Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Last Post (?)

Welcome to my blog's House-Cooling Party.

When I moved out of my last apartment before going to China, my roommates and I had a House-Cooling Party.  We thought it was a very clever twist on the traditional housewarming party.  Three years later, it doesn't seem any less clever to me, so I'm declaring it House-Cooling Day here at Life in the Middle Kingdom.

This is (I think) my last post for this blog.  I have dreams of adding a "Going-to-China Primer" page next to the "Qufu" page, and perhaps I might compile a list of favorite posts, but with those possible exceptions, I don't plan to write any more here.

I have always approached this blog with a purpose: to keep my family and friends informed about my life in China and to help Americans understand China better.  One secondary purpose has been for me to document parts of my own China life and communicate experiences that I seldom have a chance to share in person.

Since this is by design a China blog, I don't plan to keep it up now that I'm not in China.  I never have any motivation to write about China when I'm not physically there, and I don't want to change the purpose or focus of this blog to something different.

Those of you who come here because of your interest in China should make sure to check out Seeing Red in China, a daily blog that does a great job of comprehensively examining the life of a foreigner in China and also China as a whole.  I get my China news from ZG Briefs, a weekly e-mail summary of China news, and from the Sinica podcast.  There are also zillions of online resources for Chinese current events and language learning.

Those of you who come here because of your interest in me should make sure to look me up in person now that I live in America again!  I have been here two weeks and I'm checking things off my list:
  • Phone: Check.  (Can I Have Your Number?)
  • Car:  Check.  (Note to young professionals: If you go shopping for cheap used cars with your dad in August, everyone will think you're in college... or high school.)
  • Job:  Check.  I'll be working at a brain injury rehab facility in Ankeny, starting at the beginning of September.  It will be interesting to see how well I can jump back into the world of speech pathology.

Here's the list that remins:
  • Find Roommates:  I really hope that I can miraculously get hooked up with a Christian roommate (or roommates) in the Des Moines area, especially those that share my vision of having a welcoming home for friends, internationals, & whoever.  If you know of a way to make that dream come true, please let me know.
  • Find Apartment
  • Move
  • Find Church
  • Enjoy my first Iowa fall in a long time

Now that you've all helped me cool house on my blog (not that it wasn't cool already), I hope some of you can help me warm my new home after I get settled in Ankeny.

Thanks for reading here; I've had a fantastic time writing for you.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Various Thoughts on my First Ten Days Home

A couple days after I got back to America, my sister and I went shopping.  (Three years in China is not kind to any wardrobe.)  At the mall, we played a game: "What's right with America // What's wrong with America."

The rules are simple.  Point something out.  Then say if it's what's right with America or what's wrong.  Here are a few examples:

Clearance racks:  That's what's right with America
Gigantic bucket-sized soft drinks:  That's what's wrong with America
Comfy benches to sit on:  That's what's right with America
Can't bargain:  That's what's wrong with America
Cinnabon:  That's what's right with America
The Chick-fil-a wars:  That's what's wrong with America

Normally when I get back in the summertime I'm really struck by all the differences between the U.S. and China, but this time, which is technically my fifth return from China, I've gotten used to the differences and notice them less.  I still gasp at every beautiful sunset, though.  (Clean air - that's what's right with America.)

A couple days ago I made my first real visit to the Iowa State Fair.  I've gone other times, but never really walked through and stayed awhile.  As I walked around with my friends, I started getting confused.

Deep-fried cheese:  That's what's wrong with America.  No wait - that's what's right with America!  Wrong!  Right?  Who knows!
(Deep-fried butter and deep-fried candy bars were an easier call.  I filed them under "wrong."  Funnel cakes and the pork tent were solidly under "right.")

As we walked deeper into the fairgrounds, we came upon crowds of people lined up along a police barrier around an intersection.  The overhead chairlift had been stopped, and we could see an ambulance sitting there.  We immediately thought there had been an accident (someone falling from the lift, maybe?) and turned back.  We couldn't get through anyway.

However, a little bit of questioning at the walking taco tent revealed that the crowds were waiting for Barack Obama.  Yes, the President of the U.S. was making an unscheduled stop at the fair!

I've never seen a U.S. President in person and was really excited to have the chance, and totally by coincidence.  We joined the crowds waiting patiently around the intersection.  After about a half-hour, the Presidential motorcade pulled up and two large, black tour buses parked in the intersection.

Another hour went by.  Nothing happened.  I bought an over-priced Sprite and returned to my spot behind three too-tall people blocking the view of nothing happening. 

