Posts Tagged With: ESL Teacher

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

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

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

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

Longji Rice Terraces

Longji Rice Terraces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1408 class: all 37 students

1408 class: all 37 students

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

1408: all 37 students

1408 A: 18 students

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

1408 class: 37 students:

1408 B class: 19 students

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

1407 class: 36 students

1407 class: 36 students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dragon's Backbone in Ping'An

The Dragon’s Backbone in Ping’An

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

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

Nothing is ever easy in China.

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

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

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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?

IMG_6425

Lotus blossom under cover

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lotus pond and tree

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

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

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

the shady part of my walk

the shady part of my walk

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

Peace and love to you all. 🙂

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

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

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

lush lotus

lush lotus

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

perky lotus

perky lotus

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

Lotus pond at Guangxi University

Lotus pond at Guangxi University

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

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

Lotus flower

Lotus flower

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

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

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

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

Lotus blossoms

Lotus blossoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clockwise from bottom left: spicy cucumbers, watermelon, dumplings

Clockwise from bottom left: spicy cucumbers, watermelon, dumplings

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

lotus leaves

lotus leaves

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

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

dropping petals

dropping petals

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

lotus flowers in the pond

lotus flowers in the pond

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

lotus pond on the university campus

lotus pond on the university campus

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

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

lotus

lotus

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

lotus blossoms under cover

lotus blossoms under cover

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

fern and leaf

fern and leaf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on in and join me for some Rioja. 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lobby of Singing Soul KTV

The lobby of Singing Soul KTV

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

Fountain & lobby at Singing Soul KTV

Fountain & lobby at Singing Soul KTV

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

Singing Soul KTV

Singing Soul KTV

Colorful fountain at Singing Soul KTV

Colorful fountain at Singing Soul KTV

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

microphones for KTV

microphones for KTV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class 9

Class 9

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

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

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

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

Class 9 students

Me swamped by Class 9 students 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

Class 10 students

Class 10 students

Class 10 students

Class 10 students

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

Class 10 students

Me with Class 10 students

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

Daniel, a Chinese English teacher

Daniel, a Chinese English teacher

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

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

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

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

Guiding from my 12th floor hotel room

Guiding from my 12th floor hotel room

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

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

Teapot at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Teapot at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

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

Dragon relief sculpture at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Dragon relief sculpture at the entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Entrance to Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Scenic Area

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Incense burners at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Incense burners at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

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

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

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Gene's wife makes incense offerings

Gene’s wife makes incense offerings

incense burning

incense burning

incense stick

incense stick

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

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

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

carvings on the walls

carvings on the walls

Armelle looks down over the steps leading up to the temple

Armelle looks down over the steps leading up to the temple

Dragon details

Dragon details

Happy Buddha

Happy Buddha

Figures at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Figures at Guiping Xishan Longhua Temple

Pavilion

Pavilion

Tree and mossy stone

Tree and mossy stone

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

Dean Qin and R.T.

Dean Qin and R.T.

Gene and his wife

Gene and his wife

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

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

Farmland out the window on the way back to Nanning

Farmland out the window on the way back to Nanning

Farmland out the bus window

Farmland out the bus window

Farmland and clouds

Farmland and clouds

the green farms of southeastern China

the green farms of southeastern China

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

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

cocktail hour in the laundry room

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

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

Here is my boring laundry room

Here is my boring laundry room

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

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

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

my decorated laundry room :-)

my decorated laundry room 🙂

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

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

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

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

another angle to the view

another angle to the view

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

the view on the other side

the view on the other side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

welcome to my cocktail hour! cheers!!

welcome to my cocktail hour! cheers!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a ride to kowloon on the star ferry & a stroll along the avenue of stars

Saturday, April 4: After getting off the Big Bus *Hong Kong*, I take the Star Ferry back across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon.

The Hong Kong skyline from the Star Ferry

The Kowloon skyline from the Star Ferry

Looking back at the Hong Kong skyline from the Star Ferry

Looking back at the Hong Kong skyline from the Star Ferry

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour

Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour

Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong Island

Looking back at Hong Kong Island from the Star Ferry

Looking back at Hong Kong Island from the Star Ferry

Ferry in Victoria Harbour

Ferry in Victoria Harbour

Hong Kong skyline with Victoria Peak behind

Hong Kong skyline with Victoria Peak behind

Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong Island

Back on the Kowloon side, I hope to catch the blue line of the Big Bus for an early evening tour through Kowloon, but at the dock, I can’t find any sign of the Big Bus.  A later studying of the map shows me I needed to catch it at the back side of the Peninsula Hotel, but I don’t check the map until I am able to sit down for dinner.

Kowloon ferry and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Kowloon ferry and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Colorful boat in Kowloon

Colorful boat in Kowloon

As I’m taking a few pictures of the beautiful light over Victoria Harbour, suddenly I get the message that my camera card is full.  I have a 32 GB camera card, but I guess it’s filled with the nearly 6,000 pictures I took in Myanmar.  As I’m not ready to erase them yet, I go in search of a new camera card and I finally find one in this shop near the ferry.

