Apr 30, 2011

my chicken meat hurts (and other stories.)

Fun fact:

In Chinese, the word for "muscle" (肌肉) (Jīròu) as the same pronounciation as "chicken meat" (鸡肉) (Jīròu), just a different first character, but the verbal sound is the same. (#chineseisridiculous).

My classmate Steph and I went to a yoga class (my first!) yesterday morning before Friday afternoon class. Today, my chicken meat hurts in weird places. Not like painfully sore, but rather awkwardly sore. I like it.

The teacher is a bearded Chinese man (rare) whose English name is listed on the class schedule chart as "Hono." He can flip his body around like a wet Chi.nese noodle. On the contrary, I can't touch my toes. Ha.

I was suuuuper nervous to take the class but thanks to a reminder from a friend to, "break the fear wall," I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. "Hono" kept coming to the back of the class to see if I was still alive (I turned beat red and was shaking like a leaf for like 30 minutes straight, but I made it). At one point he pressed hard on my back while I was in a "butt in the air" position to get my stretch to be deeper. The only thing I could think was, "please don't fart on the bearded asian man, please don't fart on the bearded asian man." Ha.

After yoga was class, home to do homework, KTV with some of my nurse students, and then a 3 dollar manicure and 7 dollar foot massage with my friend Jessica. I'm telling you, don't listen when I complain. Chi.na's living standard and ignorance may suck, but the cheap pampering sure doesn't! Yoga, karaoke, manicure and massage in one day...who am I?

Today was all aout getting life together. I stll haden't cleaned up or fully unpaced from America and my dirty room has been messing with my head. After cleaning, lunch of frozen dumplings, lesson planning, and some more homework, Xiao Wu knocked on my door for his lesson! I just got paid 15 bucks to read Bert and Ernie books with him that I brought back from the Target dollar section. Looove it.

And half of that 15 bucks is going to be used on another massage tonight.

I'm tellin' you. Life's rough. ;)

Here's some pics from KTV with the nurses. I was so happy when Qian Qian texted me inviting me to hang out. These 2 girls come to class randomly as their night shift schedules allow. That I am just now getting invited to outside activities shows how long it takes to make true friends in Ch.ina. I've known them since September and we are finally hanging out outside of class. I'm telling you - Chi.na is not a short term place. People who think they can go to a country for a year (or even 2) and come away knowing the culture deeply and having "made a difference" are smokin' something. Real change, real relationships, real heart change takes time. Long time. Whooo, rant over.

This is Qian Qian, she's an ER nurse and she's awesome.

Qian Qian, Shen Qiang and Me. They are bff's. Shen Qiang and I are currently masterminding a set-up between Qian Qian and one of my male students. I can't wait til they thank us on their wedding day. (I kid...kinda). :)

Qian Qian's roomie and friend were also on hand for the singing extravaganza. We sang Chin.ese songs and spoke Chi.nese. Because they know me as their teacher, I'm never really sure what language to use. But really, we communicate better in Chin.ese. I am conflicted with whether to make them speak English to me to practice, or just let conversation flow into Chin.ese since that is 4/5 people's native tongue. I'm often not sure what language to use when hanging out with my students. I just use a "if they speak in Chi.nese to me, respond in Chi.nese, and vice-versa," method.

Sweet souls.

Well, I'm off to get on the bus and meet a friend for our Saturday night massage. Gotta rub down the sore chicken meat. :)

walk slow. xoxo

Apr 29, 2011

school talk.

Today in class my head teacher came up to me and asked what will happen with my grades since I didn't take midterms.

This put me on the defensive (since in my mind she did not do her best to help me in the situation). I told her that I felt that everyone was saying different things and that I didn't know who to trust. (may have also thrown in that I didn't understand why Chin.ese people don't say things straight up - oops).

After class I had some paperwork to fill out so I went to the office of the teacher's in charge of language students (not degree students). Technically right now I am a language student who will become a degree student, so what office to go to gets blurred for this year.

While filling out my paperwork I threw out there that I was worried I might be sent home for not being allowed to take midterms. I have a good relationship with both the language deans and they looked at me like I was crazy - "Mei shi, mei shi," (no problem, forget it), they said over and over as I spewed off my worries in Chin.ese. "Really?" I asked, one teacher said in English, "we could send you home, but that doesn't mean we will." Then they both laughed at me for being so worried.

So I guess that's that. I wish I would have gone to them sooner - I would have had a lot more peace of mind over the last few days. I also want to shove a chocolate bunny in my head teacher's face for being so abrasive and unhelpful...but I'll refrain.

While I was doing the office thing, I went over to another building to the degree student's head teacher and asked to change my major. I have been thinking for awhile about changing my major to Chin.ese Philosophy from Comparative Education. With the semester half over, it is time to start this process because after June, all degree students are solidified in their majors (no changing allowed - Chin.ese students are never allowed to change majors once they start and often have limited choice based on test scores).

Usually the degree teacher scares me. Once I threw my passport on the table in his office. He's often wrong, uncooperative, and a horrible comunicator in every language (I have a lot of nice things to say about the teachers at this school, huh?) He made me cry the day I turned my application into his office a year ago and I've held ill-will ever since.

Knowing that my perception of him needs some sharpening and that I need to have a more open heart and mind to these people, I went into his office gently and with meek spirit (hard for me, but worth it).

First he said, "no," I couldn't change my major. Then 2 seconds later asked to what major and why. I explained that because I am in Chi.na I want to study Chin.ese things and he perked up. (it's amazing what appealing to nationalism can do for you).

