Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Necklace: Update

Months ago, I posted an entry called The Necklace. You can click here to get to the archive. It involved a critical conversation with a young lady whose unique pendant gave me a parable moment. It helped to turn our conversation from earthly to eternal. She listened so intently that I invited her to join us on Sunday morning. A few weekends later, she did so and has become a regular attender. She has even brought along a classmate who is her frequent companion on Sundays.

The Necklace was the last time I spoke in depth with her. We are always in the same circle of people on Sunday - from getting on the bus together, finding seats in fellowship and even cramming our growing group into a corner room of our favorite restaurant, we keep one another in sight. But, I knew that her story would have to require a laissez-faire approach from me, which basically meant no approach at all other than to watch and take my cues from her growing interest or disinterest.

On Sunday morning, it happened.

I arrived early. She, her classmate and a few others entered the building several minutes later and made their way over to where I was sitting. We greeted one another and exchanged the usual questions. And then she said, "You know, I think I'm ready. [The classmate] and I have both talked about what we've learned by coming here, and we both want to believe and become [what you are]."

My eyes dilated. "Wow," I said. I pulled her aside and asked if the Canuck and I could schedule some time to meet with her and the classmate this week to further discuss some things. We want to make sure that they understand. She agreed. We will have dinner together on Thursday evening.

This news is like a meteor slamming into a week in which I have felt out of touch with the person who is beyond compare in my life. I am disobedient, unfaithful, ungrateful, insensitive and a general flea market of vices. And yet...he shows me his magnificent faithfulness in a way that I never really expected. He, alone, is capable of drawing men to himself and yet, through the gift of grace, lets me glimpse how he still chooses to make me part of his everlasting story.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

siesta fiesta

Classes are finished and grades have been submitted.

Still, the week has demanded as much of me as teaching full time usually does. Yesterday morning, my bones felt heavy with fatigue as I reluctantly left the refuge of bed and headed to the immediate comfort of coffee and morning reading. Two hours later, I was doing kung fu maneuvers with the Canuck and our eager instructor, The Orphan (see 'orphan' tag for backstory).

After a lunch of homemade hamburgers - my punishment for losing a friendly bet - I felt my body beginning to wage silent protest against any ambitions I had for staying awake. The Orphan told me story after story, and being a quiet audience of one soon forced me to confess how tired I was. We agreed to rest for a while. It pleased me to know that he felt at home enough to stretch out on my sofa and make complete use of it and its pillows. I returned to the bed that I had been forced to abandon earlier in the day. I fell asleep to the gentle motor of an oscilating fan.

Sleep brought a temporary halt to a schedule that, while rich in company, has been meager in reprieve. One of my friends once said of her self-imposed breakneck days, "I can sleep when I'm dead." I will never ever understand that.


Above and below: learning how to make jaozi (Chinese dumplings) at a friend's house

Below: friends + chun bing (Chinese style burrito in which a flat pancake is stuffed at the table with whatever filling has been ordered -- one of my favorite things to eat in THE WHOLE WORLD)

Below: Japan rockin' the mic at ktv.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Time Out

What do I do when my week is filled with obligations and grading? I invite seven students over for waffles, pancakes and a few rounds of Mexican Train (a game involving dominoes) -- none of which they have ever tried.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Beginning September 2011, our team of three will become a team of five as we add a married couple to our group. Instead of living in the dorm with us, they will live up the street in campus apartments. The Canuck and I went to investigate the place yesterday to make sure that it meets contract standards. Since I took photos to share with the new tenants, I thought the slideshow might interest anyone who has no idea what a shoilet is (shower + toilet with no defined space in between), how small Chinese kitchens are, or why foreigners are amazed at having only one electrical outlet for an entire room.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Harbin lightning

Two friends and I were finishing up a pretty pathetic game of badminton last night when we noticed the wind shifting and distant flashes in the sky. Being from Georgia, I was quick to label it heat lightning. As you can see by the photo, I was wrong.

(I don't know who took the photo, but I found it today through a friend's blog.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Love Story (reposted)

With permission from a dear friend who's on the other side of the country, I have copied/pasted her recent entry here and have also linked to her blog here.

A Love Story

This is a story of love.

It began with pain; a bruise on the leg of a beggar child after he was kicked by a passing student.

It was breathed into being by grubby hand prints, and hungry faces. It was nurtured by a single persistent request for money and confusion in watery child eyes when people ran away from her filthy presence. It was birthed when the children revealed their names, their family, their simply childishness, their desire for some milk more than money.

