Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Wishing you & your family a season full of joy, peace & hope as we celebrate the birth of Our King. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Celebrating Thanksgiving Overseas

It's hard to find turkeys in China, but Taobao makes it easier.  Taobao is like eBay or Amazon in that individuals and businesses can sell items through their platform (each has their own storefront).  And fortunately for us, one of those items is imported foods.  Like turkey!  This year we went with two Norbest turkeys and they showed up at my door less than 24 hours after I placed my order.  Shipping in China amazes me.  

My friend and I modeling the new double oven and occupants. :-)*
So, my friend and I tackled cooking the turkeys.  Neither of us had cooked a turkey before, but armed with a lot of confidence and Martha Stewart recipes, we jumped right in.  It was a total success!  Surprising, right?  Since we were hosting at our house, we cooked the turkeys here to save time transporting them and such.  Well, our teeny oven could barely hold one turkey so I borrowed another one.  My new double oven was more than adequate for the task!  It was a bit tricky basting the bird in the top oven, but we quickly learned that tag teaming was the way to go.  I will interject here that the next day my biceps were very sore.  We got our workout in lifting those turkeys in and out!

The football participants (and Samson - they needed a sixth man)*
We made a whole day of Thanksgiving.  Activities focused on thankfulness (or "thanksgivities" as they were dubbed) were shared throughout the day to bring our attention to being thankful.  We started with lunch, followed by some football for the boys and then topped it all off with some of the best tasting food I have had in awhile.  Last year, I made the green bean casserole from scratch.  It was time consuming and I had to remake the fried onions (yes, you can make your own!).  This year, a friend of ours who parents were visiting brought in the necessary components for a green bean casserole.  Canned foods baked in a casserole dish never tasted so good.  

"Brian" the brined turkey*
"Chester" the cheese clothed turkey (see Martha's recipe)*
Rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, corn casserole, salad and Beijing duck finished off the menu. We didn't have enough plates, glasses or silverware, but friends willingly donated their wares to adorn the table in a mismatched fashion that worked out pretty well.  The tablecloth I found on Taobao (I tell you that site is amazing).  Thankfulness abounded as we sat around and shared food, smiles and warm conversation.  Dessert was readily accepted and three hours after carving up Brian and Chester (yes, we named the birds), people slowly and sluggishly pushed themselves away from the table.  
The table setting - red plates over here, purple over there :-)*
Enjoying ourselves*
I'm so thankful for this community of friends we were able to share this Thanksgiving with!  It was an amazing day and as we sat and shared in the meal, my heart was happy.  God has blessed us so much in this foreign land - even giving us turkey!  We have a lot to be thankful for. 

Turkey coma!*
*All photos courtesy of Taylor 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Exploring Nanjing: The Wetlands Park

I was going to take a nap this afternoon, but when I finally sat down to nap and saw that it was 5:00...well, I decided instead to put on New Girl and write a blog post.  Why not?  And it's a funny one, Schmidt's OCD is, well, OCD.  Ha.

Several weeks ago, when it was warm and sunny and fall was still here, we took an afternoon to explore a park near our home.  Living in a city of 7 million people, we are always looking for ways to see and experience nature and escape the people.  It's hard.  Nanjing has some great parks with lots of trees and grass, however, usually they are filled with people.  Fortunately for us this park wasn't! 

The Wetlands park is a little south and a little east of the city proper.  We heard about it through a friend and were excited to check it out.  With our friend who was visiting in tow, we set out to find the park at the end of the rainbow.  And we found it.  And it was awesome.   Here is our photo proof. 

See, isn't this park cool?  Ok, so it's not really wetlands.  At one point it probably was, it kinda looks like it should be, minus the boardwalk. We also climbed this cool "bird watching tower" (that I regrettably don't have a picture of).  The Hubby said it looked liked something out of Zelda.  The park also had an interpretative center for kids.  It looked neat but we didn't go in it.  We did, however, take advantage of the props outside (see picture below).

The bird on the right is the mascot for the park, the lamb (at least that's what I think it is) on the left is a famous cartoon character over here, and the cute guy sticking his face through it?  Well, he's taken. 

It was a fun day and I'm glad we got to explore somewhere new.  Now that it is starting to get colder, I'm not sure we'll visit this park again soon.  But hopefully next Spring we can have a picnic or two here with our friends.  And maybe next time we'll visit the interpretative center. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Chinese Hospital Experience

**Thank you for all your emails, comments and heartfelt words in response to the news of our miscarriage.  We appreciate all your kind words and prayers on our behalf.**

One of the hardest parts of our miscarriage experience was the cultural stress that came from so many visits to the hospital.  I mentioned in my last post that the hospital visit and admission itself needed its own blog post - well, here's that post! In our city there is an “international” hospital.  Really, it’s Taiwanese, so it’s still Chinese but not as Chinese as a Chinese hospital (if that makes sense).  At the hospital, there is a VIP wing that you could compare to a clinic in the States.  All the nurses and receptionists speak English and the process to see the doctor is just like a doctor’s office in the States.  However, it seems at the VIP wing it takes about 2-3 hours for a normal appointment.  The first time we went we were there for 3 hours.  During which we saw the doctor, had an ultrasound (where we got to see the heartbeat, I was 7 weeks pregnant – pretty cool), and did a lot of waiting.  This is not how your average Chinese person sees their doctor.

