Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our Second Anniversary

On the 29th McKay and I celebrated our second anniversary. For our first anniversary we went on a weekend getaway to a cute bed and breakfast in Logan, this year we went to Pizza Hut. As we were on our way to dinner we were laughing about how Pizza Hut is our special occasion restaurant here in China. When we get back to the states we might have to spend an occasional birthday or holiday celebration at a Pizza Hut because of its importance in our celebrations here in China. Don't you love/hate little sentimental gestures like that? So our anniversary started out like all of our other special days here in China, we taught classes. McKay wasn't done with classes until about 4:00 so after he got home we hopped a bus down to Guanggu (the huge shopping center) and did a little bit of window shopping. We also had a really cool hairpin that McKay bought me for my birthday fixed at the little shop he bought it from. Then we had a nice long wait to get a table at pizza hut so we did some more window shopping! We saw some ridiculously cool tea sets, but decided that the chance of their making it back to America in one piece was slim to none.

After our very yummy dinner of Hawaiian stuffed crust pizza and pasta with chicken and red pepper sauce, we did more shopping. It was a nice night and everything was still colorful and lit up for Christmas/New years so we decided to enjoy the scenery and walk a couple of blocks down to our favorite little DVD store to see if they happened to have Arrested Development. We have just recently come across arrested development on Hulu. We watched the first 7 episodes online and were hooked. We were very happy to find that the store had all 3 seasons of arrested development. We ended up spending 100 yuan on movies because we came across a number of good television series for cheap! One that we bought is a National Geographic video collection. It has over 50 different shows/episodes smashed onto 4 discs. They are really good at putting a lot of video on a small amount of disc. Sometimes that means you don't always get great movie quality, but it gives you a great price! So with the shopping and the Eating and the watching of Arrested Development, we realized that even though our Anniversary was not anything super romantic and special, we were both very glad to have each other and that we have become each others best friends! That is a little cheesy, I know, but it is true. If we didn't have each others love, support and friendship to rely on we would both have  gone absolutely crazy after our first month here in China. So McKay (because I know you will read this eventually), Happy anniversary! These last 2 years have been wonderful, and I look forward to many, many more wonderful years with you! And thank you for being my friend and keeping me sane with multiple games of Phase 10, Uno, and chess, as well as cold walks and late night chats. I love you tons! 我爱你

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day!

Christmas was really interesting. I was expecting to have a pretty quite, uneventful (and maybe even slightly sad) Christmas without our families and the usual Christmas festivities. I was not heading into Christmas with high hopes. Luckily it was much better than I could have ever imagined it would be. We got a late start on the evening because McKay had to teach an evening class, and while the school was really nice and gave us Christmas day off, Christmas eve was not even thought of. So later that night we were able to have a quiet little dinner together in our apartment and then after made a last minute run to the store to pick up some stocking stuffers, we got online and  we watched It's A Wonderful Life on youtube. That took a while to load, but it sure was worth it because my family always watches that movie on Christmas or Christmas eve, and my dad always tells us about how jimmy stewarts character is a lot like him.

After the movie was done it was about 11:30 p.m. which meant it was 8:30 a.m.back in Utah and 9:30 in Illinois where McKay's parents are. I am so glad we have Skype. It is amazing. We were able to have a nice chat with my family and McKay's family that night, and then again the next morning  and the next night and then again this morning. We were able to catch the families right after their Christmas eve festivities, right after opening presents, and then after their Christmas dinner. Even though we are 14-15 hours ahead of our families, talking to them on Skype made all the difference to our Christmas. It brought in the family aspect that I felt like we were missing so much.

After talking on skype on christmas eve for over an hour, McKay (aka. Santa Claus) decided we needed to play UNO. I was soooooo tired, but I wanted to be a good, accommodating wife, so we played uno until after 1:30. Then we still had to read through the story of the nativity in the scriptures so we didn't get to sleep until really late. And then I foiled McKay's plans. For some reason I automatically wake up whenever he gets out of bed. I don't know how or why I am programmed to do that, but I always wake up when he gets up. Usually I wake up right as he is reaching for or opening the door, but on Christmas eve I caught him opening up his sock drawer to pull out his stash of christmas presents. He was a little upset that I foiled his secret plans, but I think secretly he was glad to have a reason to finally go to sleep.

