Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Story In Which I Got More Than I Bargained For

Orientation so far has been incredible. Where I thought that I would be just taking photos of children all summer and editing those (and I'm not at all opposed to that) this internship has turned out to be so much more. First off, we are a team of 11, and we're not interns, we're summer staff. When we meet at 8 every morning, I still can't believe that I get the privilege to work along such amazing people! 

There is so much more to this place than just an internship. On our second day of the job, we were given the task of teaching English for two hours at the local middle school. We had a little bit of preparation, but other than that, we were basically tossed into the deep end and told to swim. Luckily the day went through without a hitch. We were even invited back the next day to teach the teachers as well. It was funny to see the kids faces when I walked into the classroom when they were expecting a "real" American to teach them, and they got me. Some asked me if I spoke Chinese and I would just reply "This is English class, we speak English." And I would just bluff my way through. Oh, and the official tally is up to 41 people who have tried to talk to me since I've been here.

 We met some of the children today and heard their stories and it was my first emotional experience since coming here. They are so sweet and precious and loving that I can't imagine anyone leaving them. What I want to do is adopt them myself, but apparently you have to be 30 to adopt in China, so I have some time. Seeing them just makes me realize how easy my own experience has been in comparison, they've gone through all that I had to and beyond that and it breaks my heart that I was so fortunate and they still soldier on. These kids are my heroes. And they just represent a nameless and faceless thousands that haven't made it to a loving place such as this. As part of our training, we saw some photos of the other orphanages around China, and the realities are this, there are simply not enough people to care for the orphans here. One care giver can be responsible to an upwards of 20 children. There are just stories upon stories upon stories of kids not getting the proper care. To find out more about what kind of children I'll be working here this summer, here's the blog for the foster home


As I have been here for about a week now, I feel as if I've acclimated to living here and living among these people. My roommates are amazing, as are the other volunteers that inhabit this place. I'm beginning to accept this as life, which is both thrilling and scary at the same time because of the short time that I'm actually living here. 

We're traveling into the heart of Beijing on Monday for the annual Dragon Boat Festival which is one of the most celebrated festivals in China with only Chinese New Year and the Autumn Moon Festival being more important. The tradition spanning back to 300 b.c. When the famous poet Chu Yuan fell out of favor with the emperor and threw himself into the Mi Low river. The local people loved and respected him so much that the immediately went searching for his body, all the while throwing rice into the river so that the river dragons would not eat him. Chu Yuan was never found, but every year on the fifth day of the fifth moon, people gather and race boats that are painted to look like dragons in his honor. I cannot explain my excitement to be able to participate in such a wonderful cultural holiday. I have a growing respect for the Chinese people and their culture with civilization spanning back to the days that parallel to that of Ancient Greece. I'm proud to have come from such a people and I'm excited to share in their happiness with the upcoming holiday! 

Well, I suppose that's a good place to leave at for now! Hopefully I'll be able to write later and add some photos of the festival to accompany this blog that has gotten much too wordy for my taste! 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

So, this is China

Well, now that I've been here for a few days, I finally got internet connection and I'll be posting some of my thoughts from the last week. I'm living right outside of Beijing. So here's some of my journal enteries... The internet here is extremely spotty, so I don't think I'll be posting many if any videos from here on out.. Also, we're not allowed to take photos of the village here, unfortunately The foster home has been under government servalence for quite sometime, so I don't get to show you what the town actually looks like... Sorry...

Day 1
Well I’m all settled in at my apartment, What an interesting day. My dad was almost in tears watching me in the rearview mirror as the driver took him back to Beijing. Its only been about 6 hours since I got here and I’ve already met so many awesome people. There are two other groups here right now. One from an 11 month program called the World Race which is a mission trip that does 11 countries in 11 months! Now that is definitely going on my bucket list! I’m actually not the most well traveled in a group of people and I really like that. There are so many here with much more life experience than me and I look forward to learning from them. Since I got here on a weekend technically, the next two days should be quite interesting because I don’t have a cafeteria to eat at so I’m basically on my own in a new town. I’m pretty sure there’s some good eats around here somewhere, but I need to make some friends to find those places. My orientation should be about a week long and then we get our final assignments (thats the good part) and we start our Chinese lessons as well. It’ll be good for me to get some language in. Considering that I should probably begin to sound how I look if that makes any sense. I spoke to a couple at our hotel this morning and they seemed more surprised that perfect English was falling out of my mouth than the Chinese people I’ve encountered. For some reason, I feel absolutely wrecked right now, and its only 11:15. I’m heading to sleep. 

