Tag Archives: Chinese language

Day 238: Welcoming the Americans


We both had such a great day today! The new teachers from WKU (Haley and Caitlin) got here late last night and we’ve been helping them get settled and adjusted all day today. It’s been so much fun to be able to pass on all the things we’ve learned onto them.

I didn’t teach classes this morning so I got to sleep in and enjoy my coffee before heading down to a meeting with them and Li Laoshi to discuss their teaching arrangement. It’s been an interesting experience realizing how much we looked like them (all wide-eyed and slightly frantic) during our first days here and comparing that to how we are now. By comparing ourselves to them (representing our past selves) we are beginning to see some of the personal growth we’ve accomplished during this adventure. We seem much more laid back, accepting of going with the flow, and actually quite competent and capable (at least we seem that way). And while we’ve been interacting with other Americans more consistently than we’ve done since we were actually in the States, I’ve also discovered that my natural inclination to talk fast hasn’t disappeared out of disuse (I almost always speak slower English when talking to Chinese people so that they can have an easier time understanding me) and is just as expedient as it always was when speaking to native English speakers. What a relief!

Now that we’re with people that don’t speak Chinese, I realize just how much Chinese I do use on a daily basis and that, considering the relatively little time I’ve actually spent studying the language, I speak much more Chinese than I’ve been giving myself credit for. Even Li Laoshi commented on it today telling me that I have learned a lot of Chinese very well for the short amount of time I’ve been here and that all my pronunciation is correct (that’s quite an impressive statement, I think, considering tones and pronunciation are most of the difficulty with Mandarin).

My classes the past two days have been going really well also. Yesterday, my entire P5-1 class stopped class and applauded me when I wrote the Yuan character (元) on the board (they must think I’m simple-minded) and today my J1-6 class cheered when I walked into the room. When I asked them why (because I was really confused why one of my worst classes seemed so happy to see me), they told me they thought I wasn’t coming back to teach them and they missed me. That’s definitely one-way to make me feel all warm and fuzzy. To add to it, that class was the most engaged in my lesson they’ve been all year and I even got “beautiful” drawings of their friends from two of my boys in that class.


Another girl, from my J1-7 class, drew a picture of me that I think looks a lot like me. She even got my dimple!


After classes I was able to have several conversations in English and in Chinese with some of Duncan’s third and fourth graders and even some of my fifth grade girls surprised themselves when I asked them what they were doing and they responded with words they learned in my class this past week (like “drawing” and “painting”). It was a very rewarding teaching day, for sure. One of my favorite things about working here is and has been interacting with the students. Whether we’re being silly in the classroom by deliberately confusing he and she (as some of my seventh grade boys did today) or one of Duncan’s students is proudly telling me his name and age because he learned how to in class, interacting and relating with the students is definitely one of the best highlights to this job and this year.

Impromptu Gangnam Style dance party in one of Duncan’s classes:
IMG_2964 IMG_2965

While I was teaching my last class, Duncan and the WKU girls went with Li Laoshi to explore the arts classes available to students in the afternoon. Unbeknownst to us this entire year, it turns out the Baoding Bilingual School offer 49 art classes including drawing, dancing, singing, calligraphy, stone carving, stamp making, and musical instruments classes, plus more. They only saw the “traditional” Chinese arts classes today, but were thoroughly impressed by the quality and variety of arts education offered at this school. It was an eye-opening experience and Duncan came back telling me that this is probably one of the biggest reasons the Hebei Baoding Eastern Bilingual School is consistently rated the number one boarding school in Hebei Province. As different of an experience this has been to what teaching in the US would be like, I have learned so much about education, students, teaching, and myself throughout this process. And despite any complaints I’ve voiced along the way, I’m so grateful I’ve had this experience teaching abroad and I’m honored to have been a part of this school and these students’ lives.

