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.