Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Who knows why we do anything? I think there are probably a variety of reasons why we decided to travel in December. Lots of things came together to make this particular month the month to take a few days off and get out of town. With my light teaching schedule and the decision to not travel during October holiday, I was feeling the itch in early November to get on a train and see where it would take me. Hong Kong, which has become the Mecca for those of us older folks around here, was on my wish list, and Brian and Jessica both were prepared to rearrange some classes for a week long journey with me. We planned to travel the week before Christmas because my classes would be finished and the other two would be nearing the end of theirs. Plus, we already had an alliterated name for November - No Shave November - which meant "Destination December" was meant to be (and we were meant to wait).

With a destination in mind and date to leave arranged, we came off our Thanksgiving high to tread through the first couple weeks of December. The weekdays themselves are generally uneventful. I finished my classes the first week of December and scheduled movie nights in their place the following week. I had a small group of students from my Monday and Wednesday night classes come those evenings to watch a film. The students who came happen to be my favorite (though they were chosen to come as a reward to their winning an ABC of Slang Balderdash game the week before), and we had a really good time together. They're pretty shy still (I'm their first foreign teacher, friend, etc.), but I'm hoping to continue building good relationships with them. I have high hopes for 'em!


However uneventful the weekdays are, the weekends make up for it! The second weekend in December, we were visited by two of our awesome Wuhan sisters, Danielle and Carole. They arrived late Friday night, heralding fun train-ride stories involving Mariah Carey's Hero and Communist jacket pillows. It's okay if this doesn't make sense because so often, most things don't! Saturday morning we had a foreign girls brunch/study at Qi Yuan (my school). We've been doing an all girls, all foreigner brunch/study each Saturday morning and moving it around from school to school. It's been a fantastic uplift for me each time we meet. This particular week we were blessed to have some bacon, biscuits and gravy, banana bread and apple cinnamon muffins for brunch (thus noted, because this type of food is exciting for us!). We talked about affirmation and many other things, and I'm constantly reminded each week in these settings just how fortunate I am to be around other deeply spiritual ladies.

In the early afternoon, we went to the local orphanage. We really want to be a blessing to the children there, but it's hard sometimes knowing what we can do for them that will be the most helpful. We hoped to be able to make weekly visits, but the orphanage director just recently limited our coming to twice a month. It was a rainy day when we went this time. I'm not sure where all the kids were, but we were only able to meet with a handful. We sang a lot of songs from our songbook and flirted with the ultra-cute, shy little boy who easily won the hearts of all the girls there.

From the orphanage, a quick trip to the Korean Market provided awesome Russian hats with sweet, furry ear-flaps. We ate a quick dinner at Happy Guys, took some compromising photos in the Russian hats (Jessica, Danielle, and Carole, that is) and rested up before our big night on the town.

Life is a musical here. Or at least we try to make it such. Singing and dancing often happen spontaneously and serve as the answer to any mundane atmosphere we encounter. Saturday night we decided to go dancing. Given my Caucasian genes and restrictive upbringing, my rhythm is basically non-existent, but it was still a lot of fun hanging out, laughing and dancing the night away (or at least the hour or two we were out).

Intent on giving our Wuhan friends a fun experience worthy of the one they afforded us two weeks previously when we visited them for Thanksgiving, we decided to continue our musical weekend on Sunday. After our morning meeting, we went to Priscilla's to watch Hairspray and to take showers. Then we headed over to enjoy an hour of KTV (karaoke). I don't generally enjoy KTV when I go with students or other people (it's too loud and taken too seriously), but with some loud and crazy Americans, we had a blast singing and dancing in our little private room.

After KTV we went to UBC Coffee for some fried ice cream balls. You never know what type of ice cream you'll get, but the funnel-cake crust is delicious regardless. The flavors of ice cream appear to be green, off-white, purple and red. Now, one might say those aren't flavors; they're colors. To which I would respond, orange is both a color and a fruit, and in China, it's a person too! The green is my favorite flavor, I think.

Every evening in People's Square, which is very near UBC Coffee, the old people of the community get together for a little dance party/exercise routine. We, of course, decided to join them after our fried ice cream balls were sitting heavy in our tummies. There were a few different styles of dancing,: the classic, Native American-like, powwow shuffle - the easiest yet least impressive style, the subdued Irish jig - which looks easy, but proves otherwise upon attempting to imitate it, and the Chinese four-step - called that for lack of better understanding of what was happening. The old people were very kind and patient in allowing us to mimic them and even took a little time to slowly show us the steps. We didn't stay too long. As we were leaving, Jessica and Carole decided to teach them the Electric Slide. They drew quite a crowd of interested folks, and a few of the bolder Chinese followed their lead. It was great fun.

Sadly, all good times must come to an end, and Danielle and Carole left us Monday morning. Fortunately, Wuhan isn't too far away...


After a few hiccups in our travel plans, Hong Kong was put on a back burner (a destination to be revisited next semester), and Brian, Jessica and I agreed to visit Chengdu instead. Chengdu is the fifth largest city in China and is located in Sichuan Province. It's about a twelve or thirteen hour train ride from us. Chengdu is one of those cities in China that everyone will tell you is beautiful and amazing and you must visit it. Afterall, there are pandas there, lots and lots of pandas.

We didn't really plan anything for the trip. With Lonely Planet China in hand, we set off for Chengdu last Thursday night (on Jessica's birthday which we celebrated with banana pancakes in the morning, dinner and cake in the evening and a dart/stress relief board in the, well, forever actually).

Our main objectives in Chengdu were 1) hold a panda (well, that was Jessica's dream which we promised to fulfill for her as her birthday present from Brian and me), 2) eat Mexican food at Pete's Tex-Mex restaurant, and 3) visit Starbucks (although, I'm saddened by this admittance, I do look forward to finding Starbucks in the bigger cities we visit).

From the train station in Chengdu, we lugged our big bags to a taxi and were taken to Pete's restaurant first thing. The food was too amazing to describe. The atmosphere, too, was so great. The whole place had a ski lodge around Christmas type of feel to it. There were a lot of foreigners, and Brian, Jessica and I found it difficult to not stare at them!

From Pete's we found a hostel called Sim's which I recommend to anyone traveling to Chengdu. It's one of the better hostels I've stayed in, and Sim (the owner) is super cool. We did find a Starbucks that evening after we had bought a few books from a bookstore that sold a small collection of English books (several of them classics which was exciting). We spent a few hours reading at Starbucks before heading to our hostel for the night.

Saturday found us making our way to interesting spots in the city. We checked out the Tibetan district and ate some "authentic" Tibetan food. We also went to People's Park because we had read about an underground thrill ride which took you by rickety train past strange wonders and through a shark's mouth. We were so excited about this ride, but our hopes were dashed (the first, but certainly not the last time on this trip) when a self-selling tour guide told us the ride had been turned into an underground ghost town. We decided to check it out, nevertheless, and paid five yuan to walk through this sadly decrepit excuse for a haunted house. We made our own fun, however, by frightening the other unfortunate souls who were also duped into paying five yuan for this thrill-less spectacle.

Saturday night we attended the Sichuan opera which absolutely did not disappoint (minus the fact we were promised VIP seats in the first five rows and paid for such, but were given eighth row seats). It wasn't crowded as I had expected it to be. Included in the variety show were the traditional high-pitched opera that China is famous for, shadow puppets, hand puppets, an acrobatic routine, a traditional Chinese comedy, and the changing faces extravaganza. The changing of the faces (not to be confused with the changing of the guard, though I'm finding my descriptive skills to be inadequate at the moment) was quite amazing. These skilled masters could change their masks in the blink of an eye. I was and continue to be in awe of their abilities.

Sunday we took a day trip to LeShan, a nearby mountain which boasts the largest carved Buddha in the world. We arrived in the LeShan village around lunchtime, and after eating some local dishes (spicy enough to help Brian get his spice back which had been lost in recent weeks), we set off by foot to find this Giant Buddha. Entrance into the park was more expensive than I wanted to pay, but when you come this far, you can't turn back. We paid the 70 yuan and began the short trek to the top of the Giant Buddha. It also didn't disappoint. It's quite huge. They say it's fingernail is longer than the height of an average person. Upon observance, this height is clearly referring to the average Chinese person, but, even so, the carved statue is still huge.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the park, getting lost, freaking out about birds (Jessica), visiting empty tombs and broken relics, exploring a vacant temple guarded by a ferocious dog, and finding our way out. LeShan is pretty cool. I enjoyed my time there. That night we went to an Irish pub and had the best steak burger and chicken burger I have ever had. The music was good, and it was a nice way to round out the day.

Monday we had great plans. Just kidding. Brian and I slept in while Jessica went to visit a monastery nearby. We met up for lunch at Grandma's Kitchen which turned out to be a branch of Grandma's Kitchen in the Jazz Lounge we had hoped to go to that night. (Sadly, the Jazz Lounge would have no live music that night so we didn't end up going there.) Since Grandma's Kitchen was a flop (too expensive), we went to the Cajara Indian restaurant next door where Jessica fell in love with our Tibetan waiter and my love for Bollywood was rekindled. You never know what good may come from altered plans!

We also found another foreign language bookstore and bought still more books to add to our collection. As before, we found a Starbucks soon after our purchases and read for several hours. That evening we went back to our hostel early and relaxed in the restaurant/rec room. Since we couldn't play Mahjong (no suitable table), Jessica and Brian taught me Texas Holdem'.

