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Travels in China

My experience teaching in Guiyang

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July 10th, 2011

Week 2

Hello all!

As many of you have already figured out, I now have access to facebook. However, that access is limited and slower than you can imagine so I don’t go on terribly often. To upload those pictures, in total, took about 4 hours! Most of that time, however, I was just hanging out in my room or studying.

Every day has been pretty different from another. We’ve had some lectures (all in Chinese) and even did a presentation in front of about 150 soon to be Chinese teachers in the States! That was a bit nerve wracking and I’m quite happy to be done with that, but who knows what other surprises they’ll throw at us. This week I have two presentations to make, but they’re just to the people in our group. And one of them I just have to do a sample lesson that’s 20 minutes long. No problem there.

On Saturday a couple of us went to the Temple of Heaven. We had an optional field trip of going to the Great Wall, but we passed. Hah. We’d all gone so many times – Tracy’s gone 6 times, just one more than me! Anyway, we walked around and talked with some musicians and other people just hanging out in the park and after lunch we went shopping at Hong Qiao Market. I plan to go back to get some Christmas shopping done – yes, Christmas. I’m hoping to have a large portion of that done by the time I get home in August!

Some interesting stories…

Our “one on one” classes are usually in the same building that we stay in, one floor below us. Instead of taking the elevator, I often take the stairs. Well, the other day the stairwell was locked (yay safety hazard!), so I went down to the first floor to take the elevator up. Except the elevator had no lights. Let’s just say the Tower of Terror does a good job with the whole creepy elevator in he dark thing with a sliver of light coming through.

There are a bunch of people on campus wearing t-shirts from our university. At lunch one day, I happened to ask someone across the table from me where he bought his. Then his wife happened to say she had an extra and would give it to me! So we all went to her dorm room and she gave it to me. She happens to be a professor of English here. New friend, new t-shirt, new experience! Woot.

July 1st, 2011

After One Week

Here I am in Beijing! It's still kind of hard to believe that I'm here.

This program that I am involved is quite tough. It is through ACC and is specifically for teachers (or soon to be teachers) of Chinese who are not native speakers. There are only 10 participants and while I have not had the chance to really spend time with all of them, they seem to be really nice people and hopefully over the next five weeks we'll have plenty of opportunities to have fun together.

Here's the catch: We can only communicate with each other in Chinese. We actually signed a contract a day or two after we landed stating that we would only use Chinese to communicate with one another or people we met in Beijing. Other than communicating with people at home, I am not allowed to use English. It's been very difficult! I've forgotten a lot and the majority of the people in my group are more fluent than I am, but I am getting by and remembering a lot.

Classes are split up in a certain way: Big class, small class, and single class. Well, they are just like they sounds. Single class is just me with the teacher, small class is five of us with the teacher, and big class is supposed to be all ten of us with a teacher. But they split us up, so "big" and "small" are both the same size. During all three of these classes we are using and reviewing grammar patterns from our book. As of right now, it hasn't been too useful for me. After I repeat or use a pattern, I completely forget how to. And let's face it, when am I going to teach my students "There are three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational."

Our dorm is nice - very much like a hotel. My roommate's name is Tracy and she's from Illinois. She lived in Shanghai for 7 years and has 6 kids! More power to her. She's really nice and we get along very well.

One of the highlights of this week has been being able to spend time with my good friend Yvonne. Simply by chance, she had to attend a conference in Beijing this week so we've been able to spend a lot of time together. Tuesday night we went to a rather fashionable area near Beihai Park called Hou Hai (Behind the Water). Then Wednesday we went out for hotpot. This hotpot restaurant was awesome - all the different foods you could put into your soup were on a conveyer belt and as they went by you simply picked out what you wanted. No joke, about a 100 different things on this conveyer belt from different kinds of fruit, to all sorts of vegetables, to many different things I was unwilling to try. Tonight I'm going to see her again which will be great.

She might also come and help me break through the great firewall for facebook. Having serious withdrawl.

That's about it for now! I'll write more later and post some pictures when I remember how to. Hahah.

June 24th, 2011

Made it!

Just wanted to let everyone know that I have made it safely to China. As of this moment, facebook appears to be blocked, so I will not be able to log on until further notice. I will still be able to get notices when people post on my wall, but that will be about it.

