Tag Archives: Chinese

Day 282: Bye-bye, Baoding!


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:


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):


Love notes from fifth grade:

Selfie with fifth graders:


This is a camera with a picture of Alyssa Laoshi inside plus a note from the student underneath that – how creative!:

Lots of girls from one class signed this:

Special letter from a fifth grader:

Chinese fortune tellers:







Selfies with sixth grade boys:



Video compilations I made of the Children’s Day performances Thursday and Friday –



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,



Posted by on May 31, 2014 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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Day 257: Goodbye Beijing

Hey everyone,

We’re back from our May Day trip to Beijing and now in the final month of our contract.

Last Tuesday night we were able to have another (final) dinner with Johnson and Samantha and we had a really amazing time. We met up at QLH and took taxis to a Chinese tapas restaurant that was delicious and then we went to an “indie” coffee shop that smelled like Asheville but was decorated with Cultural Revolution era artifacts. It turned out that we went to the coffee shop on its one-year anniversary so on top of our orders of coffee, we all got a free glass of wine – definitely my kind of place!




Wednesday, we headed out and began our grand adventure to Beijing. The girls were thrilled to have the opportunity to explore a part of China outside of Baoding and were as impressed with the high-speed rail as I continue to be. Once in Beijing, they got to experience the subway as we made our way to the hostel, hutongs (alleys), and, as always, tremendous amounts of walking.
The hostel was almost directly behind the Lama Temple, a really gorgeous part of Beijing, and as the girls went off to explore the temple itself, Duncan and I wandered through the hutongs and streets in that district.

Yoda in our hostel:

Also while in Beijing, we visited the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square:


We went to an acrobatics show:



And on the way there, drove past Tiananmen:


We did a ton of shopping (along with all these people):


And when we almost got caught in a terrific thunderstorm, we got hand-carved stone stamps made by this guy:


We even went to the Olympic Village:


We had a really wonderful time in Beijing, and loved getting to share everything we’ve seen and done with our new friends.

Sunday, we said a final farewell to Beijing and left Beijingxi Railway Station, and made our final return to Baoding where we will be for the next 27 days.


Yesterday, we had another good day of classes and Haley, Caitlin, and I all got our own Baoding Bilingual School uniforms:


And I found these gems on the sixth grade floor hallway:


Today, the school asked Duncan and I to oblige them by doing a photo-shoot for them to advertise us to future middle school students. Apparently, some teachers saw me dancing in the parking lot a couple of months ago, and now they want pictures of that too.


Thank you for reading and until next time,



Posted by on May 6, 2014 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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Day 250: Teacher, I love you!

Nimenhao da jia! (Hey everyone!)

The happy days just keep on coming!

We taught through the weekend in preparation for May Day holiday and the classes were great. Saturday, we met up with Samantha and Johnson for the first time in two months and had a wonderful dinner out together while we caught up. Plus, the weather has been so gorgeous recently we haven’t had to wear masks the past couple of weeks. The sun is shining, the wind feels amazing, the birds are chirping delightfully, and the trees are releasing these giant white puff-balls that are coating the ground in a layer of white and filling the air with what we’ve come to call “Springtime Snow”.

Since Haley has been leading my classes recently, I’ve been sitting in the back observing and reflecting. When it’s all said and done, I really couldn’t be happier about this year in China, especially in regards to teaching. The winter was harsh and there have been many ups and downs, but what I take away from this experience, now that it’s almost over, is overwhelmingly positive and I’m grateful for all of it.

Today was the first time I sat in on my seventh grade classes and I have to say it was a blast to be a half-way participant in the class and to be amidst the students rather than up at the front teaching, for once. Students that typically aren’t very engaged with English were trying to communicate with me either by talking or by passing me notes with questions (which was so much fun for the students to have Alyssa Laoshi participating in note passing – but it was more beneficial for them than they realize since it was all in English) and some even got a rare dose of positive attention from their classmates when they answered Haley’s questions right (after I secretly whispered the correct answer to them – again, it was more beneficial than they realized because even though I was helping them, they were getting to experience what being the smart kid in the class is like and be encouraged further because of it, which, for these particular students, never happens even in their Chinese classes). I talked about earrings and piercings with a group of girls in one class and I spent another class discussing the fact that Haley is not my teacher from America even though she is a teacher at this school and that she is my friend, even though she has “scary eyes” (for some reason, many of my students think her eyes are scary – I think it’s because they’re not used to seeing eye make-up on their teachers and because her eyes are a deep blue). I even got into a debate with my students about whether or not my eyes are blue or grey (apparently, I don’t know what color my eyes are).
My last class before lunch though (a class in which I have a personal relationship with almost every student), was the really heartwarming one. After I spent the majority of the class sitting in the back so as not to be a distraction and to help with classroom management, I moved into an empty desk towards the front of the room and spent a while talking to the students around me. This group of kids, in particular, has always had some of the best English in the school, but today they impressed me even more than they usually do in our mini-conversations.

