Maria Holland

Archive for May, 2007|Monthly archive page

China Day 8 – Tourism!

In Public, Uncategorized on May 31, 2007 at 12:05 pm

We got up at 6:30 and were on the road by 7:30. We had kind of a long drive out to Three Corners, which is very easy to find on a map. Find China . . . then find Russia . . . then find North Korea . . . then find where they meet. That is Three Corners. It was created by the Chinese push to get a port on the Sea of Japan, which was stopped when Russia and NK came together, blocking them less than 1/2 kilometer from the sea.

We got to climb up to the “3th” floor of a building (try and spot the Engrish in the sign above!), where we could look to the left and see Russia, and look to the right and see North Korea (bottom pictures). It was good picture moment.

There were two souvenir vendors at the top also, selling products from all three countries. The first things I saw when I walked in were babushka dolls . . . wait a minute, is that Sadaam? And Osama? Yes, and yes. I’m not sure if they were there as a joke or what, but there was the beginnings of your dictator/tyrant/terrorist doll collection. Inside Osama, there was Sadaam, Arafat, an unknown man, and Hitler (no joke!), but the Sadaam doll just contained different pictures of Sadaam.

Much like the priest calendar, I thought it was ridiculous at first, but as soon as we left I wished I had bought one. Luckily, Amanda bought the Osama doll and I was able to buy it from her (for 50 yuen, or around $7). I’m going to send it to Brian, my pen-pal who just got back from Afghanistan!

On the way back to the farm for lunch, we stopped at a restroom at the side of the road. Behind it was the fence indicating the Russian border. The guys climbed over it to pee on Russia, while we added drama by yelling “The Russians are coming!  You’re going to get shot!”

Our last lunch in the cafeteria was not my favorite, but I did enjoy the sprout and onion dishes that I had grown accustomed to. The funniest moment was when Edwin grabbed a leaf of lettuce and stuffed the entire thing into his mouth. He had just eaten a pepper that was apparently incredibly hot, and he was tearing up involuntarily. He continued like that, crying and eating lettuce, for quite a while. Tanner was just lucky he didn’t get a hotter one; he never did seem to catch on that they weren’t bell peppers, even on day 8.

After lunch, we went to Hunchun for one last shopping trip. Some people went to buy the amazing ‘mink’ blankets that we had been sleeping under this whole time, and the rest of us went to a huge department store. We went through the women’s clothing at a run, stopping only to take pictures of the Engrish. Downstairs, we perused the interesting foods available, including ants, snakes, and lizards. I bought a bag of dried fruit (mango, papaya, kiwi, and pineapple!) and a colorful umbrella for about $2 each.

We continued on to Tumen, a Chinese town on the bank of the Tumen River, which serves as the North Korean border in this part of China. We paid 20 yuan ($3) to climb to the top of a building where we had a good view of the North Korean town across the river.

There were some interesting things to see . . . We had a direct shot at the portraits of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung displayed prominently on the main building. Even on the side we could see, the side facing China, many of the windows did not have glass in them; they were either left empty or where taped over. We saw TV transmission towers that Jesse said were fake. He also said that they have a steam engine that leaves the station every hour, on the hour . . . but backs back into the station a few minutes later. The best example of the situation in NK is the new Joshay (?) Tower. Joshay is their new policy of Self-Relience . . . but the tower’s power lines are connected to China. Oh, the irony. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

We also got to walk out on the bridge that connects the two towns. Jesse had told us that there would be armed Chinese and North Korean soldiers standing there, but apparently they’ve gotten lazy. We never saw any North Koreans, and the Chinese soldier that they sent out with our group was unarmed.

We got some pictures taken and I would have ‘stamped’ my passport, but the ground right over the line was neutral territory, not NK. We had been hoping to ride little rafts down the Tumen River, because apparently the guides will steer them over to the other side and you can touch the land, steal a rock, etc, but they don’t start running until July.

There were considerably more shops in Tumen, so we did a lot of souvenir-buying. Tanner bargained his tiger painting down to 125 yuen from 450! I bought North Korean money, a purse, two maps (including a world map with China at the center), and a watercolor.

For our last dinner in China, we went to Jesse’s favorite stick place. It was pretty deluxe. I had a horrible headache and wasn’t feeling very well, so I only ate 7 or so, in addition to a little bit of pig heart, which was very lean and surprisingly good.

But Ian was a whole different story. He ate 45 sticks, easily smashing the previous farm record of 40! I wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or disgusted, because that was a couple pounds of meat. At one point he took something out of his mouth and it looked like he was gagging, an we were all worried because we didn’t want to see what 40 sticks looked like!

Ian eating his 41st stick, breaking the record

Oh, and I can’t fail to mention this: we saw a fat Chinese girl before dinner. It was memorable for its singularity.

We took another taxi back from the restaurant. This was even more of an adventure . . . The guy was booking it, going over 130 kmh, which was very fast when considering that we rarely broke 80. But then he slowed down rather quickly, and we thought we were going to have to through the whole ‘Russian border’ thing again. No, he had blown a tire.

So we’re standing on the side of the road at night, in the middle of nowhere between Hunchun and Teyan. I thought the next car that came by was Timothy, so I waved it down. It wasn’t. They screeched to a halt, though, and backed up to see if we were okay. Of course, I couldn’t explain this misunderstanding in my 20 words of Chinese, so I just stood there, embarrassed, until they drove away. Apparently they stopped for me because they probably thought I was a Russian prostitute. In that part of China, they assume all white people are Russian (after all, we assumed everyone we saw was Chinese). I decided to be flattered by that assumption.

