Since Youtube is blocked in China, I’ve uploaded a bunch of video’s I’ve taken over the year on the Chinese version of Youtube…….’Youku’

If you wanna check ’em out, HERE’S THE LINK.

I’ll be adding more video’s within the next couple weeks, before I come home!

Grade 2’s, Saving Face, King-Kong Basketball

Since I’ve gotten back from South Asia, it’s been pretty normal here. My class schedule is still the same, my classes are still the same. The one thing is different is that I was able to plunge into the first day of this semester without nerves and fear, with full confidence in my lesson plans and ability to keep the classroom under control. Second grade still gives me a lot of trouble, but I’ve found that counting backwards from 3 in Chinese and saying I’ll deduct points really seems to work. The points don’t actually get taken off since they aren’t graded in oral English, but they don’t know that!
There was a kite flying day a few weeks into this semester, where all the kids brought kites to school and had races seeing who could get them the highest. It was pretty cool to see hundreds of students out on the sports field assembling and flying colorful dragon and fish kites. I had gone to teach one of my third grade classes, but they were running out of the classroom with kites in hand, so I told them I would go with them and they got all excited, and told me that their kites would most definitely be the highest. I went out for a bit and got some pretty good pictures of some of the kids, but this is my favorite:

Kite Day at Xinwen School

The weather is getting a lot warmer, so the teacher’s basketball team has started playing again. They invited me to go along with them to a little town whose name translates to ‘King-Kong’. We took one of the small stinky local buses out across the Liuyang river and went though a tunnel I had never seen before. On the other side we went through some really nice countryside, where the rice paddies were full of yellow flowering plants, terraced on the mountainsides, with tile-roofed houses scattered in between. The city was barely 30 kilometers away, but it took us over an hour to get there because the road was so bad. It was concrete slabs that looked like the Sichuan Earthquake had hit all over again, but this time in the Hunan countryside. Some bumps were so huge that everyone in the bus went flying up and we hit our heads on the roof. By the time we got to the school they were ready to start the game, so I sat down and watched for a bit and decided basketball isn’t such a bad sport to watch. It was kind of exciting and there was a big crowd of students yelling and cheering. There were some girls that came up to me and introduced themselves, but were really shy to talk English. Their old teacher was a teacher at Xinwen School now, so she kept prodding them to talk to me, and their English actually wasn’t too bad.
Jingang (the real name of KingKong) was a really tiny city/town. The streets where jam packed full of bicycles, trucks, cars and people with soot everywhere and little old grandmas washing that night’s cabbage on the dirty sidewalk. Almost how I remember China being in 1999! Almost every place in town was doing something related to fireworks, most making the paper tubes that the fireworks are stuffed into. It was almost as if each area made a different sized tube. We drove past piles and piles of them drying in the sun all over the town. After the basketball game, the hosting team usually treats the visiting team to some tasty food, so we all went to their cafeteria and had a feast that the cooks had prepared especially for us. After that we piled back onto the bus and after a big fight between the bus driver and some lady who got on the bus, we drove back home. It had been another one of those dinners with a thousand ‘cheers’ and ‘gan-beis’ (dry glass), so after a bit I couldn’t stand it anymore and ran up and desperately asked the driver to pull over, saying ‘Look guy, I’m a country girl, I can piss anywhere, you just gotta stop the bus a second!’ The rest of the people in the bus had gotten really quiet a ways back, and it was as if they were all waiting for someone to make the first move, because as soon as the bus stopped everyone ran off in different directions into the woods. By the time we got back I was hungry again so I got some food downtown then went home.
A week or so later I got a call from Cindy, one of the English teachers. She told me that the school was very upset that I had been late for so many classes this semester and that I had missed a lot of classes. I was really confused, because I hadn’t been late for a single class since I had bought an alarm clock the second day of school that semester. There had been another time where the schedule was changed and the foreign teachers had not been informed (we don’t receive the staff emails, and anything important gets to us the second before or an hour after its begun), but I had cleared that up with the head teacher of the class (or so I had thought). Cindy told me that the school wanted to doc her pay and Monica’s pay as well as the foreign teacher’s salary due to all this apparent lateness. I decided to call up Jackie, the guy who used to manage all the things to do with the foreign teachers, and ask him what was going on. I told him the exact date that I had been late (March 3rd, in fact) and asked him to notify me after he spoke with the head teachers of all these other classes I was late for. Then he skirted the issue and told me I am not allowed to put children outside the classroom when they misbehave, which I hadn’t done since September. He then told me he would like to see all my lesson plans from September to March. By this point I was pretty confused, and thinking something was up. Luckily I had every lesson plan for every class all the way back to the first day of school on my computer, so I put them on a USB key and asked him if I could have a meeting with him that Wednesday at 2pm.
Wednesday arrived and I was on my way over to Jackie’s office, when I saw all the English teachers in the school walking in the same direction. I asked them what was going on and they said that Jackie had called a meeting for 2pm. By this point I was really, really confused and was thinking I had done something horrible without knowing it. I decided to skitter into Jackie’s office 15 minutes before 2pm and say, ‘Hi! I’m here to talk!’. So I went in and sat down and gave him my USB key with all my lessons. I also apologized and told him I was sorry and that maybe I had caused someone to lose face without knowing it (that someone probably being him). I told him that in America we don’t really have the concept of ‘mian zi’ or ‘face’ and that I don’t understand it. The whole thing about ‘face’ in China is incredibly complicated and most foreigners don’t even begin to understand it, which is why some people in China think foreigners are rather brash, forward and uncultured. I figured if I explained my ignorance really humbly with a solemn look on my face, it might help a bit, especially if I said it in a way that acknowledged his higher up position in the school. He looked at my zillions of lesson plans pretty briefly and seemed to brighten up a bit and then we went into the meeting room.
It really was a meaningless meeting and I could tell a lot of the English teachers didn’t want to be there because they have very busy schedules, but nonetheless Jackie kept on about all kinds of things to do with me and Craig, some of which I’m glad I didn’t understand very well because I couldn’t have helped myself but to butt in.
Following his long speech was a criticism session in which Craig and I were told everything wrong that we had been doing. Lucky for me, Jackie had addressed most of it in his office with me privately. Craig got that bad end of it, basically Jackie telling him he was doing things all wrong and badly and that he didn’t prepare for his classes. If I hadn’t gone in to his office beforehand, I would have gotten the same thing in front of all the other English teachers.
This is what confuses me so much. I would have though criticizing people in front of a large group would cause someone to lose face, but in fact no one seemed bothered or uncomfortable by it. Also, none of the criticism was constructive. It was just ‘you are doing badly, don’t do this’, not ‘this might need improvement, lets talk about how that might happen’ or something along those lines.
Anyway, the meeting was adjourned and I had to run to my next class. I’m still not sure what that whole thing was about, and none of the topics were ever addressed again. Maybe I had caused Jackie to lose face somehow and by giving it back to him he just decided to forget all these things? I guess I’ll never know, but I sure don’t mind!!
Anyway, recently I’ve discovered that 2nd graders really like grammar drills (Repeat after me: I am, You are, He is, She is, It is…etc..). I would have thought it would bore them to death, but I decided to try it one day and they sat incredibly still for a record amount of time and all chanted in unison. Maybe they just like things they are familiar with? I’ve done it in bits for the past three weeks when they get really rowdy, and 2nd grade has almost been tolerable.
Today in 4th grade they were learning ‘dollar’ ‘pound’ and ‘yuan’, and I brought money from different countries in for them to see. Then we played vocabulary Bingo and the winning prize was a quarter. It was the first time I had ever done a game with prizes and so the entire class participated because they really, really wanted that quarter!
Oh! And I finally made a friend in good friend around here Chen Ming who, as it turns out, is moving to Beijing as well. I’ve been raking zillions of websites for info about Beijing, and looking at all the stuff that’s going on in the city, and looking for apartments I can’t even think about renting yet. I want to be in that giant land of sandstorms, hutongs, crowds and foreign grocery stores so badly! But hey….I might actually miss this tiny, backwards mountain town of Liuyang someday! 🙂

