Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chapter 7: Lift Up Your Hands

Chapter 7: Lift Up Your Hands

Tonight my friend and I got manicures and pedicures. She took me across the city to a nice little place she frequents and we laughed as the Pedicurist worked vigorously at our feet, mostly mine. It was a relaxing affair… until the nail polish dried.

You see, once the nail polish dried, it was time to leave that little piece of heaven where were pampered on plush red couches.

We left and after she helped me figure out which bus to get on, she went off to take the metro home.

I went after the bus. I saw it, but I wasn’t quite there, so I ran… sort of… in my sandals and got there just in time to watch it drive away. So I waited and waited and waited. At last, another bus with the same number came. When I got on the lady didn’t charge me because when I said “To Wal-Mart,” she knew I was on the wrong bus. She told me which bus to get on by scribbling the bus number on a sheet of paper and told me to get off and catch it at the next stop. I thought she was pointing across the street.

So I got off and went across the street and got on that bus number. Across the street, the buses go in the opposite direction. On that bus, after saying “Wal-Mart” in every way I could think of, “Wa Er Mar,” “Wearmar,” “Wal-Mart”… the driver just said “no” and shoed me off the bus. At that point I was starting to get anxious.

I went back across the street and caught the same bus number, but going in the opposite direction, the original direction. The lady working the tickets got a young girl to tell me as best she could in broken but respectable English that I needed to get off at the stop I was instructed and take bus 22 in order to get to Wal-Mart. The reason I wanted to go to Wal-Mart was simply because I forgot the little card at home that tells me which bus to take to get home and Wal-Mart is close enough to home that I can walk.

We drove down a dark remote road and they told me to get off. I was expecting a bus stop with the bright lights and signs that have at least the name of the current location in English, a sidewalk to stand on, and a covering to stand under. No, not this place. There was a sign, no larger than a street sign sticking out of some bushes. There was no quality lighting and I’m almost certain there was prostitution right across the street. Then I saw bus 22 coming. I got on and the bus driver signaled that I didn’t need to pay. I felt hope. He didn’t speak English, but he had a caring face. He smiled. He tried to ask questions, but we didn’t understand much of each other. I pulled out one of the cards that gave a location I am at least familiar with and showed it to him. I didn’t have any luck with the previous bus drivers when I said “Sea World or Wal-Mart… I don’t care which.” Sea World is the name of a part of the city that is well lit, has many restaurants, lots of people, and I know which bus to take to get home from that spot. He smiled and drove. I could tell we were close. The bright colorful lights that fill the streets began to fill my sight. I saw the big lit up boat, which by the way is why they call it Sea World. There is no sea. There is a boat affixed to land. That makes it… Sea World.

We were at Sea World. Well, we were almost there. We were on a remote street on the other side of Sea World, the side I’d never seen. The side I didn’t know existed. I could see the lively streets, over a huge dark, pit where construction was occurring. Then, he stopped. He gestured for me to get off. My heart sank. I signaled one more time just to make sure he meant for me to get off. He pointed to the big boat that symbolized Sea World and gestured for me to follow the winding road. So, hesitantly, I got off, with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

He did a U-turn with the bus and went back. I was on a lonely street with no bus stop in sight at 10:00 PM. No one except for the occasional man on a bicycle peddling along the sidewalk or a small group of men meandering down the way were present. I didn’t know which way to turn. I looked up one end of the street and it wound around a corner, a relatively dark corner, and the other end did the same. Then I looked a third direction. It had no light at all.

I started walking up the street, the most well lit street. I quickly realized that only way to get to the “safe” part of town in my mind was to cross an abandoned, dark, muddy, rocky, desolate construction site that happened to have one or two men inhabiting, or to walk through a dark abandoned overpass—or I could see what was around the dark stretches of road beyond the high rise buildings under construction. I walked back and forth, crying. Looking for some other route, trying desperately to not get out of the lit spot I was in. A few cars passed. I crossed the street. I went forward down the winding road a few feet and then I came back. At last, I stopped, cried, looked at the part of town I needed to get to, remembered a quote my aunt put on Facebook this morning and followed its directions.

