Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Story

This is the story you've all been waiting for.  

Why we fled the country:

Actually, "fled" is not really the right word, but it's catchy.  Basically, one of the girls who taught at the school near us got her passport stolen.  We tried everything we could possibly do to locate it, but it was well and thoroughly stolen.  After reviewing the possible courses of action, we discovered that we would have to physically travel to Beijing and go to the American Embassy to get her a passport replacement.

Once we had determined to go, the next step was to contact the school and ask for permission to go to Beijing.  The reason that all 4 of us (my wife and I were planning on accompanying the 2 girls from the other school) needed to go was 4-fold: Michelle had to do the paperwork but doesn't speak any Chinese, Shannon speaks decent Chinese, I speak less Chinese than Shannon but I'm big and intimidating, and Karissa...     ...well, it just wouldn't be right to leave her alone in the middle of China.

Michelle and Karissa talked to their school, and obtained permission to go.  We talked to ours, and they said, "no."  

We said, "Umm... I don't think you understand.  This is an emergency situation.  We need to go."  

"It's not an emergency, and it's not necessary for you to go."

"Yes it is, and yes, it is."

"No."

"I'm done talking to you, because you aren't listening to me.  Who else can I talk to?"

"You don't need to talk to anyone else."

"Yes, I do.  It's 9:30 at night, and I'm totally willing to go knock on the door of the Headmaster if necessary.  Maybe then you'll see just how serious this is. Do you understand?"

"Well, the Headmaster is in Changsha, and won't be back for several days."

"I will WALK to Changsha if I have to.  Call him."

"His cell phone isn't working."

"What is his address?  I will go there and ask him myself."

"You don't need to do that, just wait a few days."

"You know what?  I'm done talking to you.  I'll try to find someone with more authority than you."  At which point I hung up the phone, the plastic of which had warped from the steam emanating from my body.

I called someone else, who called the number 2 person in the school, but she said I needed to talk to the number 1.  I was mad.  These people were stalling while time was of the essence. Really, I fumed.  I punched the wall.  Hard.  It dented the plaster.

I continued to make noise.  A lot of noise.  Finally, after the school tried to keep us even longer, I basically said, "We're leaving.  You should give us permission.  Like, yesterday."

Finally, after a several day ordeal, we got permission, and headed to Beijing on a train.  It took 24 hours.  We stood for 18 hours, because there were no seats.

We arrived in Beijing, and talked to the Embassy.  Apparently, trying to keep someone with a tourist visa from leaving the school is illegal.  We were mad enough when it happened, but when we found out that they were acting illegally, we were ticked.  The Embassy said, "You don't have to go back.  You could just leave."  

So, we did.  A week later, we came home.  We had our fill of being jerked around by our school.  The guy in charge of our program (Jacob Harlan) took care of all of the flights for us, and really supported us the whole way.  He will never send teachers to those schools again, and is looking to possibly replace his representative in China.  I don't blame him at all.  Our school was simply dishonest, and I feel bad for our students.

I don't know what rumors may be flying around, but there's the truth.  

Enjoy!

p.s.  We are thrilled to be home for Christmas!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bob

We have a new friend. He didn’t have an English name, so we named him Bob. Not the most profound name, perhaps, but it works, and it’s easy to say. For us, at least; Bob kind of struggles with it... Bob didn’t really have a place of his own, so we offered to let him crash in our living room for awhile. He’s kind of rough around the edges; maybe not the type a lot of people would choose to take in, but really, if he put a pirate patch over that eye that doesn’t work, he wouldn’t look too bad... Anyway, after realizing that he couldn’t use a western style toilet (neither can some of our students; yikes!), we told him he really needed to find a new hangout. It was kind of sad, though, because Bob was one of the coolest friends we’ve made yet. He said he might drop in on one of my lessons though, because his new home is really close to one of my classes, so hopefully I’ll get to see him again soon. Oh yeah, did I forget to tell you? Bob is a Bihu.




P.S. “Bihu” is the Chinese word for “gecko.” My students in one of my classes presented me with one that they had caught in the windowsill, and I brought him home to show Ryan. We wanted to keep him, and actually let him hang out on our windowsill for a couple hours (he needed to warm up; he was VERY cold and lethargic, which is how they were able to catch him), but then we realized he would poop, and so we took him back to the classroom and put him up on top of the projector screen. After using him to scare one of my students, of course. I must say, though,Ilike this windowsill-found gift better than the last one; the last one was cool and all, but a spider the size of my palm is not something I want for a pet. They did present it in a water bottle, however, which made it less intimidating, but also made me think of those ship-in-a-bottle things.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Addendum A

So, I finally found out why we can eat the food at our favorite little hole-in-the-wall. They're NOT FROM HUNAN!!! :D They're actually from just south of Shanghai. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

Also, if you're reading this, I want you to do something for me. If you read a post, and you like it, comment on it. I have no clue if people read my blog unless they comment. So far, our friend's mom has commented more than anyone else, except for maybe Ceebs (love ya, Ceebs), and my good friend Alison. Also, I have yet to have a member of my family post.... What the deener is goin' on with that?

Also, ask any questions about things you want to know about from China. I would love to tell people the stories they want to hear. I hope to hear from you soon!!

~Cools

Monday, November 10, 2008

Windfall

"To the King Mart!"

This has been a favorite phrase of ours for much of the time we've been in China. What's at the King Mart? Food we can actually eat. The King Mart is a grocery store, but we rarely shop there. We go for the little eatery in the front corner. There we can buy cheap lamb skewers that are amazing! There we can tell them to give us fried rice that's not spicy, and they'll actually do it! There we can also buy these amazing drink things that are one part milkshake, two parts slushy, and five parts heaven.

The King Mart recieves regular patronage from us. As in, it's not uncommon for us to be spotted there at least once a day. Food has been a frustrating thing for us here, because we can't eat at the school canteen (too spicy and makes us sick), we can't cook much (lack of ingredients and an oven), and any food we buy goes bad if we don't cook it within the first day or two. So the King Mart restaurant gets our business.

