Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chinaversary

My 6 month China anniversary is a mere 2 days away. On July 28, I stepped onto a plane in Colorado and arrived in Beijing on July 29.

I am excited to mark this milestone because it means I can liberally throw around my made-up word, "Chinaversary." Chinaversary, Chinaversary, Chinaversary. Tell me that's not satisfying.

I am also happy to celebrate this anniversary because it means, by God's grace, I've survived:

  • Overnight train rides that I thought would never end
  • Eating animals and plants I didn't even know existed
  • Living alone
  • Building relationships in a culture very different from my own
  • The blockage of almost all my favorite websites
  • The 60th birthday of the PRC
  • A brown Christmas
  • Standing in front of a classroom 4 days a week and trying to bring something valuable
  • Going deeper with students
  • Cooking without cheese
  • Baking without butter
  • Leaving my community of family and friends
  • Relying on my tiny team for fellowship
  • Saying goodbye to efficiency and logic (but only sometimes)
  • Carrying on my most valued relationships by Skype and e-mail

This anniversary also means, by God's grace, I have been blessed with 6 months of:

  • Teaching 190 sweet, motivated, delightful students
  • Learning something new daily and weekly
  • Indulging in one of my loves - studying language
  • Visiting with a few good friends from home
  • Eating gan bian gan lan whenever my little heart desires
  • Seeing something every day that you don't see every day
  • Having my assumptions challenged
  • Care packages -- thanks!
  • Seeing God's word through fresh eyes (not mine)
  • Being the fastest bicyclist on the street instead of the slowest
  • Celebrating new holidays
  • Faithful supporters back home
  • Making new friends in my organization
  • Laughing at Chinglish
  • Joy, purpose, and satisfaction
Many of you have lived this half year vicariously as you have prayed, given, and kept in touch. Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope I've been able to give you a little taste of life in China.

Here's to the next 6 months. Happy Chinaversary!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chiang Mai Greetings

My dear friends, I bring you greetings from Chiang Mai, Thailand. My organization has an annual conference here, where teachers from around Asia come together for fellowship and training.

We have been looking forward to this event since parting with our training friends back in the summer, saying, "See you in Thailand!" Oh, how far away Thailand seemed then.

Now I'm eating, breathing, smelling, itching, sweating, and enjoying Thailand. The breeze is warm and the sun is hot. There are more foreigners here than I've seen in months. My community of brothers and sisters has increased more than a hundred-fold (from 3 in Qufu to more than 400 here).

Yesterday was filled with reunions. At the night market, you could hardly turn around without seeing a familiar face. "Hey, So-and-So! How are you?? How was your semester in Such-and-Such?"

And so on.

I'm looking forward to the conference, but for now I'm enjoying a lazy day at the hostel, away from the crowds and not so overwhelmed by reunions.




Dear Thailand,

You are quite a bright and sunshiny place. Thanks for hosting me and my friends. Can I get another strawberry smoothie? Thanks.

Love,
Alison

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thoughts on Turning 26

It's hot.

I've never had a warm birthday.

Malaysia is pretty.

My birthday overlapped with my mom's for the first time in history.

I like it when people say "happy birthday."

In fact, that's my favorite part about my birthday.

Everything is more special when you add the word "birthday" to it.

Birthday waterfall, birthday French toast, birthday doing my laundry before I leave Penang...

I can no longer claim I'm in my early twenties.

The Internet makes the world go round.

Thanks for Internet birthday greetings!

God is good.

It's been a good year.






Saturday, January 16, 2010

Friends

I'm in Malaysia visiting my friend Laura from IOWA! Awesome in every way. Thanks, Laura, for the great hospitality.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hong Kong Highlights

My time in Hong Kong is almost over, so let me share a few of the things I've liked most:

1) The skyline. There are skyscrapers packed along both sides of the harbor, all vying to be the tallest, brightest, and shiniest. Last night we walked along the "Avenue of Stars" and watched the nightly light show play across the dozens of skyscrapers across the way. After 25 years living in Iowa and 5 months living in Qufu, I can't help but be dazzled by city lights!

2) English. English, English, everywhere. I can read bus schedules and street signs. I can order from a menu. I can understand the news. I can ask questions and understand the answer. For a few short days, I'm no longer an illiterate ignoramus. Hooray!

Plus, who doesn't love a little British flavor in a big city? We can go up the "lifts," write an e-mail to our "mum," and travel down the left side of the street. Yes, please!

3) New friends. We came to Hong Kong because Sara's former piano professor, a HK native, is visiting here for a few days. So we spent a day with her and her sweet 74-year-old mother. Her mom was snapping pictures at every opportunity, even on the escalators. It was great. A couple nights ago we had a meal with Rufina and Jason. Rufina is also a Hong Kong local, and she served with my organization in Sara's town for 5 years, so we got to hear more about our organization's history in Shandong Province.

