into my arms and we hug like we are best friends; while walking hand in hand to the playground yesterday, the girl whose hand i was holding suddenly kissed my hand, and then looked up at me with a huge grin, my heart melted.

There are things that come and go in life, changes that occur suddenly where you must make real decisions immediatly, feelings of wanting and needing a change of atmosphere but unsure of where to get it, but it seems to me that what is constant is a child's love, given so unconditionally and freely. How do they grow up to be like the rest of us in this world, so jaded and scarred?


Soooo tired. Why? I dunno.

I was chatting with some of the kiddies in the hall today, when one little boy comes up to hug me (which literally translates to him latching on to my waist, face burried in my stomach), we talk for a little while, he shows me his painting on the wall, and then he sticks his thumb in my face.

I noticed immediately his thumb is split in two from the joint up, with two little thumbnails at each end. Totally normal-looking besides the fact that he has a thonged-thumb. He seems quite proud of his quirk but i'm sure he'll get his share of stares and snickers as he grows older. We think children can be mean to each other, but adults are just as bad.

Another little boy pulled his pants down in front of everyone, and then without skipping a beat, pulled his underpants down also. He did a proud little jig in a circle and then sat back down in his blue chair, pants and underwear still around his ankles. Totally random and wonderfully unexpected.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

summer sneezes and shrieks

I hate allergies. You wake up with drool and snot clogged in your nose, you sneeze continuously, your head swells with pain as each sneeze gets more intense.

Nothing smells good, or bad for that matter, because you can't smell anything anyway. Taste is pretty much the same. Your eyes are red and puffy and you are exhausted. You threaten yourself with self-imposed punishments if you even rub your eyes for one second, but you cannot help your hands which just happen to gravitate upwards. Ok, i'm done my ranting now. I just wish it would go away.

Hmmm.... so after a lovely lovely long weekend in hot and humid Hong Kong (made longer by the fact that we JUST missed our flight back; long story and unecessary to elaborate because it will only result in my embarassment) we are back home. Swam on Lamma island, saw a theatre show (poems put to drama and improv), ate way too much out-of-this-world food, drank ice mochas every day, shopped for 2 solid days which is very unlike Matt or I, however we did stock up on books, dvd's, summer wear, etc.

I'm spending 3 afternoons a week now at the local Bilingual Kindergarten now. Besides teaching 3 separate classes of 2-6 year olds English, I will also be instructing the teachers themselves. I've just started this week, but already i'm hooked on the kids. How can something so TINY make such loud shrieks? Yesterday, one little girl in a pretty frilly white dress basically stood in the corner all day and screamed her head off. It wasn't even like a wail, it was a perfectly pitched scream that never wavered, only slightly vibratoed, which makes it even more deafning i think.

One kid wore a small towel around his neck the whole day as he was suffering from acute nose dribbling (a fellow allergy victim perhaps). Another 3 clung to my 2 legs like dogs, I'm glad they haven't considered the concept of tickling me at the same time yet. One girl turned up in her party costume: this bright yellow tutu with bleached stockings and her hair done up in some weird bun thing, sparkles and all. Her parents must've been so proud of their little princess ballerina, but honestly, how practical is that outfit for a 3 year old whose only goal of the day should be to feed herself in the mouth and not on her clothes?

As cute, playful and care-free as these kiddies are, their attention spans are something of a wonder to me. One kid would accidentally trip over another kid's feet, land right on his face and start wailing with huge tears running down his face. As soon as one of the teachers would attempt to comfort him, he would get up and start running around again, his tears drying up instantly.

I've worked with primary students and youth, but this age group is new to me. They require a lot of different activities baack-to-back, no more than a few minutes long. They need discipline as much as they need hugs and kisses, although when one kid knows that he/she did something wrong, you can tell how immensely guilty they feel by that lingering look in their eyes which are trying to avert your evil glares. One of the beauties of such young children is their inability to outright lie (yet).

Music is something that kids respond well to. This morning we were running around franctically in the carpeted classroom, i'm not sure why but there we were (me included), running at full speed in circles and zig zags and figure eights in a closed area.

A bit crazy and dangerous upon thought, but then the teacher puts on The Carpenters and starts to stride slowly, arms outstretched, in a big circle, walking in time to "... every sha-la-la, every whoa-ooh-whoa-ooh...". Everyone followed suit (me included). Amazing. It was like witnessing little human robots in training.