One Saturday in November, I received a phone call out of the blue from my friend Linda. We met Linda in 2001 while we were teaching at a college in Changchun. She also taught at the school and became one of our closest friends. We had seen Linda twice since moving back to China last March but hadn't been in touch recently, so I was surprised to hear her say she had traveled to our city that weekend. And then I was even more surprised when she announced that she had traveled that day with her boyfriend, as they were doing some shopping in preparation for their upcoming wedding!
Such exciting news! Linda became a believer while she was a college student and spent the next 20 years waiting for a man to marry who shared her faith. We loved getting to know Alan over lunch and seeing Linda so happy about their upcoming wedding. And we were thrilled to learn we'd be able to attend the ceremony in January since it was scheduled for one week before our trip to visit Oklahoma and Texas.
On Friday afternoon, we headed to the train station but as our taxi crept through the afternoon traffic, we knew it would be next to impossible to make it to the train by 2:20. Sure enough, we raced through security and up to the gate to find the train had departed four minutes earlier. A very nice security guard took us to the information desk where they did their best to get us on another train. The 4:15 train was sold out, but we could upgrade our tickets to first-class and get seats on the 6:00 train. We only needed to pay the difference in fares instead of repurchasing the tickets, which was a blessing. Molly and Hudson were thrilled to see a children's play area and spent two solid hours enjoying themselves.
We made it to the home of our friends Randy & Jessica by 8:30 that night. Molly absolutely loves spending time with their 9-year-old daughter, and even though our stay with them was shorter than expected, we made the most of our time together. I believe their wedding in 2002 was the last Chinese wedding Kevin and I had attended together.
A typical Chinese wedding doesn't include a marriage ceremony. Couples file paperwork to officially marry, so weddings are basically a reception for family and friends. A large meal will be served and the couple visits each table for a toast with the guests. Since Linda and Alan are believers, they asked their fellowship leader to perform a Christian ceremony, so he gave a message and they exchanged vows and rings.
The short clip above gives you an idea of the processional. The guests aren't asked to stand as the bride walks down the aisle, but many people were talking and trying to get pictures of Linda. Kevin and I loved reconnecting with friends we hadn't seen in years and introducing Molly and Hudson to them.
Chessie, Caleb and their nearly 2-year-old son
Wang Ying, the foreign affairs liaison at our former college. She has been promoted but still works in the foreign affair department, and she wasted no time trying to recruit us back to teaching!
Abbie and Nikki from New Zealand. Abbie was 7 when we first met this sweet family, and now she is 20.
I couldn't get all the dishes in one shot, but I wanted to give you an idea of the wedding food. No cake! Lots of meat, shrimp, fish, vegetables and bread. So much food on every table!
Linda changed into a beautiful red dress for the reception.
We rode Changchun's light-rail system on the way back to Randy and Jessica's, which was fun since it was under construction when we moved away in 2003. We packed our bags, caught a bus to the train station and made it in plenty of time for the two-hour ride home. Such a happy weekend!
One project Kevin initiated this year was Heart to Heart English, a weekly series of classes for children and adults affected by disabilities. We worked in conjunction with our city's Handicapped & Rehab Association, which is housed in a 20-story building not too far from where we live.
The adult class was held in a theater-style auditorium. That made it a little tricky for one-on-one interaction, but it accommodated the number of students. We began with more than 50 in June and ended in November with a consistent group of about 30 adults.
The children's class was held in a typical classroom down the hall. Between 10 and 20 kids came each week, and one challenge was creating a lesson for the wide range of ages and English speaking abilities.
Molly & Hudson looked forward to English class every week because they had full use of this wonderful indoor play area while we were teaching. A number of fantastic volunteers helped out by rotating between translating for us in each class and playing with our kids.
The video above is a 30-second clip of Molly & Hudson bouncing on the trampoline.
In the children's classes, Kevin and Cathy used many of Molly & Hudson's story books to practice reading and vocabulary and lots of songs to make it fun.
In the adult classes, Kevin and I practiced pronunciation, interacted through dialogues and generated discussion through a variety of topics. My favorite part was introducing some American culture and customs each week and answering the many questions they would have on each topic.
Often at the end of class, Molly & Hudson would watch a video on our iPad while they waited for us to finish talking or answering questions.
We really enjoyed meeting our students and getting to know them during the past six months. We look forward to many more weeks together in the year ahead. The next session begins March 1, 2014.
We hope you've had a wonderful holiday season! We didn't have any of our family members travel to China to celebrate with us for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but we enjoyed the times with our friends here. It is always nice to share the meanings behind the various Christmas decorations and symbols with our friends who come over during December.
We get the most questions about our Little People nativity set. (Hudson's t-shirt says "Jesus loves you.") Christmas decorations are becoming more common all over town but it is always trees, wreaths, bells, Santas, gifts and lights.
Molly was so excited when her preschool started decorating for Christmas. She gave me a daily progress update on how many trees there were in the classrooms and hallways, and talked about making ornaments during craft time in class. One day as we were walking home, she announced: "Mom, my teacher doesn't know that Christmas is Jesus' birthday!"
The children's preschool was decorated to the hilt. Molly asked me to come inside and take pictures when I picked them up, so I obliged and then understood why she wanted me to see it. Tinsel and lights and trees EVERYWHERE.
On Christmas Eve, the preschool hosted a party at 4:00 in each classroom -- I started out in Hudson's room while Kevin went to Molly's, and then we switched halfway through. It was very different than an American preschool party, mainly because it's a party for the parents more than the kids. There are games for the parents to play and the kids come up in groups and sing or dance, and then the parents are invited to join the dancing and sing a song with their child.
The above picture doesn't do it justice, but I had to offer photographic proof of the first game in Hudson's class, which was for the moms/grandmas. They tied balloons to their ankles, and the object was to pop everyone else's balloons while protecting yours. I didn't volunteer to participate, but it was hysterical to watch. The moms took this game very seriously - at least one was wearing high-heeled boots! - and the Christmas tree in the corner of the room was knocked over twice. All the kids were cheering on their moms, and it was great fun.
I went up to Molly's room and watched her sing two songs with her class. Meanwhile, Kevin was in Hudson's class participating in the game for dads/grandpas: musical chairs with the kid-sized preschool chairs, of course. How I wish I could've seen that! He made it three rounds.
The video above is a clip of Hudson singing with his classmates. (At the end, they are saying thank you to the audience.) His teacher also asked me to prepare a song to sing together with Hudson and Molly in front of his class. We sang a medley of "Joy to the World" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Next time we should sing a song in Chinese instead.
We spent Christmas Day at home together, opening stockings and gifts before Skyping with our families. (IKEA had rolls of wrapping paper! We had lots of candy-cane covered gifts to open.)
I made sweet potato casserole as a side dish for lunch, which was hawaiian pizza. (It is possible to order turkey from an import store, but it is something like $5 a pound. Our Chinese friends have no idea what it's like to eat turkey.) We waited until Sunday, Dec 29 to share more of a traditional holiday meal at the home of our Canadian friends: baked chicken, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, corn, meatballs and gravy. We have been spoiled these past few months with many delicious, homemade meals with them.