Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why China?

Written by Anne Gribble

Nov. 2010 Shanghai, China

We didn’t pick China. China picked us. China picked us for a reason. As we experience life here in this very different third world country, each day I look for a glimpse as to why we are here. I know that we are here for a reason and as the days and weeks unfold, the reason why I am here has turned into many.

Our journey started with a family prayer. We prayed that God would send us where He wanted us, even if we didn’t understand. None of us did. We were all up for an adventure, one that we were afraid may change us into different people that may not be understood by those who know us best, but we had faith and trusted that God had a plan for each of us. But China?

It’s only fair that I speak for myself, as I know that my husband and children have their own personal journeys of faith. For me, I know this is where I am to be right now. I am here for 19 reasons. Those 19 reasons greet me with smiles and bravery each day. There are a few of those 19 that stand out and are more obvious than the others; however I know in my heart that I was meant to meet them, for them to change me, and for us to share our lives with each other for 180 days.

As I continue to discover why God lead me to China and as God continues to show me why each day; I can share with you why I love this crazy place so much and why I am glad I came.

I didn’t know that I was in a rut, but I was. I am SO NOT in a rut anymore. Nothing is familiar or comfortable. Nothing is routine, nothing is ordinary or boring. Every moment is interesting, exciting, hard, uncomfortable, frustrating, fun, and challenging. I am having to think all the time. How do I say that in Chinese? How can I act it out if he doesn’t understand me? How do I get there? Do I have enough money? How much is that in US dollars? Should I really do that? You’d think I’d be tired, but I’m not. It is very energizing. I feel so alive.

I like change. I’ve always liked it. I remember when I was 18, sitting at my desk in my bedroom and made that discovery. I gave myself permission to change the things that didn’t matter…my hair, clothes, favorites. At the same time I realized that it can be comfortable to not change things and I took pride in being faithful…same athletic club for 20 years, same hairdresser for 20 years, same house, same friends, same church, same husband. It was a conscious decision to give up all of the above, except the wonderful husband of course, and move to China. I didn’t change my friends, but I have changed which friends I see on a regular basis simply because of proximity.

I have had to make the effort to make new friends. This has not been an easy task and my actions have had to be quite purposeful in order to connect with others. Unfortunately time is another factor, I am not the most patient person and would really like to have new close friends NOW, but those deep roots take lots of shared experiences, trust, faith, laughter, and time. It’s a new experience (well, everything is new here) to have friends from all over the world and try to understand their accents. (They say I have the accent!) I guess I have to trust that will come with time too and I may learn some patience in the process.

I like it here because I see things every day that I’ve never seen before and most likely may never see again. Today it was a man riding a scooter with 50 big, Mylar colorful balloons. I tried to whip out my iphone camera to take a picture as he was coming right at me as I was crossing the street, but instead of getting a picture, I caused him to have to swerve around me because I was in his way. Yesterday, I saw my first mustache on a Chinese man who was sitting on the street corner on his bicycle selling music cds. He had a radio strapped to the back of his bike, playing one of my favorite songs – “I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again…”

Living among the wealthy and poor at the same time is such a juxtaposition of sensibilities. Black hummer parked on the sidewalk, next to a street vendor selling sweet potatoes from his bike. Starbucks next to a shanty community who wash their clothes in buckets on the sidewalk, McDonald’s next to a seedy massage parlor with ladies “lounging in the lobby” that’s open all night.

There are so many deformed people begging on the streets that it’s hard to look up. There is a man who has only a head, a small torso and one arm who rolls around laying on a skate board in front the grocery store. Crud, life sure is not fair. Doug usually carries around some change in his pocket to give way. One day he gave that man so many coins that he had a hard time holding up his cup. You should have seen the smile on his face. The smile on my face was even bigger watching my husband’s act of kindness, but the sadness of the injustice in my heart was heavier. I could turn, walk away into a large store and buy everything I needed and take a taxi home if I didn’t want to walk. As difficult as it is, I like living with this in my face.

When I read in emails or on Facebook about how life keeps rolling along back in the states and as I Skype with friends and family; I don’t want to leave my new home. I don’t miss being in the US as much as I thought I might. I don’t regret the missed parties and Bingo nights or holidays. I do wish my friends and family could come here and see what I see, experience what I experience. I know that is selfish and I don’t mean to belittle relationships at all; I just want to share something totally cool with the people I love the most. ****(Open invitation to EVERYONE and ANYONE who reads this rambling philosophical babble to come visit…)

There are characteristics of the US that I do appreciate more now that I ever have before. I didn’t realize that each and every day we breath clean air. I do miss clean air and look forward to breathing it again this summer. However, pollution does make for some beautiful sunrises and sunsets. For now, that will have to do. China is dirty and stinky and polluted, but that’s OK because its people are beautiful and it’s my home for now.