He got my application out (after digging for 5 minutes through cardboard boxees where he apparently keeps all student files?) and explained that I need to ask my supervising teacher (who I have never met) if I can be released from the education department. Then I need to get a philosophy department teacher to accept me. This is all normal and expected. I need to re-tweek my research proposal and make it more applicable to a philosophy degree.

So, that ball is rolling. My heart is content that I'm not going to fail because I went to America during mid-terms, and hopefully I'll be in the right major soon.

Here, have a pretty, Chi.na picture for sitting through all that school talk...

The Emperor's Summer Palace, Beijing, 2009.

walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 27, 2011

racism, high fives, body image, and pride.


Some funny stuff happened today.

Wanna hear about it? Sure, ya do.

Stories in numbered order because I am too exhausted from jetlag to do anything else but number my thoughts...

1. In class today my teacher announced that there would be a 3 hour "climbing mountain ceremony" this Friday (mountain climbing not included - for real). The city will be paying foreigners to show up and flash their pretty foreign faces. The catch - you can't be an Asian foriegner, you must be white or black only. Therefore, my Nepalese, Japanese, Korean, and Burmese classmates are not invited. Racism is so rampant/commonplace here that my teacher could just announce this in class - hey you white and black people, come get paid to be a foreigner, you yellow people...not allowed. My teacher asked me if I would go and I told her I, "do not support racist activities and do not like being paid to be white."

2. I went to the gym for my daily 5k and when I was done, the guy on the treadmill next to me reached over for a high-five. People in Ch.ina don't usually know how to high-five, so I was surprised. I reached out my sweaty arm and slapped his hand, did a fist pump and walked away. That was fun.

3. Things are not going so well on the school front. I'm still unsure of my fate involving me not taking my midterms. In a culture where nothing is black or white, going to school and wanting answers can be very frustrating. Students like me have no idea who to talk to or what to believe when given different answers from different people. As of this afternoon - I have been told that my huge test that I have been freaking out over is now optional and all that matters is my grades. Uh-oh. Going to another office tomorrow to get a second/third/fourth opinion. I have also purposefully missed the deadline for the May test. I wil be taking the test in June in Shanghai, (giving me another 4 weeks to prepare). I know everything will work out in the end - but it's a little bit scary for the time being.

4. As I was on the bus to work tonight, my boss texted me telling me that her boss would be sitting in on my class tonight. Ugh, automatic freak out. All I was planning to do was teach a few words that pertained to my trip (round-trip, jetlag, graduation ceremony, cap and gown), show pictures, and do some worksheets. (cue: I am exhausted and was lazy in my planning). Well, wouldn't you know, the monkies loved looking at pictures and asked amazing questions. We never even got to the worksheet and class went swimmingly. Thanks, Big Man Upstairs!

5. Also pertaining to work...my boss's boss decided to announce that I "look sexual today." Explaining the difference in meaning and usage of "sexual" and "sexy" to a hospital director = why I get paid the big bucks.

6. Speaking of big bucks, one of my fave students, the 40 year old head nurse asked me if would tutor her 1-1 after classes on Wednesday nights. I'm stoked for the chance to get to know her even better. Her English is suuuuper low (she's my lowest student by far) but she is a fierce learner and wants to interview to go to California on the doctor exchange program. It's gonna be a tough road, we have 6 weeks til the interview, but in those 6 weeks I think she can make a lot of progress, and I'll get some extra pocket money because she's gonna pay me! I gave her half of my going rate because I just love her, and it feels weird to charge friends money, but every little bit helps! Another small financial and personal blessing rolled into one.

7. While I was showing my pictures to my students, a new student (as of today) told me that I looked thinner in the picture and need to not eat so much. The picture was taken literally 3 days ago. Chin.ese people are crazy with their weight talk. Good thing I've run 6 miles in the past 2 days or I might of gone nuts on her, I just smiled and thanked her for her suggestion. The constant body nit-picking of my Chi.nese peers wears me down emotionally, but my new found love of the gym is helping with these self-destructive feelings. It's hard to be called fat to your face every day of your life. I heard what she said, but didn't process it because I know that I ran 3 miles today and did something good for my body.

8. I had a nice chat with my friend Hannah about pride and how easy it is to think we are better than this, (the system, school, teaching styles, everything in Ch.ina). It was a great chat and is now something I want to mindfully work on. I need to change that part of my character. I am not better than this place because I am an American, teacher, or PhD student. I need to do the best of my ability no matter what the outside entities (teachers, classes, expectations) are doing. Just because I think my classes are not high quality does not mean I shouldn't do my best work - I am a representation of my family, country, and faith and lately I haven't been acting like it. Food for thought.

So, there you have it. The numerical listing of a day's encounters. Welcome back to Chinaville, land of the crazy, illogical, nonsensical, meaningful, and amusing daily interactions.

Til we meet again.

walk slow. xoxo.

Because my eyes won't stay shut.

I can't sleep.

Dang jetlag.

I fell asleep at 8pm after a first day back of 3 classes, unpacking, laundry, a 5k on the treadmill, my bike seat falling off while in traffic on the way home, and half a bag of goldfish crackers for dinner.

I woke up at 2am to 4 missed calls, a frantic text message from a friend, and vague memories of speaking to my mom on the phone while half asleep during our nightly 8:30pm chat.

Through all this jetlag fuzziness - there is one thing I know, as good as it is to be away from this place, it is good to be back - back to the routine of school and work, back to purposeful friendships, back to orphan work that fulfills my spirit and gives me purpose.

