May 28, 2008

Beijing Blue Crayola Crayon

Dear Crayola Crayon Company,

I've been meaning to write you for quite sometime. There's a big problem in Chinese classrooms that I believe MUST be addressed. Children all over this vast country love to color and draw but their pictures are inconsistent with their surroundings. You see, when they pick out the "Sky Blue" crayon from their crisp yellow Crayola box, the color is nothing like the color they see out their window. This confuses the youth. It starts with confusion at the crayon box, and it's all downhill from there.

I suggest that you make a new crayon named "Beijing Blue". Only it won't be blue at all. Now, let me explain. It's going to take a mixture of black (for the coal in the air), with some dark gray (for the exhaust from the millions of cars). Last you'll need to add a bit of glowing yellow (for the fires, and the effect of the sun trying to get through the gray thickness).

With one in every four people in the world being Chinese, this is sure to be a 'best seller'. Kids all around China deserve to have a crayon in their box that they can use to color the skies of their pictures. Leaving "Sky Blue" as is, will only increase their longing for a distance land named 加利福尼亚 (Jialifuniya/California). Once they see the blue skies and (gasp!) sunsets, it'll be hard to get them to return. Like I said earlier, it's starts at the crayon box...

Yours Truly,
Disgruntled Californian/Beijing Resident

P.S. What's up with the pronunciation of your product? I say the one syllable "cran" like cranberry, but others say a two syllable version like "cray-on". What's your official stance on this?

May 23, 2008

Another Day at the Office

I teach ESL (as you know) and with the low class today we were brainstorming food for an activity.. the categories on the board were meat, fish, veggies, and fruit.
It was boys against girls and they had to yell vocab out as I wrote their responses on the board. It sounded something like.. "cucumber! tomato! squid! beef! pineapple!"
And then just as it had become quiet down for a second- sweet, little Leona yelled out "ass meat!" very loud, kind of proud that she found one that hadn't been mentioned yet...
It took everything in me, my friends...

May 22, 2008

my empty water glass

This morning my roommate and I woke up early for some Olympics festivities. The city is buzzing with Olympics excitement and with 77 days left until the Opening Ceremonies, I suppose they should be. Leading up to the actual Olympics there are Good Luck games at the venues for a fraction of the price, and a fraction of the athletic talent (let's be honest). Today, the Bird's Nest was open for Athletics events (javelin, shot put, hurdles, long jump and sprints galore).
After 3 hours of watching other people run, Diana and I took a walk to T.G.I Friday's for lunch. My favorite Western food in Beijing is a Friday's BBQ Chicken salad. (My mouth just watered and I ate one 6 hours ago!)

Some people say that one bonus of living in China is that there is no tipping for services. Tips are not expected for waitresses or taxi-drivers. Amazing, right? Well, kind of. It comes at the expense of service. If you want more water for your teapot, or napkins, or anything for that matter- do not expect a waitress to come over and "check on you". You need to belt out "fu yuan!" (waitress) in the dining facility and eventually someone will mosey over and raise their eyebrows, no smile. That's your cue to politely ask them for more water in a sweet voice...because, remember, they're doing you a favor. I don't mind this usually, especially when it's an older woman that give an extra portion of attitude. Beijing is famous for cranky old women waitresses, and I openly try to befriend them. This is confirmed the next time we visit, when they say "Hello" before taking our order.

My frustration comes when I go to a place like Friday's...a Western restaurant. The poor waiters and waitresses must weigh an additional 10 kilos due to their abundance of 'flair'. The place feels like America- guitars and STOP signs on the walls...but the service is distinctively Chinese. It's disheartening when a person wearing smiley-face buttons, suspenders, striped socks, and a Dr. Seuss hat gives you an eye-roll when you ask for more water. I understand when China Grandma gives an extra sigh, and I empathize with her...she's old and tired, and serving a lot of KungPao Chicken. I get that.

I wanted to draw in the waitress today and whisper to her, "If you manage to keep this little glass of water full for 50% of the time that I'm here, I'll tip you.. I really will. I'm American, it's what we do! And it's not just a few coins, we usually give 20 percent!" (At this point, I'd nod and raise my eyebrows, as a way of saying "Ridiculous, right? But it's true!")

