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Day 67: Ghouls and Food

Nihao wo du pengyoumen (Hello friends!)

Today was really good day – to be honest, it might have been one of my best days of teaching! All of my seventh grade classes were wonderful and I had my most successful international class yet. When I asked my kids today what costume they would like to wear for Halloween if they could, they misunderstood me and thought I wanted them to act it out. So, invariably, in each of my seventh grade classes today I had one kid grab a broom and run around the room with it in between their legs pretending to be a witch; a kid pretending to bite all of their friends on the wrists or neck like a vampire, or a whole gaggle of boys run to the front of the classroom just to walk slowly and moaning to demonstrate zombies. I wish I had taken pictures or videos – it was awesome! We talked all about Halloween and related American customs (such as trick or treating and costume parties) and I taught the international class “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. I even taught my seventh graders, in a completely non-English way, how to make a mask with their hands.


According to Johnson, there was a post today about us when he searched “QLH” on the Chinese Twitter. Some guy had posted that the other day he was minding his own business in QLH when an American couple walked in and started talking to the people behind the counter in fluent English. The guy commented that he wanted to talk to us but seeing the people behind the counter talking to us so fluently made him nervous and as a result, he has made it his new life goal to learn how to speak English fluently. I have no idea who this mysterious person is but I hope that by the end of the year, he does come try to talk to us while we’re in QLH.

Sunday afternoon after my last post, we went shopping at a huge foreign imports mall in the hopes of finding me some winter clothing. On the way to the shopping mall we passed what must have been hundreds of dogs, mostly huge German shepherds, with their owners all lining up on the street off of an empty field. The crowd of dogs and people was so large that even though they were all in the bike lane, traffic was affected. We have no clue what was going on but I would like to assume it was a dog show of sorts rather than something more malicious.
Outside of the shopping mall was a fashion show set up on a “basketball court” playing a song by Club des Belugas that I did a Tim dance to one summer with TBTS. It turns out that the impromptu fashion show was the entertainment during the breaks of a basketball game. Keep in mind, this was on the sidewalk outside of the mall and there wasn’t actually a court, it was just a sectioned off space with a mobile basketball hoop. No one but us seemed to find this in the least bit unusual and after observing for a bit, we decided to continue on to our shopping expedition.
My hopes for finding any winter clothing in this mall were quickly dashed as we realized that this is one of the most expensive shopping centers in Baoding. Clearly, only the richest of the rich can afford to shop in this center and though we are paid considerably more than average teachers, some clothes we saw cost as much as several months’ pay checks for the two of us. In one boutique we found a men’s leather jacket with a ticket price of 9000 Yuan (almost a $1,500 leather jacket)! We left pretty quickly after we realized we would be unable and unwilling to buy anything in there and headed to another brand new shopping mall (a Wal-Mart is soon to open up there!) where I ended up buying my first pair of wool socks (much needed) and a sweater dress that is appropriate for teaching in and will keep me warm and comfy.

Sunday evening, we went out to eat with Enkui and his wife and niece (an English major at a local university). It was, as usual, amazing! They picked us up from the school and took us to a fancy restaurant usually reserved for weddings not too far from the school. I swear, every place we eat with them gets fancier and the food gets more delicious! We had a lovely dinner and ate a sample of food that they described as local cuisine.
While in China I’ve tried Shanghai food, Beijing food, Chinese minority food, and some Sichuan style food (though of course not in Sichuan – yet) and after all of this, I really do think that the Sichuan food is my favorite. Chinese food, as a whole, is delicious and unlike anything you can get in the States but Sichuan style food, with its flavorful spiciness and lack of sweetness really suites my palette quite well I think.
Back from a recent trip to Taiwan, Enkui and his wife brought us back some special Taiwanese food and they brought me back some beautiful red stone bead bracelets (it seems I’m slowly amassing a collection of Chinese jewelry that always comes with a story).


