Category Archives: Fun Stuff

Winter China 3: A Chinese Family

After our glorious days in XiShuangBanNa, we had to leave. No vacation lasts forever, especially ones to tropical places! We took the plane to KunMing, followed by a transfer flight to NanJing, in the JiangSu province – my mom’s hometown. The plan? To visit (albeit distant) relatives, friends, to lavish on them gifts, and stuff ourselves at every meal. I mean, what else is there to do in China, besides to give & receive gifts and stuff yourself with food?

My dad decided that my mom should take the reins in JiangSu – as in, make all the travel arrangements and be the ‘tour guide’, something that my dad has always done. Was that a good decision? Well, that is neither here nor there. All I can (or should…) say is that we had an adventure: wandering the streets to find a hotel, figuring it all out as we went – and we eventually got to our destination. I don’t know about your family, but with my family, you just have to take things as they come. Almost nothing is a surprise to me, and I’ve just learned to go with the flow, keeping hopes high but expectations low. (hey, that rhymed!)

After getting off the flight, we searched for a dinner in NanJing, then decided we would get to our destination best by bus. So we boarded a bus for a few hours, and got off at ZhenJiang, my mom’s hometown. We wandered around a bit, and then found a place that seemed relatively decent to spend the night, and then went out for Papa John’s with my mom’s cousin, aunt, and family. Yup, Papa John’s! (Although it is not quite as big as Pizza Hut or KFC. KFC and McDonald’s are huge in China. But that’s irrelevant!) The next day, we went out for actual Chinese food. We went to lunch with the same cousins and aunt, as well as good family friends. The days following consisted of more meals to stuff ourselves, attended by different people: more family, other friends, as well as a trip to Pearl Buck’s house along the way. Although that was an extremely brief summary, there are times I’m especially thankful and happy that I have Chinese heritage in me. My family and I talked a lot about Chinese culture – if you will, let me enlighten you on a couple aspects, on meals in particular, in case you’re ever hosting a meal in China:

  • The seating around a round table at a meal is an essential part of the meal. The person sitting directly across from the door is the host. If it’s not the host, it’s the most important person in the room. At a fancy restaurant, their napkin will likely be the poofiest. The person sitting to their right is the most important guest; the person to their left is the second-most important guest. The seating arrangement rules don’t end there – but I will, for both of our sakes.
  • It is VERY important that you argue over who pays for the meal. Fight over who will bring out their wallet. The fight might become physical, and that’s okay. Continue to do argue as loudly obnoxiously as possible for as long as you can until you sense that the fight could be a fight to the death. It is at that time you can tell your guest(s) that the meal has already been paid for, or slide your wallet to the waitress.
  • Force food onto a guest or honored person’s plate. It is extremely impolite to let a guest go hungry, so to make sure that doesn’t happen, put food on their plate whenever a new dish joins the lazy Susan, or whenever you remember to. They will probably say that they do not need more food. Pay no attention – it doesn’t matter what they say; their plate needs food on it regardless of how full they say they are. Remember to honor your elders and those who are honored, so do the same to the them too. On the flip-side: as a guest, you should never finish your plate or bowl. If you do, you are insulting your host by making it seem like they didn’t give you enough to eat. That would not be okay; do not finish your plate or bowl at all costs.
  • A concept derived from the above rule (never let a guest go hungry) is to ALWAYS give and do far more than necessary. So your guests will most likely bring a gift of some kind – any kind, really, but just so you know: chances are high that your gift will be food or tea-related, possibly extravagant and entirely unnecessary. But it’s the thought that counts. (Note to guest: never go without a gift to a dinner by invitation.) There might be a time when actually want some of these gifts (e.g. money or snacks for the train), but it is vital that you DO NOT accept any gifts right away. Make sure you say tell them that no, you DO NOT need or want these gifts at all, that they are too generous and good to you, it really is okay – at least three times. Once those three times have passed, you can then feel free to exhale loudly and accept the gift with gratitude, thanking them many more times than necessary.

These rules seem ridiculous, but the Chinese people take them 100% seriously. In Eastern cultures, it is the host’s responsibility to make the other feel honored, welcomed and appreciated by sacrificing a lot of yourself for them (sometimes a little too much!). As the receiver, one should not find themselves accepting everything; they are not actually in need of help, but the gesture is greatly appreciated. Fighting over who pays? It is the act of generosity that matters. You want your friends and family to do well, so it is almost your obligation to oversee that, as much as possible.

The days of ‘continually going to meals and eating’ continued when we traveled back to Beijing. We have friends there, so we had lunch with my brother’s host family (the one who is studying in Beijing), and lots of meals with friends. Every time, my brothers and I would practice our ‘Chinese manners’ and, of course, dramatize everything.

