Sunday, October 18, 2009

Blog Break

So I've discovered that grad school isn't very conducive to keeping up with a blog. Plus I don't take nearly as many photos as I did while I was in China (I know, I'll probably regret that). Plus, my life is a lot less adventurous on this side of the world. Any blog post that I would write about my life now would probably just be related to what I'm studying and I don't want to be a boring blogging (I think what I'm studying is interesting, but the rest of the world might not find it so enticing). So, to anyone still checking my poor neglected blog, I think that posts are going to be sparse. I'm not giving up on my blog completely; however, I think I'm on blog sabbatical. But, feel free to send me an email or a Facebook note.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Movin' On In

Getting moved into my apartment in Bloomington. Dad making good use of his truck, some rope, and his redneck packing skills. (Mom refused to sit on top of all that in a rocker as dad drove down the highway)
Cleaning and getting stuff organized in my apartment. Max Magee pulled a trailer and helped get my larger stuff down. He is also responsible for me having the cutest small vacuum ever. (sorry these pictures are slightly out of focus . . . I think my camera was on some odd setting)
Mom helped me do lots of cleaning and organizing, especially in the bathroom and kitchen.
Max taking a break. He had just finished installing knobs on my kitchen cabinets helping avoid future broken fingernails, for which I am very thankful.
Since my furniture was red, it clashed with the already red wall (not to mention there were spots on the wall in a different shade of red from someone trying to cover up holes or something). Dad was skeptical of the brown, but I like it and think it goes nicely with my Chinese/Asian hodgepodge decor.
My apartment is a work in progress as far as decorating is concerned. In a few weeks when I've finished painting and gotten some more pictures on the walls, I'll try to take some "after" photos to post. The apartment is small but good enough for me and the location is nice. I'm about a 10 - 15 minute walk from almost anything on campus. Since parking on campus is not an option, being within walking distance is a big plus for where I live. Check back with me after a series of rainy days or after the first Indiana blizzard to see if my opinion on this has changed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Together with Family

Last Saturday, my cousin Ben got married. I was glad to finally be on this side of the world for a family event. I missed my cousin Michaela's wedding back in March. It's hard to believe my "little" cousins are getting married! (I'm the oldest of the grandchildren). Here are a few pictures of my family and my cousins. Sadly though, neither Kara or I got a picture of the bride or groom together at the reception!

My Grandma and all eleven of her grandchildren. This is the first photo we've all taken together since we were all together for a piano recital I did back in 1999! The guys got a little hidden back behind all of us girls. Guess we should have put the guys in the front!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Visit to N'ville

I met back up with Katie on Sunday and we drove together down to Nashville, TN to be reunited with all our "awesome" Yichang friends. It'd been about nine months since we'd seen Amy and Brad and a little over a year since we'd seen Beth. Happy to be reunited on this side of the world.
Fun to get to stay in the "House of Awesome" and get some quality porch time in (love the rocking, collapsible lawn chair and the hammock!)
Corn hole (which might mistakenly be called Beanbag toss by us newbies) was a new experience for me. Seems to be a popular Southern lawn game. Brad and I took on Katie and Justin. I was no good. Katie get the much improved award and won the game for her and Justin at the end with two bags in the hole and one on the board.
We were there for Brad's birthday but the celebration was low key since Brad had to spend almost the whole day studying for his finals for his summer school classes. But we did go get some amazing Greek food which we took to the park and enjoyed the swings. We then returned to the House of Awesome for grasshopper pie, lots of glasses of milk, and some good porch time.
Getting ice cream at The Pied Piper--a fun independently run ice cream shop in Nashville. I got Trailer Trash 2.0 which was chocolate ice cream with about every kind of candy in it you can imagine--M&Ms, Snickers, Crunch, Oreos, and much more. Other great flavor to choose from included Some Like It Hot (had Cinnamon and Cheyenne pepper in it!), Dough-Re-Me, Melon Dramatic, and Banana Fanna Fo Pudding. Fun place!
Other fun activities included helping Beth organize her classroom library, visiting the Parent Teacher Store (where Amy works) and lunch at Chick-fil-a, Tacos in a bag, watching The Brad open gifts (if you know Brad, you know what I mean :), 6:00 a.m. Zumba class at the YMCA, a ride on Beth's Vespa, and pool time at Beth's parents house.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Rice Visit

Last Wednesday the Rice family came to Coatesville! They've been in the States this summer traveling around to visit family and friends. I was so happy that they could come visit and that we could have a chance to catch up and see each other in America. To make it even better Katie and Kristy came out from Illinois. A China reunion in Coatesville!

