Far from thinking that Beijing is not a desirable place to live I will say that there are prettier cities in the world.. The ‘Haze’ has been pretty intense this last week. It’s frequently foggy here, but I haven’t actually seen fog in about 3 months. James’ parents are in town this week visiting, and I wish for their sakes it was a little nicer.. Not much I can do about it though. If it was up to me every city in the world would have the look of Dubai with the feel of Chicago, the skyline of Hong Kong, the weather of San Diego and the nestled placement of Seattle. That,is where I would love to set up shop for the rest of my life. ..Again though, if it was up to me. Unfortunately it isn’t..
This week is Mid-terms for the Fall semester so we’re at the quarter marker for our academic year. Without driving it into the ground, I will add again that everything is going by so fast. I don’t know how people are feeling back home, but here I feel like everything’s in that awkward fast forward setting on our DVD players. Kind of quick and glitchy enough so that moments become harder to remember. I’m still enjoying it though. I was telling one of my friends here the other day that I think I’ve finally figured out how to handle all of the classes that I teach. Each one requires a different version of ‘teacher’ so I have to slide into those roles every time the melody kicks in and class begins. It’s challenging sometimes, but I’m getting better at it. I think what is helping me the most is just spending more time with the students outside of class. We’ve had 2 game nights now, 1 Halloween party, a few rounds of office hours and a couple random ‘drive-bys’ with kids stopping by the apartment here to chat. It’s been nice.. And lunch! Who knew a meal could be so much more profitable than taking in nutrients..
I’ve seen now that improving my ability to be a good teacher is not nearly as important as simply putting in the effort to be a good friend.. It might sound a little cheesy (okay, okay) but IT’S TRUE. That switch in focus makes all the difference in the world.
Yesterday, after traversing the Silk Market and significantly bargaining down a pair of Dre’s new headphones with an Indian oncologist from Luxembourg (yes, he was that awesome), the Li family invited me over for dinner and a movie. It was such a privilege to be able to join them.. I tutor their son Harry and his friend Andy on Saturday mornings at 10 so we’ve really started to build a sweet bond. It’s been great hanging out with those two kids and getting to know Harry’s parents. His mom, Michelle, is an incredible cook so we enjoyed dinner together, did some talking, and then watched The Next 3 Days. A lot of fun.. I’m really hoping that relationship continues to grow. I love having a family in the city here who live within biking distance that I can visit and feel a part of.. It’s helpful, especially when I start missing my own.
Every once in a while you have those moments in your life where you kind of have to just step back and collect yourself.. realize what it is that’s going on around you, see the things happening in your life, and take a minute to marvel at the hand that guides, even when life loses her flair. This last week has been that for me. Our routine is down, our classes are trucking along, and I have adjusted to Beijing. I spent a good amount of time the last couple days just enjoying smaller stuff. The things around here that embrace consistency.. It was really nice.
I was talking to my international kids a couple days ago in class, sharing with them what it is to have perspective, and right in the middle of my rant I started to realize the real beauty of it. How it’s always changing, working to keep up with our mind’s endless expectations; completely altering how we see our day to day circumstances and the life we live. The way we see ourselves, the way we see the world around us.. It’s all guided by our perspective. And our perspective is something we have control over.. Externals bounce around the outside of my life all day long attempting to change my outlook, but in the end the only way they do is if I let them. I’m usually the first to bow out of a conversation about these kind of things, but there’s truth here. I know who I am, I know who He is, and I know what I’ve been given.
It’s grounding; it’s freeing; and best of all, it’s eye opening. I’m trying to get better at training myself to stop, take a look around, and love the routine of my life.. Seeing everything in light of ‘the big picture’. Because no matter where you are in the world, routine is always there. Where we live, what we do, the things we own.. they aren’t impressive. Learning to love what we have in the regularity of our lives and being able to maintain a perspective that is realistically positive and upbeat about the many parts of our life that don’t have any flash.. That’s impressive. Truthfully, these kids should have taught me the lesson.
National Day in China means that every school in the country gets the week off. Like a Spring break in October.. I love it. (: James, Jarrod and I decided to take advantage of the free days and go to Shanghai for a couple of them.. Decidedly a good decision. We got on the CRH bullet train on Sunday afternoon and headed south. It took us about 5 and a half hours to get to our destination, but we got there.. Safely! A pretty quick ride and a lot of fun. I got to sit and do nothing but listen to my iPod with zero distractions.. perfect.
Our time there was spent well. We rolled in late and stayed the night in one of the local youth hostels.. A pretty nice set up for about 30 USD per night. From the next morning until the moment we left the three of us walked about 200 miles I think.. I was feeling it. I thought I was in healthy shape due to the fact that everywhere we go in this country means walking, but this was enough to make me sore.
The city itself is definitely a lot different than Beijing.. some differences good, some not. One of the things I love about Shanghai is the Western feel. Being there is almost like hanging out with NYC’s older brother. A lot of sweet shopping and things to do that keep the Mei Guo rens entertained. One thing that I got tired of really quick though was just the massive amount of people.. Never seen so many in my life. I felt like an ant with a camera about 90% of the time. Total chaos.. Still, we made it work and packed a lot of great stuff in. I’d love to blog all of it, but for the sake of time I thought I’d run just a few personal memories through the compacter that is my mind..
Meagan Ray, Weeger mafia, green sink, rock paper scissors, billboard guide, detour, donuts, subway (x142), bund, balloon man, baozi, tissues, side streets, world’s strongest coffee, finance, expo remnants, real estate, pizza hut, better view, tropical what?, pool, pirates, pillow talk, xintiandi/france/ohhh, japanese groceries, real ants, fu xing park, wedding, & Micky D’s on the floor.
