My Heart Will Go On

It’s been 6 ½ weeks since I got here now, and alongside all the wonderful and growing experiences I’ve had, I’ve had my fair share of slightly hilarious experiences as well. Allow me to share two of my favorite.

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A few weekends ago, five of us girls piled into a car and went to The Longxi Hot Springs Resort. Yes, hot springs. Read: natural hot tubs. (Oh, I am so roughing it in China.) Twenty-six of them, to be exact. Some inside, some outside. All at different temperatures and scented with different aromas or filled with something to help this or that when you sat in them. There were mineral added hot springs to help with blood circulation or muscle relaxation, beer and wine scented hot springs, hot springs with flower petals floating in them, some that were supposed to help you sleep better, one that was for bladder dysfunction (stayed far away from that … don’t think I want to sit in the same water as people with a bladder dysfunction). Really, if you can think it up, it was probably there. Including two hot springs called the “Turkey Fish Treatment.” Here’s what you do for that one: First, we sat in one hot spring that left a slight residue on our skin when we got out. Then we got into the hot spring next to it. This one was filled with little fish. Lots and lots and lots of little fish. Why was it filled with little fish? Because when we sat still, said little fish came and nibbled at our skin. Read: there were probably 100 little fish swarming around my legs and nibbling at them and making me want to squeal because it tickled so much. Why? They were eating my dead skin. Yes. I sat in a hot spring and got my dead skin eaten off by hundreds of little fish.

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Karaoke is a big deal here. Really, it’s all the rage. Everyone loves karaoke, right? Well, everyone here does. And I wanted to see why it was such a big deal. So, last night 11 of us piled into a van and went to KTV. Our group of six Americans and five Chinese sauntered into KTV and we bought a VIP pass, which meant that after two hours of singing, we got one hour for free. How do they keep track of how long we sing? Well, you see, it’s not like karaoke as I’ve ever known it. No karaoke bars and singing with people that you don’t know. You go with a big group and rent out a room. This room has a huge wrap-around leather couch and mood lighting and a plasma screen TV and two microphones and the karaoke machine. And then you sing to your heart’s content. And we did. It was actually a tad bit ridiculous how much some of my Chinese friends got into their singing, despite how terrible a few of them were. So, naturally, I got into it as well, despite how absolutely terrible my singing voice is. I belted “My Heart Will Go On” like a pro, and my friend Lauren and I serenaded everyone with “American Pie.” We also conjured up some Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys and Michael Jackson. The night was ended with “Do Re Mi” (yes, from the Sound of Music). Maybe we should have started with that one, since it was used in the movie to help the VonTrapp children learn how to sing … hmm.

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My Chinese is getting better! I can recognize words when I hear people talk. So, sometimes I can understand the context of a conversation that I have no business understanding. It’s quite fun. It doesn’t really help me get around or communicate, but I am excited about beginning to understand more. A big help in this endeavor called “Learning Chinese” has been my friend Ricky. He is a Chinese native, and he is very, very fluent in English; I feel like he speaks better English than some people in America who I know. A few nights ago, I was explaining to him my problem of translating things into Spanish since I didn’t know their Chinese equivalents. So, he asked me to teach him some Spanish. Teaching him some Spanish turned into Ricky proposing a contest. We were to each learn the same five sentences. Ricky would teach them to me in Chinese, and I would teach them to him in Spanish. Then in two days we would have a face off and see who knew their sentences better. The loser had to buy the winner something to eat. I’m always up for a little challenge, and this one would benefit me regardless, so I said ok. Ricky wrote down my sentences and I kept that paper with me for the next day, and didn’t look at it. Oops. You see, a problem here is that Lost season 1 has become a slightly important addition to my evenings. But I am not studying Chinese when I watch Lost. So, the night before this little competition, I watched Lost until 10:30. Then I was tired. But I sat in bed for maybe 10 minutes before I fell asleep and I reviewed my sentences during that time. I knew I wasn’t as well prepared as I should have been, seeing as how I saw Ricky practicing his Spanish on anyone who would listen all day. Oh well, right? Well, I got to lunch the next day, and Ricky had apparently been telling everyone all morning about how he was going to beat me. So the competition began. Ricky was asked to say a sentence. He stalled for maybe 30 seconds and then spit it out. My turn with a different sentence. I got it immediately. Ricky’s second sentence: pronunciation wasn’t entirely amazing. My second sentence: easy. Ricky’s third sentence: he couldn’t remember it. My third sentence: spit it out. Ricky’s fourth sentence: he couldn’t remember it. My fourth sentence: no problem. Ricky’s fifth sentence: stalled, stalled, stalled, stalled, stalled, kind of got it. My fifth sentence: no big deal. I then informed Ricky in Spanish that I wanted two apples. He just stared at me blankly. So, I switched to Chinese. Hooray for slight Chinese communication. I am excited about this!

