Thursday, February 12, 2015

Holidays in China

Hey y'all!

I've been meaning to sit down and write about my experiences with holidays in China for a while, but haven't yet(no excuses). But prompted by a recent email and by my parents telling me time and time again that "so and so said you need to post more pictures/update your blog", I am. I'm writing this while sitting in the back of a van on the way back from seeing some amazing rice terraces, so read at your own risk!  :] I could go back later and fix it or make it more cohesive, but then I'd never post it, so here you go!

Christmas Eve - Píng'ānYè 平安夜
Christmas - ShèngDànJié 圣诞节
Christmas in China is celebrated (I use the term loosely) differently than how I've experienced back home. China acknowledges Christmas and there will be decorations and Santas all over the malls and some shops. It's commercial Christmas and most people don't get the day off. Since Christmas is a Christian holiday, it makes sense that the country hasn't adopted more of an interest in it. 
Most people, especially students (this encompasses college students and younger) are typically very interested in how foreigners (为国人)celebrate Christmas, which normally lead to some great conversations. 
On Christmas Eve, it's traditional to give apples to your friends and family. This is because the Chinese for Christmas Eve is 平安夜Píng'ānYè and the Chinese for Apple is 平果Píngguǒ. It symbolizes safety and best wishes for others. 

Spending in China at Christmas the past two years wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought. Last year, Erin's family visited so we were surrounded by family and friends. This year, even though Erin was home, I was still surrounded by friends who are more like family. I went to fellowship in morning and was surrounded by friends from around the world! It was truly incredible.   I hosted a potluck in the afternoon for my foreign and Chinese friends and anyone who didn't have a place to go. We ate pizza, pulled pork, curry soup, Píngtán food, cinnamon rolls, breakfast casserole, egg tarts and so much more. We watched elf and both versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It was the first time some of our Chinese friends had celebrated Christmas. 
Being China for Christmas was truly a privilege. It stripped down all the commercialism (ironically) and makes you focus on what it's truly about and what's really important.  

New Years - XīnNián 新年
New Years in China is similar to back in the States. Most people have the day off, but it's celebrated differently by everyone. My friends and I had dinner together and went to celebrate at bar. We had New Years hats and even did the countdown, albeit by ourselves. There were fireworks somewhere (I could here them), but being in the middle of the city, I couldn't hear them. 
New Year's Day, we went to the hot springs to relax. 
Like I said, everyone celebrates differently, but I'm pretty sure no one in China ate cornbread and black-eyed peas, but I found out recently that neither do most people in the States! Crazy!! 

Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) - ChūnJié 春节
Spring Festival is the end of the Chinese lunar calendar and is the biggest and most important celebration in China. People have likened it to Christmas in the States. To put it simply, China shuts down. Literally. You've got to get your groceries early or you'll be without food for a day or, in some places, maybe a week. 
Most people go back to their hometown and spend the time with family. Some travel, while others just stay where they are. Very similar to Christmas in the West. 
Last year, I traveled all across SE Asia and even popped over to Hawaii. This year, I stayed in Fuzhou for the most part. I went with my friend Doria to LóngYán for a few days to see the famous Tǔlóu village. It's famous because there are 122 Tǔlóu (direct translation is soil building), most of them are round, although some are rectangular. Typically they are 5 floors and can house between 6-60 families, depending on the size. The oldest one is 800 years old. 
The tour guide told us a story, which has not been authenticated so take it for what it is.  According to the story, in the 70's, American pilots flew over the village. Their first thought was alien crop circles, then mushrooms, then army bases. So America sent troops in the check it out and found Chinese families instead of soldiers. Then everyone lived happily ever after. 
After LóngYán, I came to 桂林 Guìlín with Erin, which is where I am currently am, sitting in a van, on my way back from seeing the most incredible rice terraces. Pictures cannot do it justice, but better than any words I could use. 
Yesterday, we rented bikes and rode around the city. We were trying to find the Reed Flute Caves, but stumbled upon a village set between some of the mountains so we explored and were invited to eat lunch with the town, who eat together everyday. Despite the language barriers, I have never felt more welcomed. I have never been in a situation where perfect strangers invite others in for the sheet pleasure of feeding them and being in there company.  I left more in love with China and it's people.  
The cave was beautiful, but too commercialized in my opinion. 

