I can’t believe how much people work here sometimes, including kids. I’m lucky in my schedule in that I have every weekend off, but most people have every other weekend off. I found out that even some of my little babies 1-2 years old spend the night at the school in dormitories all week. One years old! And they only see their parents on the weekends! I got a taste of this grueling schedule this week, when we had to make up for the Mid-Autumn festival days over the weekend. This means I was working straight from Friday to Thursday, an exhausting trial for me and the norm for most of the other teachers here. Being the big clothes dork that I am, sometimes getting dressed in the mornings was the only way I could get pumped about the day! Here’s my super long week in outfit form.


Saturday: work shirt



Tuesday: big shirt day

equestrian print wednesday

Thursday is robin egg blue day


Laoshi (laow-shur) means “teacher”…. my kids alternate between the English and the Chinese when calling me, but it’s a word that makes me perk my ears as much as my own name these days. “Teacher, teacher! Laoshi, laoshi!” Often they say “Katie Teacher” or “Miss Katie” (that one’s cute). Do I actually feel like a teacher yet? Only sometimes.

I have a LOT of weaknesses that often make me feel embarrassed in front of the Chinese teachers (in all but my 3rd grade, the regular Chinese teachers are there to help or watch me flounder, whichever they feel like!). Mostly in classroom management and general child-wrangling. Yesterday I witnessed my preschool teacher, Keke, maintain the interest and enthusiasm of 5 three year olds with counting blocks in Chinese where minutes prior I had been unable to keep them in their seats for English counting games. She is experienced and talented, and I truly respect and envy her abilities. Her English is limited but she is the sweetest person and I’ve already learned so much from her. Like the fact that children that age can’t sit still for long and need lessons that involve movement. This led me to one of my extremely successful counting tricks! For any other teachers or interested parties, I’ll share:

It’s a rhyme I made up that goes like this “Five little fingers on my hand. Oh! Here comes the FINGER EATING MAN!!” I hold up 5 fingers on one hand, and with the other hand I “eat” one of my fingers and make it disappear. Then we count the surviving fingers “One, two, three, four. Four little fingers on my hand. OH! Here comes the FINGER EATING MAN!”… etc… The kids do it with their hands, count their fingers, and are hilariously captivated! They sit still for that WAYYY better than watching you point at a white board or a piece of paper.

When they are going crazy, I try to roll with it. Instead of forcing them to sit in their seats, I use whatever it is that’s distracting them as an excuse to use English. They want to run laps around the chairs? Fine, every time they pass me, we high five and yell “One! Two! Three!” Also, seeing “how many times can you spin?” was fun. Spin them in place like they’re about to go after a pinata, when they get to the target number (five in my case) I pick them up and make them “fall” and of course they love it. Keke taught me that with kids that little, you really just have to let them learn while doing what comes natural for them.

Kindergarteners, about 5 years old, are so cute. They love to play pretend!
Playing "restaurant"
Playing "restaurant"
Here we are playing “restaurant.” That’s one of my naughty boys pretending to dump water on his customer’s head, but ya know somehow the naughty ones are my favorites in a way! He just has a lot of energy and a lot of imagination. When I get him engaged in an activity he gets really into it and he’s actually very bright.

They also love when I get involved in the pretending. They fight to “serve” me food and drink during that unit, and today when they pretended to be animals (mostly puppies), they couldn’t get enough of me taking pretend bones out of my pocket and throwing them across the room. I have to admit, I love it, too! I always loved pretending when I was little and it’s incredibly fun to have an excuse to indulge in some good ole fashioned pretend as an adult!

When things are too wild, coloring is like a natural sedative. The whole energy in the room changes when it’s time to color, and it becomes a peaceful, quiet place. Ahhhh I love coloring.

Coloring day
coloring day
This coloring day we practiced “shirt” and “dress”… they then got to choose which picture to color, the shirt or the dress. The woman in the second picture coloring in Cinderella is Keke.

