Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC)

Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC): pros & cons

Friday, February 5:  Last night I received the first email through my blog from someone who has been recruited to work at Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC) for the fall semester of 2016. I figured rather than respond to each potential teacher who writes to me individually, I should write my long-overdue list of pros and cons.  As ESL teachers, we often don’t have a clue about what we are getting into, so I write this list, trying to be as fair and honest as possible, simply to inform potential teachers.

I worked as an English teacher at SCIC from September 2014 – July 2015.  Listed below are the pros and cons of working at the college during my tenure there.

teachers and administration at SCIC in June 2015

teachers and administration at SCIC in June 2015

PROS:

  • The students.  They were generally hard-working, respectful, and friendly.  Though it was hard to get them to practice speaking freely, with the right activities, they opened up and became some of the best students I’ve ever had.  They were often thrilled to have a native speaker in their midst; many of them had only been taught English by Chinese teachers. They welcomed the opportunity to interact with me and often tried to befriend me, take me to dinner, invite me to KTV, dinner or other outings. Of course, there were individual differences, but as a whole, they were a pleasure to teach.  I’ve taught ESL to a variety of students from all nationalities: 1) at Northern Virginia Community College to a good cross-section of students from Europe (Czech Republic, Poland, Turkey), Africa (Egypt, Morocco), Asia (China, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Japan), and the Middle East (Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan); 2) for two years at the University of Nizwa in the Sultanate of Oman; and 3) one year in South Korea (elementary-aged students).
  • The administration:  Generally speaking, the Chinese administration was helpful and tried to make sure teachers were well-taken care of.  They were generally responsive to housing and visa concerns.  They often left most of day-to-day administration to the coordinators, who held monthly meetings with teachers.  I also felt appreciated by the administration, something that one doesn’t always feel when teaching abroad.
  • Hands-off approach:  We had a textbook for each level and we agreed to cover certain chapters in the textbook before midterms and finals. We were required to have two tests and two assignments each quarter (four and four for the whole semester, besides the midterm and final exams).  Other than that, it was left to the teacher to decide what kinds of tests and assignments to give, how to grade them, and how to present the material to the students.  After having worked in Oman for two years, where everything was micro-managed to the nth degree, this was a welcome change.
  • Technology.  This could be on both the pro and con list.  Technology was available, but it was quite old and sometimes didn’t work properly.  When it was working properly, it was great.  I had a computer, a projector, and an overhead projector in the classroom.  The tech person charged with fixing problems sometimes wasn’t readily available, which could throw your lesson into a tailspin.  He also couldn’t speak English; however, I could often get one of my students to translate. Sometimes he had a bit of an attitude about having to come and fix problems.  I found this annoying as it was, after all, his job to fix problems.
  • Classroom facilities.  I was in the Experimental Building, a fairly modern building, on the 10th floor.  The desks were long tables lined up and packed into the room, which made it a challenge to do group work.  I was always doing group work, and we managed, but it wasn’t an optimal situation. The older SCIC buildings were not as modern and were actually quite shabby.
  • Location of college in relation to residence.  I was one of the lucky teachers who lived in a staff residence on the west campus only five minutes away by bicycle or 10 minutes away on foot.  Some teachers were located on the east campus, still not too far by bicycle, but I wouldn’t have wanted to walk from there.
  • No required office hours.  After my stint in Oman, where I was required to be on campus from 8:00-4:00 every day whether I had classes or not, it was nice to have no required office hours.  My schedule was not too hard in the first semester; I was finished almost every day by noon.  In the spring semester, I had two split days (morning and afternoon (usually afternoon started after the lunch/nap hours of 12-2) and the other days, I was finished by noon.

CONS:

  • Private college motivated by money.  Students take the Gaokao in China (similar to the SATs in the USA) to get into college.  From WikipediaThe National Higher Education Entrance Examination (also translated as National Matriculation Examination or National College Entrance Examination or “NCEE”), commonly known as Gaokao (高考, “Higher Education Exam”, Pinyin gāo kǎo, lit. “High test”), is an academic examination held annually in People’s Republic of China.  This examination is a prerequisite for entrance into almost all higher education institutions at the undergraduate level.  The students at SCIC got Gaokao scores too low to get into Guangxi University.  They can attend SCIC (a two-year private institution which focuses on English-language learning) and when they finish at SCIC, they automatically gain entrance into Guangxi University, despite their Gaokao scores being low.  SCIC was basically their conduit to the university.  Thus, I was told all students would pass, even if a teacher failed them.  I don’t care for this system, as it means students don’t really have to apply themselves if they don’t want to.  Of course many students were self-motivated, but as some knew they would pass and get into Guangxi University no matter what, those didn’t feel like bothering with learning English.  After all, in a country of 1.4 billion people, not much English is spoken and there is no real need for it unless they plan to get into international business or study or travel abroad.
  • No office hours.  This is both a pro and a con.  Though it was nice to be finished by noon most days, the lack of office hours meant there wasn’t time for teachers to congregate, share ideas, or simply socialize and get to know each other.  I found this to be quite isolating.  When I worked in Oman, the forced office hours also led to some wonderful friendships.
  • No usable offices, and later, tiny cubbyhole offices. We were given offices in a building where IELTS testing was often done on weekends, so we were told to never leave anything important in our offices because we weren’t allowed in the building on those weekends. No one I know ever used those offices.  Later, the administration put tiny cubicles on the 10th floor of the Experimental Building. The cubicles were the smallest and tightest workspaces I’ve ever seen.  There was never any incentive to work in an office, so I did all my work from home.  I hate working from home, as I like a clear line between my work and private life, so I didn’t care for this arrangement at all.
  • No convenient copy center or copy machines.  There were no copy machines available for teachers.  We had to go to a private supplier in a run-down shack of a building; this copy center catered to both students and teachers so often we had to compete to get service.  This was so inconvenient!  Also, the copy center was closed from 12-2, when we often needed our copying done.  In Oman, we had a copy center designated for teachers only, and we had additional copiers near our offices.
  • Air-conditioning, or lack thereof.  Nanning is very hot and humid from about March to November.  In the Experimental Building, the administration refused to turn the air conditioning on until a certain date, and turned it off after a certain date, no matter if it was hot before or after that date.  This was not the case in the older SCIC buildings; the teachers in those buildings had air conditioning whenever they wanted it. As we were on the 10th floor, it could get quite hot and miserable in the classrooms. Even when the air conditioning was on, it often was still stifling, especially on the side of the building where the sun was shining in.
  • Unfairness in teaching assignments and workloads.  When I arrived at SCIC, I was informed I was assigned to be a Writing teacher. I did not ask for this, nor was I asked what I would prefer.  ALL Level I and Level II teachers taught Speaking and Listening.  However, half the teachers taught Writing and half taught Reading.  The Reading teachers had a much lighter workload for the same amount of pay as the Writing teachers.  I had 73 writing students each semester (divided up into several classes, all under 20 students), so that meant many hours of grueling marking.  While the Reading teachers had multiple choice tests to mark, Writing teachers had hours and hours of badly written essays to mark.  Some teachers suggested that the workloads would be fairer if, say, the teachers switched places in the two semesters.  In other words, a teacher could teach Writing in the fall and Reading in the spring. However, many of the Reading teachers were firmly entrenched and argued vehemently again this proposal.  One teacher I know who had worked in China for many years and who started at the same time as I did told the recruiter that she would come to SCIC only if she didn’t have to teach Writing. Surprisingly, the recruiter agreed to her demands.  She was assigned to be a Reading teacher.  The administration should find a more equitable way to distribute the workload among teachers, or they should pay Writing teachers more.
  • Low pay.  The pay at SCIC ranges from 6,000-8,500 RMB ($912 – $1,292 per month).  Though I made at the upper end of this range, it was still nowhere close to what I made in Oman ($3,000) or even Korea ($2,600).  Granted, it is very cheap to do almost everything in China, so it was enough money that I was able to travel quite extensively while there.  Because my goal was to travel as much as possible, I did that, but I wasn’t able to save much.  Luckily we were paid over our 6-week holiday in January-February, although they withheld the February pay until we returned to work March 1. For teachers who renewed their contracts and returned in fall of 2015, they were not paid at all over the 6-week summer break.  As our contracts were for 10 1/2 months, if we did not renew, of course we didn’t get paid for those six weeks.
  • Air fare reimbursement. We were reimbursed for our air fare to get to and from China at a set amount (8,000 RMB, or ~$1,200), but our air fare to get there wasn’t paid until after teachers completed the fall semester and turned in their grades. The air fare for our return flight home in the summer was given to us before we left the country, after spring semester was over, but in my case, the amount didn’t cover my air fare home because it was high season.  In Oman, our total air fare was paid for (in fact they bought our tickets for us), and in addition, we got air fare for one round trip to our home country during our summer holiday.  That mid-year return air fare is NOT offered at all by SCIC.
  • No gratuity for completion of contract.  I guess I was spoiled by working in Oman, and even Korea, because upon completion of our contracts there, we got a gratuity of one-month’s salary for completing our contract.  We did not get this at SCIC.
  • Apartments.  Some teachers had decent apartments.  I didn’t.  The furniture was hard wood and I had no sofa or soft chairs, or even room for any. The apartment was old and run down.  Cockroaches often came to visit, especially in the middle of the night.  I heard some teachers had encounters with rats, but I never did, thank goodness.  Having no place comfortable to sit was a real problem for me.  Luckily, we were provided with nice new flat-screen TVs about midway through our contracts, as well as new computers.
  • Coordinators.  I’m not sure how coordinators were chosen except by popularity or because no one else wanted to be coordinator, so some random person stepped up to the plate.  Some of the people appointed coordinator had no qualifications to be such, and should not have been coordinators!  Many of them were awfully nice people though!
  • English Interest Classes.  These are a joke. Every Tuesday afternoon, we were required to teach an English Interest Course.  The students who attended were not our regular students.  It was suggested that we do as little work as possible on these.  Many people taught photography (which I did in fall semester) or yoga or exercise classes.  They’re basically a way to encourage foreign teachers to interact with students on a more informal basis.  Many of the teachers ended up showing English movies with Chinese subtitles during the class.  A big waste of time for both teachers and students.