Hikes, Friends, Mao

NOTE: another picture test….let me know if you outside-of-china-ers can see these photos. if so, i’ll put a bunch of other pictures up from beijing and of my students, etc!!

On Thursday afternoon after dinner, I went to go down to the store down the road, but passed a little path that goes into the countryside and decided to go down it instead. I walked for a while past a bunch of rice fields, vegetable gardens and small houses, then the road turned into dirt and got about as narrow as a footpath. I kept walking down it and gradually it opened up into a construction site and what looked like an abandoned school with a weird obstacle course that was overgrown with weeds. There was a path behind a bunch of piles of dirt that led up a hill to a pagoda on the top. I had seen the pagoda from the roof of my school, so I decided to climb up and check it out. The path was strangely well-maintained considering everything around it, and so was the pagoda. When I got to the top I could see all the way down the big main road and my school and all the mountains around Liuyang. It was pretty cool and nice and quiet and deserted. I’ll have to go back there sometime and take a few pictures!
On Friday I had my 1st graders all morning, and so in between each class I go sit on the benches that are outside the classrooms to rest for a bit and some of my students will come and poke me and ask questions like ‘how come all foreigners have white eyes?’ and ‘are you from meiguo (america) or waiguo (foreign country)?’. On Friday’s all the kids get to go home, so I ask them ‘is your mom coming to get you or will you take the bus?’ and one little 6 year old girl said ‘I am from far away, so I only go home twice a year. I live with my teacher and she isn’t nice to me and she forgets about me a lot, but its ok, i find things to do.’ I couldn’t believe that a 6 year old would be sent away from home for so long! She was very matter of fact about it, and seemed very mature for a 6 year old, but I wished for her sake that she could see her parents more often!
Later that day after all the kids went home, Craig and I went to go climb the mountain on the edge of downtown, called ‘Xihu Shan’, or West Lake Mountain. We took a motorcycle taxi to the edge of it, and climbed up and up and up to a giant 9 story pagoda on top. There were a lot of people climbing that afternoon because it was friday and the weather has finally been getting cooler.

