Friday, July 30, 2010

"China Day"

Today, one of the hottest days of the summer, I found myself without electricity. For the entire day. My complex is switching how they electrify each apartment and needed all day to rewire. As of today, I am on pay-as-you-go-power. We have a card that we recharge when it runs out. I have this little slot on the breaker box thingy, I just slide my card in there and it refills my power-holder with units (are you impressed with my technical terms?). A little less convenient but probably cheaper. This way, I can look at any time to see how much electricity I'm using and how much I have left, which is AWESOME. You know I'll be checking every day to see where I'm at. In fact, I can't wait until tomorrow just to see how many units I've used.

Anyway, back to the heat. It's been in the upper 90s this week with really high humidity. In fact, tomorrow with the humidity index, it's supposed to be 115 degrees. Barf. I HATE humidity. I don't even think "hate" is a strong enough word. Even in 70 degree weather humidity kills me. But with this crazy heat, I'm literally a slurpy mess all the time unless I've been inside for awhile and dried off. I've totally stopped doing my hair and makeup which means I'm looking like a 12 year old.

It's midnight in China right now and there are fireworks going off. Arg, drives me crazy.

Anyway...back to my more thing to whine about...

The apartment I moved into is fantastic. Slap some paint on the walls and just about any place looks nice. But with any apartment in China comes some "must fix" stuff. My kitchen and bathroom need some serious work. When we signed the lease, it was under the condition that we would build more cabinet space in the kitchen. I met with a cabinet guy the first week I moved in here. He only spoke Chinese and at that point I knew about 200 less words. Not that any of my new words have anything to do with "shelves, cupboards, width" and such. So, I spent my time motioning and grunting. I thought I communicated what I wanted. When the workers showed up today to install them, well, they're not what I was expecting. My entire kitchen is white. White walls, white counters, white cabinets. Not my favorite but not as bad as it could be (think smurf blue and sunshine yellow metal). So, following the theme, I asked the guy to make the cabinets white. Apparently, they don't have white (which I was never told) so he brought another color. Now, sometimes in China, one has to just suck it up and deal with things. This would usually be one of them, but I just can't bring myself to have one type of cabinets installed in the top part of my kitchen and another type in the bottom. So, now I have about 6 wall units all over the dining room floor. I'm so thankful that I get new storage in my kitchen. Talk to anyone here and it's a pretty special thing. But if we're going to do it, it should be done the right way. If possible. And if it can't be fixed, I'll deal with it...until I can paint them :).

Between the heat, non-electricity and cabinet mess, it was what we foreigners refer to as a "China Day". The kind of day where things happen that probably wouldn't happen in your home country and definitely not all in one day. Like..."it's the dead of summer and we're going turn your electricity off" or "we're out of that color so we're going to give you something different without consulting you" or "you don't have an elevator to get to the 5th floor so you get to melt from the heat on the way up". These days rarely ever occur, mostly because things don't often get to me here. I just kind of expect life to be a little harder than it should be. But I think the heat is making me grumpy these days.

There were some good things that happened today. I was able to go back to sleep after the workers left this morning. I went all the way into town, ate lunch, got a frappachino, and went back out to my apartment all for 6 kuai (about $1). I spent some time with friends and met a new co-worker. And my apartment is a cool 72 degrees and electrified as I type this.

I have high hopes for tomorrow...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

One Down...

(on the plane on my way to China for the 1st time...crazy eyes)

Today is my 1 year anniversary of moving to China. I arrived here on July 25, 2010 sometime in the morning, a Saturday I think, feeling a little crazy from sleep deprivation. I have no doubt I looked a mess. I remember very clearly what the airport looked like, the drive to my apartment, the unexpected beauty of Qingdao and more specifically my apartment. I remember where I ate that night for dinner and who I hung out with. It was the first time I tried bubble tea (Taiwanese) and ate dak galbi (Korean). My feet were raw and blistered from my mishaps in the airport the day before (read here) and we walked a couple miles to and from dinner. Honestly, I think the thing I remember the most, it is literally almost palpable, was how overwhelmed I felt. I knew so little and had so far to go to even survive. In China and in my job.

Today, I think was a great picture of how far I've come in this last year.

