Category Archives: Oh China

Thirty-one Months Later: Adapting to Life in China

When I first arrived in Beijing in September 2014, I knew almost nothing about the country I’d just moved to. I was embarking on a new life that didn’t seem to have a sell-by date – I had no idea how long I’d stay or even when I would next go home.

While many of my initial questions were answered long ago, the questions never stop arising, and the number seems to grow rather than shrink. The deeper into creating a real life I venture, the greater my curiosity for this vast country grows.

About thirty months ago, a few weeks into my Beijing life, I wrote what was to be my first and only “Beijing Update”. I sent it as an email and posted part of it on my blog, as a list of weird things I’d learned about Beijing.

While I’d like to imagine I’ve shed my China naivety, after almost three years living here, I’m not even sure that’s even possible. At no point have I felt that I could ever stop learning about this monolith of a nation. So to honour that never-stop-learning spirit, here’s an updated look at those weird things I’m still about Beijing:

bikes-bikes-beijing
Thousands of bikes crowd Beijing’s streets | image from guardian
  1. Health Check. All foreigners must go through a basic health check as part of their visa application. Only selected hospitals provide this all-inclusive test of sight, blood pressure, height, and weight. Patients get a little manhandled as they are passed from doctor to doctor, who take a blood sample, a chest x-ray, a cardiogram and an ultrasound. Standard procedure. Friends of mine speculate it’s all an elaborate ruse to check foreigners for HIV/Aids and other venereal diseases, which could result in a denied visa. I’ve luckily only been through it once, but I’ve got it coming whenever I change job or get a new visa.
  1. IKEA. I avoid Ikea in Beijing like the plague. Yes, it is treated like a social outing. Yes, people go there to sleep. Yes, people go there on dates. No, it is not a fun place to be. I went once and have never yet been back. I’ll just have to ensure I don’t wind up in a less-than-desirably-furnished apartment!
  1. Milk. Fresh milk appeared in my local supermarket a few months after my first frantic search for it. I stopped buying yoghurt and milkshakes by accident, and I only buy cartons of UHT from our closest shop during bouts of laziness.
  1. Long nails. A significant number of men have long nails on their little finger, often just on one hand. It’s a status symbol showing that the hands’ owner doesn’t work with their hands, but most people I see on the subway simply use their pinkie nail to dig that little bit deeper for ear wax.
  1. Public toilets. There are still public toilets all over the place, but only in certain areas. Bars and restaurants in the Hutongs don’t have loos, and will never have them. Some are kept clean, others are not. Most but not all are squatters. Many don’t have cubicles or even dividers. Few have hand-washing facilities and fewer have soap. Never forget to bring your own bog roll.
  1. Bikes. If I thought there were bicycles everywhere in 2014, you can’t move for bikes now. Cycling has become cool again, thanks to Mobike and Ofo, companies that enable you to hire a bike by scanning a QR code. Beginning with student areas like Wudaokou, these bikes have slowly overrun the city and clogged up an already slow-moving two-wheel traffic system. They’re dockless, so the rider can just leave them wherever his or her journey ends. More than once, I’ve seen men unloading 50+ Mobikes onto a single street corner in a busy area late at night. There are stories of burning piles of bikes. There’s less space to lock a bike you actually own, but less likelihood of theft.
  1. Holiday compensation. In 2014 I was surprised that I was required to work on a Saturday and Sunday to compensate for national holiday. I soon learned that this is common practice. Working at weekends (usually doing one or more six-day-week), is considered fair recompense for having consecutive days off. It gets particularly messy when the celebrated holiday falls mid-week. This never becomes normal; working ‘make up’ days in order to earn a holiday never seems fair. But it makes sense, given the size of the country and the familial nature of traditional holidays, to allow the population time to visit their hometowns for celebrations like Qing Ming Jie or Tomb Sweeping Day.

I’ve learned a lot in my thirty-one months in Beijing, and I have enjoyed the incessant challenge this metropolis poses. Although sometimes it feels the smog outweighs the curiosity, I don’t think I’ll ever stop (begrudgingly) raising questions. Which is why Beijing continues to be my home.

