China Adventure

Seven Days To Go

I have never believed that people can fully change in a span of five months. However, I do believe that with the right experiences and opportunities, one can greatly improve the path he/she is on to be the best person they know they can be.
I am definitely still on the road to becoming exactly who I want to be. I know there are some views that I have changed, some I gained, and some that I will always stick by. Living in China has opened my mind up greater than I have expected and has shown me a new life I thought I’d never live.

My first seven days I remember thinking, “What in the hell am I doing here? I can’t teach. I can’t feel my toes, and I keep forgetting to not flush the damn toilet paper in the toilet.” I was pretty nervous to talk to anyone. I didn’t care to get ready or look nice because I felt too cold to do anything. I slept at any given moment because I was even too cold to be active. I had a [short-lived] fear that I would be a rucluse while teaching.

And then within my first two weeks, I met Ya Wei. We instantly became close and exchanged many emails all day long. We enjoyed talking whenever we could, sharing our different cultures, telling stories, and swapping pictures. I never would have thought I liked all the things about him that I do. That is someone who has completely taken me by surprise.

Wang Meng and Dong Mei. They are probably the absolute closest friends to me. I have never met two more honest people in my life and I am forever grateful to call them a friend. I never would have thought the majority of my time would be spent on campus with them, laughing, learning, and talking about life. While Dong Mei have each other to watch basketball games, Wang Meng gives me lady lessons, which I will definitely continue to use while back in America. I have no insecurities around them, no second thoughts, and absolutely no doubts. I believe that is when you know you have a true friend.

I have been at Mayflora long enough to get to know many people on my school’s campus. We joke together, we play sports together, and cheer each other on during sporting events. We help each other out, feed each other, and do favors for the other; not because we feel obligated, but because that’s just what friends do, and we’re happy to do it. And in fact, it’s never made me feel happier.

I now love practicing my Chinese on any given stranger in the city or on campus. I love flirting in Chinese and bargaining while shopping. I love the street food. I have really come to ignore all the staring, and now, find some fun in playing around with it. The field at night has become my unannounced territory as I put my ear buds in for a couple hours of dancing. My students are my everything. My memory has gotten better (thank you healthy food!) and I feel the culture has significantly helped me to “be what the moment requires” – a quote from Robert Greene in his book The 48 Laws of Power.
I never fully understood what it meant, until today.

Being what the moment requires is more than just forcing emotion and nodding your head in agreeance. It’s truly deciding to make the conscious effort to be what is necessary in any givent moment. You would never jump and run in a skirt and heels. You would never use profanities in front of anyone that doesn’t actually know you on “that kind of level.” And I certainly hope that you would not ever be the loudest one, unless given a valid reason to do so. That last one I am still working on.
Because of Wang Meng, we agreed I could be 70% lady like and the rest, I can get sweaty, play sports, have a beer with the guys, practice kung fu, be loud, be crazy, be wild – but not when I should be a lady. And it really shows me just how inappropriate and unattractive it can be if I am not in “the place” where it is permitted. It’s a conscious choice on my part to put his advice in action. I don’t need to be all those things or show I am all of those things all the time. Only when required.

I have learned more things than I thought possible. I have learned to love kids more than lot of other things. I have become more of a woman. I have bathed in sophistication. Fought with a Kung Fu Master. I became tolerant of using my right hand. I can be completely confident in my words and actions and refuse to apologize for any of my honesties. I played with little kids. I’ve played in soccer games, got more into NBA, and learned exactly how to throw a punch. My flexibility has significantly increase. I have seen glamoous sights right down to the fece-infested streets. I’ve given and taken meaningful gifts. I’ve made solid bonds. I’ve been inspired and inspired in return.

So for these last seven days, now that I know this city so well and truly love these people I surround myself with on a daily basis, it becomes harder to pack my luggage. To go back to America and literally count down the days until I step foot in Bengbu again. And not just Bengbu, for that matter, but all over China. All over the world.
With seven days to go, I remain grateful. I remain honored. I remain in love with the city that opened its arms to seven strange, ignorant Americans.
It’s something that can never be topped.

Shanghai, you’ll always have my attention.

I firmly believe that when something happens twice to you in the same place, it will more or less be likely to happen everytime you are in that place.

