Thursday, May 20, 2010

Flat Stanley

A few weeks ago, I received a "Flat Stanley" paper doll in the mail from a kindergarten girl in Texas. She asked me to help Stanley enjoy China and keep a journal for him! So, here's "Stanley and Ryan's adventures in Baoding, China!":

Dear journal,

Today was one of the craziest days of my life! I got to Beijing, China at 5:00 PM two weeks ago and I think I got off the plane in a bag with other mail, but I ended having to sit in the envelope for another two weeks! Sometimes, things are a little slow when I am being shipped around through the mail. I woke up today to the feeling of someone finally opening the top of envelope I was held in, allowing me to see light for the first time in two weeks! I barely recognized anything I was seeing until I finally heard someone's voice.

"Hello, Stanley!" a man said loudly. "My name is Ryan!" I saw him finally, as my eyes adjusted to the light, and said quietly, "Hello, Ryan. Where am I?"
"Why, you are in Baoding, China, of course! This is my home and I'm so glad that you were able to come here!"
"But, what will we do now?" I asked. I'd never been to China and had not seen very many people in weeks.
"You look hungry. Let's go get you some food!" Ryan suggested.

We went to eat some food in the cafeteria. Nothing made sense: I couldn't understand any of the writing, which wasn't letters and numbers like I am used to in America, but looked more like a drawing or a symbol. I saw everyone staring at Ryan as we walked.
"Why is everyone staring at you?" I asked Ryan.
"Well, Stanley, many of the students here at Hebei College have never seen a person like me before. All of the students at this school are Chinese, meaning they have black hair and dark eyes, but I have brown hair and blue eyes, so people sometimes will stare and say,"Look! A foreigner!"
"Well, what about the writing here. All these things look like drawings instead of words!"
"that's because the Chinese language," Ryan said, "is made up of thousands of characters that first came from a drawing. Each character has a word attached to it. For example," Ryan said, pointing to a sign on the wall, "this is the character for 'ma', which means 'horse'." He pointed to the character on the wall:

"Look closely and you can see the figure: four legs, the horse's hair, and his face looking off to the left!" Ryan was right: many Chinese characters I saw looked like a picture of what they described. I was amazed! We finally made it to the cafeteria. I was so hungry! I asked for a hot dog.

"Oh, sorry Stanley, we don't have any hot dogs here in China," Ryan said. No hot dogs... what?! I asked, "What do people eat here in China, then?"

"Most people eat simple things like soup, rice and chicken, or noodles. Actually, there is one dish that is famous in Baoding: The World-famous Baoding Donkey burger!"

Ryan gave me the dish. It was a big, round bread with meat inside. "How do I eat this?" I asked. He gave me two sticks and said, "Here: these are chopsticks!" I looked at them and knew the truth: I have never used such big chopsticks before! I tried, but it was very difficult to learn to used the chopsticks. I finally just told Ryan that I was full, even though I only ate a few bites of the donkey meat.

Dear journal,

Ryan and I went exploring through the city of Baoding, China today. We got to ride to a taxi cab. The traffic in Baoding is crazy! I almost got sick as we weaved in and out of traffic, around parked cars, and people riding bicycles throught the city. There mus have been 10,000 who I saw just in one taxi ride through the city. As we drove, Ryan let me sit on his shoulder to look out the window. I saw a man walking through the street pushing some sheep across into a field, hundreds of people riding their bicycles, lots of stores with brightly-colored chinese characters on their signs, and many tall buildings al around me. My favorite thing to see was when Ryan paid the taxi driver with Chinese money.

"This is called 'yuan' instead of 'dollar'," Ryan told me. I loved seeing all the different colors of the money: blue, green, red, silver, and gold!

Dear journal,

Today, I went to Ryan's class. Ryan teaches English to Chinese college students. I have never been so excited to be inside of a classroom as a visitor! It was very different from the classes that I used to teach in America. For one, there were about 50 students in this class. When Ryan and I walked into the room, everyone shouted, "OOOOO!" and clapped when they saw me. I was so nervous, but my nerves calmed down as I told the students about America and about all of my friends in Texas. The students told me about their dormitories, where they sleep and live with six people in each room...even more crowded than when I have to fly around the world in an envelope!

Talking with the students in Ryan's class about Texas made em very homesick, so I asked Ryan if he could send me back to America.

