29 August 2014

I'm an Illiterate Idiot with a B.A.

I've heard it said, in discussions about the situation of people who live in the USA but do not speak proper American English at all times: "Well, if I were going to move to another country, I would learn that language, so they ought to do the same if they want to live in America."

KFC advertisement in China
 A KFC ad--here, the restaurant is called Ken De Ji Zha Ji

What I find interesting, however, is that none of the people who have said that to me have ever moved abroad and learned the language of their chosen country.

That's all well and good. I believe it's excellent to flourish where you're planted and that being a vagabond just for the fun of it isn't necessarily a desirable thing. Leaving your native country is not a necessary life experience--sure, it can be really cool, but I think you can have a very good life even if you never leave your native state.

However--now that I actually have moved to SouthEast China, where English is not widely spoken and I have learned the language--in fact, I've done precisely what those who use this argument as a complaint against immigrants with minimal English have claimed that they would do if they had to. I have a 4-year Bachelor's Degree in Mandarin Chinese. And let me tell you what this experience is like:

In ordering a meal at Burger King, I have to ask the guy at the cash register to please repeat what he asked me 3 times before the words click and I realize that yes, I do just want a burger and not the entire value meal.

I smile and nod and at a dinner banquet I can only keep up with the main subjects of the conversation, not the intricacies and fast back-and-forth replies, not enough to develop timely responses of my own.

I try to understand an ad at the grocery store or a menu without any pictures and I can perhaps understand 80% of the characters but not enough to have full understanding of everything I'm looking at. Show me a newspaper and my comprehension drops rapidly because my working vocabulary is very limited when it comes to matters such as international political policy.

I meet new friends, and sometimes they can't understand me no matter how many times I repeat myself, so I write out what I want to say, then they read it and smile and repeat back to me what I just said. In my ears it sounds identical to what I said, but apparently there's an important difference in tone that leaves my speaking incomprehensible.

Riding the bus is stressful. I can't relax, I have to keep my eyes and ears open for the sounds and characters that I memorized for the stop I need to get off at. The speakers on the bus garble the sounds of the names of stops and I constantly wonder if I missed where I was supposed to get off.

In conversations with people I talk about inane topics: the weather, the price of items, how to get from here to there, how long I've been in China, what my job is, about my family, where I'm from, whether the toilet in my hotel room is broken. Discussions on advanced topics of concern around the world and even jokes and humorous stories are largely beyond me, or are too much work to formulate, so I give up.

In school, I was taught standard Beijing pronunciation, while in SouthEast China, many people don't use standard Chinese pronunciation. Training my ear to recognize the same word through different accents results in many a, "Bu hao yi si, qing zai shuo yi ci?" (I'm sorry, but could you repeat that once more?)

When I'm with my husband, we speak English immediately, whether we're in our own home or walking down the sidewalk. Because my Chinese is much stronger than his, I often have to translate exchanges between him and whoever he is trying to communicate with. English isn't the language of our new home, but it's the language we have in common, that we can speak most intimately in, and I have no desire to give it up.


The funny thing is, I'm one of the privileged few. My experience of being an expat and trying to flourish in a country where my native language is not the language of choice is only comparable in the smallest of ways to the experience of being an English learner in the USA.

My native language is one of the most powerful and widely spoken languages on Earth. I actually have a college degree in the language of the country where I now live--I spent 4 years and thousands of dollars of my scholarship providers' money learning this language.

I pick up languages more easily than the average American. I was considered a "star student" by my Chinese profs. There are lots of books available for English-speaking learners of Chinese, and I have the time and resources to buy them and hire tutors at my very whim. My current work contract provides Chinese classes for me. My Mandarin is actually comparatively good--there is a lot that I do understand, a lot that I am able to communicate, but it's not fluent, and there are many holes where vocabulary ought to be.

And, actually, if I wanted to, I could nest myself into an expatriate bubble here in China and get away with learning very little Chinese at all--many expats do (Clearly, these are not the same people who say, "If I moved to another country, I would learn to speak that country's language" right? They couldn't be, could they?). No one would look down on me for doing this. I don't prefer to, I want to get more plugged into the local community than the expat community, but that's my preference and choice.

