Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Off to the Orphanage!

Ok--assuming that these plans actually WORK OUT--I'm leaving early tomorrow (Thursday) morning to head off to an orphanage in Hunan about 6 hours away!! I'm so excited--our goal is just to share love and joy with the kids for several days. I'll be sure to take lots of pics for all of you! Please keep us in your Thoughts!

A few more pics for you from today: I finally gave in and got my hair chemically straightened!! The humidity here is just sooo bad that it wouldn't stay straight but wouldn't curl right either--it's basically just been turning into a big mass of frizz each day (like Monica in the Friends episodes at the Bahamas). Virginia and I had a lot of fun trying to get our hair done without ANY translation done--it's amazing what can be accomplished with hand symbols and basic drawings (case in point: I drew a corkscrew curl and then put a big X through it--then drew a straight line with a smiley face beside it)!
I'm looking pretty nervous!

I'm pleased with the results!

Virginia and I passed this couple on the street and were SO THRILLED with their t-shirts that I chased them down so we could get a pic! They say "Falling in Love, He is my boyfriend!" and "Falling in Love, She is my girlfriend!" Sooo cute! What do you think, Tim? Can we get some??

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Qingdao trip that WASN'T...

Virginia and I at the train station McD's at midnight...

Have I mentioned that the key to surviving China is FLEXIBILITY!!!

A Summary of my day:
11:30 am ---Original time to meet Virginia to head over to Hankou together for lunch and train
1 pm ---Actual time that Virginia and I meet after last-minute packing and errands
1:30 ish ---Lunch at Hello Pizza (pizza place in Hankou run by expats--DELICIOUS US food)
3:30 ish ---Arrive at train station in time for our 4:58 train to Qingdao
4 ish ---Discover that our train has been delayed 8 HOURS and will now depart around 1 am
4:30 ish ---Arrive at Danielle's--Fellow Worker who lives near the train station
5-11 pm---Hang out at Danielle's--nap, talk, laugh, enjoy Danielle's FABULOUS hospitality etc...
11 ish ---Return to train station in time for our 12:58 train to Qingdao
11:30 ish ---Discover that our train has been CANCELED
11:30-12:15 ish ---Call around to find out other travel options
1 am ---Return to apartment after a long day of non-travel!

So--it seems that I'm not going to Qingdao after all. Yesterday there was a terrible train accident on the line heading to Qingdao (not the same route that we would have taken though--don't worry, mom) and we guess the wreckage had caused delays for all the other trains heading in that direction.

BUT--we're not terribly disappointed b/c while we were at Danielle's, we found out that there are now TWO spots open (hopefully) on a weekend trip to a nearby orphanage in Hunan!!! I had wanted to get in on this trip earlier this week--but at that time all the spots were filled, so Virginia and I continued to pursue a touristy trip to Qingdao. Now--it looks like the orphanage might be a possibility after all! We're just hoping that we can get some money back for the plane tickets that we booked for our return to Wuhan!

If we're able to get the spots--then we'll leave early Thursday morning to go spend a weekend loving on some of the children in Hunan! Please keep this trip in your Thoughts (even if I don't make it!) as they go to share LOVE with the sweet children. I'll try to update again when I know what I'll be doing!

Fun at the train station while we figure out what has come of our train!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Off to Qingdao!

Ahhh...for a breath of fresh air!

It's May holiday--which means we SORT OF get 4 days off of school. I say SORT OF because, if I haven't already mentioned this, China doesn't give free lunches--or real vacations. Here's how it works: the school gives you a few days off--but the classes you miss for a holiday are just RESCHEDULED--they must be "made up"! So--for example--I am not teaching my usual 3 classes on Friday b/c of May Holiday--instead, I am teaching those exact classes the next SUNDAY!

Some vacation.

But, that said--I do have a stretch of 5 days without class--so, of course, I'm hitting the road! Virginia and I are taking a 21-hour train to the seaside village of Qingdao tomorrow afternoon. This is almost a last-minute surprise--we tried to get tickets last week but were told they were sold out--then today got the news that there were cancellations so we can go!

