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.


Hou Hai for the Mid-Autumn Festival

My school organized a trip to an area of Beijing called Hou Hai to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. We left from the school and arrived in Hou Hai in the early evening. We walked around the lake to find a restaurant for dinner. My group went to a Vietnamese place that a couple of us had been to before and loved. It was the same restaurant where I had my picture taken in the rickshaw chair in one of the last blogs I posted. Again, the food was delicious.

After dinner, we met up with the rest of the group from school and got ready for our boat ride on the lake in Hou Hai. I really like walking around Hou Hai. There are lots of little shops, restaurants, and bars. There are older people playing instruments and singing. Some also are ballroom dancing on the sidewalks. This time there was a large group of people of all ages playing hackysack with little feathered hackies.

The weather was fantastic and soon it was time for our boat ride. Our group took up 4 or 5 boats and on each boat was a musician playing a different instrument. Our boats stayed pretty close to each other the whole time so we could hear all the different instruments during the ride. We also tasted moon cakes on the boats. Again, none tasted very good to me or anyone else on my boat. We ended up giving all our uneaten moon cakes to the musician and rower of our boat.

There are more pictures of Hou Hai and lots more of everything I'm doing in China on my flickr site. There is a link on the right hand side of this site.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Giant Stationery Store!

A kindergarten teacher organized a trip to go stationery shopping last weekend. Stationery here means office supplies. So, we all got up early on a Saturday morning to see what the big deal was. We went first to the old Stationery Market. Inside a building were literally dozens of little shops with different kinds of office supplies. You could bargain for how much you wanted to pay and they had everything. We didn't spend much time in the old market because a quick walk down the street was the NEW old stationery market....did you get that? The market used to be down a building but then they built a new huge building and the market moved in. This building was five or so stories filled with now hundreds (I'm guessing but I bet it was that many) of little shops. And by little, I mean if you had ten people in the shop, you could barely move. All the teachers were going wild grabbing all the things they wanted from glitter pens to plastic zipper bags for sending home books with the kids. (Brandy - you would have loved checking out all the stuff!) In the first picture, we are all about to go into the Stationery Mart.

Tony, Manatsu, and I had our fill of the stationery pretty quickly with only Tony buying anything. He said he got swept up with the fervor of the other teachers. We left and walked down the street to a Chinese mall. Again, it was huge. Six stories in three huge connected buildings. We headed to the food court first to get some lunch. When I say food court, it was like no mall food court I've seen before. I should have taken a picture. There were several food places selling different stuff. We made one lap seeing what all there was and then tried waiting our turn for ordering. We found out quickly, after being pushed aside once or twice, that you can't wait for your turn or it will never come. You just push up to the counter and start pointing at the food and making eye contact with the workers. At least that is how I did it. I managed to buy some rice and broccoli. Tony and Manatsu also got some food and even though we shared with each other, we still had lots left.... all for about $2, total for all three of us!

We split up to do our shopping next. I tried my bargaining skills and I think I did alright. After shopping a bit, we met back up and headed over to Sanlitun area again for pedicures and foot massages. We headed home after that.

Later, we went out for dinner and checked out the Sanlitun bar scene.


Mid-Autumn Festival Means Moon Cakes!

Monday is the Mid-Autumn Festival and that means that moon cakes are everywhere. People give them as gifts and they also buy them to eat for themselves. My apartment building brought over a box of moon cakes earlier this week. They came in a beautiful bag. Inside the bag was a box decorated the same as the bag. Inside the larger box, there were four little boxes that looked just like the big box. And inside each little box was a moon cake! When the apartment people first delivered the box, I wasn't completely sure what was going to be inside. I don't think I have ever seen a moon cake before and I definitely haven't ever tasted one. I thought the box was lovely, so I was excited to see what the moon cakes looked like.

I was so excited about the moon cakes that I decided to cut each of them open to see if they were the same or all different. I was guessing that they'd be a little different since the outsides looked different. The first one I cut open was the one with the egg yolk in the middle. I crossed my fingers that there wouldn't be any more of those. It ended up that one was the egg yolk, one was a sweet bean, one was perhaps a date paste, and the last was a white bean paste. None of them smelled very good at all. But, since I am in China and being adventurous, I decided to taste each one. The verdict: I didn't really like any of them. The sweet bean and the date paste ones were more palatable than the other two, but I ended up throwing them all away after taking the smallest of tastes.

Yesterday was Teachers' Day in China and one teacher received a Chanel scarf! I didn't get anything on Teachers' Day, but today I guessed it! More moon cakes! I graciously accepted them and thanked the mom who gave them to me. Again, they came in a lovely bag and this time in a pretty tin. Inside the tin were four smaller boxes this time. I opened one and it somehow looked tastier and it definitely smelled better than the first set of moon cakes. I decided to bravely take a bite without even cutting it in half first. This time, it was really good! It was a sweeter one with some kind of seed mixed in with maybe date again. I didn't cut all these ones open because they all look the same, so hopefully they are all like the first one!

Tomorrow I am going on a China Link excursion to Hou Hai to learn more about the Mid-Autumn Festival and go on a boat ride. We also get Monday off to celebrate this holiday!

Here are a couple more pictures from a dinner and walking around in the Sanlitun area in the evening.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ayis, Vacuums, Reflexology

I've hired an ayi! An ayi is a person who can do all your housework, shopping, etc. for you. My ayi started working for me on Monday and has done some fruit and veggie shopping at local markets, cleaned up a bit, ironed clothes, chopped vegetables and hard-boiled eggs. Some people have their ayi cook and do laundry, but right now she only comes for 6 hours a week and with the shopping I'm not sure she will have time to cook and I want to do my own laundry (it's the ironing I don't like). We'll see later. It is interesting. I've actually never seen her. One ayi came when we interviewed her with an English speaking ayi from someone else. That ayi's name is Xiao Li. She worked for one day and then her mother got sick so she had to go back to her village and was replaced with another ayi, also named Xiao Li. Since she comes while I'm at school, I've never met her. She left me a lovely note on Friday but since I have yet to take it to someone who reads Mandarin and I haven't learned much, I have no idea what it says!

Last weekend, a few of us went back over to IKEA and the electronics shop to do a bit more shopping. We were quite rushed the last time. I needed to buy a vacuum so that my ayi could clean my carpets and so did Mary, another teacher. We looked at the vacuums for a little while with about 6 or 7 employees trying to help us but none spoke any English. They just followed us around and showed us things. Finally, the guy who spoke English who had helped us all the previous week when all the new hires were shopping was brought over. I recognized him immediately and said, "We know you!" He helped us a great deal. When I get ready to buy my air purifier and humidifier I will definitely go see him.

After shopping one day, three of us went over to a massage place. Two girls got whole body Chinese massages and I got a reflexology foot massage. It was so good. I'm still waiting for someone to tell me they are coming to visit. When you come, I'll take you!

School has begun and I have 17 new little kids to teach. I will tell more about that plus Moon cakes and Stationery shopping in posts to come!

(Ah! I just found a nice person to translate the message from my ayi on Skype! The note says: "I didn't buy the zucchini this time. How about the next time?" Mystery solved!)