Friday, March 26, 2010

CGNWWT PART 5: Shenzhen, China

This is the FINAL chapter for the Crazy Go Nuts Whirlwind Worldwide Trip.  Frankly, there wasn't much to Shenzhen, and I actually found out later that the area we were in wasn't even REAL Shenzhen... just a suburb or outer area called Bao'An.  Sort of like someone traveling to the Bay, staying in Burlingame the whole time, and never making it into the City.  How sad.
Hank, me, Hank's niece, and the neighbor kids who were in and out all day.

That being said, there really wasn't much to Shenzhen.  It's a dirty, sticky, hot, and humid Chinese city with a lot of people living in cramped apartments.  We mostly went to visit our friend, Hank, whom you'd remember from this blog about a year back.  We went to visit his village in Guizhou during Chinese New Year last year and had an epic time.  So even though Shenzhen was more developed and technically there were more things to do, it didn't even hold a candle to last year's trip.
One thing to say about this trip, though, was that it was a cultural experience.  We stayed with Hank, his sister, and her husband in their tiny apartment in Bao'An.  Hank sleeps on a makeshift bed made of a piece of plywood and some blankets in what we Americans would call the living room, and his sister and brother in law sleep in the bedroom with their two year-old baby girl.  Their kitchen is the size of a closet, and the no-flush squatty pottie, running water, and buckets where all the dishes are done is right next to that.  So much for "Don't s**t where you eat."
Still, Hank and his sister were gracious hosts.  His sister churned out an awesome dinner from that tiny little kitchen on her little hot plate stove.  We bonded with the neighbor kids playing with a ball and showing them pictures and movies on Jason's laptop.  And somehow... SOMEHOW... I managed to maneuver my American-sized butt in their bathroom to take a much-needed cold shower without falling into the no-flush toilet.  Staying with your local friends in China is often an intense cultural experience, but it definitely does put things into perspective as far as being appreciative of the blessings that are poured out on us daily.

Our favorite part of the trip, though, was meeting these two little girls while we were out walking.  The older one was taking care of the smaller girl, but something about their glasses and the older girl's wild gesticulations and the way the little girl sort of shuffled her feet behind them was so endearing.  Jason immediately said, "They look like little grandmas."  So true.  They looked exactly like two little grandmothers.  So we called them "Xiao Nai Nai" for the rest of the trip and would start laughing wildly just thinking about them.
The "little grandmas" or "xiao nai nai." 
Hank and I do our own interpretation of the Xiao Nai Nai

Even though I probably wouldn't go out of my way to visit Shenzhen again in the future, it was still sweet being reunited with a good friend and making good memories in the short time we were there.  I miss Hank a lot and often think about him and his sister, who still doesn't know Father.  I am grateful for the deeper relationships Jason and I have built in our relatively short time in China.  
Hank's beautiful niece and sister.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blog Shout-Out: Being in Love with the Urban Sinner

I only had the privilege of working with my buddy Phil for my first super-short year at BLCU, where I'm still teaching.  Since last year, he's returned to his home in the Philippines (yes, he's Phil from the Philippines), where he's been working and living and figuring out life.  Even though our time together was short, it was rich with laughter and memories, and he's still my hands-down favorite colleague.  We'd get together for lunch and dish about our students, wonder if they gossiped about us, and swapped stories of our past sinful, and often regrettable, escapades.  I miss him whenever lunch time rolls around because- although my new colleagues are wonderful- it's simply not the same.  

Sometimes you meet those people with whom you are instantly comfortable.  Old souls who still know how to tell a good dirty joke and throw back a few beers before it's time for lunch.  People who aren't ashamed to admit that going out to bars and clubs is getting tiring and pathetic and perhaps we're prematurely submitting ourselves to the dooms of middle-ageism.  Phil is one such man.  And even if the distance gets to us and we aren't able to keep up this international friendship of ours, I know that I will always remember him as the best lunch buddy a girl could ask for in a strange land that we're awkwardly trying to make homes in as single people.

