Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chapter 30: In Which the Author Decidedly Avoids the Usage of the Term "Resolutions"

It's New Year's Eve here in Qingdao, and with less than 12 hours to go in 2011, I have started compiling my list of goals for the new year.

I would not blame you if you chose to avoid this post. I understand that it's not the most enjoyable reading, but it is a way for me to hold myself somewhat accountable.

1. Learn a new skill or talent. More specifically, I'd like to learn one that allows me to make something with my hands. I'm currently lacking in that skills set.

2. Read 30 new books. This was on my list last year, and while I read 30 new books, I didn't finish some of them that I wanted to (War and Peace goes on the list for the third year running - uffda).

3. Start a photography club. Not at school, but among the Chinese and expats here. There are so many beautiful places in and around Qingdao, and I am feeling like I'm not capturing them well. Plus it's a great opportunity to develop some new relationships.

4. Learn one new Chinese lesson a week. It doesn't sound like a lot, but each lesson has about 35 new words along with new grammar rules and learning the characters. It will be a challenge.

5. Be able to write 1,000 Chinese characters. Doable, but I'll have to work at it. Currently around 250.

6. Write 12 letters. If you would like to be a recipient, let me know (and make sure I have your address)!

7. Be caught up on all grading by each Sunday. This might be my most difficult goal to accomplish.

8. Be involved in 12 community development activities. Not too sure what this will look like, but it needs to be on here for motivation.

9. Visit two new countries. This feels a little bit like cheating since I already know that I'm going to the Philippines, but oh well.

10. Be in a play. Also feels like cheating, as I have already started rehearsals as the Baker from "Into the Woods." I'll put it on here so that I can soothe my ego at the end of the year when I realize I haven't finished all of my goals to satisfaction.


What are some of your goals for 2012? 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chapter 29: Of Future Joys

I've been listening to this song a lot lately. 

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

What a day that will be. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chapter 28: Concerning Nigeria, Musicals, and Second Christmas

I wasn't usually happy in Nigeria. I had a hard time at the school, I never felt like I fit in at a church, and it's just a generally difficult place to live your first time out of the country (I've been told by my Nigerian friends here in China that my city was one of the hardest as well - don't know how true that is). 

Even though my experience wasn't what I was hoping it would be, I still really learned a lot. And I still miss it terribly. I am thinking today of my old students, my old coworkers, my old Book study - and I wish I could see them again. I wish I could have some good Naija food and a trip to the market (even though it smells). I wish I could go to the Lebanese church to have some shawarma, and then enjoy an evening hearing the music blaring obnoxiously from a sound system somewhere in the neighborhood. I wish I could sit with my South African friends and talk about rugby.

I know that I was not supposed to be there any longer, and I am REALLY happy to be here (SO much peace about that). But now, instead of having just one home to miss, I have two.

I've shared before, via other mediums, a quote from "Into the Woods" (a great musical which I will be starring in this coming May). Jack has just climbed down from the beanstalk and he's reflecting on the experience. He says, "And you think of all of the things you've seen and you wish that you could live in between . . ."      Preach.

For those of you who have lived in two or more places (even in the same country), you know what I'm talking about. It's that pull in multiple directions. It's the knowledge that you are losing something by being where you are. It's the understanding that things will never be exactly the way you want on this side of death.

But one day - soon - all the best things of this world and far more will be revealed together. A second, eternal Christmas will bring the eternal Emmanuel.

Though it will be difficult, I can certainly wait until that day to be with all those I miss.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chapter 27: About Bells

Over and over again in the last year I have been reminded of the fact that every single one of the 7 billion people on this planet has gone or is going through difficult. Even if there is a sunny period in life, it seems as though the threatening storms are quick to roll in and remind us that this world has been broken.

And it's really easy to look at this broken world full of horrible, ugly situations and become overwhelmed with the heartache and pain and ugliness and anger and violence and deceit and selfishness and evil. The world's brokenness summed up in a resounding death knell that has been struck over and over again since the moment that the residents of the garden chose not to trust their maker.

The world doesn't work the way it's supposed to. Children die. Innocence is lost. War is waged. Evil seems to be the victor.

And in despair I hung my head
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
'God is not dead, nor does He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Even with the wrong and awful things in this world, we can trust that He has a plan. Didn't evil seem to be winning when he was up on that tree? Wasn't it in the hour of deepest hurt and darkest evil that the greatest good occured?

So even though I see hurting families here and around the globe, I will continue to point to his past faithfulness as a foundation for our hope. Even though this world is broken and will one day pass away, I will look to the one on that tree.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chapter 26: Being a Philosophical Discourse on Feces

So, I wouldn't desire the subject of my first post after nearly a month's hiatus to be feces, but when life dumps such a lesson on you (da Dum dum) you run with it.

I have stepped in poop three times in China. Three. That is almost once per month. I'm getting a little tired of cleaning the crap off my shoe. When I stepped in it today getting onto the school bus, several staff members made jokes about me not learning from mistakes one and two. It's not a problem that everyone suffers from - seemingly just me.

