Monday, June 30, 2008

Questions most asked of me...

When I am in Alaska there is a question I am asked most often. It happens several times a day. It is asked from each of my students. It's asked sometimes on the upwards of 20 times in one day. The question most asked is... "when is break?"

There is another question that I am asked most often when I am here in California though. It's asked by staff in my dentist's office, by friends of friends, by waxers, by hairstylists, by... essentially everyone I am introduced to. The question most asked is then followed by another 20 questions all basically reiterations of the first question. The question most asked is... "Alaska? What made you move to Alaska?"

And the thing is... the question is not all that great of one to answer. Why does anyone choose to live in any place? If I lived in Nebraska and visiting California in the summer... would I get the same question?

Nebraska?!! What made you move to Nebraska?!!


So... here... in writing, I'll attempt to answer this question. Not the what made me move to Alaska but the why do I still live in Alaska and spend my summers in California question. And I'll do so in list form. In no order of importance, I live in village Alaska during the school year and then Northern California during the summer because...

* I have six students
* My students are bilingual
* I commute by foot to work
* I travel guilt-free
* I get to be there for students' first roller coaster rides
* I get to hear phone messages that are nearly indecipherable with excitement
* I have friends who think summer officially starts with me coming "home"
* I get to read myspace messages like this, "AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! CHRISTINA!!!!!!!! i will start packing as soon as i going home tommorow. im at going to be so excited when i see you...AAAAAAAHHHHHH!! hehe i cant wait.."
* I get to travel to San Francisco twice this summer to introduce others to things like Pier 39 and Lombard St.

* I can buy organic fruits and vegetables and cheeses at the farmer's market cause I'm in town... and it's special
* I can fish for big 'ole fish

* I can fish for lil fish
* I can spend the day with Michelle looking at "wedding hair and makeup" options

* I can wear jeans and no make up to work every day
* I can take a helicopter to robotics and/or prom

* I can impulse spend $100 on a George Michael concert

* I can enjoy easter, christmas, v-day, mother's day, thanksgiving, etc... small group
* I can host a read in and have kids read!

* I can spend ALL DAY doing this...
*or this...

* Or watching others do this...
* I can clean, cut, and eat caught fish

* I can see that Hong Kong Disneyland is similar to United States' Disneyland

* And also NOT similar...

* I can hang with an ex and keep him an ex... (seriously, the distance helps)
* I can go on a non-date (that feels suspiciously like a double date) and meet a great guy who I think I connect with, and yet am not going to pursue, all the while loving the lack of pressure because of the grand-escape-clause, "I don't live here"
* I can offer wii-time for students as a reward
* I can reward myself with wii-time with Nicole and Steph (as I did today) or with Amantha, Melina, Dee, and Naomi (as I did last week-- insert pictures Dee took while playing American Idol)
* I can ride my bike and call it exercise even though it really just feels like playing.
* I can reconnect with my nieces once a year... which allows me to really see the amazing maturity that a year can bring.
* I can blog in-list-form and know that no one knows every story behind every bullet but a whole lot of really cool people know some great stories are here behind the bullets.

The Oscarville Kids come into town tomorrow.  My "family" officially becomes a party of eleven in about 19 hours.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


So some people have been emailing me asking where I disappeared to. And the thing is, I don't know if keeping a blog is a realistic thing for me. So much has happened. And yet... nothing... really. I mean what constitutes blog worthy? Things I have pictures for? That has been my modus operandi up until now.

But I don't have new pictures.

I have been camera lazy.

So... here... is a list of what I've done since I left China.

