Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Grace on a Bus

   Here's something that I love about China: from my experience, it's culturally normal to meet someone (on  a bus, for example), have a conversation, and then proceed to invite them to your house for dinner the same week.  Alright folks, story time!

     I was headed into the city (Beijing) with a few friends several weeks ago when the empty seat next to me was taken by a young woman.  It was the last open seat on the bus, but another woman had scattered her various bags and loose groceries on it.  The young woman kindly asked that the woman remove her things from the seat so that she could sit and grocery woman grumpily did so (quite slowly, I might add).  
   Soon after the young woman took her seat, she turned to me to ask where I was from, what I was doing in China, etc.  This didn't surprise me at all - I stick out quite a bit in China with my blonde hair and white skin.  I was able to use my limited Chinese mixed with her limited English to find out that her English name was Grace, she was in her twenties, and that she lived in an apartment complex quite close in proximity to ND!  Language barrier aside, she was kind, had lovely eyes, and was eager to listen to what I had to say about my life.  When we got stuck on a word or concept, we both just had to give up, agree that it didn't matter too much, and laugh!  
   Near the end of the bus route (where we were both getting off), she extended an invitation to myself and any friends that I wanted to take along to her house for a home-cooked meal.  I was a bit surprised at first - I'd never been invited to a stranger's house for dinner before!  I asked her for contact information and she recorded every form of contact information that she could think of on a piece of paper, giving it to me with a smile.  We got off of the bus and parted ways, but I was left quite excited that I had been given such an opportunity!  I'd been surrounded by foreigners so much in China that it was wonderful to have the chance to really spend time with a Chinese friend.  
   Later that week, I emailed Grace and we arranged a day and time for me to come over.  Another cultural difference: after suggesting a few times that we could meet, she simply invited me to come that same day that we were emailing.  In the US, it would be less common to arrange something so quickly.  Our lives are quite frequently scheduled to the brim!

   It worked out well that my friends Rob and Grace were able to bike with me to Chinese Grace's apartment after asking loads of people on the street for directions.  We rode the elevator to the top floor, excited, but wondering what we would experience that night!  
   Grace's roommate (who I certainly didn't recognize) opened the door and looked a bit confused.  My first thought was that it was the wrong apartment, but she asked a question in Chinese and I caught Grace's Chinese name among the quickly spoken words. I answered "Yes!" to whatever she asked and she smiled, welcoming us in.  
   We were asked to have a seat in the living space and then Grace appeared moments later, looking hurried and carrying bags of vegetables, all while apologizing for being late.  We assured her that we had just arrived and she proceeded to welcome us into her kitchen to help prepare the food.  We marveled at the freshness of the ingredients and definitely enjoyed the meal in its entirety.  Lots of watermelon was consumed for dessert.     
   For fun, we played some card games after dinner and laughed a lot.  I discovered that Grace has a friend who works in the same industry as her in my hometown in the US!  
   Finally, it was time to go and we all left very full and happy, singing songs from Frozen on the dark bike ride home. (Don't worry, Mom.  We had two flashlights to make ourselves visible on the road!)

   I'll shorten things a bit, but Grace called me the next week, saying that she was in the area and wanted to visit ND! Thankfully, I was on my lunch break and gladly showed her around the campus upon her arrival.  She smiled lots and seemed to be interested, saying that it was good work that they do here.  Before she left, she took out two little boxes from her purse, one containing a lovely necklace for me and the other containing a gift for her friend from my hometown.  I was so grateful and will always treasure the necklace!  Though I leave China this week, I hope to see her one last time before I go.  I know that I will always have a friend here - it's events like these that will cause a part of my heart to stay in China when I go home. 

Beautiful Grace is in the middle!

Pink Noodle Broccoli, Please.

The amount of garlic in this broccoli is unheard of and oh so tasty.  Thank you, Pink Noodle House.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Quality Time Is My Favorite.

   What's my favorite thing about ND?  The people.  What a cliche thing to say, but it's true so I won't try to come up with something original.  Living together with these new friends has been only a blessing.  Of course, I've only been a team with the other Summer Staffers for a few weeks, but we've already had some great adventures (running through a torrential downpour for the sake of donkey sandwiches - yum!) and some struggles that we've worked through together (cooking breakfast for dinner for the multitudes - yikes!).  My love language is quality time and I've had loads of it with these peeps!  My 6 weeks are passing by at an incredible speed, which is especially evident now that we're halfway through.  I'm extremely grateful for what I've been given and I wouldn't trade these friends for anything!  

