Aug 22, 2014

WBBE: A Barbershop in China

Remember that very occasional "Worst Beauty Blogger Ever" series I do? I thought it would be appropriate to add the tale of Angel's first haircut here to the series.

I cut Angel's hair just days before we left Michigan in order to push his need for a haircut post-arrival out as long as possible. I've done all of Angel's haircuts for the past two years--it's an easy cut, but Angel can be picky (having a mom and then a wife who cut hair can do that to you), and the prospect of explaining what he wanted when we don't know hair-specific terms in Mandarin was intimidating to both of us.

The reason I couldn't just cut his hair myself was because the clipper set I had in the USA was not made to convert to 220 voltage, so I didn't bring them. I did bring my scissors, straight razor, and cape so I can do scissor cuts and trim Angel's neckline when needed, but until I find a set of clippers to buy over here, Angel will have to get his haircut by a professional other than his own wife.

And, after the first experience went so well...we figure that's not such a bad thing, after all.

We discovered in our explorations that there's a little hole-in-wall neighborhood barbershop about a 25 minute walk from where we're staying. So after we got out of training for the day, we headed out to the barbershop.

When we got in we asked how much a haircut was, and I figured the easiest way to describe what we wanted using Mandarin I knew was, "He wants it to look like this, but shorter." Obvious purpose of a haircut, right?

Without even stubbing out his cigarette (part of me was thinking about how cutting a client's hair while smoking could be enough to let you lose your license in the state of Michigan while the other part of me was thinking about how this feels a little like an old-school 50s era barbershop I've seen in movies) Angel's barber got to work. He used different techniques than I've ever seen used (beauty pros: Angel's haircut is a 5 on top and a 2 on the sides--this barber did a 2 on the sides and cut the top with a thinning shears over comb technique).

We did not know when we asked for a haircut what a haircut at this particular shop entailed--so Angel very nearly got up to leave several times before the barber had finished. Besides the haircut, the barber also shaved Angel's cheeks with a straight razor (he left Angel's mustache and chin unshaven, however, which caused me to very maturely laugh at him on the way home), and gave him a shampoo, blow dry, and styled his hair with product. Total cost, 15 Yuan, or about 2.50 USD.

Please note that this was simply a neighborhood barbershop--prices vary immensely in China--there are plenty of salons far too pricey for the likes of me or Angel to ever go to. But he really liked this one!

Aug 20, 2014

LOST. For Five Hours, aka Forever

August 2004. Ten years ago, almost to the very day and week, was when this story took place. I figured it was time to share.

My extended family were vacationing together on a small island in Lake Huron. It was the last day of the trip for my particular branch of the family, Mom and Dad had already made reservations for an afternoon ferry ride back to the mainland for us and our 15 passenger van. We were actually moving to Malaysia a few days after this vacation, but that's another story.

This is the cabin where we were staying when this adventure took place, but this photo is much more recent, from a 2011 trip.
We were pretty much all packed up and ready to go, so we decided to go on one last adventure before our vacation was done: a hike through the woods to visit a lighthouse. It wasn't a grueling hike, but a little on the long side, typically over an hour to get out to the lighthouse and the same amount of time to come back. Still, it wasn't serious hiking, so we didn't go out overly prepared: I was wearing swimming shoes, not hiking shoes, and we didn't carry much in the way of drinks. Only a small group went out--me, my parents, my aunt, and a couple of my siblings.

The way out to the lighthouse was uneventful. The lighthouse hasn't changed all that much over the years. We took pictures, scrambled around on the beach for a bit, and decided to head home.

But there was a slight problem.

You see, 2004 was the year of the Summer Olympics, and that's what caused this whole fiasco.

My aunt and I decided that we were going to be "Olympic hikers", and complete the return trip from the lighthouse to where the car was parked in a record time that would astound all of our friends and family. We set off on our speed-hiking adventure, and very quickly lost Mom and Dad and the kids in the woods far behind us.

However. We came to a fork in the path, and that stopped us in our tracks. We didn't remember a fork in the path. We didn't know which way to go, and we didn't want to wait for the slow hikers to catch up and tell us where to go, because it was the Olympics. In the hiking Olympics, you don't just wait around to make sure you are going in the right direction, you simply hike as fast as possible. After carefully studying the trail, we decided we ought to take the fork on the right. We kept hiking at a remarkable speed.

Lake Huron is big enough that it really should not be mistaken for a small inland lake.