Overall, I did enjoy my experience teaching in China.  As for Nanning itself, it’s a city of about 6 million people with not much of interest, except a couple of nice museums.  If you like heat and humidity you will be happy with the weather.  I hate heat and humidity, so I found the weather miserable.

As for travel, Guangxi province has a lot to offer, especially the Li River area, including Guilin and Yangshuo, Detian Waterfall on the border of Vietnam and China, and most of all the Longsheng Rice Terraces.  Guangxi province is also not too inconvenient for visits to Hong Kong.  I traveled extensively while in China. I especially enjoyed the rice terraces, Yangshuo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Fenghuang, Zhangjiajie and all of Yunnan province. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, English Interest Course, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language | Tags: , , , , , | 31 Comments

cocktail hour in the laundry room: BYOB for my final hours in china :-)

Sunday, July 12:  Good evening and welcome to my humble laundry room for our last cocktail hour in China!  Please, do come in and have a seat. Strangely, it isn’t too hot and miserable this July evening, so I think we’ll be comfortable enough on my screened-in “porch.”  At least here we can enjoy our magnificent view over the drab and utilitarian hotel courtyard.  It lacks charm, as does my laundry room, but hopefully one of you will step up to the plate and charm us all with your wiles and wit.

I have to apologize in advance for asking you to bring your own beverage, as I’m in the process of cleaning out my refrigerator and eating the last of my food in preparation for my imminent departure on Wednesday morning at 9:40 a.m.  I only have one Tsingtao beer remaining, and I’d be happy to offer it to you, but…. I must say, I need a beer after all I’ve been through in the last two weeks. 🙂

I’m sorry it’s been three weeks since my last cocktail hour.  (The ex-Catholic in me almost wrote, “It’s been 3 weeks since my last confession,… Father.”) 🙂  Since that cocktail hour, I’ve been super busy.  On the weekend  following our last gathering, I went to the Longji Rice Terraces one last time. They were as beautiful as they were the first time I saw them, maybe even more so, and I’ve now decided they are the top place I visited during all my travels in China this year.  Here’s a glimpse, below.  I’ll write more about them later, once I’ve returned home.  I’m hopelessly behind in my blogging.

Longji Rice Terraces

Longji Rice Terraces

In the last several weeks, I had a couple of dinners with students and colleagues, I marked 73 final essays and 37 listening exams and proctored several exams.  It’s been busy, so I’ve missed you all, and I hope once I get back to the USA, I’ll have time for more leisurely chats over a glass of wine, or two.

Please, tell me all about your week.  I hope my American friends had a nice Fourth of July.  For me it was just like any other day, as I don’t know why on earth anyone in China would celebrate America’s independence.

Actually, I take back that it was like any other day.  I just remembered that on July 4th, I spent nearly 6 grueling hours marking 19 of my 73 papers.  It was the furthest thing from “independence day” imaginable. The process of marking those papers was incredibly tedious.  It took on average about half an hour per paper, as we had to check students’ in-text citations and Works Cited pages, which frankly were a complete mess.  In addition, when sentences seemed too good to be true, with perfect grammar and vocabulary normally out of my students’ realm of knowledge, I felt compelled to search online for plagiarism.  It was terribly time-consuming. Those were some of the worst 4 days of my life so far.  Thank goodness they’re now over.  My grades are in, and I’ve been officially signed off, received my travel allowance and my final pay, and am now just packing the last of my things for my trip home.

So, tell me about your summer. I hope it’s been relaxing, as summer should be.  Are you enjoying your gardens and reaping wonderful fruits from them? Have you been sipping iced tea on a porch with a sunset view?  Have you traveled anywhere interesting, and if not, are you planning to?  Have you been swimming or eating ice cream to keep cool? What flavors?  Have you seen any good movies in the theater or on TV?  Have you caught any fireflies or gone crabbing off a dock?  Have you sailed the seven seas? Have you read any steamy summer novels?  Have you basked in the sunlight?  Have you sung “hallelujah”?

I ask about the “hallelujah” because on Facebook, my dear friend Mario, who many of you may remember from Oman, posted a beautiful song by Rufus Wainwright called “Hallelujah.”  It was originally written by Leonard Cohen, but I have to say I like the Rufus version better.  Once I heard this song, I fell in love with it so much that I’ve been listening to it repeatedly.  In addition, I found a website called songmeanings.com, and I looked up the lyrics to that song and read what different people think the lyrics mean.  I won’t rehash the comments here, but you can read them yourself if you’re interested: (Rufus Wainwright – Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen cover)).  Oh, how I adore this song, especially these lines:

And remember when I moved in you?
The holy dark was moving too
And every breath we drew was hallelujah

The music, the lyrics: all so stunning.  That song takes my breath away.

