29 November, 2016

The Train Ride from Hell - but the scenery was priceless!

My view.
I knew we'd be sharing a room. Room - "hard sleeper" means 6 bunks in a small cabin without a door. About 12 cabins per train car, with a tiny table-ette in the hall outside each open doorway. That's a lot of people sharing space.

...If you're reading this, you might want to use the toilet, pour yourself a beverage and settle in.

I knew prior to moving to China that Chinese people in general are less protective of their personal space than Americans. It's fine! Not like we expected to travel in luxury, and this is how you meet people.

Sort of.
Through grunts and pointing, since I don't know the language.
For 24 hours.

Beijing West railway station.
We were headed to Hong Kong to re-validate our tourist visas. One stamp showing we left the country. One stamp showing the date of our "second" trip to China.

China is almost the same size as the U.S. Imagine boarding a train in Minnesota and exiting in Houston. Not getting off the train even once until Houston. One night in Houston (Hong Kong) and returning the same way. For two days after our return, it felt like I was swaying when I walked. I was afraid I'd fall off my chair during Thanksgiving dinner on Friday night!

The trip.

We started out from frigid Beijing at about 9pm. Easy enough, just in time to settle in for the night. Brett and I each had the two top bunks, about 8 feet above the floor and about 18 inches below the ceiling. Have I ever mentioned my claustrophobia? It's usually dormant except in low-ceiling situations. I took ginger (against motion-sickness) and melatonin (sleep-aid), and woke a few hours later, then every time the train stopped. 

We were in the party car. A pair of guys were settled in at the table right outside our cabin, and two cabins down from us were enjoying each others company. During the wee hours, I started hearing all their voices again. 

In the morning, we needed to stretch our legs, so decided to search out a dining car. When we found it, it was empty (an hour before lunch service), and they didn't want us there, but with the language barrier I think they found it easier to just let us sit and charge our phones. Eventually we ordered some lunch, and two Chinese men were seated with us near the end of our meal, extending our time in the comfort of the dining booth.

We were due to arrive around 6:30 p.m., and in the afternoon I got engrossed in watching a group in the next cabin gambling over some poker-ish type card game. I didn't understand it at all because of the language, but a wife of one of the players made great company watching with me from the aisle. We watched the scenery and the game, and I looked up how to say "beautiful": Mei-li-de. 

Honestly, much of the mountainous scenery we went through made me think of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but maybe that was because it was so cloudy and grey - you know, like the scenes near the end of the movie?

Sorry. I digress.

We were running about an hour late. My first inclination of that was when we started getting all our stuff together and packed back up, and the group next door brought out the snack food and cracked open some beers! They shared, graciously, I think amused at the pair of "Meigworens" in their midst. I'd walked the length of the train. We were the only non-Chinese.

We arrived in Shenzhen, where we passed through customs and had to hop a subway to Hong Kong! About an hour later we popped out in the heart of the city, with no hotel reservation and no idea where we were. 
Hong Kong! And palm trees!

We quickly realized we'd picked the wrong subway stop as all the stores and businesses were EXTREMELY high end. In the end, we paid more than double our "highest" price we had hoped to pay for a hotel, dropped off our bag and immediately went out for food. At nearly 10 pm.

We found the best pizza we'd had since moving to China, a couple good beers, and some delightfully ENGLISH conversation - with a native from Nepal. Seriously, everyone speaks English in Hong Kong. It was so relaxing. We headed back to bed - to our expensive room with two twins because the hotel was so full they had no queen rooms left! My Chinese insomnia that has plagued me since moving here was cured in that tiny, expensive bed.

Return Trip.

There was some early talk about things we might be able to purchase in Hong Kong that are difficult to find in China, but after blowing our wad on a bed and some pizza, and with the extremely long subway trip between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, we just took a slow, window-shopping walk toward the subway station.

The subway back to Shenzhen, at 10 in the morning, was not bad at all. Apparently rush-hour is a thing everywhere! (and we missed it) Our passports stamped for our return, we had... three hours to wait before boarding the next 24-hour train.