Eventually, we started seeing glimpses of blue that looked like a lake. We had passed a a lake on the hike in, Lake Mary, a small inland lake on the island where we were staying. This lake seemed a little bigger (as it should, the lake we could see was Lake Huron), but we kept going. After an hour of speed hiking on this trail, we figured that we should have reached our cars a long time ago, but we kept going. We eventually started seeing landmarks (like a campground), which we knew were on a completely different part of the island than we'd been intending to return to, but we kept going.

Because we were in the Olympics, and we were going to win.

At this point, we definitely knew we were going the wrong direction, but for some reason we had decided not to turn around and go back. The thing about islands is, if you keep walking around them, you'll eventually get back to where you started, and that's the reasoning we used to keep heading in our current direction.

But unless the island you're on is really tiny, you will walk forever before you actually get back to where you're supposed to be. We got ourselves onto the main road that goes around the island and  realized that it was getting rather late in the afternoon. Not many cars go by, but we determined to hitch a ride from the first one going in our direction.

This was my first ever hitchhiking experience. I was 13.

Eventually, a man in a pick-up truck came by, called out the window, "You two don't really look happy to be where you're at!" and took us back to the place where our families were staying.

We were unaccounted for for a solid 5 hours. This was not before cell phones, but it was before people like me and my aunt had cellphones, and no one knew what had happened to us. Upon our arrival at the cabin, we were greeted by  a lot of upset relatives who we had apparently scared quite severely.

According to what I've heard, Mom and Dad arrived back at the car and were very shocked to find us not already there. They looked around the area, waited a while, and when we didn't show up, they drove off and contacted the rest of the family members to try to find out where we'd gone. They thought maybe another branch of the family had shown up and picked us up while they'd been finishing the trail. When that theory was confirmed to be false, they figured out that we probably took a wrong turn on the trail, so, logically, when we discovered we were going the wrong way, we'd turn around and go the right way, so Mom and Dad went back to the head of the trail and waited for us to show up.

Only, as you know, that's precisely what we didn't do.

Different family members in different vehicles were sent out in every direction on the island to look for us. The sheriff was alerted that 2 people had gone into the woods and hadn't come out when they were supposed to. Kidnapping theories were proposed. My Mom is quoted as saying, "I want helicopters, I want dogs, whatever it takes to find them, get it!"

Even our relatives who weren't currently staying on the island had been alerted to our disappearance. One of my uncles had already decided that if we hadn't been found by nightfall, he would drive up from another state to come and join the search party himself, because he knew every inch of the island we were staying on.

But we were never really lost. At least we never felt lost. Once we figured out we were in the wrong place, the main theme of our hiking conversation was, "Oh man, we are going to be in so much trouble when we get home!"

And we were. Because they love us so very much. The only one who was visibly happy to see us was my grandma, who asked if we wanted some supper. Everyone else scolded us quite harshly for going off and getting ourselves lost. My family missed the ferry ride that they'd already reserved because I was still lost at the time when the boat left. I secretly hoped that that meant we'd have to stay on the island another night...but no, we just took the night ferry instead.

The moral to this story is: ONLY initiate Olympic speed hiking competitions when you are very sure that you know which trail you are supposed to take. And don't hike for 6+ hours in swimming shoes because the blisters that result won't be fun.

Aug 18, 2014

Questions Answered

So, you guys, Wow! I  was incredibly impressed with the questions you all brought up, you gave me a bit of a challenge writing this post! Prepare to find the answers to everything you ever wanted to know (except for what you forgot to ask) in this post.


From Miss Nutralicious: "How on earth did you guys both end up in Michigan (of all places) at the same time?"

Now that's an unlikely tale. Immediately out of high school Angel attended University of La Verne in California for a year--however, he knew he wanted to study nursing, and at the time, the waiting lists for nursing schools in California were years long. He was chatting with his pastor at the church he was attending and mentioned the problem with nursing school...his pastor was from Michigan and had attended Calvin College, and he recommended Calvin College's nursing school to Angel. Angel knew himself well enough to know that if he didn't start going to college for nursing right away, he'd never follow through and get an education, so he packed up and headed off to Michigan to start school in January 2005. He ended up doing the 5 year path through college.

