30 September 2014

10 Unusual Blog Post Ideas

10 Unusual Blog Post Ideas

1. Give step-by-step instructions on how to do something that I probably shouldn't do and didn't know I even wanted to do until you told me how to do it. How to Wear a Bear Costume and Drive a Car at the Same Time. How to Not Let Anyone Know You're Having a Baby Until The Baby is Actually Here.

2. Write a Do-Not-Wish-For list about all the things you're really hoping people never ever buy for you because you suck at pretending to be grateful. A Rubber Band Ball. Yoga Pants. Those awful Hershey's Cookies'n'Cream candy bars.

3.  The tale of your most harrowing encounter with an insect. The Butterfly who Bullied me Because I Had a Funny Hairstyle.

4. Write about your feelings for your husband on the day he told your grandpa that you two take showers at the same time. But that never happened, right? Please, tell me it never happened.

5. Make a huge announcement! Baby! House! Car! Debt! Diet! Puppy! I won Miss America! The President Took a Selfie With Me! I Bought Some Awesome Shoes! NASA Chose Me For a Not-Secret-Anymore Space Mission! Bonus: If you do it on April Fool's Day it doesn't even have to be true, it's the law.

6. "A Day in the Life..." of a random stranger that you stalk for the day. At 7:15 a.m. he walked out of his front door, wearing grey slacks, a navy shirt, and a red bowtie. I questioned the wisdom of the tie, but followed in my car until he arrived at the parking lot in front of his work at 7:37 a.m....

7. Write an "Unsponsored" product review of a product that doesn't actually exist. The product can be awful or awesome, you decide. The MyDream(r) Pillow guarantees that you'll only ever dream what YOU want to dream about every night for the rest of your life!

8.  Write a list of your least favorite blogs and why and give suggestions on how they could improve. Oh no. Better not do this one. It's mean, and people will be angry with you. Not worth it.

9. Create the most utterly ridiculous DIY craft you can think up, but write the post about it in a very serious way, and then laugh hysterically when your very kind commenters attempt to take you seriously and respond in a positive and encouraging way. I built my own DIY hairbrush out of twigs and twine and sap from trees, now you can, too!

10. When all else fails--you can too. Write about whatever you're worst at. The Tragic Tale of How I've Never Been Able to Whistle/Juggle/Drive a Stick Shift/Take a Fish off a Fishing Hook/Understand the Appeal of Korean Dramas

Sometimes we all just need a little bit of quirkiness in our blogging lives. What's the weirdest blog post idea you can come up with?
29 September 2014

Art Versus Reality

This is the most recent drawing a student made of me.

Below is what I looked life in real life at the time:

Some might find it disconcerting to have others randomly draw you, down to the pleats on your dress and the dangling earrings in your ears, but I don't. Why would I? I'm intrigued by cartoon Rachel and her adventures. I wish I were as cute as she is, for she never seems to have a hair out of place.

I'm also pretty much in love with the bazillion buttons that I sewed onto the back of this eShakti dress a few months ago to make it more exciting. Too bad they weren't featured in the drawing. I think I'm going to have to start requesting portraits in 360 degrees if all of the details of my outfit are going to be captured.

P.S. I love my job. I love my students, even if they didn't randomly hand me pictures of myself. I love dressing up for work and being Teacher Rachel (I would never punish my ESL students asking them to call me Mrs. G-unpronounceable-Spanish-word). Language learning is such a passion of mine that I'm only rather surprised that I didn't stumble into this career any sooner.
26 September 2014

Saturday Morning with AT&T

While Angel wrangled with AT&T's online help chat this morning, I had time to:

Take a shower
Start the laundry
Eat a delicious breakfast of banana bread.
Sweep the entire apartment.
Mop the entire apartment.
Clean my glass coffee table.
Hang up all the laundry.
Study a new lesson in my Chinese textbook.


Let me back up. I'll try not to bore you with too many details. Suffice it to say, on July 22nd, the day before we left America, Angel dutifully called AT&T to cancel our home internet service. Lizzy and I remember this call vividly, as we were sitting on the floor in the empty living room, waiting for him to get the call over with so that we could all go swing-dancing.

Angel wrote down the confirmation number from that cancellation phone call, but unfortunately that piece of paper did not come to China with us. I say "unfortunately" because although we trusted the helpful man on the phone to actually cancel our home internet services, he apparently did not, as we discovered when we received a bill on the last week of August.

The discovery of that bill led to an interminable length of time spent with AT&T representatives asking why we were getting billed for internet service going to an abandoned house. Our story is easily verifiable, at least I assume that they can tell that there has been 0 internet usage at that address since we left the country. However, they somehow had no record of us canceling our account (so who was Angel talking to on the afternoon of July 22nd? It must have been an imposter.).

AT&T said it was against their policy to allow us to cancel our account unless we called to cancel by phone. (I said we already tried that, apparently it didn't work) We begged them, telling them that we live in China and it's not very easy to figure out a way to call America. Finally, we gave up, gave my long-suffering little brother Isaac all the information he needed and he called to cancel our account and the issue was finally resolved on September 5th, and we sucked it up and paid for a month of internet service to our former home address.

