Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Last semester I was doing some research into the beggar/homeless situation in China and found an article entitled "
China extends cost of living benefits to homeless, beggars". According to this article from August 2007, the government will offer a basic living allowance to those begging because of poverty. The basic living allowance for those living in urban areas has been set at 169.6 yuan ($23.75). So, if someone living in a city makes, say, 100 yuan each month, the government will give that person an additional 69.6 yuan to reach the aforementioned basic living allowance. I was both immediately struck and convicted by this insanely small amount of money the government has stated to be sufficient for basic living costs. This article was the inspiration for what has become known as "Meager March". Originally the idea was to challenge ourselves to live only on 169.6 yuan for the entire month. However, the specifics of Meager March are very much hazy as a whole because there's no right or wrong way to participate. The most important thing is for the people who participate to discover their own purpose, their own motivation, and their own need for becoming involved. One of my personal motivations for participating in Meager March comes from a realization that I am so abundantly blessed, I've lost touch with an understanding of what it is like to not merely be without things like luxuries but to be especially concerned that even basic necessities might be inaccessible. One of my purposes for participating is to rediscover forms of entertainment that cost nothing but are productive, meaningful and challenging. The great thing about Meager March is that I'm likely to be challenged and convicted in ways I can't even conceive now.

However, Meager March is an imperfect challenge for a variety of reasons. First, we don't pay for our apartments, electricity, water, television, Internet, and phone. If we were in poverty, we wouldn't have these "perks" and 169.6 yuan would be, in my opinion, wholly inadequate to cover all the basic costs one would encounter daily, monthly, etc. In light of this (and to fulfill one of my purposes for Meager March), I will be charging myself for Internet usage (an undebatable luxury) the amount it would cost to use the Internet at an Internet bar. What this really means is I will seldom be using the Internet because I won't be able to afford it. Although there's some debate as to whether the TV should be off-limits during Meager March, I, personally, will be abstaining from or charging myself for television viewing. I also plan to be more conservation friendly by using less electricity and less water. I hope to become more conscious of the actions I take and the decisions I make. Realistically, though, I do realize that I'm still blessed during March with things like a warm apartment and hot running water that I wouldn't have on the government mandated basic living allowance.

That said, 169.6 yuan is still a small amount of money, and there are several things we will be changing about our daily lifestyles to accommodate this decrease in funds. For example, the majority of our monthly expenses probably goes towards food. We eat out for nearly every meal (which is still very economical since food is so affordable here), but for the next month we will be pulling our community funds to purchase cheap vegetables and other foods to cook things like porridge at home. Another very small yet, for the month of March, significant cost is bus fair. It takes only one yuan to ride the bus, but that's two yuan round trip which adds up quickly. Therefore, we will be walking a lot more.

The second reason Meager March is an imperfect challenge is because we have responsibilities here that cannot and should not be ignored. For example, I often use the Internet to prepare for classes. Previously, I mentioned I will charge myself for Internet usage, but that only applies to personal entertainment and unnecessary activity. I consider using the Internet for school something unavoidable and quite necessary so I will not be charging myself for time spent in class preparation. We are also here working for a specific purpose which involves a lot of relationship building. If there is a need to spend money to further the work here, then we will not hesitate to spend liberally.

Meager March has evolved into a beautiful event with participants from other cities in China creating their own purpose for and method of becoming involved. I've heard that some friends in Wuhan have modified Meager March: for every yuan they spend on themselves, they will spend the same amount on others. I love this idea!


We've also decided to make March a month of challenges (as much in an effort to create some entertainment outside of costly activities as to get us outdoors and active so as to avoid "cabin fever"). Here's what we have so far:

Brian to Jessica and me: Coax five students from one of his classes to dress up like the five Beijing Olympic Mascots and sing "Happy Birthday" to him on his birthday - March 11th.

Brian to me: Get two people to buy him the two remaining Beijing Olympic Mascot keychains he hasn't acquired merely by hinting he would like to have them (no asking, begging, or bullying shall be allowed in this challenge).

Me to Brian: It's a secret, but it involves Jessica's class.

Me to Jessica: No make-up for the whole month!! (Except for class)

Amanda to Me: Once a week, send a text message to a friend expressing the way I feel about him/her with lyrics from a song.

