Monthly Archives: September 2010


…what a wonderful word. ūüôā

Today was my first payday at the school, and it sure felt good to go to accounting and pick up my RMB, each bill graced with Mao’s face. ¬†Today was the last day of teaching until October 11th, when we resume classes after the National Holiday and the two day Sports Event at the school. ¬†Stacey and I are planning on dressing up Audrey Hepburn-style (think My Fair Lady)¬†and going to our students’ races to cheer them on, so we’ll see how that goes. ¬†On Monday, a group of us are planning to go to Beijing for a few days to walk around and see the sights, and I’m really excited about that. ¬†We’re going to hit the major touristy spots, and then save a day to relax or just explore the shops nearby our hostel. ¬†It should be great! ¬†(Leslie and Shi…I would love to see you if that’s possible! )

This week has been the most difficult in terms of teaching, because the novelty of us teachers as foreigners is wearing off, and the students are testing our limits. ¬†At almost every lunch period this week, four or five of us teachers have all slumped down at our table in the cafeteria and just shaken our heads at each other. ¬†The students are loud, speaking Chinese instead of English, throwing things, hitting each other, cursing a bit, and so on. ¬†Nothing horribly out of control, but disruptive and frustrating. ¬†So it’s been a long week for all of us, I think. ¬†Today though, my first three classes were simply excellent–they did what they were told, even the writing assignment, and volunteered to answer questions in class. ¬†It might be that they were just happy because they have the long break starting after school today, but whatever the reason, I appreciated the change.

One of the best moments of the day was walking through the Primary School after picking up my paycheck and getting swarmed by the red-clad little primary students, who are really adorable.  They hugged my legs and jumped up and down next to me, and went I knelt down to give hugs, they put their little arms around my neck and kissed my cheek.  Oh, I melted.

After having ill-behaved classes yesterday, and having to make one disruptive child sit out in the hall today, that moment was the breath of fresh air I needed.


mid-autumn festival

We are in the middle of a three day break from teaching because of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (or Moon Festival, I think it’s also called). ¬†It seems to be something akin to an American Thanksgiving, because they all get together with their families, cook a lot of food, and eat Moon Cakes…not Moon Pies, you Southerners out there. ūüôā

Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful day to explore more of the city. ¬†The air was clear after days and days of smog and rain, and lots of families were out in the nearby park enjoying some small amusement park rides and riding paddle boats in the pond. ¬†Elijah and I were quite a spectacle for the people of that park, who stared at us and tried to take covert pictures of us with their cell phones and cameras. ¬†Right before we entered the park, we walked by one parked SUV and heard the distinct snap of a camera clicking. ¬†But that’s just daily life in China for a wai guo ren, a foreigner. ¬†One area in the park had small wading pools with large plastic balls floating in the middle…and inside these balls were children, rolling around and giggling as they floated across the water. ¬†I know it sounds bizarre, but it looked like a lot of fun! ¬†My camera refused to work at this point, so you can either take my word for it or check out Elijah’s blog here, because he has pictures: ¬†

A couple days ago, Elijah, Brad, Stacey, and I took a taxi to a restaurant called The Little Sheep, which is a fantastic hotpot restaurant. ¬†They give you a pot of broth on a burner in the center of the table, and then you are free to order whatever you want to cook inside. ¬†We ordered raw beef and lamb, potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, and noodles, all of which were delicious. ¬†The broth is so hot that the meat cooks within 20-30 seconds, and then you reach in with your chopsticks and pull out whatever you want. ¬†They had an array of mild to hot sauces, as well as some herbs to dip the meat and veggies in, so I went all out with the cilantro and lamb. ¬†I think it’s safe to say that lamb and donkey are my two newfound favorite meats.