For the everyday Chinese, you see your doctor at the hospital, not at an office or clinic.  In fact, there aren’t many clinics that I know of (my friend was telling me they are becoming more common where we live, but I haven’t seen one in our neighborhood).  To give you some cultural insight, here’s a quick breakdown of the hospital experience. 

When you arrive at the hospital, you go to the registration desk (where they don’t speak English), tell them which doctor you would like to see and pay the doctor’s fee.  This is the tricky part because you have to know who you need to see to get the right care.  Everything in China is specialized.  So, if you have an ear infection, you ask to go see the Ear, Nose & Throat doctor.  I am not sure what you do if you don’t really know what’s wrong with you.  Fortunately, we haven’t had to figure that out yet.  To see a doctor at the hospital, you don’t have to make an appointment, but you can.  I saw my doctor twice in the main hospital, once with an appointment and once without, but I couldn’t tell you the difference except that if you have an appointment you can skip registration.

After registration, you head to the waiting area of the doctor you are going to see.  This is where it is interesting, at the hospital they gave me an electronic card with all my information on it.  Once we got to the waiting area, my name showed up on the screen in some sort of order of when I get to see which doctor.  The screen is kind of confusing to understand, but when it’s your turn, your name comes up in big letters and they call it over the loudspeaker.  Since I’m not Chinese, they spelled my name out over the loudspeaker.  First, last and middle name.  Too funny. 

You head to your doctor's small office.  For the OBGYN doctors, they have a little room with their computer and an exam room next door.  It is private.  It was worried about this because I heard at some Chinese hospitals the gynecologist sees multiple patients, all at once, in one room with no privacy.  Yes, I know.  Sounds like something I never want to experience.  I think this is the difference between the Taiwanese hospital and other Chinese hospitals in the city, but I’m just guessing. 

If there are any tests you need done, your doctors orders them for you.  For me, because I was seeing my doctor as a follow up to a miscarriage, he ordered an ultrasound.  Instead of the nurse taking up to the ultrasound room, he swipes my card, gives it back and tells me to go back to the cashier to pay for the ultrasound, and after the ultrasound to bring him back the results. 

So, we head back towards reception and get in the cashier line; they swipe my card and I pay for the ultrasound.  After this we go upstairs where my name is now on the screen outside the ultrasound area.  They must do a hundred ultrasounds an hour.  I am not exaggerating.  I was in and out in less than five minutes and there are 7 rooms where they are performing ultrasounds.  It is crazy.  I had to go in alone, they wouldn’t let anyone come with me, and during the ultrasound they wouldn’t let me see the screen.  It was impersonal, but incredibly efficient.

After the ultrasound, I grab a printout of my results and go back to see my doctor.  This is where I really got confused because I couldn’t figure out on the screen if my name was in the queue to see him or in the “already seen the doctor” column.  So, instead I hovered by his office door to hand the nurse the results as she shuffled in and out answering questions.  Both times she pointed to the waiting area and told me to wait.  Anyways, eventually I was called back to see him.  

It is so interesting to me how this system works.  It’s impersonal, yet because it is impersonal, they are able to see a lot of patients every day.  And it’s cheap.  Really cheap.  To see my doctor in the VIP area is 300RMB (about $50) and an ultrasound in the VIP area is 300RMB.  To see the same doctor downstairs in the hospital is 32RMB ($5!!!) and the ultrasound was 160RMB (about $26).  The price difference is crazy.  In the VIP you are paying for English service, no lines, and the comfort of the environment.  Downstairs you get through much faster (even though there are more people), but because you are surrounded by people, you are also surrounded by germs, and you have to navigate the system yourself. 

Fascinating isn’t it?  It was stressful the first time I went in, but by the second time (in the same week) I had it almost figured out. 

The really fun part was when I had to be admitted to the hospital for the D&C, that was a bit different.  After I got back to my doctor with the ultrasound results, he took one look at the printout and told us that I needed a D&C.  He could do it that day, but I needed to decide right away because it was already 11:30am and he could get me into the operating room at 3:00, but I would need to be admitted now.  

So, after we agree to the procedure, he gave me some paperwork and pointed in the direction of the inpatient admission registration.  We went up to the desk and the lady directed us over to a number machine (you know, like you use at the bank or the DMV).  Our number was 190, currently they were seeing number first thought was "how long is this going to take?"  And then, after looking around at all the empty chairs, "Where are the supposedly 120 people in front of me?" There were five total other people in the waiting area.  After 45 minutes of waiting, they finally started calling lots of numbers, without waiting for 190 to show up, we went up to the desk and they checked me in.  They didn't even ask what number I was.  There are some things in China I will never figure out...

During admission, they had us pay all the money up front.  I can't remember exactly how much it was, but apparently in China you prepay for surgery and then any money you don't use gets reimbursed afterwards.  They couldn't charge my US credit card or run my debit card and the hospital didn't have an ATM, but fortunately my friend with me had her China bank card and they were able to charge that, otherwise, I would've had to go ATM hunting.  After registration, a nurse took me upstairs to prep me for surgery and get me into my room.  They put me in the maternity ward.  Does anyone else find this strange and, maybe, a bit insensitive for someone receiving a D&C?  Fortunately, several of the nurses recognized me from when my visited my friend who had her baby there a week earlier, so I felt at ease.  But I still think it's strange they put me in the maternity ward to have a procedure that was the result of losing a pregnancy. 

