Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Deck the halls

Christmas is coming! It's practically here! If you want a present from me, you need to tell me straight up. Otherwise you're not getting ANYTHING! And nothing over $1, please. I'm here to give you my official plans for Christmas. Wednesady (Christmas Eve) morning, I will load up with my cousin Rob and we will drive to Dayton, OH to his parents' house. My mom will be there already and we'll have a nice quiet Christmas at the Neely house. Quieter than you might think, since all the kids and grandkids will be at the the in-laws. My Aunt Beth is an amazing cook, so I'm definitely looking forward to chowing down. Plus, if all goes as planned, I'll be able to acquire a different car while in Dayton. One that actually works! We'll see what happens. Tomorrow night is the Trophy House Christmas Dinner. This year it's going to be at Sperry's, which is a fine dining establishment in Nashville. Very nice! I'll have the water. Oh, what? Larry's paying? Then I'll have the sirloin! Mushroom sauce on top for just $8 more? Sure, why not. And throw in a few lobster tails for good measure. Ha! Not really. I'll keep myself under control.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A few things that went right today

I talked to my friends in China for over an hour today.

I worked an hour and a half of overtime (plus another hour tomorrow morning).

I didn't chop off anything while using various sharp tools at work.

I blogged for the second time this week.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Blog post of shame

I'm not even going to bother explaining why I haven't been posting. Suffice it to say that I just didn't feel like it. So here goes something.

In the past few months I have:

Moved with Matthew, Jennifer, and the kiddos into a brand new town home that has a room that is all mine and just for me. And it even has a door. And a bathroom. And a closet.

I have not had a car to drive since October 15 because my car won't pass emissions and the temp tag expired. Thank you Matt Britton for giving me a ride to work everyday since then. You're a champ. My car is currently being fixed by the most awesome guy ever. Bill Simpson lives near 840, south of Franklin. He works out of his home and can fix your car for loads cheaper than any garage can. How does $200 instead of $600 sound? Awesome, that's how. I should be driving again by the end of this week.

I went to MS for Thanksgiving and had a blast. The food was amazing, almost worth the two years away from home. I did miss the pecan pie, though. Christmas is coming, I'll just hope for some then.

I still miss China a lot, but I'm getting used to being in the US and don't feel quite as much stress from the change. Although after 4+ months, it's still not a walk in the park.

I'll try to be better. It's all anyone can ask or expect.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The ups and downs of re-entry

You've probably noticed that my blogging has become even more rare since I got back from China.  Sorry!  You would think that I would be getting better at blogging, because now when I check my friends' blogs and they haven't blogged in more than 24 hours I'm always tempted to send them a guilt email telling them how they should blog more so I can hear about Shiyan.  But I don't.  Too often.

Anyhoo, tonight's topic is re-entry.  I spent 3 years in China.  The last two years were consecutive.  Coming home has been great and terrible, all wrapped up into one immensely confusing whirlwind.  It's been an incredible roller coaster ride, up one minute, down literally the very next minute.  It's really hard to explain unless you've been through it, like most things in life.  I've been reading a lot of different materials on re-entry and they've done a great job of putting things I'm feeling and experiencing into words, so I wanted to share some of those words just to give an idea.  Here are some excerpts from the book Burn-Up or Splash Down: Surviving the culture shock of re-entry, a book by Marion Knell.

The words most commonly used by people describing their feelings on re-entry are loss, grief, bereavement, depression, and loneliness.  

When asked the question "What was your biggest joy upon return?" I received these responses: "There was nothing joyful about it."  "It wasn't joy, it wasn't home.  I hated it."  "No idea - it wasn't joyful.  The chance to do something new?"

When asked the question "What was the best part about coming back?" I received these responses:  "Getting reconnected with family."  "Twenty-four-hour electricity and hot running water."  "Catching up with friends."  "Anonymity."

(compare the wording of the questions and the tone of the answers)

One of the greatest problems people face on re-entry is that they believe they are alone in feeling like this... Consequently, they often hide their feelings and retreat into themselves.

Some sources of stress: differences in culture, loss of self esteem due to changes, loss of identity, emotional instability due to grief or loneliness, inadequacy of appropriate clothing, lack of a home, lack of a job or appropriate skills, availability of people who can relate to the experience, unmet needs due to false expectations, alienation, etc.

One returnee put it this way: "People said, 'It must be so nice to be home,' when I hadn't really thought where home is."  Another said: "We look out of our window or drive around these suburbs and see the never-ending houses with their neat little gardens and the cars parked outside, which are all a little different, but to us all somehow merge into one. We could be anywhere, and while everyone else is connected to this world, it is going to take some time for us to adjust."

Anyhoo, those are just a few random excerpts.  I'm trying to avoid typing out the whole book.  So what's the point of all this?  I'm not trying to make you feel sorry for me or anything, I'm just trying to let you know where I've been the last two months.  I've been experiencing all the things described in those excerpts.  Today is September 18.  I've been living out of a suitcase since July 10.  I'm extremely thankful for Jennifer and Matthew for letting me stay with them all this time.  And to Vail and Katy, too.  Although Vail has tried to kick me out a time or two. :)  But living out of a suitcase gets old.  Looking for a job got old, even though I didn't even look that much.  Mainly because I had no earthly idea where to start.  There was a point where I was afraid to go out because I would have to talk to people and I felt like I had lost all my social skills and couldn't imagine how I would interact with them.  Like I said, it's been a crazy two months.

So where am I now?  Day to day, I feel much better than I did even two weeks ago.  I've got a job at a place called Trophy House that's really fun and pays enough.  I'll let you figure out what we do there on your own.  I'm still living with Jennifer and Matthew, but they've admitted that they don't mind and we're even moving into a bigger place where I'll have my own room with a door.  (27 more days!)  I'm slowly making friends, thanks to my friend Beth introducing me to some great people at Granny White C of C, and meeting people at work.  I have a car that (sort of) works and gets me where I need to be.  Things seem great and good.  Grood.  Yet there's still the random feelings of loneliness, depression, and frustration.  It's all a normal part of re-entry, I guess.  But like I said, I feel much better than I did even two weeks ago.

I want to thank all my faithful friends who've been loyal to my blog and have offered me so much encouragement over the years.  I'll try and improve as I continue to get back into the groove of things here.  Now I'm off to bed so I can get up and make some trophies for a cricket tournament.  Whoopee!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The grass is always greener...

Things I miss lately:

Angelyn
Jessica
Walking everywhere and never needing a car
Chinese food (not American Chinese food)
Happy Guy
Jessica
Angelyn
weekday morning study times with Angelyn and Jessica

Things I don't miss lately (because I'm glad it's not around):

people petting me on the bus and comparing me to a dog
Abraham
Chinglish conversations about Olympics, pop music, or anything stereotypical


Things I don't miss lately (because I'm glad to have it around, not because I'm sick of it):

My family
milk
bread
structure and logic in my work environment

I've got moments when I wonder if it was a fair trade, but that's typical for someone coming back after so long overseas.  I'll take what I've got and be happy about it.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Another line from high school

In my 1oth grade English project (refer to last post), part of the assignment was to write some things about myself.  Here's a line from a page that I wrote describing myself.  I think some of you (specifically in Shiyan) can appreciate this.

"I tell jokes even though other people don't think they're funny."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Poems from High School

When I was in the 10th grade ('96-'97) I had an English assignment that involved creating a massive collection of poems, personal information, and family history written by myself and members of my family. The poems and personal information were all written by myself, the family history was a collection of stories compiled by my two grandmothers. On my return from China, I was reunited with the storage bins that my mom so graciously kept for me, and inside one of these bins I found my old assignment. After reading through it, I decided to present a few selections for your enjoyment.


My Favorite Family Member


My favorite family member is my oldest brother Michael. I like him because he is always nice to me (unless I wake him up). He's always in a good mood, so he's fun to be around. He knows how to have a good time and he almost always invites me to go with him. I like being around him because he is a good person and he's not that hard to get along with.

Letter Poem

Dear Michael,
Your visit was looked forward to. We really missed you. The thought of your next trip is overwhelming - not because of your presence. Because you owe me five dollars.

Comparison Poem

Dad, you are like a tall oak tree.
You stand tall before the problems of life,
You withstand even the mightiest winds,
Yet you are as gentle and fun as a puppy.
You bring happiness to people who need it most,
And you expect nothing in return.
You are an oak to withstand all but people needing happiness.