While I’m thinking about unique Chinese food, we went to a Sichuan-style restaurant we frequent with some friends earlier in the weekend. When we are by ourselves we get chicken kabobs, stir-fried green beans (with evil peppercorns that will numb your entire mouth) and rice. But with friends (and as is traditional for groups) we got a larger variety of dishes. Traditionally, if you go to a restaurant with a group of friends, you order enough food for everyone and share the dishes family style. If you are with a group of people you are not as close to, you order one or two more dishes than the number of people, and if you are with a more formal group of people, more food than could possibly be eaten is ordered. (There were eight dishes for the five people at dinner with Enkui the other night, the fewest there has been so far – we can measure our growing friendship in the number of dishes.) With our friends at the Sichuan-style restaurant, we got, among many other dishes, sweet potato “fries” that were covered in sugar and sprinkles and then dipped in sugar-water. It was ridiculous!


Speaking of sweet things, the other day we tried these hawthorn berry things on a stick that seem to be everywhere. I thought that they were roasted tomatoes on a kabob but it turns out it’s a winter treat in Baoding – hawthorn berries stuffed with sweet filling and covered in literal sheets of sugar. The Chinese do not put a lot of sugar in their food but it seems like when they do add sugar, they go all out!

Yesterday was a normal Monday (as I described in the last post) including the lunchtime visit to QLH and an evening visit out on the town. All lessons (as will be all week) were Halloween-inspired and we both had a lot of fun teaching our kids all about monsters, vampires, and zombies (complete with drawings, acting out, and some strange noises on my part). The kids were all a little rowdier than usual because of the relaxed lesson but we all had a lot of fun. Duncan had his younger kids draw their own monsters at the end of the class – giving them a rare opportunity to use their creative brain. In one class, all of the kids were drawing cute monsters but one kid drew a monster with mouths for eyes and faces for hands. To be honest, it sounds like this kid’s monster was scarier than anything I could have come up with on my own.
Duncan said it was a little disconcerting to see this first grader’s drawing of a bloody monster when his neighbor drew an angel for her monster.
In another of Duncan’s classes, the kids turned their monster drawings into masks without any prompting from him. He turned around at one point and saw that all of the students had cut the eyes out of their monster drawings and some of them were in the process of attempting to tape them to their faces. (I had two seventh graders make their own masks in the middle of class today too.) I wish I could have had arts and crafts time with my kids but I think they enjoyed playing hangman well enough.
Duncan’s Kindergarteners learned the concept of “monster” through his English Halloween lesson. They didn’t even know the word for monster in Chinese –that’s how young these kids are. Some of them are only two years old , and no matter how adorable they might be, it seems a little ridiculous that they are 1) at a boarding school and 2) expected to learn English and their own language at such a young age.


Every monster in this picture represents a classmate or Duncan:

Note this monster’s one big foot and one little foot (very deliberately designed by a second grader):

The only thing that was not normal about Monday was that we found yet another rich Chinese lady that wants to take us out to eat. I don’t know how we keep finding these rich Baodingites but we do keep stumbling into their graciousness. This lady wants us to teach her and her friend English at QLH twice a week and she wants to teach me Chinese (and maybe how to cook) in return. This lady, Mei Li Xin, is wonderful and super nice but she is also very Chinese. And, she never stops talking! I can talk a lot and pretty fast, especially when I’m excited, but seriously this woman talked so much and so fast the entire three and half hours we were with her that our ears were ringing after we said our goodbyes. We met her in QLH to talk and make plans but then she insisted on taking us out to eat with her niece, a university tongxue (classmate) of Johnson’s, (everyone seems to have a niece that speaks English) to a ritzy hotel restaurant. The food, again a sampling of local style cuisine, was delicious.
When I say she is very Chinese I can only explain what I mean through examples. For one, she makes very literal statements as if they are not obvious but says them in a way that makes it sound like they are urgent and very important. For example, she told Duncan that he looks like he eats hamburgers but he isn’t fat because he has muscles. She told me that most Americans are fat but I’m not fat and that’s why I’m a ballerina. According to her (and she is right), Duncan’s Chinese is much better than mine and my skin is white (I didn’t know that!).
At the beginning of dinner, before we’d even started eating, she insisted on teaching me that I cheered my teacup to her wrong and that because she is older than me, my cup should be lower than hers. All throughout dinner she kept putting food on my plate and saying, “Eat! Eat!”
It became clear after talking to her that she wants to learn how to speak English better so that she can go to other countries around the world and insist that China does everything better or the “right” way. She was extremely proud (and braggadocios) about her son and was extremely enthusiastic (and repetitive) with her English. She insisted that I go to the bathroom with her before eating (as seems to be customary here among women that are buddies) and was concerned that I ate too little when I told her I was chengsi (full to death). Don’t get me wrong – I am not complaining. I am just trying to explain her unforgettable character to those of you who will probably never get a chance to meet her.
We had a really great evening with her and we are looking forward to getting to know her (and her friend who we have yet to meet) more in the future. We see them again on Saturday.

