Friday, December 28, 2007

'Twas two nights after Christmas

And time for performances. Christmas festivities are officially wrapped up. Last night we performed 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (the students' favorite part was Santa throwing candy to them) and tonight we had the department Christmas/New Years party. For the first time in a long time I'm looking at a wide open schedule. First on the to do list? Sleep...for as a long as I can! Merry (belated) Christmas to all and to all a goodnight!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Post Office

The post office has been and continues to be one of the most stressful places for me in China. It is a place where you want to get communication exactly right, but a place where there is a high probability for misunderstanding to happen.

Yesterday I ventured to the post office right outside our school with a whole stack of envelopes. The first decision after entering the door was which counter to go to. The post office was recently remodeled, with locations of various services being shifted. The remodel also added signs translated into
English, but unfortunately this English does not clearly communicate to me the services provided at each desk. Being an impatient American, I went to the desk with no line and carefully said in Chinese, "I'm sending all of these to America. I want stamps." The lady at this desk shook her head and pointed to the right. She obviously gathered that my Chinese skills were not great enough to give me a verbal response.

I backed away from that desk to look at the desks to the right. There was one counter with about 8 people around it and another further down with two people in front of it. Once again, I went to the less busy counter and repeated my request. Again, this lady shook her head no. I decided to try a different
statement, do you have stamps? To which she responded, no. I pointed at the other desk with many people and asked, does she have stamps? Head shake no with an added glare.

Now I stood there lost and confused. I am in the post office right? I looked around trying to see if there was anywhere else in the room that could possibly have stamps. After standing for a few moments analyzing the situation, I decided to try to get the help of the two students standing nearby. I asked in Chinese if they spoke English (most college students do, but non-English majors are often hesitant to use it with a foreigner). They responded yes and I asked them where I could get stamps. "They don't have any stamps here." In my mi
nd I thought, "it's a post office for pete's sake!", but instead of that exclamation I asked when they would have stamps. "Sometime next year." "You mean sometime in January?" "Yes." Unsatisfied with this option, I asked if the post office downtown had any stamps. "Yes, there is a post office with stamps but it's very far away." I next tried to ask if the post office near the traffic circle downtown had stamps, but once again got "it's very far away." I moved onto a new tactic. Most places in town are a 5 kuai taxi ride away; if the taxi is more than 5 kuai than the place is far away.
"Can I take a taxi?"

"Oh yes!"
"How much would it cost?"
"5 kuai."
Bingo, now we're in business I thought. I asked what I should tell the taxi driver. At this
point, the students must have thought I was quite the confused and lost foreigner with little ability of coping in society. They asked for a piece of paper--"We'll just write it down." I handed them a paper, they scribbled a note, I said thanks and headed out for a taxi.

Finding a taxi, I handed him the paper. Who knows what it said, probably something like "please help this poor confused foreigner get to the post office". The taxi driver started laughing and talking to the other drivers standing around about the foreigner who can't speak Chinese so gave him a note. With a hurt pride I exclaimed in Chinese, "I can speak a little Chinese! I just didn't know the name of the place so I had a student write it!" The driver exclaimed "she can speak!" and we headed off. Sure enough, he took me to the main post office that is just a
five minute drive from our school. Nursing my injured pride, I mumbled under my breath, "I could have told him how to get here, I thought it was a far away post office!" Thankfully, this post office was fully operational and I successfully completed what I had set out to do. Trying to accomplish things quickly becomes difficult when you're working with the communication level of a pre-schooler (at best). We had a very nice Christmas. It was a busy day of cooking and celebrating, but a lot of fun as well. My favorite present was an OSU platter from Sonny. He actually found it in China! I finished up classes yesterday morning and finally got a good night of sleep last night. I have 52 more essays to grade before I turn to being a full time student. Christmas festivities will continue tonight with performances and tomorrow night with the department party. It's still looking a lot like Christmas...we've had frosts and small snows that have turned the landscape into a winter wonderland.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday hustle & bustle

I hate shopping for shoes. I enjoy them and fully recognize their potential to make or break an outfit. However, the process of looking for shoes is almost worse than going to the dentist. This past summer, Kasey was kind and patient enough to search the stores of LA with me for several pairs of shoes. After that endeavor I gleefully announced that I hopefully wouldn't have to shop for shoes for two years.

I haven't shopped for shoes for myself since...but this past week I went shopping for nineteen pairs of shoes for the orphanage kids. Yes. Nineteen. (Insert picture of lady in horror movie screaming, hands pressed to the sides of her cheek.) OK, it really wasn't that bad--thanks to two extremely helpful students. However, the process did involve hours of traipsing between stores analyzing if the shoe was warm enough, if it was well made, if there was a size bigger and smaller in case it needed to be exchanged, if the price was reasonable, if the kids would like it, if it was easily distinguishable from the other shoes of the same size (so they wouldn't get mixed up)...and so on. By the end of the escapade I was very American and had the shopkeepers multi-tasking (i.e. while she goes to look for that size, you can write up the receipt for these shoes). All the headaches were well worth seeing the glee on the kids' faces as they opened the shoes. We took all of the bigger kids to a nice hotel in town with a big buffet. This trip has become a Christmas tradition, and the kids look forward to it every year. It's Christmas eve and I have three classes today--ending around 5:15. After that will be a little baking before our Christmas eve service. Tomorrow will be slightly insane as we cook brunch for fifteen people and then Christmas dinner for twenty people. This is no small feat when you're talking about cooking a full sized turkey and all side dishes with a total of six toaster ovens. Yes, we're crazy.

Have a very merry Christmas! I'm missing all of you on the other side of the world!

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's the small things...

...that can make or break your day.