The Rices talking about China and giving a presentation at C.M.B.C.
While standing up in front of everyone, Grace and Esther found the air-conditioning vent to be quite entertaining. Everyone else found them quite entertaining and adorable in their Chinese outfits :)
Group shot - Rice family, Kim, Katie, Kristy, and Dad and Mom
Having dessert and coffee at our house afterward while recounting stories of Mr. and Mrs. Tomato Head. Brian even had family from Terra Haute, IN who came to visit and hear their presentation.
Dad reading Dr. Seuss to Esther and Grace. Practicing for when he's a grandpa (which will be in March by the way, my sister and brother-in-law are expecting a baby!).
Always fun when Katie comes for a visit! She went on from my house to see friends in OH and then we met up again and made a trip down to Nashville, TN to see Brad, Amy, and Beth our awesome Yichang friends.
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Stand in Line, Get Your Game On

On Monday, I went to the downtown branch of the Indianapolis Public Library and checked out a stack of books about China. I was on the history-travel-biography floor (by far my favorite of the 6 floors, if only the cafe was on that floor instead of the first floor) and I didn't make it any farther than the Chinese history and travel sections before I had as many books as I could carry. I figure I need to get in as much "fun" reading as I can before I start school next month, after which I'm sure my reading time will be fully consumed by dense, inscrutable scholarly discourses which I will be expected not only to read but also to give intelligent opinions and criticisms about. Anyways, here's an amusing excerpt from one of the books I picked up about standing in lines in China. I've tried to explain Chinese lines (or the lack thereof) before, but this author gives a humorous and accurate description of the sport of Chinese Line Standing.

"Lining up in China, I soon discovered, was played as a contact sport. Men and women, young and old, cigarettes dangling from their lips, used their elbows and shoulders to muscle their way to the cabs. With knobby elbows in my ribs, strange hands on my arms, and my back feeling the amassing weight of the hundreds who had not yet slinked ahead of me, I began to ponder the idea of personal space, and after being shimmied aside by a grandmother who could not have been more than three and a half feet tall, concluded that no, such a concept is evidently alien to the Chinese. And so I, too, began to dig in against the line hoppers, flinging my shoulders to contest the passage of three businessmen behind me. A shoulder here, a foot there, soon I was moving like a heaving linebacker. Some fifty people had managed to bypass me in the scrum, but now that I knew that lining up and getting bruised were intertwined, I was determined not to let this troika of businessmen pass me by. If I hadn't begun to regard the queue as a forum for physical sport, it is quite likely that I would still be there today, for lining up in China is not for the meek. " --Lost on Planet China, by J. Maarten Troost

It might be hard to comprehend if you've never experienced it, but this really is exactly what you have to do. Katie and I would work as a team--one of us would "box out" while the other pushed up to the front (I remember doing that especially at train stations) all the while shouting warnings to each other: "Watch out for Grandma over there! Hey, they're trying to send their kid up to the front since he's smaller! Don't let that guy behind you stick his money on the counter and order first!"