I am so glad that this week has been so much fun so far. Even though the classes are going a lot slower than they usual feel, it’s nice to have a week of teaching that’s even more laid back than usual. I know the kids are enjoying it (especially when I jokingly kick one out of class and tell them they have to knock and say “Trick or Treat” to get back in). I don’t teach this Friday (the middle school students get to go home) so I’m officially half way done with my teaching week! We’re planning on staying in Baoding this weekend again to save some money and to relax with local friends. Hopefully, we’ll find something unique to do on Halloween night!

Ganbei (cheers!) to good health, more smog-less days, and good food!
Talk to you again soon,


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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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Day 50: Dinosaurs & Popsicles

Hey everyone!

Another week of teaching has flown by and we’re spending the weekend in Baoding. The weather (in the classrooms) is no longer the stifling heat it was the first couple of weeks we were teaching and is progressively getting cooler. Though not time for our winter coats just yet, the evenings (especially on Kuai Long) necessitate a little something more on our arms.

Remarkably, we still haven’t found facemasks yet. You would think that with the smog being so bad so consistently that they would be easy to find and relatively cheap but this is, unfortunately, not the case. In the near future we may be pooling our money with two other friends to buy a case of high-quality masks off of Taobao. We just can’t go the entire year without facemasks of some sort (especially considering the smog gets even worse in Baoding winter).

Low lying smoke in the field next to the school:

My eighth grade classes were enjoyable this week – something that I’m very relieved about. I taught them the same Hoobastank song lesson that I used on my seventh graders and it seemed to be successful. I also learned that the students are much more engaged in class if I begin by asking them personal questions such as “How was your holiday” and it encourages them to use their English in a natural and individually constructed way rather than just using the memorized sentences they’ve learned in their classes. I’d like to believe that it will encourage them to want to talk to me and in turn will motivate their English learning.

The Hoobastank “The Reason” lesson:

I was certainly encouraged when in several of my classes, some students took the conversational style I started the class with and were asking me how to say certain words in English. I’m not exactly sure what was going on but in one of my eighth grade classes, students kept drawing turtles on their paper and asking me what the English word was. As soon as I told them “turtle” they all immediately pointed to one kid in the back of the class and said, “his name is turtle!” Right after that, they spent the next ten minutes trying to figure out how to say, “Dinosaurs with small eggs lived in a big forest”. (I figured this out through pantomiming, drawing on the board, and having students write the desired characters in my phone’s Chinese-English dictionary.) They seemed quite content when I wrote down the dinosaur sentence so I assume that’s what they were after though why, I have absolutely no idea.

When I asked another class what their favorite music was they kept telling me about some artist that is very popular in China and in Korea. They did not, however, know the English word “Korea” and so they pulled out a map and started pointing to Korea over and over again. And, again, another class, wanted to know how to say “Popsicle”.

After one or two classes, I realized that asking the kids what their favorite music and computer games are at the end of class was super successful and I did it with all my classes, including some seventh grade classes. I was very amused by the favorite music answers I got in every single class of eighth graders – Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, PSY (Gangnam Style), Backstreet Boys, and Avril Lavigne. Who would have thought that Avril or Michael Jackson would have been on their list of favorites. Their favorite computer games were always – LOL (a DOTA game), CF (Cross-Fire), Angry Birds, and Plants vs Zombies. I was surprised that none of them knew what WOW (World of Warcraft) was seeing as it is pretty popular in China as a whole.

After classes were done for the week, we went out for dinner with a whole bunch of other foreign teachers at a restaurant called “Philly Story”.