I hate teaching in building ten. Especially on the sixth floor. Every Monday I teach two classes in a row from 1:30-5:10 on opposite ends of the campus. In addition, I need my computer for one class and 27 student journals for the other class. These requirements equal a lot of weight on my back. Add high heels into the mix and there is NO way I'm hiking up six flights of stairs. However, that refusal leaves me in another predicament--fighting my way onto one of the two elevators in a very large building. I've grown accustomed to the fact that I have to show up at least ten minutes before class if I'm choosing this avenue. I have to wait for at least five minutes before making it onto an elevator. I spend those five minutes bracing and positioning myself against the 75 other
people wanting to make it through the small opening of the elevator doors. My first decision is always which door to fight for, and this decision involves analyzing both the size of the crowd in front of each door and the floor location of each elevator. I know I won't make it in by the first round, but by the second...maybe just maybe...and the second elevator is on the sixth floor, as opposed to the other which is on the second going up...and so the reasoning goes. Once on the elevator, I get smashed up against a wall or in between people. Chinese people on the whole don't weight that much. Consequently, they can fit an amazingly large number of people in an elevator before it starts beeping that it's overweight. I'm sure with my computer and journals I equal at least two Chinese girls. Anyways, I weekly brace myself as I walk to building ten for the frustration of the elevator experience. Imagine my glee, therefore, upon entering the building today to discover NO crowds in front of the elevator. There was a lone man with a stern face yelling at any student who dared to creep near the elevator. Aha...the privileges of being a teacher. Today I waited for just a few moments in peace, and then enjoyed a ride in which I could fully extend any of my limbs. It's amazing how such a small thing can make my day. And ironic how the very same thing may have made a whole lot of students climbing stairs quite grumpy.

Notice a few changes? This morning, after my first class, I realized I had
nothing to do. I was fully on top and ahead of things (except grad work, but who's thinking about that). Consequently, I decided to play around with the blog. :) However, that state of readiness changed in a blink of an eye when I went to my writing class this afternoon and collected 26 five paragraph essays written for homework--and then two hours later 26 more essays written for the final exam. The hole will only deepen tomorrow when I collect another 52 essays from my other class. Oh the joys of being a writing teacher!
Lastly, speaking of small joys...I picked up this nativity set at a cool store in Beijing over the weekend. It was an early Christmas gift to myself and one that I'm looking forward to enjoying for years to come!

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Two out of three nights on trains. Crowded traffic. Hectic shopping. Crowded subways. Busy shopping streets. That sure doesn't sound like a recipe for refreshment. However, there was one factor that made my quick trip to Beijing an extremely rejuvenating time--my dear friend Lana. It's not really something that can be described, but quality time with a close friend that loves and understands you so well is just about the greatest gift I could ask for. I'm so thankful for the women the Father has placed in my life to encourage me along this journey. When I think of these beautiful treasures I've been given, I just feel so incredibly blessed.
Wednesday night I took the train down to Beijing--and tossed and turned throughout the night to the chorus of loudly snoring men and newborn twins screaming. Not exactly the recipe for a restful night. I met up with Lana, we headed to the Mac for showers and then headed to one of the main attractions of Beijing. No, not Forbidden City. Not the Great Wall. Not Summer Palace. For me, one of my favorite spots in Beijing is Ikea. We did some Christmas shopping (and shopping for ourselves), then grabbed lunch at our favorite Italian place. After that we headed to the airport to pick up her brother. We dragged a very sleepy Aaron out for a perfect first meal in China--pizza. We went to a place that serves HUGE pizzas--so yummy!
Friday I went Christmas shopping while Lana and Aaron went to the Great Wall. Later on I met up with them for a much more traditional dinner, Beijing duck, before heading off to my train. This time there were no snoring men (an answer from the Father of a very specific request of mine!). However, the train was ROASTING. I would not be surprised if it was between 85-90 degrees. I peeled off all my layers, but was still sweating. One of the things I love about the Northeast is that they heat things well...but this was a little overdone! Now it's back to the grindstone of finals and grading here. Two weeks left! I picked up some kind of head cold on the train down to Beijing, so have been guzzling Wall-born in hopes of being healthy for the final push of the semester. Head cold, hot trains, and tiredness aside, the trip was well worth it!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Where has all the milk gone?

Living in a land where I've grown accustomed to not being able to read labels on items in stores, I've learned different ways for identifying products. I know that my salt is the one with the orangeish reddish picture of the Great Wall on it. (An important thing to remember, lest I end up accidentally purchasing the more common, but similarly looking, product of MSG.) The cooking oil I like has the green label with the gold fish. The chicken strips I like are in a green bag with a cartoon yellow chicken (not to be confused with the red bag--those are too spicy). Packets of yeast have the one English word "Angel" on them. The milk I bought my first two and a half years in China was white, green, and blue with pictures of cows on them. Each box of milk (yes, milk comes in an unrefrigerated section in boxes) has two half-cows on it, so that when the boxes sit next to each other on the shelf they form whole cows. Anyways, back to my story; I apologize for the multitude of tangents. Like I was saying, I have been buying this milk my whole time in China. Consequently, when this brand of milk mysteriously disappeared from the shelves a couple weeks ago I was understandably distraught. However, I recovered from my grief and settled on the only other kind available in the large box size. These boxes were red, green and yellow with pictures of people running on front. I was a little disappointed with my new milk, but soon grew accustomed to the change. Until this milk began disappearing as well. At the grocery store near my apartment, all that was left were little bags of milk (think elementary school cafeteria) or juice-box-sized boxes of milk. I subsisted on these small packages for a couple days until I could find time to go to the larger grocery store downtown. I thought our small store had just run out of large cartons. But alas, the large store had no large boxes either. As I stood in the milk aisle staring at row upon row of tiny milk boxes, I decided to ask the worker who was stocking the aisle if there were any big milks. Who knows, perhaps they have been moved to a different location in the store, I thought. Yet the worker replied that indeed, there were no large milks. In the frustration and bewilderment of the moment I stooped down to ask the question I have learned never to ponder in China--WHY? The worker obligingly gave me an answer, but it was beyond my ability to comprehend. So I sadly tossed a few tiny boxes in my cart, and wheeled the cart away wondering where all the milk had gone.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Happy Thoughts