Tuesday was all about the pandas. We left early in the morning because we had read that pandas are most active between nine and ten in the morning. They spend most of their time sleeping each day (something about bamboo being too fibrous to be of much nutritional value and sleep being the best way to reserve what energy they do obtain from the bamboo). The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (that's the panda place's name) was surprisingly well kept. It was definitely one of the most professionally maintained attractions I've been to in Asia. We visited the Giant Panda Enclosures, the Young Panda Enclosures, and the Baby Panda Nursery (our favorite site) several times, actually. We just kept meandering back and forth. Near the nursery we were supposed to be able to pay to hold a panda, but for whatever reason, there was nowhere to do this. I'm not sure if our timing was bad, if the camera crew we saw was filming something important and, thereby, monopolizing the pandas' time, or if the place is just disorganized during off-season tourist times, but we left the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding dejected (Jessica's word) and resentful towards Lonely Planet which we feel did not prepare us for the possibility that we wouldn't be able to hold a panda.

The only cure for disappointment met by resentment and sprinkled with a little anger was dessert and coffee from Starbucks. Having thus been slightly (or momentarily) appeased, we spent the rest of the evening reading and counting the hours until we could board our train for our sweet little hometown. While Shiyan may not be the most fantastic city in China, it certainly doesn't boast great things which it will fail to deliver!

It's not that Chengdu is a terrible city, but it lacks personality. It lacks character. I'm happy I visited it, and I'm content to never revisit it. The highlights of this trip definitely consisted of our awesome book purchases (and the time to relax and read them at Starbucks), the food from various countries we partook of, Sim's hostel, some incredibly cute pets which have inspired Jessica and me to get a puppy in the near future, my company (Jessica and Brian, yay, for fun travel buddies!), and these sweet head scarves Jessica and I bought (one scarf which can be used in a variety of ways to completely change the look or fashion for which I am striving, given my mood or the occasion in which I find myself).

We are glad to be home. It's good timing too because Christmas festivities begin very soon. I'm not exactly prepared for them. I feel that this year has reached that point similar to the point at which the sun has nearly set. It's the only time when you actually see the sun moving down. It goes so quickly that if you look away for even one second, you might miss the top of the sun disappearing beyond the horizon. I feel that right now I'm watching the year slipping down so quickly into the horizon that I can't look away or I'll miss it! But that's okay; the new year promises great things.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I've decided to dedicate this morning (and as long as it takes) to updating my blog, putting pictures on Facebook and just getting organized. Last time I wrote about the free time I was "enjoying", but with the holidays upon us and the addition of various activities, my days are quickly becoming filled. I apologize if my blog is choppy and random, but those seem to be characteristics of my life here too!

The family here is growing, growing, growing! It's so amazing. But with new faces comes a new and different group dynamic. We've been struggling a bit to figure out how each of us fits into the group and how and what our talents are and how we should be working. Recently, we've been studying the life of the Son with some of the more mature brothers/sisters and realized that we've been doing a lot of talking and not a lot of living. So we're planning to begin several community
outreach endeavors. I'll be working with those interested in focusing on the homeless/beggars of the city. We'll build relationships with them and meet what needs they have. In my mind, the most important thing is to treat them like humans and show them the hope that we all have (some family here as well as in the States think that beggars are crooked and dishonest and we shouldn't help them, but I think all of us are crooked and dishonest and our Father didn't withhold hope from us because of it so we shouldn't withhold the hope from others). I'll save you from my rant about this. (-: Anyway, some other sisters plan on doing the same kind of work in the pink light district (aka, red light district). And we have an orphanage in town where we hope
to make weekly visits. In addition, we are all going to focus more on the people we come into contact with daily (the juice lady, the fruit ladies, the guards, coworkers, etc.). It's not that our focus until now has been misguided or wrong; it's just been too narrow!

I'm nearly finished with classes. I have a Monday and Wednesday night class. We meet periods nine and ten, but there's actually an eleventh period which is the last period of the day. Brian and I decided to meet that eleventh period too so that we can finish classes two weeks early. Next week is our last week of classes. There's always a possibility the school might throw some random adult classes our way, but if it doesn't then I'll be finished with school the first week of December, giving me nearly three months of break between semesters. I'm looking into going to a month-long language school in Kunming (southern China) with William. It's expensive for me, but I know the benefits are worth it. The more I want to be involved in the community, the more I realize just how necessary learning the language is. A solid foundation in Chinese should help me in the coming months pick up more of the language.


Last week Darla and I were talking. This is her third year and my second year in China, and we were just discussing some of our struggles when the idea to visit our friend Nancy in Xi'an came up. Nancy's been working in China for almost ten years, and we thought it would do us some good to chat with her and get some advice or perspective from someone who's been here much longer than we have. Given our teaching schedules and the close proximity of Xi'an from here, we decided to leave Thursday night.

It was a fortuitous time for us to visit Xi'an (my fourth visit to Nancy, by the way, which is noteworthy only because I broke the record for most visits!). Five teachers from Wuhan were also visiting Xi'an (and staying with Nancy) and four teachers from Ningbo (a few of whom went to school with Darla) were there as well. Since Nancy had a full house, we agreed to stay in a youth hostel near the Bell Tower with the Ningbo group.

We arrived Friday morning and met up with the Ningbo four - Kevin, Chad, Graham and Emily - to check into the hostel (which I totally recommend to anyone traveling to Xi'an). After a McDonald's breakfast, the Ningbo crew went to visit the terra-cotta soldiers. Darla and I have done the main touristy stuff in Xi'an so we decided to wander through the streets instead. There's something totally freeing about visiting a tourist city and NOT doing anything touristy.

For lunch we went into some hot pot restaurant, but they served us dishes instead of hot pot. The owner (if he was that) sat and chatted with Darla and me nearly the entire time we ate. He was a big fan of America, apparently. It was nice, though. Normally, I'm totally self-conscious about speaking Chinese in front of my friends, but Darla made me feel comfortable enough to use what Chinese I do know, and we had a fun time with this guy. We even took photos with him, and after eating went next door to get the pictures printed so he could have copies to show people his "American friends".

After lunch and feeling a certain confidence in our basic ability to communicate in Chinese, we decided to go to the train station to buy our return tickets. It was one of the most painless ticket buying experiences I have ever had in China, and we felt very blessed to have been able to secure our own tickets without imposing on any of Nancy's friends.

The main reason we came to Xi'an was to visit Nancy so with return tickets in hand, we took a taxi to her school. Nancy has a rabbit named Qingqing who had somehow received a pretty nasty gash on its back so shortly after arriving, we helped Nancy take her to the doctor. The place where we took Qingqing just happened to be very close to Metro - a huge Sam's like store - and since going there was also on our agenda, we split from Nancy after the doctor visit and went shopping. Shopping at Metro is so surreal. There are tons of western food items that we can't even imagine having access to in Shiyan, but all of it's really expensive. When I shop there, I always make a slow run-though of each aisle so that I can process what I'm seeing and avoid compulsive shopping. Then I go through a second time and choose what I think I'll really be needing. There are always a lot of things I want to buy, but I generally talk myself out of most of them. Very seldom do I regret not having something here in Shiyan so a Metro run is generally all about cheese because that's the one thing we really do try to stock up on since we can't get decent cheese in our city.

Nancy has a study on Friday nights so we were able to attend that. It was so great, actually, and the girls who were there were really inquisitive. We stayed there long enough for the five Wuhan teachers - Megan, Danielle, Laurie, Jessica and Jeremy - to return from their day of sightseeing. We only chatted with them for a couple minutes because we needed to catch a bus to our hostel before the buses stopped running. Ironically, it turned out that the Danielle I met in Xi'an would be the person I would stay with the following weekend when I visited Wuhan with Jessica to attend their Thanksgiving dinner. It was nice that I could meet her before crashing at her casa.

Our hostel was really nice, and we met people from various countries. I really enjoy talking with other travelers. In my room, there were a couple guys from Australia, a couple from Poland, and a guy from California who had been traveling since April. They had just arrived from Tibet, and I got some good advice about traveling there (something I'd like to do next summer!).

Saturday morning we went to Nancy's and talked with her for awhile. Our conversation was postponed because we had planned to meet the Ningbo folks in the Muslim Quarter for lunch. They had a twenty four hour train ride ahead of them so after eating and some last minute souvenir shopping, they headed to the train station, and we went back with Nancy to her house. She had another study that evening which we again attended. A former Shiyan medical student is doing her internship at a hospital in Xi'an, and she came to the study. Her name is Lexi, and we were really excited to see her again. She's been contemplating "taking the plunge" and hopes to do so when she visits Shiyan at the end of this month.

Nancy let us sleep at her place Saturday night despite the five Wuhan people who were also there. Darla and I slept in her multi-purpose room (for lack of a better name describing a narrow room with the washing machine, the cupboard, the refrigerator and a coat rack). It was cool because we had more time to get to know her other guests. We left the next morning and arrived in Shiyan Sunday evening.


What a crazy week! Monday evening Brian and I took both of our classes to eat at Happy Guy's. We had thirty students or so cramped together in one of the rooms. It was fun, though, and the students loved hearing us order dishes and playing Human Uno while we waited for the dishes to come.

