Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tea Park

While all of you are gearing up for Halloween, I'm stuck in the land of eternal spring where the skies are insanely blue every day and the nights are cool and sweatshirt worthy.  Life is rough.  I decided to sulk in the awfulness and drag myself to the tea park on the outside of town where I had a terrible time playing card games, taking pictures, and forcing down Chinese food... Sorry, I just felt like being sarcastic, because it's 8 pm and I cannot stay awake right now. Now I'll be serious I guess.

Today was perfect. Beautiful. Fun. Lovely. Relaxing. Peaceful. Happy.

We left this morning at 9 and as soon as we left the school gates, the day was exciting.  We started off with breakfast on the street. [There are always vendors flooding the streets with local specialties. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.] I opted for some baozi.  I haven't had any in a while and when I was told there were potatoes inside, I was all in.  We grabbed breakfast and headed for the bus stop which took us to this huge market hidden on the edge of town behind tons of buildings.  I LOVE MARKETS!

Think farmers market... in China.  We were getting food for our lunch later in the day.  We got rice noodles, veggies, fruit, spices, meat, drinks, snacks, everything.  Have you ever had a pomelo? It's like a massive yellow grapefruit/orange thing and it's delicious.  We got one of those after a lot of bargaining because apparently everyone was charging too much.  Did you know they make green tea flavored sunflower seeds (guazi)? Neither did I.  But they do and I love them.  Squid on a stick? Yes please. Basically we got a random assortment of foods but it was all SOOOO good.

Black chicken, anyone?
... or fresh, still flopping fish?
Green tea sunflower seeds
We left the market around 10, hopped on another bus and headed to the tea park.  I sat next to some woman who was extremely friendly.  She was really interested in talking to me.  I got to speak to her in Chinese a bit and one of my girls helped translate for me.  She asked me how old I was, if I miss my family, how long I've been here.  She wanted me to ask how old she is so I did, and then told her that my dad is the same age (in Chinese... yup).  She said I was the beautiful girl from America! *AWWW* The whole ride was just another moment to make this day great.

We got to the tea park, I took pictures, the girls wanted to have a mini photoshoot, we went to our lunch spot, and then got set up for lunch.

Lunch was a small trough that we used as our grill.  There was a small well where we cleaned all of our food and prepared it.  We cooked potatoes (tu dou), zucchini, eggplant (qie zi), fish (yu), squid (you yu), pork (ju ro), Chinese hot dogs (NO, it's not real dog meat), and more stuff that I'm just forgetting. We spent 4 hours just cooking and eating.  It was great.

Then it was time for card games.  They wanted to teach me a game, but I already knew it which shocked them.  So we played that for a while and I taught them Egyptian war.  That's such a perfect game to teach foreigners.  It was a perfect bonding thing.  Everyone was so relaxed and comfortable and I feel like I know them all so much more because of that.  If you know the game, you know that when someone plays an ace, the next person has 4 chances to beat that card.  One of my girls laid 2 cards and I told her 'si ge' and she stared at me with the best look of confusion I've ever seen.  She thought I sounded Chinese! HA! She told me all day how my Chinese pronunciation is the best she's ever heard from an American.  That was the best compliment ever - a perfect confidence boost for something that so often intimidates me.

Finally, it was time to head back.  We were all tired and we had a pleasant ride back and then parted ways.  I think I got back around 6?  So a 9 hour adventure.  One of the girls kept saying how happy she was all day.  We all were saying it.

Another adventure down.  Many more to come.  I'm starting to think about how to make trips to their hometowns. There are 2 gorgeous cities in this province and a lot of my students come from them so it's a perfect opportunity for me to travel, see how my students live, and not go broke!

Busy week ahead of me.  I would say I'm not planning on anything major happening, but something could happen in 5 minutes that I might find blog worthy.

Goodnight from the other side of the world :)

PS: Half of the pics are from my iphone after my camera decided it wanted to lie to me about it's battery life and just stopped functioning.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


A little glimpse into what's been filling my heart up lately...

