Stay Tuned!

This ain’t over yet.

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The 22 Day Mark!

I know what you’re thinking- “Three months, Meghan?!” THREE?!” Let me get my apologies out of the way now. The beginning of the semester was really boring with no new information and now I’ve been so busy I can’t think straight. So let me catch you up.

Semester Long

I’m still teaching the little kids. They’re adorable and I hate every single one of them during class when they’re throwing glue sticks at my nose. I don’t have much to say about them, but I did want to add some pictures. Here’s more pics of Jackie (and the whole gang) back by popular request!

       

March 17: The Chong Qing Marathon

After a good 2.5-year hiatus, I got back into running races by signing up for a 9K in one of the most polluted cities in the world. Luckily, it was a pretty clear day when I ran the race. I hadn’t run anything longer than a 5K before the day of the race so I was pretty stoked to cross the finish line at a run. I guess running really is all about mind over matter.

   

April 2-4: Tomb Sweeping Festival in Zigong

There’s a Chinese holiday called the “Tomb Sweeping Festival” and it’s simply a day to honor your ancestors. We get three days off from school for this holiday so I took a trip to visit my friends Hunter and Lisa. It was a lazy kind of trip, but I did butcher my first chicken and we took a nice long bike ride through the countryside.

     

April 23-25: COS Conference

We had our Close of Service Conference over these three days during which we finalized all our plans to leave China! I can’t believe have incredibly fast this came and (especially now) how long ago it seemed to happen! It was bittersweet because we hadn’t seen some of the China 16s since well over a year ago and, for many other people, this is the last time we will ever see each other again! But it was a fun time (despite the fact that I lost 100 RMB to Gerald during a bet made while playing Trivia Night at the Bookworm! Obama looks very similar to Hugh Jackman!).

       

May 12-13: The GLOW Conference

IT HAPPENED!!! And it was incredibly successful!!! I mentioned before that I was trying to bring Camp GLOW, a Peace Corps worldwide leadership camp for girls, to China. Well, it happened, it was amazing, and I think it will be expanding! With the help of 9 Peace Corps volunteers and several students, we kicked off the inaugural GLOW Conference right here at Xihua University.

Sixty-five sophomore students attended this two-day conference to build career skills and personal skills through the following sessions: team-building exercises, a career panel (attended by a local tea-shop owner and a member of the Chengdu Tongle Gay Care Organization who also owns a coffee shop), a senior student panel to discuss job hunting skills, interviewing skills, resume writing, and receiving certifications, a fitness and nutrition workshop, a self-defense workshop, a yoga and meditation workshop, a presentation given by a local doctor on Chinese women’s health issues, peer mediation and assertiveness training, a lecture on achieving your dreams, and a resume writing and goal setting workshop. Yours truly gave the self-defense workshop which, if I may be so self-crediting, was rated as the best session overall on the student evaluations. But a whole hearted thanks to all the PCVs who helped make the conference possible: Hunter Gray, Ali Bevers, Mary Lockard, Brianne Gallagher, Arielle Hostetler, Lisa Ellens, Chelsea Clarke, Nick Pollman, and Christy Aldrich. Thanks a million, you guys!

Next week is Hunter’s GLOW conference, which I will be helping with. We’re having the WID/GAD committee (Women in Development / Gender and Diversity) take over responsibility of the conference to have it expand to more schools and more locations next school year.

                       

And that’s all she wrote! I’m out of China in 22 days. I’m planning a post-Peace Corps trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia and I should be back stateside on July 19. I’ll wax philosophical about my service in my next (probably last) post, so look forward to one more, at least! Maybe I’ll post something about my COS trip, too. If anybody out there is still reading this, thanks!

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For the Newbies

I did want to write something for the China 18s that are on their way here. I didn’t get the chance to do it last year for the 17s but now I feel like that wise old sage who imparts only the choicest and most useful information to the wide-eyed, little ones, ala the old guy from the Karate Kid or Master Shifu in Kungfu Panda. Allow me to enlighten your worlds, little pandas!

