29 October 2006

A Chinese Arcade

After I made my previous post, the weather took a dive. I had just reported how nice and warm it was, but it got a bit chilly this week. I was unprepared for it, thinking that it was cold in the morning and that it would maybe just warm up a bit as the day went on. Not so much, so I report that Thursday was the first day that I've worn socks in China. It was quite strange since up to this point, I've just been wearing flipflops and sandals. When I reported this to my mom, she mentioned how dangerous it was that I was riding a bike in flipflops (background: wearing flipflops while riding a bike was strictly verboten at the the Meyer household growing up). I hope that this blog continues to give a bit of the taste that "We're not in Kansas (AKA America) anymore." Most everything is different here. Allow me to demonstrate through pictures:

The view from my window at school. The smog/fog/haze has been awful the past few weeks. There was a sighting of blue sky after school on Friday and it was the cause for much rejoicing.

Lindsey got a package of winter clothes this week and Karri and I "helped" her out by wearing home her clothes when it was really cold on Tuesday.

I just uploaded a new video to Google, it was from our ride home on Tuesday--please click here to watch it (make sure to read the description information as it gives some good background as to what is going on)

I'm decked out in Lindsey's sweatpants, jackets, scarf, ear warmers and gloves. Silly me, I rode to school in only a skirt, sweater, and sandals, I was much warmer on the way home :)

Construction update: This is from the other side of the project, where most of the work has been going on. The blue roofs are part of the temporary housing provided for the workers.

There are three entrances to this project--this one is currently blocked off and the furthest away from my apartment.

This is the second entrance--the extensive construction can be seen in the background.

Friday was a good day--it was Daniel's birthday and I received a package from my parents. I had to carry my package on the back of my bike and I put my bag in the front. Daniel also received a cake from the school (see below), so I carried home the flowers he received from them as well.

Megan and Lindsey also received packages--we all had full bikes on our ride home on Friday.

What I'm missing at home--my parents have gotten 8 inches of snow. I'll be lucky to see snow more than a few times this winter.

The trees look so pretty there; I really miss autumn. We haven't seen any changing trees or much of anything fall-like yet in Wuxi.

For Daniel's birthday, our group all went out to Pizza Hut, then an arcade and a bar. This was the cake he received from our school. Check out the tomatoes (!!!) on the top of the cake.

Pizza Hut is all ready for Halloween--they were all sporting awesome wizard costumes.

Tena and Bill doing Dance, Dance Revolution at the arcade.

Some of the many racing games we enjoyed.

Karri and Lindsey (with Tena and Bill in the background) enjoying their shoot 'em up game a little too much.

On Wednesday, weather permitting, our school will be taking an all school field trip to Suzhou to visit the Suzhou Amusement Park. A few thoughts: This could be interesting because it's a field trip, China style. This could also be interesting because it's an Amusement Park, China style. We shall see.

This weekend was a great time of getting outside of my usual routine. Thursday night I went to a couple's house from church for a time of singing and talking. It was like a mini-UN with people from Russia, Burundi, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, China and America. The German couple is leaving in 5 weeks to go back home and invited us to their house for a brunch on Saturday. They live in nice Chinese/ex-pat housing and so it was wonderful to be in someone's home--I almost forgot I was in China. Great conversation, great fellowship--what more could I ask for.

Then this afternoon, we went to play softball. More on that later. Right now Blogger keeps timing out when I upload new pictures and I think I've posted enough for today. I took some fun pictures with our students during their midterm exams, so I'll put those up next time too (assuming Blogger will let me).

Just a reminder: China likes to do things its own way. While most everyone in the States had Daylight Saving Time, China did not (China also has only one time zone for this gigantic country of 1.something billion people). This all goes to say I'm now an hour off from whatever I was before (the range is 13-16 hours now, instead of 12-15 depending on location).

Happy Halloween--Enjoy the heathen holiday and the fall for me :)


24 October 2006

"They're Called S'mores Buzz!"

