Chinese language class

cocktail hour in the laundry room (or maybe we’ll sit inside where it’s cool!) :-)

Sunday evening, wine o’clock: If you dropped by for cocktails this evening, I’d be so pleased to see you that I’d usher you right past my laundry room and into my icy air-conditioned living room.  It’s so hot, humid and miserable outdoors that your clothes and body would probably be drenched in sweat, so you’d breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not making you swelter in my laundry room.  Then I’d offer you either a cold Budweiser, as that’s all I have this week, or a glass of Chile Cabernet Sauvignon – Valle Central 2013.  I forgot to chill it though, as I can never get used to chilled red wine, so it might be a little warm.  We can always add an ice-cube or two, but I don’t know if you’d feel safe with it as we don’t drink water from the faucet in China.  You might get sick, and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.

lush lotus

lush lotus

Have a seat in my comfortable chair and tell me about your week.  It’s June, so summer is upon us. Hooray!  Do you have any travel plans over the summer?  Are you starting to visit farmer’s markets and getting some fresh produce?  Have you been to any outdoor concerts?  Do you have some time off from work?  How about family visits?  Do you have grandchildren or parents or children or friends coming to visit?  Will you go to the beach or a pool for a swim any time soon?  Will you be having a barbecue?  If so, what will you make?  Will you invite me? 🙂  I sure would like some grilled corn on the cob (hint-hint!).

perky lotus

perky lotus

I took a short walk around one of our lotus ponds on the campus this afternoon.  It’s nice to have fresh flowers for a cocktail hour, don’t you think?  I couldn’t stay out long because sweat kept dripping into my eyes, I was getting eaten alive by mosquitos, and my camera lens kept fogging over. I think I’m late in the game in photographing the flowers. I should have done it earlier when they were at their peak.  Now they seem to be fading a bit.  I guess their late stage goes hand in hand with my final days here in China.

Lotus pond at Guangxi University

Lotus pond at Guangxi University

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks, so I’m sorry I’ve missed hosting a few cocktail hours.  Don’t worry; I didn’t have one and not invite you.  You’d always be invited, and very welcome.

Two weekends ago, I went with my friend Erica to Yangshuo.  She has never traveled anywhere during her year in Nanning, although she’s been in China for seven years and has traveled prior to this year. We had to squeeze in a lot during a short time, so it felt a little rushed, but we still managed to do shortened versions of three of the four things I did in Yangshuo during the 4-day National holiday in October.  It was a lot of fun, although we got rained on a few times.

Lotus flower

Lotus flower

It’s unbelievably damp in Nanning.  I’m so tired of feeling hot and wet all the time.  I know, that doesn’t sound good, but that’s how I feel.  I get all showered and blow-dry my hair and put on clean clothes in the morning, only to walk out my door and immediately become drenched in either sweat or rain.  I really hate this weather in the south of China; it’s one of the biggest reasons I look forward to my escape on July 15. I wish for once I could work abroad in a nice climate, such as somewhere in Europe on the Mediterranean. Or even a northern country, where I’d have to stay bundled up all the time.

Umbrellas in the hallway of the 9th floor of the Experimental Building - this is Nanning :-)

Umbrellas in the hallway of the 9th floor of the Experimental Building – this is Nanning 🙂

Escape is in the cards. It’s visible on the horizon.  I bought a ticket for July 15 from Nanning directly to Seoul on Korean Air and then on to L.A. where I will visit my sister in Reseda for about a week on my way home.  A week after I bought that ticket, Korean Air canceled that flight, so I had to search for a new flight. Now I will fly to Beijing, then to Vancouver, then to L.A.  The scary part is that I only have a 1 1/2 hour layover in Vancouver, and I already know I will probably miss the connection.  Planes are notoriously late taking off from airports in China, so I’m preparing myself already.  At least it will be Air Canada’s problem if I miss the connection, because both flights, from Beijing and from Vancouver, are with Air Canada.

Lotus blossoms

Lotus blossoms

Yes, my time in China is winding down.  Because my departure is imminent, I dropped out of my Chinese class.  This was long overdue.  Our teacher, Miss Hao, kept telling me I was very clever, because I was able to figure out sentences and vocabulary meanings in class.  The problem was that when I left the class, I never studied.  I could be a clever person if I actually applied myself. 🙂  Also, the other two people remaining in the class, Gavin and Reed, are very advanced, and frankly, I was holding them up.  So I made a quiet and uneventful departure.  However, Miss Hao was keen on inviting our class to her house for dinner, so we went on Wednesday night, June 3.