I tried to respect her and do the two-finger raise as a sign that I needed some attention, but she didn't get it. Eventually Diana said "fu yuan" and a waitress came over. We gave up on the water and asked for the bill. When it came, we didn't tip. My water glass was bone dry, and plus, there's no tipping in China. No need to disrupt the system, right?

May 13, 2008

7.9 Earthquake in China

Monday afternoon my roommates and I were on video Skype with a friend in Changsha when she exclaimed, "Whoa, I'm shaking.. Do you guys feel that?" Clothes hanging in the background were swaying and the shaking lasted a full minute. Changsha is in south-central China, and Beijing is in the northeast. We assumed it was a smaller earthquake closer to her.
But, a couple minutes later my roommate Megan got a call from her boyfriend who works at an International school here in Beijing. He said they were under their desks and wondered if we were o.k. He called back to say they were evacuating, and eventually canceled classes for the day. This was before any news was available. And let's be honest, news isn't readily available here.
That evening at the gym, I watched the Beijing news. The report was that 4 people had died and 900 students were trapped in their middle school. The largest city to the epicenter is Chengdu in Sichuan province and news reporters were among evacuated hospitals, interviewing what people felt, etc. There was no sign of damage and no one was hurt. People were just fearful and concerned, as well as unwilling to go back into buildings.
The fault line of the earthquake is where the Sichuan plain meets the Tibetan mountain range. That area is far from Beijing, to the southwest. Sichuan is also the most densely populated province in all of China.
When I got home the logic just didn't make sense, an earthquake felt 900 miles away in Beijing and there's hardly any damage? I checked CNN, BBC, and ABC and they were just reporting what they were hearing from Chinese media sources.
Late Monday night I checked my foreign news sources again and found a different story- 2,000 people dead, 80% of buildings in the area destroyed.
On Tuesday morning I taught two different classes. In the first class (higher level English) I printed out an ABC news report and we looked up new vocab, discussed facts and figures and then spent time Lifting up the people of Sichuan province.
In the second class (beginner English level) I talked in simple terms about the earthquake and suggested that we Think for the those that have lost family and friends. Leona started crying, her family lives in Sichuan, in the city of Chongqing. She had tried to call, but phone lines are down as well as power in the area, so she's just waiting to hear. Leona cried throughout class, the silent tears, that just fall down your cheek. She tried to learn grammar and pronunciation, but her mind was elsewhere.
As of today, Wednesday morning, over 12,000 have perished and authorities expect that number to rise as they start to clear rubble from the epicenter.
I am completely fine in Beijing, thank you for your emails and calls of concern. The Chinese government doesn't want International relief workers, but will take money and supplies. At this point, I just plan to help Leona attempt to get in contact with her family.
Earthquake in China, cyclone in Myanmar, earthquake in Japan... what's going on in Asia?

looking forward

As these two years in China come to a close, I know it's a good idea to both reflect on the past as well as look forward to the future. Here's some things I'm looking forward to...

*Sunsets! I picture a late afternoon reading a book at La Jolla Shores and then a San Diego sunset..sigh...I crave sunsets daily. Beijing smog affords one every 3 months, and it doesn't hold a candle to California.

*My mom, the Debster. Laughing a lot, crying through made-for-TV movies, playing cards/Scrabble, belting Rod Stewart lyrics, and getting pedicures. Our upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon is sure to be memorable.

*Couch time at 5111 with Cori, Jen, Mullins, Lovas, Teeny, and Ann..each in our unsaid, but assumed spots on the huge green couch.

*Reading the Fresno Bee newspaper at my grandma's diningroom table, eating Cheerios, and discussing all things Republican including some Rush Limbaugh zingers coming from the kitchen.

*Riding bikes through Gaslamp, along the embarcadero, to Hillcrest to have sushi at Ichiban with friends.

*Live music at Lulu's/Poetry slams/Flood worship with Kate and Shawn.

*Singing in the Previa with Sean, no music on because his radio is broken (insert beat-boxing, and laughter)

*A good haircut, let's be honest.

*Riding the San Diego trolley, I would say driving, but I don't have a car anymore and CNN has told me the price of gas. My friends, that's more per gallon than high quality orange juice.

*Spending an afternoon watching Kaitlyn and Emyle with Josh. Along with random marital advice from Russian grandma Boonya Frances.

*Coffee with Carly, Lo, and Lisa. People watching, catching up, being honest.

*Teaching swim lessons to adorable, yet utterly terrified kids.