"Yes, of course I can," he said, "but we will miss you so much. Make sure to keep in touch when you go back to America!"

I promised him that I would. We hugged and I said thank you for his help in China. He said, "Of course!", then shut the envelope and put me back into the mail room. Hopefully, I will be back in my home in Texas soon!

The 2010 Northface 100 10K

Runners and their fans before the Northface 100 10K race

Ryan and Eric, post-race celebration

Two weekends ago, I had the honor of sharing the weekend with my team from Baoding and the team "at large" from Lang fang and Tianjin, China. Together, we ran in the Northface 100 10K race, a race sponsored by Northface held in Northern Beijing. The location is scenically beautiful and really brought a lot out of us. Coming into the race, I felt a bit "smug" knowing that I wasn't a candidate for the dreaded Broom Bus, the car that picks up stranded runners who can't finish their race. This was the first time that I have ever run a race for the second time, which I found made it much more difficult to stay focused in my training and really appreciate the challenge of running a race. My goal coming in was to run faster than I did last year (53 minutes), a goal that I failed to meet. However, what I got instead was an intense and unexpected lesson in brotherhood and humility from the hands of a 5' 6" Chinese sophomore named Eric.

Eric lives in Langfang, China and is a student of Peter Lucas-Roberts. This past Fall, Eric decided to take up the challenge of running in the Beijing marathon, a race that I also competed in. We finished with roughly the same time, my race ending only 15 minutes before Eric's. Coming into this race, however, Eric had other ideas.
"My goal is just to beat you!" Eric said vehemently to me in the hotel. Peter, the consummate teacher, took this as a teaching opportunity.
"You're going to push each other, brother. This is your chance to run together and encourage through the race. Whether or not you beat him, this is your chance to be brothers for each other." I personally would have left Eric up to his notions of trying to defeat me in the race, as my competitive juices often take over when I'm trying to push for something in this way ("this way", meaning the competitive). I love competing and found Eric's challenge tasteful, not threatening, but also overlooked that there could be-- and was-- greater purpose to our race together this weekend.

Thanks to Peter's gentle correction, all Eric could say to me in warm-ups was, "My goal is to finish together. We will finish together." From the very start of the race, Eric and I were inseparable. I've never spent much time running with other people, so I found this to be quite difficult in that I didn't know how to maintain proper pacing when accounting for not only myself, but for another person also. here I was running through packs of runners, on the curbs of the road and around trees, trying to find space to pass the slower competitors, all the while turning to see if I'd lost Eric.
"Don't worry about me," he'd say. "I'll keep up with you."
In this manner, I carried our team for the first 40% of the race. Around the first water station, which came at the 3.2 km mark, I began to really feel the weight of my failure to train. 'Was it something I ate...or didn't eat? Did I wear the wrong clothes? Maybe it's a lot hotter than last year...' These thoughts began to plague me as we progressed forward into the middle of the race, a long, wide-open stretch of road that looks out onto the water basin. During this time, runners can see one-two milometers ahead of them, something that the twists and the turns of the rest of the course prevents. It was here that my previous thoughts got the best of me, and I stopped to walk.

I felt like a bit of a failure. I felt threatened in my own ability and wondered if I could regain my stride. After only a few seconds of walking, Eric's voice called out a few steps ahead.
"Come on, brother! We're together!"
"Zou...zou. You go!" I said, not believing that I could continue forward.
"Come on!" he said. I could see he wasn't going to accept my excuses, so we began running again.
"Let's Ask for strength," he said. Of course we should Ask for strength!
"Father, please give us strength to go," I wheezed out between labored breaths. I felt the weight of the race coming down upon me, my own expectations pressing down the most.
"Yes, give Ryan and me the strength to go forward," Eric reiterated as we ran. He ran next to me for the next 5 kilometers as the manifestation of conviction of my expectations in the flesh. I was humbled to feel like he was straining so much to carry me the last several kilometer, constantly pointing back to simply asking for strength. Without Eric running with me, I truly would not have finished the race under one hour, which we completed together at 55 minutes. To his credit, we finished the race hand-in-hand and rejoiced together through the line, a life lesson in perseverance through the flesh, both of personal pride and of physical labor.

Eric (white shirt, left) and Ryan hand-in-hand through the finish of the 2010 Northface 100 10K