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If you know what country's flag this is, you:

A.) Should be on Jeopardy.
B.) Know where I'm moving in a few weeks.
C.) Both.

If you picked C., you're wrong. You egotistical tit, you.

The answer is B. Yes, my friends, after a long hiatus I am renewing my expatriate status. Although I could probably make far more money back in China, I've opted for a new experience. I'm not entirely sure what made me so sharply interested in that area, but for whatever reason I feel drawn there. Though I'm hoping it wasn't actually Argentina I was really drawn to, and I'm missing the bullseye here.

So. Anyone want my car?

EDIT following two IM's: (The flag is Chile, dammit. Not Mexico. Good grief, y'all.)

Taking the Next Step

I've resigned from my job.

I have the feeling that had I stayed in China, I might have continued to put this off. It is honestly amazing how much we can accept when we're constantly surrounded by it. Sitting here, I think back over situations in China that baffle me as to why I didn't quit and run screaming. In China I'd mentally normalized a great deal of behavior because I simply saw it everywhere. It was simply how you did things.

Now, running a school in the United States whose head office is in China, I am in a constant clash of ethics and it suddenly grates on me in places that had been silenced when I was effectively calling it "normal". It is a multitude of problems at once, ones that will happen anytime a large company takes over a small, independent venture and attempts to force it into a new, profit-first-quality-second mold. Add the tint of China into it, and you have a mess.

I spent several months waking up in the morning and having the thought before I even opened my eyes that I did not agree with what I was doing every day. Nor did I enjoy it. I'll even go the extra step and say that I feel that what I'm doing is wrong. Business and education are inseparable on one level, as even in public education one must have a department to concern themselves with figures and nasty nuisances like payroll. But when education is treated as a commodity to be presented as a way to gain status and profit rather than knowledge, there is something wrong. It happens everywhere.

It is happening at my school, to a degree that has finally disgusted me. Our marketing department writes me to say that there is a market of rich parents who want more status in China, and will send their children to the US for any amount of money just to get a certificate from us. Regardless of the quality of education. My concerns about untruths in our advertising are consistently ignored. We make false promises about students being guaranteed entrance into B.A. and M.A. programs. I am told not to worry about it - we can make something up to pacify students who come and realize it's not true.

I can't do this anymore. I'm 25 years old, too young to be stuck doing something that I so actively disagree with. My salary isn't enough to comfortable get me through graduate school. I have no retirement plan. I don't even have health insurance. All I have is a head full of dreams and the solid conviction that the students who need what we offer are not coming from rich, connected families in China. They're right here already, making minimum wage because they can't read. Some of them are foreign, but many are nationals, simply trapped in a cycle of poverty and a society that keeps the cost of basic education out of their reach.

On September 6th I'm going into AmeriCorps, which is like PeaceCorps for people with commitment issues. It's one year instead of two, done domestically. I'll be with the Pinellas County branch of the Florida Literacy Coalition, handling development of their adult literacy program, writing grants, assisting with managing their volunteer corps, and coming up with fundraising schemes. On the side I'll be getting back into theatre. My old arts community is already warming my heart, telling me of what's going on. I've even been pre-cast in a show for the fall.

And after a year? I don't know. But I'll be armed with an experience that I believed in, new skills, and a hefty grant for grad school. Perhaps I can move on with that old dream of making the world a better place. Wish me luck.

May. 20th, 2005

I keep falling off the face of the earth.

I feel bombarded by the United States. Saturated by it. Strangely distanced from it.

China was chaotic. In an obvious, glaring, stinky sense. Physically, environmentally chaotic. Traffic, population, ill-planned housing, filth. There is nothing convenient about China. To get from point A to point B invariably involved wading through shit, sometimes quite literally if the city drains were clogged after a storm. As a student from Beijing told me a month or so ago, she was constantly amazed at how neat the United States was.

I think it's a false sense of neatness. My America is chaotic as well, just not in a way that everyone can perceive. The streets are straight and clean, roads kept up, things moving in well-timed order. Unlike in China, everyday things are not difficult to do. I don't bargain for my groceries. I don't fight my way through queues. Schedules for buses, classes, movies, office hours, are readily available and for the most part, accurate. Higher degree programs are available to me, at four different universities, and regardless of my lower degree I could begin any M.A. that I wanted to.

