In The Way

First Week in China

We have arrived in Wuhan, China.

Valerie with some other teachers from the school after getting breakfast after going to the Grungy "hospital."

Valerie with some other teachers from the school after getting breakfast after going to the Grungy “hospital.”

Here’s a summary of what’s been going on.

We arrived on Thursday, and have spent this week either getting physicals, at the school preparing for students who come this upcoming Monday, and resting and recovering from jetlag.

A combination of the nasty pollution here and jetlag resulted in me being sick pretty much since we got here off and on. Upon immediately arriving I felt super dizzy. I thought that this was just from lack of sleep, but it continued for several days, and I still have it a little bit. Jetlag also results in me not being hungry when I am supposed to, and having a hard time sleeping at nighttime here.

The pollution is bad here. Very bad. Surprisingly bad. Valerie and I have bought a few plants for our apartment, and plan to buy more. We want to treat our apartment like the International Space Station – creating our own oxygen with plants.

Some examples of the pollution here:

  • The visibility is extremely low. You can probably not see for more than a few miles away, whereas in the states you can see for more like 10-20 miles away, if not farther on a clear day.
  • We have not really seen the sun very much since we got here. Some of this I think may be due to the weather system, but instead of having sunny days it seems like we have hazy days where the pollution, quite literally, diffuses the sunlight and stops it from reaching the earth.
  • We mopped our porch outside and after about 4 days it needed mopping because it was covered in a thin layer of dust/dirt/pollution.
  • I sneeze at least a dozen times a day, and try and blow my nose constantly. I am trying to keep my lungs clear of the stuff.

    While you can buy pocket kleenex here, this is the more popular option. A rather genius little device: Toilet paper roll/kleenex dispenser.

    While you can buy pocket kleenex here, this is the more popular option. A rather genius little device: Toilet paper roll/kleenex dispenser.

 

We feel quite helpless most of the time — we had to have other teachers from the school help us setup our gas, internet, phones, gas, and water. You cannot drink the water — it must be drunk from a water cooler. It costs $2-3 USD for 5 gallons of water or so. Now that we have everything setup we are able to relax at home much better.

Here’s how stuff is going with the school:

The teachers at the school are quite friendly. A new principal of the kindergarden arrived the same day we did for work, so she is new. She smiles a lot, but is very strict and we refer to her as Umbridge. I think this is a bit harsh, but it seems like the cultural is just rather pushy in all directions here. They do things differently here, and not really in a way that I like.

This has been our week:

  • Monday: Go to the school 8AM sharp. Meet some of the other teachers, get a tour. Then we get whisked away to a hospital about an hour away in the Guanggu District for a physical where they take our blood, get a chest x-ray, check our body fat, get a picture, that sort of thing. They were very fast and efficient, and at the time I thought the hospital was kind of grungy. There was basically no wait for any part of the process so the whole thing maybe took 35 minutes or so. Very fast. We get free lunches at the school but we are so late to lunch that they have run out of chopsticks and most of the food is cold. Oh well.
  • Tuesday: Go to the school. Wesley goes over a lot of the stuff we need to know about the schedule and classes and things, but we are interrupted multiple times by the higher ups with questions about how many English teachers are coming back, what classes we will teach, and other events going on this week, as well as debating whether we are getting paid for being at the school or not.
  • Wednesday: We took the day off to sleep in, watch Malcolm in the Middle, and work on getting internet setup. Our internet seems OK – most of the time it is fairly fast, but a few times we have gone to call landline phones in the US and it has been way to choppy to understand what the other person is saying. Sorry, Nonnie.
  • Thursday: Woke up at the crack of dawn to go to a different hospital for another physical. This hospital was incredibly grungy and gave me a much more optimistic view on the healthcare system in the US of A. I don’t think they ever mopped the floors, I saw several open wounds, there are no bandaids anywhere to be seen, there are long lines with people cutting in line to have their blood drawn, we wait for over an hour for the x-ray, there is one lightbulb per hallway, and I was too scared to look at the bathrooms. I’m surprised – it seems like  this place chose to reject the idea of how germs spread, or anything since Louis Pasteur and modern medicine.
  • Went to school, prepared the classroom, got our QQ — instant messenger setup, dug out flashcards, reviewed lesson plans. Internet stopped working around 1pm, so that ended a lot of our productivity. Tonight we go back to the school soon for some sort of meeting with the children’s parents. We were only told yesterday that we needed to be at this meeting — before that we were told NOT to come to the meeting. The lack of notice for anything and miscommunication can be very frustrating. We were told TODAY that our hours of working are supposed to be 7:30-5:30 now instead of 8-5. What? The most frustrating part of this whole scenario, and any other changes, is that we are pretty much powerless with whatever the heck they decide to do with us. Our only real bargaining power is, “If you do this, we will leave,” which isn’t really useful since we don’t actually intend to leave at this point.
    wpid-wp-1409305725026.jpeg