This culture is exhausting. I feel like I am always fighting a battle because someone is lacking logical sense. But going home helps me to see this life in a new light, to get some perspective on timelines, (that I'm not here forever - probably) and that I should enjoy the journey because everything has it's time.

It's in these exhausted moments that I like to evaluate life. Why the crap do I live here? Why do I "do this to myself"? How did this all happen? And will I ever have a family, a stable home, an automatic washing machine, indoor heating and cooling, and a kitchen besides a wok and a hot plate? Why...why....why?

Because He said so. Because if a white, previously picky, private school girl from suburbian Florida can stick this out - it is a testament to something bigger than myself.

That's why I get on the plane every time.

I'm so, so, tired.

But tomorrow is another day, another Chi.nese class, another work night, another chance to change a little bit more into the woman I'm supposed to be.

Even if that woman is jetlagged beyond recognition.

4:35am. Maybe I'll try to sleep.

walk slow. xoxo.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
~ Galatians 6:9 ~

Apr 25, 2011


On Saturday my baby sister bug graduated from college.

And my whole family was there...


Now I'm back in Ch.ina looking at this picture thinking...did that really happen 48 hours ago? After 6 flights in 9 days, I've soaked in all the America wonderful-ness and family together-ness one can absorb. I'm left with these memories to sustain me through the next 8-9 months til I can go home again.

Congrats to baby sister doodle!

walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 20, 2011

Hello from Boston.

Again, I find myself alone in an airport. But this time, everyone speaks English, I can buy all the candy, magazines, and bottled Sprite my heart desires, and nobody is hawking loogies near me.

Gosh, I love America.

My parents and I are enroute to Florida, but because I'm on a "multi-city" ticket included in my Chi.na roundtrip ticket, we are on seperate flights/airlines/terminals.

Have a glimpse of our time in Boston, it's been wonderful:

Crisp air and blue skies!

mom and I after the Boston Marathon 5K!

the church where Paul Revere lit the lantern to signal that the "British are coming!"

the world record for the men's marathon was crushed in a time of 2:03...somethin' somethin'...it was a big day for running...both winners were Kenyans.

Of course, my dad came in a close second. ;) Cheers to my dad's 7th Boston Marathon.

See you in Florida. I'm so excited to see my dogs and sleep in my own bed.

walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 15, 2011


...from Shanghai Int. Airport!

Rockin' out at the same gate I always leave out of. Ready for my 11th jaunt around the world.

Lookin' a mess, feelin' great...

The view from the waiting area...it's rainy/grey skies out there to fly into today...

The anticipation of America is glorious. This morning someone pushed me in line to get on the bus and I thought to myself, "This won't happen in 24 hours." I'm meeting my parents in Boston for a few days before heading home.

When I arrived to the airport today I got a phone call from a classmate asking me some details about the class trip today (that I'm missing, obvi). I responded, "I have no idea, I'm going to America today!" and I got goosebumps. That's such an exciting thing to say, I'm going to America today.

Also, every time I leave I get a random text message from a Chinese person who has heard I am leaving but doesn't know the details and thinks I'm leaving for good. This morning it was a student that hasn't been to my class at the hospital in a long time. "Jessica, I heard you are leaving. Please come back again. Keep in touch." I responded that I am only going to be gone for 8 days. "Oh, ok, when you come back we wil go sing songs," was his response. haha. Ok, dude. We'll go sing songs (KTV).

I packed last night at 1am so I'm not really sure what made it's way into my luggage. And I'm slightly regreeting my outfit choice of the journey, but there's no going back now. Whatev, the important thing is...there's another stamp in my passport!

See you on the other side.

walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 14, 2011

A 900 blog post kinda day.

Every hour of my day could have it's own story.

I could tell you that I was bumped into by a car while I was riding my bike, so now my leg is bruised and her driver's side window is bruised (not really, but I slammed it in a fit of anger, oops).

I could tell you how I skipped both my classes and my head teacher called me while I was having lunch to ask me where I was.

I could tell you how a man yelled out to me in Chi.nese, "Foreigner, your butt is too big!" So I responded, "Chin.ese man, your penis is too small!"

I could tell you how at the gym my treadmill was not working so I called over the little baby worker boy and told him about it, he just stared at me shocked, then went over to another worker to explain to them that I spoke Chine.se, without ever responding to me.

I could tell you how when I got to work and asked one of my students how her week was she responded, "I had an abortion. I feel great." This then prompted a 30 minute discussion amongst my darling doctors about how more and more of their friends are getting abortions because of the nuclear air from Japan. This apparently is causing their babies to not grow properly so they terminate at 3 months. (the sad thing is that statements like this don't shock me anymore.) I teared up looking into her face. "I'll have a baby in the future," she said.

I could tell you how I went to the hair place and had a great chat with my friends there. My regular hair dresser was on his day off so I had a different guy. He showed me his tattoo he did himself when he was 15 (on his hand) and asked me to find him a "shorter" American girlfriend because, "American girls don't care if their boyfriends own houses." This is a huge issue right now for young Chin.ese guys. If you don't own a house you wil have trouble finding a girlfriend. I told him I'd do my best. haha.

I could tell you how I ate 4 mangos for dinner.

Or...I could just tell you that I am going to America tomorrow. That is the greatest statement in all the land - I AM GOING TO AMERICA TOMORROW!

yep, that's all I wanna say. :)

walk slow. xoxo.

today. exhaustion. goodness. ugh.

Today I woke up at 7:30. I have to leave my house by 7:45 for class. That was fun. Not.

