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.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
I've taught three classes this week for a total of seven periods. The first week of classes is always the easiest, so I hear. We covered introductory basics about the class and spent quite awhile in a question/answer session. My students have a lot of questions about American culture and the differences between Americans and Chinese. The students are very respectful and eager to learn. Most already had English names, although I think we will have to change some of their names to something more appropriate. One gentlemen said, "My name is Fish because I like fish." I told him we would have to change his name because it doesn't work well in the U.S., but he seems reluctant to want to change it. In the Chinese language, I think any character can be a name so many times the students will just choose something they like in English and make that their name.
Wednesday after class I began working on lesson plans for the rest of the semester when I got a call from a new friend here in China. She wanted to hang out. We walked around the neighborhood for awhile, and she showed me where she lived on campus. She is a sophomore this year, but her English is very good. Derek, Brian and Cindy had gone shopping with Helen, our waiban, to buy a few electronics, and when they returned, Derek, Brian, Sofie and I had lunch at Happy Guy's. Brian bought the Chinese version of Coke Black (the coke/coffee mixture), but here it tastes like cigarette smoke. It was horrible, but Derek kept drinking it "hoping" it would taste better with each new sip. He's odd sometimes!
After lunch the boys and I went to the Jeremy and Rena's apartment. Their girls haven't started school yet so they've been very bored the past several days. We thought we might offer a fun distraction for a few hours. In Shiyan there is a place called the People's Park. It's a large park in the center of town with walking trails, ponds, non-flowing waterfalls, and a small amusement park (really, it's just like a local carnival). When we approached the carnival rides, everything appeared to be closed. There were men repairing or painting some of the rides. There were very few other visitors. We thought it must be off-season.
We soon walked to an area where a few booths were set up. They had B.B. guns with which you try to shoot balloons to win prizes. They had Whack-A-Mole, but I don't think they were moles you hit. They had bean bag tosses and a few other carnival games. The workers who previously had been relaxing or napping in their chairs came to life and tried to get us to play their booths. The boys, of course, showed off their gun shooting skills and won the coveted prize of unsalted sunflower seeds.
The whole atmosphere of the amusement park was very eerie - something out of a horror film. It's like we stumbled upon the oldest theme park in the world that should have shut down years ago but was open just for us. There was one ride that looked fun. It was basically a luge - you sit on a small, plastic board on wheels type of thing that has a stick in the middle which serves as the break. There are no seat belts, and for most of the track there is nothing holding the vehicle to the track. Jeremy and Derek braved what I thought looked like the ride of death. First, the ride took them up a very steep hill where they had to strain to keep from slipping off. Then it shot them around this winding track. It was unbelievable how fast they were going with nothing to protect them if they slipped off (no belt, no helmet, nothing). They survived, but no one else attempted the ride.
Next we happened upon a roller coaster ride. It wasn't a very big roller coaster. It had no loops and didn't go too far off the ground. It was very rusty and looked like it hadn't been ridden in awhile. We were debating on whether or not we wanted to pay 10 kuai for the ride (a little over a dollar) when Brian said we MUST experience a Chinese roller coaster SO he paid for all of us. There were four cars, but they weren't attached. Jeremy and Breanna rode together in the first car, Antasia and I were in the second, Derek and Courtny in the third, and Brian in the last. The cars weren't made for two American-sized girls with giant child-bearing hips (: to ride together so Antasia and I were squeezed uncomfortably next to (and slightly on top of) each other. The belt to strap us in was literally a brown leather belt that tied around our chests. Derek and Courtny's car didn't even have a belt so the conductor guy just motioned for them to hold on tight. Before Derek came here, he learned how to say "I'm going to die" in Chinese never expecting he'd be able to use it, but he got his chance afterall!
I can't even adequately describe how terrifying the ride was. We started the ride by slowly going up an incline. At the foot of the incline, our car felt like it partially came off the track at which point we were thrust upward. Then at the top of the incline, our car took off winding jerkily around curves and up and down small hills. It didn't last long, but what a ride! It was fun and scary and ridiculous all rolled up together.
