Saturday, January 26, 2008

Update on Jeremy

Below is the latest update on my teammate Jeremy's condition. Thank you all for your prayers thus far--and please continue to Lift Him Up--He needs Strength and Patience and lots of Healing in the midst of his terrible ordeal. I love you all.

Jeremy is in considerable pain and has a broken shoulder among many other injuries. He is being incredibly positive and faithful. His blood pressure is good; blood-oxygen content is also good. He still needs the oxygen, but not the respirator. Right now the doctors are watching his breathing consistency (how many times he breathes in a minute). In a previous update we mentioned that his breathing was very quick and shallow. Now he is gauging seventeen to thirty breaths per minute with an average of 25--so his breathing is gradually improving. The plan right now is to move him to a larger hospital on Monday afternoon.
Your prayers have truly gone up and been well received--let's all keep on our knees.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Please Pray

Jeremy McGill is one of my fellow teachers at my University in Wuhan (there are 3 of us--me, Jeremy and Adam). We've become quite close as he lives right below me and he's my partner for all of our recording sessions.

As we all prepared to leave town for the long break between semesters, Jeremy found a cheap flight to Yunnan--the province beside of Tibet. He decided to travel alone and we were all pretty excited for him because the area is beautiful and it's supposed to be a great place to visit.

I received an email last night with prayer request for Jeremy: Jeremy was gored by an elephant while he was trying to take a picture of it. He was taken to surgery and though the surgery went well--the latest update says that he's not done well through the night and is in critical condition. His lungs are badly damaged among many other issues.

The US Embassy has sent two doctors to check on him and a few administrators from our school are preparing to fly out and see him--in addition to two brothers from our Family.

Please lift up Jeremy in your prayers. He's an incredible guy--at only the age of 30 he has been arrested, traveled to Europe, lost a family, hitchhiked across America, written a book about it, found God, and then moved to China to do the Work that we do. He's been a bodyguard and a brother to me and I've been blessed to have him as a teammate and neighbor.

Hanoi, Hoian, and Nha Trang

I am currently writing from the coastal town of Nha Trang, in southern Vietnam. This was supposed to be our beach city where we did little more than eat and drink and bask in the sunlight along the South China Sea. But, as it does...the rain has put a dent in those instead I'm updating my blog!

We spent about 2 days in Hanoi--and thus far it's been my favorite city. The Old Quarter is so incredibly similar to New Orleans' French Quarter, except that it's much more crowded and...i don't know...vertical. The buildings are all extremely thin and extremely tall--and all are accented with french architecture. The food is INCREDIBLE--we've decided it's a mesh between Thai and Chinese. Most of my pictures involve us eating.

The Prison Museum in Hanoi was an interesting experience. This museum was first used by the French to hold Vietnamese Revolutionaries during the war for Vietnamese Independence. Then, during the American War, it was used by the Viet Cong to hold US and Republican POWs. This is the same prison where Sen. John McCain was held during the war. There are photos throughout the facility meant to show "how well the Viet cong treated the US POWs"...including photos of US POWs sitting in church and playing basketball together. It's a weird feeling to stand looking at photos of "enemy destruction of our Hanoi" knowing that "the enemy" mentioned is US.

We also caught the tail end of Sunday Mass at the St Joseph Cathedral in the center of the Old Quarter. It was so crowded that they had set up screens outside the Cathedral--so the Vietnamese Catholics could just drive up on their motorbikes and watch Mass like a drive-in movie!

All around both Hanoi and Hoian, there are tailor shops with cute clothing that they make for you within 4 hours. While I keep thinking of buying something...many of the dresses and skirts are just too similar to something you could pick up at Target or Old Navy! So I'm waiting for something that I just can't resist before I buy!