Me to Amanda: Choose four things she does everyday and fast from each one for an entire week, beginning with one the first week, and changing to another the second week and so on. For example, she might fast from listening to music the first week. The second week she might fast from eating sugar. Etc.

So my challenge to YOU is to find a way to challenge yourself during March. It's a great way to grow personally and a fun way to step out of the humdrum doldrums that we so easily fall into.

Take luck! I'll be back for Active April...

Friday, February 22, 2008


Hanyu and I are fighting. I wish I could say it's just a mild lover's spat, but with each passing day my frustration grows. After a year of flirting back and forth, we finally had a three week long, whirlwind love affair in January. The amount of time I spent putting into our relationship during those three weeks hardly felt like work as Hanyu was also providing me with new life. Every minute I gave to Hanyu, I was being rewarded with self-confidence and an energy I haven't felt in a long time. Imagine my extreme disappointment, then, when I arrived back home only to feel neglected by the very thing in which I had invested so much faith and hope. Granted, I told Hanyu I needed a little space (10 hours a day/six days a week is enough to make even the most needy person step back for a breather), but I didn't expect to be ignored for two whole weeks! Okay, I'll be honest. Maybe I'm the one ignoring Hanyu, but the excitement in our relationship has left us. Now it seems like Hanyu is apathetic to my attempts at restoring our relationship, and I just don't seem to have the energy to make it work. Not that I haven't tried. Several times I've attempted to reopen that line of communication we once had, but in the end, it's hard to love what doesn't need or care to be loved. Hanyu does, after all, have about 1.3+ billion lovers; what's one more? The worst part about our relationship is that I can't seem to get away from Hanyu. Everywhere I look, everywhere I go, everything I do reminds me of Hanyu and what almost was or what could be. Even tonight I'm unable to sleep because Hanyu is pervading my thoughts. However, as sleepless as I become, as much frustration as I can muster, as much self-confidence as I lose, I know that I won't give up on our relationship. I need Hanyu whether the feeling is mutual or not. I guess, when all is said and done, I want to be able to say I conquered Hanyu. I triumphed. Hanyu is my Mt. Everest, my White Whale, my Shrew. However difficult, however frustrating, however degrading, I will overcome. Or else, I'll take Hanyu down with me...


The new semester begins next week. I'm not sure what I'll be teaching or when or anything remotely helpful in preparing for my classes, but I'm okay with that. I do have several new teaching ideas which I'm excited to try out. Of course, it depends on which classes I'm given as to what I'm able to actually do, but I do feel better equipped to teach a foreign language ever since my Chinese language school experience this winter. My dad thinks every teacher should go back to school periodically to remember what it's like to be a student. He says it helps them become better teachers. I agree with him. He also says we should teach lots of infinitives. I don't know why.

I always thought boredom was supposed to breed creativity, but I'm finding myself in mind-numbing daily rituals which accomplish nothing. I'm so looking forward to a sense of normalcy; I'm ready for the new semester.

Today was China's Lantern Festival which means its the official end of Spring Festival celebrations and yet another day of fireworks explosions. I watched some fireworks from my balcony but the excessive celebration we encounter each year during this time has helped to reduce the excitement I used to feel in watching the big explosions in the sky. We avoided Liuyan where there was scheduled a huge fireworks display, opting rather to stay home and eat chicken legs and mac and cheese (I'm trying to use up some of my on-hand food before next month). In a poor attempt to celebrate Mother Language Day, we put in the movie Sister Act and enjoyed reliving early 90s music and the classical remakes of songs like "I Will Follow Him" and "My God" ("My Guy"). As many times as I've seen that movie (more than I'd like to admit), there were a few parts that seemed to jump out at me this time. One quote which I think is helpful to ponder daily particularly struck me: "God has brought you here - take the hint." It's pretty straight forward so I won't try to wax philosophical, but it might serve as good wake up call to anyone questioning what to do with his/her life (or to anyone NOT questioning what to do with his/her life).

Alright, well, I hope everyone who reads this is doing well. I try to remember you all in my thoughts and prayers. Oh, and Hanyu is the Chinese language...just to clarify things....(-:

Friday, February 15, 2008


It was bound to happen. I actually expected it sooner. Tonight a firework went off dangerously close to us as we were lingering outside McDonald's contemplating what to do next with our Valentine's Day evening. Some residue from the explosion fell into my hair, but aside from yet another mild heart attack brought on by these sudden crashing booms, we were left unharmed.