Students: Will you be our teacher again?
Me: Yes.
Students: Will you teach with the new teacher? (Meaning, both of us up at the board at the same time.)
Me: Maybe.
Students: We don’t love the new teacher as much as we love you.
Me: Why not?
A boy named Scot (leans real close to my face looking very serious): Teacher, I love you.
Me (laughing): Well, thank you. I love you all too.
Students: When do you go home?
Me: I got home to America in June.
Students: When will you return to China?
Me: I don’t know.

[This is when the panic began setting in…]

Students: Will you teach us in September?
Me: No.
Students: Will you teach us in October?
Me: No.
Students: Will you teach us next year?
Me: No. I’m going to America.
Students: WHY!? No, teacher!
Me: My family is in the US.
Students: Do you want to see your family?
Me: Yes, I do.
Students: How will you go to America? (This is a surprisingly common question and they do, indeed, mean transportation.)
Me: By airplane
Students: Do you like us?
Me: Yes, of course.
Students: Will you come back to China after you go to America?
Me: Some day.
Students: When?
Me: I don’t know.
Students: Will you come back to the Bilingual School to see us and teach us?
Me: Maybe.
Students: Teacher! I’ll miss you!
Me: I will miss you too!
Students: Will you remember us?
Me: Of course I will.
Students: Teacher I LOVE YOU! Teacher, I will be sad!

They seemed not to understand when I clarified for them that I will teach them again before I leave, because as I walked out of the room the kids kept saying “good bye, teacher!” and one girl gave me a card attempting to say, have a good trip:

Recent gifts from students:
A postcard that wishes me a happy flight (in broken English), anime me, and three post cards – one of which is meant to say “forever” friend not “never” friend. 😛

When I reflect on the past year of teaching, I can see just how much confidence I have gained in the classroom compared to the first few weeks of classes. I can see things that I should have done different as part of my classroom routine, and I feel like I’m beginning to grasp the best way to handle these students kindly but without letting them walk all over me. But I think my greatest accomplishment this year as a teacher has been the relationships I’ve developed with my students. I’m going to be very sad to leave them and say goodbye, especially when the reality is that I will probably never see nor hear from these kids again. But I was very excited to share with some students today that I want to keep in touch with them through QQ and email and that it will be possible even when I’m in the US.

Feeling so confident about teaching and proud of our time here, especially at the school, has even tempted part of me to want to stay here for another sixth months just to take advantage of the confidence and experience I’ve gained along with making practical use of the reflecting I’ve been able to do about what works, what doesn’t work, and what I should have done more of in the classrooms. My pride for my Chinese language ability, our traveling, and our other success during this China-life adventure, makes extending our time here even more tempting with the possibilities of even more growth.
But, in truth, we will be back in the States in 41 days and I am even more excited about that! It will be great to see friends and family and to relive the entire year as we share our pictures and stories.

Look at these goofballs:


Tonight we are having our last dinner with Samantha and Johnson (probably) before we go back to the States and tomorrow the four of us (Duncan, Haley, Caitlin, and I) are going to Beijing for the week. Duncan and I are really looking forward to playing the role of tour guides in this city we’ve come to know pretty well (who would have ever thought I would ever be able to say Beijing was once “my old stomping grounds”?) and to have some time out of Baoding. We’ve been really happy with everything recently, but it will be nice to go on a trip anyway. This is likely going to be our last touring trip in China before we head out of Baoding permanently and on to Hong Kong, Macau, and then home.

Look for another post in the next few days (probably including the Forbidden City and the other big sites of Beijing) as we replicate our first big China touring trip. The first time we over National Day holiday with our old American friends and now, as our last time, it will be over May Day holiday with our new American friends. I can’t wait!

