Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Walk To Dinner

I look at the clock. Ah, 5:15pm has hit. Time to head to dinner. If I don't leave now I might miss it. I grab my keys and walk out of my apartment building.

I live in a jungle. Palm trees, flowers, bushes, and vines line the walkways of our neighborhood. But it's not a wild jungle. It's trimmed and kept pristine by the workers who come in blue or tan outfits. They are in never-ending conflict with the green.

I continue on my way, admiring the pond. There are lots of frogs in the pond that rarely are seen but frequently heard. I'm walking down the stairs now, looking out for the giant snails that like to hang out there. Then I get to the spot where I always seem to focus on the weather--it's a nice day today. I remember my first day in China when a wall of humidity and heat smacked me in the face. I've gotten used to the humidity now, and luckily the summer sun's rays are weakening.

This is the time when everyone is done with work, and school, and are coming home. The neighborhood lights up with activity. The basketball court is full again. I turn the corner and look over at the pavilion where the same old Chinese men are intently playing chess, or whatever game it is they're playing.  A mother and her child walk across the street. Gosh, Chinese kids are so cute.

I cross the street to exit out of our neighborhood. Chlorinated water from the pool is spilling out and racing down the street again. The neighborhood guards are standing there like usual, and I think their job would be pretty darn boring. I press the button, push open the gate, and turn right.

This street is lined with shops. The places we stop by most are the Kaiyin market and a few different restaurants. I pass by the Muslim restaurant, and I remember the meal I got there that gave me food poisoning. I don't know if I'll ever go back to that restaurant. Like usual, I see grandparents hand in hand with their backpack-clad grandchild, taking them home from school.

There are always people sitting around tables on this sidewalk, and shop owners standing at the edge of their doorway to enjoy the fresh air. I pass by but they don't seem phased to see a foreigner. There are enough Caucasian people living in Kaiyin that they, for the most part, are accustomed to us.  I watch my step as I continue on; the sidewalk bricks are really uneven and I don't want to trip.

I pass by Gina's, a restaurant that serves American food. We like the ice-cream there. Right next to Gina's is the car-detailing place that has a continual flow of new cars everyday. I cross the street, and dodge traffic as I do so.

Now I'm at the Kaiyin school. We don't teach here, we just come to eat. Students are running around the courtyard as we make our way around the school to the giant cafeteria. The same veggie and meat dishes have been prepared. Grabbing my tray, I make my way towards the huge pot and scoop some rice up for myself. I like the meals here.

And there I sit, with girls from my group, eating another dinner and watching another day pass. My time here is going by quickly; it's going to escape with a blink of an eye. But time isn't going by so fast that I forget to appreciate my surroundings. I love the things that happen around our neighborhood, and I love rice, and I love my daily life here. Watching the quirky things that occur makes me laugh. It's not always the most exciting, but it's little things I'm coming to appreciate.

I love China.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Spa night, eating baby birds, and Avatar

Can I just say how much I love these girls?

Shiqi Family photos, September 2014
Our group is the! I don't want to brag or anything, but I think we have the best group in Zhongshan. :) 
Teaching is going well. The school keeps having to rearrange the schedule though and I really wish we could just get into a solid routine! Good thing all of the kids are adorable! So what do I do at the school on a regular basis? I make sure things run smoothly and that we are prompt with classes, assess any issues the teachers are having, evaluate the teachers, communicate with our coordinators, and update our group calendar. At home I fill out records, look over lesson plans, send in reports, stay in touch with the ILP directors, hold training workshops, and more! My job here definitely keeps me busy, and it's tough sometimes. But I love it. I love the position I'm in and, despite the heavy load, the responsibilities I carry.

I feel like my time here has already influenced me in many ways. I've learned so much and I can feel myself growing from the different hurdles that this semester has brought. I am grateful for my time here in China, it's been amazing so far. I miss America, and my family, my friends, my regular life there. But I really haven't been homesick. Maybe I've been busy, or maybe I'm having too much fun here, or maybe I know that this is the right place for me to be.

