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.

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.

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:

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


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 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.