Which brings us to me--graduating high school in 2008. I looked into different options for getting my college degree in Malaysia, but those available at the time really weren't ideal for my needs and interests. I was born in Michigan, most of my extended family lives in Michigan, so in order to not be completely alone in the world and to save money, I decided to choose a college that would allow me to live with my grandparents and commute. I had 3 different colleges in Michigan under consideration, ditched the first one when I decided I didn't want to be an engineer, and then between the other two, chose the one that offered me the best financial aid package, which happened to be Calvin. And THAT'S how a 24 yr. old super-senior and a 17 year old freshman from different sides of the world happened to be in the same place at the same time.

From the same lady:  "Are school children in China required to take English classes?"

Yes--grades 1-9 are mandatory in China, and English is mandatory at all levels (though in some regions I've heard that English education doesn't begin until grade 3, in ShenZhen it starts at grade 1). As far as I can understand, grades 10-12 are not mandatory and aren't free, but the students who do go to grades 10-12 are required to continue in their English studies.

From Amanda: "What made you decide to major in Chinese?"

Like nearly everyone, I changed my major after entering college. The original mechanical engineering idea fell by the wayside when I hated Calculus during my senior year of high school. What I've always wanted to do was to be a writer, but the thought of majoring in English did not entice me, and I wanted to come out of college with a completely new skill that I hadn't possessed when I started, so I came up with the idea of majoring in International Business and minoring in Mandarin Chinese. It took less than one semester for me to decide I was never going to be a business woman so I switched my major to Mandarin, and took every English and Performance class that I could fit into my schedule on the side. My Mandarin professors were amazing--I discovered quickly that I loved learning foreign languages and also took 1 year of Japanese and 2 years of Spanish in college (I was planning to take 3 years of Japanese to get a minor but then Angel came into the picture).

From Meg: "How did you two meet?"

Well, there's an ancient history blog post way back here that tells the whole "love" story in 3 parts--but the short answer is that once upon a time, on my very first day of college I really wanted to make friends, and decided that the best way to make friends would be to put my name on the email list for the college Bible study group and start attending meetings on Friday nights. Angel was the guy in charge of the table. It was NOT love at first sight.

 We had a little mountain hiking adventure this weekend after classes were done for the day. Our hotel is one of those buildings in the background, the rest are apartment buildings or student dorms.

 Believe me when I say I was on no running team in 2014. Angel's work apparently forgot that they also hire male nurses and gave him a girl's shirt.

From Suzanne: "How did you decide what city to choose in China?"

We ended up going to China with the very first recruitment/training program that I clicked on when I started researching teaching English in China. That's a coincidence, though, we did do our research and decided that we liked the benefits that this program offered the best. Our program, CTLC, only works with the public school system in Shen Zhen, so if we wanted to be in this particular program we had to go to Shen Zhen. We liked the location because it's in South China...remember how much I dislike winter? I had no desire to move from Michigan to yet another place that would be just as cold in the winter. Also, here in Shen Zhen we're right across the border from Hong Kong, so travel to other Southeast Asian countries is very convenient (it wouldn't surprise anyone if I said I had an eye on a trip to my hometown, right?).

From AwesomelyOz: "Why Asia?"

Southeast Asia has played a key role in my life ever since my family moved to Malaysia 10 years ago. When Angel and I got married, Angel never had any intention on living outside the USA, and I thought I would be okay with that. It turned out that it only took a quick visit to Malaysia and a few unexpected events for Angel to decide that he wanted to move--and of course I was up for it. I think I've mentioned before that this living abroad thing really isn't about seeing the world and experiencing everything the globe has to offer for us--we both simply have a really strong love for this specific part of the world--for me, I think it's partially inspired by the fact that I think sadly too many Westerners treat SE Asian peoples as exotic novelties to be experienced than as normal people to be known well and loved well. I hate that. We're here to add 2 to the number of Westerners who aren't here for the "exotic experience."

From Lauren: "Will you do a home tour when you get more settled?"

Most definitely. I can't wait to find out what our new home will look like. At this point I don't really know what to expect, but our housing is provided by the school we work for, so it's a matter of take the assignment we're given and enjoy it. :)

From Tayler: "How did Angel's family feel about both of your decision to live in China?"