Warning Poem

When I am an old man, I will talk to dogs.
I will wear ugly golf pants and clear my throat a lot.
I will live next door to a golf course and keep all of the balls that come into my yard.
If anyone drives their cart into my yard, I will throw the balls at them,
I will yell and clap my hands whenever anyone tries to hit their ball,
When the golf course goes out of business, I will hang out at Wal-Mart and tell stories to people I know.

I could let my dogs run around the neighborhood chasing people,
Or I could keep anything that kids leave in my yard.
Then I could sell it to pay for the gas going to and from Wal-Mart.
I might even steal other people's mail.

But I can't do it just yet because I'm still in high school,
I still have to get a job and retire,
I have to wait a couple of decades, too.
Besides, my parents would never allow it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Word to my mother

I want to give a shout out to my momma. She's a classy lady who is responsible for everything her kids have become, so I want to let the world know. She's the greatest!!! And I couldn't think of a better way to say it than using a large black man sporting a mohawk and knee-high socks. This is for you, mom!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Olympic Spirit

Michael Phelps is a BEAST. Go USA!

New Email

Hey everyone! For those of you who know me and like to email me or pretend that one day they might email me, I got a new email address. I don't really want to post it on here for the entire world to see and send spam to, so if you didn't get my announcement email and want my address, just send me a comment and I'll let you know. And for those of you who don't know me, thanks for reading my blog. I'm not sure why you do.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Best Idea Ever

I have an idea. Let's have a big party outside. We can have all kinds of bands (country, dixieland, latino), guys riding unicylces and juggling, and hundreds of people serving homemade ice cream. We'll charge $8 to get in and you get all the ice cream and music you can handle. Then we'll give the money to a charity. Oh wait, someone already had that idea! Today we went to something called the Martha O'Bryan Ice Cream Crankin' down in Franklin. It was loads of fun, especially since you basically walked around with a cup and spoon, getting fresh ice cream every two feet. I enjoyed everything, but the strangest flavor was definitely the jabanero pepper flavored ice cream. I've heard so much good live music in the last two days, I can't believe I ever made it this long outside of America. Yay for outdoor ice cream charity fund raisers!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Walk to Cure Diabetes

Well, here I am in Longview, TX at my brother Billy's house. And my sister-in-law Stacey's. She reminded me earlier that I'm here to visit her too, not just Billy. I've been painting and peeling wallpaper the past two days. Tomorrow I'm looking forward to more wallpaper peeling and probably more painting, too. I know I promised a lot of pictures and other info, but for now you'll have to settle for some information on diabetes. Why diabetes? This past weekend was the 2nd anniversary of my niece being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. She's only 6. Here's a blog post by her mom, if you're interested in some details. There's a second link in that post that will lead you to yet another post with even more information.

My brother and his wife have joined an event called Walk to Cure Diabetes, which is being held all over the country on various dates throughout the next few months. For this event, people will walk (or run) 5 kilometers in order to raise awareness and money for help in finding a cure for juvenile diabetes. Until this event (September 27 in Dallas for us), you can easily donate money to our team (Team Suzy Q) by clicking on the logo at the top of my blog. You can also donate through Stacey's blog (see link above). So far Team Suzy Q has set a goal of raising $16,000. Too much, you say? Well it's the first day and Billy's already raised $1000. With your help we can meet our goal and be that much closer to finding a cure. Donations of $1 are welcome, right alongside donations of $1000. If you feel inspired to join our team, you can click on the logo and you'll find a button to join up. Don't worry about your location. The event is in Dallas but I'll probably be running down the sidewalk in Nashville. If I earn a t-shirt, I'm sure they'll mail it to me. For more information about juvenile diabetes research, feel free to visit the JDRF website.

Free cookie

You know you must be handsome when the girl gives you a free cookie at the bakery. Because "the first cookie was a little dark." Except they both look exactly the same.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tennessee

How's it feel to be back in the greatest country on the planet? I'm not sure, but it feels good to be back in America at any rate. Ha! Just kidding. That's an old joke that some of you may understand. Anyhoo, I'm in the Nashville area for a few days. I arrived yesterday (Thursday?) morning around 9:30 and so far I'm tired tired tired but not quite as cranky as usual. Just a little cranky. I think part of it is that people learned not to ask me so many questions on my first day back, which is awesome. I'll be going to Mississippi on Sunday. I'll post more trip details later, but for now I hope this will suffice.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Our naivety exposed - expectinging things to go well in China

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

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

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

Monday, July 07, 2008

Last Day

Well, today's my last full day here in Shiyan. I've spent most of the past two days packing, repacking, and sitting around thinking about how if I would get out of the chair then I could finish packing in about 20 minutes and be done with it. I'm just about done packing now. I think I might have about 20 minutes left.

I've had such a long time to think about leaving and it's been such a long process saying goodbye to people over the weeks, I'm not quite sure how I feel about it anymore. Angelyn and I originally stayed longer to attend a friend's wedding, but the friend's visa to America didn't come through so the wedding was postponed. (it's a Chinese girl marrying an American guy and they were trying to time the wedding so she could go back to the States with him) Now that the wedding is postponed, I find myself wishing this whole leaving process had been taken care of three weeks ago, when I finished teaching. But I've been able to enjoy some good summer weather here with my remaining friends, so it hasn't been a loss.

Today I walked up the hill behind our apartment building and took a few pictures. The sun's out today and the sky is really blue, so it's a great way to end my time here. I don't feel like wrestling with the internet to load pictures right now, but I'll do it when I'm in Nashville or Cleveland with a better connection. I'll even post those pictures from Michael's trip that I was supposed to post 2 months ago. If you're keeping track of me, I'm leaving here at 6 in the morning tomorrow (that's 5pm CST Monday night), I'll get on my first plane in Xi'an at 7:40pm Tuesday (6:40am Tuesday morning), and eventually reach Nashville at 9:40am Wednesday (9:40am Wednesday). Drop me a line if you're in the area!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day

Happy 4th of July everybody! This is actually my first 4th in China, I'm usually home by this time. Americans like to celebrate by grilling out, eating watermelon and homemade ice cream, and shooting fireworks, but I had to put a slight Chinese twist on it this year. Since Angelyn and I weren't invited to the 4th of July grilling party downstairs at a certain other American's apartment (we're not bitter) we celebrated by going down the street to a Chinese restaurant that serves grilled things. So we had the spicy grilled fish! Not quite a hamburger or hotdog, but it sure was good. We also had a watermelon as appetizer/dessert and ice cream on the way home. Oddly enough (since we're in China) we didn't have any fireworks to shoot off. But that's okay because we see fireworks shooting every other day of the year. We ended our evening by trying to pick out an "American" movie to watch. We couldn't really decide on one from our massive collection, so we decided to use a trusty Chinese website to watch Independence Day. I'm sure it breaks every copyright law there is, but there are numerous Chinese websites where you can click and watch just about any movie ever made instantly. I mean, what better way to celebrate America's independence than to illegally watch a movie on the internet in a communist country? Well, we didn't even get to anything exciting because the internet wasn't being cooperative. We settled for watching an episode of Monk and going to bed.

I'll be home in a few days! That's weird. Our school agreed to drive us to the Xi'an airport Tuesday morning, which means we won't have to wrestle any bags onto trains or buses. That's an incredible blessing! They were very reluctant to do it at first, but Angelyn is awesome and gave them a good guilt trip about fulfilling their obligations and 15 minutes later everything was approved by the proper authorities. We'll leave Xi'an Tuesday night (Tuesday morning in America) and I'll arrive in Nashville after four flights. If you happen to be at the Nashville airport around 9:20 on Wednesday morning, make sure to say hello to me. I'm sure I'll be a little too tired to notice you unless you initiate contact. Big banners help. So do brass bands. And ham sandwiches with mustard, a slice of American cheese, and a crispy piece of lettuce. And a cold root beer. Or just waving and yelling my name.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The coming days

Even though I don't have much class left, I feel like I've got a billion things to do and no time to do any of it. Of course, when that happens to me I often sit back and do things even more slowly. Not the best reaction, I know. So why do things feel so hectic? Why am I so rushed? Well I don't know if I announced this before, but I'm not coming back to Shiyan after this semester. That's right, that wasn't a typo. So even when I don't really have anything to do, I feel like there's something I'm forgetting. That always happens when we're leaving a place, though.

