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Over the past two days I have felt a lot more confident about spending many months in China…mostly because it’s finally warming up over here. I really can’t stand the cold, and since our lifestyle involves a lot more outside activity than at home (biking, eating on food streets, an open-air classroom setting…) I was beginning to worry a little about the climate. The last two days, however, have been much nicer Spring days, and I am feeling more confident in our new lives here. In fact, I even scrubbed the bathroom for three hours yesterday (and found bleach!) so I would feel better about using it for the coming year. Although I have to admit that it doesn’t look a whole lot better, I know it’s much cleaner. OK, I will stop talking about the bathroom.

I have some better news about my bike. Although it’s still gone…there is an extra at the school because the other David is using a motorbike, so I now have a mountain bike similar to David’s to ride around. I do miss my basket, but I am going to keep an eye out for another cheap bike. Also, I really appreciate all of you checking in about the bike and how we are doing. I was feeling pretty lousy about the situations, but my mood improved a lot from chatting (complaining) with some of you and hearing updates your lives. One thing I miss over here is participating in fundraisers and walks, but I still feel connected through your updates…even if you DO just want my money. (Just kidding.)

Yesterday night we had a really nice dinner with about 8 teachers from the public school David and I teach at. Earlier in the week I asked one of the teachers if she would want to have dinner sometime, and it turned out that the whole department wanted to join! They were SO nice, and treated us to one of the best Peking Duck restaurants in Tangshan. Most of the teachers are around our age, so hopefully we will eat out again…and there were talks of doing some K-TV (Chinese Karaoke.) One funny conversation we had was that they always characterize English speakers as saying, “How is the weather?” for casual conversation, while the Chinese are more likely to say, “Have you eaten?” I definitely prefer the Chinese topic of casual conversation, but I need to learn some more cooking first. One interesting topic we discussed was traveling. Although the teachers had recommendations for where we should visit in China, they were all from Tangshan, none had ever left the country, and most had not seen many parts of China. They remarked that, “All the foreigners like to travel,” like this was another comical stereotype…a pretty lucky one, I would say.

Well, I need to go to sleep so I can be a monkey for the 3-year olds at 8am…and also spend tomorrow planning for our May break. We have 3 days off for the Bank Holiday. We thought we would travel around China, but something like 15% of Chinese ALSO travel during this break, so traveling in China has proven more expensive than going to another country. Thus, we are going to try and spend 6 days in Thailand. I’m extremely excited about this possibility, and hope it works out. Also, we now know our cell phone numbers and address, so we would be happy to share those with anyone via email. Oh…and who will win the prize for first to visit? It will be a good one!

One last thing, we just found out that the other foreign teacher will be teaching in Xi’an for his next 6 months in China…so that means that there will be a 6-mo minimum opening here in Tangshan with us! If any of you have considered teaching over here, we would be happy to show you the ropes. The positions fill very quickly, but please let us know.

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So we had a long weekend of teaching, and we slept in pretty late because we were exhausted. I skyped with my sister and parents, congrats to my sister for getting into and choosing to go to Boston University for graduate school! After talking with them, we met up with our friends, Ada and Millie, to go to the top of what we were told was the tallest mountain in Tangshan. We hopped on the bus and headed over, but this mountain was not very tall. More like a big hill. We were told it could be a long hike up the mountain, but we got to the top in less than 3 minutes. It still had some great views of the city, which can be seen in the pictures below. The city looked bigger from up there, and the always present massive smokestacks were clearly visible too. I do not know what kind of power plants these are, they look like huge nuclear power plants, but I do not think that they are. These things are EVERYWHERE, I have seen more of them here than I have in my entire life in the USA. Its no surprise that the pollution is so bad. After a few minutes, we headed down the mountain, to head to South Lake, another nice park in Tangshan.

We got to South Lake, took a few pictures, chatted, but left relatively soon after because there wasn’t a whole lot to do, and we wanted to eat and try to find a gym. The park looked very nice and will be a nice place to visit in the spring and summer, and the outdoor gym was hilarious. About 50% of the workout machines they had did absolutely nothing, yet they all still swear by them and say that they are useful. It is mind boggling to me, but if someone (or more likely, everyone) tells you that something should be done or is good, then you just do it. That is the Chinese way. I absolutely hate it, because my first question is always “Why?” They don’t seem to appreciate it, and most people tell me I have so many traditional Chinese things to learn (don’t hold your breath). Off we headed to the big mall in the city, to get some grub and find a gym.