Mindles, Kanz, and I packed our bags and took off on the bullet train this afternoon and headed east. As we arrived in Shanghai tonight around 6:30, we had one (maybe two, depending on Mindles’ health level) objective on our minds: FOOD.
Not just food, but dinner from Amatto Gelato’s, near People’s Square, which is supposed to be a fofteen minute walk from our hostel.

Needless to say, we did not get our anticipated dinner tonight. Mindles also didn’t get to the Americanized hospital visit she was dreading and consciously putting off.
We ate Mcdonald’s. By the way, have you ever tried their iced Mocha? If not, you should.

Now, let me back up a hot minute. Our first time to Shanghai, I was in charge of booking our hostel.
I’m always in charge of that kind of stuff, because next to our Head Teacher, who I am enjoying calling “Massa” (as in, “yes Massa” and bowing my head), I am the most responsible.
Except that I am terrible with directions in foreign countries. I can barely give directions to people in America. However, I act confident enough that people don’t question me.
Anyway, I wrote down the directions word for word from the Internet, but confused the street name of the hostel location or the actual Subway line station exit. Oops.…..
That day, at the end of March, in the bright Sunlight of the early morning Spring, we were sitting ducks on the corner of HeMi Road. Our hostel was literally a minute and a half walk away, but we had no clue. We thought we were completely lost. A kind-hearted lady who had a husband with English as his second language, was extremely helpful to us. After 20 minutes of talking with him over the phone and her translating, etc, we were advised to crank our heads 60 degrees opposite of our current eye fixation and walk straight until you run into the hostel doors.
Boy, did we feel dumb.

No different than tonight. Except a little. Like every great second mistake, it only got a little more dramatic.
This time, there was no early morning sunlight to make it easy on us. Or a Chinese woman with an English speaking husband.

Tonight, it was dark by the time we got off the Subway and headed out.for the city streets. We asked which dorection South was and had it pointed out by two gentleman. I suppose I should have been more specific in the beginning, but what can I do about it now? And so the adevnture begins……
We stopped at hospital on the road I thought we were supposed to be on until we ran into the Suzhou Road street sign that would appoint us South. But that sign never showed up. After the hospital receptionist could barely understand poor, lifeless Mindles, we continued walking West down Xinzha Road. We asked three strangers and a worker at a local Chinese fast food joint, all of which suggested we continue forthward.
So, we did as we were told.

“Well, this has definitely been.more than five minutes.” I point out a-matter-of-factly.
The girls insisted we keep walking, because eventually it would just show up, right? Wrong again.

We thought maybe luck struck us as we were crossing the highway.underpass, when a Chinese woman offered us help and a small, light-hearted conversation in which was a one way street, because we could not understand a thing she was saying. We pointed out the address and did not let her forget for more than 2 minutes at a time that, “this is where we need to go. Suzhou Road, Suzhou Road. You know where this is, right?”
She just kept pointing West.

We stopped at a construction site and she asked three security guards. I instantly thought, “Oh my God. This is how it happens. The sex trade. Kidnappings. Big foreign cities. This is how it all ends. Ohhhhh balls…….
Lucky for us, we must have not been their type. Hahahahaha that was just a jokey….

Back to seriousness! The guards reassured us we were going the right way and in two roads, we would see the sign for ours. Phew!
Only, 8 roads later, we went back to questioning this small lady with a large mission on hand.
I called my friend Dong Mei, no answer. I called my friend Seth, yessss, I can always count on him! He definitely went out of his way to translate our hostel in Chinese to better offer help in talking to this woman over the phone.

“Well, she said she does not know you want to go to a hotel. She is taking you to get a massage. She is a massage therapist.” He informs me.
I stand still against a tree and gently beat my head three times into the tough bark. “She is WHAT?”
I instantly pass the phone to Kenz and go up to our helpful, small friend. Her and I exchange words in Chinglish, telling her the last thing we have on our agenda is a massage and possible prostitution emslavement. Not that a massage wasn’t tempting, I just did not want any free give outs at 7:30 at night when I am sweaty, hungry, and having to pee out all the water I had drank three hours prior. I knew what she wanted.
“Not today!” I kindly reminded her, channeling my best Dane Cook impression.

So we stopped because the lady had my paper and decided, Hey! Cops will know where to go. With a crowd growing around us, Mindles took a picture and instantly got yelled at by the police officer.
“What’s that for?” She asked.
“Mindy….. You can’t take pictures of the officers. Now is not the time for pictures.”

