The Halfway Point

The reason I named this blog Open to Experience is because that is how I approach nearly every new opportunity that comes my way. This attitude has opened many doors for me so far, and many more are on their way. I recently passed my 6 month mark here in China and while the first half of my adventure has yielded many great experiences, I’m confident the second half will prove to be even better; in fact, it has already begun.

In my last post I wrote about my experience teaching kids to rock climb and how great it was. Well since then I’ve taught 4 more classes and climbed on my own many more times. I even slept attempted to sleep under the bouldering wall one night, but the bugs had a different plan for me. In addition to my recent climbing adventures, I also played a big roll in our school’s 1 year anniversary with 5 performances and a cheerful attitude. Let’s start with the climbing school.

9d5796ee-c6e1-4307-8df6-c65d0da15d54wallpaperFirst let me say that it is awesome being able to climb outdoors instead of a smoke-filled pub that hates playing good music. It’s hard to beat the clean fresh air you get after a good rainstorm. Also, listening to a combination of Zhazha’s Chinese music and my own library is a refreshing change. 915b4ff3-8b2e-4d13-af69-87337f944902wallpaperTeaching the kids has been such a rewarding experience. They are older than the kids I teach at my school, so I can practice more Chinese with them and  our collective love for rock climbing overcomes the language barrier, creating a community feel where everyone is free to be themselves.

bf0bf1e2-5aac-457f-9a70-15f7a18d70a8wallpaperBeyond teaching the classes at the wall, we also have climbing parties where Zhazha invites his climbing friends from the University and around the city. It’s great because I get to climb routes that are actually difficult and meet new friends who are in my age range. Always a good time.

IMAG1872-1The first night we climbed here, we didn’t stop until midnight so we slept on the crash pads under the bouldering wall you see above. As it turns out, we seriously underestimated the amount of mosquitoes and by the time we gave up around 3 o’clock, I counted 29 bites on my arms and legs. So then Zhazha decided to get his magical Chinese herb bug repellant and we slept bug-free for the rest of the night. That was until about 5:30 when the adjacent track and field filled up with elderly people having their morning walks and playing classical Chinese music. (You kids and your confounded rock n’ roll!) I decided it was time to throw in the towel and head home to my cozy apartment and rock hard bed. Always an adventure in China!

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A few of our awesome Romp n’ Roll kids. George’s Mohawk is so awesome.

Which brings me to our school’s anniversary party. This was our biggest event since I started here 6 months ago. I’m not sure exactly how many people we had in our little center, but I counted over 100 at one point. We had numerous performances, activities, giveaways and lots of cake!

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We had the kids decorate and assemble an awesome top hat for Rompy

As for my role, I did a performance with my poi; performed “Take me Home Country Roads” by John Denver with Lear, one of the Chinese teachers; I performed “Jingle Bells” with 4 of my older kids, 3 of whom sang while another drummed and I played guitar; and helped both of my older English classes with their fashion shows. It was all good fun and another China experience I won’t soon forget.

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Our various performances included a love song, Jingle Bells, Take Me Home Country Roads, and a light show.

Well my 6 month mark here in China has come and gone and what a ride it’s been! As always, I’m excited to see what the future holds. In my next post I’ll tell you all about my trip to Huangshan, the beautiful yellow mountains, as well as my experience being on a Chinese game show! Until then, cheers and thanks for reading!

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Exchanging Culture

It really amazes me when I consider all of the opportunities that have been presented to me out here. Just over the past weeks since my last post I have taught two rock climbing classes to kids ages 6-8, I was a judge at a children’s modelling competition and two nights ago I hosted my first dinner party for my coworkers. The list goes on and I have several other exciting plans in the works, but I’ll share them as they come.

7e6be5f8jw1e7bt6u040bj20mr0dlacjNow, those of you who have been following my story since the beginning know that for the first several months here, the only climbing I did was at a small bouldering wall at nearby pub–aside from one trip down to the university 2 months ago. But that’s not the case anymore now that my friend Zha Zha has his own climbing wall much closer to my apartment. We have a deal that I can climb there for free as long as I help him teach the kids–not a bad deal if I do say so myself. We played a game where one kid and I would start on opposite sides of the wall and traverse until we met each other. Then we would play rock, paper, scissors (or paper, scissors, stone as its called here) and the loser had to climb around the outside of the winner and continue to the other side. It was a blast and I can’t wait to do it again!

