ESL Teacher

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. 🙂

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

cocktail hour in the laundry room: a social week, train ticket dilemmas, a retreat and sunday afternoon ktv

Monday, May 25:  Isn’t it amazing how quickly the weeks go by?  Here it is again, time for cocktail hour in the laundry room.  I’m sorry I had to postpone our Sunday night gathering.  I had already downed a couple of beers early on Sunday, as I met some of my students for four hours of KTV in the afternoon.  I’ll tell you more about that later.  For now, though, please, come on in!  Have a seat in my comfortable chair and I’ll pour you a glass of Rioja.  It’s all I have left, so I apologize in advance.  I haven’t had time to make my bi-weekly trip to Wal-Mart for my 3 bottles of wine for 99 yuan.  It’s been a busy week, and the next couple are not likely to be any better.

I realize my life has morphed into something very unlike the life I lead in Virginia.  If you were coming to my house in Virginia for drinks, I would have prepared appetizers and several types of cocktails.  I’d have some music playing and I certainly wouldn’t have you sit in my laundry room.  Oh well, this is what happens when I live abroad.  I become too lazy to go to the effort I normally make back home.  Everything is pared down, simplified.  Life is lived with the bare minimum of “stuff.”  I have learned to be comfortable in places I would have never thought it possible to call home.  I feel as if this is my home, just as I felt my apartments in Oman and Korea were home.  Still, it’s nice to know I have my house in Virginia to truly go home to.

I finally took down my lavender flowered sheets from the laundry line because it’s rotation time.  I took the ugly plaid sheets provided by the university off of my bed and washed them, so they’re now hanging on the line.  I rotated the lavender sheets onto my bed.  They’re so much softer than the plaid ones, which are pretty scratchy, so I love the alternating bi-weekly lavender sheet period.

Come on in and join me for some Rioja. :-)

Come on in and join me for some Rioja. 🙂

It’s been miserably hot and humid and damp here, as usual, but it’s not so bad out here this evening, for some bizarre reason.  So I am actually sitting here in the laundry room, drinking my wine, and writing this post to all of my blogging or other friends who care to visit.

I’d love to hear about your week.  Did you work in the garden or do some spring cleaning?  Did you swim a 2-mile swim?  (My husband Mike did, and did it in just a tad over an hour; it was an open lake swim, which I’d be freaked out about, but he’s very calm and deliberate about that kind of thing.)   Did you read a good book?  I love hearing about the books you’re reading and promptly add them to my Goodreads list, so I do want to know all about your reading list.  Did you watch any good movies or TV shows?  Did you dance in the streets (I know Pauline and Jack did!) or did you take a walk in the countryside (as Jo always does).  Did you have any interesting conversations, or did you reveal a deep dark secret to someone?

I don’t know about you, but I’m really on edge about the Nepal earthquakes, as I visited Nepal in January of 2013; I can picture Kathmandu and Durbar Square and all the historical and religious sites that have been destroyed.  My friend Dai, who lives in Nepal and has a Nepali family, happened to be in Portugal looking for a new apartment during the earthquake, but his family is still living in tents because of the aftershocks. And now monsoon season is upon them. I really hope all the aftershocks stop soon.  It really is heartbreaking.

Tell me anything you want to tell me. I’m here to listen. 🙂

This past week, I wrote a blog post about a horrid horse-cart driver in Ava, Myanmar: a horse-cart ride through the former “kingdom of ava”.  I was chatting with Mike on Skype on Sunday morning and, as always, I asked him if he read my post.  I said, “Wasn’t that guy awful?”  He said, “Yes, it was awful how he was beating that poor skeletal horse.”  Then he added, “You know, I can just see the situation now.  He has it figured how much time it will take to go to all the places in Ava.  And the Korean lady fits with his schedule because she’s not taking pictures and she does a simple in and out at each place.  But what the guy doesn’t figure in is you and your camera and the hundreds of pictures you take at each place. I could see by the number of pictures you posted that there was no way that trip could have taken one hour!”  Oh my gosh, Mike always has a way of calling me out on things.  He knows me all too well.  I cracked up laughing when he said that.  He’s got me pegged; I guess that’s the great thing about knowing someone so well.

And then there are the people I don’t know too well.  Last week, I finally cornered my friend (the one who I thought had been ignoring me, so in turn I started ignoring him) and mentioned that I was about ready to write him off as it seemed he didn’t value our friendship.  He often says he’s awfully busy, and I do know he works multiple jobs outside of the university, but that excuse is bull malarkey.  People can make time if they want to.  I said I’d be happy to back off and leave him alone, but that wasn’t what he wanted as he says he does value my friendship.  I told him there’s something he should know about me: I am never one to chase after a friend, and if I sense someone is backing off, then I will back off even more and give that friend plenty of space.  Then he said there is something I should know about him: he really believes no one likes him.  He always assumes people don’t want to be around him so he tends to give people their space.  He also argued that a friendship works both ways, that I could easily invite him places.  But I said I’m not going to invite someone who’s always so busy; if he is as busy as he claims to be, I’m always going to get rejected.  Since he’s so busy, I figure I should leave it to him to let me know when he’s free.  Around and around with misunderstandings.  And so it goes.  Why do relationships have to be so complicated?

