Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ninth Day of Christmas

On the ninth day of Christmas I'm truly grateful for:

Nine months in China and nine Chinese friends.

I've lived in China twice, for about four and a half months each.  Those nine months were some of the best months of my life.  I feel like I learned more about life and myself in those nine months than I have in any given year of college.  I've learned about love and patience and doing hard things and believing that I can do hard things and endurance and how communication doesn't have to be through words but can also be through service and happiness.  Some of my favorite people couldn't speak a lick of English, yet they showed me they loved me through their temperament and their actions.  I learned that my way isn't necessarily the best way and that different isn't necessarily wrong.  Here's an entry from an old myspace blog that I wrote the night before I left China the first time:

Things I Don't Want to Forget About China

~Half of the sky at night is orange because of the lights in town.
~Every bike that passes has some sort of squeak or creak to it.
~When something is "clean", it's not really clean. It's less dirty.
~Showering is a chore. Though it feels good once you're in, it's hard to make yourself take one.
~All hard candy has a soft layer around it that you absolutely must bite through.
~Bikes can balance ANYTHING on the back of them. Even towers of Styrofoam.
~There's no such thing as a matching outfit.
~Tables don't have to be clean to eat off of them.
~Directions are only reliable 30% of the time.
~Schedules are more like guidelines.
~Answering machines are non-existent.
~No matter how scared you are on the road, you'll live through it. You're invincible.
~Time quickly flows at a slow pace.
~Strangers become friends in a smile.
~It's an oddity not to smoke.
~There's more parking for bikes and vespas than cars.
~Don't ever order water unless it's in a bottle. Otherwise it will be boiling hot.
~The honking of a horn doesn't necessarily mean "Watch Out!"
~Lines are for children and soldiers, no one else.
~The world is our toilet.
~You don't sit on the ground, that's dirty. You squat over it.
~Chewing with your mouth closed is a hassle and makes the food taste horrible.
~Refusing to buy a product at the given price will "braykuh" your salesperson's heart.
~White people are all millionaires.
~Telling someone you don't understand means that you will soon get the Chinese characters written in the air for you, thus enabling you to feel even more handicapped.
~Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming and Michael Jordan are more famous than George Bush and Chairman Mao.
~ McDonalds oddly enough tastes like Heaven.
~Pizza Hut is a sit down restaurant.
~Meat is REALLY fresh. Like, "Five minutes ago this was alive" fresh.
~People don't say "Thank you" or "I love you" to people they truly care about.
~You don't tip.
~Just like coughing or sneezing, when you laugh you must cover your mouth, especially girls.
~Nobody here is gay, but that doesn't stop anyone from large amounts of physical contact with people of the same sex.
~Sex is art, very graphic art that can be bought in the form of statue or tapestry.
~Taking things without asking is not impolite.
~Grocery stores with more than one floor have escalators that are not stairs, just moving walkways that slope upward. They are also magnetic so that your cart doesn't roll back and crush you.
~Children's shows are so violent that they would be rated "R" in America. And they don't have to end happily. (Ex: A woman bear gets beaten bloody and then burned to death while her husband tries to save her.)
~The best way to dry your clothes is to wear them.
~Most new foods taste horrible on the first bite, ok on the second and addicting on the third.

In Wuxi, I met up with Captain Planet and we had four months of bliss exploring and getting to know China.  We decided that we would have a competition to become as Chinese as possible.  We could get each other to do anything if we told them "You'd be so Chinese if you did that" or "That's so Chinese of you!"  We ate a bunch of crazy things (like dog and turtle for example) and did gross but not really that gross if you're in China things (like spitting and squatting).  We were celebrities wherever we went.  People would line up to take pictures of us and pull our hair, "Why your hair yellow?" "Why your hair (then they'd  make an "S" shape with their finger because they couldn't say curly).  We traveled around the country together and explored our hometown of Wuxi together.  We left our heart in Crazy Town with the people there, especially the people at the noodle shack. That little street in the fishing village will forever be my Chinese home.
In Xiaolan, I met "my girls" that were mine as a Head Teacher.  We had a great time traveling around the southern part of China.  We were a unique group because there were only a couple of us so we were each others' lifelines and family out there.  I went through some crazy and stressful times there were I survived situations and pressures that I hadn't been prepared for and didn't think I was strong enough to endure.  I was able to share a week with my parents showing them my beloved adopted country and the people in it.  I got to meet up with friends from America while I was there my second time as well.  I was able to visit the homes of my students and meet with their parents and see the sacrifices that their parents had made to enable their kids to have an education that involved English.  I also got into Tai Ji and Kong Fu.  I rode motorcycle taxis like nobody's business and became addicted to the thrill of the air in your hair and the rumbling ground beneath your feet.  I rode a hot-air balloon at sunrise in one of the most magical places in the world, Guilin. My China experience would have been incomplete if I hadn't gone back that second time.
The nine months together were indescribable and vital for me in my personal growth and for amazing experiences.