This love story grew up in poverty and grime. It dragged cardboard boxes around in the streets and didn't wear socks and one time lost all of their shoes in the stinking ditch near the school gate. It broke their skin, cracked their noses, chapped their faces, tore their fingers, and one time left open pussy wounds all over the face of the smallest one. This love story only grew stronger and went out looking for the children to clean them, washing their faces and skinny arms up to their shoulders, and nurse them back to relative health.

It grew, not in time, but rather in packages of chicken which were bought consistently every time the children appeared. The love story started to include not just the beggars but the shopkeepers, students, and even people in another hemisphere. It matured until the beggars became claimed and watched for and packages were sent on their behalf and a grand plan to celebrate this love story was hatched and they asked students and learned the name of the pale one they used to believe was called 'Hello'.

Ms. Killy, when will you go to your hometown? they asked one day in a surprising change from their normal question which was can we buy something to eat?

And then they disappeared. For more than a week there were no children.

This story of love became a story of agony as a book bag, bought by a friend who heard the story and became part of it, filled with stuffed animals, coloring, books, and socks from America, as well as toothbrushes, snacks, tissues from here, sat getting dusty in a quickly emptying apartment. The police are collecting the beggars and sending them away this month, another friend sadly considered and the love story became frantic.

Love reaches entirely new levels when it can do nothing more than return to the source of its perfection.


A phone call: Ms. Kelly, the beggars are here! They came back! They are at the school gate! I will tell them to wait for you!

A teacher and three students quickly finished lunch, dashed to the school gate, scooped up the two smallest beggars as the oldest road a rusty bike that was at least ten sizes too large for him behind them.

A book bag bulging with things was ushered down from an apartment to a quiet place in the shade behind the building, right into the arms of the slightly confused, though happy, children.

A threesome of students unzipped the bag which the children didn't know what to do with and started to unload its contents on the grass for the wide-eyed, silent, dusty children to observe.

A tear, then two, then many ran down the faces of the students as they saw all that had been given. The children tilted their heads in disbelief until a stuffed monkey was drawn from the bag and the smallest one started giggling.

A love story was celebrated by three little ones, the very picture of every poor little one that the Son of perfect Love loves, shuffled down a broken, dirty sidewalk balancing a too large bike between them carrying a book bag filled with more than they had ever owned.

Ms. Kelly, today I am very moved. I know you really love those beggars. I... I want to be like you... I think you are like god declared one, rather choked up, student.

Now I will tell you which god I'm like...

And a new love story flinched with its first signs of life.

Monday, June 13, 2011

signs of summer

The main gate of our campus serves as a rendezvous point for many lunch and dinner meetings. As I was waiting for my student to arrive last night, I glanced at the front lawn of our iconic main building and realized that I was staring at something I've never seen in China: a gas-powered lawnmower.

And then I noticed that I wasn't the only one staring. There was a slight crowd of 12-15 people stopping to watch the monotonous activity of two hooded female workers carving parallel lines through the grass. I don't know if they were more transfixed by the lawnmowers or by the little oasis of greenery among a sea of steel and concrete. Forty or fifty years ago, grass and flora, in general, were almost unheard of. Trees, shrubs and anything bourgeois were ripped up, cut down, burned or shredded. Gardens bloomed only in memories. So...the sight of lush green turf growing at a State-run institution today is, well, perhaps worth stopping to watch and silently celebrate.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

In China, the ends justify the means...

student  19:24:52

me  19:25:05

student  19:25:50
I am faced with a hard problem   

me  19:26:09
Would you like to talk about it?

student  19:26:25

me  19:26:39

student  19:27:16
My friend in *Peking University ask me to write a composition for him
*Peking University is the top university in the country. 

student  19:27:35
but it is so hard for me,  

student  19:28:36
The title is 'refuse to be average'  

student  19:28:56
It is his homework  

me  19:30:24
And is the composition for a grade?

student  19:30:33

me  19:31:03
Well, what's going to happen to the composition?  Does he give it to the teacher?

student  19:31:05
Just a weekly homework and have nothing to do with grade  

me  19:31:21
So why has he asked you to do it for him?

student  19:33:09
well ,he is preparing for an impprtant competition  

me  19:34:02
What are you finding so difficult?

student  19:35:00
he asks me to write at least 1000 words  

me  19:35:17
Did you tell him yes or no?