Called "China's Switzerland," Qingdao is an oddity. In 1898, the city was ceded to the Germans, who opened the famous Tsingtao Brewery (now one of the most common beer options in China, along with Snow beer), installed electric lighting, established a university and built churches. After the German occupation came the Japanese invasion and then the CR--but according to all sources, Qingdao has kept its German roots intact.

Virginia and I plan to explore the old town (where our hostel is happily located), try out the beaches (we're not sure what to expect of Chinese beach culture--or of the early May weather), tour the brewery, pray in the Cathedral, and eat and shop and relax to our hearts content!

Mostly, I'm just excited to get out of Wuhan for a few days and get some fresh sea air and fun time with Virginia. This will probably be my last major trip of the semester before I return to the States--so I'm going to soak it all in as much as I can! I'll be posting pics when I return! Have a happy May Holiday!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

To Drive...

Well now I'm no hero, that's understood
All the redemption I can offer girl is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey, what else can we do now
Except roll down the windows and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night's busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back
Heaven's waiting on down the tracks...
-Bruce Springsteen
Thunder Road

I miss my car. After months without my late night drives and long routes home that take me through the mountains or across the open fields, I'm feeling soo....I don't know...mortal.

When I turned sixteen, I spent about three weeks straight in a state of rapture and elation. I could drive. I Could Drive!!!! It wasn't just the freedom that excited me--it was the mere act of driving. I loved it. Wind rushing through the windows, one hand on the wheel, the radio playing, a smooth merge onto an open highway, a reving acceleration to pass on the left, swinging and dipping around and through traffic like one of Jane Austin's ballroom dances...

And yet at the time, there were those naysayers, those hardened, calloused, middle-aged hens who thought it best to inform me that my joie de vie would not forever be tied to driving, that someday I would spurn the very thought of one more trip to make, one more errand to run, one more slow drive through traffic in the car. Once "real life" hit, they claimed, I would not so adore my ability to drive.

What do you call people who rain on a sixteen-year-old's parade? Losers.

Because real life did some extent....and my love of driving only intensified. So There! (says 16 yr old Lucy with a stomp of her foot). Despite the stress of trying to get two boys from one side of Nashville to the other in time for soccer practice while also picking up the family's drycleaning and dropping off film to be developed in the midst of rush hour traffic (when I was a nanny), despite being late to work countless times after underestimating the traffic backup on I65, despite tickets for inane infractions, despite fender benders, despite rising gas prices, despite the ever-present fear that comes with driving a car made in the 80s--driving still remained one of my highest loves. So there! indeed.

It's just an indescribable feeling--those moments when the sun, moon, stars and planets all line up perfectly to give you green lights and open lanes. It's like flying. Or kissing. Honestly--if given the choice between wings or wheels--between a great, long kiss or a great long stretch of road--I'd have to think about it.

And it's been over 8 months since I felt that joy. Don't get me wrong--I really adore public transportation and wish that more cities in the States had the system set up for it--but geez, I miss driving. I miss it more than I miss sandwiches and steak. More than I miss movie theaters. More than I miss baked goods.

And it's not just driving that I miss--but it's music too. The car is where I absorb new music. It's where I pick up the lyrics and internalize the meanings of songs. Tim has been so sweet to send me mixed cds while I've been over here--but I'm afraid I haven't played them much--because no one really wants to sit around alone in their bedroom doing nothing but listening to a cd. You want to do it on a drive! I made the mistake of downloading an old Keane album the other day--I was halfway through the first song when I knew that I could only truly enjoy the songs in a car. And not just in a car--but behind the wheel.

And after these 8 months of forced subjugation in the passenger's side of a taxi or the seat of a bus, I'm afraid that I'm becoming one of those women who never lets the man (or anyone) drive--who must always be behind the wheel. While there's probably nothing wrong with that--it conflicts with my Southern sense of femininity. :)

Sigh...I just miss my car. I really do. Only 2 months left though...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hoping to be caught in the middle.

