Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Let's get caught up

On December 5th, I met Jane Goodall. I went to a dinner fund raiser where she spoke and she signed a couple books for me. She was great! I only have a blurry picture of us.

The following weekend was our staff Winter Party. I had a dress made for the evening which was much less of a hassle than shopping for one here. I got a card from another teacher to show to the driver of the car we hired. He didn't know where the place was so he called and got directions. We arrived at an apartment building and went up to the third floor. Inside were about 8 or 10 sewing machines being used by that many workers. We showed the people the pictures of the dresses we wanted (I printed mine off from Nordstroms' website) and they checked them out to see if they could replicate them. Next, they measured us up and we chose our fabric. We came back a week later and the dresses were nearly finished. We tried them on again and got the fit perfect. They ended up having to completely redo the skirt part of my dress because I didn't like it. We came back two days later and the dresses were finished and beautiful! All that for less than $60! Here I am with friends.

I think that gets us caught up with China happenings. Christmas posts to come!


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Xi'an 西安

I went to the city of Xi'an this past weekend to see the terracotta warriors. The characters that make up the name of the city mean 'west' and 'peaceful' or 'safe'. Xi'an is west of Beijing and with more than 7,000 warriors...... :)

We flew from Beijing on Friday after school and arrived in Xi'an an hour and half later. Some of our group of about 15 or so people decided to go grab a bite to eat and headed down the bar street. It is too bad that every time you go out in China, you end up smelling terribly of cigarettes.

Next morning, we headed to the ancient city wall. The wall that was built during the Tang dynasty is no longer there, but the wall built in 1370 during the Ming dynasty still surrounds the city center. The city has been rebuilding the wall and marks the bricks with the date in Chinese characters. The date I saw was 1985. We rented bicycles and rode around the whole thing which was about 9 miles. I shared a tandem bike with my principal and got a chance to practice my Mandarin when a couple on another tandem bike rode up next to us. After asking where everyone was from and complimenting each other on our language skills, they challenged us to a race. We let them win so the husband wouldn't lose face in front of his wife. Face is important in China.

We could see inside the old city wall while we were riding around on top of it. There were many old buildings which were falling apart. While we were riding, an announcement began playing in Mandarin. We asked our guide what was being said and he told us that is was a warning to vacate the buildings so that they could be demolished. It said that the government would give them a new place to stay or money for a new place, something like that. Whatever they get, it doesn't make up for vacating a home where the family has lived for generations.

Next, we headed over to see the terracotta warriors. The terracotta army is only part of a grand tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first Chinese emperor. His main tomb is about a mile to the west of the terracotta warriors under a green, grassy hill. Supposedly, there is a huge necropolis depicting the whole of China in miniature under the hill. The hill is only just over 150ft high but the necropolis is said to be immense in size. In order to completely excavate it, 12 villages and half a dozen factories would have to be relocated. The terracotta army was discovered by farmers digging a well in 1974. The farmer who found the army learned how to write his name not too long ago so that he could sign the souvenir books for tourists. There are three pits of warriors, altogether containing over 7,000 soldiers, archers, and horses.

On Sunday, we visited the Wild Goose Pagoda which was built in the Tang dynasty in 652. Monks come here and many people come to pray. I saw one monk who reminded me of my uncle Tim in his robes.

At the end of the day, before heading to the airport, we tried to buy some kites in a square near the museum. Since there was an official stand where you were supposed to buy the kites, other people are not supposed to sell them. We wanted to pay less for the kites so we walked around until someone approached us to ask us if we want to buy kites. We followed a woman who was looking over her shoulder and all around to make sure she didn't get in trouble for selling us the kites. She took a bag out of a bush and walked quickly across the street to sell to us. She also pulled lots of kites out of her clothes. We all bought some and then got back to the bus to head to the airport.

My next trip will be back to California! I can't wait to see everyone!