On Christmas morning we exchanged gifts with each other by placing them in our stockings. Wrapping paper is a little bit more difficult to come by than we anticipated, so we just put the presents in the stockings and then pulled them out. It worked. Then we opened the presents that our students had given us. They were really funny! I got a pair of kissing fish piggy banks, some little Chinese figurines and McKay got a pink Kung-Fu baby statue. He plans on re-gifting it and giving it to someone special when we get back to the U.S.

After opening presents we watched some movies and played games together and then talked on skype until we got a call telling us we had a package across the street in the post office. McKay's mom sent us a Christmas package and it had perfect timing arriving on Christmas day!

Later that afternoon we went over to the Skaggs and watched a Charlie Brown Christmas with the other foreign teachers and then watched them exchange secret santa gifts. McKay and I wanted to do secret santa, but the person in charge was never home when we called or went over to pick a name, so since we didn't connect with him early enough they withdrew our names from secret santa. That was a little sad, but it was still fun to watch the other teachers give and receive their gifts. Thank you Rob and Jacque for letting everyone come over to your apartment. Later that evening we ended up having chicken curry  and sugar cookies for Christmas dinner and then talking on skype, again, meeting my little sisters boyfriend over skype for the first time. Then we played games, watched more Christmas movies and then got a good nights sleep (by the way, we did NOT like Where the Wild Things Are). I know this has been pretty detailed blog post, but that is how we spent our Christmas here in China. It was a unique Christmas, but it was a good one.

Here are some pictures of Christmas Morning:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Prep

It's Christmas time, but if you are here in China you wouldn't know it. The Chinese celebrate Christmas like Americans celebrate the day after thanksgiving. So just like Americans on black Friday, the Chinese either stay up really late or get up really early to go shopping and get some good deals. The only places that you will see any Christmas decor is at the big shopping malls where they are trying to cash in on the commercial side of Christmas. They also don't really get snow here in Wuhan, so a lack of snowy weather and a dingy gray sky make it seem even less like Christmas. I have to admit that I really wish we could see some Christmas lights right about now.

Our apartment wasn't feeling very festive either, so I decided to do what I could to change that. Since we are not allowed to publicly celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas in China we had to be a little bit careful. We have students and Chinese people over to our apartment more often than I thought we would, and it is really hard to avoid the religion issue with them. We figured having a picture of Christ and a nativity seen on the wall might raise questions, and we could get into some major trouble if we talked about it. I am really irritated with the whole religion issue here in China. I will be grateful to get back to America and talk about and live my religion whenever and wherever I want. So anyway, We have decorated with religion free decorations this year, more specifically, SNOWFLAKES! I originally only planned on putting them on our front door, but they were a great way to kill time in between classes. So I ended up cutting out about 100 snowflakes and have put them on all the doors in our house. I would like to keep going but I got a blister on my finger from the scissors.The snowflakes definitely made things feel more festive, but then last night while walking home from the grocery store we found a man on the side of the road who was selling stockings and Santa hats. We each bought a stocking and we hung them on our wall with those sticky wall hook things. They made it feel even more like Christmas. We aren't planning on buying each other Christmas presents like we normally would, but I will definitely be getting some stocking stuffers now that we have stockings to put them in!

The Icing on the cake for us took place just a few hours ago. We were at the grocery store again to buy some cheap crappy toilet paper when we saw that they finally had some Christmas items for sale in the store, some of which were fake Christmas trees! They didn't have very many trees and none of them were very tall, and half of them were silver, but we decided to get one anyway. It is so cute. It is only about a foot and a half tall. While walking home I was hoping we would see people with chritmas ornaments, and we did, but they were ugly and poor quality and they were asking more than I wanted to pay. So once we got home we decided to decorate the tree with my jewelry! So we used my necklaces as garlands and my earrings as ornaments. I have to say I think it turned out pretty cool. I wouldn't want to do things this way every year, but for our situation here in China things have worked out pretty good. We are able to catch a little bit of that Christmas spirit that is so prevalent back home. Enjoy your full size and maybe even real Christmas tree's and know that we are happy for you and also a little jealous!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

No pictures, just words. Maybe Lindsay should take over...