You're pretty astute to point out that us moving to this side of the world wasn't quite such ecstatically good news to Angel's family as it was to mine. If I remember correctly, Angel's mom was the first person he told when we made the decision last August, even though at that point we didn't even know what country we'd be moving to. His parents were quite saddened to have their oldest son deciding to move even farther away from them (its not like Texas and Michigan are next door neighbors in the first place). But they've handled the news with grace, they've had a year to get accustomed to the idea, asked a lot of questions about our plans for the future, and who knows, perhaps someday they will want to come and visit us. In the year before we moved, Angel's younger brother and his wife bought a house in the same neighborhood as Angel's parents and moved in with plans to settle down there. I think that is a great comfort both to Angel and to his parents--Angel knows that Nestor and Brittany are there if his parents or teenage brother need anything, and Angel's parents have 2 of their sons and their 1 grandson all close by so they don't feel alone in the world. Angel's brothers are very excited over our move and we're definitely working on talking Nestor and Brittany into taking their baby Noah for an overseas adventure to visit us when he gets a little older.

From Annie: "Has Angel said goodbye to his nursing career for good?"

No, nursing is still on the table if the opportunity arises. He's maintaining his license and keeping up with continuing education. Hospital nursing most likely won't be possible because Angel is only fluent in English and Spanish. The most likely type of nursing jobs he could get would either be in a private clinic that catered to expats or as a school nurse at an international school. But for now, he's a teacher. We shall see!

From Jennifer: "How do you guys blend your western religion with the deeply-rooted, eastern traditions of your current home?"

First of all, I wouldn't necessarily say 'blend' because we're Christians, not a hybrid of multiple religions. But this is definitely an interesting question. In my own experience, I've really appreciated the benefits of living in in a culture where religion and morality are viewed more highly than they are in the US. In America, I have been ridiculed and looked at strangely and ostracized for faith-based life choices (beauty school, I'm looking at you!)--but in Malaysia I never was. Much of my community there was Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu, and most of us could appreciate the fact that we shared a lot of the same moral values even though we differed immensely on theological beliefs. I've attended and will continue to attend parties hosted by my friends for holidays with religious roots (and I will invite them to my own Christmas and Easter celebrations). The call to prayer at our local mosque woke me up every morning throughout my high school years...and I've also taken classes on Eastern religions and philosophies, so I have gotten to know a bit about both the practical everyday side of some of these religions as well as the philosophical side. I personally don't go into any temples or religious sites of other religions--I firmly believe that they shouldn't be treated like curiosities and tourist attractions, but taken seriously, because I want my own faith to be taken seriously. The fact that that the countries I've chosen to live in don't offer their citizens full religious freedom does make me very sad, as that is a right that I treasure.

Aug 15, 2014

Who We Are

I realize with this whole moving to Shen Zhen, China adventure that I've never really explained the "Why?" behind what we're doing with our lives. And I'm not really going to. You'll simply have to trust that we're not merely crazy--we decided in August 2013 that we were moving to Asia permanently, did what we had to do to make it happen, and come August 2014, we found ourselves here.

However, in the absence of the "Why?" I thought I'd try to give you a better picture of "Who?" we are. On this blog, I'm much more likely to write about random topics and give you just bits and pieces of story, but let me give you a fuller picture here.

(A few shots from our adventures around Zhu Hai this week)

I'm a 23 year old with a B.A. in Mandarin Chinese and a cosmetology license. I err on the side of being nerdy in the book-smarts way, not in the fandom way. I was a TCK, my parents are technically expats, and I am happiest with weather above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm passionate about words in general and language education in particular. I'm the kind of person who will wear wacky earrings and neon-colored tights just for the fun of it. I'm sometimes mistaken for being "fashionable," but I would never claim such a title--I prefer to be free to wear the clothes that I like best at all times. I  don't mind getting my picture taken and dance in public. I don't swear and I don't drink alcohol, and I'm terrified of policemen. I cry too often and I write about almost everything in life. I'm thrifty and I don't like spending money in general, but I believe in investing in other people and in experiences. I love planning parties and inviting people over to my house--hospitality is well within my comfort zone. I am that really annoying person who will paint every fingernail a different color because I can. I suck at every single sport ever invented and I can't sing or play any musical instruments. I'm a morning person, but I need my 7-8 hours of sleep so I usually go to bed fairly early.

