Perspective and Learning

Marissa:

I have learned a lot since being in China for about a year now. A lot about myself, a lot about people, and a lot about different cultures (including my own). It has been interesting staying connected on Facebook while being here and seeing the different reactions to things that are happening. It has also been interesting meeting in a small group every week and talking about the Bible and religion. One thing that I seem to coming back to is this: We all have different perspectives, so it makes sense that we would all see things differently.

A few times at our weekly group I have forced myself to stay silent when conversations turn towards other religions. In today’s meeting we talked about how it is sad to see other people struggle with not having hope or faith and how exciting it is to see them come to a new faith. We talked about watching people at a temple here in Wuhan, and the comment was made that it is sad that these people  are praying to no one and that they do not have hope that their prayers will ever be answered – that they lack the understanding of Christianity to know that there is something else out there to help them. This is what I have been struggling with. Most of the people in this group come from a close-knit Christian network (including myself) where other religions are not discussed or looked into too much. And yet, we have the right to make comments about how these people at the temple are lost because they do not have Christianity?  It seems to me that we are making the same judgments against them as they are making against us. Neither groups (my small group nor the people at the temples) have a true understanding of what it is like to follow the other religion, yet we automatically insist on having the right one and believing that the other is hopeless. Conclusion: We all have different perspectives, so it makes sense that we would all see things differently.

The conversation then shifted to how we all come from different cultures, families, and lifestyles and how people can only do what they have been taught and learned how to do. I would do no better then anyone else if I was in their situation. I act, believe, and do things because of the culture that I was brought up in, and because of the experiences that I have had. This does not make me any better or any worse than others, whether I agree with them or not. We are all different, we are all human, and we all are trying to do the best we can with what we have.

I have learned a lot of patience since being here – patience to a degree that I did not know existed before coming to China.  I have learned more about seeing people both as individuals and as one. We all have our own stories, yet we are all in this together. No one is better or worse, we are all just at different stages on our journeys, and, while some may never get to where I am today, others have long passed me.

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Fiddle Faddle

Marissa

Since we have been in China for about 2 months now, I figure it’s about time we write a new blog post.

This year has been a lot easier of a start than last year was. We are able to be the people who others come to for help rather than having to ask others how to do simple things. It’s a nice change to be able to help others instead of needing so much help ourselves.

Changes:

The primary school has gone through some rough changes.  The beginning of the year started off great. I had five new English co-workers; all male, most of whom are in their 40’s, which is a big change from last year. I am now the youngest teacher in the primary school instead of being one of the oldest. The number of other teachers soon dropped down to four, as one of them was fired within the first five weeks of class. Since it is hard to find a native English speaking teacher in the middle of a semester to replace him, the rest of us were required to take on more classes. This means that we are all now teaching a total of 26 classes a week instead of 20. I went from teaching only second grade students to teaching three different grade levels (grades 1-3) and from one subject to two (English and phonics).  This has put a lot of stress on all of us and has decreased our teaching effectiveness. I feel that my classes are not as creative, nor as fun for the students because I do not have as much time to prepare my lessons.  It has been very discouraging, especially since parents and the administration at our school do not seem willing to offer help.

One of the main things that is different for a teacher in China, compared to one in the USA, is that parents have infinitely more control of the schools. If a parent complains about a class, the principal instantly takes the parent’s side and the teacher is at fault. If the parents don’t like the textbook that we are using, the school can change it. If a child is misbehaving in a class and the parent does not believe that the child did anything wrong, the parent has full right to come to our school and yell at that teacher for over a half hour straight. If the parents think that their child is the best, they feel that should tell me that I need to call on their child for every question during the class. Parents can control how we teach, by looking over our lesson plans before we teach them, as well as what we assess the students on, by looking over our exams before we give them. The administration at our school allows these things to happen, because, if the parents are not satisfied, they will pull their child out of our school and that’s 30,000rmb ($5,000) less that our school will be making that semester. Our principal does not seem to be concerned with the complaints that the teachers and staff have. He showed up to the first few of our weekly meetings, where we are supposed to discuss our classes and receive help, but has neglected to show up to the last few because he didn’t want to listen to our problems anymore.

This brings me to the second big change in the primary school this year: Our principal was fired last week. This did not come as a big surprise to anyone, though we were all relieved. I’m sure that, in any other context he is a nice guy; however, this was his first principal position, and, to be honest, he really seemed like he didn’t know what he was doing. We now have two new principals at our school from our sister school in another part of Wuhan. I’ve heard that they are well-liked at the other school, which gives me some hope for our school and the rest of the semester for the first time this year. I’ll try to update on any more changes that occur with all of that.

Life:

Life here overall has been great! We love having an electric scooter that we can use to get around the city because we no longer have to use the busses or taxis. We have been able to explore different parts of town because of it.

