Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Medical Update

Here's the latest email I received about Jeremy. There is an address to send money to help with his bills and there are also two mailing addresses if you would like to send him a card. If you want to call him then I can't help, sorry!

We have just spoken with Sparkie [Tuesday, 10:30 am CST -- Tuesday 11:30 pm, Bangkok].
After spending 4 nights in the hospital in China Jeremy is now in Bangkok, Thailand. The flight went well--Sparkie says he slept most of the way since Jeremy had a private doctor and nurse on the flight.
Here is the current medical report: Jeremy is in serious but stable condition in ICU but is expected to make a full recovery. So far, the hospital in Bangkok has done an MRI, CT scan and an operation to clean up his incision. There is blood in his lungs which is being drained through a drainage tube on his right side. His shoulder is not broken (as earlier indicated) but the doctors say he has a torn tendon, however he does have broken ribs. His vital signs are okay. Jeremy is on a respirator, sedated, and cannot talk at present. Sparkie is allowed to visit for 3 1/2 hours in the morning and 5 hours in the evening.
I also spoke with the insurance company yesterday about his mounting medical bills--Jeremy's insurance policy has a cap of $50,000 [half of which was used for the med jet flight to Bangkok]. Freed-Hardeman University has set up a fund to help with these bills when the insurance runs out.
If you or someone you know would like to help Jeremy, a check can be sent to:
Freed-Hardeman University
ATTN: Jeremy McGill Medical Fund
158 East Main St.
Henderson, TN 38340
Sparkie has been in contact with the local family in Bangkok--in fact they are allowing him to stay at their building. Also Sparkie has been in contact with two grads from Freed-Hardeman who live in Bangkok--Neale and Dalissa Bryan.
Sparkie says that Jeremy sends his love to everyone who has been lifting him before the Great Physician--to those who know him as well as those whom he has not met yet. Jeremy's mother was interviewed on a Nashville TV station:
If you would like to send a card or letter to Jeremy below you will find two options:
Bangkok Hospital Medical Center
Mr. Jeremy McGill
2 Soi Soonvijai 7, New Petchburi Road
Bangkapi , Huay Khwang Bangkok 10310
or you can send a card (before February 12, 2008) to Ryan & Rachel Swanson (FHU grads) who will be attending a conference in Thailand:
Ryan & Rachel Swanson
ATTN: Jeremy McGill
231 Lake Drive
Pontotoc, MS 38863

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jeremy moves to Bangkok

Two things. First, Jeremy's story made it onto FoxNews. Here's a link.,2933,325894,00.html Second, here's an email update I received this morning.

Kyle & Sparkie report that all of Jeremy's vital signs seem to be fine, but today was a very painful day for him. They do not know if the pain is getting more intense or if his body has gotten used to the medicine. Most of the pain is in his stomach/abdomen area.

Everything is a "go" for Jeremy to be transferred by air ambulance to Bangkok in just a few hours. All of the permits and paperwork is done. The air ambulance has 2 pilots, a critical care doctor and critical care nurse. It is a 2 1/2 hour flight. Sparkie Smith will accompany Jeremy on the plane and stay with him for awhile. Once he arrives, the critical care team in Bangkok will assess all his injuries and prescribe a course of treatment.

As soon as we receive new contact information for Jeremy in the Bangkok hospital, we will forward it on.

Please continue to pray for him.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Story about Jeremy

Here's a link to the China Daily, China's English newspaper.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Another Jeremy Update (revised)

In the latest email update I've received, Jeremy now has two friends by his side in the hospital, Kyle Meyers and Sparkie Smith. Jeremy is under constant supervision by doctors from the hospital and also by some doctors sent by the embassy. I've heard that he was "attacked" by an elephant, "trampled" by an elephant, and "gored" by an elephant, so I don't know the exact nature of all of his injuries. The only specific I know is that he had damage to his lungs and he has a broken shoulder, among many other injuries. At first he was on a respirator and had blood oxygen content around 70%, but now he is off the respirator. He still needs oxygen but his blood oxygen level is at 90% or above. He's being "incredibly positive and faithful". Right now his breathing is the most critical thing and it has been slowly improving from quick and shallow to a steadier rhythm. They think that they will be able to move him to a hospital in Thailand, but it will be Monday afternoon at the earliest. It all depends on his breathing, I think. His insurance company requested the move to Thailand since they have more experience in elephant related injuries. The doctors say it will be a long recovery and that he may walk again in 3 months.

