Monday, September 29, 2008

The Chocolate Angel

August 18, 2008

Today I flew home to America. I cried when I stepped off the plane in San Francisco. I had an 8 hour layover here, so I decided to go see the Golden Gate Bridge. I was confident I could negotiate my way there and back in time to catch my flight. Had I known what I was getting myself into, I don't think I would have felt as sure of my navigating foreign territory skills.
I got a map, hopped on a shuttle and made it to the bridge without any hiccups. The bridge was cool, but the weather was absolutely beautiful: cool wind permeated with ocean flavor, my favorite forecast.

While walking on the bridge, my phone rang. I answered in enthusiasm, knowing that I would hear a familiar American voice on the other end. I felt I had just returned from Mars, still simulating my experience. I was still on the phone with Margaret when I unconsciously hopped on my bus back to the airport. I saw one of the identification numbers and anxiously thought "this is it". As our conversation continued, my bus turned right instead of left at a crucial looking intersection and I didn't recognize anything beyond. "I better go Mags, somehow I think I am on the wrong bus and I have to catch my flight to Utah tonight". I cautiously approached my chocolate colored bus driver and explained where I needed to go by when. He just laughed and said "girl, looks like you are comin' with me for the long haul" EEK! Sheer Panic filled every cell! My driver Sonny saw the anxiety and reassured me that he would take good care of me and let me know when to get off to make the shuttle connection back to the airport to catch my flight. I calmed down 40% and continued to make conversation with Sonny. We chatted about everything from the housing market to the gorgeous weather to the Zoo. It was a great connection. "Next time you're in San Fran, just give me a call and I will show you around" were his final cheerful words.
Sure enough I made the rest of my connections and walked on the airplane for Salt Lake City with time to spare. I was again impressed with the detours that become the miracles of my life and the angels that show up at the perfect time. This connection was the reason I stepped on the wrong bus and I did my best to enjoy the moment inbetween the neurotic anxiety of not being able to go home that night. My conversation with Sonny was the tender mercy in that moment reminding me that everything is okay.
The 1 1/2 hour flight home was the longest flight of my life, longer than 11 hrs to Beijing. I was anxious to get home, a 5 yr old was screaming behind me, some obnoxious boys were talkin' "dude" in front of me, and I was responsible for evacuating the whole plane in an emergency. It was a lot to handle in that moment, but of course time comes and goes with all uncomfortable experiences.
Rose picked me up and I got home to Provo just in time to hug Joe, Rach, and the kids before they returned home to Washington.
Mom breathed me into her arms and exclaimed "You smell like China!" and Joe and Stu so lovingly welcomed me with "the special greeting customary in Asian countries" I was a hard core pancake and gullible was written in the stars that night:) Joe can make anything sound for real until it's too late!

Final Day

August 17, 2008
My last full day in Beijing and I am grateful it was Sunday. This morning I woke up to the uncomfotableness of my sticky sweat. The kind that is just past breaking before fully dripping, the yucky kind. So after I cooked eggs for breakfast I refreshed in a cool bath.
I checked my email right before church and read an email my sister Margaret sent me. It wasn't anything in particular or any new news, just reading her words unleashed the emotions and tears flooded my eyes. I felt a combination of excitement, relief, exhaustion, and gratitude.
After church I took my time getting home, soaking in the final details of this moment. I watched the kids playing outside the apartment complex and just said thank you.Tonight Curt, Mand and I played Guillotine and snacked on homemade trailmix -(Mand's specialty).

