Expat life

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

an outing to the guangxi science & technology museum

Sunday, March 29: On weekends when I’m stuck in Nanning, I search desperately for something, anything, to do.  This town doesn’t have much of cultural or historical interest.  It really doesn’t offer much at all, other than shopping or dining, and even that isn’t great. So today, as I’ve had it on my list of things to see in Nanning, I go out to the Guangxi Science and Technology Museum. Several people told me it was worth seeing.  After visiting, I can say without a doubt that unless you are taking children along, this is not a place an adult will find of much interest.

Guangxi Science & Technology Museum

Guangxi Science & Technology Museum

The museum looks impressive from the outside, with its big ball jutting out from the facade.

Guangxi Science & Technology Museum

Guangxi Science & Technology Museum

Guangxi Science & Technology Museum

Guangxi Science & Technology Museum

Just inside the entrance is pretty impressive as well, with its glass ceiling and an oversized robot.

Inside the Guangxi Science & Technology Museum

Inside the Guangxi Science & Technology Museum

Robot inside the entrance to the Guangxi Science & Technology Museum

Robot inside the entrance to the Guangxi Science & Technology Museum

After that, there are several floors with interactive areas where mostly kids are running around playing, screaming and acting like, well, children.  It’s really just an oversized fancy playground for children.  A children’s museum, basically.  No one bothered to tell me this, so I really feel out-of-place as most people here are parents with their children, or teenage star-crossed lovers hanging out together.

As most of you may know, I’m not a lover of small children.  I always loved my own children, of course,  but other people’s children I’m not terribly fond of.  I have little tolerance or patience for them, and probably was never meant to be a mother.   Some of us have that motherhood gene, and some of us just don’t.

So, after making the rounds, I escape the noise and screaming and go back outdoors, where I take some parting shots.

parting shots at the end of the museum

parting shots at the end of the museum

Leaving the museum

Leaving the museum

pretty little garden

pretty little garden

across the street

across the street

arbor fever

arbor fever

It’s been a month since my big winter holiday of travels through China and Myanmar, and I’ve been back to work for three weeks.  I’m okay during the work week, but when the weekend comes I get itchy feet to go explore someplace new.  I think I need to go further afield because Nanning just doesn’t have much of interest.

During the week, I taught my classes, watched a lot of episodes of Scandal, had several lunches with colleagues, watched The Wolf of Wall Street, went to the theater to watch Kingsman Secret Service, and wrote a number of blog posts about my travels with Alex in Yunnan.  Oh, how I’m ready to travel again!

Categories: Asia, China, Expat life, Guangxi Science & Technology Museum, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning | Tags: , , , , , | 19 Comments

hanging out in nanning & an overnight train to jishou

Tuesday, January 20:  Our overnight train to Jishou, in Hunan province, doesn’t leave until 5:20 p.m. so we have a leisurely morning in my shabby Nanning apartment, where I serve up scrambled eggs with cheese and coffee, made with the fabulous 3-in-1 coffee packets that are my mainstay here in China.  Black coffee: forget it. It doesn’t exist except out of a Nescafe jar. In the late morning, I take Mike out for a walk around the Guangxi University campus, through the West and the East campuses and the Agricultural College.  It’s about a 4 mile walk all around.  Mike’s amazed by the huge athletic field with its multitudes of basketball hoops and nice track.  We talk about how the Chinese love basketball, along with table tennis and badminton.  He also wonders about all the elderly people who live in decrepit buildings on the campus.  The campus is surrounded entirely by a wall and it’s said thousands of people live on the grounds (I’ve heard estimates of 20,000 but I have no idea if that’s correct).  It seems the campus just plopped itself down in the middle of old neighborhoods during its 1928 establishment.  Or maybe the elderly residents were once graduates of the university! I would love to know the history of this.

I still have to finish packing, so, as the weather forecast is calling for cold and rain in Hunan Province, I figure layers are the key.  The forecast is for incessant rain in Zhangjiajie, but the temps are expected to be in the 50s and 60s Fahrenheit.  I do pack one blue men’s size medium puffy jacket that I bought in the Nanning WalMart.  It turns out I will wear that jacket a lot over the next two weeks. That is, until I abandon it in Myanmar!

All we eat for lunch are the leftover dumplings that we took away from our lunch yesterday.  Neither of us is very hungry after our big breakfast.  We do pack some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit and other snacks for our train trip since we don’t know if we’ll be able to get dinner on the train.

We arrive early to the Nanning Railway Station, with its usual chaotic hubbub of activity.  I really hate sitting around in Chinese train stations, especially the Nanning one, as it’s so filthy and uncomfortable.  Yet I always like to arrive early because I’m terrified of missing connections.  Since Mike is here only 2 weeks, I’ve planned everything precisely.  It’s the Spring Festival holiday time here in China, so I booked all our train tickets, hotels, and plane tickets in advance, just to make sure we could get where we needed to go without hassle.  Finally, we load onto the old train like a herd of cattle, and settle in to our four person soft-sleeper compartment.

