Sunday, September 3, 2017

Start of Something New

You caught me. I completely and totally titled this post after the song from High School Musical. I've had the idea of this blog post since before I left for China. And now it's finally here. Yes, I've 100% postponed writing about it, because then I'm allowing it to sink in and become more real. But, I guess I have to accept it sooner or later, and so here I am, at the end of an era. 

If I'm being totally and completely honest, I had a slight fear of concluding my China adventures. Those who know me well (which I'm coming to realize isn't too many people) are quite aware of how I get anxious about the future and love to always have a plan. Everything I do now is in direct correlation to what I want in the long run. I greatly have a future-oriented view on life. And so, ever since leaving for China, I knew that myself and my future were about to change and be something I hadn't experienced before. My time in China changed me. I had the wonderful chance to become more independent. I learned more about myself and my priorities, as well as those things which are most important to me in this life. It was definitely a rewarding experience. 

 So where does this idea of it being "the end of an era" fit in, you may ask. Well, let me tell you. Before this summer, I was still very much not completely independent. I had an hourly-paid job, which also didn't always guarantee working days. I was living paycheck to paycheck. I was still relying on my parents a lot. I didn't feel quite fully in charge of my life. I didn't feel like I was my own person. I still felt like the little girl looking to her Mommy and Daddy for guidance in most things. Within a week of ending my China adventures, all of that changed. I was embracing a new life. This new life being that of adulthood. I was coming home to a real salary-paying career (that I absolutely LOVE, by the way). Therefore, I have to learn all about the benefits which are provided. I never paid any attention to things financially or insurance related before. I was being thrown into a whole new world. A world where I no longer could act like a child, and where I now must throw away childish things. The real question is though... Is it the end of an era, or really the beginning of a new time? It's really how we look at it that affects our attitude about our experiences. 

Being placed in the unknown has often terrified me. I've always feared change and feared what I have yet to understand. It's been truly debilitating, at times. But I have made a resolve that I will no longer be that person. I will no longer let my fear stand in the way of me becoming the daughter that my Heavenly Father knows me to be. And so, I am becoming a new woman in Christ. Yes, I am still experiencing new things each day. Yes, sometimes I do get nervous about these changes. But I know that if I want to grow (mentally, emotionally, and most importantly, spiritually), then I have to embrace this life

Now, returning back to my futuristic view... Sometimes, it has been a good thing, because my detailed view of what the future might hold pushes me forward, into tomorrow. However, because of this, I struggle to truly live and experience life in the present, in the here and now. I have a perfect example of this. Upon my first weeks living in Utah, a friend had said to me, after I refused to go out that night because I was tired and had work the next morning, "Jess, don't forget to live while you're here making a living". I don't think he realizes how much that impacted me, and how much it still does even to this day. It's taken quite some time, but I finally am feeling like myself again. I am comfortable in my own skin and I am enjoying life. Many don't know the things that I have gone through in the past few years that have changed me and given me this distorted outlook and overall fear of the world. I have been fighting depression and anxiety every day. I've allowed my anxiety to overcome me and keep me from reaching my potential. But, I am bringing myself back. I'm returning to the things that I love to do. I'm drawing, reading, running, experiencing the outdoors, teaching, going to institute, serving, loving, singing, working, socializing, and learning. I still have a long ways to go, but I know that the Lord is with me every step of the way. He loves me and leads me and lives for me. Because of that, I must live for Him

Sunday, August 20, 2017

China in the Ancient Times

So, I know that I kind of left my last post with a bit of a cliffhanger. Let me reassure y'all right now that all things went well after I got to the Sheraton. I was able to stay there both nights and I was safe throughout my remaining time. 

