Wednesday, December 12, 2007

shock and awe.

I'm done...? Oh my gosh, I'm done!! NO MORE TESTS. YAY.

Thankfully, my Chinese test was much less intimidating that I expected. If things go as well as I think they did, I probably even have a good shot at an A in that class. Yesssss. I'm aiming for all A's this semester--we'll see if art breaks that goal, but that's so subjective, who knows?

I'm quite happy with being my level of productivity today, too. I made sure my time for dorm checkout is okay, sent in some paperwork to my professor, turned in a library book, and emailed my academic adviser at Peppertown about opening an advanced Japanese class for me. Those things didn't even take that long, but they'd been hanging over my head all the same. The satisfaction of checking things off is delicious.

Hm... speaking of checking things off the list, I need to do more Christmas shopping soon. I seriously have no idea how I'm gonna get all my stuff plus my presents back to the USA. Part of the problem is the length of my list, but I just love all these people! Probably I should give a bunch of my clothes to the Salvation Army, since they have a donation box on campus. I could also buy a small suitcase.

And yes, I am completely stoked to come back to the States. One of my buds here hooked me up with Nat 'King' Cole's Christmas album, and I'm listening to it right now, feeling pretty much as sappy and nostalgic as is humanly possible. AHHH! I am so looking forward to listening to this properly in my living room with Grandma Clara humming along while Mom cooks in the kitchen as Dad and I work on a crossword. I know there'll be reverse culture shock and jetlag, but I'll still probably explode with happiness to be back in such a familiar place. All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth living room! (with family included, of course. :])

Merry Christmas, everybody! :D

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Forgive me, Bloggod, for I have sinned. It has been 1 month since my last entry.

Oops. I've let this slide for too long, haven't I? Well, my computer hard drive bit the dust shortly after my last post, and then was in the shop for 2 or 3 weeks. I feel I have much to write about, but I have an exam to study for at the moment. Here's a blogging to-do list. As each one of them is crossed off, you'll get another blog:

study for/finish Chinese exam
talk about my trip to Malaysia
talk about leaving HK
talk about experiencing HK

Have a lovely evening, everyone! I must finish my Chinese oral presentation.

Monday, November 5, 2007

flying sparks or burning bridges?

It's funny to sit down and write this, because I definitely feel weird doing anything other than socializing or dancing. Those two (mostly the latter) have been my life for the past 2 weeks.

BUDA (Baptist Univ. Dance Assoc.) is having a performance this Wednesday, and I'm part of it! Pretty crazy, since I haven't taken dance classes for years. It's been a great experience, despite the rather large difficulty of the language barrier. BUDA is a very professional organization, and takes their performances quite seriously, so I've signed over a huge chunk of my life to rehearsal for the time being. Even so, I have to say I think it'll be worth it. We do have our steps down really well, and our leadership is excellent. The downside of this? I have gained one or two friendly acquaintances while becoming isolated from the entire international student scene.

I decided a few weeks ago to no longer allow fear to block my relationships with local and mainland China students because of possible cultural faux pas, but it's hard in practice--especially when I don't know the language and I am the obvious minority in a given group. This holds true in dance practice, and after 2 full months of practice, I am only now becoming friendly with some of the local girls. Needless to say, this is discouraging when I am spending at least half my time in this environment. Meanwhile, I see other Pepperdine students only occasionally, and hanging out with other international students has practically become a joke, it happens so seldom. I sometimes find myself asking: "Did I accidentally commit social suicide?"

I went to see Sarah this afternoon on a whim, and it was really nice to be with someone familiar for a little while. I guess all this rehearsal has left me feeling a little lonely, despite my love for dance. The whole situation makes me slightly angry. I mean, in college they tell you to follow your dreams, blah blah blah, but where has following my passion for dance gotten me during my time here? Answer: out on a limb with some compliments, a little respect, and almost no company. I even have to skip convo dinner this week for dance! I don't blame BUDA for demanding so much, but it seems unfair that I end up socially deficient when I jump enthusiastically into the life of my current university.