This week was better all around; not only did I share several meals with him, but I also shared meals with some other friends at the university.  In addition, I went on a two-day work “retreat,” a very positive experience, which I already wrote about: a work retreat: a cultural exchange at pingnan high school & a rainy morning walk at guiping xi shan.  I was happy to have a bit of a social week, although sometimes it goes in the opposite direction and it’s a little too much for my reclusive self. 🙂

After nearly this entire year of my traveling alone, my friend Erica, who always works multiple jobs on weekends, said she wanted to go to Yangshuo and wondered if I’d give her some advice.  I said I’d be happy to go along if she’d like the company. She said she would.  So I took care of checking on the train tickets, and she took care of finding a hotel.  We were going to share a room, but then she asked me the dreaded question: “Do you snore?”  It’s a good thing she asked, and I told her the truth: I do snore and apparently a lot.  I always drive my son Alex crazy when we’re traveling together.  So she arranged for separate rooms, a good thing to preserve a friendship.  We had to get a Chinese student to buy the train tickets for us, and then we went to the ticket office near the university main gate to pick them up. However, after much mysterious dallying, they finally told us we had to go to the train station to pick them up, as we needed to show our passports to the people in charge.  It’s such a hassle to go to the train station, but we hopped on the #605 bus and went, where amazingly, there was no line at the English counter!!  Miracle of miracles!  It took us a while, but we got our tickets in hand, and we’re leaving for Yangshuo on Friday afternoon at 13:15.

By the way, while sitting here at my cocktail hour, I’m munching on peanuts in the shell, which I have to crack open of course.  It’s a little hard to write a post on the computer while cracking peanut shells, so I’m taking a lot of breaks.  I eat peanuts in the shells because most snacks in China, say potato chips or other supposedly “salty” snacks that I crave, always have a little sweetness to them.  I found this in Korea too.  It’s very difficult to eat snacks that don’t taste similar to what you’re used to.  I haven’t found many snack foods I like in China except some chocolate mousse cake squares, which are my downfall for sure.

As for TV series, I’ve now finished Homeland, The Fall, and Scandal.  I was sad to finish them up.  Now I’m engrossed in Season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy and Season 1 of Madam Secretary.  I’m enjoying them both very much.  I’m still reading Sandcastle Girls; it’s interesting but taking me a while to really get into it.

My air conditioner in my living room is leaking and though I’ve asked the university to repair it, no one has shown up.  This is one of the annoying things about depending on some organization to keep your house in order.

Now to the Sunday afternoon KTV activity.  I met a small group of my students at the front gate of the university and we walked together to a KTV place.  KTV refers to karaoke television, a kind of interactive musical entertainment.  I have wanted to go ever since I arrived in China, as I used to do noraebang in Korea all the time and greatly enjoyed it: south korea … land of the “bangs”.

The lobby of Singing Soul KTV

The lobby of Singing Soul KTV

A noraebang is a “singing” room where everyone takes turns singing English or Korean songs, some rockin’, some lovely ballads, some classical songs.  KTV in China is the same; it’s basically a “singing room” that you reserve for a period of time for a fee.  You can order tea, snacks, beer, or anything else you want. During that time, you pick either Chinese or English (even some Korean) songs from a computer and put them on a list, and when the music video plays on the TV screen, you can sing along with a microphone.  I love to sing, even though I’m no good at it, so I always enjoyed it in Korea.  I enjoy it here as well.  I even did this in Northern Virginia as the Korean community in Falls Church is quite huge and there are tons of Korean restaurants and some noraebangs as well.

Fountain & lobby at Singing Soul KTV

Fountain & lobby at Singing Soul KTV

This place is called Singing Soul KTV.  Singing soul!?  Sounds like something you’d read on a poetic Chinese placard at a tourist spot.

Singing Soul KTV

Singing Soul KTV

Colorful fountain at Singing Soul KTV

Colorful fountain at Singing Soul KTV

We reserve a room and settle in.  Here are the microphones.

microphones for KTV

microphones for KTV

The KTV singing room is very dark, with a strobe tossing colorful dots of confetti light all over the walls.  We sit on long couches in a semi-rectangle around a long table and sing, drink, eat and talk.  I do have to say there isn’t much talking that can go on here, as the music is so loud.  I take a multitude of photos, but not many of them turn out.  Oh well, you can get the general idea from the photo gallery below.

I pick some of my favorite songs from a computerized list.  Many that I would choose are NOT available, such as “Happy” and “Get Lucky” by Pharrell Williams, “If There’s Any Justice” by Lemar, and “How to Save a Life” by The Fray.  However, I am able to sing: “Hotel California” by the Eagles, “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and Papas (I’m really showing my age!), “Somebody that I used to Know” by Walk off the Earth, “Incomplete” by Backstreet Boys, and “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol.

What really surprises me are the students’ selections.  They go from “Yesterday Once More” by the Carpenters to “S&M” by Rhianna!  Wow, what an extreme.  They pick a lot of songs by Bruno Mars, Jon Legend, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry.  Of course, they also choose a lot of Chinese songs, many of which are beautiful or rocking!  One English song they choose brings tears to my eyes: “If I Were a Boy” by Beyonce.

Below is me with my students after four hours of KTV.  I heard today that the students stayed for two more hours after I left.   This class of students, the 1408 class, seems to enjoy doing social things with me.  The Leo on the far right was my student before midterm of fall semester; sadly he got moved out of my class, but I really love his personality.  He’s a great singer and a charming boy and I miss having him in my class.

Albert, Robin, Spring, Jack, me, Leo and Leo

Albert, Robin, Spring, Jack, me, Leo and Leo

I always enjoyed noraebang in Korea, and now I can say with authority that I enjoy KTV in China.   I’m slowly but surely getting all the Chinese experiences I wanted under my belt, now that my time here is winding down.