Clothing

Chendgu is the hottest and most humid mother-effing place I have ever been to. You will be sticky and uncomfortable all summer long. Your “business attire” need not be the office attire from the United States. Just look nice but bring something cool and comfortable! The only time it will be mandatory to wear business attire is during PST. At school, most Chinese teachers wear jeans in the classroom (with nice shirts and nice shoes). Every so often I wear a skirt or a dress, but usually it’s more casual. Don’t tell Peace Corps admin I said this.

During the winter, it’s bloody cold and damp. Bring some kind of thick sweater and thick jacket that you won’t mind wearing both in your apartment as well as outside! There were times when I wore the same sweater for days on end without ever taking it off because it was too cold. This may sound skanky to you now, but wait until January.

Don’t bring any clothing with you that you will want to wear again in the United States. Cotton is rotten in China, because there are no dryers. You may think you’re losing weight here because all your clothes keep getting bigger, but it’s really because they’re all stretched out. If you’re going to buy some new clothes to bring to China, find those that will do well when line-drying.

Any woman larger than a US size 10 will have difficulty finding clothes here that fit (unless you go to the H&M in Chongqing or Chengdu).

Clothing

Chendgu is the hottest and most humid mother-effing place I have ever been to. You will be sticky and uncomfortable all summer long. Your “business attire” need not be the office attire from the United States. Just look nice but bring something cool and comfortable! The only time it will be mandatory to wear business attire is during PST. At school, most Chinese teachers wear jeans in the classroom (with nice shirts and nice shoes). Every so often I wear a skirt or a dress, but usually it’s more casual. Don’t tell Peace Corps admin I said this.

During the winter, it’s bloody cold and damp. Bring some kind of thick sweater and thick jacket that you won’t mind wearing both in your apartment as well as outside! There were times when I wore the same sweater for days on end without ever taking it off because it was too cold. This may sound skanky to you now, but wait until January.

Don’t bring any clothing with you that you will want to wear again in the United States. Cotton is rotten in China, because there are no dryers. You may think you’re losing weight here because all your clothes keep getting bigger, but it’s really because they’re all stretched out. If you’re going to buy some new clothes to bring to China, find those that will do well when line-drying.

Any woman larger than a US size 10 will have difficulty finding clothes here that fit (unless you go to the H&M in Chongqing or Chengdu).

Shoes

Your shoes will get ruined. If you want to wear a pair of shoes when you return to the US, don’t bring them to China. I repeat- they will get destroyed! If you are lucky enough to wear US size 9-10 (ladies) you will not find shoes that fit you here. Flats are your friend. Don’t be that person who buys Chackos just because you got accepted to the Peace Corps. We are not Africa.

Electronics

I wish someone had told me these things when I went into Peace Corps, but, alas, I was left to figure it out all on my own. I sold my iTouch to my sister right before I left for China because it was only 8GB and I needed something else to hold my 49GB of music. BAD MOVE! The iTouch can become your new best friend in China and when traveling. It gets wireless signals, so when you’re traveling during breaks and your hostel has wifi you can check your email, skype people from home, get directions, look up the name of that restaurant that Lonely Planet said was really good. Also, the iTouch can get some amazing apps to help you study Chinese. I don’t remember the names (because I was stupid enough to get rid of mine) but I think you can find them on the PC China website. Also, get a Kindle. I have my BA in English Lit and I was always firmly against e-books for nostalgic reasons. But spending a fortune for English language books in Chengdu or having my parents send me packages with books was AWFUL! If you like to read, or even if you like to get the internet wherever you happen to be traveling, get a Kindle! And, of course, bring your laptop. You’ll need it.