Take care and I'll update some stuff soon! :D

July 16th, 2007

Thank You

I would like to first and foremost thank everyone who came back to this page time and time again to read about my experiences in China. Every time I have traveled to a foreign country I have always kept a journal so I could record my experiences. This journal, however, was a lot more detailed and required more work than any others I've kept. If it weren't for all of you coming back for more, I don't think this journal would have been as well maintained as it was.

I would also like to do a big public thank you to my parents. When I started to study Chinese it wasn't as accepted as it is today. They allowed me to really explore my love of China in a wonderfully tolerant environment and encouraged me every step of the way. I don't think I would have been able to do this without their 110% support. I just hope I was able to show them why I have fallen in love with China during their visit. I am very honored to be their daughter.

To everyone who has written to me, kept me in the loop, chatted with me on-line, sent me mail, called me - I appreciate every moment of it. I was rather isolated at the school and every bit of love from back home was great.


And now, onto my next adventure...whatever it may be!

My Last Week in China

After a good night’s sleep, we got up once again to explore the capital city of Beijing. At this point we were on our own and without a tour guide, other than myself. So I picked out a couple of highlights of the city and off we went. First stop? The Tibetan Lama Temple. One thing I do remember about this temple is that it was one of the very few traditional sites in Beijing that was protected during the Cultural Revolution by Zhou Enlai. So none of the statues are defaced and everything is intact. I personally feel that the Lama Temple is one of the more interesting things to see in Beijing. The temple is large and feels like it’s just planted in the middle of the city. It’s practically all open and it’s an active monastery, so there are monks that practice there. However, being Tibetan, there are some things that aren’t as widely accepted - like the Dalai Lama. But, the temple itself is really beautiful. One cool thing is that there is a Buddha statue in the last building that stands 28 meters tall, 8 of that underground. The visible 18 meters is maybe 2 meters wide - carved of one white ash tree. Absolutely gorgeous. And when you see it, it’s hard to believe that all that wood is just one tree.

Here's mom in the Tibetan Lama Temple. You can actually spin these things and its supposed to bring you good luck.

Next we visited Guozijian and the Confucian Temple. These were two places I visited back in February and while Guozijian was more uncovered, the actual Confucian Temple was completely under restoration. In case you don’t remember, this is where students would come to study Confucian texts and other important manuscripts so they could become high ranking officials and scholars. In the Confucian Temple there was an exhibit about different Confucian temples all over China that my parents were able to check out while I sat down and relaxed, having read through it before.

Now we went to search for a restaurant. Before coming to China, my father had bought a book on Beijing and there was a restaurant near this area that it recommended. Once we actually found it, however, we were informed that it is not open on Monday. Not knowing the area well, we hopped in a cab back to the area around the hotel to find something else. Our next choice was also closed, but then finally we found an open restaurant and were able to enjoy a very tasty meal in an outdoor traditional garden setting.

We were going to meet up with Yvonne that evening, so we walked back to the hotel. But along the way we went into the Friendship Store. This store is actually quite famous is China. It has all the traditional handicrafts of China and you can be 100% they are genuine because it is a government run store. I remember going there back in 1998 late one night and exploring it with my friends. I showed my parents the top floor because that is where all the expensive items are - jade, pearls, cloisonné, and so on. After exploring for a while, we headed back to the hotel to await Yvonne’s call.

Once we heard from Yvonne, we went to meet her in an area called Houhai. This is around the ancient part of town where the majority of the homes are traditional style, with courtyards and all. Along the river/lake there, many bars have popped up over the years so it’s turned into quite the fashionable place to hang out. Yvonne suggested a restaurant there and we met with her for a rather tasty meal. One funny moment before she arrived was that my father ordered a beer of the menu - something he had never seen before called “baiwei” so he decided to give it a shot. Turns out Baiwei is the Chinese name for Budweiser. And you could also order it by the box!

Here is the infamous drink menu where dad accidentally ordered a Bud Ice. I love how one of the choices has a -15, so apparently they pay you to drink it.