My life has become everything I though it wouldn't be. I'm teaching 16 hours a week, grading 100+ papers, learning almost 200 new names and faces, and doing it all on the other side of the world. Yes, you already know these things so why am I repeating them? Well, everyday it seems new to me.
Everyday it seems like a dream.
Everyday it doesn't seem like my life.
Everyday I'm still shocked by this place (in a good way).
Everyday I find something to be extremely grateful for.

When I think about what happens here, I find that every single day there is something exciting, even if it's just one small moment.  That's one huge thing I've learned so far.  It's part of the outlook I've decided to have here.  Even if all I do is teach one class and grade papers all day, there is something in that to be remembered.

One day that  moment may be making jiaozi at the home of my boss's in-laws where I'm the only one in the room who speaks English. [Yesterday]
One day it may be leading 'club' for the first time. [Today]
One day it's grading a paper that brings me to tears and ends with the student telling me that this is the first time she's shared any of this in a paper. [Tuesday]
One day it could be something as simple as getting asked to lunch by 2 students who barely speak any English at all. [Last Friday]

I'm learning about myself and watching myself change more than ever before.  I got to skype with a good friend this week and she asked me what I've learned so far.  As I shared, I realized how much I've learned about myself just in these first 4 months.  It's crazy! I've seen some of my weaknesses and I've learned some of my strengths, some I never even knew I had.  I've learned that I really can adapt to any situation here, I just have to be willing.  I can stand in front of a class for 2 hours and not feel nervous at all.  I'm capable of teaching in Chinese when I really have to.  I am learning how to hear the Father and be bold when He calls me to be.  I'm learning that obedience is the best possible way to live.  His plans are so much bigger than anything we can imagine and by not being obedient, we're missing some incredible things that He has for us.

Being here has given me a whole new understanding of my faith.  It's given me a new set of eyes to see things.  My small group has forced me to step out of my own bubble and see things from the view of someone in a different culture, who speaks a different language, who has never heard about the Father. Summer camps did that for me, sure, but not like this.  I feel like I'm learning everything again for the first time.  It's such a crazy story.  It really is.  But it's beautiful.  It's fun to hear these tough questions.  These girls are asking questions that many people who have grown up in it cannot even let themselves ask.  It's awesome! And I get to be a part of it? It still hasn't hit me.

Sometimes, quite often actually, I ask why I was chosen to be here.  I didn't decide to uproot myself and teach English. Really? That wasn't my choice.  I was called.  Why me?  There are so many people who would be so much more effective, who are better equipped, who can learn the language faster, who are more outgoing, who understand the Father way more than I do.  BUT, I'm here.  He keeps reminding me that I'm here.  I am.  There's a reason for it.  He'll equip me when He needs to and He'll use me for whatever He wants as long as I am sensitive to His voice and obedient when He speaks.

I have the chance of a lifetime and I'm trying so hard right now to not let that slip my mind.  Homesickness is still here, in a strange form.  Some days, the thought of home is overwhelmingly exciting.  The countdown seems forever long and the thought of returning here is kind of scary.  Then, an hour later, I think of all the possibilities I have here.  Students who want me to visit their hometowns, things there are to do here, food there is to eat, language I want to learn, friends I want to go see.  Then my time here seems short.  I kind of feel bi-polar at times because of it.  [Oh no, she's going crazy.] 

Tomorrow is one of those days that will remind me of how awesome my life is!  I'm going to a tea park w/ my small group.  Our first big outing together.  We're making food, looking cute, taking pictures and just hanging out.  I cannot wait! There will be plenty of pictures to come from that adventure.  And while you wait for those, here are some videos of some of the cutest kids on the planet that I get to teach every week :)

Have a good weekend everyone!
Be obedient.  Be bold.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I Like Cooking

I'm going to brag about myself in this post.
Yes, I could just say "Here's a post about my cooking adventures..." but really, this is me bragging because I'm super proud of myself for not only surviving, but for enjoying this thing called cooking.