The lesson here is that not being a native or fluent speaker of the language of the country you live in is difficult. People look at you like you're an idiot when they ask you for the 3rd time if you want a bag or not at the grocery store. Actually, I'm smart. I'm funny. I can talk about all sorts of things, but when I'm not speaking in my native language, when I'm trying to read a language I'm not literate in...I don't seem very smart at all. In fact, I seem like my mental capacities are well below average. I can just imagine people thinking, "And this person is supposed to teach our children? She can't even understand what I'm saying!"

McDonald's Menu in China
 The menu at McDonald's

In general, people here are abundantly kind to our slowness when it comes to their language. Once again, this is because we are a privileged minority. I believe it is far, far easier to be an English speaker in China than it is to be a Spanish, Japanese, Korean, or Bosnian speaker in the USA. There are some signs in English here...sometimes very weird English, but English all the same. Expatriate Americans in China tend to be more welcomed and respected than the average Eastern European refugee or the Korean seminary students' wife or the Hispanic immigrant are in the USA. We are treated well in spite of our seeming idiocy because we are the favored few...but not being able to talk at length and with speed and accuracy still bars us from doing everything we'd like to do.

All this to say--I actually did it. I moved overseas. I spent years learning their language (because language learning is a constant and ongoing process, not something that can happen overnight). I have more language learning resources available to me than the vast majority of people...I absolutely love and enjoy speaking Chinese...and it's still really, really hard. Every single day I'm learning new words--by the end of the year I know my Mandarin will have improved immensely, but that doesn't necessarily help me today when I'm trying to understand the IT guy's speedy explanation of why I can't log onto the computer in my office at school.

So maybe, just maybe, that person who you can barely understand through their thick accent and broken English, or that family you overhear chattering away in their native tongue--maybe they are me, on the other side of the pond...and maybe, for my sake, you'll stop treating them like they're stupid. We can't accurately judge a person's intelligence or contribution to society by the state of their 2nd or 3rd language--because if you were to hand me a Mandarin newspaper right now, you'd think I were an illiterate idiot.

I appreciate immensely the fact that the Chinese people I meet don't tell me to "Go Home!" when I stumble awkwardly through my requests for garlic powder at the grocery store...I only wish that more Americans were so kind.
27 August 2014

Disappointing Food

Once upon a time, my little brother was out to dinner at a nice restaurant with friends and decided to order a meal that was decidedly on the pricey side of his high school student budget. According to the menu, it was a Portobello Mushroom Burger. My brother was envisioning a burger topped with a portobello mushroom...what he got was a portobello mushroom on a bun--probably a delightful burger alternative to a vegetarian, but quite a disappointment to my brother, who, after spending all his lunch money, ended up with a mushroom bun instead of a burger.

I have always felt the tragedy of this story quite keenly. Food is something that we must rely on--and when it disappoints you in one way or another, it's awful.

Angel was very excited when he spotted a huge pile of these at the grocery store. "Yes! Limes! Now I can have lime juice on my noodles!" You see, Angel is of the belief that lime juice makes everything tastier. I do not understand this belief, but he is free to believe it, except when he squeezes lime juice all over an entire bag of Doritos so that he doesn't have to share them with me and can eat them in one sitting. Freedom of belief has to stop somewhere.

Green Satsuma

Angel bought several of these limes. 

Only, he discovered upon opening one that they weren't limes at all.

What were they?

Green Satsuma

Little oranges, with a slightly sour taste.

Who knew?

Now we all do. Of course, this isn't a complete food tragedy because it turns out that Angel loves his tiny green oranges very much--however, their juice isn't deemed suitable for the enhancing of noodle dishes.

Have you ever had a disappointing food tragedy? Please tell me about it!
25 August 2014

Only Half a Dress

 Red Plaid Tank

Silver Lake Resort Hotel ShenZhen

Red Plaid Tank Black Pencil Skirt

Once upon a time I bought a really cheap mini-dress because I loved the design even though it didn't fit very well. Sometimes it fit better than other times (don't all clothes?) but mini-dresses really aren't all that versatile so, a few months ago, before my beloved sewing machine was taken from me, I decided to chop up this dress and hem it, so that I could still wear the top when I moved. In fact, with a sweater to cover my shoulders, this mini-dress can even be part of a rather teacher-ly outfit, if I do say so myself.

