24 October 2007

Unexpected Beauty

Currently reading: October 15th Newsweek

Currently listening to: Eyes Open by Snow Patrol

In this city full of industry, beautiful things are stumbled upon; they are hidden treasures one appreciates when they are discovered.

Case study #1: Beauty in nature

A few Sundays ago, Sara and I were walking along the canal after lunch. It was a gorgeous day--a perfect fall afternoon. The sun was actually out (it hasn't been seen in the last two days, too much fog/smog) and it was relatively warm, given that fall came and went without me even being aware of it (other random side note: the countdown begins--3 weeks until the heat gets turned on!). Instead of getting a taxi and coming back home right away, we started walking down the canal.

Here's what we found:

Flowering yucca-like plants live right along the canal.

The flowers smelled amazing!

Case study #2: Beauty in language

That evening was the kickoff event for the local university English club. The students who participate in our English conversation group every Sunday evening must attend 3 drill sessions during the week. The spoiler is that these group meet before dawn--6AM anyone? I know the last thing I want to be doing at 6 is practicing my Mandarin. They get up that early just so they have the opportunity later in the week to speak English with a foreigner. How's that for humble pie? If only I had such dedication for the things I hold most important!

From the kickoff party:

The students demonstrating their drills (yes, complete with a bullhorn!)

The cake-cutting ceremony to signify the start of the club for this year (no, not like that AA)

Case study #3: Beauty in Diversity

Last Friday was a significant mark--the end of the first quarter! How crazy is that?!? I feel like I'm finally in the swing of things and it only took a quarter. Granted I'm living day by day in my lesson plans, but I am surviving my (second) first year of teaching. Woohoo--that deserves some celebration!

Anyway, Friday was also International Day--a celebration of our diversity as a school. The students are asked to wear the traditional clothes from their home country. To continue the fun, we celebrated Spirit Week in all of its middle school glory.

All of the middle school students are split into 4 different houses, kinda like Harry Potter. The kids stay in the same house all 3 years. The house names and colors may vary throughout the years. This year my house is called Hot Stuff and our colors are black and red. Normally, every Monday, when we have our house meetings, we have to wear our house colors. Well, for the Monday of Spirit Week, we had to wear at least 80% house colors--it was pretty cool.

Tuesday was crazy hair day and would like to say that I took that to an extreme--dreadlocks! It didn't take super long to create (90 minutes maybe?). A friend teased my hair and with lots of hair wax, gel, and mousse, it was able to stay overnight in somewhat decent dreads. Getting it out was another story. I stood in the shower with shampoo and a comb and a while later, it was back to normal. Did you know...if you put shampoo on your hair for an extended amount of time (perhaps you're working on getting a few tangles out :), it makes your hair super soft. Very strange. So crazy hair was Tuesday.

Wednesday was teacher/student switch day. The students had to dress up professional, like we teachers have to each day, and I was allowed to wear jeans, like the kids usually do. Happy day! It worked out perfect because my 8th students had their big presentations that day and they were required to dress up anyway, so at least they didn't stand out. Overall, they did an excellent job.

Wear lots of...was Thursday. You had to wear at least 7 pieces of clothes or accessories for the day. One girl came with every belt from her family on her waist. Another kid pinned socks to his whole body. Quite the sight! And a half day on Friday with tasty food from everywhere made it the end of a great week. Of course the end of Spirit Week could only be properly celebrated with a party. A party it was! Complete with ball throwing, chair games and street food (oh yeah, and me chaperoning...)


The dreadlock creation process.

The end result--I would do it again, but not for much longer than a day. It was fun, that's for sure!

The adorable kindergartners performing a song during the International Day presentations.

A bunch of the Korean students take Tae Kwan Do after school. They were strong and quite intense.

Some students in their beautiful hanboks (traditional Korean dress).

A great action picture of their demonstration. Notice how he's jumping over 5 of his fellow students!

The social studies teacher and I in our traditional clothes from India.

Things to Think about:
  • Monday and Tuesday are Parent/Teacher Conferences. The conferences are student led but since this is my first year, I'm a bit apprehensive about the whole process. It's going to be a long week!
  • Somehow I managed to start new units on the same day with both of my classes. I've been struggling at keeping all of the balls juggled and I'm afraid about how much long I can keep up with this before a.) a ball drops or b.) I get sick. I'm okay so far, but please Lift up my life at school. I want to do the best that I can, but I recognize that I can't do it on my own. Only with His Power, Wisdom, and Grace am I even able to function every day in the classroom.
  • Praise: 8th grade presentations were a huge success! Like I said before, I was so proud of them and the hard work that they turned in. It was fun, but frustrating at times, to go through this process. I'm happy to be returning to the normal classroom routine.
  • Praise: 2 students in our middle school became Family in the last month. Give thanks with me for their decision and please Lift them up as they begin to grow in His Truth.
Peace, hope, and love,


12 October 2007

Moving Letters

Currently reading: The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder

Currently listening to: All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone by Explosions in the Sky

What have I accomplished in the last 6 hours? (Gotta love productive Friday nights)
  • I baked a cake
  • Rearranged the furniture in my bedroom
  • Hung up things around the apt.
  • Got things together for our upcoming community garage sale
  • Organized my pictures
  • Picked which pictures to print and get framed
  • Decorated a bit
  • Cleaned out the frig
  • Did a few dishes
  • Mounted a reading light next to my bed and a bulletin board on my desk
So my 8th graders are working on a huge project now and it will finally be over on Wednesday when they give their oral presentations to their peers. Next Friday is the end of the 1st quarter--how is it possible that we're 1/4 of the way finished with the school year already? Life at school has its growing stress. Coming up is Spirit Week ending with International Day, along with Student-Led Conferences, a middle school party and grades that are due soon!

