Friday, February 29, 2008

National Crisis!

No it's not the economy, the CCP, or Taiwan . . .

Yao Ming is injured. China's most well-known, most-beloved 7 foot 6 inch NBA star has an ankle injury. This season with the Houston Rockets is over for Yao. This alone would be sad news but the real crisis centers around the question, "Will Yao Ming be able to be in the Olympics?"

I'm blogging about this today because of two things that I read.

First, this quote from one of the articles I read about Yao's injury: "I'd rather part with my girlfriend, lose my job and have China's national football team never make the World Cup than see Yao out of the Olympics!" (from a Web surfer in Anhui province)

Please tell me this is an extreme form of hyperbole!!

The second thing that made me decide to blog about this was this news article title:
China called to prayer over Yao's left foot

An injured Yao is what calls China to prayer??!!

Yao seems to be a nice enough guy despite his slightly Neanderthal looks (no offence, Yao). Here in China he's revered as the model sports star. I have no reason not to like Yao, except for the fact that he's everywhere. Reebok, Coca-cola, Visa . . . he has endorsements from all the major companies. If you hear any sports report, you will always here a report about Yao, whether he played or not, whether he scored or not, whether the Rockets are even still in the running in the play-offs or not. While Yao is injured, the camera will probably still focus on him on the sideline the majority of the time if the Rockets' games are televised here in China.

Let's hope, since the stability of China seems to be at stake, that Yao recovers before 8-8-08.

For my fellow Chinese learners . . . if I wrote an article about this crisis, here's what the title would be. (This is my attempt at a Chinese pun)
"China Basketball Medal in '08, Yao bu Yao?"

Here's one more article about Yao Ming and some of China's other star Olympic hopefuls.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

To Change a Light bulb . . .

Guess how many light bulbs there are in my 3 bedroom apartment?

Answer: 69 . . . yes really 69. I just walked around and counted all of them. There might be more but I couldn't see inside one of the chandeliers. Modern Chinese apartments seem to be obsessed with extravagant lighting and bizarre ultra-modern light fixtures (which does not, however, always equal an adequate level of brightness). Around the perimeter of my living room there are 12 florescent bulbs that are alternately pink, green, and blue. We turn the "party lights" on for special occasions. We have a gaudy, unnecessary "flower bouquet" light fixture in the middle of the wall above the TV.

So, how many people does it take to change a light bulb in my apartment?

Answer: 5 - Katie, me, Jian (our "boss" who calls "the madam"), The Madam (our landlady/maintenance supervisor), and Ladder Man.

I feel rather ridiculous not changing my own light bulbs, like I should be the punchline to a "how many people to change a light bulb" joke. But, I don't own a ladder and really don't want to buy one, carry it home from the store, and have to store it. Without a ladder you can't reach the lights. So, when enough light bulbs burn out and Katie and I are fed up with the dimness, we call Ladder Man and The Madam.

Usually changing light bulbs corresponds with other maintenance requisitions, as was the case yesterday. There are several different possible outcomes when we call with a maintenance request.
1. The madam comes but we're not home so she and the repair man leave.
2. The appropriate/approved maintenance man is mysteriously in another city so we get told he will come "later."
3. A maintenance man comes, tinkers around with the broken appliance, makes a mess, announces it to be broken, and leaves.
4. A maintenance man comes, can't understand our broken Chinese, makes a mess, doesn't believe us that the appliance in question really is broken, announces it to be "mei wen ti" (no problem) and leaves.
5. A sympathetic maintenance man comes, patiently works with us and our not-always-adequate Chinese, sticks with the job until the problem is solved, and makes everyone happy by solving the problem in one trip instead of ten.

Thankfully yesterday it was the last outcome. One repair man (different than ladder/light bulb man) fixed our washing machine, water dispenser, and heater. A few things I've discovered.