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My first week of tag team preschool teaching with Lauren went very well. Remember, neither of us are teachers. Lauren just graduated High School. I am a Music Management major. And here we both are, teaching preschool together. I think I am enjoying myself with this preschool teaching. But I still say I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. Perhaps solid statements like that have a way of coming back at you sometimes. Perhaps I am challenging myself by saying that so boldly.

I do have an entirely strong feeling that I will be back to China again. This country isn’t something I can just drop. A more long-term trip / work situation / living arrangement may be in the future sometime. Who knows? I guess I can’t know anything for sure right now. But I am trying to find ends that meet right now. I want to know if I’m supposed to be here again. And if I’m supposed to be here, I want to know what am I supposed to be doing.

There are four things that matter most to me in life right now: family, China, and music. The fourth is the One who gets all the credit for giving me all of these things to enjoy. If He has given me these things that are so important to my heart, there must be a way for them to fit together, right? That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. A lot.

It’s the orphans of this country who have brought me here for these past three summers. It’s the orphans of this country who will continue to put that all-too-familiar burden on my heart. When I am here, they change me for the better – maybe even more than I am able to help them. I come to love them tangibly, and I get so much more in return. There really is something special about China. So here is a warning to any of you who may be thinking about making a trip to this country: Be careful, because you might just Fall In Love with China.

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Tengo er shi yi sui le años

Remember that entry a while ago about Bekah ayi, and Bekah lao shi? Here’s a new development: Sarah (the preschool teacher who I am helping) is visiting her family in Sichuan for the next two weeks. As in, Sarah is very far away for the next two weeks. So what happens now? Here is what happens: I have a preschool to call “mine” for these two weeks. I am the teacher. There are people who work “under” me to help the 3 ½ hour preschool time each morning run smoothly. I’m the one calling the shots. What?! … Really?! Yes. Sarah informed me of this on Sunday night. Funny enough, last Tuesday (one of my normal teaching days), Sarah was very busy. So busy that I didn’t really see her at all during preschool time. So, instead of teaching my lesson and then letting her take over, as has been normal for these past few weeks, I taught my lesson, and then kept with the flow of the preschool and showed the kids what we’d be doing next, and tried to keep every one happy, and decided what activity they’d be doing for their fine motor skills development, and told them when it was time to clean up and line up and gave them their candy and said bye bye and watched them all file out for lunch. 3 ½ hours of running the preschool, without any warning. And I did it. And it went well I think. And then Sarah came in and said she was very confident that I would continue to do well these next two weeks. Olivia called me lao shi the other day. I suppose that’s what I’ve become. And I think I’m becoming more and more okay with this.

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We celebrated the Fourth of July in China. In the morning, Lauren and I planned a lesson for the kids about it, and they learned about flags and red white and blue and parades. We helped them make parade hats out of newspaper and they decorated their own flags with red and blue paper strips and gold star stickers. We then all went outside (in the ridiculous humidity that existed yesterday) and the kids put on their hats and held their flags and we handed out noisemakers and gold streamers and then everyone paraded around the back yard and into one of the offices to show off their very tangible excitement. Much laughter and good times ensued. I’m not entirely sure if the kids really knew what was going on, but they definitely had a lot of fun. There are already pictures up on New Day’s site, click on “Scrapbook” on the left hand side bar. (I did not have my camera with me at the time, as I was the one trying to make sure it all happened the way I planned. So New Day’s site is the only place you’ll see pictures of this.)