Thank you for reading and until next time,


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Posted by on April 29, 2014 in Baoding


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Day 243: Chinese English Class & A Gifted Watermelon


We had a great weekend introducing the girls to some more of Baoding.

During our adventures we found a new restaurant in the He Da (Hebei Daxue/University) alley (where our bread people are) that served what’s essentially sweet and sour chicken (plus two more dishes we ordered)!


I got to see Duncan teach a class for the first time:

And I had my first experience with a Korean restaurant when we went with the girls and Lex. I tried Kimchi, a Korean tea, a kind of potato pancakes, kimchi bread, marinated peanuts, some mysterious green stuff, and super squishy tofu all for the first time (I liked all of it but the tofu). And while everyone else ordered one-bowl dishes, Duncan and I, in the way that is quite normal for us, ordered a bit more extravagantly and got a dish called “the whole pig”. The middle of the table had a grill in it and a waiter cooked our platter of pork right in front of us. It was probably the most delicious meat I’ve ever eaten and I would go back their daily if I could afford it.


My students have been hilarious when they see Caitlin and Haley in the hallway talking to me in between classes or when I introduce them to the class. All of the students gather in the doorway to catch a glimpse of them when we’re in the hallway and once we’re in the classroom, the students are torn between being really excited about a new teacher they want to get to know and being afraid and nervous. Almost all of our classes have been better behaved than they normally are because Haley or Caitlin is sitting in the back and the students aren’t yet sure what will happen to them if they misbehave in front of the new foreign teachers.

When I introduce them to the class all of my students ask them the same few questions: What’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite sport? How old are you? But yesterday one of my sixth grade students asked me a question I wasn’t expecting – “Aiisa (Alyssa) why do you have yellow hair and your friend has brown hair?” She worked so hard to say that correctly in English that I felt bad when the only answer I could give her was “I don’t know”. But that question really highlighted a unique feature of American people. Since Americans, historically at least, are a mix of many different groups of people, our features can vary dramatically. So while we, as Caucasian Americans, expect diversity in our looks (such as brown and blonde hair, brown and blue eyes, different nose, eye, and mouth shapes), Chinese people aren’t used to that kind of variation. Almost all Han Chinese people (and many other homogenous racial groups) have black hair and black eyes. Of course they have variation in their features as well but it’s not nearly as dramatic as two white girls from the US both with drastically different hair and skin colors as well as feature variation. In the same class, many students kept asking me if Haley and I were sisters. At first I laughed at thought that it was a ridiculous question but then once I thought about it more I realized that they might think we look a lot alike as foreigners just as a lot of people say all Asian people look alike if they’re not used to seeing it. For example, when I first got here, I confused a lot of my students because I wasn’t tuned in to how their features are different but now I notice the differences in my students without even thinking about it. I’m sure they were doing the same thing I used to do.

Today I sat in on a Chinese-English class and was very impressed and interested to see how Chinese teachers teach English to Chinese students. Though it wasn’t what I was expecting, this particular teacher, I thought, did an excellent job at making sure the students really comprehensively understood the English words and phrases they were learning. Still, as in all of my classes, students tend to add an –a sound to the end of words that end in consonants. Whereas we say “park”, Chinese students often say “park-a”. I suspect that this is because Chinese language words don’t often end with a hard sound and I don’t think they even hear themselves adding the extra sound a lot of the time.

After the class Caitlin, Haley, Li Laoshi, three Chinese teachers, and I had a meeting that ended up lasting almost two hours. We spent the time giving feedback about the class that we watched along with the classes the girls have watched and then had a really long discussion comparing the two education systems. One of the things that struck me the most that came out of this meeting were the ideas of respect and educational entitlement. In China, getting a good education is definitely seen as more of a privilege and thus leads to some more respect for the teachers from the students. In the US, students often feel entitled towards their education and frequently have an attitude of “the teacher must earn my respect”. I think this combined with the characteristics of individualistic and communal societies, respectively, has a lot to do with how the students behave in the classroom in each system. Developing your individual person and asking the question “why” is a big deal in the US and while I think that is a great thing most of the time, it can also lead to students believing or saying, “I don’t see the point behind doing what this teacher says so I’m not going to”. That situation is almost unheard of in the Chinese system. Students do their homework when it is assigned and they pretty freely give the expected authority and respect to their Chinese teachers. However, when respect isn’t used to maintain the student’s behavior in the classroom, it seems that fear fills that gap. The Chinese teachers we talked to today said that they assign more homework to bad students but throughout our time here, we’ve also become aware that corporal punishment is not absent in Chinese schools and is also frequently a source of fear for these students. China, as I learned from Li Laoshi today, is actively making a conscious effort to eliminate corporal punishment from within the schools, but still seems unsure of how to maintain good classroom management in its absence.

