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hehe

…is my favorite, and it is not disappointing me. I’d say the highlight occurred today, where the kindergarten and preschool forwent regular lessons and instead threw a halloween party for the kids! It’s my number one holiday, but not all that known here. As China gets more affluent they begin to incorporate more Western practices into their culture, and our “halmark” holidays I think are among those. Christmas is the only one you see getting true face time here, in any season; year round you can find Christmas symbols and characters adorning random products and bastardized christmas songs playing over the loudspeakers at the mall while you shop. I kind of missed seeing everything all decked out in spookiness for Halloween. I love how in the states, all the grocery stores and pharmacies are taken over by polyester spiderman costumes and mini candies and those annoying motion sensing robots that cackle or start to sing when you pass. Ahhh what a perfect time of year where I come from. Okay, sorry, that is the second phase of culture shock talking: over idealizing of the homeland!

Anyway, I became the halloween consultant for this little party. (I wish that were a real job, by the way). My adoring mother did not leave me ill prepared for this task in a care package I received several weeks ago. Pianpian and Keke (my two chinese teachers and dare I say, friends) were adorably bemused by the cotton cobwebs I brought in. We had fun stretching it out over the banisters and making little spiders to live in it. They were kind of mystified by the thought when I told them this stuff is EVERYWHERE around halloween in the states.

spider webs from America put to good usespider web from america, put to good use

I’m such a dork, but I think I was as excited as any of the kids would be when I woke up this morning. I put on my halloween party outfit, including tights and a wig straight out of my care package (thanks mommm!!!)

halloween party outfit
he's looking at my wig! ha
(^I managed to capture this priceless reaction to the wig I was wearing! HAHA!)

and went into a properly spookified classroom greeted by lots of little children in homemade masks.

masks
halloween masks
me and a masked villain

I had made a little “pin the tail on the black cat” game (‘black cat’ was one of the halloween vocab words I taught this week so I thought it only appropriate), expecting to set it up in the corner of the room and have kids come up and play it as they pleased. What I was not expecting was for the whole kindergarten and preschool combined, as well as visiting early childhood education university students, to line their chairs up like when I do lessons and wait for me to make a kind of presentation out of it! I was not prepared for that, and it’s not really the nature of the game for people to watch quietly as everyone takes their turn; it was a more somber game of pin-the-tail, but whatever! I winged it, and the kids had fun.

pin the tail on the black cat
pin the tail on the black cat

When it was over, there were lots of eyes blinking at me expectantly for another game, and one of my students (bless her) requested “duck duck goose” so I turned it into “ghost ghost pumpkin” and it filled up the rest of the time quite nicely and got everyone lively and having fun. Pianpian and Keke stopped me abruptly because the children had to go outside for morning exercises… which is odd: they cancel all classes for the day but morning exercises must be attended as usual? But I was just relieved to not be the center of attention anymore!

morning exercisesmorning exercisemorning exercises

The rest of the day was a breeze. The kids made halloween art projects and pretty mush just ran around playing in their masks and having candy. I gave out spider ring prizes. I also did a little face painting. I think I wanna be a carnie when I grow up.

halloween crafts
Kingty working on halloween craftshalloween crafts

Nathan as a scary vampire- MUAHAHA
don't lose your mask in the ball pit
ooooooh scary!
mask
adorability
spider man
halloween queen Jenny

face painting
face painting

enjoying english halloween book
Another care package shout out: Ethan there is enjoying the book that ALL the kids love to look at and have me read, a halloween story in English!

It was an awesome day. Although Halloween novices, these children seemed as adept as any at tricks and treats, and they took to it like naturals. But what’s not to love about a holiday that celebrates mischief and candy and fun and kids being the center of it all? Those are the kind of golden values that transcend language and culture and all that other crap.

Look, here’re the party animals now!
halloween group photo
some of my students
some of my students
cutie patooties

I’m into my second month of China and my second phase of culture shock. I didn’t realize it at first, but I was reading up on it today in the Buckland manual and the internet and it was like whoever wrote those descriptions has been spying on me.