It was sunny, and gorgeous. And not crowded like the Beijing station. And we had time to relax! In the sun. 
So we did. 
It was glorious. 
I love the sun.

This time, the train left around 2pm. No settling into our bunks for the night. Actually, it was horrible. There was a young couple in our cabin - I'll call them Princess and The Stooge. They were all up in our business, being sure we were in the correct bunks - we had planned to switch bunks because Brett perferred the privacy of the top bunk and we had one high and one low bunk this time. But no. The Stooge assured that I was in the top and Brett was in the bottom.

It was horrible. Princess and The Stooge commandeered the entire cabin, even bringing in the trash-tray that belonged with the aisle table, so Princess didn't have to leave to throw her... I dunno, pumpkin seed hulls? Ramen wrappers? I did not like that couple. AND since Brett is more social than I and often was away from his bunk, The Stooge kept settling into Brett's bunk like he owned the place. He is my permanent arch-nemesis.

Brett made friends with an English-speaking grad student from the next cabin. They talked the whole time until a late goodnight.
He makes everything better.

I think what saved me the first trip was Brett's presence in the high bunk across from me. There was a quiet young lady up there this time, and as I was taking ginger and melatonin again - because it sort of worked on the way down - she got a phone call. She tried to talk quietly, which was considerate. Then a few minutes later I kept hearing sniffling and gradually realized she was crying. I reached over and offered her a tissue, and she thanked me, and that was it. I decided that, in the morning I'd try to break through the language barrier and see if she was okay, or maybe needed a friend? She was on my mind, poor girl.

I awoke when the train was still. Breathing was hard. The stillness was the worst. It was midnight. I looked down toward my husband, listened to the dark stillness, and focused on my breathing. We started moving, but I couldn't sleep. Each time we stopped, the ceiling felt too close. At one stop, there was someone walking above my head. After 3 or 4 stops and panicked breathing, I was dressed, my shoes were on, and I was ready to climb down, but didn't want to wake people, so I held back. Finally it was too much, so I climbed down, with my phone and charger. There weren't many outlets for charging, but in the middle of the night, they were available!

I spent 5 hours in the aisle at a tiny table-ette, phone plugged in, knocking out sudokus and word puzzles - no wi-fi. Staff occasionally passed through as we neared a stop, ensuring that passengers didn't miss their stops. It kept getting colder the further north we passed, so at some point I climbed just high enough to get my coat and be warmer in the aisle. I cuddled up against the outer wall of the train, but was still cold. I stood leaning against the wall of the cabin, feet propped against the outer wall so I wouldn't fall, but finally around 5am I decided I was exhausted enough to climb back up to my claustrophobic tomb and pass out.

I did. Two hours later I was up. It was light out but still cold.
The girl with the tears the night before was gone.
I hope she's okay.
Thanksgiving feast!

When Brett got up, we ate some snack food items I'd picked up in Shenzhen and watched The Stooge dote on Princess. When the grad student got up, he offered new snack foods we'd never tried, and we had some lively conversation to pass the last few hours up to Beijing.

Four subways after arriving in Beijing, we were FINALLY home. But not done.

Brett took our newly stamped passports to update our residence permit while I hopped in the shower to start getting ready for A FORMAL THANKSGIVING DINNER we had that night.

I was so tired I could cry. I desperately wanted someone to tell me to just stay home and sleep. No one did. The bags and circles under my eyes took some work to make photo-ready. But we got ready and headed out to a fancy hotel to explain the significance of turkey to this American holiday! And ultimately, I'm glad I didn't stay home and sleep, because it was a good evening and a fun event.

But when we finally got home, I crashed. Hard.

End of story.

26 November, 2016

Five-Minute Friday: Stream-of-Conscious Surrender!

For today's post, I am following the one-word prompt from Kate at Heading Home. This has been a good way to keep me on track posting somewhat regularly. 

