Fare Thee Well

May 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Although I still have a few more Hong Kong-related blog posts in the works (as well as the final segment of my trip to Singapore), I figure that now, as I am idling in the airport, is the best time to publish my concluding thoughts on my journey.

I really didn’t know what to expect this time around. It was a risk to even come all the way here for an internship — what if I hated it? What if they hated me? What if it was a total waste of my time? What if I died in a horrible subway accident in Hong Kong and my remains got buried and I was never found because nobody knew where I was?? (I’ve pictured that situation a number of times, and really, I could only pray for it not to come true.)

Thankfully, these worst-case scenarios remained mere figments of my overactive imagination, and while looking out at the passing scenery on the way to the airport just now, I felt incredibly rich — rich in spirit, rich in experiences. I’ve learned and undergone so much here that I might never have otherwise, and I’ve been truly blessed by all the friends I made in such a short amount of time.

One thing I’m really glad I did (and would recommend to others) was joining a church right away. This was a commitment I made in light of my experience the last time I was in Hong Kong, during which I attended church maybe five times in six months (yikes). I’ve realized since then that it’s almost impossible to truly feel like a member of the church community from only attending Sunday services. I was lucky that Michael, a friend introduced to me by Esther, invited me to Union Church, where I met his friends and immediately glommed onto a small group by attending their social event and taking a lot of photos that I posted on Facebook — one of the best ways to ingratiate yourself and make sure people friend you!

It sounds pathetic because it kind of was, but honestly, it can be remarkably difficult to find genuine community after transplanting to a different part of the world where you only know five people (who don’t know one another) in the whole city. And although I was nearly a decade younger than most of my new friends, their Christ-like generosity and openness imparted a feeling of comfort and pleasure that I won’t forget.

Of course, not every part of my experience here was so lovey-dovey, including but not limited to my never-ending fight with mold. I’ve also had more time to reflect on contemporary cultural issues, and they’re not especially pretty. For example, all of the Hong Kong locals I met told me that the city has changed — too much, in their opinions. “There are so many mainlanders here now,” they’d say, the word “mainlanders” rolling off their tongues as if it left a bad taste in their mouths, like some in America might say “negroes.”

Have I noticed any differences? Well, it’s true that every time I was in TST (an upscale-ish shopping/tourist area), I always saw tons of other Chinese people (usually couples) dragging rolling suitcases around with them even though it’s nowhere near the airport. I never bothered listening to their conversations to discern where they were from, but it’s safe to say the majority of them aren’t from around here. Apparently, rich mainland tourists arrive in Hong Kong with suitcases full of cash and leave with suitcases full of luxury purchases. In a somewhat related incident a few months ago, a crowd of Hong Kong locals protested outside of a Dolce & Gabbana store whose shopkeepers allegedly discriminated against local shoppers.

The furor over that was understandable: It’s insulting for residents to be barred from taking photographs while watching tourists snap pictures freely. (Also, I find it rather tacky to shop with a suitcase, but perhaps Hong Kong prices truly are that much cheaper than in mainland China. To which I would ask, why? Is it because the Chinese Yuan is strong right now??)

There are other issues as well, most noticeably the ire that Hong Kong locals feel when pregnant women from mainland China give birth in Hong Kong hospitals expressly for the purpose of making sure their child (and by extension, themselves) is guaranteed a (free?) Hong Kong education and residency and such benefits. These mainlanders are overrunning our hospitals! the locals protest. Of course, they have every right to look out for their own welfare and hospital space. But I found the situation sad rather than appalling.

In my mind, I ask, aren’t we supposed to be united as one country? I was in China during the summer of 1997, when the 99-year contract with Great Britain expired. I remember listening to cassette tapes on my Walkman of joyous Chinese tunes specifically written for that event. An air of celebration permeated the country. But Hong Kong is like the kid who got sent to some rich boarding school in the city and is now ashamed to return to his poor and unsophisticated parents in the countryside.

