30 September 2006

China and Technology

Because of some recent events, I feel the need to discuss the positives and not so positives of China and its current technology.

Positives: Most of what I see in China on a daily basis isn't so different than the US (or at least it is becoming more normal to me). Because I live in a big city, it is easy to forget that China is still classified as a developing country. I have the comforts of a TV, frig, washing machine, running water (albeit often scalding hot water, but water nonetheless), DVD player, air conditioning, internet, and electricity in my apartment. I have a cell phone, something I didn't even have in the States. The best part about my cell phone is there is no complicated plan or carrier to chose from (one of the perks of government monopolies) and I just put money on it whenever I run out. The battery lasts for at least three days without even losing a bar and it only takes two hours to charge back to normal--how many cell phones do that in the States? None that I know of.

Not so positives: Nothing seems to be standard! There are no such thing as fitted bottom sheets here, so I've been doing the whole hospital-corners thing the past few months. My parents were kind enough to send me a double fitted sheet. I slept on a double bed in Colorado and I was positive my bed here in China was a double bed. As I put my wonderful new fitted sheet on my bed, it wouldn't fit. Apparently there is no such thing as a standard double bed. All I want to do is not have to remake my bed every other day. I was so frustrated that I just cut through the elastic and forced it to fit and so far I haven't had to remake my bed, but it certainly does not fit they way it should. Oh well!

What prompted this posting was an incident at school. Apparently, the government thought it would be cool to turn off the power to our school on Friday. Something about checking the electrical grid or something. Not a huge deal with a little bit of notice. Bad news: there was no notice. We were told Thursday evening that when we showed up to school the next day, we would have no power for the whole day. Slight frustrations. I'm fairly good about planning ahead, but a day without the internet, a printer or a copier is a teacher's worst nightmare. Good news: I survived! It was actually not so bad, I just used the whiteboard all day.

Days like that are good for reminding me how much I rely on technology. I need to not forget how lucky I am to be overseas with all the comforts of Skype and the internet, among other things. This all goes to say that I am very thankful for technology, even when it is frustrating not to have it at school. I just hope they give us a better heads up next time the power goes out!


Mooncake Madness

I am now on a wonderful little vacation called National Holiday. Tomorrow, October 1st, was when Mao declared the People's Republic of China in 1949; hence the National part of National Holiday celebration. Apparently, all of China is going to be crazy with fireworks and general chaos--should be fun! We have the whole week off because the 6th is also another celebration, the Mid-Autumn Festival. There will be a full moon and all Chinese families get together, have a nice meal, look at the full moon, and eat mooncakes. I'm not really sure how to describe mooncakes (I'm so happy I can post pictures!), the only comparison is to Christmas fruitcake, at least in texture (and even a bit in taste :) They're a huge deal and pretty expensive. Our school was kind enough to buy us some mooncakes, so even we could participate in this celebration. In true Wuxi teacher fashion, we made our own celebration and decided to taste the mooncakes together. Here was the result:

This is the bag that the mooncakes came in. I had to bring that home on my bike--I must say it was quite the balancing act. The Chinese believe that the color red brings good luck, so there will be a fair amount of red visible in the following pictures.

This is the box containing the mooncakes. The small squares are the different varieties of mooncake and the middle rectangle is...

Silverware! Yes, the box even included small, REAL, silverware. How cute!

My attempt at being Vanna White with Lindsey in the background.

A combination of everyone's assorted mooncakes (it makes for a more exciting picture). I'm holding one of the actual mooncakes in my hand.

This was the table after we tasted all the mooncakes. I must say they are an acquired taste but I'm sure it will grow on me in the next few days. I even got a set of mooncakes from a student, how sweet is that?!?

Mooncakes. A great Chinese tradition. Stay tuned for a posting on another tradition--the teacher party for National Holiday.


25 September 2006

Fighting Bird Flu and Other Stories...