If you want to join, click that link to her blog. Every Friday is a new word, and the only rules are: 
Write for 5 minutes. 
Link your post on hers. 

It's pretty cool, and I find a new blog every week.
(Now if only I would make the time to revisit more often during the week.)
This week's one-word is "Surrender".
Timer starting...

Sometimes, the word-cue makes it difficult for me to narrow down my thoughts. In fact, my post today will simply be a list of different ideas "surrender" brings to mind, in no particular order:

~  I gave up a lot of control by getting rid of almost everything back home and moving to China two months ago.

~  Sometimes when we are out on errands, I simply surrender to my husband's wishes of what to do next or where to go. We may both have opinions, but if it doesn't matter in the long run, I say, "I'll do whatever you choose," and we continue happily. (He does the same for me.)

~  I have two contentious relationships with siblings that I have surrendered to prayer - we do not make direct contact, but I love them both and wish them good things.

~  My health is somewhat at the whim of Beijing: I walk a lot which is great; I eat more fresh and less processed foods, which is great; I watch the air quality daily, but don't always wear a mask when I should, so some days I'm blowing grey dust out of my nose (gross), which is not great; we have a terrible bed and I'm losing a lot of sleep, which is bad for my health.

~  Very recently, on a 24-hour train ride (an entire blog post in itself, which I intend to write next, so come back!), I surrendered to a panic attack when I awoke in the middle of the night, on my 3rd-tier bunk in a shared room, and could feel the ceiling closing in on me. I was up for 5 hours in the middle of the night, in increasingly cold (we were heading north) temperatures, rather than attempt to sleep in such close quarters. 

~  I hate to keep harping on about all the changes from moving overseas, but it's basically the crux of my existence these days! Before moving, we prayed a lot and came to the conclusion that, as difficult as it would be, this was God's will, and we had to surrender to it. 

Time's up. More than 5 minutes, actually. Sorrynotsorry!

19 November, 2016

Five-minute Friday: Being Prompted to "Enjoy"

For today's post, I am following the one-word prompt from Kate at Heading Home. This has been a good way to keep me on track posting somewhat regularly. 

If you want to join us, click that link to her blog. Every Friday is a new word, and the only rules are: 
Write for 5 minutes. 
Link your post on hers. 

It's pretty cool, and I find a new blog every week.
(Now if only I would make the time to revisit more often during the week.)
This week's one-word is "Enjoy".
Timer starting...

When you're sick, this can be a hard word, and I'm trying to beat a cold right now - not enjoying that much! In the process, losing sleep - also the reverse of "Enjoy".

However, I am extremely blessed to have a wonderful husband who brings out the best in me, and who always finds the positive in everything. Since today is our one day-off together, we had planned to go to a major marketplace today, and we did, tired as I was. 

Of course, I enjoyed it. It's been a glorious autumn day, warm enough that we decided to walk home, and even had our coats off by the halfway point. The sky is clear - no visible Beijing-smog! Another great gift to enjoy.

I enjoy getting out and walking. I do. It's one of my favorite forms of exercise, and here in Beijing, we do a lot of it. Left to my own devices, I might have skipped out on the exercise and missed a beautiful day.

The word prompt is "Enjoy" and today, I needed a little gentle prompting in order to fully Enjoy my day. We have come full circle.

...and Time.

12 November, 2016

Five-Minute Friday - When "common" isn't so common

For today's post, I am following the one-word prompt from Kate at Heading Home. This has been a good way to keep me on track posting somewhat regularly. 

If you want to join us, click that link to her blog. Every Friday is a new word, and the only rules are: 
Write for 5 minutes. 
Link your post on hers. 

It's pretty cool, and I find a new blog every week.
(Now if only I would make the time to revisit more often during the week.)
This week's one-word is "Common".
Timer starting...

