Be water, my (expat) friend

It’s unusual for me to want to reblog someone else’s work, but I was just scrolling through my Reader and this post just, you know, hit me where I am. No need for anxious queries. I am not contemplating anything drastic. However, the past semester is making me question where I will be in Xi’an next year, which opens up the mental maelstrom of “what then?” Expat Lingo’s post captures so well this moment of indecision that I thought I’d go ahead and share.

Expat Lingo

Be water, my friend (Bruce Lee) _ expatlingo.com

There comes a time when all expats must face the music and decide whether to stay or go, and if they go, where to go. This hot mess of a decision is complicated by all sorts of things like employers, families, visas, money and heart-strings.

When the decisions get tough, it helps to turn to a power beyond ourselves. For some this might be a heavenly being*. I, however, have settled on Bruce Lee.

Lee was a fount of inspirational quotes, including this one:

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

Strictly speaking, Lee was talking about the practice of martial arts. His words, however…

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Breaking Radio Silence

I’ve been in Xi’an for approximately 8 weeks.

For approximately 8 weeks I’ve been thinking about how I should be blogging. Blogging for my, like, 20 avid readers. And all those random web searches. Well, not them. No, I don’t owe them anything.

But there’s been a problem. A long-lasting eight-week problem.

It’s not what you might think. No, not writer’s block.

No. I know exactly what I would like to say.

I just don’t know HOW to say it.

It’s a question of tone. I don’t know what tone to take. There are many options.

I could be humorous. Making light of everything that’s been going on or not going on. This is common for expat-type blogs. Life abroad is so great! I never ever regret leaving America. Homesick? Never!

I could dig out the ‘ol silver lining. Things haven’t been so hot lately, but—hey!—at least I found some raspberry jam!

I could be academic. In the five weeks since the subject has been in Xi’an he/she has experienced some of the traditional stages of culture shock.

I could be spiritual. Thank you, Jesus, for helping me through these first challenging weeks of my exciting new adventure in China.

I could be emotional. ( )

I could do any of these. I could do all of these. I have weighed the pros and cons of each and have come to no clear decision.

On top of the tone problem there is the problem of how you—the reader—will respond to each of those tones.

To the humorous tone you might be slightly amused. Laugh out loud, shake your head and think you are actually missing out on something great. Which would be more than slightly misleading.

To the silver lining I’m more worried I might not be able to carry it off convincingly and the emotion would bleed through, leaving you with a somewhat unsettled feeling. What exactly is she trying to say here?

To the academic you’d probably be bored. And that’s not really my goal. I might wish that it be understood as a subtle cry for help, but I don’t think that anyone has been analyzing my writing style enough to detect such a disturbing digression from the norm.

To the spiritual you might nod approval or disgust. In either case I will feel slightly dishonest.

To the emotional you might respond in any number of ways. You might be shocked. I can’t believe she wrote that! You might be contemptuous. Oh, please! Get over yourself! You might be amused. Someone’s regressing. You might pity me. Which isn’t what I want. You might have some helpful suggestions for me. Which I’ve probably already heard.

Believe me, I’ve thought about this.

So the question then becomes am I writing for you or am I writing for me?

I wish I could say that I write solely for myself, but it’s not true. I journal for myself, yes, but blogging is essentially public. And I am forced to realize that I am far too concerned with your possible reaction and response to my writing. I wouldn’t want anyone to be displeased with me. I wouldn’t want anyone to be angry with me. Or—God forbid—anyone to think less of me. End of the world.

Yet despite my concern—my fear even—I have this intense need to communicate—to share in a public space, to communicate with other human beings, to offer my experiences in as dispassionate and un-hyped a form as possible for your review and critique hoping—desperately—that when the tale is told there will be agreement from my public, my readers, my friends, that my experiences are real, my feelings valid, and my responses reasonable.

Which would be tremendously appreciated as I am sort of falling apart here.


Top of the Morning

I was awoken to the sound of someone knocking on my door. I listened for a minute to try to verify if it was really my door being knocked on. Yes, unfortunately it was. And I’ve learned that they are really persistent. Ignoring them might not be in my best interests. So, in my hearts-as-strawberries pajamas and otherwise mused state I open the door to a person from the management office, a maintenance man, and the upstairs neighborhood. They want to check if my ceiling is still leaking. Nope, not leaking anymore. They discuss among themselves for a moment and I try not to look conspicuous. The management girl says several sentences of which I don’t understand a word. I apologize and tell her that I don’t understand. She nods. They file out. I close the door. Glad that I can be a source of momentary amusement for the inhabitants of the Ivy League Apartment complex. Top of the morning to you all!