This lady would not leave us alone, as much as I even told her in Chinese to please do. She was the kitten begging for the bowl of milk. (hey mom, how was that anaolgy?) Mindles wanted to keep on the journey West and “just see” where it would take us. I figured we had nothing to lose, but now, I just though, to hell with it. I’m hauling down a taxi.

The worry sunk in when Seth translated what we wanted over the phone to two taxi drivers who had no idea where our hostel was located. So much for getting promoted in that field… Was this a scam? Are we getting Punk’d? Oh wait, none of us are famous…. Dream. Crushed. I thought.

After 40 minutes of walking West we see a taxi just pulling over to let out a girl. Yes! This was our third chance. If all is right and true in the world then “Third time’s the charm” will be on our side. Although the lady driver also had no clue where our desired location was, she did not drive off and leave us with the lady even she knew was feeding everyone we tried to ask for help complete BS. So, she used her witts and called up the taxi HQ head hancho who spoke English. Kenz could feel my patience giving out, so she stepped in and talked to the voice on the other end.
Alas there is good in the world! The Saint of a lady behind the wheel was given clear direction and she took us to our direction with the company of nice Chinese radio.

So getting lost twice, trying to find hostels in Shanghai? Probably not the last time. Solution? Google maps. And more Chinese lessons. 

Long Bridge Park

Today, the group and I decided to have a China Family trip outing. Lately, our vacations have been separate and we sparingly do things together, such as eating our Friday night traditional meals at the book bar, having our movie nights, or game nights. We have felt like we’re becoming somewhat of a broken family. So a little bonding time was in the perfect place today! We have long been neglecting the trip to what we call the Long Bridge Park, just on the outskirts of Bengbu.

After you go across the bridge that takes up the majority of the scenery, you come to a giant surrounding of rocks and purposely place stones. Five feet into the water, is a small island of an asortment of trees, you just can’t help but stare at. Pine trees, rose bushes, a flower garden, forest trees, palm trees…. these were obviously not naturally grown together. Although, beautiful. You could hear the birds singing somewhere from deep inside the 30 foot found island. If only there were stones connecting the two places together, instead of a wire, we could have explored it. However, this stone river-bend beach, became our playground.

 

We spent a fair amount of time with our heads down, glued to searching for the perfect skipping stones. Mindy had never skipped stones before, so it was a perfect time to teach! Out of the many “firsts” we have all equally had in China, this was a good American thing to teach her in a foreign country. As we were looking, I was also collecting some interesting rocks. When the others asked why, I explained to them that every beach I go to, I like to gather some sand and something specifically memorable from the beach. Usually rocks, maybe a shell. If there is no beach, I just gather rocks. I asked them to keep their eyes peeled for anything extra interesting. The more we kept looking, I can hear here from behind me saying, “What is this? It’s a……. oh my gosh, ew!” She screamed and just as I looked over and asked what it was she yelled, “I am holding a bone!” “Mindy don’t! Throw it to me!” I yelled. But, it was too late. She tossed it into the water and pulled out her hand sanitizer faster than an athlete grabbing for their water.  “You’re fired!” I said to her, as I often did, whenever she dropped an eating utensil outside on our way to meals. “Hey, at least I tossed it close. It’s floating back towards us!” She optimistically pointed out. This put a smile on my face 🙂 I immediately went as close to the water as I could and debated on how I was going to retrieve this bone. This freaky piece of something that I wanted in my Bengbu rock collection. Maybe I was twisted, but it was a memorable piece after all.

“Hey Kenz…. whatcha doin over there?” I asked suggestively. “Sitting here. Why? What are you going to ask me?” “You know me all too well. Wanna help me get a bone out of the water?” “Actually, yes. This could be fun! Here Mindy, take some pictures!” as she handed Mindy my camera. Within seconds, her hands were around my ankles and I was leaning over two different rocks, stretching my body as far as I could into the water, without actually touching it. Hard, when you are only five feet tall and have about one foot to actually work with. I struggled, I grunted, and I urged Kenz to please just “push me just a little further….” and eventually..

VICTORY WAS OURS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was too great of a success and experience to continue skipping rocks. We had moved past that moment, ready for a new an exciting event to take place. Which moved us over to the unusually placed formation of rocks. All different shapes and sizes, but yet, placed in a perfect circle. I would guess about 50 feet in diameter, give or take a foot.

