A long long time ago…

A year ago today I left Beijing and flew to San Francisco and then to Pittsburgh and eventually made my way home. Just thinking of all that has taken place in a year’s time makes me realize how long and short a year is. China seems like such a long time ago. I think I’ve finally gotten over it. Thinking about it doesn’t make me wistful and sad anymore.

While I’m over it I still think the whole experience has changed my life. I am now a double major in Art and Chinese studies. I took Chinese 1 and loved it so much that I decided to stay for an extra year and get an extra degree. I’m excited about the program and it will require me to go back to China for a month in the summer of 2013. I’m going to be SO OLD whenever I finally graduate. 🙂 Regardless, I’m pretty excited about it.

School has been insanely busy. We’re in finals week now. Dead week just about killed me. I’m pretty sure I spent at least 80 hours in the studio last week. I’m firing kilns now. Which is stressful, but I like learning how to do it. It makes me feel like I’m figuring things out.

I’m so ready for a break and to see my family. Most of the time when a semester ends I feel very sad and dissatisfied. I feel like I have so much I still want to try and do and the idea of it all ending for awhile seems so sad. This semester is different though. I cannot wait for 3 weeks where I can sleep all I want, eat 3 times a day, and have NO assignments to work on. Not that I won’t bring work home with me. I’m going to continue studying my Chinese and I plan to bring clay home with me to practice handbuilding with. I also want to start writing about what I’m making and why. I’m quite sure I’ll have plenty to keep me busy for 3 weeks on top of visiting with my family.

I will miss the studio, I’m sure. I’ll miss my classmates. Bangmin is leaving to go back to China on the 22 of this month. His professer from China, Professor He, came and stayed with us for a month or so and he was wonderful. I miss him and I will miss Bangmin too. Also, Jeremy is graduating and I know I’ll miss him too. We have a lot of new people coming in and a few old ones coming back from China and a semester off. It is going to change the dynamic of the whole studio, but I’m looking forward to meeting and making new friends and seeing old ones too.

 

 

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And in the end…

Well, this is the end of this blog. Thanks for reading along and for leaving comments. You were all so encouraging!So we made it and now we’re all home. So let’s all go live happily ever after…shall we?

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Recap

I’ve debated whether or not to do a “recap” post. But life didn’t end when we got home and I feel like in most adventure stories people end the story on a climax and never talk about the trip back down. Because the trip back down doesn’t make a good story, but it’s real life and as important as the trip up. So feel free to skip right past this post but if you want to know a little bit about life on the other side of the climax then read on. I’m warning you, it’s very long and wordy!

(I brought back some China mold in my toothbrush.)

The people from my school talked about experiencing worse culture shock coming back to America than they did upon arriving in China. I was expecting to be overwhelmed by understanding all the ads and commercials around me or from being in such a “modern” place. But that was not at all hard to adjust to. The real culture shock was that for the first time I had something else to compare my country to and I got to view my country and culture and my personal way of life differently and in some ways I was shocked at how I felt about it. I don’t know what life post-China was like for my classmates. I can only share my experience. These are some of the things that I noticed being strange or upsetting to me when I got back:

3 days after getting back to the States I almost said “ni hao” to my cashier at the grocery store without thinking about it. I had become so accustomed to trying to speak Chinese whenever I could and I realized I no longer needed to. It made me sad.

Crazy drivers don’t freak me out as much anymore after being a passenger in China. That may be a bad thing.

When I got home I felt bored not living out of a suitcase and traveling. The idea of staying put in a place so familiar seemed so uninteresting and very depressing. I guess that was to be expected.

I felt like life was more “real” in China than in America. I think it was because we had no access to facebook and little internet in general. Most of my interactions took place face-to-face with people-not through wall-posts or phonecalls. I spent most of my days working with my hands or exploring a new place. I was mentally stimulated all the time. And when there was “nothing to do” I just enjoyed the quiet. I didn’t have music playing all the time or a TV on in the background for distraction. I just was quiet and thought about things and wrote things down. I felt like China had more of a “what you see is what you get” feel to it. Jingdezhen was not lovely–it was dirty and old and rugged. I felt like America was more fake–a lot of interaction and “relationships” were played out through social networking sites and a lot of time was spent in front of a computer or TV. Towns are much prettier and modern here but there is less community and interaction. I was disappointed. Life wasn’t as comfortable in China, but I liked it. The only modern convenience I really missed was a clothes dryer. And a working bathroom light.

