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Day 300: Welcome Home!

Hey everyone!

We’re back in the States and I’ve found my kitty, an iced coffee, and the world of American sandwiches. All is well with the world.

It’s been interesting adjusting to life in the States. We experienced a lot of our culture shock in Hong Kong, but there have been some things unique to the US that have been particularly striking.

  • The first thing I noticed when we stepped out of the airport door was the smell of pine! I’ve lived in North Carolina for a few years now but I’ve never noticed how overwhelming the smell of pine is in the air. Compared to the plasticky smog we’ve been inhaling all year in Baoding, it was a refreshing change, to say the least.
  • On the drive home, we were in the car (on the highway) for about ten minutes before we realized we didn’t have our seatbelts on! I was surprised by this since I’d complained about the disuse of seatbelts in China so much when I first got there, but I guess I got used to it in the end and habit didn’t kick in once I was back home (note: that was the only time we’ve forgotten since being back).
  • Maybe it’s because there’s no mold on the walls and all the holes in the plaster have been patched and we’re a little obsessive about cleaning, but everything here seems so luxurious – McDonalds, the bathroom, even the floor (I am thrilled to have carpet in my house once again). It must be mind-blowing for first-time visitors when they arrive in the US and see how luxurious and fancy everything looks (I guess the conspicuous consumption thing is working…)
  • People seem SO friendly! When Duncan and I were in the airport, we were just beaming (we probably looked ridiculous) because everyone seemed so happy and friendly. I had a nice chat with the customs police about my minion Baby Johnson and when we went to order Zaxby’s (our first American meal) the people behind the counter smiled, welcomed us, and said you’re welcome. It really is the little things that count. (And after having put up with rude people for a year, I’m making an extra effort to be friendly and polite to everyone I meet.)
  • 4G seems really unnecessary. After getting used to not having Internet access on my phone 24/7, returning here and having it feels really excessive to me. Do I really need to be able to access Facebook when I’m in my car or at the grocery store? Surely, I can wait to look at Instagram until when I’m at home. I’m trying to keep this perspective in mind so that I don’t take it for granted and so that I can be more in the present (and it’ll save money).
  • We’re wary of other drivers. Since it was pretty common for people to run red lights in Baoding and break all other traffic laws on a whim, I’m wary of other drivers on the road doing the same thing here. It became even scarier when I realized how much faster everyone moves around. Whereas Chinese drivers almost expect people to be in the road and therefore (most of the time) drive slower, here we definitely don’t expect people to be in the road and we drive a lot faster. It’s interesting to see how my driving style has evolved over time (especially compared to 16-year old me).
  • Everyone speaking English was really weird at first – I constantly felt like I was eavesdropping. Even though we were surrounded by more people more frequently in China (and they definitely didn’t care about you hearing their conversations), since Mandarin isn’t my first language, I tuned other people out most of the time. Now though, hearing what other people are talking about requires pretty much no conscious brain activity and I feel like I’m being rude by understanding what those around me are talking about. (Sorry to the lady on the plane behind me, I wasn’t trying to hear about all your kids and their life choices.)
  • Americans have an arrogant air about them. I can understand what some people from other countries think about us – God, guns, and glory!
  • Hanging out with American kids took a bit of adjustment. As I started talking to a group of 2nd and 3rd grade kids I ran into at a summer camp, it was surprising to realize that they understood everything I said. I’ve been so used to adjusting my speech and working hard to communicate effectively, that it was startling to remember that I was interacting with kids that are fluent in English and American culture and therefore I can communicate with them at a much higher level than I’m used to. It was weird but really fun at the same time. I left the situation thinking, “Wow! Those kids are so smart!” until I realized they’re probably average kids and it was my expectations that determined my evaluation (hmm… life lesson in there somewhere…)

