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.