Anyway, the next car was Timothy, so we told him what had happened. When our driver had finished changing the tire, we got in and he sped away again. We thought he was trying to catch up with Timothy at first. But then Timothy slowed down to make the turn onto the small, unmarked road to the farm, and the taxi driver took that opportunity to pass him! It was such an ordeal just to get to the house.

Jessie White and Zaibin were there when we arrived. They had come to say goodbye. I took a shower while we uploaded all of our pictures to the computer. There turned out to be 1,500, which is way too many to put on CD easily, so we decided to put them on my camera’s memory cards. We got to the end and found out that there were exactly 7 too many! Thankfully, we found 7 to delete. We also gave TU t-shirts to all the cousins and got a great group shot. Then it was time to say goodnight and goodbye, sadly.

China Day 7 – Wind Turbine, Continued (or, Tragedy Strikes)

In Public, Uncategorized on May 30, 2007 at 12:05 pm

By the time breakfast rolled around in the morning, we were already pretty loopy. For instance, there was the misunderstanding about cutting cheese with toenail clippers . . . which the University of Tulsa does not condone, by the way. In case you were wondering.


We resumed work on the wind turbine right away. Tanner, Ian, and I started shaping and sanding the blades, making them more uniform and aerodynamic.  I left halfway though, though, to collect some more water samples to test. Jesse and I went to the cafeteria and got water from that faucet, and then drove out to the spring. On the way, Jesse let me drive the ‘Jeepucha’.


This was no easy feat, considering it has no suspension, no power steering, and has a standard transmission. And so I learned to drive a stick shift! It was pretty awesome. When we went to lunch, Jesse let Tanner drive, who had also never driven a stick before. I did a much better job than him, and if you doubt me, I have video of his first drive.

Lunch contained a few surprises – a surprisingly good beef, eggplant, and mushroom dish, and tons of tiny, ridiculously salty fish. They tasted like popcorn. Fishy popcorn.

At 1 o’clock, we had a meeting with some acquaintances of Timothy’s. They were starting a wind power project on their farm in NK, and we were under the impression that we were going to help them. Apparently they were under the impression that they were helping us, however. The man was horribly offensive and condescending – he reminded me of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Or TJ. There was disdain dripping from his words when hesaid “student” and “small” wind power. He pretty much insulted everything we were and everything we were working on.

They are planning to build several huge wind turbines on their property and then hand them over to the North Korean government. But he refused to even consider the possibility that Jesse brought up – that the government would move them to Pyongyang! I couldn’t believe that from someone who had experience with those people, and especially when Jesse told me that he had first met this man after the government had confiscated his goat farm. What does he expect?! I mean, these are the people who turned over the best rice fields to the production of opium! These are the people who took rabbits who had been bred as large as dogs, and instead of using them to feed the people as they were intended, served them to their Dear Leader for his birthday meal!

After he had wasted enough of our time, we returned to the work that was going on in the shop. Welding, drilling, shaping, bolting, cutting, etc.

Finally, it was all coming together. Upon seeing it all assembled, Rose Mary was pretty impressed. She thought it was neat that we could “build a wind turbine out of things.” Jesse, Tanner, John Alan, Ian, and I took the pole and gin pole out to the shepherd’s house, where we staked out the guy wires and practiced raising the pole. A storm was definitely brewing, but there we were, in the middle of a field holding a metal pole that was, by design, the tallest thing around. But Ian wasn’t worried: “It’s only rain. I don’t hear any thunder!” That was a call for smiting if I ever heard one, but God was merciful.

Back at the garage, we painted the motor and tail yellow.  The girls and I cut out stencils for each of the groups that were involved – the MCD farm, Engineers Without Borders, and Cousins for Christ.

Then we all drove out to the site again and put up the entire wind turbine. It was a beautiful moment – the sun was setting amidst the tumultuous clouds of the approaching storm – or at least, it was a beautiful moment, until one of the blades broke. They were made of poor-quality Chinese PVC pipe, which we had planned to fiberglass, but we couldn’t find the materials in Hunchun. Our plan was just to raise the turbine and take some good pictures of us and our finished product. Then we were going to take it down, go back to the States and make some nice carbon-fiber blades to ship over. Unfortunately, we didn’t even get the 5 minutes of a working wind turbine that we needed.  Well, at least it did point into the wind . . .



We had dinner at another Korean restaurant. We were in the ‘girl’s room’, where Naomi cooked the meat for us. It was pretty much amazing, especially with the sweet potatoes and excellent fried rice. I had forgotten to take off my safety glasses, which gave us all a good laugh when Amanda realized it near the end of the meal. Earlier, I had called her outon a similar thing:

Me: “Amanda, you can take your earplugs out now.”
Amanda: “It’s only one. It’s cool. I’m like Nelly.”


It was pretty ridiculous. For dessert, we went to a nearby store and bought ice cream. I also got 31 pairs of chopsticks, ginseng tea, Chinese Oreos, and Dove bars for less than $20. I love the yuan.  It probably would have been more if I had bought the fish-cicles or Chinese spam, though.  Delicacies like that don’t come cheap.