The greatest two temptations in China:

1. Thinking that it's enough to just BE in China.

2. Thinking that it's NOT enough to just be in China.

The concept of yin and yang are central to the Chinese world view. It's all about balance between light and dark or hot and cold...they don't seem to think of it in terms of good or's more about fire and water--both are parts of our world, both require balance to create life. Somewhere during the past year, this focus on balance has become central to my own personal development while here. Now that I have been able to see how it's changed so many of my approaches to things, I am now beginning to see how often I lose that balance, get thrown off my equilibrium and flail about with arms waving spastic in the air before the fall and the crash.

Grrr...sometimes there's so little that I can say online from where I am.

The point is: I need Guidance and Energy to live somewhere in that tension between #1 and #2. Please keep me in your Thoughts...and I'll tell you how it all continues to work out when I come home! I continue to state that I am so "LUCKY" to be here learning these lessons. I can't tell you all how deeply I cherish my life here....Love to you all!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Preserving words...

A few weeks ago, my mom pointed out that I haven't shared this semester many of the funny things that my students say to me...and I realized that I have stopped noticing many of the odd turns of phrase that make up what we call Chenglish (or is it Chinglish?'s pronounced Chee-nglish). This is worrisome as it is technically my job to correct these students of their little language quirks--and I've become unable to spot them!

In fact, some phrases are so common that I and many of my fellow foreign friends have begun to incorporate them into our own dialogue! "You better take care." "Perhaps you will have a rest?" "Oohhh...have a look!" "Ahhh, what a pity!" "Here, have a try..." "Hope you much success."

I wonder what will happen the first time on my vacation to the States when, while getting ready for a nap, I say, "Well, perhaps I will go have a rest." Or on noticing a cloudy sky when mom is leaving, I say, "You must take care, it looks much like rain."

Many of these phrases are not necessarily incorrect, they just aren't common to American English. A few of our British friends here have shared that they aren't British English either! Chenglish is the only answer...

The difficulty with Chenglish, and with teaching ESL in general, is that not only am I picking up the common phrases of my students, but I am also constantly simplifying my language--both vocabulary and sentence structure--to help my students or friends follow my conversation. After slipping past multiple high school and college essays based on my ability to transform the English language into felicitously phrased BS, and after working in an industry that relies on the correct, correct, CORRECT grammar usage, I find myself afraid that I'm losing, albeit in tiny increments, my employable skill sets!

I was thinking about all this today when I noticed that I've unconsciously been fighting back against the slow atrophy of my lexicon. I previously blamed my voracious appetite for American literature on the absence of TV...but now I think that my joy in a well-phrased English line is also to blame! So...for the purpose of filling another blog post, I thought I'd share what I've been reading during the past 8 months (red titles are books that I've read multiple times before but always pick up again):

What I've Read:

Mao: The Unknown Story -Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
Ancient China -FP Fitzgerald
The Lonely Planet: CHINA -The LP travel gods
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down -Anne Fadiman
When Heaven and Earth Traded Places -Le Ly Hayslip
The Bonesetter's Daughter -Amy Tan
Waiting -Ha Jin
Tropic of Cancer -Henry Miller
Black Spring -Henry Miller
Breakfast at Tiffany's -Truman Capote
The Thurber Carnival -James Thurber
All the King's Men -Robert Penn Warren
Jane Eyre -Charlotte Bronte
Their Eyes Were Watching God -Zora Neale Hurston
Middlesex -Jeffry Eugenides
The Irresistible Revolution -Shane Claiborne
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire -Jim Cymbala
Home by Another Way -Barbara Brown Taylor
On Writing Well -William K. Zinsser
The Meaning of Everything:
the story of the Oxford English Dictionary -Simon Winchester

What is sitting in my pile waiting to be read:

Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China's Peasants
In Cold Blood -Truman Capote
Boom! Voices of the 60s -Tom Brokaw

My Wish List--Books to pick up when I'm home this summer (ahem...or good b-day gifts...hint hint):

You are Special -Max Lucado
Lonely Planet: INDIA
Lonely Planet: Trans-Siberian Railway
River Town -Peter Hessler
God's Chinese Son -Jonathan Spence
Fried Eggs with Chopsticks -Polly Evans
Tropic of Capricorn -Henry Miller
Here is New York -E.B. White
Writings from The New Yorker: 1927-1976 -E.B. White
In My Own Words, A Simple Path, No Greater Love etc.... -Mother Teresa

As a final note--I will share a note that a student shyly handed to me on her way out of class--I love this student but am not sure what she's talking about...not sure AT ALL. And for the record...uhhh, I don't really dance. Certainly not in front of students!

