Monday, December 24, 2007

How Santa saved Christmas... on Mars?

For all of you film buffs out there, how many of you are familiar with the movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians? Let me tell you something! It is NOT a classic Christmas film. It should NOT go on the top 10 list. I don't recommend you watch it. Unless, of course, you're up for an hour and a half of bad movie. The experience is much more pleasant if you're eating white chocolate coated popcorn and watching it with some friends, but the movie itself is nothing to get excited over unless you happen to have a club dedicated to bad movies.

Christmas Eve, that wonderful day before Christmas that gets you so excited you're finally willing to sneak open one of your Christmas presents. Unless, of course, you already broke down and opened one. This year Christmas Eve was very misty and gray, and very very cold. Not cold enough to snow. Yet. Jessica keeps telling me that it's going to snow tonight. I came to find out that she wasn't watching the weather channel or anything, she just believes that God will make it snow so she'll have a white Christmas and be able to have peace in her heart. She told me she feels saddened at my lack of emotion for snow because I told her snow cannot make peace. Now I feel the need to reexamine my life and figure out where I went wrong in my relationship with freezing precipitation. I'm confident that with dedication and a good shrink, next Christmas I will be waiting for snow so that I can feel like God has sent peace to the world. Seriously though, I like snow. It's great! Wonderful! We don't get much of it in the Mississippi Delta and what we do get isn't really enough to hide the grass. But apparently I don't love it as much as other people. I'm kind of jealous.

Tonight the entire foreign language department went to dinner, courtesy of the school administration. It's kind of an awkward experience. This year they actually told us before it was time to go, but last year we arrived at the end of the dinner because they didn't tell us we were going before they came to pick us up. Well, the way it works is that the foreigners all go outside at the predetermined time to pile in the car that is provided for us. Since there as 2 Japanese here this year, there are 6 of us. Instead of getting in the school's car we walked down to the street with the representative from the Foreign Affairs Office to catch a taxi. Of course, we were leaving exactly at taxi shift change time, which also (for some unknown reason) falls in the middle of rush hour and everyone else getting off from work. There was not a single taxi to be seen on the street. We ended up taking the bus, which stopped two different times (5 or 10 minutes each time) so the driver could yell at everyone on the bus to go towards the back because people were hanging out the door, and also one time because for some reason it took us 10 minutes to get through a traffic light. We arrived to the dinner over an hour late, but luckily the foreign teachers don't get to sit and eat in the same room with everyone else. We had a room down the hall for ourselves. No one really knew we were late because they were all partying in another room with 7 tables. We didn't mind too much, though. We got to play majiang while we waited and didn't have to toast with every single teacher at the party, only the ones at our table. Despite my slight sarcasm, the dinner really was good and it was nice to be taken out by our school for once. Since we arrived and left so late we weren't able to participate in the Christmas caroling at the medical school.

I didn't really do much more than that today. I did a little shopping, but just down at the bottom of the hill. Fruit, milk, things like that. By the way, the supermarkets all changed their prices to account for the newly released inflation numbers this past week. Yowza! Milk went from 1.6 for a small 250 mL box to 2.7 per box. That's a big jump! Anyhoo, I didn't mean to get off on a grocery tangent. Tomorrow is Christmas! I can't believe it! Three Christmases away from home (with one in the middle at home). That's kind of weird. I miss all you folks! Even though I talked to you just last night (some of you) it's not quite as awesome without you. But I'll try not to let it spoil my fun! :-P Tomorrow for breakfast Angelyn and Jessica (and maybe some others) are planning to prepare a delicious feast of quiche, cinnamon rolls, and whatever else their minds can imagine to treat us to. I provided fruit, but I didn't manage to make it into a fancy looking bird or anything. Sorry everyone! You'll just have to take an orange, eat it, and be happy with it. We'll also have stockings stuffed with goodies, and then tomorrow night is the first annual Shiyan Tacky Christmas Sweater Progressive Dinner Party Extravaganza. STCSPDE for short. I bought the most amazing tacky Christmas sweater ever in Chengdu from some guys selling things in the middle of the crosswalk. You have to see it to believe it, and I'm pretty sure I'll be embarrassed when you see it. So, until that moment, have a Merry Christmas. Joy to the world!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Chengdu Trip

I've discovered that I'm really bad at telling about a trip or anything that lasted more than one or two days. I start to write about it and then it gets so long and drawn out that I promise to come back later and finish. Then I never do. So today I'm providing you with a link to Angelyn's blog. She lives across the hall and was one of my travel companions to Chengdu. If you CLICK HERE you will be directed to her blog entry about our Chengdu trip. I'm sure you will find it just as fascinating and fulfilling as anything I could write. Probably more so.