After enjoying our ice cream, Tanner, Amanda, and I decided to make the third blade. Our exercise in futility took us much of the night. I didn’t get into the shower until midnight, and then Amanda and I stayed up a little while, journaling and reading. While reading quietly in our room, we were treated to quite a symphony – snoring from the guy cousin’s room and the bawling of the stupid cat outside. The two sounds were at the extremes of the audible range, and it was pretty funny. And so ended what was easily our latest night.

China Day 6 – Wind Turbine

In Public, Uncategorized on May 29, 2007 at 12:05 pm

I didn’t wake up til 6 (definite improvement), and then laid in bed watching those more motivated than me get ready for a run. I started off the day by working on the weather station and starting the water tests on the home well. Then I joined the work on the wind turbine.


I ran some small errands before finally given something to do – cut a long bar of All-Thread into shorter bolts for the gin pole. Then I helped Tanner start the windmill blades. We cut some 8.5″ diameter pipe to a length of 5 feet, cut it into thirds lengthwise, cut a root and tapered the edge, and sanded it.


We took a break for a lovely lunch of squid, tofu soup, and – finally – potatos! Tanner was pretty excited about that, and apparently everyone else too, because they disappeared pretty fast. 


I tried metal chopsticks for the first time, and despite Jesse’s warnings that they are difficult to use, I was able to eat my fill. I’m definitely becoming a rice and chopstick snob – none of that long-grain or wood stuff for me anymore.

The work on the turbine continued after lunch. I got to design the tail, but since the jigsaw wouldn’t cut through 1/8″ steel, Edwin had to cut it with a torch. I got to try out the grinder, though, to smooth all the edges. It was a goodworkout for my forearms – keeping them in shape to play the Gloria!

When we went into Hunchun for dinner, we stopped at the post office. In my excitement to get postcards, I fell, scraping both hands, twisting my left ankle, and smashing my right knee into the concrete. The good news is, my camera was fine, and I got not only post cards, but also stamps, and for less than $4.  Even cooler, the lady had a computer and an abacus, and she totally used the abacus!  It’s so old school.

We had dinner at a Korean restaurant. As we did at the caf, we sat on the floor around low tables. The centerpiece of the meal was a bacon-ish thing (not pig feet skin!) that Jesse cooked on what he called ‘the original Foreman grill’ because it allowed the fat to escape through a hole in the middle. 


My favorite foods were the rice omelette and the egg-covered fried rice. We ordered a fairly obscene amount of food (still, it cost less than $65 for 12 adults and 4 kids), making the owner very happy with his crazy American customers.


We tried many dishes and foods that we hadn’t tried before, including MSG. Yes, monosodium glutamate, as in “No MSG added”, only . . . it was.


After eating, we stopped by the Hunchun night festival. It was a long street, filled with food vendors. Some of it looked good and at times I wished I hadn’t been full, but I was grateful for the good food we ate when we saw some of the products . . . such as goose heads, pre-hatched chickens, and pigs feet, all whole, on sticks. Tanner and I are pretty sure we saw mice, too, and we definitely saw silkworms.


We also learned the difference between rabbit meat and cat – they leave the ears on the rabbits so you can tell them apart. It’s pretty sad when the most appetizing thing in a market is a hot dog – at least you aren’t sure exactly what you’re eating. Sometimes ignorance is bliss . . .

We took a taxi back from the festival. It was my first experience in a Chinese taxi. Jesse got in and buckled his seatbelt and the driver pointed at him and laughed, and we could tell it was going to be interesting.

As you head towards the farm from Hunchun, you’re heading to the Russian border. All that the taxi drivers know out that way beyond the city limits is the tiny village (if you can call it that) of Teyan. So we all loaded up and Timothy told the drivers, in Chinese, that we were going to a farm out by Teyan. Well, the driver got out by Teyan and stopped. We tried to tell him to go further, but he had seen a gate that warned Russian truck drivers that there were power lines ahead, and he thought it was the Russian border. He was afraid of getting shot if he went any further, so he refused to drive! It was like being on a horse that balked. Our attempts to get him to “Follow nege” (that, meaning Timothy’s truck) didn’t work, but eventually our persistance did, and he continued driving. It was pretty funny, a few minutes later, when he laughed and started yelling “Go! Go! Go! Go!”. I think he finally figured out what it meant, or something.

The most interesting event of the rest of the night was watching Lyte learn what an eraser was. It pretty much blew my mind.

China Day 5 – The University of Tulsa Does Not Condone Climbing Into Poo Vats . . .

In Public, Uncategorized on May 28, 2007 at 12:05 pm

At 6:30, we headed out to Jessie White’s farm. We got to see his horses and facilities, then investigated his broken wind turbine. After a lot of looking (in the very cold, wet outside), we left with 1 1/2 turbines. We took his generator to fix, and he gave us a smaller one that he had never put up.


God’s pretty awesome like that . . . And it gets better!

We followed Zaibin and Jessie to a nearby village, where there was a woman who had a wind turbine like the one we had just gotten. It was pretty awesome, because she lived ridiculously close to Hunchun’s coal burning plant, and high-voltage lines ran right by her house, but she was off the grid! She used the electricity generated by her turbine to power her tiny light bulb, TV, and DVD player. It’s pretty much exactly what we hoped to do!