I had the most lazy weekend ever and it was wonderful. I cleaned, did laundry, caught up on emails and was a homebody. Some highlights include:
  • Friday night: Eating downtown with some of the Chinese teachers. We went to a hot pot restaurant (kind of like fondue in that you cook it yourself). It was great; real beef and potatoes were a welcomed sight. The only frustrating thing is that it takes a lot of hard work to catch the food with chopsticks once it is floating in the broth. While we were downtown, we hit up some shops and I scored three really beautiful scarves. I'm not really sure what I'm going to do with them, but I'm sure I'll find something.
  • Saturday night: After sitting on my duff ALL day, I went and got dinner from "the Orange Restaurant" (the restaurant we frequent multiple times a week around the corner). I ate on the side of the road because I didn't want to go back to my apartment and then I walked around for a while. In the States, I would try to get lost while driving (I never could quite pull it off) and walking around where I've never been is my attempt at bringing that game to China. I explored a storefront a bit south of here and saw a lot of the construction that seemingly everywhere in this city. I love having the freedom to just go wherever I want. It's nice to know that I can explore after dark without being afraid. It's so funny to note people's expressions when I show up in unexpected places. Often I'll see people do a complete 180, totally rubbernecking it, to get a second glimpse. The downside of such adventures is witnessing another side of China. On this particular walk, I was very close to a new highway and could see the migrant worker housing. Similar to the States, there is a huge migrant worker population and many often live on-site of their current project. It is necessary to see all sides of life here in China, but I find it difficult to process and to know what the proper reaction should be.
  • Sunday afternoon: We went downtown early where I got some more granola for breakfast and relax at Starbucks before Fellowship. It was in that shopping mall where I stumbled upon this gem:

We haven't heard much about the bird flu so we did double take in the bathroom. Among other reasons, I guess the bird flu is good motivation for proper hygiene.

  • This week was the first time that I went to the Fellowship here in Wuxi. The songs were in English, but the (long) sermon was translated from Chinese. It was great to hear the Word. It is still unclear about which one will be our home, but it is nice to know what opinions are available.

Other random thoughts: I haven't kept great track, but I'm pretty sure that Friday was the possibly first day since I arrived that I did not have at least one meal with rice. Our school meals always include rice, so I can guarantee that most days I eat rice for lunch and often for dinner. Friday they switched up the school lunch and then we had hotpot for dinner, so no rice.

The weather has been beautiful, nice and sunny and all I want to do is lay out. Yes, I know it's asking for skin cancer or something, but there is nothing like falling asleep in the sun. Finding a place to sunbathe is impossible here. I live on the fourth floor and there are no parks around where I would feel comfortable just soaking up the sun. It's almost like the sun is tauting me with its beautiful rays and then not letting me enjoy them. I guess it is all for the better anyway. The Chinese take the opposite approach. They do everything possible to keep their skin as light as possible. Cultural differences that find their root in imperialism, I guess.

There are some trees that are flowering right now. I can't quite figure it out, I've never seen trees flower in fall, only in spring. It's a nice surprise to be riding my bike and get a whiff of something flowery. The best part is a tree in our courtyard has a sign attached to the branches warning people against picking the flowers. If I think of it, I'll take a picture of it and post it next time.

On a personal note, if anyone still uses my Calvin email, be aware that that email stops on October 1. I have been using my Gmail address for almost a year, so I don't think that should be a problem, but I just wanted to make mention of that.

Please be thinking of our group. Tensions are running high and we are need of some unity that can only come from Gd. I would also ask for some healing for many of our members. We have had various sicknesses go around the group and in particular, I am having problems with my lower GI. We all need Gd's hand of protection, healing and reconciliation this week.