Now, the grocery store we usually shop at has a similar eatery, but we prefer the King Mart for two reasons: the food is better, and the people actually care. The people there treat us like royalty. They know we can't read the menu, so they make recommendations based on what we've liked in the past. They don't make us pay up front, and they have us go sit down, and then bring our food to our table (everyone else pays up front, and then just gets a holler when their food is up, like a fast food place). They always listen patiently when we try to speak Chinese to them, and they help us with anything they can. I can't tell you what a nice change that is from some of the restaurants and stores.

The only downside to the King Mart is that it's in town, and to get there we have to hop on a moto-taxi. Don't get me wrong, I love moto-taxis, but it can be expensive to take them every day, and when we're exhausted from teaching classes we really don't want to haul ourselves into town anyway.

But now, that problem is over.

A week and a half ago, our friend who's in charge at the King Mart came over and sat down across from us. He asked what school we taught at, and was excited when we told him. He proceeded to explain something in Chinese that we didn't quite catch, but it had to do with him and our school. We thought maybe he graduated from there or something. But the next day, we came out our front door, down the stairs, and... there, in front of us, was our friend! Opening a garage-style door into an old, run down restaurant. Over the next couple days, we realized what was happening: he was going to open a restaurant right outside our door! I think he was as excited to see us as we were to see him; wouldn't you like to have your best and most frequent customers living twenty feet away?

It took them about a week and a half of intense work, but they got the place cleaned up and ready to go. And today for lunch we walked out our front door, down the stairs, and into a restaurant where we could trust the food and the people; two very, very wonderful commodities.

Will we eat there often? Let's just say we'll probably single-handedly offset their startup costs.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Setting the Record Straight

This will probably sound cynical and unhappy. :)

Just a warning.

For those of you who think that we're in an ideal happy land of happiness, let me explain a couple of things. We're tired. Both of us. I don't know if you know how it feels to give everything you have to 1,700 students every week. Maybe we're tired because of the horrible march music that turns on at 6 am every morning, playing the same minute-thirty-second clip for 30 minutes. Maybe it's not being able to buy hardly anything without arguing with the seller. Maybe it's things breaking when you touch them (I broke a screw-driver in half with one hand....). It could be the broken promises made time and time again by our school. Possibly things like being called at 9pm on friday night and being told that you have to teach on Saturday and Sunday the classes you would have taught on Monday and Tuesday (complete with a new lesson yet to be prepared). Or maybe it's the lack of teaching resources:we have a chalkboard, and some speakers in most classes if you bring your own cords. It's probably not the apathy of 90% of the students toward the class, or constantly having them wake back up, or making them put away their homework. Or the constant battle for food that we can actually eat. Or the inability to actually "get better" from being sick due to the mold in our apartment that keeps coming back after we clean it because the school won't fix the underlying problem. It's probably just that school wants us to teach until the 30th of December, when we fly out from Changsha (5 hours away) on the 31st. Or possibly the fact that our Chinese isn't improving very quickly because they only speak dialect around us, and rarely Mandarin. The list could go on, but we want this post to get through.

Oh, my friends. :) We've seen the real China. Not the touristy China you get through a semester abroad, or through ILP, or even just vacationing. We're living in Culturally Undiverse China, with all of the greedy and self-serving people we could never want. We are in a beautiful place, with some of the sweetest and best people. Those are the stories we usually tell, because they are the ones people want to hear. We put up pictures of the days (usually 1 or 2 per week) that are fun, or interesting, or exciting, and gloss over the rest, because we don't want people to worry. Don't worry. We'll be just fine. "Just Fine" has become a euphamism for, "yeah, we got screwed again, but there's nothing we can do about it, and we'll be gone in a couple of months. It won't sting so much then."

I warned you this would be a dark post. Shannon is sitting with me as I type (she proof-reads with me so I don't sound like an idiot). We are not in a land of butterflies (or any kind of butter for that matter) and flowers. We are in the land of burning garbage, hot peppers, and abusive attitudes. I'm remembering from Argentina what it's like to be discriminated against. It hurts. Politics aside, props to President Elect Obama for overcoming what he did. Some people won't even acknowledge us or listen to us because we're not Chinese. Others just stare. Or pull out camera-phones. We're somewhere between the Red Carpet and the Freak Show.

Welcome to the real China.

We might be counting down the weeks.

Maybe....

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

DOG!!

So, I finally fulfilled my dream.... While in China, I was able to eat DOG!! That's right, friends. That furry little thing that they call "Man's Best Friend" was served in a steaming bowl of broth and squash. Our translator explained that it was "very old dog." It was clearly someone's pet for a long time. That's how a dog gets to be old in China. ;) The ones at the market are all puppies....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Anatomy of a classroom... and a pig

After this evening's banquet, Shannon and I were walking home with one of the English teachers (a very classy woman, probably in her early fourties). We learned a couple of new things. We learned that the 24 classes that we teach is about double what the normal teacher at the school will do. Yeah. We teach a double load. Joy. No wonder we're always wiped. We also learned from Mr. He, that instead of roughly 1300 students, Shannon teaches 1600+ students, and I teach a whopping1700+. :P Do you know how many people that is? It's like teaching a 10th of BYU-I's students. And they want us to remember their names.... Uh....

Also, I have a new item to add to the litany of strange un-eatable edibles that have graced my palate in the last few years. In Argentina I ate just about every part of the cow and pig imaginable, and nearly every piece of the digestive tract, from tongue to small intestine. Here in China I have had snake, tortoise, frog, chicken feet and head, a fish eye (that one was mostly just gooey), and the "hundred-year eggs." (They take an egg, cover it in ashes and pine-needles and then bury it for a month. Then they eat it. Who dared who to start that one?) I have a new one. Can you guess? I don't think you will. I'll give you a hint. It's part of a pig. Mr. He told me it is to help make a man stronger. Yup. You guessed it. Pig Penis. :) Yumm!!

Just thought I would share that with you all. (Shannon wouldn't eat any)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chinese Roller Coaster

video

Yes, we rode this.  It made me nervous, not gonna lie... but it was fun!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Culture...?