I was not expecting to feel so sad about coming home. I missed and still miss the autonomy and independence and adventure I felt and experienced while there. When people I knew would see me in passing and say, “hey, how was China?” I hardly knew what to say. How do you sum up 3.5 months of your life in one sentence? Should I say, “it was great!”? No. Not all of it was great. Parts of it were. Parts of it were not great. Part of me didn’t even want to talk about China for awhile. It was too much to think through and every time I thought about it I got all nostalgic and emotional. I got homesick for China and still do sometimes. I miss the studio and the people who worked at the studio and Sagger. I miss Jingdezhen. Geez, I even miss the cats fighting in the dorm hallways at night. 🙂 I wish I could have all the things I love about China and America together at the same time, but I can’t.

I came home and had jet lag and had a hard time re-connecting to my family and friends in some ways because I had so little communication with them while I was in China. I mentioned before that those relationships pick up where they left off, but 3 months is a long time to not really know what is going on with your family and friends. When I first got back it took awhile to start to catch up with everyone. It was lonely.

Not everything in China was rosy. I got homesick. I got discouraged with my work and with myself. I quickly saw a lot of flaws and problems with myself that I want/ed to change. I know I didn’t handle every difficult situation I encountered in a Christian manner. I said and did and thought things I regretted and I felt terrible because of it. It took me a long time to get over that after I got home.

But I learned a lot. I learned a lot about another country and another way of life. I learned a little bit of a foreign language. I know way more mandarin that Spanish (I really only knew like 3 phrases in Spanish before I went though so maybe that doesn’t count for much?) and I am going to take a Chinese language class this fall. I learned a lot about ceramics. I learned a lot about myself and my relationship with God. I learned that his promise to “never leave me nor forsake me” is absolutely true. I learned that I need God so much. All the time.

And while this semester at home in the USA was difficult and had a lot of upheavals, things were good too. I got to see my family again. I had a fun time living with my roommates and having an apartment at school (somehow I luck out in the roommate department…all my roommates have been great). I got to know people at school better. I liked my classes and my teachers. I got to go back to my church and Bible studies which I missed greatly while I was away.

So that is an idea of what life post-China has been like. It’s been good and difficult. I don’t want to say that difficult times are bad times because I think that those times are when we experience growth and maturity. So overall I would say that the whole experience–the trip and the semester at home–was beautiful, difficult and exhausting. I’m now so glad that I went to China and I’m glad that I’m home. I’m on the other side of the climax and life has evened out again. I’m looking forward to the next adventure life throws my way and I’m grateful that I can look back and remember my time in China and the semester at home.

If you made it all the way through that then you deserve a reward! Your reward is I’m going to stop writing now. Thanks for letting me get all that out.

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Best of China

I thought I’d do a little “the best of China” post here to write down some of my favorite moments. Some of them have already been mentioned so forgive me if I repeat myself. And they are not in any particular order.

  • All the ceramics. Everywhere.
  • Egg wraps.
  • Our beautiful studio.
  • Watching the gatekeeper dance to Lady Gaga with Jess even though he didn’t like Lady Gaga.
  • How the gatekeeper said “yes” and “goodnight.”
  • Realizing at the end of the trip that when the gatekeeper would shake his head and say “wo de Bai Xue” he was not actually saying “you’re hopeless, Bai Xue.” but he was saying “my Bai Xue.” It’s nice to know someone claims you. Ha ha.
  • Mama yelling “Chefan” and hunting us down and making us go to dinner if we didn’t come fast enough. It gave it a family feeling.
  • When Ethan got his finger stuck in the fan and Li Chao couldn’t find his keys to the office so he kicked the door in to get the first aid kit. So Jackie Chan of him. 🙂
  • When Li Chao said it was polite for girls to wear makeup and the response he got for saying that.
  • When we were all having a sad day and Li Chao randomly sang “so much for my happy ending” like Avril Lavigne.
  • Learning and speaking and even understanding some Mandarin.
  • Tiny oranges.
  • Night Market.
  • When the ladies would go out on the track to dance together at night.
  • Seeing the older folks randomly doing tai chi on campus in the mornings.
  • My buddy Sagger.
  • making dumplings with the cooks even though I don’t like dumplings.
  • Having Jason Walker as a teacher.
  • Having Jessica as my roommate. Hundo, if you ever read this, thanks for being so fun and patient and such a good friend.
  • Our trip to the San Qing mountains.
  • Knowing the cooks loved us a little bit.
  • Having a Chinese name. And to have it mean Snow White of all things!
  • Going out for coffee with Li Chao and/or my classmates and our conversations.
  • Exploring Jingdezhen.
  • The exchange rate and how pretty China’s money is.
  • Maggie= the best translator.
  • Xi’an and Chen Lu.
And so much more. I didn’t realize how long this list would become! I don’t think I can write down all the best things I experienced. 
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The last day.

