Friday, October 31, 2008

fall music?

I'm in need of some fall music - or music that reminds you of fall: crisp air, golden leaves, freshly baked pies, fireplaces/campfires, cozy sweaters, tea/cider/hot chocolate, slippers, plaid, and family warmth.

Any suggestions??

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I went to the Shantou zoo...

...and rode an elephant for about $1.50 US. yep. Welcome to China.

This past weekend after planning my lessons, chatting with family and friends over Skype, and catching up on some rest, I decided to get myself out of the house. And with my currently ok foot, I wanted to seize the freedom to walk again. So Jimmy and I hoped on the city bus - literally a tin can on wheels that rattled, bumped, and jumped down the bumpy asphalt roads - to the other side of Shantou. Not knowing exactly where we were, we got off, walked a few busy streets in the "old" part of the city, and found ourselves across the little river that winds around the town from the huge park in which is nestled the Shantou zoo.

The walk to the park was fantastic. Old apartment buildings, all with barred windows and decaying brown walls, loomed high overhead, crammed together like vertical sardines. Shops with odds and ends of all sorts opened to the dirty streets where people bustled by. Vendors pushed their wares in rickety carts, others camped out on street corners and sidewalks with their goods displayed on blankets, there were fruit stands, fried local dish carts, people, people, smells, sounds, colors, textures, a visual and sensual feast!

We walked around the park, passing through children's play areas, a public pool, tons of trees, flowers, a little lake in the middle, over little bridges, a rock play structure (that would never fly in the US as safe. lol), watched old men playing cards in the shade of ancient vine covered trees, grandparents doting on toddlers, families out walking, people on rented boats floating on the murky green waters, a lovely sunny afternoon. We finally came full circle to the zoo.

The zoo....was....terribly depressing. I was greeted with a wide variety of animals, all well fed, but in waaaay too small cages, that made this nature lover cringe. There was a hippo, wolves, baboons, monkeys, Asiatic Black Bears, lions, tigers, mountain lions, horses, Red Pandas, birds of ALL sorts, mountain goats, porcupines, and an elephant to name a few. I was inches from some rare species that looked bored beyond belief. A sad sad sight. We also watched their little "circus" performance complete with bears on skates, bears on motorcycles, monkeys on bikes, mountain goats on a wire, dogs and lions jumping through hoops, all scared to death of the whips that smacked the ground and their furry backs comanding a performance. I looked around to see if anyone besides myself was disgusted, but only saw tons of families with smiles, balloons, junk food, laughing and enjoying the show. It was definitely a cultural experience. No more zoos for me.

I took no photos of the circus so don't ask. It would have been a waste of my memory card space...and against my morals.

China is a crazy place.

**EDIT: I also was fortunate to witness a man peeing in the river in broad daylight - a common occurrence in these parts. My time in China could be officially complete now.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


"Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing yet had been done."

-C.S. Lewis

My heart's current song:
On The Road To Beautiful - Charlie Hall

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My triangular life - for now.

My boyfriend told me today (lovingly of course) that my blog has been great to read, but a bit inauthentic - like there's a lot more that is going on between the lines, which is true, that I haven't been vocalizing. So this afternoon as I sit on my windowsill, cooped up in my apartment, I will write about it - honestly.

I injured my foot a few weeks back. Actually, I flared up an old mysterious injury from about 2 years ago after my waterfall excursion the beginning of October. After seeing the company doctor this past week, a short, perpetually smiley faced, little round bellied, retired man, and having him smear what looked like organic creamy peanut butter on some gauze and wrap my foot up, I am on orders to rest today.

I have cabin say the least. I can't find music for my mood, so I finally settled on lovely Yo Yo Ma, who in China, is Ma Yo Yo.

