Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Christmas is less than two weeks away! But it doesn't really feel like the Christmas season here - though it's not too infrequent that we spot poster cut-outs of Santa Clause displayed in the windows of businesses. However, since these decorations stay up year round, it hardly brings us into the Christmas spirit when we see them now. I went shopping in the Korean market last week, and there were a few shops which had brought in some Christmas trees and decorations. Most of it's pretty tacky, but it's nice to see Santa faces and green and red colors splashed across everything. I got to thinking that what we needed was something to put us in the Christmas mood. We needed the atmosphere of Christmas. At home you can't get away from everything Christmas (i.e., holiday music on the radio or coming from stores, houses lit up with lights, people gearing up for parties, crowds at the malls, people making traveling plans and talking about how they will spend the holidays). So we decided to have a "get in the spirit of Christmas" party Saturday night at my place. Brian had inherited a lot of things from the previous teachers here including some holiday decorations. I spent Saturday afternoon attempting to decorate my house with leftover Christmas decorations, and we found strings of lights in the Korean market that I strung up in my living room. Darla, Rena and Jaime made all kinds of Christmas desserts, and we filled my apartment with the foreigners and some of our Chinese friends. It was really cozy, actually. The only thing we were missing was a fireplace! We listened to Christmas music while we chatted and snacked on the huge assortment of dessert items. Then we watched White Christmas. It's surprising to me how few of us had actually seen this classic Christmas movie before, though I'm not sure it was very much of a crowd pleaser in the end. At any rate, the night provided a temporary Christmas environment which was really welcomed and very well received.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Okay, so I have been pretty negligent in posting on my blog lately, but life has been hectic. So I'll start with the most important activity in the past two weeks: THANKSGIVING.
On the Thursday morning of Thanksgiving, us foreigners and some of our students gathered together at our football field to play (or learn, really) tag football. We had like 26 players and only a small portion of the field. We were only able to play for thirty minutes or so before we got kicked off the field by a P.E. class, but it was a lot of fun. No one scored, but I think it is safe to say that Derek, Brian and my team would have stomped Andrew, Jeremy, and Darla's team had we been given the opportunity to play longer.
After lunch the Lewis girls came over to my apartment so we could all cook and talk together. Actually, Rena cooked, the girls entertained themselves, and I talked. Then the boys joined us, and we filled my room with family - just like a typical Thanksgiving back home with a lot of socializing and cooking.
We decided to hold our Thanksgiving celebration at a hotel. We invited the entire Family so we probably had around forty or so people attend. We were able to find a couple turkeys which were shipped from Shanghai, I think, and then the local pizza place cooked them for us since they're the only place with an oven large enough to cook a turkey. We also had mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, rolls, pies, and other favorites. We spent the entire evening eating, playing games and talking. The celebration lasted over three hours, but it was one of my favorite Thanksgivings yet - just because the Family here is so amazing. Many of the people who came I don't see very often because they go to a different school so it was awesome spending such a relaxing night together.
After nine everyone started leaving. We threw together an impromptu sleepover at my house, and watched movies late into the morning.
THE MONTH OF SLEEPOVERS
I think I have had or been to more sleepovers in the last month than I've ever been to before in my whole life! On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my good friend Wind spent the night. Her sister teaches at my school, but Wind actually goes to the medical school. This is her last year so she doesn't have as many classes as some of the other students. So lately she's been staying over maybe once a week. I love it though!
Friday night after Thanksgiving Rena had invited three of her students to spend the night with them and asked if I wanted to come too. We made pizza which was so good. I love pizza! The three girls were really friendly. I think they were surprised by how crazy American girls are when they're having a sleepover - lots of dancing, singing, laughing, and telling funny stories. But they enjoyed themselves.
Saturday morning after the three Chinese girls had left, the rest of us were just hanging out and resting when Derek called me. Two students from the medical college needed to USE his bathtub!! We were ecstatic. We left the Lewis's house and headed towards my school. As we were waiting for the bus, I was thinking to myself how cool it would be if we happened to catch the same bus that those from the medical school were on as they were heading to our campus. As the first K-5 bus pulled up, I looked on and saw Darla's shining face! They were all there!! So we road to my campus together.
At my school, we only get hot water twice a day: once at night from 7 ish to 10 ish (it changes every day) and maybe in the morning around 6:30 (though we can never catch it in the morning). So Derek had been heating up water on the stove by the wok full to fill up the tub. He was able to get it lukewarm, but it was still a little chilly, and the apartment was kind of cold too. But no one cared!
The apartment quickly filled with Family. We talked and sang for awhile as we waited for everyone to arrive. Finally, we crowded outside the bathroom door. In a short while, we had a new brother and sister. It was such a fantastic day!
Sunday night Wind stayed with me again. We always have such good discussions when she's here. She's a very deep, kind person. I am learning so much from her. Anyway, I had class Monday morning, and after class (and lunch), the boys, Yvonne, Wind and I went shopping at the Korean Market - a really cool outdoor market nearer to the medical school. They sell EVERYTHING for really cheap, though they always up the prices of things when we come by. Usually, if we like something, we'll leave the store, tell our Chinese friends what we like, and they go back to the store and get the true price before we show our faces to pay for the item. So Wind was helping us shop for different things. I really wanted to buy a blanket/comforter type thing so that when it's cold in my apartment and I have friends over, we can all get cozy under a large blanket. While we were perusing, Alice (who had been in Wuhan since the previous Thursday to take an English test) called. She had just gotten back from Wuhan so we told her to meet up with us. We are with Alice so much throughout the week that it felt really weird not having her around for a few days. So she met up with us just as Wind was leaving, and she helped me by my awesomely HUGE comforter which is like a whole 'nother bed in and of itself!
After classes that night (and our weekly study), several of us gathered in my apartment to watch ER. (Alice, who is a medical student just bought the third season of ER so she just leaves it at my house and comes over to watch it periodically). . Afterwards, it was kind of late. Alice lives at the end of a long, dark, scary road that she has to walk because the buses don't run up towards her dormitory. So Brian and I decided to take her home. It was the first night in long time that it wasn't terribly cold so after we dropped Alice off, we decided to walk back instead of catching a bus. It took us over an hour to get back to our campus, but it was such a beautiful night for walking!
Tuesday I went to the Lewis's house to take a hot shower. I kept missing the time when I had hot water, and I couldn't muster the nerve to take a cold one so I just went over to the Lewis's to take advantage of their hot water heater. While I was there, Jaime texted us to tell us that it was Brad's birthday and that we could meet at a hotel to eat with him. It was just the foreigners that were invited, but several were unable to make it because they had class. It ended up being the Lewises, Hills, Derek, Brad, his friend, and me. It was nice because we seldom see Brad; he's so busy. We had a nice dinner, and then Derek and I headed home. We had invited Alice, Kevin, Janice, and some others over to have yet another ER watch party.
I've already mentioned that I don't see some of the Family very often because they go to a different school and meet on a different campus. I miss them so much so I've decided to start attending a Wednesday evening meeting at Andrew and Jaime's. Last week was my first time to go, but it was so good. The discussion was good, the company was good, and afterwards, I spent the night with Darla, which was really good because I don't see her as often as I would like to. Zoe went also and spent the night too. Zoe probably spends the most time with the boys and me of anyone. She's a sophomore at my school. Her English is good, and she's always asking questions which just means she's going to get better. When we first met her, she was pretty quiet, but now she's getting kind of mouthy, especially with Derek. It's really funny when a Chinese person talks trash.
For the past couple of weeks, the different departments at our school have been having English speech contests. The winners of those small competitions went on the the final contest which was held Friday night. I think it was Wednesday or Thursday that Eric, the guy who handles the English Department stuff, asked us if we would judge the contest. The school really hasn't asked us to do too much so we decided we would comply with their request. Brian left for Ningbo Wednesday (and won't return till today) so only Cindy, Derek and I went. Before the contest began, many students from the English Department (many of them OUR students) put on a show. There was dancing, singing, poetry, and the most hilarious little skit I have ever seen. We were hysterical. After the show, the contest began. There were nine contestants, and the three of us would have to ask a question, in turn, to the speakers after they gave their speeches. We weren't the only judges. There were probably ten of us in all, but the three of us were the only ones who asked questions. The speakers were really good. Two of Derek's crazy girls gave speeches. They did so well. The whole night lasted about three hours, but I had a surprisingly good time. Derek was asked to give an impromptu speech. He did well - much better than I would have done. That's the worse thing about going to any kind of function here; you are always asked to do something - either sing or give a speech or a toast or something else. I think I need to write a few speeches for different occasions and have a list of my top five favorite songs to sing so I'll be ready next time someone asks me to perform!
After the contest, we all came back to my apartment to watch, again, ER. Alice, Wind, Zoe, Antasia and Courtny spent the night. Early Saturday morning, Alice left to go to class. I can't imagine having classes on Saturday or Sunday, but these students have them on both days! I went to tutor after Alice left. Joyce, the woman whose daughter and daughter's friends I tutor, invited me into her apartment after we were finished with the English session (which is held in a different woman's apartment) and offered me dumplings and donkey meat for breakfast. I accepted both! The donkey meat wasn't bad at all. She then gave me a package of processed dog meat because she knew I wanted to try dog sometime. On the package is a picture of the cute little dog they killed so that I might eat it. It was weird. When I got home, I heated up the meat. It tasted similar to SPAM, only better. I think fresh dog meat would taste different. Wind tried to stop me from eating it. She thinks it's horrible to eat dog, but Zoe, who is terribly afraid of dogs and, really, all animals gladly tried it!
COPS AND ROBBERS
So last week when I was talking with Darla about how we need to do more things together, it struck me that we should play this game called Cops and Robbers. Basically, it's like this: there are two teams - one made up of robbers and one made up of cops. You choose one spot in the city to begin the game and one spot to end it. The robbers take off running (because they can only run or walk) from the beginning spot and try to reach the end spot before the cops (who leave 10 minutes after the robbers leave) can catch them. The cops can use public transportation or anything that will help them move more quickly than the robbers (in the States the cops can use their own cars, but we don't have that luxury here). If a cop touches a robber, the robber becomes a cop and begins looking for the other robbers.
We had 26 people playing. We began at the medical school (at the Hill's apartment) and ended at McDonalds which was about two miles away. The robbers had to stay along this little waterway that we have in town. I was a cop so after we waited our ten minutes to give the robbers a head start, the thirteen of us cops set off. We strategized a bit during those ten minutes so each of knew where we should go. The idea was to take the bus ahead of where the robbers could be and then cut back trying to catch them before they reached McDonalds. Jeremy, Andrew and I were going to go all the way to McDonalds and cut back from there. As we were on the bus, though, Jeremy spotted Jaime, Christence, and a Chinese girl whose name I don't know running along the water way. So when the bus stopped, I jumped off it and took off running towards them. I was coming in close when Jaime saw me and yelled, "RUN!" The three took off running. I got Christence and then followed Jamie and the other girl into this tented area. Jaime tried sneaking into a tent, but I saw her before she disappeared and went tumbling into the tent with her. I think we really surprised the people on the inside of the tent!
