Blind Massage

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have been hurting (literally) for a really quality massage place in Beijing. At the end of college I began to visit a Chiropractic & Massage spot in Walla Walla, and realized just how much that kind of massage experience can help my back and overall well-being. During my hunt in BJ, I tried the Chinese traditional massage – interesting, but probably more geared toward restoring blood and Qi flow (don’t quote me) and really nothing doing in terms of helping my back. I have continued, to get sub-par massages at a spa in the building where I live, hoping to hit on a winner. Kudos to them for putting up with my English, but it’s a place more about the candles and soothing music than digging into my knots. Not helpful. So, with some hesitation, I ventured off yesterday for my first blind massage experience in Beijing. These are everywhere in the city, offering very affordable massages and, while I can’t promise they’re the best, job opportunities for the visually impaired. I was skeptical, having just wrapped up a conversation with my Chinese coworker about the lack of real certification for those who want to try their hand (yuk yuk) at the massage profession – essentially anyone can do it – but decided to go for it, since this friend had multiple positive experiences at this particular place. And at 40 RMB (around $6.50) for an hour-long massage, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.

First of all, this was no spa experience. Unlike the demure women in traditional Chinese dresses who greet me and usher me in and out of the spa in a flurry of bows, we were surrounded by men and women, visually impaired if not blind, very actively moving in and out of the central room where four of us were getting massages together. Throughout the hour was constant banter between masseurs, nonstop jokes and laughter – no need for ambient music here to cover up the weirdness of a stranger touching you. 😉 The least spa-like moments of the hour included the masseur’s great deal of coughing and throat-clearing directly above my head (face down, I wasn’t stressed) and the point when he answered his phone and chatted away while continuing to massage my neck one-handed.

For all that, this experience was excellent. During some of the poorer massages I had at the spa, it sometimes felt like the masseur was just guessing where to put pressure, jabbing elbows into my spine, or jabbing fingers into my neck to an unnecessarily painful degree, and being unsure how to communicate what I needed I just grit my teeth and bore it. This masseur, though, bless him, was very sensitive about identifying some tension spots in my neck and back, and tuned in to how much pressure was helpful, not harmful. Phew. It was a lovely experience – I might just go back again this week! I realized, too, with my friend’s help, that I can already express the jist of what she communicated to the masseur about my back. I’m in the transition period of having listened to enough Chinese input to be able to express myself, and while it’s exciting, I am suffering from some nervousness about trying to spit out my Chinese vocab. All in good time. Maybe my new massage joint will give me the chance to push myself to speak more freely!

Roses, Thorns and Buds

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At Armada Education, we start every Weekly Meeting with a check-in. High Low Hero, Rose Thorn Bud, an abstract drawing that represents your week… I find it a great way to put the recent past in perspective to share with others just the best, the worst, and a special highlight or two. So, to summarize the past several weeks, here are my Roses (the good), the Thorns (the bad), and the Buds (NOT the ugly – the good to come!):

Roses

In late December I had a pretty rough conversation with a Beijing friend that brought into painful focus my longing for a community of friends around me. This talk hit at a rough time, as my few closer girlfriends were back in the States to see their families for the holidays, and time difference and schedules make setting up Skype dates with friends a multi-day to week-long process. BUT this set off a good deal of reflection about community, at a time when I spent many more evenings at home with the kids and coworkers playing games and watching movies. I came to realize that a great community IS around me, 24/7. I made this mistake last year, prioritizing friends my age over building my relationship with the family I lived with in Arles, and I really regret not investing more of myself into those ties. Since I plan to work/learn/live with this group for a long time, and given the high turnover of young expats in Beijing (I meet expats all the time who are only here for another 1-3 months, or who are heading home soon for a month or longer Visa run), it’s so much wiser for my heart and my health to focus my love and energy on my Chinese/American fusion family, who will have my back 100% through the many challenges we face together.

