Sunday, November 13, 2011

Celebratory Panic of the Bare Branches

The bachelors in China are panicking. By 2030, there will be at least 30 million more men than women in this country because of the female infanticides that resulted from the one child policy. Men are desperately trying to score wives. The ladies have become much more mercenary in love, taking their pick among those with the best cars, newest apartment, and biggest bank accounts. In an infamous Bachelorette spin off episode, a girl condemned her TV suitor with these cruel words: "I would rather cry at the back of a BMW than laugh at the back of a bicycle." Many men blanched. Many women nodded.

But on 11/11/11, bachelorhood was celebrated. The singles lorded over the couples, having exclusive KTV parties for the bare branches. The movie, 33 Days of Love Lost, was released on this special occasion (the anti 500 Days of Summer ?) and sold out weeks in advance. Weibo, China's twitter equivalent, even buzzed with the command for singles to buy all the odd number seats in the cinemas so couples would be forcibly separated.

Predictably, there were also a lot of brazen hookup solicitations. One leotard-wearing woman promised, on weibo, that if a man would spend bare branches day with her, then she would guarantee that he would be celebrating father's day the next year.

Hopefully the testosterone fueled suitors would cool down in time and realize that we're only 7 months till father's day.

But then again, she just might settle for a bike.

Ok, maybe an e-bike.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Chinese Girl Learning Chinese

When I first got here, I couldn't make a joke without a resultant awkward silence reverberating around the office cubicle walls. At first, I just thought that my colleagues couldn't hear me. So I told my jokes louder. Still nothing. Then I realized that I was no longer witty. I had lost my gift to talk and connect to people, because I couldn't find the right words and inject them with the proper nuances to express myself.

After I finished my first week at work, I called my dad and cried for two hours. I should leave. I couldn't do this. I couldn't speak Chinese. I should had taken my so-called dream job and stayed on the predictable and secure path where I knew I could succeed.

Things did get better. I jotted down every new word. I tested out unfamiliar words, which my colleagues found endlessly amusing. I was soon considered one of the funnier people at the office. Four people even patted my shoulder and told me that my Chinese had improved drastically.

Two weeks ago, our board chairman visited us as part of his latest round-the-world business trips. He decided to give an impromptu speech, as a rousing gesture, to the entire company. Of course I translated. Of course I squirmed. At that moment, I fancied that #20, #23, and my perfectionist self were best buds, pointing fingers and hating on me when I couldn't think of the Chinese words for "Bolivia" and "Chief Information Officer." It didn't matter that the CEO told me that I got rave reviews for my translation - I hid miserably in the bathroom, once again questioning, berating, and despairing.

Why do I put myself in situations day after day, where embarrassment is merely one South American country away? I have worked hard my entire life to salvage the remnant shreds of Chinese learned from grade school and nurse and strengthen it through Chinese trade law internships and language TA jobs despite growing up in an English dominant environment. Why am I not satisfied with the hard-earned fluency? Why do I keep beating myself against such a soul crushing language, dreaming of crossing over the celestial threshold of native mastery?


I was sitting at Church yesterday when I got a glimpse of the answer. A large man with gold rimmed glasses bore his testimony about his belief that someday, China would be open to missionary work. And I cried. Because I sensed, no I knew, that I will be a part of that work. By then, I will know how to be a friend to the Chinese people. I will know how to use their language - my language - to share something that is so important in my life.

At that time, there will be no more awkward silences.

In the mean time, all I can do is to print out the world map in Chinese and learn the countries one by one.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The girl crash course

I've never been very successful at being a girl. I feel helpless with makeup, hair stuff, and pink fluffy stuff. I'm not the biggest fan of teddy bears, flowers, or diamonds. I'm learning to do heels on a more daily basis around the office, but I'm still having a hard time fabricating meaningful conversation revolving around clothes, nails, and shoes.

Of course, these are not what makes girls feminine, but I recently found myself wanting to be a little bit more stereotypical.