After the blood work and I signed all the paperwork (that I couldn't read and they couldn't translate - too many technical words, I guess), they said I needed an EKG to make sure I was healthy for surgery.  No big deal.  Except the EKG room is on the other side of the hospital.  After a 20 min excursion to the furthest wing of the hospital (ok, maybe it wasn't that far, but it felt really far), I was able to receive the 30 second test (which I passed) and then walk all the way back to my room.  Different, right? 

3:00 rolls around and they wheel me into surgery.  The operating room nurse remembered me from when my friend had her baby the week before (she ended up having a C-section), which I thought was amazing since I literally saw her for two seconds after the baby was born.  After surgery, I was back in the room by 4:15 or so.  They kept me on the IV until 6:15 when my doctor graciously broke protocol and let me go home.  Usually, women are kept overnight after a D&C.  I think all the nurses thought I was crazy for not wanting to stay overnight, but two hours on the hospital bed were enough for me!  Steven had to go back the next morning at 10:00am to officially check me out since I left after the registration desk was closed (or something like that, I didn't really understand the reason).  

So there you have it, a Chinese hospital experience!  I think mine really wasn't that bad.  I've heard firsthand accounts of others waiting four hours to get an MRI. It was stressful at times and definitely different than what we would have experienced in the States, some part goods and some parts not-so-good.  Overall, the nurses were great and very sweet and my doctor was as accommodating as he could be.  And it was so inexpensive.  When it was all said and done, the total cost for the D&C was 2,350RMB or $385.  That included the surgery and a night in the hospital (that I didn't use).  I think a room alone in the States is more than that. 

I am thankful to have this experience behind me.  And I'm thankful that I'm at a place where I can blog about this without getting upset.  God has definitely provided peace in this area - especially because it was all such an emotional and stressful experience.

On a side note, another friend of mine just had her baby last week at the same hospital (a month after my surgery).  We went to go visit her and the nurse on duty was the same one who checked me in for my D&C.  She remembered me and was excited to see me.  I feel like I know half the staff of the maternity ward between my surgery and visiting two friends who had babies recently.  Maybe next time I won't have to take a number. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Experiencing Loss: Our Pregnancy Story

**This blog post was difficult, yet important for me to write.  I am writing this not because I want to expose our hurts for the sake of exposure, but because I feel it is significant emotional event and sharing about this is part of the process of healing.**

We had just decided to tell "round 2" of people we were pregnant.  Our immediate families found out at the end of July just after we did.  We found out one week before we left to come back to China, and were excited to share the news with our families in person.  After trying for only a few months, it seemed very surreal.  Even more so when my family took us to Target to go shopping just an hour after hearing the news.  Needless to say, everyone was excited there would be a baby in April.

After arriving back in China, morning sickness set in.  Actually, it was more like all day sickness with the worst time being after dinner.  We made appointments, saw the baby's heartbeat and started planning for the upcoming arrival.  Baby was dubbed "Little Bear" and we talked about Little Bear a lot.  I was nervous and excited, however, had I not been so sick I don't think I would have even felt pregnant.  But I was, indeed, pregnant.

On September 17th that all changed.

I woke up and discovered I was spotting and also had cramps.  As I sat in the bathroom trying to understand what was happening, fear started to set in.  The Hubby was asking, "What should I do?  Should I go to class?  Do you want me to stay home with you?"  Not knowing myself what to do, I told him to go to class and I'll call the doctor.  I was hoping if we went on with life as normal, it would be normal.  Ayi was coming in 10 minutes, he had class at 8:00 - just continue on with life and everything would be fine.  I called the doctor's office and 15 minutes later my doctor returned my call.  He wanted me to come in at 11:00.  The Hubby came home because he couldn't concentrate in class.  When he walked in the door, it was one of those moments where you don't realize how much you need someone until you see them.  I was glad he came home early.  

On the way to the hospital I knew what was happening, but deep down I kept holding on to hope.  It was, after all, just spotting with cramps so far, maybe Little Bear is still ok.  Maybe this will all be a bad dream, a scare we have.  

We got to the office and waited a half hour for the doctor to show up.  He had to squeeze us in between other appointments and a Caesarean he performed that morning.  We walked back to his office where he asked me some questions and then walked us over to the ultrasound room.  As we stared at the screen, there was no movement, no heartbeat, nothing.  The doctor was speaking with the tech in hushed tones (and in Chinese), but I already knew.  When he finally stammered out the answer (I think he had just as hard a time grasping what happened and how to say it), I couldn't contain the tears any longer.  It was heartbreaking.  I don't really remember the rest of that appointment, except that he wanted to perform a D&C but since my blood type is RH negative I needed Rhogam (if you don't know what that is, RH negative mothers carrying RH positive babies can build up antibodies to RH positive blood. To prevent the antibodies from forming, RH negative mothers need Rhogam after birth, or miscarriage, so subsequent pregnancies are healthy), and we didn't have the medicine yet.  The doctor wanted to wait until we got the Rhogam to do the D&C.  

One of God's sweetest blessings was the fact that some of our closest friends had just had a baby the week before and were still at the hospital.  We were able to go upstairs to see them, cry together, pray together and take comfort from them before getting back on the subway to come home.  It was such a blessing to us to be able to share in our grief with them immediately after finding out.