Martial Arts/Wushu:

Stone Stamp Carving:

Traditional Chinese Calligraphy:

Music time:

Paper cutting:

Drawing of the school and paper cutting:

To top off the past two happy days, we found a new street food vendor making magically delicious sandwich things. These unique creations are made up of freshly baked bread with sausage in it, eggs, and fried hot dogs all made on an outdoor grill, of sorts. I definitely need to get a picture of the creation process but for now, here’s a picture of the final product:


We had the first heavy rain of the year last night and it made the air refreshingly clean and moist – a welcome change from the arid, dusty air we’ve been used to.
I’m done for the week and have a short week next week. We’re planning to join the girls on a traveling expedition sometime in the near future. We have a few days off for May Day in a couple of weeks so we’ll probably be venturing out again then. Since we’re going to help them meet their travel goals, we’re may not be visiting Shanghai again and may, instead, be visiting Xi’an again. We’re happy to visit pretty much any place we’ve been so far and having accomplished all our traveling goals, we’re more than happy to add our knowledge to their experience.

It’s been a lot of fun talking to people other than just Duncan (no matter how much I enjoy talking with him, I’ve had only him to talk to extensively for the past eight months and some new faces and voices is a welcome change). We’re really happy that the other teachers are here and we’re looking forward to their month with us. It should be quite an educational experience for all of us and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited!

Thank you very much for reading and until next time,


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Posted by on April 17, 2014 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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Day 236: The Countdown Begins


We’re officially in the final stretch of the year! With 55 days left until we’re back in the States and less than 50 days until our contract is over, we can see the finish line growing ever closer. And to celebrate, we got a real rainstorm today (if you call 2 minutes of rain a true rainstorm). It was very exciting and made us realize just how dirty everything was. We’re so accustomed to seeing everything – bikes, cars, people – covered in dust and grime that after the rain we were astounded by how shiny everything appeared. I guess that’s one of the many things we’ll be getting re-accustomed to once we’re back in the US. And, to also signify the beginning of the end, the two new teachers from Kentucky will be here tomorrow! We’re super excited to meet them and share this experience with them for a month. My students are also looking forward to having and getting to know other meiguo laoshi (American teachers).

We’ve been solidly in the routine since my last post that, though we’ve been happy, has left me with little to write about. My lesson this week has been about the United States (in preparation for the new teachers) and has led to some very interesting situations in the classroom ranging from my students being very impressed by my ability to write the RMB/yuan character () on the board to a student’s exclamation that President Obama is black to my acting out cowboys to give them a stereotypical understanding of Texas. Clearly, it’s been a multi-cultural week in my classrooms. But while my students have started asking me why I don’t study harder to learn Chinese because tones are “so easy, teacher!”, I impressed Li Laoshi and Duncan with my Chinese language ability the other day when we were all just hanging out talking. That was an exciting and motivational experience, for sure.

This week, we also got a “special friend price” (discount) from a noodle shop we frequent and our bread people gave us an extra-special twisty bread thing for free. Additionally, QLH got some new drinks (that may or may not be the same drinks they had over summer last year – we don’t remember) that are delicious and magical.

Special bread:

Also this week, Kuai Long (the motorbike) got its seventh flat tire in a month and we finally were able to replace it with a new tire (rather than continuing to patch it). Though the rim was a little bent, hopefully that’s all been fixed and we won’t be walking our bike around town any more.

I also got an important lesson from some students in my “international” class about Chinese education. According to them, Chinese education is essentially composed of five things/focuses (this is how it was presented to me):

1) Moral education
2) Intelligence
3) Physicality
4) Moral education
5) Physical labor

I’m not sure what the difference is between moral education #1 and moral education #4 but they did explain to me that moral education in schools is important because most parents don’t like religion and expect the school to teach their children this subject (I’m not sure what they teach though). Intelligence is measured by scores on standardized testing to get into middle school, high school, college, and beyond (these students did recognize that few Chinese students have well-developed imaginations because of this intense focus on testing and competition but brushed it off by pointing out to me that students that show potential in the arts go to an arts school and likewise with sports). Physicality, though not defined to me, I assume means physical education much like is in the US with PE classes and extracurricular sports. Physical labor is literally chore-work. It is the students that clean the classrooms, sweep the walkways, scrub the bathroom floors, garden, weed, plant trees, etc. The children at school make up the majority of the maintenance crew and janitorial staff. When I explained that students do not do that kind of “physical labor” in the US, my students were genuinely astonished. “Who keeps everything clean, then, if the students don’t do it?!” they asked me. I was surprised to hear that this kind of “physical labor” is considered an important part of the Chinese education system (I assumed it was a way to save some money on the school’s part). But my students seemed equally confused when I tried to explain critical thinking to them (even with the aid of a Chinese-English dictionary).
Whereas some idioms, interestingly enough, are exactly the same in Chinese and in English (for example, “bite the dust” and “tip of the iceberg”), there are also some definite differences in linguistic and cultural expressions that are as frequently unexpected as they are assumed. This is just another example of how interesting comparing and contrasting American and Chinese cultures has been for me during this year. I just love thinking about and noting how people from all over the world can relate in some ways and learn from each other in other ways.