It’s getting dark now, so I think I’ll go inside and eat some leftover Korean bibimbap.  I had some from last week when I went out to a Korean restaurant for dinner.  I’ll top off my meal with one of those chocolate mousse cake squares I love so much.  I suppose you’ll want to go home for some dinner as I have nothing to offer, and there aren’t enough leftovers to go around.  But thanks so much for coming.  As always, it was great to see you, and great to have a chat. 🙂  See you next week, maybe Monday or Tuesday, as I’m going to Yangshuo over the weekend.

Categories: Asia, China, conversation, Entertainment, ESL Teacher, Expat life, Friendship, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, KTV, laundry room cocktail hour, Nanning, Singing Soul KTV, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language | Tags: , , , , , , | 37 Comments

a work retreat: a cultural exchange at pingnan high school & a rainy morning walk at guiping xi shan

Friday, May 22:  Today, 13 of the 25 foreign teachers from our college, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), leave for a two-day retreat in Pingnan County, in eastern Guangxi.  It isn’t a total “retreat” as we are required to teach two 40-minute classes at Pingnan High School, a school of over 4,000 students, on Friday afternoon.  On Saturday, our plan is to visit the Guiping Xishan Scenic Area, a mountain that houses a Buddhist temple, Longhua Temple.

Originally, the plan was to take the fast train, which would have been a 1 1/4 hour trip.  However, as we also had the Chinese staff along, more than doubling our number, the administration was unable to procure enough seats for all of us on the fast train.  Thus it was decided two days before the retreat that we’d go by coach, and we were told in an email we should expect a 2 1/2 hour bus ride.

As soon as the bus gets underway on Friday morning, we’re told the trip will be 4 hours.  We foreign teachers protest loudly, as many of us don’t like bus rides because of the inability to use the toilet when necessary!  Luckily, the bus ride turns out to be not bad at all, as the scenery of the Chinese countryside is quite lovely, and the bus makes two bathroom/snack stops along the way.

I love traveling through the Chinese countryside, with its sprawling farmland and small towns.  At this time of year, as it’s monsoon season, it’s very wet, and the fields are green with crops, especially rice.  I am mesmerized by the scenes out the window.  I find the countryside in China is the best thing about being here.

Once we drive into the town of Pingnan, we see the typical things we always see in Chinese towns: people wearing cropped pants and plastic shower slippers sitting on stools in open air shops, people in small groups playing games of mahjong or cards or checkers, big slabs of meat laid out on wooden plank tables, construction debris everywhere, mud and piles of dirt, stores selling tires, bicycles, motorbikes and tools, vegetable markets, people on motorbikes covered in colorful rain ponchos.  Though the rain is intermittent on our ride, we can see the glistening of wet surfaces and mud puddles everywhere.

When we arrive at our hotel in Pingnan at around 1:00, we head straight to a banquet room, where we sit at a round table with a lazy Susan, where dishes circle the table for our eating pleasure.  Of course, I can’t eat many of the meat dishes as they have the typical bones, fat, gristle, chicken heads, and fish heads.  I do eat some vegetables, a decent soup, and some of the fish.

After lunch, we check into our hotel rooms and have a short time to get situated.  I get my own private room with a bathtub, something that always makes me happy.  We then meet in the lobby, where we board the bus to the high school.

As soon as we get off the bus, it starts raining, so we’re immediately escorted to a conference room where the administrators and Chinese English teachers from the high school sit on one side of the room, and the SCIC staff sits on the other side.  Official welcome speeches are made by a Pingnan County official and the headmaster of the school, welcoming us and our participation in this “cultural exchange.”  Luckily, two young Chinese graduate students in English are sitting at the head of the table and they translate everything.  I have attended official meetings like this in Korea and in Oman where no one bothered to translate for the English speakers.  On the other side, our Dean Qin makes a speech in Chinese, which the girls duly translate, and then one of our chief coordinators, Geoff, makes a short speech in English, which the translators then translate into Chinese.  We are each then assigned to follow a Chinese English teacher to his/her classroom, where we’ll teach one 40-minute lesson.

The high school is laid out much like classrooms in the Korean public schools.  The school has several stories and the walkways are on the outside of the classrooms overlooking a courtyard. We pass by the open windows of the classrooms where the students are sitting dutifully in their seats; they are watching us with great anticipation as we walk past on the walkway balcony.   We’re told that the average class size is 73 students (!).

I’m led into class 9 where I’m introduced to the students.  We were told we could do anything with the students, including having a simple conversation if we wanted.  I have a 140-slide Power Point presentation about my family and home in Virginia; it also covers all my travels since I started teaching in Korea in 2010.  I can go through it quite quickly, so it’s not quite as daunting as it sounds; my students at SCIC loved it when I showed it to them in September.   However, when I put my USB into the computer, my version of Power Point is incompatible with the computer!  Oh no!  Now what will I do for 40 minutes?  I tell the students something about myself and where I live and my family; I also tell them where I have taught before.  Then I ask them if they have questions for me.

Class 9

Class 9

Chinese students are the most respectful and well-behaved students you will encounter anywhere.  When they ask a question and you call on them, they stand up and formally ask their question.  There is no chatting or mumbling from the other students; they are all silent as the student asks the question.   I get questions such as: What is your favorite Chinese food?  How long will you stay in China?  What do you like most about China?  What is your feeling about travel in China? I find it odd that they are so inward-focused and don’t ask anything about my life in America or any of my travels abroad.  I ask them if any of them have ever traveled outside of China.  No one raises their hand.  Finally, some students point to one boy who stands and tells me he’s been to Guangzhou.  Well… that’s not exactly outside of China!

