Friday, May 30, 2008

Technical Difficulties Overcome

Dear America,

It is with great pleasure (or actually, with the warm mid-afternoon drowsiness) that I may inform you that some of the orphans were able to get their computer back online and allow me to write. this is my second full day here in Gongyi, Henan. I managed a grueling 11-hour train ride from Beijing, the highlights of which include learning how to play the Chinese version of "Pig", and making friends with various college students and young businessmen. I continue to be completely stumped by anything that rural men over 60 say, however, as their speech is completely incomprehensible to me, and apparently mostly incomprehensible to anyone else too.

After my train ride, I landed in Gongyi, a dusty (very dusty!) little town of a couple hundred thousand strong. The train station was surprisingly small and poorly lit, and only a handful of others got off the train with me. It was dark, already nearing 11 pm, and I surely hoped that someone was going to be there from the orphanage as promised. Nathan, the man who runs the place, was indeed there with his car, and got me set up back at the orphanage in a pretty royal room -- my own queen-size bed and private bathroom, a fan and even an air conditioner should I need it. While a more cultured soul might sniff at the stark and primitive arrangement, the exposed pipes and peeling paint, staying in youth hostels and trips to Belize have taught me the importance of looking at the truly valuable things in life -- things like heated water and a toilet which flushes (though it probably doesn't flush with heated water).

Since then Nathan has mostly left me to work out on my own what is going on and what I should do -- it has been the most laid-back introduction to any sort of mission work that I have ever seen, and it has been midlly frustrating as I try and figure out what I can do, and then what I should do. I have been helping a lot these past two days in the kindergarten, playing with the grand little kids and watching with contained amusement at the very different teaching styles of the two Chinese teachers and the one American teacher.

The American teacher is the mother of three boys who also participate in the orphanage kindergarten (the father, for a change in occupation, works at a big official kindergarten in the city; but only part-time, so he also often helps out here at the orhanage). With all of us around, and everyone knowing at least a little of Chinese or English, the languages switch back and forth very fluidly. It is fascinating to see, especially for the kids. The American kids speak Chinese with pretty decent tones, and some of the Chinese kids speak English much better than many of those English majoring college students I met in my past (both Chinese and American!)..

There is much to say, but I also still have this last paper I need to finish up, and I have no certainty when I wlil be able to ge tonline again. Though they apparently have wireless set up, a trip into the local computer repair shop produced a verdict that my laptop's problem is not with the CMOS battery, but rather with the motherboard -- the exact same problem I had last year with this model laptop in China! I'm beginning to think it's a curse, and am ruing that I didn't go ahead and buy a laptop before I left the US (the ones here are too expensive, ironically enough). More of my adventure to come in the future!

Coming next: seeing the cave homes, government corruption and the highway repair project, and things even I don't know yet!


Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Dear America,

I arrived safely in Beijing after a bit of excitement with traffic getting into JFK. The trip was uneventful, except I was very excited to see even before leaving the US so many Chinese people speaking Chinese. I was seated next to a 60s-something women who didn't speak a word of English, so we conversed for part of the trip in Chinese.

Once in Beijing the security didn't believe that I was the same person in my passport photo. It took three different photo IDs and three security guards and some discussion (in Chinese) on how I'd gotten thinner before they decided to let me go.

I arrived at the hostel without too much difficulty, found a bank and extracted enough money to last me a long time, bought a bus-and-subway muptiple transit card, and bought my train ticket for tomorrow. And, to continue my three-year long tradition of the first and last thing I eat in China being watermelon, I bought some shared it with the others at the hostel.

I'm about to turn in for the night and tomorrow I get the 8-hour train ride to the orphanage, but I figured I'd let you know I'm safe and sound... for now.