My birthday was also a pretty big Rose 😀 The kids and K planned a “surprise” birthday breakfast for me, and one of my kids gave me a painting she made. We also went out for a special lunch, and I had the evening off to go to one of BJ’s great breweries where a friend works (meaning beer and fries were free and plentiful). I had a great group of friends and a coworker join for a long dinner, and looking around I felt so happy that, even if I do have mixed feelings about my sense of community here, I DO have an eclectic group of friends I can call on for a special celebration, and even if I have a long way to go before I could call these people up at any hour of the night in the middle of a thunderstorm for help, they are quality people I enjoy, and I am thankful to have them.

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I have made good progress this week filming English language instruction videos for our new website!  Expect all the videos of me eating the banana, drinking the juice, sweeping the floor, etc. soon on YouTube!

Thorns

A couple setbacks in work and trip-planning have helped me to see just how much I have to improve on successful planning/time management/big picture thinking. It’s so hard to restructure your thinking and planning habits! I am great at sitting down and writing a to-do list, but really carefully looking at the bigger picture to evaluate top priorities and structuring when to do which tasks accordingly… Not a natural skill for me, but so important.

This week I had issues with my ear – nothing serious, but interestingly something that I first had while studying abroad in France (I guess it’s doomed to only happen to me while I am in foreign countries) – and spent the afternoon in a Chinese hospital with my coworker, navigating their very different health care system and feeling bemused by the crazy atmosphere of so many Chinese people all trying to cut lines and get in to talk to the doctor first 😀 It was pretty positive, all around – with my coworker’s help, I had access to much cheaper care (an expat hospital could have cost several times the price) and it was great to get this treated right away, instead of waiting until it became a bigger problem like it did in France :S

Buds

A trip to Cambodia is on the horizon! I am SOO looking forward to this February trip. It will happen at the same time as the general Chinese winter holiday, so I can travel with a friend too. Getting ready for amazing temples, beach time, and delicious food!

If my tentative plans work out, I may bring some of our learners to Walla Walla this summer for unique experiences in hiking/the outdoors, farming, and/or shadowing local artists. I am just now starting to reach out to Walla Walla contacts, but am really hopeful that friends (and friends of friends) would be interested in collaborating on projects with my kids to give them really cool, hands-on experiences that they couldn’t get in Beijing. On top of it, to get to share my hometown with my kids and coworkers, and the idea of being back in good ol’ Walla Walla for a longer period of time… I beam just thinking about it! Knock on wood that it works out, and if you have any ideas or thoughts on the subject, please write me!

Escape to Harbin

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Just before my birthday, I took a couple-day retreat to Harbin, a city so far north it’s practically in Siberia (and if you’re reading this and you happened to be a part of the HJT production of The Government Inspector, the entire trip I had in my thoughts: “We’ll send him to SIBERIA!!!” – funny if you were there, I swear). Every winter the city of Harbin puts on an incredible ice/snow sculpture festival. The main attraction is at night, when they illuminate the sculptures with colored light. Boy, is it beautiful, but this means staying outdoors for long periods of time in as low as negative 30 degrees in Celsius (just negative 22 in Fahrenheit, no biggie). Honestly, the best part of the trip for me was just to face the cold and, having prepared well, come away with all my toes and fingers still intact! A close second highlight was spending two days straight with friends. As much as I love being with my kiddos 24/7, it was so nice to just do and say things 20-somethings say. Taking an overnight train in China was also a great first, and seeing a new city in China! Harbin is so heavily influenced by Russia, a lot of the architecture and food there is strikingly different from that in Beijing. All in all a great escape, fueling my mind and heart with good memories and better bonds with great people.

Beautiful ice sculptures in the downtown.

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View of the iced-over river, where we found huskies pulling sleds of tourists! Go UW!

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Off to the official ice sculpture festival:

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Going down a slide made of ice, landing in a pile of snow 🙂 = Bliss

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Nothing more beautiful than a Heineken bottle made of ice and light.

mmexport1421198021474   Biking on the ice!

Year of the Ram, baby!

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Posing in front of the beautiful Russian-style church in the center of Harbin.

