Maria Holland

A Picture And A Thousand Words

In Uncategorized on June 6, 2010 at 2:28 am

I’ve had a lot to write recently but it’s been quite scattered, non-chronological, and title-defying.  Meh, here goes:


I saw these pictures of birds covered in oil from the big spill in the Gulf and, for the first time in my life, felt like I was seeing pictures that will change the world.  I’ve seen pictures that have changed the world, certainly – the first photo of Earth from space and the man standing up to the tanks in Tiananmen Square, for instance – but this felt different.  They weren’t always there in my consciousness, and when I saw them I was changed.  Maybe this whole disaster is too big to comprehend for anyone, but being so far from home (and home being so far, relatively, from the affected area) and reading all the news on a lifeless computer screen certainly hasn’t helped. 

This – this renewed appreciation for the power of photographs – kind of bummed me out.  In our family, my brother got the visual art gene.  He’s an amazing photographer and draws, too, which just seems a little unfair to me.  But then I read another article and, despite the medium of ‘lifeless computer screen’, a sentence there opened my eyes to the scope of this disaster just as much as the photos had:

Is it going to be what Three Mile Island was to nuclear?

This simple sentence forces the reader to compare the two events.  First, the casualties -  Three Mile Island with no immediate deaths, and Deepwater Horizon with 11.  Then, the consequences – Three Mile Island brought an end of America’s nuclear energy program, and Deepwater Horizon . . . . We will see, won’t we? 


I had a nightmare last night in which I returned home (but that’s not why it was scary).  For some reason I went ‘home’ to one of my aunt’s houses where I was joined by some college friends.  I was elated to discover my Mokia phone worked fine in the States, but that was the only happy event.  When it came time to eat, they set out one dish first and everyone got mad at me when I just started eating.  Then when everyone sat down to eat, they kept making fun of me for the way I slurped my noodles and put bones on the table. 

Also, Zhang Lei was there and he spoke English.  Seriously, my subconscious hates me. 

It’s just that, in addition to the constant nudging from the Zhang’s, everyone else has also ramped up their pressure on me to find a Chinese boyfriend/husband.  It’s like they know I’m leaving in just over a month and are trying desperately to stop that from happening.  Typical example: Yong Zhi and I are waiting for Carlos by West Gate, chatting in Chinese.  An old man walks over and stares at us, head swinging back and forth as he follows our conversation.  He asks Yong Zhi (because it’s not clear apparently) if I speak Chinese, and then inquires as to Yong Zhi’s studies (architecture grad student) and our relationship (students at the same school).  Based on this thorough understanding of our situation, he recommends that we get married and have babies.  It takes a good five minutes of awkward laughter before he leaves us alone. 

The good news is, I’m learning a lot about the attitudes Chinese have towards mixed marriages.  For instance, they believe that mixed-blood babies are exceptionally beautiful and smart; XuLei even says that the farther apart the mother and father’s hometowns are, the more beautiful and smart the babies will be. 

But they’re more enthusiastic about relationships between foreign women and Chinese men (specifically, me and their son).  Foreign men marrying Chinese women is more common but the Chinese aren’t too keen on that because, due to the patriarchal nature of Chinese society and the relative scarcity of Chinese girls, they view it as a foreigner taking something rare and precious of theirs.  This explains why Carlos, who is both better-looking and smarter than me, has only been the recipient of suggestions to find a Chinese girlfriend because it’s the best way to learn Chinese.  In case there was any question about it, let me tell you: Life is not fair. 


I heard a racket at one point in the afternoon and looked out the window.  I should have known what I would see:


It seems to be graduation season at XiaDa and you can’t throw a rock without hitting a mortarboard.  I complained to XuLei that it wasn’t fair, that I still have a month and a half, and she lovingly reminded me that, in fact, I have another year.  Thanks, buddy.  But really, in a day where pictures of diploma-clutching graduates are more often than not accompanying headlines about unemployment and fruitless job searches, I should be more grateful.  I remember the first words of one friend upon hearing the news that I had accepted a scholarship to study for a year in China: “Congratulations, Maria!  You’ve figured out how to stay on the scholarship gravy train for another year!”  Go me :)  I’m making good progress in my plan to be a professional student – four years down! 