Not that I would assume these rocks were man-made, but how was it that each rock seemed to invite us in with absolute comfort? Almost every rock we sat on, could have been moved into a house and used as a chair, in my opinion. But then again, I am a little more pagan than everyone else around me. Suddenly, we weren’t 20-something year old’s. We were young again, our imaginations flowing around. Playing on rocks, laughing, and joking. Bonding. We pretended the rocks underneath us were horses, whales, chairs, and mountain tops. We believed the stone grounded “beach” was full of lava and you couldn’t touch it. But Matt was touching it.

He went over to Sarah’s rock and urged her, “Hey, get off my rock!” “This is my rock!” She protested, “Get your own rock. You are not coming on my rock. No waaay!” Although, the battle had just begun. And because Matt never lets us forget he has lost more weight than all of us combined, that leaves him with more energy for the mission to take over rocks.

And when he did take over Sarah’s rock, he declared one rule for the lava filled ground. “We should all climb these rocks. All the way around the circle and make it back here. You can’t touch the ground. If you do touch the ground, then you’re out. No restarts and no cheating.” This was easily one of the funner things we have ever done in Bengbu, together.



Admittedly, some of the rocks were a struggle. I pushed myself to move in ways I didn’t think my body would let me move and continuously thanked my mom for putting me in gymnastics when I was younger; giving me the flexibility needed to bend, stretch, and leap across these rocks. Also, choosing that day to wear my Vibram toe shoes was one of my smarter choices, versus wearing my Toms like I usually choose. I managed to keep up at a close distance with Matt, with Sarah motivating me to move faster as she stayed close with me. Felicia touched the ground, making her be out. And Mindy…. well… Mindy got stuck on a rock. For the better half of the one o’clock hour.

We managed to declare the winners of the new game we had made. Matt in first place, myself in second, and Sarah in a dangerously close third place. Along with a little planking and perching, this afternoon was a perfect afternoon.

“You can’t dance.”


“I’m sorry. The leaders just think it’s too much of a risk to have you on the stage with how bad your sickness is. You may be getting better, but anything can make it act up again. Especially the back bend. They said they would prefer to not have you be in the performance, but you can still watch.”

News hits like a whiplash. Why did I have to get this illness NOW? Instead of in three weeks when I would be on a plane back to America where I could take care of the issue there? Today will be the third day of teaching I have missed. I couldn’t finish dress rehearsal yesterday because I thought a blackout was on its way, and now I have been told that I cannot get on that stage….. an entertainer’s biggest worry.

I feel like it’s not only a let down to myself, but to everyone else. We have put so much time and effort into the performance. We have spent everyday for weeks getting the tones, pronunciation, and actions just right, so we could do a perfect job for the school. Although you can’t control when you are and are not sick, it seems to me that people still seem somewhat disappointed in the fact that I am.

I do too many twirls and my head swells up to the size of a parade balloon. I back bend and feel like I will fall backwards in an unconscious state, and yet I am still fighting to be in a show.

I wonder if, just like any other entertainer, do they think that dancing and performing is the one exception to life that can’t be missed. We can miss work, meetings, dates, and family events due to an illness, but God forbid do we miss our own show. Is it a selfish act, I wonder? Or purely a common thought? I feel as though even if I were to break my hand, I would say, “the show must go on.”

Parts of my sickness, I can’t help but laugh. I know this must be a universally felt thinking error, also. Correct me if I am wrong. But, I feel I must not be the only one who, when completely healthy and strong, wish for just a day off. “I would love if I just got to sleep in today. If I just got to relax. Read my book. Take a nice long walk and sip on my tea.”

Well…. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

You will not only get your wish, but you may get it in a form on the opposite end of the spectrum of which you asked. For me, I did think that. I thought, “Wow, just one day. That might be kinda nice. To be alone in my room with the sound of the outside. To read my book along the lake all morning long..”
I have gotten 36 pages in my new book before I passed back out, due to my medicine. I don’t get to go on a nice long walk, because my body is just too weak. I do sleep a lot though. I have been for the last three days. In and out of consciousness. Dreaming has been a great time for me.

So I am aware I’m not at my peak. I know my body doesn’t have enough energy and that I move slow.