We ate some noodles and found a gym that was very nice. It was big and modern, and there were many classes which Erin was pleased about. She can get her yoga fix while she is here. They had typical machines, free weights, a billiard room, a badminton court, ping pong, and multiple basketball courts. The gym membership is about $100 US for the entire year! So we are officially members of the gym and will come back to America looking more toned than we ever have before. Maybe.

After joining the gym, Ada invited us over to her house to cook for us again. We made dumplings with Ada, Millie, and Ada’s husband, Liu. Erin was pretty good at making the dumplings, but I was awful. It is a lot harder than you would think, but making dumplings is often a family affair in China, so they all know how to make them incredibly well. It is a long process, so having the entire family help out is necessary, although I am not sure how much I really helped. I butchered most of my dumplings and many of them opened up while they were being boiled. Woops! They still tasted great, and Ada and Liu were the most gracious of hosts as always. After eating, I taught them how to play Indian Poker, which they seemed to get a kick out of, and then we headed back to get our bikes and head home.

When we got to the supermarket where we locked our bikes, Erin was not able to find hers. We looked and looked, but to no avail. Her bike was gone. She locked her bike next to mine in the morning, but it was taken somehow during the day. It is a little suspicious, but every single time I have locked my bike at this supermarket, someone has watched me do it. Not slightly watched me do it, I mean intensely watched me do every aspect of locking the bike. I never really thought much about it, but it is always either the drivers of the 3 wheel taxi cars, or the bike attendants of the supermarket. I have even had a crowd form around me when I locked my bike, about 6 or 7 taxi drivers just watched me lock my bike. They all laughed after I said “Ta Da!” Now I think they may have had scandalous intentions, and it is unfortunate. Now anytime I am watched by someone locking my bike, which so far has been every single time, I will be concerned. Nothing we can do though, but if I see someone with Erin’s bike in the next couple weeks, I will chase them down (her bike also had a distinct squeaking sound, so it would be easy to distinguish). Oh wells, just have to be really cautious from now on, and make sure the bikes are locked and we don’t leave them someplace all day. It stinks to be suspicious of all the people at the supermarket though, especially because we can’t even ask anyone if they saw anything. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Luckily I didn’t pound anyone, because the bike attendant was acting super suspicious when we got there in the morning, and then intensely watched me unlock my bike at night, and when Erin asked him what he was looking at, he just laughed and walked away. He wouldn’t look at us again. He is my #1 suspect, and if my bike is stolen when he is working again……nothing will happen.

Enjoy the pictures! If anyone wants to skype, we can anytime pretty much in the next few days. If you get on skype at your night time, we will probably be on. Or we will be getting buff at the gym. Peace out!

The Master said, “He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.” The Analects, 2.15

David has kindly reminded me that I haven’t been updating the blog as much as I should…but never fear, I have been keeping notes and remember everything I want to share!  Backing up a little, the dust storm really was crazy.  This whole month (yes…we have made it a month already, can you believe it?!) I have felt like I live on a movie set, where someone just controls all the people and atmosphere because it seems too foreign to be real.  If you have ever seen the movie The Truman Show…I feel like that.  The dust storm was the best representation of this feeling so far, riding on my bike through sand and dust to school, I just felt like some special effects guy had just switched on the “Asian Dust Storm” switch.  Oddly enough, when we exited a train station in Beijing, we stumbled across some Mongolian tourists who wanted to take our picture.  I think in the trade-off between dust storms and photos, they won.

I have to recount a funny story that happened in school the day of the dust storm.  I teach a class called NC-1.  It’s an intermediary class for kids that did not pass the previous level and need extra attention.  As you can imagine, this class is tough.  I was reviewing the months of the year, and asked Logan, what month do you like?  He smiled and said, “I like watermelons!”  Oh good, Logan understands the “I like” concept.  So I explained, can you look at the list of the months in the book in front of you: Jan, Feb, etc.  “Logan, I like February because it’s my birthday, or I like August…”  Logan says, “Ohhhh, dui dui (yes, yes), I like watermelons!”  OK, that was a huge fail for me…but the Chinese teacher and I had a good laugh about it after class.  Next class, we will review “I like” and Logan will pass with flying colors.

Lets see, in part of getting our resident permits we had a short interview with a Tangshan government official.  One thing that was very interesting about the government offices is that they all had beds in them!  I’m not sure why, and I reallly like this custom, but it was very unique.  Also, we asked the official about how many foreigners were in Tangshan, since we have seen 4.  He said 700, but half of those work for a German branch of Siemans, 200 are medical students, and the rest are teachers or students.  He said lots of Taiwanese and Pakistani come to study medicine.

