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This past weekend I organized a “Bohai or Bust Kick-Off Party” at The Hutong. The event was a way for Beijingers to learn a little more about supporting the biking community in Beijing, hear a factual talk on pollution levels, and register for the upcoming Bohai or Bust charity bike ride at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu. We made museli bars, gave away prizes and listened to a few awesome speakers, including Beijing’s accident traffic and air pollution expert Gilbert Van Kerckhove. I had a really good time at this event, especially since I have just recently become a Beijing biker and would love to see this turn into a more bike-friendly city!

A few reporters wrote about the eventā€¦and you can catch a glimpse of some familiar faces in this article. *Despite the fact that I’m NOT the organizer for Bohai or Bust and David is making muesli bars, NOT dumplingsā€¦this is a fun article!

My future goal is to actually write something worthy enough to be published in one of these magazines!

Well, it’s still pretty cold here and the heat has officially been turned off. The wind also gusted so hard today that I had to momentarily stop riding my bike on the way to work! This week I’m busy preparing for The Fig Tree’s booth at the Expat Show, and David is also experimenting with riding a bike to work.

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Today we had a bit of a surprise when we woke up to a lack of electricity in the apartment. We called Eddie, and quickly found out that our apartment and about 5 blocks around us didn’t have power either. We figured this would only last a few hours, as even the huge RT Mart Grocery store was operating off generators, but to our unpleasant surprise we didn’t have electricity for 12 hours! It just came back on, and probably most people with a typical working schedule didn’t notice, but needless to say we had a very lazy day of cleaning, sleeping and reading. It was probably for the best though, because we both have sore throats again. Also, the shower is working amazingly well at this point, for which I am grateful. O yea, and my manager got a new motorized bicycle so I can ride her girly bike with a basket, woo!

This week I went to my first yoga class at the gym. It was all in Chinese, but not difficult to follow along because the instructor is actually up on a small stage in the class, so I could see her easily. The class was mostly older woman and it wasn’t too difficult, but I got in some good stretches before running and learned a very good, new, neck stretch. I think they have hot yoga at the gym too, which I want to try. Last week I was stretching in the studio before another class, and was approached by a few college girls that spoke pretty good English. They asked me for my QQ Number, which is like MSN or AIM chat, but unfortunately I didn’t have one. Fortunately, they were not discouraged and I gave them my email and took their QQ numbers. Inspired by my new potential for Chinese friends, I now have a QQ and am officially part of the Chinese social networking community! They have a really easy international/English version to install, and I have given the number to a few of my higher level classes too. I am hoping that the ability for them to chat in English will encourage them to learn more, as they can see a real-life application of learning English! I am also hoping that David and I will be able to meet some university students and maybe get to know some of our kids on a deeper level.

One new class I started last week is a one on one session with two 14-year old girls named Mary and Crystal. They speak really good English because they attend the Tangshan Foreign Languages School, and it has been really fun to meet with them. Mary actually let me know that she was a hostess on a local television show, and I watched her on the show last night! I still also enjoy my public school classes, as the kids are energetic and a little older than at Aston. They taught me a kung foo game that they play, which is similar to rock, paper, scissors but involves full body moves like “energy ball,” “cut,” “X or the big one,” etc. I’m not sure what the game is called, but they get really into it and so I spend a lesson teaching them the English words for these moves. Also at this school (XY) I attempted to say the Chinese word for apple that I learned the day before, but I butchered the pronunciation and the kids all laughed at me. I said to them, “I don’t laugh at you when you speak English!” and they promptly began clapping for my effort. I thought it was so respectful of them, and maybe we bridged a little language barrier. Also, when I walked out of class that day it was raining pretty hard and as I exited the school on my bike two parents came running at me with umbrellas for cover. I don’t them “no thanks,” but felt so appreciated for coming to their school.

Only one more week of classes before Hong Kong…and I am really looking forward to checking out the food and beaches over there. That means that David only has ONE more week to hit his goal of $1,000 for his big shave, so please donate at if you can! Also, one of my favorite Avon Walkers, Lauren Lucas is in second place nationally for a recipe competition. Lauren is a senior in high school and is not only raising all of her funds to walk, but also trying to save money to put herself through cooking school in NY next year. She wakes up at 4am on the weekends to bake bread for Great Harvest, and if she wins this competition, they will give her a lot of money for school! She’s currently 93 votes behind, so PLEASE take the time to send an email to portland_dessert_works@yahoo.com with the message: “Panna Cotta with Chocolate Tuile Cookie
Lauren Michelle Lucas
LML_Lucas@yahoo.com”

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.

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

We had a really good time today.  We slept in for the first time so far and despite another episode with the shower of horror (not just freezing water, but alternated to skin-scaldingly hot, too.  Neither a usable temperature, woo!) had a relaxing morning.  We met our managers (Eddie and Sally) and the other teacher (David A) at school and headed off to lunch with Eddie’s business partners.  We went to a traditional “hot pot” restaurant, which is a tradition started in Mongolian and is now popular in many parts of China.  The style is similar to American Fondue in that there are tons of small dishes that are cooked in a pot of boiling water and spices.  This hot pot restaurant was pretty fancy, as we got our own private room and personal hot pots.  The food was awesome; a variety of tofu, thin slices of meat, vegetables and other interesting items.  The most unique dish was probably thin slices of cow stomach.  We also tried bamboo meats and I tried the raw beef, and really liked both.  We also had sugar-glazed sweet potato for dessert (although it’s just a main dish in China) which had the texture of candied apples and was also delectable!  Eddie’s associates were so generous and half of the table was drunk off of bijou (traditional rice wine) by the end of lunch.

After lunch we headed to the Giant (same bike brand as in American) bike store to buy bikes!  Eddie offers his new teachers the opportunity to buy bikes, and we gladly accepted.  David and I now both have brand-new Giant bikes, which we rode right out of the store.  It was an exhilirating and exciting experience to ride our bikes on the streets of China for the first time, especially when Eddie yelled out from his motorbike, “WE ARE THE ASTON GANG!!!”  Oh yes, and it was also snowing, but you probably figured that, since it apparently snows wherever we go!  As Little Miss Warmy McWarmerson, I never thought I would be riding a bike in the snow.

I also would like to share a few updates:

1.  We both have Skype and would love to chat, so look us up! *David: davidjacobs85  *Erin: erin.henshaw

We are usually on Skype/gchat between 8-10am (US) every day and can be available during the evenings most Mon-Wed.

2. Our blog has had over 1,000 views as of yesterday, cool!  Just FYI, you can subscribe to the blog through WordPress and then you will be updated each time we make a new post. Also, it seems that we are starting to be come a little bit of a resource on world travel, so if you have friends with questions/concerns about visiting China or anywhere else we have visited, please send them along! Between David and I we have visited: Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Alaska, England, France, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and have particularly good/recent knowledge of Spain, China and South Africa.

3. I’m thinking about trying to create a China/US book club that would meet on Skype/post to the blog.  It would happen at a relatively slow pace (one book every month or two) and would be focused on both Chinese cultural books/novels and current fiction.  If you would be interested, please post a comment or email me…anyone is welcome!

4. All is well; we are healthy and happy and our apartment is warmer than the Jacobs’ house!

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