Summer Staff 2014 (minus two that just arrived this week!)

Fluffy puppy (and one of my roommates, Hannah)! She's not as fluffy as this dog, but I love her lots anyway!

Elevators and stairs were the arena for a competition between Rob and I.  He definitely got to the top first most of the time, but I was wearing flip flops.  Totally unfair. 


   Funny story: ND had a ceremony two weeks ago to celebrate a new sponsor and their generous donation to the Foster Home.  We, the volunteers, were asked to prepare a short performance for entertainment.  We have two volunteers from Ireland who offered to lead us all in an Irish dance - what?!  We practiced for a long time, but the Chinese supervisor of the program said that our original dance wasn't flashy enough!  She wanted kicks and flips, so dear Hannah taught Rob a few swing dance moves to add in the middle!  Such a funny scenario, but we all had a good time and did pretty well.  Orla and Rob, who taught the dance, told us not to tell anyone that we know Irish dance now because the amount that we had to alter it to please the audience was a bit over the top!  These are the things that I will certainly never forget!

Orla and I are pro Irish dancers.

Orla and Grace, posin' with the balloons before the ceremony!

We couldn't take ourselves seriously, but it sure was fun!



2 1/2 Grovers.  Lois on the right has attended a class at Grove City College, so she counts!

We love Lois.  This was before she left us in Beijing to fend for ourselves.

Sarah with little Hannah!

   A brief explanation of the way volunteers work here: there are 3 foreign families who volunteer at ND and they're all wonderful! All of the kids that you see in these pictures belong to one of the families.  Besides those long-term staffers, there are the Summer Staff (that's me!) and short term volunteers that may be individuals or teams that have chosen to come and help out wherever they're needed.  Finally, there are many paid Chinese staff that work in every facet of ND.  Strong unity can be difficult, due to the language and culture barrier, but I have been glad to see ND's leadership emphasize and encourage it, both among foreigners and natives, as well as between the different departments of ND.  


Rachel had the privilege of getting a picture with the two youngest Harverson princesses.  

Beautiful Maya :)

Orla and Grace are so dear to me!

Pretty ladies!

Katherine makes me giggle in her baby rain jacket :)
I got to spend a little time teaching English at a middle school with these Summer Staffers and World Racers, a volunteer team that's here for several weeks.
Kevin didn't do anything to make this meal, but he wants you to think that he did. 

We all made it onto the crazy-packed subway, but we had to count to 9 in Chinese to be sure.  Just working together, you know. 

 Spending time with all of these folks couldn't be more lovely.  I'm holding on to each day with them because I know that they and the days are oh so precious!  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Wonders of Wangfujing

   While perusing the large shopping area called "Wangfujing" in central Beijing, I and some other Summer Staffers decided to do the most touristy thing possible and sample one particular item sold on Snack Street - fried scorpion.  No, no one eats scorpion for dinner here, but it was fun to try crunchy black arachnid anyway!  Blech.  I say that I tried it, but I really just licked it.  No regrets.  My lovely friends who took large bites confirmed rather quickly that I had made the right decision.
   Besides the craziness listed above, our time in Wangfujing was primarily quite comfortable - by comfortable, I mean we indulged in Western food.  We bought ice cream cones from McDonald's and had some lovely Pizza Hut pizza.  As my Burmese friend Piang (from the ORU team that spent time here) would say: "Sooo gooooooood."
Pretty Grace!

A Catholic church in the middle of Wangfujing.
[Rachel gave me permission to share this.]

Orla and Rob! 



   The pictures taken indoors are all from the mall - it was rather large and clean and nice.  (It also housed lots of Western stores and restaurants.)  Beijing is like a different world compared to Qingyundian where I live.  I love it all, though.  In Qingyundian, we're foreigners who stand out quite a bit.  In Beijing, we're foreigners, but few people think twice about us.  In Qingyundian, we don't take photos so as not to be such a strong foreign presence, while in Beijing, we're so obviously tourists that taking photos of everything is expected.  It's all lovely.  Just very different.     


Snack Street!


Check out that tat.

"Old Beijing Snacks."

Katherine referred to the picture on this Pizza Hut menu as "macaroni and cookie pizza."