The bus bumps along the windy mountain road. Our tour guide is talking, but in Chinese of course; apparently he’s funny though, because the people in the seats around me are laughing. I squeeze my husband’s hand and stare out the window, trying to ignore the smell of body odor emanating from members of a culture that has yet to discover deodorant.

We are en route to the LongJi rice terraces, about a three-hour bus ride from our hotel in Yangshuo. The tour guide explains in English that we will first visit the village of the native Yao people, who are famous for their women’s long hair (sometimes 2 meters long), and then take a local bus up the mountain to where we can hike around the terraces.

As we pull up and then alight from the bus, my eyes fall on a couple of small restaurants in the buildings before us. Then, piranha-like, they are upon us.

“Hello! Look!”

“Hello! Beautiful!”

“Hello! Cheap!”

The local people have spotted fresh meat, and there is no hesitation. We push our way past women in brightly colored woven clothing, trying to make our way to the entrance of a nearby swinging bridge without finding ourselves the sudden owners of postcards, weavings, and sundry other items these women are anxiously proffering.

Having gained the relative peace of the bridge, we cross the river and find ourselves in the Yao village. We follow the crowd of tourists into one of the log structures, and our guide explains that we are in the actual home of a Yao family who has agreed to open their home for tours. It’s a neat cultural experience; I mean, you could honestly believe you’re in a traditional Yao home if it weren’t for the giant basket full of plastic bottles on the top floor, or the NBA posters visible through the half-open door of a bedroom.

As the rest of the group files into a new-made-to-look-old building for the local show (“only 55 yuan!”), my husband, Ryan, and I wander on through the village. The streets wind up and down as much as side-to-side, but it takes maybe two minutes before we emerge at the other end of the village. The path continues on, however, so we do the same, following it until a side path looks more interesting and we end up on some large boulders at the edge of the river. Here we stop, and look back toward the village and up at the mountains.

Someone has left a dead snake on one of the rocks, and its three-foot long corpse basks in the sun as though it could still reap some benefit. Ryan goes over and kicks it into the river, but it holds my thoughts, because it bears similarity to the village I have just seen. Like the snake, this village once had true vitality; now it has a semblance of life. Amidst the bustle of tourism there is a forlornness to this place which it seems only my husband and I can feel; perhaps because we alone took the time to stop and truly look. Beneath the tourist façade, does this place still have a beating heart?

But the heart of a place is its people, and that is the core of our dissatisfaction here. This is a people who were once proud and hardy, a people who literally carved a living out of these rocky, steep mountains for 700 years. Now a woman in traditional dress and with her long hair tightly wound around her head laughs loudly as she waves a 100 Yuan bill in the face of her neighbor. A child finishes his ice cream bar and drops the wrapper in the street, just as he sees all the adults do. A man in an old wooden shed runs a stand selling ice cream, water, cigarettes, and beer; the last of which fills most of the shed, and scattered bottles around the village testify to its popularity. A man and his wife thrash rice as their people have for hundreds of years, but next to them looms a satellite dish.

What has happened to this people? Is modernization the problem? Tourism? Our guide explained to us that the Yao can’t grow enough rice to support themselves anymore, so the government subsidizes them. Why can’t they grow enough rice? Is it because all their time is spent catering to tourists?

In America going to “Colonial Williamsburg” doesn’t bother me. But see, Williamsburg is just a re-enactment: people putting on a show, then at night going home to their regular houses and lives. They are showing what the culture was, but there is no mistaking the fact that it’s pretend; a museum of sorts. Here you can taste what the culture should be, but it’s warped and sour; a caricature that tries to convince you it’s the real thing.

These people are no less tenacious than their ancestors, but now it’s directed into selling post cards instead of sculpting mountains. Thanks to the wonder of tourism, a part of their heritage and culture will always be preserved—but is it worth the cost?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chalk

I hate chalk. HATE chalk.

That being said, I've determined what my favorite kind of chalk is: white, about an inch and a half long.

There are reasons for this. First, the "blackboards" here are actually green. The color options I am given for my chalk are white, blue, pink, yellow, and occasionally teal. Blue, yellow, and teal tend to blend into the background, making reading difficult for kids in the back, or at angles with a glare. Pink just makes me feel really girly and biased, not to mention with the green chalkboard it reminds me of childhood shows with a giant dinosaur (okay, that was purple, but it was a pink-ish purple).

Secondly, chalk dust goes EVERYWHERE. I often wear black skirts to work, and while the rainbow effect is pretty, I stand out enough as it is. White chalk dust is a little less attention catching.

Now for the size. Why an inch and a half? Anything shorter is difficult to use, or will wear down too quickly into a size difficult to use. Anything longer I will break. Belive me, I've tried. I've tried using a whole piece of chalk. I've tried using a two inch piece of chalk. Perhaps the chalk is inherently weak (*cough* made in China *cough*), perhaps I just don't know my own strength. Whatever the case, it breaks consistently enough for me to have given up on it.

So there it is, folks, the part of the teaching experience I'm sure you have been the most curious about! Consider your unasked questions answered. You're welcome.

The Therapy of Distance

Yeah.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm very far away from everyone that I know and love. I've also been receiving a disproportionate amount of difficult news lately, what with my Grandfather passing away, and my buddy, Frank, getting hit on his moped, and needing 7 titanium plates in his face, and (mentioned in a previous post) my mission buddy from Paraguay getting hit by the truck.

I thought about writing another somber blog, but realized that I really am not in somber mood at all. Yeah, it's a little tough to get news like that, but I also just found out that Cordoba will be getting a TEMPLE!! I can't get general conference, because the church isn't allowed to do much here (I'll have some stories for you later), but I got an e-mail from the mission president's wife, and she clued me in.

Also, I MISS MY BROTHERS!! Someone should make sure that Scott and Stuart have my blog address, and that they read it. Also, THEY NEED TO E-MAIL ME because I love them. I miss them. :P I'm jealous that everyone get's to see them before I do.

The fun part:

The other day, while we were waiting for the bus, I heard, from a group of girls, "Oh my G**!! It's Mister Cooler!!" :D I can't say that's ever happened to me before.