We left the park after the roller coaster ride of a lifetime. Near the supermarket that we shop at is a long alley way that serves as a fresh produce market. We've bragged about the chicken strips from there so much that Jeremy and Rena wanted to get some for dinner that night. Jeremy likes to walk everywhere so instead of taking a bus, we all walked. However, we stopped at nearly every shop on the way to the market - clothing, shoes, electronics, whatever kind of shop that looked interesting. The market was crowded, but we got the chicken strips and I bought some kiwi fruit. Then we parted ways and headed home. The boys and I bought street food at the bottom of our hill, went home, and settled in for some LOST time.
Yesterday we didn't do too much. I worked some on lesson plans, but it was a rainy day - the kind where you want to relax and read or watch T.V. I wasn't very motivated so I didn't get a lot accomplished. Jeremy and Rena invited us to dinner yesterday. Rena is quite the cook and prepared homemade macaroni and cheese, barbecue weinies (sort of), corn, cornbread and apple pie. It was great.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Yesterday morning we all met in Brian's apartment. We were supposed to meet in mine, but my air conditioners were not doing their job and with too many people, it gets hot fast. It was really amazing. After the meeting, several of us went to eat lunch. We tried Happy Guy's, but he didn't have room for us so we tried some place new. I sat at a table with Andrew, Jamie and a few other new friends. It was a great lunch with great company.
When we got home, I was supposed to start working on my lesson plans for today, but I wasn't feeling well - sinus stuff - so instead we watched a few episodes of LOST - again! "Dr." Cindy came upstairs to give me some Vitamin C and Zinc pills, and she fixed me some hot tea. After we finished LOST, I was feeling really horrible, now feeling nauseated in addition to my sinus stuff. So Brian and I planned a little bit for our class tonight, and then I went to bed. The boys decided to eat supper at McDonald's, but I opted to stay home and sleep. I did get up for 30 minutes to create my lesson plan for this morning's class, but then I went back to bed.
I feel much better this morning. I took some Dayquil which always does the trick for me. Class begins in 45 minutes. I'm a little nervous, but I KNOW things will run smoothly. They always do.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Yesterday morning Derek and I decided to try something different for breakfast. Normally we just walk down our lovely hill to the market and buy either dumplings or something fried (and I say something because we seldom know what it is). But yesterday we walked past the market, turned right, and walked a ways down the main street. We crossed the street feeling very much like we were playing Frogger in trying to avoid the cars. In the six days we've been here, Derek and I have learned the names of a few delicious dishes. Unfortunately, none of them are breakfast foods so we were pretty lost in knowing what to order. We saw a large wok with something that looked like hashbrowns so we pointed at it and ordered two portions. Then we went inside to sit down, and a Chinese man greeted us. He was enjoying the same breakfast of which we were about to partake, and we soon began chatting. He's a professor at our school, and his English was very good. He suggested we order a bowl of dou fu nu (I'm totally making up the spelling of that dish) which means bean curd brain. We didn't know what it meant when we ordered it, or we might have hesitated before giving the go ahead. It actually just turned out to be a bowl of very soft bean curd, or tofu, in a light liquid with sugar. It was pretty fantastic. We talked with Mr. Fan, our new friend, while we ate, and then he paid for our breakfast, and we walked back to our apartments together. He also lives on campus - just in another building. He's 64 and ready to retire, but because of his experience, the school has asked him to continue teaching. He was terribly interesting to talk to.
After having lunch, Brian, Derek and I bought bus passes. Basically, you put a certain amount of money on a card and can use it to pay the bus fares instead of having to carry around correct change all of the time. We then went to a DVD store and bought shamefully cheap DVDs. I bought two movies, one being the new Superman movie, for about a dollar each.
