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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 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:
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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:
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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,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2014 in Baoding

 

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Day 238: Welcoming the Americans

Nimenhao!

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.

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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!

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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:
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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:
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Stone Stamp Carving:
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Traditional Chinese Calligraphy:
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Music time:
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Paper cutting:
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Drawing of the school and paper cutting:
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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:

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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,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2014 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 146: We Thought We Loved Guilin, and Then We Found Yangshuo

Nimen hao!

After a dead solid sleep last night, we woke up early again for another adventure – Yangshuo.
We grabbed some pancakes and another Western breakfast with our coffees and were ready to head out the door by 8:30 for the 8:45 tour. We almost missed the tour because they left without us (after telling us they would come get us from the common room when it was time to leave) but after that slight hitch, we were on the bus and on our way.

On a completely filled charter bus we headed toward a “pier” about an hour away to take bamboo boats down the Li River. The bus ride was uneventful, but thankfully much less bumpy and much more comfortable than yesterday’s ride, and as we drove the scenery became progressively more beautiful.

Once at the pier, we were quickly shuffled onto motorized bamboo boats in groups of four and we were on our way down the river through some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Truly, it is astonishing. I am wary of declaring it the most beautiful place in the world (since I haven’t seen many places in the world) but I cannot imagine anything more beautiful.

The pier:
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Views from our boat:
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After our couple hour boat ride, we took a bus through some countryside (which greatly reminded me of Belize minus the ocean) headed towards our next destination. We thought we were falling in love with Guilin but then we found Yangshuo. Immediately, we were entranced by the natural beauty and then we were astounded to find what is essentially a Western village in the middle of the mountains outside of Guilin.

With a couple of hours of free time we searched for lunch and settled on a German restaurant for some bratwurst and legitimate German beer (a welcome change from Chinese food and Tsingtao). Absolutely smitten with Yangshuo, we would move there in a blink of an eye if we could. It certainly has made my “to visit again” list.

View from our restaurant (we found the sun!):
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To end our day, we took a bus ride outside of Yangshuo to go on a bamboo raft cruise where we watched a cormorant bird trained to catch fish for the local fishermen and soaked in the colors of the sunset backlighting the mountains and reflecting off the water. To end the day, I fed and rode a water buffalo before we headed back to the hostel and spent the rest of the evening chatting with some very friendly world travelers.

The river and our bamboo rafts:
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View from the raft:
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Sunset:
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I have so few words about today because I am actually speechless about all the beauty we soaked in today. The sights were breathtaking and awe-inspiring. We never wanted to leave.

Tomorrow we are going to sleep in and soak in our last day in this marvelous place. I’m sad we’re leaving in a couple of days but I am so happy we were able to make the visit. It’s been absolutely gorgeous and easily some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.

Until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Travel

 

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Day 130: Arriving in Xi’an

We’ve arrived and settled into Xi’an!

We woke up very early this morning, headed to the BaodingDong bullet train station, and were on our way to Xi’an without a hitch. Fortunately, we had absolutely no problems getting to or on the train and we spent the majority of the five-hour ride sleeping. We arrived at the Xi’an Bei (North) Station a little after 1pm and after a little confusion (since the hostel’s website directions reversed every single right and left direction turn), we made it to our hostel (which is understandably repeatedly ranked among the top 10 hostels in the world).

After we settled into our room our first quest was to find coffee and food having had none today before 2pm. We decided to try out the Western bar in the reception of the hostel and were pleasantly surprised with real hamburgers and good (but unsalted) fries. We walked down the alley our hostel (and several others) is located on to another hostel (our hostel’s espresso machine was broken) and enjoyed some lattes to ease our caffeine headaches and relish in the beginning of our holiday.