In the past when people asked me how long I would be here, I would always answer "until I don't want to be here anymore." That was the only answer I knew to give. I didn't really plan to come to China for long before I actually came. I had some friends introduce the idea to me, I called them crazy, they pressured me into going to a meeting about it, and then it just sort of hit me and stuck. If you had told me a year before I graduated that I'd be in China, I would have laughed in your face. It just shows how quickly a path can be revealed in your life. Well, after coming here I always figured I'd stay until I felt like I should go home. I've been told by others who've come and gone that sometimes you just suddenly know that this is your last year. Last semester I fully planned to stay here another year. I really like a lot about being here. I also really dislike a lot about being here. I don't want to make any lists or anything, I'm just saying that suddenly it just makes more sense for me to go than to stay.

I will leave Shiyan on July 7. I'll be at the Nashville airport on July 9. At this point I have no idea what I'll be doing in terms of a job or anything like that. I don't know if I'll be spending the rest of my days in the States or what. I've considered the idea of coming back for language school. Increase my skill set, that sort of thing. At this point all I know for sure is that I hate teaching English here. I'm not going to miss it. I'm not going to miss having 23 hours of free time every day. But I'm going to miss my friends. And I might even miss the 11pm false alarms when my friends think there's a prowler.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Breaking the silence

I haven't blogged in about a month (I'm sure I didn't need to point that out), and it's not for lack of things to say. A few very interesting things have happened in the last month. I'm not sure why, but it seems the more I have going on the less I blog. So when I go for a month without blogging anything, you can probably assume that I'm mulling over a lot of things in my head. Anyhoo, I'll try to let you in on just a few things and get back on track here.

First thing first. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but if you'd like to read an exciting story involving me, prowlers, a folding chair, and intention to make a daring leap from the fourth floor balcony to the third floor, just click here. For a little background, you should know that about a month ago, while Michael was here visiting, someone broke into the third floor apartments in the middle of the night and stole some money from Trip and Jessica.

Now, on to other news. Of course you know about the May 12th earthquake in Sichuan province. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you need to get out of your bubble. I wrote a brief blog entry the day of the earthquake just to let everyone know I'm okay. At the time I didn't realize the extent of the devastation and for some reason I haven't come back to comment more on it until now. It's been an incredible experience to see the reactions of the people here. The sorrow and despair, the patriotism and unity, the surge to donate anything including blood, supplies, and money. On the 19th, exactly one week after the earthquake, the country began a three day mourning period. It began at 2:28pm, the time of the earthquake, with 1 minute of silence. That's how I was told it would begin. Actually, when the clock struck 2:28, every train, truck, and taxi in the country blew its horn. That's a lot of noise. My first thought was "that's a strange way to have a minute of silence." Then I learned that it was meant as a wail of grief. A nation wide wail of despair after so many tens of thousands of people were killed. That's intense. For the next three days, all places of entertainment were closed, color was removed Chinese language websites, online entertainment was blocked, the only available media online, on the radio, and on TV was about the earthquake. For 72 straight hours. It seems strange to a foreigner like me to have such an enforced period of mourning, but if you know the culture here it seems fitting that they would honor the people of Sichuan as one big family and in such an all-encompassing way. There's still so much happening in Sichuan and so much work to be done there in the months ahead.

Now it's time for me to go. I actually have to go to class. Boo. On the upside, I've only got three more days of class over the next two weeks, so I can't really complain. Anyhoo, I'll write more later. I know that my own blogging doesn't quite cover all the events that take place here, so I'd suggest that everyone check out the links I've provided to other Shiyan blogs. Angelyn and Jessica's blogs will probably provide insight into any events at my school, while the others may or may not mention me but should still be interesting and thought provoking.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Earthquake Mania

Seems like every time I turn around there's another earthquake around here. No, I haven't gained weight! Let's see, there was the earthquake on the border of Xinjiang and Tibet that everyone thought was in my backyard, then a week later there was the one in my backyard that no one apparently knew or cared about. Now there's been a rather large earthquake near Chengdu that was felt near and far. I'm sure you've probably read or heard about it, so I'll spare you the scientific details. I will let you know that we felt it here but we're all okie dokie. Around 2:30 when we were leaving for our afternoon classes, Angelyn and Jessica asked me "Can you feel that?" I just kind of looked at them like they were crazy for a second. Once I stopped moving, though, I felt like I'd been drugged or something. Everything was swaying ever so slowly. It was a weird, trippy feeling. We realized it was an earthquake and though "Cool!" then left for class. Of course we got outside and all the buildings had streams of students coming out, afraid that everything including the trees were about to collapse into piles of rubble. If anything fell off of anyone's shelf in town, I'd be very very surprised. We couldn't even feel it unless we stopped moving! Anyhoo, we survived, don't worry about us in Shiyan. Don't forget to pray for those closer to the actual quake, though. It seems there was quite a bit of damage and they're pulling a lot of kids from under piles of rubble at some schools. No one's better at rolling out the masses of emergency workers than China, though. It'll be cleaned up within a week.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Whirlwind tour

Apparently some of you don't appreciate it when I say things like "Beijing so far" and then don't post anything else. Almost as if "Beijing so far" implies there will be more later. Alright, well I'm finally back to post more. But Michael's already on his way home now, so I guess it has been too long since my last post, after all.

We had a pretty good time in Beijing. We didn't get the train I wanted coming back to Shiyan, so we arrived at the station at 1:30 and had to rush home for my class that started at 2:10. Thanks to no line waiting for taxis and a good driver, I made it with time to spare. I just had the one class on Monday, but then Tuesday I had class from 10 to 5:30 except for lunch. Of course, lunch is 2 1/2 hours here, so it's not quite as bad as it sounds at first. Then the rest of the week I had off due to the fact that some old classes ended and the new ones that began were all on Tuesday. Yay! Lucky me. Basically the whole time Michael was here I was whisking him around from one park or mountain to another. He made a comment about wishing he had a step counter to count the number of stairs he walked up here.

There's a lot to write about, but I'm dead tired from spending 19 of the last 24 hours on a train taking Michael to the airport and then coming back home. Every train I got on with Michael, we seemed to get stuck next to some guys who sounded like they had chainsaws stuck in their throats all night long. I think if there was a snoring event at the Olympics, China would be taking home an extra gold medal this year. Anyhoo, I'll fill in the details and pictures tomorrow. Right now I just want everyone to know that Michael was dropped off at the Wuhan airport this morning and should be somewhere over Russia on his way back to Newark as I type this. Hopefully he'll sleep well on the plane and be ready to greet the American day when he lands. That's all for now, I'm off to bed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Beijing so far

Well, both Michael and I made it to Beijing. It was a little bit of an adventure getting together and getting to the hostel. My train got in about one hour before Michael's plane was supposed to land, so I got outside and hopped on a bus toward the airport. A guy working the newspaper stand told me that if I took a certain bus to a certain stop then I could get off and find the airport shuttle bus. That matched up with what I had read in my guidebook (it was just helpful to hear it from a real person instead of reading it in a book possibly 2 years out of date) so I hopped on the bus. I opted for the bus because I could save over 100 yuan compared to taking a taxi and still get to the airport before Michael got through customs. Well, apparently 1pm is the time for every car in Beijing to come out and park on that particular road in the largest traffic jam ever. It took quite a while just to go the 5 stops to where I wanted to get off. Of course, once I got off I had no idea where the airport shuttle bus was and I was feeling pressed for time. I finally just hopped in a taxi and off we went, into yet another slowly moving river of cars.

We got to the airport at 2:30, about 35 minutes after Michael's ETA. I wasn't TOO worried because 1) I'd told Michael this might happen and he should just find a seat and wait for me if I'm not already there waiting for him, and 2) Sometimes it takes an hour or more to get through customs. Well, there we were arriving at the airport, me being not too worried. I ended up only saving about 9 yuan by taking a bus before getting in the taxi, so that part didn't work out as planned. But the taxi took me to the new Terminal 3, which is a good 15-20 minute ride away from the other 2 terminals if you have to go through the loading area to get back to the road. Well, the driver got out and asked for me if this was the right terminal and he told me it was, so I ran inside to find Michael. After 20 or 30 minutes of asking around, pacing back and forth in front of the arrivals gate, and looking at different screens with flights on them, I finally realized that Michael's flight was coming in at Terminal 2. At that point I was more worried. It was after 3 and I figured Michael had been sitting around for about an hour already. I found the shuttle to the next terminal, had to wait about 7 minutes for the driver to decide it was time to leave, sat through the 10-15 minute ride, and then rushed through the departures area to find the escalator down to Arrivals. As soon as I got off I saw Michael sitting in the seating area. Apparently it took almost no time at all to get through customs, so he'd been waiting about an hour and a half for me to get there. He didn't mind too much, I think jetlag had muddied his brain activity a bit.

