Friday, December 28, 2007

Nostalgic Christmas Reunion

Whenever I go home and I'm back at church, most things seem to be the same as when I left. The combination of a small, country, Baptist church makes change a slow process. Usually I can step back in and it almost feels that the year absense never existed. It's when I look at the kids in church that it hits me how long I've been gone. A year in the life of a 2 year-old or even a 10 year-old makes a big difference. I go home and a boy that I watched take his first steps is now taller than me.
The Friday before Christmas, Katie and I invited some friends over from Yichang Foreign Language School (the middle school we both taught at for two years before coming to the university). Four of our friends and former colleagues came over and they all brought their kids. I looked at those kids and thought, "Wow! I've been in China for a long time!" When I first met Swallow (like the bird) her daughter was a shy two year old. Emma's six now. Carol's daughter was a baby. Netty found out she was pregnant the second year we were at YFLS and Katie and I went to her house when her baby was 100 days old (a Chinese baby milestone). Now Fan-fan is three years old! When we first arrived at YFLS, Lily had only been dating Bingo for a short time and they were still nervous and shy around each other (Oh, Bingo's Chinese family name is Bing so Lily named him Bingo . . . "like the song, B-I-N-G-O." . . . that's what she told us). We all attended Lily's wedding and now she has a son that's over a year old.
Wow. The years here have gone by fast . . .
We all had a wonderful time together and had fun getting to catch up and exchanging gifts. Despite living in the same city, we don't see these friends very often. Oh, I was also reminded how un-baby-proof my apartment is.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy Boxing Day

Yesterday was Boxing Day. My internationally inclined calender from Barnes and Noble tells me that this holiday is celebrated in Canada and the UK. I don't really know what people do or celebrate on Boxing Day, but I've decided that to me it means taking a moment to appreciate all of the wonderful boxes that have been sent to me while I've been living in China. Thanks to all who have taken the time and put in the effort and braved the post office to send me a box!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Text Messages

Text messaging is so much more prevalent here in China than in America and with my students sometimes it's the easiest and cheapest way to communicate. When it comes to a second language, phone calls can often be difficult or confusing. Text messaging avoids having to make small talk and let's the students look at what you said instead of just hearing it. On average, I'd say I send and/or receive 15 - 20 text messages a day.



On holidays, my students are always really sweet and want to say "Happy . . . " whatever holiday it is. I knew Christmas would be overwhelming when it came to the phone. I was right. They started on Christmas Eve and from about noon on Christmas Eve until about 9:00 p.m. Christmas Day, I kept my phone on silent otherwise I would have gone insane. My inbox holds 40 messages and by Christmas morning my phone was flashing a message that said: "No room for incoming messages!" I think I received about 50 - 60 text messages, maybe more. Lots of students told me to "Marry Christmas" and so if I ever come across some guy named Christmas, I'll keep that in mind. I also had a message that said, "Merry Christmas. Hope this year you will be nicer." My students often say things like that, for example, "I wish you were more beautiful." They mean it is as a compliment, but I finally pointed out in class one day that it doesn't always come across so well.

I decided not to write back to everyone but have been making group thank-yous in class for all the thoughtful text messages.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

圣诞快乐

Merry Christmas! My Christmas Day 2007 is nearly over (it's 11:00 p.m.) and I'm sitting here astounded at how blessed I am with an amazing family and the absolute best friends anyone could ask for. I cannot even begin to describe how amazing my Christmas with Katie, Beth, Brad, and Amy was. We opened presents for 5 hours straight. And it wasn't just that we had went overboard buying stuff for each other (even though we did do that) but the most amazing part was the thought and creativity that went into making and creating personalized, special, meaningful gifts for each other. I can't even begin to describe it. It was amazing and my heart can't take anymore. And my mom, dad, sister and brother-in-law are just as amazing and I can't brag on them enough. The presents that my parents sent are more than I could ask for and my sister is the sweetest and best friend in the world. As with all of my China Christmases, I'm sad at not being home and I get a lump in my throat when I see pictures of my family and I'm not in them. But, the blessings that have come today and this whole year in China reinforce to me that I'm right where I'm supposed to be, even on Christmas Day.

Katie, Brad, Amy, Beth - Love you guys and thank you more times than I can say. We are bonded for life and this definitely was . . . "the best day ever."

Mom, Dad, Kara, and John - I miss you all so much (and the dogs). I love you all and although I've said it so many times, I know I have the most incredible family anyone could ask for.

To my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins - I miss all of you too. I love all the Christmas memories that I have of Christmas Eve's and Christmas Day. The food, all the people, the presents, the games . . . I'll see you all again soon and am looking forward to having a "Christmas in July" gathering with everyone. Grandma, can we make cut-out cookies this summer?!

To others who sent boxes and cards - everything was much appreciated! Thank you so much.

I'll have some pictures soon and some other fun posts about Christmas gifts. Merry Christmas and goodnight as Christmas closes on this side of the world.