Or so we thought. Yesterday we received another bill from AT&T. Not again. That is what led to Angel's long chat with them this morning while I went on a cleaning spree to relieve pent-up energy. The result of his nearly 2 hours on chat this morning was that we paid the September bill for AT&T and it's possible that they may or may not award us a refund at some point in the distant future.

But honestly, at this point, my bets are on getting an October bill in a few weeks. They knew what good customers we were and are determined to keep us.

At this point we've paid $72 for internet service at an empty home, and although I had an AT&T cellphone for 6 years and AT&T internet for 4 years, I guarantee I'll never be back. This has been the most frustrating aspect of our move, actually (and I'm very grateful that there was nothing more frustrating), but all the same...anyone else have AT&T horror stories to share? I'm interested to know if this is their usual mode of operations.

I am a Writer

Tayler tagged me to write a post about my writing process, and I added a 5th question so I could join up with the ever-popular 5 things + Friday craze. Because only having 4 points in a post published on Friday would be heresy, apparently.

 Learning to play Chinese Chess deserves to be written about.

1) What are you working on?
Other than blog posts, I'm working on a manuscript for a possible book that has gone through several different forms. I'm at about 30,000 words of rough draft right now. The theme is basically hitherto unwritten yet true stories, working title at the moment: I Never Even Liked Traveling. If this ends up as awesome as I hope it will, I'm thinking of a possible self-publish release date next summer.

2) How does your work differ from others of its type/genre?
 I'm more ornery than the average blogger, I'd say. I like to write from the unpopular point of view--i.e. in favor of CAPTCHA or anti-yoga pants. One of my signature moves is to write about something utterly ridiculous in a very serious way. I'm more likely to write tutorials on how to send fake secret admirer letters than tutorials on how to host a surprise 30th birthday party for your husband. Possibly my favorite piece I've ever written was entitled: "On the Dangers of a Bowl of Canned Prunes"  (never published on the blog, perhaps I should add it to the book).

Also, my pictures are rather bad for a professional blogger. I recognize that, and I claim it as something that sets me apart from the majority of bloggers who aren't married to Angels who think that actually focusing and framing a picture is for normal people.

3) Why do you write what you write about?
 Because people need to know more about the art of fake secret admirer letters. That's one prank that should never die out. My blog has to be called "random" because the motivations for my writing are very different--sometimes I want to inspire and challenge people to live differently, to do more than what average society expects of them....sometimes I want to give others a glimpse at what an unusual life looks like...and other times I just feel inspired to write about how passionately I love my beautiful red microwave.

I want to be a writer, and I know I am one--even if no one but Angel and my mom read what I wrote, I'd still be a writer, but I honestly would like to expand my portfolio of published works as time goes on. I'm not overly modest. I know I have a talent for writing funny nonfiction, and occasionally I can produce an inspirational piece that's better than the average "viral" article. But all the aspects of getting read beyond simply writing and editing are beyond me. I did have that one secret plan to marry the son of a publishing tycoon in order to further my career but that strategy failed when I fell in love with a nurse. Bigamy is illegal, as it should be, however inconvenient it may be for my career.

4) How does your writing process work?  
It often starts with me pestering my husband or parents or siblings for writing ideas, and writing them all down furiously in a notebook. I then ignore the vast majority of their ideas, or twist them so that they are no longer recognizable, and write them down whenever I have a free moment. Posts that I'm absolutely in love with I always have to post right away. When I'm writing about a more serious topic, I usually like to sit on the post for a few weeks, keep going back and re-reading and editing to make sure it's saying precisely what I want it to say.

5) What is your most popular post of all time, and why?
 It's that ridiculous Anti-Yoga Pants post. By a long shot. That post is years old and it still gets regularly more views than any other post on my blog. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Did I somehow hit an SEO jackpot in my wording of the post? Are a lot of people searching for posts about why I dislike yoga pants so much? I don't know. It's definitely not the best post on my blog. In general, I've always found outfit posts to do best on the blog as far as stats go, even though they don't contain my most interesting writing. Weird.

Have any of you done the writing process tag? What's your most popular post of all time, and why?
24 September 2014

Who Do I Want to Be?

If you're in the mood for a post about great men of history and how they inspire me to change the world, you may want to look elsewhere, as this is not really that sort of post. This is a post about fictional characters who shape the way I live on an everyday basis. These are who I strive to be:

1. Shawn Spencer - I don't want to solve crimes, or be anywhere near them for that matter, but I do want to be incredibly intelligent and strive to hide my intelligence behind an unceasing stream of utterly ridiculous comments about random fruits so that I trick nearly everyone into believing I'm a harmless annoyance.

2. Captain Jack Sparrow - I want to be stranded on deserted islands where it never, ever snows and make up stories about my past that are taken as true, thereby creating a legend around myself and becoming the worst pirate you've ever heard of--but you have heard of me.

3. Ginger Grant - While stranded on gorgeous deserted islands in the tropics I want to wear beaded evening gowns and be completely useless, but no one realizes it because I am so very decorative.

4. Captain Hook (Once Upon a Time) - I want to be able to wear eyeliner and be dashing.

5. Anne Shirley - I want to get my books published and marry a handsome black-haired boy and turn even the slightest of mishaps into a grand adventure worthy of writing about in an excessively dramatic fashion.