21 September 2006

Thursday Thoughts

I have just a few thoughts for Thursday, in no particular order:
  • Yesterday we went and got shoulder massages. It was so wonderful. Only 5 USD for an hour massage. We wanted just shoulder massages, but they turned into full body massages. It is hard to describe exactly how wonderful it really was. I felt like jello afterwards; it was a strange, but good feeling.
  • Words of wisdom from the Chinese: Apparently my hair caused my toilet to back up. I'm pretty sure that wasn't the case. Like I even put my hair in the toilet to begin with. My mom trained me better than that. Anyway, our Dean of Students told me that I should brush my hair in the garden instead. I think some advice was made not to be followed. They also wanted to put bars over our windows to "keep our apartments safe." I do not want to feel like I'm in a cage; I think I'd rather risk it.
  • I'm so excited for National Holiday! I can't refuse a quick history lesson: October 1, 1949--Mao declares China a communist country from Tiananmen Square. We have no school for the first week of October as a result. Here's what I'm looking forward to: 1.) Time off from school already, how cool! 2.) Number one calls for an adventure. Rumor has it that we made ride our bikes all the way to Suzhou (like an hour by bus from here). We would have no clue how to get there, other than the highway that goes there, but we're pretty sure we can't ride on the interstate, although it would be freakin' cool (not to mention dangerous :). 3.) Our teacher conference in Beijing for the latter end of the week. That means seeing familiar faces from Tianjin, most importantly...the Kennedys! They are going to come over and stay at our same hotel :) The hotel has a pool and more importantly, a western-style breakfast. 4.) My birthday. 2-3. Craziness... and what better way to celebrate than be in China?!? I never would have guessed it when I turned 22. Gd is faithful though because I don't think I could have handled it at that point in my life.
  • I'm lamenting not being in the States to buy the U2 Zooropa DVD. There are few things that I miss about the States and buying new music is one of them. A meaningful Sunday experience is also up there. And chocolate :)
  • I never would have guessed that I would enjoy teaching science so much. I secretly wish I could teach it more. We're doing classification and properties of materials and I find it pretty interesting and I feel like I'm actually accomplishing something, which is a feeling I don't have very often these days. English is way different now with our new schedule because I only have two students for second hour. We've moved back to a very basic approach, ESL-style. I never thought I would be teaching such basic stuff, it's been a challenge for me to try and teach it well. Only time will tell if I'm getting through. But Daniel and I combine all of our middle school students for fourth hour for Oral English and that has worked well. I like the team teaching approach. Social Studies for the two Germans is merely ok. The speaking/instructing-in-German-bit will never get old, I'm convinced, but teaching without ANY curriculum sucks. I hate it. I hate never feeling prepared. It's kinda hard to maintain a teacher/student relationship when they are 18 and 19. I'm trying though. Oh, and the best part, we're going to start doing Chinese history. Like I know any Chinese history. Ok, I took one class in college and wrote my senior thesis in it, but haha, they're barking up the wrong tree. I'm going to give it my best shot, but I do feel terribly absurb most days.
  • I must say that keeping in touch with old friends is one of my favorite things ever. A few weeks ago, I got an email from the mother of the host family I stayed with in Russia 10 years ago. 10 years ago. A lot has happened since I was a dorky little 7th grader. They no longer live in Russia, but emigrated to Israel after the collapse of communism. I want to visit them someday real bad. Also, one of my other friends from middle school, who I haven't seen in ages, emailed me and might send me Haribo, so here's a shout out to Rachel squared, AKA The Other Rachel :)
  • While I'm on the idea of email, I was reminded today of how much I love Gmail. And anything Google. I resorted my email and made fun new labels. That is my excitement these days, pathetic, I know, but I have little in the way of entertainment here--that is my excuse.
  • I am terribly out of shape. And I have been ever since I stopped playing volleyball in high school. Yesterday I played Capture the Flag with our kids during PE. It was so much fun. It would have been better had I not been wearing a skirt and flipflops. Oh well. It was great, but my legs are killing me today. My team won, by the way, and I was in jail like 5 times. All of this in front of our school on the little patio area.
  • The weather has been absolutely perfect this week! I've been able to ride my bike, with no rain and no crazy hot humidity. I vote that it stays like this for a long time. The rest of the year would be nice. Or how about for the academic year...that would be even better.
  • I am not so much looking forward to our party for National Holiday. No party would be complete without karaoke and dancing. What a way to kick off our free week! I'm sure I'll have interesting pictures to post next Friday, along with some quality stories too.
  • Our welcome-back present from National Holiday will be Observation Week. Yes, it is exactly as it sounds. Anyone who is someone is invited to observe our classes. Parents, cousins, other teachers, administration, random people off the street, ANYONE. ANYTIME that during that ENTIRE WEEK. Yes, WEEK. Really not looking forward to that. I guess I'd better have some kick-butt lessons, argh...
Well I didn't mean to end on a bad note, but I guess I don't have a lot more to say. I will actually be around this weekend, for the first time since I've been in Wuxi, so I hope to connect with some people. Skype me!
Love from Wuxi and the wonderful, most populated province of Jiangsu, China,