So last week I was asked to be a judge for the 2013 New Silk Road China International Children’s Model Competition (a mouthful, I know). I’ve made a rule for myself out here to never turn down an opportunity, no matter how intimidating it may be. And this is a nationally televised competition and I judged during the finals for Anhui province. Among the judges were a few professional models and bigwigs in the fashion industry, and an American with no experience doing anything like this. Ever.ed493e5d-a02f-4787-b7b5-0b656ae8306bwallpaper

3920e354-f273-468b-8004-1589dc03c359wallpaperI couldn’t understand most of what was being said by the announcers, but it was still a really cool experience. To be honest, I wasn’t overly fond of a few of the outfits that reminded me of that TV show in America, Toddlers in Tiaras, but it wasn’t as bad. I really enjoyed the talent portion though. It was like watching those YouTube videos of talented Asian kids. But much more awesome of course.

5418bc64-bdc1-4bde-afe3-5cbad0a5822bwallpaperAlthough I was given absolutely no 2b8ad18e-cc8e-4513-a44d-9311508f0139wallpaperinstruction as to what I should be doing, I made it through and even gave a short speech praising the kids for their creativity, cleverness, and talents. It was a great experience that I won’t forget. It’s not everyday you get an opportunity to be on TV in another country!

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IMG_0573So of all the foods that I can’t find out here, I would have to say I miss Mexican food the most. Oh what I would give for a great taco or burrito out here. But two nights ago I finally made some nachos. I had to go to 3 different stores to get all the makings for them and it cost me a small fortune. All they were missing were some avocados. My Chinese friends and I loved them though, so it was well worth it. I also made what is probably the best spaghetti I’ve ever made and an ingenious almond appetizer that included soaking and peeling them then roasting them with salt, Italian herbs and olive oil. Combine that with some good ‘ol dark beer and Go Fish and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one crazy night!

After all I’ve been through out here and how I’ve grown, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I really want to do with my life. What great contribution can I make to this world? What legacy can I build? I do my best to spread happiness everywhere I go because it brings me happiness as well. But lately, I’ve had a feeling building up that I have a strong purpose in life and as cliche as that may be, I hope to find it. Whatever it may be, I know the future holds great potential and I’m filled with excitement each day as it unravels before me.

Cheers.

Whale Week

Wow, we learn something new everyday! Such a funny post.

Untimely Breath

With the cultural phenomenon of Shark Week fast approaching and the anterior hysteria over its occurrence reaching an all-time high, I would like to bring everyone’s attention to a wonderful event too often overshadowed during this time:  Whale Week. Every year, the week prior to Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is Discovery Channel’s Whale Week. However, Whale Week often finds itself forgotten amidst the overwhelming precedent hype of Shark Week. This should not be the case. Really, there is no logical explanation for this neglect to be a reality. Whales are just as cool if not cooler than the sharks that everyone has become obsessively enamored with. If sharks are the aggro bullies of the sea, then whales are the gentle Samaritans. I’m perplexed as to why people have related more to these brutish monsters than to the kindly wha-…….Wait. Nope. Never mind. I get it.

Regardless, more people should be…

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The Next Chapter

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A beautiful clear day along Nanfei River

“Wake up! If you knew for certain you had a terminal illness–if you had little time left to live–you would waste precious little of it! Well, I’m telling you…you do have a terminal illness: It’s called birth. You don’t have more than a few years left. No one does! So be happy now, without reason–or you will never be at all.”

What a nice fishing area.

What a nice fishing area.

This quote is one of many similar quotes that have helped me in more ways than I can express. But I’ll get to that later. First, let’s talk about things here in Hefei, China.

Nearly 3 weeks have passed since my last post and once again, my experience has been peppered with new experiences and adventures. I’ve tested the limits of my new ebike batteries (about 45 miles), I’ve tried new foods, started martial arts training, made new friends, both Chinese and foreign, and thrived all the while. Rather than going into detail of everything like I usually do, I’ll have to do quite a bit of summarizing on this one.