Food

There will come a time when you just need to have some American food. Think about bringing some mixes with you or having someone send a package with mixes- ie taco kits, brownie mix, macaroni and cheese, dried soup, Crystal Light packets. They’ll last forever and it may just be the thing that gets you through your worst day in China. You can find some of these things at a store called Sabrina’s in Chengdu but the prices are slightly higher than American prices (imports…) and our monthly allowance is skimpy.

Once in China

Once you arrive in China, you’ll dive head first into training and you won’t come up for air until you’re at your site. Here’s some info about Chengdu:

Restaurants, Chinese

My training site was at Sichuan University, so all these places are near there. There’s a great Muslim restaurant by the south gate of ChuanDa (Sichuan University) where they sell meat on sticks, na’an, and a beef stew thing. Ask your LCFs to show you where it is. There’s a good dumpling restaurant right behind the Peace Corps office.

Restaurants, Indian

There’s a delicious Indian place across the street and left about 100 meters from the west gate at ChuanDa.

Restaurants, American Chains

If you’re desperate, Hooters has specials every night of the week. I think Monday is half price night. Peter’s TexMex is popular but I don’t think the food is all that great for the expensive prices they charge. There are much better places to go. Grandma’s is a Chinese chain with American food that’s about as good as Pete’s: expensive for just ok food but they do have bottomless coffee! The Bookworm is a bookstore/bar/restaurant. It’s a good place to go to hang out with coffee and their food is more tolerable than Pete’s and Grandma’s. They have Quiz Nights on Tuesdays. It’s on Ren Min Nan Lu just below the road with the American consulate.

Restaurants, Delicious

The two places to go for great American fare are The Lazy Pug, near ChuanDa north gate (amazing brunch on Sundays, Mexican night on Thursdays with free Sangria for the ladies!), and Leanna’s Bakery, on the first ring road near the Minorities University (half-priced baked goods every Saturday night from 8-9p!). If you’re jonesing for some pizza, Vera Napoli has half-priced pizza every Friday night. It’s on Ren Min Nan Lu near the Tongzilin metro stop. Look inside Chengdoo Magazine for a good map.

That’s all I can think of for right now but, if you ever have questions, hit me up!

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Me? Go Overboard?

A quick wrap-up of my winter: travel nightmare, frigid cold, more travel, frigid cold, training, frigid hotel room, Chinese class overload, frigid showers, back to Nanchong.

I just started my last semester yesterday.

WHA?!

That’s right. Last semester. In true over-achiever Peace Corps fashion, I’m going out with a bang in all aspects of my service. I decided 5 minutes before the start of my first class that I’d have each of my 7 classes work towards an end-of-the-semester volunteer project. Each class will design a project combining English and volunteering. They’ll have from weeks 2-15 to prepare for the project (with the occasional unannounced holiday and sports meeting making that seemingly long preparatory period shorter) and then they’ll execute the project during week 16.

With an American college class, this task might seem pretty straight-forward. Not so with Chinese college students. In a country where a generation earlier thousands of people were still dying from starvation, the concept of volunteering is in its embryonic stage. Big strides were made in 2008 for the Beijing olympics and the massive Sichuan earthquake but it will take time for volunteering to “catch on”.

I got mixed reactions when I proposed the idea to my first 3 classes. Class #5 just stared at me (I have not taught them oral English before, so we don’t have the rapport I built with my previous classes). Class #8 was at first excited, then shy and somewhat confused. Class #9 seemed initially apathetic but there were a few students who became inspired by the end of class. Three classes down, four more to blindside.

Not only am I having my classes design and implement a volunteer project, but I’m preparing my own, as well. Many moons ago I introduced the idea of the GLOW conference, a leadership and skill-building conference for my female students. Well, after several setbacks and dropouts, I plan to hold the conference this May. I introduced the idea to my fellow Peace Corps volunteers during our in-service training earlier this month and I was shown a lot of support. I may even be able to have guest speakers, successful career women (is that an acceptable phrase these days?) who can talk about their trials and triumphs. Now that I’m locked in, I have to bring it up with my students. Hopefully, they’ll be on board!!!