18 September 2006

City of Blinding Lights = Shanghai

Here's a few random thoughts:
  • I now am a resident of China! Our permanent visas got processed just under the wire and I can legally stay here until July. It feels good to have that out of the way.
  • I almost got a picture of the cook feeding the leftover rice to the fish after lunch today. Almost though...I wasn't quick enough running back to my classroom to get my camera. Sad day!
  • Tomorrow we are going to try to change our middle school schedule for the third time. Now Daniel and I will both teach English at the same time. I really hope this one works because I do not have the brain power to do it again.
  • Today I received a note from a Korean parent in Chinese. I don't speak any Korean and my Chinese vocab is still hovering at around 40 words. Pathetic, I know. It's terribly frustrating to not even be able to speak with a parent. Everything goes back to communication here and I simply have little skill in that area.
  • Along those same lines, the one Chinese teacher who speaks Korean is on vacation. A prospective Korean parent came to visit our school this afternoon and didn't speak any English or Chinese. So they took my two best Korean students out of my class to translate the meeting.
  • The 'h' on my keyboard no longer feels like working, so I have to push 'hj' anytime I want an 'h' and then I have to delete the 'j'. There are many, many words in the English language that contain an 'h' and it is terribly annoying.
  • The building that housed the local internet cafe was torn down in less than a week. One day I rode past and it was normal. The next time that I noticed, the building had been completely gutted and was in the process of being torn down. Today when I went by, it was almost destroyed and some sort of new construction is beginning. It will be interesting to notice the small changes like that over the year. China is rapidly changing and I witness it every day!
  • This evening I ironed every piece of clothing I washed this weekend. I have no dryer, which is fine, but I just dry my laundry on the porch, which is a recipe for wrinkles. I'm not a huge fan of ironing and if it weren't for the whole being-a-professional-thing, I would probably never touch my iron. It is quite time consuming. I put water in my iron three times--that's how much ironing I did.
On to more exciting news...Megan, Lindsey and I went to Shanghai this weekend. Friday evening found five of us girls out to dinner for the usual decompressing/laughing time that is a memorable part of every week. It was wonderful! Saturday we got down to the train/bus station in good time. Again, no luck with train and so coach bus it was. The only eventful thing was that as we were crossing from our province into the municipality of Shanghai, some police decided to take a look around on our bus. I don't know what they were looking for, but it reminded me of crossing the border between Germany and the Czech when I was there for Interim a bit ago. We saw a lot of police this weekend, which I guess made me feel safe.
If anything, this weekend opened my eyes to the differences from one Chinese city to another. We had done a bit of research to prepare for the trip, but the weekend was really one for exploring. Upon arriving at the bus station, we navigated our way to the Metro, where we found...gummi bears!! It was the most glorious thing. I love gummi bears and it made me happy to find them in China. After a bit of confusion, we found our youth hostel. It was nice and clean and even had a nautical theme. We took a short nap and quickly discovered the beds were softer than our beds in Wuxi. Chinese beds are HARD and mine in the apartment is no exception. It was so nice to sleep in a semi-comfortable bed (it would still be classified as hard in the States, but it was soft by Chinese standards). After our catnap, we went for a night on the town. I really enjoyed being in a big city again. The atmosphere was welcoming and it was nice to be normal again. I get stared at a lot here and I usually don't mind at all, but it was nice to be out of the limelight for a weekend. There are huge amounts of Westerners in Shanghai so we were able to blend in a bit more than in Wuxi. The first stop was the Bund--a huge area right on the river. We arrived right at dusk and stayed and watched the skyscapers' lights come on. It was so cool. It kind of reminded me of the walking area on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Lots of people and lots of water. From there, we went to Nanjing Street, a pedestrian area right off the Bund. Lots of people and lots of shopping. After a great noodle dinner, we ventured, by the Metro, to the French concession. Here we found a slice of home...a nice Irish pub with Sangria. We sat on the roof and enjoyed a wonderfully cool Chinese Saturday night. [Sidenote: The weather here is great. It was warm this whole weekend with no rain and today it was sunny almost all day. Still not Colorado sunny, definitely China muggy sunny, but sunny nevertheless.]
On Sunday, we braved the crowded Metro again (I took some pretty awesome videos!) and made our way to some great shopping. We found some shops for school supplies. It was three floors of happiness. It was one of those things where I was paralyzed by the choices and ended up not getting anything because I still don't have a good grasp as to what I would use in my classroom. I figured that I've made it this far with the little amount of supplies that I have and I've faired fine, so why bother spending money. I haven't regretted that decision yet, but it's good to know what is available in China, even if we can't get it in Wuxi. The greatest excitement was the bookstore. Like Beijing, there is a foreign bookstore. Almost as good as Schuler's, but not really. I got two Elie Wiesel books, mostly because I taught Night when I student taught and I've never read his other stuff. I also got the past three editions of Newsweek and the current National Geographic. The best part was that I found the book I used to write my senior thesis. I had just read it in the library at school, but now I own a copy of John Rabe's diaries and I hope to visit his house within the month, as it is only two hours from here. The selection of English teaching materials was great at the bookstore and now I have some good science readers for my classroom. I love bookstores, they make my soul feel alive. Books are so amazing! Thanks Be to Gd for the gift of reading and the written word.
That was our weekend. Oh, and when I came back to my apartment, the hot-water repairman locked me out...real cool. Glad to know that we can break into my apartment with a credit card on the bottom lock...yeah.
Thus begins another week. Week 3, how is that possible? Only two more weeks until Beijing, National Holiday, and my birthday. I must say that I'm excited for all of that.