Finally, we have been really blessed to stay with a very generous family from the international church, who picked us up when we arrived, opened up their beautiful home on Hong Kong island, and answered all our questions about the city. They really want to share the good things God has given them, and they've shown us true hospitality. Susan, the mum, is from the UK, and Jason is from Taiwan. They have two adorable boys who already know more languages than I do.

4) Freedom. It's quite nice to be in a place where you can speak your mind. In the PRC, I keep a lot of my opinions to myself, which seems a good way to develop humility as a learner in another culture. Nonetheless, it's nice to know that if I did want to air out my opinions, I could do it here without much backlash. Plus, it's refreshing to drive down the street and see churches meeting freely and other such things.

Oh, there are so many things I like about this place. I like being able to buy cookies and eat curry. I like seeing the mess of English and Chinese signs hovering above narrow streets. I like being near the sea. I like getting on a bus and careening along through green hills and peaks. It's great!

Today we leave HK and go to Shenzhen for a couple days.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hong Kong

I'm in Hong Kong right now, and I couldn't be happier! I love this international city with its bright skyline, diverse population, and warm sea breeze. We are staying with a family from the international church, and they are showering us with hospitality. We just got back from an evening meal of traditional Cantonese food. Mmm.

We met up with my friend Sara's piano professor today and got to go to her church with her parents. It was fun to see a choir wearing choir robes and singing 4-part harmony. Haven't seen that in China yet. Then we went down to the Avenue of Stars and took dozens of pictures with the skyline behind us. We went up Victoria Peak and took dozens more pictures.

Have I told you how much I love the international flavor of this city? Because I do.


Dear Hong Kong,

I love you. I'm IN love with you. I can't wait for tomorrow.

Love,
Alison

Shanghai

My friend Sara and I took an overnight train from Qufu to Shanghai to start our travels. We arrived at 5:30 in the morning and were very tired after a fitful night's sleep on the train in which we finally just woke up for good at 3:15. We had just a day in Shanghai, so we went to the famous pedestrian street (Nanjing Rd) and enjoyed watching all the older folks doing tai chi, ballroom dancing, and playing badminton as the sun rose over Shanghai.

We wanted to walk along the Bund, which is a mile-long strip of riverfront with lots of old colonial style buildings. However, the World Expo is coming soon to Shanghai, and every inch of the Bund was full of construction. Loud noise, construction dust, and narrow walkways through construction sites. Not so awesome.

Then we went to the airport to catch our evening flight south.


Dear Shanghai,

We had a lot of high hopes, but I just don't think it's going to work out between us. Maybe we can try again someday.

Love,
Alison

Friday, January 8, 2010

I'm Off!

Final grades are turned in and my bags are (almost) packed. Tonight I will board an overnight train to Shanghai, and my winter travels will begin! The next 6 weeks will take me to...

Hong Kong and Shenzhen
Malaysia
Thailand
Vietnam
Cambodia
Back to China

...in that order. Unless I get lost. I even now cannot find my way to my grandmother's house in New Hampton, Iowa, where she has lived for my entire life.

But, let's hope for the best! I will update my blog from time to time, but it may be a little less frequent until I return to Qufu on February 20.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Banquet

You could write a book on Chinese banquets, and probably someone has. But I'm leaving tomorrow for my loonnnng winter holiday, so I don't have time to write you a book. Here is the short version of our Christmas banquet, given by the university for all the foreign teachers.
  • Arrive.
    • Oohh and ahh at the decor, especially the 32-person table (biggest in Qufu!)
  • Wait to be told where to sit.
    • Most important person (college president) furthest from the door,
      • Least important people closest to the door.
        • I was quite close to the door.
  • Introduce yourself to the person next to you.
    • Ask if he is a teacher at the other campus.
      • Oops! He is one of the important officials in charge of foreigners.
  • Start nibbling at the pig ear and other appetizers.
  • Get served a dizzying array of dishes; try a little of each one.
  • Wish that they would give you more crunchy roll-up things -- mmm!
  • Use plastic gloves to pick up a bone of pork and gnaw away.
    • Get out camera; 32 people donning gloves
  • Keep a weather eye out for toasts.
  • The formal toasts begin; grab your juice or alcohol and go bottoms up.
    • Halfway through, begin milling around toasting others in the room.
    • Toast the most important people first.
    • Don't let your glass go empty!
    • Return to your seat.
  • Finish with a few speeches.
    • Be prepared to be asked for an impromptu speech.
      • (My teammate was.)
  • Polish off the meal with some fruit.
  • Go your merry way.
Funniest moment of the banquet: The Japanese teacher, a rather comical old guy, had been toasting heartily throughout the meal. Each toast was accompanied by a shot of strong alcohol, and soon he was completely sloshed. The director asked him for a speech at the end of the meal. He chuckled, stood up unsteadily, threw his arms open, and yelled, "Wo ai ni!" ("I love you!") and sat right back down.
I'm pretty sure it was directed at the row of pretty foreign teachers sitting across the table. Lucky them. :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fair Ladies' Christmas Party