Day 2
Well I woke up this morning to the sound of buzzing in my ear. You know that saying that you’ll probably swallow around 12 bugs in your lifetime? I’m pretty sure that I’ll reach that quota over my time here. Its so awesome how welcoming everyone here is. I’ve already made quick friends with one of my roommates, Cara, and her friends Terin and Dennis from the amazing race and an english teacher here respectively. I had my first taste of the village from ridding on the back of Dennis’ bike this morning, through the rain. Once again. Welcome to China. haha. Most, if not all of the people that I’ve met so far have been nothing short of welcoming. They are all so amazing and well traveled and experienced, it really blows my mind. ya. to not be the first well experienced traveler in the group? not to mention, i’m one of the youngest here, most of the volunteers being at least 20, and also somewhat fluent in Chinese and considering that my Chinese is next to nonexistent, ya, I’ll admit that I feel a little daunted. So for now I’m just in this waiting period that feels like a summer camp. I start my training and Chinese classes next week. 

Day 3
Well I've now been here for a couple of days and it's been one heck of a ride. Literally, one of the first things I did here was ride on the back of a guy's bike (that I had only known for less than 24 hours, but it's cool, we're friends now) for an hour around the villiage, and that was my tour of the village. We went to the lunar market this morning and I'm still having to remind myself that this is real. I'm not going to romanticize it by any means, there was a creak next to it that smelled quite fishy, or that may have been the market itself. 

We said good bye to our friends from the World Race today as they are beginning their journey home to the states. I'm already missing them. It's crazy how you can become friends with people who have known you for less than 3 days and already feel that sadness when it's time to say goodbye. I have a feeling that they're the kind of people that I will run into again, probably when I least expect it. 

The last of the summer staff arrived this morning, so we are ten in total, from all over actually, all over the US and then also Ireland. Life stories over food from the Pink Noodle House down the road can quickly solidify most friendships I'd say. Well that plus the knowledge that we're living with each other for the next 6 weeks. Once again, I'm loving the fact that I'm probably the youngest and least experienced here. 

Every day here has been a new adventure and I'm so excited that my work hasn't even begun yet! Also, I do believe that my definition of clean will definitely shift while I'm here, in fact I can already feel it. Haha! I know I will be challenged, and I will be inspired. It's going to be (as if it hasn't already been) an amazing ride. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

One Exhausted Tourist

Well, we finished our final day exploring Beijing, and what began as a nervous venture stepping outside the doors of our comfort zone (otherwise known as the Holiday Inn) turned out be be quite a successful day. As you can imagine, when you are a foreigner who does not look like a foreigner and that said foreigner's traveling companion who actually does look foreign, navigation can be quite tricky. Most of our frustrations came from trying to find a taxi that would serve us both. Some would say no because my dad was a "Westerner" and some would say no to me because I, not being able to explain myself or my situation, unfortunately gave many the impression that I had some sort of mental disability. By the way, tally for the number of people who have spoken to me and expected a response: 31... and I'm expecting that number to rise...

Fortunately, we were able to find the few (and what a relief that was) who spoke enough english to be able to get around this maze of a city. We hit all the big sites. Tiananman Square, The Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City. Yep, we were "those" tourists, and if there was not such thing as a language barrier, I would have totally gone for the more "off the beaten path" types of places. But, we could barely get around as it was, plus, those are world famous places, so we weren't complaining.

Funny story time: when we visited the Temple of Heaven, another tourist asked me to take his picture. He asked me to do this in Chinese. The only reason I knew what he was asking was because he held his phone out to me with the camera app open. So I just smiled and took the phone while he posed. "Yi, er, san" and then a shutter noise, I'm pretty sure he said thank you to me because, aside from knowing how to count to three, I can also recognize "xie xie"... so in other words, he fell for it! Yes!
*pumps fist triumphantly in the air*

What I find interesting about Tiananman Square is that I think it has almost two different histories. As many of you probably know, this square is famous for a student protest and subsequent massacre in 1989, but I'm sure that the locals don't even consider that to be a part of history. Another thought with a nod to George Orwell's 1984 and I'll leave it at that. For my complete thoughts on this matter, we should get together and have coffee.

Another gem we seemed to have stumbled on was the Chinese National Museum. We spent a better half of our morning exploring the exhibit on ancient China, the oldest things in there we found to be about 2000 years old. Of course there were things in there older than that, but mainly arrow heads, rock carvings or something of the sort. What we found from 4 A.D. were a pair of shoes. Shoes. I have Toms that are in worse condition than those ancient things!

The Forbidden City is absolutely huge. It is a massive complex of many buildings that are so intricately decorated that my head was spinning. We met a great tour guide named Luis who was able to help us out a ton. Not to mention, he secured a taxi for us thereafter which got us where we needed to go next, as well as back to our hotel. Luis explained the palace complex in great detail and had extensive knowledge of the history of the place. The number of stories that filled those halls were too numerous to count or to even try to recall here.

We finished the day in some sort of shopping area trying to buy stuff to prepare for my internship and dad's journey home. Noting that I am currently without a phone, we decided to replace dad's SIM card with a Chinese one so that he'll leave me his phone and get another once he returns to the states the day after tomorrow.