A couple days ago Derek bought the first season of LOST - the apparently highly addictive TV series. When we got back from shopping, we decided to pop in the first episode. Right now we watch our movies on our computers. The teachers from last year left a room full of boxes of things for us - anything from cooking supplies to books to electronics to really random objects. Included in that stuff was supposed to be a DVD player, but it has mysteriously disappeared. So for now our computers work fine. Anyway, we were halfway through LOST when our waiban (foreign teacher's office) called to tell us we had a meeting in 30 minutes with the English Department. Regrettably, we were unable to finish the entire first episode of LOST until later!
We met in a conference room with about 5 people from the English Department. They officially welcomed us and shared their expectations for us - basically they require that we be responsible teachers which seems fair enough. It wasn't long before everyone but Eric left. Eric was in charge of giving us our teaching assignments. I will be teaching two classes for English majors which is composed of sophomores. Eric said one of these classes consists of students from another school that is associated with our school. I didn't really understand what he was talking about, but he told me the language abilities of these students would probably be limited. How limited? I don't know, and I'm a little concerned. Eric said I should adjust my curriculum according to their limits. We'll see; maybe we'll all be pleasantly surprised by their abilities. Anyway, one class begins this Monday from 8:10 to 9:45 (periods one and two) and the other begins Wednesday, again periods one and two. Then I have another class on Monday evening from 6:45 to 9:10. It's an elective English class, and there is no textbook which means there's quite a bit of flexibility in what is taught. The class size of my other two classes is between 35 and 40. This elective class consists of 80 students. However, they've decided to split the class into two: I will teach 40 students and Brian will teach the other 40. But we have to share the same grade book and teacher's log. We'll be teaching separately, but in every other way, the class is effectively one class. Make sense? I'm excited about this class. I think it will be fun to plan with Brian. Two minds are better than one, right? In addition to these classes, there are two other activities I must participate in: English Corner and Lectures. English Corner is every Friday night, and for two hours I talk with whoever comes to practice their English. We can chat about anything that's not controversial. I think each of us teachers will take turns hosting the English Corner. We'll also take turns giving two hour lectures to whoever wishes to attend them. They said that a couple hundred students usually come to the lectures, and we can speak, again, about anything not too controversial.
Cindy and Brian both begin teaching next week, but Derek was only assigned one class consisting of freshmen. The freshmen spend the first six weeks of school going through orientation and military training so Derek's class doesn't begin till October! Brian thinks they'll probably assign Derek some more classes before too long, but until then he's free to do whatever he pleases.
After our meeting with the English Department, we met Jeremy, Rena, their girls, and Andrew and Jamie (two teachers at the medical school here in Shiyan) for dinner at Happy Guy's. I met Andrew and Jamie in Searcy back in May, but this was the first time we saw them since they arrived in Shiyan (they missed our plane back in L.A. and were delayed a day from arriving).
After dinner we all came back to our apartment where Brad (another teacher at the medical school met us). We spent an hour or so talking about what brought us here and discussing logistics about future meetings. There are 12 of us right now with one other coming in October - Darla (who is a returning teacher and will be at the medical school).
Courtny, Jeremy and Rena's 15 year old daughter, wanted to spend the night with me which was fine with me. My apartment's pretty bare and I'm lacking entertainment accommodations, but she didn't seem to mind. The boys, Courtny and I finished watching episode one of LOST and then watched two more episodes after that. We're pretty much hooked.
Today it rained - all day. So what else do you do on rainy days but settle in and relax, and we did just that. We watched three more episodes of LOST. Brian thought we should ration it, but over here you can buy box sets of anything for really cheap so I figure when we're through with season one, we'll have season two and then there's always 24 or Prison Break if we actually even have time to watch anything after school starts.
Brian and Cindy took Courtny back to her apartment around 5:30, and then Derek and I met them at McDonald's because we had made plans to have dinner with a Chinese girl named Mandy. Mandy has been pretty involved with the foreigners for awhile. She actually e-mailed me before I came to Shiyan to welcome me and to ask for my friendship. Anyway, we ate at this pretty nice restaurant and had some great dishes - pumpkin with sprinkles on it and sweet and sour fish were two of my favorites. In China you seldom order individual plates at most restaurants. You order several dishes and everyone shares.
