It’s Asian Thanksgiving.

Well, kind of. Wednesday marked Mid-Autumn Festival, which is the second biggest holiday here, coming in behind New Year (or, as it is called here, Spring Festival). Families reunite and friends gather. It’s all about food, fellowship, and a fairly confusing (to me, anyway) ancient myth about an immortal princess who now lives on the moon, separated forever from her true love.

Just as turkey and dressing are synonymous with Thanksgiving in America, here, every year people eat moon cakes to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. These round cakes look sweet on the outside, but inside are filled with a variety of fillings (egg, bean curd, etc.) that are not particularly appetizing to Western taste buds. Our friends love them, though, and so when we last night invited several  new friends over for dinner, we made sure to hand out moon cakes–one day late, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Although this is an important festival for families, many students hail from far-away provinces; since the term just started, they can’t exactly take a 20+ hour train back home during their two-day school vacation.

We’re on school holiday now, too, although I’d like to insert an asterisk: holiday here means that you get to make up the classes you missed during vacation. Saturday school, here we come.

These City Walls

Today we drove around our city for a few hours to visit five of the 15 or so city gates.  Our city has a deep and long history, and much can be learned about it by visiting these gates.  Inscribed on some of the large tablets marking the ancient gates were paragraphs welcoming Eastern gods.  One of the gates was next to a hospital that performs more abortions in this city of 33 million people than any other.  Another of the gates was in an area of town flooded with traditional eastern medicine, most of which does much more harm than good.  One of the saddest gates marked an area where 3,000 people suffocated after their bomb shelter collapsed during WWII (our city unfortunately holds the title of the most bombed city in the world).

There is a stronghold of death, persecution, and enslavement in this city.  It is our desire that one day these city walls will welcome a joy and hope that cannot be matched on this earth.


Three Weeks In

Midday today marked three weeks since our bleary-eyed arrival to CQ: 21 days of settling in, trying to remember how to twist our tongue around words both strange and yet somehow familiar, regaining chopstick proficiency, and (best of all) reunions.

A brief summary: week one found me (sometimes us) rolling out of bed (bright-eyed and wide awake) at 5.30 every morning and beginning the madness. We arrived to discover that our apartment was actually doubly furnished: we had one too many of most things (refrigerator, washer, air conditioning units, table and chairs…) and all of this was crammed into our dust-encrusted living room. We needed cell phones, converters, paint (for the mold problem in our bedroom that had not been fixed when we arrived), and food. Side note: it is astounding how quickly things get dirty and how much of that mess (smog + dirt + general big city life) had found its way into our apartment over the course of the summer.

Then, we got sick: first me, then Michael. I suppose it was to be expected, what with jet lag and utter exhaustion and allergies–no matter, being forced to stay in bed while recovering (too bad that it was our anniversary) is the best way to remedy weariness. Finally, Monday, we started class. It has been intense–this university is no joke. We initially has ambitious plans to take the harder class; however, halfway through the day today, we realized that “difficult” would  be an understatement and swapped down to the easier class. Easy, meaning I still came home and spent two (??) hours studying and writing new characters. Unfortunately, characters were an aspect of the language that both of us neglected our last time around–an option that this school will not allow. I’m thankful, though; now that we are here for the long haul, we realize what a mistake we made in initially ignoring reading and writing. Oops!

We are settled now, finally, and it seems that ordinary life is beginning. I’ll let you know–when I figure it out myself–what normal looks like now.

Apparently, This is Laundry Day

And counting…

Two years ago, we were married in a small church in a small town on a humid, muggy Alabama September day. Today, we celebrate our marriage in what just might be the world’s biggest city in the world’s biggest nation–but some things never change, the hot and sticky climate here is about the same as the hot and sticky climate there.

I’m actually coughing and hacking as I write this and it looks like our celebration will comprise ordering Dico’s (to the uninitiated: that would be fast food chicken fingers) and catching up on TV shows that Michael picked up downtown last week. No matter where we live and no matter how exciting  (or not) our life is, I am so grateful to be running this race together.

Here’s to the years to come!

Michael’s Wednesday

There’s not much that tastes better after a good workout than an ice cold Gatorade.  After my morning workout I wandered around our campus to look for a shop that sold such a drink.  After checking in three different stores, I stumbled upon the shop that sold that delicious American drink.  Green tea flavored Gatorade?  Sure, why not?  It actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I’m pretty sure I’ll stick to the fruit punch flavor I picked up as a backup, but it could have been worse.

Three minutes after I left the shop with the green tea Gatorade, I new black sedan came up slowly behind me, then rolled down its window.  The Chinese Mafia has been in the news a lot lately, and our city in particular has made more headlines in connection with their dealings than just about any other in the country, and this comically went through my mind as the window slowly rolled down to reveal a very excited teacher.  To set the stage for what happened next, you need to imagine the slightest drizzle of rain you have ever seen.  I mean, such a negligible amount of rain that you aren’t really sure it’s constantly coming down.  “You shouldn’t be walking in the rain, would you like a ride?” the school professor asked in Chinese.  This is a pretty good insight for you into the general culture here.  A) He didn’t offer the 87 billion other students who were walking three feet away from me.  B)  I was a foreigner, an American to be precise.  So many people here are willing to go way way out of their way to accommodate and care for foreigners and particularly Americans.  In other parts of the world where the driver might speed up to splash water on an American, here they will give you their umbrella or give you a lift.

For lunch, I met 4 students on the way to the cafeteria, who might have been 4 of the friendliest students I’d ever met.  Actually, the reason I had such a good time with them was because their Chinese pronunciation was so clear that I understood 99.9% of everything they said, and they in turn understood me.  That fact alone put the meeting at a 9.0 out of 10.  So what is something that might be assumed of most Americans over here?  When they asked for my phone number to meet up again the following day for lunch in a restaurant that specializes in on of their hometown’s style of cooking, one of the guys asked me, “Do you have an iPhone 3Gs or iPhone 4?”  He didn’t bother to ask whether or not I had an iPhone at all, but rather jumped straight to asking about which model I had.  “Er… 3Gs,” I said.  Dang it.