Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chapter 48: On Target Parking Lots and Living as an Expat

It's been awhile since I've been this homesick - since my first few months of Nigeria.

It might stem from the fact that I'm not going home to Minnesota for the first summer in my life. It might be that I'm starting to realize that I'm in China (not three minutes ago I could be heard saying, "Holy cow! How did I get to China!? When did that happen?!?"). It could be that I'm just now finding myself not quite so mind-numbingly-busy-with-school-and-drama-and-fellowship-and-spring-trips-and-living-in-CHINA busy that I am actually having time to process the fact that I am not home.

It's easy, here in Qingdao, to deceive myself - to feel almost as though I'm in America. The ease of transportation, the sense of community in the fellowship that I attend, the amenities that are available here. . . much of it feels familiar, and much of it takes the place of the things I have left behind.


Under a Western facade, the city of Qingdao is still very much China. There are manifold differences from the U.S. in mindset, liberties, culture, language, and values. And while I love being here, I am also beginning to enter a time of longing for the familiarity of America.

It's interesting the things you miss when you move overseas. It's not so much the big changes that shock you. It's not the drastically different mindsets or the gigantic shift in language or the new and sometimes challenging foods. What you miss are the smaller things that you take for granted when you are in your home country: that I can't go out in a kayak whenever I want to; that I can't drive here; that Target is an awesome store; that the smells here are different than the smells there; that no one here has known me for more than a year.

So I find myself being homesick for stupid things - the parking lot of a Target, the smell of the neighbors having a barbecue, the satisfaction of mowing the lawn, music that I can understand in the stores. Things that would not satisfy if I were to get them. Who wants to spend time in a Target parking lot, after all.

There is one possible explanation for the homesickness that I'm feeling which I did not include in the list above. And I think it's the most important one. This is now the longest I've been away from the people I know and love the most. Ever.        
Skype is great. Facebook is wonderful. Blogs are insightful, and email is a blessing. But none of it is the same as getting a hug from my dad. Or smelling my mom's perfume. Or driving on a bumpy farm road with my sister. Or playing with my nephews on the floor. Or sitting down for coffee with my friends.

I don't want things to change here. I love Qingdao, and I'm planning on staying for quite awhile still.

But I wish, in vain, that there was a way to have both.

EDIT:  A good friend here just posted about a similar topic on his blog, and I thought I would link it in case you are interested. Definitely worth a read. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chapter 47: About May Madness

Snapshot of my life right now:

- In three hours I'm picking a friend up from the train station. We worked together in Nigeria for a year and shared a house.  She's visiting a family that she used to nanny for, and had a few days to come down and see me. Really excited about this. She'll be here until Saturday morning.

- Tomorrow and Friday I teach and take Chinese lessons. 8th grade Algebra project on how math, real life, and the Father all relate to each other is due on Friday. Grading will be intense.

- Tomorrow night: final dress rehearsal for the panto.

- Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon: Panto performances! I'll be the Baker from "Into the Woods," but it has been drastically altered from the original. Very fun, and I have a cool duet a la "Elephant Love Medley," - Rolling in the Deep, Forget You, Dream On, Don't You Want Me Baby, Bad Romance, and I Dreamed a Dream. Excited, but ready for it to be done.

-Monday morning through Friday: Help lead the 7th grade spring trip around Shandong Province. Going to Confucius' hometown, climb a mountain, and hit some roller coasters.

Two weeks? I could stretch this all out into 2 months and be ok. But it is what it is, and it will be fun. I'll definitely be needing summer break, though!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Chapter 46: Five Postcards from the Hutongs

1. Leave the rush of cars
and blush of neon
to enter into the hutongs*.

2. The smell of grilled meat,
Chinese five-spice,
and poverty

3.  They own almost nothing,
yet they smile more freely than the
dyed and gilded images of beauty
that own it all

4. Had jiaozi and kao rou chuanr^
with the sounds of men dining out,
children crying in the distance,
and Chinese opera from the boombox.

5. A shrine made of hell bank notes:
The elders gather around - white-hooded -
As the paper altar burned.

The shreds of ill-placed hope - some still alight -
circle up five-hundred feet
to 'nourish' long-dead bodies.

*hutongs - a type of Chinese neighborhood characterized by poor dwellings with narrow walkways
^jiaozi and kao rou chuanr - Chinese dumplings and grilled meat on a stick

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Chapter 45: Language Blunders - Part 2

Last time I mentioned how I inadvertently called a Chinese coworker a sleazebag.

Today's post comes from a conversation I had with another coworker. I'm learning different kinds of animals (some relevant and others not so much. For example, I can now say: cat, dog, cow, pig, horse, chicken, bird, panda, ostrich, moose, dragon, and penguin). I like to practice using the new words that I learn as soon as possible.

So I'm talking with my coworker about pigs - in Chinese, they're called zhu (first tone). But as we're talking, I recall something I learned a few lessons ago; if you put fei (first tone) in front of a word it makes it fly. For example, chuan is boat/ship. Feichuan is a spaceship. I think I'll make a funny joke about flying pigs, so I ask if she has seen a feizhu. She looks at me strangely, asks if I mean feizhou (Africa). Nope, I'm trying to be funny. So I explain the expression, "when pigs fly."  She lightheartedly tells me that I'm ruining her language.

And as this conversation is continuing, we change topics to talk about what The Book is called in Chinese, what the Fellowship is called, and what the King is called. Turns out His name is Zhu (second tone) Yesu. Zhu meaning lord.

Notice anything strange? Can you see where this is going?

That's right. After a brief moment, I was no longer saying Lord Jesus, but rather Pig Jesus (Zhu(2) Yesu compared to Zhu(1) Yesu).

Why those words are so close sounding in Chinese I have no idea, but it illustrates the difficulty a lot of foreigners have with the tonal nature of Chinese. The four tones have just as much influence on the meaning of the word as the actual words you're forming with your lips. And it's just unfortunate when my Western tongue ignores the tones and instead pronounces something slightly blasphemous.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chapter 44: Language Blunders - Part 1

So, I've made a few Chinese language blunders in the past 9 months.

Last week.
I told a female Chinese colleague in Chinese, "I like your shirt. It's very yellow."

When met with a shocked look and no other response, I mentally reviewed my statement. Finding nothing wrong with the tones or words, I said again, "I like yellow. Your shirt is a pretty color."

Once again, a surprised look, but this time, accompanied by an "Oh. Thank you."

Uncertain of my mistake, I continued up the stairs to teach my class, putting the whole incident behind me and forgetting it for the time being . . .

Monday morning. An American coworker comes to me in the hallway.
Coworker:  I need to talk to you. You have to be very careful in the way that you use the word "yellow" with a Chinese woman.

Me: Okay . . .

Coworker: Yes. Chinese colleague said that you liked that her shirt was yellow.

Me: Yes, I did. (Uncertain of where this is going)

Coworker: She wanted me to tell you  in China, evidently using the word "yellow" to refer to something about a woman means she is perverse and involved in some questionable activities including, but not limited to, pornography.

Me: shocked silence

Coworker: She figured you didn't mean that, though.

Me: (more silence) Yellow!? Are you serious?

O, language blunders. How fun you are in retrospect - not so while you are happening.