So I've made my peace with the fact that my postings are not short. I will not be apologizing any more for my long-winded ramblings here. Be warned! I guess I should probably become a bit more concerned with the randomness of my thoughts--I promise it does make sense in my head :)

Here's what has been happening in my life these days:
  • In a few of my previous postings, I mentioned that our neighbors had bought a pair of chickens. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think our chicken friends have met their demise. They have yet to be seen or heard from in the last few days, so the assumption is that they became a meal. Chicken Little is now chicken noodle soup.
  • My Korean students have some quirks in their English learning abilities. They are cute as all get out (most of the time, although sometimes they do act like the teenagers that they are) and try very hard to make themselves understood. They have a habit of adding an "e" to the end of many words--for example, they are always in competition with each other and will yell out, "finished!" when they are done with a problem or an assignment. But instead of saying "finished," it comes out more like, "finishedy." So yesterday we were talking about mayors, presidents and governors and I asked my students who the Presidents of China, Korea, Japan, England and America were. Their answer for America: "Bushy!"
  • I tried updating my computer at school through the Windows website. I heard there was a new update released and I wanted to download it. Would it surprise anyone that apparently the copy of Windows that I'm running at school isn't valid? At least the Windows website doesn't think so. So I can't get my computer updated because I don't have a valid edition of Windows. It really does not shock me because it is possible to buy bootleg CDs of Windows XP off the street for like 2 dollars here, just like how it's possible to buy movies that haven't come out yet in the States.
  • On my way to school there are a few things that are the same every single day. I must say it is difficult to distinguish individual people here because they all still look the same to me. I often wonder if the people that we ride by every morning at the bus stop are ever the same people from previous days. I haven't figured it out yet, but I do know one thing: On one of the first corners that I ride past, there is a middle-aged bald man who is always reading the paper. Sometimes he's squatting, sometimes he's standing, but ever since I noticed him, he's always been there. Closer to school, there is a manhole cover in the bike lane/sidewalk that apparently can be removed. Some ladies from the neighborhood figured this out and every morning they do their wash on the sidewalk. They pry off the cover and lower a bucket into the sewer line/water line/I-don't-know-what-kind-of-water-they-are-actually-using-but-they're-ok-with-it, so-I'm-ok-with-it. They even drag out a stool to sit on and then they throw the dirty water out into the street. It's kinda fun to have little things be so consistent--it gives me something to look forward to each morning on my bike ride to school.
  • While I'm on the topic of consistency, let me mention that we only get one English-language channel, CCTV 9 (China Central TV). The various CCTV channels are the main source of Chinese TV, similar to the public stations of ABC, NBC, CBS, etc. in the States. CCTV 9 does a half-hour news program at 7 and I try to tune in whenever possible. They mostly report on the various state visits in Beijing and major world events. It's nice to get a Chinese perspective on the world, and my favorite part is the weather, when a crazy American with a bowtie does his best to summarize the weather for all of China in about five seconds. There are two commercial breaks and the same ads run every time--I practically have them memorized now I see them so often. I didn't watch much TV in the States and CCTV 9's World Wide Watch gives me an excuse to watch a half hour of TV here in China.
  • I think I have set a new record, but I don't think it is the kind of record I should be boasting about. The repairmen from school have been to my apartment five times in the last eight days. Twice last week for the air conditioner and now three times this week for my washing machine. Sunday night I decided to do my laundry at like 10.30 while I took a shower. Bad idea! My washing machine spits out the water into a hole in the middle my bathroom floor and it gets water from a tap in the wall. The tap and the hose decided to not line up right and so mid-way through the cycle, water was everywhere and I was in the midst of showering. It was a rough way to start the week. Monday they sent the smiley security guard and the cook out to look at it. They decide that it's too complicated for them and that they will come back again. On Tuesday, they both show up again, armed with the guy that fixed my hot water heater and another guy. They fool around with the machine again--complete with the guy blowing on the hose with his mouth. The hose that goes in a hole in my floor, he put his mouth on it. Then they came back today (the same entourage) and fiddled around with it for about a half hour and pronounced it fixed. I hope nothing else in my apartment goes wrong this week, I would just feel terrible if it did!
  • Dessert at school yesterday was a deep-fried red bean roll...not as strange as one would think. Red beans are used in a different way here and it was oddly sweet. If Snickers bars can be deep-fried, why not red beans, right?!?
  • Yesterday we had s'mores and it was wonderful. Meg's mom sent a Halloween package that included graham crackers and marshmallows. So we made our own s'mores at home. We put the marshmallows on chopsticks and used the stove range for the fire. Only in China would one use chopsticks as skewers.
Okay, well that's plenty for one night. Tomorrow our students take their mid-terms in English and Chinese; Friday is Science, Social Studies and Math. Please think about them in these upcoming days--that they would have prepared the best they could and that the test is an accurate measurement of what they learned this quarter.