The other day I was eating at Chick-fil-a with dad and mom and was amazed to see dozens of people waiting to be served but no one pushing. A line like "Oh, were you here first? You go ahead." would never be heard in China. Before the Olympics, there were "Practice standing in line" days on the 11th of every month. I've come to learn that I can accept and forgive a lot in the name of culture, but standing in lines (and not hacking and spitting) is something that I think should be a common courtesy no matter where you're from.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Experiencing Everest

Last week, I met my college roommate Hillery at King's Island, an amusement park in Ohio. Hillery had her two kids with her and also two nephews and a cousin. Since Hillery's baby is only 6 months, she needed to go to the "Baby Care Center" to feed him a couple times during the day. One time while Hillery was feeding Micah, I asked the cousin, a sweet 13-year old girl named Liz, if she wanted to go ride something while we waited to meet back up with Hillery. Liz was extremely timid and nervous about the rides, but finally decided she could handle a "Scrambler"-type, county fair caliber ride. While waiting in line, I tried my best to sympathize with Liz's fear (me who will ride any coaster, has been bungee jumping, and has endured hours of turbulence on Chinese domestic flights). Liz told me about going to Disney World so I asked her if she was afraid to ride the rides there.
"Oh Disney World is so much better than here so I rode lots of rides there."
Said with all the logic of a 13-year-old mind. We stood in line a few more minutes as Liz watched the swirling, octopus-like ride trying to decide if it would make her "puke" which I sincerely hoped she wouldn't do since I would be sitting next to her. Then she looked at me and asked--
"Have you ever been on Mt. Everest?"
I found this a rather random, surprising question coming from a 13-year-old.
"Yeah, actually, I have."
"Did you like it?"
"Yeah, it was an amazing experience."
A few more minutes of line standing pass.
"Well, I didn't want to ride it, but my friends, like, pushed me on it and then when I got off I thought it was totally awesome."
Ah, there's a ride at Disney called "Mt. Everest." Silly me. Adulthood and six years of living out of the country have put me slightly out of touch with the Disney scene.
"Oh, I didn't know Disney had a ride called Mt. Everest. I thought you were asking me about the actual Mt. Everest in Tibet. I've been there." (You know, most people think that's pretty cool)
To which I got a slightly confused, quizzical look from Liz, a little like the way a puppy tilts its head and listens to you but doesn't quite know what you're saying.

Later in the day, while waiting in line to ride "The Beast," the song that was playing on the P.A. system was "Oh I think it's gonna be a long, long time." The projected wait was over an hour. How fitting.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hurray for a Honda!

Thanks to my Uncle Tim and Aunt Colleen, I have a 1998 Honda Civic to drive! For being 10+ years old, it's in amazingly good shape. No exterior problems, spotless interior, barely over 100,000 miles. It's reliable and gets great gas mileage and seems perfect for me right now--especially since I got the 0 down/0 monthly payments plan (the car was given as a donation through our church with the provision that I could drive it). God has already provided so much for me since being home!

The freedom that comes with having a car was one thing that I really missed when I was in China. You can't realize how much independence a car gives you until you have to live for an extended time without one. You become dependent on public transportation--taxis, buses, trains, etc.--which is ok, but involves more time, more planning, and a lot less flexibility in whatever you're doing. Another thing about having a car is that you can carry anything. When shopping or traveling in China, I always had to remember that I had to be able to carry whatever I packed/bought. That really changes what you put in a suitcase or shopping bags. When I went on my road trip to Detroit and through Ohio a week ago, I was so happy to be able to throw in whatever I wanted for the trip. 5 pairs of shoes because I can't decide which ones I want?--Sure! Throw them all in! Can I take home the extra ironing board my aunt had for my new apartment?? No problem!--put it in the back seat!

Having said all that about being so glad to have a car, I will also say that Americans are way too dependent on cars. We as Americans will get in cars, seatbelt ourselves in, just to drive two blocks. We'll spend 20 minutes in the car so that we can go to a gym where we proceed to walk 20 minutes on a treadmill. And the sad part is that even when people want to walk or ride a bike, you can't do it in a lot of cities even though the distance isn't that far! There just aren't ways to walk across most streets and intersections. Katie said that last year when she got back from China, she tried to walk somewhere in her town and she kept getting honked at to get off the road. Since I live in a tiny little town, I've decided that I will not take my car to anywhere in town since it's all within walking distance.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Detroit - Ohio Roadtrip

