Friday, March 5, 2010

Fabricated Birthdays and Princess Apartments

I am officially 30 years old.

I don’t know how it happened, but according to my mother and the State of Washington and America, it’s true. China doesn’t believe it though. China thinks I am 22… and this is why I love China so very much.

Most of you know that my birthday is on Leap Year, so this year I didn’t have an actual day to mourn the loss of my twenties. It’s always a little bit tricky on birthday “off” years to decide when exactly to celebrate. Usually I opt to occupy both the 28th and the 1st with festivities (or maybe the entire week, depending on how deprived I am feeling). I wasn’t sure how all the celebrating would pan out this year since I’m in a foreign country without all my people to gush and compensate for my lack of a day, but it turned out to be quite lovely.

Side Note: Having a Leap Year birthday is actually pretty awesome. People feel really sorry for you and treat you extra special when your “should be” birthday arrives. I probably shouldn’t tell you this. Oh no… Never mind. Please feel free to continue to feel sorry for me.

On Sunday, the 28th (the first day of my sort-of birthday) I decided to be very brave and venture out, unaccompanied, to the International Church. It’s an English service hosted entirely by foreigners, mostly American. It was SO refreshing. I need church, and I need it in English. I’ve attended Chinese services every Sunday since coming to Qingdao, and while they are perfectly lovely, I cannot understand a lick of what is being said (except for the occasional word here and there). I mostly just feel tired and eager for the service to end when I’m there (I’ll still attend the Chinese church’s Friday night youth service though – they have a great English study that meets every week). The International Church service is very similar to what you’d experience in most churches on any given Sunday – music, message, mingling, etc. I had the opportunity to meet some great people, including three (!) families from the Seattle area! One of which was gracious enough to allow me to crash their lunch plans. This particular family has lived in Qingdao for eight years, they have three very blond, very blue-eyed children (who all speak Chinese), and the husband serves as one of three elders in the fellowship. They were so great! They gave me lots of tips for China living and even ended up being a great connection in my apartment hunt (more on this later).
After lunch, I went back to my hotel. I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that a moonpie might be as close as I would be getting to birthday cake this year. And I was okay with that.


But then my friend called and said that he was on his way to see me. When I opened the door he wished me a Happy “Fabricated” Birthday (because they prefer fabricated over “fake” here) and presented me with dinner and birthday cake, complete with birthday crown and candles!!

(Does that look like the face of a 30 year-old? Come on!!)

It was SO nice!! And to top it off, the 28th marked the end of the Spring Festival, so the sky was lit up with fireworks all night long. I choose to believe they were set in celebration of me and this incredible milestone (sort-of) birthday of mine! Either way, it felt pretty special.

Day two of my birthday meant that I was actually 30 (I don’t become a year older until March 1st on off years). I was surprisingly emotional and had several weepy spells that morning. As if turning 30 isn’t potentially traumatizing enough, let’s try and do it in a foreign country without family and friends. It was a little harder than I thought it would be. But I powered through my morning and made it off to work where I could forget my woes in English grammar (never thought I’d say that). Work was a great distraction, as was the post-work trip to Dairy Queen!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yep, that’s right, I said Dairy Queen. Good ole DQ. My co-worker, Kelsey, who is from Michigan, took me there after work to celebrate with Oreo Blizzards. It was awesome. It’s funny how DQ can feel like an old friend when you’re living someplace where familiarity is rare.

Oh, AND the birthday fun will extend even further as I anticipate the arrival of a package from all my favorite people in America. It will be a package bursting with wonderful surprises wrapped in pink polka-dot paper (courtesy of Michelle). I can’t wait!!!

In other news, this week I have been very busy searching for the perfect apartment. I am SO ready to be done living in this hotel. It’s a very nice hotel, but it’s a hotel. It feels transitional. You can’t settle into a hotel… not when you’re anticipating moving any time. I want to feel settled and like I have a place of my own. And, my friends, I think I have found that place!!!

Remember the lovely Seattle family I was telling you about? Well, they connected me with this darling Chinese gal named, Ice (her Chinese name is Bing, which means ice in English), who offered her services in helping me find a suitable apartment. I met with her Wednesday afternoon and we set off together with my friend, Bojun, to see what we could find.

Throughout the course of the afternoon I think we viewed upwards of 15 apartments!!! I tried really hard not to be too picky or to impose my American standard of living on what I saw. Some of the homes were actually very nice, but none of them really stood out as “the one.” A lot of the bathrooms and kitchens seemed dirty and dingy, and some of the homes felt dark or cramped. I obviously don’t need anything huge. I’m going to be living by myself, but I am anticipating a few guests this summer and I’d like to have a nice home to welcome them to. Plus, part of me just wants my home to not feel like China. I hope that’s okay to say. I want my home to be a refuge where I can feel free to be as American as I want. If I can somehow manage that without being pretentious, then that’s what I want.

