December 26, 2007

She was really tired...

Sheng Dan Kuai Le

That's "Merry Christmas" in Chinese. It literally means "Happy Holy Birth", I like that.

Holidays overseas are always interesting- a patchwork of your teammates traditions until you have a celebration that is unique while still resembling something familiar. It's beautiful to live in an international community- like hearing the Christmas story in 5 different languages at your Christmas service.

Granted, there's moments of difficulty and Christmas is the hardest. I called a friend today and he was playing Dominos with his family and I found myself being jealous. I wanted to be with my family playing Spoons or football on the lawn.

Last night though, we had a Christmas program with our students- 4 hours of thought-provoking skits, dances, and songs. With no budget for props I really enjoyed their creativity. At one point the lights went out for the three wise men to follow a star. And then I watched as an arm with an Indiglo watch was raised into the air. I thought "Oh no, that's distracting." But that watch started to move, and the wise men followed. And then it registered, and I just had to grin. What did the planning look like for that? "Wait, what will we do for a star?" "Don't worry, I have a watch that stays lit for a full 5 seconds. I can just hold my wrist up really high".

So, whether you're playing Dominos in America with your family, or making new traditions in other parts of the world, Happy Holy Birth, friends.

December 18, 2007

Massages in Asia

Asia is famous for having goods and services at a low price. You might think of food first- yes, I can go out for dinner and my bill will be less than 50 cents. But, I think the real bargain is in massages. I used to get discounted or free massages through Aveda, but you just can't beat an hour massage for the consistent price of 40 yuan (5 dollars).
As a group, the 3 of us roommates splurge on massages about once a month. It blows my mind to think that I used to spend 5 dollars on parking or on a cup of coffee.
Today Diana and I decided on our walk home from work that we 'deserved' a massage. So we stopped at the blind man massage parlor near our house. At one time in Chinese history, blind men were trained in the trade of massages. I've heard that nowadays, some sighted guys fake being blind. Why? Apparently, it goes with the territory- if you're a massage guy, you're also blind. A little cultural note for you.
Our massages began by being greeted by clearly sighted massage guys. I almost wanted them to fake it for us, maybe stub their toe or reach their hands out in front of them. But alas, they made eye-contact and pointed to which table we'd spend the next hour. Now, I'm used to tough massages, when they use their elbow in your lower back or plunge their thumb into the space between your spine and shoulder blade. But this guy, I'll call him Steve, was of a different caliber.
You know those times when you begin to laugh and you just can't stop? You try with every ounce of self mentally scold yourself...but nothing helps? And then the tears flow and you gain a second of composure.. only to burst again with laughter?
I think the only thing better is when a friend is in the exact same predicament. You spur each other on towards laughter and embarrassment.
For a full hour this happened- face down on a massage table, tears flowing, screaming in pain with a bony elbow in our backs.
And let me tell you that laughter doesn't need to be translated. Our massage guys started laughing too. The words "Ouch!" and "Ow!" don't need to be translated either, but it didn't seem to stop them.
As we walked away Diana exclaimed, "Now I need a massage to recover from my massage." So true.

December 17, 2007

The guy in the blue.

Conversation this morning on the way to work...

Diana: I think the guy at the vegetable market, the one that wears the blue coat, tries to flirt with me.

Me: (Slight pause, with a voice of total concern) You know he's mentally handicapped, right?

Diana began convulsing with laughter and I had no idea why. Turns out there's two blue coat guys at the same market. Likely story, Diana. On a team of 3 girls in the middle of nowhere it seems that the vegetable vendor is newsworthy.

(Sidenote: My grandma taught Special Ed for 30(ish) years and I was always taught to say 'mentally handicapped'.)

Wild, Draw 4!

This morning I wanted to reward the students and play a game of UNO for awhile to give them a break from the textbook. The only rule was if I heard any Chinese, the game would be immediately over- I'm trying to crack down on Mandarin in class. One of the students named Charity is a giggler. If she feels uncomfortable, she giggles. If she doesn't know the answer to a question, she giggles. If she is corrected in pronunciation, she giggles. It was discovered 20 minutes into UNO that Charity had no idea what she was doing. Even if the current card was a blue 4 for example, and Charity had plenty of blues and even a red 4, she'd still put down a Wild card. Once she even put down a Wild Draw 4 and then another regular Wild on top of it! No one could understand the careless use of the precious Wilds. We corrected Charity and tried to explain the value of the Wild cards. She just giggled. This continued again and again. I was starting to wonder if Charity understood what we were saying in English.
This is the kicker...Charity constantly had at least two Wild cards in her hand at all times! She had no idea that they were rare. And the victim of all the Wild Draw 4's was Amy, ever competitive Amy. I'd watch her grit her teeth with each round. At one point I asked Amy, "How do you feel?" She said in a low voice "I want to hit Charity!" I laughed and Charity giggled, Amy's eyes just remained on her 15+ cards. The next round Charity put down a green skip on a blue 5- totally random. People were about to throw their cards in the air. I interjected with "No Charity! Wu or lan... that's all." (Translated: No Charity! 5 or blue...that's all." Ruth, the constant rule-keeper exclaimed, "Miss Allison you just broke your rule!" What's more Charity just giggled, picked up her card and put down another Wild Draw 4 for Amy. Poor Amy.

November 29, 2007

6 Months of Sweat and Tears

Cutting and pasting, one picture at a time...

I kid, it's a program for Mac's that did it for me. Amazing, isn't it?

November 26, 2007

Famous Fish Tacos

One day last week Nick,my roommate's brother came over for lunch. He's studying Chinese at Peking University on a study abroad program as a political science major at Harvard. We were talking about candidates in next year's presidential race. Nick mentioned that Steve Colbert (a Bush and O'Reilly basher) entered himself in the race. He also told us about a funny incident at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government where Steve Colbert took down a portrait of JFK and replaced it with one of O'Reilly (his political commentary adversary).

Me: So, Harvard, Nick? I mean that sounds impressive alone, but then you have the "John F. Kennedy School of Government". Was Harvard JFK's alma mater?

Nick: Yeah, it was.

Me: Hmm, I wonder how many US Presidents graduated from Harvard....Megan, you had some famous graduates from Wheaton, right?

Megan: Billy Graham would probably be the most famous. What about from San Diego State?

Me: (Long pause) Uh, Ralph Rubio from Rubio's- the restaurant with the famous fish tacos? You don't have Rubio's on the East Coast? Ah, it's good stuff. (Feeling pretty dumb.) And maybe a couple astronauts, maybe? Sometimes if we win a basketball or football game you can get a free taco with your ticket stub. (Laughing at the comparison and hoping the topic of conversation would change.)

Nick: Wow, free food when you win a game?! We never get that from our alumni...

Me: Yeah, uh, they're pretty good tacos. (Insert some genius and seamless change of topic.)

For the record, I Googled it. There were 7 US Presidents including Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and even our current President George Bush. Other graduates include T.S. Eliot, Al Gore, Tommy Lee Jones, and John Updike. But these guys don't give out free tacos after a victory, do they?

Did I mention that our school library is named The Love Library? And that a common past-time on campus is to sub-bathe on the grass by the pond? Who wants to join politics when you have the Love Library and California sunshine? You'd much rather have a fish taco at the beach, wouldn't you?