The next day we had some more places to visit. Unfortunately the day was fairly overcast so when I took them to Jingshan Park - the mountain behind the Forbidden City, the view wasn’t as good as it could have been. Jingshan Park overlooks the Forbidden City and it really gives you a good idea of how large it is. If you look off the opposite side, you can see the drum and bell towers. Very cool park to visit and a whopping 2 yuan to get in - which is like 25 cents. After we left the park, we started to walk over to Beihai Park. This used to be a kind of playground for the imperial family. There’s a huge manmade lake with an island in the middle, which is where there the Buddhist temple. The park itself is very large with various structures inside. However, this is also the park where they get you with lots of mini-fees and so on. You can get into the park itself, but each structure requires a new entry fee ranging from 2 yuan to 20. But there really is a lot to do within the park.

Mom and dad in Beihai Park. You can see the White Pagoda in the background.

The first place we visited was the circular city. I’ve actually never been inside it before, but it’s a circular compound (as the name would imply) with a temple inside it. After that we headed to the main island where there’s a temple at the top of the mountain that you need to climb up to. What I find interesting about this temple is that at the very top there is a white pagoda with nothing (as far as I know) inside of it. There is a little pavilion directly in front of it that you can find Buddha statue, but that’s about it. Once again, due to the overcast weather, the view from up there wasn’t phenomenal. At this point we were considering lunch, so we left the park and headed down the mountain to find a restaurant that the concierge at the hotel recommended.

This restaurant actually used the old kitchens that were used to cook food for the imperial family. They used the traditional recipes and served them in quite a lavish setting - all gold, yellow, and a little bit of red. The meal was a little on the pricey side and you had to order sets of food, but it was a very neat experience.

We took a boat across the lake to the 5 Pavilions and then did a little bit of exploring on that side. There were a number of temples and gardens, along with the 9 Dragon Screen. There was one temple I had never been inside before and my parents explored before me because I was feeding the fish. The statue inside of the building was huge - not only in height, but all dimensions. It kind of looked like a chunk of land and clouds with hundreds of different figures all around it. You weren’t allowed to walk completely around the display, but it was impressive. We walked around a little bit more until we found the 9 Dragon Screen. To me, this structure is amazing because not only is it old, but it’s all fired ceramic tiles. Because it was so large, they had to break the designs into pieces to have them fired and then glued them all together again. Very, very cool to just walk around and look at.

Here's the 9 Dragon Screen.

After that we were picked up for our afternoon tour that we booked through the hotel. A tour of old Beijing - the hutong’s. I must admit, this is one of my favorite areas of Beijing. It gives you a sense of how the people of Beijing used to live with the narrow alleyways and houses with courtyards. This is also the same area where Yvonne had met us for dinner the previous night. We had a tour guide and he took us through the district on bike rickshaws. We then walked to the drum tower. Now, with being in China, I have been to my fair share of creepy steep stairways. This one takes the cake. I remember it from 1998 - it freaked me out then, and it freaked me out this time. We just missed the drumming demonstration, but we were able to explore quite a bit. Then we walked over to the bell tower (which you can’t climb…thank god) and enjoyed a tea service inside. Our tour guide took use back to our bike rickshaws and then we visited someone’s actual home. She showed us the courtyard and the different rooms in her home and after that, we were taken back to where we had been picked up, and took a cab back to the hotel.

Here's the duck we ate for dinner.

I wanted my parents to experience traditional Beijing roast duck. There are many different places that prepare this, but the most famous is Quanjude. I don’t know why it’s the most famous - maybe it was the first, maybe someone important liked it there more than anywhere else, but there are now branches of it all over Beijing. In 2004, I visited the original Quanjude, but this time that one was closed for repairs, so we went to the one on the main shopping street - Wangfujin. The dinner itself wasn’t fantastic other than the duck. They cook the duck and then they bring it out to the table and carve it up right there for you to see. You get these little rice flour wraps and you put the duck inside with this bean paste sauce, then you can put ginger, scallions, cucumber, or garlic in the wrap as well. Very yummy.

After dinner we explored the street, which is now sadly under construction. I could not find the alleyway in which I had bought many souvenirs in 2004, but most of the main stores are still there. One very cool thing about Wangfujin at night is snack street. There are actually a couple of alleyways with restaurants and booths, but the coolest is at the end of the main road where there is booth after booth that there is all kinds of meat on skewers ready for roasting. They will try almost anything to get you to buy their food. There is also a couple of stands dedicated to fruit. Really a fun place to visit.

snack street
Here's a nice shot of snack street.