Thanks everyone, for your prayers and mindfulness in this. A lot of you have been expressing sympathy and support to me, but I want to let you know that this isn't the same Jeremy I have a link to on my blog. I don't actually know this Jeremy, but we're in China in the same circumstances and those of us in Kunming were in a position to possibly get to his side faster than anyone else. That's why I was possibly going to go down. I just say that so that people won't worry about me at all. Continue to keep Jeremy in your thoughts, though. He needs it, I don't. I know some friends of his family have been reading this, so I'll try to keep things updated as I find out more.

On a more personal note, language school is going pretty well. I think this 6 days of class each week almost got to me this past week. Saturday came along and I just didn't care anymore. But now it's Sunday, I don't have class, and I can just study all day long instead of going to class and then studying. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Monday or Tuesday I think I'll start book 3. My teacher is excited because no one studying at this school has ever made it to book 3. I'll be the first. Yay! Most of my day still consists of class and studying, but we've finished 12 of 20 days of class so it won't be much longer now until we're done and I can move on to things outside of this building. On that note, it's 9:30 in the morning and I haven't even started studying yet. I should get on that.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Kyle's flight made it out of Wuhan so I won't be going to the hospital. A representative from Jeremy's school is apparently going with Kyle (and a Chinese Brother that Kyle brought along), but said representative seems to be fixated with the medical costs and is griping about getting insurance numbers and whatnot. I'm pretty sure Kyle is walking the line between extreme irritation and physical violence, trying not to punch that lady in the face. No further updates on Jeremy's condition since last I heard. He wasn't doing well at that time. Continue to pray for him and his family.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Prayer Request

Jeremy McGill, a teacher with our group in Wuhan, was trampled by an elephant while traveling in southern Yunnan province. He's alone and in critical condition in the hospital. His friend in Wuhan is trying to get a flight down to be with him but there's a possibility that he won't be able to because of a snowstorm in Wuhan. If Kyle can't get a flight then I will probably go down today because Kunming is in the same province so the three of us at language school are the closest people to him. The latest report said he wasn't improving and some doctors were on their way from the embassy to check on him. Please keep him and his family in your prayers constantly.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A look at school life

I thought some of you might like to see some pictures of what I'm doing here. These first pictures are of my room, study table, and view out the window. Kunming is a really nice city. It actually has blue sky! I didn't think it was possible for a big Chinese city to have blue sky, but Kunming definitely has one of the bluest skies I've ever seen. It's also relatively warm (60s and 70s) since it's down next to Vietnam and Myanmar. It started snowing the day we left Shiyan so this is a nice change. Enough talking, here are some pictures!

We don't go very far from the building much since we're always studying. That pedestrian crossover in the above picture is the farthest we go most days. It's sad, I know. Blame it on homework. Speaking of homework, here are a few pictures of my homework for all you curious cats.

This is one of my journal entries. I messed up the sentence in the middle, hence the red ink. But overall it was good, so she drew one of her weird smileys at the end. Mv.

Here's a page from the text book. It's not all like this. This page is just packed with phrases to practice.

I get to trace a character and then practice writing it on my own. And then write it in a dictation quiz the next day. Today my quiz consisted of about 80 characters that I learned last week. It took a long time.

Spring Festival is around February 6th and 7th. Our teachers want to go home at that time, but our classes run through the 8th. Their solution is that we'll have class 6 days a week instead of 5 so we can finish three days early. It kind of stinks because now we only have one day off to rest our brains, but I can't really complain because I wouldn't want them to miss going home. It's their equivalent of Christmas, in terms of how important it is to go home and see family. Today, however, my brain is fairly relaxed. It's the first school day of the week and I didn't receive much homework at all. I've already finished it, in fact. So I have the next 6 or 7 hours to review, read, wander, or whatever else I can find to do. It should be interesting.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Poetry in motion

Part of my lesson everyday is that my teacher will choose a topic within the first 10 minutes or so and I have to give her 10 or more sentences about that topic. The first day she chose American sports, then the Bible, and today she chose fruit. It's pretty random. At the end of today's lesson she taught me a poem that she likes and then told me that tomorrow I need to give her 15 sentences about poetry. That seems a little harder than telling what fruits I like, but luckily there's a lesson about poetry on that I can listen to for some pointers. I thought some of you might enjoy seeing the poem I learned today, so here you go.



Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Back to school

I now remember why I was glad to leave school. Studying is murder on the brain! I don't remember feeling this way back in college, but after two days of language school my brain feels ready to explode out my ears. Of course, this isn't really anything like college. I'm the only student in the class, my teacher is speaking Chinese 99.9% of the time, and every single question and activity is directed straight at me. Four straight hours of that with a 20 minute break in the middle could understandably make one's head hurt. Other than the whole brain thing, I'm enjoying the school here. We have some nice rooms in a nice area of town, and the classrooms are one floor up, a short one minute walk from my room. So far most of my time has been filled with homework, but I finished earlier today than I did yesterday so maybe soon I'll have some sort of routine involving getting out more. My homework consists of studying vocabulary, reviewing the previous lesson, previewing the next one, copying Chinese characters over and over again, and (the most difficult part) keeping a daily journal only in Chinese. It's very tough since I can't write most of the characters from memory and have to continually refer to the dictionary or computer for help.

Zhu Lan, my teacher, says that after 4 weeks of study I should be ready to pass the 2nd level of the HSK exam. The HSK is the national Chinese proficiency exam for people studying Chinese. I'd like to eventually take the exam so I can be officially certified in Chinese. That kind of certificate would come in handy in the future. There are 3 levels to the HSK and I haven't even taken the first one yet. My teacher claims I could pass the beginner exam, though, so she's set a goal of preparing me for the intermediate exam. I'm not quite as confident about it as she is, but I really have no idea how hard the exam is to begin with. I'll hopefully be able to take the first part of the exam in Wuhan in April. I think that's the next time it's offered.

Before I close out and head to bed, I'll leave you with a bit of humor. Well, it seems humorous to me. As English teachers here, we always are chuckling at our students and the things that they write and say because it's always so simple and basic. We wonder why the students don't put more into what they write! I now know. It's because using a foreign language in an environment where the teacher never switches to your own language is really really hard if you've never experienced it before. So what I've found is that my journal entries so far have been exactly like some of the things my students write. So here's my entry from today. Translated back into English, of course.

"On Tuesday I went to my Chinese class for the second time. After class I ate lunch. I had beef noodles. After that my two friends and I watched a DVD, Band of Brothers. We all had homework to do so I went back to my place to do my homework. At 6:00 we ate dinner. After we finished eating, William and I listened to I haven't studied in 4 years so my head really hurt! After finally finishing my homework I went to bed."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

How I got to language school

I made it to Kunming! We left Shiyan late Thursday night/Friday morning, just hours before the snow began to fall. I'm a little bummed that we're missing the first (and possibly only) snowfall of the season, I can't complain too much. This trip has been pretty fun! That first night our train to Chongqing was supposed to leave at 12:04, just after midnight. It was about an hour late leaving and just around 2 hours late arriving in Chongqing. At least we weren't in any hurry. Anytime we travel we usually break out our Lonely Planet guidebook to get the scoop on our destination. All it had to say about Chongqing was that it had incredibly spicy hotpot and the air pollution was unbelievable. Well, it was right. We got there, checked into a hostel, and set out to find a place for lunch. We had some incredibly spicy hotpot that left us in a drunken stupor that I have never quite experienced from hotpot before. It was so good, I can't begin to explain it! The ladies who worked in the restaurant were so nice and friendly that we began to wish that either they would move to Shiyan or we could move to Chongqing just so we could see them more. That was a great lunch. After that we rested briefly and set out to see the city. We were on the south side of the great Yangzi River so we walked down the road quite a ways and found a cable car that takes you across the river right into the heart of downtown for only 2 yuan. Here's an excerpt from Lonely Planet describing this cable car journey:

A ride on either of the cities two cable cars spanning both the Jialing and Yangzi Rivers will carry you over the precipitously stacked housing and polluting industrial estates for a bird's-eye view of the murky waters.

