Archive for December, 2010

Out with the old …

Friday, December 31st, 2010

… and in with the new, the saying goes.

On this last day of 2010, I don’t expect to do anything special. However, I do intend to take some time to reflect back on the past year and count my blessings. It has been quite a journey so far. God is good. I look forward to another year of fruitfulness, blessing, and delight.

Today, I went to the new location of the wet market. While the old location was tucked in a corner of a street, this one is right along a major road. It is much larger, cleaner, and brighter. However, I also noticed that it is a lot less crowded. I asked one of the vendors what she thought of the new spot, and she said she liked the old location better because it’s closer to the center of town. Apparently, they have to wait two more years before renovation of the old building is complete. In the meantime, maybe they can begin filling out this newer and larger marketplace.

new location

Speaking of new locations, I’m getting more comfortable in my new apartment. In fact, it was a nice surprise to find a guitar on a corner of the living room. There was even a chord book next to it! I picked it up this morning and jammed on a few worship songs. It’s been a while since I played and it felt really good. Nothing like singing a heartfelt song to end one year and begin another!

look ... a guitar!

Relearning Calligraphy

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

When I was younger, I went to Chinese school and learned calligraphy. It has always appealed to me, maybe because anything that has to do with writing does. The brush strokes, whether big and bold or thin and short, look like works of art. I find it fascinating that writing in calligraphy is closely connected to China’s history, culture, religion, even philosophy. Each character seems to have its own soul.

I own a set of brushes and ink stone but I never used it because I’ve always been too busy. Recently, I met someone who is an avid calligraphy writer. He took the time to explain the various types of brushes …

materials

He also described the different characters from various periods in Chinese history, including the ways this type of writing was used.

explanation

It has been a long time since I picked up a brush so my writing hand was unsteady. Even writing “一” or “one” was a struggle. I practiced it several times until I could write it evenly, even adding the subtle curls at each end of the line (if you know Chinese calligraphy, you know what I mean).

guided practice

Besides practice, I think I need to be more graceful and gentle with the brush. I tend to press hard on the paper as if I am writing with a ballpoint pen. In watching my instructor, I observed that he holds the brush delicately and allows it to grace the paper as if he were simply sweeping it. Such control takes a lot of practice.

independent practice

Now that I’m relearning calligraphy, I hope to practice more on my own. Just like any hobby, I would need to invest time and effort to capture the art. I may do just that.

Change

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

“The only thing constant in life is change”

– François de la Rochefoucauld (French classical author, 1613-1680)

As a sojourner, I can expect to move from one place to another, one season to the next, throughout this lifetime. This is true of most people, I believe. As I look back to 2010, I’ve seen a lot of changes in my life. And as I look ahead to 2011, I expect to see even more changes. I no longer resist change but accept it, even welcome it. Knowing that all things in life are fleeting helps me balance the goodbyes with hellos. I’m able to accept the pain of leaving things behind while being able to anticipate the new things that are to come.

Yesterday, I moved into a new apartment. Packing and cleaning up made me nostalgic with all the memories created at my old place. With the help of some friends, I was able to transport luggage and bags smoothly (though not without heavy lifting) in one round via 三轮车 for less than a dollar. I also had to return the trusty bicycle that I have been using to a teammate who is coming back. These are like the Goodbyes. At the same time, I am looking forward to my new apartment and living with a roommate again. A friend also offered to lend me her bicycle for as long as I need it. These are like the Hellos. As if to confirm my thoughts on change, I went to the wet market to shop for meat and vegetables but found it closed. I later found out that they moved to a new location. It made me feel sentimental because I had gotten used to the place. Changes.

empty marketplace

On a lighter note, the store that sells popcorn kernels is still there and I got a few kilos. I was glad that despite the changes, there are things that still remain … until the appointed time. While I still can, I intend to enjoy the journey and delight in what today holds. I think I’ll make popcorn tonight.

precious popcorn

Middle School

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Today, I had another opportunity to visit some students. This time, it’s the local middle school. I have a friend who teaches English there and she invited me to come speak. She picked me up at 6:30 p.m. after dinner. They usually have classes until 9:30 p.m. and they start school at 6:50 a.m. No wonder they tell me that life as a Chinese student is 辛苦 (hard, exhausting, toilsome — courtesy of Google Translate). These are some of my discoveries today.

Because of yesterday’s experience, I was more prepared to interact with a big class. There were fewer students in this class, about 50 of them in the room but still huge by my standard, and though I still had to strain my voice, I knew what to expect. The students for this particular class were very enthusiastic and greeted me warmly. I don’t know if their teacher prepared them well but they were so eager to meet me that while I was speaking, a few of them came up and gave me gifts (candy, drinks) in the middle of my speech. The girls gave me hugs and the boys shook my hand. Not sure if it’s a Chinese custom but they seem to be sincerely grateful for my presence. I’ve learned that teenagers, no matter the culture, generally have their own mind and are not coerced to do these kinds of things, so I know they did it in earnest. Really nice touch and what an ego-booster! I asked them if I could take a picture of them from where I was standing. They exclaimed “yes!” in unison.

view from the front

After the 40 minutes, my friend took me to the teacher’s office to meet the rest of the English teachers. Many of the girls came by to practice their English. I was surprised that many of the boys from the other class came by as well. I ended up indulging them in English conversation which they seem to thoroughly enjoy. I had a lot of fun tonight. I hope to get more opportunities to visit the school.

meeting students

High School

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Today, I visited a high school and I became a teacher again — at least, for one day. I recently met a friend at a party who taught moral education at the local high school and she invited me to meet her students. I ended up speaking to them for a whole 40 minutes. I had forgotten how fun it is to be in front of a class … and how tiring. I think I might have strained my vocal chords from lack of practice. Besides, there were about 75 students in one class!!

