Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A few of my favorite things

  • The smell of applesauce cooking in my apartment. Apples mixed with cinnamon is one of my favorite scents. (I'm busy cooking up food for Thanksgiving.)
  • These small oranges (about half the size of the palm of your hand). I never had them in America, but they're my favorite treat in November & December in China (their season here). They are amazingly sweet! I eat them like candy.
  • This drink, Lulu. It's an almond milk that is usually served warm in the winter. I think it tastes like an almond cookie straight from the oven. The team thinks its repulsive, but it's my favorite winter beverage. Plus, I think it will make me as pretty and happy as the woman on the can.
  • This website. It's the only way I have a hope of doing my Chinese homework each week. Not only does it teach you stroke order of characters, but you can draw a character and look it up that way. It's one of my favorite websites!
  • A baby falling asleep in my arms. Pure bliss and peace!
  • Counting the days until my friends, Kasey and Kurt, arrive from the States to celebrate Christmas with me and get a glimpse of my life here. Less than four weeks!
  • All of you amazing Rez folk who showed up for the Christmas Village and made it possible for the new orphanage to have a disinfecting cabinet, water heater, refrigerator, and washing machine! I can't wait to tell the orphanage!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Too good to be true

Recently, I gave my writing students a somewhat simple and in my eyes easy homework assignment. Their job was simply to write a paragraph. A 5-8 sentence paragraph that began with a topic sentence and ended with a concluding sentence. In class, we worked on the pre-writing tasks. First, we brainstormed about the general topic, "Western Holidays". Then, we made cluster charts (you may refer to them as bubble charts) to help organize our ideas. For homework, they were supposed to pick one segment of the bubble chart (they couldn't possibly talk about the whole thing in one paragraph) and create a brief outline and paragraph. Some of the students managed the task quite well. Others showed me why I still have a job teaching English. Still others...well, their compositions were just too good to be true.

I'm in my fourth year of teaching in China, and I'm well aware that those practices we term "cheating", "plagiarism", and "copying" do not carry quite the weighty negative connotation here in China that they do in America. My students have given me ample opportunities to hone my skills at detecting copied work from a mile off. I believe that my detection skills have reached master level. Armed with google and quotation marks I've found many a speech and essay online. However, I was a little surprised (not a lot, just a little), when I discovered more than a few paragraphs that had been copied from the internet. I mean really, couldn't you write six sentences in less time than it takes to find a paragraph on the internet about holidays and to hand write that paragraph? I was also a little insulted at how daft my students must think I am. Do they really believe I'll think they wrote a sentence like, "At the very beginning, Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed by the Governor of Plymouth in the autumn of 1621 to express the colonists' gratitude to the Father for the first harvest in the New World."?

And yet, there was one paragraph which totally relieved my frustration by sending me into fits of laughter. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the following paragraph:
What is the meaning of the word Christmas? C stands for the C. Child who was sleeping on the day. H is for the Heavenly Host who worshipped that day. R is for the radiance on Mary's holy face. I is for the lowly Inn, a poor and humble place. S is for the star that shines to guide the shepherds there. T is for the travelers who brought him treasures rare. M is for the manger where he was born. A is for the angels who hovered round his bed. S is for the Savior who brought peace and hope to earth. It's so interesting, isn't it? That's what I introduce about Christmas for you. I wonder if you will like it.
Why yes, yes I do like it. Life is never dull here! And in case you're wondering...I have held off on the decorations...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Is it time yet?

With snow falling outside my window and temperatures dipping into the negatives at night, I'm itching to pull out the Christmas decorations. Actually, I've been wanting to do that ever since Sarah and I put on a Christmas CD in the foreign teachers' library a couple weeks ago. I know, I know, it's a mortal sin, but it was the only music CD we had. And we're in China, so anything goes. Anyways, I'm ready to hang some stockings! If I wasn't still partially laid up from a stomach bug the team's been passing around, the tree might be halfway up at the moment. I'll try to contain myself, but I don't know if I'll be able to hold back through this weekend...

I remember as a kids my sister and I always begged my parents as soon as we got home from the annual Thanksgiving trip to Grandma's to head out to the local tree farm. Unfortunately, it seems like that first weekend after thanksgiving my dad always had a business trip out of town. Even as a kid I could hardly wait to decorate the house. I guess there are some things you never grow out of!

Since I don't have the energy to put up my actual tree, enjoy this trip down memory lane of Brandt Christmas tree hunting.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A new home

Many of you know that my team and I are privileged to have a great relationship with the local orphanage. They graciously allow us to partner with them in loving the fatherless and motherless of this town. I'm being entirely honest when I say this is a privilege. The women who work at this orphanage are truly heroes of mine. They love the children as their own and pour out their lives loving them. There is a lot to learn about love from them!
Recently, we were blessed to watch the orphanage move from a facility on the outskirts of the city to an amazing new facility in the heart of the city. In many ways, this move also reflects a changing perspective of many people, especially students from our university. In the past few years, we have watched the number of students interested in the orphans multiply rapidly. It used to be only our team visiting the kids on Saturdays, now it's not uncommon to have more than 3 students per child on a Saturday. Students pour in bringing fruit, clothing, snacks, and more importantly hearts full of love. This sight is remarkable, considering orphans in China are on a periphery of a nation that functions based on social circles. They have no in-group, yet students are reaching out to them.
Students at the orphanage
The new facility is at least double the size of the previous building. The attention to detail is remarkable, especially for China. All of the staircases have built in baby gates. The baby floor is equipped with low handrails to help toddlers learning to walk. The baby room has an adjacent large bathroom equipped with half a dozen bathtubs and small toilets . The building is warm. The heating is excellent. There's a room for sick children to stay in so others don't get sick. There's a craft room. The older children's rooms have whimsical trees growing on the walls and columns. Shiny new beds are topped with large stuffed animals. I was near tears as I walked through this beautiful building. Give thanks to the one who labors on behalf of the widows and orphans!
Big kids room
Baby bathroom
Baby room

