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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Awake

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This is Birdie – and yes, she does know how cute she is.

It’s not quite ten o’clock here and, a couple hours from bed, I already know I won’t fall asleep tonight. It’s not that I don’t want to. I have a head cold and my new kitten, Birdie, keeps me up at night, every night, since I got her four weeks ago. Of course I want to sleep. But some nights you just know that you won’t.

Often what keeps you awake is the day refusing to fade from your mind. It’s worries, unfounded or otherwise, responsibilities that you haven’t quite seen through to the end, encounters with new people or old that have sparked your imagination and lingered, memories of days or months or years gone by waiting for the dark nighttime hours to be fully explored. Monsters under your bed.

Other times it’s something a little less mentally intrusive and a little…louder, like tonight and I know no matter how tired I am, the thing that’s keeping me up is only going to get worse.

The monster under the bed in this case is the typhoon roaring outside my window, working itself into a frenzy. I know it hasn’t reached its peak yet. In Hong Kong, there are typhoon warning signals that range from 1 to 8, with 1 being the mildest, 3 middling, and usually jumping straight to 8, the most dangerous level, when the situation gets really serious. We’re forecasted for an 8 around midnight tonight. There’s been one other 8 in the past ten years, and that one occurred just this past September (mentioned briefly in this post).

A typhoon in my apartment sounds like a club that’s hired a bad DJ. My room is loud, riotous, but the noise is unpredictable, with no steady rhythm, and it just keeps getting louder and louder. My apartment faces the sea, taking the full brunt of the wind and the rain, but without danger of flying objects (knock on wood) as I’m high on the 26th floor.

Birdie’s not sure what the noise is all about. Then again, she probably doesn’t care, either, since her nights consist not of sleep but of chewing my hands and batting at my nose with her extended claws.

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Scientia: Inaugural Issue Spring/Summer 2012

Sleep or no sleep, I have big news: Scientia, the magazine that was supposed to have been published in December, is finally out and ready for an audience. I’m proud of it (although, at this point, I honestly am quite sick of looking at the articles) and am very glad that it’s a real thing that I can hold in my hands. Thanks to our amazing new designers, it looks gorgeous as well. I wrote the CTY cover article, as well as some other features and reviews. There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement, but I’m looking forward to building off of this issue to make our second one (slated for a November/December publication) even better than the first.

Other significant news includes the fact that I’ll be in America in two and a half days. I’m looking forward to seeing family and friends, and soaking up northern Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Chicago as hard as I can in just ten days. It’s not enough time and never will be. Lifetimes could be lived in all those places and that wouldn’t be enough time either. But I’m ready for my tonic: the little bit of home that will get me through the next however-long.

Meanwhile, I’ve got packing to do, a kitten to amuse, and a typhoon to wait out all night. It’s going to be a big one.

Yes

Repulse Bay

It’s November. You know, that drizzly gray month where the charm of autumn has waned and the cold is starting to take itself really seriously? I spent part of last Sunday lazing on the beach. We went down to Repulse Bay, a beach towards the southern end of the island with a low wall decorated with brightly-colored cartoon fishes (including one disturbing picture of a fish fishing for other fishes), gravelly sand, and murky ocean bottom. The South China Sea was filled that day with small rusty-hued globules, and I honestly don’t know if they were some kind of pollution or some kind of organism, and I didn’t take any pictures…but I prefer to think it was the latter. Once we swam out past the shallows however, the little blobs dispersed and the water felt great, and the sun came out for a bit… Just a November day in the subtropics. It’ll be getting much colder in the next couple months, so I’m enjoying this while it lasts.

November also means that I’m doing National Novel Writing Month again. I’m well on my way to that 50,000-word novel by 11:59pm on November 30th, 2011. So far I’ve kept on track. The story’s coming along and I’m more than 11,000 words in. It seems to go better when I’m extremely busy with the rest of my life. I use the novel to procrastinate at work, or use work to procrastinate at the novel and so either way I’m being more productive than I would be otherwise. Win-win?

These last couple weeks, and this week especially, have been very teaching-heavy. I’ve got nearly 30 hours of lessons this week with the remaining few hours for lesson planning and my editing duties. But I’m really getting into the groove, I think. Some of my students are wonderful, and I look forward to the hour or two I spend with them a week. More of them are duds, but eh, you win some, you lose some. I’m a better teacher now (as evidence, more students have requested me than my schedule could allow), and hopefully that trend continues.

totally comfy

As for the publishing department, in the last month I’ve sat in on a meeting with a potential new book distributor for our International Baccalaureate series, reviewed the proposal they sent us, finished writing four articles (and editing all the rest) for the magazine out in December, and contributed decisions regarding layout and style. It’s exciting, not just to finally get to do the things I’ve thought I’ve always wanted to do, but to do them and realize that so far, I really, truly enjoy doing those things.

I’m running a hotel this week, it seems–from last Friday to this coming Sunday there’s been and will be a steady string of friends from Shenzhen crashing on my couch. They’re all off for midterms on the mainland, so visits are in order. The couch wouldn’t mind some Michigan bodies on it, either…hint, hint.

Love to all. Be well!

Transplanted (again)

As I left work the other night shortly after 21:00, the air was more humid than usual and I had to skirt puddles on the way to the bus stop. Sometime during the last few hours, a downpour had occurred, a short but intense rush of rain. I haven’t been in Hong Kong long, but the gentle, drizzly, undecided showers of northern Michigan do not seem to exist in this city. It’s all or nothing here, in more ways than one.

