Thursday, December 28

internet issues

I have been trying to check my email for three days, but there was an earthquake in Taiwan (or so I hear) that took out all of China's internet for a while. I can access this blog, for some reason, but can't access either of my email accounts. If anyone has emailed me anything important, don't worry (ahem, Mom or Dad). This is a sad time for it to be down, because I need to be emailing people to meet up with/stay with in Korea and also to reserve places to stay and flights inside Thailand. It makes it kind of nice to not be able to write the things I don't really want to (email is sometimes a chore, you know), but....

It is weird that I can get on blogger and post this, but I guess some sites are handling this better than others.

Tuesday, December 26


I am finished with grading, finally, and am moving out of my desk. I just started the process of getting internet in my new apartment because I've been busy, busy. I am trying to post some fun pictures here for your viewing pleasure, but blogger is not in the holiday spirit, so it will not happen today. I still have a lot to do (meet with students and friends one last time before the break, write a new year's letter to send home with a friend, etc.), but it's nice to have the grading done. I just started every sentence with I and I feel pretty egotistical about that, so I am going to sign off for now. I will try to post pics again later.

Sunday, December 24

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas morning here and we are going to give our last final in less than an hour. After that, there will be a lot of grading to do and I still haven't finished grading my other set of finals from Friday. So, this post is short, but I just wanted to say Merry Christmas to everyone!

These pictures are from dinner on Friday. We celebrated the beginning of the weekend at this new western restaurant that opened at the new international hotel downtown. It's pretty impressive to all of us and the food is pretty good too!

Saturday, December 16

it's that time of year

This is the doorway into my new bedroom. You can see my cool new Chinese lantern Christmas lights (I've always had a weakness for strings of lights) and my new humidifer, which makes my room a nice place to wake up to. No more parched throat because of the heating system.

It's been a while. Sorry for anybody who missed me. We are in our last week of classes here at the university, so I have to finish writing finals with the final exam team, give speaking tests, make Christmas cookies (okay, I don't have to do this) to give out to my kids, etc. I am living in my new apartment most nights, but on busy nights at school and when I have tutoring or want to meet students, I stay here at school. I don't have internet there yet, so that's the main reason for my silence lately.

We just had an end of the year meeting for school where a guy from our conversation office and I were asked to plan some mixer games. We had two planned, but then realized one wouldn't work out, so we just played evolution. It was a hit. We had the first 10 people who became humans win prizes. I was in charge of prizes, so I went the Korean route and bought toilet paper, soap, and toothpaste and wrapped them up (you can see them under my mini tree). When I first moved to Korea, I didn't get the whole idea of useful presents (toilet paper or laundry detergent as a housewarming gift), but now I really like it.

Yesterday, we had our English department dinner at a nice restaurant downtown and some of us went to a park down the street afterwards where the pond is frozen and they have sprayed some of the trees with water and lit up to make a nice background, plus they have a long ice slide and some sculptures. We went a little picture crazy. They also have these little things that look like toilets that you can sit on and push yourself around with sticks (as seen below). Looked like a grand time, but we didn't join in that.

(Fighting is a Korean way to say go for it, or some other term of encouragement. The Chinese way is jai-yo!)

I hope for all of us that we can rest and reflect a little in the coming weeks. It's a good season!

Saturday, December 2

My new apartment, with some random laundry hanging on chairs to dry. More pictures will come later, when it looks better.
One fun thing to do in Asia is to take sticker pictures. I keep a collection of them in the front of my journal. They make me smile.

moved in

After a normal busy week, having people over Friday for lunch to eat up some of my leftovers, dinner out and going to our school's "dance party" (which is really a dance competition that you watch on stage), and then back home to pack up all of my stuff on Friday night, I woke up, finished packing, and met the movers at 7:45 yesterday morning. They had me all moved out of my room on campus to my new fourth floor apartment downtown, without my help, in about an hour. There were three of them. They took my bags and boxes and would stack them on their back, tied with a rope, and haul them up the stairs. Only one plastic crate cracked and one missing extension cord so far that I can tell. I was pretty impressed. All for 80 yuan, about 10 bucks.

I unpacked all my stuff yesterday and then went to the gym, since it's so much closer to me now than when I was at school. I went shopping for a few things and then came back to unpack some more. More leftovers for dinner, then joined some English and German teachers for a night of karaoke. We sang and danced to Korean, German, American, French, and Mexican songs (but no Chinese!) together. My goal for next time is to learn a Chinese song. (It's so much harder because you might know the tune, but you can't read all the words because the characters are so hard to learn!)

Today I'm back at my old place for sweeping, gathering up a few more things, and to use the internet.

We had beautiful snow this week and have had colder weather, too. Yay for winter! I had my first snowball fight of the season with another teacher's class who I was subbing for. Not really enough moisture to make it packable, but fun all the same.

I'm looking forward to getting settled in and getting my new apartment looking cozy. I love it!

Friday, November 24

More Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving here is kinda funny, because there are so many nationalities around. Since our office is mostly American (and run by an American), we teach the history and culture of Thanksgiving in our conversation classes. But, that forces British and Canadian (and sometimes New Zealanders or whoever else is teaching in our office) teachers to celebrate our day, which is kind of pompous. Anyway, it's a good holiday with good meaning. I like to be reminded of the roots of it, too.

During the day on Thanksgiving, we taught and then ate in the school cafeteria. We had potatoes in some sort of sauce, a vegetable, fermented bean soup (it's actually really good - like miso), rice, and something else. I forgot. There were four of us who ate lunch together and let ourselves hang around for a while to laugh and enjoy the sunlight in our corner of the cafeteria. We had a group get together and order Beijing duck for Thanksgiving dinner, plus some other popular Chinese foods. Good times. We stayed up "late" (just after midnight) and had a glass of wine with some cheese from Shenyang, while we watched a few episodes of Friends.

