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When someone first explained this concept to me I was skeptical. The electricity would actually heat the water inside the bag? When I was younger my parents taught me a few things (1) don't run into the street - look both ways and walk across; (2) Eat your vegetables; (3) Water and Electricity are not friends and they do not want to play with one another. The third tenet of my tender years cautioned me until someone unplugged in this Potential Electric Fire and handed it to me. The warmth radiating from this contraption seemed to whisper, "just be careful." As I've said before, I do not advocate plugging a bag of water into a 240 volt outlet; see number (3) above.

I know it's cliche, but I like talking about how this bag keeps my feet warm. In fact, I like talking about how to stay warm. My site-mate and I have conversations which always tend to drift in this direction. Here is an example of an actual conversation:

Dustin: ...and then the student said he could write the poem and perform it later.

Bethany: (in deep thought, ostensibly thinking over my words) We need a couple of Guinea Pigs to carry around in our pockets. If we feed them they will keep our hands warm.

Dustin: (forgetting the earlier conversation) YOU... ARE... A... GENIUS!!!

Yes, this is how it goes sometimes. Call me fickle, but I'd trade a small part of my eternal soul for a warm bag of water. In addition to its practical use, this bag is covered with monkeys and bananas. I'm not saying this makes the bag any better, but it doesn't hurt. I've already forseen the possibilities: If I buy no less than 6 of these bags and heat them simultaneously I could put them on my body like a blanket when I go to bed. Nevermind the lack of automatic shut-off or missing GFI component: This is heat we're talking about.

Maybe you ask that I look at the tag, but my answer is simple: I have! The tag very specifically says somethings about the bag being safe as long as one never plugs it in. "Under no circumstances should anyone use electricity to heat this bag." And despite the fact that they include an electric cord! Actually, this is what I am guessing it would say. The chinese characters listed on the tag are far too difficult for me to read.



On the train to Guiyang this weekend I asked a little boy if he wanted to sit in my lap. The train did not have enough seats for everyone and he was standing with his mother. Although the child looked up at me without speaking, likely wondering why I spoke so strangely, he did not sit on my lap. The incident did inspire his grandfather to offer a seat, however, where the child quickly fell asleep.

In Guiyang our Thanksgiving Day celebration was filled with the hustle and bustle of preparing to serve 25 in a foreign country; it was the most amazing feat of preparation I have ever seen.

After dinner I was reflecting on the importance of this holiday. It was the first time in my life that I fully appreciated its significance: the basic idea of being thankful for things. Thanksgiving's impact upon American culture is easier to think about now that I've gone far away from that culture.

Several of my students asked me about the holiday and I kept responding, "it's a day when we are thankful for things and we eat a bunch of food." But then I wanted to go deeper and explain more, only uncovering more and more about American culture as I explored. I wondered, what kinds of things did I do for Thanksgiving as a child? What do older people do? What does it mean to host people for Thanksgiving? And where, oh where, did I put the whipped cream? Pumpkin pie just isn't the same without it.

I thought back on my Grandfather's pig farm. I dreamed about my breath in the air and the orange leaves hanging from trees. I realized that this holiday has been a part of shaping who I am.

American culture is so much more real when people are asking me about it. Indeed, it becomes even more so when I realize how little they know. "How could they NOT know about the wishbone?!" I think to myself. What about Turkey, the unfortunate, steroid-filled victim of our need for tradition? Surely you know the phrase "Turkey Day!" But nobody does.

The brief speeches about thanks make so much more sense when you actually say them aloud: "I am thankful for all of you, my fellow volunteers." And why does it feel so good to say this? Because I realize the depth of my thankfulness and how lucky I am. Thanks to you, too.



I hadn't taken a shower in 3 days (the weather is cold, I tell you!) and getting in after this long is really nice. Unfortunately for me, pulling the shower handle resulted in a maximum of 3 drops from the spout... the same from the kitchen...

Oh well.

No, this didn't upset me much - not like the first few times. It was later that I let it get to me. The next day I checked the kitchen sink and the water was back on. I checked the bathroom just to make sure - and it was perfect - a strong, warm shower awaited me. After going back to my bedroom to get my clothes and towel, I went back to the bathroom pulled the shower handle - nothing came out.

Amazing. I had JUST checked it!

This was yesterday, actually. Today I have water again. I even have the time to go and take a shower. Everything is ready. But something is missing...

