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Wuddup wuddup, its been a while since I posted, mainly because nothing too exciting has happened. We haven’t gone anywhere except for Beijing which is growing commonplace now. Don’t worry though, we should have a flurry of exciting updates coming in the next week or so. We will be going to Xi’an, a “new, old city” most famous for being the location of the Terra Cotta warriors. More importantly, my friend Matt Busa will meet us there on his trip to China! So we are excited and hope that he can make a guest post about his experience.

Yesterday , I watched the highest grossing movie in Chinese cinematic history, and it was about the Tangshan earthquake (English subtitles). I think it is hard to imagine the kind of devastation that the city endured, but basically everything in the city was destroyed and the majority of people living here died. The movie did a very poor job of depicting this, as it focused mostly on one families struggle AFTER the actual earthquake. We really haven’t encountered situations where the earthquake was brought up, but I think the spirit of resiliency and perseverance is very strong with people from Tangshan. The movie was not very interesting, but what I did think was interesting is how much the audience talked during the movie. Cell phones were ringing CONSTANTLY throughout the movie, people were talking like they would anywhere else…it was a little strange. As you walked into the theater, which was the old-style with a balcony, they handed you a bag of tissues in case you were crying.

I have been practicing my Chinese more recently and am noticing improvements particularly with my listening and pronunciation. About 1% of the people that I talk to tell me that they can’t understand me, where before it was probably about 40%. It is also very easy to seem like you understand what someone is saying if you just grunt, probably the most common response to any comment or question. It has taken a while, but we are starting to think more in Chinese rather than in English, which is a big step. An easy example that happens all the time is if someone asks you a question such as “Can you speak Chinese?”, the English speaker would respond “yes” or “no”. In Chinese you say “Can.” It is very hard to not respond with the words yes or no, but we are both getting much better at it. I had 2 census workers come to my apartment yesterday, and when I opened the door both of their jaws actually dropped. It is was pretty funny, and I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t wearing a shirt, I was a foreigner not wearing a shirt, or just in awe of my incredibly chiseled physique, but they were so dumbfounded that they couldn’t even utter a sound. I told them 2 people lived here, both Americans, and that we are teachers, and they both had huge smiles and said that was all they needed. It is going to be hard going back to America and not treated with the same level of awe, but it will also be nice to just fit in, so what can you do?

Alrighty, as I said before, check back in a few days, we will have some updates with our travels and friend visiting (picture of him and his girlfriend below). We are almost at the 20,000 views mark too, so we will have to have a huge tonedeaftravelers post/pictures extravaganza when that happens. So get excited!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!! Bye bye everyone.

The Master said, “From a gentleman consistency is expected, but not blind fidelity.” (Analects, 15.36)

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A lot has happened since our last blog update. We finished our teaching this past weekend, and got ready for our first really big trip (not counting our initial trip to China). We packed up our stuff and headed out early for the most Western city “in” China, which is, of course, Hong Kong. Monday started with us taking a bus from Tangshan to Beijing at about 8 am, then a train to the Beijing airport, then a flight to Shenzhen, then a bus from the Shenzhen airport to the border with Hong Kong, then a bus from the border of Hong Kong to the actual city of Hong Kong. All told it was about a 12 hour excursion, but considering all of the different portions of the trip, we were very pleased with how well everything worked out. We flew to Shenzhen because it was much cheaper than flying directly into Hong Kong, and it is the Southernmost city in the mainland, so it is easy to get to Hong Kong. And it was! We arrived late on Monday night with 2 suitcases and a backpack, with absolutely no real plans at all. We walked around for a bit in Kowloon without finding a cheap enough hotel, but after a while wandering around Nathan Road we found one for about $35 dollars. Step one complete, so now we could explore.

We went back out on Nathan Road aka the “Golden Mile” and quickly discovered how different Hong Kong was from other places in China. The city is an incredibly dense mass of skyscrapers (7,650 to be exact, #1 in the world) on both sides of the Harbor. The currency is not the Chinese yuan we have grown accustomed to, but is the Hong Kong dollar, which is about 8 to 1 to the US dollar. It is perhaps the coolest and most futuristic looking currency I have seen. There are also lots of Western looking folks in Hong Kong and you will hear people of all types speaking English. It is a little surprising at first to hear a very Chinese looking person say “Alright dudes, let’s roll!” in a perfect British accent, but that is Hong Kong for you. One of the Western folks we saw happened to look like someone that we thought was a former teacher at our school in Tangshan. We approached him and, sure enough, it was him! Being here for 65 days has only made me feel like the world is even smaller than I initially thought, because random occurrences like that happen a good amount of the time. After chatting with him for a while, my stomach was telling me that I needed some good, cheap, Chinese food. We found a real divey looking place that was filled with locals and had visible cockroaches in the kitchen (this was disgusting for us, don’t worry, we didn’t see them at first) and were ready for our 3-5 yuan dinner. Unfortunately we learned that these prices simply don’t exist in Hong Kong, because the cheapest thing on the menu was fried noodles for 35 HKD. Not a good deal even by American standards. My opinion of Chinese food is very positively influenced by the additional savings factor (I swear you can taste how much money you are saving) but this factor does not exist in Hong Kong. Oh well, its still pretty darn cheap. We ate our dinner and headed to the Temple Market which was nearby.

