Friday, September 26, 2008


I'm an expressions copier. I always absorb other people's sayings. Some people have a knack for coming up with just the right words and just the right expressions for every occasion. I don't happen to be one of them. I have several friends who are always updating their expressions, and if I'm around them long enough, I quickly adopt their vernacular. My most recent appropriation comes courtesy of Barry. Ask him how he's doing at any given moment, and his response is always "best day of my life". It's amazing how powerfully motivational and attitude-changing that phrase can be.

The last two days have been the best days of my life. Wednesday began with an excellent study of Isaiah. Jessica, Barry and I meet three mornings a week for an enlightening and convicting discussion of what is becoming one of my favorite books (though I often find that whatever book I happen to be studying at the moment is my favorite). Isaiah's been a great study. This week each chapter we've read has been an in-your-face reminder that YHWH is YHWH and fear has no place in our lives because of that incontrovertible fact. Best day of my life!

I may have mentioned this before, but at the end of next month (in 32 days according to the city's official countdown calendar), Shiyan will be hosting the Third World Wudang Kungfu Festival (by Third World, they mean Third International). It's a big deal. Lots of people from around China and around the world will be descending on our remote city like its the Beijing of Kungfu Olympics. In preparation for so many foreigners visiting our fine city, countless numbers of students are going through rigorous training for tour guide positions. Only the students with the best English...and best looks...and decent physical health have been chosen to be translators and guides for the anticipated swarm of waiguoren (foreigners). But what, mind you, will happen when lost foreigners stumble into an average citizen's corner convenience store and no English-speaking student is to be found? It's a terrifying prospect, but one we've no need to worry about. The local TV station through government funding has created a simple English language program which began airing two days ago and will continue for several more episodes. By the end of the program's airing, the average citizen in Shiyan should be able to say 100 simple phrases such as "I'm a police officer," and "What color is your lost purse?" Peace and stability will reign in Shiyan as foreigners need not fear an inability to communicate in Chinese. The best part of all this is those Shiyaners who really follow this English language program can come away from it speaking English with a beautiful Oklahoma accent; that's right, yours truly was commissioned to read each of the 100 English sentences twice to provide a standard English pronunciation. It was a fun gig, and the TV personnel were wonderful in the filming of the series. My friend Romano works in the Advertising Department at the TV station, and he was the host of the program. He was decent enough to invite me to participate, and the rewards of that opportunity keep coming. Wednesday, after our awesome study, Romano and his colleagues invited Barry and me to join them for lunch at a special restaurant in the mountains. The restaurant is famous for serving up a whole goat barbecue style. It's rather expensive, but the restaurant is a patron of the TV station and invites them out for a meal a couple times a year. We were fortunate enough to join them on this occasion. The meat was delicious, and they served real bread which seemed to bring Barry nearly to tears. After eating what felt like pounds of meat, we were brought to a back room for a second meal of organ and blood soup. It was better than it sounds.

Wednesday only got better with a meat-induced nap, a game of volleyball, and a losing bout of poker.

Today was yet another awesome day: Isaiah study followed by the best post office experience of my life (I left the building smiling!), a delicious and recently improved (if one can improve upon perfection) crunchy taco, the first meeting of the Finer Things Club where we discussed One Hundred Years of Solitude and practiced our Spanish pronunciation of the same four names (for thirty some different characters), Muslim noodles for dinner, item after item checked off of my list of things to do, our weekly John study, China launches into space, sweet sisters (another Barry phrase!) watching Hairspray, and a full house to round out the day.

Tomorrow we leave for Beijing. It's already the best day of my life.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Our kitten hasn't eaten in eleven days (since we got her). We took her to the vet last week, and they said she had a cold. They gave us a four day supply of medicine which we force-fed her. She improved slightly but still refused to eat. This morning I took her back to the vet with the aid of Halley. She had a 41 degree temperature (105.8 degree Fahrenheit!). The vet said it was possible Lucy has some sickness which would be very expensive to treat. First, they would need to run a test to determine if she had the sickness, which I agreed to. It cost 80 yuan and took about five minutes to conclude that she has "viral gastroenteritis", also known as the stomach flu. The treatment for the stomach flu consists of taking Lucy to the vet everyday for four days to be given three shots each visit. The vet said there's only about a 30-40% chance that the treatment will be successful. If she doesn't show signs of improvement after two days, they will stop treatment, and we'll have to have Lucy put to sleep. They say it might cost about two hundred yuan (approximately $30) for the treatment and 50 yuan to have her put to sleep. I asked the vet if it were her cat, what she would do. She said most Chinese would give up and put the cat to sleep figuring that animals aren't worth the expense. Jessica and I, however, have become seriously attached to Lucy in the last eleven days so we decided rather quickly that we're going to fight the flu. Lucy had her first set of shots today. Now we play the waiting game.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


"I was just about to find another activity. That's not a good activity....That's what we were supposed to come up with. That's the language my mom used with us, you know. We're four years old - 'Come up with a good activity.' We're like sittin' in mud. 'Is this a good activity?'" - BRIAN REGAN

