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.