The train (it isn't a bullet train!) - by Mike

The train (it isn’t a bullet train!) – by Mike

We decide I’ll take the top bunk and Mike will take the bottom.  On the other side of our 4-person compartment are two young men who don’t speak to each other; obviously they are strangers. We sit for a long time on Mike’s bottom bunk until it gets dark, which isn’t long after we chug off.  We do get to see about an hour’s worth of scenery, mostly the city of Nanning.

The view from the window (taken by Mike)

The view from the window (taken by Mike)

We pass by the new Nanning Railway Station on the east side of the city (I live on the west side). I only just heard about this new station and it looks gleaming and fresh.

Me on the overnight train from Nanning to Jishou - photo by Mike

Me on the overnight train from Nanning to Jishou – photo by Mike

In the aisles outside the compartments are little fold-down seats in case someone would like to read or eat while the other people in the compartment are sleeping.  Luckily on the soft-sleeper cars, we do have a door to our compartment.  The hard-sleeper compartments have six bunks and no doors.

Various vendors walk periodically down the aisles offering snack foods.  It’s possible there is a dining car somewhere on the train but as we brought our sandwiches, we’re fine with what we have.

the aisle of the soft sleeper cars ~ where people can have some solitude - photo by Mike

the aisle of the soft sleeper cars ~ where people can have some solitude – photo by Mike

The toilet is a hole in the floor at the end of the car.  Like trains in India, it feeds directly onto the railway tracks.  The doors are immediately locked by the attendants whenever the train comes to a stop.

Once it gets dark, there isn’t much to do and I decide I’d like to get in my top bunk to read.  Each bunk has a little overhead light which makes this possible.  The top bunk is so high that I can’t climb up; Mike has to push me by my behind like I’m a sack of potatoes. When I get to the top, I get under the covers and wriggle about trying to take off my bra and change into a sleeping shirt.  I don’t know why I bother hiding under the covers as the boy on the top bunk across from me is totally engrossed in a game on his phone.  I read awhile until I have to go to the bathroom.  When I do, I have just as hard a time getting down from the bunk as I had getting up.  At this point Mike gallantly offers to take the top bunk and let me have the bottom.  Ah, much better.

I’m reading Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Gelman Golden.  I can’t totally relate to this woman, although the title seems appropriate to my life.  Here’s the review I wrote about it on Goodreads:

At first I thought the author was annoying and spoiled by her high-class life in L.A. and her refusal to eat dinner alone once she separated from her husband and found herself in Guatemala and Mexico. She would stay in her hotel rather than face being pitied by fellow diners as she ate dinner alone and “friendless.” It seems she always needed to be surrounded by community, and that was the thing that made her happiest. I have trouble relating to this as I love my time alone and don’t feel the need to be surrounded by people all the time. The author easily talks to strangers and is able to win their trust, enough so to be invited to stay with them for months or even years! I am totally unable to do this and do admire her ability to make friends so easily, but I would crave my solitude too much to stay with random people all the time. Also, she is able to totally trust strangers; I can’t do this at all! I almost always distrust people at first, until I get to know them. So she is admirable in this respect, if not even a little foolish. However, her trust seems to have served her well.

In the end, I found the book lacking somehow; I don’t think I got a true sense of Rita and her emotional struggles; I found much of the book to be on the surface and thus it didn’t impact me emotionally. As a reader, I always want to feel the struggles and humanity of a person, and to sympathize with the characters (the author in this case), or at least relate on some level. I believe Tales of a Female Nomad missed the mark somehow as I always felt one step removed from the life Rita chose to live. I never felt any great bond with the author although we have both traveled extensively, due to the different ways we have chosen to travel.

Throughout the night, the two young men in the opposite bunks are awake either watching movies on their phones or playing games. The movie the one boy is watching must be hilarious, because he keeps laughing all night long.  What I don’t understand is how they have enough battery charge in their phones to keep this up all night.  I had to turn off my phone early in the evening as my charge rapidly evaporated.  He was using a battery to charge the phone, but even when I’ve used such a battery charger for such a long time, the charge has run out.  These Chinese phones must be better than my iPhone 5.

