The “Face-kini” is Back!

It’s summer in China, which means thousands upon thousands of people are descending on the beaches in Qingdao (and other places). But here’s the thing — being on the beach means being out in the sun which means the potential for darkening skin which is considered a bad thing by Chinese women.

Have no fear, the “face-kini” is here!

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This year, though, it seems like the fashion trend is jumping the Great Wall and heading out into the world. Here’s what The Telegraph has to say about it:

The facekini looks more like a balaclava than essential beachwear. But in China, that’s exactly what it has become.

Beachgoers in the eastern city of Qingdao have been sporting facekinis to protect their faces from the sun, and even jellyfish. The swimming gear is made of stretchy, swimsuit like material and covers the entire head. Holes are cut for the eyes, nose and mouth (well, you’ve got to be able to eat that sandy sandwich somehow).

But now it looks like the facekini – which also looks a bit like a Mexican wrestling mask – could become a global fashion item, with one New York-based fashion magazine, CR Fashion Book, featuring it in a photo shoot.

The images show models wearing patterned facekinis, accessorised with swimsuits, jewellery and heels, in a feature called “Masking in the sun: A hidden retreat in this season’s swimwear.”

Now here’s something really scary — they are now being sold on Amazon!

Photos: BBC

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The Masked Swimmers of Qingdao Strike Again

 

 

7 Things to Know About Culture Shock

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The first time I crossed a cultural boundary; I was but 1 year old! And no, it wasn’t my parents whisking me off to some far-off tropical land; it was my family returning to the US after a term of service in Pakistan. My mother says that my older sister and some of the children travelling with her (you should hear THAT story sometime) spent hours in the London hotel bathroom flushing the toilet because they had never seen such a thing before. Obviously, I have no memories of that experience.

My second cross-cultural experience, and the first one that I remember, was 6 years later, when, once again, my family decamped from Pakistan back to the US for a year. I remember that things in the US were different, but don’t remember much ‘culture shock,’ because at that age, so long as your parents are nearby and you’ve got other kids to play with, that’s all that matters. I do remember the easy access to candy, though!

After that home leave, we returned to Pakistan for another two years, before returning to the US permanently. I was 14, straddling 8th and 9th grades (a confused age anyway), so I have vivid memories of the culture shock I experienced then. I’ll spare you the details, but what I remember most clearly is the feeling of alienation, of being different. In Pakistan, I was different — that was simply a permanent state of affairs. What tripped me up when I moved to the US was feeling different in a place where I was supposed to belong!

Then I learned to live in China, and now I am learning again to live in the United States. I may not be an expert a culture shock (who wants to claim THAT title?), but I’ve certainly had lots of experience. Herewith are seven important things about culture shock that I have learned along the way:

  1. The term was coined by Cora DuBuis in 1951, but popularized by Kalvero Oberg in 1954. Workers who served overseas before that no doubt experienced all that we now call ‘culture shock,’ but they just didn’t have a fancy word for it. Maybe they just used the word “hard.” I asked my mom, who began serving in Pakistan in 1956 if she or my dad or her co-workers had ever heard of that term when they went. “Nope,” she said.
  1. There are typically four stages of culture shock: 1) “Yippee! I’m here.” 2) “Whatever was I thinking?” 3) “I can do this.” 4) “It’s beginning to feel like home.”
  1. Each person cycles through and experiences those stages at different rates and duration. This can be especially complicated when spouses or children or teammates are at different points in the adjustment cycle than you. I remember a teammate in my first year in China (1984) who was furious with me because I was still in the “Yippee!” phase while she had already crashed into “whatever was I thinking?” “This [cultural difference] doesn’t bother you, and that makes me mad!” she said as she stormed out of my room.
  1. It’s about the rules. You are in a new place that has a completely different set of rules. Your rules from ‘back home’ don’t apply, and you don’t (yet) know the new rules. What makes this so alienating is that these rules are the basic stuff of life – how to eat, how to communicate, how to get things done. Sometimes the unfamiliar rules have to do with the role you are playing (teacher, doctor, student, preacher). As Don Larson, my mentor in this area used to say, “learn the rules to play the roles.” Good advice, I’ve always thought.
  1. There isn’t a point at which you ever say, “There! Done!” Remember those cycles? Well they go round and round and round. This means that if you have been in a place for years and years, you can still experience the confusion and alienation (and even disgust). Culture shock is a part of cultural adjustment, and that is a forever endeavor.
  1. Learning the language can mitigate the effects of culture shock. There are few things that can make a person feel more alienated than not being able to communicate with those around her (or him). So it stands to reason that learning the language – learning how to communicate – is a big help. It allows you to enter their world and learn how they understand and process reality. It allows you to learn the rules, and to communicate to the locals who YOU are. This is incredibly freeing.
  1. Learning the language can exacerbate the effects of culture shock. As you learn the language you encounter the deep structures of the culture – the values and the beliefs about right and wrong. In some cases this can make things more difficult as you encounter values and beliefs that are diametrically opposed to yours. Adjusting to different eating utensils is one thing; adjusting to looser understandings of truth and justice is another thing.