Ohio State is headed back to the National Championship! With the way this season has developed, I really should not have been too concerned after the loss to Illinois. Go figure, we're the ones with the undisputed place in the national championship game. Personally, I would have liked to battle the Rainbow Warriors, but that's only because I'd love to see my Buckeyes redeem themselves after last year's debacle. Now the main cause for concern is facing a no huddle offense--a prospect that should strike fear into most Buckeyes' fans hearts. The only no huddle hurry up offense we've really faced since Florida was Illinois, and we all know how that went. Gulp. Regardless, I think most of Buckeye nation (or at least this transplanted part of Buckeye nation) is happy that facing the daring strategies of Les Miles is not going to become a yearly tradition. C'mon Carr, are you sure you don't want to stick around? On another note, I stumbled on this blog today. The diagram descriptions of traffic patterns in China had me laughing out loud. For anyone who has been to China, you will be more than amused. Even for those of you yet to venture to the Middle Kingdom, you might get a chuckle or two. Check out description one and description two.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Coming up for air

My grading is done for all three of my classes Monday (and it's only Friday!). The house is perfectly clean (thanks to recent added help). I'm caught up on laundry. Plans for winter break are mostly complete. All urgent emails are responded to. I spent a chunk of time tonight doing grad work. And for about the first time in at least a month I actually feel on top of things, instead of being carried along by an unmanageable current. That feels wonderful...even though the feeling may be somewhat momentary!
This past Thursday I went to the orphanage with a student to donate some money to pay for the surgery of the boy with spina bifida. We were wonderfully surprised (as was the orphanage earlier in the day) with the news that an organization from Changchun had come that day to pick up that baby, the premie, and a girl with hearing problems. The organization will take care of them and cover all medical expenses. I was thrilled with this answer, especially for the premie who the orphanage just isn't equipped enough to take care of. It was also really awesome to just hang out for awhile at the orphanage. Saturdays are usually pretty crazy with many students and people crowding the place. It's wonderful for the kids to have all of that love and attention. However, it was also cool to observe them in their "normal" daily life. Their personalities definitely shined through even more.
Thursday night Sonny, Seth, and I went to the English department's talent competition. There were a lot of the same performances that we're used to. However, there was a comedy skit based on Romeo and Juliet that really made me wish my Chinese skills were better...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Perhaps you are unaware of this fact, but turkey is quite difficult to find in China. This being so, I have gone all three "turkey" days in China without turkey. Yes, I still have plenty of good things to eat. Yes, I keep up the Brandt family tradition of making Grandma's rolls for thanksgiving (and all other holidays per team request). But I must admit I've missed turkey. Consequently, when we went to Changchun this past weekend and found a 20 pound frozen turkey for sale at the import store, I (and the rest of the team) was quite excited. Granted it cost 300 RMB, but it sure is going to be worth it! I wasn't loving the bird so much carrying it as I raced down the platform to catch the train back to Siping...but once again, it's going to be worth it.

The light at the end of the semester tunnel is beginning to be visible. In most of my classes there are only four class periods left. 'Tis the season of much grading. And piles of graduate classwork... Yet today I set the work aside to put up Christmas decorations. I absolutely love having Christmas decorations up in my house--I wish I could leave them up all year!

Monday, November 19, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet. But the fierce winds and swirling snow outside my window seem to foretell that holiday. Mark down November 19th as our first snowfall of the year (other than a few random flurries before). In addition, Buckeye nation received an early Christmas gift (or a reason to be thankful) this past weekend as they defeated Michigan for the fourth time in four years. With a few more upsets, that present could grow exponentially larger if we get the chance to play for the national championship. All I can say, whether it's roses or bigger, I'm hoping we're not playing a no huddle offense...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Orphanage reflection

With weekly trips to the orphanage, it's easy to become numb to the emotional shock and burden of a building full of children without the love of a parent. For some reason, that numbness wore off a bit today, as I found tears pooling in my eyes. There were joyful moments in the day. There were numerous students from the Chinese department at our school who crowded the place with love and attention for the children. There was the smiling face of a cheerful toddler who will begin a new future when she meets her parents this Tuesday. Her world is about to be turned upside down as she trades all of the familiar sights, sounds, and faces for a family that has been eagerly waiting to meet her. Knowing the love that is awaiting her just warms my heart. But at the same time, sorrow and grief washes over my heart. There's the premature baby found in a plastic bag fighting for life in an incubator who looks scarily worse than the previous week. There are babies who have been fighting colds for weeks. There's the tiny little girl who just doesn't seem to be putting on weight. Then there's the little boy who has captured and stolen my heart. We believe he has spina bifida, and the sight of the sores on his back make me cringe with grief. Holding and caressing him I felt utterly incapable of relieving his suffering. It sounds rather cliche, but really, at the end of the day one of the only things left to do is to release these tiny lives into the Father's hand. On a more practical note, we're discussing getting students involved in doing another fund raiser for the orphanage. The money raised would go toward surgeries and medical care for babies like the boy suffering from spina bifida. It is wonderful to see students who are becoming passionate about the orphanage. In the end, we would love to see our role diminish and theirs increase. For if a day comes when we're no longer here, they are the ones who will carry on in loving these kids.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Many hats

Blogspot has been working the past couple days in China. Ever since it came back online, I've been thinking, "I need to post..." However, I keep putting it off. Yet I know the longer I wait, the more I push my luck. So here goes an entry composed by a very tired mind...