Last weekend I went up to my sister and brother-in-law's house for the 4th of July. We had a really great time together. I haven't gotten to spend enough time with my sister over the past 6 years and we both agree that it's time to change that. Here's a "self-portrait" that we took at the fireworks display we went to see. Love you, Kara!
After leaving Kara and John's, I did an Ohio circuit to visit family and friends that I haven't seen much of the past six years. Seems like whenever I was home and free, we couldn't work it out to get together. This time though, everything worked out perfectly. I got to spend a day with Tim and Colleen and Josh (my mom's brother, his wife and their son), a day with Beth and Mark and my three cousins (Beth is my dad's sister), a day with Carma (Carma and I lived in Yichang for two years together and were roommates the first year), and a day at King's Island with Hillery and Matt and their kiddos (Hillery was my roommate my freshman year of college). I finally got to meet Carma's husband Mack. They've been married for over two years so it was about time! And I got to see Hillery's cute kids, Amelia and Micah. I had met Amelia when she was just a few months old, but now she's two and Micah is 6 months so this was my first time to see him. Sadly, I was delinquent and didn't get photos with Tim and Colleen or Carma and Hillery. But I got photos with Beth and her kids! It was a great week on the road.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Scroll Down

Last October, Dad and Mom's dog, Lucy, had four puppies. Mom and dad decided to keep one of the boy puppies since, sadly, their other mini-schnauzer, Heidi, is getting rather advanced in years. So the puppy, Tucker, is now 8 months old. I got to meet Tucker when I got home a few weeks ago and he's a fun, cute dog who still has a lot of "puppy" in him. Generally, he's well behaved; however, he still gets into mischief every now and then. Usually dad and mom keep him in a kennel when they're not home, but last Sunday afternoon while dad was at church studying and mom was taking a nap, no one realized that Tucker was unsupervised. For some reason he decided to go in my room and shred a scroll that I'd brought back from China (the scroll was rolled up and laying on the floor with a bunch of other stuff I was trying to decide where to put). Maybe he wished he had Chinese food? I wasn't home, but I heard he got in a heap of trouble for eating my scroll. I'm a little sad to lose the scroll, but not devastated, by any means. He's so cute even when he's naughty that it's impossible to stay mad at him.

The Chinese characters painted on the side of the scroll are/were Psalm 23. Dad thinks that maybe Tucker was just literally following the verse in Jeremiah 15-- "Thy words were found, and I did eat them . . ."

But, like I said, he's too cute!!
And a couple more dog photos . . .

Last week, I woke up in the morning and went out to the kitchen to eat some breakfast. When I went back to my room, this is how I found Lucy on my bed.
Then, Tucker decided to join her. This is why I make sure my door is tightly latched at night, so I don't wake up with two dogs in bed with me :)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Expats

This will probably be more interesting to those of you who have lived in China (or anywhere overseas), but I ran across a good post the other day on one of the China blogs that I occasionally read which I wanted to share and comment about.

The article is called 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Expats

Here's a condensed list of the 7 things listed in the article (the article explains more)
1.) Comparisons - "It's not like this back home"
2.) Counting down - "What's the point of learning the language if I'm only here two years."
3.) Getting stuck in a rut - "Let's meet at the usual Starbucks."
4.) Obsessive traveling - "I have three days off, I think I'll head to Thailand."
5.) Increased alcohol consumption - "Beer is cheaper than water."
6.) Decadence - "I bought 300 DVDs since coming to China."
7.) Know it all - "That's so Chinese. I understand China."

From what I've observed this is a pretty good list of common downfalls for foreigners living in China. I will admit, I definitely did the obsessive traveling part; however, I'm not so convinced that one is a bad thing. First, since it's not as economical to try to save yuan and convert them into dollars and since traveling in Asia is affordable, I feel like you should take the chance to see new places. I don't regret any of the trips I took and learned a lot from them. And, sometimes you just really, really need a break from China.

The thing that irritates me the most when dealing with other Westerners in China are the foreigners I meet who make no effort to learn the language. I once heard a American guy say in exasperation to a Chinese friend who was struggling to express something , "I'm American! Speak English!" That same guy would probably get irritated here in the States at immigrants who didn't speak English! I figure, if you live in their country, you should speak (or at least be making a valiant attempt to speak) their language as a sign of cultural respect.

