My vs. Our

My last trip to Korea I had a friend explain to me why I can’t introduce family as “my mom, my dad, etc.” He said they use “our mom, our brother, etc.” I thought this really interesting and completely in contrast with the US.

I can’t speak Korean, but in learning the few phrases I have, I’ve already noticed a change in the mindset of Korea vs. US. In Korea, and probably most of Asia, the idea within the family is “OUR”, whereas in America, everything is “MY”. In Korea, within the family, everything is shared; house, money, food, child raising, parent caretaking. And it spills over into friendships; paying for meals, bringing back gifts from trips. Even something so simple as grabbing an extra coffee for coworkers in the morning regardless of whether or not you’ve asked. It’s IN THE CULTURE to think of others. I really love this. I find myself saying “my” and “mine” so often, and I see how it’s led me to be stingy with my money and possessions. It’s hard for me to freely give because I’m always looking out for #1. I wonder how our society might benefit from letting go of a possessive attitude to a shared attitude. I mean, it’s things…stuff, for cryin’ out loud.

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“That’s How I Roll!” – China

Scenario #1:

Time: Saturday, Sept 22 8:52am

Grey’s Anatomy is playing on Hulu while I sip on a cup of coffee…..ok ok ok, I’m cross-stitching too. (I’m going to make an amazing REAL grandma someday, even if I never have children.)

*Phone rings*

Me: “Hello?”

Lady: “Hi, Emily. It’s Vivi. You were supposed to be in class this morning. Did they tell you about the make-up classes for today?”

Me: “Yes, they told us today would be make-up classes for Friday afternoon. I have class at 1:30pm today.”

Lady: “No, you were supposed to make-up Friday afternoon classes this morning.”

THAT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE!

Da Scoops: The Chinese National Holiday is coming up in the first week of October, so we were scheduled to make-up classes on Saturday, Sept 29. “Fine, ok. It’s in my planner.” (I’m pretty sure “plan” and “schedule”…just like “weekend” do not exist in the Chinese language.)

Yesterday(!) the government (the GOVERNMENT!!) decides to change that make-up day to THIS Saturday, Sept 22…not even 24 hr notice. They F’ed up the message so bad, no teachers showed up for class today b/c apparently there was a time change that got lost along the way.

And people wonder why I lose my mind here…..”76 more days, Em. 76 more days.”

Dear World,

Don’t be afraid of China.

Emily B.

China’s Spring Break

Tomb Sweeping Festival: I learned nothing because the family I stayed with doesn’t participate in it. Fine by me! We had a great time! I went to Zhangzhou with my (favorite) student, stayed with her family, enjoyed ridiculous amounts of professional level Chinese cuisine made by her mom and sat and watched the social interactions between family members. XiaoFen (Little fragrance, isn’t that a cute name?) is very lucky. She has a wonderful, healthy, stable family. It was a great trip! I’ll let the pictures help me explain.

Get Off the FREAKING Sidewalk!

I’ve made great strides in becoming more patient with the sometimes ridiculousness of this society. I can handle the squatty potties, carrying my own toilet paper wherever I go (no pun intended), and I’m trying my best with the hole in kid’s pants. I’ve even started to push and shove when it comes to getting on/off buses and trains. I step to the side when scooters and bikes come honking and ringing down the sideWALK. But there’s one thing that irks me to my core, so much that I end up yelling at the driver with road rage: buses on sidewalks. Boy, are they in for a treat when I learn how to say it in Chinese!

And I’ve even seen the big city buses take the sidewalk too. They don’t want to wait for the light to turn green to take a right (because the 5 cars in front are going straight) so they hop on the sidewalk. Why not, right? They’ve got people to pick up and places to go!

One time I was walking to church (Which reminds me, why is going to/getting ready for church a recipe for disaster? It’s like the mornings beckon an irritation or fight, all because you’re going to [and by going to, I mean rushed for] church. CHURCH! Such irony.), McDonald’s coffee in hand, when I hear a “beep beep”. Silly me, I assumed it was a car on the road. Nope, it’s bumper was literally touching my pant leg, letting me know I was in the way. “You can’t push and shove with cars, people! That’s how folks die! I almost spilled my coffee! And I’m going to church just so you know! Crap!”

I certainly never want to be the foreigner who always sees the negative simply because it’s different. I don’t want to ever insult a culture or speak as though its inferior. I’m feeling more and more at home here everyday, but I wonder if I’ll ever become accustomed to it all.

*Sigh* Let the beautification process continue.

Work Ethic in China…

Unmatched.

I thought this was so funny. Actually, our girls in our Foreign Affairs Office work really hard, but I couldn’t resist. It is a true example of how laid back things are here at Hwa Nan though, which I’m very grateful for. Everyone deserves a siesta now and then.

Beggar Lady

The other day while traveling back to campus from the Women’s Day celebration, we were hounded by a beggar. All that means is that she stood by us, shaking her cup of money saying “Xiexie, xiexie”. This beggar lady was pretty clever, however. The locals were quite embarrassed by her pestering foreign visitors so they’d give her money to leave us alone. She caught on, “If I keep standing by these white ladies, my fellow countrymen will give me money. Genius!” So she kept pestering us, and they kept giving her money to shew her away. I gotta say, good job Beggar Lady.

Taking photos of her made her shy away. I felt bad and thought, "I wonder how journalists feel when taking pictures of misfortunes and tragic events?"

