Saturday, March 31, 2012

How today is Saturday, Thursday, and Monday

We have a Chinese holiday coming up on Wednesday (Qing Ming Festival -- Tomb Sweeping Day).  Our department sent us this e-mail to let us know the holiday schedule:
hey everyone,
the upcoming Qingming festival is arranged as follows:
teachers get three days off from April 4th - 6th. We are on duty on Mar 31st(Saturday) and Apil1st(Sunday). On Mar 31st(Saturday), the university will be implementing the schedule of Thursday's; on Apil 1st(Sunday),schedule of Friday's.

As you can see (right?), we have three days "off" in the form of one day off (Wednesday) and two weekdays rescheduled to a weekend.  This is standard practice here.  Therefore today (Saturday) is Thursday and tomorrow (Sunday) is Friday.

So this morning, I was teaching my 8:00 a.m. oral English class when I got a text message from my Chinese teacher at another university.  She was apologizing that we would not have Chinese class today because she has "something" to do.  (This kind of excuse is also standard procedure; you never have to say specifically what "something" is.)

I was confused.  I have Chinese class on Mondays.  Today is Saturday.  Or Thursday.  I had never had any plans to attend Chinese class today.

Then I realized that today is Monday at her university.  Their holiday is Monday through Wednesday, not Wednesday through Friday.

Ay yi yi.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dear Reader: Another Week

Dear Reader,

Hope all is well with you.  I thought writing letters on my blog would be a fun and interesting way to keep my writing fresh.  But I think it's turned out not to be, so this is the last one I'll write for now.  Oh well.

The most exciting thing that's happened this week is the sun finally came out.  So, after a few weeks of gray, windy days, it's finally nice to be outside again.

I still haven't been very busy lately.  Teaching spoken English is both more fun and less time consuming than any other course I've taught.  I'll also have some writing classes, but not for another two weeks.  I've been trying to take more photos as I go about my normal life, knowing that I'll want those kind of pics when I go back to America.

So rather than write a long letter, I think I'll just include a whole bunch of photos from my last week. 

Late last week I got a call from the campus post office that a package had arrived.  When I got there to pick out, it turned out to be two packages -- one from my mom and one from friends for my team.  I had to walk with them about a half mile back to my apartment.  My arms kept getting too tired to continue, so I would set them down and take a few photos of the campus around me, hoping it looked like I just set them down to take photos and not because I was weak.

Eventually I got them back home and opened my package to find this:

Thanks, Mom!

Here are some freshmen hosting the Friday night English corner I spoke at this week.  Chinese people love having hosts for events, even when having a host sort of defeats the purpose of the event.  (If they stand up there reciting their scripts while everyone listens, the students don't get the conversational practice that would actually help them improve their English.)

On the first sunny day this week, I went to the market to pick up vegetables for a student dinner.  The route to the market takes me through this village, where a lot of people had quilts airing outside in the breeze.

Here are the girls who ate dinner with me.  We played BINGO and it was a hit -- who would have guessed?

On Sunday after fellowship, some of us re-visited the skating rink:

Check out that skate graveyard under the pool table.  Haha.  Today I got hungry for a salty snack and couldn't find anything.  Fortunately, my mom had recently sent cheese dip and my team had recently ordered a mystery potato-stick-thing at a restaurant.  The potato rods had skin and hair, which I went ahead and ate.  Yum!

Let me leave you with some shots from this afternoon.  My roommate and I biked down to the beach.  It's another nice day, so it was littered with brides -- see if you can spot them!

We ended with a lunch at a favorite restaurant outside campus.  Like many small restaurants, the ingredients are displayed in back and you can just point at the ones you want.  Can you guess what we ordered?

That's all for now! :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dear Reader: Daily Life

Dear Reader,

It's been a few days since I've written, so I thought I'd catch you up on everything here.  One of the leaders in my teaching organization is in town for a few days, so I made breakfast and met with her this morning.  I'm feeling quite home-maker-y these days, since I've had students over for dinner the last two nights.

The first night I decided to make spaghetti.  For the sauce, I used some ground beef that I'd been excited to find last week.  Either I'm a terrible cook or there was something just not right about that beef.  The sauce tasted really weird.  My students dutifully ate their portions and I decided not to tell them that it was bad even by American standards.  I'll be honest -- I don't really like cooking that much.

Last night I didn't have much time to make dinner, so I threw together some sloppy joes and a fruit salad.  It was wery deliciours.  One of the students told me she saw me on local TV just a few days before Chinese New Year.  She is the third person to tell me she saw me on TV over the holiday!  How could this be?  I was in Thailand at the time.  Apparently, there was a local newscast about travel and "I" was walking around outside somewhere and turned to wave to the camera.  I have no recollection of waving to any TV cameras at any time during the last few months.  I wonder if I have a long-lost twin.

