Monday, May 25, 2015

About as separated from my life in Provo that I can get

          Imagine yourself in communist China casually walking down the street on your way to get some good old as-close-to-American-pizza-you-can-get-without-actually-being-in-America pizza.  That's the way my life was headed last Friday night as I was walking with my 7 companions.  Sometimes I think it's easier for me to accommodate to the idea of being in China and surrounded by Asians than it is for other Chinese to bee in China surrounded by Asians and see a group of 8 white girls.  Based on the stares we get (sometimes double, triple, or even quadruple takes.  I didn't even realize a quadruple take was a thing until I came here.  It is.)
          Anyway, so we're walking down the street because some of the girls are just dying for a familiar slice of pizza.  Last week our professor introduced us to a little pizza place called the Giraffe Bakery (why it's called a bakery when it sells pizza is a mystery that will have to be solved later) where we briefly met the owner. He was a friendly man who actually lived in CA for about 10 years and has impressive English skills.  (Obviously they don't compare to my Chinese skills....because they are in a completely different league.)
          When we finally make it to the restaurant the doors are closed-never a good sign.  And then we see a literal sign on the door saying CLOSED which is equally disappointing.  So, we did the only thing we could do in that situation. We pressed our noses up against the glass door trying to see if anyone was inside as if that would change the fact that they were closed.  Like a magic password, that was actually the perfect thing to do because the owner came and opened up the doors.  He talked to us for a minute and then invited us in with the promise of a free drink. (Maybe at this point it sounds sketchy in here, but it wasn't. First of all, there were 8 of us. Second of all, it was him and his staff. It looked like they had just recently finished working. Third of all, it was only like 6 p.m.)
          I think he must miss America because he was really nice to us. Even though they were closed he and one of his waiters brought us some milk drink. Drinking randomly free cold milk drinks after walking through the humid streets of China is pretty much heaven.  After talking to the owner for a few minutes he told us that the restaurant wasn't simply closed for the night but it was shut down and having to relocate.  Turns out we either have really bad timing (it closed about an hour before we came-if even that) or really great timing because we had the whole place to ourselves.
    I'm going to go with really good timing because he told us that instead of throwing ingredients out they would give us free food.  What followed next was a veritable feast from heaven for poor college students who wandered off the streets of China.  He gave us drinks, a salad, three differently flavored pizzas (all of which the girls had been hoping to order before we came), marble cake, and then watermelon juice. It would have cost each of us at least 15 or 20 dollars for all of the food that we ate and he gave it to us for free.  Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
    With the free food also came free conversation.  During the meal the 8 of us were just sharing stories and chatting.  Despite the fact that we're all sharing a random life-changing adventure in China together, most of us didn't really know one another before coming to China.  After the meal the owner joined us for a bit and talked to us about his life, family, and his job.  For those of you not familiar with Chinese government, the spreading of religions is not exactly encouraged.  And for those of us here courtesy of BYU we are expressly forbidden from sharing the gospel in China. Apparently someone once passed out a Book of Mormon when they were on a BYU trip here and the trips were suspended for 13 years. Regardless of if this story is accurate or not, we all do our best to share our beliefs through our actions rather than our words. Some times my life seems pretty ridiculous and feels like it should be a sitcom, but this man's life literally needed to be turned into a movie or something. He's so cool.
       In the albeit short time that I've been in China, I've never had a harder time resisting the urge to share the gospel with someone.  This man told us all about his life. Including how he was running this "bakery" as a cover (yes, he used the word cover) to share the gospel because, according to him "everyone deserves a chance to have God in their lives."  The longer we sat there the more we realized exactly how he was accomplishing this.  Interspersed with the calming music that is usually playing in restaurants you could occasionally catch a religious song, behind the menus for ordering were pass along cards, and, as it turns out, Giraffe Bakery is code for G.B. which is short for God's Bible.  This man had literally decided to devote his life to sharing his gospel and when he sat down and asked all of us to share our own beliefs with him there was a physical tension in the room as we all weighed the desires of sharing during that perfect missionary moment against the knowledge of being expressly asked not to.  In a group where over half the girls are returned missionaries you could tell everyone was struggling.
         After a pregnant pause, I finally said something along the lines of "we are here representing our school BYU and they have an agreement with the government here that we won't try and share our beliefs with any Chinese nationals."  It's hard to say who was more disappointed at that point-us or him.  However, that didn't stop him from asking us to pray.  Again, we all exchanged unsure glances across the table and then someone asked him if he would pray instead.  He even attempted it in English and did a pretty bang up job if I do say so myself.   That was not quite enough to distract him however and he asked us to pray again. Eventually we decided that as long as we avoid things like the first discussion in our prayers and talk about what we are grateful for then it should be alright.  The interesting part was when he asked all of us to pray. So down the table we went. The 8 of us saying 'amen' and moving onto the next prayer with time for only a quick glance at one another in between one prayer and another.
         After spending way more time than we originally anticipated but spending way less money, we decided it was time to continue with the rest of our night.  We began to prepare to go and our new friend, Tatao, jokingly mentioned how he would like it if we came to his new restaurant to help out.  During our earlier discussion he had asked for opinions on his pizza (which was delicious for the record) and ideas for new recipes he could try. He kind of insinuated that we could come in and teach him (maybe all that time working in Freschetta will pay off?)  I don't know what the rest of the girls thought but besides the fact that we owed this man big (figuratively and literally) I thought it would be a fantastic experience.
        So if you come to China in the next few months and go to the Giraffe Bakery (newly relocated) you may just see a random white girl in the kitchen introducing fruit pizza to the Chinese people. (Although I suppose if you are reading my blog I wouldn't actually be some random white girl.)
     Seriously though, doesn't that sound like quite the opportunity? I think my friend Hattie and I are going to look up some good recipes, send them to him, he's agreed to gather the ingredients, and then we can proceed to kill two birds with one stone.  Our opportunities for baking have been severely limited since arriving and now he's offering the use of free ingredients and a nice kitchen in exchange for teaching him new recipes.  I never really considered myself domestic before (at least not compared to Chad-stinking Chad always one upping me with cooking) but I'm willing to give it a shot for this experience.
    Walking out of that store, we had one last surprise from Tatao. He ran after us as we walked down the street and returned the money we had tried to hide under our plates.  Turns out he refused to accept payment.  That pretty much sealed the deal.  I left him my email and promised myself that I would be back to help out (at least once) with his new restaurant.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