We are a part of a young married adult bible/marriage study that meets every Thursdaynight with some friends. It has been really cool to get to know new people through that, and to be able to learn a lot about how other couples resolve and work through different things. The best part is that whoever hosts, makes dinner for everyone, so that one night a week that we don’t have to cook! hahaha

Our Sunday group is still going strong. It has been cool to get to know a few more foreigners this year and to be able to meet together every Sunday. We are both finding through this group that we have many different opinions that seemed to be shared within it. Most of the others in the group come from a Church of Christ background, which is a bit more conservative than any church groups that either of us have really been a part of in the past. It has been a learning experience for us and we are growing through it. They are great people and we love being able to hang out with them during and after our service.

David and Valarie (our friends from back home) helped us put together a financial budget, since they took a class on it about a year ago. It was a lot of work to have categorized every dollar that we spend, but we are on our way towards financial freedom! I’m anxious to see how well we estimated and what we may need to adjust in November.

The weather here has been changing slowly. This past weekend it was in the 80’s, while today’s high is 70 and rainy, which is still warmer than back home. I’m looking forward to the cooler weather!

We are still in love and are loving our lives! Excited for our time here and getting excited for what’s to come when we move back this summer!

Life is an adventure, and we are doing our best to take full advantage of that.

Round 2… Go!

Wesley:

We are back!

I’m going to talk about summer and about the beginning of our second year.

First, summer:

It. Was. Great. Marissa and I talked a lot and did some praying about a nice, slow summer where we could enjoy being with our loved ones and living in the present. It went better than we had hoped! There were fun, crazy times; there were slow, relaxing times. We were a part of two family weddings (congratulations Dakota & Kara and Desiree & Mark!). We stayed with all of our parents and saw our siblings. We hung out at family camp. Marissa spent time with her best girlfriends. I got to help out at TFC camp. We got to spend time with Maria and some of her students while they were doing their summer camp. We breathed deep the clean air. We smiled when things made so much sense. And we talked with lots and lots of people. Couldn’t have been more wonderful.

It was so difficult to say goodbye to our families and close friends, though less so than last time. Here’s why: We were (and still are) pretty certain about coming back for good next year, and we know where we’ll be and roughly what we’ll be doing between now and then. And this brings us to…

Year two, the beginning:

As I was saying, this year has lots of similarities to last year, which is very welcome! The beginning of last year was one of the hardest experiences that either of us has ever had (you can read more about that here). Having much less to get used to has made transitioning back into life here way easier than the first round was. It has still been difficult – emotionally, mentally, and physically – but being in what is now a familiar city with a familiar (though still foreign) language with some friends here in a familiar school doing mostly familiar jobs is worth a lot.

That said, there are some significant changes to our situation too. The first is that we brought some very good friends, David and Valerie, to work with us. Because neither of them has an American teaching certificate, they’re both happily working in the kindergarten with me. (In fact, David has already been writing some great stuff about their experience, which you can read here.) It’s great to share this experience with familiar faces.

Some other changes have to do with our jobs. Last year, Marissa taught one 1st grade class and one 3rd-6th grade class, twice per day each. This year, she’s teaching two 2nd grade classes twice per day. This is awesome because she gets to keep her 1st grade class (which, frankly, was her favorite one most days), and because she can operate out of one set of lesson plans per week!

For my part, I am in the same class (thankfully), but I am now the head foreign teacher. Don’t be too impressed – I’m the only returning foreign teacher in the kindergarten. Actually, Marissa’s the only returning foreign teacher in the primary school too, so I guess another change is… all of our coworkers. She answers lots of questions for no extra pay. My position comes with a raise, but I’m also responsible to organize a bunch of stuff, as well as being a liaison between the foreign kindergarten teachers and the administration. Another change for me is that there’s a new principal at the kindergarten. She came in, guns slinging, making changes and intimidating people. Needless to say, I wasn’t a huge fan (and may have referred to her more than once as Dolores Umbridge). However, she’s learning what this school is like and how to do her job in a more balanced way. Now, we’re actually pretty big fans of her, especially because she makes a special effort to ask us our opinions BEFORE she makes changes that affect our jobs significantly, and she values creating a good working environment for us – something that didn’t seem to be as much of a priority before.

So that’s basically the update. We just met a bunch of new university teachers at our church group this morning. After a spree of hot, HUMID weather, the temperatures are finally cooling down (fall, as well as spring, is quite beautiful in Wuhan). We’ve still got some stuff to catch up on – it’s hard to believe that we’ve only been here for three-and-a-half weeks so far – but we finally feel like we’re settling in (enough to write a blog post, at least).

We didn’t do an embarrassingly bad job posting updates last year, but we’d like to do even better this year. As always, please comment, contact us on facebook and skype and everything else, and keep following our journey!

This! Is! China!

Marissa:

I’ve been wanting to write a post that would give people a glimpse of what China really looks like. This is mainly pictures of things we have seen during our stay here. I’m hoping to add to this as time goes on. I hope you enjoy!

