I caught the bus back, it began to rain so I pulled out my umbrella and then it was gone again but still really hot so I hung out at the smoothie place across the street (it's probably more accurate to call it an ice and fruits place). There were still some pretty sizeable blocks of ice left in my mango smoothie but I got to hide out in a small place, cool off, watch the kids go by and a few women from nearby businesses stopped in to talk and get a cold drink. It was pleasant. I wonder if the woman who works there is from a more rural part of Zhuzhou county, I couldn't help hearing the way she spoke wasn't quite like the standard Mandarin my ears are trained to follow. It's also entirely possible that she is from here but just doesn't enunciate Putonghua well. After that, I went home for a bit, had dinner, went on a walk, picked up some red pens (I'll be needing them soon), window shopped, discovered that one of the shopping centers will be bringing in "100 Italian blands" soon and that was why they hung Italian and Chinese flags everywhere, and came home to try sleeping early. So much for that.
At maybe 8 or 9 PM the weather changed again and within a few minutes I was unable to see out my window because of the furious downpour that appeared after a couple cracks of thunder and lightning against the purple sky. The wind kicked up too. After a few hours, it died down but in the meantime I'd found myself unable to sleep and just watched out the window, wishing I had some hot chocolate or coffee in my kitchen instead of Tie guan yin, downloading The Hobbit and The Hunger Games from iTunes so I could catch up, catching up on Community (which I discovered my field director also enjoys), checking my fridge again to see that I'd cleared out everything that might have gone bad when the power in Hetang district went out on Wednesday, and I finally made my way to bed. When I got up on Saturday, the wind was still going pretty hard and the trees behind our apartment building were all bent but it turned out to be a nice day.
Other than that, I finished Shen Cong Wen's "Border Town" and started reading Mo Yan. I have "The Porcelain Thief" marked for later reading too. The subtitle is really clever: "Searching the Middle Kingdom for Lost China". It's always interesting to read about others experiences or views on China because this place is so big so I'm always looking to put the pieces I have together with the pieces others have to get a fuller view.
So what does America look like from here? Well, I've already touched on the racial aspect. I've heard a teacher say that many people believe Americans are all beautiful because it's a country full of people with white skin. This has been an excellent opportunity to discuss American diversity which I'm happy to say is an idea many seem open to, but at the same time people here would probably still say I don't look like a normal American.
Then there's religion. On my first day of teaching, I asked students if they had questions for me and one kid opened his book and showed me the word "Christianity" and asked "You?". I told him I wasn't going to answer that. But the interest in America the Christian country has reappeared time and time again while I've been teaching here. People asked about going to church on Christmas, people have asked my site mate if she goes to church, people asked about Easter and the cross, people frequently ask about what it's like to go to church every Sunday, and when the other teachers asked about American culture they asked us to talk about religion. My responses to these questions consist of "There are many beliefs in America, not all of them are Christian. And schools are often careful about winter celebrations because of those different beliefs." It's also in my contract that I can't give religious instruction, so I tell people that a lot too. I don't know where the line is between talking about religion and teaching religion so I've simply refused to say or write anything about it. I can kind of understand the fascination though given the context here in China and I would argue that understanding religion's role in America's history would be important, but that's also not my place to teach.
So the biggest things so far are that America is perceived as a white Christian land. As someone who has grown up in the American socio-cultural-racial context, that's a problematic view. As someone who knows that I'm in a country with a set limit to how many foreign films and such can come into the country, I have to allow for understanding. To be fair, I did get some of these views in Europe though European and American relations and British and American relations are quite different from America and China relations. I still remember a drunk man in Dublin, Ireland saying "You're from America? It's still standing then? I used to live in Kansas. The real America. You guys have got too much religion and not enough common sense." And then there were times when people in Britain or less traveled to parts of Italy where they would ask me about my Americanness. My time in Switzerland showed me how American I am, partly by the way I dress, the views I take, and at times because my American ways were more pronounced to my continental friends. There were other times too though, when the same man in Dublin pulled his fingers back from his eyes and told me how hard it is to "Tell you all apart when you look like this" or the man in the coffee shop near my dorm who made the same move and was shortly after smacked by his wife who told me she really loved Chinese food. Funny, isn't it? Europe made me sure of how American I was, but also a bit wary of what it was like to carry a variety of stereotypes that stemmed from my being American and from my being Chinese. At times it was kind of a heavy load to bear, the perceptions of not one but two or more cultures. In China, I thought it might be some of the same, a sense of how distantly removed I am from the culture here and how American I am but I've been surprised. Perhaps partly from a deep rooted sense in the Chinese view that Chinese people are always Chinese and things that have stayed with my family, I've developed an awareness of what stayed rather than what changed this many generations down. All the dinners for one. I used to think it was weird that we had dinners for so many occasions but after being here, I guess it is a big part of Chinese soi