Makes you want to ride it twice, doesn't it? Well we did ride it twice. Since it was within walking distance of our point of origin and destination, we took the cable car both ways. While I was using my superior map and street sign reading skills to walk us in a large circle around three city blocks to get to something we started less than a block from, we discovered that Chongqing has much more to offer than we first suspected. Namely, Pizza Hut and Starbucks. Granted, we were on our way to spend a month in Kunming, and we had been told that Kunming was very modern and had all the great places foreigners seek out, we still felt the need to go to both of these places on our first day out of town. At this rate, I would definitely be broke before the month was up. Luckily (or unfortunately) we later found out that Kunming has no Starbucks. I'm not sure about the Pizza Hut situation. Anyhoo, we browsed around in the tiny English section of a bookstore, drank some coffee, ate some pizza, and made our way home. We were accosted by some guys with performing monkeys on the way back. They were asking for money, saying their monkeys hadn't eaten all day. I was tempted to tell them maybe the monkey could fend for itself if they took the leash off of it or, even better, to pretend that I misunderstood and say that I didn't want to pay to eat his monkey. I didn't do either. Instead I just refused to support this guy pulling a monkey down the street on a leash and kept going. I have to say that Chongqing had a very strange feel to it. There's a no honking policy throughout the city that is actually observed most of the time, and the streets weren't crowded or noisy at all. It was very peaceful and left us liking the place.

Saturday afternoon we left Chongqing on the 1:30 train to Kunming. This time our train actually arrived 20 minutes early on Sunday morning, which I didn't know was possible. Unfortunately the school got the dates mixed up and thought we were coming on Monday so no one was at the station to pick us up. We eventually tracked down their phone number (thank goodness for cell phones!) and called them. They gave us the name of a hotel and we caught a taxi across town. The school is on the 16th floor of a building in a nice section of town. The 15th floor has the living quarters (actually two floors of living quarters, but all somehow crammed into the 15th floor) and we all have our own room. There are at least 5 others here at the moment studying. I've seen them at one point or another coming in and out. At 1 we got to meet our teachers (each person has a private teacher) and then we were given a tour of the immediate area and shown where to buy things. Since Kunming is a big city it has good stores like Walmart and Carrefour. That means things like cheese, real milk, cereal, salsa, chips, and tons of other stuff that we can never dream of getting in Shiyan. Of course we flipped out and bought all of it. I must say one thing, though. Walmart has a sign that says donuts and a great big picture on the wall of a marvelous glazed donut and a chocolate covered donut on a plate. They even have a bakery display case with some round things that look like donuts with a passable glaze and some kind of crumbly something sprinkled on top of the glaze. But if you trust the signs and buy the donut, be prepared to throw the donut away because it is hard enough to break a tooth and dry enough to suck all the moisture out of your body. William and I definitely were fooled by the signs, but never again.

Well, I'm feeling pretty drained from all those trains and fake donuts so I need to head to bed. Class starts at 8:30 tomorrow morning! We have internet in our rooms and I brought my laptop, so I should be able to stay up to date on here. I didn't bring a microphone so I can't currently talk on Skype, I'll try to remedy that for you people who actually like talking to me. Goodnight all! 晚安

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lesson learned? Probably not.

It's the human condition. You do the same stupid things over and over again, every time promising yourself that the next time will be different. Everyone does it, don't deny it. So what stupid thing did I do this time? I put off recording all my classes' grades. I could have begun tallying and recording grades for three of my classes in November. But I didn't. So January came along, I was finished with all 6 of my classes, and I hadn't added up a single thing. Of course, I'm leaving tonight at midnight on the train so it really needed to be turned in before today. Monday I holed myself up in my apartment and got the job done. Mostly. I would work for a while and then get distracted doing something else for a while then come back to the grades. I finished all but the last class, which required me to grade a lot of poems that the students did as part of their final exam. Tuesday I never quite got around to working on the poems because I was visiting different people all day in anticipation of not seeing them again until almost March. So yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) I finally sat down and completely finished. I finished right at 5, which is usually closing time for the school offices. I figured I'd turn in my grades this morning. Lo and behold, 3 minutes after I put my pen down the phone rang and they were asking if I could bring my grades down to the office. They also needed Angelyn's grades so I didn't feel too bad (although the only reason she hadn't turned hers in was because she was waiting for me so they could be turned in together). It felt really good to get rid of those things and be done with it. I will "never" put off doing grades that long again. "Never" meaning at least until the next time. Now I just need to clean my apartment and pack for my trip.

I've been invited by David, a Brother at the medical school, to come eat dinner at 6:30 tonight. He cooks some of the most awesome stuff for less money than you ever thought possible. We're taking lessons from him in preparation for Meager March. Then we'll have our weekly Thursday night Study at his school and hang out until time to head to the train station. This first train leaves just after midnight and arrives around 9 or 9:30, which is nice because we don't need to pack any meals. William and I are both excited about Chongqing because it's supposed to have the best hotpot. Hotpot! w00t! I don't know if I'll change my cell number or anything while I'm gone, but I'll still have my laptop so you can feel free to Skype me, email me, Facebook me, instant message me, or just hop on a plane and come visit me*. Those are all free too!