We arrived in Hoian in the early afternoon after a 20 hour bus ride through the countryside. Hoian is a cute little village along a river. It's very close to the DMZ and so the villagers had to live torn between Repulican/US and Vietcong forces--many of the villages in this area suffered the most destruction during the war. The village is very laid back and peaceful--there are beaches about 5 km out of town and lots of great restaurants. Jenn and I rented bikes and spent a peaceful but chilly evening on the beach the first day. The second day we tried to avoid rain and enjoyed the coffee and pastry shops and some shopping.

Speaking of coffee--Vietnamese coffee is INCREDIBLE!!!! It's a black drip coffee that is sweetened with condensed milk/cream. Wow---sooo good! The black coffee is incredibly strong--but I'm quickly getting addicted to that kick! I'm going to have to buy some beans to bring home with me!

Today we arrived in Nha Trang ready to hit the beaches--but instead are trying to stay dry from the rain. It might let up tomorrow and then on Saturday is supposed to be beautiful--so we'll see if we stay that long. The town isn't as cute as Hoian--but the charm is supposed to lie mostly in the beaches! We'll probably check out some temples and the usual in the wait for clear skies. We all agree that we'd rather be here in the rain than in Wuhan, and we're getting great exposure to Vietnam and the people, so we're happy!

Next stop is Saigon/ Ho Chi Mhen City and then it's on to Cambodia!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Travel Stage--Wuhan to Hanoi

20 hour train ride--Wuhan to Nanning
2 night stay in Nanning (Jenn got her passport--One day spent in nearby Yangmei, a traditional 17th century village)
3.5 hr train ride to Pingxiang (Chinese border town)
30 min bumby and cold ride on a modern day rickshaw (a motorcycle fitted with a "covered wagon" type cart)
600 meter walk to Friendship Pass--the border crossing and passport check
20 min taxi ride to Lang Son--Vietnamese border town
5 hour bus to Hanoi
1 hour search for suitable hostel (US$3/night!!)

We arrived in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, last night around 7 pm. Hanoi is incredible and intimidating--much more "developing" than anything in China. Here the bustle feels more chaotic and the drivers use their horns much more often than China (something we didn't think was possible). On the way into Hanoi, our bus was stopped first by Vietnames officers searching the van (they actually took several parcels and kept them--we're not sure what was happening) and by a bus wreck on the winding hill roads.
We're staying in the Old City of Hanoi--a web of streets that is mildly labyrithian. The weather is cool today--but much better than the bitter cold that followed us all the way to southern China. The town is really gorgeous--but I think you have to slow waaayyyy down to see the beauty in it all--otherwise is just seems like a mass of slumish buildings crammed together. But when you look closer you find that each building is a fading pastel/bright color and trimmed with accents that remind you of French or Meditteranean influences...or maybe Spanish? I haven't seen enough to decide yet (I know, I know--the OBVIOUS answer is French--but that's besides the point).
I am sitting in an Internet cafe surrounded by young boys playing some multi-player online video game. Across the alleyway, a family is chopping up a whole pig into its various meat parts--the meat is layed out on a low wooden table near the street and they are squatting on the curb doing their job. The pigs feet are being cleaned off right now. About every five minutes, other foreigners walk by--all belonging to one of two groups: youngish backpacking types or older European retirees 'on tour'. I can smell meat cooking and lots of incredible spices mixed with a greasy odor. Pop music is playing loudly from the balcony above me. Down on the block, they are chopping cabbages and touts are sitting bored outside of their hostels, waiting for lost-looking foreigners.
We haven't explored much yet--are going to today--planning to go to the Prison Museum (which shows an American War (what the Vietnam War is called here) era POW camp and other things, then go to the Temple of Literature (a confucian studying place), and maybe check out the nearby St Joseph's Cathedral in time for Mass (we're not in China anymore, folks!). In between all, we're going to be eating LOTS of Vietnamese food, and a little of French food too while we're in the city (it's supposed to be the best here).
Tomorrow evening (we think) we're getting on the Open Bus--a US$22 bus that goes from Hanoi to Ho Chih Men City (HCMC--also was Saigon) and lets you stop for as many days as you want in bus stops along the way and then get back on the route when you feel like it. We think we'll hit Hoi An (near the old DMZ), Nha Trang (BEACHES), and maybe one more before landing in HCMC.
So far, we've all had a marvelous time, despite the rigors of travel. We've taken to quoting Forrest Gump quite a bit (Viet-Effing-Nam!) and any other random movie quote we can think of involving Vietnam (please....leave suggestions! So far we've got 'I love the smell of Napalm in the morning,' 'good morning, Vietnam!' and all the Forest Gump ones).
Mostly, we spend alot of time in wonder that we're able to do this--thanking Father for the charmed lives that we lead. I remember sitting in an assisted living facility in my hometown and listening to an older man talk about how he used to spend weekends in Cuba when he was in college. "Really?!?" I'd say with awed eyes, "what was it like!?" I couldn't imagine living in a world where that type of travel was possible...
I think about that now--as we live in our time of peace (on this side of the world, at least). I'm visiting a place that my parents' generation never thought would be open for this type of tourism--I'm hanging out in an area that the world watched for years on the news...and I wonder sometimes if my kids won't ask end up asking ME "what was it like!?!" We can't be flippant about this--it is a blessing that we're able to see what we are seeing today. It is a blessing that I live in a world where a random girl from Kingsport Tennessee can up and say "I think I'll head to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and maybe Laos for a few weeks" with the same tone as "I think I'll eat a muffin for breakfast today." It is a blessing that we can afford all this just with our savings from our Chinese salaries (the same salary that would maybe last about 3 days in the US). It is a blessing to have three friends with whom travel is a joy and not a drama.
Anyway, I love you all and will try to update with photos when I can! Love to you all!
And remember--if you have any great pop culture tag lines for Vietnam--send em my way!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Where am I going again?