(Side Note: After looking at those old posts, I miss my awesome blue and purple hair immensely. I wonder if it will be acceptable to dye my hair again someday...)

Angel and I aren't really the kind to stay still all that often. During our weeks of training, we thought we felt very tired out by our intense schedule...but then again, the minute we had a free few hours we thought it was the perfect time to wander through a very wealthy neighborhood and gawk at the incredibly cool-looking mansions (we did the exact same thing in nice neighborhoods in the US, I think those fancy houses are so fun to look at! If you own a fancy house, can I be your friend primarily for the purpose of looking at your house?). We discovered a river and a waterfall and a little park with exercise equipment and benches on our walk. We have so much to explore in our new home!
22 August 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.

Barbershop in China

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).

Barbershop in China

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!
20 August 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.
18 August 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.

Hiking Mountains in ZhuHai

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.
15 August 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!
13 August 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.
11 August 2014

Always Boil The Water

See, water! These teacher outfit photos ARE related to the post topic, after all. 
We've been warned quite vehemently not to drink the tap water here. I'm not sure what would happen if we did, but I don't generally like to use my own body for science experiments, so I've been obeying the warning to drink only bottled or freshly boiled water. It's kind of sad, as I'm actually fairly opposed to drinking bottled water in general because I think it's wasteful (in the states I never drank bottled water--our well water was plenty good enough for me!) but here it seems to be the best option we have for the time being.

We've also thus far found iced or cold drinks to be fairly rare. I am very, very proud of Angel for adjusting to this so quickly, because he's always been the kind of person who thought that even refrigerated drinks weren't cold enough, so he always had to stack his glasses with plenty of ice. The first time we took him to a Chinese restaurant in mainland Malaysia which only served hot tea, he had us request ice for him and created a bit of confusion. I never even use ice, because my teeth are sensitive to cold, so doing without ice makes no difference to me. Angel got very excited on our first morning in China because the pitcher of water at the hotel buffet breakfast was covered in condensation--he thought that was a sign that the water inside was very cold. Nope, the condensation was due to the exact opposite reason, the pitcher had just been filled with boiling hot water. He was a bit disappointed. But he's been regularly drinking our room-temperature bottles of water and the bottomless hot tea that we're consistently served at restaurants, and I'm very proud of him for expanding his comfort zone when it comes to the temperature of his drinks.

 Of course, a few of the small shops around here have small refrigerators filled with sweet drinks like these familiar pops and plenty that are unfamiliar. We don't like to drink pop every day (we're attempting to stay healthy on the limited food options available right now!) but sometimes it's a cool treat on a hot afternoon!

I will now teach you to say Sprite and Coca-Cola in Mandarin: xuěbì and Kěkǒukělè
Do you prefer your drinks hot, room-temperature, or iced? 
08 August 2014

What Life Looks Like Right Now

During our 3 weeks of training, we're being housed in a hotel which is in the middle of a very large college campus. I've lived in many different kinds of living situations over the years, but never a hotel. There are some pretty awesome perks to this lifestyle--I mean, the bathroom gets cleaned every day and I never have to wash sheets and towels, which is very, very awesome.

On the other hand, there aren't really many options for washing our clothes here. The hotel offers a pricey laundry one has been able to find a laundromat, even in bus distance...which leaves us using Tide, the bathroom sink, and this handy bar on our balcony to handwash and dry our laundry. We have no iron, and also haven't been able to find a store that sells them yet, which means we hang the laundry as carefully as possible to avoid wrinkles...but mostly we're just wearing wrinkled clothes.

There has also been a thunderstorm every single day since we've been here, so more often these clothes are hanging off of a chair inside our room to dry out.

For homework, I was translating an article about a creature whose scientific name is Velella Vellela and decided that since we don't translate Latin names in English, I shouldn't translate them in Chinese. Then I came across Portuguese man-of-war and decided to skip that one too. But if my Mandarin professor disagrees, I'll learn the term for Portuguese man-of-war and I'm sure I'll find it very practical in any conversation about obscure sea creatures.