And yet… I am still fighting to dance.

 

I did it!

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I did it! I reached 5/8’s by my birthday. I started stretching my ears around last August. One drunken night and I went from a regular earring size to a size 8. I started out with wood gauges. I didn’t think I wanted to go any bigger. And then I kept finding styles I liked in bigger sizes. Whoever said the hobby is addicting is right. It’s fun. I picked a size that I would be content with staying at for good and I decided I would be there by my birthday.
Well, my tomorrow is tomorrow and five minutes ago, I reached that goal!

This blog is not about my ears. This blog is about reaching goals and how great it makes you feel.

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Reaching goals is the one thing that will heighten your spirits in a time of need. It’s easy to give up and tell yourself you can’t do something. It’s easy to throw it all away because of the fear of the unknown. But being able to push throw obstacles and negative outsiders is one thing that is sure to not only build your confidence, but give you the boost you need to get the rest of your goal list crossed off with!

Recently, I have been slacking a little bit on my lesson planning. I have been allowing myself to get distracted and have been going to sleep two hours later than my body is used to. I haven’t been drinking as much water. Glad to say, I am still staying active though!

I have been caught up in my new life in China. The friends, the late night chats, the movie nights on school nights. Hanging out when I know I need to get ready for lessons and classes. Just because I have managed to do it, doesn’t mean I needed the stress that follows. That’s one thing I have learned: When you don’t listen to your body or figure out where the stress is coming up, it’s a great way to steer clear of any goal you had in mind.

Not that stretching my ears is comparable to publishing a book after years of dedication of thought and writing and research; however, it is something I have been dedicated at doing. It shows you that no matter what your goal is, BE PERSISTENT.

 

I am not the kind of blogger who can give you a step by step instruction on how to beat getting off routine. Sometimes, in my last posts you may have read, you need to indulge. Sometimes, instead of doing errands and work all day, you NEED that day in bed. Pamper yourself and by all means, never over work yourself into an unhappy situation.

 

The main thing you need to remember and ask yourself constantly is:
“What is the reason I fell in love with doing this in the first place?”
Did it help your morning run smoothly? Did it center your chi? How do you feel when you do this activity that you have been putting off? Instead of the normal activity, what have you replaced it with? Something better? Something worse? How much sleep are you getting over this?

 

If some are yes and some are no, try taking out a piece of paper. Write down all your goals. From when you decided on doing it and the finish date you want it completed by. What has happened in the time since then? What situations have come up that can be ignored? What priorities became undeniably more important for the time being?

AND THEN ASK YOURSELF ONE MORE QUESTION:
Do you like yourself more when you accomplish goals and have less stress on your shoulders? Or are you okay with letting the small things slide and the lack of sleep you are getting?

It is much better to do it as it comes, gaining more freedom; rather to wait and never have a moment to relax.

Magnify Your Calling

Today was Mindy’s birthday. We were scheduled to have another amazing Sunday lunch in the commons when they were done with church at 11am. I made sure to be all ready by that time to start helping prepare the food and dishes.
At 11 on the dot, I was sitting.on the couch, waiting for them to finish. Only this week, Sarah was teaching their Sunday school. I decided to stay, because any company is better than sitting alone, bored, in my dorm.
Listening to her talk, she did a subject on “magnifying your calling” and it more than caught my attention.
I ended up joining the discussion and comparing everything to life, instead of the just the church.

There is one thing to be learned from today….. We must magnify our callings in life! When you want something so bad in life, you will make time for it. You will always have the energy to put effort towards your goal. You will find a way to persist and work dilligently, passionately, and thoroughly.
You can make it to the top by half-assing it, sure, but you will feel ten times better knowing you kicked your own ass to get there.

Better Than A Salary…..

They have a school newspaper here. I have never seen it before today.
Last Thursday, my ELE class was skipped, because the students all had to an annual required test. You know, to graduate to the ascending grade. When I was talking to their teacher, Annie, she asked me how to spell my name. She said, “The kids! I have them write something for you. You see!”
And at first, it meant nothing to me. I figured, to test their skills for English, she would have them write a passage about me to explain how they have come to know more English.

