Location: Beijing

July 11th dawned with cheers and a large pig pile on the already broken couch to celebrate Grace’s 18th birthday. After going to bed for a couple of hours (who needs sleep when you’re 18, am I right?), we woke up to go to service. I was up again in the rotation for the chef of the day along with Christina, so we got to stay at the apartment, do our laundry, and play on our phones while everyone else split up between the baby home and group home. Inquiries as to what went on at each respective place evoked deep responses such as “we played with babies” and “there were bracelets, coloring, and Uno cards” so I will leave you to use your imagination as to what went on. The consensus of the group was that lunch was one of the best Beijing meals to be consumed; perfectly diced tomatoes, meat cooked to perfection, and artistically ripped lettuce combined to make many excellent tacos. After lunch, we headed back to the calligraphy studio for a tea ceremony lesson. It was very interesting to see the specific actions that must be employed when preparing tea to keep with social etiquette. I ended up drinking a lot of tea but eating an even larger quantity of little cookies served on the side!

Catcalls and compliments were flying in the apartment as we got dressed up to go out for the evening. It was the first time most girls had put on make-up and non-athletic wear since arriving in China, and Oliver and Hadrien looked pretty spiffy in their button down shirts. For dinner, we went to a hot pot restaurant, where each person had a little individual stove on which there was a boiling pot of broth. Various raw meats and vegetables that were rotating around the table could be dropped and boiled in the broth until they were cooked. It was a meal that took some work to prepare but tasted delicious! Thomas’s younger sister Katherine presented Grace with two handmade soaps, which were both not only beautiful but also deliciously scented. We walked from the restaurant to a karaoke place named KTV – to get down and party with the birthday girl. Max joined us and even sang an entire Chinese song dedicated to Grace. Some crowd favorites included Livin’ on a Prayer, Wannabe, Where is the Love?, and Sk8r Boi, but the highlight of the night was Thomas’s chocolate cake. Good tasting chocolate cake seems to be nonexistent in China, so it had become a bit of a joke between all the students whenever we were hungry that all we wanted was some chocolate cake. It topped off a great night of eating, singing, dancing, and celebrating. Happy birthday, Grace, we all love you! (But I love you the most!)