November 20, 2007

That Early Morning Stretch

Jenny is my Chinese teacher. She's also the administrative assistant of our school. Her English is quite good, and I took it upon myself to help expand her vocabulary and to introduce some slang. I started with the very feminine, eloquent word...'sucks'. That's right folks I chose to take Jenny's almost British accent/vocabulary and defile it with the word 'sucks'.
She giggled in delight when I started to tell her how to use it. I explained in a hushed tone, "You can say, 'This weather really sucks' or 'You feel sick today? That sucks!" I even taught her how to draw out the 'u' and use a valley-like intonation- suuuuuucks. I told her to immediately practice it with Megan and Diana. As I stood in the hallway one cold November morning I heard Jenny exclaim, "This cold weather really suuucks." Diana agreed, completely unaware of the usage. I'm not gonna lie, I was proud of Jenny. My mind reeled with future words I could teach her.
The best usage came a couple days later during our bi-weekly Chinese class. We got on the topic of the Beijing dialect and how some of the endings of words sound similar to the 'argh' a pirate would make. Jenny excitedly told me that she could teach me a few words from her dialect. I know that she considered this an equivalent to my slang lesson. She started with the word for tomorrow "ming tian". In her dialect it sounds something like "me-er-tean"-similar to the noise you make when you awake in the morning and slowly stretch your arms over head and grunt an incoherent sound from the depths. I tried once to repeat her, but I got a shake of the head and a repeated groan. On my second try Jenny just chuckled, shook her head again, patted me on the back and exclaimed, "You sucks!".
How perfect is that? My Chinese teacher just told me that "I sucks" at Chinese using an insult word that I taught her.

Let me tell you what doesn't espresso at Mars Chocolate every's "the bomb". (Can't wait to hear Jenny put 'the bomb' to use!)

Your slang feedback is always welcome. If you could teach an eager 23 year-old Chinese woman some American slang- what would it be?

October 30, 2007

YMCA, Invisible Children, and Frogger

Explaining your own culture can be hard. Unit 9 of our book had me trying to explain fads. We usually can’t explain fads even when we find ourselves in the midst of them! The 1950's Hula-Hoop went well; they got the idea through a picture and my ever-so-graceful example from the front of the room. Next were the Beatles. I burned a CD and played some of the classics. This was rather disappointing- I don't think my students were that impressed. They kept thinking it was country music, and I had to explain that they were rock ‘n’ roll… one of the first to start the pop category. C’mon, they were a boy band, a teen sensation- Beatlesmania, with some of the most recognizable songs ever! I got polite smiles in return; it was time to move on.
The next fad was Disco and I was ready with a sure Chinese crowd pleaser. I don’t claim to have a formula for the Chinese people’s taste, but this I know- take simple English lyrics, pair it with cheesy movements, and add a splash of femininity…you’ve got a winner. And so, I chose to teach my students the YMCA. After 3 minutes, I knew we had a hit. My students gleefully made letters with their arms, and clapped until it was time to throw their arms into a ‘Y’ again. Walking away during our 5-minute break I couldn't help but think, “Why do we think it’s such a great song? People play this at their wedding receptions?!”
Explaining a Rubik’s Cube without one on-hand was daunting. The little thumbnail picture in the book didn’t help much, either. Finally, one of the girls piped-up with a Chinese equivalent and I heard lots of “Ah, yes, I see…very difficult toy”
The last fad the book mentioned was Madonna. I don’t know about you, but I wondered- should I put an end date to Madonna? Isn’t part of her legacy that she is never really done? Doesn’t she always come out with something new, sending record sales soaring decade after decade? I played “Material Girl” and silently sang along. I couldn’t stop her arrow on our timeline, I just kept it pointing into the future. Does that mark that I’m a child of the 80’s? Probably.
So the fads lesson was yesterday, but we moved on. (Pun intended.) Today we talked about social movements and I used this as an opportunity to show the Invisible Children DVD. This movie rocked my students this year, much more than last year. There was sobbing all around the room- it’s a compassionate and empathetic group. When the video ended, we sat in silence for a while. I asked if anyone would like to Think for the children in Africa. Quickly, Anna stood to her feet. Fervently and through tears, she talked to the Father. I don’t know everything she said in Mandarin, but I knew that she wanted the children to be safe and for America to help stop the war. We ended the class in agreement.
In final news, I was almost killed today on my bike ride home. This is nothing new. I live in a city of 17 million people. Many of them truly don’t know how to drive. Riding my little one-speed pink bike in Beijing is like playing the old video game Frogger, circa the Pac-Man era. The sole goal of it all is to just cross the street without the cars/motorcycles/wood logs hitting you. And it’s always the last second dodge that saves your life. I’m alive today, but I could never get a very good score on Frogger.

October 29, 2007

A Case of the Mondays

Monday. Most people hear 'Monday' and react the same way they would to the word 'vomit'. They cringe at the thought of another day of work or school or anything else that kicks off a week of unpleasant exertion. I used to be that way. But this year's different.

On Monday nights I teach at an aluminum can manufacturer to about 19 business professionals. It's seriously hilarious every time! Last week I was teaching how to ask follow-up questions. One of the students Everest asked, "Allison, I hear in America many people have credit cards. Do you have one?" I answered, "Yes, I have a credit card that just pulls money from my checking account." (Time for the follow-up question) Everest smirked and with his pen to his notebook said, "Hmm, ok, and what is the code?" Nice try, right?

Tonight's lesson was on interpersonal communication in the office, with a portion devoted to office gossip. I thought for an activity it might be a good idea to play the childhood favorite game of Telephone. For a refresher to those that might have forgotten this classic, a message is whispered from one person to the next in a line of people. Simple enough. Wrong! This game is FAR MORE entertaining with ESL students. Take poor pronunciation, mediocre listening skills, and you've got a whole different level of enjoyment. I was crying laughing and so were the 19 other people in the room. The girls were having to fan their false eyelashes because if they cried laughing, their eyelashes would literally fall off. Quite the dilemma...

The best part of this enthusiastic crowd is that they clap at the end of the lesson and say "Sank you!" (Thank you!) We've worked on the 'th' sound, to no avail. The clapping throws me off every week, as if I've performed. We did grammar and played Telephone- I didn't dance the Nutcracker. And this is yet another reason why I love my job...and Mondays.

October 26, 2007

Wait, it's not cold yet?

I'm a cold weather wimp. What was I thinking as a Californian moving to Beijing, China? Currently, I'm sitting in bed below a down comforter, electric blanket underneath, and enough layers on my body to make you think I was living in the Arctic. The government-controlled heat comes on November 15, until then we just need to wear our outdoor clothes, indoors. The other day I stooped rather low and wore my knee-high Ugg boots to class. My student Lucy gently asked, "Allison, if you are wearing those boots now.. what will you wear when it gets cold in the winter?" Wait, it's not cold yet? This isn't winter?! I just scratched my forehead and cracked an embarrassed smile.

In the classroom last week I taught my students the popular song "You Said" by Shane Barnard. It was one of the greatest moments I've had in China- they all were belting it out. "Distant shores and the islands will see your Light as it rises on earth"...amazing.

I had the chance to teach at a dog and cat manufacturer last week- Pedigree and Whiskas. It was so interesting! They had dogs lounging all around the office, near the copy machine, next to employee's laptops, in the break area. And a rarity in China- they had a grass lawn for the dogs and cats to run around. I stared out at the lawn throughout the entire lesson. For a brief moment I wanted to be a dog in China, but then I quickly changed my mind when I considered the typical 'menu'.