Courage. Deep down I am afraid to return to my bathroom ready to shower. This fear is of another disappointment, another time when my hopes were false hopes. But I must. And I will. For everyone's sake.

I received a package...

and what a package! Thanks to everyone at Penny Creek who helped to put this together and thanks to Julie Ogura for sending it!

I was carrying the box back to my apartment and people asked me what was inside. When I said "American Candy" they gasped. Actually, the conversation went more like them asking, "那个是什么?“ and me replying "美国糖” followed by their exclamation "太好了!“ but basically nothing is lost in translation here.

This thanksgiving I have yet another thing for which to be thankful: the many people who have helped support and encourage me during my first months here. Thank you everyone (and thank you mom and dad, for your constant little care packages - I haven't forgotten!).


My site mate

My site mate is cool. We can talk about many things together. She comes up with very cool quotes that I take out of context and then re-quote later to her eternal frustration. Here is an example:
"I like windows."

She is artistic and musical, too. I think I am lucky. She can pick a pretty good poem. Here is one she showed me (by Ogden Nash):

The Cow

The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

In case you were wondering how this would look in IPA presented to my students in phonetics class, please read the following:

ðə kaʊ

ðə kaʊ ɪz əv ðə boʊˈvaɪn ɪlk
wən end ɪz mu, ðə əðər, mɪlk

Bethany is one of the few people I've met who disagrees with almost everything I believe, but who is still willing to be friends. Here we are near the Long Gong caves (not pictured - that is a different 'cave'):

Village outside Anshun

I had planned an elaborate "House that Jack built" piggyback poem but I got confused about how to do it. Instead I decided just to talk about our drive this weekend. My tutor is connected to some prominent families in the city because she teaches their children English. She has connected Bethany and I so that we can help their children learn English during weekend outings. This weekend we took the winding road toward the Long Gong Caves. On the way there was a village built by the farmers who lived there (or their parents, grandparents, and so on). The houses were very old and made of stone. One woman said they were cold in the summer and warm in the winter. They did not use mortar between the stones, instead using smaller stones to fill air gaps. This was the most amazing day I have had in a long time. The village felt deserted and the only warning as we entered was to be careful of the dogs. Terrific.


This is a tree growing (somehow) from a rock.

Slate roofs.

Stone walls, An alley.


Some thoughts

I find it curious that I have an internet connection more often than running water. When I turn the handle of my kitchen sink and watch the last drops of water fall it makes my day to remember taking a shower within the last 24 hours. That means I am cleanish.

I eat out a lot. The truth is that it's cheaper and easier, but I justify it by saying that my stomach needs conditioning for the periodic, inevitable bacterial assaults (which is also true).

I get frustrated when I can't communicate. So many hours are poured into learning the language and sometimes I find myself struggling to understand words and phrases like "Sunday" and "Most of the time."

I think it is possible to make good friends in China, but I am skeptical about making close friends. At times the language and culture seem to be insurmountable obstacles.

Last week a restaurant owner told me his grandfather was Bin Laden, and it was a shame about Saddam Hussein. The people I was with tried to downplay the incident and I felt the need to communicate my thoughts to the man; I also felt constricted and unable to explain my views. When I left I was angry and confused.

I have difficulty understanding how people get by sometimes. Poverty is everywhere. The people are so friendly and always smiling. I wonder why people who work a hard 12 hours farming each day make a fraction of people who work a 9-5 selling books at a bookstore in America.

Every day I take another step deeper into China. I think I'm becoming more "Chinese." Every day the differences are highlighted too.

Every day I feel the weight of my ignorance and I am trying to make it lighter through listening.

Tomorrow we are going to see masks created by an ethnic minority population (maybe the Miao, but I'm not sure). Guizhou has a 40% minority population (one of the largest in China).


Are you a teacher?

Are you a teacher? Do you teach Elementary School Students in the 4th or 5th grade? Are you looking for a class of Chinese students with whom you can exchange letters written in English?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you're in luck! My site-mate (Bethany) and I have students who are eager to write. You might be asking yourself, "But what about the mail, isn't that expensive?" The answer is no! The Coverdell World Wise Schools program may be willing to pay (or we could always email).

Anyway, if people are interested I will talk with Bethany about the logistics. Just click the comments link below or send me an email.

Actually, I have done very little research on this project and I may later recant. This posting is to gauge the interest level.