*a couple of naps that lasted from 1100am to 8pm
*several pre 600am wake ups
*Saw "Phantom of the Opera"
*reconnected with my Aunt, Diana
*a gym membership
*water aerobics
*tai chi
*bought two new (inexpensive) bikes
*Nim's Island (okay)
*The Hulk (good)
*IronMan (better)
*Made of Honor (so lame)
*Sex and the City (twice!)
*Starbucks meeting with Marc (Michelle's fiance)
*bought lingerie for someone else
*Michelle's bridal shower
*mimosas at Dorena's
*lunch at La Bonne Soupe Cafe (delish!)
*visit to the Farmer's Market where I bought cheese curds
*Saw George Michael in concert
*learned the lyrics to "Turn a Different Corner" how did I not know this song before?
*fell in love again with "Careless Whisper" and "Everything She Wants"
*connected to "One More Try"... more than the first time.
*bought the new Alanis Morissette CD... love "Not as We"
*bought the new Jewel... was she ever NOT country?
*taught my nieces to play "Risk"
*got a few wii games
*wrote an email I'll probably regret sending
*asked for time off in September
*spent some time on after hearing about George Carlin
*got a library card
*printed assignments for my nieces' new library books
*remembered why I love Jamba Juice
*started reading "He's Just Not That Into You" at the gym... good motivation
*bought a new poetry book ("Never Night") from an old teacher
*fell out of love... finally
*gave and received a mess of love and attention from Bailey
*had a business meeting with family
*committed to the ownership of 800 acres of land in my favorite place in the world
*myspace connected to a relative I hardly know and a friend I lost contact with a decade ago
*bought my books for my art class in Juneau
*bought an ipod for my dad for father's day
*bought a region-free DVD player for my mom for her birthday
*itunes purchased Flobot's "Handlebars"... love it!
*went to a family dinner at Far East Cafe
*turned down the opportunity to hang with three single guys to hang with three single girls

I could extended blog on any of these things. But who has the time? I am going out on a boat on Folsom Lake today. Might fish. Might tube. And tomorrow... I'll bike ride the American River. Friday plans? Babysitting Aiden. Saturday? Michelle, Marc, Jonathan, and I are going to Dave and Buster's.

And then come Thursday... (here's the updated itinerary)

July 3, Thursday Pick up kids (8:00pm)
July 4, Friday Celebrate 4th--Cal Expo and/or Nicole’s front yard
July 5, Saturday Sound of Music at the Music Circus @ 2:00
July 6, Sunday Folsom boat ride (if is OK with Kellie)… picnic @ Gibson Ranch
July 7, Monday Big Trees picnic, Mercer Caverns on the way
July 8, Tuesday State Capitol building tour, Old Sac
July 9/10 W/Th Little Canyon Creek, Mc Mahon Mine, Downieville—
(overnight in hotel to Citrus Heights late Thursday)
July 11, Friday Mellow day...Open
July 12, Saturday Santa Cruz beach boardwalk—roller coasters and the ocean
(stay overnight in hotel)
July 13, Sunday SF - China Town, Exploratorium, maybe Zoo, Pier 39
July 14, Monday Mellow day, get ready for NM trip
July 15, Tuesday Drive to Barstow overnight
July 16, Wednesday Las Vegas overnight
July 17, Thursday Las Vegas overnight
July 18, Friday Drive to Williams, see Grand Canyon, overnight in Williams
July 19, Saturday Cowboy show, then on to Denise's house
July 20, Sunday Visit Denise (Christina’s sister) & Andy
July 21, Monday Say good bye to The Gutierrez then drive back to Needles/Barstow
July 22, Tuesday Home sweet home
July 23, Wednesday Mellow day; Jelly Belly (Christina & kids only?)
July 24, Thursday Packing! Last minute whatevers, Birthday Cake (for Christina’s Mom)
July 25, Friday Kids fly home happy! (Noon)
July 26, Saturday I fly to Juneau for the BASIC Arts Institute

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I'm baaaaa-aaack

So, I'll get around to posting about Hong Kong sometime soon. But for now I wanted to update that I am back in the states. The sate of California to be more precise.

Adjusting back to the time difference has been rough. Taking naps from 11:00am to 7:00pm has not been helping for some reason.

Yesterday I went to see Phantom of the Opera (again) at the Community Center in Sacramento. Today I plan to hook up my cell phone and get my father a gift.

My real reason for this update though is to share a picture snapped of Kiana last night. We had just gotten back from the performance and the whole mess of us were in bed before dinner. Kiana and Sabrina called their mom before falling asleep... well mostly "before."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Wuxi to Shanghai: turtle heads, frogs, pears, rain, and light

Well today we started off with a visit to a garden.