Little things that are so commonplace that I’ve never thought about there before are astounding to me and I’m having so much fun just interacting with the world. One of my favorite things is people not touching me all the time and the fact that I can put my arms out and spin and not come close to hitting anything or anyone. I’ve been really fascinated by the amount of space there is here, especially looking at peoples’ front and back yards. It’s funny (for me now) to remember that some Americans complain of being overcrowded because their house is eight feet from their neighbor’s house – that would be an enormous luxury where I’ve been living for the past year.
But I do miss it (already) and I know I’m going to miss the little things from China even more as time goes on. I miss being outside (despite the smog) and I miss walking everywhere. People really are less communal here (at least in the use of the tremendous amounts of space we have) and I have yet to see a park (which makes me sad). I’m definitely goes to miss all the exploring we were able to do in China, but I’ve made a goal to explore all of my city to compensate for that travel bug itch.
It’s interesting to note that I’ve done more cleaning and been on technology less since I’ve been back in the States than when I was in China. Cooking in my own kitchen and being in my own house have been absolutely amazing experiences. Seeing friends has been more fulfilling than it ever was before and I definitely have a newfound appreciation for being an American citizen.

I spent a year off the grid and on the map and I absolutely would (and hope to) do it again!

Thank you so much for following along on my adventure (300 days!) and I hope you’ll join me on the next one (whenever that turns out to be)!

Best wishes,

Alyssa

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Posted by on June 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Day 291: Farewell, China!

Well, it’s here – our last day in China. How did this happen? Simultaneously, it feels like we’ve been here for a lifetime and that we arrived just a couple of days ago. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that by tomorrow evening, we’ll be back in the States, among friends and family and will stay there for the foreseeable future. But before we say our final farewells to China, we’ve done a little more exploring the past couple of days.

Yesterday was the smoggiest day of the year so far in Hong Kong (with a whopping AQI in the 100s compared to Baoding’s 400s…) so, naturally, we went to the mountains to go sightseeing (not the best planning on our part). We woke up early, headed to the subway, and (after bypassing Disneyland) we ended up on Lantau Island, in a cable car, and headed towards the giant Buddha.

From the cable car:
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Below, is the Dragon’s Back Hike:
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Climbing the steps:
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High five!
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View of Lantau Island on the way back:
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It was a very hot day and the smog disrupted some of the beauty, but we had a good time walking around and seeing the giant Buddha and looking out over the mountains.

Today we tried to make the most of our China time by wandering through the city for a couple of hours, eating in the #2 best restaurant in Hong Kong (with the friendliest staff in the world, in our opinion), and visiting the Ladies’ Market (in the neighborhood with the highest population density in the world).

Cool building we passed by in our wanderings:
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Dumplings:
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Ladies’ Market:
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We’ll be checking out early in the morning and taking the subway to the airport, so I’ll make a post after we arrive and make note of all the culture shock we’re going through. It’s sure to be a whole other adventure just getting used to life in the States.

This year has been the most life-changing year of my life and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I’m so glad and so grateful that we took the chance and decided to spend a year living and teaching in China. We’ve seen so many amazing places, eaten so much good food, and learned so much (about the world and ourselves) that it’s impossible to wrap up the entire year in a few words. I’m so proud of the experiences we’ve had and the people we have become.

Thank you very much for following along and supporting and joining in on our adventure with us!

Best wishes,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2014 in Travel

 

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Day 289: Victoria Peak and International Style

Hello!

We had two really great days yesterday and today. Both were laid back and filled with our basking in the culture transition and this amazing city.
Yesterday afternoon we decided to go to Victoria’s Peak instead of the escalators and I’m so glad that we did.

From the top of the peak:
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It’s almost like there’s a whole other city on top of the peak!
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For dinner we stopped by Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and I fan-girled Lieutenant Dan:
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From the top of the Sky Terrace:
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Today, we went to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens and spent a couple of hours wandering around, enjoying being outside, and watching all the monkeys and birds.

I found Zaboomafoo!
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And signs of “civilized” life:
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After wandering around there, we headed to the mid-levels (the giant escalator system) and grabbed a good Mexican dinner before heading over to a Caribbean bar where we people-watched for a couple of hours.