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We also celebrated the Fourth of July in the evening, with a group from LA who is here for two weeks. They planned a cookout, and we all celebrated and invited all the Chinese staff and students who were around. We had an amazing fun time celebrating in a true American way in China. There were grilled hamburgers and hot dogs (yeah, I ate a tomato sandwich), and potato chips and corn on the cob, and peach cobbler and rice krispy treats and watermelon. We played lots of games (and made all the Chinese join it), like musical chairs and water balloon volleyball. We also had a dance party, including such songs as the YMCA, Macarena, Electric Slide, Cha Cha Slide, Chicken Dance, and Hokey Pokey. I don’t have pictures of this, but there were plenty of camera shutters being snapped, so I’ll have my hands on some pictures eventually. Just try to visualize about 50 people (1/4 Americans, ¾ Chinese) doing these dances together. It was absolutely ridiculous. And absolutely so much fun. The night, naturally, was ended with sparklers and fireworks. Chinese fireworks on the Fourth of July!

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I have started taking Chinese lessons, three times a week for an hour; my roommates and I are taking them together. I still can’t understand hardly anything people say to me, but I am starting to be able to form simple sentences about my age and birthday and anything including numbers or dates or seasons or today and tomorrow and yesterday. And when I do hear Chinese, it sounds more normal to me now; my ears recognize that it is a language with separate words and phrases and sentences. This is a big advancement for me, as previously anything in Chinese just sounded like jumbled mishmash and there was nothing coherent to it. The structure of the language is starting to make sense to me now! I’m hoping to keep up with learning the language even after I leave. Maybe I’ll finally start using that Rosetta Stone CD I have.

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Sometimes when someone says something to me in Chinese, my brain realizes that I have to answer in a different language, but the obvious problem comes to drift. I am, however, competent with buying groceries in the village and I can ask for my favorite type of chicken and bread at the barbecue restaurant in the village. But if anyone tries to respond to my simple Chinese language requests with a long string of Chinese words, I can do one of two things: grin and nod, or respond with “Ting bu dong, dui bu qi.” (“I don’t understand, sorry.”). However, the first things my mind has been conjuring up every time I want to speak to people are sentences in Spanish! It’s actually quite surprising how much Spanish I remember from four years worth of studying it. I think if I were in a Spanish speaking country right now I could definitely get around easily. Too bad I’m in China; I suppose Spanish would be more counter-productive than English. It is, however, so tempting to say something like “I am tengo er shi yi sui le años, he you?” (“I am 21 years old, and you?” … in a horrible and repetitive mix of Spanish, Chinese, and English.)

Music makes the people come together

Yes, that title is a Madonna quote. Silly me, quoting Madonna. But you know what, it’s true. Music is an entirely universal language, it can cross boundaries that speech, poetry, sports, or touch are able to cross. Last night, Sarah (the preschool teacher) invited Jovy and I over to her house for dinner. We got to meet her 2 year old son, and we ate some wonderful homecooked hot pot. Afterwards, her neighbor was out with his guitar and we sat around in a circle outside and Sarah played some, and then she brought out her Ukelele and we played some songs together, there was singing involved, and I even took the guitar and played and sang them some Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here), hooray for that!

But none of that was the best part. The best part was towards the very end of our time there, she started playing Amazing Grace. And we all sang it together, in both languages at the same time. I can’t really think of very many other moments in my life that have amounted to the beauty of that one.

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Before I left the states to come here this summer, my friends at work surprised me with money to bring here and spend on the kids. I can’t begin to describe how ecstatic I was about this.

About two weeks into my trip, I had a random dream that we took the kids to the Beijing Wildlife Park. On Friday, my friends from work in Pennsylvania made that a reality.

So, Friday morning, 10 kids and 11 adults piled into two cars and drove to the Beijing Wildlife Park. It started out a bit overwhelming, as in two of the kids cried when they saw the horses, and half of the kids cried when we saw the monkeys. Yeah … horses and monkeys and uncontrollable crying and some freaking out.