student  19:35:30
i cannot write so many words  

student  19:35:57
I just told him that i will try my best to help him  

me  19:36:02
I see your problem like this:

me  19:36:12

me  19:36:21
The first "x" represents his request to you.

me  19:36:31
The second "x" represents the problem that you have encountered.

me  19:36:40
The final "x" represents the finished product.

me  19:37:24
Do you understand what I've said so far?

student  19:37:39

me  19:38:08
You're looking at the second "x" and are thinking, "How can I write 1000 words?"

student  19:38:50
I will challenge myself  

me  19:39:41
But I encourage you to look at the first x.  In saying yes to his request, you have broken a rule of international academia.  You have become an ally in cheating.  Your problem is not the 1000 words.  Your problem is that you are blind to right and wrong.  You have chosen to help a cheater continue to cheat and to deceive those around him, namely his professor, his classmates, and Peking University.

student  19:40:45
Oh,Jesus,you mean i made a serious mistake  

student  19:41:17
And my behavior is not moral  

me  19:42:05
That's what I'm telling you.  Cheating has become so common among Chinese students that no one recognizes it anymore...including you.

student  19:43:07
oh,i didn't even realize that i was cheating  

me  19:43:21
You now have a choice:  You can help your friend OR you can choose to do what's right and separate yourself from corruption.  It's your decision.

student  19:44:07
it is hard to decide  

me  19:45:18
Keep in mind that the choices you make now will set the standard for the choices you make in the future.  If you choose to be an ally in corruption now, you will lose your confidence to resist it in the future.

student  19:46:25
your words do make sense  

student  19:47:40
I will take it seriously   

student  19:48:45
Thank you   

student  19:48:56
I konw what i should do    

me  19:53:17
It's never too late to do what's right.  If your friend is a true friend, he will understand and might even come to respect you for standing up for what's right.  

student  19:54:10
I will tell him that  

student  19:55:58
I become so numb about such affairs  

me  19:56:04
And the title of the composition is, "Refuse to Be Average," right?  So standing up for honesty and integrity is doing exactly what the composition declares.  If he gets mad, tell him that you are putting into action what the essay demands in writing.

student  19:56:56
Ok,i will follow your advice  

me  19:57:36
Be prepared to pay the price.  Your friend might not forgive you.

student  19:58:35
I can foresee that  

student  19:59:12
When i return home,i will explain the reason in detail  

me  20:00:24
I hope he understands, but if not, you will still be without regret in this matter.  

student  20:02:03
We have been friends for 10years  

student  20:02:31
I believe that he can understand me  

me  20:02:52
This will be a pivotal test for your friendship.  Situations like this separate the wheat (the good part of the harvest) from the chaff (the waste).

student  20:04:07
That' right  

backseat's back, alright!

a typical Chinese classroom full of typical Chinese students with a slightly atypical teacher

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Regrets of the Dying

Through one of the students here, I came across this blog post by a former nurse. Interesting read. You can access the original website by clicking here.

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone's capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn't work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Friday, June 10, 2011


I got my Stateside trip for the summer booked the other day, and the travel agency that contracts with my university was kind enough to send me a two-page document. The first page was the itinerary in Chinese, and the second page, for my convenience, was in English. Apparently, the translator has an affection for Italian cheeses, family discounts and western Sudan.

June 27, CAxxxx darfur - north shore, 10:30 am - he jing
June 27, UAxxx north Beijing - add elder brother 16:10-16:03 Parmesan
June 27, UAxxx with elder brother -- Atlanta Parmesan 18:40 - kedesh

August 16, UAxxx Parmesan Atlanta - 09:25 08:20 - add elder brother
August 16, UAxxx add cheese - north Beijing gothic 13:07-15:15
August 16, CAxxxx north shore, then jing -- - 20:05

Sunday, June 5, 2011

phone a friend

I almost didn't answer the call because I didn't recognize the number. Almost.

Meagan, this is Ned from class five. I have a favor to ask you.

"Ok," I responded, already imagining that the request would come from the usual category of GRE help that dominates this season of every year.

I'm a contestant on a game show, and there's a question I don't know. I can call a friend, and that's you.

Until that point, I had been casually walking through my apartment with the phone caught between ear and shoulder. I stopped and repeated his explanation back to him, my heart tripping over itself in panic as I imagined my voice being broadcast to an audience sitting somewhere in the middle of this city of eight million. Not only did he call a teacher representing the most esteemed university in the entire northeastern corner of the country, but he called a foreign teacher whose name and face are recognized by at least 2000 students across the campus.