As you have read in other blog posts about markets in Beijing, (if not, welcome to the blog, this will get you up to speed) prices at the markets tend to start at a completely ludicrous level, slowly dropping through aggressive but not impolite haggling. The prices at the Temple market were not as outrageous as in Beijing, but still required some haggling (at least for me, unfortunately Erin is so “generous” that she doesn’t even attempt to haggle (which is where I come in)). The market basically had the exact same stuff as the Silk Market in Beijing, but people weren’t attacking you in an attempt to get you to come to their store. It was much nicer overall. The only people that are aggressive are the legions of Indian guys who try to get you to buy tailored suits, handbags for the ladies, fake watches, or drugs. After the market, we hit the hay, to get ready for Day 2.

Alright kids, that only somewhat catches you up with every detail of our lives, but I will try to post again in the morning about our next days adventures. They include me getting my head shaved in Hong Kong (donate to me for St. Baldricks!) Alrighty, bed time, here are some pictures for your amusement. To be continued…….

Hey all, we are ready for another weekend of teaching starting tomorrow, so I wanted to make a quick post about some random things. Not a whole lot is new since we came back from Beijing, but I went out for the first time to some real Chinese night clubs last night. We started the night getting dinner at a restaurant with our boss, Eddie, and the other teacher, David, and had a nice meal. Eddie was pretty drunk by the time we left the restaurant, so Erin made the wise choice of staying home instead of going to the club called the Toy Bar. David (the other teacher) wanted me to go and I felt bad leaving him with a drunk Eddie (again), so I tagged along. It was a pretty hilarious experience, especially considering all the horror stories the Chinese teachers at our school told us about massive fights, drug use and other things at this bar. Don’t worry, this would have been the tamest club in the USA, so it is incredibly edgy for Chinese standards. There were 3 dancers that came out every 15 minutes to do a little dance show, involving some bad hip hop dance moves that was quite amusing to watch. Random guys kept coming up to me and trying to buy me drinks or talk to me, and were touching me a LOT which was a little awkward, but is totally common in China. It was deafeningly loud and the room was filled with smoke, but it was still funny to see the Chinese people dancing horribly and singing every lyric to some of the worst English pop music I have ever heard. Why they are playing English pop music in a Chinese dance club is beyond me, but every person knew every word, so I guess they really like it. We left pretty early, before Eddie could do any serious damage to the place.

Overall we have adjusted to life here pretty easily and are having a good time. There are some things that are really starting to irritate me though. Nobody here looks before they cross the street. Cars just go before they look to see if things are coming. People will walk right at you until the very last second, then stop in front of you, THEN move out of the way. I truly do not understand why they do this, and it is a miracle that people aren’t killed constantly while crossing the street. I have asked Chinese people if they look both ways before crossing the street and they all say “No, we don’t do that.” Don’t do that?! Why? WHY? WHY?! It makes driving, riding a bike, and even walking that much more difficult, dangerous, and time consuming, because you have to always move out of the way of people that are paying no attention to anything. In America this is some people, some of the time. In China this is all people, almost all of the time. I have seen lots of traffic accidents the past few weeks, almost all involve a taxi and someone trying to turn. People just turn, they don’t look. They just go and hope traffic stops. Most of the time it does, but again, why not just follow the obvious (to an American) rules of the road, which will save you time and cause less accidents. For now, I just keep both eyes on the road at all times, because you never know what people will do.

Only one more complaint, I know everyone is probably really enjoying my whining. I do not think a single person in China turns their cell phone on vibrate. You can be sitting next to someone on a bus that will get 50 text messages in 10 minutes, with their phone making lots of noise each time, and the only person that it appears to annoy is me. It is not just in those situations, though, because the Chinese teachers and the parents of students that are in class will let their phone ring away in the middle of class, and it is like nobody even notices. Obviously this is not a big deal most of the time, but it is pretty annoying when you are trying to teach and have to start screaming to talk over the noise. It is to the point that I think it is perhaps a sign of status to have your phone make a ton of noise, the more often the better. My mind often tempts me to grab the parents cell phones in class, smash them against the wall, but I try to remember good ol’ Kung fu Tze (Confucius) saying, “Let there be no evil in your thoughts.” Serenity now, as Cosmo Kramer would say.