The GIANT pizza from Philly Story (one pizza took up one whole table):

It’s so much fun to hang out with this group because we have Americans, a British guy, an Australian guy, Chinese people, and one Chinese guy that has lived in New Zealand, South Africa, and, of course, China. It really is an outstanding group of people with so many interesting stories to share and with such great perspectives on life. Really, it is a unique type of person that decides to embark on an adventure such as this and as I meet more and more interesting people doing the same thing as us, I’m encouraged to think, “Hey, maybe we’re interesting people too!”

But speaking of food, earlier in the week we found a new restaurant that ended up being pretty cool! It’s a hot-pot place, which in our book is always a good thing, but it ended up being a nontraditional hot-pot place which was even better They take a glass hot-pot dish, stick a melon inside of it, and then they put all sorts of delicious meats and vegetables inside the melon. The one we got came with chicken and celery inside the melon but we also ordered a side of mutton slices to cook in the hot-pot. If you put the meat inside of the hot-pot dish, it takes on the taste of the melon but if you put the meat inside of the melon it, interestingly enough, takes the flavor of the meat. We will definitely be going back there again!

Melon Hot-Pot:

Today started out as any normal Saturday in Baoding should start – with coffee and fireworks. We slept in a little bit and headed to QLH planning on having a quiet day of planning and hanging out when all of a sudden we hear what sounds like the rope of a bomb going off and then hundreds of fireworks exploding. We look out the window and, sure enough, people down the street are setting off these fireworks on the sidewalk in between cars (because the sidewalk also means the parking lot in China). The best, though, was when one guy had a whole roll of firework tape that he accidentally lit all at once, and he threw it and ran across the street before it started going off. You could see his eyes from down the road they were so big!

Fireworks, of course:

And for one more food story, tonight we went out to eat at a Sichuan style restaurant we frequent. We ordered our usual stir-fried green beans and rice but we also decided to try a new meat dish and they brought us “hua cha” (flower tea). The meat dish and the tea was good and the green beans were great as usual. Last time we went we got a “special friend price” (a discount they gave us because we’re frequent patrons), but this time I got a juice box with my change! It seems to be a normal box of peach juice but the lady behind the counter looked so pleased with herself I couldn’t not take it. Maybe it will be a midnight snack.

For some unhappy news, happy baozi man’s food tent and neighbors have been missing recently and we’re quite saddened by our lack of baozi from him. We do, however, believe he will return and when he does we will tell him “we missed you” and “women hui lai” (we have returned!)

For some happy news, Duncan has started drinking coffee with me, which is a dream come true for me, so to celebrate (and to prepare for the coming winter) I bought a coffee maker for the room! I also got a “special friend price” on it from QLH because I’m probably keeping their business alive despite the new competition down the road.

To everyone in Asheville, go up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and see the leaves for me before it starts getting too cold. I hear Nutcracker rehearsals are starting soon and, with me already missing dancing, I’m sad that I am not there to participate. If anyone knows of some phenomenal Nutcracker ballets to see here in China, let me know. I need to continue my annual Nutcracker tradition even if it’s just as a spectator.

Have a lovely weekend!


Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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Day 47: Hello, Goodbye

Since I last posted, we have had three more days of teaching and we are now back in the routine. The thrill and excitement of having a packed day every day in Beijing was a stark contrast to the quiet routine we have here in Baoding and, as a result, we have been bored and a little homesick; the past couple of days. We pushed through the slump, however, and today we had a good day.

Monday, I taught all of my sixth graders and spent the lessons reviewing prepositions and teaching the song “Octopus Garden” by The Beatles. That song has a lot of repetitive prepositions in it and allowed me to teach vocabulary in a more organic manner. Though a simple song, I realized the kids did not know a lot of the vocabulary related to “under the sea” so I spent a good portion of class just drawing an underwater scene on the board and labeling everything. They really enjoyed my drawing of a little fish being chased by a bigger fish with sharp teeth and a pointy dorsal fin like a shark. The kids enjoyed singing with me in class and now they definitely know the phrase, “I’d like to be under the sea in an octopus’ garden in the shade”.