Being Chinese has its perks – for instance, the monetary gifts! Of course money isn’t everything, but it is definitely nice to remember that your family has always got your back. When China decided it would roll with us (that is, make conditions about everything but make it seem like the New World), we decided we’d roll with China. (It’s a pretty sweet ride.)

Next time: California and Home. We left China eventually, leaving Jon behind and going to California to see my mom’s brother, family, and parents. Dumplings ensue.


Beaching, etc.

I arrived back in America on a crisp Saturday evening (I had to put ‘crisp’ in there), welcomed back into (the two-week rental) home with a dragon fruit and parents who had been waiting up for me. I put my things down, talked with my mom for a long time, and then went to sleep. Remarkably, my jet lag hasn’t been that bad. I’ve been waking up once during the night every night, but besides that, I’ve never been better!

Like previously noted, I am not actually at home. I’m staying for two weeks with my family at Cape Cod, a place my family and I have always come for a time during August. I love it here – you can go to the beach, catch a couple rays (and a tan that always fades out, no matter how dark you get), read all you like, and just plain relax with the family. We all need that kind of a thing every once in a while! Well, right now is my once in a while.

One night, we visited my dad’s co-worker, whose family lives on the Cape year-round. We had lobsters and the best ice cream ever. Friday night, we went to Chatham, where there’s a weekly outdoor band concert. We got some dinner there, got penny candy (that costs more than a penny!), and enjoyed the concert. Another night we played mini-golf. Apart from nights out like those, we have been spending time at the library in the mornings, then beach or freshwater pond in the afternoons after lunch.


My awesome grandma and me at the balloon stand, before the Chatham band concert!

The not-silver lining in this situation is that I left my phone at the New Jersey airport, on my transfer to Boston. Of all things, I was charging it and left it there. Thank God they found it! My contract still has another few months until I can get a new phone. Now, though, I have to get it FedEx-ed over to me, to an address I’m still deciding on.

It’s not a bad problem to have, but I miss China a lot. The wonderful new friends there, the things I got to do and see – not to mention the amazing food and cheap stuff! I miss it all a lot. Maybe if I had spent more time there, I could get more bragging rights, including the right to miss family and home more. However, I’d say I’m pretty well off – I’m returning to China in December, with my family to see my brother, who is spending an entire school year abroad in Beijing, and I’ve been keeping in touch with a few people from the group.

Until then, I’m enjoying the beach life. Not needing much while doing even less, that’s the kind of life I’m living – at least, for one more week.

China 8: Weekend Limbo

This weekend, the summer staff (several people I’ve mentioned so far that have, like me, spent at least six weeks in China) went on a retreat, to bond and reflect with each other on our time here, about a week before we leave. It was… limbo? It almost doesn’t seem real. It was actually an extended weekend, because it went over into Monday as well. Limbo? Well…

Every other Saturday, I have been assigned to work at something. Usually, this entailed an ‘English Corner’ for English learners in the community.  This week, though, English Corner had finished for the summer, and after waiting for an hour, there was no assignment. What better to do than… nothing? A few of us had a dance party, very unbalanced food throughout the day, while killing a lot of time meandering through the village. I had very little energy, so my dancing was not up to par. By the end of the day, I had worked up my energy to shake my body like a cyclone. In a few words, it was a grant ole time found through a lot of aimlessness.

At 8AM on Sunday, we set off on another grand adventure – the Great Wall, round two! First, we had to have lunch. Nobody from our group had been to this area before, so we found out Sunday that the only place to eat was a high-class hotel. Imagine about 14 people in hiking gear walking into a fancy hotel to have lunch! We felt a little underdressed… but we went with it, and then got on with our adventure. This time, we went to another section of the wall. We were told that it would be an unrestored section of it, but in reality it was rather restored, but probably not frequented as often by tourists. It was a hike! We had to walk a long time just to get to the wall, and once we had gotten there, the wall was up and down mountains. I took a picture, and if the wall we were hiking was not at a 45 degree incline, it was something close to it.  It was a long and hard walk, and I wimped out of climbing farther, because I was just not feeling up to the hardcore-ness of this time. Not only was it a scorching hot day and we happened to be climbing in the heat of the afternoon, I had accomplished even more than I wanted to last week. So I turned back and enjoyed a prolonged break. Funny thing, though – I dropped my phone! I had brought my iPhone to take pictures of the views, and then on my way back down, I dropped it! It has an OtterBox case, which makes it virtually indesctructable, so I wasn’t worried about it cracking. But there were some windows near the base of the wall, and it tumbled for a while before it stopped, coming dangerously close to falling out of the window. It was a close one! (If my phone had fallen into the valley below, I probably would’ve cried. My wallet had just gotten stolen, with all the money I had left the day before at the local farmer’s market. Although it’s not a terribly big deal, my love of China dimmed a bit. But to see my OtterBox save my phone from the Great Wall – well, that’s a story to tell!)

