Monday, June 29, 2009


Three years isn't an especially long time to live somewhere, but it was definitely long enough to provide a few noteworthy "full circle moments" in Shiyan and my connected histories.

1) China blocks blogspot. If any of you are wondering why my last blog was in May, it's because China blocked blogspot...again. When I first moved to China, my blog site was blocked making it impossible to view in China, but I was still able to access my account and make entries. Then in the Great Opening Up of '08 when China was preparing for the Summer Olympics and sites such as Wikipedia were finally accessible, my blog also became open for viewing in China - which I've no doubt had a huge impact on all zero of the Chinese people actually reading my blog. Within the last few months, however, China again blocked my blog - both my website and my account so I haven't been able to write anything. In addition, YouTube and other essentials have become inaccessible recently, thus limiting the joie de vivre for all YouTube junkies in China.

2) BLK opens and closes. I imagine there are an untold number of restaurants and other businesses that have opened and closed in Shiyan since I arrived three years ago, but few have become noticeable to me. BLK, however, was beloved by most foreigners. It opened my first year and closed just a few months ago. It was a fast food chicken restaurant - similar to KFC but exponentially better. I seldom ate there, but when I did their chicken wrap pleased me immensely.

3) Direct train to Xi'an begins and ends. This is, perhaps, the most lamentable of all! My first trip to Xi'an in the winter of 2007 was wonderful in many ways - but traveling there and back was not one of them. At that time, there was no direct train between my city and Xi'an, which necessitated a stopover in An Kang to switch trains. Since it was impossible to buy train tickets departing a city from any other city than the city to be departed, An Kang became sort of a black hole, causing innocent foreigners to be 1) stuck in that wretched city for hours on end awaiting the first free train to Xi'an or Shiyan (depending on the direction you were headed) and 2) to only be able to purchase standing tickets - a nightmare during peak travel times. As it turned out, January was a peak travel time, and my memory of traveling to Xi'an from An Kang is precisely this - standing between cars with three Chinese people leaning against my legs and shoulders, sleeping rather comfortably while I straddled my luggage (that was back during my "pack for any occasion" days) in a contorted fashion. I don't remember much about the ride back from An Kang, but I do remember waiting six hours in the freezer that was the An Kang train station, wondering if visiting the terra-cotta warriors in Xi'an was really worth losing my extremities to frostbite over. Needless to say, I didn't feel the need to visit Xi'an again my first year. By my second year, a direct train from Shiyan to Xi'an began, and over the course of the next two years, I would visit Xi'an painlessly five more times. An Kang simply became a distant anecdotal memory...until this June when China decided to discontinue the direct train. Having already promised Jessica and Barry I would visit Xi'an with them one last time, I warily boarded the train to An Kang, hurt by China's apparent personal attack on me. I won't dwell much on the evils of An Kang, but I will say that it certainly didn't fail to disappoint, discourage and suck all the joy out of train travel.

4) The Making of Communion Bread. When I moved to China, I learned to make the bread for communion, which I did every Sunday for a good year and a half. The last Sunday I spent with the Chinese, I taught them how to make communion bread, since the Chinese will be meeting without the foreigners from now on. This is by far the weightiest and most beautiful full circle moment for me.

5) Facebook. The summer before I moved to China, my best friend talked me into getting a Facebook account to keep in touch with everyone. I had been hesitant to get one since EVERYONE was doing it, and I tend to balk at massively popular endeavors. However, I eventually set up an account, and it turned out to be quite a handy communication tool allowing my family and friends to keep up with photos and my blog and me in general. Now that I'm back in the States, however, I've decided to give up Facebook in an effort to simplify my life. So, from now on, if anyone wants to get ahold of me, my e-mail address is