The next morning we visited the Ancient Observatory, which was right next to our hotel. It was built in 1400 something and was the world’s first observatory. Now, with all the smog and pollution, I’m not sure you could see anything anymore. The instruments are made of bronze with ornate designs of dragons. The courtyard has been redone so that it’s a museum to astronomy. Once we were finished exploring there, we tried to find the Silk Street. The last time I visited the Silk Street was in 1998 when it was open and on the street in the embassy district. So we walked back there and after a while we were basically told that we could go any further. Thus, we gave up on the Silk Street and took a cab to a golf store dad had seen an advertisement for in the newspaper. Once there, my dad expressed an interest in being able to shop for more sports related things and the owner told us to go to the Pearl Market. He said it was a “short walk” and after giving us directions, we were on our way. This “short walk” was close to 2 miles and when we reached the Pearl Market, it became apparent that this was also Silk Street. We ate lunch there and then went inside to brave the market.

A shot of my parents exploring the Ancient Observatory.

Me being a complete nerd with one of the trashcans at the Ancient Observatory.

Let’s just say, that the Silk Market has changed a lot over the years. Before it was very laid back and they let you come to them. This was very similar to the market I went to in Shanghai with Chris and Kim. There was booth after booth after booth of basically the same kinds of things with narrow passage ways between them. As you walked down the passage ways phrases like “hey lady, you like jeans? Come take a look.” “You want shirts? We have shirts.” “Come inside, lady, take a look,” were called out to us as we made our way though. One woman actually grabbed my father by the wrist and pulled him into her booth, proceeded to rub his stomach and called him “Buddha man.” This walk through the market is what I refer to as “running the gauntlet.” I had to stress to my parents some of the rules of shopping in such a place, such as - don’t touch it if you aren’t interested, don’t ask about price unless you want to buy it, walk around and look at everyone’s stuff before you step into a booth, and so on. It’s hard because the moment you show interest, they’ll follow you out the store to try and get you to come back to buy. Dad was finding a bunch of stuff he wanted and although I knew my mother wanted to get a table cloth, she said she didn’t want to go through the process. I had to assure her that once you step inside one booth the other booths give up. She ended up finding what she wanted and I got to bargain for them for everything they wanted.

We rested at the hotel before Yvonne joined us for dinner and then we headed out to see an acrobat show. These shows cease to amaze me with the flexibility and agility some of these kids have. There was lots of tumbling and flips, some juggling, and many other different kinds of skills that I had no idea there was a demand for. Not the best acrobatic show I’ve ever seen, but it was pretty cool. That night I said my goodbye to Yvonne because I knew there wasn’t really going to be another chance to see her again before I left.

On Wednesday morning we got up and took the subway to Tiananmen Square. It was there that we tried to get into the National Museum, but it was closed for renovation. Sensing a trend? Our next adventure was trying to find a shopping street called “culture street” which has all these neat little shops in it that I wanted to show my parents. On the way we stopped in the Olympic Store off of the Square to check out the merchandise and did some purchasing. We walked quite a ways to find the street and found one, but it wasn’t the one I had meant to show my parents. After stopping for a delicious noodle lunch, we went to Tiananmen Gate to take a look. You can go on top of the gate to overlook the square, however it’s possibly one of the few places where they take security very seriously - you have a clear shot of the square and the government buildings. We had to check our bags to be able to go up. Because it was such a clear day, it was a wonderful view.

Next we decided to finish some of our shopping. We went to Wangfujin to check out the stores one last time before heading back to the hotel to start the packing process. For me this was a little harder because of all the things I had, but I got it all home. We went to Grandma’s Kitchen, an American restaurant, for dinner before crashing once again in the hotel.

Our last full day in Beijing was possibly our least active one. We went to a museum in the morning and must had gotten there right after the doors had opened on a new exhibit. Important people were there with flowers, there were photographers, and they were giving away free stuff. The exhibit was from a famous artist who passed away a couple of years prior to that and most of the people there had been his students. There were only a couple of other exhibits in the museum open and after we finished there, we went to the Silk Market to finish up our purchases there. After a quick lunch, we headed to the Friendship Store to finish our buying there. And then we headed back to the hotel, finished packing, and went out for a Sichuan style dinner.

Me and Summer.