Time waster that I can be, I then proceeded to look up meanings for many of my favorite songs, including “I & Love & You” by the Avett Brothers and “Somebody that I used to know,” sung by Gotye and Kimbra. I’ve had discussions with people about the meanings of these and other songs, and I was happy to find someone in each feed who agreed with my interpretation of these songs.  I’ve had some people tell me that when Kimbra sings the lines below, she’s referring to one of Gotye’s old girlfriends who he can’t forget, but I disagree.  I understand her to be talking about herself; by breaking up with Gotye, she’s now become the “somebody that [Gotye] used to know.”

And I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know

I must apologize that I’ve digressed.  But isn’t this how a cocktail hour goes?  Any subject can come up; convolutions in conversation take you down winding paths you never imagined before. I love this about a cocktail party, or any small gathering of friends.

As for books, I’m embarrassed to admit I’m still slogging through The Sandcastle Girls.  I honestly just don’t make the time to read like I should.  That’s probably because I’ve been so addicted to the TV series Revenge and now Mistresses; sadly, those shows are taking up way too much of my down time.  I really need to have that mindless time sometimes though.  What do you do when you need time free from thinking?  I know Robin meditates; I sadly haven’t acquired that habit, at least not regularly.

In my final days here, it’s been a time of goodbyes. I said goodbye to all of my students and was very sad to do so.  I gave them my email address and invited them to come stay with me in northern Virginia any time they would like.  I know it’s unlikely that many of them will ever come to America, but if they do, I’d really love to have them.  I also asked them to keep in touch and let me know what happens in their lives. I really hope they will do so.

I taught 73 students over the entire year.  Most of the same students have been with me since September.  My 1408 class is the one I’m closest to because I taught them Writing AND Speaking & Listening.  I have an A class of 18 students and a B class of 19 students, for a total of 37.  We spent a lot of hours together over the year.  The personalities of these classes are very different; the A class is much more lively and talkative and fun-loving than the B class.  So I’ve felt especially close to them, and it was very hard to say goodbye.  Below is my entire 1408 class with all 37 students.  Usually the classes were divided into A and B groups, meaning I repeated the same lessons twice each week, but once a week, I taught one 40-minute writing class with all 37 of them together.

1408 class: all 37 students

1408 class: all 37 students

This is my wild and crazy A class.  I love them all for their outgoing personalities and their kindness. I have some real characters in this class, especially Albert, Edison, Chris, Yuki, Robin and Paul.  Spring was probably the best student I had overall. Robin and Yuki were the movers and shakers, the organizers who always arranged our parties, gatherings, KTV visits, and outings.

1408: all 37 students

1408 A: 18 students

My 1408 B class was a little more quiet and subdued.  It was only toward the end that they started to break out of their shells, especially thanks to Coco, Jocelyn and Hellen, Jack and Leo.

1408 class: 37 students:

1408 B class: 19 students

The 1407 class was really great fun too, especially the A class, which had 21 students.  The B class of 15 students was super quiet and maybe even a little boring.  I only taught them writing, so I saw them a lot less than the 1408 class.  Because I saw them less frequently and because we didn’t talk a lot in class (it was a writing class, after all), I sometimes got them mixed up, more than I would have liked!

1407 class: 36 students

1407 class: 36 students

A couple of students from the 1407A class invited me to lunch one day and I received from them a barrage of insults and compliments all at the same time.   They told me first that Colton, my partner teacher who taught reading and speaking & listening to them, said that I was a “harsh” teacher.  I said, “How would he know?  He’s never sat in on my class!”  Of course, it then hit me that he’d only know this if they told him.   But, said David, “I really like your teaching style better than Colton’s.  You make me think and you have us do more active learning.”  They also told me that they often didn’t understand what I said because I talked too fast.  I do know that I sometimes forget to slow down, as I do talk naturally fast. So I said, “Why didn’t you raise your hand and tell me to slow down?” They said, oh no, they would never do that.  As Chinese students they are taught to never question a teacher’s authority or teaching style, especially in front of other students.  I said, “Well, I hope it helped that I wrote everything on a Power Point so you could read along.”  They said, yes, that helped a lot.

On Wednesday, July 8, after I finished proctoring the reading exams, my 1408 class invited me to join them at a restaurant for a lunch they arranged. It was a lovely time.  When I finished with lunch, I rode my bicycle home and finished marking the last of the listening exams, entered all my marks onto spreadsheets and wrote up all the analyses of the marks to turn in as soon as possible.

On Thursday morning, I handed in all my exams and marks and analyses of marks, and got my checklist signed off on by all the official people.  This felt like the first huge burden lifted off me.

My 1407 class invited me to a party on Thursday, July 9 at the same rental apartment where my 1408 class had a Christmas party for me earlier this year.  The party was supposed to go from 2-7, but I had an appointment to get my hair straightened and cut at 11:00. I wanted to have this process done in China because it only cost 500 yuan (~$81), whereas in the U.S. it costs about $300 for the inexpensive version!  The whole process lasted from 11-4:30, so I was late to the party.

The girls made dumplings and we played card games and chatted and took pictures. It was a fun time, but I left at about 6:30, exhausted from the whole stressful week.

While I was at the party, I got a message from LiJi, one of the Chinese administrators: “Hi Cathy, Can you come to Dean Qin’s office tomorrow 11:30 a.m.?  You’ve been awarded the SCIC Dean’s Special Honor.”  For a few brief seconds, I thought this was really wonderful, except I couldn’t think why on earth I would get such an award.  Later that evening, I was emailing back and forth with Erica, my friend and colleague, to arrange a time to meet Friday morning to help her with her spreadsheets.  By now, quite suspicious of the “special honor,” I wrote to her: “Hey there, has everyone been invited to the Dean’s office at 11:30 tomorrow?”

She wrote back: “The invitation sounded really personal & special…then I got to thinking ‘you know, i bet everyone’s had the same invitation’…haha. I was invited for 11:40 though & not 11:30.”
Later in the evening, Gavin wrote me on WeChat and I wrote back: “So what time have you been invited to meet the Dean tomorrow? 🙂 ” He wrote back: “How do you know about that?”  I said, “Because we were all invited! My time is 11:30 and Erica’s 11:40.”  He wrote back: “Haha, I feel like the sandwich filling (11:35).”

On Friday morning, I took my signed-off checklist to the people responsible for reimbursing our travel allowance, and had the money deposited into my account by that afternoon.  While there, I ran into another colleague and I asked him, “So, what time are you meeting with the Dean?” He said, “What?  I’m not meeting with the Dean.”  I said, “Oh, I thought everyone was invited!”  Oops!