Again, I was really bummed that I wasn't able to see much of the city since I spent the whole day out walking looking for a place to stay. The next morning, I woke up bright and early. I had to meet up with my small group for our tours that we had planned for the day. Our adventure began at The Forbidden City. This is the largest city center in the whole world. The reason it is termed "forbidden" is because in ancient times, only the emperor was permitted to access all of the rooms (all 9,999.5 of them). Our tour consisted of walking from courtyard to courtyard while passing through different gates. We didn't have access to many of the rooms, basically just walking through the gates with the rooms on either side. We were able to peer into the emperor's bedroom, which was neat. There was some interesting architecture on these building, all symbolizing something from superiority to safety to good will. Seeing such extravagant designs was really something. It was nice to learn some of the history about this ancient city, but I was mostly looking forward to checking out The Great Wall. Our guide told us that around 80,000 people come to visit The Forbidden City each day. You better believe it was crowded!

After walking through the City, we took a 2hr drive, where I was grateful for sleep. Upon arriving to Mutianyu (the part of The Great Wall which we were to begin our climb), we took a chairlift up the first part. It was kinda cool to ride a chairlift in the middle of the summer in some random place in China. The first parts of the Wall where we were located did not have the ability for us to walk up. Hence, the need for a chairlift (there was also the option of taking a cable car). We could look all around us and see The Great Wall expanded in every view. It was quite a site! 

The Great Wall was nothing that I expected! It was actually two walls on either side with stair steeps in between them. Once we got off the chairlift, we had the choice to continue hiking up the Wall or staying down. Of course, I continued, with two other ladies from my group. It was magnificent! The jungle around us was green and luscious. The reason we were permitted to hike on this portion of the Wall was because it has been reconstructed for tourist purposes. I got to the end point where we weren't allowed to continue anymore because it was overgrown and worn down. Basically, they blocked it off with a cemented wall so that we couldn't keep going. The purpose was so that we don't add to its already decaying factor.

To get back down, we sat on this booster thing and took a ride down a massive slide. It was way fun! We grabbed some food and a few souvenirs and then took our drive back to our hotels. That night, I went into town for a short minute to check out the street market. Many tried to weasel me out of my money, but I was strong this time and kept walking. The next morning, I had to wake up early for the train ride back to Zibo.

My trip in Beijing was many things ... scary, lonely, intense, thrilling, exciting, eye-opening, and marvelous. Even though my first day wasn't all that great, I am glad that I had this chance to tour The Forbidden City and The Great WallIt's definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity. It made the struggles all worth it, in the end! I was blessed with safety and protection, for which I am grateful.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Series of Unfortunate Events

If you ever think to yourself, “hey, I think it’ll be rad to travel to this random city on my own where no one speaks English and try to figure things out without having any service/wifi on your phone”, you should probably rethink your plans…. Let’s just start from the very beginning.

In order to get to Beijing, I had to buy a train ticket from the station in Zibo. Initially, it looks like I could just send in an email and get it, but that didn’t seem to work out. So, I took the long and hot walk over to the train station and stood in line. Little did I think about how I was going to convey which ticket on which day and what time I wanted. Let’s just say, I very much did not look through a lot of obstacles. Anyways, so I’m at the train station and PRAISE, there’s a Chinese guy that speaks PERFECT English. I seriously could not have been any more fortunate. I told him want I wanted, but within the time I looked up the ticket and when I bought it, the one I wanted was sold out. Therefore, I was left with the cheap train ride leaving at 5am that lasted 8hrs instead of 2hrs, but hey, I got to Beijing eventually. The whole time though, I was nervous about possibly missing my stop. Luckily, I got off at the right place, after sitting for an entire 8hrs either sleeping, or doing word/number problems.

My troubles began right from the start. Getting off the train, I had absolutely no idea how to leave the train station. It was outdoors and encompassing a huge part of the town. I didn’t know where the station ended and the city started. After walking for a bit, I jumped in a cab (who overcharged me by wayyyy too much). I had the address written out in Chinese and showed it to him. However, he still somehow took me to the wrong street. I got out regardless because it would’ve been too difficult to somehow convey to him that it wasn’t right. So after that overpriced cab ride, I then went walking and walking. I was advised on which bus to take so I hopped on. Turns out, it took me way out of the way. I stayed on it for a minute trying to figure out my best route. The money collector lady on the bus told me which buses I needed to take, and they were like … long-time buses. I was confused about that. I got off, and went walking again.