This is the time of year that people typically get a little homesick- with the holidays around the corner. I'm so thankful that Cori and Christine will be visiting in just a week! I'll be picking them up in Hong Kong and bringing them to Beijing for my workweek and then we'll take a train to Nanchang for a weekend. I seriously can't wait.

October 22, 2007

October Fires

Four years ago I was a Sophomore at San Diego State when fires struck San Diego County. The sky became dark with ashes and thousands were forced to evacuate. As I caught up on World News yesterday at, I couldn't help but be reminded of the 2003 San Diego October Fires.

I remember waking up and looking out on our patio to a glowing sky. The sun was attempting to peak through thick gray smoke.. the result was a glowing orange sky. At the time I lived directly across the street from Qualcomm Stadium, so that first night my roommate Carly and I went to offer a hand to all the evacuees that filled the Qualcomm Stadium parking lots. What we found was pretty alarming. No one was in charge. Red Cross hadn't shown up yet and were instead focusing their efforts at a shelter in Balboa Park. Carly and I happened to be wearing matching t-shirts and a man put us behind a long table and said to do what we could to help. I remember that look of pure inadequacy that we exchanged. "Help people? How? We're supposed to organize this?"

Resources started to come together.. donated water from Costco, coffee from Starbucks, dog food from Petco, blankets from families and local businesses. Before too long, there was a system in place. I remember the hours passing quickly as cars continued to fill the parking lot. After about 5 hours a Red Cross representative came to take over and we were grateful.

Carly and I still shake our head when we talk about that night at Qualcomm. How did that happen? Were the matching t-shirts enough to give some sense of organization and order?

From what I've read, the fires in San Diego right now are much worse than 4 years ago. I called my friend Sean Lynch to get an update and he was.. of all places.. at Qualcomm Stadium offering a hand.

This morning in class we Lifted up the San Diego and Malibu area. We asked for safety for the residents and firemen. Email me if there's specific things we can Petition for. Please also Lift up my family in Malibu.. they're about 5 miles north on PCH.

October 15, 2007

just read a book

In the evenings I teach at nearby businesses- one of which bottles beverages. There's a huge factory on-site with rolls of aluminum to make soda and beer cans. So, twice a week we sit in the company conference room after they get off of work and speak English. It's really pretty fun.

Tonight we talked about the different ways that can learn new things. I would say, "I want to learn how to speak Mandarin. What should I do?" And they would give me advice like, "The best way to learn Mandarin is to spend time with a native speaker." The book we use had a list of recommendations which made the exercise easier.

It came time for Everest to give me advice. Everest is one of the most honest Chinese people I've met, but quite the revolutionary. He works for sales, which explains a lot to me. If I want to know the truth about culture, I can ask Everest. Tonight I said to him, "Everest, I want to learn how to fly a plane. What should I do?" I saw as he glanced down at the first line of advice in the book. With a straight face he replied, "Just read a book about it. Then, give it a try." I told him I'll get a book from the library and then borrow his plane next week.

September 30, 2007

putting flesh on the bones of my dreams

As the bell must strike the hour
as the west must stab the sun
so our hearts
must heed the flow
of deeper tides that run
far beyond the bare indifference
that prosperity esteems
where the spirit
raves and dances
through our very veins

At winters edge you found me
by the fields of wild gold
my hands still filled with ashes
from fires long cold
you pulled me from the wreckage
of bitterness and blame
flung open the page
and put some flesh on
the bones of my dreams

On the streets
the blossom snowing
and the drum is beating slow
and I hear you speak so clear
well I’m slicing through the fear
setting all the beacons
blazing, baby oh!
it's staring out plainer than ever
brighter than all the fools
gold that gleams
it's simply now or never
putting flesh on the bones
of my dreams

Putting flesh on the bones
of my dreams
putting flesh on the bones
of my dreams

And they can plunder
the cave of sorrows
they can strip the gallery bare
try to build a fence
around the visions
in our heads, choke every spark
in a cloak of despair
but we got something
they can't stifle
with their price tags
and picture frames
got a flower for every rifle
putting flesh on the bones of my dreams

-Lyrics of David Gray's "Flesh"

September 28, 2007


Even when I was young, I didn't like the concept of luck. When people wished me "Good Luck" I felt like it cheapened things. Did people really believe that they won a game of cards because of luck? Or that 'the forces of the universe' worked in their favor because they performed a good luck ritual? I always was intentional about pointing out how my Friday the 13th was an especially good day.
Isn't it ironic that I now live in a culture obsessed with luck? Hotels and highrises completely eliminate the 4th and 14th floors of their buildings because it's bad luck. Cell phones numbers with the numbers 4 and 14 are significantly cheaper. The number 8 however is extremely lucky. It's not surprising that the Olympic games will be 08-08-08 in Beijing. Bring on the luck!
The other day I was helping a friend barter for a purse she really wanted. I don't want to brag, but I've become well known for my bargaining skills. Anyway, she had gotten the storekeeper down to 80 yuan ($10) for a knock-off purse. His sales tactic was "It's good luck!" Nice try. I told him, "I'll risk the bad luck and pay 40". Everyone got a good laugh and we ended somewhere in the low 50's.
Today, when I got home I started to think about my life. I thought about the joy I have in my job this year and how undeserving I am. Shaking my head I thought, "I'm just so... so.. lucky.. ugh.. fortunate..ugh" The truth is, no word fit into that sentence. I don't deserve this, and that's the point. I haven't made any 'universe' happy. I haven't become the recipient of good karma. I'm a child of a great Dad, and he gives me gifts that I don't deserve. And that is the point.

September 26, 2007

A Year in Pictures

I'm definitely not a photographer, but I've enjoyed documenting this past year in Asia. The link to the Flickr photoset is below. Your comments are welcome.

Click here

September 19, 2007

stream of consciousness

i need to lesson plan for tomorrow, still haven't even looked at unit two yet. windsor pilates, my core is sore. need to water this ikea plant, i wonder if it'll make it all year. this is a great song, i never get sick of third day. hmmm. can't believe i still haven't seen them in concert. are they even still a band? will i ever get the chance? i heard they put on a good show. i need to get a new visa, so that i can apply for olympics tickets. priority? opening ceremony and swimming finals. the swimming facility looks like a big ice cube, that'll be interesting to see in person. i hope cori's having an amazing time right now in india. shoot, i need to find a stellar hong kong hostel for us. showing her and teeny around china will be so much fun. i need to figure out the subway system before then too. i have a lot to do, and it starts with the lesson plan. now.

