Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name still as sweet. A dumpling by any other name is still just a dumpling.

Forgive my lack of enthusiasm over dumplings but I'm just not a big fan. The ginger-y/pork-y/weird-unidentifiable-green-vegetable-y taste just doesn't do a lot for me. Kevin likes them though.

But despite their unappetizing appeal (to me at least), they sure are fun to make! Gigi taught me how to make them recently. These people are so amazing at working with dough. Her's were a thousand times better looking than mine. Here's looked like dumplings; mine looked like a squashed version of a turkey. Even after you rolled everything up and cooked it in the boiling water, you could still tell which ugly ones were the products of my Western hands.

The best part is that she let me eat just one and then laughed when I excused myself to have a salad for lunch instead. Why exactly did I move to this country when I really don't care for the food? Well, there is a reason and I hope you know what it is!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Don't you think I need one of these?

I think I do. Let's try to convince Kevin, ok?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My New Friend

I made a new friend today. Well, sort of...

Here's the deal: after my morning runs, I like to stretch at the make-shift playground that's right in front of my apartment building. Now mind you, as it is in most places around this country, I am far from alone. My company usually includes grandmothers who can kick their toes to their nose drill-team style and other such folk who are in the mood for a morning workout.

When I show up, I can create quite a stir among the crowd. They like to talk to me, (talk about me is more accurate) and comment on how great my language is.

(A short aside...They don't really mean it. They really and truly say it to everyone. You can open your mouth for .5 seconds, say hello in local language, and they'll go on for a while about how great your language is. Anyone of you could do it too. Promise. So seriously, I'm not bragging in the slightest.)

There are some regulars out on my playground. It's hard for me to remember their names all the time because...well...they're just so foreign. But I remember their faces! I saw one such friend this morning and remembered her immediately. She is a quiet, mousy sort of woman. She's around 30 years old and not married (which I've been told labels you as strange in this culture).

I wanted to be super sweet to her today, so I try to strike up a conversation involving the ever-titilating topic of the weather. She gives me a cursory response and then flips herself upsidedown on the monkey bars, immediately sending me on a nostalgia trip to good ol' North Oaks Elementary School recess. Trying desperately to resist my childish desires to tug at her ponytail or tease her for wearing a bra, I press on in my small talk. Our topic this time: Father's Day.

This topic whips her into more of a verbal frenzy, which would seem like a good thing but I guess after my third or fourth blank stare, she decides that something must be done to help my listening comprehension. So she positions herself about six inches from my face and starts addressing me in a rather loud voice.

After enduring a bit of this, I politely excuse myself to go home for a shower (humid weather + morning runs = necessary shower). Once I enter my building, I decide I need to take some risks in making friends. I mean, how am I going to meet people and build real friendships if all I talk about is the weather and holidays? So I march myself back up to her and ask her if she wants to come over for lunch sometime. I think I embarrassed her but she ended up saying yes.

When Gigi came over later, I told her what I did and she affirmed that I most likely embarrassed the chick. Oops. I also confessed to Gigi that I've forgotten my friend's name, but now Gigi is conspiring how to subtly re-discover her name and write it down for me.

Our lunch is later this week, so we'll see how it goes...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Second Birthday

Today is my second birthday, my re-birthday if you will. Eleven years ago today I became a Christian. I remember eleven years ago hearing about Jesus' life & purpose in a new way. It was more than smiley bumper stickers saying "Jesus loves you!" It was more than being a good person or going to church. It was more than walking old ladies across the street, feeding the poor, or even participating in Bible studies. Instead, it was real-life--my real-life--colliding with another real life lived thousands of years ago.

Living life for my own pleasure, convenience, and advancement is an offense to God who created me. My sin of not only ignoring him but of falling short of his every standard for my life caused a rift in my relationship with him. But the good news! O the good news! Jesus lived a perfect life on my behalf and died the death that I deserved, taking my punishment. His resurrection proved him more powerful than death and more powerful than the sin & selfishness in my own life. What was there for me to do but to abandon the feeble control I thought I had over my life and to turn to this Jesus who demonstrated his love for me in such a way?

Now of course eleven years ago, I didn't understand everything there was to understand (I still don't today for that matter!) But my fifteen year old heart recognized how it craved to know and be known by my Father in Heaven. I chose to follow him that day and haven't regretted it for a moment since.

Happy Re-Birthday to me! Praise God who gives new life!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rachel continued...

Now I know it's probably unfair to find such humor in the locals' English. I mean, to count how many ridiculous things must come out of my mouth everyday is just innumerable. But since Kevin's little language partner's "soft grass" antics were such a hit last week, I feel obliged to share her most recent musings.