Friday was a normally busy day. I went shopping after class with a new teacher and bought five sugar pumpkins (I think that's what they're called...sorta like acorn squash) for decoration for the potluck tonight and for a friend who didn't have time to go downtown. They were mighty heavy to carry back up, but we treated ourselves to a taxi ride to the back door of our dorm.

Today is Saturday. I just finished a conversation on skype with my parents, which was nice. I have to make some food for our Thanksgiving potluck tonight and finish the other preparations for that. It should be fun, I hope.

Thursday, November 23


It's still Thanksgiving Day for most of you folks. It's already the day after for me. We celebrate here by teaching our students what the day is about with a little history, a little grammar about thanks, and usually make something for fun. A lot of us had our elementary students write 50 things they are thankful for as homework. Some of the answers are a little funny. I will share some of them with you.
I'm thankful for...
Chinese are clever.
I wasn't born in the old China.
Lela teaches me the speaking English.
DNA fingerprinting can identify criminals.
my opponent who gives me many revelations.
musicians. They give us invisible wealth.
cosmetics workers. They make women more beautiful.
other peoples smile. They make me feel happy.
for the suffering experience. It made me much stranger. (I'm
pretty sure she meant stronger.)
so many kinds of fruit sold in the world.
for so many handsome boys in the road.
I have a white and good skin.
the milk in the breakfast. It can offer me energy.
turning off the light in 11:30 in the university to save electricity.
making me a common person.
rice and water. Everyday I eat them, but I am never bored at
my parents. You make me short but lovely!
Mao Ze Dong.
Deng Xiao Ping.
short fingers. It can do many things.
my husband. He will marry to me in the future.
to the Thanksgiving Day. It let me know gratitude.

Tuesday, November 21

staring strategy

Yesterday, I went for a walk behind our school because I didn't have time to make it to the gym. I had to cut the walk short because what was a nice, cool, gray afternoon turned quickly into a freezing cold afternoon with pelting rain. Anyhow, there was a couple walking the opposite direction from me that noticed I was different. This happens often, of course. One of the members of the group or couple will attempt to secretly poke or nudge the other person so they can also marvel at this strange fair creature. But it's never so secret.
At that point, I employ one of three strategies, depending on my mood.
1. ignore them
2. look at them with as much interest and astonishment as they are looking at me with
3. stare them down with a big smile to try to embarrass them

Friday, November 17

An Update

I haven't posted in a few weeks because it seems that blogger and China are not on friendly terms again. My lovely sister Laura has agreed to post for me (I am sending this post to her through email)so you out there in cyberspace can know that everything is well here.

A lot has happened, so I'm not sure where I need to start or what I need to tell you. I'll start with tonight and work my way back until I think you're too tired to keep reading. Tonight, two of the girls I study with came over. We had planned to either eat in the cafeteria or order some food, but they surprised me by bringing over bags of groceries from the market. They made a really excellent meal that one of them had learned to cook in her Korean cooking class that they offer to juniors and seniors here at school. I asked for the recipes. I had promised them we would make a cake together, so after dinner, we made some pumpkin bread and they were amazed when it came out. They took the rest home to their roommates. They helped me with some Chinese songs I want to learn. We had a fun night together. Neither of these girls are c's yet, so think of them when you have a chance.

The past two weekends I have had most of the students from my three English conversation classes over for cake and coffee. With most of them we also baked cakes together so they could see how to do it. They really think it's great, and they get super excited when you let them take the extra cake home. So, I've spent the last two weekends cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, and doing it all over again for the next crowd. They come over in groups of six or so because my room here can't hold so many people. It makes it easier to get to know them, too.

Next week is Thanksgiving! I can't believe it's already here. We have some special lessons planned to talk about the meaning of the day in our English conversation classes. On the weekend, we'll have a big dinner for English speakers. I am in charge of planning the order of events plus mixers for that night. I did it last year and said I wasn't going to do it again, but I said yes anyhow. If anybody has some good ideas to send my way in the next few days, I'd appreciate it. (I can still read comments on this blog, because they get emailed to me.)

The weekend after our Thanksgiving dinner (two weeks from now), I'm planning to move to my new apartment. I have been putting it off so that I could have the "coffee houses" here on campus. I've been pretty busy with all that and haven't had a lot of time to get ready to move, but I did get some sheets (you can't really buy Western style sheets here) and curtains made for the new apartment.

I made a decision about next semester. I am going to teach 6-8 hours at the other university in town and study language the rest of the time. I am looking forward to this change, but also starting to feel a little nostalgic already about my time here at YUST. Anyhow, I feel pretty sure I made the right decision for this segment of my life.

Sunday, October 29

another weekend's end

I don't have anything exciting or creative to post about, but I feel like I should before the weekend is over.

I spent the weekend meeting with friends for dinner every night, finishing up cleaning my new apartment (after the painters left a huge mess), finishing grading elementary mid-terms, doing some shopping, and a little cooking. I made a batch of pumpkin bread and shared it with the office and with friends and made some spaghetti sauce this afternoon. When I came back from dinner, my room smelled so good from the cooking. I think I'm going to have some students over this week to make pizza together as a reward for winning the skit contest in our class a few weeks ago.

Now that I cleaned up the paint mess, I'm getting excited about moving in. I'll wait at least another week or so, though. I'm working on making a decision about what to do next semester. Meeting with a teacher from the university downtown this week to see what her take is. Should make a decision this week, so you can think about that with me.

Well, that's enough of the me talk (as if this blog isn't all about me anyhow). Maybe I'll post something a little more creative later.