So we have a Chinese friend named Aaron. Actually, we've thought this entire two months that his name is Aaron, and come to find out it's actually Allen (I blame the Chinese accent for this miscommunication;) Anyway. Allen is a middle aged guy that has been driving ILP teachers to school for a few years now. He likes to practice his English, and it's a good exchange for us to get to know a native. He always likes to have the deepest conversations, like how music influences the soul, or how what you set your mind on will eventually happen. It's pretty awesome.

So Allen invited us to have dinner and do karaoke last night, and he said he and his coworker would drive us. Us girls were all expecting to go out to a Chinese restaurant and to a local KTV. Come to find out, Allen, his coworker, and a taxi would all be driving us to a private dinner hall where underneath a giant chandelier we would share different Chinese dishes. We had fried rice, pork, beef, broccoli, lobster, veggies...and everyone got their very own cooked baby bird (head and all.) I took a few bites of the baby bird and even accepted the challenge to eat its brain. Let me repeat. I ate a baby birds brain (only in China....)

After our 5 Star Chinese meal, we headed to Allen's work where they had their own conference room decked out with karaoke. Us girls all rocked out to the American songs and Allen and his coworkers sung some Chinese ones. It was really fun. :) After that, our paid-for taxi drove us home and the night came to an end.

For a while we thought Allen was just an "average Joe" but have found that, after talking to his coworkers and with him offering to take all 12 of us out to eat, he's "pretty up there" in the world. For example, the same day we went to karaoke he explained to us that he had to speak at some big event. So it's really neat knowing Allen. He is the nicest guy and really humble, and he always talks about the deepest things like some wise, old Chinese guy.

In other news, we were able to go to church in Shenzhen last Sunday! All the groups in Zhongshan rented one big bus and off we went. It was a District Conference held at a convention center, and I felt really bad that my eyelids were extremely heavy during the meeting but had a good time nonetheless. Afterward, they took us to where Church is normally held and the Relief Society fed us a straight-up American-style lunch of hotdogs, chips, watermelon, and cookies. It tasted extremely good. :) After that we started on the two hour drive home.

Sacrament hadn't been held at the conference, and we've been deprived of it for two months, so I asked one of the guys in another group if we could gather everyone and have it after getting back into Zhongshan. He agreed. It was really sweet having a group of people meet together in an apartment to sing a few hymns and take time to think of Christ.
So our big vacation is coming up! I recently mentioned that we were going to Beijing and Xian. But our group has decided otherwise. Our vacation dates are during the National Chinese holiday and that basically means everyone and their dog will be out traveling. Transportation of all kind is basically sold out even two or three weeks in advance. So we completely re-routed our trip. Eight girls in our group are going to Yangshuo (yes, I'm going back!) and Zhangjiajie, and the other four are traveling around Western China.
We'll be in Yangshuo for a few days, Guilin (which is very close to Yangshuo and has rice paddies) for one, and then Zhangjiajie for a few days. Zhangjiajie is a beautiful place with amazing mountains. If you have seen the movie "Avatar" then you might recognize that they based some of that landscape off Zhangjiajie.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention. A typhoon (Kalmaegi) hit earlier this week! We only experienced the minor effects of it, but still, I can say I've lived through a typhoon. ;) It came up through Southern Asia and luckily Zhongshan only had a bit of wind and rain. School was canceled on Tuesday and it nice to be able to have an unexpected day off. It really wasn't that stormy outside. Rain would come ever so often, and we did have some wind rip a few trees out of the ground, but that's it. Well around lunch time the weather was behaving itself and we decided to make the 10 minute walk to lunch. About two minutes into our walk all hell broke loose and it started raining the hardest I've ever seen. With some fear in our eyes we laughed about the situation and yelled "Typhoon!!" and trudged on and struggled with the little protection our umbrellas offered. Finally we made it to the school, soaked. It's the truth when I say that we all felt like survivors walking into that cafeteria.
Well that's all the news I have for now. :) Sending my love from Asia -

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Oops, typo. I meant Shanghai!