Went to class until 11:30, had lunch, did some paper work in the office, then was picked up by Michael for a trip to the orphanage with the visiting Americans.

You aren't allowed to take any pictures at the orphanage, but we snuck in a few shots like this one from far away. The orphanage is gov sponsored and really nice, but like most Chi.nese things - feels hollow.
These are some foster parents - notice their age - bringing the children by the orphanage to play. My city is one of the first cities in Chi.na to have a developed foster parent system.

Then I went to work, then a fancy dinner with a head cardiologist from California with a major "God-syndrome." Homeboy is natively Chine.se was not messin around with his ego. Bah. To take the edge off, me and Michael had ourselves a photo shoot when he went to the bathroom.

And 3 hours of karoake later, all the residents and doctors had gone back to their hotel...leaving me and Michael alone in the VIP karaoke room belting our favorite Chin.ese songs and chugging the rest of the opened beers. One of my top ten fun times in Chin.a for sure.

Now I'm home. And telling myself to never, ever complain about my life.

walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 12, 2011

tests, jobs, and oranges.

Lots of emotions swirling around this corner of the world.

There's some junk going on now involving my education, the administrators in charge of me. Because in China schedules are not important, held to, or published before the second something happens, I was unaware of my school schedule when my dad purchased me a ticket home to participate in my sister's graduation ceremony.

Well, golly gee, it falls smack dab during my midterm exams. Awesome. (good ol' American sarcasm there).

So now I'm left in a predicament of my last semester's teacher telling me I could take the tests if I happened to be gone (I looked at the calendar and saw it was a possibility, asked, and was told "no problem".) Now this semester's teacher is being a b-word and won't let me take the test late or early.

I'm being told from various sources that grades don't matter, it's just the HSK and my PhD courses that matter. I have friends who have not taken their finals in their language courses and still continued on in their degree program the next year.

I'm hoping that as precedent implicates...all things will go well and I'll have no problem signing up for next semester's classes even without a midterm grade for my Chin.ese courses.

It's just frustrating ot live in a system where one person's word is different than anothers, where anything can change depending on who you talk to and what they feel like for that moment. Nothing is set in stone, anything is able to be manipulated. I know this system. It's one of corruption, white lies, saving face, and ignorance of contracts.

So, I'm pulling out the biggest weapon I have - Myself.

Today I went around to my other teachers and explained my situation in the perfect "Chin.ese" way. I explained that I bought my ticket before the school gave me a schedule (true) and that I needed to be with my family (true). I batted my eyes, wore my highest high heels so I was looking down on every teacher, and held my shoulders back in self-assurance. I told them that last semester's teacher told me it was ok, why would things be different now? (true). I was met with positive response.

Then this afternoon as I left my head teacher's class I gave her a very serious look that said, "You may have told me I can't take the test, but I will win this power struggle."

I wasn't going to mention it on the blog...but I think it fits here.

Two weeks ago I was offered a full-time job in America. $55,000USD/year starting pay. Full benefits. I did not apply for this job. I did not know this job was vacant. I was just offered it. This job would require relocating to California. In May.

I turned it down without thinking twice.

Actually I think my exact words were, "You're joking? You think I'd cash out now for $55,000? After all this?"

Not poo-pooing the money, because that is a large sum of money...but it's not what I worked this hard for. I'm not here in China because I think that it will be financially beneficial, I am here in China because I am called to be here. But on the professional side of things, I am not willing to check out of the situation now for a job that I do not want to do the rest of my life. It wasn't my dream job, it wasn't the best place for my talents and passions.

BUT. All that being said. This darn job offer is wrecking my PMS'ing brain. When things like this happen about my midterms I think, "I could be in sunny Cali working at a desk right now not surrounded by all this madness...I could have a washer and a dryer...I could not be spit on when I walk down the street...I could have a "real" life and not constantly feel like I'm fighting a huge battle against cultural nuiances and ignorance...I could live in a first world country..."

Then conversations like tonight happen and remind my why I'm here, what brings me joy, and that I should cherish my time spent abroad. I was at Starbucks studying with some friends after the gym and I got a phone call from Michael.

There are some American doctors visiting the hospital this week and I previously suggested to my boss that the hospital take them to KTV. Michael said, "Do you know the doctors from Oranges are here?"

Me: "What? Doctors and oranges?"
Michael: "The doctors from Oranges. Orange? Oranges. (In Chin.ese...Los Angeles)
Me: (In Chi.nese) "Oranges from Los Angeles? They brought you oranges? You want to give them imported oranges? What I don't understand you?"
Michael: (In English) The doctors live in Oranges, California. You know..."
Me: hahahahahahahahahahaa. It's ORANGE COUNTY. hahahahahhahaha...
Michael: (In Chi.nese) "Stop laughing at me!"
Me: "I am so happy you called. hhahaha."

Why would I leave this for $55,000 a year and a dependable schedule? These small moments of communication and friendship really do make all the hassle of life worth it.

My school situation may be hell, I may be tempted with shiny offers in America, the land of opportunity, but my experiences with people of another culture are worth their weight in...oranges.

walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 11, 2011

two cups.

"Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups on my table."

- Tang Dynasty Poem.

walk slow. xoxo

Apr 10, 2011

On Learning Chinese.

Last night during my almost-nightly call with my mom (yes, I'm that lucky), my mom blurted out during one of my 5 minute speeches about something random, "What about school? You never talk about school!"

"What is there to say? I go to school. It's the same everyday. I'm learning Chi.nese," I said.