When dealing with culture shock and cultural adjustment, I have always taken solace Paul’s admonition to his brothers and sisters in Colossae:

“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col. 4:2-6)

 Wherever you are in your adjustment process, may this be your prayer as well.

And finally, here are some excellent resources on culture shock and cultural adjustment:

The Art of Crossing Cultures 2nd edition, by Craig Storti

The Art of Crossing Cultures 2nd edition by Storti, Craig published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing Paperback

The Art of Coming Home, by Craig Storti

The Art of Coming Home

Cultural Intelligence: People Skills for Global Business, by David C. Thomas

Cultural Intelligence: People Skills for Global Business

Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility, by Duane Elmers

Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility by Elmer, Duane unknown Edition [Paperback(2006)]

{Note: A version of this post was first published at Velvet Ashes on August 15, 2014.}

Farewell to a China Hand

I read with sadness this morning the news that Pierre Ryckmans (aka Simon Leys), one of the great Sinologists, passed away over the weekend. Here is what the Sydney Morning Herald had to say about him:

Australia was fortunate to be the chosen home of the distinguished author, Sinologist and translator Pierre Ryckmans, who has died in Canberra at the age of 78.

Born in Belgium, Ryckmans moved to south-east Asia, married in Hong Kong and in 1970 settled with his family in Australia.

Ryckmans said in a 2011 interview that after a trip to China as a student in 1955: “My overwhelming impression ( a conclusion to which I remained faithful for the rest of my life) was that it would be inconceivable to live in this world, in our age, without a good knowledge of Chinese language and a direct access to Chinese culture.”

However, when he published an expose of the Cultural Revolution, The Chairman’s New Clothes, in 1971 he adopted the lifelong pseudonym Simon Leys on the advice of his publishers to avoid being kept out of China.

The writings of Leys played a key role in my own literary journey towards being a Sinophile. After my first two years in China (1984-1986), I was desperate to understand the world from which China was beginning to emerge — the Mao era. Even though I had grown up in Asia (Pakistan), nothing prepared me for the totalitarian (albeit loosening) nature of the Chinese state. Somehow I stumbled across these books by Simon Leys which helped me understand what was going on below the surface of all that I observed.

Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution (1981)

Chinese Shadows(1978)

The Burning Forest: Essays on Chinese Culture and Politics (1978)

Broken Images: Essays on Chinese Culture and Politics (1979)

For those who experience China today, it is hard to imagine what it was like in the 1970′s. Leys writings offer a glimpse. I think it’s time to dig these books out and re-read them.

China File has a page of links to some of his more recent essays.

 

 

 

A Painted Piano

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Gracie in Victoria

On Sunday afternoon we had some time to kill in Victoria, BC between checking out of our hotel and boarding the ferry back to Port Angeles, WA, so we decided to take a scenic drive along the coast. As you can see from the photo it was a gorgeous day and we could keep our eye on the Olympic Mountains over in Washington.

