At the Top

Beijing is not really a city of surprises. I mean, the Chinese people are kind of predictable, in the most fantastic of ways. Even the corruption in this country (which there is, plenty of) is a fairly predictable act, certainly in comparison to the corruption that is rampant in every little crevice of East Africa. And at the very least, when the corruption here is reported on the reporting is good and well-documented. Ha.

view from atmosphere bar

This city of Beijing; this culture of China; it’s predictable for a slew of reasons, mostly because of the remnants of communism, but also because of the values of the people. Same difference? Maybe. Regardless, the values of the modern day Beijing ren, the Beijing people, shoot for the sky–I mean this quite literally, with construction cranes in every direction as I look out my 16th floor window, and more glass and concrete piled in odd forms (pants building!) than I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Also metaphorically, though, with its pursuit of higher goals in education, community, governance, youth, food; really, it seems like they want to be the best at everything. How they go about it is different than our American free-for-all, willy-nilly, Wild West sort of way. It’s with a Chinese anything-goes sense of disorganized chaos, most exemplified by their eight-lanes of moving traffic. It’s something a foreigner will only understand after spending some time here.

Plastic table

So, a thrilling and confusing ride at times, but definitely no surprises. Of course in this there are problems. With every yin there is a yang– with great infrastructure comes heavy pollution, with its shining value of the common people comes massive government oppression, in its many forms of breakthrough technology there is insane levels of censorship. With a new generation, it must attempt to remember the generations past. But in my short time here I see these negatives are tolerated and accepted, and I believe it comes because everyone knows the end game: let’s be better, let’s be Chinese and let’s let people know who we are. They will get over pollution if it means their buildings will be great. They will overlook the strict government mandates because they are One People. They will deal with censorship because they can scan a QR code and be my friend. And they are slowly learning how to use organic farming, how to re-invent their cuisine, and how to forge meaningful relationships with the West, all while remembering their forefathers.

Upstairs is more wonderful

So, I’m living in my relatively predictable state with a culture that presents no major surprises every day, but that doesn’t mean there’s no sense of new or exciting, or that there’s nothing special about it. Limits are being stretched, the culture of China is changing. I look forward to being in a country that is so quickly going through a pubescent stage of modernization, and look forward to personally getting to know this place in what will be, I’m sure, a fast four years.

Home is where the home is


As my time here in Dar winds down– two more months!— I find myself in a typical state of emotional schizophrenia. Each day goes by with me wavering between great anticipation for what is ahead, and some melancholy sadness for the things I’ll leave behind. Plus enormous piles of to-do-lists. Until ultimately I find myself just blocking out the idea of moving across continents altogether and instead spend my time philosophically musing about the entire concept of home. I’m telling you, this is typical.

So in the vein of procrastination, let’s talk about home here! What does home mean to you?


Very early on–like, neanderthal early–humans were made to be on the move, right? Who knows if home even made sense then? We (in the neanderthal sense) moved to where food was, where weather was least severe, where water was plentiful. Home was a shelter that shielded us from the elements. Home depended on whether other things around us would kill us.

Later on, after we stopped walking on our knuckles and started walking upright, we built up villages and cities and barricaded ourselves behind city walls and castle moats. But still, our homes were only so permanent. We (in the mid-century peasant sense) found ourselves moving around–to where our enemies weren’t, where there was new land to farm, where the resources were abundant, where our families led us. Entire eras were defined by the movement of humans across sea and land to better and brighter opportunity. Home was easily transplanted, as long as new comforts were available, and freedom and land was offered.

These days, our homes are fairly immovable. For most people, home is one place.  One structure that is, literally, and appropriately, a house. And when we expand on this idea, I suppose we could say home is defined by our many personal comforts: It’s where we can afford to live, it is where our parents raised us, it is where our friends live, it is where we can make the most money, it is where the schools/restaurants/daycares/bakeries that benefit us exist. Home is where it’s the easiest for us, I think?


But for expats, the idea of home is a bit more difficult, both to identify, and to establish, and to put into words. Which is why, when I came across this article late last week, I practically stood up from my chair with applause.