The Inside Scoop

August 16, 2008
I spent today with Professor Rou Wen and her master's student Li from the Beijing Dance Academy. They both speak fair english, but for extra assistance to expedite the interviewing process Li brought her boyfriend Hu to translate. We toured the BDA and I peeped in on some rehearsals. 7 floors of studio space! At the entrance of the BDA is an inscription that translates "cradle of the dancer", meaning that this is where dancer's are trained and grow from, like a child grows up from the cradle. The cradle is the nurturing place where children start out and the BDA is comparable in its purpose for nurturing dancers.
Li and Hu took me around to dance shops around the dance academy and loaded me up with books and DVDs of classical and contemporary Chinese dance. After that we met up with Rou Wen at a cafe and proceeded with the interview. Rou and Li had graciously prepared from the questions I sent them. To start out, they took me through the whole performance of the opening ceremonies and outlined the meanings and significance of each section and emphasized the details on the dances. It was incredible! I learned so much! After a couple of hours we broke for lunch and continued to chat. Rou Wen is an exercise physiologist that is interested in human movement. She is working on starting a dance conditioning and kinesiology course at the BDA, so she asked me about dance in the US and how these particular courses are structured and taught. China is moving toward emphasizing dance science more in dance training. Instead of just being able to develop flawless technique, the dancers will be able to know how the movement is happening on a scientific level. Really cool! It was neat to be able to exchange information and experience. These people were so generous with their time and resources that I was grateful that I could reciprocate something of value to them.

Tonight I had a ticket to the second annual dance festival. Dance companies from the USA and China performed on the same concert. Odyssey Dance Theatre performed as well as another American Modern Dance company from Colorado with China's Ballet company etc. Cool idea, but not the best concert. I was so bored. During Intermission I went next door to McDonald's and got ice cream and fries before deciding that I couldn't handle the rest of the concert.

Wall of Wonder

August 15, 2008
Today was our big adventure day to the Great Wall. We spent the morning packing up the kiddos and covering our bases with snacks and hats. Our taxi driver was especially nice and the taxi seatbelts were pulled through the seat covers for easy access which was a total bonus. We decided to go to the Badaling part of the wall that included a gondola ride to and from the wall. "aw, get yourself a gondola..."The wall was incredible, it extends as far as the eye can see and it is truly magnificent.
My moment had come, it was time to do the other thing I came to China to do-- Dance on the Great Wall! People stopped to watch and applauded the performance. It was crowded with people, so I just created my own clearing of space to move. I pretended not to see the policeman that was standing behind watching. On our way back down I thought of Mom as I passed all of the darling chinese children, especially the little boy potty training with newspaper.

For Friday night fun, we decided to treat ourselves to Beijing Roast Duck! A delicious experience. It is a good thing Curt was there to instruct us in eating Beijing Duck 101. It is a delicate process of combining slices of duck with sauce and assorted vegetables and rolling it all up in a skin, yummy!

Tonight it was my treat to tend the kiddos while Curt and Mand had a night out with just them. Nell and I watched Aristocats and enjoyed the nightly routine together with Hugh. It was after Nell was peacefully tucked in and I was bouncing Hugh to sleep when the crisis broke: the knotted string silky was lost! In Ell's accounting of all her sleepy time friends, she was disrupted to find the knotted string of silky material gone. Despite my efforts, it was a sad time. Luckily Curt and Mand saved the day. They walked in the door the very moment I wished them home. Mand found the silky and all was well in apartment 17E.
After we shared the fun evenings we had, we played a very distracted game of up and down inbetween the victorious USA volleyball game.
And then it was bedtime, on my beloved blue sofa! In the mornings Nell would throw herself on the sofa and ask "who am I?"

Thursday, September 11, 2008


August 14, 2008
Today I found the secret weapon for taking pictures of Ellis... Angelina Ballerina!
A little family photo shoot. Oh Hugh!After the photo session, Curt and I went to the Olympic Ethnic Park. The park has a great view of the Olympic venues and the Olympic flame was burning... "is it burning, an eternal flame!"It is designed and organized like the Polynesian Cultural Center with a dedicated space for each of the 56 ethnic minorities complete with many people in "authentic" costume. I am so grateful Curt was with me. He read the signs and times for the performances, so we were able to see a couple of dance performances with multiple ethnic dances in them. One of the shows concludes with the "water festival" where the audience can join in the dance and water fight.
Curt and I walked through one of the museums that was organized by function. So all the artifacts: boats, drums, tools, etc. from each of the different minority groups were displayed together. I was oblivious to the different ways museums are organized and I caught a glimpse of the strategic planning that goes in to creating an exhibit.
On our travels through the rain in the ethnic park I saw the most beautiful spider web in the corner of a trellis tunnel. It had drops of rain suspended on it and perfectly spun about a foot in diameter. It took my breath away.
On my leisurely journey home I discovered the bakery right next to Curt's apartment with illustrious cake decorators. I was mesmorized as I watched them effortlessly spiff up these cakes. The bakery is so fun. As you walk in, you get a tray and a pair of tongs. It's like the loose candy bins at the grocery store, only breads and pastries and cookies. You select your goods and take your tray to ring up with the cashier. Between this and the cake decorators, I was entertained for a whole hour.
When I finally made it home I had time to take a few breaths before heading out to the Peking Opera at the National Center for Performing Arts. It is a dome shaped building surrounded by a pool of water.