Yes, this whole time, I have my purse, my overstuffed backpack, and my Pooh Bear pillow pet. Because I was in a different province, my SIM card that First Leap gave me wasn’t working. So I didn’t have operating phone service. Fast forward to three miles of walking later… The Super 8 hotel which I booked (and already paid for) wasn’t in the location that it said it was in. I went back and forth along the street trying to find it and was unable to. I asked different officials on the roads trying to figure it out. We then realized that it was actually more than an hour drive away. So, the website was wrong.

I continued to walk around aimlessly trying to find somewhere to stay. I found a different Super 8 and was trying to see if I could transfer my reservation to there. My phone was at 5% and I still didn’t have a plan. Luckily, they had wifi and I was able to connect and contact my parents back home. They then called to see if this Super 8 had any openings. They were all booked. They found a different Super 8 that was 4 miles away and booked me a room. I had one of the workers write the hotel down in Chinese so I could hand it to my driver. Finally, I had a plan! Or so I thought….

I made it to the new Super 8. They didn’t have my reservation. They couldn’t find it. Neither could I speak Chinese nor them English. After over an hour of trying to figure out where my reservation was (with my dad on the phone with the Super 8 supervisor), we discovered that they couldn’t find it because they refuse to service foreigners. Yea, you read that right. Straight of refuse. Because they don’t accept foreigners, they weren’t able to accept my reservation, even though I got an email saying that it was confirmed. Racist humans.

Because of this whole misunderstanding, Super 8 said to just find any random hotel for the night and they would reimburse us. Alright, sweet deal, right? Wrong. Now the problem was finding a hotel that wasn’t entirely booked and that would accept me as a foreigner. I walked around trying every hotel I could see (and believe me, there were a lot). None of them were available. After loads of trekking throughout town (still with the massive backpack), I finally found a Sheraton hotel that would accept me. Had I had to pay for it by myself, the price was WAYYYY out of the question. But since Super 8 was paying (because they messed up), why not take it?

All of the workers at the Sheraton were able to speak English. I was granted my own double twin room with a stellar bathroom, shower, and tub. The first thing I did when I arrived was went straight to the shower. They even provided every toiletry needed, as well as a verrrry comfortable bathrobe.

After arriving to Beijing at 2:30, I finally was able to rest in my very comfortable Sheraton bed at 11pm. This definitely was not how I was planning to “take in the city” on my first day here. Fortunately, my tour the next day was scheduled and looked like it would all go perfectly well! (Next post will be about The Great Wall and The Forbidden City). Yes, I know this was a long post, but it was an incredibly long day of unfortunate events. Moral of the story: Don’t book the cheapest hotel, always have an extra phone battery, appreciate your parents, and don’t go alone to an unknown place with an unknown language and no map. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Escape to the Oceanside

Alright, well, I lied. I said I was only going to have one more post of my experiences in China. But, there's absolutely NO WAY that is going to happen. Y'all who know me know that I often have a lot to say. Since I'll be traveling to three places, I have three adventure stories to share, which means three more blogs

I have never realized how much I've missed the blue skies until I finally went without it. Even living in the Seattle area my whole life, I saw more of the sun and sky there than I do here in Zibo. I was grateful for the chance to head east over to Qingdao, which is on the ocean (technically, it's the China East Sea). 

It was about a 3hr drive to the beach. Naturally, I slept most of the way because 1) it was not a short car ride... and 2) I was in a car with Chinese speakers, of which I couldn't really communicate nor understand the conversations that were happening. I figured sleep was the best alternative. Anyways, once we finally got to Qingdao, we headed straight to the beach. Unfortunately, it was raining hard and the sun wasn't shining. However, it was still quite warm outside and the beach was still crowded with people. So, we figured, why not? Off we went into the sea with the pouring down rain. I think eventually it let up, but I didn't even notice. It was such a fun time. 