Well, it's that time again. "Write some more! Give us an update!" Well, I'm afraid that it isn't that easy. So, I figure I will write another novel as I attempt to convey uninteresting times to a potentially uninterested public.

These past few weeks have been testing for the level 1, 2, and 3 English Teachers at Wuhan University of Science and Engineering. That means that Lindsay and I have been giving our students tests. And I literally mean giving. Lindsay especially had made it really easy for her students to pass with flying colors (well, half the students passed with flying colors. She's just a good teacher. She doesn't give away any answers, but she gave the students amazing preparation). I gave my students almost all the answers before the test started. The issue is that many students don't come to class. On the actual days of testing, Lindsay had 15 students blatantly choose to skip the testing, and in McKay's classes he had the number of students triple to 12 or so. Needless to say, we have spent the past few weeks failing students. It is rather satisfying, actually. Nothing feels better than failing the students when 1/4 of them blatantly cheat, 1/2 don't follow directions, and another 1/4 just don't show up.

The Chinese students here have a strategy for passing English tests. The first is to put as many words down as possible and hope that one is right. I have seen that one a lot. The next, and the easiest for the students, is just to look off of each others papers. Of course, the fact that the students are sitting arm and arm doesn't help. As a student, you automatically are looking at your neighbors paper. You don't really have a choice! The desk forces you to cheat! Then, some students blatantly cheat: asking their neighbors what the answer to number 2 is, in Chinese, thinking I can't understand them; keeping answers from previous tests in their cubby under their desks, like I did in first grade; or using their cell phones.

Occasionally, meaning three students total in McKay's classes, students just work through the semester and do a really good job. In McKay's classes, there are only three of those students, but they make things a lot more fun. Lindsay is either better or luckier, because she has a lot more students who are good and try hard. Those students are fun. Speaking of which, you may notice the percentages. McKay has about 5 good students and 110 students total. All of the stuff every Westerner is told about Chinese students being so much better than any American student is bunk. They are good at math. Not thought. Actually, I think that if they had to do anything except exponents the Americans would win every time. Every time. So, don't let those stereotypes get to you. They are not true.

We have found tapioca drinks on the back street. That means that McKay is going crazy buying various flavors of milk tea without tea with tapioca added. How is that for complex Chinese? They are good. Lindsay is proving herself as a supportive wife by going along and drinking strawberry tapioca milk as we speak. (McKay has chocolate AND blueberry!)

On another note, China has a issue with people paying money. They require you to pay at various locations within stores, but they do not make any of them convenient. I have become sympathetic to Chinese thieves. I have had my fare share of times that I wanted to join their ranks. At Carrefour they attached tags to some measuring cups, but they attached them to the ring with a large hole in it. On the rack there were six measuring cups, but only two had tags on them. We grabbed one, and it immediately fell off. We picked it up. It fell off again. We put it on again, and held it in our hand on the way to the cash register. Now, the cash registers have a 20 minute wait. They take their sweet, precious, Chinese time, and we all wait impatiently. Somehow, between putting it from my hand to the cashier the tag fell off. Again, and was lost forever, so they wouldn't let us buy it. Seriously. Lindsay was irate. McKay was dejected. So, we went to try buy it again. McKay found the last one to buy it again, but didn't want to wait for another 20 minutes at the registers at the other end of the other floor. Going to the other registers wasn't any better. One cashier refused to serve us, and McKay gave up arguing with her in broken Chinese and increasingly indecent hand gestures. After going to the other register, we found it was twice as long of a wait as the other levels. I was tempted to put the measuring cups in my coat, walk out of the store and call it a day. But, being a good, moral person, we fought our way through the throngs of Chinese to the lady who before had refused us service. Ignoring her we practically forced her to take our money. China is weird. I would have thought that the first part of my business would have been figuring out how to get money from my customers, not to increase a customers yearning to steal. I don't understand Chinese logic.