Robin red breast

At the bus stop, I put my headphones on and let music banish the last of the day’s lesson plans. I had been sitting for most of the day and I wanted to run home, stretch my legs like a bird her wings after enclosure, sing loudly and off-key to the song in my head, splash recklessly in a puddle. Instead I settled back on my heels to wait for the bus. A serpentine movement in the gutter drew my attention.

After a rain in Michigan, robins dot the front yard, wings tucked against their bodies as they hop along on fragile reddish feet, intently focused on one thing: the worms brought up by rain. These birds mean home to me: their warm orange breasts, cheerful song, and the authoritarian way they move across the ground in search of a meal are as familiar to me as breathing. To the worms, however, even a robin’s shadow is a harbinger of death. Michigan worms are thin, writhing, mottled brown things that even a very young or sickly robin could pull from the earth and gulp down its gullet in one jerky movement. I am certain that a robin would take flight at the sight of one of Hong Kong’s worms.

Pack of gum for size comparison

Hong Kong’s worms are upwards of 30cm. They’re bigger around than my index finger and the same dark, liquid brown as coffee. If a robin did manage to wrestle one of those beasts into her nest, she’d do well to keep it away from her chicks. In the gutter on that particular evening, one of those worms was unfurling its considerable length in a bid to cross the street. The worm was heading directly into traffic. A road is a long distance for a worm to traverse, even one of this size, and the asphalt offered no potential escape into the earth. Behind me was a short stone wall behind which dark soil and vegetation were barely contained. I debated rescuing the worm, picking it up—as no doubt children all over southern China do—and flinging it into the soil behind me. But I could not contemplate this without a shudder. I knew I’d pick it up, feel the undulating, living length of slime, and immediately, instinctively, throw it away again, thereby causing more bodily harm than good to the already doomed creature. My bus pulled up then—leaving the worm unharmed for now in the space between the tires—and I boarded, fully betraying the worm to its fate.

Everything is bigger or more in Hong Kong: the sky-high skyline, the convoluted MTR system, working hours, shopping centers, the enormity of choice: everything except living space and the presence of the natural world. I find nature here in parks, where the scenery is manicured and contained, or on the shore looking out to sea, where nature is unattainable, or by hearsay on the hiking trails along the mountains or the coast, which I have yet to experience. So when this worm, larger than life, alien in its grotesqueness, pops up on the sidewalk after a torrential downpour, it strikes me as invasive, ungovernable, impudent in the way it encroaches on the world of humankind. It’s not going to make it, this worm—it will die—but its presence is irrefutable, its being unassailable, it belongs here, this thing, more than I do.

View from my window on a clear day

Work’s going well. I’m getting into the groove of teaching again and have had a few great lessons. More excitingly (to me), I’m becoming more involved in the magazine–the first issue is to be published in December–and I sat in on my first ever publishing department meeting yesterday. Currently I’m on the couch in my little studio apartment listening to the wind rattle the sea-facing windows with an unnerving intensity. There’s a Typhoon 8 warning signal in place today, which means, if I’m very lucky, I’ll get the day off work, but more likely, we’ll have a delay and I’ll go in a couple hours later than usual, soaked to the bone and bewildered by the facts of sky and rain and clammy human skin.

I’m well and happy and missing and loving you all very much.

Next

So, I’m going back to the Orient! Not to Shenzhen this time, but to Hong Kong, a world apart from mainland China, where the English language is plentiful, Western food is abundant, toilets are of the sit-down rather than squat variety, and the cost of living is the ninth most expensive in the world. Yikes.

I’ve been offered a job on Hong Kong Island as an English teacher and editor/writer for a learning center in Causeway Bay. I was offered the position mid-June, actually, but arrival in Hong Kong felt so far away that it was difficult to think of the job as a concrete thing. Now with my departure scheduled for swiftly-approaching August 15–a fifteen-hour straight shot from Detroit to Hong Kong–my first “grown-up job” (to me that means: contractual, salaried, full-time, useful, relevant to my interests, absorbing) feels a bit more real. I will be teaching general English, English literature, test prep, and writing to international and Hong Kong students who may want to study abroad somewhere like the UK or USA. I also cannot wait to jump at the opportunity offered to involve myself with the editing department within the company, as an editor and contributor for various English textbooks, and a soon-to-be-launched educational-themed magazine.

For those who have been following along all year, let me reiterate the perks of this new teaching gig specifically as compared to last year’s job: I’ll teach a maximum of six students per session. Six, not sixty. I will not be teaching ESL, since the students already speak fluent or near-fluent English, but instead, literature and writing. Or, as my brain keeps saying, “Books! I’m gonna talk about books all day!” These students will likely be motivated and hard-working, but even if they weren’t, with so few of them to keep track of, they will not be able to sleep through my lessons, text and play games on their cellphones, do their hair in mirrors propped up on their desks, or throw crumpled paper at their peers’ heads at the back of the classroom.

There are downsides, too. The turnover rate for my students will be greater than last year, so I won’t be able to develop as close of teacher-student relationships. And no doubt, there is something completely endearing about a pile of sixty students eager to hang out with me for a class that could very likely turn brutal at a moment’s notice for everyone involved due to that pesky language barrier. My Ping Gang students’ eagerness on most days to let me be a part of their lives as their resident, and dear, foreign teacher, is very unlikely to be paralleled by world-weary international students who are being bullied into after-school tutoring by their parents.

Nonetheless, I am optimistic. I am apartment-hunting, visa-applying, luggage-packing (about to start, anyway), goodbye-saying, summer-enjoying, and I am optimistic.