It’s a restless night of sleep, with numerous stops at many stations, but it’s a fascinating experience of one of the many modes of travel in China. 🙂


Categories: Agricultural College of Guangxi University, Asia, China, East Campus, Expat life, Guangxi University, Hunan, Jishou, Nanning, Nanning Railway Station, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Train, Transportation, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

a 30-hour marking marathon & mike’s welcome arrival

Monday, January 12: We had our Year 1 Writing Final Exams today from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.  Normally the students are given one hour to write two paragraphs, meaning that they don’t have time to ramble on and on.  However, this semester, the powers-that-be decided to give the students two hours to write two paragraphs.  This meant that I got 73 papers with two very long paragraphs each.  As we got the papers late in the day, we started marking very late.  I only got 11 exams marked over a several hour period.  As Mike’s arrival was scheduled for Monday, January 19, I felt a lot of pressure to get all my papers marked, tally my grades, and get signed off so I could collect my travel allowance before the weekend.  It was a lot of pressure to complete everything in a very short time.

Tuesday, January 13: We had to invigilate the Year 1 Reading Exams, even though, as a Writing teacher, I don’t teach reading.  After invigilating, I marked 25 more of my Writing exams.  It was a grueling day with hardly a break, but I had set a quota for myself and I had to do it.  As I couldn’t start marking until after noon, when the Reading Exams were over, it really compressed my marking time into about a 6 hour period.

Wednesday, January 14: Today we had to invigilate for the Year 2 Listening Exams from 8:30-10 a.m. and another set from 10:30-12:00.  This meant that I got another set of 37 Listening Exams from my Year 1 students to mark.  For the rest of the day, all I did was mark exams: 19 Writing exams and 12 Listening exams.  It was a thankless day.

Thursday, January 15: Luckily, I didn’t have to invigilate for any more exams, so I hunkered down and marked the final 18 Writing exams and the final 25 Listening exams.  Needless to say, it was a very long day.

Friday, January 16: Today, I had to transfer all the grades from my exams (73 Writing and 37 Listening and 37 Speaking, which we had given last week) to spreadsheets and double-check them, and write a summary as to why the grades are the way they are (SCIC requires that all classes have an 80% average (+ or – 4%)). I did it all, handing my grades in by 4:00 p.m.  However, I found out the office handing out the travel allowances was closed until Saturday.

Saturday, January 17 & Sunday, January 18: This morning, first thing, I went to the office with all my signed-off papers and got my travel allowance, which is really just the money reimbursing us for our original flight to China back in September.  It really isn’t anything but a back payment for money we’ve already spent.  However, I was determined to get it before I left on my holiday.

Meanwhile, during this horrible week of marking, I was also booking hotels and flights for Alex’s and my trip to Yunnan in the first half of February.  I also was working on booking my in-country flights and hotels in Myanmar, which I never had time to complete and had to do while I was traveling.

Over the weekend, I was still working on booking things for my holiday, getting my apartment cleaned for Mike’s arrival, taking care of banking matters (I had to get crisp new U.S. Dollars to exchange in Myanmar), and packing. And during my down time, I spent countless hours watching all the episodes of the final season of Breaking Bad, one right after the other. 🙂

Monday, January 19:  Mike is due to arrive in Nanning at 10:55 a.m. on Air China, so I take off from my apartment at around 9:45 to walk to the front gate of the university and catch a taxi.  Luckily I get there in time and I capture him as he comes in through the gate with the other mostly Chinese passengers.  I am very happy to see him after being away from home for four and half months.

Mike arrives at Nanning International Airport

Mike arrives at Nanning International Airport

We get in line at the taxi stand where I show the driver my trusty Nanning map with Guangxi University on it, since the drivers can never understand me when I say “Guangxi Daxue,” which means Guangxi University.  I don’t know how I’m saying it incorrectly, because whenever I listen to a Chinese person say it, it sounds the same as when I say it.  However, no one can EVER understand me.  As an English teacher who works in foreign countries, it’s really pathetic at how bad I am at learning new languages.

the taxi stand at the airport

the taxi stand at the airport

It’s about a 45 minute drive from the airport to the university and Mike is bewildered by the lively chaos that defines the streets of Nanning: motorbikes, e-bikes, bicycles, three-wheeled contraptions, fancy cars and SUVs, plus vendors selling every item known to man.  I’m sure a city like Nanning is a shock to someone like Mike who has never been to Asia before.

We take his suitcase to my apartment and head out directly to my favorite dumpling place across the road from the university’s Main Gate.  We order dumplings with pork and Chinese chives, dumplings with water chestnuts and my favorite ultra-salty and spicy green beans with red peppers.

Mike tries dumplings at my favorite dumpling place

Mike tries dumplings at my favorite dumpling place

I take Mike to my favorite dumpling spot

I take Mike to my favorite dumpling spot

After lunch, we change into some walking clothes and take a nearly 4 mile walk outside of the West Gate of the university.  I have to pick up a poncho I dropped off at a dry cleaner there, so I choose that route for today.  I figure he’d like to move around after sitting on a cramped airplane for endless hours.

I give him a little time to relax in my apartment while I finish packing, as we leave Tuesday at 5:20 p.m. on an overnight train to Jishou.

