Posts Tagged With: Guangxi University

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

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

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

teachers and administration at SCIC in June 2015

teachers and administration at SCIC in June 2015

PROS:

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

CONS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of many lotus ponds on the campus

One of many lotus ponds on the campus

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

a particularly pretty lotus pond on campus

a particularly pretty lotus pond on campus

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

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

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

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

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

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

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

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

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

Graffiti on old buildings on the Agricultural College campus

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

Zongzi all wrapped up

Zongzi all wrapped up

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

zings when opened

zings when opened

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

lotus blossoms

lotus blossoms

Lotus pond

Lotus pond

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

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Lotus blossom under cover

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lotus pond and tree

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

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

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

the shady part of my walk

the shady part of my walk

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

Peace and love to you all. 🙂

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

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

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

lush lotus

lush lotus

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

perky lotus

perky lotus

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

Lotus pond at Guangxi University

Lotus pond at Guangxi University

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

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

Lotus flower

Lotus flower

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

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

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

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

Lotus blossoms

Lotus blossoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clockwise from bottom left: spicy cucumbers, watermelon, dumplings

Clockwise from bottom left: spicy cucumbers, watermelon, dumplings

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

lotus leaves

lotus leaves

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

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

dropping petals

dropping petals

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

lotus flowers in the pond

lotus flowers in the pond

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

lotus pond on the university campus

lotus pond on the university campus

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

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

lotus

lotus

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

lotus blossoms under cover

lotus blossoms under cover

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

fern and leaf

fern and leaf

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

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

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: an apartment restaurant & an outing to liangfengjiang national forest park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Azura in the

Azura in the “apartment restaurant”

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

kumquat drinks and Azura

kumquat drinks and Azura

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

the apartment restaurant

the apartment restaurant

the view out the window of the apartment restaurant

the view out the window of the apartment restaurant

a shelf of knick-knacks in the restaurant

a shelf of knick-knacks in the restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cocktail hour in the laundry room

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

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

Here is my boring laundry room

Here is my boring laundry room

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

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

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

my decorated laundry room :-)

my decorated laundry room 🙂

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

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

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

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

another angle to the view

another angle to the view

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

the view on the other side

the view on the other side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

welcome to my cocktail hour! cheers!!

welcome to my cocktail hour! cheers!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hanging out in nanning & an overnight train to jishou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from the window (taken by Mike)

The view from the window (taken by Mike)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike arrives at Nanning International Airport

Mike arrives at Nanning International Airport

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

the taxi stand at the airport

the taxi stand at the airport

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

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

Mike tries dumplings at my favorite dumpling place

Mike tries dumplings at my favorite dumpling place

I take Mike to my favorite dumpling spot

I take Mike to my favorite dumpling spot

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: 2014, Abbott Kinney Boulevard, Aguirre, Alexandria, Americas, Annapolis, Arecibo Observatory, Asia, Burbank, California, Calvert Cliffs State Park, Cherry Blossom Festival, China, Colorado, D.C., Daxin, Denver, Detian Waterfall, Dumbarton Oaks, El Yunque National Forest, Expat life, Golden Gate Bridge, Great Falls Park, Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden, Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Hearst Castle, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Longji Ancient Village, Longji Rice Terraces, Longsheng County, Los Angeles, Malibu, Maryland, Monterey, Nanning, New Hampshire, New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, New York, Old San Juan, Photography, Ping'An Village, Poets & Writers LIVE!, Ponce, Puerto Rico, Qing Xiu Shan, Reseda, Richmond, San Francisco, San Simeon, Santa Barbara, Sausalito, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Sino-Vietnamese border, Solomons, Travel, United States of America, Venice, Venice Beach, Venice walk-streets, Ventura, Vermont, Vienna, Virginia, White Oak Canyon, Wine Country, Xianggong Hill, Xingping, Yangmei Ancient Town, Yangshuo, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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