Tag Archives: Changsha

Hong Kong Trip 3: My Continued Struggle to Accept Potable Water and Victoria Peak, which is a Metaphor for Victory

11 Apr

This view from the the Circle Trail at the top of Victoria Peak is a metaphor for potable water, which is a metaphor for development, which is a metaphor for what I was deprived of in Changsha, which is a metaphor for love. I’m not saying the developing world is devoid of love. I’m saying that Changsha was.

I’m also saying that metaphors don’t obey the transitive property.

About two hours later, on the other side of Victoria Peak, this was the view:

The Victoria Harbour, seen above, has been shrinking due to land reclamation projects for two thousand years, starting during the Western Han Dynasty when beaches were reclaimed into fields for salt production. Major land reclamation projects have been conducted since the 19th century, when the British first colonized the area.

The entire urban area of Tsim Sha Tsui (one of the many names I carefully avoided saying during my grueling 2.5-day stay in Hong Kong), for example, was reclaimed from the Bay. It’s the part of Kowloon that I was staying in, and where many of the territory’s museums are now located.

As I was staring out at this extremely historically-charged view and considering the epic wonder of human continuity, inevitable geological change, and glittery lights, an attractive Indian-Canadian man came and struck up a conversation with me. He casually offered to take a photo of me in front of the view, which turned out terrible. He took one without flash, which turned out worse.

Then, said easy-on-the-eyes gentleman invited me to take a turn about the Circle Trail with him in the deepening twilight. Ever quick on the uptake, I unhesitatingly said, “No, I’ve been going clockwise on the path, I don’t want to go backwards.”

I guess the moral is that when they called me “task-oriented instead of people-oriented,” they meant “borderline autistic,” and I will probably die alone. But at least my children (born out of wedlock) won’t have a weird Alberta accent.

Next: Katherine stops bumming us all out with romantic incompetence and takes us all on a trip to see A MASSIVE STATUE OF BUDDHA ON A MOUNTAIN. Will there be vegetarian dim sum? Will there be pictures of large quantities of dried fish?! Only time can tell!


Trip to Shenzhen: The Armpit of China

4 Apr

At the end of my fall semester last year, my Chinese tutor xiao Pan invited me to visit her older sister’s family in Shenzhen!

“That’s in the south,” I thought. “It’s getting cold up here in Changsha, time to follow the sun. Besides, it’s in Guangdong province–home of dim sum. Civilization!”

I also had wild dreams of making a run for it into Hong Kong, before my January trip to America. Xiao Pan wouldn’t be able to come with me, since she was a mainland Chinese citizen, so I’d have to brave the trek across the Luohu land boundary alone.

Xiao Pan and I took an overnight train to Shenzhen, and I was not groped-while-sleeping, kept-awake-all-night-by-curious-passengers, or subjected to any of the other inconveniences I’d been warned that foreigners suffer on Chinese trains. I was kept awake part of the night by giggling with my good friend xiao Pan, pictured above on the right with her little nephew. But that was another matter.

Shortly after we arrived in the sooty, chilly town of Shenzhen (it was snowing in Changsha by then, so I couldn’t complain), I broached the idea to xiao Sarah.

“Where is the dim sum?” I asked.


“Dim sum!” I said, making hand gestures in the shape of small fried rolls stuffed with unholy parts of the pig. “Sum dim. Dim sum?”

She stared blankly at me, and we spent a few minutes Googling things. Then, after a few image searches, realization dawned.

“You mean yum cha.”


“Tea tasting. I’ll find a place.” So that was settled.

Meanwhile, we went out and bought ourselves a rock-hard mattress that was placed in the loft next to her sister’s bedroom. I called it our marriage bed. It was cold at night, we didn’t have sheets and there was no heating. During the day, my favorite thing to do was cuddle up in our blanket with xiao Pan and watch Merlin. That’s right–we were classy.

One day that week we decided to be classy, and go on an expedition. Xiao Pan had never seen the ocean before, and Shenzhen has a coast, so we made our way down to the seaside.

When we got there, it was about 50 degrees and windy as shit. I tried to explain to her that the homeland of my people–San Francisco and/or Oregon–was exactly like this, and that it was traditional to buy a commemorative sweatshirt and have fish and chips while staring into the grey and angry waters. But she’d apparently had her heart set on LA surfer-type weather complete avec shirtless copper-skinned men (okay, I might be embellishing slightly) and was extremely disappointed.

And so it was that the normally Pollyangelique-xiao Pan grew to detest the chilly, smoky city much like most of us jaded foreigners do. She cutely stamped her cute foot into the pavement of the sidewalk, saying, “I hate Shenzhen! I hate Shenzhen!”

Hopefully when she finally visits me, San Francisco will be having its one sunny day that year.

Sarah's nephew eating dinner with his grandpa!

After an extremely frustrating and unpleasant 3-hour trip across the city via public transit our dim sum trip turned into dim NONE (haha see what I did there), and we reassessed our options. It turned out we were staying not in Shenzhen proper but in a suburb, which is like staying not in the armpit of China but in an orbiting sweat-covered dust mite. So we decided to cherish the fact that we were in a shopping mall that had, like, stores in it, and restaurants not-serving-Changsha-food.