After I got all three of these ladies, I jumped back on the bus and went to McDonalds. The game lasted about an hour and a half. The cops caught all the robbers but one - David - who runs as fast as lightning. It was so much fun. Darla summed it up: It was nice that for once people actually had a good reason to stare at us. I think we concerned some people because we were running through the city and looking madly around us for any sight of the others. Next time we play we will use less cops and make the destination more open. It really was too difficult for the robbers to get past the cops.
SETTLERS OF CATAN AND GIRLS SLEEPOVER
That night (Saturday) Derek, Yvonne, Alice and I went over to Andrew and Jaime's to eat pizza and play this cool game called Settlers of Catan. I was really tired so I didn't play, but I did watch. The game lasted until really late. Afterwards, the girls all went upstairs to spend the night at Darla's. We watched a chick flick, then sang some GOOD songs, and went to bed. The sleeping arrangements were all worked out fine, but somehow in my bed we ended up with four people - there were only supposed to be two. In fact, the bed probably isn't much bigger, if at all, than a single bed. Before long Mollie left the bed because it was too crowded, and it ended up just being Janice, Courtny and me. It was still a tight squeeze, but I stayed plenty warm!
In the morning, several of us girls headed back to my apartment for meeting. We had a nice gathering, and a large group for lunch. Derek was seriously outnumbered. For lunch, he was the only guy, and there were, like, 15 girls. Although, I'm sure he didn't mind!
After lunch Alice, Derek and I just hung out in my apartment. All afternoon Alice and I watched ER episodes and just rested. In the evening, Alice had class, and Derek and I felt like sluggish losers since we hadn't done anything all day so we decided to go to Andrew and Jaime's to play Settlers of Catan again. Cristence, who is a foreign teacher in Wuhan, has spent the entire weekend with them, and she's leaving today. So it was fun last night to spend some more time with her and hear how things are going in Wuhan.
So I really wanted/needed a shower, but when we got home last night, I already missed it! Arrggg... I just went to bed. This morning I got up a little early, and as I was washing my face, I realized the hot water was on!! Oh, happy day! So I took a steaming hot shower this morning which is maybe only the second time since I've been here that I've caught the hot water in the morning.
In class today (actually in my apartment) we watched The Princess Bride, one of my all time favorite movies. Now Derek is showing it to his class. It is a classic, afterall...
Hmm... I'm sure there are a billion things I've forgotten to write about, but maybe I'll think of them later...
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
It was my turn last Friday to give the English Corner lecture. At the beginning of the semester, the four of us sat down and decided what topics we would speak about for our lectures. We also decided in which order we would give our lectures. The order of our lectures just so worked out that I would be giving the lecture the week before both Thanksgiving and Christmas so it followed that I should lecture on both of these topics. At the time I thought it would be cool because both topics would be easy to talk about, and there's plenty of info on the web to aid me in my research. But I have since realized, after having given the lecture on Thanksgiving, that it is not fun researching and reminiscing about a holiday I will not be celebrating with my family back home this year.
HANG OUT DAY
Sundays have turned into a hang out day. It's the only day that most of us have off at the same time so often Wind, Alice, Zoe or whoever else is free spend the day at our school. We never do much, but it's fun to hang out. More recently the Lewises or the Hills come over to watch the newest seasons of LOST. Each week Derek downloads the newest seasons of LOST off the Internet so everyone comes over here to watch them. Last Sunday Chinese Andrew hung out with us all day. "Chandrew" is a doctor who recently graduated from the medical college. He's so busy, he can seldom hang out with us. In fact, this was only the second time I've seen him, but he's really nice and pretty funny.
Monday night Brian and I started a new class. It's weird beginning a new class in the middle of the semester, but the class went really well. Brian and I had just finished our taiji lesson shortly before our class started so I was extra energized for the class. It was fun, and my students seem pretty interested. I have like 30 some guys and only 5 girls. I like girls better - they're better students and better English speakers usually - but these guys seem to be pretty attentive. I didn't have many funny names (mostly because I had to name the vast majority of my class), but I do have a "Polar Bear. Polar for short." Since they're not English majors and since I didn't feel like fighting with the students, I allowed him to keep the name. And Grossler will remain Grossler as well!
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Saturday morning I met Joyce and her friend outside their apartment building. Usually, I tutor their children on Saturday mornings, but Joyce had been asking me for weeks to join them and their friends for a day of Mah Jong playing so I complied even though I didn't relish giving up most of my Saturday to hang out with people who can't speak English (besides Joyce, none of her friends can speak any English besides the occassional words they throw out here and there before bursting into laughter). Joyce has a car and driver which took the three of us to her friends house - a divorced accountant whose daughter I also tutor. This lady apparently makes quite a bit of money and lives in a REALLY nice part of town. Her "flat" is extremely nice and after being given the tour, we sat down for some sesame porridge. After we finished eating breakfast, the Mah Jong table was set up, and the four of us began to play. I quickly realized that I was WAY out of my league as these ladies played much faster than I could even think. Before I could even arrange my pieces, it was my turn to put something down. I lost pretty soundly for awhile. When a couple other lady friends arrived, I took the opportunity to remove myself from the players circle and become merely an interested observer. It was good timing too because they pulled out their money at this point and began playing for real (i.e., for money). I spent the rest of the morning watching them play and listening to Chinese jabber, but the ladies were all really friendly and I actually had a great time.
We went to lunch at a nearby restaurant. Since I was the guest, I got all the "choice" pieces of food - like the foot of the purple chicken and pigs' feet as well. Joyce kept shoveling food into my bowl. I felt like I was going to pop after we ate.
We then returned to Joyce's friend's house (I didn't get any of their names) and continued playing Mah Jong for awhile. Even though I couldn't understand anything and felt mentally exhausted afterwards from trying to learn the tricks to playing the game and trying to understand some of the Chinese words spoken, I had a really good time.
SATURDAY LANGUAGE LESSON AND DINNER
Last Saturday was the first of many (hopefully) language lessons given by Alice at the Lewis's house. I was too tired after returning from my Mah Jong marathon to join in the lesson, but I did go over to the Lewis's house for the dinner that Alice and her roomie, Susy, cooked after the lesson. It was really good, but I find that I'm seldom disappointed when our Chinese friends cook for us.
While I was at the Lewis's Saturday night, Wind texted me to see if she could spend the night with me. Wind is a senior at the medical college, and she's busy quite often so I don't get to spend as much time with her as I would like. Given this opportunity then to hang out, I left the Lewis's and headed home. Wind's sister is a teacher at my school so Wind was already on campus when I arrived. After dropping off Courtny at Zoe's (C was spending the night with Z), I texted Wind to come on over. It was pretty late when she arrived, but we stayed up so much later talking. She is such a strong person and very kind-hearted. I wish everyone could know her!
Sunday morning Wind and I made unleavened bread and then banana bread as well. Zoe and Courtny came over early, and the boys and Cindy joined us for a breakfast of banana bread and coffee. It was a great way to begin the morning!
In the afternoon, the Lewises came over to watch the three episodes of LOST that they hadn't seen yet. Since I'd seen them, I stayed upstairs in my apartment to use the rest of the unleavened bread dough I had made earlier. Yvonne stayed upstairs with me, and we had a really great opportunity to talk for a couple hours. Yvonne has had an interesting life growing up in East Germany so we talked a lot about the recent history of Germany as a whole and her experience growing up in a divided country. We also made some fun pastries - like chocolate or jelly filled puff balls. It was a lot of fun.
After everyone left, Brian, Yvonne and I decided to hit up some DVD stores. Yvonne hadn't been to any yet so we wanted to check them out. We've amassed quite a collection of DVDs, be we honestly seldom watch movies. While we were out, we ate at KFC for the first time. It's not really the same as the KFC back home, but salty French fries are almost always a welcome hiatus from Chinese food.
Monday night I gave the final exam to one of my classes. It was an oral exam worth 70 percent of their final grade (which is really ridiculous, actually). Each student had to prepare a two minute speech about anything of their choosing. The only stipulation was that they were not allowed to speak about "how poor my English is". The students signed up for a time to come to my apartment and speak one-on-one with me. I think it's actually a pretty difficult way to give a final exam, but there weren't many other options. I never realized how hard it is to grade something like "oral English" when every student is on a different level.
I am a little sad that class is over actually because it's a really good class, and the students are fantastic. I begin a new class next week in place of this one. It will be fun to start over again, though. I hope the next class goes as well as this one did.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
I had my first Taiji lesson tonight. Awhile back I mentioned to our waiban, Helen, that I wanted to learn Taiji (a Chinese martial art) so she said she would talk to the school. A few weeks ago Angel told us that they would begin Taiji lessons in October, and we could participate for 100 kuai. Today Angel called me and said the first lesson would begin tonight at 5:00. I was expecting a little time to prepare myself, but I'm starting to get used to being told last minute about things. Anyway, Brian and Cindy were supposed to join me, but Brian decided not to and Cindy came late. The instructor is a very young lady and her students, besides me, were all Chinese teachers from my school. We met at the playground (which is the word our students use for every sporting location [i.e., football field, basketball courts, tennis courts, etc.]). Of course, I didn't understand any of the verbal instruction so I just followed the movements of the instructor. At the end of the lesson, the teacher performed her own Taiji routine. This probably sounds really corny, but her performance was so beautiful, it made me somewhat emotional! Anyway, we're supposed to meet twice a week. It's going to be a lot of work, but I'm looking forward to it.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
For my birthday, Alice bought me a pair of matching jammies. Since the sleepover we had a week and a half ago where several Chinese and American girls spent the night, I decided I needed a pair of matching jammies. All of the American girls wore pajama pants and a t-shirt, and all the Chinese girls wore really cute matching pajamas. I mentioned how I was going to have to buy some Chinese jammies before I came back to the States so Alice beat me to the punch. I think I still prefer my raggedy, ghetto yellow striped pants and my holey tie-dye shirt to the adorably matching Chinese version of jammies, but at least now when we have another sleepover, I can fit in with the Chinese girls!
Today I went over to the Lewis's because one of Rena's students was having an intramural basketball game at 4:10. Since I don't do much on Tuesdays, I decided to go watch. The girls play rough. They're not very good, and there's no organization at all. There's one ref who doesn't call anything but "out of bounds" so it pretty much looks like anything goes. There was so much fouling happening that it looked like a street fight. But it was funny to watch. I was asked to participate, but I declined. I think it would be fun to play, but I'm not sure how I'd handle all the fouling.