I'm heading to my internship at the foster home tomorrow afternoon and I'm very nervous. Prayers are greatly appreciated. Seriously. I'm trying to figure out just exactly how I'm going to take care of myself and not screw anything up for the next six weeks, because my track record so far with this stunt I pulled losing my phone on the first day isn't looking so good. I'm praying for peace and that I won't forget the reason that I'm here in the first place, to work and serve. I pray that my eyes will be opened and that my heart will ache for this beautiful country and its people.

I'm drifting now. Dad's snoring once again. It might be a long night....I'll try and have some photos up soon. Thank you all for the reading and your continuous support!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Meet Destinee!!!!

This is Destinee! We're from the same orphanage in Ma'anshan, China....

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Back to the Beginning

Here's the video footage from my orphanage yesterday in Ma'anshan.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nanjing Today, Maanshan Tomorrow

Well, for those of you who are actually out there reading this and are either slightly interested in this adventure or are just humoring me, the good news is, we made it...Bad news, we had some slight bumps along the way... well first off, me being the wonderfully intelligent international traveler that I am, left my phone in a taxi, and more than likely, its long gone... so until I get all of that settled...no one call me, or a middle aged chinese man will pick up the phone.

Anyways, the rest of the day was actually pretty good, despite the horrible beginning. Dad and I wandered around the Nanjing mall and surrounding downtown area. We got lost a least four times and dad didn't want to take a chance on any of the local street food. By the time we got out of the hotel door, we were already turning heads. Its really funny, I actually blend in here quite well, but when you put me with a 6'3" American, thats when you get stared at. I lost count after 30 for the number of stares we got. Its weird, I've never felt more self-conscious about my ethnicity until I actually got to the place where I should be the least concerned about that. Its just funny, growing up, my friend groups were predominantly white, so I guess I'm just not used to seeing so many Asians in one place... Hahaha... Another thing that happened several times today was that whenever my father failed in his excellent international communication skills, the locals turned to me for an explanation/translation. Unfortunately, all I could do in those situations was shake my head and try my best to explain to them why I could only speak English.

When we went to dinner, we ended up wandering around until we happened upon a restaurant that had photos of the food with English subtitles. I couldn't help but think of that funny scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where his friend Brodie was in the middle of a foreign market square screaming "DOES ANYBODY SPEEK ENGLISH". Dat language barrier though! We also entertained ourselves with a little game of, how many white people can you see. I think the most we got to was five total.

What an odd mindset we Americans have. We just expect everyone to adapt to our language, our culture, and our attitudes. The thing about Nanjing is that its not a big touristy hub. Not too many foreigners think of it as the first place they want to see when they visit China. Its very industrialized, very grey, smog covers the skyline, and there are people literally everywhere. My first thought of it when we were in the thieving taxi driver's car was that this was my ideal setting for George Orwell's 1984. There was nothing strikingly beautiful or even remarkable. Its just that. A city. All the people I encountered today passed in a blur, although a few stuck out. At one point, Dad and I were walking by some shops and I saw a little girl squatting down to use the restroom on the side of the street. Like I said, completely different culture.

I'm excited to return to my birthplace tomorrow. I have no idea what to expect. We'll be visiting my orphanage of course as well as my drop off place (where I was left). Now thinking about my adoption, I've actually noticed quite a few people carrying around little girls today and I can't help but wonder at what point did they change their minds? I mean society as a whole? I can imagine that there are still plenty of little girls out there who have been abandoned, but if people are beginning to keep them now, I really do wonder what changed their minds. I can't help but wonder why or how anyone could ever imagine giving up their own child. Well obviously its possible for some people or else I wouldn't be writing this entry in the first place.

Now I'm beginning to ramble. I suppose I should sleep now. I'm not entirely sure how long I've been awake and my dad is currently snoring in the other bed in the room. I would've been posting photos and videos, but once again, I'm phoneless. So until we meet again!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Departing in... 3 Hours.... Sitting at an Airport...

So I'm currently sitting in the Houston airport and my flight leaves in 3 hours. Yes, I know, I got a flight at 1am....this is insane. I also got about 3 hours of sleep last night due to some work that I had to finish before I left. Yep! I'm GOING TO CHINA!!! It is still so surreal and I'm having a really hard time believing this is actually happening. I'll be there for seven weeks and I can't wait to see what is in store for me! This first week I'm going back to where it all began. Yep... I'm going back to my birthplace of Maanshan. I have no idea what to expect. I'm going to be visiting my orphanage as well as the place where I was found.

Honestly, this is the most I've given thought over the matter. My whole life I've just accepted the fact that I was left on a street as just a small part of my story. My life has been so much more than where it began. I've always thought of Texas as my home and that my parents were always my parents. I couldn't care less if they didn't give birth to me. I love them with all my heart and can't thank them enough for all they've done for me, including getting me back to the beginning. So here's my first video journal. Here's the beginning of my story.