Testing, Testing!

Coming to you remotely today courtesy of my new iPhone!

Though WordPress is a blocked site in China, some parts of the WordPress app seem to work on smart phones. Sure it won’t last. But I thought I’d take the opportunity to check in!

Today I am off to Guangzhou to see a Chinese traditional dance performance with my good friend Naomi. We bought these tickets so long ago it was a surprise to see that the day had finally arrived! This is also an opportunity to see the inside of the beautiful Guangzhou Opera House.

Unfortunately Naomi and I do not travel alone. We are accompanied by Naomi’s 5-year old daughter–a prime example of the dangers of only-child families. A true little empress. I spent almost a week with this girl in January and feel I just barely managed to restrain myself from doing something that would damage my friendship with Naomi.

Fortunately this will be a short trip. Just overnight. My opportunities for wrongdoing will be limited.

Focus on the positive, yes. Well, I am confident that we will have an excellent lunch once we arrive in Guangzhou. And then probably some shopping. I am interested in buying a cute case or two for my phone. It’s just like people clothes–you wouldn’t want to be seen with the same case twice!


Status Report

Hello all! Still alive and well in China-land. Apologies for the sparse blogging. Regrets, etc.

Shockingly enough, we are approaching week 9 here, which is the middle of our semester. Teachers are preparing their mid-term exams and students are sending anxious email queries.

I owe you guys about 50 blogs posts. There are always lots of things I want to share with you, but just get caught up with the day to day. Most blogs start off strong when their writers are in the holy-cow-I’m-in-a-foreign-country stage, but do tend to dwindle as time goes.

I really don’t want my blog to suffer that fate. But there gets to be this tremendous backlog of things you want to write about and suddenly your “fun” writing project seems like a looming term paper. Really kills the joy. So I again am resolving to blog, but aim for shorter posts which will be less intimidating for the writer.

Brief status report would be that all is well. Classes proceed much as they always have. The weather has been mercifully mild up to this point, though humidity has been distressingly high. (We will discuss the growth of mold as time allows.) We have entered the rainy season, nary a sunny day for several weeks. Socially things are comfortable. I have my people and my routines. Generally speaking, life is good!

Plans for next year are unknown. I have applied for a special teaching program and several other jobs as well, but haven’t heard back from anyone yet. (Prayer, please?) If all else fails, I would be welcome to stay here and some days that doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing. I should be home in the summer, but really need some summer work to make it financially feasible. Two months with no work is a quick way to burn through my savings from the rest of the year.

That about sums it up! Promise to deliver some posts about my New Zealand trip and other goings-on here.

Campus Life, China, Cultural Differences, Educational System, Teaching, Uncategorized, University Teaching

The Chinese Student: Behavior #2

We return to the Chinese student in his/her natural environment. The student habitually chooses a seat as far away from the board as humanly possible. (Generally, there is an inverse relationship between row number and class mark.)

Mid-way through the lesson the teacher might get irritated at the student’s obvious lack of attention and call on them to answer a question. Invariably the student will have a quizzical who?-me? expression or might only respond to a kindly meant elbow from their classmate. The teacher will patiently repeat the question.

The student will squint at the board and then nonchalantly reach for their glasses. Teacher goggles and mind implodes with this revelation. Student has been sitting in class the entire time unable to see the board and not caring in the least. But the surprise isn’t over yet!

The student then holds up their glasses to their eyes, but DOES NOT UNFOLD THEM NOR PUT THEM ON. He/she holds them up like a magnifying glass or a monocle, despite the fact that the arms are obstructing their view. Do you understand what I’m describing? Does it not absolutely boggle your mind?

Consider the staggering implications: not only has the student not been able to see the board for the entire lesson, but he/she doesn’t have any intention of following the lesson past finishing this obligatory activity. So it would simply be wasted effort to actually put the glasses on. I mean, why would you want to see the board?

When the student finishes answering the question or giving a perfunctory “I don’t know,” the glasses are lowered and placed back on the desk. The student resumes state of suspended animation.


I was amused to see a signigicant increase in site visits in the last few days. My devoted readers! Waiting for, like, the first blog post in, like, FOREVER! Yeah, sorry about that whole not-blogging-for-four-months business.

But I’m back and feeling ready to write! So stay tuned!

Thanks for coming and reading!

Is She Blogging Yet?