Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shopping in Taidong (a.k.a. Stephanie's First Chinese Victory)

Today was a major victory for me:  Despite having only been in China for six days, I managed to buy a flowerpot from a Chinese woman, using only Chinese to transact our business.  I showed her which one I wanted, asked how much it was, then understood her when she answered me.  I then paid for it and thanked her, and finished by saying goodbye.  It's the small things in life that bring the most joy!

I was in Taidong today, which is sort of a suburb of Qingdao, where there are loads of inexpensive shops.  Beth and I needed to get dishes, since the ones we had were owned by her former roommate, who will be back from vacation this week and will then reclaim her belongings (she's staying in Qingdao, just going to a different apartment).  I still can't believe how well Beth and I get along and how similar our tastes are:  it took us all of about ten minutes to pick out which plates we wanted at the kitchen store we went to.  We found a gorgeous mostly-black plate that has white flowers on it, and then has green and blue in the center (the center sort of reminds me of a seashell in the way the colors show).  We found a bowl that perfectly matched as well.  We decided that we would need eight plates, since we frequently have company, and four bowls, since we don't usually serve soup when having guests.  Unfortunately, there were only five of the plate that we loved.  I suggested getting four of them and then picking four of a plate that coordinated, and Beth readily agreed.  She happened upon a blue plate that has a black back and is round.  It looked fantastic with what we had picked out, and there were exactly four of them at the shop!  For our pieced-together set of dishes, we paid 200 kuai, which is about $30 American.  And these are super NICE dishes, which would probably cost around $200 for a set back in the States.  Awesome!

After the kitchen store, we went to the plant market, because I wanted to buy some plants for the apartment.  Since we have such a nice balcony, and since I don't have any pets to mother, I have decided to create a garden for myself.  Beth told me that the balcony is my domain, and that anything I do out there is fine by her.  So, I decided that I would start myself out with three plants, then add more gradually.  Next summer, I plan to grow tomatoes.  I am also thinking about turning our hanging clothes line into a hanging herb garden next summer, since we can't use it for clothes during the summer (too humid) and since it is really sturdy (it's actually metal).  For my first plants in my balcony "garden", I decided to get two flowering plants and one plant that smelled nice.  We like to use our balcony a lot, so I figured that combination would offer the maximum amount of increased enjoyment.

I right away found a flowering plant that I fell in love with.  It's something I've never seen before!  It has pinkish red flowers that are small and really pretty, and then has lots of thorns as well.  I'm not really sure how to even describe the thing!  The saleswoman told me all about the plant in Chinese, and with the aid of Beth (who speaks a fair amount of Chinese, though she is far from fluent) and charades, I was able to understand some of it (I also, to my delight, picked up on a few words that I knew).  Apparently, my new plant is actually three separate plants in one container.  It will bush out and gain a pretty good size, and it will have tons of flowers.  It likes lots of direct sunlight, which it will certainly get out there, and it only needs water when it gets dry.  No other special instructions.  I picked out an attractive large white pot for it (big enough that I shouldn't have to transplant it for a while, but not so big that it gets dwarfed by the pot), and the woman graciously potted it for me right there (they usually charge for that).

For my second plant, I chose one from the same woman.  It's another plant that I've never seen.  It is small and green, and I have no idea whether it will grow flowers.  It's cute enough without them, honestly.  What I love about it is how the round, thick leaves feel just like velvet, and the wonderful aromatic scent that it lets off.  I chose a blue and white striped pot for it, and it now has a very happy home in the center of our balcony table.  It really adds a lot to the aesthetics out there.

For my final plant, I went with a gorgeous red plant that I had seen before in hotels, but did not know the name of.  After extensive searching on Google, I learned that my new flower is called an Anthurium.  According to Google, they're supposed to be pretty easy to take care of, on top of the fact that they are stunningly gorgeous (as I had already observed).  I also learned that they are best kept indoors, as they don't like constant sunlight and cannot handle super hot temperatures.  So, the Anthurium will live in the living room, by the sliding glass door.  For its pot, I found a striped pot that nicely coordinates with the blue striped one that I put the green plant in.  That was the pot that I managed to buy with no help.  I hope to find out what the other two plants are soon.  I'll probably do some searching on Google tomorrow and see if I can figure it out.

I really wish I could post pictures of all these things, but I am still waiting for the camera cord to arrive (the one I ordered off of Amazon).  In the meantime, just picture in your mind how beautiful my new plants are.

After the plant store, Beth and I walked toward Walmart (yup, we even have one here!) so that I could get some organizational boxes.  On the way, we stopped by a little stand called Magic Lemon, which sells frozen treats.  I saw a picture of something I had never seen before, which looked quite odd and therefore extremely desirable for consuming.  Beth tenaciously described it using what Chinese words she knows, until eventually they figured out what we were talking about.  Her efforts were worth it -- it was the most delicious thing I have eaten so far in China.  It turned out to be actual pieces of mango on the bottom, with mango shaved ice on top of that, and then little balls that looked like golden caviar on top.  The little balls were also mango-flavored (I think made from real mango), but the texture is hard to describe.  The best description I can think of is to call them mango caviar!

Walmart successfully finished my household needs.  I found some trays and boxes to aid in organization (I needed something for makeup and such in the bathroom, and something for organizing my desk drawers).  I also found a nice little umbrella that should hold up well during this rainy season (we get a little bit of rain almost daily lately, but mostly we're getting sun), a throw pillow that perfectly matches the bedroom and brings in a bit of lime green, a few notebooks, more hangers (I ALWAYS underestimate how many I need), and a hedgehog t-shirt (I didn't pack many t-shirts because they're the one thing I can find in my size in Asia).

After we got home, we popped in a movie for a while.  Around four, we had some unique fun:  we got to assist with the birthday party of one of our school's eighth graders (her mom is a teacher).  Maddie was having an "Amazing Race" birthday party, and we were the second stop.  The girls had to solve a series of math problems to figure out to come to our apartment.  When they got here (in their teams of three), we had two tasks for them to complete.  First, one girl had to be blindfolded and had to apply several different make-up elements to one of her teammates, which the teammate would then have to keep on for the rest of the race.  Then, the remaining teammate had to stick ten clothespins in her hair, which also had to stay in for the rest of the race.  To find the next location, the girls had to put together a picture of the apartment, which had been cut up like a puzzle (each team got their own to put together).  It was so much fun to have an apartment full of happy, giggling preteen girls (ages eleven to thirteen).  I still can't get over how NICE all of the kids from our school are (at least, all that I have met, and the other teachers have commented that our kids all tend to be pretty sweet).  The girls were only here for about twenty minutes at most, but they really wet my appetite for school to start.

It's looking like I'll have no shortage of quality time with teens and preteens this year.  In addition to teaching high school, I volunteered to help with youth group immediately upon my arrival in Qingdao, an offer that was eagerly accepted.  Then, at dinner tonight, I was asked to coach JV volleyball.  I said that if I could get some help and some instruction, I think I may be able to do it.  At the very least, I said that I could definitely assist someone else in coaching.  I don't know all of the rules that there would be in an official game, and I have no experience in planning strategy, so those are the two concerns that I have.  I do know how to play, of course, and I also know plenty about how to get the kids warmed up.  So, we shall see -- I may be a coach, or I may just assist.  Either way, I am happy to get really involved.  I often think that the time outside of class can be some of the most valuable time a teacher spends with students.  I am hoping to be not just a teacher, but also a mentor and a trusted ally.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"