After walking around 7/8th of it, I finally found the entrance that goes under ground to the bottom floor of the building and as you pass through the foyer to the performance halls, the ceiling is glass and you can see the water you are crossing under. It is a stunning building! It houses three performance venues designed specifically and acoustically perfect for theater, dance and music performances. Brilliant!
I experienced a moment of sheer panic when I walked in and read "please check you bag in closet, shirts must be worn, flip-flops and sandals are not permitted" EEK! I looked down at my black flip-fops and ran outside to find the nearest shoe store. It was too far away, I was frantic. I even offered to trade shoes with the woman I was talking with. She was not at all interested in that idea. During our conversation an older fiesty woman piped up and asked what the problem was. As I explained, she "pashawed" her hands at me then grabbed my hand and pushed me inside telling me to just walk right through. "They won't stop foreigners" she said. I calmly got through security and checking my bag and ran to my seat as the performance had already started.
I saw the performance of "Lady White Snake", a classic opera. It was wowing, funny, amazing, rich, and utterly enjoyable. The whole experience was unforgettable. I didn't realize that the voices in the Peking Opera are really trained in that distinctively strange and obnoxious tone. Listening to the voice influctions was a hoot. Other than the periodic bursts of laughter, my face was permanently smiling. Just thinking about where I was and what I was seeing made me grin ear to ear.
Walking out of the performing arts center, I was stopped by a TV station that asked to interview me about the Opera. They were very interested in my story as a foreigner with fake Olympic tickets and my reason for being there. I never saw the broadcast of it on TV, but it was fun to share my story and impressions of the Opera.
It had just rained that day in Beijing, so the night air was cool, clear, and refreshing. Again I paused to breathe it all in and saturate my cells with this moment.

Gold Mine

August 12-13, 2008
Today was a fantastic day! I went to the Cultural Palace of Nationalities where they have an exhibit about Tibet on display. They organized it in three wings: Old Tibet (pale and tragic Tibet), New Tibet (rejuvenated, happy, lively Tibet), and China (traditional culture stuff). I of course started at the beginning in Old Tibet and moved through New Tibet videotaping everything. When I got to the third wing on China, I turned the corner and saw a group of women in traditional costume dress displaying their embroidery and talking with people. Perfect! I rushed over, eager to talk with them and I found out quickly that they didn't know a word of english. Luckily a Chinese woman, Tarrah who is a high school English teacher in China, was passing by and translated for us. These women in costume were from the area of Sichuan. When the earthquake hit, they brought what survived and came to Beijing. I told them that I was a dance student from America here studying Chinese Dance. They clapped their hands and said with delight "ooh, come back at 2 o'clock and we will dance for you". Perfect I thought. It was 11:30 am and everyone was going to lunch. For lunch I walked in to the first place I recognized as serving food and found that it was an upscale genuine Korean restaurant with natives only on staff. So I have no idea what I ate except for mini boiled eggs for an appetizer and a fruit salad on the side.
I ate what I could stomach of my meal and left feeling empty in my tummy as well as my pocket. On the way back I found a place that was serving more familiar food and stopped in to have a bite of duck sushi, which was fabulous, then I headed back to the museum.

"Well, there's not much to see, we're in a Chinese Dragon!"...