Look at all the different cuisine types on this one road:
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One of the things that makes Hong Kong so fascinating is how international it is. Everywhere we go, we see people from all over the world, hear so many different languages, and you can find about any cuisine type you could ever want. It’s so much fun and so interesting (not to mention delicious)!

Tomorrow we are making a day trip out of going to see the giant Buddha on Lantau Island and in the evening we might go check out a ferry or a night market.

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2014 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Day 288: A Whole New (Hong Kong) World

Alright, the bug has bitten me too – I’m quickly falling in love with Hong Kong. Everywhere you go there is something to do or see or hear. It really is amazing here.

Wednesday we woke up, grabbed some food (I found a muffin!) and coffee and set out on our day’s wanderings. Most of the day was just spent wandering around on Hong Kong Island taking in the sites and sounds.

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A wet market we stumbled into while wandering:
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In the evening, we went to Times Square (a giant, really expensive shopping mall) and saw Maleficent (very good). Outside of the mall was a Tiananmen Square tribute that served to remind us just how much we’re not in Mainland China anymore.

This is the Apple store across the street from Times Square:
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Though our day was great, I had a sad realization – my Chinese speaking days are over. No more feeling accomplished because I ordered my food in Chinese and no more surprising my students when I respond to their questions. Now, I’m back in the world where I don’t feel accomplished for just saying everyday phrases and courtesies. When I go to the grocery store and can pay for my food without any linguistic barriers, no one is going to pat me on the back and say “great job! You really understood what that cashier was saying to you!” But hey, it was a ton of (often times embarrassing) fun and I’m proud of what I did accomplish throughout the year and at least I went out with a linguistic bang when I had a conversation with our bread people letting them know when we were leaving, that we wouldn’t be back, and we’ll miss them.

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I also realized no more special friend prices and no more rides around town on kuai long. I’ve been out of Mainland China for three days now and I’m already missing all of it. But on the up side, we’re enjoying no one staring at us or calling out “laowai”, the shower has water pressure, it took only five minutes to completely update my phone and laptop (compared to the 24+ hours it took in Baoding), and we’ve rediscovered beauty in the world again (compared to smoggy Baoding). We spent an hour yesterday just staring at the clouds rolling over the harbor and we keep stopping to stare at the sky and marvel at how big and blue it is. I’m excited to do more of that when we get to our home in the States.

Thursday, we woke up and (after a pancake breakfast!) went on a jaunt through the city to Victoria Park and along Causeway Bay. Though it was in the 90s and quite humid, we had a really wonderful time strolling around and taking in the scenery. When we were a block from our hostel, on our way back, without any warning the sky just opened up and started pouring. I’ve never seen a rainstorm start and stop so suddenly. We also went to Ikea (my first time) and had a really fun time wandering around and looking at all the Hong Kong living space sized room set-ups. The Ikea set-ups kind of made me want to live in Hong Kong just so I could decorate my tiny space like that.

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Since Hong Kong boasts over 11,000 restaurants, we decided just to take a stroll and see what popped out at us to try for lunch. Without realizing it until we’d sat down and ordered, we picked a Northern China restaurant a couple of blocks from our hostel. Though it was just a little hole in the wall restaurant, it tasted like home (our Northern China home) and was exquisite. It was so good and satisfying we might have to go there again despite the plethora of culinary options.

In the evening we made our way over to Kowloon Island to explore the Avenue of Stars and see the Hong Kong skyline (supposedly the best in the world tied with the NYC skyline). It certainly didn’t let us down.

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As we continued to wander around on Kowloon, we stumbled upon a German restaurant we just couldn’t pass up. It was the perfect way to end a really good day – sitting waterfront, looking at the Hong Kong skyline, while we drank German beer and had a true German feast. It’s tempting to go back there again too.

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Today we had a late start so we are going to save our big touring sites for the evening when we go to Victoria Peak and then go neon sign watching on the largest escalator system in the world!

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2014 in Travel

 

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Day 286: Welcome to Hong Kong

Hello!