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After some tinkering around, we decided it was time to start exploring the city and we headed towards the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Though it was a bit more of a walk than we were expecting, we thoroughly enjoyed it as we fell more in love with this city with every step. I realized as we saw more and more of Xi’an, that, having never been in China before, I set my standards for all of China at the level of Baoding where we live. Now that I’ve seen multiple and very different cities across the country, I realize that Baoding (with it’s perpetual filth and grime) is not the norm (especially for big cities). Xi’an, especially compared to Baoding, is not only extremely wealthy looking but is also exceptionally clean. The fashion is different, the streets are cleaner, and the people look happy and are even more attractive. I’m glad that I’ve gotten used to Baoding because of the things I have learned from the experience (and I do think Baoding is representative of cities in the same economic situation) and because I appreciate everywhere else because of how much nicer the other places seem to be in comparison. Xi’an, at least the parts we saw, seem a lot like NYC only brighter, cleaner, and with happier people. Plus, it’s been really nice being farther south where, in comparison to where we live, is a lot warmer.

We eventually made it over to a really awesome part of town centered around the Big Goose Pagoda where we wandered into the coolest café I’ve ever been to – Maan Coffee. We stopped in for a late night coffee and ended up getting dinner (Duncan had French Toast and I had a mushroom and cheese Panini). What was so cool about this café was the atmosphere – you walk in and there’s a full wall bookcase filled with books in all different languages, chandeliers, and table numbers in the form of colored teddy bears. We spent a while in there, wandered around some more and waited for the water fountain/lights show to begin at 8:30 before we headed back to the hostel for Wifi, drinks, and a clean and well lit bathroom (as opposed to the one in our apartment).

Maan Coffee:
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Big Wild Goose Pagoda water show:
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Tomorrow we are going to explore the Muslim Quarter of the ancient city (within the original city walls) and celebrate the New Year with some employees at the hostel with whom we have made friends tonight. Duncan’s been so happy all day he’s practically been giddy and the longer we’re here, the faster I’m joining him in the happy thrill and love of this awesome city.

Until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2013 in Travel

 

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Day 129: Dinner with a Saved Puppy

We’re officially done with teaching for the 2013 year and we celebrated by saving a tiny baby puppy and having a Philippine dinner. From the title of the post you might have assumed we saved a puppy from the dinner but our story is not nearly as upsetting or dramatic as that (thankfully).

On our way to lunch this morning we were riding down the road right outside of our school when we noticed a group of bicyclists (and motorists) all just staring at the ground (and, of course, causing a road block). When we rode up we saw what they were all staring at (but doing nothing about) – a very tiny, very scared, very cold little puppy trying desperately to cross the road. We stopped to get a better look at him right as he ran underneath a parked car and the rubber-neckers decided it was time to leave. We stayed and watched him a bit until he came right up to our feet and started sniffing at us. He sniffed our hands and looked up at us but we could tell he was extremely frightened (probably lost) and freezing because his whole body was trembling pretty violently. We also noticed that his eyes looked funny and once Duncan stooped down to pick him up we realized he’s so young his eyes probably haven’t been open for very long at all.

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Concerned about his fragility and instantly taken by his cuteness (probably influenced by his helplessness), I held him close to my chest while Duncan drove the bike to QLH where we would decide what to do next. We felt we could not in good conscience leave him alone on Dong Er Huan (the road in front of our school) to face certain death. (In general, we have noticed a very different attitude towards animals from Chinese people as compared to Americans. Drivers will not change their path if an animal is in the road nor will people go out of their way to make sure an animal – or a human – is ok if appearing injured (partially because of the way medical bills are occasionally handled here). Animal rights are a pretty big issue in the US and I do consider my cat, Desmond, my fur-baby.)

Only a couple of days ago we had a conversation with Samantha about how she was considering buying a dog for her parents because, in her words, they have been paying too much attention to her and it’s driving her crazy. (This isn’t “normal” parental fussing; this is Chinese parental fussing which is a whole new league of ridiculously nosey attention which, for Samantha, includes setting up blind dates and showing up unannounced at her apartment while she’s at work and then fussing at her that they could not get in without her.)
We were skeptical that it would actually work out this way but when we arrived at QLH, walked in carrying a tiny baby puppy, and told her we found her a dog, she said she would love to have him. At first she was afraid we had bought it for her since she mentioned she had to save up money before she could afford a new distraction for her parents, but once we shared our story with her she was absolutely thrilled and immediately called Johnson down from upstairs to go with us to her apartment to get the puppy set up until she got off work a couple of hours later. And that’s exactly what we did. Johnson went with us to the apartment, we found a big box that we put a blanket inside of, and after trying to get him to drink some water (when we realized he’s also too young to be weaned from his mother) and watching him try to walk around for a little bit but repeatedly almost falling over because he was so sleepy, we settled him into his new box-home where he pretty much immediately passed out. Content that he was now in good hands we left, grabbed some lunch, and headed back to the school for our afternoon classes.

