Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Having an Allergy in China.

A: I brought a gift back for you from my hometown.

Me: Really?! That's so nice of you! Thanks for thinking of me.

Student pulls out two apples (which might I add, were very sweet and delicious!) from a grocery bag.

A: My hometown is known for two things. One of them is apples. I hope you like apples!
He grimaces a little bit looking for approval. 

Me: Thank you so much, A! I eat an apple every day. I'm looking forward to my afternoon snack now!

A: My hometown is also known for seafood.

My heart sinks a little bit because I know exactly what's coming. 

A pulls a big box of seafood snacks out of the grocery bag. 

A: They are called...(pauses to translate what the box says)...dried shrimp?
He says it like a question because he is unsure of his translation.

Me: Oh, A! Thank you so much. This is so thoughtful of you. However, I can't accept the dried shrimps.

A: Oh. Why?

Me: Because I am allergic. They will make me very, very sick. Not because they are bad, but because my body doesn't like them.

A: Begins to open the box of shrimps. Ok, but maybe try just one?

Living in China with an allergy has been an interesting experience. A little back history - about 10 years ago I developed an intolerance/allergy to some types of shellfish. My doctor called it an allergy to red-veined shellfish (lobster, crab, and shrimp). Sometimes it results in being sick to my stomach for hours on end. However, most commonly, it ends in a cut-off airway, hives, and a lot of panicking. I'm equipped with an Epipen at all times. And while I've never had to use it, there have been some close calls (including a scare this summer where my brother...and my mom...and my dad...and well, my whole family, got a little upset with me when I chickened out of using it. Obviously the lectures came once I could breath again...)

What I have learned while living in China is that many locals don't understand what an allergy is. They can't comprehend how you can't eat something because it could kill you. The Chinese culture is a very giving culture, I find. They want you to experience and be a part of everything. They want you to understand what you are seeing, be a part of the activities that are happening, and taste all of the food. The insist, and pressure, and insist some more. But it's only because they don't want you to miss out. It's all coming from the kindness and generosity in their hearts.

One story sticks out in my mind so clearly. I was on a staff retreat in the Spring and we stopped at a restaurant on the way home. We were served this enormous lunch full of rice, soups, vegetable dishes, tofu, chicken, duck, and of course...shrimp. Lots and lots of shrimp. Everything sits on a "Lazy Susan" in the middle of the table and rotates. I was sitting beside one of my Chinese co-workers. When they shrimps went by, he stopped and offered me a piece. I politely said "No, thank you." He then picked a piece up with his chopsticks and set it on my plate saying, "These are very delicious. I'm sure you'll like them. Try!" This is roughly how the rest of the conversation went: 

Me: "It's not that I don't want to try it, it's that I can't. It'll kill me." 
Co-worker: "Ok, but it's delicious!"
Me: "I'm sure it is, and I wish I could try. But I can't. I'm sorry!" 
Co-worker: "But maybe just try a little bit?"

He just kind of looked at me and said, "Oh." And I felt bad. For something I can't control. I also felt so bad that morning last week when my student was so proud and pleased to be sharing a piece of his hometown with me. I paused before telling him I couldn't accept the second piece of the gift trying to decide the best way to deal with the situation. Some of the other teachers told me I shouldn't have said anything and just accepted the gift. But I didn't want to lie to him. I knew he'd ask me the next day if I tried some and if I liked it, and I didn't want to lie and say "Yes, they were delicious!" Also, I'm sure he (or his parents) spent a bit of money on these snacks. Seafood isn't cheap! And I wanted them to go to someone who would actually enjoy them and appreciate them. In fact, A said he would give them to his homeroom teacher because she loves seafood! I was happy that they found a good home! 

Hey! And maybe I've had it wrong the whole time! Maybe they are just all pretending to not understand. And when they insist that I try just one bite, even after telling them what the consequences would be, they were intending for the worst to happen...NAH! I'm just kidding.

What do you think? Should I have just accepted the treats? But when you're that allergic to something...you just don't want to handle them at all. I guess I could have given them to another teacher. I would have still had to explain to A that I couldn't eat them and they were wasted on me. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Trip to Xi'an.

Sometime in October, we found out that there was to be an international conference (APEC) held in Beijing in November. Much of the city would be shut down, there would be restrictions to who could drive and when, and the government was asking for schools to close for a short period of time. As such, we ended up with an impromptu holiday which gave students and teachers 3 days away from school. My first thought - time to explore!

I have a travel bucket list for Asia that I aim to complete before leaving. So far I've been to Shanghai and Datong (which wasn't on my list, but I'm so glad I went!). Now I can check Xi'an off that list. 

Xi'an is most famous for being the site of the Terracotta Warriors. In my final year of my undergrad at St. Thomas University, I needed some courses to fill up my class schedule. I decided to take a first-year history class. In this class, we spent a period of time discussing ancient Chinese history. I don't remember a lot about this class, but I do remember learning about the Terracotta Warriors. I remember being marveled by the concept of it, and thinking to myself "Man, this is amazing! Imagine what it would be like in person." 

For those of you unfamiliar with what the Terracotta Warriors are, they are an army of terracotta soliders (and horses, weapons, and carriages) built by Emperor Qin (rather, the men he hired), who ruled over China from 259 BC - 210 BC. Emperor Qin is also the man who ordered the construction of the Great Wall of China. Essentially, he wanted these soldiers built so they would protect his tomb and himself in his afterlife. It is speculated that over 750,000 men worked on this terracotta warriors over 39 years and all of them were killed afterwards as the Emperor wanted the army to be kept a secret in fear that someone would try to destroy. 