 

Read on

Header image from: Uber for Bikes: how ‘dockless’ cycles flooded China – and are heading overseas, Guardian

 

LGBTQ+ in China: a quick introduction

In China, the LGBTQ+ community face severe discrimination. Many LGBTQ+ people’s families and communities refuse to accept their sexuality or gender identity, and therefore find themselves in compromising situations like ‘fake’ marriages to fulfil their filial duty. Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder until 2001, and some private Chinese clinics still offer ‘electroshock’ gay conversion therapy.

Thankfully, there are many people speaking and acting out against such discrimination. In Beijing, the LGBTQ+ community are a strong driving force behind the feminist movement. We’re incredibly privileged to know women like Iron, who runs Beijing’s LGBT Centre, and Li Maizi who spoke in London last week. There are feminists across the country speaking out about everything from Trump to censorship, and campaigning non-stop when the two coincide.

Kick-start your understanding of China’s LGBTQ+ community with this informative video from Out China:

 

So, here’s to our LGBTQ+ friends in China and worldwide. May this be the beginning of a long alliance.

Sorry, I am not a dog

Yesterday I was locking up my bike when a policeman barked at me. He was fifty metres away. He started walking towards me, and yelled again. No words, just sounds. Then he whistled. A high piercing tone designed to scare me off. He clapped his hands three times, loudly, and shouted again, a sound equivalent to “Oi!”

WRONG! That’s not how you speak to a human. Sorry. Try again. 

He did not extend me the privilege of talking in words (wild idea, I know). Rather he made himself as big as possible and made as much noise as he could. I can only guess that he assumed this would startle me, shock me into submission, or get me to run away.

In case you hadn’t realised by now, I am a human. I am not a dog. But he treated me like a dog. Why? Because of my skin colour. This policeman took one look at me and decided that language would not have any effect.

Everyone knows foreign people cannot speak Chinese. Foreign people can only communicate in foreign languages. He gave up on communication before he even saw my face.

I turned to face him and asked him politely “where can I lock it?” He faltered, pointed and shouted incomprehensibly. He didn’t recognise his own language, coming from my lips. His preconceptions had deafened him. He continued shouting until I was out of earshot.

I was inexplicably angry. Kidding. I knew exactly why I was angry:

I am tired of being treated as a second-class citizen.

I am privileged: my nationality, my race, my class, my education, my sexuality, my physical ablity, and my earning power are all privileges. I am lucky to be where I am and to do what I do. But what I work hard to understand as my privilege is often mistranslated. Too often, people look to me as a shortcut to education, a commodity to exploit, an exile, an impostor, and an alien.

What really struck me was the familiarity of second-class treatment. Years before I moved to China I knew what it felt like. I have always known. Because I am a woman.

Like many women, I internalised my presumed inferiority at a young age, and have struggled with bringing it to bear ever since. Like many women, I have had to learn to recognise sexism and train myself to shout about it. Like many women, I have been combatting relentless sexism all my life. But this was about race, not gender.

I hadn’t trained myself for racism. I am lucky enough not to have needed to, but I think my impulse would be the same.

I was fuming. My immediate reaction was to lock my bike in a place even less convenient for them, thus causing significant anguish for three policemen in the area, revolution coursing through my veins. I pretended it wasn’t mine when they remembered how to use words long enough to ask. I was polite and I didn’t do any damage, but I refused to be reasonable. I rebelled. It gave me an overwhelming sense of empowerment.

校园贷: China’s campus loan sharks

There is a phenomenon quietly sweeping through China, aptly named ‘xiàoyuán dài’ or ‘campus loans’, through which university students are falling rapidly into debt with little way out. Young people on university campuses are being targeted by online finance companies who give out loans or brand new iPhones, with no down payment required.