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There is so much history here! This is the Forbidden City, built in 1420. This is where the emperor used to live while he was in power. Beautiful architecture in a building so old. Beijing, Hebei, China

 

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China has some really neat instruments! Wes got a Sanxian which is a 3-stringed, fretless instrument. I started taking ocarina lessons with a friend from school. It’s been fun to learn something new. Wuhan, Hubei, China

 

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Paying homage to your ancestors is a big part of Chinese culture. There are holidays where you go to the grave sites and set off fireworks, and burn fake money, all to show respect and ask for protection and guidance for your family. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. Xiaogan, Hubei, China

 

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China, as everyone knows, has over a billion people. It is not super crowded where we live because we’re on the outskirts of the city. However, on holiday weekends or in popular areas, you can easily find yourself shoulder to shoulder with so many other people. Wuhan, Hubei, China

 

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Kids being kids. No matter where you go, kids are the same loving, smiling, innocent children. This is my Tina, all day she was yelling, “Teacher Marissa, look at me!” as she tried to fly her kite. Wuhan, Hubei, China

 

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KTV. This is a very popular past time for the young adults here in China. Book a room with a large TV, thousands of karaoke songs (many in English), snacks, drinks, and liars dice and you’re in for a good night with friends! Wuhan, Hubei, China

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Even in China, you can never be a few miles away from a Walmart. While this is one of our least favorite places to visit (mainly because of how crowded it is) it’s still nice to have it so close. Wuhan, Hubei, China

 

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China is also well known for their tailors. They can make anything for you, as long as you have a picture or a duplicate, and it”s inexpensive! In my experience, since I’m not exactly shaped like a Chinese person, it’s better to have them copy a piece of clothing than to show them a picture. The fabric is so beautiful and there are so many different kinds! Wuhan, Hubei, China

 

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Yes this is (was) a turtle, and no I did not eat it. We have been given many different kinds of food while being here: chicken feet, dog, meat on a stick, and many more. Wuhan is known for having some of the spiciest food around. We are both to the point where our lips will be burning but the food does not taste as spicy. I’m not sure if I’m happy about this… Wuhan, Hubei, China

 

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The frickin’ Great Wall of China! I can’t believe that we actually walked on here! Not many people get the chance to do that. It was beautiful. Beijing, Hebei, China

 

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Every spring, Wuhan is filled with cherry blossom. Wuhan University is a popular place to see these beautiful flowers, as you can tell by the millions of people in the picture. Cherry Blossom Festival. Wuhan, Hubei, China

 

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This is our weekly market. It’s about a 15 minute walk from our apartment. In addition to produce, you can buy fresh meat and lots of other things here. This is where our favorite re gan mien (Hot dry noodles) place is. Wuhan, Hubei, China

 

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These guys would carry you up a mountain, 4,000 stairs, no breaks. It’s amazing how hard-working the people here can be. Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China

 

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Just beautiful. Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China

Our Church

Wes:

Since December, we have been a part of a church group. The situation of finding a church in China as a foreigner is basically a choice between a Communist-Party-sanctioned church or meeting with a group of other foreigners in private. It is very possible to be a Christian in China (duh), but it is more complicated than in the U.S.. We are not supposed to witness to Chinese people actively, though we can answer any questions they have. And Chinese people are not supposed to join our privately-meeting churches. If they do, we most likely won’t get in trouble, but they very well may. Basically we are supposed to keep our faith to our foreign selves. Our approach with this is basically to live out our faith like we would regardless of the laws, and if the laws end up contradicting our faith, we respond on a situational basis. For instance, there are a couple of Chinese people who sometimes do join us for church on Sundays. Are we going to turn them away? Absolutely not. We all know the risks, and it’s worth it to everyone. Now, if some members of our church wanted all of us to go hand out pamphlets about all of the ways Jesus’s Kingdom contradicts the ideals of the Communist Party, we would probably protest (mostly because… what would it accomplish?).

Anyway, there are about 10-20 of us on a given Sunday. I love a church this size. No one can show up and go home without making a personal connection, or without anyone thinking, “Hey, Matt didn’t say a word at church today. I should ask him how things are going.” It’s also way too small to mentally separate the church from the people who make it up. I’ll give an example, but let me tell you more about our friends in this church first. About half of them are graduates from Harding University, which seems to be a pretty devout Church of Christ denomination university. I’ve learned several things about this denomination since meeting with these fine folks, most of them being about how it’s quite a bit more “traditional” (I don’t think that’s quite the most accurate word) than the church upbringing that I had. No instruments in worship, no women speaking in churches, stuff like that.