Papa John's--I never would have ordered it at home, but in China it sure does taste good.

Megan and Lindsey holding our tasty loot of gummi happiness.

This picture is dedicated to my dad who worked for GM for 25+ years. Somehow, somewhere in the middle of Shanghai, we managed to find the GM showcase.

GM's cool building with a Cadillac sign on the front.

This was taken from the second floor of Starbucks. Yes, it says: Danger-small children might fall through. I would not be comforted by that if I were a parent. Not that anything could really have fit through the space they were warning about, but it did make me wonder why they had to even have the warning...

The wall decoration in our hostel...knot, kont, it's all the same.

The bridge over the river, taken from our taxi.

Lindsey, Megan, and I on the Bund.

I took this picture for a reason...because I love Over the Rhine (see the following picture)

Check out the first column, second row picture. That was my attempt at reproducing that picture :) My favorite part of all, that poster is hanging in my kitchen!

The bright lights on Nanjing Street. Love it.

The Chinese do like to spit and finally someone created a sign telling them not to. I like whoever created that sign because spitting is yucky.

The beautiful decorations in a subway station.

Well, that's all I got...
Good night from Wuxi!

14 September 2006

Burnt popcorn and rain ponchos

I have a few random pictures from this week, so I thought I'd post them tonight. School for the most part has been quite good this week. We have a meeting after school tomorrow which I really hope doesn't take too long or get too crazy. English is fun but I need to come up with some better activities because I don't think I'm being as effective as possible. Science was so much fun this week. We're working on classification of things (people, transportation, animals, etc.) and today I had them bring in ten things from home and fill out a chart (size, color, material, hard/soft, purpose of the object). It was great to see what they brought--everything from Shrek figurines to perfume and Korean money to photo albums. I never thought I would enjoy teaching science, but so far, it's been great. It is true that it's not really science, it's like pre-science since we're not doing any experiments or anything anytime in the near future. Social Studies is ok; we finished our maps of China and I must admit, since they were freehand, at least my map doesn't even really resemble China, but it was a nice shot. The class is still 100% in German which, of course, I love. They have both been absent this week, which is frustrating because one absence means half of the class is missing--it makes any sort of instruction impossible. Tomorrow means a spelling test and more capitalization work for English and comparing and contrasting the Chinese provinces for Social Studies.
After school on Monday, we went on the schoolbus with our students. It was fun to see where they all live and to experience the chaos that is riding the schoolbus. After dropping all the kids off, they took us downtown to officially register with the police.

Daniel 'controlling' some of the boys in the back of the bus. There are no normal schoolbusses here, just charter busses.