Coco had only ever been to the water one time, and it was years ago. She doesn't know how to swim and she was slightly (okay, incredibly) scared to get passed her knees in the water. In time, I encouraged her to get out more, but what really did the trick was that her husband bought us a couple of tubes to float in. With that, we headed into the deep and let the waves crash down on us. She was like a little kid on Christmas morning. I really enjoyed my time mainly because she was having such a blast. After a bit, I taught her how to float. It took some time, but soon she was able to float on her back all on her own. It made the idea how being in the water less scary knowing that she could float. 

That night, we got together with the rest of Coco's family and had dinner together. Sooooo much food! I tried something. It was nasty. But I tried it. And I'm proud of myself. So, first of all, I'm definitely not a seafood eater and I know nothing about it. But you know how you eat clams? Apparently, people eat mussels, too. Coco gave it to me, and I ate it. Yea, definitely NOT a fan. Never again. But hey, I tried it. Success.

The next day, we spent the entire morning and afternoon at the Polar Ocean World. It truly was incredible. We saw penguins, polar bears, and dolphins... Oh my! I had never seen a polar bear before. It was cute; it was swimming back and forth up against the glass that we were looking through. The weather was insanely hot today. The sun was out and we were baking. We wished that the two days were switched (hot on the beach day and rainy on the park day). But it was still fun, even though we were outside in the hot hot sun hours on end.

Which leads into... We went to animal shows! We saw the dolphins perform and they were the cutest thing! Anyone who knows me knows that my greatest wish is to swim with dolphins; I was loving every second of it. They were jumping and flipping and hula hooping, and it was amazing. There was also a beluga whale that performed. He was a smart one. Then we went to see the sea lions, who were just hilarious. They really do do the clapping of their fins and laughing sound. They were bouncing around and catching hoops. Lastly, the walrus came out and was just a lazy bum. All of the shows were in Chinese and so I didn't fully understand what was happening, but from how the walrus was responding,  I knew it was something funny. 

After the park, we drove back to Zibo. Remember how it was only 3hrs getting to Qingdao? It tooks nearly 7hrs to get back home. It was a LONG drive. I slept for most of it (of course). It was definitely a fun trip to Qingdao! 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

China to an End?

My time here is almost complete. It is coming to a close in just a couple short weeks. I fully intend to make the most of my remaining days. I am so sad to be leaving soon.

Teaching has been so great. It's quite exhausting though because I am still the only foreign teacher. This means I have to teach every class whereas the natives switch off and only do like two or three a week. For the last few weeks, we've been rotating between three classesteaching about Mexico, introducing the word "spider", and teaching about what sinks and what floats. I think it's going to be a minute before I want to make a burrito, do the Macarena, sing the "Incy Wincy Spider", or drop anything in water to see if it floats/sinks again. Saturdays and Sundays are the worst of it. Since school hasn't officially been started, we still are doing classes to peek the interest of students and their parents. Therefore, Saturdays and Sundays are our "selling" days, doing five classes both days. By the last class, I am so done with the day. Sometimes, we even do the same lesson for all five classes.... As much as I do love my time, I wish that I was able to be here when we actually have the school established. However, I know that that wouldn't even be possible if not for me. It's because of the excitement and enthusiasm from me and the other native teachers that breeds any results. Without that energy, parents and students alike would not want to register. So I guess I'm doing a good work!

For those who haven't experienced what life is like in China, let me give you a brief idea. The rice is sticky so that you can use your chopsticks. Forks don't really exist and spoons are only used for soup. People always wear face masks outside because of the unhealthy air quality. Car horns are constantly being honked. Pedestrians absolutely do NOT have the right of way. Get used to walking straight through traffic and cars not stopping for you. They pack like sardines (lines, elevators, you name it). The elevator "close door" button actually works and people always push it; you never wait for the door to close by itself. The base of trees are painted so that it would intoxicate the bugs so as not to have them climb and destroy the trees. To drink cold water is unusual. You know the texture of tissues? That's what is used for toilet paper, napkins, and tissues. Everyone smokes no matter where you are. I'm not sure if dentists/orthodontists are a thing here. In stores, the cart's wheels go all directions, which is very nice. All of the women's shoes have a slight heel/raise to them so they appear taller. When leaving a restaurant, regardless of the formality or informality, you leave your food/trash on the table. They have umbrella bags when you enter the mall for you to put your wet umbrella in. Tags are on the outside of clothes. All of this is just the surface of differences between here in China and back home in America.