Alrighty, we are going to watch an episode of our new TV series that we got, Madmen. We finished The Wire a few days ago, and if you have never seen it, you should watch it (it is for mature audiences only)! I have attached some more pictures for your viewing pleasure from our trip to Beijing. Time to teach all weekend for us! Get on skype so we can chat. Zaijian.

Ran Qiu said, “It is not that your Way does no commend itself to me, but that it demands powers I do not possess.” The Master said, “He whose strength gives out collapses during the course of the journey (or the Way); but you deliberately draw the line.” The Analects, 6.10

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…

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

So we just finished our first weekend of teaching in Tangshan.  Erin and I both had basically 9 hour days, with 10 minutes between classes, with 1 hour for lunch.  Our kids ranged in age from anywhere between 4 and 15, with some outliers.  The biggest outlier was a 2 year old in one of Erin’s classes, causing Erin to ask the Chinese speaking teacher,”Why is there a baby in our class?”  The kids are grouped by skill level, although this will vary GREATLY in each level.  I initially thought I would prefer the older kids, but I am not so sure any more.  I really liked having the very little kids, giving them English names (which had to be an incredibly confusing experience for them), and not having to deal with the annoying attitudes of the teenagers.  Think of a Chinese teenager as similar in attitude to an American, only couple that with a massive fear of failure and usually being totally petrified of being different.  This is obviously a large generalization, and I have some great teenage kids (especially my favorite Hilda, who there is a picture of in a different post with Erin), and I hope that I can win the rest over in a few classes.  We shall see.

I think most Westerners think Chinese/Asian students are usually unbelievably well behaved and quiet in class.  This is definitely not always the case.  There are good kids, bad kids, hard workers, teachers pets, class clowns, etc.  Things can get crazy very quickly, especially with younger kids, so you really have to keep them stimulated or else you can lose total control.  It is a balancing act, especially when you don’t speak any Chinese(!!!), but I found myself improving over the course of the weekend.  I would say that overall I am extremely impressed with how hard the students work, how interested most are in the material, and how much respect/admiration they give to the teacher.  I suppose it isn’t too different from the USA, but these kids are going to school year round, and also taking English classes on the weekends.  They have literally hours of homework a night, and then have English homework to boot.  I imagine it would be a tiring and stressful life.  The effects of this lifestyle can be seen in many of their habits, even from just a single class.  About half of them are INCREDIBLY shy, but luckily most have figured out that the English school is not a place where you need to be shy or afraid.  They are all morbidly afraid of making mistakes, or even attempting something for fear of making a mistake.  This can really complicate class, because you will try to ask for volunteers, and get a sea of blank stares.  So I usually don’t ask for volunteers, I just call on someone.  Then they feel the eyes of the whole class and teacher on them, and usually spit something out.

There are many funny anecdotes from the first weekend.  The names of the children are often pretty hilarious, which is a combination of the Chinese Teacher’s (what we call the Chinese speaking teacher in the class) spelling and the name that the child decides they want.  Some great ones have been Jachary (a girl), Sweet, Caesar, Golden, Baron, Garin (who was called this for 3 years, only because they all thought the V in his name was an R), Ely (a boy, pronounced Ellee), and many others.  A popular one for younger kids has been Leo, primarily because the movie Titanic is very popular here.  I got the chance to name my first batch of preschool kids, which I did by listening to their Chinese name, and then giving them a similar English name.  It is almost hard not to laugh when the first three kids in your class introduce themselves as Garin, Baron, and Sweet, but nobody ever said you couldn’t laugh.

Another fun part of the teaching experience is the comments you get from kids.  Chinese people are very blunt, which has actually been pleasant so far.  I have gotten a lot of “You are handsome” and “You look like Harry Potter” or, my favorite “SPIDER MAN!  SPIDER MAN!  You are Peter Parker!”  I guess we all look alike to them.  It is not just the students saying hilarious and ridiculous things though.  I have only spoken to a few parents (if you can call a Chinese teacher translating every word we say “speaking), and they usually think that I am 15 years old.  I had one grandmother of an “active” boy come to me, ask the CT (Chinese Teacher) if I was smart, and then literally grab my arm, start pulling me towards her grandson, talking to me in Chinese.  I asked the CT what she wanted, and she said that she wanted me to give her my phone number, and wanted her grandson to get it from me.  The parents take this stuff pretty seriously, which is a little intimidating when you have 8 parents sitting in the back of the class, but it definitely makes the kids behave better!  Its a double edged sword.  I am sure we will have some more interesting parent stories to tell by the end of this, probably by the end of this week.

We have the week off until Friday, so we will hopefully be able to travel around the city a bit, clean up the apartment, and keep updating the blog.  If anyone wants to skype, send Erin or I an email or skype message.  Hope everything is going Sweet back home, enjoy the Golden sunshine.  Jachary.

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