But I know she's right. The truth is that I talk about school all the time. To my friends who are in the same situation. We compare teachers, rip apart our activities, complain about boredom, and help each other through grammar lessons.

Alright, mom, I'll tell you about school.

I picked up a decent working vocabulary in my first two years in Chi.na just by hanging in the bars, talking to every random person on the street, at the hairdresser, in the market, etc. I wasn't afraid to sound like an idiot and in many occasions had to speak up in order to survive/make it through another situation. (i.e. lost in the city, at the train station, etc). I was completely illiterate for 2 years and thus relied on spoken phrases to get by. Instead of looking at the menu, I would ask, "what veggies do you have?" and so on...

I learned grammar and phrases by listening and copying people. One time at the milk tea stand, the person in front of me pointed then said, "di 2 ge." Then the worker gave them the second tea on the list. I learned by this that if I put, "di.....ge" around a number, I will get that number thing. I had no idea what Di and Ge meant, but I knew that saying that would get me the tea I wanted. I learned like this.

I learned how to joke with taxi drivers and if I didn't understand what they were saying, I would ask them to teach me. I would go on dinner dates with Chin.ese men from the bar just to see how long we could hold a conversation for. I got a lot of free dinners and new vocab words from these random people. (some of who have become my friends to this day). I gave my phone number to everyone (something that haunts me) and would go anywhere with anyone if it meant I could practice Chin.ese. (I do not want my daughter to do this one day, but turned out ok for me. ha).

Learning Chinese was about discovery, fun, trial and error, and relationships. I knew how to say words like, "I have diarrhea," and "hot guy," before I knew how to say, "i'm hungry," and "left and right."

Then I entered school. As someone who can hold a conversation with anyone, but couldn't even read or write my Chin.ese name. This was a problem. I was back to square 1.5.

And so I toil on.

Now after 6 months of studying and over 3 grammar books completed, I can read advertisements, headlines of newspapers, bus stop schedules, and can recognize over 1000 characters. I sit on the bus and stare out the window at the advertisements along the way. The world is opening up to me. I can read basic things on menus, street names are hard because they are often random vocabulary words we don't learn - "flowering bee lane" is not going to be recognizable, but I know the streets around where I live, so I can go to a bus stop and look for a street near me and make it home.

The other day I was walking down the street and saw an advertisement for medicine, "Don't Worry," I read outloud. YAYY! The people near me stared at me thinking I was crazy, but I didn't care, I read the sign! A sign I had seen a million times as just random squiggles, I now know says, "Don't worry." The progress that I am experiencing is huge.

But it is also sometimes devastating.

It's a case of the more you learn, the more you know you don't know. While my grammar structures are becoming better and my reading is exploding, my writing is going nowhere.

I fail most of my daily dictations.

The problem is, I don't care. And I let my teachers know it.

I have the mindset that writing is not important. I can read the characters on the computer and in books, why would I need to physically write them? It stinks because when the teacher says the sentences outloud for us to write, I know that I could read those words, I just have no idea how to make that character appear on the paper. This is something many students and even Chi.nese people struggle with because people use computers more than physically writing things down.

I just know that my time is short, I only have 2 more months in Chin.ese classes before I begin my PhD program next year. I plan to spend the summer here in Chi.na studying rather than returning to the states like I have the past two years. The people in my class have been studying for 2 years or more and I've been here only 6 months...it's a race to the HSK, the Chine.se test for foreigners.

I have decided to take the HSK 2x even though it is a bit pricey. I will be taking it in Hangzhou on May 22 and again in Shanghai in June.

The Chine.se are avid test takers. They test like crazy, take tests to get jobs, get into highschool, etc. It's very much a "learn how to take the test...not really the information," kind of a situation. I am at the stage of studying where I have an HSK study book and I am just translating the directions. It's stressful because I can't even read the directions of the test.

I need to score a 4 (out of 8 total levels) on the intermediate test. I have already passed a practice level 3 test last January. (You take the level test that you need and either pass or fail that level).

I'm anxious for this year to be over. Learning Chin.ese has been all I wanted and I'm ultimately in this program not for the PhD, but because it is a way to become fluent in a language I love (for free). But I don't like the way that I am studying - 20 hours a week, every day the same. I'm ready for the PhD to start, to be in classes with all Chin.ese students and be learning real information.

Being in a classroom with a bunch of other foreigners while Chi.nese people go about their lives outside our walls is a little counter-productive to me. We need to be out there with the Chin.ese people. But I know that in order to have the grammer and background, I need to be in a classroom with books and homework and lessons. It's just so boring, repetitive, and void of creativity.

My weekly schedule is made up of 4 different classes with 4 different teachers, the same students in every class. I have reading, listening, speaking, and grammer - grammar being our daily class and "head teacher." We do a grammar chapter every 2.5 days. We read dialogues, do grammar excercises, correct sentences, give speeches, and write a million characters over and over and over and over. Already this semester I've given 3 speeches (the meaning of Easter, American "breakfast" culture, and Chinese slang).

I don't study as much as I should outside of the classroom because I have many other responsibilities. My life experience here is very full - orphans, church, friendships, work, tutoring. School is just one part of my life in Chi.na. It is an important part, but not the most important...for now...not until the end of 2012 when I begin my dissertation. Then it's peddle to the metal, PhD or bust time. But I'm not there yet, one semester at a time.

My general impression is that I would never pay for this, but that it is necessary for me to get to the good stuff - the PhD classes. I believe that if a person wants to come to Chi.na to learn Chi.nese they should spend maybe just a semester in classes (to get some reading and writing basics), then get a job and hire a tutor. Real life is such a better teacher than outdated text books.