So, let me give my example. There’s one person in our group who feels strongly that those two sanctions should be upheld, that we shouldn’t use instruments and that women shouldn’t speak up in church. Actually, she thinks it’s okay for women to speak, but not to pray or lead communion. Although I don’t see any scriptural reasons not to have instruments in church, I see how it could be beneficial, so I don’t have a problem with that. However, women not being equal to men in the church… I’ve got beef. So, to cater to this one person, the church doesn’t have instruments on Sundays, and the women don’t pray or lead communion. Even though about half of us feel that women should be able to do what men can do in church, and the rest of us don’t really have an opinion about the issue, we’re all catering to this one person. It would be really easy to “deal with” this issue if, say, I hadn’t gotten to know and love this person, and I was on some board, and we decided that the church was going to take a stance, and anyone who didn’t like it could leave. But I DO know and love this person – we all do, and any decision that we would make like that would be put to a vote, which would pretty much mean that we would be telling our friend, “I’m sorry, we don’t agree with you, so you either have to go against your convictions or leave.” We could do that, and, as much as I love this person, if we were investing in this church long-term, I would personally consider proposing something like that. But do you see how much messier it is? I love it! And I’m learning from it. By the way, this person is going back to the U.S. this summer, so in the end Marissa and I decided that it’s not worth making a fuss over it when everyone seems to be at peace with it as a temporary thing.

To be honest one of the best things about finding this church has been being able to connect with a group of Americans in China, one bigger than our network of coworkers. Getting to share the commonality of knowing the love of Christ makes this so much sweeter, but even just getting to know them in this place is an awesome blessing. We play whiffle ball, we talk about the Internet, we go out to Subway and Dairy Queen together — they are a sanctuary in many ways. Of course we are reaching out and getting to know some Chinese people here, especially our fellow teachers and administrators, but there is such a HUGE cultural difference to deal with in those relationships that it’s difficult and will take time to create the kind of relational depth that comes pretty naturally and relatively quickly with our friends at this church.

Another thing that’s been awesome for us has been how welcomed we feel. Speaking for myself, growing up I was part of three churches that I remember, before the awesome one that my family is at now. I’ve always felt that I played some role in the church, that I’m more than just an “attendee”. But here, especially with this size of a group, it’s easy to feel like a significant part of something. I’m the music leader, a discussion leader, the “liberal opinion” (which I realize is a very loaded term, but, among these friends and at this point in my life, I take it as a compliment), and our new friends who are in blossoming relationships tell Marissa and me that they are inspired by our own new marriage. They truly miss us when we can’t make it on Sundays. It’s so cool! And we’re thankful to God that we can experience this on such a level as we do here.

There’s much more that I could say about this group, all positive. But the thing that I’m getting to is that I’m grateful, that I’m really excited for next year for a number of reasons — we’ll be some of the veterans, there will be great opportunities to try new things, we’ll have new people to get to know and interact with, etc — and that this experience is something that we will always have with us. I guarantee that there will be things that we will look for in our future church groups that we have experienced here, and that this is shaping our concept of what a church is.

I’m a fan of when blogs are actually more than a one-way conversation… So what do you think? How are you grateful for your church? What questions or words of wisdom do you have? As always, thanks for reading and please share this (especially with mutual friends) and comment below.

Misconceptions of China

Marissa & Wesley:

Before we head home in a couple of months, we thought it would be a good idea to answer some of the most asked questions we are assuming we will get once we are there. These are a few misconceptions that we have heard from others, or believed ourselves before coming here. 

1) People in china are poor.

Against this common belief among people we know, we have met more millionaires (equivalent in US dollars) in China then we ever have in the states. Our students’ parents are very well off. Many of our students’ families have houses in multiple cities around China; one of Wesley’s’ students was given a mountain by his parents for his fourth birthday! I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone who owns a mountain in the States, especially any four-year-olds. China is in the middle of industrializing, which has provided a lot of opportunity for people to start businesses and succeed. Wes has joked that, in America, if you start a business that’s a good idea in the right place and the right time, and if you work your butt off, it will probably do well, and if you start a business in China, and you aren’t stupid, you’ll do well.  This is a very exciting time for China and the people here. People here are happy and are able to provide their families with so much more than what past generations were able to.

That said, there are still plenty of people who live under the poverty line. There are people begging on the street, just like any American city (though the homeless may not be as well “managed” here, so they are easier to spot), and there are many people who do not live in adequate housing. However, from our experience, there are a lot more people who have high incomes here in Wuhan than medium or low incomes, and that’s even by the standards of living in a city.

As one example, this is a friend’s new house. Four stories, paid for in cash, and absolutely beautiful. This friend’s family does well financially, but they are by no means considered extraordinarily rich. They’re one of the millions of people who are benefiting from the booming economy in China right now.

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2) Big Brother is always watching you.

While this may be true to an extent, it rarely affects your day to day living. We are not constantly in fear of the government, nor are the Chinese people who live here. The government does seem to control and change things without the peoples consent. However, there are over a billion people in China and the government does what it believes is best for its nation. For better or for worse, people here truly trust and support their government, even in cases where they don’t agree with the government’s policies.

We have had many conversations about the different policies that the government has put in place, both among foreigners and with Chinese people, and not everyone always agrees with what the government does, but they seek to see where the gov. is coming from. This usually means looking at the big picture, because most of the policies that people here have a hard time with are put in place with the whole nation and its future in mind above the individuals who currently make up the country. As an example, the one child policy: Many people would love to have more than one child, they want their child to have someone to play with and they want to be able to take care of and love more than one child; but people hardly ever complain about it. They understand that China’s population is too high and the government has the people’s best interest in mind. If every couple had multiple kids, this would then create a need for resources that the country is not able to provide for its people. People trust their government and are able to look at everyone’s needs and not just their own.

