Monday, December 29, 2008

Permanent Pests

I'm enjoying the warm weather that we still have in Mengzi. Most days we have sun, blue skies, breeze, and you can get by with just wearing a jacket or light sweater--certainly a welcome change after freezing in Yichang the past few winters. Winter in Mengzi is probably quite similar to winters in Florida in the States. But, the downside to warm winters is that flies and mosquitoes don't ever leave! They're everywhere still and so so so annoying! The strange thing is that the mosquitoes don't seem to ever bite me, they just buzz around my face at night making me go crazy. Any one know why mosquitoes stop biting in the winter? Bites or no bites, I need some sort of offense against the mosquitoes. Next time I'm out shopping, I'm going to buy one of those zapper rackets (do they have those in the States)?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Eve = Apples

China seems to have developed it's own tradition for Christmas Eve which I find quite interesting and amusing. In Chinese, instead of calling December 24 "Christmas Eve," it's called "Silent Night" (or more accurately "Peaceful Night"). This is the same phrased used in the song "Silent Night" when it's sung in Chinese. The Chinese word for "Peaceful Night" is 平安夜 Ping An Ye. The first character "ping" has the same pronunciation (though a slight variation in the character) as the first half of the Chinese word for "apple" which is 苹果 Ping Guo. So, someone somewhere in China has decided you need to give out apples on Christmas Eve. Seems a bit of a stretch to me, but I don't think foreigners get a vote in this newly adopted Chinese Christmas tradition.

In Yichang, Katie and I got the occasional Christmas Eve apple but the apple buying and selling seemed somewhat contained. In Mengzi, however, Christmas Eve creates and all-out apple craze. Shops and fruit stalls have capitalized on this apple idea. Not only do they sell apples for Christmas Eve, but they sell special paper that you can wrap the apples up in. The more sheets you use, the more expensive, and therefore more desirable and valuable (I guess) the apples become--not that elaborately wrapped apples taste any different. Katie said one of her students got an apple wrapped in 99 sheets of paper so that then it looks like a huge paper flower. Seems overly extravagant and pointless to us--who needs an apple covered in 99 pieces of paper? Guess it's some kind of Chinese Christmas status symbol.

Since Katie, Dave, and I were hosting lots of student Christmas parties, we ended up with nearly 15 wrapped up apples between the three of us that students gave us when they came over. We decided instead of opening them all and trying to eat them ourselves (Katie had already been given an orchard-worth of fruit to eat by some of her students), we passed the pretty apples on to the hotel staff since they're all really nice about helping us whenever we need something for our apartments (our apartments are part of the campus hotel).

Here I am holding a wrapped and unwrapped apple. And the second picture is me trying to hold all the wrapped up apples that we got.

On Christmas Eve, while leaving campus to go to the Rice's house, we noticed there were hundreds of students holding wrapped apples all milling around campus and the front gate. It's like they knew it was a holiday and to them that meant they should buy an apple, but then it seemed like they didn't really know what to do since China doesn't have any traditions of celebrating Christmas. So the students were all just hanging out and walking around outside. Mostly it seemed like couples. I think the apple giving has turned in to a Valentine's Day-type idea where your boyfriend is almost obligated to give you an apple.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Boxing Day!

Happy Boxing Day to everyone! Wikipedia tells me Boxing Day is celebrated in the UK and UK related countries (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.). Since Boxing Day is always on my calendar, but since I don't really know how one is supposed to celebrate Boxing Day, I decided a couple years ago that this is a day when I'm especially thankful for all of the boxes that people send me. So to my parents, John and Kara, Grandma, Ruby, Bob and Debbie, Carma, Beth, and others who have sent me really great boxes . . . thanks so much! Your thoughtfulness means a lot and I always enjoy all of my boxing goodies! :)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Parties

5 parties down . . . 4 more to go!

It's busy and a bit tiring, but the kids seem to enjoy coming over and it gives me lots of chances to tell the Christmas story.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

O Christmas Tree

My Christmas tree in my apartment! Having a nice tree makes me happy and the students love to see a decorated tree when they come over for Christmas parties. I also put lights in my windows and have a few other decorations around my apartment. Thanks to Ruby for sending me Christmas decorations that I could use all month. And thanks to my wonderful sister for sending a box full of wrapped packages that got here early so that I could have lots of presents under my tree.
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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Red River U

Here's a picture of one of the buildings on campus that I teach in. We refer to it as the Clock Tower building. I'm hoping to get to go up to the top of the clock tower section someday. This is one of the newer buildings on campus. Our campus, like the town of Mengzi, is a mixture of new and old buildings. I'll try to get some more pictures around campus, something that I'm always meaning to do. I have Dawson to thank for this picture.