I still have two more days in Guìlín before I head back to Fuzhou. Instead of traveling during the day if Spring Festival (February 18), I will go to Doria's hometown to celebrate with her family, so I'll update (VPN and internet willing) once I get back to Fuzhou at the end of February. 

If you've made it this far, keep in mind that everything I wrote was based on my experience in China, mainly Fuzhou. These in no way encompass all of the traditions and may not be accurate for everyone, but it's what I've experienced. 

春节快乐 Happy Spring Festival!!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Texas summers are sweeter than the tea!

Hey y'all!

It's midnight the day before I go back to China and I am NOT packed.  So what do I do?  Post pictures of the summer, watch a movie, and start writing on the blog that I have neglected for 5 months.

Many of the people that I have been catching up with have been asking about my blog, some have been strongly suggesting that I start it up again, and others have been demanding a comeback (Uncle Randy).  So to appease the crowds, here it is.

This summer has been a huge blessing for many reasons, big and small.  Here are some of them.
1. Standing next to my sister/best friend/PIC (partner in crime) on her wedding day
2. ^^^As she married her best friend
3. Watching the face of one of my longest time friends as he sees his bride for the first time.
4. All the amazing parties that accompany any wedding in Ennis, Texas
5. Being able to call my mom without having to find WiFi or take into account a 13hr time difference
6. Being able to pop into my dad's jobsite and see what he has been working on the past few years
7. Seeing all of my family and friends in person
8. The ability to bake cookies in an oven and not on a hot plate
9. Being able to pick on my brother!
10. BBQ
11. Realizing that with some people, you never skip a beat, even across the world
12. MY CAR (even though she is nearing the end of her life)
13. River trips
14. Two-stepping
15. Being able to see the stars
16. Country music on the radio
17. Christian music on the radio
18. Heck, songs on the radio that I understand
19. Meeting new sweet, sweet babies
20. Decorating a friends classroom and seeing all my old coworkers
21. Margaritas, Shiner, and queso
22. Walking around barefoot
23. Blue skies
24. Having a dryer
and last but certainly not least, 
25. Sweet tea

I could go on and on, but I think y'all get the point.  

Even though I will miss these things greatly when I go back (especially the blue skies ;] ), I am really looking forward to many things about going back to China. (**disclaimer**: there are not as many on this list, but that in no way reflects my feelings on returning to country across the pond)
1. Seeing my kiddos again!  (notice I only said see them ;] )
2. Continue the program that was started last school year
3. RUGBY!!  The team has recently entered the Chinese Rugby League, meaning we are now more legit and will play more games! 
4. Trying more new foods
5. Learning the language better.  My goal is to pass the Level 3 Competency test by the time I come home (I have currently passed Level 1)
6. Traveling more around China 
7. Learning to cook Chinese food so I can bring it back home
8. Being stretched even more outside of my comfort zone
9. Taking more pictures than last year
and last but certainly not least, 
10. Being apart of God's plan in a school, a city, and country that is hungry for Him.

I'm in a list-y mood right now, so I've got one more for y'all:  Ways to Pr@y
1. For me:  There are many ways that you could pray, but the most encompassing prayer would be for openness and contentment.  Openness to new ideas, to new things, to new people, and to being stretched.  Contentment in my job, in times of longing, and to where I am.
2. For the school year/my students: That this year is fruitful and that the program is strengthened.  That our kiddos are healthy and happy and open to all that they are being shown and taught.
3. Safe travels this year, not only for me, but for anyone traveling.  

