Category Archives: Stories

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.

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Winter China 2: The tropical land of China

I left off last time at leaving the cold, freezing-my-butt-off mountains of Yunnan. We left there for… wait for it… XiShuangBanNa – A.K.A. the tropical land of China! A little about the area: it borders the country of Laos, it’s a big tourist attraction, and has palm trees and sun year-round. Pretty much the opposite of where we just came from!

Plenty of palm trees, and houses that are built on top of poles to allow animals to live underneath.

Plenty of palm trees, and houses that are built on top of poles to allow animals to live underneath.

We moved into our hotel on the 22nd. We were definitely happy to be there! On the 24th (Christmas Eve and my dad’s birthday), we did whatever my dad decided he wanted to do – which was rent bikes, bike to a hot springs, and eat at his new favorite café, MeiMei Café. The rest of us were happy to oblige, as MeiMei’s suited everyone’s taste. Western food is not hard to find in China these days, but good coffee and Belgian chocolate is, and MeiMei had all of the above. Of course we had to have a birthday celebration, which we kept rather low-key: a candle on the cheesecake he ordered delivered to the tune of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song. After we got home, we gave a couple presents. Of course, the presents didn’t end there as tomorrow would be Christmas.

As you can probably guess, Christmas spent abroad in a tropical place is a bit unorthodox, to say the least. (No chance for a white Christmas, for starters!) Don’t worry, the hotel had a massive Christmas tree with a ton of depictions of Santa Claus. To make sure that we had enough Christmas spirit, I brought a couple ‘spirited’ elements: a Santa hat, light-up necklace, and Santa bobble-headband, all from the Dollar Store. We put the presents on the bed, and opened them as we usually do: we go around in a circle, each person choosing then opening one present at a time. It was… different. But still good, because the entire family had been reunited after six months apart. We spent most of Christmas day at a botanical forest, seeing plants that are hard to believe even exist, and then at an highly-sexualized minority group performance that we decided we’d leave. So although location definitely helps with the nostalgia and traditional homey feelings, location doesn’t determine who the family is. You can’t chose your family, but you can chose to love and have fun with them. I’m just glad I have a family that’s easy (most of the time!) to have fun with. 🙂

After XiShuangBanNa, we knew we were headed to my mom’s hometown in the Jiangsu province (she is Chinese and originally from that area), but we didn’t know we were just rolling in without a plan. Definitely an experience and adventure. More to come!

“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” -George Bernard Shaw

Winter China 1: Yunnan, or Real China

You may have heard that I went to China over my winter break (and I’m just now writing about it. Without the weekly update requirement like I had at NDFH, it’s easier for me to slack off! Plus, I didn’t have my computer with me half the time, which doesn’t help anything.) China isn’t a top winter destination – especially considering the big sights are absolutely freezing this time of year. My family and I went because my brother, Jon, is doing his senior year of high school abroad in Beijing (the big city outside of which I was at this summer), and we wanted to spend Christmas with him. So we did. Not everything went as planned, though…

After taking my last final exam at school on Thursday, 12/18, I finished packing and a lot of other last-minute things before I got on a plane – a direct flight headed to the Beijing airport. I flew Hainan Airlines there, which was alright except literally everyone was 100% Chinese… let’s leave it there and just say they don’t especially cater towards non-Chinese people. I arrived in the evening. From there, I took a taxi to the serviced apartment that my family was staying in. (A serviced apartment is half-hotel, half-apartment – you pay rent and then you can come whenever you want and they’ll clean for you if you like. Pretty sweet deal!) The rest of my family had gotten in a few days earlier, because my two younger brothers don’t have final exams. Anyways, a little after I arrived and found the apartment, the rest of my family came back from an event at Jon’s school. Lots of hugs ‘n stuff. Well, all I unpacked was my pajamas, because the whole family was hopping on a plane the next day.