Wednesday, October 25

bits of life

Yesterday morning was so cold and there was this beautiful frost on the leaves and grass. I tried to get a few pictures and of course they didn't turn out so beautiful, but here's one of some pine needles anyway.
We have a sculpture park outside my dormitory. This holey brick thing is the latest addition. I'm all for sculpture gardens, but I sort of wonder why the person who is giving money for these sculptures wouldn't give it to something a little more useful like hot water for the students or another computer lab since the sculpture garden is getting full.
This is the latest rave in the school supermarket. It's fried chicken strips and lettuce inside a tortilla! The first time someone bought one of these, we were all in total shock that they actually sell this at our school. The funny part is that the brand is KXC instead of KFC. Too bad we can't buy tortillas by themselves anywhere in town.
One of the new teachers has had all these bathroom troubles. Her bathroom has been leaking on the person below her, so she had to get a new toilet and bathtub. They tried first to fix the two but that lasted about a month before things started to get worse. The cement they put in under the bathtub to try to fix it was uneven, which made the bathtub crack more. She was in the middle of dealing with the cranky lady below her, ordering a new (used!) bathtub and dealing with the new toilet not working like it's supposed to when she made the remark "nothing was broken until they fixed it!". A classic line, we all agreed.
Today, 15 minutes into my last class, the power went out. It was 4:15 and the sun was setting. By about 4:30, the sun had set so I gave in and let the class go early. It was impossible to read either the board or their books at that point and we had exhausted my box of charade vocabulary review. I went back to the office and found a few teachers there in the darkness with candles doing speaking tests. I walked through the hall and found it lit up by students using their phones as flashlights. In my room, I lit all my candles to make a romantic glow in my room and was just contemplating what to cook for dinner (I have a gas stove) when the power came back on.

Saturday, October 21

a lovely morning

It's Sunday morning. I've got biscuits in the oven, hot coffee from my coffee press, some good music on, my skin smells so good with the bergamot coriander lotion my sister brought me, and it's SNOWING! I mean, could it get any better? Well, I guess I could think of a few things I could add, but let's just enjoy this.

It's a habit of mine to look out the window when I get up. This morning when I did, I tried to discern whether it was snow or rain. When I got out of the shower, it was definitely snow. It's not sticking or anything, and it still has the weight of rain instead of being able to drift around a little before it hits the ground, but it's officially our first snow! Not quite as dramatic as last year's, but still lovely.

Well, I have biscuits to eat and need to get ready for the day. More later.

Friday, October 20

this week's addiction

I distrust summaries, any kind of gliding through time, any too great a claim that one is in control of what one recounts; I think someone who claims to understand but is obviously calm, someone who claims to write with emotion recollected in tranquility, is a fool and a liar. To understand is to tremble. To recollect is to re-enter and be riven….I admire the authority of believing on one’s knees in front of the event.
Harold Brodkey, “Manipulations”
(quoted in Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer)

I started Into Thin Air, a first-person account of what happened on a trip up Everest in 1996, Monday at lunch. I spent all the spare time I had this week glued to the pages and finished it yesterday at lunch. I think since I saw Everest this summer and felt a little of the effects of being at base camp in Tibet at high altitude, I was really captivated by their story and the pull of the summit. I did still fit in a little bit of cooking for a teacher's birthday party on Tuesday night, a little language study and a few sets of essays graded in between my hours of addiction to this book.

The heat has been on all week and my apartment has been so warm! After visiting a friend's house in the middle of the week who hadn't had her heat turned on yet (most apartments are controlled centrally), I was even more grateful. Yesterday, a teacher swore he saw a snow flurry or two, but we think he was actually just trying to make his prediction that it would snow within the week come true. It was just thick drops of rain.

Sunday, October 15

flannel and pumpkin

I mentioned at the end of the summer that I stole Rachael's flannel sheets after she left. I put them on this week and they are a little too inviting. I got home yesterday at about 6pm after a day of meeting people downtown, some shopping, and a trip to check out the clean up job at my new apartment (more on that later). It was actually a pretty warm afternoon, but after I got home and got still with a good book, the room got colder and I got under the sheets to warm up before I got around to finishing scoring some tests. Well, getting under the covers with a good book turned into a short nap and then I wasn't good for much for the rest of the night, although I did get some dishes done and made a little progress on the tests.

Today, being Sunday and all, I have less ambitions for getting stuff done, but still the coolness of my room (the boiler, we hear, has been fired up, but isn't producing much heat yet after a summer of rest) is keeping me under the covers listening to podcasts or finishing up this book instead of studying language at the table. I did decide, with one chapter left in the book, that I should save that for bedtime and put on another layer to post a blog and make a birthday card for someone in the office.

I bought my first nan gua (pumpkin, or squash) this week and boiled it today to make a pumpkin mush for use in pumpkin bread later on this week or next. That's a new fall/winter tradition I started last year. When the weather gets cold, it's time for some pumpkin bread!

Oh yeah, about the apartment. I had it painted on Wednesday. The guy brought nothing to cover anything. I was glad I left the cover on the couch and hadn't brought anything important to the apartment yet. He left the biggest mess I had ever seen on the floor. Cigarette butts, chopsticks from his ordered in lunch, paint in puddles on the floor. I got a student to help me call and complain to the store and they came in a group to clean it up the next night. I stayed to help and supervise, but they assured me that they would do it themselves. I went to check on it yesterday. They made progress by scraping the paint off the floor and off most of the furniture (furniture that comes with the apartment), but still left a lot to be done with paint left unscraped behind doors and in thin layers on the floor where they had cleaned it then wiped it and walked through and tracked it through the apartment again. I am not angry, but just frustrated. I think it'll just be easier to do it myself this time.

