Sunday, January 24, 2010

6 Month Update Email

Here is the email I sent out last week to update everyone on my time here in China. If you'd like to get on my list, email me at

Dear Friends and Family,

As I come up on my 6th month anniversary of living in China, I thought it would be a good time to send you an update. I hope you all are doing well. I think of you often.

Let me start off by saying, China is awesome! I love living here. The people are wonderful, the city is beautiful, and my job is amazing. I enjoy so many things about this place, even it's quirks. "What quirks?" you ask? Things like the driving- people are crazy drivers over here and yet there's this unspoken system. The clothing, especially the "western wear"- it's almost impossible to find a shirt/sweater/jacket that has English words on it that actually makes sense (which I love). The staring, mostly done by the older Chinese people- many of you have teased me about how un-Chinese I look, well, apparently the Chinese have noticed too. They full-out stare at me, do double-takes, sometimes triple takes, and watch me as I walk away. It was irritating at first, now it's just normal. Oh, there are so many other funny things about China that make it unique, the food-so flavorful, the buildings-so brightly lit up with lights, the smells- so distinct and so...smelly, the consistency of its inconsistency. It's a beautiful mix of East and West and something that falls somewhere in the middle that's mostly undefinable.

Let me go a little more in depth about a few things. The city I live in, Qingdao, is one of the most beautiful places in China. Not that I've been to many places here yet, but of the few that I have been too, we win. It's a coastal town known for its German influences and the 2008 Olympic Sailing Center. Along with the surrounding areas, it is city of almost 8 million people (one of the smaller cities in China). We are in the middle of winter right now (completely skipped fall) and it is bitterly cold most days. Coming from a place like Florida where I didn't need winter clothes (but I've heard you all had snow this year), it's been quite an adjustment. Good thing I love winter. My city is a mixture of Western looking sky-scrapers, China-town shops and European-style architecture. We have several thousand Westerners from all over the world that live here (teaching English/at an international school or here on business) and hundreds of thousands of Koreans because of our location (right across the Yellow Sea from South Korea).

The Chinese people are something of a mystery to me still. Because I know so little of the language, it's hard to get to know people. Even those that know English aren't able to carry on very in depth conversations because of vocabulary. But the people that I do come in contact with, the taxi drivers, the cart sellers, the table waiters, the shop owners, our school staff, random strangers, they are beautiful and kind and helpful and thoughtful. I am amazed by the acceptance of the Chinese, the willingness to help and serve and be inconvenienced. And though there is a language barrier, it is still possible to build relationships even if it only includes a smile at the shop owner on our corner, or a wave at the guards at our complex, or the "Zai Jian" (goodbye) in my very best Chinese to the taxi driver. I am working very hard on my Chinese as it is most vital to my life here in China. I enjoy learning the language even though it is a huge obstacle and the reward of having even a simple conversation is most definitely worth it.

My job has been my biggest challenge here and yet one of my greatest joys. I have wonderful friends, a great support team, highly intelligent students, amazing opportunities to travel, the list could go on. To remind you, I teach at an international school where I have both Western and Korean students (Chinese are not allowed to attend an international school unless they have a passport from a Western country). I am teaching two classes- AP World History and Model United Nations. My AP World History class is very intense and much like teaching a college course. It has been quite a growing experience in my teaching abilities to work with these students. Many of them are at genius levels. They are Korean and still achieving high marks in a college-level course in their second or third language (English). The other class, Model United Nations (MUN) has also been a challenge for me. Basically, my students prepare for conferences all over the world where they will model the United Nations. So, not only am I prepping them for those conferences, I also have to plan trips in China/international trips 2-3 times a semester. Last semester, we went to South Korea and Singapore. This semester we will host a conference and go to Beijing and Cairo, Egypt. It is a lot of work but so rewarding to watch and listen to students who are so passionate about changing our world. Both of the classes have stretched me in ways I didn't know I was capable. They are both full of new vocabulary and almost like learning a new language. I am working very hard to keep up with my students. I know I'll look back on this year as a time of growth and learning, not only about new subjects but also about how to be a better teacher.

The last thing I would like to update you on is the international Fellowship that I attend. I know many of you were concerned with how that would work over here. We have a Fellowship, allowed by the government, of about 300 people (depending on the time of year 100-300). It's only for foreigners (we must have some sort of identification on us that shows we are foreigner to be able to enter) and is held at a large hotel here in town. Right down the street from my apartment, VERY convenient. We cannot have a leader but we do have a group of men that rotate for speaking and a group of elders who make decisions and such. If you know me, you know that I love being involved. At the moment, I help with one worship team (we rotate every week so there are four teams) and then lead a team with a friend on another week. I am in the process of starting up a women's study group (for internationals only) and have helped with several outreaches within the community during Christmas-time. Fellowship has been a huge help in my transition over here.

I could type another 15 paragraphs but I will save that for another email. I will leave you with a few requests. I ask that you remember my job, that I would be able to build better relationships with my students (as that is the most important to me). Please remember my new friends that I have met and am working to get to know better. Also, keep in mind the new study we are starting, that we ladies would have good discussion and growth. It's so important here to feel refreshed and renewed as living and working in a foreign country can be exhausting.

Thank you so much for your love and support. I truly do miss you. Feel free to email me, I would love to hear from you.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Repost: Aren't Massages Supposed to be Relaxing???

This is a repost from my old blog. Many of my friends here like to go to Korean spas and get massages. Besides the fact that you walk around naked with little, itty-bitty Chinese and Koreans (they would be scarred for life, I mean seriously, can you imagine the staring that would ensue??? Oh my gosh, it makes me want to barf just thinking about, I guess the scarring would mostly be on my part), the following story only reiterates the reasons why I will never be getting a massage here. Okay, it's mostly about the whole naked thing BUT this is a good story (occurred in America last year sometime)...