Today is my teammate's 18th birthday and we'll have a team dinner to celebrate.  We also had a big meal with our city fellowship on Sunday.  It occurs to me that I've never told you much about how I've done fellowship for this past three years' worth of Sundays.  We usually meet together with other foreigners in one of our apartments for a couple hours in the late morning.  Someone will prepare a few songs that we sing together, sometimes with a keyboard or guitar.  We listen to a downloaded sermon, discuss it, and pray together.

It's nice to have group that's small enough that we can all contribute and all pray for each other.  I can't help but think it would be a good idea for more people to adopt a home church model.  Obviously we're not a perfect fellowship, but I think it's worth mentioning that we've never split over doctrinal differences, we've never run a multi-million dollar building campaign, we've never fought over the style of music we use, and every member of the group is an active member.  What do you think?  Could this model catch on in America?

On Monday morning I joined a weekly Chinese class at a different university.  It's supposed to be a high-level class.  Am I a high-level Chinese student?  Yeah right!  Remember: I am still 99% illiterate in Chinese.  No matter.  I am sooooo ready to be done having a tutor, so I will sit through a class that's way above my head if it gives me the justification to ditch tutoring forever.  There are three students in the class: Me, my teammate Jason, and an older Japanese teacher.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Yesterday we had a banquet with some of our school officials.  I ate some spicy chicken gizzard and a whole lot of squishy stuff from the sea.

Hope this finds you well.  I'll include some photos for you to look at.  Oh -- haha!  I almost forgot another story I wanted to tell.  My teammate Sara had agreed to teach some basic piano to a couple students who really wanted to learn.  (Note: "a couple.")  The day before the lesson, a student called to say that five students would come to learn piano.  When they actually showed up, there were nine!  That's China -- plans can't keep up with changes.

OK, now I'm really done.  Have a good week!

Sara's nine surprise piano students

Piano playas

Saw these roller-blading kids at KFC.  They went up and down the stairs and we even saw a few hit up the restrooms.  I wonder how you manage a squatty potty in blades.

At my Chinese class

Note all the Chinese characters on the board.  I can't read these.

My notes from class.  Note the absence of characters.

Can you identify this food on my plate at the banquet?

Abalone seaweed soup?

My team and our leaders at the banquet

Sunday fellowship 1

Sunday fellowship 2

City fellowship celebrating my teammate's birthday

Friday, March 16, 2012

In Which I Experiment with Blogging

Dear Reader,

How are you?  Hope this finds you well.  Things are pretty quiet here at the moment.  I had a class and some office hours this morning, then went grocery shopping with my teammate, and hung out with some students tonight.

A few days ago, I was reading a blog where the writer mentioned that she was happy to live in the blogging age, where her thoughts and talents would reach a wide audience.  If she had been born a hundred years ago, she said, the same words would have been buried in letters that only a handful of people ever read.  Interesting thought.

Did you know I love letters?  It really made me think about some of the beautiful letters I've read (like the ones in that awesome book of letters by American women that I gush about from time to time).

I think I'd rather live in the letter age than the blogging age.  So I'm going to write you letters on my blog for the next few posts.

Sound OK?
Take care,

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tong Tong and Lai Lai at Coffee House

Each month, my team hosts a get-together for our Chinese colleagues and their families.  There are snacks, drinks (hence the name - "Coffee House"), and a craft for the kids. 

This has never been my most favorite team activity.  I can't keep anyone's name straight, and it's two hours of small talk in a noisy, crowded room.  But it may be slowly growing on me in spite of the chaos.

Yesterday, my teammate organized a St. Patrick's theme for Coffee House.  The kids got to decorate a shamrock sugar cookie, I made green Kool-Aid, and we all wore green.  Against this nice backdrop arrived two crazies who burst into the apartment roaring at the top of their lungs at promptly 7:00.  They spilled stuff, yelled across small spaces, stuffed their faces with snacks, and colored like the world was about to end.

These boys are our two little neighbors, Tong Tong (in kindergarten) and Lai Lai (in pre-school).  Individually they're cute, mischievous, and questionably behaved.  Together, they're a force. 

(But as long as they're not kicking me or breaking any of my stuff, they still make me laugh.)

Here are some photos from yesterday's coffee house, featuring Tong Tong, Lai Lai, and the rest of us.

Jason grabbed Tong Tong and Lai Lai grabbed his mother's camera (which he's already broken once!)*

Harrison helping them color.  The whole time, Tong Tong was yelling about how fast he was coloring.

Decorating cookies!*

Lai Lai was relatively sedate when working on his cookie.*

Some of the other kids at the cookie table.  The little girl spent 20 minutes on each cookie.