I understand that things in Hong Kong were generally better under British rule; the corrupt Chinese government certainly isn’t doing Hong Kong any favors. But isn’t it sad that soon-to-be-mothers are so desperate to give their impending children a better future that they will literally cross the border while in labor so that the authorities can’t keep them from giving birth on Hong Kong soil? On one hand, you can see them as leeches and freeloaders. On the other hand, they’re victims of a system of disparity. What will it take for China’s education system (or whatever is so lacking) to match that of Hong Kong’s? Aren’t Chinese authorities alarmed by these migrating trends, and what are they doing to fix things?

Anyway, being a “mainlander” myself, I can’t help but take slight offense when people say the word with disdain. Somewhere down the line, most people in Hong Kong came from mainland China anyway. To them, I say, be thankful for what you have and that you don’t have to be the one trying to latch onto a loophole in someone else’s system.

Those are basically the two main things I wanted to get off my chest. My flight takes off in an hour! Then I have a six-hour layover at Incheon Airport, which I am absolutely not looking forward to. Good-bye, Hong Kong — it’s been real. I promise to visit again before I die!

Living Small

January 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

One thing I love about Hong Kong (and Asia in general) is the crazy clothing that people wear. Don anything remotely unconventional in the Midwest, and people will immediately turn their heads to gawk at your outlandishness. Here, wacky fashions are as common as the smog on the horizon, though I doubt I’ll be bringing back any with me. As soon as I rolled off the plane, I spotted this woman, who seemed to be the nanny of another woman and her child (although I could be very, very wrong):

Her shirt says: “my parent still think i am straight”

I feel like the only place someone who understands English would wear that shirt would be San Francisco? (Maaaaybe Japan too.) Then again, who knows?

Another aspect of Hong Kong that bothered me a lot is the prolific amount of PDA, especially in the subway areas — young couples just cling to each other like the world’s about to end! Take, for example, these two:

Maybe they were practicing the tango.

They were originally embracing on the left side of the photo, and then they hug-walked 15 feet to the right. Please…just stop.

Anyway. I had brought my SIM card from two years ago, hoping that it would still work (especially because I had to refill it just three days before departing), but it had expired, so I had to find a pay phone to call my landlord. I took a taxi to the apartment, which was quite a scary experience because I was no longer accustomed to the death ride that is a city taxi.

My landlord also happens to be one of my roommates. I’m living with an Indian couple (probably early 30s), Bobby and Tracy, and their maid, Aman, in an apartment listing that I found on an ex-pat forum. Bobby runs some kind of textiles business; Tracy actually grew up in Hong Kong and can speak some Cantonese. They’re both pleasant so far, but I haven’t interacted with them very much. Aman, probably no older than 20, is a gaunt girl who speaks very little English.

Upon learning that I was to be staying in an Indian household, quite a few of my friends expressed the sentiment that Indian people smell like curry, and their houses even more so. First of all, that’s racist. Second of all, I’ve never experienced a smelly Indian person or house, so I can only conclude that these are mere ignorant stereotypes. Third of all, I like curry, so I guess it wouldn’t be such a bad prospect anyway.

The apartment exceeded my expectations in many ways. The size — oh my goodness, the size. I had only previously been inside two actual Hong Kong apartments, which were both rather tiny, but as I was not living in them, I didn’t really pause much to think about them. Living in the dorm seemed cramped, but the rooms were comparable to American college residencies. Seeing this apartment in its dwarven reality kind of blew my mind. The whole apartment (two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bathroom) is smaller than my parents’ master bedroom (plus bathroom & walk-in closets). Granted, my parents’ room is pretty huge, but fitting your whole life into a space this small is mind-boggling.

The washing machine, nestled in the kitchen, is big enough to hold maybe two pairs of jeans and a sweater. The shower is the nine square feet of tiles at the end of the narrow bathroom. Only the two bedrooms have windows. The (folding) kitchen table is the size of a nightstand. I have no closet. Aman’s bed is in the living room, as is the refrigerator. I would take photos of the place, but she’s kind of there all the time, so that would be awkward. I don’t think photos would do the place justice anyway — as someone who grew up in the suburbs of America, I would really have to see it physically to grasp the startling proportions.