-Explaining mechanical problems in a second language is practically impossible. I can't explain mechanical problems in English, let alone Chinese. I feel bad when the repair man has to listen to me babble about the washing machine in 5-year-old level Chinese.
-don't forget to clean the filters on your heaters periodically.
-6 coins stuck in your washing machine causes problems (i.e. turns it into a wailing banshee)
-light bulbs in China burn out fast
-repair men inevitably make a mess in your house
-Katie and I might not know how to repair appliances, but we do know when they're broken, even when the repair men don't believe us.
-I can't spell the word "maintenance."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Official Apple of the 2008 Games

Before we left for our trip, I saw apples at our fruit stand that had the Chinese character "fu" on them. "Fu" is seen a lot during Chinese New Year. It means some combination of "good luck/blessing/prosperity" and people have upside-down "fu" posters hanging on their doors, in their houses, in restaurants, all over the place (upside down "fu" is said to look like a character that means "will come" so "blessings will come" is the idea). I thought the apples were a fun novelty. It looks like the character has been stamped on them. I tried to ask about the process and was told they have to do it to the apple while it's growing (I didn't follow the whole explanation). I was quite impressed with them.

Now they still have a few "Fu" apples at our fruit stand, but they also have Beijing Olympic apples! Olympics overload!!! Seriously, I don't know what China will do after the Olympics. Practically every product you buy has some sort of Olympic insignia on it. Olympic apples . . . wow. And it's not just a sticker on the apples, the fruit is grown to have the design on it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Chinese Proverb

饭后百步走 Fàn hòu bǎi bù zǒu
活到九十九 Huó dào jiǔ shí jiǔ

Word by word translation:
Rice after one-hundred step walk
Life arrives nine ten nine.

After a meal, walk a hundred steps to live to be ninety-nine.

I've heard this proverb many times, but I have trouble remembering exactly how it went. It came up again the other night and I was sure it was "walk 99 steps to live to be 100." We finally had to ask our friend at our favorite restaurant for confirmation. Seems like it'd be better to be able to live to be 100 rather than just 99, but I think that the saying uses 99 because it rhymes in Chinese. I don't have any trouble following this saying because pretty much any Chinese food I eat is more than 100 steps from my house. I don't know if the saying applies to American food too :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


First day of classes today. I'm teaching Sophomore Oral English and Two Plus Two freshman Oral English--classes I've taught before (the perks of being old and experienced now). Pretty much what I expected. The English majors are wonderful, as always. The Two Plus Two students are annoying, as always. My schedule isn't too bad. Fridays are going to be long days, but it could be worse. Whenever they give us our schedules (or more accurately, whenever we track down our schedules), we all have to sit there and do a fair bit of decoding to figure everything out. Schedule Decoding 101. It should be a required course for all foreigners in China. And, I also think that schedules should come with this disclaimer:

Disclaimer: All schedules are subject to change without notice. Changes to the schedule do not exempt you from your responsibilities even if it is unclear or indeterminable where you should be or what you should be doing. Further questions can be directed to the Office of International Miscommunication. If we do not contact you, you should know there is a meeting that you may or may not be required to attend. In case of change, the students will be notified first and are available to answer questions concerning your schedule. Days of the week are subject to change. Holidays will be announced the week after they occur. Please be prepared to make up all holidays the weekend before and/or after the unspecified day. Textbooks may or may not be distributed to the students and may or may not be the correct edition. If there are any conflicts please deal with them yourself. Classrooms are not guaranteed.

Sank you wary much and happy everyday.

(Humor is always born out of truth . . . )

Pay It Forward (in action)

In my previous post (see 2-11), I wrote:

"we had no way of paying her (Visakha, our friend-of-a-friend in Sri Lanka) back completely for all that she did for us and probably never will have the chance. But, whenever someone comes to my house as a friend of one of my friends, I know I will show them every courtesy that was ever shown to me."

Ok, with that in mind, here's what happened today . . . barely a week after I wrote that.