After we left the hospital, I called an American doctor in Shanghai I had seen at an appointment earlier in September.  I'm so thankful we had went to see her.  Talking to her about what was happening was comforting.  She gave us great advice and was very soothing.  After we got home, I started heavy bleeding. I will spare you the details, but if you have never experienced a miscarriage, or known someone who has, it is incredibly painful.  Basically, you go into labor (depending on how far along you are).  I was 11 weeks along.  It was the worst pain I have ever experienced.  

The rest of Tuesday and Wednesday I was bleeding a lot.  Thursday it slowed a bit.  Friday I went back for a check up.  We had received the Rhogam on Thursday (we had to order it from Hong Kong) and I went in on Friday to have my doctor give me the shot.  I was expecting to be there for 30 minutes or so, get a shot and go home.  That is not what happened.  The ultrasound showed that I still had 90% of the conception tissue intact.  How that is possible, I don't know, because I can tell you on Tuesday and Wednesday I saw more blood and clotting than I have ever seen in my life.  The doctor wanted me to schedule a D&C for that day.  I was devastated.  At this point, I had a very emotional, perhaps hostile, response to his recommendation.  After my wonderful husband calmed me down and prayed for us, we decided to go ahead with the D&C.  Being admitted to a Chinese hospital and having surgery is its own blog post, I won't expound on that experience now, but it consumed our entire day and a lot of energy to get admitted and navigate our way through the system.  I had the procedure and thankfully they allowed us to go home that evening (although the Hubby had to go back on Saturday to finish all the paperwork - like I said, it needs its own blog post).  Staying overnight is normal after a D&C procedure in China.  I think the nurses all thought we were crazy for leaving, but I was thankful to be able to be home and sleep in my own bed.

That was all three weeks ago.

How are we now?  We are doing much better.  The days following the D&C I was highly emotional.  Anger, frustration and mood swings abounded.  I had several melt downs over non significant events and mostly felt like a terrible person (for my actions and behavior).  I have since learned that it was a normal hormonal response, much like postpartum depression.  We have come to peace about Little Bear's loss.  Obviously, we are hurting, sad and confused; but God has shown us His grace even through this very difficult time.  We see His handprint upon it all and are thankful for His abounding love for us, even in suffering.  

Yesterday, I sat down with Jesus to spend some time with Him.  I needed a promise.  As I waited upon Him, Revelation 22 was impressed upon my heart.  I knew it well, but initially thought it was a strange place for the Holy Spirit to send me after what I experienced.  It was exactly what my soul needed.  It is a promise.  A promise for us, for humanity, for Little Bear - a promise of redemption and reconciliation.  A beautiful future full of hope.  That is what I see for us.  And what I see for Little Bear.  Little Bear will never have to know the struggle of this life; the sin that so easily entangles.  Little Bear will only know perfection in heaven.  For that I am grateful. 

I am still processing all of this and will continue in the coming weeks and months.  I'm reading a helpful book called "What was Lost: A Christian Journey Through Miscarriage".  This book is a great resource and has been incredibly helpful to me to process through such a difficult loss.  

We covet your prayers.  Thank you all for lifting us up before the throne. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hubby's Birthday Tribute

The Hubby had his 30th birthday earlier in September.  That week was super crazy for us (more on that later), so I didn't really get a post up.  Actually, we didn't really do anything for his birthday.  Next week, the Hubby is traveling to Chiangbai mountain in Northern China with a friend - and he requested that be his birthday present.  On his actual birthday, we celebrated by the two of us going out to dinner at Element Fresh. The weekend after, our friends invited us over for cake because their son also had a birthday the same week.  So, yes, The Hubby did get cake. :-)  My contribution was magic relighting candles.  It was funny. 

Attempt number 4, 5? on blowing out the candles. Ha!
I'm so thankful for my wonderful Husband.  He has been such a blessing to me, from his spreadsheet skills to his willingness to help with laundry, I appreciate him everyday (even if I don't do a good job showing it).  I am thankful for his insight and wisdom, desire for transparency, conflict resolution style, passion for learning language, desire for God to use us in dynamic ways, loyalty to me and his friends, passion for community, the way he brings people together, leadership of us and others and many more amazing attributes.  I am one lucky lady!  And we are very blessed.  

Happy (belated) Birthday to the man of my dreams!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

National Holiday (signs of fall)

It's National Holiday in China this week (国庆节), which means that our city is being flooded by tourists.  Yesterday, I went walking with my friend and we had the added bonus of maneuvering around tourists slowly making their way towards Purple Mountain, with the occasional map thrown in.  Since it's National Holiday, we don't have class this week - yay!  Currently, the Hubby and I are at Starbucks, and there are people everywhere.  The crowds are the main reason we don't travel during this time (though many others obviously choose to), however the crowds come to us so we choose, as much as possible, to stay close to home.  

National Holiday means it's October, which means that fall is slowly making it's way in (and likely in two weeks time will be headed back out).  The weather is gorgeous now.  About two weeks ago it finally started cooling down (and by cooling down I mean it's not in the 90's anymore).  Today it's around 80F with lots of sun and a nice breeze, coaxing even more people outdoors.  I'm thankful to finally be able to wear jeans.  I feel like I haven't worn jeans in four months...oh wait, I haven't. 

