Returning to Asia

After waiting for nearly four months, my criminal background check finally arrived last week, and with it came my permission slip to look for a new job overseas. I had originally intended on leaving in February, but sometimes things don’t go as intended. I’ve decided to look at these extra months as a time for me to get healthy and to really focus on what I need in my life to give me happiness.

It had taken about 3 months to get on the Oregon Health Care plan, but thankfully it exists because I have been able to go to the dentist, and to the doctors, and get myself back on track for a healthy mind and body. As the saying goes, “if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” I hadn’t been feeling very good for awhile. I’m pretty certain I can guess the cause, but the point is that I’m back on a mission to feel strong again, and just in time too because I will be returning to the proverbial road.

I have been vacillating between applying to work in China and working in South Korea for a few months now. Many of my friends have been saying that Korea is the way to go, and have wondered why I would even consider China.

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“You hated China.”
“You were miserable there.”

It’s true, I did hate much of my time in China, but aside from China there were other factors to my hating it; my mother dying, conflict with the director of the program, and culture shock all contributed to my hating much of my time in China. It is not easy to live in China. I do believe some people may thrive there, but in truth, I think it can be a tough adjustment for a multitude of reasons. I do believe all of those reasons can eventually be overcome if you want to stick it out in China, and that you can learn to accept things, and even grow to enjoy them; all but one that is.

Although, my time was difficult there, I had also gained a strange love for China. It’s difficult to explain, and maybe if it hadn’t of been a year it may not have gotten under my skin, but it did. It took about seven months of being away, but I slowly began to miss it. I missed certain things like food, and the crazy traffic, and riding my bike in that crazy traffic. The insane rides on e-bikes, babies in pants with bottoms, old ladies dancing in parks, kites everywhere, are among the few things I’ve missed. There were things there that mattered to me, and left an impression on me that I will carry for the remainder of my life. My kids mattered to me, they mattered a lot, and they were such a huge part of my experience in China. I spent more time with 15 to 18 year old Chinese kids than any other group of people, and the experiences with those kids which included a special trip to Kaifeng, really shaped my view of the country. The Chinese people I became friends with mattered to me. In China it can be difficult to know if Chinese people are really your friends if they actually like you as a person. There are so many people that want you to be around because you are western, and it is about status to call a westerner a friend. You will not ever be Chinese, and you will never be truly accepted into the culture, and because of this it can be hard to ever find that bond that we all crave in our friendships. Perhaps I am delusional, but I feel blessed in my belief that I was able to move beyond this barrier with very little effort with some of the Chinese friends I had made while there. I felt a real kinship with the people I called friends, even when we came up against massive cultural differences. There are Chinese people I do consider to be genuine friends, and I feel that they look on me as the same, not as a “western” friend, but as real friend the kind of friend that accept the whole cultural and enigmatic package that makes up each and everyone of us.

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Xiang Kai and Sho Boa (Shawn) hiking up Mt. Hua 

I have been fascinated with Chinese history since I was a little girl. I remember stacks of National Geographic magazines with images of China. I remember watching the student protests in Tiananmen Square live on television. I had taken a course in the history of Eastern Civilization in college and I had become immersed in the ancient history of the dynasties. When I was a girl there were only three things in the world I had wanted to see: The Pyramids of Egypt, the Acropolis of Athens, and the Terra Cotta Warriors of China (I can mark one off my list). Chinese films are among some of my favorite, and the dissidents of China are some of the bravest people in the world. There is much to be fascinated with in China, and there is a lot to grab your heart and keep you there, but for every amazing thing Chinese there is also something insidious. A drive for cultural success that is so strong that corruption and lies are an accepted part of the society norm creating at times a dog-eat-dog world. The repressive regimes from the cult of Mao to the current CCP that smothers the real strength of what is hidden in China. The annoying and ridiculous firewall put in place to control and suppress the people, and the denial of terrible events by erasing them from history. The horrific pollution that had for too long been acceptable in China, and ignored in the majority of the world. These are things that are difficult to live in, and I believe it is difficult for many Chinese too (judging by various conversations). China is a land of great contradictions and it is these contradictions which constantly push and pull at you. At me.

