Monday, December 01, 2008


So much has happened in the past few days that Thanksgiving seems like weeks ago. However, to avoid being a respecter of holidays, I'll take some time to recall last Thursday; it was, in all actuality, a day worth recalling. The week itself was crazy busy, and I doubted at times whether I would be able to slow down enough to actually enjoy Thanksgiving, but given some extra time on Wednesday to do all my Thanksgiving cooking (a couple pecan pies, some ginger cookies, and rolls), I found myself on Thanksgiving day with relatively few things to do. Jess, Barry and I, having finished our Isaiah study the week before, began 1 Peter in the morning. After the study, we headed to Trent's school for our traditional game of touch football. We only had seven people this year - all foreigners - our smallest turnout yet, but we were not to be deterred by such small numbers. Trent, Barry, and Luke took on the Fabulous Four - Jessica, Finn, Kyle (from Danjiangkou) and me. It was fairly unevenly matched; when you have so few people, one extra person makes a huge difference. But it was fun, and we kept another personally favorite Thanksgiving tradition of my own - winning.

Dinner came at three o'clock (nearly on the dot). Cooking plans went beautifully. Our boys bought a turkey in Wuhan, and with Trent's sweet guanxi, we were able to fry it in the school's kitchen. It was really good. We had about fourteen people at our Thanksgiving and enough food (particularly desserts) to feed about forty. So, overeating ensued.

Saturday morning Jessica and I took a bus to Wuhan for a second Thanksgiving. It was definitely a smaller production than last year. Fewer foreigners and less food, but the regulars were all there. It was nice to spend time with old friends and meet new ones; worshiping with so many foreigners is always a treat for us too. Anyway, we didn't stay a really long time in Wuhan. We actually bought our return tickets for the following day. Jess and I were both feeling homesick for Shiyan. It seems like we always do a lot of traveling this time of the year, and as much as we like seeing other places, we like being home just as much. So our trip to Wuhan was what we wanted it to be - filled with spending time with our friends there and visiting a few foreign shops (Starbucks, Dairy Queen, Theatre).

Sunday morning before our meeting, I received a text message from Trent that said, "Bad news. You left your radiator on and caught your apt. on fire. It didn't burn much, you were very lucky. This is not a joke, sorry." Precisely because he said, "This is not a joke," and because of the brevity and bluntness of the text, I thought it might be a joke. I just replied, "Okay. Thanks," and went on with the day. Later Jess called Barry, and I took the opportunity to ask him about my apartment. As it turned out, Trent was serious. My space heater had malfunctioned somehow and completely melted (burning a hole in the floor) and caught the curtains on fire. Luckily (or by the hand of God, rather), the curtains barely burned, and the most damage that happened to my apartment came from the smoke. When I arrived Sunday night, my apartment smelled of melted plastic (still does), my walls and ceilings were brown, and there was soot in the nooks and crannies of nearly everything (including my toilet which is in another room!). I'm incredibly fortunate to have great friends who spent their Sunday afternoon cleaning my apartment. Before their hard work, my apartment was apparently rather BLACK from the soot. They spent hours wiping down everything, washing my dishes, sweeping my ceiling, mopping my floor - just so I didn't have to come home to such a wreck. I'm eternally grateful to Trent and Zoe who worked so hard so I wouldn't have to be overwhelmed by it all when I came home. Great friends! So I talked to Steven, our foreign affairs guy, and he said he'll get some workers to come repaint my walls white and do some other things to spruce up the place.

Mondays are always good days for me. First of all, I don't have any classes on Monday. Second, Jess, Barry, and I always have our morning study at nine, and then at ten thirty, we go to old man Mike's apartment for an hour of Mahjong. Third, we have our Finer Things Club meeting in the evenings. Today after Mahjong, I was upstairs trying to finish the allotted section of The Brothers Karamazov (our recent book club book) for tonight's discussion group, when I heard Jessica squeal. Shortly after, my phone rang. It was Jess; she said, "Get down here now!" When I entered her room, she was coddling a little puppy. Then she said, "Look what Christina and Lawrence gave us!" As she said that, Lawrence turned around with a second puppy in his hands and thrust it towards me as I, too, let out a squeal that only comes out of me when pets are involved. So, now, Jessica and I have two puppies. Sim Sim Bashful is the male puppy who is lazy and adorable and sleeps all the time. Trixie is female and is spunky, dominant, and rough at times. They are both so cute! I don't know what we're going to do with two puppies, but we have them, and we love them.

This afternoon Jessica, Trent, Barry, me and our two puppies trekked up the mountain behind our school in search of the perfect Christmas tree. We found one and the boys spent some time cutting it down with a tiny saw and two kitchen butcher knives. We didn't actually bring it back to our apartment while it was light out, but drug it semi-close to our apartment building for easy retrieval after darkness descended to cover our deed. Jess and I met Kat at Megan's for our FTC meeting of potato soup and Dostoesky, and while we were gone Barry and Trent brought the Christmas tree into Jessica's apartment. It needed some serious trimming and now needs some serious over-looking of some serious flaws. It doesn't quite qualify as a Charlie Brown tree like last year's but has some very significant issues of its own; we're trying to love it. I'm sure it will grow on us, and with a little help will even fulfill its Christmas purpose.

So, to sum up: two sweet Thanksgivings; fire in apartment but minimal damage; new puppies; a Christmas tree - life is good.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Last Friday Zoe offered me seven tickets to a 4-D movie. Being rather ignorant of the goings-on at theme parks these days, I, naturally, was rather curious about a film which included the fourth dimension. I mean, how did Shiyan manage to not only settle the muddy waters of what actually constitutes the fourth dimension, but also include this dimension in a movie-watching experience? I was intrigued until I found out that by fourth dimension, they meant combining a 3-D film with physical effects. Well, actually, I remained intrigued despite my mild disappointment (and my feeling that the term "4-D" should not be used to apply to something that clearly does NOT include the fourth dimension as we understand it). Anyway, what kind of physical effects, I wondered, would this little movie theater include in the 3-D viewing experience? In spite of all attempts to avoid getting my hopes up, I became pretty excited. John, Megan, Finn, Zoe, Zoe's friend and I decided to check out the Saturday night eight o'clock showing of this 4-D marathon of short films (four in all) that lasted a total of forty-five minutes. 3-D glasses in hand, we found our seats fairly close to the screen but off to the side enough that only some of the graphics were 3-D while the others were merely blurry. We figured that for the price of ten kuai (the cost of the glasses), we got about a 2 1/2-D experience, and about as close as we got to the physical effects supposedly added to the 3-D film was the feeling of trash crunching beneath our feet and Zoe clinging to my arm when demons jumped out at us. The movie projector was hooked up to a computer, and at the most climactic moment during each of the short films, someone minimized the screen, stopped the film, and opened up the next one. Despite being left without any resolution to three of the four films, it was quite an enjoyable experience.

After the movie, we decided to walk for awhile through town (mostly because there was nothing else to do). While walking we came upon a car wreck. It didn't appear too serious, but the cars were blocking two lanes of traffic. A crowd of gawkers had gathered around the wreck with the intention, so it would appear, of making traffic-flow even more congested and clean-up of the wreckage more difficult. We watched the scene for some time with Megan shouting frustrations at the chaos which came from inpatient drivers who saw an opening in traffic and went for it, only to make everything more convoluted and impossible.

After the wreck scene, we made our way to People's Square where we are always promised opportunities for good times and new experiences. Finn joined a game of Chinese hacky sack, while the rest of us did some people watching. There are always groups of people dancing in the square in the evenings, and we derive great joy from watching them. Of course, when you watch them, you always risk the chance of being pulled into a dancing routine with one or two bold dancers who think it might be fun to teach a foreigner how to dance. On this particular evening, an older man invited me to dance. I initially declined but have learned that in China there is no sense (or success!) in declining anything so I conceded and joined him in the middle of the dance floor. He was a good leader and patient with me. Toward the end of the song, I actually felt like I was doing a halfway decent job of following his lead. It reinforced my desire to take dance lessons in the future...when I have the right partner.

It was a good evening, and I was reminded of how much I genuinely enjoy being out in the evenings, especially in Shiyan. I love this city.

In closing, let me leave you with these words of wisdom from one of my students, "If you are bright, you needn't know so much." (I don't understand it either.)

