Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Day 1 & Cooking Update

Day 1 of teaching is done!  It went wonderfully.  Thank you to everyone who yarped for me.  They were heard and felt and appreciated!  Here's the breakdown of my short teaching day:

I left at 7:35 this morning and about 1 minute into my walk I glanced over my shoulder and saw a man walking behind me - an American man.  He said hi and walked up next to me and we talked for just a short time.  He asked where I was from and I returned the question.  He has traveled the world, lived all throughout the US as well and when I asked him where 'home' was he said China.  He's been here for 7 years.  I asked if he was teaching and he said no.  He's a student.  Just moved to this area too.  He's probably about mid-late 50's.  Lives on the 2 floors above me.  After about 2 minutes of talking he realized he was going the wrong way and turned around and said 'see ya around'.  Perfect start to my morning.  A little english conversation from a fellow American is always nice especially when I'm a bit nervous.

I got to class after a 10 minute walk.  Found my class with hardly any problems (took one wrong turn). As soon as I walked in to my new classroom I heard a gasp.  One (of the 2) guys in the class gasped.  Everyone was looking at me and then at each other so I decided to speak up.  "Hey, I guess I'm your teacher."  Got a couple chuckles of confusion and shock I think.  Started class at 8.  Had them pair up and introduce themselves and took notes the whole time.  Told them about myself.  Gave out a writing assignment.  Talked a bit about American culture.  Let them out early.

They seem like a very outgoing group.  23 senior students who are all english majors.  Nobody seemed too shy.  Some seem extremely outgoing.  I cannot wait to get to know them.  They are all around my age (20-22) so I think I might develop some great friendships this year!

Then my day just got even better because of this new hobby of mine: cooking.

Pinterest is a major help.  I stay up at night just pinning recipes that seem realistic for my situation.  I don't know if I've broken it down yet but this is how shopping here goes.  I have a 10 minute walk to my grocery store (or a shorter bike ride) so I'm limited to what I can carry back.  I can get produce there but only if I go early enough.  It's all fresh so it goes pretty quickly in the morning.  I usually just get potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, onions, apples, bananas.  I got a zucchini one day only to find out it was a cucumber.  Zucchini here is like 2 feet long and really thin.  Bitter melon looks like zucchini, but whoah... do not get those confused!  Onions are much smaller and usually not too great.  You have to do lots of digging to find a good one.  But I'm getting the hang of it.  The ladies who weigh all of my produce are realizing that I don't speak much Chinese so they speak a bit slower and smile a lot.  I like them!

I can't get bread there.  I have to go to the bakery for that and hope I get lucky and they have some at that time.  Butter isn't available.  I have been told I can get some at the bakery around the corner so I need to go check that out.  Salad dressings don't really exist.  Make sure you ask for bread flour otherwise you get flour used for making jiaozi which is not the same.  I found good ketchup! That was exciting.  I haven't found baking soda or baking powder yet.  I'm thinking they don't exist in this area.  Luckily I have some baking powder.  Spices are hard to find.  Mayonnaise, mustard, ranch, BBQ sauce, cake mix, avocado, normal chips, cream cheese, cheese, sour cream, balsamic vinegar, cocoa powder, peanut butter, good pasta, spaghetti sauce.  That's just a short list of what I already know doesn't exist in this area.  BUT I'm doing great w/out those things (I have a stash of peanut butter and thankfully oreos exist here)!
Random shopping trip.  Now most of my trips are filled with produce and maybe a few other items.
This is my beautiful cabinet filled with the essentials.  That nutella has to last me a while though.  I'm getting good at self control.
So once I tackle the shopping thing, I get to cook.

I tried a few recipes the first week I was living here and they went great but then I got bored.  I get bored easily w/ food.  I got meat the other day so now I have a drawer in my freezer that's filled w/ ground beef, ground pork and a few chicken breasts.  It's like a drawer full of heaven.  So now the possibilities are much greater.  I have plenty of things that I want to try and, with the luck I've been having, I'm anxious to try everything.  Today I even tried to make gnocchi.  I have only had it once and that was just a few weeks ago but it looked easy enough.  It turned out pretty great I think!  I plan on just making a bunch of it and freezing it.  Freezing food is my new addiction I think.
Getting fresh basil leaves from the farm made me one happy girl!
I even got a toaster oven the other day so baking will happen soon hopefully.  I need butter.  That's for sure.  Once I figure that out though... I'm in trouble.  Thank goodness I have to walk a lot here and I've gotten back into my workout routine.

