Like Nothing I've Ever Experienced

Published: August 9th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

Durty Nellie'sDurty Nellie'sDurty Nellie's

The Bar where we hosted the migrant school fundraiser
Taking a stroll around the Fulicheng apartment complex has become an after-dinner ritual of mine. I've become a bit of a restless spirit and the walk, in combination with music provided by my ever-present iPod, is just the fix I need to calm myself down. That, and I've heard rumors that a white standard poodle lives in a nearby building, and I've made it my mission to go on a poodle stakeout each night until I spot him. (As many of you know, I have my own white standard poodle at home in Wisconsin, who is very dear to me). I have not been successful in my search thus far, but I refuse to give up.

At any rate, the walk is very pleasant and helps me feel like more of a member of the community. As the sun sets and the sky changes from the reds and oranges of early evening to the blackness of night, children play and parents gather together in small groups. Elderly people sit and chat on benches and little dogs joyfully run around together. I'm able to do a lot of my serious thinking during these walks. Previously, I was worrying about the choices I'll have to make in October, after my year-long teaching contract ends. Now, I'm working through my grandmother's passing. Each stage in the process is new to me, and therefore, difficult to take in. I don't feel any sense of closure, having missed her funeral, the chance to grieve with other family members and now the sorting of her possessions. This is why my nighttime walks have become so significant and important to me.

There are several songs on my iPod that make me think of my grandma, and one had just begun playing as I rounded the corner of the path through the gardens. I was thinking about how to make myself believe that my grandma was really gone when I suddenly felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I had goosebumps all over, even though the temperature was 86 degrees. My eyes widened by themselves and filled with hot tears. In that single instant, I felt the presence of both my grandparents. Grandpa John was on my left, Grandma Ruth was on my right and they were there walking with me through the garden. It was more than a vague sense of
Two Chinese staff members, Echo and AmandaTwo Chinese staff members, Echo and AmandaTwo Chinese staff members, Echo and Amanda

My closest friend, Seven, hasn't allowed me to take her picture yet, but I hope to post one soon.
their being; it was a full-blown, acutely aware feeling of physical presence. I could feel the pressure on my arms of their hands holding onto me. When imagining something like that after seeing a scary movie or the like, I've never been particularly thrilled with the idea of walking with those who have passed. This sensation was like nothing I've ever felt before. I felt totally, and completely at peace, although overwhelmed at the idea that two people who have passed from my life were with me once again. I feel like I could have easily imagined what transpired, but the sensation was so intense that I'm nearly positive that I didn't. This year has certainly been a year of firsts.

This is the first year that I've held a "real" job. I use quotes around the word real because I've worked part-time since the tender age of 15 (although my family would probably beg to differ as my version of part-time (one day a week) varies from their version of part-time (probably more than that)). This is not to say that I've never worked 40 hours a week before; in 2005, I interned at an adoption agency in Beijing. However, the difference in the way it feels to be interning and to be employed full-time is vast.

I originally came to China via a teaching program simply because I wanted to learn more Chinese and I needed to earn a salary in order to support myself (contrary to my brother's belief that I am made of money). I'd taught piano lessons for a couple of years and didn't find it enjoyable; I think "abominable" as a description will suffice. For this reason, my parents were very surprised to hear that I'd chosen to spend a year of my life doing something I'd previously detested. I rationalized that teaching English would be different than teaching piano. Turns out, it isn't. The one difference I have found is that I've somehow become a more willing and eager teacher than I was when I taught piano lessons in high school. When I first began teaching, I lacked confidence; it's not true that being a native English speaker enables someone to be a good English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. As the months passed, I became more confident in my teaching abilities and began to develop my individual teaching style.

I now feel that while I still have a lot to learn as a teacher, I am able to successfully impart my knowledge of the English language to my students. The better news is that I am beginning to enjoy it, and am even considering pursuing a teaching career upon my return to the United States (after all, who wouldn't want 3 months of vacation each year?). One of the best things about being at this stage in my life is that I feel as though my options are limitless and I have the energy and enthusiasm to try.

One of the unique things about my job here is that my school has been supporting a migrant children's school on the outskirts of Beijing for nearly 2 years now. I've previously mentioned these children who come to Beijing from the countryside with their parents who are searching for work. As they lack any legal papers enabling their presence in the city (every city resident must obtain a permit to live here) the parents end up working in shady construction jobs and the children get either a poor quality education or none at all. These schools are often without electricity, doors or windows (even in the dead of winter) and without sufficient textbooks or school materials. Right before I arrived in October, a charity run was held and successfully raised enough money to put in doors and windows at the school. A couple of months ago, we found out that the school could not afford a 7th grade, so this year's 6th graders had to choose between ending their educations now or returning to their hometowns to live with distant relatives in order to go to school. This was unacceptable to us, and so we held a rock and roll night at a local Irish-themed pub, Durty Nellie's. A local, and very talented, band played and everyone who came paid an admission donation of 50 RMB (about 6 USD). We also had a silent action, a raffle and 25% of the bar profits were donated as well. The night was a stunning success, and we reached and went over our goal of 30,000 RMB, largely due to generous donations from businesses and friends here and abroad. We're looking forward to starting up the 7th grade as soon as the logistics are worked out.

