Girl Gone.

With three years in China and Hong Kong behind me, it’s time to reveal my next move: a return to the good ol’ US of A with all her flaws and charms. Specifically, I will be moving to Boston at the end of August 2013. You are all invited to the tea party I will immediately throw myself as a housewarming ‘do and which will probably forever revoke the possibility of passing myself off as a true Bostonian.

Earlier this year I was accepted into Emerson College’s graduate program in Publishing & Writing, a 2-year MA program which will culminate in the spring of 2015. I am excited to take what I’ve learned from my time in the educational publishing and editing industry in Hong Kong and apply it to my studies at Emerson. I hope to make myself more relevant to industries outside of education, while infusing my career path with creativity and achieving a better understanding of how I can channel my passion into work that helps others. I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but I have some ideas…

With all this in mind, it’s time to put a period on this long, meandering sentence of a blog. From the ashy air of Beijing to the soul-opening view of the Himalayas to the poverty and war-torn history of Cambodia to the black volcanic sand of Indonesia to the dumplings of Shanghai to the drudgery and skill-building of a six-day work week in the colossally modern city of Hong Kong, it has been a hell of a trip. Thank you for your support and for following along here at Girl Gone China.

In comparison, my new professional site at mariesweetman.com may seem ho-hum if you’re not interested in publishing and books, but that’s where you’ll find me and I’ll do my best to keep it spicy.

Onward!

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Summer days

I was home to Michigan for ten days in July to soak up the dusty summer heat and the dry grass and that short lovely road to my grandparents’ house and make note of all the changes, filing them away, to make sure my home was still mine: a tree felled, just missing our house, in a rough winter storm; Allan’s bedroom empty as he works his way through Marines boot camp; grass seeded and sprouting in Grandpa’s former vegetable garden; engagement and wedding rings on the hands of college friends; new people introduced to old places.

Thomas Wolfe might say that you can’t go home again. But you can, again and again, and you can leave it many times too, and there’s vigor to be found in both the coming and the going.

The hardest thing about growing up is losing one’s summer vacation. Not the vacation itself but what that free time means. As children in the US, we’re given these long months of freedom to explore our own hobbies and interests and to play outside to make our bodies strong. Why is that less valuable for adults?

I still make plans in the run-up to summer as if I had three free months to do with as I liked. I meant to finish a novel this summer, and update this blog regularly, and play outdoors frequently, and keep up with my email correspondence, and a myriad other lofty ambitions. Needless to say, the novel has progressed but remains unfinished, the blog has been dormant, the outdoors was experienced via my morning and evening commute to work as usual, and my inbox is a mess. I want a society that puts a little less emphasis on the working week and a little more emphasis on the weekend.

I’m heading into my third fall without any change in leaves or cooling of temperatures and it is very disappointing. I’ve half a mind to sneak out at midnight and paint the vegetation of Hong Kong proper autumnal colors, turning the ever-lush, emerald jungle canopy into a kaleidoscope of sunset hues.

In general news, I just moved into a new apartment; Birdie is growing up (she’s about to be spayed!); and work is bumping around mightily, with many new teachers, summer courses giving way to academic-year private lessons, and a slew of new projects for the Editing Department.

And in Hong Kong, ghosts are flitting freely through the night sky. The seventh month of the lunar calendar is Ghost Month, when the Gates of Hell spring open and all spirits, hungry or just plain malevolent, rush earthward to visit their descendants. The Chinese, therefore, have prepared food and incense to burn in offering to their ancestors at makeshift sidewalk altars. Outside my apartment, that mostly includes setting large fires in trash cans.

Throughout this month (August 17 – September 15 2012), one is not supposed to move house, take an evening stroll, or go swimming, as the spirits are just looking for excuses to nab you. So hunker down during this inauspicious time – and don’t risk moving apartments like I did!

burning “ghost money” so one’s ancestors might be pleased and appeased

Review: Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler

A year ago, before I left for China, I read and reviewed Hessler’s “River Town,” a book about his 2-year stint as a Peace Corps member in the rural village of Fuling along the Yangtze River. The book was inspiring, thought-provoking, and compelling, in that I was compelled to think hard and dream big about the myriad ways my own experience as an English teacher in modern China could and would play out.

Reading “Oracle Bones” after the completion of my year abroad, I found myself nodding along to the cultural quirks, shaking my head at the recounting of struggles between protesters and oppressors, and feeling deep sadness for a culture that is congruently burying a past, living in a present, and ignoring a future except in the abstract.

Oracle bones are usually ox scapula or the underside of turtle shells which have been heated and cracked. The crack lines are used to divine oracles which are then scratched into or written on the bones. They weren’t recognized for what they were until 1899, when a Qing dynasty official, Wang Yirong, went to the pharmacy for some ailment and was prescribed oracle bone as a cure. He noticed the written glyphs on the bone before it was ground to powder, and he bought the pharmacy out so the bones could be studied. No one knows how many oracle bones had been ingested by your average Chinese citizen before the value of the bones were discovered.

Hessler’s a journalist who lives in the ever-changing cityscape of Beijing. “Oracle Bones” gracefully entwines the past and present of Chinese history by chronicling a few ‘ordinary’ lives: Polat, a black-market money-trading Uighur who seeks political asylum in the United States, William Jefferson Foster and Nancy Drew, two of Hessler’s former students who migrate to Wenzhou for work, Emily, another former student who migrates to what’s been called the “soulless” city of Shenzhen, and Chen Mengjia, a scholar of oracle-bones whose story is remade, obscured, and revealed in small glimpses of truth all the time by the different people who tell it. Also chronicled are the brutal shutdowns of the peaceful protests of Falun Gong practitioners. Falun Gong is a religion based on meditation and qigong exercises introduced in China in 1992 and subsequently forbidden and prosecuted by the government.

Falun Gong members practicing meditation in front of their insignia.

Lacking some of the momentum and flow of “River Town,” “Oracle Bones” nonetheless creates an impressive dialogue between a complicated, hazy past and a likewise complicated and hazy present. It seems in all this history, a very common divination of the oracle bones is all that can be hoped for: “In the next ten days, there will be no disasters.” Throughout the book, or rather, throughout Chinese history as evoked by the book, there’s the sense that looking ahead further than those ten days would be nonsensical. In a world riddled with oppression and a rapidly changing and growing economy, there’s no guarantee that the future will in any way resemble what the world looked like a week ago.