Miss Hao lives on the 18th floor of a new building on the university campus; during many of our Chinese classes, she was busy on her phone talking to contractors and decorators about fixing up her house.  It’s a lovely sprawling apartment with great views over the university campus.  However, she doesn’t have air conditioning.  It wasn’t that she hadn’t turned it on; she decided not to have it built into the house at all.  I can’t imagine no air-conditioning in Nanning’s heat and humidity, but I did have the (ahem) pleasure of enjoying (i.e. suffering through) the heat for this one evening.

She had originally promised us we would get to help her make dumplings, which none of us were thrilled about because we’re all pathetic at making them and don’t enjoy the process at all.  But we prepared ourselves, only to find, voila (!), she’d already made them when we arrived.  The lack of air-conditioning was something I was prepared for however, simply because I know the Chinese mentality.  I predicted she wouldn’t have it and I was right.

Left to right: Reed, Gavin, unknown Chinese friend of Miss Hao, Miss Hao

Left to right: Reed, Gavin, unknown Chinese friend of Miss Hao, Miss Hao

We did have a lovely evening there nonetheless, and I loved the dumplings.  Dumplings are one of my favorite things to eat in China, and these were especially good. Gavin and I brought our own beer, and I’m glad we did because Miss Hao didn’t have any.  She did bring out a refrigerated bottle of red wine partway through the dinner, however, so we could make toasts to each other.

Clockwise from bottom left: spicy cucumbers, watermelon, dumplings

Clockwise from bottom left: spicy cucumbers, watermelon, dumplings

Besides that little outing, I met fellow-novelist Paul for dinner one night to exchange our novels. He’s given me the next 50 pages of his, which I’ll read this week, and he’s said he’ll finish mine.  He’s leaving in a week and a half, so we’ll see if we get through them.

lotus leaves

lotus leaves

I had a couple of lunches with Gavin, but now he’s mad at me because I didn’t leap at the chance to help him make the listening final exam over the weekend.  He knows my strong feelings about preserving my weekends for myself, and so the fact that he didn’t plan ahead enough so I could help him before this weekend showed a bit of disregard for my beliefs.  As a teacher, it’s all too easy to let your planning and marking, which must be done outside the classroom, spill over into your personal time. I like to have a clean line between work and pleasure, so I keep the line very rigid.  Only in an emergency will I let work encroach on my personal life.

Oh well, if he doesn’t get over it, I’ll be leaving soon anyway.

dropping petals

dropping petals

Last weekend, I went to Beihai, the only coastal city in Guangxi province, to visit Mari.  Mari is a Finnish lady who lives and works in Beihai for a Finnish company, Stora Enso, known for publication and fine paper, packaging board and wood products.  She’s in charge of supply chain management for container board used in milk cartons.  I met her when we went on a tour of the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an.  She kindly invited me to visit her in Beihai, sending her personal driver to Nanning on Friday afternoon to pick me up and drive me the three hours to Beihai.  He then drove 3 hours each way Sunday night to return me home. Besides that, she invited me to stay in her apartment, which was beautifully decked out IKEA style.  She was the perfect hostess; and we had a great time and lots of laughs.

lotus flowers in the pond

lotus flowers in the pond

In addition to those two weekends away, my students turned in 73 outlines and brainstorms/clusters that I had to grade in the first of three staggered deadlines.  They’re writing their final research papers for my class and there are three stages in the process.  I thought I’d be able to go through them quickly, but it was very time-consuming mostly because they were a total mess and many of them were off topic.  Oh dear.  If we get through this process it will be a miracle.

lotus pond on the university campus

lotus pond on the university campus

Since our last cocktail hour on May 25, I’ve mailed one big box home by ground; I sure hope it makes it back to Virginia.  I should mail another this week.  I went out for a “drink” with one of my students, which turned out in fact to be a “mango mountain.”