On my way up to meet the Dean, I commented to LiJi, “It seems like a lot of people are getting the award.”  He said, “Yes, nine.”  Ok, so I guess it was a little special as only 36% of the teachers were getting the award.  It turned out we were chosen based on student evaluations, classroom observations by the Chinese staff, and the votes of the Chinese administration.  And, on top of that, it turned out we got a 1000 yuan bonus (~ $162)!  So I guess it was a bit of a big deal. 🙂

The Dragon's Backbone in Ping'An

The Dragon’s Backbone in Ping’An

On Saturday morning, I asked Erica if she would help me lug a bunch of my stuff to the post office.  When we got there at 10:30 with two suitcases and two bags packed with stuff, we were told that the post office was out of big boxes.  We asked if we could leave my stuff behind the counter while we went to a supermarket to find some boxes.  The lady said okay.  We went to the supermarket, found two large boxes and returned to the post office.  The post office lady then told us that we are only allowed to use the sturdy post office boxes to mail things internationally.  So why did she send us off to find boxes at the supermarket?  And why aren’t they stocking enough boxes for customers to send things home?  After all, students are graduating and leaving the campus and will be sending stuff to their homes too.  This shows the lack of foresight often so prevalent in China.

It seems we were in a Catch-22. I told the lady I needed to mail my packages today, so what should I do?  (All this time, we were actually having our conversation translated by a poor student who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time!)  The lady said she would order 4 boxes (2 for me and 2 for Erica) and we should come back at 3:00.  We did that; the boxes were there (“hallelujah!”), and I sent my boxes home to Virginia by surface (1-3 months) for 791 yuan (~$127).  The whole ordeal, between getting the last of my stuff together and going twice to the post office, was exhausting and took a good chunk out of the day.

Nothing is ever easy in China.

Cheers to you all, and thanks for joining me tonight for my final cocktail hour in the laundry room.  It was really nice to visit with you again.  I may not be able to respond promptly to your comments, but I will eventually, I promise.  And I also will respond to those of you who commented on my last cocktail hour, and to whom I haven’t yet responded. Thanks for being patient.

Hopefully we can meet in a nicer spot once I’m back home in Virginia. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, laundry room cocktail hour, Nanning, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, Travel | Tags: , , , | 48 Comments

cocktail hour in the laundry room: the dragon boat festival that wasn’t

Monday, June 22:  Good evening and big hugs to you.  I’m so glad you dropped by for another laundry room cocktail hour. Please, have a seat in my comfortable chair.  I’m so anxious to hear about your week.  Would you like a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or a cold Budweiser?  Usually I buy Chinese beer, but I’ve decided it tastes a little too watery for my taste.   I must confess, I already started celebrating a bit before your arrival.  Just a wee glass of wine, or two.  I’m hoping that will make me more relaxed, and more ready to hear all you have to say.

One of many lotus ponds on the campus

One of many lotus ponds on the campus

It’s plenty warm out here in the laundry room, but it doesn’t seem quite as humid as usual, so maybe we can bear it for a while.  The sun is shining, a rarity in Nanning, so we might want to catch some of the rays, even if they’re coming in at a low angle.  Do you agree it isn’t so bad out here tonight?  I’m quite enjoying it because I’ve been sitting inside in air conditioning all day. I’ve been huddled under a blanket, so it’s nice to be outside enjoying the summer evening.

a particularly pretty lotus pond on campus

a particularly pretty lotus pond on campus

I took some pictures with my iPhone this week during several walks I took around the campus.  They’re here in the post so you can see what my daily walks look like.  Well, not quite daily, but at least four times a week.  I had a bizarre thing happen this week, most notably that a young Chinese man on a bicycle tried to proposition me.  This happened quite regularly in Oman, and everywhere I’ve been in the Middle East, but it has never happened before in China.  I was quite shocked by it. I’ll tell more about it, with a picture of the perpetrator, once I leave China.  Don’t worry, I WILL tell you all about it eventually.

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

We should celebrate because it’s been a three-day weekend for the Dragon Boat Festival. I’m always happy to have an extra day in which I don’t have to work, even if I do absolutely nothing to celebrate the actual holiday.

The Dragon Boat Festival was on Saturday, June 20.  Here’s what China Travel Guide has to say about it:  This festival has been held annually for over 2,000 years and commemorates the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC).  It also acts as a chance for Chinese people to build their bodies and dispel diseases.  Qu Yuan was a minister from the State of Chu and supported a fight against the powerful state of Qin.  Because of this, he was slandered by an aristocrat and exiled by the King.  He wrote many passionate poems to show his love for his country, and is therefore regarded as a famous poet in China’s history. In 278 BC, after finishing his last masterpiece, he drowned himself in the river rather than see his country occupied and conquered by the State of Qin.

On hearing of Qu Yuan’s death, the locals were in distress and fishermen searched for his body by sailing their boats down the river. Other people threw food such as eggs and food like zongzi into the river to attract fish and other animals from destroying Qu Yuan’s body. Later, many people imitated these acts to show their respect for this great patriotic poet and this practice continues today.

Because Qu Yuan died on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, people decided to commemorate him on that day every year. Dragon boat racing and eating zongzi have become the central customs of the festival (China Travel Guide: Dragon Boat Festival).

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

Though the Dragon Boat Festival sounds like a lovely holiday, I didn’t do a thing to celebrate.  I’ve traveled on every single National Holiday since I’ve been in China, and this is the first one where I’ve stayed put. I no longer have the energy to fight the huge crowds that always travel in China on these holidays.  I guess I’m finally starting to feel like often I feel in the U.S. on the national holidays.  I never travel on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day if I can help it.  Sometimes I travel on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but we always try to figure out how to get around the crowds on these holidays.

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

On Saturday afternoon, my student Azura, the one who took me to the apartment restaurant several weeks ago, texted me: “Hi Cathy.  It’s Azura.  Are you at school or travelling to another city?  My parents coming school, and my mother made some different kinds of ‘zong zi’ for you. ‘zong zi’ is traditional food for Dragon Boat Festival.”  After some back and forth emails, Azura had her father drive her to my apartment so she could drop off the zongzi.

Zongzi all wrapped up

Zongzi all wrapped up

Zongzi is pyramid-shaped glutinous rice wrapped in reed or bamboo leaves.  In the north part of the country, people favor the jujube as filling, while the south favors sweetened bean paste, fresh meat, or egg yolk.  The zongzi Azura’s mom made have quail eggs and beef in them, and even some bones!

zings when opened

zings when opened

Eating the zongzi was the closest I came to celebrating the holiday. I’ve been on the go so much over the past number of weekends that I’ve been happy to stay inside all weekend, reading some blogs, writing some blogs, editing some pictures, and watching endless episodes of Revenge.  I also walked every day, and although I’m walking 3 miles a day at a fast pace and sweating buckets, in addition to trying to watch what I eat, I still can’t seem to drop a single pound.  It’s so discouraging!

lotus blossoms

lotus blossoms

Lotus pond

Lotus pond

So, tell me about your week.  What did you do?  Did you travel at all?  Did you enjoy the Summer Solstice? Did you go to any outdoor concerts?  Did you make any lists?  Did you plan any trips for the later part of the summer?  How is work?  Did you have an easy or stressful week?  Did you make a new friend?  Or did you have a conflict with anyone?  Did you have too high expectations in a friendship and did the person let you down?  Did worries keep you from sleeping?  Or did you experience ecstatic joy or pleasure?