This morning, I led worship at my fellowship. That is a BIG deal. Ask anyone who's worked with me closely in music and they know what an idiot I become on stage. I forget words and what comes next. I'm not a great public speaker, I talk too fast and my words get all mixed up. And yet, here I am, choosing songs, working on the flow, finding Scripture to read, bossing a band around, and leading people in worship. Now, I love to sing on a worship team. I love the involvement of corporate worship, hearing the congregation sing familiar songs so loudly, watching them raise their hands or bow their heads or close their eyes as they sing or cry or whisper to God. It is an intense and beautiful thing. I love singing harmony with other people and making up our own music. And I love it when everything clicks- the sound, the band, the words, the fluid motion of worship. That is a great thing. But, I do not enjoy leading. Well, that’s not completely true. I’ve co-led for a couple of different teams and I really enjoy that. I get to give input, help choose songs, sing lead sometimes, but I’m not responsible for the entire service. I love being in that position. Leading, however, is totally different. I map out the songs, how many times we do a chorus or verse, when someone prays or reads the Bible, what songs are chosen, how the band sounds…if I mess up, it’s completely noticeable (something that happens often but it’s just who I am so I deal with it). There's a lot to think about and keep track of, especially up on stage. I know I’m coming across as completely un-Spiritual. Many of you are reading this and thinking “Where does the Holy Spirit fit into this? Is it really all about you?” And my answer is “No, it’s not about me at all.” That’s the thing. If it was about me and my abilities, honestly, every time I led, it would be a major disaster. Things would never come together. Songs would get all mixed up, words would come out wrong and I definitely wouldn’t come in on the right key. But every week, things come together. Songs go (mostly) smoothly. Notes and beats are usually right on track. And people are actually able to focus on the real reason we’re there, to sing and pray and listen about who He is and what He’s doing for us. I say this completely outside of myself. It absolutely has nothing to do with me. God has me doing this truly terrifying thing, something that a year ago wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to do. Seriously, it was never even a thought in my head until about 6 months ago to ever step into this kind of position. And here I am, doing it. I love that I’m learning and being stretched in an area that I’m passionate about. Today’s praise and worship was fun and worshipful and most importantly, I think God was glorified.

Okay, so after fellowship, a few of us went to lunch together and then decided to go to Computer City. Computer City is like a mall but instead of having all different types of stores, it only has electronic stores. You can get just about anything your electronic loving little heart desires. CC is where I bought my iPod Touch last September and since a couple of my friends were wanting to buy one, that’s where I took them. Now if you’ve read my last blog or so, you know I’ve been taking Chinese classes for the last 4 weeks. I’ve gone from about 150 words to 400-500 probably. Well, the last time I was at CC getting my iPod, I knew about 4 words. Literally. A friend took me, one who had only been here a year but has a great grasp of the language, and helped me bargain for mine. And here I was a year later helping friends bargain for theirs. I wasn’t great, and thankfully the guy we were talking to was so very patient, but we were able to understand each other and a plan was made (we weren’t able to buy because they didn’t have any in stock so instead we made a plan to meet in town tomorrow to buy them…such is China...that arrangement is even harder to get across than just buying the dang thing). Anyway, it was a proud moment. In fact, I think I hi-fived a couple of people afterwards. I, of course, have SO FAR to go in my language study but it was exciting to be able to something as unimportant as that. You English-speakers living in English-speaking countries, you have no idea what it’s like to live in a place for a year and not EVER be able to communicate with someone properly. It gets very frustrating. And to know that it’ll be another 2-3 years before I’m even able to really have a decent conversation…arg.

Anyway, today was a good “full-circle” day to celebrate my life in China. I’m still happy to be here. I’m still in love with the country. I’m still sure this is where I’m supposed to be. After all the crazy and wonderful and extremely difficult things I’ve done and been through this year, I can’t wait to see what God’s preparing me for in the future. The unknown…it’s exciting and oh so terrifying all at the same time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Southern Gate

My apartment has two gates, one in the front and one in the back. I live close to the back so I almost always use that gate. I love using this entrance. It's on a calm street, lined with green trees and quiet apartment complexes- very Western-feeling, very peaceful and very convenient. One of my favorite things about this back gate is that at any given time there are at least one, usually two or three Chinese families sitting out by the road, selling freshly picked fruits and vegetables. It's a convenient way for me to get some of my grocery shopping done the Chinese way- buying a little bit every day. I know this goes against all Sam Club memberships and those of you who buy groceries for a week at a time, but here in China, when you're walking up 5 flights of stairs (have I mentioned I don't have an elevator?), it's next to impossible to carry a big load. Only a couple of bags are practical. Therefore, I buy a few fruits or vegetables every day, sometimes twice a day depending on my coming and going. Right now in my fridge I have cucumbers, carrots, nectarines, grapes, and apricots. I must say China has the best fruit and such a variety. If I had a better camera (hint, hint) I would be displaying lovely pictures of said fresh goodness.