When we were finishing, a guy with a guitar got up on stage and played an Oasis song. He was pretty good, though it's always funny hearing a foreigner sing an English song. After playing several songs, he and his accompanying keyboardist sat down with us. The keyboardist is part owner of the restaurant, and Brian knew him from before. He told us to come back next Friday because they were going to have a Western themed dinner in honor of us. The food will be barbecue, pizza, and something else American. They'll also play Western music. I was blown away. So we're planning on going back next Friday and bringing the other foreigners with us.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Yesterday we met with Angel and Steven from the Foreign Affairs Office. We have to have work VISAs to be able to teach, and they needed us to fill out some things. Then we told them some of the things that were wrong with our apartments, and they pretty quickly worked on most of them. I tried washing my clothes last night, but the water wouldn't drain so I have to get them to fix my washer. I really need to be able to wash my clothes. Since there's no dryer, it takes a lot longer for my clothes to dry hanging outside.
For lunch a teacher from last year who has been here for three years but is now moving to Ningbo stopped by to visit Brian. Trip, the teacher, is leaving today so we didn't have much time to visit. We all went to eat at the iron bowl restaurant - they cook and serve rice in iron bowls, and you can choose which dish you want on top.
The rest of the afternoon, we didn't do too much. I've listened to the first Pimsleur Chinese lesson, but it's a little overwhelming. Brian is really patient and often explains how to say something several times for us.
Jeremy, Rena and the girls invited us over Mexican last night. I haven't gotten to the point where I crave food from home, but the Mexican food was a nice reprieve from Chinese. It was really good.
The flight from LA to Guangzhou, China was a long one - I think around 15 hours, but I lose track when I cross so many time zones. The flight wasn't so bad. I slept quite a bit. The worst part was that they didn't show any American movies. Each seat had a TV built into the back of the seat in front of it, and it got about seven or so channels. They showed a French movie with English subtitles, several Chinese shows, and periodically very old Tom and Jerry cartoons - my personal favorite. We arrived in Guangzhou around six something in the morning and left there a few hours later for Wuhan.
The first thing I noticed when we arrived in Wuhan was just how hot and muggy it is. I really thought the Oklahoma weather was terribly hot, but it is nothing compared to the weather in Wuhan. We were all sweating just as soon as we stepped outside.
In Wuhan representatives from our school were waiting to pick us up. From here our group split - many of the teachers were staying in Wuhan to teach, but a few of us still had to travel to other cities. At my school, there are four of us: Brian, who has been here before - two years ago - is from Nashville. He's our salvation right now because he can communicate and knows what foods to order, what places to go to, etc. Derek is from Houston and just graduated from Harding - a Spanish major. Cindy is from Alaska and is the only one with actual teaching experience. She's married, but her husband is staying in Alaska.
From the airport we went to eat. Our first official Chinese meal consisted of several different types of dumplings and a few other dishes. Helen, the woman who picked us up, wanted us to have a pleasant eating experience so she made sure to choose dishes that were sure to please us. She did a great job. After eating we settled into our hotel rooms where we napped a bit before going for dinner. We all went to bed pretty early that night.
Monday morning Helen took us to a hospital to have a medical exam which is required in order for us to be able to teach. We were there for a couple hours and had an ECG, and ultrasound, chest X-ray, blood pressure and eye tests, and had blood taken. While waiting for the paper work to go through, we ran into a few other teachers who will also be in Shiyan: Brad who is a returning teacher and is at the medical college here and Jeremy, Rena and their three teenage daughters who are at the technical school.
After the medical exam, and a quick meal of tasty noodles, we left in our van for Shiyan. It took about six hours, but the drive was beautiful - especially as we neared Shiyan. The area is very mountainous and absolutely amazing.