This time of year also means it's orange season.  I have no idea why that's a fall fruit, but over here it is. It started at the end of August with the green oranges (I have no idea what they are called, I just know that they are green), and soon the tangerine-like oranges will be out.  Fruit in China is awesome and there is an abundance at certain times of the year.  My favorite is buying fruit from the guy with his cart at the subway stop.  Yesterday on my way home I bought a pear and some apples, and then about a block later found the 米变花 guy (mi bian hua - it means rice or grain that changes into a flower, i.e. popcorn) and bought puffed rice and puffed wheat.  When I throw those together with some milk it reminds me of my favorite Kashi cereal, just instead of 7 grains I only have 2.  Needless to say, fall is starting to feel like fall and I'm thankful that the heat is going away.   

On a random side note (and because I feel I should include a picture in this post), we have been hosting Duck Dynasty nights at our place once a week.  Friends from across the city flock to our apartment for a night of entertainment and fun.  When I make popcorn or cookies everyone is happy, happy, happy.  Ok, I'll stop now.  But I feel you all should see this picture.  

Going back to the topic of fall, Starbucks here may not have Pumpkin Spice Lattes, but they do have Salted Carmel Mochas (and I might be enjoying one now as I type).  And I am determined to track down some pumpkin in the next couple weeks - both canned and an actual pumpkin, if I can find one. 

What are the signs of fall where you live? 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Summer in Review

Well, we're back in China!  And it is HOT.  Humid and hot.  Like 104F but feels like 120F.  Yup, really hot.  Thankful our air conditioning works quite well.  We did hear that this is the hottest summer in 63 years, and we timed our return just right to be back for the hottest week!  It was torture.  But we're now down into the 90's, so it actually is bearable to be outside.  Still hot, but bearable.

But this post isn't about how hot it is here, this post is about our summer back in the States.  It was a great time with family & friends.  We went camping and played at the beach, took our first dual family vacation with both sides of our family (and had a wonderful time), ate a lot of yummy food, saw many friends and really enjoyed ourselves.  It was refreshing and at the end of it all we were ready to come back to China and our home here.  

And now, because it's easier to post pictures to tell a story, here is our summer in pictures!  Enjoy.

Flying over the Pacific Ocean
Seeing WSU friends in Spokane!
Getting our dance on with friends at their wedding.  Such a fun time.
Hanging out with my two crazy sisters.
Tabby came to visit!  And she got her ears pierced.  Such a brave woman.
More WSU friends came to visit me in Prosser! 
We went on vacation and my mom bought a hydrangea.  My sister was very excited (but I still want to know who buys a hydrangea on vacation?).
Me & the sisters
Both our families!  Fun times at the beach. 
I had some R&R with the 'rents dog, Yappy (yes, that is her name).  She likes to hang out on the hammock.  
Went camping at the beach with friends and some Chinese interns visiting our hometown.
Playing games at the beach.
Finding starfish eating muscles at the beach.  Interesting?  Or Gross?  
Mandatory kodak moment.  
We got to see our former puppy, Nala.  I'm pretty sure she remembered us.  
Car ride to the beach!  Fun times with friends. 
More fun times with friends who we didn't expect to see (they now live in Nebraska). 
I tried not to include any boring pictures, like all the pictures I took of food.  Or sunsets.  Or the sky in general.  You can find those on Instagram. ;-)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Let's go the movies...China style

Today in class we had a short discussion about movie theaters in China.  Going to the movies in China is very different from going to the movies in the States.  I've never really thought about all the differences until today when my teacher (who taught in Singapore for awhile) was sharing his frustrations about movie theaters in China.  Here's a quick look at what you can expect if you choose to go to a movie in China.

Photo credit: Wang Zhao/Getty Images
1)  It is not cheaper.  Some things in China are cheaper, movies are not.  In fact, most of the time they are more expensive (up to $15 per person). 
2)  In the words of my teacher, "the hardware (seats, screen, etc) are excellent, the software (sound, video quality) not so much."
3)  Silencing your cell phone is not expected.  In fact, most Chinese will answer their cell phones in the movie theater.  And text.  And take pictures (or video).  We actually had a Chinese person take a picture of us (a row of foreigners) sitting next to him - he used flash and everything.  Very smooth.  In general, the cultural expectation of when and where to answer your cell phone is very different.  It is not considered rude to answer your cell phone or have it ring loudly during a movie (or in class). 
4)  There aren't many rules.  Feet on the chairs, shoes off the feet...I'm being serious.  
5)  Assigned seats.  This is also true in Thailand.  When you buy the ticket, you are assigned a seat (that you get to pick).  There isn't a "rule" to sit in your exact assigned seat, but most of the time you do or sit close to where you have your ticket.  It depends how full the theater is (the more full, the more people sit in their assigned seat). 
6)  Sweet popcorn.  Chinese love sweet popcorn.  I have not figured this one out.  
7)  No previews.  Instead it's commercials or sometimes they just get right to the movie.  It's best not to be late.
8)  Late arrivals.  My teacher shared this frustration, I have not experienced it personally.  He said many Chinese will show up 30 minutes late to the movie.  Again, I don't know why, but apparently it is often enough to cause my teacher frustration.
And lastly...
9)  Talking.  Just like the cell phone, talking is permitted in Chinese movie theaters.  It would actually be rude (on most counts) for someone to "shush" someone else.  I'm still trying to understand this one.  I think in obnoxious situations you could ask someone to be quiet, but for the most part talking during a movie with your friends is very acceptable.  Lots of chatter at the theater.

