Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Past Week

SO much has happened in the past several days that is worthy of sharing, but I'll try to just summarize it by themes. I wouldn't want to bore anyone--Plus, I can't remember what I wrote in my last post, and can't read my own blog here b/c the Chinese internet blocks it. Please forgive me if I repeat myself!

Flights--Wow, I think it was 34 hours of travel...but it still didn't feel as long as one class of Promotional Strategy (that's for you, Beth). It was on the flight from Atlanta to LA that I began to realize how completely NEW this whole experience would be for me. In my head, I imagined that I'd spend the time on the flights reflecting on how I got to this point, wondering about all the changes to come, trying to figure out how to approach this new life. As we left Atlanta, I gazed out the window and tried to go to that place in my thoughts--that place of wondering and questioning.

But nothing would come. Instead I closed my eyes and dozed in and out of sleep for an hour.

When I slid open the window again, the scenery had changed. The patchwork farmland had given way to the angular shadows and peaks of the Rockies, which were followed by a wide dark swath of Evergreen forest. I gazed downward until white mist enveloped the plane and filled the window with a blank glare. I sat back in my seat and breathed deeply. The beverage cart came and went.

At first it felt strange to realize that my mind was so blank...or maybe clear. The past months have been so filled with wondering and daydreaming and questioning--where had it all gone?? But I thought of Ecclesiasties and the times for everything. There was a time for fear, there was a time for wondering, for 'what if's, for flurries of thoughts and worries. There was a time for stress. There was a time for wishing I could back out of it all.

But now, now was the time to GO. To DO. To LIVE out the plans that I made. There was nothing left to ponder, only life to live.

Big City--Wuhan is HUGE. And thus far, I feel more as if I'm just adjusting to moving to a big city than anything else. There are bus routes to learn, street names to memorize, and directions to understand. The main difference is that everything is in Chinese, which adds a certain level of difficulty!

Wuhan isn't the prettiest city in the world, although there are some newer buildings with really neat architecture. It's all very industrial, and there are the strangest mixings of new and old that I've ever seen. Some buildings look like dilapidated tenements, but are filled with new shopping stores inside. I really can't describe it--some things seem very 3rd world in the midst of a mostly modern city. Wuhan is modern, but there are still heaps of garbage in the middle of the street, beggars coming to your door asking for used cans, and pink-lit brothels on main streets.

Driving--I ONCE thought that a taxi ride in NYC was exciting--but that was a Sunday afternoon stroll compared to the life-altering taxi rides in Wuhan. The drivers--ALL OF THEM--feel free to swerve in and out of oncoming traffic, make complete U-turns in the middle of heavy traffic across a double yellow line with no warning, create their own lanes, create their own speed limit, play chicken with bicyclists and pedestrians, and in general show a casual-at-best regard for human life and safety. Some roads don't even have lines painted on them. I promise, I'm not exaggerating.

Shopping--There are several supermarkets within walking distance of my apt--and Carrefour (like a European Wal-Mart) is just a taxi ride away, so I've been able to get most of what I need. They sell many western products...although only the brand name is in English, so you have to do quite a bit of guessing on some things. If they have translated part of the label, it can be pretty hilarious b/c they never seem to get it quite right. For example, I saw a water bottle that said "For Refreshing Thirstiness"! I'll try to write down others that I see and share them--I've forgotten some of the better ones.

There is also an actual fresh market nearby and we've been a few times for veggies and rice. There are vendors all outside the market cooking delicious snacks and sides-the best are the potatoes and dumplings. I've had them twice now!

Cleaning--Over the past week, I probably spent 24 hours cleaning either my apt or myself. this city is just grimey and the dirt attacks everything in it. I'm beginning to understand why Chinese standards of cleanliness are so different from ours!

When we entered my apt the first day, there was an obvious layer of dirt that mostly had drifted into piles around the baseboards. The kitchen and bathroom were a disaster. I mean, we're talking "fixer-upper" to the extreme!

