laundry room cocktail hour

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, 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?


Lotus blossom under cover


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.



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.



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

lotus blossoms under cover

lotus blossoms under cover

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

fern and leaf

fern and leaf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on in and join me for some Rioja. 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lobby of Singing Soul KTV

The lobby of Singing Soul KTV

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

Fountain & lobby at Singing Soul KTV

Fountain & lobby at Singing Soul KTV

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

Singing Soul KTV

Singing Soul KTV

Colorful fountain at Singing Soul KTV

Colorful fountain at Singing Soul KTV

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

microphones for KTV

microphones for KTV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cocktail hour in the laundry room: an apartment restaurant & an outing to liangfengjiang national forest park

Sunday, May 17:  It’s Sunday evening again, time for cocktail hour in my humble laundry room. I’m so glad you could drop by! 🙂  Five o’clock is wine o’clock, so please, come in and have a seat in my comfortable Wal-Mart chair while I pour us some chilled Merlot.  I know we’re not supposed to chill red wine, but if I hadn’t put it in the refrigerator, it would be toasty. Warm red wine isn’t very pleasant, not at all.  I used to do this in Oman as well; it seems I’m always living in hot climates and have to refrigerate my wine.

“She wished it were evening now, wished for the great relief of the calendar inking itself out, of day done and night coming, of ice cubes knocking about in a glass beneath the whisky spilling in, that fine brown affirmation of need.” 
― Michelle LatiolaisWidow: Stories

I won’t bore you with a picture of the laundry room this time, but I can tell you that my lavender flowered sheet is still hanging right where it was last week.  The sheet dried during the week, but I never got around to taking it down. The weather got moist, so the sheet is now damp again.  I guess I’ll need to leave it up a while longer until it dries out.

I know I haven’t yet responded to all your comments from my last week’s cocktail hour, but I will, I promise.  Hopefully tonight, after we’ve shared a glass or two of wine. Or the cocktail of your choice.

“The writer is a mysterious figure, wandering lonely as a cloud, fired by inspiration, or perhaps a cocktail or two.” ~ Sara Sheridan

So, how was your week?  Did you get outdoors for some springtime walks?  Did you hear a new song you liked, or did you watch a good movie or read a good book?  Did you eat anything interesting?  Did you make a new friend, or lose an old one?  Did you have a special shared moment with someone, or did you have a falling out with someone?  Did you explore a new place or have a crazy adventure?  Did you sing in the shower or in the car?  Did you get any exercise?  Were you stressed out by work or did you have a relaxing week?

I was happy to get so many responses to my last cocktail hour.  I really wish we could all get together in one place, all of us bloggers, and have a real cocktail hour.  I think we’d have a grand time; I know we’d share a lot of laughter and stories.  I’ve met a few of you in person: Jo, Marianne, and Annette; I really do hope to meet the rest of you one day.

“If you were to ask me if I’d ever had the bad luck to miss my daily cocktail, I’d have to say that I doubt it; where certain things are concerned, I plan ahead.”  ~ Luis Bunuel 

I was a bit curious about some comments I received.  I know I talked a little about my depression last week, but I guess I should clear the air.  I do get depressed from time to time, but I wouldn’t say it’s a constant state of mind.  I’m not crazy about daily life in China mainly because I don’t have one good friend (and I’m normally a “one good friend” kind of girl), but I still have plenty to do and my depression and frustration come and go like dandelion fluff in the wind.  So, I’d like to assure you that you needn’t worry about me.  I’ll be fine.  One thing I’ve always been is a survivor.

I was especially intrigued by Vee’s comment; she guessed I was depressed because my photos looked so dark.   I guess some photographers do that; maybe the best photographers purposely take pictures that reflect their moods. I thought about the pictures I took recently, and the only ones that stick in my mind are the ones in Hong Kong, looking out over Victoria Harbour.  I love those pictures; I think they are some of my best. I felt really lucky to have been there with that fabulous moody late afternoon light and those dramatic dark clouds hanging over the skyline.  I do wonder, do most of you go out taking photos hoping to reflect your state of mind?  Maybe I should be more aware of that.

