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.


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.


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. (:


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!