Friday, November 30, 2012

Cut Me Short

I told a guy friend on skype today that I was thinking of growing out my hair.

Without hesitation or the slightest reservation, he wrote "Hallelujah!"

The types of reactions to my haircut had been endlessly amusing. Especially in a culture that's trained to say "nice haircut,"I loved pushing the guys to obvious discomfort until they blurted out their true feelings about my hair style change.

When J first saw my newly chopped hair in the back of a dark taxi, he smiled really big and couldn't keep his hands off me. He had always had a thing for short hair.

Ben, another friend who hopped on the taxi with J, just stared, with his lower jaw hanging in disbelief. When I prattled on about how it was a sudden decision because I was tired of being stereotyped by my dark wavy hair and I had always wanted to try something new, he cut me short (so punny!) by patting me on the elbow slowly. He once had a girl friend who broke down emotionally after a really bad hair cut so he totally understood what I was going through.

Silence. The meter beeped. J tried to distance himself from that comment by physically shifting to the side of the taxi.

Then Ben attempted a recovery with a mumbled "but hey . . . nice haircut. It's going to grow back out, right?"

Even my boss's six year old little girl had a hard time pretending. When the elevator opened, she was waiting eagerly for me to babysit her. She had a polka dot hairband and a giant grin, which swiftly flopped downwards, when she focused on my hair. What happened to your hair? I cut it. Oh. Yeah. I didn't like mommy's either.

Oddly, it never hurt. For me, it was a small act of growing up, proactively chopping off what other people thought was me simply because I had never done anything else. It was a whim, a "someday I'll . . ." checked off. It made me look older, lending me more credibility with the clients when I pretentiously flipped my hair and said many, many years ago back in college, well you know how it was.

But I'm kind of ready for something new. Go shorter or longer?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Elections

When my family huddled together to watch the first US presidential debate in a hotel room in Cambodia, my younger brother declared somewhere around the Big Bird comment that he would support Romney. I casually asked why.

Across two queen beds, my mom stared me down and warned me not to "sway the hearts of the children." She didn't cut me any fruit that morning.

My typically apolitical mom had turned into an ardent supporter of Romney and a religious follower of CNN campaign coverage during this Mormon moment. My sister and BIL also sermonized on the perils of Obamacare and the economy in our skype calls in hopes of converting me. 

On election night, my Provo friends and I crowded around Thai takeout and the TV, anxiously monitoring the swing states. Some shared touching testimonials about personal experiences with the Romney campaign, others questioned the general binary Mormon sentiment that righteousness or Armageddon would prevail in the elections.

In order to stay amicable, we trusted the camera to keep our ballots secret until the election was called. 

1: A proud no-vote
2. Romney
3. Obama
4. Ron Paul??
5. Wasted vote like Gary Johnson

Amazing diversity.

Shh. My mom still has no idea who I voted for. 

Fast forward a week later when China had its momentous leadership change. The leaders were pretty much lined up a year before, though the upsets and the public ousting of a previously high-ranking Communist official this spring provided some much needed Gingrich-like soap opera.  

Instead of the emotional facebook political rhetoric, China's cyberspace was eerily sterile after more-intense-than-normal censorship sweeps. The Propaganda Ministry flooded the silence of public opinion with revolutionary TV shows (the Japanese and Nationalists died every time), overly enthusiastic slogans of building a harmonious society, and blood red banners that proclaimed the bright future of China.  

The traffic slowed down even more because too many government officials were rushing to important meetings and requiring special road access. My favorite train ticket scalpers were shooed away when the train station instated temporary ID checks. Even my taxi rides were punctuated with the daily radio reading of the resumes of local Communist leaders.

I had to give our favorite Communist member a few days off so he could attend to his party obligations. After work for a week, some of the government employees in our office building banged noisy drums and rehearsed patriotic songs. They were very serious about their flag twirling too.

But even though the actual leadership handover event was broadcasted on giant public TVs and the theme was bombardment, the general sentiment was an indifferent meh.

It sure was a Party though. Just not the popular party. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Baby Glow

Some women throw up. Some throw tantrums. Some throw their husbands out.

All in all, what this single girl observes from real life and the media, being pregnant is hard. As in, you're fermenting this bundle of cells and it's the happiest time of your life, but oh-my-gosh you just dissolved into tears because you can't control your emotions or appetite.

