Friday, February 29, 2008

Chinese hospitality

Today is 2 for 1 day...I'm going to take full advantage of the blog access to tell you a tale from my travels. As I mentioned previously, on my way back to Siping I stopped in Shanghai to visit one of my Chinese friends. Staying in a friend's home guarantees cultural lessons. My visit to Shanghai was a lesson in the truly wonderful art of Chinese hospitality. One thing I love about China is how much they care for family and close friends.
I arrived early in the morning on a red-eye from Bangkok. After waiting a few minutes, my friend arrived with her boyfriend. They had been riding buses from some unseemly hour in the morning to meet me there. My suitcase was whisked up by her boyfriend and we hopped onto a bus to head out to my friend's apartment. Soon after arriving, the boyfriend cooked up lunch for us (he does all the cooking when he's visiting--I need to find me one of these) and then they let me take a nap. I love the Chinese appreciation of naps. It makes me happy.

After my rest, we headed downtown to one of the main shopping streets where they got a box of Shanghai's specialty tea for me and purchased some "Shanghai" snacks. We had a great hot pot dinner and then walked to the famous Bund to see the skyline of Shanghai. All of these activities were of course their treat, there was no chance I was going to pay a penny.
We got home late and I headed to bed. I was given the soul wall heater remote (Shanghai is in the part of China without central heating during the winter), insuring that I would have a toasty night of sleep.

I woke up in the morning to breakfast cooked by the boyfriend and then we headed out on the town again, to a place known as "Old Shanghai". The buildings here were fashioned in the old China style, although they surely did not date from that period. It was a great photo op for me, especially since it was decorated for the new year. Once again, they treated me to all kinds of special Shanghai snacks. My favorite was a soup filled baozi (bread roll).
Afterwards, we headed out to a late lunch at a Guizhou restaurant. Here, despite protests, I was finally able to treat them. Following lunch we had to head over to the bus station to catch my bus to Rizhao (a ticket which they had purchased for me). Here is where hospitality truly shined. They convinced the bus station attendant to let them walk me to the bus (I am of course a clueless foreigner who needs help and guidance). They talked to the bus driver and all was well until they found out Rizhao was not the last stop of the bus. Both of them began to panic, how would I ever know how to get off the bus? The boyfriend began rapidly assaulting the bus driver with pointed remarks like, "She doesn't speak Chinese, she won't know when to get off, you'll have to tell her, will there be taxis waiting where you stop..." and so on. Of course, I understood a majority of these remarks. The bus driver assured them he would wake me up and suggested they write in Chinese where I wanted to go in Rizhao so I could be ushered into a taxi. I already had this written down, so, concern lessened slightly, my friend ushered me onto the bus to make sure I got into the right bed. She also checked to make sure I set an alarm on my cell phone so I would wake up in time for the stop (the bus arrived in Rizhao at 3 am). Sure enough, upon arriving, I heard the bus driver telling the circle of taxi drivers by the door of the bus, "There's a foreigner here who doesn't speak Chinese, she has a paper saying where she's going"...understanding this I got off the bus, verbally told one of the drivers where I wanted to go, and miraculously safely arrived at my destination.

Back on the bike

Yesterday was an unseasonably warm 50 degrees. That added to the fact that it was a sunny day with blue skies made taking the Ragin' MK out for a ride absolutely irresistible. I pulled a very dusty and dirty bike, whose handlebars had obviously served as a cold night's snack for some rodent, out of the storage shed and pumped up the tires with excitement. However, it didn't take long to realize that my winter's hibernation coupled with gorging myself on pizza and steak in Thailand had resulted in being extremely out of shape. The first leg of my ride went just fine--I was blissfully unaware that a mighty strong wind was helping to propel me far away from campus. That is, blissfully unaware until I turned to go the other direction. That's when the pain began and questions of, "why on earth did I ride out so far?" began to plague my mind. There were moments during strong gusts of wind where I was quite certain I wasn't making any forward progress at all. I began to wonder if I would have to hop in a taxi to make it home. However, with the mantra "just keep pedaling" circling through my head (to the tune of Dori's annoying little mantra from Finding Nemo), I eventually made it home. The soreness I feel today further proves that there is much work to be done this spring...

Still waiting for our class schedules, true to China fashion. Blogger is actually up and running in China today, hence the changes to the blog. It's nice not to have to edit by way of my tricky back door shenanigans.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Home sweet home

The more times I go away from Siping, the more I realize how much it has become home. Sure, it doesn't have the impressive lights and skyline of Shanghai. You can forget the flora and warmth of Thailand. Also nowhere to be found is the seashore and the rolling hills of Rizhao. There's nothing to be compared to the culinary delights of Krow's nest in Beijing. It's small, it's dirty, and it's a frozen tundra where life seems to grow only a few short weeks out of the year. KFC is the extent of "western food". There are hardly any famous sights, unless one calls rows upon rows of cement buildings scenic. As my parents put it, "It's obvious the Father opened your heart to this place, because there's not much to love here." And yet, as I traveled through beaches, walked along famous streets, enjoyed the company of friends, and dined on oft longed for delicacies, I found myself yearning to return. I was itching to get back home. This simple fact is testimony to the truth that the most barren of lands can be the best of lands when He has called you there. I have found that there is no greater delight than following my Father in obedience--wherever that may be.

I will make rivers flow on barren heights,

and springs within the valleys.

I will turn the desert into pools of water,

and the parched grounds into springs...

So that the people may see and
may consider and understand,

that the hand of the Father has done this.

I'm slowly getting the rest of my pictures up from my travels. Flickr has been acting funny lately, so sorry if some of the pictures don't come through. Right now I'm in the process of putting up some shots from Shanghai, where I got to visit one of my best friends and first language tutors in Changchun. Soon to come will also be pictures from my visit at Lana's in Rizhao. It's great to be home, but I'm also incredibly thankful for the past six weeks and some of the new lessons I'm learning and processing. The break was refreshing in many different ways, and I'm eager to get the semester started. Classes (which we don't have a schedule for yet) will begin next Monday, so it will be off to the races before I know it.