Tuesday I did a lot of baking (banana bread), and we had a couple studies in the evening which were more exhausting than I thought they would be. We've split our regular Tuesday study into two groups - one early evening and one early night - for the sake of meeting the different needs of the group. It's a good thing to do, but it makes for a long evening sometimes.

Wednesday brought lots of dishwashing and cleaning for me. I can never seem to keep my apartment clean. Plus, we've been baking a lot. In the morning I made rolls that I think even my grandma would be proud of. In the afternoon, the Chiplets from the Technical school came over and helped Jessica make rolls. They also helped translate into Chinese some thank you notes we had written for some of the people we come into contact with daily, like the fruit ladies, the Muslim noodle guy, the juice lady and her husband, Underwear King, the street rice people, etc. We baked them some small banana bread loaves and put the thank you notes with them to pass out. It was a strange experience giving the bread to these folks because all of them except the juice lady adamantly refused to accept these tokens of our appreciation until the Chiplets explained why we were handing them out. Even then, they were reluctant to take the bread. I hope after reading our notes explaining how thankful we are for them, they will better understand our intentions.


Thursday was just plain ridiculous and awesome. Wind, a great sister who is living and working in Danjiangkou now, came to stay Wednesday night with me so that she could celebrate Thanksgiving day with us. I has so much fun talking with her. She's such a deep and intelligent person.

In the morning, several of the foreigners met at McDonald's for breakfast, something we never do, by the way. It was a fun beginning to our day as well as the first (but not the last) time we would be asked to be quieter in a public place. It was Thanksgiving Day, and our excitement apparently manifested itself by increasing decibel levels.

After eating and some quick shopping for last minute supplies (minus butter which John Calvillo hoards in his refrigerator), eight of us - Brian, Jessica, William, John, Megan, Sean, Alice and I - gathered at the football field for our traditional Thanksgiving Day American football match. William did some weird ancient Chinese method of team choosing, and I ended up on an all guys team while John ended up on an all girls team. For the sake of saving the opposing team's face, I'll skimp on the details of the match. In the end, we all had a great time, and Jessica, John and Megan secured the need for them to stay in Shiyan another year just for a chance to regain some pride in next year's Thanksgiving Day football match. That's all I'll say about that. (-:


With the rolls made the day before, we could focus on more important things like pecan pies. I've never made a pecan pie before so I was a little nervous, especially since we can't get pecans here so if I messed it up, I couldn't go to the store and buy more pecans (or more Karo syrup) to try again. The pressure was on... I realize the benefit of cooking what I eat, and that's that I know what went into the final product. Never have I made such an unhealthy, heart attack in a pie pan, dessert before. It turned out well to my relief, and all of it was eaten which saved me from a potential sugar overdose later on.

We had our Thanksgiving dinner at our beloved local hotel where we rented a room for the evening. We had two turkeys which William and Priscilla had brought back from Wuhan the weekend before. Andrew and Jaime handled the cooking of the turkey narrowly avoiding a major disaster. In the past, we asked Family Pizza to cook the turkeys for us because none of us have ovens large enough to fit the birds so we must use restaurant equipment. Unfortunately, we had a communication failure, and on the morning of Thanksgiving we were informed that Family Pizza refused to cook our turkeys this year. Andrew and Jaime kicked it in high gear and made use of one of their student's father's restaurants. We were fortunate to come out on top of this situation.

Food: We also had different kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots, broccoli, deviled eggs, sweet potatoes, apple pie, banana pudding, chocolate pie, blue blueberry muffins, and a variety of other delicious dishes. For whatever reason, I didn't eat much (no dessert, even!) so I'm not sure what else there was.

We had fifty people at Thanksgiving dinner. Most were family, but some were other foreigners in the city. I sat at a table consisting mostly of these other foreigners whom I'd never met before. We had some interesting conversations. Sometimes I forget that our little group of Americans is not the only group of foreigners in the city.


Some people from Wuhan had invited us to go to a big Thanksgiving dinner there on Saturday so Jessica and I had already made plans to leave Thursday night to go to Wuhan and stay with Danielle, one of the girls I met in Xi'an the weekend before. Our train didn't leave until 2:49 in the morning so we planned to go to Darla's (she lives nearer the train station than we do) after dinner and maybe sleep a little before catching our train. Megan and John were also going to Wuhan on the same train for the same purpose, but they were staying with a different couple than Jess and me. That detail's not really important, but I'll leave it just for the sake of being thorough and fulfilling my genetic duty.

After dinner we decided to check out this new coffee shop in town called Box Coffee. We had spied it earlier in the week and thought now was as good a time as any to be disappointed by it. As we were walking outside, Orange asked me to go karaoke with her. Her teacher had invited her to karaoke with him and a few friends, but she didn't want to go alone, and Zoe would only go if I went, and blah, blah, blah. haha She said I only had to go for fifteen minutes so I agreed. Jessica and William also decided to go which turned out to be a great decision. When the five of us arrived, we were ushered into this small, dark room. There was a large TV with couches opposite it, and one guy was belting out some Chinese song. It was so loud. The three of us whities sat down while Orange and Zoe went to choose some "English" songs like "Edelweiss" from the Sound of Music. While we listened to the others sing, we passed time by translating into English the lyrics to the songs. It was pretty funny. There were maybe five adults besides us and one little girl who was about four years old. She was terribly cute and quite a dancer. She kept interpretive dancing from one end of the room to the other. We were quite impressed, so impressed, in fact, that Jessica decided to take a photo of her. There's no way I can verbally do justice to what happened next. I'll tell it from my perspective first. The little girl was in her own little world dancing when all of the sudden a bright flash of light illuminated her in the dark room at the exact moment in which she walked right smack into the side of the TV, her little head slamming with such force against the TV that it propelled her little body backwards, causing her to land flat on her back. It was so shocking (she wasn't hurt, by the way) that we couldn't control ourselves. Jessica, especially, was struggling to contain her laughter because the bright flash of light I mentioned earlier came from my camera which Jessica was using to take a picture of the little girl dancing but which, by some twisted fortuitous act, captured the girl at that most awkwardly hilarious moment in which her body was being thrown back after the aforementioned infamous collision of face with TV. I'll be posting this photo on Facebook when I get a chance.

Shortly after that incident and a quick rendition of "Pretty Woman", William, Jessica, Zoe and I left to meet Priscilla, John, Megan, Jessi (a teacher from Danjiangkou who came for Thanksgiving) and Jessi's mom at the Box Coffee shop. The shop was actually quite quaint, and the coffee was as good or better than the other places in town and half the price. There were very few people there, and we were still excited from a fun-filled day so that our decibel level reached the point where we were asked to be quiet yet again. But we enjoyed our time there.

Jessica and I finally made it to Darla's with William's escort. We kept Darla up later than she probably should have stayed up given she had an early class the next morning, but it was really great for us to have some time to talk. We left her place about 1:30 because we thought our train left at 2:16, which was just a bold-faced lie. (-: We met with John and Megan there and hung out for an extra hour since we didn't leave till about three. We had hard sleepers so we were able to get a good, solid three and a half hours of sleep before arriving in Wuhan...


There are a few things I'm sure of in life: peanut butter and M&Ms should be allowed to marry in any of the 50 States, "maybe" is the most fitting and, often, most perfect answer to nearly any question, and, until this weekend, Wuhan is where the devil would choose to abide were he to look for a place on earth befitting him. Well, maybe that's a little extreme, but it helps you get the idea of how much I do not care for the capital city of my province.

Wuhan is divided into three districts (if that's the right word, I don't know): Wuchang, Hankou and some other place. Danielle lives in Hankou, but we had purchased tickets to the Wuchang train station so when we arrived, we had to find a taxi to take us to Hankou (the people John and Megan were staying with also live in Hankou). We spent Friday morning with John, Megan, Justin and Rachel (the couple John and Megan were staying with) and Rusty and Brittany (a couple from Danjiangkou also staying with Justin and Rachel. We went shopping at a couple stores where we could find foreign foods. Given the lack of sleep the night before and a full morning of shopping, Jessica and I opted to go to Danielle's shortly after noontime. Danielle has the most unique living arrangement of anyone I know. She lives in a teaching building by herself. Her apartment was at one time a boys bathroom, or at least part of it was, so that her bathroom is itself bigger than my living room. The rooms next to her apartment are classrooms so lots of students frequent her floor during the day, but at night the entire building is eerily empty. Anyway, shortly after arriving, Jessica and I decided to nap while Danielle made green bean casseroles and no bake cookies for the next day's Thanksgiving dinner. I've been thinking for a couple days just how to express how amazingly wonderful Danielle's bed is, and I now realize it's just impossible. The nap was the best nap I've ever had in my life! It was like sleeping on clouds, no marshmallows, or maybe cotton balls, feathers? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure I could happily hibernate for several months if I had Danielle's bed.

Danielle woke us up with promises of no bake cookies, and over the course of three days, I may have single-handedly eaten an entire batch by myself. Actually, none of the no bake cookies made it to the dessert table the next day, but nobody missed them, and we reaped the benefits of Danielle's sly "stick the bag of no bake cookies in my purse before entering the dining room" maneuver.

