ALWAYS PLAYIN' CATCH-UP
I've decided to dedicate this morning (and as long as it takes) to updating my blog, putting pictures on Facebook and just getting organized. Last time I wrote about the free time I was "enjoying", but with the holidays upon us and the addition of various activities, my days are quickly becoming filled. I apologize if my blog is choppy and random, but those seem to be characteristics of my life here too!
The family here is growing, growing, growing! It's so amazing. But with new faces comes a new and different group dynamic. We've been struggling a bit to figure out how each of us fits into the group and how and what our talents are and how we should be working. Recently, we've been studying the life of the Son with some of the more mature brothers/sisters and realized that we've been doing a lot of talking and not a lot of living. So we're planning to begin several community
outreach endeavors. I'll be working with those interested in focusing on the homeless/beggars of the city. We'll build relationships with them and meet what needs they have. In my mind, the most important thing is to treat them like humans and show them the hope that we all have (some family here as well as in the States think that beggars are crooked and dishonest and we shouldn't help them, but I think all of us are crooked and dishonest and our Father didn't withhold hope from us because of it so we shouldn't withhold the hope from others). I'll save you from my rant about this. (-: Anyway, some other sisters plan on doing the same kind of work in the pink light district (aka, red light district). And we have an orphanage in town where we hope
to make weekly visits. In addition, we are all going to focus more on the people we come into contact with daily (the juice lady, the fruit ladies, the guards, coworkers, etc.). It's not that our focus until now has been misguided or wrong; it's just been too narrow!
I'm nearly finished with classes. I have a Monday and Wednesday night class. We meet periods nine and ten, but there's actually an eleventh period which is the last period of the day. Brian and I decided to meet that eleventh period too so that we can finish classes two weeks early. Next week is our last week of classes. There's always a possibility the school might throw some random adult classes our way, but if it doesn't then I'll be finished with school the first week of December, giving me nearly three months of break between semesters. I'm looking into going to a month-long language school in Kunming (southern China) with William. It's expensive for me, but I know the benefits are worth it. The more I want to be involved in the community, the more I realize just how necessary learning the language is. A solid foundation in Chinese should help me in the coming months pick up more of the language.
Xi'an - ROUND FOUR
Last week Darla and I were talking. This is her third year and my second year in China, and we were just discussing some of our struggles when the idea to visit our friend Nancy in Xi'an came up. Nancy's been working in China for almost ten years, and we thought it would do us some good to chat with her and get some advice or perspective from someone who's been here much longer than we have. Given our teaching schedules and the close proximity of Xi'an from here, we decided to leave Thursday night.
It was a fortuitous time for us to visit Xi'an (my fourth visit to Nancy, by the way, which is noteworthy only because I broke the record for most visits!). Five teachers from Wuhan were also visiting Xi'an (and staying with Nancy) and four teachers from Ningbo (a few of whom went to school with Darla) were there as well. Since Nancy had a full house, we agreed to stay in a youth hostel near the Bell Tower with the Ningbo group.
We arrived Friday morning and met up with the Ningbo four - Kevin, Chad, Graham and Emily - to check into the hostel (which I totally recommend to anyone traveling to Xi'an). After a McDonald's breakfast, the Ningbo crew went to visit the terra-cotta soldiers. Darla and I have done the main touristy stuff in Xi'an so we decided to wander through the streets instead. There's something totally freeing about visiting a tourist city and NOT doing anything touristy.
For lunch we went into some hot pot restaurant, but they served us dishes instead of hot pot. The owner (if he was that) sat and chatted with Darla and me nearly the entire time we ate. He was a big fan of America, apparently. It was nice, though. Normally, I'm totally self-conscious about speaking Chinese in front of my friends, but Darla made me feel comfortable enough to use what Chinese I do know, and we had a fun time with this guy. We even took photos with him, and after eating went next door to get the pictures printed so he could have copies to show people his "American friends".
After lunch and feeling a certain confidence in our basic ability to communicate in Chinese, we decided to go to the train station to buy our return tickets. It was one of the most painless ticket buying experiences I have ever had in China, and we felt very blessed to have been able to secure our own tickets without imposing on any of Nancy's friends.