Monday, November 17, 2008


When foreigners first move to China, we witness many things that cause us bewilderment and trepidation. With time, however, we come to trust in this system of disorder as its own kind of order - one to not question and certainly one to not over-analyze. In our first weeks here, we hesitantly cross the street patting ourselves on the back each time we make it to the other side safely. After awhile, however, we realize that crossing the street is not something we do successfully, but something we are a part of - a mere leaf in a flowing river of traffic that looks chaotic and terrifying but is actually rather fluid and beautiful. Lots of little things make us think, in the beginning, how fortunate we are on a daily basis to avoid injury or embarrassment. Things that shouldn't work, do. Condemned theme parks are open for business, and everyone survives the dilapidated rides intact. Accidents occur directly in our path and we remain unscathed. Taking a walk down the street promises countless opportunities to find oneself in the line of a hawked loogie, a fountain of pee or a waterfall of dirty mop water tossed out from shop doors or off the roofs of buildings. After two years of avoiding anything other than apparent "close-calls," I had settled myself comfortably into a feeling of nothing less than a sincere trust in this system of living. When new foreigners commented on near run-ins with speeding taxis or defecating children, I internally smiled at their distrust and fear of this beautiful system that gives one the feeling of living dangerously without the chance of any real danger. My whole sense of how to function in China lies in my belief that becoming a player in this system rather than trying to react to it ("No hesitation" being my mantra as I cross the street) was brought crashing down last Friday. As Halley and I were standing outside Happy Guy's peer pressuring Zoe into skipping her weekend classes to come with us to the ladies' retreat in Xiangfan, a couple drops of water hit the top of my head. These weren't indicators of a rainy evening ahead but, rather, dire warnings of what was about to befall us - warnings we didn't heed, ignored warnings that would haunt me and shake my belief in this system of "close calls but no cigars" (haha In Chinglish this phrase rhymes.). A few seconds later, we were showered with dirty mop water containing no less than twenty five different strains of bacteria - a third of which remain unidentifiable to the modern world. I should insert here that we were, thankfully, not drenched by this water, having missed the greatest portion of it by a few feet. However, bullets of water hit me directly in my right eye as a result of poor reaction time on my part, and my eyesight became blurry for just long enough that I was sure I would be blind within the hour and spend the rest of my life explaining that my loss of eyesight was due to some dirty mop water thrown off the top of a building in a small city in China. Having believed beforehand that it was a part of the system to often be close enough to the water being thrown from a doorway to think "Yikes! Too close," but far enough to never actually be hit, I was, not surprisingly, a little shaken up after finally being hit. My whole faith in the system was brought down. I timidly crossed the street shortly after this incident and was slightly more wary of other potential disasters awaiting me. I have since had my faith restored in the system and count that one terrifying encounter as a fluke. The odds, I believe, are still in my favor.

Speaking of close calls, Jessica and I almost missed our train back from Xiangfan last night. Now this goes far beyond the inconvenience of having to wait for the next train to leave or the annoyance of paying for another ticket; our faces were on the line. Had we missed our train, we would have had to shamefully admit this to the very Xiangfanren who had two weeks prior missed the Shiyan stop (on their way to visit us and to participate in our sweet 80s Halloween party) and ended up in AN KANG (the worst, most demonic city in China and, perhaps, the world). Quite rightfully so, we have enjoyed giving the Xiangfan people a hard time about the fact that they missed our stop since it's only two stops from their city, and they've been here before multiple times. So, you can see, had Jessica and I missed our train home, we would have not only had to admit this to the Xiangfan folks, but we would have had our rights to continue mentioning their own train stop foible revoked, thereby taking away much future enjoyment for ourselves. This is what happened: we lost track of time at Carie's apartment and emerged into the busy intersection to catch a taxi right at shift change time. So as empty taxis whizzed past us waving us off, minutes whizzed by giving us twenty minutes until our train left when finally a good Samaritan picked us up. The taxi ride took fifteen minutes, the fight with the taxi driver over money took some additional precious seconds, and the distance to the train station on foot (because the taxi driver dropped us off too far from the front door, and our Chinese isn't sufficient enough in the heat of the moment to say, "You stop when we TELL you to stop.") added an anxiety filled half minute. When we got to the station, we had five minutes until the train departed. Since nearly all Xiangfan to Shiyan trains are late by half an hour or so, we thought we might fall into the good graces of what is on other occasions a frustrating delay. But all the information boards said our train was on time. At some point we began to run. We got to the small gate, and it was closed. All the passengers had boarded. We spotted some workers sitting over in a corner and did our friend Carie's famous arm-flailing, taxi driver-attention getter, and the workers rushed to our rescue. They asked a woman to see if the train was still here, and it was! They let us through the small gate, and we rushed down the hallway to a large locked gate where a worker majestically threw open the gigantic metal doors, and light from heaven shone glaringly through them as our salvation was waiting for us to board. We thrust our tickets into the faces of one of the workers asking for car 13, and he told us to just board! The stairs had been removed already so we hoisted ourselves into the car, trudged through a couple cars looking for ours, gave up on the search and, instead, found a couple empty seats where we were and collapsed into them heaving from exertion. So the end of this story is 1) we saved our schedule, 2) we saved some money, and 3) we saved our very precious faces.

We were in Xiangfan this weekend for our annual fall ladies' retreat. It was a great experience. We have such amazing sisters and "friends." I wish I could go into so much detail. I often feel this frustration that the things I most want to blog about, the people and the incredible things they say and do, are the very things I am unable to express. At any rate, the retreat was a blessing to all of us, and it was awesome to see our Father's hand in it all.

When we arrived in Shiyan last night around ten thirty, we took a taxi home. As we drove through campus, we noticed how eerily dark it was. There were no lights on anywhere - a sure sign that we would be roughing it when we got home. Indeed, the entire campus was without electricity and water and had been for the majority of the day. James was nice enough to welcome Jess and me home with a little flashlight shining through the stairway, and I was reminded of His Providence in even the smallest of affairs: earlier in the week I received care packages from loved ones back home who had sent me candles that proved essential last night. The electricity and water were both turned on mid-morning, and a long, hot shower is beckoning me.

This morning I awoke with a sore throat. Again, thanks to a care package, I've been drinking throat coat tea all morning and afternoon. It's great stuff. It's getting much colder here. I wore five layers of clothing this morning. I may have slightly overdone it (even the Chinese said it was too much, and that never happens), but I was warm and quite comfortable.

We were honored to have breakfast with one of our favorite former Shiyan people today. Since the girls went to Xiangfan this weekend, the boys in Xiangfan, Will and William, decided to come to Shiyan. We're happy they could afford the trip and that William stayed an extra day so we could get together and talk about the great qualities of our respective cities.

It's time for me to plan this week's classes. Mondays are my prep days, and this one has been interrupted by several oral English final exams I scheduled for the afternoon. My question for the day is why is the weather always nicest (the sky has just turned blue, and the sun has emerged - something I haven't seen in so long I can't remember the last time) when I can't go outside to enjoy it?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


It's strange to be living outside the States during a presidential election. I definitely appreciate staying clear of all the nasty ads, comments, and tainted news reports and very much enjoy sifting through articles and positions independent of the overwhelming pressure of information overload. But there's a certain political energy lacking during this exciting time in American history, and I can't help but think how different my Tuesday in America would have looked compared to my Tuesday in China.

Tonight Jessica and I joined the Brelands at the medical school for a celebration of democracy in action. There were lots of good activities: watching Obama's 2004 DNC speech, the famous "Yes, We Can" speech, and today's acceptance speech; participating in a democratic voting process to decide among four activities which two we would like to do (though they were all good activities so we did three of the following four - Pin the Lips on the Pig, Obama trivia, Youtube your favorite George W quote, and play poker/nertz); and, finally, watching the movie Recount of the 2000 Florida fiasco.

I began a new sophomore non-English major class yesterday. The students are quiet but intelligent and interested. We spent the first part of class chatting about various things. At one point, I asked them, "Does anyone know what happens in America tomorrow?" After a long pause, a boy sitting in the front row whispered, "Change." Truer words were never spoken.

Our Finer Things Book Club has been reading Jesus for President this month. Although, I'm not impressed at all with Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw's presentation of their beliefs in this book, their idea that mingling our faith with politics often leads to a compromised faith more often than a faith-filled political body is not far off. There is a problem when we depend on our worldly leaders to dictate faith. There is a problem when we think God's kingdom is dependent upon who leads a powerful earthly kingdom. I've been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and today I read the following passage which I thought fitting:

I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts it at the end and presumes the end is the beginning. Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.

I'm thankful to be part of a spiritual kingdom whose leader is just and righteous, where there are no term limits and no swinging political pendulum. My allegiance lies in this kingdom not made with hands. How awesome that we serve such an amazing King who loves us and pleads with us to love others. May we bless our Father with praise and service!

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Activities are increasing, demands are growing, and life is generally more hectic right now. I recently finished two seven week classes and am beginning two more this week. The Third World Traditional Wushu Championship has finally descended on Shiyan, and the entire city will be heaving a big sigh of relief in a couple days when it is officially over and is officially declared a success. Halloween activities went off without a hitch, thus ringing in the ambiguous Holiday Season. Foreign friends from Wuhan and Xiangfan have graced our homes with their presence for the past two weekends, and the weather has suddenly turned warm. That's a small summary of recent life in Shiyan for those of you weary of my long entries. For the rest of you, here come the details...


There aren't words to adequately express my feelings about this event. Imagine rumors of hundreds (if not thousands) of foreigners from around the world coming to Shiyan yet running across no more than four or five of them the entire duration of the competition. Picture a third of our English majors missing classes for three weeks for "Volunteer Training" only to hold signs for the foreign teams or to reel in frustration that no one on the foreign team they represent can speak English. And, finally, imagine walking down a familiar street and seeing an entire NEW block of buildings that couldn't have been there the week before. This is just the beginning. It's a strange feeling to always be regarded as a foreigner in a city you know better than, at the very least, the new students who come to Shiyan for college. But it's an even odder feeling when you are regarded as a very specific kind of foreigner - one who has undoubtedly come for a week to participate in the Wushu festival. People look at you differently as you walk by them on the street. They shout "Welcome to Our China" when you've been living here for years. They look at you with wonderment trying to figure out how you fit into the Wushu Competition, and you want to respond to everyone who gives you this look, "I'm a Shiyan People!!!" It's also a strange feeling to contribute to the success of the Wushu Championship in very tangible ways (correcting Chinglish signs, being human dictionaries for those involved in the event, teaching students Spanish because they happen to be representing a Spanish-speaking team, teaching Shiyan people English via TV, and being patient with our students who have missed tons of classes and activities to learn how to walk elegantly in front of a group of people) only to be royally snubbed by the powers that be who promised tickets to, if not the opening ceremony, at least a competition here or there. So, The Third World Traditional Wushu Championship is coming to an end, and our feelings of being under-appreciated will subside eventually. I'm happy for the honor it brought to MY little city. I'll claim HER even if she doesn't claim me.


