Monday, March 5, 2012

Home in Many Places

As many of you know, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks at home in Nigeria with my parents at the beginning of the year. In spite of a nation-wide strike and a series of protests across the country that began the day I arrived in Nigeria, my time at home was restful. As a matter of fact, not being able to get around because of a government-enforced curfew was just what I needed. I enjoyed quality time with friends who hosted me for a week (violent protests kept my parents from being able to reach me the first week I was home), then with my precious Mom and Dad. They spoiled me as if I were 6 years old again, and I did not complain. (By the way, "as if I were . . ." is proper grammar. Hearing people say "as if I was . . ." is one of my pet peeves :P Just saying).

I returned from my trip home feeling refreshed and ready to take on a new school term. Before the semester began, I and a few other teachers spent a couple of weeks visiting the homes of a few of our students who don't live too far from our city here. It was nice to be able to meet their families, eat the local, home-made cuisines, and enjoy the countryside landscape. I'll tell you all about it . . . in pictures!

Biking . . . and bumper-car-ing around the ancient wall in Jingzhou

For some reason, the object of the game became "let's attack Simi . . ."

Who Knew Noodles Came from Songzi?

Yes, that dear lady is spinning away at her noodle making machine in a shed in front of what seems to be her home . . .

Love At the Hearth
Our students families did not have much but they loved us with all that they had. Oh, that they might be satisfied with the source of unending love!
I fell in love with this precious mom of one of our students. I love her beautiful smile and her beautiful heart. She hardly ever left her spot by the coal stove the whole time we were visiting . . .
This was breakfast one morning. Every meal was this intense. I love China . . .

There is no central heating in most of southern China, and the temperatures get below freezing sometimes.

Where Does Their Help Come From?
When our student invited us to visit the most popular tourist site in his city--a temple for several deities located at the top of a mountain--I did not expect to see a mass of people making the pilgrimage uphill to pay obeisance. So many people; so many worries: unemployment, poverty, loneliness, unanswered questions, uncertainty about life . . . To whom do they turn for help?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Christmas in China

Christmas 2011 was a time for sharing old traditions and learning new ones. For the average Chinese student, Christmas is void of any religious implication. It is simply one of the many opportunities throughout the year to celebrate relationships and pay homage to materialism.

"On Christmas Eve," my students told me, "you give apples to your loved ones to symbolize your prayers for their safety and well-being." The Chinese word for apple is ping guo; for the Chinese, it is reminiscent of the word ping an, which connotes peace and safety. Christmas Eve for many of the youth in China is also a major shopping day. Stores offer huge discounts and remain open through the night, attracting droves of people. I had the opportunity to witness this for myself at Christmas.

On the 24th of December, two of our (mine and the other foreign teachers) favorite students surprised us by showing up with about 15 of their friends to make us a dumpling dinner. Dinner preparations began around 4:30pm and I joined in the assembly-line-style production, peeling, chopping, rolling, filling, folding, and on and on . . . . One thousand dumplings, eight side-dishes and four hours later, we sat down to enjoy the fruit of our labor.

Later that evening, I went with a couple of students to a nearby mall to witness this phenomenon of all-night shopping on Christmas Eve. Except I was there on special assignment :)

Free Hugs

A friend I met recently told me about how she shared the true essence of the season last Christmas and I thought I'd give it a try. The idea was simple: Stand in a public place holding up a sign that reads "Free Hugs" . . . then watch and see what happens. I decided to try out the experiment along with another teacher on my team. As the pictures and video below will show you, free hugs are welcome gifts wherever you are in the world!

Monday, December 12, 2011


Every week or so, I invariably get cornered by a group of students as I'm leaving my classroom or walking across campus and the conversation typically goes something like this:

"Hi, Simiiiii!!!"

"Hiiiiii . . . [Oh, no. I don't remember any of their names. A little help from above, please]."

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to my house!" *Big Smile!*

"Do you want to go to KTV?"

"Er . . . sure. I'd love to go sometime"

"Okay, let's go!"



And I'm whisked away, arms linked with girls whose names I don't remember (have I even met them?). And it's always a blast :)

KTV is a phenomenon you have to experience before you die. KTV is karaoke on steroids (to borrow a term used often by my SV friends). Imagine a building about the size of a motel, gilded on the outside with Vegas-style lights (or just Christmas lights for the more modest ones). You walk through ornate doorways into a palatial lobby and as you approach the front desk with your crew, strains of "P-p-p-p-oker Face" and "Baby" filter into your ears. You choose from among a selection of "packages." Two hours with snacks and drinks. Two hours, no snacks. Four hours with two rounds of snacks and drinks. Twelve hours.

