07 December 2007

My (not) Thanksgiving

(12.23.07 Edit--I started writing this post a while ago, but I finally was able to finish it today!)

Currently watching: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

For Thanksgiving this year, I went to visit Wuxi--the city that I lived in last year. It was a wonderful time of reconnecting with old friends. I stayed at the apartment of a friend from my Fellowship. The evening that I arrived, she hosted the music practice for our Sunday meeting. The group is so diverse--Chinese, Australians, Germans, Rwandans, Filipinos, and one lone American (me!) While I had told many people that I was going to be visiting, word apparently didn't get around to everyone. It was heart-warming to see the look of shock and joy on their faces when they saw that I was back. Bittersweet is a good way to describe it--I was so glad to continue these wonderful friendships, but it was hard knowing that I was going to have to get on an airplane and leave again in just a few days. But it's comforting to know how easy it is to travel in China, so perhaps I'll visit again this summer! Anyway, I didn't have a traditional Thanksgiving meal or anything because I wasn't with any other Americans. It was a bit strange but being with local friends was a great way to spend the holiday.

On Friday, I was able to get reacquainted with the city. I enjoyed knowing what buses to take and the names of streets came back easily. Last year I wrote a few entries about how quickly things were changing in my old neighborhood but it was hard to fathom the amount of changes that just four months can bring. I went to my old school and finally saw first hand all the changes I knew they were making over the summer. A highlight was meeting up with some of my old students for dinner. It was fun to see how they are all doing.

Saturday brought a new adventure--going to the local sports stadium and playing badminton with friends from Fellowship. Badminton is a very popular sport here. It's easy to play and the only equipment required is space, two rackets and a shuttlecock. I can't say I've ever actually played before and, my goodness, my friends were competitive. Saturday's highlight was making rice pizza with my friend. She has a new apartment and even a small oven. Ovens are a complete luxury here. I didn't have one last year but now I do since our apartment is more Western-style. Anyway, her oven isn't a gas one like mine here in TJ, but it plugs into the wall. I was worried about finding mozzarella cheese, but good ol' Walmart came through. When we got back, my friend realized that she didn't have a can opener for the spaghetti (read: pizza) sauce. We solved the problem by attacking the can with a 3-inch cleaver knife. It worked! It was also quite scary! The pizza turned out great and they seemed to enjoy it. She has been Family for a year and her husband just made The Decision a month ago. We had great conversation about specific parts of the Book. My friend has a son in high school, so she is closer in age to being my mother than being my peer. It was so humbling to have her ask me for my opinion about those sorts of things. Although I grew up in the church, I find it hard being considered an expert at 24 years old.

Sunday was just like any Sunday last year. Fellowship and lunch out. And then a plane ride from my home last year to my home this year.


My classroom looked out over the foundation of these apartment last year. Over the summer the buildings sprouted up nice and tall.

Wuxi Oriental International School no longer exists but now the International School of Wuxi does.

This area used to have a bulletin board and my shining face listed on the faculty wall. Over the summer the space was converted into the new admissions office.

The beautiful but not kid-friendly garden was replaced with a nice, green astroturf field.

Last year this was used as a chess activity room, but sinks were added, doors were painted and supplies were bought to make it a kindergarten class.

My former students and I enjoying some pizza and good conversation.

My friend and her husband. Please Think of them as they continue to grow in their faith.

My friend and I waiting to play badminton together.

The hilarious Chinglish on the badminton racket cover.

Let the games begin!

My feeble attempt at playing badminton.

The girl in this picture became a friend over Thanksgiving weekend. Her story is amazing. She comes from a believing family (parents and grandparents!), which is quite rare. Many students come to faith when they are at university. She believed as a child, but in middle and high school became too busy and pushed it aside. She told me, "I was taught in school there is no Gd, but the whole time I believed that, I felt empty. Then I came to the university and got involved in this fellowship and I now feel whole again."

The other half of the gym was for ping pong. The Chinese are so serious about the sport--these athletes were amazing!

The amazing view from my friend's apartment.

Christmas break has officially begun! Now I'll have some time for posting. Look for more after I return from Guilin after the New Year.

Until then--Merry Christmas from China!


18 November 2007

Be Love, Know Hope, and Breathe Peace

Currently listening to: Memory Man by Aqualung

Currently watching: Bend It Like Beckham

So this has been a great China weekend. I have such a mental block when it comes to getting things accomplished here because usually it just takes longer or something goes wrong. The word mafan (problem or trouble) explains it best. Sometimes I just don't have the energy to deal with the mafan of getting stuff done. But all things considered, I am quite proud of everything that I did this weekend.