Wednesday, October 11

fall fruit

I bought these beautiful small apples on Saturday. The fruit lady got me to try them first. Even though they were a little expensive (10 kuai per kilo, which is about $1.25), they were so sweet and so beautiful that I bought half a kilo. I also bought a few pears and yellow mandarin oranges. Fall fruit is great!

instant plants

A lady selling plants outside the used market on Saturday. She has many of them in old instant noodle bowls!

Tuesday, October 10

cold weather, paint, skits

It's almost mid-October and the cold weather is here! Today's high is in the low 50's, which isn't bad, but it's just gonna get colder. Anyway, I kinda like it. I like pulling out the sweaters and I don't mind wearing a jacket in the office. One girl is already wearing her fingerless gloves while she works in the office. She was told by another teacher to put them away because it's too sad to bring them out already.

My new apartment is getting painted today! It's been funny trying to communicate with the painters and the paint shop in Chinese. I do the best I can and then I call a student to help me. I'm taking one bag load of stuff every time I go to the new place so that every trip up the stairs (I'm on the fourth floor) is a useful one.

We did student made skits in my elementary class today. They were all pretty funny. One of them involved an invisible character who had secret ways of keeping the hottest guy on campus from getting together with girls. One of her methods was to walk behind the guy and give the girl he was dating a little spank. Ha!

Saturday, October 7

all the joy

One of the few things I got accomplished in this week off was finishing a book that was written so brilliantly that I was jealous, wondering why I can't say things like that: An American Childhood by Annie Dillard. Before I share the book with a friend, I leave here a few quotes from when she remembers the time she ran down the street trying to fly.

Just once I wanted a task that required all the joy I had. Day after day I had noticed that if I waited long enough, my strong unexpressed joy would dwindle and dissipate inside me, over many hours, like a fire subsiding, and I would at last calm down. Just this once I wanted to let it rip. Flying rather famously required the extra energy of belief, and this, too, I had in superabundance.

You can't test courage cautiously, so I ran hard and waved my arms hard, happy.

What I was letting rip, in fact, was my willingness to look foolish, in his eyes and my own. Having chosen this foolishness, I was a free being. How could the world ever stop me, how could I betray myself, if I was not afraid?

Friday, October 6

The Far Country

This was one of the songs I played over and over when I drove over Texas, Missiouri, and Kentucky last January and February. It was just playing as I was making biscuits today, the last Saturday of my week long vacation. The words go with what I wrote a few posts ago.

The Far Country, by Andrew Peterson

Father Abraham, do you remember when
You were called to a land and didn’t know the way
‘Cause we are wandering in a foreign land
We are children of the promise of the faith
And I long to find it
Can you feel it, too?
That the sun that’s shining
Is a shadow of the truth

This is a far country, a far country
Not my home

In the dark of the night, I can feel the shadows all around me
Cold shadows in the corners of my heart
But the heart of the fight
Is not in the flesh but in the spirit
And the spirit’s got me shaking in the dark
And I long to go there
I can feel the truth
I can hear the promise
Of the angels of the moon

This is a far country, a far country
Not my home

I can see in the strip malls and the phone calls
The flaming swords of Eden
In the fast cash and the news flash
And the horn blast of war
In the sin-fraught cities of the dying and the dead
Like steel-wrought graveyards where the wicked never rest
To the high and lonely mountain in the groaning wilderness
We ache for what is lost
As we wait for the holy G of father Abraham

I was made to go there
Out of this far country
To my home, to my home

Wednesday, October 4

the new apartment

I went shopping today for some new cleaning materials for the new apartment, and the store I usually go to downtown was being shuffled around so I couldn't get most of the things I wanted (a new broom, mop, sponges). I did buy a few things that I needed anyhow and then went to the apartment to clean up, rearrange a little, and think about what needs to be done. I took these pictures with the new couch I bought yesterday (with the plastic wrap on until the walls get painted). They delivered the two sections of the couch and the four wooden chairs from the used furniture market (the chairs are used, the couch isn't) on a bike wagon. A friend bought the middle section of my couch (it's all that will fit in his room on campus) and a TV stand and they delivered that all the way up the bumpy dirt road to our university on a bike wagon too! We were in awe. We paid less than $100 for the whole 3 piece sofa, $12 for the four wooden chairs, and $8 for delivery to two places.

The first pic is taken from the front door and the second from the veranda at the far end of the first pic. The third picture is of the slightly larger bedroom and the last picture is of the other bedroom. As you can tell, the beds take up most of the space in the bedrooms. That's pretty much all there is, besides the bathroom, which is nothing special (perhaps a step down from my current bathroom, because there's no bathtub, only a shower head in the middle of the bathroom, but that is typical of an Asian bathroom.)

The curtains are all going to go, with the possible exception of the smaller bedroom. Also, I am going to paint the walls. Everything in the apartment is warm toned right now, so I am thinking of maybe a green wall behind the couch and maybe a cool gray for the rest? Not sure yet. I think another brown or orange color might be too much. Any suggestions? I should get the painting sorted this week since I'm on vacation, but I've been a little slow in that.

I'm getting anxious to move in already! I was going to wait until the end of the semester, but I might have to go ahead and make the move once it gets painted. We'll see. It's just that commuting everyday (since the road is torn up and buses are not going to our school still) might be cumbersome.

Tonight, I had dinner with a new friend who works downtown. Spicy spicy chicken kalbi on me, then foot massages (which actually include your whole body) on her. Oh so nice.

Tuesday, October 3

a place to belong

I'm reading this morning in Lamentations. A paraphrase:

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
His loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning.
Great is your faithfulness.
He is my portion, says my soul.
Therefore I have hope.
He is good to those who wait for him, to the person who seeks him.
It's good that he waits silently for real hope and life.