Still in culture "shock"

Here is a perfect example of what happens every time there is an accident. A police officer shows up and watches those involved, their witnesses, and just interested on-lookers decide what to do. They can go to the station, look at video from the 10's of thousands of cameras strategically placed around the city, or someone with ultimately get paid off by the other and that'll be it. I've only seen a police car or motorcycle pull someone over and ask for ID twice since living here. They motor around with their lights on and blinking all day long, getting passed on the left with double yellow lines, cut off, but never honked at, even though honking is just a warning for others to let them know you're coming, are not going to stop, and to not do anything that would get you hurt or killed.

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This champion fir tree proudly illuminates our administrative offices until it gets dark at 5ish, 90 minutes after all day employees have gone home to enjoy the 65-70 degree weather. As we say when nothing seems to make sense, "That's China." Some international schools don't allow the word 'Christmas' to be spoken. Not here! We do it they way that we want!
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The scarves are just a seasonal assortment of what you'd see on the sidewalk near our grocery store. Other days it's hats, or toilet seat covers. There's always someone selling various mobile phone Sim card payment slips for the month, along with DVD's, books, jewelry etc.
Anne and I were both a bit surprised at the amount of tree that was cut down in order to keep the leaves from reaching the cement, as the temperatures begin to get colder.
There is always lots of dried fruit vendors, cooked potato and corn carts, and other perishable items that are exposed to the elements all day long.
Physically challenged boys/girls, men/women are common place out side of busy markets.
This vendor didn't want to take his picture with Anne, but you get the idea. I've never seen anyone actually buy any of these Cheeto look alikes.

Thought I'd just share how vibrant the streets are, and how the city's culture is lived there. Being a bit behind the U.S. in some categories, like health, have the culture very much exposed inside on the streets also. Tonight Anne and I were exhausted from a week of flu-like symptoms, sapped energy, stuffy noses, and coughing, so we went directly from the famous Shanghai Fabric Market, where we were outfitting ourselves for our staff Xmas/holiday party in a couple of weeks, to a good Chinese eatery right in front of our building. Once seated, we had the distinct pleasure of listening to 3 gents hack up phlem from the depths of their chests while sucking on local cigarettes. (Interestingly, we have only seen 3 women smoking in public since we've arrived! Lord knows we've seen hundreds of thousands of men smoking) The decibals are of no social concern; just like the openly extended sneezes and other personal solids and fluids shared by many. We were across the 3 foot aisle, sitting smartly in the no smoking section. I think the one with the encrusted tar on his teeth was disgusted and fascinated by the way we used chopstick, wore our sweat clothes, and our feeble attempts at his language. Lord knows we butcher it consistently on a daily basis.
Anne and I wanted to air out our lungs this a.m., so we were off to Starbucks. We got a late start, but after getting drinks we crossed a few new streets and ventured into new territory, again. Right when you think you've seen much of the city, it lets you know you have a lot more to see. Who would have thought that pigeon is just as popular to have freshly killed, drained, and de-feathered as chicken, before the lunch hour on a lazy Sunday morn! And why do restaurant owners heap pigs' ears and their chopped up appendages in medium sized plastic milk carriers and place them outside their bedroom windows to dry?
It is so easy to get up and explore in this town! We're looking for a day to set off and walk with one of our school secretaries that are fluent English speakers. We'll buy her lunch in the middle of our hundreds of questions being answered. So many "why" questions...I wonder if they have answers!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This Place is Wild!

Soooo, these are some images pretty close to home...literally. Click on a picture to enlarge! This isn't your mama's Starbucks. Ever seen a whole wheat wrap with flounder??? How about the fresh aroma of tuna bread when trying to sell your house? Starbucks here has got it all. It's really funny trying to get the drink that you want. The people working in western stores know the language for the store, but just the basics. Hot chocolate here, at Starbucks, is always the signature hot chocolate--very rich. Anne has got it down now...fix the drink, then add "this much" milk.
Top left is a block from our apartment. It's where lots of the district's cabbies eat lunch and dinner. Most meals, some sort of meat and noodle soup with complimentary tea, are about a dollar. The restaurants are simple "holes in the walls"-vinyl at best, wooden chairs, bowls of food waiting to be claimed (uncovered and exposed for God knows how long), huge rice cookers, proprietors and their wives and children prepared to serve, and all filled with white collared cabbies in blue/black sport coats hungry for their post meal cigarette...but not before a good loogie is forced up and laid on the cobblestone.
Anne is posing in front of a wine shop that took 2-3 months to open. Wine only! Have a glass or buy a bottle of Chilean, Australian, or French. The flowers are a traditional congratulatory wish for a successful business. They're usually placed after various fireworks are lit in order to scare away any and all demons. Unfortunately, this may all take place at any time of day or night, like on a Saturday morning at 6:45....
And then, below are our kit kats. Izzy is on the left, with Beans, the male, on the right. They are fast asleep. Can they get any closer? Bean's has his arms wrapped around Izzy's body--pretty amazingly cute. They never make a sound when chasing each other, play fighting, or cleaning each other. They'll even sit on our laps if the TV's off and it gets fairly quiet. Their young and will hopefully grow up understanding what their job is; snuggle up and love all humans.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Someone told me...