Thanks for taking the time out to read my rambles. I've got a busy week next week, full of plane flying (not me personally, but wouldn't that be cool/fun/terrifying), apartment moving, classroom prepping, and TCU cheering so I'll keep y'all updated!

But before any of that can happen, I have to finish packing.

Go Frogs!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Big News and a Couple Updates

First of all, I know that I have completely dropped the ball on posting updates. I won't say that I'll be better, because that is a promise I have yet to keep thus far, and I don't want to be a liar. :]

Now for the good stuff.
The Updates:
-Rugby is going really well! We've got a big tournament coming up in two weeks and I am beyond excited to play in my first match!
-School has done a complete 180* from last semester. I have my own classroom and I am working with two amazing Chinese teachers. I am also only teaching 2-4 year olds now  instead of 2-6 year olds. My kids are crazy, but it's to be expected. Most of them tell me that they want to come to America with me, so if I have a little more baggage when I come home, y'all know why! ;]
We also just took our first field trip to the most exciting and magical place in the world:WalMart! Haha we have been studying the supermarket so we took 40+ kids with their 40+ parents and invaded WalMart! They had a blast and so did I. Next month, we will go to the zoo! I think I will be more excited than the kids!

The News:
I will be returning back to the wonderful land of Texas at the end of June! I'll get to spend the summer enjoying family, friends, weddings, two-stepping, home cooked food, and driving again. Once I fill up on food and 100* weather, I'm coming back for another year in China!  Yes, I do miss home. Yes, I do miss family and friends and yes, there are many days that I wish it were easier, but it's so much more than that. It's hard for me to put into words, but staying just feels right. I'm not ready to leave for good yet (although I am beyond excited to be home this summer).

The decision to come back for another year wasn't as difficult as I imagined it would be. I realized that I've wanted to stay since Taiwan. The hard part for me was deciding what I wanted to do if I stayed. After much thought, pr@yer, and just letting some things go, I made the decision to stay at the kindergarten. Since then, I've fallen more and more in love with my class and I am so excited that I will get to be with them again next year.

I don't know what the distant future looks like yet, but I'm ok not knowing right now.  I know that I'm where I need to be at this time.

Oh, fun fact, the day I land at dFW will be exactly one year to the date that I left!! Crazy huh?!?

Much love from China and see all you Texans in 73 days!!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures!!

National Day (Week)
Map of Hangzhou
Map of Hangzhou
This is a club....
How strange.... People were dressed like nutcrakers also...
Our lovely boat captain!
View at hour 14 of the 15 hour train ride....never again!

Bungee Jumping!!
This is what I jumped from!
Even though it may look like it, I was NOT pushed. I jumped on my own!
Making Lanterns!

Fish Ball Soup from my 6th Graders

My 6th Graders!

The balls are made of fish and the the inside is meat (it's not really ever more specific than that though...)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It's About Time!

It’s been over a month since I last posted, so I will attempt to catch you up on all that has been going on.

At the beginning of October, China celebrated National Day and it lasted a week.  During that week, I went bungee jumping (from the tallest bungee jumping place in China!  It was AMAZING!!!), to Hangzhou, and experienced my first 15 hr slow train ride.  The latter was a mistake, one that I will NOT make again! Haha

I also took my first field trip during October.  We went to a memorial called Yushan and guess what, it was all in Chinese, so I can’t tell you too much about it.  There were traditional temples there and it was truly amazing how a group of 20+ 5 year olds can go from being, well a normal group of 20+ 5 year olds yelling and running to quiet and reverent. Even at such a young age, they can recognize that Temples are special places.

As crazy as my schedule is and as crazy as it makes me, I wouldn’t change it!  If it changed, then I wouldn’t be teaching my 4th, 5th, and 6th graders and they have become my favorite part of the week. This could be due to the fact that my 6th graders have now made me breakfast on 2 different occasions or that I can have conversations with them, or maybe, just maybe, I do enjoy teaching older grades.  Who knows!  All I know is that they have quickly become my favorite part of the week!