So, basically, I want to be a glamorous pirate detective and have red hair. Which is unfortunate, really, because I'm naturally law-abiding, I faint at the sight of blood, and I look much better with blue or purple hair. What can be done?

And who do you want to be?
23 September 2014

DongMen Shopping Streets, ShenZhen

Mall-lover that I am, it made perfect sense that one of the first outings we would go on here would be to the well-known shopping area of DongMen. These streets are lined with small shops and tunnel-like entrances into large, multi-story malls where I'm pretty much convinced it's possible to purchase just about anything, provided you knew both what you were looking for and where you could find it.

DongMen Shopping Streets, ShenZhen, China

DongMen Shopping Streets, ShenZhen, China

Angel always carries an umbrella outdoors, to preserve his fair complexion. I'm too cool to carry an umbrella, because I've been on an unexplainable anti-umbrella strike for my entire life.

DongMen Shopping Streets, ShenZhen, China

Their version of a dollar store?
DongMen Shopping Streets, ShenZhen, China

DongMen Shopping Streets, ShenZhen, China

I can actually read that sign! It says Lao Dong Men Xu Shi Tu. Now you know. Oh, what's it mean? It seems to mean something along the lines of: these are pictures of what DongMen used to be like back in the day.

This is what I had had to purchase on our shopping adventure: a little notebook that I have named The Golden Shining Notebook of Joy. Have you ever seen such a sparkly notebook? I'm sure you understand why I had to buy it on sight. I needed The Golden Shining Notebook of joy to take notes from my Chinese class in.

This is what tempted Angel, the candy store. He got himself a back of strawberryish candy. I didn't have any, so I can't report on how worthwhile the purchase was, but he devoured it quickly.

There was also a real, live Transformer in DongMen. It's Bumblebee, right?
DongMen Shopping Streets, ShenZhen, China

 This was the secret entrance of the mall that we stumbled into and got lost in a gigantic labyrinth of shopping for more than an hour.

We came out of DongMen after having  spent a total of 52 Yuan ($8.50), on a DVD, my Golden Shining Notebook of Joy, Angel's candy, and a bubble tea. It was a grand mini-adventure and I'm sure we'll be back if we find ourselves in need of something that we think could possibly be found within the depths of these malls.
22 September 2014

Perks of Teaching ESL

Every job has its own benefits, though some jobs certainly provide more or less than others. We have been extremely impressed with the benefits provided by our new employer and our roles as ESL teachers!

1. To start with, there's the apartment. I mentioned before that per our contract, housing is part of our compensation, so we don't pay rent. Sweet deal!

2. Our school also provides transportation in the morning, noon, and evening, for going to work or going home (this isn't special for us, we ride the teacher bus with our coworkers). If we want to go to the school or return at a time other than when the bus comes, we can take public transportation, but that requires much more walking on our part--and since the school bus is free, we usually take it to work and back. Will I forget how to drive while I am here? Possibly.

3. Free Breakfast! Served buffet-style in the teacher's cafeteria from 7-8 every weekday morning. I have never before been a regular patron of a cafeteria (homeschool followed by being an off-campus college student will do that to you), so maybe I'm easily impressed, but a morning smorgasbord of boiled eggs, rice, noodles, bok choy, dumplings, rice buns, and chiffon cake is definitely welcome in my life.

4. 2 Yuan Lunch! Okay, so, lunch isn't free, but it's very inexpensive (in the realm of $0.30 per lunch) for a portion of rice, your choice of 3 sides, and a piece of fruit, which might be anything from a banana to a pear to a pomegranate. Maybe I'm crazy, but wondering what kind of fruit we'll receive at lunch is one of the highlights of my day. There are always both meat and vegetable dishes. I'm not a huge fan of meat dishes so I invariably choose all the veggies!

5. Milk! Yet another unexpected bonus. Each teacher is allotted one box of milk each work day. We aren't big milk drinkers but I usually bring our boxes home and use them for mashed potatoes or cereal or even a snack involving Oreos. Basically, with all of this food, it feels like they're trying to fatten us up.

6. No dress code! Or at least we've yet to stumble into one. It seems that on certain special days, the rest of the teachers are supposed to wear white shirts and black pants. We were told, though, that as wai jiao, foreign teachers, the rule did not apply to us. There's a big part of me that feels that I was made for the precise purpose of being a high school teacher who wore slightly crazy clothes. After all, a few of my college professors had some very unique tastes in fashion, and they were all my favorite profs. It's a dream come true to be the teacher who wears pink sparkly Converse to class.

 8. Teacher's Day just so happened to fall in the middle of our 2nd week as real teachers. The school presented each of us, and all the other teachers, with gift boxes each containing two hand towels and two movie ticket vouchers. How cool is that? Now we just need to figure out the movie theater. Currently the only English movies playing are Divergent and The Expendables 3, so we'll probably wait till the next round of movies to use our vouchers.