While I was out running some errands on campus, Katie called me. She was in town taking care of some stuff and had gotten a call from (who she thought was) one of our student/friends. The student told her that he had met a girl from England at the train station, was helping translate for her, and that she was stranded in Yichang for the night. The girl was trying to get to Beijing but tickets were sold out so she wasn't able to leave until tomorrow. She needed a place to stay. Could we help her out? So, Katie wanted to know what did I think about this odd situation. My first (selfish) reaction was "I don't want to give up my whole evening to have to entertain some stranger." Especially since my classes start tomorrow and I really needed tonight to get things ready. I had already passed up an invitation for tonight so that I could get things in order. I (somewhat grudgingly) decided that, ok, we could help this girl out. After hanging up the phone with Katie, I remembered what I had just written about being willing to help out people . . . just like people were willing to drop everything and help me when I needed it. So I readjusted my attitude and felt more than a little shame at how quickly I'd forgotten what it was like to be stuck somewhere needing assistance.

I met up with Rebecca and the student and showed her to our house. Turns out it wasn't at all the student that Katie thought she was talking to (phone conversations with students are often confusing and unclear). Actually neither Katie or I knew that student at all and we have no idea how he had Katie's phone number. But, for some strange reason, he called Katie and put Rebecca in touch with us. Hanging out with Rebecca ended up being fun. She's been traveling all over China for the holiday and is on her way back to Beijing where she lives and teaches. She's at our house right now. We helped her figure out some things to do tomorrow while we have class.

I had no idea my Pay It Forward Traveler's Code would be tested so quickly.

Now I should stop blogging and go back to preparing for class tomorrow . . .

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"Thus Sayeth the Lord"

Going back to India for a post. This story actually involved Katie more than me since it was about her cell phone, but it's too funny and almost eerie not to share, especially since it's Sunday. She'll probably blog about it too if you read her blog.

Before we left Yichang, Oswon (one of our Indian friends) gave us his SIM card that he uses in India since he was staying in China. When we got to India we just switched out the Chinese SIM card in Katie's cell phone and put in the Indian one. Instant cell service (American cell companies REALLY need to be more like the service we get overseas . . . all prepaid, no contracts, no two-year agreements). We didn't use the cell phone very much but then we had it when we needed and it and there were several times when it really saved us.

On our second day in India, Katie got a text message that was a Bible verse. Apparently Oswon subscribes to some Verse-a-day text messaging service. We were all rather stunned though coming from China, where a service like that would never be available. We all read the verse which was one of the verses about not being afraid because God is with you (so appropriate after our Sri Lanka mess) and made comments about God speaking to us more directly in India than in China.

The next day we were all in the car together and Beth asked Katie if God had spoken to us yet today. Katie took the phone out of her purse, looked at it, started to say not yet, and then . . . ding, ding. Text message from the Lord. Right that second, right after Beth asked, that's when our verse came.

The day we were driving all over and we'd crossed a couple state lines, the verse we got was "I have learned whatsoever state I'm in to be content."

In Bangalore when we were in the car on our way to the orphanage, Katie's phone beeped and when she checked it and, that's right, it was James 1:27. " . . . to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." No kidding. That's the verse we got.

Then a day or two later, we were all discussing leaving some money with the Chelli family in Bangalore since they had fed us so many meals while we were there. We thought they could use the money to cover some of the food cost or just put it toward the ministry at Berean Bible College. As Katie was sitting in our guestroom counting out how much money she had so that she knew how much she wanted to leave, the Lord spoke to her through the text message which said: "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" --Matthew 6:6

Then in Mumbai we were taking a walking tour and we had just walked into St. Thomas' Cathedral and were slowly and reverently taking time to admire the beautiful church. Now, previously, the text messages had always been in the morning but that day the message was delayed and didn't come until the afternoon when we were in the church. Katie's phone beeped and we were all told to "Give ear to my word, O Lord, consider my meditation."