We've been blessed the last two weekends with foreign visitors from Wuhan (last week) and Xiangfan (this week). Carole and Daniel came first bringing joy and laughter into our homes, and Carie, Will and Brittany followed bringing music and kindred spirit moments.


After two years of living in China, I have finally bought an article of clothing. I avoid shopping for clothes like the plague which is easier to do in a country where the size large in anything is too small for me. I've heard too many stories about the horrors of shopping (being told that there's nothing in the store that would fit you, being dressed by the shop assistants, being watched by other customers) that I have successfully boycotted clothing shopping for my entire stay here. But all things must come to an end, and with a big rip on Saturday, my jeans met the beginning of theirs. I had planned to buy some jeans Saturday anyway, but during our weekly girls brunch, I talked myself out of it. Then came the rip, and it just felt like kismet so we went shopping, and through the aid of my sisters, I found a pair of jeans that will work. Done and done.


We planned an 80s theme party for Halloween this year. You'd be surprised how easy it is to buy 80s styles in China (or to dig through old clothes I brought to China and find appropriate clothing - which is sad, really). It was a fun party - lots of goodies, lots of family, lots of laughter. For my birthday this year, the foreigners in the city gave me the most amazing gift, and I'd like to share it with you all. I contemplated not posting the video because I don't want to put my friends on display, but what they did so touched me and is such an inspiration that I want to share it. I am so honored to work among these fine brothers and sisters and so blessed they are a part of my life.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I don't really have anything to say which should result in this being a short blog post. But, who am I kidding? I'm incapable of offering my readers a succinct post, and, as I learned in college, the less I have to say, the more I need to write.

Autumn has arrived in Shiyan. The past few days have been rainy, but promises of sunny weather have been made, and we're going to hold my Google weather forecast to its word. The rainy days are nice, but they make it hard to find any motivation to get excited about teaching. I have an oral English class this afternoon for non-English majors, and I'm currently trying to pep talk my way into getting excited about it.

Tonight I have a group of sophomore English majors coming over for our weekly discussion group. These guys are so full of energy and confidence. I don't have to worry about any lulls in the conversation with this group. They always ask so many questions and have so many stories to tell.

I think I may have mentioned a few blog posts ago that I helped the local TV station make a series of short English lessons teaching, in total, one hundred simple and useful English phrases. Well, those lessons have been airing on the Shiyan TV station for several weeks now, and I'm embarrassed to say that a LOT of people having been watching them. When I agreed to help my friend Romano out with this project, I hadn't anticipated that anyone I knew actually ever watched Shiyan TV. I was wrong. So many of my students have told me that they just happened to see me on TV. Even some of Finn's students, after looking at his October Holiday photos, recognized me in some of his pictures as the girl from TV. We ate at Happy Guy's today, and he told me he's been watching my English lessons too. He called me his English teacher. It was cute...but only because it came from Happy Guy, who is always cute. I'm actually rather embarrassed by it all.

I've been schizophrenic with my reading lately. I begin one book and then get distracted by another. I always finish every book I begin, with two exceptions (Charles Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities and Jared Diamond's Collapse - both of which still haunt me), but my inability to complete one book causes me to feel overwhelmed when I get to the point I'm at right now. I'm in the middle of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and just began A Wrinkle in Time. We're also reading Jesus for President for our book club. In addition, I'm studying Isaiah, John, and Acts. The latter three are interesting to study simultaneously. I'm constantly shifting my mind from prophecy to fulfillment, and the before, after, and present applications of it all.

Jessica and I are planning to use our Spring Festival vacation time for a couple weeks of traveling France and Spain. We have some serious money-saving to do before we go, but we've lived our time in China thus far with that old adage "Go Big or Go Home" and we're not about to stop following it now. If any of you know people we can stay with along the way, we would be indebted for your good word on our behalf. Our goal is to not stay in a hostel or hotel ONCE while we're traveling. We like a good challenge.

Love to all!

Friday, October 10, 2008


I may just have had one of the most awkward discussion group nights in mi casa I've ever had. It all started with a simple misunderstanding. I teach two sophomore English major classes (both of which happen to be on Tuesday), and in both classes I have a girl named Becky. Because of October Holiday, I have to make up both classes and decided to meet with the students outside of class in a discussion group setting (with one of the classes) and in one-on-one meetings to discuss pronunciation (with the other). Tonight was dedicated to the one-on-one meetings, whereas, tomorrow night was allotted specifically for the discussion group. Yesterday I received a text message from Becky saying she wouldn't be able to come on the previously scheduled day for her one-on-one meeting. Later I received a text message from Becky (using a different number) asking if she could come Friday night instead. I said she could, and she replied that she and her roommates would come Friday at seven. I thought it was a little odd that she included her roommates, but I let it slide since the students usually come in packs even when only one of them is supposed to show up.

Around seven o'clock this evening as I was pouring banana bread batter into the pan, I got a phone call from Becky asking me what floor I lived on. I opened the door and before me huddled four girls from my discussion group class who weren't supposed to arrive until Saturday evening. I was a little startled, confused and dense enough to think that Becky (the one-on-one meeting student) was still wandering aimlessly about looking for my apartment. I hurriedly invited the girls in and then yelled Becky's name in the hallway to direct her to my floor. The response, "I'm Becky," came from one of the girls in my apartment, and thus the evening of awkwardness commenced.

I never again regained solid footing. Nearly as soon as I dealt with the fact that my evening would no longer be my own (discussion groups last much longer than the one-on-one meetings I had planned for the night), there was a rap at my door. I opened it, and there stood two of my one-on-one meeting students ready for their critiques. I couldn't do anything but invite them in and tell them we'd be doing their meeting discussion group style. A few minutes later, more students from the one-on-one meetings group trickled in until I had four student from one class and five students from the other. The division couldn't be any clearer either with the four girls from one class sitting on one couch, the five from the other class sitting on the other side of the room, and me smack dab in the middle. Conversation was awkward as I tried to ask each of the one-on-one students a question to which they could give an answer adequate enough for me to be able to pinpoint their personal pronunciation problems all the while including the students from the other class in the discussion. It was not going well.

Then, there was Leon. After I chatted gaily with Becky No. 2 from the discussion group class about Xinjiang Province (where she spent two years of her life and where I spent two weeks of mine), I asked Leon what he was thinking. I can always depend on Leon to add some flavor to any discussion, and he didn't hold anything back. He said, "I was just thinking how the minorities in Xinjiang have a high talent for causing problems with us." I just looked at him. Seriously? Are we going to discuss the terrorist attacks in Xinjiang Province and blame the minorities for their "high talent" in disrupting the peaceful Han existence whose existence has only been in Xinjiang in recent years? I love Leon and on any other occasion, I would be happy to discuss nearly anything with him, but this was not a particularly good time or place for politically heated topics so I segued away from Xinjiang to something else.

The one-on-one meeting students left fairly early. They were, after all, only supposed to have relinquished ten minutes of their time this evening and had already given me over an hour. So now, with one group gone, balance was restored, and I relaxed a little. Now I could grapple with what the purpose of our meeting was, and the girls, though still congregated on one couch and making my room seriously off-balanced, were freer to talk and laugh and share. These girls are new students for me, and I was enjoying getting to know them. We were just getting into a decent, comfortable exchange when one of the girls (after I asked her a "would you rather" type question) said, simply, "I'm sorry. I played badminton today, and now my hair bothers me. I think I will leave." I said, okay, and then another girl said, "I will follow." And finally the other two reluctantly joined the two leaving.

After I closed the door behind them, I stood there trying to figure out what had just taken place. I felt like I had been outside my body the entire evening watching this sad debacle, and there was no solution I could have conjured up to make things smoother or less painfully awkward. On top of all this, half of my banana bread was consumed by a group of students who could merely (and inadequately, I might add) describe it as "strange." Bu hao yisi!

Monday, October 06, 2008


Last week China celebrated its 59th National Day, and we took advantage of the nine days we had off to visit Beijing and Qingdao. October Holiday is one of China's two "Golden Weeks" and is characterized by an increased number of tourists jamming a traveling system that is made less accessible "just for the holiday." Beijing was listed as the top city to visit so, naturally, that was where we needed to be. I had been in China for two years already and had somehow failed to visit Beijing even once. That needed to change. So six of us Shiyaners (Jessica, John, Megan, Trent, Finn and I) left on Friday for the capital of China - along with 18 million other Chinese people. As there is no possible way to express just how smooth and fantasmagorical (thank you, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) our time in Beijing was, I'm going to just list some personal highlights. It's a crudely insufficient way to relate our experience, but it's all I can do. Greatness can never be expressed adequately with words; it must be experienced. We arrived in Beijing on Saturday morning and left there for Qingdao on Tuesday afternoon. Qingdao is a coastal city south of Beijing. It's safe to say I was more excited about Qingdao than Beijing. Qingdao has been my "white whale" for the past two years. For a brief period of Chinese history, Qingdao (Tsingtao) was ruled by Germany whose western influence can still be seen today in its architecture, atmosphere and beer. Now, for the sake of simplicity and orderliness, I've compiled the following list of "top fives" about this vacation:


1) Camping on the Great Wall of China - After doing some research, John had discovered that it was, indeed, possible to camp on the Great Wall of China. We could either book a trip through a tour guide OR we could just bring our camping gear and avoid anyone that would kick us off the wall until closing time and camp out then. We chose option number two. The six of us ascended that iconic man-made creation Sunday afternoon, spent several hours walking from tower to tower until we reached the last one, and then waited. Turns out no guards patrolled that area (or the entire wall, it would appear) so we had no opposition to setting up our tents on tower number 19. It was the greatest experience in the history of everything (or nearly). Although the rock wall hardly made for a comfortable bed, and the temperature lowered significantly after dark making for a chilly night for those not blessed with good sleeping bags or a hot sleeping buddy, it was arguably the best camping experience of my life.