After we finished hiking (just hiking, no ski lift or toboggan down this time), we got in the car and travelled over to a place in the mountains. We all stayed in small rooms surrounding a courtyard. There was a stream that ran down from the mountains that had super-cold water – that’s how they refrigerate drinks! We had an awesome dinner, which included the entire body of a chicken (yes, including the head and other entrails!), as well as a bunch of other yummy food. Afterwards, we talked a lot and then went to sleep on a very hard bed. (That’s the short of the longer full story, but I’ll just leave it at the synopsis.) After waking up and having breakfast, we drove to the next destination: white-water-rafting-except-not. It took a lot of waiting to discover what in fact we were actually doing – all we knew was that we had to prepare to get sopping wet. As it turns out, we were waiting for the water to be heated. We finally got to a place with little rafts, helmets, life jackets, and small handled buckets. Basically, there is a man-made ‘track’ that you and your partner ‘raft’ down. All the experience of white water rafting, without the paddling. There were those mini buckets that we got, so we could scoop water out of our rafts. When we finished our first ride, there was a lot of still water that we waited at for several minutes. All the other Chinese people there (complete strangers!) thought it would be hilarious to play a game of ‘splash the white people’. It was rather fun, though, and with those buckets we got a lot more water in the air. There were several rounds of this – down the track of white water, waiting for a bit, down the track again, waiting more – but eventually we stopped and had to get out of the rafts. It was very fun! Afterwards, we got changed into our dry clothes… in, of course, a Chinese changing room/shower. If you’ve ever been in one before, you know that everyone is butt naked and 100% okay with it. Well, everyone except the white people. I’ve been in this situation many times and still am not used to it. It is what it is, I guess.

After that, we went to lunch, followed by the car ride back (AKA sleep time), and turned up at ND at around 3:30PM. It felt like 5:00 at least! Since it was a Monday, we still had English camp. Someone else ran it that day, but since it was raining and we had told our kids that we weren’t going to be there, they didn’t show. Out of fourteen, three kids showed up. After that, we went to get baozi (steamed stuffed buns) from the baozi guy (the legit one that we decided to rename). Thomas was pals with him, so we took a few pictures with the baozi guy. When we told him that today was Thomas’ last day, and tomorrow he’d be going to America, the guy gave us all a free baozi! Probably because Thomas was his #1 customer… Thomas had an obsession going on with that baozi. I probably appreciated the gesture more than everyone, as I had like 17yuan to my name, so it served as a part of dinner.

So, do you understand? This weekend has been strange. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what to do. Other times, I didn’t know what was going on, and when I did it was really rather strange… Most of the weekend was all supposed to be a surprise, so I suppose finding out what I was doing next played a role in that, but the being confused and awkward, not understanding the reasons behind why this or that is done – that’s China, I guess!

(This post was written on August 5 – a little late, but I hope you enjoy it!)

China 6: Great Times, Great Views, Great Wall

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Sunday we went to the Great Wall. In short, it was awesome. In long, we began our expedition at 8AM, in a van that has no comfortable position for the average human, and remained there for two hours until we arrived at the wall. Road trip! We talked a bit about our previous road trip experiences, but of course had to create one of our own. We played a song game, where we think of a word and everyone goes in a circle to think of a song that has that word in it. For example: night. “Goodnight, my someone” (Music Man), “Tonight’s gonna be a good night” (I got a feeling), “Just the way you look tonight…” (Frank Sinatra) “Can you feel the love tonight?” (Lion King)… you get the idea. You keep on going until someone runs out of ideas. Or, the way we ended up playing it, everyone runs out of ideas and is tired of sing-alongs. After we finished that, we quieted down for a pre-hike nap/rest time, so when we arrived, we could take on Subway to the best of our ability. You can’t do the Great Wall of China running on empty! It was a really early lunch, but that proved to be a good idea, because we would’ve been starved had we waited till after our hike. Of course we had to ride up to the wall in luxury – this is generally done by ski lift, which we opted for. It was a great ride, and an even greater view! I rode with Chloe (my traveling partner, accountable for my death and other such liabilities) on the lift, but we were able to see almost everyone. It was fun to give a little wave to our friends behind and in front of us!