One thing I also wanted to mention about the first night in Beijing was the Lao Beijing (Old Beijing) area.  It is near the food street, but is a small area of the city set up with little windy roads and tons of vendors to look more like an old-fashioned Beijing market.  As you may know, I completely love markets and got a total kick out of this place.  There are people and knick-knacks on every corner, and  it’s just a fun vibe.  Also, a funny thing about all the markets (Night Market, Silk, Lao Beijing) is that the Chinese vendors know limited but tourist friendly Chinese.  They are always shouting,  “hello lady, do you like, do you want?  or funny phrases like “Mmmm silk worms!”

OK, now to tell you about the second day in Beijing.  First we walked around the city and found the train station, which is next to the bus station, to buy our tickets home.  It was a VERY confusing experience because although there is a direct line from Beijing to Tangshan, it’s in an unmarked, abandoned-looking tile room about 2 blocks from the actual bus station.  Luckily Eddie had drawn us a map and warned us about this craziness, but it was still shocking.  We found out that we didn’t need to pre-purchase tickets, and would just need to show up 10 minutes before we wanted to leave at night, so we headed on towards the Silk Market.  The Silk Market is the best-known shopping center in Beijing…and it’s incredible.  Oh to see the look on some of you fashionistas faces at this 6-story mega shop!  There are rows upon rows of vendors selling everything from name-brand clothes to Chinese souvenirs.  They have leather jackets, sevens and true religion jeans, paintings, signature seals, pearls, luggage, watches, massages, DVDs…basically shopping heaven!  However, as David mentioned, this place is packed with tourists that come in by the busload, so the first price the vendors offer is outrageous, not even a deal in the states.  In the end, however, if you are persistent, there are huge deals to be had.  Although I wanted to buy a million things, we managed to escape with two paintings (originally offered at over $100 US, bartered by David to about $22) and a tea-strainer mug.  I can’t wait to check out this place with some of you…and buy cashmere together!

After the silk market we headed to the Olympic Village to see the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube.  They were huge, cool and just like you have seen them on TV.  There were a surprising amount of people milling about, but we decided we should go again at night because it would probably look more exciting.  Don’t get me wrong…it’s all really impressive architecture, but not much to do in that area.  We also tried to find this pizza place called the Kro’s Nest that had been recommended to us by some of the teachers, but ended up being taken to Domino’s.  I was starving at that point and didn’t feel like looking anywhere else for food, so much to David’s displeasure we had a $20 pizza.  I thought it was pretty good though!

From there we took a cab to the largest Buddhist Temple in Beijing, Yonghegong.  On the way to the temple was an entire street filled with incense vendors, and the temple itself was very ornate.  I think pictures will describe it better than I can, but it was a great example of a traditional buddhist temple, complete with many rooms housing gold Buddhas.  Many Chinese were also kneeling and praying to the Buddhas with incense, and there were many buses full of tourists there as well.  I was getting extremely tired at this point…David is a walking machine and all I could think about was cuddling up with our new DVDs, so we began another long walk to the bus station.  We stopped on the way at a great vegetarian restaurant and caught the bus home from the divey little room-station.

Overall we were really impressed with Beijing, minus the air quality, and are looking forward to going back!  Today I heard about the Health Care legislation and Google pulling out of mainland China, which are both big updates for me.  I will have to see how this Health Care bill plays out, as I am currently paying for US insurance in fear of having a “gap” in coverage during my time in China, waaah wah and clearly Google pulling out of China completely would not be good.  In other news, I got a haircut today from the best guy in the shop for under $2 and we had our first official Chinese class.  I think we are eager students…but are still completely tone deaf!!!  Also, just as a reminder, the Avon Walk is in one month and if you are looking to fulfill your charitable budget for the year, I know some pretty awesome walkers that still need funds.

Goodbye for now from the land of tea.

Ni hao everybody!  Erin and I just returned from our first trip, to the great city of Beijing.  Of all our traveling exploits, I think this ranks as the one I am most proud of us accomplishing (slightly in front of renting a car in South Africa and having no issues whatsoever) because so much could have gone very wrong on this trip.  The day started in Tangshan, getting in a cab for the bus station.  We jumped our first hurdle, which was getting the cab driver to understand that we wanted a bus to Beijing.  After a few minutes, he understood, dropped us at the station, and we purchased our tickets.  We hopped on the bus, listened to some guy try to sell everyone these cheap looking rings (and selling at least one to every person on the bus except us!!!), and then headed towards the Chinese capital.