"Your ears are too small for your head."

And my personal favorite...

"The grass on your arm has grown."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Soft grass

Kevin has recently made friends with a family. Once a week, he goes to their house for dinner. After dinner, he studies English with their 8 year-old daughter, whose English name is Rachel. In return, Rachel studies our new language with Kevin. It's somewhat of an imbalance because kids here have been studying English ever since they sit foot in a classroom (which starts really young here). Us...we're going on five months!

Rachel will read a sentence in English, then Kevin will read in our new language. Needless to say, it takes Kev a little longer to get through his. This leaves Rachel a little bit bored, so she has to find something to do to occupy herself. her favorite past time of late? Petting Kevin's arm hair.

This was last week's arm-hair stroking discussion:

Rachel: There's a fly in your arm.
Kevin: (pause in translating) Really?
Rachel: I think the fly thinks your arm is grass. Soft grass. (Pensive pause from Rachel, who then looks at her own arm) I have no grass.

Who ever thought that body hair would ever provide such entertainment?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

99.9% Sure

It's getting hot these days. Summer is here. Temperatures are rising. Women are busting out their sun umbrellas to keep their skin for becoming "black." The grandmothers are no longer asking me after my morning runs if I'm cold because I wore shorts.

Summer heat means one thing: it's air conditioner time. It's pretty impressive I think that we made it until June to turn on the AC. You can't do that in Texas for sure.

So on the day of AC's maiden voyage, I coincidentally had a stomach ache. I told Gigi about it and this was her prompt diagnosis:

1) You're pregnant.

2) You must have gotten sick from the air conditioner.

I'm 99.9% that neither of those were the cause of my stomach ache.

And I'm 99.9% sure that that is not Ben Franklin.

(Come on. Someone...anyone...please tell me you caught "The Office" allusion. Beth? Lee? Jenn? Anyone? Don't leave me hanging!)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Friend for hire

When I was in college, one of my good friends & roommates used to joke with each other that the only reason we were friends was because we were being paid by the other's mother. When you're too socially awkward to make friends on your own, your mama's got to step in and make some friends for you. It was only a joke back then...

Welcome the day where I am really and truly too awkward to make friends on my own. I now actually pay someone to be my friend. Her technical title is "househelper" but I like to call her my "Friend for Hire." Her blog name will be Gigi I think. You'll be hearing a lot about Gigi in the days to come because she's now pretty much my best friend. She's a local gal who comes over to help my keep my house in order, cook authentic local food for us for lunch, help us handle the myriad of issues (usually involving something breaking in my house) that pop up during daily life here, and reproduce the impossible to find/expensive to purchase foreign foods I so desperately miss. So far, she's wowed us with her salsa, made the most amazing snickerdoodle cookies, and put my dough skills to shame with her pizza dough. Pretty soon she'll be tossing her dough up in the air like a real Italian, singing "When the Moon Hits Your Eye."

But the best part of having Gigi around is the language practice. Truth be told, this was the number one reason we hired her. It's nice to have someone around to correct my bad grammar and to mercifully listen to the endless supply of ridiculous sentences I come up with. Plus, we laugh together, go shopping together, and just do life together.

Here are my favorite Gigi moments so far:

Today my tutor and I learned the sentence structure for "Although...I still." My sentence went something like this: Although he is attractive, I still don't want to marry him. Kevin is the best husband. Gigi looks at Kevin and with a serious face says something to him that we don't understand. After a quick dictionary consult, we figured out what she said: Aren't you moved? Ha! My homework is now an emotionally touching endeavor!

Yesterday, we were making English muffins in the kitchen and listening to her favorite local radio station. It must have been English hour or something because I could understand nearly all of the songs. There were a few songs I could understand but didn't recognize, a Christmas song (don't even bother to ask why they play Christmas songs in the summer...), and then the pinnacle of childhood musical nostalgia: Mariah Carey's "Dreamlover." I told Gigi that I actually knew this song and started to jam out on the chorus. She told me it sounded lovely.

Then I realized she thought I was being serious. "No! No! No!" I wanted to exclaim. "You can't sing Mariah Carey seriously! That's just wrong! You sing Mariah Carey when you're alone in the shower. You sing Mariah Carey when you're driving down deserted Texas highways with the windows rolled down. You do NOT sing Mariah Carey seriously! That's like reciting Spice Girl lyrics as if it was Shakespeare or looking at the back of a cereal box as if it were a painting at the Louvre." But seeing that I don't know how to say Spice Girls, cereal box, or the Louvre in order to explain my position to Gigi, I just stopped singing.