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A little taste of heaven

My world was forever changed tonight. I think I just discovered my new favorite candy. Never before have I thought a candy was worthy of an entire blog post. Tonight I received a small package from my former team leader (you're amazing Amanda!!!). I was a bit perplexed when I opened it and saw kisses with orange wrappers. I thought maybe they were just dressed up for Halloween. Never in my wildest most wonderful dreams did I ever think Hershey's would make a PUMPKIN kiss. I love pumpkin anything...and it's a flavor that I miss dearly in China in the fall. Now a pumpkin spice kiss sounds a little strange, but let me tell you (unless you're a teammate who's going to come ask me for one), this is the most remarkable candy ever created. I'm in love. I'll go ahead and count this as my single's day present. And thank goodness I'm single, because I wouldn't want to share these precious kisses with anyone!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Singles Day!

Today is an "unofficial" holiday in China. Due to the abundance of ones in today's date (11/11), the younger generation in China has dubbed the day as "Single's Day"--because being single is something to celebrate. There was not a hint of sarcasm in that last statement. OK, maybe there was just a little bit. I might feel differently if I actually received gifts on the day.

Anyways, to celebrate the holiday, one of the local restaurants (that is owned by an independent foreign teacher) decided to host a party. At the party, all of the foreign teachers were auctioned off for dinner "dates". The money raised by the auction is being given to the orphanage. The idea of being auctioned off like a piece of meat was slightly repulsive to Sarah and I, but we also wanted to support the orphanage. Our solution was to be auctioned off together. Really, who could pass up the opportunity to discover your net worth? Plus, we were offering the added bonus of two girls for the price of one. Apparently, Sarah and I (together) are worth 27 RMB (about 4 dollars). Wow, that amount looks even sadder when I convert it. :) The foreign teacher, not surprisingly, with the highest net worth was Vance, bringing in over 40 RMB. We tease Vance about being the newest Mr. Halligan/heart throb on campus. Sure enough, there was a gaggle of giggling girls ready and eager to bid on him.

I also celebrated the holiday by giving a culture lecture tonight. My topic was pets in America, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about my first love, pictured below.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Overcoming fear

This is my fourth year living in China. Today was the first time I got my hair cut here. In a land where one of the most popular hair styles is what I affectionately term "the lion's mane", I didn't have much faith in Chinese salons. I had heard horror stories of many a foreigner who had a disastrous encounter with a hairdresser. I know that in China the person cutting your hair is the expert, and so, to a certain extent, has the freedom to do whatever he chooses. I also don't speak near enough Chinese to direct someone how I want my hair cut. All of these reasons combined together meant more than enough justification not to set foot in a salon. I got my hair cut once in the summer in the States, always giving the direction, "Please cut it into a style that will grow out well for a year." This past summer, though, I was itching for a new style, and I decided to go for it--even knowing that it wasn't the type of style I'd let grow out through the year. When I got back to China this fall, I told my Chinese tutors to take a good long look at my hair, so that they would be able to describe the style to a hairdresser. I strategically decided to take the great leap of faith today. There aren't many foreigners in my city and there is certainly no one to impress (sorry team, that's meant to be a reflection of my comfort around you). The next time I will see a large group of people who don't automatically gush "you're so beautiful" no matter what I look like (I love Chinese students!) will be at the end of January for my company's annual conference. I figured if I got my hair cut now, there would be enough time for a horrible cut to grow out before then. Anyway, armed with my faithful language tutors on "hair guard duty" and pictures of my previous hair cut, today I headed out to what is supposed to be one of the best salons in town. When we got there, they insisted that the owner of the salon cut my hair. They gave him a long set of instructions and went through all the pictures I had. The owner then proceeded to spend about 15 minutes examining every milimeter of my hair to learn about the previous cut. He then spent about an hour carefully cutting my hair. It turned out a little shorter and thinner than I wanted, but overall, it was actually a pretty good haircut--especially considering it cost me less than 4 USD. I guess there was nothing to fear!

In other news, late last night we had an 80's themed "Dance Dance Revolution" birthday party for Jennifer. Sonny recently purchased the game, and ever since my daily life has been to the rhythm of stomping feet (he lives right above me). Last night was my first time playing, but by some fluke I ended up almost making it to the final round. The birthday girl danced circles around me though. (Picture is pre-haircut.)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Halloween!

For Halloween this year, Sonny and Wu planned a surprise for the team. A couple weeks ago they instructed us to block off 3-8pm on October 31st. Things have been insanely busy lately, and I must admit I was not super excited about the loss of five hours. However, with Sonny behind it, I never should have doubted! With the help of a student, they arranged for us to go out to a farm to have a bonfire cookout. We loaded up a van with table, stools, and food and headed on out. The fire was blazing within minutes and we were roasting up cheese stuffed bratwurst (found in Changchun). The fire was so scorching, the Chinese "fire starters" had to assist us with doctoring our "roasting sticks" (actually screw drivers) so they would be long enough for us to cook our food without cooking our eyebrows. As if freshly roasted brats weren't a special enough treat, we also had marshmallows to roast and create s'more's with. After stuffing ourselves full with food, we sat and enjoyed the warmth and smell of the fire on a chilly October night. It was a wonderful evening, and just the break I needed from a hectic schedule! Thanks Sonny and Wu!

Vance attempts to roast his hot dog before we figure out the extension rods