And here's a picture of me, Katie, and Dave at the front gate of the school. Did you know that Hong He University translates to Red River College? And there's also a famous cigarette brand in China with the same name. So whenever we say what school we teach at, (especially when we're outside of Mengzi) people associate it with a pack of cigarettes. We decided it would be like going to Marlboro University or Joe Camel College in the States! :-) Oh well! . . . it's still a good school to work at.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mengzi's Lake and Park

Last week over the Thanksgiving holiday, Dawson came to visit me and Katie. Dawson lived in Yichang with us for two years and has now moved on the business world of Shang Hai. While Dawson was here, we took some time to walk around the park that's in the middle of the lake in downtown Mengzi. When you live in a city, sometimes you don't take the time to enjoy its attractions until you have a guest that you want to show them to. The park and lake really are pretty areas and we've had gorgeous, clear, sunny weather the last few weeks to make it even more enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bedtime for Gracie and Esther

Reading a bedtime story to my two favorite xiao peng you (means "little friend", what an adult says to a child in Chinese). Esther and Grace, the Rice's two youngest daughters, are so much fun and too cute! I'm so glad I can be an "aunt" to them while I'm here in Mengzi.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Another amazing Thanksgiving dinner in China! This is my fifth Thanksgiving in China and every year I've been able to celebrate with Brian and Victoria and their family. I do really miss being home with my family during holidays, but I'm thankful to have a great China family that I feel so at home with. And I'm thankful that Victoria is willing to put together such an amazing Thanksgiving feast. We try to pitch in and help, but really Victoria's the one who does all the work. Despite being in such a small town in China, we don't miss out on anything when it comes to the holidays.

Playing games before dinner

Our Thanksgiving center-piece, handmade by some vendor on the sidewalk. In reality, it's probably supposed to be some kind of phoenix/peacock, but we decided it worked well as a turkey.
Xiao Feng (the Rice's cat) was just a little too curious about the turkey.
We always have to pose with the perfectly cooked turkey every year.
Sadly, Brian was feeling a bit sick on Thanksgiving, so Dave did the carving (sad about Brian being sick, not about Dave carving the turkey!).
Jack, excited to try Thanksgiving dinner (um, we're not sure what the "L" pose is about . . .)
There were at least 25 people over at the Rices for dinner this year. It reminds me a lot of holidays at my Grandma's house. In Chinese, there's a great word to describe a situation like this: the word re nao 热闹 means something like bustling, festive, exciting, enjoyably crowded and noisy. But I don't think we have a good English equivalent. . I always like holiday celebrations that are very renao!
We even had football on the TV . . . a taped game between Ohio and Michigan from 2005 that we've watched the past three years! But, it still adds to the Thanksgiving ambiance.
So many great desserts! Victoria's cranberry apple pie could have won a prize at the state fair and Dave's chocolate turtle cheesecake could put Cheesecake Factory out of business!
We didn't know Rachel could eat so much! :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Too Many Cooks . . .

. . . spoil the spaghetti? Not at the Rice's house!

It's so nice to be able to have "family dinners" with great American food over at the Rice's house once a week. Since Katie, Dave, and I have rather small kitchens that make cooking rather cumbersome, we'd be really hurting for some good Western food if it wasn't for Victoria and all of her culinary delights (and Caleb and Rachel who cook dinners for us sometimes too).

Monday, November 24, 2008


In Yichang, Brad and Amy found a little stall that sells waffles. Finding waffles in China is rather amazing. You could choose from a variety of toppings (I chose chocolate, Brad and Amy went with blueberry . . . butter, apple, and strawberry were the other options). Your waffle gets covered in topping, folded in half, and is then slid into a paper bag. Waffles to go! Now I'm wanting a waffle stand in Mengzi . . .

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wrong-Way Street

While out in Yichang one afternoon, Brad and I saw this rather incongruous set of road signs which made us both laugh. So I guess your only option is reverse if you're driving on this road. Hope there's no one behind you. Of course, as I've often noticed, road signs and traffic rules in China seem to be a bit, um, flexible.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Yichang Visit

Last Thursday, Katie and I flew back to Yichang for a visit. We had three days off at our school because of some nebulous local anniversary/holiday. Combine those three days with the weekend and our relatively light/flexible teaching schedules and it worked out that we could spend almost a week in Yichang. It was a little strange being back in Yichang and back at TGU but not actually living there, but it was nice to see old friends and students. It was especially fun to hang out with Brad and Amy and make a trip out to Yidu to see Mary Beth, Jennifer, and Mira. We also made a trip back to Yichang Foreign Languages School, the middle school that we taught at for two years. One of my students from TGU is student-teaching there. Interesting to go back to my old middle school and find one of my old university students (who was a freshman when I first taught him) teaching a completely new generation of students there . . . made me feel, um, a little old. All in all, despite the slightly gray weather, a moderate bout with a cold/flu for both me and Katie, and the nightmare that is the Kunming bus station, it was a nice trip and a fun time. It's nice to have a hometown in China where I know I'll always have friends and memories.