He's Angel. A 30 year old bilingual R.N. who has specialized in burn care for most of his 5 years in the medical field. He's the kind of student who knows that a B is a perfectly acceptable passing grade and doesn't see the point in killing himself to get a perfect score. This burn R.N. has taken a pretty huge career change in order to embark on teaching English as a second language--thus far he loves the students and the fact that the shifts aren't 12 hours long. He's a former California surfer boy, the son of immigrants, who is happiest with the kind of weather where freezing to death is a very possible risk. He's the type of person who will steal your camera only to take 500 pictures with it during a 30 minute time period, and who will scare you to death with fake bats, spiders, and mice, but will also spend hours under your car trying to fix it. He likes nice shoes and large servings of food, and he'll eat just about anything. He's a speedy runner but he thinks soccer and basketball are more fun than running endless miles at a time.

We are not-particularly-newlyweds (going on 4 years, ya'll!) but we prefer to act like we are. I've been known to sit on his lap at family gatherings but no one seems to mind...everyone just calls us "the newlyweds," that's how we get away with everything. We met nearly 6 years ago on my very first day of college and became buddies who eventually decided to get married (it's true, "decided to get married" is a much more accurate description of our early days together than "fell in love." I only became comfortable with romanticish stuff post-marriage.). We're Christians and we believe every word of the Bible, and seek to have the way we live demonstrate what we believe at all times. Sometimes Angel's embarrassed of my awkwardness and sometimes I try to teach him social norms like, "Do not ask someone that you just met if they were breastfed as an infant. Also do not ask them how much chest hair they have." We're both competitive, but I know I can't beat him in any physical contest so I prefer to challenge him to games of the mind. We're both oldest siblings and between the two of us we have a total of 8 younger siblings, 1 sister-in-law and 1 nephew. On the whole, we're not actually very passionate about 'seeing the world'--we love 'home', we have simply struggled to identify where exactly 'home' is for us...though I already have an inkling that we're getting pretty close to it.

Now I'll open the floor to you all--whether you're a new reader or whether you've been around from the start, do you have any questions about us, our families, what happened to our giant pet bear, the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, or our new home in China? Ask away, and perhaps I'll be able to do a question-and-answer post soon!

Aug 13, 2014

Workplace Pranks

 First of all, please notice the lockers behind Angel. They look fairly normal, right?

Now look at Angel's locker:

 List of items decorating Angel's former work locker: A photo of a koala, 2 Batmen, 1 Superman, 1 photo of himself, a flyer of a weatherman with a mustache, a wedding photo, a fake one dollar bill, and that yellow dinosaur. It's not in this photo, because it's lower down on the locker, but there's also a photo of Tom Cruise cut out from an Oblivion poster. Why? With Angel...there doesn't need to be a reason.


Now that Angel no longer works at the job he's held since a couple weeks before we got married, we decided it's now okay to talk about a selection of the pranks he pulled during his nearly 4 years there. And before reading this list, he'd like you all to know that apparently his coworkers did actually like him and they all said when he left that work will be more boring without him there. Now, let's see what he did to make it so interesting:

  • Sprayed Old Spice cologne (that I'd banned him from using on himself because I hated the smell) on the shoes of his coworkers before they arrived at work and put their shoes on. Also poured glitter inside his coworkers' boots.
  • Put a sign on the time-clock that said "OUT OF ORDER" shortly before it was time to punch out, causing panic and chaos.
  • Rolled a small gray bouncy ball across the hallway in the middle of the night, causing coworkers to think that a mouse ran by.
  • Hid under the table right before a meeting, and when people started to file into the room, jumped out and screamed.
  • Sent a teddy bear to a male pharmacist with a note saying that it was a gift from Angel's floor, as a thank you for his prompt work. (No one on Angel's floor knew about this gift except Angel.)
  • Sent my old mannikin hand from beauty school to a female pharmacist with a note saying, "Thank you for always being willing to lend a helping hand."
  • Crouched below the nurse's desk and called out "Help! Nurse! Help me!" to incite panic among his fellow nurses. 
  • Answered his work phone, "Hello, this is Thor, God of Thunder, how may I help you?" or "This is the Incredible Hulk, How may I help you?"
  • Taped 30 tiny pictures of himself all over the unit inside file cabinets and in weird corners hoping that they'll slowly be found months after he's already gone.
  • Bought and wore a cap with a Superman logo
  • Wrote commendation letters to himself, signing them with his own name. (His work had a system where people could write notes about other nurses for doing an especially good job on something--Angel said he was shocked that no one else ever wrote letters to themselves using this system)
Have you ever done something this mischievous at work?

p.s. It's not just work. Check out this photo, from two days before we left America.

That is silver glitter on top of the visor in my uncle's car. Angel was on a mission to make sure that we would be really, really missed.