Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No Place Like Home

I have a wonderful family to see. Two lovely dogs to play with. A bunch of incredible friends all over the country who can't wait to see me (right????). But I don't feel like I'm really going "home".

When people ask me "Where's home?", I never know what to tell them (such a TCK response). 

I've lived in Colorado for several years of my life and that's where my family is, but I haven't actually resided there since I was 18. And my parents have moved several times since I've moved out so I don't really have a "place" I can call my own (not that my parents don't provide for me, they SO understand right?). And as for Florida, I lived there for a few years right before I moved here, my church is there, many of my friends are there, but it's been two years. Can I still claim it? I mean, I don't really call myself a Floridian...

I've always been a little nomadic. As I was growing up, my family moved a lot, living in several different parts of the country and even more houses. And as an adult, I've moved quite a few times too- countries, states, and houses. I honestly can't imagine what it would be like to stay in one place for a long time.

I suppose because my job is here, my house is here, my ministry is home is China. That feels a little strange as it comes out of my mouth but at the same time, fills me with happiness. China is home. I'm glad that I can live in this semi-uncomfortable place, with it's strange language and sometimes stranger culture, a place where I most definitely DO NOT fit in, and am able to call it home. 

I hope this means that no matter where I live, whether it's in a great big city or the country-side, an apartment or a dorm room, America or Zimbabwe, that I'll always be able to call it "home". Because it's not really about a location is it? It's about tying yourself to where ever God had placed you. Taking ownership of the job, house, relationships He's put in your life. Finding contentment regardless of situation or circumstance. Digging in and taking root.

So, as I travel through the country I was born and raised in, I'm praying that it will feel like home again for two months. That I will feel tied to that land and those people. That I will  be able to feel comfortable and well rested regardless of the bed or the house or the city that I'm in.

That at the end of a lovely summer, I will be able to return to China, and it will still feel like home. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Grow Up Grown Up!

I hate being an adult sometimes. 

I don't want to do work, I want to play. I don't want to pay bills, I want to buy lots of awesome stuff. I don't want to go to bed on time, I want to stay up all hours blogging and skyping. I don't want to go to work everyday, I want to sleep in and read books and watch movies. I don't want to grade papers, I want to go to movies and hang out with friends. I don't want to be a good communicator, I want to live an unconfrontational life. I don't want to keep my house clean, I want to throw clothes all over because I can. I don't want to apologize for saying something I shouldn't have, I want to say whatever I want regardless of consequences.

I don't want to do right, speak wisely, love fully, stay motivated, finish well, encourage others, humble myself, apologize often, control emotions, ask forgiveness, feel empathy, work hard, be consistent. 

I want to stomp my feet, wave my fists and yell, "NO! It's too hard."

That's where I'm at today. Wanting to throw a hissy-fit but trying to remember something about loving Jesus and letting Him shine through me so I can love others.

Because really, how scary would it be to see me flailing about the floor in a full-on grown person temper tantrum? Funny, maybe, but really frightening.  

Help me Jesus!

**Update: The hissy-fitishness has subsided and the "old self" has been sufficiently beaten down again.  For at least the next 15 minutes. Ready for the next round due any minute now...

Hong Kong Trip

During the 4th quarter of every school year, the entire middle school/high school goes on a week long trip to somewhere in China. Each grade goes to a different place so that by the time our students graduate, they've been all over the country. The coveted trip for many of the teachers is the senior trip to Hong Kong. Guess who got to go? That's right baby, partay in HK for a week.

After 13 hours of travel including buses, trains, subways, planes and a lot of walking, we arrive in Hong Kong last Sunday night. The kids (and some of the adults) were real troopers.

Monday included Ocean Park (think Disney meets zoo) in the rain, a cancelled group dinner at California Pizza Kitchen and shopping at the Ladies' Market. And a lot of walking. This sounds bad but the rain allowed for me to read and rest, the cancelled dinner worked out that it was just the adults and no waiting to seat a group of 27 and the shopping well, it was quick and painless.

Tuesday and Wednesday we worked at a place called Crossroads. It's a non-profit organization that basically meets people-in-need needs. They collect food, clothing, computers, furniture, etc and take it to people in places like Haiti and Ghana and China. They also host simulations for people to better understand what it's like to be a refugee or blind or impoverished. Super impactful. Super cool.

Thursday we went to Lantau Island by ferry, saw the largest sitting Buddha, shopped, played games, and then took the cable car back to the main island. We also went to Pirates of the Caribbean and had Outback (wahoooo!!!!) for dinner. I love steak.