Do you ever feel like you're trying to wear too many hats? Lately I've been feeling that a lot. I sometimes
find it hard to juggle the many hats of teammate, teacher, Chinese student, friend, mentor, coworker, guest lecturer, seed sower, sister, daughter, and long-distance friend. Soon, I'll likely be adding the additional hat of graduate student. I feel as if I'm excelling in one of these roles, it means I'm sacrificing another role. The most important hat I wear is daughter and student of the Father. Lately, I've been asking the Father for wisdom on where to spend my time and energy. As the pace of things pick up here I know this is an area I need a lot of discernment in.

This past week was a frenzy of activity in addition to the normal schedule that included our PA visit (observations & evaluations), a lecture on the Oregon trail, movie night with students, additional lesson planning, a visit to the local primary school, and a trip to Changchun.

Friday morning several other teachers and I were guests at a local primary school's Foreign Language Week. I was expecting that we would have to give some sort of a performance and likely have to sing songs. However, I was not prepared to be split off from the rest of the foreign teachers and sent to entertain a Grade 1 classroom full of seven year olds who barely spoke English. I spent an hour of thinking on my feet to meet the requests of the teachers. I told a story, sang a song (This little light of mine--slightly adapted, it was the only one I could think of), taught them the ABC song, and taught the game "Duck, duck, goose". The kids were adorable and it was fun to go out on the playground and play the game with them.

This weekend I headed over to Changchun to hang out with the Norries. It was wonderful to spend some time with them. I have such a deep love for that family and those kids, and always feel like a part of the family when I visit. It was fun to read stories and cuddle with Sarah and Josiah.

Finally...GO BUCKS! I just had to mention the #1 team in the nation...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Oh how the mighty have fallen...and cold feet

Just a quick note here to express my glee over this weekend's football games. See ya later USC--how does it feel to be under that Sports Illustrated curse now? The Buckeyes surprisingly continue to dominate...and seem to be creeping up on a possibility of a National Championship game. Hmmm, is it just me or does this sound a lot like a certain season a couple years ago? All I know is we seem to perform better with low expectations. Would have liked to have seen LSU tumble from number one, but watching Florida lose is a nice consolation. Indeed, it's good to be an Ohio State fan these days.

On another note, fall has definitely arrived in the Dongbei--and as usual, well before the heat is scheduled to come on. It's now the season of layers of blankets and hot chocolate.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Whirlwind tour of Nanjing

The first week in October marks the National holiday for China. This holiday is one of the three holidays that almost the entire population has off of work (also Spring Festival and May Holiday). Consequently, it is one of the busiest times to travel. Guanxi strings are pulled all over to purchase train tickets to travel and visit family.

This year, Sarah and I decided to brave and join the traveling crowds for a trip down to Nanjing. We decided to save a few bucks by taking a train all the way down to the southern capital--a twenty-four hour train ride. Prior to this trip, my longest ride had been 10 hours, but I felt a 24 hour ride would be a unique and important cultural experience. The ride actually wasn't bad at all. Reading, eating, and playing cards made the awake time pass quickly and there was plenty of time for sleeping.

We rolled into Nanjing Monday afternoon and were quickly impressed by the convenience and modernity of Nanjing. Sarah and I decided Nanjing is like Shanghai, only still "Chinese". The city is very developed and overrun by western chains (Starbucks, Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, KFC, name a few). People seem to be wealthier and much more fashion conscious. We definitely felt a little bit like country bumpkins come to visit a big city.

Monday afternoon and Thursday morning were spent at a leisurely pace and we enjoyed some long hours in coffee shops. Tuesday and Wednesday were our high-paced touring days of the city. For the short amount of time we were in the city, we saw a lot. Tuesday we climbed to the top of Purple Mountain (I've never been so drenched in sweat in my life), visited Sun Yat Sen's (the Father of Modern China) mausoleum, toured Linggu temple, and visited the site of the Ming tombs. After very refreshing showers, we joined the girls from team Nanjing for a Pride and Prejudice marathon viewing.

Wednesday we began the day visiting the museum in John Rabe's house. John Rabe was the Chairman of the Safety Committee during the Japanese massacre in Nanjing (in the States known better as Nanking). This Safety Committee was a group of twenty foreigners who remained in the city and created a safe zone for refugees to find protection from the rampages of the Japanese. Thousands were rescued from the violence--and 600 alone just at Rabe's house. It was fascinating to see this museum and the legacy of love this group of people left. After the museum we grabbed lunch at a cafe (real sandwiches with amazing bread!) and then set off on a journey to locate the ancient Ming city wall. With a map in hand and a few wrong turns, we eventually did find the wall and had fun exploring the area around it.

Thursday afternoon we boarded the train again for the 24 hour journey back home. I always love coming back home in China. There's a certain amount of relief as I enter my "safe space" again. Since I was already gross from the train ride, I headed out on a bike ride shortly after returning home. On the way back in from the ride I stopped by my fruit seller. She knew I had been traveling and asked when I had returned. My reply that I had gotten back that afternoon earned me a reproach for going for a bike ride. She thought I was surely too tired from the journey to do a silly thing like that. Her sense of concern for my health was a nice reminder that indeed, I was home.

If you want to see pictures of the trip you can check out my photo site and Sarah's photo site.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Farewell to flip-flops

Unfortunately, I think we've reached that time of year in the Northeast where the flip-flops get packed away, not to be seen again until they make the exodus to Thailand. They are usually (somewhat) acceptable footwear until after October holiday, but with the cool change in temperatures the past couple days I guess toes are now supposed to be hidden. When I went to the market today, several people chastised me and asked if my feet were cold. Sigh...farewell flip flops.