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Lotus blossom under cover

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lotus pond and tree

I know it’s been a difficult time in the U.S. with those senseless and hateful killings in a Charleston Church.  Why is there still such hatred in this world?  Why don’t people try harder to understand one another, and to love one another? I find people are becoming increasingly isolated.  It’s a difficult world we live in, so why don’t we all work harder to make it easier, and more loving?  A lot of people have written about this very American racist crisis, and I don’t have anything more to say except that people continue to horrify and disappoint me.  I think most people do have hearts, but we don’t read about them much in the news, do we?

Here in China, life goes on. My students continue to be kind to me, and they reinforce every day that they are the best thing about this job.  When I leave here, I will write about the pros and cons of working at SCIC, and I will also write about what I’m going to miss and not miss in China.   I look forward to writing that post after I leave the country.

I really didn’t do much at all this week except finish my last English Interest Course, “Road Trip American Style.”  This course is not much of anything except having the students watch movies. We watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Little Miss Sunshine, and finally, Chevy Chase National Lampoon Vacation.  The students seemed to enjoy the movies.  The classes are really a waste of our time and the students’ time, in my opinion.  Since they’re on Tuesday afternoons and our last class was this week, now I’ll be finished every day of the week by noon, except for Mondays.  We only have two more teaching weeks remaining, and then it will be exam week.  Thank goodness, as I think we’re all ready to be finished with this semester.

the shady part of my walk

the shady part of my walk

Besides getting totally hooked on the TV series, Revenge, I’ve also been watching Grey’s Anatomy and Mistresses.  I’m still plodding away on Sandcastle Girls. The book is good, but for some reason I seem to be too antsy to read much.  By the time I go to bed, I read about a page or two, and then I’m asleep.

I did attend a small birthday celebration for Nancy, one of the long-time teachers at SCIC.  Here she is with her huge birthday cake, which I was able to partake in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There really is nothing else of interest to tell you about this week.  It’s been deadly dull, to be honest.  Maybe I should have traveled this weekend after all.  I get so bored when there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do.  Once I’m back in my home in Virginia, I’ll be able to find plenty to do, I hope!

I hope you all have a great week.  Please, I hope you have something more interesting to tell me than I had to report!  I need some saucy news! Anything new and adventurous will do.  I can live vicariously through you. 🙂

Peace and love to you all. 🙂

Categories: Agricultural College of Guangxi University, Asia, China, Chinese food, conversation, Dragon Boat Festival, East Campus, English Interest Course, Guangxi University, Holidays, laundry room cocktail hour, Nanning, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, Zongzi | Tags: , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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

a short weekend in yangshuo (& another li river boat cruise) ~ the third time’s a charm :-)

Friday, May 29: This weekend, only one of two times that I have traveled with a friend in China, I go to Yangshuo with my friend, Erica.  She has lived in China for seven years, but only started working at SCIC in Nanning at the same time I did, in September, 2014. Though she’s traveled all over China, and around southeast Asia, she has never been to Yangshuo.  This is my third time:  the first time I stayed four days during the National Holiday in early October, and the second, I stayed three days with Mike in January.

This weekend, we only have about 1 1/2 days, as it’s not an extended holiday weekend and we have to spend about 6 hours traveling at each end.  Erica decided long ago she was done traveling on China’s public holidays; I only just came to that conclusion after my last trip to Shanghai.

Erica and I leave directly from our classes at noon and spend the next 6 hours in transit, by bus, by train and by bus again.  The time goes by quickly though as Erica and I chat nonstop about anything and everything, and we share a lot of laughs.

Finally, at the Yangshuo bus station (well, not really a “station” but a dusty parking lot where we get deposited), we search for a vehicle to take us to our hotel, the Cosy Garden.  We try several drivers in vehicles of every make who want to charge us what we think are exorbitant sums, and finally, this gentle man takes us in his bumpy vehicle, where we sit on a plank of wood placed across the truck bed.  It’s a very bumpy and noisy ride through town and down a long pavilion over a cobblestone walkway to our hotel, which is quite a distance outside of town; in the end I think we got him at a great price!

Erica sits on the wooden bench in our transport to Cosy Garden

Erica sits on the wooden bench in our transport to Cosy Garden

As Erica is normally much thriftier than I am, I asked her to choose the place, and this is what she found.

Cosy Garden

Cosy Garden

The Cosy Garden allows free use of their bicycles after 4:00, and since it’s about 6:00 by the time we arrive, we hop on the bicycles and ride into Yangshuo for dinner at the Rock-n-Grill, and then we take a walk around the streets of the town.

Mangoes in Yangshuo

Mangoes in Yangshuo

Gentle vibes

Gentle vibes

It’s a little more difficult riding our bicycles back to the Cosy Garden as the long pavilion is quite dark and the road after we leave the pavilion is even darker.  We can hardly see a thing in the black night!  I don’t know how, but we somehow make it safely back to our hotel without riding off into the Li River.

Saturday, May 30: To optimize our condensed time in Yangshuo, we’ve arranged to go on the Li River boat ride first thing in the morning.  At the hotel, we can have breakfast, but we have to cook it ourselves; this turns out to be quite challenging as it’s always difficult to cook in someone else’s kitchen.

After breakfast, we ride our bicycles into town where we catch the bus to Xingping.  Our boat ride begins here.  Below is Erica with the boats and the Li River and karst landscape of Xingping behind her.

The boat dock at Xingping on the Li River

The boat dock at Xingping on the Li River

Erica at the Li River in Xingping

Erica at the Li River in Xingping

Of course Xingping is known as the most scenic area along the Li River, and because of that, it is on the 20 yuan bill.  Erica holds up the bill in the front of the bamboo raft.

Erica holds the 20 yuan bill at Xingping

Erica holds the 20 yuan bill at Xingping

And then we’re off.  We’re sharing the boat with two young Chinese men; Erica and I go directly for the front seats as this is her first and last time to do the Li River cruise.  She’s planning to leave China for good at the same time I am.  I do feel a little guilty for grabbing the front seats, but I also figure the Chinese tourists can easily come back.

Heading up the Li River

Heading up the Li River

The scenery is breathtaking as always; each time it brings tears to my eyes, it’s so stunning.  I can see Erica is quite moved by the experience too.

Li River Cruise

Li River Cruise

The Li River

The Li River

upriver on the Li

upriver on the Li

Ever since we arrived in Yangshuo, it has been threatening rain, but we’re lucky it doesn’t rain a drop while we’re on the cruise.

grassy patches in the Li River

grassy patches in the Li River

islands of grass

islands of grass

boats on the Li River

boats on the Li River

Moving up the Li River

Moving up the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

boat jam

boat jam

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

overwhelmed by beauty

overwhelmed by beauty

Li River scenery

Li River scenery

Li River karst scenery

Li River karst scenery

karst scenery along the Li River

karst scenery along the Li River

The Li River

The Li River

Li River cruise

Li River cruise

looming karst scenery along the Li River

looming karst scenery along the Li River

up close & personal

up close & personal

We can see the Li River boats that come from Guilin go zooming past toward Xingping.

still heading upriver

still heading upriver

The Li River

The Li River

We stop at little pebble beach, where our boat driver gets out and eats something with some friends.  Meanwhile, we’re left to wander and take pictures while we wait.  Here’s Erica with our two boat mates.

Erica and our two Chinese boat mates

Erica and our two Chinese boat mates

And Erica at the beach.