City of Liuyang from Xihu Mountain

City of Liuyang from Xihu Mountain

We decided to go down the other side, away from all the people. The path was only dirt and really steep and looked like it hadn’t been walked on for a while, but from some points on that trail I got some really good views of the country side and the Liuyang river and the mountain range that can’t be seen from the city-side. I also saw all of Liuyang and far far far away, my school!
Liuyang River

Liuyang River

When we got to the bottom of the mountain, we found the old section of the city. There were apartment buildings with wooden framed windows, and separate concrete and brick houses with tiled rooves and stray dogs, and a hundred years of grime on kitchen window sills. There were lots of old people sitting on stools, and if you looked in doorways you could see street vendors at home putting all the street-food barbecues on skewers. It was really quiet and almost no traffic, and felt to me like a dose of real China!
In the old section of Liuyang

In the old section of Liuyang

On Friday night I went out with Craig to that only bar we have called ‘Party Bar’ to see our friend Li Dong. I made friends with some people and they were all going to eat some fish at a late-night sidewalk restaurant, and they invited me along. Craig went home, so I went alone and it was great! No one spoke English so I had to speak Chinese the whole time, and I finally believe that I just might be bilingual, because there wasn’t really anything I couldn’t understand or couldn’t communicate. Now when I move to Beijing and take some more Mandarin classes, practice a lot and learn to read and write, I’ll be like a native!! Maybe someday…..
Today I went out for a bit downtown and found an old man on the street selling big maps for 8 kuai each. He also had big red posters of Mao. I’ve been wanting a world map, a map of China and a big picture of mao, and since they were only 8 kuai each, I got all three! Now Mao is calmly but authoritatively staring down at me every time I sit in my living room, reminding me where I am!

First Week In China!

Hi everyone! I haven’t posted anything since I’ve gotten to China because it turns out that wordpress is blocked, along with Facebook, Blogspot, Youtube and Gmail emails that contain photos. I finally found a way to bypass the firewall, so here is my first blog entry. I’ve also found a website where I can upload photos to share, and the link for that is:

So to catch up to whats happening now, I’ll start with the beginning. Last Sunday, August 9th, my mum and dad drove me to NYC to catch the plane to Shanghai. The whole trip I had no troubles at all, except for the 11 hour layover in Shanghai before I caught my flight to Guilin. It was really long and I couldn’t check my bags until an hour before since it was a domestic flight. But other than that it was fine. I flew into Guilin and a guy was standing there with my name on a sign so I followed him and he drove me back to Yangshuo. The drive was pretty good. I had forgotten what Chinese traffic and driving was like. We must have passed every single car on the road, and almost gotten hit head on by a truck multiple times. The guy was definitely a really good bad driver. The scenery was nuts going there too, the sun was setting behind the karst mountains and there were fires burning all over the rice fields, burning the extra dry grass the farmers picked. We stopped for a windshield wash at one point and there was an almost naked guy taking a shower under a faucet at the gas station. When we got to Buckland in Yangshuo, I was greeted by a young guy named Yuan who took my bags and had me fill out some paperwork, then I was shown to my room at the ‘ESL Hostel’. I fell asleep right away even though it was only 8 or 9 oclock. I hadn’t been able to sleep at all on my 11 hour layover, so I was pretty tired.