As I take a second look at this photo it convicts my heart. Should I have given her money? Should I have told my fellow teacher friend, “You know what, you go on ahead. I’m gonna run and get her a bite to eat.” It’s not my place to judge what she might do with money given to her. It’s not my place to assume she’s made bad decisions in her life based on the fact that she’s asking others for money. There’s an infinite amount of possibilities of what this woman has been through. I could speculate all day and really, only God knows what’s going on with her.

I am, however, set apart, and called to take care of widows and orphans, to give money to the poor, and clothe and shelter those that have nothing and to visit those in prison. I must shamefully admit that I have never given money to the poor. I have never visited anyone in prison, and only a few times have I given clothes to those in need or meals to those who are hungry. What’s my excuse? My real excuse, not “because I was busy”. I know full well that when things are a priority, there’s always room in the schedule. Why didn’t my heart fill with compassion for her and find her a priority in that moment? Am I that selfish? Yes, and not because that’s what I think or want to believe, but because my actions spoke louder than my words that day.

I also have a hard time believing that giving someone money is showing the love of Christ. To me, it’s too easy. It’s like a man buying flowers for his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. “Thanks Honey, you really went out of your way to show your love for me on the only day of the year that expects it of you.” Uh, no. The only reason people gave her money was to get rid of her, to make her leave, to “shut her up”, the same reason the man buys the flowers, so he doesn’t have to hear “Why didn’t you get me anything for Valentine’s Day?”…to “shut her up”. (Don’t get defensive, I know this doesn’t apply to everyone) What’s the intention behind the action?

There are so many mixed emotions about this whole topic. I don’t know what’s right, what’s wrong. I only know that I should be more sensitive to if and when the Spirit prompts me to take care of those around me, in whatever way that may be.

Precious Moments

It’s funny, the odd and otherwise missed opportunities you get with students just being at the right place at the right time. Or even moments that could possibly seem negative are turned into the most precious of moments.

As a teacher you have your bright students, mediocre students, trying but failing students and then you have, well, the others. These are the ones that neither try nor care. Now, I don’t force English down my students’ throats. I get it. If someone came to America and said, “You must learn Chinese if you want to go anywhere in life”, I’d surely tell them to go suck it. So for my students who really want to learn English, awesome. I’m more than happy to help, and if they pay attention in class they’ll do great. But for those who couldn’t care less about learning English or maybe feel they just won’t ever need it, I respect that. I don’t agree, but whatever, it’s their life. For those students, I just want to make a connection. I want them to see that despite our language barrier, there are still a lot of similarities, and that I was in their shoes not but 7 or 8 years ago.

I remember it as clear as day. I remember how pointless I thought physics was, and how I just couldn’t find a relation between what I was passionate about, exercise, and chemistry. I do somewhat now, but there’s just some stuff you hate to learn, and for some of my girls, that’s English. Fortunately, there have been rare moments of a beautiful connections between me and not just any student, but the few particular students who seem to give me the hardest time in class. These moments are engrained in my brain and I love being reminded of them here and there, walking to and from class or sitting on the bus.

The knot game at English Corner.

One moment in particular, I had just finished English Corner (held every Friday at 6:15pm for free conversation) and was hanging out with some students who decided to show me their dorms. We had all bought bubble tea, and were chatting in the room. Well, each dorm room has up to 8 girls (crazy packed) with each one having their own little tent-like bunk beds, with sheets hanging from above for privacy. Well, in the midst of conversation, out pops one of my other student’s head. “Hello!”, she must’ve perked at the sound of her teacher’s voice. It was Nola, my most troublesome student. She was endlessly late to class, never did her homework, and had an attendance percentage of about 60%. She’s a smart girl, understands everything, but clearly doesn’t want to be at Hwa Nan. She’s probably one of the many forced to go to school here by parents. Anyways, she noticed we all had bubble tea and mentioned how hungry she was and wished she had the same. I had only taken a sip of mine being it was bought for me even though I didn’t really want it. I offered the rest to her, and she declined, but in following Chinese culture, I kept insisting her to take it, letting her know I was full from dinner and I really wanted her to have it. She finally accepted with a smile and humble nod of thanks. BAM, precious moment. There was a connection made that night with few words spoken. This was last semester, but I have her again this year. She’s never been late to class and has only missed once. PTL!

8 girls to a room, no A/C in the summer, no heater in the winter. I would've dropped out a long time ago. They all get colds at the same time, they all have horrendous mosquito bites in summer, and I'm sure their bodies are on the same "monthly cycle".

Another moment happened just the other day. Last week, as many of you saw (Hilarious Answers: Quiz 1), I gave my first test. Now, the way I catch cheaters is I simply watch during the test and make tiny notches next to names in the roll book. I don’t make a big scene, no scolding, no public humiliation. They don’t know they’ve been caught until they get their test back and it says ” Cheating = -10, No Curve”. After I gave back all the tests I made a list of people that needed to see me after class, the cheaters. They were all shamefully huddled around my desk with their eyes to the floor. I simply told them, “You are all very smart. I know you can do it by yourself. No more cheating. Understand?” And at the notice of my most lost-in-class student’s demeanor, I reached over and tilted her chin up, very cliche-like, with my finger, and said, “Don’t worry, I still like you. I just think you can do better.” BAM, connection made. I don’t now why I did such a cheesy mom-like sort of thing, but I did and everyone giggled and went encouraged about their day.

The key to teaching here is to be open, non-controlling and willing to meet these girls where they’re at. I have no idea what each of them deals with daily on the inside, the pressures from parents and society. I just know that I was placed in their life to show them a greater purpose and encourage them to dream big. English is such a tiny part of the story.