Today has been a very educational day. Thursday I’m hoping to see some of the art classes offered at the school and at some point in the future I hope to sit in on a middle school Chinese English class and also a regular Chinese class. I’m very interested in seeing how the different classes are taught to different ages and with different subjects.

To finish the day, Li Laoshi called me into her office after my last class and said she had something to give me. Once in the office, she reached under her desk and plopped a giant watermelon into my arms. I said thank you but then asked her why because it seemed really random and she said “because you have been so good”. And then when I said thank you again she said “what do you think about the reason?” Confused, I said, “it’s very nice”. She laughed and as she walked away she just said “you can decide on the good reason!” So I said thank you again and carried my gifted watermelon upstairs with me. I think it was intended to be a gift of thanks since Duncan and I have helped her a lot with acclimating the new teachers to Baoding and the school, but I was very confused. It’s a great way to end the day though.

Next week we are going to Beijing for a few days over our May Day holiday. We’re excited to revisit some of the places we toured when we first went to Beijing in October over National Day with our friends from North Carolina. This year seems to be rounding out quite nicely.

Thank you for reading and until next time,


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Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Baoding


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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 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 224: QQ & Chinese Parks


It’s Thursday morning and I’m officially off work until Tuesday! Coupled with no work on Tuesday this week, and I’m on a (broken up) six-day holiday! Apparently, this weekend is Tomb Cleaning Festival (“a very important traditional Chinese festival”) but we didn’t find out about this until Monday afternoon. We were going to take advantage of this break by going to Datong to see some more grottoes, but because of the late notice, we were unable to buy tickets. After a ticket search to go to Huangshan, Hangzhou, Xi’an, Chengdu, or Shangahi that ended up with almost every single train in China completely sold out for this weekend, we managed to get tickets and a hostel to spend the break in Beijing. We’ve been to Beijing several times now and we’ve done most of the big touristy things there are to do there, but I’m sure it will be a good weekend (though almost certainly a crowded one) nonetheless. If anything, it will be a nice change from Baoding.

Baoding, however, has been much better recently. The smog hasn’t been bad and we’ve had many warm spring days. The city even seems to be enjoying the warmer weather (though we do continue to see the most masks worn on the clearest days and the fewest masks worn on the smoggiest days – go figure). Apparently, Baoding as a city has taken on some new project to try to beautify the city and thus all week we have seen city workers planting row and row of plants along the streets, trimming dead limbs off of trees, and even planting new trees here and there. Last week, the school cut down a whole bunch of trees in the courtyard (under the false pretense that they were unhealthy) and this week they have replaced the felled trees with new young trees with twice as many. All of the flowers are blooming and the school even hired workers to wash the outside of the buildings and windows (truly making a remarkable difference). Yesterday afternoon we even saw the kids playing in the courtyard among the flowers in what appeared to be some of the only free time we’ve ever seen these students have. Springtime seems to be making everyone happier (along with making the driving worse, for whatever reason).

Monday classes were trying this week but my Wednesday classes more than made up for it. My fifth graders are almost certainly my favorite grade as a whole. Every class I walk in to the students swarm me and try their best to tell me little tidbits about their lives in an amusing string of Chinglish. I’ve had students tell me all of the video games they played over the weekend, that they helped their mother cook dinner, that they played with their new baby brother or sister, and even when they moved into a new house or went on a trip to visit extended family. Sometimes, the highlight of their weekend (and probably the following week) is when they get to tell me that over the weekend they went to KFC, went shopping, and then went to the WC (how all of China refers to the bathroom).
At one point this week, I was attacked with hugs in the hallway. As I had about seven children clinging on to me in some way, about twenty more of them were trying to tell me all about their friend’s new shoes which turned out to be Heelys (those tennis shoes with wheels on the bottom) and he proudly slid around the hall and into the classroom as the bell rang. I thought it was super fun and now I want some too!