Here are some pictures I took over the last couple days, before my camera died…enjoy!

the end of week one

It’s Saturday, and it feels like I’ve been here a month instead of 8 days. ¬†The days have been so jam-packed that it feels like a lot of time has gone by, and it’s funny thinking that I’ll be here another 9 months after this one ends. ¬†This week, I taught 22 classes of Junior 1 students, who are 12-13 years old. ¬†There are 6,000 Junior students in the school, and five Americans teach them their oral English classes–a guy named Rodney, who has lived here quite awhile with his family, two Michiganders named Brad and Stacey, a Californian named Elijah, and then me.

Brad, Stacey, Elijah, and I are around the same age, so we’ve been figuring out this place together quite a bit. ¬†Our most notable (and boring) excursion was to the department of health and whatever else, where they had to verify that we weren’t bringing in any diseases to China. ¬†We were there a few hours while our bosses argued with the people over our medical papers, and a lot of us had to get some things tested again. ¬†I think my favorite thing that happened as “the last straw” in that ordeal was when the guy came over to Stacey, pointed at her passport picture that was attached to her visa application, and told her that her hair was too big. ¬†So because she has curly hair, she had to take the picture again. ¬† I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry for her, so we all just laughed.

I enjoyed teaching my classes this week, but Tuesday was a long, tiring day–I had seven 40 minute classes to teach that day, which was our first day of teaching. ¬†We don’t teach on Mondays, so we cram the 22 classes into 4 days. ¬†The walks to and from class involve weaving through crowds of uniform-clad students, many of whom stop to giggle and bow to me, or just bounce by waving and yelling “Hello, teacher!” ¬†Some of them stop to ask me where I’m from, and how tall I am, and if I like LeBron James. ¬†I really need to remember to just convert my height to the metric system, because I say “6 feet tall” and they have no idea what to make of it.

I mostly have a blast teaching–I love it, and while there are students who talk in class and try to slip a lot of Chinese by me, I still enjoy them. ¬†I have to crack down on them a lot though in these first few weeks, or they’ll be way out of hand later. ¬†The problem is, they always laugh at the students who I call on to practice speaking, and I don’t like that at all. ¬†So I usually move around in class a lot and stand next to the troublemakers while I listen to the students I’ve just called on. ¬†When they really won’t be quiet, I reach out and bang on their desks, and then they usually zip it. ¬†But besides some talking in class and hesitance to participate in class, the students have been great. ¬†They’re hilarious, and sometimes I have to work really hard to keep a straight face when I have them up at the blackboard writing an answer or speaking a¬†dialog.

One of the greatest enjoyments for me is finding out their English names, ones that either their Chinese English teachers have given them or that they’ve given themselves. ¬†I’ve had students named Cinderella, Snow White, Brain, Kobe Bryant, Blade Runner David Scott (one name, yes), Sword, Cloudy, Gum, and Seven. ¬†Oh, and yesterday, I had a kid named…God. ¬†No kidding. ¬†I’m going to have to tell him that he needs to find a different English name. ¬†I had a very awkward/hilarious moment when I called on him in class, because he was up at the board writing an answer, and I glanced at his name card as I said thank you and stopped just short of saying “thank you, God.” ¬†I’m going to give him a new name ASAP.

I usually save the last five minutes of class for the students to ask me questions about myself, or my country, or hobbies, or whatever they can think of. ¬†It makes them speak more, and it’s also really amusing for me. ¬†Some of the most common questions are these: ¬†do you speak Chinese? ¬†Do you have a husband? ¬†Do you like Michael Jackson/Lady Gaga? ¬†What’s your favorite sport? ¬†What’s your phone number? ¬†What’s your favorite food? ¬†When they ask me if I speak Chinese, I answer in Chinese that I don’t speak it very well, and then their faces light up and the start yelling and clapping for me. ¬†But then I have to say that we speak English in this class…not Chinese. ¬†I’m kind of amazed that they know who Lady Gaga is.