   I simply love observing culture!  Everywhere I go, there are new things to learn.  I'm always thinking about how crazy it is that our world is so full of mindsets and customs that are black and white when compared to one another.  The Chinese drink hot water, Westerners drink cold water.  The Chinese find ways to make their way around a problem, Westerners are told to face problems head-on.  The Chinese encourage complete devotion to following leaders, Westerners are encouraged to innovate.  Who can say which one is right or wrong?  I know I can't.  

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Land of My Dreams

   你们好! (Hello y'all!) Welcome to the story of my Chinese adventure.  I've been here for 2 weeks so far, so I've got plenty to tell you.

I don't have to tell you where this is, but I will tell you that that is my lovely friend Saskia's  face on my shirt. 
   First of all, why I'm here: I was accepted to work at ND for 6 weeks this summer in their company office.  ND is divided into three parts: a foster home (click the link to 'like' the Facebook page - trust me, you'll be glad you did!), a company that manufactures decorative products, and a learning center.  Each is separate, but all are bound by a common Purpose.  

   I've given you the facts, but there's so much more to this lovely place!  It's only been 2 weeks, yet I feel like I'm at home.  So many people come and go, but the atmosphere remains constantly filled with Love and a bright Hopefulness.  Although I've been working on some marketing projects for the company and volunteer services, I have also been blessed to spend some time in the foster home.  Whether I'm just playing with kids outside (the bouncy house they had for a birthday party was a real highlight) or going into the foster home every morning for my one-on-one with a particular little boy (I'll call him Joseph, for the sake of privacy), the joy found in the presence of a child is always there!


   So.  Here are some of the details of my journey so far. I flew into China on May 18 with two lovely friends also committed to work in this lovely nation.  We spent several days touring Beijing and enjoying the culture.  One of my friends has spent a lot of time here and she was a huge help when it came to understanding differences in customs, mindsets, and food.  Side note, the food is glorious.  My favorite is always 炒面 and 饺子 - fried noodles and dumplings.  Anyway, we saw the Great Wall and the Summer Palace, as well as visited a Chinese professor friend's English classroom to talk with the students.  Here's some photo documentation of my first few days!    
The Summer Palace
The Chinese (especially the elderly), love to gather in public places to share in fun!  This gathering was up a hill in the Summer Palace gardens.  We heard drums and singing and made the trek to find a bunch of people simply singing together!  The sign says: Heart to Heart Chorus.  I think I may retire in China.  

The parks around the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven are so very peaceful.

The Temple of Heaven

The emperor had this stone boat built to remain here as a reminder that he was like a boat on the water that was the people.  The boat's fate depends on the state of the water - keep the people calm with few waves and sailing will be easy.

Remnants of the 2008 Olympics

Makes me think of Sherlock, Season 1, Episode 2 :)

The Pearl Market

The 火锅 (hot pot) restaurant that I and my 2 travel buddies visited for an early birthday celebration treated me well!

This was delicious, despite the little man's frightened face. 


   After a few days with my lovely friends, they dropped me off at ND on Wednesday and I had fun getting to know the volunteer teams and staff before the rest of the Summer Staffers got there to start work on Monday.  I've always dreamed of having some time to myself with absolutely no obligations, but when I had it I felt so lost and useless.  I wandered around finding volunteers who would give me work to do.  Ha! 
   On my birthday, I was overjoyed to return from dinner and a trip to our local Womei supermarket and find everyone gathered in a room with cake!  My first surprise party was such a blessing, especially since I was surrounded by people who I'd known for a total of 2 1/2 days to whom I felt uncomfortable declaring that it was my birthday, causing me to assume that there would be little to no celebration.  I was ok with that, but once someone found out, they made me feel quite special indeed!

The candle was a lotus flower that opened up into multiple candles and played happy birthday on repeat.  My birthday turned into a pseudo Jewish wedding when I ceremoniously crushed the candle with my foot to stop the music.  It took a few tries, but we silenced it eventually.

Some of my dear friends from the Oral Roberts University team!

   If you know me well enough, you'll know that I have dreamed of coming to China for quite a few years now.  In pursuit of that goal, I decided to study Chinese at college, while majoring in International Business.  Being here is almost surreal.  I look back to the many nights I spent asking our Father about direction for my future and, though I'm still just moving forward one step at a time, I feel so very blessed to finally be here.  I don't know where my steps will take me in years to come, but I know that I will hold on to these memories with fondness forever.

Summer Staff team - more stories about our adventures to come!