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I just got back from a really nice mini-vacation back to Tangshan for the Mid-Autumn festival. Our “Chinese Mama Baba” asked David and I to join them for this holiday that families typically spend together eating Moon Cake and telling stories. Unfortunately David had to work, but Ada and Liu joined me for a feast made by our favorite friends from Dongbei, China. In true parental form, our Chinese parents sent me back with about 10 extra lbs of food because they are worried we aren’t eating in Beijing!

The mid-autumn holiday is a really big event in China, and it was amazing to see how many people carried around red square bags filled with Moon Cake. Entire warehouses opened up for a week just to sell it! In fact, I went to the mall the day before the festival and the line for Haagen Daas brand cake stretched for what looked like six hours…so I took some photos! I find it interesting that despite the long tradition of eating moon cake (there are many different kinds, green tea, red bean, 5 nut, coconut, etc.) the most popular place to buy it is Haagen Daas; probably because they use ingredients like dark chocolate and marshmallow. The quality of the moon cake also shows how much you love/appreciate a person, and boxes of 6 at Haagen Daas started at 268 RMB and went up to over 600RMB! David’s work gave me my first moon cake, red bean, which you can see below. The decorations on top are usually intricate and very pretty. Although there are some flavors I don’t prefer, overall I like the cakes.

The next set of photos is from our elaborate good-bye dinner with all of the staff. In true Chinese form there were about 50 different kinds of dishes, and it was fun eating together one last time. Ada also took some great photos at the school for your viewing pleasure! One one of our last nights in Tangshan we had another dance off with the Uighurs, but this time in the middle of the sidewalk for all to see! We attracted quite a crowd to watch the show, and had a great time getting down to the traditional Uighur music. I also finally got some photos with my di gua (sweet potato) friend, who was always so patient and friendly in trying to understand my broken Chinese. She would always give me free potatoes when I passed, and enjoyed taking a firm grip of my arm to tell me I was strong and healthy. The food photos were taken on the food street where we ate most meals, including a jaozi (dumpling) feast made by the Dongbei Mama Baba before we left for Beijing.

And next up…the beach town of Beidaihe!

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*I arrived at the public school this morning to find that my classes had been cancelled because the students had to take their final English exam. As it turned out, last week had been my last session with the kids. I was bummed because this is the only teaching gig that I really like because the kids are really energetic, receptive, and good at English. Many of them also don’t have English names, so I thought I could name them during our last class…which reminds me of some of the classic names I have heard recently. “Nationality” attended my English Corner, “Seashell” was interviewed for placement, and the real winner, “Pea Shooter” found his name on the internet.

*Thanks so much to Annie and other contributors to my amazing care package that I received last week. The protein bars have been a life-saver as I’m starting to get a little sick of street food!

*Matt Busa and Billy Bergold are officially visiting us during the second and third weeks of August and we can’t wait!

*Stumbled upon this awesome blog this week that has been inspiring some friends to whip out their sewing machines and start making fashion magic, check out 365 dresses for $365: http://newdressaday.wordpress.com/

*My friend from studying in Spain, Charlie Seltzer, has spent two years in the Dominican Republic with the Peace Corps and is now spear-heading an initiative to help them better market and sell their local coffee. If you would be interested in sampling the coffee and spreading the word, please email your name and address to me! erinleehenshaw@gmail.com

*Avon Walker and Silly Bus Kid’s Music employee, Jen Dalton, needs your help! Silly Bus produces awesome kids music aimed at getting kids active and healthy. They are in the running for a Pepsi Refresh Grant, so please vote here to help out this great initiative: http://www.refresheverything.com/getkidsfit

*If you are interested in reading a good book about China, that details many similar experiences that David and I are having, check out Peter Hessler’s River Town. One of the passages that struck me most is about the comforting nature of running/physical exertion in any country (despite the fact that lots of people yell at me!)
“The peasants found it strange that I ran in the hills, and they always scared when I charged past, but they never shouted or laughed. As a rule they were the most polite people you could ever hope to met, and in any case they has more important things to do with their energy than scream at a waiguoren. And perhaps they had an innate respect for physical effort, even when they didn’t see the point. ..That old well-known feeling–the catch in my chest, the strain in my legs–connected all the places where I had lived, Missouri and Princeton and Oxford and Fuling. While I ran through the hills, my thoughts swung fluidly between these time and places…As the months slipped past I realized that even these Sichuan hills, with their strange tombs and terraces, were starting to feel like home.”

