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.)