The good thing about the apartment is that they keep it very clean. The bedrooms both have rugs to give a carpeted feel, and all three of my…roommates…are very particular about stowing things neatly and keeping everything tidy. The living room faintly smells of curry in the mornings because they eat dinner late, but other than that, I’m pretty impressed at how immaculate the place is. That’s good, because I’d probably shriek and faint if I so much as saw a hint of a cockroach indoors.

Due to the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday, during which pretty much everyone gets the week off, Bobby and Tracy have gone to India for two weeks, leaving Aman and me to get to know each other (not). I’m still trying to figure out my relationship with her; considering her age, I’d like to be friends, but the language barrier is quite extreme. Having come from midwest America, I’m not really familiar or comfortable with the concept of having a domestic helper, especially a live-in one, which increases my feelings of uncertainty around her. I do wish that I could converse more with Aman and find out her story. My guess is that she was brought here from India to work as a maid so she could make money for her family back home. I can’t see any other reason for someone so young to waste her potential by spending her precious time taking care of a Hong Kong apartment and watching Indian TV.

After five days here, I’m still trying to settle in. Before coming, I imagined that I might be able to do some cooking, which I now have given up as impossible. Cooking takes a lot of supplies — you at least need a pan and some ingredients, of which I have none. I can’t ask if Bobby and Tracy would let me use their pots and fridge space because they’re in India, and even if I could, I don’t know if I would be motivated enough to. On one hand, it’s pretty easy to find a meal in Hong Kong. On the other hand, eating out all the time usually means an acute lack of any nutrients other than fat and carbs, so we’ll see how this goes.

 

Chinagalese

October 24, 2010 § 4 Comments

Did you know that there are tons of Chinese people doing business in Africa? This is a short documentary on their motives, struggles and successes, as well as the larger economic impact. [It also shows the happiest baby I’ve seen in my life.]

When I watch something in Chinese with English subs, I realize just how much the subtitles leave out. [I wonder if I miss 50% of the content of Korean shows because of this language barrier…] And OMG at 21:50 the main interviewee reveals that he’s from SHENYANG, my hometown! MY BROTHA! No wonder I could understand him much better than the other Chinese people HA HA HA

Anyway, some screenshots for you to enjoy if you’re too lazy to watch it:

But as more Chinese make their way into Africa, competition will increase, hmm…

They’re at a karaoke place that caters to Chinese customers [don’t ask about the cleavage-y lady on TV]

I wonder what’s more intimidating, Africa or America?

lol @ his USA shirt

COMMUNISM FOREVER BWAHAHAHA

…kidding.

Teaching: Day Two 7.2.10

July 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Fake it til you make it

That night, I dreamed that a bird somehow got inside my room. Frightened, it kept trying to escape, but the windows were closed, and it would fly into the window, fall down in a daze, and repeat. I finally caught it in my hands and tried to calm it, but I could feel its terrified body shaking in my palms. Resigned, I released it through the opening in the corner of the window, and it flew away as swiftly as it could.

I was awakened at 6AM by voices coming from the classroom outside my room. Panicking, I checked my phone and saw that there was still an hour before I was supposed to wake up. Eventually, the students began singing praise songs [loudly]. I love that they love Jesus, but I wondered if they had anything better to do with their time…like sleep… Amazingly, they appear to wake up for morning prayer every day at that time.

The sunshine uplifted me a bit after the previous night’s indulgent wallowing, and I tried to put negative thoughts out of my mind as I prepared for the day’s lessons. In addition to the prayer/worship time at 6AM, the students also sing a few songs at the beginning of class, sung acapella [because that’s how they do] and led by one of the students.