Buying a new camera card

Buying a new camera card

Now, set up with a new card, I continue to the promenade than runs for about 500 meters east from the Clock Tower.  The Clock Tower is the only remnant of the Kowloon Railway Station, where intrepid travelers were once able to take a train via Russia and Mongolia to Europe.  It sits in front of the drab Hong Kong Cultural Center with its skate park roofline.

Clock Tower in Kowloon

Clock Tower in Kowloon

Looking back at the ferry dock

Looking back at the ferry dock

The promenade in Kowloon

The promenade in Kowloon

Clock Tower and Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Kowloon

Clock Tower and Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Kowloon

As I continue east on the promenade, I can see boats zipping about in Victoria Harbour and the Hong Kong skyline glowing under dramatic clouds and blue sky.

Looking across Victoria Harbour from the promenade in Kowloon

Looking across Victoria Harbour from the promenade in Kowloon

A junk pushes out into the harbor from a dock off the promenade.  It just sits out in the harbour for quite a while, and I wonder if it’s just there for photo ops for tourists.  The junk is picturesque in front of the city skyscape, the perfect icon for Hong Kong.

Junk in Victoria Harbour

Junk in Victoria Harbour

Hong Kong skyline

Hong Kong skyline

Junk in Victoria Harbour

Junk in Victoria Harbour

Let there be light

Let there be light

Junk in Victoria Harbour

Junk in Victoria Harbour

Light & clouds over Hong Kong's skyline

Light & clouds over Hong Kong’s skyline

At the east end of the promenade, I come upon the Avenue of Stars.  I had planned to visit this area, but I hadn’t yet figured out how to get here.  I’m pleasantly surprised that I’ve found it quite by accident.

A bright red stage is set up along the Avenue of Stars for different performers to serenade the tourists.

a performer belts out a song at Avenue of the Stars

a performer belts out a song at Avenue of the Stars

Junk in the waning light

Junk in the waning light

Boats under the clouds in Victoria Harbour

Boats under the clouds in Victoria Harbour

The Avenue of Stars is a tribute to Hong Kong’s film industry, third in the world behind Hollywood and Bollywood.

Avenue of the Stars

Avenue of the Stars

I find a statue of this actress, but I don’t catch her name.

a famous Chinese actress

a famous Chinese actress

There are handprints in the concrete, much like the prints of famous actors and actresses in Hollywood.  The one shown below is by Yeoh Choo Kheng, known as Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng, a Malaysian actress based in Hong Kong.  She’s known for performing her own stunts in Hong Kong action films of the 1990s.  She’s best known in the Western world for her roles in the Chinese martial arts film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and for her role as Wai Lin in the 1997 James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies.

Handprints of Yeoh Choo Kheng, Michelle on Avenue of Stars

Handprints of Yeoh Choo Kheng, Michelle on Avenue of Stars

Of course, the Avenue of Stars wouldn’t be complete without Bruce Lee, widely considered to be one of the most influential martial artists of all time and a pop culture icon of the 20th century.  He died in 1973 at the young age of 32.

Bruce Lee on Avenue of Stars

Bruce Lee on Avenue of Stars

Near the end of the promenade I’m captivated by the light shining through the clouds on some skyscrapers in the distance.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Light at the end of the tunnel

Curving promenade along Victoria Harbour

Curving promenade along Victoria Harbour

After leaving the promenade, I pass by the famous Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong’s oldest hotel, and one of the oldest in Asia, having opened in December of 1928.  Under a partnership with Britain’s Royal Academy of Arts, Richard Wilson RA has created a replica of the vintage Harrington Legionnaire coach featured in the 1969 British heist caper, The Italian Job, which he’s precariously balanced on the edge of the hotel’s 7th floor Sun Terrace, playfully juxtaposed against the building’s iconic façade (Peninsula Hotel: A Partnership of Artistic Derring-do).

The Peninsula Hotel

The Peninsula Hotel

The Peninsula Hotel

The Peninsula Hotel

By this time, I’m pretty exhausted from my morning of travel, my Big Bus *Hong Kong* tour, my Star Ferry harbour crossings and the long walk down the promenade, so I head north toward my hotel.

Streets of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon

Streets of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon

I find a Vietnamese restaurant, where I order an appetizer tray for two.  I figure it will be a good meal for one.  It’s pretty good, but not great, as some of the meat is a little chewy.  I top it off with a Tiger beer.

Vietnamese Restaurant

Vietnamese Restaurant

I have it in my mind to go to Lantau Island tomorrow, so I’ll try to get an early start so I can squeeze everything in. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Avenue of Stars, China, Clock Tower, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Peninsula Hotel, Star Ferry, Travel, Victoria Harbor | Tags: , , , , , , , | 20 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

twenty-fourteen

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. 🙂

Related posts:
twenty-thirteen
weekly photo challenge: my 2012 in pictures

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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