Other minds are available; opinions suddenly bombard me from every TV station, every newspaper and every mouth.

Everything is readily available, the good and the bad. Its own particular form of consumer chaos, in terms of goods, options, information, and opinion. A crisis of availability. A chaos of choice that I had nearly come to forget about in China.

In China, students are taught by rote, and really, it often felt to me as though the Chinese simply took that concept of rote and continued to live with it for the rest of their lives. Despite the chaos of the world, there was a sense of security, resting in the lap of the guanxi system and trust in authority. There was no flipping from FOX news to the Daily Show to the BBC to sample the flavors of each. There were simply no options.

In the US I struggle with feeling lost. I have an overload of choice, from my ice-cream flavor to my politics. In China if I asked a question I would likely get only one answer, the "right" answer. Here I am drowned in opinions. I can allow my opinion to be swayed, the danger being of course that it will be swayed by an incorrect statement. We complain about the death of our intellectual freedom, but truly, that death is coming because of the choice made by the apathetic. A simple walk through a bookstore shows us racks of magazines screaming opposing solutions...to problems we never ever knew existed. More things for us to wonder why we ought to care about them. With so many differing opinions, why would mine count?

The average American is not told what is important. We're swamped by media giving us a list of crap to wonder about - Social Security, defense, education, gun control, abortion - all lacking something fundamental...the feeling that it should be important to us. This crisis of choice turns on itself and makes everything look bland. Insurmountable. Americans face a crisis of social impotency. Disjointed and gray-shaded to the point where it seems impossible to make up one's mind...and even if one does...how does one know one is right?

I do like my country. I think it's a wonder of history, and it will be a good learning tool for bodies down the line. But I wonder if this chaos we're mired in can ever be overcome, or if it's simply the price we have to pay for wanting everything at once...and getting it. What would it take to make us as angry as we were in the 1960s? Where is the leader who will bring social issues out of the clouds and put them back into a place that we can't avoid them?

I'm not sure it can ever happen again.

This is getting ridiculous

Names in the From: line of spam emails in the last few days:

  • Blockbuster F. Goosing
  • Sapsucker A. Interconnected
  • Subplots F. Downswing
  • Surmount I. Inducement
  • Shooed U. Bolton
  • Propeller R. Choicest
  • Perambulator M. Steamboats
  • Removal D. Jingles
  • Pitifully C. Sultanate
  • Disgraceful K. Counteract
  • Disaster T. Cajuns
  • Fluidity E. Coward
  • Enrico H. Engineered
  • Disarray K. Thelma
  • Hillbilly I. Petrarch
  • Griddles O. Indirectness

Best ones so far, though, have been:

  • Pastrami I. Maximization
  • Ani S. Hemorrhage
  • Adulterers O. Shafters

    and

  • Cathode U. Stiffened
I work for a school that offers classes in English as a Second Language. We mainly advertise online, in a variety of languages, and the web advertising draws 99% of our students. Due to lease agreements, we can't hang large signs or banners outside the school suite, though we do have a rather small sign that says 'Study English Here'.

So today I get a phone call from an older man with a twangy drawl.

He says, "Hey...y'all know you got a sign in yer window that says Study English Here?"

I say, "Yes, sir. We're a school for English as a second language."

He thinks a moment, then says, "Yeah but...well I mean, if they cain't speak no English how they gonna know what it says? They cain't read it!"

I attempted to explain to him that our advertising was done mainly online, that the sign was not a major hub of promotion, and that most people looking for an English class at least know the words 'Study', 'English', and 'here'.

He said, "But they cain't read no English! I mean, I just thought I'd let y'all know, help y'all out."

I thanked him and hung up. It was taking too much willpower not to point out to him that his own English wasn't exactly stellar, yet he seemed to be able to read the damn sign just fine.
Who on earth is ____prfctlj4evr and what do I have in common with the other 702 people listed on this journal?

It's no fun being on a list if you don't know whether you're there because you were good or because you were bad.

EDIT: Eh. It has something to do with jameth. Go figure.

When you gotta go...

