Tag Archives: sixth grade

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 179: The Last First Day of Teaching in Baoding

Nimen hao!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading and until next time,


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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Baoding


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Day 78: Baoding in Teaching (Teaching in Baoding)

Hello everyone!
I can’t believe we’ve already been here for 78 days and have completed our tenth week of teaching.
This week’s classes were a lot of fun! We had fewer classes than usual because morning classes on Wednesday for primary school students and Friday morning classes for middle school students were cancelled because the students had exams. This meant that I saw only one fifth grade class on Wednesday and only taught five eighth grade classes this week.
My lesson for the sixth graders covered months, seasons, weather, appropriate clothing, and seasonal things to do outside. Though most of the vocab was review, they seemed to enjoy learning “swim suit” (which they would not stop calling a “swimmy suit”), “umbrella” (aka “umbreller”), “rain boots” and “rain coat” (which they called “rainy boots” and “rainy coat”).
The past several weeks I have been teaching two or three different lessons to my seventh grade because cancelled classes have made it so that all of the classes have not had my class the same number of times. For some classes this week I combined two lessons and for other seventh grade classes I just played games all of class to try to get everyone on the same page. All of my seventh grade classes have now had the same material, but because of the class cancellations this week (and last), now I have one fifth grade class ahead of all the other fifth grade classes and another class two weeks behind the others (on top of them already being the class of transfer students that have a lower English level than the rest of the grade).
I played the same game with all of my classes this week just at varying levels of difficulty appropriate to the most recent lesson material and grade level. It proved to be a very successful game that I will definitely play again in the future. I divided the class into three or four teams depending on size and divided the chalkboard into sections according to the number of teams. I then wrote down some words that the students had to unscramble into a grammatically correct sentence in order for their team to get a point.
Before I played the game I was doubtful that they would see the game as fun and would see it more as a classroom exercise, but their enthusiasm (in all classes) astounded and encouraged me. My most advanced seventh grade class played it almost the entire class period because they were enjoying it so much. It really seems to be a great game because the entire class gets engaged and really into telling their teammate at the board how to write the sentence correctly and they all end up speaking in English without even realizing what they are doing. For this reason, I used more practical sentences for my eighth grade (such as “I would like a ticket to Beijing, please” and “I am learning English”) to give them practice saying phrases they are likely to use in real-life rather than the lesson-appropriate sentences I used with my sixth graders (“Fall is cool” and “I like to go swimming in the Summer”). One of my favorite moments from this week’s game was when I had the students unscramble words to form the sentence “Alyssa is my favorite English teacher”. As I went through checking each team’s sentence I said, “thank you!” as if they had done it on their own and they all thought it was very funny.
On Wednesday when I had my one fifth grade class, the Chinese teaching assistant never showed up so I taught the entire class by myself. I was very proud of my students for how well they did understanding what I was saying and participating in the class without relying on a Chinese translation. When I started the class with my usual routine of asking them what they did over the weekend, one girl told me that it was her birthday. After she sat down, another girl stood up and said in front of the class that she went to her friend’s birthday party. It seems like a simple situation but keep in mind that these are 10 and 11 year olds telling me in correct English about their weekends. They really do astound me.
I’ve started hanging out with my students in their classrooms in the breaks between classes rather than reading in the hallway or in the teacher’s offices and this has proved to be very valuable and a lot of fun. During this time, I always have some girls messing with my hair, some boys pointing at different things either around the room or in books asking me for the English words, and other students just trying to tell me different things in English and Chinese. I get so encouraged by my students’ attempt to speak in English with me about normal everyday things rather than just following a memorized script or only talking in English when they have to in class. The more relaxed interactions with me in between classes rather than just with me as the English teacher at the front of the class is probably more valuable than anything I could teach them as a class.
My eighth grade classes, usually a source of much worrying and anxiety for me, were hugely successful this week and I couldn’t be happier with how they went. Some of the students are still troublemakers and seem to spend the entire class talking, throwing things, or messing with people, but as a whole they were all great. Because of the game I played with them, even the kids that normally sit in the back scowling at me with teenage angst came to the front, participated, and did really well.
I had a lot of funny moments happen in classes this week too. One eighth grader kept trying to flatter me however he could in English so that I would give his team more points and another kid’s voice cracked so loud and high that it scared me and I jumped. One boy, rushing back to his seat after writing on the board, slipped and fell on his back in the middle of the aisle in between desks as if he had slipped on a banana peel. And in another class, in the middle of the game I heard a loud pop like a mini explosion from the back of the room and I couldn’t figure out what it was. There were a group of students (where I suspect the noise originated) that kept looking at me and telling me “don’t worry about it” while all the kids around them were staring and pointing at them. I asked what the noise was (assuming a stool had broken, but no one seemed to be missing a stool) but I still have no idea what happened. It was pretty funny though.
I am so excited about this week because it seems I finally learned how to connect with my older students and play with them at the level they want to play at while (sneakily) forcing them to use English. Next class I am going to take my eighth graders outside – an option I gave them at the end of class that immediately made their eyes bug out of their heads and get super excited and become well-behaved.