There is a lull for a bit, and I decide I’ll try my other USB in the computer to see if by chance it’s just something about the first USB that makes my Power Point unworkable.  When I open that USB, I find a slide-show I’d created for the Vienna Photographic Society about Oman. I’m able to open that, so I show that quickly in order to kill some time.

Then one girl stands and asks me if I will sing a song for them!  Oh dear.  I tell them I’m not a very good singer, although I enjoy singing.  I hem and haw and for the life of me, the only songs I can think of are the songs I used to sing to my sons when they were little:  The Barney theme song (“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family!”), and the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies!!  I have some favorite songs I enjoy singing, but I need to have the music playing along to sing.  Finally, I pull out my iPhone and find “If There’s Any Justice” by Lemar.  I love to sing that song, so I play it on my iPhone and sing a few lines: “Yeah, Yeah!! I believe….If there’s any justice in the world, I would be your man, you would be my girl.” I accompany this by hand gestures pointing to myself and to the class.  “Oh yeah. If I found you first, you know it’s true.  He would be alone, I would be with you… and you’ve seen a thousand times, there’s not much justice in the world.”

Luckily, a little ditty plays over the loudspeakers signifying the end of that class, and I’m shuffled into class 10, but not before the teacher takes a picture of me with as many students as can squeeze into the frame!

Class 9 students

Me swamped by Class 9 students 🙂

When I go into Class 10, they’re all up and about because Karyn has just left and they’ve been taking pictures with her.  Immediately many of the girls come up to me and ask me if I can have a hug.  One girl tells me I remind her of her grandmother!  Of course, I don’t yet have any grandchildren, although I’m certainly the age where I could have some. I really don’t like anyone to tell me I remind them of their grandmother!!  Never mind, I give as many of them hugs as ask for them.

They are all so excited to have a foreigner in their midst!  I’ve never seen such excitement bubbling over in young people; they can hardly contain their enthusiasm.

In the second class, I try my USB again in the computer, and I’m thrilled to find the Power Point opens!  I’m able to show them my slide show.  With nearly every slide, they exclaim simultaneously and loudly, “Wow!” The love the photos of my children, my house, Washington, Oman and Korea, and many of my travel pictures as well.  After the slide show, they ask me questions, again similar questions to what the first class asked.  Luckily they don’t ask me to sing; Karyn is a great singer and as she preceded me in this class, I would have paled horribly by comparison!

One of the students tells me I have such a nice voice.  I’ve never heard that before!

At the end, the students crowd up to the front with their notebooks and ask me for my autograph!  I must sign my name at least 30 times.  One of them asks me if I’ll sign my name on the board so they can photograph it with their phone.  When I finish signing all the autographs, they line up for hugs, boys and girls alike.  This is really surprising to me as I’ve never experienced the Chinese as touchy-feely people.

Class 10 students

Class 10 students

Class 10 students

Class 10 students

The whole experience is an adrenaline rush and is quite moving.  I can’t imagine being so excited at seeing foreigners, but honestly, these students have probably rarely seen or interacted with anyone from outside their culture before.  Being from America, a country of immigrants, I see people from all cultures all the time, so it’s so commonplace for me.  It’s hard to understand their total awe of us, but it is nice to feel like a celebrity for 80 minutes today!

Class 10 students

Me with Class 10 students

After our classroom experience, two SCIC teachers pair up with two Chinese English teachers to talk about teaching styles.  We speak with Daniel, who feels his lessons are often boring because he has to spend time teaching mainly grammar and vocabulary to an exam.  He asks, “Shouldn’t the students be learning to communicate with each other?  There is no time to do that because I’m so busy teaching the boring grammar lessons for the tests.  I feel like my lessons are so boring; all the students do is write and write and write.  There’s no time for speaking.”

Daniel, a Chinese English teacher

Daniel, a Chinese English teacher

On the bus ride home, some of us teachers share the kinds of questions asked by the students.  I tell the story about my singing of “If There’s Any Justice in the World.”  They don’t know the song so I sing them a few lines of it and they find it funny.

Back in the hotel, as we sit down to the banquet tables for dinner, I sit beside the two Chinese translators. One of them says I would enjoy KTV because I’m such a good singer.  I ask them if they heard me singing in the classroom to the kids, and they say no; they heard me on the bus when I was singing to Matt and Reed.  They say, “You are a really good singer.”  I say, “Thank you very much, but I don’t think I’m a good singer at all.  I LIKE to sing, but I’m no good at it.”  They disagree strongly.  They also tell me that I look like Kate Winslet from the movie Titanic.  I say “Really?!!” I’m utterly astonished. “But she’s so young and beautiful!”  Of course, that’s a BIG stretch and I figure, to them, all white people really must look alike. 🙂

After dinner, where many of us drink a lot of wine, I head up to my room where I promptly fall asleep. I hear later than many of the teachers were up until 1:00 at KTV.  They’re not feeling so good in the morning.

Saturday, May 23: I wake up this morning to huge thunder claps and lightning and a torrential downpour outside my 12th floor window.  My first thought is that our trip to Xishan Mountain will be called off.  However, by the time I take a bath and get dressed, the storm has passed and it’s merely cloudy and drizzling lightly outside.

Guiding from my 12th floor hotel room

Guiding from my 12th floor hotel room

After eating breakfast, it’s raining steadily outdoors, but we check out of the hotel and load onto the bus.  We head to Guiping, a county-level city about an hour from Pingnan.