At one point, a lady near me tried to pass a "Mitt Romney for President" sign to be held in the front.  The lady she tried to hand it up to was disgusted and handed it back, saying:

"Show some respect.  It's the President of the United States!"
"He doesn't deserve any respect.  He's crap."
"It's the office you show respect for."
"Well he doesn't respect the office!"

The first lady walked off to find a new place to display her sign.

I thought about this exchange for awhile.  Is this what's wrong with America or what's right?  I think we can all agree that the downright nastiness of political discussion in America is wrong.  (Both of those ladies sounded a little nasty.)  Then again, I just came from a country where you can't and don't say things like that about your leaders.  I think nasty free speech is more valuable by far than a false harmony.  I'm calling this one a draw in my wrong/right game, with a very slight advantage given to "right."

Here comes the anti-climax:  After we stood waiting for an hour and a half, hoping that Obama would finally emerge from his bus and say a few words, the buses simply drove away.  The local security guys unfastened the barrier ropes and the crowds streamed off in all directions.  We asked the security guys what happened, and one just shrugged his shoulders and said, "We don't know."

"Thanks for your work anyway," my friend told him.
He clapped her on the shoulder and said, "That's a long time to wait for a Democrat."

We considered that quote a fair reward for our long and fruitless wait.

It turns out that Obama had walked along the concourse for awhile, stopped for some pork and a beer, looked at the butter cow, and then gotten back in his bus.  I'm still not really sure why he didn't get out at the intersection where everyone expected him to.

A lot of people were muttering under their breath when it was clear he wasn't going to address the crowd.  "What an ass!" I heard at least one person say.  Others were annoyed that they couldn't get through: "What's everyone waiting for?"  "Obama."  "Isn't there anything better to see?"

I'm no Obama apologist, but I was a little surprised that some people couldn't set aside their partisanship and muster up some interest in hearing the leader of the free world speak in person.  (That's what's wrong with America?)

So now you know two things I've done in my ten days home.  In addition to clothes-shopping and State-Fairing, I've also gone up to visit relatives in Northeast Iowa and taken a couple trips to Des Moines.  I've been looking for jobs and will hopefully have something to report on that front soon. 

Interestingly, the most common China question I've gotten since returning to America is this one: "What American foods did you miss while in China?"  I may not be the best person to ask this question; I'm less of a food-misser than most Americans I know in China and never have a good answer to give.

In other news, I've complied my annual "Favorite Chinglish" album on Facebook.  You can view it even if you aren't a member of Facebook.  Click HERE for Amazing Chinglish!

That's all for now.  I may update this blog once more before slinking off into oblivion.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Teacher Alison

One of the nice things about teaching in the Summer Teaching Program last month is that I was observed by several different experienced teachers.  In addition to giving me feedback and suggestions about my teaching, they also did me the favor of taking some pictures of my classes.  It's the most I've ever seen myself in action as a teacher, so I thought I'd give you a peek.

Here's a Christmas lesson for a special holiday culture afternoon.  You can see on the board that I'm trying to help them differentiate Santa and Jesus, who occasionally get mixed up in the minds of those who only have a vague understanding of the origins of Christmas.

Here are a few shots from my own classroom this summer.  I love those moments when the class is engrossed in an activity and actually speaking all English. 

I have always had an interest in teaching and have loved it ever since first getting my feet wet as a teaching assistant at the University of Iowa.   I know that God has gifted me with a knack for teaching and hope that I can keep using that gift throughout my life.

Let me close with a couple all-time favorite teaching photos, taken by my friend Gloria when she visited me in Rizhao.

The Easter bunny and hang gliding, respectively.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Lovely Last Day

I'm back in America but I'm lagging about a week behind in blogging.  If only for my own satisfaction, I plan to do a couple last posts about my time in Haiyuan and then close out the year with a big Chinglish finale.  (Stay tuned.)

Here we have my last full day in Haiyuan in all of its glorious glory.

First, a few local friends.  This was not my last day, but these ladies become important later.  They ran a dumpling shop just down the street from my hotel.  The first time I went there, we took a bunch of pictures and had a good time chatting, especially the 14-year-old working there.  I kept going back whenever I had time.  Here they are:

My last day in Haiyuan started with a closing ceremony with all of the teachers and officials.  We handed out the graduation certificates and said goodbye to our trainees.

After our closing ceremony, some of the teachers in my class invited me and my teammate to go hiking in the mountains.  I'd been praying for an opportunity like this!