I’ve decided to start every day with a writing exercise that they all read aloud to the class and turn in to me. I come up with a list of personal-ish questions that use some of the previous day’s vocabulary so that they can get thinking and speaking in English. It’s a bit reminiscent of the DOLs we did at the beginning of English class in elementary/middle school, which were exercises in which we had to identify the grammatical and spelling mistakes in the given sentences: editing, essentially, which I had no idea would end up being my choice of occupation..!!

The game of the day was a simplified version of Taboo, which I also miss playing with my Mizzou buddies. The male team won by one point. I’ve noticed that even in a classroom setting such as this, the girls women behave more shyly than the boys men, with the latter coming up to choose a word willingly while the former hesitate and look around at teammates. They’re not like this in every situation, but I would like to find a way to nurture greater confidence.

On the second day of every month, the factory workers get a day off, so there was no lunch to be had in the cafeteria [a relief?]. Instead, one of the students [Ruth] took me outside of the factory compound [finally], and we ate at one of the many little open-air restaurants lining a nearby block. So far I’ve been eating rather meagerly here, partly because I’m still not comfortable enough to eat openly [and for someone with a history of vaguely disordered eating, the act of it still carries the occasional tinge of shame] and partly because I’ve been so used to the rich and plentiful fare of Hong Kong.

Afternoon lessons ended on a happy note [no pun intended] after we did a musical dictation of Hillsong’s “Came To My Rescue.” I told myself that I would try to combat my loneliness by interacting more with the students outside of class time, which is…the obvious solution. Good job, self! I brought my laptop out and sat at the back of the room.

Most of the students were still hanging out there because really what else is there to do, and some started conversing with me. I mostly talked to the 19-year-old who looks eerily like one of my exes, since he was sitting the closest and took an interest in my Macbook.

This kid, who apparently took the phrase “Living Stone” as his English name [a direct translation of his Chinese name], is quite a character. During one of the class breaks [like passing period, except we all stay in the same room] when I sat at the front of the room writing in my notebook, he played the chorus of Westlife’s “My Love” loudly from his laptop and then yelled across the room for me to translate it. I’m very familiar with the song, having loved it for almost a decade, but how was I supposed to translate a love song?

“Please, teacher,” he called out. “I really don’t understand what it means.”
I could hear in his voice that he was baiting me, but I didn’t acknowledge it. Finally, I responded, “It means I miss you and want to see you, something like that.”
“Oh, well, I feel the same way,” he yelled back.
Insolent little…LOL.

When I was sitting behind him after class, LS asked me if I knew about the yoga epidemic in America. “Uh…it’s a very popular form of exercise,” I replied. “Even I’ve done it before.” Shock briefly registered across his face as well as the faces of nearby students. They tried to tell me some information on its pagan/evil origins, but I couldn’t understand all of it. Besides…really? I knew Chinese people were superstitious, but…it’s yoga! It’s that thing for upper-middle class people with time and space and money! Not some way to achieve nirvana, which was apparently its original purpose…

They also asked me about Halloween, which I thought most Chinese people translated as 鬼节 [“monster/ghost holiday”], but the students referred to as “All Saint’s Day” [I forgot the Chinese phrase]. Actually, LS specifically asked if people in Chicago celebrate it.
“It’s a rather foul day, isn’t it?” he inquired. “I’ve seen it in movies.”
I tried to explain that this holiday is basically a free-for-all for children to dress up like their favorite cartoon characters and gorge on candy.
“But I’ve seen reports on the news,” he persisted. “People dress up as fiendish monsters with blood on their faces.”
When I asked, he couldn’t spell out what exactly he thought these people did on Halloween, but they all seemed to have a rather odious view on the matter — a rather interesting cultural gap.

After dinner, I watched half of Daybreakers with LS and another student on his laptop. There are some rather morbid scenes of dead and/or bloody people, during which I made appropriately disgusted noises. This caused LS to hold up his hand in front of my eyes to shield my vision — funny the first time, not so much the third or fourth. And it reminds me even more of that ex. It was a surprising gesture from someone who insists on calling me “teacher” instead of my real name because he says our age gap [of 2 years] would cause it to be disrespectful T____T a joke, probably, but he persists.