I finished classes the first week of June - a bittersweet accomplishment (more sweet than bitter). On top of my game for the first semester in three years, I completed all grades and finalized my teaching plans the same week I finished classes. It was beautiful. Having nothing else pressing, I traveled with Jessica to Beijing to meet her younger brother Matthew who would spend the next couple weeks traveling with us. In Beijing Jessica, Trent and I overcame all odds (no identification - me, inappropriate showing of the ankles - Jess, and possession of a cell phone - Trent) to walk through the room housing Chairmen Mao's brilliantly neon-orange-colored body. It was quite a feat, we felt. On that Beijing visit, we also toured the Forbidden City, which was nice but not necessarily a "must-see." We were only in Beijing a few days before going to Qingdao, one of our favorite China cities. There we simply relaxed - meandered around the old town, ate fried squid, toured the Tsingtao beer factory, which was surprisingly fascinating, laid out on the beach and hit unsuspecting Chinese people in the face for merely waiting at the same bus stop as us (Jessica). After Qingdao we were home for a few days before going to Xi'an, where I was nearly pick-pocketed (Matthew swooped in in a moment of valor and confronted my perpetrator before he did any damage. My hero!). Having been to Xi'an a million times already, Jess and I did almost nothing while there besides drink Starbucks, read, and hide in our hostel from crabby Xi'an vendors. Barry and I did venture out for a walk around the old city wall - an endeavor which turned out to be about 8 miles of walking. It was good, but we were more than ready to get back to Shiyan.

My last few days were filled with visits from students and Family. I was reminded daily about the abundant blessings of life in China. There's an old adage that China's most valuable resource is its people. I agree wholeheartedly!

There's really no way to close out this blog the way my heart wishes to. So many thoughts, emotions, lessons learned, etc. float around me as I think about my time in China. But it never really was about me. Too many restrictions (the least of which were the seemingly menacing ones of the particular country I was working in) prevented me from expressing, most of the time, the deeper, more beautiful experiences had and truths learned while serving in China. It was an honor for me to be a part of the work of God in Shiyan. I'm excited now about being a part of the same work back home.

Grace and Peace.

In Him.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


When I walked into my apartment last night, I was struck by how noticeably bare the wall opposite my front door was. Being a minimalist, this is quite a thing to notice. However, the scroll I've long displayed as my one claim to Chinese decoration had fallen off the wall, the adhesive becoming decidedly too old and weary to continue its job. I went to my junk drawer to find another adhesive hook to replace the old one when it hit me that I'm leaving next month. Why waste a hook? So instead of returning my scroll to its glorified position as the only piece of wall art in my apartment, I rolled it up and placed it among the other gems I plan to take home. So now my sea-foam colored wall is not only bare but, because of the smoke-spread soot covering my walls from my Thanksgiving fire, is also sporting a faint black outline in the shape of a scroll.

Today I went shopping and bought toilet paper for the last time in China. (At least, it better be the last time or else I waste too much paper and should be held accountable for this.) It's strange when you start thinking this way - the last time I'll buy toilet paper (VINDA, baby), the last time I'll teach UNIT 7 and explain why you shouldn't call a person black if he/she simply has a tan, the last time I'll have a run-in with Badminton Nazi. It's really the small, routine activities that I'll miss the most I think. It was these activities that gave my life a semblance of normalcy while living in a world very different from the one I knew before. Shopping for toiletries tends to be a great equalizer among peoples. And while I appreciate those things that connect me to my western perspective of normalcy, I can't help but wonder in what ways that perspective has been affected by my three years here. A couple days ago I was riding the bus home and watching the driver methodically shifting and stopping and flipping a lever jetting out from the steering wheel. I watched her for a long time, memorizing her movements, trying to get a feel for the shifting and wondering if she could do it in a less abrasive way. I was thrown off most, however, by her constant flipping back and forth of the lever. It took me four bus stops to realize that the lever was her blinker which she faithfully switched left or right as she weaved between lanes. How is it possible I've forgotten the purpose of the very mechanism whose use has single-handedly prevented fender benders and whose absence has escalated countless road rage encounters back home in the States?

Last Saturday morning students from several different departments participated in the "Interesting Sports Meeting." As I had a very important date with the dentist that morning, I could only watch two of the competitions. The first competition was a four man relay race in which the first man had to weave through traffic cones, the second man had to roll a basketball
a quarter of the way around the track with a baton, the third man had to potato sack jump all the way to the fourth man who finished the relay by running hurdles. It was entertaining. The second event was an eleven legged race - ten people tied together running in unison. Some of the groups were pretty impressive and could probably outrun me and my measly two legs easily. Aside from these two activities, the others included a jump rope competition, a hula hoop race and a Chinese version of pin the tail on the donkey using a blind-folded, dizzy student, a gong and a stick. One of my students told me, after my inquiry, that these games were "mostly for fun, but were a little important." I wonder how far bragging rights go for being able to hit a gong blind-folded.