For non-teaching news, it’s really cold here. I clearly wasn’t using my brain when I packed because I left my smurf suit (a blue wool body suit), leather gloves, and long underwear in the States. It seems that I forgot I was moving to the North of the globe when I was packing and, for a reason I cannot explain, decided it was better to pack a couple of sundresses rather than my winter coat. I’ve always thought I was a good and practical packer but after this oversight, I’ve decided I’m never allowed to pack by myself again.
But, we do now have heat in the room and it is the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever experienced. We were getting so cold at night before our heat was working that we were genuinely concerned for our safety come winter. Our washer was also fixed this week and now we can do a load of laundry in half the time and without the bathroom flooding because there is no longer a missing pipe on the underside of the sink (you have to turn the faucet on to get water in the washer). We discovered how to dry our clothes fast when we moved the drying rack by the window in our living room and turned on a fan that sucks air out of the room (like bathrooms in the States).
And though happy baozi man still hasn’t returned, as we’ve seen more and more street vendors disappear with the changing weather, we have become more confident that we will see him again in the Spring.

We’re spending the weekend in Baoding again just resting and staying warm. Soon, I am going to make another post about cultural differences I’ve noticed and more about what it’s like living in China as a meiguoren (American).

Have a good weekend and thank you for reading!



Posted by on November 9, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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Day 52: BBQ & Teaching

“Winter is coming!” Well, actually, winter seems to have arrived overnight. I was saving the Game of Thrones reference for later in the Fall when Winter was, indeed, closer, but that was clearly under my false assumption that we would actually have a Fall. It seems that the refreshingly crisp autumnal breeze was a momentary weather mistake that has hence been corrected and turned into a biting, winter chill. The leaves on the trees are still a bright green and show no inclination of changing but all other signs point to a viciously cold winter ahead.

Believing I had plenty of time, I have not yet done the necessary shopping to prepare for such a winter and today that became a much higher priority. I half-jokingly told Duncan at lunch that I wouldn’t be surprised if it started snowing by the end of the day. In all actuality, the low for today was 41 F (so not quite freezing) but once you’re on Kuai Long going about 20 mph in a wintery drizzle, you become a bit convinced you will never be able to move your fingers again and you might, indeed, be stuck on the back of the motorbike because you’re joints have frozen in the wind.

Despite the disheartening weather, the day started out wonderfully with a cup of coffee brewed right in the apartment! The coffee is ground espresso fine and the milk we have is not the half and half I prefer, but coffee, even if not brewed to perfection, in the morning is a pleasure I had been missing.

Teaching (sixth grade) today was successful, enjoyable, and went by very fast. I can’t believe another Monday is already over and I only have three days left to my week. We might go on a day/weekend trip this weekend depending on the weather and the ease of transportation plans. There are some places nearby we’ve been itching to check out but we’re trying to prioritize which visits need to happen first before the weather really starts turning bad. I think, for now, we are leaning towards visit Tai Shan (roughly translated as “Extreme Mountain”). We need to get those peaks in before winter makes it impossible to get up there.