One other note on foreigners in China. After several years in China and after running into lots of other foreigners there, I decided that foreigners in China generally fit one of three categories:
1) People who are there for some kind of higher purpose such as missions or humanitarian efforts or who want to make a difference by either teaching or doing business. These people generally get along with each other despite differing purposes and they tend to make efforts to fit in with the Chinese and learn the language.
2) Travelers and wanderers who aren't quite sure where they're going in their lives and are seeking some kind of romanticized adventure, are running away from something back home, or who have ill-fated ambitions of writing a travelogue, book, or becoming a journalist. These people generally get caught up in cheap alcohol consumption and (if they're male) pick up a Chinese girlfriend who doubles as a translator. They usually don't care about learning the language. They may teach for a time, but are not teachers and schools regret hiring them.
3) Oddities who obviously didn't fit in their home country so they moved abroad. Yet, not surprisingly, their oddness followed them and they're still strange in China (or wherever). The upside is that Chinese people regard all foreigners as slightly odd or at least different, so odd is the norm and the Chinese don't really differentiate between degrees of oddness among foreigners. So their oddness might go unnoticed by the Chinese, but other foreigners will still pick up on it. These people usually make a slight attempt to learn the language, but end up butchering it so badly that their efforts are futile. I always wish these people had to wear signs written in Chinese that say, "Not everyone in my country is like me. Please don't make any generalizations based on what you've just witnessed."

So I suppose the point of this post is that if you ever go overseas, be conscientious of not only how the local people perceive you, but also of how your fellow expat friends perceive you too.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dinner with the Chelli Family

Last Friday night, I got to eat dinner with the Chelli family. I had no idea they were even in the States, but Dr. Chelli had been in contact with my dad and despite a slight miscommunication about when we were supposed to meet, we all met up at Olive Garden last Friday. Dr. Chelli heads up Berean Bible College in Bangalore, India. When my friends and I spent a month backpacking around India last year, the entire Chelli family housed and fed us and showed us around (and washed our clothes . . . we were so dirty when we got there!) when we were in Bangalore. It was a nice surprise to get to catch up with the whole family last Friday. The Chellis are doing a great work in India to train pastors and missionaries to go out and plant churches all over the country. I hope I can go back to India and see them there again someday.

Here I am with the Chelli family last Friday.
Katie, Beth, Brad, and I with Dr. Chelli and Sarah in January of 2008 when we visited Bangalore. Sarah let Katie, Beth, and me "shop" in her closet so that we could dress up in Indian outfits and we even found a Indian shirt for Brad.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Graduate Assistant

This past Wednesday, I had an interview at Indiana University for a graduate assistant position in IU's East Asian Studies Center. Despite what I felt like was just an ok performance in my interview, I found out that same night that I got the job! I'll work 20 hours a week in the EASC during the '09-'10 school year and in exchange my tuition will be fully covered and I'll receive a stipend and health insurance. I'll either be helping to coordinate events and activities that the EASC sponsors or else I'll be assisting with data collection and research for the grant that the EASC has to write to receive funding from the Department of Education. I feel like this is a huge answer to prayer since I had no idea how I was going to pay for graduate school. Plus I'll be working in an area that's directly related to what I'm studying and I'll get to meet more people in that field. If you're interested to read about IU's EASC, here's the website.

Next step . . . housing in Bloomington.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Back to the USA

After 20+ hours in the air, 5 airports, and more than 130 pounds of luggage to lug around (I see why they call it "luggage"), I finally made it to Detroit. Amazingly, this trip there were no delays (my last flight actually arrived in Detroit 15 minutes early) and my luggage all arrived intact. I do have to say, Hong Kong and Beijing have much nicer airports than most of our airports here in the States . . . and they're much more helpful and polite there (especially the customs officials!) and there's free wireless internet. LAX was not a fun place to have to transfer at since I had to walk for 15 minutes, pushing my luggage cart by myself across a parking lot to get from International Arrivals to Domestic Departures.