Beautifully written as well as shockingly accurate, the last two sentences are the most poetic:

No one is ever free from their social or physical environment. And whether or not we are always aware of it, a home is a home because it blurs the line between the self and the surroundings, and challenges the line we try to draw between who we are and where we are.

Any expat can tell you- we talk about home a lot, and not always in the singular form. We talk about where we were from- home. We talk about what we like about our current location- home. We talk about where we lived before this- our previous home. We talk about visiting our families- also, home.


Like the article says, we end up making distinctions between these homes, but they are all home, nonetheless. We steadfastly recognize that home is different in the West than in the East, for a neanderthal and a millennial. We know that home here is just as much home there. We know that we can make, wherever we are, a home.

So in my last two months here in Dar, I’ll be making the most of this home…with great anticipation of setting off to a new home in Beijing.

In the meantime, more to-do lists…


My mom sent my sister and me an email that included a Chinese saying in it, writing to us that if we didn’t understand we should just feed it through a translator. This is what I came up with:

chinese translationI’m just as confused. Though through this I’m pretty confident in saying that authorities in China also use this translator for public signage. (my favorite I saw was ‘touch with your eyes only‘. The Diploman has a favorite that said ‘don’t call the thunder‘.)

Can someone tell me what this REALLY means?

Seeing through the gray


Blue skies were relatively normal my first year in Guangzhou- something that I can be very thankful for living in a big city in China. But the past few months have been nothing but dreary. The worst of winter gloom seems to be over though, as a recent heat wave sprinkled with random five-minute downpours has brought brilliant azure skies and big white puffy clouds- bluer and puffier than I’ve ever seen.

Take a look at some views from my train ride to Hong Kong yesterday:

If it weren’t for the crazy ugly buildings with tiny, barred windows and the looming skyscrapers being built in the background, you’d think we were somewhere other than China.

**This is probably one of those “you know you’ve been in China too long…” posts. As in, “You know you’ve been in China too long when your blog posts feature pictures of clouds and blue skies…..”


When I first moved to China, I thought that the pile of eggs stacked so neatly at the wet markets looked so naked without their egg crate packaging. Bringing home eggs in a small plastic baggie?! The idea seemed so outrageous, so crazy. What happened if they BROKE?!

But like many other things, the sights and sounds that were once so foreign and shocking are now a part of my daily life- a daily life that I have expectation of now, yearnings for, even. I am going back to the states for a couple of weeks in August, and have a feeling that reverse culture shock might take place. As insane as it may sound, I love the dirty alleyways, the open-air meat markets, the couples yelling on the subway, and the pushing and shoving in lines. Okay, maybe not that last one.

Most of all, I love my markets. I love the chicken lady who knows I usually buy whole chickens cut into quarters, the lady I buy most of my greens from and tells me what’s best to buy, I love the mangosteens and dragonfruit and huge watermelons that are piled on the fruitstands, I love having to walk to my local wet market every other day if I choose to cook, I love circling the vegetable stalls two or three times before I decide on what to lay my hands on. I even love having to run from store to store to store to find something as simple as AP flour.

At my local market, picking out a dozen eggs

And even though I don’t love to eat eggs, I love buying them. In fact, my newfound love of egg purchasing has almost gotten me to turn the corner as far as eating them. At the wet markets in China, egg vendors set up with mounds of egg pyramids piled layers deep- chicken eggs, duck eggs, salted eggs, large goose eggs. Of course the chicken egg pyramids are piled the highest, and though there are often more than one variety of chicken eggs, I do what I do in China when I have no idea what my choices actually are- just choose something in between. So I usually buy the chicken eggs that are in the middle, both in terms of price as well as color and size.

Now, all egg vendors also have a small ledge with holes in front of their stand, as if it were a ring toss booth at a county fair. Choose your eggs, flip on a switch under the ledge by your hips and a light bulb turns on inside the hold. Each egg can then be placed over the hole and examined to make sure there are no unlaid embryos looming within. It’s quite a meditative process to me now, carefully selecting each egg and setting them aglow to examine them.

Buying a dozen white eggs in their cartons from the supermarket now seems like a concept so wasteful, so removed, so forced. Sure there’s plenty of things that I miss about “home”, but like I said I’m getting used to how things are done around here- and some things really aren’t that bad at all.