The last verse we got in India was a verse from Psalm about telling about "God's wondrous works that we had seen."

We're not making any of this up at all! It was crazy how many times the verse-of-the-day fit our situation exactly. It really felt as if God was speaking to us directly. Maybe I should go back to India, borrow Oswon's SIM card again, and wait for direct divine revelation about what the next step in my life should be. Or, I guess I can just read my Bible . . .

Edit: To make this even more bizarre, Katie and I unknowingly posted about this on the same day with the same title.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

So my Valentine's day was . . . interesting. Not romantic (not surprisingly). Not depressing (somewhat surprisingly), but odd. Katie, Beth, and I decided to just go out to dinner together. So we got dressed up (relatively speaking . . . we were clean, legs shaved, wearing make-up and jewelry which is the most dressed up we'd been for a month) and decided to go to a place called Justine's which is a slightly expensive restaurant in a hotel with mostly decent Western food. It's quiet and small and we like the atmosphere. Well, we got there and they were, of course, having Valentine's day specials which meant they didn't have the regular menu, just meals sets for 2 people. The meal sets were overpriced and half the stuff that came with them we wouldn't have liked anyways and there were three of us . . . too much for one set, too few for two sets. So we left. And tried another place that's sort of the same idea. Same problem. Then we decided to go to a place we like called the Curry Ladel in honor of our new appreciation for Indian food (their food is Indian with Chinese characteristics). There were no tables there. Very sad. Pizza Hut had a line out the door. We refused to eat at McDonalds for Valentine's day (that would be depressing). Another coffee shop only had meal sets. So we went to one of our favorite little hole-in-the-wall, super cheap peanut flavored noodle/wonton shops that is delicious but a far cry from a "special" meal. Oddly two Canadians came in (very very odd to see more foreigners in Yichang especially in that restaurant) so we ate with them. They're college age kids here in China on an exchange program for two months. We order more food than we ever have before at that little restaurant and the whole meal for the three of us cost 25 yuan ($3.50). Anyways, then we just came home, made coffee and some dessert and girl-talked the rest of the night. Not exactly a Valentine's Day for the record books in the traditional sense, but still memorable.

Oh, thanks to thoughtful Beth for my adorable stuffed teddy bear!

Friday, February 15, 2008

And finally . . .

It's so hard to blog about a month-long trip to a place like India. I wish I had been able to blog as we went, but internet access was really limited. So, instead of overloading my blog with more and more pictures, I'm just going to post links to online albums. If you want to see more pictures, just click on the links. I tried to write informative captions so that it's clear where we are and what we're doing.

India and Sri Lanka Photos:
Part I
Part II
Part III

I might have a few more India blogs but at least now I feel like I can move on with my blog. School starts next week for us. Amazingly, I do already have my class schedule and it looks ok.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Some Sri Lanka pictures

Navigating through Colombo in an auto-rickshaw

Gorgeous view, but junkie rip-off hotel with bed bugs and mosquito infestation. Sadly, we didn't have much time to enjoy the beach here.

Elephant Crossing. I love this sign!

And the elephant really did cross and march down the street to the river for their "bath time."

The Elephant Orphanage in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Since the elephants are pretty much domesticated you can go right up to them. Amazing but weird creatures.

Elephant Dung Paper is one of the specialty products available here. We got to see the process in action and they really do take the dung, boil it, dry it, and make paper. The paper is really expensive for being made out of dung!

Happy and so relieved to finally have our Indian visas stamped in our passports!!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

India trip survey (in reverse)

Katie spent yesterday sorting through the hundreds of pictures on her camera so now I have some to post. There are tons of pictures so it's hard not to go overbored, but here are just a few from each stop we made.

The quintesential picture from any trip to India: The Taj Mahal

The Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel

Sunset on Anjuna Beach

Visiting an orphanage run by Berean Baptist Bible College


Elephant ride in Kerela

Backwaters cruise in Kerela

Deleicious food in Trivandrum

Temple in Trivandrum

Monday, February 11, 2008

Would you rather . . .