Then I come across signs like this and realize that my Chinese probably often sounds like the English on the side--understandable but kinda weird, too. Side note: I have no idea how people live in China for years without learning any Mandarin. So far I have spoken Mandarin every single day--from ordering lunch to understanding how much I need to pay for something, to asking the hotel front desk for toilet paper, to asking hotel staff where in the world our room is, to telling the man making my noodle soup that I don't want fish ball or congealed blood in it, to conversing with very friendly people on the street who want to know what we're doing here in China. I can't always use complete sentences or speak very smoothly but I've always been able to understand the gist of things and communicate and that's very reassuring when you're somewhere new!

Because we're on a huge college campus during their summer break, the vast majority of restaurants within walking distance are closed for the summer due to lack of customers. There is a restaurant in the hotel, but it's expensive (Well, 6 USD per person expensive, but that's outside our budget for everyday eating). So we found a little grocery shop and have been eating instant noodles, crackers, fruit, and oatmeal a lot. Since we're in a hotel, we obviously don't have a kitchen in our room, but we have an electric kettle...and there's a lot you can do with an electric kettle!

This is our favorite lunch restaurant, and our favorite dish that we've tried so far. By comparison to the hotel restaurant, at this place, we can get all of this food, which is enough for two people, for 6 USD, so it's half the price. Angel's sitting in his favorite seat in the place, right in front of the air-con unit.

You may or may not know this...I really, really love bridges. I always have to walk on a little bridge when we find one randomly. We came across this little "fairy bridge" [my name for it] in our wanderings around the campus--as you can see it leads to a few steep stairs that serve as the entrance to an overgrown jungle trail up a little mountain. This is, thus far, my favorite bridge in China. I'm sure I will find more.

P.S. If an ESL learner asked you what a weasel was, how would you describe it? We have no access to either printers or powerpoints so we've been drawing a lot of pictures on the whiteboards in class when it comes to introducing our students to new words.
06 August 2014

Teacher Clothes

eShakti Retro Style

We're in the thick of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) training right now--every day involves 5 hours of TEFL lectures and lesson planning workshops, 2 hours of Mandarin lessons, and 1 hour of teaching an ESL class, with lesson planning meetings and homework at night. Same schedule on weekends. We will have 1 day off in the middle of this 3 week course and I think everyone is already looking forward to it. It's quite busy, quite educational--not very conducive to exploring the city we're in, but very conducive to preparing us for a full-time job as teachers at the end of August.

Because of my well-known love for wearing clothes (I highly recommend everyone should do it--wear clothes, I mean), I have found the rules for what we're allowed to wear here rather interesting. We're required to wear "Teacher clothes" throughout the day, whether we are teaching or attending classes or just walking around the college campus that we are staying on. This doesn't necessarily mean dress slacks, pencil skirts, and blazers for women--for which I am extremely grateful--the average temperature has been 88 degrees, and it's a 5-10 minute outdoors walk between classrooms, so you don't necessarily want to wear thicker clothes than you have to.

The most important rules for both men and women seem to be that your shoes have a closed toe and heel, and that you have some sort of sleeve, enough to cover your shoulders at least. Jeans and shorts aren't allowed. Men have to wear collared shirts, and ties for any banquets or meetings with higher-ups. Women don't have to have collars, they can wear dresses or skirts or pants--and there don't seem to be any color restrictions, which makes my heart very happy.

It seems to me a very common sense dress code, and I am very glad that I long ago established a habit of collecting knee-length cotton dresses with full skirts and short sleeves--they're a style I love to wear and one that's appropriate for teaching a class of elementary schoolchildren. I'm currently teaching a 6th grade class while Angel's teaching a 3rd grade class.

Neither Angel nor I are used to dressing "professionally" every day. He's worn scrubs his entire adult career...and when I was in beauty school I did dress professionally, but all in black--which, of course, I will never do again unless I'm forced to. While wearing dresses is very normal for me, while Angel prefers shorts and a t-shirt, so I love seeing him wearing slacks and a dress shirt every day--what a newly fashionable husband I have!

We just had to take pictures of our outfits on our very first day of training (by we, I do mean I), as proper documentation of the event. It's a little embarrassing to admit how excited I was to find a headband and a bracelet and earrings to put on--because we started packing early and have been traveling so long and just living out of our backpacks rather than disturbing our suitcases, I'd gone a very long time with any accessories at all. I missed them greatly. 

