Scarcity at times can be rendered beautiful.
I just finished read The Book Thief, which depicts a fictional but also very accurate picture of Nazi Germany. Every night the family eats nasty distilled green pea soup that’s more water than soup. They hold their nose, try to down it quickly while simultaneously trying to make it last.
Here in rural China, some things are non-existent or close to impossible to obtain, i.e. good bread and cheese. The wok naturally gulps down gallons of oil, yielding a thick glistening coat on all of my food. The noodles on the street are a striking combination of wasting good-for-nothing-else fatty meat that’s been sitting in soup base juggled from age old oil canisters.
But when you don’t have, you create.
Yesterday I succumbed to the Teach For China baking cult and made beer bread in a rice cooker. Who knew such simplicity could add such flavorful complexity to this China life. Mixing just 3 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon each of sugar and baking soda, a teaspoon of salt and half a bottle of beer, I hit the cook button on my rice cooker. And voila, a circle of bread, my circle of life, my bread and no butter, my sustenance and joy, my…and this morning it was all gone. I sliced a semi-circle in two, slathered on a motley of ketchup, tabasco, and homegrown honey, and laid on a final layer of two yolk spilling eggs before chowing it down clean. It was beautiful.
This very hour marks the resumption of my blogging days. It’s become most dire that I continue this sprawl of unilateral conversation and display of unseen photographs because 1. life has become dull 2. dull life + rural China = death 3. I want to live. When I say I want to live, it’s more than waking up or stuffing down fatty meat baozi for sustenance. My desire transcends survival.
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
And all these things I’ve enlisted in search for–friendship, philosophy, art, etc. For these things enrich the heart, mind and soul.
So with no audience in mind, I’ll start with my backlogged memories–like a scuba diver digging through a history of treasures past but presently found. Let’s start in Southeast Asia, shall we? I’ll take you through my first backpacking adventure, from Singapore to pockets of Malaysia, through the rugged but rich culture of Vietnam and our spontaneous foray back into the Mainland.
Photo taken in Malacca, Malaysia. The beauty of an address.
While I’ve been in China, I’ve been maintaining my other blog Jooheeinchina.wordpress.com. I realized that this blog updates pieces instead of posts, thereby making me more self-conscious and wary of the things I write. In turn, this affects the rate at which churn out posts (i.e. I blog every 2-3 months). Blogposts are like raw flash thoughts that you jot out, in hopes that they’re insightful or inspiring–but of course, they usually turn out to be neither. The less I’ve been blogging, the more my thoughts have been clogging up somewhere in my head.
So what have I been up to? Next week, I’m giving my final exam, and then after another week of resting, grading and rural China partying, I’ll be off on my Southeast Asia trip with my friend V. Itinerary: Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Patience has been running low and I’ve been running a high with cabin ever. All I can think about is all the non-Chinese, non-mixian, non-chaofan I’ll be chowing down on for the next month. V and I are gonna hit up the closest Starbucks so she can maintain her Gold Star status…blame it on her Senior thesis epoch?
Two more weeks and I get to escape this hellish cold. A liar once told me that Lincang had no winter. Mhmm okay. As D-day closes in, it means it’s time to dish out the lists. Another useful thing about this blog is that I can type out my lists and know where I put them. Otherwise, they’d get lost on post-its I find a month later under my bed or on some word doc that I’ll never open again.