You're going to see things in China that you're never going to see again! I think this means whether you're in China, or not. It always brings up the thought that Anne and I are always trying to live by; always observe with fascination, not judgment. We're walking home yesterday, and on the outside wall of one of the 25 or so neighboring restaurants (by neighboring I mean within a 3 block distance), we notice the full flap of skin from the head of a decent sized pig drying from a string. Next to it is some sausages neatly firming up for....what they do with it...We determined that it must be a symbol of fresh, flavorful pork. I'm not certain how much flavor can be drawn from skin. It may be something like Vietnamese Pho (pronounced Fa to all you American blokes) where they drain simmering flavors 3-4 times before getting to the non-fatty flavors of the meat/pork--....not sure which...but then you have to do something with the fabulously white and red sausages. It's all very confusing. We've propositioned our school secretary, that escorted us to the customs department to get our working Visas after we lied about where we lived for 6 weeks as a part of the Chinese way, to take us on a walk for an afternoon-yes, even now-to let us buy her lunch and ask any questions we want, to clear up what in the haaiiiilllll is going on!!!

Anne and I were in 7th Heaven yesterday; shorts, t-shirts, sun, 75 degrees, Nov. 13th, Starbucks Xmas cups, trimmed trees in the window, workers donning their yuletide gear, Chinese walking around in wool/cashmere body armor, UGGs, scarves, black suits, and all the while, Bing Crosby singing Christmas tunes in the background for Starbucks; only to be outdone by the 3 wheeled boombox blasting Alicia Keys.

I'm buying Ferrigamo-sp?- dress shoes this week for $30. I hope they become more flexible than when I first tried them on...never have..of course. Anyone??? Are they tough to break in? Or am I buying Ferrari's for Bimbo's? Oh well, I'll only wear them at the formal Xmas party, or something more somber...

So I open up a magazine the school sends to us once every couple of months-Shanghai "that's"--the French issue...whatever. It has a featured section on slangs with the younger crowd. Some of the terms were even in my translation app: Ku means cool, Tamade means damn, Chedan means to talk nonsense, or to bullshit (these are the printed words), and Niubi means #$#@^ Awesome...apparently. You may infer the printed word. It says you don't get taught these words in Mandarin classes. Joey and Hailey have acquired many words they don't teach them in the prepatory IB classes. Heck, they know Slovakian, Swedish, Korean, Thai, Kiwi, let alone the more formalized Chinese! Ahhh, the International experience Ü

Many of you may know that I am a bit of a sports fanatic. ESPN was prerecorded on DVR on a nightly basis. Thankfully, SportsCenter is still a part of my existence 5-6 times/week. Unfortunately, America's passion for "football", the NCAA, and the NBA is not nearly so appreciated by the 5'6" at heart. I'm dying here...................LeBron is a side note, the UW is local fish I think, and the NFL is sooooooo far behind PGA and badmitten. I watched it once, on purpose...better than switching the channel to the PBA-yes, bowling. Where is the Boomer when you need him????? ESPN here is inundated with Barclay's Premiere Soccer League, Motocross, Nascar, F 1 series, and Motorcycle racing. Really??? That is what rings people's bells? Beer is cheap, but please!!!! How many times can your head watch motors on the bus go round and round?? OMG, if I see the word Arsenal one more time, I'm gonna need some crumpets!

Anne got mixed up in some dancing class that put her in a vaudeville performance-"Vinter Vonderland"--can't wait! Hailey is nursing a strained ankle ligament while playing soccer, maybe some floor hockey or practice team for the varsity hoop can't teach 5'9" in China. Joey just finished being Hamlet, and between performances played left field and made a spectacular stretch play at first, while also getting a base hit playing in Nike sweats with the high school baseball team. Apparently Anne's family has some genes that transferred some hand/eye coordination...Lord! He never swung the bat when he played at 8 years old, which is the last time he played! He decided to turn out for the badmitten team. Pretty popular stuff here in Asia. Me, I'm teaching 4th and 5th graders hoop skills Saturday mornings-they're a good year or two behind the same age level in the states. Lots of young kids. I have kids that just turned 8 in 4th grade--do the math, she'll graduate when she's 16.