But, the kids did all eventually calm down. And they had a great time seeing the monkeys and giraffes and wolves and deer and bears and peacocks and lions and chipmunks and racoons and tigers. They got to see lions jump through rings of fire and bears walk on balls. We even all piled into one of these:

safari truck

And once in that safari truck, we took a trip through many different animal habitats, and watched bears stand on their hind legs right infront of us to eat raw chicken above our heads, and hand fed cabbage to many different kinds of deer and pigs, and all in all had a wonderful time.

We also went out to eat at a restaurant in Beijing. Just chew on that for a bit … 10 kids at a restaurant. Haha. It really was great times. And the people at Lookaway are amazing for helping it all to happen!

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And, as some side notes, my pictures are updated. The pictures on Facebook are the ones I have edited and picked my favorites. I also put the names of the kids and some comments on those pictures so you know the context. The pictures on Photobucket (album one, album two) are unedited, and every single picture I’ve taken is uploaded onto those photo albums, and it’s up to you to fish through them as I’ve left no context, no names, and there are at this point over 350 of them. Enjoy!

Young and With No Clue

***I’d like to make a shout out to my sister Emili who is graduating from High School in a few short hours. I am so proud of her, and wish I could be there to watch her accept her diploma. Love you Em!***

Laoshi. Pronounced: laow-shur. Meaning: teacher.

Well, the kids still call me Ayi. But I don’t think that the words “nannie,” or “helper,” or “aunt” suit my line of volunteering-ism anymore. I have slightly (or maybe entirely) become a laoshi. Bekah the teacher.

No, really. I am a teacher.

I teach the preschoolers every Tuesday and Thursday. For the entirety of preschool. You may well call it the Bekah show. I have found myself in the line of writing lesson plans, cutting paper for crafts, planning activities, and thinking along the lines of preschoolers who speak Chinese but should be learning English.

It’s really alot of stretching for me. I am learning as I do this. Remember, my major is Music Management. There is no place in that major for teaching anything, no less teaching younger kids a second language. The Internet has been a big help. So has a book in the preschool teacher’s office that is filled with ideas for lesson plans pertaining to specific topics.

Last Tuesday was apples. Last Thursday was ants. (Last week was capital “A.”) Yesterday was (kind of) airplanes. (For lower case “a.”) The paper airplanes I helped them make were a big hit. Tomorrow is purple. Let me tell you that I drew lots of purple circles for a craft about grapes tomorrow. 263 tiny circles, to be exact. And I cut out 63 of those circles. It was SO MUCH FUN! Haha. So, I am a preschool teacher who is learning solely by experience. It’s very challenging, because seriously, I have no idea what I am doing. But I am definitely having so much fun with it. And then again at the same time, I can’t see myself EVER doing it again after this summer.

So, Bekah the preschool teacher. That’s not all. I am also a private tutor for Savannah now. For an hour and a half a day, I am teaching this beautiful 6-year-old girl English. She knows so much English. She understands much more than she ever lets on. So, I am attempting to teach her how to read. In doing so, I am trying to think back to when I was in Kindergarten and learning how to read. How did I learn? I have no idea. I am making things up. But, there is progress being made! Savannah recognizes alot of her letters now. The only problems at this moment are as follows: Her attention span is not quite as good as it was when we first started. I think she’s gotten too comfortable with me already. Also, we do not have enough books on the correct level for Savannah. Most of the books here are too easy for her. But everything has been working out well so far, and I have no doubt that things will continue to work out as needed.

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We took 6 of the kids to pick watermelons last Friday morning. It was a sticky but incredibly wonderful morning. You should check out some of the pictures of that morning and other adventures on New Day’s website!

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I have eaten two home-cooked Chinese meals in the past week. One at Amy’s house last week. I teach Amy English every afternoon, and she invited me and my roommate Jovy over to eat dinner with her family. It was a wonderful time and very good food.