About 2 weeks ago, I finally found the main community of foreigners here in Hefei. I got an invitation to go to the Hefei Expat Bar that’s run by Aussie Mike, who is somewhat of a legend among expats here. Upon arriving at the bar, I was greeted by several new foreigners from all over the globe and ended up meeting 20-30 of them that night. The theme for the party was Canada Day and we celebrated by drinking whiskey shots with maple syrup, which was pretty awful. After a few hours we all migrated to a different bar called Stone and Wood because it has air conditioning and no angry, bottle-throwing neighbors to upset.

This bar was much better and it’s where I met my new Chinese friends. They came by to tell me that their friend thinks I’m handsome, but she was too shy and ran out the door when they told me. Ahh Chinese women. Anyway, I drank with them for a while and they invited me to their art studio where they do oil paintings. I eagerly agreed since I used to paint quite a bit in America and I would love to give oil paint a try. After a long night of celebrating, I finally made it back to my apartment as the sun started to rise.

I don’t need to go into too much detail about the next day, but I will say that I was more tired than I’ve been since I first arrived in China and that the summer heat here makes it much worse. Also mixing alcohol is never a good idea.

Let’s skip ahead to earlier this week. I spent Monday morning at a mixed martial arts gym with a Bulgarian guy that I met at Stone and Wood named Elizar. Ironically, he specializes in Chinese Kong Fu, but we mainly focused on boxing, sparring, and knife defense. It was the first self-defense lesson I’ve ever had and I’ll be going back there every Monday from now on.

On Monday night I went back to Knight Bar to climb again and made friends with several Chinese rock climbers so that was a nice experience. I climbed my heart out and at the time of writing this on Wednesday, I’m still sore all over from both experiences. But I really can’t complain; after all, that’s how we know we’re doing it right!

So I wrote about my friends’ art studio and I did go there last week, but I didn’t have enough time to do any painting. I went there again yesterday, but I brought my guitar this time and once again didn’t paint anything. I did have a hell of a time though. I rode my ebike all the way there, which was about a 30 min. ride, and tried new Chinese food. As it turns out, chicken feet, which are highly popular here, are exactly as good as I expected. Which is not at all.

One of Rui's paintings.

One of Rui’s paintings.

Another great painting. I'm not sure who made this one

A great painting. I’m not sure who made this one

I still can't believe how real this one looks. well done Wong Shan

I still can’t believe how real this one looks. well done Wong Shan

I was extremely impressed with the art that was scattered throughout the studio; ranging from beautiful landscapes to lifelike stills to dreamscapes. Most of the artists I met studied it in college and it really showed in their work.

The quote at the top of this post is from my favorite author, Dan Millman, and it has helped shape my life perspective. When I first read it, I thought of many similar quotes; “We only have one life to live.” or “Life’s short, live it to the fullest.” But like those clichés, I read this one only to think to myself “Good point, heard it before.” Later, after pondering it further, I realized the truth within the words. It reminded me of what nearly every child is told as they grow up, “You can do whatever you want in your life.”

While this is a great idea to spread and it gives us a warm feeling inside, I’ve found that it isn’t particularly effective unless it is followed by real-world application. For instance, it wasn’t until let go of the social constraints of what I’m “supposed to do” that I realized I really can do anything with my life. It wasn’t until I had a flight itinerary to Beijing that I truly believed that I could travel the world.

I’m trying to find the best way to articulate what I mean without writing a novel, so here it goes. In order for us to fully realize our freedom and potential in this world, we must test it. So take chances! Ray Bradbury had it right when he said, “You’ve got to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.”

Now, I don’t want to seem like I’m putting myself on a pedestal, as that is not my goal. Also my balance isn’t that great. There are countless others who have done much more than I have in my life and I know very well that I’m still quite young and I have much to learn. But I don’t think we need to constantly compare ourselves to others. I prefer to see who I’ve been in the past and how far I’ve come. This helps give me a better perspective of who I am, as well as who I wish to become.

I apologize that my posts have become more and more infrequent, but as our center gains more members, I teach more classes and have less time to write. This is great though, because it shows me that I’m doing well as a teacher and it means we will need a second foreign teacher in the coming months. That said, I finally ordered a new computer and when it comes, I’ll focus on writing more often. On a side note, if you’d like to see more pictures from my recent adventures, you can see them here.

As usual, thanks for reading,

Cheers

What Will Happen Next?

Giving my podpoi a spin at Xiaoyaojin park.

Giving my podpoi a spin at Xiaoyaojin park.