“The second stage is the actual shock. It can be characterized with a loss of courage and general discomfort. Changes in character occur, depression, lack of self-confidence and irritation, people become more vulnerable and prone to crying, more worried about their health, suffer from headache, bad stomach and complain about pain and allergy…”

But it doesn’t really make me feel better to list out all my complaints here, although that’s what I intended when I began this post. I want to get back to my old self, have some energy and confidence and joy about the little things! I have to remember my own philosophy, that there’s always a joyful little kernal to be found even in your largest most stinkiest of shit piles.

It’s Fall! My favorite! It’s not too chilly, and the leaves on campus are beginning to turn. It’s only going to get more gorgeous here as the rest of the leaves burn red and orange and yellow. It even smells the same as back home. It’s fantastic.

the boat, the leaves, the feet

I got a scooter! It’s robin egg blue and about as cute as a button. It’s so much fun to scoot around on, and as soon I’m confident enough, I’ll be able to take it to town and my world will get a lil bit bigger!

scooter!!

The scooter is currently out of commission due to a minor accident I put it through, but it should be no problem to fix, and in the mean time I am still enjoying the bike! I went on a most excellent shopping excursion on it last weekend, and hanging out by myself really wasn’t bad at all. I’m not bad company. I even treated me to an ice cream cone.

back to the bike

My health and energy level have been pretty lousy, but thank goodness I have had an easy week (although I bombed a lot of my lessons) and I have Friday off! This weekend, it’s a friend’s birthday and we’re going out to celebrate.

I’m determined to see this through. It’s only been two months. I can do this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Teaching continues to be a series of satisfying successes outnumbered by failures, and most of them surprises.

My strengths seem to be and my satisfactions continue to come from teaching the young children. I’d like to share one little easy, successful thing I did with any other beginning EFL pre-k teachers who like me, often flounder with how to entertain and instruct the little ones. Again and again, it always seems to be the simplest things that are the most effective. This week, I focused on “Apple — a, Banana– b, Cookie– c”…. and without any real intention behind it, threw in “all done!” to supplement the whole eating theme. Much to my surprise, “all done” turned out to be the catchiest part! Here’s how I did it:

all doneall done

It was SUPER easy to make these little flippable pages, which were given rave reviews by my 3 year olds. I would have a child come up and “eat ____” then open the page saying, “all done!” at which they would all laugh their butts off. Even though it wasn’t my target vocabulary, “all done” became the phrase of the week, and much to my glowing pride I heard them using it during playtime with each other and to the other teachers. Since they got such a kick out of it, it was a piece of cake to provide them with their own flip book thingy.
all done
They colored it, folded it (with some assistance) and got a lot of entertainment out of showing them off and shouting “all done!” Also, the coloring activity was good because I was able to apply “all done” to something other than food. When a child finished drawing and raised his or her hand, I could say “all done?” I guess I’m pretty lucky that I can draw a little bit because they don’t provide a lot of teaching aids. If you can’t draw and you want to try this, I’m sure there’s plenty of clip art and stuff online that you can use!

With my slightly older, more advanced kindergartners, we made our own books for the last two days. This was both a success and a failure. Day one was a complete success, and here are some pictures of my class operating like an adorable, well-oiled machine:
book making (thanks for the materials, mom!)
book making (thanks for the materials, mom!)
book making (thanks for the materials, mom!)
book making (thanks for the materials, mom!)
book making (thanks for the materials, mom!)
The success was that they understood the book and enjoyed making it and “reading” it with me. The failure (completely on my part, obviously), was that on day 2, a lot of kids were missing their unfinished books I was planning to use the period by working on. It was a complete idiotic oversight on my part not to make sure I collected ALL of the books the day before, because turns out a lot of kids took them home and left them or just plain misplaced them. Also, I didn’t write names on the unfinished ones (it can get tricky with the kids without English names so sometimes I’m too lazy–big mistake this time!) and they had a hard time recognizing their own work. Luckily I had brought some other picture books, so while people with work left did that, we had a little reading corner to keep everyone else busy. It was…… probably the worst lesson I’ve done with them, but we survived.