Friday, it was beach in the morning and then 12 hours of travel back to Qingdao.

It was an exhaustingly fabulous week. The kids were great, full of jokes and a few pranks. The other teachers were willing to do whatever needed to be done. I got to play "Clue", watch a 3D movie, travel in all types of mass transit, each delicious food, sweat my brains out, make breakfast for my girls, pretend like I was blind and poor, go to bed late, get up early, get a sunburn, make new friends, take cold showers, live without internet, walk a lot, spend lots of money, and have an all around great time.

See pics below...

While I was gone, my friends back at home got a little ridiculous and awesome. They created this video for me. You MUST watch it.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Practically Famous

I know I've discussed how sometimes I am my own tourist attraction here in China. Being stared at, followed, "Hello"ed at, secretly photoed (not so secretly) is a common occurrence. It's just a part of my life here.

Now when a group of us hang out, it's like a hay-day for the Chinese. Jack pot! We become our own little zoo of foreigners. And doesn't it make sense that people would want to take pictures with the animals?

Today in the park...well, I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

We think they wanted us in the background.

I happened to make eye contact with the guy in the white shirt and he assumed it meant, "Hey, come on over and take a million pictures OF us...and then a whole bunch more WITH us."

This is like picture #8 with the wedding photographer.

He wanted me to take a picture of him taking our picture.

And now in some crazy reality, we're friends.

We're a little concerned that our faces may end up on some billboard or wedding advertisement. That's actually happened to a few of our friends in another city. Oh, the mortification!

Tha Gang (Our OWN picture)

Worth a thousand words...

Conversations With Friends

Today has been a lovely, crazy day. It started with breakfast with friends and ended with coffee and friends. In between, a picnic in the park and some life changing conversations.

I've been feeling really convicted about forgiving others. On the whole, I'm not a bitter person. I don't hold grudges (at least not for long) and I'm not vindictive (at least not in an outward way). I was talking with my breakfast friends about how it's so much easier to forgive than it is to forget. And I do believe forgetting is a part of forgiving. Forgive? Sure. Forget? Um, no, not really. To live like it never happened, living in a fully restored relationship...I can't even imagine what the Christian life would look like if we forgave and lived in completely restored relationships. Well, actually, I do know what it would look like. It would look like Christ. I want that. I want to restore my relationships totally and completely. I have some work to do though. Really hard work. And that takes a lot of effort and a lot of being intentional. Barf.

I ended the day discussing theology with my coffee shop friends. I've been reminded how important it is to know what you know and why you know it. To search it out, hash it out, work it out, live it out. I'm not a huge fan of discussing theology. I think it's easy to waste a lot of time talking about peripheral things. I mean, it mostly boils down to, Love God, Love people. But, I think discussions like today can be really stretching. And fun. I really enjoy hearing other perspectives and opinions, even if I totally disagree with them. Provers 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Today was full of that sharpening or at least the beginning of it. I like it. 

I have some thinking to do. And a lot of reading. And probably some more discussing. And then some action to take.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bullet Points #3

  • I had a weird dream last night that's made me feel funny all day. Something I just can't shake. Hopefully a good night's sleep will help.
  • We have 18 days of school left but only 7 days of real classes. The rest are trip and exam days.
  • I leave for Hong Kong on Sunday for a school trip. I'm chaperoning the senior class. Should be...exhausting.
  • I'll be in Colorado in 3.5 weeks.
  • My World History students are doing a Genghis Khan (my obsession) trial tomorrow. Should be interesting. 
  • It's been rather rainy the last few days. Good because we need the rain but really inconvenient when you walk so much.
  • I'm in love with dried kiwi. 
  • We are celebrating Cinco de Mayo tomorrow. Because that's how we roll.
  • I'm reading A Wrinkle In Time. For the second time. But it must've not really made an impression on me because it took me halfway through the book before I remembered that I'd read it.
  • I'm still praying about a car for the summer. I'd like to drive all over the country so I can have the freedom to come and go as I please but I don't own a vehicle. I'm praying that God'll provide something cheap and reliable. 
  • I bought 17 movies today for about $3.50. People are moving away and selling all their stuff. Yay for the stuff-selling. Boo on the leaving.
  • The teachers are in charge of assembly tomorrow. I'm leading the singing. I love leading teens in worship.
That is all.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    Dear Mom, (Part 3)

    These are some things that I like...

