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Recently we have felt like we are meeting more people in our community, which leads to interesting/exciting get-togethers. Our friends on the food street know us by first name/food order, and if by chance I come home alone, our neighbors are quick to ask, “Da wei, na li?” (Where’s David?!)

Last week I taught my English Corner on Friday night, and decided on the theme of going out to eat. I taught the kids how to ask for basic utensils, a table, a menu, the check, etc. I pretended to be the waitress, and they ordered what they wanted. (The previous week I taught them how to make Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, which we made and ate in class.) The kids (ages 5-10) did really well, and were really excited when I invited them out to try their skills at a “real” dinner after class. 9 kids and 9 parents joined David and I at our favorite restaurant in Tangshan, a Uighur place that specializes in large plates for sharing. I’m kicking myself for not bringing my camera, but it was a really fun night of eating and practicing some new restaurant vocab. Most of the attendees were English Corner regulars, and the nicest kids, so it was nice to be able to get to know them better. After dinner, the kids weren’t ready to let us go home, so we moved the party to the park, where we walked around and played some games. It was hilarious to watch David outrun 9 kids at once. Two of the moms also invited David and I to lunch the following Tuesday, and fortunately I remembered the camera.

Helen and Jack are two of David’s best C3 level students, and they come to my English Corner every week. They have no problem trying to speak only in English…their confidence is really incredible. If Helen’s mom weren’t so nice, I would probably try to bring her back with me. Once Helen asked me what kind of hair I have, and I said “curly.” When I asked about hers, she replied matter of factly, “mushroom hair.” hahahaha Jack is quite a character, he loves to dance and prance around, but sometimes his excitement for answering questions in class leads him to dominate the lesson. However, the two kids and their moms were incredible hosts for lunch. In honor of having myself, David and Candy over for lunch, the moms had begun preparations the night before, and one of them took off work as a doctor to finish cooking on Tuesday morning! As you can tell from the photos, it was an incredible spread…even the canned peaches were homemade! Mostly we talked with the kids while the moms cooked, and we tried to help a little bit with a jiaozi (dumplings). We couldn’t even convince the moms to eat with us, because they were “too excited” to eat. They researched special vegetarian dishes for David, and sent us home with nearly all the leftovers. From this and other experiences, we can truly see pride and dedication that the Chinese take in serving as excellent hosts, and we had a great time.

I have also included a few photos of the summer BBQs that our manager, Eddie, hosts at the school. He has his own little BBQ pit outside, and we usually end up grilling, drinking and playing darts for a few hours at night. The meal usually involves skewering hundreds of hot peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, mantou bread, lamb, chicken hearts and beef. Eddie has a special oil/spice sauce that goes on all the ingrediants, and makes everything taste exactly like typical Chinese Kao Rou. You can find similar BBQ set-ups on nearly every street in China, especially in the summer. I also have to admit that the chicken hearts taste pretty good, but I generally prefer the veggies…but they take such a long time to cook!

Other than teaching at the public school, One on One sessions are another aspect of teaching that I have enjoyed. Usually I only have students for a few weeks before a big English test or competition, but they tend to be high-level speakers that are genuinely interested in the English language and foreign cultures. I usually run the class by presenting an idea such as, “What does it mean to Go Green?” or “How is Western business culture different than Eastern?”, teach some relevant vocab, and then have a discussion that focuses on fluency, while I take notes on some of their common grammar mistakes, which we can expand upon as review for the next class. This week I finished up with Charles, who was by far my best student. He attends the Tangshan Foreign Language school, and is one of the top 5 students in his class. Charles is, in a word, awesome. He’s the type of kid that is completely self-motivated, and you never have to tell him twice to fix a grammar error or do his homework. Fortunately, his family is very supportive of his international education, and I was helping him prepare for an English interview that will hopefully allow him to attend high school in Singapore. We discussed issues like how he will adapt to living in a new country, a religious environment, and why the school should choose him.