For all those with no concept of geography (a category that excludes me only b/c I live here now).

I am leaving this afternoon for Southern China (specifically, the city of Nanning)--will then cross the Vietnam border and spend days and days on the beaches in 5 different cities there--then on to Cambodia to Ankor Wat (located in SiemReep ...I can't spell it--but it's the city at the top of the lake above the "C" in Cambodia)--then to authentic Thai cuisine in Thailand...probably most of our time will be in Bankok, though we may be in the mood for MORE beaches...and finally will head back north towards China--hopefully going through Laos for several days on the way back.

3-4 weeks...3-4 countries.

Love you all--will try to update regularly in the next several weeks! Please keep me and all the other China travelers in your Thoughts!

Monday, January 14, 2008

...and then there was cold, coLD, COLD

Oh yes, winter descended. And it came upon us with a bitter fury. Like a scorned woman. Like a witch's titty in a brass bra (sorry descent readers...forgive the trashy slang, but it's TRUE).

Here's the problem with Wuhan: located in Central China, it does not enjoy the mild winters of the South, nor does it receive the government-regulated central heating standards of the North. So, while our winters are just as cold as Beijing (well....on some days it's as cold, at least), we are left to suffer it with only our basic wall units in a few rooms.

So this is the situation: I live in a massively big apartment. It's big and spacious and therefore DRAFTY! I have two wall heating/cooling units--one in my bedroom and one in the office. These manage to keep those two rooms warmish---i still have to wear up to 4 layers while I'm in them...but they suffice. I also have an electric heating pad for my bed which keeps me toasty at night.

My Nashvillian roommates could be rolling their eyes right now--in Nashville I complained all winter about how low they'd set the thermostat until they bought me a small space heater to carry around with me. So to them I will say--my bedroom BARELY gets as warm as the coldest you'd set the heat in Nashville.

So--ok--I now live my life confined to my bedroom and huddled in front of the space heater in my office. The rest of the apartment is LITERALLY freezing. AS in--I don't have to put food in the refrigerator. That's right--I can just leave it out on the counter and it will even freeze overnight. When I shower, I have to make sure that the hot water has warmed up the floor of the tub before I step on it--b/c otherwise the cold porcelain will freeze-burn my feet. One morning when I was especially tired and went to wash my face, I screamed and pulled back my hand after I put it under the running water--it was so cold that I wasn't sure if I'd been burned or frozen for a second!