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area is one kilometer west of Guiping City, near Nanning City, and its name originates from its position; it means the “West Hill of Guiping.”  We hop off the bus and head to the entrance to the park, where we find this teapot.  Apparently a spring flows through a cave here throughout the year; it has become a natural ingredient for world-famous Xishan Tea and Ruquan Wine.

Teapot at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Teapot at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan is famous for its beautiful forest, strange rocks, sweet springs, and holy Buddhist temples. Since the Liang Period of the Southern Dynasties, it has enjoyed a history of 1,000 years, and is famous for its ancient Buddhist nunneries and temples that can be found everywhere.

Dragon relief sculpture at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Dragon relief sculpture at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Incense burners at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Incense burners at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple was built in the Song Dynasty, and repaired three times in the reigns of Emperor Kangxi, Emperor Qianlong, and Emperor Tongzhi.   After another two repairs in 1974 and 1988, it is now a reinforced concrete structure. It was finally unveiled in 1990 after several repairs.  Buddhist pilgrims actively worship here today.  Longhua Temple, also known as Up Temple, has had more than four generations live here.  It is currently the Guangxi Buddhist Association temple.

It backs against Flying Pavilion on Yao Rock, with Soul Stream on its left, Milk Spring on its right, and Blue Sky at its bottom.   There are statues of the four guardians and the 18 disciples of Buddha in the temple.  The statue of Sakyamuni Buddha sits in the main hall, “Sakyamuni Hall” house.

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Gene's wife makes incense offerings

Gene’s wife makes incense offerings

incense burning

incense burning

incense stick

incense stick

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

We climb the granite steps up the mountain to the halfway point, but we’re told we need to be ready to return to the bus by 11:50.  It’s raining steadily and it’s very warm and humid, so we’re getting soaked both inside and out, from the rain and humidity and from our own sweat.

There are some beautiful carvings and structures at the temple, and we have quite a good time despite the rainy weather.  I’m glad we came and didn’t let the rain scare us away.

carvings on the walls

carvings on the walls

Armelle looks down over the steps leading up to the temple

Armelle looks down over the steps leading up to the temple

Dragon details

Dragon details

Happy Buddha

Happy Buddha

Figures at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Figures at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Pavilion

Pavilion

Tree and mossy stone

Tree and mossy stone

Some of the group, including Dean Qin and most of the Chinese staff, stay at a little tea shop near a pavilion, while most of the Western teachers climb up to the halfway point.

Dean Qin and R.T.

Dean Qin and R.T.

Gene and his wife

Gene and his wife

Finally, we go into a nice hotel in Guiping, where we have another fancy Chinese lunch before we head back to Nanning.

It’s difficult to capture the countryside from inside a moving bus, but I take a few pictures of the rolling farmland out the bus window with my iPhone.  They’re not good quality, but you can get the general idea of what we saw during our three-hour drive back to Nanning.

Farmland out the window on the way back to Nanning

Farmland out the window on the way back to Nanning

Farmland out the bus window

Farmland out the bus window

Farmland and clouds

Farmland and clouds

the green farms of southeastern China

the green farms of southeastern China

Overall, the retreat was a really positive experience and I’m so glad I went along!

Categories: Asia, China, ESL Teacher, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guiping, Longhua Temple, Nanning, Pingnan County, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, Xishan Scenic Area | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

a chinese-style christmas party

Friday, December 26: This afternoon, I went to a Christmas party that ramped up my festive spirit for the holidays.  The party was thrown by the students from my ORIGINAL 1408 class (to whom I taught Writing and Speaking & Listening BEFORE the midterm exams that reshuffled the students into different classes).  I was utterly astonished by the amount of planning, coordination and work that went into this party.

The venue: First, the students rented this room in an apartment building.  I guess it must be a room that is rented out to college students a lot, because it was all equipped with a kitchen and cooking stuff, a mahjong table, a singing room, a living room, and a dining area.

So Young Bar

So Young Bar

The organizers: As far as I could tell, the planners behind this event were Yuki, Albert, Robin and Eva.  They are some of the brightest students in my class, and are usually the driving force behind most discussions in class, as well as any outside activities.  The first person I saw when I was ushered into the kitchen was Albert, chop-chopping away.  You can see the bowl of ground pork to be stuffed into the dumplings.

Albert chopping away in the kitchen

Albert chopping away in the kitchen

Yuki is probably the best student in my class as far as English-speaking ability.  I usually go to her when I have questions about anything in China.  I believe she and Robin were the driving forces, and the ones who organized the room rental, food purchases, cooking, and the games.

Yuki

Yuki

Eva and Robin are also excellent students.  Robin says she loves to cook, but the poor girl stayed in the kitchen for the entire party.  She made every kind of dish imaginable.  I mostly ate dumplings, eggs, tofu and vegetables.  I had told them before the party that I really didn’t eat much in the way of meat.  However, that didn’t stop Robin from cooking up chicken, some kind of seafood soup, and other foods that I didn’t sample.  An endless array of dishes kept coming out of the kitchen during the entire four hours I was there!

Eva and Robin

Eva and Robin

Dumplings:  The students put me to work right away making dumplings. I was pretty clumsy at this task, and my dumplings were ugly and misshapen little things.