The main reason we came to Xi'an was to visit Nancy so with return tickets in hand, we took a taxi to her school. Nancy has a rabbit named Qingqing who had somehow received a pretty nasty gash on its back so shortly after arriving, we helped Nancy take her to the doctor. The place where we took Qingqing just happened to be very close to Metro - a huge Sam's like store - and since going there was also on our agenda, we split from Nancy after the doctor visit and went shopping. Shopping at Metro is so surreal. There are tons of western food items that we can't even imagine having access to in Shiyan, but all of it's really expensive. When I shop there, I always make a slow run-though of each aisle so that I can process what I'm seeing and avoid compulsive shopping. Then I go through a second time and choose what I think I'll really be needing. There are always a lot of things I want to buy, but I generally talk myself out of most of them. Very seldom do I regret not having something here in Shiyan so a Metro run is generally all about cheese because that's the one thing we really do try to stock up on since we can't get decent cheese in our city.
Nancy has a study on Friday nights so we were able to attend that. It was so great, actually, and the girls who were there were really inquisitive. We stayed there long enough for the five Wuhan teachers - Megan, Danielle, Laurie, Jessica and Jeremy - to return from their day of sightseeing. We only chatted with them for a couple minutes because we needed to catch a bus to our hostel before the buses stopped running. Ironically, it turned out that the Danielle I met in Xi'an would be the person I would stay with the following weekend when I visited Wuhan with Jessica to attend their Thanksgiving dinner. It was nice that I could meet her before crashing at her casa.
Our hostel was really nice, and we met people from various countries. I really enjoy talking with other travelers. In my room, there were a couple guys from Australia, a couple from Poland, and a guy from California who had been traveling since April. They had just arrived from Tibet, and I got some good advice about traveling there (something I'd like to do next summer!).
Saturday morning we went to Nancy's and talked with her for awhile. Our conversation was postponed because we had planned to meet the Ningbo folks in the Muslim Quarter for lunch. They had a twenty four hour train ride ahead of them so after eating and some last minute souvenir shopping, they headed to the train station, and we went back with Nancy to her house. She had another study that evening which we again attended. A former Shiyan medical student is doing her internship at a hospital in Xi'an, and she came to the study. Her name is Lexi, and we were really excited to see her again. She's been contemplating "taking the plunge" and hopes to do so when she visits Shiyan at the end of this month.
Nancy let us sleep at her place Saturday night despite the five Wuhan people who were also there. Darla and I slept in her multi-purpose room (for lack of a better name describing a narrow room with the washing machine, the cupboard, the refrigerator and a coat rack). It was cool because we had more time to get to know her other guests. We left the next morning and arrived in Shiyan Sunday evening.
What a crazy week! Monday evening Brian and I took both of our classes to eat at Happy Guy's. We had thirty students or so cramped together in one of the rooms. It was fun, though, and the students loved hearing us order dishes and playing Human Uno while we waited for the dishes to come.
Tuesday I did a lot of baking (banana bread), and we had a couple studies in the evening which were more exhausting than I thought they would be. We've split our regular Tuesday study into two groups - one early evening and one early night - for the sake of meeting the different needs of the group. It's a good thing to do, but it makes for a long evening sometimes.
Wednesday brought lots of dishwashing and cleaning for me. I can never seem to keep my apartment clean. Plus, we've been baking a lot. In the morning I made rolls that I think even my grandma would be proud of. In the afternoon, the Chiplets from the Technical school came over and helped Jessica make rolls. They also helped translate into Chinese some thank you notes we had written for some of the people we come into contact with daily, like the fruit ladies, the Muslim noodle guy, the juice lady and her husband, Underwear King, the street rice people, etc. We baked them some small banana bread loaves and put the thank you notes with them to pass out. It was a strange experience giving the bread to these folks because all of them except the juice lady adamantly refused to accept these tokens of our appreciation until the Chiplets explained why we were handing them out. Even then, they were reluctant to take the bread. I hope after reading our notes explaining how thankful we are for them, they will better understand our intentions.
Thursday was just plain ridiculous and awesome. Wind, a great sister who is living and working in Danjiangkou now, came to stay Wednesday night with me so that she could celebrate Thanksgiving day with us. I has so much fun talking with her. She's such a deep and intelligent person.
