Wild and Wonderful West Virginia
Taipei City is a huge metropolitan of more than 2.6 million people. There always seems to be hustle and bustle. And heat. On the weekends, many city dwellers like to go a little outside of town to get away from it all, cool off from the ocean breeze, eat some snacks, and play a few games. Recently I had a chance to visit Danshui, where the Tamsui River meets the Pacific Ocean. It was a perfect respite from constantly being in the city center.
I sent a few pictures to my Dad of my recent field trip with my ESL students. He said, “Why do Asians always do the peace sign in pictures? They always did it when you lived in China.”
“When you visited Korea and Japan, they did it too. ”
“They do it in the US. What does it mean and why did it start?”
I was able to explain that it actually is a “v” for victory, not a peace sign. But what does it really mean, and when did it start? I wasn’t able to give an explanation. So, I thought I’d do a little research on the topic.
The V sign began to be used during World War II by Allied troops. Victor de Laveleye, former Belgian Minister of Justice, suggested the V sign on his 1941 BBC news broadcast as a way to rally support for the war. It spread through Belgium and moved on to France and the Netherlands and eventually all of Europe. Even Winston Churchill used the V for victory sign.
US President Richard Nixon went on to use the V sign for victory in the Vietnam War. However, protesters and hippies who were against the Vietnam War, changed the v from “victory” to “peace” by holding up the same sign but saying “peace” as they did it as a subtle protest of the war. They wanted this hand gesture to change from its meaning of war to a meaning of positivity and happiness.
The V sign probably became popular in Asia through an ice skater named Janet Lynn, who was a peace activist. She was often photographed in the Japanese media in the 1970s doing this sign. Although the Japanese knew the V sign as victory because of WWII, Janet Lynn often displayed this sign as peace.
Another story says that a famous Japanese actor named Jun Inoue starred in some camera commercials in the 70’s where he flashed the V sign, thinking it was popular in the West, and it caught on from those commercials. All in all, a lot of Asia copies Japan. And more importantly, Asia copies the West. Whether or not it was from seeing this ice skater make the V sign and thinking it was a popular thing to do in the West, we may never know.
China, Taiwan, and South Korea are also well known for doing this sign in photos. They say that the symbol means “yeah!”, like they are feeling good. But, really, Asians do so many poses for photos. They have the need to do hand gestures in almost every informal photo.
There is one that guys do in China that means handsome. They might even just throw up a fist.
When girls do the V sign, it is usually close to their face. My Chinese friends told me it is a good chance for them to cover up some of their fat face. (Having a fat face is a big issue that many Asian girls dread).
I had to include this photo of me and my friend Ben in a bowling alley in China. Here I am being all fierce and competitive, and he told me he was doing a pose like a flower!
I even started doing the V sign after living in China for 2 years and traveling there in the years after. It just became natural. In fact, it was nice to actually have something to do in a photo instead of just standing there awkwardly with my hands down to my sides.
So the general rule of thumb is for that every month you live in Asia, you are 5% more likely to throw up your V sign in a photo. And, actually, it can be kind of fun. :] So I’m still not sure I fully understand why Asians do the V sign, but hey, sometimes with cultural differences, we don’t need to and can’t fully understand certain phenomenons, and there’s a real beauty in that.
Here in West Virginia, we got about 9 inches of snow overnight. The college I teach at actually cancelled school today, which only happens once every four or five years. I’m so tired of the snow this winter, but it sure can be beautiful. I took today as an opportunity to do my first Instawalk in the snow. Enjoy!
There’s an island in the middle of the Ohio River called Blennerhassett Island. The Blennerhassett family used to live in a mansion there, and now visitors can tour the old buildings and walk around the island. Today’s weather was predicted to be beautiful, so my friend Zach and I hopped on the boat that takes you to the island!
One thing that really surprised me about living in China is all the attention that I got just for being a foreigner. I couldn’t walk down the street without someone shouting “HELLO!” in their loudest and best English. I’d shop in Wu-Mei, the neighborhood grocery store, and people would stop to look in my cart to get a glimpse of what Americans buy. While eating at any restaurant, the diners at the table next to me would stare at my chopstick skills the whole meal. What can I say? I am a walking, talking circus act! :]
This superstar mentality for foreigners in China may fade away in the next few decades since China is becoming more and more open. But until then, it causes random people to want to take photos with me, like I’m Angelina Jolie. If I happened to have my camera with me when someone asked me to pose for a picture, I’d usually snap one too. I know there are several 100 that I don’t have a copy of though. I imagine I am sitting on the mantle in a picture frame of many Chinese people’s homes, and during Chinese New Year the family sits around and talks about that one time they met that crazy, curly-haired American girl.