The students try to teach me to make dumplings but I'm afraid they're not very successful

The students try to teach me to make dumplings but I’m afraid they weren’t very successful

the art of making dumplings

the art of making dumplings

Games:  I saw a game that looked similar to our Monopoly, but no one seemed to be playing it.  Someone was always at the “chess” table, and a big crowd was playing mahjong in one rom for the duration.  Most of the players were boys.  I played a game of the big bad wolf, but I can’t say I ever really understood what we were doing.  I also played a game of Chinese checkers, and I learned the Chinese rule that you can jump not just single jumps: >X>X>X, but you can also jump equal spaces on each side of your opponent’s marbles, as long as you don’t go into one of the star “territories:” >>X>>X>>X.  Or you can combine single and double jumps in one move.  I really had to think hard about this, as I wasn’t used to this rule, but despite my slowness and many missed moves, I still managed to beat Eric, my opponent. Now I know how to play REAL Chinese checkers.

Singing:  I loved the Korean tradition of noraebang, or singing karaoke in a special room.  I spent many nights in Korea singing and drinking the night away.  I did this not only with ex-pat friends, but also with my Korean colleagues at least once a month, when we went out for a staff dinner and noraebang.

In China, they have similar singing rooms but they’re called KTVs. I’ve never yet been to one, but I told my students I’d really love it if we all went there one night.  They said it’s very expensive, that they don’t drink when there, and that they often go there to play games rather than to sing.  They sound a lot different from Korean noraebangs.  At today’s party, there was a karaoke machine and the students were singing away. I love this activity, and I was right there with them when I knew the songs.  Leo sang nearly every song, but he preferred Chinese songs, which were lovely.  He and Albert and Sherry, and eventually Stone, sang the afternoon away in both English and Chinese.  To me this was the most enjoyable part of the party.  I think singing brings people together in ways that nothing else can.

I wish I could download some of the videos I took of them singing, but I can’t ever seem to download videos to YouTube here in China.  YouTube is blocked in China, but I can usually get on it to watch videos through the VPN.  So I think it must be my slow internet connection that makes it impossible.

Students: Throughout the day, I walked around taking random shots of the students.  Before I left, I went into every room and took a group shot.  Here is my original class 1408, which has changed since midterms.  However, the new students who joined our class after midterms weren’t invited (that made me sad, but it was the students’ party and they did it their way).  In addition, the old students, who left my class for either the highest or the lowest level classes after midterms, attended.  The original class will always have a special bond, I think, and no mandatory separation will make them part ways.

Front L: Eva, Kitty, Barbara Back L to R: Grace, Vivian, Vivi, Nico, JoJo, Helen, Fiona, Sherry Front R: Albert, Estelle, Stone

Front L: Eva, Kitty, Barbara
Back L to R: Grace, Vivian, Vivi, Nico, JoJo, Helen, Fiona, Sherry
Front R: Albert, Estelle, Stone

The students asked me how the university in China differed from universities in the U.S.  I told them there were many things different about teaching English in a foreign country and universities in the U.S.  What I didn’t tell them is that this party was totally different than a party you’d find on an American university campus.  First, there was no alcohol at this party.  Even though I’ve heard China has a big drinking culture, I have yet to witness that firsthand.  There was absolutely no alcohol of any kind at this party.  Also, I can’t imagine a college fraternity party where students would cook such a huge amount of food during a party.  It would all be catered or hired out.  Also, rather than playing games and singing karaoke, there would be loud music, dancing, and mingling, and who knows what other kinds of activities.  This party was very sedate, except for the boisterous game of mahjong that involved a lot of shouting and laughing!

Even though my Christmas day was awfully lonely, I did talk on Skype twice to Mike and the boys.  This party saved the holiday for me here in China.  It was really a lovely time of bonding with my students. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Christmas, ESL Teacher, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Holidays, Nanning, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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

a day of travel & arrival at the village of ping’an

Wednesday, November 19:  This morning, I leave at 7:30 a.m. for my long day’s journey to Ping’An, a Zhuang village nestled in the folds of the Longji Rice Terraces.  As always in China, travel is not straightforward and I have many connections to make.  I begin by taking a taxi to the Nanning Railway Station for a 9:35 fast train.  Trains always leave on time and I arrive in Guilin at around noon, a little faster than the normal 2 hour and 40 minute ride.

I’m often too lazy to try to figure out the local buses to the bus station, so I ask a taxi driver at the train station to take me to Qin Tan Bus Terminal, where my student assistant Angela has advised me to catch the 2-hour-long local bus to Longsheng, getting off the bus one stop early at Heping.  When I ask the taxi driver how much he’ll charge to take me to the bus station, he says 50 yuan.  I wave him off.  That’s outrageous and I know he’s just trying to rip me off because I’m a tourist.  I ask another taxi driver, who tells me 25 yuan, still too much.  Angela advised me to take the #88 bus to the station, and it just so happens the #88 bus pulls up just as I’m waving off the second taxi driver.  I hop on the bus for 2 yuan.

Angela told me to get off at the CUI ZU LU stop, but luckily the girl sitting next to me on the bus speaks some English.  She asks the bus driver, who tells me to get off at the stop AFTER that one.  They wave in a general direction across the street and then deposit me at the next stop, but I don’t see anything that looks like a bus station.

I prepare to cross the road at a busy intersection, but I still see no sign of a bus station.  I pull out my Chinese notes from Angela with the name of the bus station and show the name to two Chinese ladies standing beside me on the street.  They motion to follow them and they start walking rapidly down the street perpendicular to the one where the #88 bus was traveling.  We walk about a half mile and finally we’re at the bus station.  It seems the 88 bus was not really the correct bus to get to the station as it was quite a walk to get there from where I was dropped off.

Next I ask at the terminal about “an ordinary bus ticket to Heping (final destination Longsheng) for 21 yuan.”  The people at the bus terminal are cheery and helpful; they sell me the ticket and before long I’m on the local bus to Longsheng.