If you took the tour of my apartment and looked at my kitchen, you'd be seeing all that I have to work with.  I have one, slightly broken, pot.  One hot plate which is all in Chinese and the lowest setting is 120 C which is 'high' on an American stove.  A toaster oven that only has a 15-minute timer and nothing else.  A microwave.  A rice cooker.  I DO have a gas burner but I haven't ventured there yet.  I kind of like seeing how simple I can be.

Back up to when I was living in the states.  I hardly ever cooked for myself.  When I lived w/ some friends in college, I LOVED when they cooked and asked if I wanted to eat their food. Um, YES!  So I got out of cooking a lot.  Kraft Mac-&-Cheese? Sure. I'm pro at that.  I could make some coca-cola chicken too but that requires dumping 3 things into a pan and waiting til it's done.  I don't count that as cooking.  I literally stood in my kitchen, when I moved here, and just thought 'ok Hailey, you better figure this out now because you like food and you don't want starve'.  So I figured it out and still am.

It's not so much the cooking that I'm proud of.  I only make simple things.  It's the simplicity that I'm forced to deal with along w/ my lack of experience that is has made me proud of myself.

Things I can't get here:

Sour cream
Vanilla (I have some though)
Cinnamon (Also have this)
Chocolate chips
Cheese (Technically I can get this, but w/ my lack of self control and the price of it, it's not worth it.)
Peanut butter
Cocoa powder
Good noodles (I have rice noodles & egg noodles.)
Spaghetti sauce
Baking dishes
Baking soda

There are plenty of other things I'm not remembering, which is probably good.  Basically, things are limited here and I've had to learn how to cook and make some strange substitutions at the same time.  I also don't have measuring tools.  I have my cup for rice which is a cup, but everything else is just a guess.  So far, it's all working.

In the last week I have made: snickerdoodle blondies, a pear crisp, spaghetti w/ meat sauce, baked cabbage, potato salad, and last night I made pumpkin & carrot soup.  I found a recipe for Chick-Fil-A nuggets and honey mustard sauce, which I tried and loved.  Peanut sauce on some veggies and rice is another new fave of mine.  I'm finding things, and trying them.  I love it.  I cook sometimes just because I want to.  Nothing I've made has turned out horribly... that's a lie.  I made attempted to make crepes ('A' did it at her house and I saw it work, but her house is WAY more Americanized than mine is) and they didn't turn out well but I made them into something else.

Pre-pumpkin & carrot soup

I am anticipating the tears that will be shed when I go to a grocery store in the states.  It'll be interesting.  I'll have someone video it or something.  People always ask me what foods I miss most from home and I never really know where to start.  The list is quite long.  I've managed to think about all of the delicious, terribly unhealthy things that I miss the most and not start crying.  I talked to an American man the other night who said he gained 18 lbs last time he went to the states.  Oh joy.  I believe it though.

I really just felt like talking about food because I didn't eat breakfast before 4 hours of class and I came back wanting to eat a feast fit for a village.  Now I have food in this belly of mine and I'm much better.  Time to return to my new Chinese habit of mid-day nap time :) Mexico & China have some good lifestyle advice to offer us.  Best piece of advice: NAP TIME!

-Zai jian

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Jumbled Update

I'm still alive.  This week has felt like a million years. Or really just more than 7 days.  I'l try to tone down the drama.

I think I spent 90% of my week grading (there I go again being WAY too dramatic. Oops.). It never seems to end. It's my own fault. BUT it is helping me get to know my students so that's cool.

Other than grading I haven't really done anything exciting.  I bought a new mop. Yup. Things like that make me way too happy. My floors are the cleanest they've ever been.  As much as I have enjoyed my authentic 'fabric wrapped on a stick' mop, it was time for something more efficient.

I made snickerdoodle brownies this week. Another plus. They're all gone already. No surprise there.