Friday night Danielle and Jessica (yet another one) took Jessica and me to "walking street" where you can buy practically anything, I think. We bought some noodles for dinner so we would have money for D of the Q (which is Danielle's unbreakable code phrase for Dairy Queen). Dairy Queen in China! It was so delicious. After intaking (which may not be a word, but should be!) so much sugar, we decided to get a little exercise and went to this place called "Tom's World".


Tom's World is so awesome it deserves its own heading. It's basically this huge game place where you can play anything from whack-a-mole to DDR (dance dance revolution) to arcade games to slot machines. We each exchanged 10 kuai for ten tokens and then went to town. We participated in a bicycle race, a horse race, a dance competition, a basketball shooting competition, and a variety of other games that we were pretty terrible at. Then we went to the slots because I had three tokens left. With one token, I won back my original ten tokens so now we had to find a game equal to our abilities. We were meandering through the various machines when we came upon it: the throwing plastic balls into the trash can game! The trash can had a lid which would open and close so you had to throw as many balls as possible into it when the lid was up. The better you did, the more tickets you would receive which you could redeem for prizes later. We used the rest of our coins on this game when we figured out that if three of us would throw the balls into the can we could maximize our points. The machine only went to 990 points, and we more than got that many points each time we played. After using all our coins, we left that game with 192 tickets, just enough to buy six strawberry shaped binder clips to wear as clippies in our hair. It was pretty much the best way to spend our evening, and it was upon leaving Tom's World and dancing outside the department store to some bad music that my disgust of Wuhan began to subside...

Saturday morning Danielle, Jessica and I met Megan, Laurie and their Chinese friend at their school to collectively go to a beauty salon. The Wuhan girls wanted to get hair cuts, but Jessica and I went for the hour long hair wash/head massage treatment. It's noteworthy to mention that every girl who went into the beauty shop left both satisfied and pleased with their haircuts/hair treatment. I'm not sure that ever happens anywhere else.


After our beauty treatment, we went into Wuchang to meet the rest of the foreigners gathering for Thanksgiving. I don't know how many Americans there were in the hotel dining room, but there were a lot. It's strange to see so many foreigners, actually. It's hard to explain. After talking with the Wuhan people, it made me so totally aware of the different China experience I'm having in Shiyan. Wuhan is a HUGE city so they deal with a number of things we don't have to worry about. I love Shiyan, I love the smaller city feel, and I love our group here. I feel so, so blessed!

Anyway, the food was amazing. The people were friendly. I realized I've lost some social skills, and I was surprised to learn that Mahjong is not as ubiquitous as I had assumed. Shiyan represented well at game time. Megan, John, and I (and some Wuhan fella) won at Cranium and Jessica cleaned up at Texas Holdem'. They had a two year old football game playing in the background, which didn't seem to bother the hardcore football fans who still cheered despite knowing the outcome.

Jessica and I snuck out a little early to pay a visit to Metro. We bought more cheese, but this time we purchased kinds we like that most people refuse even to try, like Brie and Camembert. We plan to have a cheese feast this week, and I'm totally excited to find someone else who shares my taste in the, uh, finer things in life. ha ha


We (or I should say I) slept in on Sunday morning and just hung out watching a movie and relaxing until some of the other foreigners arrived. We had our weekly meeting after twelvish, and it was good to hear other's thoughts about different things. We also had some tasty homemade pizza care of Danielle. Sunday was a "take it easy" kind of day. Our train left around seven that evening so Danielle, Laurie, the two Jessicas and I visited a nearby park. It was a pretty sweet place. As we were walking around, we spotted an abandoned Mahjong table with the Mahjong set sitting invitingly on top of it. Jessica and I decided to remedy the wrong that is no one in Wuhan knowing how to play the game and began teaching the others to play. We played for maybe ten minutes when we were told we had to pay to play. So we left.

Returning to Danielle's place was fun. We played a game of run, hide and chase with some middle school kids who had been following us. I'm sure those kids will be telling their grandchildren about the time some crazy Americans chased them down the street. They were sweet, ornery kids.

Jessica and I got back to Shiyan around one o'clock this morning. Neither of us had to teach early today, but we couldn't sleep in either because traveling does a number on our cleanliness, and we needed to catch the hot water time. We missed the evening hot water so we had to get up before seven thirty when they shut the morning hot water off to catch it today. The things we take for granted...

After today this week promises to yet again be filled with activities. Jessica and I need to go Christmas shopping soon because we need to mail some things home, and it will help us get in the Christmas spirit. Christmas has a lot to live up to after Thanksgiving blew away our expectations of a good time and replaced them with amazing memories of a lifetime. We'll see how Christmas does; I'm holding out hope for it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Last week on a particularly warm afternoon, I went to the basketball courts to shoot around. I seldom play any actual basketball games here, mostly because my style of playing isn't compatible with the students' style of playing, but I enjoy shooting around. It reminds me of the glory days when basketball was my answer to all of life's problems. Stressed out? Play some ball. Energetic? Play some ball. Big report due soon? Play some ball. Life was simple.

Shortly after I arrived, loosened up, and phased out the stares of the surrounding ball players, a small cute kid appeared right under the basketball goal. She was was holding a tiny basketball and looking at me. Although she appeared to be about two or three, it's possible she was really six or seven given the inherent youthful looks of the Chinese. Anyway she took my basketball from me and gave me hers. For a three year old, she had better control and more moves than most of the college students I've seen play around here. It was pretty impressive watching her dribble the ball one-handed. For probably forty five minutes we played lots of games, including running up and down the bleachers over and over again (which really means me running up and down the bleachers carrying her while she giggled). It was fun because I don't generally get to play with little kids given the language barrier, though I think that language doesn't matter so much to children. Whenever I would talk to this little girl, she would stop what was entertaining her for the moment and gaze up at me with a crinkled forehead of mild confusion. Once it passed, she would giggle and go on playing.

Apparently, her father works in the campus library because she took me there to see him. He wasn't there, however, and when I told her we should leave, she started screaming. She threw the absolute worst temper tantrum I have ever seen. I tried to pick her up to bring her back to her mom who was near the basketball courts working, but the girl was screaming and crying uncontrollably. I was trying to talk to her in broken Chinese, but she wasn't listening. When I looked up, I noticed that everyone was staring and laughing at the spectacle we were making. I finally had to resort to picking her up like a football and running with her towards her mother who, like all moms, had an acute sense of hearing and was headed our direction to save her baby from the foreigner. I gave the kid over to her, tried to explain what happened, and then quickly exited the situation with what little face I had left.


Every holiday offers us a decent excuse to do something fun or unique (or mostly just easy) in our classes. Last Monday Brian, Jessica and I decided to combine our Monday afternoon classes into two classrooms. In Brian's classroom, our students would be given a Halloween lecture by Brian for one period. In Jessica's classroom, our students would be given the most dramatic reading of The Telltale Heart ever made. William, whose deep, soothing voice has been the talk of the town since he arrived, agreed to read Poe's classic tale for us and in doing so, guaranteed his spot as the most favored storyteller in Shiyan.

As I mentioned before, this week happens to be the interim between the end of one class and the beginning of another so Brian and my usual Monday and Wednesday night classes are not scheduled for this week. That's pretty exciting since it means we don't have to work on Halloween. However, I was being terribly shortsighted until yesterday when I realized just how many days off I'm going to have this week. As I was sitting around considering what to do with my time, it struck me that I could easily take a week long vacation to Hong Kong without having to fight crowds or worry about scheduling. But, alas, it won't work because I can't miss Halloween (my birthday). Since I didn't travel for October holiday, I'm feeling the itch to just choose a destination and take off. I think I can hold off awhile longer; Jessica, Brian and I are looking into taking a long weekend to travel somewhere in the coming month.


Last night we had plans to engage in a healthy competition of Taboo. Last week Jessica, Brian, Priscilla and I played a impromptu game where our true colors shown through (and I realized that Jessica is as insane as I am when that little hour glass of sand is running out). Sometime later Jessica challenged John and Megan (unbeknownst to me) to a friendly competition, one they readily agreed to, and last night was the night we were to prove ourselves. However, no night of fun can begin until after dinner so we decided to go into town to find some place to eat. At the bus stop where John and Megan were to meet Jessica, Brian, William and me, there was a stage set up and some guy who looked Mexican was wearing a decorative Mardi Gras mask and talking to a group of curious people who gathered to gawk at the entertainment from the sidewalk. We blended in so well that it took a full ten minutes before the host came down from the stage to talk to us. He said they were celebrating Halloween (hence the masks) and offered us a few masks to wear. He wanted us to come on stage, but we politely declined. We were, after all, waiting on friends to arrive, and Brian was engaging in some kind of marriage exchange ritual with a high school girl and her father. I think there was a promise of a goat, but I can't be for sure; I was distracted by the Chinese-speaking Mexican asking me to be their sideshow.

Shortly after John and Megan arrived, we found a dumpling restaurant. We ordered a few plates of dumplings, and each of us wanted a bowl of soup as well. The three of us girls ordered three bowls of pumpkin soup which they brought out speedily. It was delicious! The boys ordered three bowls of duck soup which they brought out one a time. Each bowl was meant to be shared with a whole table. The bowl of duck soup was so large, it didn't come with a spoon; it came with a ladle! It was hilarious watching these three grown men look stunted next to their giant bowls of soup.