2) Summer Palace - Minus the tense 30 minutes spent searching for John (who, incidentally, blames us for the separation), the Summer Palace was surprisingly more interesting than I had anticipated. The architecture was slightly different than the typical Chinese style (though still very "Chinese"), and it was quite possible to just wander about appreciating the tranquility of being lost while simultaneously avoiding the stream of people that we were later to encounter.

3) Temple of Heaven - We, appropriately, visited the Temple of Heaven on Sunday morning. After passing through the various tourist sites within this compound and contemplating on the difference between the gods they worshipped with their animal sacrifices and the God we worship with whom we enjoy a personal relationship, we plopped down at a small, closed entryway and worshipped our awesome Father. It was beautiful.

4) Mexican Food and Old Friends - Monday evening we met Andrew and Jaime Hill, former Shiyan teachers who recently moved to Beijing, for dinner at Peter's Tex Mex. Food, good. Atmosphere, good. Old friends, GOOOOD.

5) Tiananmen Square - While I don't have much personally invested in this location, it's fame incited me to at least appreciate the history wrapped up in it. Seeing Mao's portrait and gazing out over the square left me with strange competing feelings of awe and sadness. Then again, I often experience emotional dissonance when trying to contemplate China - then and now.


1) Me slapping the hand of a Chinese man who dared to infringe on our attempt (successful, I might add) to acquire subway tickets.

2) John sniffing a pleasant smelling teenage girl on the subway and then discovering that she could see him doing this in the reflection of the door's windows.

3) Jessica yelling at a taxi driver for starting the meter at a base price of 10 yuan, then jumping out of the taxi, yelling some more, and ultimately storming away from the cab (only to find out later that 10 yuan is the correct base price for ALL taxis in Beijing).

4) John, Jessica and Finn secretly eating at Papa John's while Megan, Trent and I trekked through Beijing to buy bus tickets for all of us (all the while starving from having no lunch and, yet, refusing to stop and eat while the others were "waiting" for us).

5) Us telling the suspicious nark of a van driver at the Great Wall that we would, indeed, return at 6 P.M. for him to take us back to Beijing all the while planning to spend the night on the Wall and not descend until the next morning.


1) Qingdao Christian Church - Qingdao has several European styled churches which are always fun to see in China. This particular one is known for its bell/clock tower. We decided to tour it for seven yuan (apparently, they don't offer discounts to Christians; we tried). After visiting the auditorium and the tower, John, Megan, the Xiangfan crew who we met up with while in Qingdao (Will, Brittany, and Carie), and I sat in the little room you must pass through to reach the bell tower and sang church songs for about an hour. It was such a blessing to be able to worship our Father so conspicuously and be met by appreciation and wonder from the other Chinese tourists.

2) Laissez-faire Wandering Through Qingdao - After our whirlwind trip through Beijing, it was nice to just wander through the streets of Qingdao with no specific plan or agenda. There were times when we felt as if we had entered the heart of Europe, and there were times that we were unmistakably in China, and it was frequent that we experienced this drastic change simply by moving from one street to another.

3) Swimming in the Yellow Sea - Slightly worried after our first beach experience in Qingdao where we saw more rocks and people than sand, we did finally find a beach that really is something to write home about. The sand was unique and sparkled in the sunlight, the water was warm and inviting, and the sunbathing was a welcome sensation on my embarrassingly white skin.

4) Napoli Italian Restaurant - Possibly one of the most enjoyable eating experiences of my life, I'd like to send out a HUGE thanks to Carie's mom for treating us to some fantastic Italian food and some sweet Liza Manelli serenading.

5) Good Talks - Traveling with people I don't know well allows for interesting conversations and ample opportunities for meaningful discussions. This trip was no different. I appreciated getting to know better the people from Xiangfan AND the people from Shiyan.


1) I lost my camera after descending the Great Wall. I hope it serves its next owner as well as it served me.

2) Trent's cellphone was pick-pocketed at the Feeling Club. No one blames him for not noticing that one of the many hands on his person had ulterior motives.

3) Kat's cellphone sadly fell into a squatty potty never to be reclaimed. So, she did only what a person can do in such a situation: she marked her territory and went on.

4) John left his awesome Old Navy jacket in a taxi cab and another shirt elsewhere.

5) Jessica and I lost three games of spades in a row to Trent and Finn. Loss of face.

I honestly can't remember a smoother China vacation than this one. Group dynamics were amazing, even when we grew from six people in Beijing to eleven people in Qingdao. It's hard to meet the needs, desires and agendas of so many people without suppressed annoyance or even open frustration at times. But there wasn't a single incident that I'm aware of in which personalities seriously conflicted. We also had no problems securing the train and bus tickets we needed to go from place to place. This is a feat indescribable to anyone who has never traveled in China during one of the "Golden Weeks." We give total and complete praise to our Father for his hand in everything we did. We saw Him so often during this trip making things a little easier for us, and we won't cease to remember Him when we talk about our October Holiday 2008.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I'm an expressions copier. I always absorb other people's sayings. Some people have a knack for coming up with just the right words and just the right expressions for every occasion. I don't happen to be one of them. I have several friends who are always updating their expressions, and if I'm around them long enough, I quickly adopt their vernacular. My most recent appropriation comes courtesy of Barry. Ask him how he's doing at any given moment, and his response is always "best day of my life". It's amazing how powerfully motivational and attitude-changing that phrase can be.

The last two days have been the best days of my life. Wednesday began with an excellent study of Isaiah. Jessica, Barry and I meet three mornings a week for an enlightening and convicting discussion of what is becoming one of my favorite books (though I often find that whatever book I happen to be studying at the moment is my favorite). Isaiah's been a great study. This week each chapter we've read has been an in-your-face reminder that YHWH is YHWH and fear has no place in our lives because of that incontrovertible fact. Best day of my life!

I may have mentioned this before, but at the end of next month (in 32 days according to the city's official countdown calendar), Shiyan will be hosting the Third World Wudang Kungfu Festival (by Third World, they mean Third International). It's a big deal. Lots of people from around China and around the world will be descending on our remote city like its the Beijing of Kungfu Olympics. In preparation for so many foreigners visiting our fine city, countless numbers of students are going through rigorous training for tour guide positions. Only the students with the best English...and best looks...and decent physical health have been chosen to be translators and guides for the anticipated swarm of waiguoren (foreigners). But what, mind you, will happen when lost foreigners stumble into an average citizen's corner convenience store and no English-speaking student is to be found? It's a terrifying prospect, but one we've no need to worry about. The local TV station through government funding has created a simple English language program which began airing two days ago and will continue for several more episodes. By the end of the program's airing, the average citizen in Shiyan should be able to say 100 simple phrases such as "I'm a police officer," and "What color is your lost purse?" Peace and stability will reign in Shiyan as foreigners need not fear an inability to communicate in Chinese. The best part of all this is those Shiyaners who really follow this English language program can come away from it speaking English with a beautiful Oklahoma accent; that's right, yours truly was commissioned to read each of the 100 English sentences twice to provide a standard English pronunciation. It was a fun gig, and the TV personnel were wonderful in the filming of the series. My friend Romano works in the Advertising Department at the TV station, and he was the host of the program. He was decent enough to invite me to participate, and the rewards of that opportunity keep coming. Wednesday, after our awesome study, Romano and his colleagues invited Barry and me to join them for lunch at a special restaurant in the mountains. The restaurant is famous for serving up a whole goat barbecue style. It's rather expensive, but the restaurant is a patron of the TV station and invites them out for a meal a couple times a year. We were fortunate enough to join them on this occasion. The meat was delicious, and they served real bread which seemed to bring Barry nearly to tears. After eating what felt like pounds of meat, we were brought to a back room for a second meal of organ and blood soup. It was better than it sounds.

Wednesday only got better with a meat-induced nap, a game of volleyball, and a losing bout of poker.

Today was yet another awesome day: Isaiah study followed by the best post office experience of my life (I left the building smiling!), a delicious and recently improved (if one can improve upon perfection) crunchy taco, the first meeting of the Finer Things Club where we discussed One Hundred Years of Solitude and practiced our Spanish pronunciation of the same four names (for thirty some different characters), Muslim noodles for dinner, item after item checked off of my list of things to do, our weekly John study, China launches into space, sweet sisters (another Barry phrase!) watching Hairspray, and a full house to round out the day.

