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!