One thing I am trying to do at the moment is save money to travel to Thailand during the National Day holiday in October. The People's Republic of China was established by Mao Zedong on October 1, 1949 and so this day, October 1, is similar to the American Independence Day in that it was the day the country officially came to be. Just like the Chinese New Year and the May Holiday, we will be given a 3-day government sanctioned holiday which will hopefully be extended to an entire week. In this event, we must work one of our weekends beforehand (thus working a full 7 day week) in order to make up for the 2 days of work lost during the week-long holiday. I can never decide whether I feel that the Chinese system makes more or less sense than the American one. I'm eager to do some more traveling outside China (although Hong Kong was considered an international destination in terms of the price of the plane ticket and for visa purposes, I do not). Other countries under consideration are Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Malaysia, India and Japan. However, Thailand seems to be the winner due to flight prices and recommendations by friends.
College of Chinese Language and Culture College of Chinese Language and Culture College of Chinese Language and Culture

Me in front of the office of the department in which I studied in 2004

I was able to travel a bit this past weekend, returning to Tianjin where I'd spent my first experience in China studying Chinese at Nankai University during the summer of 2004. Nankai University is the Princeton or Brown of China, while Beijing University is the Harvard or Yale. It was a bit nostalgic to return to the city where I'd spent my first 10 weeks of Chinese exposure, but also a bit disconcerting as the city had changed dramatically since I left it 3 years ago. It's truly amazing what a difference a year makes in China, let alone 3.

In other exciting news, my parents and my brother will be arriving in Beijing in just over 2 weeks now. I still remember how far away June seemed when I arrived here in October; how quickly time has flown! I've requested 5 days off from work so will be able to join my parents' tour and stay with them in their (luxurious) hotel. I'm already planning (plotting) all of the extra things and areas I can show them during the short week they're here. It seems to be that growth in a person is only noticed by
Statue of Zhou EnlaiStatue of Zhou EnlaiStatue of Zhou Enlai

The university's most famous alumni, Zhou Enlai was alternately raised to power and demoted and humiliated by Mao Zedong
those who have not seen them for awhile, but in my case, I can sense the changes within myself. I expect that when my parents and brother arrive in China, they will not find the same young woman they knew 8 months ago. I have most definitely changed, and for the better. I've become a more patient and easygoing person; I'm sure my parents are chuckling over that statement, but it's the truth. My mother gave me a book when I was younger entitled "How to Not Sweat the Small Stuff" and I'm confident that now I could write the damn thing myself. In many ways, I have to credit my Grandma Ruth for the person I've become this year. Her passing taught me that so many of the little things that used to get to me are truly not worth getting upset over, and that life really can be lived positively and with good cheer and humor no matter the circumstances. Since I've learned these lessons, my life has become a happier one and a more fulfilling one, despite the recent hardships I've endured. And, above all else, I was taught the meaning of unconditional love.

Additional photos below
Photos: 14, Displayed: 14


Amazing street vendorAmazing street vendor
Amazing street vendor

This man created the most amazing designs out of a boiling hot caramel which he shaped on wax paper by dribbling with a spoon and then stuck a stick through to make a type of lollipop

One of the street vendor's designs
Crazy Chinese dessertCrazy Chinese dessert
Crazy Chinese dessert

Even the Tianjin locals didn't know what this was. i was confused when I saw people eating the plate along with the dessert, then later found out it was made out of rice.

6th June 2007

Indeed you've grown. Now I didn't know you before but the time I've known you, I have seen how you've changed...all for the better of course. Guess China will do that to a person. It definitely changed me or at least made me realize my true self. I must say, I feel your writing has improved and can feel that its more from the heart. Nevertheless, I always enjoy reading your blog and feel that your writing is beautiful. On that note, I look forward to your next entry.
7th June 2007

What Will We Find?
A daughter's adventure is also the parents' adventure. Being separated for the past eight months has taught all of us new ways to think and interact. We are looking forward with great anticipation to reuniting with a young woman who has grown so much and of whom we are so proud! We cannot go back to the past, even though we may yearn for some of its moments and people, but we can use the experiences and relationships of the past to guide our future path. We are so happy that our immediate future path leads to you, darling Merritt! Love, Mom

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