Right before we left her house, Timothy decided to buy three geese. The lady (known to posterity as ‘Goose Lady’) grabbed them by the necks and tied them up in a bag, which went into the back of the ‘Chicha’ (Timothy’s truck). We all loaded back up, sitting in the seats we had been in before – with Tanner in the back. With the geese. It wasn’t long before we found out that geese just happen to be Tanner’s worst fear.


It was about this time that Jesse said pretty much the thing you would least like to hear when trapped in the back of a truck with a bag full of geese:

“Be careful – if they get out, they bite!”

Of course, that inspired John Alan to find a hole in the bag, pull out a goose head, and let it have at Tanner (well, almost). Fortunately, through that traumatic experience, Tanner was able to overcome his fear. We’re thinking about patenting this treatment. We would call it ‘Zhong Guo Sanga Cha Therapy’ – put the patient in the back of a Chinese truck with a bag full of three of their worst fears and let them get over it. We all shared our worst fears – Jesse said man-eating lions, Amanda spiders . . . I said gorgeous men. Timothy said I was out of luck; there weren’t any in China. The situation led to a joke:

“So 6 American and 3 geese are riding around China in a truck . . . “

The only problem is, we don’t know the punchline. Feel free to submit suggestions!

Anyway, after that moment of levity, we went back to the farm, where we put the windmill together, took ‘before’ pictures, and took it apart. While we were doing that, the cat had kittens! Things like that happen on farms in the spring, or so I’m told.


Lunch at the cafeteria consisted of ‘old favorites’, nothing unusual or disgusting. Unfortunately, the meal was ruined for me when juice from a passing fish tray was spilled on my pants. Looks like we all faced our worst fears that day (Amanda had to reach into things that had spiders in them).

After that traumatic lunch experience, we went out near Hunchun to see a biogas digester in a greenhouse.  A biogas digester is a concrete-lined pit in the ground that accepts manure and water (left) and produces methane (middle) and excellent fertilizer (right)


The man who owned it was Korean, so he spoke through Chunji, who translated into Chinese, and then Timothy, who translated into English for us. There was a brief misunderstanding about releasing straight methane into the greenhouse, in which he was smoking, but we got that cleared up pretty quickly.


The 8 cubic meter tank was supplied by one cow and it powered one methane lamp in the greenhouse, and cooking and lights in the house. Jesse said that its efficiency could be greatly increased by adding more water, cleaning the gas, heating the mixture, and stirring it, all of which we plan to do when we build one.


We visited another biogas digester next. This one had recently been built and was unused (or so we were told, at least). We were presented with the amazing opportunity to climb down into it – keep in mind, this is literally a poo vat, a hole that was dug with the intent to fill it with manure and waste.  It gives new meaning to the Psalms :

“I waited, I waited for the Lord
and he stooped down to me;
he heard my cry.
He drew me from the deadly pit,
from the miry clay.
He set my feet upon a rock
and made my footsteps firm.” (Psalm 40)

We got to go in as if we were poo, and visit the tank where the methane is released. It was a classic picture moment – good thing for flashes, because it was absolutely and completely dark down there.


I was worried about climbing out, so John Alan gave me a boost up, and two guys on the ground grabbed my hands and pulled. It was surprisingly easy . . . until I got clotheslined across the face with one of the strings that was holding the plants up.

It was around this time that the running joke of the trip began. Jesse was sharing with us some of the knowledge from his class at the Global Education Center. For instance, the University did not want us exposed to starving people because it could cause psychological damage. There was a long list, starting with ‘scooters’, of things that the University did not condone. Of course, we could choose to do do these things at our own risk, using our free will as adults. Anyway, we started a list of our own and added to it throughout the rest of the trip. Here it is in its entirety:

The University of Tulsa Does Not Condone . . .

– riding a scooter
– climbing into poo vats
– climbing on piles of rusty metal
– using cigarette butts to st
op gas cans
– smoking in a greenhouse full of gas
– riding in the back of a truck whose doors are secured only by bungee cords
– peeing on Russia
– driving in Hunchun
– leaving your wallet in a Chinese taxi
– impersonating a Russian soldier
– investigating poachers and ginseng squatters
– drinking snake liquour
– eating fish eyes, cow stomach lining, chicken heart, pig feet skin, or lamprey
– walking diagonally across a 6 lane intersection
– welding and spray painting simultaneously in the same garage
– standing in the middle of a field holding a 10-foot metal pole in the middle of a thunderstorm
– welding in a barn full of hay
– keeping a pet tick
– using a squatty potty with no toilet paper
– cooking with coals on a wooden table
– being sold into white slavery
– riding a bike in the middle of the road at night in dark clothes with no reflecters
– staying up past 9
– walking back from Teyan alone at night
– cutting cheese with toenail clippers
– showering with a Chinese watch on
– eating MSG
– stealing sharp pointy objects
– waving down strange cars at night on the side of the road
– smuggling munitions out of China

. . . Any attempt to do so is done at the student’s own risk, under their free will as an adult.

Note: We didn’t do all of these things, but I believe that almost all of them were done. I’ll leave it up to your imagination to figure out which ones we did do . . . but, no students were harmed in the making of this list.

In the evening, we did some more shopping in Hunchun. I didn’t feel pressured to buy anything, though, because I plan on going back next year. The others went to Woo-Mart (Chinese Wal-Mart). We met up at a different stick restaurant. We all liked this one better – tastier meat and delicious fried rice. I ate 11 sticks this time (one less), and Ian doubled, eating 28.