A few of us who are in town decided to celebrate this annual lover's holiday by gathering for a dinner of hot pot. The streets, the restaurants, the stores were all crowded, and I noticed for the first time a lingerie store which seemed to come out of the woodworks for this special occasion. I guess Valentine's Day calls for women to shed their layers of matching, unattractive pajamas for something a little more impractical.

In People's Square people had gathered to shoot off fireworks (recklessly in the direction of people at times) and to light a fire underneath paper lanterns (yes, a fire underneath paper lanterns) which carried messages of well wishes into the sky. They traveled rather high becoming distant lights in the night's darkness. Of the several we watched go up, only one turned into a burning disaster and left a glorious trail of fire in its wake as it gracefully drifted to the ground.


On Monday I took a bus to Xiangfan, a city about two hours from Shiyan. My friend Alice had invited me to spend a couple days with her family. I always like visiting my friends' hometowns and meeting their families to look for clues as to what has shaped their personalities. I guess it's the psychological perspective of discovering how both nature and nurture have influenced the person I have come to know independent of these things that's thrilling for me.

Anyway, Alice's parents and aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. were all very kind and welcoming as is my usual experience with a Chinese family. My three weeks of Chinese language school did little to help me communicate with them, however, as what little Mandarin I know is useless in aiding me while trying to understand the Xiangfan dialect. I suppose I depended too much on Alice to translate too. I'm sure I could have made a better effort to communicate, but I clam up when I'm around people (i.e., Alice) who understand English. I actually do much better with people who speak no English or at least no more English than I speak Chinese. Regardless, Alice's parents did their best to include me, an effort that is more appreciated than they could know.

I was also fortunate to be taken on a tour of the city during my two days there. Monday afternoon Alice's dad took us to the Mi Fei Memorial Hall which is a park-like area dedicated to the works of this famous calligrapher from the Song Dynasty. I had to Google all this information later because I didn't really understand anything while I was there. I did for the first time, however, have a new appreciation for calligraphy. After spending a few weeks learning to write characters, seeing both the precision and beauty of Mi Fei's work was astounding.

Tuesday we took a family field trip to Gulongzhong, a beautiful area just outside the city where Liu Bei, founder of the Shu Han Kingdom during the Middle Kingdoms Period (220-280 A.D.) was said to visit Zhuge Liang, a famous strategist, three times for war advice which subsequently aided him in overtaking some opposing forces. The history is interesting enough, I suppose (again, it was lost on me at the time), but the scenery was absolutely gorgeous.

We returned home Wednesday. I had planned to visit another friend in Xi'an, but now I have no desire to fight the relentless mass of people traveling during the holiday season so I'll just remain in Shiyan until school starts. The city's still not back to normal. Our favorite restaurants are closed and the campus is littered with lots of children and no college students, but I imagine in the coming days the community will settle down from the high that is Spring Festival and return to the routine I've grown to love.

Friday, February 08, 2008


Brian and I arrived in Shiyan yesterday evening. It was an uneventful journey home for the most part which is usually a blessing. We flew to Wuhan from Kunming and exited the airplane at exactly midnight, just in time to catch the fireworks welcoming in the new Chinese Year of the Rat. Actually, you can't really miss the fireworks during this time as they go off for days before and after the actual new year. As we were taking off from Kunming, we could see fireworks blanketing the city. I've never seen fireworks from above before.

Now we're home and not really sure what to do with our time. I've been invited to go to Xi'an to spend some time with a sister and her family there, and Brian's been invited to visit Happy Guy and his family (who will not be back until at least after the 13th, news I'm trying to deal with since it means no Happy Guy's for longer than I want to contemplate). Neither of us, though, wants to think about getting out so soon after returning home so I'm not sure if we will take our friends up on their offers. In the meantime, we have to figure out what to do with our time while everyone is still gone vacationing or visiting family. Today is "Laugh and Get Rich" Day so the only plan we have on our agenda is to watch a funny movie and attempt to raise enough money by laughing for Brian to open his coffee shop. Wish us luck!

Sunday, February 03, 2008


The new month brings a new challenge. Originally we had decided on Focus February to encourage us as we studied Chinese (the boys and I at the language school and Jessica as she saunters about S.E. Asia). Having spent the last three weeks intensively studying Chinese, I haven't started this month out too well. I finished my last class yesterday morning and haven't picked up my Chinese book since. It's only been a day, though, and I have every intention of refocusing on my studies as February (and the subsequent months) move right along.