 9. In case you can't quite believe your eyes, this is just part of the huge stash of toilet paper and face tissues that our school gave us. We were told that teachers are given toilet paper and tissues every semester, and we thought this was incredibly awesome. I mean, such things are a necessary part of life, and to get 4 packages of 10 rolls of toilet paper and 2 packages of 5 boxes of tissues is quite awesome, in my opinion. I think our coworkers might have been slightly shocked at how excited and thankful we were for this unexpected bonus.

8. All right, this isn't guaranteed by contract or anything, I just think it's too cool not to mention. One of my students came up to me last week and told me that the first time she met me, she thought I was so beautiful and she drew a picture of me from the 1st day I taught her class. Have you ever heard of anything so sweet? And I think she's so talented, too. I can tell that I was wearing this plaid top on the day she decided to draw the picture and had put my hair in pigtails as a way of managing the heat. And now I really want to see an anime movie all about this cute little Rachel drawing with her pigtails and glasses. I think the drawing pulls off glasses much better than I do.

Am I making the job sound appealing?
19 September 2014

#ChinaLife: Plastic Food

Something kinda crazy happened in the blog world recently. Through a strange series of events, not one but two bloggers named Rach(a)el moved to China to become teachers within weeks of each other. Besides myself, I am of course referring to this Rachael. We decided that this was a rather obvious opportunity for a fun blog collaboration, so today I'm bringing you the very 1st installment of the new bimonthly blog series:

Jump on over to the other Rachael's blog to see what she's writing about her new stage of life in China today, but I'm here to show you some interesting photos taken at a few of our local restaurants:

Plastic Food Display in China
Plastic Food Display in China

Plastic Food Display in China

Plastic Food Display in China

Plastic Food Display in China

Plastic Food Display in China

Plastic Food Display in China

Before any of these photos of tasty food start to make you hungry, let me warn you: None of it is edible. These are all photos of plastic food displays outside of restaurants that we walk past.

My professors had mentioned plastic food as an advertising method, but I hadn't actually ever seen it regularly until we moved here. Not every restaurant uses it, but there are a large number with displays of dishes meant to be exact replicas of what you could order inside the restaurant.

My fascination with this plastic food is similar to my fascination with dollhouses--I am easily impressed by how realistic and detailed these fake dinners and desserts are while not being real themselves, and I wonder who has the job of crafting fake meals to represent the real ones that you can order, because that sounds like a very interesting job. I wonder, are there just giant factories out there, somewhere, where workers look at photos of restaurant meals and recreate them to the best of their ability...or is this more of a small business/craftsman type of deal? I have no idea.

See anything you'd like to try?
18 September 2014

Real Talk: How the New Ex-Pat Life is Going

Every once in a blue moon, I decide to vlog. This means that every once in a blue moon you all get to see that in real life I am very shifty-eyed, at least when talking to a computer.


Thanks for watching! I am, and forever will be, the one-take vlogger, which means umms and sideways glances are just part of the deal. And it perhaps doesn't seem normal for me to be "confessing" that I find myself thriving in this completely new environment. I am thriving, both Angel and I are, and I'm so grateful for that. I know that's not a universal experience for new ex-pats, but I'm so glad that we are precisely where we're at. This doesn't mean that there aren't very, very confusing moments when I'm searching for my pocket dictionary and moments when I hold my breath as I enter bathrooms the likes of which could not be imagined in the USA...but I can say easily that this is a very good life for us.
17 September 2014

A Brand-New Look!


Nothing like outfit photos while waiting for the bus--multitasking at its finest!
Welcome to the new look of The Random Writings! I'd had the last design for a year, but was feeling the need for an update to make everything bigger and better, so I went back to Angi--I couldn't, of course, have done any of this for myself because unlike many a blogger, I'm rather html-illiterate, and I'd like to keep it that way.

Also, before you mock me, I can read hundreds of Chinese characters, which are every bit as cool and probably cooler than html.

Now let me point out a few of the sweet features of the new place I have here!

#1 See that header? It's full of seemingly random symbols as a representation of the randomness that is this blog.  However, those symbols are not merely pictures for decoration, they are magically clickable and each one will take you to a different blog category. So, if you're in the mood to read about all of my posts about the country of Malaysia, for example, you can click on the hibiscus flower, also known as the bunga raya, the national flower of Malaysia. And the bear head will lead you to all posts featuring our giant pet bear, just in case you've missed him. The little angel will lead you to all posts about Angel, of course, wasn't that obvious?

#2 My pages have changed! Over there, on the right hand side, you can now find a Resources page beneath my About page. On it I've listed some of my favorite resources for travel, learning Mandarin, blogging, and other such interesting topics--some of the resources are of my own creation, others are tools from around the web that I use regularly. If you haven't checked out my pages in a while, you ought to click around and explore to see what all has changed! Sidebar advertising on this blog is still an excessively viable option.

So that's it. Welcome to the new and improved Random Writings. If you can't tell, I'm a little bit excited. What do you think?

p.s. Not that I have mountains of experience with blog designs or their designers, but seriously, guys, Angi's awesome at what she does, speedy, and exceedingly patient with crazy requests for clickable headers linked to a dozen different things. If you're in the market for any of this design stuff, you know who I'll point you to!
15 September 2014

How to Move to China (ESL Route)

This is an overview of how Angel and I went from having the initial idea to teaching ESL in ShenZhen within a year's time. That was too long of a title, however, which explains the shorter and vaguer title.

