Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I need feminism because...

My last semester at Hohai, I went a little crazy. I taught lessons that would have gotten me kicked out of school. Hey, I knew I was leaving! What's the worst they could do, fire me? I had already covered eating in restaurants and going to the doctor, as well as my "fun" culture classes like NYC (with cameos by Sinatra and Jay Z) and my game-themed Apples to Apples class.

So I went for broke. My students discussed net neutrality and free speech. They discussed immigration and illegal immigrants. They discussed global gay and transgender rights. And I like to think these lessons stuck with at least one of the hundreds of students I taught this year.

But I know there's one lesson that really stuck with them, and I'm pretty psyched.

After their midterm exam, I realized that, even though I explained the concept of privilege in my class about race and my class about sexual orientation, a lot of my students still didn't understand it. It wasn't just that the majority of my students are ethnically Han Chinese and claim that race doesn't exist in China because "everyone looks the same" (yes, they said that and no, that's arguably not true at all.) Nor was is it that they didn't understand straight privilege, because it's widely known that "gay people don't exist in China." It's that institutionalized discrimination is hardwired into their brains in a different way than it was for me. As a Gen-Y high school student, I "didn't see color or race!" and "hadn't experienced sexism!" (Beliefs which were later debunked once I got to college.) My students see racism, sexism, ableism they just don't care to change it. They know discrimination exists, but they believe there's nothing they can do about it.

Most of my students are women, so I decided to review the idea of privilege through a feminist lens. And boy did they like it (baddumch.) I started the class with Emma Watson's "He for She" speech and I introduced the kinds of inequalities, those they see and those they don't see, that exist globally and nationally in China. And then, inspired by my oh-so-incredible younger sister Maia, we participated in the "Who needs feminism?" movement. (Ignore all spelling mistakes. I tried to fix them, but not everyone paid attention to my edits!)

Don't even get me started on gender bias in China. It is really infuriating, but fascinating. Women hold many jobs that they don't have in the Western world, like bus/taxi driver and construction worker. But on the other hand, baby girls are abandoned at birth. Men are treated with so much more respect. Unmarried women over 25 are spinsters (uh-oh!). Like I said: infuriating.

"I need feminism because my beautiful dress is not for men, but for myself!"
"I need feminism because too many baby girls are abandoned and deserted."
"I need feminism because I don't like the feeling I get when people say, 'Be silent. You are a girl!" when I'm laughing loudly."
Some of the students had trouble understanding the activity at first, especially the boys. In my classes of 25-30, usually 3 or 4 were male. They wrote things like, "I need feminism because I don't want my future wife to spend all my money." Uh, no. One girl wrote, "I need feminism because I hate washing dishes." I gently explained, "Feminism doesn't mean not washing dishes. It just means you shouldn't be expected to do them because you're a woman."

I need feminism because I want my children to have my family name!" 
"I need feminism because I want to open a store, even start a business, and get the same respect as my male counterparts."
"I need feminism because I want to take Kong Fu class too"
(girls aren't allowed to take Kung Fu at Hohai)
But most of them got it right the first time around. I was so, so, so proud. I was even prouder when they messaged me after class, telling me how much they liked the lesson. They sounded empowered. I was my proudest when I saw how many of my students had uploaded these pictures to their personal QQ stories (like Facebook) for all their friends to see.

"I need feminism because I want to go dutch" 
"I need feminism because I want to succeed because I'm great, not because I'm a man."
"I need feminism because everyone should have basic rights."

"I need feminism because I'd like to given the same amount of food in cafeteria when I pay the same amount of money!!!"
(Women always get served less. My favorite restaurant had a "female" sized rice bowl and a "male" sized rice bowl that came with dishes, and it was impossible for you to get a bowl that didn't match your external gender.")
I always worried that in trying to show my students a new perspective, I was shoving my opinions down their throat. This is one lesson where I feel like they came to the conclusion that gender bias and expectations are unfair for everyone. 

"I need feminism because I don't want to be confined to motherhood."
"I need feminism because I want shoes that are big enough for my feet."
"I need feminism because I can do anything as excellently as a man."
(Women in China have crazy small feet, most shoes aren't sold higher than an American women's size 7, which is difficult for Chinese women with larger feet!)
"I need feminism because I want to choose my Mr. Right on my own!"
So proud. No, I'm not crying. Salty water falls down my face sometimes. It's a thing. Don't ask me about it. I'M NOT CRYING!

"I need feminism because I would rather work with colleagues outside than play with children inside."

Friday, December 19, 2014


Surprise! Or maybe not surprise. But I'm home.

That home. That American home. I'm back!