We took the airport shuttle into town and then walked past Tiananmen Square and up a few blocks to get to where we're staying. It was about twice as far as we thought because Beijing is hugemongous and things are just further than you think. On Friday we climbed the Great Wall and hunted up the Bird's Nest and Bubble, two of the venues for the Olympics. Today we toured the Forbidden City and Tiananmen. Tonight we're planning to go back to the Bubble and watch some freestyle swimming events that are being held. It'll be pretty cool to be able to go inside and watch some world-class athletes. And without the crowds of the Olympics. We hope.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

City of Brotherly Love

This afternoon I'm off to the City of Brotherly Love. No, I'm not going to Philadelphia, I'm just going to Beijing. But I'm going to meet Michael, my oldest brother! I may have only mentioned it once or twice in my blog, so if you missed it then I want to tell you that my brother is coming to visit. I'm pretty excited about it. My mom came to visit my first year here and it felt good to have a piece of home come visit me in China. It's also nice to have someone in the States who can identify with me a little when I'm talking about China. At the current rate of visitors, I only need to stay here another 4 years to get Billy and Jennifer to visit. I think I'll have to stay about a million years before my grandmother would get on a plane, so I guess I better not test that one out. Michael and I will be staying in a hostel across the street (or down the street) from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. On Friday or Saturday we'll make a trip to the Great Wall and hopefully we'll be able to see a few Olympic venues as well. Then Sunday afternoon we'll head back to Shiyan for 5 days of local flavor before I take him to Wuhan to catch a flight home. I'll keep everyone posted on our status. I hope I didn't forget to pack anything!

P.S. - I'd like to give a special shout out to Angelyn, the greatest friend a guy could ever wish for. She's covering my classes while I'm gone to Beijing. You're the greatest!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ewwww

Pseudomamma of the foot. Pseudo as in fake. Mamma as in nipple. Ew. Ew. Ew.

TMNST

I was perusing a site that I often peruse, Sinosplice, and came across an interesting blog entry. Sinosplice is a website put together by a linguistics major and includes various things like pronunciation guides, a blog of funny culture happenings, and reviews of strange snacks from the supermarket. Well, this particular blog entry was about the translation of the theme song from the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) movie. I took the liberty of completely ripping off Sinosplice and just copied it straight to my blog. But I'm crediting them, so it's okay. Right? www.sinosplice.com Is that good enough? Let's hope so. I didn't include the introduction about why he started translating the theme song from this movie in the first place, but you can still enjoy the results. In case you get confused, it's got the line from the movie, the Chinese, the translation, and then commentary.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

少年变异忍者神龟
[Teenage mutant ninja supernatural turtles]

Whoa, did someone sneak an extra word in there? Mostly an exact literal translation, except that the Chinese prefer to call the turtles supernatural turtles (神龟), or “god-turtles,” for the more literal-minded. Thinking this particular phrase might have some root in China’s rich cultural heritage, I did a Baidu image search. Hmmm. Lots of TMNT. No legends involving Guanyin and a massive turtle or something? I guess it’s not as important as TMNT. You know… the god-turtles.

Heroes in a half-shell
身披硬甲的英雄们
[Heroes draped in hard armor]

Hmmm… dramatic, but decidedly less turtley.

Turtle power!
龟的力量!
[Turtle power!]

Sweet!

They’re the world’s most fearsome fighting team
他们要迎接世界的可怕挑战
[They take on the world’s fearsome challenges]

Hmmm, so these “challenges” the translator made up are fearsome, but the turtles are not? Maybe it’s because they’re god-like.

We’re really hip!
我们是最棒的
[We’re the greatest!]

This is actually less humorous than a ridiculous cartoon character from the 80’s saying “we’re really hip.”

They’re heroes in a half-shell and they’re green
他们是身披硬甲的绿色英雄
[They are green heroes draped in hard armor]

Wow. Nice dramatic effect.

Hey - get a grip!
嘿,快跟上!
[Hey, catch up!]

Hey, a turtle is telling you to catch up! That is so cool but crude.

When the evil Shredder attacks,
当坏蛋史莱德来捣乱的时候
[When bad egg Shredder comes to make trouble,]

“Evil”… “bad egg”… more or less the same right? Yes! …in Chinese.

These Turtle boys don’t cut him no slack!
神龟小子们是不会让他好过的
[The supernatural turtle guys will not give him an easy time]

Now I see why they’re not referred to as “fearsome.”

Splinter taught them to be ninja teens
斯普林特老师教授他们成为忍者少年
[Teacher Splinter taught them to become ninja youths]

And here you have the translator correcting the original lyricist’s mistake of not giving Master Splinter proper respect.

He’s a radical rat!
他是一个激情满怀的老鼠
[He is a rat brimming with passion]

Ah yes, “brimming with passion,” the little-known synonym for “radical.”

Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines
里昂那多是领导,多纳泰罗是个天才发明家
[Leonardo is the leader, Donatello is a genius inventor]

This line has lost the ambiguity of “does machines,” but I guess we won’t miss that.

That’s a fact, Jack!
这都是真的,伙计
[This all is true, man]

Props for not using “杰克” (Jack).

Raphael is cool but crude
拉菲尔很酷但有些鲁莽
[Raphael is cool, but he’s a bit crude]

Nice! They even toned it down to just “a bit crude” to save him some face.

Gimme a break!
饶了我吧~
[Forgive me!]

Yes, he is less crude in Chinese.

Michaelangelo is a party dude
米开朗基罗可是一个万人迷
[Michaelangelo is a mack daddy]

Well, it’s debatable whether 万人迷 means “mack daddy” or “ten-thousand men love,” but the real question is where’d the “party” go?

Party!
Party!

Ah, there it is.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

April on the move

Since it's active April, we're always on the lookout for things to do. This year China changed their May holiday from 5 weekdays + the weekend to 2 weekdays + the weekend. Those other weekdays have been used to make other traditional holidays longer. For example, Qing Ming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Festival. This is the day when people go visit the graves of their ancestors, clean them off, burn paper replicas of all the things they want their ancestors to have in the afterlife, and shoot firecrackers to scare away bad spirits. Before this year, people didn't get off work for this. Yesterday was Qing Ming day, and thanks to the new holiday schedule, school was canceled and most people got off work for a long weekend to celebrate. Jessica and I celebrated by climbing a mountain with some students. It was quite an undertaking, involving hours and hours of walking up a road, with the occasional foray onto a shortcut trail. We left at 9 in the morning and got back at just after 5, so it took up the whole day and left us worn out and wanting to chop our feet off to ease the pain. But spring has come so there were flowers all over the place, the weather was great, and it was just great to be outside. I even remembered to take my hat, so the top of my head isn't hot pink today. We saw a few tombs on the side of the mountain as we went up, one bearing signs that someone had lit some firecrackers there that morning or the day before. I imagine they also burned a paper house so their ancestors would have a house in the afterlife, along with a paper car, some (fake) paper money, and maybe a even a paper yacht. I'm just glad I have more to look forward to than paper. I've been promised gold.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Accidental Revolution