I've also been listening this week to messages over itunes from a popular fellowship. Some of them have been on loneliness. I'm not grateful enough for the small amount of loneliness I feel. Being here, single, in a foreign country where my grasp of the language is far from where it should be, not exactly sure of what the next semester holds for me, with many friends but not really any super close ones ... you would think I'd be a great candidate for discontent, or loneliness, or homesickness, or something.

So, I wonder sometimes, why am I happy most of the time? Why do I not want to move back to the States? Why do I look for ways to stay here and learn more of the language instead of looking for ways or a reason to go home and find a husband and a real job? I don't know. Sometimes I wonder if I'm just weird. Actually, I'm pretty convinced that I am weird. Living in China feels normal. Sometimes I have to even remind myself that I'm living in a foreign country. When my sister and brother in law came this summer to Yanji, it felt so normal to me (as if they were just visiting me in America or something) that I had to keep reminding myself that they were probably experiencing all this new stuff, including food that it took me a while to learn to like, that was not normal to them!

I just finished student interviews. At the beginning of every semester, we interview every student in our classes to get to know them a little. This semester, many students (maybe more than before?) were curious about when I will go home and find a husband. They are interested in whether or not I am interested in Chinese guys, and whether it's normal for American girls my age not to be married. One girl assumed that the next time I go home I will go and stay til I find a husband, and then I should come back to China. I didn't know how to explain to her that my best chance of finding a husband who shares similar views and goals with me is found here, even if it seems like my chances are super small.

Recently, a teacher here told us at dinner that he was interested in a girl in another country where he was living before. He decided not to pursue her because she was so interested in staying in that country and he didn't think he wanted to stay there forever. Then, one of his friends started dating her and they got married and moved to the guy's home country. So, I asked him if he was glad he didn't get a girl who would give up her vision or if he was sad that he didn't go for her because she would give up her dream to follow a guy. Then I started to wonder if I fell in love with a guy who didn't share my vision, would I give up what I've been planning for to go with him? In one way, I would think it would be a waste of what I've spent my time on the past few years. On the other hand, it's right for a woman to give up things for the man. Anyhow, that's a far off thought since I don't have anyone like that on the horizon.

But that's a different topic. Today, I'm thinking about where I belong. I've made a decision not to go home for the winter. That may be an open invitation for loneliness, because winters here are long, cold, there are not many people on campus. But, I know that I need to expose myself to that kind of time because I need to learn discipline and dependency on him. I'm thinking about how I am missing out on things at home - time with family and the fellowship at home, my cousin's baby growing up, a weekend of my sister and three girl cousins getting together in the metroplex, and all sorts of other things. I wish I could have the best of both worlds, but since I have to make the choice, I can't imagine moving back home at this point. I can't imagine giving up this life of discovery and the reminders that come through this life I live that tell me that life is a breath. Choices are important. China is not my home, but neither is Texas or anywhere else in the world.

So, today, I'm grateful for the hope that I know, for the satisfaction I have in living here, for the lovingkindness that never ceases, for the newness of every morning, and that when I don't feel these things, that waiting silently is also good.

Monday, October 2

vacation = long walks!

We have this week off because October 1 is a national holiday for China. Most schools take the whole week off. So today I got to go for a walk behind the first one since school started. In the last few weeks, the trees have been changing colors and farmers have begun harvesting. A beautiful time of year. So, I took my camera along and got a few pictures as I crunched the layers of leaves beneath my feet and enjoyed an unseasonably warm afternoon and absolutely beautiful blue skies. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 1

Tibetan doors

I have told you of my love for Picasa and the collage feature. Here is one of some doors in Tibet and a few from Beijing. Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 29

rediscovering poetry

"Messenger" by Mary Oliver from Thirst
(again, found at The Writer's Almanac)

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast;
there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not
Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my
work,which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.

The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the
sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Thursday, September 28

a new apartment

I made a big decision yesterday. I decided to move downtown. I have been thinking about what to do next semester, and I haven't decided yet. But I have decided that I won't teach full time. So, I was talking to a friend about this on our walk from the office home Wednesday evening. She told me that a guy we know had decided not to take an apartment that he already had an agreement on. He was going to pay the deposit and then walk away, but he offered to just pay the deposit (three months rent) and then leave it for me to pay the rest if I wanted it. The rent is very reasonable, about 70 bucks a month, for a two (small) bedroom apartment with a combined living room/kitchen. It's partially furnished (TV, beds, small wardrobes, fridge, washing machine, etc.) and is pretty new. It's also pretty central, but still not far from the university I teach at now, in case I decide to teach one or two classes next semester.

So, I looked at the apartment early yesterday morning and had to make the decision before noon. I decided to just take it. I was a little nervous about making a big decision in such short time, but I feel good about it. I think it would be hard to find another apartment for that price, plus now I don't have to go apartment hunting! It also has a sort of "view" overlooking the nearby military base park. It's much better than overlooking more apartment buildings or a street.

I probably won't move in until the end of the semester, but I don't feel guilty about that because the guy who I am helping out has already paid for the first three months. I can shop for a couch, paint, get new curtains, and then move in slowly. What I am most looking forward to is actually having a kitchen, with countertops and shelves, instead of cooking on a one burner stove that's on a desk on my back porch and washing dishes in a kitchen instead of in my bathroom. And, whether I teach or not, it will help me to have a separate place so I have a school life and a home life where I can study and do other things.

We have the next week off of school! We were going to only have three days, but now we have four days. Since most students wouldn't return for the Friday classes (how crazy is it to come back to school on Friday?), we (the English conversation classes) have rescheduled those classes to meet either on a Saturday or evening of the following week. Yay! A restful week of couch shopping, getting caught up on grading, and some language study time is ahead!