For dinner, we go to a Japanese restaurant which I used to like but now has a much reduced menu.  I actually don’t order anything because I’m stuffed from the afternoon’s dumplings, but what Mike orders has some kind of meat prepared in the typical Chinese style, full of gristle and fat.  He doesn’t eat much either as he gets tired of spitting out all the unsavory parts of the meat.  We do however toast his visit with a Tsingtao beer. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese language, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Language barrier, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

RESOLVED 2015!!!

Thursday, January 1:  Happy New Year!! It’s that time of year again, time to give some thought to the year ahead.  I’m always enthusiastic about turning the calendar to an untarnished new year, and getting a fresh start on what I hope will be the life of my dreams. However, I know it’s a challenge to keep myself disciplined. Accomplishing my New Year’s Resolutions in past years has always been a mixed bag. I achieve some of what I set out to do, and other things I don’t even touch.

“If you have the capacity to be more than one thing, do everything that’s inside of you.” ~ Bishop T. D. Jakes

This is the problem. I want to do everything that’s inside of me. And because of that, I actually never get anything done!

the big dreamer :-)

the big dreamer 🙂

I like to think about what I want to accomplish in different areas of my life.  So here are my resolutions for 2015:

  1. Health:
    1. Try to walk 3 miles at least 5 days a week.  I was doing this regularly in Virginia, but ever since I arrived in China, my walking habit has fallen by the wayside.
    2. Eat healthier food, especially vegetables. I have had stomach problems almost constantly in China, and I need to remedy that situation as it really ruins my outlook on life when I don’t feel good.
    3. DRINK WATER!  This is something I never think to do.  I’m afraid my body is in a state of constant dehydration.
  2. Finances:
    1. After my six-week upcoming holiday, when I’m sure I will spend every little bit I’ve earned on travel, I should attempt save as much as possible to take back home with me in July.
  3. Writing:
    1. Send out at least 20 query letters to agents when I return home in July. I finished the third draft of my novel in May of 2014, but I haven’t yet sent out a single query letter.
  4. Photography:
    1. Be bold!  Practice using the manual settings on my camera and experiment with photos.
    2. Get a photo editing program and play around with photos.
    3. Take a photography class when I return to the USA in the fall.
    4. Rejoin Vienna Photographic Society when I return to Virginia.
  5. Travel:
    1. Travel with Mike up to Yangshuo and Guilin and into Hunan Province, specifically FengHuang and Zhangjiajie, in January. DONE!!
    2. Boats on the Yulong River near Dragon Bridge in Yangshuo

      Boats on the Yulong River near Dragon Bridge in Yangshuo

    3. Travel with Alex into Yunnan Province, especially to Lijiang, Shaxi, Dali and the Stone Forest. DONE!  
    4. I’ll fly solo to Myanmar and stay there for about 2-3 weeks during February, visiting Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake, Yangon, and anyplace else we can squeeze in. DONE!
    5. Continue exploring more of Guangxi province during the spring semester, specifically Bama, Mingshi Tianyuan, Zuo River Scenic Area near Chongzuo City, Weizhou Island and Beihei, Sanjiang, Daming Mountain, Longhu Mountain, Huangtao Ancient Town, and Chengyang Wind and Rain Bridge.
    6. Go to Hong Kong for a long weekend.
    7. In Nanning, go to the Liangfengjiang National Forest Park, Guangxi Ethnic Relics Center and the Museum of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and the Guangxi Science and Technology Museum.
    8. Return to Ping’An and the Longji Rice Terraces in early summer.

      Nine Dragons & Fiver Tigers rice terraces in Ping'An

      Nine Dragons & Fiver Tigers rice terraces in Ping’An

    9. Visit Bali or Sri Lanka or Malaysia when I leave China, on my way back to Virginia in July.
    10. Go with Mike to Iceland as we intended to do last year but weren’t able to because of his mother’s passing away.
  6. Profession:
    1. I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.  I teach English abroad as a means to an end: to travel.  After countless futile job applications, I no longer have any hope that I will ever break into the field in which I got my Master’s, International Commerce & Policy, mainly because of the age discrimination that runs rampant in America.  Thus, I may attempt to simply return to Northern Virginia Community College in the fall; after that I might attempt to go to Japan to work for one semester in Spring of 2016.  That’s my thought at this moment, anyway.
  7. Language and knowledge goals:
    1. Study Chinese at least 10-15 minutes every day.
    2. Try to learn one new phrase a day.  Make it mine!!
  8. Social:
    1. Try to be more proactive about making friends.  I tend to sit by and wait for people to forge friendships with me, but I need to be bolder and braver about making overtures.
    2. Try to invite someone new to do something once each month.
  9. Spirituality:
    1. Begin a meditation practice, starting with at least 10 minutes a day.
    2. Read books about Buddhism, pilgrimage, spirituality, along with my other reading.  
  10. Reading:
    1. Read 25 books. Here are some books on my reading list for this year:
      1. China Dog by Judy Fong Bates (January 17)
      2. My Last Empress by Da Chen
      3. The Crazed by Ha Jin (March 1)
      4. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler
      5. Colors of the Mountain by Da Chen
      6. The Good Earth by Pearl Buck
      7. Equal Love by Peter Ho Davies
      8. Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman (January 31)
      9. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
      10. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
      11. The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
      12. The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferre
      13. The Time it Snowed in Puerto Rico  by Sarah McCoy
      14. When I was Puerto Rican: A Memoir by Esmeralda Santiago
      15. The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau
      16. Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlan
      17. Fresh Air Fiend by Paul Theroux (finish)
      18. Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer
      19. American Romantic by Ward Just