The conference in Beijing was nice. It was fun to see people from the NY training again and here about everyone's adjustment to China. Highlights of the weekend included shopping at a huge import grocery store, eating Mexican food TWICE (once was even complimented with sangria!), and bringing home half of Ikea on the bus. My excuse was that I hadn't been there yet since I moved to TJ (that's where I got the lamp and bulletin board that I just put up).

This year's birthday celebrations included: Starbucks at the BJ airport, the traditional game of Catan in the hotel lobby, the entire conference singing to me at the banquet, and later, a small birthday party with friends, which was made complete by a mint chocolate cake! I couldn't have asked for more--it was a great celebration all around.


My birthday crown/napkin.

Some of the wonderful middle school staff before the banquet.

The cake from Sunday's celebration.

Probably a month ago, I went shopping at the local fabric market. The place is completely overwhelming--picture a North American mall, but instead of stores like the Gap or Abercrombie, each store is an individual vendor with yards and yards of every kind of fabric imaginable. The experience is such a sensory overload, but that was compounded this trip because I didn't know what exactly I was looking for. After many long hours of searching, I found materials for a shower curtain, curtains for my room and a duvet for my bed. I gave the tailor all the fabric right before the holiday. I got all the curtains back this week (partially what prompted the cleaning/decorating spree).

How cute is that?

Funny story: Imagine my surprise, when, at Ikea, I spotted the same shower curtain. Granted, it wasn't in the same raw form that I found mine at the fabric market, but they pretty much look identical. Check it out here. I would never have guessed that I had such good taste!

Another funny story: We have tile wall in our bathroom. I write my words from our Chinese class on the wall with dry erase marker to give me more exposure to the vocab. I had Chinese early in the week and so erased random vocab that had accumulated since August before I showered the other night. It was late (like 11.30 at night) when I was taking my shower and I started to notice that some of the letters were slipping down. I thought I was going crazy and was just seeing things.

Here's what the wall above the sink looks like=normal.

Here's the crazy words from the wall that's actually in the shower. The q at the bottom should be next to the i and the u across from basketball--it migrated quite a distance.

Here's a shot of the wall in front of the toilet, right next to the shower. The o from corn dropped completely into pineapple!

Praise: A miracle has occurred in our community. A family had been fostered a little girl since Christmas and were hoping to adopt her when her file was sent to the US and she was matched with another family. It was looking almost certain that that family would be traveling here to get her by the end of the month. Somehow (only by His grace and mercy) the family has reconsidered and has since agreed to send the file back to China, which allows my friends the opportunity to continue pursuing her adoption. This little girl has experienced lots of trauma in her young life, so please give Thanks with our community and continue to Think about their situation.

Because of Him,


02 October 2007


Currently reading: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

Currently listening to: We Walked In Song by The Innocence Mission

The first of October is China's National Day and, as a result, we, as well as the majority of Chinese, have the entire first week of this month off as vacation. Company tradition for the foreign staff in our city is to have a retreat (yes, all 200 of us--men, women, and children!) to the beach. It was a wonderfully relaxing weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the city and school.

The trip to the coast was interesting. We had three charter buses and about an hour into the trip, one had smoke pouring out of the engine into the inside of the bus. Then a few hours later our bus blew out a tire (right under my feet!) We had to go extra slow until we got to the next rest station where they could get it properly fixed. Knowing how traveling in China can be crazy, there was even a mechanic that was hired just to ride with us in case anything bad happened. He certainly earned his pay this week. On the way back today, we stopped at a rest stop and then the driver and mechanic started examining the engine. The entire backside of the bus was black with oil. I'm not sure exactly what the problem was, but they "fixed" it by pouring 2 huge bottles (like gallon sized!) of oil into the engine and calling it good. The best part was when they were smoking right as they were working, never minding that they were working with oil and other possibly flammable things. Other than that, the ride was uneventful and we made it back in one piece.

Highlights from the weekend included:
  • Swimming in the salt water ocean
  • Playing Catan on the hotel hall floor
  • Watching the first season and a half of Scrubs in 3 days
  • Yummy western breakfasts
  • Swimming in a swimming pool and hot tub
  • Walking on the beach
  • Going shopping at a nice pearl market
  • Cable television (CNN and Deutsche Welle=happiness)

The hotel next to us had crazy spotlights at night.

The area has a lot of Russian tourists so lots of the signs are in three languages. The restaurant we went to after shopping had a great Chinglish menu. Anyone want some "hot spily all to fear rope pizza?"

The desserts were interesting--the choices included puppy love, troical love and burning icecream. The explanation from the waitress sounded like somehow the ice cream was actually on fire. Someone please explain--in words I understand!

The pizza Sara, Kimberly and I finally decided on had potato wedges, ham, onions, and green peppers. The ice cream we got was a banana float, complete with watermelon, instead of the traditional pineapple and strawberries.

The view on the beach looking right.

The view on the beach looking left--notice the proximity of the smokestacks to the beautiful surroundings.

On a walk we found a bride getting her picture taken.

Hannah and I enjoying a stroll.

Not exactly sure what this was--something traditional. A temple? Something honoring Confucius?

The lighthouse lit up at dusk.

Interesting seafood-on-a-stick.

Another great lighthouse picture--I love the lighting in this picture!

Tomorrow I leave again to Beijing for our annual teacher's conference. It will be nice to see more familiar faces and hear about how people from our New York training are adjusting to China.