We visited the University that is affiliated with our Kindergarten and saw/learned two things that are worth noting.  First, everyone that attends university also must join the military (like ROTC in the States). EVERYONE.  Second, at the Teacher Universities, students have to take four specialty courses before they can become teachers: piano, dance (ballet style), art, and singing!  Crazy huh?!?  Needless to say, if the States was like this, I probably would not be a teacher right now!  I would have loved the singing class, been frustrated by the art class, kicked out of the dance class (unless it was two-stepping), and maybe learn how to play the piano.

Next comes Halloween. As an American, I am an expert on all things American, like Halloween. That being said, Erin, Chris (expat from England), and I got to plan a school wide Halloween party.  Imagine 100+ 4 year olds doing a group dance, then rotating stations to do Halloween crafts.  If you are picturing kids running around screaming and dancing, then you aren’t too far off. Haha Honestly though, it wasn’t as crazy as we thought it would be.  And even though Halloween hasn’t been at the top of my favorite holiday list, it was fun to see how differently it is celebrated here versus at home.  At home, it is more of a big deal at home than in school (especially public schools) and here, it’s the opposite. 

I have been taking Chinese lessons for the past two months now.  First off, for any of you who don't already know, Chinese is very practical and straightforward. There's no fluff and it is only spoken in present tense (hooray for no verb conjugations!!). But Chinese is also very hard. There are 4 different tones that completely change a words meaning. But that same word in the same tone can mean 10+ different words, depending on the character and context. For those of you who know me, you know that I didn't like school growing up (I know, I know! Ironic). I would even go as far as trying to pretend I was sick (notice how I said “trying”).  So this process should be interesting and fun, hard and frustrating, but the way I see it is I am gaining more empathy for my students here and at home that are learning English.  And I will (hopefully) be able to say that I can speak Mandarin!

That's what I've been doing, but I figure that if you made it this far, you deserve to know how my head and heart are as well. It's been tough being here (which I expected). There are days when I take it in stride and others where I don't. I've been thinking a lot about next year and what I want to do. My heart longs for normalcy and to be back in my old life, but in my head I know that even if I went home today, nothing would be the same. I know that what I miss are my “people”.  The people who know my heart and I know theirs. The people I have been doing life with, that I share struggles with, that I share good times with.  I know that in order for me to enjoy my time here, I have to find those people here and let them in. I also need to stop looking at the future and enjoy my time here and now.  For now I take comfort in knowing that I am where He wants me and that as long as I am striving for Him, the plan will be made known.  I don’t want to look back at this experience in 5 or 10 years and realize that I let my feelings ruin what could have been an amazing year.

As always, thanks for reading, for the thoughts, and all the other stuff!

I will post pictures ASAP!

Peace, Love, and Go Frogs!  (frog is Tiánjī田鸡)


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Influencing the lives of the next Chinese generation!


School has been in full swing since the Mid-Autumn Day Festival (also called Moon Festival).  It is a celebration of the day when the moon is out longer than most days, providing more light for farmers so they can continue harvesting their crops in to the night.  We had last Thursday and Friday off, but had to make it up by working Sunday.  So even though, it's Thursday, it is day 5 of work.  It is also my first week that I am actually teaching my full schedule, and let's just say they are making me use every bit of my Teaching Certification (Early Childhood through 6th grade) but I LOVE it!

Here is my schedule:
8:00-9:30      Plan time
9:30-11:00    Teacher Toddler and Nursery Classes (I go to each class and teach an hour of English once a week)
*Wednesdays from 8:00-11:00  Teach 4th, 5th, and 6th grade at the local elementary, 50 in each class
11:00-12:00  Plan time
12:00-2:30    Lunch (it's great isn't it!)
2:30-4:45      1/2 Day International Class (kids from all the other Chinese classes come to me for English instruction every afternoon.  Kids range from 2.5-6)
**Tuesdays 4:45-5:45   Teach an after school English class

I NEVER thought I would say this, but I LOVE my 4th, 5th, and 6th graders!  I am teaching a 10 week series on traveling to the USA.  They will learn (hopefully) how to have conversations about everything from the airport and shopping, to ordering food and how great Texas (and other places) is!  
After just one class, they have already learned the most important thing (how to take a TCU worthy picture..see below :] ), had tons of questions, and can't wait to learn more about the USA.  They also cheered for me when I told them that I would give them English names.  I am very excited!