Broken promises

I'm going to start out by apologizing to everyone. I totally forgot to pick up my camera on the way out this morning so I have absolutely no pictures to show you from today. :( If it makes you feel any better, I'm way more bummed about it than you are because now I have no pictures to add to my personal collection. :( :(

If you're wondering how today went, I would have to say it went very well. There were about 50 people there this morning, and quite a few people didn't even get to come. We had a great morning meeting with lots of singing and merry making. Lunch was good, as we crammed all those people around 4 tables. The real entertainment, however, was the gift exchange. We always play "dirty Santa" or "white elephant" or whatever name you might have for this game. Everyone brought a small gift of some sort; funny, serious, useful, useless, doesn't matter. We then drew numbers and took turns opening gifts. When it was your turn, you could choose between opening a new gift or stealing a gift from someone else. The game went on until the last person opened a gift. I ended up with a pair of girl's gloves about three times too small and a bar of Dove chocolate. That's okay, though. I had fun! I gave the gloves and the chocolate away, so it didn't matter to me.

The rest of my afternoon was spent with Jessica and two Chinese (Andrew and Athena) at a new coffee place called Box Coffee. It's the first coffee place in town that actually has a coffee house atmosphere. Every other place in town that calls itself a coffee house is usually too fancy and they all, without exception, have gross nasty coffee that is overpriced. Box Coffee actually has decent coffee, ground and brewed when you order, that is only 10 yuan per cup. That's compared to the 30 yuan price at just about any other place. We spent a while hanging out and mulling over what it would be like if we owned and operated our own coffee house in Shiyan. It would be quite the opportunity for community outreach and, if it made enough money, could possibly fund a free medical clinic that some of the medical students are interested in starting. The possibilities are astounding! Of course, none of us has the capital to get something like that going, so it's only daydreaming.

After coffee Jessica and I raided the grocery store and headed home. The weather turned very cold and rainy since this morning, so Jessica was inspired with thoughts of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Luckily, we keep a supply of cheese in the freezer for just such an occasion so we thawed it out and I cooked up a couple of sandwiches. Around 7:30 Angelyn and Jessica had some students come over to hang out so we all sat around in Jessica's apartment and enjoyed some no-bake cookies (thank you Jessica!), talked about our Chengdu trip from last week, and then watched You've Got Mail. We were looking for a Christmas movie and somehow that was as Christmasy as we could get and feel like the students would enjoy it. We really need to work on our collection of Christmas movies!

Since they left, I've showered, blogged a little, been interrupted by a Skype call from my family, and now I'm finishing up this blog entry. All in all a good Sunday. Tomorrow I don't have much planned, but considering how rainy and freezing cold it is right now I don't imagine I'll be wanting to get out much tomorrow. Our school is taking all of the faculty from our department to dinner tomorrow night and then some people are planning to go caroling around the medical school campus. Fun times will be had!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Kids are so cute

So today was one of those days where I was regretting not carrying my camera around with me. First of all, this afternoon we went to the annual city-wide Christmas party. Christmas in China is a strange time for me because every year there are more and more decorations and parties and various celebrations, but there is absolutely nothing about it that makes me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. There are no people calling out "merry Christmas" when you leave a store, there are no warm, good smelling places. None of that. Mostly there are an overabundance of Santa Claus faces hanging in every window, an increasing number of Christmas trees lining the store fronts, and all kinds of tinsel and decorations hanging in places they don't really belong. One of the yearly things that sort of halfway gets on my nerves and halfway makes me laugh are the parties. The city has a Christmas party every year and invites all the foreigners to attend. Of course, there's not much Christmas feeling to it past the decorations, but it's full of kids singing, dancing, and playing traditional Chinese instruments. It also has a smattering of foreigners singing songs because, as is the custom, you can't be invited to a party without being expected to sing a song when you get there. Luckily our school has figured out that we don't particularly enjoy this custom so they don't ask us to sing anymore, but other schools still sometimes force their teachers to perform. So this afternoon was filled with an entertaining hour of singing, dancing, and music. Of course, all the little kids were so cute and adorable and I totally forgot to take my camera. Oh well, there's always next year's party.

The rest of the day wasn't without it's own cute little kids, either. After the Christmas party was over I went to do some (sort of) last minute Christmas shopping. I spent at least an hour browsing around in the Korean market looking for what I needed, but I'm pretty sure I got it all. At one point, two little boys (about 4 years old) kept coming up, poking me, and staring up at me to see what I would do. I'd say hi, they would say it back, and then they'd walk away until about a minute later when they would do it again. They also kept yelling "foreigner!" at me when they weren't poking me, so I would say "No, I'm Chinese!" and they would kind of laugh at me for a second. After three or four times of that, one of them yelled "foreigner!" and the other looked at him and said "No, he's Chinese." Then they actually spent the rest of the time arguing back and forth about whether I was a foreigner or Chinese. I have a hard enough time understanding some little kids who speak English, so I was quite proud of myself for understanding all of this in Chinese, plus I was cracking up at what I heard.