So, walking into my class today, the last thing I expected was Annie running up to me with bright rosy, flourished cheeks and had me the paper, exclaiming, “Look what the kids have done for you!!!! They write this about you!!!” She was giggling and laughing and I was squealing like a kid!!! I could not believe how amazing it was!!! They describe me as  “a beautiful and lovely teacher” 🙂

When I was telling my friend, John, tonight, he said that he would translate it for me next time we hung out. I am going to laminate it and frame it with pictures of the class. John didn’t know that I don’t get a salary here and when I told him I am here as a volunteer, he said the coolest thing. He said, “Ahhhh, where there is your salary right in your hands. That is better than any amount of money.”

They don’t lie to you when they tell you that the best things in life are for free. I never expected my name to be next to Chinese lettering. Letting it be known that to some people, I really did make an impact. I made a difference in their lives. I uplifted them. I changed something for the better. I was a good force on the world! I couldn’t thank those kids enough. Not even with the cupcakes and cookies I am bringing them this week to class. I could not thank them enough for the gift they have given me. In turn, they have made an impact on my life. My world has gotten better with all the surroundings of the kids here at Mayflora. I am only a month and a half in, and I am already missing everyone around me!

Sunday Brunch

So, last night and this morning, there was the LDS Steak Conference. I am not active in the Mormon community, however, if there is one thing I don’t miss, it’s listening to the Conference talks. Whether I am in church with my uncle and his family or I am watching it on TV with my mom, it’s just one thing I have always done.

I love listening to the talks, because I feel like the meanings and morals of the stories can be applied to every day life. Some of the things I have learned about in the last two days are, for one, that everybody needs a temple. It doesn’t matter what religion you are. Figure out what you believe in, find a temple for it, and go daily. Make your spiritual connection a strong one. A durable one. A powerful one. For me, I’m still drawn to the Hindu temples and Buddhism/Taoism practicing. And that’s okay! But it’s more than just saying, “I’m Hindu. I’m Mormon. I’m Jewish. I’m Catholic.” You must practice it. You must really believe in it. If you believe in something so much, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of it?

There are many things about the LDS Church that I do like. I have been around it my whole life and have met many amazing people who are members. I love how many of them can be so humble. I love how forgiving they are. I love their sense of cleanliness and hospitality. I love how helpful they are and how they can think of so many creative activities to do, without the involvement of drugs and alcohol. I love their spirit. I love that they encourage praying, because like any religion, praying is so important. It doesn’t matter which version of God you believe in, but praying is such an amazing way to talk to him. It’s easy, and there is no wrong way to do it. Trust me, if you ask my family what my prayers sound like, they will tell you I have a unique style. But, one of the things I love the most is that they encourage family dinners.

Growing up, all my friends ate with their families. Same time, everyday. My family and I were sort of different. Sometimes our friends ate over, sometimes we ate at their house. Sometimes my mom was gone at her second job, so my sister would make us Spaghetti. Sometimes I was the only one home, so I made a microwave Bean & Cheese burrito. We ate when we were hungry and we ate on our time for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, we still had nights where my mom and dad would cook a great feast and dessert and we would love and joke around the table. Family dinners were just never a mandatory setting in my household growing up. I never realized how important they were until the older I kept getting.

Gathering around the table with food and loved ones for a meal is a great way to strength bonds with them. To ask questions and get to them more. I wonder all the time, if we had family dinners every night, would I have been so rebellious? Would I have ever started lying? Would I have ever made the bad choices that I have throughout my teenage years? If by eating a family dinner every night, would my siblings and I have teased each other less? Would we have been more family oriented instead of so independent? Would we have used the words, “I love you” before waiting until we were moved out to say it?

Probably.

But, the past is the past and the future is ours. We love cooking together now. We never end a phone call or Skype call or leave without saying, I love you. We always remember to encourage the little ones to be the best they can and stay away from the bad influences.

Today, after conference, my teaching group and I got out plates and made the settings around our Commons table. Sarah had potatoes and carrots cooking in the pressure cooker with Garlic and onions. We all chipped in donations with bananas, oranges, apples, and dragon fruit. We all helped cut the fruit and make two bowls of fruit salads. We had two chocolate desserts, divided evenly among us. We all shared equally and had such a great time talking about our experiences back home. The food was great, and the company was even better. Since there are seven people in my group, including me, we remind me a lot of the MTV show The Real World. Minus the fights and alcohol. We are seven strangers (mostly) who got assigned together in one far away land. Just after a month now, we have gotten to see so many sides of each other. We have had disagreements, misunderstandings, and multiple encouraging days with each other.