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So here’s where your quads get worked…

Well, we had to get to the wall eventually. Once we began our walk, let’s just say it was closer to real China than before. Laborious walking, that is. Maybe it’s the steps that aren’t even, maybe it’s the fact that it’s so hilly, maybe it’s just the fact that it’s the Great Wall. Whatever it was, it was leg day. For a reason beyond my understanding, Greta and Thomas decided to race up certain parts of the wall, and then Thomas went lone-ranger on us and ran up to who knows where. We found him eventually, but it was… well, yeah, that’s what it was. We walked for maybe an hour or two, but made about a mile’s progress. Spoiler alert: it’s good exercise. So when we looked back at all our efforts, they amounted to a tiny bit. Still a great view, though. After we got the second watchtower, there was a closed off section of the wall that kept going. Naturally, we went through. We made it to the next watch tower in about 15 minutes – that’s the time it should take someone to walk from watchtower to watchtower. Once we’d gotten to the next stop, we stopped and enjoyed the view for a while. However, Sam and I decided it would be even better to go and enjoy an even bigger view of the valley below, surrounding a farther-down section of the wall. It was a short, easy, but rather destructed part of the wall – the road not taken, in other words. It was incredible. The view was amazing. I didn’t take any pictures at that view – I think some things are meant to be enjoyed. But I did take several before and after that time. Naturally, after that we trekked back. This time, it was almost just as difficult on the way down because my legs were shaking so much. We got to the end though, and then we got a toboggan ride down! I wanted to go faster but Chloe, who was in front of me, went fast, but not fast enough… All in all, it was a fun expedition and I had a blast.
After the Great Wall, we went to a restaurant that specialized in Peking duck. It took about two hours to get there, so I arranged myself in the least uncomfortable position to try and take a nap. We then arrived to an Chinese acrobatic show, which had a lot of acts (half of which weren’t really Chinese). My favorite act, though, was with two ribbon-rope things down the middle of the stage and dancers flying through the air on it. I’m sure it took a crazy amount of practice and strength, to make it that beautiful. Other acts, like the clown or motorcycles in the cage: they might’ve been exciting for some, but I wasn’t the biggest fan. But that flying… that will take your breath away.

All in all: we had a great time. We saw great views. After all, we climbed the Great Wall.

“This is a really great wall.” -Richard Nixon, upon visiting the Great Wall

China 5: Wait, already?

We just closed in on our fourth week. Fourth. There are only two weeks left, and those can’t be legitimate, since Sam, Emma, and Thomas (and Greta too, I think) are leaving throughout those two weeks. My time has been so incredible; I can’t believe we’re getting closer to the end.

An update on the haircut: after I took a shower, everything went flat. Shoot. The guy who did my hair volumized it, blew it up, and made it awesome. I don’t own a hairdryer or many fancy hair accessories, so I borrowed a straightener and made it look as good as I could. Darn. Well, when I get home, I’ll have to get some nice volumizing shampoo and cross my fingers it works.

The Backyard School has been going alright, but it sucks a lot of my energy. Sometimes I just go day-by-day, planning it out as I go, but I try to make a plan (unit, if you will) for the week and go by that. For example, last week we did body parts/recognition and sensory. This week, we’re going numbers. I’m trying to keep it relatively broad 🙂

Anyways, it’s going to be a sad day when people start leaving, but until then… I’m trying to make the most of my time!

China 4: The China Chop

Saturday was a pretty chill day – we had to run an ‘English corner’ – a community English learning class, geared mainly towards middle school students. Generally, though, Saturday was a lot of relaxing, talking, and doing whatever. Sunday, a couple of us went to church in Beijing and I met my dad there. After the service, we went out to lunch at an Italian place (the best western food I’ve had here!), and then I left my friends with pops… to get a facial and massage! I was in pain for half the massage because I had so many knots, but it was worth it. I feel great now!

Backyard School has been going pretty well. On Monday I had my best day ever. Caitlin absolutely loved me and was so cooperative all of today! Well, she was a bit fussy going inside at the end of the day. But besides that, she was fantastic. Susie was energetic and happy to be there. Lily was more her normal self, but still – one feeds off the high energy of everyone else.

Tuesday, the streak continued. We pulled out the shaving cream, too. One of the things I’m learning as an educator is you should never take yourself too seriously. If something goes wrong or doesn’t work out, it’s probably not your fault, and there will be other opportunities to try again. Also, making a mess is no big deal. It’s just cleaning up afterwards that will be a hassle – but enjoy the moment. And we loved those moments with the shaving cream. It’s a sensory activity. We also drew circles and traced our hands – I’m trying to build body awareness this week.