    My classroom, the Deer classroom

    Our apartment is quite nice. My only complaint about it is the air pollution. We have awesome air conditioners, nice garden and trees outside, and are within about a 2 minute walk of many restaurants and shops. Our kitchen is pretty tiny and does not have an oven. We will buy one so we can cook cookies — a great American tradition. We live in an apartment complex pronounced Wonka Mailee. And the kindergarden school looks like a colorful castle – so we go from Willy Wonka land to the Kindergarden Castle.

    You can see what our apartment complex looks like behind this woman. We see this woman everyday on this road picking up recycling. Sometimes she picks it up and takes it away, othert times she hides it in the bushes.

    You can see what our apartment complex looks like behind this woman. We see this woman everyday on this road picking up recycling. Sometimes she picks it up and takes it away, othert times she hides it in the bushes.

    I have started making Mandarin flashcards — like 5 per day. I will start taking mandarin lessons soon, I am trying to decide who will be able to teach me. My coworkers at the school hardly speak any English, so it has already forced me to start learning certain phrases like, “I don’t understand.” and “How do you say” and “Good morning.”

Hoping to get more plants soon, and maybe see if we can order an air purifier from TaoBao.

Questions on anything? Ask away!

Going to China!

David:

Valerie and I are preparing to move to China for one year to become Kindergarten English teachers. We have our stuff packed, our finances in order, and are pretty much ready to roll. As much as you can be ready for this sort of thing.

Our flight leaves Wednesday morning at 1AM on August the 20th. We should have a VPN when we get to China, so I am hoping and planning to blog every once in a while with pictures and things. This will be our main blog site during our trip, so please, subscribe via e-mail, add us to your feedly, or just check my (David) Facebook, where links to this blog will be showing up.

One thing about moving abroad are the neverending questions. Questions, questions, questions. They never end. Most of these questions were asked directly to Wesley and Marissa. There are many that I have not included as well.

I thought I’d compile all of the questions I have asked of Wesley and Marissa Lawton, or of the school, so far, along with some concise answers.

Here they are:


 

QUESTIONS

  1. What is the time difference? About 12 hours, depending where you live. So 7AM in Wuhan is 7pm in MI, give or take an hour. Wuhan is 12 hours ahead, so 7PM on Friday night is 7AM Saturday in Wuhan, China.
  2. What is the weather like? Hot and coldwise, it is like St. Louis. So below freezing in winter, very hot in the summer. However, it is also a tropical monsoon area, so lots of rain during summer, and more sun during winter.
  3. What is your apartment / living situation like? It is two bedroom, and supposedly has an American style bathroom and shower, and we will be in a high rise apartment with an elevator. But we will know better once we are there.
  4. How much are plane tickets? Well, we got our tickets for around $710 per person, for one way. So round trip would be at LEAST 1500 per person. And that is purchasing them like 2-3 months in advance.
  5. Are you certified teacher? To Chinese standards, yes. But in reality, not really. We completed an online TEFL course which took about 40 hours, plus $200 or so per person. It was officially a 140 hour course, but definitely did not take that long. It was really easy, and I learned a little bit about grammar.
  6. Did you have to get a Visa? Yes, we got a work “Z” Visa. We used a website called Chinese Visa Express so that we didn’t have to make 2 visits to the Chinese embassy.
  7. What is the work like? We will be Kindergarten teachers teaching English. I am really looking forward to it, and I expect it will be a lot of fun.
  8. How much stuff can you bring with? For both Valerie and I we get: 4 giant checked bags, 2 carry ons, and 2 personal items/small backpacks.
  9. Are there any foods that are impossible to get while there? Cheese is really hard to get. So is Mexican food.  But apparently you can use a website called TaoBao, which is like Amazon, to order cheese and refrigerated American dairy products delivered straight to your door.
  10. Are there big spiders or other creepy crawlies? Not really. Or so they say.
  11. What is the pay like? We will be getting paid around $18,000 per person for the year, plus healthcare, housing, and meals at the school, as well as flight reimbursements. While not the most amazing pay, it is much better pay than the US Peace Corps or other similar “Volunteer” experiences. We expect to use a good chunk of the payment to pay off our student loans.
  12. Do you have access to fresh fruit? Yes.
  13. Is Facebook blocked? With a VPN, no.
  14. Can you buy coat hangers and umbrellas in China? Yes. They are made there.
  15. Do you need to speak Mandarin to survive? No, and yes. Valerie and I are both hoping to study, and take lessons, while in China. At this point in my life I can count to 10, say hello, thank you, and my name is David.