O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease,
Fill all the world with heaven's peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Christmas with the FAO

Last year the Foreign Affairs Office Christmas Party was one of the the highlights of the whole Christmas season. This year was no different. Last year we introduced our FAO colleagues to the idea of a White Elephant gift exchange and they loved it. When we told them we wanted to have a party this year, they were thrilled and couldn't wait for the White Elephant gifts. We introduced them to some fun "western" snacks too. The deviled eggs and pumpkin soup were a hit. All of us foreigners really love our friends in the FAO and are grateful for all the assistance they give us. They put up with a lot of mafan (trouble, but the Chinese word is broader and better than any English word we have) from all of us and the Christmas party was one small thing we could do for them to try to show them how much we appreciate their hard work.


Beth, Katie, Amy, and me

Jian, Carrie, and Daisy

Brad and Yang

Sophie, Ally, Kristy, and Vicky

Points to Brad for his creative wrapping. I loved it. :)

Big, big points to Christy who (all on her own) wrapped up 4 goldfish in a bowl for a present! We couldn't believe it. The fish got stolen several times but ended up at Beth's house.
Yang won this lovely muff. I think (and hope) he donated it to Daisy, his wife.
Katie and me with Ally. Ally volunteers her time to tutor Katie and me in Chinese every week. She's a great teacher and a ton of fun and she has the cutest giggle. Katie and I have learned so much from her and we have so much fun in class every week.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Party Every Day!

Sorry for my lack of posting, but I really literally have barely had a minute to sit down and do anything the past two weeks. I'm in the middle of exams for my students and am also trying to invite all the students over for a Christmas party. On top of that, I have my part-time L'Oreal job and am trying to shop for and make Christmas presents. Busy, busy . . . but a good kind of busy. I'm sure everyone is feeling that way about now.

I always love inviting the students over to my house to share Christmas with them. But of course, if I'm going to invite one class or one group then I really can't get away with not inviting them all. With more than 150 students and an apartment that, at most, can hold about 25 students at one time, that equals six student parties. Katie also has about that many students and has been having them all over too. We've had a party at our house or had other friends over almost every day, sometimes twice a day. I figured out that between my students, and Katie's students, and all of our friends we will have had about 300 people in and out of our house in the last two weeks!!!

For my student parties we've done a gift exchange. The students have usually never done something like that before and have a great time with it. Here's my favorite gift this year. It's a "you zi" (in English it's a "pomelo" - a large fruit that's like a cross between a grapefruit and an orange, they're really common here in the fall and winter). The student who brought this drew a face on it and then stuck two lollipops in it to make ears! So funny. And it was the biggest and heaviest present which made all the students curious.



The students always tell me how much they enjoy coming over and I'm glad that they can see our Christmas tree and get to do something fun. I also get to share the true Christmas story with them while they're over.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Boxes!

On Thursday, I got three Christmas boxes delivered to my door. One each for me and Katie from Ruby Neier who's my adopted church grandma. And a box from Bob and Debbie Dillon, also from my church! The boxes were so great! Katie and I decided that they needed to be opened right away instead of waiting for Christmas. So much great stuff!! Homemade sugared pecans in pretty Christmas jars and great smelling potpourri from Ruby. Lots of wonderful food, coffee, drink mixes, etc. from Bob and Debbie. And, I got a new Colts sweatshirt, this one is the pink girl's-version :-) Katie and I immediately made a pot of coffee, ate sugared pecans, set out out the potpourri (we didn't put it on the coffee table though because we're not sure our Chinese friends will know what it is and we're afraid that they'll think it's a snack), and tried our new slipper-socks that Debbie sent. Thanks so so much to Ruby and the Dillons! Getting a box here is so nice and so much fun.




P.S. I think Bob and Debbie's box has the new China Post record. It was post-marked the 5th and I got in on the 12th! That's super fast to get a box shipped half-way around the world.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Meat Feast

Last night I went to dinner with my students from the L'Oreal factory that I've been teaching at for a few weeks. We had catfish (served whole on a huge platter), turtle soup, spicy beef, beef with green peppers, lamb ribs, pork meatballs and pork dumplings . . . all in one meal. Quite the carnivorous spread. Turns out the dinner was being paid for by the company, hence the more lavish dishes and all the meat. In general, though, I am constantly amazed at the variety served at Chinese dinners. We also had sour and spicy potatoes, a mushroom hot pot, a fruit salad, and a green vegetable that resembled asparagus.

Monday, December 10, 2007

China, mobile.

Last Sunday my friend, colleague, and former Chinese tutor, Liu Haidi, left to go to Norway to teach for a year. A few months ago, one of my former students, Ray, went to Poland to study in a university. When Ray first told me she was going to go abroad, I asked her three or four different times if she really meant she was going to Poland because I couldn't believe it. My friend Jian was planning a trip to Nigeria a few months back (his trip fell through, but he was serious about going). I also have Chinese friends and students in England and Australia. Katie has a former student in Canada. Sometimes I go to Chinese restaurants in America and wonder how people from China ended up in obscure places in small-town America. In China, I'm watching people leave China going to all those obscure places all over the world. I just think it's interesting where people end up when they decide to expatriate themselves (is that a verb? is that a reflexive verb? probably not, but I like it. Yes, I'm an English teacher). In Yichang alone I've met people from India, Nepal, Sweden, Australia, Madagascar, Oman, Poland, France, England, and Canada. Whenever I see other foreigners in Yichang or anywhere in China, I wonder how they ended up here. I bet when I'm out walking around in Yichang, people look at me and wonder, "how did that white girl end up here . . . she obviously doesn't come from here originally." I don't really know what the point of this post is other than I was just thinking about having Chinese friends in Norway and Poland . . . of all places.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Practical Fashion