We may be making a trip to Beijing again within the next month (partially to take the new teachers but also partially because we’ve literally been to all the places on our list that are convenient for us to get to without a car or a Chinese guide). Datong is eight hours on a regular train one way (which just doesn’t seem worth it to me), Zhangjiajie is truly out of the way to anyone without car, and Huangshan is a day-long journey one way on a train with the need for several hours of bus riding after that. We’ve seen all the big places on our list though, so I’m not feeling like we’re missing out on anything from our decisions. It just means we will do less traveling this semester to new places. Turns out there’s a five-hour bullet train ride from here to Shanghai so we may have to head back to that mega-city to round out our year in China (since that’s where the whole adventure began).

Thank you for reading and until next time,


Introducing the new “Honda Fit” – Chinese edition:

The back of a cardboard recycling truck in Baoding:

My initials permanently engraved in a cement sidewalk in Baoding, China:

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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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Day 229: Is She Beautiful?


We’re back from a wonderful weekend in Beijing and another day of teaching has already passed. Friday afternoon after Duncan’s classes ended, we set out on a bullet train and were in Beijing by 2 pm. We decided to stay in a different hostel this weekend (partly for adventure and partly out of booking necessity) and so we wandered our way through the chaos of the Beijing subway system and found ourselves amidst the mazing hutong alleyways of Ancient China. It turns out our hostel (Kelly’s Courtyard) is hidden away down own of these narrow streets and (without even a sign to let you know you’re ringing the correct doorbell to the door you’re warily standing in front of) is a traditional Chinese house converted into a small but comfortable hostel. The hostel advertises itself as a “family” but how it should be advertising is as a home away from home. They let you take what you want from a snacks counter and a refrigerator stocked with drinks of all sorts (so long as you go by the honor system and write it down); the internet is fast and consistent; the rooms and the accompanying private bathrooms are the cleanest places we’ve seen in China (we truly felt clean for the first time in months); and the rooftop terrace is an excellent place for reading (Game of Thrones, at the moment) while sun bathing (though I’m sure my paleness did more reflecting than absorbing).
My favorite thing about the hostel though was the silence. As soon as you enter the hutongs the sounds of various motors and their horns quickly dies away and as you delve deeper and deeper into the alleyways, you begin to be able to hear your own thoughts again along with each step taking you deeper into the maze. Once we were in the hostel, however, we actually felt compelled to whisper so as not to disturb other people or, more likely, be overheard (such a conundrum is a rare find, indeed, in a country exploding with people and lacking in privacy). But the quiet was magnificent and desperately needed.

We spent the majority of our weekend either basking in the sun on the hostel’s roof terrace or traversing the city either on the subway or through our wanderings. We also sated our appetite for Western food by enjoying burgers, Papa John’s Pizza, and even some German food in the embassy district (a truly amazing part of the city and one that I would gladly revisit). We even hate some nicer Chinese cuisine than we usually do on the roof of a restaurant near Nanluoguxiang. All in all, the weekend was exceptionally relaxing and just what we needed for a weekend away.


Have you ever seen a better feast? Behold, Excalibur! (That’s really what it’s called:)

Today, I taught seventh grade and began my classes by letting them know about the schedule change their about to “endure”. Two seniors from Western Kentucky University are coming to the Baoding Bilingual school next week to spend a month getting teaching hours before they graduate while experiencing life abroad. From what we understand (because we’ve been told very little), these new teachers will be in our classes with us and will be our assistants/co-teachers for the next month. In almost every class I said, “next week there will be a new teacher from America”, the kids responded with “where are you going?!” After I explained to them that I will still be here and I don’t go home until June (their confessions that they’ll miss me warmed my heart for sure), it went about like this:

Student: Boy or girl?
Me: Girl
Student: Is she beautiful?
Me: I don’t know.
Student: Is she your friend?
Me: No.

Student: Where is she from again?
Me: America.
Student: Where are you from?
Me: Meiguo (America in Chinese)
Student: What’s her name?
Me: I don’t know.