You've noticed the care they have taken to get my name right? Well, we've gotten everything from "Cookie" to "Cooler," but my personal favorite is "Mr. Cool."

This weeks lesson was on Describing People. Last week's was on Emotions. I have some funny things to share from that lesson. After explaining the emotions and acting them out (I would get applause almost every time for each individual emotion) I would go around and ask the kids how they feel. Some of the responses include things like, "Happy." When asked why, they would reply, "No why."

One conversation happened as follows:

"How do you feel?"

"Sad."

"Why?"

There was a pause here. Many of my students can read and write English, but most of them can't speak a word. Weird. He gathered his apparently scattered thoughts, and while pointing to the boy next to him, was able to reply, "He... drink all me water!"
The vehement protest and denial that followed was a quick, "I do not drink you water!"

"You drink me water!"

"I do not drink you water!"

Another amusing answer was based on context. Being a teacher in a classroom where only a couple of students consistently understand you lends itself to certain abuses. I approached a boy and asked him to stand. I said, "Alright, buddy, you're next up for the guillotine. How do you feel?"

"Happy."

I smiled.

Next: I asked a boy how he felt, and was unsurprised to hear his reply of, "Happy." I asked him for a reason, and he said, "I like... ME!... you?" (He was trying to correct his pronoun to the one that would indicate his teacher.)

Continuing: Another response from a boy: "Sad. She always look at me!" I followed the line that his finger indicated, only to see a boy!

I was surprised, and asked, "You mean, 'he'?"

"No! He is a SHE!"

For a moment I doubted my first judgement (trust me, this boy will have genderal identity issues later on...) but my intuition, and the laughter of the class, confirmed my first appraisal of the indicated student. He also had a mustache.

Summary: The phrase, "I love you!" is apparently an acceptable answer to any possible English question posed by Shannon or myself. I have had more professions of love (by the person herself, or by their friends) than I can count.

The other fun part:

This story isn't truly mine, but I was present, and I want to share it. We went to a cave that purported to be an all-natural concantenation of different geological formations that looked like different things, like animals, and the great wall, and stuff. Yeah. Not really that natural. We passed the surprisingly life-like rooster closer than we were supposed to (it's hard to tell someone to stay on the path if you can't their language... he he he....) and could clearly see that it wasn't even shaped stone. It was cement. I was not impressed. Our companion, who spoke some English, asked the guide for us, and was obviously convinced by her response. He insisted, "It is truly amazing. All natural." :)

After the cave's astounding array of "natural" formations, we went outside to wait. The 2 teachers from Shuangpai were going home, and we were to visit them and their school, and then return home to Youngzhou. There was a car that was supposed to come and pick them up (ours was on time, but theirs was late), so we were waiting. A police car pulled into the parking lot, and I said, "Well, they found you two, and their going to lock you away in a Chinese prison."

The car pulled up, and Mr. Chin (their liason) got out of the passenger side. He said that this was the car, and, seeing that he was not going to make any explanation for it being a police vehicle (lights on the top, and everything!), they climbed inside. As it drove away, I noted that there was no license plate. Hmmm.... I don't even know what to think about that one. And when they got to the school, they told us that there were bloodstains all over the floor! Transportation in China really blows my mind.

I love you all, and expect to hear from you!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Gravity

I was greeted today by news that a friend from the mission, Elder Enriquez, was killed in an accident a few days ago. He had come across 2 trucks that had collided. Being the type of person that he was, he stepped out of his vehicle, and tried to alert those behind him. An oncoming truck tried to stop, but the trailer it was towing slid out of control, killing 3 people. One of those was Felix Enriquez.

I had the opportunity to welcome Elder Enriquez into the mission. He arrived on my last day in the office. I trained his companion from the Buenos Aires MTC. For the last 4 1/2 months of my mission, I was his District Leader. He was a hard worker, and loved to gospel. He spoke Spanish and Guarani, and his Guarani gave him an accent that endeared him to the Argentines, his companions, and his leaders. He was a tremendous soccer player, and could send a ball like nobody's business. His testimony gave him incredible energy. He had the reputation for working his companions... especially his senior comps. :)

He leaves behind a widow, Carolina.

I do not know any other details. I would, however, like to say a few things. I think I have more time to live, but, hey. I'm sure he did, too.

I'm grateful to my father for teaching me to love the scriptures. Every time he gives a talk, or acts in a spiritual sphere, it makes me want to study the scriptures more. I see the power it gives him. He taught me not to let college get in the way of my education. I know that one sounds funny, but he explained that college isn't the end-all. It's just another step. I'm grateful for his critical side. He knows how to take an idea apart, interpret it, and put it back together in a way that the average person can clearly understand. He also taught me that it's okay to ask questions, and doubt things. There is a Cheezit box on his office wall that bears the words, "Get Your Own Box." My father is a great example of that. If he has an oppinion, it's because he arrived there, not because someone fed it to him. I admire that more than he could know.

I'm grateful to my mother. Where to begin? I don't think that I could have been my own mother. I would have killed me. Looking at the things that we kids put my mother through, I wonder what sort of hell I'll have to go through to get the reward she will. Her patience is beyond my comprehension. She sees herself as constantly on the edge of mental breakdown. All things considered, that's fair. We kids were rough on her. "Are" rough on her. Really, I am glad for her constant striving to love, even when loving requires her very soul. She is paying her token payment for heaven.

I'm grateful to Gareth, my brother. Good heavens. I hardly every see him, anymore. From him I have learned that you have a choice. Life will always throw crap at us; hard, fast and frequent. Sometimes we look on the good side. Sometimes we look on the bad. Sometimes, we just have to take it. I love my brother.

Ginger holds a different position. I graduated High School, and went to live under Ginger and Joe's care for the following 7 months. She was convinced that she could straighten me out. Make me grow up. The fact that I am not dead is proof of progress. :) Looking back on those 7 months, I know I would have killed me. Her help in becoming less of a child was instrumental. No, I watch as she is raising 4 kids. She has helped me to grow up.