It was so, so fun.  The air was delightfully fresh and scented with sage, the sky was blue, and the clouds were pleasantly plump.

Driving into the mountains

A trail we followed for awhile before going up the mountain

The climb begins.  Please note the watermelon.

Going higher.  Watermelon still in tow.

We hiked for an hour or two to reach a rock with a great view.  Watermelon-eating in progress.

Six of my trainees came out.  It was so fun to spend my last day with them!

This girl climbed in high-heeled sandals.

At our request, they took us on a long drive to see more countryside and stop in some villages.  Here is an old walled yard on a hill.

Riding some villager's tractor

Village school

Village school -- English class!  When we walked into this rural primary school in TheMiddleOfNowhere, Ningxia and saw the words, "Uncle," "Niece," and "Nephew" on the board, that's when I realized that English is truly an international language.

We stopped for a roadside picnic.  Here's the view.

Roadside picnic -- eating delicious fermented oats

Roadside picnic -- with noodles!

Village mosque

Village street

Village man

After our delightful day in the mountains, we rushed back for us foreign teachers to have a banquet with the officials.  Then I kicked my feet up in my hotel room after a very tiring month of work.

At 11:00 p.m., I heard knocking and giggling at my door.  I had no idea who it could be... someone drunk or confused, maybe?  The knocking continued and I opened the door to find...

The dumpling ladies!

The ladies from the dumpling shop heard we were leaving the next day and came after work to send me off with gifts and giggles.  I was so surprised.  I cleared a space for them on my messy bed and we hung out for awhile and took a bunch more photos.

I never told them where I was staying, but I'm sure everyone in town knew the foreigners were at the Haiyuan Hotel.  They came up to the third floor and just started knocking on doors (they woke up my teammates) until they found me.  Haha!  They brought bread for us to eat on the bus the next day (see above) and the gifts below:

Hand-embroidered insoles

Handmade pillow

And pantyhose!  Why?  Who knows!

All in all, it was a long and lovely day to end my stay in Haiyuan.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Noodles of Haiyuan County

While in Ningxia, I embarked on a quest to photograph all the different varieties of noodles I ate.  With noodles for most lunches and a few suppers as well, I had many opportunities.  Here I present the Noodles of Haiyuan County:

Hui Mian

Saozi Mian (my favorite)

Some kind of noodles

The same noodles after adding beef and sauce

Chao Mian (fried noodles)

Liang Pi (cold noodles with broth, tofu, and slivered veggies)

Some kind of rice noodle or potato noodle

Not noodles -- dumpling soup!

Homemade dumplings

A local specialty: the stuff on the left is buckwheat flour mixed with water.  You dip little pinches of it in the sauce on the right and eat.

La Mian (pulled noodles)

The price range of these dishes was about 4 RMB to 20 RMB, with most around 10 RMB ($1.50).  Now that I'm back in the U.S., I'll be looking for local recommendations to get the same thing for cheap!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fake KFC

The only Western restaurant in Haiyuan.  I'm laughing here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Another Weekend Outing: ShaPoTou and Tong Xin

Our officials graciously planned another outing for us this Saturday.

We first went to a tourist site called "ShaPoTou" near the city of Zhongwei.  This is a place where tourists come to float down a branch of the Yellow River and play desert in the sand.  Like most Chinese tourist attractions, it was crowded, overpriced, and not very natural or authentic.  But we still had fun riding on camels (not me) and sliding down a sand dune (me!).  We were at a lower elevation than here and the sun was very strong.  It wasn't hard to imagine we were really trudging through the desert on the Silk Road hundreds of years ago.

After ShaPoTou, we stopped in the town of Tong Xin to see the Grand Mosque, a nice old building with a good view of the town.

Then we came home.  It was a long day, but still enjoyable to see more of Ningxia.  And the drives were just as beautiful as last week.

Drive-by scenery at 7:30 a.m.

Drive-by scenery, through the bus window

Drive-by scenery

At ShaPoTou.  River on the left and sand beyond.

Horses and camels

Sand sliding

I saw this guy lose a bunch of papers as he slid down.  I'm watching from the chairlift.

Beautiful view at the top

Looking down and ready to slide!  After buying a ticket and waiting in line, of course.

Tourists on a sheep-skin raft

Teammate Cara posing by an excellent display of "Chinese air-conditioning"

More country scenes -- corn and sunflowers

The Grand Mosque at Tong Xin


View from the mosque