We were dropped in the middle of nowhere, and wandered around confused, repeating the words “Tian’an Men” to various people, trying to get towards Tiananmen Square.  After about 40 minutes, we got a cab and were taken to the city center.  Unfortunately for us, the weather was pretty nasty on Monday.  Not nasty meaning rainy or cold, nasty meaning they sky was brown with dust blowing around constantly.  We have both had enough of the pollution/dust, but what can you do?  Luckily it cleared up substantially that night, so it wasn’t too bad.  Anyways, if you are standing in the middle of Tian’an Men Square, take a couple steps forward because you might be standing on Chairman Mao’s embalmed corpse!  In the middle of the square is…Chairman Mao’s Memorial Hall, which is basically his body and some sculptures.  The body is on display in the morning and afternoon, but we didn’t see it this time.  There is an obelisk in the middle as well, the Monument to the People’s Heroes.  If you are facing the Forbidden Palace, then the Great Hall of the People (aka Parliament building) will be on your left, and the National Museum of China will be on your right.  The most impressive aspect of the square, as I mentioned before, was the size of it.  Some pictures of the square and the buildings are attached, so take a look!

We wandered about the square for a little while, but we wanted to find a hotel ASAP, because we did not have our passports with us, which presented another potential obstacle.  We had letters from the government of Tangshan saying our passports were being reviewed so we can become resident aliens and luckily Erin remembered as we were walking out the door that we had copies of our passports.  We walked up Wangfujing Street, the main shopping street in all of Beijing.  There are huge malls on both sides of the street and the place is packed with pedestrians.  After getting our hotel room squared away, we got some food near St. Joseph’s Church, one of the oldest and most impressive churches in Beijing.  After eating, we walked towards the Wangfujing “Night Market”, one of the most famous food streets in China.  A food street is a street that has tons of street food, and every city in China seems to have at least one, if not many, food streets.  The Night Market is special in that it has gathered many of the street foods found in cities all around China.  It is a walking tour of street food around China, a tad overpriced, but we learned quickly that just about everything in Beijing, even if the price is listed, is negotiable.  I took lots of pictures of the foods found in the street; beef, lamb, potatoes, eggs, noodles, silk works, snake, sheep testacles, sheep penis, seahorses, starfish…you get the idea.  If anyone comes to visit us, seeing the Night Market is an absolute must in my opinion.  There just aren’t places like that, especially with foods like that in the USA.

We walked down Wangfujing street again, looking at more of the shopping areas this time.  We bought some books for learning Chinese, a map of Beijing, and I bought “The Analects”, the most famous book of Confucian teachings at the Foreign Language Bookstore.  The street looked very different and a lot more lively at night, and there were cheap souvenirs were all over the place (although the first price you hear is usually not so cheap).  As I mentioned before, prices are very negotiable in Beijing, and as our manager explained to us, you should expect to pay about 30% of the first price they give you.  Based on our experiences haggling, I would say expect to pay 10-30% of the first price they give you!  There are a lot of tourists in Beijing and many of them do not even attempt to haggle, so these places have to make an incredible amount of profit per sale.  The constant haggling is another fun aspect of Beijing (and most of China), but it gets tiresome, because you have to deal with salespeople telling you outrageous prices and then whittling the price down to 10% of the original.  Some pictures of the souvenir shops are also included, with some of the even odder delicacies we saw that night, namely LIVE SCORPIONS!  Why people were eating these still moving scorpions I do not know, but I guess there is a certain fascination with eating anything that weird.  Part of me dies inside seeing the way the Chinese treat animals and the environment, but there isn’t a whole lot I can say to change anyone’s minds.  If an entire country is willing to put up with dust storms and pollution that makes them get cancer, blocks the sun for months, and don’t mind not seeing a blue sky all year, how can you change their minds about other environmentally damaging things?  I don’t have the answer yet.  We walked in a few more shops, did a loop back up the Night Market, bought some street food for dinner, and then went to sleep.  Erin didn’t feel great (potentially because of the dust), so we wanted to get lots of sleep for the massive amounts of walking we would do on Tuesday.