After the game, I just hung out at the Lewis's until after dinner. Rena asked me how I was handling homesickness, but I don't think I've really had any major bouts of it. Having them around helps, I think, since they are my family here.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Every Friday night one of us foreign teachers has to give a two hour lecture to a hundred or so students on any topic of our choosing. Last Friday I gave my first lecture on "Roadtripping and Route 66". I spent all day Friday putting together a PowerPoint presentation. I love doing PowerPoints, but they're so time consuming. I only lectured for about an hour and a half and then opened it up for questions. It seemed to go pretty well, and it certainly made me nostalgic for American traveling. I guess my yearly roadtrips will be by train and bus now that I'm in China...
Saturday I didn't have to tutor in the morning, and I didn't have anyone spend the night with me Friday night so I actually got to sleep in for the first Saturday since I've been here. I really didn't do much at all Saturday. I didn't feel well so I slept quite a bit. In the afternoon, the boys, Yvonne (the new German teacher whose been hanging out with us a lot), and I went outside just to be outside (it was really sunny and warm). Brian brought out all his sports stuff - baseball gloves, bat, ball; frisbee; football; badminton stuff - to make available many different sporting options, but we only threw the baseball or football around just outside our apartment building. Derek had bought a couple cap guns that shoot fire when they pop and two other guns that literally shoot firecrackers from them. The latter two guns are really unpredictable. The first night he had one of the firework guns, we were on my balcony shooting it. The first several shots just went straight down and made small explosions. But then he shot one that blasted hard out of the barrel and hit the window of one of the apartments in the building next to us. Brian, Derek and I all hit the floor of my balcony to avoid being seen, but it didn't do any damage. Since then Derek frequently goes to the Korean market (where he found the guns) to buy more. So Saturday while the rest of us were throwing around the football or frisbee or whatever, Derek was shooting off his firework gun. He thought it would be a good idea for him to shoot the gun and for Brian to try to hit the fireworks that come out of the gun with the baseball bat. Brian was like, "No way!" but Derek wouldn't let it go. So, finally, I told Derek to let Brian shoot the gun and he could try his turn at bat. He agreed and thereby confirmed that boys are stupid! Anyway, Brian had a few practice pitches (shots), and then Derek stepped up to the plate. He struck out several times, Brian balked several times (the gun doesn't always shoot when the trigger pulls), and once Brian almost beaned Derek (in other words, the firework was heading straight for Derek's head so he had to hit the ground hard!). It was crazy.
I'm pretty sure Derek won't rest until someone has lost an eye or a hand with these guns. A couple nights ago we were on the balcony again shooting the guns. Derek and Brian were trying to shoot Yvonne as she left for class. Anyway, Derek's gun kept backfiring. Usually, the backfire wasn't bad, but on this particular shot, the gun exploded. Bits of fire were coming off the gun as he threw it from his hand. The fire ball of a gun grazed past me (the direction in which he threw it!) and landed on the balcony floor. It didn't burn long, but it melted the gun so badly that it wouldn't fit back together correctly. Derek kept trying to cram it together, but it was too melted. Finally, he forced it together and, despite my strong urgings not to try to use it again, he fired another shot which again exploded at which point he dropped the gun off the balcony into a fenced in area at the bottom of our building. It's like I'm reliving my childhood with insane brothers!
Sunday morning early I played basketball with Eileen - a friend of Brad's that goes to my school. We have met a couple times before, but we've never really hung out. She struggles with her English, but she's really sweet. She brought a couple guy friends so we played two on two for awhile. It was fun...just really early for a Sunday morning!
We had a big group for lunch later that day. We all ate at Happy Guy's, of course, and had to have two rooms. After lunch a few of us came back to sing, and Yvonne joined us. We then decided to play badminton for awhile. I pretty well stunk it up, but it was still fun.
Teacher Li, an older woman, wanted to cook dinner for us Sunday night so she and Dacy came over to my apartment around 6-ish to begin. Alice skipped her Sunday night class to hang out with us. We taught her the word "Senioritis" so she would know the word for the problem she has (she keeps skipping classes!). Teacher Li's husband came too. Neither of them speak English, but Dacy and Alice translated for us. The food was so good. It's amazing what they can do with vegetables.
After supper the boys and Dacy saw Teacher Li home (apparently she lives in a bad neighborhood) while I watched little Jessie, Dacy's roommate's puppy. Even though the puppy belongs to Dacy's roommate, Dacy is the one who really takes care of it. The dogs here in China are really ugly. They look like ugly Ewoks. Their mouths are so big they could eat their own tiny little bodies, but Jessie is cute right now. I'm sure he'll grow up to be as ugly as the rest of them.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Tuesday was my birthday. I have no classes on Tuesdays so it worked out nicely. I stayed up till 2 AM talking to my brother Olan so I had planned to sleep in late Tuesday morning. But the text messages wishing me a happy birthday began pouring in about 7:40 so I just got up then.
We have a new neighbor. I heard a lot of racket late Monday night and found out Tuesday that a German girl moved into one of the fifth floor apartments directly over my head. She's only here for 3 months to teach German. Her English is really good so we've hung out a little since she's been here. After teaching here for her three months, she will begin her travels around the world - at least for as long as her money holds out. Until then it will be nice to have another girl around here!
Anyway, Tuesday morning I decided to make some banana bread muffins to welcome the new neighbor which took up my morning. For lunch I met Jaime near the medical school. She and I haven't spent much time together so it was really cool getting to know her better. She has a really gentle spirit.
After lunch I planned to return home to nap (since I stayed up so late and got up so early), but it didn't work out. A Chinese guy, Michael Li, called and said he needed to talk to me, and the Lewis girls wanted to come over to retrieve something they had left at my house. The girls arrived first, and we were all hanging out in my room when Michael Li arrived. He came in and was acting kind of awkward and uncomfortable. We chit-chatted for a little bit, and then he got to the point of his visit. He told me he had been attempting to study but was seriously distracted, and then I popped in his mind. He asked me if I've ever seen Forest Gump, and told me that I reminded him of Jenny. I think the conversation just got weird after that. We talked for a little while longer, and he finally left.
Around 5 Derek and I went to Darla's apartment. Several Chinese friends were preparing dinner. We spent the rest of the evening eating, celebrating my birthday, and then watching Monster House in Andrew and Jaime's apartment to celebrate Halloween. It was a good way to celebrate my birthday, and my friends were very kind and generous to me. I got three birthday cards from some new friends whose English is just kind of so so. The cards are written in Chinese so it might be awhile before I actually know what they say. (:
MEXICALI SOUP NIGHT
Last night we all went over to the Lewis's. Rena made some amazing Mexicali soup, complete with tortilla chips and salsa on the side. As much as I love Chinese food, the Mexican flavor was a nice break from the typical meals we have. The Lewis girls prepared PowerPoint presentations for our viewing pleasure with pictures of the different things we have done here and of the people who have become such a big part of our lives since we've arrived. It was really touching.
Today Angel wouldn't stop calling Brian or me until we went down to the Post Office to pick up our packages. I got two packages from my mom and one from my best friend, and they were filled with candy and food and all kinds of other goodies. It's always so exciting to get packages. It makes my entire week pretty awesome!
Monday, October 30, 2006
We hosted a haunted house in our apartments Friday AND Saturday night, and sticking true to form, we waited until Thursday to begin preparing for it. Actually, all we did Thursday was go to the Korean market with Alice and Zoe to buy a few necessary items for our room. Brian, Derek and I were in charge of the "mad scientist" room. It was simple enough; we had a white sheet draped between two coat racks. Behind the sheet was a couch and a lamp with red plastic over the light to create an eerie glow. We also had creeping music playing in the background. Then when our visitors would come to our room, the doctor who was behind the curtain would perform surgery on the patient and pull out his/her intestines, put them in a bowl and hand the bowl to the host who would pass the bowl around to the visitors to feel the intestines. Then the doctor would do the same thing with eyes and tongues. Since the light was behind the doctor and patient and the rest of the room was dark, you could see the shadow of everything the doctor was doing to the patient. It was pretty cool. Our Chinese friends ran that part of the show (Dacy was the host, Zoe the doctor, and Alice the patient). Brian dressed up like Frankenstein's monster, and when Dacy gave the cue (after everyone had felt all the disgusting body parts), he came from my front balcony into my living room to scare the visitors. The first couple times Brian came into the room, he had his arms stretched forward as he walked towards the people, but I guess they thought he was wanting a hug instead of their brains (which was what he was supposed to be going after), and all these boys in the room kept giving him hugs. It was pretty funny, but Brian changed his approach and raised his arms a little over his head so it didn't look so much like he was searching for love! Antasia had fixed my face to look pretty disgusting (like a zombie), and after Brian started scaring people towards the door, I would step out of the closet that's by the door to scare them from behind.
Andrew, Jaime and Darla created a maze of sorts in Brian's room using furniture stacked up on top of each other and strategically placed things like brooms or balls hanging from the ceiling throughout the maze to touch the people as they went through. Then Andrew shaved his head and haunted the people as they tried to make it through the tiniest maze ever created!
On the second floor in Derek's apartment, Antasia, Courtny and Breanna created a fortune telling room. I never saw what they did exactly, but I think they gave people bad fortunes and screamed a lot.
We made a couple dummies too: one which was hanging by a noose outside our building by the entrance to our apartments and one which was just sitting in the stairwell. Derek also dressed up like a dummy and sat between the third and fourth floors. He looked just like the other dummies so people weren't expecting him to jump out at them. I think he caused a lot of traffic jams because once people knew he was alive, they didn't want to walk by him.
Jeremy dressed up like the Grim Reaper. He had a special costume made which looked awesome, and he was in charge of crowd control. He was pretty scary looking, and he carried a toy gun around with him that shoots caps/fireworks of some sort. So if the crowd got a little rowdy, he would shoot the gun off in the air, and it would light up the sky when the bullets exploded.
Cindy had a snack/relax room on the third floor. I don't really know what went on in there because I never got to go, but many of the students who went through the rest of our scary rooms were too scared to even go into Cindy's room. There were several children who kept coming through the haunted house, and they took practically all of Cindy's candy. Cindy only did the snack room Friday night and bowed out of participating Saturday so we just had candy in each of our rooms Saturday which we handed out as everyone left.