My schedule this week and next is a little unusual because of a request by three of my seventh grade classes to have me more. Due to communication difficulties I’m not 100% clear on the whole situation but I believe, from what I have gathered, that these three seventh grade classes were going to have to miss my English class at some point in the future because of exams, but they requested to have my class at a different time this week rather than miss it in the future. Regardless of what the situation actually is, this means my students enjoy my class enough to make sure they don’t miss it! Despite their teenage eye rolling and their angsty teen expressions, I must be teaching them something or at least be enough of an amusement to them to not want to skip. I’m quite touched and very encouraged by this quiet success!

Because of this schedule change, however, Tuesday I taught from 8:00 – 6:00, easily making it the longest teaching day I’ve had. In my seventh grade classes, my lesson used the song “The Reason” by Hoobastank to teach different ways to apologize, ways of expressing regret, and the concept of “I wish”. Though somewhat difficult for them to understand at times, I think it was a great success and I am actually going to use the same lesson on my eighth graders tomorrow and on Friday.

Today, I had all of my fifth graders and they were absolutely delightful. We talked about what they did over the National Day Holiday and went on to learn and sing along together to the song “Hello, Goodbye” by The Beatles. Super easy to hear the English and with an upbeat tune, the kids had a blast singing along and doing outrageous pantomiming with me. I bet The Beatles never imagined that their music would ever be used to teach English to kids in China!

I’ve been encouraged this week by the realization that my kids are enjoying my classes and that I am, in fact, teaching them new English. All of my kids, aged 10+, are now coming up to me in the hallways and attempting to have conversations with me. And I’ve also now realized that any misbehavior from the students’ was an expression of boredom and disinterest in what I was doing and that it is my task, as the teacher, to find ways to engage all of the students as well as to teach them. These students have drills and facts hammered into them all day, every day, all year and they don’t (nor do I) want my class to be the same. It is my task and my responsibility to conduct my class in a way that makes them want to learn English regardless of a grade or other coercion. So if, by the end of this year, I have managed to make one originally disinterested kid somewhat more interested in learning English, even if it’s solely in the context of my class, then I will have been successful.

On that note, I hope that my eighth graders tomorrow will find the use of American pop culture interesting enough to learn the lesson; it definitely worked well on my seventh graders (even on the students who had been disruptive in every prior class).

Other than teaching, Duncan and I have just been getting back into our daily routine. Violin is coming slower to me than I’d like (mainly because I have no dexterity in my left hand) but my Chinese is coming along swimmingly. I got my hands on a workbook used by the international students here learning English and I am going to do some of it every night so I can start learning characters along with my oral language skills.

One final note about cultural differences that I noticed in one of my classes today – bodily noises are not nearly as humorous here as they are in the States. For example, today in one of my classes, a kid burped really loudly and I kind of started laughing but none of the other kids in the least. Whereas bodily noises like sneezing, yawning, burping, and farting are considered impolite social breaches in the US, not much attention is paid to them here. This made it pretty clear that the reason we laugh, especially middle school students in the States, laugh when someone burps or farts in class, is not because the noise is particularly interesting, but rather because someone of breaking a social norm. This tiny moment in one class had me thinking about the social construction of humor the rest of the day. I wonder what other situations are similar that I just haven’t noticed yet…

I’ll let you know how the rest of the week goes in a couple of days. Have a good rest of your week and thank you for reading!


Posted by on October 9, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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Day 32: What’s up?

Today was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. The skies were blue, the air was crisp, and it was a refreshingly clean day indicating the beginning of fall.

I had four seventh grade classes today and the international students. Though all classes were successful, my international students were the most difficult because they are the least talkative. The seventh graders will ask questions, tell me when they don’t understand, ask me to demonstrate, and make it very obvious when they are pleased or upset with how things are going in the classroom. My international students just kind of sit there and stare at me. I keep picturing the SpongeBob fish blink when I am teaching the international students.

Today I taught the seventh graders different ways of saying “hello”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, various greetings such as “what’s up”, a variety of responses to “what’s happening” and “how are you” (so they will stop responding mechanically with “I’m fine thank you, and you?”), and many different ways to say “good bye”. Today’s classes were the first classes I felt I was actually teaching new material rather than reviewing things they should already know or covering material their Chinese English teachers (theoretically) have already taught them. The lesson was very successful and students were the quietest they’ve been without a Chinese teacher coming in and yelling at them to basically sit down and shut up. Then, we played a relay game where teams had to say one of the new phrases we learned and respond appropriately without any repetitions and as fast as they could. Hopefully, the sequence “what’s up? – Nothing much” is secured in their brains and they will be able to respond with some originality to “how are you?”