The next morning I woke up at 6am and so I hung out in my room until I heard the door next to mine opening. I ran over and looked to see who it was and it was another foreign teacher, Craig, who is 6’9 and from Florida. He had gotten there the day before so he showed me where the office was and where breakfast is served. It turns out breakfast is noodles, congee, youtiao (oily breadstick things), steamed buns and hot sweet soy milk. That day I went with Craig to climb two of the karst mountains in the area and took a zillion pictures of it all (on Flickr), and then we went to West Street to have lunch. After that I had to go change money so I went back to my room and got some travellers checks with the intent to go to bank of china to change them, then went back to the school to pick up my passport. There was a foreign teacher there named nick who said he would give me a ride on the back of his bicycle. So after some watermelon, I jumped on the back sidesaddle and we sped off the the bank. I felt like a real chinese lady balancing on the back of his bike, weaving in and out of traffic. Anyway I got to the bank and changed my money pretty easily, then we went back to the school and I went back to my room to get my laptop to see if I could get a wireless connection in the office. When I got back to my room I fell asleep and wouldnt have woken up had craig not knocked on my door to see if I wanted to come to some event that was happening that night on west street with the school. We all got in Yuan’s electric bus and drove over to West Street. I had no idea what was going on but I was told they were filming a tv show to be broadcasted on cctv guangxi on october 1 for the people’s liberation army and the p.r.c.’s 60th birthday and we were to be participants. They sat us down at this table on the side of the road they were filming on, gave us some shiny light up batons and told us to look excited and happy and wave them around. They also gave us pitchers and cups of beer which we were to drink and cheers as often as possible, maintaining our excited looks. There was a guy from the army there next to us to make sure we did just that. There were tables down the middle of the road with snazzily dressed teenagers who were dancing in unison to a song and a camera guy running all around them taking shots every which way. They kept having to repeat the takes because it was so disorganized and people just kept forgetting what they were doing or walking off. At one point a fight even broke out and the police had to run in and take the guy away. I was exhausted, so by the time the thing finished, we left as soon as possible to walk back to the school. It was a long walk but it was fun because I made friends with this chinese kid who works in the office as the I.T guy. He doesn’t speak English, so we talked a lot in Chinese and I was happy I got a chance to practice and to speak with someone who cant speak English and a real resident of Yangshuo. His name is Liu I think. Anyway, we got back to the office and then me and Craig walked back to building number 7 where our rooms are, and I fell asleep soon after I got there.
The next day after breakfast we went to the police station to register ourselves and thats about all I did other than walk around more and I met a few more teachers that arrived from Las Vegas named Corie and Adam.

On Friday night I decided I wanted to explore the places where I can get beer around here, and a few of the other teachers agreed so we went out with some of the Owen College students to Alley Bar near west street on the smaller river. It was pretty fun, we just talked a lot and I had some conversations in chinese as well as english, but more often than not in english and spoken very slowly. I played a game of pool and me and corey won, I got the majority of shots in which is strange as I’m so bad at playing pool. Then tony, one of the students, asked us if we wanted to follow him to another bar called rooftop bar. So we went there and walked through these people’s living room and up about ten flights of stairs until we got to this bar that was…on the rooftop. There was this tiny girl who was the owner and a bartender named stussy who has a maniacal laugh and is the most nuts person in China that I have ever met. We stayed there a while and lit a wish lantern which craig had to let go of because he is the tallest, but the wind just put it right back down onto the roof. So there was a giant flaming lantern bouncing around on top of the roof, and we thought the place was going to catch fire but finally it bounced off and floated away. The bike ride home was nice because there were so few people on the road so we could free-wheel it all the way back without being afraid of dying. I forgot if I mentioned I rented a bike for 5 yuan a day. Ever since I got that bike, I have been zipping around everywhere and all over yangshuo and the countryside.
Last week a few of us decided to go explore the countryside and maybe go swim in the river. It was me craig cory and adam and emmanuel, a guy from Quebec. We were going and got caught in a huge torrential thunder and lightening storm and we ran over to this overhang that was made for a restaurant at someones house that was closed, but then this guy came out and we asked if we could stay under the overhang and maybe have some beer, so we all bought a beer and sat under this wooden hut until the rainstorm passed. When we got the river I jumped in but no one else did. It was good swimming and I swam across, trying to avoid all the bamboo rafts that tourists were taking downriver. I talked to an old fat guy in a speedo who was swimming across as well who said he studied english and japanese in guilin university.
On saturday I went to ask nick, one of the teachers at owen college, if he could tune my bouzouki so I went over his apartment and he did, then he asked if I wanted to go with him to the post office, so we went there and he mailed some postcards then it was so hot, so he suggested that we go swimming in the yulong river again that day. We biked all the way there and then we swam all afternoon. I got incredible burned and red. Then later on he left and all the other teachers came with some new ones that had arrived that day. There are so many arriving now that it is hard to keep track.
I slept a lot on Sunday and had watermelon with some of the new arrivals and then had pizza on west street with craig. I came back and found nick and went to get my bouzouki and we re-tuned it because the humidity is so bad here. Then I went back home to hang around a bit and I watched some things on my computer, then craig came by to hang out and he decided he might want to go to liuyang as well, which is awesome because I was afraid I might be alone there, or at least with an older couple or something. I’d rather be with someone who is around my age and in the same general mindset as me. Also, we were looking in his lonely planet guide and it turns out there is a carrefour in changsha, which is amazing. I can make some western food when I get homesick! Anyway, tonight I’ve just been writing postcards because training starts tomorrow morning and I want to be rested.
I’ll write about training when it’s all over, and by then I’ll also know if I’m going to be going to Liuyang or not!!