Saturday, October 8, 2011

Adventures in Weihai

I just returned from a phenomenal staff retreat in Weihai, the city where I almost lived (I had a job offer there that I came very close to not turning down).  Initially, I felt apprehension mingled in amongst my anticipation -- although excited about the chance to spend time with several dear friends, I wondered exactly how much fun one could have while stuck on crutches with an ankle that swells up like an angry balloon at the slightest provocation.  I need not have worried -- my incredibly sweet Chinese friends made it a wonderful time!

I spent most of my time as the foreign minority among Chinese, and I couldn't have been happier!  I got to know several staff members that I had not previously gotten to spend much time with (their jobs and mine don't really intersect).  I also spent a lot of time being looked after by my "older sisters" Maggie and Linda and my "little sister" Susie.  They took me all over the place, frequently grabbing my crutches to make sure that I didn't slip and fall or get flung through the air (yes, they know me well already).  We also had two fantastic and inspiring seminars.

There were several unique and special moments during the trip:
  • I received a nickname from my Chinese friends.  Since there are four Stephanies at school, Maggie decided to rename me "Lao-San" (basically, it means that I am the third age-wise).  It seems to be catching on, so I may have a lengthy future as Lao-San.  Fortunately, I like it.
  • I ate jellyfish!  I did not like it!
  • I ate "hundred year old egg" -- duck egg that is covered with mud and buried, then dug up and served after it turns black.  (Surprisingly, it tastes good, and obviously, I had no idea what it was before I ate it.  I thought it was just an odd garnish on the tofu.)
  • I ate a chicken foot.  It showed up in one of the dishes at dinner, so I figured I might as well eat it.  Not bad, but not awesome.
  • I ate pig heart.  This was another instance where I did not actually know what I was eating (it just happened to be in my soup at the Korean soup restaurant that friends and I went to).  It was okay, but I did not care for the texture.  Maggie insisted that it was good for my skin and that I should finish it all, but I had filled up on soup, rice, and kimchi and had no desire to eat more.
  • I ate a very odd sweet cold soup which had a texture and appearance exactly like the results of a giant's head cold . . . if the giant had something horribly wrong with his sinuses.  I liked it, although it looked dreadful (that seems to happen a lot here in China).  I was eating dinner with a tableful of teens and preteens, so I opted to set a good example by not telling the kids what I thought the soup resembled until after dinner.
  • I got to go sailing with three friends.  We had perfect weather, albeit chilly, and managed not to get wet.  Poor dear Ruth, the Chinese teacher who shares my classroom, was not so lucky.  She and her husband were enjoying a very cute voyage in a kayak, then tipped right as they were coming into shore!
  • I taught a whole bunch of American slang to several of the Chinese staff.  I figured it was only fair, since they are always teaching me Chinese words.
  • I learned several new words, including beach, sea, sand, Chinese donut (that's really the best translation for it), and "let's go".
  • I was forced to dance.  As one of our team-building activities, our small groups had to each do the same song and dance in front of everyone.  My group was a bit unimpressed by the motions that were supposed to go with the song, so we improvised and changed it up in the third stanza, ending with a bow.  We received cheers and applause for our efforts, though we didn't win.
  • Maggie made me speak Chinese only (well, as close as I could get) while we were out and about on our first day (not for the whole day, just a large portion of it).  I was really surprised by how much I can understand; unfortunately, my vocabulary is very noun-heavy at the moment, so my limited verbs really cut down on my conversation potential.
So, although the crutches are a "Yuck Duck", the entire time in Weihai was mega "Yay Duck"!

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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"