How to Move to China and Teach ESL

Step 1: {August 2013} Decide you want to move to Asia.

Have several initial job and visa ideas fall through. Sister suggests, "Hey, what about teaching ESL in Korea? Lots of people do that!"

I respond, "Well...I don't speak Korean...but my Mandarin is pretty good. It might make more sense to try teaching ESL in China. Does anyone do that?"

Google search turns up CTLC Website among the top results.

Step 2: {Fall} Wonder if CTLC is a real thing or if it is a scam.

Peruse entire website in detail. Decide that this program sounds awesome...but remember that things you read on the internet aren't always true.

I emailed the address provided on the CTLC website to ask for a list of people who had taught with the program before and chose five random people from the list to email and ask questions about the program to. One of the questions was, verbatim: "Does CTLC exist or is it a scam?"

I believe in being direct. The detail and variety of answers I received from my emails convinced me that CTLC was either real or it was the most in-depth, genius scam I've ever come across, and therefore deserved our money.

Step 3: {November, December} Apply, interview, and be accepted into CTLC's teaching program.

*I should note that many people have found ways to just jump into teaching ESL in China without joining a program of any sort, but rather finding a school on their own and developing a contract with the individual school, and that is probably less expensive, but for us, given the fact that we didn't know much about the bureaucratic requirements involved in living and working in China, and the fact that we are not yet totally fluent in Mandarin, we decided that for us, the convenience of going in with an organization that provides TEFL training and negotiates your contract with your school was worth it. CTLC only works with schools in ShenZhen, and we liked the idea of ShenZhen as a homebase, because I wanted to be located in South China and we wanted to be close to major airports.

Step 4: {December} Start getting rid of all of your stuff.

Trust me, start early, it takes a while. If you're just planning on moving abroad for a year, maybe you don't have to get rid of all of your stuff. Our move is permanent for the foreseeable future, so we basically emptied our house. It was a process that we achieved slowly over months, through a combination of bequeathing our belongings to relatives, Craigslist and Facebook sales, many trips to the local thrift store, and one final garage sale.

Step 5: {Spring} Handle all legal, technical, and medical stuff.

Pay CTLC deposit. Gather all paperwork required to get your invitation letters so that you can apply for your visa (that included diplomas, background checks, and a few other pieces of paper for us). Make copies and scans of any and all important documents. We left all actual important documents in the USA but brought notarized copies and scans with us. Make sure you have plenty of years left on your passport and driver's license. Get a power of attorney if you might need one to help you manage finances from overseas. Decide how you are going to manage getting your taxes done while you're far away. Get any vaccines that you want while you still have a job and health insurance (we opted for Tetanus boosters and Typhoid).

Step 6: {Late Spring/Early Summer} Shop for anything you want to make sure you bring with you.

Plenty of clothes if you think you may have trouble finding clothes that fit in China (Angel and I are on the shorter side so this wasn't a big concern for us, however, I love my clothes so I brought as much as I could). High-quality sandals. You can do your research and buy whatever kind of face masks (for air filtration) you decide will be the best for you before you even arrive in China so that you're guaranteed to have a mask when you need one. Pick out your favorite kind of travel money belt--you never know where you might be in a place where one might come in handy.

Step 7: {June/July} Try not to forget all the last-minute really important things you have to do.

Send in your visa application to a visa agent that works with the embassy for your region as soon as you receive your paperwork from CTLC. Decide how you want to change your USD into RMB (we chose to order RMB from our bank before leaving the USA--but there are other options.)

Step 8: {July 23} Get on the plane!

Arrive in Asia slightly disoriented and jump right into training and life as an ESL teacher in China.

This is just a rough outline of what our life has looked like over the past year--seriously, if you have any questions about CTLC or specific requirements for moving to China, you can go ahead and ask! And, clearly, I know that the last step of moving does not end at the airport, but let's not put too much into just one post, shall we?

I have a feeling that a rather large percentage of my readers have lived abroad at some point in their lives, so let's try an informal survey. In the comments, let me know if you've lived in a country where you weren't born, and which ones. If you haven't lived abroad, do you think you'll ever try it, or are you very content where you are?
12 September 2014

Chicken Milk

 Angel was forcing me to smile next to the fish.

We were at a different grocery store than our usual one, unsuccessfully searching for chicken breasts.

Angel said, "I'm just going to ask someone. I'm going to ask if they have any ji nai."

 With that, he walked away quickly, because he knows that I like to stop him from saying ridiculous things in Mandarin to other people when I can. I immediately chased him down, but I knew I didn't have time to explain to him that he CANNOT say ji nai because that literally means "chicken breast/milk" and while I can sort of understand his reasoning of chicken + breast milk = chicken breasts, chickens are not mammals and thus don't produce breast milk and you are really going to confuse someone if you ask for "chicken milk".

So I ran ahead of him to the meat counter and breathlessly asked, "you mei you ji pai?"