3) It is a Godless country.

While Christianity is not nearly as popular or as much a part of the culture in China as Buddhism or, to a smaller extent, Hinduism is, we have met many people who live the kinds of lives that we ourselves seek to live as we follow Jesus. Buddhism is the main religion here and, after studying it a bit,  the guidelines that they are supposed to follow are not far at all from the those given to us by Jesus. Buddhism is much more of a lifestyle than a ritualistic religion – its a journey to constantly improve oneself. Buddhism is fueled by living at peace with yourself and those around you. There are steps that you work towards to in order to live in the best possible way. These include: gaining understanding and perspective, improving your values and attitude (compassion rather than selfishness), adjusting your speech (don’t tell lies; avoid harsh, abusive speech; avoid gossip), mind your actions (help others, live honestly, don’t harm living things, take care of the environment),do honest work (do something useful, avoid jobs which harm others). and your thoughts (encourage good, helpful thoughts; discourage unwholesome destructive thoughts), be mindful (be aware of what you feel, think and do in the present), meditation (have a calm mind, practice meditation which leads to enlightenment). All of these are things that we as Christians should also be working towards. This religion may have a different name than ours, and people may not claim to believe the same things that we claim to believe, but the fruits of their beliefs, the way that Buddhists seek to live their lives, is very much in step with the lives that we ourselves seek to live. It could certainly be said that a devout Buddhist is more loving of and obedient to Jesus than we might be, certainly to the point that we have a ton of common ground.

We have visited a couple of temples since we have been here — one in Xiamen and another in Beijing. At both places, there was a very clear sense of peace and serenity, not unlike when one visits a beautiful cathedral. Some people here are on their knees praying, while others are just walking around taking in the beauty and peacefulness of the surroundings. 

This is a picture of a temple in Xiamen. One of the most peaceful places I (Marissa) have ever been. 

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4) There are no tall people.

While there is a smaller percentage of people who are tall here, there are plenty who are quite tall. We work with a few guys that are as tall as or taller than Wesley. Most of the taller people are from northern China, while the shorter people are from the southern parts of China. As wealth has increased in China, health has also made a shift with the ability to provide better nutrition for the people who live here, causing the average height to go up because people are eating better and developing stronger bones. The average height for a male is probably about 5’7” or 5’8″, while the average height for a female is probably about 5’4″ or 5’5”. These are not official statistics, and this is just based on where we live in Wuhan. We have seen guys as tall as 6′ 5” and girls as short as 4′ (or maybe shorter). However, these are obviously not the norm. 

5) China has nothing in common with America.

While China has proven to be VERY different from what we are used to in America, we are able to find Western comforts. There is a McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Dairy Queen and Walmart about 20 minutes away from our apartment by bus. There are plenty of Americans living and working in Wuhan, many Chinese who can speak English. We can also go to a few other restaurants not too far away that serve american style food and are owned by Americans. 

When we step outside of our apartment, it is very obvious that we are not at home (although I would bet the road construction is just as bad here). Our apartment has been a safe haven for us. It is our little piece of home. Only English is spoken here. American food is cooked about once a week. We have English movies playing. We run heat and air conditioning when we’re too cold or too hot, 

We wrote this blog because we know that (even after having written it) it will be hard for some of our friends and family to believe what life is like here. In some cases, that’s understandable (and those are the times when we have stories to tell! haha). In others, all it takes is a mind that’s open to a China that doesn’t fit the stereotypes that many of you have, and some of which we certainly had ourselves before we came without even realizing it. You don’t have millions of people walking or riding bikes anymore – you have way too many cars. You don’t have a large percentage of people who are frail, poor, and unhealthy. Consumerism is actually a huge issue here, and people are just as healthy as they are in the States (though they definitely take a different approach to medical science in most cases!), partly because of the way their food is produced, but largely because, even though there are plenty of cars, people here do a lot more walking on average than what we see back home. And you don’t have an oppressed nation who is living in constant fear that they’re going to be taken away with black bags over their heads, a la V for Vendetta. You have a nation with a completely different mindset than that of much of America – people trust their government; the government want to improve China in the best ways that they know how, and they have the power to make those changes. We acknowledge that the government is not at all perfect, and not one that we would really hope for in America – there are significant issues with justice and corruption, just like in any other government, though it looks different in each country. However, we’ve definitely come to see that with the government, like with all aspects of living here, there are lots of things that we can understand so much better by seeing things from another perspective than by judging with one set perspective.

In the end, people are people. We laugh, we hurt, we make mistakes, we surprise each other, we have miscommunications, and we do our best with what we have.

Enter The Year Of The Horse

Marissa:

And the decision is……………………………………………….. we are staying another year!!!

We have been talking about it a lot and, after the decision was made, both of us felt more at peace with it than we had expected. It was not an easy decision to make.  We both miss our family and friends, life being familiar, and being able to communicate effectively with people around us easily.  However, we have learned so much just from being here for a short time. We have both grown individually and as a couple from the experiences that we have had here. We are excited to see what the next year will bring!