So that's my school experience in a (long) nutshell.

Does that answer your question, mom? :) mwah.

walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 9, 2011

The Proof is in the Dictionary.

The "search history" function of my Ipod touch's English/Chi.nese dictionary could tell a million secrets.

It shows the ebb and flow of my language needs - the positive and the negative.

For example, my most recent searches include: pathetic, irrational, undeveloped, illogical, and cheat. Also among the most recent bunch is: dizzy, adventure, horror, stockings, candle, and moment. These are the words I did not know and needed to know at some point during my conversations this week. haha. I like living in another language, it's an adventure, but boy is it hard sometimes to rely on the handy dandy dictionary.

I often have an exchange, then return home and craft up a better response. (don't we all do this?) I use my dictionary to find a more fluent or native way to express what I already said to someone out in the world.

Last night I found myself looking up the phrase, "you are pathetic."

Hmmm....sounds not good, right? Right.

Yesterday was super busy, like all days. I ducked into the corner super market to grab some yogurt, toilet paper, and trash bags on my way home from class and before jumping on the bus for work.

My bill was 13.8rmb (about 2$). I gave her a 100 bill (15 dollars). She gave me 36.2rmb in change. The line was long and the store was really crowded so I just took my money and walked out of the store. I was about 2 feet out the door when I realized while putting my money away that I was missing a lot of change.

Now, I've had problems at this store before. I've gone off on a woman who told me she didn't understand when foreigners spoke when I asked her for a plastic bag to put my things in (you don't automatically get a plastic bag, you have to pay for one.) I flipped on her. There's no reason for someone to mentally block a person when my pronounciation is good and I only said one sentence - "I want a bag."

Anyways, the point of that is that this place has already rubbed me the wrong way. But it has a monopoly on our area in town, so I have to go there.

I marched my butt back into the store and walked up to the cashier - "You cheated me. I gave you 100rmb and this was my change." I grabbed my reciept and saw that she had put into the register that I had only given her a 50rmb bill, not a 100.

"No, you gave a 50," she retorted and pulled a 50 out of the register and showed it to me, "you paid this."

"No," I started to get louder, "I gave you a 100, I had 3 100's before, now I only have 2," showing her my wallet. I started to get upset because there is no proof that I gave her 100 because she put 50 on the reciept. I started looking around for cameras, but then decided to pull out the big guns - at this point there was a crowd watching our exchange.

"Where's your boss? Who's the boss?" I called out. "Are you the boss," I asked a worker next to me. Meanwhile, homegirl is yelling across to the other cashiers that I am accusing her of cheating and laughing about it.

When she heard me yelling for the manager she freaked out and gave me my 50rmb. "You speak good Chi.nese," she said, "Here." And she smiled at me like she knew she had stolen the 50rmb (6 dollars) from me. She put in the reciept that I paid 50, then was going to pocket the other 50. Smart crook move from someone who only makes like 100rmb a day - that's half a day's salary stolen from me!

So...homegirl thought I didn't speak Chi.nese so even if I noticed the missing money, I wouldn't be able to do anythign about it to express myself. When I went storming in there yelling for the boss and calling her a cheat, she was left with no other option but to give me my money.
I pocketed the returned money but still kept looking for the boss. Homegirl messed with the wrong foreigner.

An older lady came over to me and said she was the boss and I explained that the cashier, "is a very bad person who cheated me because I am a foreigner and she doesn't think I can count." She said some bull-crap about checking on what happened and I just pointed at the woman, told her, "You are a very bad person," and walked out the store in a fit of adrenaline.

I had my money. I made my point. In Chin.ese.

Unfortunately these incidences are increasing as I learn the language and culture and have a heightened awareness of what is going on around me.

You may be wondering, why would I get mad over such a small amount of money? Well, I'm a self-supporting student who doesn't have a lot of money and it's the principal more than the money. I believe in peace and trust, but I refuse to let bad behavior go unnoticed because I don't want to cause a ruckus (I did this too much my first few years here).

I came home in a cloud of adrenaline, replaying the exchange over in my head. If I was in America, would I point my finger in a woman's face and tell her she's a "very bad person?" No. I would say something like, "You're pathetic."

And out came the dictionary. "P-a-t-h-e-t-i-c," another new word in the vocabulary cannon.

walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 8, 2011

Squooshy Faces.

I got to squoosh orphan baby faces today.

My friend Zack's parents visited over Spring Festival and brought gifts for the children. Because the babies had gone back to their orphanages for the holday, we couldn't go together to give the gifts to the babies. This morning Zack and I ventured out to the hospital and had some quality time with the little monkies and took some pics to show his momma.

Thanks to Zack's mom, the babies have some new fun things to occupy their time with! We also got to see some rehabilitation going on for children with parents whose parents have chosen to keep their handicapped kid (heros). There were some new sad orphans, one without an eye who was abandoned yesterday (he's 2 years old), one little guy who was only abandoned because he is missing his pinky - everything else about his development is ok... (pathetic).

It was a good visit. We talked some business, hugged some babies, and I got to see Lin.

Say hi to the little monkies:

This one's furry pink jacket cracked me up, she was so animated, too! Here she is with her new toy...

This little dude was all smiles!

Washing hands before lunch...

Oh sweet, abandoned child...

There are only 6 countries in the world that have more people than there are orphans in the world.

That's a lot of baby faces to squoosh. One stuffed animal, one visit, one donation at a time.

walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 7, 2011

work thoughts and a legendary meal.

So...I've got some observations about Chi.nese culture cookin' in my brain.