Anyways, we have bought some really inexpensive, 5 yuan, stockings. We are totally going to fill them with stuff! And then throw them away. You get what you pay for. I'll be surprised if they last a week, but we are both really excited to have them. We are discussing where to hang them up.

Lindsay has spent the past day and a half baking. She has made some delectable cookies, decadent cookies, and a few scrumptious cookies too. You may notice the trend. Lindsay likes making cookies, and they are very good thanks to our mothers supplying Lindsay with some decent ingredients. Yesterday, Lindsay decided that she wanted to get some food coloring for her sugar cookies. We went out on a search, and it was my job to talk to the bakeries and try to buy some. After a few minutes we found a bakery that was willing to sell us their near-empty bottle of pink food coloring: 5 yuan. We jumped at the chance, and Lindsay promptly tried it out on her imported frosting from Metro. And then she almost gagged. The food coloring tasted like toilet cleaner, and she took in a large spoonful in anticipation of the sumptuousness she thought she would soon encounter. Needless to say, we wasted a bit of frosting that way. One thing we noticed as we went about trying to find the food coloring was cakes. There were lots of little cakes with little strawberries on top. Well, they looked like strawberries when I first saw them. They were actually tomatoes covering a well-decorated chocolate cake. Come to think of it, Lindsay's Thanksgiving cake had tomatoes on it as well. The Chinese use tomatoes as a fruit. They put them on cakes, in fruit bowls and dishes, and eat them instead of breakfast fruits. It is a very different use for tomatoes. Even the Flannery's children pick out the tomatoes from a fruit salad to suck down on their juicy not-good-aloneness. That is a Chinese custom that we are not going to bring back with us. It may be healthy, but it sure doesn't seem appetizing.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lindsay says this is a novel. I disagree.

Today, Lindsay and I went to a new pagoda. It was hidden away from the beaten path, so it was hard to find, and it is really hard to see from the road. About two months ago, we were on our way to church and saw a random tower jutting into the air. We wanted to go see it really bad, but it was just a random tower in the middle of a hill. We had no idea what its name was, how to get there, or if we would even be allowed to go inside. But, since we had seen practically everything else touristy in Wuhan, we hopped a bus today and went searching for it. Luckily, it wasn't too hard to find. Just follow the 583 bus to a random park and walk south for half an hour.

It was the closest we have been to nature since MoShan (磨山景区). After passing a statue and moving past an obelisk of sorts, we started through the "woods" on our way to see what we could see. First we found an old man and woman sitting and playing songs. The woman was singing, and the man was playing a zither (I think). It might not have been the best music I have ever heard, but it was really fitting for the surroundings. The music definitely made it feel more Chinese, which was nice. We had to follow some trails for a while though. We were walking along with multiple other Chinese folk through the trees. Occasionally we saw the city a little through the trees. We had been climbing up for a while, and we were getting nearer to the top of the hill. This would be the equivalent of going to the top of Main Street over the course of half a mile though. It isn't a hard walk, but in a flat land that difference in height makes a huge difference in the views. At our school we get some classes near the top floors, but those view are always so obstructed by buildings that this view was one of the best we have seen since coming to China.

We were wondering exactly where on earth the pagoda could be. Suddenly, Lindsay turned to the right and it was just there. Magically. There's something to be said for those Buddhists. It literally seemed to have come from nowhere. We couldn't see a thing until it was just standing there in front of us. It was really exciting, but disappointing at the same time. It was older than we had expected, and it hasn't been as kept up as one might have thought. We quickly found out why. It was only 2元 to get in! (about 29 cents). And the pagoda was built in 1280. It's name: Hong Shan Bao ta (洪山宝塔). It was really nice that it was so cheap. However, my critical judgment crept in once we ventured inside. The pagoda was littered with small shrines. Literally, almost everywhere you turned there was another shrine, oftentimes with fruit placed in front of them. But the disappointing part came from the people who had been there before us. It was a pagoda from 1280, but parts of it looked like the bathroom walls at a truck-stop by Thermopolis, Wyoming. There was so much graffiti that the pagoda was a symbol of desecration instead of dedication. I found it sad to see and read the inscriptions as we passed them. Lots of them were from teenagers in love. Since my Chinese isn't that good (yet) I hope that I misunderstood the meanings and people really are supposed to put graffiti there as a way of bringing in the favor of the gods.