The next day I met up with my good friend Summer who I’ve known, like Yvonne, since my first trip to China in 1998. He met me while I was in Guiyang and it’s his parents who I’ve been spending a weekend here and there with. He actually coordinated his trip to Beijing so he could see me there before I left. It was just great to see him and catch up a little bit, because now he lives in London, England. And then after lunch we were picked up and taken to the airport to bring us home once again.

July 3rd, 2007

Two Days of Tours

When we arrived in Beijing a person was waiting for us as we stepped off the plane to help us navigate the airport - which after my many visits there, wasn't needed. But it was nice. We found our tourguide and waited for our car to arrive. Once we loaded, we had a while to wait to get to the hotel. Not because it was far away, but because it was rush hour traffic in Beijing. Traffic in Beijing is absolutely atrocious and it gets worse every day because more and more people are buying private cars. My dad compared it to having to deal with Dream Cruise traffic every single day.

Once we arrived at the hotel and checked in, we weren't really in the exploring mode. We ate dinner at the hotel at a wonderful seafood buffet, then went and made some purchases at a local supermarket. The person who picked us up at the airport told us that our booked tours were going to be Saturday and Sunday, so we turned in early to rest up for a long day.

Our Saturday tour consisted of the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Summer Palace. When my father told me this a month or so back, I told him to try and find another tour because that was way too much in one day. Unfortunately, it was a package deal with the hotel, so there was no getting out of one park. What ended up happening is our tour guide took us to the main highlights of each place and that's it. And with tour packages like this, they have to take you to state run stores that feature local items - on this day it was a pearl store then a silk carpet factory. But on to the main attractions.

The first stop of the day was the Temple of Heaven. This was a place where the emperor would go to pray for a successful harvest. The Temple of Heaven, for all intents and purposes, is a series of three structures. The first being a circular platform of white marble. On the top level there is a disc in the very center. This was the place where the emperor could best communicate with heaven. I've also heard it referred to as the "center of the universe". The second structure is probably my favorite. It's, once again, a circle. (In Chinese architecture the circle means heaven whereas squares represent earth). There is a wall around the building which stores some tablets. The wall is really interesting because if you stand on one side and someone you know stands on the other, and you talk, they can hear you. We got this to really work - dad went to one end and mom and I went to the other. He sounded a little muffled, but we could hear him. The other area of interest at this place is right in front of the building where they store the tablets. There are three stone on the ground. If you clap on the one furthest from the building you hear the echo three times. You stand on the next one closer and you hear it twice. You stand on the stone closest to the building and you hear the echo only once.

The last main structure at the Temple of Heaven is the Temple of Heaven. For all you Disney lovers, this might look familiar because its the building they decided to recreate in Epcot at China in the World Showcase. There's a lot of symbolism involved with the inside of the temple, most of which I forget, but a lot of it dealt with pillars to symbolize the lunar months, days, and so on. It was completely repainted and it looked like a completely different building than from the last time I saw it. Beijing is on this huge repaint kick because they want everything to look fantastic for the Olympics. I am 100% for restoration of historical places like this, but it kind of stinks for the people who want to come anytime before the Olympics because it seems like everything is covered or being restored or what have you. This sort of renovation should have been started years ago in a "one national tourist spot at a time" mentality, but I'm not in charge.

Here's me, mom, and dad in front of the Temple of Heaven.

Next up? Tiananmen Square. Now the square itself isn't exactly too exciting. What can I say? It's a big open square. Largest public square in the world, apparently. There are a couple of important buildings/monuments in/around it. On the west side is the National Museum which now sports the Olympic countdown clock. On the east side is the main government building. In the center is the Monument to the People. Also in the square is a mausoleum where Chairman Mao's tomb is. It's a glass tomb so when we found out it was closed for renovation, I wasn't entirely disappointed. Twice is enough for one lifetime. To the south of the square are the ancient gates to the city. And to the north? The Forbidden City, our next stop.

Here's mom and dad in Tiananmen Square with Tiananmen in the background. Tiananmen translates to the Gate of Heavenly Peace and acts as the entrance to the Forbidden City. This is also the place that Chairman Mao declared the People's Republic of China.

Now the Forbidden City is one of my favorite places to visit. Why? Because its so huge and while you can't explore everywhere, a lot of it is open and you can walk around for hours. Not on this tour. Our guide took us straight down the middle of the Forbidden City, showing us only the main 6 or so buildings.