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Teacher Tales

This post doesn't have anything to do with being in China (except that a couple stories are from kids here in my current class). Here are some quick stories of things that happen in first grade. Enjoy!
I had just put brand new, neat pencils in our pencil jar in my classroom. Alexis, a first grader who had a history of taking things which did not belong to him, was caught by my aide with several pencils stuffed into his pocket. When I asked him if he was taking my pencils, he replied, "No, Miss Smith, I quit stealing YEARS ago!"
For my birthday, one student brought me her own dirty, beat-up teddy bear. This student came from a very poor family and her father was recently incarcerated. She had been having a tough time and I thought that she might need this teddy bear more than me. I thanked her but tried to get her to keep it. I asked, "Would you keep it at your house so that the other kids won't mess it up at school?" She answered, "Just take it home." I said, "Yes, but I have a dog and he might chew it up!" She said, "Just put it in your room and shut the door so he can't get it." After those two tries, I decided I would have to keep it.

Sophia: My mum’s in the United States.
Me: Really? Which one?
Sophia: The UNITED States.
Me: There are a lot of them. Find out which one she is visiting.
Next day:
Sophia: I found out!
Me: Yeah? Which state is she in?
Sophia: The United States of AMERICA!

Sophia is from Australia.


A sad one about the air quality of Beijing:

On a sunny, slightly windy day in September, Justin looked out the window and asked me, "Miss Smith, what's those blue things?" I looked out the window to see what he could be asking about and told him, "Justin, those are mountains." "Ooooooh!" responded Justin.

Today we got to see the mountains again. It is kind of like in Redlands where you hate to have people visit in the summer when the San Bernardino Mountains are cloaked in smog.


And finally one for the holidays coming up:

At Christmastime, I had just read the book, Polar Express, to my kindergarteners. On the last day before Winter Break, we had our class party. Some kids were talking about whether or not Santa was real. Some were sure that he is not. After the party, all the kids went out for recess. At this time, I got the bells I had stored in the freezer and put them on the little Christmas tree in my classroom. They were tied on pretty red ribbon and were ice cold. When the kids came back into the classroom, they quickly noticed the tree and the bells. They were so excited! Finally, one child, Kirsten, came up to me and said, "Miss Smith, you know how I know that these are really from Santa Claus? I can smell the reindeer!" Immediately all the other kids began smelling their bells and declaring that they could also smell the reindeer (even the ones who said they didn't believe in Santa).


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Forbidden City, Neat Buildings, and a Visitor!

My cousin Hallie came through China during her Semester at Sea program and we were able to meet up last weekend. She is my uncle Joe's brother's daughter, so a cousin of a cousin. I took her and her friend to see some sites around Beijing. We saw the Forbidden City:

Tian'anmen Square:

Wangfujing (the Night Market) where you can see lots of things on sticks to eat. Although, these poor guys don't look quite ready to eat yet:

I also took them to see the Egg (National Center for the Arts) and to visit the Olympic Green where the Bird's Nest and Water Cube are still lit up every night:

I didn't take the girls to see the new CCTV tower, but I drove by it in a taxi a couple weeks ago. Apparently the nickname the Chinese have given to it is Big Underpants:

It is a pretty amazing looking building. It also connects at the bottom, opposite from the top.

Coming up: I am traveling to Xi'an in two weeks. This is where I will see the Terracotta Warriors.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chinese Driver's Test

I took the test to get my Chinese Driver's License today and I passed! I had been studying from a book that gave about 1000 questions that might be on the test. This was a little tricky because some of the questions contradicted each other. At the actual test, I got a random selection of 100 questions and had to get 90% correct to pass. I took the test on a computer and at the end I was shown a happy, smiling, laughing animated face telling me that I had passed! I took my paperwork up to the front and handed it over. Some other people got the red, sad, crying faces telling them that they had not passed. But, when they took their paperwork up to the front, the man stamped their papers as well. So, it looks like everyone passed!