We told everyone to wear green.  If they didn't, Jason tried to get them to wear his green hat.  Why the funny faces?  Because wearing a green hat means your wife is cheating on you.*

At one point, Tong Tong sat down on the arm of the couch, crossed his legs, and ate his snacks like a king on his throne:

Crazy kids!
*Thanks to my teammates for these photos. :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Field Trip to the Hot Springs with my Work Unit

Picture a bus-load of your bosses and colleagues.  Now picture them in bathing suits.  And there you have my Sunday excursion -- a holiday at the Guantang Hot Springs with my department.

Academic departments (and other types of work units) frequently have some kind of excursion every semester, either for leisure or political instruction.  For most of the teachers in the department, their colleagues are some of their best friends since they not only work together but also live on the same campus and have children that grow up together.  So it makes sense to plan some outings.

Usually at my school the foreign teachers are not invited, but the tide seems to be turning.  Last year I experienced all the extremes of Chinese tourism on a two-day trip to The Eight-Li-Long Ditch with my department.

This past weekend, they told us they were going to Linyi, a nearby town, to go to a spa.  The only information we got was to prepare a bathing suit and be ready to go at 7:00 a.m.  I was dubious.

It turned out to be a GREAT day.  Linyi's Guantang Hot Springs are apparently well-known, and a huge complex has been built for tourism.  There's with a nice lobby and several floors of entertainment and relaxation.  We heard there was also a fish spa, a basketball court, a gym, and maybe even a salon.

Entering the complex with our colleagues

After a two-hour ride, our group arrived, got off the bus (all 50 of us, including lots of families and most of our department leaders), and were ushered into our respective locker rooms.  The women's locker room alone was bigger than my apartment, and uniformed staff was ordering everyone around with their headset microphones.  If you don't know what a Chinese shower room is like, ask me sometime and I'll tell you.

We were given some yellow pajamas to change into and told to go upstairs and eat some snacks.  So we did.

Snacks upstairs in our yellow pajamas


Then we went back to the locker room.  We were told to take a shower, don our bathing suits, and go see the hot springs.  So we did.

The first area had six large hot tubs under sun roofs, and staff brought us hot tea as we relaxed in the Turkish bath.  Some children were playing in the hot pools with their parents and their floaties.  "This is great," I thought.  Little did I know, we had barely scratched the surface.

Further in, there was a large, hot swimming pool with jets and fountains for your feet, your back, or your head.  There were water slides.  There were more small hot tubs.  There was a full-length cool pool that no one was using.  The inside area alone was the size of several gymnasiums.

No cameras allowed in the hot springs area.  Use your imagination!

We had a great buffet lunch upstairs, where there were dozens and dozens of recliners for anyone who wanted to take the customary after-lunch nap.  Some people lounged on the chairs watching TVs in the darkened room.

Buffet, in our yellow pajamas

Hundreds of chairs for napping

After lunch, we checked out the outside.  Awesome!  There were tons of people, but there were so many hot pools it was easy to find one for just me and Sara.  We just wandered on the paths and marveled at how everything seemed fairly clean and well-organized and relaxing.  We tried out the milk pool, the saffron pool, a few flower pools, and more.  Some pools promised health benefits, like improving digestion or reducing "foul gas."  We found that we couldn't tolerate anything hotter than 41 degrees Celsius, which limited our range since many pools were 42 or more.  One 50 degree pool warned that staying in longer than 5 minutes could result in severe burns.

Overhead view of the outside -- dozens of hot tubs you can't see very well here.

Another poor view, but you can see every little roof is another tub

Our teammate, Jason, made quite an impression when he showed up with his bright red board shorts amid all the Chinese men in their tight little suits.  One guy asked him why he wasn't wearing swim clothes.  He said, "I am."  Haha.  Many of the Chinese bought their swimwear on-site, since they can't swim and didn't have any of their own.  It resulted in lots of groups of guys or girls wearing the exact same suit.

My overall impression was that it was still a very Chinese-y day, but in the best way.  It was an all-inclusive, gigantic tour complex filled with bus-fulls of huge groups ready for a day of relaxation.  It's a collectivist culture -- when people go to the spa, it's to be together and to have a loud, fun time.  You're not sitting in a hot tub by yourself, bored to death.  You're there with your dean and your Communist party secretary and a colleague and a colleague's spouse and a bunch of kids running around.

We got cheap tour hats, we were herded around with megaphones, we drank a never-ending stream of green tea, we cured our digestive problems in Linyi's famous hot water, and then we came home.  I wish I could go back every weekend.  (And apparently it only cost the department 200 RMB per person -- a day at the spa for $30!)

We wore the tour hats for 30 seconds and they turned our foreheads blue.