Issues: The kids don’t take me seriously a lot of the time. They do things to me I never see them do with the Chinese teachers, and it’s probably because they see me as a playmate… They do what kids do: Snatch my teaching aids, hit things out of my hands, pull on my clothes, run to the board and mess up my drawings or whatever when they think I’m not looking. I’m not quite sure what to do about it. Part of my job was described to me as “just play with them” and it’s really fun when the pressure is off and we do just play, and the kids who are interested wander over to me, we practice some English without them even realizing they’re learning, then they wander away when they’re bored. And they are sweet as pie! I love it when they run up to me and give hugs and kisses and sit on my lap and hand me books (that I can’t read because they’re in Chinese but I just make it up). But I am also expected to have a class. Sometimes I manage to maintain that balance, and often I don’t, but I’m still learning.

Primary, though, is a WHOLE DIFFERENT NIGHTMARE. Primary consists of ‘gradeschool’ and I teach first through third grade. First and second grade aren’t too horrible because the Chinese teacher is present and she helps out. But third grade I am on my own with the animals. Bribes and threats have done nothing, the kids don’t take me seriously, and I think part of it is the precedent set by past oral English teachers. Oral English time is free time in their minds, and the last two days I taught them I pretty much let the class dissolve. The five or so out of the 25 kids who were interested I allowed to come up to the board and we played word scramble games and drew pictures, and frankly it was much more manageable than trying to corral 25 ADD monkeys into some kind of organized activity. I feel guilty because part of it is laziness on my part. And I know they know they are inappropriate because twice one of the boys called out a warning and they rushed into their seats when they thought a Chinese teacher was coming. I could go to the office and get a chaperone and conquer the savages with the help of a respected authority figure. But it’s hard for me to care. It’s like…. I’m not paid enough to expend this level of energy. I’d much rather use my time and free time thinking about my kindergartners and preschoolers.

Anyway, that’s my short novel about teaching so far. And it’s only been a month…. dear lord….

sad portrait

by Zhang Cuo 1983

((the poem is much longer, this is just the last 13 lines))
Since moving eastward,
There were too many undaring thoughts:
Not daring to look back,
Dreading deepening anger,
Not daring to look ahead,
Dreading regrettable thoughts;
There is only one daring thought:
On a night when the moon is bright and stars are sparse,
Putting on a coat and walking into the backyard to sharpen my sword,
I softly recite the first half of the waka:
“Loneliness does not
Originate in any one
Particular thing…”


We had two blessed days off in the middle of the week to celebrate the Moon Cake Festival (or Mid-Autumn festival). Ironically, waking up that morning I found it was the first day that felt like fall! Silly me, though, I didn’t really pack many warm clothes from home, so had to be creative with garb. Mostly hung around the house then went on a nice evening bike ride (quickly becoming my favorite pastime)
Wednesday: mid autumn festival outfit
Wednesday: Mid autumn festival
(Sweater: Energy ace!
Silk blouse: Vintage, from my aunt
Scarf: Vintage, also from my aunt
Thigh highs and flats: Target
Bag: thrifted
Glasses: Street market… people like to wear fake glasses here and I kind of fell in love with the stupid trend! Also I think I love them because they remind me of Cortney <3)
A place near my house

That silly diva the moon couldn’t even come out for her own holiday, or maybe the weather was too suddenly brisk for her. However, she did make a glorious appearance the next night. My friend and I rode out to the graveyard to get a good spook and a good vantage of the city.
venturing into the graveyard at night!
View from the graveyard

Preceding the graveyard, here’s the rest of that day off in picture form:

1. Took the bus to town
bus to suzhou

2. Ate a snack from a bakery
a little bakery treat

3. Walked around drooling over window displays
Window shopping in suzhou

4. Had a gingerale at the Bookworm
had some gingerale

5. Got home in time to see my school looking very dashing in the dusk light from the busstop
my school in the background

6. Ate at a little hole-in-the-wall nearby.
delicious hole in the wall

So it’s about one month in.

Miraculously, I am adjusting.