Most of China’s vast student population are supported by their proud parents, and don’t need to worry about tuition fees or spending money. With accommodation fees as low as 600 yuan (£70 or $87) per year, and meals for as little as 5 yuan (58p or 72¢) students can hardly plead the exorbitant costs of life on campus.

That pocket money sent from home, however, is unlikely to cover much beyond the basics. Leaving campus was once an unusual undertaking, a journey of necessity rather than desire or curiosity but these days students are less satisfied with staying put. Wander around the student districts, like Wudaokou in Beijing, and you’ll see streets lined with foreign shops, boutiques, coffee shops, bars, clubs, imported food stores and KTV venues. This is where students manage to drop that cash. For some, spending money is one method of maintaining relationships or saving face.

One report was about a college student in Zhengzhou, Central China’s Henan province, who borrowed 8,000 yuan ($1,214) at first but had to repay about 80,000 yuan in accumulated debt and interest after just six months through a series of repayment borrowings. He finally committed suicide as he couldn’t pay.

Students are suckered into these schemes by the ease of gaining a ready cash flow. Loans are approved within hours, using basic personal information. The consequences probably seem minor in the shadow of all the possibility that cash could grant. However, there is danger in store for these fickle borrowers.

Part of the deal is weekly repayments and monstrous interest rates of as high as 30%. If students miss repayments they can be in for serious public humiliation. Some companies force borrowers to promote the loan sharks to their friends, tying them into a pyramid scheme. Many companies hold precious collateral: students are required to submit a nude image with his or her national ID card in frame, before the loan can be approved. This image becomes the threat: it will be publicly released online in the event of failure to meet repayment deadlines. Some companies offer larger sums (from two to five times more) to those who send nude images, a deal offered almost exclusively to female students.

One relieved student in this situation said, anonymously:

Fortunately, my family paid the money. The interest is very high. If you wanted to borrow 1,000 yuan, the weekly interest is 300 yuan, which means you have to owe 1,300 yuan within a week.

This issue has been widely reported but no law has yet been successfully enforced. This could be due to the low threshold for establishing lending platforms in China, as some companies masquerade under the e-commerce umbrella. Since there are no strict laws or regulations on campus loans, there’s little hope of management, and colleges are being advised to offer financial awareness training to university students instead.

Read on:

China’s Murky World Where E-Commerce Meets Student Lending [Bloomberg]

 

The value of pronouns; or, ‘Excuse me, Sir?’

Recently, on a flight home to China after a week away, I was mistaken for a man.

Moments before we landed in the southern city Guangzhou, a flight attendant reached over to my chair and pushed the button that made my chair spring upright. It was an awkward moment, in which he assumed that invading my personal space would be easier than communicating, perhaps because I was obviously desperate to finish the movie.

Assuming his English was not strong, I forgave him his trespasses – it’s often hardest to remember necessary phrases in a second language at the moment they require use. Then my brain caught up: what had I heard him say, despite the movie climax? I turned to my boyfriend for reassurance. He was grinning: “Did you hear what he called you?”

I rewound the exchange and my brain processed it; he’d said, “Excuse me, Sir.”

I’d never been addressed as ‘Sir’ before.

It dawned on me that my outward appearance was not decidedly feminine. I was wearing jeans and an oversized hoody belonging to my boyfriend, I didn’t have any makeup on, and my short hair was plastered down on my head.

I’ve never had hair this length before. Until recently, it had always been long – an obvious indication of femininity, even when everything else I wore looked neutral or masculine. Now, apparently, I’d switched sides in one swift haircut.

Admittedly, it had been a pretty drastic haircut – one that I’ve both been praised and criticized for, particularly by unsuspecting students and my very shocked boss. I’d gone from Rapunzel to G.I. Jane in a single June afternoon.