HAHA! Right now, as an American in China, I don't feel I have much in common with anyone around me! I'm prepping for a drama camp, and read about a team activity that suggested letting kids pick partners by some organic means like "find someone with eyes the same color as yours". 
...In China? Um... think I'll skip that.

I'm 5'10", red hair, green eyes, caucasian, and I don't speak the language of those around me. I'm a Christian in a secular country. What could I possibly have in common with my neighbors?

A smile. A smile reads in any language.
Holding the elevator for someone struggling to get to it.
Holding any door!
Laughing over discovering a new word - or a language mistake.
Petting a dog.
Lifting my face to the sun.
Bobbing my head to the beat of the music - in any language.
Making "yummy sounds" and rubbing my tummy.

It's there. What makes me human makes you human, no matter what our religion or politics, no matter the language or geography.

...Time's up.

Thank you, Kate, for this prompt! This was an enlightening thing to write off-the-cuff!

10 November, 2016

The Holidays Unknown

It's the holiday season! My friends back home have started commenting about when is appropriate to play Christmas tunes, or gift-shop, and could we have just one holiday at a time?

First off, WHY? Want to get in your Thanksgiving caroling? what's wrong with enjoying it all together? ... but that is not my point. To each their own.

This month, similarly to before we moved, I find myself looking into a giant void with a new question: What will our Christmas be like?

Forget Thanksgiving. We both teach on Thursdays. Maybe we'll eat out. Ha! Chinese food for Thanksgiving! 

I'm stumped for a Christmas letter. I listen to Christmas music in the hopes of inspiration, and feel tears in my eyes if I start to sing along. Will I have the opportunity to sing Christmas hymns this year? Will we find a Christmas Eve church service? I might have a Christmas program at one of my schools that day... would I even be free to go to church?

Brett and I are not deeply traditional. Christmas meal is whatever. We never put up a tree, but I did have three nativity sets, one or two of which always made it up. I also always send Christmas cards, and use the ones sent to me to frame a doorway. I love that. I think I have a way to get out a Christmas letter, if I manage to write one, but doubt any cards will find their way to us. (I'd probably cry over every one that arrived, anyway.)

My smallest nativity
My nativities are all in storage. No room in our meager 3 suitcases, not even for the smallest. I thought, "I'll just get one there, and add to my collection!" Where? In a 100% secular country, where, pray tell, can I find a religious item such as that? Anyway, I certainly won't have one before Christmas. They may be available in tourist spots.

I think I have to stop writing. This post is depressing me.

I am blessed to be married to wonderful, Christian man who makes life enjoyable and adventurous, and we have grand opportunities before us. Christmas is about Christ's birth, and we can commemorate that anywhere.

06 November, 2016

Five Minute Friday - The Mental Journey is the Hard Part!

For today's post, I am following the one-word prompt from Kate at Heading Home. This has been a good way to keep me on track posting somewhat regularly. 
If you're interested in trying it, click that link to her blog. Every Friday is a new word, and the only rules are: Write for 5 minutes. Link your post on hers. It's pretty cool, and I find a new blog every week.
(Now if only I would make the time to revisit more often during the week.)
This week's one-word is "Journey".
Timer starting...
Moving to China was a challenge. It was a long journey through bureaucracy, before we even left the States, and that journey is ongoing.

But I have come to realize that the inner struggle is the hardest part. 

I spent this morning in prayer, watching a worship service recorded from back home, because I have no spiritual support in my present location. I know that this journey is only beginning, and God has plans for my husband and I. We need to be here. We prayed a lot about this before making the decision.

Little things have been battering at my inner peace.
Things like getting sick and not having my usual medicines handy.
Insomnia has finally thrown me for a loop, making me even question my sanity. 
Our small jar of peanut butter, as compared to the huge one we used to buy back home.

I cannot begin to guess what is to come. Our intention was to be here for years, as long as our health was fine. Perhaps God has other plans. 

The journey is not easy, but it is not horrible, and it is not over. I just have to mentally condition myself to remember to praise God for all things, and trust. 

Time's up.