Tomorrow we leave for Beijing. It's already the best day of my life.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Our kitten hasn't eaten in eleven days (since we got her). We took her to the vet last week, and they said she had a cold. They gave us a four day supply of medicine which we force-fed her. She improved slightly but still refused to eat. This morning I took her back to the vet with the aid of Halley. She had a 41 degree temperature (105.8 degree Fahrenheit!). The vet said it was possible Lucy has some sickness which would be very expensive to treat. First, they would need to run a test to determine if she had the sickness, which I agreed to. It cost 80 yuan and took about five minutes to conclude that she has "viral gastroenteritis", also known as the stomach flu. The treatment for the stomach flu consists of taking Lucy to the vet everyday for four days to be given three shots each visit. The vet said there's only about a 30-40% chance that the treatment will be successful. If she doesn't show signs of improvement after two days, they will stop treatment, and we'll have to have Lucy put to sleep. They say it might cost about two hundred yuan (approximately $30) for the treatment and 50 yuan to have her put to sleep. I asked the vet if it were her cat, what she would do. She said most Chinese would give up and put the cat to sleep figuring that animals aren't worth the expense. Jessica and I, however, have become seriously attached to Lucy in the last eleven days so we decided rather quickly that we're going to fight the flu. Lucy had her first set of shots today. Now we play the waiting game.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


"I was just about to find another activity. That's not a good activity....That's what we were supposed to come up with. That's the language my mom used with us, you know. We're four years old - 'Come up with a good activity.' We're like sittin' in mud. 'Is this a good activity?'" - BRIAN REGAN

Yesterday eleven of my students missed class to take part in a "dizziness" test. These students will be acting as guides at the Wudang International Kung Fu Festival coming up in October. To make sure they will be able to handle the altitude of Mt. Wudang, they were tested yesterday so as to avoid a potentially embarrassing spectacle in front of countless foreigners during the festival. Actually, I don't really understand what they did yesterday (I filled in the blanks with personal assumptions as to the purpose of a so-called "dizziness" test); all I know is that eleven of my best students weren't in class. So, instead of following my lesson plans for the day with a third of my class missing, I decided to play OUTBURST with them. I gave each group a category, and they came up with ten words/phrases that fit into that category. One category was - ACTIVITIES I MIGHT DO AT PEOPLE'S PARK. The following is the list of activities the students came up with:

1) save the people who fall into the water
2) feed the monkeys
3) fly kates
4) go to WC
5) take photos
6) climbing
7) catching fish
8) eat
9) watching flowers
10) ??

This list gives new meaning to a "good" activity. I think my new favorite activity will be "saving the people who fall into the water." What's YOUR good activity?


I currently have four mooncakes sitting on my kitchen table waiting for someone to consume them. It will not be me. I've tried for three years to love mooncakes - or to at least choke a whole one down. I just can't get my stomach to enjoy red bean, dried egg yolk, or strange, green pasty filling with unidentifiable nuts. I did have a fruit-filled one that was delectable. So, mooncakes - the bane of my Mid-Autumn Festival experience. All in all, though, I enjoy Mid-Autumn Festival. We have three days off for the holiday (except we don't because we never teach on Saturday and Sunday - two of the "free" days). We were blessed this weekend with visitors from Wuhan, Xiangfan and Danjiangkou. Saturday a few of us went to a reservoir nearby we just found out about - TouYan Reservoir. It has decent hiking (great scenery but not physically challenging) and plenty of places for swimming. Sunday we celebrated Zoe's 21st birthday. Monday we went to the large Yellow Dragon Reservoir that's about an hour or so from our end of town. We rented a boat, swam, ate, played games, socialized. Jessica, Barry and I swam a ways to these huge rocks where Barry led the way in jumping off of them. Not to be outdone (though we later were when Barry did a flip off of them), Jessica and I crawled shakily to the top of the rocks, regained some composure, jumped off mentally into the water and hit our heads mentally, stood shaking on the rocks awhile longer, regained composure, jumped off mentally again, froze on the rocks, then finally took the exhilarating plunge. Well, I don't know what was going through Jessica's head, but I assume her thoughts before the jump were about as schizophrenic as my own. It was great fun, and I'm so proud that Barry and Jessica are my fellow laborers and my fellow dare-devils.

Well, it's raining again. Aside from not wanting to descend the hill in the rain to acquire lunch (we're going to subsist on Jessica's stash of chicken nuggets if she isn't electrocuted by her temperamental oven first), my plans for the day lie unaffected by the weather. I have various tasks I need to complete that involve the Internet and our book of the month - One Hundred Years of Solitude - to get into. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Classes began for me last week. I'm teaching two sophomore English major courses and two sophomore non-English major courses. I had grandiose ideas about making lesson plans for the entire semester but was foiled again. It's my experience that planning for several classes in advance tends to blow up in my face. Yesterday, for instance, I met with my non-English majors for the first time. I had no roll sheet which is typical so I didn't really know what to expect from this class. I had planned for us to get right into the book instead of just killing time on the first day. However, I was immediately hit by fifty students, half of which had no English name and three-fourths of which had never had a foreign teacher before. It took an entire period just giving names to be able to call roll. The majority of the students can barely function in English and speak to me in Chinese seemingly unaware that I barely understand them. They clearly were not ready to begin using the book today so I changed my lesson plans and will have to re-evaluate everything I had planned for them for the rest of the semester. Ah, a day in the life of an English teacher in China.

Ever since our stay in Chengdu last year when we realized that China does, in fact, have adorable dogs, Jessica and I have been planning to adopt a puppy. We figured the beginning of this year was the time to do it so on Sunday morning we arose early and with two of my students went to the local pet market feeling hopeful and excited. After falling in love time and time again with countless puppies of every shape, size and color, we reluctantly came to the conclusion that the puppy meant for us was not to be found that day and comforted ourselves with the determined solution of returning the following week. Before we left the pet market, however, Jessica found herself drawn to several cages of kittens. Most of the kittens were lying in a depressed stupor, but one was crying and clawing madly at the cage daring to restrict its freedom. When we saw the kitten's frantic efforts to obtain its independence, we looked at each other and came to the only rational conclusion: we must set this kitty free! So we bought the kitten and brought her home with us. She has already greatly increased the warmth of our homes and seriously decreased our productivity. We named her Lucille Ball - Lucy for short - because of her red hair, incessant crying, and endearing neediness.

Today is Teacher's Day in China. Text messages have been pouring in since the first one that woke me up this morning wishing me happy everyday. I happen to have the day off which makes me especially appreciate the life of a teacher, or at least the life of this teacher. Everyone is feeling a little puny today - complete with congestion and weariness. It could be the weather changes or the life changes, but I'm blessed today to be able to rest and watch movies and read.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Minus a couple extra layers of dust and the initial bit of brown water filling my sinks from months of sedentary life in the pipes, I've returned to an apartment relatively unscathed by my absence. The trip back to my home away from home went considerably smoother than the one a few months ago - no missed flights, no extra unforeseen expenses, and no searing back pain from schlepping around three times my weight in luggage. All told, it was a good journey back.

At LAX I had a twelve hour layover which passed conveniently well through a relaxing bout of reading and catching up on my dad's blog (a novel in and of itself). A few hours before my international flight was to leave, I left the gate to find some dinner and saw walking towards me a warming image of familiarity manifested in my good friends and fellow Shiyaners, John and Megan Calvillo. I had no idea they (or the host of other new China teachers) were on our flight to Hong Kong. It was a pleasant surprise which I continued to enjoy as I met not only the newbies coming to my city but, also, several former OC students who I had known briefly while I was in college at UCO. Oklahoma is well represented in China this year.

Jessica and I parted with our old and new friends in Hong Kong where, for the sake of unconsciously making things mildly more difficult for our school, we flew to Xi'an instead of Wuhan. We were received in Xi'an by wonderful Maya and that ever-smothering cloud of smog which enjoys welcoming all foreigners each year. This was Wednesday morning and since Jessica and I had both been to Xi'an before, we forewent sightseeing, made a run to Metro to buy a few months worth of cheese, and returned to our hotel to retire early.

Thursday morning our train left for Shiyan. A side note here to encourage everyone who sees anyone ever struggling with dragging sixty five pounds of luggage (not counting that already strapped to the body) up a mountain of stairs to kindly help him or her out. It has never failed that when I find myself staring at three flights of stairs and wondering where in my small frame I will find the strength to make it to the top, an angel in a Chinese body swoops in from nowhere to aid me. If there had been a preacher at the top of those stairs, I would have married that gentlemen in a second if I could have found the energy to say "I do" or whatever the equivalent is in Chinese. And in the same way he entered our lives majestically, he left quietly, never knowing just how much appreciation was hidden behind the constraints of the "thank you's" we poured his way.

We arrived in Shiyan to a downpour of rain through which I drug my broken rolling duffle bag, soaking several books housed precariously inside it. We were picked up by a woman from our school and told that we would need to find space to fit Barry, the new teacher for our school, and his luggage. Seeing no possible way this was going to happen, Jessica and I opted to take a taxi home so Barry's first impression of our school wouldn't be one made while riding atop the van in the pouring rain (as there would have been no other place for him to fit). So we made it to our apartments Thursday evening. It is now Saturday morning (my apologies for a delayed post), and it is currently not raining - a first since we arrived.

This afternoon we have a foreigner meet and greet/planning party at the medical school, and tomorrow will be a sweet Family reunion. Things are starting off great.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Oh, the joy of flying!