What with a shower, Evening Prayer, the Novena, video watching, journaling, and reading, Amanda and I stayed up past 10:30!! We felt like big girls.

China Day 4 – Day of Rest

In Public, Uncategorized on May 27, 2007 at 12:05 pm

I woke up at 4 a.m. – making progress! After breakfast and Morning Prayer, we had a Meeting, which consisted mainly of prayers and hymns. Timothy also talked about the goals of the family and company. It was interesting to hear them from him, because all I knew, I had heard from Jesse. I learned a beautiful new hymn – from Isaiah 51:3 – which they sing as a prayer for North Korea:

“For the Lord will comfort Zion,
He will comfort all her waste places.
He will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and comfort shall be found therein,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
Joy and comfort shall be found therein,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.”


In the afternoon, we rode on a trailer pulled by a tractor out to the Russian border. We got out, touched Russia, took some silly pictures, and ‘stamped’ our passports (put them on the ground and, literally, stamped on them. Mine is still a little bit dirty).



Then we continued on to a stream, where we had a nice picnic of egg, cheese, and lettuce sandwiches, peanuts, banana muffins, and watermelon. Some crazy antics ensued – John Alan successfully jumping over the electric wire, but unsuccessfully running away from Rose Mary with a cup of water. The weather was beautiful – warm sun, but cool breeze – so, except for the obscene number of flies, it was the perfect day for a picnic.

An American friend of Timothy, Jessie White, joined us for our picnic, along with his Chinese driver, Zaibin (we gave him our first TU t-shirt). He runs a hippotherapy program – using horses to treat handicapped children. In an interesting turn of events, Jessie had a wind turbine that was broken and he was looking for some help with it. Hmm, I wonder who could provide that . . . ?


I sat in the living room doing a little bit of journaling and starting Heavenly Man. Gradually, the others congregated and we started talking. We evaluated our Chinese experiences thus far, namely the interesting bathroom arrangements we’ve seen (squatty potties, trenches, no toilet paper). We also learned a little bit about Chinese and Korean cultures, and some great quotes were born in the process:

– about the custom in Korea to pat a baby boy’s genitals for good luck:
“No, no, he’s a girl!!”

– about the absence of vultures and crows in China:
Timothy: “There are no vultures in China, because they can’t compete with the humans!”

– about the reason to eat dog:
“Be strong like bull!!”

– about the taboos of eating dog:
Timothy: “I’d have a house cat before I’d have a house dog.”
Tanner: “I’d eat your house cat before I’d eat your house dog.”

– about the tendency of older Korean men to grab other men’s knees:
Jesse: “What about the Korean man and the dog?”
Tanner: “I’d go to my happy place . . . “

– about frog poaching:
“Hey, two frogs would get you an hour on the internet!”

– after discussing cannibalism:
Tanner: “So, would anyone like the rest of my tapioca pudding?”

I was tired by 7, so I read for awhile before I drifted off to sleep on the couch. When I awoke at 9, Naomi was taking the last of the little girls off to bed, and no one else was around. How pathetic? But I joined them anyway.

China Day 3 – Long Walk and Junk Yards

In Public, Uncategorized on May 26, 2007 at 12:05 pm

I did my usual 3 o’clock wake-up to the bright morning sun and the crowing of roosters. But then I went back to sleep until 8. We had a breakfast of oats and then Amanda, Rose Mary, and John Alan set out for the airport to recover their lost luggage. Jesse, Tanner, Ian, and I went out for the long tour of the farm.


It was a beautiful day – the Communists finally let the sun come out! We started off with the spring and shepherd’s house again, then continued down the crummy military road to the site where the family’s house was supposed to have been built. At some point, we left the road and went cross-country, which required us to cross a few shaky log bridges. It was there that we encountered an interesting phenomenon known as ‘lumpy grass’, to use a technical term. As Jesse put it, “it’s like walking across the surface of a golf ball.”  The height difference between a patch of lumpy grass and the normal ground is shown here:

Then we trekked through some woods that had not recently been visited by humans. We eventually stopped on a hill less than a kilometer from the Russian border and talked for a while. From our vantage point, you could easily see the guard tower and the cut-away line across the mountains that indicated the neutral zone surrounding the border.


On the way back to the house, we passed more ginseng farmers and squatters. One family had even built their house less than 6 feet away from the engraved concrete gateposts that indicated the extent of the farm’s property!


We tried to be sneaky as we approached, but finally just crossed their garden in plain daylight. Only a woman with her baby was home, and Jesse said she was probably very afraid of us because she thought we were Russian soldiers.

We arrived at the cafeteria, wet and dirty, just in time for lunch. Some interesting surprises awaited us – cow stomach lining, and the feet, hearts, and unhatched eggs of the chickens that were slaughtered this morning. Yum! Despite the definitely-foreign foods, the style of eating started to feel familiar to me.


I got in a shower and a nap before Jesse, Tanner, Edwin, and I went shopping. When the girls and grandmother heard that we were going ‘shopping’ they wanted to go, at least until they realized that the shopping was going to take place in a junkyard. It was an interesting experience. There were enormous (over 2 foot) springs that I couldn’t even begin to compress with all my body weight. I’m easily distracted, so I spent much of the time climbing over rusty piles of metal, which abounded. I figure that’s a good way to get tetanus; I was just testing our insurance policy. I took some video, which I plan on showing to Dr. Patton to see if she has a heart attack.  The random mortar rounds also added some excitement to an otherwise ‘normal’ junkyard. 