More updates to come. I’m anticipating a lot of good material when all these projects blow up in my face.

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I Didn’t Want to Leave, But This is Out of Hand!

I’m somewhere over northern Greenland at the moment, making good use of my computer’s new power adapter. The pilot just made an announcement that our toilets are broken and we must go back to Newark to fix them. We are five and a half hours into our flight. So I figure now is a great time to write that blog update I’ve been putting off. Although, as I stare at the screen all I can think is… Nothing. Except that this would have been a good flight to book Business Class.

Last I wrote I was looking forward to Thanksgiving. We had dinner in Neijiang again this year. I think the official count put us at around 40 volunteers in attendance. We didn’t have turkey (last year it was over-priced and very dry) but we certainly weren’t lacking anything else. I made chicken salad and Grandma’s Screwball Cake.

The male volunteers, for some ghastly reason, participated in a mustache competition (pics below). Looking past the Chester the Molester façade our boys grow ‘em strong. That’s what the ladies thought, anyway. Then again, we’ve been surrounded by hairless Chinese men for over a year.

The night continued in Neijiang’s surprisingly respectable Bar District which caters to all tastes through the Commie bar, Tibetan wine bar, and rasta bar, among others. There was also KTV and a dance club but by that time I was in a triptofan stupor.

The following weekend, Lisa and I took a 12-hour train ride to a city called Pan Zhi Hua (pan jer hwah) to help our friend Christa lead a women’s group session about volunteering. The Peace Corps allows us to do “site exchanges”, to visit another volunteer or have another volunteer visit us to offer professional help (either with classes or secondary projects).

Two weekends later, Nick (my site-mate) and I threw a Christmas party for our students. Really, I threw the party and Nick sat in the desks with the students. I still had decorations from last year’s Christmas party and, as always, my students came out in droves to set up and participate. I think some of them were disappointed by the party, though. They have these impossible expectations for all things western. Wild expectations. In fact, I think they’re usually disappointed by the reality of western life. In their minds, the west is Utopia. Eden. So when I tell them I have never owned a car the bubble is burst.  At least it’s burst until their Chinese teachers spread more rumors about western culture.

Getting back to the Christmas party, we had a photo wall, sing-a-long, reindeer antler game, pin the nose on Rudolph, and a screening of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. That’s always a favorite of my students, both the university students and my toddlers at Sea Turtle. Actually, I think the toddlers get it more than the university students. I also got some wonderful gifts from my students, including a scarf, clover plant, and decorative chopsticks.

Next thing I knew, I was on a flight back home. But when I got to Newark, after 24 hours of traveling, my ride was missing. And by ride, I mean my entire family. Last year was a surprise but this year I was able to go home because Mom and Dad bought my ticket. So naturally, they all wanted to come pick me up at the airport. At least, that’s what they had said. I waited around for over half an hour with no American money and no American cell phone. Finally, I screwed up enough courage to approach a baggage handler and borrow his cell phone. He said I was lucky I reminded him of his daughter and he let me borrow it. First I called Dad, who I thought was an obvious choice, but he didn’t answer. So I called Caitlin because who else in my family has her ear glued to a cell phone like Cait? After ringing twice, she finally answered. She told me they were just pulling up and they could see me but I looked for the GMC Envoy and I didn’t see any signs of it. That’s when the commotion started as a stretch limo pulled up and all four members of my family leaned out the one little back window.

“Meggsie!!!”

“Welcome home!”

“Isn’t this cool?!”

“We got a limo!!”

I. Was. Mortified.

I had had to borrow a baggage handler’s cell phone and my family rolls up in a stretch limo. I’d been living in a part of China where children shit in the aisles of the supermarket and there were three empty bottles of wine inside the luxury vehicle. I earned $2,000 total this year and there’s a $9 bag of grapes in the cooler (next to the empty cheese platter).