After I got home I waited until the dinner rush was over and went down to Happy Guy's for dinner. If I wait long enough he's usually not too busy and can sit and hang out with me. We were talking about my Chengdu trip and Christmas when his nephew came in. He's 4 and doesn't really like me at all. I guess he thinks he's too good for me or something because he doesn't seem to even know that I exist. Well, Happy Guy kept bringing his over to say hello to me but he wouldn't open his mouth. I eventually started asking him questions in Chinese like "what's your name? how old are you?" and the usual stuff like that. He wouldn't even answer until I hit upon the magic question of "can you speak Chinese?" He answered with a swift and definitive "No!" So then we asked him what language he could speak and he informed us that he "forgot every language so he couldn't speak" to me. I hate it when that happens. It usually happens when I'm talking to a pretty girl, though. Anyhoo, after missing all those precious moments because of my lack of a camera, I feel like I should take my camera out right now and hunt up something worthy of a video or snapshot. Of course, now it's midnight and there's nothing to see out there.

In the morning we'll have our Sunday meeting followed by a big Christmas party dinner (Chinese food only) and a gift exchange game. It should be a lot of fun and I've already set my camera out, so this time I should get some good pictures. Merry Christmas everyone! I'll let you know if I get anything good at the party tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Checking in

Well, we left for Chengdu last Thursday around 11:30 PM and set foot back on Shiyan soil today (Wednesday) at 11:03 AM. I must say that we were all excited to get back. Chengdu was a nice change from everyday life but we agreed that we spent too long away or else should have spent our time differently. I'll put up more details later, right now I basically just want to let everyone know that I'm back. I'm tired and hungry and I have one last class in the morning that I need to plan something spectacular for. Spectacular!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Quest for the Giant Bear Cat

Tomorrow night I'm going to Chengdu with Angelyn and Jessica. This trip serves several purposes ranging from just an excuse to get out of town, Jessica's birthday trip, and knocking one more place off my list of places to go in life. The thing Chengdu is probably best known for? Pandas. Sichuan province is basically panda central. A few quick facts: The Chinese word for panda is 大熊猫 which translates to "big bear cat." The panda was mainly unknown to the Western world until 1869 when a French scientist brought a pelt back to Europe and described the panda to the scientific community. There are thought to be only about 1000 pandas left in the wild today. Pandas live on a diet exclusively made of bamboo. Bamboos flower and die en mass every 25 years or so, which led to more than 130 pandas starving to death on just one mountain in the mid-70s. There's a panda breeding facility in Chengdu with more than 50 giant and red pandas, which you can hold and have your picture taken for a price ranging from 50 yuan to 1200 yuan (depending on whether you want to settle for a red panda for shell out the dough for a cute baby giant panda).

A few other quick facts that important for completely different reasons: Chengdu has 7 Starbucks locations. It also has 2 Mexican restaurants. Chengdu has good shows... last year my friend Jeremy was chosen from the crowd to be the one who stood against a wall and had knives thrown at him. Chengdu is the 5th largest city in China. It's close to several good mountains known for their good views, hikes, or other touristy things.

We really don't know exactly when we'll come back, but we'll definitely come back Wednesday at the latest. That would make the trip a full 7 days from start to finish. I'm excited about it! I didn't get out of town in October holiday so I'm ready for this. Then we'll come back, have Christmas a few days later, have New Years a week later (which I'm going to Yichang for), and then around January 14 I'm going to Kunming for language school. Yay!!! It's going to be a busy time.