Meanwhile, Tanner and Edwin both found pathetic pieces of tape measure and were looking for certain diameter pipes. We bought some pipe and a piece of steel for the tail, and then met up with Melody and Ian.

At the second junkyard, there were a bunch of Chinese boys unloading stuff. They stared openly at Melody and I as we walked past, and when we were about 20 yards beyond them, one yelled “Hello?” I turned and waved at him; I thought it was funny. Jesse said it was fairly unusual for 7 Americans to walk into their junkyard, and I guess I could see that. Apparently speaking English well gets Chinese and Koreans the admiration of their peers, and speaking it incorrectly is one way to ‘lose face’. It was at this junkyard that we had our first experience with Chinese geese, but this one was asleep (and by ‘asleep’, of course I mean ‘dead’). Another interesting thing I noted about these junkyards: they were both next to churches. Because they were obviously churches, they must have been Three-Self, which is the only nationally recognized religion.

When we were loading the generators we bought into the car, Jesse commented on how surprised the Chinese man must have been, to open the back of the truck and see a bearded white man in a hat. Tanner and I were both confused and asked, “There’s a bearded white man with a hat in the back of the truck??”, thinking for some reason that he had meant a man with a white beard. Of course, he was talking about Ian . . . it reminded me of the scene in Dodgeball: “There’s a guy who dresses like a pirate on our team?”

Amanda, Rose Mary, and John Alan had spent all day at the airport, waiting for their bags to come in. Then, to top it all off, Amanda left her wallet in the taxi, and they had to coordinate its return. When they finally got back to the house, we had dinner – leftover lamb ribs from the night before, salad, fruit, and homemade tapioca pudding. I set up the software for the weather station, and then, around 8:30, cuddled up on the [ridiculously hard] couch for a nap. Everyone was lounging around in various stages of sleepiness when I fell asleep, but when I woke up at 10 o’clock, the lights were off and only Ian and I were left. Another early night in China.

China Day 2 – Making a Plan and the Stick Restaurant!

In Public, Uncategorized on May 25, 2007 at 12:05 pm
After waking up at 3 again, I got up at 7:30. We had another amazing breakfast, and then began to set up a weather station that Timothy had.

It was a good rainy day project (and it certainly was a rainy day!). It collects quite a bit of data and, in addition to displaying it in the house, it also logs it all on a computer for records and reports.I was having a good time (not) working with Lyte’s slimy screwdriver, until I got distracted by the flute I found in the classroom.

At 9 we met with Timothy at the headquarters to talk about plans for the week. We decided our goal for the trip was to build a wind turbine and put it up at the shepherd’s house. He already had solar panels that were supplying him with lights, but we hoped to be able to power his TV and DVD player. After we left, Timothy would also put in a bio-gas digester, which converts manure and waste into methane gas and fertilizer, to provide heat. Eventually, the farm plans to build two more shepherd’s houses up in the hills, and this one would serve as the prototype. For the upcoming school year, our project is to design a house, incorporating all the alternative power options available to us, to house a family of 11 ‘off the grid’ (without buying electricity from China). Next summer’s implementation trip will hopefully be helping with the building of this house.

After our meeting, we had our first lunch in the ‘cafeteria’. It is a medium sized room with a kitchen and two very low tables. A Korean woman cooked for the workers and then us. We all sat on the floor (which was heated, when necessary) around the tables.


We each had our own bowls of rice, and communal dishes were placed in the middle of the table. Using our chopsticks, we grabbed a little bit of whatever we wanted, added some rice, and ate it. Then the process was repeated, putting the chopsticks that had just been in our mouths back into the communal dishes. And thus the Second Culinary Law of China was decreed: “There are no germs in China.” That first lunch was very good and relatively ‘normal’. In addition to the delicious sticky rice, there were soybean sprouts, beans and beef, and egg and onion.

After a few games of ping pong, we made a shopping list of all the things we needed for the wind turbine. When Timothy came back, he took us out to the shepherd’s house and the spring. Since finding this spring, the family had been bottling the water and drinking it, and had not had any adverse health effects, but he wanted it tested for fecal coliforms, pesticides, iron, etc. Then we headed into Hunchun to look for the powerful magnets we would need to build our own alternator. The only ones we found were too expensive, but we also stopped by an office supply store, where we scored some good deals. We bought some Chinese pens and notebooks for ridiculously cheap, and I even bought a genuine Chinese abacus, with a clearing mechanism!

For dinner, we met up with the family at a ‘stick restaurant’. We sat in two cubicle-like things, and the waiters placed red-hot coals into sunken sections of the tables. Then they brought us platters of raw meat on skewers, like shish-ke-bobs but only meat, which we cooked ourselves over the coals. Then we dipped the chunks of meat into dishes of spice, wrapped them in lettuce, and ate. We had both niu rou (beef) and yang rou (lamb), which was very fatty.



I ate 12 sticks and was quite proud of myself, even though the record is 40. That’s just ridiculous. After dinner, we began our tradition of constructing towers out of pop cans – crazy Americans. 


We also ordered a lamprey (think: screaming eels in Princess Bride), but – luckily?? – it didn’t come.