Ji pai was the first thing that came to mind as a possible translation for chicken breast. Pai gu means "ribs" so I was trying go with a "chicken rib" translation, but the genius meat counter lady said, "ji xiong?" which I immediately recognized as "chicken chest", a much more reasonable term than either "chicken milk" or "chicken rib".

Yes, ji xiong was what I wanted, it seems so obvious now, but I couldn't think of it at the time. Funny, how in 4 years of college classes they don't think to teach you the proper terms for all the cuts of meat you might want to purchase.

The best part of this story is that I did successfully prevent Angel from asking anyone for chicken milk. We have two totally different methods of language learning--I'm the slow, cautious one who doesn't want to talk unless I know exactly what I'm going to say. Angel's the learner who will just throw out words even when he has no idea what they mean or what order they should go in. Angel's method is actually better than mine since he has the guts to talk even when he doesn't know how...but still..."chicken milk" is one for the record books.

What kind of language learner are you? More like me or more like Angel?
10 September 2014

Chacos in China

When you move to Southeast Asia with nothing but the contents of a couple suitcases, you learn to become exceedingly strategic about the contents of those suitcases.

It's a well-known fact that Westerners often have trouble purchasing shoes in Asia because of our generally larger feet. That's not a problem that really affects Angel and I, because neither of us have particularly large feet, so our sizes are available here, but that still leaves us with the problem that, while inexpensive shoes are widely available, they are generally of poor quality.

Chacos in China

Our lifestyle here means that our shoes take a beating. We walk to the grocery store, to church, to the park, to the metro station--because of our lack of a car, we walk everywhere. This makes comfortable shoes a necessity, and durable shoes that are worth their space and weight in a suitcase because they won't break after a couple months are very much desired. The climate where we live is hot and humid most of the year, which causes us to rebel against any form of shoes that enclose our feet and require socks. This heat and humidity also means that if your feet sweat at all, shoes are even more likely to become smelly than they already are by nature of being shoes. Sidewalks here don't tend to be very clean, and if we happen to be out walking and get caught in a downpour, we've noticed that the road drains can't keep up with the volume of water, which leave us wading through an impromptu stream. Because of this factor--shoes that can be washed are quickly becoming a priority!

Given all of these factors of our new lifestyle: Enter Chacos!

I know there are plenty of die-hard Chaco fans out there, and others who think it's ridiculous to spend nearly $100 on a pair of sandals. I'd never even heard of them when we got married, but Angel already had a pair, and bought me one for our 2nd summer together. He got a 2nd pair last fall because he planned on spending most of his future life wearing Chacos and wanted another color option.

That means, in the photo above: one of the shoes was purchased in 2009, one was purchased in 2012, and one was purchased in 2013. It's not easy to tell by the wear which of the shoes is the oldest, is it?

And yet these sandals haven't sat in a closet for years. They've been worn caving in Malaysia, kayaking in Minnesota and Texas, walking into Lake Huron in north Michigan, climbing trails in Hawaii, and most recently, over miles and miles of Chinese sidewalks.

I fully admit that I'm a cheapskate. And I'm no brand-lover. But I've had enough experiences with cheap shoes spontaneously disintegrating to be highly impressed by shoes that are indestructible, comfortable, and washable.

Yeah, it's a pricey sandal, but in our very scientific experiments, it appears that even after  5 years of regular wear, you can expect your Chacos to be in very usable, even nearly-new condition, and that impresses me. If you're in the market for long-lasting pair of shoes that are ideal in hot climates, Chacos are it!

If you're a long standing fan, where have your worn your Chacos? If you're not, what would it take to convince you?
08 September 2014

Questions Without End

 First Day as an ESL Teacher
 September 1st, 2014

What has surprised me most about our students is how curious they are about Angel and I personally. They ask us endless questions about ourselves, which I sometimes encourage because it gets them speaking English, but not all of their questions get answered. Here's a few we've been asked:

"Is your husband very romantic?" No, but he's very funny

"Do you have a romantic love story?"

"How old are you?"

"How tall are you?"

"I think you are so beautiful, so why are you already married?"

"Can I have your phone number/Instagram/WeChat/QQ?" I invariably evade this one.

"Why are you so slim?"

"Do you speak Chinese?" I've told them if they want to speak to me in Chinese we can speak after or before class. During class, only English.

"How did you meet your husband?"

"Can you give me an English name?" Ahhh! Too much responsibility! On the other hand, I could name a bunch of awesome teenagers all of my most favorite names...

"Why do you write with your left hand?"

"Do all Americans write with their left hand?"

"Why do all Americans look the same to me?" Well, I've heard Americans say precisely the same thing about people from the continent of Asia...

"What is the most delicious food in America?" Mexican food, of course. Probably steak or chicken fajitas, if you want specifics.

"I heard that American students never bring their cellphones to school. Is this true?" It is definitely NOT true, but I'm not sure I'm supposed to tell you that, this sounds like the kind of thing another teacher might have said in order to help enforce no cellphones in class policies.

"Can you teach us some words in Spanish?"

{to Angel} "How are your teeth so white?" His teeth are rather noticeable.

"I think there are many other countries that will be interesting to you, so why did you come to China?"

{to Angel, again} "Why did your parents name you Angel?"

and "Do you feel embarrassed about your name?"  