All goes uneventfully, except for the constant stomach cramping and discomfort that I’m feeling.  I started feeling sick on Tuesday and I hoped it would clear up by today, but I’m still feeling quite miserable.  At around 3:00, the bus driver drops me along the side of a road at Heping.  I saw that we passed a busy tourist office downhill prior to where I was dropped, but it’s hard for me to gauge how far back it was.  A man with a van tells me I’m welcome to wait for the bus to Ping’An, but it will be a TWO HOUR WAIT!  Angela didn’t say anything about a two-hour wait, so I’m dubious.  However, there seem to be no buses in sight.  I call Angela for the one and only time on my five-day journey, and she doesn’t answer.  I call her friend Jack, who talks to a shopkeeper in Heping; the woman confirms that the next bus does not arrive for two more hours, but it’s possible to get a car for 70 yuan.  There is no way I want to sit alongside the road for 2 hours, so I tell the original man he can take me to Ping’An in his car.  But I say, “The shopkeeper said 70 yuan.”  He sheepishly agrees, and off we go.

We drive about one minute down the hill, where the driver tells me to go inside the big ticket office I had seen earlier from the bus and buy the entry ticket to Longji Rice Terraces for 100 yuan.  At that point I see there are buses galore.  Hmmm.  I go ahead in the guy’s car up a long and winding mountain road for about a half hour, passing numerous middle-sized yellow buses coming down the mountain.  These must be the 10 yuan buses Angela told me about; I realize that I’ve been ripped off royally.  If I had only walked down the hill to the ticket office, I’m sure I could have easily caught one of those 10 yuan buses up the mountain to Ping’An.

The van driver drops me at the gate to Ping’An where a man tells me I can pay 150 yuan for a porter to carry my bag up the hill into the village of Ping’An.  I wave him off, thinking I can just walk up the hill, especially for that outrageous sum. Another man offers me the porter for 100 yuan.  I shake my head.  “I’ll just walk!” I say, as if they can understand a word I’m saying.  Finally another man punches a number into a calculator:  30 yuan.  Okay, for that price, I’ll take him up on the offer!

At this point I think it is the big burly man who will carry my bag up the hill.  But he calls up a little old lady, about half my size and quite spry and chipper; she dumps my bag into a large basket with shoulder straps.  My bag is a carry-on size but quite heavy because it’s stuffed with winter clothes. The lady puts the straps of the basket over her shoulders like a backpack and starts walking briskly up the steep hill to the village.  The same man who offered up this little lady also offers me a sedan chair.  I can’t bring myself to take him up on the offer because I don’t want to feel like some memsaab on the Indian subcontinent!

I’m exhausted from my day of travel and my stomach is still hurting. It’s probably a half mile walk up the steep mountain and I’m huffing and puffling while the little old lady carrying my bag isn’t even panting or breaking a sweat.  Finally, after what seems like an eternity, she drops me at the Longji International Youth Hostel, a place recommended by one of my colleagues.  By this time it’s 4:30 p.m. and I’ve been traveling for nine hours.

Longji International Youth Hostel

Longji International Youth Hostel

I check into a room that has a squat toilet;  I’m not too happy about that.  Neither does the heater seem to work.  It’s so cold that the hotel receptionist is bundled up in a down jacket with a furry hood.   Despite my stomach ache, I’ve arrived and I can finally settle in for the evening.  I order a Tsingtao beer and sit on a porch chair to watch Ping-An’s busy residents scurrying about on various building projects.  They’re clever enough to keep their labor costs low by employing horses to carry building materials, logs and bricks, through the narrow cobbled streets.

Relaxing on the terrace of the hostel

Relaxing on the terrace of the hostel

view of Ping An from the terrace

view of Ping An from the terrace

View down the hill from whence I came

View down the hill from whence I came

the industrious Zhuang people

the industrious Zhuang people

beasts of burden in Ping An

beasts of burden in Ping An

After I finish my beer, the receptionist wants to know if I’d like to change rooms. She has one on the 4th floor with a working heater and a Western toilet.  I move into the new room.  Then I hunker down in the chilly dining room and eat scrambled eggs with leeks.  While there, I have a long chat with an Indian girl from London, Maria, who is traveling solo all over China.  She’s been in China for 3 weeks and has been studying Chinese with a tutor on Skype.  I tell her I’ve been taking Chinese classes for a month now and all we’ve covered are the sounds.  She can’t understand why it’s taking us so long to learn the sounds, and neither can I!

Maria asks if I’d like to take a walk through the town and we do so, even though I’m still not feeling well and it’s quite cold.  It’s fun to see all the arts and crafts made by the local Zhuang people and to see the rice being cooked and tended to.

the rice a'cookin'

the rice a’cookin’

My new room is quite cozy, even though the heavy down comforter feels a little damp. I think it’s just so moist in the air here that things never get completely dry.  I have the heat on full blast.  I also note that the bathroom ceiling is leaking all over the bathroom floor and on the carpet outside the bathroom.  It even leaks on my head when I use the toilet.  However, I don’t want to go back to the room with the squat toilet, so I settle in for a restless night to a serenade of of drip, drip, drip.

the second room with the leak

the second room with the leak

I’ve arranged to meet the little old lady at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.  She’s going to guide me on a two hour hike to explore the rice terraces around Ping’An.