Ironically, Charles asked me the other day about the meaning of the word, “awesome.” I explained that it meant better than good, like great, but was common slang. The next day we were talking about his responses to the question, “What do you think about religion.” Charles responded, “Religion is OK.” I explained, like a good English teacher, that OK isn’t an adequate description of a complicated subject. He thought for a second, and then I saw a spark of recognition in his eyes, “Religion is awesome!” he proclaimed. I had to laugh. This young Chinese kid, who has had very little contact with any sort of religion, proclaiming that it’s awesome! We brainstormed some more adjectives that may better suit his experiences. Charles finds out in a few days if he will attend the school, and I think he has an excellent chance. In fact, I will be a little heartbroken if he doesn’t make it.

Singapore is an educational haven for the Chinese. Although there is some variation in statistics, at least 70% of Singapore’s population is Chinese, and many students aspire to attend schools here because of the excellent international education the country provides. Similar to Hong Kong, Singapore was controlled by Britian prior to WWII, it changed to Japanese rule during the war, and then reverted back to British rule after the war. After the second British rule, Sinapore merged with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia, and finally in 1965, it became its own independent republic. Singapore has used its many advantages (separation from conservative ideologies, rapid industrialization, position as the busiest port in the world, and adoption of progressive policies such as adopting English as its primary language) to invest in an education system that has achieved international recognition. Singapore is considered one of the “4 Asian Tigers”, along with South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It is also said that if you were to pick one Asian country whose streets to eat off of, it should be the clean roads of Singapore! I personally think it will be really interesting to watch this country progress, as it controls so much of the resources for China and the world.

The movie about the 1960s Tangshan Earthquake (Aftershock) came out last week, and it plays with English subtitles in the theater, so we plan on taking our first trip to the Chinese movie theaters soon. Busa and Billy also arrive in less than three weeks…so we’re laying low til then!

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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

I tried for nearly 3 hours last night to get the photos up, but it just doesn’t seem possible right now.  The pics are loaded onto WordPress, but I think the connection is just too slow.  We are trying to figure out how to get to American sites a little better…but unfortunately it may be a while.  (Anyone know a good, free proxy?!  Hopefully I can write that…)

Today was tough for a few reasons.  I (Erin) woke up with a sore throat and itchy nose, and have been sneezing all day.  I have never had any allergies in my life, but now I have fully joined the realm of ‘the allergic’, boo.  It snowed a few inches last night, and we have been tromping around in the slush.  I have heard that most visitors experience the “China cold” when they arrive, which is probably due in large part to the pollution, so hopefully my body will start to acclimate.  The pollution is definitely bad here, and many people really do wear masks whenever they go outside, pretty sad.  I am worried about being able to exercise outside, but fortunately I am keeping active with my yoga mat in the hotel room!

Our classroom was also freezing cold, which, as you may know, is basically my death knell.  I wore a hat, gloves and a winter jacket all day.  The icing on the cake in the cold school of doom was that as cold as the classrooms were, the bathrooms were even more freezing.  And now…a quick  lesson about Chinese bathrooms: they are a stinky hole in the ground, and don’t provide toilet paper. So, word to the wise, bring toilet paper in to each bathroom, and limber up those quad muscles for some serious squatting.  Considering the smell now, I can only imagine what is in store for the summer….be thankful for Western toilets and cleanliness!

Anyway, we survived and there were still some significant highlights to the day.  We taught our first adult class, which was very interactive and enjoyable, we had a great ‘end of course’ dinner with our classmates and other teachers at the school, and David’s favorite student, Hilda, came to visit us at lunch.  Hilda was SO cute, bringing us traditional (and really good) bean-curd stuffed gluton balls and taking all 5 of the TEFL students out to lunch!  She ordered nearly 100 dumplings for us, which proved to be 3 entire plates too many, but her generosity (and love of David) was really touching.  Did I mention she’s only 15 and walked all the way from school just to give us our presents and buy US lunch?!  We tried to pay, but she insisted that she must treat ALL of her friends.

I’m off to bed, because I need to feel better for tomorrow, but it looks like we will be spending a few more days in Jinan before we move to our permanent residence in Tangshan.  Sorry about the pictures, hopefully this will suffice for now.

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