NOTE TO SELF: You have the day ahead at your disposal. Don’t think in terms too great. Think about only what you can accomplish in a day. 🙂

At first dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable.

~ Christopher Reeve


Ultimately, my dream is to combine writing and travel somehow, either by planning and offering writing retreats in far-flung parts of the globe, or by going abroad for several months at a time and writing like my life depended on it. Writing retreats would combine my natural teaching ability, my wanderlust, and my writing dreams. However, I feel the first step is to get published, so I can establish some credentials, and some credibility. One step at time….. I would love to hear some of your resolutions for 2015.  Please share! 🙂

Categories: Americas, Asia, China, Expat life, Guilin, Holidays, Longji Rice Terraces, Nanning, New Year's Day, New Year's Resolutions, Qing Xiu Shan, Travel, Virginia, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , | 54 Comments


In twenty-fourteen, I: Got waylaid in Denver after snow and de-icing delays on a flight from Washington to Burbank, California.  Shared Sunset Rolls and Fire Dragon Rolls, Sapporo and warm saké, with my little sister Stephanie, and then met The Invisible Woman in LA.  On foggy Venice Beach, wandered past muscle men, tattoo parlors, surfboards and funnel cakes, and contemplated the medical marijuana advertised for sale.  Caught glimpses of adorable houses, with secret patios and lazy cats, on a stroll through the Venice Walk-Streets.  Went window shopping on Abbott Kinney Boulevard.  Drove six hours to San Francisco from LA through a parched California landscape to meet my friend Jayne. Laughed at the antics of harbor seals at Fisherman’s Wharf and met Monarch butterflies that looked like clusters of densely packed brown leaves at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Monterey. Drove 17-Mile-Drive at Pebble Beach.  Sampled some wine on the Silverado Trail.  Saw the iconic cloud-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from the deck of the Sausalito Ferry. Laughed at the antics of sea lions at Pier 39.  On the way back to LA, vicariously lived the high life at Hearst Castle in San Simeon.  Dropped by Old Mission Santa Barbara, walked through fan palms and California chaparral at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and ate fish tacos on Stearns Wharf.  Visited the garden at Mission Buenaventura in Ventura.  Met Rosie of wandering rose and listened to the reverberations of classic rock at Bob’s Big Boy‘s classic car show.  Was inspired by a Poets & Writers LIVE! event in Los Angeles, where I embarrassed myself in front of Chinese writer Da Chen (My Last Empress) when he asked me the for the title of my book and a business card (I had neither).  Had cocktails at the Brig and ate dinner out of a food truck on Abbott Kinney.  Took a hike with Rosie around Corral Canyon in Malibu and ate more fish tacos at Malibu Seafood.  Left behind sunny California to head back to icy Virginia (nomad, interrupted).

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

Saw tundra swans and parchment-like leaves dangling like wind-chimes on American beeches at Mason Neck State Park. Was inspired by National Geographic’s 2013 Travelers of the Year.  Saw seagulls walking on water at ice-encased Annapolis Harbor.  Learned 20 things about Storytelling Photography from National Geographic photographers Ami Vitale and Melissa Farlow.  Chased freight trains and photos along the CSX Main Line at Henryton, Maryland.  Suffered through snowstorm after snowstorm in Northern Virginia, and then searched for spring at Green Spring Gardens.  Heard the thundering roar of Great Falls while strolling with Alex, Bailey and Mike along the Patowmack Canal.  Took a photowalk through the hardscrabble part of Baltimore.  Found the gravesite of the patentee of the Ouija Board at Green Mount Cemetery.  Walked Richmond’s Monument Avenue 10k in the rain with my daughter Sarah.  Drifted with cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin in D.C.  Said “ahoy, matey!” to pirates at the Privateer Festival in Baltimore.  crisscrossed flowing streams & waterfalls at White Oak Canyon.  Stayed overnight at a sleep clinic to test for sleep apnea. Wandered through flowering trees at the Virginia Arboretum.  Was charmed by wisteria at Dumbarton Oaks.  Finally found spring, after a long and grueling winter, at Meadowlark Gardens.  Celebrated Sarah’s 30th birthday in Richmond by sipping wine with the whole family amidst Chihuly’s Red Reeds at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, topped off by a feast at Bacchus.  Cloistered myself at the Franciscan Monastery. Sampled wine and cheese with the family at Doukenie Winery.  Won prizes in photography competitions through Vienna Photographic Society and had my Hot air balloons over Cappadocia photo featured by National Geographic on Instagram.  Finished the third draft of my novel, Scattering Dreams of Stars, but never got around to sending out query letters.  Applied for 40 jobs stateside and didn’t get anything.  Applied for jobs in China and got an offer from Sino-Canadian International College of Guangxi University in Nanning.  Went on safari with sculptures of metal animals in the “American Metal” exhibit at the Corcoran in its last days.  Was awed by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Opened my heart to water lilies at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.  Worked on joining hearts with Mike at Eastern Market in D.C. Saw “Words & Letters” made into art at the Athenaeum.  Felt general malaise at a Civil War Encampment at Sully Plantation. (nomad, interrupted).