I am slightly comforted by the fact that a lot of people say they'll come to the performance. I'm sure that not going to church this Sunday didn't help my feeling of isolation, either. My confusion is exacerbated by the alternating abundance and lack of community I feel while here. For example: I'll have a really great time hanging out with a few friends, and then come back to my room and realize that I barely know my roommate. I think we get along okay, but we never spend time together. Our schedules seem to conflict most of the time, and my attempts at getting hang out time for the two of us seem to always fail because of complications on one end or the other.

I guess all of this just goes to show that not even relationships with others can really fill you up. That must be the reason I never fully bought into humanism. Perhaps I have a strangely large emotional appetite, but even meaningful, deep friendships--or for that matter, fame--have never fit the resounding need for engagement that I feel. Many times I've even scared people with my extreme analysis and intense emotions. A higher being seems to be the only thing that can truly accept me for who I am without telling me that my passion and my mind are unacceptable in the "real world." I don't need anyone to tell me about the way things are "out there." I am fully aware of the ugliness in the world. In fact, I've experienced some of it myself. That doesn't mean my continued hope is silly. It is defiant. I don't have to conform to cynicism and hopelessness just because others say so.

I've been feeling quite ground down lately, but I'm still holding onto my faith. I know many people feel that is naive or even cowardly, but I've made the decision to believe that my relationships are not falling apart--they're just getting warmed up.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

parential downpour

I was writing an email to my father a few minutes ago, and realized that my blog has been somewhat neglected recently. As always, I have a plethora of excuses, but that's a useless exercise, so we'll skip it.

My parents were in town this week, and that made it quite the whirlwind. I picked Mom up from the airport late Monday evening, and it was full speed ahead from there. Tuesday was quite leisurely for her, as I had class for most of the day, but on Wednesday we headed out to Lantau Island via the ferry and had a wonderful time. It was fantastic to be somewhere so quiet. We took a lovely little walk into the forest and stopped at a waterfall before heading back to the harbor for the ferry ride back. After spending several hours there, I decided that it's my medication of choice if I ever get overstimulated by the city.Dad got into town that night and we had dinner. It was wonderful to see both of them. I forget how nice it is to be loved on until they're with me. We explored various parts of downtown HK for the next few days, and it was nice to have renewed motivation for exploring the crazy metropolis in which I live. How easy it is to forget!

Their presence also helped me to regain perspective on my internal balance. I feel much better after their visit. People that truly know you have such a grounding effect! Thank God for that. We had ice cream together on a windy balcony in Central last night. That will make a very good memory. I must file it away for future comfort. It was also wonderful when Mom said goodbye and we stood in the middle of the Departures terminal in a three-person hug. There was never a sweeter little huddle of love in the world! It leaves a mark on your heart when people love you that much.

And now, for a something slightly closer to my real thoughts, an excerpt from my father's email and my response to it that I mentioned earlier:

Dad: "I re-entered the hotel from the Nathan Rd. side and saw the reason for the people with the open suitcases on the sidewalk outside the hotel door. They were doing a photo shoot of a model on the center divider of Nathan Rd. with the HKG traffic zooming up behind her in the background. The suitcases were for wardrobe changes.
Mystery revealed!"

Me: "Whoa! That's really cool. I feel I never notice when things like this are happening right next to me. I tend to think of everyone around me as mundane. I guess I should stop assuming that, considering what an oddity I am, huh? It isn't very common for a 19 year old girl from TN to be in HK, and still be serious about God. This is why I never notice the famous people around Malibu, I suppose. Ah well, with time I hope to be more observant. I'm happy that you solved our little mystery, though!

Church was great this morning, and I've had a blessed day because of it. Two people told me at different times today how grateful they are to be my friend--the very thing I needed on this day that my biggest fans are leaving me. God is very good!

In other news, BUDA only becomes more intimidating. I found out the official practice schedule today, and it is as follows for the next 2 weeks:

Th 1900-2100
Sat 1400-1800
Sun 1400-1800

Despite the daunting schedule, I'm feeling good about it. This is going to be a real dance--not some namby-pamby club bonding on stage! My muscles wanted to give up by the end of practice today, we'd done so much booty-shakin'. I don't care what anyone says--hip hop dance is an athletic event in and of itself! I hope that this hard training will help me get a real handle on the style, so that I don't have to put it down once I leave HKBU. I'm terrified of this week for more than one reason, as I've got a quiz Tue, a paper Th, and a painting of bamboo for Fr, but I know God will provide a beautiful way for it to come together if I let him."