Bridge in an old town
Buddha with Chris
Captain Planet
Pulling a cart
Part of Crazy Town
Lady sitting on me on a train
Hong Kong Disney
Guilin (Yangshuo)
Handmade Fan Costume
Handmade Harry Plopper Costume
I was part of our Haunted House.  The kids were TERRIFIED.
Hot Air Ballooning.
Before take-off
My Head Teacher blurb written by Sharon
Joshua, Kevin, Tim
I'm in that Balloon.
Moto-Taxi Love
Joshua, Josh and Brett
Puppy and Rebecca
Principal in the black and other teachers
Right before one of our many performances
Extreme Rapids
Jeff and Jeremy
Rice at the grocery store
Snake. MMmm.
Haha.  Candy.
Smoothie ladies sweet little kids.
Being Chinese.
Bored Americans on the train.  Making friends.
Turtle and snake soup.
Dancing with an old man on the street in Beijing.
Hangzhou with Elizabeth, Kiera, Marshall and a random man.
Friends at the Forbidden City.
Being Natives.
Xiaolan girls.

I met many people that touched my heart while I was in China. Nine people stick out as people that I miss still to this day and that I consider some of my best friends and in one case, my family.
To start out, here's a video of the Noodle Shack in Crazy Town (which is really a fishing village that we lived off of at our school.  The village is on the outskirts of a small city (ONLY 5 million people live there) called Wuxi.  In the video are Toby and Lloyd (we named them). 

Re-furbished Noodle Shack

We ate there whenever we could and definitely spent the most time there of any other place in China besides where we lived.  For some reason I can't find any pictures online of Toby so this is the only shot of him we have (my pictures from Wuxi are all lost on a hard drive somewhere, I cry if I think too long about it).  Lloyd is in there as well. 

... noodles
The one and only time he actually sat and ate with us was when we visited Wuxi a year later.

One night we asked him to give us Chinese names since we gave them American names (this was all through translators and our limited Chinese since he they didn't speak ANY English.  Still, we all loved each other. 

Me, Lloyd and Elizabeth a year after we left Wuxi

We could sit there and spend hours with them, neither side being able to say anything to the other, but communicating nonetheless.  We would smile at each other or give each other gifts or show each other things from our own cultures.  We didn't need words.  We were a family.  Anyways, as I was saying, Lloyd and Toby gave us names and mine included Lloyd's family name. He had someone translate for us that I was his niece now and he was my uncle. We were a family. 

Brooke and Uncle Lloyd

It's one of the sweetest, most humbling moments of my life.  I love that man and his assistant, Toby.
Zack was one of my students in Wuxi

Sign for Smile

Teachers are liars when they say that they don't have favorite students.  Now, I don't want you to think that I didn't love all of my students.  I did.  I loved them all A TON.  But, I loved Zack the most.  


Zack caught my heart early on with his mischievous smiles and faces he'd pull.  He was sweet, but hilarious.  He'd listen when I asked him to, but sometimes he needed reminding because he was so busy drawing robots that were destroying cities, or he was busy taunting the person next to him or he was busy cracking other kids up around him.  Whenever I'd go tuck the kids in at night in their dorm rooms, Zack would be one of the first to tackle me and make me sit on his bed while he fought off the other kids that were trying to get my attention.  I'd wait outside of his classroom late at night until 9 or 10 just to have him run out into my arms yelling, "Teacha!" 


 He was the sweetest, funniest kid and I miss him still.
Steve was a guy that one of my Head Teachers knew from her first time in China.  


We met up with him in Beijing and he showed us around some of the malls.  Then he took us to KTV where we got our own room to do karaoke in.  

Streets of Beijing
Helping me with some roller-skates that attach to shoes

He spoke wonderful English with a fabulous accent (the best I've ever heard on a Chinese person) and he had a real grasp on some of our phrases and idioms that are hard for lots of second-language-ers to get. When I asked him where he learned such amazing English he told me that he hadn't gone to a special school or anything but that he watched and studied American films and TV shows.  After we met in Beijing, he came down a month or so later to Wuxi to see us.  While there, he asked me about our church and wanted to know about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  At first he was offended when I told him I wasn't allowed to tell him anything, but I think he finally got that I wanted to, but couldn't.  I just hope that if he ever does get a chance to hear about our church in a legal way, that he will.
Lucas was the boy that I named after my friend back home.