The plane was headeYunnand to KunMing, the capital of YunNan province, which is in southwestern-most China. Don’t be deceived by the ‘south’, though – dependent on where you go, it can still be very cold. We were headed to Wenzong, my parents’ missionary friend’s, village. His village is in the remote mountains of YunNan. We hadn’t been to the village in some time, and since Wenzong is good friends with my family, we wanted to see how he was doing too. Some friends came with us, wanting to spend some time learning in a very different version of China.

Shanghai

Shanghai

One of the things that I’ve started learning about is that China has changed so fast. Not even 100 years ago, Chinese men were wearing the half-shaved head braid and being ruled by emperors. We went on a lot of walks – looking around, visiting homes in the village or going on hikes – and Jon and I got to talk a lot. We talked about all sorts of things, but we also talked about China’s strange-but-true history – the crazy Cultural Revolution, the changes, how Western cultures often overlook China’s history, and now everyone’s shocked that China’s economy is going to overtake America’s in just a few years. Quite honestly, I don’t know that much about Chinese history. Jon has been learning a lot of it in his classes, so he shared with me about the Long March, the Cultural Revolution, and how is was so, well, revolutionizing. I realized that it was not simply a cultural, but more like an Every-aspect-of-life Revolution. We later brainstormed up an idea – that one summer when we’re both in college, we should go on a two-month-long or so trip to China, taking the public transportation to just about everywhere, and exploring real China – finding China for what it really is. As we talked about this, we walked by mountains and small cement-if-you’re-lucky houses, on the main road that had just recently been paved, in a village that had just gotten running water. This was real China.

We spent a total of three days in Wenzong’s village. Meals were simple, and life wasn’t complicated. My parents had thought spending Christmas in the village would be nice, since it came very close to what the first Christmas had been like: in a barn, with animals, without the glamour that we put on it today. The one thing was that it was so. dang. cold. Every day we put on all the layers we could fit under the biggest jacket we brought. It was below freezing, all the time. Staying inside wasn’t any better, because there were no heating systems. Radiators weren’t great either, since you could only feel any of its warmth when you were right over it. My first night, I was shivering because I had thought my normal pajamas would be okay – I would have to put on socks, long sleeves, with three blankets covering even the top of my head, to be okay. The entire time was below freezing. People around me lived in these conditions, though, so it is humanly possible to live like this. Sometimes I appreciate being in places like this, because it makes me appreciate where the Chinese have been, and where they’re coming from. Sometimes I feel like I’m not getting the whole China experience when I’m staying at a Marriott and drinking apple juice with breakfast. I feel a bit cheated of my China experience, because I know my experiences don’t align with so many of the Chinese people’s. This time in the village, though, definitely came much closer to that experience.

The teachers at the school that Wenzong had started were interim teachers – they would probably only stay for a couple years. We got to see class in session, and take a group photo. One girl had the same Chinese name as me! After three days, it still wasn’t Christmas, but we so cold that my parents decided they’d spent enough time in the village, and our friends agreed.  My youngest two brothers, Peter and James, got the chance to herd goats and ‘be farmers’ with some nice villagers for an entire afternoon. At dinner that night Peter told us about their day, adding that the goats would need them tomorrow. My dad told us about XiShuangBanNa – a county in the ‘state’ of YunNan, if you will. Oh, and it’s tropical and warm. “The goats really need me tomorrow – wait, good thing I brought my swimsuit!” – in the same sentence, Peter had totally changed gears. We were fine with that. We were going to XiShuangBanNa the next day, and we prepared ourselves for anything warmer than what we felt at the moment. Sometimes I’m glad that China’s westernized, but I’m thankful I got to experience ‘real China’, at least for a few days.

 

(Note: It is with great sadness that I write about the one tragedy of my China trip: my phone, forgotten in a taxi ride. Just so you know, the pictures that I have of China are not my own – they’re going to be from someone else. 😦 )

Margaret’s Grand Adventure

“Margaret’s Grand Adventure” – maybe that can be the title of my autobiography, the one that I’m not currently writing! What makes it grand, or an adventure? Well, let me give you some stories from recent memory to showcase it, and then give you some ‘bucket list’ ideas to make this fabulous adventure even more grand.