Well, I can check "missing a flight" off of my "not to do" life list. I'm sitting in the Hong Kong airport awaiting our international flight to Los Angeles a day later than intended. Since the actual flight fiasco experience is still fresh in my memory and clouding my mood, I'm going to copy and paste Brian's updated blog with his first installment chronicling the last thirty six hours. It's aptly titled:

Our naivety exposed - expecting things to go well in China
by Brian Neal

Well, it's 7am CST on July 9th. My flight from Chicago to Nashville will leave soon and should land around 9:20. You may be wondering how I'm able to blog while on an airplane. Has American Airlines suddenly become the coolest airline ever? Hardly. I'm able to blog right now because I'm sitting in the Hong Kong airport, enjoying their free WiFi internet connection. I just finished enjoying their overpriced bacon cheeseburger. Now I suppose I should tell you WHY I'm in Hong Kong when I should be practically home. It all started with a dream.

Angelyn and I always dreamed of being treated well by our school. So to pursue this dream, we pestered them until they agreed to drive us from Shiyan to the Xi'an airport. This was a big deal for us because this meant we wouldn't have to bother with buses, trains, or taxis, which would be a big deal with our luggage. China has been changing quickly. Just last year a car ride to Xi'an would have taken 12 hours. Now there's a highway scheduled to open in December that will cut that down to 3 hours (thanks to about 100 bazillion tunnels they dug straight through 350km of mountains). Now the drive is expected to take 6 to 8 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions. To make a long story short, we took the opened portion of the highway for almost an hour, off-roaded on a dirt/gravel road for two hours or so, and spent the rest of the time mostly on two-lane paved roads winding through the mountains of Shaanxi province. While the view was breathtaking and our driver was fun and friendly, the drive ended in disaster. We got to the Xi'an area around 5 (about 3 hours later than expected), and got on the expressway to head to the airport. Somehow (I still don't know how because I saw with my own eyes the signs we were following toward the airport) we ended up on the wrong side of Xi'an. By the time I figured it out and showed the driver where we were on the map (ironic that I used a Chinese map better than the Chinese driver could), we were 70 miles away from where we wanted to be. So we turned back and sped towards the airport. The driver didn't seem too concerned when we saw a sign saying we had another 30 minutes, even though our flight was scheduled to leave in 60 minutes. Plenty of time, he said. Well, we pulled off the highway at 7, found the right terminal and pulled up to the door at 7:10, jumped out, barely said thanks to the driver before running inside, and arrived just in time to get totally lost inside the Xi'an airport. We were flying to Hong Kong, so we had to go into the international terminal, which was set off from the rest of the terminal by a frosted glass wall. We couldn't figure out how to get in. People in there had us running back and forth down the terminal for 30 minutes, handing us off from one person to the next, all of whom had no idea where the international terminal was. Finally, at 7:40 (the exact time our flight was taking off) someone let me through into a roped off area so I could ask his boss. It seems he couldn't ask himself. Turns out, the guy was guarding the rope blocking us from where we needed to go to check in. And he didn't even know it. Even though I said "where is counter 52?" (because that's where we needed to check in) and it was ten feet around the corner where he could SEE IT. Airport employees are smart sometimes. So we missed the flight to Hong Kong, which means we missed the 3 flights after that.

All in all, we arrived at the airport 5 hours later than we were told we would arrive. We spent 400 yuan on phone calls, expensive airport hotel rooms, and expensive airport hotel ramen noodles because we had to rebook tickets and stay the night. I really don't know what to say except that it's a lot easier to enjoy speaking with airport employees when you're NOT running around with over 100 pounds of luggage flopping around you. On the upside, it seems we would have missed our other flights even if we had made it to Hong Kong because American Airlines and Dragon Air are dumb. But I'll have to blog about that another time. There's so much more to this story, you should expect at least one more installment. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


One of my all-time favorite movies is Angel and the Badman. It's as corny as the title suggests - a John Wayne film no less. I've watched it many times since childhood which is probably why I love it so much. Anyway, in the film, John Wayne - resident badman - has been shot and subsequently rescued and cared for by a Quaker family. Upon arrival to their home, he's put in bed and though nearly unconscious, he appears restless, like there's something he's missing and needs before he can find peace. The Quaker father runs downstairs, empties John Wayne's gun, returns to his bedside and places it in his hand. John Wayne immediately relaxes and passes out. That gun was so much a part of John Wayne's life, he couldn't relax without it.

Last night for the first time in several days, I slept well. I woke up this morning well-rested and even perky. Did I mention Brian's back? After a week of playing tour guide for some first time China visitors, he made it home late Thursday night. Yesterday was a normal day - him doing his things, me doing mine, our paths crossing for meal times - nothing special. But like John Wayne's gun, Brian has become so much a part of my Shiyan life, it's difficult to feel at home without him. I can't imagine next year making cinnamon rolls without him in mind or meeting any meal time without waiting on him to finally get his shoes on so we can go. Anyway, Brian, I love you, brother.


We failed miserably at celebrating the Fourth of July in China. It would probably have helped had we been able to stop forgetting it was Independence Day. Here are the highlights of my first Fourth of July in China: I finished Jane Eyre (a reminder of what famous piece of literature we could have claimed as our own had we not declared our independence from using words such as "hither" and "thither") and later had a dinner of grilled fish - which did not compare in Americanicity with grilled hamburgers or hot dogs but was delicious nonetheless - watermelon, and ice cream. We ended the evening with an attempt to watch Independence Day illegally downloaded from a Chinese website, but it didn't work so we watched an episode of Monk instead and went to bed sans a grand Fourth of July Fireworks Show. But, we figure, we've seen enough fireworks daily in China since we've been here to last a lifetime of Fourth of Julys.


For anyone interested, I'll be back in the great state of Oklahoma Wednesday afternoon - the 9th. See you all soon!

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Tonight was interesting. I had dinner with Michael Scofield and Kevin. Both are juniors at my school, but I taught Kevin last year, and Michael Scofield comes to all my classes even though he's never been an official student of mine. One thing I love about Chinese people is the curious tidbits of information they throw out as if they're common knowledge. Tonight, for example, I learned that people with type A blood are family-oriented and willing to sacrifice their own desires for the will of their spouse. People with type B blood are more selfish and work-oriented. They're ambitious as well. Type O blood people are, obviously enough, good for everybody. So, Michael Scofield, who has type B blood, is looking for a woman who has type A blood. Apparently, that combination would make for marital bliss. Perhaps there's more to having blood tests before getting married than we originally thought!

We had dinner at McDonald's (almost never a good idea). Recently, there has appeared a small vender stand outside McDonald's that sells chicken wings on a stick. The name of the stand is BT which, as it turns out, is slang for someone who is a really, really bad person. BT has a reputation for serving some of the spiciest food you'll find - so spicy, in fact, that if you can eat three sticks, each with two chicken wings on it, you don't have to pay. They're pretty confident the spice is too powerful for anyone to handle. Having set all this up, tonight Michael Scofield challenged me to eat a stick of the super spicy chicken wings. He and Kevin ate the medium spice, but I, unable to back down from a challenge (which might possibly prove to be my downfall), ate both chicken wings without any kind of liquid relief - per condition of the challenge. It was painful. Tears were flowing. But I was victorious. My stomach, however, has been hating me since.

Tonight is the European Cup Championship game between Germany and Spain. I haven't been watching the games up to this point - mostly because of horrible timing - but I've decided to catch the final game. It shows on CCTV-5 beginning at 2:40 a.m. I'm keeping myself awake by watching movies I've never desired to watch before but all of which belong to Brian and will, therefore, no longer be available to watch in little over a week. So far I've watched The Machinist (disturbing), and I just began Enemy at the Gates.

Thursday as Brian was leaving our campus for the train station, he texted me with a message that a bunch of old people were gathering at the football field for a paddle ball performance. He thought I should check it out. I was reluctant to go out of laziness, but I finally decided make an appearance for about twenty minutes out of mere curiosity. I'm so glad I did! The city of Shiyan is a city at all because of the Dong Feng car factory. So much of the city is owned or influenced by this one company. Every year workers from various factories in town gather together for one fantastic performance. I'm not sure the reasons nor am I aware of the intricacies of what I witnessed. I do know, however, that I was moved by the sheer volume of workers on the field. Each group was dressed in colorful shirts and white pants. They stretched over the entire field and began the performance with a choreographed paddle ball routine. It was like watching a sea of colors dancing in the most fantastic rhythm I've ever seen. After the paddle ball sequence, they ran off the field (these aren't spry young things either - we're talking about workers ranging in age from their thirties to their sixties) only to be replaced rather quickly (and after a rapid wardrobe change) by a group of men and women marching in true high school band-like fashion to the beat of several different types of drums. Immediately after this routine, another group of workers clad in neon-colored shirts and space boots trampled onto the field in nothing short of a color guard performance that would shame countless junior colleges. I was entranced the entire time. I think I was mostly amazed that these folks have nothing more to gain from their hard work and effort than a few hours of performance that was hardly honored by a gloating crowd. They didn't seem to mind. The enjoyment pouring forth from their radiant faces showed that the simple act of being involved in this group, of being active, of showing unity in a completely positive manner was reward enough. I was so proud of Chinese people as I watched this performance - proud that old people aren't out of the game here, proud that people still perform for the sake of the performance and not merely for praise, and proud that unity can be expressed in such an unadulterated and fun-loving form.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

China has made me sentimental.

