Monday, November 30, 2009

A Word about Fellowship

Yesterday I mentioned that one of the highlights of Thanksgiving in Rizhao was having fellowship with other believers. I had looked forward to singing and praying together, and it was awesome to be able to thank God together for his work in our cities. It was like the description of the early church in Acts 2: "They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people." I've been reflecting on how joyful our fellowship was over Thanksgiving, and (if it's okay with you), I want to speak candidly about my reflections:

If you are a believer, your fellowship is your built-in support system. They are your family when your family can't be there. They can lead you, encourage you, serve with you and dream with you. These are substantial benefits, and I think they are taken for granted in America. It seems to me that fewer people would leave churches if they experienced life in an place like China, where meeting together is a privilege and large group teaching and worship in our own language may be a rare treat.

If you are not a believer, you miss those benefits. You don't get to worship God with a fellowship of sisters and brothers who love you, love God, and love the world. You don't get to be challenged by others to keep growing. You don't get to be part of a team that lives for something bigger than ourselves. You miss knowing the perfect Father and his imperfect family. Don't miss it! We need him, and we need each other.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Shandong Thanksgiving

What happens when 20 English teachers from North America descend on a Chinese city for Thanksgiving? Food. (Also, fun and fellowship.)

Highlights from Rizhao, in no particular order:

-Hiking up a nearby hill
-Playing Apples to Apples
-Reuniting with friends from training
-Eating pie
-Staying with the wonderful Sara Gawronski
-Singing praises together
-Seeing the hills and terraced farms on the bus ride there
-Hearing what God is doing throughout our province
-Septupling the size of my team, if only for a weekend
-Experiencing hospitality
-Reading the Thanksgiving cards made by team Rizhao's students
-Smelling baking dinner rolls

Lowlights from Rizhao:

-Doing dishes

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gan En Jie

My Chinese tutor taught me the word for Thanksgiving: "Gan En Jie."

I bring you Thanksgiving greetings from Rizhao, China, a seaside city where I am spending the holiday along with all our organization's English teachers from our province. We will be here till Sunday.

Yesterday, my teammates and I walked into a warm, cozy apartment filled with friends and acquaintances (and some new faces), and it almost felt like going home for the holidays. Our big Thanksgiving meal is tomorrow, and all through the apartment building, preparations are going on. Today I've spotted chickens, sweet potatoes, dinner rolls, and pumpkin pies in various stages of readiness. I am also looking forward to a time of worship tomorrow.

Today we did some hiking up a nearby hill, and soon we'll go downstairs for a homemade chili supper. Life is good.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hello Again

Hello, my lovely readers. I'm sorry to have neglected you this past week. The time has been filled with lesson planning, grading, classes, free talks, and meeting with students. I've been tired and haven't taken the time I need to recharge in God's Word.

I promise a longer post soon. In the meantime, enjoy these random China tidbits:

I ended my freshman class today by saying, "Happy Thanksgiving!" A student yelled out, "Me too!" (She later asked me if "me too" and "you too" mean the same thing.)

One of my students wrote a composition about how to make one's calves smaller. She wants to fit into the cute tall boots that are popular here.

The campus clinic is filled with students who are in isolation due to fevers or the flu. "Isolation" means they must sleep at the clinic, but they can still have visitors and some of them can go out to buy their lunch and supper.

I am about to join a student for her birthday lunch. Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Heat, or Lack of It

It is now 28 degrees Farenheit, according to Our students are probably shivering under piles of blankets and warming their toes on hot water bottles. The university still hasn't turned on the heat! As usual, rumors are flying: The heat will be turned on tomorrow, the heat will be turned on today, the heat will be turned on in December. Some say the heat is regulated by the government, and it will be turned on all at the same time across the region. Others say the university is just holding out to save money.

In any case, the students are cold. They wear their coats and mittens to class (and I do, too!). They wear enough layers to clothe an eskimo. My apartment is fine, since I have an air conditioning unit that makes heat. But for the sake of the students, turn on the heat, please!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad

Congratulations to my parents on celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary today. Mom and Dad, I love you, I'm thankful for your marriage, and I'm thankful for everything you've done for us.