It's raining a lot these days. We hoped to go camping this weekend, but it looks like we'll be rained out for a third time. I don't remember it raining so much my last two years. My students keep telling me the climate change is the result of global warming. I don't have much to respond with to most of the things my students tell me anymore. They also tell me drinking water after eating is bad for my health. I love China, I really do.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Last week we gave final exams to our seven week classes. I can't decide if my students are getting worse or if I'm getting better, but I'm catching more cheaters than ever before. It seems there are always those ready and willing to take on the challenge of my "no cheating or fail my class" spiel. Before any exam begins, I run over the basics, "If you speak a word during the exam, I will fail you; if your head turns in your neighbor's direction, I will fail you; if you look at your cell phone, I will fail you..." Inevitably, there are those who refuse to heed my warning and embark on a dark path of connivery and deceit. This semester I caught one guy with a cheat sheet, one guy who had written the vocabulary words on his desk and then tried to convince me he didn't look at them during the exam, and two guys cheating off of each other. Despite these dark splotches on an otherwise wonderful exam time (I LOVE finals), I did have a few success stories. Before any exam begins, I can always pick out the ones who are likely to cheat, and I pay extra close attention to them - not to catch them, but to put enough pressure on them so that they will elect not to cheat. It seldom works, but the few times it does are well worth the extra effort. I consider it one of the noblest works to pursue during finals - preventing would-be, lazy students from becoming cheaters. Sometimes I remove the temptation from a wandering eye by asking the student to move to a spot completely devoid of his fellow classmates. Sometimes I simply stand close to the would-be cheaters. I've saved many a student from himself this way. There are also those few times when I decide grace and mercy must replace justice and allow myself to overlook a quick interchange between two students. It's on these occasions I have been known to let the students leave with this final thought, "Remember this as the day you were lucky." Ah, finals...they bring out the best in us and the worst.

So with finals classes! This week we begin classes to replace the ones we just completed. The first day of class is my least favorite. They are impossible to plan for. In any given class, we might have thirty students or we might have sixty. They might have already had a foreign teacher and, therefore, and English name, or I might be their first. Their English level might be as good as an English major's or they might not understand a word I say. There's absolutely no telling what to expect so we've all had to become pretty good at spontaneously adapting to class dynamics. Even still, the first day of class usually entails the students asking me lots of questions about myself and America, and the more I talk about myself, the more disinterested in the topic I become.

Jessica and I have been meeting about four times a week - when it's not raining, or when we're not sick, and when the stars are aligned just right - to do a little exercising. Twice a week we meet for a short jog, and the other two times we meet to hike the mountain. Last week we mixed it up a bit and decided to play badminton instead of go hiking. In order to play badminton, you must get past the Badminton Nazi. He's this little old man with bushy eyebrows and a scary disposition. He sleeps in the gym when he's not running foreigners away. As teachers at this school, we are entitled to make use of the badminton courts free of charge. Badminton Nazi knows this and will comply if, and only if, we bring him our teachers' cards, proving to him we are, in fact, teachers at this school. Granted, in the past, we have brought foreigners from other schools to play with us, but it really shouldn't be that big of a deal. Anyway, we have since been trained to bring our teachers' cards with us every time we want to play. I have been a teacher at Qi Yuan for two and a half years and have played badminton more times than I can count and still Badminton Nazi insists I show him my teacher's card every time I come. Not only must I show it, but he actually compares the photo to my face to ensure that I am who I say I am. Two and a half years! I could probably draw an accurate sketch of this man's face, but he still can't recognize me!

Easter Day was rather pleasant - well, the day wasn't so much as we were hit by some torrential downpours - but the activities were great. Meeting, Easter dinner, naps, movie, more rest. Megan and Kat scrounged up some lamb, which turned out deliciously. In honor of my dad, I made hot cross buns -somewhat of a tradition with my family. We also had some bacon wrapped green beans, deviled eggs, and some incredible strawberry walnut salad Kat came up with.

The different departments in our school are beginning a volleyball competition this week. The English department has been practicing for a few weeks. I go out and play with them when I can, but I seldom have time. Abraham, the guy in charge of giving us foreigners our classes, has insisted Barry and I join them this week for the competition. Barry has played a lot more with them than I have, and he plans to join them, but I have class during the evening two nights this week so I wouldn't be able to go to the matches. After explaining this to Abraham, he told me to simply reschedule my classes. "The competition is first priority." So he says. I'm pretty sure I may be damaging my relationship with Abraham by refusing to reschedule my classes, but class is my first priority when it comes to this school.