Tuesday morning, the cleaning commenced. It was as if the task was neverending--more and more items turned up needing to be scrubbed. And I'm not just talking about a quick "going over". EVERYTHING had to be SCOURED, SCRUBBED, RESCOURED. First the floors were swept, mopped and scrubbed--as in, on my hands and knees, Cinderella style. They still need to be mopped again, but I'll probably wait for the weekend to do that. Then, the bathroom pipes had to be rubbed with steel wool to get rid of flakey rust. Then I moved to the kitchen pipes with the steel wool. The bathroom floor was mopped twice, then the walls were scrubbed to get rid of mold between the tiles. THEN I soaked the rice cooker in bleach, washed all the dishes, cleaned the inside of the refridgerator, inside the microwave, wiped down the gas-eye, cleaned my new mirror for the bathroom, set up a new fan, rerinsed the bathroom walls, remade my bed with a new mattress pad, and moved all my trash out.

In the meantime, maintenance men came and went with a new bathroom vent fan, paint for all the rust in the bathroom and a new showerhead and hose.

All in all, things are really coming together. If I mop one more time, I think I'll be satisfied with the floors. My bathroom is ALMOST acceptable. The kitchen is getting better and there's hope for the living room. My bedroom feels like home. SO, it's all falling into place!

Comfort--I am quickly learning that there is a new meaning of "neccessity". It applies to items that I NEED only for the purpose of being more at home in China. They are required to get me through my life here. Oreos are one example. My bright blue bedding is another. Coca-Cola and Dove bodywash round out the category. All of the above were purchased here in China--and I may have paid a little bit more for them. But I don't care, b/c as soon as I saw them on the shelf in the store, I knew I was going to be OK in China, and now when I see them placed in my apt, I know I'm going to be OK in China, and when I'm stuck in homesickness and culture shock, I'll use them to remember that I'll be OK in China!

In the same theme--last night a lot of us got together for dinner and then went to a friend's apt to watch a movie together. It was such an incredible feeling--I felt released from all the stress of adjusting and felt safe and comfortable. Even though I am still getting to know most of the other foreigners, just being together with them brings a peace and comfort, and I feel so "lucky" to have such a network of Family to lean on.

That's the HUGE update--hopefully my posts will be more succinct from here on out! We'll see though...I can be pretty chatty! Love you all!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'm here!

Obviously, I have alot to write, and will take time tonight to compose a real post--but for now, here's a quick update:

I arrived in Wuhan around noon on Sunday (which was about midnight Saturday EST), bedraggled and disoriented from about 34 hours of 4 flights and layovers. After passing through customs, we were almost instantly whisked away by our university pickup person, whose name sounds like Swimming (it's probably Sui-ming or something like that). My university is about an hour from the airport, so we saw a good bit of Wuhan on the trip.

I have a HUGE apartment...but it has taken some time to be satisfied with it. Chinese standards of cleanliness are significantly different than ours; our Waiban (the person in charge of foreign teachers) seemed very surprised that I would want to sweep and mop the dirt and rocks/gravel out of the place! It's like moving into a dorm room in a sense--the walls are SOOO bare and it will take a while to make it home-y. I immediately bought new bedding that is in shades of light blue, so that helps alot! It's coming along!

We've been out into the city each day, either for shopping or exploring or exchanging money etc...I'm probably going to buy a bike today! Our campus is massive and the walk to our future classrooms takes you through the whole a bike will cut out alot of time. Plus, Wuhan is one of the 4 FURNACE cities of China--and it's no joke! The humidity is incredible--even compared to the south!

Today is the first day that I've had the internet set up in my apartment, and I'm having to deal with the disappointment of a veeerrrrryyy sssslllowwww internet connection--which means NO SKYPE CALLS. I almost cried when I found out. PLUS, because my laptop is a MAC and doesn't run Windows, they couldn't download the programming to access the internet onto my laptop, so I'm stuck on the desktop computer that they provided. Don't get me wrong, I'm very grateful for internet access at all, and for the computer they provided....but many of the other teachers in Wuhan have Skype and I thought I'd be able to use it to call home and have people call me. So, I'm a little bummed. I may try to hang out at Fawn's and see if my laptop will connect, or find a wireless cafe--although those are rare in Wuhan. We'll see--it's not hopeless or anything....yet.