Well, it's time for me to be more productive and clean something around here. I hope everyone is having a wonderful 2008 so far! By the way, now that we're all leaving town for a month the forecast calls for multiple days of snow beginning tomorrow. It figures.

*Denotes something that isn't actually free.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Mistakes in advertising

What was Intel thinking with this ad? I mean, I can see what they intended to do, but why did they think this advertisement was a good idea? I found this on a list of 2007's biggest business blunders. Couldn't the business guy have been black? Or at least some of the runners been white? Come on, Intel!

The musical fruit

This entry is a bit on the lighter side. If you're easily offended by gaseous humor then I suggest you turn away now. If not, this is your lucky day! I've been using to brush up on my Chinese lately. It's short and organized into different skill levels, so it's got something for everyone. Here's a nice lesson I noticed in the Newbie section, so next time I come home I expect everyone I know to be an expert at accusing others of passing gas. Go ahead! It only takes a few minutes to learn. I included the text from the website that goes along with the lesson.

Lesson Introduction

Some things are not discussed in polite society. In today's groundbreaking lesson in Mandarin Chinese, we run through how to shatter that taboo and accuse your friends, neighbors and language partners of... well, having an overabundance of spirits. Note: vocabulary also useful when touring certain alternative-energy plants

Friday, January 04, 2008


I realize this is the fourth time I've blogged today. Are you complaining? Didn't think so. This is an important announcement to everyone who wants to prove that they love me! Continental, United, and Northwest currently all have tickets available to China (Beijing or Shanghai) for under $1000. You could get to Xi'an or Wuhan (closer to me) for $1200. This isn't an everyday occurrence so you need to take advantage now. This is a limited time offer. Strike while the iron is hot. Buy low, sell high. Come visit me and guarantee your spot on my friend list. IF and WHEN you decide to buy a ticket to come visit me, check with me about any arrival/departure dates. March is a good time, or April. I'll be back in town, it'll be warmer, and the flowers will be blooming. Theoretically. Anyhoo, I realize everyone doesn't have an extra $1000 laying around for something like this. But if you do, consider China. And consider your good friend, Brian. I'll show you a good time, provide food, shelter, and entertainment. What more could you ask for? A chance to see the Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors, Wudang Mountain, me. It's the ultimate vacation! Go online now to,,,, or whatever website you prefer. You'll need a passport and a Chinese entry visa, so plan ahead. Feel free to direct any questions my way. Act now! Supplies are limited! Going fast! Strike while the iron is hot! A bird in the hand is worth a ticket to China! It's better to have gone and visited than never to have gone at all! Just do it!


That video I posted was my 100th blog post! Yay! *fanfare and cheering* Sorry it took so long in coming, but at least the video itself is of a celebration. Very fitting.

The apple drop

I can't upload pictures and video through Blogger at the moment, but I got at least this one video up on YouTube. This is the famous apple drop. The video is a bit dark and the sound is a little loud and chaotic. I think there were about 18 of us there. At the very beginning you may notice that we were counting down but they didn't have the sparklers lit yet. Since none of us had any idea what the actual time was we just decided to wait an count when the sparklers were lit. I was just holding the camera up over my head at the end while we all jumped around and hugged each other, so it's a bit shaky at points. Anyway, here it is! Enjoy!

Theme of the month

If you're here looking for those pictures I promised, all I can say is that it's not my fault. Every time I try to upload a picture it uploads a blank image. The same with video. Maybe in a day or two it will be back to normal. One can only hope! For now, I hope you can enjoy this replacement blog entry.

Some of the Americana girls here have started a new tradition. They're naming each month and giving it a theme. November was No Shave November, which wasn't really anything I could participate in since the school probably wouldn't appreciate my mountain man look. December was Destination December, so Angelyn, Jessica, and I went to Chengdu for a few days. January has officially been dubbed Jovial January. Anytime we say something mean about someone, we aren't allowed to eat anything sweet for 24 hours. Since bitterness has come out of our mouths, no sweetness can go in. I'm not sure what February is going to be, I've heard everything from Festive February (celebrate all those unknown holidays like National Handshake Day) to Frugal (speaks for itself) to Fanatic (wear sports gear every day). There were other ideas that seem to be evading me at the moment, so I'm not really sure which one will stick. We'll all be gone on various winter trips for the majority of February anyway, so most of us won't even be together to celebrate February.

