Maria Holland

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Year of the Dragon

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I’m turning 24 today!  Because this is a multiple of 12, this means that it’s currently my 本命年!  That’s right, it is now the Year of the Dragon, as it was in 1988 and 2000.  Being born in the Year of the Dragon is pretty much the best, and it’s not just me that thinks so!  China and much of Asia are expecting a baby boom because everyone wants their kids born under the sign of the dragon! 

Talking to my friend XuLei shortly before the new year, I asked her what I was supposed to do during “my year”.  The answer?  Wear red underwear.  BUT you can’t buy them for yourself, she said – they have to be a gift.

I hosted a Chinese New Year party on 除夕 (New Year’s Eve) and had about a dozen people crammed into my tiny apartment for 饺子,麻婆豆腐,拔丝土豆,宫保鸡丁, etc.  I was talking to one of my American-born Chinese friends and told him the red panties, and he said it sounded like XuLei was “trolling” me. 

Next day, I got a text from him.  He had called his grandmother to wish her a happy new year, and she told he should be wearing red underwear. 

He was forced to concede that maybe XuLei was onto something.


In Uncategorized on March 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Recently, living in America has reminded me uncomfortably of living in China.

First there was the proposal of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the resulting uproar against it.  There was that one day where you couldn’t access Wikipedia the normal way, and instead had to use various roundabouts to get the information you wanted.  A lot of blogs were inaccessible, too.  It was crazy!  Oh wait, I did that for a year, paying $5 a month to have access to facebook, Wikipedia, CNN, and (for most of the year) blogs.  The reasoning behind SOPA and the Great Firewall is different – I understand that.  But freedom of speech once curtailed for one reason is easily enough thwarted for another. 

Followed shortly by that issue was the announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that religious institutions will be forced to supply health insurance plans that offer free contraceptives and other “family planning” services to their employees.  This issue blew up so quickly that it seemed we bypassed some fundamental issues (birth control, really – out of all the drugs to make free?  Have we really decided that pregnancy is the most threatening disease?) and have moved right on to a debate over religious freedom. 

Today, across the country, people are gathering to “Rally for Religious Freedom”.  Someone derisively asked, "Is someone keeping you from going to church?”.  The answer, obviously (thankfully!) is no.  But the rest of the answer is that the practicing of one’s religion is – and should be! – more than just going to church. 

I confess that I thought the US Council of Catholic Bishops was being a little bit overdramatic when it warned about possible issues of conscience when the new health care reform was being debated.  I don’t believe that Obama has anything particularly against Catholics or Christians or believers of any religion, and I believed that the freedom of religion guaranteed in the constitution was pretty secure.  The death panels, forced sterilizations – I thought it was all hyperbole. 

And now I’m scared.  Because I see this mandate as a first step along the path that leads us to a place where the reproductive “rights” are valued higher than the right to religious freedom.  And I think that China is somewhere along that path, further ahead than us.  Remember,

Freedom of religion in the People’s Republic of China is provided for by the country’s constitution, with an important caveat. Namely, the government protects what it calls "normal religious activity," defined in practice as activities that take place within government-sanctioned religious organizations and registered places of worship.  [From Wikipedia]

But China has clearly decided that its interest in curtailing the growth of its population is greater than its interest in protecting the practice of “normal religious activity”, which for some religions that I’m aware of prohibits abortion, sterilization, and contraception. 

So yeah, I’m a little bit worried.  Not sure what other rights will fall before this “right”.  Not sure which Catholic institutions – or what still-practicing Catholic institutions – will be around when in 10 years.  Not sure what US policy will next mimic China. 


* Note: I think both articles I linked to make very good points, but I do take issue with the name calling they employ. 

News from the Zhangs

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2012 at 10:35 pm

The other day I got an unexpected [webcam] call.  I’ve been “friends” with Zhang Lei, son of the foreman on the farm I worked on in Jilin, since I got QQ, but he has always had limited internet access so we rarely talk.

But this call was preceded by the words, “Are you there?  This is Xiao Li.”  His mother!  It was well past midnight and I was heading to bed, but I took the call anyway, and we talked for about an hour.  It was so good to hear from her!  I hadn’t heard her voice or seen her face since I visited Hunchun in May 2010, nearly two years ago. 

She caught me up on all the news of our mutual friends – the big news being that Zhang Lei is married!  He’s a few years younger than me and I always felt like they [not-so] secretly wanted us to get married, so I’m extremely happy for him and a tiny bit relieved :)

The next night, I got another call – this time from Xiao Zhang, Zhang Lei’s father.  It’s hard to describe how I when I saw his face and heard his voice after so long.  He is pretty much one of my favorite people in the entire world.  You know how your mother’s voice is about the most comforting sound in the world?  In my second language of Chinese, that’s the role that he fills – his voice was the first one that I really heard and understood in Chinese.  His Chinese is the standard by which I compare everyone else’s; to me it is perfectly unaccented 普通话. 

And he understands me – yes, we still have a lot of cultural differences but he, more so than any other Chinese person I’ve talked to, can see through the grammatical mistakes and limited vocabulary to what I’m trying to say.  While we chatted, I tried to tell him that we have a Chinese language radio station here in the Bay Area, but I realized I didn’t know the word for radio.  He figured it out immediately from my clues (not the TV, the thing you only listen to) and said the word for me a few times, clearly and slowly.

Xiao Zhang has done a lot of different kinds of work – welding, chicken-keeping, farming, etc. – and I don’t think he’s very highly educated, but as we talked I told him that I think he was born to be a teacher.  Later, though, I thought about it more and reconsidered.  I’m not sure if he was born to be a teacher, if he was born to be a Chinese teacher, or if he was born to be my Chinese teacher.  Either way, I’m lucky to have had him act as such!