Monday, April 27, 2009

Lost at Sea

Yesterday, a friend and I braved a local market. Let me explain braved. This area is where most people go to purchase goods for resale in their own shops throughout the city. You are not able to see the streets for the thousands and thousands of heads. It is like being lost at sea, tossed this way and that by the passing waves of bodies. If you do not know your way around, you can easily get sucked into the undertow and not be able to get out. The market goes for miles. It is somewhat organized though, there are districts; the shoe district, the district for knitting wool, the fabric district, clothing, watches, cigarette lighters, and so on. But, within each of these districts is a maze of winding streets, some that turn back into others and some that just dead-end. I have never seen so many shoes in all my life. Acres and acres of shops, buildings with three or four stories all filled with shops selling the exact same shoes. I guess with millions of customers, there is no need for competitive pricing or location. We were on the hunt for fabric and people to practice Chinese with, and a nice young man drew us a map to help us on our way. Surprisingly, the directions were spot on. Usually we get turned in several directions. Even the fabric section was overwhelming. We wandered through booth after booth, following people who wanted to show us their wares. It was exhausting but served as an excellent language practice session since we had to learn new vocabulary: fabric, yards, clothes, etc. We must have been treading water out there for almost five hours. Needless to say, as soon as we reached our apartments, we crashed!
Don't open a shop unless you like to smile.
Chinese Proverbs

A blind bloke walks into a shop with a guide dog. He picks the Dog up and starts swinging it around his head. Alarmed, a shop assistant calls out: 'Can I help, sir?' 'No thanks,' says the blind bloke. 'Just looking.'
Tommy Cooper

Sunday, April 26, 2009

回国家 (二)

There are many things I will miss about being here, even for only three months. My new friends especially, they are what makes being here worth the sacrifice. I know we will be missed here and that is something special. I know our friends at home miss us, really miss us (right?). That knowledge, along with being accepted and loved just for who we are is a special gift and I thank you. Having that no matter where we are is, well, indescribable. There is a kind of freedom that comes with not having to prove anything to anyone, just being me. I have found a bit of inner strength here too that I was unaware of. The necessity of traveling alone in crowded buses or riding my bike in busy streets at night or any time I face the city on my own has forced me to step away from the wall and even from Frank's shadow! I am even more convinced that I am never really alone and my appreciation has been taken to a new level. For these things, I am grateful for this opportunity.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chinese Students

Chinese children are very good students. Their classes are strictly regimented. They are taught to memorize everything. This can make it difficult and easy for those of us who teach English. They can memorize very complex sentences but many are unable to understand what they mean or how to respond to questions about the sentence. This is where our TESOL training comes in handy. With games, dancing, singing and pantomime, we help them get the sense of what they have memorized and can increase their vocabulary. It is much more productive to get them out of their chairs and talking. You should see their faces when they get it. It is fun to get them out of the normal routine of following everyone else and see their personalities come out.

" A mind is a terrible thing to waste"

Friday, April 24, 2009

Coming Home 回国家 (hui guo jia) Part 1

It is official! We have booked our return flight for June 3rd. I am so excited!!! We have decided to return to China after the summer to continue our work and study. My mind tells me it just makes sense to do so, but my heart screams with pictures of friends and family that I miss terribly, and so my heart and my mind struggle to coexist peacefully. I understand now how difficult it must be for others who move abroad and are not able to come home for sometimes three years. Their endurance fills me with awe and makes me wonder if I will ever measure up. Friends here have informed me that if I plan to return, I must prepare my heart for the departure ahead of time or it will be too painful. I think this is good advice. But for now, my heart has moved ahead and filled my thoughts with preparations for our return. What to pack, what to leave behind, what to bring our friends, who will look after our place here, etc. A friend of mine is also leaving around the same time. She is going through the same mental struggle. She has also already started packing. It is hard to contain our excitement. Sometimes we wonder if we are too excited, considering we will not be staying. Where do you find the balance? These are my thoughts today.
"There's No Place Like Home"
There is nothing like FRIENDS!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Flower Market