Tonight Brian and I went to a Xinjiang restaurant. It's been here for as long as we have probably, but today was the first time I went. They served kabobs and noodles unlike any you will find in Han restaurants. The first bite of that lamb kabob took me right back to last August when Brian and I finally reached our resting point in Xinjiang. A lot of things have happened since last August. New friends. New family. New directions. I love the fact that we can't predict where our lives will be in ten short months.

Later this evening I was writing grades when my trusty Harding pen ran out of ink. It was given to me just over a year ago by some sweet friends who visited Shiyan for several days last June. It was supposed to be a "gift" to give to a random Chinese person. We're told to bring little gifts that are very "American" to hand out to people who have touched us while we're here. These gifts range from American coins to American flags to American pins and pens. I don't know too many people who actually give them as gifts once they arrive to China. This particular Harding pen, intended as a gift for some Chinese person who has an affinity for writing utensils, was pawned off on me, and I loved it immediately. It served me for a full year. I trashed it about an hour ago. On to new things...

I'm about the only foreign English teacher left in China still teaching. Or at least that's how it feels. I have class till Friday, and then I'll be finished. I'm just about caught up on grading, a feat which still impresses me. I am becoming better at giving fair grades. When I started I had a difficult time even giving 'C's to the bad students. I guess I forgot that there are a lot of students, generally the ones who deserve them, who don't get upset when they receive 'C's and even rejoice a bit that it's not worse.

I spent the weekend in Wuhan. There are a lot of stereotypes in China. Sichuan Province is known for its beautiful girls and spicy food. Beijing is such a "cultural" city. Xi'an is very beautiful. Shanghai is so modern. And Wuhan? Well, Wuhan is one of the Three Furnaces of China because it is blazing hot. Generally, I enjoy demolishing as many stereotypes as I possibly can (or to at least encourage original and/or personal opinions to surface), but I have to agree that Wuhan is a furnace. Maybe I've been away too long from those hot and muggy August summers in Oklahoma, but I'm no longer accustomed to such humidity. I don't know how people function in such heat. Regardless of this nearly suffocating experience in the Wuhan death trap, we had a great time there. I am consistently blessed by the beauty I see in other people, and there are some beautiful people working in Wuhan.

Jessica's home now. She left on Sunday. John and Megan, William and Andrew and Jaime leave this week. Darla left last week. Priscilla leaves next. Brian's leaving me for Beijing before returning to leave for the States with me. Several of our Chinese Family are about to or have already left for various reasons (or are just incredibly busy). I guess I returned home early enough last year to not be the one left behind. Note to self: it's easier to leave first...

Today was a good China day. There are some days when the very things that annoy you most of the time are humorous or quaint or even adorable. Today was one of those days.

Monday, June 09, 2008


I realized I have yet to mention the fairly recent installation of hot water heaters at Qi Yuan. It's maybe not the biggest thing to hit Shiyan, but it is the fruit of a long fought battle between the foreigners and the school. For years we've had to arrange our shower times around the "regularly scheduled" and generally undependable hot water availability times. What this really means is that we've had to learn to drop everything and run to the bathrooms as soon as we hear that loud, apocalyptic-sounding groan coming from the water pipes as the heat begins to flow. We've also learned to cope with missed showers (what's one more day?) and handle scalding hot water melting our skin when we do get them. Last month, though, our daily routines were forever altered when the school finally installed hot water heaters in each of our bathrooms. No more looking at our watch every five minutes when we're at someone else's school to make sure we haven't missed the hot water. No more avoiding exercising before 8 pm knowing there's no way to clean up after (well, there's always cold showers available, but, really, why put ourselves through that?). No more feeling shame when friends are unable to clean up after arriving from other cities having spent hours on nasty trains - the filth of which can only be washed away. But now our school has brought us into the modern age, and we are grateful. I say all this after my mid-day shower, a new experience for me.

While on the topic of change, Shiyan is seeing its fair share of it in recent months. I should put a disclaimer here and say that it's possible Shiyan isn't changing as much as I think. Perhaps I'm just getting to know her better. It's been almost two years since I first moved here, and before coming I was warned to not expect to find too many foreign things. It was a warranted warning since I don't consider KFC or McDonald's the western things I would choose to have readily available. Last year we trekked all over the city for butter. This year most supermarkets have it most of the time. We even discovered shortening at a local bakery which has greatly increased the number of foods from back home we can now make. This year alone we have discovered flavored coffee creamers (hazelnut, vanilla, and something else), rocky road and cookies and cream ice cream, Dr. Pepper and Cream Soda (on one occasion and never again, but I'm remaining hopeful), a wine shop with imported brands, a store that sells jeans in real people sizes, and real, fresh milk (again only on one occasion, but it's a beginning). These new finds are a far cry from the warnings we were given to bring shoe-laces with us (as Chinese people don't wear laced shoes?) and underwear and enough pants to survive a year of China wear and tear (I've had two pairs of pants die already, and two more are on their deathbeds). There are still those clutch ingredients we have yet to spot in our supermarkets which will continue to demand our periodic visits to the "big" cities to acquire them (cheese, namely, and other things we don't know we miss until we're standing in the foreign aisle at Metro entranced by such novelties as...Graham crackers and...Nutella). But, give Shiyan a couple more years; she's catching up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Nation in Mourning

Up till now I've avoided blogging about the 8.0 (according to the latest CCTV9 measurement report) earthquake that hit Sichuan Province last week. I figured the news agencies were all over the story, and my fellow China bloggers were keeping folks back home updated. I couldn't think of anything to add. Perhaps a product of our culture or merely a sad commentary on the times we're living in, I often find it difficult to relate to tragic events, particularly when they occur "out of sight". It really wasn't until yesterday that I began to feel the impact of what happened and what is continuing to happen. China has declared a three day mourning period which began Monday at 2:28, exactly one week to the minute that the earthquake hit. William and I were in a taxi heading back to my school from the medical college during this time. At 2:28 sirens went off, and there was a steady stream of horn honking for about a minute. Our driver along with many others pulled to the shoulder and drove the slowest I've ever seen Chinese taxi drivers drive. As we made our way down foot massage street, I was watching the faces of the Chinese shop owners and employees who had come to their doorsteps to watch the procession, and that was when the magnitude of this tragedy finally began to sink in. Anytime anything happens, it's so easy to immediately begin comparing the ways different cultures handle the same situations. National tragedies always evoke national unity (9/11, Hurricane Katrina, 5.12). This is true of both cultures I know and maybe the rest that I don't know. However, there have been some distinctly Chinese methods employed recently in the handling of the aftermath of the Beichuan Earthquake, and I thought it educational to discuss some of the most noticeable ones for those of you back home.

After the quake hit, the Chinese government and people mobilized, and in the opinion of those of us who have watched the presses for any updates, it seems their response has been quite respectable. Every department and every class at our school has rallied together to raise money and donate other supplies to take to Sichuan. Unfortunately, the earthquake caused some serious road destruction, and currently only planes have access to the hardest hit areas. Regardless, students have responded with sincerity and personal conviction to serve the people hurt in the earthquake. Each week my freshmen English majors are to turn in journal entries updating me on the month-long challenge they gave themselves. Last Friday Leon wrote the following:

The Challenge of Love

I know what had happened this week. I know this week is difficult for China. I also know what has happened this year. It’s so bad. I think this year for China is a real challenge. I don’t want to see more people get hurt. Crying is not useful.

I love my family. I love them. I love my classmates. I love my teachers. If they’re all right, I’m all right. I know the bad things didn’t happen first. Don’t be afraid. The earthquake comes one after one. What should we do? Can we bear it? Will we be hurt? I think this is enough. This is life. Maybe yesterday you are all right, today or tomorrow the bad things happens. All will be over. I love my family, classmates and my teachers. Are you all right? Don’t worry. Still I am and will stay with you.

Another similarity between our cultures: tangible death causes us to evaluate life. It must be terrifying to contemplate death when physical life is all there is.

The three days of mourning are interesting. First of all, entertainment is not allowed. Clubs, K-TV, and any other "entertainment" establishments have been mandatorily closed for the three days. Students are told to not engage in anything entertaining. Darla was told by a Chinese teacher not to show her previously scheduled film in class. Yesterday William and I went to play basketball at the medical school. The courts were deserted which thwarted our plans. We had anticipated joining one of the groups already playing since we didn't have a ball of our own, but there was no one to play with. We then came to my school where I have a ball we could use. My school's courts were nearly deserted, as well. There were four other boys playing basketball, and I shudder to think what might happen to them if they were caught. In addition to the no entertainment rule, all television stations are only allowed to show earthquake coverage. My television has about thirty some channels, and only three or four different reports can be seen. Tudou, a popular website that allows free movie downloads, currently has only twelve or so possible downloads - all earthquake footage. Films cannot even be searched on this website as far as we've seen. Speaking of websites, color has been removed from them for these three days of mourning. Everything is in black and white (for example, Oh, and the Olympic torch has, of course, paused to observe this time. One of my students told me that this mandatory period of "silence" is a good method to cause people to stop and think more deeply, to take an introspective look, and to pray for those who were affected. I asked him if people would take advantage of this time. He couldn't say. For as long as human history has been chronicled and for as long as mankind continues, we will continue to mistake visible actions for invisible motives. It's not that I don't respect setting aside three days of mourning. I most certainly do! It's not even that I don't appreciate the methods implemented to bring about three days of silence. It's commendable. And the motives on the side of the government are totally honorable. I'm merely thinking about the underlying idea that people can become what they should be by placing specific requirements on them. I guess I'm really applying this situation to one more personal. There's an idea that sitting in the pew every Sunday and Wednesday makes for a good Follower. The more the outer cup is shiny, the better. Faith, Hope, Love. These aren't things that can be forced into your children, into your friends, or into your families by making certain things mandatory (whether verbally or, more commonly, through social pressure). I definitely want to avoid a soapbox. I know that you will know a tree by its fruit, but I also know that our view of fruit can be skewed sometimes. I think lemons are beautiful fruit, but I'm not such a fan of eating them. Durian, on the other hand, has a horrible wrap for its garlicky, dirty feet smell, but it's some of the tastiest fruit you will find (if you dare to try it). My point is that even if we can identify a tree by its fruit, maybe our view of the fruit itself is not truly representative of the type of tree our Father has asked us to be. So what came first, the chicken or the egg? Hmm, who really cares. The more important question for which there is an answer is what comes first, sincerity and love in one's heart or visible acts of sincerity and love? "First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will also be clean."