After a really long day yesterday, we’ve arrived in Hong Kong and have found ourselves in a completely different world. Since we finished packing Monday night, when we woke up yesterday morning, all we had to do was have our final coffee in Baoding, fold the sheets, and drag our luggage down the four flights of stairs one last time. The school sent a car to pick us up and take us to the train station and with that, along with the company of Li Laoshi, we were on our way. We had no problems getting our tickets or into the train station (other than they stopped us to look at the pocket knife Duncan had in the bag we intend to check at the airport – but they didn’t take it) and soon enough we were in our first class (super comfy) seats on a fast train down the East coast of the country, one final time. We were thrilled to discover that we got complimentary snacks and Cokes as soon as we boarded the train but other than that, the ten-hour ride was uneventful (but very comfortable and quiet). We passed the time by reading, talking, sleeping, and (most interestingly) observing the changing scenery the farther South we traveled. Once again, I was reminded of how gorgeous South China can be, especially compared to the North (and Baoding).

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Traveling the length of the country through the countryside was a fitting (and very enjoyable) way for us to say goodbye to Mainland China.

The problems started when we got off the train and began the long traverse to our hostel. We arrived in Shenzhen at 6:16 but didn’t make it to our hostel until 9:30. What with several money exchanges, multiple checkpoints through customs (twice we had to get out of line to fill out papers we didn’t know we were supposed to have when we got in the line), ten million escalators, metal bars at every entrance and exit spaced about two feet apart (making lugging our six bags of our life in China stuff quite frustrating), and four subway line transfers that resulted in one stubbed toe, one scraped knee, and (today) very sore shoulders, necks, arms, and backs we were pretty grumpy when we got to the hostel. Once we did find the hostel we climbed four flights of stairs to check-in only to discover that they don’t (even though they said they would) accept RMB and we had to use my credit card to check-in (and hope that it didn’t get declined since we’re in a new country). The card went through and we got checked in but then we had move all our luggage back down the four flights of stairs, across the street, and up five more flights of stairs to get into the tiniest room I’ve ever been in (that’s not a closet). Hong Kong is known for having ridiculously tiny housing for ridiculously high prices and considering how much we paid for our “room” at the hostel, I totally believe it. We may be at the second highest rated hostel in Hong Kong but on top of the tiny rooms it also can’t boast a restaurant or a bar – something we were looking forward to after our ten-hour ride on the train and difficult trek through the subway (called the Mass Transit Railway – MTR – in Hong Kong). By the time we’d settled into the hostel and were ready to head out, it was 10pm so the restaurants we’d eyed on the way in were closed. This ended up being just fine because we went to the 24-hour McDonald’s across the street and found “real” Western food – chicken nuggets, French fries, sweet and sour sauce, and an iced coffee have never tasted so good!

Fed, clean, settled, and caffeinated we were much happier and went on a mini-wander around our block to see what Hong Kong was all about and we’ve concluded that Hong Kong and Mainland China are truly different places. We feel like we are more in the west (I think it feels just like NYC) than any part of the world we’ve been in for the past ten months. And the things we are noticing (culture shock) are so fascinating and kind of hilarious to us. First off, Hong Kong is definitely an international city. In a five-minute walk down the block we heard Mandarin, Cantonese, English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Everything is written in English and in Chinese (traditional characters) and (a big deal for us) everything we’ve done (ordering food, exchanging money, going through customs) has been done in spoken English. We were so taken aback by the process of ordering our food in English that Duncan and I both (separately) misunderstood what the people behind the counter were saying to us because we were expecting Chinese instead of English (Duncan kept thinking the guy behind the counter was saying “what’s that” so he kept repeating his order and I responded with “Alyssa” when the lady asked me if I wanted whipped cream and I thought she asked me for my name on the order). Another thing that has really shocked us is the nudity in advertising – it seems like there are naked women everywhere! We’ve also been shocked by the Internet (fastest Internet in the world and no more firewall of China!), flushing toilet paper (instead of throwing it away), people wearing baseball hats, and “civilized” behaviour. People wait for lights to change, no one is hawking loogies, people say “sorry” and “excuse me” when they bump into you, they clean up after themselves in restaurants, there’s no honking (and people drive on the “wrong” side of the road), there’s no burning plastic, and people smell like perfume and cologne. The hardest thing we have to deal with right now is the fact that almost everyone speaks English so when we talk to each other, other people are likely to understand us. We’ve developed a bad habit of just talking to each other about anything and everything around us (since it’s pretty likely that people wouldn’t understand us in Baoding) and we’re making a conscious effort to end that here in Hong Kong.