But I'm actually one of the 'lucky' ones in Wuhan. None of the buildings on campus are heated--and that includes the dorm rooms. We all wear our coats during class and in restaurants and everywhere else. I still don't know what the students do in their dorms. They all just say the same thing, " is very cold in Wuhan. You should drink hot water and wear more clothes"

FYI--drinking hot water and wearing more clothes is the cure-all prescription for any ailment. You can be dressed in so many layers that you have an added 17 pounds on you, with not one bit of flesh showing other than your nose perhaps, and they'll tell you to wear more clothes. And the hot water is due to their fear that cold liquids are "unhealthy"...just like cushioned chairs...just like sitting on cold benches....just like soft mattresses...just like ....anything not available in China is pretty much called "unhealthy."

One of my favorite students in my freshmen pronunciation classes (yeah--i have favorites--it can't be helped) likes to joke with me about all the reasons she doesn't feel like participating in class: "Ohhh, Mees is just too cold for me to pronounce. We should wait to do the pronouncing when we are warmer!" "Ohhhh, Mees Lucy, I am tooo tired to pronounce!" "Mees Lucy, we can not pronounce when it is raining like this!"

She cracks me up--I always just laugh and say "I agree! No pronouncing for anyone! Drinks all around!" ...after which we all get back to the lesson. But honestly, some days I see her point--It IS too cold to pronounce!

Anyway, the semester is almost over this week--the students are all taking their exams and then heading home in time for Spring Festival...aka...Chinese New Year. It will take place this year on February 8. Next semester will not begin until around Feb 25.

So, with my free time--I am ESCAPING THE COLD and backpacking through Southeast Asia for 3-4 weeks! My travel buddies Justin and Rachel Bronson and Jenn Shott and I are hitting the road (or...train tracks) on Wednesday and heading South. We will spend a while in Vietnam, hitting 5 major cities there (3 of which are ON THE BEACH), then we'll move on to Cambodia, where our main destination is Ankor Wat...the ancient jungle temple that was only discovered about 30 years ago (apparently part of one of the Tomb Raider movies was filmed there). From Cambodia cross the border into Thailand---eating authentic Thai food and exploring Bankok and possibly some more beaches (though we've heard that Thailand is much more 'touristy' so we may not be there for long). Finally, we'll head back up north towards China and probably go through Laos on our way back! The weather is supposed to be in the mid-70s to 80s and the beaches are supposed to be INCREDIBLE and cheap! I should be able to afford it all on my Chinese salary--which I am very grateful for!

Sooo...unless I get in a bloggin mood in the next few days--the next time you hear from me will likely be from the balmy climate of SOUTHEAST ASIA! Love to you all!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Vocal Talent

In the years that have passed since my last French class, I had almost forgotten the dreaded "listening comprehension" portion of foreign language exams. It's a shame too, because there were certainly some fun memories there--all of us laughing in Ms Burns' class to the absurd sound of a man imitating le chien barking or at the man who couldn't speak without making that horrible tslple noise between each word. "Get that man some water!" we'd yell. Donne l'homme un verre d'eau!

Then we'd ask if we could go buy cokes from the vending machine...Mais, j'ai trop soif, Madame Burns, apres ecoute l'homme parle sur la cassette!

Ahhh--but how the tables have now turned. The universities here take advantage of having native speakers and require us to record the listening comp. tapes for the midterm and final exams of all the English classes. There are two tests for each grade--one for the English majors and one for the non-English majors. Plus there are several for the Masters and PhD students.