I had some interesting things happen this week. I met with a fellow novelist, Paul, for dinner.  We are reading each other’s novels and it was time to report back to each other our thoughts about the other’s work.  Paul was very encouraging and told me he can’t believe I’ve been sitting on my novel for over 10 years.  He said he can’t imagine an agent or publisher wouldn’t pick it up.  I was happy to hear that from him, and I don’t think he was just being nice.  I also think he’s an excellent writer; his book is clever and fascinating, especially as it’s somewhat autobiographical and I recognize some of the characters. 🙂

I finished up my midterm marks and handed them in on Friday.  That was a relief.

On Friday night, I met one of my students, a very stylish and cute girl named Azura, for dinner.  She planned the whole evening.  Online, she reserved a table for two, and a meal for four (!), at an “Asian restaurant.”  She wasn’t sure how to find it, so we wandered around behind the NanBai Supermarket looking for an “E” building.  Then we got on an elevator in what looked like an apartment building rather than a commercial building.  On the 11th floor, we walked down a narrow hallway and Azura knocked on door. There was no sign whatsoever indicating it was a restaurant.  A woman in an apron answered the door and invited us in.  Her living room was set up like a very cozy restaurant.  The walls were painted green and she had little decorative knickknacks everywhere: potted plants, stuffed animals, vintage dresses, old guitars.

Azura in the

Azura in the “apartment restaurant”

The woman got busy in the kitchen, cooking up a set meal in big wok.  Azura grabbed some bowls, spoons and chopsticks from a table.  She also grabbed us two kumquat drinks served in clear plastic bags (sort of like Capri Suns in the USA).

kumquat drinks and Azura

kumquat drinks and Azura

She told me we’re allowed to have four of these altogether, since she ordered a meal for four.  When she told me she ordered a meal for four, she said, “I hope you’re hungry!”  I wasn’t that hungry and would never eat that much food, but I tried my best since she went to such effort.

the apartment restaurant

the apartment restaurant

the view out the window of the apartment restaurant

the view out the window of the apartment restaurant

a shelf of knick-knacks in the restaurant

a shelf of knick-knacks in the restaurant

The woman served up pineapple rice, clams with pineapple, fresh fish (head and all) with cilantro and tomatoes, cabbage and potato soup, and pork ribs wrapped in aluminum foil.  We talked about Azura’s dream to get into fashion design and the two boyfriends she once had in high school (“It wasn’t a very good thing,” she told me.)  She’s a Year 1 student, so I sometimes had trouble understanding her, and vice versa, but we only had to resort to our online dictionaries a coupe of times.

After dinner, I tried to pay the bill of 88 yuan (about $14), but she would have none of that.  She wanted to split the bill, so I gave her 44 yuan.  As she prepared to pay the proprietor the money, the woman requested that she please pay online for the meal!  How strange.  Azura had the cash right there, but maybe she just wanted the money to go directly into her bank.

Later, I put up a picture on Instagram explaining this situation, and my friend Dai from Nepal mentioned he read somewhere that “apartment restaurants” are all the rage in China!  I’ve been here for 8 1/2 months, and I’ve never heard of them before now!

We planned next to get a manicure, so we walked down a long street in the pouring rain under Azura’s umbrella because I had left my umbrella at home.  Azura got a manicure, but I ended up getting a pedicure and manicure, my first in China; I’ve never been able to find a salon before now!  After our treat, it was still storming, so I bought an emergency umbrella for 25 yuan, even though I already had one at home.  We leapt and splashed over puddles on the way home, but shortly after I bought the umbrella, it stopped raining. Wouldn’t you know?

It’s getting awfully hot out here in the laundry room now, so why don’t we move inside?  My apartment is rather dreary, but at least we can be cool in the air conditioning.  Can I get you another drink?

On Saturday, I helped a colleague, Erica, sort out her spread sheets for her grades, and then we had some dinner together after.  When I came back home, I watched an episode of Homeland, Season 4, Episode 8.  I couldn’t stand not knowing what would happen next, so I watched episodes 9 and 10, one right after the other without a break. I also saw the season finale of Scandal, which seemed to have been wrapped up very nicely.  Does that mean there are no more scheduled seasons for Scandal?

I also got involved this week in an Irish detective show with Gillian Anderson called The Fall.  I watched all five episodes of Series 1, but I can’t seem to get Series 2, so I’m very frustrated as I can’t find out what happens next!!

