Sunday, November 24, 2013

It's a Slaughter World After All

I have a legit neck phobia. Ever since I was a little kid, I have always been convinced that I will be murdered getting pierced through the throat with a javelin. Or hung like a limp doll off a lonely bridge. Or violently choked from behind because I beat somebody at a board game. So that one time, when a stranger kissed me on the neck in the Beijing metro, I freaked out and avoided public transportation for a week.

Ever since I started dating in college, I've gotten a lot better. As in, I don't flinch as noticeably when other people's hands hover dangerously close to my vulnerable zone. And I don't end up subconsciously slapping the boy who accidentally touched my neck because he was trying to be flirtatious.

Last weekend, I decided to overcome my fear once and for all by doing something that I had always imagined being done to me. It's sort of like getting somebody who was deathly afraid of heights to jump off an air plane. I was going to slaughter an animal by slitting its throat.

A bunch of us drove out to a turkey farm in Changshu to pick out our Thanksgiving bird. My mom asked me to bring one home so I was determined to take care of the turkey myself to feed my family. I was finally shedding my city girl skin and living a rustic vision of Little House on the Prairie.

As the cityscape faded into the lush patches of oversized leafy greens, I started feeling nauseated. I hunched my shoulders and retreated into my maroon hoodie - especially picked out to camouflage the blood I would inevitably get splashed all over myself - and fingered my swiss pocket knife. Would I be able to do a clean slit and spare unnecessary pain? Would the turkey, in its full ugliness, peck at my throat in retaliation? Can swiss army knives actually cut things other than fruit?

My first mistake was looking at him straight in the eyes. They were oddly intelligent and hauntingly dignified. Second mistake? Naming him Turk.

Getting a photoshoot with Turk.

Somehow Miles still manages to look good when
 caught mid-moment holding a turkey.


The farmer weighed our turkeys and I felt oddly proud that Turk was one of the largest at nine jing (roughly 5 pounds). He stuffed Turk and his buddies into a fertilizer bag and threw them into the back of the van. We drove to the slaughterhouse, chatting with the farmer about his new plans to start an orchard and listening to the turkeys nervously shifting in the trunk.

The lady at the slaughterhouse was really tickled to see so many foreigners. She started showing off her techniques and waved over other ladies nearby to help out with the turkeys. I clutched my pocket knife more tightly, unsure when it was my/ Turk's turn. The lady laughed and flicked her long hair back. She had another woman hold a squirming turkey, and she pressed the head down and starting snipping the throbbing neck vein with a pair of scissors. The turkey did a death thrash while its little heart beat faster and faster, pumping out the rest of its life. The lady swirled her little pinkie in the tin bowl she placed underneath the turkey to fish out any feathers in the blood (to sell for blood pudding later).

Watch this video and prepare a barf bag.

One of my friends jumped up next for an opportunity to wield the scissors. She hacked away with reckless abandon and lustful determination. She later explained to me that a boy had arranged for her to kill a duck for her birthday last year so she was experienced. Another twelve year-old little boy volunteered. By that point, the pair of dull scissors was slick with blood and didn't open and close very well so he ended up just jabbing at his turkey. The poor turkey cried.

I had come expecting to overcome my fear - but instead, I now have an additional nightmare scenario to add to my repertoire of death by throat scenes. I've never considered how scary scissors were before.

Slaughter lady at her finest. 
She had to steam it first to defeather it.

RIP Turk.

I had to snap his legs off. Utterly traumatized.

Btw - terrible blog post title, I know. I was playing a board game with the younger siblings tonight and the instruction manual came with ads for other board games. One of the advertised games had a slogan "It's a Slaughter World After All" . . . they ought to pay somebody professional to come up with a better one.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When They Call Me Well Endowed

The best thing about expanding the team is that we're getting a whole new crew of awesome people with even better names. I've mentioned the previous crop of eyebrow-raising names when I first arrived in China. But our new team is giving the Cinderella, Elvis, and Hawk of yesteryears a run for their holy-crap-how-did-you-pick-that-name money.

Introducing the new lineup:

First, there's our bubbly over-the-top foodie who doubled as our course developer by day. In our first standup team meeting when we're all doing self-introductions, she looked at me dead pan in the eye and said "Smile." I did, awkwardly. Then I realized that she wasn't commanding me to smile - that's her name. Smile. Her last name was Li. So she's Smile Li (read it) and then she later switched to Smiley Li because she wanted a singalong three syllable.

One of the new QA engineers shyly introduced herself to me as Nemo. I welcomed her and mentioned that we'd had another Nemo before and asked if she really liked the movie. She looked startled for a minute and shook her head slowly as if surprised that my English was so bad - "No, no. My name is nee-mon. You know, the fruit." Ah. Lemon. Too bad that Apple had left us already, otherwise we could have a fruit salad party.

Out of the blue, we also hired two app developers who were called Seven and Cywen, but both pronounced them like the number. They were going to do a stone paper scissors for the rights, when Seven told us that his name reminded him of his first love because he used to hang out in his ex-girlfriend's college dorm of six girls all day long and got tagged as the seventh. Cywen just deflated after that and settled for a life of being called Max. We were all disappointed he didn't pick Eleven, but certainly glad that he passed on Six because he always said sex instead.