It is said that through our greatest difficulties, we discover our true selves; we make the greatest strides in our characters during our most daunting challenges. Whether it’s illness, injury, loss of loved ones or material items, a new job or big promotion, a college career, or a new city or country. Such difficulties test our spirits while providing us with the opportunity to learn and grow.

It’s no secret that I’ve faced many challenges since I arrived here, but I cherish each one as they’ve pushed my boundaries of what I thought I was capable of doing. I feel a sense of bliss when I think about all of the changes I’ve made in my life.

I’ve written about change several times before and those of you who have read my posts know that I am a big proponent of having it in my life. I believe that my acceptance of and desire for change is a major part of why I’m here now. In an ironic way, change is the only constant in my life. And I’ve gotta say, some days I feel a little like Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Who are you?” Asked the Caterpillar.
“I-I hardly know, Sir, just at present,” Alice replied, rather shyly. “I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”

In the time since my last post, not only have I changed some more, but my circumstances have as well. I’ve faced difficulties, made new friends and learned a lot in the process. Let’s jump back to last week.

After some relaxing time during my days off Monday and Tuesday, I was invited to go out with our newest Chinese teacher, Elva, as well as her husband and former coworkers. So I hopped on my electric moped and parked it at a mall near the restaurant and met up with them. Among her friends was Carl, an Englishman who has been teaching here in Hefei for 4 1/2 years. We all had a good time together and it was refreshing meeting more people who speak English. Afterwards, Carl invited me over to his apartment to hang out so we headed back to my moped so I could drive us there.

Now, I knew that I had parked it in a safer part of town, but it was nearly midnight by now and the place was all but deserted. As I unlocked my bike and got ready to go, I discovered that my batteries had been stolen while we were in the restaurant. Now, I knew it would be fairly expensive to replace them, but surprisingly it didn’t really bother me and we just grabbed a taxi and pressed on. Since I no longer had to drive home, I ended up drinking quite a lot and was proud that I was able to catch a taxi and make it home with no more problems.

Since that night, I’ve gone to Carl’s apartment twice and met about 6 other foreigners, mostly from the U.K., but two Americans as well. Its great finally having some friends who are foreigners. I also have new batteries thanks to my Center, but they came with a 700 RMB price tag (Just under $120). These batteries last noticeably longer though.

One if the things I’ve learned since coming out here is that after arriving, most foreigners try to find other expats to befriend. This is great to help with the culture shock and homesickness, but it can seriously limit how much one experiences the culture. Since I had been out here for 4 months before making any foreign friends, I had the opportunity to jump in with both feet and I am very grateful for that. I’m more comfortable and independent being on my own here than I would be if I had built a bubble of friends right away.

Now, to make sure that doesn’t change as I spend more time with my friends, I’ve made a promise to myself to also spend more time with the locals. I’m telling you all this so I can remain accountable.

Playing guitar at Xiaoyaojin Park

Playing guitar at Xiaoyaojin Park

So far, I’ve done a pretty good job. Last week I went back to Xiaoyaojin park with my guitar, but this time I was joined by one of my fellow teachers, Winnie, who took pictures and translated. I brought my poi this time as well. We had a good time and made some new friends who joined us at the bar a few nights ago. I’m getting more and more comfortable pushing my boundaries.

Earlier tonight, I took my guitar and poi down to the courtyard in my apartment complex and made a few more Chinese friends. I even got invited to go on a road trip to hike up Huangshan (try googling Bridge of the Immortals), but unfortunately my schedule won’t allow it. Don’t worry, I will go there someday.

After the sky became dark, I put my guitar away and pulled out my poi. I always love people’s reactions when they see me spin my lights, I even had a Chinese girl tell me that I’m handsome and perfect, but I wonder if that’s all the English she knows. After I had been performing for about an hour, I had a 15 minute conversation with an elderly Chinese lady that consisted of her chatting it up and me repeatedly telling her that she’s talking too fast and I can’t understand her. After she left, I packed up and headed back home. I’m getting very comfortable with these little performances.

The more time I spend here and the deeper I immerse myself, the more at home I feel here. And while my future remains uncertain, you can be sure that I’ll keep my head in the clouds and my feet on the ground.

The Moments We Live For

Well it’s been a while since my last post and a lot has happened in that time. I’m approaching the 4 month mark here in China and I realize more and more that this entire year will be over quickly, fading into memory as another whisper in time. But it will leave memories and experiences within me that I will cherish for many years to come.