In 1974, farmers who were out in the fields attempting to build a well, dug up one of the soldiers. They were very afraid when they first found the piece of the solider, and immediately began to bury it again. It is said that digging up someone's tomb leads to bad luck for eternity. During the process of re-burying, they found a piece of bronze. This brought them to a new realization as they knew that bronze was associated with importance and power. They reported what they found, later to discover that they had happened upon something so rich in history they would be forever famous. Since then, the area has been taken over and archeologists, researchers, and the government have spent the last 30 or so years digging up the soldiers and piecing them back together. And the work is not finished. They expect that it will take another 20 years to uncover all the soldiers (expected to be about 8000 of them) and piece them all back together. 

I can't find the words to best describe my experience getting to see the Terracotta Warriors first hand. I tried to describe it to my mother via text message and this is what I said: 

"It was cool to see it all, but the history and the things I learned is just mind boggling. Seeing something that is over 2000 years old, just...no words!"

We purchased a tour guide to take us around the area. It was the best impulse buy I've made in a while. All of the information I have written here on the blog came from our guide. No Wikipedia, no history books, all from her mouth and knowledge of the subject. She had been working as a guide at the Terracotta Warriors Museum for 10 years. She knows her stuff! She answered every question we had, and gave us way more information than what was provided on the minimal signage around the museum and displays. The combination of the dense history lesson and seeing it all first hand is what makes this probably one of my favourite historical experiences I've had in China (next to the Great Wall).

One of my favourite things about living in China is how much history there is to learn about and soak up. Beijing itself is just swimming in history. What I have quickly come to learn about myself since moving here about 14 months ago is that I am becoming quite a history nerd. It gives me goosebumps and sends shocks through my body to witness first hand the things that make China what it is today. The things that shape its culture.  And in return, I am becoming more worldly and knowledgeable about the different ways of life in this big world of ours. It makes me want to travel more, to learn more, to see more, and to do more. Who knew that that fourth year student sitting in a first year history class marveling over pictures and words in a book, remarking about how amazing this piece of history is, would now be sitting in her apartment in a small village in Beijing reflecting on the history she had just seen? I guess dreams can come true...

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Happy Birthday, Amanda!

You're 25! We're the same age for a little while, until January rolls around again. This is now the fourth birthday post I've written to you. Going back and reading those posts from 2011, 2012, and 2013 are a treat! I remember sitting in the living room of the house we rented on Windsor Street in Fredericton. You had started a blog and had been trying to convince me to do the same. I was sitting on the big couch in front of the bay window, and you were sitting in the smaller one kiddy cornered beside me. I created the blog, wrote my first "get to know me" post, and was convinced the blog would be a thing of the past in about a month. Here we are, just over three years later and the blog is still going strong. Seeing me from an education student, to moving to the other side of the country, to moving to the other side of the world while starting my career and seeing through my dream to see the world. 

We have this little tradition that I was introduced to when we were living and working together as RAs in Vanier. It's called "Here's the time time..." We pop a bottle of champagne with our friends, and take turns telling a memory that we have of the birthday boy or girl. Then we cheers them and take a sip (or gulp!) of the champagne. So, on Amanda's 25th birthday, I want to look back on a few of those memories that have brought us to where we are today. 

Amanda, here's to the time...

/+ You greeted me in "The Pit" of Vanier on my move in day as my first day as an RA with a giant hug. We had known each other for a while at that point, but that embrace was definitely the beginning of what has become a cherished and important friendship in my life. 

/+ We won the cheer off together! (and all the other residents in Vanier. But let's be honest - we were DEFINITELY the loudest and most exuberant!) 

/+ We were studying in your room with Cara and we asked her to open the window because it was warm. She cracked it approximately 1 cm. I remember how much my midsection hurt from laughing so hard! 

/+ You held me while I cried and listened to me while I talked after finding out Grandad had cancer. It was the hardest days of my life, and your bright smile, kind heart and warm hugs made it a little bit easier. 

/+ We moved in together in the house on Windsor street...and spent our first night in the house cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning. 

/+ We made a homemade advent calendar for the month of December which saw us watch Christmas movies, drink hot chocolate, and get a real Christmas tree.

/+ We drove to the Irving and got blue slushies (you a mixed one of blue and red I believe) on the first day of Spring. 

/+ I couldn't find the turn off for the truck stop in Bangor and it was dark, and the GPS was being crazy and making me U-turn, and you were giggling, and I was yelling and freaking out. But we made it, you told me stories about how you went to this particular truck stop when you went in the truck with your dad, and we laughed at a lady who brushed her teeth at the table, and I drank coffee, and we were just us. 

/+ (this one is "the times") we were driving around New Brunswick, PEI, and through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont singing John Mellencamp, "Blurred Lines", Michael Jackson (me), and you the country songs you put on the play list that I agreed to! 

/+ (again, this one is "the times") you fell asleep while we watched Friends, Gilmore Girls, or during a movie night. I tried not to get annoyed or frustrated because I know it makes you feel warm and comfortable to fall asleep while a TV is playing and people you love are in the room. How can you get mad at that?!

/+ You got engaged and I was there and I know it might have been weird and maybe it would have been more romantic and intimate if it were just the two of you. But I'll never forgot that moment you walked towards me on the beach, and I heard a lady say "Congratulations" as you walked towards me, and I looked up from my book, and there were still tears in your eyes, and you held up your hand and smiled and I said "No way!" and we hugged and I hugged Tony, and now your getting married, and I am so so so so happy for you and that you found your person. 

Happy Birthday, Amanda! I love looking back and seeing how our friendship has grown and how much I've grown since knowing you. You have taught me so much about love, life, and being a good friend. I am also so incredibly thankful that I get to share my China journey and adventure with you. That we are getting to see another part of the world together while also working and being adults. You are my best friend, and I love you always and forever. 

Here's to ALL of the times, and the many more to come.