I’d like to elaborate on this tangent and note that I really despise it when guys [of any friends/boyfriends/whatever] feel like they have to protect me. I mean, unless there’s an imminent ninja attack and he’s some kind of martial arts master, I can probably handle myself. More importantly, he doesn’t know where I’ve been or what I’ve seen — it might be nowhere and nothing, but he DOESN’T KNOW. For him to assume weakness is inexcusable. And if he DOES know me well enough, there should be no question of my capabilities.

Anyway, this post has gone on too long … time to end it!

Heart Of Darkness 7.1.10 [Night]

July 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

Running home now kthxbai

Now onto the deep stuff.

Compared to the complete freedom I enjoyed in Hong Kong, this is like being in high school again: Everybody is focused on studying and I have no autonomy. I saw very few taxis around the city and there’s no way to know how the bus system works. Even if I wanted to go somewhere, the teacher’s bedroom is located INSIDE the classroom, in which there are students 12 hours a day. Getting out isn’t as much of a problem as the fact that there is literally nowhere to go. This is more in the middle of nowhere than Columbia, Missouri.

I’m also suffering withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from my exchange student friends I spent my precious last weeks with, withdrawal from the city I’ve grown to love, withdrawal from a high-speed internet connection that is the tool for my addiction, withdrawal from the freedom of having no responsibilities and being able to stay up as late as I possibly can, and most importantly, withdrawal from being able to be myself.

I urged my students to refer to me as Laura and nothing else, but some of them still call me 老师 [teacher]. This is discomfiting for me as only three of them are younger than me, and even so, only by two years. That’s only the surface of a gap I haven’t quite figured out how to bridge yet. Because I’m not comfortable [or awake] enough to go mingle outside of my bedroom yet, I receive a knock on my door by my escort to meals, or for a delivery of fruit or tissues or breakfast or what have you. Their attention is touching, for sure, but I could literally be in a prison. An air-conditioned prison with smiling guards and a big bed…but a prison nevertheless.

My meals are all paid for. Even my after-dinner bottle of juice at the tiny convenient store was paid for by Mark. The 2600RMB from my aunts is burning a hole in its secret compartment, and I’ll be lucky if I get to spend even a quarter of it this whole month.

The niceties can be stifling. I asked Mark how to operate the speakers so I can get my private late-night fix of loud music bwahaha and he showed me willingly, but added, “You don’t wave to worry about it, teacher, we can set it up for you.” THANK YOU BUT I REFUSE TO BE A DEPENDENT SIMPERING WEAKLING OKAY DON’T ASSUME THINGS ABOUT ME.

After class, one of my students came up and asked me something about people in Chicago. I couldn’t understand the phrase he used, but after some difficulty, I deduced that basically he was asking if people in Chicago dress like the do “in the movies” … that is, skankily? I almost died. I suppose it would be advantageous for me to hide my penchant for deep-cut tank tops despite the 100-degree weather, but that means half of my clothes are out of service. And if that’s considered a curiosity, I suppose I had better not reveal all the other kinds of sins I’ve gotten into.

Augh! I can’t seem to word my thoughts precisely, but the final kicker is this: The family that was supposed to come and co-teach with me, whose mother had fallen sick a few days ago, just sent word to Hannah that she passed away from her illness. Not only is this a dreadful shock to their family, it also means that I, an UNTRAINED English speaker-turned-teacher, may very well have to teach alone for the next three weeks.

It’s the kind of task that I can do if I grit my teeth and fake it, but I will not enjoy it.

Ever since she got it into her head that I wouldn’t be able to find employment after graduation, mother has been pressuring me to pick another occupation. Like teacher. Or teacher. Or maybe teacher. But I shrugged off the suggestions because I knew I wouldn’t like it. I also know that I have the potential to be a good teacher — I’m patient, caring, loud, etc — but if something doesn’t come naturally and pays insufficiently, there’s no incentive. Also, when I think about most pop culture young female teachers I’ve seen [the one in Matilda comes to mind], I would hate to be put into that smiley, pristine little box. I may feel pedestal-ized here in China, but in America the position of teacher does not nearly receive enough social esteem as it deserves.