Um. Definitely puts a dent in my rosy five kids plan.

But my sister Chelsea defied that stereotype. She was the living cover of all those baby/mother magazines. She radiated the "glow" that many women pined for.

And the second birth in a row, she just laughed through it. Or maybe giggled.

I missed the first birth because I was stuck in a three hour final during my senior year in college. But my family, half way around the world in Shanghai, dialed in and participated in the birth on Skype. According to my mom, who also joked through her labor while holding my dad's hand, Chelsea smiled a toothy grin and said that "giving birth was so easy!"

Well, she had done it again. Two days ago, Chelsea gave birth to another cute little thing and looked like she was just chilling at home when we called in afterward.

7 pounds and 4 ounces.

Apparently the hip new thing was to buy a high-tech cooler space for your baby's fresh umbilical chord just in case medical advances in the future open up possibilities of saving its life with the cells from the chord. Sounded like a fantastic business plan to me.

A few things were clear:

1. Epidural was king. Forget all natural, midwife-induced birthing.

2. I better prepare a bomb joke in the delivery room just to live up to the family tradition.

3. Somehow, babies could pull off being pruny and adorable at the same time.

Welcome, Liana. I'm still helping grandma learn how to pronounce your name.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Alley Cats

We begged. We smiled. We reasoned. We flirted.

We did everything to persuade the gatekeepers to put out their cigarettes and sneak us into Tiger Hill after closing.

In China, where there's a will, there's always a way. And we willed our way in.

Playing host to my brother's mission companion, Shelby.

Tiger Hill at dusk.

The dark finally kicked us out of the park. We prowled around the underbelly of the bridges to the rumbling din of traffic overhead; our conversations of US military presence in Iraq echoing. The pedestrians had all pointed us to the same direction to the tourist lanes, straight down the cobblestone path, but we faltered mid way because we were unsure of all the run down houses with screeching doors that lined our sides. There was so much life, raw and unadorned, in the dinner time TV gatherings, in the butcher's call of end-of-the-day prices, and in the giggling children as they ran out for fresh air once last time before being tucked into bed.

But some lights were not dimming, probably not until late into the night, because the ladies inside were busily sewing beautiful evening gowns for those who would buy them without a second thought, threading through their exhaustion and stitching together hopes and possibilities for the little ones.

We also looked up and paused. While the sun illuminated all to show harsh reality, the moon was kinder, softening the rough edges of the crumbling rooftops, casting warm, rich halos on tired bridges.

Nights like this gave romantics of old more courage to write poetry. I relied on my lenses instead of words.

Guardian lions. I need one of those.
Shelby + Lesley. Best wandering companions.

After traveling to Mexico, Cambodia, and the US in the last month, switching desktops for backpacks or presentation microphones, home -- Suzhou -- still reminds me what catching my breath feels like.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Let's Talk Crap for a Day

As I walked into the office bathroom this morning, the cleaning ayi stormed out. I asked her if everything was ok. She shook her head, dangling those small light weight gold earrings with frustration. Gesticulating wildly with the plunger in her hand, she told me all about the no flushes, the bloody pads, the toilet paper messes and her determined witch hunt for the perpetrator. She had narrowed it down to the media company across from us and had three 'informed guesses.'

I was glad that I didn't know any bathroom jokes, because this would not have been a good time to share them.

She finally got permission from management to post a sign up on the bathroom doors that said "Please use the toilets appropriately." She told me that white collar seemed to respect signs so she would try to deal with this civilly. Glancing at her eager plunger, I didn't want to ask about the uncivilized alternatives.

And this time, it was a targeted campaign. Only our bathroom had the 'appropriate bathroom use' sign. I  checked. The hunt was on and the circle was tightening.

Perhaps it's because I always said hi to the ayis and asked them about their day, but in a most bewildering way, I had been adopted as many of the cleaning ladies' favorite confidante, which meant that they told me way too much about other people's bathroom habits. I now feel awkward talking to a non-hand washer at the cafeteria.


On a separate note, can I just mention that today is World Toilet Day?

2.5 billion people do not have clean toilets, which translates into preventable diseases and the lack of dignity for many. The UN has designated sanitation as a basic human right - and it is within our reach to help guarantee sanitation units for the working poor.

The video below lays out the problem quite well, and here are some suggestions on taking action.