Having Wes’s parents here for a couple of weeks made us realize two things: how much we miss our family and friends, and how cool Wuhan really is. It was so nice to have them here with us and to be able to show them around and be their ‘translators,’ even though we probably only know 50 words between the two of us haha. It was great to have our family here – to be able to cook and laugh and talk and be with people whom we both love and enjoy being with. It was really neat to be able to be the ‘parents,’ the providers, and helping Bruce and Gina go and do things that we realized seem like second nature to us by now. We fed off of their excitement and things became new and exciting for us through them. We developed a new appreciation for China and became excited once again to be living in this adventure.

We have been off work since January 20th for the Chinese New Year, and have been able to relax and just “be” for a while. We got a chance to help my sister at her winter camp in Xiaogan. I helped run crafts and cooking classes while Wes ran the music classes, teaching students how to play the Ukulele.  It was a lot of fun, and great to be able to spend time with her and our friends Ellie and Kelly again. Soon after that, Bruce and Gina arrived from America. We got to experience Beijing together and create so many memories that I’m sure we will talk about and look back on together for many years to come. This last week of our break, we have gotten to spend more time with a few of our friends here in Wuhan. We are going to start painting our apartment and make it even more homey feeling.

As the new semester begins, I have learned that my two teaching companions have decided to return to our school and teach again! It will be so nice to have familiar faces and have people that know how things work (or don’t work) at our school. I have also been offered to work under my boss and help develop the math, science, history, and english curriculum for next year’s middle school. I have never worked on creating curriculum but the idea of finding ways to help students learn and to be able to create a curriculum that this school will be using for many years is very exciting and nerve-racking all at the same time.

Wes:

Yes, we are staying for another year. A large part of our decision was based on looking at the big picture of both options, which you can read about here. Basically, we realized that most of the reasons that we would like to move back will be waiting for us a year later. Yes, we are choosing to use that time here instead of there, but we believe that being debt-free at the end of that year, or at least close to debt-free, is something that we will be glad that we did for the rest of our lives. Plus, as a reminder, we got married in June, went on a wonderful road-trip out west through the month of July, tried to get here in August and were job-hunting-from-the-other-side-of-the-world for a couple of months before we finally got here in October. Since then, being here has involved so much change in itself; not to mention, Marissa’s parents have dealt with cancer and surgeries galore. Moving back and finding an apartment, jobs, possibly a grad school, a car, and the dozens of other details, all by this summer, was pushing it a little bit too far for one year. This way, we will be able to focus on being here and experiencing life and working in Wuhan this year. Next year will involve new transitions, but we will be someplace that is still uncomfortable but familiar. At that point, we will have lots of time to put a portion of ourselves aside to prepare for life back home – a life that we will be able to live free of student loans! Finally, as Marissa said, this is a really special experience. We’re blessed to learn and grown in ways that many people will never get to completely understand – not in a sense that it makes us superior to these people, but just that it’s something that we don’t want to take for granted. All of these things reasons are worth so much because they will, in some ways, define the rest of our lives.

Maria’s winter camp was a good time to get a change of scenery and have fun with loved ones, and having my parents here was more amazing than I can say. It was hard to see them go, but we really made the most of our time with them here; and, as Marissa said, it gave us a needed push for the second half of the school year (which starts in just a few days!).

I hope that our friends get a chance to see photos from our time with my parents on Facebook. We took quite a few that Marissa has posted here, and my mom – who I am becoming more and more truly and deeply impressed with as a photographer – put a whole load of photos here. I believe that you have to be their friends on Facebook to view them.

We’ve had a chance to Skype with a good handful of friends and family, but we miss you guys and would love to Skype with more of you. We’re not always the best at initiating that kind of thing, so, if you’re interested, contact us by leaving a comment or through email/Facebook/WeChat/Skype/smoke signals, and we will definitely be interested in working out a time. As always, we invite you to leave a comment below and share your thoughts, questions, and stories.

Two Sides of a Coin

Wesley:

At one point today, Marissa and I were discussing the pros and cons of being in China. Specifically, we had a conversation about whether we want to stay in the US when we go there the summer after this school year or if we want to come back for one more year. I’ll actually put our stay vs. go list on here as it was when we made it:

Stay in China — Get loans at least mostly paid off; We know where we’re working and living next year; We get to build into the school and the people and students here; We get to grow in unique ways and learn unique things; We learn to depend on each other; We eat healthy and walk a lot; We have more time to figure out life in the US; We have more time to figure out our finances

Go back to the US — The air quality is better; We get to be with our families and friends; We get to “start our lives” sooner; We’d probably start having kids a little sooner; Life is familiar; No communication barrier

Clearly there are more pros for staying in China. Then again, when I was deciding between colleges, it came to a battle between Calvin and Spring Arbor. Calvin had more pros, but the pros at Spring Arbor were more important to me, especially the community on campus, so I ended up going there and never regretted it.