Yes, I'd say this has been a very good week.

p. s. Peppertown's neighbors are on fire, and Malibu Pres burned down! How unhappy is that?

p. p. s. I am so tired from dancing and worrying about friends back home that I just fell asleep at the keyboard. At least with online journaling, there's no pen line running down the page when I wake up! :) Goodnight, all.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

barely controlled fluidity

I'm completely convinced that I am happy in HK.

However, I have sudden, sharp pangs of discontent. They don't make much sense to me, but I guess in the end that's the human condition, right? I haven't been as devoted to staying close with God in the past couple weeks. Well, maybe that isn't fair. I've been relatively disciplined in making healthy decisions this week. Perhaps a more accurate description would be to say the struggle for internal balance and peace has been much more intense over the last few days.

I am completely confused by my relationships here. I really love the people I'm with, but sometimes all the experiences and secrets we share leave me hollow. Okay, so I know more about Mr. or Miss. X than anyone else on the trip. Big deal! I feel like I'm keeping score on some kind of cheap game.

Maybe I just feel disillusioned because I continue to have unrealistic expectations of relationships. I want a deep, tender, mutually beneficial friendship. Now! (As if that's at all reasonable.) I really thought I'd put aside such demanding ideals, but it seems old patterns die hard.

One step at a time, I suppose. I used to have agendas for people. Somehow I thought I had all the answers for their life as well as mine. I could love them beautifully--they just had to understand my way was right! Talk about conditional love--thinking back on it, I feel quite ashamed. With God's grace, that prideful attitude will remain a vanquished foe.

How exactly this ties in, I'm not sure, but my artistic pursuits seem to be connected to my ups and downs. My hunch is that in deciding to be newly flexible in the ways that painting and dance require puts me in a state of flux. Therefore, my normally ironclad confidence is too brittle to keep up as I change. Maybe that's a good thing.

Overall, I love change and growth, but I tend to forget the birthing pains that come along with truly dramatic growth. Thankfully, I am learning to appreciate the exhilarating but frightening sensation of slipping towards change.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

post-Nam disorder

There are so many things that have gone on in my life since my last blog that I don't even know where to begin. I've developed and gotten over two small crushes, watched and enjoyed a movie I swore I never would, bargained with and fussed at little Vietnamese market women--and the list goes on. Needless to say, my trip to Viet Nam was full of new experiences. I can't figure out what to talk about first, so I'll just try to give a few glimpses of the most important parts of my trip.

Without a doubt the most awesome part of the visit was our overnight excursion to the Mekong Delta region in the extreme south of Viet Nam. We rode a traditional boat along a stretch of the river, stopping at a couple cool shopping shacks along the way, plus a lovely house-cum-restaurant that's been inhabited by the same family for over 300 years. Our river tour culminated with a stop to hold Anacondas (yes, I mean the huge constrictor snake!), followed by a hike through the countryside and into a village by the main finger of the Mekong River, where we jumped back on the boat for the journey back to our bus.

Ah yes, the bus. That was insane. On the way to the delta, we were blasting music, and I ended up in a dance-off with Kris while the whole bus cat-called. That was weird and exhilarating enough, but when we trooped on board from our river adventures, music was again blasting, except this time the driver turned off the lights and switched on built in strobe lights as we drove. Why in the world this bus came equipped with strobe lights, I have no idea, but we literally had a party bus! It still seems like some odd thing out of a movie, but it sure enough happened. Dancing with everyone crammed into the aisle of a moving bus was hilarious and entertaining beyond belief.

We got back to Saigon the next afternoon, and I, along with Aaron and Maurice, took motorcycle taxis to pick up the custom-tailored suits we'd ordered earlier in the week. Our three drivers were nuts, and it was a ton of fun just getting there. On top of that, all of our suits were perfect--we didn't have to get a single adjustment after trying them on. I have to say that my grey skirt and blazer with white pinstripes is quite flattering. I'm excited to have something professional for interviews and such--especially for only US$120!