September 14, 2007

and it hit me...

there are moments, brief moments, that i forget i live here. when i forget that my closest family member is a 12 hour plane ride away, that my dinner options are noodles or rice, or that i live in a country that i have a 3 year-old's proficiency in the language. those moments are usually snapped back to reality pretty quickly.

my grandfather loved the outdoors. my memories of him are in his suspenders, tending his prized garden, sweating, and telling me stories that i'd heard before. summers in kerman could reach the upper 110's and that made for a sweaty and therefore smelly guy. i learned last year that when it comes to our memory, smell is more powerful than all the other senses combined. the point of this is coming soon.

the other day i got onto a crowded bus headed to beijing. i put my ipod in and settled in for the 80 minute bus ride. with "meet virginia" in my ears-i closed my eyes. i had tuned out sight and sound, but i couldn't stop the smell that filled my nasal cavity. it was what grandpa smelled like before he jumped in the pool to cool off. frankly, it was the smell of body odor. chinese people don't wear deodorant, but they also don't have b.o. i couldn't help it, i had to open my eyes and figure out the source. i looked around and in the very back of the bus spotted 3 hippie americans. how did i know they were americans? all i had to do was pause my song for a couple seconds and their loud voices filled the bus. they had just climbed "mu tian yu"- the famous great wall site right by my house. ten rows up i heard all about it. how is it that i smelled an american before i saw him? that's amazing. it hit me, i live here, i'm not a tourist.

the other moment was today. i was headed to work- left the apartment on time, went down the stairwell, and as soon as i stepped outside realized that the rain had really picked up. i usually ride my bike the two miles to work. the dilemma did not lie in- should i take a taxi or not? that part was clear. i should- i was in a skirt, our dirt road had turned to mud with small lakes. the question was- could i pull it off? could i successfully communicate to a taxi driver where i wanted to go? and to be honest, i froze. i stood in the rain without an umbrella for a good minute running through the scenario... and the vocabulary. and it hit me, i live here, i really need to learn the language.

the more i write this out the more examples i can think of. last one.. because it's funny. yesterday i went for a business meeting at dove chocolate. when i got inside i saw the factory. everyone was in white jumpsuits and it was all very white and organized. chocolate bars rolled down the conveyor belt... i started playing 'umpa lumpa' in my head. you would too, trust me. anyway, after our meeting was over i made a reference to "Willy Wonka and the Choc...olate....Fac... tory." Blank stares from 7 identically dressed white jump-suited, middle-aged, chinese guys. the comedy of it all was too much to take. i started to laugh and no one laughed with me. and it hit me, i live here, and sometimes my jokes hit cultural walls. those jokes are never worth explaining, it's better to just laugh alone.

and just when i thought my candle-lit blog gave me some escapism, the man who lives on the other side of this wall just hawked a big loogie...the same ones that fall at my feet almost daily in the city. another reminder that i definitely live here. and i've learned to like it. hmmm, goodnight.

September 10, 2007

unforced rhythms of grace

"Are you tired? Worn out? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
-The Message (Matt. 11)

September 4, 2007

Noodles of the World

On the plane I sat next to a Mexican dentist named Cristina. She's visiting China for the first time. She said she loved Europe and I told her I'd never been. On the plane they served us instant noodles and she leaned over and almost secretly told me that in Italy they put noodles with tomatoes and call it 'spah-hetti'. With raised eyebrows and nodding of the head she said, "itz bedi goud". I didn't have the heart to tell her that I knew. I just looked down at my chow mein and said, "Huh, with tomatoes..."

(All that to say- I'm back, safe, and waking up at 5am every morning.)

August 9, 2007

Welcome Home

I've been in America for 5 weeks. When I first got off the plane at LAX, we went to Customs where a old man behind the counter asked me, "Where ya comin' from?" I replied, "China". There's an element of respect that happens with Customs officials, where I feel it's appropriate to respond like I've been pulled over for a speeding ticket. Keep the answers short, be polite, say 'sir', minimalize eye contact.
He asked, "How long were ya there?" Looking down at my precious passport I replied, "About a year..." He stamped me back in to the United States, handed me the little blue book and said with a nod, "Welcome home". I met his smiling eyes and teared up a little. I was home.
When you think about it, "home" is a relative term. I've really enjoyed my time in the US...I'm learning to enjoy the present and to not always project satisfaction in the future. I believe this is something we must practice.
I have enjoyed the green lawns, the inside jokes between family, driving, CNN, huge worship gatherings, blue skies, the beach, spontaneous gatherings of friends, chai tea lattes, and bookstores. Far above the material differences, I've cherished the time with family and friends the most. I am immensely blessed to have incredible people pouring into my life. People that support what I do, challenge my thoughts, and share my passions. I've been in a state of gratefulness since I've been back.
I'm sorry for the blog-neglect, I have some posts lined about a late night trip to the Laundromat in Monterey. Riveting material.

June 20, 2007


Is it wrong that I painted my toes while watching Braveheart this afternoon?

It felt like I broke some unwritten rule.

June 14, 2007

$12.50 to the support fund!

For those of you supporting me next year, I have good news! Instead of needing to raise $20,000 in support, I just need $19,987.50. I won a 100 yuan bet tonight ($12.50) off of a teammate. He underestimated me.

Let me explain some of the context.

Every week our team has dinner together and almost exclusively we go to the same restaurant. One of the advantages of living in a country that you can't read the language (Wo can bu dong!) is that you can name the restaurants/streets/stores. Our favorite restaurant is one we named Babylonian Minstrel (long story).

Tonight was different than the dozens before it, I really stepped out in my language skills. Dan encouraged me to write our order in Chinese characters. I successfully wrote 4 dishes. They were (typed in pinyin here): gan bian dou jiao (green beans), jing jiang rou si (pork slivers and onions), kung pao ji ding (kung pao chicken), and rou mou qiezi (eggplant).

Chinese food in China is eaten family style, so everyone normally votes on dishes. I said, "Ok, what about "tou dou si"? (potato slivers)

At that point, Mikayla confessed she didn't like them and that they were tasteless in her opinion. (gasp!) Dan and Rachel agreed. I was shocked. We ordered them only because I suggested it this whole year?

Stephen and Adam joined us later, because they were across town when we left for dinner. When they sat down I asked them what they thought of "tou dou si". They both said they liked it. Then I told them that Mik, Rach, and Dan didn't like the potato slivers we always ordered. At that point, Dan suggested that if I really wanted some, I could ask the couple next to us for a bite. Indeed, next to us sat a super cute and young Chinese couple with "tou dou si".

It quickly turned into a dare with Stephen offering 100 yuan (one day's salary!) to me, if I got a chopstick full of potato from the couple next to us. Everyone was adding hilarious commentary. In my mind, I was stringing together sentences to explain to the couple that I needed a little bit of potatoes to gain a large sum of money.

I did it, I got some potatoes. And this is verbatim (translated) what I said. (Insert tons of hand motions and a big smile.)

I walked over to their table, chopsticks in hand. Pulled out a chair and sat down. This is what I said in Mandarin, "My name is Allison. They (pointing) are my friends. I want a little potato sliver. My friends have 100 yuan for me. I'm sorry. Is that ok?" They nodded and smiled back. My friends were knee-slapping, watery-eyed laughing. I had a potato sliver and said "Thank you!"

We left almost immediately afterward and Dan asked the couple if they understood what happened. They said they completely understood. Yeah!

Don't worry, I picked up their tab. Everyone won, and Stephen got a great laugh for just $12.50! (Insert a wink here.)

June 7, 2007

8 Random Facts

This blog is dedicated to Katie over at
She requested 8 Random Facts about me, and here they are. I tried not to self-monitor, these are the 8 that came to mind right away.

1. My Body Is Asymmetrical. After careful observation for years, I have come to a few strange observations about my body and how asymmetric it is. First I am convinced that right armpit sweats more than my left. My right arm is significantly stronger than my left and in high school when I raced in the backstroke, I would sometimes veer into the lane ropes on the right. Recently I have discovered that my left leg is shorter than my right. I won't bore with the discovery, but I can assure you, it's a little bit shorter. I remember a conversation years ago with my mom when she pointed out the asymmetry of most newscaster's faces. I haven't been the same since, I'm always looking for that droopy eye.

2. Seven Years of Ballet. When I was 4 I was enrolled in ballet lessons. The lessons didn't stop until I was 11. I danced in the Nutcracker every year. Now that I think about it, I did jazz and tap some of those years too. I also was a cheerleader for 4 years. All that to say, I have no coordination. A slight variation in the sidewalk and I'm on the ground. In our stairwell in China, I've tripped on the same stair at least 5 times. If we've spent more than 2 hours in each other's presence, you probably have a story about a time I fell. Now, I blame it on the shorter left leg.