Actually it was a specific site called Turtle Head because this particular peninsula tip looks like the head of a turtle. It was owned by a wealthy family that was Japanese-friendly. After the invasion of WWI, the family prospered. Once the Japanese were finally driven out in the 1970s the family disappeared in the night. Names we changed to protect the innocent offspring, etc.

The area is now owned by the city of Wuxi.
There were tons of pretty flowers and ponds and greenery. And as is our norm now, the girls and I wandered away from the group to explore at our own will. Just call us Marco Polo.

Luckily, unlike Marco Polo in the 1200's, I have a camera to capture all of the foliage. Drawing these out by hand surely wouldn't impress anyone to become the next Christopher Columbus.

The vibrant colors really spoke to me on this particular day.

The stone work was also pretty poetic. This here on the left is a sea horse (obviously) that was sculpted by nature.

Marissa, Kiana, and Sabrina took off around the far side of a pond for some fish watching. I like this candid one in particular because I can totally see Marissa becoming the next teacher in our family.

If these girls follow the same path as the rest of our family they will all either be teachers or be married to a teacher.

Despite Marissa's predilection towards animals (career choices of vet, animal trainer, etc) it seems she will be the educator.

Speaking of animals the turtle head peninsula is known for a lighthouse at it's outmost tip.

Marissa, Sabrina, Kiana, and just about all other people under 35 were more interested in these little guys found on the opposing side of the walkway from the lighthouse.

Exiting the turtle head garden area my dad snapped this photo of me in a cut out window. The asian gardens, as I mentioned before, are not one-view paintings. They like to hide their art. Make it more of a hunt. So at the beginning of each garden there is a screen or wall that just hints at the nature within.

Where else could I be a grecian urn.

Our next stop was a pearl processing factory. They make a pearl powered with the pearls too small for jewelry. The pearl powder is put into tea to help with anti-aging. I snapped this photo of the tea they offered us during their presentation.

Here they had found a way to harvest pearls that are not just pearl coated. Many cheaper pearls out there are made by inserting a small plastic ball into an oyster and then letting the oyster "clean" it for a few years to give it that pearl coating.

They look the same. In fact the only way you can tell a solid pearl from these pearl-coated ones is to x-ray them.

The process involves inserting actually oyster "meat" from another oyster into the new pearl-manufacturing oyster as the irritant.

When you think about it, pearls are pretty inhumane.

But... you know... they're pretty too.

I got a couple of necklaces. One that was about $20 and the other that... well it had to be claimed through customs on our return.

My mom spent a small fortune on a ginormous golden pearl on herself and some pearl necklace, earring sets for the girls. The girls though won't get these sets until they graduate from college. I expressed my concerns that college is not for everyone but it seems that is the line drawn.

After the pearl factory, we all hopped back into the bus and drove to Shanghai.

It was pouring down rain in Shanghai.

We drove around the city but didn't get out of the bus.

It was just too wet.

So instead we checked into the hotel much earlier than we had been expected. We ended up standing around waiting for our rooms for a bit. I snapped this photo of the "birds" hanging from the ceiling there in the lobby.

After that break at the hotel we went back out into the streets of Shanghai for dinner. It was our last trip out as a whole tour group.

We stayed another five days in China (Hong Kong actually) but the organized tour was ending there with that dinner.

After dinner our guide took us through the streets of Shanghai one more time. This time there was less rain so you could see further away from the tour bus. ALSO, the streets were all lit up with night lights. Sadly though, it's scary in Shanghai in dark, so we still didn't get off the bus.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Hangzhou to Wuxi: West Lake cruise, snake myths, silkworms, and leisure gardens

We had a very early start this morning. I had to be packed by 6:30 and then on the bus at 7:15. The reason for this early morning was to avoid the crowds at The West Lake in Hangzhou. It's the posh part of town and I guess it gets really crowded as the day wears on. So, blinky-eyed all 31 of us loaded onto a boat only slightly larger than the one pictured here. Unfortunately our less populated morning cruise brought with it fog as you can see from the pictures to follow.

Our tour guide told us a popular story from Chinese lore. It's their Romeo and Juliet. A long time ago there was a sick snake. The snake wandered onto a bridge and was discovered by a boy. The boy felt sympathy for the snake and made it better. The snake was thankful and wanted to make the boy happy in return. When the boy became a man the snake turned itself into a beautiful woman and walked out onto that same bridge and waited for the man.