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Guilin and Yangshuo Trip Part 2

We started our trip to the Longji rice terraces early in the morning on Friday morning (October 3rd). The Zhuang and Yao ethnic people living here have led a simple life from generation to generation. The Yao women are known for their very long hair. They wash their hair using rice water and then wrap it into a bun on their forehead. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of them! Hopefully one of the other people who went on this trip got one or I will just have to get one next time I go down there! The Zhuang people are China's largest minority. The Zhuang women wear hats to cover their hair before they are married. We hiked up into the hills to see the rice terraces.

The village up in the hills reminded me of the Ewok village in the Star Wars movies. There were lots of shops on every walkway. Some people were selling handicrafts (I bought a dress and two aprons) and some were selling food. I even saw soy milk being made by hand and I had a passion fruit for the first time!

We hiked up higher for the sunset and again the next morning for the sunrise. For the tourists, the farmers had strung lights on the terraces, especially where the "Seven Stars Accompanying the Moon" was located. If you click on the picture to the left, it will be larger and hopefully you will be able to see the little lights better. The Seven Stars are the seven round, top terraces. Can you find them all?

We got a great seat on a ledge and watched the sun come up. It was wonderful....except for the mosquito bites that some of us got. There were literally hundreds of other people who were either where we were or higher up the hills watching the sunrise. I didn't see many Westerners on this part of the trip.

If we felt we needing any pampering, there were places where we could get a washair, massage, or even get our foofs massaged! This English is much better than some signs I've seen (and should start taking pictures of)!

We didn't get much sleep at the hotel because our little rooms were right over the dining room and there were many Chinese men ganbei-ing until late!

In the morning, after watching the sunrise and eating breakfast, we walked back down the hills and did a bit more shopping. I thought this little set up looked so darling. Maybe a little story time or lesson had occurred. The little stools are so cute!

After our overnight adventures in the Ewok village - I mean the rice terraces - we headed back to Guilin. Our first stop was a Tea Plantation. We saw where the tea was grown and our guide told us about how they pick different leaves in order to make the different types of tea. Then we saw a demonstration of the whole process. We had a tea ceremony where we tasted different types of tea. Lastly, we visited the gift shop where we all bought tea!

Next, we headed to the Reed Flute Cave. I was really looking forward to this part of the trip....but I was a little disappointed. Only a little. The cave was very interesting and the formations were neat. What I thought was a little over the top was the lighting in the cave. Some areas looked pretty neat, like in the picture to the left, but other areas had lighting that was not well hidden and in all sorts of colors. There was even a light show that you could see with lights embedded in the floor. We didn't stay for the light show because we had just missed the last one and the next one didn't start for some time. It was fun and I am glad that I saw it, but it wouldn't be high on my list to visit another time.

That's about it for the Guilin/Yangshuo trip! Our flight home was less eventful and we were back to work on Monday. As always, there will be more pictures on my flickr site, just as soon as I upload them!

"Zai jian!" says the cormorant fisherman.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Guilin and Yangshuo Trip Part 1

Last Tuesday, I flew down to Guilin with some four other teachers and the parents of one of those teachers and the mom of another teacher. We had staff development on Monday and Tuesday and caught an evening flight that got us to our hotel in Guilin at about 2am the next morning. It was only a 3 or 3 1/2 hour flight, but we started off late and the hotel was 45 minutes from the airport. The flight was pretty bad with screaming kids and a guy who decided to light up halfway through the flight. It was a non-smoking flight, the flight attendants did remind everyone, and there were little no smoking lights lit up all over the airplane just like we are all used to, but he smoked anyway. A Western woman ended up going over to him and pointed at the no smoking light and got him to put it out after a bit.
We woke up early the next morning, Wednesday, to take a cruise down the Li River to Yangshuo. The scenery was lovely and the weather was great as well. There were many boats cruising, but ours was full of us Westerners so every other boat we passed or that passed us, had people waving, yelling "Hello!", and taking our picture. We all got a kick out of the guide for the boat who kept telling us every 10 minutes or so that we were now at the most beautiful part and we should all go to the top of the boat to take pictures.