In many cultures, long hair is considered one of the primary things that renders a woman recognisably female. As both a biological by-product and cultural construction, the tie between hair and identity is strong, despite – and perhaps because of – the fact that hair is one of the few impermanent physical features. The social norms surrounding long hair and femininity go fundamentally unchallenged, despite the increasing commonality of women choosing to cut their hair short. (Especially in China, where most middle-aged women seem to have short hair, many young students choose to don a more androgynous hairstyle, and yet the extensive history of long hair being sexualised continues.) Therefore I view the outdated social expectation linking ‘woman’ with ‘long hair’ as a gender stereotype.

Returning to work after the summer months, during which my hair had grown pretty quickly, my boss told me: “Oh, you look like a ten-year-old boy.” This was apparently preferable to the “thug” look I’d been sporting when I left in June, but still lacking in comparison to his notions of “appropriate”, which could describe my appearance when I was hired. I shrugged it off while inwardly floundering, because how could I possibly respond to that?

What a thing to say to your much younger female employee, to whom you should be offering respect as a teacher and coworker. To be clear, there was no cultural misunderstanding: he’s American and I am British. We speak (almost) the same language.

We all know that gender stereotypes pervade society, but it can still be a shock to find this sexist tendency just sitting in the annals of your boss’s psyche when suddenly ‘bam!’ it hits you in the face.

I don’t care whether others think I look pretty. I don’t care whether I look the way people expect. I do, however, have a problem with people projecting their archaic image of what woman means onto me and other strong, independent women. I am offended by the implication that an impermanent change to my appearance makes me any less capable of doing my job.

Many of my female students felt the need to reassure me, “You still look beautiful.” These are young adults reading a BA in English, who with years of study under their belts could not possibly be oversimplifying their comments. Knowing several identify as feminists after an 8-week class unit on women and gender, I was disappointed by their implications of hair as the source of beauty, as this shows a reluctance or inability to question the social norms that surround women and long hair in Chinese culture. Every last one intended that to be a compliment; none of them landed.

What continues to overwhelm me is the extent to which ideas about gender are rooted in language. Now looking back – back past those overzealous students, past the outdated opinions of my boss, to the gendered mistake of the flight attendant – what’s the theme here?

It is all about language.

Despite the similarity of comments across several languages, I couldn’t help but look to the differences between Chinese and English for some answers. Of course, I don’t mean to target any language over the next. Germanic and Latinate languages have two or three genders built into everyday grammar. Both French and Spanish, for example, have speakers around the world referring to feminine tables and masculine cups of coffee.

In English, our most basic pronouns are gendered. But in spoken Chinese, ‘he’ sounds identical to ‘she’: tā. I wondered whether the flight attendant had simply misspoken… so I went further.

English Chinese
he / she
man nánrén
woman nǚrén
boy nánhái(zi) / nánshēng
girl nǚhái(zi) / nǚshēng
sir / mr. xiānshēng
mrs. (madam) tàitài / fūrén
miss xiǎojiě
sir (US) shīfu
lady nǚshì
dude (brethren) gēmen
honey (US) / love (UK) měinǚ
uncle shūshu
aunt āyí
leftover woman shèngnǚ
mankind rénlèi

In Chinese, ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are about as different as the words in English but imply more equality: ‘nánrén and ‘nǚrén translate into ‘male person’ and ‘female person’.

Major differences abound in polite forms of address, however, and all are gendered, starting with ‘sir’ and ‘madam’. The formal way to address a man is ‘xiānshēng’, which means ‘Mr.’ or translates as ‘first born’ – a nod to China’s preference for boys. ‘Xiānshēng’ often follows a name, as Mr. would precede a name in English, but can also stand alone.

Some say that a level of flattery is always necessary to get what you want from Chinese women, but they’re probably just tired of being referred to as ‘prostitute’ simply for being unmarried.

‘Xiǎojiě’ is sometimes used to address a woman in Chinese. Xiǎojiě directly translates as ‘little sister’ (or ‘small elder sister’) but means ‘miss’ or ‘young (unmarried) woman’. It is also now slang for prostitute, so is a dangerous term to use because it is very easy to cause offence. Another is the word for a married woman, ‘tàitài, which can be used as ‘madam’, ‘mrs’, ‘married woman’, and ‘wife’ – but tàitài isn’t usually used for strangers as it normally follows a name, as Mrs. would precede a name in English. Similarly, fūren is rarely used outside the context of referring to a woman as someone’s wife, as it literally means ‘husband’s person’.

