July 31, 2010

Away we go.

Anticipating all the China is and what it will be like reminds me of being a little kid at the state fair getting ready to go into a fun house. It's filled with so many outrageous things and it's impossible to know what's around each corner. In fact, the more I've read and learned about China the less I know what to expect. China is such a huge, dynamic place amplified by a gargantuan population -- there's no way for me to begin to fathom what the heartbeat of that country feels like.

I'm so ready for it. I'm ready for the unexpected, challenging, and uncomfortable bits that will hit me after 27 hours of travel time that starts  tomorrow. I am oddly at peace with my willingness to throw myself into something so different from anything I've ever known. China and the US are like day and night (literally). With a 12-hour time difference, I'll be exactly opposite of my regular schedule.

I don't have all the details worked out for my first month there. Aside from my very first night in Hong Kong, my friend and I don't really know where we'll stay. I have my fingers crossed that all will be fine with our visas. We don't have our tickets to the mainland. And I'm very alright with it all. There is no way that it can't work out... Plus, I have a fantastic local friend who is happily helping us sort through the bureaucracy at the consulate.

Right now I'm putting my luggage on one last diet. It's all underweight, but my 48 lb suitcase + 22 lb hiking backpack + 20 lb handbag  = approximately 70% of my bodyweight. I carried it for two blocks today and wanted to cry. So I'm purging more. It's so tricky to pack for multiple seasons.

My small little pharmacy is not getting purged, however. I'm prepared for any ache, pain or digestion-related adventure that may be in my future. I can't wait for the dumplings and street food and insects on sticks (ok, so I can't say that I'm "excited" for insects on sticks, but if the opportunity presents itself, I may not turn it down).

I don't know what China will be like. I don't know what I'll learn from it, but I know I'll certainly come back with an education. I'm really looking forward to Chinese hospitality and my job at the university. Though, it will be strange and a bit awkward being one of maybe 25 in 1.5 billion people with blonde hair and blue eyes. 

Take care, America. I'll be back before you know it.

July 20, 2010

The Unexpected Education (and last minute jitters)

In the short 12 days I was home, I learned so much more than I ever expected.

I learned about the oil industry and its effects (good and bad) on the land. I spoke to people from all around the United States who are living in campers and trailers in tiny towns and I was forced to view my home through their eyes. I was privileged to meet people from every sector and angle of the oil industry in North Dakota and develop a deep understanding for what it really means to be "Rockin' the Bakken."

I also learned about journalism -- the side of it that's impossible to write in textbooks or teach in the classroom. I asked questions. A lot of questions. And the answers came from two people who had devoted years and years to an industry that's famous for being fickle. I had never conducted interviews with a camera or learned how to attach a mic. I didn't know how to stand or what tone of voice to use. So, I opted out of a fancy newscaster voice and approached the whole thing as if I were having a conversation with someone on the street. Which was exactly the tone the story was seeking to strike.

This journey back home also helped me reconnect with the land. It took me leaving for the better portion of four years and living in large, sometimes foreign cities to understand the unique poetry of the prairie in a way that no restless 18-year old ever could. Granted, at 21 I have no where near the level of loyalty and respect for the land as someone like my dad, for example, who has invested his entire life there.

With China fast approaching, I had to carefully allocate and maximize the quality of time with my family. I knew exactly how many days I had left at home and had to amp up the quality of the time since the quantity was just not available. I was hyper-aware to every conversation and hug. I often found myself stepping back to make a mental note of just how thankful I was for that moment. Thankfully, we had a family reunion on my farm my last two days at home. I know some people dread the idea of family reunions -- the drama, forced conversation, tensions, etc... But my family is awesome. I absolutely love spending time with them. Sure there are a few "alright you can shut-up now" moments, but every family has those. I couldn't imagine a better sendoff than having everyone gathered at my house for those few days. It was incredibly hard to say goodbye, but I'm continually grateful that I've got a small army sending positive prayers my way.

Now I'm back in Fargo. I leave in 10 days. My apartment is empty-ish and what few things I have in here feel impersonal and are in disarray. I'm trying to go about my life as I would be if I weren't moving to Asia in a week and a half, which is damn near impossible. I've never in my life done something as uncertain as moving to China. I'm scared shitless. But I have an overwhelming sense that this experience is going to be incredible and life-channging. A part of me wishes I was a little kid again who had someone to hold my hand and keep my safe while crossing the street -- only this time it will be crossing the Pacific. However, a larger part of me is eagerly anticipating the adventure.

The glorious, challenging, socially awkward adventure that is me. Going to China.

July 1, 2010

Reporting "home" right

I should be packing. My apartment is littered with little piles that to the careful eye show off their unique purpose -- that's my way of saying it's messy. It's tricky to pack for an indefinite length of time while simultaneously moving everything out of my apartment. All I have is four doors and a dented trunk to get all my goods home next week. If it rains, I'm screwed. 

My closet went on a serious diet yesterday and I'm optimistic that I've got all my big things sold; which only means that I'll have a lackluster wardrobe and will have to spend some serious cash and time in Ikea once I return stateside... oh well, all these things are a small thing to sacrifice for the experience I'll be having once I leave- one month from right now.

In the meantime, I've been hired for an exciting gig. Back in high school I was interviewed by Al Jazeera (see me and my classmates in our graduating glory). A lot has changed at home since then, the oil industry is hot again; coupled with unfortunate economic times, northwest North Dakota is one of the few guaranteed bright spots for consistent paychecks in the entire country. The media has caught on to the high numbers of people living longterm in hotels, campers or pickup trucks in and around Williston and Al Jazeera wanted to see what sort of social and economic impact all of this is having on the communities in that part of the state.

After a few phone conversations, I was hired as the reporter for a Dateline-esque program for the Al Jazeera English channel. I'm very excited, but at the same time I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility. The past decade has brought countless unfavorable articles about my home, from National Geographic to the New York Times Magazine, written and photographed by talented journalists who got it wrong. In order for a story to happen, obviously a reporter needs to have an idea of the direction (s)he wants to go. Those reporters never got their preconceived notions out of their head and ended up forgoing necessary cultural and social context for their audience. My home was portrayed as a beautiful fossil of lost pioneer dreams. 

It's easy to portray northwest North Dakota like that; I want to switch things up though. I'm young, green and inexperienced in the field, but I'm a local -- here's to hoping I can portray that to the camera...At any rate, I'm grateful and thrilled for this opportunity that just kind of fell on my lap pre-China.

Alright... I probably should go do those dishes now....