Friday, April 20, 2018

R - Roam

I grew up a country boy. I lived between two small towns in southern Illinois. Waltonville had a population of 400 and Scheller had less than 50 people. Waltonville had a funeral home/hardware store and the Scheller post office was also the tavern. Neither of these statements are meant to be jokes. This is true.

I knew every person within miles of my home and every nook and cranny of the woods, paths, backyards, creeks, roads, and railroad tracks around. That whole area was our playground and we used it well.

Now, I live in Beijing, a city of 28 MILLION.

There are more people who live in my apartment building than lived in those two towns combined. I will never get to know everyone even if I do master Chinese.

One of the great things about living in a city this big is knowing that I will never get to see all of it. My wife and I love to explore and there is plenty to see. There are always new restaurants, tourist attractions, museums, foods, parks, etc. We'll never experience all of it even after wandering the streets for years.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Q - Quilts

For a good portion of my life, my grandmother lived right in our backyard. Not literally in the backyard. I mean, she had a house back there. My mother's mother (Mary Jane) lived behind us when I was very young until I was about 8 or 9.

In my teen years, my father's mother (Margaret) lived behind us. I have many memories of being able to walk out of the house and be in one of their homes within seconds. It's great to have grandparents so close.

Grandma Margaret was a quilter. Most of the time, when you walked into her house, she would be working on a quilt. I have no idea how many she made, but those quilts are everywhere. Every family member has several of her quilts. Looking around, I have two in this room right now.

Quilting is not something I have ever particularly cared about, but I was always very interested in Grandma's quilts. I can remember many times upon walking into her house, she would want to show me her latest pattern. She would be trying something new and wanted to show it off. The only pattern name I can remember today is the log cabin pattern, but I used to know several more.

She's been gone seven or eight years now, but I always think of her every time I see one of her quilts. I have several I even brought to China with me, so I see them often. Hopefully, they will last forever.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

P - Pickles and Popcorn

I have written about China much more during this challenge than I had intended to, but it's always on my mind so, it is what it is.

The first few months of us being here resulted in me losing 40 pounds. FORTY POUNDS! I felt pretty good not carrying around that extra weight. That's like six or seven newborn babies and I don't even like to hold even one of those.

The reason for this radical weight loss was because of the sudden change of diet we experienced when moving here. Now, I love the food here. I really do. Although, it in no way resembles what we have been told in the States is Chinese food.

Now, however much I may like the food here, sometimes a person wants food from their home country. And for the most part, we can track down the things we crave. But sometimes it's a real challenge…if not totally impossible.

It took a while for us to find a decent pizza and even longer to track down cheese (most Chinese are lactose intolerant). Bread is basically nonexistent here and their interpretations of some of our foods are enough to make you cry.

Pickles is one of the items we have never really seen. It's just not a Chinese thing and in the few few few Western restaurants that serve a sandwich that may have pickles on it, the pickles are very obviously made locally and they only loosely fit that definition. Especially since Chinese cucumbers look more like a zucchini than the vegetable we are familiar with.

Next is the popcorn. We can find popcorn, but they prepare it very differently here. ALL popcorn here is served sweet. It's covered in several varieties of flavored sugar. It's not bad, but sometimes you want salted buttery popcorn and that does not exist here.

We finally tracked down plain popcorn and started making it for ourselves.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

O - Orlando

I have never been there.

Monday, April 16, 2018

N - Nope

Living in China has definitely had its challenges. I have written about many of them several times, but I'm not going to get into those again here. It has also had many advantages and my wife and I can both say that we have learned a lot.

One of the areas where I feel like I have grown has been developing the ability to say "NO".

As long as I can remember, I have been what many would call a people-pleaser. I just want everyone to be happy. I accept invitations to things I really don't want to go to. I get roped into helping people move. I take on projects at work that are not my job or sometimes even beyond my expertise. I join clubs I'm not really interested in. I agree to many things that I would never come up with or do on my own.

Being willing to help out in general sounds like a good trait to have and it definitely has its perks while scoring you lots of points with friends and employers. However, it has a major disadvantage if not kept in check.

I often find myself stretched way too thin and over-stressed.

This is something I have been aware of for years and have been actively trying to combat it, but since coming to China, I've really gotten a handle on it. Here's how it came about.

As a brand-new foreigner in a strange country, I often had no idea what was going on. Plus, I was always trying to be super-aware and sensitive to cultural differences. And there are plenty. The most difficult for me to adjust to was the method of communication. Without getting into all the nuances of how this works, let me just give my early perception.

Chinese people don't like to tell you anything.

Now, this is not true, but it certainly seemed that way. Especially at work. My boss would withhold information that I felt I needed to know. For example:
  • my work schedule
  • holidays
  • changes in pay
  • corporate policies
  • upcoming commitments
  • class cancellations
The list could go on and on. All of these issues are rarely problems today, but when I first got here, it was maddening. Basically, this breaks down to a difference in cultural expectations. These are all things that I felt I needed to know. However, the typical Chinese employee would never demand these things of their boss. They just do what they're told.

When I first arrived, huge projects would be dumped on me with no advance notice and I would just do it while complaining only to my wife. I would get up early to go to work only to discover upon arrival that it was a holiday. Not being Chinese, I'm not familiar with their holidays and no one ever informed me of anything.

Part of the reason I did this was because I am a people-pleaser. I wanted to be a good little employee. But I was also a little terrified. I'm clear on the other side of the world with very little money. I just couldn't afford to rock the boat and possibly lose my job and get deported.

After a few months, I began to realize that finding work as a white-faced, native English speaker in China is as easy as getting wet when it rains. Jobs just fall into your lap. Seriously, I am offered three or four jobs a week every week.

Once I realized that I could have another job within hours if I lost the one I had, the fear was gone and I started to speak up. When my boss told me that I had to do a presentation to the Chinese English teachers at another school the next morning, I told her I couldn't do it.

This concept was very difficult for her to understand. We talked for over twenty minutes with her wording it in different ways before she finally realized that I was flat refusing and would not budge. I told her that the magnitude of what she wanted done required at least a week's notice if she wanted anything of quality. I was tired of doing crappy work that I hadn't had time to prepare for.

She was dumbfounded because she was not accustomed to employees telling her no, but I stuck to my guns. Soon, I started refusing to go to extra meetings. I did this because the meetings were all in Chinese and I do not speak Chinese. There was no point in me being there, especially since nothing being discussed pertained to me anyway.

I started saying no to going to their extra events just so they could show off their foreign teacher. Unless they wanted to pay me extra (which they didn't).

I studied my contract and learned exactly what my responsibilities were and I did them well, but if they wanted extra I had some conditions.
  • I had to agree to it
  • I had to have proper advance notice
  • They had to pay for it
Since making these changes,  my life has become so much better and less stressful. I've even started carrying these practices over into my personal life. When Christmas time rolled around and the invitations started coming from everywhere, I didn't just accept every invitation. I turned down the ones I didn't want to go to and made sure not to do too many in one week. Added stress is not fun.

And I've learned that it is perfectly okay to say no. People don't really even get upset. I know I feel a lot better.