Jovy and I had Amy and her daughter over last night for some American food. Actually, it was Italian, but I wasn’t about to cook hot dogs or hamburgers or something. Because that is gross. But, we had fruit salad with mango, grapes, cherries, apples, and bananas, and then noodles cooked in olive oil and garlic and peppers and onion and tomatoes, served with pesto tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, and for dessert we made a no bake chocolate pudding pie. I’d consider that all fairly American. They enjoyed it, I think. They told us they did.

My other home-cooked Chinese meal happened on Monday night. One of the English students here, Jill, told me that she wanted to cook for my roommates and me. So, we went to the village and bought all the ingredients (literally, all of them, as we have next to no food in the apartment), and came back to the apartment. I got to watch her cook Chinese style and I tried to remember everything she did. She made four dishes, and every one was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, seriously. The Chinese have a way with spices. Too bad all the spices were labeled in Chinese characters. I don’t know how I’m going to figure out what to buy when I want to cook that flavorfully.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to cook a Chinese meal when I get back to the states. We’ll see.

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Three weeks in China. I feel like I’ve been here forever, and forever is somehow not enough. Sometimes, I already feel sad that I’m leaving at the end of July. Maybe I should stop thinking about that.

I feel at home here. It’s such an odd concept for me to wrap my mind around. I am generally one who does not fare well with change. I like the familiar. I like my environment. I can get pretty shaken up when I am taken out of it. I don’t get strung out over things, I’d say I’m even a bit too laid back for my own good at times, but big changes generally take an intangible toll on my emotions.

So why is it, though I am literally half a world away, 12 hours ahead of normal life as I know it, buying food in an open market place with money that makes little sense to me in a language I barely understand, sleeping in a bunk bed on the 6th floor of an apartment in a village of a country with a culture that is massively different than mine, why is it that I am so completely comfortable here?

One word: Purpose.

I was given a heart for this country. I only feel complete when I am doing work for the orphans here. That is one of the pieces of my puzzle (oh, cliches).

Tangibly fulfilling a sense of purpose is one of the most rewarding acts I have ever experienced.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower

There is a little girl named Olivia who is in the heart wing of the hospital right now. On my first day back, her heart started leaking (she has already had heart surgery and has a pacemaker). She is doing much, much better physically. However, her story is a very sad one. She was abandoned at the age of 3. And it was in a hospital that her parents left her. And now she’s back in a hospital, and visiting hours are Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays from 2:30-4:00. No exceptions. Physically, this girl is doing well. Emotionally, I can’t even imagine what she’s going through. Her nanny visits her everytime she is allowed, but that can only do so much. Please keep this little girl in your thoughts, etc.

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On Saturday, my roommates and I hired a driver, went to the Summer Palace, ate at Grandma’s Kitchen, met up with Caroline in Soho, and shopped at the Pearl Market. In and of themselves, those things are mildly exciting for me (please forgive me for the “mildly” description. I’ve just been here, done that, etc, and love it, so sometimes touristy things aren’t exactly what I’m looking for anymore). Here’s what excited me the most, however: We did all of these things without a guide, without a translator, knowing very little Chinese.

We were dropped off in the parking lot of the Summer Palace and left to find our way to the ticket booth and buy tickets and explore the place, after haphazardly communicating to our driver how many hours we’d be and where we should meet her. And then we explored the Summer Palace and found our way back to our driver in time. She drove us to a parking garage near Grandma’s Kitchen and then we somehow found our way out of it (that was an adventure we got on video), into Soho, and found Grandma’s Kitchen. We ate there and then explored Soho a bit, and met up with Caroline on time. We bartered in the Pearl Market (I’m terrible at bartering. I got a North Face jacket for 170 yuan ($24.71). Not bad but could have done better). We found our way back to our driver again. We got home safely.

I am very proud of us for Saturday. We explored China “on our own.”

Yesterday morning (Sunday morning), I had the opportunity to play my violin in the w. band. I’ll get to do this every Sunday morning while I am here. I am so excited that the opportunity to play my violin in this manner has come up even in China.