And because my mind loves making connections, it just took that idea and unraveled it a bit more. Even though I seem to be the only one suffering from an obnoxious oblivion to what I'm stepping in (poo), I am decidedly not the only one suffering from an obnoxious oblivion to what we all are stepping in (foolishness, pride, selfishness, etc.).

We are broken people. We have hurts and pains of our own. Our loneliness often overwhelms us. But none of that excuses us from our prideful hearts of stone. So many times we, His children, think we know best, and we continue to walk in our own way until we step in it. And then we have to deal with the mess we made, while He was telling us not to step there in the first place.

The longer I am alive, the more I am frustrated my own faults and weaknesses. The more I see how clean He is, the more I see just how much poo I have slathered all over myself.

But what a blessing that he has a cross-shaped hose that blasts me clean with high-powered jets that clean me inside and out. And even though I will certainly continue to step in it (both literally and figuratively), what peace to know that I can be clean again.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chapter 25: On Squatties, Yaks, Ranch Dressing, and Roller Coasters

Before you travel overseas for a vacation, short-term habitation, or long-term settling down, here are some things to keep in mind. If this is supremely irrelevant to you, I'm giving you permission to stop reading this and jump back into the hustle and bustle of your everyday life. But even if you aren't planning on doing any of the things mentioned above, it can still be helpful to understand what expats (those who live away from their home country) go through.

(One quick word of warning: I am not an expert on this topic by any means. Many people have much more experience and are far wiser on this topic, but these are some things that I have noticed/"borrowed" from others.)

-   -   -   -   -

Be Ready for the Squatties
Low expectations = high happiness. "Oh, there's no toilets here except squatty potties? Well, I was expecting no toilets at all, so thank goodness for the squatties!" This attitude is hard to have, but if you can culture it within yourself, it is really helpful. It will help you deal with many frustrating circumstances, of which you will have many. The higher your expectations are for a place, the harder you will fall from your sunshiny rainbows and happy little clouds of idealism into the grungy, pungent, and stressful realm of reality - unable to see the positive and beautiful aspects of a culture because you are so upset that it isn't what you wanted it to be.

That being said, once you get over your disappointment (which takes about 9 months), you will grow to love your host culture and really start to see its valuable contributions to your life and the world. 

Know that You Are NOT a Yak
When yaks enter the world, they are able to stand almost immediately. They need some help from their parents, but they are fairly self-sufficient.

You are not a yak. Whenever you enter a new circumstance, you will take time - a lot of time - to figure out how to simply live. All that wonderful ambition about making a difference in the world will come in handy, but it must be tempered with patience. For the first few weeks/months/years, you will be a fleshy lump of a baby, just soaking in the culture well enough to communicate effectively. So keep up your dreams of making a difference, but realize that they will not be realized immediately (or ever in some circumstances).

Reach Out to Others
It's really great if you can get to know someone in the place that you are going before you go there. This will help you understand what the place will be like and give you a new friend. This will also help your expectations to be more realistic.

Also under this category: make friends once you get to your new location. (Um, duh, Warren.) Sounds obvious, but one of the things about being in a new situation is that your personality characteristics are exaggerated. If you are an introvert, you will be a super introvert. If you are an extrovert, you will be a lot to handle in your first few months with all your extroverted energy. If you are an extrovert, try to cool yourself down a little so people get to know the real you. If you are an introvert, step out of your comfort zone and reach out to those around you.

Bring Some Powdered Ranch Dressing Packets
Believe it or not, other places are not America. And even though we Americans are doing our best to spread ourselves over every possible inch of this world, many of the things we assume are standard are only standard in America. This is both good and bad. It is good in that we can empathize more realistically with those who live "without", we can see where we have been wasteful and extravagant, and we can enjoy living in a different style than we are used to. It can be bad in that this makes it that much more difficult to transition to a new place, and we are "forced" to live in a different style than we are used to. It helps a lot to bring things that will make your new place feel like home.

Be Prepared for the Roller Coaster
Even if you know all of these things and more, you will still have to experience them for yourself. And you will have some days of rapturous joy and other days of complete frustration. The key is to remember that eventually, things will even out and the emotional roller coaster will eventually lose its chutzpah. Life in your new location will become more "normal" (By the way, once this happens, you will be perfectly set up for a whole new world - one you may not have known existed: reverse culture shock. But that is another topic for another time).

-   -   -   -   -

What else is helpful for someone moving or traveling overseas? Please contribute ideas freely! Like I said, many of you know the expat game better than I do. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chapter 24: In Which the Writer Comes to an Understanding about Personal Stress Levels and How They Can Negatively Affect One's Social Life

Holy overload, Baman! This has been a crazy couple of weeks, and will continue to be so. We had a week break last week for Chinese National Holiday. We went up to Beijing for a teacher conference. The day after we got back, we took a staff retreat to Weihai on the north side of the peninsula. Fun, but really busy. And not allowing time for getting my teaching stuff done.

And hooray! This coming weekend we have another trip around the province. With the quarter end next week, I'm starting to wonder why the timing was so close for all of these trips. . .