    We have the same laugh, even after all these years.
    All my friends want to meet you because of how much I talk about you.
    It's easy to see how much you love dad and brother.
    I have your sense of humor.
    You are so patient and thoughtful. 
    The way you love God and honor Him with your life makes me want to love Him more.
    I would be lucky to turn out like you.

    I love you, Mom. I like you too. I miss you. I can't wait to see you. 

    Your Thankful-to-Have-You-as-a-Mother-daughter,

    Dear Mom, (Part 2)


    I was thinking the other day about some of my favorite memories of you.

    You used to read aloud to us in the car on family vacations. The Secret Garden is the book I remember best.

    We spent a lot of time at Mineral Palace park reading and swimming.

    You helped me with my math homework and we spent more time laughing than working. Do you remember "RR!!!"?

    You took such good care of your dad after grandma died. You were so kind and patient.

    What about that time when we went to the water park and we were in the wave pool and you lost your sunglasses? You made me go get them but the waves started up again and my head got squashed between two innertubes over and over. And you laughed and laughed.

    You confessed the story about putting the kitten in the paint can, feeling so horrible and I almost wet my pants laughing.

    You were completely supportive of my move to China. You let me stay away for two years and never once complained or questioned my decision.

    Your full-of-good-memories-daughter,

    Dear Mom, (Part 1)

    Remember that one time you gave birth to me and then I thanked you by moving half way across the world? Yah, I'm known for my thoughtfulness.

    Remember those other 30 years of life when I gave you lovely gifts to celebrate your motheringness? Well this year, instead of wasting money on beautiful bouquets of flowers or delicious cookie baskets, I decided to make you something. A digital something. Well, I guess it could be a tangible gift but that would require you to print it. And then it becomes more of a gift to yourself, from yourself since you're the one printing it.  


    Here it is....

    Mother Montage

    Awesome, no? Oh. No. Okay, I'll be home in 3 weeks and 5 days. I can print the montage and give it to you. It'll be like a real gift then.

    Your non-gift-giving daughter,

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Stimulating Simulations

    Say that 5x fast. Yes, I just tried to do it. Twice. 

    So in my MUN class (see here for more info on MUN) the students have been working on creating a realistic simulation with a specific theme i.e. military, human rights, economy, etc. It's been extremely interesting to listen to them come up with tangible ways for their classmates to experience what it's like to trade in a global economy or how it feels to be harassed while trying to work in miserable conditions. 

    I'm thinking that some of the things we did today would not be acceptable in the good ole politically correct US of A. Things like reliving the 'slave trade' by having students bought by 'slave owners' who had a rubric to fill out, judging the 'slaves' based on their height, weight, looks, and ability to do pushups (in front of the entire class).  We also had a lot of group 'hugging' when trying to live in a 'one-bedroom house' together, especially when the house kept getting smaller and smaller. The group just kept getting closer and closer. And I'm pretty sure there were at least two times where students almost fell off of chairs while trying to balance more than 3 people on them at a time for an international trading simulation...

    Yah, no, this wouldn't have worked in America. But here, it was an awesome day, filled with fun, learning and laughter.

    Perfect Stars

    Reliving the Industrial Revolution... remember the stars I was talking about in my last post? Well we spent at least a good hour today making them in all sorts of conditions. And by conditions I mean...

    Child Laborers were forced under the table.

     ...under tables, with one hand behind our backs...that's me, on the bottom. To the left. I was one of three lucky enough to pull the paper that allowed me to be a child laborer. Awesome, huh?

    My "stars"...not so perfect.

     My feeble attempt at 'star making'. It was just so blastedly hard!

    Fun to watch but GLAD I didn't play

     This is the 'poor living conditions' simulation. The students had to make sure that everyone's feet were only on the paper. After each time, the paper got smaller. This picture was about halfway through...



     At one point there were three people standing on one chair...

     Super safe, no?

    Some of them did this for an hour...

     They had to sort this huge pile of beans and rice. And then when "technology" came along, they had to use chopsticks (which was much harder). It was actually a good example that technology doesn't always make things better.


    Owner and slaves

    Students just walked around whacking each other with these balloons.

    Before typing technology

    One of the jobs as a slave was to hand-copy the Bible...I'm not sure that I should've allowed this but at least they were in The Word. Oh, did I mention that our hands were rubber-banded together?

    Origami is the bane of my existence mostly.

    At another station, we had to fold origami. The problem was, all the instructions on how to do it were in Korean. Awesome for my Korean students. Not so awesome for me.

    Quite impressive really.

     Blasted rubber bands.

