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.)

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.