So, I suppose this post was all to say that I'm having a lot of fun getting dressed for work. I have gotten several comments from others in our class calling my outfits "creative" or "colorful" or "unique"...I haven't yet divulged at all that I'm sort of a fashion and lifestyle blogger...I don't know if I should...

Also, could we just pretend for a bit that I am purposefully going for the retro pincurl look with my bangs? In all honesty--I haven't yet been able to find a flat iron here and that's what my hair does of its own accord...
04 August 2014

Mandatory Medical Exam (3 Terrifying Words)

ShenZhen Port Hospital
 Do not let my smile fool you. Smiling is my automatic reaction to cameras, it is not my automatic reaction to hospitals.

This was the experience I've dreaded for months. Ever since I first heard that there was a required medical exam for foreign workers in China, I've been nervous about it. I mean, mostly, I tried to pretend it didn't exist. In general, I practice strict hospital avoidance (I only visited Angel at work once during his years as a nurse). It's not that I'm "afraid of blood" or anything specific like's more like I have a strong dislike of hospitals, doctor clothes, stethoscopes, people touching me and asking personal questions, being poked with needles, smelling weird hospital smells...basically, I avoid anything that involves doctors or nurses or examinations at all costs.

But there was a medical exam standing between me and a job teaching English in China. I had to do it.

I was quite glad, actually, that they had us do the medical exam on our very first day in China. I figured if I could face the thing I was dreading the most on the first day, the rest would all seem easy.

This medical exam that's required for a work visa was definitely like nothing I've every experienced. They herded our whole group up to one floor which was dedicated to this sort of exam, gave us papers that listed all the different exams that we had to be signed off on, and then it became a scavenger hunt of sorts as we bounced from one exam room to another, waiting in each line to tick another exam off the list.

All together, we had to get an ultrasound (of what I don't know, it was right under the ribcage, whatever they were looking at), an eye exam, chest X-ray, blood pressure test, blood test, EKG, urine test, and we had to be weighed as well.

It was not particularly fun, at least not for someone with a dread of all things medical. Angel was in his element and was highly amused by the entire event.

Privacy was not a big concern. Every exam room door was open, and you simply lined up outside the doors and could easily watch the procedure been done on the person before you. Results were proclaimed in big numbers, and from outside the room Angel was analyzing and commenting on all of my results (as well as the results of those around us). He inspected my EKG results, noted my blood pressure, and said, after seeing my chest X-ray that it was the best-looking chest X-ray he'd ever seen (I pointed out that probably most of his patients who had had x-rays probably had a more pressing reason for getting those X-rays other than simply to prove than they didn't have tuberculosis. Or maybe he just thinks my lungs are cute.).

Oh--for anyone who has to do this at any point, I highly recommend not wearing a dress. I was pretty well prepared and wore capris, a t-shirt, and a swimsuit-style sports bra, and I was very glad because the nurse was waving me into the ultrasound room while another guy was still lying on the table, and had me on the table with my shirt pulled all the way up and jamming the ultrasound wand up against my ribs before the other guy was even out of the room. As I mentioned...the right to privacy was definitely not practiced. Some of the girls in our group wore sundresses and had cause to regret it.

The hospital seemed quite clean to me, although sheets or papers on the beds weren't changed from one person to the next (which, I do admit, made for a very speedy line because there was no wait in between exams).

Also, we  had to remove our shoes to be weighed on the scale (I was glad that unlike most, I was wearing socks) but we could carry our purses on the scale, so the numbers might not have been entirely accurate.

Angel was very sweet and held onto me while I had not one but two vials of blood drawn.

As for the urine test...I can't really talk about it. I'm not like my husband, I'm not comfortable with this sort of thing, let me just say it involved extremely hot bathrooms with no air-con or ventilation but with squat toilets...and metal trays with 50 or so uncovered (Did you hear that, there were no lids!) full cups just lying around. Angel called them "jello shots"...well, because he's Angel.

The best part about this required medical exam, in my opinion, is that it is now over. The only damage done was a little mental distress on my part and a small bruise on my arm where they stole my blood. Angel still thinks it was awesome that he got to see me go through the whole examination and also got to see all of my results (not because I gave permission or shared my test results with my husband, as might happen in the US), but simply because he was standing outside the exam room while the tests went on.

You all have claimed to be interested in our adventures in China. That's the first big one! I'm thinking, after that, everything else should seem doable, right?