Showing posts from 2017

Finals Week: a photo and a scene

[Setting: I am walking down Snack Street in the evening when I spot my student Skye Dvorak (not to be confused with the many other students I've had named Skye).  She's loud and a little crazy and loves raising a ruckus in class and also loves talking to me.]

me:  "SKYE!"
Skye:  "HANNAH!"  *beaming*  "HI!"
me:  "Are you ready for your exam tomorrow?"
Skye:  *still smiling*  "Where are you ---" *beat* *processes what I said*  "WHY YOU DO THIS TO ME?"
me:  *laughing*  "Because I love you."
Skye:  *looking hurt*  "I don't love you."
me:  *laughing more*  "See you tomorrow!"
Skye:  *happy again*  "See you tomorrow!"


Every Heart is a Burning Flame

It's the most wonderful time of the year.  Or something like that.  It's definitely one of the craziest times of the year as we've moved into finals week for the fall semester.  (And let's be honest, "craziest" and "most wonderful" do often significantly overlap in my life.)  We're also getting ready for Christmas (yay!) and then spinning other plates, such as regular meetings and office hours and homework. 

I want to record a few stories so that I don't forget about them in all the busyness.  There are, I feel, too many unrecorded that I'd love to share too, of conversations with students and everyday life at Chuan Wai or the weekend trip that Miriam and I took with Phila and Joy to Chongqing, a neighboring province... but maybe another time.

There are the *facepalm* type of stories, such as the student who texts me at 9:30 the night before her 8 am class to check if the final exam is this week.  Yes, indeed it is.  And indeed we spent …

Fragile, broken, beautiful

I love my students.
And sometimes, I’m reminded of how very fragile they are.It’s easy for me to forget, because they’re so young and full of energy (generally, although they’re also pretty good at sleeping on their desks) and life and craziness and joking and they bring so much mayhem and chaos (of my favorite kind) into my life.
But in this past week’s lesson we talked about consequences, so I asked them to write about three events in their lives that have impacted them deeply, for good or for ill.
Today, in the flood of sheets of paper being dropped on my podium, James jabbed his finger at the second line he had written.“This one,” he said, making sure that I saw it.We had no time to talk then, but once I had gotten home I read through their answers more carefully and remembered that he had pointed his out to me: an allergic reaction to penicillin as a kid.So I sent him a message on WeChat about it and we spent a little while exchanging messages, him sharing about how scary it wa…

Not in Vain

Recently I've been listening a lot to Your Labor is Not in Vain (lyrics here), and yesterday I realized that I love this song not only for the reminder that it is to me, but because it makes me think of friends, dear brothers and sisters all over the world, and how faithfully they labor, and what a joy it is to be co-laborers.

As many of us celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I hope that you all know how much I'm encouraged by the work that you do.  I see a fraction of what makes up your lives -- teaching, parenting, dealing with medical needs, listening to the people around you, fighting for justice for those who can't speak for themselves, making art, making meals, writing books, being willing to travel across the world, being willing to stay in the same hard place.
I need to be reminded frequently that the work here is not in vain, that my students are learning how to be better thinkers and growing in their confidence to communicate in English, that conversations and meal…


Towards the middle of the semester, days are so full that I feel a little stunned at the end of the week as I walk out of my Friday class. What?  Friday again?
It's good stuff though.
Yesterday evening we were able to have a birthday party for Marceline.  While the chance to celebrate a student's birthday with them is always special, this one was noteworthy for a few reasons.  Let me break it down... It was her 19th birthday and first-ever party.  To have the chance to spend some time telling (and showing) students that we are thankful for their lives and presence is such a sweet opportunity.

Also, this party was for Marceline.  As one of Miriam's students last spring, she started coming regularly to our office and.  Well.  We described her at the time as a cactus that chases you around begging for a hug and then, when you try to oblige, pokes you and leaves you wondering what on earth just happened.  I don't think that Miriam or I could have even imagined that, nine mont…

"What's the weirdest thing you've eaten?"

I wasn't a particularly picky eater when I first came to China, or so I thought.

I've learned to be less picky.

Here's the current list, as far as I can remember it.

What I've learned to appreciate this year:
Tripe.  (Hint: it tastes much better when it's only cooked in hot pot for about 15 seconds and not 15 minutes.)

What I've learned to tolerate alright:
"Ham."  Notice the quotation marks.  More like spam.
"Sausages." Okay, I know sausages are always questionable.  Ditto with "hotdogs."  They're more questionable in China.

What I still think is gross and will actively avoid:
Blood. (I think I've only eaten this once...?)
Silk worms.
Any kind of worms, for that matter.  Once at a banquet in Xiamen was really enough.
Durian pizza.  Phila talked me into giving it a try last week and I wasn't a fan of taste, smell, or texture.
Large intestine.  Small intestine, fine, but large intestine tends to taste pretty much…

Consider the birds...