So, I hope he doesn't mind, but I simply had to share this post that he wrote on his blog, aptly titled The Confessions of the Urban Sinner.  This one post, which is about an evening he spent with his parents on their 52nd wedding anniversary, made me miss him more than ever before, and reminded me of the one struggle I also face every time I turn my back on my parents when I climb back onto that plane headed to wherever it is I am going.  Don't get me wrong- living internationally is amazing and an experience I've never regretted.  But there are times when I am back home and wonder if I've shot myself in the foot by leaving behind loose ends and missing all the wonderful little moments that turn familial bonds into the memories you cling to when you feel like killing each other.  Those horrible holiday experiences where one second, we're enjoying a meal together, then yelling at each other, crying, then moving onto dessert and karaoke without missing a beat.  Man, what can replace that?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Phil would be the one to remind me of this poignant little point.  Still, I miss him.  If you have a chance, please read his post.  He is an incredible writer, and I think there is much we can learn from his observations and experiences. 

I miss you so much, Phil.  Be well.

The lunch crew on one of our legendary lunches in Beijing: sweet Lulu, me, and dear Phil.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

CGNWWT Part 4: Chiang Mai, Thailand Part 2

Aside from the being a beautiful place filled with some of the kindest people I’ve encountered, Chiang Mai is also a haven for backpackers.  It was interesting walking around the city center and running into people from different countries exchanging stories and updating their statuses on their tiny little laptops (it turns out Apple does not reign supreme in the ultra-portable, tiny laptop category.  C’mon, Steve!  Ditch the unfortunately named iPad and get crackin’ on one of those teeny tiny little laptops!).

Thus, Chiang Mai is a great place to indulge yourself in a few shameless tourist attractions.  The most popular one is the elephant ride, which Jason and I got a chance to enjoy.  I, for one, am not a big zoo person, so I was a little skeptical about how much I’d enjoy an elephant ride.  However, the Maesa Elephant Camp was a great surprise in that it was really clean, the grounds were well kept and beautiful, and the elephant show wasn’t too hokey.  

An elephant gets a little friendly with Jason.
Elephants bathing
 The elephants also painted pictures, which were quite impressive.  For 1000 Baht, you can buy one of their pictures.
Denise knew that they'd ask for volunteers for this part of the show, so she volunteered Jason to compete against the elephants at throwing darts.  The elephant won, but with great sportsmanship, patted Jason on the head for a good effort.

It’s a bit a ways out of town, but it was a great experience, still.  Also, it is the home of the BEST CORN I’VE EVER CONSUMED.  So the corn was swimming in enough melted butter and condensed milk to throw Paula Deen into her long-overdue cardiac arrest.  But as far as corn goes, this corn put most corn to shame.  

We also wanted to take a Thai cooking class.  Our hosts, the Tang family, suggested the Thai Cookery School, which cost 900 Baht (about $25 USD) for each of us.  They offer a week-long series of classes, but we were only able to go to the introductory class, where we made Tom Yam Gong, Green Curry, Pad Thai, and a few other lesser-known dishes.  The whole experience was a lot of fun, and even though I would have liked the class to be a bit more hands-on, it was very informative and the food was pretty tasty (Jason’s too)!

Outdoor kitchen facilities at the Thai Cookery School.  The school itself is a 20-minute ride out of the city center, and has its own organic garden where they grow the herbs and vegetables we use in class.
We love basil, oh yes, we do!  We love basil!  How 'bout you?
Jason fries up some Thai fish cakes.
We met this sweet Japanese couple from Hokkaido who didn't speak a word of English.  They took the counters next to us and gave us postcards with pictures of Hokkaido and made us paper cranes.  So cute!

The Tangs graciously fed us and toted us around to various food courts for meals.  And being that we are a bit conservative in our spending, Jason and I mostly ate cheap, local food.  But we did decide to splurge on one nice meal at a restaurant just around the corner from the Tang’s house.  It was called Khaomao-Khaofang and it was quite possibly the coolest restaurant I’ve ever been to.  It was mostly an outdoor space with a huge tent covering to shield you from the sun.  Everywhere you looked, there were trees, flowers, and WATERFALLS!  Doesn't get much more paradise-like than that!

This was just a few steps from the table where we had lunch.  To our left, there were a few mini-waterfalls and flowers growing out of the trunks of trees.  Absolutely beautiful!