Today, I decided to explore a place a colleague, Gavin, had recommended to me some time ago: Liangfengjiang National Forest Park.  Approved by the Ministry of Forestry in September of 1992, the park was one of the earliest national parks in Guangxi. In 2003, it was regarded as one of Nanning’s top scenic spots.

Gavin had told me to take bus 707, changing to bus 301.  I had forgotten the details, but I got on bus 707 and was on it for a long time.  I showed a girl on the bus the Chinese name of the park and she pointed out that I needed to get off in 8 stops to get on bus 301.  Before I got to that stop, a Chinese woman with blonde hair asked me “Spreek jig Duits?”  I said, “You speak German?”  She said, “Yes, no English!” She motioned that I should follow her off the bus at the next stop, and she put me on the phone with a friend “from America.”  I couldn’t hear the woman on the phone because the bus was so noisy.  The blonde Chinese woman kept motioning for me to get off the bus with her, so I did.  I regretted it.  She wanted me to come to a friend’s house for lunch, but I just wanted to go to the park, so I told her I couldn’t. This meant I had to wait a long time for the next 707 bus.  Some other men came up while we were at the bus stop and tried to help as well. They told me the blonde woman wanted me to have lunch with her and her friend.  Of course I hadn’t understood at first, otherwise I would have never gotten off the bus! Here are the whole lot of them.  They were a really helpful bunch!

I then got on bus 15, following their advice, and I got off at what I thought was the right stop.  However, the bus sign said nothing about the #301. So I got on the 707 again, and then I knew I’d gone one stop too far because the Chinese characters didn’t match.  So I got on the bus going the opposite direction, and got off again at the same spot, where someone convinced me to wait for the 301 even though the sign said nothing about the 301.  Finally the 301 came, and I was on it, packed in with people, standing room only.  I finally made it to the park about 1 1/2 hours after I started out!

And what a disappointment it was!!  I could kill Gavin for having recommended it to me.  He had told me it was a nice park in which to take a walk.  Maybe he’s just been in China too long.  It was the shabbiest, most unkempt place I’ve been in Nanning.

The paths were muddy and rutted, the arbors were untended, and the river was murky.  There was the hugest, tackiest picnic area imaginable, with stinky garbage everywhere.  There were people running around flying kites, and there were arcade games where you could throw darts at balloons.  There were miserable-looking ponies to ride.

Now I can cross that place off my list and stop wasting time thinking about it.  How could any Westerner have recommended it as a nice place?   I kept walking around hoping there would be something good to see.  There wasn’t!  Plus I got eaten alive by mosquitos.  The only saving grace was finding some ice cream for sale: I bought a vanilla flavor with chocolate on the outside and banana on the inside.  I think I will stop venturing around Nanning.  There really is nothing to do in this town!

Overall it was a good week, but I did have a sort of falling out with someone.  At least I think I did, although I have no idea why.  Basically we have both been ignoring each other for the last two weeks.  I don’t know what’s going on, but when I feel ignored, I withdraw, and then that probably has a domino effect and makes the other person withdraw more.  So now I feel our friendship is out in the hinterlands, never to be restored.  How does this happen?  I know I can be ultra-sensitive, and I often take things as slights that aren’t meant to be.  Mike tells me that all the time, anyway, and he knows me more than anyone.  Why do I have to be this way?  Is anyone else like this, or is it just me?  I know that I often sabotage my friendships, and I don’t know why I feel the need to do this.  I do know I don’t like feeling hurt or angry, and sometimes by pushing people away, I can avoid those painful feelings. I’m also never the kind of person to run after people, or to beg a person to be my friend.  I just accept it; if someone doesn’t want to be in my company, then I back off and give them space.  Lots of it.

Oh well, at least I have plans to be away the next three weekends.  I’m heading on a work retreat next weekend.  The following weekend, my colleague Erica and I are going to Yangshuo if she can get a day off from her Sunday job.  The weekend after that, I’m supposed to go to Beihai to meet a lady I met in Xi’an.  She’s Finnish and works for a Finnish company there.  So that will get me through the first weekend in June.  Thank goodness!

Cheers to you all, and I hope to see you again next week! Have a wonderful week with lots of happiness and love.  Sending hugs your way. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese food, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, laundry room cocktail hour, Liangfengjiang National Forest Park, NanBai Supermarket, Nanning | Tags: , , , , , | 34 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

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