Friday night we invited the students at our school, the automotive school, to come through. I don't think we ever counted how many students came through, but there were a lot. We began at seven and went until nine, and there was a crowd near the entrance of our building the entire time. Darla would let small groups go through one at a time since our building is too small to allow big crowds through. The unfortunate thing about Friday night is that our students could recognize us, and they would say things like, "Miss Sides, Miss Sides" while waving their hands in my face. But Saturday night students from the medical and technical colleges came through, and they didn't know Brian or me so we were terrifying to them. We had girls crying and falling on the floor, guys jumping and screaming, and with big groups, a mosh pit erupted as the students would slam into each other, into the wall, into our set just to get away from either Brian or me. We also had more help on Saturday night. Dacy's guy friend, Chery, wanted to help as did our friend Grease. Grease was awesome. At one point, Brian, who was about to die of heatstroke from his costume, allowed Grease to play Frankenstein. He did such a fantastic job! While Grease was playing Frankenstein, Brian hid behind the sheet that was blocking off my kitchen and grabbed people's feet.
Anyway, it was good fun, but I'm glad it's over. It was a lot of work!
Friday night Antasia and Zoe spent the night with me. I planned to go to bed semi-early since Saturday was going to be a long and busy day, but I didn't make to bed until two. I spent Saturday morning tutoring some kids and then cleaning my apartment which was disgusting after the previous night's festivities (people would drop the eyeballs [grapes] or the tongues [dyed mushrooms] on the floor, and then they would get squished. My floor was one giant, sticky mess.
In the afternoon, Alice and the Lewis girls came over. We played badminton, and then Courtny and I went on a wild goose chase for butter. I wanted to make banana bread because after the party Saturday night, we were going to have a girls' sleepover and I needed something to feed them for breakfast. So my afternoon was shot by shopping and baking, and then we had to prepare for Saturday night. After a late dinner at Happy Guy's that night, we returned to my apartment, cleaned up and settled in. Darla, Alice, Zoe, Dacy, Emily (aka, the Chinese girl formerly known as Orange), and the Lewis girls all spent the night. I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Sleepovers are great ways to get to know people better!
Sunday morning we had a full house and after lunch together, many of us came back to Derek's apartment to learn songs that the Chinese don't know very well. We sang for quite awhile - until several people had to leave, and then some of us watched a movie while others of us opted for much needed naps.
Sunday evening Derek and I went over to the Lewis's for dinner. Rena makes amazing home-cooked meals! We later went to Andrew and Jaime's to meet with those who weren't able to meet with us in the morning. Jakie and Frank weren't able to spend any time with us this weekend because they had a big test on Sunday morning, but we did see them last night looking pretty relieved but avoiding the topic of how well they did on their test! There are several family members I don't get to visit with very often from the other side of town so I was grateful for last night to be able to see them.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Last Thursday was Breanna's 13th birthday so we celebrated it with her on Friday evening. Rena is like supermom and decked out their apartment in Sponge Bob stuff (Breanna's favorite show). It was awesome. The place was decorated like Bikini Bottom, and Rena made a special dinner with menu items like "Crabby Patties" (small hamburgers), "Sandy's nuts" (peanuts), pizza and jello jigglers (I can't remember the clever names for the latter two). I went over to their house Friday afternoon to help decorate, and everyone else came over after five thirty-ish. I don't know the final count, but most of the Americans came and several Chinese students as well. We played several games, and Rena gave out buckets of prizes. It was one of the coolest birthday parties I've ever seen.
SCHOOL-WIDE SPORTS MEET
On Friday and Saturday, students from our school participated in a school-wide sports meet that is held once a year. Opening ceremonies began Friday morning pretty early, but I pulled myself out of bed to attend them. They had a few performances including a spectacular one showcasing the long dragons that are carried by several people holding them up with sticks. I can't explain them well, but before I came, I always saw these dragons used in any kind of celebration. It was pretty neat to finally see them personally. The boys showed up a little later, and we sat with the English Department. Each department had it's own section in the bleachers surrounding the track and field.
The races were pretty typical of a track and field competition: 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, 5 k (3 k for girls), triple jump, polevault, etc. A few of our students participated so it was fun to cheer for them. The whole atmosphere was totally different than competitions in the States. It seemed so unorganized. There were a lot of people everywhere, and spectators would stand on the track to get a better view of the people running so there were workers whose job it was to specifically push people back behind the lines and off the track. While the students were running, people from different departments would give words of encouragement over the loud speaker. Some of our English students wanted our help in writing these statements, and Derek told them to say, "Go big or go home!" which they did. Then we were called up to the announcement box to read a statement over the loud speaker. Of course, Derek was the one who took the microphone. He read the statement that was provided him, and then he asked if he could say one more thing. They gave him the microphone back, and he yelled, "Let's get ready to rumble!!" in the loudest voice possible, and the stands erupted in clapping. It was pretty funny. Anyway, the person who heads up the radio club enjoyed all this so much that they have decided to have an "English corner" on the radio once a week with us as guests when we have the time. I'm not sure if it will pan out, but it could be interesting.
Saturday I went back to the meet and hung out with Zoe and her friends through lunch time. They had some different competitions on Saturday: a race where two people must carry a lot of soccer balls one at a time from one place to another using only their backs and a race similar to the three-legged race only with 20 people instead of two. Also, on Saturday the teachers participated in the races. We were invited to participate the day of the races, but none of us are in the shape we need to be in in order to compete so we declined. Maybe next time...
Saturday afternoon Courtny and Jeremy came over. The three of us and the boys went to the gym to play badminton - a first here for me. It's so much fun! There's a guy who runs the gym who is pretty much the gym nazi. He gets angry easily, and you don't want to get on his bad side. I don't think he was too happy about Jeremy and Courtny playing with us - a fact we found out the next day - because, apparently, the gym is only for teachers and students of our school.
GIRLS' MEETING and NERTZ
Saturday night many of us met in Cindy's apartment for a ladies' get together. It was encouraging and uplifting. We have some wonderful ladies here! Afterwards, we went up to Brian's apartment, and I taught some of our Chinese friends how to play Nertz. It was fun but didn't last long because many of our friends had to head back home.
Alice, a friend from the medical school, and Courtny stayed the night with me. It's nice having friends stay over. In the morning, I made muffins, the boys came up, and we all enjoyed muffins and coffee for breakfast.
After our meeting and lunch at Happy Guy's, we went back to the gym to play badminton. Keri, a super quiet girl who we only see once a week, came with us to play. She's a fantastic badminton player and put us all to shame! The gym nazi seemed kind of upset with us because we didn't bring our teacher cards that prove we are teachers, which is something we didn't know we were supposed to do, but Keri is friends with him so she smoothed things over.
Later in the afternoon we made brownies and watched Joe vs. the Volcano which Brian had found randomly mixed in among the DVDs at one of the DVD stores. It's pretty much the worst/best movie ever!
CRAZY FRESHMEN AND THEIR FRIENDS
Two of the crazy freshmen girls, Christina and Abbi, and two of their friends, Dustin and I forget the other one's name, came over Sunday night to play games. We tried teaching them Nertz, but Christina was pretty vocal about not liking it so after awhile, we switched to UNO - a game which never fails to please those who play it. At some point during the evening, Dustin suggested that Christina sing for us. Once one person suggests a performance, there is NO getting out of it so Christina and Dustin sang a love song duet. Then they told Derek it was his turn to sing and that he must choose a partner. Having said that, they pointed to me! We decided to sing Father, I Adore You in rounds with Derek and Brian leading and Alice, Courtny and I following. The freshmen loved it, and Christina said, "Perhaps next time I see my father I can sing it to him." (:
TUESDAY MOVIE FLOP
Tuesday evening three of my students came over (Sean and Maya from one class and Sophia from another) to watch a movie, The Legend of 1900. I had never heard of the film, but I was browsing in a DVD store with Sophia a couple weeks back, and she got really emotional about the film promising me that I would cry when I watched it. She almost started crying right there in the store just from thinking about it! So I thought I couldn't pass this tear jerker of a film up, bought it, and invited Sophia and the others over to watch it. Unfortunately, a fourth of the way through it, the DVD stopped playing. We couldn't figure out what was wrong with it so we eventually gave up and put in Monsters, Inc. per Brian's suggestion, I might add. I think Maya was the only one who enjoyed it. Sophia and her two roommates, Sammi and Nancy, left early, and Sean fell asleep!
WEDNESDAY NIGHT SPANISH LESSON
Today Brian, Grease, Zoe and I attempted to play badminton at two different times, but both times the courts were unavailable. So tonight Zoe asked if she could come over to learn some words. I thought, of course, she meant English words because she has a pretty big English exam coming up in December she needs to study for, but when she and Grease came into my apartment, Zoe asked if I could teach her Spanish. So for about an hour we went over some basics while I appreciated the irony of teaching a Chinese person Spanish in China using English!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Apparently Derek is a huge fan of ghetto slang because he's always throwing out phrases that we inevitably have to explain to the Chinese friends or students around us. The phrase he uses most often is "Latah Playah" when he's saying goodbye to someone. Unfortunately, he's teaching our sponge-like students this phrase too! After class today I was speaking to one of my students, Sean, who is really intelligent. He's sort of the typical nerdy type, intelligent guy, but he's really cool and nice too. Anyway, he was asking me if we could get together this evening to discuss American/Chinese customs. After our conversation, I told him goodbye - to which he replied, "Oh, uh, later player." Uhhhh! Derek!
This afternoon Angel called me and asked me to come down immediately to retrieve a letter she had in her office. Everything must always be done immediately when Angel is in charge. Anyway, the letter was from a woman who is a member of our family in Edmond. She teaches the girls who are in the Tabitha Club, a really cool club for young ladies in our family (9-11 year olds). Each girl had written me a note on construction paper cut-outs of pumpkins, apples, and leaves - telling me a little about themselves and offering me encouragement. It was so cool! They have adopted me as a pen pal and will write me a letter once a month. I am so excited about this and can't wait to receive more notes.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Day of Splurge
Tuesdays are my free days, and I've learned to really cherish them. I spent the morning reading and talking to family on Skype. I was able to talk to two of my brothers and their wives, which was nice considering we haven't talked since I left the States.
After noon Brian and I went to get foot rubs. We tried a new place, and I'm glad we did because they did a better job than the first place we went to. Afterwards, we decided to continue the "day of splurge" and went to UBC, the coffee shop, where we read and drank fancy coffees.
