24 February 2007


The next morning, we took taxis to the dock where our ferry was. When we went to check in, there was a sign saying that our ferry had been cancelled. We were quite worried, since this was the leg of the journey where there was little room left for error. Oddly enough, we were able to still print off the tickets electronically from the machine, so we didn't know what was right. Then a man came over and told us that they had known for a month that our ferry wasn't going to run that day, but somehow the online system still allowed us to buy the tickets like two weeks prior to the trip. This was time number one of many when it paid off to be travelling in a group. He refunded our money in Hong Kong dollars and arranged for us to go with another ferry service on the other side of Shenzhen. The one catch was that our original ferry got us to Macao with about 3 hours before check-in; the new one gave us less than an hour of leeway. But with no other opinion, they piled us and all of our stuff into a minivan and we drove across town. The man that handled our situation even came with us, which he totally didn't even need to do. We got a nice scenic tour of Shenzhen and arrived at the new ferry a half hour later. The same man helped us get our new tickets and exchange the leftover money (the new ferry was cheaper) and then he disappeared. It was nice to be taken care of--good customer service can be hard to come by sometimes in China. The ferry ride was uneventful, other than that it got us to Macao significantly later than we expected. By the time we got on land and through customs, we had less than 15 minutes to catch a taxi and get to the airport. For the first time ever in China, I actually told a taxi driver to go fast (Macao used to be a Portuguese territory, like how Hong Kong used to be a British territory, but now both are Special Administrative Regions of China). Somehow, we made it and were able to get checked in ok. We flew one of the Asian equivalents of Southwest Airlines, (Thai) Air Asia and we actually got to the gate with enough time to stand in the long line, since everyone crowded the gate, wanting to be on first, because there were no assigned seats. From there, our journey took us to Thailand.

Jamie and I standing in front of our ferry.

The ferry wasn't so exciting, it almost felt like an airplane, but just on the water. Certainly the seating was like an airplane--no leg room whatsoever!

Waiting to get the next stamp on my passport, with the port of Macao in the background.

Somehow in midst of the craziness of hailing a taxi, I had time to take a few pictures in Macao--yes, those are fish hanging out in front of the restaurant.

Thailand, here we come!

Looking back at the airport from the airplane.

Next up, our interesting train ride...



The next few posts will be about my recent trip to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore for the Spring Festival (AKA Chinese New Year) holiday. There were six of us who went on the trip (Jamie, Daniel, Karri, Lindsey, Megan and I) and we all teach together. We left after school two Fridays ago, on the 9th. The general feeling was one of disbelief that we were leaving for a warm tropical paradise. I don't think I was able to comprehend that it was vacation until about day 4. Even as I was packing, I wasn't necessarily excited, mostly because I couldn't really understand what was ahead. When I left at Christmas and Thanksgiving, I was excited because I was going to see my friends, but this time I had so many loose ends to tie up (report cards, general end of the semester craziness, classroom cleaning, etc.) that I scarcely gave it much thought until we were waiting in the airport. It was still really cold when we left, but I didn't want to take my winter coat with me, so I just sucked it up for a few hours and froze for a bit.

I was rewarded when I stepped off the plane in Shenzhen (southern China) and even though it was 9 in the evening, it was warm and humid. After waiting for an imaginary hotel shuttle, we got in the taxi queue and arrived at our cheap hotel. (It had an hourly rate, which I must say in the first hotel that I've ever stayed in like that, but it wasn't as shady as it sounds, I promise!) Upon checking in, we realized that we all left our Chinese phrasebooks at home. The line of thinking was that we would only be in China for a night layover coming and going, so why bother taking it. Well, we should have bothered because they didn't speak any English and it would have been slightly helpful, but we managed without, so it was ok. After we got settled and checked out the comfy beds and put the AC on (not the heat, like Wuxi!), we took off to explore the surrounding neighborhood. Here's what we found:

A nice night market with yummy mandarin oranges.

A vendor selling decorations for the New Year.

Decorations for the front door of an apartment.

Every type of nut imaginable.

I feel like all these pictures are quintessential China--this was from the window of the hotel looking across to the neighbor's laundry.

Hmm, I'm not exactly sure how the land can slip...(These were in the bathroom of our hotel, I think they were trying to say be careful on the floor when it gets wet from the shower.)

"When the fire occurs run away to,Must use the wet towel clothes/the cloth class and so on to cover up the mouth nose, bends the waist/lowers the head the advance by creeping./Leaves the scene of a fire through the security staircase,."

And with that, we left mainland China for Macao.


23 February 2007

Wo Jiao Bai Lan

Currently listening: Sufjan Stevens, Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State

Currently reading: The Gift of the Stranger: Faith, Hospitality, and Foreign Language Learning by David I. Smith and Barbara Carvill

Ni Hao! Wo jiao Bai Lan. Wo zhu zai Wuxi.
(Hello! My name is Bai Lan. I live in Wuxi.)

Those are a few of the small sentences that I can say now in Chinese. Nothing too exciting, other than the fact that I have a Chinese name. I've always had a Chinese name though, so let me explain.

I've always had a Chinese name in the sense that my English name is transliterated into Chinese characters. Someone at the school did that last summer and that's what they use for official paperwork and everything. I've been apprehensive to use it, mostly because it's not really a Chinese Chinese name.