Friday night:
  • Went to Home Depot (yes, it's a proper Home Depot, in China :)
  • Bought a new rug for our living room (pictures to come)
  • Got paint swatches (we WILL paint before Christmas--a nice green, orange and blue theme)
  • Moved our curtains to the outside of the porch
  • Watched Garden State

  • Slept in (a nice accomplishment after continuing to be sick)
  • Bought a DVD player that plays all DVDs (our old one had issues)
  • Got gifts to take to my Chinese friends in Wuxi (I'm going to visit for Thanksgiving!)
  • Put together a photo album to take with me to show my Wuxi friends
  • Had dinner at the Kennedy's with our Chinese teacher and his family
  • Played Catan

  • Went to Fellowship in a neighboring city
  • Had lunch at a nice Irish pub
  • Went to English corner at the local university and got to share our Family Traditions about being thankful

I have a few thoughts today on language and culture:
  • 'To jot' means something sexual in Korean. How do I know this? It was in my 8th textbook the other day. My 8th grade class is all boys. 6 of them. They couldn't stop giggling like little girls. It was real fun.
  • There is only a special word to designate that one is left handed (zuo piezi) in Chinese, but not really anything for being right handed, because everyone here is right handed.
  • The TA on our floor was helping me with my Chinese the other day and as I was talking to her, I noticed that she had been reading the 6th grade history textbook. For fun! Because she's never read, in depth, at least, about world history. Chinese history is so long that it is the primary focus of social studies classes here. Her comment to me was (she was reading about Ancient Mesopotamia) how much of a difference learning about that ancient history is making in her faith--it gives her belief historical context.

No pictures today, sad day, I know. But we're very thankful for the heat that's finally on. While things aren't exactly toasty, we're no longer freezing at home.

A benediction I found quite fitting: As a friend wrote me the other day: "Be love, know hope and breathe peace"


11 November 2007

A Rooftop View

Currently listening to: OK Computer by Radiohead

Currently reading: November 5th Asia edition of Newsweek

Last weekend, we went to the high school production of The Miracle Worker, which tells the story of Helen Keller. It was very well done and an-all around great production. One highlight of the play was the performances by the servants. With our school being 60 to 70 percent ethnically Korean, where do you find black people for the role of a household servant of a play set in the American South in the 1880s? Answer: Spend 3 hours in makeup to change their beautiful Asian skin into beautiful African skin. It was quite impressive! Even up close, they looked like they were African American. After the play, we took a field trip to the top floor of the school where some art classrooms used to be. Some men were working on the roof (we're still trying to figure out what's going on up there) and the door to the roof was open, so I took it upon myself to go 'investigate'. I witnessed the closest thing to a sunset that I've seen since coming back to China. It was fun to see the world around school from the equivalent of the 6th story.

Looking down on the soccer fields and basketball courts.

It's impossible to look around and NOT find a construction site more than a few blocks away (notice the cranes around the left of the two tall buildings).

This is the same view I have from my office (just a few floors below). Toyota has a car dealership next door and they maintain this racetrack behind the school. It's a rare sight to actually see someone test driving a car on it--more often it's someone jogging, or recently, someone with a push mower trying to mow the entire center of the track.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that my 8th graders were working on a huge project. It went quite well and I made them show their parents their projects last week during conferences. Before I sent the projects away for good, I wanted to get some good pictures of their projects. (I have video of their presentations but sadly I never got out my camera as we were going along.) I'm pretty sure my students would die of mortification if I posted a picture of them with their project, so I just want to show you two really good close up shots.

A memorial remembering the separation of North and South Korea.

A turtle ship representing the wars fought between Korea and Japan during the late 1500's.

Happy weekend to all!


07 November 2007

Historical Tour

Currently listening to: The Trumpet Child by Over the Rhine

Currently reading: Colossians Remixed by Walsh and Keesmaat

First: The excitement for the day (besides a massage and a Seder meal that went quite smoothly!) was picking up my pictures. Earlier I mentioned how I wanted to get a bunch of pictures printed and framed to put up in our apartment. Well, part of that has now been accomplished. We now have 3 beautiful, big prints of sunsets from Petoskey, Grand Haven, and Thailand. Also, we enlarged 3 flower prints from my sister's wedding and a friend's garden. I also got 10 of my personal favorites printed in 5x7 so I can maybe make some multi-picture frames as like a "best of" all my happy photos. Next step: going to the frame shop and actually having everything matted and framed. Slowly but surely things are coming together.

It seems that no matter what I do, I'm behind in my posts--I apologize. Although this was a while ago, I think it's still important and interesting.

Two weekends ago, the new staff (and some not-so-new-staff) took a tour to see the city we now call home through the eyes of history. As a history buff, I was clearly in my element. I had been to a few of these sights before, but it was different having a distinctively Western approach in the tour. Many of the historical places are directly tied to Western influence pre-communism. I wrestle with weight of the past and for good reason.

First stop: A Catholic church under renovation

This fellowship has completed gutted their sanctuary and built a temporary trailer in the courtyard while construction occurs. The lady let us see the inside even though it was 'locked.' They have relics dating to the 1800's and parts of their main building have been around for at least a century. During the Boxer Rebellion, this place dealt with some ugly rumors about what was going on at the on-site orphanage. Again and again on this tour I was struck how His hand sustains and guides our every movement forever and forever.

The view of the nearby canal. As you can see, it was quite foggy and even threatened to rain.

A slightly dark picture of the altar in the sanctuary under construction.

Members of the local Polar Bear Club, AKA brave souls. Mind you, at this point, I was already wearing long underwear, a sweatshirt, scarf, and jacket and they were prancing around in Speedos.

The fog made for a cool picture of the lions on the bridge.

Second stop: The Taoist Temple on Ancient Culture Street

Due to its relative closeness to the canal, this temple is dedicated to the gods of the ocean and water. Traditional belief states that if one pr@ys to the ancestral representations at this temple, then the sailors will have smooth sailing. I mentioned visiting this place last Christmas, but it was quite striking when compared to the other places of worship.

I was particularly taken by some tile art in the back of the temple. We didn't have any local friends accompany us, but our wonderful tour guide was the high school principal who has taught Chinese history here. I didn't ask for an explanation of the artwork, mostly because I didn't want to ruin this beautiful public mural for myself.

The broad scope of the mural.

The detail was quite breath taking.

Naturally ancestral worship was included in the artwork.

People waiting in line to burn incense.

Inside the temple, you can see the representation of one of the gods.

Many families came together to the temple.

Third stop: The Protestant church

The next place we visited was a local Protestant fellowship. It made me miss my old fellowship in Wuxi very quickly. There is something to be said for worshiping in a building whose sole purpose is specifically that. Some famous people have ties to this fellowship and the pastor was kind enough to show us the desk of someone from 1933--sorry I can't remember the specifics.

The historic relic was protected by just a sheet of plastic--it was made from beautiful wood though.

Fourth stop: The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower was part of the old city wall, which no longer exists. It is part of what used to be the Old City. Inside the Tower, there was an interesting museum which very pointedly marked the progress of the people in the last few decades.

The huge Drum Tower.

What a hutong (traditional house) would have looked like in our city a few decades ago.

The view from the top was merely ok (silly fog), but you can see how the road stretches away from the Tower--it leads towards the rest of the Old City.

Fifth stop: The Astor Hotel

This hotel wins my prize for the highlight of the tour. Many famous people have visited this hotel and many more famous things were accomplished there. It holds the first elevator in China and the first light bulbs that were used in the country. Herbert Hoover stayed there. So did Sun Yat-sen while he was creating the Republic. The Last Emperor danced there with his concubine. Crazy amounts of history in one building.

A painting honoring all the famous people that have stayed there.

Sixth stop: A burned out Anglican church

What a way to end the tour! The last stop was an Anglican church that was one of the first places in the city where foreigners worshiped. Its turbulent background includes being shut down and occupied during the Cultural Revolution. The estimate we were given was that over one million Books were buried on site during that era. It no longer has a worshiping congregation and lays in complete disrepair. Apparently, it used to have a large fence surrounding it, but on the day we visited, the grounds were meticulously groomed, yet the windows were completed boarded up. Oh, I can't imagine what tales this building could tell if given the opportunity.

A flower from the lovely garden.

The contrast of the well-cared for flowers and the vine-growing burnt out building.

I recognize that the Spirit works in spite of our physical buildings, but I mourn the Darkness that this church currently represents.

The adventurous spirit in me found a pile of bricks that led up to a dark stairwell. Sadly, I gave my camera to a friend, but I paved the trail for others and found a gem at the top. The stairs went up to a bell tower and overlooked the old sanctuary. It was completely trashed--people had probably been squatting in it as there was stuff (including a few bathtubs?!?) strewn about.

Random pictures

To lighten the mood, I leave you with some fun pictures.

A beautiful bouquet of flowers I received from one of my advising students during conferences.

"Any one who violate regvulation to remote the fire-fighting equipments is prohibited" Hmm, let's try that again...

I'm totally convinced that construction site ads are the best place to find funny pictures. "The well-to-do family resides in the innermost recesses of urban civilization" You couldn't make this up if you tried!

The random award goes to this picture--it was found on the back of a car during this tour. I don't know what the Chinese says, but I can't get over the graphic. What is it trying to say/represent? Any guesses?

One week until warmth...


03 November 2007

Wedded Bliss

Currently listening to: Chase This Light by Jimmy Eat World (Thanks Karri!)

Currently reading: Colossians Remixed by Walsh and Keesmaat

So a few weeks ago, a dear Chinese friend was married. Sara, Melva and I were invited to attend as part of the bride's inner circle. The wedding was in the afternoon, but we were picked up after breakfast in order to support Wei Wei while she was getting ready.

When we arrived, she was getting her make-up done in a neighbor's apartment.

Her nails were quite fancy.

So beautiful!

At the gate of her parent's apartment, the red decorations symbolize her marriage with the character for double happiness.

We learned so much about the preparations the family must make on the day of the wedding. For lunch, the extended family dined at a nearby restaurant. All of her mom's family sat at two tables and her dad's family sat at the other ones. We celebrated their wedding by eating long life noodles.

Here is her mother's sister serving us the yummy noodles.

Once we got back from the restaurant, we went to her parent's apartment. Most of her extended family was there--it was quite the collection of people. After a little hobnobbing (difficult with our limited Chinese), Wei Wei had to get into her gown. As you may recall from the weddings I attended last year, the bride wears multiple dresses during the wedding day.

Wei Wei in her Western-style white gown.

The embroidery was so intricate.

Once she was dressed, she couldn't get off the bed. Tradition says that females from her new husband's family must bring her her shoes. The shoes were red and were hand delivered by her new relatives.

Waiting patiently for her shoes.

Wei Wei and her mom tearfully celebrating their happy day.

Us with Wei Wei--Melva, Sara and I were so thankful to be included in this special occasion.

No one knew how to tie the Father of the Bride's tie. Sara thankfully stepped in and saved the day!

Once the bride got her shoes, the procession was made downstairs to the rented cars that were hired to take all her family to the hotel where the ceremony was. The ceremony was a learning experience for us. An MC hosted the event and at multiple points in the ceremony, he stopped and looked at us. We're still not quite sure, but it was possible he was trying to explain things for us or something. From what I did understand, there were some very touching moments. The bride and groom bowed to each set of parents 3 times and then announced what names they would use for them from now on. The groom walked around the bride 3 times and then he knelt and she sprinkled rose petals in his hair. Although I was standing on a chair while the ceremony was going on, sadly I don't have any great pictures worth sharing.

The couple and our family.

The couple and her parents.

The couple and their attendants.

What kind of a celebration would it be without a feast of interesting food? (Be warned!)

Whole chicken (including bone marrow!) and sauce.

The variety of food serving at banquets is amazing to me.

Chicken noodle soup takes on a whole new meaning.

High five!

The bride in her second gorgeous outfit!

The third outfit was inspired by cherries.

The red things in our hair are a special tradition just for our city. All females involved with the wedding wear them on the right side of their head the day of the ceremony.

And wouldn't you know, Chinglish follows me wherever I go...I can't help it. I'm a detail-oriented person and I see it in so many places.

A wall hanging.

The dishes at a restaurant. I'm so curious who is designing all this stuff.

The hand soap in a restroom. Super hair fertilizer?!?

Coming (relatively) soon: Our historical tour of the city.

Until then, be thinking about us as we continue to countdown the days until the heat comes on (11!). Until then, we're huddled under blankets with multiple layers of clothes.

A point of praise--I survived conferences! Funny story, how I got sick on the second day with the flu. It was a wash of a week, in terms of learning, at school. I was out on Wednesday, it was a half day on Tuesday, with no school on Monday. Hopefully this coming week is more successful. The excitement for the week is doing a Seder meal with our 7th grade students. The book we're reading is set in Ancient Israel, so we're learning loads about Hebrew culture. It's fun! Wish us luck!

Warmed by His Love,