As for today's news, I had no class today so I didn't too much official type stuff. This morning I got a call saying I had two packages (woohoo!) so I ran down to the post office to get the wonderful boxes of goodies mom and grandmother sent me. I had fun opening those and sorting through them with Angelyn. So many good possibilities for Christmas goodies! I went shopping with Jessica and Angelyn after lunch, mainly so I could buy our train tickets to Chengdu. Then Jessica and I had to come back so we could record this week's campus English talk radio segment. We don't go on the radio every week, but sometimes they invite us for an interview. Every time I've done it before, I was the only one being interviewed. I've decided that it's 50 times more fun with someone else because we can just goof around and talk for 40 minutes then they edit it down to 15 or however many they want and everyone has a good time. Christina, the student in charge of it, promised to give us a copy of the unedited version of our interview. You'd have to hear it to understand how stinkin' hilarious it was, but I plan to somehow distribute it on here if I can. There's one part in the middle where Christina stops to answer her cell phone (there is nothing in existence that can stop a Chinese person from dropping what they are doing to answer their cell phone) so Jessica and I go off on a tangent about Christina's new boyfriend and I end up wishing her a long, happy life with him. She came back right at that moment and, only hearing the part where I wish her a happy life, said "thanks!" Later when we got her to play it back she was so embarrassed because she didn't know what she was thanking me for. Like I said, you have to hear it to appreciate it. Jessica and I also got into an argument over some song lyrics for "Winter Wonderland". I'm pretty sure the words are "in the meadow we can build a snowman" but she sang "in the weather we can build a snowman." Anyhoo, moving on. After the show we went home and Jessica was kind enough to make us all fresh salad with chicken breast, ranch dressing, and *GASP* bacon!!! Bacon almost never happens here in Shiyan. Actually, it never does. You have to go 7 hours to Wuhan to get it. But we got some and it was amazing! Also, ranch dressing doesn't happen here either, unless you have a mix someone sent you from home. Thanks someone! Zoe and Halley ended up coming over and eating with us, then we all hung out with some of Angelyn's students who came over for a movie. After all of that you would think that the night would be over. But it wasn't! Jessica, Zoe, Halley, and I went to the track and ran for a while. I coached Halley through her first time ever running 8 laps while Jess and Zoe did a fun mix of power walking, running, jazzercizing, and playing on the parallel bars.

All in all a good day, filled with goodness and friends. Tomorrow morning I have a final exam to administer, followed by a lunch of banana pancakes to enjoy for Jessica's birthday. Then tomorrow night is our weekly Thursday night Study, slightly altered to accommodate a birthday cake party for Jessica, then an 11pm train to Chengdu. Woot! Since I don't know exactly what my internet situation will be, I may or may not be on in the next week. I'll play it by ear. Until next time, peace, love, and pandas.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Just to make you aware

There's a group departing for China sometime around February 14-18. If anyone is interested in coming to visit me *big loud cheer from everyone because everyone is interested in coming to visit me* then let me know and I can help you arrange your tickets with that group. Then you would have travel companions on the way over! Of course, if you're not available to leave at that time then you can always come on your own at any other time. I'm willing to pay all in-China expenses (minus souvenirs of course) in exchange for someone actually coming to visit me. Just so you know.

Also, some people wanted to know my number and address so here they are:

(615)653-4594 is a Skype number. You can call that number in America and it calls my computer!

Brian Neal
c/o Foreign Affairs Office
Hubei Automotive Industries Institute
Shiyan, Hubei 442002
P.R. China

I'm always happy to get letters, but if you want to send me a package then you might ask me first so you don't spend a fortune sending me something we can get in the store here. Like noodles. Don't mail Ramen noodles. It's happened before.

Crazy Awesome Weekend

As predicted, this past weekend was crazy awesome. Carole and Danielle came in from Wuhan about 1:30 in the morning Saturday. I had a wushu lesson at 9 so I didn't meet anyone before I left for that. I DID, however, get a thumbs up from one of the instructors at the gym. So far we've been taught by a girl who has been studying wushu about two months longer than us. They say after I practice one motion 100 times then one of the instructors will take the time to correct my mistakes. Needless to say, the fact that one of the instructors was actually paying attention and gave me a thumbs up made me really excited. I'm pretty sure I kept bringing it up the rest of the weekend. Anyhoo, I was out and about until after lunch, so around 12:30 I got back and found that the weekly ladies' brunch was wrapping up. That's when I got to meet our guests. Little did I know, the fun was just beginning.

Someone arranged a 2:30 trip to the orphanage Saturday afternoon, so we all piled on the bus and went to meet everyone else at the gate of the medical school. It was a cold and rainy day, so all the windows on the bus were fogged up. Of course, what could we do but draw baby feet and turkeys? Little known fact... apparently turkeys go "mrr mrr."

In this picture: (back l to r) Jessica, Megan, Danielle, William, David; (front l to r) Carole, Angelyn. Just a portion of the crew that went.

I've never been to the orphanage here because everytime I've tried to join in the trip got canceled. I was nervous about going this time because I didn't want to jinx it again, but we actually made it and were allowed in to see the kids. Unfortunately instead of 50 kids we were greeted by about 5 because the others had all been moved to a middle school with dorms that they could live in. We sang songs, passed out gloves, made a shopping list for our next visit, and just enjoyed visiting with so many people.