. . . take a trip or take care of a crying newborn?

In one of my travel reads, I came across this paragraph:

"Traveling is the great true love of my life . . . To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my other loves. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless newborn baby--I just don't care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it's mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to--I just don't care."

Pardon the barf reference, but this description is great and right on. Sometimes your trips really do "barf all over you." Things go wrong . . . somewhere, at some point, always, inevitably, no matter what you plan for or which "Lonely Planet" you consult. You get lost, you have no money, you sit at an embassy all day, your hotel reservations mysteriously vanish, your camera vanishes, you get bedbug and mosquito bites, you stay right on the beach but don't have one second to enjoy it, you get ripped off, you go without showers and food, the bus is bumpy, it's hot, it's cold, it's muddy, it's so crowded you can't move, people stare, there's no bathroom, your clothes are dirty, and if you take me to one more temple! . . . (yes, this is me remembering our arrival in Sri Lanka and a few moments in India). But, even then, you do it because you love to travel and you wouldn't trade the experience for anything. (A side note, I also like this analogy because while I travel around everyone else I know my age--friends from high school and college--are taking care of their babies.)

Another great quote from the same book:

"I'm not completely helpless out there in the world. I have my own set of survival techniques. I am patient. I know how to pack light. I'm a fearless eater. But my one mighty travel talent is that I can make friends with anybody. I can make friends with the dead . . . I could probably make friends with a four-foot-tall pile of Sheetrock. This is why I'm not afraid to travel to the most remote places in the world, not if there are human being there to meet.

Mostly, you meet your friends when traveling by accident, like by sitting next to them on a train, or in a restaurant, or in a holding cell. But these are chance encounters, and you should never rely entirely on chance. For a more systematic approach, there is still the grand old system of the "letter of introduction" (today more likely to be an e-mail), presenting you formally to the acquaintance of an acquaintance. This is a terrific way to meet people, if you're shameless enough to make the cold call and invite yourself over for dinner."

Again, exactly right! Patience, packing light, a strong stomach . . . and the friends. Exactly what we did and exactly what saved us from being "barfed on" or what helped us get cleaned up after we were "barfed on". (B, B, and K - See! We're not the only ones who do this!) And it's not just this trip. Katie and I have followed the friend-of-a-friend approach almost everywhere we've traveled (we also do our fair share of chance encounter friendships too . . . but not in holding cells, at least not yet . . . Katie's the better one at making friends, but I have my personable moments too). Sometimes, I feel guilty about taking advantage of people's generosity - especially people I really don't know at all other than I know someone they know. But, I have come to a bit of a justification regarding accepting a stranger's hospitality (and I've never had a friend-of-a-friend treat me with anything less than overly generous hospitality). I think it's a bit of a Pay It Forward idea. At the moment, like in Sri Lanka when things got messed up, we desperately needed our friend-of-a-friend who came and rescued us. But, we had no way of paying her back completely for all that she did for us and probably never will have the chance. But, whenever someone comes to my house as a friend of one of my friends, I know I will show them every courtesy that was ever shown to me. Maybe this is (or can become) a sort of Traveler's Code. Or maybe more of a guideline . . .

Thinking along the lines of travel advice, I'll share the best travel advice I ever got from anyone. Max Magee from my church back home once told me, "Half as much stuff, twice as much money." Yep, that's always the way to go.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

India . . . over and out.

After one month and one day, I am back home in Yichang in my apartment. One of the best things about traveling is coming back home . . . even after a great trip.