Gandhi once said, "Ask the poor. They'll tell you who the Disciples are." There's a certain amount of truth in that, and the implications are clear. I was just thinking about the mass amounts of aid that are being given and will continue to be given to Beichuan Earthquake survivors. These humanitarian endeavors are amazing examples of mankind's ability to empathize and serve others. Disciples are asked to do more. How are We set apart from others? The lines are blurred quite often because we confuse tangible actions with intangible qualities. Dr. Larry Crabb, author of Inside Out, wrote, "Because we refuse to apply the ointment that burns off the diseased crust (looking inside ourselves and bringing to the surface the pain that keeps us from unconditionally loving others), we settle for natural goodness, for the nice things we do that Believers and non-Believers alike are capable of choosing. We seldom experience supernatural goodness, the release of the energy of Chr*st that is deposited deeply within us through salvation." I'm so thankful for the Chinese government, the Chinese people, and the foreign governments' aid to Sichuan Province. The world knows how to meet the needs of those terribly affected by horrifically large tragedies. But its up to His Children to meet the needs of those terribly affected by the horrors we don't often see: the horrors of abandonment, abuse, animosity...
Love is the fruit of the trees we've been called to be. Love motivates purely and acts sincerely. Love doesn't take time off or wait for serious tragedies to occur before acting. Love sees compassionately the needs of others here and now. Clean the inside...the rest will follow suit.

Monday, May 12, 2008


The sheer length of time since my last update should guarantee at least one or two interesting anecdotes. Sadly, it doesn’t. But I’ve promised to update my faithful readers (or reader, maybe) and attempt to pull something together.

Teaching is bittersweet at the moment. I have one class that I’m really enjoying. Around Easter we watched the film The Ultimate Gift. It’s a cute, Hallmark-quality film about a spoiled young man who is offered the opportunity to receive a series of “gifts” that lead up to an unknown “ultimate” gift. The series of gifts included learning such important lessons as the values of work, money, family, friends, learning, gratitude, dreams, one day, and a couple others. I had planned to show the video, discuss what I consider to be the ultimate gift by doing a cultural talk on Easter, and then move on. However, in light of my students’ overwhelming appreciation for the film, I decided to give them an assignment that would require a bit of work on their part. I asked them to choose one of the “gifts” they feel they personally need to learn and challenge themselves for one month to learn it. For example, if they need to learn the value of money, they might choose to live on a limited amount of money for the whole month or to use their money to help others who are in financial straits. Each week they have to write a journal entry detailing the progress of their challenge, and at the end of the month, they will be presenting the lessons they learned from their challenge. While a large majority is taking the easiest approach possible to this project, the few who are taking it seriously are blowing my mind with the challenges they’ve given themselves and the work they’re putting into meeting the challenges. Here are some highlights:

1) Percy – No doubt the least liked boy in class because of the frank and rather rude comments he makes quite often (which he calls “honesty”), Percy chose the gift of friendship and has challenged himself by first cleaning up his personal appearance (Previously he never thought it important to impress his classmates so he grew his hair long and attempted a disturbingly stringy mustache. This, coupled with his infrequent showers, more than put off his classmates. Since the challenge, he has shaved, cut his hair and cleaned up his appearance.) He is also putting forth more of an effort to be friendly, helpful, and less judgmental of his classmates.

2) Felisha – Felisha is a quiet girl who has chosen to challenge herself to pass her P.E. class. As simple as it sounds, this challenge is huge for her. Not only was she not blessed with any athletic prowess, but the P.E. course they have this semester includes running hurdles, laps, and doing various jumping events. Felisha has challenged herself to run more (even though she hates it) and practice each activity more often and more devotedly. She’s already made huge progress. Before the challenge she couldn’t run one lap around the track; now she can run four!

3) Zita – Zita is a very closed off girl. She seldom talks in class, and I’ve only seen her smile once or twice. She’s the only girl who hasn’t taken the opportunity to come to my apartment for a visit (surprising only because everyone else jumps at the chance). Anyway, she has chosen to challenge herself to learn the gift of family. She has a very poor relationship with her father as a result of some negative experiences in childhood. This month she has challenged herself to confront her father and to begin to rebuild their relationship.

I’m excited to listen to their presentations coming up. My other classes are less than exciting. My non-English major classes last only seven weeks, two of which fall on holidays so we don’t meet. It’s hard to get anything done in five weeks. Plus, this semester my students hardly understand any English so having a productive class is like pulling teeth.


By now most of you have probably heard of the earthquake that hit central China Monday afternoon. We did indeed feel it in Shiyan. Jessica and I were in her apartment killing time before heading to class when things in her living room began to sway. It was a different feeling than the last earthquake we felt a month ago. This one lasted much longer but seemed to be more fluid in its movement than the last one, which seemed to be rather abrasive. I’ve been reading the news, and this earthquake was quite destructive. I haven’t heard the extent of the damage, but many lives have been affected.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Jessica's putting me to shame by the amount of times she's blogged this month so I'm going to try to catch up.

Halley, a sister and third year student from my school, and I took a quick, five day trip to Shanghai last week. My oldest brother and his wife (Ashley and Jamie) were given an incredible opportunity to spend five days in Shanghai so Halley and I booked train and plane tickets there and back (excitement abounds here in Shiyan since the new advent of this incredible Internet based computer system which now allows us to book return tickets from the comfort of our own city rather than the archaic system of depending on friends or friends' friends who live in the particular city we need to return from to secure tickets for us). We left late Wednesday night after a torturous English corner experience and arrived in Wuhan with a pleasantly long layover in Hankou where we enjoyed an afternoon with Danielle and her friend Sunny.

Thursday night we arrived in Shanghai and made our way to a "hotel". I had looked for hostels semi-close to where Ashley and Jamie would be staying, and the cheapest one I found was 70 yuan a night. Halley, however, found a Chinese hotel especially suited for students on a tight budget. It wasn't really a hotel but a large apartment in which beds were rented out to travelers or new residents for a mere 17 yuan a night. It was a fairly nice place to stay, but neither Halley nor I felt comfortable taking showers there. Is it a bad sign when I can go five days without showering and hardly feel bothered by it? In China it's important to wash your feet before you go to bed so I made sure to comply to this cultural standard.

Friday Halley and I met up with Ashley and Jamie, and we spent the day walking and walking and walking some more. I have to be terribly honest and admit that Shanghai is not the most exciting city in China nor is it laid out well for tourists. However, I did really enjoy the architecture in the Yu Yuan Old Town, the parks which were quite lovely, and the famous Shanghai skyline that most definitely does not disappoint, particularly at night.

Saturday Ashley and Jamie did some souvenir shopping while Halley and I met her cousin and went to Fudang University. I didn't have anything of particular interest I wished to see, and Halley was quite excited about visiting this university which, to her, was the equivalent of touring Harvard. Later we met up with an old friend who has been working in Shanghai for a year. Janis tried to show us around a little but ended up proving that more often than not it's the locals who know the least about their city. Let me take this opportunity to segue into my challenge to anyone who is reading this: take time to discover the interesting things surrounding you!

Sunday Ashley and Jamie went to the Botanical Gardens which were quite a ways from where we were staying so Halley, Janis and I opted to visit Century Park. We spent the morning meandering about and even took an hour to ride a three person bike which was an interesting experience. Later that afternoon we were able to catch up with Ashley and Jamie and meet with the Family which was a totally rewarding way to spend a couple hours.

Halley and I left Sunday night after one last dinner hoorah with my family. Even though the Shanghai lifestyle pales in comparison to my Shiyan lifestyle, I was really glad to share a few China experiences with my brother and sister-in-law. I was especially grateful they could meet Halley and Janis because when all is said and done, China is best represented by its people, not its developed cities, not its pollution or crowds or even food (though the food does make for an enjoyable China experience), but by those individuals who represent the reason why I've chosen to come back yet another year.

Traveling with Halley was a great adventure in and of itself. She's so pure-hearted and good-natured. This trip represented a plethora of firsts for her: her first time to go to Wuhan, her first plane ride, her first time in Shanghai, her first subway ride, her first cappuccino, her first time to have a hard sleeper bed on the train, her first time to pray in English. She helped me remember the beauty of finding enjoyment in simple experiences.