One of the most hilarious questions I got was this: ¬†“do you like Chinese boys or American boys?” ¬†The whole class laughed at that one, and the question-asker put his head on the table, laughing and red with embarrassment. ¬† Another one was from a little girl named Hilary–she asked me, “do you like Hilary?” ¬†“You mean Hilary Clinton?” ¬†“Yes.” ¬†“Um…well…sure.”

I haven’t taken a many more pictures yet, but hopefully more will be forthcoming shortly!

Also, I haven’t figured out a creative or tasteful way to say this, but I have now partaken of donkey meat. ¬†And it was very good. ¬†That’s all. ¬†ūüôā

a sketch of china–the first few days

Shijiazhuang is a crazy busy place. ¬†It’s full of people–there is no such thing as an empty street here, no matter what time it is. ¬†The city is home to some 9 million people, 300 of whom are foreigners, so we are kind of a novelty and a weird experience for the people here. ¬†Walking down the street to the supermarket, we have to be on a constant alert for taxis, bicycles, and motorbikes, who will most definitely run us over. ¬†No such thing as a pedestrian right of way! At the supermarket, each aisle is equipped with probably five employees, who usually pounce on you the minute you start looking for items in their aisle, either talking away in Chinese or saying a very shy and giggly “Hello!” ¬†China is absolutely packed with people.

I can’t walk anywhere without seeing a student or city dweller put their hands over their mouths, giggle, and stare at me. ¬†Walking down the halls of the school today as I went between classes, a lot of students would yell “Hello teacher!” at me or go absolutely stiff with shock before melting into nervous giggles.

The food here is super cheap–you can get a meal of about 25 jiaozi (dumplings) for only 6 kuai, which amounts to a little less than a dollar. ¬†The local brew here is called Tsingtao, and it’s not too bad, but you have to make sure to ask for it cold! ¬†I’ve been eating Chinese food for every meal, but tonight I went to the McDonald’s a couple blocks away, and it has never tasted so good. ¬†I decided today that I would do my¬†darnedest¬†to get some peanut butter and honey for sandwiches. ¬†The bread and honey were easy to find, but the peanut butter was elusive. ¬†I asked some employees, who were extremely happy to help, if they knew what “peanut butter” was. ¬†They did not. ¬†So, I tried to draw peanuts on a piece of paper they provided, but the meaning didn’t get across. ¬†I searched and searched some more, and finally found a jar of Skippy peanut butter for 17 kuai. ¬†Totally worth it. ¬†I went back to show it to the ladies who had tried to help, and they kept asking “hao chi ma??” which means “is it good to eat??” They were very skeptical.

I’ll write a post later on about the school, the other foreign teachers, and the first day of school! ¬†For now, I’ll just say that I taught 7 classes today, and I am beat. ¬†But in the meantime, here are a few pictures of my apartment:

hello beijing!

I am currently sitting in our room at a hotel near the Beijing airport, trying to stay awake a little longer until the other teacher arrives from the airport. I just pulled an all-nighter, and my sense of time is all mixed up. When it would have been 7:30 am at home, I went with the lady who picked me up to a restaurant down the street, and devoured lamb kebabs, a huge plate of fried noodles, hot and sour soup, and hot green tea.

The best part about the flight over was talking to the guy next to me about C.S. Lewis and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and then flying over the Arctic near the Russian shore and seeing plates of ice floating in the ocean. Seeing snowcapped peaks while flying over Siberia was really amazing too.

Now I’m amusing myself watching very solemn-sounding Chinese documentaries on TV. Oh, and if Rachel Lee is reading this, please know that the narrator said “cheetzuh” about three times in the last five minutes, and it made me laugh.


I have a plane ticket for September 9th, a passport being processed for a work visa, and one more week left at home! The guy at the D.C. office who’s taking care of my visa application asked me if it was okay that they get the visa to me one day before I fly out. ¬†Sure, why not. ¬†Nothing ever happens for me except at the last minute, it seems, so I’m used to it. ¬†But that doesn’t mean that I will be able to sleep the night before I get the visa. ¬†Or the night before I leave. ¬†Just sayin’.