They are my favorite class to teach and the ones who have me considering kindergarten teaching (particularly Montessori) as a profession. I have so many fun ideas dreamed up for them already that I couldn’t wait to try. So here’s something upsetting I found out today and a cultural clash between my values and the Chinese education system. Starting tomorrow, I have to start preparing them for an oral English exam they have in December and can only teach them words and sentences out of this one particular book. They’re 5 years old for goodness sakes, and they have to take an exam??? And to top it all off, the sentences are SO stupid, they make my skin crawl and I can’t stand that I have to teach them. I kid you not: “Mr. Black is a good man. Most men like football. Mrs. Black is a nice woman. Most women like nice things.” WHATTT???? I was warned about having to suck up certain disparities in modern values and whatnot in teaching, and this is pretty minor compared to some “behind” seeming practices at other schools (paddling is still a common form of discipline)…. I feel weird making kids recite crazy gendered statements like this that my hippie dippie nurturing side rebels against, but I’m here to do the job they ask and pay me for, so all I can do is just teach the ridiculous sentences.

I also taught my really bad third graders today. Here’s what I wore and here’s the face I was making by the time it was over:
if i go to hell when i die....

I don’t have any other pictures from that class because I’m not sure these kids would show up in mirrors or on film. I’m joking about it, but I actually cried over it today. I haven’t seen them in a few weeks, and last time it was sheer pandamonium in the classroom and I kind of gave up and let them go Lord of the Flies on my ass. So this meeting, I was determined to bring them back to the light of civilization! I read up on classroom management in some great teaching manuals my mom gave me (First Days of School by Wong, Tools for Teaching by Jones), where as the first title suggests, they underscore the importance of establishing a management system on the FIRST DAY….oops….

Despite this, armed with my brilliant new skills and a newfound confidence, I brought a Chinese teacher in to translate for me, and the children were all big penitent eyes and angelic arms folded on desks while they received my translated finger-wagging and helped suggest rules for the entire class and learned and recited the word “RESPECT” with me. As soon as the Chinese teacher was gone, though, they were back to their antics. I wrestled with it for awhile before bringing ANOTHER teacher in to help. This time, we went over consequences and rewards and I made class teams. Again they transformed into Jeckylls moments after the Chinese teacher was gone. By this time, class was practically over (yes, this all took 45 minutes), and without having taught a single thing from my super fun lesson plan, I left in a storm of grabby hands chorusing “sweets, sweets, sweets”…. It was a nightmare. It’s easy to joke about the kids being evil but I know it’s not really them that’re the problem. I am so frustrated with myself. I knew I was screwing up the techniques from the manuals even as I was doing it. Like an out of body experience, I watched myself do all the wrong things and botch the whole experiment. Like good little cannibals, Grade 3 Class 2 skewered me and ate me alive.

I would love to run into MY third grade teacher, Ms. Ernst, again. I was a difficult, stubborn, mischievous third grader myself, and I really want to shake her hand. Actually, I want to grovel at her feet, beg her forgiveness and make her swear to be my sensei and tell me all the ancient magic and mind-control meditation she did to maintain her sanity and actually teach imps like myself. I’m pretty sure she can probably levitate, walk on coals, and be consumed by fire without a burn; I only have to do this once a week and my knees already shake at the idea, but she had to face us every day!! Amazing woman.

I had several more cross cultural eye-openers after we got back to Chengdu. One of the funniest and strangest was probably the club, or “wine bar” as David kept calling it. It was just SO…. I don’t even know, gaudy or something! There was kind of a Michael Jackson theme going on, the staff decked out in satiny ruffled blouses and adorned with a single white glove. We went with Spring’s girlfriends, who were so cute and treated me like a celebrity, or else they always love to take tons of pictures of themselves, who knows.

the ladies at da club
da club
Spring's cute friend in David's glasses

Although it was called a wine bar, we didn’t have wine… I think because “liquor” in chinese is often translated as “wine” (“jiu”); like “bai jiu” or “rice wine” which is actually super potent nail-polish-remover-esque liquor. We had whiskey, but this was a prime example of how the Chinese are not very good drinkers. The whiskey was handled by the Michael Jackson cocktail waitress, who came around periodically to pour a shot and a half into a pitcher, followed by THREE bottles of tea and soda mixed together. We’re talking 1.5 shots polluted with all this mixer for 5 healthy women! I’ve gotten drunker off baby formula.