Terror in the Classroom
Brian and I teach the same class on Monday nights; it's such a large class that the English department split it into two classes - Brian teaches one and I teach the other. Last night we wanted to show a movie to our classes, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, so we decided to combine our classes instead of buying two movies. After taking roll, my class went upstairs to Brian's room where he informed me that his classroom computer would not play the DVD, and his personal computer would not connect to his classroom computer so playing the DVD in his room was not an option. Then we moved the entire class down to my room (80 something students, by the way). However, my classroom computer would not play the DVD either, and we weren't having any luck hooking Brian's computer to my classroom computer. We just looked at each other and were like, what are we going to do? We had 80 some students expecting to watch a movie which didn't look like an option any longer, and we hadn't prepared any backup plan to cover the three periods our class lasts. Just when I was sure I would soon experience a stroke, Brian's computer connected to my classroom computer, and the movie was projected onto the wall. Unfortunately, we didn't have the right cable to connect the sound from Brian's computer to the classroom computer so the loudest the sound would go was as high as Brian's computer volume would go. Clearly, that would not be loud enough, but, fortunately, each classroom has a small microphone that the teachers can use while lecturing so we turned it on and placed the microphone on the speakers of Brian's computer. It worked, but it also projected the sound of the vibrations caused by the rotating of the DVD in Brian's computer. Anyway, it was better than nothing, and we were able to watch all but the last few seconds of the movie (apparently, at a certain time, the power to the computers is shut off in all the classrooms, and this happened right before the very last lines of the film were spoken!). Anyway, the whole thing stressed me out a bit, but next time we will know exactly what it takes to show a movie in our classes.
Friday Luncheon with the Ladies
Friday Cindy and I met Jaime and Rena near the medical school for lunch. It was a ladies only get together and our first. It's kind of nice to be part of a ladies group; I'm so used to my identity being merely a college student (which has its perks like little responsibility or expectation), but I am glad to be away from all the perceptions of being a college student (like the lack of responsibility and expectation!), and it's good to be identified with the ladies. We're going to try to meet together at least once a month from now on.
Saturday Spent with Sophia
In my Monday night class, there are a couple girls whom I adore because they are always smiling and always receptive and always interested in class. They make me feel like a good teacher whether I am or not. One of the girls is Sophia. Last year she apparently spent a lot of time with the foreign teachers, but all of those she hung out with have left. So she called me Friday to see if I wanted to have lunch with her Saturday. I jumped at the chance to get to know her better so around 11:30 we met at the bus stop and left to find her favorite restaurant. Sophia's a really neat girl. She has a great heart, and I have high hopes for her. We spent several hours together shopping. One of her roommates joined us, and we walked along Wuyen - the shopping street here in Shiyan. It was a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Sunday Night - Home Alone
We had invited the Rice Boys (4 guys Derek met awhile back whose English is lacking but good nature is not) and the Four Crazy Amigas (the freshmen girls who had taken us to dinner several weeks back) to Derek's apartment to watch the newest Jackie Chan movie - the one that has babies with chest hair (we don't understand it either!). They all (and a few others) showed up, but the Jackie Chan movie was only in Chinese without English subtitles so we opted to watch Home Alone instead. It's a classic favorite, and I forgot how much I like it. Our guests, especially the crazy girls, were entertaining as usual. I wish everyone could meet them because it's impossible to adequately describe their typical antics.
There's this senior guy who is not technically in my Thursday night class but has requested to attend it anyway to improve his English. This isn't an out-of-the-ordinary request by any means. But this particular guy is one of the smoothest speakers I've ever known (and I'm not talking about his English ability). For instance, one evening I was sitting outside one of the teaching buildings reading, and Derek and this particular guy whose English name is Crystal came out of the building. Derek had just finished teaching and was hungry so the three of us and this other guy who I had been talking to decided to go to Happy Guy's. As we were walking, Crystal and I were catching up: we hadn't seen each other in a few weeks. Crystal told me he was good at reading people based on first time impressions. I asked him what his impression was of me (since that's what he was getting at), and he merely said, "Wonderful", with an adorable smile. Later when we were at Happy Guy's, I poured everyone a glass of hot water, and Crystal said, "Water poured by a woman must be sweet." He's a self-proclaimed spoiled city boy from Beijing, but I think Derek and Brian could learn a few things from him!
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Back to reality, I guess. School resumes today after a week long hiatus. We were given the entire week off to celebrate China's national holiday. I'm not up to date on my Chinese holidays yet, but I do know that Friday (the 6th) was Mid-Autumn Day (aka, the Moon Festival) where everyone supposedly spends the day with their families, eats moon cakes and looks at the moon which is supposed to be full that night. Although, I talked to several Chinese people who didn't even eat one moon cake! I was so disappointed. Plus, in Shiyan the sky was too cloudy to see the moon. Mid-Autumn Day was the only cloudy day all week.
Derek and I joined Jakie and Frank on quite a long journey to Shanghai where his brother and sister live. We left Friday afternoon at 4:30 from the bus station. We decided to take a sleeper bus which is exactly what it sounds like - a bus filled with beds instead of seats. There are three rows of bunk beds with two aisles in between each set of bunk beds. It's really difficult to explain seeing as we have nothing similar to it in America. But it was pretty much awesome! I slept quite a bit, read some, talked some and watched a few movies. There were two ridiculous Chinese movies with English subtitles and one American movie (The Medallion with Jackie Chan) which had been dubbed and had no subtitles, but since I only watch a Jackie Chan movie for the action anyway, I still enjoyed it!
We arrived in Shanghai 20 hours later. It was a LONG trip, but since we could sleep a lot, it wasn't so bad. Jakie's siblings don't live far from the train station so it wasn't long before we arrived at their apartment. They weren't home yet so we went for lunch at a Muslim noodle shop. The Muslims are well known for their noodles. Even in Shiyan the noodle restaurants are run by Muslims.
We returned to the apartment where we basically hung out the rest of the day. Jessie, Jakie's sister, came home around five-ish. Jessie works for a Taiwanese English magazine, and her English is incredible. She is so well read and knows more about western literature than I do! She made dinner for us while we began watching the first season of PRISON BREAK. I never really cared to watch it, but we weren't going to do anything else that evening so we ended up watching like six or seven episodes in a row. Shameful, I know! We were actually waiting for Darla to arrive. Darla is a returning American teacher at the medical school (where Andrew, Jaime and Brad teach), but she hadn't joined us in Shiyan yet because she had been waiting for her sister-in-law to have a child. Anyway, she and Jakie and Frank are really good friends so she was flying in to Shanghai to spend the week vacationing with us.
Darla arrived sometime after eleven and after some catching up, we all went to bed. Darla and I shared a room so we spent awhile updating each other on some things: I caught her up on everything that's happened in her absence, and she gave me a lot of background info on the people I know now as well as on different things that happened last year. She's from Tennessee so we actually share a lot in common - two Southern girls and all.
The next morning the boys, Darla, Jessie and I caught a train to Hangzhou. Hangzhou is famous for its beauty. In fact, some saying goes that the skies have heaven, but the earth has Hangzhou - or something similar that probably sounds much more poetic! We arrived in Hangzhou after noon sometime and tried to catch a bus to our hotel. We had a lot of difficulty, however, and finally decided to take a taxi. It seems everyone and their dogs were trying to get taxis too so we spent a really long time trying to hail down two taxis (since there were six of us, and they don't allow you to pile into their taxis like they are clown cars).
When we did finally get a couple taxis, they brought us to a hotel which Jessie's friend who works there had pulled some strings to get us in. It was a military hotel, and we were given a really good deal for the rooms. Unfortunately, no one told us that foreigners were forbidden to enter the gates of the hotel - only veterans and military personnel. So they recommended some other hotel to us and worked out a much lower price for the rooms than what we were supposed to actually pay. However, we almost had a problem with that because Darla forgot her passport, and they didn't want to let us in without each of the foreigners' passports registered. Fortunately, Jessie is the master negotiator and worked things out.
We ate that night in the expensive hotel restaurant, and afterwards all of us, minus Darla who wanted to take a nap, walked around West Lake - one of the main attractions of Hangzhou. There were a lot of people walking around enjoying the fresh night air and beautiful scenery. After our walk, we returned back to our apartments to do what we normally do on Sundays but hadn't yet had time to do. Jessie joined us to "watch"; she is searching, I think, but she's quite an intellectual in the negative sense of the word, and I think she just needs more time to study. Remember her!
Monday we had our hotel's van take us out to Dragon Tea Village - a small village famous for its tea. We first walked along a pathway crossing several streams and passing terraced earth planted fully with tea plants. It was so beautiful. After walking a short while, we arrived in the Dragon Tea Village. Last year the government made the people living in this village build lavish homes to perhaps increase the image of the village. The homes were ridiculously huge and cost a lot of money which the homeowners had to shell out personally.
Since it was too early to eat, we just wandered around the village. There was a VIP entrance which would have cost 10 kuai to enter. We didn't want to spend that so we took another route. We walked up some trail that led through the tea plants. Jessie and Darla took a rest while the boys and I climbed higher up the mountain. We wanted to reach the top so we cut through some areas that didn't look like real paths. While we were up there, we heard some people yelling and singing so we yelled back. Before long the workers, or the ladies picking the tea leaves, began singing traditional Chinese songs which radiated throughout the mountains. It was incredible. All we could do was yell "RICCOLA!" in return. (: We climbed pretty high and found a map which said the next nearest destination spot was a 30 minute walk so we decided to go back to the girls. Instead of going back to the trail, we took the more interesting route - straight down the mountain. It was fun. Derek about bit it several times, but we all made it in one piece. We came back to the village taking a different route - one that spit us out into the VIP area where we were supposed to have paid to enter. We didn't know what we should do because if we walked by the gate, the guards would clearly remember us from before and know we didn't pay. So we decided that Jakie, Jessie and Frank would leave first since they're Chinese and not so identifiable as the rest of us. Then we would leave a couple minutes later, and if the guards tried to say anything to us, we would say, "ting bu dong" (I don't understand) and keep walking. But we weren't stopped so it all worked out.
For lunch we ate at a place Jessie had tried once before. We ordered fish soup, chicken soup, and a bunch of other dishes. It took awhile to prepare our meal because they killed the chicken fresh, and Derek and I actually watched a guy kill and gut the fish for the fish soup. The meal was good, and we also drank some of the tea from the village. It was pretty expensive, and I couldn't tell the difference between it and the tea we normally drink. Then again, the Chinese people here can't tell the difference between Nescafe instant coffee and Starbucks coffee so I guess I haven't been raised to be a tea connoisseur like they haven't been raised to be coffee connoisseurs.
There was a rumored bamboo forest which we next set off to find. We had a map of Hangzhou, and we kept asking locals where to go. We started walking through the fields of tea, and the area was pretty steep. Then we entered a wooded area, and it got REALLY steep, even sporting several switch backs. I got quite a bit ahead of the others, and then Frank and Jakie caught up. We stopped to wait on the others, but only Derek showed up to tell us the girls were stopping, and Jessie thought we were going the wrong way. I wasn't ready to give up yet so while the boys grabbed a snack, I told them I would go a little further to make sure we weren't near the bamboo forest. I went for quite a ways, and finally the trail opened up onto a paved pathway leading higher. I remembered the word for bamboo and asked a couple people where it was. They kept pointing up the pathway, but I was concerned about the others so I called Jessie and let her talk to a Chinese guy to get directions. It turned out that we were headed the right way. So everyone finally met up with me, we rested for a bit, and then set off. We were actually a greater distance away from the bamboo forest than we realized (and it's probably a good thing we didn't realize it), but we walked down hundreds of steps before reaching our destination at last. It was well worth the ridiculous hike, though. At the bottom of what I assume is a sort of valley was a small area with a restaurant, a temple and several other attractions.