I finished watching the first season of Madam Secretary, Skyped several times with Mike, Skyped with Sarah, and finished watching Season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy. I also watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, one of the few DVDs I brought here with me, for about the 20th time.  I continued to plod away on the depressing Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian; it’s a hard-to-take book but I’m learning something about the Armenian genocide prior to WWI. It’s always good to learn something new about the horrible things we as humans are capable of.

lotus

lotus

I also had an interview with Teaching House in Washington, D.C. because I applied to take an intensive CELTA (Cambridge Certificate for English Language Teaching of Adults) course in September. I passed the interview and committed to the class.  So now I know what I’ll be doing this fall: taking the course and enjoying the holidays with my family.  I’d like to stay home for a while, but who knows how long it’ll be before I get itchy feet again.  Going back to work at NOVA is not something I can get excited about.

lotus blossoms under cover

lotus blossoms under cover

I’d love to hear all about your last couple of weeks, so feel free to stay awhile, and tell me what’s on your mind.  There’s no rush.  I have nothing to do tonight because I don’t work on weekends. 🙂

fern and leaf

fern and leaf

I do want to apologize for not visiting many of you as often as I’d like.  My internet is very slow here, and often I open the pages to your blog and wait and wait and wait for them to open.  By then I’ve gone on to something else, or I’ve gone to bed.  I hope to be better once I return home to the US of A, where the internet works smoothly and quickly and without issue. 🙂

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Categories: Asia, California, China, Chinese language, Chinese language class, conversation, D.C., ESL Teacher, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Language barrier, laundry room cocktail hour, Los Angeles, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Reseda, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, United States of America, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | 28 Comments

a pensive walk around the agricultural college of guangxi university

Sunday, October 19:  I spend this entire weekend not talking to a soul.  So, I feel pretty depressed and lonely as I go out for a bicycle ride and a walk around the East Campus this Sunday morning.  I want to walk around the grounds of the Agricultural College because there’s a lot of farmland on this part of the campus.  The residences look different as well, and several somewhat scenic ponds dot the area.  I already made a long trek yesterday to the Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden, so today I want to stay close to home while having a little change of scenery.

farmland around the Agricultural College

farmland around the Agricultural College

Luckily I did speak by Skype to Mike, plus I had some nice back and forth “comment” banter with fellow blogger Dai of An Englishman’s life in Kathmandu and Jo of Restless Jo.  I also shared some Facebook comments with people.  That’s kind of sad when your only communication is through a computer screen.

a house overtaken by nature

a house overtaken by nature

I’ve found it hard to connect with anyone here in China, other than on a superficial level, for several reasons.  The other teachers certainly seem friendly enough.  That’s not it.  It’s more just an inability to find people with the same interests and energy level as me.

wall & foliage

wall & foliage

farmland

farmland

It seems that the younger teachers gravitate toward their cohorts; I can’t say I blame them for that.  I did the same when I was their age.

more farmland

more farmland

a farmer wearing a reflective conical hat

a farmer wearing a reflective conical hat

All of the other teachers, bar none, have been in China for years; I am the ONLY teacher here who has just arrived in the country.  Those expats have traveled extensively and seem to be content to just hang around close to home on weekends.

greenhouses

greenhouses

a glimpse of a pond

a glimpse of a pond

reflections

reflections

A lot of people work part-time jobs outside of the university, doing online teaching or teaching kindergarten or private students.  Other people are involved in work that doesn’t involve teaching English.  Many of the older men here have Chinese wives and the younger men have Chinese girlfriends, so they’re occupied with their partners.

storage sheds behind apartment buildings

storage sheds behind apartment buildings

a murky pond

a murky pond

Sometimes I ask my colleagues what they did on the weekend, and they say they worked all weekend or they “did nothing.”  Or they are trying to complete a graduate degree and had a paper due. Some people have told me they’re here to make money and don’t want to make any friends or go out spending money.

more brick storage units

more brick storage units

If someone is trying to make money, I honestly can’t figure out why on earth they came to China.  I make less than half of what i made in Oman. Even Korea and Japan pay better than China, if the Middle East is not someone’s cup of tea.

apartment buildings

apartment buildings

laundry peeking from behind shrubbery

laundry peeks from behind shrubbery

Because of this lack of connection with anyone, I’m becoming increasingly frustrated.  I feel isolated and disconnected.  It doesn’t help that we have offices at the university that no one uses.  Sure, I can go use mine, but no one else will be there.  We go to class and then we sometimes go have lunch after class, and then everyone disappears into their own worlds.

apartment building on the East Campus

apartment building on the East Campus

another apartment building

another apartment building

It’s a paradox that I’m happy to NOT have to keep office hours, yet I’m disappointed that I’m missing the socializing that often occurs in the office.  At this college, much like at Northern Virginia Community College, no office hours are required.  We do our preparation and marking at home, show up for class, and go back home.  In Oman, I had to come into the office every day from 8-4.  Though I hated having to keep office hours, especially when I didn’t have enough work to fill my time, I did like the opportunity to socialize.  I made my closest friends in the university office:  Mario, Kathy, Anna, Tahira, Mona Lisa.  We became friends by hanging out and chatting in the office.

isolated house along the pond

isolated house along the pond

peeking from foliage

peeking from foliage

In Oman, it took five months before Mario and I became friends.  And it took even longer to become best of friends; of course every friendship needs time to develop.  I keep reminding myself it took that long.  I don’t even really hope to find a friend like Mario; friends like him in life are very rare indeed.  But I do keep hoping to find a partner in crime, someone who is not desperate to save money, someone who likes to go out and explore, someone who enjoys photography, someone who guards their free time and doesn’t let work encroach on it.  Someone laid back, yet with a sense of adventure.  It hasn’t happened yet.

a lonely road

a lonely road

I don’t understand people who say they don’t want to have friends while here.  That makes for a lonely existence.  Sure, it’s great to be here to save money, but what about a life?  I’ve always been a person who likes to balance work and pleasure.  Just like everyone else, I have a lot of preparation and marking to do, but I’m determined not to work on weekends.  I’m certainly not interested in taking on extra work.

I could be happy here, despite missing my husband and family.  My job is actually one of the better jobs I’ve ever had.  The students are sweet and hardworking, and I like the way the teaching schedule is set up.  I don’t have much of a commute.  I’m finished at noon three days a week, and one day I don’t go in until 2:40 and finish at 5:00.  I only have to prepare four 80-minute classes a week, because I repeat the same classes for different students.

The only negatives really are the isolation, the hot and sticky weather, and the oily food that sometimes makes me sick.  Oh, and the fact that sometimes the air conditioners don’t work in our classrooms; this makes me very grumpy.  🙂

cheery flowers

cheery flowers

This weekend, even though I had work I could have done, and I had plenty of free time on my hands, I didn’t do any work.  I went on two outings, I took and edited a lot of photos, I wrote 3 blog posts, I watched Mad Men, which I’m now addicted to, and I spent hours researching places I could explore in Guangxi province over the coming weekends.  I don’t have a long break until February, but at least twice a month, I could go on a weekend trip.  If I have to go it alone, then so be it.  I’m no stranger to traveling alone.

keeping shop

keeping shop

Tonight, I am feeling pretty melancholy, and it doesn’t help that I had a big glass of wine and watched one of my all-time favorite movies, Cairo Time, which tends to make me cry.  I have no idea how many times I’ve watched this movie.  I love it because it reminds me of my time in Cairo during the month of July in 2007.  That was the first time I’d ever been to such an exotic place alone, and I never felt so alive, so aware of every moment.  In all of my travels since Cairo, 16 countries in 5 years, I’ve always hoped to recapture that feeling of overwhelming awe that I had in Cairo.  I’ve never experienced anything to match it since.

wispy flowers

wispy flowers

pretty pond

pretty pond

I just have to keep in mind my goals of travel, and forge ahead alone if necessary.  I have plenty to blog about and plenty of pictures to take.  I can watch TV series like Mad Men, watch movies, and read.  I have a lot of books on my Kindle.  And I can keep going out for walks and bicycle rides.  I’m also due to start a free Basic Chinese class this Wednesday evening.  That will be a fun challenge.

And of course I’ll look forward to having Mike come to visit in February, when we can travel around together.  Though he’ll only be here for two weeks, I really hope someone else will come to visit, like my sons, or any of my friends.  Anyone is welcome to visit while I’m here in China.  I would love to have visitors!

I doubt I’ll never find a partner in crime like Mario, but at least I hope there’s someone here in China who I can connect with on a deeper level.  Otherwise my time in China will be an awfully lonely time.

Categories: Agricultural College of Guangxi University, Asia, Bicycle tour, China, Chinese language, Chinese language class, East Campus, Expat life, Friendship, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning, Teaching English as a Second Language, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

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