Joe, Ginger's husband, is one of the most patient, hard-working, down-to-earth, upstanding people I know. I think it was his insistance that kept Ginger from killing me. :) I don't know that I merited his intervention. His temperance and good humor make him someone I hold in very high esteem.

I love Erin's love of life. She has a desire to live life, and takes advantage of many of the opportunities that most people would just let go by. Her kindness is limited by her means, but she pushes those limits, as she tries to help. After Isaac had given us such a wonderful gift, she tried to insist that the Bridals (which, incidentally, are FREAKIN AWESOME) and Invitations (also bearing the title of FREAKIN AWESOME) were a wedding gift. We politely declined, but the offer was truly a generous one. With so few resources, she is doing a lot.

Isaac. When I get back, I'm totally challenging him to a wrestling match.... And locking the fridge. ;) Isaac stands out in my book because of his attention to detail, and how much he cares. 1 example: when my ring was shipped, he got it, looked at it, and then showed it to us. I looked at it, and thought it was good, but he saw that one side of the ring was thicker than the other... something that I could hardly see once he pointed it out. He sent to a different factory to make my ring, and made sure it was satisfactory. He has some work ahead for his business, and I'm sure that if he meets it head-on, he'll come out more than just victorious. He'll excell. That's just who he is.

Stuart. I'm giving the twins their own, because they are truly individuals. I regret letting Stuart ride home from Tennessee in a different car.  He wanted to, but I should have stopped him. Honestly, he would have had more fun with us, and we truly would have enjoyed his company. In Tennessee, Stuart was like the motor in a car. Wanting everyone to feel included, he made sure something was happening. One think I love about Stuart is his desire for things to be fair. His strong sense of justice moved him on many occasions. He was obedient, and very hard working. Learning didn't come easily to him. He worked at it. He's no slouch. I'm glad that he was the referree in many of the tiffs we had. He truly is a loyal brother, and a loyal friend.

Now, Mr. Fireball himself. I love Scott's leadership ability. When the 3 of us were in Tennessee, if Stuart was the motor, Scott was the steering-wheel. (Sidenote: I would be the car stereo... not vitally important, but a whole lot of fun) In light of his leadership style, Stu and I were both willing to take a side-seat to his decision making. He worked hard. He sacrificed free time to work and earn money to pay for his mission. He was the sort of person who enjoyed being in charge, not because it was power over others, but because it was power to help others. If I had to work for any of my siblings, it would probably be Scott.

Jonathan Alexander Cooley. 12 going on 20. He doesn't really fit in with any of the kids his age. Why? Simple. They're half as smart as he is. I love J's love of reading. He is really just a bookworm, and reads everything from Oliver Twist to the latest Starwars Comic Book. His imagination is more vivid than most, and he truly enjoys toying with ideas in his mind. He makes obscure references to things the rest of us have already forgotten, but that he has catalogued away in his amazing mind.

There.

I just wanted to throw a shout-out to my immediate family. I love you all. I wonder what the Lord has in store for me. I'll just keep on truckin', staying on the right side of the line.

If you're ever feeling down, just remember: Somewhere in the middle of a crazy, third-world, communist country, there's a guy who's not allowed to talk about the religion that is the reason for his happiness. Also, he can't talk to most of the people. :) But he LOVES YOU!! :D

Things I've Learned About Cooking in China

Things I've learned about cooking in China:

1. Don’t stand too close when you turn on the stove – it will send a fireball app. 3 ft high.
2. A wok heats very quickly when placed on a burner that is continually shooting flames in excess of 2 feet.
3. Anything placed in said wok will be finished cooking in about 30 seconds or less, unless you turn the heat extremely low – in which case you can increase the cook time to about 60 seconds.
4. Ramen noodles are as much a staple here as they were in America, but here they come with the powder, a packet of freeze-dried vegetables, and a packet of reddish, oily stuff.
5. Reddish, oily stuff is good when cooking ramen in a wok, because most of the liquid will evaporate. If you cook it microwave-style, however, skip the red stuff.
6. Ramen noodles mixed in the wok with an egg or two is pretty darn good, and beats getting your face burnt off at the cafeteria.
7. Western ingredients are not to be found in the Hunan province. Don’t even hope for milk or cheese.
8. The bow-tie noodles you were so excited to find are not egg noodles. There is a big difference between egg noodles and flour-and-water noodles.
9. Flour-and-water bow-tie noodles do NOT make good pasta. When mixed with eggs and tomatoes they can, however, make a good-smelling-awful-tasting paste, which you could effectively use to scare your dog away from ever eating table food again.
10. Ice cream is a useful substitute for dinner when you have just tried to make pasta using flour-and-water noodles.
11. All meat is fresh. If you want fish, pick one from the bucket and watch as they begin cutting it up for you while the heart is still beating. Same with chickens, ducks, frogs, eels, etc. Oh yeah, and dogs, but I won’t watch that one.
12. Produce and meat purchased in China will be good for one day, maybe two. If you do not intend to use it immediately, don’t purchase it (even if you have a refrigerator)!
13. If you buy normal looking bread, it will have beans, raisins, etc. in it. If you want normal tasting bread, buy the purple kind.
14. The orange, hairy stuff on/in many of the bread products is not an odd-looking kind of melted cheese; it is nastiness. Period.
15. If you leave a few drops of water in a wok overnight, it will rust.
16. Oranges have a green peel, but are still called oranges. They’re quite good.
17. Bread and honey is a luxury meal, and can help ease cravings for “normal” food (a.k.a. food that will not burn your face off).
18. When all else fails, pay Y21 (what you might otherwise pay for 3 or 4 meals) and grab a bag of Snickers bars from the grocery store. They’ll make you feel better.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Delay

So, i was putting this off. Not for any good reason, either. I mean, I'm sitting in a Cybercafe, it would be just as easy for me to write a blog post as it is for me to watch the latest episode of Bleach, or catch up on my MegaTokyo, but I don't. It might be that I haven't been feeling well lately, or it might be that I just want to teleport to a Subway, get some food, and then come back to China (I so blame Shannon for that one).

I'm not homesick by any means, just tired.

Let me tell you why my job is tiring.