In my international class, I covered the different English greetings that I taught to the seventh graders (of course at a faster pace and without the relay game), some tongue twisters for pronunciation practice, a few idioms off the top of my head, and similar sounding words that are spelled differently (like smile, small, and smell; they’re, there, and their; you’re and your; and our and are), and time. The differences between last weekend and this coming weekend seem to be very difficult to non-native English speakers and I hope I provided some clarity (for my sake and theirs). Though we covered a lot, and because I get no helpful feedback from the international students, I feel like I’m floundering in that class. I won’t see those classes for another two weeks though, so I’ll have plenty of time to figure out more to do with them.

I had a very good day, but, unfortunately, Duncan did not. One of his third grade Chinese teaching assistants, though she is supposed to speak English well enough to translate to the students if need be, seems never to understand any of Duncan’s intentions for the class and thus ends up interrupting him or telling the kids to do something completely different. All of the classes that she is responsible for are also clearly behind the other third grade classes in English ability as well as behavior management. Duncan walked in to one of this teacher’s classes last week to see all of the students physically fighting one another and the teacher not paying attention. One student grabbed and pulled another kid’s ear so hard, it ripped in the back and started bleeding (a move learned from this teacher). Duncan’s frustration with this teacher’s classes has been growing since we’ve been here but today things came to a head.
In the middle of Duncan’s introduction of class where he gets the students listening to and participating in what he is teaching that day, the teacher walked up to him, stood in front of him at the front of the class, and told him that he was going to teach the kids to dance. Taken aback, he said no and tried to continue with his planned lesson. A few minutes later, really loud music starts playing and the teacher tells the kids to get up and dance and tells Duncan to write the words on the board so the kids can learn the lyrics. The song in question? “My Humps” by the Black-Eyed Peas. Ignoring the fact that this had absolutely nothing to do with the lesson he had planned for the day, he told the teacher to turn off the music because it was inappropriate for these kids and he wasn’t going to teach it. She responded by changing it to “I love Rock ‘n’ Roll” instead and told the kids to dance. She then proceeded to go around the room and slap and kick students who were not dancing. Duncan turned off the music, told her to stop, and attempted to continue with his lesson again. A few minutes later, she turned “My Humps” back on and told the kids to get up and dance. Once again, Duncan turned off the music and told her “we’re not doing that today”. This time she proceeded to yell at the children that Duncan said he hates the kids, that he thinks they’re stupid, he’s angry with them, and to shut up. Some students that had not been “dancing” (really the kids were just running around the room beating up on each other as usual) had taken out their English books and were doing actual studying and homework. The Chinese teacher, after yelling at these kids, decided to throw these students’ books on the floor and ripped one student’s notebook into four pieces. Duncan tried to do some damage-control by telling the students that he likes them and that they were doing great and then pointed at the teacher, told her she was the problem, and walked out of the classroom. We still haven’t found the right administrator to discuss this problem with and we’re just hoping the kids weren’t beat up on too much by the teacher after he left.

After our classes were done for the day, we rode over to KFC for dinner and then stopped by QLH for a couple of hours of quiet time. With our recent McDonald’s and KFC meals, I have now eaten American food in China from places I refuse to eat at in the States. Sometimes, though, you just need to eat a chicken sandwich.

The days and week really fly by when we’re busy teaching classes all day and we can’t believe our first week-long holiday vacation already begins on Sunday. We are super excited, though, to begin traveling!

Since today was so beautiful outside, I took a lot of pictures while we rode around on Kuai Long during our lunch break. Here are a few so you can see what looks like in sunshine splendor.

The view from the coffee shop:

A giant intersection we ride through everyday:

The bike lane on the major road leading to our school:

Baoding at night (outside the coffee shop):

Thanks for reading! Wan an! (Good night/sleep well!)

P.S. Happy birthdays today to Emily and Conner! And thank you to J. Covolo for the card!

Some fireworks tonight that were much closer than is safe (right behind the coffee shop building):


Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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