Searched in vain for a happy 4th of July, as both my mother-in-law and my father were admitted to the hospital; my father’s problem was corrected without complications, but my 88-year-old mother-in-law’s health went into decline and she went into hospice care in early July.  Went with Alex on a road trip to New Hampshire, where we stayed in a cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee, seeking a reprieve from Shirley’s illness and our sadness.  Drove the Kancamagus Highway through New Hampshire’s White Mountains, topped by a hike at the Flume Gorge. Stopped to buy a bird nest ornament in a garden shop in charming Woodstock, Vermont, where I was mistaken for Alex’s girlfriend (ha!). Admired painted “meeses” and mountain lions in Bennington, and scrambled over rocks at Kaaterskill Falls in New York.  Returned home to watch helplessly as my mother-in-law continued to decline; she passed away on July 17.  Went in search of light-crazed sunflowers in memory of Shirley, who loved gardening.  Visited the George Washington Masonic National Memorial as we waited for Shirley’s memorial service, which was on Thursday, July 25.   Took our 12 1/2-year-old border collie, Bailey, to the vet when he got sick the day after Shirley’s memorial service; he died the next day, sadly, at the human age of 88.  Searched for summer, and solace, at Solomons, Maryland, where empty boats conversed in a language of their own, groaning, clanking, lamenting and whining.  Hiked at Calvert Cliffs State Park where a kid told me: “My dad says your name is Stranger.”  Dropped off my passport at the Chinese embassy to get my work visa, and while in D.C., stopped in unannounced at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral for a brief tour in darkness. Came full circle and revisited summer at Meadowlark Gardens, as I did when I first arrived back in Virginia from Oman (nomad, interrupted).

Shirley and Bailey: both left us in July

Shirley and Bailey: both left us in July

Sampled rum & grapefruit juice with Mike at Mango’s upon our arrival in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Was coated like a sugar cookie by a maelstrom of sand at Ocean Park.  Savored every bite of mofongo — mashed plantains — at Raices in Old San Juan.  Had a close encounter with the Baño Nazi on Paseo de la Princessa.  Took a self-guided walking tour through colorful Old San Juan, admiring views of Bahia de San Juan along the periphery of El Morro.  Came face-to-face with an iguana at Castillo de San Cristobal and together we enjoyed views of the Atlantic.  Climbed into a cloud forest on the Mt. Britton Trail at El Yunque rain forest.  Ate fabulous Caribbean Benedicts at El Convento.  Sought shelter from the rain at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.  Visited the “ghost town” of Aguirre in the south of the island.  Was disappointed at Hacienda Buena Vista to see only the historical buildings and not any actual coffee plants.  Got roared at by painted lions at Ponce and took pictures of the historic firehouse and famous landmark, Parque de Bombas.  Looked in vain for 007 (“Bond, James Bond”) and Jodi Foster at the Arecibo Observatory, the setting for Goldeneye & Contact.  Enjoyed a day at the Ocean Park Beach and gorgeous sunset at El Morro before returning home to Washington. Continued to work with Mike on our reconciliation after our seven-year separation and felt good enough about it to go abroad again.  Spent the next two weeks getting ready to move to China.  Left the U.S. on August 30 (notes from north america).

