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! 🙂

Crazy Dinner

One has never feasted until one feasts with the Chinese. This weekend I stayed in Liuyang to have a quiet weekend, and go practice Taekwondo a little. I went on Friday, then went home early and had a good long sleep. Saturday I just sat around all day until after dinner, and ran out to Baisha road to see if I could catch a taxi downtown to the Taekwondo school. It’s always a hit or miss with catching a taxi out here, but I got one at the last minute and was a little late to class. I can usually understand only half of what is going on, and so when class ended a half hour early I wasn’t sure why. It was explained to me that there was a performance somewhere near there and that the black-belts would be participating in it, so I decided to follow everyone over there to watch. We walked down the road and under this archway with flashing neon lights, and then up five flights of stairs into this massive room full of people and a huge dance floor where couples were waltzing around to some strange electronic waltzing computer music. I went to stand on a bench with some of the people I was with, and watched a few performances. They were advertising a dance school, and the performance consisted of men in tight pants doing a line-dance rumba and then a bunch of little girls doing a choreographed dance to some song, then a bunch of professional waltzers waltzed around in suits and crazy dresses. After those performances, the people from my Taekwondo school did their demo, which went really well. There were a lot of people wide-eyed from the board-breaking they did.

After they finished we were all ushered to a private karaoke room where everyone sang songs till about 10h30. A girl convinced me to sing ‘my heart will go on’ with her. Needless to say, she did most of the singing (very well too, considering it was all in English). When everyone started leaving I kind of joined the crowd, and when we got downstairs I realized that a midnight feast was immanent. We piled into a few taxies and ended up on this side street at a big late-night hot-pot restaurant. We crowded 15 people around a tiny table with a giant pot in the middle and they proceeded to order two big boxes of beer and a ton of food (how much food, I couldn’t have known yet). A big pot of crabs was dumped into the boiling bowl in the middle of the table, and we all devoured those, then after three more bowls of delicious crabs, a bunch of steamed buns were brought out with sweet sauce and spicy peppers. After I thought maybe that was it, more crabs were dumped in, and after those were finished, a girl came over and scooped out part of the leftovers then came over and dumped a ton of broth into the bowl and stoked the fire underneath to get it to boil. While all this was happening, I swear two more big boxes of beer and a zillion toasts happened, and then the waitress poured a bunch of meatballs and seafood balls and garlic and onions and cilantro and lettuce into the broth. After this I was figuring that must be the last of the stuff, but then she brought out some fried steamed buns and some fried noodles and salty peanuts and oil-bread sticks and some kind of peanut sauce. While everyone was devouring that, I think every person had a toast with someone else between every bite.

After these four boxes of beer, and all that food, the waitress then brought out two big bowls of noodles that she dumped into the big middle bowl of broth (and everything else previous), as well as some plates of lotus roots and more lettuce and cilantro. I think they must have ordered more beer because someone whispered to me that there was now a challenge between two people on who could toast the most toasts. After a bit I went to the bathroom only to encounter the respected Mr. Li coming out of the bathroom looking a little bleary eyed saying ‘gosh, I sure drank a lot, would you like some full size fireworks for your Christmas celebrations?’. I went into the bathroom and sure enough, the respected Mr. Li had thrown up all over the place and was going out for more.
When I went back, I realized those lotus roots and cilantro plates had come from a metal shelf that was brought out that had about two more big bowls of noodles, meatballs and bean sprouts and Chinese sausage and a zillion other things. These were all devoured in due time, while a few more cases of beer were sucked down.
I also forgot to mention, while everyone was getting more and more intoxicated, and more and more toasts were happening, and more and more food was being devoured, all the crab shells, bones and used napkins and chopsticks and cigarettes were being tossed on the floor. Every time another toast would be poured, someone would drunkenly shove in and try to top off someone’s glass with more beer, and it would go all over the table. This table-beer started to drip off the table onto the mess on the floor, which ended up being a giant soupy mess both on the table and off.
One of my teachers explained to me some of the rules of Chinese alcohol culture. First, when you ‘ganbei’ (dry-glass, aka cheers) someone, your glass must be lower than those who are older than you. Second, you must always have a very full glass. Third, you must drink the entire glass on every cheers and show the empty cup to the table. He explained that this differs from Chinese tea culture, because tea culture calls for a half full glass and small sip.
This same teacher began a game with everyone at the table, where you go around and say a certain specified word or phrase in your home dialect. Everyone at the table had family from different places, so he would point to one person and say ‘Hunan!!! Go!’ and they would say it in Hunanese dialect, then ‘Liuyang Hua!!’ then ‘Hubei!!’ then ‘Jiangxi!’ then ‘Chongqing!’ then ‘Beijing!’ then ‘Cantonese!!’. It was actually really interesting for me, to hear people speaking the same phrase each after the other but in completely different, exaggerated accents in Chinese.
After a few more shelves of lotus roots and lettuce and cilantro and noodles and crabs, and a few more cases of beer, at about 3 in the morning, the big group (1/3rd of which had been sleeping on friend’s shoulders), decided it was time to go home. Two of my teachers brought me home in a taxi (unnecessary but they insisted), and I came home, and jumped into bed, incredibly full and incredibly exhausted, but very happy from the craziest dinner I’ve had in China!

This happened a few weeks ago, but I haven’t gotten around to posting it until now. I will post soon about recent things like Christmas and New Year, just as soon as I have some time to write something up!

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!