Oh, and a fun happening on the way home . . . I went through my first Chinese drive-through! One of the McDonald's in Kunming has a drive-through which is a completely novel concept in China, so much so that it seems most people don't know what it is, why it's there, or how to use it. It's the only drive-through I've ever seen in China. Conveniently, that McDonalds is located halfway between the airport and the long-distance bus station, and Katie and I happened to have a surprisingly jolly, accomodating cab driver who picked us up at the airport. We easily talked the cabbie into making a run through the drive through on the way to the bus station. How fun! Big Macs on the fly. It felt so . . . American . . . except that we had to order in Chinese . . . and our fries got lost in translation. And, McDonalds in China now has Coke Zero which is also novel and progressive here in a land that knows nothing of "diet" foods.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Birthday Thanks

Thanks to everyone who made my birthday special!

On Friday I got a wonderful birthday package from Dad and Mom, John and Kara. I got to open my package while talking to dad and mom and using the webcams which was so much fun (technology is so amazing . . . well, when it works, at least). My family always sends great things in boxes and this box was no exception.

Yesterday I got to celebrate my birthday with the Rices and Dave and Katie. They gave me lots of nice presents (including a birthday scepter . . . ) and Victoria made my favorite cake, Black Magic cake with cream cheese frosting. Yum! Tasted so good. And it was a bundt cake . . . even better!

Today I got this fun picture from Brad and Amy which really made me smile. Their Halloween paper-mache mannequin (a.k.a. Stevie Nicks the Impaler) had a special birthday sign for me. Oh and in case you're wondering, yes the sign says "Kimb." A while ago, a student gave me a card and on the envelope it said "To Kimb" . . . it was like they first wrote Kim, then wanted to go for Kimberly, but got stuck after the "b" and then gave up. "Kimb" kind of stuck with my Yichang friends.

Beth wrote a fun, sweet birthday post for me on her blog which I loved. Thanks Beth! Reminds me or your great "chose-your-own-adventure" stories. And, she says there's a box on the way for me so I have even more to look forward to!

Thanks to friends and family back home who gave me cards and presents . . . my grandparents, Ruby, the Dillons, and others. Several students and friends from here at HHU and from Yichang sent me text messages and I got more Facebook birthday wishes than I could keep up with.

This year there wasn't a big party with a large group of friends like I've done the last few years (oh the fond memories of roller skating and the murder mystery dinner theater!), but I had a nice relaxing day with beautiful weather and a fun time doing dinner and a movie with Katie and Dave tonight. And I got to talk to my parents and to Kara to finish up the day.

Although birthdays take on a slightly different character as an adult, it's still nice to be treated special for a day. Despite the fact that I now definitively fall into the "late 20s" age bracket, I'm thankful for the past year that God gave me and excited about another year to come.

And I have to make a special point to say Happy Birthday to my sister and best friend. Happy 24th birthday Kara! I hope it doesn't sound cliche, but you really were the best birthday present I ever got! Love you lots! (Yes, my sister and I share the same birthday :)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fear Factor Food

One of the nights we were in Lu Chun, we went and had Chinese "BBQ". Night market booths with little grills serve beef and lamb kabobs and also potatoes and other roast veggies. The normal meat and veggies are pretty good, but you can also order an assortment of other "meat."

Anyone hungry for some tongue? How about a hoof or a tail? Or intestines? Or something completely unidentifiable?
Karry (one of our Chinese student-friends that went to Lu Chun with us) highly recommended the pig's tail and ordered one for herself. The BBQ lady chopped the tail up with scissors and used a knife to make small slits in the pieces and then grilled it. Karry kept telling me it tasted great, but I couldn't figure out how she was eating it. It's seriously nothing but cartilage. One of the great mysteries of Chinese people . . . how are they able to gnaw on something so tough and rubbery and call it food?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Terraced Fields

The town of Yuan Yang and the area surrounding Matthew's village are famous for the terraced fields. Since the land is quite mountainous, the peasants terrace the sides of the mountains so that they can have enough flat land to grow rice. Before planting, the fields are flooded and saturated with water making them look like a maze of layered lakes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Gorgeous Rainbow

When we arrived in Lu Chun on Friday, it was raining. But, at one point, the sun came out at just the right angel and there was the most beautiful, brightest rainbow I've ever seen. Actually it was a double rainbow (the second rainbow is there in the photos but it's not as vivid). The rainbow went over the town in a perfect arch and it was visible for more than 5 minutes! Yeah for Brian having a wide-angel lens on his camera that could capture the whole thing.

Almost seems like these photos aren't real, especially the one of Brian. It looks like he was superimposed onto a rainbow background. But I know it's real, I was right there!