It's been a crazy busy week; consequently, I didn't make it to the market to shop for Jude's birthday until this morning. Murphy's law would have it that when you're in a rush, things will not happen as planned. On the way back from the market, as I was pressed for time, I got stuck in a traffic jam. However, I had a creative taxi driver. He decided to pull up over the curb and drive on the sidewalk. A brilliant idea...we cruised around the corner and seemed to be headed right past the traffic jam. That is, until the cause of the traffic jam came back to spite us. Turns out a large ditch had been dug on the side of the road...the side that we would have to descend onto to get off the sidewalk. Not confident in the taxi's off-roading capabilities, the driver started to back up (after motioning the car behind who had followed his ingenous idea to also back up). We backed all the way up, headed to where we first entered the sidewalk. However, in backing up around the corner the driver did not see an older woman. Yup. Thunk. Down went the woman. And thus ended my taxi ride. The driver went back to check on her (no serious injury, but she was rubbing her knee and slow to get up). I paid the driver and hurried at a brisk walk back to the apartment...arriving slightly late for Jude's 6th birthday party (pictures on my flickr site). Happy Birthday Jude!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I can be your

Today was one of those culturally amusing days. The entertainment began with our practice for the opening ceremonies of the sports meet. Most of the team is marching in with the other foreign language department teachers (mostly Chinese teachers). For the past couple weeks I've been suppressing grins and chuckles as I walk past the freshmen enduring military training. This afternoon the joke was on me. All of the teachers were lined up in ranks according to height. I was in the back row in between Sarah and a Chinese teacher. We proceeded to the basketball courts to practice our marching. Due to the fact that all instructions were in Chinese, I was feeling in a little over my head--especially since the person giving commands was far away and I couldn't hear him very well. I was able to get the marching down pretty quick...but once they threw turns into the mix confusion took over. The commands for left turn, right turn, turn all the way around have similar sounds. Left is zuo (think zo), right is you (think yo) and turn around is ho. From a distance it was easy (at least for me) to get these mixed up. Thank goodness I don't understand criticisms yet! Anyways, we had a fun forty-five minutes learning to march. Tomorrow is our dress rehearsal--we pick up our matching track suits (our whole reason for to come), change, and then practice. It should be pretty awesome.

Tonight, Wu, Mark and I were the honorable judges of a speech contest. As to be expected, this contest was a showcase of speeches found who knows where (most likely the internet) performed by very nervous students. Topics included, but were not limited to, "I love English", "My Olympics dream", "Game on, game off", "Help others, help yourself", and my favorite topic, "The English over animals". My favorite performance of the evening (not in the high-scoring sense, but for pure entertainment value), was a male student who recited the lyrics to Marc Anthony's song "Hero". Just picture in your mind a Chinese male student reciting in a monotone, "I can be your hero"...long pause..."baby" (accompanied by a hand pump). And yes, the hand pump was used whenever he said baby. Recalling that image is sure to bring a smile to my face for quite some time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Butt load, Singing Soldiers, Yucky black shirts and other random updates

I apologize profusely for the fact that I've been quite lax at updating the blog this fall. Part of the reason is that blogger is blocked in China, so I have to update through a "back door" that makes the process a little more irksome. However, I do want to keep you all updated on all the amusing little details of my life. Consequently, what follows is a rather random list of unrelated events in no certain order. They're simply bits and pieces of my life I thought might bring a smile to your face.
  • I currently track the events of my day by singing soldiers. There are a bunch of soldiers staying in my building. These soldiers are on campus to run the freshmen military training. Every time they either leave the building or come back to the building they sing very loud songs right outside my window. Don't get me wrong, girls love to be serenaded. However, the repetitive nature of these songs (or perhaps it's the fact that they start at 6 am) makes them a little less appealing. However, I can schedule my activities around their singing. The first time of the day is time to get up. The second time they sing (around 7:15) is when I should move into the final stage of getting things ready for class. The next time they sing is time for me to start preparing for lunch. In the evening, they usually give me a nice dinnertime accompaniment...I think you're getting the point.
  • On Tuesday afternoon, Sonny and I are on library duty. This simply means that we must be in the foreign teacher's library to answer student questions and make books in the library available to students. It has been quite slow this year, due to the fact that not many students have been showing up. However, Sonny and I have no problems entertaining ourselves. Today, in between studying Chinese, we analyzed the origin of the phrase "butt load". Try to think of a logical explanation of that phrase (as in, "I have a butt load of work to do"), and you'll quickly see why Sonny and I were cracking up. Eventually we called Sarah and had her look the phrase up. If you want to know yourself, you'll have to do the work. (Hint: check out the Urban Dictionary).
  • This past Friday I went to visit the Norries in Changchun. It was wonderful to get to spend some time with them! Friday night Josiah had a performance at his school. He had informed his parents that it was important to dress up for the occasion. I didn't know ahead of time, so I asked Josiah if what I was wearing was ok. He replied very matter-of-factly, "Well, I wasn't really wanting yucky black shirts tonight, I was thinking of something with flowers." I definitely couldn't argue with him...and promptly borrowed a floral blouse from Jeweliann.
  • Two of my students (Sonny's former students) have been talking to Sonny for awhile about changing their names. Their current names are Grammy and Angel, so they've been thinking of adopting more "common" names. Last week they came to Sonny with the suggestion to change their names to Latte and Cappuccino. Sonny informed them that perhaps that wasn't the best choice.
  • Today is Mid-Autumn Day festival in China. The holiday celebrates reunions with loved ones. This holiday is marked by the arrival of the mooncake, a special "treat" only eaten this time of year. I think they're do most foreigners. On our team, only Sarah really appreciates them--which means she has large stacks in her house as we pawn off all of ours onto her.
I hope that provided a little entertainment for your day! Upcoming for me: Sports meet this Friday and Saturday (rumors that we might get track suits for that--we can only hope), Freshmen Welcoming Party performance (aka biannual humiliation) Saturday night, and then Sunday I'm off to Nanjing for the October holiday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Give me an O-H-I-O

Lest you believe that the sheer silence about college football on my blog indicates a flagging devotion for my Buckeyes, I thought I better put up a quick post. I have been listening to at least the first halves of the games. However, it is quite difficult to laud praises on the ineptitude of the offense. Thankfully those bumblings have been overshadowed by the glorious downfall of that team up North, who have provided for me a good five minutes of gleeful giggles the past two Sunday mornings. Although I must admit, as a Buckeye fan I'd be glad to see Lloyd Carr stick around for a couple more years. Griped about our lackadaisical offense...check. Mocked Michigan...check. The only thing left to do--sing the praises of the brick wall defense that seems to be our hope of a good season.