The market for movies in China is huge.  More and more foreign companies want to make sure they get in on the Chinese market.  Here's an interesting article about Iron Man 3 and what Marvel Entertainment did to make sure they got a piece of the pie.

On side note, we did go and see Iron Man 3 here and the parts they added just for China were kind of annoying (partly because they didn't translate them and partly because I had read about it ahead of time and thought it was distasteful).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A day in the life...

Our beautiful city on a somewhat clear day
Today as I was rushing out the door to class, answering questions for the Ayi and trying to remember my plans for the day, I was thinking how every day really has a flavor all its own.  And this blog, meant to capture those moments, has been sitting idle as I try to grasp how to write down in words what our lives here are like.  Then it hit me - just write about one day.  One day full of language barriers and cultural differences that absorb our lives.  One day can show a lot (and in my defense, this post might be several days put together).  

On Tuesdays, Ayi comes.  She's our house help and I have her coming twice a week to help out with washing dishes (we don't have a dishwasher), dusting, sweeping, mopping and cleaning the bathroom.  She is a huge blessing!  Especially now that I am in language class, my capacity to clean my house has dwindled.  Knowing that I can host others anytime without stressing over the fact that I haven't mopped the floor in two weeks, well, let's just say it's liberating. 

7am - We get up and get ready for the day.  Ayi is supposed to come at 8, however, she has been coming around 7:30.  We had to have our friend call and ask her to come no more than 5 minutes early; 5 minutes early is fine, 30 minutes early is not.  I make coffee, jump in the shower and make sure I have Ayi's task list for the day ready to go.   

Construction going on in our complex to replace
the sewer lines has disturbed our sense of harmony. No
more afternoon naps for me!
8am - Ayi shows up and gets going on dishes.  We retreat to the office to get some work done.  Sometimes it is email or I do homework for class.  Usually we also use this time to read the One Year Bible.  On Monday, Wednesday & Friday I have class from 8 to noon, but on Tuesday and Thursday, class doesn't start until 10:30 so I have some extra time at home (which is heavenly).  

9am - Ayi interrupts to show me the sink is leaking.  Then we notice that the TV & computer screen seemed to have been cleaned with pledge...hmmm.  How to address this?  One of the difficulties of having an Ayi is communication.  Not only the language barrier, but also the cultural barrier.  How do I correct her without making her lose face?  (If you don't know what face is...well...that's another post)  I proceeded to ask her if she used pledged to clean the TV.  She said no, and then showed me the glass cleaner.  After trying to articulate why she can't use it, which I didn't do so well, I finally had to just tell she can't use it and showed her how I would like her to clean it.  This also happened with the rug in the office.  She kept moving it in order to vacuum it, which involved pulling it out from under the couch and putting it back without the nonslip mat underneath.  Today, she took the nonslip mat and folded it and put it in the spare bedroom.  So, as much as I didn't want to correct her twice, I went and got the nonslip mat and asked her why she put it in the other room.  I did not understand her answer.  At all.  Instead, I played charades and showed her how I could slip on the rug and fall if the mat was not underneath it.  I wish I could've gotten it on video.  Anyways, it communicated my point. 

10:30am - I bike the 20 minutes to class.  Did I mention it's 90F degrees outside?  And I bike uphill - both ways!  I know, I'm saving these stories for posterity's sake.  Today, just after entering campus, I rode by a kitten that appeared to have just been hit by a car.  It was sad.  Sadder still, there was a Chinese student who stopped to take its picture.  In my class are students from the US, Kazakstan, Pakistan, Iran, Korea and Vietnam.  The Koreans have terrible pronunciation and at any given time, only about the half the class knows what's going on.  Our teacher is moving us through the book really fast.  We have about 6 weeks left & 9 lessons left to go.  I have a feeling we are just going to plow through regardless of who is keeping up.  My favorite class moment is when our teacher asks, "Do you understand?" To which half of us will respond with blank stares or a resounding "no."  However, unless someone asks a specific question, she just chuckles and moves on.  没问题!

12pm - I head back home for lunch.  Traffic isn't as crazy as it is in the morning (especially at 8am), but I'm still dodging bikes and pedestrians and trying to stay out of the way of the city buses (which kind of go wherever they want).  And now it's hotter and I'm thinking I might need to shower again when I get home.  Once home, we have lunch - usually tuna sandwiches or mac and cheese, and then spend time working, doing homework, language tutoring, staff or business meetings, etc. Afternoons are usually pretty busy and it's unusual to find us both home.  If it's Monday, Wednesday or Friday I try to sneak in a nap, too (but usually fail) - four hours of class really drains your brain!

What's a blog post without a picture of Samson?
5pm - Time to start dinner, what to have?  Right now, bird flu is a big deal over here so chicken is hard to find.  When I do cook, I usually cook Western food.  Nachos are a staple for us.  Though right now finding tortilla chips has become an issue.  Surprisingly, refried beans, salsa and tortillas are easy finds around town at various import stores.  I'm becoming a pro at cornflake chicken, but that's hard to make happen when they're pulling chicken off the shelves.  I guess it's pork.  And asparagus just came in season!