It wasn’t until we viewed the very last apartment of the day that my hope for this reality came into view. We were all totally wiped out, but decided to look at one last place. It was on the 28th floor of an apartment building located in a courtyard where an outdoor farmer’s market comes and goes everyday. Outwardly the building was very unimpressive, the lobby was dank and dirty, but when we arrived on the 28th floor and the apartment door opened, we were transported to another place - a place where everything was new and shiny and pretty. The apartment was absolutely gorgeous! The whole interior had been completely redone: new floors, fresh paint (green even), new doors, remodeled kitchen, all new furniture and appliances, new tile, new everything! The two bedrooms were bright and spacious (and fully furnished), the kitchen was roomy (by Chinese standards) and the living room area was big enough to have friends over. The wet bathroom provided an actual space to stand while showering and a fancy showerhead that falls directly on you like rain from heaven. Just stunning! Plus, it’s only about a ten-minute walk from my work (all on main roads)! But here’s the real kicker (don’t be jealous)… All of this loveliness could be mine at the (truly) low-low cost of $350 a month!!!


Needless to say, I was ruined for any other apartment. I wanted to take it right then and there, but apparently that isn’t how things roll in China. Ice informed me that it’s standard to wait one or two days before making a decision. So, she arranged for us to view a few more apartments yesterday, which honestly felt rather futile since I had my heart set on the pretty one. But we looked, and I considered a couple of back-ups in case my princess apartment was no longer available.

Home hunting in China is stressful. It overwhelms me. I realized today that I have never had to make this kind of decision on my own. I’ve always lived with other people. It feels like the stakes are increased by ten thousand when I’m making all these kinds of considerations in a foreign country all by myself. I want to live somewhere safe, somewhere convenient and somewhere shiny and pretty. That’s all I ask. And I think that this apartment offers all of these things.

But then enter my friend, Bojun. He is probably the world’s greatest worst-case scenario worrier (that’s why his friends call him Whiskers… anyone?). He likes to use dramatic scare tactics to help me “understand” Chinese culture. When he offers “advice” and things for me to “consider” it usually includes me being crushed in some natural disaster or being robbed or killed or left for dead with no one to help me because I don’t speak Chinese (the latter point being the most frequently emphasized). He will go on and on about these things, but then end the conversation with a supportive, “You have a good brain. You will make a good decision. I only give you things to consider.” Oh gosh, thanks. That’s not stressful at all.

So, here’s how I decided to play this one out. I told the Lord that I really really really really really really wanted the pretty, pretty princess apartment. It just felt like an absolute gift from Him – the kind of place a father prepares for His daughter because He wants the very best for her. It’s like a little Chinese Barbie Dream House, without all the pink and plastic furniture. So I told the Lord that if there was something bad or terrible or unseen about this place, then I needed Him to make it completely unavailable to me. I’m way too sold to be reasonable or rational about it now. So if I shouldn’t move there, then I don’t want it to be an option.

It was an option.

Ice called the agent this morning and we met with her and the landlord, a lovely woman who has a son living in America. The apartment was originally for him and his new wife, but he decided to stay in the U.S. instead of returning to China. She was thrilled at the idea of renting to me because she said it feels like I’ve traded places with her son (basically, she wants to mother me, and I’m totally down with that). So, we met and went over some of the details of the rental agreement. The rent will be paid in three-month increments (which is something I had specifically prayed about since most landlords require an entire year’s rent in advance), and she will pay for my cable and for a thorough deep-cleaning of the apartment before I move in. I’m meeting her at the apartment on Sunday to tell her how I want the furniture arranged (so crazy) and to sign the rental contract.

I’m really excited! This apartment is SO much more than I ever could have imagined finding in China (Jack & Shirl, you will NOT be disappointed). And as far as all of Bojun’s concerns, I honestly don’t believe that the Lord would send me here and then allow me to walk right into danger. I have many lessons to learn in China, but I don’t think that is one of them. And all the terrible things Bojun imagines could happen to me anywhere I live, even at home (minus the not speaking Chinese part). And just in case you need your mind further eased, I did ask my Chinese friend, Deanna, to come along today and her impressions of the neighborhood and the apartment were very good. She did not seemed at all concerned for my safety. Bojun has a history of overreacting to the big decisions I’ve needed to make in China, and after they are made, he usually agrees with me. I’m sure that will be the case with this one too. He’ll learn.

So barring any big huge doors being slammed on the deal, it looks like I’ll be moving in next week!!! Yayayayayay!!!!! I took some pictures, but they really don’t do the apartment justice, at all. As soon as I can, I will shoot a short video tour for everyone to see the beauty. It’s jaw-dropping.

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