Hello, have you seen the film scent of woman! I think you have the same quality and smile as the heroine. Beautiful Smile. The dancing makes me exciting. "Just tango on." I do want to appreciating your dancing. So hope we can meet again.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Shots of Wuhan Spring

There are 65 days until I return to the US for summer vacation. It's strange knowing that these two months will drag on slowly while the two months that I am home will fly by! I am not counting down the days all that much--I'm so blessed to be here that I'm trying to be completely in the moment. But, it is exciting to think about seeing everyone so soon!

Life keeps chugging along--I'm working on turning my apartment into a home, reaching out to students and friends and staying on top of lesson planning and laundry and dishes.

Here are some recent photos--and if you want to see more (as well as a lot that have been posted here through the months) all in one place, you can click on this link for my "Me and China Day-to-Day" photo album.

The alley leading to my apt on a rainy April afternoon

Fancy "beef steak" dinner in honor of Virginia's visiting momma

Easter at Dida--Me and Virginia (and Matt...and Sparkie)

The Waigoren gang on Easter--I love our group!!!!

Some of my freshmen students

for sale...EVERYWHERE

"Classy Night" at the revolving restaurant in honor of Johnny's 25th birthday--I gave him a copy of Jeremy's book.

Sara and I on Classy Night (my classy dress is getting alot of action in my pics!)

Yultuz, me, and Kunduz in the Fabric Market--the story of which I'll share once I pick up the dresses I'm having made--so we'll all know the end of the story together!

Tina from Dida, the twins and me going crazy in the Fabric Market

Playing with the springtime chicks for sale on the street. His name is Hamblin Frederick Johnson.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Living French?

Like countless other high-school French students (and college French-minors), watchers of Amelie, readers of Henry Miller and lovers of everything from Van Gogh to Rodin...I've always harbored a romanticized dream of moving to France and getting lost in la vie Francaise. Whether daydreaming of a tiny flat in rainy, bustling Paris or a sun bleached provincial cottage in the southern countryside, I imagined shopping in markets, bakeries, and butcher shops, eating bread and cheese in the morning, drinking coffee all day, taking night trains, using a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation and gathering an international group of friends.

Who would have thought that I would find the life I was daydreaming of by moving to China?

There are, of course, notable exceptions. Cheese is virtually non-existent in China. Instead of coffee (which is only found in powder packets that you add to hot water--not very strong or tasty--and somehow always smells burnt), I drink tea all day. I doubt that dog meat is sold by butchers in France. Or donkey meat. And there is no way to compare the personality of the Chinese people to that of the French--though I'd venture a guess that I'm getting the more pleasant end of the deal here in the Far East.

But--the life that I had concocted in my mind of French living is actually so similar to the life that I find myself in now--that I'm wondering if actually moving to France in the future would just be a letdown! In the mornings I eat fresh bread and fruit with honey and yogurt and pick up some tea at the tea store on my way to class (when I have time)--riding my bike cross campus to teach. I usually do my daily shopping at lunch, going first to the fresh market for fruits and vegetables, checking out the side vendors that sell roasted nuts and fresh made noodles and dried fruits, and maybe getting a smoothie made by two women with a table, a basket of fresh fruit and yogurt and a "magic bullet"-like food processor. After that I stop for fresh bread at the bakery (or wait and go to my favorite bakery about 5km down the road), and then head to a roadside vendor for diet coke or a snickers bar or ice cream etc. I buy olive oil at the imported goods store 5km down the road. I buy honey and jam at a shop off the market that sells jars made by the honey factory that is somewhere on campus (I keep asking different ppl about it in hopes that I can get a tour of the place--I REALLY want to see how they make the honey!!!). I don't prepare meat in my apt (yuck--I just don't like cooking it here--especially without having an oven) BUT if I did, I'd go to the Muslim butchers a few blocks away, where it's said that they keep their meat cleaner than other places. And sometimes, SOMETIMES, when I'm looking for something specific like spices or salt or potato chips, oreos, shampoo etc...I make my way into the actual supermarket...