As you're guided through corridors to your private music room, you hear eager, "home-made" renditions of songs you know and love (or used to love :P), as well as songs you've never heard, all belted-out with gusto. Finally, you arrive at your room and it's fitted with a cushioned wrap-around sofa, a large TV screen, a high-tech karaoke machine, microphones . . . and tambourines. Let the singing begin!

I'm Alive! An Overview of the Past Few Months

I did not intend to be gone this long.

There's a lot to fill you in on, but I'll only touch on the highlights and I'll give it to you in phases so you're not overwhelmed.

I must begin with an apology for my failure to keep my blog updated. Sometime in mid-September, the hard drive in my laptop crashed and I basically lost contact with the world outside China for the next month or so. Perhaps, it was what I needed to make sure I dived into the culture here right away, rather than seeking daily support from friends and family hundreds of miles away.

And it worked! I formed friendships right away, learned my way around (mostly just to the supermarket and the mall), and discovered how people keep themselves entertained around here.

October and November
flew like the wind, and not without their share of festivities and surprises. I built relationships with students as I attended student-organized events on campus or took up invitations to visit places of interest around the city. These were also busy months as I figured out what worked or didn't work teaching Oral English and adjusted accordingly. I'm still learning!

In November, we had the joy of celebrating Thanksgiving with some of our Chinese friends. The president of our university as well as a young couple who work in administration joined us for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of traditional turkey, we had pork and gravy :) Our guests also added to our fare various Chinese delights (and I'm not referring to the expensive heavy liquor our president brought. Long story. Don't worry, nobody had too much to drink).

And here we are! Advent is upon us and I am reveling in the sense of expectation of the Gift to come (the Gift that already came). I'll keep you posted on how we do Christmas this year :)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mmmm . . . Nothing Like a Hot Cup of Water on a 90-degree Summer Day

Apparently, if you order a glass of water with your meal at a restaurant in China, expect it to be piping hot with the steam still rising from the cup. That's different.

* * *

If anyone can figure out how to fit 14,000 students in one-square mile, China certainly can. This past weekend students began arriving on campus for the new school year, and it was a sight to behold. Yes, somehow, 14,000 students (minus the freshman class) arrived on our tiny campus, suitcases, blankets, and giant thermoses in hand (to carry their refreshing hot water, of course).

Classes began on Monday and when I walked into each of my classes, I was met with stares of curiosity. I don't think my students have encountered many Nigerians in their lifetime ;) I have about 250 second-year students in five classes, all business majors with dreams of making money and traveling West one day. They are eager to improve their spoken English, hungry for information about the world beyond their borders, and easy to fall in love with. Many a time this week, I have looked across my classroom and thought, "Wow! I get to spend a whole year with these students!"

I know it's only the "honeymoon" stage, as they say, but I'd like to think I'll be feeling the same way by the end of the school year :)

On the first day of each of my classes, I told my students that everyone lives for something/someone or is motivated by something/someone. "I am motivated by a desire to help people discover their purpose," I said to them.

I hope that by the end of the term, I will have nudged my students closer to discovering who they are.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dreams and Doorways

I'm home! For a little while, at least . . .

After over 24hrs of traveling, I arrived last week in Beijing for orientation with the team of English teachers I will be working with.

During our week in Beijing, my team was advised to experience as many of the major sites and landmarks as we could, in order to gain deeper knowledge of the people among whom we will be living for the next year.


I had the joy of climbing the Great Wall in Beijing with some friends from my group. What an experience! What a picture of perseverance and creativity! Again, at the Temple of Heaven and at the Forbidden Palace, I saw beauty in proportions that reminded me how great and magnificent my Creator is.

Reaching for something bigger?

China is beautiful . . . its colors, its many textures and rich history. Its people are unique and profound in their outlook. The grandiosity of their self-expression demonstrates the depth of their soul-searching.

I noticed (randomly) at each of the sites I visited that there were many windows and doorways.

Stepping into each doorway was like stepping into a dream . . . everything looked so familiar, yet, so unreal . . . so imposing, yet so fragile. Each doorway led to even greater beauty--an "inner circle," an ornate garden, or some valuable artifact. I might well have expected to reach the end of the tour and discover the proverbial pot of gold, or the center of the earth, or some other rare thing humanity has long quested for. But it was never there.

I could not help but wonder about the thousands of people who were making their pilgrimages to these famous sites. Did they have unanswered questions? Had they discovered the Doorway that leads to life? Would they return home fulfilled, satisfied?