We also giggled a bit at another group's guide who had to explain to every single one that the round white things in one of the dishes were fish balls. We were sitting right next to the buffet of lunch dishes so we kept hearing, "Those are fish balls." "What is this?" "Fish balls." "What's in this dish?" "They are fish balls." "Fish balls!" It became a running joke the rest of the trip.

We arrived in Yangshuo and tried out our bargaining skills. I bought a "Northface" backpacking backpack for only $22! Of course I put Northface in quotes because everything on West Street where were shopping is a knock-off. So, hopefully the bag lasts for a while, but I figured $22 is fine to spend even if it only lasts a few trips.

The next morning, we got up and rented bikes. We rode our bikes through some pretty busy streets with buses, cars, trucks, motorbikes, and US! Our adrenaline was up especially when we crossed streets and especially when we had to ride through a roundabout with everyone else.

We all made it through the city and eventually we were riding in the countryside along fields and beautiful hills. Of course there were still trucks that would zoom past while blaring their horns, but we tried to focus on the pretty landscape.

We were on our way to a river to float along on bamboo rafts. We finally arrived and Mary and I got on the last raft of our group. We thought something was up, because the man was yelling about putting my bike on the raft and it took our guide yelling at him to finally have us push off to join the rest of the group already floating along.
We eventually met up with another raft with people from our group after the first waterfall. That's right, waterfalls while sitting on little chairs on skinny bamboo rafts. I'm extreme.

I commented that it seemed kind of Disneyland-esque when lo and behold! After the first waterfall, we were brought to a little tent where we could see the picture they took of us going down the waterfall! Mary and I didn't want to stop so we motioned for our raft guy to get us going. Here's where more trouble started.

Our raft guy got a beer and some peanuts and, pointing to his stomach, grunted something to us and sat down. We were a little annoyed because we were told that we were supposed to tip the guy so he wouldn't stop at all the sales tents along the river and because the rest of our group had already left. Finally, he gets the raft going for a second and yells at me. When I turn around, he throws the pole at me that he uses to push the raft. Then he sits to drink his beer and eat his peanuts.

Mary and I started laughing and gave the pole a try but soon we got frustrated as our group got further and further away. Mary decided to give someone a call to let them know we'd be a little later than the rest of the group and tell them about what was going on. By this time, we had realized that our raft guy was totally drunk and we were wondering how the next waterfalls were going to go. Later on the ride, the raft guy threw his beer bottle in the water right next to Mary and splashed her, he told some kids to spray us with waterguns while our cameras were out, and he made us help him carry the bamboo raft across the walls to go over the next waterfalls. We also had to practically leap onto the raft as it went down the waterfall instead of sitting nicely on the chairs as the raft guy pushed it over like every other raft. He knew he was in trouble and when we met up (finally!) with another of our group who spoke Mandarin, he said that he would buy us dinner to make up for it. It made for an interesting raft ride and for some good stories, but I think I want a different raft guy next time.
That night, we saw a light show in Yangshuo. The stage was the river and it was amazing! In the picture to the left, all of the men are standing on bamboo rafts and holding fabric that went across the river. I wish I had a better camera for far away night pictures. A tripod would have helped.

While we were in Guilin and Yangshuo, we realized how expensive Beijing is! A nice dinner in Beijing has been costing us around 100-150RMB, which is about $15-22. Not bad for a nice dinner, we thought. Then we came here, where we stuffed ourselves and had some beers and spent about 30-60 RMB ($4-9)!

Also, I think we got stared at a bit more. I've had my picture taken by people in Beijing, from people who come up and ask me and from people who stand with their camera phones and snap one. But in Yangshuo, twice someone came up to me in the same day to ask for my picture. One mom wanted me to pose with her daughter and a group of girls around 20 also came over and asked to take a picture with me.

That's enough for now. I still need to post about the second half of the trip. We're only at Thursday night!


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Things I like about Beijing

I have been here for 45 days now. I think it is time to make a quick list of some things I like!

