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--


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