Lindsey and I enjoying our ride down to the station.

Karri and Megan were definitely taller than the bathroom stalls at the police station. It would certainly make for an awkward situation if the person in the next stall was a stranger!

Gotta love the squatty potty. Just a point of clarification: squatty potties are quite normal in the sense that they flush and are hooked up to modern plumbing, just like western toilets.

My favorite dish here which I probably eat at least three times a week: scrambled eggs and tomatoes or fan bie gi dan.

One of my favorite people ever: the security guard. He speaks little English but is the most smiley person I've ever met. He does so many odd jobs around our school--he delivers our water, plays kickball with us for gym class, and entertains the children during recess. Here he is sporting one of the little girls' purple backpacks.

On our way to school yesterday, Lindsey's peddle just fell off her bike (she's holding it in her hand in the picture). I was riding behind her and watched it happened. As always seems to be the case, some people stopped and helped us, even though the most we could communicate was just showing them the broken peddle. Somehow, despite the humbling and vast communication barrier, things always work out.

It's been raining off and on this week, but this morning was beautiful, so we rode into school. This afternoon was a bit different. The Chinese have these awesome rain ponchos especially for bikes--it even covers my front basket. The ride home today was one of the first times I've felt like I could truly blend in. With the poncho on, no one could notice my light hair or my white arms. It also helps we were all watching the wet road, trying not to crash into each other :)

This is my water cooler, although it's not really a cooler. If I had it plugged in, which I don't, it would make my water boiling hot or lukewarm. Since I don't have it plugged in, it stays at room temperature, which is fine by me.
I drink a lot of water. I always have and I probably always will. I went through this 19 liter bottle in less than two weeks!

So I didn't feel like making dinner tonight and thought I would make some popcorn instead. I was standing right next to the microwave and pulled the popcorn out at the right time even though it was still popping. This was the result. I have never seen such burnt popcorn before it my life. It was black! I'm convinced that my microwave stinks because the rest of the popcorn was fine. Check out the bag too...It says "Hotest Popcorn" on the top and then stuff on the bottom in three language, Chinese, English, and...Spanish?!? I'm not so sure about that one because I have yet to see any people who speak Spanish here, but what do I know?

Well, it's looking like Shanghai this weekend, which I'm super excited about. I just hope that the weather holds up. In anticipation of being gone the whole weekend, I'm going to try and work on my lesson plans for Monday.


10 September 2006

A Familiar Face!

My weekends so far have been as busy or busier than my school days and this weekend was no exception. Dan Kennedy (see my first few posts on this blog for a brief history of his family, Tianjin, and how instrumental they were in my ending up in China) was traveling "around Shanghai" this weekend and come to learn he was in Suzhou, the same city where I went the International Fellowship last Sunday. After finding out it would be possible to meet for dinner, I set out trying to figure out how I could navigate China's transportation system speaking no Chinese. It is possible and I did it!!
First, I caught a taxi and got to the train station. I was able to find out that the next train left too late, so I tried my luck at the bus station. At the bus station, I was able to secure a ticket for a bus leaving in 20 minutes. It was perfect timing! Upon my arrival, Dan and a national friend were able to meet me almost right away. Having someone who speaks Chinese is amazing; I don't often have it so easy. His friend was able to secure me a hotel room so that I could go to the International Fellowship this morning. From there we had a great Korean BBQ dinner with more meat than I have eaten in probably the last month combined. While it was a short time together, it was great to see a familiar face again! Suzhou is a beautiful city and I was able to spend the rest of the evening walking around by the river.
Navigating transportation this morning was a bit more hairy. I found the right bus line and got on right away and got there ok, no problem. Getting back though...I have never seen a bus more full (see my post from 9/6 with pictures of last week's crowded bus.) I was standing on the steps leading up into the main part of the bus, it was that full. I had to move my backpack out of the way every time the driver wanted to get the door open. It was CRAZY!! The best part was that they kept ADDING people. At one point, the driver did have to refuse a family because it was so crowded. Keep in mind, this is China-crowded; a bus would never, ever be this full in the States. It was so amazing! And, of course, I was the only white face for many miles (well, at least on that very full bus). Thankfully, most everyone got off around the same area where we had dinner last night, so it was at least breathable again for the last few stops. I was able to catch a train within the hour and even finished my book.