After the class time, my friend took me on a tour of the school. First, we visited the girls dormitory which is within the campus. There are dorms for boys and girls. Chinese high school students stay within the compound and are divided according to class and house (kind of like Hogwarts, I guess).

student laundry

We visited one of the students in her dorm room. I was surprised to learn that 18 students lived there made possible by bunk beds. There is a communal washroom for these girls … my friend said that this has been an improvement from previous years which housed almost 30 students a room. The girls were cleaning the bathroom area when we popped in for a visit.

girls dorm

It was about late afternoon when I got the tour. The students were not out of class yet, so I got to see an empty cafeteria. Students store their bowls and chopsticks on shelves along the wall.

I happened to stay around long enough to see the students line up for dinner. Since they live on campus, they have communal dining. This is what it looks like when they are lining up … it looks so crowded that it looks rather like waiting for a Disneyland ride.

sea of students

After their meal, they wash their own bowls before putting them back on the shelf. They have these communal washing areas right next to the cafeteria. So efficient.

washing area

I wish I could post more pictures of the areas I got to see, like the classrooms, library, computer room, music room, gymnasium, etc. But I’ll end this entry with the delight of seeing a familiar face in a Chinese high school library.

Shakespeare

Christmas Day

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

I once heard a song about a grandmother who loves Christmas so much that her husband said, “that woman spends a whole year getting ready for this day.” It’s a hyperbole, of course, but I can relate to her devotion. I absolutely love Christmas! In my own way, I spent a big chunk of my time preparing for this day. For one, I had been planning the menu for quite a while now.

Christmas Feast

The girls had been practicing for many weeks for their performance tonight. They invited their aunts and uncles and brothers and neighbors to come watch them. I was not sure how many people to expect but I was hoping I made enough food for everyone — I did, thankfully.

Christmas Party

The girls performed wonderfully! I was very proud of them, especially their rendition of Silent Night. Beautifully done!

Christmas Song

After the performance, I took the opportunity to talk to the group about the true meaning of Christmas. I used nativity figurines to explain the birth of Jesus Christ. With the help of the girls and a friend who translated for me, I am hoping that they will remember the Christmas story and it will take on new meaning for them from this time forth.

Christmas Story

It was quite a party. I will never forget the joy, the revelation, the warmth of tonight. I met so many new friends and helped spread the joy of the holiday season! What a way to spend Christmas in China!

Christmas Gang

After the party, the girls stayed a little bit longer. With a translator, it made it easier for me to communicate with them. We had a good heart-to-heart talk and I expressed my pride and joy in their performance. They also wanted to know more about this Ye Su who was born on Christmas day.

Christmas Angels

Silent Night

Friday, December 24th, 2010

We had a small get-together tonight with some people who do not normally celebrate Christmas. It was a special night of dinner, singing, skits, sharing, gift-giving, and more eating. We sang “Silent Night” in the dark using only candlelight. It was a most solemn way to celebrate Christmas eve:

平安夜

I have never been a part of a Christmas pageant, but I finally got to play a part when we acted out the Christmas story … I was a shepherdess! It was our way of introducing the birth of Jesus to those who don’t know. My role was simple enough — pretend to watch the sheep and look up the sky when the angels announced the birth of Christ. I was strangely moved by the chorus “Gloria! In Excelsis Deo!” even though I’ve heard it so many times in the past. I literally felt like one of the shepherds hearing the message of hope for the first time. The message of Christmas — the birth of the King of kings in the humblest of places, reaching out to the lowliest of men, of which I am one.

shepherdess

My language skills were challenged tonight because the conversations were all in Chinese, including the instructions for the games, lyrics for the songs, and even the lines for the skits. I managed well, thank God. Nevertheless, if there is one thing I learned, it is that message of Christmas is for all the world. As the angels have said, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests,” no matter the language or culture!

Christmas Eve Party

Day Trip

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Last weekend, I took a day-trip with my friend to a nearby town. It was a quaint little place with very interesting sights. I like going to where there are a lot of people whenever I visit a place in China, so we naturally gravitated towards the marketplace.

This man was looking to buy some socks while holding on to his chicken in a basket cage (there are a lot of people who carry their chicken this way):

live chicken

While walking around, I noticed there are a lot of roadside dentists. They offer dental care and on-site dental work. You can see them selling fillings and fake teeth. It was interesting how easily accessible they are! I felt a little self-conscious taking this picture so I tried to be discreet about it. Don’t worry, they didn’t mind!

roadside dentists

Another thing I saw was this street selling medicinal herbs, specifically from exotic animals. I’ve seen these kinds of vendors in other places, but not as many as this town. This type of medicine is from a turtle. the vendor even had a dried-up turtle on display:

turtle medicine

Upon walking further, I saw one that is from an alligator and he had a live alligator. I even asked the guy to confirm that it was alive. That’s why its mouth was bound.

alligator medicine

Here’s a close-up. It looks like a baby one.

close-up

Early Christmas

Monday, December 20th, 2010

I made a special Christmas dinner for this family I meet up with every week. On the menu were chicken legs, french fries, vegetables, corn on the cob, and chocolate cake for dessert. I took a picture of the table right before they arrived. Needless to say, it took me a few hours to get it ready but it was all worth it for an early Christmas celebration.

Christmas dinner

Because I wasn’t at home for Christmas, I brought my family’s tradition with me. I asked my guests to reflect on the past year and share their meaningful memories. It turned out to be a good time of sharing and bonding. Another tradition I was able to pull off was opening the gifts under the Christmas tree after dinner. Then, I got them to watch Charlie Brown Christmas movie with me, which is something I do every year with my students. Even though I’m far from family, I’m thankful for a little bit of traditional Christmas here in China:

family picture

Red Cliff

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

historical epic drama