And because I am a teacher and a procrastinator, I have time on my hands to take a book to a shady spot on campus and sit with my tea and an apple and read (although this can invite interruption from new "friends" looking to practice their oral english). I can go for long walks beside the many lakes in Wuhan, I can meet wonderful friends and characters for long lunches and dinners, I can have Family gatherings in my apartment and deep, DEEEEEP discussions on "Stuff" with my Chinese friends. I get to really savor the life that I lead--the life that I've been given.

It's just such a gift to be here. There is so much that I cannot share on this blog--that I'll have to share in person when I visit the States--but just know that Stuff has been happening in the past two weeks that fills my heart with Joy--that did not occur because of my doings or actions--but because of His. It's like, all of a sudden, Things are falling into place--Friendships are going deeper and Conversations are hitting home. I can't say more--but it's just really, really, really cool.

A new update: Please keep me and the school in your Thoughts during the next few months. Adam, my partner at the school, is returning to the US on Friday. As background: I came to HZAU (Huazhong Agricultural University) in August with Adam and Jeremy, two guys from Freed-Hardeman University, as teammates and coteachers. Jeremy returned to the US about a month and a half ago after being attacked by elephants during Spring Festival. Adam has been dismissed by our school and is flying back to the US on Friday. Please keep him in your Thoughts as he travels.

This is going to be a bit of a challenge for me during the next few months. Although there are plenty of people from our program in town, my school is slightly isolated and it takes a bit of time to get to the nearest school. I am now going to be the only foreign teacher and the only white person on campus. This isn't horrible or anything--but it is a challenge on a day-to-day basis. There are basic things--like eating alone in a restaurant or being alone in my building, that can eventually feel tiresome. Thankfully--I have great Chinese friends on campus and other Americans in town--but I'm requesting Thoughts lifted up for those moments of feeling overwhelmed or culture shocked. Seriously--I am sooo blessed to be in Wuhan and I am by no means alone, but being the only foreign teacher on campus will have a mental effect that I'm asking Him to help me overcome. It's also difficult to do the Work without a like-minded companion.

As ANOTHER UPDATE (what happens when I don't write posts for a while!)--along the lines of the previous update--I am blessed and THRILLED and SO JOYOUS to be able to share that NEXT YEAR, I will be returning to HZAU with a partner and teammate--my dear friend KATERA BOLANDER!!!!!! I became extremely close to Katera when we were both unemployed and (briefly) uninspired in Nashville--she went to Lipscomb but we never connected until last year. Katera is now Working in Kenya and doing a fabulous job for Him and has decided to come and join me here in the Fall!!! I just know that this is the work of our Father-and can't wait to have a sister and kindred spirit on campus! I'm already thinking of ways that we can Work together and really make a difference! Please keep her in your Thoughts as she continues her Work in Kenya and prepares to move to China! Also, please Lift up the Contract process as we make sure that the school renews my contract and accepts Katera (it's looking good--and if it doesn't happen here--we can find another school that will take both of us).

Ok--that's everything for now! Thanks for all of your love and encouragement when I was sick! I'm really grateful for the comments and emails that ppl sent! I love you all!!!!!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

6 a.m. in China

It's 6 a.m. and I'm awake. I've been awake allllll night long. Sitting here for hours, waiting for sleep.

This evening--I went to a dinner with some American friends. I took a Tylenol Daytime Cold pill--I've been stuck with The Miserable Cold since Thursday--but Virginia's mom is in town, so I pulled myself together, popped some cold medication, painted on makeup to cover my stuffy red nose and went out.

At 8ish--on the way back to my apt, I must switch buses in front of the new Starbucks. Of course, I couldn't resist--while getting my Vanilla Latte, I ran into 2 friends from the earlier dinner. We sat and chatted over our coffee till it closed at 11.