I am a teacher. Do I really need to elaborate? Inspite of it being unneccesary to do so, I will do so. Why? Because I still have about 1 yuan worth of time left on this computer, and enough yuan in my money pouch to keep me here for the next 3 years.

I teach 24 classes a week. The school we're at requested 3 teachers. They got 2. We're picking up the slack. All of it. Most other teachers here teach 16 classes. 1 or 2 teach 20. Shannon and I are the lucky ones. At least, that's what they tell us. Jacob Harlan (our boss) told us that he was glad that it was us. I take it as a compliment, but not without some trepidation.

When I say I teach 24 classes per week, I mean that I teach the same lesson 24 times per week. 24 of the same "repeat-after-me's", sight gags, explanations, chalkboard etchings, etc. This job would still be tiring if for nothing other than the sheer quantity of classes.

Each class has about 60-70 kids in it, ranging from 13-15 years old. There's one kid in there who says he is 18, but I think that he just doesn't speak English. But he was pretty big. A whopping 5'10".

Each class is grouped by test scores and over-all ability to learn. This system is good, but flawed. The flaw lies in the lack of separation by discipline. Each class stays in the same room, and the teachers are the ones who rotate. This makes consistent visual aides entirely dependent on chalk-board skills. (Let me just say, "I HATE CHALK!!") The lack of disciplinary division creates a severely varied range of skills. The students in my class are the 1st of 3 years taught here. Some have better English than people in Utah/Idaho (not meaning to offend, but I will not take that back if I do). Most have none. They can say, "Hello," and, "Bye-bye," but that's the limit of it. Every kid in the school has taken it upon himself to greet me as I walk past. I'll come back to that word, "Hello."

Now, try to entertain 60-70 kids of varing interests and levels of intelligence with no books, no worksheets, no puzzles, relatively few game options, and little if any English ability. It's lame. Really, really lame. We don't even have suggestions for lesson material. It's not easy to just pull something out of your hat that will entertain for 45 minutes at a time. It's even harder to make something like that work for 24 times, and even more-so not to get so sick of it you could spit.

So, I'm tired. I'm recovering, but I'm tired. Our water is back on again. (It was only for 1 day this time.) We have almost zero water pressure, but at least it's some, right?

Now, I'm about to rant about something most people will not understand....

I hate the word, "Hello." I got it for 2 full years in Argentina. To hear it here.... Nails on the blackboard would be more welcomed. Really. Only someone who has been exposed to it every day for 2 years would understand just how loathesome a simple word like, "Hello," can become. Shannon told me that she kind of likes it. I told her that when I was in Argentina, I did, too. For all of about 1 month. Here, it's way worse. I mean, I can't walk on campus without a rolling chorus of "Hello's" tumbling after me. I know hate is a strong word. Honestly, though, I don't think it cuts it. It's not something you get used to. It's something that gets really, really old. I don't think you know just how old until you get it all day, every day.

So, there you go. The rant is finished. So is this post. I have more time on the computer, but really have other things I ought to be doing. Or would like to be doing. Or could possibly be doing.

Thanks for reading, peeps.

Xao

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"If it weren't for physics and law enforcement I'd be unstoppable"

Just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Wine Culture

"Here in Yongzhou... we have... a wine culture. It is... a very good culture."

Yeah. I could have guessed, actually. Maybe it was the bottles of 53% alcohol our hosts were downing by the half-dozen at the banquet they threw us our first night here. Maybe it was the homemade rice wine they store in giant barrels and drink by the bucketful at lunch. Or the bottles of beer they pop open with glee.

Have you ever seen a Chinese man go red? I mean REALLY red. Sweat-running-down-their-face-and-turning-to-steam red. I have. Oh, I have. Try our principal, our dean of foreign languages, our head of English department, our translator (who is also a teacher), another teacher, and last but not least, our driver.

Now the driver hid it better than most, so we didn't know for sure if he was drunk or not until he stood up and looked us in the eyes. And then we knew: he was just as smashed as the others. Ryan thought it might be fun to ride with him... I was definitely more hesitant. Somehow, though, he managed to not get us killed, or even injured (which is a feat of heroism on Chinese streets under any circumstances).

Never have I been more grateful that I don't drink. And that Ryan does not drink. They told us how normally they try to get the foreign teachers drunk, and how the guy from India got so drunk they had to get him a room at the hotel above the restaurant. The guy from Ghana apparently drank the Chinese people under the table though, and they loved that just as much.

One of our favorite moments came when Mr. He, our translator, leaned over and said, in a very slurred voice, "One of the foreign teachers, he told me when I am half-drunk my English is not so good. But you understand me, and I am not just half-drunk!"

Yes, Mr. He, we understand you. You are saying that you are VERY drunk! But we could have told you that.

I'm Huge in China

Seriously. You have no idea. I mean, I just went in to 5 different stores, and only one of them had a jacket that fit me in the arms. Guess what size it was. XXXXL. Yeah, there are 4 X's there. Wow. I mean, Wow.

I mean, I don't really have too much more to say than that, but I really just was amazed that I'm a size XXXXL....

Update on the whole name thing.... I met a girl by the name of "Smile." It took me a while for me to understand what she was saying. She had a tough time actually saying her name. I mean, I remember how it was when I had braces.... :D Yeah. So far her smile is very sincere, and really lights up her face, but I'm sure when they're finished it will be dazzling.



Let me tell you about one of my favorite things here in China.

Moto-taxis

Scott and Stuart will be able to understand best how the taxis can be in foreign countries. It's basically amazing that more people don't die from them. Now, after having driven in Argentina, I can honestly say that the Chinese are worse (or better....). They really have no respect for lanes, stoplights, or order. They use their horns like we use turn signals, horns, brakelights, and highbeams. :)

I mean, in Argentina, you can usually expect them to obey red lights, and right of way. Here, the concept of right-of-way is swallowed up in a first-come-first-serve mentallity that is so pervasive here. If you are there first, and there's no way for them to get around you, they will respect your right of way... until they can get around you.