After we were done there, we all split up. Angelyn went to return the train tickets that I so painstakingly bought the other day and they decided 10 minutes later they didn't want. (just kidding, there was no pain involved) I went with Priscilla (in the pink in the picture above), Carole (the small one in the middle), Danielle (the tall one crouching in the front), and Jessica (has her hand on Danielle's head) to the bus station to buy new tickets and then behind the bus station to the Korean market for some Christmas shopping. I got some lights and they all bought hats. Priscilla actually bought a normal hat she could wear any day, Danielle and Carole bought some wicked awesome Russian/Chinese fur hats. I would have bought one except I had just bought one a day or two earlier. (If you remember, just before Halloween '06 I bought a big green army coat. Well, the hat matches it!) Afterwards, we went back to school and had dinner at Happy Guy's, followed by a night on the town with some other foreign friends at the disco in town. I have discovered that with a strobe light I can almost fake dancing ability. Almost.

Sunday we had our weekly meeting and then in the afternoon I went to teach English to the people who teach me wushu. (We pay each other with our respective teaching.) At 5 a bunch of us went to KTV. The K stands for karaoke, which is the unofficial pastime of China. We got an awesome room that had English lyrics that were mostly correct. Whitney Houston was singing some song about "blittersweat memories" but other than that it was just about right. My favorite was John dancing to "My Humps" (which is not a good song when you actually have the lyrics on the screen by you, be warned). I was devastated that we didn't discover the switch to turn on the strobe light until we were leaving, though. I could have practiced pretending to have dancing ability some more. Here you can see William and me holding on to John in front of a coffee/KTV place. It was actually the wrong place so were really just totally confusing the ladies in charge of opening the door and yelling welcome. They couldn't figure out if we were coming in or not, then we ended up walking down the street to the right place. Oops.

After an hour of singing we went around the corner to UBC Coffee (not the place in the picture above) and enjoyed a rare treat of fried ice cream balls, coffee, and spaghetti. Unfortunately it was in that order because the waitress thought I was joking when I ordered in Chinese so she only brought the stuff we ordered in English. We had our ice cream and then I had to ask where the spaghetti was. I couldn't finish it since I'd already had the ice cream, but some of the girls helped me out. I'm pretty sure I could have finished all of it if they had brought the spaghetti first. I know it's the same amount of food, but it's all in the order in which you eat it. I learned about it in physics in high school, trust me. Around 9 we were leaving and as we walked past People's Square we noticed that the nightly dance party was still going on. Basically every old person in town comes and makes a huge conga line and walks in a circle for three hours. We needed to work off that fried ice cream, so we all went and joined in. Jessica and Carole made a lot of new friends teaching the electric slide. I'm pretty sure if I go back tonight they'll all be practicing the "new American dance".

After line dancing ourselves to exhaustion, we all went back to our respective schools. At my school we ended up watching a movie and falling asleep with our cool new Russian/Chinese fur hats on. It's the best way to stay warm!

This morning Angelyn and I saw the Wuhan gals off at the bus station. And 5 minutes later we were bored, lonely, and sending them text messages to come back to us. So we went DVD shopping to distract ourselves. All in all, this weekend was a bit of a splurge in just about every way. We had an overdose of just about every good thing in life this weekend, and it was GREAT! Of course, what you don't get from reading this is all the hilarity and interplay between people. Or things like when Danielle played Mary Had a Little Lamb on the piano at the coffee shop and got yelled at by the manager. I will leave you with two photos in memory of our guests. The first is to show why I'm the designated umbrella carrier when Carole is walking by me. The other is a glamor shot they took in front of William and Priscilla's building at the middle school.

Friday, December 07, 2007

An attempted new look

As you may have noticed already, I'm back into blogging. I've been trying to update all of my links and whatnot that I display. Well, a few days ago I got a haircut and was thinking that if I can improve my image, why not try to improve my blog's image? So I started searching for a new look for my blog and I thought I had found it. I saved my old template so I wouldn't lose anything, and put up the new one. I didn't like it. So I changed it back. Of course, most of the stuff on the sidebar of my blog was instantly lost. For example, the wicked awesome map pinpointing Shiyan's location. And now I can't find the website where I originally got those maps. I'm so upset! I'll never change my blog's appearance again! Not really, but I'll definitely be more careful next time and back up all the custom pictures.

On a side note, there are two girls coming into town tonight from Wuhan to visit Angelyn and Jessica. I haven't met them but I've heard they're crazy hilarious so there could possibly be some zany pictures on the way soon.