Sunday, September 24

green tea and chocolate

It's Sunday evening, a time I love to save for not doing much. I try to get homework graded, lesson plans done, etc. before Sunday so I can enjoy things I don't enjoy during the week. It's good to have an evening to listen to podcasts (tonight, it's jazz, the word nerds, and They Might Be Giants) while finishing up some dishes, doing miscellaneous stuff, drinking green tea with a few precious chocolate chips snuck from the freezer (really, I should save them for baking), and reading some poetry online. Tonight, I read this (from here):

"A Morning In Autumn"
by W.S. Merwin, from Migration: New and Selected Poems.

Here late into September
I can sit with the windows
of the stone room swung open
to the plum branches still green
above the two fields bare now
fresh-plowed under the walnuts
and watch the screen of ash trees
and the river below them

and listen to the hawk's cry
over the misted valley
beyond the shoulder of woods
and to lambs in a pasture
on the slope and a chaffinch
somewhere down in the sloe hedge
and silence from the village
behind me and from the years

and can hear the light rain come
the note of each drop playing
into the stone by the sill
I come slowly to hearing
then all at once too quickly
for surprise I hear something
and think I remember it
and will know it afterward

in a few days I will be
a year older one more year
a year farther and nearer
and with no sound from there on
mute as the native country
that was never there again
now I hear walnuts falling
in the country I came to

I still have a few hours left in my evening before I'll go to bed early, so I'm gonna study some Korean and try to think about the decisions I need to make soon!

Saturday, September 23


We had our English department "MT" yesterday. MT stands for Membership Training. We don't use this in English, but it's a Korean tradition that is a little like a retreat. They can be one day or a weekend long. They're especially for freshmen to get to meet upperclassmen and teachers/professors in their major. We went to a little retreat center a little less than an hour away. You actually have to get there by boat, which was kinda fun. The buses dropped us off and then the boats took us across the lake to the site.

The day was beautiful. We're having this excellent warm fall here, which we keep expecting to end all of a sudden, but are enjoying it while it lasts. The leaves are starting to change, so the drive out was lovely. I wish I had some pictures of that, with the green golden rice fields on the brink of harvest and the hills around in a mix of greens and warm reds and oranges. I love fall. I always have, but being in a place where there are four seasons and leaves that change colors makes me love it more.

We played silly games and hung out with our students; some people took a boat ride around the lake while a few of us teachers stayed on shore and talked about the lack of romance in our lives. We talked about being set-up, possibities (admittedly very few) here in China, how many kids we (in our old age) could possibly have or want to have. After that, we played some ultimate frisbee, which is a game I will only attempt in Asia, where few people know how to play, so my uncoordinated self can throw ugly passes and nobody on my team will get mad because they are just as bad as me or worse.

Beautiful weather, time away from school, games, and conversation. Good times.

Friday, September 22

another week + decisions

This week felt a little more like it should, somehow. I was busier. The week flew by. No time for naps. Made, gave, graded two tests to three classes. Had two hours plus some (because my new tutor is talkative) of Korean tutoring. Finally met up with a student/friend who just got back from Beijing after a two month long internship. Celebrated a birthday of a friend. Made another birthday card for a new teacher in the conversation office. Went to the gym twice. Ate kimbap three times. Watched a cute Korean movie twice. Once with subtitles, once without. Interviewed a bunch of students. Taught. Made my bed every day. Swept my floor once. All the normal stuff that happens in a week.

I am trying to make some decisions, again. I am sorta fishing for advice, but don't know who could/should give it to me. I think I stayed at this school this fall because it was the easy thing to do visa-wise. I am tossing around different ideas for next semester. I could retain the status-quo and stay here. I need to study language, though, in a very concentrated way, so I am thinking about getting a student visa at the other university in town to study either Korean (preferably) or Chinese (that would kick my butt, because I'd have to learn the characters, but I'm willing). I want to stop teaching because as long as I am here teaching, I have very limited time and energy to devote to language study, so my progress is so slow. I want to keep teaching because the visa is a cinch and I am connected to the students and teachers here. If I quit teaching, I have to move, get a new visa, and sorta make a new community, even though I'd be in the same town. My community now mostly revolves around the conversation office crowd.

So, I had to go through this process last semester, too. One person (who isn't known for her soft remarks) said I'm starting to sound like a broken record. Well, I just want to make the right decision. Language is the main reason, but not the only one. I would be more available for other opportunities. Anyway, I'm not doing a good job of being eloquent in my thoughts here, but I don't feel like I really have someone who can help me make this decision. Maybe I'm not supposed to have anyone to help me make it, but I'm kinda tired of making decisions on my own.

the hole

This is what the hole looked like earlier in the week. It was already half filled by the time I took this picture on Wednesday, but they're extending it as they fill in earlier parts. So, it's not as impressive in the picture as I hoped.

Saturday, September 16

Mexican night

The teachers in the conversation department got together tonight for "Mexican" food. We had homemade tortillas, Mexican beans, rice, taco seasoned beef, homemade salsa, even cheese saved from what the summer teams brought us.... It was so good. Everybody brought one thing and we had a feast! The guy who signed up to bring lettuce brought a Chinese cabbage instead and pulled it out saying "I hope I didn't bring cabbage again. Last time I tried to buy lettuce, I ended up buying cabbage." We had a good laugh at that and confirmed that the same thing had happened again.

The funny thing about Yanji is that sometimes you can get some of the things you need/want and sometimes you can't. We have a Korean import store that sells corn tortilla chips, but they are so popular among the foreigners here that they sell out soon after they get a shipment in. I bought some last semester and kept them, actually intending to give them as a gift. I never got around to giving the gift, so I still had the chips, which turned out to be great because the import store is out of them until October. One teacher made her favorite pie (banoffy pie?) which requires sweetened condensed milk and whipped cream. She went downtown to get the one kind of whipping cream you can sometimes find, and the store was out, so she called around campus and found someone who had some powder you can mix up that is sorta like whipped cream. It was good. We are becoming masters at substituting and making from scratch. It's kinda fun.