Besides the deliciousness of this routine, it also gives me a great opportunity to practice my Chinese. “How much is that per jin?” and “What kind of fruit is that?” and sometimes simple conversational stuff like “I’m from America.” and “I love living in China.” It’s fun to be able to use my words that I so rarely have an opportunity to use in my Western bubble of friends.

And that leads me to my favorite thing about this Southern gate. I get to interact with everyday-Chinese people. I know that may shock you. “You live in China, Jen. Of course, you interact with Chinese people.” And you’re right. I do. I take the bus and taxis. I shop at stores and buy things. But it’s not often that I get to have daily interaction with the same people over and over again- to smile at them and say “hello” even when I’m not shopping at their little market. I’m excited about this opportunity to make friends with these few lovely Chinese people. It’s been a long awaited moment, mostly because of the language barrier. But, as I learn more, I hope to make some non-English speaking Chinese friends right outside my home. How’s that for getting out of the bubble?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Moving Along

So, we're all just going to move on and forget about any other blogs that might have anything to do with my trip this summer. I wrote the promised second post but accidentally deleted it and have been avoiding blogging since. It was either avoidance or my computer thrown through the window...moving right is my clean-slate day.

Some exciting things have happened since we last talked.

I moved to a new place. My new apartment is awesome. It's beautiful and cozy and decorated just how I like it. Most importantly of course, it's all mine. That's right boys and girls, I've finally become an adult and have a place of my own. I've been busy decorating and moving and unpacking. It's taken awhile to figure out where I want to put things. You know, when you have a roommate, you always have to compromise where the dishes go or where stuff is stored. So now that it's totally my decision, well, it's a little overwhelming. I'm still shifting things around trying to find out where I want to them to go. I'll post pictures at some point so you can see the new abode. It's just not quite ready to be seen by the public.

The move has quite drastically changed my life. You know, in America, when you make an in-town move, it's a little inconvenient but usually no big deal. Here, it's literally life-changing. I've had to learn my location and how to get there. And how to tell a taxi driver how to get there. In another language. It's all new vocabulary. I've had to find new stores to buy food in and then actually find the food I like, not always easy. It's a lot of work to create new schedules and new routines. My bus picks me up at a different time than what I'm used to. I have to add in the extra minutes of walking down my FIVE FLIGHTS OF STAIRS when I'm trying to catch that bus. Everything's just so much harder now and takes longer. I know it'll get easier (it already has) as I learn the area and get used to this new life. But for now, it can be a tad bit frustrating. It's like starting all over again. At least it's during the summer and not school. That would be almost unbearable. It sounds like I'm complaining but I'm NOT. :) I love the complex I live in and the places I have to shop in. Even though I'm farther away from a lot of my friends and the center of town, I'm a lot closer to school and I have a group of friends that moved with me here. I'm still close to the beach, it's only a block away and have I mentioned that I don't have a roommate? :)

The other major thing going on in my life right now is my Chinese class. So, it's a requirement that we take 2 hours of Chinese every week during the school year and every other summer we do a month-long intensive course. We have a four book (10 chapters each) curriculum. By the end of Book 4, one should be able to hold a decent conversation and know a couple hundred characters. In my 9 months at school, I only made it through the "pinyin" (pronunciation) and chapters 1-3 in Book 1. I'm pulling the "it was too hard to focus on Chinese with so much travling in my job" card but I think it's mostly laziness. Studying language is EXHAUSTING. Anyway, I made the commitment at the beginning of this 4 week intensive that I wanted to finish chapters 4-10. I'm on my last week of study and I have ch 9 and 10 to finish. I'm oh so close but there's so much left for me to do in the next three days. It's exciting though. I've learned hundreds of words and can actually speak in sentences...sometimes. The problem is, the words don't often come to me fast enough to sound like an intelligent person. I still have a LONG WAY to go but it's progress.

Life seems to be moving along. Vacation in Europe- check. Moved to new apartment- check. Chinese language course- almost check. School starts in 22 days...arg. TOO FAST!!!!