Lucas in my glasses
 He was a student of mine in Xiaolan which was where I head taught. Lucas transferred to our school the second week we were there.  I was convinced that he had an English speaker in his home because he caught on to everything so quickly and he would use vocabulary that we didn't push real hard in our lessons.  When I met his parents and realized they didn't speak any English, we figured out how incredibly smart this little kid was.  He could pick up things that we as teachers would say to each other and figure out their meaning and use them in perfect grammar and sentences weeks later.  He was a little too smart for his own good and would get bored in class and would act up just so that the teacher would have to call me into her classroom to take him out.  I was in charge of getting kids to behave.  Lucas learned that quickly and also knew that he was my favorite so he would act up just so that we could hang out and play for a couple minutes.  I would try to be mad at him and discipline him, but he was just too hilarious and adorable to be mad at for long. 
Taking pictures during time-out

For instance, if they were being too loud and not listening to their teacher, I'd take them outside and make them watch my watch for sixty seconds being completely silent. Lucas would count as the seconds ticked by.  He'd count to sixty and I'd try to stop him and he'd keep going till he reached one hundred. Keep in mind this boy was three years old.  

Being angry that Johnson tried to sit on my lap, too

Lucas had a rat tail that I would twirl between my fingers as he sat on my lap (which was usually our compromise if he'd be good for his teacher).  Ugh.  I love that boy.
Minnie and Hebe were the local kids in Xiaolan that didn't go to our school, but who were our friends.  

Minnie, Hebe and some other local kids

They saw us coming home one day and stopped us to try out their English on us.  They had both picked out their names themselves.  (Hebe had no idea that her name wasn't English, she thought it sounded English, so she chose it).  There would be nights when I'd be sitting up in my apartment which was several stories off the ground and I'd hear "Bu-roo-kuh! Bu-roo-kuh!"  I'd go to my window and there would be Minnie and Hebe. 

Minnie and Hebe

As soon as they saw me there they'd do something funny or special that they had planned for me like set off fireworks or do a dance.  

Walking to the mall with Minnie

I'd go downstairs and we'd talk and they'd make me laugh with the words they wanted to learn.  One time I called them crazy and wanted to know how to tell them that in Chinese.  So we did what we usually did where we tried to communicate the words we wanted to learn.  I told them that it was "crazy" in English.  They told me what it was in Chinese "shen jing bing".  Later I used the word with another friend I met and found out that while "crazy" can be used in extreme ways but also in a playful way, "shen jing bing" is offensive and means that the person should be locked up forever.  I felt pretty stupid.  Haha.  Sometimes we'd play basketball or ping pong with the local kids and Minnie and Hebe.  

Ice cream with Hebe

The day that I left Xiaolan, they followed me and Hebe gave me her key chain that she used that had a bear flashlight on it.  It was the sweetest thing.
Sharon was our English coordinator.   


She had pretty awful English and most of the time I did the translating myself.  She didn't ever get anything done that we needed and we were roped into things that weren't in our contract on a daily basis.  BUT, she was a great, sweet person who tried hard.  She had some of the hairiest legs I've ever seen (not a big deal in China) and she wore shorts every day.  She was one of those people whose accent had hard "r"s on the end of every English word she said. "Er, der yer warnt ter ger ter ther sterr?" ("Do you want to go to the store?")  She would be there as a translator for Miranda and me during our lessons with Gong Laoshi and for that I'm very grateful.  


One of my favorite memories of Sharon was during this sports competition she signed me up for.  During a break she told me she'd been watching the OC or some show like that and was wondering what the difference was between "a beetch and a beetch" (one of those was supposed to be "beach", the other was a female dog...)  It was hilarious.  
Gong Laoshi was our Tai Ji/Kong Fu master.  He was the love of my life pretty much. 

Love of my life

He had gross teeth and always had a wad of chew on his gums.  

Love of my life

He smoked before and after each lesson. He couldn't speak English at all (he finally learned the words "circle", "slow", "Miranda" and "Brooke" for teaching purposes which was adorable.  

Love of my life

He was calm and confident and shy and patient.  He always smelled like barbecue sauce. He had swoopy hair and long fingernails and a little Vespa that he'd take me home from our lessons on (Miranda usually rode with one of his friends).  I looked forward to all of our lessons with him because he was just the biggest sweetheart man.  I gained a real love for the art of Tai Ji because of him 

Love. Of. My. Life.

and Sharon being willing to teach us those many long nights and hot days.  Gong Laoshi means "Teacher Gong" or "Mr. Gong".  His real name is Gong Xiaolong which means Little Dragon Gong or Snake Gong.(He was born in the year of the snake (Gong is his family name or last name in American terms).)  Not only is he the coolest person I know, he also has the coolest name ever.  If I ever adopt a Chinese baby, which is a goal of mine, I want to name the baby Xiaolong.

So, on this Ninth day of Christmas, I'm truly grateful for:
Nine Months in China and Nine Chinese Friends,

Eight Aunts, Eight Uncles, their Kids and their Kids' Kids,

Seven Pets, Past and Present,

Six Grandparents,

Five Nieces and Nephews,

Four Middle School Friends, Four High School Friends and Four China Friends,

Three Brothers, Three Sisters and Three Siblings-in-Law,

Two Loving Parents

One Promised King. Savior of the World.

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