I was at the market today to pick up some vegetables to flavor the beans with and saw this box of silkworm larvae. Many of them were still moving. A little boy picked one up (they're about as big as half of your thumb) and took it to his grandma who was nearby. They were having fun making the larvae move on command. Every time the grandma would yell a word, the thing would wiggle!

The construction I mentioned is downtown now, too. So, the inside market where we buy fruits, vegetables, and meat has been moved to the streets outside. They still had everything we needed, but we didn't find our favorite vendors. I went with a friend who was cooking the meat because she had never gone to the meat market before. We bought the beef, but then we couldn't find anyone to grind it for us. We ended up having to take it to another market a short bus ride away where they put it in their meat grinder. When the things that have become familiar change, we have to get creative, but it ends up giving us new experiences.

Friday, September 15

a large hole

I guess the second week of school was a little busy, because I just realized it's been a week since I updated. The freshmen started this week and they are so eager and cute. Teaching freshmen is really the best. Even though I don't get to teach beginners (students who have never studied English before), I get to teach elementary level freshmen. They know English from studying it in middle and high school, but are pretty excited to have a foreign teacher and learn in university. I had some funny essays this week, but I already returned them all without writing down the funny parts. Next time maybe I'll do that for you.

So, the big news here on the hill is that we are sorta trapped. They are installing new central heating to the buildings all over town and everything is torn up. (Apartment buildings are heated with their own coal furnace for each building, but now they'll be heated from one central furnace that's connected all over town.) We are used to construction being a constant here, but we aren't used to not being able to leave our campus without major planning. Last week, I went out to the bus stop in front of our school with one of the new teachers. We didn't see any buses, but we thought they'd come soon. After a few minutes, the taxi driver told us that the buses weren't coming all day. I asked why, but couldn't understand the answer. So, we take a taxi. We get to the bottom of the hill and realize that there won't be any buses up to our school for quite a while, because there is a massive hole in the road that is impassable. For a few days, taxis could get around it, but then it expanded and taxis could no longer go up the hill. Now, if you don't want to walk up the hill, you have to deal with disgruntled taxi drivers who charge more money because of the construction and because they have to drive up a curvy, unpaved, bumpy dirt road to our school. There's only one real road that comes up to the university and it's a deep ditch now.

So, we've been asking ourselves...Are they actually going to finish this before it gets too cold to work on it? (Cold weather is coming soon, and really, really cold weather is coming quickly afterwards.) The hole is just getting larger and longer, with no end in sight. Why didn't they start this in the summer, when less people needed to go back and forth from the university? (Instead, they waited until the first week of our fall semester! Brilliant!) Is this actually a conspiracy to get us to boost the Yanji economy with more money spent on taxis?

It's pretty inconvenient, but I have to remember that I'm not exactly living in a gated community or anything, where I should expect to have all the conveniences. It's just that now, we either have to plan a lot more time to go (because we have to walk 15-20 minutes to get the bus at the bottom of the hill), or we have to plan on spending a lot more money to take a taxi to where we want to go. The result is that a lot of us are staying at home, supporting our school store more, and only planning downtown trips as groups so we can split the cost of transportation. Maybe this is good for us.

Friday, September 8

summer, fall, cosmos

This is a picture of my room (looking from my bed out the back window) that I took a few days ago. I didn't edit it by removing the laundry that's drying on the line for you or anything. That's why there are a few shirts suspended in the air. Anyhow, I love my room in these last few days of summer before I have to pull out the jackets and put away the open toed shoes. I love how the sunlight streams in and warms it in the morning. I've had to shut the windows at night the past few days. I love the openness created (by necessity to get more air flow in the summer) by removing the sliding doors. Soon I'll have to put those doors back in where the curtains are and find a place to put the hanging potted plant I stole from Rachael's room after she left.

There's one teacher at our school who hates these flowers (Cosmos) because they symbolize to her the coming of cold weather. They seem to have appeared earlier this year. Even when it was still hot in August, they started coming out. Now they are out in full force. I love them. Not because they symoblize the coming of cold weather, but because they are just pretty. They don't take too well to being cut or plucked and put in a jar in your room. For some reason I like that. They don't want to be domesticated.

It's Friday, the end of our first week of school. I've already graded two sets of creative writing homework assignments and started thinking about the first unit test I have to give in a week or so. I took a nap after afternoon classes today and then fixed some Chinese dumplings (jiaozi) in my new microwave steamer (microwave courtesy of my Dad...he bought it for me while he was here this summer) for dinner. So convenient! I got some e-mails that I've been meaning to write for a long time written tonight. I mostly put them off because I wanted to write them in Korean (even though my Korean friends who receive them can speak English, I need the practice). So, that feels good.

And that's the random update from this side of the world.

Sunday, September 3

first day of school!

Today is it, but it's been rather anti-climatic because I don't have class until 3:00. I teach two classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week. Next week, the freshmen start and I add one more hour Monday through Friday. My schedule got changed a bit from what I've had experience with and what I wanted, but such is life.

The weather yesterday was pretty warm and humid, but it rained last night and today it's cool and windy. It'll be time to close the windows (aka turn off the air conditioning) soon. It kinda feels like a good start to a new semester with the change in weather.