It was so nice to see dad and mom and Kara greet me at the baggage claim in Detroit. We all went out to breakfast together (cinnamon pancakes at Bob's!). Mom and Kara had an amazing Orange-themed "Welcome back to America" basket. It was full of amazingly wonderful things--Coke Zero Vanilla, granola bars, cereal, coffee, gum, post-it notes, chapstick, and enough good smelling shower stuff to make me smell like a walking fruit salad (and by the time I arrived, I really needed all that shower stuff!). It's really nice to be with family again.

I leave tomorrow to go back to mom and dad's. On Wednesday I have an interview at IU for a graduate assistant position. Pray that I can get the job! It would really be an ideal situation for me to be able to work as a G.A.

Hoping to see a lot of you soon! I'll probably have a few more posts about my last couple weeks in China.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bye to the Kiddos

Wasn't easy to say goodbye to my kiddos at the orphanage. I love those kids and the babies. We got to color and play together one more time on Friday, the day before Katie and I left Mengzi. Maybe someday I'll get to meet some of those kids in America if they get adopted internationally! I told several of my students who also regularly go to the orphanage to play with the kids that I want regular email reports about how the kids are doing. I'm also going to miss the workers. Bao A-yi ("A-yi" means "auntie") and Yang A-yi have been really sweet to Katie and me when we come to the orphanage. Bao A-yi, the lady on the right in the photo, took Katie and me about to lunch afterwards. I really will miss all of them so much.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Xia Ke 下课

I got this email from one of my students. I really have enjoyed being a teaching while I've been in China. It's so nice to know that the work I have been doing is meaningful and is making a difference. I've gotten a few other sweet notes from students. The notes have meant a lot here at the end of my China teaching career. I'm not a perfect teacher, by any stretch; however, I can leave this school satisfied that I did the best I could to help these students in my classes. It's the right time to go home . . . I know that. But, I'll miss being a teacher.

Dear Kim:Thank you for your hard work this semester, we have learned a lot of useful knowledge in your classs, you are the most responsible teacher which I have met . You will leave China, I sent to you my best wishes: wish you achieving in study! Good health! Give your family the same blessing! I will miss you! Thank you for you gave me unforgettable memory!
Best wishes!

Yours truly: Kevin

(the title of this post is what you say in Chinese at the end of class to say that class is dismissed. Class over . . . really over . . .)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Top 10 Food List

Hard to believe I leave China in only4 days. As always, there's a million things to do at the very end, not to mention saying goodbye to people and packing everything up. I'm still finishing exams and a mountain of grading, but the end is in sight.

I'm very excited to see my family and judging from my mom's emails and Facebook notes, she especially is more than ready for me to come home too. My mom is so great . . . she always tells me to email her a list of my top food requests that I want to eat when I come home, so that she can have them ready when I arrive! So, after 10 months in China with limited access to Western foods, here is what sounds especially good to me.

1. Lots of veggies and stuff for salad
2. Fat-free yogurt (that you can eat with a spoon, not drink with a straw . . . which is how they "eat" yogurt here)
3. Cottage cheese
4. Cinnamon Life cereal
5. Coke Zero vanilla
6. Deli turkey/ham for sandwiches
7. Wheat bread
8. Seedless red grapes and good Indiana cantaloupe
9. Monster cookies or brownies

and . . . of course . . .

10. Milk!!

I also requested a meal with "cook-out" food--meat grilled on the grill (my dad is a great griller!), corn on the cob, Mom's 4th of July beans, fresh fruit, etc. etc. etc.

Food sounds so good right now! I'm sure eventually I'll really miss some of the Chinese food that I like here, but right now I just want homecooked American food . . . oh, and Starbucks coffee!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mom McG and Kristy

It's always fun to have people come visit from the States, especially when it's family. A few weeks ago, Katie's mom and sister Kristy came for a visit. Katie's mom got to stay about 5 days (after having spent some time in Beijing and Yichang) but then had to get back home because of work. Kristy, who just graduated from college, decided to stay until the end of this month and go back home with Katie. It's been fun having Kristy around to get to hang out with. Having Katie's family here is probably the next best thing to having my own family here. Only a week and I'll be with my mom and sister (and, of course, dad and bro-in-law)!

