Posts Tagged 'service'

Victory at the Grocery Store

Today I went to the grocery store, passing by the many “Christmas Merry” signs still posted on shop doors in March. As I puzzled over what kind of noodles to buy and hoped for a package with instructions I could begin to understand, I noticed a lady talking to me without really looking, vigorously shaking a bag of noodles. Now this happens all the time, as people are usually looking at Leo and trying to make him smile, but something about her was different. My first thought was, “Oh, it’s a poor crazy lady,” and I said, “Duibuqi.” (“Sorry” or “Excuse me.”) A moment later, when she addressed me again, I paused, because I realized that a) she was blind and b) I actually understood what she was saying. The latter hardly ever happens, as accents vary and people usually have to slow their Chinese down to a Southern pace for me to get the jist. I regretted my earlier thoughts of insanity and began to answer her questions. She didn’t know (since she couldn’t see me) that I wasn’t Chinese, although that became clear when I opened my mouth to tell her how much her noodles cost and what kind she had in her hand. Nonetheless, she understood me and further asked me to help her find bags of noodles that weren’t broken up. It was a victorious moment for me. After four weeks of many interactions where I’m not so sure what was said or what I just said, I had a clear (if short) conversation, and I was able to help someone here.

~Liz

Why we are moving to China

This is the most frequently asked question upon telling people our plans to move abroad. It would be helpful to post our answer here so everyone can get the same version of the story, and to keep our account from adding too many embellishments!

The idea of living overseas together has appealed to us ever since we’ve been married. Our notion wasn’t so particular at first, just a desire to experience life and culture different from what we’ve been accustomed to. We thought Europe would be a good destination, as we love European art and culture, and have also had some rudimentary schooling in Western European languages. Top picks would have been Italy, Austria, Germany, or Spain.

This idea was with us when we decided to visit friends in the Peace Corps service during JM’s last spring break from school. For 10 days we lived in a rural village of the Dominican Republic, and saw our friends making a tangible contribution to their community through education outreach and service projects. Despite using river water for home plumbing, electricity that decided when to turn itself on and off, and eating salad that had to be bleached before eating, we had the time of our lives! The communal lifestyle and absence of consumerism really spoke to us, and confirmed our desire to seek out a similar opportunity to offer service through our lives as well.

Thinking more and more about where we wanted to take ourselves, we considered other European-language destinations, but none of them seemed to settle. One day out of the blue, JM suggested ‘How about the far East?’ The thought hadn’t occurred to us at all, as it sounded ridiculous to settle in a place where the writing was just as foreign as the spoken language, and there seemed to be no cultural connection to our interest in Western art and music. Plus we wanted to begin our family, and the thought of raising a small baby so far from home sounded daunting. In fact, as considerations of China rose to the fore, people began to see this last point as ludicrous. ‘A baby in China??’

Nonetheless, China soon rose to the top of the list and stayed there for a number of months. It became exciting to think about learning a completely different linguistic system and operating in a truly foreign culture. The level of the country’s development sounded plenty advanced enough to handle raising children, even if not quite at the level we were used to. After all, lots of people are born in China each year!

Also, similar to our friends’ experience in Dominican Republic, we saw potentiality for offering service during our stay in China. There are plenty of charity organizations and NGO’s at work providing relief to Chinese society. China is currently undergoing an industrial revolution, one that may help the economy of the country but often times leaves individual lives and communities in its wake. Think of the Three Gorges Dam, which is submerging entire cities and cultural artifacts for the sake of hydroelectric power. We are strongly attracted to the idea of providing what small assistance we can to help out with the current difficulties, be it teaching and educating, or collaboration with relief organizations to help those in need.

After about six month’s deliberation we became decided on China as our future destination, and began looking for avenues that would open up the journey to us. That was two years ago. To sum up a rather long story of half-hearted attempts at studying Chinese language on our own, applications to English-teaching jobs, and the happy birth of our son Leo, we finally decided to enroll directly in classes for Mandarin studies at Nanjing University. This is Nanjing’s main school, about 4 hours inland from Shanghai. With 6.5 million residents, the city is about the size of New York. Our plan is to take a year of full time classes in Chinese, and then find work in whatever capacity becomes open to us.

As our story unfolds, we intend to give regular updates on this site, as well as some humorous perspectives about life as foreigners in a land far away from home. Everyone has an eye on China these days, so hopefully we can offer some first hand perspective on what it’s like to be in the midst of it all.

Plus since we’ve made so many friends over our eight years (apiece!) in college, and at work, a blog sounded like the perfect way to keep in touch. Let us know what you think about it!