Monday, October 18, 2010

Coffee - Such a Luxury

10.17.10 - It’s right at noon and I’m sitting in a fancy coffee restaurant where even the napkins cost money. Brad and I teach tutoring classes on Sunday in different places and I happen to have a long break (which includes a lunch-time) between my two, two-hour classes. I am tutoring in an area called Taidong (tie-dong). It’s a huge, crowded shopping area. There is one Walmart in Qingdao and last week I somehow got there on accident walking around after my first class, though this may have been a blessing in disguise. I am hoping to make it back to Walmart today after class to catch the bus home. The bus I usually catch to go home from the nearest stop (227) turns being a bus rider into a contact sport, commencing with the step up into the door. Don’t worry, I know how to use my shoulders! I’m hoping the bus I can ride home from Walmart (226), will be a bit more pleasant.

Okay, back to my location. This restaurant sits on the second story, looking over a busy street so the view right now is fantastic. There are two huge love-seat like couches for chairs on each side of the table so it is easy and quite comfy to get settled in and relax. Too bad you can only sit here if you order food for a minimum of 18RMB (just under $3 – expensive!). My first time here was a month ago on my first official tutoring day. I was so excited to relax, get some coffee, and spend time planning my 2nd lesson. But then I saw the menu… and realized that I could either get a small cup of coffee for about $4-5, or buy a “pot” of coffee for $8-9. Yes, dollars not RMB. Were they serious? It’s just beans and water! This girl is used to buying dinner on the street for less than $1, and now they wanted me to pay four TIMES that for a small cup of coffee? The cheapest selection was the “Italian Coffee” and for some reason it was only offered in pot form for about the same price as their other single cups of Joe. Fine with me, I thought. Just give me some coffee! When I received my order I was very confused for a second because my cup and pot seemed so small. Seriously, you were about to charge me 9 bucks for a pot of coffee THAT size? Seriously?? ...wait a minute….. It was soon after that moment that I realized I had in fact ordered espresso. Guess the joke was on me! Erin Butler, I know you’re so disappointed in me. I made sure to drink it all and am sure I probably had the jitters for the rest of the day.

Well, today I at least knew what I was getting into. I ordered my espresso and searched the menu for a semi-inexpensive and small meal. (The majority of the dishes they serve are huge dinner size portions.) I came across a picture that I found quite exciting, though I couldn’t figure out what it was called. Turns out that “Characteristics Muffin” means waffles! I was allowed to pick from about four different types of syrups, one including bean flavored. Gross. I chose honey. The honey came in this thimble-sized pitcher and it had a friend, a miniature pitcher filled with like…thick liquid sugar with the color and taste of Crispy Crème donut glaze. YUMMERS! Sorry, my picture doesn’t include the mini-pitchers. They were brought about 10 seconds too late and I had already begun to destroy the waffle, in all lady-like fashion of course.

Yesterday (Sat) Brad and I had lunch with one of his middle school students and her father. It was this student Shirley (her English name) who asked him in his first week of teaching, “Are you a Christian?” He was completely caught off guard as we had been told and understood that talking about religion was off limits. (The BYU folks even had to sign a contract that under NO circumstances would they talk about their religion AT ALL!) He replied affirmatively and asked her the same. She told him that she was a Christian as well. Brad gave her his email and her mom emailed him later that same night. Lunch was arranged after a couple of emails.

Shirley’s parents lived in Iowa for about 4-5 years and that is when they became Christians. Upon moving back to China, they wanted to join a solid community of believers. They visited the official Chinese government-run church but didn’t think it was for them. They decided to join a “house” church instead. I bet Brad and my facial expressions were pretty funny to look at when he mentioned that his house church had about 500 people! (Only about 300 people attend each week due to other obligations of work, etc.) I saw an evening news excerpt on Christianity in China last year so I had LOTS of questions! In some cities house churches are illegal and people are punished for going, but in Qingdao, especially because of its outside German influence in the early 1900s, things are not as strict. House churches get into big trouble, no matter what city they’re in, for bringing in foreign speakers or guests, though they are allowed to bring in a Chinese speaker. (That must be why foreigners here go to their own church. There is an International Fellowship that we could go to on Sundays at a hotel and in order to get in we have to show our passports. Other foreigners meet in small groups. ) He also gave us really amazing information about the demands of the Communist Party on children. At age 14 students have to join the Communist Junior League. If they don’t, their classroom teacher won’t be eligible to receive monetary bonuses. Also, if they join the league they receive a special pin that they then wear to school on special days. This makes students who are Christians feel very uncomfortable because they don’t want to join the league. I wanted to ask why exactly they don’t want to join the league, but didn’t.

How lucky were we to have had that conversation?! I really am appreciating the moments when I am able to catch glimpses of what China is truly all about.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Happy Birthday Adelaide!

I am the proud aunt of three nephews and a very new niece. Adelaide Elizabeth was born in the late afternoon on Oct. 12, 2010. I am so proud of my sisters. My older sister Brooke would win any medal hands-down on being the #1 mommy around. She is so amazing with her three boys. Miles, Noah, and Griffin are so cute, smart, and funny, but moreover, extremely lucky to have such a great set of parents. Addie is so lucky as well. Congratulations Lindsey and Jason. Come next summer when I come home I have FULL dips on holding the baby.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Nothing's better than friends, especially if they bring chips and guac!

You know your friend is a special one when she scours through Chinese high-priced grocery stores to make sure that you have a feel of normalcy in a faraway place where fancy things like chips and salsa are rare and considered a delicacy. Back in sweet Caroline I couldn't possibly even begin to imagine how many gallons of salsa, guac, and cheese dip, no less pounds of tortilla chips I consumed with friends, coworkers, and sisters. Thanks Marissa for giving me that taste of home... I mean Mexico.

This past weekend China celebrated its national holiday. In honor of the country's official call to Communism, Brad and I decided to utilize this time off of work to travel and visit friends. Yes, we actually have friends in China. There are three people, all once teachers at JT Williams in Charlotte, NC, who teach at a private English tutoring school in Hangzhou, near Shanghai. We flew (how fun it was to be a 'domestic' flier in China. Yeah, I live here.. :) ) in order to save the many hours it would have taken us to travel by train or bus instead. We arrived on the 1st (actual National Day) and stayed through the 5th.

We had no idea what was in store for us. First of all, here in Qingdao we live a pretty isolated life. Not that we are isolated from other people, we ARE in CHINA, but we are not around a lot of 'expat' people like us. That is NOT the way it was in Hangzhou. There were so many (it seemed) 'ex- pats’ in Hangzhou who all hung out together. Many of them work at one of the two campuses operated by “Bear” school. (I realize now that I’m not 100% sure that b-e-a-r is the correct spelling, though I know it is the correct pronunciation.) They were so much fun and appeared to get along really well with each other. Brad and I met people from El Salvador, Australia, the U.S., England, Japan, etc. Most of them had been in China already for longer than a year. It was a reallycool community of friends. Brad is sure that we can find a similar group of people here, but I just don’t think it would be the same.

There was also a lot to do. There were many non-Chinese restaurants, a cute coffee shop outside a college campus that also served hot-dogs, fun bar/pub spots where expats hung out together, and of course LOTS of great street food. (The first night we were there we went to an Indian restaurant to celebrate the birthday of a guy who worked at the Bear school part-time but is also a full time student at the art school in the city. Ballpark – we ate with about 80 people, all foreigners. That was nuts.) There were also beautiful tourist things to do. Hangzhou apparently is a HUGE Chinese and international tourist destination. The city is situated around a series of lakes (the biggest entitled “West Lake”) andthey made the scenery A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

Each day our hosts had planned outings. On the firstwe walked along the lake, were tutored in the history of the lotus flower and leaf, and had lunch at this adorable place called the Tea House, situated rightly so in a huge tea field off the side of the lake. Talk about great food – wow. (One option we ordered was this warm, freshly-baked loaf of white bread with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top. It was served coincidentally before anything else and came cut up into bite-sized squares and served with toothpicks. Move over Applebees!) The next day we did a little hiking up to a temple of some sort, but more importantly the view of the city from this location was enough to make you stop dead in your tracks, which we did for a while, just looking out over the city and the roads we had walked just the day before. The third afternoonwe were taken to a Buddhist monastery. It was first founded there in the 300s A.D. by Indian monks, though the grounds and temples we saw were built sometime in the 1700-1900s. The place was unbelievable. I cannot believe I have beenso blessed in my life to have experienced something so drastic and oppositeofmy culture and belief system. To sayI felt lucky to be there would be an understatement. The grounds were massive and included temples, multiple statues of different Buddhas, caves, and of course tourist market stalls. It was crazy busy with people so I loved taking video footage and am already excited to be able to show the videos to my future students back at home.

Towards the end of the afternoon we ventured all the way up the mountain (though more the size of a really big hill) to the top monastery / temple. This view also overlooked the outline of the lake and the tall city buildings behindit all – breathtaking. But something else happened here. A monk who was given the task of watching the grounds walked up to me specifically, said hello, and welcomed me to his ‘beautiful city’. The girl from the Bear school who was with us, and really appreciates the philosophy of Buddhism, about died. She said that was her favorite moment of the day which was so sweet of her to say. (I sort-of felt like the main character of Avatar on his first night in Pandora when all those special flashy things fell on him... Sorry,
that’s the extent of my memory on that one.) Since the monk didn’t know that much more English and I didn’t know any (for the most part) Chinese, our conversation pretty much ended there. I asked if we could take a picture and he said yes. Afterwards I had this urge to give him a hug, but I didn’t. I still wish I would have. Being there was powerful for me; it helped me to understand why some people say ‘I am a follower of Christ,’ rather than, ‘My religion is Christianity.’ It reaffirmed to me what it was to be a follower. Touring the Buddhist compound has made me a stronger Christian. Love how that worked.I do have to say, the most thrilling story happened at a bar. We were taken to see a band. The people in the band do not speak any English, though the lead singer is studying Russian so I’ve been told. The band sang Chinese songs at first, but then transitioned into English songs as the evening grew later. This band sings heavy metal, mixed in with some Bon Jovi (that's right, Lisa. You can hear Bon Jovi live, even in China!) and sings them …really well! The band members are really talented! This was the first time that Brad actually thought that our brother Mike Brown would actually LIKE being in China. (On another family note, an expat we met that night was named Addie. Of course she was super-cute. Can't wait for my niece Adelaide to get here!!) One of the last songs of the night was Enter Sandman by Metallica. Our quiet yet observant new El Salvadorian friend Nestor COULD NOT BELIEVE what he was hearing. I heard more words out of that boy’s mouth in the short time we were together after that show than the whole time I was around him the previous two nights. We even were given hugs by him as he left that night. Turns out everyone likes the feel of home from time to time, no matter what country they’re from or even how long they’ve been gone.