December 13 was our last day in China. It was a free day. We had no place to go, nothing pressing to do. Except pack. And that is always a challenge. I arrived in China with one checked suitcase and a backpack. I left with 2 checked suitcases, a carry on and a large purse that held my laptop, camera, ipod, etc. Crazy. I used to think packing was fun. Now I’ve changed my tune. It’s a pill. It takes so long. Partly because I play with everything before I pack it which takes some time. Eventually I end up stuffing everything into bags and hope I didn’t forget something. Fortunately, my roomie, who is extremely cheerful, seemed to have a great time packing which was fun to watch.

So after we packed we had nothing to do and we walked down the street to McDonalds and got coffee. You know, all the McDonalds I went to in China (I only went to two) were two stories tall. They had upstairs levels. We are pretty sure that one of the guys there was crazy because he was acting weird. Staring and sitting right next to our table, so we left and went back to the hotel. Keith found us and asked if we wanted to go to the Temple of Heaven with him. Why, sure! On our way to catch a taxi we found May who also agreed to come with us. I love how colorful both May and Jess are. They were fun and I miss them. Being around such creative, fun people is great and seeing the diversity in people’s work is fun and inspiring.One thing I loved about China and Beijing in particular was this combination of new and old. You could walk around and see these old, beautiful buildings and in the background see the skyline of skyscrapers.

It was hard to believe that this was it. We were done…the next day we were heading home. Here is something you should know about me. I hate being cold and I’m really nostalgic. Okay, that was 2 things that didn’t really have anything to do with each other, but trust me when I say I dealt with both of those things on our last day in China.I was sort of torn between going home and staying. Being in China allowed me to experience things I had never experienced before. Independence, adventure, autonomy, a new culture, meeting friends, incredible art and so much more. China also allowed me to experience some hardships that meant a lot to me. I was tired but I wasn’t sure I was ready to come home. Rather I wished I could have brought my loved ones to China with me to share in part of that adventure before heading home. But you know, I loved the people on the trip with me. Look at them:I love the ones who weren’t pictured too.

After we left the Temple of Heaven Jessica, May and I thought we would go back to the Silk Market once more so May could see it and we got lost. That’s when we found the scary Pearl Market. It was SO WILD. It really was a jungle. One time at school I went to a coffee shop and they were having live musicians perform and they sang this song and one line was “we’re in the jungle full of wild animals…and some people call it the city.” That is the best way to describe the pearl market. We were so overwhelmed that we left and went and got coffee instead and then waited about 30 minutes to catch a taxi.                                                                    (the “jungle”)And that was it. We finally made it home to our hotel and the next morning, bright and early, we made our way down to the lobby to catch our taxis and head to the airport. We got to say goodbye to Li Chao and Bob. It was so sad. We all made it onto our flight and landed in San Francisco. We made it through luggage and customs (there was not a single person in customs…we were so afraid it would be a big, drawn out ordeal but we didn’t have to have anyone search our luggage or anything) and said our goodbyes to each other. Then the last of us boarded our plane and headed home.

And that was it. It was over. Our big adventure. Finished. That was how it felt. So over. So final. Like I had left a whole world behind me. In a way I did. I left a whole different way of life behind and the only ones who knew what it was like were with me. And I wasn’t sure of what to do with myself. Even now when I sit and think about it all the emotion comes back and I remember what it was like to spend our last days in Jingdezhen and then Beijing. It’s sad, but it’s a good sad, you know?

Jet lag does funny things to you. So does getting over a big, crazy adventure. It took some time to get over all of it. I may write a little bit about that in another post. While the trip was over life, of course, continued and the trip affected me in a lot of ways. I don’t think the blog would be complete without talking a little bit about it. But, as I said before, that will be for another time.