Erica at the pebble beach

Erica at the pebble beach

As always, I like to take a few pictures of Chinese girls posing in ridiculous poses.  I just missed this woman with her hands in the air.

posing for pictures

posing for pictures

Chinese girls doing a silly pose

Chinese girls doing a silly pose

We could go on a pony ride if we so desired, but we don’t. 🙂

two bedraggled fellas

two bedraggled fellas

Finally, our driver finishes eating, and we’re back in boat, heading back to Xingping.  The light isn’t so great in this direction.

back on the river after our break

back on the river after our break

heading back to Xingping

heading back to Xingping

Below, you can see (and hear) a video of our trip down the Li River in our motorized bamboo rafts.

cruising down the Li River

cruising down the Li River

View at Xingping

View at Xingping

The Li River at Xingping

The Li River at Xingping

Xingping

Xingping

Soon, we’re back on shore and Erica and I each pose with the 20 yuan bill.  This is a chubby time for me; after being in China, it turns out I picked up 7 pounds, which I don’t realize until I return home!

Erica at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

Erica at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

a chubby me at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

a chubby me at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

Finally, we head back up the path to meet our driver and head back to town.

fruit vendor in Xingping

fruit vendor in Xingping

When we get back to town, we’ll have some lunch and go on a bike ride in the afternoon.

Categories: Asia, China, CNY 20 Banknote View, Cosy Garden, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Li River, Rock-n-Grill, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Travel, West Street, Xi Jie, Xingping, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , , | 32 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

cocktail hour in the laundry room

Sunday, May 10: I’d like to invite you to join me for a Sunday night cocktail hour in my laundry room.  It’s a bit of a nondescript and narrow space, but I’ve been imagining it’s something nicer, and I’m hoping you can stretch your imagination as well.  We’ll imagine we’re in an embassy house, sitting on a screened-in porch in a Mediterranean country somewhere, perhaps.  That’s what I’ve been doing, ever since I read American Romantic by Ward Just.

I always wanted to be in the Foreign Service, but I failed the Foreign Service exam in 2007 and I never bothered to take it again.  Never mind; it’s too late now.  Their cut off for entering the Foreign Service is 59 1/2 and I’ve already passed that dubious benchmark.

Here is my boring laundry room

Here is my boring laundry room

I’m afraid I don’t have any hard liquor, but I do have some red wine that I bought from Wal-Mart.  It was a good deal, 3 bottles for 99 yuan, or less than $16. Now you know that’s a really good deal for red wine, but of course you can’t expect the wine will be very good.  That’s okay.  We can imagine it is and we can sip on it and enjoy some nice conversation.   I have three kinds: a Brise de France Cabernet Sauvignon, a Marques del Norte Rioja, and finally a Merlot Vin de France.  Which would you prefer?

I can also offer you a Tsingtao beer, but I only have one and it’s a small one.  Maybe next time we meet, you can tell me what you’d like, and I’ll make sure to have it around, and in larger quantities.

Today, in honor of your visit, I washed my prettiest sheets and hung them on the line to create a special atmosphere.  See how much nicer I’ve made it look just for you?

my decorated laundry room :-)

my decorated laundry room 🙂

The view through the windows isn’t very nice, as my laundry room looks out over a characterless courtyard behind a hotel.  We can observe the laundry hanging from the hotel guest balconies.  Maybe we can make up interesting stories about the owners’ lives by looking at their drying clothes.

the view from my laundry room window - think of the stories we could tell from that laundry

the view from my laundry room window – think of the stories we could tell from that laundry

I meant to buy a couple of houseplants to make it more homey, but now that it’s hot, I don’t imagine we’ll want to sit here for long.  We might even have to go inside to the air-conditioning as it’s so hot and humid out in this laundry room, which is really an outdoor room, like a patio, but not.

another angle to the view

another angle to the view

If my laundry room were on the other side of my apartment, and if it were a balcony, like most of the other apartments in our building, we’d be overlooking a pond.  Of course, if we were on the pond side, we’d have to talk VERY LOUDLY to be heard over the screech of the crickets and the gurgle-swallow-burp noise of the thousands of frogs.

the view on the other side

the view on the other side

I’m sorry that I only have one comfortable chair that I bought from Wal-Mart, the only place in town where you can buy some useful Western items.  I’ll give you the comfortable chair, although when I actually have real people join me, I’m often quite selfish and give them the hard chair.  The hard chairs are the only chairs provided for us at the university.  I apologize for their hardness, their total lack of comfort, but these are the chairs the Chinese use.  We better get used to it, I guess, if we’re going to be here in China.

Sorry, I'm in the comfy chair.  However, I'll glad give it up for you. :-)

Sorry, I’m in the comfy chair. However, I’ll glad give it up for you. 🙂

Anyway, welcome to my humble abode and cheers!  Clink!  I’d love to hear about your week.  Did you go anywhere interesting or do anything extraordinary?  Did you do anything at all, even something mundane?  Did you see any good TV shows, watch any movies, read any books?  Did you hear any good music or possibly make a playlist you’d like to share?  Did you have any deep conversations about how you always wanted to straighten your hair when you were younger?  Or did you maybe talk with someone about the meaning of civilization?  Did anyone reveal their deepest darkest secrets to you?  Did you have an altercation with anyone?  Did you have a romantic liaison?

I really want to hear about your week, but I’ll tell you a little something about mine first.  I returned from Shanghai on Monday by noon after a fun but partly rainy weekend.  On the plane, I finished the book I was reading, The Memory of Running, by Ron McLarty.  I could relate to it as it was a kind of quest for the protagonist, Hook, to find meaning, and to find himself, after growing up with a crazy sister.  I know about crazy. I grew up with it too.  I don’t want to do crazy any more; and I’ll avoid it at all costs.

Upon finishing that, I immediately embarked on reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.  I’ll tell you more about it when I get further along.

I had to invigilate for midterm exams on Tuesday morning, which was deadly dull, as always.  The Foreign Service it’s not!  Then over the rest of the week, I marked 146 essays that were mostly poorly written by Chinese students who tend to say, “You should turn down the voice” (meaning turn down the sound of the music) or “You often listening the loud music late at night,” and “…so I often lose sleep and it let me can’t get up on time in the morning,” and “Is it convenient for you to stop the way of life?”  Or they have to explain a not-so-complicated bar chart that they make ultra complicated in their analysis.  I wished for someone to put me out of my misery, but no one came to my rescue.  It’s okay.  It’s over now, thank goodness.

welcome to my cocktail hour! cheers!!

welcome to my cocktail hour! cheers!!

I had dinner one night at a Korean restaurant and another night at the Red Sign Dumpling place which has suddenly gone upscale.  They used to have metal chairs and uncomfortable tables with a bar across the space where your knees should go, and they used to have no air-conditioning.  But they got new tables and cushioned chairs and they even have a brand spanking new air-conditioning unit!  It was like heaven eating dumplings, mashed potatoes, pork wrapped in wonton skins, and chicken with vegetables there.  Accompanied by a tall bottle of beer.  It hasn’t always been so pleasant to eat there, although the food has always been good.

Me at the Red Sign in February.  It's really gone upscale now.

Me at the Red Sign in February. It’s really gone upscale now.