I'm not going to starve.  Yay me.  I really am enjoying cooking.  I'm thinking that if I can become pretty skilled while I'm here then cooking in America will be a breeze.

Teaching day 1 is done, cooking is great, and everything else is just dandy.  Listening to the Father's call was terrifying but so far it has been the greatest decision I have ever made.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

19 Hours

In 19 hours I will have just finished my first college class.

In 19 hours I will be able to say that I am a college 'professor'.

In 19 hours the nerves will either be gone or multiplied by a gazillion.

In 19 hours I will have met 23 more people in this beautiful country who I plan on calling friends one day.

In 19 hours I will have seen the faces of hopefully 23 people I'll have the chance of meeting again one day at then end of this life.

I'm excited.  I'm a bit nervous.  I'm anxious.  I'm prepared.

It's college orientation here.  Students are everywhere finally.  Tents are set up and bedding is being sold all around.  Student leaders are walking around w/ signs for incoming students to follow.  Parents are walking around w/ their child as they familiarize themselves w/ the campus.  The bookstore is right under my apartment so all day long I get to see students lining up to get their new books.  It feels just like America (but w/ a fairly large language barrier).

For the first time, I'm on the other side of it all.  I see everyone getting ready to move in and start their first year and I can't help but think of my sister and parents and other people I know at home who are doing the exact same things right now.  I wish I could be there for that, but I have a job to do here and I can't wait to get started.

It's crazy when you think about how this world works.  Different times, different languages, different ways of doing life, but there are always so many similarities.  There is always a way to feel at home no matter where we are.  This world may not be our permanent home but having a sense of home is definitely huge for me.  And I can say that I've found that here already.  I may call this home for now.  I will always call the US home.  But they are all just temporary stops until I reach my eternal home.

Tomorrow is my big day.  Yarp for me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bad Days Can't Exist

First thing: The mystery has been solved thanks to boredom AND my awesome cousin.  Sugar apple.  Or Cherimoya?  Here's a picture thanks to google images (oh, how I adore technology).

Now to the real topic: bad days

I'm not allowing them to exist.  No, I'm not on the verge of a breakdown and using my blog as a place to vent.  I'm just sharing the way I plan on making it through the year.

I have one year here (as of now).  A fraction of my life.  Roughly 365 days of adventures that might never happen again.  I've had a month filled w/ english camps where I had one major breakdown before my family left.  Vacation in Thailand.  Solitary confinement.  Ok, not really, but it sort of feels like that at times until I snap myself out of thinking that way.  Ever since I got back from Thailand I've been somewhat alone in my apartment.  I haven't been busy or surrounded by people like the first month and a half out here.  It was nice the first day, then it got boring.  So I decided I was going to change that.  That's it.  Just one decision to turn it all around.

I have had one week, and have another to go, where the majority of my time is spent alone.  For some people that might be insanity.  For others it could be paradise.  For me, it's a mix of both.  I decided I need to use this time wisely.  Once school starts and things get busier, I'll wish I had days with nothing to do.  So why not take advantage of it all right now while I can?  This led to me unintentionally developing the mindset that I hope will make this year unbelievable.  So I decided that bad days just won't exist.

Homesickness won't take advantage of me.
Culture shock won't cause me to retreat from life.
Stress won't overwhelm me.
Language barriers won't stay up for long.
Loneliness won't exist.
Bad days won't happen.

Family and friends will be there when I get back.  I have skype, email, blah blah blah, all that stuff to keep in contact.  Culture shock will come.  I know it will.  But I'm not going to let it derail all that I plan to accomplish this year. I'm pretty good at managing stress.  I want to learn the language.  I have plenty of people here who love me so there's no excuse to be lonely.

Free time is my growth time.  I've spent the last few days listening to 'talk's from The Father's House summer series.  I've been taking notes and really trying to figure out what things I need to change and what I can learn to make this year productive for His kingdom.  If I think I need time to just breathe, then my free time can be breathing time.  If I am feeling like I'm losing focus, then free time becomes a time to be filled again.

I can't let myself dwell on anything negative.  No thoughts of how things would be if I were back in the states.  I'm not there.  I can't live where I used to be or where I will be.  I have to live where I am.  Every day is presenting opportunities and, if I'm somewhere else mentally, I'll miss out on what's right in front of me.  Just this morning I was supposed to skype with my family but an opportunity to go have lunch with someone came up and I chose to take that.  Developing relationships here, where I am, isn't worth passing up.  I love my family and I love being able to see them, but I'll have plenty of time for that this year.  How often will I get to go to this person's home and spend quality time w/ them?  Who knows.

So that's my outlook.  No bad days.  I won't have them.  I could easily choose to find the negative in my day and let it drag the whole day down, but I won't.  Life out here is great.  It's different and new and fun and I'm going to choose to love it because I won't have it forever.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wǒ ài wǒ dìdì

我 爱 我 弟弟。
I love my little brother.

Today began with one thing on my agenda: campus tour from my neighbor.  It turned into: campus tour, finding the local market, ordering donuts, mailing letters, buying a bike, eating dinner at my 'little brother's' house and who knows what else will happen.  It's not even 7 pm.

I started my day at 10 with a tour of campus.  My neighbor is an American man who has been in this country for almost 20 years, but the last 18 months have been in LC.  He showed me around campus; where the classrooms, mail room, dorms, library, hang out spots, basketball courts, shops, and textbook pick-up spot are.  It made me feel much better about September 3.  Then we went off campus and he showed me the market around the corner that is filled w/ vegetables, fruit, meat (which I will stay away from), rice, noodles, and whatever else you might need that's as fresh as possible.  We went to the grocery store and he pointed out a few things I had passed by.  Then we went to the maiqi bakery.  I knew there was one up by the massive grocery store, but there's a smaller one right up the street from me.  This is the place with the sliced wheat bread - my favorite.  AND you can order donuts there too!  So we ordered a few and will head over in an hour to pick them up.  We also talked about teaching and that eased a lot of my anxiety.  I start in about 2 weeks and I've been wondering how I'm going to fill the time.  I feel unqualified for the job, even though I'm fluent in the class I'm teaching (most of the time).  But everything he told me was already in my head.  *Major sigh of relief*  Then, on our walk back, J called me and said he had a letter for me.

J stopped by to deliver a letter that my mom sent to a P.O. box of a family out here.  No Chinese written on it and it made it here! Yay.  He ended up taking me to the post office so I could send off my letters and we planned out my Saturday, which includes buying meat from them.  You have no idea how excited I am about that!

On our way back from the post office, Locke calls and says his friends are about to go get the bikes.

[REWIND: Last night Locke - my little brother here - emailed me saying that his friends were going to buy bikes today and they guy was going to give them a group discount basically - 400 yuan for a bike. My neighbor was telling me earlier that he got his for 1300 so I figured I'd just hold off til I thought I absolutely needed it because walking was too much to handle or some other lazy excuse I would come up with.  Perfect timing, right?]

 I had about an hour so I squeezed in lunch, and a quick skype date with the boyfriend, and headed to meet him at the park.  Right when we got to the bike place, 3 government officials hop out of a van to do an inspection.  They copied down the guys license to sell bikes I guess, checked out some of the bikes he had, and then took one to inspect it for quality.  An hour later, we are finally buying the bikes, right as it starts to rain too.  Locke and  his 3 friends got the guy down to 360 for mine, and the lock was only 12 yuan, so 372 for a brand new bike and lock.  I was pretty happy.
The LC biker gang. 
It's the fashion bike people.  Stylin' in China. That's how I 'roll'. 
It even came w/ a Chinese license plate thing.
I thought my adventures for the day were pretty much over until Locke asked what I was doing for dinner.  I got an invitation to eat at his house.  Who in the world would say no to that?  NOT ME!  So we headed to my apartment to drop off my bike, and headed to his house, making one stop at another bakery to pick up bread.  [I managed to pay for our taxi before Locke could and I was so proud of myself but, of course, he bought stuff at the bakery and later told me I had to take it all home with me.  The kid is way too sweet.]  We got to his house and he had peanut milk for me.  Have I explained how much I love peanut milk?  It played a large role in me moving to this place.  Anyway, we ate pears and apples, and his uncle showed me how to peel the skin - not the shell obviously - off of a walnut before eating it.  Much better that way!  I'm trying to find a picture of this fruit that we ate.  It looks like a messed up artichoke.  He couldn't find an english name for it online so it's difficult for me to find.  You just pry this think open and take out the little chunks inside.  Spit out the seeds too, of course.  It was delicious.  Similar to a jack fruit in texture actually, but WAY better in taste.

So we ate dinner and his whole family (aunt, uncle, cousin, mom, dad, grandma) stared at me when I tried some dish they brought me.  It got dead silent and I looked up and we all just started laughing.  None of them spoke english, with the exception of Locke and his cousin.  Locke had to be back to school by 7 so we left and his uncle dropped me back off at my school and now here I am.

Basically this guy is the greatest.  Way too nice.  Brilliant - smartest kid in the #1 school in this city.  Meeting him 2 years ago was such a blessing but, to still be friends with him 2 years later, is unbelievable.

Unexpected day full of fantastic-ness? Yes.  Sadly, tomorrow is Cinderella day.  I'm not watching the movie.  I'm cleaning - sweeping, mopping, dusting, bleaching, ironing - aka therapy (even though I don't need any at the moment).

Life is good wonderful in LC.
Wan an.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chinglish

I love Chinglish.
I love going into an airport, clothing store, public park, bus, or restaurant and reading something that's just not quite correct.  It makes my day.
So I take pictures to capture the memories.  I have a whole album on my mac devoted to Chinglish.

I was blessed this summer with my first piece of authentic Chinese clothing.  To top it off, it has Chinglish on it.
I know you can't read the bottom but it has a lovely story: [Frank's voice dropped a bit. "Wren the weather was bad he would drive me to school. He had this old truck that he used in his fishing business.]  No joke, that's what it says.  And 'wren' is not a typo on my part...
Then the other day, before leaving for Thailand, I saw this beauty.  I think it's my favorite piece of Chinglish I have ever encountered.  It even inspired this post.  Please take note of the last line.  It sort of wraps the whole shirt together.

And here are some of my favorites from the past few years of touring, or Chinglish hunting as I will now refer to it.  Here you go:
I'm pretty sure this was a restaurant.  Evan... potential name if you open your own place one day!
This was above the door on a bus we took.
I hate when people just throw their old clothes in nature.
Goodnight from LC and don't forget: Safe and civilized are golden ;)

Friday, August 17, 2012

สวัสดี

[Here is a little Thai lesson:

สวัสดี = S̄wạs̄dī + 'kaaaaa' = hello (for females)

Any time you are a female and you are Thai and you are speaking, you end whatever it is you are saying with a semi-high pitched 'kaaaa'.]

So... Thailand.  I'm in love.

The people are unbelievably friendly (with the exception of a few taxi drivers who try to seriously rip you off), the food is delicious (mango sticky rice is scrumptious), the weather is lovely (it's hot and humid but there's always the pool of beach to cool you down), the beaches are beautiful (pictures to come), the exchange rate is beautiful ($1 US = 30 THB) (THB = Thai Baht), and I could keep going but I'll throw in some pictures and explanations instead of dragging this list out.

I made it to Thailand after 3 flights and 2 taxi rides by myself.  A little scary at first but everything went smoothly.  Got into Bangkok around midnight and went straight to bed.  We spent 3 full days in Bangkok I think.  We did a lot of random stuff.  Nothing too touristy actually.  Went to a mall that looks similar to the one in SF but on a much larger scale.  Ate some Krispy Kremes because, really, who can resist those?  Swam (A LOT).

I went to the hospital w/ the surrogate fam one day so I could see where I'd go if I had some emergency (which I really don't plan on).  You can choose your doctors by looking at their profiles online.  You get to see what schools they went to and where they've worked, along with their specialties.  The patient rooms look more like hotel rooms than hospital rooms.   Some hospitals will pay for you airfare to Thailand and your stay and recovery because the surgeries are so much cheaper there.  And faster!  If I ever need a major surgery done, I'm going to Thailand.  Sometimes they even let you pick where you'd like to recover and they'll send you to some resort to have relaxing time by the beach so you can recover peacefully.  WHAT? Crazy stuff.

We also went to see The Bourne Legacy in Bangkok.  A movie on vacation? No.  Not what you think. This place was insane.  The theater reminded me of where I saw Cirque du Soleil in Vegas.  HUGE and beautiful.  Reclining seats, massive chandelier in the foyer before the main theater, just perfect.  They even have a whole section for 4D movies.  You know, the 3D thing PLUS moving seats.  THEN, in th emiddle of the Thai commercials (rather than previews), the national anthem starts playing and EVERYONE stands up while they show a slideshow of the life of the king.

[Sidenote: Thailand respects their royalty immensely.  If you drop a coin w/ the king's face on it, you better pick it up.  If you step on it, you might be arrested.  If you speak badly of their royalty, even on the internet  in another country, they will make sure you don't enter their country.  The queen's birthday is August 12 (which is the day they celebrate mother's day because of the queen's birthday) so there were shrines to her ALL OVER the country.  10 ft tall posters of her face with beads and flowers draped all over the golden statues that made up the shrine.  You want to see people who respect their leaders? Go to Thailand.]

Ok, so on to my favorite part: Hua Hin.

We spent a beautiful week in Hua Hin.  We stayed at the Amari Hua Hin Hotel, which didn't even open to the public until the 15th of this month.  Brand new.  They greeted us with cold towels and iced tea and lots of excitement.  We went straight outside to go check everything out.  OH. MY. GOSH.  The Hyatt down the street is a 5 star hotel.  Ours was a 4 star.  I think they got the ratings wrong.  Ours was incredible.  The general manager was talking to me right before we left and said that the pool is 450 sq meters.  This massive infinity pool is perfectly heated and clean (which isn't so common on this side of the world I've been told).   It's so warm there that hot tubs are pointless.  And about a 2 minute walk (or a golf cart ride) lands you at the Amari's beach restaurant which sits on the white sand beach of course.
Pretty much every day consisted of delicious breakfasts, swimming at the beach, swimming in the pool, eating by the pool, and naps.  We did some shopping at the night market.  Had dinner up the street from the hotel the night of the closing ceremony for the Olympics.  Went to a water park that wasn't crowded at all!  Played about 50 games of chess. Ate by the beach while the sun went down.  Had squid on a stick.  Ate lots of mango sticky rice.  Had rotee w/ peanut butter on top (I'll post a pic).  Rode my first tuk-tuk.
Mango sticky rice
This is rotee.  It's like a crepe, but they fold it up, chop it up and then drizzle it w/ condensed milk. 
Here's the finished product 
Here's my plug for Thailand (specifically Hua Hin):  Anyone thinking of going to Hawaii should ditch that thought and go to Hua Hin.  Why? Better food.  Cheaper everything: hotel, food, activities, massages, shopping.  Less crowded.  Nicer people.  More diverse.

Oh, I also took a zumba class this morning in Bangkok.  A Thai guy taught the class and we did a zumba routine to a Beyonce song.  Yeah.  That was my morning.

I plan on going back the second I get the chance too.  But now I'm back in LC and I can't complain at all.  I've been blessed with an incredible life and I can't believe the opportunities I've had, even just in this last month.

Teaching starts in 2 weeks.
Real cooking starts tomorrow.

Good night-kaaaaa

Thursday, August 2, 2012

FOOD

I can now say that I have cooked in China.  I was avoiding it.  I thought I'd venture out after I got back from Thailand BUT yesterday I took a random trip to the store up the street and I went early enough so they had fresh produce still.  Guess who got super excited?

Yup! ME!

So I bought a few things and probably smiled the whole way back.  Got tupperware and everything because I knew this would be a monumental moment that needed to be saved (get it? I'm lame, I know).  SO I began chopping and cooking and eventually ended up w/ a meal that was good! And made enough so I have some for either lunch or dinner today.
[And my lovely Jenny brought me some fresh picked rice, apples, baozi for breakfast, a metal bowl for whatever AND a teapot that her mom said she could bring me because they've never used it.  I feel so spoiled and grateful. She even brought a girl we met at camp last year! It's always so nice to see a familiar face here.]
Things are finally looking up here.  I love oreos and bread and snacks but I can't live off of that.  Now I don't have to!  Evan's noticed that every time we skype I'm eating oreos or noodles or some sort of food that doesn't count as real food.  I'm not going to starve now! Or get fat hopefully! YAY!!! (I'm just adorable, aren't I?)
After my beautiful dinner I decided to watch this new show 'All The Right Moves'.  It's Travis Wall, Nick Lazzarini and this guy Teddy who are starting a dance company.  It's pretty much all of the best SYTYCD alumni and it was therapy for me.  I can't watch SYTYCD yet and I'm majorly antsy for it so this was nice.  I even busted out my Golden Grahams tea and drank a whole bunch of that.
I'd say yesterday was a complete success!  Swept this morning, packing for Thailand today, having Amanda over for our first of many sleepovers.  Can't wait for another good day in LC.  Probably my last post for 2 weeks.  I'm not bringing my laptop to Thailand w/ me.  That means either tons of posts when I get back or just a massive novel.  Either way it'll be intense.

Later Skaters.
-Hails