We also decided that upon reuniting in Shiyan we would transition from Focus February to Festive February where every day we would celebrate whatever holiday is listed for that day. I've decided, however, to do my best to spend all of February with a spirit of festivity. So far it's going well. February 1st was Bubble Gum Day so we went to the foreign import store, bought some Twisted Tornado Bubbalicious gum and had a few bubble blowing contests. February 2nd was Groundhog Day so we downloaded the movie and watched it last night. Today is a little more difficult. We can't watch the Super Bowl which is the main event for this day, but we did pay tribute to the Four Chaplains who lost their lives heroically during WWII. Tomorrow is "Dump Your Significant Jerk Day", but that one's lost on me. Somehow, I'm going to have to celebrate Liberace Day!

So Jolly January was pretty difficult. I'd say I failed being jolly more times than I even caught myself. The highlights of my failures would probably be on January 1st when I mentioned a negative thing about one of our English Department folks. It's sad to fail on the first day. The other would be when I talked poorly of David Arquette's acting abilities. It's hard knowing the reason I'm not able to eat sweets is because of a slip up regarding someone such as him. But it was an interesting challenge, one I hope to continue daily.


I finished 20 days of classes yesterday morning. We covered 10 lessons, and I supposedly should know upwards of 700 characters. We skipped the first book so I don't know as much as I'm supposed to (or maybe I do?), but I have definitely learned a lot. William said in the beginning that the main thing he hopes to take away from these three weeks is the knowledge of how to study Chinese. I feel like I've been given quite a boost in my Chinese learning. I still can't speak the language worth anything (although, my tones are improving), but I've learned to read a little and to write a little, and that's given me a lot of momentum. I bought the next two books in the series we've been using, and I'm excited to get started with book three.


Wednesday morning three of our friends from Wuhan (Carole, Rachel, and Dennis) arrived in Kunming. They were supposed to arrive a day earlier, but because of the horrific snowstorm that's been ravaging central and southern China, they were detained by a day (they spent 12 hours in the freezing Wuhan train station waiting for their train to arrive and then were delayed en-route to Kunming by another 12 hours). We met them for lunch on Wednesday and took them to Salvador's (our favorite Kunming restaurant) Wednesday evening. It's been such a blessing having them around. I think we were all beginning to drag a bit from our daily study routine and having such friendly faces to visit with every evening certainly helped me through the rest of the week.

They left today to tour a couple famous places in this province (Yunnan). They had planned to leave earlier, but Rachel got really sick and was in no condition to travel. We aren't glad that Rachel was so sick, but it was most definitely great to have them stick around an extra day or two. Carole, whose idea Festive February was, has been helping me celebrate each day, and I'm going to miss having her and her enthusiasm around.


Today was my first day free of class, but it was actually quite busy. This morning our school took us on a field trip to the Golden Temple Park. It's near the International Horticultural Exhibition which is really well known for all the different kinds of plants it has, but it's expensive to visit. The park we went to had several Chinese artifacts, pagodas, temples, greenhouses and Chinese people singing in chorus. It was an enjoyable way to spend the morning, and the mild hike up to the temple was good for our bodies which have atrophied greatly in the last three weeks. Kunming has some beautiful flowers, and the weather has been outstandingly pleasant. I don't think I'm mentally or physically prepared to return to the bleak and cold reality of Shiyan.

Hmm, return. Brian and I bought plane tickets to Wuhan. We leave Wednesday and hope to catch a bus to Shiyan Thursday (which is the Chinese New Year). I had hopes this year of celebrating the Spring Festival with a Chinese family, but the wintry weather made it rather undesirable at best (and impossible at worst) to get to where I needed to be in time to do this. Instead, Brian and I will be arriving in Shiyan on Spring Festival Day where we will have to scrounge our cupboards for food since all the restaurants and stores will be closed. I'm really looking forward to being home, though.

Well, the boys still have one more class tomorrow morning. I finished early so that my teacher could return to her hometown for Spring Festival. I have big plans tomorrow morning of going to Salvador's, getting some good coffee, and relaxing with a book for a few hours. After all, it's "Solo Diner's Eat Out Week"!