1) My ayi who does the grocery shopping, ironing, cleans the sheets, makes the bed, does the dishes, vacuums, cleans the whole apartment.
2) That I (my ayi) can buy 4-5 asian pears for the equivalent of about a dollar and they are so juicy and delicious. I hope they are in season all year long.
3) So many different restaurants with all types of food.
4) Every day is an adventure when you understand only a few words of Mandarin!
5) So much to explore!
6) Chopsticks

This week, we have staff development on Monday and Tuesday and the rest of the week off. I am heading off to Guilin, Yangshuo, and visiting the Reed Flute Cave among other places.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Some Inspiration

Today, my school participated in the Terry Fox Run. I had not heard of Terry Fox before coming here but I would like to share with you some of what I have learned. Terry Fox was born in Canada and was involved in several sports as a kid. When he was 18, he was diagnosed with bone cancer and was forced to have his right leg amputated six inches above the knee. This was in 1977. While in the hospital, he decided that he wanted to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He would call his run The Marathon of Hope.

After training for 18 months and running over 3,000 miles during this time, Terry started his run in St. John’s, Newfoundland on April 12, 1980. He began with little attention. He ran the equivalent of a marathon every day through Quebec and Ontario.

On September 1st, after 143 days and 3,339 miles, Terry was forced to stop running outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario because cancer had appeared in his lungs. Terry passed away on June 28, 1981 at age 22.

Each year, a Terry Fox Run is held across Canada and around the world. More than $400 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research in Terry's name.

My school participated in the Terry Fox Run today from the three-year-olds in EC3 all the way up to Grade 12. I'm not sure how much our school raised for the Terry Fox Foundation, but I do know that several of my kids donated money and all of them ran!


No milk for you!

You have probably heard or read by now about the melamine-tainted milk products here in China. You will be relieved to hear that I haven't had any kidney stones because I have been using soy milk. Even at my school, where it sometimes seems we are in our own little separate community, milk and all milk products have been taken away. The coffee drinkers are very sad. There really are empty shelves at markets and it is a common topic of conversation.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

First Great Wall Trip!

I finally visited the Great Wall this weekend! We left right after school to travel by bus to the Simatai section of the Wall. We arrived around 5:30pm and hiked up to see the sunset. Unfortunately it was not very clear so we couldn't see anything. Those of us who hadn't yet been to the Wall were too excited to notice anyway. We went to our hotel and had a huge delicious dinner (Naysan - I had someone take pictures! They will be up on flickr as soon as they share them with me!). By 8pm we were all pretty tired so we relaxed for a bit and went to bed.

We woke up the next morning at 4:45am to start our hike so that we could catch the sunrise while on the Wall. We started at the same place we were the night before but instead of going right when we got to the Wall, we went left. Most of us had thought you couldn't go left because there was a river and no way to get to the other side of the Wall. We found out that there was a chain bridge that we got to climb down to and walk across. This was a pretty long bridge and it wobbled as we all walked across.

We all made it safely across and began our hike. The weather was nice and cool but there was quite a bit of fog so we didn't have high hopes for seeing the sunrise. As we got higher and further along the Wall, we ended up getting above the fog and glanced over our shoulders for a beautiful sunrise.

The hike basically went very steeply down, more flat for a bit, and then very steeply up...over and over again. It was about 10 miles and hard work, but gorgeous views the entire time.

Some parts of the Wall were pretty rugged with no walls, some loose stones, and plenty on which to trip. These areas sometimes had very narrow steps or no steps. But at the very end of our trip we found a restored section of the Wall. Although it was much easier to walk on the restored section, the old sections that were not restored were far more interesting.

We passed through about 30 watchtowers during the hike from Simatai to Jingshanling. Originally, we were supposed to go the other direction, but I liked our hike and the fact that the sun was behind us instead of in our faces during the hike.

One of the best things about this hike was that we started so early that there were no other people on the wall until the very end of the hike. Not one! Our group of about a dozen people was it! They told us that the people selling stuff will also see you and stay with you the entire time to try to get you to buy something. We had none of these people either because we were so early.