P.S. Blog is still blocked. Boo. Posts are still infrequent due to having to use a slow, flinicky proxy server (which currently thinks I am in Germany and so all of my blog buttons and menus are in German).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Going Postal

The Post Office can be a frustrating place no matter what country you're in, but China Post can literally make me go postal. If you think the U.S. Post Office is not the most customer-friendly place, try China Post. I swear the workers there hate their lives and take it out on whoever they're "helping." Thankfully there is one nice girl here in Mengzi that Katie made friends with, but still, I always dread having to mail anything. Here's a short recap of my last two attempts to mail things from our Mengzi China Post.

A few months ago, I had my writing students write letters to my friend Beth's class in Tennesee. I had about 70 sheets of paper in a large brown manilla-type envelope.

K: I'd like to mail this to America
CP: Ok, but you have to use a white envelope not a brown one.
K: Um, that's a litle strange (since I've mailed brown envelopes to America before), but ok. Can you give me a white envelope?
CP: No, sorry we don't have any white envelopes.
K: So, where do I get the right envelope? Can I buy it somewhere? If I go buy it somewhere else, how do I know I'll have the right one?
CP: We don't know where you can buy it.
K: . . .

So if you're going to require a certain color or size for packaging, don't you think you should have the correct packaging available? At this point, we were pretty much having a stand off. I was standing there staring at her, thinking "um, this is YOUR JOB to help me figure this out." So, one of the workers decided she could use white paper and GLUE it over my brown envelope. So while I waited, they proceeded to use gloopy messy glue to turn my brown envelope white. I guess that was acceptable, because Beth got my letters a few weeks later.

Last week, I was back at good old China Post. I decided to send some of my winter clothes and shoes home by slow boat in order to free up space in my luggage. So I loaded up a big plastic bag of stuff and lugged it downtown. The bag I was carrying stuff in is a sturdier plastic/canvas bag that I have. At China Post, they have to box the stuff up for you. If you come with an already packaged box to send, they'll make you open it so they can check the contents. And, anything you do by yourself, would of course be in the wrong packaging.

K: I'd like to put these things in a box and send it surface rate to America.
CP: (goes and gets a box . . . at this time there's some sort of mass mailing going on in the PO and there are people and boxes and envelopes and brochures everywhere . . . it was chaotic to say the least. PO worker struggles to find a box and custom's form in the chaos.)
CP: Ok, put your stuff in here.
K: Great.
CP: Um, this isn't ok. There's some space here at the top of the box
K: So? It's just sweater and shoes. Nothing will break.
CP: But the rule is there can't be any space. Do you have anymore stuff to send?
K: No, this is all I brought. Do you have a smaller box?
CP: No. The next size down is much too small.
K: Can we just stuff some newspaper in there?
CP: No, that's not ok and we don't have any newspaper.
K: . . . (thinking to myself I am not lugging all this stuff all the way back just to have to lug MORE stuff back and how was I to know how much stuff would EXACTLY fit in that size box??)
CP: Do you want to keep that canvas bag you brought the stuff in?
K: Well, yes sort of, it is useful for carrying things. Why?
CP: If we put the stuff back in the bag then in the box it will be ok.
K: But that won't make it take up anymore space in the box?
CP: But it will be more secure.
K: Ok, fine.

So we proceeded to unpack the box, pack the stuff back in my bag (which doesn't close at all so I don't see how it made anything more secure), then put the whole bag in the box. I see absolutely no logic at work here . . .