Monday, September 10, 2007


With cold weather sure to arrive in the near future, I've been trying to get out on my bike as much as possible. This year I've been exploring "the land beyond"--turning right out of the school. It's been a lot of fun to be riding out in the cornfields and farm land (and no, not because it reminds me of my home state of Indiana...). It is also nice to be on less populated streets where a moment of absent-minded disregard won't land me in a hospital. I enjoy getting out and seeing a very different China than the academia that surrounds me at the university. There are many different faces of China, and I know this is one face that many of my students are coming from. Consequently, I've been enjoying being an observer of life beyond the city. There's the group that gathers every evening to play mahjong by the roadside. The man selling fruits and vegetables out of a cart. The boys herding sheep. However, recently I got to interact with this face of China in a much more personal way than I expected. I took my bike out on a cool and cloudy afternoon, heading straight for the country roads through the corn fields. I had gotten quite far when it started to feel like I was working way too hard to pedal the bike. I looked back and realized my back tire was getting quite low. I immediately turned around, knowing I was in the middle of nowhere and wanting to get as close to returning to the school as possible. However, the air quickly diminished in my tire and before I knew it I was walking the bike along the road. Suddenly, my energizing afternoon ride turned into a long stroll in the country. I walked for a ways before finding an elderly gentleman squatting by the side of the road. I asked him if he had an air pump--ok, I take that back, I don't know the word for pump in Chinese. I asked him for air. :) Seeing my deflated tire, he got the point and told me to follow him. We walked down a small dirt avenue to his house and he told me to wait outside while he went to find the pump. He returned a few moments later with the pump, his wife, daughter and grandchild. Pretty soon we were also joined by a neighbor. He attempted to pump the tire while I tried to communicate with his family. However, we eventually realized that the tire wasn't going to hold any air. We examined the tire and found a long staple stuck in it. I was sure it had punctured quite a hole in the tire. I asked the family if there was anyone who could fix the bike nearby, to which they replied, no, nowhere near. A heated discussion then ensued as the family tried to decide what to do with the poor foreigner with poor Chinese stranded in the countryside. Eventually, they decided the best course of action was to hail a taxi on the road and put my bike in the trunk. I obligingly followed them back to the road (was I really going to fight their advice?). We waited for quite some time, and not surprisingly, no taxis came. Another neighbor joined us and she suggested I call for a friend to come. I pulled out my cell phone and gave Wu a call; however, a little bit into describing my predicament, I realized he was no longer on the line. My cell phone had died and I had no idea how much he had heard and if he knew where I was. As it was growing later in the day and I had a several mile walk ahead of me, I thanked the family profusely and set out on my country stroll once again. About 20 minutes later Seth and Sarah did arrive in a taxi to rescue me from the rest of the walk...and I headed to my bike repairman who patched the large tear in my inner tire. Ever since I've headed out on my rides with a fully charged cell phone...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Chopstick games

Tonight was one of those nights when I shook my head in wonder at the life I'm currently living. We had a welcoming meeting and banquet--an annual event meant to encourage relationships among the foreign teachers (American, Japanese, Russian, and Korean) at the school. The evening started with greetings and introductions. Our group then moved on to visit a small museum one of the Japanese teachers had set up with a ton of Japanese artifacts. He showed us around the museum, explaining the collection in Japanese. His explanations were translated into Chinese, and then by various people re-translated into English, Russian and Korean. Quite remarkable! After visiting the museum, we also visited a library of books set up by the same Japanese teacher. It was quite the impressive collection--complete with full sets of English encyclopedias.
From the library we moved onto dinner. Sarah and I were at a table with most of the Japanese teachers and their translators. I was next to one of the translators who spoke some English as well. So between her English and my Chinese we were able to communicate. One of the most entertaining events of the night began with the observation that I was using my left hand to eat. I proceeded to tell the story of the first time I came to China and tried to eat with my right hand. I was entirely unsuccessful and went hungry the first several days. When I eventually tried my left hand (the hand I write with), I finally mastered chopsticks. This story led all of the teachers at the table to try to use their left hands to eat (and commenting that such an undertaking was a good dieting technique). I also attempted to eat with my right hand. Our endeavors resulted in a quite a bit of laughter and some of the more successful and genuine communication I've had at a banquet since coming to China.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Deep breath & ahhhhhhhh

That's my reaction to unlocking the door to my apartment. And just in case you're wondering, that's the pleasurable sort of "ahhhhhh" sound, like when you sink into a really comfortable couch or hot bath. Yep, I'm home...and it's wonderful. We rolled into Siping at 5 am Tuesday morning. By 7 o'clock I had pancakes cooking on the stove for the team and most of my things up on the walls. :) It's nice to once again be the hostess instead of the guest! This morning I took the Ragin' MK out for a ride. Stopped in a small park to read for a bit and was quite entertained when someone (a stranger of course) walked up and said, "Hello, fancy meeting you here!" Oh how I love China! This week is team building and we'll start teaching Monday (I think...). Back to the grindstone!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Indianapolis...home to the 8th wonder of the world

Ok, not quite. But the guide at the Scottish Rite Cathedral today swore that it had been voted the seventh most beautiful building in the WORLD. Well hey, there is something to see in Indiana other than CORN. This post is especially for my team...the next time you have a debate to decide which state in the U.S. to get rid of, think twice before throwing out Indiana. You wouldn't want to lose a treasure like that!