A respectful form of address for any male worker is ‘shīfu’, which is a polite way to say ‘master’ or call someone a ‘qualified worker’, but is used as the way many Americans say ‘sir’. I most regularly hear shīfu used when talking to cab drivers or in reference to the ‘worker’ who comes to fix things around the house – a nod to the gendered nature of manual labour (and creating awkwardness when you don’t know what pronoun to use for a female cab driver). Chinese men will often use the term ‘gēmen’ when talking to other men. Gēmen (‘dude’ or ‘brother/brethren’) reinforces a sense of male solidarity, which pervades Chinese culture.

One that continues to surprise me is ‘měinǚ’, which is used as a synonym for ‘madam’ or ‘miss’, means something close to ‘honey’, ‘darling’, or ‘love’ and is far more common than xiǎojiě, tàitài, or fūrén. Měinǚ (which translates as ‘beautiful woman’) is the go-to pronoun for a woman you don’t know, particularly if you want to avoid offense regarding age. The term can be used genuinely, and innocently, between strangers, but it also connotes a level of sleaziness in certain situations. The average women can think of a moment when she’s been addressed as ‘honey’, ‘darling’, or ‘love’ in an overly familiar tone by someone she doesn’t know. Usually this false intimacy is trying to get her to buy something, and it grates. Měinǚ is similarly used by salespeople, housing agents, and customers who want better service.

Nǚshì is also used as ‘lady’ or ‘madam’, and is more neutral than měinǚ but less commonly used because there is possibly a class element at work here. Some might say that a level of flattery is always necessary to get what you want from Chinese women, but I think they’re probably just tired of being referred to as ‘prostitute’ simply for being unmarried.

Finally, there are the familial terms of address that commonly get used outside the family setting. For men, there is shūshu, which means uncle and implies that the individual being addressed is older than the speaker. This is what a parent or grandparent would instruct a child to call an adult male who holds the door for the family: “Say ‘thank you, shushu.’”

ayishushu
Taking a ride on the āyí mobile © Cas Sutherland

The equivalent for women is ‘āyí’. As it means auntie, āyí implies familiarity, but is also used for any woman older than the speaker. Children to young adults, young adults to older women. However, it is also used to describe female workers, like cleaners, cooks, babysitters, live-in child-minders, and often implies the woman is middle-aged or older. Yet it still retains its original meaning and is used without thought about a hired worker one moment and a family member the next.

How are we to believe Mao’s statement that “women hold up half the sky”, if China’s women are being downtrodden by the very language they speak?

On the opposite end of the age spectrum, come nánhái for boys, and nǚhái for girls. These pronouns are commonly used from infancy through teens and into the twenties. Similarly, nǚshēng and nánshēng refer to a young person’s student status, whether at school or university. Around twenty, young men begin to reject such infantilising terms, preferring something akin to ‘big boy’ or ‘man’. But many women continue to use nǚhái throughout their twenties and even into their late thirties, if unmarried. The reason, perhaps, being the lack of an alternative with positive connotations; unmarried women would rather be infantilised than referred to as an old woman, as a prostitute, or as ‘leftover’.

One of the most stigmatised and problematic terms in Chinese is ‘shèngnǚ’, or ‘leftover woman’. Unlike all the other pronouns listed above, shèngnǚ is rarely used in direct address or to refer to individuals. However, it is commonly used to refer to a major social issue in China, in news reports, advertisements, and other media. Women who have chosen to focus on their career instead of getting married at a young age, or have simply not found the right person to settle down with by the age of 27, are referred to as ‘leftover’. While a woman in this situation may not hear herself referred to as a shèngnǚ, she might instead be told by relatives and friends: “no-one will want to marry you.”

