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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!!!

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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”

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.

We left Jinan today, to head for the place where we will be living for the next year; Tangshan.  It is a little sad to leave Jinan, because I (David) liked the city, people, and other teachers that we had met, and started to have a pretty good feeling for the city.  Oh well, it only took about a week, so it shouldn’t be hard to do again!  We said bye to our best friend in Jinan, John McClymont, hopped on the bullet train to Tangshan, and were off.

There have been a couple new developments in our life since my last post.  We met our manager, Eddie Diaz, a big, loud Puerto Rican New Yorker, two days ago.  He is a pretty typical New Yorker, which means he is one of the most controversial people in all of China!  He met us wearing a Harley Davidson biker Jacket, and a USA flag hat, which I found hilarious, and seems like the kind of guy that would do just about anything for you if he likes you, which is good for Erin and I (I think).  We also met the other teacher who will be in Tangshan, who also happens to be named David.  He is an American from Spain, who studied and lives in London.  He claims to be American, but has a British accent, so the students will be very confused by the differing accents.  He has three passports and seems like quite the world traveler, a nice guy, and laid back enough to not lose his mind over the past few days.  So that is our little Tangshan teaching group.

Another little tidbit we have noticed about Chinese culture.  They are OBSESSED with luck, and bad omens and stuff like that.  One thing in particular that we have noticed is how certain numbers are considered lucky or unlucky.  The number 4 is the most avoided number by far.  It is considered unlucky because the word for 4, si, is also the word for death.  So that makes some sense.  However, telephone numbers, license plates, even hotel or apartment prices will be lower if they contain lots of 4s!  The converse of this is the number 8, which is the luckiest of the numbers.  Again, prices for things containing lots of 8s, or adding up to 8, literally cost more.  A telephone number of 888-8888 would probably cost several thousand US dollars, whereas a telephone number of 444-4444 would be just about free.  I found this suprising because so much of the culture is based on logic and reasoning, yet they do other things that have no logical basis whatsoever.  As a logic loving American, I find it pretty annoying to have to be cautious of using the number 4, but hey, put me on the 4th floor of every hotel from now on please!

Alrighty, I think this is about it for now.  We move into our new apartment today.  Have a lot to do and learn about Tangshan, but we also start teaching tomorrow (Friday).  We really have no idea what we are going to teach, because we haven’t been told, but it will be interesting to say the least.

This is a post I wrote yesterday, so another one will be coming soon…

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