I almost cried a couple of times last night while thinking about my situation, but each time the tears could not quite escape. I’ve never quite been able to cry out of sheer self-pity; my destiny is in my own hands. A strong statement, but my last thought before drifting off to sleep was, Park Yong Ha, was it so bad that you really lost all your will to live?

Teaching: Day One 7.1.10 [Day]

July 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

These posts might be a bit delayed because the bad internet connection doesn’t let me format them properly, but they’re written according to the dates in the titles…so use those as reference. AND I WANT TO INCLUDE PHOTOS IN THESE POSTS BUT FOR SOME REASON THE FREAKING UPLOADER WON’T WORK CORRECTLY FML. So you’ll have to do without for now.

//

I woke up at 6AM to start repacking my belongings. We left [with all my luggage] an hour later in the church van and headed toward the factory, half an hour away. Despite having only gotten a little more than four hours of sleep, I sat wide awake in the passenger seat to observe the city of Yiwu as we drove down the spacious and well-paved roads.

This place isn’t exactly poor, as I could tell from the better-than-crappy apartment buildings, but like mother told me, it looks like the 农村 [I suppose “countryside” would be the closest translation, but in actuality it’s less romantic and closer to “undeveloped area”]. People walk across five lanes of nonexistent traffic as comfortably as you might stroll down your driveway.

Once we got nearer to the factory, though, the buildings became shabbier. Rusty tractors occasionally came down the road, the traffic lights didn’t even bother turning on and people moved around as if they just…didn’t care.

We are inexplicably* stationed inside this factory compound, where most of the residents are workers, and we use a classroom and some dorm rooms. I’ve gathered that the students usually come live here for five days while taking classes, then go back to the church building on the weekends. This means that I will have to pack and haul ALL of my crap across town twice a week.

I stood before my class of 16 and introduced myself, mostly in English at the behest of Hannah, and took them through the lesson book. We played a couple rounds of Telephone [to practice their listening and speaking but mostly because I miss playing that game], answered some personal questions, and thus three hours passed more or less smoothly. Praise God…but boy was my voice tired from talking so much.

For lunch, the students bring their own tableware and swipe for servings of the same mass-made food as the factory workers, which they then eat in a large dining area that is basically four slabs of concrete. Teachers and managers, however, get the privilege of eating out of actual dishes in a partitioned room off to the side, so my little vision of happily bonding with my students over lunch in a modern cafeteria is totally moot.

I’d like to add here that after a semester of dining out every day and eating mainly meat, having mostly vegetables at every meal is rather refreshing. On the other hand, I never get to choose. Nor do I get dessert. This situation might turn dire.

Lunch break is from 11:30-2PM, during which I took a much-needed nap. The subsequent two hours were spent having more lessons and musical dictations, during which I played Hillsong’s “All For Love” from my laptop and had them fill in some of the lyrics, which they all seemed to enjoy, this being a Christian program and all. Mark, the class captain [president? leader?], then helped me set up the Ethernet connection, which is adequate but just as undependable as the wifi at the church. Like yesterday, I spent most of the day in my room, glued to my laptop.

*I’m told we spend our weekdays here because it’s safer; over by the church, police tend to poke around, and we don’t want them getting in our business.

This New Chapter

June 30, 2010 § 7 Comments

When I got a forward from my youth pastor about a summer volunteer/missionary program in China a few months ago, I skimmed over it without much thought. After being laid off and suffering the stress of eventually being kicked out of the student dorms, I started to consider the position more seriously, and decided to take it up as something useful to do with my life, a stark contrast to the sheer idleness of June.