I walked 3 miles several times this week and did sit-ups and edited a lot of pictures and wrote a lot of blog posts in between marking my exams.  As a matter of fact, I can only stand to do ten exams at a time and then I need an hour of another activity. Some of the hour-long filler activities included watching episodes of Homeland Season 3, Grey’s Anatomy Season 5, and the 21st episode of Scandal‘s Season 4, which just aired in the U.S.  I even began watching the first episode of Madam Secretary, which seems pretty good. By the way, do you know that here in China we can watch any TV series we want for free on Youku?

It’s been very hot and humid here in Nanning, and I am inclined not to go outside unless I have to.  At other times, we’ve had the sky let loose in torrents of rain.  It’s not very pleasant, and I find myself counting the days until I go back home to Virginia.

I find myself quite depressed here lately.  My income in China is very low, and it barely pays for the travels I’ve done.  I was hoping to go somewhere on my way home from China, but that’s out.  I want to take a CELTA course in Washington when I return home and I don’t want to work next semester, so I won’t have any more income coming in until I find another job in spring of 2016.  This is the worst-paid job I’ve ever had, about half what I made in Korea and much less than half what I made in Oman.  In both of those places, I also earned one month’s salary as a gratuity for completing my contract.  I don’t get that here.  Of course, Mike supports me and I have a home to return to, but by not having my own money, I forfeit my independence.  I don’t like that.

But that’s not the real reason I’m depressed.  I’m depressed because I don’t have a partner in crime here.  There is no one I connect with here who is adventurous or fun-loving.  In short, there is no Mario.  It’s often a lonely existence, and that’s why I waste my time with a lot of ridiculous activities like watching all these TV series, something I have rarely done before.  I usually am not a TV watcher at all.

I do have some friends here, but I find we have an unbalanced relationship.   I am a very open person.  Anyone who reads my blogs knows that.  I’ll always tell anyone anything they want to know. I’m an open book.  But I find it’s always me talking and never getting anything in return.  I feel like the friends I have know everything about me, and I know almost nothing about them.  They’re reticent, reserved, or unwilling to open up.  These are not the kinds of relationships I like, and I find myself getting annoyed at the one-way nature of them.

I’m tired of people here who have never lived or worked anywhere else but China, and who have blinders on.  Not knowing any better, they think China is the be all and end all of existence.  It isn’t.  I can guarantee you that.

It’s time for me to go home.  I hope I’ll survive my loneliness and my deteriorating attitude for two more months.

As you can see, it hasn’t been a very exciting week for me here in Nanning.  The most exciting thing in fact is this cocktail hour in my laundry room. Please come again. I promise I’ll give you the soft chair next time around.   But only if you’ll stay awhile.  And only if you’ll share a part of yourself.

This post was inspired by Robin’s Weekend Coffee Share over at Breezes at Dawn: If we were having coffee

Please, tell me something about your week in the comments.  I’d love to start a conversation. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese food, conversation, Dumplings, Guangxi University, laundry room cocktail hour, Nanning, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, Tsingtao Beer | Tags: , , , , , | 62 Comments

exchanging mike for alex in nanning & onward to kunming

Monday, February 2:   We get to the airport in time for Mike to check in and he says his goodbyes to me at the departure gate.  I’m sad to see him off; I’m also disappointed that our holiday didn’t go as I had hoped it would.  I had envisioned us being energetic and outdoorsy, hiking through the pinnacles of Zhangjiajie and riding bicycles, motorbikes, and bamboo rafts through the stunning karst landscape of Yangshuo.  It was not even close to what I imagined it would be, although I think Mike still managed to appreciate it for the cultural experience it was.  While I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia, this was his first time to the region.  I’m sure it was an assault on the senses much as it was to me when I first I arrived in Korea in February of 2010.

Mike has promised me that he will write something about his impressions of China.  When he writes it, I’ll post it here on my blog.

I think it’s important that my family sees my living situation in a foreign country.  Alex has experienced all three countries in which I’ve lived and worked, as he visited me in Korea, Oman and here.  Mike visited me in Oman with both boys, and now he’s been to China.  It really helps when my family has an understanding of how I live, and they can see and feel what it’s like for me.

Mike wonders if he will get to see Alex as he gets off the plane.  Mike will fly to Beijing on the same plane on which Alex arrives.  Once Mike disappears to board, I have to wait some time for Alex, so I sit in McDonald’s and have some coffee.

When Alex finally arrives, he tells me that he was walking on a lower level while departing the plane.  Suddenly, he heard Mike call his name from a higher level.  They were able to chat for a few minutes and then Mike went on his way, and Alex walked out to greet me.   Pardon this picture. I took it hurriedly with my iPhone and it’s really blurry!

Alex arrives at Nanning Wuxu International Airport

Alex arrives at Nanning Wuxu International Airport

We take a taxi to the university campus main gate and, rather than taking Alex directly to my apartment on campus, I take him, suitcase and all, to my favorite dumpling place, the Red Sign, across the street from the main gate.  He enjoys his first taste of Chinese food in China; this is after all one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Nanning.

After he drops off his suitcase, and gets the two-minute tour of my tiny apartment, we go out for a long walk around the campus.  After that, he’s tired and wants a rest, and I have a couple of errands to do to prepare for our trip.

Later in the evening, I take him to my favorite Korean restaurant at the City Comfort Hotel, which he loves.  Later, we return to my apartment, where we happen to find a couple of good English movies on Chinese TV.  There isn’t much to do in Nanning, as you can probably guess.

Tuesday, February 3:  This morning Alex and I wake up to a steady rainfall.  Enough already!   I’ve really had it with the rain over the last two weeks.  There isn’t much we can do in Nanning but wait until our 3:30 flight to Kunming, the capital and largest city in Yunnan Province.

At the airport, we check our bags, but mine sets off an alert.  They take it aside and open it, finding my offensive iPad inside.  Apparently that is the problem.  The security woman waves the suitcase through, but forgets to change the alert.  When we go to the departure gate, we’re pulled over by police because of the original security alert.  A policeman takes me back to security, where the woman again waves us through.  However, she still doesn’t change the alert, because when I actually go to board the plane, I set off another alarm.  Luckily, after a few moments of general alarm, they allow me to board.  I guess I must be careful to put my iPad in my backpack for our remaining domestic flights.

Our flight is delayed for nearly an hour, which I’m told is typical in China.

When we fly into Kunming, we can see blue skies and not a cloud in the sky.  The weather forecast for the next week is fabulous.  Kunming is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its perpetual spring-like weather; it’s an ideal climate for blossoms and lush vegetation. Located at an elevation of 1,890 meters (6,200 ft) on the Yunnan–Guizhou Plateau with low latitude and high elevation, Kunming has one of the mildest climates in China, characterized by short, cool dry winters with mild days and crisp nights, and long, warm and humid summers, but much cooler than the lowlands.  The period from May to October is the rainy season and the rest of the year is dry.  With monthly percent possible sunshine ranging from 30% in July to 69 percent in February and March, the city receives 2,198 hours of bright sunshine annually. (Wikiipedia: Kunming: Climate)

We take a taxi to our local Chinese hotel, the Fairyland Hotel.  It’s nothing special; I didn’t want to book a really nice hotel when we’re just in transit to Lijiang.  No one at this hotel can speak English, which makes for some challenging moments, the first one being when they give us a room with a double bed despite the fact that I booked a room with twin beds.  Luckily I find “twin-bedded room” in my Pleco dictionary: shuangrenfang.  I show the word to the receptionist and she gives us another room.