[Here they scoffed a bit at how little information I have and they seemed perplexed that we don’t know each other since we’re both from the US. Some students wanted me to go into detail about where we’re both from within the US but in general the conversation continued like this…]

Student: TEACHER! I want a boy teacher!
Me: Why?
Student: We like boy teachers.
Me: You don’t like me?
Students: No!! We like you very much. You’re very beautiful. Boy teachers are fun!
Me: Am I not fun?
Students: NO! You are fun. We want boy teacher. Why does the other boy teacher here not teach us?
Me: He teaches the little children.
Students: Who is the other boy teacher here?
Me: That’s my boyfriend.
Students: GOOD JOB, TEACHER! GOOD JOB! (with winks and thumbs up)
Me: Why do you want a boy teacher?
Students: Boy teachers are handsome and good looking.

So there you have it. Male foreign teachers are handsome no matter what they look like and girl teachers are good if they are beautiful. Welcome to teaching in China.

Other than my lesson in students’ teacher preference based on physical appearances, I had a proud moment regarding my Chinese. I was helping one of my (historically rowdiest) classes with their English homework when one boy didn’t understand what “without” meant and why that was the answer to the question instead of “with”. I was able to explain in Chinese that “with” is “有/you” in Chinese and “without” is “没有/meiyou”. He understood immediately and I was able to demonstrate some useful Chinese under my belt. Happy day!

As for the rest of April, I’m calling it no work April. We didn’t work yesterday and Duncan doesn’t work next Tuesday. Next week the two foreign teachers come in and they’ll be in/half-teaching our classes so they can get their degree-required teaching hours and they’ll be here until mid-May. The week after the teachers get here I work one day out of the entire week and the last few days of April and the first few days of May might also be exams for the students/holidays for us. Combine all of this and it looks like I won’t be teaching full weeks of classes by myself again until the last two weeks of our contract in which we’ll have to administer tests and then we plan on spending the last class partying and hanging out with the students to wrap up the year. It’s a silly schedule but as I’m enjoying my students more and more with every class I’m beginning to be sad I’ll have to leave them. It’s hard to believe this year of adventure is quickly drawing to a close.

But it’s not over yet so thank you for reading and until next time,


A picture of Duncan from one of his students:

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Posted by on April 8, 2014 in Travel, Uncategorized


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Day 200: The Things (Chinese) Kids Say

Hello everyone and happy 200 days in China!

Everything is back up and running (again) after another computer breakdown (this time the screen was completely black with only a cursor no matter what we did) and another trip to Beijing. Monday morning the computer decided to call it quits and after frantically searching the Internet for home-cures, some anxiety over whether the hard drive had been erased or not, and an impatient weeklong wait to get to the nearest legit Apple store with a Genius Bar, Friday night we were once again in the “West” (aka the expat, SOHO, Sanlitun area of Beijing).

Sunday morning we made an appointment with the Genius Bar and within ten minutes, the computer was working properly, updated, and “Apple polished” all for free. All my data is where it should be and there was no damage. We did decide to buy another external hard drive (we have one at home in the States) so that we can back-up our files and pictures from our China adventure just in case something goes wrong in the next three months. So with the computer fixed and an entire afternoon to spare, we decided to go to Dog on Fire and get real hotdogs and to go see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug in 3D and in English. With hotdogs and movie theaters being two of Duncan’s favorite things and with the computer working again and another fabulous weekend in Beijing under our belt, it was (and has been) happy times indeed!

Last week was a normal week of teaching with nothing significant to report other than some entertaining situations in the classroom. The first week back to school I taught my kids a lesson inspired by our travels over the holiday. This included the phrase “terracotta warriors”. Though originally very difficult for all of them to say, last week I discovered that “terracotta warriors” is now their go-to phrase for any new vocabulary they don’t know or they don’t remember.
Me: What’s this? (pointing to bridge)
Them: Terracotta warriors!
Me: No.
Them: Terracotta!
Me: No.
Them: Warriors!
Me: No.

Then, after I tell them and move onto the next word…

Me: What’s this? (pointing to a pagoda)
Them: Potato!
Me: No.

And so the class continues.

