Tuesday, February 23, 2010

a conTEXTual conversation

Right as I opened my door from returning home from dinner, I got this text message from one of my freshmen (no editing liberties taken):

I'm leaving home for school now. On the train, I miss my father, I miss my mother, I miss a lot. Just now when I looked at my mother's photo on the phone, I found tears in my eyes. Sometimes, I feel so guilty because I think I'm not trying my best to study, when my parents are working at their best to support me. 2 days ago, when China's 3rd gold medal winner Zhou Yang answered why she struggle so hard to win the Olympic championship, she said: I want my parents to live a better life. The moment I heard the words, the moment I cried silently in my heart.

I wrote back:

It is so good to hear from you. Leaving the familiarity of home is never easy, especially in your first year of university. It will get easier, but it'll never be EASY. But, for me, I'm glad that my heart aches when I am separated from my family because it means that we have something real and true between us. As for being worried that you'll disappoint your parents, think about this: Your performance here is only a fraction of who you are. I imagine that your parents would only regret their sacrifices if you failed to be the man that you want to be. I know of many people who were good students but pretty terrible people. The disappointment comes from seeing that a good education doesn't mean anything to a selfish heart. What you do with your education and your life is what your parents will remember. The question that you face now is, "What kind of man do I want to be and how am I working toward that goal?" It's as much a heart issue as it is a head issue.

He responded:

Thank you. I think I will keep this message and read it from time to time to remind me who I want to be and what I want to bring to my dearest parents. To tell you the truth, it really made me feel better when I read that "my heart aches because there is something real and true between us." Thank you!

May he find even greater peace and truth in pleasing the Father of fathers.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

an invaluable gift

Today was the birthday of my team-mate and frequent sidekick to my antics. We celebrated by inviting over about 20 friends. Most came. We ordered food from a nearby restaurant and then spent the evening eating, talking, laughing, snowboarding on the Wii, and making faces for photos. After that, we did what would naturally cap off an evening of birthday festivity: ktv (karaoke).

The highlight of the night, though, goes to a dear friend whom we met at the very beginning of our Harbin adventure and who was with us for our entire first year, but then he graduated and took a job in the southern city of Shenzhen. We miss him dearly. Maybe me, most of all. His loyalty and thoughtfulness are off the charts, and I yearn for the day when he's an eternal brother.

He secretly came back home to Harbin for Spring Festival and somehow - in the frenzy of activity tonight - weazled past me and hid in my bathroom until the Birthday Boy told me that he had a surprise for me. Out stepped our beloved friend whom I haven't seen since last June.

My mouth dropped open and I hugged him at least - AT LEAST - three times, the first two just to make sure it was real.

He will be in town for the next several days. We already reminisced tonight by singing some of our favorite songs together.

The gift of our close Chinese friends here is more than I ever asked for or imagined, and I am overjoyed that our little family will be complete for at least a little while.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's a small world, even for 1.3 billion people.

This afternoon, I heard the familiar beep of my text alert. I was in the other room and almost - ALMOST - ignored it. I'm glad I didn't. Instead, I read this from a fellow laborer who works at another university here in Harbin:

Interesting story for today. I'm flying out of a tiny airport in the south [of China] back to Harbin. The plane has major problems. They bus 16 of us 2 hours to Nanjing to get on a flight tonight. My Chinese is not at all good enough for this, but the Father placed a slight English speaker in the group. Just found out he is one of your students! Thank you for teaching.

Pretty amazing that one of my students and one of my colleagues would meet each other for the first time when both of them are 1666.43 miles away from the city and the person of greatest commonality.

Best text message of the day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chinese New Year comes wrapped up in weeks of festivities known as Spring Festival. During this time, the majority of the 1.3 billion people retreat to hometowns near and far. Businesses, restaurants and stores go completely dark or have limited hours. University campuses - ours included - remain hushed except for a few lingering students who are too poor to afford the train tickets home. Even the basketball courts - the last outposts to be deserted - are gilded in snow that remains undisturbed for several weeks.

In the quietness of life here, I've revisited some pleasures that usually get lost in the shadows of teaching, grading and making time for friends and students outside of class. I've started (yet another) blog, made granola from scratch, burned a batch of that granola to within seconds of being considered a new Olympic sport, tested a biscuit recipe, and even processed some digital photos. And speaking of Olympics, I've also worked in a healthy dose of the Vancouver games. I actually got teary-eyed when a Chinese couple took home the gold in the pairs skating division. Any married duo who, after 18 years together on and off the ice, breaks retirement to compete under the world's microscope deserves a little athletic bling. I'm also partial because they're from....drumroll, please...Harbin. 祝贺!

Lest I forget home, the biscuits that I made earlier reminded me of my aunt, whose sphere of culinary influence spans as far as the icy northeast corner of China. I thought of her while cutting in the shortening, and then I thought of who taught HER to do that. It was my great-grandmother, a petite and simple country woman who could've probably built a Gulf Coast armada out of dough, if she had felt like it. I hope that my amateur biscuits would have made her proud.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chinese New Year 2010

This is my second year in China, but my first time being here for Chinese New Year. (In 2009, my conference in Thailand kept me away from all the revelry.) This time, however, not only was I here for the festivites, but spent them with a dear Chinese family in a town two hours north of Harbin. We watched tv, made dumplings, set off fireworks using Grandpa's cigarette as our lighter, and washed as best we could with the ice cold water coming through the tap.

Hold Your Applause

Hey world.

Some people start blogs when a big adventure is afoot. Not me. I wait for a year and a half. I like to build suspense.

Welcome to my ramblings.