The man and snakelady fell in love immediately. Some people knew that this woman was really a snakelady though and they were against this pairing. They watched in anger as the man and the snake lady were married and started their life together. One day one of the opponents to the pairing, a monk, confronted the man and told that his marriage was inappropriate because the lady is actually a snake. The man was shocked but inconvinced. The monk offered that if the man were to get his wife very, very drunk on the night of the lantern festival then she would lose her power and reveal her true self.

The night of the lantern festival the man served many spirits and late into the night the woman, as was predicted, became a huge snake. When the man awoke the next morning she was back to her human form. The man thought, maybe it was he who had too much to drink. He rationalized though that even is she is a snake, he loved her.

The monk was outraged! Thinking that the man had no sense to take care of this himself, he stole the snakelady and locked her in a pagoda. Unbeknownst to him, the snakelady was pregnant at the time. She gave the baby boy to her husband before being imprisoned. The fat pagoda (pictured on the right there after the picture of the broken bridge) is where she resided until her son grew up and passed the Imperial Test. He had heard tales of his mother's banishment and with the Emperor's permission he was finally able to free his mother.

The skinny pagoda was built to remember the monk who had imprisoned his mother. Both pagodas and the broken bridge were all parts of the West Lake.

The boat ride through this story was a relaxing was to start the morning. If only all mornings could start with a calm lake boat ride. It's hard to show in picture the calm enjoyable ride. The one to the left here was taken by my placing my camera on the edge of the point and snapping a photo of Marissa and Sabrina as they were leaning out touching the water as we gentle drifted through.

The one on the left I snapped of the shoreline. Note the man flying a crane kite.  

The beauty is just overwhelming.  It inspires poetry.  Not from me mind you, not quite yet.  It's just too much to put into words quite yet.  But eventually, I will try to put together the right words.

When we got off the boat we walked through another temple area before returning to the bus.  I believe it was the temple where the monk who banished the snakelady resided, but I'm not sure.  As has been the case the last few times the gardens surrounding the temple are what really appealed to me.  

The history and the lore is great. But as it was pointed out several time by my nieces, it just starts to feel a little too much like school after a while. For the rest of the day the girls took turns sort of separating themselves from the rest of the group to explore a little on their own.

Marissa turned fourteen today. And with that is seems she has grown a bit introspective. I snapped this shot of her as she wandered to the far end of a pond.

This next photo is one Sabrina took of me. Since Sara requested it, I have shown you my new jade bracelet. (Yes it is supposed to be worn on the left wrist only. And damn Nicole how did you know what I was showing off in that picture?!) It looks a little washed out in the natural sunlight here, but you can see it all the same.

This picture reminds me to point out that I have had three separate strangers in three separate locations have asked to take my picture. The first was on the Great Wall and I was kind of insulted by the whole thing. I was taking a break on the side of the wall along with several others and someone else ran up past a group of us and looked down to her friend who snapped a picture of us breathing heavy.

The next time was in the arena with the 8000 terra cotta warriors. Here a group of about eight Asian teenagers asked me to pose with them. They all smiled big and held up peace signs. I did the same and then laughed warmly. They were a fun little group and I wasn't at all offended. My dad and Kiana was asked to be in pictures with other groups too. I guess we are the whitest/kassaq/american looking people in our group.

The third person was a man with an expensive professional camera. We were waiting at the shore before our boat ride and he asked me if he could take a picture of me. I was only about 70% awake at the time and sort of nodded politely and didn't move. He snapped about five pictures and I stared off into the water, not even bothering a smile. When he was done she showed me one of the pictures. Damn, he was a pretty good shot. I half anticipated he would try to charge me to have a copy or something but he didn't. He just moved on taking pictures of the flowers and trees and other picturesque things.

I was quite complimented.

When we got back to the bus I set up my computer on the bus to type out yesterday's blog. I asked Marissa (who sat across from me) of me and my makeshift office. For those of you who have visited my blog and seen only pictures with no text in a particular post it's because I am using my bus/travel time to write text to accompany the pictures that I upload in the evenings when I have internet access in the hotel rooms.