March has already been declared Meager March. Angelyn was doing some research and found that the Chinese government has set the necessary income level of the poor and homeless at 169 yuan each month for urban dwellers. I think it's between 70 and 80 for country folks. What that means is that the government says anyone making 169 yuan each month and living in any city in China is making enough money to live on. If they make less than that, the government will provide them with the difference. After living on our 3500+ yuan monthly salaries for so long we think this sounds rather ridiculous, so some of us are going to attempt an experiment. For the entire month of March we are going to try and live on only 169 yuan. We're taking a lot of things into consideration. First of all, we don't pay for our apartments, utilities, and internet. We're going to work out a system of rationing those things so we can charge ourselves a fee, considering that someone making so little probably wouldn't have access to most of those things. Things should be more interesting if we need to go across town a lot. It costs 1 yuan to ride the bus, but if I leave and come back every day of the month then that is automatically 62 yuan out of my budget. More than 1/3 of the total! Since my school is on the outskirts of town, furthest from all the action at the other schools, I guess I'll be staying in shape from all that walking. There's also been discussion about giving all of the money that we save that month to some of the homeless in town. I'm sure we'll map it all out with more details as it draws nearer.

For now I need to work on finishing my class grades so I won't have to worry about them anymore. I'm leaving for language school in 5 days so I need to wash clothes, clean my apartment (yeah right), pack, finish grades, etc., etc. Hope you all have a great day! I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy 2008!

This blog entry is special for so many reasons! First of all, it's 2008! Happy New Year! This is also the post where I'll try to recap Christmas, tell about my trip to Yichang for the New Year's party, list some resolutions, and probably do some other things that I haven't thought of yet. So here goes.

Christmas 2007

Well, it seemed like Christmas came and went in a flash. I already blogged about events leading up to Christmas morning, so you'll have to go back and read about that if you're interested. On Christmas Day we all woke up and enjoyed a nice breakfast of quiche and cinnamon rolls, courtesy of Jessica and Angelyn, then we emptied out our stockings and found out what kind of loot Santa brought us this year. I got lots of things, many of which are too incredible to be imagined. I got a tool set!, various candies and chewing gums, some card games from America (Blink, Mad Libs), 22 dice and a printout of the instructions for Farkle (side note: Farkle requires 6 dice. 22 is not divisible by 6.), a wooden crocodile, some cool lights that clip on your fingers so you can look like you have laser fingers, nunchucks, pens and pencils, an alarm clock that only works on American voltage (thanks William), a name stamp with the incorrect characters for William's Chinese name (thanks again, William), and some other stuff that I can't think of at the moment. It was pretty exciting to get that huge pile o' stuff. We ate so much for breakfast that we pretty much skipped lunch and waited for the progressive dinner/tacky Christmas sweater party to start at 5:00. We started out at William and Priscilla's with drinks and snacks. William was kind enough to share his Rotel with us, so we've all decided that Rotel cheese dip is officially the new Christmas food of choice. We then walked down to the bus stop to catch the bus to John and Megan's school for soup. Well, Christmas is catching on here as a day of major sales at every store in town so it took us over an hour to get to their apartment instead of the expected 15-20 minutes. We gulped down some incredible potato soup, french onion soup, and bread, and walked over to the medical school for the final rounds. At Brad's apartment we had the main course of Chinese food cooked by Min, his lovely Chinese wife. Then we walked downstairs to Andrew and Jaime's for dessert and secret Santa gift exchange. I got some lovely white towels from Brad to help with any "bathroom business" I may have in the future. (He means to help dry off anyone who goes Swimming at our apartments.) We had a lot of fun and I ended up being declared the winner of the tacky Christmas sweater competition. It wasn't too hard since only 2 of us wore tacky sweaters, but I think I may have won even if everyone wore a sweater. I don't have the pictures on my computer at the moment so I'll add them later.