"Are all Americans hating the people who have poor English? I met a person. Because of my poor English she laughed at me. And I am disappoint and I lose my courage to talk to Americans." If that doesn't break your heart I don't know what would.
05 September 2014

To Give More Than We Can Spare

I've been reading C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity lately, and I came across this passage which caused me to reflect--even more so than the rest of his wise and witty writing. The topic he's discussing is that of generosity, also known as charity. I've copied it below:

"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare...If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them."

Whoa. That made me pause. How often can I honestly say that I've given so much that it hurt me, that it inconvenienced me, that I had to go without because I gave so much of what I had away?

It's happened, sure, on rare, pitiably rare occasion. But I could not claim that being inconvenienced by my own generosity has been an overriding characteristic of my life.

Anyone can give out of their pocket money. It's easy to take the pennies returned to you as change from your McDonald's meal and drop them into the charity box right in front of the register simply because we don't want coins jangling around in the bottoms of our purses. Donating clothes we didn't want anyways to Goodwill could hardly be called giving at a cost to ourselves. But how often do we give more than what we consider to be the socially acceptable minimum? How often do we give until it literally hurts us?

I'm not a naturally generous person. Generosity is not my gut reaction, it's something I attempt to train myself in. I've had to learn, sometimes very slowly, to respond generously in appropriate situations. I've known people who are extremely, excessively generous, either by nature or because they've learned to be that way over a lifetime and they are a joy to be near. I hope to be like them when I grow up.

What does giving more than we can spare look like? To me, I think it looks like meeting others needs all the while trusting God to meet our own rather than constantly checking to make sure that we have plenty for ourselves. It probably means doing the opposite of "looking out for #1". It looks like serving others graciously and without bitterness even when it's really, really inconvenient at the time and I'd much rather be doing something more fun. I've seen this generosity before. Maybe in real life this sort of generosity looks like:

  • Inviting someone, or even an entire family, to live in your home rent-free because they need a place to live for a season.
  • When you're due for an automobile upgrade, choosing to give your old car to someone who just needs a way to get to work and back instead of selling it and using that money to help pay for your new car.
  • Buying a refrigerator for a family whose fridge broke and has been found to be unfixable.
  • Making room at the dinner table for unexpected hungry guests, slyly not filling your own plate much so that the food stretches.
  • Meeting an elderly man who doesn't speak the primary language of the country he's in, who tells you he's hungry, and stopping in your plans to buy him a lunch at the Chik-Fil-A across the street, and sitting down to chat with him over the meal.
  • Buying good shoes for someone with foot problems whose shoe budget is limited to flip-flops.
  • Putting a check for more than the socially acceptable gift amount into a card for a high school graduate who needs to buy a laptop for college, or into a card for a young newlywed couple just starting out in life with almost no possessions to their name.
  • Babysitting for free for parents who otherwise couldn't afford to go anywhere without their children.
  • Giving away rather than selling brand-name clothing, not just the Walmart stuff.
  • Being a professional cosmetologist/mechanic/accountant/housecleaner/carpenter/electrician/lawyer and offering your services for free to people who need them but can't pay for them--or even to those who could pay for them, but would find their budget severely strained.
  • It's being told by a homeless guy that his shoes are in really bad shape, asking for his shoe size, telling him to wait right there, and running home and coming back asap with tennis shoes that'll fit him.
I mean who just does this kind of stuff? Doesn't it all sound kind of excessive?

But I'm learning that the kind of generosity we are called to live is inherently excessive.

I've come to believe that if we expect to get a pat on the back, or, say, a "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Is that line familiar to anyone?) for giving out of our excess, for serving when it was fun and our friends were there too and the conditions were pleasant...we will find ourselves sorely disappointed.

I'd venture to say that generosity that doesn't cost us anything is cheap generosity. It's the bare minimum. Anyone could be expected to give when the giving of time or money or skills or resources is pleasant for them and won't cause them any discomfort or inconvenience. Instead of remaining in the infancy of giving I hope to grow, to stretch that generosity muscle, again and again. I pray that God will give me the courage I need to dive right in when I'm faced with opportunities for extreme generosity.

When we were still in the USA, we were sitting in church when the stranger sitting next to me leaned over, handed an envelope to Angel, said, very specifically, "This is for you," and then got up and walked away, even though the church service wasn't over. We found out later that the envelope contained $50, and no note. We don't know why a complete stranger gave us that money, but I'm convinced it was a God thing. That Sunday was just a few days after Angel had quit his job, and I was feeling nervous about the fact that we don't expect to get another paycheck till the end of September. I didn't have any real reason to be nervous--we knew this was coming and we've planned and saved for it, but for me, it was difficult to know that there wouldn't be another paycheck in two weeks, as there always has been. And at that precise moment...a stranger, for no apparent reason, gives us $50.

I cried. $50 is no small amount of money. That's a lot of groceries, right there, in anyone's home. To me, that was a little message from God saying, "Will you stop worrying about the money already? You'll be fine. More than fine. Now stop forgetting that."

I wish I could find that stranger and tell him what that $50 meant to me, in our situation, but I can't. What I can do is strive towards living in an excessively generous way

Have you ever come across a good example of someone who gave more than they could spare?
03 September 2014

Home Tour

You know, I never did a home tour post the entire time we lived in Michigan for a couple of reasons.