Being in America is as awesome and strange and happy and depressing as I expected. A lot of people have been asking me why I moved back, and as always, the answer is complicated. First, I missed my family and friends. I've lived away from home for seven years now, and I've missed too many Thanksgivings and bar mitzvahs and reunions to count. I wanted to see my brother march in his high school band and I wanted to light the menorah with my family in realtime, not over the computer. Second, I was stagnating in China. I wasn't going anywhere in the education sect, and I didn't want to go anywhere. As much as I loved and will always love teaching (and my awesome students), I wanted to get paid for doing the other work I was doing, like writing for the Shanghaiist or Sweet Generation. I wanted a different career, and I knew that even though the kind of jobs I want exist in China, they don't exist for non-Chinese speakers who want to work at an open and transparent company. Third, there's no central heating in Nanjing. Let me repeat: no central heating. I'm that person who's always cold. I needed to warm. up. Just kidding, but not really. My real third reason is this: I stayed in China to teach and travel. And even though I am so thrilled I was able to travel so much, I was getting tired of living out of suitcases and constantly throwing myself into new places where every moment had to be occupied and every meal was unknown and communication was close to impossible. I mean, literally tired and exhausted. I will travel again when I get the opportunity, there's no doubt in my mind. But I was drained, as was my bank account. I will always love traveling, but I will also always love being a homebody.

Snow marching

My first American Thanksgiving feast in SEVEN YEARS

Sisters reunited!
Of course, I miss my friends in Nanjing, and elsewhere in China. I miss my life there. I miss my students. And damn, I miss the food. But I'm also really happy to be home. I'm getting into my routine (two part time jobs for the time being, but I'll be highly employable in the next few months, so check out my LinkedIn if you know of anyone looking for a smart and adaptable worker who is an excellent writer and fun to have around the water cooler.) Luckily, leaving China isn't the end of my adventures. I'm just having adventures somewhere else, and I'm really excited about it.

北京路, just a random street in Nanjing. Beautiful, amiright?

I'm gonna miss those mugs

But I think I'll miss you most of all, 刀削面
I will keep updating this blog, because there are a lot of posts I never shared (like my trip to Malaysia!) and because I'm still traveling! So don't go away just yet...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beers and Seashells in Qingdao

Qingdao is the oddest little city. It's got a lot going on: first of all, it was occupied by the Germans (and then the Japanese), who imported European architecture, religion, and of course, German beer. Second, it's an important port city, where the sailing parts of the Beijing Olympics took place. Beaches, beer, and endless seafood... perfect for a weekend getaway.

My friend Caitlin and I took a long weekend to check out the city. And like marijuana brings young backpackers to Amsterdam only to realize the city has more to offer than pot brownies, young foreign travelers may come for the beer but soon find it's a pretty darn charming place to visit.

Our first day, we stopped at the Catholic church erected by the German occupants, which has apparently now become an incredibly popular place for Chinese brides to take their wedding pictures. Caitlin's the actual Catholic, the Jew just came along for the strange translations and cool organ.

We walked around the city a bit, taking in the interesting architecture and enjoying the sunshine. But our goal for the day was the Tsingtao beer museum, and that's where we headed next. Tsingtao (which is the Wade Giles way to transliterate the name of the city, which in Pinyin is Qingdao.) The museum was very typical Chinese, with weird misspellings and odd, inexplicable exhibits (like a section with a stationary bike you could pretend to ride. In the beer museum. Burn off those beer calories, perhaps?) But it was pretty informative, and features some very 90's beer commercials. The museum plaques constantly touted that Tsingtao beer is the world's most popular beer, which is surprising since most people have never heard of it. But the whole Tsingtao complex was awesome and also FREE BEER.

Golden ticket!

Caitlin and me at the beer fountain
Barley for taste testing. It was gross but weirdly addictive


Free beer!

This was called the "drunk tank."
It was like a funhouse where the floor is slanted and it's hard to balance.
I guess that's what being drunk feels like?
 The rest of the day was spent eating seafood and drinking beer: an excellent combination.

Night market fish

Our next day, we wandered from the main beachfront area hiked through a few parks, including one with the famous May Fourth sculpture. We also visited the former German governor's mansion, which was stunning.

Hunting for shells

Catch of the day!
Illegal photo of the mansion's greenhouse

The modern May Fourth scultpure
Caitlin, who comes from a family of avid sailers, was also super excited to check out the boats at the Olympic dock.

And the next morning, despite the disgusting-ness of the dirty, trash filled ocean, I went for a swim. My choice of bathing wear confused most of the locals, while their choice of facekini protection baffled me equally, if not more. 
After this selfie was taken, I posed (sopping wet)
for photos with various vacationing families.

But the most important thing you need to know about Qingdao is that it is not uncommon to forgo the famous green bottles in which Tsingtao beers usually come and go straight to the source: use a keg to fill a plastic bag with beer. Stick a straw in the bag. And there you go! Beer in a bag. Easy, convenient, and veeery ghetto.

Beer in a normal bottle 
Bagged beer
It's like a juice box, but for beer.
The city is worth a visit: if not for the water sports, seafood, and quirky German influence, then definitely for the beer bag.