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.