Overall, I think it was a good idea for us to come to Hong Kong before arriving in the US because it will serve as a culture-shock transition period. I’m really enjoying taking note of all the similarities and differences between our life in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and the US.

We found clouds!
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The hustle and bustle of a 24-hour, international city:
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Hong Kong is more vertical and horizontal:
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View from our hostel room (I see the ocean!):
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The rest of today will be spent wandering around and getting our bearings and tomorrow we will begin exploring and touring. As a side note, today is the 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident, and international media has said that there are massive protests going on all over Hong Kong. We have not seen nor heard anything about protests since we’ve been here and the only thing we know about is a candlelight vigil scheduled for tonight. We are staying safe and all is well!

Thanks for following along and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2014 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Day 282: Bye-bye, Baoding!

Nimenhao!

We’re three days out from departing Baoding and making our final touring journey to Hong Kong. This week has been eventful and filled with last classes, exams, goodbyes, pictures, Children’s Day festivities, packing, and last suppers. We even ran into Samantha at QLH (a change of her plans meant that we get to see her one more time before leaving – yay)!

We’ve received multiple gifts of thanks from the primary and junior middle schools on campus as well as from boss man at QLH and some individual teacher friends. Earlier this week, the primary school took us out to a really delicious lunch and we had a great time hanging out with most of the primary school teachers and Li Laoshi. And last night, we had our “last supper” with Enkui and his family before we spent the evening together in a typical Chinese park soaking up the communal love and dancing fun that is a unique Chinese experience and one that we will sorely miss.

Instead of narrating a week of events, here are some of my favorite pictures from the week:

P6-3:
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Fifth grade notes (the top one drew what I drew on the board that day and the bottom note drew one of the games we played frequently):
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“Bey-bey”:
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Love notes from fifth grade:
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Selfie with fifth graders:
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P5-1:
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This is a camera with a picture of Alyssa Laoshi inside plus a note from the student underneath that – how creative!:
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Lots of girls from one class signed this:
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Special letter from a fifth grader:
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Chinese fortune tellers:
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P5-5:
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J1-3:
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J1-5:
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P6-2:
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P6-4:
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P6-6:
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Selfies with sixth grade boys:
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P6-1:
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P6-2:
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Video compilations I made of the Children’s Day performances Thursday and Friday –

Kindergarten: 

Primary: 

Art Classes: 

We will spend the rest of this weekend packing, cleaning, and saying goodbyes and then we’re off to Hong Kong. My next post will probably be when we’re no longer in mainland China, so join us in saying farewell to Baoding.

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2014 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 275: A Year of Art Collecting

Nimenhao!

We spent this afternoon cleaning and preparing to pack up our stuff (but not packing…yet!). And during this prep, we went through our collections of student artwork and presents that we’ve collected throughout our time teaching here.

Here are some of my favorites –

This kid drew a battle of him and Duncan fighting each other while defending China and America, respectively:
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Teeny tiny erasers and paper foldings:
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A bouquet of paper flowers:
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And a collection of dream catchers:
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A note from a student of mine:
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And all the food you’ll ever need to know:
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A note to Duncan from his student “Howard Hawk”:
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A monster sneezing with a tiny monster saying “bless you”:
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These students feel sad because they have too much homework:
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Origami:
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Our entire collection of artwork, presents, and miscellaneous “gifts” from our students:
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We love and will miss our students.

Thank you and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2014 in Baoding

 

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