Yesterday eleven of my students missed class to take part in a "dizziness" test. These students will be acting as guides at the Wudang International Kung Fu Festival coming up in October. To make sure they will be able to handle the altitude of Mt. Wudang, they were tested yesterday so as to avoid a potentially embarrassing spectacle in front of countless foreigners during the festival. Actually, I don't really understand what they did yesterday (I filled in the blanks with personal assumptions as to the purpose of a so-called "dizziness" test); all I know is that eleven of my best students weren't in class. So, instead of following my lesson plans for the day with a third of my class missing, I decided to play OUTBURST with them. I gave each group a category, and they came up with ten words/phrases that fit into that category. One category was - ACTIVITIES I MIGHT DO AT PEOPLE'S PARK. The following is the list of activities the students came up with:

1) save the people who fall into the water
2) feed the monkeys
3) fly kates
4) go to WC
5) take photos
6) climbing
7) catching fish
8) eat
9) watching flowers
10) ??

This list gives new meaning to a "good" activity. I think my new favorite activity will be "saving the people who fall into the water." What's YOUR good activity?


I currently have four mooncakes sitting on my kitchen table waiting for someone to consume them. It will not be me. I've tried for three years to love mooncakes - or to at least choke a whole one down. I just can't get my stomach to enjoy red bean, dried egg yolk, or strange, green pasty filling with unidentifiable nuts. I did have a fruit-filled one that was delectable. So, mooncakes - the bane of my Mid-Autumn Festival experience. All in all, though, I enjoy Mid-Autumn Festival. We have three days off for the holiday (except we don't because we never teach on Saturday and Sunday - two of the "free" days). We were blessed this weekend with visitors from Wuhan, Xiangfan and Danjiangkou. Saturday a few of us went to a reservoir nearby we just found out about - TouYan Reservoir. It has decent hiking (great scenery but not physically challenging) and plenty of places for swimming. Sunday we celebrated Zoe's 21st birthday. Monday we went to the large Yellow Dragon Reservoir that's about an hour or so from our end of town. We rented a boat, swam, ate, played games, socialized. Jessica, Barry and I swam a ways to these huge rocks where Barry led the way in jumping off of them. Not to be outdone (though we later were when Barry did a flip off of them), Jessica and I crawled shakily to the top of the rocks, regained some composure, jumped off mentally into the water and hit our heads mentally, stood shaking on the rocks awhile longer, regained composure, jumped off mentally again, froze on the rocks, then finally took the exhilarating plunge. Well, I don't know what was going through Jessica's head, but I assume her thoughts before the jump were about as schizophrenic as my own. It was great fun, and I'm so proud that Barry and Jessica are my fellow laborers and my fellow dare-devils.

Well, it's raining again. Aside from not wanting to descend the hill in the rain to acquire lunch (we're going to subsist on Jessica's stash of chicken nuggets if she isn't electrocuted by her temperamental oven first), my plans for the day lie unaffected by the weather. I have various tasks I need to complete that involve the Internet and our book of the month - One Hundred Years of Solitude - to get into. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Classes began for me last week. I'm teaching two sophomore English major courses and two sophomore non-English major courses. I had grandiose ideas about making lesson plans for the entire semester but was foiled again. It's my experience that planning for several classes in advance tends to blow up in my face. Yesterday, for instance, I met with my non-English majors for the first time. I had no roll sheet which is typical so I didn't really know what to expect from this class. I had planned for us to get right into the book instead of just killing time on the first day. However, I was immediately hit by fifty students, half of which had no English name and three-fourths of which had never had a foreign teacher before. It took an entire period just giving names to be able to call roll. The majority of the students can barely function in English and speak to me in Chinese seemingly unaware that I barely understand them. They clearly were not ready to begin using the book today so I changed my lesson plans and will have to re-evaluate everything I had planned for them for the rest of the semester. Ah, a day in the life of an English teacher in China.

Ever since our stay in Chengdu last year when we realized that China does, in fact, have adorable dogs, Jessica and I have been planning to adopt a puppy. We figured the beginning of this year was the time to do it so on Sunday morning we arose early and with two of my students went to the local pet market feeling hopeful and excited. After falling in love time and time again with countless puppies of every shape, size and color, we reluctantly came to the conclusion that the puppy meant for us was not to be found that day and comforted ourselves with the determined solution of returning the following week. Before we left the pet market, however, Jessica found herself drawn to several cages of kittens. Most of the kittens were lying in a depressed stupor, but one was crying and clawing madly at the cage daring to restrict its freedom. When we saw the kitten's frantic efforts to obtain its independence, we looked at each other and came to the only rational conclusion: we must set this kitty free! So we bought the kitten and brought her home with us. She has already greatly increased the warmth of our homes and seriously decreased our productivity. We named her Lucille Ball - Lucy for short - because of her red hair, incessant crying, and endearing neediness.

Today is Teacher's Day in China. Text messages have been pouring in since the first one that woke me up this morning wishing me happy everyday. I happen to have the day off which makes me especially appreciate the life of a teacher, or at least the life of this teacher. Everyone is feeling a little puny today - complete with congestion and weariness. It could be the weather changes or the life changes, but I'm blessed today to be able to rest and watch movies and read.