I’m getting used to the common sights and smells: Mom, dad, kid, and granny all piled onto one electric scooter. People perched precariously on the backs of each other’s bicycles. Ancient looking people balancing goods on poles over their shoulders, trudging on the sides of the roads. Dogs rummaging through overturned trashcans, people crouching with their cigarettes on the curbs, people taking naps anywhere they can conceivably stretch out. Rice paddies with barefoot peasants tending them, right behind the skyscrapers….

There are some ugly things: Like the big market of produce and meat where I do some of my shopping, with piles of rotting veggies swept to the sides and your feet getting splashed by bloody fish scale water as you walk through the seafood tubs. People swatting flies away from the warm meat that’s been sitting out all day. Poor people with no teeth whose pants are kept up by a string, rooting through the trashcans. Buses exuding black smoke, careening through traffic within an inch of the other cars, horns constantly blaring.
hair washing by the rotten veggies
(yes, she is washing her hair….)
warm meat
homeless in china

But there are some beautiful things, too: On Sunday, I rode away from the city on my bike to see what I could find. I found a fishing lake where the wind in the reeds was the noisiest thing. I found a bamboo forrest with a paved path, with little praying graves tucked away at intervals. I found a graveyard, sprawling over an entire mountain and looking over the city.
a lake
a gate in a bamboo forrest
ride through bamboo
in a bamboo forrest
View from the top

Some things are hard to get used to still. Like, even on my bike with my sunglasses on, somehow people can just tell I’m a foreigner; as soon as I ride near I can’t help but notice their unabashed head-turns and steady gazes as I pass. I feel them watching me eat at restaurants, maybe to see if I can use chopsticks or curious about what I’ll order. They overcharge me at the markets because I am Western, and even when I bargain I know I am ultimately paying more than a Chinese person would. My friend Jessica in Korea wrote in her blog about being struck illiterate overnight, and that is also something I am contending with. At the grocery store I have to rely on pictures and in the restaurants I am a master mime… often we will go into the kitchen and point out what we like, and even then we’re never quite sure what will come out! Not to get petty, but I would really like a fresh spinach salad, a taco, and some sweet potato fries.

But despite all that, somehow we really do get used to things. The offensive smells don’t offend me so much, the sound of someone hocking up a loogie doesn’t raise my eyebrow, nor does the sight of everyone sticking their hands into the rice grain bins at the store. I plunge mine in right along next to them. I don’t mind squatting to pee, and I’ve taken to riding on the backs of bikes and carrying an umbrella around in the sun. Granted, it has only been a month and I could be singing a whole ‘nother tune in one more, but as of right now, I feel like maybe I can really do this China thing!


Bla bla bla boring stuff about clothes bla bla bla…. What I wore to work during the week. My outfits have to cover my tattoos and be practical for being pulled on by lots of grabby little hands. This is the first week it’s been cooling off, too, so it was nice to break out a few warmer items to put in the mix!

Super old blouse I have had forever.
Thrifted 70s prairie skirt.
Thrifted flats.

Violet Foklore etsy top
Homemade skirt
Yangshuo street market shoes

Top: thrifted
Skirt: Vintage Dickies, thrifted
Plaid thigh-highs:???
Flats: Target

Pencil skirt: target
Green blouse: target
Sweater: From old job
Socks: Betsey Johnson
Shoes: Thrifted

Blouse: love culture
Leggings: ghetto fabulous store in Underground Atlanta
Flats: Target

I learned a painful lesson in differing cultural values: The puppy didn’t survive.

He was such a good dog with so much potential. He was so eager to please, already well on the way to being potty trained. Even when he was obviously in extreme pain, if we took him outside for a moment he used that opportunity to go potty. He had already started to come when called. He didn’t complain about being put in my purse when we took him out to buy a leash and doggie supplies. He was a good good dog and it’s not fair what happened to him.


But it’s something we have to accept. There’s less compassion for animals than we are used to in the West, and less legal protection for them and their owners.