Transportation Stats (as best I can estimate and calculate):

*Hours on planes = 25
*Airports visited = 4
*Airplane "meals" = 8
*Hours on a train = 83
*Train stations successfully navigated = 8
*Train "meals" (a first for me, they don't have that service in China) = 3, plus a soup snack . . . oh a and a "chicken lollipop" and lots of "Chai-ahChai-ahChai-ah!"
*Hours in a bus = 31 (most of them spent with less than half an inch of leg room and being bounced around violently)
*Hours in a boat = circa 7
*Hours in a Jeep = 30+
*Books read while traveling = 6 (4 finished, 2 more that I've started but not finished, one is almost 900 pages)

Another great thing abou traveling is coming home and looking through the pictures you took. Since my camera was, sadly, lost/stolen (both scenarios seem equally unimaginable), I'm going to have to get a collection of photos from Katie, Beth, and Brad. I missed taking my own pictures, but in a small way it was kind of refreshing. Instead of looking at all the new, beautiful, famous sites through a camera screen, I actually looked at them with my own eyes. Katie, Beth, and Brad were really good about making sure they got pictures of everything and once we've all recovered from the trip, I'm sure we'll put all the photos together.

I took a long (very long) hot shower and appreciated every second of it.

It will take Katie and me several days to get through all of our laundry.

It's cold in Yichang, but no visual remnants of the great snow storm remain. I'm not sad. I love and appreciate snow, but if there'd been snow left here, it would have been grimy and dirty by now.

I have absolutely zero plans for the next week. There are almost no students on campus. Businesses are still closed. I'm going to spend several blessed days at home reading, watching movies, emailing and blogging, studying Chinese. Eventually I'll get around to thinking about the new semester.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

India Update

Finally . . . a quick chance to post. Here are some random happenings and observations from my India trip.

*The Taj Mahal is amazing and all you expect it to be. Like the Great Wall, it doesn't disappoint you. It's breathtaking.

*Most of all I miss my hot shower with good water pressure.

*McDonalds here has no hamburgers. I knew about the sacred Indian cow, but somehow it was still odd to go to a McDonalds with no hamburgers . . . only chicken and fish and a veggie menu. I tried a Paneer Salsa wrap which had a piece of fried cheese inside a tortilla wrap with lettuce and carrots and a spicy sauce. It was really good.

*There are no Starbucks in India, even in the biggest cities. Although I would happily drink a grande vanilla latte right this second, I have to give props to India for managing to keep Starbuck from taking over. In Shang Hai there are more than 70 Starbucks and Beijing has almost that many. India is such a huge market, I can't imagine Starbucks not wanting to be here.

*Speaking of coffee . . . Indian coffee and tea is an interesting change from my normal coffee routine. Indian coffee and tea is about 85% milk and sugar, whether you want it or not. It's served boiling hot in tiny glass cups with no handles. I'm starting to get used to the excessive sweetness though. I'm goign to go back to my own coffee maker and not be able to handle it.

*I loved the old buildings and the colonially influenced architecture of Bombay. Bombay University was stunning. I want to study there now just because of it's campus and location. Someday I'm going to go back to Bombay when I actually have money and stay in the Taj Mahal Hotel.

*I love the beach and the ocean and the relaxation of sitting and taking it all in from a comfy chair on the sand, but I do not fit in to the beach culture that we saw in Goa. It really is it's own lifestyle. Katie and I decided that the best description of the people there (who are foreign not Indian . . . a lot of Europeans and Israelis) is Hippie-Bohemian. A few days was nice, but I don't need to camp out there for an extended time.

*The stars on the beach in Goa were absolutely spectacular. The clearest, most brilliant night sky I've seen in a long, long time.

*I will never, never take a tourist bus again. It's a nice idea, but I hate (HATE) not being in control of my own time and being at the mercy of others. We didn't have much choice in the matter, and it did get us where needed to be, but it also took us to what felt like a million places we didn't want to be. Such a long day and so uncomfortable. I had bad flashbacks to when the same thing happened to me when I was with my parents in Beijing.

*Still loving Indian food. They have so many great bread options!

Ok, times up . . .

More to come and hopefully pictures soon.