So there's my China Post rant. Banks and post offices . . . two things I won't miss having to deal with in China and in Chinese.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Village School

Right now, we have a group visiting Mengzi and Honghe University from Clearwater College in Florida. There are about 15 college students and 4 adult sponsers. On Thursday last week, Brian organized a trip for the group to a small village about an hour outside of Mengzi. This village is very poor and extremely remote (our drivers had no idea where it was and were not too please about having to drive down a narry, bumpy dirt path to get to the village.) The village has about 25 families in it, I was told. In the village is a small primary school that one of Brian's former students attended. The school is literally a one-room-schoolhouse that is about as primitive as you can get. There are about 25 - 30 students of all different ages who study in this little school. Most of the students belong to the Miao minority. These students had never seen this many Westerners before. Their faces and the conditions of their school just melt your heart. I think it was a one-of-a-kind, memorable experience--for both the Americans and the village students.

The Clearwater team helped buy notebooks, pens, soccer balls, and blackboards to give to the students and for the school to use. Here some of the boys on the team are carrying the blackboards up the path to the school.

The students stand outside their school, singing and clapping to welcome us.

Our group could barely fit into their little classroom. Brian gave a little introduction and then we all sang a few songs for the kids and did an impromptu English lesson.

This girl, who I named Lucy since it sounded like her Chinese name, opened up to me a little bit although she was still pretty shy. I would have guessed her to be about 7 or 8 years old, but she told me she was 12. When I asked her how old I was she guess I was 16, so I guess we were both having trouble gauging each other's ages! :)

The girls wore their traditional Miao dresses which are brightly colored with many layers and lots of elaborate beading.

One good thing about kids is that even if you don't speak the same language, throwing and kicking balls are universally fun and doesn't require much communication.

Me with some of the boys

The kids wave goodbye to us as we leave.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Big Block of Cheese Day

So if you asked the average Chinese person . . . "Got Milk?" . . . the answer would be "mei you!" (don't have) . . . you're not going to see some Chinese person walking around with a milk mustache. Chinese people are not huge dairy consumers. For six years, I've lamented a lack of acceptable milk. I can put Chinese shelf-milk in coffee or on a bowl of corn flakes, but I still don't like to drink it straight. Cheese is another scarce commodity. When I lived in Yichang, we had to go to the bigger city of Wuhan to get cheese, which was a four-hour bus ride away. Now, Kunming has become our cheese provider (our "Wisconsin" so-to-speak), still about a 4 hour drive from Mengzi. Last week, Brian was in Kunming and did some shopping for us. Usually we buy blocks of Land-o-Lakes cheese from a large grocery store with import items. One block of cheddar is usually 35 yuan (about $5). This time though, Victoria found a place to buy cheese in bulk. We got this massive block of cheddar for about half of what it would have cost to buy that much Land-O-Lakes cheese. Don't worry, I'm not eating all of that myself. Katie, Dave and I are splitting that one block three ways. Katie and I had a rather fun time chopping up the cheese into smaller pieces to freeze. This cheese will definitely see me through until next month when I come home. I can't wait to just stand in awe in the cheese aisle of Meijer when I get home!

*for any one else who watched the West Wing, do you remember the episode called "Big Block of Cheese Day" where Leo invites all those bizarre interest groups and organizations who never get heard to come to the White House? Always loved that episode, especially when I watched it in China! :)

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I know many of you in the States have been getting a lot of rain lately; so have we here in Mengzi! Generally, our rain comes in short showers, but the the last three days have been one long downpour (although some blue sky might pop out just long enough to trick you into thinking it was clearing up). This morning it poured, but then the afternoon finally looked a little better. Katie and I decided to go to the orphanage to play with the kids since we figured they'd be sick of being cooped up. But when we got to the orphanage, the entrance was blocked by a huge lake! There was no way to get in unless you wanted to wade in water up to your knees. One of the workers, who we know pretty well, heard we were outside and came to talk to us; she was having to wear galoshes up to her knees (I love that word!). She told us that some sort of rescue squad was helping them pump out the water (notice how hard they're working in the photo) and that hopefully by tomorrow it would be ok. I guess they moved some of the elderly peolple to another location in town and the kids were being kept on the second floor. I was sad not to see my kiddos, but we're going to try to go back tomorrow or Monday. I'm going to pray the orphanage can move to a new, better (and higher) facility soon!

Street outside the orphanage.
Pomegranate fields backed up with water.

(blog is still "harmonized," but proxy server worked well enough to let me upload the photos)