When all seems lost and you feel like giving up then you need to Reach up as far as you can and God will reach down the rest of the way~”

so I literally looked up, put my hands in the air, said God I need you to send help because I can’t do this. I’m stuck.

I turned around and whizzing down the street was a taxi. I didn’t even have to flag him down. I just walked towards the street and he pulled over. It was like a scene from a movie. He had a gentle face as well. He didn’t speak English but he understood Wal-Mart and to Wal-Mart we went. At last, I was home.

The greatest sound of my day came from the beep of the electronic keypad as I opened the door to my building. God is good, all the time.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chapter 6: My Father is Completely Awesome

My Father is completely awesome. I don’t quite know how I got where I am, but I’m glad I’m here… today.

Approximately twenty-three hours and fifteen minutes ago, I had a melt down. My plans to visit friends in Thailand over my vacation in two weeks fell through. I was missing home desperately, and I felt lonely. I felt an intense dislike for where I am. Leading up to that, I went to the Chinese Wal-Mart to purchase some much needed items for the apartment, like a vacuum cleaner to battle the ghost of the previous tenants’ cat, pots and pans with handles that don’t melt while I’m cooking, and shoes that actually fit and won’t get me kicked out of work for dressing like I’m just taking out the trash or bumming around the house. I was on a time crunch because the women’s group at the fellowship I attend was having a function to kick off the new season, but I was feeling adventurous.

For some reason, I can’t seem to enter the Wal-Mart at the entrance I want. My plan was to get my groceries, which are in the lower level and then take the flat escalator to the upper level for everything else. I tried to squeeze through to do this but the lady at the door kept pointing me to the other door. That door happened to be the exit. No offense intended, I’m sure…

So, I caved. I went up the escalator first and shopped for the household items; this would make sense to a normal person, but I don’t much enjoy being downstairs because of the unpleasant aroma of the live fish and reptiles they sell in the grocery section.

On to the shoes--
I’ve done this before. I’ve looked for shoes in this Wal-Mart before. I found only incredibly casual rubber sandals that partially fit my feet. My feet aren’t THAT big. Size 41 maybe? Just try one more time. Oh look, men’s shoes. Perhaps I should just buy men’s shoes. It would be easier to find my shoe size over there. Size 41 shoe or men’s shoes. How’s that for self-image? No no no these are all clearly men’s shoes.

So, I found some incredibly casual shoes that are not sandals. I’m still not sure if they are for men or women, but by this part of the shopping trip, my mindset about shoes had changed.

If they fit, buy them. End of story.

So, I did.

Fast-forward to this morning. I’m walking from the bus stop to the fellowship. Suddenly there are three 20 something Chinese guys about thirty feet in front of me, perpendicular. They are looking at me and still walking. One of them is smiling. As a blond American, I have become accustomed to being stared at, smiled at, in normal curious ways and sometimes creepy ways. This was neither. They approached me and asked if I was going to fellowship and pointed in its direction. I hesitantly said yes-- and then, we were walking there, sort of together—on my end-- sort of hesitantly. Then I asked if they were going also, just to clear things up. They said "Yes." We chatted on the way and then the main speaker looked down at my feet, smiled, and said “Beijing Style.” I said, “No, Wal-Mart. They don’t make women’s shoes big enough in this country for my feet.”

After researching, by prodding the brain of my friends at lunch later that day, I learned that in Beijing, the women wear over casual house shoes around the city. It’s known as “Beijing Style.” Perfect. Just what I was going for.

Rewind. I spent what felt like a couple of hours in Wal-Mart, trying to get things I needed, and anxiously ducking the salespeople who kept trying to sell me things using their Chinese. Like I really need help spending my money at Wal-Mart. LEAVE ME ALONE! Of course I just smiled and quickly walked away. I watched them closely so I could sneak down an aisle to see what I wanted to buy without feeling stalked. Ironic.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted. Emotionally spent. Physically spent. Financially spent. I opened one of my packages to find the pot came with a broken lid. I looked at the clock and it was well after 7:00. The function started at 7:00. I had this “Everybody hates me” feeling which we call a flare up of codependency, hormones, and loneliness--then I cried my eyes out. I missed home. I wanted to be there for my nephew’s birthday party and I hated being where I was. I didn’t want to go to the function, especially since I was very late.

Quite literally, with tears in my eyes, I got changed and dragged myself there anyway. It was amazing. The women were amazing. The laughter was amazing. The deserts were amazing. By the time I got home, I was smiling—but I was tired.

So, when I woke up this morning, I didn’t want to go to fellowship, but I did. I was late. I didn’t leave my apartment to get on the bus until 10:10 and it starts at 10:00. I didn’t feel like singing, so I didn’t feel bad about being late. I got there. It was packed. Until they dismissed the children, I didn’t have a seat. The teaching was amazing. It’s not always that great because there isn’t a trained person up there; A handful of men take turns teaching, but this- this was amazing. And just when I realized that I was glad I was there, it got more amazing. One of the women told us about a trip to Cambodia they are going on in two weeks. They will be working with people living in the slums. They were asking for support of various kinds.

It hit me as soon as she started talking. Wow, I want to go. Wow, I can go. My plans were cancelled. I have that week off of work. I can afford the expense. I’m looking for travel plans to engage in that week but I don’t know anyone to travel with. This seems perfect.

So I approached her about it. We chatted. We emailed. I spoke to the Father and at this point, unless He shows me otherwise, I’m going. I’m so excited. I feel like I am just being given so many amazing opportunities.

It gets so hard being away from family and friends, but the Father just keeps reminding me that it’s all good. He knows what He is doing. He knows why I’m here. He knows what to whisper in my heart to get me to drag myself across town when I’d rather hide in my 13th floor, too secure for a friend to drop in, apartment.

When I asked Him to give me a heart for the people He wanted me to serve earlier this year, I expected Him to do it before He sent me to them, but it seems He’s giving me a heart by breaking it in there presence.

My Father is awesome.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chapter 5: So, what's the difference anyway?

The differences between the United States and PRC

1. In the United States, most families have at least one car for every adult.

In the PRC, people ride bikes, walk, or take public transportation. Mostly only wealthier people have cars.

2. In the United States, people go grocery shopping only once per month and stock the food pantry, every shelf, the fridge and the extra freezer beyond capacity.

In the PRC, people go to the market every few days because they Have to carry the groceries home, there are no food pantries, and the only shelving is the extra shelving you buy and keep in the hallway.

3. In the United States, laundry is placed in the dryer after it is washed, which is generally located in a separate laundry room.

In the PRC, laundry dries by hanging around the house or on the balcony—if you have a balcony. Or if you have a dryer, it’s sitting on a small table outside on the balcony—shaking.

4. In the United States, it often seems anyone can come into the country legally or illegally and enjoy most citizen privileges.

In the PRC, it’s hard to enter the country if you have a legitimate purpose and legal entry documents, and even then, you must pass a police interview.

5. In the United States, people buy bottled water because it tastes better.

In the PRC, people buy huge jugs of water so they don’t get sick.

6. In the United States, government funding for abortion is debated and in some places abortion is illegal. Having children results in a tax break.

In the PRC, illegal pregnancies may require abortions and illegal births often result in high fines.

7. In the United States, people buy their fish prepackaged from a butcher.

In the PRC, people buy their fish live from a big fish tank in the grocery section.

8. In the United States, turtles are pets.

In the PRC, turtles are sold live at Wal-Mart in the grocery section.

9. In the United States, many DVD players will not                play pirated movies.

In the PRC, most DVD players only play pirated movies.

10. In the United States, my friends and family miss me.

In the PRC, I miss my friends and my family even more!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Chapter 4: Some things are just overrated

Over the past week I have discovered that many of my prior necessities are not really necessities at all. I’m not speaking of the obvious-- like using soap instead of shampoo when in a pinch or washing things by hand when without a washing machine. No, these are just a little bit more subtle.

The first item that is overrated is tupperware or any other ware designed to store food items in the refrigerator. It is quite simple, really. Any item that comes in a jar is worth the money. Dinner started out as this….

                                                      And the left overs ended up in this... 

Speaking of ware... Silver ware is overrated as well. I use my granola bar to scoop peanut butter now.

The cracker will spread the butter and it's better than a knife—you can eat it!

                                        Who needs a cup when you’re the only one around?

The next item that is overrated is the mop bucket. Sanitize the toilet and let that be your mop bucket you say? Well in some parts of the world, (ie. Almost everywhere except the United States) the toilet only gets a small amount of water. Fill it up with a bucket, you say? I’ll ignore the comment about a bucket for now. I filled it with a jug of water… very slowly…  and it flushed my chemical down the toilet... very slowly

The solution? The shower stall. It's not a bucket, toilet, or bath tub but it will do. I just have to disinfect the shower before I use it every time...

Eventually, the mop bucket won out, BUT only because I needed something to carry my new purchases home in from the Chinese Wal-Mart in (thus the reason I bought two buckets). Grocery bags are overrated.

 This is a pot. The lid is keeping the noodles in the pot while I dump the water. It replacing the overrated strainer.

 Are those potholders? They kept the heat from the plastic handles from burning my skin...

Actually, they are socks.

And last but most importantly, instant fresh brewed coffee! Coffee pots, french presses, and th like are overrated.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chapter 3: Peeling

Well, tonight was open house and I met a few of my students' parents. They were so eager to help me get acclimated to China. Most of them are transplants too.

Also, today I put several questions on the board with the directions "Discuss with your groups." They were good questions, but I also wanted to see how they would do. The most amazing thing occurred. They discussed. They engaged. They respectfully agreed and disagreed. Then I told the two groups of five (That is right, a class of 10) to talk as a class. The most amazing thing occurred. They discussed. They engaged. They respectfully agreed and disagreed. They compared the issue to other world events. I ran out of the classroom because I saw a teacher walking by just so I could tell them what happened and how new it was to me. He said "Welcome to teaching nirvana."

The heat and humidity is steadily becoming less of an issue. Each day, it gets easier, much easier to handle.

Father, thank you for slowly peeling away my comfort so I can be free to live.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Chapter 2: No Bones Attached

The heat. The smog. The pollution. The honking. The yelling. The anxiety. The confusion. The first time I had to get to my apartment alone. I’m glad it was daytime. That looks like my gate… I think. Yes, the bus stop is right across the street. That is where I live… I think.

Ahh yes. This is my apartment complex. Yes. Okay, now which building do I live in? I look at the electronic building key to see what it says… nothing. Then the door keys… they have many different numbers on them. None that seem to really help me. Okay… I’m a bit anxious. I know I’m home, but I don’t know where I live… which building is it? I will scan my access card at each building until one of the doors open or I get arrested for suspicious activity. Yes, that sounds like a plan. The fourth building opens… or was it the fifth? I still don’t know, but I can get there. The monkey bars for the children are right outside my door. My landmark. I enter and go to the elevator. Yes, this is familiar… this elevator… it brought me downstairs this morning… but from where? I look again at my keys to find an answer and still, nothing helpful. I try the fourth floor. That looks good. Uhh no I definitely didn’t see that red scarf hanging over my door before. This isn’t home. I try another floor. The seventh floor maybe. No. Okay, I’m starting to get a little nervous so I’ll call the housing director, and ask him which floor I live on. So I do. It’s the 13th floor. Fabulous. I’m glad I’m not superstitious. I’m home.

I reported to work yesterday morning (for the first time) just in the nick of time for no one to notice that I was slightly late. My substitute was to cover my classes all day while I “orient myself.” I wasn’t sure what it meant to orient myself so I went to visit my department chair, right before school started to see what she thought it might mean. She suggested I take my materials into the air-conditioned library to begin planning my units since the substitute was still covering for me while I “orient myself.”

I decided to stop by my classroom first, briefly, and when I did, my substitute introduced me to my class. As soon as she said I was their new teacher, immediately, they smiled… and clapped… without sarcasm… without hesitation. This resolved much of the anxiety I had about starting the school year in this new environment.

I was working in the library… almost… but I didn’t have my laptop, so I walked home to get it. The sweat. The beads of sweat. The thick, dripping beads of sweat.

Then I was working in the library… getting sleepy, very sleepy. My eyes were getting heavy, very heavy. So I did what any new employee would do in this case. I walked out of work, crossed the street to this wonderful two level Korean Coffee shop that has free Wi-Fi and where the employees speak English and ordered a coffee… the best coffee I’ve ever had and took it back to work all because it’s allowed “as long as we don’t do it everyday.” Then… I was hungry, so I went to the security desk up front where they have menus from restaurants around town and call and place the orders as part of their security guard position. I placed an order with the guard for a particular dish, left the money with him, and later picked up my hot meal that was delivered to the school right at lunch time. I wasn’t expecting meat, but I was pleasantly surprised that even though it did include meat, it was beef and the bones were not attached as they usually are to meat here in China.

Then I was working in my classroom. My substitute had the last class period off, so we chatted and decorated the bulletin boards together. She showed me how to work the projector and told me where the copy machine and printer were located. This was my orientation to the school procedures. We learned that we live in the same apartment building! Such a small, small world. I asked her to be my friend. She said, “Yes. We will also see each other all the time everyday from now on. Call me and we will have coffee on Saturday.” I said, “I’ll watch your baby too!” And I jumped up and showed her a few silly pictures of me with my nephews and sister on my computer screen.

Now, here I sit. I just finished my second day of work, my first day of teaching. I planned on going in tough, but the kids… they just bowed their heads at me and did what I told them to do. So I smiled… a lot. They exceeded my expectations. I gave them more work than I’ve ever given a group of students and they did it… they worked really hard. They put forth quality effort. They asked if they could write more than just one or two paragraphs. They asked if they were allowed to type their papers for me. I said, “Of course, can I make type your papers for me,” with a smile on my face, “Because if I can, I will.”

I know that they will challenge me, but I believe I am up for the challenge. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to teach these kids. I see their personalities just like my other kids from past years, except now, my classes are so small, and I have the opportunity to really know each child.

So here I sit. The soft piano music that I can hear through the walls mid morning and mid evening. The new FRIENDS that I can celebrate with on Sundays. The new FRIENDS I can go out to lunch with on Sundays who speak Chinese and can help me order meat with no bones attached.

Tuesday, September 6, 11

Chapter 1: In the Beginning

Preface: Coming from the Hong Kong Airport to mainland China in a taxi--- After viewing my luggage through the x-ray machine, Border Patrol examined the luggage bag that had DVDs in it, but made no comment about the bag that had long screw drivers in it.

Here I sit in my apartment on the 13th floor. I have two bedrooms and two balconies; one balcony is connected to the living room and one is connected to my bedroom. I have air condition, one unit in the living room and one in each bedroom. The first night, I couldn’t get the one in my bedroom to work because the remote was written in Chinese… so after hitting every button on it multiple times in no particular order, I moved my couch so it was underneath of the vent in the living room and slept. It was very hot in every place except that one spot. The housing director, got it working the next day when he picked me up to begin the first day introductions.

Introduction 1: the weather- It’s hot and muggy, hotter and muggier than anything I ever imagined. Since arriving, I have learned that my number one worldly goal is to find an air conditioned spot anywhere I can, any time, even if I am doing something important and it will be interrupted. The most humid 100 degree day in Virginia is more pleasant than the air in Shekou.

Lesson 1: I’m blessed.

Not everyone has air condition in their apartment. Also, although my elevator is very hot and the hallways are very hot, the apartments across the street, with at least 11 floors, do NOT have an elevator. I am blessed. No matter I am, I am richly blessed. 

Introduction 2: the bus system- It’s air conditioned. I am considering taking it each morning to work. Did I mention I can see my work from my balcony? It’s very close. It’s one bus stop away, about 500 yards away at most. Okay, maybe I won’t take it to work everyday, but I’m glad it is there as a resource for when I am too tired to walk (due to the humidity of course).

Lesson 2: I’m spoiled…

or is that blessed? Maybe a little of both.

Introduction 3: the high school- It’s air conditioned, mostly. My supervisor gave me a planner and my schedule and introduced me to both my substitute teacher and my department chair. When the dept. chair asked me if I had any questions, I said, “Where can I find some make-up? I accidentally left mine at home.”

Lesson 3: I’m glad my department chair is a woman.

Introduction 4 & 5: Main Campus and Chinese Hospitals- It’s even more airconditioned (Main Campus).  Also, it is attached to a Western grocery store with an entrance/exit IN the main lobby of the school.  Here, I met my boss and his assistant, the woman who orchestrated my arrival. I also met a sweet young lady who introduced me to the Chinese hospital. In order to obtain my resident permit, I had to undergo a physical exam at the local Chinese hospital… Ella made sure I was first in line and she translated for me. I had to go from one exam room to the next getting the boxes checked off by the various technicians and nurses, along with all of the other people required to obtain a physical.

I had my blood drawn. Immediately, they were able to tell me my blood type, O, something I’ve never known and something that my doctor’s office, which has performed blood work on me multiple times, stated they did not know. I also had to have a sonogram of my stomach. The technician was an older Chinese woman who didn’t smile—or even speak or gesture at all. I had an ECG. I had some sonogram thing done to my feet. I had a chest x-ray without any protective gear while still wearing my jewelry… But the technician was in another room behind a glass window and an electronically sealed door. I had to pee in a cup in a squat toilet without toilet paper and place the cup, without a lid onto a tray of about thirty other specimens that had been there for hours, also without lids. The sink had no soap.

Oddly enough, my mind did not notice the temperature while I was at the hospital. I must have been distracted by something. I was told that the government did not accept my physical from the USA because they had different standards...

Lesson 4: Grocery stores connected to work are awesome.

I’m slightly envious.

Lesson 5: Efficiency is not to be confused with effectiveness.

Lesson 6: I will always carry hand sanitizer.

Introduction 5: washing dishes- It doesn’t require a rag or a sponge. At first, all I had was hot water and my hands. Then, I remembered that I had some bar soap in the bathroom. What made it even better was when I remembered I packed some dishrags.   

Lesson 7: Little is enough when it’s all you have.

Introduction 6: the washing machine-
The curtains are so dusty, I’m afraid I’ll get sick. I took them down and put them in the washing machine. I have no soap, but who needs soap? I’ll just rinse the dust out of them. I’m not sure which button does what since I can’t read Chinese, but I’ll just push them until they start. Oh there are numbers. I bet they are degrees. I’ll turn it down in case hot water is bad for the fabric. That’s definitely the power button.  It’s clearly on, but where is the water? Why isn’t it working? It’s plugged in. It’s connected to a water source. I wonder what might happen if I turn the handle to the water hose. Oh there it is. It is filling with water. It is spinning…. Several hours later… It’s still washing. Maybe I need to manually shut it off. Okay, there it is. It stopped. I might need to ring it out, but at least I know it is not soapy. Okay, open. It’s stuck. I can’t get it open. Ergh… I’ll just leave it and come back. Maybe it needs to reset… an hour or so later… okay open. Maybe it wasn’t done and it needs to drain or something. I’ll just turn it back on and hope it picks up where it left off… no stop! It’s washing again. I Repeated this process an hour later.

Directions: Fill in the blank to determine lesson 8.
What is the definition of insanity? _______________________

Introduction 8: The water (drinking water that is)- The school gave me about a gallon and a half of drinking water on Thursday along with a number to order more water later. It is now Saturday afternoon and I’m almost out of water, just a few sips left… Wait they don’t speak English and I don’t speak Chinese. The phone call won’t bear any fruit. I’ll call my department chair and ask her about water. She walked enough water over to me to last the weekend. She would have ordered it to my apartment, but I couldn’t read my full address.

Lesson 9: Learn Chinese!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my first day and a half in China. I’m sitting in my apartment this afternoon waiting for the internet guy to arrive so I can post this note for you to read. So if you are reading this, he showed up.

Please write me. Being so far away, I wouldn’t mind handwritten notes if that is your thing.

One more thing. I was sitting this morning and talked to my Father, please show me what I’m supposed to be doing. Why am I here? I opened my Book and out fell a card from a good friend with the words "Be joyful always; [talk to your Father] continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is His will for you in CJ.” All I need to know right now is to be joyful, talk to Him, and remain thankful.

In conclusion, after thoroughly examining the appliance on my balcony along with the photograph on it, I can’t determine for certain if it is a clothes dryer or a bread-maker.

I love you!