If you see them today, make sure to wish them well!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dubbing Contest

Last night, several of the department English teachers were asked to help judge a movie dubbing contest. The contest was sponsored by students from the student union (an extracurricular organization) and was open to English and non-English majors. Small groups of students had to choose a film clip and dub over the clip in English.

When we arrived in the small auditorium, almost all the seats were full. Our six judges' seats were in the front, with a name card, a judging sheet, and a bottle of water on each of our desks. After each group performed we would give them a score from 1-10, which would be announced as soon as it was calculated. Here were some of the highlights and lowlights of a very entertaining evening:

*The winning English major group did a fantastic job with "Lion King," even dubbing a bit of the song "Hakuna Matata."
*Several other groups tried their hands at dubbing songs, with less than melodious results.
*Titanic was featured... twice. One of the scenes was when Jack is dying in the cold water, and the boy voicing him made shuddering breaths, just as if he was freezing to death. (He was also reading his lines off a piece of paper and was about 5 seconds off on the dub.) Another of the Jacks was voiced by a female -- a little disconcerting!
*At the end of the evening, all the groups received a prize, and the winners were announced.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Students...

...I love 'em!

Snowy Day

I'm told it rarely snows in Qufu. This morning I awoke to see heavy flakes falling from a gray sky and immediately began making plans for a walk across campus after getting ready. I was disappointed to see that the snow had changed to a dreary drizzle while I was in the shower. However, an hour or so later, the temperature must have tipped back to freezing, and we've had snow ever since. Excited, I walked out with my umbrella and camera to wander the campus, dusted with a cold, slushy white. The snow was wet at the time and threatened to return to rain. I nonetheless enjoyed both my walk and the snack I got at the market: twisted sweet bread and coffee-flavored bubble tea to enjoy while watching the snowfall out my window.

It is now early afternoon and the snowfall is at its prettiest so far today. Large, feathery clumps are falling in a curtain and even beginning to stick to the wet streets. It looks like Christmas eve. In an hour, troops of rosy-cheeked students will make their damp, giggling way into my apartment for a free talk, and we will enjoy the particular pleasure of being cozy inside with good friends while the snow cover gets ever thicker outside.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

All the Single Ladies

This month a pizza joint opened up in Qufu. What? Qufu, the city that only recently has stocked peanut butter or ziplock bags, suddenly goes out on a foreign limb and offers pizza?? My teammate Tarah and I had to check it out. So last weekend, we strolled into "European Jazz Pizza" and sat down to a delightfully Chinglish menu. It is the first menu I've seen in Qufu that has any sort of English. We about died when we saw french fries and hot chocolate -- rare treats!

Our waitress recommended that we get the "lover's repast" (a good deal for two people), which we accordingly did. It turned out to include a fruit plate, french fries, and a surprisingly good pizza that included cheese, pepperoni, sausage, and bacon -- all items I have never seen in Qufu! The restaurant was clean and open, with a mix of 50's rock-and-roll reminiscent of a small-town diner. There were as many waitresses as customers, and they spent a good bit of time watching us from a distance, coming to re-fill our glasses of hot water whenever they were even a little less than full. It was great. As you see in the picture, our pop even came with heart-shaped straws, which brings me to my next topic...

Happy Bachelors' Day! Yes, today is a day for all the single folk here in China. Take that, Valentine's Day! Some of the single students are celebrating by going out to dinner with their roommates. They told me that today, you should wish single people a happy Bachelors' Day, and also wish them that they don't have to celebrate it again next year! I fully agree with this sentiment.

So, happy Bachelors' Day to my single friends, and I hope you find love if you're looking for it. On a serious note, happy Veterans' Day to my dad, my grandpas, and all of those who have served.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Old School

I went to a shop on campus to buy some colored paper today. I got 16 sheets at .80 RMB a sheet. When she needed to add up the total, the woman reached under the counter and pulled out an abacus. An abacus! Now that's old school.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Licensed, Certified, and $400 Poorer

I decided before I went to China that I would maintain my speech pathology license and my membership in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association so that I can easily return to the field if that's what I decide to do. I just renewed them both online, for the cost of almost a month's salary in China. Yikes! I hope it's worth it.

In other news, I have found a way to view comments again. Hooray! So feel free to re-start the conversation.