Thanks for reading, everyone! I look forward to continuing to update you on our newest adventure!

-David

 

From My Dad’s Kindle.

My father, Delbert Frank Shinabarger, passed away February 23rd.

I have inherited his Kindle, and have been reading through some of his books that he left on the device.

When I first opened the Kindle, it was left open on a book called “Called to Worship”, to a chapter/section entitled “Worship Before the Fall”.

I will include the section, and bold the specific page that was left open. I found it powerful and profound. Thanks for reading.


 

WORSHIP BEFORE THE FALL”

OUR TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY IS A POSTMODERN INFORMATION age. Machines talk to machines, info is measured in bits, and travelers purchase airline tickets without human intervention. Automated checkouts loudly bark prices with prerecorded, mechanical precision. With a click of a mouse, an e-mail has replaced the routine of licking a stamp, driving to the post office, and communicating with a human being.

Digital technology makes communication easier–but intimacy scarce. We pay our bills online, order our clothes through virtual boutiques, and shut out the unwanted distractions of a self-centered world by plugging in our MP3 players, iPods, iPod nanos, iPod shuffles, iPhones, BlackBerrys . . . My, how things have changed.

The way we establish relationships has changed, too. Internet dating is today’s substitute for traditional courtship, and virtual marriage counselors now provide cyberspace advice void of physical encounter. But in spite of our electronics explosion, cell-phpne dependency, and IM addiction, we are a lonely generation. Parents spend less time with their children. Kids are left alone to play video games or text their friends, while Mom and Dad scramble to make money and accumulate things–that is, if Mom and Dad are even together; more than half of American marriages end in divorce. As a result, more and more children are reared in single-parent homes, spending ever more of their time flying solo. But youngsters aren’t the only ones who suffer the bane of being alone. Grandparents, too, live in isolation in nursing homes, forgotten by a generation deluged with data–yet themselves just as isolated–and lonely. Loneliness is the unspoken disease of the soul. But God never intended for us to experience it. He created us to enjoy relationships, because He is the God of relationships.

At the end of your life, no one will remember much about what you have achieved in wealth or position. What people will recall is how you treated them. You will be remembered–or forgotten–based on the love you showed–or didn’t show–to those around you. They will recollect the relationship you had with them. That’s because all of life is about relationships. In fact, everything we do reflects something about the relationships we have–or don’t have–with friends, families, coworkers . . . and God.


 

The rest of the section talks about worship, and the importance of it in your life.

Thank you for all of the support. It has really meant a lot.

The Story of the Beautiful Free Kitchen Table

We are now over two months into being married.

For those of you reading this who are married, this might sound like a very short amount of time.

For those of you are not married, this might sound like a long time.

To me, it seems short. The last two months have gone by too fast.

The wedding was super fun. It was my favorite gathering I’ve been to – I was exhausted afterwards, but it was worth it. We saw many of our friends and family. To end the night we lit off a few Chinese lanterns we remembered we had, then crashed in the RV on site. It turns out some of our closest family and friends stayed up all night talking, playing twister, and enjoying the heart-shaped bonfire.

The honeymoon was perfect, too. We car camped at a different state or national forest campground in the upper peninsula of Michigan and northern Wisconsin. There are different stories to go with each and every day of that particular adventure. Those pictures will show up on Facebook one of these days.

We moved into our first place, a gorgeous two bedroom apartment located in the Midtown Neighborhood of Milwaukee – we are walking distance of downtown and Marquette University.

Living a married life is different. We moved in with very few things – all of it fit into the back of a mini van and Valerie’s car (Skinny P).