3. Matilda- When I was in the 6th grade, my aunt got my cousins and I on as extras in the film, Matilda. It's a kiddie movie with Danny DeVito and my aunt was working Wardrobe. As a 6th grader this was huge. I was a freckled 11-year old that managed to get a shot of my face in the film. No, not just in the background, but my entire mug filling the screen. I don't usually tell people about this, but my mom sent the new Matilda DVD to me in a care package a couple weeks ago. My teammates wondered, "Why Matilda?" The truth came out and before I knew it, my faced was paused on the screen and everyone was taking pictures of their face with the same expression. My awkward 11th year is forever documented.

4. First concert was Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart Tour" in South Florida. A couple of us rebellious girls snuck in at a fair after selling Girl Scout Cookies. I was great at selling Girl Scout cookies. That stint didn't last past Brownies, but I could push the cookies. Probably the reason I ended up with a Marketing degree.

5. I'll be living in Beijing in 2008 before and during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Should be interesting.

6. To Do Lists- I make extremely long to-do lists. I empty my brain of everything that needs to be done, even the really small things. And then I triumphantly cross them off. At the end of the list I write something that I've already finished and then cross it off immediately. It's a mind game for myself, I suppose.

7. Music trivia- My musical knowledge is pretty much non-existent. I don't know album titles, or band members, or the titles of songs. I don't know what a bridge is, or scales, or the opposite of alto. But if you're humming, I can probably sing the lyrics that match it. And therein, lies the mystery of it. I like to think of myself as some sort of musical elitist in that regard- I don't know the singer or the components- I'm just in it for the music. The reality is that I don't care and no matter how much my friends act disappointed... the song title/artist category of my brain was filled in my youth by Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, Elton John, and U2.

8. When I was learning to read, I memorized the Dr. Seuss book "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish." Sometimes, at the strangest times, it pops into my head. The song "Get a Haircut and get a real job" by Blues Travelers (I think?), and "Jesus, lover of my soul" also fill my mind at weird times. As does Ephes. 3:14-21, I memorized it one spring break in a park in Mexicali, Mexico.

In the time it took me to write this blog, I've killed three mosquitoes whom most assuredly feasted on my skin last night. I've left and gone on a walk in the sweltering heat of Nanchang, and I've learned that Starbucks bought out Dietrich's coffee. My friends, we've lost another great coffee company.

June 6, 2007

love the questions themselves

"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
- Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, in "Letters to a Young Poet"

May 28, 2007

you've got mail

Tonight after a long walk, I sat down for an American movie.
Some people, after spending time overseas, come back and sit in judgment of their culture. I think I'm going to come back and embrace it. Sure, I recognize America has it's faults. While watching the classic chick flick "You've Got Mail" with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, I found myself really missing America.
Ah...Tree-lined streets, coffee shops, street fairs, bookstores, Thanksgiving, Christmas, huge public libraries, people walking dogs (not eating them!), diversity, English-speaking (ha ha). Anyway, I'm looking forward to the USA.
I fly back June 26th. That night a group of us are going to the Anaheim Angels baseball game- how's that for re-emergence? Then there'll be transfer meeting at Azusa Pacific on the 27th, and finally late on the night of the 27th I'll head to San Diego.
Friends that were dating are now engaged, co-workers have gotten different jobs, roommates have graduated and gotten 'real jobs', friends have moved, businesses have closed. I don't really know the extent of change, but I'm excited to see each ounce of it. See you in 29 days, that's less than a month!

May 23, 2007


i have a friend named fiona. my teammates know her as 'red shoes fiona', because she has an endless collection of little red shoes. for months she couldn't make eye contact with me because she was so very shy. we went out to dinner at the beginning of the year and she told me about her family- the girl has been through a lot. she cried, i cried, and we were served a huge fish in a sweaty outdoor restaurant. our friendship has been close since. we've celebrated birthdays together, had tea at my house, and just began to meet weekly.

i've brought up my favorite book a couple times in conversation and she's always showed interest, so i got her a copy. last week i gave her an overview and then assigned some reading. she boldly said, "i must know the Mark!".

today was our first meeting and it was a privledge to be a part of. the absolute newness of the material is shocking! i can't type her dozens of adorable questions like, "Why did John eat locusts? It tastes horrible" but i wanted to include her first Thought, i was able to write it down.

"i'm fiona. i know you from miss allison. i begin to love you so if i meet anything happy or unhappy i will tell you."

before she left she asked me at the door, "the Last Supper, did (the Son) eat locusts? because i would just eat rice."

rice at the last supper, that's contextualization.

May 16, 2007

mirror, mirror

sometimes when i look in the mirror, i'm surprised by my reflection. kind of taken aback by the fact that i'm alive. that others know me, that my words affect them and that i have a unique identity. i get closer and look at myself more.. i don't check out the color of my eyes, instead i'm just trying to match my thoughts and dreams with the person i see in the mirror. i think about myself in light of eternity. and i think about all the millions of people i've walked by in the last 23 years and how we get one shot at life. we read books to make life better, we search high and low for love, we work hard so that we can retire well in 40 years. and we yearn for purpose.

our bathroom light is out and tonight as i loaded my pink toothbrush with mint toothpaste in darkness, i looked up and saw myself with just the lighting from the kitchen. i stood frozen and stared back. with so many thoughts racing through my head, i remember thinking, "hmm, this is the form i'm in." and it surprised me.

does this happen to you? my roommate rachel said it happens to her in large crowds sometimes.

April 28, 2007

Nanchang pride

Lately, American media has been acknowledging our little 4 million person Chinese city, and I thought I'd take a moment to boast.

1. Nanchang is featured on in the "The Week in Pictures" for a pothole that occured last week, downtown on Shunwai Road. I love how the pictures above capture the bicycles, tile sidewalks, and large amounts of spectators.

2. A friend told me that the next season of Survivor would be filmed in Nanchang. I strongly doubted that any American TV show would/could film an entire show here. But according to CBS, they are indeed filming in China. Whether or not it is in Nanchang, we'll have to wait and see. I guarantee that someone I know will print a shirt saying something like "I Survived Nanchang" and worse yet, I'll buy one.

3. And last, and probably most impressive...Newsweek named Nanchang on it's Top 10 Most Dynamic Cities in the World. We got #6! The article notes the world's tallest ferris wheel (which I have yet to ride), the historical significance as the birthplace of Chinese communism, and most importantly the huge investments made by foreign companies, like Ford. In case you're curious, Las Vegas was chosen as #1.

When I asked our boss if he'd heard that his hometown was chosen as the 6th most dynamic in the world, he shook his head and said, "I don't see anything dynamic..."

April 27, 2007

"what's wrong?"

I read the article below on and was at first shocked that 5,000 people would call a kid on YouTube that merely said "I care". But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are many Americans with a huge lack of community or intimacy. We are made for wanting intimacy, and people find all sorts of means to satisfy that desire. Apparently, they even call spiky haired 20 year olds.

SOUTHBRIDGE, Mass. Apr 22, 2007 (AP)— Ryan Fitzgerald is unemployed, lives with his father and has a little bit of time on his hands.

So, he decided to offer his ear, to anyone who wants to call. After posting a video with his cell phone number on YouTube on Friday, the 20-year-old told The Boston Globe he has received more than 5,000 calls and text messages.