21 October 2006

Getting Pulled Over (among other stories)

This past week was a very normal week with school as usual, but it seems that I'm always able to find something exciting to report on. Let me first give an update on the huge construction project around the corner. I'm still not sure what it is going to be, but I must reiterate that it is big. Given our neighborhood and the project's proximity to us, it is most likely more housing, but I'm not sure about that. Here's a picture from today:

Nothing too exciting, same brick pile, but on the left is one of the many canals that run through Wuxi.

Friday's bike ride home was extraordinary in its eventfulness. As we were waiting for the first light at the intersection near school, we looked over our shoulders to see a man squatting to do his business on the side of the road. I think I've gotten used to the children and their split-bottom pants doing their business in corners and over trash cans, but grown men...
Karri 's second posting from Saturday is a funny take on these same events: http://www.xanga.com/karri. While I'm on the topic of other Wuxi teacher's blogs, Lindsey's MySpace has some quality postings on our activities at school: http://www.myspace.com/danalindsey

So back to our Friday bike ride, we turn at that light and go another 100 yards, only to have a cop drive past us and signal for us to pull over. I have never been pulled over in the States, so I found it pretty funny that the first time I get pulled over is in China, on my bike nonetheless. We start freaking out because, um, we don't speak Chinese and it's the police. Through gestures, the policeman tells us that we shouldn't have our bags in our back baskets because people could yank them out. It was very kind of him to be watching out for us. After a slight reprimand, we continued on our way. Because it was Friday afternoon, we stopped by the local bakery for a celebration snack. The most exciting thing ever: We found the Chinese equivalent to a Swiss cake roll at the bakery down the street. It is amazing!! Look who else I found outside the bakery.

How adorable is this little girl?!?

She and her grandmother were all smiles--the beauty of digital photography was that I showed them the pictures right after. I love how smiles transcend language barriers!

Last weekend my air conditioner decided that it wouldn't work anymore. I know many places in the States have had snow and autumn-esque weather, but here in Wuxi, we're still sitting pretty with temperatures in mid 20's Celsius, which is high 70's and low 80's in Fahrenheit. On Monday, the repairmen came over and spent an hour trying to figure it out. At one point, they even put a liquid refrigerant into the outside box of the unit. They thought it worked because cool air was blowing out, but the next day I was pretty convinced that it wasn't working. On Wednesday, we went through the same song and dance. First, the normal repair guy and a representative from our school came up. They poked around for a bit and then called another guy. During this time, another guy from our school came. At one point, three of them were looking at my pictures on the wall and one was working. It was classic. And I just sat on my bed and tried to mind my own business. They got down to business by rewiring the unit, complete with some blow-torch instrument. The result: My air conditioning works, but my wall is permanently charred:

The air conditioner, the TV, and part of my porch.

The two black circles are the charred wall.

A different angle, same burnt plaster.

After getting my air conditioning fixed, we went downtown for a mid-week adventure. Megan got her haircut and I got a new keyboard. I met the girls downtown because I was waiting for the repair guys to leave which meant that I rode the bus by myself. We usually go together and just talk, so I brought a magazine to read to pass the twenty-or-so minutes that it takes to get downtown. The guy in front of me became quite interested in me but once again the language barrier was a roadblock. He had a friend text him the English sentence, "Where are you from?" and I was able to answer in Chinese that I'm from America. That was the extent of our conversation. But just as he was about to get off, he motioned for a pen, so I dug a pen out of my purse, and he proceeded to write down his cell phone number for me in my Newsweek. Another first--I can't say I ever remember having a guy give me his number :)

I hope he's not expecting me to call.