As we were driving through Oak Bay Village, a trendy beach neighborhood of the city, I spotted a brightly colored piano sitting in the grass between the road and the sea. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but when I realized that I had in fact seen a colored piano, I hollered at my cousin to stop the car.

He: Why?

Me: There’s a painted piano on the side of the road.

They (the others in the car): A painted piano? You’re nuts!

Me: No, it’s there…turn around!!

I finally managed to persuade them that that I was not nuts and there was a painted piano, and my cousin turned the car around.

And what did we see?

Sure enough, a painted piano.

Beside the piano there was a sign that said PLEASE PLAY ME. Apparently it was part of a neighborhood art festival.

After my sister had played a few songs, my mom sat down and played “Oh Canada,” whereupon the guys in the nearby parking lot who were tending their kayaks stopped what they were doing and stood at attention!

To the artist who painted that piano and put it by the side of a coastal road in Victoria, we say thanks. It made our day!

 

Scenes from a Western Road Trip

After attending a reunion in Colorado Springs last weekend, my mom, sister, brother-in-law and I set out in Big Red for a western road trip. Our original plan had been to do a return drive to Alaska, but since my niece and her husband moved back to Minnesota in the spring, that was out.

In planning this trip, we wanted to go somewhere that none of us had been before, and since we are a traveling family, identifying such a spot was not a particularly easy feat.

As we scanned the map of the western United States, we realized that while we had all done the major national parks in the west, had all been to Seattle, and three of us had been to the Oregon Coast, none of us had been to the Olympic Peninsula in NW Washington, a place that we had heard was magnificent.

So that’s where we headed, stopping off to see a couple of national parks and visit cousins in Washington along the way. Once on the peninsula, we spent four days exploring Olympic National Park, which includes a stunning mountain range, a rain forest, and miles of stunningly beautiful coastline.

While not being surprised by the beauty of it all, we have been surprised by the weather. We thought it would be cold and raining, but it has been 75 and sunny every single day. The locals swear this is normal for this time of year.

We’re in Victoria BC this weekend, and tomorrow begin the trek back to the land of flat.

Here are a few scenes from the road trip:

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

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Arches National Park, Utah

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Mt. Hood, Oregon (the view from my cousins’ living room!)

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Cannon Beach, Oregon (from Ecola State Park)

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Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

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Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

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Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park, Washington

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Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

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Cape Flattery, Neah Bay, Washington (the northwestern-most point in the Lower 48)

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Cadets on Parade, Victoria, BC, Canada

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If you’re looking for a great place to vacation (in the summer), get thee to the Olympic Peninsula!

Say Nothing, Understand Nothing

Having spent 20+ years in China, working primarily in the field of education, I witnessed first-hand the  national obsession with learning English in China. The good folks at China File have now put that obsession into pictures by translating an info-graphic that originally appeared on their Soho Business site. After citing statistic after statistic about the popularity of English in China, this is their conclusion:

Chinese people spend more time and energy learning English than any nation in the world. But for all this effort, Chinese students are still failing to achieve real proficiency. Why is this? Is the English craze actually detrimental to students?

 

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Here are some of the more interesting stats embedded in the infographic:

  1. There are 300 million people studying English in China
  2. There are 100,000 native English speakers currently teaching in China.
  3. Chinese people spend $4.8 billion each year on English lessons.
  4. China is the world’s largest market for English as a Foreign (EFL) teaching.
  5. English is a required subject on all middle-school and high-school standard tests.
  6. In order to graduate, university students must pass the College English Test (CET).
  7. In December 2012, 9.38 million students too the CET-4 and CET-6 exams.
  8. The majority of Chinese students are studying English primarily in order to pass the tests.
  9. 56% of non-English majors spend most of their time studying English, yet less than 5% can carry on a conversation in English.

So, fellow China educators, what say ye? Is this what you see or are the conclusions of the info-graphic makers too harsh?

Please take the time to view the entire info-graphic here. It’s really quite interesting.

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(Image source: ChinaFile)