BUT, even though it's stressful, I'm enjoying my students a lot, and one of the main reasons for my stress is that I'm taking the time and effort to make my teaching more effective (which is rewarding).

At the Beijing conference, a good friend shared about stress as a first year teacher here. He mentioned that we all have a certain amount of stress that we can handle and when that overflows, we snap. The stress overflows. For me, that comes in the form of me dumping mounds of frustration on whoever happens to be within earshot (not a fan of this personal characteristic).

I can sense that I am too close for comfort to that stress line. It might be time for me to take a step back and do that which I hate to do: say no.

I'm not the kind of person that easily says no to social events. In fact I have to basically be at the point where I currently reside (at the borderline crush-your-spirit-and-hopes-for-life stress level (that might be a bit over-dramatic)) to even think about saying no when someone wants to do something.

But I think that the next week and a half will be a time not of sharing laughter and joy around a dinner table, but of sitting down and powering through the stacks of papers that have been building up (That's right. I'm a bad teacher. I don't hand my students' homework back immediately.), planning lessons that still reach every student, and writing a report card paragraph about every. single. student. Uffda*.

*The spell-checker for Blogger clearly isn't from Minnesota. Also, I have taught this word to four Chinese people.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chapter 23: Of Momentary Yielding, Volume II

These last few weeks have been crazy. So busy with school and life and extras (it's getting to be a bit stressful). But one of the coolest parts in these weeks happened yesterday.

We have this program that encourages students to think more deeply about life and truth. They go away for the weekend and open up and share with each other. Even though this event is only for high schoolers (and I teach middle school), I was invited to lead a section of the weekend called The Hootenanny. Really fun.

One of the skits that we did was about a girl who had invited Him to take the wheel (I know, flashes of Carrie Underwood just traveled through all y'all's minds). Even though the girl had originally asked him to come, she kept pushing him out of the driver's seat when something "more exciting" came along.

As I was watching this skit, I felt like a hypocrite. How many times do I take over instead of letting him be in control? 'Far too many' is the answer to that question.

It seems that I am living two different lives: the life that he wants where everything is good and pure and it is easy to do the right thing, and the life of selfish disobedience where I choose to take control of my own life and immediately run it into the ground. But then I remember what I honestly want - to follow him. I abdicate and allow him to rule, only to snatch power back when I see difficulty coming.

Stupid old man within me. Why can't he stay dead?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chapter 22: Of Momentary Yielding, Volume I

I'm in a strange place. I'm new to China but not new to living apart from my passport country (as we say here), family, and friends. Part of me is still super excited to be in China, but part of me is also really tired of being far away from people I know and love.

One of the major differences between China and Nigeria is that China has a lot more. There is constant electricity; there are stores like Wal-Mart, B&Q (British Home Depot), and Carrefour (French Target); there are paved roads without potholes; there are multiple Starbucks, KFCs, and McDonald's; and there is a fellowship of expats that is phenomenal.

But sometimes having all of those things just makes me miss the things I don't have - namely, important people in my life.

I got an email the other day from a friend back home and, honestly, the first thought that ran through my head was, "Whew! He still remembers me." This is not to say that I haven't been blessed by friends who are good at keeping up with me, or with a family that is patient with my poor communication skills. This was, however, a momentary yielding to a heavy thought that seems to be pressing more and more against the edges of my consciousness - this isn't a short term trip anymore. It has become a lifestyle, and one which I don't see the end of anytime soon (though who am I to say?).

And even though I have been expecting this since the fourth grade, it is still a weighty realization to come to.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Chapter 21: About the Author's Sister on Her Birthday

Reasons My Sister Is So Great

5. My sister is legitimately fun! We always have a good time when we are together, whether that's going hiking, kayaking, or simply going out to coffee and talking.

4. She is easy to talk to. She really listens (and helps me to do the same;). And she has good insights into other peoples' problems.

3. She has loads of self-discipline and motivation. I am so proud of the ways that she works to change her life for the better as a mom, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a person. And she has dealt with some hard issues and circumstances in her life and handled them amazingly well.

2. She is a wonderful mom. I am amazed by her children, and that speaks loads about how much effort and love both she and Chris are devoting to their kids. And now little Natalie has been blessed with a mom who has loved her for months before she was even born.

1. My sister loves Him a lot. None of these reasons would mean anything in the long run if she didn't. I love seeing how He keeps changing her heart to be more like His. And I pray that she will continue to be as open to his molding.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Chapter 20: On His Niece, Natalie Aubrielle

I spent the past two days with middle school students in a city called Weihai. It was really great, and I had some fantastic moments, but that is not the point of this post.

In Nigeria, I found out that my sister was pregnant and due on September 2. Part of me was hoping that the baby would come while I was in the US, but (thankfully) she did not come. So I moved to China and knew that I would not get to meet this little girl until she was almost 2.

Back to Weihai: I was hoping that I would be able to Skype with my family when Leann went into labor. If not that, I was hoping to Skype with them pretty soon after the baby was born. Unfortunately, I was at fall camp when little Natalie was born, so I still have not had the chance to talk to my family. It's hard.