Last week, I taught a lesson on the environment inspired by the recent smog crisis. One of the words I taught was “plant”, so this week…
Me: What is this? (pointing to a plant)
Them: Potato!
Me: No.
Them: Pagoda!
Me: No.

Last week, I also had a revelation about something my students have been saying all year long. For months now, I have had children come up to me in groups and take turns calling each other “dog”. “Teacher, he’s a dog!” “No, he’s the dog!” And then they look at me and laugh when I don’t get it. Sometimes I have even joined in and called the first name-caller a dog too. They laugh and run away and everything’s good. But last week, when I was doing some studying, I discovered that the word for “dog” can also be used derogatorily (much like female dog in English). Upon this discovery, everything became clear. My kids have been translating a cuss word of sorts into English literally unaware that the translation is not equivalent and then trying it out on me to see my reaction. But more importantly, it seems that I have been calling the students playing this game the cuss word they think they’re using in English. Great…

Two other comical situations happened in last week’s classes. For some reason in one class all of the students kept screaming out to me in the middle of class “yibaiyishiwu! (115)” I kept repeating it back to them, trying to figure out what was going on and then they all just laughed and repeated it again, only this time in the same confused tone I had used. Eventually, I just said “weishenme (why)?” to them, which they, of course, thought was hysterical and astounding because once again I tricked them into believing “teacher speaks Chinese!”
Then, in another class, one boy screamed out in the middle of class “he’s my son!” When I stopped and looked at him and said, “he’s your son?” that kid died laughing and put his head on his desk and then a kid behind him said in a very stately manner “I am their grandfather” and opened his arms wide. Then, the kid originally identified as “son” just looked at me somewhat exasperated and said “but I am younger than both of them!” and put his head in his hands and started laughing. The rest of class the three of them would start laughing hysterically all over again whenever I looked at them so I let it go. But I really want to know what in the world was going on or what they were trying to say that came out wrong.

Today, I got brave (or desperate) enough to try playing charades in my classrooms. When I was young, I hated the game. I didn’t want to be up in front of the classroom making a fool of myself and feeling like everyone was judging me and so I have been resistant to using it in my classrooms in China because of the high risk of embarrassment (that seems to be even higher among Chinese students). But since I needed a new game and health vocabulary from this week’s lesson provided pretty easy potential for acting out (and I would like to stimulate creative and original thinking in my classes as much as possible), I decided to give it a try.
I was absolutely blown away by the success. I didn’t even get through explaining the game before almost all of the students were literally jumping out of their seats to be the first one up. And the students only seemed to get embarrassed when they couldn’t immediately figure out how to act out certain things. (How do you act out a hospital? You make a cross with your fingers. How do you act out being a doctor? You stab Alyssa laoshi/teacher in the arm with a marker and pretend to scribble notes on a paper, of course.) So the game was successful for the students in the way I the very way I thought would be its downfall and was successful from my perspective as a teacher in that I had the entire classroom focused and participating, English was used, and some students were actively participating and interacting with me for the first time. Maybe it’s the structure of the game that allows for non-judgmental silliness that allowed the quiet kids to participate, but whatever it was, I am still thrilled by the success of today’s classes.

Our health and spirits are holding up and we are amazed that the end of this week will already mark a month into this semester. Last week we also bought our return tickets to the States and we will officially be leaving Hong Kong for the States on June 10th. With a little over two and a half months of teaching left, we plan on making at least three more mini-trips before the end of the semester. One of those trips (to Datong, Luoyang, or Huangshan) will probably happen this weekend and/or in two more weeks. But now that there shouldn’t be any more problems with the computer, posts will become more regular again on here and on Duncan’s photo blog once he gets all caught up.

Until then, thank you for reading,



Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Baoding, Travel, Uncategorized


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Day 179: The Last First Day of Teaching in Baoding

Nimen hao!

It was our first day back to teaching for the semester, and what a wonderful day it was!

The sky was clearer than it’s been all week, the sun was shining, and we realized this morning when we woke up before seven for the first time in two months, that the sun is no longer still down when morning classes begin (at the end of last semester, sunrise was always during first period).