While there we tried lotus powder which is made into a porridge of some sort. On top was sprinkled the flower from the guai tree - my absolute favorite tree here so far. When it blooms, its smell permeates the air, and it is the sweetest smell ever. It even masks the smell of rotting garbage and some of the other interesting smells we usually encounter in the streets of China - like stinky tofu! Anyway, the lotus powder porridge was amazing. I loved it so much that when we went shopping at a big grocery store a few days later, I bought some instant lotus powder porridge which I've yet to try.
Our train for Shanghai didn't leave until 9 p.m. Tuesday night so we had all day to hang out in Hangzhou. We mostly just stayed around West Lake. We took a small boat onto the lake for a few minutes. We were hoping to take it around the lake, which is huge, but the boatman only kept us out there for maybe 10 minutes - which just happened to be enough time for the boys to teach Derek how to harrass and embarrass Chinese ladies by saying the equivalent to "What's up, Baby. Come over here and give me a kiss." Of course, he's said it so many times since then that I can now add that phrase, as well as "I'm going to eat your table" which Derek uses at restaurants quite frequently, to the small number of phrases I can already say.
After boating we walked around part of the lake. It was really crowded, and we saw quite a few foreigners. Jakie and Frank know English really well including a lot of slang. Whenever they saw foreigners (white people), they would say things like, "What's up, man?" or "What's up, Baby?", depending on the sex of the person, or they would just say "Cracker" every time they saw a whitey. They think "cracker" is absolutely hilarious to say when refering to a white person. Of course, they said all this under their breath so as to avoid offending anyone.
We took a break in a grassy park area. We had our backpacks with us so it was nice to lay them down and relax for awhile. Jessie, Jakie and Frank wanted to rent a few bikes and bike around West Lake, but the three of us Americans opted to relax in the park and eat ice cream - thus reinforcing the image that Americans are lazy and Chinese are active! (: We spent most of the time watching a group of young Chinese people playing some version of duck, duck, goose. It seemed that no one wanted to sit by us because when you looked around, you could see pockets of people congregated closely together, but around us was a rather large, empty space. We did have a few people ask to take pictures with us. I wonder how many times I show up in other peoples' photo albums. "On my holiday vacation, I saw an American..."
When our Chinese friends finally returned, we decided to eat dinner at a Papa Johns that was nearby. On the street with the Papa Johns, there was a Starbucks, Dairy Queen, TCBY and perhaps some other American restaurants! We had little time before our train left, but we downed some breadsticks and two pizzas before rushing off. It was so good! It was my first taste of western food since I left over a month ago.
We got back to Shanghai late and slept in the next day. We didn't really have much of an agenda Wednesday. We went grocery shopping and bought stuff to make hamburgers for lunch. We watched some more PRISON BREAK and pretty much just hung out all day. That night Jessie and Neo (her Shanghainese boyfriend) took us to the famous downtown area of Shanghai. We saw all the skyscrapers you see in the movies (the Pearl Tower and the two important skyscrapers in Mission Impossible 3). Since it was night time, everything was lit up. We also walked along the river. There were several boats along the river including one carrying a cinema sized tv which broadcasted commericals with Yao Ming and Jakie Chan and other famous Chinese people. We found a Starbucks, ordered some drinks, and sat out on the patio overlooking the river and the rest of the downtown area.
Before returning home, we stopped for a really late dinner at a barbecue place. Everything tasted really good, but it wasn't even close to our barbecue back home.
THURSDAY - TOURIST DAY
Thursday we were given the option of going outside the city to some nearby towns (one where MI:3 was filmed or another that is known as China's Venice). Since my cash flow was getting low, I suggested just hanging out in Shanghai and getting to know the city better. Everyone else agreed that that would be a better choice so Jessie and Neo acted as our tour guides and took us to some of the local tourist hot spots. I can't even begin to explain the places we went to, and unfortunately, Derek didn't bring his camera so I couldn't even show pictures. Basically, we walked through several areas that have a lot of western shops dealing with high fashion, foods, etc. as well as a lot of touristy souvenirs. It was cool to see. We had fried quail on a stick and bought a Dairy Queen blast to share among all of us. I was constantly surprised by how much our Chinese friends enjoyed the greasy, sweet or terribly fattening American food, but they loved pizza, hamburgers, Starbucks and Dairy Queen a lot!
We pretty much spent the afternoon walking around. Since we were in the touristy part of town, we ran into tons of British and German tour groups and many Americans too. It was interesting seeing so many foreigners. In Shiyan there are very few foreigners.
Thursday night we ate street hot pot. You can choose whatever foods you want to be put in your very own hot pot, and they cook it for you. They call it crazy hot pot, but it was pretty good. Usually, anything I didn't like, Frank or Neo would eat it and anything anyone else didn't like, I would eat it.
FRIDAY - HOME COOKED CHINESE FOOD
Jessie wanted to cook some Chinese food for us Friday before we left around 9 p.m. that night. So in the morning we first went to a Carre-four, a French/Chinese joint supermarket. They are supposed to have foods we don't have here in Shiyan, which I think they do, but we wanted cocoa powder, which they didn't have. We did buy a lot of snacks and things for the train ride home that night.
Next we stopped by this special bakery shop - Lillian's bakery. Jessie said it is the best bakery shop in Shanghai so we bought some egg tarts which were amazing. There was cheese tart that Jessie said was horrible, but Derek bought one anyway for us to try. It turned out to be cheese cake! It was awesome, but none of the Chinese with us liked it. Then Jessie bought each of us a beautiful pastry to have after dinner later.
After buying veggies and some meat at the outdoor market, we went home where Jessie prepared a fantastic lunch. When lunch was over, the boys wanted back rubs so everyone left but Jessie and me. We immediately began working on dinner. It took a really long time to get dinner ready, but when everyone returned, we had just enough time to eat dinner, eat our pastries, grab our stuff and run to catch the tram. The tram took us to the train station where we parted with Jessie and Jon (Jakie and Jessie's other brother who is a professional cook at one of the Shanghainese restaurants and who worked so much we seldom saw him) and boarded the train. We each had beds on the train so we were able to sleep a lot. Well, I was able to sleep a lot, anyway. When we first got on the train, Derek made friends with two little kids - a boy and a girl. They NEVER left us alone after that. They climbed all over our beds and woke Derek up whenever he tried to sleep. They climbed all over Frank like he was a jungle gym, and they yelled a lot. Fortunately, I can sleep through anything.
Twenty-two hours later we arrived in Shiyan. Jakie, Frank and Darla headed for the medical school, and Derek and I came home to unload our stuff. We then met back up at Happy Guy's. It had been too long since we'd had some good sweet and sour pork and some of our other staples here.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
It's been raining for three days. Yesterday the boys and I wanted to get out of the confines of our apartments so after lunch we headed to a new coffee shop - U.B.C. The place was really dark so we thought it must be closed, but actually they were having trouble with their electricity so all the lights were out. We chose a table next to a large window, but the overcast skies hardly allowed in much light. We ordered some iced coffees and spent the next hour or so reading and relaxing.
For dinner we met with Grace, a guy from our school, and ate dumplings. He gave us a lesson in Chinese cuisine so next time we can branch out from the usual five or six dishes we know and can order. It was still raining after we finished our meal and instead of heading back to the apartments, we decided to walk around campus. Brian sought out every puddle along the way seeking to make the perfect splash. We all soon joined him, and before long we were playing like children in the rain. When we got home, we were soaked from our heads to our feet, and I'm pretty sure every Chinese person who saw us thinks we're crazy! It was a perfect China day.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Next week we have the entire week off to celebrate the October national holiday. Everyone travels during this time, and we will be no different. Brian is meeting with some people from Ningbo (near Shanghai) and traveling to Xi'an to see the terra cotta soldiers. Then they will continue traveling north into the desert where portions of the Great Wall are still standing.
Derek and I are joining Jackie and Frank and traveling to Shanghai where his brother lives. We'll stay there a couple of days and then go to Hangzhou, a beautiful city thought of as heaven on earth. We will visit some other small town too, but I'm not really sure what the exact plans are because Jackie is making all the arrangements. All I know is that right now we are not sure if we will take the train or the bus. If we take the train, we will probably have to get standing tickets - which means we will have to stand for about 20 hours on the train. Hopefully, we can make other arrangements!
Some people have asked me what they can send me as gifts or "just because!" So I've jotted down several things I would enjoy receiving (in addition to real mail from ya'll!). All of these things would be greatly appreciated and well used by everyone here, and they are all things that if several people sent duplicates, it would be okay. So, without further adieu:
Any kind of mix: cookie mixes, brownie mixes, muffin mixes, stuffing mixes (for Thanksgiving), etc.
Any kind of seasoning packets: taco seasoning, gravy packets, etc.
Peanut butter (smooth and Jiff chunky - per Cindy's request)
Granola bars (chocolate chip, honey oat, oat and raisin, etc.)
Pop tarts (non-frosted and frosted)
Shortening (like Crisco)
Candy for Halloween
Peppermint Sticks (Mom - soft ones if you can find them too)
Hershey Bars or other good chocolate (chocolate here is either not good or expensive)
Icing for cakes
U.S. Maps (wall size and small)
Posters of U.S. scenes or other things I could hang on my walls
Magazines, Newspapers, Books or any other media (we crave the written word!)
Macaroni and Cheese (Easy Mac, etc.)
Instant Oatmeal (variety pack)
Cream of wheat
Halloween decorations (We plan to make a haunted house and invite our friends and students. It was a BIG deal last year - a couple hundred students came through the haunted house they made then - and we want to make it huge this year. But we don't have a lot of supplies. I know there's not a lot of time left before the holiday, but there should be enough time to get a package here. It might take about 3 weeks.)
Please feel free to throw in other things that you think would be useful here. Some things you don't need to send (because they are here): Oreos, Skittles, M&Ms, Ramen noodles, peanuts. If you have any questions, shoot me an e-mail.
The boys and I went to have foot rubs several days ago. For about five bucks you can get an hour and half long foot rub. Actually, they spend about an hour on your feet and legs, and then they move to your back. It was pretty fantastic though Derek, apparently, was not amused.