I have been in China for almost 2 months now and I can honestly say I am happy here. But I am not complete, for many reasons. At times it feels like I live in a triangle between my apartment, the school, and Jimmy's apartment. I am beginning to make friends with people: the teachers, my roommate Sammy (though we rarely see each other), and even some people at the company when I occasionally visit, but for the most part, they are all still distant acquaintances. I am also in a culture that is rather private, save-face, and familial driven, so sharing oneself with a foreigner (aka ME) is a slow process...and there's a language barrier too. I also, being female, am advised not to journey out many places on my own. And though I do have enough Chinese now to roughly bargain with a rickshaw driver, the stares and gawks and fear of being taken advantage of (monetarily) are drawbacks to adventuring out on my own. So essentially, I am strapped to Jimmy. Those of you that know me well know: that is indeed pinning my wings down.

I miss photography - terribly. Every morning Jimmy and I walk to school (per my request) which is about a 20 minute walk from apartment. It's a pleasant morning ritual that takes us through an alley bustling with morning activity and steamed bread sellers, down and across a few roads, and around to the poorer community in which the school is nestled, or rather jammed in between. Everyday I see photographic treasures that leave me breathless: details, shapes, colors, lines, patterns, textures, people. Ah! It's a feast! And as of yet, I haven't brought my camera along due to the cautioning of others...and my hesitancy of still being a tourist, which sadly, no matter now long I live here, I will always be the foreigner.

I miss the freedom to wander, to roam, to look, without being looked at. I miss being known. A few weekends ago I was able to chat over Skype with two of my dearest girl friends. It was the first time since I left that I've had the opportunity to, at length, share my heart with some girls, my girls. It was like water to my soul! It is also new to be surrounded with people who do not share my beliefs. While a good challenge and a growing experience, it is lonely. Everything I do, everything I say, everything I now participate in is my choice, down to the smallest detail. My time here is my choice, how much do I want from it? I could just do my job, come home, talk to family, repeat. But we all know Jenny wouldn't do that, couldn't do that.

I am living - or rather learning to. I am not living "parenthetically" as an old professor of mine so wisely stated, meaning living for the weekend, or in my case going home to visit, the next vacation from school, the next time I get an email, or the next time I get to chat with those from home. I am living here. Shantou is my home now. For how long I do not know, but I am living here. A life away from the known as a foreigner does indeed come with its bouts of loneliness. But we all experience that, whether in China or not. Perhaps this is the post-graduate syndrome in some ways, just heightened by my change of geographical location. But I am living and it's okay to feel this way.

The sun is setting in Shantou casting beautiful shadows on this mysterious world around me. I long to touch it. I long to know it. I long to understand it, from the inside. I long to wander the streets my myself, to sit on a corner and watch the world bustle by, to get lost in some back alley and chat with some little old lady frying some unidentifiable local dish, to talk over tea with the shop owners that curiously watch me walk by. It will come in time. My parents were right today when they said it will all come when I can speak the language.

I watched a dog curiousy poke around the unfinished pond below my window this evening wondering how he got past the bars and gate that surround my complex. I then smiled as I watched him slip out through the circle decorative shapes near the bottom, with a stick in his mouth, back out into the freedom of the streets. I envied him a little bit.

My triangular life is not permanent. I believe it will change - but only if I want it to. Only if I continue to want to speak and study Chinese, as long as I want to spread myself beyond the relationships I have that now only exist over cyberspace and the internet, only if I choose to. It's a big choice...but a simple one. There's truly only one choice.

So there's my honesty: I'm living a triangular life here in China. But I will break free...eventually.

I'm off to study Chinese.

A few more...

Continued discoveries in my everyday:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dumplings...and still learning to live.

I am currently chasing a resilient mosquito around my room who just happened to take a few bites out of my unsuspecting feet as they dangled off my bed. It is a cloudy Saturday afternoon in China, I am home from school resting, emailing, reading, and catching up with myself as well as others.

My weeks here are busy: 4-5 classes per day M - F and a 2 hour class on Saturday morning with a select group of 4th graders. I am teaching 3-4 kids classes per day and am teaching the teachers three times a week as well.

I just returned home from hand making dumplings with the Headmaster, her husband, the cook, the door guard, the girl who cleans our school, 2 other teachers, and Jimmy. As I sat around the small table in our eating area, rolling out little balls of white dough and filling them by spoon and chopsticks with a pork and spice concoction, I smiled. I listened as they talked, picking up bits and pieces of their conversations. My 6 weeks of Chinese class have just allowed me to begin catching words and phrases. The cook gently took the little dough rounds between his brown weathered hands, filled them with the pink and green mixture, and with precision pinched the sides making the perfect little dumpling curve. His watery black eyes glowed along with his silver capped smile as I tried to mimic his movements. Jimmy and I are quite the entertainment to our co-workers. Sadly, I didn't have my camera on hand - it's not quite safe to take it around and I'm already daily cautioned not to carry my bag with me when I walk. But my eyes and my heart took it all in.

As we all sat around steaming bowls of dumplings, cucumber and pork, green bell pepper and pork, cabbage, steamed peanuts, chicken feet, pork slices, beer, and orange juice, I cannot help but stop and be amazed at my current situation. I am living and working in China. I am teaching little kids (actually doing it!). I am learning Chinese. I am daily riding in rickshaws, eating with chopsticks, planning lessons, and living - though 7,000 miles from all that I know. It is amazing how at peace one can feel in the unfamiliar. It is amazing where one can go, serve, live, and prosper if they are willing to take the risk, willing to say yes to the call, willing to trust. But it's not just about going, it's about living everyday, wherever that is.

I am at a strange place of learning balance right now. There are so many potentials, so many possibilities, and yet no direct answer as to what to do. I have to take it one day at a time, trusting, waiting, doing the best I can, everyday. I was reminded of the wise words of Proverbs 16 this past week,

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but the Lord directs his steps."

So here's to hand pinched dumplings, learning to live, and learning to love. What a beautiful gift and adventure it has all turned out to be!


Also, here's an artist I've been checking out lately, a Chinese national from a nearby city to the one in which I'm living. I'm looking into visiting some of his work in person sometime if possible. enjoy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


To "go" simply means to live. - O. Chambers

Think not I am brave because I am living and working in China. Think not I am courageous because I left my home, my family, my friends, and the familiar. Rather, think I am here because He told me to, because He has sent me. China is only the place, teaching is only the job, the true test was and is in the going, the living, the trusting...everyday.

Something I have been musing on today. A beautiful and humbling reminder, for all of us, regardless of our geographical location and employment situation.

Simply and fully living.

Current repeat offender album:
Hillsong United's "I Heart Revolution" specifically tracks 10 - 12.
Medicine for the soul. always. period.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bizarre foods and yummy music...

Since coming to China a little over a month ago, I have been creating a mental list of "things I have never eaten before" as well as "things I have no idea what I'm eating." After another great meal tonight, this time at a local restaurant called "Six Star Coffee" where I had KungPao Chicken (yes, apparently Panda Express isn't completely making up their Chinese dishes), I thought it's high time to put to pen (or keyboard in this case) the exotic list of delectables I have been trying lately:

1. pigeon
2. goose
3. eel
4. duck
5. abalone - baby ones - illegal in the U.S.
6. chicken feet
7. raw salmon
8. pig ear
9. pig tongue
10. red bean paste
11. lotus root
12. all sort of fish - bones included of course!
13. all sorts of fruit
14. "white carrot"
15. all sort of vegetables
16. the "1000 year old egg"
17. types of seaweed
18. stone crab
19. green bean paste
20. oh yes, and street food

Pretty exciting, no?

Oh, and I just found out this man has a new cd coming out Oct. 14th. I highly recommend the 2 released singles "Let it Be Me" and "You Are the Best Thing."
Good stuff.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My boss and birthday cake.

I sat around a large table tonight; 2 bowls, 2 wooden chopsticks, 2 folded tissues, and 2 large Lazy Susans before me. An impressive kitchen and accompanying space for a dinning room were hidden behind huge wooden doors at the Lafayette 148 company building. Mr. Sui, my boss, and his lovely wife had a farewell dinner in which Jimmy and I were invited to. They are both leaving for the U.S. tomorrow for a month to do business, visit family, etc.

As I sat amongst these important people, carefully observing them eat before diving into my own food (just to make sure I'm being culturally appropriate), I smiled. Here I am in China, just barely learnig the language, teaching English, doing and seeing things I never would have dreamt of. And while I sat amongst some of the "head honchos," I am treated like family, like a friend, and not just because I am a foreigner.

I watched as members of our party tried to carefully peel the shell and head from the beautiful, pink, garlic smothered 5" shrimp we were eating with their teeth and chopsticks - truly an Asian art form - and then looked at my boss. This wonderful, down to earth, relaxed, little Chinese man in his mid 60s was vigorously peeling and tearing appendages from the little ocean beasts with his fingers, turning his hands an orange-yellow color from the oil they were cooked in. A large smile was across his face and a hearty laugh bellowed out of his small frame. Laugh lines boldly spread out from sides of his eyes as he talked. He drank his wine merrily, toasted his guests, and sat back approvingly to enjoy and watch his family (which are many of the employees), their spouses, and the other employees eat their food. He is always watching. As the meal finished, I glanced over to see his aged brown hand gently stroking the back of his wife's upper back as they chatted with people, his small movements so soft, kind, and loving. As Jimmy and I left, he gave us a firm handshake, a big smile, and wished us well for the month, never without a positive word and a joke.

This is just a glimpse at the man I am working for. He has a huge heart for people, a great laugh, and quite a story of how this company all began to where he is today. I am honored to work for such a man of character. His factory truly sets the bar far above most in China. Yes, his employees work long, hard hours, but they are well paid, well treated, well looked after, and have excellent working conditions. And this is because of their boss. I look forward to getting to know him, his wife, and this company better over the next year.


Yesterday was my 23rd birthday, but technically I'm 24 now. When a child is born in China they are considered to already be 1 year old (that time in the womb is counted as the first year). So in coming to China I will leave older and wiser - literally. I was given a gorgeous set of black painted chopsticks by two teachers at the school, 2 wonderful girls I am getting to know better daily, and a lovely little cake by my Headmaster. My 1st graders also sang me happy birthday; absolutely precious.

Here's my lovely Asian birthday cake, pineapple filled and topped with exotic fruit and yellow, chocolate type substance decorations. Yum.

I am happy here. I miss those I love at home deeply, but I am genuinely happy here. I truly am learning daily what it means to be content, in and with whatever circumstances I am in. And I am being welcomed into a family I never dreamed I would be a part of. It is a worthwhile lesson.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What teaching is teaching me.

Teaching is teaching me a lot - not only about myself, but also about grace. Maybe some of you who have taught before, in whatever capacity, can nod your heads in agreement. Kids so beautifully show our fallen nature; our selfish desires, our desperate need for affirmation, our hunt for love and acceptance, our fear of mistakes and failure, our distracted minds, our wandering bodies. But they also show joy, freedom, simplicity, honesty and love.

Sadly, many of the kids at my school are far older than their small frames portray. Many go home to empty homes, as their parents work late at factories, cook dinner for siblings, clean, do homework, all on their own. They wear keys around their necks tied tight with a piece of worn and fraying string, small, jangling symbols of their lives.

So what does all this teach me about grace?

Monday, the first day of school after vacation, started well but ended with a classroom of 40 loud, not listening, fidgety, little people not at all interested in learning English or sitting still. Amazing how one day they can be absolute angels: attentive, eager, responsive, and the next day completely uninterested. It could be so easy to become apathetic in the teaching industry, with students that are disobedient, don't care, don't try, etc. But this is where grace comes in. I know they are kids. And I know being in school from 7:30am to 4:20pm is indeed long. But I also know where most of them come from. I know why they blurt out answers (or whatever comes to mind), because they desperately want to be affirmed. I know why that if I compliment one on their work, 40 other workbooks will be frantically shoved in my direction for the same approval. I know that if I let one kid carry my flashcards back to my office, 5 others will try to pull them away greedily, for the same touch and praise for their help (though they could have just been the trouble-making kids for the past 40 minutes). They want to be loved, affirmed, accepted, praised. And that is where grace allows me to look beyond their disobedience, defiance, and occasional apathy. Yes, they need structure, but each day is new, and each day is a new opportunity to show them love...and grace.

It's the same grace that is bestowed to me everyday.

Tomorrow is my birthday. It's my first birthday away from family and friends and officially away from home. It will indeed be an adventure...or at least I'll have mooncake to come home to. That and my roommate's "Happy Birthday" song in Chinese. Good times to come.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Rain and other lovely things.

Picking up my camera the past few days has been a breath of fresh air. I have missed it. I quite often find myself in "I should photograph for a purpose" moods (don't ask why), and therefore find shooting anything and everything a bit pointless and absurd; call me overly logical at times. But in truth, I'm not. I'm not overly logical, and I enjoy seemingly pointless activities. I thrive on the quirks, giggles, random and beautiful moments, and fleeting shadows of the everyday. So here a few I've been finding lately...


chi fan - "eat rice" - lunch break of rice for the workers across the way from my apartment.

rain drops fallin' on my window.

shadows. yum.
factory lights at night...and paint residue.

Current repeat offenders (or songs I'm listening to):
1. "Let It Be Me" - Ray LaMontagne
2. "You Make It Real" - James Morrison
3. "Simple Things" - Amy Kuney
4. "All I Can See" - Brendan James
5. "Inheritance" - Jonathan David Helser
6. "Broken" - Lifehouse

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A little bit of everyday...

This past week China celebrated National Day, so we got a week off (makes sense, no?). So besides galavanting about this big ol' country, I also had the chance to break out "the chunk," as I affectionately call my Nikon D200, and shoot not only the countryside but bits of my life. I though I would post some photos of my everyday here in Shantou, to help all you visual people (like me) see a bit more into my life. It involve these things as of late:

Skype chats with this handsome man...

Tea. Gung-Fu to be exact...
Practicing Chinese, learning about the culture, and reading...

More tea...and occasional Asian candy, Chinese tv, and of course music...

Sitting on my window seat (with my plant) and watching the world below...
Welcome to my China!
This is Pt. 1 - images of my room and lovely home to come soon!


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Yay for cultural differences!

Some interesting cultural differences I have been discovering lately:

1. I can't seem to find tampons in this country - they just use pads I guess...

2. I saw an informercial for a skin whitening cream - yes, to make one whiter. It showed all these depressed, beautiful, brown Asian girls who, when applying this cream, tada! turned beautifully pale. Ironic?

3. Whole shrimp - just pop the heads off, peel, and enjoy - beware the head juices though, they squirt with a vengeance!

Friday, October 3, 2008

It's been a while...

I have realized that I neglected this blog for almost 3 months now. My life has indeed been busy and now with my move to China, is in a whole new place of figuring out myself, my surroundings, and my life. I was inspired by my dearest friend and her continuous thoughts and observations while in Spain. So I commit from this day on to try to post regularly my thoughts and observations, to post photos of what I am working on and thinking about, and ask that the few of you who read this to please keep me accountable to do just that.

I miss art. And I am itching to start shooting the ideas that I have been forming. There is so much potential and opportunity here. I see it more everyday.

Here is a rough map of where I am currently residing: Shantou, Guandong Province, CHINA.