1. Margaret’s grand academic adventure: I have an exam tomorrow for my philosophy class (it’s a required course, or else I wouldn’t consider it!), which I am quite nervous for, but I’m hoping – and studying – for the best. I also had a writing assignment due and an exam to take for my math class within the last week, and an upcoming midterm exam. So academically speaking, I’m definitely keeping busy. I am also

2. Margaret’s grand baby-holding adventure: Ever since I left ND, I missed babies. Being around babies for several hours ever day was something that I loved, but that had to end. I looked for something that I could do to keep this going, because as an early childhood education major, it’s not impossible! I applied for and was offered a MOPS babysitter job: for several hours on specified Thursdays, you watch young kids (infant to preschool age) for their mothers, who meet for a mothers’ support group. You get paid, too! That’s only a cherry on the top to the fact that I am in the youngest age group, and I get to hold those babies – and they are just precious. I still miss the China ones, but these little guys are definitely worth my time.

3. Margaret’s grand social life adventure: Oh, Margaret. To sum it all up in two words: awkward and complicated. Some things I don’t think I’ll ever understand…

4. Margaret’s grand China adventure: Oh, I already went to China this summer, sure. But… did you know that I’m going back in December? Didn’t think so. December 18, after my last final exam, I’m headed for the motherland. The tickets have been booked! Not for kicks and giggles – not even babies – but for family. My brother is doing his senior year of high school abroad in Beijing, and instead of going home for Thanksgiving, my family and I are all going to China for Christmas. That should be interesting to write about! 🙂 I’ll have to keep you posted. But, on a more recent note, I learned so much in China that I had to continue it here in America. For instance, ASL (American Sign Language). I learned a good deal from Chloe, but I didn’t want to lose what I had learned and I definitely wanted to keep learning. So the natural thing to do would be, of course, to join the ASL club at my school! We get together for dinner on Mondays. It’s fun.

Margaret’s Grand Bucket List

On another note, did I ever mention I had a bucket list of sorts? Well, in China I made a ‘dreams list’, consisting of dreams I have for my future. Here’s a few of them:

  • Get and stay married
  • Go skydiving
  • Travel to England
  • Become a teacher in a US public school within one year of graduation (from university)
  • Run a half-marathon (13.1 miles)
  • Get my drivers’ license
  • Swim with dolphins
  • Keep in touch with Summer Staff after we leave (Summer Staff from this summer)
  • Meet up with at least one China friend outside of China
  • Name an incoming child to NDFH

I suppose one of these dreams have already come true – I have been keeping in pretty good touch with Chloe. In fact, we had a Skype call the other day! I’m also running a 5K race on Sunday. At present, 2.5 miles is still my comfort zone. …baby steps!

To end it on a completely different note, here is a beautiful picture of a tree on the campus of my university – in fact, right outside of my dorm! I love how it has all the colors of fall: brilliant red, orange, a bit of yellow, and still green too! A New England autumn is one of the most beautiful things I know.

photo (13)

(enter title here)

So, what’s been going on in Margaret’s life? Well, glad you asked.

I’m still going strong with The Office. (Jim and Pam all the way!)

I don’t have a ‘home church’ yet – I’m still ‘church-hopping’: going from church to church on Sundays, seeing which one I like best. It’s hard to chose because there are things that I like and things that I don’t like about each church, and sometimes the things I don’t like outweigh the things I do. I’ll end up at a good one, though!

I need to do laundry, a lot more often. I could probably be doing laundry now, matter of fact. I have some really dirty clothes that I need to wash! But why would I want to do laundry when I have the option of blogging at watching The Office? Priorities… sometimes they need a little straightening. But sometimes, they’re alright.