Often the windows on each landing in our stairwell are opened so that we get some fresh air.  Today, as I walked out to head to the office, I saw a bird frantically throwing itself against the glass; it had flown in, gotten disoriented, and wasn't able to figure out how to get back out through the narrow strip of open window.

Trying not to freak it out any more, I reached over and slid one of the glass panels to give it a wider gap to escape through, but to no avail.  The bird continued to beat against the glass.

My own heart felt like it was racing in sympathy.  Another teacher came through the stairwell as I stepped closer, boxing the bird in, and put my hands around it.  I was near tears and afraid that I'd hurt it; it was so small, so fragile, so frightened.  But I caught it and held it out into the air.

It stilled in my hands for moment, and then flew away.

I am grateful for knowing that when I am at my most frantic, beating against what I cannot move and desperate to get…

I get to live here! (second year reflections on His faithful goodness)

As we drove down the mountain from Hong Kou yesterday, heading home from city orientation, I remembered another drive down mountains in China.  It was almost six years ago when I was studying in China that we spent a few days up on a farm in the mountains of Guizhou, scraping off rust and old paint and applying new paint, shivering in the frigid, humid air, crowding around tables with hot pot and cupping our bowls as long as there was any warmth in them.  Those days were not what I'd call especially fun and certainly not comfortable, but they were some of my favorite days from that first semester in China.

It was in the big dining room on that mountain in Guizhou, after dinner one night when we were sitting around playing games and talking by candle light (maybe the generator had gone out?) that I thought, I am content to be here.  Suddenly, that group felt like my people and China felt like somewhere that I lived, not just somewhere that I was visiting. 

Yesterday, winding our w…

Regarding Una

One of Jacob and Merry’s favorite Sunday afternoon activities — and by extension one of my favorite things to do on a Sunday afternoon — was reading the beautiful Saint George and the Dragon together. We’d read the book and then act it out, taking turns as George, Una, the dragon.
To be honest, I had very little respect for Una.Girl, I know you’re a princess, but why aren’t you killing your own dragon? I always thought while reading the story. It seems like a bit of a cop-out — a dragon is ravaging her kingdom, so she goes off to find a knight to kill the dragon, brings him back, and then goes and waits off to the side while he’s locked in mortal combat with the beast.
I mean, really.

At least she could help George.
It’s been a growing consideration for me, over the course of this year, that perhaps Una’s role is no easier and no less vital than George’s.That, if anything, it may be harder.
It is hard to wait and watch and witness desperate struggles, interceding for protection and s…


As people on my team describe me, they keep using the word artsy, which makes me laugh, because I wouldn't use it to describe myself.

Maybe partly because I read a lot of the Babysitter Club books, and Claudia Kishi was the artsy one, which meant that she had an incredible sense of fashion and was talented at drawing... and painting... and sculpting... which is not precisely an accurate description of me.  (I did also get interested in sign language through those books, so I'd say they had some value.)

But as I consider my apartment, I'm thinking maybe I shouldn't argue too much.

I do love beauty.

And I love finding ways to bring it into my home so that I can share it with other people (and enjoy it myself!)

The Good Life

I entered college with the intention of majoring in philosophy — an intention which changed to a minor in philosophy fairly early on, when some of my hallmates questioned what I wanted to do with philosophy and I realized that I didn’t have an answer for that question.  At least, I couldn't come up with any practical answers, and while I love and enjoy a lot of academia, I don't have much patience for ivory tower scholasticism, which seemed like where I'd be headed if I stayed in philosophy.  I don’t regret that decision; it freed up credit hours to take a conglomeration of classes that turned into an independent major in Cross-cultural Studies, which has proved to be pretty perfect for where I am and what I’m doing now.

Yet the urges that drew me to philosophy in the first place still stir in me.One of the foundational questions in Western philosophy has been “What is the good life?” and it’s well worth examination, study, and thought.I think that a lot of my impatience w…

Coming back

It feels like knowing exactly where to go my first night in Beijing to get a sandwich for dinner and to buy toothpaste.

It feels like being met by Miriam at the front gate of school with an extra umbrella, because it's torrential rain season in Sichuan (which means that the temperatures are leveling into something comfortable!)

It feels like getting into my apartment and everything (except the freshly spray-painted door) being familiar.  The summer was crammed full of good, but it feels good to be back in my own space, where I can actually unpack and restock my fridge and think about what changes to make (like adding a hammock to my porch!)

It feels like showing our two new teachers around the area -- campus, Jiezi, Dujiangyan.  It feels like running into students and having the first group of people over for coke chicken.

It feels normal, and that feels good.