This picture is for Rose!
When I got to the museum and found these women (my gold mine of culture and research), Tarrah had also come back. I pulled out my video camera to begin taping only to find that my battery was dead. I had videotaped the whole other part of the museum and worn the battery all the way out just when I found what I was really looking for. They danced a little bit for me and even taught me one of their folk dance patterns, then I asked them if I could come back tomorrow to videotape the dance. They enthusiastically responded "oh yes, you come back everyday to this museum and we will teach you dancing, singing, and embroidery so that you can take our culture back to America with you and share it with everyone." Then they told me that there was a Tibetan dancing show being performed in 5 minutes in another part of the museum. So I ran to the stage to see the performance. It was a typical Tibetan folk performance with dancing, singing, drama and wonderful costumes. It was about their mythological folk hero (I can't remember his name, but he is kind of like Hercules in that he has special powers but is still a human), and his queen. I pulled out my camera to take pictures and after shooting about 5, I found that my only working memory card was full. I anxiously searched for another method of documenting this performance and I panicked about what to do and what if this is the only showing of this performance, and why isn't anything working? In this moment of frustration I cried for help and comforting inspiration sprinkled down on me from a loving tender Father in Heaven observing his daughter struggling to do her best. The inspiration came as a reminder to presence myself in that moment and tap in to the memory capacity of my own mind and body. (Slow inhale and exhale) Peace and presence. So I called on all my faculties of sensing and enjoyed the rest of the performance. I found out after the performance that the show was running every day at the same time. Phew! I could come back tomorrow and film it. After the performance I met Molly (the girl to the left of me in the pink) who worked at the museum and wanted to practice her english with me. She showed me the Tibetan art work that is in the background. To the right of the performing stage was an alcove where two painters were working on pieces similar to the ones on exhibit.

When I went back the next day ready to film, it was a special VIP performance that was closed to the public. I quickly called Curtis to ask where another ethnic site was and my phone ran out of minutes. I stood there in the courtyard and tears rolled down my cheeks as I implored "why is this so hard?" Heavenly Father lovingly reminded me of His presence and said "that is how it goes sometimes, but you've got to keep it together and move forward". I wiped away my tears for the moment and went to gather more information from the Chiang women in the museum that I had met the day before.
We danced together. They repeated the patterns over and over until I got it and could keep up with them. When I finally got the pattern up to speed with them, they would jump up and down clapping their hands in excitement. The dances I learned were folk dances of the Chiang people, one of the 56 ethnic minorities in China. The dances are similar to African dances in that they are used for celebrating a good harvest, marriage, happy time, working, family, etc. and the movements are pedestrian-like and resemble daily movements such as harvesting wheat (or rice). It was so fun, we danced for a couple of hours and Tarrah graciously videotaped while I joined in. After they had taught me some of their dances, they wanted to learn some of mine from America. I taught them a simple phrase of Modern Dance and they "oohed and awed over it". After a little while of dancing the Chiang ladies sat down in exhaustion and asked me if I was tired. All we were doing was shuffling in a circle and waving our arms, I was just getting warmed up. But I could see that they were spent and we sat down to do embroidery. Mom would have been so proud of me practicing my domestic skills. :)

There was a reporter there taking pictures that possibly may have appeared in the China Business daily newspaper that week. He was only one of our audience members. People gathered around to watch and afterwards wanted to take photos with us. I felt tall.
Tonight I found my favorite restaurant in China "Chamate" it was just off the subway station on the way home to Curt and Mand's. I had steamed prawn dumplings... to die for, a jumbo prawn with sausage-like meat wrapped up in a green potsticker wrap, and a seafood eggroll-type thing...delish!

After dinner I went to my second night of seeing the LDTX Modern Dance Company. They had two different performances that were showcased on alternating nights. It was fabulous, the kind of Modern Dance that makes me dance. The dancers are so beautifully trained and the choreography is incredibly creative. And the men in this company are as graceful as the women and super athletic. One of the pieces was to the "Rite of Spring" music and it was absolutely stunning.