I have to share one of my most prized China purchases. For four years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get one of these “umbrella hats.” When it rains here in Yichang or when the sun is strong, I often see the street sweepers wearing these umbrella hats so that they can still have their hands free to work. I’ve always thought they were hysterical but have looked and looked and never been able to find where to buy them. A few weeks ago, Katie and I were walking in the city and saw a lady on a bike wearing one. We decided to just walk up to her and ask her where she got the umbrella hat. I was ready to just ask her if I could buy her hat right then! Well, she was sweet, had a good sense of humor, and was happy to talk to some foreign girls in Chinese. She told us that her work provided the hat for her (she was a street sweeper just getting off work), but she knew a shop that sold them and she offered to just take us there. So we went to a fishing/camping store and, sure enough, there they were . . . and for only 8 yuan (just a little more than a dollar)! I haven’t actually worn it out while it’s raining, but Katie and I plan to sometime just to see what kind of reaction we get. I wonder if these could ever catch on. I mean, they are practical . . . you can have your hands free and still be dry. Somehow I don't see them becoming the next fashion trend though. But then, I never thought people would be excited to be wearing bowling shoes or bubble dresses. I just realized that this great find is in keeping with my 2007 New Year's Resolution to buy and wear more hats and become a "hat person"!



Saturday, December 8, 2007

Sprots!

Welcome to Sprots!

For my birthday, my friends went together and gave me money to put towards a gym membership. Amy, Beth, and Brad had joined this gym last year, but then it was closed for more than 6 months for renovations. Now, this gym is so nice! Joining was a little annoying since they decided that they no longer offered half-year memberships, but I joined anyways and have been glad I did. They have every piece of equipment you can imagine - treadmills, bikes, elliptical runners, free weights, weight machines, balance balls, yoga classes, aerobics, spinning, etc. Amy's, Brad's and my schedules work out well to go to the gym together and we all like it because it keeps us accountable and motivated if other people are going. I've been trying to go about three times a week. If we go in the late morning or early afternoon, the gym is practically empty. Most of the time, we have the place nearly to ourselves. Even though my gym pass ended up being more expensive then I wanted it to be, it was still amazingly cheap compared to what a year pass to a gym cost in the States. Hopefully I can stay on track, be consistent, and get in better shape!

For as nice as the gym is, however, they still didn't manage to get someone to check the English on their sign.

Sprots front desk

Elliptical machine

Spinning

Weight room

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Homemade Bagels!

Friday night, Katie, Beth, Amy and I had a fun girl's night watching "Hairspray" and eating the delicious mint-brownies. Not even the unpredictability of the toaster oven could stop us from enjoying those brownies. Watching that movie brought back fun memories of good times spent with my sister this past summer. Beth decided to stay the night and we ended up making home-made bagels (the only kind of bagels that exist in China)! Amy, Beth, and Brad had tried the homemade bagels last week, but Katie and I were gone so we didn't get to try them. It's a bit of a process - making dough, letting it rise, shaping the dough, boiling the dough, and then finally baking them. We started, took a break to watch the movie, and then didn't finish making them until about 1:00 a.m. Some of our bagels were slightly flat and the toaster oven was making it hard to get them to bake evenly, but the last batch was perfect. Since bagels are non-existent here (when I go back back to the States, cinnamon bagels with cinnamon swirl cream cheese are one of the first things I want . . . right after a cold glass of milk), it was an amazing treat. We even had some cream cheese from our last trip to Wuhan that we were able to put on our bagels. So have any of you ever made homemade bagels??? To add to our bagel breakfast, we made pumpkin pancakes, scrambled eggs, and Starbucks coffee. Fun Friday night and Saturday morning. Props to Beth for her amazing and adventurous cooking skills. Points to my American non-stick flat griddle that mom talked me into bringing for making perfect pancakes. Thanks to Amy's mom for sending Pillsbury mint brownie mix. Yeah for my fun Yichang friends.

Bagel dough
Boiling the bagels
Baking in the toaster oven
Bread for Brad (who is often mistakenly called "Bread" here)!!
Pumpkin pancakes on our fun Christmas plate that we found at a shop here in Yichang amazingly enough.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Over the Bridge Noodles

While in Meng Zi with the Rices, we got to enjoy Meng Zi's famous "over the bridge noodles" again at a lively, fun restaurant called Brothers Jiang. You're given a huge bowl of boiling broth, a bowl of uncooked rice noodles, and a plate with slices of meat, mushrooms, green onions, and tofu. The hot broth cooks everything in minutes. DIY noodle soup!




























Here I am enjoying (apparently a little too much) my "over the bridge noodles." Please, keep in mind that Brian is the one taking this video and is therefore the closest one to the camera :-)

video