Much to my annoyance, the one building I had been hoping to not be under renovation was. So this would have been the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City. It's really awesome if you get to see if without, you know, all the tarps and such.

The Forbidden City was CROWDED. I know this picture doesn't show it, but that's because all the crowds were walking down the left or the right side. If you really want a good view of the Forbidden City, there are tons of movies out there - "The Last Emperor" was filmed there, so there you go. After walking down the center of the Forbidden City, we once again boarded the bus. But before we did, we were attacked by people selling things. This instance stands out in memory simply because our group was waiting to cross the street and a bunch of people were waiting on the other side. As soon as the light changed, they charged forward reaching in their bags to pull out what they were selling. I had thought they were just waiting to cross the street - but no, they wanted to sell us something.

On our way to lunch, we passed this structure. It's called the "bird's nest" and it is the main arena for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Now, I know I've joked about this before, but in reality Beijing was seriously lacking in state of the art sports arenas and they plan to really put this (and the other buildings they're building) into good use once the games are over. Personally, I think this building looks pretty cool.

We boarded the bus and went to lunch. After living for a year in Guiyang, the food at lunch didn't taste like real Chinese food - but the stuff you can get here in restaurants. Once lunch was over, we made a stop at a pearl factory. As I mentioned before, on these kinds of tours they are required to take you to places like this. We were first given a demonstration of the fact that in the lake at the Summer Palace, there are clams with fresh water pearls. So all of the fresh water pearls in the factory were made in that lake. We were able to look around and shop and once that was done, we headed to the Summer Palace.

The Summer Palace is basically that, a palace the royal family would go to in the summer. The original one was destroyed during the Opium Wars, so this one was built only about 100 years or so ago - relatively new by Chinese standards. The park itself is huge including some living quarters, buildings for meetings, a temple, the lake, the outdoor corridor (a path where the empress could take a walk to avoid the sun), an island, a bridge...really, the whole park is huge and it would probably take a whole day to fully explore the entire thing. The picture I chose here is of the temple - which we didn't go into. Really, we didn't do much in here which was a bit disappointing, even though we were tired.

The Summer Palace itself is a little distance outside the city, so we had a bit of a bus ride back in. But we had one more stop - the silk carpet factory. The factory's guide told us about natural dyes and how long it takes to make a carpet and about the different quality grades. Really interesting stuff and the carpets were absolutely gorgeous, but a little out of my price range. The one cool thing was that if you flip the carpet around the colors change, hence - magic carpet. This may not be new to you, but it was to me. And I found it amusing.

That night we were fairly whipped and ended up eating sushi at the hotel - which was Japanese run. We turned in early and got notes that read "wait in your room and I'll call you in the morning" from our tour guide. Well, after breakfast we waited in our rooms. And waited. And waited. So finally I got the note and called the tour guide's cell phone - turns out she was waiting in the lobby for us. Grrrreeat. We finally got on our way and headed out to the Ming Tombs. The Ming Tombs is quite a drive and the stop after that was the Great Wall, so this was the real day trip we had in Beijing.

The Ming Tombs were built for the Ming emperor who moved the capital from Nanjing in the south to Beijing (formally known as BeiPing). The Ming Tombs really include a lot - not only is part of the tomb excavated, but there's Sacred Street which is lined with huge stone carvings, a museum, and other areas that are open for visit. We went to the museum. And that's it. This annoyed me because all the other parts are so amazing to look at, but I wasn't in charge. The only thing that was really interesting was the columns in the main hall were grown in Guizhou and transported there for the tomb.

Highlight of the Ming Tombs. This sign made me giggle for hours.

For lunch we went to a jade factory - first there was the tour where were able to see people carving jade and we were taught how to tell the difference between fake and real jade. There are also many different colors - the most expensive being white jade, not the green. After the tour we were able to shop around and then we ate lunch there. Not as good as the lunch the day before, but when you're hungry, you're hungry. We then continued on until we reached the section of the Great Wall we were visiting known as Badaling. It's not my favorite section of the Great Wall because it's very commercialized, but it still gives you a great idea of what it's like.

We took this utterly bizarre ride up to the wall itself. We each had these seats and first went through a tunnel as it pulled us up. Once we reached the wall, our tour guide informed us we had one hour to explore and then we had to meet her back down by the entrance.