There are some very generous and helpful families at Unity, the church we attend, and which I am completing my year as Outreach Ministry Intern. One family member called me at the church and asked me what kind of things we needed for our apartment. I said our priority was finding a table we could eat dinner on with guests.

Fast forward a few hours. I am standing outside Unity on a Wednesday night. Wednesdays are nights of beautiful organized chaos where Jesus feeds, people eat, and many conversations happen. We serve something like 180 meals each week to various people living in the community.

In Guatemala, most restaurants would welcome you at the door with great enthusiasm to come in and enjoy dinner. If I am able, I like standing by the door and welcoming people. The double doors were wide open, letting in the beautiful crisp fall air. Some people ignore me when they walk in, reminding me of when I got paid to “Greet” at Wal-Mart, but thankfully most people look up, make eye contact, and say “Hi!”

This particular evening, a fellow walks in with a sign hanging off of his neck. I assume it is a sign asking for food or money like I see people with on my bicycle commute each day. I ask him “What’s the sign say?”, wondering what kind of response I will get.
The sign says, in all capitals FREE FREE FREE  — BEAUTIFUL KITCHEN TABLE SET WITH CHAIRS — FREE FREE FREE.

I realize this man is an angel sent from God. I ask him about the table, and he describes it as very nice. This is how things work around Unity. If you say you need something, it shows up like manna dropping from heaven. Whether it is bread, a coffee grinder, or emotional support in time of tragedy, it shows up. That Wednesday it just happened to be a Free Beautiful Kitchen table to furnish Valerie and I’s first home.

We eat dinner by candlelight on this table each night. It suits our first home. I hope we can use it for years, decades even.

It is a reminder of community and support. It is a reminder of what to be thankful for.

A Newcomer in Milwaukee

Ever since moving to Milwaukee, I don’t have a car. This isn’t new for me. I haven’t had a car since before Valerie and I’s cross-country bicycle trip in 2011, when I gave my parents back their full size van, the Starship Enterprise. I don’t think they got very much money for it, but I was glad to get rid of it and become car-free.

I didn’t need a car when I lived in Guatemala, when I worked for Youthworks, or when I was trucking away at getting a piece of paper labeled “BA in Global Studies”, which I still haven’t seen.

I moved to Milwaukee the first day of June, just over a month ago. I still don’t have a car, so things have been interesting. I bicycle everywhere. I mean, everywhere. Seriously. I love that Milwaukee is a small enough city that biking everywhere is actually feasible.

Things look differently on a bicycle. The people seem nicer, and more friendly. At least the ones that aren’t in cars. Just Sunday I was riding back from downtown from Vulture Space, a sort of bicycle cooperative on Plankinton in downtown MKE. I was riding one bike and holding the other with one hand, ghosting it next to me. I stopped at a stop sign at an intersection with a bar and lots of rainbows, and one guy says, “It looks like you lost someone! Come on in!” Friendly people here.

On a bicycle I have a bell that I ding, where I can wave to people if I recognize them. Or if they’re in my way on the bicycle path. Ha.

I go slow, on bike. My goal is to make people bicycle friendly, so I try not to come off as a jerk. I don’t wear spandex. If anything, I try to dress nice. Normal. Jeans and a t-shirt, or something like that. Someday I hope to get a cargo bike, something that can fit lots of stuff.

I’ve just upgraded my bike from a Schwinn Varsity to a Fuji Absolute. Reddit’s bicycle feed is filled with these people who want to show off their new bicycles. It’s called “NEW BIKE DAY.” Adults, it turns out, are like kids. Excited about their new toys. I’ve got a little bit of thicker wheels on it, and it fits me much better. Plus, it is lighterweight so I go significantly faster.

Every time I ride, I see something interesting. People ask me directions when I am downtown, and I pretend like I’m from MKE and tell them where they need to go. Most of the time they are searching for the Third Ward, which could definitely use more bicycle racks. And bike lanes, since I don’t think there are any there. Taking the lane is a good precaution, but pretty annoying for both parties.

On a bicycle, the neighborhood seems different. Better. Slower. Less alienated. We biked to Summerfest to see Switchfoot, where Jon Foreman read some of my favorite lines from the song “Gone”

“We got information in the information age

But do we know what life is outside of our convenient lexus cages?”

Their performance, I have to say, was better than Cake. Thanks for reading.

*EDIT* I changed the timestamp from July 29th to July 10th, when I wrote the blog post. *EDIT*

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