21 December 2006

Crazy Fog

[Disclaimer--this post is like a month old, but I was just now able to put it up, for reasons to be explained in an upcoming, very long post. 1/17/07]

The other day we had a lot of fog--I've never seen fog like this before in my life!

This is the main street by my apartment.

Another view of the same street.

Looking the other way--the cars are all stopped at the light. Too bad the fog was so heavy the light isn't visible in this picture.

Megan, Karri and Lindsey walking into school.

Looking down from the third floor onto the courtyard at school.

Click here for a short video of the ride to school that day. Please ignore our running commentary of the local bakery and their goods.

And I can't resist a good English sign..."Section card vertebrate nursing series product of--Improve effectively yours/The waist is sour Backache Neckplastic"

Coming soon--Thoughts on falling off the face of the earth (at least as far as my ability to communicate goes), AKA a recap of my last month without the internet.


19 December 2006

Our Christmas Play

So our Christmas play is over....we survived! The last week was probably spent doing more practices than actual academic work, but it paid off. Monday night went very well and surprisingly it went quite quickly.

Here's what we went through to prepare:
Thursday--all afternoon dress rehearsal in the auditorium at the other school
Friday--we had to finish our display boards (more on that later)
Monday--The DAY--We had classes in the morning, and then practice in the afternoon. We had a bit of down time before all the parents came to see the school and eat dinner. After dinner, we went to the auditorium and had the performance (it was about 90 minutes long).

The performance was not just our school; the local elementary school orchestra opened up and then our sister primary school danced and sang throughout the night. There was a raffle in the middle of it all, only to be finished off by a visit from Santa at the end. Here's some pictures to help explain:

One of the 7th graders and me (notice their stockings and Christmas decorations hanging in the window!)

One of our new students in 7th grade.

Our new 5th grader--all the new students are the ones that I'm teaching English to for three hours every morning.

Our 3rd grade and 2nd grade angels during rehearsal last week.

Mary in the yellow robe, Joseph in the blue robe and the shepherds in the light blue robes. Notice their shepherd staffs--the tops are still white because I hadn't finished covering them yet with brown contact paper (also taken during rehearsal last week).

One of the creepy Santa posters in our cafeteria--I'm not sure what he's winking at :)

The opening ceremony--One of the German girls in 12th grade, Karri in her new dress, the other German girl, and Anna (the one who just got married). They were the MCs for the night and had to dress up all pretty. Behind them is the orchestra, complete with Santa hats. Let the games begin!

The Happy Clappy Song (AKA "If you're happy and you know it...")--The second grade class sang it in four languages (Korean, Chinese, English and Japanese). The Korean students are in the middle--they were the only ones dressed in traditional clothes. Check out the awesome flower power on the overhead!

One of our 8th grade students and a 5th grade student doing a piano and violin duet--it was pretty cool. I braided the girl's hair!

The Chinese school performing Rudolph--check out the end of this post for the video link of the most amazing dancing I have ever seen.

Two of our Korean middle schoolers doing a 4-hand piano performance. I also braided their hair :)

Our shepherds backstage nervously flashing the peace sign.

The second grade angel--cute as a button!

The real live performance--the shepherds waiting to "go and see this wonderful thing that has happened..." (one of their lines).

The whole cast--most of the school, two angels, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds (and an empty manger, hand made by Daniel) all singing "Silent Night."

The Grand Finale of "Auld Lang Syne" (The New Year's song), played beautifully by the Chinese orchestra. Yes, that's confetti falling from the air, they had confetti gun-like things to make the entire stage covered with confetti by the night's end.

The only reason I'm posting this picture is to show the Santa Claus monster-man. They made the father of one of the German girls dress up as Santa and throw candy into the crowd at the end of the whole thing, but he had to wear a mask (I don't know why) and it made him look like a scary Santa, not a jolly Santa.

Daniel and our Safeguard (what they call a security guard, I guess) after it was all over.