I was accepted without much ado, and as my date of departure crawled closer, I tried not to think about how I was going to a strange place by myself where the strangers I was meeting might or might not kidnap me for ransom [stories fed to me by my cousin…]. The night before leaving, I slept for two hours because I was so busy packing and doing laundry and stressing about how I would stuff a whole semester’s worth of living into my suitcase.

The trip to Shenzhen airport went smoothly, as I had already taken that bus before. In line for customs, I stood in front of three middle-aged Chinese people who were speaking an unfamiliar dialect. The man kept inching in front of me as they were conversing, and even motioned for the two women to join him once he placed himself entirely in front of me. They didn’t move, and eventually he retreated behind me, letting me back in front of him with a gesture that made it seem like he was going me a favor. He didn’t even notice his rude behavior?

On the flight, I had the misfortune of sitting next to an asshole: He had the aisle seat, and his beady eyes looked up at me coldly when I motioned to the window seat and said, “Excuse me” in English. Shoot, I thought, and switched to Chinese, which doesn’t come naturally on two hours of sleep. “I’m sitting on the inside,” I mustered eventually. “So what?” he replied obnoxiously. My brain didn’t register his hostility in time to formulate anything other than a muttered “Well, could you stand up…” Thankfully, he roused his fat self from the seat wordlessly. The guy who sat between us didn’t even bother with an exchange and simply climbed over him, which I was definitely not willing to do. The mean one also stood up immediately when the plane landed and wouldn’t sit even when the flight attendants told him to. Seriously…what’s the rush?

The Yiwu airport is tiny; I saw no other planes when we landed, and there are a total of two baggage claim belts. Makes me miss O’hare. According to Wikipedia [which is blocked in China], Yiwu is “famous for its small commodity trade and vibrant free markets and is a regional tourist destination.” I’m not sure who edited the Wiki page because it also says “Yiwu’s early culture has given birth to many great figures in the fields of literature, art military, education, and engineering. Among these were … Wang Lee Hom, a very famous singer.” Not sure what that’s supposed to mean, since he’s Taiwanese-American… Another tidbit: “Yiwu is also known as the “sock town” as it produces over three billion pairs of socks for Wal-Mart, Pringles and Disney annually.” [That’s good news; I need some new socks.]

Mark, a polite young man with a goatie, picked me up from the airport with the church van and brought me back to the church building 15 minutes away. We climbed five [exhausting] flights of stairs up to my room, which was spacious and furnished with two queen-size beds and a private bathroom.

The bathroom is disguised as a closet

I'm glad I brought my Rilakkuma bear (on the bed)

Nothing much to see outside

He also took me across the hall to meet Hannah, the coordinator [and apparently the only English speaker on the premises]. She tried to acquaint me with the situation — the students are mostly 20 to 30-year-olds studying mythology or theology at the local seminary. Hannah introduced me to a few of them at dinner, which takes place 3-4 hours earlier than I’ve become accustomed to eating in HK. They all refer to me as 老师 [teacher], which is off-putting because I’m younger than most of them.

From what I understand, the students take classes five days a week at another location; like, we actually have to move there for those five days, then come back on the weekends [wtf]. There was supposed to be a family coming to teach them English as well, but the mother fell ill in another city, so I will have to be teaching for an indeterminate number of days on my own for 5-6 hours a day. Lord help me…

In my recent memory, I’ve never taught English before, unless having a conversation partner counts; frankly, that kind of situation is more of what I was imagining this position to be, not having to stand at the front of a classroom for hours a day. I’m really not more qualified than these students in any way except for the fact that I’ve grown up speaking English, a skill I didn’t ask for that they all crave. I have the burden freedom of creating my own curriculum, and from the looks of their textbook, most of the students are still at level one. I’m straining to remember how I first learned French all those years ago…

The optimistic side of me wants to do my best to serve these people who are feeding and housing me. Three weeks can pass by very quickly if the past month is any hint. But I’m scared! And nervous! And I hate talking! Especially in front of groups! And I hate being the center of attention! And Youtube videos load really really really slowly on this wifi connection! Please pray for me and my spiritual well-being as I google ways to teach effectively :X

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