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Some of my kids rehearsing for “The Outsiders”.

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So, what are the deciding factors, what did it come down to when choosing between China and South Korea? The main motivation for China was a school. A drama school where I would be a theatre teacher, and where as part of my work I would be required to direct my own children’s plays. I contemplated this school for nearly a year. It would be a job that combined my theatre, my literature and my teaching skills. I would finally be working in a creative environment and for that I was willing to move to the polluted city of Beijing. Yet, it was during a bike ride in Portland that finally solidified my final decision.

It is now spring, and the sun is out and the sky is a clear blue that bends over the city with only a smattering of cumulus clouds dotting the sky like paint on a palette. The days have been beautiful and easy going. My moods have been hum-drum and dark, and sometimes this happens even when things are going well in my life, I need these beautiful days to help lift me from my internal darkness. I knew at that moment under the blue sky in the face of mount Tabor, the small extinct volcano covered in the rich green of white-cedar and poplars, that I needed to live in a beautiful place. As much as I had wanted the theatre school and as much as I was willing to return to China, I knew in my heart that returning to an over-populated, dirty, and congested city with air so bad that there were red alert days not allowing us to go outside, was not a good idea for me. I knew, no matter how great the school, my sadness would overcome me, and I can’t live like that.

I have started the interview process for jobs in South Korea, and I’ve focused my attention on applying to schools in places where the sky is blue and the ocean is near-by. The job matters, but the environment matters more.

As I had mentioned before I believe that most of the challenges of being a foreigner in China a person can overcome, but one. That one for me is the pollution. China is a geological diamond and a natural wonder of nature, but the coal and the money made on cheap labor and unregulated businesses that damage the country is more important then the jewel. I will one day return to China, but maybe as a visitor. Till then I will be in South Korea.

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The Yellow River Park in Zhengzhou

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The Yellow River is called “The cradle of Chinese civilization”. Chinese dynasties were built along this river, and in the early periods of Chinese history the regions around the Yellow river were the most prosperous. It is the 3rd longest river in Asia, and the 6th in the world. It is a life giver and referred to in Chinese as the mother river, but it has also earned the name, “China’s sorrow.” This river has has taken well over a million lives. The river’s flooding from it’s constant changing of course from erosion has earned it the world reputation of being the only natural disaster in recorded history to kill more than a million people.

In the years between 1332 and 1333, seven million people were killed from by Yellow river flooding, and the subsequent famine and disease that followed after. In 1887, 900,000 to 2 million people died, and in 1931, 1 to 4 million people died. The most interesting of floods happened in 1938 during the second Sino-Japanese war. The Chinese military decided to break the levees and flood the valley on purpose as a way to prevent the advancing Japanese army from reaching their goal of capturing Wuhan where at the time the temporary Chinese Government was set. The idea was to have “the water be a substitute for soldiers”.  5,000 to 9,000, Chinese civilians were killed in the floods, and an unknown number (but most likely not as many Chinese) of Japanese soldiers. The flood stopped the Japanese from capturing the city of Zhengzhou, but they still reached their goal of overtaking and capturing Wuhan.

A river that has birthed a civilization and taken away such a multitude of life is not going to  continue in modern China with out a park dedicated to it. The Yellow river park is located in the northern part of Zhengzhou, and can be long trip on a bus, but we were lucky to have a friend with a car, and he drove his family, and my friend’s family, and myself to the park for the day. This happened near the end of our stay in Zhengzhou so it was a nice way to end a year in this Chinese city of Northern China.

It’s a huge park with five sections. At the time of the visit, we were not informed of where we were or the significance of any of what we were looking at so much of it was just interesting for the sake of its existence, and carried little historical reference for any of us foreigners. Aside from the massive statue of Mao, I had to look up the names of other statues and buildings on the internet, and I wasn’t able to find the names of everything, but I was able to find some bits here and there.