Beijing is a great city that is incredibly hospitable to the large amount of foreign tourists that visit, but at the same time, many people in the city understand that it is almost too easy to fool a tourist that speaks no Chinese and has no idea what prices are like in China.  We encountered a common scam Monday night, which involves 20ish year old girls approaching you, telling you they are college students learning English, and are wondering if they can practice with you.  Then they ask to get coffee somewhere, where you are then potentially charged thousands of US dollars for coffee.  If you refuse to pay, gangsters that are part of the plot will make you aware that refusing to pay is simply not an option.  Don’t worry, we chatted with the girls for a little while just to see if they were scammers, and sure enough, they asked us to go for coffee, and we declined.  It makes you appreciate humble cities like Tangshan in a way, because we have not been given an unfair price at all since we have been here.  There is no haggling in Tangshan, even as an obviously foreign customer, because most of the shopkeepers are so stupefied that a foreigner is in their store in the first place.  All this considered, if you ever have had an interest in Beijing or in visiting us, you should do it.  Seeing Beijing would be worth the trip in itself.

This is just day 1 of our 2 day journey to Beijing, but I am too tired to finish it.  Maybe my lovely girlfriend can author part 2, but she is already asleep.  So for now you will have to enjoy part 1, and come back tomorrow (or later tonite I suppose) to see part 2.  I am going to leave a quote from the Analects at the bottom of my posts from now on, so put your philosophical thinking caps on.  Zajian everybody! (zaijian = goodbye)

2.2  (Book 2, passage 2)  The Master said, “If out of the three hundred Songs I had to take one phrase to cover all my teaching, I would say ‘Let there be no evil in your thoughts.'”

So I woke up this morning feeling a little strange, because it seemed very bright outside.  I opened the curtains in our bedroom and noticed that the sky was glowing yellow.  I thought that either Armageddon was upon us, there was some sort of chemical shower occurring, there was a massive fire nearby, or that I was dreaming.  It was none of these things, and we got ready for our day of teaching and headed out to ride our bikes.  When we got there, we noticed that the bikes were completely covered in dirt.  I don’t mean slightly covered, I mean top to bottom, totally covered in a whitish colored dirt.  It wasn’t just our bikes though, it was everything.  Cars, houses, plants, everything, covered in this dirt.  The sky was yellow, dirt was everywhere, and as we rode to the school, we realized that dirt was literally raining down from above.  It is no wonder this place is so dirty.  What’s the point in cleaning when you get dirt rain every once in a while?  In the 5 minute ride to school, my black coat was visibly covered in the whitish dirt.  Putting 2 and 2 together, we realized we had probably inhaled a good amount of this no doubt toxic dirt rain, and I will be purchasing a mask for the next time this occurs.   Hopefully it never does.  Very weird day.

We had a full day of teaching and are both very tired.  Not a whole lot of excitement during school.  It was a pretty typical day of teaching.  Upon our return after a nice dinner with the other teacher, we witnessed a pretty dazzling fireworks display right across from our apartment.  This country is obsessed with fireworks.  There was no particular reason for having this firework show, but it was about 10 minutes long, and was about as good as the fireworks at the National Mall in Washington DC.  This is probably just some random guy that decided to blast off some fireworks on a Saturday, which is one of the beauties of China; you don’t need a reason to shoot off a ton of fireworks for 10 minutes.  I think that should be the country motto.  Ok, bedtime, I included some pictures of the dirt storm, although they really do not give justice to the color of the sky.  There are also some pics of the fireworks.  We go to Beijing on Monday, our first real trip, so we will have some exciting pictures and tales to share with you soon.  Adios,

David

Yo yo yo, just a quick little update for tonite.  If anyone doesn’t have Skype, you should get it and Skype with us.  It really makes us feel like we aren’t a billion miles away, because we can see and hear you all calling us.  The best part about it?  ITS FREE!  I truly do not understand how this service is free.  A product this good simply should not be free if you ask me, but I am not complaining.  I wanted to cancel a credit card due to some fraudulent charges popping up (stupid South Africa!!), and I wasn’t sure how to call the 1-800 number that I needed to.  I talked to our friend from teacher training, John, and he told me you can call 1-800 numbers for free with Skype.  Problem solved!  So now I love Skype even more than I did before, which was already infinitely.

We also got our Chinese cell phones up and running today and they are decent.  We got the phones, 200 kuai worth of minutes (which is a decent amount), free unlimited calling between the two of us, and international calling capabilities for about $25 US each!  Again, this makes no sense at all to me.  How could it possibly be this cheap?!  Also, how much money are US cell phone companies making?!  It is pretty incredible, and everyone we talked to said it was the best deal they had ever heard of for a cell phone in China.  Woo hoo!