For the record, I had always wondered what it would have been like if I had visited Cornerstone. It was in Grand Rapids, which is a huge plus, and it actually had a community comparable to SAU. In hindsight, the academics aren’t overly impressive to me. Apparently there was some insane scholarship, like no tuition charges or something, if you were a pastor’s kid. However, that was a one-per-church deal and a pastor’s kid from my old church snaked that chance right away. I won’t mention any names, but her initials were MW and her name rhymed with Michele Waldo. But, again, for whatever reason, I was never really interested in Cornerstone. Then again, if we’re talking hindsight, it would have put me in the same city as my future wife, so there’s that! I digress.

As Marissa and I looked at our list, we decided that we could pretty much take off the healthier food and the bad pollution, as each probably canceled each other out health-wise. If we were talking five or ten years, the pollution would have a much worse effect, I would think. Then we thought about taking some other factors off of the list as well. Let me explain.

Yes, life is familiar in the US, and there is no language barrier (well, if you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with Marissa, you’d understand that that’s a relative statement). But if we didn’t have those issues to deal with in China, would we have the opportunities to learn and grow in the unique ways that we do? And we miss our friends and families every day. Some days, it’s a fleeting moment of emptiness. Other days we are brought to tears by it. But if we had them around, there’s no way that we would be learning as much about each other as we are as quickly as we are, or that we would depend on each other like we do. Of course, you could go the other way and say that if we didn’t have some of the simple struggles of figuring out how to get around or have a conversation, we would be freed up to grow and learn in ways that we aren’t capable of doing here. Another thing that we thought of: Would we choose to try to have kids sooner if we had as much debt to deal with when we went back as we would, and would that be wise? From the other side: sure, staying an extra year allows us to build into our school and the people who make it up, but, if we went home, we’d end up building into another place with other people.

There’s no way of knowing some of these things without experiencing them. But the point is that sometimes, the things that we see as good or bad are simply one side of a coin. If we flip the coin over, we realize that we couldn’t have the good without a price, and that if we gave up the hard stuff, we would end up missing out.

We’ll make sure to let you know what we decided about staying for one year or two in the next blog. We want to inform our families first. In the meantime, I encourage you beloved readers to think about the stuff in your lives that you’d really rather not deal with, and see if the perspective of one side of the coin is helpful to you at all. As always, please leave comments and questions below. Peace and blessings.

New Perspectives

Marissa:

This is going to be one of those religious posts just for a fair warning.

Let’s start with some background on my faith journey. I was raised in the Catholic Church until the 9th grade when my mom started and taught at a Preschool in a Free Methodist Church. That led me into the world of Protestantism where I soon learned a heck of a lot more about God and the Bible than I had ever known before. I’m sure that some people have had more positive experiences in the Catholic Church, but my Catholic experience greatly lacked any kind of relationship or understanding of God.  After graduating high school, I went to Calvin College and attended churches of a variety of denominations on Sundays. I worked at Covenant Hills Camp for all five summers of my college experience and made some pretty awesome friends who helped me on my faith journey (one of those friends just happens to be the handsome man I’m married to).

All of that said, I have always been much more of an ‘experience-driven’ Christian than a ‘read-your-Bible-and-decide-your-beliefs-‘ type Christian. I like to experience how different kinds of Christians worship and see the differences between churches and denominations. I have read the Bible, but it has never really been something that I have wanted to study. I have seen it more as guidelines on how we are supposed to live. Reading about how Jesus lived his life and striving to live mine according to what he teaches is something that I strive for daily. However, I always have felt closest to God through relationships with people – not necessarily in a Christian worship setting, but just hanging out and getting to know and being able to help others. I have learned the most about God through interacting with different people and seeing who He is through those He created in his own image.

I have often struggled with the idea of a ‘black and white’ Christianity. I don’t think that I would say that I am of a specific denomination, nor would I ever really want to. In my mind, all denominations are searching for the same thing. We all believe the core belief that there is one God and that we are to live our lives the way that Jesus taught.  Whether we go to confession every week, believe in free will or predestination, allow women to be ordained as pastors or not, or anything else that may separate denominations, we all have the same core, and that’s Love.

This past week, I got the opportunity to visit a Buddhist Temple. I watched as people came and burned incense while praying on their knees for something that was dear to their hearts. People traveled for miles to come there and lay down their most desperate desires so that they may be heard by someone who loves them and has such compassion for them. Now, I have not studied Buddhism for any length of time, but to watch as these people have such faith and devotion to their religion was inspiring.

It was here that I had a hard time separating religions. I have seen so many Christians do this same thing in a service or a youth group or even with a group of close friends; on their knees pleading for a family member, a friend, or even something in their own life to change and be renewed. I could feel the same peace and love that surrounds many Christian gatherings.