The picture is of Izzy (girl), and Beans (boy). Very cute little kitters.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Random Thoughts

3 times this week. Truck driver and 2 cabbies pull over on our street. The truck driver knows I'm walking by him but hey, nature calls, and he relieves himself under his truck as I pass by. The taxi drivers could have easily driven the extra 50 yds. to the public toilet, but nooooooooooo, the little nook in the cement wall is too tempting. Aren't they embarrassed during rush hour? Many everyday occurrences are are hard to understand...We we on the subway today and a toddler tried to give his dad his used up sucker stick. The dad showed him how to just throw it on the floor to dispose of it. They very matter of factly just proceeded to walk away.....We saw our 9th electrician/plumber today in order to fix our leaky faucet. I'm pretty sure that electrician, plumber, worker, are all synonymous....I know I'm living in Shanghai when the taxi driver tells me where I'm going before I can tell him and the wet market workers can point to the asparagus before I do....I'm pretty sure, as confirmed by our school's music teacher that is a fan of tea, that most local tea mostly resembles what I would think the taste of dirt would be. We've smelled it, felt it linger, and now know what makes the water brown in many restaurants....Hailey participated in a 3 day musical enlightenment with professionals from around the world, along with 6 other schools in China-ALL students from grades 6-8 are required to play an instrument or be in choir. After that drama, visual arts, or the former are options...Currently, Joey is practicing being Hamlet, from 4-10 p.m. We were notified 7 days ago that he needed black tights--fat chance for 5' 11" in China. So we're walking to eat Shanghaiese dumplings the other night and there's a toothless 55 yr. old guy on a 3 wheeled bike selling socks, underwear, and long black tights. Anne shrieked-bad when you need to bargain-and began stroking them like she would if our cats liked her. It's then that she asked how much they were. The guy said 20 RMB; I said start at 6, she yelled out 10, but the guy was confused and said, "No, I said 20, not 10." Anne repeated her offer, and so did the vendor. It was crazy expensive to pay $3 for anything like that on the street at night, so we began walking away. Of course the guy immediately spit out something that resembled, "Ok, ok, 10!" Anne turned around and wanted 2, but forgot that you can get more for cheaper individual prices. She just through the guy 20 and was pleased as punch. Who would've thought....We finally went to the Fabric Market today!!! Huge event! Everyone else has been measured, bought shirts, pants, coats etc. Man, overwhelming! You want it? Pick the color, style, pattern, and most importantly, a tailor that will actually be able to make you something that fits. I was fitted last weekend for my first suit. Pretty painless. I pick up this wool/cashmere blend tomorrow for $90. It better be good! $80's the going rate....Our ayi loves making the family a plate full of cooked shrimp. I'm the only one that likes seafood. Plus, I have to shell them for 20 minutes, heat them etc. in order to eat. We really need a translator. OMG, I just realized I can call up the city translator and have them teach the ayi (our maid) how to use our dryer!! What have I been thinking?????? We thought she understood to put all our underwear and t-shirts in the dryer because the necks get stretched out when she hangs them right out of the washer, but NOOOOOOOOOO, she loves to expose everything to the sun, apparently, and let gravity cleanse your laundry....Did you know that construction work may begin at 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays? We do, for the last 8 weeks the guy above us has demonstrated an excellent knowledge of how to use rock drills, sanders, grinders, and 16 penny hammers....We just sent off all our Xmas presents! Boy, that was easy...except when you bring them to the post office, you have to show the clerk what you are going to put into the package before you seal it up. Then the paper work begins-it only took us approximately 25 min. to get 4 small parcells off. The clerk said it shouldn't take less than 2 weeks to get to the states; and no more than 2 months....Can't believe I'm not going to watch Tiger Woods and others play golf this weekend... Last week: parent conferences, Halloween celebrations, Anne presented a 30 minute assembly for 3-5 grades, Sat. was the International Food Festival, 2 soccer games for Hailey, and Joey was 4-9 every night practicing...Talk again soon Ü Oh, P.S.--I thought I had a referee's jersey for Halloween, but couldn't find it. Anne had a "mumu" and that's why I became a Hawaiian cow for Halloween.............Ok, update from China: Barbecue food lovers are getting a little agitated as major barbecue venues in China's southern Guangzhou city were closed down to ensure good air quality for the upcoming 2010 Asian Games and Asian Para Games. Really??????? Shall we blame the barbecuers for China's pollution when there's 350,000,000,000 cigarettes smoked each year, there's over a million vehicles puttering around without any pollutant restrictions, and untold numbers of coal burning power plants spewing tons of waste into the air 24/7?????? Baaaaaadddddddddd barbecuers!!!!