A rare series of snowstorms have rendered the Seattle area into a beautiful winter scene.
November was a full month of fun experiences. I was invited to tea by another teacher and learned about Chinese tea culture. We drank fermented black and green tea from the Fujian province and a tea from the Yunnan province aged 15 years. I discovered the college Biology Department brews its own beer. Yes, beer–and better than any of the mass-produced stuff I can find in the shops.
In other activities, I attended an evening English Corner to talk with students about interview skills and a little bit about Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day I taught 2 classes and then gathered with students to make 饺子 (Jiao zi), which are dumplings stuffed with meat and vegetables, then boiled and eaten with a spicy soy sauce. I also celebrated Thanksgiving with other Peace Corps Volunteers and the next day had a potluck with some other foreign teachers in Mianyang.
October was a busy month as I further settled into life in Mianyang and my teaching schedule. An event of note was held to welcome the freshmen on the 21st. Each department of the university has one, complete with dancing, music, emcees, games, and flashy lights. Many of my students were involved in planning, performing, and the behind-the-scenes work. When students had first mentioned to me about this event, I thought it was just an activity for the English Corner, but as I’m learning, performances, competitions, and events are often big productions. Without knowing how these things usually go, I told my students I’d give a short speech. Well, I did, and it felt a little out of place to all the performances of the night, but my words were nevertheless meaningful. Then to my surprise, during an actual English Corner activity about Halloween the following week, the Dean of the Foreign Languages Department kicked off the night by name-dropping me in his speech and paraphrasing to them what I had said before.
Earlier in the month I attended an “international” food festival that mostly comprised of Chinese street food. The students I went with were also disappointed, but we went out for a good lunch.
I also starting using my toaster oven more often and made rolls, banana bread, apple oat crisp, cookies, and pumpkin scones.
Here are a few photos from September. In addition to teaching, I traveled to Luzhou (another city in the Sichuan province) to meet up with other Peace Corps Volunteers. We imbibed on local food and drink, which included a tour of the Baijiu (grain alcohol) factory. Earlier in the month, I began teaching Speaking and Listening to both Freshmen and Sophomores. I am assigned a language lab and not permitted to take my students outside the classroom. Having these desks and computers is cumbersome and presents challenges to communicative language teaching, but I am making it work. A more detailed post to follow.
As promised, a gallery of recent photos. There are many stories to tell from this first month, and this morning I offer a journey of photographs through the various experiences I have had as a Peace Corps trainee in China. Written stories are not far behind, but here are images to grab your attention.
The elderly woman’s body lies inside the house in a coffin covered only by a thin white veil. Aside from the coffin, the room is void of furniture. A dozen members of the family and surrounding village sit cross-legged on the multi-colored plastic woven mat spread across the tile floor. I add my sandals to the pairs already stacked in front of the open door and step inside.
Delviana Naibaho—a co-worker at the Deaconess Theological School where I teach in a town a three-hour drive away on windy pot-hole ridden roads through the Sumatran rainforest—greets me. I call her “Ibu,” a word that means mother, but is also a polite form of address for women akin to “ma’am.”
Today, to show support to Ibu Naibaho, I attend her mother’s wake with a delegation from the school.
“Turut berduka cita, bu,” (my condolences, ma’am), I tell her as we shake hand and sniff cheeks in the Indonesian manner.
Charity abounds in all things, from the depths to high above the highest stars, and is most loving to all things; for to the high king it has given the kiss of peace.
— Hildegard of Bingen, “caritas abundat”
On the vineyard-covered hills above Rüdesheim am Rhein, Germany, sits the Abbey of St. Hildegard of Bingen, where Benedictine nuns with heavenly voices still chant Hildegard’s ancient music. Hildegard of Bingen—writer, composer, and mystic born in 1098—founded the abbey that would eventually become what is now in Eibingen, above Rüdesheim.
Seven times a day the nuns gather to pray, in accordance with Benedictine rule (taken from Psalm 119:164). As Benedictines they also exemplify gracious hospitality, opening their doors to guests of all kinds. For a weekend in late March 2002, I was one of those guests.
It was Palm Sunday weekend, the time when Christians prepare for Easter by first marking Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem before his crucifixion death. The worship included a procession outside the chapel with palms and incense.
Here is a image gallery of photos that show a little of what life was like in Indonesia. Most are from Balige and Siantar, the two cities in the province of North Sumatra where I spent most of my time. In 2 of the photos, you’ll notice a pig’s head. Although most Indonesians are Muslim, I lived among the ethnic Bataks, most of whom are Christian, and regularly eat pork. Indonesia is amazingly diverse, and therefore, my life in the region around Lake Toba was different than someone who experienced Java, Bali, Nias, or Sulawesi islands. I hope to make more galleries about different aspects of life there, as well as other places I’ve traveled.