And now the fun story of the day. Every Friday the guys try to get together for lunch. Oddly enough, we call it Guys Lunch. Every week a different person gets to choose the restaurant so today we were eating across the street from the medical college. After lunch I was walking with John and William through town and we passed some people on the sidewalk selling various things laid out on a blanket. This is a perfectly ordinary thing to see here, especially as winter comes on and a lot of people migrate from the north and/or west to warmer regions. It's also perfectly common for people to yell the one English word they know as you walk by, trying to attract your attention. Today that word was "tiger." We were walking and this guy starts going "tigerrrrr, tiger, tiger, tigerrrrr" over and over. Sure enough, we look down and he's got a dried up tiger paw for sale on his blanket. It was pretty huge! I'm not sure where this guy was migrating from for the winter, but it must be a cool place if it has tigers. Does Tibet have tigers? I'll have to Google it. The guy also had various other pieces of wild animals like a furry goat skull. We didn't buy anything because we weren't sure if we would be supporting the poaching of endangered animals or not. As I was leaving for lunch I contemplated whether or not I should take my camera. I decided nothing fun would happen on an ordinary day like today. I will never leave my camera at home again. After we had passed by, we were standing around talking in front of the bus station and we noticed that the peddlers were now in an argument with the police. They had drawn a large crowd already so we figured we could hide in the back and catch the action. They yelled back and forth for a while and then the police left. I'm not sure what happened, maybe the police wanted them to buy a permit to sell things on the sidewalk or maybe the police just don't like nomads hanging around town. In the end the police were back in their car and the others were sitting back on the sidewalk.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A selection of quotes

Living in an English speaking environment in China can be very frustrating. At the same time, it can have some hilarious moments. Sometimes students just don't throw out the word you were expecting them to throw out, something doesn't quite translate, or people are just much more candid than you expect. Here is a selection of some things that I have heard here in China. The names with an asterisk (*) belong to Chinese people.

"You're the same as last year, cute and huge. So huge! I only come up to your lungs." - Wind*

"Man, we learned a lot of English from that movie. Like 'Kill the Japs!'" - Jakie*

"Who's under that blanket?" -David*
"Brian. Or else three Chinese people." -Angelyn

"He's so tall! He must never get cold." - Christina* talking about me

"In English, how do you say a head with no head?" - Zoe*

- text message from Happy Guy*

"Egad! His car is a very expensive sports car and yours is so ugly! I know... you pay him $5000 or........ I will beat you." - student* performing an improv skit in my class

"It's like a furnace!" - Willie* after warming her hands on the top of my head

"You're a bad boy! As your publishment, you must carry me down the hill." - Jacob* (he meant punishment)

"I'll be there on Saturday."
"Okay, so we'll stay here a few days and meet you in your hometown on Saturday."
"Okay. I still haven't bought the tickets yet. I'll be there Sunday."
"What? Is it Saturday or Sunday?"
"Okay, we'll be in your hometown on Sunday."
"Okay! See you Monday!"
- Orange* trying to tell me when she could meet us

"Dude! Duderonomy! You're a crazy white dude!" - Jakie*

"Later player." - Sean*

"My name is Fish because I like Fish." - Fish*

Of course, funny quotes work in reverse. Like the morning I asked a Chinese friend if she wanted to "eat a muffin" and discovered that "mafen" in Chinese means horse poop. Or that "right turn" sounds suspiciously like "monster" and the day my friend wanted to say "I would like an iced drink" and instead said "I killed a soldier." Yay for language!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

We're expanding our services

In an attempt to lead lives of more action, the Shiyan group is trying to open up new routes of ministry throughout the city. I will share with you one such endeavor today.

Many big cities around the world have famous red light districts. In some countries, prostitution is even legalized. Well, Shiyan also has a couple of large areas that we call "pink light" streets, even though it definitely isn't legalized here. Around 6 or 7 in the evening most hair salons in town flip a light switch and the ladies sit around waiting for customers. It's so blatant and out in the open for all to see that I have to wonder how much the police make under the table each year. Well, Priscilla and Jessica feel called to reach out to these pink light ladies and are in the process of talking with the Chinese Sisters and trying to draw up a plan of action.

After visiting Wuhan (capital of this province, about 7 hours away) they learned that Wuhan and Beijing already have groups doing this sort of outreach. The Family in Beijing has had success in that some of the ladies have stopped working in the pink light district, are going back to school, and are making money for themselves by selling crafts on the internet. Jessica and Priscilla took notes and asked questions in Wuhan and now are in search of a Chinese Sister here in Shiyan who has the same passion to work with these ladies. It's important that this work not just be something weird that the foreigners want to do, it needs to rely on Chinese involvement. Jessica sent out an email last week that lists their needs and concerns better than I ever could, so I'm including parts of that email here:
Last weekend when I was in Wuhan, I had the opportunity to meet the foreign women who are leading a similar effort in Wuhan's pink light district. I got to speak with Kelli and Heather, who had begun the MNSTRY 1 year ago. The spoke to me about the logistics, how they go about each day, and the success/troubles they have been faced with. Heather shared a really encouraging story with me about a visit to the Beijing MNSTRY, where 4 women have left the pink light work and are living in a rehabilitative house. They go to night school, and support themselves by making jewelry that they sell online. Its called the starfish project, if you would like to Google it! I was also blessed to speak to two girls who had just joined the work there, and they gave me such a unique insight into what we were undertaking. I am so grateful that Abba gave me the gift of meeting with them, it really opened my eyes to what we were about it begin!