Once we arrived in Shiyan, we were dropped off at our apartments. We live in the foreign teachers building. The first floor is the foreign affairs office, and the second through fifth floors are apartments for the foreign teachers. After meeting Steven - the head foreign affairs guy - we were given our apartment keys and left to our own devices. I had a few problems with my apartment on the second floor, but Steven had mentioned we could move up to the fourth floor if we wanted. Since we didn't have those keys yet, I spent my first night on the second floor. I hardly unpacked though because I knew I would be moving the next day. Derek was next door, and Cindy and Brian were on the third floor. Brian has since decided to move up to the fourth floor across from me, which I'm grateful for; I like having a neighbor.
Our apartments have two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen/dining room, living room and a front and back deck. There really aren't good views from either deck - mostly buildings - but at least on the fourth floor, I can see some trees. My shower is interesting. I don't have a tub or anything that separates the shower from the rest of the bathroom. Basically, there's a shower head that comes out from the wall, and when I shower, water runs all over the floor, though it's not quite so bad with a shower curtain. After my shower, I take a squigee and push the water down the drain. It's pretty easy, and I kind of like the fact I don't have to clean a tub. I never did like cleaning tubs!
I'm moved in completely now, but my house is really bare. I'm going to have to have Mom send me some things and I'll need to buy stuff to decorate it. I never was a decorator, but I think I really want my place to feel more homey.
Today Brian took Derek and me on a tour of the campus. It's really beautiful - very hilly, lots of trees, and of course, some cool Chinese architecture and sculptures. The weather today was wonderful. It was misty and cool. So when we were walking around campus, it felt very much like October in Oklahoma when the air gets crisp, and there's a neat atmosphere on campus. As we were walking, we ran into one of the Chinese brothers. He's older and very friendly. We will be seeing him at the end of the week, which I'm really looking forward to. He was very nice.
Every day we have been eating at this restaurant down the hill from us. The owner's name is Happy Guy - or at least that's what former teachers have called him, and it's stuck. Brian is pretty good friends with him. He doesn't really speak English, but he'll sit down with us and try to communicate, all the time having a big smile on his face. His food is amazing too. Brian is really good about ordering different things for us to try. My favorites so far are sweet and sour pork which is nothing like what we have in the States, a dish with eggplant, potatoes, peppers and garlic, and a dish with beef and potatoes. We've also had some street food which is dirt cheap. Every thing is cheap here. The four of us can eat like kings for four dollars - that's four dollars for everyone altogether not apiece.
Derek and I are trying to learn the language. He's much better at it than I a
m. He remembers things a lot better, but I'm sure eventually it will click for me.
We think school starts next Monday, but because we have freshmen, we may not begin teaching until the week after that. In the meantime, we're just taking it easy - trying to get acquainted to the city and our homes.
Tonight we visited Jeremy, Rena, Antasia, Courtny and Breanna at their apartment. We were all very impressed with their living quarters. I have a feeling we'll be visiting frequently. We all went to eat together. Since there were eight of us, we got our own private room in this particular restaurant. The food was decent, but not as good as Happy Guy's. It was more expensive too, and some of the dishes were so spicy hot, my mouth burned and my eyes watered uncontrollably. It was pretty painful. Afterwards, we went to a DVD/CD/etc. store where you can buy things shamefully cheap. Derek bought the first season of lost for less than 10 dollars, I think.
Yesterday we went to the supermarket to buy cleaning supplies and other essentials. There were so many clerks in the store, and they all wanted to help us. At one point, we were about to be surrounded. I ducked out and went to another aisle, but the guys got surrounded by probably fifteen or so employees trying to sell them this or that. The Chinese seem really to like Derek, although, he does show a lot of interest in them too which probably helps. It crazy though. Besides that, I don't know that we've made to many waves in this city. There are definitely those who stare - especially little children - as well as those who want to speak whatever English they know in our general direction. It hasn't been a nuissance at all. It's kind of fun. Everyone is so friendly here, and they all want to make us feel welcome.