    Tulip, Cootie Catcher, Crab

    The students laughed a lot when I decided to make a crab. I was just looking for the easiest thing possible. They were rather impressed when I was finished.

    I might have taken the rubber bands off to finish my crab. Might have.

    Done while being beaten with a balloon. Impressive, no?

    A few samples of our hard work.

    I would like to reiterate that NO students were harmed during the picture-taking of these simulations. At least not 'physically' harmed...

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    I Heart Koreans- 1

    I don't know that I've mentioned that I teach mostly Korean students.

    When I decided to take this job, I was under the impression that I would be teaching Chinese kids. Which doesn't really make sense since it's an international school. I was just ignorant on what an international school was. And then I thought I got it all straightened out when I went to my two week training course before I moved over here. It was going to be full of Westerners. Isn't that what all international schools are made up of? Americans and Europeans? Apparently not. At my school about 90% of the high school is made up of Korean students and the other 10% include other Asians, Westerners and a few Chinese with Canadian/USA green cards.

    Why is this important? Well, because I'm teaching a culture inside a culture inside a culture. A Korean heavy culture inside an American school inside China. It's all very Inception-y isn't it?

    I wasn't familiar AT ALL with my K-kids or their culture when I moved here. I had no idea what kind of food they ate, what kind of learners they were, how to differentiate between their language and Chinese (don't tell them that, it's very offensive to both Chinese and Koreans that I couldn't hear the difference. Now I can. They sound completely different. But it took a good three months or so). I've learned A LOT about Korean pop culture, the dating scene, daily life, family life...for instance...
    • Koreans are very nationalistic. They love their country and their culture. More than probably any other group of people I've ever come across.
    • They stay in packs. They are very loyal to each other. Not often do they let foreigners in to their groups and when they do, you're in for life (this is quite difficult on our non-Korean students)
    • They work extremely hard. I'm talking 15 hours a day going to school + another 3-5 hours on homework. 
    • Everything they do now is for the future. It's all about university. Every activity, class, grade, certificate, trip they complete is with their transcripts in mind. 
    I could make a much longer list but I want to get to the main point of this post. Which is the Korean dating scene. Being in a dating relationship is very important in Korean culture. I don't mean that everyone must be dating someone. In fact, it's quite the opposite. My students don't date each other very often. And I don't think there's anything like casual dating. You're either full-on together or you're not.

    So when a couple starts dating it's quite momentous. I'm not quite sure if I get how big of a deal it is but I do know that there are many high expectations, specifically of the girl. Many gifts should be given, purses should be carried, nice dinners should be eaten. In fact, if you don't have money, you probably won't get a girlfriend because you can't afford her.

    Two things I find very...interesting about Korean dating culture (well, besides the man carrying the woman's purse everywhere which also happens in Chinese culture).

    1. Matching outfits- it's is an expectation on holidays, special relationship days (100 day anniversaries which we'll get to later), and really any other day that the female chooses that the couple will match. And I don't mean color-coordinate. I'm mean FULL ON MATCH. I kid you NOT, there are stores all over Korea called "couple stores" where couples can go in and buy his/her outfits.

    Exhibit 1- Not too bad

    Exhibit 2- Too far

    Exhibit 3- A Couple Store

     2. 100 Days- In Korean dating culture, everything is counted in days, not months or years. At least until marriage and then I don't really know what happens. So, if I ask a student how long they've been dating someone, the answer will NOT be "almost 2 weeks". It will be "11days". Or "800 days". The 100 day mark is very important, regardless of whether it's 100 days or 500 days. Each one will be celebrated with gifts. Apparently, on the first 100 day anniversary, a common gift to give (at least in high school) is stars. Stars, you say? Yes, stars. Origami folded stars. I learned this today. My students are working on a project so some of my girls had these thin strips of paper and were so expertly making these stars. I was amazed. "How do you all know how to make these so well?" "Oh we must know how to do it so that we can give them to a boy on our 100 day anniversary." ??? "Are you dating anyone now?" "No, but we need to know how to do it for the future." Oh... So, the stores actually sell this paper that's specifically made to use for these origami stars.

    Strips of paper used  for stars

    Jar of Stars- More is always better

    Isn't this fascinating stuff? I have so much more to tell you about K-Culture but I'm thinking about doing a series of posts on it. So stay tuned. 

    P.S. If you're a student and you're reading this, I'd love to hear your thoughts or correct me if I'm wrong about something. 

    Monday, May 2, 2011


    Being here in China on this day has been very strange. Big things are happening back home but I'm missing out on it. I'm on the outside looking in and I want to be inside. Except I can't. It's almost like it's not really happening to me. Like this day won't be a part of my American history because I wasn't really there to experience it. I can read the internet news and re-watch the President's speech but it's not the same. 