I never thought I would be able to fit in with such a group. They are all active members of the church, and I am the black sheep. However, we all know this and we have all come to accept it. I don’t feel any pressure from them and I like that. We have a respect for each other and I am so grateful to be around people like this. They have helped changed my life so far. To have a chance to have a Sunday Brunch with them is magical, as they will never know how much it means to me.

I cherish every Sunday and I see why it’s such a popular and peaceful day. It was the day I used to make Sunday dinners with my best friends. It was the day I took my 20 mile bike rides in the hot summer sun and got to enjoy the scenery. It was the day I spent with my mom, shopping and laying back at her house. It is the day that, I don’t have to get ready if I don’t want to. It’s the day I get to do whatever I choose. I get to spend it writing and reading all day if I want. The day I spend hours wandering the park. The day I would eat breakfast at my aunt and uncle’s house with all my cousins and mom and talk around their huge dining room table. The day I went to the dog park with my best friend Allison and her pack of dogs. The day a Vanilla Chai never tasted sweeter.

Sundays are one of the best days for that very reason. They are special.

I am grateful to have the friendships I have made here and the lessons I have learned thus far. Today has been great 🙂 It’s a grateful day. A happy day. And right now, I couldn’t ask for more.

Seven Days Down….

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I have been in China for one week now. I am used to the cold and yesterday, I bought an electric for eight American dollars. Which works great by the way. I am writing this sitting underneath it with only one layer of leggings on. I am used to wearing two or three. I’m still not brave enough to take my zip-up hoodie off.

Up until yesterday, I kept saying I was too cold to even workout until I realized, “I am running out of excuses,” and the majority of what I can seem to think about as I write down my lesson plans for the gym class I teach is, “How can I workout and stay fit during the cold weather, without running outside or laying on the iced over tile in my room?” I have come up with too many ideas to ignore. On top of my current mental 30 Day Challenge of no swearing (which by the way is coming along nicely. One whispered slip up and not a single swear word floating around in my mind.) I think it is time to start a physical fitness challenge again.
Since the weather is cold here, I do not sweat, leaving my body to store anything it can for warmth. Eventaully my cinnamon alliance won’t prove enough when I depend on that only to burn my fat. Nope! As of right now, I still fit in my clothes, but refuse to wait until it becomes too late.

I take in any vitamin I can. The only drinks I consume are water, milk tea, pineapple juice, cold green tea, and hot Jasmine tea. Everyday I eat oatmeal, rice, a banana, a couple different forms of Seafood, and maybe some crackers for a small snack. I haven’t even touched the Chips Ahoy! that I bought last Friday! It’s interesting how undesirable sweets sound to me now, although I can always go for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or a bag of M&M’s…. Some things you just don’t question

It’s hard to find protein here. Our commons area and dorms have no available resources for cooking, so eggs, unfortunately, are out of the question. The meat looks terrifyingly under-cooked. I tend to stray away from it, because it mostly comes along with the body it was in. I will eat the dumplings and I am still wanting to try the hamburgers at the only McDonald’s in town, but other than those two options, I may be turning semi-vegetarian for the next few months. I will be so excited to have a Sloppy Joe when I get back to America!
Also, up and down the staircases, they hang their meats to sausages and animal meat slabs to dry right next to their shoes and clothes. It definitely adds to my intimidation, but I learn to not look as I climb on by.
But who knows, I could also love chicken feet and duck head when I return 😉

The pricing here is absolutely incredible. Although I am learning how to budget, I can’t resist buying three pairs of thick, thick leggings for under eleven American dollars and a filling lunch for 20 American cents. Everything else, I can’t help to question. It shows me the lesson my mom is still trying to teach me: Want or need?
Although I’m not pro, I am taking my baby steps towards becoming in complete control of my finances. In fact, I have already set aside enough kuai for our week long vacation to Bejing, coming up in March!

Speaking of trips, we have 2 three or four day weekend trips available throughout the semester and one more week vacation at the beginning of May. Apparently no other ILP groups, even in the past, have gotten that lucky break. How we got that chance, I don’t know, but I am thrilled about it. That brings me to the word: grateful.