One of the most problematic gendered terms in English is mankind’, which rests on the outdated principle that using ‘man’ to mean the human species, is gender neutral. Here, apparently, the Chinese have got it right: ‘rénlèi’ means ‘human’, ‘humanity’ or literally, ‘people kind’.

What does all of this say about Chinese society? Well, it seems clear that all terms of address, whether formal or familiar, are gendered in some way. Every pronoun seems to carry some kind of connotation, but those for women tend to have more serious, offensive or damaging implications than those for men.

xiaonuhairandmama
Xiǎo nǚháizi and māma © Cas Sutherland

Chinese women constantly hear references to their age, marital status, appearance, and sexual availability, simply when being addressed by the people around them. Girls and young women grow up into this culture, knowing that their language is lacking something essentially positive and uplifting for women. Not to mention the use of gendered pronouns for those people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, how does any woman find her own sense of identity and self worth within this restrictive, dogmatic system?

How are we to believe Mao Zedong’s statement that “women hold up half the sky”, if China’s women are being downtrodden by the very language they speak?

With conversations about gender becoming ever more prevalent worldwide, and contemporary social movements problematizing traditional notions of sexuality and gender, it is increasingly more important that our use of language reflect the reality of life in China. My ultimate remedy? Find new pronouns.

Looking back: 2015 in review

This has been a whirlwind of a year. In the past 12 months, I’ve truly settled into a happy, fulfilling life in China. I’ve got a lot to be proud of, much of it a result of hard work, some of it springing from luck. But it didn’t all go smoothly.

I began the year with a long, rather lonely, 6-week vacation during which I felt like I achieved very little and that I was trapped in China (by passport issues). There were points at which I was only “getting by” on the knowledge that I would see my family soon – from March I was getting through the weeks by counting down to April when my mother would arrive.

I spent too much time alone, trying to meet people on Tinder and not enough time socialising with real people. I spent a lot of my time feeling trapped by little details of my new life in China: a country I chose to come to because it made me feel free.

I’d have gone insane by now if I didn’t have myself to talk to. Looking back, those months refocussed my ability for self-reflection. Talking to myself proved a necessary tool for my continued sanity, happiness and success.

I pushed through until things changed, fast and dramatically, just a week after Mum flew home. By the time July rolled around, bringing my brother and sister for a month-long visit of hilarity and intrepid travel, my life was utterly changed.

At the end of May, I had just signed a new contract to stay in my job for a second year, and felt pleased with myself (probably a result of my mother’s enduring praise which often centred around my small but successful indoor garden). While still recovering from a hangover only partially self-inflicted during an accidental group Tinder date the night before, and after almost fainting at the gym due to low electrolyte levels, I went to my first ever Beijing Storytellers event. My first performance of any kind in months, I told a story in front of a small crowd. The final performance of the night was delivered by someone I immediately admired and later fell for, head over heels. His influence has changed my life.

IMG_1729This time last year I created a way to a note of things throughout my year – a little jar of happy memories and achievements to remember. Not an alternative to New Year’s Resolutions, but a wonderful way to track and share my highlights of 2015.

Here they are, in the order they came out of the jar:

  • Setting up a life that I don’t feel the need to escape from
  • Sven’s unfaltering belief in me
  • Completing NaBloPoMo, Nov 2015
  • After my story, a friend stating: ‘That was awesome. There should be more stories about female masturbation on that stage.’
  • A new friend’s face: impressed that I can read Korean; amazed by Dad’s book introduction written by Henri Cartier-Bresson; saying he felt he knew me from across the world and that he was happy to be around “intelligent people” again
  • Boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend having a friend crush on me
  • People enjoying my stories at 4C Storytelling
  • Dancing with disabled and non-disabled participants of Pojie Arts
  • Meeting Seve and Anna in Hong Kong
  • Being given a copy of a stranger’s book of photographs while waiting in the visa application line at the Myanmar embassy in Beijing.
  • The solid, safe familiarity of my friendship with Emma. Her visit renewed my patience for China