Someone help a brother out. I know you don't need that extra cream you stashed under your mattress.

By the way, this user has checked "yes -- ok to transmit this posting into outer space". I'm not even going to make a comment involving Uranus.

Shaking off

As I've been doing personal budgeting over the last week or so, I've noticed that my time in China has completely messed up my sense of the value of the US dollar. I have a paycheck coming this Friday, and after wiping out my rent and bills I'll have about $600 dollars in my account for the next two weeks until the next paycheck.

My first thought was "Christ, only $600?? Crash conserve mode, activate!"

Why? Because if I had only 600 RMB in my bank account in China, I'd be living on saltines and spoonfuls of peanut butter. Well, maybe not saltines. Those are expensive.

My mother called me later that day and I let out my fears of destitution. Luckily for me, she paused a moment and then asked calmly, "Have you lost your mind? That's plenty of money!"

I sat for a while and realized that it's going to take me a little time to get used to the cost of living here at home. I can't help but feel panicked, and I still have a strong urge to hoard my money. Afraid 600 dollars will bleed out as fast as 600 RMB would.

I've also been told that I'm more aggressive now when I have to stand in a line. I've noticed in myself that I'm less likely to trust people's smiles...especially white men. When I have to speak Spanish on the phone at work, my mind defaults to Chinese at every opportunity and injects Chinese words and phrases into the Spanish.

China gets to you.

Mar. 19th, 2005

"We want to believe that our view of reality is shared. Most of us seek to check out our truths socially. Truth becomes socially anchored because we seek social support for our ideas." (111-112)

From the book Ten Questions, by Joel M. Charon.

In China, I was impressed by the power that The Truth held. The Truth was in the government, in the family, in the newspapers. It didn't need to be sought after any longer. It was provided. Children in my classes, when asked to answer a question, gave me as formulaic an answer as possible, repeating my older words if they could. To be correct was The Truth. Teacher held The Truth. Support for certain truths was so widespread and ironclad that it was almost comforting for a while to sink into its embrace. We were given lists of taboo topics. No checking out those truths at all. It reminded me of jelly. A bullet could be fired into it but would be stopped and held fast before it could do much damage. Resistance.

I had almost forgotten what it means to me to be a part of the United States. But then I went to a poetry slam last night and I nearly cried. Not so much for the text I heard but for the people who weren't there. Who didn't come. Who weren't onstage and who weren't in the seats. They were missing truths being brought into existence. They were missing an almost sacred seeking. It happened in the eye contact, in the movements of the poets, in the shifting in your seats of the audience. Leaning forward, leaning back, tapping chins and tilting heads. Was it going to take?

When acceptance came, the flurry of applause was nothing compared to Carnegie Hall. But when it comes to bouncing truths and having new ones born out of the applause, a truth created in the grand hall of the masters is no different from ones created on the smallest, dustiest of stages, lit only by candles.

I'd tried to tell a Chinese friend of mine about events like this. She smiled pleasantly, tilted her dark head, and just said, "That's nice, but...they should just read from a book they already know is right. That would be much better."

Last night when I saw an empty seat in the theatre, I thought of her.

Mar. 11th, 2005

God it's bizarre being able to speak to strangers at a normal speed.

In other news, there is nothing between St. Louis and Austin. Absolutely nothing. Americans of Missouri, Arkansas, and northern Texas, I salute you. How you live without daily thoughts of suicide, I do not know.

In other other news, I was at the end of the 11 hour drive from St. Louis last night, hopelessly lost somewhere in central Austin, and I pulled into a parking lot with the intent of kicking the car for a while. A busted-looking truck with a flat tire was sitting in the lot in the dark as well, and I went over to ask the driver if he knew where my apartment complex was.

He didn't, but after some slightly stoned chit-chat, I learned he was Dirk Hoekstra, the not-so-famous guy who got sucked through Tom Miller dam last Monday.

He'll be on Ellen on Tuesday, and some other random talk shows later in the week. If you see him, think of me and know that I have his autograph.

I ended up going out for a drink with his friend, who was also stuck out there with him. She's apparently a rather well-known wine expert.

It was truly the most bizarre parking lot run-in I've had to date.