In the morning, several of the foreigners met at McDonald's for breakfast, something we never do, by the way. It was a fun beginning to our day as well as the first (but not the last) time we would be asked to be quieter in a public place. It was Thanksgiving Day, and our excitement apparently manifested itself by increasing decibel levels.
After eating and some quick shopping for last minute supplies (minus butter which John Calvillo hoards in his refrigerator), eight of us - Brian, Jessica, William, John, Megan, Sean, Alice and I - gathered at the football field for our traditional Thanksgiving Day American football match. William did some weird ancient Chinese method of team choosing, and I ended up on an all guys team while John ended up on an all girls team. For the sake of saving the opposing team's face, I'll skimp on the details of the match. In the end, we all had a great time, and Jessica, John and Megan secured the need for them to stay in Shiyan another year just for a chance to regain some pride in next year's Thanksgiving Day football match. That's all I'll say about that. (-:
With the rolls made the day before, we could focus on more important things like pecan pies. I've never made a pecan pie before so I was a little nervous, especially since we can't get pecans here so if I messed it up, I couldn't go to the store and buy more pecans (or more Karo syrup) to try again. The pressure was on... I realize the benefit of cooking what I eat, and that's that I know what went into the final product. Never have I made such an unhealthy, heart attack in a pie pan, dessert before. It turned out well to my relief, and all of it was eaten which saved me from a potential sugar overdose later on.
We had our Thanksgiving dinner at our beloved local hotel where we rented a room for the evening. We had two turkeys which William and Priscilla had brought back from Wuhan the weekend before. Andrew and Jaime handled the cooking of the turkey narrowly avoiding a major disaster. In the past, we asked Family Pizza to cook the turkeys for us because none of us have ovens large enough to fit the birds so we must use restaurant equipment. Unfortunately, we had a communication failure, and on the morning of Thanksgiving we were informed that Family Pizza refused to cook our turkeys this year. Andrew and Jaime kicked it in high gear and made use of one of their student's father's restaurants. We were fortunate to come out on top of this situation.
Food: We also had different kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots, broccoli, deviled eggs, sweet potatoes, apple pie, banana pudding, chocolate pie, blue blueberry muffins, and a variety of other delicious dishes. For whatever reason, I didn't eat much (no dessert, even!) so I'm not sure what else there was.
We had fifty people at Thanksgiving dinner. Most were family, but some were other foreigners in the city. I sat at a table consisting mostly of these other foreigners whom I'd never met before. We had some interesting conversations. Sometimes I forget that our little group of Americans is not the only group of foreigners in the city.
AFTER PARTY FUN
Some people from Wuhan had invited us to go to a big Thanksgiving dinner there on Saturday so Jessica and I had already made plans to leave Thursday night to go to Wuhan and stay with Danielle, one of the girls I met in Xi'an the weekend before. Our train didn't leave until 2:49 in the morning so we planned to go to Darla's (she lives nearer the train station than we do) after dinner and maybe sleep a little before catching our train. Megan and John were also going to Wuhan on the same train for the same purpose, but they were staying with a different couple than Jess and me. That detail's not really important, but I'll leave it just for the sake of being thorough and fulfilling my genetic duty.
After dinner we decided to check out this new coffee shop in town called Box Coffee. We had spied it earlier in the week and thought now was as good a time as any to be disappointed by it. As we were walking outside, Orange asked me to go karaoke with her. Her teacher had invited her to karaoke with him and a few friends, but she didn't want to go alone, and Zoe would only go if I went, and blah, blah, blah. haha She said I only had to go for fifteen minutes so I agreed. Jessica and William also decided to go which turned out to be a great decision. When the five of us arrived, we were ushered into this small, dark room. There was a large TV with couches opposite it, and one guy was belting out some Chinese song. It was so loud. The three of us whities sat down while Orange and Zoe went to choose some "English" songs like "Edelweiss" from the Sound of Music. While we listened to the others sing, we passed time by translating into English the lyrics to the songs. It was pretty funny. There were maybe five adults besides us and one little girl who was about four years old. She was terribly cute and quite a dancer. She kept interpretive dancing from one end of the room to the other. We were quite impressed, so impressed, in fact, that Jessica decided to take a photo of her. There's no way I can verbally do justice to what happened next. I'll tell it from my perspective first. The little girl was in her own little world dancing when all of the sudden a bright flash of light illuminated her in the dark room at the exact moment in which she walked right smack into the side of the TV, her little head slamming with such force against the TV that it propelled her little body backwards, causing her to land flat on her back. It was so shocking (she wasn't hurt, by the way) that we couldn't control ourselves. Jessica, especially, was struggling to contain her laughter because the bright flash of light I mentioned earlier came from my camera which Jessica was using to take a picture of the little girl dancing but which, by some twisted fortuitous act, captured the girl at that most awkwardly hilarious moment in which her body was being thrown back after the aforementioned infamous collision of face with TV. I'll be posting this photo on Facebook when I get a chance.