In light of lessons learned from meeting the women in Wuhan, and PRYRful consideration, Priscilla and I have a fresh outlook on the work we would like to do. First of all, the next two months will be filled with constant PRYR and careful preparation. I never want to underestimate the seriousness of what we are undertaking. There are a number of very serious things to consider, and so here is where we are in need of PRYR warriors such as yourselves! Please keep the following in your conversations with Him:

1. The LRD will raise up leadership among our Chinese sisters to take control of this mnstry, it would be impossible without them. (We are looking specifically for one sister who really has a heart for this work to join with us in leadership, but we are also searching for all others to help!)
2. The LRD will give strength, dedication, and insight to Priscilla and me as we try to be his hands and feet
3. The LRD will prepare the hearts of the women in the pink light districts to be open to our friendship
4. The power to overcome in the spiritual battle we are about to enter into
5. The pink light MNSTRYS already underway in Beijing and Wuhan

The actually logistics of the work as still very much up in the air, as we would really like to have our Chinese sisters leading in the preparation stages. There are a number of possibilities that are looking promising, such as offering free medical checks, or giving clothes or other basic necessities. There will be various roles to play in the MNSTRY; women actually going inside to talk with the pink light ladies, PRYR teams out on the side walk, and PRYR assignments throughout the city to cover us. (A great way for the men to be involved!).

~Therefore, behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and I will speak tenderly and to her heart. There I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor to be for her a door of hope and expectation. And she shall sing there and respond as in the days of her youth and as at the time when she came up out of the land of Egypt.
~And it shall be in that day, says the Lord, that you will call Me, Ishi [my Husband], and you shall no more call Me, Baali [my Baal]. For I will take away the names of the Baals out of her mouth, and they shall no more be mentioned or seriously remembered by their name. And in that day will I make a covenant for Israel with the living creatures of the open country and with the birds of the heavens and with the creeping things of the ground. And I will break the bow and the sword and conflict out of the land and will make you lie down safely.
~And I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy.
I will even betroth you to Me in stability and in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.
(Hosea 2: 14-20)


This is a big step that would not be possible without our Father's help, but it also needs the help of everyone in the Family. Please be Mindful of this and everyone involved, and please Ask that a native Sister can be found who will take up a leading role in this. As we've tried to become more action oriented and involved with other things such as the poor and beggars in town, some of the Family here has balked at the idea of being that close and involved with those kinds of people. But they are slowly realizing that we are called to do exactly that. Of course, it's not only the Chinese who are hesitant to make such a big change to lives of action, most of us foreigners are just as reluctant, held back by laziness or bad habits. But we're all working together so we're gaining ground bit by bit.

Wushu and Hotpot: A typical Tuesday

Today I got up and went to William's apartment at 9:30 to meet him and John for our weekly (in theory) wushu practice. In case you missed it, wushu is the general name for Chinese kungfu. Wushu is the art itself, kungfu is any wushu that focuses on fighting. There are other kinds of wushu that focus on art or health. We learn it every Saturday morning and have set aside Tuesday mornings as a practice session since all three of us are free that morning. John didn't come, and we still don't know why. I'm sure he'll give us some excuse involving butter (last time I was at his apartment, he and his wife had 31 sticks of butter in the fridge). I had fun practicing with William. He put on some traditional Chinese music, most of which was played on a pipa, a stringed instrument. At some point he decided to switch from traditional Chinese music to pop music which made for a hilarious sight. Us practicing wushu to pop music. It struck me as being so funny that I just had to video it. And here it is! Possibly the best video in the history of all videos. You be the judge...

So I left William's place just before 12 and walked to McDonalds so I could meet the girls for hotpot at 12:30. It was Angelyn, Jessica (both American), and Alice (Chinese). If you don't know, hotpot is when you get a big pot full of whatever you choose to eat for lunch, cook it over a fire in the middle of the table, and just eat straight out of the pot. It's usually a good way to die from an overdose of spicey food, but today's was mostly just hot from the fire that was in the middle of the table.

Here's the fish hotpot before we started eating.

And here it is after...

And to give you an idea of how dangerous this meal could have been, here's the pile of millions of fish bones on my plate at the end of the meal.

After lunch we headed back to school. At the bottom of our hill we stopped to pick up some milk tea to drink. Since Alice was still with us we decided to take advantage of her multilingual skills to find out exactly what all the different flavors are. She was tired or didn't want to lean through the window to read them all, so she just went in and sat down behind the counter. For some reason we found this incredibly cute so I got a picture of the booth and one of Alice taking our money like she worked there.