Tragic news for the month: The Orange Restaurant is closing for the next few weeks. The Bank of China is doing a massive renovation and somehow the restaurant is being forced to close while they work on the roof. On any given week, we consume at least two, maybe three meals at this restaurant, so this sudden development is quite upsetting. Megan and I decided to go for a bike ride last night in search of another option for dinner, and here is what we found:

"Change residence Yangtze River toward the new area, Green island build nest" Huh?

"Landmark of life, Doorway of newzone" Uh, ok

Not really sure how "the quality life satisfies diverse choice"

My personal favorite--the mother biting her child's chin while he munches on her nose. Oh wait, I think they're supposed to be nuzzling each other or something--it's not terribly clear. These are all the ads in front of another housing project down the road a bit.

The biggest rice cookers I've ever seen.

On a whim, we ordered some beer and got two huge bottles. I forgot for a moment how much I hate beer.

To give some comparison--my ever-present Nalgene and "Snow."

Now for the random thoughts segment:
  • A Chinese woman preached the sermon at Fellowship today--I must say it made me very happy to hear a woman in the pulpit.
  • We had a German family come look at our school this week--I am continually amazed at how useful German is here, I think I've said that before, but it's worth reiterating.
  • I'm reading a great book right now--Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. I read the abridged version in middle school and most summers after that, but I found the unabridged version of it in Beijing, all 850-some pages of it, and oh my word, I'm half-way through it--LOVE IT! That's all I have to say. Maybe I'll give a full report when I finish.
  • On the topic of finished books, I tried to pace myself through Bono on Bono: Conversations with Michka Assayas. Some of my favorite quotes: "Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff...It doesn't excuse my mistakes, by I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity" (p. 204) "Joy, on the other hand, is not up for sale. And my joy comes from a completely different place" (p. 311) Wow, that's powerful stuff, eh?
  • We heard "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" at Friday's on Friday night--it was so good to hear U2 in China, even if it was at an American restaurant.
Well, this week is midterms, so perhaps I should finish making my tests. Hard to believe we're already a quarter done with the school year. Yikes, I guess the saying is true, "Time flies when you're having fun." I do like it here and I hope that comes across in my ramblings!

Love and Peace,

17 October 2006

Chicken Little and his friend

In my posting last weekend, I mentioned that some of our neighbors have purchased some loud animals. It's not the best picture, but here is the evidence of Chicken Little and his friend:

I'm not sure how this whole owning a rooster thing works, but I continue to be entertained by the situation. Until they wake me up, then I'm just annoyed.

On a different note, one of the Chinese teachers is getting married next month and we are all invited to the ceremony. I must say that I'm very excited to see what a Chinese wedding is all about. I've been hearing bits and pieces over the past weeks from her, but it will be great to experience it. Not that I'll understand much of anything, but that's half of the fun.

Halloween is coming up and we're trying to put together some sort of school-wide celebration. It will be interesting to see how it turns out since most of our students seem to know little about the holiday. The decoration part of Halloween could be challenging, given the complete lack of supplies. I don't even have anything close to a costume either--I guess this is where "I have no choice but to be creative" part of living overseas comes in. Any case there are concerns, please note we are treating this as an American cultural holiday, not the pagan ritual that it really is.

So ever since National Holiday, the amount of fireworks found here in Wuxi seems to have grown exponentially. Unlike America, there are no cute little fireworks stands or anything on the corner of the road, so I'm not really sure how these explosives are acquired. All I know is that people insist on setting them off at all hours of the day (and night!). Take last night as an example: As I'm getting ready for bed at like 11, someone is setting off fireworks. Not just two fireworks, but they continue for probably five minutes. I'm pretty sure most of the people in our building were sleeping. Oh well, I hope they were heavy sleepers.

Tonight we will venture into the city in hopes of getting haircuts (not me though, sorry!), finding paints (to make a zoo in the gym), and buying a new keyboard (my almost 5 year old laptop has written one too many papers). I'm sure there will be stories to tell later.