1) I don't have a DSLR and my photography skills do not extend to making a house look good.

2) While I loved our little rented home and the rainbow colors I painted each room, I never felt that it was anything particularly special that anyone else would want to look at.

In our new home here, both of these facts are still true (except the rainbow colors, I can't paint this one). Our new home is not a majestic triumph of interior decor--but it's practical, it's clean (post 24-hour cleanathon when we first arrived), it abundantly meets our needs, and it's our home for now.

A home tour has been requested, so in spite of my lack of photography skills and home decor resources, here you go:

ShenZhen Apartment

Look up, and you see that blue shirt hanging inside the bars? That's our balcony. This is the back view of our apartment building. In case I haven't mentioned it before, as part of our contract with the school, we are provided with housing that we don't have to pay for, it's part of our compensation package. Many foreign teachers in our area are housed in dorms on their school's campus, but we're housed off-campus. We live in building #21 out of a huge complex.

ShenZhen Apartment

Here's the front gate to our little stairwell. After you unlock this, you just climb up to the 3rd floor, and you're at our home (And no one should pity us for being on a 3rd floor walk-up--these buildings are 8 floors with no elevators...if you lived on the 8th floor, you'd either have to be a hermit or in really good shape).

ShenZhen Apartment

Here's our front door! More bars, and locks. We are very safe.

Just inside the front door there's a dining area. The apartment is actually much bigger than we expected, and bigger than many of the apartments others in the program have received. We estimate it's between 600-700 sq. ft., but they make efficient use of the space.

My kitchen, complete with a fridge, microwave, and 2 burner gas stove (hurray, I love gas stoves!)

I placed myself in the kitchen for size comparison to the fridge. By the way, in case you have been under the impression that I'm a giant all these years...I'm not particularly large.

Cozy living space next to the dining area. The couch has holes so I came up with the idea of covering it with the brand-new comforter our school gave us. We don't feel the need to use a comforter when it's over 80 degrees at night. The tv has so far been pronounced unfixable by the very nice workmen who came by to fix the wifi, standing water in the kitchen that was there when we arrived, and the bedroom air conditioner.

Living room decor. I'm so predictable. This is on the wall of the tv. This wall, like many other in the house, has the ugly remains of yellowed adhesive from previous foreign teachers' posters all over it. So, as is my habit, I stuck a bazillion photos all over the wall, strategically covering yellow tape spots. AND I used a kind of tape that actually comes of of the wall and neither removes paint nor leaves yellow marks. I'm a genius.

On the little shelf in the living room--Angel set this up. This is really all of the "home decor" we have, so even though the nativity scene and snowmen are supposed to be for Christmas, I'm thinking of leaving them there. The sign with the Bible verse is one of Angel's most treasured possessions, and these other little bits are all special to us. I bought Angel the Swarovski cat to commemorate our Narcan, who died last Christmas. The snowman frolicking in popcorn represents me because I always frolic when there's popcorn around, and the snowman with the cat represent Angel petting Morphine.

Here's our balcony. We have a washing machine (hurray!!!) and a bar to hang clothes on to dry.

Our bathroom--in my experience this is a very normal design for a bathroom in this area and I actually love this bathroom design because they are easy to clean (American style bathrooms, while easier on the eyes, frustrate me come cleaning time). Basically, there is no shower area so when you take a shower the entire bathroom gets wet. The water drains into a little hole in the floor next to the toilet. You can't store anything in the bathroom unless it's something that can get wet. This is pretty similar to the bathroom in my family's home when I was growing up, only their home had been renovated recently so the tile was in better condition.

The spare bedroom! Now who wants to come visit? I'll even put a sheet on the bed for you if you do.

The other spare bedroom. But, as you can see, this is mostly a storage room. We were told that we have to keep all of the appliances in the house, even if they are broken, but we can put them in this storage room. So stored in the wardrobe are a broken toaster oven...broken speaker system...etc. This tv also doesn't work. There's no airconditioner in this room which makes it more of an ideal storage room than bedroom.

The master bedroom. I'm not the biggest fan of flags as decor--I think they look a little more like dorm room decor than adult home decor, but Angel's put them up temporarily until I get some wall hangings I like for this room, which also suffers severely from the yellow adhesive problem I mentioned before. The school provided us with brand new sheets, one set is a purple and pink pattern and the other set is blue and red so we can switch out between girly and manly sheets. :)

The wardrobe on the wall at the side of the bed. Yes, yes I did steal the larger section of the wardrobe for myself and yes I did put Angel's clothes in the tiny section. That's only right, isn't it?

I thought these shelves next to the wardrobe were perfect for my little shoe collection.

And that's our home! It's hard to say whether it's "average" or not--it's very "average" for our apartment complex which contains about 30 apartment buildings that look identical from the outside. Like anywhere, homes in this city vary widely--from huge, palatial mansions and extravagantly gorgeous apartments to tiny rooms in high rises where people are crammed into unbelievably small spaces and shacks on the sides of fields constructed out of sheets of metal. We're already falling in love with our new community.