Zaijian, Jongua! Wo ai ni!

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The Fantastic Wall of China!

So we got to the Great Wall and it was COLD! And we had to climb a bunch of stairs to get to the top. Adriana and I took our time while Erica and Jessica left us in their dust as they ascended the mountain. Jess took pity on us and instituted a “no roommate left behind” policy and waited for us at the top and from there we all enjoyed the scenery and the walk along the Great Wall. It was beautiful. And cold. And full of stairs. (Does that sound bitter? lol).It was beautiful. And once we started walking we really warmed up a bit so the girls didn’t have to listen to me complain about how cold I was. And how I couldn’t feel my feet anymore. And how there were so many stairs. And how I thought I was having altitude sickness. Just kidding. I didn’t complain THAT much. I think. I am pretty sure that for as many complaints as I had I did a lot of gushing over how beautiful it was too.
Of course the Great Wall was full of tourists. It was weird that by that point I found the tourists to be annoying. Because by this point we were not tourists at all, ya know? I know I could totally be pegged for a tourist. For one thing I was white. Dead give away. For a second thing, it was obvious that I’d hit up the Silk and Muslim markets. I had a fake pashima, fake Pumas, and a hand-woven Chinese bag…all of which I wore with pride. After all, you only live once and chances are that I’ll only ever get to go to China once. But I digress…(Hi Mom, Hi Dad!)

A few other snapshots from our visit.

I have no idea how they got that poor donkey up there.One of the most unforgettable parts of the visit was our trip back down the mountain. A few of us chose to ride down on the chute. You pay 50 yuan (roughly $7.50) and you get to ride a little cart down a chute to the bottom of the mountain. It was slightly ghetto and loads of fun. Along the way down I saw a few carts that seemed to have fallen off the track and wrecked…or maybe they put them there as incentive for visitors to follow the rules about not going down too fast. It was fun. You weren’t allowed to take pictures while riding though so no photo documentation. Just hen hao memories of the hen hao wall. I don’t know the Chinese word for “great” so hen hao will have to do. 🙂

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Beijing

We left lovely, warm (well, in the 60*s during the daytime) Xi’an and arrived in frigid Beijing. It was seriously only about 20 degrees the morning we arrived. We spent one hectic afternoon and evening the night before packing our stuff and making our way through huge crowds of people in the train station. It’s almost a miracle we all made it out together without getting lost! Fortunately we found our platform and all made it onto our train and settled in safely. We had cabins on this train. 4 people to each cabin. It was much more private than the train we took from Shanghai to Jingdezhen. When it got dark we turned the light off in our cabin and looked out the window at all the lights flying by and talked about our time in China and about going home. It was still so strange to think that after 3 months we were so close to being home. Beijing was our last stop after all.

We arrived bright and early in Beijing. I think we got off the train at about 8 am. We got to our hotel…a Super 8. Who knew you could find on in China!? After settling in and finding some breakfast we went to Tianamen Square.

 It’s amazing to somehow find yourself in a place you read about in history books. I never thought as a little kid or even as a teenager that I’d go to China. I’m so glad I went. 🙂 And I’m glad I got to go with these guys.

We also went into the Forbidden City. It was HUGE! I had no idea it was so big. My camera was dying so I only got about 2 pictures. Here is one of them. Here is another…it was taken in one of the gardens, which were really beautiful.It was so cold, and we were really sleep deprived so we didn’t do too much wandering around outside. We ended up catching a taxi to go back to our hotel to thaw out and later that night we went out to the Silk Market. A little snapshot while we were waiting to catch a taxi…

This isn’t actually the Silk Market…it seems I don’t have an photos from there, but this was the Pearl Market and it was just as wild if not more wild than the Silk Market. People were shouting and would grab you to try to bring you over to their counter/booth, etc. To be honest I missed Xi’an!

Beijing definitely had a different feel to it than Xi’an and the other cities we visited had. It was so busy! It made me miss Jingdezhen. Jingdezhen was considered a small town, but with over a million people in it it was more than big enough for me.

I’m afraid I don’t have too much to say about our first day in Beijing. It seems so long ago now although it really wasn’t too long ago. I think we were all pretty exhausted from our loooooong train ride. The next day was quite more memorable. We got to visit the Great Wall.

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