Ok, just a short post today, sorry folks.  I included some photos of our apartment to make up for the lack of text.  The last picture is of some street food, a omelette/pancake type thing with some of our boss’ home made salsa on top.  All for about 40 cents!  Go Hoyas tonite, I will be teaching unfortunately, but enjoy March Madness for those of you that care.  For those of you that don’t, have a good day!  Peace.

This is just a quick update, but I went on my first run in China today!  I have been walking, riding my bike and doing yoga at home, but I got brave enough to battle the cold, pollution and stares.  Yeah!  4 miles and it was well worth it.  Decked out in my pink and black spandex, purple Nike running top, bright white saucony shoes, and ipod, I certainly stood out even more than usual as I passed many bikers, haha.  It was pretty fun running through a city with everyone was looking at me…and was wondering if maybe they thought I was a US athlete.  A girl can dream, right?  I felt really emotional halfway through when the song “Fans” by Kings of Leon came on, because I was just feeling comfortable and positive zooming around walkers and bikers, getting motivated by the beat.  I guess it just made me feel like music and exercise can make me feel at home no matter where I am.

Anyway, it’s my goal to run in at least one race while I’m here, and today showed me that this is probably an attainable goal.  The streets are actually great for training because they are long, straight and flat/gradually inclined, with few traffic lights.  I haven’t felt any of the effects of the pollution in my breathing so far (crossing my fingers), the weather is in the mid-40s which isn’t too bad, and there are soda and water bottle vendors all over the place if I need a break!  Now I just need to figure out where I can buy some GU, ha.

Unfortunately David is still out on his quest to find a calling card, because the mobile place didn’t seem to understand his request.  Avis Rent a Car started charging his credit card some miscellaneous fees from our trip to South Africa, and it’s a little tricky trying to call them.  Our Chinese lessons were also cancelled today…so we are going to try and study a little on our own.

Despite the fact that the snow is STILL following us from the US…we are having a good time in Tangshan!  We taught all weekend, which was especially rough for David because he was sick.  Teaching 15+ hours with a sore throat is not fun, but we made it and are beginning to get to know the kids a little better.  We also had our first classes at a public school at the end of last week, and I really loved the experience.  With all that I had heard about the intensity and rigor of schooling here, I expected public school to be a very solemn atmosphere.  Much to my delight, kids seemed happy and excited to be in school.  I assume that English classes with a foreign teacher are particularly exciting, but the kids were giggling and clapping when I walked into the room and they were even better at English than most of my students at Aston.  The most touching moment of the day came when I introduced myself and then asked the kids to tell me what they like to do.  One girl said, “I like to sing,” and I replied, “can you sing?”  She immediately looked at the teacher, who hesitantly nodded her head, and the girl skipped to the front of the room and began to sing!  Her voice was so sweet and really good, and the kids mostly clapped along with her.  I really hope to have more experiences like that, where I can encourage kids to show me a little more of themselves.  The teachers in the public schools were also good at English and very professional, I hope that we can befriend a few.

After class on Sunday I had a long talk with one of the teachers at Aston about education in China.  She explained that in Chinese schooling only three subjects really matter: Chinese, Math and English.  Parents generally get upset when classes like music and PE are introduced into their children’s schedules.  This teacher mentioned that her sister had always loved music, but was not allowed to pursue her interest.  However, she didn’t do very well on the final high school exam (the really important one that determines which type of university you will attend) and had no other choice than to attend a music school.  Apparently music and arts schools are the most expensive and least desirable, and are mostly for kids that don’t have any other options for schooling.  Fortunately, this girl’s parents were liberal enough to let her attend, and she’s now a Chinese folk singer!

On Monday we were off and although David didn’t feel great, we went around the city a little.  We met a new 24-year old student that we will be tutoring once a week.  His parents own a tree-fencing company and want to expand to English-speaking tradeshows, and he’s hoping to learn business and conversational English in one month.  I think this may be quite a challenge because while he knows the phrase “Next time it’s on me,” he doesn’t know colors!  I also got a basket put on my bike, we ate “pizza” at the “Italian” joint in town, and bought a lot of groceries at RT Mart.  Oddly enough…there was a stage and live singing in front of the mega-store too!  Afterwards, I attempted to cook our first real dinner at home, which consisted of a stir-fry of beans, onions, peanuts in vinegar, ginger, mushrooms and eggs over rice…which turned out pretty well.  One of the teachers at our school has offered to teach us how to cook some more traditional Chinese food, so we hope to learn more.  We have also watched the movies Kung Foo Hustle and Memoirs of a Geisha, which have been really good.  Our manager has over 3,000 DVDs at his house, so we hope to catch up on a lot of Chinese and American films.

