Friday, November 26, 2010

The First Seven: 2

Day Two
Second day was interesting. The majority of it was made up of me going with Jerry and JD to lunch, and then going shopping after that.

We went downtown to one of the many mall/shopping plazas in Qingdao. I seriously never imagined there would be SO many high end shopping plazas in Qingdao. I now live within just a couple blocks of stores like Prada, Gucci, Porsche, Louis Vuitton, and others of the same kind. These of course are mixed with a plethora of every other kind of store and shopping opportunity, all the way down to street vendors who lay their goods on the sidewalk. After getting some fresh roasted coffee from a sequestered little place that Jerry knew we ate at a restaurant in the mall. The food was pretty good, not as good as the first day. The talk was the most interesting part.

The conversation found us talking about what being a Christian in China looks like, how we define ourselves, if the company is a BAM, and the vision for how the company might grow and impact the community. Overall, they are all about people, through and through. They want to improve people's lives, specifically be improving their work lives and changing the way they encounter other cultures. And they want to redeem people's view of work (yes, even Christians), so that they see it as something is beautiful and necessary and God glorifying. Right now they are trying to push into the hotel market, for double tree and Hilton. They want to provide cross-cultural and language training to hotel staff here in Qingdao, hopefully converting that contract into a contract for hilton hotels area wide, china wide, even asia wide and beyond. They also want to provide training to local chinese Christians. If business expands like they want it to, they will eventually need people to run local offices in the Middle east and Africa. This would be a prime opportunity for sending a local chinese who has been trained here in Qingdao to that post. What a great way for Christians to mobilize! I really like the plan, their earnestness to help the community, and their holistic vision for how every part of what they do is aimed at bringing the kingdom (my words not theirs).

After that, it was high time I got some essentials for my apartment. Though there is a Walmart in Qingdao, it is not near Jin Hai, so we went to one of the foreign Walmart dopplegangers: Carrefour is a French store chain, and boy was going there an experience. It was definitely the most shocking cultural experience yet. I can't really put my finger on why. I mean it was huge for one. Three stories. I think largely though, it was because I was very aware of the fact that without JD I would be utterly lost. Whenever I am out and about, Jerry/JD/Flight serve as my life support, my floating device to keep from drowning. In Carrefour that day I felt the cold water of a strange cultural ocean crash over my head in colossal waves and seep through my clothes as I coughed and sputtered, clinging to support. I didn't look it, but I felt it. The decision making was what made it so bad I think. I am bad enough in a strange store back home. I want to be able to make decisions based upon data and experience, neither of which could I do in Carrefour. I can't read packages, I don't know what the products even ARE most of the time, let alone what brand they are, nor if that brand is good. I see myself standing in front of a massive wall of incomprehensible choices, my face blank, my mouth open, and my eyes hollow. All of that is hyperbole of course, but I am afraid I can't even give you a tingle of the experience without it.

~J.L. Smith

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The First Seven: 1

Now, I know what you are thinking, "Finally! I was beginning to think that Jeremy was never going to blog! I have been waiting on pins and needles!" Ok, maybe not so much that last part, but I know my entry has been a long time coming. In my defense: 1) I just moved to a new country--which takes a little bit of settling in and 2) I had to figure out how I was going to blog in the first place with some of the internet restrictions they have here. Fortunately, I have now settled in and I have now figured it out. So! Let the blogging commence!

My first series of posts will be called "The First Seven". In seven separate posts I will detail the first seven days of my life in China. I kept a pretty detailed journal the first week, so don't worry about losing any of the details.

Day One

First day was quite weird by all accounts.

Plane got in around 10:00, on Sunday the 31st--making it only 48 hours late. The plane ride from Seoul to Qingdao took only a short hour and a half, and was filled with a mix anticipation, sleepiness, pretty good food (an American airline would never have served a full breakfast for so short a flight I think, thanks Korean Air!), and a mix of Mandarin, Korean, and English. As we landed and pulled up to the gate, I started to worry about knowing where to go and what to do once I was in the airport. There were some other American looking folks on the plane, so as we disembarked I just kept saying "follow the white guy, follow the white guy." I needn't have worried. Immigration and customs went off without a hitch. I'm not going to lie, I was a little nervous as I went through both. The military uniforms are imposing. But mostly they looked as bored at being there as any other airport employee.