*Random potty humor success story: Upon arriving at the gym I realized that I had to “go” and didn’t have any toilet paper. I looked up “toilet paper” in the dictionary and headed to the staff room. I asked a cleaning lady for the paper and she miraciously understood me, and pulled a wad of TP out of her pocket! I couldn’t be picky, thanked her profusely, and went off to use the stall without doors!

*In a little over a week we leave for a 9-day trip to Guangzhou and Guilin in Southern China, where we hope to meet up with Robbie Friend, a friend from high school who now runs a Chinese immersion school in Guilin!

*Below are a variety of photos from exploring Tangshan. I have also decided to start writing an essay about my time in China, so I’ll post that next time!

I thought you may like to know what a typical week in Tangshan is like for David and I.

Monday-Wednesday we don’t have to work. Monday tends to be a catch-up day when we clean the apartment, do laundry, catch up on emails/blog posts, etc. For the next two days we either go to a nearby city, or stay around here and go to the gym, visit local markets, (I) get $3 massages, ride bikes to eat on food streets, and say hello to the teachers at school. Last week was actually Arzola’s birthday, and we had a party complete with home-made dumplings and steamed bread (courtesy of Ada and Liu) and a birthday cake!

Thursday David has a public kindergarden class early in the morning, while I used to have private one-on-one sessions with older students in the evening. However, those sessions have now ended and we will both be handing out fliers to potential clients at schools around the city, to promote our summer session. I also start on my lesson plans for the weekend.

Friday I go to the public elementary school to teach in the morning, bike to the mall for a yoga class, and head back to school for lesson plans. We both teach a free “English Corner” at 6pm, and go to bed early for classes the next morning.

Saturday/Sunday we both work from around 8am-6pm, teaching half-hour classes to the youngest kids (3-5), one-hour classes to the middle ages (5-10) and two hour classes (10+) to the older levels. We have 10 minute breaks in between classes and an hour for lunch. These days are tough and honestly not fun at all. I usually have plenty of energy and excitement to teach the 4 hours before lunch, but afterwards my throat and patience begin to wear out. I don’t enjoy the young classes because they are just about lots of repetition. The little kids are incredibly cute, but it’s very tiring to repeat the same questions hundreds of times. The older kids are more engaging, but I think that 2-hour classes and just entirely too long for all of us. I am, however, learning how to introduce grammar better and better, and have found some games that the kids really seem to like. One of my classes was videotaped as a “demo” for one of our workshops, and I liked my one on one sessions with the older kids…but overall I don’t want a future as a English foreign language teacher.

Last week David and I attended two really fun events with the kids. I found out that the public school was hosting a Children’s Day Festival performance, so Ada, Liu, David and I got up bright and early for the event. I felt a little guilty because we were the only adults let inside except for the staff; parents had to take pictures from outside the schoolyard fences because they are too over-bearing and interfere with the performances! The pictures can describe the event better than I, but it was really well-done…they danced and sang to everything from Chinese Opera to Britney Spears! Also, the kid in the cow costume was hilarious, he sauntered around just like a little cow. Check out Ada and Liu’s matching shirts…a popular trend for younger couples in China. Liu even picked these ones out! Will David be next…?

We also went to the Tangshan International Golf course with our school, which was a special event for students that had received the most “cards” in class. We hand out cards for correct answers and good participation, and about 15 kids and their parents came out to the event. The golf course is actually nationally certified and it was REALLY nice. The grass was perfectly green, the buildings were clean and modern, and the day was warm and sunny. We found out that it costs over $40,000 just to become a member, and you pay more to actually golf. Some of kids were able to hit the balls surprisingly well for their first try, and David and I had fun at the driving range. The nicest houses we have seen here were on the golf course, and belonged to government officials. They looked at lot like modern beach cottage mansions…which was a tough pill to swallow for the Chinese and the foreigners alike.

Overall our schedules are very relaxed and we are really enjoying the warm weather. Seeing people out allows us to practice our basic Chinese more and get more exercise. I have struck up a language-limited friendship with a street vendor who travels around the neighborhood corners selling sweet potatoes and other vegetables, and I always try to make as much small talk as possible, and tell potential clients that she’s a good woman. She also gives me a sweet potato or tomato nearly every time I see her. Contacts like these really make living in China fun. I also included a photo of the fattest pug I have ever seen, especially for Matt Busa and Annie Weathers…die-hard pug lovers.

I’m VERY excited to say that we are headed to Tianjin tomorrow for Ling Ling’s traditional Chinese wedding…yeaaaa!!!

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”

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