Summary: I traveled to another city in China and back again in less than 24 hours ALONE! I must say that I'm quite proud of myself.

The wonderful downtown district where we went for dinner.

Dan's friend, me, and Dan after dinner.

Suzhou is called "The Venice of the East." It's a bit difficult to see and I do apologize, but this is one of the many canals in Suzhou that was all lit up at night.

The view from my hotel room. I spent a while walking down by the river last night; it was so beautiful.

...and now from the back of the hotel. What juxtaposition! Note the traditional pagoda and the city in the background.

Now, I have got to buckle down and do some lesson planning.

09 September 2006

A Different Type of Bike Adventure: Motorcycle Taxi

This posting has two parts; the title is for part II so I hope you are intrigued enough to read through part I.

Part I: China's Teacher's Day. Sunday (today) is Teacher's Day. Woohoo, I'm a teacher, please think of me :) Just kidding...anyway, to celebrate, our school took us out on Friday to a very nice dinner. They also gave us a very kind card as well. The Chinese teachers and even the Chairman of the Education Bureau joined us for this celebration. Our last formal dinner was full of interesting dishes that we had to try because of the politeness factor. Our first day in Wuxi will always hold a special place in my heart a result of that banquet. Thankfully, Friday's dinner was a bit more tame. Our principal gave a nice opening speech and then we proceeded to have 17 different dishes. I'm not sure what the tradition was, but people went around in groups toasting everyone for Teacher's Day during the meal. The count on toasts was at least 9; it was really fun and our table even did a big one together.

On the way to dinner was the first time we'd cramped four people in the backseat of a taxi.

Our table toasting the camera.

Our principal, on the right, and many of school administration at dinner.

Most of the Chinese teachers. The man with the peace sign on the right is the TA for my classroom, but he does a lot of other things for the school as well.

A whole fish! I must say that it was good as far as whole fish are concerned. My excuse for staying away from seafood here is that I grew up in Colorado, which is very far from water; I've had a few people so far take it as an excuse, which I count as a success.

Just a few of the many dishes we had for dinner; it was super fancy and pretty good, all things considered.

Part II: Motorcycle Taxis. In my last posting, I wrote about our adventures on our bicycles in the city. Today I am pleased to report another type of bike adventure: the thrill of a motorcycle taxi. Whenever we take a normal taxi to school, four of us girls usually ride together and take turns paying. It's around 11-16 RMB (between $1-$2) one way. A motorcycle taxi for a similar distance probably would only cost 5-8 RMB, which is certainly the way to go when riding solo. The place that we had dinner was maybe a 20 minute walk from our apartments so we decided to find some motorcycle taxis to get back. It was such a fun ride that we decided to put our stuff up and go downtown via the same mode of transportation. KFC's ice cream isn't very good, so whenever we go downtown, we hit up McDonald's for one of their sundaes. Never has McDonald's been the solo object of our want/need to go downtown, but our first motorcycle ride was so much fun we just used McDonald's as an excuse to do it again. The second time on a motorcycle taxi proved a bit more challenging because there were five of us. After securing three motorcycles, we told them we wanted to go to the big shopping center. Things were going ok for a bit until we turn off the beaten trail, AWAY from downtown. Now, we've only been here three weeks, but we know in what direction downtown is (just follow the lights and big buildings). After convincing the drivers to stop, we manage to persuade them to go back the opposite direction. Finally, we arrived at our precious Golden Arches. Absolute chaos and much laughter just for ice cream! What a great night!

Megan and I on our motorcycle taxi.

Lindsey and Jamie as their driver peels out.

Lindsey and Jamie demonstrating our "lostness" in the gas station where we stopped. It seems that no matter where we go, we inevitably draw a crowd. This gas station was pretty much in the middle of nowhere (haha, like there is actually a middle of nowhere in our part of China...) but somehow, but the time we left, there were like 6 guys just checking the situation out!

The soft porn ads in McDonald's; it's crazy to note the advertisement here sometimes. There's another one where these are right above the Ronald McDonald statue that children play on. Gotta love subliminal messages!