To make matters worse, when we went to the rest stop to fill up there was a news crew doing a segment on traveling for the holidays. “Oh, Meggsie! We should tell them you just arrived from China!” No, thanks… But not to be deterred, Brynn approached them and I ended up on the 10 o’clock news for N.J. channel 12 looking absolutely fabulous after traveling for 24 hours in mismatched sweats and a 6 month old hair cut.

Despite the arrival, Christmas at home was wonderful. People were asking me if it was weird to be home but, honestly, when I’m in one place it’s like I was never in the other, although I did keep staring at the sky. It’s bluer than I remembered. In Nanchong, we don’t see the sky or the sun from October through March. Downside of going home: my Nanchong diet went crashing to the ground in the face of all-you-can-eat cheese and sweets. Not to mention holiday buffets.

24 Hours Later:

I wrote that first part right after the announcement was made that our plane would have to turn back to Newark. It is now more than 24 hours later. Allow me to update you.

The pilot told us 5.5 hours into our trip that the septic system was warning him that the tanks were almost full. For health and safety reasons, they’d have to turn us back to Newark to empty out the tanks. At this point, we were at the top of Greenland. Three hours later, we were down to just a few bathrooms and we were told we’d have to make an emergency landing in Goose Bay, Newfoundland. There, they would empty our tanks and we would continue on our way to Newark. In Goose Bay, we sat on the tarmac for 2 hours waiting for the mechanic.

Once we got back to Newark, we were told we would be able to continue on to Shanghai once our plane was serviced and re-crewed. Apparently, one reason we had to go all the way back to Newark was because the crew would have reached the legal limit for working hours. At this point it’s 1a. We deplaned in Newark for 2 hours while we waited for everything to get done. Continental had muffins and coffee waiting for us as well as food vouchers, although only 3 restaurants were open at that hour and Dunkin Donuts didn’t even have donuts! I got a coffee roll at the last minute.

We re-boarded at 3a and sat in the plane for another 45 minutes while the plane was being refueled. According to the pilot, it takes an hour and a half to fuel a plane. Who knew? Then, once we were refueled, the pilot said there was a malfunction with the computers. Headquarters in Houston was trying to send us our new flight information but our plane was having problems downloading anything. Two hours later, there was a medical emergency on board. I heard later that one of the flight attendants had a panic attack. They said she was new to the job. Then, the icing on the cake, one of our propellers froze. That’s when the flight got cancelled. At this point, it was 6:30a.

We got off the plane, stood around for another hour and a half while they pushed the meal vouchers again and, eventually, hotel rooms. We were told another plane and new crew would be assembled and we were going to leave again at 8p. To put it into perspective, the original flight had left at 11a the previous day. So, I went to the Sheraton for a couple of hours, getting only 4 hours of sleep because I was afraid I’d sleep through the latest departure time. Luckily, I boarded successfully!

And now we’re back where we left off- over Greenland. I’m looking at the map and I think it’s literally the same place where we turned around yesterday. I’m holding my breath and crossing my toes (my fingers are tied up at the moment).

As we boarded this flight, customer service representatives handed us a letter detailing all the problems we encountered, how Continental helped us through it, and that they are going to reimburse us for this leg of our trip as well as give us some travel vouchers. At least, I think it’s an “and” situation and hopefully they will not be giving us a refund in the form of a travel voucher. The letter isn’t entirely clear.

12 Hours Later:

And here I am in Chengdu. We arrived in Shanghai at 1a, China time. I spent the night in Shanghai Airport and finally boarded a 9a flight for Chengdu. Now, I’m eating in the Bookworm, finishing this post, and waiting for my train at 6:49p.

WHAT A WAY TO TRAVEL!

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Blog Traffic

WordPress has prepared statistics about my blog. They’re rather interesting. Take a look! And I promise an update soon!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,800 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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