I don't really have anything interesting to post about yet, so here are a few random things that I'm happy about.
  • cool weather
  • a new fridge, hand me down from a friend who left (bigger and doesn't freeze everything in the refrigerated section)
  • burning a good-smelling candle in my room
  • dove shampoo (makes my hair soft!), found in a friend's room after she moved
  • having access to blogs on blogspot (for some reason, they're not blocked right now!)
  • a new, less cluttered arrangement for my room (i sort of do this once or twice a semester, or whenever i get new/better furniture hand me down)
  • getting to know new teachers. i wasn't actually very excited about that at first ( i wanted the old teachers back), but they are actually pretty good people.
  • wearing a new shirt from Tibet today

Wednesday, August 30

the last of the Tibet pictures

Of course, I have many more, but these are the last of the ones I picked out as the best.

This is the way many families heat up their water. The sun is so strong that all they have to do is reflect some of it on the kettle in the afternoon and they have hot water! Ingenious, huh?

Some women outside a temple in a small city on the way to base camp. They are each wearing a colorful striped apron that represents the fact that they are married. My friend and I each bought one of these aprons as a sort of "self-fulfilling prophecy" we hope.

This little boy was sitting on his parents' fabric selling booth in the market. He was so cute that when I took the picture, I said out loud "oh my goodness!" and he repeated me. So cute.

I couldn't resist taking a picture of this woman with a prayer wheel in one hand and a watermelon ice cream in the other. I wanted to get closer, but she was already giving me a questioning look and turning away.

These guys were watching my friend give out pencils to kids who were begging in one of the villages we ate lunch at on the way to Everest Base Camp.
Monks (notice their great visors!) walking the prayer/shopping circuit around the temple.

A small island building at the summer palace in Lhasa.
Muslims sitting in front of the entrance to the mosque in Lhasa.

I couldn't resist sharing these two (of the many we saw) great uses of the English language. On the menu, especially notice "squeeze the vegetables" and "fragrant bowel". The other sign was actually a warning that they had a guard dog, but we thought we were back in Northeast China for a second, where dog is a popular dish.

Tuesday, August 29

a colorful nation

"You are called to go to the nations. Be sent to the continents and the nations of the earth. Let the cultures, the peoples, the tribes and tongues of the nations now color your soul and change how you look at this hurting earth."
This is an introduction to a CD that I own. I was listening to it on the train ride from Lhasa to Beijing last week and all the sights that I had seen in the past week were impressed on me again. These people are so open, so needy, so friendly, so wonderful. If I hadn't already felt like I was called to another place in the world, I might pack up and move to Tibet.

The Potala Palace, the (former) home of the Dalai Lama and the government.

The Jokhang Temple, the center of Lhasa. At the end of the day, from a nearby rooftop.

In front of an image of Buddha at the temple, a box of milk (served with straw inserted), some fruit, potpourri, a little money, and bowls of water are presented.

Mending a tent roof at the Summer Palace.

more Lhasa pictures

I thought this lady's hair was great. Maybe when I'm old and gray, I can be cool enough to wear braids, too. She's selling some vests and stuff at the market around the temple. The guy on the right is turning a prayer wheel.

Yak oil candles inside a small temple.

Lhasa smells like yak. Maybe all of Tibet does. It's not exactly a good smell. (One member of our group thinks that smell is the reason we all lost weight while in Tibet. Maybe she's right. Maybe we could start the Lhasa Yak Smell Diet or something.)
If you want to buy some of this Tibetan favorite meat, you can find shops like this one easily. Most of them have at least one piece of meat that still has the hair attached (like you can see in the bottom right). I guess to help you understand how fresh it is? That it's not processed? That you're not buying lamb? I don't know.

Large prayer wheels lining one side of the Potala Palace. These line every major temple so that you can pray as you walk alongside.

Extra large prayer wheel outside the Jokhang Temple. You can also see one guy bowing. There were actually many people doing this. They use cardboard on their hands to make sliding all the way onto their stomachs easier. Very hard to watch. These people need the truth.

Sunday, August 27

still base camp

I accidentally deleted a picture and then couldn't get it back into the last post, so one more...

Gathering stones at the river at base camp. (Cheap souveniers.)

This camp was originally chosen because it had springs for fresh water.

Our dinner that night...cucumbers and cup noodles. They sell food in the tents, but it didn't look good and is outrageously expensive since it's your only option if you don't bring it yourself. We were happy we had our cup noodles.

Inside the tent where we stayed at base camp. The guy to the left is fueling the fire for heat and his dinner with animal poop chips. The little guy on the right is his younger brother. They stay up here from May-October, then it gets too cold and they go back to their village. The little guy is just visiting until school starts again for him.

Our early to bed camper.

camp and the peak

I couldn't get more than five pictures to post on the last one, so here are a few more.
The entrance to a tent at base camp, enticingly named the Eingush Hotel ( I think it's meant to say English). Before we went up, one member of our group said "Let's stay in a nicer place tonight since we saved some money last night." I was a little bit scared, because I thought there could actually be some pricey hotels at base camp. (I had seen a picture of one in some Chinese brochure.) When we got up there, though, there were only these tents with Tibetan style couches around the perimeter for sleeping. There were only outhouses (some of which were dangerously near their limit of what they could hold) and no showers (or any running water other than the river). So, it was kinda funny to see the response on my friends' faces. It got very cold at night, and they had plenty of blankets, so once we got under about four of them and let our body heat warm them up, we were OK. We talked later about how often the blankets were washed, and we decided that we'd be surprised if they were ever washed. I asked the big guy upstairs if he would keep lice or anything else crawly off of us as I was trying to go to sleep. He did.

Base camp at night (or maybe early morning.)

One of the best views of Everest that we got, the next morning. The tallest peak you see is it, with just a thin skirt of clouds around the middle. We didn't get a completely clear view, but were still quite impressed with this one, and glad to get it just before we had to set off back down to meet our driver again.