Apparently the pet shop where Liam got him has a bad reputation for selling sick dogs. We took him to the vet and it turned out Whiskey had Parvo, on top of another disease, and was also anemic. He went from being bright eyed and mischievous as a puppy should be, to lethargic and suffering. He wouldn’t eat, had trouble breathing, and even cried at night.

Here’s the tough lesson: In China, neither consumers nor animals are guaranteed with any rights. This means if someone sells you shoddy merchandise, you can’t go complaining to anyone to force them to give your money back. And it means that if a pet store is profiting from producing as many puppies as possible without any consideration for the health and wellbeing of the animals, there is no agency to call and have them shut down or punished. They can just keep selling as many sick animals as possible and making as much profit as possible. After Liam got the dog, he heard from 4 separate sources that the shop was not to be trusted, so perhaps the only action people can take is to spread the word. I went back and saw the place Whiskey came from and it was definitely shocking to my animal-rights Western sensibilities. I honestly don’t know what Liam was thinking.

The entire pet vending street is atrocious. They have skinny snot covered kittens stuffed in cages, rabbits, mangy looking dogs in tiny crates, even hedgehogs. And they’re stacked in hole-in-the-wall shops with no more consideration than empty vegetable crates. The smell is terrible as is the sound of the crying animals.

Chinese pet market
Chinese pet market
Chinese pet market
Chinese pet market

Anyway, this was a tough lesson in cultural differences I learned. It’s easy to say this is wrong and the way I’m used to is right, but I’m not here to pass judgments like that. It was just a major difference in values that was difficult for me to experience first hand.

Whiskey Blue, I love you.

The baby is sick.
So much grass unsniffed, and arms
empty, uncuddled.
I’m sure my sky was sun-filled:
could it dim so suddenly?

Sunday I wanted to get out, so I packed a bag and took the bus down to Suzhou. During the 30 minute voyage, I had a Moon Cake filled with red bean paste for a snack and read my Journey to the West book, the classic Chinese saga about the Monkey King.

moon cakes and monkey kings

Moon Cakes are everywhere lately. Around this time of year is the Moon Cake festival, or the Mid-Autumn festival. It celebrates the Chinese legend about the moon. As far as I can grasp it, I think it’s about a moon goddess who falls in love with a human man, then as these love stories go, she must tragically fly back to the moon and leave him. Somewhere there is a magic Jade Rabbit involved. Kind of a step up from the moon being made of cheese.

When I got to Suzhou I got a little bit lost, but eventually found my favorite little expat bar, sweating a bit from lugging my backpack all over town. The Bookworm has quickly become my favorite refuge, with a semi-decent veggie burger (a blackbean patty that almost doesn’t fall apart as you eat it), and walls full of books and a calander full of creative type events. I hung out there the whole day working on lesson plans and procrastinating from working on lesson plans.

Spent Sunday at the Bookworm in Suzhou
Doing work for my classes at the Bookworm on Sunday

By the time I got home, it was high time for a snack, which is why I love the street grillers that open up after dark. You pick your raw meat or veggies on a stick, most less than 1 rmb (that’s about 7 cents y’all), and they grill them up for you; probably with some risk to one’s internal organs but would I even be here if I weren’t a risk taker???

Late night snack
(trust me, it wouldn’t taste as good if everyone and his mother didn’t put their hands all over the food)

Late night snack
Late night snack
(that’s right, a huge selection of tofu and veggies– drool with me, fellow vegetarians!)

I joined my family on the other side of the world for a skype brunch party:

(photo courtesy of mom)

And if that wasn’t a perfect enough ending to a day, when I got home I met the newest addition to our foreign family: Whiskey Blue! Prepare for the puppy porn parade:

Whiskey naps
Whiskey naps
Whiskey Blue, I love you.
Whiskey butt

Yes, he is just as downy and fluffy and sweet as he looks. I think he might actually be part teddy bear but would have to look into his pedigree chart.

Since I can’t access tumblr anymore, I’ll just start doing my little 1 poem + pic / day posts here.

the lake

Thank god for gray days.
So even Mother Nature
gets in moods like these?