Over the weekend, I was a little bit nervous about teaching again. It had been two months since I stepped foot in one of the classrooms or interacted with my students, but the nerves went away as soon as I stepped into the classroom and was greeted by the shocked and smiling faces of my sixth grade students. I guess we were all surprised by just how happy we were to see one another! In one of my classes I got into a conversation with one of my best students (he’s actually the student that informed me a while back that the “girls wear dresses” and he has phenomenal English; if I could I would hang out with him all day because he’s such a great kid) about different kinds of books we like to read. When he didn’t know the English equivalent to a word, I let him look in the Chinese-English Dictionary on my phone and the rest of the conversation he kept saying he loves reading “New-Age” books (he meant fantasy fiction).

Classes went great; the students were enthusiastic to participate; and, to top it all off, it seems like the students gained confidence and English ability over the break. They were all really wowing me whenever they said something in class (Duncan said the same thing about his kids). I also have two new assistant teachers that I’m really excited about because they are personable, good with the kids, and seem to have an acceptable grasp on the English language (since they are English teachers, after all).

The only mishap today happened when I unintentionally embarrassed one of my best students. This kid (his English name is Kevin) has some of the best English at the school (yes, I’m considering all of my students 5-8 grade and the teachers) and has brightened my day every time I’ve seen him with his huge grin, big hellos, and desire to tell me all about everything as well as he can. Today, before class, he was talking to me and was actually slipping in and out of English and Chinese just so he could finish his story. I loved it. But then during class, he got frustrated that I was calling on other students (giving those with less English ability more chances to practice speaking) and he loudly put his head down on the table, clearly very upset. The next round I called on him even though his head was down and it turned out that he was kind of tearing up and me calling on him embarrassed him and made the whole situation worse. I felt really bad because I didn’t mean to upset one of my most eager students but after a couple more rounds he tentatively put his head up and I called on him and once he answered correctly he was back to normal. I typically try very hard to give all students equal opportunity and the same amount of talking but I also wanted to restore his confidence since he does do so well and being publicly embarrassed is one of the worst punishments for these kids (the importance of saving face in Chinese culture). By the end of class he was completely back to normal but I discretely went up to him afterwards and apologized for embarrassing him. At first he seemed confused, but once he understood what I was saying, he smiled real big and said “meishi meishi” (it’s nothing), which made me feel a lot better and just like that the embarrassment was over and the enthusiasm returned.

The day went by really fast as I’m sure the rest of the semester will. To top the whole day off, Li Laoshi told me my Chinese was coming along well. The studying I’ve been doing seems to be paying off!

But for now, we’re so happy to be back in the routine and to have the second half of our adventure underway.

Thank you for reading and until next time,


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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Baoding


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Day 159: No Food for Spring Festival

Nimen hao!

We’re back in Baoding after a relatively uneventful train ride from Baoding (we did try hard sleepers for the first time and they were great) and a quiet move back in to the school. Since the students are on their winter holiday and all the foreign students had to go back to their homes, we’re the only people on campus until mid-February (the guards were quite confused to see us). It’s nice knowing that we’ve found one of the only quiet places to be while still inside a Chinese city, but we are still begrudgingly putting up with the plastic smell, the layer of dust on everything, and the constant lack of weather. The smog hasn’t been too bad the past couple of days (we even saw blue sky yesterday) but we’ve encountered a new problem…

Spring Festival (essentially Chinese Christmas) begins tomorrow which means that the country is basically shut down for ten days straight while everyone leaves the cities and returns to their families (often in the countryside). This makes travel nearly impossible (the reason we had to stay in Beijing for extra nights until we could get a train ticket to Baoding), finding a place to stay more difficult than usual and (more concerning to us facing ten days in Baoding alone) turns finding food into a hunting/scavenger hunt adventure (most businesses are already closed – we have no idea what will be closed within the next ten days). If worst comes to worst, we may be living on peanut butter sandwiches for the next week and a half (I don’t think it will be that bad).

We were informed yesterday that classes start back up mid-February so if we can find a method of transportation, we may travel out of Baoding for one more mini-trip before teaching starts up again. After all our laundry is clean, we’ll see where we can go.

Yesterday, boss man at QLH bought us tea and attempted to communicate with us in broken English and very slow Chinese. There was lots of laughing, phone translating, and hand gestures but it reminded me of how much fun attempting to communicate can be – perfect motivation for my language-learning goal!


We discovered there is a place in Baoding where ice-skating may be possible (we haven’t tried it yet) and within the next couple of weeks I may venture to get my haircut. Today, our goal is to buy a portable DVD player (my laptop disk drive is broken and we don’t have a TV) to watch our new DVDs and to stave off the despairing boredom that is inevitable to quiet time in Baoding.