I was worried when I didn't see Jerry or JD amongst the people waiting on the other side of customs. I scouted around a little bit, waited outside some, and grew restless. "What if we got our times mixed up because of the delayed flight?" "What if they are waiting at a different gate?" "What if they forgot?" After waiting outside for what felt like thirty minutes (but was really more like 5--again, the uniforms are scary...) I went inside and waited to exchange some money so that I could find a pay-phone and call them. In hindsight I should have just waited longer for them to get there, since as soon as I exchanged my money they came walking in through the doors. Turns out my plane was just early. Doh!

Jerry and his daughter Rachel, JD and two of his boys Corbin and Josiah (the third is Elijah), and Flight, a chinese national who works for micMac, were all there to pick me up. It was great to finally meet them. During the cab ride back to the apartment, I began to realize a couple things:

1) The Whitneys and the Joneses (and Flight) seem like great people and working with them for a year will be a pleasure

2) China is big. Ok duh.

3) But Qingdao is big too. Huge even. I knew it was 8million people strong, but didn't know just how big a city that makes it. It makes it the size of New York City (also 8 million people). Endless rows of tall buildings and apartment complexes stretch out in all directions, fading quickly into the industrial haze that pervades inland China. The cab ride took about 40mins-- just to drive across a part of the city.

I couldn't have asked for a better place to live. I am in an apartment complex called... well, now that it comes to it I am not sure I know the proper pinyin spelling for it... I will spell it Jin Hai (pronounced Jean Hi). It is an upper middle class complex that has a pretty large expat (foreigner) community (roughly 20% of the residents) and sits nestled right next to the yellow sea. I lived in Daytona Beach all my life, but now live closer to the ocean than I ever have before! But more on that later.

We then went to lunch at a little restaurant called "Lennon's"--and yes your immediate association with that name is spot on: it's a Beatles themed restaurant! Being Western is quite trendy here in urban China. The food was entirely authentic Chinese though. Beef, pork, chicken, rice-- yum! Also cabbage and egg plant, both surprisingly delightful. I failed pretty miserably at using chop sticks the first time! It was quite funny. Even though I am rather good with the crappy wooden ones from back in the States, these were just so much larger and heavier. It takes a lot more hand muscle to make it happen. Luckily, they had forks too, so I was in no danger of starving.

Corbin has taken to me like a fish in water. I think I am his best friend now. Well at least until the "he's new and older--he's cool!" effect wears off. He held my hand the whole way to and from Lennon's. Walked back, then hung out with the Whitneys until it was time for the Fall Festival-- yes you read that right, a halloween party! In China! That was the weirdest part of the whole day. I never thought I would end up hooking candy onto kid's fishing lines my first day in China, while little kids ran around as vampires, robots, and superman. It was entirely surreal because it was entirely normal. Why was there a halloween party? QICF, the international church made up of foreigners, wanted to put on a community event for Jin Hai. TONS of people turned out too, by the end a majority being Chinese, so it was a great success.

Later that night I went to the Jones's for dinner and we ate-- if you are expecting something wild and exotic I will have to disappoint you--pizza. Yup, good old fashioned delivered pizza. Granted it was a little different than American pizza, but not so different that you would guess it wasn't American pizza if you didn't already know.

After hanging around a little bit, it was around 9:00 pm and I was jet lagging pretty hard. So off to bed I went. And thats my first day. I told you it was weird. Weird because it was so normal. I went out to eat for lunch on Sunday, went to a fall festival on halloween, and then had pizza with friends. Never would I have predicted my first day to be filled with such mundane things, which oddly made things so much more surreal. I expected everything to be foreign, unfamiliar, and incomprehensible. Instead I found many things comfortable, familiar, and accessible. Weird.