Thursday, October 23, 2014

Humor Challenge

True Confessions of a Laowai (A.K.A. Foreigner in China)
The following are humorous situations that actually occurred while I was living or traveling around China. 
1.                     My most embarrassing moment: While trying to introduce my 60 freshmen students to various American actors and actresses, I mistakenly turned to the sex scene of a Tom Cruise movie.
2.                     Someone told me that teaching English in China makes you important but not important at the same time.  What that means is that you think you are there to improve people’s English but the school wants to save face by using your employment as an advertisement to attract more students.   The same goes for attending parties, getting asked to teach English in your spare time and various other situations where you find yourself the only foreigner in a room full of Chinese. 
3.                     Conversed (in Mandarin) with Chinese who never once looked at me but instead at my companions who were not a part of the conversation. 
4.                     Invited friends over for “porridge” instead of “Western food” (spaghetti). 
5.                     Conversation with a student who never attended class: “Hi, how are you?” Reply: “How are you?” He may have been the university basketball star but he didn’t pass my class.
6.                     Endured Chinglish (English with Chinese grammar) like this: “I want to play with my boyfriend this weekend” from my students.
7.                     Joined an Australian wife eating bugs and watched her husband’s priceless reaction.
8.                     Made shocking statements in class like “Tom and Jerry are not Disney” and “There are a lot of poor people in America too”.
9.                     Watched people’s reactions as they tried to push their way into a crowded elevator. My baby’s stroller was taking up the extra space they thought we had.  Some people are insistent. 
10.                 Walked into restaurants and pointed at other people’s dishes to order our dinner.
11.                 Played badminton with students and a broken racket flew over the wall leaving a student holding the handle.
12.                 First time I heard the song ‘Yesterday Once More’ I honestly answered that I didn’t know the song.  By the time I left China I had memorized every word.
13.                 Saw a self-proclaimed 24/7 convenience store in our complex that closed at midnight and was still not open at 7 a.m.
14.                 Ate what I thought was a grape that turned out to be a Sichuan pepper. Found out why they should never be eaten.
15.                 Scared a man, not my fiancĂ©, and myself by climbing up the ladder to my bed on an overnight bus after a bathroom stop in the middle of the night.  Turns out I had entered the wrong bus.
16.                 Even after five years in China I had to repeatedly answer the question about how I knew Mandarin so well (I took two years in college) and how I could use chopsticks so well (I grew up in Hawaii with many Asian restaurants).
17.                 Birthday parties in restaurants sometimes ended in gigantic messes with frosting everywhere (including our faces and hair) and no one actually eating the cake. 
18.                 In the land of the one child family policy (China) we answered the question “How many children do you want?” with “Twelve” at our Chinese wedding banquet as a joke. 
19.                 At tourist spots a fellow traveler would tell Chinese tourists that the handsome young man we were with was a movie star.

20.                 On a flight between two cities read an in-flight magazine customer satisfaction survey.  It asked for your e-male. 

Autobiography Challenge

Hallelujah No Translation Required

Tears.  Why oh why won’t you stop?  Why am I a complete mess this morning?  There must be a reason. If I don’t pull myself together soon I don’t know what is going to happen.  Why does he have to leave? Can’t he see that I am in no state to be left alone for an hour let alone a week?  I can see it clearly now, he is off on his mission in the countryside and all I do is watch romantic comedies all day (every day) and eat Western food.  Maybe he’s right.  I will bankrupt us grieving alone.  Oh, so that’s it. Rachel went to heaven one month ago.   Didn’t the book my mom sent me say that anniversaries are super sensitive?  That makes total sense now.  Please, oh please, take me with you!