Shortly after that incident and a quick rendition of "Pretty Woman", William, Jessica, Zoe and I left to meet Priscilla, John, Megan, Jessi (a teacher from Danjiangkou who came for Thanksgiving) and Jessi's mom at the Box Coffee shop. The shop was actually quite quaint, and the coffee was as good or better than the other places in town and half the price. There were very few people there, and we were still excited from a fun-filled day so that our decibel level reached the point where we were asked to be quiet yet again. But we enjoyed our time there.
Jessica and I finally made it to Darla's with William's escort. We kept Darla up later than she probably should have stayed up given she had an early class the next morning, but it was really great for us to have some time to talk. We left her place about 1:30 because we thought our train left at 2:16, which was just a bold-faced lie. (-: We met with John and Megan there and hung out for an extra hour since we didn't leave till about three. We had hard sleepers so we were able to get a good, solid three and a half hours of sleep before arriving in Wuhan...
OH, WUHAN, I HATE THEE, I HATE THEE NOT
There are a few things I'm sure of in life: peanut butter and M&Ms should be allowed to marry in any of the 50 States, "maybe" is the most fitting and, often, most perfect answer to nearly any question, and, until this weekend, Wuhan is where the devil would choose to abide were he to look for a place on earth befitting him. Well, maybe that's a little extreme, but it helps you get the idea of how much I do not care for the capital city of my province.
Wuhan is divided into three districts (if that's the right word, I don't know): Wuchang, Hankou and some other place. Danielle lives in Hankou, but we had purchased tickets to the Wuchang train station so when we arrived, we had to find a taxi to take us to Hankou (the people John and Megan were staying with also live in Hankou). We spent Friday morning with John, Megan, Justin and Rachel (the couple John and Megan were staying with) and Rusty and Brittany (a couple from Danjiangkou also staying with Justin and Rachel. We went shopping at a couple stores where we could find foreign foods. Given the lack of sleep the night before and a full morning of shopping, Jessica and I opted to go to Danielle's shortly after noontime. Danielle has the most unique living arrangement of anyone I know. She lives in a teaching building by herself. Her apartment was at one time a boys bathroom, or at least part of it was, so that her bathroom is itself bigger than my living room. The rooms next to her apartment are classrooms so lots of students frequent her floor during the day, but at night the entire building is eerily empty. Anyway, shortly after arriving, Jessica and I decided to nap while Danielle made green bean casseroles and no bake cookies for the next day's Thanksgiving dinner. I've been thinking for a couple days just how to express how amazingly wonderful Danielle's bed is, and I now realize it's just impossible. The nap was the best nap I've ever had in my life! It was like sleeping on clouds, no marshmallows, or maybe cotton balls, feathers? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure I could happily hibernate for several months if I had Danielle's bed.
Danielle woke us up with promises of no bake cookies, and over the course of three days, I may have single-handedly eaten an entire batch by myself. Actually, none of the no bake cookies made it to the dessert table the next day, but nobody missed them, and we reaped the benefits of Danielle's sly "stick the bag of no bake cookies in my purse before entering the dining room" maneuver.
Friday night Danielle and Jessica (yet another one) took Jessica and me to "walking street" where you can buy practically anything, I think. We bought some noodles for dinner so we would have money for D of the Q (which is Danielle's unbreakable code phrase for Dairy Queen). Dairy Queen in China! It was so delicious. After intaking (which may not be a word, but should be!) so much sugar, we decided to get a little exercise and went to this place called "Tom's World".