Fitzgerald said he wanted to "be there," for anyone who needed to talk. "I never met you, but I do care," a spiky-haired Fitzgerald said into the camera on his YouTube posting.

He planned to take and return as many calls he could, but on Monday at 5 a.m., his T-Mobile cell phone payment will begin charging him for his generosity when he is no longer eligible for free weekend minutes.

"I haven't quite figured out what I'm going to do about it," he said. "Come Monday, no way I'm going to just hang up on people and say, 'I don't have the minutes.'"

Fitzgerald, who said people consider him "easy to talk to," was inspired by Juan Mann. YouTube video clips of Mann offering "Free Hugs" to strangers became wildly popular on the user-controlled Internet site.

"Some people's own mothers won't take the time to sit down and talk with them and have a conversation," Fitzgerald said. "But some stranger on YouTube will. After six seconds, you're not a stranger anymore, you're a new kid I just met."

What about praying?

April 18, 2007

sacrifice, dogs, and West Coast superiority

Last week in class we talked about crime and punishment. That crimes deserve a punishment... if we commit a crime, we must also accept the punishment. I gave them this scenario, "What if your best friend commited a crime and faced a horrible punishment? What if you could save your friend by giving up something that is very important to you?" We then brainstormed things we would give up to save our friend. The lists they came up with were great! They'd give time, money, status, reputation, love, family, friends, job, dreams, opportunities, and their own life. I defined those as sacrifice- that giving up things that are important to us are 'sacrifices'. That lead straight into the Easter story. It really clicked for them, that He was the sacrifice for the crimes of humanity. It was such a great week of classes!

During our discussion of crime and punishment, I put a list of crimes on the board and had the class judge the punishments that they deserved. I made it more personal for the class and ascribed the crimes to actual students in the class. So for outspoken Sarah, I said she "stole a mobile phone from a store". Sarah shook her head and said, "But I'm an honest girl..." Her judgment, made by Willow, was a fine and 20 hours of community service. I said that William "didn't feed his dog for a month". No one thought it was a big deal, which surprised me. I asked, "Isn't that animal cruelty?" William responded, "No! Dogs are delicious!" That ended the conversation... cultural difference #486.

West Coast:
On Tuesday nights we have our weekly faculty meetings and Team Dinner. This Tuesday Dan was out of town and we made the decision to have an extravagant night by going out to Pizza Hut for dinner. Pizza Hut is high class in China, we drop about $4 each, which is big money here. I'm not kidding, we look forward to cheese at Pizza Hut. I think one day I'll look back at our Pizza Hut joy and get a good laugh, for now it's legit excitement at Western atmosphere, forks, etc. So Tuesday night at dinner we got in a little debate.. West Coast vs. East Coast. I pulled out the old slogan "The West Coast is the best coast." Childish, I know, but I had to state my loyalty. We went back and forth for awhile. Mikayla and I on the West Coast Team. Stephen, Adam and Emily on the East Coast Team. And Rachel stayed neutral- she's from North Dakota. It was friendly banter. When we left the restaurant we split up to go in different taxis and it was just Stephen, Rachel and I. Stephen looked at me, with a pretty serious expression and said, "Alright, on the West Coast you have gangs, but on the East Coast...we have extended family". That sent the 3 of us into laughter, it's more funny if you know Stephen's North Carolina drawl, actually much more funny.

April 13, 2007

rain and jazz music really go together

It's Saturday and I just looked outside to a sea of umbrellas, students scrurrying about on their way to Saturday classes. The rain is really coming down and I'm spending the morning listening to jazz music (got a Getz/Gilberto song off iTunes that is great!) and cleaning my room.
We watched 'Hostage' last night in Dan's apartment and my throat is sore from screaming during the 'air duct scene'. My goodness, Mikayla and I freaked out for a solid 10 minutes. Dan and Adam just laughed at us. I need some tea and honey.

April 11, 2007

4/5 completed

I've been in China for 8 month! Can you believe it?

You know what they say, "Live Free or Die Hard"!

(8 months is tough.. I miss you guys!)

April 7, 2007

mi madre es muy bonita.

At one point I thought I was returning to the United States next year and I got excited about it. I like California, I really do. I like avocados, and sunshine, and speaking Spanish. I signed up for the Spanish-English Dictionary "word of the day" to brush up on my Spanish. Everyday for the last two weeks they've sent me obvious Spanish words like "English=university Spanish=universidad". I just unsubscribed. It was almost an insult to get today to get "English=fluctuate Spanish=fluctuar". I wonder if there's a Chinese-English word of the day out there... that's what I should be studying.

I'm staying in China next year. I got a very exciting job in Beijing! I applied, never thought I'd get it, and I did. Wow...I'm still kind of surprised when I think about it. More about it later...

In other news, my mom "The Debster" came to China last week and I met her in Shanghai. We rode a 410 km/hour speed train, ate fancy Chinese food, explored a pearl market, watched silk spinning, stayed up late and chatted, rode a boat on the Pudong River, and really had a great time together. The trip was a Valentine's Day present from Rod- what a guy! I see some of my mom's quirks in my personality and just have to laugh. She is one of a kind, if you knew her, you'd agree. I hope I look like her when I'm over 50...I mean... eternally 29. (I probably believed she was 29 from the ages of 4-8, and then I realized she had me when she was 30. I've always been good at math). All that to say, seeing her and spending 3 solid days together was a breath of fresh air.

Happy Easter from East Asia! What a great holiday to celebrate. 1 Corin. 15. Stand firm, let nothing move you, always give yourselves fully to the work.

March 27, 2007

things i love...

Sumatra Coffee- brewed in the morning, sipped while I get ready for work, part of a care package!

Sudoku- the Advanced book I got in the mail randomly from my Aunt Kathy. I love teaching it to students on the lawn, and distracting them from their constant test-prep.

American Pop songs- but ONLY when Chinese students sing them loud and proud- some of the best include “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, and “I Want It That Way” by N’Sync (?)

Little Miss Sunshine- Olive gets left at the gas station and has to run alongside the car, because the VW van will stall out. The body smuggling from the hospital, the dance performance at the end…good flick.

Thursday Question Day- My little cousin Amelia is full of questions about my life, so we reserved a day for her to call and ask questions to her heart’s desire. She’s 11 and feisty and her questions make me laugh so hard. I look forward to her calls.

Chinese Lessons- When we transcend tone practice and pronunciation and laugh together.

Third Day- the Offerings album brings back a flood of great memories from high school.

My old Pumas- great arch support and so comfortable that it feels like I’m wearing socks. It doesn’t hurt that I got them really cheap in NYC, when a retailer mislabeled the display.

Baseball games- $5 lawn seats at Petco Park! Bring a blanket, sit on the lawn with friends, and watch the Padres play.

The big Marlin on the wall at my Grandma’s house- there’s something comforting about the giant stuffed fish that fills a wall in her TV room. The room also contains 49er fanfare and tons of Louis L’Amour books. Some of my grandpa Fred’s greatest passions: deep-sea fishing, San Francisco football, and books about the West.

Sailing- in Mission Bay with friends, on a Hobie Cat catamaran, with a visit to the penguins at Sea World.

Voicemails on Skype- the long-drawn out messages when good friends ramble about their day and include random details. I love those the best.

Wang- a street vendor just outside our school that sells Chinese flat bread. We both wave, yell “Ni Hao!” and smile everytime we see each other. This has gone on several times a week for the last 7 months. It doesn’t get old.