really weak whiskey drinks
at the club

The other interesting part was the entertainment. Unlike most western clubs where the closest thing to a talented performer is a DJ, many Chinese bars and clubs have entertainment acts booked with dancers or I guess what I’d describe as advanced karaoke. My absolute favorite was when a girl came on to sing “I’m your Venus,” or as she pronounced it, “I’m your Weenus.” A girl also performed that Ke$ha song “Don’t Stop” but she made up half the words in a language Tolkein would admire. I think maybe I’m sounding too disparaging, but what I mean to express is that I found it cute and funny and thoroughly entertaining. Really it’s a step up from Western night scene. The atmosphere is beautiful and lively, and they provide fresh fruit and popcorn!

I'm your weenus

Here’s one more picture I just wanted to include because it makes me laugh:
the feet
Typical guy, David. We asked him to take a picture of us with the instructions “don’t get our feet” so naturally this is what he did.

I mentioned before how fortunate I was to be able to go on vacation with a Chinese family because I got to see things a westerner normally wouldn’t be exposed to. A major example of this was a detour we took on the way home from the mountain, stopping at the site of the 2008 Chengdu earthquake. Spring’s uncles claimed we had friends who perished in the disaster and paid a little bribe in order to get us access to the damage site (this is pretty common practice in China, though perhaps morally foggy from western standpoint). Rather than rebuild where the town had been destroyed, the entire town was relocated and rebuilt a few miles away, leaving the old city a ghost town. Foreigners are literally forbidden from visiting this place, so David put his hat on me and told me to keep the car window rolled up and my head down til we got in.

chengdu earthquake
chengdu earthquake

Once inside the gates, we parked the cars and were able to walk around the streets of the deserted city. It was like walking into the post apocalypse. It felt heavy and sad, and even Spring’s normally clowning relatives were quiet as we walked around, taking it all in. The rubble was swept out of the roads and roped off, with memorial signs placed periodically with portraits of the dead. David explained a few of the plaques to me, like a school where most of the teachers and students were killed and the survivors had to tear up curtains from the top floors to make an escape rope.

chengdu earthquake
This is the school.

chengdu earthquake
chengdu earthquake
chengdu earthquake

It was getting dark and we had seen enough. Somewhat subdued, we piled into the cars as a mournful drizzle started up, ushering us out of the ghostly place. Exhausted from our long day (and for me the emotional stress of the earthquake), we were only too glad to leave, and much of the ride home was spent in silence.

chengdu earthquake
chengdu earthquake
chengdu earthquake

We woke up at 5 am to “skip tickets” to the famous mountain and ancient gate of Sichuan. We hiked up a muddy hill in the dark. Some things cameras are useless for capturing. Spring’s cousin pointed out how the mountain range in the distance looked like the silhouette of a face looking up. The moon was a fingernail clipping at its brow. We came out at dawn on the stairs leading up to the famous gate, the whole sight to ourselves.
the gate of Sichuan early in the AM
mighty sichuan!
Mighty mighty Sichuan! They say in ancient times, a single man could defend against an army of a thousand at this strategic entrance into ancient Su.

Thank God for skipping tickets, because later that afternoon after we hiked around the whole mountain, we came up the other side of this same gate. Here is the view of the same deserted ravine steps from the top of the fortress:
later that day at the gate

We spent the morning hiking around the mountain, climbing steep stairs up into stunning vistas.
we walked up those stairs
climbin the mountain
like from a poem
pretty

Spring’s relatives are silly and fun, and even though we couldn’t really communicate on a deep level, we shared some laughs.
spring's aunt and uncle
cha!
very thoughtful

Towards the peak, we ended up with this view:
the real misty mountain

And then some of us did this:
eeeks!
weeee
WEEEEEEE
that was fun.
post zipline euphoria

It was incredible! The closest to flying I’ll probably ever get. It wasn’t scary at all, it was peaceful, and so amazing to look down and see the ravine beneath my dangling feet. Years from now when I think back and miss the best things China has to offer, in my dreams I’ll send my soul souring through these same clouds with these same wonderful people waiting for me on the other side.