Here are a few of my favorite photos with strangers.
Many people would often ask me to hold their babies. This should be a cute and cuddly time. However, Chinese babies wear split pants. Never heard of split pants? Well, instead of diapers, the babies wear pants with a hole in the back, so they can use the facilities whenever they have the need. Supposedly, they are trained to go when their mom whistles, whether that be over a trash can, a sewer drain, straight up on the bus, or most rarely, over an actual toilet. So back to the photo and me holding that cute, cuddly little baby. In the photo below I am enjoying holding that little bao bao, but I am also a bit worried that someone is going to start whistling.
I was so excited to go to the Great Wall in Beijing. I wasn’t expecting to get stopped every few minutes for photo ops though.
Xianjiang is the most western region of China. It borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It is more like one of the “stan” countries than part of China. So the people there look very different than the Han Chinese people. They often go to other parts of China to sell special foods or crafts. When on a trip in Nanjing, my friend and I bought some street food off of a really nice man from Xinjiang. He asked if we could take a picture together. I told him sure. He said he didn’t have a camera, so my camera would do. Why did he want the picture when he would never see it again? I don’t know, but I’m glad I got a photo with such an interesting guy. Would you have guessed that he is Chinese?
And sometimes it’s whole groups of people who want a picture. A few weeks after arriving in China, the vice president of our school took the foreign teachers to a restaurant downtown. Before a shift at a restaurant in China, you’ll often see the manager gather all the employees and give them a pep talk. A photo with the foreigners was the pep talk that day.
It’s strange being back in America. People don’t chase me down on the street to try and talk to me. People don’t secretly take photos of me on their cell phones during class. People aren’t throwing their babies at me to kiss like I’m a politician. The strange thing is….I kinda miss it all. Life is weird.
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After many hours of prep work, I pulled off my university’s culture night. And oh boy, it was more work than I ever imagined! I asked the participants, I helped them think of an idea for a performance, I wrote bios for each performer, I wrote the script for the emcee, I arranged the facility, and I advertised. Shew! I’m tired all over again from just typing that!
I desperately wanted to give our international students a chance to showcase their culture and their talents, and I wanted to give our American students a chance to learn about their classmates. We had students from Japan, Guatemala, the Philipines, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, and America perform. They all did an excellent job, and I do believe that all involved had a great time. I hope to make this event a yearly thing!
Thanks to our school photographer, Derek, for the great photos.
Today I was able to meet up with some Japanese people who I went to college with. I hadn’t seen them from anywhere from 2-6 years! We had such an amazing day! (And I got to take some pretty great pictures!)
We met for lunch at a kaiten sushi restaurant. This is where everyone sits at a bar that’s in a circle and sushi goes by on a conveyor belt. A sushi train if you will. You just grab what you want, and they add up your total at the end by the color of plates you used. It was a very Japanese experience for me. My friend Haru even made me order some special items that weren’t on the conveyor IN JAPANESE! He just told me what to say and a few seconds later I got the sushi chef’s attention and repeated it. Haha. Speaking of my Japanese skills, I know about 6 words now- hello, goodbye, excuse me, chopsticks, noodles, and thank you. I could get by for about 2 years on those words!
Then we went to Tokyo Bay, which is the gateway to the Tokyo Sea. This bay is an active, busy port. We walked across the Rainbow Bridge (think Golden Gate bridge), then went to a shopping area and rode a ferris wheel and had some ice cream.
After that, we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant, where our friend Tao is working. I hadn’t seen him for 6 years! We had a fun time reminiscing. The chef, who is from Italy, even came out to greet us, ask us how our food was, and gave us free dessert and coffee!
To close out the day, we stopped in the downtown Shinjuku area to see the night lights. It was SO crowded there and also on the subway in that area. That’s the place to be I guess!
This was my only day off while in Japan, so I made full use of it and was gone for about about 12 straight hours. My feet hurt! But it’s worth it. :]