Keeping Busy

As you may have noticed in my last post, Justin and I have a lot of spare time in our schedules at school, and though I hate to say it, sometimes too much spare time can be boring. Incredibly, I seem to have even more spare time this semester due to the way that my schedule has been spread out–on most days I teach only one class or I have no classes at all. And though I used to spend some hectic school weeks in America pining for summer break, I am now ironically caught on the other side–waiting for the days when I will be busy teaching high school English again in the States. I guess we always want what we don’t have! So in effort to take advantage of some of the extra time we have each week (more spare time than we will probably ever have again until we are very old and retired), Justin and I have developed some new hobbies:

Some of Justin’s hobbies:

1. Studying Chinese, of course. Justin is the most devoted language student I know. Whenever he is bored and has some spare time, he gets out his notepad and starts studying notes that he made during our previous Chinese lesson. He also gets online and looks up new words, listening to the recorded voice to practice his pronunciation. Often times I’ll come home from class and I’ll hear Justin in the other room saying something like, “Kou-yu. Kou-YU. KOU-YU,” over and over until he feels like he’s got it right. At this point, he’s been studying grammar and syntax, trying to figure out how to put his new words into sentences correctly. He’ll be studying using a website online, and he’ll excitedly announce, “Did you know that in Chinese, the indirect object often comes before the subject? How crazy is that?” I wish I could share his excitement. I rarely look back over my Chinese notes after our lessons (and by rarely, I mean I did it one time back during the second week we were here). In fact, any of you Mandarin experts will easily be able to tell that my grammar example above is completely imaginary, because I just couldn’t make the effort to go to the grammar website myself to find you an honest example. But learning to speak Chinese was never my dream. I just need to know enough to say single words and point to things like a caveman to get what I need.

2. Practicing Kung-Fu with a real Chinese shifu. Any of you who read my Christmas post awhile back will know that I went on a long and treacherous quest to find Justin some Fei Yue shoes for his Kung-Fu lessons. You may not know that Justin had to go on a similar perilous journey all around town to find a place that would actually teach him Kung-Fu without requiring him to sign up for an expensive gym membership. Who knew that Tae Kwon Do (a Korean martial art) would be so popular in China? Many Chinese people, despite the long-standing role that Kung-Fu has had in their culture (and film industry), think that Kung-Fu is slow and boring. Do you remember our friend the Prince of Tennis? His opinion on Kung-Fu is, “It does not seem very practical for self-defense. If someone attacks you in the street with a gun, Kung-Fu will do nothing! You just need to buy a gun!” However, I don’t think that Justin is learning Kung-Fu so that he can take down the next guy who keys his car in the parking garage. I think he just appreciates taking part in such an ancient cultural heritage, and he enjoys getting the exercise from it. Once he finally found his Kung-Fu “shifu” (teacher/master)–who ironically ended up being only a few blocks from where we live–he came home feeling really jazzed about his lessons. His teacher is something like a fifth generation Kung-Fu master, meaning he learned this from his father, who learned from his father, and so on. He definitely knows what he’s doing, so I’m sure it’s a much different experience than learning Kung-Fu from some nerdy white guy who works at a Gold’s Gym in America. This is the real deal.

3. Playing really retro NES games on the internet. I may be ousting Justin’s embarrassing secret…I’m not sure. But lately he has taken to looking up old games online that he remembers playing in his childhood on the really basic Nintendo systems. It’s so funny to me, because he’ll get really sentimental about a good find, exclaiming, “Look, it’s Princess Tomato! I used to LOVE this game when I was little!” And then he’ll download it so that he can play it right there on the computer using the keyboard as a controller. He always justifies a loss to me by saying, “Using a keyboard really isn’t the same as a real controller!” (Even though I’m usually not even paying attention, let alone accusing him of being a poor NES player.) But I would be lying if I claimed that I don’t enjoy sometimes playing computer games that are really only meant for children or unemployed adults living in their parents’ basements. Did you know that Nancy Drew has a line of PC games that allow you to step into the famous sleuth’s shoes and solve mysteries by interacting with several realistic characters? Enough said!

Some of my hobbies:

1. I have already learned how to knit. And by “already,” I mean that I thought I wouldn’t be knitting until I was at least eighty years old. However, I see a lot of the college girls around here knitting while they wait for class to start or wait for the bus to arrive, and then I went online and discovered that there is a new, young knitting community developing out there that I didn’t even know about! There are surprisingly a lot of twenty-something-year-old girls who knit, so that makes me feel a little better about my embarrassing new hobby. I decided that I wanted to learn around Christmas time when I did gift exchanges with some of my classes. So many of my students opened nifty, crafty little gifts, and when I asked the gift-giver, “Where did you find that?” the gift-giver (usually a girl) would bashfully admit, “I made it myself.” It turns out that most of my female students are miniature Martha Stewarts who know how to cook, sew, knit, and craft like nothing I’ve ever seen! Justin had some of his students do paper snowflakes during his Christmas lesson, and he was surprised to see many of his female students furiously folding and snipping away at their papers, creating complex origami and intricate snowflake creations in two minutes flat. He would praise them for their work, and they would shrug as if to say, “Anyone can do it! No big deal.” I sometimes wonder if American girls would have all the same skills, if not for the advances in technology over the years and the rise of the Wal-Mart empire…