Being in another country shows me how incredibly lucky I am. China doesn’t have any debt, everyone who has a car drives a very nice one, and they make 90% of what Americans use.
However, their sewage system is not strong enough to flush anything other than what naturally comes out of you. Everything, including your toilet paper, gets thrown in the garbage. We were in a village yesterday, getting some fruit at that market and I am 110% positive that I was standing in a layer of feces. My mother did warn me about this and that is what I get for doubting her.

People are constantly washing their hands, because diseases in the water can come easily if the person is not sanitary. They prepare outfits ahead of time, because it takes around 5 or 6 days on average for one small load of laundry to air dry; they do not have dryers in this country.

This is how people live day to day here. This is their normality. Not only must I bow to their outstanding courage (although they are used to it), but I admire their strength to do the things they do and just be happy.
Even though I will be living this life for the next four months (or nineteen weeks, to be exact), I am both honored and extremely grateful for the life I have been given.

When you are taken out of your comfort zone and put into an environment where you are the minority, you talk a little slower and open your eyes a little wider. Suddenly, you hold a lot more respect for the people and things around you. You conserve what you have and take absolutely nothing for granted.

I have survived seven days in a world 100% opposite of the one I am used to. It’s felt like three weeks. I have a little less than 180 days to go and I am joyfully anticipating every moment and experience that comes my way.

And so, I leave America….

 

No, not once and for all. Just four and a half months. As some of you know, I took off on the airplane and headed off the west coast, over the Alaskan Range mountains, and after a two and a half layover in Seoul, Korea, landed safely on the ground in Shanghai, China with my English teaching group.

I don’t know if I have felt any strong culture shock yet, but I have noticed extreme differences. I said to myself, “Well Ash, we’re not in Utah anymore!” And I don’t think I’ve stopped saying it since I’ve been here.

Every time I get in the car, I pray. Even though they have lanes on the roads, nobody in the car who was Asian knew what a blinker was. They give courtesy honks to other cars, letting them know that they are allowed in. If they don’t honk, they merge in anyway. Everything out here is a double-edged sword. It’s quite interesting. Personal space? Forget that! In China, it’s free game for everything. The speed limit is lower and that is actually one of the few traffic laws people abide by. I really believed we were going to get hit every five seconds. We sat so close to each other that we didn’t have to use our seat belts. But what else do you expect with a small van full of ten adults and over 20 pieces of luggage?

The more inland we drove, the more it hit me that, “Wow, I am in a third world country.” The houses that surround Bengbu are old, brown, and look like they are wiped with dirt by a giant hand. They are breaking apart and some don’t even have roofs; some of these roofs are a fabric that is spread and pinned by something holding down the fort. Kids run around the cold weather in hardly any clothes and since this country doesn’t believe in drying machines, every article of clothing is hung out to air dry. Debris feels the streets of this city. In fact, there is so much garbage that they have controlled fires, to burn it to ash and let nature takes its course on it. I was able to get a picture of the burning in action, which you can find in my gallery.

On our first stop of the road trip away from Shanghai, we ate at a small noodle restaurant in the city of TaeChung. There was no restroom in the building, or in the building next to it for that matter. I walked three blocks with one of the other teachers and crossed the street to this small hut, separated into a boys side and a girls side. In the girls bathroom, when you open the stall, there is no sitting toilet, cemented to the ground. It a ceramic hole in the actual ground. There was no toilet paper. When I went to wash my hands, there was no soap. No paper towels. Not even an option for either luxury.

All around Bengbu there is trash floating freely and spit smothered into it. The animals are dirty, and some get cooked. Their sewage lines are so poor out here that when you go to the bathroom, you absolutely cannot flush your toilet paper, no matter what number you go, because it is just too hard for it to disintegrate. Girls, that means also when you to that time of the month… no flushing. It’s not gross, it’s just the way it’s done here. I saw a cook this morning at breakfast who was smoking a cigarette while wiping down the counters and holding a pot of soup.

 

These are definitely not all of the differences I have seen, but the few that stuck out in my mind. I don’t judge it. I don’t hate it. I just notice it. So, let me ask you: While reading this blog, how many times did you gag? How many things did you realize you are grateful for? How selfish did you feel? How much sadness did you have? What were you feeling when you read this post?
I would love to hear your comments, because I felt every single emotion. Not many people think about life being completely different from the norm. But to these people, this IS normal. So what is normal? I am open for discussion.