Thursday Derek and I decided to try this coffee place called "Sometimes Coffee". We've all experienced some withdrawals from our beloved beverage (though Brian brought some bags of Starbucks coffee with him which he shares periodically) so Derek and I thought we might check this place out. The atmosphere was pretty nice: low lighting, classical music, some tables and couches where you can just hang out, and an excessive number of employees ready to wait on us. It was pretty empty too - probably because it's SO expensive. But we ordered some coffee and sat back and relaxed. It was alright but nothing like I'm used to.
For dinner we were going to meet some folks at a place called "Come First to Wait First". We think they might have wanted to say "First Come First Served" but messed up on the translation. But the people we were going to meet couldn't come, so we stayed at the coffee place and ordered waffles which weren't that wonderful at all.
A FEW OF MY FAVORITE NAMES
The last two Thursdays I have met with new classes of non-English major sophomores. Since they are not majoring in English, I had to give most of them English names. I used this opportunity to name my students (or kids, as my mom calls them) after some of the people I know and love. So the following family members and friends now have name-sakes in China: (If you are not on the list, it is not because I did not try. Some students refused the beautiful English names for names like "Black", "Stone", "Sky", etc.)
Joseph (and Joe)
Ashley (for a boy!)
Ross (score two for Olan!)
Robert (and two for Dad!)
Morgan (for a girl this time!)
If your name wasn't on the list, don't worry; there's always next semester!
Last Thursday night I met with a new class. One of my students would not choose an English name so I finally gave one to him. He said he didn't like it, and I said he would have to use it for this class, but he could change it next time we meet. He just repeated that he didn't like it and he didn't want it. Then I had each student introduce himself/herself - his/her name and where he/she is from. This particular student stood up and said, "I am from China. I love my country. I hate my English name. I hate English. I only study it to pass the exam. I hate America," and then he sat down. I was pretty much thrown off because no one else here has even hinted at having such sentiments. I think he will be a difficult student, but we only meet seven times this semester, and it's only every other week.
LADIES' GET TOGETHER
Friday night a few ladies met at my apartment for study and discussion. It is always good to have a woman's perspective on things, and I think we all enjoyed ourselves. During our meeting, two guys from the medical school knocked on my door. Jackie and Frank had brought two bouquets of roses and lillies for Cindy and me. They were beautiful, and I'm not sure why they brought them - maybe to win brownie points (which they certainly did!) - but we appreciated them very much.
Afterwards, Brianna spent the night with me. We had fun and stayed up late, which is quickly becoming a habit of mine.
SATURDAY BIRTHDAY EXTRAVAGANZA
Saturday morning I met with Joyce again to teach her daughter and a few other kids English. They can already speak some so we worked on asking and answering questions. I am not being paid for this because I don't think it's the best idea. Besides, I don't care to be paid for it. But Joyce and one of the other mothers showered me with gifts, nonetheless. Joyce gave me a bracelet she bought in Beijing which is supposed to bring me good luck, and the other mother gave me a Mah Jong set after I mentioned wanting to learn to play it. They also gave me a moon cake which is a popular pastry here. It is simply a small round pastry filled with different things like fruit or sesame or any number of odd things.
The week before last one of our friends, Zoe, celebrated a birthday, but because she was busy with exams, we could not celebrate with her. So this Saturday we threw her a birthday party. We bought a really delicious cake and made brownies and cookies. There were about 14 of us, and we played Charades and Pin the Tail on the Donkey (well, it's supposed to be a donkey, but seeing as I lack any artistic talent, it looks rather pathetic). There is a certain innocence here that makes playing simple games exciting, and everyone really enjoyed themselves.
At the end of the night, the boys shot off fireworks. The fireworks had been left with us by previous teachers, and here everyone celebrates anything by shooting of firecrackers. In fact, some mornings I wake up to the sound of firecrackers going off nearby. But these fireworks did not make any noise - just a lot of light and even more smoke. At first the boys lit them while they were on the ground, but then they got daring; they lit them in their hands and threw them in the air. Brian nearly burned his hand off, though, because when he tried to release the firework, it stuck to his hand, and he ended up throwing the firework directly behind him where we were all standing! No one got hurt, thankfully!
Sunday morning went well. For lunch we ate at Happy Guy's where Janice began teaching Derek how to write some of the foods we commonly order in Chinese characters. Derek wants to learn to write the orders down (instead of just telling them what we want like we normally do) to impress everyone with his mad character writing skills.
After lunch Jackie and Frank showed up, and we all went to play basketball. Frank is pretty tall for a Chinese guy, and our team pretty well dominated the court until we got tired. But it was a lot of fun.
Sunday evening a couple of my students, Ben and Clover, and two of their friends took Derek, Brian, and me out to dinner. We ate at a hot pot place very near our school. Whenever I would eat anything, Clover would tell me how it was good for my health. Apparently, tomatoes are good for your skin, fish eyes are good for your eyes (I didn't eat the fish eyes!), and green tea will help you lose weight. I hope she wasn't trying to tell me anything!
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Friday afternoon I met with a Chinese woman who teaches English here. Her name is Joyce, and she wants me to help her elementary aged girl learn English so she offered to teach me Chinese in return. It is very common for someone to offer to teach us Chinese in exchange for us teaching them English. So I met Joyce at four o'clock, and since her daughter wasn't there yet she taught me a few phrases in Chinese. She's a good teacher, but I'm afraid I'm not a very good student. When her daughter showed up (with friends who also want me to teach them English), we moved to another ladies apartment and began the lesson. Basically, the kids would read out of their English book, and I would correct their pronunciation. They have learned British English so sometimes I want to correct their pronunciation just because it sounds too British, but I tried to avoid doing so. From now on I will meet them on Saturday mornings to teach them English.
SPAGHETTI AND FRIED LOTUS ROOT
Saturday night we had another party at our house. One of our friends, Dacy, wants to learn to cook western foods, and we want to learn to cook Chinese foods so we decided to make spaghetti, and she said she would make fried lotus root which is pretty much amazing. Jeremey and Rena had gone to Wuhan Friday and Saturday with Andrew and Jamie to buy some western foods and other items you can get there but not here so their girls stayed with me Friday and Saturday night. So for dinner we had the three girls, the four teachers, Dacy and her six or so friends and our waiban's daughter. I made the spaghetti sauce, Brian the noodles, Derek the garlic bread and Courtny and Brianna helped with everything. It turned out really well, though I didn't learn how to make fried lotus root, and Dacy didn't learn how to make spaghetti because we were both busy cooking.
After eating we played UNO for awhile and then a deadly game of chopsticks (instead of spoons). The last two people in the game were Derek and me, and we put the chopstick in another room. I was the first person to get four of a kind so I jumped up and began running to the other room. Derek practically tackled me, but I was still moving towards the other room dragging him behind me. When we got into the other room, Brian and a couple others tackled Derek so I squeezed free and grabbed the chopstick first ensuring my victory and future bragging rights!
CHESTNUT PICKING AND DINNER WITH THE FRESHMEN
Sunday for lunch we met Frank and Jackie, two new friends from the medical school, for lunch to discuss October break. We get the entire first week of October off from school for a national holiday so we all want to travel during this time. Frank and Jackie invited us to go with them to Shanghai and Hangzhou for the week so Derek and I jumped on the opportunity to travel to these places with authentic guides.
For lunch we had hot pot. Basically, you sit at a table with a fire in the middle. They put a large pan with two sections in it - one for spicy seasonings and one for a less spicy seasoning. Then they bring out several different uncooked foods like crab, mutton, noodles, and anything else you want to order. After that it's up to you to throw in the pot want you want to eat and wait for it to cook.
After lunch Frank and Jackie took us to their campus where we jumped a fence to climb a hill which opened up to a grove of chestnut trees. We spent about an hour picking chestnuts. I didn't know that the nuts are protected by a covering of spikes. You have to use rocks or knives or something to break the covering off. Derek and I were wearing flipflops, and I stepped on one of the empty shells getting one of the spikes embedded in my foot. I still haven't gotten it out!
When Derek and I were returning home, Brian was on his way to have his second tai chi lesson. He asked if I wanted to join him, which I thought was a nice invitation until I discovered we were going to practice at the football field in front of who ever might be there, and Brian didn't want to look like an idiot by himself! Anyway, I joined him and learned a few moves, though I didn't master anything and I haven't really practiced since.
We had to cut our lesson short because a few of the freshman girls from Derek's class had invited him out to eat. He invited us to go with him so we had to head back to get ready for dinner with the girls.
There were four girls who came: Michelle, Brenda, Christina and Abby. Their English was surprisingly good, and they were not shy at all to use it. They took us to a restaurant in the center of town where they had made reservations for a private room. It just happened to be another hot pot place!
The girls had spent a long time translating the menu and writing it out so we would know what to order. They were very intent on making sure we were treated well. I think they would have ordered everything on the list if we had asked them to (or even if we had NOT asked them to!).
We finally got our food, but before we ate the girls wanted to perform for us. It is very common here, apparently, to sing or dance for others when you are together as a group. So they sang some American song they knew, and then they said it was Derek's turn to perform. He weasled out of it with some excuse about being hungry so they let him slide until after dinner.
After dinner Derek had to sing a song, and then two of the girls said they would dance hip hop in my honor. So they got up and danced some number, sat down and then told me it was my turn to sing. Since I knew I was going to have to sing beforehand, I had prepared myself with a little Frank Sinatra song which I sang part of. Then they sang their national anthem so we sang our national anthem. And so it went...
After dinner we went outside and were across from this open area where the older people line up at night and dance to some music someone plays. It's a particular type of dance that is very simple to learn. A couple weeks earlier when we had finished our "western" meal, we came across the same situation and decided to join in - well, some of us decided to join in anyway. The others just laughed at us. We drew a crowd then with a few people taking pictures. It was great fun and good excercise. So after eating with the freshmen, we decided to jump in line with the dancing ladies and gentlemen again. It's such a neat atmosphere.
Yesterday the clubs on campus set up booths to recruit the freshmen. One of my students is the president of the English club so she asked me to come sit at their booth and speak with the freshmen to serve as the "attraction". Surprisingly, it worked. When I showed up, groups of students came to the booth and signed up for the club. Later I got Brian to go back with me, and we were asked to play ping pong. We aren't very good at it, but it was fun. Afterwards, we went over to the weightlifting club where Brian showed off his muscles, and I was given the wussy machine for "girls" - it just stretched my back, and there was no muscle use involved, but I was told I would develop a very beautiful and strong body if I used it!
Yesterday we went on a shopping spree. Brian bought a guitar, and we also finally got a DVD player so we don't have to watch movies on our computers anymore - though, we finished the second season of LOST already so it came a little too late.