During dinner someone mentioned going to a coffee shop, so the promise of a trash-talking night of Taboo was postponed till a future date. After eating we walked to People's Square because UBC Coffee is hidden strategically behind the grocery store in the Square and other random buildings. As we were walking along the slick, marble-like ground, suddenly fountains of water shot up right next to us. It was eight o'clock, and we had caught the nightly ritual of fountain dancing. I've never seen it before as I'm generally not near People's Square around 8 o'clock. We watched the spurts of water combined with a colorful light show for a minute or two. Then Jessica said, "I'm sort of joking, but really I'm not. I think we should run through the fountains." Everyone ignored her, but I made eye contact with her - my first mistake. Once I saw the mischievous glint in her eyes, I knew I wouldn't arrive home with dry clothes that night. So we put on our Halloween/Mardi Gras masks and sauntered through the fountains. We arrived on the other side of the fountains unscathed but for our drenched shoes and unfulfilled sense of adventure. We then decided to weave in and out of the fountains as we wandered back to the others. This time we were sufficiently soaked and pleasantly pleased with our immature endeavors to remain young at heart. I'm not sure anyone else enjoyed our wet-dog appearance; the coffee shop I imagine wasn't too pleased with our soaking clothes on their couches and neither Brian nor William would accept our attempts at offering them "holy hugs".

Today has been a quiet Sunday. After meeting this morning, I stayed back to rest (and wait out an intensifying headache) while the others went to lunch. They then gathered for a game of volleyball, but I passed on that too. Instead I watched Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. I know it's a classic, and I can appreciate its statement on the psyche of those involved in war, but it was actually a depressing choice for a simple Sunday afternoon.

Tonight I must prepare class for tomorrow. I only meet with tomorrow's class twice more, and the last time we meet is set aside for their final exam, which I haven't yet prepared for either. Usually, I make plans on Sunday night to prepare for Monday's class, but I generally procrastinate until Monday morning. I don't see why this week should be any different! Plus, I promised Jessica I'd watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with her.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Anyone who has read my blog from last year knows that our group in Shiyan became avid watchers of the television show LOST. This year with the arrival of new teachers, we felt it necessary to enlighten them to the joys of this series. It doesn't take long to get anyone hooked, and Priscilla and Jessica have been catching up on the past three seasons for several weeks now, usually in my apartment. Tonight we're down to the season finale of season three, and despite the fact that I've seen it before, I'm stressed out. I'm in serious need of a distraction from the tension which is why I'm blogging within two weeks of my last entry as opposed to my standard two months.

I actually don't have much of interest to report. This week has been like most others. On Monday Abraham, the guy in charge of our class schedules, asked Brian and I to take two more night classes. We already have two so that would put us at four nights a week plus English lectures once a month. When we came to this school, we had a verbal understanding that we would never have to teach more than two nights a week, but Abraham was insistent. After a couple meetings with frustrating results, we were able to solve the problem for him. Unfortunately, the solution involved adding one night class to Jessica putting her at a full load this semester while Brian and I are sitting with a light load. I feel guilty, but there's no possible way Brian and I could take four night classes a week.

Halloween's coming up in a couple weeks. Last year we put on a big haunted house in our apartment building. It was a lot of work, and our apartments were slightly damaged (bloody fingerprints and scuff marks on the walls). This year we decided not to go through all that again. Instead, we are thinking smaller - movie night or small parties. I'm not sure exactly what we'll do, but the most fortunate of circumstances had befallen Brian and me. We actually have night classes on Monday and Wednesday every week, but it just so happens that the week before Halloween, our classes end, and the next set of classes don't begin until the week after Halloween. So we're fortunate enough to not have to teach on Halloween!

Now it appears that LOST is serving as a distraction from my blogging which is quite all right considering I have nothing to write about anyway. I'll try to have something more exciting to write about next time.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I guess it's been a little over a month since I've been back in Shiyan, although it feels like I never left. Things are finally settled after a couple weeks of juggling schedules and disorganization which often accompanies the beginning of the school year. The weather is beginning to cool in the evenings and mornings indicating fall is peeking around the corner which, as I've lamented before, reminds me how I wish Chinese people were interested in American college football. On a crisp afternoon, there is almost nothing I would like more than to attend a football game filled with screaming people - the cream of the American crop. (-: Anyway, I digress...


There are twelve Americans teaching at the three colleges (and one high school) in the city this year. At my school, the automotive institute, we have two returnees from last year - Brian and me, one returnee from the year before - Trip, and a newbie - Jessica. I have to admit that at first it was strange for me to not be the only girl at my school, but I'm readily adjusting to it.

A married couple, John and Megan, are teaching at the technical school where the Lewis family dwelt last year. John's from Arkansas and Megan from Texas so they don't really have a chance when it comes to trash-talking home states!

The medical school remains unchanged. Darla, Brad, Andrew and Jaime have all returned which makes the continuity of things much easier.

That was supposed to be the whole of it until a few weeks ago when some problems arose in Xiangfan, a city about two hours from here where, for the first time, our organization was placing teachers. A group of six people who had trained together for a year was placed at two schools in Xiangfan. Upon arrival it was clear that one of the schools was neither prepared nor making any efforts to accommodate four of the teachers. So two of the teachers, William and Priscilla, were sent to our city to teach in the Dong Feng Number One Middle School (Don't be confused, however, it's really a high school!). Then, to make things worse, after a problem with the health exam, two of the remaining four group members in Xiangfan, an older married couple, were not hired by the school there and were forced to find another job in Shanghai! So this group of six who worked diligently together preparing to work in Xiangfan has now been split into three cities! I'm still amazed at how things turned out, but we all feel extremely blessed to have William and Priscilla in Shiyan. They are a lot of fun and a great addition to our team.


I'm actually a little embarrassed by how light my load is this year so I'm trying to enjoy it without bragging too much. (-: I only have three, two period classes each week. I teach an American English class on Monday afternoons, and oral English class on Monday nights, and an oral English class on Wednesday nights. Since English corner and lecture nights haven't begun yet, I have five days a week free! Of course, I'm quickly filling those days with activities, but the free time has been nice. I've read a lot, and I enjoy the freedom of being able to say yes to anybody asking me if I have time to do something with them (although, sometimes that backfires on me like the other morning when I told some students I'd play basketball with them at six in the morning! What was I thinking?!).

Tuesday nights and Thursday nights we have weekly studies. Thursdays we always have a ladies' luncheon. Saturdays will be used for another type of ladies' get together, and of course Sundays are always busy.


Our program has also placed four American teachers in Danjiangkou, another nearby town. Two weeks ago the four teachers, Jessi, Sarah, Rusty and Brittany, visited us in Shiyan, and last weekend Brian, Jessica and I returned the, uh, favor? Well, we have two sisters, Sara and Wind, working in Danjiangkou too so we visited them as well. Also, last weekend the two remaining teachers in Xiangfan came to Shiyan to spend time with the family here. They're a married couple, Will and Brittany. So there's a lot of visiting nearby towns going on during the weekends which is really great. I'm hoping to visit Xiangfan sometime soon. Several of our brothers and sisters are from there, and they have a Wal-Mart which still amazes me.

Tuesday was the Mid-Autumn Festival. It's a time to gather with family and friends and celebrate the moon by eating moon cakes filled with your choice (if you can read the labels and don't have to blindly choose one that may look good on the outside but is filled with an unidentifiable, disturbingly green substance) of fruit, nuts, egg, or even meat. Keeping with my two year tradition, I didn't eat a moon cake on the Mid-Autumn day which I think might be blasphemous but does go along with my sugar fast. About twelve of us did, however, meet in town for a dinner of hot pot. Hot pot is a style of eating where you sit around a big table that has a large pot sitting over a fire in the middle. The pot is divided into two sections, one section for spicy soup and one section for less spicy soup. Then you order lots of raw meats and vegetables and quail eggs and this really good twisted bread and cook the food at your table. It's pretty tasty, though everyone loses at least two pounds from sweat loss by the end of the meal.

Next week, October 1st, is National Day. I'm told it's like our 4th of July, but I'm also told Spring Festival is just like our Christmas, and it's definitely not. We do get the entire week off, however, and most people will travel during this time. I will not. I'm still recovering from the Xinjiang journey of a lifetime, and there is nothing within me willing to fight millions of Chinese people traveling back and forth for a week. It's just a bad time to travel. All of the newbies in town will be traveling, however, most of us returners are either wiser or less courageous or just plain more lazy than the others because we're staying here.

Well, that's all I've got for now.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Home again. It really feels like I've finally arrived home after several weeks of visiting relatives and friends in the States. Not that I don't feel at home in the States too; there's just something great about being in one's own apartment after sleeping in so many unfamiliar beds. Brian and I arrived here Thursday evening and were greeted by our friend Zoe at the train station. She was a sight for sore eyes, for sure! Of course, we had dinner at Happy Guys where I was reminded of just how good we have it here in Shiyan. Yesterday I spent most of the day organizing and cleaning my apartment. Somehow in my absence, I acquired some of Cindy's and Derek's and Yve's old stuff that they couldn't take home or around the world, respectively. I also had four boxes waiting my arrival to school (all of which I sent shortly before I left the States so they made really good time - as well they should for all the money I spent to send them!). Yesterday evening Brian and I had dinner at Brad and Min's house. Three Chinese girls came as well (two from our school and one from the medical college). I know the three of them so it was fun catching up, and we all had a lovely time (I'm back in China so I can use those British/Chinglish words again). I haven't seen too many family members, but today Alice is coming over for lunch. We'll hang out together and then go to a singing at Brad's where I hope to meet up with the others who stayed here this summer. School is supposed to start the 3rd of September so many of our friends should be returning from their summer holiday excursions soon.