Last year we asked our Father to bring us a harvest of male leadership to Shiyan, and he delivered. Currently, I'm studying with four boys who are incredible individuals. Keep them in your prayers. We also are wanting to continue petitioning our Father for good replacements. At least three of us teachers will be leaving after this semester, opening up three spots for those wanting to serve here. We're hopeful for good, solid replacements whose focus is what it needs to be. We could really use some help in bringing this request before our Father.

Well, I have a couple days free coming up. My students have given me time off since they're preparing for a big exam this Saturday. They're pretty stressed out about it so we rescheduled our Friday classes and canceled our evening discussion groups to give them more time to prepare. I'm not sure yet what I'll do, but with the weather being absolutely gorgeous, I'm thinking either hiking or swimming are in the forecast.

Monday, April 06, 2009


A clever foreigner living in China once said, "Spare the spa, spoil the soul." We found out recently from our sisters in Xiangfan that there are hot springs outside their city, and since the boys in Shiyan held a guys' retreat this weekend, we could think of no better time than this to check them out. Jess, Meg, Kat and I joined the two Xiangfan ladies - Carie and Brittany - for a weekend of pampering. It's a good idea to avoid high expectations of activities that seem prone to disappointing, and relaxing in sanitary pools of hot water with rumors of tea soaks and pools of tiny fish which eat the dead skin off your body seemed just such an activity. We left Xiangfan early Saturday morning having already started off on the wrong foot - McDonald's, our one consolation for leaving at seven in the morning and our one guilty pleasure, was both without pancakes and without apology. We settled for something other than pancakes, which is a travesty from my point of view, and got on our tourist bus to head out for the hot springs. Three hours and a horrible lunch later, we descended upon an oasis of beauty. The spa was large, the workers were helpful, the whole system was organized and made practical sense, and the hot springs - once we were dressed and ready - were plentiful, diverse, and perfect. We had just under four hours to wander about, dipping in warm pools of various fragrances, minerals and natural materials that are, no doubt, good for your health. We even found the pool of tiny fish, hungry for what we're hungry to be rid of - dry skin. That was an interesting experience. The six of us plopped down in the middle of this cool pool, and dozens of tiny fish surrounded us, nipping at our toes, our legs, our arms - anything submerged under the water. I was extremely uncomfortable at times and amused at times and appreciative after it was all over. I'm pretty sure I'll never have a reason to do that again, but I'm happy for the experience.

We got back to Shiyan Sunday evening. The guys' retreat was "awesome." That's the word from the foreigners and from my seekers who attended. "Awesome" minus a small potato incident which already seems to have been written down in Shiyan folklore. Turns out, cooking potatoes over a campfire isn't the easiest thing to do. Luckily, Happy Guys is always a viable backup plan to any cooking endeavor gone awry.

Our Finer Things Club finished the final book we had preselected before coming to Shiyan this year - The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Tonight over a couple of homemade vegetable and Mediterranean pizzas, we discussed this book and with a sense of satisfaction, recounted our feelings about all the books we've read this semester - One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jesus for President by Shaine Claiborne and Chris Haw, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyesky and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Although we've finished the books we set out to read, we aren't finished with Finer Things just yet. We are now all attempting to subdue our "white whale" - that one elusive book which always seems to get away from us. For me, this book is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I've tried to read it three times but find myself returning it to its dusty spot on the book shelf before I'm three chapters in. Now, with the eyes of my literary sisters upon me, I feel a certain momentum that I'm sure will sustain me as I read this book whose author, as Kat loves to point out, "was paid by the word!"

The weather is warming up. People are shedding layers of clothes and subsequently losing half their body size. Students are becoming emboldened to ask for class outside, and we're becoming lax enough to comply. April is a great month to be in Shiyan.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Today it's sunny. Yesterday it was raining. Two days ago I was wearing three and a half shirts and the day before that a tank top. I feel like I'm back in Oklahoma with the daily weather changes. Of course, our apartments stay about fifteen degrees cooler than the outside temperature since we are essentially living in a cinder-block ice house so at least when I stay indoors, the temperature is consistent.

My class schedule is full now that I've started two sophomore English major courses. These classes require a little more planning and inspiration than my non-English majors classes, but I think they'll be fine. And, with these two new classes, come two nights of discussion groups at my place. The discussion groups are voluntary, but I always have the max number of students - ten - sign up each week. So, as of now, my Thursday and Friday evenings will be occupied with students coming over. I like the discussion groups because it gives me a chance to get to know my kids individually and in a more relaxed environment than what the classroom affords.