On Sunday, we had a BBQ! We woke up, went to the grocery store, and headed over to our Chinese friends’, Samantha and Johnson, apartment to have a lunch party! Samantha made homemade Kung Pao Chicken, Duncan grilled hot dogs, and I made Mac N Cheese (which is funny because I’ve never made it from scratch before and now our friends think I’m some kind of delicatessen specialty chef). We also had fruit salad (with dragon fruit and sweet mayonnaise), mutton kabobs, and dried Chinese dates (which are supposedly good for the regularity of women). Samantha half-jokingly commented that she wants to save up money to buy an oven so that I can make her my Chicken Parmesan and brownies sometime before our year is up. For the use of an oven, I would gladly help her buy it.

We had a really great time cooking and hanging out with such a multicultural group of friends. At our BBQ were our two Chinese friends who have near fluent English, a Chinese friend of theirs who knows less English than I know Chinese, the two of us, and a Philippino guy who speaks more than four languages (including Chinese and English) and has taught in China for over a year already. The conversations, especially involving different government systems, languages, the way the elderly are treated in different cultures, and familial expectations and influences on the individual, were particularly fascinating and I wish everyone could have been there to share in the discussion.

Our BBQ results (minus the hot dogs):

Our friends:

A fascinating thing about the situation I’m in here is that I am learning a language at the same time as teaching a language. I have discovered that using Chinese with the students, no matter how little it is that I can speak and understand, is immensely beneficial to connecting with the students. Something I have started doing this week in between classes is asking the students to teach me some Chinese. They are very eager and very patient while they laugh at my monstrous mispronunciations and confusion. Today, after only a few minutes spent in the hallway with four or five students, I learned more characters in one sitting than I have done at any other self-studying session. I also learned how to say a phrase I’m not sure I would have otherwise learned this year, which is “qiu (pronounced “cho”) tian lai le” (Autumn is here!) Frequently, I find myself asking why certain things are difficult for my students when they seem super easy to me (for example, the difference between “potato” and “tomato”). And almost immediately after I begin wondering why it’s difficult, I remember that I’m a native English speaker so of course I hear the differences but there are many, many words in Chinese that I cannot hear the differences in at all (especially considering the tonal nature of Chinese language).

With this in mind, I am astounded by the linguistic proficiency that my students do have and I wonder if I could have done as well as they do with English in Spanish when I was their age in school. I cannot imagine being a fifth grader and being taught by a teacher that only speaks their native language and the language I’m supposed to be learning. With this in mind I cannot be frustrated by my students’ misunderstandings and I realize, once again, (no matter how misbehaved at some times), these kids are awesome and I am honored that I get to play a small part in their lives. Maybe one day, one of my kids will sit back and think, “oh I remember my English teacher, Ms. Alyssa”. What would be even more fun is if I heard from them again, once they are adults. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

I hope you have a good week (and are a little warmer than I am)! Thank you for reading!


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Posted by on October 14, 2013 in Baoding


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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 31: Sixth Grade

We’ve been in China for a month! And what a crazy, wonderful, life-changing month this has been!

I’m sorry for the absence of posts the past couple of days – I realize my last post was not on the highest of notes. The past few days, however, have been good.
We had a very relaxing and uneventful weekend. We slept in on Saturday and Sunday, video chatted with various friends and family, rode around the city exploring on Kuai Long for almost four hours every day, and spent a lot of time at QLH lesson planning, catching up on emails, and talking with our Chinese friends, Johnson and Samantha. I even Facetimed from my iPhone while at the coffee shop with one of my good friends in Texas!
I spent a long time creating lists of English idioms and colloquial phrases to give to our friends studying English. I also gave them some lists of “American” movies, musicians, and books to look into and talk to us about.

The books I recommended (not all are American but lend themselves to good discussions about American culture):

Game of Thrones
Harry Potter
Lost on Planet China by J Marten Troost
Bill Bryson books
Into the Wild
The Scarlet Letter
The Great Gatsby
Charlotte’s Web
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn & Tom Sawyer
Of Mice and Men
Cold Mountain
The Last of the Mohicans
Brave New World
Animal Farm
The Crucible
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Widow of the South
The Da Vinci Code
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The movies we recommended:

Forrest Gump
Lion King
The Sound of Music
Shawshank Redemption
Lord of the Rings trilogy
Star Wars
Fight Club
Singin’ in the Rain
Moulin Rouge
Saving Private Ryan
Pirates of the Caribbean series
The Princess Bride
The Truman Show
Remember the Titans
V for Vendetta
Good Will Hunting
Harry Potter series
Batman movies (Dark Knight, Dark Knight Rises)
The Hobbit
Jurassic Park
Finding Nemo
Toy Story
Shrek (all of them)
Ice Age
Independence Day
Monsters, Inc.
Casino Royale
Sherlock Holmes
The Bourne Trilogy (Bourne Identity, Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne Supremacy)
Indiana Jones
Wizard of Oz
When Harry Met Sally
Groundhog Day
Last of the Mohicans

We’re in the process of planning a movie night when we can watch some of the movies and Duncan and I will cook “American” food, which in their mind always means BBQ. We’re thinking we’ll make some hot dogs, hamburgers, and maybe something like Mac’n’Cheese. What do you think we should make for our American meal?

It was a very grey, cold, and wet day today but it was great nonetheless! I’m afraid our fall might have been only this weekend and we’re already in winter. Today it was freezing outside!

Today’s classes definitely secured the sixth graders as my favorite classes. They are just so much fun to teach! To be honest, I think today was my best teaching day yet. Today I started teaching new material based on their “textbook” and we talked about different parts of the house and different kinds of food and meals. When I asked the kids “what do we eat for breakfast”, one boy stood up and confidently said “cake!” I asked him, “for breakfast?” and he responded with “dui, wo (yes, I do)”. I thought it was really funny and clever.
Rather than continuing to teach them rote memorization of vocabulary words, I had the kids try to construct their responses into “real-life” sentences such as “I eat breakfast in the morning” rather than “this is breakfast”. While teaching these sentences, however, I realized that these students, like many of our students, have difficulties with English words that end in hard consonant sounds like “white”, “red”, and “breakfast”. Few words in Mandarin end with hard consonant sounds so, out of habit, the kids we’re teaching end up pronouncing English words as “white-a”, “red-a”, and “breakfast-a”. In an attempt to get rid of the “a” sound at the end of breakfast, I started emphasizing the “t” and saying the ending really fast. The kids thought it was hilarious and started exaggerating by nodding and showing their teeth at the “t” at the end of “breakfast” but eventually got it right.
I also played a relay drawing game with the kids, which ensured that everyone participated and actively worked with the vocabulary. I put the kids into teams and then had one person from each team come up to the board at the same time. I then told them to draw a vocab word and whoever finished a recognizable drawing and labeled it correctly first won a point for their team. Though a very silly game, I think I was useful because it made them practice listening (they had to tell the difference between “closet” and “clock”), spelling, and assigning meaning to the words they’ve become very good at memorizing. It was great fun!

We’re doing very well here at the school. Teaching is a lot of fun and we love interacting with the kids. Now that they’re used to us, they are freely coming up to us in the hallways and trying to interact with us as best they can. All of Duncan’s little girls just want to give him kisses and walking down the hallway has become somewhat of a task for him because all of his students just want to climb all over him and give him hugs. My students try to have a conversation with me in English but end up running away giggling when they realize they can’t say much more than “I’m fine, and you”, try to figure out what my Kindle actually is (always surprised I’m reading an English book), and, for the younger students, try to coerce me into giving them more stamps outside of class.

We’re also doing very well here in Baoding and in China as a whole. We have a comfortable routine established and are very happy. Every day, in between and after classes, we practice the violin, study Chinese, and exercise somehow. We have a group of people we can regularly hang out with and we have a pretty good grasp of the city and where things are. It seems like most days we wake up smiling.

Tomorrow I teach seventh graders again. Let’s hope classes go half as well as they did today.

Until next time… Thanks for reading! 🙂

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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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