Also, in “interactions with my students” news – I got a QQ. For those of you that don’t know, QQ is one of the main social networking apps in China and has at times been called Chinese Facebook. In reality, it’s nothing like Facebook and almost exactly like (by which I mean, definitely the exact same programming as) AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) from pre-Facebook times (back in those prehistoric days when MySpace and Neopets ruled). All year I have had students come up to me and ask if I have a QQ and finally, this semester, I decided to get one while inspired by the thought that I could keep in touch with some of my students come time for my US return. I was hoping to keep it kind of on the down low but once one student got my QQ, the entire school inevitably had my QQ id. Ever since I decided to enter the Chinese online social scene, I’ve been getting “friend requests” almost continuously from random people between the ages of 11 and 14 that I can only assume are my students. Some times they send me a picture of themself with their English name and what class they are in and I can remember them really quickly, but other times I get a student (whose name is in Chinese characters) saying “Teacher. Do you remember me!?” and then if I say no they’ve gotten upset. (I’m sorry; I just don’t know all 1500 of my students’ Chinese and English names.) Their English is not as good as it should be (considering the high emphasis on learning English and their years of studying it in school) but I’ve enjoyed the little bit of communicating I’ve done with some of them so far. One of my sixth graders wanted to tell me about MH370 and the “first lady” while another student wanted to tell me about their favorite band. Last night, another one of my students added me to a class chat on QQ (group messaging) which was quite an honor but also quite baffling considering they are all using Chinese internet lingo and when I tried to use Google translate to figure out what was going on, I’d effectively already been bypassed by another 100 lines of colloquial text blurbs. Regardless, I’m excited to talk to my students outside of class and in a more natural setting. Potentially, I’ll be able to inspire them and teach them more English through QQ than I ever could in a classroom. And at the very least, they’re all super excited that their wài jiào teacher from America accepted their friend requests on QQ (I remember the feeling when someone I looked up to or was older than me added me on Facebook – I can pass it on).

Yesterday as we were riding along Dongfenglu (one of the main roads in Baoding), I was reflecting on things China has that are better than in other parts of the world and as we passed one of the most happening spot on our side of town, I settled on parks as a good example. Parks in China are such happy places that could frequently be described as beautiful outdoor multipurpose centers. In parks, older people gather to play Chinese checkers, Mahjong, and other card games. We’ve seen music lessons taking place as a whole group of friends practiced playing the erhu together. And almost every park in China is filled with dancers of all different varieties around sunrise and sunset. Yesterday, as we rode by, I saw men exercising by swinging chain links around their bodies and whipping giant whizzing tops to keep them going. There was what Duncan and I call an “old people playground” filled with people of all different ages exercising by swinging from monkey bars, stretching, and climbing all over this “fitness” play set. Grandmothers tasked with babysitting walked around with their friends while watching their grandchildren interact with other kids and teetering on wobbly legs. Some people were just sitting on benches enjoying the nice weather while others were hollering across the way at their friend who they’d just spotted on a bike. I even saw one man just staring at a tree. In some parks you’ll find young couples enjoying a private and quiet moment together as they hide in the darkness, and other times you’ll see friends practicing roller blading or kite flying while they listen to music. Some parks even have vendors that can sell anything from high-powered laser pointers and giant stuffed animals to sweetened pineapples and kebabs. And as we saw in Chengdu, sometimes parks are even places to set your adult-child up with a date. And when you compared this image to parks in the US filled with joggers and anxious parents, it’s easy for me to see why parks in one country are literally and figuratively a central part of life whereas parks in the other country are quickly fading away or frequently deserted.

Though I’m looking forward to our return to the States, I am going to miss how easy it is to hop on the bike or take a walk just a few minutes into town. Even though we certainly don’t live in town, a convenience store, restaurant, coffee shop, grocery store, and mall are all within distance of a short and (if the weather’s nice) pleasurable walk. It’s nice that a stroll in the park is just a couple blocks away and is safe and filled with life even after dark (indeed it’s busiest time). And upon further reflection, I believe parks may well be communal modern China at its best.

We’ll soon be off on another adventure around Beijing so thank you for reading and until next time,



Posted by on April 3, 2014 in Baoding


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