Last week we got to celebrate the addition to our Family of a new sister. Florence is a spirited girl - unique and thoughtful. We're excited to share this, the greatest of common bonds, with her.

Last semester I remember writing about getting hit by droplets of water someone threw off the roof of a restaurant as I was passing by. Well, it happened again...only, this time, it wasn't water. Barry and I had just finished a pleasant meal at Happy Guy's and were walking past Hobbit Hole when we were splattered by a brown substance that smelled of vomit. Whoever it was got us good. I had this gruel - for lack of a better description (or maybe for want of a desire to accurately describe it) - in my hair, on my face, my clothes, my bare arms. It was gross. I'd like to say I'm more cautious now as I pass by Hobbit Hole (the same place I was hit the first time) and look up before walking on, but I never think to be preemptive. I'm hoping my lack of concern won't bite me in the end, but I wouldn't be surprised to be hit again within the next three months.

Before leaving for Europe in January, I signed up on to find people who have couches free for travelers passing through their city. Jessica and I thought this might be a fun way to travel - staying for free and meeting people along the way. Sadly, only one person had a free couch in all our travels through Europe. Our first two nights in Paris we stayed with a Vietnamese girl and her husband. It was a cool experience. Anyway, since I've been back to Shiyan, on two separate occasions, I've had requests from people to stay with me for a couple nights before going to visit Mt. Wudang. On both occasions, the requesters were from Germany. The first guy was going to Wudang to study tai chi for a month. He's a shiatsu practitioner and is really interested in the body's energy centers. He was an interesting person to talk with. The second request came a week later from a young German couple who are passing through China after spending time volunteering in Israel and will head to India next to volunteer there. They were also interesting to talk with. Anyway, I've become an advocate for couch surfing. For anyone who travels much, it's such a blessing to find places to stay that don't cost money. But, even more importantly, it's incredibly wonderful to meet people who are hospitable, open and interesting. If you're planning any trips in the future, check out You won't be disappointed.

Anyway, I just wanted to send out a short update. All is going well. Hope the same is true for you!

Monday, February 23, 2009


It's official: the spring semester has begun, and I'm looking at four months until I leave one country I love to return to another country I love. My first class began today. It's an American oral English course, and the students seem sweet. I start four more classes this week for non-English majors, which will be followed in a couple weeks by two English majors classes. I have Thursdays and the weekends free. I can't complain (though it won't stop me from trying!).


I'm saddened that I've floundered at the prospect of writing about my three amazing weeks in Europe. Jessica and I left Shiyan on the 19th of January and were immediately made aware of our Providential guidance on this trip when we were able to secure an upgrade from hard seats to hard sleepers on our 20 hour train ride to Beijing. Had that been the only wonderful and unexpected thing to happen to us during our travels, we could have still counted our vacation a success. However, time and time again as we made our way through France, Spain, Andorra, and back, we were blessed so abundantly by our Father who made travels smooth, interactions pleasant, and memories unforgettable. We know that our family and friends all over the world were lifting us up as we traveled, and we felt His answer to their (and our own) prayers. Forgive me for not going into specifics about our vacation, but anything I write will not merely be inadequate but will quite assuredly insult my memories of this Euro trip. If my dear readers have any specific inquiries or interests in my trip, please feel free to e-mail me, and I'll do my best to promptly respond. (


This weekend Jessica took her mom and her mom's cousin who have been visiting us for a week to Xi'an to visit all the great sights there. Unbeknownst to her, Trent orchestrated a surprise proposal Saturday night at the Big Goose Pagoda during the famous fountain show. Trent brought John, Megan, Kat, Luke, Finn and me with him to Xi'an Saturday where we stealthily avoided Jessica and her family while spoiling ourselves on Pizza Hut and DQ. Saturday evening after some close run-ins, a few panicked moments, and a sprint that recalled to mind the fact that I'm grossly out of shape, Trent found Jessica in a sea of people (a huge China miracle!) and proposed in, what I can only assume, was true Trent fashion - completely romantic. The rest of us were all so honored to be a small part in this, the next step, towards their beautiful life together.