Denise (Mama Tang) told us to be sure to go to the bathroom because of its decorations.  I won’t go into too much detail, but I’m sure there are few places in the world to pee that are as aesthetically pleasing as these stalls. 
Sink-area in the Ladies' Room.
I never thought I'd be so emphatic about a bathroom stall, but this picture really doesn't do the toilet justice.
And speaking of Thai food, of course, we consumed just about everything we could get our hands on.  Everything… and I really mean EVERYTHING… was delicious in Chiang Mai.  I was grateful that we didn’t have any stomach issues during our trip, but it turns out that even the hole-in-the-walls are pretty clean in Chiang Mai.  Here are a few things we were lucky enough to try!
You can't leave Thailand without having a real Thai Iced Tea!
...or an ice-cold Tiger Beer... YUM!  For less than $1, I'd gladly trade in pyramids of PBR for a Tiger any day.
Hmm... so this ended up being a series of photos of Jason with various beverages.  This one tops the rest.  A fresh strawberry smoothie that cost 15 Baht (less than 50 cents) and would run Jamba Juice out of business in no time.
A bit different from your standard Ketchup and Mustard... Ketchup and Thai Chili Hot Sauce.
Rice noodles with tender beef chunks and meatballs... extra cilantro, please!  YUM!
Green curry with fried fish.  The little green pea-looking things are actually tiny eggplants.  Neither of us were huge fans (super bitter and not much flavor otherwise), but it was cool to see what "real" Thai curry is supposed to taste like.
 This white bowl of magic is a local Chiang Mai specialty called Khao Soy.  It's a noodle dish with cocnut milk and crispy noodles on top.  It's served with this next dish...
Pickled cabbage, freshly sliced shallots, and a wedge of lime.  It was wonderful being surrounded by limes, again, since they're almost impossible to find in Beijing.  The lime and picked cabbage are the perfect taste of sour tartness to cut through the creamy coconut milk in the Khao Soy.
Oh, Chiang Mai... you sure know the way into a girl's heart.  Crispy breaded pork over Thai rice.  Jason and I split this dish and the Khao Soy at a tiny little hole-in-the-wall for lunch.  Everything cost us 50 Baht... about $1.25 USD!

There was so much more than we had that I forgot to take pictures of because, frankly, I was too busy eating.  Papaya salad, other curries, noodles, and some of the best coffee I've ever consumed.  I really can't say enough about how enamored I am with Chiang Mai.  My mom was joking that I probably loved it so much because the food was good.  She has a great point, but I can't stress enough how great the entire experience was because of the people.  Everything from the tourist activities to just chatting with the guy selling cut fruit on the street was such a blessed experience.  I've said it before, but I'll say it again...

I can't wait to go back!

Monday, March 22, 2010

English Corners Gone Wrong

Today, I hosted my first English Corner of the semester.  English Corners are when your students come to practice their English with you in a smaller, casual setting, and usually involves snacks and some sort of conversation-inducing activity.

I scheduled our Corner for 6:30 and ordered three large pizzas that put me out a heft fraction of my humble monthly salary.  I enlisted my wonderful friend and educator extraordinaire, Frieda, to take on one of the small groups, since Chinese students get so excited at the prospect of talking with a "Native Speaker" who isn't already their teacher.  I rearranged my furniture.  Jason generously helped me to clean my place up, go grocery shopping, and carry all the heavy stuff on our way back.

6:50 rolls around.  Frieda and I are sitting on my couch waiting.  Pizza is getting cold.  I'm getting hungry and therefore cranky.  No one shows.

I could have gotten upset.  I could have complained about how my students-- all in their mid-to-late twenties-- are incompetent and incapable of doing anything without their overbearing mothers.  I could have... easily.  I almost did.

Instead, I had a lovely evening with my wonderfully wise friend.  I now have a week's worth of food  which I can feed other hungry mouths with.  I have a clean house and no dishes to do.  I went grocery shopping, which I would have put off until I realized I was out of toilet paper (and we all hate that).  I got to experience a glimpse of lifelong partnership with a generous man who will become my husband. 

Not all flukes are failures.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Stories by Brian: If I could collect 100 objects...

The assignment this week was to teach the kids about writing well-organized paragraphs where they use critical thinking to explain their ideas.  I taught them how to make a basic outline, and this is what they came up with.  The prompt was to tell us what they would collect 100 of, and explain three reasons why.  As usual, Brian did not disappoint.

If I could collect 100 object, I will collect 100 kinds of sheep from the universe.
I can see how stinky are there poops, what is the color of them and what do they eat.  I can drink their milk and taste is it yummy?  What is the flavor?  is the milk smelly?  also I can count them when I sleep.  That makes me sleep and I can see how they sing lullaby play violin.
After you see my reasons, maybe you want to collect sheeps too! 

I do, indeed, Brian.  I do, indeed. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

CGNWWT Part 3: Chiang Mai, Thailand Part 1

Ahh, Thailand.  There is so much to say about Chiang Mai that I had to cut my CGNWWT Entry for Thailand into two parts.  Though my time in this amazing country was short, I am pretty certain that it is a magical place that would give Walt Disney a serious run for his money.  I realize that it’s certainly not perfect, and even the current political turmoil is evidence that my perspective on Thailand is one of great privilege.  However, there is something to be said about the quality of life of Thailand and how it is simply a lifestyle rather than something to aspire to.
Clouds outside my airplane window as we landed in Bangkok.
Homes downtown in the traditional Chiang Mai style.
The moment I stepped off the plane into Chiang Mai, I felt the feeling of coming home in a foreign country for the first time.  A lot of long-timers in China have expressed that they felt that when they arrived in Beijing.  I hate to say it since I do love aspects of China, but I am so grateful that I felt that feeling in Chiang Mai. 

As many of you know, Jason and I traveled to Thailand mostly to visit the Tang family—some friends of ours who took off to Thailand at the same time that we shipped off to China.  They are working with the Zoe House, which is a childrens’ home for young people who are at-risk for being sold into human trafficking.  It was amazing to go and speak with some of the rescued children who are now being fed, clothed, and educated in schools in Chiang Mai.  The staff at Zoe is incredible and their spirit is infectious.

Some of the Zoe kids & staff

While we visited, we were able to see the beginnings of a new era in Zoe history.  Zoe’s ultimate vision is to open a fully functioning boarding school with dormitories for families, single adults, single parents, and children.  Currently, they are finishing just a few dorm and office buildings, but it was amazing to drive out to the land where Zoe’s future will slowly be developed.

One of the Zoe girls at the site of the new Zoe complex.  She was using that giant leaf to shade herself from the sun.

We also were able to do a few touristy things.  These photos are from two walks in the downtown area.  The night scenes are from the Sunday night walking market, and the others are just from the city center of Chiang Mai, which contains tons of Buddhist temples.

 Jason will probably not like that I posted this one, but this is him eating some street food.  Clearly, it's a sausage.  
But it's filled with rice and pork and is a little chewy and a lot delicious.

These flowers are actually made of soap and individually painted.
This is a Buddha that was wrapped for some reason in that orange cloth.  It reminded me of a Rene Magrite painting.
Songthaws are like the lovechild of taxis and buses.  This is how Jason and I got from place to place most of the time.  Super convenient and surprisingly comfy!
 A Buddhist cemetary

One thing Jason and I noticed right away is the amazing friendliness of the Thai people.  In situations where many Americans and even Chinese living in Beijing would roll their eyes, fed up with the dumb tourists, the people in Chiang Mai simply laughed it off and gave us the help we needed.  Oddly enough, being around such patience and grace convicted me greatly of my own shortness with strangers and my unwillingness to express compassion in situations that don't benefit me directly.  It was wonderful to get a different sense of life and remember what it's like to not be caught up in the everyday hustle or the growing obsession with finding a clear career path and making money.  There is much that we can learn from the folks in Chiang Mai... certainly more than I expected.  I can't wait to go back.

New Series: Stories by Brian

I know I promised a post on Thailand, but I needed to make sure that I'd include this before Friday.  Why Friday?  This semester, I have the great privilege of tutoring five primary school students every Friday for two hours.  They have all lived in the U.S. for a short time in the recent past while their parents did visiting scholarships at Harvard and MIT.  The "hungry for knowledge" gene was promptly passed down, and their parents (being good Chinese parents) didn't want their kids to lose the English they'd gained in their time Stateside.  Hence, my new side-job.

Brian is one of the brightest in the group, and even at the tender age of nine, he gets excited by synonyms and antonyms, brainstorms, and silent consonants.  I'm fairly certain that most fluent English-speakers don't even know what synonyms and antonyms are.  Every week, I let him use his imagination (which he's pretty stoked about) and write a creative story.  I've decided that his amazing stories are certainly worthy of their own series on my humble little blog.  So here's the first in the series, entitled, "New Year's Party."

I'm gonna have a new year part in the pyramid and it gonna be the biggest in Cairo.

I will invite the emporor of France- Napolean, he will go by car.  I will invite Sherlock Holmes, he will go by car too.  And I will invite a group of aliens, they will go by their spaceship.

Then, I will have 1000 kg of dumplings from Dumpling Patrol, 1,000,000 cups of peach juice, and 1,000,000,000 kg2 of pizza because the aliens stomach is too big.

After supper, I will give the presents: backpacks for the aliens, alive teddy for Napolean, and stuffed fish for Sherlock.  Then the party is over.

I think the party will be fun!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom

Yesterday (March 13) was my mom's Birthday.  I called her today because of the time difference, and even though she was sick and it was midnight in Oregon, she still answered the phone and made a little time in the last bit of her birthday to accept my wishes graciously.
Some of you have the great privilege of knowing my mom personally.  Others only know her through me and my many stories about her.  For the latter, the one comment I always get is, "Your mom sounds so cool!" or "Boy, your mom sure sounds like a character."
My mom and me in a relatively normal moment.

Yes, it's true.  My mom is absolutely nuts, and that is why we love her.  My mom, who dances in the living room with my dad for no apparent reason.  My mother, who sings Patsy Cline at the top of her lungs during long road trips despite the rest of the family begging her to stop.  The source of my own sense of crazy and my piercing laugh.  If I say some key phrases, our family will be able to conjur some amazing stories about my mom.  For example: backing out of the garage, leftover whiskey shot, Zumba fitness, Mountain Mama, and the list goes on.
Being on the other side of the world makes it a little difficult to celebrate with her, but we always have a great time when we are together to make up for these sad lost moments.
So here you go, Ma.  It's not much, but I dedicate this little number to you.  Patsy Cline's voice may sound sweeter than your's does on our home karaoke machine, but she still doesn't hold a candle to you.  I love you!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

CGNWWT Part Two: Zhuhai & Macau

After three glorious weeks back on the homefront, I headed back to East Asia for a week-long conference for foreign teachers in China.  It was great to get together and swap stories, advice, and lift each other up and encourage each other for the upcoming semester.  Our whole team only gets to meet once a year, and being that there are a ton of kids in our organization, it is always fun to watch them grow in year-long increments.

Our conference this year was in Zhuhai, located on the southeastern corner of the Mainland.  Zhuhai was our second choice for conference location (first being Macau), but we were all looking forward to some warmer weather as most of us were coming from the northern areas of China.  Womp womp womp.  Zhuhai was cloudy, cold, and windy and I wore my wool coat for the duration of my stay there.

Fortunately, the hotel that we moved to for the conference was a "China Five-Star" (which means about the equivalent of a Three-Star internationally) and our conference was great overall.  We had a wonderful keynote speaker and coordinator, and stayed well-fed.  The highlight of the conference was a day-trip into Macau.

Macau- technically a "special administrative region" of China- is a tiny little "country" that was once colonized by Portugal.  For that reason, it bears a lot of evidence of European presence in its architecture, and even its food.  Portuguese is still widely spoken and nearly all the signs are written in Traditional Chinese characters and Portuguese.  Today, Macau is a large hub for gambling and its major source of income is its casinos.  During our trip, we had a chance to walk around a small concession-like village and look at all the brightly colored row-houses and cathedrals.

In the central area of Macau, we saw the remains of St. Mark's Cathedral and also visited Robert Morrison's Chapel and burial site.  For those of you who weren't aware (as I was prior to this visit), Robert Morrison was one of the first M's to come to China and the first man who translated the Book into Chinese.  For that, we certainly have much to owe to his memory.

Hmmm... comforting.

While I'm sure I most likely won't be making an intentional trip back to Zhuhai or Macau, it was still interesting to see this region of China.  Next in line: Chiang Mai, Thailand!