My new friend for hire will certainly provide some hearty Blog fodder, don't you think?!?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Foreigners on parade

Last week was a big holiday in our city, so our apartment complex threw a big party to celebrate. The festivites began with a hands-on activity of making the traditional food associated with this holiday.

It involved folding two big bamboo leaves just so, filling them with sticky rice & sweet dates, and then somehow turning this whole mess into a lovely little leaf package tied up with string. (Cue Julie Andrews singing "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things"). Seems like a difficult task? It was. But thankfully we all had the assistance of an overly-eager set of grandmothers. They're always so willing to tell us foreigners what we should and shouldn't be doing!

I finally made one that seemed somewhat correct and even met the approval of the grandmothers!

Did I mention that no one else besides the foreigners was asked to attempt to do this? Everyone else simply watched us. Am I starting to feel like a sideshow? Starting to? Oh wait. No. Felt that way for a long time.

The celebration continued with some singing performances. That's pretty normal around here. Then they had a contest involving marbles and chopsticks. The goal was to use chopsticks to move the marbles from one plate to another. On your next rainy day, you should try it. It's not easy! Our American friend Rachel had a ligitimate victory against an adult. I, on the other hand, barely eeked out a win against a little boy.

Again, let me take a moment to mention that it was only the foreigners who competed. I think next in line for the agenda of entertainment was the trapeze artists or the bearded lady...

Then it was time for some impromptu correographed dancing put on by a few Asain folks guessed it...the foreigners! Now I know that "impromptu correographer" dancing is an extremem oxymoron. It's not, however, when half the group knows the dance and the other half (namely, the foreigners) have no clue. So we (husbands included) did a little dance show that greatly resembled Jazzercise for the delight of the crown.

After about two hours of these little shananigans, I was ready to go home. But that's when the opera singing began. And went on...and on...and on. If you've never heard our local opera singing, just imagine high pitched voices and even higher pitched guitar-ish instruments. I know it's culturally beautiful but I have never been more reminded of the subjectivity of beauty until forced to listen to this for so long.

The show must go on! And it did. More opera until something magical happened. A group of important looking people showed up, made a quick tour of our shindig, and then promptly left. Then the party immediately ended.

I was later told that the secret to concluding the party was a group of people from the local government office. When you've got two foreign families living in your apartment complex and present at your holiday celebration, this apparently earns some bragging rights. Our friendly local leaders were supposed to show up when the rest of us did but were a little late (two hours late that is). So the show couldn't stop until they arrived. So it was opera song after opera song until they came, saw our lovely smiling white faces, then left.

Foreigners on parade!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Our cultural day

Sunday is our day off. I mean the entire day. We meet for worship on Friday afternoon so Sunday really is wide open. Sometimes we don't leave the house all day long. But sometimes we get daring for a little adventure. This past Sunday was one of those days.

We mounted our trusty new steeds (read: amazingly amazing to come!) and rode out to this fancy park in town. It was supposed to cost nearly $8 (almost equivalent to my beloved Honey Bunches of Oats that I can buy at the import store!) but we have this nifty season pass thing that lets us into the city parks for free. That means I get to buy myself a box of cereal, right? I mean I was saving money, wasn't I? I digress...

The park was acutally quite enjoyable. This past Thursday was a holiday, so the government rigged a plan to give everyone a three-day weekend by giving them Thursday & Friday off. Yes, you counted right. A three-day weekend would mean going back to work on Sunday, which is exactly what everyone did. A little strange in my book but it made for a pleasantly vacant park (or at least as vacant as one might expect in one of the most densly populated countries in the world!)

We meandered around for a while. Kevin got a creative bug and wished he has his journal. I got a creative bug and played with my fancy camera. Very few people bothered us, with the exception of one guy who asked us to pose in a picture with his friend. What do they even do with the random pictures they take of us foreigners?

So that was our day. Thrilling life we lead, isn't it?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Back by popular demand...

Yes, that's right! It's time for another rousing edition of...


Becky: My friend Rachel went back to America because her grandmother is...
Correct answer: sick
My answer: refridgerator

Kevin: Excuse me, I need to go to the...
Correct answer: restroom
Kevin's answer: radio

Becky: It's Monday so my ... is slow.
Correct answer: brain
My answer: bird

So hopefully all of your "birds" are not "refridgerator" but in perfect working condition so you can properly make your way to the "radio."

Until next time...