Until then--peace

Peter Rabbit for Lunch?!?

So, we just got done with lunch. Lunch here is an exciting daily adventure. Usually I don't like to read the menu that is posted outside because it is better not to know what we are being served. Today a student decided it was worth commenting on the menu. She pointed out that one of the meats we were being served was rabbit. Yes, RABBIT. I just ate curried rabbit. And that's my story about lunch.

12 October 2006

Chickens and Frogs and Snakes, Oh My!

So the last few days have been quite full. In order to do them justice, I will attempt to give a brief summary of this week (complete with pictures!) in the following paragraphs.

Sunday night: After having our usual Sunday night meeting, my team surprised me with a belated birthday party. Everyone was so kind to spend a bit of their precious prep time hanging out with me. It was a wonderful to start the week!

The yummy cake from the bakery down the street.

Beth, me, Lindsey, Megan, Jamie and Daniel at my party.

The presents from the team: A book and a Starbucks mug.

Monday afternoon: After school, Megan, Lindsey and I ventured out to a wonderful store called Metro. It is similar to Sam's Club with the idea of buying items at wholesale. Our school got us membership cards because it also carries a great variety of imports. This is the store where we purchased our bikes as well. So we spent way too much money on food from home, but it was good. Metro has a great selection of a lot of things, one of which is seafood. We are close to many bodies of water, which feeds the seafood craze. Growing up in Colorado I was not exposed to seafood at all. I avoid it now at all costs. While at Metro, I was standing in the frozen food section, looking into the seafood section. I notice a fish tried to escape for freedom by jumping out of one of the huge fish tanks. It just flopped around for a minute and then a worker comes over and scoops it up and places it back in the tank. I'm sorry I don't have a video of it--All I can say is that incidents like that make me happy that I don't seek out seafood. The seafood aisles provided some interesting pictures:

One of those giant fish tried to escape.

Crabs occupy the top bin and snakes are for sale in the bottom one--all alive and all for sale for tonight's dinner.

How about some turtles?

Or some normal fish, whatever sounds good.

So that was Metro and their seafood. Interesting huh?

Tuesday: I have developed a nasty head cold and after coming home from school, I crashed on the couch until 9, when I got up, ate some popcorn, took a shower, and went back to bed.

Wednesday: Here's an update on the construction project near our house. Not too long ago, I posted a picture that showed a man bent over a whole bunch of bricks and a dismantled house.

Here is the same pile of bricks a week later, now minus the building.

This is the construction site--it is huge. I'm not sure what exactly they are building, but they work around the clock.

These huge cranes were just brought in and now things are starting to sprout from the ground.

The quality of the last two pictures isn't great. Sadly, those dots are not rain, but dust. It hasn't rained here in over two weeks and the smog is nasty. The air is just so dirty that it shows up in the pictures. The construction site also puts a lot of particles into the air which are visible to the camera.

So Wednesday, we went downtown, ate McDonalds for dinner, and hung out at Starbucks. A nice, relaxing evening.

Thursday: We went to dinner the Orange Restaurant and it was yummy, as always.

Friday evening: To celebrate making it through the week, we went to Friday's for dessert. The entire back row was empty when we got on the bus, so we decided to sit there. It was a fun view. We also went exploring--by exploring, I mean that we went up a few random elevators and escalators. Look what we found:

Karri and Jamie (and Meg's hand) flashing the victory sign, just like the Chinese!

Meg, me and Lindsey (oh wait, is that me with my hair down?!? What?!? Take a good look because it doesn't happen very often :)

From the back of the bus looking forward. Most of the busses have TVs on them. I don't think there is sound to match, but they usually just play the news or something. This is a relatively empty bus for Wuxi.

One of the elevators we went up landed us at a spa. This was the chandelier that marked the entrance.

Dried meat floss...yes...I'm not sure how to explain this...Some of the pastries here have meat in them. Not normal meat though, it's like preserved, it-used-to-be-meat kind of meat, and so apparently it is called dried meat floss. I ran across this at a grocery store we stumbled upon last night, it's nice to know that it has a name!