Every Tuesday at 3 Jessica and I go play majiang with Mike, an older man at our school, so we made our way to his apartment. Here are Mike and Jan. I'll let you guess which is which. (hint - Jan doesn't have a combover)

Jessica left at 5 to go prepare for a new class that began tonight, but I stayed for another hour so I could learn the basics of Chinese chess. I'm pretty sure that I could learn to love xiangqi (the Chinese name) more than majiang. How can you not like a game with elephants and cannons? There's even a palace and a river. Yeah, it's way cooler than normal chess.

I came back home at 6 to Study with some students, but they forgot to come so they will come over at 9 with another group that always comes on Tuesday nights. And that, after going all semester without a single class on this day, is a fairly typical Tuesday for me.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Winter holiday plans

We always look forward to the winter holiday here because instead of one week of overcrowded travel in order to get visit one city, we get 5 or 6 weeks. And only a few of those weeks have overcrowded trains and stations, so it's easier to plan around such things. Well, this year I somehow lucked out and my classes are ending around December 20th instead of sometime in January. That means that from December until the first week of March, I'm free to do whatever is within my budget. I definitely won't be traveling that entire time, but I do know what I'll be doing most of that time. Attending language school in Kunming!

What is language school, you ask? It's a place where you go to learn a language, of course. In this case it's a place in Kunming (down in the southwestern province of Yunnan) that will give me a place to live and teach me one-on-one for four weeks. It's kind of expensive but I should be able to afford it by the time the middle of January gets here. I've always toyed with the idea of going to a language school, but I never wanted to skip going home in the summer or anything like that. Most of the ones I could find online either required that I enroll for a full semester or were just too expensive. But after William hunted up this school in Kunming and he started talking about going there, I couldn't get the idea out of my head. Four weeks of one-on-one tutoring is about the same price as if I were to fly home for the holiday, but I think it will be worth it. It should really advance my level of speaking, which will be helpful for the times I want to ask people on the street why they are staring at me so intently. Is there something on my face? Do I look like your long lost brother? Not really, but I often daydream about saying things like that. I usually just smile and wave or completely ignore them. Anyhoo, back to language school. You can click here to go to the school's website. They give you great accommodations and I actually met a guy on the sleeper bus once who went to this school for three months. I noticed him in some pictures on the school's website. William and Angelyn are both planning to go, so it will probably be the three of us. Since William finishes classes later than us, we'll have to wait around until he's done.

Angelyn, Jessica, and I were thinking of going to Chengdu for a few days in a week or two. That's the panda capital of China. We'll get to pet a panda and then go across town to one of the rarest of rare things in China... a Mexican restaurant! I'm excited. Other than Chengdu and Kunming, I don't have any big plans for this winter holiday. I may go on a few other short trips, but nothing too big since language school with cost two months' salary ($950). Those two cities are pretty big names on the list of places to see while in China though, so even if I don't go anywhere else I should see plenty of cool things.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The school where I teach has the foreign English teachers give a 2 hour lecture every Friday night. Since there are 4 of us, we can rotate and do one a month. This past Friday was my turn, so I prepared a lecture on the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I figured the Chinese would love it because they always want to know how to get ahead in life, plus it's easy on my part because all I had to do was summarize something that had already been done.

I read this book in college, but I forgot that the first part of the book focuses on the difference between character and personality, and how important it is to focus on having a foundation of good character rather than focusing on skills, personality, and techniques. After I began to prepare the Powerpoint presentation for this lecture, I began to get excited about what kinds of questions might surface after I was done. In general, the Chinese don't learn any kind of ethics associated with business, so they don't see a problem with cutting a few corners here and there, pocketing a bit of money that no one will miss. Of course, those kinds of practices can come back to bite you in the end so a lot of people with common sense stay away from that sort of thing. But to have good character values plainly laid out in a presentation was something that these students hadn't had before. After finishing my lecture, I didn't really get any questions about the 7 habits. Instead, all of the questions were along the lines of "How important do you think it is to have good character?" "What kinds of traits do you consider to be good character?" "Do you really think honesty is important in business and other relationships?" "Do you think having a faith of some sort is important for success and happiness?" "Everyone has their own idea of the world and you can't force someone to follow your faith, so why do you think having a strong faith is important?" "I don't think it's possible for someone to change their mind about what they believe. Have you ever know someone who doesn't believe in religion to change their mind?"

Needless to say, I felt like the questions started some good conversations. Even though the conversations didn't last very long because we all ended up leaving soon after, the smallest seed can bear up a giant tree.