Sunday, May 30, 2010


It's nice to be an affluent American (I know I'm affluent because I had to pay taxes this year when President Obama was giving tax breaks to middle and lower income Americans) and have a lot of stuff, but that stuff can really get in the way when you need it to fit in a small bedroom. We started our packing process this Memorial Day weekend and got the china cabinet packed (Joe likes that irony). Also, we ordered both our three 62" rolling duffel bags (red for good luck) and vacuum storage bags, and we'll see how well that works.

In my reading, I finished "Shanghai Girls," which I recommend if you like novels about Chinese women who survive the 1937 Japanese invasion and then fight against discrimination when they emigrate to Los Angeles. I loved it, especially the author's (Lisa See) use of Chinese vocabulary in various dialects. No, can't remember particular examples of the vocabulary; I'm still not really working on learning my Mandarin. I have started "Life and Death in Shanghai" by Nien Cheng, an autobiography of Ms. Cheng's experiences in a Chinese labor camp after the Communist takeover. So far my most probing question is how she was able to get iced tea in 1966, but I haven't read very far.

As the school year ends (two more days with children remain), I have been collecting my instruments, taking inventory and cleaning out my rooms. As that process completes, I turn in my keys to my schools, something I have never done in the past. I tried turning in the first set of keys this week, and ended up weeping all over the office, much to my surprise. Yes, I liked the school and my colleagues very much, but just didn't expect the simple act of turning in keys to be so emotional. This doesn't bode well for my upcoming farewell parties!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pajamas Are Not Street Clothes

Or so says the Shanghai government. Like many people here in the US, the Chinese have recently taken to wearing their pajamas out in public, and with the Expo in full swing, the Shanghai officials are cracking down on this less-than-elegant habit. Citizens have signed up to be "pajama squads," taking public pajama wearers back home to get some pants, for pete's sake! Once again, I find myself coming down on the side of the communist government.

Our papers came from the school and they look really beautiful with all the characters. No idea what any of it means, but the document processing service says they can handle everything with no problem, so we'll send our passports, visa applications and introduction papers when we're done with school here in June. We'll be getting a 90-day visa at first, then upgrading to a multiple-entry visa after we get there, but I'm not sure how that works. I think that's one of those things taken on faith.

I also had a little experience this week that reminded me of something that's been happening in China recently. My kids and I were involved in a lockdown at one of my schools when a robbery happened in the neighborhood and the authorities thought the robber might be in our vicinity. We had an interesting 30 minutes or so (during which I did almost nothing according to protocol except for locking the door), and then everything was fine. My colleagues in China have not been so fortunate. The rural areas (not Shanghai and certainly NOT my school) have had several incidents where individuals have broken into the school and killed both students and teachers using things as basic as a hammer, which is a real heartbreaker when you consider that these parents only get one child. How will the government respond to this?

Just the same, we're still excited and amazingly, still finding people to tell. I spoke to a couple of my former teachers, my neighbor down the street (who had already heard and was really just confirming), and even the author of the book I read this week ("Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" by Lisa See, a great novel about the relationships among Chinese women in the 19th century, and I highly recommend it). One thing agreed on by people in the know: Shanghai in August is "hot and humid" (Ms. See) or "hot and sultry" (Wendy, my email buddy). Ugh. A recent point of contention centers around continuing confusion about the blocking power of the Great Firewall. Beth (a recent NAU visitor to Beijing) says Facebook is fine and blogging is blocked, while Chris (the IT genius at my school) maintains just the reverse. I guess I'll find out when I get there, but I've read more opinions supporting Chris than Beth. Also, my Australian email buddy is very enthusiastic about Chinese health care and medications, so I wonder if I'm not suffering from some American bias (or is that bigotry?). Problem is, China doesn't produce any credible healthcare stats for comparative purposes. Again, something to take on faith.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

More Farewells

We have eleven days of school remaining, and I am finishing up my final concerts. My colleagues at Knoles gave me a lovely send-off this week, complete with two pairs of earrings, nice and light so they will fit in my still unpurchased luggage. Joe is trying very hard to stay focused at work where most of the meetings and discussions deal with next year's schedules and personnel. Our visa supporting documents will be sent to us in the coming week, and Ms. Kasono has also sent quite a few emails about what and what not to say in our application. We will have to call our chosen consulate to find out if they will require us to have a round-trip ticket. If so, the school will contact its travel agent and help us out on that point, which is a relief to us and our checking account!