There were outlooks on every level. As you might guess, they became more impressive the higher you went, but the amazing part was the size of the openings. As you first walk into the pagoda you needed to duck the entire way-unless you are a shrunken Chinese monk from hundreds of years ago. Then, there were precariously steep stairs leading up to the next level. I bumped my head on the ceiling as we went up. Then you came out into a small room, with more precarious stairs leading up even higher, and some small openings tunneling to the outside. Lindsay and I took one, but the size made it so we were nearly crawling. I hit my head harder on the ceiling this time. When we came to the outside we found that we were covered in dust from the walls and the ceiling as we scraped past them on the way out to the small overlook. It was a good view, and worth the bump and the gnawing claustrophobia. But the views only got better as we continued up the increasingly unnavigable stairs. On each floor we saw another Buddha, and on each floor there were multiple overlooks.

As we went up, it seemed that the stairways and the overlooks opened up even more. I didn't hit my head any more, and I got less dust on my coat. It was hard work, so Lindsay and I were pretty sweaty by the time we reached the top. But here the views were better than any of the lower levels. We had a clear view above the miniature forest on the hill, that stood out in harsh contrast to the development that lay beyond, but this time the buildings were low enough that they didn't block our view. It was the best view we have had in Wuhan. Even better than Yellow Crane Tower. Also, we had a full view of the Buddhist complex that lay at the base of the pagoda. We didn't know it was there, but we had seen the yellow walls of the complex earlier and wondered what lay beyond. Now we saw that we were there. We found out later that there may have been a more proper way to gain access to the Buddhist complex, but this was sufficient.

The architecture continued to get more intricate, more colorful, more beautiful, and more impressive as we went down. Unfortunately, the Buddhists don't like people taking pictures of their shrines, so we tried to comply. Sometimes we found that they were all taking pictures, so we figured we would be allowed to do so as well. The first building was surrounded by cabbage given as an offering. The insides of the building contained 500 painted statues of various figures in Chinese Buddhist folklore. They were encased in filthy glass: so filthy that one couldn't see through to the top levels. But the bottom levels were painted beautifully, and what added to the drama was the fact that these figures were ridding on a practically innumerable host of sea monsters. It was impressive, and luckily not as scary as the depictions of a Buddhist hell we found at other Buddhist sites.
The next buildings were exquisite on their outsides, and their insides were sparkling. They all had majestic tapestries of silk and immense statues. The main building centered on on a massive statue of, in my opinion, the original Buddha. But the walls were equally impressive. Each wall, reaching to the very top of this gargantuan room, had a small figure of the Buddha, about the size of a small laptop. The figure was repeated so that the walls were literally just statues of Buddha. About fourteen inches tall and practically touching the next figure above it, the figures on its sides and the figure below. The ceiling was as ornate as any I have seen in China. It was a stunning display of art and reverence. After walking out of that building we found another building with monks preparing for an offering of some sort. We walked into the square, surrounded on all sides by these beautiful buildings and were taking pictures. The monks came out and began to chant, playing their small chimes and drums. A monk lit a candle in an alter on the opposite side of the square, followed by two women who set a bundle of intricately folded yellow paper into the fire, and began their prostrations. Another monk started banging on a large wooden drum shaped to look like a dragon. It was an unusual sight.

We continued walking through the buildings as we neared the exit. Here we found groups of people taking pictures with the statues. We took this opportunity to jump in and start taking our own. We didn't want to desecrate anything, but we would to whatever we could without offending. We found some interesting statues there. The next building switched forms almost immediately. Instead of plasters and paints, there were wood carvings. The wood carvings were massive and even more intricate than the others we had seen. And we found that the first statue in the complex was the happy Buddha we all know (and love) from tasteful decorations at a good Chinese buffets.We left the complex satisfied, with hundreds of pictures, and with an appetite for some pizza...which we satisfied at Papa John's.