After dinner we went to an internet cafe, where 6 people spent 2 hours online for less than $3. Beat that, Italy! I did some research on water testing and then discovered that Wikipedia was not accessible in China! Neither was Livejournal, but surprisingly, I could get on Facebook. I also found out that the rumor about Tiananmen Square is true – you cannot access any links relating to that incident.


Near the end of our time we learned that comfortable couches + jet lag = not much work getting done. Just like so many times last semester at the Newman Center, a comfortable couch was my downfall. Luckily, real sleep was not far behind . . .

China Day 1 – The Cousins and Fish Eyes

In Public, Uncategorized on May 24, 2007 at 12:05 pm

I woke up around 3 a.m. and, even though the sun was risen and the room was light, I had the good sense to go back to sleep.

We all got up around 7 and met the family. Timothy and Naomi are the parents, and they have four children: Mary Frances is 9, Ruth Anne just turned 8, Miriam is 4, and Lyte is 2. Pretty much as soon as we introduced ourselves, they left for the airport to pick up some visiting relatives. So we were left with the farm to ourselves.

For breakfast, Amanda made fried eggs. We were all surprised when she cracked them and the yolks came out vivid yellow. I guess that’s what pastured chicken eggs look like! We also had toast made with “bristle-brush bread” (so named because it does to your intestines what a bristle brush does to a bottle) and equally yellow, homemade butter; fresh oats, both plain and baked; fresh raw unpastuerized milk; and both orange and sweetened mango juice. It was delicious. While we ate, we all took a turn on the internet. It was very slow, but the fact that we had access to the internet was above and beyond what I was expecting.

To get familiar with the property (and also to burn off jet lag), we spent the rest of the morning walking around the part of the farm near the house. It was a very cold day, which I was not prepared for. The forecast for Yanji had been around 85 F all week – not accurate at all. Also, I should have thought that any site we were evaluating for wind power would probably be, oh, I don’t know . . . windy?? A light fleece jacket does not do much to break class 5 wind, unfortunately.

We went to the pig barn, where the pig farmer explained to us how he buries corn which the pig then roots around for, turning the soil in the process. Timothy was very excited when we told him about this, because he had been trying to get him to do that for a long time. Then we walked up to the shepherd’s house and saw him shearing sheep (it was a very cold day to be sheared; I really felt for them).  We also saw the greenhouse and chickens, cows, and cashmere goats.


We also went up to the headquarters, which is about a 10 minute walk from the house, where they have an office building, some workshops, and the ‘cafeteria’.

The most interesting sights we saw were not part of the farm property. There is a Chinese Army basic training camp just over the hill from the farm, and soldiers apparently take liberties on the property. We saw three soldiers tramping through the garden, practicing surveying or something. That was when our favorite past time started – surreptitiously taking pictures of Chinese soldiers.

This was also the time when we were introduced to the Blue Scar. In China, property ownership can be overridden by planting a crop in the land – then the crop owner controls the land until the harvest. Because the farm is so big, the family couldn’t effectively control all 1,500 acres or so, and ginseng farmers had moved in. Ginseng is a 7-year crop, during which time it robs the land of nutrients. After the harvest, all that the land is good for is pine trees. Wood is a 40 year crop . . . so basically, ginseng farming is a very effective way to squat and take over land legally. The reason for the name (‘blue scar’) is that ginseng grows naturally in forests and therefore cannot handle direct sunlight, so farmers cover each row with blue tarps.


The entire time we were walking, we never saw the sun. Instead, we were covered by what I had dubbed “the Communist Sky” the day before in Beijing – it’s the most uniform gray you’ve ever seen in nature. The Communists don’t allow the sun to shine, at least not in Jilin province!

Eventually we saw rain moving in, so we went back to the house. The family had returned, bringing more family with them. This was when we met ‘The Cousins’: Rose Mary, Melody, Edwin, Ian, and John Alan.

We all had an amazing lunch together – grilled cheese sandwiches made with fresh homemade bread, cheese, and butter, and served with homemade marinara sauce. Then I showered and took a nap before we headed into Hunchun (the nearest city, about 20 minutes away by car) for dinner.

Driving in Hunchun is itself an experience. As Tanner said, “There’s nothing like a quiet ride . . . nothing like it in Hunchun at least!” Double yellow lines mean nothing to them. Cars, trucks, bikes, and sanlunchas all share the road – but that’s not the right word for it, because the word ‘share’ has a positive connotation. They honk constantly, every time they pass someone or approach an intersection. Or maybe just for the heck of it. Ian thought he caught on to the system: “So, does one honk mean ‘I’m going’ and two honks mean ‘You go’?” Jesse replied, “As long as there’s three honks, it means ‘Everybody go at once’. Honking is kind of like water balloons – it makes you feel good to throw one out there, but it doesn’t really do anything.” Despite this, the Chinese don’t wear seatbelts. Neither did we, but we always arrived safely nevertheless.


I was at a table with Tanner, Amanda, the cousins, and Naomi – pretty much a party. We had such a great time and were being so loud and, generally, American that the waiters started taking pictures of us! In the middle there was a turn table that eventually filled up with 13 dishes, including chicken wings, pumpkin doughnut things, very chewy corn, and salad. Those were the normal dishes . . . among the more unusual dishes:

– slimy transparent noodles. When I told Paul about them later, he said “Yeah . . . those were tapeworms.” I’m not sure I would be surprised.