Today (Tuesday) we met the other David and teacher, Ada and went downtown to the Palagic Mall and street market.  Ada was nice enough to help us buy cell phones.  We got two phones for $20 each, which included a few hundred minutes per month, and a plan that allows us to call each other for free…sweet deal!  The phones won’t be active for 48 hours, but after that we can receive calls for free and call the US in case of an emergency for about $2.50/min.  The mall was really nice, complete with a movie theater and good restaurants.  Ada also wants to find a gym with yoga classes, so I’m very excited about that.  After the mall we headed to the plant and pet market.  We bought 5 plants for the house for about $20, and pet lots of cute puppies.  David was asking how much all the plants were and as a joke, he pointed to a man’s dog and asked how much he cost.  At first the man laughed, but then told Ada that he would sell us the dog for 300 RMB, haha.  Tempting to have a little pup in our apartment, but we had to pass.

Next up we need to open bank accounts and further decorate the apartment.  We also plan to take our first trip to Beijing this weekend.  And now to post lots of pictures of the things I have just described…

Hey everyone, I (David) am very tired so am going to keep this brief.  I was exhausted most of the day today, mainly due to staying up until 3am so I could watch Georgetown beat our arch rivals, Syracuse, and I also had to wake up early to go teach at my first public school.  It was about a 10 minute bike ride to the public kindergarten, and I was met and ushered around by a nice girl who gave me a list of words to teach the kids.  The words for the very little kids were lemon, mango, and kiwi, which was easy enough to get them to say.  With no pictures, no idea how to say them in Chinese, no anything, I don’t think they really will retain this knowledge, however.  For the older students, I had a very long and complicated story to teach them, of which I think they probably understood 5% of the words.  This is a major problem with the lesson plans for teaching English to kids abroad, at least in China; the lesson plans are often written by someone who has a very slight grasp of the English language themselves.  Children at an English speaking elementary school would not have understood 25% of the story, yet somehow these kids that know maybe 30 total words of English will understand it?!  It doesn’t make much sense.  So I told the school not to prepare anything for me, because I would prepare my own lesson plans for them.  They seemed very relieved by this, and it shouldn’t be hard to do.  I think it will work much better, and that way I do not have to teach lemon, mango, and kiwi for 30 minutes straight…

I had another class at a different public school which also went well.  It is pretty bizarre thinking that the schools just want a foreigner that speaks English to come in, with absolutely nothing prepared, and just “teach” a class for 30 minutes.  It makes the parents happy though, and all of the teachers were encouraging me to teach the kids words that they could then discuss with their parents.  They were very well behaved overall, only getting out of control when the games I played with them got more competitive.  They really do go crazy in competition.  Everyone is crushed if they lose, and the victors all cheer with one another and take it very seriously.  It makes you understand why athletes have so much pressure to perform, and also why China would be willing to cheat (I am not saying they cheated (but it sure seemed that way)) in competitions like the Olympics (the underage female gymnasts).  They really pride themselves in performing well in competition, and are ashamed of losing.  It gets pretty intense.

After these classes, I had a demo class at our school, just a free class for kids that want a little something extra.  I just played 3 different games with the kids, and they were a little shy at first, but got pretty crazy by the end.  It is difficult for me to read the Chinese people that I have met, because they respond to things differently than most Americans would.  This is enunciated because sarcasm is something that the Chinese really do not pick up on.  So you have to be careful, because the Chinese don’t kid around.  They will come right up to you and say, “You are so handsome”,”You are so beautiful”, or “She is more beautiful than you” (a student said this to a pretty teacher at the school in reference to Erin).  So it is hard to tell if something offends them, confuses them, or excites them, but when everyone was screaming answers during the 3rd game, I could tell that they were enjoying it.  We then went out to eat with one of our Co/Chinese Teachers, Ada, and her husband, Liu.  They are both very cool and we had a good dinner.  We are both ready for bed though, so we will have to add pictures of our neighborhood another day.  A full day of teaching awaits us tomorrow, so it might not be until Monday.  Hope all is well with ye and all of your kin, go HOYAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hello and welcome back!  Today I (Erin) had my first classes at a private kindergarten.  These classes are still part of my contract with Aston, but are fulfilled in another location to fill extra hours.  I got up nice and early to greet students as they arrived to the school at 8am.  For the first half-hour my job was simply to stand in front of the school and say “Good morning” and “Give me a high five!” to kids as their parents dropped them off.  I think the general idea was to impress parents that their children’s English classes would be taught by a real English-speaker.  I was very happy with this arrangement, as it’s getting warmer and is much easier than running around a room with flashcards.