The similarities that I saw between this Buddhist experience and my Christian experiences surprised me. The incense burning is something that we did in the Catholic Church growing up and also in some of the protestant churches I have attended.  The Buddhist prayer beads are very similar to the Catholic rosary, and are used for reciting mantras that give peace to the person saying them. Buddhism is more of a way of life, trying to constantly better one’s self and to become fully enlightened through meditation, and devotion to a better lifestyle free from gluttony and ignorance. This is very similar to the way that Jesus has taught us to live our own lives.

While being there, I had a few conversations with Maria and Kelly (Wesley was sick for the day). We talked about the similarities and how even some traditions in Hinduism are similar to both Christianity and Buddhism in practice. It seems to me that all religions have the same core values and beliefs behind them, and they all have followers that have such strong faith and devotion to that way of life.

What if God was the same across religions: Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, Christian, and any other religion out there? We are all searching for the same thing, all following the similar guidelines set out for us on how to live our lives. We are all one people, under God, all made in his image, all his children, so then why could we all not be worshiping the same God? Is our God not large enough to go by different names? Or to help others through a different form of practice or religion? What makes our way of worship superior to others?

The more I experience I have, the more I come to realize that we are all the same. We all want and yearn for the same things. Christianity is not superior to other religions; it’s a different form of worship. A way that I have grown up with and have gotten into my mind that it is ‘right.’ But people all over the world would say the same about their religion. Who’s to say that we all are not right? We all worship and praise the same being, the one who created all of us in his image? Our God is so big that he is the God of the whole world, not just America, not just in Christianity, but in all forms, and in all religions.

I realize that there’s a lot of really deep, often very thought-through theology out there. I also realize that these thoughts might seem wrong to some people, and that everyone has their way of seeing things. Or maybe this post would simply provoke questions. If you have a question, a response, a comment… please feel free to leave it below and I’ll do my best to reply.

Butterflies On Parents Day

Wesley:

About a week ago, we had Parents Day in my class. All of the other teachers and assistants were nervous out of there minds, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have some butterflies in my own stomach. The main reason is for this nervousness requires a little bit of understanding about my school. Weiming, like many (if not all) schools in America, is a business, first and foremost. I still don’t completely understand how it functions. There’s another Weiming branch in downtown Wuhan, which – like ours – has a kindergarten and a primary school; unlike ours, it also has a middle school (ours will be adding a middle school next school year  though). However, it seems like there are lots of other Weiming schools in other cities, and they may be affiliated with other areas of business as well. The school just changed ownership recently from SMIC, which has factories nearby and had the school as an expensive option for some of their employees to send their kids to and make some extra money on the side (I may not have my facts straight, I’m just telling you my understanding of it at the present time). For one reason or another, the government told SMIC that they can’t own the school. However, this Weiming brand had interest in the school as well. Weiming has been successful up to this point, so I think that the government owns the school, but lets Weiming run it and take a large portion of the profits. That’s my current understanding.

Anyway, this is the most expensive school in the area, and one of the most expensive in Wuhan. To put it in perspective, a year here costs parents the equivalent of what a year of tuition, room and board at Spring Arbor cost me (granted that I wasn’t paying full price at SAU). And my class is the “full Montessori” class. We aren’t a true Montessori class, though the Montessori philosophy is at the heart of the whole kindergarten. Basically “full Montessori” in practice means that the kids have an extra hour of “Montessori time” and they have an English teacher dedicated to this one class (yours truly) as opposed to the other classes, which share an English teacher with another class. Anyway, because mine is the “full Montessori” class, the parents pay an extra premium on top of the already-pricey tuition for these things. In reality, the kids in the other classes are getting basically the same experience as my kids. I wouldn’t pay the extra money for an extra hour of Montessori and Teacher Wesley. However, none of these parents are breaking the bank to have their kids in my class. These parents are all multi-millionaires, and a million dollars goes over twice as far in China as it does in America. As an example, one of my kids’, Toby’s, parents bought him a mountain for his third birthday. Yes, they bought him the actual real estate of a whole mountain. For his third birthday.

I like to think that multi-millionaires don’t intimidate me just because they have the money. They’re just regular people. But maybe now you can sympathize with my position. These crazy-rich people are paying a lot of money to have their kids in this school, and they’re paying top dollar to have them in my class. So basically Parents Day is a time for them to come and see what they’re getting for their money.

It actually went great! Besides one student not listening very well (which gave me a good opportunity to talk to his mom (through Google Translate) about his behavior patterns), it went as well as it possibly could have. The parents gave a lot of positive feedback too! One of the parents said that her daughter (who is incidentally one of my favorites) didn’t like English and thought that it was boring until I started teaching, but, ever since I came, she loves English and looks forward to it every day. As a result she is doing much better in class. Another parent (the mom of that kid who doesn’t listen) told me that her son really likes me and talks about how I’m his friend at home, and she thanked me for being patient with him.

I’m the first to admit that I wasn’t “born to be a kindergarten teacher” by any means; but I’m learning a lot, and having a lot of fun. Despite what their parents tell me, these kids are awesome, and my number one reason for liking my job. My co-workers are up there too, though. Who knew that parents day would be one of the most encouraging days so far!?