Today, we are going to the Beijing Wildlife Park. Everytime I tell that to a native, their first reaction is “You get to feed the tigers!” Apparently, this place is like a safari; you get into a caged truck and are driven around to see the animals, and they come very close to the truck. This should be a fun adventure.

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Weekends are fun (and today is a holiday, the Dragonboat Festival, so it’s a 3 day weekend), but weekdays are my favorite. Because those are the days I get to do what I came for: tangibly love the kids in the foster home. Here are some stories I’ve compiled over this past week. (To put faces with names, visit newdaycreations.com/foster, and click on “babies” on the lefthand sidebar.)

Wendel
This kid is a crazy ball of fire. He loves to run around with a goofy smile on his face and destroy anything in his path. I was spending time with him a few days ago, and he took apart a big climbing toy and started throwing all the pieces across the floor. As I was scrambling to pick them up and put them back together, I got whacked square in the forehead by a big plastic tube that he was spinning around. It took me a second to get my bearings together, and when I could see straight again, Wendell was laughing hysterically at me. (I can still feel the bruise.)

Savannah
This little girl is amazingly smart. She also loves to be in control. And she’s very good at manipulating situations so that she is in control. I have slightly beat her at her own game. I’ve been trying to learn any bit of Chinese that I can. So, during my 2 1/2 hours in the afternoon while the kids are napping (Savannah is not napping), I sit up in this little loft area in the pre-school and read little kid’s books in Pinyin. My roommate and I did this together one day, and we learned our colors. There are also books about animals and fruits and vegetables, etc. So, we brought Savannah up with us. We needed to give her something to do, but she does not like to listen, she likes to do her own thing. We told her we wanted help with our Chinese. She got a big smile on her face and started pointing at the pictures in the books and telling us the names of the objects. We repeat after her, and she corrects our pronounciation. So, I am learning simple Chinese from a 5 year old.

Seth
Well, aside from the attachment I already feel to this little boy, he has started to attach himself to me again, on occasion. I was in the big playroom one afternoon, playing with Seth, and 5:00 came around so it was time for me to leave. I told him this, and he immediately lifted his arms up for me to pick him up off the floor. Of course I picked him up, I’m a sucker for that. We walked around the room for a few minutes, and then I said “zaijian (bye)” and tried to put him down. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled himself closer. He wouldn’t let me put him down! He was laughing at this, because he knew what he was doing. I did finally get him on the ground, and he opened the door to let me leave. While I was putting my shoes on, he walked out of the playroom and stood down the hallway watching me. I said bye to him and waved, and he did the same. As I was walking outside and closing the door, I kept my eyes on him, and he kept his eyes locked on mine, with a smile on his face, until the door was closed and we couldn’t see each other again. Dear heart, please be still!!!

Ben
I am supposed to be teaching Ben english every afternoon at 4:30. It hasn’t happened yet, because he never listens to me when the time comes. However, I think maybe we’ll both be on the same line soon, because he is really starting to open up to me, much more than last summer (we called him Samson last summer). Most of you know that I am a very quiet and introverted person. I like to sit on the outside of things and watch what is going on. And I am perfectly content with doing that. Sometimes, I do that in the playroom. There is always alot of activity going on, and it is fun to watch the kids interact with each other and the nannies and the other volunteers. So, I sit on the floor and watch things play out. Ben does this too. I’ve caught him standing in a corner on more than occasion, observing everything that is going on in the playroom. It has happened on multiple occasions now, however, that I’ll be sitting on the floor, watching the kids play, and Ben will come out of nowhere and plop down on my lap and start reading a book to himself, or examine his surroundings. He doesn’t need one-on-one interaction, or something large and shiny to keep him happy. He just wants to sit with someone and watch the outside world. A boy after my own heart!

One of my most favorite books is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky. There’s a line in the book that goes like this: “He’s a wallflower … you see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”

Ben has a family. He talks with them on skype once a week. In a few months, they will come and get him, and he will move to Oklahoma and be an American boy. I hope his family will allow him to continue to be a wallflower every once in a while. Us introverts don’t always need to be specifically included to feel included.