    It's like being on a team. And the coach decides to have a sleepover and I'm the only girl that can't come. The sleepover is awesome and it's all the other girls talk about for weeks afterwards. They have inside jokes and favorite memories and really funny stories. But because I didn't go, I just can't relate. I'm still a part of the team. They still like me, want me around but I've missed out on a really important part of the team building. Or something.

    I'm really homesick for America right now. Not because I want to be in the streets chanting "Hey, hey, hey, goodbye" or even screaming "USA, USA, USA". But because I am missing a piece of American history. A time of gathering together, a time of forgetting right and left, a time of remembering what we've overcome.

    At the same time, I'm troubled by a lot of the hatred being screamed in the media and yes, even on my Facebook wall. I get it, the vindication, the legitimation, the sigh of relief. But it hurts my heart, all the "you-deserve-to-burn-in-hell" stuff, the celebration of death, the wishing of pain on someone.

    I know, I know. Where's my patriotism?

    It's right there, tucked in between deciphering what it means to 'love those that hate you' and jumping for joy that Bin Laden is dead.

    It's a tricky thing, to work out my faith when my patriotism is involved.

    Regardless, today I'm reminded how glad I am to be American, how thankful I am for the men and women who fight for my freedom (even if I choose to live in another country), and how grateful I am that I have a living God who is in complete control in every situation. 

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    New Pet...ish

    I've got a new pet. He's a sweet little guy. Furry, light gray, squeaks. And he's low maintenance. No poop to clean up, no food to buy, no water to refill. 

    He's really quite ideal. I don't have to find anyone to pet-sit when I travel, I can just take him with me. He never gets sick, he's so very obedient, he balances out eating, sleeping and playing. He's attentive to me. Whenever I drag my little arrow over his cage, he peps right up.

     Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I've got a digital hamster.

    Sweet Little Hamster Eating

    Sweet Little Hamster Drinking

    Sweet Little Hamster Running

    Sweet Little Hamster Sleeping

    He's very low maintenance...and very high guilt. Let me explain. I use iGoogle. It's supposed to work with your iPod interactively. Not really sure how since I don't have an iPod anymore but I like to pretend like I do. Anyway, you can upload gadgets to your page...

    I have games and weather and news and email and chat...and my digital hamster.I live my entire online life around him. My hamster's iGoogle page is always open. I'm constantly checking to see if he's awake and needs food. See? Just checked. I hate to accidentally let my mouse drift over him if he's sleeping because it'll wake him up. And the idea of closing down my computer...let's just say it makes me think twice.

    It's like living your life around a real pet except it's not. It's much lamer. 

    Sweet Little Hamster Slathering on the Guilt

    So, since he's playing such a major role in my life, I figure I should name him. Something really witty and awesome.


    Help me name my digital-I-can't-not-obsess-over-him-control-my-life-hamster (that I really want to call hamPster because that's how I always thought the word was spelled until this very post).

    And don't even try to judge me. I'm judging myself enough for all of us. I promise.

    The Royal Evening

    Friday night, we went to a Royal Wedding Party. Picture this.

    All the expats watching the ceremony
    Our view of the screen
    Made up in fancy clothes, surrounded by westerners- some dressed in bridal gowns, watching a wedding that's taking place in England, listening to a preacher talk about Jesus to a bunch of royalty... while sitting in the middle of dance club in China.

    Super random. And totally memorable.

    The girls and Vince
    One of my new Chinese friends joined me for the party. So it was me, my 10 girlfriends and him. He leaned over at one point and said, "Jennifer, do you have any guy friends?" I kind of laughed and explained that yes, I do, but that they didn't really want to come.
    This was his first real outing with Westerners. He was super nervous about his outfit. He had to borrow both a suit jacket and tie. And he had no idea how to hold a glass of wine (his very first). He decided that he didn't like it. It was  "too strong" and made him hot, I think.

    Free Champagne...that went mostly undrunk.

    After the ceremony, a few of us went to dinner at a really nice Italian restaurant. Even though we had to wait an hour for our food (got free champagne) and sit in a smoke-filled room from burnt food, it was delicious and well worth the wait.

    Looking good Karen

    Then a couple of us went to a restaurant in town where some of our friends play in the band there (also on my worship team). Great live music. Man, they are SO daggon' talented.

    Walking the red carpet

    It was such a great night with friends and fanciness.