Now, imagine all the craziness of a taxi in a place like this. Taxi drivers, who are notoriously "carefree" while driving, make wonderful chaufers. The price you pay for a chance to cheat death and get where you want to be is truly worth the money. Now, imagine removing the steel exoskeleton that shields you from any careless drivers, while at the same time removing the stability of 3 or more points of contact on a plane (in this case, the street) required for permanent stability, and keeping the same amount of people in the equation.

That, my friends, is a "Moto-taxi."

We usually don't take them very far, but if you're in a hurry, and you need to be able to dodge other vehicles, ignore lanes, and ride on sidewalks and through fruit-stands, Moto-taxis can't be beat.

Monday, September 8, 2008

"They're more like guidelines, anyway."

We're riding a bus down a small, ordinary 2-lane highway. Or so we thought. Did you know that if a two-lane road has a decent shoulder, it is actually a 5-lane highway? As long as two of the vehicles are motorcycle sized or smaller, anyway. The Chinese drivers can easily fit two buses, a car, a motorcycle, and a moped side-by-side on a two-lane highway. And these vehicles don't have to be going the same direction; in fact, it's that much more fun if they're not. Passing on a double-yellow line is perfectly acceptable, and even accepted. I don't know if speed limits exist here, but if so, the police don't care. In fact, I haven't seen the police care about anything having to do with traffic yet. Red lights are also merely a suggestion, which makes crosswalks one of the most hazardous places to cross the street, because you are lulled into a false sense of security. They also have more traffic to watch; therefore it is much better to cross in the middle of a street.

The strangest things I've eaten yet (that I've known what I was eating...) are 1-month eggs (I think they actually call them 1 year eggs, but it's an egg that has been wrapped in pine needles and stuck in an ash pit for a month), and cow tongue. The eggs were black colored, and had a bit of an odd taste, but weren't bad. Ryan liked them. I preferred the cow tongue, which is good, because we've been served it twice now.

Today we found a giant indoor flea market (no, not selling actualy fleas, though I wouldn't be surprised if there are a lot there). From the outside it looks like a giant shopping mall, but inside it's definitely a flea market. You can find everything from dishes, to clothes, to tools, to CDs, to giant umbrellas for motorcycles and scooters (hey, when it's your only form of transportation, why get wet?)...

A couple days ago we also found a bakery. Talk about a dream come true! Do you know how hard it is to find baked goods here? Everything is fried, steamed, or boiled, including their bread! But we found a true bakery, with bread, cookies, tarts, cakes, and more. They even had chocolate cake with real chocolate (also hard to find)! For about Y65 (about $10) I could buy Ryan a GIANT birthday cake (like, 4-7 layers), exquisitely decorated, and hopefully tasting good... but I don't know what we'd do with a giant cake, so when his birthday comes next month I'll probably buy one of the small, fruit topped cakes and we'll eat it in one sitting.

You know, speaking of bread, there's another problem with bread here. If you do manage to find some that was baked instead of steamed, it always has weird stuff in it that takes you by surprise. These awesome looking scone breakfast things turned out to have weird peppers in them. A delicious roll was full of nasty bean paste. A normal looking loaf of bread had weird raisins in it. Or the loaf is purple; we had one of those given to us our first day at this school. It tasted just like normal bread, but was definitely VERY purple. Why? Why can't they have plain, normal bread? Sure they don't eat sandwiches, but that roll we tried: why couldn't it have been plain? Why the bean paste?

Watch out for the corn-flavored ice cream as well.

But the cow tongue is good; go for that.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Now and again

So, instead of trying to play catch-up right now, I will just start from where I am and take care of the back-log later. :) I'm in Yongzhou, Hunan, China. Yeah. I made it. Maybe next post I'll explain why that is just such a miracle, because it truly is. Trust me. It's a wonder I get anywhere. :) Usually, I just skate by on charm and good looks... *hey, no snickering...*

I'd like to explain why being a celebrity would be Hell.

I'd like to appologize for the use of that word, but it's really the only word that applies. Here in China, I stand out. Surprise. Remind me when I get back to make a shirt that says, "I'm huge in China." If you've ever walked around in a giant pink bunny suit on a busy New York street, you truly understand what it's like for me to live here in China. It might be the blue eyes. It might be the blonde hair. It might be my incredible good looks. (Okay, so maybe not)

Anyway, I can't step out of my apartment without: 1. stares (or stairs: we live on the second floor), 2. a chorus of "hello's" and "hi's", fangirls giggling behind their hands, hoping I'll drop something so that they can put it in a shrine. While I am usually prone to exaggeration, this time I'm serious. Dead serious. I always thought it would be fun to have groupies. I was so wrong. Actually, just today, a small gaggle of my students (14-16 year-old girls) came up to Shannon, and said, "We think your husband is very cool. And CUTE!" They promptly vanished, leaving a cloud of giggles in their wake.

Introductions in class are a hoot, too. Some of these kids give themselves their own English name. Most of them speak only enough English to say, "my name is Kobe Bryant," "Jackie Chan," or "Harry Potter." Really.

I've also had some like Aoes (which isn't even pronouncable), Watch, Dak, and Sen, and Coffee. Coffee is so aptly name it's frightening. Her favorite phrase is "Happy Happy Every Day!" It's not uncommon for her to say it 10 times in a 5 minute period.

But, you know whose name takes the cake? Now, remember, this name is self-given, and belongs to a 14 year-old girl, dressed in pastel pink, living in the middle of a Communist country...


You'll never guess.


Lucifer.


I kid you not.


I almost laughed out loud.



Only 13 years of exposure to Paul and Ben kept me from rolling on the grimy, chalky floor. I really almost died. I mean, what do you say to that? "Good name"?


On a totally different note, I take my frisbee to every class, and show them how it's thrown by throwing it to a couple of them, and having them throw it back, to varying degrees of effectiveness. After one class, (long story short, I missed a class because my schedule was given to me wrong, and made up the class in 8th period, when it would have been study hall), some of the kids followed me around asking me questions. Their English was surprisingly good. Especially a very tall kid (probably 5'10"). Well, they sort of held my frisbee as a compliant hostage, and said that they wanted to play. So, a group of 6 of us went to the field (riddled with mud and rocks and, of all things, cement. There is also a HUGE tree right in the middle. Made in China. We threw the frisbee back and forth for a while before one of the PE teachers came over. We thought we were in trouble, but it turned out, she just wanted to play! 2 of the kids, Adam and Alan (they were probably both 5'10") had hops, and very good timing. They both play basketball, but the timing is totally different. So, with the addition of the PE teacher (a very athletic looking woman, probably 5'4"), we threw the disc around.