Here we are! It was a little hazy, but there was a nice breeze so it wasn't too hot. We were able to walk quite a ways and although it was more crowded than I've ever had to experience, it was still really a lot of fun.

The Great Wall was built to keep the barbarians to the north out and if you look at the picture, you'll see that on the one side there are no cut aways and it's flat, and on the other there are taller pieces that you can hide behind, etc. The side with the cut aways faces the outside. Why anyone would climb a mountain to scale this wall is beyond me, but for quite a while the wall worked. Until the "barbarians" bribed a Chinese general to open the door for them. But hey, it happens. The Great Wall is also known as the longest graveyard in the world. With all that hard work, approximately a million people died building it and instead of building graves of sorts, the workers were simply buried in the wall itself. Nice, right?

another shot
One thing that I always love about the Great Wall is just being able to watch it weave its way across the horizon. Can't see it terribly well in this picture, but it was hazy.

We headed back down and boarded the bus once again to go into town. Once we reached town, we were taken to a normal silk factory that specialized in bed covers and blankets. Very beautiful stuff. We did a little bit of shopping, collapsed on the bus again, and made it back to the hotel. Dad had been wanting to go to a restaurant in a park nearby - Ritan Park. Now there are four parks like this - Ritan (temple of the sun), Tiantan (Temple of Heaven), Ditan (temple of the earth), and Yuetan (temple of the moon) situated in the four cardinal coordinates. There wasn't much to Ritan - basically a park, but it's near the embassy district so there are many excellent restaurants in the area. We ate our fill, walked through the park, and then crashed for the evening.

And that, my friends, is day one and day two in Beijing.

June 29th, 2007

There are two tales I forgot to tell about Monday. After we finished up at Qianling Park, we decided to simply just take a cab back to the hotel. Our hotel had a unique location in a sense that you couldn’t take a left turn from the main road to get to it. So you can either drive past it and pull a “Michigan left” later or turn left into a district near it and go through the back streets. However, there was a rather long line up to take the second option - maybe 30 cars, waiting to make this left turn. Our cab driver didn’t want to wait that long, so he pulled over to the opposite side of the road. Thank goodness there was barely any oncoming traffic before he turned into the area. My parents started laughing, so the driver asked me if they were laughing at him. I admitted that they were and that doing what he just did was illegal in the U.S. He grinned and said “well, it’s illegal here.” After dropping us off he offered to be our driver for the rest of our stay, if we were interested.

Tale number two: When you check into Gui Zhou hotel, they give you a little voucher for a free “welcome drink” at the sight-seeing hotel on the top floor. We figured we’d give it a shot and went up to the 29th floor to check it out. When we arrived the lighting was dark and we couldn’t see or hear anyone. We checked the board near the elevator and found the bar was open from 7pm till 1 in the morning and by our watches, it was 8pm. So I called out if anyone was there. A man came from around the corner and said that yes, they were serving and let us choose a table. Now, this “sight-seeing” bar had curtains blocking the view. We got them to open some for us and the view was nice. I explained to the waiter that we had we had two vouchers for the free drinks only to learn that the two free options were orange juice and lemonade. There were no mixed drinks on the menu, so we tried to explain to the man that I wanted a glass of orange juice with a serving of vodka inside. This was a foreign idea to him and it took a while to get the point across. Once he got it and went to take care of our drinks, he came back to inform us that the only hard liquor was a kind of whiskey and Kailua. So much for a well stocked bar. Mom and I finished our orange juices, dad his beer, and we went back downstairs.

Tuesday morning we woke up to see that it had poured while we were sleeping and many areas around the hotel were covered in water. There was nothing officially on the agenda for the day, but I had told them about a park we could go to - Tianhetan. We went to the bus station, armed with umbrellas, and took the hour bus ride to the park. By the time we got there, it was close to lunch time so we sat down in a restaurant I had visited the last time I had been there in the fall. Good food. We were quite the spectacle for the locals, but there you have it. After a filling lunch, we bought a 3rd umbrella for dad - “Hello Kitty” - and continued on our way around the park

I went to Tianhetan in the fall with Ms. Zhang, Jerry, and some of their friends. This time it was just me, mom, and dad. Because of the rain, there were very few tourists so we were able to enjoy the two main waterfalls, whose water level was high and made me a little nervous for the big waterfall we were going to see later that week. We were the only people on the boat in the wet cave and then we were with a group of maybe 15 to walk through the dry caves. Because of all the rain, it wasn’t so “dry”, but it was still beautiful to walk through.

