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

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

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

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

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

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Made it safely to Jinan after 2 days of travel…check

Set-up blog…check

Started teaching English through our TEFL training…check

Gmail allowed, Facebook blocked…check

Learned how to pronounce Mandarin tones…uh-oh

David and I are calling ourselves the “tone deaf travelers,” because we have a long way to go in understanding the tones of the Mandarin language, as well as many other cultural nuances.  For example, did you know that it’s perfectly normal for young children to relieve themselves on the street here?  In fact, many of their pants have openings in the back just for this purpose.  Saves a few bucks on diapers, right?!

We are staying in a nice hotel here for $25/night including breakfast, and have found that while imported goods are about the same price as in the US (Nike, Clean & Clear, many electronics), food in restaurants is really cheap.  6 of us had a really elaborate dinner for about $20.  Also, no matter how good the service, they are embarrassed/offended if you try to leave a tip.   Our days have mostly consisted of waking up before the alarm due to jet-lag, eating breakfast, walking 20 minutes to Aston English school, spending all day learning about teaching a foreign language and teaching class, going out to dinner with our group of 5, and crashing into bed.  (We are 13 hours ahead, by the way.)  Although the TEFL class has been overall pretty boring, we have picked up some good tips from the the classroom critiques and have really loved meeting all the funny kids.  The one exception to this exciting ritual was Saturday, when we got a day off, and headed out into the city.  The pictures tell the best story, so take a look.

Next up we will be traveling to Tangshan and studying a lot more Chinese!  We have started to pick up on some of the pinyin (romanized Chinese characters, suitable for modern computers) but have little to no idea how to read characters or pronounce tones.  It is amazing how well we have been able to get around using miming and our very pleasant “Nihao” (hello) and “Xiexie” (thank you.)  We have found the Chinese in Jinan to be VERY helpful and friendly, and they love to say Hello in English.

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