Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Incredible !ndia

Greetings from Incredible (if somewhat elusive) India. We finally flew from Sri Lanka to India (visa in hand) and found our friend Sooraj waiting for us at the airport. Again, my time is limited, but I just wanted to get a post in. In Trivandrum, we visited a famous palace and temple and were overfed by Sooraj's wonderful, generous family. We headed off to take a boat ride through the Kerala backwaters and then took an elephant ride and went to a wildlife preserve. We didn't see too much at the wildlife preserve other than monkeys and bird, but we did see a tiger footprint and elephant rubbings on a tree and enjoyed a beautiful hike through the jungle. Now we're in Kochi for a few days before heading to Bangalore. In Kochi, we went to a Dutch palace and a Jewish synagogue which was over 500 years-old. We also went to a traveling circus last night ("It was the best night of my life" - Brad Ellis) which was camped right next to where we were staying. The weather is warm and tropical and welcome break from Yichang's damp cold. I'm also loving the Indian food though still adjusting to eating with my hand ("hand" not "hands" - you can only use your right hand . . . makes it a little hard when you have to tear off pieces of bread and other things). Tonight we get on a train on our way to Bangalore and then we're going to Gao to hang out on the beach in a bungalow. If I hadn't come from China to India I think I'd have more culture shock but things here seem to be a variation on the same theme that we're used to in China - the traffic, the noise, the heat, the bathrooms. It's all part of the fun.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sri Lanka

Wow, I never thought I'd be posting something from Sri Lanka, but here I sit in the Colombo airport headed to India with my Indian visa in my passport! The time here in Sri Lanka has been . . . interesting. It started off a little rough due to unforseen problems, but turned out great thanks to a friend-of-a-friend and her family. Internet time is limited (15 minutes = 100 Sri Lankan Ruppes . . . actually not too bad for airport access) so I can't really post anything about what's happened. But, if I get more chances to post in India, I'll do so.

Hope all of you back home are enjoying your snow. It's hot, sunny, and tropical here which I'm quite enjoying.

More to come . . . hopefully soon.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

From Mao To Mahatma . . .

So have I mentioned that I'm going to India for three weeks? Well, at least I think I am. Me, Katie, Brad, and Beth finally got our tickets confirmed today. It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride trying to make all the arrangements. And, the ride's not over. We have tickets but still no visas. Pray that we're able to get the Indian embassy in Beijing to process our visas in three days instead of the usual five! We had wanted to fly out next week but the only flights available were Sunday so we're scrambling and going sooner than we thought.

Our good friend Sooraj (he's an Indian medical student here at TGU) is going to be our host/tour guide and we're excited about being able to be with him in India and to meet his family and see his hometown. After a stopover in Sri Lanka, we plan to go to Trivandrum, Bangalore, Goa, Mumbai, and Delhi. Besides just sightseeing, we're hoping to do a mini missions trip and help out Dr. Edwin Chelli and his work in Bangalore (possibly at an orphanage) for a few days. Wow, I can't wait! It's going to be a trip of a lifetime . . . well, as long as we get our visas.

As much as I'm able, I'll try to post about my travels and share pictures.

Goodbye gray, cold Yichang. Hello sunny tropics and beaches. Goodbye China and chopsticks! Hello Curry and eating with our hands!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Vacation . . . Almost

Classes are over. Exams are over. I listened to over 300 oral exams (my English majors gave two speeches each). I have 6 out 7 classes' grades recorded. I'll finish the last one tomorrow and turn my grades in Monday morning. My eyes are almost permanently crossed from staring at thousands of little boxes on my grade forms. I love Microsoft Excel. I only had to use Whiteout tape twice on my grade forms . . . not a bad record for as many boxes as I have to fill in, especially when you're having to deal with names in Chinese. Grades this semester have been relatively painless. I'll still be glad to be done.

It is true that teachers love vacations as much or more than the students.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Five, Four, Three, Two, One!!!

For New Year's this year, we had a bunch of guests come to Yichang. Some of them were friends of Beth but others were friends of friends (all from the same organization that Beth, Brad, and Amy came to China with). Everyone knew someone but no one knew everyone . . . if that makes sense. The first thing we did New Year's Eve was an Yichang Scavenger Hunt (thrown together by me at the last minute . . . thanks dad for passing on your creative game skills but also your last-minute preparation tendencies). We divided into three teams and then proceeded to run all over Yichang trying to take pictures/videos of certain things. It was quite fun and we got to act crazy, let people stare at us more than usual, and then just run on to the next thing. It was also interesting for me to try explain what we were doing in my floundering Chinese. The Scavenger Hunt ended at Pizza Hut where we ordered 7 pizzas and made the world's longest straw going from a pitcher of Pepsi all the way across the table to the other end.

After Pizza Hut, we all came back to Katie's and my apartment where we looked at our Scavenger Hunt pictures and videos.

Then it was time for the Apple Drop. Last year, Brad came up with the idea to drop an apple down a chopstick to simulate the Time Square ball dropping. Somehow this year word spread about it and everyone wanted to see Brad's Apple Drop. Amy found some sparklers so we decided to pull out all the stops for our guests. Brad and Amy stuck the sparklers in the apple and lit them as the apple got push down the chopstick as we counted down to 2008. So ridiculous, but so hysterically funny!