This past week I have been teaching about opinions. I presented my students with ways to share your opinion, "Personally, I believe...." "As far as I can tell..." etc, stuff like that.

Then I put them into groups and gave them controversial and non-controversial topics to discuss. "Cats are better pets than dogs," "Women and men are equal," "Money is more important than happiness," "Violent sports should be banned," etc.

So, the trends in similiar answers began last sunday when I did this activity with my highschool girl I tutor. I gave her the phrase, "women are better communicators than men," and told her to tell me her opinion.

She disagreed wholeheartedly.

I was no expecting that. To me, that statement is a no-brainer...like, duh women are better communicators than men. There's scientific evidence somewhere in the world that states this, right?

So, she discussed that women are more shy than men and all politicians are males. That was her take on it, and I was not going to tell her her opinion was wrong...everyone is entitled to what they think. And we moved on.

So this week in my classes at the hospital we did the same thing. And I got the same response. Women are not as good at communicating than men because they are afraid of being wrong, not supposed to share their ideas, and are meant to be peaceful and quiet. I was told all of this by my doctor students.

I'm baffled. Not one person out of over 60 students total told me that women are better communicators than men. They all said men are better communicators.

Now, I'm not out to prove anything, I'm just stunned by the difference in what I usually think and assume (that women are better communicators) and a little saddened by the (seemingly) cultural response that I got. What I heard from my students was that women's ideas are not equal to men's, women should not voice their opinion often, and women are shy and subversive - therefore quiet.

This disturbs me a tab bit. But also doesn't completely shock me, knowing that the plight of women in this country is decades behind America (and even we don't have it all right yet). It's just sad to hear my mostly female students saying that they can't communicate well mainly because of societal expectations.

I know my sample group was small and cannot represent an entire society, but it still raises a flag to me that every single person said the same thing.

Other interesting opinions that were shared...

-the death penalty is necessary because there are so many people in Ch.ina that, "the bad ones should die." (Chi.na ranks #1 in the world by faaaar in yearly death penalties).
-"gay people can be cured by surgery."
-"falling in love at first sight is possible only of you have met on the internet - therefore you know all about that person before you see them face to face."
-"it is a woman's duty to be married."

I recognize that a lot of this could be personal opinion and should not represent Ch.ina as a whole, but the amount of this kind of talk has added up over my years in Chi.na and I tend to view statements like this as cutural rather than just personal.

Hmmm....so chew on that for awhile and tell me what you think. Are women better communicators than men (inherently?)...

Speaking of chewing...I present to you the most legendary meal of all time, eaten tonight after work by me, Angel, and his wife. We ate it all. I have a food baby to prove it.

Speaking of babies...little precious God-baby is growing! Only 10 more weeks! And...IT'S A GIRL! :)

I'm off to sit in a food coma and communicate my way through some homework.

walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 5, 2011

vacay day #2.

Today I went back to my old university where I worked the past two years.

Going back is always bittersweet. A million memories flood back and I am reminded of just how happy I was in that job. Life was more simple, interesting, and joyful than it is now. Today was also bittersweet because my first batch of students have graduated (post on that coming soon). After this time next year, there will be no students of mine left on the campus.

That's weird. The kids grow up so quick. ;)

Today I met Yangxue, we had lunch in the teacher's cafeteria (oh the memories), went to KTV for 2 hours, took a walk, and hung out by the campus lake with some of her classmates/my friends.

Here's some pics:

Alicia and Michael were in my class last year and weren't dating at the time, now they are! I was surprised to run into them holding hands around campus! I told them to invite me to their wedding and it didn't go over too well...ahah...

my posse...

These monkies have started calling me "Xiao Mei tongxue" which is my Chinese name followed by "classmate" - the way they call their classmates. For awhile they were calling be "Ke Laoshi" which is my Chinese family name followed by "teacher" - the way you call a teacher. Now I have been officially demoted in their minds from teacher to fellow student. hahaha. When I heard them calling me that, I about died. I was so happy! And it was so funny to me! I went from "Jessica" to "Ke laoshi" to "Xiao Mei tongxue"...the progression is from formal to casual.

I am officially equal to them. Which is awesome in my sight. I'm not their teacher anymore and I want to be able to relate to them, so being called "classmate" shows that they see me as an equal and that they are recognizing that I am also a student now. So funny. (This kind of naming is very important in Confucionism.)

bus ride back into town...

Then I met up with my friend Judy/Jing Jie for dinner at a Korean restaurant downtown. I bussed back to my dorm, hopped on by bike, and headed off to meet her. I first met Judy at the HICF Christmas Gala, my friend Michael brought her along.

We have kept in touch and I think eventually we could be good friends. Her English is awesome, her mindset is open, and she is a believer. She has invited me on a trip this summer to do volunteer work with a group she is involved in out in the poorest part of Chi.na. I'm thinking about joining, but not sure yet. We chatted about the possibility at dinner and scarfed down some gooood Korean food! I usually think Korean food tastes like pickled doo doo, but this place was awesome! Glad to have a new restaurant in the repetoire.

Jing Jie's a gem. People like her are hard to come by and make me glad that I am rooted into a place, rather than coming and going quickly. I look forward to a deeper friendship with her.

And with that, the Tomb-Sweeping Festival is over and it's back to the "normal routine" tomorrow. Boo.