The China chop, you ask? Well, I just chopped off a TON of my hair. I was originally going to cut my hair right before I went back to school, back in America, and donate it to Locks of Love. However, it was getting crazy hot over here, so I figured, why wait? I asked others’ opinions on it and they said go for it. Sam went with me, and got a fade on the sides and a bit of a swoop – so now he fits right in with the rest of the hip Chinese guys. (…Never mind that he’s 6’3) We went to a place that charged 15kuai – that’s less than 3 US dollars – for an adult haircut. All my haircuts in recent memory have been far above $15! Chloe came with me and I held her hand. I was a little anxious, I admit. Hearing a huge snick-snack after years of growing that hair out makes me a little uneasy, for some reason. Now it looks just dandy. There’s not quite so much to run my fingers through… but a lot less maintenance, so that’s good. Plus, I’m hoping I’ll be a lot cooler now that all that hair is out of the way. If that’s possible, because the heat/humidity combination is outrageous, and a big snip probably won’t do the job.

You could say I'm Mulan.

You could say I’m Mulan.

PS: In my last post I totally forgot to mention that there are some people who we still miss dearly! Last I mentioned them, KK and Emily (part of the summer staff) had to go to the embassy because of visa issues. Well, it ended up being that they had to go back to America. Sad day! We carry on, but wish they were here! KK had this thing called ‘pillow talk’ – basically girl talk before bed, on pillows, and we joked recently that it would be funny if she had her own radio talk show.


China 3: this is an update

Over the past couple days, I haven’t been able to keep up my blogging very well. Crazy busy! That first full week (that week I could blog a lot), I didn’t work much – I hadn’t been assigned anything. Now that I have an assignment, I have much less free time. As much as I would like to have time to write, I have things to do that are worth writing about. Because this is an update with a whole bunch of random stuff and I finished it pretty late, I don’t have time or energy to come up with a quirky title. So hence the title.

My assignment is twofold: in the mornings, I teach in the ‘backyard school’. ND has a preschool, but for older kids who have graduated in age and ability, the backyard school caters to their needs. So, it’s basically the equivalent of a kindergarten. Except it has three students. For someone who is teaching for the first time (AKA me), this is a great learning opportunity! Then the ‘handing off of the baton’ transition period got expedited as the Chinese teacher who was supposed to be in the classroom the whole time turned out to be on vacation. Well, it is what it is… but I’ve found that I can plan lessons/activities much faster than I thought I could! Still, though… even though I have three kids, they suck out all my energy. I take naps, every day.

The second part of my assignment is something called Little Learners. It’s a community preschool – a lot more kids, all from the community. Some of the kids are the children of ND workers, others are just members of the community. Either way, they are enjoyable to be around and all are very cute.

In both backyard school and Little Learners, we have to use English and Chinese, the goal is getting everyone bilingual – but the good part about Little Learners is that I don’t have to plan anything! I just come in, play, help out with the lessons, break up any fights, and help with the clean-up time. Ha.

In other news, there was a lovely mom and son from New Zealand. The mom, Andrea, is – well, a jack of all trades, really – but mostly a doctor for ND’s purposes. The son, Jack, is 13 – both were really great to be around and the summer staff shared some good times with Andrea and Jack! Sadly they were only able to spend one week at ND, and left today. Naturally, we had to send them off in style! Andrea requested a musicale: Abbie and Chloe sang a duet (Wicked’s ‘For Good’), Sam gave us country on guitar and found his piano talents, Thomas worked up his piano genius (but not without a good deal of prompting), and I played a little of my own as well, to add to the festivities. It was a great night, and I can only look forward to more.

On Sunday I went into Beijing, went to BICF and saw my dad, promoted Gordon College, and had AWESOME Peking duck, among other delicacies. Not only that, I got to see my good friend Maggie, who is an international student from Beijing, who goes to Gordon! It was so great to see her. Speaking of Gordon College, you may have heard about the school in the news. It’s received a lot of media attention – I encourage you to look at the original letters sent to President Obama and what the signers of those letters have to say about it, instead of the editorials and the opinion pages – of which there are many. Although I have to respectfully disagree with what was signed, I believe in the importance of unity – not necessarily in thought of policy or politics, but in the body of Christ. As such, I believe we should represent that body as best we can, and there are times when people do not represent that body well. So today, I fasted and prayed today for my school: for unity, the leadership of the school, the students, and the media.

Well, enough with the serious talk. It’s late… I always try to go to sleep before 10:00 and I always go to sleep after then. This would never be the case during the school year, but I need to get more than eight hours of sleep to feel like I can go on these days!