There is a street in Bangkok that blooms at night. At dusk, trucks, wheelbarrows, dolleys, baskets and armloads of newspaper wrapped flowers are unloaded. By the time the last rays of sunlight have slipped away, a work of art has been created as the entire street becomes one large, fragrant bouquet. Flowers play an integral part in Thai culture. This country is 95% Buddhist and flowers are used in their worship. Wreaths are placed in vehicles on rear-view mirrors, they hang from boats, people wear them and they are on altars and spirit houses at almost every corner. Everywhere you go, you see people threading tiny white buds and yellow flowers into wreaths to sell. The city smells like flowers. The Tree of Victory which blooms bright yellow flowers such as the ones seen below hanging in bags on a truck, is considered the symbol of Buddhism. It is also considered the royal color, the color of Monday, the day of the Royal King’s birth. Another interesting thing is the absolute reverence for their king and queen. There are as many pictures of them as there are of flowers. You can’t go into a shop or market, home, or even down the street without seeing them. Billboards are posted one right after the other with them at different ages. They are in their 80’s now and are adored by all. When praises are sung about them at a certain time every day, all must stand and wait until they are done. It is considered very rude to step on a coin because the king’s head is on it. Apparently, that goes for paper money as well. Lesson learned. Feet are considered the nastiest part of the body and the head the highest. Feet are not allowed to point toward others or toward their household shrines which means you wouldn’t put a shrine at the foot of your bed, it must hang on the wall at the head unless you have room in another part of the apartment not facing the foot. Interesting. How do they keep up with all the rules? You greet someone by putting your hands together in front of your face, bowing slightly and saying sawadeeka (or kapp, if you are a man). Who you greet affects how high you place your hands and don’t do it at all to a child or you would have killed them! Thai culture is full of such customs. They are lenient with foreigners but if you are going to visit, do some research first. The less offensive you are, the nicer they will be.

Back To Life, Back To Reality

Vacation is over and life is beginning to return to normal. That is, normal Chinese style. Today I realized how much I didn't miss the noise, crowded buses and the staring. I also realized how much I did miss talking with people and practicing my Chinese. We met several today who were willing to patiently have a conversation with us, speaking slowly and helping us when we didn't get it. I even found a place that will make some clothes for me. Mine are literally falling apart, sad to say. I have the habit of only buying one or two pairs of anything and wearing them out completely before replacing them. That is ok in the States, but they get so much more wear here, that after only 6 months I have lost a pair of jeans, several shirts and two pairs of shorts to holes and rips. The shorts fell apart in Thailand and were all I brought. Thankfully, I was able to find a replacement pair or I would have had to wear a skirt! No Way! If you are considering moving here, keep this in mind. Make sure your clothes are well made and bring a few spares. Anyway, hopefully I will have a new pair of shorts by next week and a Chinese dress. We will see if they make it to fit a western figure.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Close Calls

After our boat fiasco in Yangshuo we thought that was the worst of it. That's because we hadn't met our driver yet. Evidently, rain and muddy roads mean speed up, not slow down in China. Check out the video, how many close calls can you count? It was all great fun though and we wouldn't have missed it for the world.


Chinese Spring Cleaning

Water appears to be the theme of our entire vacation. It rained pretty much the entire time in Yangshuo, we got stranded on a wrecked boat up a river, Took a boat ride up the river in Thailand during another thunderstorm, got soaked during their water festival, and swam in the ocean during a thunderstorm. To top it off, the morning of our flight back, we awoke to several inches of water in the bedroom we were staying in. Their washing machine water line valve came loose and their 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment was floating the next morning. The laundry room alone had almost 8 inches of water that washed into the living room when we opened the door to shut the water off. Thankfully, the laundry room, balcony and bathroom all have drains, and with brooms, buckets and mops, we pushed the water out in about an hour. Most of everyone’s clothes were soaked but not too much was lost. Sorry I don’t have pictures but we were a little busy. Plus, I promised them I would keep this story anonymous. Their router shorted out but it could have been so much worse, because we all had laptops and there were other electronics, but they were all ok. Thank goodness for breaker boxes! They handled it really well and we just chocked it up to another water based adventure! At least they have their spring cleaning done, even the mattress got "washed". Don’t you wish you could just spray down your house and sweep it all outside? Go for it! Just make sure to elevate everything of value that doesn’t respond well to flooding.

It is wise to bring some water, when one goes out to look for water
Arab Proverb

Friday, April 17, 2009

Picture Album

Here are some of the sights from our vacation. I will have to do several of these as you know me and my camera. I have a ton of pictures. Hope you enjoy!