Here are some photos of Justin’s student Robin teaching me how to knit:

And here is my finished product, complete with snags and holes and other little tell-tale rookie mistakes:

2. Reading, reading, reading. This can’t really count as a new hobby for me, since I’ve been eating up books like crazy since I was four years old. However, I don’t always enjoy enough free time to be able to read as many books as I would like. I’m used to coming home and having a stack of essays to read and papers to grade, or getting on my laptop and finishing up a PowerPoint lesson for the morning. Now that I am free to read whatever I want, whenever I want, I’m really sad that there isn’t an *English* public library around here, or a bookstore with anything other than books written in Chinese (irony of all ironies!). I did bring my Nook e-reader with me, and I have a pretty good selection of books on there. Whenever I get within range of a Wi-Fi signal (which is whenever we’re outside of Huzhou, which has absolutely no free Wi-Fi–not even at McDonald’s!) I download a few more books. Right now I am struggling through the first Game of Thrones book. It seems really complex, and for the first few chapters I was just drowning in a sea of character names (am I supposed to know who they are?) and complicated political alliances, and I almost gave up. However, everyone I’ve talked to who has read the series just RAVES about it, so I am continuing to trudge through it. I will finish the (600-page *GASP*) book eventually, and then decide if the rest of the series is worth my attention.

3. Read the Bible in a Year. This is something that I have started and stopped over and over again in past years, and I always feel weighted down with guilt whenever a pastor or a friend mentions that they’re doing it. I usually do fine with my reading plan January through March, and then around April or May I get too busy and it gets pushed to the side. One discouraging factor in these Bible reading plans is the dates that they put next to the reading assignment. If I missed a day, I would always try to “catch up” by reading yesterday’s assignment and today’s, which would sometimes make for a lot of reading. And then if I missed two or three days, I would have an enormous amount of catching up to do, and I couldn’t always face doing two hours of Bible reading at the end of a long, tiring day, which would ultimately cause me to set aside my reading plan indefinitely and try again next year.  What I’ve decided to do (as a result of Justin’s suggestion), is not pay attention to the dates. I will read one day’s worth of reading every day, and if I miss a day, I will just continue where I left off. I won’t try to guilt myself into “catching up” to the day that I’m “supposed to be on.” And this has worked wonderfully. Since we first arrived in China, I’ve only missed a few days here and there (I even kept up during our month-long vacation, which wasn’t that difficult since it had become a part of my routine). This is a really nice new habit that I’ve developed, especially since we don’t get to go to church on a regular basis. I really hope that I can continue to keep it up when we return to America and I get back into a busy schedule!

We have also been trying to fill our weekends by discovering new things to do around town. Here are a few snapshots:

Justin getting his shoes shined. This hardly counts as a hobby, but it was a fun new experience to try, and the guy really made Justin’s shoes look brand-new! It only cost about $1.50, but Justin paid the man $3 just to be nice.

Justin and our friend Mickery trying out a little restaurant called “French” that actually serves (Chinese-style) crepes!

We discovered a fun, hands-on science museum downtown! Half of the exhibits were out-of-order, but this headless optical illusion sure wasn’t! Scary!

Our British ex-pat friend Kasia trying out one of these pins-and-needles contraptions that I usually only see in miniature.

Here I am with Kasia and Connie (another British ex-pat friend) eating dinner on a “Girl’s Night Out.”

It’s hard to believe that February is nearly over! Once the weather gets a bit warmer, we’ll be able to REALLY explore Huzhou by climbing mountains, visiting the famous nearby bamboo forest, and going to Tai Lake….in short, all of the things we’ve been wanting to do, but can’t do because of the cold weather. Hurry, spring, hurry!

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4 thoughts on “Keeping Busy

  1. If you have a Nook then – Calibre + Vuze + A torrent site (all free) = tens of thousands of free books, and you can always buy the ones you like when you leave China if you feel guilty about it (which I do – but I’m not just a reader, I’m also a book hoarder).

    • Thanks! I’ll have to try that! The Nook is sold exclusively by Barnes & Noble, but for some reason, Barnes & Noble has made it impossible to download any books outside of the Unites States or Canada….leaving me no choice but to download bootleg copies. :-/

  2. hahaha, I remember you and that Nancy Drew game! Not that I can say much considering how we spent last summer! By the way, I’m making pretty good progress. I figured out how to open those red shiny things with dark magic! (sounds creepy, just talking about Lego Harry Potter in case anyone else is reading this). Games like that are so relaxing and then you get sucked in and want to beat them.
    I tried crocheting a few years ago and it didn’t go so well. I admire you for making a scarf that actually looks like a scarf! Plus knitting seems so much more confusing than crocheting!
    I reserved a copy of Game of Thrones at the library, supposed to go pick it up today. Maybe we’ll be trudging through it together!
    I’m glad you sound happy, even if you’re a little bored. 🙂 I can’t wait to see your pictures when you get to go explore during the spring! Take care!
    ~Julie

    • Yay! Let me know what you think of Game of Thrones! I’m getting through it REALLY slowly…maybe it will help me move along if we turn it into a “reading race” or something. 🙂 And P.S.–Please do not post anything else about Lego Harry Potter on such a public forum….I wasn’t ready for that dark secret hobby to be announced to the world! Thanks alot, Julie! 😛

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