New Year's Day

After Christmas there was a lull of sorts as everyone stayed home waiting for their family to call. We also could hardly move after eating so much food at the progressive dinner. At some point during the week I found out that my friend Jacob was coming back from Hiroshima to visit Shiyan. He graduated from this school after my first year here and got a job working for Mazda in Japan, so I was excited to learn he was coming. I then almost immediately found out that my friends Laura and Tomas in Shanghai were going to come visit for the weekend. They especially wanted to come visit after I told them Jacob was coming. Well, around Thursday or Friday Laura called to say they couldn't come because they couldn't get tickets. Jacob still came Sunday morning, but he was disappointed to hear that the others couldn't make it. We hung out all day Sunday and had hotpot with some of the guys that night. Hotpot is so amazing! I love hotpot.

Monday was the big trip to Yichang for New Year's so Angelyn, Jessica, and I loaded onto the bus at 8am for the (supposedly) 6 hour journey. Last year it took a little over 8 hours so we were pleasantly surprised when it only took 7 this time. We were also pleasantly surprised that 4 people from Wuhan got off at the Yichang bus station at the exact same time we did. This year's party was going to be a blowout! The festivities started later with a picture/video scavenger hunt that spanned the entire city. It was pretty fun because we filmed a kungfu movie on the bus and a Titanic scene on the bridge over the Yangtze River. Beth also taught "head, shoulders, knees, and toes" to about 50 kids at a party in McDonalds. I'm pretty sure our team should win just for that one. At the end of the scavenger hunt we all met up at Pizza Hut (!!!!!) and pigged out on... guess... pizza. It was fantabulous. We went to the pizza place here in Shiyan one time this year and it was very disappointing. Nothing compares to the real thing. We put about 10 straws together, put a pitcher of Pepsi at one end of the table, and passed the straw around so everyone could try to get a swig. It was pretty tough! After dinner we went back to campus for our party, where we hung out, showed the results of our scavenger hunts, ate lots of cookies and other goodies, and ended up counting down to the new year. We don't have the big ball in Times Square to help us out here, so we got an apple, slapped it on a chopstick, stuck some sparklers in it, and it did the job just as well. When I say we, I really mean that Brad (Yichang Brad, not Shiyan Brad) took care of all the arrangements. I can't take any credit for it. We sang a while and hung out, then all went to bed. Now, last year in Yichang Beth made the resolution to learn one new recipe every week. The Lord was good to us this year in that Beth was able to keep that resolution. I don't know everything she learned to cook this year, but just to give you an idea: poptarts and bagels. That's right, home made poptarts and bagels. If that's not amazing, I don't know what is! We're drawing up plans for a kidnapping attempt so that Shiyan can enjoy some of her cooking. I'll let you know how it turns out. After lunch on Tuesday we all headed to a coffee shop for about an hour, caught a last minute taxi to the train station, and took the 7 hour train back to Shiyan. The train was actually a double decker! I've never seen one that I know of. We got to sit on the top level, so I felt extra special. The inside of the train wasn't much different other than the fact that there were stairs at the end of the car. Oh, and the snack cart couldn't go up the stairs so the workers carried around baskets with the things they were selling instead of pushing a cart through. That was kind of nice. I always get whacked by the cart.

As for New Year's resolutions this year, I've been mulling over a few different ones. 1) Become much better at Chinese. Keyword: much (not just better) 2) Talk with one non-English speaker every week about my Source of Hope. 3) Become more focused. (i.e. use my time more wisely) There are other things that have passed through my mind, but I feel like I could settle on those 3 for now. If I add more to the list, I'll let you know.

Plans for the near future

If you're planning to send me a package anytime soon, put a hold on it. I'm about to go to Kunming for language school and I probably won't be back in Shiyan until the last week of February. We still don't know when class starts back, but I've heard both February 13 and February 25. I'm hoping the 25th is right, but you never know until it happens. Such is China. Anyhoo, on January 10 I will be going to Chongqing on the train. After an overnight stay there I'll catch another train to Kunming and arrive there on January 13. The 14th will be the first day of class at our language school, so Angelyn, William, and I are ready to get started. We'll be there through February 8, which makes for 4 weeks of classes. Two of the weekends we're there they will take us out for dinner or other activities, I'm not sure exactly what. The other weekends I guess we're free to do whatever we like. I think there are a lot of places to see near Kunming so I think it will be a good 4 weeks. After that, I'll either head back to school (if classes start sooner) or I might travel to some other areas for a week or two (if classes start later). I realize I didn't put out any pictures, so I'm going to go ahead and post this without pictures so I can be done with it and then put up the pictures for it tomorrow. There should be video too! It's time for me to leave for dinner with Jacob (he's leaving town tonight) so I have to run. Happy New Year!