This coming weekend, I will be traveling with my coworker, Coco, and her family to Qingdao. It is on the coast and we will be enjoying the beach for our days off. I am more than looking forward to the open air. At least, I hope it will be open and blue. We'll see. The next week, I will be taking an independent trip up to Beijing. Yes, you read that right. Independent. I will travel on my own via bus, stay in a hotel, and go on tours. I plan to visit The Great Wall (there is a hiking tour which I am stoked for), The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Temple of Heaven. I wish that some of my coworkers could go with me, but they can't get the days off work. So I'll be on my own, but I know it'll still be great! Upon getting back to Zibo from Beijing, I then will fly to Hong Kong for a few days to go to the Hong Kong LDS Temple, Ocean Park, Victoria Peak, Tian Tan Buddha (the Buddha statue), Frontierland/Adventureland (just like at Disneyland), and hopefully visit some of the temples. I'm really excited to fully embrace becoming a true tourist for these last two weeks.

My next and final post will be about these travels and adventures! So, stay tuned! (Also, sorry for the lack of pictures this time, but be prepared for loads more in a couple weeks!)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Chinese Speaking Lady

You know how we often get asked by others to take a picture of them? I've now gotten used to others asking if they could take a picture WITH me. It still happens on the daily. They then post it on their "Instagram" (not really Instagram; it's called WeChat), after adding me as a friend, of course. I have so many Chinese names on my WeChat, I don't even know who is who. Luckily, all of my coworkers have English names, so that's been nice. Speaking of English names, I am given the enormous responsibility of giving the kids English names. It's kinda like receiving a sign name from a Deaf person (for those who are familiar), but I'm basically giving them the name that everyone will know them by, that may not be in favor of the parents. It's slightly a big deal. But sometimes fun! I've given a few names already. They like to stick with one or two syllable names. Even my name is a bit tough for them.

On my lonely nights after I'm off work, I tend to go to the town square. While there, I just kinda chill all by my lonesome and read or work on some word/number problems (yes, call me nerdy, I don't care). It's actually quite a nice time, until people come over to me and start speaking Chinese to me. That's when the chaos occurs. Everyone then decides to huddle around. Cameras out, mouths yapping. I most times don't know how to respond. There was one evening were a little 8yr old girl came and sat by me. I asked, "你会说英语吗" (Nǐ huì shuō Yīngyǔ ma or "Do you speak English")? She then responded saying NO! Why come and sit down, expecting a conversation, when clearly we couldn't speak each other's languages?! That was my initial thinking. But then, after an hour of conversing, which was all in 中文 (Zhōngwén or Chinese), I was very grateful for the blessed chance to be with her. Yes, we did big forth a little crowd, which I purposely ignored; it was just me and her in our own little world. I had my translate phrase app and would look at it, speak it, and then show her to have her correct me. She then responded, and I, naturally, had NO idea what she said. But it definitely was good practice! I went into work the next day and my coworkers were amazed with the random bits of Chinese that I threw out, thanks to the little girl.

It was my birthday the other week, and I got to celebrate it Chinese style! First off, my coworkers gave me a few gifts including lollipops, a bottle of yogurt, pop rocks (which yes, do still make me sick), some towels, cookies (except they weren't really cookies and were kinda gross....), a China tea set, and my own authentic pair of chopsticks with the Chinese flower on them. They then took me out to dinner. We went to a restaurant where we ordered about 7 different dishes. They bought me a cake, sang to me in Chinese, and I ate noodles because it's a tradition on your birthday symbolizing having a long, healthy life. I love my new friends here!