I guess I didn't realize that cows had chests like that...I don't even really know what to say to that, other than "Welcome to China!"


07 September 2006

Mid-week outings (AKA bike adventures!)

In the midst of lesson planning, we do get time every once in a while to explore the city. Yesterday was one of those days. After waiting at school for an hour filling out forms for residency visas, we rode back in this amazing weather. It had been stinkin' HOT pretty much since we arrived, which had put a damper on the whole biking fun. For the past few weeks we'd been taking taxis to school because showing up all hot and sweaty just isn't fun for anyone. So we were totally rejoicing when cooler weather arrived and we could bike the half hour to downtown without even really being warm. It is really just the perfect weather now; it reminds me of the many evenings in the spring and summer that I've spent outside in Michigan. Going out at night is probably the most pleasant thing ever, minus the mosquitoes. Downtown is fun because we know a few landmarks, so we just wander until we find something interesting. Last night we were in search of some good food and we sure found it. It was "(Something in Chinese) Noodle Inn" and we got to sit on the second floor with a private room overlooking the street. Ordering food here is always a process because our food vocab is very limited, but we usually can make ourselves understood. This time was especially challenging for some unknown reason and it was definitely a ten minute process. But our labor was not in vain, as the food that came was delicious. Multiple bowls of noodles, great eggs and tomatoes, and tasty chicken. We did save room for dessert as it was just across the street from McDonald's and their soft-serve is a welcomed treat. That was our good biking experience from last night.
This morning was a different story. The morning commuters here are brutal; the pace is different in the morning and evening commute time, similar to the States' craziness with cars and highways during rushhour. I am learning not to be phased when huge charter busses honk
their horn right next to me and I have gotten quite good at squeezing through small spaces and maneuvering around pedestrians. This morning was just like any other until we get to our crazy intersection. There is this particularly hairy intersection where people wait for their busses and today there was a motorcycle/bus accident there. The bus was almost completely blocking the road and the two drivers decided to duke it out on the street instead of moving the vehicles out of everyone's way. The chaos that ensued was worthing capturing.
School was great today and I hope that we have all the minor details worked out. For our sake, I hope they expedite our residency applications because that will be just one less thing to worry about. Tomorrow we have a staff meeting and then dinner out with the Principal and a variety of other people. Our last school sponsored dinner was our welcoming banquet, which included duck feet and chicken knuckles. Needless to say, we are hoping that this dinner is a little less formal
and more moderate on the adventure food level. I think this weekend will be one of getting grounded for school. I know I need to plan better for the longer-range and I hope I can accomplish that this weekend. Finishing my current book will allow me to be less distracted.
Here's my ever-growing list of things I'm thankful for:
  • Cooler weather
  • Growing friendships
  • Great books
  • Skype!
  • Some much-needed encouragement from friends and family
  • China's wonderful and warm personalities (our guard at school makes my day every day, also the bike repairman was pretty awesome)
  • Continued safety when bike riding
  • A growing sense of familiarity with my immediate surroundings
  • Teaching English and science has been great so far
  • Comfort music (Over the Rhine, U2, Sigur Ros, The Postal Service and Nickel Creek...these are a few of my favorite things right now and probably forever)
  • My students

The scene we created at the bike stall on the side of the road. Some of the girls needed their bikes tuned up and their nifty back tire locks installed. Check out the crowd we drew on the right; it is not uncommon for people to just watch us as we go through everyday transactions.

The bike guy who was loving life when we came. He had such a fun spirit and tried so hard to talk to us, which consisted of saying, "okay" and "bye", but we became friends with him on small level.

The girls at dinner last night.

The drivers totally going off on each other while bringing traffic to a halt (those busses are trying to get around.) Mind you, this is a fairly busy road (CO people=Smoky Hill Road, MI people=Burton Street) and they're just chillin', TOTALLY blocking the way.

So we had to squeeze in between the blue bus and the red bus to get through the traffic jam.

This is a bag of cashews that I bought at the store today. Apparently cashews are now savage and "Cool fashion need cool taste." Hmm, I am the new man?!?

Well, on that note...that's all I really have to say. Goodness, I need to get better at writing shorter postings. Again, I apologize for the length!