That all changed a few weeks ago when I was out with some local friends. We were sitting around the table and one of the guys asked me to give him an English name. [Background: Most English-speaking Chinese have an English name. Some use it like a business name with other Chinese; some use it just for the ease of us foreigners.] I told my friend that I'd love to give him an English name, but the catch was that he had to give me a Chinese name. He is a friend that has recently been starting to come to our fellowship, so I thought about all the nice historical Book names that I could. Giving someone a name is hard! I started with my brother's name (Drew, which I made longer to Andrew), and when he didn't like that, I think I said David (which is my dad's name). Same response. Finally, I offered up Daniel, since I have two friends in China with that name and that was successful. So half of our deal was complete. He is now Daniel. What would he name me?

We rode across town in a taxi and he and my other friend were talking the whole time (in Chinese, naturally), discussing the matter. By the time we got out at our other friend's house, they had decided on Bai Lan. Literally, it means blue and white. It is an expensive flower that apparently smells really nice. All our friends were impressed by the name; they said that Chinese women love names from flowers, so it was a good choice. The exciting thing is that I know how to write it and I even know that it's only one stroke off from the character for sheep. So, now, 6 months into this adventure, I have a Chinese Chinese name and a great story to go with it!

This is the Bai Lan flower--maybe one day I'll get to see it in person.

So the day before our last day for the semester, we had another infamous celebration dinner. We had one the first day we arrived and also one for Teacher's Day/National Holiday and now this one. It was with the whole staff this time, instead of just the teachers, so it was nice to have everyone together. There was even a little raffle!

The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in the Chinese tradition. While it was sad that we weren't here for it, getting to travel to other parts of Asia was definitely worth it. This year is the zodiac of the pig, which is my year, so it's extra special for me to be here this year! I would write more about the Chinese New Year, but the Kennedys wrote an awesome blog a few weeks ago with more information than I could give. Click here to read.

This sign greets our students in the school lobby.

The bridge near school that was torn down only to be rebuilt again. I'll be curious to see if they made any progress on it over the holiday.

One of the tables of teachers smiling at dinner.

This is one of the Chinese teachers at our school, who also happens to be my student. When we created the ESL class a few months ago, she started coming every day to my class on her free hour. She's one of my best students and brings my class to an even 6 when she's there (it makes partner work so much easier!) She's also quite patient with my slow Chinese learning and we often have conversations in very broken speech--the whole situation has been a wonderful surprise. Gd always knows just what I need!

The rest of the Chinese staff (the smiley security guard on the left and the music teacher on the right).

Bill, Tena, the IT guy, our principal and the school accountant all toasting to good fortune, wealth and happiness in the New Year.

Wishing you the best in this Year of the Pig!

More to come on Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore tomorrow. Until then,

Goodnight from my home sweet home--


16 February 2007


We have arrived safely in Thailand. We've had every form of imaginable transportation so far (airplane, ferry, longtail boat, train, taxi, truck, and tomorrow--elephant!). It is unbelievably beautiful here, truly a tropical island paradise. The islands we are on were struck by the tsunami two years and are in the midst of rebuilding.

A few points for thought:
  • For our continued travel safety--we go to Malaysia on Monday and Singapore on Wednesday
  • For our health--we were all sick with a bug yesterday and are still trying to recover
  • For my family--my great uncle died last week, so there are many things for my parents to sort out as a result

Guo nian hao--Happy Year of the Pig


07 February 2007

Super Bowl Monday

Currently listening to: U2, Pop

Currently reading: Eugene Peterson's The Message

Because of the time difference, we didn't have Super Bowl Sunday; rather it was Super Bowl Monday here in China.

Before I discuss my opinion about the most watched football game ever, I want to give a rather sad piece of news. Chicken number two is dead. Yes, tragically my neighbor's second rooster was not able to find out why he crossed the road. But I found him. Not where you would think, though. Not in a soup or with a sauce. Take a look...(click to enlarge)

I found him hanging on the line. To dry.

(Random tangent--A few days ago, before Rooster 2 died, I was out taking a video of him. The owner came up and was very kind. He tried to help me in my endeavor of getting the animal to cock-a-doodle-do for me. So yesterday, I was out waiting for the girls and the same neighbor came up and told me that he killed the rooster. At least I think that's what he was telling me; my Chinese is still pretty nonexistent. But needless to say, he was pretty proud of himself--I would be too if I were him.)

But fast forward to Monday. I've mentioned before that we have rolling blackouts every few months. This week was exam week. We were supposed to have exams on Monday and Tuesday with no school on Wednesday and Thursday so the teachers could grade and do report cards. Key words: Supposed to. The blackout for this month was Monday. So the school decided to cancel the exams and give everyone another day to study. I couldn't complain--it just pushed everything back a day, but we got a three-day weekend out of it. Hooray! And what better timing than Super Bowl Sunday/Monday.

So 5 of my teammates and I got up at 7 on Monday (when we could have been sleeping in--dedication huh? :) and headed to an Australian bar. Kickoff was at 7.30; I can't really say that I've ever been to a bar much earlier than like 10 at night. Thankfully no one was drinking that early! The disappointment for the day was that it wasn't CBS, but rather ESPN Asia, which meant no awesome commercials. Which we all know is why most people watch, but oh well, at least we were watching football. I couldn't really complain.

It was wonderful, even though the Bears lost. Megan and I went to go get some breakfast at halftime and I had the weirdest experience--we walked out of the bar and it seemed strange, surreal almost, that we were watching NFL action in China. Talk about the collision of two worlds; it left my head spinning. But thankfully, it rarely happens to that degree.

Here's the evidence:

Can you name these Aussie Muscle Cars?

Our wonderful hosts, Ronnie's Australian Bar.

The "wallpaper" at the bar.

Proof that we really saw the game.

Crazy Americans!?! Don't you have something better to be doing on a Monday morning?

Nope we really don't!