I won't even mention Coco (guy), Afra (girl), and Hello Kitty (asexual?). Ok, well Hello Kitty was really an American intern called Katie but the staff just thought it's hilarious and so Japanese hip to call her a cartoon instead.

Then in walked a girl who sweetly whispered on her first day that her name was Sissi.

I spent my entire childhood glaring at people who pronounced my name "Sis - see". I even ran a high school student body president campaign on the slogan "Sisi not a Sissy." But, even though HR had called to persuade new girl to give up her name because there's already another Sisi around, she still showed up, utterly unrepentant. So now it's Big S and Small S. I'm technically Big S and she's Small S even though we're the same size and I'm younger. But I'm going to put a stop to that too because sometimes the local Chinese staff slip and say "Big Ass" instead.

Good thing that was never my nick name in high school. I wouldn't have known how to work that one into a pep rally slogan.

Nothing to do with names but this is a shirt
 I regularly see at the office. 
Caption: "THE MAN: The employees walked
around in jeans and sweaters."
Now that's how you show attitude around here. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Give Said the Little Stream

In between Shanghai and Provo

"Happy birthday!!!" we sang into the phone, shrieking out our last off key note for maximum thematic flair.

My brother Casey squinted at the camera through his half sleepy eyes.

Then I spotted the all familiar Y banners floating in the background. "Wait. Are you on campus already at 8 am . . . on your birthday?"


"So what fancy plans do you have for your big day?"

"Umm. Well I'm building houses today. It'll probably take the whole day, but maybe if I'm done early then I'll go hang out with some friends."

"Build houses? You know these people?"

"Nah. I just signed up to volunteer."

"But . . . it's your birthday! Why choose this day out of all days to volunteer?" I wailed while fiddling with the phone to make sure I heard him correctly.

"Well, I can't think of anything better else to do than helping other people on my birthday."

The reception faded in and out and his voice crackled. "Ok. Love you! I've got to go."

Girls, those dramatically coursing veins aren't photoshopped.

Palawan, Philippines

They flashed their thousand watt smiles at us, volleying question after question about where we're from, what we loved about Philippines, and what our boyfriends looked like.

The three girls giggled non stop, covering their mouths in moments of barely contained teenage excitement and self-consciousness. Their eyes widened when I mentioned that I happened to be the president of our church Young Women group back in China.  They wanted to know what church activities we did and whether we made dumplings all day long.

A church leader got up on the pulpit and cleared his throat. I signaled that we should stop chatting and concentrate on the speaker.

After ten minutes, the girls on my row started fiddling. The three of them unzipped their mini purses and emptied them out on the bench, sifting through lip balms, hand mirrors, and forgotten mints. Kids will be kids. I thought, smiling inside, sitting more upright to show how real adults stay reverent during the Sacrament.

The girl with the long silky hair tugged at my elbow. She cupped her hands, as if protecting an injured little bird, and hovered over my open palms.

"Sorry, this is the only thing we have." She dipped her head apologetically and deposited her hidden gift in my hands. It was a mangy candy land pink teddy bear keychain. The fur was slightly caked with suspicious stains and the rust on the keychain indicated its love worn status.

I knitted my eyebrows in obvious confusion. "For me?"

She nodded enthusiastically and leaned in and whispered, "We want you to remember us. Tell the girls in China that we said hi. And let them know that there are other girls in Philippines who also like going to church as much as they do."

I swallowed. The other two girls peeked behind in the first and nodded their joint excitement at the gift. I turned back to the speaker, simply overwhelmed.


Vatican City

The crowds spilled out of the Vatican City, running mindlessly towards the first shelter in sight. The storm clouds that had hung threateningly all morning finally made good on their promise and poured down vengeance on those unprepared with sturdy umbrellas.

So we started running too. We ran past the guards dressed in anachronistic courtly uniforms, tripped on centuries old cobblestones, and jetted across the large square where the Pope makes his official addresses. The crowds streamed past the crooked old gypsy woman who tried to lift her head to make eye contact while feebly holding her hand out for a spare coin.

I had checked my purse before I reached her and was disappointed that I had only Chinese money. My mom always reminded us to bring a few extra coins for the needy but I was simply out of Euros. Apologetically, I avoided her gaze and rushed past. After reaching a dry spot, I looked around for my little brother, Cody. I anxiously scanned the crowds and saw him standing out there in the rain, hesitating. He had seen her too. He stuck his hand into one pocket. Nothing. Another pocket. Spare gum. Some burly guy ran past Cody, knocking into his left shoulder, and shot the gypsy a disgusted look. Cody walked over to the old woman, bent down slightly, and held out his umbrella. He nodded briefly at her to let her know it was ok, threw on his hood, and sprinted for the columns where I stood watching.

All around, hundreds of Christians who had just glimpsed in awe God and Adam's near touch at the Sistine Chapel ran past, barely noticing the huddled figure and her new umbrella near the fire hydrant.

Lining up for the Vatican City