So, I did two things in China that I never imagined I would do. 1) I went to the salon and got my hair colored, and 2) I bought a dog. Why, you ask? Because it was more than half the cost as what it would be in America; it is dirt cheap. My impulsive nature won out, and I just did it. Do I regret it? No way! My puppy, Duke is the cutest thing, ever! He's a 3mts old little brown poodle (they call it a Teddy here). And my hair? It didn't turn out exactly how I wanted, but it's getting there! China is pretty dang great! Also, if you have a dog, you have INSTANT friends. Taking Duke to the town square has helped people actually have the courage to approach me, which has been everyone's desire, but now they have a true purpose. To say it's been a fun time would be an understatement. I'm absolutely loving it here!! I'm so happy that I still have 5 more weeks! I am planning to go to Qingdao for the beach, Beijing to check out the Great Wall, and Hong Kong to go to the temple. It'll be a grand remaining time!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"I Don't Think We're in [America] Anymore"

The longer I am here, the more I realize that China is VERY different from America (by the way, that is what they call it, if they speak English; it's not the USA). I mean, there's the very obvious ways—the food, language, people. But even in more basic ways—the smell, the atmosphere, the ambiance, attitude. 

I have NEVER seen any Asian smoking in America. Coming here, everyone and their mom smokes! I've been offered a cigarette on more than one occasion. There also are no "no smoking" signs posted anywhere. You're free to smoke wherever (and in-ever) you want. And believe me, they certainly do! 

Growing up in Seattle, I become pretty accustomed to rain. Especially when moving to Hawaii. Rain just seems like a very normal thing to me, and there should be no reason to fret. The first time I experienced rainfall here, I was oh so very delighted. Why? Because I haven't felt warm rain since Hawaii and I've missed dancing in it and getting soaked. We had just finished a meeting and heading home. All the girls I work with were staying undercover and not even considering the idea of being out in the open. So, naturally, what did I then choose to do? I ran out and danced as I got soaked. I proceeded to then teach the song "Singin' in the Rain". The girls thought I was crazy. They pretty much viewed the rain as though it was toxic. And it could've been; I wouldn't have known. If you can recall, think back to after it rains. You smell the air, and it often smells fresh, clean, and has a flowery smell/taste, right? Not here. After the shower of rain, the city reeks with a horrid smell. Granted, it smells awful even without the rain, but it was definitely magnified. Sometimes as I am walking around, I have to hold my breath because it's just that bad.

I've been venturing out of my comfort zone and going to the random little food stands that are setup all along the sidewalks. The main reason I've been doing it is because it's literally 1/3 of the price. Regardless, I've been trying new foods! Most times, I don't even know what I'm eating, and I think I'd like to keep it that way! They also sell sliced up chunks of melon on a stick for like $.40, so that's been way nice. I've become pretty well known at these stands and they always perk up when they see me. Also, I am officially a regular at KFC and Starbucks —they know my order and have it ready upon my turn at the counter. I guess I do kind of stick out like a sore thumb, so it's kind of hard to forget me. Whenever rice is available, I still will always get it though because I know that it's a pretty safe bet. I now fully understand the purpose of sticky rice in China. If it weren't sticky, it would be pretty tough to eat it all up with chopsticks. The stickiness of it makes it much less difficult. Speaking of chopsticks, I pretty much have it down solid! Except I use them not entirely in the natural way that others do. I figured out a way that works for me and I'm sticking (ha-ha) with it! My co-workers still laugh at me whenever we go out to eat and try to teach me how to use them properly. It's not going to happen.

Work is so great! I'm just loving the girls more and more each day. I continue to be taught by them, as they learn more from me as I speak with them. It's a great exchange. We are getting closer and closer to the school actually being up and running! Next week, we officially open. We moved into our new office, which was a huge relief! The old one was very cluttered. I have my own desk and computer (which is completely in Chinese, so little good that will do me). It's quite exciting. Too bad I'll only be here for another 6wks. I don't even think they have a foreign teacher to replace me. I mean, I know I'm pretty much irreplaceable, but I hope they find someone! An English school without an English teacher isn't very beneficial.

Days here have gotten pretty monotonous and repetitive (especially since we do the same activities with a different group of kids multiple times each day). They all seem to run together. Another contribution to that could be the fact that I haven't really adjusted to the time change and so I'm on a reeeeally odd sleep schedule. Hopefully that will get regulated soon.... Bye bye for now!