Once our exclamations over our own attractiveness was done, we cruised over to the internet cafe, where the three of us ran into Kris, and decided to take a 30 min motorcycle ride around the city as a last kick before our farewell dinner. That was pretty cool, but we cut it close to time for dinner, so I had to run up to my room and practically perform a magic trick to get myself looking like a girl again after all the sweating in my sports bra and t-shirt. I hustled though, and made it back down in time to walk with everyone else to a really nice buffet.

As we filtered out of the restaurant after dinner, I ran into Shawn, who mentioned he was going bowling. He invited me, and that proved to be wonderfully fun. Dr. S, Andy, Dave, Shawn, and I played a fierce two games. Well, more like they did, while I tried to wrap my brain around the basics of bowling. The good news is that I now understand how to do it correctly, thanks to their tutelage.

The weirdest thing about this day? I spent almost ALL DAY with guys. What? Leann Wolley? Since when? I know--when I realized it, I was in shock. I'm so excited though. Getting to know guys and be their friends has always been a tricky business for me, and this intensive exposure is probably the best practice I could get. Plus, the guys on this trip are really interesting, gentlemanly, and fun so far. Yay for personal progress!

Those measly few paragraphs are woefully inadequate to express the eye-opening and relationship-building that happened over this two-day period. Suffice it to say that it was a turning point in my friendships with most of my fellow Pepperdiners.

Oh--I also got a cold, but that's on it's way out, so no worries! My schedule is crazy right now, with all the stuff I left undone before my trip, but I have faith it'll all work out. Anyway, time for our group dinner--have a lovely evening, everyone!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

balancing the brush

I realized while talking to a friend of mine today online that I've accidentally given my blog a rather negative tone so far. This entry is an attempt to balance the mood in my little corner of cyberspace.

This weekend was very positive on the whole. On Friday afternoon I went to the second session of my traditional Chinese Painting Studio class, where we tried our hand at painting Chinese orchids. I can't say that my fledgling attempts were high art, but some of them were attractive in an amateurish way, which pleased me greatly. Well, I should clarify--my attempts at the orchid leaves turned out okay. The strokes involved in making the flower itself still mystify me to a great extent, but my roommate has done Chinese painting before, so I am optimistic that with a practice and a little tutoring I'll improve.

After class, I was pretty much exhausted and felt slightly discouraged by my status as the only round-eye in the class (since the professor's mode of operation so far has been to give me a brief translation after speaking to everyone else in Cantonese). Despite this, I can definitely say that I am learning something new every time I attend that class.

EDIT: I talked to the prof. this last week, and he was really nice about using more English, thankfully. Now I just have to figure out how I'll turn in a passable orchid painting next class... scary!!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Just say no, kids.

There's a bizarre pattern that I'm noticing here in my second week of studying abroad: International students seem to think that the weekend starts on Wednesday and doesn't end until Monday night, even when they have class.

Please tell me that this is a phase people will get over. It makes me feel so edgy! Am I missing out on everything? Is it weird to feel uncomfortable with the idea of going out with people who will most likely get fall-down drunk? Okay, that isn't fair. I don't know if they do that every time they go out--but the idea that they might still makes me feel panicky. I don't want to find my way back to campus at 2 am by myself from downtown if everyone else feels like stumbling back at 5 am instead. (And I've heard stories involving times just like that, so it's no exaggeration.)

At least I'm getting to be friends with some really good people. I'm going to go out with some of the tamer crowd tomorrow night, and we're getting our hair done before. I'm really looking forward to that, so at the moment I'm trying to focus on it instead of stressing out.

To be realistic, there was more to my remorse and panic over turning down the invitation to go out tonight than just fear of exclusion. I've already decided that I'm not going to pursue this for multiple reasons, but I kind of like one of the guys who invited me, and despite my decision to no longer encourage interest, I still felt extreme internal pressure to please him. I kept calm on the surface, but I basically freaked out after I called to cancel on him.