It should be known that this school is very swanky.  Parents drive up in their BMWs, Audis and yes, even Hummers to drop their kids off.  This status parade is a car company’s dream, because it is clearly the size and price of a car that is most important.  (The wealthiest also made sure 8’s were included on their license plates.) I find the contrast between the dirty, run-down look of houses, shops and restaurants with flashy, new, bright cars to be quite interesting.  I guess a car is more personal and portable, and thus works better as a status symbol or representation of “face.”  Also, I guess I am just more accustomed to homes being a major status symbol, so when you live in a country of over a billion and property is scarce, the appeal of a car is even greater.  I had to laugh when I saw a suped-up VAN with rims and leather interior, because the whole point of owning such a car is that it’s just BIG.  Unlike most of China, only one student arrived on the back of a bicycle.  I should mention, parents do NOT get out of the car, a young teacher lifts their kid out of the seat and escorts them to class.

The inside of the school was incredible, nicer than any building I have seen thus far in China.  I have attached pictures, but it was decked out with couches, bright colors and very clean!  It definitely made me question whether the “strict function” of things is really as important an ideal as the Chinese say, or whether money may change this equation.  Either way, I respect a good combination of form and function!  The classes were pretty standard, I taught 4: 1/2 hr sessions to groups of about 15-20 three to five year olds.  One or two in each class were incredibly good at picking up the vocabulary, which was exciting.  I think it’s fun teaching the little ones, but they are about done after 20 minutes…and so am I.  There are only so many ways you can go over 5 vocabulary words.

There were also two other English-speaking teachers who were quite characters.  I have heard that there is somewhat of a prejudice against Filipinos and gays in China, but these two men defied both odds!  They have actually been living in China for 7 years and just recently came to Tangshan for work.  They were extremely energetic and funny, and hopefully I will hear more of their story in the upcoming weeks.

One disappointing aspect of the school is that “We happy every day” is posted everywhere; it’s even built into the exterior of the school walls.  Eddie told me that this could be due to the fact that the manager of the school is not a principal but a businessman who seems to value money more than a legitimate education.  I just find it so counter-productive that these kids are trying to learn English in an environment that isn’t helping them do so.  Learning English is already so complicated, but having wrong information posted all over schools (there have been similar signs in Aston, too) and teachers that are constantly saying and pronouncing really basic things incorrectly is really disheartening.  I can deal with these mistakes on menus, in stores or anywhere really except an institution that is actually trying to teach a subject the correct way.

Lets see…you have been asking for pictures of the bikes and our dungeon of a bathroom, and I finally remembered to take both!  Pictures of our city and apartment will be forthcoming.  I wanted to give a shout-out to Jane, who skyped us on a whim last night, and it worked out!  Also, to my extreme satisfaction, Joe Warren proved that reading our blog is not only entertaining but useful, as he used his newly gained knowledge about the Chinese obsession with the number 8 in trivia last night, go Joe!  David and Eric also wanted me to mention that amazingly, David watched the Gtown basketball game LIVE last night on his computer.  Shout out to technology (and the Hoyas, beat ‘Cuse)!

As you may know, the Chinese celebrate Labor Day during the first week of May and National Day during the first week of October, which means that we will have at least a few additional days off from classes at that time.  This also may mean that hotels and flights are more expensive, but could be a good time to visit!

I was very excited to find out today that there are TWO St. Baldrick’s events being hosted in Hong Kong this year!  They are both in April and although I don’t think we will be able to take enough time off right now to make the events, I have started doing some research about getting involved with some more head shaving over here.  (PS…check out http://www.stbaldricks.org if you haven’t already.  My former co-worker Brooke Everhart will be going bald in Georgetown in one week, so please donate to her if you can: http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/participantid/374247) Also, St. Baldrick’s Charlottesville is still alive and kicking for its 5th year…and will host their event in 2 weeks: http://www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/eventid/3998/eventyear/2010

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