Our next stop was a silk factory. This first picture here is of the silk worms that produce the cocoons that are the actual silk. In a silk worm's lifetime they each eat 30-40 mulberry leaves. The mulberry leaves are quite large considering the size of the worm itself. Essentially this eating of the leaves (pre-cocoon making) takes up about 90% of their life. Post the eating of the leaves is cocoon making and cocoon seasoning. From there they become moths where they reproduce and die all in less than 24 hours.

So here in the silk factory the silkworms don't quite make it to that last 24 hours of their life. Once in a cocoon they are picked up and microwaved for 20 seconds which kills them humanely. From there the cocoon's are de-threaded. It takes seven or eight cocoon threads to make one thread of the silk. And then seven or eight of those that is used to create the thread of silk needed to create parachute material.

Can you see the eight oval looking white things at the bottom of the picture? That is the cocoons themselves being unravelled into the machine and spun together to combine into that one string of silk.

Some cocoons contain two pupas. A little honeymoon suite perhaps? Anyway, these special cocoons are opened differently. By hand, the cocoons are opened and the pupas are removed. The remaining cocoons are spread to create the inner stuffing of a silk comforter.

I heard all sorts of things about how great a silk comforter is. I ended up buying one. For California. It's appeal is that it cools your skin. That's not so much a plus for me in Oscarville. I did buy though two silk comforter covers. One of those I will sent up to AK to shove my extra heavy down comforter into.

I also bought two small pillows and silk pillowcases for Marissa and Sabrina. They're really soft. I figured the small fortune I spent on my bedding was enough for me. As I mentioned though, I sat across from Marissa. And as we left I grew bitterly more jealous of her comfort. We were after all on the bus for quite a while.

Marissa also got a silk scarf from the silk factory. It was one of her birthday presents. She looked at several but became very attached to this one. She plans on taking drama next year in High School. He fondness for the color black and this ability to pull off blue leopard print silk scarfs makes me think she'll fit in just fine with the drama crowd.

In the silk factory I snapped these two photos from the outside of the bathrooms. Can you guess which is the "female" sign verses the "male" sign?

By the way, for those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, I used a western bathroom a majority of the time. But I DID eventually use a squat toilet. I was wearing a dress at the time so that helped immensely. I need to work a little on my aim, but you know... I am sure I'll get better at it.

Is this the sort of skill I can put on resumes in my future?

After the silk factory we went to a place called Leisurely Garden. Now stop me if you have heard this before... it was AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL. Actually it was almost too beautiful. Every turn, in every direction, there was a great framed background worthy of being photographed.

Our tour guide, Kenny, told us that was the way it is with Chinese gardens. It's not like an American garden. It's not just one painting-like view. It's every corner, every slight turn. Even the floors were worthy of pictures.

The girls, again, found room to space themselves from the crowd. Kiana usually occupied herself with looking for fish in the water while Marissa looked about at the walls and various plant life. Sabrina seemed mostly focused on the people around her.

I snapped this candid photo of the three of them while on the other side of a tree. It just couldn't get any more beautiful, you know? I could have spent a month there and still not have soaked in all of the pretty.

Sadly, Kenny, and his hip microphone, ushered us away from Leisurely Garden and into a temple.

Another temple.

I am sure this temple has some incredible importance but I was done listening. I was back to noticing things like rabbits hiding in the brush and beetles on the pavement. And... in this particular case... the fact this Fudog had both a baby Fudog and a ball. Is it a hermaphrodite Fudog?

I was hoping it would explain itself to me, but it whispered nothing.

Other Fudogs within the temple had two baby Fudogs. One in the traditional pose under the foot and the other on the Fudog's back.


Is this the monks way of saying they don't agree with China's planned parenthood policies?

My camera ran out of battery power here at the temple. Since it was our last stop and I had batteries in my checked luggage, I decided not to buy more batteries and take a tone of pictures from within the temple.

What I didn't snap a picture of was my dad and I entering a bell tower. It is said to take away one worry for every bong. The Chinese believe you have 108 worries. One for every hair on your head. You can NOT ring the bell 108 times though. For 5 yuan (about 72 cents) you can buy a ticket and ring the bell three times.

I am three worries lighter after today's adventures.