So to all you fellow Frogs, know that TCU pride has made it to China!

Go Frogs!

4th Grade

 5th Grade

6th Grade

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Lot Can Happen in 2 Weeks


First of all, I apologize for not blogging more!  Hopefully things will begin to settle down and I will get in to a better routine.

Here's what you've missed (bullet points first)

  • Goodbye Dinner with all the Cornel Teachers
  • Went to Hong Kong to get my Visa
  • Arrived in Fuzhou, moved in to the apartment, and started teaching
  • Went back to Hong Kong for my Visa
  • Teacher's Day in China
(pictures of everything at the bottom)

Hong Kong: Part 1
We (Erin and I) left Taichung on August 28th to go to Hong Kong to get our Work Visas for China.  We were supposed to be able to go, drop off all of our paperwork, and pick it up the next day.  In the meantime, we planned to explore. Well, Murphy's Law happened. If something (related to our Visas) could go wrong, it did. China required (keep the past tense in mind later during Hong Kong: Part 2) people getting Work Visas to have a Physical Health Exam done.  We got them done in the States, had them notarized by local and State notary's and approved by the Chinese Consulate in Houston.  For those of you who weren't firsthand witnesses to the saga, let's just say it was stressful. Fast forward back to Hong Kong.  Those documents weren't accepted.  We had to get the exam done in Hong Kong or China.  We eventually just got a 30 day visitor Visa and planned to do the health exam in China.

Putting all of the Visa mess aside though, Hong Kong was wonderful!  We went on a beautiful sunset dinner cruise around Victoria Harbor and my boots made their Asian debut!  I got a lot of envious looks as I walked around. :]  

Key differences between Taiwan and Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong drivers, walkers, and cyclers all do so on the opposite side of the road
  • While the MTR is big in Taiwan, it wasn't everywhere.  In Hong Kong though, the MTR was the main way to get anywhere
  • There are many more harbors and ferries in Hong Kong (at least in a more condensed area)

Fuzhou (pronounced fu-joe)
We arrived in Fuzhou around 2:30am Saturday (31st), and had a meet the parents at 9:00am that day!  It was fun meeting the parents though.  Most of them could not speak English, so we would explain the curriculum and then it would be translated.  It was interesting being on that side of the situation.  

School has been interesting.  Traditional Chinese schools (at least Kindergartens) are pretty similar to U.S. schools in the fact that they strive for structure, but allow for fun.  Upper Chinese school may be different, but I have no experience with that, so I won't say one way or another. Our school though takes on a new approach.  It is a Montessori type school, meaning they encourage exploration, creativity, curiosity, and discovery.  I don't have any experience in teaching this way, so it's been interesting to say the least, but I am willing to learn.  

Here are the logistics of my class:
-I only teach in the afternoon (my class is a pull out English class, so they are from many different Chinese classes.  In the morning, I will be teaching at a public elementary though)
-I don't have a classroom (I did take over the science room in the afternoons though)
-I have 10 kids on my roster, but will be getting more. Only 1 of the 10 can somewhat communicate with me at this point.
-I have no Chinese teacher/translator, so if a kid is saying something to me in Chinese, it could be anything from "you're the best Teacher Jodi!" to "you are talking to fast" to "you look silly and I won't listen." Really, the sky is the limit with my class.
-I teach a multi-aged class, meaning my kids are between the ages of 2.5-almost 6 years old.

I will definitely learn a lot this year and be prepared for much more when I return to the States!