It took a few days of buying food and rehanging things that had fallen off the walls over the summer and cleaning to star…


One aspect of growing up that I'm enjoying is seeing a shift in what characters I relate to in stories. When I was a child and read (or listened to) Lord of the Rings, I loved the elves.  They're mysterious! And wise! And live forever! Also Arwen gets to marry Aragorn, so there was some major appeal there.  
As I get older, I resonate more and more with Eowyn.  Her story doesn't play out the way that she wanted to at all, but it's such a good storyline.

This is one of my favorite quotes right now.  My life is so amazingly full of goodness right now that I'm continually astounded.  
The sun shines bright.

Synthesis: home and being loved

Two songs and one blogpost which have all been working their way through my mind as I'm back in America for the summer, thinking about what it means to me to be home.  Truth is, I feel like I'm at home so many places -- my apartment at Chuan Wai, the Flip Flop hostel in Chengdu, the DJY team's apartments, the streets of Chiang Mai, my family's home in Pennsylvania, the Kennedys' house, my grandmum's church, the streets of Bloomington, the skyline of Pittsburgh, Wheaton's campus, Colonial Willamsburg...

When I met up with Caleb in San Francisco and felt at home there too -- although I'd never been there before -- I finally had words to explain what home has become: where I know people.  Where I am known by people.  There are places that I love, but I think it mostly has to do with people.

Anyway, as promised, here are some other thoughts on home.

Blog post: How I Learned My Belovedness

There's a sense in which this world is not my home, but there'…

End of Semester Music


I pray for a transparent soul
and eyes that know how to shed tears
Give me the courage to believe again
and cross the lies to embrace you.

I asked Phila to recommend some Chinese music for me to listen to -- as I'm always telling students to listen to English music, I figured I should listen to my own advice! These lines from 夜空中最亮的星 ("The Brightest Star in the Night Sky") feel very fitting as we come to the end of the semester. Miriam and I have been spending a lot of time hanging out with students who we've gotten to know this year, and that leads to a lot of laughter.

It also leads times like last night when, much to my own surprise, I lie awake crying, my heart wrecked at the sadness and pain that undergirds the lives of these people I love so dearly. It's one thing to read the statistics about the crisis of left-behind children in China and to mourn at the brokenness of the world; it's another thing entirely to know th…


As I think about the summer in America, I keep noticing things from living in China that I've assimilated and wondering how they're going to work out for me in the US....

Being a little grossed out by PDA.  Sure, my students who are dating are all over each other, but that's because they're kids.  And girls hold hands all the time with their female friends -- I hold hands with female students -- but I'm not sure that I've ever seen an actual adult couple in China making much physical contact at all in public.  Certainly not kissing.  And I was super weirded out the other day to see two of the foreign teachers kissing.  (And then I was weirded out that I had been weirded out.)Using the word "play" to mean "hang out with friends."  As in, "I don't have any plans, I just want to play with you."  Sure, it's grammatically correct.  But the connotations aren't exactly the same... I've tried warning students that they shoul…

What I love: this apartment

It's often when I'm in the shower, oddly enough, that I'm overwhelmed with happiness for the space that I get to call home.  I love it.  I love that I'm able to plan to stay in this same apartment for three years; that will easily be a record time that I've lived anywhere since I left for Geneva the day after my 18th birthday.

There are the quirks of this apartment, although they're very few and not hard to live with: dripping faucets, a water heater that doesn't believe in heating if it's raining, a stubborn door handle, a very narrow kitchen.  I can handle all of those things.  (As long as I remember not to try to shower when it's raining.  Yikes.)

I love having this place to come home to.

I love having this place to invite students to -- to cook together, to have parties, to watch movies, to do homework, to hang out and talk.

The summer is getting closer and closer.  24 days until I'll be on my way to America, and that feels so good -- and i…

Faerieland & the Kingdom

The desire of the righteous ends only in good;  the expectation of the wicked in wrath. One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give,  and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,  and one who waters will himself be watered. {Proverbs 11:23-25}
The economy of the kingdom is both hauntingly familiar and strangely alien, like that of faerieland.  It's utterly unlike that of the real every-day grown-up world that we know, where you must look out for number one and stockpile food or cash or weapons for doomsday.

Those who belong to the kingdom live differently, with open hearts and open hands.  They give.  They bless.  They bring water and sell grain to those who need it, rather than hoarding it for themselves.  They seek good.  They plan wisely, strategically, to capture souls so that they, too, may experience life and this abundant goodness.

There is a sense that these righteous and wise people live with a joyful freedom, not weigh…

What I love: These students.