I went to Mass this evening for Corpus Christi (except obviously they don’t call it that here.  Here it’s 基督圣体圣血节, but it’s all different names for the same thing).  For only the second time this year, they offered the Eucharist under both species – the Body and Blood of Christ, in the form of a host dipped in wine.  It’s not a weekly thing here like it is in the States (daily even, at some parishes) and the average Chinese isn’t a huge fan of wine anyway, so most people weren’t used to the taste.  One girl scrunched up her face unhappily all the way back to the pew. 

There were some announcements at the end, and I think one of them was about the church on Gulangyu.  It seems they’re considering moving all the Masses to the big island.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I hate the idea of an unused church and think that holding services there is a powerful witness to all the tourists who visit it to appreciate the architecture.  But at the same time, the church is small, has bad acoustics, and is a ferry ride away.  Basically, I want there to be Masses on Gulangyu but I don’t want to go to them . . .

After Mass, I went upstairs to the choir loft to play the piano.  Bringing some of my piano music with me was one of the best packing decisions I made, certainly.  I limited myself to 25 sheets of paper, but they’ve brought me comfort disproportional to the space they took up.  Especially after being the choir director at my college Newman Center for two years, church music is a really important part of my faith.  I still sense the changing of the liturgical seasons in other ways, but there’s something a little more personal about banging out the Gloria after a 40-day hiatus, and something very reflective about choosing an entire Mass worth of music related to that day’s readings. 


The youth group was having a bible study after Mass and they invited me.  But I hadn’t been dancing in like 8 years so I went back to campus instead.  It was good to see everyone again and fun to dance again after so long, but I had to put up with the inevitable questions – where I had been, and how much longer I have here. 

It really had been a long time, though.  Smelly Man shaved his beard back in February or March, but I didn’t see it for myself until tonight.  When we danced, I noticed a difference – nothing external, but inside of me.  Out of all the men I dance with, only Smelly Man has rough hands.  I don’t like the stale stench of cigarettes that surrounds him, his crazy dancing by himself, or his shirt that always gets more and more unbuttoned as the night goes on, and I guess I threw the rough hands in there as another strike against him.  But when I was up north I realized that Xiao Zhang has rough hands.  How typical of China – my southern friends are wealthy business and my northern friends are lower-class laborers.  Anyway, I still don’t like him, but I did realize that I’m stupid to hold against him the fact that he works with his hands.  I could probably do with a few calluses. 


We went to The Key afterwards.  Even for a Chinese bar, it was a weird night.  The Filipino band is still on vacation back home, and it’s easy to see that they have no freaking clue what to do without their main event.  There were a few Chinese who tried to sing their usual music, but none with a good enough grasp of English to produce intelligible lyrics.  There was a trio of women clad in leather and metallic fabrics doing an awkward and painfully rigid dance that failed to sufficiently show off either talent or their bodies, which, according to my understanding, are the two standards of acts in bars such as this.  And then there was a Cirque du Soleil-like act consisting of a man and woman climbing a column of silk.  They were really talented, but it was a very strange choice for a bar act – directly following Telephone and directly preceding Fire Burning.  Oh, also the man was wearing a sequin-edged bikini-shaped bottom and a shirt made of transparent gauze that purposefully did not cover his belly button; it was very hard to watch. 

So yeah, it was a weird night for dancing.  But I did get to watch a good part of this year’s Grammy’s, which were playing on the TV’s around the bar.  I laid eyes for the first time on Kesha (do you seriously have to write it with the dollar sign?) and Justin Beiber.  I’ve been gone a long time, have I not?

  1. Nice blog. I did not know who Ke$ha and Justin Beiber were until I googled them…and yes, you do need to use the dollar sign. Interestingly enough, I’ve been trying to select the right special character to go with my name for several weeks now… It’s either going to be “@” (as in “John@what’s happening”) or “Joh#” just cause it looks cool. Let me know what you think, pls. If I was a weird red-headed comedian who likes to smash things, I’d call myself “^top”!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: