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.