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At the end of my trip, I was confronted with my first bout of weird feelings about the stares and pictures you get as a white person in China. I expected it when I first arrived in Beijing, and it’s really easy in general to just ignore other people and their looks on a metro or on the street (city mentality), so until now I hadn’t thought too much about it. But being on this trip with a friend who is very bothered by being looked at, who actively grimaces to ruin photos when she’s asked to take them with strangers, made me really question how I feel and want to respond to the attention from the color of my skin. I don’t know that I have anything eloquent to say about it here, other than that I realized how privileged I am to have never been faced with this problem before. Always having lived in places where my whiteness is dominant and “normal,” I’ve never had to feel weird or different for something so basic that I don’t feel like it matters to who I am. But obviously it does. And being on this trip with friends who speak Chinese and were able, in any little situation like pushing in “line” to board the train (the Chinese don’t do lines), say something funny to a Chinese person next to us, get a smile out of them, form a bond for just the few seconds that we occupied that same space… To me, this is why we learn languages and travel. To have the ability, through the power of language, to connect with someone “different” from you, from a different background and culture at least, and through communication to melt differences in small ways, and help people to realize that this “other” isn’t so different and strange from themselves… this is powerful, and beautiful. I crave the day when I am able to connect with someone on the street, in the metro, on the train, in Chinese, and help us to see each other as another person like me, not two others.

2015 Goals, rough draft

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I’m going to start this post with a caveat: I hate New Year’s Resolutions. I admit there was a time when I was big into the hype of the New Year, starting out the year with a list of great goals – most of them relating to eating better, exercising more, and losing weight, and believe me, I give past Ryan a mighty big eye roll for this – but I would pretty quickly fail at most of them, because, let’s face it, New Year’s Resolutions are not designed for your success. To start, setting these kinds of goals only on January 1st sets goal-making apart from the rest of the year in a weird way. Looking back, I usually set goals at the beginning of summer and the beginning of the new school year, too. Sure, these times mark change, the beginning of a new routine, and in a way an opportunity to change habits. But occurring at moments of great change in and of itself makes sticking to these goals very difficult. Going into a situation of changing circumstances and unknown factors, whether exciting or stressful, can very easily turn the best of goals into unachievable standards. Besides, goals that I set on January 1 cannot possibly speak to my whole year, and I moreover do not agree that my goals should remain static. I should reevaluate my goals on a frequent basis, and not be content with past goals that do not match my current situation. To pause here and comment on my own writing, I realize that beyond using the term “New Year’s Resolutions,” I have written about goals, not resolutions. Resolution and resolved are funny words to me. They bring the impression of great determination and commitment to pursue a set thing. I have to wonder if I have ever truly been resolved, as this word entails, with regards to my New Year’s “Resolutions.” I believe that goals should remain fluid, be they made on January 1 or not, adaptable to new circumstances, realizations, etc., and I think somewhere in the term “resolved,” for me, is a bit too much inflexibility and inadaptability. So this year I will make goals, and I will question them and change them and my road map to achieve them regularly. Nevertheless, after a long-winded introduction, I would love to share with you my self-improvement goals for 2015!

  1. Better, easier communication. I recognize my tendency to avoid asking for help, becoming nervous when asking for even small requests or minor questions. I also sometimes hesitate before reaching out to friends. This all gets back to a bigger issue of confidence and vulnerability, a big struggle for many people, and me too. But when it comes down to it, if I am to be the kind of approachable, warm, helpful friend and coworker that I want to be, I need to face this problem and tackle it head-on. The first step is easier said than done: not keeping quiet when I have something I want to say.
  2. Deep thinking. Since arriving in Beijing and getting thrown into this crazy amazing group I work/learn/live with, I have made more progress in this respect than in my 23 years on this planet combined. It feels good, but I still have just made baby steps toward where I want to be. Thinking deeply, questioning broadly, and never accepting my current attitudes or ways of doing things simply because that’s how I’ve done things until now. And above all, prioritizing time spent alone, time to look at myself, others, events in my life, reflecting and pulling meaning from these things beyond general feelings. This time on earth is only worth as much as we put into it, and I want to do my best to put my whole self into how I understand and experience it.