IMG_2219

  • The anti-feminist troll on Catherine and the Lion: one indication I am making an impact through my writing!
  • Mum learning beginner Chinese before her visit and repeatedly telling me: Wŏ shì yīngguórén!
  • Being recognized by the man at the Myanmar visa office (“I know this photo”), then told “[we] warmly welcome you to live in Myanmar.”
  • Big group trip to the Great Wild Wall; the wind nearly blowing us off the other side; belly aching from so much laughter
  • Realising I had just heard 12 of my undergraduate students present coherent arguments in good English while following a clear debate structure, then others asking them intelligent questions. Cycling home thinking: I LOVE TEACHING!
  • Endless kindness shown by a Burmese friend in Yangon
  • Hearing a friend’s catchphrase, “I say goddamn…!” ricochet around my head months after he left the country
  • A new blog post about personal feminisms got this response (and stacks of re-postings) on Facebook: “I was waiting to see what you’d say… and girl, you delivered!”
  • Meeting Sven
  • Having full conversations in Chinese in many different cities and provinces

IMG_8355

  • Discussing writing tools – the benefits of pens, paper and typewriters vs. laptop / computer keyboards – with internationally famous Chinese author Xiaolu Guo (she borrowed my pen)
  • Taking MSc students to their first contemporary dance show, one student told me he “didn’t understand” it, but concluded that “art doesn’t need language.”
  • Janey and I bonding by agreeing: “Sven is a boy.”
  • My very first pint of Guinness to myself, and my friend’s enjoyment at watching me drink it with my eyes closed
  • Practicing Chinese tones with my mother by repeating the names of cities we visited
  • Boyfriend gave me a key! (The first time a relationship has been so mature / serious.)
  • My piece of work about a rape joke gone sour being published on Loreli, a very new platform for Beijing artists / writers
  • Being complimented on my Chinese (and knowing the compliment is meant!)
  • “She’s telling me about hitchhiking to Morocco – I’m so attracted to her right now…”
  • A student’s bounding energy every time I arrive at her family home; their joy that I will stay in Beijing a second year
  • A first glimpse of day-to-day Tibetan life and culture in Western Sichuan
  • Talking to a stranger on a bus about Buddhism, reading, travelling, then at the train station him saying: “From what you’ve told me I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you were in Burma.” Realising that he’d keyed in exactly to my hopes and ambitions, and shared my feelings for it all
  • I “inspired” (bullied) a colleague to take the next step in his life and leave his job for another opportunity
  • “You don’t need ecstacy – you’re awesome enough without it.”
  • Meeting and befriending celebrities on my first trip to Burma.
  • A student announcing: “I think G.I. Jane is like Hua Mulan. They’re both women heroes.”
  • Traveling up and down China with my brother and sister, who never seem to lose their mad sense of humour despite immense heat and long train journeys
  • One night at Lush: beer fountain from Stian’s nose; mad stories from Jim; singing with Janey; whole group drowning out the live band singing Hallelujah; Sven teaching me ripsticking
  • Dancing in the bright moonlight at Setse beach, Myanmar
  • Bemused stares when I go for an early morning 3k run through high school kids and businessmen on their way to work at 7am
  • Sven (immediately after the event) saying: “Remember that time we fell in love and ate all those mangosteens?”
  • Being a reliable friend, supporting everyone around me in their endeavors – one friend going to Dubai, another leaving her job
  • Mum’s unwavering energy throughout our trip together; she seemed less tired than me despite a 37 year age gap
  • Acting in a web series about menstruation

IMG_8357

  • I am have an awesome family (and everyone I meet tells me so)!
  • Clear blue skies and warm sun, hot for January in Northern China – sitting with a new friend and listening to the silence of nature above our frozen pool full of air bubbles at the Great Wall
  • Lunch on a rooftop, cartwheels at Tian’anmen, brandy at home and doing a gym sesh a bit tipsy
  • “I want to take you home and just squeeze you.”

Here’s to creating a long list of joyful memories in 2016!