I don't know--people seem to feel I am too expressive or too emotional, but I honestly feel like I'm more content than most people. Yeah, I don't hide my enthusiasm or my disappointment or even my seriousness for that matter, but it's only honesty--not psychosis. :) I like being expressive and open. It's fun, and I never have to worry about "if I'd said this" or "if I'd only told him that." I think everyone experiences the things that I express. It's just human, but for some reason we rarely share our humanity. That's okay. I plan to love and grieve openly anyway, even if it isn't the popular choice.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

ach, mein stomack!

I tried to be really tolerant and adventurous at the Pepperdine group dinner last night, but I guess I was a little too brave. We had hotpot, which is a style of dining where there's a pot of boiling water with spices in the center. The food is then cooked by dropping raw veggies, meats, etc, into said water.

My experience last night wasn't bad, but this morning I woke up feeling slightly nauseous. Perhaps the different food was a shock to my system after having so little to eat earlier in the day. Thankfully a fellow Pepperdiner had some Pepto Bismol, and my looming health crisis has been averted--for today, at least. I'm praying that my system will have sorted itself out by the time I wake up tomorrow morning.

Note to self: It is good to be adventurous, but your stomach is not made of iron.

Oh--and I just made an absolutely wonderful discovery! Each floor of our residence tower has a kitchenette, and I've only just realized that each one is fully stocked with cooking utensils, cutting knives, and dish detergent. I see glorious nights of self-cooked meals in my near future. :)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

I need your grace.

I felt kinda crappy last night. I don't know if that came across in my entry or not, but it's definitely true. After talking and thinking, I've decided that even though all the classes and new people and new experiences are overwhelming, I'm not going to let them beat me.

I could lay around in my room and feel sorry for myself, which would be more than easy to do, but I refuse. It's time to grow up one more time. I will take care of myself by exercising regularly, eating well, praying often, and accepting things easily. No more of this pity-party crap.
God loves me, I love me, and that should be enough fuel to get me going each day.

In keeping with this line of thinking, I'm going to go swim now, and then swing by the library to do some reserve reading for class tomorrow. Life doesn't have to be as dramatic as we like to think, thank goodness!

breaking in my traveling shoes

Well, I've finished my second weekend here in Hong Kong, and it's weird to reflect on my experiences so far.

I've just come back from my first venture to the "Night Market," and that was fun--lots of colors glittering under lights and pushy salespeople. I went with Elisha and Peta (among others), and after spending time with them today, I think they'll become buddies of mine. They're both a ton of fun, and I enjoy laughing with them--an important ingredient in any good friendship, in my experience.

I guess part of the reason it's bizarre to think about my time here so far is because it just doesn't seem like Hong Kong could really exist--it's been this theoretical place of textbooks and travel shows for so long that stepping into it is somewhat unnerving. Parts of it jump out at me as suddenly and strikingly familiar, such as the shining tables of jade and open-air food vendors, while other times, I am swept away by the profound foreign-ness of this place. Occasionally the sensation can be quite literal, as when I almost fell out of the bus this morning after getting tangled in its automated doors.

I've kept a very good internal balance so far, but the sense of being a rookie hasn't quite worn off yet, which can be stressful at times. Always having to ask people and and think about what you're doing gets a little tiring. Thankfully, with some journaling, prayer, and the support of my parents from across the miles, I've retained some sense of myself. Unlike my 6 weeks in Japan this summer (which was my first extended trip abroad), I'm making a conscious attempt to be patient with both myself and others during this adjustment period. It's really made a difference, and I think that accepting myself for where I am instead of trying to push myself forward has allowed me to be much happier during my culture shock so far.

In some ways it feels like I've been here forever, because it's so easy to be immersed in the moment as I experience this city for the first time--I simply forget about both past and future. Standing knee-deep in the flow of the present is truly beautiful, let me tell you. However, there are some mornings that I wake up and feel like a newborn--completely helpless, vulnerable, and ignorant. I think that going through the pain of culture shock is good. I like it in some slightly twisted way, I guess, because that pain lets me know that I'm growing. It tires me out after awhile, but that's good, too, because then I understand why my reliance on God is vital--not just some spiritual exercise.

This doesn't even begin to cover my first two weeks in Hong Kong, but I hope to document my internal and external journey more thoroughly in the future by journaling on a more frequent basis. Have a blessed night/day/etc!