But these past two days were great, two thumbs up for time well spent with good people. I had previously thought about traveling this break by myself. To anywhere I could get a train ticket. But in the last minute decided to stay and spend time with people I had not seen in awhile. I'm so glad I did this because friendship takes work and there are many relationships that I need to invest more time in - but where is the time? I gotta take it where I can get it, if that means not seeing some random new city, so be it. That's no sacrifice for meaningful relationships.


walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 4, 2011

An Afternoon at the Lake.

Today and tomorrow there's no school.

So today was gym, grocery shop, West Lake day.

Here, have a look:


Jess from Denver. She contacted me before she came to Ch.ina this semester because she found out about the Int. Fellowship online, she emailed the pastor who put her in touch with me, a stateside phone call and a meet up in Chi.na later and we are good friends! Cheers to being proactive...

all these people are staring up the tree at a squirrel - freaking out taking pictures of it...

Sunshine is like gold.


walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 3, 2011

to be of faith.

One thing about living in a communst country and having a faith is that the songs that you have been singing for much of your life suddenly become very pertinent.

When you sing of the nations and justice and mercy in a place that is far from home and lacking justice and mercy, you deeply understand what the song author was meaning when he penned the words.

That being said, Chi.na is a complicated place. (no fake).

I am legally allowed to attend services at the International Fellowship each week. But no natives are allowed to enter because the gov does not control it.

If the big man in Beijng can't control what is being taught or said, then no natives are allowed.
Therefore, the only group that can teach freely is the international service. Other fellowships exist, but are controlled by the gov. And the pastors must be party members. And party members must vow atheism. Logical? Not so much.

There are several Three-Self churches (legal) in town, but they are in Chi.nese and controlled by the gov so I've never felt the need/urge to attend. There is a lot of research done on these places, and while I'm not really in the position to state what I think about them openly, let's just say that I want to keep my distance.

All this is to explain that being a faithful person and wanting a fellowship takes some seeking out in Ch.ina. Finding where you are safe, where the people are following true doctrine and not spreading gov watered-down messages, and where you can find true relationships with people without putting them in danger - is hard.

I have found my place here in the international fellowship. I have dabbled in the "underground" world and maintain friendships there, but choose to regularly attend a legal fellowship.

Well, a few days ago a friend asked me to go with her to english Catholic Mass.

English Catholic Mass?

There is such a thing here?

Apparently, yes.

So we went.

The building is on Yesu Tang Lu (Jesus Lane). An off-street of a popular shopping district. I've walked by a thousand times and had no idea it was there. The building is a beautiful pale blue and if you were to crop out the rest of life, you would think you were in a developed country. It's clean, peaceful, quiet...a true sanctuary.

So what's the deal with Catholicism in Ch.ina? I'll tell you...

The Catholic churches are allowed to have mixed services (foreigners and natives) because they are gov controlled. The clergy are all Chi.nese. For our Saturday night service, the Chin.ese dude just read a paper in non-understandable English. There was a decent mix of Chin.ese and foreigners. Some of the natives were obviously just there to see what was going on. Others, had a good command of English and were involved. There is also a Chin.ese language service on Sundays, so those who come to the english service either do so to practice english, or to be a tourist.

Since the establishment of the PRC in 1949, all religions must exist under the supervision of the state. The Chin.ese Catholic Patriotic Association does not accept the primacy of the Roman Pontiff (Pope dude). The relationship between the gov and Rome has a long and tedious history (worth a little google search if you are interested in this stuff).

Catholics who are loyal to the Pope have suffered and still suffer family/job oppression, jail time, and martyrdom. The gov still prosecutes these "underground" Catholics, especially priests. (This goes for people of protestant faith, as well).

Hong Kong and Macau based Catholics have the ability to practice freely. But, Pope John Paul was denied a visit to Hong Kong in the late 1990's because it was deemed "inappropriate" by the big man in Beij. So there's still some weirdness going on there.

Our service on Saturday was nice. I enjoyed going, learning more about what is going on in my country of residence. I feel more informed, more tied to the people and their plight for eedom-fay. (pig latin, like it?)

I can't say I'll be going back again any time soon though. I'm not sure if it was the fact that I'm not a Catholic, or that no one could understand the priest, but the atmosphere was cold, uninviting, and impersonal. No one welcomed my friend and I, or even spoke to us. I didn't take communion because I'm not down with the mary-talk, but did enjoy some quiet time with the Big Man Upstairs.

Most importantly, it was a reminder to me to constantly remember the people who face hard times because of what they believe, all over the world - in my own city and far away.

I was really touched by the pertinence of the intercessory prayer that was printed in our pamphlets...

That our Holy Father and all bishops may be given light and strength to carry out their vocations, that gov leaders may work tirelesssly for that justice which is the foundation of peace, for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, that our society may be cured of spiritual blindness and rediscover the equal dignity of the unborn, the terminally ill, those on death row, and all who are oppressed, that those who are ill may be comforted, and those who have died may be welcomed into eternal joy...

So, so incredibly pertinent.

Amen to that.

walk slow. xoxo.

if you're happy and you know it...

Some moments I can't believe this is my life.

Like when I almost die in traffic (daily), when I'm doing hours of Chin.ese homework, or when people point and stare on the street.

Other moments, though, I can't believe this is my life because it's everything I've ever wanted...

Cuteness overload. I get paid for this.


walk slow. xoxo.

Apr 2, 2011

mmmmm red bean.

I have to go to class tomorrow. (on a Saturday).

Therefore, in no logical relation, my friends and I decided to have a non-traditional lunch today before our afternoon Chin.ese speaking class.

Red bean ice cream and carbonated canned wine.

Lunch of bilingual champions.

Who go to school on Saturdays.

walk slow. xoxo.