– pig feet skin. When they brought it out, it looked quite appetizing. John Alan even said “Bacon!!” quite excitedly. Unfortunately, that emotion was short lived, as we could see by the expression on his face after the first sickening crunch.

We all tried it, then asked the adults at the next table what it was. And that was when the First Chinese C
ulinary Law was created: “Don’t ask before eating. You don’t want to know.”

– fish eyes. These were consumed totally consciously – it is amazing how strong peer pressure can be among brand new acquaintances! We all ate one (we even had to raid the other table’s fish for their eyes) and we all took out the indigestible pupil as proof.

I attribute this event more than any other to the close bond that developed between the EWB (Engineers Without Borders) and CFC (Cousins for Christ) groups.


After dinner, I read a little bit, watched a video with the family, did Evening and Night Prayer, and went to sleep around 10:30.

China – Tuednesday!

In Public, Uncategorized on May 22, 2007 at 12:05 pm

After a 4 a.m. wake up, Kate and I picked Tanner up and drove to the airport. Our first flight, to Denver, left at 7 a.m. We did some ‘light reading’ on water filtration before takeoff; it made the flight go quickly. Tanner and I talked the entire second flight to San Francisco, catching up on each others lives and such. Because I set my watch back two hours, my alarm for Kate’s birthday (10:13) went off twice. Lucky girl.

The pan-Pacific flight was quite long, but we had been building up to it on the Italy trip. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sit together. I sat behind Tanner, next to a man whose wife and kids were seated behind us. They kept kicking our seats the whole way, and he spent much of the time perched on his arm rest, talking to them over his seat back. In addition, a baby with the world’s most impressive lung capacity was on our flight – he managed to cry the entire eleven and a half hours. I was half impressed, but mostly just wanted to throw the baby out the window.

I started the Little Flowers of St. Francis while watching The Pursuit of Happyness. I can’t believe people thought that movie was inspiring, moving, sad, or good in any way! It really contrasted with what I was reading, about a man who pursued Holy Poverty with his entire life. A more apt name would have been Pursuit of Money. The main character was not noble or even likable! I couldn’t make myself be sympathetic every time something bad happened to him, because he hurt other people – lying, cheating, etc. It was like the parable of the generous master who forgave the servant’s debt, only to have the servant collect on his debts even when they begged for mercy. I was pretty much disgusted. Afterwards I took a nap, missing Siberia apparently.

We also crossed the International Date Line. It was nothing like traveling to Italy, with a mere 7 hour difference. We left the US Tuesday afternoon, and didn’t arrive in China until Wednesday afternoon – but the flight was only 11 hours or so. We did Tuesday Morning and Evening Prayer, and Wednesday Morning and Evening Prayer all in about 18 hours. It was ridiculous. I just couldn’t bring myself to do Tuesday Night Prayer on the plane because I couldn’t really convince myself that Tuesday night had passed.

The only other thing of note about the international flight was the woman who looked freakishly like Michael Jackson. No joke.

We landed in Beijing, got our bags, went through customs, and still had a few hours before our flight left. We spenta little while exploring the airport. Olympic stuff is everywhere, including an enormous countdown, standing at 443 days and some change. We saw some people playing mah jongg on the floor, and a guy who was totally straight thuggin’ in the four o’clock hour (to get his picture, I practiced the technique known as “taking pictures of Tanner”.  And of course, by “taking pictures of Tanner”, I really mean “Taking pictures of things over Tanner’s shoulder without their knowledge or express consent.”  It proved to be quite useful when photographing Chinese soldiers.  Our favorite thing was the Sunbird Digital Relaxation Harbor upstairs – a room crammed with people totally intent on their laptop screens. Stuff like that made us smile. Some other observations: pointy-toed shoes are all the rage for Chinese men, apparently. And most of the airport employees don’t have names on their nametags, only numbers.



We exchanged money – $100 got us 750 yeun (also known as RMB or quai). Then we sat down to our first genuine Chinese meal. We quickly learned to eat fairly well with chopsticks, because that was all there was. We ordered the only thing that looked normal on the menu – steamed beef. It was from the Sichuan province, which we now know means, loosely: HOT. We weren’t sure what all the vegetables were, leading to this quote by Tanner:

“That potato-looking thing? It was not a potato. I was upset.”

The Beijing airport was very frustrating. We couldn’t find out our gate number until about a half hour before our flight. When we finally got there, we met up with Amanda and found out that her luggage had been lost. The last flight was very short and I slept the entire way. When we got off the plane in Yanji, there were soldiers standing on both sides of the doorway. But at the bottom of the escalator, there were two women dressed in traditional clothing, bowing to everyone who came down. It was funny because the three of us were the only ‘mei guo ren’ (Americans, or literally, ‘People from the Beautiful Country) on the plane, so they were pretty much just there for us. Just beyond, we saw Jesse, the grad student who was leading the trip, and Timothy, the head of the farm. We had an hour and a half van ride to the farm, but it was dark so we couldn’t see what we were driving through.

When we got to the house, we had to take off our shoes and put on house slippers. Mine said ‘I <3 you’, but there was a pair that said ‘I love you / you love I’. We were amused.


We slept on the second floor of the training center; the family lived below us. Amanda and I shared a room, sleeping on mattresses on the floor. It was plain but very comfortable. Also, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we would have access to the internet, even though it was very slow.


Finally, after 30 or so hours of travel, we went to sleep in China!