“That restaurant serves Thai food,” said xiao Pan helpfully, pointing to a facade in a small food court. I was sorely tempted, but I hadn’t yet given up on the dim sum idea.

“Let’s go look for dim sum, and if it doesn’t work out we can come back.” At this point in life, I had figured out that pad thai can solve almost any problem, even those caused by six hours of public transit for basically no reason.

We spent about twenty desperately hungry minutes searching, and then wandered back to the original restaurant.

“I can’t believe there’s Thai food in this place, I haven’t had any since coming to China.”

“There’s Thai food in Changsha,” said xiao Pan helpfully. “It is tasty, I like it.”

We sat down in the restaurant, and I looked at the menu. I looked at xiao Pan.

“I like Taiwan Province food,” she repeated. “Have you tried it?”

“Thai…thai-wan?” I said, staring blankly. “Not Thai-LAND?!”

“In my opinion,” xiao Pan said, misusing the phrase, “Thai-land is Thai-wan Province.”

And then I did not kill one of my best friends for the sake of lost pad thai. I’d say it was big of me.

This baby cried whenever I looked at him for more than 2 seconds. The grandmother, luckily, thought his fear of foreigners was HILARIOUS.


Welcome to Changsha, the Newark of China

8 Mar

Welcome to my daily commute. In Changsha, this was my walk to the bus. Yes, those are four blind corners, and yes, there was moderate traffic at all times of the night and day. Once I saw a teenage band perform in there. I assume they survived, but I have my doubts about their equipment.

This is Hou Jie, or “Back Street.” It’s the street behind the university where I taught, Hunan Normal. Actually, it’s between Hunan Normal and Central South–I lived on the West Bank of the river, where a ton of universities clustered. It was one of the few good things about Changsha, that college town vibe. Hunan Normal was pretty far from the downtown, so the shops on streets like this were incredibly cheap.

They burned garbage in the middle of the street sometimes, but I mean you could get dumplings for like 30 cents. Oh, and the best part–one of the tea shops was actually called “Demon Box.” Chinglish is a beautiful language.

Hunan Normal and the other college on the West Bank are actually at the foot of a hill–often translated as Yuelu Mountain (actually a hill, guys, come on now). This shot is of the small Taoist temple at the top, when Faye (my sitemate) and I climbed it early fall semester. The view from the top was only 30% obscured by foul smog. But hey, we could see this nifty temple.

That’s me, Se7en, and Faye at the Orange Island Music Festival in fall semester.

This concludes your tour of The Good Things About Changsha. 😉

Teaching English in China with CIEE

7 Mar

CIEE sent us to some cool events, including an acrobatics show (above). See that big hollow metal ball? They rode MOTORCYCLES in it. Like, straight up. Well not straight…you know what I mean.

Overall CIEE was a pretty decent placement agency. I wound up with a workweek of around 8 hours/week, paid the equivalent of $6,000 for the whole year, which was enough to live pretty large in that area. Plus, when I was stranded in the Middle of @#$king nowhere, Yunnan Province (a very scenic area), the lead Shanghai staffperson totally wired me $50 to get my sorry butt back to civilization (also known as Kunming).

That said, they did technically place me in an “extralegal” position. You know, like every teaching position in Changsha.  I didn’t figure this out until about 7 months in; apparently you are technically supposed to have two years post-graduation work experience before teaching English ANYWHERE in China, for visa reasons I guess. Except…nobody with two years experience is going to accept a position in Changsha! They’re going for Beijing or Shanghai or someplace else with milkshakes and peanut butter on every corner. So the one year they enforced this rule, Changsha had no English teachers.

That’s mainland China for you–existing on the creative side of the law.

China the Indescribable

6 Mar


This is a scholar’s desk at the museum of Old Shanghai at the Xintiandi shopping mall in–you guessed it, downtown Shanghai. Nearby was a Haagen-dazs that served the most ornate ice cream plates I’ve ever seen. (I spent the rest of that day wondering if Haagen-dazs was secretly a restaurant in America, too. It isn’t.)

Last year, for those of you who don’t know, I spent 10 months (September through June) living in China. I did orientation in Shanghai (no orientation jokes, please…ha, ha), then I was placed by CIEE in Changsha, Hunan Province. Described by neighboring Chinese provinces as a city with “Nothing to do, nothing to see, and nothing to eat,” it wasn’t…the best place to be for a year of my life. But I made some awesome friends.


(Guess which one I am?)


The above were my students. Yep, that’s right–they were 18 and 19-year-old college students! Right after I’d graduated, myself…it was very intimidating teaching a group of such intelligent young women and men, but they were gentle with me. 😉

Plus these excellent non-student friends:


The above are: my tutor xiao Sarah, my China mentor lao Sarah, my fellow writer CJ, me, Hong Kong friend Dora, random baker friend Ede, and my sitemate Faye.

I’m really starting to miss these folks. My current coping mechanism is Chinese class…which doesn’t work very well because Chinese is really hard, despite the fact that I spent a year immersed in it. I started Nine Circles in that city, and I have been terrible at keeping up with my students. It’s extra hard since Facebook is blocked there. But I miss them all…

Happy Spring Festival, y’all, on the off-chance wordpress.com isn’t blocked! ❤