I bought a basketball a few days ago but haven't had the chance to use it. The courts are always filled with people - even late at night. Today, however, a few of Derek's new acquaintances invited him to play with them so I tagged along. It was great, but nobody really knows how to pass the ball here. They always drive to the goal and just throw the ball in the air hoping for luck. It got old after awhile.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
There is a lot to catch up on. Friday night we went back to the restaurant that had promised us a "western" night. Well, they were apparently too busy that night to cook western foods, but the owner chose "special" dishes for us and kept us very well fed and entertained. Several of the dishes were very sweet - too sweet, actually, for me, but the presentation was spectacular. They made potatoes and rice to look like pears (which they did) and created flowers out of radishes. Our other American friends were there too so it was an enjoyable get together. They did play a couple American songs. Ching ching is a guitarrist and singer who speaks very good English. We met him the first night we went to the restaurant, and he sang some American songs for us this time too. We talked to him some after he played, and he told me he would help me learn to play the guitar. We'll see...but I am actually spending some of my spare time messing around with a classical guitar that was left here by some of the other teachers.
After dinner we departed for our homes. Antasia spent Friday night with me. We stayed up too late talking as girls usually do when they have sleepovers. It was fun though.
Saturday when we woke up, it was such a beautiful day. The sky was blue and the sun was shining. We've had several days like this which maybe is a little out of the ordinary, according to Brian's recollection. Brian, Derek, Antasia and I decided to play frisbee. Before we left, however, Jeremey called to comment on how perfect the weather was for an outing. So the plan was for us to play frisbee while his family got ready. Then Antasia and I would meet them at McDonald's to leave for Square Mountain, a mountain that is good for hiking and is within the city limits (or at least very close to the city). Brian had a tai chi lesson around 2 o'clock, and Derek had an English lesson he was teaching our waiban's daughter around that time too so they couldn't go with us to the mountain.
Playing frisbee drew a crowd. They don't play frisbee in China so we drew a few people into our circle and taught them how to throw it. Most people just watched us.
Antasia and I left a little early because we had not had breakfast yet and decided McDonald's would be a good place for lunch (it was approaching noon time). When I stepped off the bus at McDonald's, my right foot went into a pothole, and I twisted my ankle. My right ankle is my bad one anyway, but it was not the best timing since were were about to go hike a mountain! Anyway, I had not eaten at McDonald's since I had arrived, but I seldom eat at McDonald's in the States either. I thought it might be nice to have a good ole hamburger so I ordered a Big Mac. While we were eating, Jeremey, Rena, Courtny and Breanna arrived and ordered some food too. Jeremey and Rena ordered the Big Mac too (this is important for later).
After eating we caught a bus to the bottom of the mountain and then found a couple taxis that would take us up to the top. The taxi drivers overcharged us which is the first time that has happened since we arrived. I was a little surprised actually. But we paid, bought our tickets to the entrance of the mountain, and begain hiking. We started out on a road that was winding down the mountain, but we soon came across some stairs that led down a different direction. We took the stairs down and found ourselves in a peaceful garden area that had tables, benches, bridges, fountains, trails, and gigantic stone mushrooms. After taking advantage of this photo op, we moved on and found what looked like a hotel in the middle of it all. We then found another road and started walking along it until we found yet another uphill path through the woods. So we hiked up the path quite a ways, across mossy stones with lush vegetation on both sides. Finally, we reached the top of this trail. It came out onto a road, but it also opened up with a view of Shiyan. We could identify from here where our schools were located, the route our bus always takes, and where we had been in the city. It was cool to be able to orient ourselves to Shiyan like this.
Antasia and Jeremey had to come back to my apartment to get Antasia's things. We took the long route home, though, because the girls wanted to buy some turtles we had seen for sale on the street before we left for the mountain. They already have one turtle someone gave them which had been destined for someone's dinner before it was saved apparently. So now some of the less caring folks around here call it Dinner even though it's given name is Hazel. After we bought the turtles, we made it back home. My ankle was pretty swollen and had begun bruising.
At 6 o'clock Saturday night, we had a few Chinese friends over - Zoe, Dacy, and two of their friends, Davis and Grease. They wanted us to teach them to make some western dishes, but we haven't really bought any groceries yet so we went out to eat instead. Cindy came with us, and we ate at a new place that was fairly expensive. It was good, though. We had fried lotus root which was amazing!
After dinner we stopped at Darcy's apartment, met a couple of her roommates, invited one of them who doesn't speak English very well to come play games with us, and then headed back to Derek's apartment. We played UNO. A couple already knew how to play it, but those who didn't soon picked it up very quickly. It was a lot of fun, and we listened to some Frank Sinatra mood music (per my request) since he's the greatest for just such situations. A couple of our guests had curfew so they left around 11:15.
Sunday morning I awoke around four A.M. with a horrible feeling in my stomach. I spent the next 6 hours sleeping some, throwing up, having other stomach problems, and cycling through each of these processes. It was so miserable. I don't ever remember feeling so poorly. I did get dressed and go across the hall to Brian's apartment for meeting. I must have looked horrible. I certainly felt it. We sang for a bit. I tried singing but lost too much energy doing it. Then I snuck off to Brian's bedroom thinking I still would be able to hear what was happening but be able to lay down as well. I stayed as long as I could, but I soon left and went to my room to sleep. After the meeting, Cindy came to check on me. She brought a couple vitamin tablets, water and crackers, and Rena brought me some bananas. I spent the most of the rest of the day sleeping. My stomach was not relieved the entire day. I couldn't eat anything, but the boys brought me some V-8 Splash which I sipped periodically hoping for a little nourishment. Sunday night Rena called to check on me. She said she and Jeremey were beginning to have stomach problems too and since we all had Big Macs at McDonald's, I am blaming it for my day of disgusting pain!
Monday morning I felt well enough to go to class (thankfully!). My class on Monday morning is the least talkative class. They are sophomores and shy, maybe. I don't really know why they are so reserved compared to my other classes, but it makes it more difficult to run class smoothly without their participation.
I still felt sick Monday - just not as bad. I ate bananas when I was hungry because that was all my stomach could handle. I had a little rice too which was bland, but I suppose that was good for me. My class Monday night went really well. I love my Monday night elective class. They are a lot of fun. We talked about hobbies, threw a whiffle ball around, and I sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" which was totally embarrassing, but they loved it anyway.
I was also given one more class Monday. It begins tomorrow (Thursday) night. It's for sophomores, I think, and there is actually a book for it as well as lesson plans. The book is hilarious. Some of the topics are outrageous in my opinion, but it will hopefully be fun.
WUDANGSHAN INTERNATIONAL SPORTS CEREMONY (HAPPY IN CHINA)
Several days ago we were told that there was an activity (they called it a sports meet) in Shiyan Tuesday, and our presence was requested. We knew nothing about what type of activity it was or what to expect, but foreigners throughout Shiyan and the surrounding area would attend. Our school took us by car to KFC where another foreign affairs officer directed us to a hotel across the street. We waited at the hotel for 30 minutes or longer mingling with some other foreigners (a woman from Canada who teaches at a middle school, a couple from Utah, a couple from Canada, a few men from Camaroon, and the rest of our teachers). Then a large, nice bus took us to the function. It was at an arena, and crowds of people were already there. We were shuffled through the crowds, given those plastic, retractable lightsabers that have flashlights in the handles to light them up. We were also given stickers to put on our faces and flags to wave. We were brought to the field inside the arena and sat down pretty close to the stage considering there were thousands of people there. We still didn't know what to expect, but there was a huge stage with large television screens all around it.
While we waited for things to begin, I met a couple guys who are taking tai chi lessons at Wudangshan for a month or two. One guy my age is from Israel and is traveling through Asia for five months (he just finished four years mandatory military training in Israel), and the other guy is from England and is just taking a long vacation. They were interesting, and the English guy was terribly nice.
The show started with several speeches we couldn't understand (and there was even a translator!), and then a small instrumental group came out. They were dressed beautifully and played violins, flutes and maybe a couple other instruments. While they played, several dancers behind them played air instruments with choreographed dance moves.
After this group, some men and women from Wudangshan entertained us with some choreographed kung fu movements, and some of them had swords they flailed about elegantly. It was spectacular. There were a couple other choreographed performances, and then different singers, who I assume and believe are famous Chinese musicians - pop stars, even - performed. It would have been cool to know who they were. Brian recognized a few from being on television, but I didn't know any of them. These individual performances lasted quite a while. Periodically during a performance, they would shoot of fireworks for effects. Once when they did this, a piece of the firework fell from the sky and hit the girl in front of us. It burned her arm a little and whatever was in her hand. It was unbelievable. She was okay, though - just a little jumpy afterwards whenever the fireworks would go off.
Throughout the entire concert, nobody ever stood up. I couldn't believe it. It was the type of concert where in the States, everyone would be standing and jumping and screaming all the time, but nobody did this. They didn't even clap. They just swayed their lightsabers in the air to the beat of the music, and when they got excited or after the singer finished his/her song, they would shake their lightsabers back and forth and yell. It was crazy.
We all left early. It began to get boring, and the boys were hungry so we pushed our way (literally) through security and the crowd and headed for home. We passed some of the martial arts guys, the ones with the swords, as we were leaving, so Derek made them take pictures with him. I don't think they minded, though.
Speaking of pictures, we were quite the movie stars when we arrived. A lot of people took pictures of us, and the cameras definitely video-ed our section. There are a lot of people here, apparently, who have never seen a foreigner so it's exciting to them when we are around. As a matter of fact, yesterday Brian, Cindy and I bought cell phones on the street. While we were buying them, we attracted a few interested people who just watched us. Anytime we stop anywhere for very long, we draw a crowd. It's interesting.
I had a class this morning which again went well. After class I wanted to do something productive so we decided to eat and early lunch and play catch with the football and/or the frisbee. We started with the football - again something they don't have here - so we drew a crowd. A couple of my students joined us, and we taught them how to throw the football. The football was getting pretty beat up so we moved on to the frisbee. Halbert, one of my students who has a very sweet disposition, became a master at frisbee. Today was the first day he had ever thrown one, and by the end of it all, he was better at throwing it than the rest of us Americans. It was awesome!
Tonight the foreigners are meeting for dinner and to discuss some important things. Derek has a freshmen class that doesn't begin till the second week of October, but they wanted to get to know him before then so right now he is having an introductory meeting with them. My computer is not working properly so I'm using this ideal time while he's gone to catch up on my blog using his computer. It's ridiculously long, but I hope it's a little enjoyable.
Oh, today we discovered a fruity, creamy milk drink. This is an incredible find because the milk they have here does not appeal to me (except the coffee milk which is pretty good), and they don't eat cheese so I need to find a way to build my calcium intake. Actually, yesterday I wasn't feeling the Chinese food thing so we made really good grilled cheese sandwiches with some Velveeta the former teachers left us.