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So I tried to think of a new and interesting post about my life but could not. I went to a rap concert on Saturday which was pretty cool, saw my first Chinese rapper who was decent, and a rap legend (Pete Rock) for 10 dollars which is absurd. I was just looking at some of our most popular search engine hits from the past week and thought they were funny, so I will share them with you.

#1 = houseplants shower – you may recall that our plants died instantly when they were in the living room, so our shower was filled with our plants for a few months. Apparently other people are having the same problem, or they want to shower themselves with houseplants. You decide.

#2 = deaf haiku – We get lots of random hits for deaf people, which is unfortunate seeing as we offer nothing for the deaf community. You may remember I wrote a critically acclaimed haiku about our instantly scalding/freezing shower. Apparently people wanted to find a haiku for deaf people…

#3 = mongolian deaf skype – see above

#4 = erin and dave blog – Wooo! If you google “erin and dave blog” we are #1! If you google “erin and david” we are #7 (mostly behind women named Erin David). We are moving on up people.

Now that we are getting 3 hits a day from people searching for “houseplants shower”, get ready for tons of pop up ads! Soon we can start selling tonedeaftraveler apparel and stuff. Here are some random pictures (China and South Africa) for your amusement. Enjoy!

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Enjoy, more updates coming soon!

freezing rain
ouch! How I hate you
lava stream

Link to an article about traveling that we liked.

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”

We have had an exciting morning! We woke up and booked our flights to spend the May holiday in Hong Kong, and our friend Matt Busa let us know that he plans to visit at the end of summer! David and I are already brainstorming as to how we can show Busa the best time possible. Yes, Thailand is out because the package ended up being much more expensive than expected, which I suppose is fortunate given their current political situation. So…we are flying into Shenzhen (Southernmost city in mainland China) because it’s much cheaper, and then taking a train to Hong Kong (considered an “international destination” from Beijing), where we will spend 9 nights! This will be our big trip for the first 6 months, and we leave in 2 weeks, so we need to start planning.

I’m VERY excited because the second night of our trip involves attending a St. Baldrick’s Hong Kong event (http://www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/eventid/4154/eventyear/2010) at the Dublin Jack in Central Hong Kong. I have already been in touch with the incredible event organizer over there. His name is Richard and has a son who survived childhood cancer. Richard is from New York but his family now lives/works/goes to school in Hong Kong. They have actually met and been invited to Jackie Chan’s charitable events, and they host 4 events in Hong Kong every year! We have heard about some of the best things to do in Hong Kong, but would appreciate any suggestions or connections. So far we haven’t booked or lodging, as we will probably stay in a few different spots, but please let us know if you have any contacts that are looking to host some American teachers!

*Forewarning, the next paragraph contains literal potty humor and a mention of being nude:
I want to recount a few funny moments in the bathrooms around here. Per these stories, I think there should be a sign in the Chinese airport that says, “Attention foreigners, please leave your modesty on the plane!” Luckily, I’m not a very modest person, but even these situations have challenged my comfort zone:
1. I went to a public bathroom in the Hou Hai area of Beijing…which wasn’t too dirty, but none of the toilets had doors/stalls. Basically you walk-in and there are 4 metal rectangles with a circle in the middle that serve as your toilet. OK, no problem, we all have the same stuff, and luckily I only had to go number 1. The woman beside me, however, had a different plan. As she was going number two, squatting in a public facility without walls, she reached into her purse and lit up a cigarette! Haha, I thought this was hysterical. Maybe next time I should brew a cup of tea for the occasion?
2. The bathrooms at the gym have walls but no doors. So…I went, and as I looked up I found three other women coming over just to look at me because I was a foreigner. Modesty 0, Erin 2.
3. The showers at the gym are nice and warm and relatively clean, but they are open/shared style. You also can’t really bring a towel into the shower, because there is not place to put it where it won’t get wet. So, you quickly run to the shower with just your shower shoes and shampoo and hop in. Yesterday, however, the gym was really crowded and you had to wait in line for the shower. Talk about uncomfortable, I was waiting in the nude line for about 5 minutes with every Chinese woman staring at me/whispering to their friends before I could take my shower. I really didn’t find it too bad though, especially because no one was laughing TOO loud.

OK, hopefully you all found those stories funny and not too distasteful. C’mon though, we’re just humans everywhere in the world!