In all seriousness, it was an impressive building (although I think I might be able to list off more than six other more impressive ones I've seen in my life...). However, I liked an old church from the 1860s that I found downtown today almost better.

Next stop is Chicago...and then I'll take my last trip of the summer...back to China!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Summer slipping away

It has been awesome this summer to have more than double the amount of time in the States than I had last summer. While I've still been in a different state almost every week, the pace of the summer has seemed to be much more leisurely. However, the realization that I'll be boarding a plane in 10 days to return to China is forcing me back into action mode. There are errands to be run, stacks of items to somehow be strategically smashed into suitcases, one last trip up to Chicago, multiple lunch dates, an aunt coming into town to visit, and a graduate school application to finish...and yet, the overwhelming feeling I have is excitement. I just got back from a trip out to LA visiting good friends--and some of my "last friends" on my list that I had yet to see this summer. Now that reconnections feel somewhat complete, I'm revving to go back to my home on the other side of the sea. Although it hasn't even been quite a month since I've seen most of the team, I'm still excited to be reunited with the crazy Siping gang. I'm also getting quite eager to meet our new teammates. Hopefully in the next days of preparation I'll still be able to find a few more quiet summer moments!The Jones first time meeting Canon!Kasey and Kurt

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Good friends & Good ice cream

This past weekend I headed over to Columbus to visit some college friends. The blessing of them and other dear friends this summer is simply indescribable! So thanks to all of you who have made me feel so loved! :) The other highlight of the trip (and summer) was a visit to Graeter's, simply the best ice cream in the world. If you're ever in Columbus/Ohio look for a Graeter's store. You won't be disappointed!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Back to Indy

It was hard to drive away from Wheaton--people, places, and a fellowship I love almost more today than the day I left. I had an awesome couple of weeks just soaking up love and relaxation. And to be quite honest I wasn't too excited to begin my time of being stranded without a car in suburbia. However, this past week has been wonderful in its own special way. It's been nice to sit down to amazing dinners with my parents, photograph their spectacular gardens, and exercise my competitive muscles at a few round of croquet. I've driven my mom to work a couple days this week and tucked myself away in Starbucks (I'm loving the raspberry mocha...) studying for the GREs. I've been learning all kinds of useful knowledge such as, if a triangle with a right angle has two sides the length of 6, the third side is 6 times the square root of two. And in less than two weeks I can forget all of this pertinent information that is supposedly indicative of my future success in grad school. Tomorrow I head back to my birth land (that's Columbus, Ohio--not Iowa) to visit some friends. I can't wait to have a nice big helping of Graeter's ice cream--best ice cream in the world!! I'll also be sure to say hi to the Shoe for you Wu...

Thursday, July 19, 2007


The last couple weeks I've been hanging out in the Wheaton/Chicago area. If I have a "home" in the States, this is definitely the place. My parents are currently in Indianapolis and since I only lived there two years I don't really have any roots down there. Wheaton, however, is full of memories and dear friends. It's been simply incredible to just soak up time with the amazing folks around here. I've also had plenty of time to tuck myself away in coffee shops reading. I should have been studying for the GREs...but, I can do that when I get back to Indy... It's been really good to be forced to take things at a slower pace, to sit still and reflect, and to simply rest. Last night I headed into the city to meet a friend of mine. I was sitting for a little bit in the Metra station waiting to meet him, watching the crowds pass through. I was amazed at how rushed and harried everyone seemed. I was slightly disturbed by a very visual representation of how my home culture is constantly running from one thing to the next. This type of living is something I am often guilty of myself--which is why a couple weeks of being forced to live without schedules, tasks, and time frames has been startlingly refreshing. To take time to go on a long walk after dinner, to sit and chat over cups of coffee, to sit outside in a heavy summer rain. Hmmmmm, it's late and I'm beginning to ramble here, but I think you get the point. The summation is that my time here in my American home has been a wonderful time of rest and renewal and pausing, which I'm incredibly thankful for. In addition, it's also been fun to hang out with some of the team on this side of the ocean (we miss you Michelle!).

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The 6th Annual Mordt Tournament

I just got back form a fun week in Florida hanging out with my sister and brother-in-law and one of my college roommates. One of the highlights of the trip was the annual putt putt competition with Heather. We've competed annually for six years and the rivalry is fierce as ever. This year was a close race all the way to the tied end...after 15 holes. We were playing behind several large families, which meant it was slow going through the course. And what is the only thing more important than putt putt? Cheesecake!! Consequently, we abandoned our tournament to make it to Cheesecake Factory before closing time. The raspberry chocolate cheesecake was well worth the sacrifice of three holes of putt putt.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Home sweet home

After a whirlwind of final activities, a very rushed day of packing and cleaning, a day of hanging out in Beijing, and a very long day of travel I'm back in the USA. The last few days in Siping are a complete blur...I'm still not quite sure what all happened. I taught my last class Thursday morning and Thursday night was on an overnight train to Beijing with Seth and Sarah. Lying on the train, I realized I had forgotten to pack about 10 things I was planning on bringing...but oh well, at least it's not hard to find the things I want here! :) Friday night in Beijing, our friend Stuart took us to a new area. This "West Hutong" was yet another face of this very diverse city. It was lined with unique small shops, coffee shops, cafes and bars--and was like stepping into another world. We settled in on the rooftop of one of the cafes. The roof was slanted and scattered with all manner of leftover/broken chairs and tables--yet somehow this all worked together for a cool atmosphere. We sat drinking coffee, taking in the beautiful polluted red Beijing sky.

After staying out too late, it was an early morning trip to the airport. Seth, Sarah, and I traveled together to Tokyo, where they bid me farewell as I boarded a plane bound for Detroit. The flight was long, but the time passed quicker due to an interesting seat neighbor. After weeding my way through immigration and customs at what has been voted the worst airport in the country (see the current Newsweek), I sat in the terminal in "staring mode" for a couple hours waiting for my flight to Indy. I found myself incredibly distracted by the fact that I could eavesdrop on everyone around me. Another short flight and I was in my parents' car headed home for a nice dinner accompanied by a nice bottle of wine.