Now, I'm not the hugest fan of babies (though some of the staff babies here are doing their best to change that!), but as soon as I saw my brother-in-law's picture of my niece on Facebook, I was a fan of her.

I'm not sure how blessings work, but I couldn't help but kiss her digital forehead and say a prayer for her.
I am sure the good Lord can transmit the blessing of a kiss even through an avenue such as Facebook.

Natalie Aubrielle Symons, I wish I could hold you, but that day will come soon enough.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chapter 19: Which Reveals the Author's Top Ten List

Top Ten Things I Love About Teaching Middle School in Qingdao

10. View from my classroom: ocean. View from my office: mountains.

9. Taking Chinese lessons (this isn't a middle school thing, but I do still love it!)

8. The students can understand what I'm saying the first go around. I don't have to repeat myself very often.

7. I get to use powerpoints on a daily basis. While this is also a LOT more work, I just enjoy having a tool that helps keep me on track and not running down every single rabbit trail I see.

6. The students are super well behaved. It's just great to see how respectful and hard-working they are while still keeping the fun of being in middle school. It's cool how balanced most of them are.

5. Working with the middle school teachers. They're really great and so dedicated to what they are doing. It's very inspiring to see.

4. My principal. He's awesome and so encouraging. Also, he's Australian so I'm enjoying learning about that culture a bit more.

3. Block periods! I love having so much uninterrupted time to teach and work together.

2. Middle school students laugh when I make a joke. Not sure what this says about my sense of humor.

1. The kids are at an incredibly awesome and slightly awkward stage in life which makes them a lot of fun to be around.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chapter 18: Being a Rather Large Nutshell of the Author's Busyness

So much has happened since I last posted! None of it violently thrilling (or even peacefully thrilling), but busyness has been my theme this week. In thought and in deed.

At the end of last week I was busy with the IT conference and spending all day (three days in a row) helping students log in to websites, mail, skydrive clouds, and all other manner of e-problems. Friday afternoon was a relief.

Sort of. As soon as I got home, we had a British friend come over. We went to a noodle joint run by Chinese Muslims. Basically the best noodles for the fairest price in Qingdao. If you could have fajita lamb with onions and peppers and noodles, you'll have a good idea of what it tastes like. So we got to know Joel, our British friend, and it was great.

Immediately after that, we had two guys come to shoot a promotional video for our school system. These guys are great and they were a lot of fun to hang out with, but they stayed with us and it was a lot more work than I had been expecting. But our apartment and we will be in the promo video now for people looking to join the company. So that's pretty fun! (Completely random side note: We have a water tower with potable water and every once in awhile it will have a sporadic release of an air bubble even if no one has been near it for hours. Such a thing just happened, and in my empty home it made me jump a bit too high. Ridiculous.)

Monday I started Chinese classes. I'm really excited about this, and my teacher is very good. We got through 6 lessons in one session, which was twice as many as he was expecting! So I am going to start learning the Chinese characters as well as the spoken language. Exciting!

Last night we (for future reference, "we" will usually refer to Zack, my roommate, and me) had an invitation to dinner with a great family at the school. The dad is a few years older than me and he and I are quite similar in many ways, so it was fun to be there, even though I was pretty wiped out at this point. But his son is 5 and reminds me so forcefully of my own nephew that I couldn't help but be amazed at the similarities.

And on top of all this "normal" life craziness, I've been trying to get caught up with my teaching.

Overwhelmed. But getting better each day. And now for a night in with nothing to do but a bit of work and a bit more relaxation.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Chapter 17: About Ayi's First Day

Yesterday, I felt a little like a rich brat.

We had an ayi come to our apartment for an interview. For those of you who are not familiar with the word, "ayi," it's basically a house helper. She comes to clean, cook, do laundry, etc. It's like having a maid. (Most people had these in Nigeria as well.)

Because we didn't plan very well, we had Ayi come yesterday for an interview with a wonderful Filipino interpreter who was translating fluently between two languages that were not her native tongue. The poor planning comes due to the fact that we've been having a middle school technology conference these past two days. Utterly and exhaustingly draining.

So Zack's and my thoughts were on the IT Conference and not on the fact that we had to have the house somewhat clean with cleaning supplies marked or in obvious places.

Ayi came while we were at school. She was evidently overwhelmed. I can imagine what she must have thought of Zack and I as she was cleaning. "How did these crazy foreigners get this place so dirty in just three weeks here?"

But she seems like a really nice person, and she is certainly a great cook! Hopefully she doesn't get scared off by our initial mess.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chapter 16: In Which the Author Has a Simply Wonderful Day

As in my last post, there are many topics just from today that are flying around my head as tentative blog posts. I could write about:
               - our (Zack's and my) first trip to Tai Dong market area by ourselves,
               - the bride we saw driving down the main road in a red Corvette convertible with her dress  
                  and veil flying out behind her,
               - the over-the-top flirting that was going on next to me on the bus,
               - the rush of being able to actually communicate my thoughts to someone without an  
               - buying and eating moon cakes for the moon festival,
               - the view of the ocean, 
               - the beauty of mountains,
               - or the incredible peace that has been so constant and almost overwhelming today.
Even though each one of these topics could easily fill an entire blog post by itself, I will choose to write about the moment that was the most heart-warming.

Even though today marks my third week in China, I have been so busy with school and getting adjusted to life here that I haven't really had much opportunity to even interact with Chinese people*. But today was a bit different.

We took the bus back from Tai Dong market today. We sat (thankfully we got a seat right away) for 75 minutes to get back home. I sat next to a middle-aged Chinese couple. They said, "Meiguoren ma" which means, "American, yes?" I said yes I was, and they tried to talk to me some more, but I couldn't really understand them. But still, they kept sneaking looks at me and I kept sneaking looks at them because they had such lovely smiles (it's not considered rude to stare in China) and they so clearly enjoyed being together.

Even though we didn't have a common language, or even any real cause to enjoy each others' company, we did. When I got off the bus at my stop, we said goodbye. But as I was walking next to the bus, I glanced up and saw the woman hanging out the bus window and waving goodbye to me.

What a great end to a beautiful day's adventure. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Chapter 15: In Which the Cultural Differences Between East and West Become More Apparent

I have about a million things to post about, but since it's the most important, I'll post about my first week of school. It. Was. Awesome.

I love middle school. I love these students. I love this school. I know it sounds too early for me to be using the "L" word, but I can't really explain my feelings using the word "like." So the slightly over-dramatic "L" word it will have to be.

There are already some fairly large cultural differences between the Eastern-minded and Western-minded students in my classes.
In general, the Eastern-minded students are more reserved. I have had to tell every single class so far that when I ask a yes or no question that is not rhetorical, they should either nod or shake their head. It's something I never really anticipated having to teach to middle-schoolers.
In general, the Western-minded students are a bit more vocal in class and much more responsive to questioning.
Obviously there are exceptions to both generalizations (especially the Eastern generalization), but it's just something I noticed so far. It will be an interesting shift from my last school where students were really responsive to questions, almost to a fault. There's just a lot to get used to.

I am greatly looking forward to this weekend: eating out and games tonight, time to plan lessons, Settlers of Catan, fellowship, and general nonsensicality. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Chapter 14: Five Postcards from a Lovely State of Mind

1. Two weeks in - already laughing so hard I can't breathe.

2. That warm feeling you get when you think of love,
making you enjoy the very breath you take.

3. That falling feeling you get when you remember two years,
making you love all the more.

4. Eyes may look different,
                     but smiles look the same.
Tongue may be different,
                     but hearts need the same.

5. The water seeps through
          the soil of my chest
               and begins to crack
                     the bedrock below.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Chapter 13: About Tim

I am entering into sorrow.

There is a fantastic family at this school. Well, there are many. But this particular family is particularly wonderful. He is a high school science teacher, and she is a nurse in the States, but a stay-at-home mother here. They have four children, two of which are adopted.

This past May, they had to deal with one of the most difficult events in any person's life. Their son, Tim, had a significant fall. It was not survivable, and he was pronounced dead several days later. He was in fifth grade. 

The school is still deeply mourning the loss of this young child. As a newcomer, I can sense the grief even though I don't necessarily feel it myself. As an empathetic person, when Tim is mentioned and one or two people around the room quietly begin shedding tears, I can't help but feel full of sorrow myself. I wish I could remove all of their pain and heartache.

And next Wednesday, when my students come, it will be a whole new level. My 6th graders this year will have been Tim's classmates. And I teach them 3 classes. It will be a new challenge, but I am asking to be used in this experience. And I know that the glory will go to the right place.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Chapter 12: On Stingrays, Forgetfulness, and Heart Conditions

For the last few months, I have known that God has been wanting to teach me a lesson. This topic has come up again and again, and each time it is brought to my attention, I listen for a moment and say to myself, 'Hmm. I really need to study this more.' Yet I keep putting it off.

Yesterday this message slapped me in the face like a cold stingray in the marketplace. And I do not want to ignore it any longer.

The message is this: Remember. Remember how good and merciful and powerful and sovereign and generous and wrathful and lavish He is. Remember that you are no more than a speck, yet you are placed on level with the very Son of God himself as an heir to an inheritance greater than gold. Remember that he has done and will continue to do wondrous works as a way to draw people closer. Remember that he only asks us to change because his way is always better.

How often do I feel like an Israelite who sees amazing things done by a living being then goes running off to worship dead objects of wood or stone? In case you're wondering the answer is far too often. It's like I seem to choose the things that are lesser instead of the things that are greater.

This is a very serious heart condition (enter the corny analogy). I'm feeling that I need to change my diet (word) and exercise (lifestyle) routine in order to avoid a violent and painful downfall in the future. And even still - even after knowing the remedy - I am sure that I will continue to play the fool. I will eventually go back to the things which are death to me and hold them as a child holds a pet.

One of the most amazing things about God is that his forgiveness is an overflowing and bottomless spring that will continue to blot out my foolishness, unfaithfulness, and forgetfulness.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chapter 11: In Which Total Ignorance Is Less Frustrating than Insufficient Knowledge

Not knowing Chinese has already been frustrating at times. However, knowing only a few sentences and shopping words in Chinese is even worse. I understand some of the things being said, and I want to communicate more, but my language skills while shopping are basically limited to numbers, asking for a reduction in price, and saying thank you.

Yesterday we bought some house plants and some dishes (it's finally starting to feel like an apartment and not an empty warehouse!). I can't wait until I have a better grasp on the language so that I won't feel like an idiot standing there when a Zhongguoren (Chinese person) is speaking to me. But from what I hear and see, that won't happen for a few years. I guess I can try to be patient. ;)

So, what is the lesson that I have been learning in all of this? I have realized that it is far more frustrating and humiliating to know only a tiny bit of something than to be in complete ignorance. I could expound about the ways that this lesson applies not only to language learning, but also to knowledge of a skill or hobby, knowledge of current evens, or even knowledge of the Bible and biblical topics. Instead, I'll let you roll these thoughts around if this is an idea that causes you to ponder.

I have a feeling that China will hack away at my pride until there isn't much left. And that is more than okay.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Chapter 10: Being a Riveting Account of Extreme Culture Shock and Amazing Weather Systems

In the week since I left the U.S., I feel as though I have experienced enough things to fill up a month. I've started learning Chinese (fun, yet challenging), I've eaten some amazing food, met some even more amazing people, been a good neighbor, and started planning out my school year.

Chinese lessons have been really fun. So far we've learnt simple phrases and sentences like, "Wo qu Baishan xuexiao. Wo yao ban ge ping guo." I am going to Baishan school. I want eight apples. Nothing too impressive yet, but still rather fun. We've been focusing a lot on the tones. It's a challenge to constantly think about the tone of your speech. I thought that part would be easier. I'm sure it will be one day.

The food here is just wonderful. So far the hot pot from my first night has been my favorite, but we've also had Korean barbecue, chuare (beef, lamb, or squid on a stick. I had all three), lots of jiaoci (dumplings), and noodles. I'm excited to keep trying new things!

The teachers at the school are so great. I already feel as though I'm in a fantastic community, and I'm really looking forward to getting to know these people more. Also, they have some great insights and stories about living in China.

Like State Farm Insurance, I have been a good neighbor. A coworker lives two flights below Zack and me, and she's currently cat-sitting for a family on vacation in Thailand. Last night the cat got out and so we spent 45 minutes trying to corral this dumb cat to a place where we could actually catch it. We laid traps, tried being sweet, bribed it with food, but nothing worked. Eventually we just gave up and hoped that it would be in a more catchable mood today (It was. It has now been caught).

And finally this week I've started planning out my school year. I know now what classes I'll be teaching: one class each of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade math, and one class of 6th grade social studies (ancient history through the Middle Ages). I'm pretty excited about it. There's a lot of prep time available for me, even though some of that will be used up with Chinese lessons. I'm looking forward to this school year.

OK, well, I have to admit that I may or may not have created a misleading title to make you more interested in this post. Don't be mad.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chapter 9: On the Author's First Day in Asia

Here's a run-down of my first day in China. 

That first morning, I woke up at 3:30am, 4, 4:30, 5, and 5:30 because of jet lag (though it hasn't been bothering me as much during the day - just my sleeping habits). I finally couldn't sleep anymore even though I was very tired, so I started unpacking my stuff.

Our apartment is HUGE! It's a 3-bedroom apartment that seems to be made for a family of 4 or more. With only 2 people here, it will take some getting used to. We are on the 5th floor of the building with both north and south facing windows, but all we can see are apartment buildings and the landscaping of the compound (which is actually very pretty).

At 9 we took the city bus to fellowship. It was much more crowded than a bus in the States, but it was still more comfortable than a bus in Nigeria. I'll be taking the bus quite often.

I have a host family here: a young couple: Josh and Allison, with their 11 month old Evangeline. They have been here for 5 years and they are really great. They took Zack and me out for bubble tea (just like Tea Garden) and then we went to fellowship.

Fellowship is in a hotel, which is a bit strange, but it's kind of cool as well. I'm looking forward to getting to know the people a bit better. It's a fairly small group, but the people seem quite close-knit. One of the things I like about it is that it is not just Americans who go there, but we met Malaysians, Koreans, Australians, a guy from the U.A.E., and others as well. I'm just really looking forward to living here with such awesome people!

So, after fellowship, we went to a restaurant called "Lennon's Bar." It looked a little like a British Pub, but it had amazing Chinese food (supposedly some of the best in the city). My favorite dish was actually green beans covered with pork bits (I think) and some other amazing herbs. It was really fun, and I was able to meet quite a few people from the school. One of the interesting things about eating out here is that people usually buy their drinks at a local convenience store and then they carry them into the restaurant. We did that too; I had an aloe-white grape juice that was really good.

After lunch we went shopping at the French version of Target: Carrefour. We got a water tower, two pots, a frying pan, a garbage can, and shampoo. Tomorrow (Tuesday) we'll be shopping for some more stuff. Thankfully, we have a really great convenience store right outside our compound, so we can go get fresh fruits and veggies, drinks, meat, bread: pretty much most of the stuff you would actually need during the week.

We came home and put away our purchases, then after a few hours of rest, we went to dinner at a hot pot restaurant with Josh, Allison, and Evangeline. Here's how hot pot works: you get a dish with a hot plate under it and two different kinds of soup. Then you order a bunch of different kinds of food to put into the soup and boil, then you eat the food with an amazing peanut dipping sauce. We had cabbage, spinach, sweet potatoes, noodles, thin strips of beef, and lamb-filled dumplings. It. was. incredible. I thought I would probably lose weight here, but I'm now hoping that the opposite doesn't happen (I just love the food here so much!).

After dinner, Zack and I came back to the apartment and we tried watching a movie, but about 20 minutes into it, I was already asleep, and Zack was nodding off too, so we just went to bed (around 8:30).

It was a really great first day!

Today (Monday the 25) here's the plan: go to school to have an orientation tour and basic introduction to the school (only the new staff - the old staff isn't working yet). Then we'll have lunch at a noodle place and come home to . . . do something. I honestly don't know what we're supposed to be doing, but we'll figure something out.

I'm doing REALLY well. Qingdao is such a great city. I'm looking forward to the beauty of mountains and ocean juxtaposed with vibrant city life. It's a splendid mix of everything! (In fact, this city is SO cool, that it's where the Chinese tourists visit.)

Keep an eye on this page, as it will be updated in the next day or two (hopefully with pictures!).

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chapter 8: Scattered Thoughts from a Place with a Lovely View

I'm currently looking at the Rocky Mountains outside the Denver airport. Pretty awesome. I can't believe I've never been to Colorado before! It's not even a little ugly.

It's a bit strange to me that I am going to China. Even now, when you would think it would be sinking in, it's not.

I said goodbye to my parents this morning at 3:45am. That was hard, but like saying goodbye to my sister and her family, it could have been worse. I think the denial is probably playing a role in that.

Well, two airports down. Four left. Ugh.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chapter 7: About Goodbyes

I do not think that I will have the chance to post again until I have landed in Qingdao. My flight takes of in less than 24 hours. I have not really packed (all of my "Things to Pack" are strewn about my bedroom floor), but I know that it won't take too long to do.

Last night I said goodbye to my sister and her family. For those of you who don't know, I am extremely close to my sister, her husband, and their two boys: Eli (4) and Caleb (21mo.). I had previously been nervous about how the final few days would go with them, but saying goodbye was actually not that hard. We went to our favorite beach and kayaked for awhile as the sun set. Eli and I went and searched for agates (of which we found many) for me to bring to China. We came back to my parent's house, said goodbye (no tears, thank goodness), and that was that. Chris stayed after and we had a Cuban out on the balcony looking at the lake. It was actually a really great evening. And for that I am extremely thankful.

"And how are you feeling today, Warren?" you may be thinking. Honestly, the only thing I really am feeling is ignorance. I really have no clue what I'm stepping into. But that doesn't mean I am feeling nervous. Just ignorant. I am positively sure that this is just one of many times to come where I feel the same (after all, I don't know very much about China), and that's ok.

Less than a day. Goodbye Minnesota. Goodbye friends. Goodbye family. Hello, Unknown, it's been a few years.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chapter 6: Being a True and Dreadfully Dreary Account of the Author's Ruminations

Since this Sunday, I have wavered back and forth between remaining in denial and comprehending that I am actually leaving for two years.

Clouds have rolled in and covered the sunny summer sky up here in Two Harbors, turning my thoughts inward and forward. Tomorrow I will have to say goodbye to my sister's family. The next time I see them, my nephews (now 4 and 1.5) will be 6 and almost 4. I will have a new niece who will be almost 2.

In all the difficulties of living overseas, this is near the top of the list: saying goodbye and being away from family. Sometimes I wonder why on Earth I would be chosen and sent. I am so close to my family and that makes it so much harder to be away. Thankfully it's not in my own strength that I will carry on.

I know how the next few days will go down, because I have done them before. We will do fun things in an attempt to have great final memories with each other, but the coming change will loom over our time together, casting a shadowy pall over all the fun we could have had. (Wow. This sounds horribly depressing. It is, however, an accurate picture of what it is like for me and my family.) I'm thankful that we have stored up plenty of wonderful memories that aren't tainted by the fact that I am leaving. And I have certainly been blessed during my time at home.

"If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your right hand will hold me fast." And with that, I know that I will be more than fine.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chapter 5: In Which Good Things Really DO Come in Threes

Good Thing No. 1: 
My dear friend, Kyle, who had been my roommate and coworker in Nigeria, came to visit me this weekend. We saw Harry Potter 3D (loved it), went kayaking on Lake Superior which looked as though it went on forever into the sky because it was so calm, hiked barefoot around Gooseberry Falls State Park, and generally had a great time.

Good Thing No. 2: 
I went to Grand Marais and Temperance River State Park with my family. It. Was. Amazing. I love my family deeply. I love the North Shore of Lake Superior deeply. Together it was about as close to a perfect day as you can get.

Good Thing No. 3:
My visa came!!! Now I only have to worry about packing and actually flying to China (on Friday morning at 6am). Whew.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chapter 4: During Which the Author Displays His Insistance on Remaining in Denial

I know that I am leaving for China one week from tomorrow. I just haven't realized it yet. I've already begun packing just to try to get my mind processing that I'm leaving, but not much is working.

I'm not a huge fan of these transition times, and yet I've had them more and more frequently lately. It's the I-know-I-am-going-to-have-a-hard-time-saying-goodbye-but-I-just-can't-seem-to-make-that-thought-stick feeling that comes just before a big transition. For me it's moving to a new continent. For others, it could be a recent death or job/financial uncertainty.  Whatever it is, it's not a good realization to come to: that you are in denial.

I wish I had some appropriate words to say that show how much I have learned through these experiences. I wish I had some wise words to impress you all with my maturity for my age. I don't. In fact I'm feeling rather ridiculous because I seem to have learnt nothing in my repeated encounters with this particular breed of denial. Maybe this time will be different, even though I am beginning to expect that time is the only real way to get it into my head that I'm leaving. 

One week. Humph. It may as well be a year.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chapter 3: Being a Record of the Douchiness of the Author (edit)

One of the hard things about living overseas and coming home again is deciding which relationships require one-to-one face time and which relationships will probably slide by the wayside. How do you decide who to "cut out" of your life?

I spent the last weekend in the Twin Cities visiting friends, but there were still about 300 people I would have loved to have seen (that's not even an exaggeration). Yet time restraints and personal energy levels dictated only a few get-togethers.

Where is the line? When do you get to the point where you decide, "You are a truly fantastic person and I love you dearly, yet you don't quite make the cut"? And how can a relationship remain on solid ground after a decision like that? I unavoidably feel like a jerk.

Thankfully, I'm friends with someone whose friendship is constantly a solid rock. What a good thing I have him in my life, or I would probably be really frustrated with my poor relationships with most of my other friends.

EDIT: I am fully aware that some people are much better friends than I am. These people still make an effort to remain friends even if we don't have face time together. Those people, too, I am so thankful for.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chapter 2: On Unavoidable Buzz Cuts

One time when I was in Nigeria, I was shaving my roommate's head. The only electric razor we had had only one length setting: short. I'm talking about a quarter inch short. I had to cut the hair close because there was nothing else to do (well, except go to a Nigerian barber, but we never thought of that for some reason).

"Why on Earth is this story relevant to anything?" you may ask. Well, let me tell you, reader, that I have had to cut it close once again, but this time with significantly larger consequences and significantly smaller amounts of hair being clipped.

The first full day that I was in Two Harbors, I brought my passport to the post office to send away for added pages. That was exactly 2 weeks ago. I had it expedited. I had it shipped fairly quickly; but, like a child hesitant to leave his play and join his parents, my passport decided to take its sweet lil time getting back to me.

An hour after I received my passport today, I was shipping it out to get the Chinese visa. And now I have just over a week and a half to get it. And yet I'm not too worried. These things are usually worked out pretty well. I'm just wishing that it didn't have to be cut so close.

(P.S. - I found out that my flight is on July 22. I'll fly from Minneapolis to Denver to Las Vegas to San Fransisco to Beijing to Qingdao. Huzzah.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Chapter 1: In which the Author Answers All of Your Questions

(Disclaimer: All of your questions will most likely not, in fact, be answered in this post. If they are, you should probably work on developing your curiosity.)

In less than three short weeks I will be leaving for a new home: Qingdao, China. I am looking forward to teaching there and learning more about Chinese culture and people.

Frequently (and Not-So-Frequently)
Asked Questions:

1. Where is Qingdao?
It's the city in red on the map to the right.

2. What will you be doing there?
I will be working as a middle school teacher. I'm really excited to be getting back into middle school, even though I loved working in elementary last year in Nigeria.

3. How long will you be there?
I have made a commitment to be there for two years, though I am definitely thinking that I may stay for longer. We'll just have to see. At this point, I am not planning on making any visits to the States during the next two years.

4. Will you learn Chinese?
I will be learning Mandarin. I'll have lessons 3 days a week. 

5.  What is the food like?
From what I can tell, there is a lot of seafood, and it's awesome. I'm really looking forward to it.

6. What is transportation like?
Currently taxis, public buses, and walking are the main modes of transport. Because Qingdao is rather hilly, bicycles are impractical. Random transportation note about Qindao: the longest bridge in the world was just completed there connecting Qingdao to the Huangdao district across Jiaozhou Bay.

7. When do you leave?
I will be departing on or around July 21. I will be returning for sure during the summer of 2013.

I am looking forward to sharing more about my travels and life as a Westerner in the Far East. Feel free to stop by from time to time to see my stumbles, victories, joys, and frustrations of living somewhere completely new!