Brian and I left America on August 7th. We both had previously decided to come back to China early to visit several cities in Xinjiang Province. It's the largest province in China and is in the far western regions of the country. This time would really be the best for us to travel it because of its vastness. The only other time during the year we would have time to visit it would be during our winter break, and it would just be too cold then. We figured two weeks or so would be just the right amount of time so after flying into Xi'an (arriving on the 9th), we spent the night with our American friend Nancy and left the next evening on the train to Urumqi (the capital of Xinjiang). In retrospect, this may not have been the wisest move, rushing into a 34 hour train ride on the heights of jet lag, especially considering we couldn't get beds, but we were both interested in making the most of the time we had before school started back. We also thought that once on the train we would be able to upgrade to beds. But after about 18 hours of being told "no! there are no beds available", I gave up that hope and resigned myself to mentally trying to make the most of 34 hours of sitting on hard seats. It was pretty rough which I hate admitting when our friend Orange (who is from Urumqi) has made that trip many times (and just finished it yet again yesterday) in the same scenario without ever complaining. We did make it, however, thanks to ipods and that self-preserving mechanism in my brain that puts it in hibernation when I'm unable to sleep AND unable to entertain myself. Aside from our ankles looking like bowling balls, we emerged victorious and more or less unscathed.

Since Orange's parents live in Urumqi, they were able to buy us train tickets to Kashgar. Again, there were no beds, but at least this train was only supposed to take 24 hours, I think. We arrived in Urumqi around 7:30 in the morning, and our train to Kashgar was meant to leave around noon. In those four hours, we had to meet up with Orange's mom to retrieve our tickets, and since it was a Sunday morning, we had agreed to meet her at the Chinese church, spend a couple hours there for services, and then return to the train station to continue our journey. I might add that the reason we decided to make the back to back train trips instead of breaking them up with a couple days sightseeing in Urumqi was in the hopes that Orange, who is a medical intern student here in Shiyan, could get some time off from her work to go home (which would only "possibly" happen two weeks from when we first arrived in Urumqi), and we could tour her city WITH her.

We met Orange's mom at the church. She doesn't speak any English, and after six weeks of being away from China, jet lag, and the terribly long train ride, our Chinese was worse than rusty; it was just sad. Somehow we made it through. She took great care of us, and the people at the church were nice. We left there about 10:30, train tickets in hand, and after a meal of noodles, we tried to enter the train station. There were a lot of people scurrying about, and a lady with a megaphone kept saying something about our train, but I didn't know what. Finally, Brian figured out that they were saying our train to Kashgar had been cancelled due to bad weather. We called Orange who called her mom who texted us who texted Orange who texted her mom... We finally agreed to go back to the church; services were over now, and Orange's mom was waiting for us. She took us back to the train station where she and Brian waited in line for maybe two hours (I stayed outside where it was raining. Did I mention we were in the desert?? And it was raining!) to get our money back from our tickets. Then she took us to the bus station to buy bus tickets to Kashgar. I admit it hardly makes sense to assume that the buses would run in bad weather if the train would not, but we just wanted to get on our way. Fortunately, in a land that oftentimes doesn't make sense, the buses WERE running. Orange's mom procured us two bus tickets which were only slightly more expensive than our hard seat train tickets, and we had beds! It was all working out perfectly afterall. The timing was great too. Orange's mom treated us to dinner, and then we boarded the bus to leave Urumqi around five in the evening.

Jet lag set in, and I was out. I woke up shortly when we stopped on the side of the road for what I assume was a bathroom break. Brian who had drunk several cups of tea at dinner (I have made it a habit, albeit not a healthy one, to avoid drinking almost anything for long bus rides. It may not be great for my health, but it certainly keeps me from uncomfortable situations since stops are infrequent and unpredictable), was the first to exit the bus, followed quickly by a woman and her child. As soon as Brian hit the fresh air, I thought his clothes were going to be ripped off him by the strong wind. What I saw was him running in front of the bus, going acrosss the street. What I didn't see was him pursuing his shoe that flew off as he exited the bus. The bus driver made the woman and child get back on the bus. Brian went around the side of the bus, and for a few moments I wondered if he blew away. The bus driver began honking his horn and started edging the bus forward. In my moment of nobility, I considered yelling at the bus driver to stop, anchoring myself to the bus with a rope of some kind and heading a one man rescue operation for Brian, but I figured he was okay so I layed back down. Brian jumped back on the bus looking wind blown and irritated, but strangely relieved...

The bus stopped around 10:30 or 11:30 that night. I got off to use the bathroom quickly. It was a little chilly so when I got back on, I covered up and went sound asleep. I woke up around five in the morning. We were stopped again, and we didn't begin going until around 8:30. I asked Brian why we had stopped for at least three hours that I knew of. He said, "Three hours? Try eleven. We haven't moved since you got off last night to use the bathroom!" Apparently, our buses succumbed to the weather threats as well and were forced to stop for half a day until it was safe to continue. The rest of the ride was uneventful. I slept most of the way. Instead of one night on the bus, we spent two which really pans out to our saving one night's hotel bill. We arrived in Kashgar at seven in the morning and immediately found a place to check into to get cleaned up. We hadn't showered since we left Xi'an several days before!

Kashgar is a great city. I enjoyed it a lot. We walked quite a bit that first day. We saw a huge park, walked past a lake and through a bazaar, then mosied down the streets of the Old Town (which is constructed of dirt and wood and looks dilapidated in the most wonderful way). We searched for the old town walls which were slightly disappointing and then headed back to the hotel. I think we did all that in three or four hours so it was still early afternoon when we returned. In this part of Xinjiang (as in most of the parts we saw), the people seem to exist on a diet of bread and meat. Kebabs are a popular food here, and they are delicious. For anyone not good with geography, like me, Xinjiang borders all those -stan countries, and there are a lot of "minorities" in this area. The culture itself is hardly recognizable to anything mainstream Chinese. It's predominantly Muslim in religion and culture. The men wear their hats and the women their head coverings. There are mosques in most, if not all, of the cities we visited. The food is different, the atmosphere is different, the clothes are different. At times, it hardly felt like China at all.

At our hotel, we booked a two day, one night trip to Karakul Lake. This lake is very near the Pakistan border and at the foot of several mountains which make up part of the Pamir Mountain Range, I think. It just so worked out that a German guy and a Japanese guy were planning the same trip, and since it's cheaper to travel in groups of four than in a group of two, the four of us combined forces to bargain hard with the travel agent at our hotel. Bargaining in Xinjiang in unequivocally more fun than bargaining in other parts of China. Perhaps it's the locals' great sense of humor or easy-going nature, but at the end of a bargain, both parties are jovial and friendly. It took a lot of bargaining, but after losing the Japanese guy who decided not to go with us, and changing our minds as to the exact nature of our tour plans, we finally settled on a deal and were to leave early the next morning.

Brain, Fabian (the German), and I left Kashgar with our driver the next morning around 8:30 Beijing time (6:30 local time) for one of the most beautiful drives I have ever taken. Breathtaking mountains surrounded our panoramic view, and the air which had been hot in the afternoons in Kashgar was fresh and brisk outside the city. The ride took three hours, and at 11:30 we abruptly stopped at a yurt situated close to the road. A yurt is a type of almost tepee-like dwelling where, in this particular location, Kyrgyz people live. For a little money, a Kyrgyz family will feed visitors and house them for a night or two. Since we arrived around lunch time, the family we stayed with sat us down for a meal of rock hard bread and yak milk tea. The yak milk is supposed to prevent altitude sickness which I will pretend that it did. It wasn't long after eating that Brian, Fabian and I decided to begin our walk around the lake. We could have taken a horse or a camel, but we voted for a little exercise instead. The weather changed rapidly here. I was wearing four layers of shirts because I had failed to plan for really cold weather when I was packing for Xinjiang, the province boasting to have the hottest spot in China. As we hiked, however, my body temperature rose so that I was able to shed some layers and enjoy the sunshine. The surroundings were absolutely beautiful. This lake surrounded by large brown hills with snow covered mountains in the distance and glaciers visible from where we were standing was one of the most tranquil places I have ever been. When we stopped walking, the absence of noise was so noticeably thick that it was immediately clear what was missing - insects, animals, people. Colors went from the stark dullness of brown stones to the vivid greens of sparse grass and the various shades of blue the lake became in shifting sunlight.

Fabian and I, perhaps without the consent of Brian, decided to turn our peaceful easy walk around the lake into a more vigorous one in hopes of finding a better view by climbing a rather large peak. It was one of those situations where our energy trumped our common sense. I'm not sure how long it took, but we all made it to the top of this mountain and all feel the prouder for it, I think. It took a great exertion of physical energy, but given our inactivity on planes, trains and buses for six straight days, I think our bodies were craving it.