Apple Computers- I love Mac’s. Knock them if you want to, but I’m pretty loyal to my iBook. It has served me well.

Crystal Lite- nothing spices up a bottle of water better than lemonade or raspberry crystals. Simply refreshing.

The Office- a great TV show. If you’ve seen it, I’m sure you agree. Dwight is my favorite character by far.

Just Brushed Teeth feeling- pretty self explanatory, I just brushed mine, and I love it.

Pilates- on the tile in my livingroom, with Mikayla, and our commentary as we challenge our ‘core’ with the Australian woman on the video.

Moments of Understanding- those times when, as a teacher, you can explain a concept/word/idea and your students really get it. They nod their heads, apply it, and ask thoughtful questions. Teaching is a rewarding profession.

Forrest Gump quotes- from Tracy, my Chinese friend. She’s only read the book, I bought her the movie this weekend and we’re watching it soon. I can’t wait to see her face when Tom Hanks brings the words to life. She’s going to love it! There’s something great about “Stupid is as stupid does” coming from a 20 year old Chinese girl.

March 13, 2007

the importance of being honest

A letter sent to me by Bill through his girlfriend, Starr. Bill couldn't make it to class today and was 'asking for leave'.

Miss Alice,

Happy New Year! Im sorry to tell you I couldn't enter your class today. For there will be a very excellent NBA Game between the Rockets and the Suns and I'm eager to watch it. Also I'd like to tell you the final result if allowed to. Here wish you happy every day in the New Year!


(I have to value Bill's honesty. When other students say that they're in the hospital when asking for leave- Bill has nothing to hide, there's a good game on.)

Cultural Note: Yao Ming plays for the Houston Rockets and many of my students wear his jersey to class. He's a huge star- a Chinese basketball player that lives in the's a dream for many of them.
Also, Allison is sometimes difficult for my students to pronounce, and Bill is one of a handful that calls me Alice. I think it's funny.

March 10, 2007


A Chinese cultural note: Chinese people love porcelain white skin. They buy creams, they bleach, they used umbrellas in the sun- anything to keep their skin as white as possible. It is unfathomable to them that American women and men (for the most part) desire to be 'tan'. The fact that we intentionally lay outside and let the sun make our skin darker is a shock.

When I explained the concepts of tanning booths, tanning lotions, and bronzing powders to my good Chinese friends their faces were the picture of horror. "Why? It makes no sense!", they said. I just shrugged and we had a great conversation about the definition of beauty in different cultures. One of the girls Christina has freckles dotting the brim of nose and cheeks- and one of her friends commented on her friend's "spots". "Spots? No, they're freckles. They're cute", I said. Again, faces of horror and a smile on Christina's face as the super white American (me) told her that her 'spots' were cute. I, again, explained that they are a sign of youth and many famous models in America have freckes. Christina said she was going to move to America so she can be considered beautiful.

I warned my friends that I would be traveling to Thailand over the Chinese New Year, and I hoped to get tan myself. After months of little sunshine in Nanchang- and my first real winter in my life- I was beyond white. My students called me "piao liang" sometimes which means beautiful in Chinese. But I longed for a hint of color. At one point someone took a picture at dinner with a porcelain cup in hand and indeed I was as white as the cup! The absolute definition of 'porcelain white'. The first day on Koh Phayam I got burnt, bad. Mikayla was a great friend and applied aloe and after sun lotion on my back for days.

By the end of our week on the island of Koh Phayam I had picked up some sun and felt great about it. I wondered what my students would think. I was now considered less beautiful in their culture. Before school started, my friend Tracy stopped by my apartment. The first thing that came out of her mouth was, "You are SOOO black!" and she shook her head in disappointment. I had to laugh- and then kindly explain to her that she should use the word 'dark'. I might be less beautiful in China, but it's so nice to see a couple freckles on my cheeks and not blend in with my tea cup.

March 8, 2007

i wish you could meet them.

I wish you could meet my students. I wish you could see their faces in the classroom, the way that they look confused at new vocabulary, and the way that they light up when it's understood. I wish you could see them playing basketball with such vigor and heart, yet lacking height and skill. I wish you could see the girls like Willow, full of style and sass- eager to know the deeper meaning of life. I wish you knew Edward who dreams of living in American and asks the most random and obscure culture questions, or Gabe who has me define the 14 different ways that Americans use the word "like". And oh, I wish you could meet Tracy, who shows up to my apartment whenever she pleases for hot chocolate and a chat. The way that she asks hard questions during our Study, the way that her nose beads with sweat when she's nervous, the way that she will hold your arm as she thinks of the correct English word to explain herself.

I wish you knew their names and their faces- all 400 of them. I wish I had enough time to tell you the stories- hilarious, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, and beautiful. The stories of our interactions.. the countless hours in the classroom, the office, the city, and my apartment.

Today as I walked home from class, and was greeted by one student after another, I became overwhelmed with gratefulness. Thank you for sending me here, thank you for encouraging me this year, thank you for being supportive. Students are being transformed all the time, and I'm in awe. I just wish you could meet them.

February 21, 2007

Hong Kong thoughts

My unassisted heart is barren clay,
That of its native self can nothing feed:
Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,
That quickens only where Thou sayest it may:
Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way
No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead.
-Michael Angelo

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our LJC. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins."
-Simon Peter (2 Peter 1:3-9)

February 14, 2007

words on a page

Traveling for 6 weeks has afforded me many hours of transit time in which to catch up on reading. Here are some books that I've completed or in the middle of as we speak. It's really an addiction.

Tuesdays with Morrie- good, read it in a coffee shop in Kolkata in a few hours.

Life of Pi- highly recommended, I bought it in India (it's filled with Indian culture) and read it on the beach in 2 days. The setting is the Pacific Ocean, so the words really came alive as I stared at the Andaman Sea in front of me.

Freakonomics- insightful, made me feel like I was a business student again. I don't know if I believe it's insights, but overall worth the read.

The Great Divorce- allegorical, but had some great points. I think I'll re-read it today. Super small, but I'm sure I missed some C.S. Lewis nuggets.

TIME Magazine- an issue about the future of China and America's relationship. I read the entire thing cover to cover. There are no such issues in China, had to pick it up in Hong Kong.

Rivertown- a book about a young American guy that teaches English with the Peace Corp in China along the Yangtze. The experiences he has really mirror mine, but I think his setting descriptions can be too lengthy at times.

Catcher in the Rye- an old favorite of mine. I love the voice of Holden, maybe I have a crush on him? ;)

Reaching Out- I pretty much love Henri Nouwen's writing. Themes definitely overlap from Compassion, but I enjoy his insight.

The Good Book- read through 1 Peter, 2 Peter, James, 1 John, and I'll re-read Hebrews (we studied it all semester together). Also reading Luke, but not as consistently as I'd like.

Lastly, it's been great to journal! Trying to get the words down about the numerous adventures has been difficult, but great to look back on those first few days in India.

Any literary suggestions? I plan on hitting up a book store before flying out of Hong Kong, so please offer input!

February 8, 2007

wuzza flickr?

Just a small portion of pictures have been posted from the trip so far on Flickr. Click on the link on the right hand side and take a peak, comments are welcome!