I also wanted to give you a little history lesson on the Chinese language. As you may know, Chinese characters represent the oldest continuously used writing system in the world. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that literate Chinese people all over the country can read and write the same complex character system, despite the fact that there are a variety of spoken languages throughout the country. Of these dialects, Mandarin is spoken by the greatest number of people (in China and the whole world), which is one of the reasons we chose Tangshan instead of Southern China, where Cantonese is the dominant dialect. Since the character system is so complex and does not lend itself extremely well to technological advancements like typing and international communication, the People’s Republic of China created the “Pinyin” system in 1958, which is a romanization of Chinese sounds. In other words, the A-Z alphabet was assigned to all the sounds of the characters and spoken Chinese language. Although many older people in China do not know how to read or write Pinyin, we have learned Pinyin almost exclusively in our classes. I’m sure from a historical and linguistic perspective it would be considered a shame that we aren’t learning more characters, but since we only have a year in China, our emphasis has been on learning to speak rather than to read Chinese. I only know a handful of characters at this point, including some numbers, man/woman for the bathrooms and the word “entrance” since it’s on everything.

From a grammatical perspective, Chinese is very simple. First of all, there aren’t any conjugations! The past tense is created by adding the modifier “le” after a verb. For example, “chi” is to eat, and “chi le” is ate. Additionally, a question is made simply by adding the modifier “ma” at the end of a sentence. “Ni hao” is “hello” or literally “you good” while “Ni hao ma” is “how are you?” (literally means “you good?”) This may shed some light on the common grammar mistakes you often hear from the Chinese as they are speaking English, and can give you extreme empathy for our students, as they are learning a new language that is so grammatically different from their own. Can you imagine trying to understand the past tense of a verb when you have never used anything like it? My students also have a really hard time with “his and her” because they are the same word, “ta”, in Chinese. I could give many more examples like this, as I find it really interesting, but I will save some for another time.

One last linguistic difference that I wanted to mention are the Chinese tones. Since nearly all Chinese words are monosyllabic (one syllable), one may assume that there simply aren’t many words in the language. However, the 4 tones in Mandarin can change the meaning of a word from “horse” to “hemp” or “pig” to the verb “to live” depending on the inflection. (Yet another advantage of learning Mandarin over Cantonese is that there are 9 tones in Cantonese!) While this allows many words that are spelled the same in pinyin to have different meanings…it gets really confusing. On top of this, many of the exact same words with the exact same tones DO have different meanings depending on context. We have some of this in English, for example “a windy road” or “windy day,” but nothing like they have in Chinese. To illustrate this point, I just opened up a dictionary to a random page. The word lui with and upward tone/accent on the “i” means to stay or to keep, to flow or to run, and sulfur. Additionally, the first tone of this word means six and to walk, and the third tone means willow. Although these complexities are difficult, I am lucky that I don’t have to learn Chinese in any particular time-frame, for any particular goal, so David and I just take it as it comes and try not to get discouraged.

Our classes are helping us to pick-up words spoken on the street and in the classroom, and we can now ask for about 20 different types of food and vegetables from street vendors and restaurants, say that we are American teachers, attempt most question words, count, give cab drivers basic instructions and ask some basic questions.

Try this one: Ni chi le ma? (Ni=you, chi=eat, le=past tense modifier, ma=question word)
Have you eaten?

The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance. -Confucius

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

I may have mentioned that China is a little dirtier than back home…but David and I really added insult to injury with our recent water situation.  After arriving at our apartment two nights ago, we took one look at the shower and decided that we could wait a day to brave that dungeon.  Yes, saying this definitely makes me feel like a spoiled westerner, but I will post a picture shortly and you can judge for yourself.  Did I mention that I literally woke up three times in the middle of the night in a cold sweat…having a nightmare about a moldy bathroom nearly swallowing me alive?  Our bathroom is nowhere near this bad, but I kid you not.

On the second night here I decided to be brave and try out the shower….unfortunately there was no hot water.  By no hot water, I really mean that shards of icicles were falling from the spout, and I literally would have rather remained unclean for at least a week than try to rinse off.  Lucky for me I remembered my Dove facial towelettes from my xmas stocking, and used the sink for a very high quality spit bath!  Advertising campaign pitch, anyone?!  (Needless to say, I took a full Ambien this night.)

OK, so we taught our first day of classes without having showered in 3 days…but the nice staff still commented on how nice they thought my hair was, and how much David looks like Superman and Harry Potter.  Thank goodness the Chinese are so easy to please. Tonight our manager came over to look at the water heater and what do you know?  It wasn’t plugged in, ha!  Yes, we probably could’ve figured that out ourselves, but were a little worried to touch anything because there is a hand-written Chinese sign ON the water heater with lots of exclamation points.  Our manager’s response, “I have never known what that says.”

My plan is to take a shower in an hour or so, so please wish me luck and appreciate every clean shower for the next year!

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