Major highlight: Small group!!!!! We met on Thursday and this week I got to teach them about the Son. It was lovely.  I was definitely spoken through, because I don't remember half of what I said.  The girls asked some awesome questions and thankfully I was given the answers.  It could not have gone any better.  We had some pretty intense talks afterwards about what they believe.  We kept it all pretty casual which was good.  I want them to feel relaxed around me.  I told them I don't want them to view me as their teacher and they said they do when we're in class, but really they see me as a friend. *Cue the 'awwwwwws'* It was lovely.  We planned out some excursions: climbing the city's tallest mountain, visiting a tea park, riding bikes, shopping, all that good stuff.  They are brining over more food next week.  I'm going to learn how to make some sort of dumpling soup thing. Not sure if I've even had it before. So I'm obviously really excited.  Not only have I learned to cook for myself, I've already learned how to make several Chinese dishes!

Tutoring has been awesome this week.  The kids really like me.  They kind of go insane when I walk into the room. One kid is fascinated w/ my hair, my nose ring, my earrings.  He wrapped his arms around me this week when we took a picture and just tossed his head into my side like he was never going to let me go. Funny kid. The older group is starting to talk to me more... in Chinese.  It's pretty cool. Weekend tutoring is going really well too.  These kids are all just so cute.  Some of them can be annoying.  It's inevitable.  But I still love them.  I think I have about 40 that I tutor from Thursday-Saturday.  Plus my 130-ish students at the college.  That makes around 170 that I teach. Wow.

My Chinese comprehension has seemed to improve so much this week.  I'm understanding so much more than when I moved here.  It's starting to translate more into my speaking.  I'm not too shy about it.  I walk around saying things to myself in Chinese (in my head).  I just need to build up my verbs and adjectives. I'll get there.

That's all for now.  Just wanted to update those of you who like to stay informed.  Be yarping for small group next week.  Things just seem to get better every week and I can't wait for what's to come.  Sometimes I can't believe that I've been put into this position, but every time I think about it I am just really humbled by it all.  I miss home, but I am not ready to leave this place either. Good thing I have plenty of time left.

Wan an (goodnight) :)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Birthday Girl

 This was my morning. Yes, my cat is also wearing a party hat.  My cat is a fully participating family member. She's always there for skype dates w/ the parents. Streamers, hats, cards, an awful, terrible, beautiful, charming family rendition of 'Happy Birthday' was how I started my morning.

And things just got better and better and better.

I got to spend some time with these great people.  We went to our ice cream place, of course, and walked around for a bit.  They got me this huge thing of roses and set it in front of my door, knocked, and hid until I found them behind these pillars in my hallway.

I got to skype with my wonderful boyfriend for a very long time which is always great but was especially nice on my birthday!

Then, it was off the the campus party.  They have these almost every night on the weekends.  They're LOUD and I usually have no clue what was going on, but now I do.  I got to watch my 3rd year students put on a little play.  It was great to see them all dressed up and excited to perform together.

Then, the real highlight of my birthday came.  One of my girls asked if I wanted to go celebrate my birthday with them so I said sure.  She gathered a lot of my students up and we left campus to go get some Chinese BBQ. There were 11 of us.  I had never hung out with 8 of them before so it was so good to get to just sit and eat and talk and laugh together.  It was perfect.

Then it was time for the birthday hat. Yup.  They got me a cake! Dream. Come. True. I got my own Chinese cake for my Chinese  birthday in China. Yeah, a bit excited.

After a week filled with stress - homesickness and some other things - this was completely unexpected and fantastic.  My students are great.  I call them my students, but I think of them as my friends.  It's not a teacher/students relationship.  I mean, I'm only 1-2 years older than most of them.  Today was just a huge reminder that I am loved here.  I have 'family' here and people here who have just spoiled me.  I don't understand it half the time, it makes my head spin a bit, but I accept it all and I constantly just pause and try to comprehend everything that has become my life in these past few months.

To everyone who has wished or will wish me a happy birthday (since the 14th just started in America meaning it's time for facebook to alert people), thank you! I am always feeling the love over here and today was just another reminder of that.  Everyone's love and support and encouragement never goes unnoticed.  It's what keeps me going and I am always thanking the Father for everyone he has put in my life.

Birthday in China: CHECK! This has been a birthday I will never forget.