Tomorrow we have some dumpling parties planned (yes, more than one!) and I am super excited to finally begin learning how to make real Chinese food.

Until then, thank you for reading!



I unintentionally summed up the very coolest look according to stereotypical Chinese assumptions – blonde hair, pale, cute furry animal somewhere on me, (fairly) nicely dressed, and the Chinese symbol for “very cool” (the hand gesture).

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Posted by on January 28, 2014 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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Day 147: Light Shows in Chinese Caves

Nimen hao!

Well, today was our final day in Guilin. We slept in until 10 and after getting breakfast and coffee, we hung out in the hostel’s common room until about noon. Anxious to enjoy another beautiful day in Guilin and to check off our final local touring destination, we hopped on a bus and made our way over to the Reed Flute Caves.

The tour we went on through the caves was all in Chinese so I don’t know anything more about the caves than before we went, but we had a good time. The caves themselves are magnificently impressive mainly due to their sheer size. The rooms of the caves are huge and seemingly never-ending.
But I, personally, (Duncan disagrees with me) do not think it was worth 90 Yuan a person to go through. Rather than enhancing the natural beauty of the cave’s structures, the caves have been turned into something completely different. There are multi-colored neon lights on every surface, glow lights in the water, completely renovated concrete flooring throughout, laser light shows between stalactites and stalagmites, videos projected on the cave walls depicting a cartoon-ized version of cave creation history (including a very angry dinosaur and mammoths) and (we suspect, though have no tangible proof) even central heating. Compared to the Linville Caverns near Asheville, the Reed Flute Caves are more like well-lit underground rooms rather than actual caves.
The experience of the caves was distinctly Chinese in the “look how beautifully we’ve altered this natural creation”/no regard for environmental preservation/get as much money as they can out of it kind of way. Having said all of that, I am glad we went and despite the intrusive way of showing off the beauty, the caves are astonishing and wonderful.



In review, Guilin and the surrounding areas are absolutely astonishing in a multitude of ways and we are in love with this part of the world. I can totally understand, now, how Duncan originally fell in love with China when he was living in the Southern part of the country. It’s wonderful here and I would consider living here again in the future. I highly recommend a visit to Guilin, the rice terraces, and Yangshuo. They’re all amazing!

Some thoughts from our journeys here:
-Technology seems to know no bounds – even when we were on a bamboo raft floating down the Li River, locals had cell phone service.

-The mountains overlooking the Li River look like they would still house dinosaurs and I would not have been surprised had we seen pterodactyls fly out of one of the many caves like bats or a brontosaurus type creation peek his head out from amidst the foliage.

-I am continually astounded by the ignorance and disregard some people have for their surroundings. Throughout our several tours, I saw people (tourists) sleeping on the bamboo raft ride, closing the curtains on the bus to avoid the sun (and coincidentally closing out the astonishing natural beauty), and people taking selfies with a plastic chair behind them rather than admiring the view and magnificence of the place they paid quite a bit of time and money to be in.

-I have mastered my thank you (xie xie) so well that when a Chinese woman heard me say it (and only that) to her she exclaimed, “oh, you have such good Chinese!” If only she knew the truth…

-English is truly the universal language. We’ve now stayed in many hostels all over the country and in every single one, English is the language people use to communicate with one another regardless of your country of origin. The staff at the hostels even use English first (unless you are ethnically Chinese or make it clear you want to and are able to communicate in Mandarin). Regardless of whether you meet someone from France, Germany, South Africa, or the Phillipines, it is almost guaranteed you will all be able to communicate with each other pretty well through English. It is absolutely astounding to me! (And we have, once again, decided we wish we were European because, from our experience through hostel conversations, their linguistic abilities seem to have no limits.)

Tomorrow we are up early for our taxi to the airport and flight to Chengdu. I truly couldn’t be more excited for our trip to Chengdu to finally be here. I’ve been anxious to visit since Duncan first returned to the US from his time there over two years ago. We will be there for a little over a week and I’m sure the days will be as packed as they have been here. Stay tuned for pandas, mountains, hot pot, bars, and more adventures from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, and Southern China.

Thank you for reading!



Posted by on January 16, 2014 in Travel, Uncategorized


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