Everyone at the school is very helpful and nice.  They also want to take us to see places and to do different things.  One of the Chinese teachers (Lim) took us to the park to go dancing.  Here is a video.  

So crazy!  At one point I was dancing with a different, slower, older group and Erin looked down and said I stood out really bad!  This could have been for many reasons. Maybe it was my white shirt; maybe it was because I was at LEAST a step behind everyone; it was probably because I was the ONLY foreigner down there.  :]
Once again though, there were some ladies who went out of their way to include us in it.

It has definitely been harder here than in Taiwan.  We aren't around any other foreigners(one of the two that I have met was actually born in Ennis!!  What a small world!!)  and people aren't used to foreigners.  They are learning how to relate to us just as we are learning to relate to them and live in their world.  I know that at the end, it will be worth it though! 

We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 

It is already better though, because my flags and pictures are hanging proudly!!

Hong Kong: Part 2
We went back to Hong Kong with every piece of paperwork the Chinese Consulate could possibly need and even made copies of it all just to be on the safe side.  We walked in and were told that we had the old forms (even though we got forms less than a week before), so we filled them out and waited.  When it was my turn, I gave the lady all of my papers, she shuffled through them and handed me all the copies back as well as my Physical exam that I had redone in China.  I told her that she needed it (because everyone loves being told what they need for their job...) and she said that she didn't.  So I made sure she knew that I wanted a work Visa, and she said that as of September 1st (two days after we were there the first time), they no longer require physical examination.  In these types of situations, there are many ways to react.
1. Cry
2. Get angry and yell
3. Burst out in laughter, causing other to question whether you are ok or not.
I chose #3.  
Even though loads of stress was essientially for nothing, it makes me appreciate my Visa and my passport has become even more valuable to me!  

The rest of our time in Hong Kong was great, once again.  We went to The Peak and saw a 360* view of Hong Kong.  Being able to see the whole island was amazing!  

We also went to Cheung Chau, an outlying island, by ferry. As we were hiking a trail on the way to see a cave, we walked past some huge rocks. My natural instinct was to climb them, so I did. That was the prettiest view by far!  It was also a view that I am sure not many people get, probably because they know NOT to climb the rocks.  
On the way back from the island, we sat outside on the deck of the ferry.  In that moment, with no building, no smog, surrounded by the ocean, and seeing stars for the first time in a long time, I felt extremely comfortable and at home.  I suppose that you can take the girl out of the country, but can't take the country out of the girl.

This whole experience has really opened my eyes to how people act around new, strange people.  There are many responses when you see something/one new or different.
1. You stare. When the new person smiles or says hello, you can: 
(a) smile, 
(b) look them up and down, or 
(c) keep staring.
2. You smile.
3. You smile, say hello, and begin a conversation (lots of gesturing).
I hope that I am and will always be someone who smiles, says hello, and tries to make them feel a little bit more comfortable and a little less out of place.  I know that I have definitely appreciated it.

I promise to keep trying to post more frequently, and hopefully now that I am settled in, I will be able to do so.  

Love y'all!  Thanks for reading and sorry it is so long!

The School

My "Classroom"
WanDa Plaza
There is a WALMART HERE!!
This is what happens when you order food without being able to ask how many people it serves...
My Room
Aside from the greatness of the flags, please notice the quilt, which my grandma made for the trip, and the pillowcase, which my great aunt made for the trip!
This wall will be of all the places I visit this year.  I can't wait to add more!
Going old school on the laundry!  
Then I put it in my "closet"  :]
Hong Kong
Just driving on the other side of the road... no big deal
Before the Harbor Cruise.
Please notice that my boots who have now been worn in Asia!

Sony, Panasonic, Espon, Samsung, Toshiba, and Canon, among many others, crowd the shore line


St. John's Cathedral in Hong Kong

View from the rocks we climbed
View from the rocks we climbed

This is the path we were supposed to be on...

"Wǒ tīng bù dǒng" I don't understand what this says...hopefully not "please don't climb on the rocks"