Lindsey, Beth, Karri, Jamie, Megan, me and Daniel in the lobby of our school.

My display board for science and English.

Daniel, me and Beth in front of our display boards for the middle school.

Some of the art that our students have done in art class--very traditional and pretty.

I have uploaded 5 videos on Google to show bits and pieces of the Christmas play--it's rough (I coach my students through some lines and also do some crowd control at other points), but if that is overlooked, the heart of the whole show shines through. View the videos here, here, here, here and here.

This past weekend Lindsey, Karri, and I went to Suzhou (the next town over) to go shopping. I didn't take any pictures, but the last three postings on Karri's blog give a taste as to what the past few days have been like for all of us.

I am starting to feel the everyday-ness of life settling in. There's less excitement to blog about, but maybe I'll post some pictures later of the incredible fog that was this morning.

Christmas is almost here! Craziness--we've been giving our students a taste of American Christmas culture by showing "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "The Grinch that Stole Christmas" (cartoon version) during English. I'm looking forward to the upcoming break; I anticipate a good time of relaxation, baking, hanging out, and fun. I'll be up visiting friends in Tianjin again, so this blog may be a bit quiet until after New Year's.

Until then, may the Spirit of Advent follow you in these next few days as we wait together in expectation.

Grace and Peace,

09 December 2006

"Oh No, They Have Bathrobes For Costumes?"

I haven't done much blogging about my normal life recently, so this is a catch-up post covering the past two weeks.

  • Two Tuesdays ago our school had its bi-monthly rolling blackout. The last time this happened, we were given notice at 9 o'clock the night before. We were all out of luck because we couldn't make copies or anything ahead of time, but at least we were mentally prepared for it. This time we were given absolutely no notice. We showed up for school and we had no electricity at all. I didn't realize how much I depend on electricity until it abruptly was taken away--my computer, the copier, the printer, the heater, the bell, the gas stove. It was a miserable day. Thankfully, I had worn my long underwear and my warm coat, but some of our students didn't have enough clothing. It was so bad that we took our students out into the courtyard and made them run around even though it was English class. We played tag and had them do jumping jacks, which was hard to do with so many layers. For science, I scrapped my original lesson plan and had them do the same thing, but I made it "scientific" by having them take their pulse and measure the difference between their resting and active heartbeats. Needless to say, we appreciated the heater and all things electric much more the following day.
  • I recently downloaded a program that allows me to watch American TV over the internet. Talk about happiness in a software package. I've been able to watch Conan and The Daily Show from the night before when I get home from school due to the time difference. It's the little things in life... :)
  • At lunch the other day we had fluff (whipped cream) sandwiches. Strange but true. I put banana on mine and it was yummy, even though the bread was so sweet it might have just been dipped in sugar (Chinese bread is really sweet). So good!
  • One of the biggest surprises recently was the smell of freshly cut grass. Since most Chinese live in high rise apartment complexes, there is little (green) vegetation to be found anywhere, just a lot of cement. Outside of our school there is a small strip of grass and the other day it was cut. Imagine the smell of cut grass in December--it was oddly relaxing and for a second I forgot I was in China.
  • It's been raining on and off here for the past month--I can't say that I'm a huge fan of rain, especially since rain brings humidity and I think I dislike humidity even more than I dislike rain. I can't wrap my mind around the fact that it's December/Advent/winter and there is no snow in sight. I think it I will forever associate Christmas and snow and to have one without the other is somewhat surreal for me. It's funny how things can loose their meaning so quickly. I haven't driven a car in 4 months and I really enjoy that. I probably won't touch snow for another year--how crazy/cool/weird/strange is that?!?
  • While I'm on the topic of Christmas, I'll ask for some Thoughts about our upcoming Christmas play. In one week, the chaos that is our school performance will be finished. In the mean time, there is some serious preparation that needs to happen in the next few days. The whole thing is a huge ordeal, with ballet, singing, piano, and traditional Chinese flute pieces. The capstone to it is our school-wide Christmas play. Since we had complete freedom in the creation of the piece, the play speaks the Truth to all. We have a Mary, a Joseph, some angels and even a few shepherds. Our students have done a great job memorizing some speaking parts and the texts of the first and third verses of Silent Night. We are excited for the opportunity to share with our school community and we hope that the Message is clearly communicated. Please also remember our group in this upcoming week. Tensions are running high as the expectations for this production are significant and we are all dealing with the pressure in different ways. Clear leadership of the various parts of the program has been lacking which caused problems for the dress rehearsal this afternoon.
  • One funny story from last week's play practice--Our entire school of 80 students can fit on the stage of our school to rehearse (the actual performance will be at the neighboring school), it's a bit crowded, but it works. One of the little first graders got sick on stage last week and threw up on the child in front of her. The whole class just moved out of the way and continued with the practice since there wasn't much else they could do. Our Dean of Students proceeded to the take the child's fleece jacket and dry it off by standing in front of the air conditioner/heater. Then the ayi, the janitor lady, came up and sweep up the vomit with a broom. Not a mop, but a broom. All of us foreign teachers were sitting in the back watching the drying of the jacket and the sweeping of the vomit--what could we do? Although it should have been a serious moment given the nature of the situation, we were just collapsing in laughter given the comic (perhaps absurd?) nature of it all.
  • The best part of this whole Christmas performance may be the costumes for my students. The middle school students are shepherds and they have glorified bathrobes for their costumes. Flexibility is one of the HUGE life lessons that I'm learning here in China :) Check out the evidence below: (the costumes are being modified between now and Monday, so they won't look so much like bathrobes by then we hope!)

