I didn't do much, but I did give myself a good scrub and met the new year literally smelling like a rose (until I pulled out the pickled veggies and beer in my fridge). I felt much better this new year and on New Year's day took a bus out to Shennong so I could stop by the altar. It was quiet, and I'm still not totally sure how to conduct myself for prayers and based on what the 5 Shennong statues are holding I can only guess at what the functions of each are for (one looks like it's holding medicine, so that's probably for health, one looks like it's holding golden bowls so it's probably for money/prosperity...and complicating this too is that Shennong is important for introducing agriculture so he's always holding symbols of that great contribution as well). And I know that I've seen others come in and bow three times but I struggle to remember how exactly it's done. So I passed through quietly, had a good look at the offerings in front of the middle statue of Shennong (even a pig's head there this time) and bought myself a charm for luck ("fu" or 福) and wrote a small wish for a better year ahead. Much to my surprise, I found another wish for luck for the year ahead in English left by a man. But Zhuzhou is a city so there is a growing foreign population here as English teachers come in to work here.
I do like the place a lot as it is a quiet place that feels different from other places I've been, most likely because I don't think it's any more than 10 years old and it serves a slightly different purpose than the other sites in the area (Shennong City is definitely a tourist spot with the big tower offering views of the city, but it's still a nice place to go on a sunny day). I really want to go back with someone who understands it better, my understanding is pretty vague and I only understood enough to pay the 10 yuan for my charm before hanging it up. Maybe the most important thing is to keep learning about Shennong and the Yan emperor though since Shennong and his horns are everywhere in this city, and I imagine even more so out in Yanling where his tomb is.
As 2014 makes its way out and 2015 begins, I've been asking myself about where I was and where I am. I was pretty unsure and things didn't look too great last year. People asked me questions about future plans I didn't have and seemed unnerved that I didn't have anything too concrete in mind. I was asked if I wanted to stay another year in college which was a wonderful place but with everything that had happened junior year I was a little un-moored as far as my academic interests. I had a thesis to work on, and would be going into my last semester working on a thesis and a final research project (which were separate things for the two biggest parts of my degree). I knew from my first year at Franklin that the most valuable thing I received and in turn the most valuable thing I had to give was the new way of thinking I had developed as a result of my studies and experiences, but there were other things going on that made everything feel pretty pointless. I swung through all kinds of feelings. But if I remember correctly, I received an email through my college that the Colorado China Council had a few open spots for recent college graduates to come and teach English in Sichuan. Up to that point, I said no to teaching in China because it sounded like things would be stacked against me as a Chinese-American and I heard that situations weren't always that great, and it struck me as pretty bad that people without teaching licenses took these positions. But in this case, I read through it, felt that in many ways it was what I wanted, found out that this program offered training which seemed to offer more legitimacy to me than just being a native English speaker who walked into a classroom with no clue as to how teaching worked, I found that it offered help, I found records of others' experiences. I was about to finish with a degree in communications, literature, and minor in psychology. I had lived in another country before and traveled a lot. I had a greater understanding of British v. American English than I would have had I stayed in the US. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed right for me. Another chance to travel, a chance to take both my skills and interests and apply them, a chance to practice Chinese...and though I still felt that I'd rather have the ESL certificate before doing this, I applied and said I'd be willing get the certificate in order to do this. I decided to worry about money after applying largely because the last thing I needed was to think about financing a trip when they might reject me anyway. But they didn't. All my reading had paid off and I guess I was more interested in China than I initially believed as I heard myself during the interview. I remember too that I had recently read an article offering tips to introverted job-seekers (most of which I had figured out to some extent while in college since I had to regularly give presentations). One passage suggested admitting to your introversion up-front to show potential employers that you understood yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing that could go badly too, I took the risk and when I was asked about potential issues I could see in taking the position I said "Well, I'm an introvert. But I'm also an introvert with a communications degree and that's not a degree you earn without developing a public speaking persona."
I was lucky. The director of the program told me her son was very quiet but very outgoing as a teacher so she understood that. I also mentioned that I was Chinese-American and was aware that locals sometimes make assumptions about Chinese-Americans or hold them to different expectations. I was told I was a good fit and to start packing my bags. Due to later circumstances, I was unable to go with the Colorado China Council but the director still felt that this was something I should pursue so she sent my info to WorldTeach. I was a little disheartened at first and put off doing the application all over again because I hated the idea of having to try again after having that chance taken from me. But then I sat down and went to work ultimately because I realized that if nothing else, I had managed to get this position before and the reason I was applying was because someone felt it was right for me. I initially applied because it seemed right for me. And if I was rejected, at least I would know it wasn't because I was unqualified since I had done this before. I was nervous, the process was a little more formal and structured because WorldTeach is a bigger program and I wasn't sure how well I'd done. But I guess largely for the understanding of challenges, the information I had gone through from before, and all of that showed I knew what I was signing up for and was a good fit for the program. The rest is history.
So here I am, one year later, with hundreds of students and nervous about getting everyone to speak for the oral exam and giving grades. But I think I'm where I need to be right now. I don't know anymore about where I will be in June or July than I did last winter, but I'm not feeling utterly useless as a human being either. My Chinese is growing and just as I hoped, I've built an exchange where I teach English and others teach me Chinese. I get to share what I enjoy, language arts, and in turn others share that with me. I get to see a country in transition and talk to the locals about how much has changed in the last 10 years here alone, let alone what changes must have occurred since my family left China, and though I'm still struggling to reach out to others and at times feel the frustration of the language barrier, I think I am slowly coming to know some people here. I often think about how wonderful it would be to do this again since I now know what to look out for and have a better sense of what's available to me. Of course, I guess it helps when you have a reputation for being a very sunny person with a kind face. On this new year, instead of thinking about how my wish for the year was to leave my ghosts and nightmares behind I was able to think forward and ask for a good year. Maybe it was the small ritual of showering before the new year came this time, or just that I felt so much more productive but it was nice to not feel so adrift this time through.