We just traveled halfway across China for our second vacation. And it was awesome! We traveled by train and had seats on the way there and beds on the way back. Seats on the 15 hour (although it ended up being longer than that because of delays) train ride weren't our first choice, but it was the only thing available since we booked last minute. It definitely is an adventure and it means being cramped and getting little sleep. To try and make the situation better, we rotated taking turns sleeping on the hard and dirty train floor. It seems disgusting but desperate times call for desperate measures (and besides, other people were doing it.) I actually got an hour or two of decent sleep crammed in between that isle. And something else funny happened...

As I was sleeping I guess I looked cold, and someone grabbed the head seat-cover and tossed it on me as a little blanket. I thought it was just one of the girls tossing me something to put between my face and the carpet, so when I woke I grabbed it and put it under my head. Come to find out it was a young Chinese guy who tossed it, just trying to be nice to his fellow train passenger. I didn't know this though, and when I was done with my nap on the floor I found him looking at me. Asians have a tendency to stare at Caucasians, and they also tend to take as many pictures possible of or with us white folk. Some people try to discreetly take a snapshot, and some (as was this guys case) just out in the open have no shame. I even heard the little camera "click" as his phone was pointed my way. So I, in response, whip out my Ipad and so obviously point it in his direction and take a picture (we've done this before with other people, just as a prank:) He looked a little confused, and I was amused that some of their own medicine was dished out. But this guy continued to look back at me ever so often, and some of the girls think that he may have thought I was cute. So the seat-switching and avoiding commenced!

Getting out and traveling makes you feel so alive. You feel the extremes of tiredness from over 20 hours of traveling; and you feel excitement as you set out giddy as a child on Christmas morning.

That is how I felt when I feasted my eyes upon this beautiful scene in Shanghai.

Our first day in Shanghai consisted of walking around The Bund (pictured above), taking the ferry across the Huangpu river, and going to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center. It was the coolest, most modern building ever, that had an elevator get us up 100 floors in 60 seconds. The view from the top was incredible.

This area, The Bund, was my favorite part of Shanghai. But we saw other really cool places: Buddhist temples, the Yuyuan Gardens, Nanjing Road, markets, and the Shanghai Aquarium. Here are some pictures from our sightseeing :)

The market area

Yuyuan Gardens

Jade Buddhist Temple

Standing outside the temple

The Oriental Pearl Tower
(We never went inside, but it was my favorite building there)

The giant eels at the aquarium

Beautiful jelly fish at the aquarium
Nanjing Road
Shanghai is big, and beautiful, and dirty all at the same time. I miss it already! And I'm still processing that I actually went there.
Getting back to Zhongshan was smooth sailing, but it definitely is a process since we have to take the long distance train from Shanghai to Guangzhou, then take the metro from the Guangzhou East Railway to the Guangzhou South Railway Station, then a 30 minute fast train to Zhongshan, then bus 13 and bus 003 to get home. :)
Amazingly enough, before all of this happened, I got food poisoning. A day before we were supposed to leave I had an upset stomach, and I felt sick, and I actually passed out, so my coordinators ended up taking me to the hospital. They wanted to make sure it wasn't anything serious so there I stayed for four hours, getting a blood test done and hooked up to an IV. My coordinators left for a few hours, and I was just hanging out by myself until an old Chinese lady was brought into the same room. We were just chillin' for a while until my IVs were done, and my coordinators came back, and I paid for some medication, and took a taxi home. I debated whether or not I should go on our vacation, as I didn't want to push my body past its limit. But I rested and even though I still felt a little abnormal, we set out and I ended up being fine. And I'm so glad I was able to go!
Now we will get back to regular life. That is, until October, when we make the jump all the way across China to Beijing. :) I hope everyone is doing good at home! I definitely will miss the changing of the weather and experiencing Autumn!
Ta-ta for now,