With the help of a few abstract words (+624 new photos) our time in Shanghai could never possibly be forgotten. (:
2 weeks.. Gone in a flash. Since classes have commenced time has grown its own pair of wings. It’s really unbelievable. If things continue at this pace it’ll be New Years break before we know it.
“Mr. Johnson’s” first self-introductory lesson was last Friday to a group of about 20 or so International students.. One kid from Kazakhstan, one from Indonesia, and the rest, Koreans. Loved every minute of it though. They will probably end up being my favorite class. Not only because they know American culture fairly well, but also because I get to teach them twice a week. My Junior and Senior level kids are only once each week.. There are about 220 of them spread out over 7 classes. They all know my name, annd I know like 10 of theirs. I would say having that many is a blessing, but I feel the weight of it each week. Planning lessons and making an attempt to teach these kids something has made me realize how much I don’t know.. Especially when it comes to the ins and outs of my own language. This just in, my English pronunciation is awful. Really awful. I’m working at cleaning it up, but it’s funny. I’m afraid that when I come back to the States I’ll be the last person on earth anyone will want to talk to.. ‘bee cuz ever e theeng eye say will bee purfeckt lee pro nun see ated’ ..Nothing short of a nightmare for my dear friends and family.
All that to say, I picked tonight to blog because today was one of the best I’ve had here in China. As it happens, blogging during any long-term ‘experience’ has a way of bringing out the brightest and happiest of moments, but today was good. And not just the ‘oh I had fun today’ good.. I mean ‘good for my development as a human being’ good. No question that it was absolutely fun, but it was also so So much more than that.
I woke up at 7 this morning and took the subway up to Mark’s apartment at Renmin University. For me (at this point in my life) that’s a pretty early start to the day, let alone a weekend. I wanted to do it though. My speech is coming up in a couple weeks for our Sunday meeting and I wanted to chat with him about it. Soo glad I did too. For 3 and a half hours we talked about the 10 signs in our book… Gotta say, I’ve heard the story about a billion and one times but we really got to dig into it today. Such a gift to be able to do that with him.. I learned a lot and walked away with a much deeper appreciation for the story and its author.. Success. If the day had ended there it would have been sufficient enough for me to qualify September 24th as my latter definition of ‘good’.. But it didn’t.
I left from his apartment at 12:30 and headed to Costa Coffee in Xidan for a couple hours.. For no other purpose than contemplation and caffeine.. (usually I avoid the stuff [caffeine that is] but today it was necessary). From there I met up with Tim and a few other foreign teachers to spend the afternoon/evening at an orphanage on the outskirts of town. ..That was life’s icing on the cake for me today. We got there around 5:30, took a tour of the place, met a few true heroes in the life to come and started playing basketball. ..Sadly, my ability to put a ball through a hoop is just as non-existent here as it is on the other side of the world.. but I had a good time. There are about 30 kids in the orphanage. All of them with a similar story we were told.. Dad died, mom skipped town, and grandma and grandpa couldn’t handle a kid in the house. For most of them this little place off the beaten (dirt) path on the South side of the city is it.. A haven from any undesirable alternative.
A couple months ago hearing of such a situation would have struck my heart with a deep sense of pity and sadness. Truth: a couple months ago I was ignorant.. The need for such feelings is absolutely unnecessary here. And it isn’t because the state of things is actually fine or because these kids’ stories aren’t really heartbreaking.. it isn’t, and they are.. It’s because none of them feel it for themselves. By far these were the happiest little bunch of kids I’ve ever met. Smiles, laughter, teasing.. all of it. I could have walked into Disney World and felt no more sense of joy. It was truly sweet.. Only way I can think to describe it.
After basketball we shared dinner together, made a valiant effort at communication, said goodbye and then headed for home.. A hit and run with precious kids who I will probably never see again but nonetheless, unforgettable. I’ve got 8 new friends in Southern Beijing: Thomas, Joshua, Mike, Toby, Nick, Aaron, James & John ‘likes chocolate’.
We’re about 3 days out from getting started with our classes.. I couldn’t be more pumped to get rolling! I finished up my Intro lesson for the first week late last night.. I think it’s come together pretty nicely. It really isn’t too hard to introduce myself, share a little bit about my life, and throw up a couple pics of Lebron and I.. All for the qualifying sake of aiding my reputability among the students. We got the email from James today, and I’m all set to teach Oral English and Writing this semester. It’s ganna be great!.. I even got a class teaching international students so I’m pretty excited.
One of the sweet things about our school is the effort they’ve put into showing us how much we mean to them. I don’t think every school in China treats their teachers the way BNDS treats us. It’s been overwhelming. Teacher appreciation day was on Wednesday so our school took us for a night out at the National Grand Theatre of China. The whole experience was really beyond words. We spent the evening listening to a professional orchestra play classical Chinese folk music.. Essentially it was a live version of the Kung Fu Panda soundtrack, with class. (Yes) Beyond just the music though, the architecture of this building was mind-blowing.. Totally celestial in the night sky of Beijing.
Adding to our incredible cultural experience that day (as if we needed anything more), the school bought us each flower arrangements and 3 ginormous boxes of mixed fruit. In all reality I’m not sure what Jeremiah and I are ganna do with these blossoming plants on our dining room table, but they smell good so we let them stick around. And truthfully it’s these little things that BNDS does for us that makes us feel so welcome here.. Even though they know we are working these positions for quite a bit less pay than what we could be making back in the states, I hope what they really come to realize is how much we are each enjoying our time here with them. Getting to meet and spend entire days with guys like Winter, Chase, and Peter is enough compensation for me.. folk music, flowers, and all things money aside.