After descending the mountain and resting in the sunshine for awhile (and getting painfully sunburned), we took a short trip around a bend to get a better view of the snow-capped mountain. We had walked about half-way around the lake already when we decided to turn around and head back. Again the weather in this area changes rapidly, and upon the initiation of our return, we could see the dark sky of the west moving in our direction. It wasn't long before the freezing winds mingled with snow and sleet hit us. I don't know how long we walked in these conditions, but it was pretty miserable. And then, as quickly as it came, the bad weather was gone, and the sun returned.

When we arrived at the yurt, the Kyrgyz family asked what time we wanted to eat, and we told them six o'clock which was in two hours. Still having not totally warmed up, we entered the yurt where we were given colorful blankets to wrap up in. Fabian and Brian napped, I think, while I read. As I was reading, one of the daughters of the family came over and sat next to me. She started trying to pronounce the words so I helped her, and soon, her brother joined us. Their native language is Kyrgyz, and they speak about as much Chinese as I do, but we were surprisingly able to communicate rather well. The family we stayed with has five children, four of which spent the next hour teaching us to count in Kyrgyz and to dance. The girl who first approached me was 12 years old. Brian, if he could remember nothing else, remembered the Kyrgyz words for 12, and so this girl came to be called "0neke" (though I don't know how to spell it), which is 12 in Kyrgyz. Then again, everything became "oneke" to Brian: "thank you", "hello", "come inside this yurt and dance for us", everything. Anyhow, Oneke, the girl, not the other words, showed us the differences between some minority dances, and I showed her the macarena (not one of my proudest moments!), and her two year old brother "Eke" had his own special kind of mucous involved dance routine that was literally the most adorable thing I have ever seen. So that's how we spent time before dinner - dancing, learning Kyrgyz and laughing harder than I have in a long time.

Supper consisted of noodles and tea. After dinner we were invited into their other yurt to "get warm" where we were bushwhacked with odds and ends the family was selling to supplement their income. How could we not purchase something when they had taken such good care of us and when their snot-faced, dancing two year old brought so much laughter to us that our stomachs were hurting? So I bought a purse and necklace partially made out of camel hair, and the boys purchased a few items as well, again after several bouts of bargaining and Brian's consistant refrain of "oneke!"

The next day we were supposed to be picked up by our driver. When the time for him to arrive came and passed, we called the tour agent. Apparently, our driver's car had broken down; we would have to wait three more hours. It was a long wait. We were ready to go. Fabian had plans to leave Kashgar that evening so he needed to get back. It had turned much colder and was snowing. Finally, two and a half hours after we should have left, the father of our family stuck his head in the yurt where we were staying and said, "Kyrgyz bus!" We followed him out to a pickup truck loaded down with three people in the front, six people in the bed, and just enough space for the three of us to cram in the back of the cab with all our backpacks for an uncomfortable ride back. But that's not all. We were following another pickup truck, complete with a man and a goat in its bed, which was in desperate need of a tune up or a complete overhaul or to be used as scrap metal - not sure which - that kept breaking down. Eight times on the way back to Kashgar, our truck pulled over to help the other truck get started again. After one such stop, our driver went to the bed of our truck and pulled a blue tarp over the six people riding back there. They were completely covered by the tarp which I thought was odd, but considering how cold it had been, I thought they were using it as a windbreaker. When the driver re-entered the truck, he put his seatbelt on, made the old woman riding up front put hers on, and then continued down the road for 20 minutes. Then he again stopped, got out of the truck, uncovered the folks in the bed and then jumped back in and drove off, just as the old lady was unbuckling her seatbelt. Apparently, we were smuggling these people through a well-patrolled area!

After dropping off the Kyrgyz people at what appeared to be a family reunion, we returned to Kashgar several hours late where we demanded (and were given) a discount for this truly interesting experience.

The next day, which was Friday, Brian and I left Kashgar for Yarkand. I was expecting a small, podunk town, but it was nice sized. We walked around the old town. It's clear that fewer foreigners stop in this city than in some of the others because we got a lot of attention. The town had a nice feel to it though.

Saturday we took the bus to Hotan. It was about five hours away. The bus ride was all right, again thanks to ipods and good books. We were also blessed with our close proximity to a friendly family. Xinjiang is China-renowned for its fruit, and up to this point, Brian and I hadn't really tried any of it. But on the bus, the man sitting next to me gave Brian and me each a peach. Of course, we had to peel it. Both this man and Brian were peeling their's with no problem, but mine was a laborious effort. When I finally finished, I bit into the juiciest, ripest peach I have ever had. It was delicious, and when I nodded to the man that it was good, he looked at me like a parent looks at an child who has just made a juvenile faux pas, and told me to throw it out the window. Apparently, it was rotten, although I maintain that it was delicious. He then gave me another peach which I peeled in a fraction of the time it took me to peel the first one, and it was also good, though less sweet. Later the same family forced Brian and me to eat boiled eggs. And THAT is why I love Xinjiang people. They treat you like family, and they are hilarious. They seem to really enjoy life.

Our arrival in Hotan was good. We finally found a hotel, no thanks to our map. The main things we had planned for Hotan were to see the Sunday market which was supposed to be spectacular and to book plane tickets from Urumqi to Xi'an. There was nothing within us that could make us possibly be okay with enduring the 34 hour train ride back so we splurged and decided to fly instead.

On Sunday we did, in fact, go to the market, and it was, in fact, spectacular. It was huge. You could buy anything from basic necessities to luxurient carpets to hand-crafted knives to food to animals. At some point, we took a wrong turn and walked a lond distance through a quiet neighborhood. That was quite enjoyable. We made it back to the market, however, because we wanted to see the animals. We never could find the animal market which was slightly disappointing. From the market, we got a taxi to a travel agency. Unfortunately, the taxi driver didn't understand Brian's Chinese and Brian didn't understand his, and he headed towards the airport instead. Brian realized this fact (thank you Lonely Planet for your map, however unhelpful at times!), and asked the driver if we were going to the airport. The driver said, "Do you want to?" and Brian said, "No!" He showed the driver the map and where we wanted to go, and the driver pointed that we were going the right way, but when we saw airport signs, we knew that we weren't on the right track. At this point, both of us started saying that we didn't want to go to the airport. The driver continued, however, until we began yelling, "We don't want to go to the airport!!!" So he looked at the map again and turned around. A ways down the road, he pulled over and asked directions. The guy on the street easily told him where to go and that we had passed by the turn yet again. We finally made it to where we wanted to go, and the driver, who had failed to turn on the meter when we began, tried charging us 50 kuai! I was so angry. We fought with him for awhile, enlisted the aid of a young Chinese passerby who actually spoke really good English but was unable to get this driver to concede, and ended up giving him 25 kuai and walking away. He was not happy and neither were we, especially when the travel agency quoted us a plane ticket price 200 kuai more than what was quoted us in Kashgar! We left without the tickets. On our way to the hotel, we saw a China Southern airline office, stopped and bought tickets (for the inflated price) to leave Urumqi on the 28th which would give us two days with Orange in her hometown. We then returned to the hotel to rest.

As most people can imagine, Brian and I were both tired of traveling at this point. Here was where everything stood: It was Sunday afternoon. Orange would not arrive in Urumqi until the following Saturday (if she could come at all; nearly everyday she was getting mixed signals from her teachers about coming - one teacher said yes, one said no). She did buy her ticket, however, and was supposed to arrive Urumqi in one week. So Brian and I decided we would kill time in and around Urumqi until she arrived, and then she could show us her town. I can honestly say I was not in good humor in Hotan on this Sunday afternoon. After the squabble with the taxi driver and later a squabble with a fruit lady and the idea of basically a week of more travel and more money spending, I was frustrated. Back at the hotel, I was reading which was taking away the tension I had been feeling. After I finished my book, Brian looked at me and said, "Are you ready for this?" An hour earlier, Orange had texted Brian that, although she had bought her train ticket, one teacher was still saying she could not leave. When Brian told me this, I looked at him, he looked at me, and in those quiet seconds, we both exchanged the fact that we just want to go home. So...we went back to the travel agency and through the translating services of Zoe back here in Shiyan, changed our plane tickets from the 28th to the 22nd. Orange was disappointed but we appeased her with promises of returning to Urumqi with her in the near future.

What a weight was lifted from me! Making the decision to come back early was the best one, for sure, but that still didn't do away with the fact that we had a long journey home. On Monday Brian and I boarded another sleeper bus for Urumqi that would traverse the Taklamakan Desert by way of the cross desert highway (by the way, the routes we had been taking up to this point were the remnants of the old China Silk Road - a fascinating history). It took 22 hours, and we were back in Urumqi. We met a Dutch guy named Ruben after getting off at the bus station, and the three of us took a taxi to a youth hostel. We booked a bed and then Brian and I decided to walk around town. It was early in the morning when we arrived, and our plane wouldn't leave until the next morning. As we were walking, Orange texted us wanting to know where we were because her mom was expecting us and didn't know where to find us. After much confusion and texting, we met Orange's mom at a bus stop near her home for lunch. She brought us to their apartment first, gave us lots of fruit to eat, and then we left there for lunch. After picking up Orange's father, we stopped at a nice Uighur restaurant and had lots of rice and kebabs and bread with meat in it and yogurt. We were stuffed, but oh, the day wasn't over. Next, Orange's mom took us to a really nice bazaar where we didn't buy a thing but enjoyed perusing the shops. After a couple hours, we returned to Orange's home, where for the next couple hours, as in good Chinese fashion, we were forced to graze on melons and grapes and cashews and sunflower seeds until we nearly popped. And at the point of explosion, a table was set up, and we were served Orange's mom's delicious fried noodles - a heaping bowl, I might add. We were stuffed and stuffed again.