At 12:17 a.m.--I talk with Tim for a little while on Skype.

At 2:30, lights out.

At 3:17, a car/motorbike alarm began going off. I remember this time b/c I thought it was my cell phone going off and checked it, noticing how late it was getting and wondering when I would fall asleep.

At 3:30, "Did I talk to mom about filing my taxes???" Obsession over how to declare income earned in China begins.

At 4:34, the birds began chirping. All at once--like an alarm went off. I haven't heard the roosters yet--and come to think of it--I haven't heard roosters in awhile. They were hard getting used to when we moved here last summer. Have I just gotten used to them, or are they gone?

At 4:52, I gave in and picked up my laptop--calling mom to ask about my taxes. We chat for 29 minutes and my obsessive worry about my US responsibilities lessens.

At 5:22, I begin calling random friends via Skype to see what they're up to. No one is available to talk.

At 5:30, one of the street sweepers began sweeping the alleyways that run along both sides of my building. They're at it all day, every day--sweeping up leaves and rubbish with brooms made of twigs. I've been fixated on these leaves for months now. The alleys leading to my building are lined with these trees that SEEM to be deciduous. They have your basic, flat, green, footballish-shaped leaves and the branches look like ones in a maple or pear tree or whatever...I mean, really, I know nothing about trees. BUT--I know which ones look like the ones that lose their leaves each fall, and which ones don't. And these trees look like the former. SO--around December or January of this year, I was walking home and suddenly looked up and realized--HEY! THOSE LEAVES ARE STILL GREEN AND ON THE BRANCHES! That's not right! What is the deal?? --I've been watchin these trees for months now, just waiting, wondering--WHEN ARE THEY GONNA FALL?????? It just seemed like these trees were going against the natural order of things. was unnatural.

This fixation becomes more understandable when you read this. They control the they control this too?

I finally have my answer--and it's been pretty fascinating. The old leaves, still green--but dull, fall as the new buds push them out. It's like when your Big teeth come in and push your baby teeth out. Soooo--the sweepers have more to sweep these days.

At 5:55, I begin thinking about my blog. Does it make sense for me to write all this about my internet obsession without mentioning that this is the ONLY connection to America that I really have? I don't watch tv here--the only news I can buy here is the China Daily-the Party run English-Language newspaper. Soooo--the internet can be a big deal. What are the obvious details of life here that I leave out? Tim didn't know until this week that I don't have a dryer. It's just a mundane detail--but yeah, no one (except the more rich ppl, I guess) has dryers in China. Why? Is it b/c they use too much electricity? Is it b/c the houses/apartments are equipped with the area for that vent/hose/thingy? Anyway--we all hang up our clothes to dry.

Also--since the veggies from the market are fresh and not pumped with as many preservatives (maybe), they go bad much more quickly--so you have to go to the market on a every-other-day -ish basis and use your veggies and fruits quickly if you don't want to waste them.

There are the roosters. They're still around.

Also--there are water buffalo roaming free on my campus. Last week I was walking between the basketball arena and the building that I teach in and there one was--chewing on some grass in an unmown area of land. No fences. No tethers. I walked past him without paying much attention, and then had to stop, look at the fella, and remember that I live in a world where I pass a water buffalo on the way back from class. Haha--I gotta say...I love it!

Also--I'm sick. I feel terrible and just want to sleep--but can't. Maybe it was the DayTime Tylenol from over 12 hours ago, or the coffee from over 8 hours ago. Maybe it's because I can't breathe out of one side of my nose and my throat is swollen. It's sooo easy to get sick here. Breathing the pollution in Beijing is said to be the equivalent of smoking 70 packs of cigarettes a day. My students all tell me that the air in Wuhan is much worse than in Beijing. That's alot for one little immune system to fight! I love China--but sleepless nights and colds make me miss home.

Well--it's 7:18--and I'm gonna take another go at getting some sleep for the "night." I may regret posting such a random, sleep-deprived blog post--but maybe it'll motivate me to write something good and substantial to post over it soon!