*Seeing Mikayla and Rachel in their element in the great mid-west! Gosh, this could not come any sooner. These girls are pure gold.

*Thanksgiving in Malibu, surrounded by dozens of amazing family members, and a traditional fierce game of Spoons.

*Attending the 4th Annual project:connect this November. Wow, times flies.

*Cynthia- singing in the car, playing Dr. Mario, eating Mexican food, and talking about everything under the sun.

*A long walk through Balboa Park, with stops in museums along the way.

This, by no means, concludes my list. As I look at it, it's just another reminder that it's all about relationships. I truly feel blessed in that area.

May 8, 2008

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

I've been lying in bed for quite some time, unable to fall asleep.
My heart in undoubtedly for relief work- aiding the displaced, homeless, and needy. So many things are running through my head. I think of the classic marketing model of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The most basic needs of humans are food, water, shelter, and clothing. As I lay here, under a down comforter, in a warm apartment, with great vegetables for dinner, and a buzzing water cooler outside my door.. I can't help but think of the thousands.. maybe millions that are across a river in Burma.
I'm angered that they aren't allowed access to humanitarian aid because they're under a military junta that is fearful.
I feel guilty that I have a decent apartment in China, and next door there are so many going to bed tonight without the very basics.
I realize that this is nothing new, poverty exists, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't churn with compassion every time we are faced with it.
Whether we build houses post-tsunami, or demolition houses post-Katrina, or feed the homeless in our local cities, we have to respond.
Father, thank you that you give us these desires. Thank you for the passion you've placed in me. Help me to be a good steward- that you'd receive all the glory. Comfort those in Burma tonight as they fall asleep and open doors for aid. If it's Your will, send me.

Jump Into the Love River

I'm sitting Indian-style on my bed, wearing a pink Wheaton shirt and drinking some Oregon Chai.
I didn't realized the significance of Indian-style until I was sitting on a floor in India last winter in a tribal area, eating off of woven leaves...and it hit me.. Indian style. Mindlessly we pick up language, without realizing what it means. For example- in English we say we're "falling in love". In China they say they're "jumping into the love river". I love that. I'm jumpin' in, not to be confused with a catchy Steven Curtis Chapman song. (Apologies if you're now humming the tune).
The Wheaton shirt is comical. I didn't go to Wheaton, it was sent to me in a care package by a former teammate, Mikayla Hoffman. I don't wish I went to Wheaton, I'm proud I went to SDSU...despite it's current smearing on the news. This week over 100 people were arrested as part of an extensive drug ring at my alma mater. Six fraternities have been suspended, and ties have been made to the Mexican mafia. I'm not surprised, the subculture on campus was not really covert. I'll be interesting to see what comes of all this. Now we're the Rubio's Fish tacos, drug ring university.. great.
And Oregon Chai.. what a treat! I've been holding on to this goodie for months, waiting for a cloudy afternoon and some time to savor it. I'm just going to come out and say it- care packages are better than the sum of their contents. They are a package of caring. I've watched a group of sane Americans in China, go crazy. Now, don't misinterpret this as a plea. I'm leaving China in 7 weeks, packages wouldn't reach me in time. But James and Vince are in Thailand for the next 7 months and Schwenk is in Africa. Write a letter, send a few things- you'll likely make their day. If you need tips, contact the Wielands.. they're the best package preparers.
In other news, The Weepies have a new album titled Hideaway, and it's gold.

May 6, 2008

Sunlight for the first time

24 years in darkness. 24 years of fear, rape, and imprisonment. I'm referring to the developing story out of Austria- where a 73 year old man kept his daughter underground from the ages of 18-42 and had 7 children with her. What a horrible, dark existence. I've been shocked by this story and have loosely followed it with my limited online news sources. I'm reminded that we live in a fallen world, and more-so the depths of His grace. If Josef Fritzl repented and believed, he too, could experience full and complete grace. Is that hard to swallow? I've been chewing on it for awhile.
I wonder what it's like for an 18 year old who has spent his entire life underground. I've read articles on about the two boys screaming in delight as they passed cars, experienced sunlight, and saw other humans.
I wonder, what's their concept of the world? What are their thoughts on the Creator? When all you know is captivity, what does instant freedom feel like?
The questions abound, I would be interested to hear your thoughts/questions and any updates that you've gotten on the other side of the ocean. Is this a big headline in the US?