Top Ten Posts of 2012

It seems that every other blogger on the planet is doing an end-of-the-year “Top Ten” list, so why not me?  Herewith, then, is the list of my top ten posts of 2012, as measured by WordPress stats:

10. Living Well Where You Don’t Belong (full version)

A collection of lessons I’ve learned over the years about successful cross-cultural living. Many lessons were, of course, the result of cultural mistakes that I made.

9.  The Great Moon Cake Exchange

A look at the art if giving and receiving moon cakes during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.

8.  Start Seeing Mops

A fun slide show of random mops seen on the streets of China. There is no problem that cannot be solved with a bucket and a mop.

7. Flooding in Beijing — What Does it Mean

Some observations on the historic flooding that hit Beijing in July. Think of Beijing is a small state, rather than a large city.

6. Silly Season

A look at life in Beijing in the run-up to the Party Congress meetings in November, and what the authorities did to prevent people from throwing “reactionary leaflets”* out the windows of taxis.

5. A Letter to Language Learners

Some thoughts and ruminations on the privilege of learning a language.

4. Chinese Bumper Stickers

My first installment of funny Chinese bumper stickers.

3. Swimming Masks

A few scary photos of Chinese swimmers at a beach in Qingdao.  Do not click on this link if you are given to having nightmares!

2. Karachi Memories

Some of my fondest memories of growing up in Karachi, Pakistan.

1. How Long Does it Take to Learn Chinese?

Some accused me of spreading discouragement with this post. I see it as helping folks set realistic expectations regarding how long it takes to learn a second language. That’s actually discouragement-prevention!

Which one was your favorite?

Onward to 2013! Happy New Year!

*I wish I could take credit for this term “reactionary leaflets” but I can’t. I picked it up from blogger Imagethief. It was too brilliant to  pass up.

Start Seeing Mops

I’m a compulsive observer. I think it is partly due to a very curious nature, partly due to having grown up overseas, and partly due to training that I received in acting classes in college, when our professor would send us out into the community to just sit and observe. We would sit for hours in the shopping malls (winter in Minnesota, you know) just observing things: the size, shapes, and demeanor of people; social interactions; the physical surroundings.  You name, it we were told to take note of it. “Look for patterns and recurring themes,” we were told. That skill has served me well in my cross-cultural sojourn, whether in language learning (listening for patterns) or just trying to figure out what is going on around me.

Which brings us to the mops. A couple of years ago I started noticing mops. That might seem strange to you given the fact that where most of us come from, mops are tucked away in closets, which means that noticing them perhaps involves me rummaging around in the broom closets of other people’s homes, something I can assure you is NOT the case.

What I started noticing was that in China mops are everywhere –leaning against walls, hanging from trees, propped up against bicycles, sitting in the corners of restaurants, stores, and even banks. Right there — for everyone to see.  They are a part of life. There is no problem in China, it seems to me, that cannot be solved with a mop and a bucket.

I also realized that there was a culture learning lesson to be had in this strange obsession that I had developed. Learning culture is more than just learning about (and adjusting to) the different behaviors and activities of everyday life; it is discovering that there are different ways of  THINKING behind those behaviors and social patterns.

In other words, while mops in China have the same use and function that they do in my home culture, it’s how we THINK about them that is different.  They are not things to be hidden away, but full participants in everyday life.

Since the beginning of my obsession with mops (noticing , not using ), I have been taking pictures of them. I compiled them into a slide show which I use in cross-cultural orientation sessions that I conduct.

Are there everyday things that you can start observing in the communities where you live? Maybe you’ll start seeing mops or maybe something else of special interest to you.  For ‘newbies’ of course the newness of it all means that you’re observing everything. For those of you who have been around for awhile, maybe you just need fresh eyes with which to view the ordinary (but meaningful) things that you have stopped noticing.

One of the unintended consequences of this is that there are now hundreds of people all over China and SE Asia who think of me every time they see a mop. I suppose that is a good thing….

What are you going to start observing today?