So now I'm back home with a little less money but with a lot more memories. Today has passed in a familiar routine-like way, and, as a creature of habit, I much appreciate it. Please keep all of us in your prayers as we make our way through what, for many of us, will be our last semester in China.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Amidst all the Spring Festival travel planning, minutes have turned into hours, hours into days, and plans are coming to fruition. Last Thursday Jessica and I held our last classes of the semester, packed our bags, cuddled with our puppies, and whittled away the hours until our two o'clock in the morning train left for Wuhan. Trent - having arrived in Wuhan the afternoon before - met us at the train station where we hailed a taxi to the airport to connect with our Wuhan friend, Carole, and with our flight to warmer weather. We were at last - after a year and a half of foiled plans - going to Hong Kong.

Friday afternoon we serendipitously found John and Megan holed up in their closet (literally) in one of the milliard hostels located in a large, condemned-looking building overrun with people wanting to sell anything you could imagine and understanding every English word except, apparently, "no". After dropping some things off at Trent and Jessica's lovely hostel in another condemned-looking, old building where, were we to comment on the ratty bedding, poor privacy door (a curtain), or any other less than accommodating features, we would be reminded of the e-mail Jess received after booking the place that to expect anything even remotely safe, clean or modest would be to express a purely Western arrogance and unreachable standard, we met with Harmony - a friend living in Hong Kong - and went to dine on a fine dinner of Pakistani food. As I'm sure it will mean nothing to anyone living in the States, I'll not mention all the amazing food we splurged on while in Hong Kong. Although, I will venture to say that anyone who has visited Hong Kong, especially having spent much time in Mainland China first, will understand anything short of describing our food going experiences to be a grossly inadequate portrayal of our Hong Kong visit in its entirety.

Saturday the seven of us went to Lama Island for some seafood, which didn't happen, and to enjoy a little hiking, which did. Lama Island was enchanting. The sun was shining, a breeze was blowing, we spent some time on the beach, and wandered not aimlessly around, but almost. That evening we took a bus to the top of Victoria Peak for a beautiful view of the Hong Kong skyline at dusk.

Sunday we visited St. Andrew's Church in the morning and then split the group for diverging activities. Trent, Jessica, Carole and I visited a Buddhist Nunnery and the surrounding well-kempt gardens. Later that evening we all re-assembled on Hong Kong island for a disappointing ride up the world's "longest" non-continuous, overly impressive-sounding escalator and then spent a few hours indecisively wandering about the part of the island that clearly caters to expats.

Monday was our "completely unsuccessful attempt at shopping" day. China has been hard on our clothes so we had grandiose plans of finding jeans at one of the many H&Ms in one of the many malls in Hong Kong. Only in Hong Kong can you show up to a mall wearing jeans and feel completely underdressed. Luckily I've developed a useful ability to not notice when I am completely noticeable. In this particular mall, there sat an ice skating rink begging for awkward skaters to skim above its sheeny surface, and despite the rink employee's refusal to allow us small support penguins to aid our unsteady legs, not one of us fell down in our thirty minutes of shaky maneuvering.

Tuesday we did a last bout of shopping which proved invaluable to me as I finally found jeans, and then we boarded a bus to the Shenzhen airport. We flew to Wuhan quite stuffed from eating our words that we would never again have to spend a night in that city. It was good, though, because we got to meet up with Zoe who has moved to Wuhan for a training school and enjoyed some good food, drinks and music at Mr. Mai's.

Wednesday afternoon we made it back to Shiyan along with a crowd of Spring Festival travelers, giving us a taste of what is yet to come. Suffice it to say, that I couldn't be happier to NOT be traveling in China during this time. Best of luck to those of you who will be! Upon entering my apartment, I immediately understood that my settling in for the evening after standing four hours on a train was a dream to be unrealized: while I was gone, workers had "painted" my sooted walls white, which translates, workers sloppily threw white paint on the wall, the floor, the couches and missed lots of spots leaving smeared gray streaks running down the walls. In addition, they muddied my floor and spread dirt everywhere. I spent the next few hours cleaning intermittently between discussing small crises that had also occurred while we were gone and needed some attention.

Thursday was Dacy and Jesse's wedding. Dacy's a Chinese sister, and Jesse is an American who formerly taught at my school. The wedding was absolutely beautiful. They had a western-style wedding in a nearby church building which was followed by a Chinese-style reception held at a local hotel. A lot of the Family - old and new - gathered together to celebrate this special occasion.

Without classes and with most of our students having gone home, my days have been folding into themselves. I do know, however, that the day after tomorrow we will be heading to Beijing - 20 hours in hard seats. The following morning Jessica and I will catch a flight to Paris where we will begin our great European adventure. Wish us luck!