Categories: Asia, China, ESL Teacher, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Longji Rice Terraces, Longsheng County, Ping'An Village, Travel, Zhuang people | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

a student-teacher halloween party

Saturday, November 1:  Tonight the students of our college, SCIC (Sino-Canadian International College at Guangxi University), put on a Halloween party to which all the students and teachers are invited.  It’s fun to wander around seeing many of my 71 students dressed in costume.  I still have trouble remembering their names inside the classroom; outside of the classroom, I am utterly confused. It doesn’t help that they have masks and costumes on, making it even more baffling all around.

It is another hot and sticky night in Nanning, and everyone is sweating in their costumes, some of which are quite heavy.  I am dressed as a bohemian, or a hippie or gypsy, whatever you want to call me, and I want nothing more than to rip off that scarf and long skirt and head back to my air-conditioned apartment.

Unknown friend, Denise, Lancy

Unknown friend, Denise, Lancy (1407)

Helen ? and Grace (1408)

Helen and Grace (1408)

Helen, Grace, Yuki, Estelle and Viv (?)

Helen, Grace, Yuki, Estelle (1408) and Vivian (1407)

Back: Maggie, Unknown, me, Yuki, Estelle.  Front: Sherry

Back: Maggie, Unknown, me, Yuki, Estelle (1408). Front: Vivian (1407)

??, Chris, Michael, ??

??, Chris, Michael, ?? (1407)

??. ?? and Albert (1408)

??. ?? and Albert (1408)

Leo & Lucy??

Leo (1408) & Lucy?? (1407)

One of the teachers, Reed, and a random student nurse

One of the teachers, Reed, and a random student nurse

Louis, Richard's girlfriend and fellow teacher Richard

Louis, Richard’s girlfriend and fellow teacher Richard

Witches stirring a brew

Witches stirring a brew

Stone (1408) & fellow teacher Coulton

Stone (1408) & fellow teacher Coulton

Fellow teachers Matt and Matt and Matt's wife

Fellow teachers Matt and Matt and Matt’s wife

random white masked fellows

random white masked fellows

Someone helps Lancy put on a mask

Someone helps Lancy put on a mask

Random students

Random students

Fellow teacher Karen

Fellow teacher Karen

Fellow teacher Caleb and Albert, one of my star students (1408)

Fellow teacher Caleb and Albert, one of my star students (1408)

Some kind of hopscotch (??) game with some round-headed fellas

Some kind of hopscotch (??) game with some round-headed fellas

Random student in a flowery dress and white feathered Indian headdress

Random student in a flowery dress and white feathered Indian headdress

Vivi, Robin's boyfriend, and Robin

Vivi, Robin’s boyfriend, and Robin

One of my students

Eva ??

Lily

Lily or Lucy?

Estelle and Kitty

Estelle and Kitty

Lacey from the Student Union (the one who brought my birthday cake) and me. :-)

Lacey from the Student Union (the one who brought my birthday cake) and me. 🙂

Jordan in the middle

Vera (1407), Jordan in the middle (1408), and ??

Martin

Martin (1408)

Martin unveiled

Martin unveiled (1408)

Albert, ?? and ??

Albert, Tab?? and ??

Fiona

Fiona (1408)

Arrow and possibly Rick and Livinston?? (1407)

Arrow and possibly Rick and Livingston?? (1407)

It is fun to see the students out and about with their friends having a grand time.  They spend most of the night, from what I can tell, taking pictures of each other.

I can never find any kind of drink at the party, so I leave relatively early and stop at the market, where I buy six various types of soft drinks, juices and yogurt drinks.  I am exhausted from an earlier trek during the day to Wal-Mart, over 1 1/2 miles from my house, where another teacher and I bought a ton of things thinking we would get a taxi home.  We couldn’t get a taxi, and it was raining on top of that, so we had a pretty miserable walk home, burdened by our heavy purchases!  I am really in no mood to party after that misadventure!

Categories: Asia, China, ESL Teacher, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Halloween, Nanning, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC) | Tags: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

A lot from Lydia

You can learn a lot from Lydia...(It's a song, not a promise.)

Ink Arts by Carol

My site for offering my alcohol ink arts

I see Beauty everyday

Blessed be the ones that see beauty where others see nothing

BOOKING IT

Debra's Excellent Adventures in Reading and Travel

Marsha Ingrao

Traveling & Blogging Near and Far

PIRAN CAFÉ

Notebooks from a trampfest. Travel tips, tales and images, online since 2006.

Word Wabbit

Wrestless Word Wrestler

Cardinal Guzman

Encyclopedia Miscellaneous - 'quality' blogging since August 2011

A Faraway Home

Stories and tips from home and far away

Pit's Fritztown News

A German Expat's Life in Fredericksburg/Texas

Under a Cornish Sky

inspired by the colours of the land, sea and sky of Cornwall

sloveniangirlabroad.wordpress.com/

A blog about expat life and travel adventures written by an Slovenian girl living in Switzerland

Let Me Bite That

Can I have a bite?

Running Stories by Jerry Lewis

Personal blog about running adventures

Finding NYC

exploring New York City one adventure at a time

The World according to Dina

Notes on Seeing, Reading & Writing, Living & Loving in The North

snippetsandsnaps

Potato Point and beyond

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

The Eye of a Thieving Magpie

My birdseye view of this crazy life - in words and pictures

renatemarie.wordpress.com/

A (Mostly) Solo Female Exploring the World

NYLON DAZE

From London to New York, living in an expat daze

Blue Hour Photo Workshops

Photography is a constant travel to new places

Travel Much?

Never cease to explore and tell!

Insanity at its best!

Yousuf Bawany's Blog

%d bloggers like this: