random thoughts about life in china

Sunday, December 7: Inspired by Dai of An Englishman’s Life in Kathmandu, I thought I’d write some random thoughts about life in China.  Dai often writes 10 thoughts, but we’ll see if I can come up with that many.

1) My first thought is that today, Pearl Harbor Day in the U.S., is my youngest son Adam’s 22nd birthday.  I really miss him, and I feel awful that I’ve missed too many of his birthdays, being away as I often am.  He used to love for me to make a fruit pizza for him on this day, and I think he’s done without while I’ve been away.  Last year, I was home for his birthday but he wasn’t.  He was traveling across the USA from to California to New Mexico and back to Virginia.  The previous two years he and my other son Alex came to visit me in Oman.  I don’t think they will come to China as they are working to get their own lives in order.  I send all my love to Adam on this, his special day.

My whole family: Mike, Sarah, Alex and Adam, the birthday boy, on the far right

My whole family: Mike, Sarah, Alex and Adam, the birthday boy, on the far right

2) I finally went to see two movies in the last week here in Nanning.  Last week, two teachers and two students and I went to an IMAX theater down the street from the university’s main gate and watched Interstellar, translated into Chinese as “Star-crossed.”  It was a great experience seeing it in that IMAX theater, so up close and personal, and though fantastical, I enjoyed the movie immensely.  And that’s from someone who doesn’t like futuristic or space movies at all.

Fleet of Time

Fleet of Time

Friday night, I tried another movie theater on the third floor of Nan Bai Supermarket.  It’s VERY conveniently located.  Luckily, at that theater, the ticket girl could speak excellent English.  I could see there were all Chinese movies showing, so I asked the girl if any of the movies had English subtitles.  She made a phone call and it took some time to find out, but I found that Fleet of Time was the only movie showing with English subtitles (I have a feeling it is meant to be translated as The Fleeing of Time).  She told me it was a romance.  I wish more Chinese movies had English subtitles; it would be ridiculous for me to try to watch a movie without them as I’d have no clue what was happening. I enjoyed the movie as it was about a group of high school friends and their love interests and it followed them into their university years and beyond into their thirties.  It gave me some new insights into my own students here at the university.

3)  Speaking of the students at SCIC, after midterms were over, our students were reshuffled into different classes.  This caused a huge disruption and led to much unhappiness for students and teachers alike.  The big college entrance examination in China, called the Gaokao, should have already sorted the students from day one, but the administration decided they would “give the students who might not have tested well on the Gaokao another chance to prove themselves.” So all the students were thrown randomly into our classes, with both high and low-level students in each class. At midterm, the students who got exceptionally high marks on midterm exams were moved into the highest level classes, and the students who got exceptionally low marks were moved into the lowest classes.  I teach a mid-level class of freshmen, so I kept the majority of my students.

We had a half a semester to bond with our students.  After midterm we lost many of our students; at the same time we also got new students from other classes. Now there are definite divisions in the class; as all of my new students came from one class, they have bonded, while my students who stayed with me have all bonded with each other and with me.  It’s very difficult to convince the new students I’m okay for them, and that they can blend with my old students. Many students keep running back to their old teachers and their old fellow students at break time and after classes are over.  I feel bad for them.  Even one of my old students, who was moved to another mid-level class for no apparent reason, came begging me to sign a letter allowing her back into my class.  This has happened across the board.  I hope it will all work out okay in the end.

4) My students from my number 8 class (some of whom are pictured above), who are really wonderful students and lively people all around, started texting me one evening this week through WeChat, commonly used in China.  They said they wanted to cook a Chinese dinner for me at Christmas and wanted to do it in my house.  They said they’d buy everything and clean up everything.  I warned them that all 40 of them would be very crowded in my small apartment; I said they are welcome to do it, but they must understand how small the space is.  The next day in class, they said they would rent a room off campus so that the whole class could fit comfortably.  We’ll see how it all works out. 🙂

5) I have never seen so many people attached to their phones as I’ve seen in China.  I see people riding their e-bikes across campus or in the busy city, driving cars, walking ~ all totally absorbed in their phones.  When I give my class a 10-minute break, I come back to find them in utter silence, all tapping away frantically at their phones.  They watch movies or TV shows online, and they buy everything on Taobao.com, THE premiere online shopping website.  I wish they would learn that life itself, if they opened themselves up to it, is much more interesting than anything they could find on their cell phones!

6)  We have a lot of lotus ponds around the campus and now all that’s left of them are brown ugly stalks.  One day while walking, I was surprised to come across these men wading in the ponds cleaning up the dead lotus leaves.

cleaning up the lotus ponds

cleaning up the lotus ponds

7) One day I was walking to Wal-Mart, a place I NEVER shop in the U.S. but I’ve found to be quite useful for Western items here in China.  In the distance I saw a huge white pile of something moving slowly toward us down the street.  When it got up closer, I could see it was a lady transporting a huge load of styrofoam on her bicycle.  The styrofoam lady!

the styrofoam lady

the styrofoam lady

8) I’m starting to feel very depressed by the gray skies here in Nanning.  When I first got here, it was always hazy, but you could see blue skies behind the haze.  However, I hated the weather because of the heat and humidity.  Every time I walked out the door of my air-conditioned apartment, I was immediately drenched in sweat.  Now that autumn is upon us, it’s cooler but still very damp, and with gray skies almost every day.  On one day last week, I went for a walk and was happy to find some blue skies.  Here’s what a blue sky day looks like on the campus.

blue skies over the lotus pond

blue skies over the lotus pond

blue skies at the university

blue skies at the university ~ a rare thing

9) Students on the campus are constantly involved in group activities.  I see dancing, aerobics, exercise, marching, singing — every activity imaginable.  A couple of weeks ago, the students from the Student Union handed out a flyer asking people to submit photos for a photo exhibit.  I sent a couple of my favorites in.  Today was the exhibition at the sports field.  I dropped by to find my students, Albert and Leo.  As I walked down the chain link fence, admiring all the photos taken by students and teachers alike, all the students there, about 12 altogether, followed me down the line.  I was asked to vote for 3 of my favorites, and Albert followed me as I voted, looking over my shoulder and asking me to sign my name.  So much for a private ballot!  I voted for Albert’s photo and two others by students I didn’t know but met today.

I loved this student’s two photos of boats on Erhai Lake near Lijiang in Yunnan province, a place I want to visit over my winter holiday.

A student whose photos I loved with three of his photos

A student whose photos I loved with three of his photos

My photos were all displayed here, but you can’t see them very well.  Four were from Oman, one from Nepal and one from Yangshuo.

the six photos I entered, four of which were from Oman, one from Nepal and one from Yangshuo

the six photos I entered, four of which were from Oman, one from Nepal and one from Yangshuo

unknown student, Albert and Leo (my two students)

unknown student, Albert and Leo (my two students)

The students convinced me to have a seat and play a matching card game. The cards had the photos from the exhibit on them.  When I found two that matched, I could remove them.  They timed each competitor and the one who was the fastest would win.  I wasn’t the fastest but I wasn’t the slowest either.

students playing a matching card game

students playing a matching card game

I went over the check out the Ming china competition, and I found my students, Eva and Fiona, playing with clay.

My students Eva and Fiona (who was moved out of my class), making Ming china pottery replicas!

My students Eva and Fiona (who was moved out of my class), in a Ming China pottery making competition

10) This weekend, I’m feeling very unmotivated to go out and explore.  It’s cold and skies are gray, so I just feel like hunkering down in my apartment and staying cozy.  Last weekend, I had quite a social weekend, seeing Interstellar on Friday night, going to Babel downtown on Saturday night for a colleague’s birthday, having pizza with some friends on Sunday.  This weekend, once again, not a soul seems to be around, and I’m feeling rather unsociable.  My needs for company come and go with the wind; sometimes I feel really lonely here and other times I’m perfectly happy being alone.  But that is the nature of the expat life.  I am really looking forward to Mike’s visit in late January or early February.  I think it will be here before I know it.  I have a lot of travel planning to do before his arrival. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, ESL Teacher, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi University Athletic Field, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, NanBai Supermarket, Nanning, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC) | Tags: , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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20 thoughts on “random thoughts about life in china

  1. I love my time at home with myself and my furry girls, but I also love my time with friends. It’s a joy to have opportunities for both.


  2. Hi,Cathy , this is Chen, I am a Chinese who is living in Oman now. I have been loving to read your writings and photography about Oman , and I was so surprised to see you have moved to my home country now when I checked your blog today. Hope you enjoyed your staying in China!


    • Hello, Chen! Thanks so much for writing to me. How interesting that you’re Chinese and live in Oman, and now here I am living in China, after having lived in Oman! What are you doing in Oman? I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed reading about my time in Oman; I loved my time there and now I’m loving my time here in China. Which part of China are you from?


      • hi Cathy, i was working in Oman before but i am a housewife now since I have my child. I am from Shanghai of China. I am so sad to feel your loneliness there especially in such a holiday seasons. Due to the language barrier ,most of people in China maybe don’t know how to express themselves, but please believe that they are friendly and kindly. If you need any help there, please do let me know. A late Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you !


      • Thanks so much for your kind words, Dongjuan Chen. It’s not the Chinese people who are unkind; I find the expats I work with are rather cliquish and not always inclusive. That’s too bad as there aren’t that many of us, and I’d think we could bond together. No matter, my Chinese students have planned a party for today after class, so I’m really looking forward to that. It should be a festive occasion. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too. I hope you’re enjoying your life in Oman. 🙂


  3. Will it be cold when Mike arrives?


    • Yes, Gilly, sadly it will be cold. It’s cold now and it seems Mike will come at the end of January, which people tell me is the coldest and dampest. However, we’ll be staying mostly in the south of China, which isn’t as cold as the north. We’re planning to spend about a week in Yunnan province and another week going back to Yangshuo and up into Hunan province, where I’m afraid it will be much colder. 😦


  4. Happy birthday to your son, Cathy. Fruit pizza sounds really good. How do you make that? It must have been hard to vote for your favourite photos whilst being watched. 🙂


    • I think Adam had a good birthday, Sylvia; I was finally able to talk to him Wednesday night. The fruit pizza has a sugar cookie dough crust, is covered with whipped cream and any fruits you want to add. It’s actually pure dessert and full of sweetness!

      Yes, haha, it was a little difficult to vote while one of my favorite students was standing over my shoulder. I like him a lot, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by not voting for him. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I like this post, and love the way your students are planning to take care of you for Christmas! Sweet! And the photos, and the men cleaning out the lotuses – amazing.


    • Thanks so much, Lynn. Sadly, it seems that when you drop by, you happen to see my more mundane posts. Too bad you missed my trip to Yangshuo and to the rice terraces in Longji and Ping’An.

      My students had all that talk about taking care of me for Christmas, but then they haven’t mentioned it again since. Maybe they’ve given up because it’s too much hassle getting so many people together. It would have been nice if just a small group of them came to my house to cook for me. 🙂


  6. Cathy, your students seem delightful! What a nice change from your last experience. 🙂 Like you, there are times I want to be sociable, and others I’m totally happy to hunker down in a cozy place. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and impressions. ~Terri


    • Overall, my students really are delightful, although sometimes their unwillingness to speak really frustrates me, especially when I’m teaching Speaking and Listening.

      Yes, sometimes I really just enjoy being cozy in my own place, Terri. Especially on these cold drab winter days. 🙂


  7. I like this random collection of observations, Cathy 🙂 I sometimes read Dai (but not often) I meant to respond to your email but I haven’t yet 😦 The card is on its way, address printed and stuck on as you suggest. 🙂 I, too, think it’s lovely that your students should want to make you happy. They seem such a friendly bunch (even if their noses are stuck in their phones) but then I can imagine that you are a great teacher, Cathy. What a mess of a system in the university!
    Love ‘styrofoam lady’ 🙂 How does she keep them balanced? Shame about Adam, but as you say, he was away from home last year. I have to say, I think fruit pizza sounds gross, Cathy! Give me cheese every time 🙂 Hugs, darlin’.


    • Oh Jo, you are too sweet to send me a card here in China! It will be the only thing that will feel like Christmas here, although I do see some decorations up here and there. I do hope it wasn’t too expensive to send the card my way!

      My students are really sweet, and they seem to be loosening up some as we spend more time together. Some of them are so painfully shy, it makes teaching a class where speaking is required a difficult experience.

      I guess the fruit pizza might sound gross, Jo, if you didn’t know that the crust is made from sugar cookie dough and the topping is whipped cream and fresh fruit. It really is a delicious dessert, surprisingly. Of course, I’m like you, Jo, I always prefer the savory to the sweet.

      Enjoy the rest of your holiday. It looks like it’s been marvelous so far. 🙂 xxx


  8. I enjoyed looking around your blogs. I followed over to here from Breeze At Dawn. What a lot of work you put into your posts and I really enjoyed them! It was great to see China as you are experiencing it.

    If you ever get homesick for Richmond, visit my blog. Either put in Ginter or Richmond into the search box and all kinds of stuff will come up. My most recent post was the night lights at Ginter.




    • It’s so nice that you dropped by to visit from Breezes at Dawn, Nancy. Thanks so much. As for Richmond, I’m ALWAYS homesick for Richmond and would really prefer to live there rather than Northern Virginia. I’ll drop over to visit your blog! I love Lewis Ginter. 🙂


  9. Enjoyed this random collage of expat life in China Cathy. How thoughtful of your students to cook a Christmas meal for you! 🙂 Sending belated birthday wishes to Adam. Good luck with the travel plans


    • Thanks, Madhu. I’m glad you enjoyed this random post. My party with my students is on Friday afternoon. I look forward to it as they’re so keen to do it and they are my favorite class! Thanks for Adam’s belated birthday wishes. I missed it for the fifth year in a row, but last year it was his fault, not mine. Just applied for my Myanmar visa today. One step done. 🙂


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