February 7, 2007

heading to bangkok

tomorrow morning i'm leaving for bangkok, thailand and then to koh phayam for a week. this last week in chiang mai has been a great time to recharge and spend time alone and with friends from all over southeast asia.
please keep mikayla in your thoughts- a good friend of hers died today from a rare type of cancer. reminded again that life is fragile (long sigh).
safe and learning so much,
alli jo

January 21, 2007

in india

I'm sitting at an internet bar in the middle of Bhubaneshwar, India on the east coast by the Bay of Bengal. Indian guys all around me are watching New Zealand and Australia's cricket match and playing internet games. What a whirlwind the last 10 days have been!

Two Fridays ago I turned in grades for my Sophomore university students and got on a train for Hong Kong. I'm on Chinese New Year and traveling with 3 other people for 6 weeks. We took an overnight train and arrived in Hong Kong, my favorite city to date! The skyline was incredible, on the water, so clean and full of international flair. We were full blown tourists for 3 days visiting SoHo and taking a water ferry to Victoria Peak and finally eating some Mexican food! Being a Californian, it's been way too long! We went to church on the Kowloon side and met some incredible people from all over the world. Then we jumped on a plane and went to Bangkok and then to New Delhi, India. In New Delhi we got caught in a tourism bubble that we've now coined the "Indian Tourism Mafia".. it's this web of high priced accomodations, taxis etc. and everyone knows each other. At one point we thought we had escaped and made plans to travel to Agra and Jaipur to see the Taj Mahal.. and in walked one of the mob guys again to our "new" travel agency. We sighed knowing that eventually we'd we flying to a friends hometown in India.

The Taj was great and my feeble words here in this internet bar cannot do justice to the insanity of the past week. Picture the Amazing Race and you have our team of 4 (Heather, Jev, Michael and I). We've gotten along great and our personalities really complement each other. We're in a bit of culture shock coming from 5-6 months in China yet still being treated like Americans in India.

We then flew to Orissa (Bhubaneshwar) to a fellow Indian colleague (in China) home in India. We've ridden elephants, got stuck in a cattle drive, visited indigenous people, and eaten curry for every meal. This has been the best part to be in the village with them, eating at their home and learning the culture.

I'll tell you about yesterday and just multiply it by 10. Last night our friend's family treated me like a dress-up doll, putting bindhis (sp?) on my forehead, bengals on my wrists, braiding my hair and putting big gold earrings in my ear. I've even worn a sari! Last night we ate from banana leaves with our hands and drank some questionable water (the verdict is still out on sickness)- pray for me! We went on a 4 hour boat ride yesterday day to an animal reserve on Chilika Lake. We landed on an island with an indigineous tribe that worships the Hindu god Kaliji. Ah, I'm frustrated that I can't get everything into an email!

Our host Pradeep (a friend of our China co-worker) is a journalist/activist for the poor (Dalits, etc.) here in India. He raises awareness through an organization named ODAF (funded by a German organization) that works primarily with the tribes in the upper jungles of India. They help them learn how to grow sustainable products and how to defend themselves legally against "corporate development". We are going to one of those tribes tomorrow for 3 days!! They are primitive and definitley not a tourist attraction. This is only made possible by the NGO that Pradeep works for. If you know me well, you know I'm squirming with excitement at this opportunity! I've been able to show off some of my Aveda knowledge being that India uses Ayerveda medicine. Seeing activists doing the very thing I learned about during my time at Aveda has been really encouraging.

I've spent long enough typing this email and internet has gone out a couple times, so I'll end this now. Miss you guys and I'll try to write again from our conference in Thailand. Can't wait to post pictures on Flickr and email when I have more time and more clarity.

Much love,
Alli Jo

January 8, 2007

Chinese New Year

The picture above is Heather and I, we'll be traveling together the entire time (Jan 12-Feb 24)
Below is the tentative travel itinerary:
Jan 12-15 Hong Kong, China
Jan 15-28 India (New Delhi, Agra, Orissa, Kolkata)
Jan 28-30 Bangkok, Thailand
Jan 30-Feb 8 Chiang Mai, Thailand
Feb 8-11 Bangkok, Thailand/Ranong, Thailand
Feb 11-18 Koh Phayam, Thailand (island in the Andaman Sea)
Feb 18-19 Ranong, Thailand
Feb 19-21 Bangkok, Thailand
Feb 21-23 Hong Kong, China
Feb 24(ish) Back to Nanchang

January 1, 2007

peace out 2006

How is it already 2007?! If today is any indication of the next year, than this will be a good, productive, relaxing year. I slept in this morning and did the slow wake up routine... when you just lie in your warm blankets, afraid to move your foot onto the cold wood floor, but knowing it eventually needs to happen. I put some Norah Jones/Colin Hay/Sting/Over the Rhine/U2 on my iTunes and just let the morning drift by.
The internet was down so I read a little bit of Henri Nouwen's "Reaching Out", and thought about studying Chinese (that didn't happen, but my intentions were good.) Then I finally got out of bed and made Starbuck's Christmas Blend coffee with French Vanilla creamer (thank you Wieland family!) and some Apples and Cinnamon oatmeal from mom. Eventually Rachel and I thew on our tennis shoes for some laps around the track. We talked and lost track of the laps after about 6, but I'm guessing it was between 2-3 miles (the goal is to continue this throughout the year). We got home and made a New Year's Resolution to drink more water. The details of which are yet to be determined. I also resolve to read more (from different authors!)- I've started 'Ragmuffin G' about 5 times, and Chamber's 'So Send I You' about 10 times. I always seem to go back to Miller, Nouwen, Piper, and Tozer- but I desire to strike out. 2007 is the year of new perspectives- literary and otherwise.
When we got home our internet worked so I researched Hong Kong hostels for our trip in 12 days to INDIA. I can not express my enthusiasm for this trip! We're going to take a train to Hong Kong then fly to New Delhi. We'll spend a few days there with a trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra. Then we're going to Bhubaneshwar, where we have contacts that will show us some authentic Indian life. There's been talk of white water rafting, alligator reserves, and jungle adventures. After our week there, we'll head to Kolkata to spend a couple days helping out in the homes of Mother Teresa. Should be intense, but it's been a dream of mine to see the work being done there. After the two weeks in India we'll go to Thailand for a conference and some down time on Thai islands. (Five of us ladies are going back to Koh Phayam, where I was a year and a half ago helping with tsunami relief...I'm so excited for this portion as well!) My India travel partners are Heather from North Carolina, Michael from South Dakota/Minnesota, and Jev from Colorado/Minnesota. Incredible people that I can't wait to travel with. I'll be out of China for a little over 5 weeks. All this India talk led me on quite the tangent.. back to today.
I started to knit a red scarf as a Chinese New Year's present for my Chinese friend, Tracy. I've 1/2 way done within hours...fingers of fury, I know. I cleaned my room, cleaned out my desk, and baked cookies. When did I become a knitting, cookie baking lady? I'm not quite sure myself.
I got to Skype with some great friends in San Diego right before they rang in the New Year. They passed around the phone and I got to talk to some amazing people. Now I'm back under the warm blankets and doing grades in Excel. I think I'll head into the office where I can get more work done.
Last night I rang in the New Year at an Italian Restaurant named Cellar Bistro. The place was empty except for 13 of us Americans and 3 foreign businessmen. We played pool, danced to Golddigger, ate Western food, drank Diet Cokes, and were merry. At midnight Prince's "1999" was blaring throughout the restaurant, everyone hugged, and then we got in taxis and went home. One of the highlights last night was playing with some kids outside the restaurant, absolutely adorable little ones.
I'm heading out for the office, but HAPPY NEW YEAR friends and family!