Free Talks: The good, the bad, the burnt

Every other week, I invite each of my classes to my apartment for a free talk to practice their English. Three classes come per week, and they usually come in two shifts (one hour each). Sometimes we play games, like UNO and SPOONS, and sometimes we just chat. I get a bit tired of 6 hours per week of questions and card games, so this week I decided to move the party to the kitchen.

Yesterday, one of my free talk groups made banana bread. Each girl got to do only one thing (like pour in the oil), because there were so many bakers. The first shift stayed the whole two hours so they could taste the fruits of their labor. When the bread came out of my tiny oven, we sliced it into 20 steaming, delicious pieces and everyone got to try one.

Today, a different class came over and we made pancakes from a mix. Some of them said they were nervous -- they'd never cooked before! 20 years old and never cooked... That is quite unimaginable to me, but I've heard that high school students are too busy with studies to do any housework, and they don't have access to a kitchen in college. There was enough batter for each girl to make one pancake. I set the stage by burning a couple, and the end results were mediocre at best. But it was fun!

Tonight, one of the freshmen classes came over. We just did the standard: UNO and conversation. They are very curious about America (everything from the Mississippi to the Statue of Liberty), and I don't think I'm quite ready to unleash the freshmen on my kitchen.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Basketball as Growth Hormone

From a student composition: "I was the shortest student in our class in primary school, but I became the tallest girl in our class in middle school thanks to playing basketball."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


As I was walking home from my office today, I saw a couple dozen students sweeping leaves into piles on the grass using wide brooms made of sticks. I saw a middle-aged man buzz by on an electric bike. I saw a girl walking back from the hot water station laden with large thermoses in each hand. And I realized: A couple months ago, all these things once seemed different and amusing. Now they just seem... normal. Am I losing my fresh eyes for China?

Back to Beijing

1) Visiting a school for the deaf.
2) Elizabeth and me on the Great Wall.
3) Dr. Bentler from Iowa was a VIP guest at a ceremony/banquet for a hearing aid company (and the rest of us were along for the ride).
4) Can you spot the Wal-Mart?
5) Twilight on Wangfujing, a pedestrian shopping street.

Chinese word of the day: 朋友 pengyou. Pengyou means "friend."

This past weekend I went to Beijing to visit my friend Elizabeth, who came to China for a week with a service project from University of Iowa. Elizabeth and I became good friends in grad school, and it sounded too good to be true when I heard that she would be coming to Beijing, just a train ride away from my home in Qufu. After the usual hassle of arranging travel, I went up and spent a few days in Beijing. Here were the highlights:

1) "Remember when...?". It was great to see a friend with shared memories and shared acquaintances. All of my China friends are fresh -- they don't know my past; they never met my family, visited my apartment, or took my same classes. There's no one here to share inside jokes and reminisces. So you can see why it was a blessing to hang out with a friend with a 3-year history instead of a 3-month history.

2) Wining and dining. Elizabeth and the two professors she was traveling with had been invited to collaborate with an ear-nose-throat doctor at a hospital. The hospital hosted them (and me, by proxy), and treated us right. Arrange a trip to the Great Wall? No problem. Pay for our Starbucks coffee break? Check. Did my hotel have carpet? Oh yes, it did. That's right, Qufu. I just spent a weekend in a city with carpet, coffee, and skyscrapers, and I liked it.

3) Speech pathology. It was fun to talk shop with the folks from the hospital and the professors from the University of Iowa. I spent 6 years in school for speech pathology, and I don't use it much these days, but last weekend I got to talk about voice, speech, language, and hearing to my heart's content. Speech pathology is apparently almost non-existent in China, and the host doctor at the hospital was excited to hear that I'm a speech pathologist. They don't have anyone to rehabilitate their voice/speech/language patients, and they were interested in hearing how we do it in the States.

Enough rambling from me. It was a fun trip; enjoy the pictures!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"There are coming cold air masses, so put on a warm coat."

The above is a text message I got from one of my students a couple minutes ago. It's almost 11 p.m. and I can hear the wind rushing through the trees outside my window. It's a strangely comforting sound that reminds me of Iowa winters.

I spent the past three days in Beijing visiting my friend Elizabeth from grad school, who was in China with the department I graduated from. It was great. Now it's back to school -- midterms start tomorrow.

I'm sorry that wasn't a very substantial update, but I haven't forgotten about you. More to come later! :)