Arrived in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on September 1 and was installed in a gritty apartment with a view over a lotus pond.  Spent the first couple of weeks in Nanning getting a phone, internet, a medical exam, and the visa.  Took a walk with another new teacher, Caleb, on Qing Xiu Shan in dreadful heat & humidity, where we saw koi in Sky Pond and a 1350-year-old Cycas King in the Cycad Garden.  Climbed to the top of Longing Tower where we saw views of Nanning and the Yongjiang River.  Encountered communication problems when haggling in a Chinese market.  Experienced the fringes of Typhoon Kalmaegi as it brushed past Nanning. Spent a frustrating day trying to figure out how to buy train tickets to Guilin.  Finally acquired a bicycle after much rigmarole and rode to Nanning Zoo, where I watched Chinese visitors feeding junk food to the animals.  Began fall semester on September 22.  Encountered students with funny English names: Maleah, Kitty, Yuki, Albert, Hebe, Lancy, Shally, Amber, Azura, Nyako, Spring, and best of all: Yoyo, Echo, Coco, Smoothies and Evita.  Heard tell of other teachers’ students: Biscuit, Yogurt and Potato.  Was flummoxed when trying to find simple household products such as shampoo, conditioner and floor cleaner at Nan Bai Supermarket.  Learned how to say Xièxiè (thank you), Ní hǎo (hello), and Wǒ yào yīgè daizi (I want one bag).

Overcame numerous communication problems and made it to Yangshuo for the National Holiday.  Took a motorized bamboo raft with hundreds of other Chinese tourists down the Li River to Xingping, the scene of the picture on China’s 20 yuan bill.  Strolled around Yangshuo and Green Lotus Hill, where I was surrounded by magical karst formations.  Met Audrey, the niece of an elementary school classmate of mine, at Demo Tiki Bar and then ate Thai food together, accompanied by lots of wine, at Rock-n-Grill.  Bicycled with Audrey through the Yangshuo countryside, where we took an almost-skinny-dip in the Yulong River.  Ate a late lunch at a Passion Fruit Leisure Farm.  Went on a motorbike tour through kumquat orchards to Xianggang Hill, where we saw karst formations with names like Nine Horse Fresco Hill, Lad Worships Goddess, and Grandpa Watching Apple.  Traipsed through the Seven Star Tea Plantation.  Took my own private bamboo boat ride down the Yulong River.  Returned to Nanning, where I began teaching an English Interest Course on Storytelling Photography.  Got hooked on Mad Men and watched all the seasons.  Walked through artistic trellises at the Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden.  Encountered crazy communication problems on a trip to see Detian Waterfall on the Sino-Vietnamese border.  Straddled the border of China and Vietnam in a bamboo boat and was sprayed by the Ban Gioc-Detian Waterfall on my 59th birthday.  Received a cake for my birthday from the Student Union; I happily shared it with some of my colleagues, cherry tomato toppings and all.

Went to a student-teacher Halloween party on a sweltering night where everyone was sweating in their costumes.  Visited the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, where I saw excellent exhibits on Guangxi’s twelve indigenous ethnic groups.  Ventured to Nanning People’s Park where hordes of Chinese people were dancing, singing, and playing traditional instruments. Watched all 8 episodes of True Detective and began to watch Breaking Bad.  Took a trip to Ping’An, where a Zhuang guide led me on a hike to see Nine Dragons and Five Tigers and a Yao long-haired woman.  Posed in traditional costume at Seven Stars with Moon.  Took a 5-hour hike alone to the Longji Rice Terraces, where I got lost numerous times.  Spent an afternoon of disillusionment at Elephant Hill Park in Guilin.  Treated myself to a whole body massage, a foot massage and pedicure in Guilin to try to alleviate my four days of sickness while traveling.

Encountered a styrofoam lady on the way to Wal-Mart.  Watched a Chinese love story with English subtitles, Fleet of Time, that shed some light on the lives of my college students. Watched all 10 episodes of Fargo Survived another challenging Chinese bus ride to Yangmei Ancient Village. Spent Christmas day alone wandering downtown Nanning, sipping a Toffee Nut Latte at Starbucks, watching The Taking of Tiger Mountain at Wanda Cinema, and finally Skyping with my family in Virginia.  Went to a Christmas party arranged by my students, where I attempted to make proper dumplings, played and won a REAL game of Chinese checkers, and sang karaoke.  Went to a free acrobatics show in Nanning.

Happy New Year!  May all your dreams come true in twenty-fifteen. 🙂

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Categories: 2014, Abbott Kinney Boulevard, Aguirre, Alexandria, Americas, Annapolis, Arecibo Observatory, Asia, Burbank, California, Calvert Cliffs State Park, Cherry Blossom Festival, China, Colorado, D.C., Daxin, Denver, Detian Waterfall, Dumbarton Oaks, El Yunque National Forest, Expat life, Golden Gate Bridge, Great Falls Park, Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden, Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Hearst Castle, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Longji Ancient Village, Longji Rice Terraces, Longsheng County, Los Angeles, Malibu, Maryland, Monterey, Nanning, New Hampshire, New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, New York, Old San Juan, Photography, Ping'An Village, Poets & Writers LIVE!, Ponce, Puerto Rico, Qing Xiu Shan, Reseda, Richmond, San Francisco, San Simeon, Santa Barbara, Sausalito, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Sino-Vietnamese border, Solomons, Travel, United States of America, Venice, Venice Beach, Venice walk-streets, Ventura, Vermont, Vienna, Virginia, White Oak Canyon, Wine Country, Xianggong Hill, Xingping, Yangmei Ancient Town, Yangshuo, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