By the time we get settled into our hotel, it’s dinnertime, so we go out in search of a restaurant.  We find a bustling Muslim restaurant, where we order beef dumplings with Chinese chives and beef dumplings with carrots, and a cold cucumber salad. It’s a great little meal, and so far Alex is loving Chinese food.

Muslim restaurant in Kunming

Muslim restaurant in Kunming

Alex at dinner

Alex at dinner

Our meal - beef dumplings with Chinese chives, beef dumplings with carrot, and cold cucumber salad

Our meal – beef dumplings with Chinese chives, beef dumplings with carrot, and cold cucumber salad

Back in our room, I look through the pages I’ve torn from my Lonely Planet China guidebook about Kunming, trying to figure out what we can do tomorrow.  Our flight to Lijiang doesn’t leave until 7:55 p.m., so we have a lot of time to explore. 🙂

Sadly, Alex has to put up from here on out with my snoring, which is a continual frustration for him.  In retrospect, I should have suggested he bring some earplugs. 🙂

 

 

Categories: Asia, China, Fairyland Hotel, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Kunming, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Travel, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

mike’s reflections on china

In late January, my husband Mike traveled from Virginia to visit me here in China.  We went to Hunan province, where we visited Fenghuang and Zhangjiajie, and to Guangxi, where we visited Guilin and Yangshuo.  I was disappointed for him because we had horrible weather for nearly the whole time he was here.  His one and only experience of China was a rainy, fog-enshrouded, cold and gloomy one.  In his reflections below, you can see that despite our hardships, he managed to see the experience as a positive one.  This was more than I could say for myself, but then I’ve seen better days in China.

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Here are Mike’s reflections, along with some of the photos he took.

——————————————————–

After Cathy decided to go to China to teach this year she suggested that I should plan on visiting and traveling with her on one of her breaks. My initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. My first inclination is to plan relaxing, stress-free, outdoorsy vacations away from crowds and the fast-paced life I deal with in the DC suburbs. After giving the idea some thought and talking more with Cathy, I committed, leaving the planning to her, providing feedback on trip options when asked. I am an avid reader, like Cathy, and have an interest in cultural anthropology and world history, which I get from a fictional and non-fictional perspective. In addition to having the opportunity to spend some time with my nomad wife, I would see firsthand how one in five people on our planet live.

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

I knew from the outset that this trip would be a challenge, starting and ending with the long time-zone crossing flights halfway around the globe. From Cathy’s early travel experiences in China I knew that our in-country travels would not be easy. Neither of us are much on tour groups, preferring the freedom to move about at our own pace, surrounded by local folks, being forced to figure things out on our own. That‘s half the adventure. The apprehension we felt every time we ventured out to our next destination was rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and relief upon arrival. I came with no expectations other than to relish the uniqueness of China. Cathy put a lot of time and energy into our itinerary, hoping to show me the picturesque and historic side of Guangxi and Hunan provinces. You seasoned travelers understand the tenuous balance between trying to visit as many places as possible within a tight time window and allowing oneself the time to soak in the essence of each layover, and recharge, before diving in to the next adventure. I felt like we achieved that balance.

Fenghuang

Fenghuang

Cathy was very honest on her blog in describing her disappointment with the cool damp weather during my visit. Besides yielding a series of fog shrouded photos for her blog, she was sad for me. I am sure that many travel bloggers portray only the positive aspects of their trips, which is not reality. You have to accept and learn to deal with weather and other circumstances that don’t go your way. I like how Cathy freely shares her personal frustrations in her blogs.

Yes, I would have enjoyed some clear sunny days, but I was so alert to the sights, sounds, smells and the way of life wherever we went that the weather had much less of an impact on me than Cathy. The mist encased quartz-sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie and the limestone karsts of Yangshuo looked whimsical and mysterious. The one rainy day where we didn’t go trekking was spent lounging in bed reading and treating ourselves to a muscle relaxing massage. That was just what we needed, some down time to recover.

Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie

I was constantly fascinated by assorted modes of transportation, the unified flow of scooters, bikes and buses on the crowded streets and dusty rural roads, the lack of heat throughout, the family way of life in the shops, service bays, and eateries, the variety of critters and body parts offered on the menus, the placid acceptance of a quality of life that few westerners could imagine, the third world toilets, the often derelict trains and train stations, the rural communal hamlets we cycled through, the villagers laboring in the never-ending fields, and the general friendliness of the people we encountered.

I wanted to see where Cathy lived, where she worked, the students she taught, where she shopped and ate, how she traveled, the soul and spirit of the bustling cities, the steady march of the rural farms, so I could get a sense for the environment she moved about in during her life in Guangxi. Thankfully those impressions will now be with me for the rest of her stay in Nanning, sensory impressions catalogued and brought to mind as she shares with me her weekly recap on Skype. Instead of her face and the stories she tells in words, I will see much more.

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

There are so many memories and images that come to mind from our two-week excursion, all fascinating to me, many of which Cathy has already shared in her blog. Some of these memories can’t be captured by pictures and words. They were moments of interaction, on some level, with others, in a land where one feels so isolated, despite being surrounded by 1.3 billion people. The thirteen hour plane ride seated next to a mother and her young son from Mongolia on their return trip from studying at the international school in Miami, Florida, the respectful sharing of a small train compartment for twelve hours with two young strangers, the prideful smile on the face of our dumpling lady in Fenghuang who was thrilled to see us show up for breakfast three mornings in a row, the conversation with a young woman, employed in international sales, on our boat ride on Baofang Lake, the engaging conversation with Duco, the young Dutch backpacker, on our bus ride to Yangshuo, the family we traveled with on our Li river bamboo raft, and the many challenging interactions arising from the language barrier at every twist and turn.

the town of Yangshuo

the town of Yangshuo

In one of Cathy’s blogs about Alex’s time in China she mentions a tension-filled afternoon. This is to be expected, in less than ideal travel situations and close quarters, as individual expectations collide with circumstances and each other. I suppose the key to traveling with someone else, successfully, is to recognize that this will happen and what to do when it does happen. I think in Alex and Cathy’s case, space and time was all they needed, and by the evening they were fine. It was surprising to me given all of the traveling we did and the inclement weather we encountered that we didn’t really encounter any moments of tension. Perhaps I’ll chalk that up to my laid back nature; HA! Just joking Cathy, I know it takes two to make this happen.

In looking back on my two weeks in China, followed by Alex’s two weeks, followed by Cathy’s trip to Myanmar, I am amazed at Cathy’s stamina, especially in light of the cough she came down with on our trip. Both Alex and I were exhausted after our short journeys. I can’t even begin to imagine doing that for six weeks. Cathy is like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going and going and going!!!

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

As I left China I realized that this was truly a once-in-a-life experience. It is an experience that for myself, and for Alex, will resurface in years to come as we put global events into perspective, as a result of having the opportunity to glimpse a way of life so different from our own. I am thankful for that opportunity.

Categories: Airplane, Asia, Baofeng Lake Scenic Spot, Bicycle tour, Bus, Changsha, China, Fenghuang, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Holidays, Hunan, Jishou, Li River, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Spring Festival, Train, Transportation, Travel, West Street, Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve, Xi Jie, Xianggong Hill, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel, Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

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