Tuesday morning I had class with my sophomore English majors. We were trying to find a solution to their problem of having no one to practice English with. Something I've learned in my studies is that if you have a relationship based in one language, it's really tough and awkward to switch to another language. So these kids who have class together all day everyday find it hard to practice English together outside of class. I understand why that is, but I still have to tell them they need to suck it up and do it.
In class we were brainstorming ideas on how to help things along. I suggested they designate a day each week as an "English only" day, but they said they've tried it in the past and it didn't go well. Classmates would slack off and refuse to speak English, friends who weren't taking part would make fun of them for speaking English all day, and they would end up getting discouraged and quit after the first day. So then I thought, why not try it again, only you can speak Chinese with people not in class. They'd only be required to speak English with their classmates. That would avoid people outside of class making fun of them. But if your only choice for practicing English is the same group of classmates all the time, you get tired of talking to them. So I expanded the idea, why not invite the other English major classes? Then we'd have around 200 or more students taking part in English Day each week. Then I thought, why not invite anyone and everyone to participate? So many students complain that they have no one to speak English with, and we foreign teachers often complain that students only target us to practice their English.
Well, at this point things got exciting. In my mind, anyway. At first the idea only involved the 35 students in my class, then grew to include 70 students, then 200. Now the possibilities were enormous. We could get 500, 700, or even (dare I dream) 1,000 students involved in this! Now the problem was how to know who's participating in English Day. You don't want to have to go around every Tuesday asking people if they prefer English or Chinese. I told my students that before class on Thursday they need to come up with some ideas of something everyone could wear as a sign of participation. Something cheap and plentiful. Today a student told me it's possible to get something you can write on and pin on your shirt. Very easy, very cheap. I think they plan to start this next week, so sometime this week we have to go out and find a few hundred of these pins and some markers to write on them.
When I was telling Angelyn and Jessica about this on our way to lunch Tuesday, we were all getting really excited. One of them commented that we could be starting a revolution and we all got more excited. It feels weird to say we're starting any sort of revolution in China, but at least it's a revolution in getting students to practice their English. I'm sure there are some types of revolutions that wouldn't be so welcome. This was really all quite accidental and sudden. I don't know why it took so long for this idea to form itself in any of our brains, but I'm glad it did. It seems to me that at the very least our English majors can take advantage of this to get in more practice and form the habit of speaking without their teachers looming over them, forcing them to speak English. If some students got into that habit, it would definitely revolutionize the classroom environment. I'm tired of having to practically flog my students to get out more than one sentence. I look forward to the day I can leave my whip at home when I leave for class.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The tightest budget I'll ever live on.

I just went an entire month and only spent 169 yuan. That's $24 and some change. That's crazy. I have never been in true need in my life, and it seems likely that I never will. Trying to live on the budget of someone on welfare has broadened my view immensely. When I explain the concept of Meager March to my students, they all claim it's impossible, but I tell them that it's NOT impossible. Here are some things that happened this month.

1) We cooked more. Vegetables in China are extremely cheap and usually fresh out of the ground. We can buy one dish in a restaurant for 5 yuan or we can buy enough vegetables to cook 5 dishes and cook them ourselves for the same price. I cooked a few dishes that got better each time I tried, and Angelyn and Jessica provided a plethora of dishes, fried rice, and soups. Of course, dirty dishes are from the devil.

2) I lost weight. I didn't know I'd lost weight until a week ago, but apparently I lost about 8 pounds. Probably due to the fact that I only drank 3 cokes the whole month, we walked 90% of the time instead of taking the bus, and I pretty much only ate meat once a week at most. I feel good, though!

3) I had a birthday. I don't know how I didn't blog about this earlier, but I turned 27 back on the 11th. It was a pretty great day. Angelyn and Jessica got some of my students to dress up as the Olympic Mascots and recite a poem for me. Then they brought out a spice cake with cream cheese icing! It was the most amazing experience of my life. Apparently I got the cake mix and icing in the mail from my mom (thanks, mom!) back in October and Angelyn stashed it away secretly after she heard me exclaim that it's my favorite. I totally forgot about it and had no idea where she had acquired the cake nor how she knew it's my favorite. Praise God for good friends! It's hard to beat a birthday with great friends and great icing on your cake.

4) I meditated. No, I wasn't sitting in some weird position in my living room, hovering over the floor. I just spent a lot of time thinking about... well, just about everything there is to think about. For one thing, I often thought about the poor who we were trying to imitate. Almost every day people would offer to pay for me to do something so that I wouldn't go without, so that I would be able to have fun with them, or because they thought it was crazy for me to walk an hour and a half across town when I could just ride the bus. I would always ask myself if people who are actually on welfare in China get this kind of treatment. I imagine many of them might beg and receive money from strangers, but they don't usually seem to have a band of friends about them offering to pay for everything. I think this past month was made much easier due to the support and assistance of many friends, and that seriously makes me want to know more about others and whether they have this same type of support. I have a much different view of how much a small bit of money can help a poor person on the street. Or a large amount. I also meditated about many many other things that I'll have to address later.

This list is far from all-inclusive of the things I learned and did this past month, but it's all I can think to write at the moment. April is being billed as Active April, so we're doing different activities and actively pursuing certain goals that we have set for ourselves this month. It should be a fun month. I'll write more tomorrow, especially since one of my goals is to actively blog. Thanks for being patient, I hope you enjoy my return to blogging!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Earthquake!

Check one natural disaster off the list. I've officially experienced my first earthquake. Don't worry, I didn't die. Last night at 11:24 I was lying in bed reading when all of a sudden the windows started shaking and it felt like I was swinging slightly in a hammock instead of lying in my bed. It only lasted for three seconds or so. Sure enough, there was a 4.3 magnitude earthquake centered only 30 miles or so from here. It really wasn't much to speak of, the windows probably wouldn't even have made noise if they fit in the molding better. I haven't found anyone who was woken up by it, only people who were awake even noticed it, and then some of those people didn't even notice. Anyhoo, there was a bigger earthquake last week on the Xinjiang/Tibet border and we were swamped with emails and messages asking if we're okay. That earthquake was over 1,000 miles away. Now we have one in our backyard and no one seems to notice! It's a little funny to me. :)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Another successful day

Just for the record, the days where I don't punch anyone in the face definitely outnumber the days where I do. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've never punched anyone in the face ever. Also on the bright side, today I wasn't even tempted to punch anyone in the face. I just hope Jessica wasn't tempted to punch any little girls.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Today I did not punch two guys in the face. -or- Trying to look at the glass half full.

It's been a rough two weeks for me. Meager March is progressing well. I'm right on budget, having spent 104 yuan in the first 20 days of March. That includes a haircut, a couple of bus rides, and more time on my computer than I ever planned on. Of course, if I was really on welfare here then I wouldn't even have a computer. But the meagerness isn't really the rough part. In fact, the meagerness has only contributed to my peace of mind and sizable ego. Just today Jessica commented on how I'm the only male taking part in Shiyan's Meager March. "You're the only one who was man enough to accept the challenge." That's what she said. *insert laugh here if you've ever watched The Office* No, the rough part has been a very tough patch of culture shock, homesickness, and worrying about my future, which all conveniently hit at the same moment last week. So I've run the whole gambit from "I'm moving to Korea next year," to "I'm opening a coffee shop in Shiyan next year," to "I'm moving back to the States next year," to "I'm not even waiting for my contract to end, I'm leaving tomorrow." Like I said, it's been a rough two weeks.

So now I'm stepping back and instead of looking at all the bad and annoying things around me, I'm trying to be more optimistic. This glass isn't half empty! It's sort of almost halfway full! So I won't sum up today by saying I almost hit two guys in the face. Instead, I'm gonna tell you that today I did NOT punch two guys in the face. And right after I didn't punch the first guy, we found a store that sold whipping cream and they even whipped it for us for free. Yay! Then on the way back to school Jessica didn't punch a little girl in the face. Which is way funnier than me not punching a man in the face. (I hope you realize that "not punching someone in the face" is code for "I really almost punched someone in the face but restrained myself.")

But there are always things that you just can't put a pretty face on. Like racism, or riots, or affairs, or outright hatred. I know I have a hard time with a lot of things, but I just don't understand when people refuse to love. When promises made are considered null and void because you think you might like someone else better. Or when someone dies but you can't go to their funeral or offer support because their congregation split from yours and no one in that group will associate with you anymore. Shunning someone in public because they support giving a Bible to someone. That amounts to public hatred. Turning your back on someone in the supermarket when they say hi to you. Preaching hatred instead of love. Legalism instead of truth and spirit. Limiting yourself and everyone you come in contact with instead of letting Christ set you free. I admit that I've got a whole tree growing out of my eye, but some people don't even realize that they're blind in both eyes and walking into a pit.

There's so much more that I want to say, but I don't think I should. Most of you probably have no idea what any of that alludes to, and that's okay. This post isn't aimed at you. If you do know, then hopefully you understand my meaning. Selfishness, unfaithfulness, pride, hatred, ungodly actions; they all manifest themselves in the smallest and largest ways possible. If we can't take a slap in the face without giving up or slapping back, then we need to reevaluate ourselves. We should respond with love! If we can't love unconditionally, it's not really love. If we can't be loyal to our first love, what's keeping us with our second love? Or third? If, in a town of 15,000 people, both lost and Christian, the only ones who aren't welcome at your funeral are the other Christians, what's the point of even calling yourself a Christian? Even though I'm pretty sure I'm not perfect at all the things I just mentioned, I still can't understand blatant disregard for some of these. Some of the most central aspects of Christianity and Love, yet we can't seem to even grasp the idea.

I have a feeling my blog has developed a negative tone during the last few posts. I have to be honest, I've been very very down lately. I have some great high moments everyday, like when my family calls or I'm with friends here, but then 2 minutes later I'm back down again. For the last two weeks. I have faith that I'll come out of this rut soon, but I just want people to know that they don't help by abandoning or being hateful. I'm not just saying they don't help me. They don't help the world. They don't help themselves. They don't help the Kingdom. They don't help God. The only one they help is the very one trying to destroy them. So if you're not helping, sit back and put things in perspective. You don't matter, others matter. I don't matter, others matter. We don't matter, others don't even really matter. Only God matters. And he's already told you what to do. Love him first. Love others first. He'll worry about you. That's all that matters. My cups not half empty. My cup overflows.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Schedule Planning Party

Today and yesterday I feel like I have been having one, long party for planning my schedule. Last week we had a meeting with the guy in charge of giving us our class assignments. Abraham. He's fairly incompetent. Don't think that I just don't like the guy or anything like that. We actually spend a lot of time convincing ourselves that we just don't give him a chance to show his true colors, but then he always swoops in and ruins things again. Like not knowing how many classes he assigned to each of us, so one person has 2 while another has 10. Or not giving us a class roll until the week of the final. Or not answering or returning phone calls and then pretending he didn't know we called him when we see him face to face. (It's a cell phone, it's hard not to notice something like that.) We tried to pump ourselves up and get excited about meeting with him to get our teaching assignments. We were told school would start the 25th, so we should be back at least by the 23rd or 24th to get our classes. We came back on time, sat around for a week or so, tried to call and text him to find out when he wanted to meet with us. His reply: "I'll meet with you when I'm ready." So on the 25th (the first day of class) I got a call at 8 in the morning saying we should meet Abraham in the office at 10 to get our class assignments. He ended up giving each of us one or two classes, then said that we would receive more before the end of the week. "Friday is the deadline," he said. Friday came and went, Monday came back around, we were all going to teach the first day of an elective class that all 4 of us teach at the same time (in different rooms, of course), and Abraham showed up in our classrooms to give us the rest of our class assignments. Of course, what we REALLY wanted was the class roll. And a classroom with more than 55 seats since my class had 63 students. But alas, he couldn't provide either so some students ran and found extra stools from another room while others just sat on each other. Some of the classes he assigned us yesterday started yesterday, but I somehow didn't get one of those classes.

Right now I have one class on Monday afternoons, a Tuesday/Thursday morning class, and 4 other classes in the other afternoons. We've also set aside a time for the foreigners at my school to get together at 8 most mornings each week to study and talk. So far, it's been fun. On top of that, we found a Chinese Sister to tutor each of us for an hour each day to continue our language learning. There's also a study on Saturday nights at my school, some birthday parties coming up, Michael is coming to visit in April (if you didn't know, my brother is coming in April!!!), a weekly guy's lunch that we're trying to plan, and all sorts of things that I don't even know about yet. It's been fun comparing schedules with people trying to find a time to get together. One thing we're focusing on this term is smaller groups. Less worrying about getting everyone involved, more attention on being effective and fulfilling our purpose. It should be a good term, I think.

Meager March is off to a fair start. I've had my computer on a lot just because I still have some necessary things to pay attention on Skype and my email, but I'm trying to avoid any and all frivolous use of the internet for personal use. I can only use it for important things, like class planning, research, talking to my family, etc. By the way, my family can feel free to continue trying to call me this month, I won't abandon you. I'm on day 4 and I've spent 13 yuan, so I'm doing well with money. The total for the month averages out to 5.45 each day, so I'm a little under par. I'm sure there will be some big expense just over the horizon, though! Well, I'm up to 15 yuan with all the time I'm spending doing personal things online today, so I'm going to run along now. Happy birthday to the 50 bajillion people having a birthday in my family this month. Happy birthday today, Suzannah! Much love to all.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Farewell Festive, Hello Meager

Happy Leap Day! A great close to Festive February, Leap Day was a day for... leaping. You got it, today's task was to get the biggest game of leap frog you could possibly muster. Considering Chinese have never heard of or seen this game before, it's not so easy. However, it was made easier by the fact that I totally forgot, and therefore didn't do it. *sigh* I feel guilty, maybe I should make up for it by playing leap frog tomorrow. We'll see what happens.

Well, now that Festive February is drawing to a close, we're preparing for Meager March. I've got my walking shoes dusted off, my stomach is ready to say goodbye to restaurant food for a month (sorry Happy Guy!), and my computer is already pouting from the lack of attention it will get. I'll probably wait a few days to see how much food eats into my 5.5 yuan daily budget before attempting any internet time. Since internet costs 2 per hour at the library, that's what we're going to charge ourselves. That's a big chunk of one day's budget for an hour, but if food turns out cheap enough then I'll try to manage a few blog posts in March. Wouldn't want you to think I've fallen off the face of the planet! The massive amounts of free time in March (due to lack of movies and other electronics to waste our time on) will be spent in physical exercise, spiritual meditation, intellectual upkeep (fancy phrase that just means "reading books"), and forming good habits. That's the plan, anyway. I think that the 6 of us doing Meager March in Shiyan (myself, Angelyn, Jessica, Darla, John, and Megan) will be able to encourage each other a lot to stick to the spirit of the month. That spirit would be a spirit of relflection, improvement, and action. Anyhoo, I'm worn out at the moment so you'll just have to wait a few days until I feel comfortable spending money on another post. I've only got one and a half hours left before March, maybe I should go buy a Coke or something. Nah, I'll just go to bed.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Getting mail and spring cleaning

First, I need to let mom and grandmother know that I got their packages. Thanks for the goodies! I got some fresh socks and tshirts, and you have no idea how amazing it felt to put on a pair of socks and a tshirt that have never been washed in a Chinese washing machine. I feel like I'm floating.

If you recall our list of alliterations, February is both Focus February (because we were focused at language school for a while) and Festive February (to celebrate the less well-known holidays each day of the month). Well the 20th of February was Hidey Hoe Day. Never heard of it? Neither had we, but we're glad we came across it. At 12 noon on Hidey Hoe Day, you're supposed to run outside and yell "hidey hoe!" to scare away winter. We also found a website that called it Hoodey Hoo Day. Well, at 12 noon on that day, Angelyn and I went out on her balcony and yelled. We weren't sure which was correct, so she yelled hidey ho and I yelled hoodey hoo. Then we quickly retreated inside before the neighbors came to investigate. Lo and behold, it's been getting warmer every single day since then. Granted, it's only been 2 days or so, but it's so much warmer that I probably don't need a jacket today. I am a new fan of Hidey Ho Day.

For the last two days I've been trying to clean my apartment. It's in a perpetual state of disarray, so I figured I should do something about it. In two days of work, I've managed to make a bigger mess in every room. And sweep half the floor in my bedroom. I'm making progress! After I post this blog, I'm turning off the computer and getting more serious about cleaning. In another day or two, we'll be called to the English Department to get our class assignments that will begin on Monday, so if I don't finish cleaning now then it will spill over into class time. If that happens, I'll probably never finish cleaning. I'm not much of a multitasker sometimes. Alrighty, that's all for today. I won't be back online until my apartment is undisarrayed. See you either tomorrow or next month.

A quarter to danger

Have you ever seen/read Harry Potter? You know that clock the Weasleys have? Instead of the time it shows each member of the family and what they're doing. If they are coming home then the hand moves to Coming Home, if they're in imminent danger then the hand moves to Imminent Danger. You get the idea. I was thinking that if everyone in the world had one of those clocks, more of those clocks would point to Danger at this time of year than at any other time of year. Why? Because it's the Chinese New Year, that's why. During these two weeks, there are untold numbers of people smashed onto trains and buses, which isn't necessarily extra dangerous in itself. It just seems more dangerous in my mind to have so many people crammed into one vehicle. The thing that would push all those clocks over the edge would be the crowds of people gathered in the streets, using cigarettes to shoot fireworks and firecrackers straight out of their hands. The most scared I've ever been in China was my first year during Chinese New Year. I went with some friends to the square here in town for the last night of the festival. We saw all the Chinese going there, we figured we should too. It turned into a mass of people, practically shoulder to shoulder, shooting various things filled with gunpowder into the air. When you stick up head and shoulders past the crowd, all of those things are shooting past your face!
They don't just shoot up into the air, though. They then explode and throw pieces of cardboard and paper (and sometimes colorful pieces of burning metal or other minerals) out in all directions. It's the loudest, most chaotic, most dangerous thing I have ever witnessed. It only took about 5 or 10 minutes for me to get freaked out (even little kids are given things to light) so I left and watched the explosions from a safe hilltop on our school campus. You can literally turn in any direction and see a fireworks display on the first and last nights of the festival. The festival lasts for two weeks and every day in the middle is filled with intermittent bursts of fireworks (intermittent being every 5 minutes). The first and last days, you don't really go more than 10 seconds without more booms and kapows. It's pretty cool, I must say. Anyhoo, last night was the last night and I unfortunately went to bed very early with a very bad headache so didn't really witness any of the celebrating. I feel better today, though. Oh well, I'll just buy some fireworks and make my own show this weekend.

Jeremy is headed home

Jeremy is back in China to collect his belongings and say goodbye to his friends. He will return to the USA early next week. He is continuing to improve. Jeremy's medical condition will be evaluated after his return to the USA, but his future medical needs are unknown at this time.

We are pleased to report (as of 2/20/2008) that the funds received by FHU for the benefit of Jeremy McGill’s medical expenses total $23,566. FHU has expensed $13,500 for a net balance remaining of $10,066. There have been 114 donors and 123 gifts given.

Thanks to all for their generosity in helping Jeremy in this crisis.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

With power comes responsibility

Living in China is tough. I mean, it's not all tough, there are definite perks. For example, I'm guaranteed not to be assigned more than 16 hours of class in any given week. And I don't have to pay for my apartment or utilities. And I can buy movies for $1. But there are things that wear me down. Such as the billion+ people who yell "Foreigner!" at me everyday on the street. Or the same people who talk about me two feet away and then say "Don't worry, foreigners can't understand Chinese." Usually when I complain in my blog it's because I'm in a particularly bad mood and/or I'm culture shocking. Not so today. I just feel extra pressure from all the people talking at me/about me, I guess.

Before going to language school, I had a pretty good idea when people were talking about me. I usually could understand them. It's been happening every day since I came to China, so I'm fairly used to it. Sometimes I can shrug it off, sometimes it instantly puts me in a bad mood. I guess it's kind of annoying automatically being put in a separate group. I'm never viewed as normal. 99.99999% of the time I am viewed as a strange outsider from the moment anyone spots me. It's never assumed that maybe I'm just a normal guy who breaths air and bleeds blood. I like reading. I like nice people, tend to stay away from mean people. Things most people in the world do naturally, I do those same things. Not so in China. It's assumed that I'm filthy rich, don't understand anything going on around me, am as helpless as a newborn, and that if someone says hello to me on the bus I am then indebted to them and should teach their child English. In fact, I understand plenty of what is going on around me everyday, I can go shopping just fine on my own, thank you, I don't know you or your son and would prefer not to teach either of you English, but thanks for asking, and chopsticks aren't nearly as hard to use as the Chinese seem to think they should be.

I should try to get to the point so that you won't think I'm just feeling angry today. The point is that in the past, when I haven't been able to just shrug these things off and they have made me angry, I have always run through a list of things in my head that I would love to say. I've got a nice rant prepared about how Chinese people never act towards other Chinese the way they act towards foreigners. I was told just less than two weeks ago that Chinese people never say "can I make friends with you?" to other Chinese people. Yet since being told that, no less than 4 total strangers have come up and said that to me in Chinese. Chinese people don't yell "ni hao!" across the street at other Chinese people they don't know, but I can't go outside more than 30 seconds without someone between the ages of 2 and 90 yelling "helloooooo" at me. My list of things to say also includes things like "take a picture, it'll last longer", "I'm not a performing monkey so don't treat me like one", and many other things along those lines. Back to my point. I used to get angry and run through this list of things to say, but I never felt confident in my ability to say them. It wouldn't do to yell at someone and have them laugh at my poor grammar, right? Now I'm confident that I could say most of the things I want to say, but I have to check myself. It's one thing to have these things run through my mind, it's a totally different thing to act on it. With my newfound knowledge and power to say things coherently in Chinese comes the responsibility to actually interact in a civil manner. Before I could just convince myself that I can't say anything at all to the offender and thereby convince myself to just smile and walk away or to just ignore them completely. Now I have to accept the fact that I can say something but I shouldn't say it. The difference is actually much bigger than you would expect. Going to language school has clarified a lot of things for me, but in another way it has complicated things.

At the same time, language school has made me more thankful for the people that I have known for a long time. Happy Guy, the fruit ladies, Juice lady, the egg and flour lady, they all are used to me and we have a long history of saying hi to each other and chatting while I buy things from them. Since they all work in the same general area, they have all passed on the news that we studied Chinese during the break, so they're all anxious to chat with us even more. After going to Happy Guy's hometown for a couple of days, he's even commented on how much strangers are amazed by me. He couldn't believe how many people would stare at me, follow me around, and yell hello at me when I was in his village. I'm not strange to him, I'm just Brian. His daughter even scolded a few of their neighbors for talking about me as if I wasn't standing right next to them. They didn't believe her when she said I could understand them until I assured them that I could, then they just laughed their way inside, probably embarrassed.

So did you catch my point in all that rambling? Maybe I should sum things up. Language school has helped a lot for obvious reasons. When living in China, it's always easier when you know Chinese. However, things have also gotten more complicated. Now I have these old habits that are suddenly much more dangerous because of my improved skills. I definitely need to work on changing these old habits and replace them with more helpful ones. Finally, no amount of frustration caused by annoying strangers can compare to the thankfulness I feel for the people who treat me like a normal person. Being treated like a normal person in a place where the vast majority of people treat you like something else entirely is something that cannot be described.

Henan Pictures

I've been having trouble connecting with Blogger lately. I'm not sure if it's something with the website or with my internet service. I got sick of trying to put more pictures and video on here with the connection problem, so this is all for now. If it gets more consistent in the next few days then I'll try adding more. Enjoy!

Here are a few pictures from my two days in Zhang Village near Linpa, Henan. Happy Guy took my camera away from me about 5 minutes after I got there so most of the pictures are "Chinese style". That means they're either tilted or not centered.


Here I am with Happy Guy, soon after my arrival.


Stewie, HG's son. He's 9. You can see the neighbor's grandkid in the background.

Here I am in front of the house. It's the traditional style of a house with an enclosed courtyard. The sign over my head is wishing Zhang Cheng (HG's daughter) a happy 12th birthday. The others are (l to r) HG's little sister, HG's older sister, HG's wife, and HG's mom.


This is HG's little sister and her son. He's actually 5, he's just a little small for his age. He's got the pose down, though.


video
This is a short video just after Amber blew out her candles. You can get a look at the cake. Chinese people know how to make a good looking cake.

video
Happy Guy took several videos trying to get in every single person at the party. Since the party spanned several rooms and more than one yard, I've only put in this one video to give you a taste. The very first lady you see sitting in the corner is Happy Guy's 90 year old grandmother.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A bird's eye view

Since school hasn't started back yet things have been pretty slow around here. I've spent a lot of time in the last four days or so making maps on Google Maps for the future newbies who come to Shiyan. I thought some of you might be interested in getting a look at our city, so you can click here to see my map. I actually made three maps! If you're looking at the map, click on my profile name and it will show all the maps I made. The other two maps are of bus routes around the city. Next time some new people come to Shiyan they can add all three maps to their MyMaps on Google, then they will be able to toggle the bus routes on and off to see which bus will help them reach their destination. I've finished the bulk of the work and from here on out should just be touching up a few things, maybe adding a few more bus routes. If anyone knows their way around Shiyan and knows of something I forgot to include, please let me know!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Jeremy released from the hospital

Jeremy McGill has been released from the hospital today (Thursday).
He will be staying at a local church in Bangkok to recuperate for a few more days to build up his strength before he leaves.
Jeremy is so thankful for all the love, prayers, and financial assistance from so many people around the world.
Jeremy's email address is: (ask Brian if you want it)
As of 2/14/08 the balance of the McGill medical fund at FHU is $11,372.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

To Henan and back

Well, I've been having trouble getting onto Blogger lately. I don't know if it's Chinese internet in general or just my connection. I found out that if I try long enough I can always eventually get on, though. Most of the time it's after I've been trying too long and I don't even want to blog anymore. Anyhoo, I got back from Kunming last week, spent the weekend vegging, and on Tuesday morning I got up bright and early to hop on the 6am bus to Henan. Why was I going to Henan? To visit Happy Guy in his hometown, of course! Not just his hometown, though. His homevillage. This place is called Zhang village. His family name is Zhang, along with 99% of the people in the village. At some point in history this village was named for the family that lived there. The people there now are all related at some point in the very distant past, but most of them don't claim to be related today. Anyway, I took the bus about three hours, just into the province north of here, got off at a place so small you can't buy a ticket to get there, you just have to tell the driver where you want off (another reason this trip was so interesting), and was met by Happy Guy's wife and sister. They drove me another 20 minutes or so to their village. I was told that the 13th (today) is Zhang Cheng's (Happy Guy's daughter's) birthday. It turns out it was yesterday (the 12th) so I arrived around 9:30 or 10 to a crowd of well over 100 people. Of course, I was the first foreigner ever to come to their village. It's a good thing I just got back from a month of language school, but it's a real pity that all the people in that village speak a Henan dialect and not standard Mandarin. I couldn't understand the majority of the people trying to talk to me, but Happy Guy has three sisters and they all live in the city so they all speak Mandarin. Between Happy Guy and his sisters (who I knew before this) there was always someone around to translate (from Chinese into Chinese), rescue me from neighbors who had too much rice wine in them, or just to help me feel at ease with so many people staring at me while I sit in a chair in the middle of the yard. Conversation topics were about what I expected: I'm tall, I have hair on my face and arms, my watch is shiny, what is my monthly salary, how much did my watch cost, the cost of my camera, do I know anyone in America who can fill a suitcase with these (relatively) cheap cameras and bring them to China, did I come to China to find a Chinese wife, do I want to meet the girl down the street, does America have chicken, does America have goats, does America have motorcycles, etc. It was a typical Chinese experience in that they were amazed that I could eat with chopsticks, wasn't afraid of the chickens and goats walking around the yard, knew to breath in and out, and all the other things that most of us would think are basically universal around the world. It was more enjoyable than the average China experience in that, compared to when people just come up and talk to me on the street, these people weren't talking to me just to practice English. They were just nice people chatting with the visitor.

I ended up staying overnight because Happy Guy tricked me. He told me to come on the early morning bus and then after dinner he'd take me to catch a bus home to Shiyan. After I got there he started talking about where I'd sleep and all this other stuff, but I was telling him that I hadn't planned on staying and didn't bring anything other than my camera and a book to read on the bus. Then he told me that there wouldn't be any more buses going towards Shiyan that day and that I should just stay and ride home with them the next day. Of course, what could I do but agree? It's not like I even knew where I was other than somewhere north of Shiyan in the next province. It was a lot of fun and I'm glad I stayed. As awesome as Chinese food is, it's even more awesome when you're in a village in the freezing cold. Meal time is when you get to fill yourself with hot food and tea and warm your hands on the bowls and cups in the process.

There's more to the story, but I'm tired and I just realized I haven't even gotten the pictures off my camera yet. I'm going to sleep off some of this chapped skin I got from the wind (in just one day!) and I'll post pictures and more stories tomorrow. Wan an! 晚安! Good night!

Important Update About Jeremy!

I've been a little slack in updating Jeremy's condition lately. I didn't post the last two emails I got about him and now I've come home to two more. I'll get right to it! He was moved to the hospital in Thailand since they have more experience with elephant trauma. The same insurance that forced the move to Thailand was basically used up by paying for the medical evacuation, so he's been without insurance for about two weeks now. A fund has been set up by Freed Hardeman University to help him out. If you'd like to help out, here's some info about it:

Friends,
Right now it looks like Jeremy's financial needs are in the neighborhood of $15,000 to $20,000 after the insurance has been paid. We have friends in Thailand working on his behalf to see if this amount can be negotiated. He is to be released Tuesday or Wednesday and is scheduled to continue with out-patient treatment for another 7-10 days.
We have also learned that in addition to checks, Freed Hardeman can accept credit cards on Jeremy's behalf.
You may telephone Burton Williams' office with credit card information: 731-989-6020
Or mail your check to:
Freed-Hardeman University
Attn: Jeremy McGill Medical Fund
158 East Main St.
Henderson, TN 38340
As of Sunday, the balance in his medical fund at FHU is $4000. Your consideration of his very urgent need is greatly appreciated.

I was also forwarded an email that was originally written by Jeremy himself:

Dear friends and family,
As most of you know I was attacked by four elephants in southern China. I'm now in Thailand in the Bangkok hospital. They will be realeasing me today because they have not received payment and I have no more insurance. I hate to be in need, but I am in need. Freed-Hardeman has set up a fund for me to help with my medical bill and to help me get home back to the United States. So I'm here to ask you to help if you can, and if not, forward this E-mail to all your friends and to churches. God has seen to it to keep me alive in this incident. I know my pain can show his glory. Thank you for your prayers and please continue to pray. Right now, they are holding me prisoner until I pay the full amount, and this really discomforts me; this is no joke they are holding me prisoner until my hospital bill is paid, please help, I want to come home,

Jeremy McGill,
good enough to smile, strong enough to cry


That's all I know. He's been getting much better, had an infection at one point from his original surgeries but got over that, and is getting a lot of visitors since quite a few China teachers are in Thailand during winter break and also for a conference this next week. As you can probably see, any help that can be provided for Jeremy will be greatly appreciated. If you mail something in to Freed, make sure that it's clearly marked for Jeremy McGill so they will know what to do with it.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Shiyan

We made it back home today. Just wanted everyone to know. I'm off to bed.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I'm leaving on a jet plane...

Don't know when I'll be back again. Really, I'm flying out of Kunming tonight. Angelyn and I broke down and bought some plane tickets to Wuhan since we don't know if/when we'd ever be able to get on a train. They went from selling tickets 10 days in advance to 5 days and then finally 1 day in advance because of all the trouble with snow and whatnot. If you've been following the news then you probably know that traveling on China's trains right now is not a good idea. At all. Check out CNN.com if you don't know what I'm talking about. It's been all over the news for almost three weeks now. We'll get to Wuhan right around midnight tonight so we'll go catch a bus in the morning to Shiyan. We should be home by 3pm Thursday if all goes well!

Super Tuesday is coming to a close in America at the moment, so we're all glued to various news sites to catch the latest updates. It's tough to follow politics from China since I can't just turn on the TV or radio and listen to whatever is going on. I have to actively seek it out online. Since I'm not always interested in politics 100% of the time that means I'm not always keeping up. Luckily we have Jessica, an avid supporter of Barack Obama, to keep us on our toes. She's also an avid opponent of Hillary, so we don't mind her rants and raves. She's down in SE Asia traveling through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand at the moment, so we're missing her on this Super Tuesday. Come back, Jessica!

I finished class Monday. Originally I was supposed to finish this Friday but we worked ahead by meeting on Saturdays and meeting twice this past Saturday. Today is the Chinese New Year, so our teachers wanted to be free to go home during the holiday. I didn't mind helping them out during the holidays, but it was definitely tough having 20 days of class shortened from 4 full weeks to barely three. I survived, though, and I feel like I'm more confident in my Chinese ability. I can also write a daily journal in Chinese and I managed to read a newspaper article in class Saturday afternoon. It was about a retired teacher who had someone open a dog selling business in the apartment above her and all the noise, smells, and fighting that ensued. Now I just need to try not to forget what I learned.

I'm going to miss Kunming. It's got incredible weather and equally (if not more) incredible western food. There's a place here called Salvador's that has amazing Mexican food and ice cream desserts. And it's just down the street from a place that sells root beer and Dr. Pepper. The down side is that I spent waaaaaaaaaay more than I originally planned to so now I'm practically broke. I was expecting my bank account to be low due to the cost of the school, but I also planned on us only eating Western food once a week. Boy was that overoptimistic! We were lucky to stick to three times a week. I don't even know if we did stick to three times a week. Luckily Meager March starts soon and I'll only be spending 170 yuan that month. That should just about make up for the money I wasted on quesadillas, ice cream on top of brownies, root beer, and the two awesome foot massages I got.

Happy Guy has been texting me about coming to his hometown after I get back to Shiyan. It's about 3 hours to the north by bus, just into Henan province. I think I'd love to go if I wasn't just getting back from a bus, a flight, and a month away from my apartment. Plus, I'd be arriving after all the festivities. It's like inviting someone for Christmas or Christmas Eve and them arriving late on the 26th. I told him I'd try to go visit next time he goes home, he just needs to let me know when I'm not halfway across the country. :) As it is, I'm looking forward to being in my own apartment again, seeing some people I haven't seen in a while, and just being back in good ol' Shiyan.