I’m routinely overwhelmed with gratitude for my life right now, both as a whole and in so many discrete aspects.  This is my life right now? I think, all the time.  So here's the first post, in hopefully a short series to come.  
This evening I’m feeling that way -- overwhelmed with love -- about my students.  This year has been a very solid one in terms of my classes.  I’ve had a few classes that are less of an absolute joy to teach, but (thus far) no serious classroom management/behavioral issues.  (Which is to say, nothing that compares with a student my first year standing up to answer a question and deliberately kicking the student next to her as hard as she could… or the student who would just turn his desk around and sit in the corner because he didn’t want to participate…)  I’ve had classes that, week after week, are a delight to walk into.  (They’re typically the loud, chaotic, slightly crazy ones — I say, “Good morning!” and they say, “GOOD MORNING!!!!”)
Anyway, here’s the…

Unwrapping a Chicken

I tend to blog about the more serious parts of life here, but this one's a glimpse into life here that's a little less serious.

This past weekend in Jiezi I bought a chicken roasted in clay.

Tonight was the unpacking of said chicken, and I wanted to share it with y'all.

Oh my God, can I complain?

My mom shared an article about left-behind children in China the other day.  (You can read it here.)  The name is, perhaps, deceptively whimsical, sounding like it would be at home in Neverland.  The numbers are staggering.  The reality is heartbreaking.

As I read the article, my mind filled with names and faces, images of what these statistics look like in the concrete reality of life here.

It looks like the students I teach and eat and laugh with, the ones who text me in the middle of the night when they're reeling from a break up, the ones who celebrate their birthday by eating a meal with me, the ones who call me when they're sick to find out if I can give them some ginger to make tea.

It looks like students telling stories of growing up with their grandparents with barely a passing reference to their parents or saying, "I don't know," when I ask who taught them what it means to be an adult.

It looks like having conversations about sex that I didn't thi…

Yanga & Balaygan

There are many lists floating around on the internet of "untranslatable" words.  I love these lists.  I'm also annoyed by them because they are, in fact, not untranslatable; often they are not conveniently translatable.  Anyway, I have my own sort of running mental list of favorites, words for things that are less concisely expressed in English.

Yanga is one, learned from Elisabeth Elliot's one work of fiction, No Graven Image.  Yanga -- for no purpose.

Balaygan is another, learned from David Tal as he led our group around Israel: bother, trouble, applicable to everything from dropping your camera in the water to (slightly tongue-in-cheek) the Holocaust, which he referred to as "the big balaygan in Europe."

Both words seemed applicable as I looked at my flight itinerary with dismay.  A fourteen hour layover in San Francisco?  It wasn't the flight that I would have chosen, but since the school pays for one flight, we try to be cheap.


Fourteen hours…

When Evening is Overwhelming

I was angry the other night.

Enraged.  Furious.  Indignant.  Infuriated.

I felt that there were not synonyms enough in the English language to express the depths of my emotion.  The world is sometimes so desperately broken and evil blows itself up so large, casting such large and far-reaching shadows that words fall short.

There are no curses I know strong enough for such evil, I thought.

Except one.


In the face of the most ravaging evil that tightens around the world, that creates fissures in cultures, that breaks the hearts of my students, there is hope.

He's risen.

That truth is what kicks evil in the teeth, the earthquake that will destroy the whole kingdom of darkness.  For now, we wait and work, living in age of aftershocks, knowing that light is coming, that full morning will dawn and push out the darkness forever.

["When Evening is Overwhelming" taken from a song by Zach Winters.]


Because "How's China?" or "How was your year?" are questions that -- however well intentioned -- make me want to groan, I've been working on thinking of some better questions.  I'll probably be adding to this list as I think of more -- if you have ideas (including questions that are good ones for me to ask about your year!) feel free to comment with suggestions.

Tell me about a normal work day.What was one of your favorite lessons?What do you usually do on the weekends?What's the transportation like?What's your favorite/least favorite thing about your school?What are your classes like?Who are some students who you spent a lot of time with?What is the strangest thing that anyone said to you?What was a really encouraging moment?What was a surprising moment?What's one of your funniest memories from the year?Tell me about your team.What's your apartment like?When was it really difficult to not be in America?What are some advantages of living …

"I'm very familiar with your apartment!"

The adventures yesterday began as Katherine was dragging me and Jenney down the road while I talked on the phone, too preoccupied with my conversation to ask her where we were going.  It turned out that our destination was to see her dormitory.  And then to see Jenney's.  Both of them (and their roommates) were in one of my classes last semester.  After the grand tour of their rooms, we headed back out.  "Where are we going now?" I asked.  All of us had work to do, but we all had the day off, thanks to sports day.

"To your apartment!  Watch a zambie (zombie) movie Hannah!" Katherine informed me.

Oh yes.  The last time they'd been over, she had wanted to watch Warm Bodies, but card games won out.

What's a random day off for if not to watch movies and hang out with students?

So she and Jenney accompanied me back to my apartment, met the ayi's tiny new puppy, and we picked up Miriam (and the movie) and invited Joy and Phila.  We prepped some snacks, …