Ahh, Clinique, how I love you! It's even more expensive there though than in the States.

Somehow we ended up on the 38th floor of a building we have nicknamed the Needle building because it has a point on the top. Creative, I know, but here is downtown Wuxi.

Another look at downtown Wuxi from a different angle.

A few other stories that are pictureless.
  • A ground-level neighbor has purchased some roosters. I don't know what their purpose is, but they have taken it upon themselves to crow at the crack of dawn. Not the way most people expect to be woken up in a city of 5 million. The reason that I do not have a picture of these animals is because they are on a leash and like to hide under the bushes.
  • I was so happy for my supplies that I bought from Walmart. One of them was a set of alphabet letters like most families with preschool-aged children have on their frigs. I was excited to find them here, but I when I opened them at school this week, I found out that they don't have magnets. What's the point of having letters if they don't work on the whiteboard or the frig?!? I was a bit peeved.
  • On a happy China note, I decided to see how long I could go without charging my cell phone. Answer: At least a week. I got scared when it got down to one bar that I might loose all my data, so I didn't let it die completely, but I went at least a week without charging it, which I find pretty impressive.
  • One of my favorite China quirks is watching people smoke and what activities they can complete while smoking. I have noticed a few people smoking while riding their bikes and driving the motorized carts. But my favorite was one guy who was walking down the street in the bike lane, reading the paper and smoking, all at the same time.
  • After school one day this week, we were riding home and noticed a white woman on the sidewalk. We don't see a lot of Westerners in our area and if we do, it is usually at the store or something. Anyway, so we see this lady and her little boy has blonde, like bleached blonde, hair. We all turned and look at the boy and when we finally get our eyes back on the road, we see that we're about to run someone over. Yes, I got caught rubbernecking, just like everyone else here. I guess that makes me a local or something!
  • I survived teacher observing week! The middle school did not get too many visitors and it was nice to meet most of the parents of our students.
Well, that is my excitement from Wuxi for now.


08 October 2006


So I'm 23 now and I'm not sure that it is much different than 22. It's funny to think that last year at this time I was occupied with China, but only because I was writing my senior thesis and taking a class on Westerners in Asia. Being in China was about the furthest thing from my mind then and yet, one year later, here in sit in Jiangsu Province, PR China!
The conference in Beijing was a wonderful experience. It was great to see some familiar faces and to talk to like-minded friends. More people in country are aware of our situation here and we may be getting more school supplies as a result. The hotel was relaxing--a wonderful Western style breakfast, outdoor swimming in October, and multiple English-language TV channels. I really enjoyed getting to reflect on our first month of school; it was nice to sit down and evaluate our situation. I have a few ideas now of things I can do differently in my classroom as a result. Some of the sessions addressed the differences between Korean/Eastern thinking and American/Western thinking, which was very helpful in understanding where my students are coming from. Overall, it was great to get out of Wuxi and see other Westerners, but it was hard to come back and it will be even harder to go back to school tomorrow. At least Thanksgiving is only 7 weeks away! But in all fairness, it is nice to be back. When we returned yesterday, it was interesting to note how quickly our surroundings have become home. This all, my apartment complex, our orange restaurant, the little grocery store, even the school...all of this is comfortable and familiar now.
As for my birthday, it was wonderful. The Kennedy's were able to come visit from Tianjin and I spent the entire day with them. Hotpot for lunch, Western food for dinner, Catan at night....I really couldn't ask for more.

Me and the Kennedy kiddos at dinner on Wednesday.

Hotpot for lunch on Thursday--this restaurant was my first taste of Chinese food way back in August.

A new shirt from my parents.

Mia being adorable as can be!

Our team after the banquet on Friday night.

The girls being silly in the hotel bathrobes and slippers before going swimming.

My newly decorated living room!

The runner and basket were gifts from the Kennedy's, under the theme of "embrace the orange couch." Now it is well embraced and the living room looks quite complete now, I must say.

Teacher observing week begins tomorrow and I must say I'm not looking forward to it at all. With that in mind, I should probably stop procrastinating and get to those lesson plans.