My inner dialogue was forgotten a week and a half later as we made our way down the meandrous road on a bright summer afternoon after a successful week of village doctor training in the Yunnan countryside.  The views were spectacular with the steep mountain on one side and a deep river valley on the other punctuated by whole communities of rural villagers with their houses precariously built into the mountainside.  Conversations flowed easily broken only by the occasional honking of our driver’s horn rounding the next bend on the narrow road, making our presence known to anyone going up the mountain path.  We were making great time on a trip usually reserved for overnight buses. 
Up ahead we came to a sudden halt.  A group of Lisu villagers were gathered in the middle of the road prancing around in a circle singing what were obviously praise songs.  We couldn’t understand any of their words except the intermittent “Hallelujah”.  No translation needed for that one.  We had stumbled upon a church celebration! 
Having been on the road for a couple of hours we took the opportunity to stop for a rest.  We must have been quite a sight, an international array of doctors and their families piling out of the car.  Standing on the sidelines we watched in amazement as everyone danced in synchronization without skipping a beat.  It wasn’t long before the bravest among us was answering their call to join them.  Grabbing hands, one by one we succumbed to clumsily learning new steps while being watched.  The universal language of smiles and laughter eased our embarrassment and lightened our hearts.  We arrived as strangers and parted as friends having participated in an act of worship together praising the same God no matter our languages or dancing skills. 

The impromptu mingle may have lasted only a few moments but the memories will stay with me forever.  In fact, that was the defining moment of the best summer I had in China and the best therapy for my broken heart after losing my first child to miscarriage.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Love and Grace Challenge

M is for Missionary

            “Ladies, ladies.  Please settle down and find your seats.  We are about to begin.” Using her hands, Hannah Saunders shushed the crowd of women.  “Who is ready to begin digging into God’s Word?  I know I am.  We have a great weekend planned but first let us get to know each other.  I want you to locate someone you don’t know and find your similarities by asking a few questions. Look to the screen above me if you need suggestions. Go.”

            Lisa Sparrow glanced at the list provided and patiently looked around for a newbie she could encourage.  She had been coming to these retreats since moving to China eight years ago and had been blessed every time.  Finally spotting a timid woman in the corner she approached her and boldly asked the first question on the list.  “Do you enjoy cooking?”

            A shocked Olivia White answered, “No, I don’t.  Do you?”

            “Not really.  My favorite phrase of my husband’s is ‘Honey, let’s go out tonight.’  It always makes me feel special.  Managing a household is hard work!  Oh, by the way I’m Lisa Sparrow.”

            Shaking the extended hand Olivia smiled, “Olivia White, nice to meet you.  I guess the next question is ‘How long have you been married and how many children?’”

            “Ten years and two children.  What about you Olivia?”

            “Six months, no children.  We just arrived here so that answers question three.”

            Not missing a beat Lisa continued, “We have been doing M work eight years and I have to say that this particular resort is my favorite place to visit.  I always come away from these weekends refreshed.  Have you had much time to travel yet?”

Confused, Olivia asked, “Excuse me Lisa, but what is M work?”

“M work is our term for what we do here.  It is short for missionary work,” Lisa answered matter-of-factly.   

”Oh, I see.  That makes sense.  To answer your question we have not had time to travel yet but we plan a trip to Chengdu soon to visit the U.S. Consulate.”

            “So, you are American then,” Lisa concluded. 

            “Yes, from Arkansas.  What about you?   Where are you from?  I hear an accent but I don’t do well with placing them yet,” Olivia lowered her eyes and whispered. 

            “The U.K. just outside of London.” Gingerly placing her hand on Olivia’s arm Lisa encouraged, “And don’t be ashamed of that Olivia.  You will learn quickly about other cultures when you meet enough people.”

            “I hope you are right,” Olivia nearly shouted over the timer signaling the end of the icebreaker. 

            “Lisa, do you want to introduce us to your new friend?” Hannah the M.C. asked.  “Please stand up both of you.”

            Avoiding eye contact an embarrassed Olivia held tightly onto the only person she knew in the room. 

            “This is Olivia White from Arkansas, United States.  She is newly married and newly arrived in China.  First time doing M work.  Her answer for love and grace was lovely.  I hope she can share it if asked.  Ladies please let us give a warm welcome to Olivia.”

            Quieting the applause Hannah first thanked Lisa before turning to Olivia, tenderly asking,  “And what have you learned about love and grace in your walk with God so far?”

            Gaining confidence Olivia asserted, “Love is boundless and Grace is immeasurable.  But, neither exists without the other.   Just like George Bailey in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ I shudder to think what my life would be like without either one of God’s gifts.  If you haven’t watched the classic American film I highly recommend it.”