Orange's mom not only rode the bus with us to our hostel, but walked us to our room, made sure everything seemed to check out, and then left of with a huge bag of a variety of peaches we don't have in Shiyan and well wishes. She is a really sweet woman.

So Wednesday we took the plane to Xi'an - only 3 hours as opposed to 34 by train. We arrived at Nancy's in the afternoon and spent the evening watching movies. Thursday we dragged our luggage - one big, heavy rolling bag, one hiker's backpack, one computer bag and another carry-on bag - to the train station, up stairs, down stairs, down the platform from car 2 to car 15, up the train stairs, into our cubby where we had to cram the big bags under seats or under tables just because they were too heavy to lift. Then I passed out (luckliy we procured beds) in a sweaty, exhausted mass! The train ride took 8 hours which was nothing after all we had traveled. The thought of home consistently kept me going. We arrived in Shiyan at 4:45, dragged our luggage for the last time to a taxi where Zoe (like I said earlier, a sight for sore eyes!) helped us the rest of the way. And THAT details our adventures in Xinjiang - a land of extremes: extreme heat and extreme cold, extreme altitudes, extreme people, extreme conditions on all fronts. And I'm both extremely glad to have toured it AND extremely glad to be done, for now, of touring it.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


This past week has been a bit of a blur. It's not that I was too busy, but the day for my departure approached rather quickly anyway. The week was filled with goodbyes which is not my favorite way to spend my time, but, fortunately enough for me, I'm coming back. I can't imagine how different I would feel if I knew I wouldn't be returning in two months.

Thursday a group of Derek's students came over to cook dinner for us. We were also blessed with the presence of many of our other close friends who came to hang out for the evening or spend the night. In fact, Sara and Jean who both have moved to towns outside Shiyan to begin their medical internships came back just to say goodbye. It was a pretty sweet evening.

Our plane home leaves from Wuhan (the capital of our province and a 6 hour train ride away) on Sunday, but Derek and I decided to leave Shiyan on Friday to spend a day in Wuhan checking out a coffee house (for me) and buying some souvenirs (for Derek). So all morning Friday we ran errands, finished up classes, and spent some last minute time with our Chinese friends. Our train left at 3:58 (to be exact, Angel!) and so we said our last goodbyes to most of our friends at our apartment an hour before. There was a great turnout, and it was such a blessing to see so many friendly and loving faces wishing us well. Derek will not return next year, and, again, I can't imagine what that would be like. It was hard enough for me to say goodbye for just two months!

We arrived in Wuhan last night around 10 o'clock. Another foreign teacher in Wuhan, Janell, lives about 10 minutes from the train station so we took a taxi to her place. She's at a great location and is very hospitable to many of us Shiyan people who have used her apartment on various occasions throughout the year.

I've been getting some advice about how to deal with jet lag. The general consensus is to wear yourself out before flying so that you can sleep very well on the plane. Last night Janell and I stayed up until 4 o'clock talking and tonight the Lewises (who arrived this afternoon) and the rest of us are attempting to pull an all-nighter. They've begun to watch season six of 24. I've only seen season one of this show, and I'm not as into it as everyone else, but I am going to try to stay up with them.

Today was a pretty nice day in Wuhan. Up until today, I have had nothing but rather negative experiences in this polluted, frustrating city. This morning we slept in, but then we met a couple of other teachers for lunch at a Brazilian BBQ place. It's been awhile since I've had so much meat at one sitting. Basically, these waiters walk around carrying different types of meat on a stick and a sharp knife. When they walk by your table, they ask if you want the meat. If you do, then they shave off as much of it as you want. It's an all you can eat place so we more than stuffed ourselves with lamb, steak, bacon, glazed fat and countless other types of meat. It was grotesquely delicious!

The afternoon I spent touring Mr. Mai's coffee shop. It's a coffee house that provides English speaking opportunities (among other opportunities!). It has a really cool setup. Plus, the coffee and desserts were a great treat after being subjected to underpar instant coffee for several months.

Tomorrow our plane leaves around 3 o'clock. From there we fly to Guangzhou and have a five hour layover. Then we'll fly to L.A and, hopefully, we'll all be so exhausted, we'll sleep most of the way (though I've already been assured by Courtny that I can expect to receive no sleep at all). We'll see.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


I finally made it to Wudang Mountain. Were it not for the automobile industry and Wudang Mountain, Shiyan would probably be just another small village unknown throughout China and certainly throughout the world. However, the Dong Feng car factory establishes Shiyan as an important economic city, and Wudang Mountain ensures it to be a growing tourist destination. Wudang Mountain is credited with the beginnings of Taoism and a special kind of kung fu known generically as wushu. I'm sure I don't know much about the history or anything else important dealing with Wudang; all I know is that if you live in Shiyan and don't visit Wudang Mountain, it's like living in Siem Reap and not visiting Angkor Wat or living in D.C. and not visiting the White House. As important as Wudang is to everything Shiyan, it's surprising to me how few of my students have actually visited it. This could in large part have to do with the whopping sum of money you must pay to go there. For students it costs about 90 kuai and for us older folks a grand total of 180 something. But it's a pretty sweet layout. Last Thursday I canceled class and joined Derek, Brian, Matt, Amber and Dolly for a day of hiking Wudang. It takes about an hour or less by bus to arrive at the Wudang village and after browsing a few souvenir shops at the bottom of the mountain, we began our ascent. The hike was surprisingly both beautiful and very doable. We had all quietly assumed that the hike up the mountain would simply be hours of climbing a steep staircase consisting of uneven and broken steps. We had continuously received conflicting information about how long it would take to reach the top (anywhere from 2 hours to 8 hours!), but we set off anyway. We took a bus a little ways up the mountain and then began our hike up. The trail was really nice. We had significant tree cover and there was a cool stream we walked along. The scenery really was spectacular. We were bombarded by gnats which grew annoying, but it didn't ruin the hike. I'm not actually sure how long we hiked for. We reached a spot where there were a few souvenir shops and restaurants, the first sign of tourist life since we began the hike. We did a little shopping and unanimously decided not to finish the hike. It was already after four, and the remainder of the hike was supposedly like we had envisioned the entire hike to be from the beginning: a rigorous uphill climb. We all felt we had gotten our money's worth (which included a thirty minute kung fu show mid-morning which we were fortunate enough to catch) and were ready to return home. I, fortunately, have the luxury of returning and finishing the hike next year which I plan to do. Wudang was much more beautiful than I had imagined. When people talk about it, they always mention Taoism and kung fu and how important it is to China, but I've never heard anyone mention just how naturally beautiful it is. I'm glad to have visited it, and I'm especially glad to be able to answer everyone who asks from now on that yes, in fact, I have been to Wudang Mountain. I do live in Shiyan, afterall.

Monday, June 04, 2007


For those who don't know, I'll be returning to the States on June 25th, only 21 days from today. The Lewis Five, Brian, Derek and I will all be returning at the same time. We will fly together all the way to L.A. where the Lewises will break off from our group, and the boys and I will continue to Atlanta together before our final goodbye. I'm glad we're flying home together. Somehow it seems like a fitting end. But actually I'm trying not to focus too much on my upcoming return home. I've still got two weeks of classes left which includes final exams, lots of grading, and filling out and completing teacher logs and final grades.


Last Monday three American friends of Derek arrived in Shiyan. Dollie and Amber are staying in my apartment, and Matt is staying in Derek's. The three are from Harding and had just spent some time in Wuhan before coming to Shiyan. They came at a good time because we've had quite a few activities this week for them to participate in. Saturday night we had a big potluck meal. I think it's actually the first official potluck dinner we've had, and I'm already regretting that fact because the food was amazing. After dining and socializing, the guys and girls split for separate family devos.

Saturday night I stayed at the Lewis house because Courtny's 16th birthday was the next day. She and I stayed up till 4 a.m. watching movies and being stupid. It was fun, though. Sunday morning the family gathered together for a little roadtrip. We went to the nearby Huang Long Reservoir where we rented a boat. It was my first time to go to the reservoir and I was amazed by the beauty of the surrounding scenery. Mountains jutted up all around us, and the water was really clear. After awhile of singing and learning, many of us went swimming in the cool, clear water. We were out there all afternoon, which is evident if you see Brian's red face!

Last night we celebrated Courtny's birthday with taco salad and lots of cake. Then we watched the season finale of LOST which was awesome. We had a full house, or I should say, the Lewises had a full house, and despite Brian's constant threats of dismemberment if anyone talked during LOST, everyone made it through the show entact. I spent the night again last night at the Lewises and decided to make use of their Internet while they go eat lunch this morning. I actually need to head home, probably clean up, plan my classes for this week, and prepare for meeting with students for dinner tonight. Brian and I rescheduled some of our classes to meet in small groups outside of class. Many of these groups have come to my apartment to cook dinner for us (which is pretty sweet because most of them can cook really well), but tonight I'm going to have dumplings at some restaurant with some of the boys in my class who can't speak English... It should be, um, well, a long evening.