As I watched them throw the frisbee, I was pleasantly surprised at just how quickly they caught on. Really, they played very good. For never having seen a frisbee before, they had so much raw potential....

I honestly don't know how to describe how it felt to be throwing the frisbee around, like so many times before, and have it feel the same. Even though I was on the other side of the world, even though their faces were different, and their English was either broken or non-existant, and even though the surroundings were third-world, backward, and dirty, I was home. I was with my wife. I was playing frisbee.... I know that sounds a little weird for some of you, but I know Paul and Sasquatch will at least understand.

I felt like I was home.

Then, I realized that I should probably not get too sweaty because we haven't had running water for the last 3 full days. (Some of the students didn't have it either... they hadn't showered... I could tell... poor kids.)

I could easily live here. Scary, huh? I mean, I would never go to the doctor, and would have to keep saying, "Bu yao. Tai La!!" (No thanks! It's too dang SPICY!) These people really make Dad's hot sauce look tame.

Have you ever blacked out? You know how your vision, gradually becomes tunnelled, and then goes black? Well, my 2nd day here, they gave us some green peppers. I decided that I was going to be Hunan-y, and eat some. I took several chopstick-sized scoops. I ate them very quickly, chewing thoroughly. My face began to be hot, then burning, then it wilted, and dropped onto the table, bursting into greenish flames.... Yeah, it was hot. I thought to myself, "I'm doing alright! I can still wheeze just a little, and I can blame the rivulets on my face on my gratitude to my host." Then, I gradually got tunnell vision, and my hearing started to fade. Those last two really happened! I thought the peppers were going to kill me!! That sort of fire is impossible to mitigate. It just burns.

Dad, you would be proud!

Well, peeps, I am doing just fine. I'll have some pictures for you when I come better prepared. I love you all so much.

Peace,

Cooley

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Saga Begins... in a rocky sort of way....

Well, I'm sitting here in the Hong Kong airport... in roughly the same place I've been for the last 35 hours.


When we got to Hong Kong, we were all set for an adventure: Shannon and I had found the Hong Kong Temple on google maps, and had used the Lonely Planet guide book to find where to go to get there (Hong Kong has 7 million people in it... thank heavens for guide books). We were greeted with the news that there is a level 8 typhoon warning. For those of you who don't know what a typhoon is, it's like a mild hurracane. I mean, rain, wind and craziness. Level 8 is apparently fairly serious. So, we were advised to stay inside. Then we were advised that our flight was cancelled and would probably not fly out until the next morning. So, we began to camp. We slept on the chairs (not very comfortable, because they all had the arms attached), or under the chairs (one of the few carpeted places), or anywhere that we could find a place. I will be doing some talking with the other people and round up some good pics.

Basically, all of the stores except 7-Eleven (yeah... in the Hong Kong airport) and the Circle K were closed. (Remember that store that closed in the US? Well, it's alive and well in Hong Kong.) The typhoon warning was changed to a level 9. We survived on what we had in our carry-ons, and the junk-food that we could buy from those convenience stores in the air-port. The carpet was hard, the chairs were uncomfortable. :)

That morning, at probably 3 a.m., we were told that we would then be required to wait until Monday (it was then early Saturday) to fly out. Later that morning, Jacob Harlan scrambled to find a place to stay for 2 nights, and a way to get there, and still continue our planned visits to other cities in China. That poor, poor man. He really was scrambling frantically to get things taken care of. I was over watching the Olympics on the complimentary television. All the people were just sitting around our little section of the lobby. Jacob had Shannon call me over. He wanted me to make arrangements to get the luggage for the group of about 25 people. I went up, and stood in lines, and waited, and talked to people who made phone calls. After 3 hours, I was able to get the luggage. Shannon remarked on the fact that, out of 24 people, all of them being over the age of 19, some more like 26 or 27, he called me over from watching the Olympics to take care of the luggage, instead of picking from the rest of the group around him.

When I returned, he had negotiated a place to stay with the Hong Kong Temple President, in Patron Housing. Now, they had to bend some rules to let us do this, but we were so grateful. We made it to the housing without a hitch, had a relaxing Saturday evening, and then headed on over to the market to buy some food. Real food. So, the next day we had breakfast, showered (so nice...), and went to church on the 3rd floor of the temple. It was all in Cantonese, but it was enjoyable.

After elder's quorum, a man was handing out red hard-boiled eggs. From what I could glean from the people around me, his wife had a baby earlier, and it is customary to bring eggs to your friends when you have a baby. I see the symbolism, but it's a little weird to be eating the baby-symbol. Just a thought.

After dinner with the Mission President and Temple President, we met the office elders, and the assistants. It turns out that Riley Hedin is one of the assistants. We talked about home a little bit, but mostly about the work. :) The offices brought back so many memories.

Then we rested, and continued our journey to Changsha. From Changsha, we went to Xiangtan University, where the majority of the group would stay. They got their apartments, and Shannon and I got out motel room. After a little bit of training, and some preparations, we went to the touristy Yangshuo.

I will need pictures to do it justice, but I'll tell you what we did. We rented bicycles, rode to the river, got on bamboo rafts, floated down the river for about 2 hours, rode our bikes over to the bus stop where we would catch a ride up to the Moon Hill Water Cave. We bought swimming suits there, and they really didn't fit us very well. Mine was very short. By short I mean it covered the bare necessities, and no more. We hiked through the caves, and down to the mud bath. Then, we washed off in an underground river, hiked out of the cave, out onto the side of the mountain, and enjoyed beautiful vistas of rice patti terraces. We hiked home, made some touristy purchases, and went to sleep, having filled our day with very beautiful things.