"Please don't let me look like an idiot," I prayed. What if the prize rested solely on my counsel? What if it was a large sum of money he could use for tuition? What if it was an all-expense paid trip to a European country? What if it was a new computer? I pined for an easy question like, "Which Steven Spielberg movie centers around a group of childhood misfits who stumble upon an ancient treasure map?"

Goonies, and you're welcome.

I took a deep breath. "Ok, so what's the question," I nervously ventured.

When did the American Revolution end?

Not. Even. Funny. Being a southerner, I could've answered that question in a fraction of a second had it been about the Civil War. I could've even provided the start date, as well. But the American Revolution? All that came to mind was 1770ish, and I imagined my student walking home in disgrace due to an American teacher's ambiguous answer of, "Uh, sometime between, ya know, 1770 and 1861."

So, I did what I could to salvage the situation. I opened my computer and burned a hole in the keyboard trying to get to Wikipedia. Nothing was said about resource restrictions, so I moved ahead until informed otherwise. In the meantime, I had to stall.

You mean the American Revolution and not the Civil War, right?

"Right," he confirmed.

The one time that I wanted a flowery poetic Chinese answer, I got one simple word.

Thanks for nothing, Ned. If you lose, it's because of efficient answers.

I had to keep stalling. Wikipedia was up but my eyes needed time to scan the article for key dates. My mind reached for the first question I could think of.

The first revolution?

"Uh, yes." He didn't seem confused because, of course, there were two American Revolutions.

As he responded, my eyes locked on a date.

"Well," I casually began (trying to betray my frenzy), "I think it was sometime around 1782 or 1783."

"Oh, ok. Thank you!" he replied.

I assumed that he had multiple choices and I had at least narrowed it down to the right one. We said goodbye, and I sat dazed in my chair for the next several minutes, wondering if I had managed to sound remotely knowledgeable while, at the same time, masking the unmistakable rhythm of keyboard strokes.

I told my team-mates about the experience and had to give them time to overcome their laughter when I confessed that I had asked the student to clarify if it was the first American Revolution to which he was referring. "It was the only thing that I could think of!" I whined.

A few days later, Ned approached me after class. I cut off all fringe conversation to hear the outcome. He smiled. "Do you remember that I called you last Saturday?"

Of course! You nearly gave me a heart attack. Was I right? I leaned forward with eyes wide open.

"Yes," he said, "but I wasn't on a game show. It was for the final exam project you assigned to us."

My jaw dropped. I had assigned - as I do almost every spring - a project in which teams have to create videos introducing some aspect of their lives to a western audience.

He continued, "So you'll get a surprise next week."

You've already given me enough of a surprise, Ned! You nearly took two years off my life with that question! How about I give YOU a surprise with a big fat F?!?!

The smile that had adorned his face went limp.

I tried to conceal my laughter but was quickly overcome by a combination of good humor and respect for a clever - if not yet fully understood - ruse.

So next week, I guess I'll find out how convincing I sound. I'm just glad he called rather than knocked at my door. That would've been a different outcome, altogether.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

POST #100

As proof of my social ineptitude, I actually gave prior thought to what post would receive the honor of commemorating my 100th blog entry. Essay? Photo? Interpretive claymation?

Before I had the chance to make my decision, I received a card from a quiet but faithful attender of one of my Wednesday classes. She handed me a white envelope at the end of the lesson, this afternoon. I opened it up on the way out of the building and realized that the card (and the envelope) were both handmade. (Although I have no idea who Daodao the dog is. Chinese - and Asians, in general - don't seem to outgrow "cute," which is something we expats have be willing to embrace for the sake of loving the culture.)

Since, then, it's the first day of June, my 100th entry AND a day in which I received a card full of original artwork, I think I found my 100th post...or maybe it found me.


Text: Meagan, It is the first time I feel so sad for an end of a class. Maybe you have little impression on me, for I am always stay silent in class. Er...I am not confident about my spoken English. Sometimes I can't find enough words to express myself. However it will not prevent you being my favorite teacher. I love you as well as your active class. They give me a lot, not only happiness but also something more important. Your humor and responsibility, your strict standard of pronounciation, your creative activities of class, all impress me. I don't know what is suitable to send to you as a gift. I love painting. I love Daodao the dog, as you see, so I painted Daodao card for you. You are such a great teacher. Being your student is a lucky thing! Thank you Meagan. I love Meagan.