7pm - We have friends over on Tuesday and Thursday nights for study time.  We love having them over!  During a recent camping trip, several friends were worried about the Hubby because they have noticed that we "always eat sugary food" and there was no sugary food on the camping trip.  Ha!  I think I need to stop feeding our friends cookies and pop when they come over to visit!  I promise we don't eat that much sugary food.

9-10pm - Our friends slowly leave and we collapse on the couch.  We made a new rule recently regarding TV time - no TV after 7pm.  It has actually helped us sleep better, I think.  Though sometimes we do break down and watch a TED talk or the NBC News podcast at night before bed.   We also recently bought a used Xbox, so I have a feeling the TV rule is vetoed until the novelty wears off.  This is our wind down time, unless we play cribbage, then we get our game on (and, for the record, cribbage is one game I usually win). 

That is pretty much a typical day.  Sometimes there are grocery runs, stops at the market for fresh fruits and veggies (mangos are in season - yum!), fabric market shopping, business meetings, or any other array of things that require time because something went wrong.  It's also a long day when we take the subway across the city, but luckily that's only once or twice a week.  Every day has new surprises (like today when Ayi tried to take all our homemade cookies) and every day we are thankful for the opportunity to explore and experience this city!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Israel Highlights: Jerusalem & the Dead Sea Region

After leaving Galilee, we drove south along the Jordan River Valley and then turned West to ascend the hills into Jerusalem.  We approached Jerusalem as the sun was setting, stopped for dinner on the hills outside the city and then went to our hotel for the night.  The next three days we spent exploring Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea Region.  Below are the highlights (in my own opinion) of those three days.  The first day we walked the Old City of Jerusalem and I believed I gained more insight into not only Jesus' last days and ministry in Jerusalem, but also Jerusalem's history as a whole than I could've reading every book there is on Jerusalem.  There's just something about experiencing it, walking it, that makes it all come alive.  On our way back from Jordan as we were headed to Tel Aviv, we made one last stop over in Jerusalem for a few hours to visit the Hebrew Museum where we saw a model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple Era.  Jerusalem came alive to me.  It might still be a city full of sin with a strong religious spirit, but there's something special about those streets.  

Part 2 - Jerusalem & the surrounding region

Abraham's Tent
Climbing the Judean hills, we stopped for dinner at Abraham's Tent; a unique experience where we got to partake in a Bedouin dinner with Bedouin hospitality.  Much like how Abraham would have welcomed guests into his tent thousands of years ago.  The food was amazing - hummus, baba ganoush, fresh vegetables, olives, bread, date chicken with honey, meatballs, rice, bread, Turkish coffee and more bread.  We reclined on the floor and ate, and ate, and ate.  It was chilly out, as we were on a hilltop with the wind slipping in between the tent flaps, but the atmosphere was warm and inviting.  It was truly an unforgettable experience. 

Sunset View from Abraham's Tent
Bedouin Dinner at Abraham's Tent
Mount of Olives
Our first stop in Jerusalem the next morning was the Mount of Olives.  It is here that Jesus many times looked out over Jerusalem.  It is picturesque - and we all took advantage of the amazing backdrop.  I do wish we had spent more time here or maybe visited again after seeing Jerusalem more up close.  

The famous photo op
View of Jeruslame from the Mount of Olives, Jewish cemetery in the foreground 
This was not taken from the Mount of Olives, but actually from the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is the gate that Jesus entered into Jerusalem through on a donkey.  You can see that it is now covered up and blocked by Muslim graves.  The Arabs did this knowing that this gate had to do with the prophesy of how the Jewish Messiah would enter Jerusalem.  They believe by blocking and defiling it (making it unclean with dead bodies), that it will prevent the Messiah from entering Jerusalem...what do you think?
Garden of Gethsemane
Another favorite.  What is interesting about Jerusalem (more so than Galilee), is that every important site to Christians has a church built on it.  So what I expected to experience (an open hill, a garden of olive trees, etc) didn't happen.  Instead, everywhere we went there was a church or a holy site commemorating Christ built on top of it.  Some places, it was done well and beautiful, other places it was over the top with gaudy decorations and incense galore.  The Garden of Gethsemane was a beautiful church with not too much drawing away from the experience.  Supposedly the church is built onthe very rock upon which Jesus wept as he prayed in the garden the night of his arrest (and you can see it under the altar, even touch it).  How they know that...well, they don't really.  

Inside the church at the Garden
Old City
This part of the tour was really cool.  We actually walked the stations of the cross, but since I'm not Catholic and I really don't believe the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the actual site of Jesus' death on the cross and burial, it wasn't a "spiritual" journey for me.  It was however, amazing to see the Old City streets and buildings all so close together.  Cars honking their horns to pass through crowds with store booths on either side and houses leaning into the street above.  There were many beautiful churches and the stations of the cross were clearly marked.  We walked all the way down the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, through the Muslim district where we had lunch, down into the Jewish quarter and out the Zion gate to the tomb of King David (and traditional site of the Upper Room) and then continued to the Davidson Center which is located near the excavation site of the Second Temple grounds.  It was a long day of walking - but so amazing to see Jerusalem up close.  We stopped at the Western Wall (the wailing wall) and had time to pray.  And then made our way back to where we started via the Kotel tunnels.  Tunnels under the Old City that run parallel to the Western Wall.  I feel like I am leaving out so much information, but for the sake of your attention span I hope you understand.  