All this to say....I have been and will be spending several days in the recording studio with Jeremy recording test after test after test for the students. These scripts are pretty hilarious. Often, the grammer isn't totally correct--but we've learned not to correct them anymore--it doesn't change anything. I 'stole' the script for the last recording so that I could share some of it with you--I just try to make sure I have plenty of water before each recording:

Short Dialogue Comprehension: listen to the conversation and answer the question that follows:
M: I'm late for my bike was broken on the way here.
W: It doesn't matter.
M: When does the film begin?
W: It has been on for 5 minutes.
M: I'm very sorry for it.
W: It's OK. Things like that happen sometimes.
M: Now, let's get in.
QUESTION: What are the two speakers going to do?

Long Dialogue Comprehension:
W: I miss my folks. I wish we could see them.
M: Well, if they lived closer, we would see them more often.
W: If we owned a bigger house, they could live with us.
M: You know they would never do that. They would feel that they were intruding.
W: You're right. But I wish I were with them now. Let's go to visit them.
M: All the way to Florida? We could if we didn't have to work and if the kids didn't have school.
W: Maybe they will come to visit us when it gets warmer.
M: I'm sure they will. Maybe we can go there to see them this summer on vacation. Meanwhile, why don't you call them on the phone?
W: I just did. That's why I miss them so much right now.
1. What does the woman miss?
2. Why didn't the woman live closer to the kids?
3. When will the kids come to visit them?

(We tried to correct that one to "folks" instead of "kids"...but they wouldn't let us!)

Passage Comprehension:
(These tend to have little 'lessons' in them, but sometimes we're not sure what the lesson actually is...they also often claim to 'teach' something about English/American culture--you can be the judge of how authentic it is)

Test 1

Jack worked in a factory. At the end of last month he got his money in a paper bag. He opened the bag and found it was wrong. He got fifty more dollars. He put the money carefully in his pocket and said nothing to others. A month later, he got his money again. He found it was wrong again this time. There was not enough money in his paper bag. Then he went to see the manager."That's right," said the manager after Jack told his story. "I made a mistake last month. For one mistake, I can close my eyes. But for two, I can't. Thank you, Jack. I've known you already. I have to choose another man. I think you should know what to do in the future."

Test 4
In England, people don't usually talk too much. You can go on a bus, or in a train, and everyone sits looking out of the window. Often they read. They read books and newspapers. But they don't talk much.When you meet English people, they often talk about one thing, the weather.
So when you meet someone in England, you can say, "Nice weather." So when you meet someone in England, you can say, "Nice weather for this time of year!"
"But it was a little colder yesterday," someone might say. "But it will get a little warmer later!" you can say. Talk like this and the English people will think, "How
friendly you are!"

Test 5
Farmers keep animals for meat, milk, eggs and other food. Some farmers keep many different animals, for example, cows, sheep, chickens, ducks and pigs, but some keep just one kind of animal or bird. There are cattle farms, pig farms,sheep farms and chickens farms.Farmers keep chickens for their eggs and their meat.
Some chickens live out side in the day time. The farmer feeds them, but they find things to eat themselves too. At night they sleep in chicken huts.
In some farms chickens never go outside. They live in batteries. Their eggs and meat are cheap because it only takes a few people to look after thousands of chickens in batteries. We call these chickens battery hens.
Have you seen cowboys on television? Cowboys work on cattle farms. Long time ago, cowboys used to wear big hats to keep the sun out of their eyes. They used to ride horses and catch cattle with ropes. They used to carry guns too, because there were a lot of cattle thieves.
Today cowboys still wear big hats, some still ride horses but many of them ride motor cycles or drive trucks. Now they do not usually carry guns but they carry radios to talk to other cowboys.

Test 6
Perhaps more than any other people, Americans love cars. The family car has become more and more important since the early twentieth century, and it has changed Americans' life. Many people have moved outside the large cities. Americans spend two hours a day or more in their going to work and home again. They cannot live without cars in their life. Americans have bought a large number of cars. They have bought cars from several other countries as well.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Remembering 2007

I tried to put the pics in chronological order--a look back at the incredible past year. It may only be interesting to me, but it is my blog--so I'm ok with that.