Friday, July 28

my family in yanji!

breakfast at my placeon the Korean-Chinese border
bike taxi in Tumen (Laura's favorite)
raft ride on the Tumen river
We haven't done anything too exciting, but it's very nice to have family come and experience my life here with me. We have been trying a lot of Korean and Chinese foods and neither my sister nor my brother in law have been terribly impressed. I thought they'd like it a little more than they do, but I guess it's more of an acquired taste than I thought. I think breakfast at my house is their favorite meal of the day, and it's not that exciting.
Last night, we went to the bathhouse. We all had an overall nice, pampering experience there. (I think the Asian massage experience is a little less soft than the Western one, but except for a few moments of pain, the massages were very nice.) Today, we have just a few things to do downtown and then we are off to Beijing tonight.

Sunday, July 23

Went out for a picnic yesterday afternoon to one of the few parks (I think there are only two) in Yanji. It was a beautiful day. We got kimbap (traditional Korean picnic food-rice and other stuff wrapped in seaweed like a sushi roll) and some snacks and drinks and just talked. Very nice. Somehow, it was our first time to make it to this park. That's a shame.
This is the park, shown with paddleboats in the foreground, big buildings and pollution in the background.

Tonight, I'm taking a night train to Meihekou to visit the hometown of a student friend. I'm coming straight back the next evening so that I can meet my sister and brother in law on Wednesday morning at the Yanji airport! Yay!


The sunsets the past two nights have been amazing. Yesterday it was rainy/cloudy most of the day, and then suddenly, right before sunset, the sun came out. It made for an amazing sight. I went for a walk and tried to get it on film. Of course, that never works out so that it looks just as great as the real thing, but I tried.

It reminded me again of how living up on this hill where our university is is so great! We get an overview of the city and a great view of the mountains, plus we get the benefits of our campus landscaping and sculpture park, which are rare things.

Thursday, July 20


One of my favorite things to do is go behind our school, down and up a hill, through a small wooded area, and then walk down this road that leads to a village. It's not really that far. I can do the whole thing quickly in about 45 minutes, or I can wander around and take pictures and let it take up almost two hours like I did yesterday. The pictures, you have to understand, don't do it justice. But, they'll have to do.

Yesterday was perfect. There was a pretty strong wind, the air was cool, the day was just about to finish, and a storm was slowly rolling in. The colors, like I've tried to describe before, are the best when it's not too bright out: fuzzy cool toned mountains in the distance, cool crisp greens of all shades all around. Cows and calves who tolerate you with a skeptical eye, little dogs who bark at you only if they have the energy, farmers who pretend not to look at you, but definitely stare, guys in cute retro helmets that speed by on their motorbikes. Old women who are peeling veggies, mending quilts, or taking a rest in some shade outside. It's an unexpected glimpse into the life that's just outside our university.

Wednesday, July 19

interesting things in my life lately

(Actually my life isn't so interesting lately, so I will compile some of the not so interesting things in a list to make them seem more interesting.)
1. I bought whole wheat flour today from our school bakery. The last time I tried to do this, they basically just let me because I was white and they wanted to be nice to me. Today, I went back to get directions to the other place they told me to go get it, but never found. Instead of selling it begrudgingly, they sold it with a smile and told me to tell my friends to come and buy it too!
2. I'm not teaching this summer, so I've had some time now that the volunteers are settled. This week, I made spaghetti sauce, granola, cookies, banana bread, pizza, and pad thai. I love the cooking part, but washing dishes isn't so fun. Last night, I had two students over for pad thai and they ordered eggplant cooked in beer from a nearby restaurant to go with it. Good stuff.
3. The weather this week has turned cool again and it's so excellent. I only wish it would stay this way for when my family visits. Unfortunately, Beijing won't be cool unless something amazing happens. It's usually a sticky mess in July and August.
4. My mom sent me a package for my birthday with a book, pants, and a shirt. Yay! The pants, for the first time in my life perhaps, were too long. Yesterday I took them to get them altered. It cost 5 yuan (less than a dollar) and they did it while I waited. This place is amazing.
5. I turned 30. I should feel different, but I don't. I guess that's good? I opened my door on my birthday to balloons and a banner proclaiming to everyone how old I am. I got many, many e-mails and e-cards from friends and family, some visits, some flowers, two phone calls (my parents and my Korean tutor who moved), and a small gathering at a local coffee shop with white wine. It was nice.

Tuesday, July 18

funny packaging

I bought these at the Walmart in Shenyang when I had to go to the consulate last semester. When I showed them to a friend, she said "You bought cheese in a box?" I guess it doesn't say cheese crackers anywhere. The packaging is great, right? BEST TASTY, Fragrant thick cheese, Crispy crispy good flavour.
But I believe this wins the award. As if the terms "Marxism" and "God's favored" go together. On the side, it says "Mecca" in Korean script. That's even more confusing.

Wednesday, July 12

good things

And it seemed beautiful to me. It is an amazing thing to watch people laugh, the way it sort of takes them over. So I wonder what it is and where it comes from, and I wonder what it expends out of your system, so that you have to do it till you're done, like crying in a way, I suppose, except that laughter is much more easily spent.

Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave - that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm. And therefore, this courage allows us, as the old men said, to make ourselves useful. It allows us to be generous, which is another way of saying the same thing.

(My last quotes, I promise, from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.)

I've had a few good laughs lately, but could use some more. I have also had a few unexpected heart to heart talks with people. I suppose I could use more of those, too. Summer is good for time to do those things, but I should make sure I don't schedule myself so thick during the school year that those kinds of talks don't happen. I am guilty of that, or at least, of using the time I haven't scheduled to be alone. Of course, being alone is good, too, but community is better. It's one of those precious things that has been put into my hands and I should honor it.

Thursday, July 6

korean friends

Although I haven't made much time for Korean study so far this summer, I have been lucky to make friends with some of the Korean women who work here and they are more than happy to speak to me only in Korean. Some speak English and some don't, but I really am thankful that they don't want to speak English with me! (I had so many friends eager to improve their English in Korea that I rarely got practice speaking Korean.) We exchanged dinner invitations a few times this semester, then I invited one friend over to make chocolate chip cookies (at her request) and she responded by inviting me over to make Korean bean pancakes and then she surprised me with this excellent dinner also. Of course, I don't understand everything they talk about, but I'm slowly getting better. I have to admit, I was almost stumped when they wanted me to tell my "love story" at this dinner (meaning a story of the guys that I have liked and have liked me). I asked someone else to go first, but even following their example, I didn't know what to say. Lots of practice needed.

Monday, July 3

an interesting planet

There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn't. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don't know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.
(again, from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson)

Today, I helped proofread our university site, helped get some summer teachers set up to teach English at the Korean school, went to the office for an hour to help coordinate some stuff, took a longish walk behind our school (and got a little color on my skin in the process - finally!), took a short nap, and studied Chinese. More study to come after dinner.

It was a bright, (relatively) hot, sunny day, so the walk somehow wasn't as thoughtful or reflective as it seems to be when it's cool or when there's rain on the way. But still, each time I get a chance to take this walk behind our school, I am reminded that this is an interesting planet. Cows grazing, calves lounging in the grass while they watch me pass with large eyes, chickens pecking as they direct their little ones along, corn and eggplant in neat rows. As the work of the same one who made us, it does deserve all the attention we can give it.

Saturday, July 1


Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it. And that was such a quiet day, rain on the roof, rain against the windows, and everyone grateful, sinceit seems we never do have quite enough rain. At times like that I might not care particularly whether people are listening to whatever I have to say, because I know what their thoughts are. Then if some stranger comes in, that very same place can seem like somnolence and like dull habit, because that is how you're afraid it seems to her.

(another quote from Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson)

My mom sent me this book. I finished it quickly in between grading finals a few weeks ago. It's a plain book about a plain life, but the language in it makes me want to drink it in slowly like a warm cup of milk tea on a cold day. It's just good and satisfying. There's a sticker on the front that says "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize" so I guess that other people agree. Thanks, Mom!