I'm still having a good time announcing my plans to the very few people in Flagstaff who haven't heard. I was waiting to get some blood drawn when the woman sitting next to me asked what I was reading. I had "Being Chinese" with me, which sounds pretty nuts when you look at my blue eyes and curly hair, so I got to explain my reading choice. By the way, it's a great book of stories of people who are ethnically Chinese but not born in China. I am fascinated by the importance of maintaining Chinese culture, regardless of the person's country of birth, as well as the rather recent history of paper sons and daughters (where Chinese children moved to other countries using immigration papers of other people), and I'm learning about Buddhist worship practices and Chinese holidays and festivals. I should probably put some of these on my calendar!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Stack of Money

Both of my email buddies agree that when they arrived in Shanghai, they were greeted by an administrator bearing a "stack of money," both US and Chinese currency. We asked how much money we should bring with us and how much needed to be converted to yuan before we get there. The other point of agreement is that women with curly hair (me) have considerable trouble getting a good haircut in Shanghai. Wendy says that the female staff members have long hair pulled up because of the humidity, so I will continue my growing-out process and see what I need to do with my bangs when I get there. I can cut my own bangs (though many hairdressers have disagreed), so maybe I'll be okay if I pack my Fiskars scissors and a few hair doo-dads. I watched a video on dealing with frizzy hair, but it all seemed designed to leave my hair completely straight, which isn't really the way I'd like to go.

We also priced suitcases and got some sticker shock. Korean Air will allow us checked bags of a size of 62 inches (length + width + height), so we looked at some nice big bags at Big Lots, the cheapest of which was $50.00, and we need three! It was just a bit more than we had planned, so we came home and researched some rolling duffels online. We also bought a DSLR camera, which will arrive tomorrow and is supposed to use the lenses we already have from our Minolta 35 mm SLR, so there's some more money heading out the door. We got a quote on laying flagstone in our backyard, something which needs to happen before we leave, but the estimate of $3,000 is just a bit more than we can manage, so we're going to have to schedule some time for a little DIY project. Too bad that stack of money can't show up a little sooner...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

How to Get to Shanghai, Google Style

Beth, who is doing her student teaching in band and has been to China with an NAU music group, was kind enough to show me the Google Maps driving directions from Flagstaff to Shanghai. For some reason, the route goes up to Seattle, where the next direction is (I kid you not) "Kayak across the Pacific Ocean" for some 1200 miles or so. You pick up your car in Hawaii and kayak again on the opposite side of the islands until you reach Japan, then drive through Japan until you hop a jet ski into Shanghai. The directions are so serious that you just laugh until you are crying. I think we'll stick with Korean Air!

The "what will Tammy be teaching?" contest continues. Steve wrote with what he hopes is good news, that my current assignment will have a couple of strings classes (hooray!) and probably percussion ensemble. The only roll I can do on a snare involves the drum rotating sideways down a hall or something, but perhaps I can learn a little before August.

The countdown song produced some lively lyrics, mainly from my family members, who really like to create lively lyrics. Here are some samples, and you can fill in your favorite number of days (it's 93 today FYI):
# days 'til we fly to Shanghai, # days 'til we fly
"You'll be in a place where the government spies"
"You'll be in a place where they eat dogs in pies"
"Jack will be sad, in his room he will lie"
"Your family will all stay here and cry"
# days 'til we fly to Shanghai.
Clever, no?

I finished "Red China Blues" and recommended it to Joe. After recounting her experiences, Ms. Wong gave her (1996) opinion as to how China will develop in the coming years, and she, like many other China commentators, is at best uncertain. However, I found her analysis of the one-child policy to be rather convincing. She quotes a friend of hers, Michael Crook, who says, "If you have a population of Little Emperors, you can't have a population of slaves. Everyone will want to tell everyone else what to do. You'll have democracy." Hey, that sounds like a good idea! Someone tell the Communist Party, but not me. I'm still working on a visa application.

We tried a little home Chinese cooking, with different results. I made Kung Pao chicken and hated it, but Joe liked it. Joe made Curried Beef and loved it, but I hated it. The kung pao sauce (which involves soy) made everything taste burned, and the curry was just plain sweet. I love sweet stuff, but not as a main dish. Today we had hot pot cooking (the Chinese form of fondue with a spicy sauce instead of oil or cheese) and pork dumplings. Fortunately, for this experiment, no soy sauce was used and we went to the home of our friends Sarah and Nate, who have both been to China (Nate did his LDS mission there and speaks Chinese) and have good cooking skills. I loved both of the dishes, so hallelujah and pass the hot pot!