Otherwise, I'm adjusting very well. It doesn't feel as strange to be here as I thought it would. Yes, everyone stares at me when I'm out, but it's not rude, just curious. There is a fresh market down the road where I bought potatoes and rice yesterday, there is wonderful food all around, I have a few friends in the city, everything is incredibly cheap in American standards (although I'm already beginning to think in yuan terms instead of dollars), and I'm excited about life here.

One final note: my blog is blocked on Chinese internet! I can post from Blogger, but I can't see the results...AND...all the text is in Chinese characters (except for what I write). I'm hoping that the orange button is the Publish option--but I really don't know! I'll have to read your comments on the email notices that it sends me! Oh well...nothing is easy in China ( a phrase repeated often to us since we've been here).

Friday, August 24, 2007

All The Small Things

You would think if someone knew for months and months that they would be moving to China, they would begin all the steps of settling bills and alerting the right people months in advance…so it would all be done well before the actual move. You would think that they would begin packing a few days in advance, so they could evaluate what could be left and what must be packed.

You would think—but in my case—you would be wrong. Yes, I waited until today to begin packing. Yes, I waited till today to pay a few final bills. Yes, I waited until today to import all of my cds onto iTunes. Yes, I waited till today to make copies of my passport and visa and airline tickets. I waited till today to buy a year’s supply of contacts from WalMart, and to buy travel size shampoo and batteries for my camera. I waited till today to sort through the Teaching materials that I wanted to bring. I waited till today to call a few friends to say goodbye.

Needless to say, it’s been a long day! But, it’s all done as well as could be for last minute prep. I’m incredibly grateful to Dee and Tim for helping me stay calm and forcing me to actually pack! I’m incredibly grateful to my mom for agreeing to follow-up on all the items I couldn’t get to! What a mess.

But now I’m here in Nashville, where mom and I are spending the night before tomorrow’s flight. No doubt, things were forgotten. And, if my bags get opened in customs, I’m not sure that they’ll ever close again! (For the record, Space Bags are AMAZING! They really do shrink your stuff down to a fourth of the original size!)

Tomorrow I fly from Nashville (at 1:15 p.m.) to Atlanta to LA to Guangzhou, China to Wuhan! I think it will be late Saturday night here when I arrive in Wuhan—which will be midday Sunday there! I’m not sure how many hours in the air it will all add up to—all I know is that it’s about a 15 hour flight from LA to Guangzhou.

The next time I update, I WILL BE LIVING IN CHINA!!!!

This blows my mind.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Anxiety and Calm: 1 Week Until China

The Teacher once warned a potential follower, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but I have no place to lay my head.”

It feels a bit melodramatic to claim participation in this statement. I’ve had deep pillows and sweet sleep for the past 3 weeks, and I will likely have the same once arriving in Wuhan. That said, the quote has recurred in my thoughts during my prep for the big move, now only 7 days away. Again and again, the reality of the unknown, the unsettled and the insecure held up in His words have struck my heart with a deep, piercing anxiety.

Perhaps it is because I have, up till now, sounded and felt very much like that follower... “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” I’ve been elated and probably a little proud that I am moving to China. China! May all the world admire me—for I am doing the EXTREME move for Him!

But the reality is settling in—I’m leaving my home. I’m leaving my family. I’m leaving my friends. I’m leaving my security and my known world. And suddenly, it’s not so thrilling. It’s scary. And lonely.

So tonight, I sheepishly confess that maybe I’m not quite as adventurous and courageous as I thought. I confess it because I’ve learned that on the other side of pride and self-importance, the Teacher tends to patiently wait, offering peace and calm and His strength and His courage that goes deeper than any of the flimsy triumphs that I hold up in my own name.

I don’t feel it yet; I’m still a little shaky when I think of August 24 and teaching English and attempting to share Light and Good News with anyone. But I trust that if I ask, it will be given; if I seek, I will find. So, I’ll try to wait patiently for the Calm that comes after the fear, and the Joy that comes in the morning.
"Courage is fear that has said its prayers." -Dorothy Bernard