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.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Never give up hope

Last July, I ordered some CDs. However, the CDs didn't arrive before I left for China. This problem was easily solved; I asked my mom to mail the CDs to me. She faithfully complied and sent them on August 5th. The CDs never appeared in Siping and consequently after a couple months I assumed they were lost somewhere in the many miles that separate China and America. Imagine my surprise, therefore, at discovering the package today, May 28th, 2007!, on the stack of mail in our office. I have a feeling the package arrived before I did in Siping and was tucked away and forgotten until today. Better late than never I guess...although, it would have been nice to have "Mom's advice for a great year in Siping" at the beginning of the year instead of the end.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Let the madness ensue

Tomorrow marks the four weeks until departure milestone. Seven weeks, six weeks, five weeks...all of those sounded like a substantial amount of time. However, four weeks sounds like an alarmingly brief amount of time. The way our minds work is funny...

I remember last year by this time I was counting the days until I would be back in America, stressing out about how to move in China (lots of rice bags & a train, see picture), and trying to bring closure to multiple relationships. The end of this year seems to carry a lot less intensity, due in large part to the fact that I'll be remaining in the same place. I was thinking about it and this will be the first time in the last five years that come summer I haven't had to pack up and transport all my belongings. That's a really good feeling. It's still mind boggling that China has become home and that the dozen foreigners I share life with have become family. But really, in my mind and heart this summer I'm going to visit friends and family--and at the end of August I'll return home. Oh the places the Father takes us!

This last weekend Michelle, Jeweliann and I headed to Changchun for the Northeast Women's Retreat. The weekend was a great time of renewal and encouragement. I always love hearing from those who have been here many years and have such a great perspective on life in this place. However, the weekend definitely put me behind in work, so this week has been quite exhuasting.

The biggest excitement of the week without a doubt is the return of the Wus (the girls made a Chinglish welcome...picture below). I've missed my next door neighbors quite a bit! It's wonderful to have that part of our Siping "family" back again.

Now it's off to the races...the next couple weeks will be full of birthday parties, grading 90 essays (yes...again...why do we do this to ourselves?), grading finals, planning and packing for a summer away, and trying to find rest in the midst of busyness.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Happy Birthday Seth & Welcome to the world Samantha Grace!

That's right folks, poor Samantha Grace Wu has to share her birthday with creepy Uncle Seth.
Tonight was Seth's birthday extravaganza. We started the night at Hecto's, one of the few locations in Siping where you can find a steak. We then blindfolded Seth and whisked him off to KTV. For those of you unversed in Chinese culture, KTV is Karaoke Chinese style--which means swank private rooms with leather couches, disco balls, strobe lights, and large wide screen TVs. KTV buildings are some of the nicest buildings you'll find in town--you walk through hallways with mirrors on the walls and ceilings, fancy lights dangling down, and streams and fountains running along the hall. Our room even had an aquarium in the floor complete with goldfish. Anyways, the musical selection is mostly made up of 80s and early 90s hits. The music videos are not the original artists, but cheesy 80s and 90s actors and actresses who couldn't even land a job filming commercials in the States. Anyways, extravagance mixed with cheesiness with the opportunity to sing at the top of your lungs seemed like the perfect birthday activity for Seth.

Just about the time we were singing Happy Birthday at KTV, Samantha Grace made her long anticipated arrival (8:12 pm China time).On another important note, I managed to score six points at Shout About tonight. Shout About is the game that my teammates are obsessed with that tests your movie, tv, or music trivia knowledge. I do not possess expertise in any of those areas, so playing the game is usually more of a spectator sport for me. But tonight, I answered two questions correctly in the lightening round of Shout About Music. It was quite the proud achievement.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I love China in the springtime

A few things that have brought a lot of joy recently:
  • Flowering bushes. They smell soooooo good! Usually the smells that waft towards me as I walk to and from class are not very pleasant. But with the sweet smell of flowers in the air I find myself breathing deeper.
  • Market fruit. Fresh pineapple, strawberries, mango, honeydew, peaches...I love the fruit in the springtime. It's becoming a tradition to buy a wide variety, chop it all up, and throw it in the fridge for quick and easy fruit salads.
  • Flip flops. It's always a joyous day when I can blow off the dust that's been collecting on the flip flops since Thailand. Yes, such foot attire results in very dirty feet by the end of the day, but that's what soap and water were made for.
  • Fresh flowers. Another springtime tradition for me. I try to keep fresh flowers stocked in my bedroom and living room. Right now it's lilies in the living room and roses in the bedroom.
  • New family. By far, one of the greatest sources of joy of late. Getting to play a tiny part in the joyful process of a little girl being swept up in love. Watching some of the first tender moments of a daughter who has been so eagerly pursued and longed for. Reflecting on the love of the Father who has loved, pursued, and adopted me.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Having a rest

Right now it's May holiday, one of the three busiest travel times in China. China has two nationwide week long holidays--one in October (National day) and one in May (in honor of the workers). During these times the trains are flooded with people heading to hometowns to "play together" and "have a rest". Since Siping is my hometown, I decided to stick around for the week. Most of the team is gone (at least some of the most vocal members), so it's been nice and quiet. I've been taking my latest purchase, a beautiful Giant bicycle, out for a lot of rides. The team took the liberty of naming my bicycle the Ragin' MK. The full given name is Raging Monorokobu Killer, but Ragin' MK rolls off the tongue nicer. The name has quite the violent undertone, but of course there is a reason for each component. Raging, for the card game I love but the team hates and refuses to play unless there's an out of town guest who requests it (unfortunately, Amanda has become part of the "family" here and no longer counts as a guest). Monorokobu, the sound pig bears make. Of course there had to be some sort of tribute to my favortie creature. And killer...who knows, because Sonny said it and it just stuck. But anyways, it's been a lot of fun to explore the city by bike. Yesterday I rode out to "Space park"--so named because I think the large metal statue in the center looks like something from a sci-fi thriller. It was nice to read and people watch for a couple hours. For awhile there was a group of traditional musicians playing that garnered quite the audience. Today I planned on turning right going out of our school. In the seven months I've lived here I've never turned right, so I was quite excited to explore new territory. However, 30 mph wind gusts blowing dirt and tree branches in my face and making any forward motion seemingly impossible persuaded me to turn around before I had gotten very far. I'll leave that exploration to another day.

Amanda came to visit for a couple days, which was a lot of fun. I love being a hostess and having an excuse to make goodies like chicken parmesan and crepes. We also went out to a temple area in the hills on the outskirts of town. All of the flowering trees are at their peak, which combined with blue skies and warm temperatures made the trip quite pleasant.

My other main activity for May holiday is grading five paragraph essays (my junior writing students' midterm). I can grade about five of them before my mind is swirling with Chinglish
overdose rendering me incapable of accurately correcting anymore. But slowly I'm making my way through them; I've finished one class (45 essays) and have one more to go.