Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Watermelon, Watermelon

For the past month or so the English department has been diligently practicing a new dance routine to "We're All In This Together" from High School Musical. Our school entered us into a citywide competition (we're not sure what this competition is really about) and then informed us that we needed to prepare a dance to be filmed and submitted. Our schedules are already a tad on the overwhelming side right now, so fitting in dance practices was sometimes a challenge. Also, anyone who knows me can just imagine how awkward I look dancing to ANYTHING, let alone High School Musical.

About 2 weeks into rehearsal the school approached our team leader and asked her if we could also be part of the middle/high school performance. They were preparing a song. They practiced 3 1/2 hours every week. Although we usually try to accommodate such requests, we really didn't have 3 1/2 hours to spare so she graciously declined their invitation. They asked again. She declined again. Finally, they said don't worry about coming to practice, just show up to film the performance. They gave us the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne and said to practice on our own. This was the only direction we were given.

Our dance came together at the last minute and we filmed it in 2 takes, then went directly to the song performance. We had not been given any instructions about what to wear for the performance. (Dance costumes were silver sequin pants and angry bird sweatshirts, by the way.) We were also under the impression that we were going to be joining the English department of the middle and high schools, because that's who performed for the elementary department. Then we walked into the room and saw about 30 Chinese teachers dressed in navy suits. Uh oh. Missed that suit memo.

Despite the fact that we weren't properly attired, they put us all on the first row. Gotta showcase those foreigners. We started with a vocal warm up. And that's when we realized we were in way over our heads. The lady leading the "choir" was obviously a professional vocalist. She had a beautiful voice! But she also thought that we were all professional vocalists, and when the ladies start to struggle to hit that high F and G (for those of you that don't know, that's beyond what a normal person can or should sing) her angry side came out. She began to assure is in the most animated language of the violence of her displeasure (Pride and Prejudice reference) towards our singing. Actually, I had no idea what she was saying, but her gestures got really pointy and she had a scary look on her face.

After about 30 minutes of torturous warm up during which I mostly just pretended like I was singing, we finally started to practice the song for the performance. But, oh dear, the first song is in Chinese. We weren't prepared for this. We all looked at each other like, do they know we don't actually speak Chinese? Someone eventually noticed our discomfort and told us to just try our best and move our mouths. Try to pick up on the words, they said. At first I thought, yeah there's no way I'm just going to "pick up" this Chinese song, but then we sang it at least 30 times and I finally started to catch on. Apparently we really weren't capturing the emotion of the epic ending (maybe because it was way out of our range?) so we sang it again and again with that angry face judging our every strained note.

So an hour into our "filming" session we didn't seem to be any closer to actually filming and we hadn't even sung Auld Lang Syne yet. It was probably about 6 pm at this point and I was starting to get hungry and very cranky. Actually the crankiness had started quite some time ago. FINALLY, we either satisfied our maestro, or it's possible she just gave up hope, and we moved onto the English song. Or.... so we thought. Turns out they were also singing Auld Lang Syne in Chinese, but we were going to be the featured soloists for the second verse, in English, which was also in a ridiculously high key. We tried our best but they were less than impressed with our singing abilities and kept asking us to sing louder. No really, this is for the best... you don't want to hear my high F any louder than this. It's not a pretty squeak.

I realize this story is getting long so I'll try to tie it up quickly... after another 30 minutes or so of rehearsal of Auld Lang Syne, we finally started filming and after a few takes we were finally done. The whole process had been over 2 hours. I left feeling less than pleased how our night had turned out. The whole thing just seemed so ridiculous and pointless. Why did we really need to be there? We certainly didn't add anything pleasant to their sound. We didn't even look good. It had been a long day and a long week. Why, why, why??

Rule NUMBER 1 about living in China: don't ask why. You will never find an answer and you will become even more frustrated trying to find one. Apparently I'm a slow learner, because it's year 2 and I'm still asking the question.

I got home that night and was piddling around my apartment not doing much of anything and suddenly I realized I had been absent mindedly singing something, a hymn. I grew up in a Church that sang the good ol' hymns, for which I am grateful, because they have awesome, deep lyrics that are now engrained in my mind. I stopped to think about what I was singing and this is what my heart heard:
  1. "Day by day, and with each passing moment,
    Strength I find, to meet my trials here;
    Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
    I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
    He Whose heart is kind beyond all measure
    Gives unto each day what He deems best

    Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
    Mingling toil with peace and rest."

Talk about putting me in my place! You think the Father doesn't hear every thought you think? He certainly heard all the ugly ones I had been thinking that day and He had something to say about it.
I took a minute to think about the lyrics and got really hung up on that little part about giving unto each day what He deems best. Was that ridiculously long and frustrating singing session really what He deemed best for me that very day? You bet! And I'm pretty sure it had something to do with learning how to be patient when I'm put in difficult cultural situations such as these. I've already had several of these lessons in patience and I really thought I had learned something, but apparently I hadn't learned enough and this was the Father's gracious way of reminding me that EVERYTHING I do is for His glory, not my comfort. I'm sorry to say I really failed that night. *Hopefully* most of the Chinese people there couldn't understand my sweet little comments muttered under my breath throughout the rehearsal, but I'm sure they could tell by my demeanor that I was less than pleased to be there. I had an opportunity to be the picture of grace and service to our school and I failed. I really failed bad.

Little things have happened since that night that have triggered that tempting "WHY?" and I have been reminded again of the lyrics of this beautiful hymn. I believe those words with all my heart, I just have to constantly remind myself that I believe them. Hopefully the next time I'm put in one of these lovely situations those words will be the first thing in my mind and I'll handle myself with a little more grace.

This is my anthem
My life for Your fame
My every move bring
Glory to Your Name
 -Chris Tomlin

And here is a random picture of my team on Christmas Day!

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