Monday, July 30
Tonight I went with two friends to the night market just a short walk from my apartment. I have been there many times during the day to do market shopping, but at night it's a totally different experience. We ate ma la tang and chao mian. The "ma" of ma la tang actually means to numb or paralyze. It's that kind of spicy. We ate next to a table of shirtless guys eating stinky tofu, barbecued meat, and drinking beer. We tried to order the stinky tofu (that's the literal translation of the Chinese name) but they didn't serve it at that booth, so the guys next to us gave us two skewers of it. We tried to refuse, but were actually touched at their little gift. They tried to order some beer for us too, but we didn't let it go that far.
The place we ate at had this guy making the noodles fresh for the chao mian. He tosses them up, twists them, tosses them again. He asked us if he could go to America in exchange for me taking his picture.
I am on my way to Shanghai the day after tomorrow to try to catch an earlier flight than the one I have booked so I can be with my sister before her baby is born because the little guy seems to be ready to come anytime now. I'm excited, but I need your thoughts as I need open doors with the people of American Airlines to let me get on an earlier flight!
I'll leave with a quote doesn't exactly fit tonight, but I wanted to put it here anyhow. We can't see much of the night sky from here in the city where there are lights and buildings, but the night sky is there all the same, above the night market, above us as we sleep tonight.
At midnight it feels there is more light in the sky than darkness, as though God took a fistful of stardust and threw it upward where it shimmers at the apex of its ascent, as though what we know as creation exists only for this brief second before it all comes crashing down again. Brilliant blue clusters spread thick and dense and they sparkle and fade, sparkle and fade. It is silent music, the night sky. God does well to live atop them. And I wonder, as I lie in the meadow with a piece of grass between my teeth, if angels look down updon the sky to which we look up?
The night sky is his greatest work.
- Through Painted Deserts, Donald Miller
Wednesday, July 25
Xi'an has a large Muslim population that has been there for a long time. They have the best food there as well as a tourist market and interesting streets to explore. I guess these guys were selling bugs (cicadas maybe?) as pets in tiny cages.
The highlight (and most challenging part) of our trip was Hua Shan. I took this picture on Saturday when the sun first came out for the first time in days and shone on the water on the mountain.
After our night on the mountain and sunrise on the East Peak.
The way they get food up to the places that the cable car doesn't reach is to hire people to carry it up on their shoulders. Some were even carrying large triangular windows (three, I think) on their back. The guys who do this back-breaking work are all oldish and most of them look at least a little sad. This guy, however, was on his way down (it looks like he's packing out the recyclables) and celebrating with a little song and dance!
I know I've tried to recruit English teachers before, but maybe now you can see our need more clearly!
Tuesday, July 24
This is one of the craziest things I've ever seen. I stood mesmerized by it for a quite a while. People rent one of these inflatable balls to put their kid in. They blow up the ball and the kids run around (for what seems like way too long) like a little hamster. There's no breathing hole, so the kids are just going on whatever oxygen is in there. I honestly started getting nervous that the kids were going to pass out, but the moms on the side had no such qualms, even when at the end the kids were laying at the bottom of the ball, too tired to move anymore. Hello! Let the kid out!
Lao Shan, the spring that Tsingtao beer is made from. We hiked up there our last day in Qingdao. The weather was cloudy, but not rainy and not too hot, so it was a nice day except for the fact that we forgot to take any food with us.
This looked like it could be a good spot for a photo shoot with the old door, cool blue paint and Chinese characters. (In response to a comment left before that I can't respond to - Chinese do have their own characters for numbers, but they aren't used all that often. Arabic numerals are very common.)
Sunday, July 22
- Giacometti, found in For the Time Being by Annie Dillard
My sister sent me this book because I read An American Childhood by Annie Dillard and really liked it. This book, however, turned out to be strange...just a collection of thoughts on random topics woven into a book. I didn't like it at first. (One of her topics is birth defects, which she pursues through the whole book.) But the more I read, the more I got a sense of where she was going with it all and I ended up enjoying it. She also talks about her trip to the Terracotta Warriors, which I just got to visit. She gives some history of the emperor and the tomb, so it was a great book to lead in to my visit and make me more curious about the history behind the statues.
We just got back from Mt. Hua a few hours outside of Xi'an. We spent most of the day (10:30-4) hiking up the mountain, generally either clinging to an iron chain while heading up vertical steps that are only half big enough for my feet, or surrounded by crowds of Chinese people (most of whom took the cable car most of the way). It was a challenge, but worth it. Completely beautiful. No rain, either! We spent the night in a little room with 8 others and woke upbefore 5 to catch the sunrise. We had planned to walk all the way down, but we decided we wanted to see the view from the cable car (or, perhaps we didn't trust our now shaky legs back down those sheer drops of stairs).
Even through the rain, this trip has been a chance to realize how much of the grandeur is unknown, to get closer to beauty and realize how remote it still is. The feel of coarse sand beneath my feet, the seashore at night and the sound the waves make as they recede from the rocky shore, the colorful catepillars in the park and horned slimy bugs on the beach, the majestically high mountains, looking down on clouds from the top.
"Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment."
(just a few of the amazing words spoken to Job.)
Friday, July 20
My travel buddy. I told her that I'll remember this trip fondly (even though many of our plans have been foiled due to rain) because I can't think of any bad memories I have associated with rain. I can only think of good ones. I don't know if it's because I'm from Texas, where rain is usually treasured (although this summer there seems to have been too much there) or because I'm just a rain-lovin type of person.
Tomorrow, we are hoping (after a look at the forecast) for a relatively clear day and are planning on waking up early to go to Hua Shan, a mountain a few hours away. We would have gone today, but it involves some climbing that wouldn't be nice in the rain.
Thursday, July 19
Yesterday we slept in, bought our train tickets back to Beijing, then walked downtown. Our legs are still sore from the hike up Lao Shan, the mountain where the springs for Tsingtao beer are. There's also a monastery up there where the monks wear their hair in buns because they aren't supposed to cut it.
We saw the bell tower at the center of the city and took in the great contrast between old and new China. We ate some wonderful Muslim food, the best food we've had on this trip, I think. We finished the day reading in the courtyard of our hostel by evening light and then by candle light until we finally decided it was a decent hour to go to bed.
Got up early this morning and headed out of town to the Terracotta Warriors. Seeing them costs 90 yuan, which is the same as the cost of our room per night. They are impressive, but also quite sad and mystifying - that Emperor Qin actually thought they would guard his tomb well?
Well, the internet cafe I'm at is frustrating me, so I'm going to go...
Sunday, July 15
There is a lot of German influence in the city seen in the architecture. We've also met a lot of German people here. So, in between chances to practice Chinese in the shops and restaurants or when figuring out which way to go, I get short German lessons from my friend (whose English is so good I forget I'm not talking to a native English speaker).
Yesterday was a warm, sunny, but not quite clear day. We walked up and down the coast, took a few dips in the ocean, and enjoyed the beach. Today we've been trying to figure out what to do with a rainy day when all we really want to do is go back to the beach.
This morning we visited an old German protestant church in time for service. We sang the same two hymns over and over, so it gave us a little practice reading Chinese characters. The large room was packed with mostly old Chinese ladies who sang loudly in their tinny voices. The lady in front of me had gone to the market earlier and had a bag of live mussels tied to the edge of the bench. There was an ongoing battle all throughout the service over whether the fan above us should be on or off. There were "shh" pictures on the walls to remind us to keep quiet and a bouncer type lady at the doorway to monitor people going in and out and keep people quiet around her. All in all an interesting experience.
Thursday, July 12
Two weeks ago when the spring semester ended, before the summer classes started, some of my beginner students had me over to their dorm room for lunch. They don't have a way to cook in their room, but they bought rice, lots of lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, radishes, red pepper paste and kimbap. We made lettuce rolls with the rice and red pepper paste. We had fruit for dessert. It was yummy and I was so happy to hang out with them for a little while in their room! (They have four bunk beds per room, so 8 girls in one not so large room!)
This guy painted my Chinese name (Li - la) for me next to the Tumen river last week. He told me he wanted to do it for me for free, but I paid him 10 yuan anyway. I thought he wanted to paint it to get me to pay him something, but it turned out he was really nice and just wanted to give it to me. I gave him the money anyhow, but I couldn't tell if he was offended or not.
Wednesday, July 11
You can find the shoe store here: http://buyshoessavelives.com/. (I tried to put a link at the top of my sidebar, but I can't tell if it's working or not because of internet issues.)
Lately, through different avenues (a significant one being that I've been listening to public radio stories through podcasts on my computer), my heart is being opened to the people of Iraq. (Don't worry, Mom, I don't think I'll go there or anything...or is Iraq less scary...?)
Certainly there are many places in the world that deserve our thoughts and attention. Mostly anything that nudges us out of our complacency is worthwhile. For me, finding this site has given me at least one way to begin to connect with what I am feeling for the people in that part of the world with my life. Even though expensive white (haven't worn white shoes since Keds were the rage in middle school) handmade shoes were not on my top 100 list of things to buy this year, they suddenly are now.
Sunday, July 8
Anyway, I was really blessed to see these teachers, with only a week of one class a day, pour into these students all their energy and time. They taught well and met with students outside of class as much as they could. The students ate it up. The teachers and students loved it. Some are so hooked they're planning on coming back. Yay!
I saw them off at their hotel this morning at 5:30 then walked back home, along with the early morning market shoppers. (Maybe I'll try to get up early again this week and get a picture of that market.) I only got about 4 hours of sleep because we stayed up late at the karaoke room. We went to one of the nicest ones in town - even with neon signs and a lit stage in each room and cordless mikes! We had a great time with a few members of the group who let go of their pride and danced along with their songs. So funny. Sometimes it comes from the most unlikely people.
With the last week of eating out almost every meal (hot pot, kimbap, Korean steamed dumplings and noodles, Chinese family style meals, bibimbap, meat self cooked on skewers over the fire in Western Chinese style, Korean bulgogi cooked on the pan at the table...the food here is good), I have almost no food that is actually edible in my fridge. I do still have some frozen meatballs from the class dinners I had, one bag of watermelon that I bought and froze last week (it's so good to make smoothies with yogurt and a little honey for breakfast), and some other random stuff. I did find enough to make some fried rice with egg, kimchi, bits of meat, onions and cooked rice that's been in the freezer forever.
So, today is the first real day of summer since I turned my grades in about one hour before my volunteer team came in. I've got some decisions to make regarding keeping my apartment or moving my junk to someone else's house while I'm gone and then finding a new place when I get back from my long visit home. I would keep it if I knew for sure I was coming back to this city, but I'm considering going back for more language in Seoul since it's a better place for Korean immersion and they have better language schools there. Ahh, decisions...I've been putting this one off til the summer team left.