Tom's World is so awesome it deserves its own heading. It's basically this huge game place where you can play anything from whack-a-mole to DDR (dance dance revolution) to arcade games to slot machines. We each exchanged 10 kuai for ten tokens and then went to town. We participated in a bicycle race, a horse race, a dance competition, a basketball shooting competition, and a variety of other games that we were pretty terrible at. Then we went to the slots because I had three tokens left. With one token, I won back my original ten tokens so now we had to find a game equal to our abilities. We were meandering through the various machines when we came upon it: the throwing plastic balls into the trash can game! The trash can had a lid which would open and close so you had to throw as many balls as possible into it when the lid was up. The better you did, the more tickets you would receive which you could redeem for prizes later. We used the rest of our coins on this game when we figured out that if three of us would throw the balls into the can we could maximize our points. The machine only went to 990 points, and we more than got that many points each time we played. After using all our coins, we left that game with 192 tickets, just enough to buy six strawberry shaped binder clips to wear as clippies in our hair. It was pretty much the best way to spend our evening, and it was upon leaving Tom's World and dancing outside the department store to some bad music that my disgust of Wuhan began to subside...
Saturday morning Danielle, Jessica and I met Megan, Laurie and their Chinese friend at their school to collectively go to a beauty salon. The Wuhan girls wanted to get hair cuts, but Jessica and I went for the hour long hair wash/head massage treatment. It's noteworthy to mention that every girl who went into the beauty shop left both satisfied and pleased with their haircuts/hair treatment. I'm not sure that ever happens anywhere else.
After our beauty treatment, we went into Wuchang to meet the rest of the foreigners gathering for Thanksgiving. I don't know how many Americans there were in the hotel dining room, but there were a lot. It's strange to see so many foreigners, actually. It's hard to explain. After talking with the Wuhan people, it made me so totally aware of the different China experience I'm having in Shiyan. Wuhan is a HUGE city so they deal with a number of things we don't have to worry about. I love Shiyan, I love the smaller city feel, and I love our group here. I feel so, so blessed!
Anyway, the food was amazing. The people were friendly. I realized I've lost some social skills, and I was surprised to learn that Mahjong is not as ubiquitous as I had assumed. Shiyan represented well at game time. Megan, John, and I (and some Wuhan fella) won at Cranium and Jessica cleaned up at Texas Holdem'. They had a two year old football game playing in the background, which didn't seem to bother the hardcore football fans who still cheered despite knowing the outcome.
Jessica and I snuck out a little early to pay a visit to Metro. We bought more cheese, but this time we purchased kinds we like that most people refuse even to try, like Brie and Camembert. We plan to have a cheese feast this week, and I'm totally excited to find someone else who shares my taste in the, uh, finer things in life. ha ha
We (or I should say I) slept in on Sunday morning and just hung out watching a movie and relaxing until some of the other foreigners arrived. We had our weekly meeting after twelvish, and it was good to hear other's thoughts about different things. We also had some tasty homemade pizza care of Danielle. Sunday was a "take it easy" kind of day. Our train left around seven that evening so Danielle, Laurie, the two Jessicas and I visited a nearby park. It was a pretty sweet place. As we were walking around, we spotted an abandoned Mahjong table with the Mahjong set sitting invitingly on top of it. Jessica and I decided to remedy the wrong that is no one in Wuhan knowing how to play the game and began teaching the others to play. We played for maybe ten minutes when we were told we had to pay to play. So we left.
Returning to Danielle's place was fun. We played a game of run, hide and chase with some middle school kids who had been following us. I'm sure those kids will be telling their grandchildren about the time some crazy Americans chased them down the street. They were sweet, ornery kids.
Jessica and I got back to Shiyan around one o'clock this morning. Neither of us had to teach early today, but we couldn't sleep in either because traveling does a number on our cleanliness, and we needed to catch the hot water time. We missed the evening hot water so we had to get up before seven thirty when they shut the morning hot water off to catch it today. The things we take for granted...
After today this week promises to yet again be filled with activities. Jessica and I need to go Christmas shopping soon because we need to mail some things home, and it will help us get in the Christmas spirit. Christmas has a lot to live up to after Thanksgiving blew away our expectations of a good time and replaced them with amazing memories of a lifetime. We'll see how Christmas does; I'm holding out hope for it.