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We first ascended a small mountain, and that is where we found the giant statue of Mao. The children quickly preceded to climb him in order to race to the top to see who could tag Mao’s mole first.  It is considered good luck to rub the hands of Mao. The infamous leader  is known for saying, “We must control the river,” which resulted in building dams and levees. The view from the statue of Moa looked down on the the wide and literally yellowish brown river. Looking down from the mountain we could see areas for rice paddies but most of the area is now used for the purpose of the park, and transferring the water from the river to Zhengzhou.

We crossed over a bridge called the Luotuo (camel) bridge which led to the Yueshan temple on Yue Mountain. There is a great view of the statues and the monument that they built below. I didn’t know the significance of much of what I was looking at, unfortunately, but what I’ve gleaned from the internet is that the giant statue on the mountain measuring 59ft high is the connected heads of Yandi and Huangdi the great ancestors of China, and they face the river in a symbolic reverence for this giver and taker of life. Information pretty much dies out from there.

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At the base of the part of the park that is called the Five Dragon Peak there is a statue of a Mother cradling her son. This statue is to represent the mother river and China, and their harmonious relationship (they’ve yet to build the statue of the mother dropping and shaking the baby to represent the times not so harmonious). The park also has statues of very famous calligraphy writers- non of whom I knew of, but calligraphy is an art form in China, and to be called a writer in China means that you do calligraphy. It was in this area of the park were we found a man who painted a quick drawing for each of us (for a cost) and then wrote a poem. I had asked my Chinese friends what the poem said, and they all replied, “It’s too hard to translate,” which I found to be the common response when asking for the translations of certain things.

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Our tour guides drove us around to parts of the park where not all tourist were allowed to go which is the advantage of having your driver being a Zhengzhou cop, and he took us to a quiet area near a sharp curve in the river where there seemed to be people disgusting the construction of something. A woman rode out on horse back to deliver a message to people working, and then she quickly rode away as if riding back into the past. We were warned not to stand too close to the river, not because it can jump up and pull you in, but because the soil and silt is very soft and can suddenly crumble under your feet. It is this soft earth that causes the rapid erosion and the continuous changing of the river. Although, the river has not changed much since Moa exclaimed that it must be controlled.

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We ended at the base of the figure heads of Yandi and Huangdi where many Chinese were ringing giant bells, taking pictures and a couple of men were swinging whips over their heads to make giant cracking sounds that reminded me of firecrackers or gunshots. We watched the sun set behind wires and trees, and took the long traffic flooded drive back into Zhengzhou.

Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia

I don’t generally visit zoos, but the Taronga Zoo is considered a must see on the list of Sydney tourism. I don’t like the idea of animals placed in cages for our entertainment, and I fear that one day the only way we will know of animals will be in zoos and old National Geographical magazines. Yet still, I went. In February of 2014, while I was in Australia during my holiday vacation from China, I agreed to visit the zoo. In order to get to the zoo you have to take a boat across the harbor, and the idea of prime real estate with an amazing view of the city being devoted to animals seemed kind of awesome.

It was a nice place. I could say the animals liked it there, but in truth, I didn’t know what the animals liked. I assumed the Koalas were perfectly content just as long as they could get high off their eucalyptus, but the tigers seemed very restless, and possibly would have been much happier being free in their native habitats. I can’t speak for the animals, but based on my perception it seemed spacious, and that the animals were well cared for so if one were to feel compelled to visit a zoo, I think the Taronga zoo is one of the better ones.

This zoo was probably the third or fourth zoo I had ever been to in my life. As I had mentioned it was across the Sydney harbor and there was quiet a lot of space, and my friend and I ended up spending the entire day there and still did not manage to see all of it. It was a very hot day, and we both ended up getting extremely burnt. I’ve posted the pictures of my favorite animals and one or two of my friend and I.

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This guy was my absolute favorite.

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The closest I’ll ever get to a Komodo Dragon, ever.

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