There and Back and There and Back and There and Not Yet Back

If you asked me 5 years ago what I would be doing with my life in 5 years I would not have said 'Wild China-ing it up'. I probably would not have even said 'student teaching in China.'   Yet here I am. If there are any important life lessons that I have learned since coming to China it would be these:
1.  You will get rained on in China. However, the only days you really need to worry about bringing an umbrella are the days you wear a white shirt.
2.  Trying to surf the bus is much harder than trying to surf the subway. (For anyone who is confused by that I simply mean riding without holding onto anything.) My recommendation would be to avoid attempting this feat when it is late and you are tired or when you are carrying groceries home.
3. Looks can be deceiving. What may look like an innocent, tempting, and delicious bottle of milk may, in fact, not be.
4. No matter how many times you remind yourself to grab toilet paper before walking into the bathroom stall there will still be times when you forget it and regret it.
5. Remember that the light switches are outside of all the rooms they are actually for.
6. Drying your clothes the natural way is a great way to stiffen them up a bit!  That or grab some starch for your clothes in until they can stand on their own-the effect is similar.

As you can see from these little nuggets of China gold I've learned, these last 3 weeks have not been wasted on me.

Anyway, I've officially been in China for 3 weeks now (I'm sorry I haven't blogged before.  Internet is anti-Laura at the best of times, and China, sadly, is not the best of times) and I can confidently say that the clumsiest or unluckiest thing I've done is ALMOST wipe out in front of a class of 2nd graders.  China is so fantastic.  There are some obvious accommodations I had to make when I moved here. I made a list of similarities.
China and Arkansas: A completely comprehensive list of similarities and differences based on one person's experience of 21 days in a new country
  • Similarities: 
    • mosquitoes up the wazoo
    • fantastic thunderstorms
    • humidity
    • it's a great place to avoid people and read books in bed (or anywhere really)
    • friendly people
    • GREEN
  • Differences:
    • China is...
      • huge and full of people
      • also full of squat toilets
      • skyscrapers are a thing here
      • lots of Asians are also here
      • I feel illiterate here
      • kids have adorable school uniforms
      • there's actually free public transportation (within my community)
      • rice (on the daily)
      • things are cheap
      • I can travel 2 hours by ferry and be in a different country
    • Arkansas...
      • smaller
      • full of English speaking people
      • not a terrifying place to drive a car (which I actually have in America)
      • grocery shopping is easy because I can read what I'm buying
      • I can drink any and all the water I want
      • I can read 
I've also started collecting a list of bad or funny English in China. It's one of my favorite past times.
*My very first day here I saw a sign that said "Milks and beans are daily routines." Loved it.
*Or the welcome sign in Hong Kong that says "Wellcome." Seems more like "Well, come on in!"
*The shop that is simply called "The Delicious Food Shop." (They seem smarter than the owners of the Awful Waffle. Just saying.)
*This bread package "Enjoy. Don't forget the things you once you owned. Treasure the things you can't get." (And while you're at it also covet everyone else's things.)
*Finally, the t-shirt that said "Just smile! Lovely Dog"

If you know me then you know I love foggy days so this weather was perfect for me! (If you don't know me then why are you reading this blog?) This is when we visited the BIG Buddha in Hong Kong.  The stairs were nice and long so it almost felt like being back at BYU again and climbing the stairs by the RB.  Ah the memories. 

Here is a beautiful garden that we went to called Nanjing gardens. It was attached to a nunnery and pretty much the best thing ever.  Although I may have been slightly biased by the fact that we got to go outside and explore the garden in the rain.  

I also found Batman in Hong Kong. We bonded. It was great.

Here's the Hong Kong temple. It was beautiful and the perfect start to our morning.


This is the view from Victoria Peak.


 Just casually taking a ferry from one island of Hong Kong to the other.  It's normal to travel by boat (apparently.) I've been missing out in life. Cars are so over rated.

Aunt Jan and I just met up in Hong Kong. NO BIG DEAL. (Totally was a big deal. Or in the words of Remi "A B.D.") We got foot massages together and these two ladies were so friendly and talked to us the whole time.

                          This is Hattie.  Turns out she is my adventure buddy. I can always count on her to randomly do things with me.  It was around 9 at night and the other 6 girls were like 'we're going out shopping' and we're like 'uhh no more.  We're tired.' But then we decided we really weren't that tired and the only thing to do at that point was to hop on a ferry to the other island, ride on this glowing blue ferris wheel, and share that special moment together with the couple across from  us.  (Have I ever mentioned that I LOVE ferris wheels?)

Again, I'm really sorry it took me a month to post this blog.  Expect a few more this week now that I can finally post the ones I've had hanging out waiting for pictures.