One big (well, one big and one mini) change I’ve made is my conversion to the Paleo diet (at least, for the next month). Basically the Paleo diet cuts out everything that had to get processed to get to you. This includes all rye, wheat and barley: gluten-y bread, pasta, cereal, and so on – which also cuts out a good deal of carbs. So no grains or processed foods. But! What I appreciate is that you eat whenever you’re hungry (as in, you’re not counting calories or other things), and you can eat whatever meat you want (so long as it isn’t dripping in syrup). You eat when you’re hungry, until you’re full. A simple, but good rule to live by. This link explains it a lot more in-depth.

I made a previous post about my seizures. And, as it turns out, I had one the other day. Sometimes it takes hard times to find out how much people care about you. My roommate and RA, for example. My roommate is seriously the best. She stayed up with me, called the GoPo (Gordon Police, some of whom are trained EMTs) when she felt the time was right, and took care of me in all the ways that she could. My RA, too. She wiped the blood off my face, bought me orange juice, copied her math notes for me, wrote my Bible verses. I love the people in my life, and I couldn’t be more thankful for them. For the headache I had the next day, people were totally understanding and a lot of people asked if they could do anything for me. Did I mention I love my friends? Not only that, but the day following my seizure, I took my Chinese language placement exam. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do on it, because my head hurt and I was tired and ready to not take an exam. But I did anyways… and passed! All the levels. Thank you Jesus!

My classes are doing well in general. Friday, I didn’t have a lot of work to do, but by the end of Friday, I have more than enough to work my tail off. My one class on Tuesday was cancelled. Instead of meeting in person, we had a whole-class group discussion online, where we posted our projects and commented on each one. Trying to find that article was stressful, and making sure it posted and followed up right even more so, but it ended up okay. Things usually have this way of ending up okay.

picstitch

New England autumn is one of the best things ever!

53. Roommate relationships

54. Dinner dates

55. My RA

56. Pillow talk

I typed this up and meant to publish it about a week ago. For some reason that didn’t happen… maybe I was waiting for a creative title to strike me. Well, better late than never!

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!

China 2: Power of the scorpion

Today we went to Beijing. We were out by 8: the smog was out and so were we. Nine of us session two summer staff, plus a few old (AKA experienced) summer staff, prepared to take on China’s public transport. If you know anything about Chinese public transport – well, it’s almost the exact opposite of public transport in the US. Crowded, each-man-for-himself, and absolutely no personal bubble are a few defining characteristics. We first walked about a kilometer, and waited for our bus. Turns out, bus 49 that we had waited for so long on Sunday was, in fact, a left turn instead of a right. After about an hour-long ride, we transferred onto the subway and continued to ride and transfer from train to train on the subway.

We went to the Temple of Heaven Park, walked around, joined in on a dance-exercise class (Chinese Zumba?), then after walking around some more, at the subway we broke up. KK and Emily had to go to the Embassy to see if they could work out some visa issues, May and Greta weren’t feeling very well, so it was Chloe, Abbie, Thomas, Sam (who hadn’t been in China 24 hours yet), and me, taking on the back roads of BJ. We went to one touristy area, with small shops and food stands. There were a couple stands that sold scorpion. On Thomas’ list of things to do was to eat a scorpion. After looking high and low and finally finding a bathroom in the middle of a mall, Thomas finally got his wish. Except that these scorpions were smaller, so they were sold in 3’s. So we had three scorpions. Sam ate another with Thomas, for comradarie and support. One left, and I ate it. Turns out, they’re crunchy and a tad salty but otherwise very bland. I ate it half for bragging rights (how many people do you know have eaten a scorpion?), half because somebody needed to finish it off and nobody else was going to!

After the scorpion-eating, the rest of the day was a vague memory… I feel that if you walk the distances we walked, that tends to happen. The important part is that we got back, safe and sound. Empowered by scorpions. rawr.

 

This post was originally written around June 5, but I needed access to a VPN and free time, both of which I finally got today. Hope you enjoy it!