Three of the middle school girls during their first costume fitting as Mary and the shepherds.

One of our 8th graders who will also be a shepherd.

A 7th grader and me being hams for the camera.

Karri trying to fit one of the shepherds costumes properly.

Our Joseph goofing off with his best friend.

  • An exciting piece of news: We have three new students. While we are happy to have our enrollment increase, new additions at the middle of the semester proved to be a bit hairy. These students are all from Korea and speak little English and even less Chinese, the two languages of instruction at our school. In order to accommodate their needs, an ESL class needed to be created. I had the most flexibility with my schedule and since most of the students are in the middle school, I essentially became the ESL teacher overnight. We did some shuffling of students and schedules, and for the most part it worked out ok. My work load has done a 180 and I am starting from the basics. They have had a little instruction in English, so I didn't have to start with the alphabet or anything, but phonics and basic shapes, numbers, and time have been our topics this week. I am having to use my education as a teacher in a new way now--I am enjoying the challenge, but it is zapping what little energy I have these days. I have three hours of ESL a day so it's been great to see a little bit of progress already. I can't imagine what it will be like in a few months.
  • A highlight this weekend was singing on our worship team at fellowship. Our situation is very unique and I have had the opportunity to meet a few local friends through these gatherings. On Wednesday I will be meeting with one new friend for the first time. I am very excited for this chance to get to know my new friend better.
  • Christmas in China is a very strange version of Christmas. Many young people are celebrating the holiday, but the idea of Christmas is very new to China. The Santa Claus version of Christmas has been imported here and everywhere we look there are signs wishing a Merry Christmas, but the Reason for the Season is oddly absent. Similar to the wedding pictures from a few posts ago, cheesy/tacky is a good description for the decorations.
Example A:

"Have yourself a Xmas Merry" ;)

Example B:

This is the entrance to the import store (remember the escaping fish from a few months ago? Same store.) Note the "Merry Christmas" banner hanging from the ceiling--it reminds me of the kind of thing found at a birthday party or something. I feel like it should say "Happy Birthday", not "Merry Christmas."

Here's one funny story and two good English pictures to finish the night:
  • So a common topic of my blog is the variety of non-traditional English found here. One of my students got a new fake leather down jacket this weekend. What does it say on both the front and the back? "Kick some a**" He had no idea that it is a bad word in English, but we also don't allow profanity at school. Poor kid, I don't know what we're going to do.

"Bathe milk" and "wash hair milk", more commonly know as lotion and soap.

This was the package from my "Basket for airing clothing" which is "special in keeping the shape when cloths be dried" (that part isn't in this picture). I quote verbatim "It used for drying wool fabric, cushion and other small clothes, keep them in original shape/the design were basic on mechanics theory which stand firm, It's make by polystey fibre net cloth,/for letting in air , so clothes are more easy to be dried, It also can be use in and out door./the materials can be last long . It only take a small place to store after fold it up."

What can I say to that?


06 December 2006

Thankgiving in Tianjin

So I ventured out in this big world of China all on my own for Thanksgiving. At the beginning of the school year, we were able to negotiate with our school to have the traditional two day holiday for American Thanksgiving. It was a welcomed break! I was able to get a flight out of Shanghai on Wednesday evening to jump start the long weekend. To get there, I had to take a taxi from school to the bus station, then I took an airport shuttle from there to the smaller airport in Shanghai. From Shanghai, it was less than two hours by air to Tianjin. I was in wonder at travelling such huge distances all weekend long without even coming close to get behind the wheel of a vehicle--I read and listened to music, which was quite relaxing!
I travelled to Tianjin to visit my dear friends the Kennedys. They were hosting a huge get together of their friends from training this summer. There were three other families, so there was a grand total of 8 kids under the age of 7. We all arrived in China around the same time and so we are all about at the same level in adjusting to the culture. They are all studying the language and are significantly more advanced than I am in terms of communication.
The school in Tianjin had a half day on Thursday so I was able to observe some classes. It was eye-opening to see where our school could be in a few years and what exactly a true international school looks like. One of the teachers was so kind as to set aside some school supplies for me to take back to Wuxi. We now have some math manipulatives and a few real textbooks. It took over my luggage on the way home, but it was totally worth it.
Our Thanksgiving meal was not the usual turkey and gravy, but rather Chinese ribs and sweet and sour chicken, mashed potatoes and a green bean casserole--a nice combo of both cultures! Food was a theme to the weekend, as there is an import store right around the corner. I was able to make coconut macaroons (I don't have an oven here) and buy some American candy (Reese's, Twix, and Heath all have not made their debut in Wuxi). We even fit some shopping in and I got some new warm clothes.
By far, the highlight of the weekend was conversation and building relationships. I've meet some great people in Tianjin and I felt very welcomed there. It was wonderful to sit down and just talk honestly with friends, both newer and older friends--as that part of my soul doesn't fed so much any more. I felt affirmed and poured into all weekend and it gave me the energy to come back and keep on giving here.

Blogger's being fickle again, so I had to post the pictures to Picasa Web Albums. Click here to see pictures from Thanksgiving.

I have more crazy stories from the last two weeks for a post later this weekend, which will include fluff sandwiches, no electricity, me teaching ESL. Good stuff, eh? :) Oh just wait--it gets even better!


21 November 2006

Anna's Wedding

Two weekends ago, one of the Chinese teachers in our school got married. Chinese weddings are huge deal and very elaborate. I have a problem with taking too many pictures, so I'm splitting this post into five sections to make it more manageable.

Section One: General Wedding Pictures-
Let me first attempt to give some meaning to the event that it a Chinese wedding. This all comes with the disclaimer that I really don't know much about this at all and most of the information came from the bride in the weeks prior to the wedding. Here most weddings occur in hotels, not churches. The couple greets the guests in the hotel lobby and the guests sign in and proceed upstairs to the banquet hall. The couple arrives to the hall with much fanfare, where an MC greets them and conducts the ceremony. The meal is then served and the couple goes around to be congratulated by each table. There is no dancing, just good company and great food.

Jamie, me, and Megan greeting Anna and her husband as we entered the hotel.

Their car all decorated for a quick escape at the end--sadly no rice throwing or bubble blowing.

Wedding photos are a HUGE deal--they get all fancied up to take the pictures (I think theirs could be in a magazine or something)

The slightly tacky stage--bright colors are a must.

The head table for the couple and their family. Theirs was the only table with red coverings--red being the color of good fortune.

The altar with fruit to honor the traditional gods.

Some of the wedding favors on our table--five packets of cigarettes.

The ceremony, complete with balloons.

The couple going around to greet the guests after the meal.

Section Two: Food-
They go ALL out for the wedding meal. It is a symbol of prestige and class and the only the very best delicacies are served [Read: Food most Americans don't/won't eat ever.]

The kitchen that prepared all the food (notice the poultry hanging in the windows).

The Chinese version of the Love Boat or something (still not really sure what the purpose of this was--it just held some of the food, I guess).

Part I: Assorted seafood that I don't know the names of.

Part II: Assorted seafood that I don't know the names of.

Part III: Assorted seafood that I don't know the names of. (Oh wait! Pretty sure those are sea urchins, I take it all back...)

The fish in the aquarium on the left were HUGE--I would not mess with those fish, they were pretty scary.

Part IV: Assorted seafood that I don't know the names of.

Now that was all food that was displayed before we sat down for lunch. Here comes the actual food we were served for the meal. [Disclaimer: Not for the weak of heart or stomach. Also not for those who are going to eat food in the next 15 minutes. Be warned!]

A whole lobster.

Jellyfish. (Not how I would have imagined it to look like, but I have been assured that what it was.)

A whole fish.

A noodle dish complete with octopus legs (that's what's sitting off on the side of the plate).

Soup of turtle and chicken head.

Okay--deep breath. Time for number three.

Section Three: Three Dresses-
A Chinese bride wears multiple dresses during the few short hours of the ceremony and meal. One dress is usually bought while the others are rented. The first dress is a traditional Western-style wedding gown, the second is more traditional Chinese, and the third is...well, I guess, just the third.

The first dress to greet the guests as they come in.

Her hair and dress have completed changed into a more traditional Chinese style.

Anna showing off her ring.

Dress number three: A beautiful pink silk business suit.

Section Four: Group Pictures-
What better occasion for taking group pictures?

Jamie, Jessica (the admissions administrator), Megan and I. Jessica and Jamie have been meeting this semester and they often discuss questions about the Truth. Please think about them and their growing relationship.

The American teachers at Wuxi Oriental International School: Bill, Tena, me, Megan, Karri, Lindsey, Jamie, Daniel and Beth.

Some of us girls goofing off.

Laughing with our Dean of Students, Mrs. Tang (we have affectionately nicknamed her Mama Tong).

Section Five: Random Pictures-
The next two pictures have absolutely nothing to do with the wedding, but I thought I'd throw them in, just in an attempt to make this the longest post ever!

Our students come to school in a variety of school buses. They aren't the traditional idea of school buses though--no yellow twinkie with a flashing stop sign on it or anything. Think more along the lines of a rented minivan that they call a school bus. There are three little (yes short, but not that kind of short school bus!) buses and one giant (like Greyhound charter) bus. A few weeks ago the big bus was late picking the students up from school. The powers that be called and found out it was having trouble (side note: it was raining real bad that day) and that it most likely wasn't going to make it all the way out to us. Plan B went into motion: The other school buses would come back and make a second trip. This wasn't quick enough for some students (they had called their parents when the ordeal first began), so the security guard had to go out into the rain and get some taxis. Yes, the school sent some of the students home in taxis. In the rain. 5 and 6 students all crammed in. Plus a Chinese teacher. That is what I called craziness.

Mama Tong chasing after the taxi in the rain to give it last minute directions.

So I found the Chinese equivalent to Whoppers--woohoo! The best part--they're from Anglicism!?! Yeah, not sure how a candy can be from a religion, but we can pretend.

That's all I got and I think that's plenty :)