My phone rings. It's my friend Al. I love Al. We have a blast together.

Him: Hey! Wanna have dinner tonight?

Me: Sure. What time?

Him: Uh, let's say around 5? Oh, man. My back is killing me. I really need a massage....HEY, why don't we go get massages this afternoon and then you can just come back to my house to eat and play Spades.

Me: *silence*

Him: Uh, hello? Do you want to get a message with me?

Me: Are you joking me?

Now let me explain the thoughts racing through my head. I've never had a massage before. I have no idea what to expect. All I know is that I lie down on some wooden, peg-legged table, 'covered' by a hand towel (as if it could) while some stranger rubs their hands all over me.

As a big girl, I try to avoid all things written above...

Him: Oh, come on. It'll be fun. You'll love it.

After 10 minutes of discussion, he 'gently' persuades me to go get a massage.

He tells me "You can wear a sports bra and some running shorts". Yah, two things about that. Do I look like a girl who might have a sports bra and some running shorts? I race frantically around the house trying to find something so that I'm not completely naked under the 'imagined' handtowl. No such luck. The only pair of shorts I own are my beach shorts and they were wet and my seamstressing abilities fall WAY short of making a sports bra. So, now I'm in a panic on my way to Al's house considering running my car off the road into a ditch just to have a good excuse to back out of said "relaxing massage". If I didn't have knots in my back before, I surely did now.

I get to his house where he has already begun laughing at the panicked look on my face, while I'm gasping for breath and sweating. He thinks it's hilarious. Ha freaking ha.

We get to the "relaxing" massage place right on time and I am immediately taken back to my "relaxing" massage room. By now, I'm panting like a cat in heat, eyes darting, tongue unable to form words.

The masseuse, we'll call her Darlene, opens the door to my private room (shew! at least it's not some communal rub down), and I see an actual bed. Low and behold! It's a real bed with sheets and a blanket. I let out a long sigh of relief. Two of my fears have been set strait. No peg legs and a full covering of a sheet. She begins to ask if I'd ever had a massage and I explain that no, I haven't and that I'm a nervous wreck. She tells me where she'll be messaging (legs, arms, shoulders, back and head. Head? Yes, head). Front and back. Okay, here's where my next fear begins to formulate. I actually have to flip over mid-massage. With her in there.

Moving right along.

Her: Now, you can decide whether you want to wear your underwear or not. Most people don't but it's up to you.

Me: *blink* *blink* (searching for words that might make up a sentence) Ooooooh, okay. Yah, I think I'll keep mine on this time. Thaaaanks. (said in my most casual tone)

She leaves to let me get undressed and under the covers. Of course, I race like I'm in a marathon because God forbid, she come in while I'm standing in front of the door in all my glory. I get on the bed completely covered and wait the rest of the 4 minutes and 45 seconds that I had. But it was a good thing. It gave me some time to get my heaving breath under control.

She comes in and the massage ensues. Relaxing music. Minty lotion. Rubbing my legs. Okay, I'm actually getting the hang of this. In fact, it's quite nice. I may have to come get massages more often...

Now, before I go on. Let me explain that I have very sensitive shoulders and back. I always have. I've never been one for shoulder rubs. It hurts too much. That was probably some valuable information I should've relayed to Darlene before she got out her sledge hammer and went to work. (okay, she didn't really have a sledge hammer but it felt like she was drilling holes in my shoulder blades)

I promise you, I was actually my head of course...while she massaged me. It was the most painful experience of my life. My feet were off the bed, toes curled tight, brain concentrating on not yelling out profanities.

Her: Oooo, let me get this knot here...with my man hands that are like little chainsaws cutting out every muscle in your back.

Me: Huuuhhhhhmmmmmuuummmhhhhmmmuuuhhmm. Yahhhh, thaaat's niiiiice....

After 10 minutes of torture, it was on to the back of the head. Where I'm pretty sure half a bottle of lotion was absorbed into my hair. Head rub=good, right? Yah, not so much with the chainsaw hands.

I survived the mid-massage flip. She went onto my arms, hands and feet. The best part of the whole ordeal. And I was actually able to enjoy it. Mostly because it was almost over but also because it wasn't anywhere near my shoulders.

Legs, good. Arms, good. Hands, good. Feet, good. Back and head? Yah, not so much.

Just so you know, it's important to drink lots of water after a message. You need to pee out all the toxins released. Lots of water. More than two or three glasses of water. That isn't enough. And if you don't, it might feel like you have big bruises all over your shoulders and back and head for the rest of day and night and next day. And that might make it hard to sleep and move and do all your normal daily activities. So, yah, drink lots of water...

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 In Review

  • I've been in over 30 airplanes.
  • I've driven or flown to/through over 10 States (some 3 or 4 times).
  • I've traveled to Canada, the Bahamas, the US, China, Singapore and South Korea.
  • I've made hundreds of new friends all over the world including Taiwan, Japan, Germany, all over China, and Africa.
  • I've learned new words in a new language.
  • I've taught new subjects.
  • I've lost 60 lbs (and sadly just maintaining these days).
  • I've gained a better world view.
  • I've grown in my musicianship.
  • I've discovered new foods and drinks that I love and some that I hate.
  • I've begun to grasp new customs and a beautiful culture.
  • I've realized how little I truly know about a great big God.

It has been an incredible ride this year. I can tell you that this time last year, I had no idea I'd be living in China. Makes me excited for what will happen in 2010. I'm excited to see what God's going to do. How will I be different, changed? How will I impact others? What kind of life will I lead over the next 12 months? How will I allow Him to work in me and through me? It's kind of like a clean slate. Starting fresh. That is a great feeling.