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With exams and classes officially over, we headed over to another foreign teacher’s apartment for a little get together we’d planned earlier in the week. At one of the local universities there are several Philippine teachers who have been here for over a year and are also frequent patrons of QLH. We’ve struck up a friendship and (as a result of their excellent English and great personalities) have ended up having some really fascinating conversations about cultural differences between China, the Philippines, and the US.

After grabbing a quick coffee “da bao” (the sounds must be swallowed otherwise people will have absolutely no idea that you are requesting your order “to-go”), we met up with Samantha to share a cab over to the apartment (when we found out the puppy drank some milk out of an ketchup bottle top – ingenious on her part – and had a shower and was sleeping a lot). Johnson was already over there when we got there with a couple more Philippine teachers and we spent a wonderful evening eating (way too much of) a magnificent Philippine dinner while we chatted, watched Game of Thrones, discussed Internet memes, and introduced Johnson and Samantha to YouTube (via compilations of funny commercials) thanks to that apartment’s VPN.

We had to end the night a bit earlier than we would have wanted so that we could get home by curfew and with time to prepare for our trip (laundry, cleaning, packing, etc.) and so that Samantha and Johnson could check on the puppy (who they’ve tentatively named Gaga or Xiao JJ).

In preparation for the week off we have unintentionally cleaned out the apartment. Yesterday, we ran out of water in our big water jug (think 1990s work water cooler) and we have been using store-bought water bottles since then (because the tap water is not drinkable). We used the last of our milk this morning in our coffees; and we have no food in the refrigerator other than some cans (yes, cans) of watered yogurt (a Christmas gift from some friends) and Christmas apples (how the Chinese celebrate Christmas).

Today was a fantastic day that just kept getting better. Eighth grade students told me they were happy I will continue teaching them next term and that they approve of my decision to stay in China over the holiday break rather than returning to the States; we saved an adorable but lost puppy (which made Duncan’s wish for one even stronger); we had a superb home-cooked traditional Philippine meal with our friends; and through it all reveled in our joy of the life we live and have the pleasure of sharing with one another.

I’ve been feeling a little homesick since I realized half of next year, 2014, will be spent in China, but after tonight when I was realizing and appreciating the friendships we’ve made here in just four months (some of which was just spent finding our feet beneath us), I am looking forward to what else is to come in the coming year.

And what better way to usher it in than to visit one of China’s oldest and most historically rich cities – Xi’an. The next few posts will be from a conveniently located hostel in the ancient city.

Until then, thank you for reading!

Zai jian!

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 123: Have a Merry Silent Night

Let me start out by saying I am not a Christmas person. I’m not against Christmas in most respects, I’m not that much of a scrooge; I’m just genuinely not that into it. I love the lights and the Starbucks Christmas drinks and the joviality of most people, but that’s about it. Having said that, however, today was very possibly the best day and night I’ve had in China and it all has to do with Christmas.

Today started as the first day of teaching for the week (surprise no classes Monday) and set out to be an abnormal day from the beginning. Today I started giving exams to students and thus we all (my students and I) had an experience none of us had ever had before – an oral English exam given in 40 minutes of class to 50 students each period. Before bed last night and this morning I was actually quite anxious about giving the exam. The performance of my students (and reflectively on me) hinges on the grades of these students since this exam is the only grade in my classes. I didn’t want to make the exam too easy or too hard so as to make it worthless (the school threw out the foreign teachers’ exams last year) but I wanted to give the best exam I could given the extremely limited time and format – one that would adequately demonstrate to me, to the administration, and (possibly most importantly) to the students that they are indeed learning functional English in my class.
I walked in to the first class of the day (in every other situation my worst seventh grade class) and was greeted by a classroom of ear-to-ear grins. Even though some students were asking me repeatedly if they did indeed have an exam today and whether or not it was oral or written, they were all so cheerful and genuinely elated to see me. When I asked them “how are you today?” (as I always do to begin class) a roar of “I’m very happy” responded (even more unexpected given the usual answer is a half-hearted “I’m fine, thank you” from about half of the students). When I asked them why they’re so happy today they said “its Happy Christmas Eve Day! (and tomorrow is “Merry Christmas Day!”)
The exams went much better than expected (though each student only got asked 3-5 questions rather than 10 because of time restrictions) and I was given a handful of Christmas gifts (read bribes) from my students. The other three seventh grade classes I had the rest of the day went about the same with much jubilee, unexpected excitement about an oral exam, and discussions of “Merry Christmas Day”.