Reading List (Replenish the mind)
- This Side of Paradise
- The Great Gatsby
- Tender is the Night
- The Trial
- The Metamorphosis
Books I bought but never finished
- The Lowland
- The Social Animal
- The President’s Club
- On China
- River Town
- A Random Walk Down Wall Street
- Lean In
- I am Malala
- Killing Kennedy
- How to Make Friends and Influence People
- Letters to a Young Poet
- Something Kurt Vonnegut
- ….taking suggestiosn
It was my 22nd Fourth of July but it was my first as a true American. Of course, that calls for a different sort of celebration. What’s more patriotic than celebrating July 4th in the red-bricked, cobblestoned streets of Boston (I guess D.C., our nation’s capital)? I trekked up to Boston for a 4-day college reunion with a bunch of friends from Georgetown. Because I love generalizations, pardon me for fitting an oversized description on my cursory glance at this wonderful city. Bostonians are rough-edged, genuine-to-the-core people who can’t dress, dance or drive. Apparently, according to GQ, Boston was voted one of the top worst dressed cities. It’s no wonder since most guys change between their Red Sox t shirts with two holes and the one with three holes. According to a local Boston friend, of course the Irish don’t dance in pubs. And finally, the drivers of Boston are notoriously known as, Massholes.
If you asked me about specific activities we did, all I can remember is walking…a lot–walking through Havahd, across town, lost and looking for the nearest bus stop. But if you asked me about emotions, I can go on for pages.
- Going abroad is kind of overrated. Some of it seems “glamorous” in that you’re pushing frontiers and experiencing distinct pieces of life apart from those of the masses. But mostly, you want to know you’ll come back, back to your friends, to people who care about you, to those you just click with because…
- You’ve invested so much time in learning about people. A semester really doesn’t cut it. Even after 4 consecutive years of peeling away at people, I feel like there’s so much more to learn about how a friend interacts, thinks and behaves. This is something I’ve learned as the 12 of us were crammed into a 2 bedroom apartment, spilling over with excess emotions like anger, frustration, laziness, excitement, etc. Sometimes you just really need to clash and crash to learn more about yourself and your friend.
- I’ve decided not to take food pictures anymore unless the platter before me is beautiful or distinctive in nature. It’s really a philosophical reason. What’s the point? What’s the meaning of taking food pictures? When I back up my files, I observe how many GB my photos take up. As I flip through my albums, I can vicariously live through photos of people and places but not food. I’ve started to realize that pictures of food is just a huge waste of computer memory…
Pieces of Boston:
What does teaching English have in common with Development Economics? Not much, to be honest, unless you’re running metrics tests on subjects that are pivotal to formulating international education policy.
Perhaps I am asking the wrong question because although teaching English may not overlap much with my area of academic/career interest, teaching English in rural China has a plethora of upsides including being thrown into the field straight out of undergrad, gaining fluency in a critical foreign language and learning to survive and navigate adverse posts. I mean, this is why I chose Teach For China over Teach For America, isn’t it? As much as these external conditions are relevant, the truth is that I haven’t addressed the question as to why of all things, I am teaching English. 80% of my life/job will be focused on teaching English, not on learning Chinese or traveling untrodden terrains. Is this analogous to taking an abhorred job because it has great healthcare, pension plan and access to a world class gym? A loom of rhetoric finds common grounds between my new job description and the jobs I want to take on in the future, but truth is the job I have and the job I seek are shockingly disparate. Will learning the methods of pedagogy aid future endeavors in writing grant proposals for NGO funding? Will classroom management skills translate into playing off agencies in vying for the next development project? Will supervising P.E. classes for elementary school students teach me how to write a policy brief on why private equity should increasingly focusing on Development Investment Bonds? Honestly, despite the frantic arm flailing about how all sectors of development overlap, I’m struggling to see the value of teaching English when I’m really just trying to apply my theoretical and technical economics skills for economic development. I should be working with small businesses. I should be working on microcredit campaigns–albeit, I have mixed feelings about its efficacy. I should be working on program evaluation projects in Kenya.
But does it even matter? I’m on board for a two year dedication to teaching in China. So for the past few days I’ve been brainstorming the intrinsic value of being placed in a unique place like rural Yunnan. There is a lot of creative white space, and I just need to learn how to sculpt an experience that is truly invaluable, both personally and professionally.
Dear readers, I need your help. Wanna give me your personal two cents on this?
Me: Today I bought sex, drugs and Cocoa Puffs.
Stephen: The fact that it’s you saying this means it can only be a book.