A week before Christmas, all the foreign teachers were invited to watch or take part in the Fair Ladies' Club Christmas party. It was "Christmas" in the sense that they had a bedraggled tree decorated with balloons(!), and it was a "party" in the sense that it was a performance.

One act followed another with dizzying variety. There were girls in high boots gyrating to Chinese pop songs, a couple guys trying to do a comedy routine, several vocal solos and duets, some ethnic dancing, the scariest nunchuck performance you have ever seen, and more.

You will have to watch my videos when I come home if you want to fully appreciate the evening. However, enjoy looking at the pictures and reading the highlights below, which don't correspond exactly with the pictures.

1) The foreign teachers were escorted to sit in the very front row, and were cordially introduced at the beginning. This made sense for the ones who were performing (my teammates, for example), but not for those of us who were just the audience.

2) When someone is singing, members of the audience can run up during the song and give them something (e.g. flowers), which they then have to awkwardly hold during the rest of the song. Since balloons were in abundance, most of the singers received a balloon halfway through their performance. When my teammate was singing, a student ran up and draped a scarf around her neck. Hm.

3) I loved the traditional dancing! It was more beautiful and a lot classier than the suggestive hip hop routines that some of the others were doing.

4) When the nunchucks guys came out, we sat in fear for our lives. They were twirling those things around, switching hands, and lunging forward just feet away from our noses. They had skills.

5) The Russian teacher dressed as the skinniest Father Christmas ever and taught a group of students the chicken dance on stage.

6) A couple girls tried to move the Christmas tree to center stage during their duet. It began leaning at an alarming angle and almost fell over. It lost some of its balloon coating.

7) At the end of the evening, they gave the foreign teachers chicken sandwiches to thank us for coming.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Your Questions Answered

I love it when people comment, and especially when they ask questions. But...

:(

...it has been many moons I could access my comments to write something back. Since I can't reply in the comments, here are a few answers to questions I've gotten this month:

12/12, on student leaf sweeping:

Q: Are they assigned certain areas? Where do they get the supplies and equipment? How does it all work?
A: I don't know how it all works! Each class has designated cleaning groups, which take care of different tasks on Wednesday afternoons (cleaning day). Maybe there is a grounds-keeping cleaning group. I don't really know. One thing I do know is that Chinese campuses make liberal use of students -- free labor that can't quit!

12/17, on buying cheap groceries at the market:

Q: are you makin' salsa? :-)"
A: Pretty much! I think pico de gallo was on the menu that night.

12/19, on the sights and sounds of a Friday after class:

Q: Refresh my memory about what exactly haws are---they look like glazed meatballs on a stick...
A: I am no expert on haws, and have googled them a few times trying to decide if those things are really haws or not. They're fairly common here -- a smooth, walnut-sized fruit with a pit; a little dryer and blander than an apple. You can also buy hawthorne nectar. Yum.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I found us a New Year's resolution!

Water Missions International asks for our resolution to help provide clean water to the world.

This is possibly a more meaningful New Year's resolution than my previous one, which was "nothing."

I gave $10 and you can, too, by going to www.iraisemyglass.com or texting WMI to 89544.

It's all about the Hamiltons, baby.

A Qufu Christmas, in Photos

Photos 1: The Fair Ladies' Club Christmas party (more like a talent show), which deserves its own post someday.

Photo 2: Our team meal on Christmas Eve was red and green, per Lentz family tradition.

Photos 3: We went to the local fellowship for a Christmas Eve service, where there was a packed house, a message from Matthew, lots of songs we couldn't understand, and a performance we didn't stay for. Great experience.

Photos 4-5: Team gift exchange and opening a package from friends at home. Thanks, thanks!

Photos 6-7: Potluck and white elephant with the other foreign teachers in our building. Bonus points for finding the best gift of the evening, a pair of blue "paada" slippers, which are conveniently heated via a USB connection to your computer. Because nothing says "Merry Christmas" like giving your computer a virus from your footwear.

Friday, January 1, 2010

We've been spending most our lives...

...living in a grading paradise.