This Thursday the tour of the country begins as I head down to Florida for a week. After that it's off to one of my favorite places, Chicago. I'm getting quite excited to see and catch up with many loved ones!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

People time

The last couple days my large stack of essays have been pushed to the side (or rather, messily cluttered every surface of my office). My time has been packed full with activities with some of my favorite people. While I have moments of panic every now and then about the enormity of what needs to be accomplished in the next six days, it's been great to have tons of reminders about why I'm really here.

Yesterday, my two Chinese tutors from last year came to visit. These girls are some of my dearest friends and although our time was short together, it was also extremely sweet. Relationships take a lot of time to go deep here, which is why the closeness I feel with these girls is truly a gift. Sadly, they have now graduated and work has taken them down to the south of China. Hopefully I'll be able to visit them in the next year!

I've also had dinners with students the last two nights. Last night, four of my junior girls brought over dinner for us and then we played their new favorite game, Phase 10. They are determined to spread the game all over China. I promised to help them out by bringing them decks for them from America. These girls have become great friends this year and I'm looking forward to more game nights next year!

Tonight I cooked dinner for eight of my freshmen students. Their groups had the best commercial performances in class and hence won a home-cooked meal. Yes, I'm crazy to be doing this sort of thing with less than a week left, but we had an awesome time tonight. They were a little nervous at first about eating dinner at their foreign teacher's house, but a fiercely competitive game of spoons went a long way to making them feel more than comfortable. In China I always play spoons with chopsticks instead, which makes the game even more challenging--try grabbing for a thin, slick piece of wood! Sarah and Seth were kind enough to "help" me clean my dishes after everyone left...that is, if getting in a huge soap sud fight is considered helpful...well, at least it was good stress relief!

I finally got my flight itinerary today. Due to the fact that I ended up on a flight early Saturday morning (instead of afternoon), I'm going to have to head to Beijing Thursday night (instead of Friday night). Having one less day is huge...which is why I need to stop doing things like updating my blog and turn to the stack of menacing papers on my desk. There are some pictures on flickr from Sarah's 4th pink, yellow, and purple birthday party from today. Another opportunity to see team Siping looking their best.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lions, tigers, and bears...oh my!

Life has been busy lately...really busy. There have been birthday parties, last minute performances, examinations, and daily necessities like tackling the stack of dishes in the kitchen. I just put a bunch of pictures from recent activities on my Flickr site today. Hop on over there if you want to see the Superhero side of our team (who all made an appearance for Josiah's birthday). I, of course, was a pig bear. What else could I be? At least I got some use out of all those things I've accumulated this year...from shower caps to flip flops.

The main occupation of the remaining week and a half will be finishing grading my junior five paragraph essays. Grading these papers is proving to be a frustrating process, as I've had to deal with a lot of plagiarism. I always find it difficult to balance grace with enforcing my standards as a teacher. Plagiarism is something that is culturally acceptable, however, I've also made it clear that it is not acceptable in my class. But do you expect students to change their ways of thinking, researching, and writing that they've been learning for twenty years in one semester? Oh the challenges of being an American teacher in China...

Anyways, the reason I hopped on here was to share a bright spot from my grading travails. When I first started reading this essay on gun control for America I was almost certain I was going to be reading a bunch of plagiarized quotes pieced together. However, after reading this second paragraph I was assured that no, the student had written it herself. I hope it brings a little laughter, or at least a smile to your day!

Citizens who bear arms can keep themselves from danger. Firstly, owning guns make people keep themselves from dangerous animals. Many people like adventure travels. When these people travel in the forest, they will come across some dangerous animals, such as tigers, bears and lions. These animals are very strong. If they attack people, these people will be eaten by them. But citizens who have guns can keep themselves safe.

Mom, please prepare my rifle for me...I'm going to need protection from all those tigers in Indiana.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Playing in the park

One of my freshmen classes invited me to join their class party at Nanhu park yesterday. I'm always up for getting to know my students better outside of class (and photo opportunities), so I happily obliged. The outing was a fun afternoon of playing. Yes, as an English teacher I grimace every time I hear my twenty year old students say they are going to play together with their friends. And yes, I have frequently told my students that only children "play together" and that adults "hang out". However, I'm starting to rethink my position. Because my students really do play together--and it's one of the things I love about them. There is no pretense of trying to be "cool" in the American sense (in other words, displaying a marked apathy for most things). Jumping on a drawbridge and hence making it difficult for classmates to cross offers boundless amusement. A never ending competition at bumper cars evokes continual laughter. An American bystander may watch my class play and label such enjoyment as naivete or immaturity. However, I think there is something to be learned in their ability to take joy in the simplest of activities. Indeed, I think a lot of us stoic, mature adults could benefit from an afternoon of playing together in the park.

Watching my students play in the park was also a cultural insight. There were two aspects of Chinese culture that were particularly noticeable throughout the day--the power of in-group relationships and bargaining. The first cultural observation is apparent merely from the fact that almost the entire class (we're talking maybe 1 or 2 students missing) were there for an outing on their
only free afternoon during the week. Certainly, not showing up to the party would result in losing face. It was also very important throughout the day that the whole group was together or at least aware of where the other members were. When we were walking to the park and got to where we needed to cross the road, we waited for everyone to catch up so we could cross together.

The second observation was apparent from the moment we arrived at the park. The class monitors attempted to get the large group free admission to the park in return for picking up trash. The bargaining continued with each ride in the park, as students haggled the price down for log rides and bumper cars. Yes, even though prices were clearly printed on windows, students still bargained them lower. I am continually amazed at the energy put forth--and the results--of working for the best price possible.