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