During the mid-morning break, the students had a “ceremony” for us and gave us a whole bunch of handmade Christmas cards for the students at Duncan’s mom’s school in North Carolina (whose students sent handmade Christmas cards to our students earlier this month).
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After classes were done for the day, we were picked up by Enkui and driven to a restaurant to have “barbeque” to celebrate Christmas. The traffic (and smog) was absolutely terrible on the way there and I was amused by the explanation that it’s because tonight is “silent night” (meaning Christmas Eve). Though much different than we were expecting, Chinese BBQ was absolutely delicious and now I want one in my house in the States (and in the apartment here at the school, why not).
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We finally got to meet Enkui’s daughter (on Christmas holiday from attending high school in the US at the same high school I went to in Texas) and after dinner we all piled into the car and headed to the downtown part of Baoding for a “Christmas parade”. A few blocks in between some of the giant shopping centers, the temple, the old government building, a Catholic Church, and some traditional alleyways were partitioned off against cars and were flooded with crowds of people celebrating Christmas Eve. The street vendors were out, people wore masks (kind of like a masquerade mixed with Mardi Gras and Halloween), children carried glowing light sabers and cotton candy sticks, and some rebellious few set off Chinese lanterns when they could avoid the patrolling “safety” police. We were watching one couple just get a lantern lit when three or four cops came up behind them and snatched away and put it out saying that it was forbidden because it was a potentially dangerous fire hazard. Despite this, anywhere you looked in the sky you could spot two or three lanterns people had sneakily let go. We have two lanterns we were going to set off but decided to wait until tomorrow night when we are at the school and out of city limits where they are not illegal.
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As we were walking along, two guys probably in their early 20s came up to us and gave us the traditional Chinese Christmas present – apples. They were very happy to say hello and Merry Christmas to us and were thrilled when we wanted to take a picture with them and their presents to us. After a few minutes of jilted but very happy English we parted ways with an enthusiastic handshake and a “Welcome to China!”
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Strange, for a culture that does not celebrate Christmas, every single person I interacted with today was infected with the Christmas-time cheer in a way I’ve never experienced before and truly wish I could experience every day of the year.

Up until today, it hasn’t really felt like Christmas to us – without the daily Nutcracker rehearsals how, indeed, could it be Christmas time? To be honest, it has hardly felt like the holiday season. Sure there are Nihao Santas bedecking store windows and miniature (Chinese-sized?) fake Christmas trees have popped up in front of every shop along the road, but without the ever-present Christmas music, yard lights, nativity set-ups, and ads for last-minute gift shopping, it has felt like a very decorated Autumn rather that the holiday season.

We ended our evening by getting dropped off at the school by Enkui and his family, with a proliferation of hugs and promises to talk again soon, only to find that the school had decorated three trees in the inner courtyard for Christmas (mainly for us, they told us, knowing that Christmas time is a big deal in the States and they have been worried about us not being with our families for the holiday).
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Though we will continue to teach through Sunday, today’s festivities have given me an enthusiastic boost to life and has made me love and appreciate our life here even more (once again). It’s only Christmas Eve and I’ve already had the most memorable and enjoyable Christmas of my life.
I hope the holiday season gives you and yours as much energy, kindness, happiness, and enthusiasm as I experienced today here across the world. Thank you for reading!

Happy Merry Christmas Eve (Silent Night)!

Alyssa

 
Comments Off on Day 123: Have a Merry Silent Night

Posted by on December 25, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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