I came to the realization a few days ago that my decision to come to China was the best I’ve ever made. I’ve grown in many ways which I would not have had I stayed in America. I’m gaining a worldly perspective, making global friends, and sharing my story with many people. I’ve read 5 books and written nearly 40 pages in my journal, all while staying true to myself and my character. And I’ve gotta say, keeping a journal an excellent way to get to know oneself and I highly recommend it.

So a lot’s happened since my last post. I had 2 birthday parties where I sang my heart out at karake and shouted out an apartment window. I heard a live band play songs by The Cranberries, took a taxi across the city to climb at the university, met other Americans, and got serenaded by a Filipino band while eating squid. Let’s see if I can keep this story somewhat short for you guys.

After a long day at work on Sunday June 2nd, I headed to KTV, a karaoke venue that’s very popular here in China. After going inside and being greeted at least 6 times by the customer service staff, I met up with my friend Lear, who led me to our room. As we went inside, we were greeted with cake and drinks by several of our coworkers. They even gave me a crown to wear as I cut the cake. We ate and mingled while I chose some songs to play.

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I’m really not sure what they were doing there, but it looks like they are making hearts because they loved my performance. Yeah, we’ll go with that.

When I saw that they didn’t have any songs from the 70’s, first I was afraid… Then I was petrified… Okay bad joke but seriously now. The first song I chose was “What is Love“ from Night at the Roxbury because, let’s face it, what better song to start with? I sang a few more American songs including “Save Tonight” by Eagle Eye Cherry and “Because I got High” by Afroman before Anna, one of the Chinese teachers, took over and chose some other English songs that have been popular over here. Reluctantly, I joined in for some Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears until they played some Chinese songs. For the record, I blame the alcohol for my actions.

I really don't understand how they can use chop sticks to eat their crawfish.When we left KTV, we went to a small restaurant for some crawfish. If you’re ever in China and get the opportunity to have bbq crawfish outdoors, do it. You’ll thank me later; that is if you don’t get food poisoning or something like that.

The next day, on my actual birthday, I met up with a few of my coworkers and went to two different arcades, which is always good fun. Especially since they are just as good and much cheaper than American arcades. After we were all gamed out we grabbed a taxi to go to Lily’s new apartment for a dinner party.

Now I’ve been asked this a lot since I got here and the answer is yes, real Chinese food is much different than American Chinese food. It’s like the difference between going to an authentic Mexican restaurant vs. Taco Bell. That said, Lily had a whole spread of real Chinese food to sample. I made sure to try everything and I must say, I was definitely impressed with how delicious everything was. 好吃!I also had some Chinese white wine that was actually closer to moonshine than wine. It went down like moonshine as well.

We finished dinner and played a card game that is like a Chinese version of truth or dare only without the truth part. Among the challenges was for one of the girls to call someone an profess her love, two other girls kissed, and I shouted “There is hope for my disease!” in Chinese out the 17th story window. After a long day of festivities, I took a taxi home and collapsed on my bed.

And that brings me to last Wednesday. I woke up to an invitation from my climbing buddy, Zha Zha, to go to Hefei University of Technology and climb their outdoor wall. Excitedly, I got ready and hopped in a taxi, showing the driver the address on my phone as I do everytime. 30 minutes later, I arrived and found my way to the climing wall. This was the first time I’ve gone sport climbing (higher than 10 feet or so) since I left Utah over a year ago and I’ve definitely missed it.

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IMAG1696-1Wednesday was also the day of the dragon boat festival so we had 棕子 (zong zi) which is rice with meat wrapped in reed leaves. They are traditionally eaten during the festival and they’re delicious. While we were eating, Zha Zha decided to show me how to karate chop a brick in half Shaolin monk style. He easily broke them, but I nearly broke my hand on the third attempt.

After we had been climbing for a few hours we were joined by Scott and Bethany, two American teachers and the first foreigners I’ve befriended since I arrived in Hefei. We had a great time climbing all day and we’ll be meeting up again next week.

Once the sun began to set, we all headed home. And for the first time, I told my taxi driver where to go and he actually understood me. We even had a short conversation about what I’m doing here in China before I ran out of vocabulary and sat in awkward silence for the rest of the ride. It was a triumphant end to a great day.