In learning how to fit into the Chinese early 20's slash white collar scene, I'm getting a crash course into the ultimate so-sweet-you-can't-handle-it girl culture. Girls giggle good morning to each other every day as the outfit checking and obligatory complimenting session begin. They support each other as they talk about diets, boyfriends, and cute guys who are not their boyfriends, while sneaking in afternoon snacks to share. They gush about the latest TV shows (where the Chinese version of "Team Jacob" and "Team Edward" of bald Chinese men takes place) and browse online shops together during lunch breaks.

And I'm learning. Collective bathroom breaks, group post-lunch walks, team togetherness-in-everything-we-do don't bother me as much anymore. When office parties naturally split into kindergarten-esque girl boy teams, I stop gravitating to the guy zone unconsciously. I can almost beat the other girls in the cheesiness of the "You're the best best best!/ Did you get home alright? I'm so worried about you! / Hope the period pains aren't too bad!!" texts. 

But experimenting with the physical aspects of this new girl thing? Not working out so hot for me.

And I still change the printer ink, lift the barrels of drinking water, and screw together random pieces of IKEA office furniture by myself without thinking- all condemned as masculine office tasks. 

I'll let you know how it goes. *Giggle*



Don't worry, I'm not experiencing a crisis of confidence in my personal identity. Most of my college girl friends are strong, smart, and ambitious women. I have yet to befriend more women like them here in China, so in the mean time, I'm learning how to be a good friend to all the wonderful types of women.

 . . . and also because I have a good texting plan.

The perennial question: Who would you choose?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dishwashing Days

One miserably hot summer day before my freshman year, I stayed home and read while Chelsea and Casey went out to check out the BYU campus. They came home, excited because Chelsea apparently got the three of us jobs at Legends Grille ("Where the champions eat!"). Casey and I were designated dishwashers. And Chelsea was tasked to watch the football players eat during their lunch in case they couldn't find the forks or ketchup.

And so began the 8 hour days of standing, loading, rinsing, sliding, unloading, and stacking on constant replay. The football players never stopped eating. I had never felt such intense emotions against a group of guys.

The emptiness inside my head threatened to fill my mind as I did dish after dish after dish after dish. 

But then Casey and I worked out a system. We did job rotations to stay alert. We sang songs and competed against each other. As kids who grew up with a maid, we did pretty well for ourselves. We challenged Chelsea to bring us the dishes down faster than we could wash them. We probably even broke the dishwasher union's record for amateurs.

I loved busing and collecting dishes outside because it seemed like a treat to be released from the kitchen. And it was fun being around the other freshman whom I would be a part of in a few weeks.

Then a guy sporting way too much gel stopped me one day because he wanted me to pass him the pepper on the table next to him. I accidentally grabbed the salt. He gave me one look then did an exaggerated demonstration, in super slow mo, with dragged out English to show me the difference by pouring both on the table and playing around with it. Then he asked me if I could understand him.

That's when it hit me: He thought I was stupid. That I couldn't speak his language. That I somehow was not at his level because I was holding a bus tray and washing dishes. I wanted to tell him about my upbringing, my scholarship, my English, my fancy stuff  . . . but instead I nodded slowly and walked back to the kitchen.

I think I cried while standing, loading, rinsing, sliding, unloading, and stacking that day.

Then I realized that I was very good at what I did. This coming from the spoiled girl who felt self-conscious with a broom in her hand at closing time on the first day of work because she's trying to remember what she learned about sweeping from movies. I was trying hard to do my best. And I would not let Mr. hair product and his few pinches of salt and pepper take away the pride I had in my job.


This is why I love talking to the frontline workers at the factories. They file into the cafeterias, exhausted and emptied, past some of our staff who think that micro-credit is a fancy Western concept that doesn't matter because the working poor don't matter.

But sometimes, when I ask if I could sit next to them while they eat - and they smile shyly behind their bowls and chopsticks - they tell me things. Just rarely, I would share my dishwasher story. And then we smile because we understand what it is to dream of ingenious things even when our bodies are on constant replay.