From the back of the room a loud “Amen to that one,” came from an African-American sister, Sheila, who stood up and continued, “I love that movie, watch it every Christmas. But I love that comparison even more.  It makes you think.  Life without God’s love and grace?  No thank you!” Sheila shook her head. “Thanks for sharing Olivia and I know that we all look forward to getting to know our new American sister serving HIM in China!  Can I get another Amen?”

A unified chorus of “Amen” resounded in the room and reverberated off the walls changing forever the life of timid Olivia White embarking on a new adventure. 

Cat and Dog Challenge

It’s All Relative

Challenge: To teach sixteen-month Annabelle Smith her first animal sound. 

Persons Involved: One child, two parents, three cousins, four grandparents and five aunts/uncles. 

Mission: Six teams of two compete in teaching the child (Annabelle) her first animal sound by spending time with her repeating the approved sounds. 

Judges: Annabelle’s parents Jack and Melissa Smith. 

Approved Sounds: Meow and Ruffruff representing a dog and a cat.  Three teams will be assigned the cat and three teams will be assigned the dog. 

Timing: Smith/Richards Family Reunion July 5 – July 10. 

Rules: Only one team at a time with Annabelle not to exceed one hour each day per team. 

Prize: To Be Determined. 

“Honey?  How does this look?”  Not receiving a response Jack grabbed the newly printed piece of paper from the printer and went in search of his wife Melissa.  Finding her in the basement folding laundry he slyly added it to the top of her pile. 

            “What are you working on?” Melissa asked.

            “Oh, just something to make our reunion a little more fun, and competitive,” Jack winked. 

            “Let me see that.” Snatching the paper from under Annabelle’s pants Melissa began to read the paper.  “Sounds interesting. Do you really think this is a good idea?  Aren’t some of her cousins a little too small?  Arianna is only 4,” Melissa reminded her husband. 

            Jack looked over her shoulder and pointed out their role as judges.  “See that is the beauty of it.  We will determine who is teamed together.  We can match experience with enthusiasm.”
            “Well, alright. Let’s do it.  Let me finish the laundry and we can e-mail our families while Annabelle is still napping.”

            Two hours later the Smith’s received their first response in the form of a phone call from Auntie Becca Richards, the youngest of Melissa’s two siblings. 

            “Melissa, who came up with the challenge?  I think it is brilliant.  Can you tell me who I will be matched with?” Becca pleaded.

Placing the phone against her ear while stirring her spaghetti sauce Melissa paused in her response. 

“Are you there?” Becca asked.

“It was Jack.  He wants to make our time together more fun and competitive. I think he forgets that our family always take challenges seriously,” Melissa chuckled.

In her best voice of defeat Becca sighed, “In other words, I will have to wait for my partner.”

“That’s right.  See you in two weeks!”  Melissa placed her phone on the counter and continued preparing her dinner. 

            July 5: Tampa, Florida

            An air of excitement permeated Grandpa and Grandma Smith’s roomy dining room where the family was all gathered for the afternoon meal. 

            Jack’s older brother Bob turned to his sister-in-law and handed her the mashed potatoes.  “So Melissa, when will we start this challenge Jack organized?”

            “After lunch,” Jack responded from across the table amidst settling Annabelle into her high chair. “Thank you mom for this delicious meal.”

            One hour later over lemonade and banana bread everyone settled themselves in the living room as best as they could.  Jack spoke first.  “We have our teams assigned.”  Holding up his hand he warned, “Wait until I am finished then please find your teammate.  The sounds will be chosen from my hat.  The competition starts now.  Any questions?”

            When no one responded Jack rattled off the names of his relatives and soon the room was full of noise as everyone stood up to find their partners. Chattering ensued as strategies were quietly exchanged. 
            July 10: Smith Living Room

            “Drumroll please.  And the winners are: Six year old Danny Richards and Grandma Richards!  Congratulations!” Melissa handed them a scroll documenting their achievement.  “As of this morning 8 a.m. Annabelle can now say ‘Meow’.”

            “Doggie Ruffruff” young Annabelle interrupted. 

            From the largest to the smallest, everyone present erupted in deep belly laughter that couldn’t be contained.