So let me give some background: David and Spring are two Chinese English teachers in Chengdu who have become a part of my family over the past few years. They participated in a teacher exchange with my mom’s student teachers when she was an instructor at GSU. My mom met them when she took a group of teachers to China and stayed with David. Next year, they came to Atlanta where I met them, and last summer I got my first taste of China when my mother and I attended their wedding. David calls my mom his American mom and he is my Chinese brother (gege!). It was only natural to spend my National Holiday vacation visiting them.

During these last few days, my acquisition of Chinese language and customs was put on hyper speed and I was exposed to a lot of interesting aspects of their culture, some wonderful and some frustrating.

As is their way, they made me part of the family which I liked and gave me TOO MUCH which I didn’t. I could not open my wallet the whole time and was in fact made a bit uncomfortable by the lengths they went to for my comfort! In my Western mindset, I want to be able to visit people I know well and am close to on an informal level. I want to crash on their couch and go with the flow and not have a big deal made over me. Impossible. My first night, Spring and David pick me up at the airport to take me to a HOTEL to sleep in a HOTEL ROOM… by myself… which he paid for…. all because his mother was worried I wouldn’t get a good night sleep the eve of our drive into the mountains.
my lonely hotel room
Me in my personal private hotel room haha.

The next day, we joined up with Spring’s relatives, forming a three car caravan packed with 15 of us in total. There were Spring’s parents, her aunts and uncles, and her cousins all along for the ride.

A Chinese custom I am having to adapt to: no solid plans. I like this because it matches well with my natural disposition of tardiness and overall up-in-the-airness, and it allows for breathing room in itineraries and unexpected adventures. For instance, on impulse we stopped at a famous temple we were passing on our route.
temple
Spring and me at the temple

Temples here are like part religious site, part tourist trap. ANYthing the Chinese can charge admission to, you better believe they’ll be charging admission to. This includes religious places. It was an interesting combination at this temple; on the one hand, it was crowded with people snapping photos, on the other, people were shouldering each other aside to light candles and incense and pray at the altars. The Chinese buddhist faith kind of reminds me of Catholicism in a way, especially the medieval Catholic trend of purchasing religious merit. In these Chinese temples, you pay to pray. The more you pay, the more potent the prayer. Like patron saints, there are different buddhas and bodhisattvas particular to different kinds of wishes. David spoke skeptically about this, saying “if you have an exam, you shouldn’t study, you should come here and pay for good grades” rolling his eyes. But a lot of Spring’s relatives are believers, and Spring in her own way also participates in the tradition although maybe not with religious fervor.

temple

incense
You can buy the different candles and incenses at the temple store. The bigger more expensive ones are more spiritually potent, of course.

part religious site, part tourist site.

wishing tree
wishing tree
Wishing tree. You write your wish on the red string then throw it up as high as you can. Of course, you pay a fee for this.

explaining
David, being the master tour guide that he is and explaining EVERYTHINGGGG.

pretty temple roofs

Spring said she was praying for a son
Spring, praying for a son (but I think she really wants a daughter :~))

At every turn, there is a stunning statue or relic, and at every other turn, a little something to buy or spend money on. It’s a fascinating combination of spiritual faith and consumerism.

I quite enjoyed this sidetrip as it was a uniquely Chinese experience I couldn’t have gotten if I were on my own. I was the only westerner there (as with many of the things we did on our trip), and it was one of the ways I was grateful to be made part of the family and for the breeziness with which Chinese people change plans and forego schedules.

The other side of this double edged sword I experienced at the end of the day, when we finally got into the mountains and were tired and cold and hungry. No reservations were made at any of the inns we were planning on staying at. They were all full. And it was hectic and stressful figuring our where we would all sleep, but somehow it always seems to work out and we found some spare rooms in local people’s houses above their restaurants and tofu stands.

the little mountain place we stayed at

Stay tuned for tales of “skipping tickets” at 5am and daring cable flights through the clouds!

It’s National Holiday and I have a week of vacation! My passport arrived in proper China time, the DAY OF my trip to Chengdu. I have one confusing and frightening voyage to the airport in Shanghai, and then I will be amongst good friends and faux family! I have a vague understanding that we will visit some mountains and some ancient city, but I’m used to tagging along for things with Chinese people adorned with the appropriate blank expression on my face. Knowing what’s going on is overrated.

See you all in a week! I’ll tell ya all about it.

peace out