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…

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