a year-end work retreat

Tuesday, December 30: This afternoon, the teachers and administration from SCIC were required to attend a working “retreat.”  To me the words “retreat” and “work” don’t really go together, so I was glad it actually turned out not to be too demanding.  We ate some snacks and drank some tea and listened to a presentation on learning theories.  The venue was quite a lovely place.

the venue

the venue

After the lecture, we walked over to the dining hall, where we found some pretty walkways and buildings.  Richard asked if I’d like him to take a picture of me.  It was nice of him to ask, because I don’t usually like to ask people to take pictures of me.  He said he always finds it frustrating when he travels that he never gets any pictures of himself to prove that he was actually at a place.

me at the venue

me at the venue

Some of the younger guys were goofing off and pretending to do some Kung Fu fighting.

kung fu fighting

kung fu fighting

I did a mingle activity (an activity which I often do with my students), where I mingled and took shots of my colleagues.

After the lecture, we sat down to the typical Chinese style dinner served on a lazy Susan.  I couldn’t eat much of it because the meat in every dish looked typically Chinese, meaning it was still attached to the bone, with gristle and fat and skin still attached.  I ate a few bits, but mostly I just sampled some of the many bottles of wine that were there for our enjoyment. 🙂

I had some fun conversations with the people at our table.  I found out, much to my astonishment, that Geoff, shown below, taught for a year in Saudi Arabia.  We talked a lot about that culture and our experiences in the Gulf.  I couldn’t understand how, though we’ve worked a whole semester together, he never once mentioned until tonight that he worked in Saudi Arabia; everyone here knows I worked two years in Oman, so I would have thought he might mention his work in that region.  It’s always interesting what you find out about people once their tongues are loosened a bit by wine.

Geoff, Gavin and Colton

Geoff, Gavin and Colton

It was really a fun retreat and a great bonding experience for the teachers.  As none of us keep office hours, we don’t often have a chance to interact with each other.  A lively evening all around. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese food, Expat life, Guangxi University, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

an acrobatics & dance show in nanning

Saturday, December 27:  This evening I was invited by a couple of my colleagues to an acrobatics & dance show in Nanning.  A Chinese doctor friend of Eddie’s, Dr. Pan (who does Chinese traditional medicine such as acupuncture), purportedly had four free tickets, so I was invited after a long line of invitees declined the invitation.  Oh well, it was a fun evening, so I’m glad all those other people opted out!

It turned out Dr. Pan knew the manager of the theater and didn’t really have any tickets at all.  When we arrived at the venue, Dr. Pan called the manager, and he escorted us in through the stage door and up into the balcony.

I had seen a professional acrobatics extravaganza when I was in Beijing in 2010, so I didn’t expect much here in Nanning.  Even though the venue itself was nothing special (the theater was cold and rather decrepit), the actual performance — the acrobatics, the music, the dancing, the costumes, and the stage sets — were fabulous.   Our seats were on a balcony in the back and I tried to take pictures with my iPhone but most of them were awful.  In retrospect, I should have brought my Olympus PEN, but I’m not sure with the low light and our distance from the stage that they would have turned out better.

Here are just a few shots of our evening.  I apologize for the poor quality of the images!

And here’s me after the show in front of the billboard.

me in front of the poster for the acrobatics show in Nanning

me in front of the poster for the acrobatics show in Nanning

I’ve determined after two such shows that the Chinese are really amazing at acrobatics!! 🙂

Categories: Acrobatics, Asia, China, Entertainment, Expat life, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

a chinese-style christmas party

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

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

So Young Bar

So Young Bar

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

Albert chopping away in the kitchen

Albert chopping away in the kitchen

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



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

Eva and Robin

Eva and Robin

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

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

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

the art of making dumplings

the art of making dumplings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

random thoughts about life in china

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

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

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

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

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

Fleet of Time

Fleet of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

cleaning up the lotus ponds

cleaning up the lotus ponds

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

the styrofoam lady

the styrofoam lady

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

blue skies over the lotus pond

blue skies over the lotus pond

blue skies at the university

blue skies at the university ~ a rare thing

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

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

A student whose photos I loved with three of his photos

A student whose photos I loved with three of his photos

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

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

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

unknown student, Albert and Leo (my two students)

unknown student, Albert and Leo (my two students)

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

students playing a matching card game

students playing a matching card game

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

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

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

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

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

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