"Wow. Thanks. You Really Shouldn't Have . . . "

One cultural difference that's immediately obvious when you live in China is the different opinions about what makes a good gift. Birthdays, holidays, recovering from an illness . . . it doesn't matter the occasion, American and Chinese people will have very different ideas about what presents to give. In all honesty, most of the presents I receive from Chinese people leave me either baffled, cringing, or laughing. I'm going to chalk it up to a cultural rift rather than criticize them for it. They certainly mean well and have good intentions, especially my students who (as is true of students the world over) don't have a lot of extra money. It is, after all, the thought that counts.

Here is a sampling of some of the gifts that Katie and I received this year from Chinese friends and students.

This is a "fruit fork tree." It was all in pieces and I didn't know what it was or how it went together when I opened it. Aubree figured it out. The little green "leaves" are actually tiny forks which are used to serve pieces of fruit to guests. I guess you put the "tree" out as a center piece and then pull out a "leaf" when you want a bite of fruit. Personally, I'd rather just use toothpicks and not have to wash tiny forks, but it is an interesting idea.

Katie got this picture frame which she actually likes (Katie's alter ego is Hello Kitty). It is still rather funny. It's a pink plastic frame that's shaped like Hello Kitty's head. The glass slides in behind it. You can take out Hello Kitty's face and put your own picture in or just leave Hello Kitty in it.
This year I received this interesting figurine and snow globe. I can't figure out what's in the snow globe. A shell maybe?? The figurine has a plant, some sand, and scrolls in it (haha, I'm still figuring the figurine, too).
I got this stocking hat from a friend. I liked the colors and receiving a new hat fit in nicely with my 2007 Hat Resolution (see previous post); however, it's so tall! It stands out about 6-8 inches from my head and has a huge bobble on top.

Two pairs of gloves from students. The one says "I like style glove!" with a paper face of a girl with "hair" glued to it. The other pair of gloves has a large bunny head (like a pillow) attached to each glove.

Here we have Katie and "Violence Bear" (a direct translation). This present was picked out for her in Hong Kong by a student. It's a plastic bear dressed as Spider Man with movable arms and legs. Let's say I'm shopping in Hong Kong and I see this toy on a shelf. My first thought would be, "Perfect! I'll buy that for my 26 year-old, female, American teacher." Umm, no. We have no idea why Katie got Violence Bear or what she's supposed to do with it. I've known her for four years and never known her to be violent (except before the Bears/Colts Superbowl).

I actually got this for my birthday. It's a scrunchy (yes, a scrunchy . . . haven't worn one since junior high) with a faux diamond broach attached to it. The picture is deceiving because the thing is massive and so gaudy! I never wear things like that in my hair and thought it was funny that the person that gave it to me seemed to think it was so fitting for me.

This was our Christmas present from the Foreign Language College. A crystal rooster attached to a crystal base . . . because I was born in the year of the rooster. The thing is scary. And it is really heavy. Katie and I both got one. In a way, I can see the rationale behind this . . . something Chinese and specific to the year we were born. But, think about the practicality of this gift. This was given to two foreign teachers who plan to pack all of their belonging and move home at the end of the year. It's heavy. It's extremely fragile. It's oddly shaped making it hard to wrap or pack. Exactly the kind of thing I want to try to carry home in my suitcase. One of the roosters already broke off its base.
Ahhhh, the tea sets. Your birthday or holiday is not complete unless you receive a set of cups. One of these sets was from my birthday but three of them were given to me and Katie for Christmas. I already had two in the house from previous birthdays/holidays. And, I've already recycled at least two maybe three other tea sets that I previously received. Please notice the cups that have pigs painted on them and ears on the lids. The students know I love coffee so they're probably just trying to pick something they think would be fun and useful for me. But, group mentality strikes again and they ALL end up giving me tea cup sets.
Some of Katie's students gave her this wooden boat. Yeah, we don't know what to do with it either.

Like I said, it's the thought that counts. Our Chinese friends probably feel the same way about the gifts we pick out for them.
By the way, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is a good way to deal with Chinese gifts. Otherwise your house will become overrun.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy 2008

A new year. A big year for China. China looks at 2008 as a way to showcase its progress to the world during the Olympics. It will be interesting to see how this year plays out in China. There's been so much anticipation and hype leading up to 2008. I'm not exactly sure what China will do after the Beijing Games are over. After the years of build-up, a let-down of sorts seems inevitable.

I'm interested to see how 2008 will play out for my own life. A big part of my life is coming to a close as I plan to move back to the States and go to graduate school next fall. Leaving China after what will be almost 5 years isn't going to be easy, but it's time. After the years, a let-down of sorts seems inevitable. I'm excited and scared at the same time, looking forward to being a student again but dreading having to figure out all of the details of relocating and starting an American life.

In case any one is interested, I managed to keep my one resolution from last year which was to become a hat person. At the beginning of last year I think I only had one hat and I always thought I looked weird when I wore it. I now own almost 10 hats and wear them frequently. Hats are great. They take all the pressure off your hair and outfit because your hat is what people notice when you're wearing one. I'm trying to come up with a similar resolution for this year but haven't come up with one yet. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Felix sit annus novus! (my dad picked out a Latin phrase-a-day tear-off calender for me as a Christmas present . . . "Happy New Year" is my first phrase . . . good grad school prep)

Christmas Day

Chinese Christmas with my fabulous friends. So much wrapping paper. So many gifts. So much thought and creativity. So much love and care.