After getting back to the city after lunch, we showered, rested, and got more massages. It was definitely earned! My muscles felt okay yesterday, but my calves are oh-so-sore today. Maybe another massage is in order.....

I will post the rest of my pictures and the ones from the other people on my flickr site this week. Unfortunately, when I had someone take my picture in the last week or so, they pushed some buttons and changed my camera settings to a lower quality picture. I wish I had noticed this before I took all these pictures of the Great Wall but I just noticed when I was uploading the pictures. Hopefully, I will get to go to the Great Wall under similar conditions another time to get some better quality pictures. At least these ones are good for blogging!


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Stuff on a Stick and Banned Films

On Monday I didn't have to go to work because of the Moon Festival so I went to explore a new area of the city. With another teacher, I went to Wangfujing Street where the famous Night Market is located. At the Night Market, you can buy all sorts of things on sticks. I'm sure there will be more postings of things on sticks, but here's my first. I saw different meats, including chicken hearts, different kinds of bugs, seahorses, and scorpions.

I noticed that I didn't see one single Chinese eating anything strange off sticks. They were only eating meat or candied fruits.

I have heard that there are buckets so that the laowais (foreigners) can take their pictures tasting odd things on sticks and then spit it out. I forgot to look for the buckets though.

It has been fun exploring different parts of the city and I am beginning to think about where I might move when I am allowed. For this year, I have to stay put. Our apartments are nice, but they are like a hotel and far from the downtown. It is about a $7-8 cab ride to the city, which isn't bad at all especially when you are sharing the cab with other people. The trouble is that some cab drivers don't want to take you home. Either it is too far out of their way and they won't be able to find another person until they get back to the city or they just don't know how to get there. We have all improved our direction-giving skills in Mandarin for this reason. At least, we can tell the cab driver to turn left and right.

In other news, I saw the first film of the Get to Know China film group at school. It was sad, but a good movie. The director, Li Yang, uses mostly non-professional actors and has to do some interesting things to get the government to allow his movies to be played in China (like saying the setting is 20 years ago so that the 'problem' is old and now things don't happen this way). In fact, the film I saw on Tuesday isn't allowed, but you can easily buy it around town in the DVD shops. The director has an earlier movie as well that has been recommended to me so I will have to see if I can find that one. Another blog just wrote a review on the film I saw, Blind Mountain. If you can find it, or his previous film Blind Shaft, check them out. I do warn you though, these are not happy movies.

Only two more days of work this week and then I am going here for an overnight hiking trip! (I'm thinking that there will probably be other people there though.)


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Paralympic Games

I got a few free tickets to go see Athletics at the Paralympic Games today. Athletics are held in the Bird's Nest, so I got to hang out on the Olympic Green and at the Bird's Nest again, this time in the morning. It was kind of a muggy day, but we had a great time. We saw some running and some discus throwing.

I liked the way the Bird's Nest reflected in the water nearby. I wish I had seen that at night, I bet it would have been a nice picture with the Bird's Nest all lit up. Good thing I live here. I have a pretty good chance of being there again at night and getting the picture I want.

Of course, we had to take the obligatory Beijing Olympics 2008 picture of us holding the torch. Unfortunately, you can't see the flame very well on this picture, but it was there!

Again, there were lots of kids playing in the fountains between the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube. This little girl was so cute.

After watching the Olympics in the morning, we headed out of the Green to find some lunch. This sign was in the bathroom. We had a great lunch with way too much food. When we tried to pay, one of our hundreds got returned to us. The waitress said it was a fake. The hundred note is the largest one in China and apparently there are a lot of fakes around. The three of us have been getting our money from the ATM at school and that is the only place that we could have received this note. It also had a little tear in it, so we tried to use it again thinking maybe that the waitress just didn't like the tear. But the taxi guy wouldn't take it and neither would the massage place. (That's right, we went for another massage after going shopping after lunch.) I am planning on talking to the Business Office at school and see what can be done with a fake hundred from the bank's ATM at school.

More pictures over at flickr.