Yes, cars use the same gates in and out of the Old City that the people do
Zion gate bearing the marks of the Six Day War in 1967 when Israel recaptured the Old City and unified Jerusalem
Walking the streets of the Old City
Western Wall
A celebration taking place at the Western Wall
Tunnels under the Old City
Church at the Pools of Bethesda
Just to the north of the Old City are the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a man born lame (John 5).  The Pools were covered up when Jerusalem was completely destroyed by the Romans in 135AD and rebuilt as a Roman city.  They have recently been rediscovered.  Close by the pools is a Crusader church (built by the Crusaders) and is a gorgeous building.  We got the opportunity to sing inside this church - it was an awesome experience.  

Crusader Church
Davidson Center
I didn't realize how much I would like this part of the tour, but learning more about what the Temple Mount looked like during the Second Temple Era (the time of Jesus) was fascinating to me.  The Davidson Center is near the southwestern corner of the old Temple Mount and areas which they have begun excavating.  Throughout the centuries since the Romans destroyed the city, Jerusalem has built upon again and again by other civilizations (Romans, Byzantines, Persians, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans).  As the Jews returned after Israel was declared a nation in 1948 (and after they regained the Old City in 1967), they have started excavating areas in Jerusalem going back to the Second Temple Era.  It was amazing to see the walls and walkways surrounding the Temple Mount dating back to Herod, the very roads Jesus walked on.

The remnants of the Temple Mount (southwest corner) 
Uncovered Ritual Bath 
Before the excavations, Robinson's Arch (to the right) was underground.  The roadway below is from the time of Herod.  To the left (where the people are standing) are booths or stores where pilgrims could buy provision for their Temple visit.
Garden Tomb
In the 1800's a British general was looking out over Jerusalem and noticed a hill that had the appearance of a skull on the rock face.  After closer inspection, he also discovered a nearby winepress dating back to the first century and a tomb carved into the rock wall.  The British general was Gordon and the place he discovered he believed to be where Jesus died on the cross (Golgotha means "place of the skull") and buried (the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was in a garden).  No one knows if this really is the place, but it may be or it may just look like it.  Out of all the places we visited in Jerusalem, the Garden Tomb felt the most real.  Probably because it didn't have all the incense, gaudy symbolism and other religious relics that adorn most holy sites in Jerusalem.  The organization which the runs the site were knowledgable and felt it wasn't the location that made it significant, but the truth that wherever the tomb of Christ was, the important face is that He is alive and no longer there.  Amen!  We shared communion there in the garden, overlooking the tomb.  What a sweet time of fellowship it was.

The cross on the wall has the letters for "Jesus Christ, Alpha & Omega".  It is a replica of an original cross found painted inside the tomb dating back to about 300AD. 
"He is no longer here, He has risen!"
Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
Beautifully done, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum was definitely a highlight.  The symbolism of the building structure itself was so interesting and meaningful.  Down the middle of the museum ran a main corridor that had "interruptions" or maybe better thought of as disruptions, major events during the War that impacted the Jewish community (such as railroad tracks, when they started shipping the Jews off to concentration camps).  On each side of the corridor were rooms and you zig-zag through the rooms between the interruptions.  Does that make sense?  The corridor was lit by natural light from skylights above - symbolic of the fact that much of what happened was in clear view to the world.  People knew what was happening in Europe to the Jews.  It was a sobering experience, and I can't describe it, it's just one of those things you need to do yourself.  In Israel I started reading Madeline Albright's memoir "Prague Winter" about her own family's plight and that of Czeckoslovakia during the War.  I am still reading it, but between those two experiences - the Museum and the book - it has piqued my interest about World War II.  

We took one day to head South from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea Region.  Our first stop, after shopping for Dead Sea beauty products, was Masada.  A fortress built atop a large rock by Herod (another of his crazy creations).  I think it is rather an odd place to build a fortress, but I'm not a crazy Politician with lots of power and people at my disposal.  It is near Ein Gedi (a desert oasis where David hid from King Saul), providing fresh water nearby.  After Herod built his two palaces and gardens and such, years later when Jerusalem fell under siege to the Romans, a group of 1,000 Jews fled to Masada.  To their surprise they found the storehouses still full of food - preserved by the dry desert air.  The Jews built a synagogue, ritual bath and lived at Masada for 7 years holding off the Roman soldiers.  They had fresh water from an aqueduct system built by Herod and food to last them all.  When the Romans (you can still see their camps around the base of the fortress today) finally built a dirt and rock ramp up to the wall, the Jews, facing defeat, committed mass suicide.  Only a few survived (a few women and children).  To Jews today, they see this story as one of courage and Jewish pride - the Jews, unwilling to become slaves, thought death better than slavery.

Inside the remnants of the synagogue at Masada
At the top of Masada, looking down on one of Herod's palaces and looking out toward the Dead Sea
Roman bath built by Herod
The cable car off the mountain.  Do you see the square just to the left & up from the cable car?  That is a Roman camp.
Ein Gedi
Dead Sea
After Masada, we stopped at Ein Gedi and then onto Qum'ran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  Our last stop was a float in the Dead Sea - what a cool experience.  I cannot explain it, but you really float.  In fact, it is hard to swim because you float so much.  I could literally float on my back, turn to my front and around to my back again without getting my hair wet.  So weird.  We helped ourselves to the abundance of squishy mud under our feet for mud baths.  It was a very fun way to end the day.

Mud baths in the Dead Sea