Here's mom and dad with the main waterfall at Tianhetan.

On the bus ride back into town I started receiving phone calls from Yvonne’s mother, who was preparing our dinner that evening. She was asking after what things my parents enjoyed eating, then later called to see if she had to buy forks among other things. After refreshing ourselves at the hotel, we walked over to their home. I had spoken on the phone with Yvonne a couple of times about the dinner. I wanted the food to be a sampling of the daily dishes the Chinese commonly have. There are a number of things that a Chinese host is supposed to cook for a guest and I stressed that my parents could get that in a restaurant any time they wanted. The other thing I had stressed was keeping it a small affair, meaning me, my parents, and her parents. I won on the food part, but a couple of uncles and aunts were invited along. Before Yvonne’s father arrived, none of them could speak English. So conversation was challenging as I had to translate everything to my parents and then back.

Here's a picture of Yvonne's parents and my mom and dad. Yvonne's mother cooked the meal and is retired. Yvonne's father is a professor at a local university and teaches biophysics, specifically dealing with the brain. Yeah.

When Yvonne’s father arrived and after introductions, asked my father a very important question. “Do you like wine?” to which my father answered that he did. His face lit up like he was 5 years old and it was Christmas morning and then he hurried into the kitchen to find something for them to drink. They were taking a while, so I went in after them and found them searching the cupboards for a bottle of mao-tai. When something was found (not mao-tai, but pretty close), Yvonne’s father poured my father a whole wine glass full. Dad took his first sip and his eyes about bugged out of his head. The meal was delicious, the company was good, and we had a wonderful time. Yvonne’s uncle ended up driving us back to the hotel, but without the defroster on. It was a wonder the man could see the street.

Wednesday morning we ate breakfast together and then mom and I left to do some shopping, while dad waited to be picked up for golf. Arranging the whole golf thing had been quite the experience. Dr. Li had put me in contact with Mr. Wen, the man who owns the photo studio I had my pictures taken at. Mr. Wen couldn’t go golfing with dad because he had meetings that day, so he arranged for some of his friends to accompany my father. Because none of these men could speak English, Mr. Wen had assumed I would go to act as translator. I explained that it wasn’t possible because I had lessons that afternoon. So Mr. Wen tried to get Betty to rearrange her classes so she could go with my father. We made it clear that if that was going to happen, my dad was no longer interested in going. He had simply wanted to go for fun and to inconvenience anyone would not make it worth it. In the end, we won out and dad was able to go minus translator and had a great time.

Mom and I bought a couple of things uptown, I had her try siwawa for lunch, and then we headed out to the school. I finished packing everything that was left at the school and then got ready to finish up the exams with the students. This was also the last day of classes for the J3 students, so many of them would come up to me, say goodbye, then run off with their parents to go home. They had their exams that weekend, so it was like a mini-vacation for them to rest before taking them.

J2C2 didn’t have many exams left and I didn’t have anything planned for the rest of the lesson, so we went down to the basketball courts where the boys played basketball and I played a couple of games with the girls. I had some time to kill before the next lesson, so I spent some time with the teachers and prepared the raffle I would be having later. It was the same set up as I had done for the J3’s - any student who answered all the questions correctly on the exam had their name put into a cup and once I drew their name, they could come and get a prize. I finished testing the rest of J2C1 and then the raffle began.

Now here was one excited group. I explained the premise again to everyone to make sure they understood and once that was done, I started drawing names. The first boy actually got a round of applause and unlike with the J3’s, everyone stayed and paid attention to what everyone else got. There were some more coveted items that got taken fairly early, but they all had a good time. Once the raffle was over I thanked them for being such wonderful students and that I hoped one day I could meet them again, and dismissed class. My eyes watered, but I didn’t cry. Mom is my witness.

This, however, did not last. Some of the students I had been closer with lingered behind and while I has started to clean up the classroom, Liu Yichan (one of the girls I had gone home with) started to get really sad. I told her not to worry, that I was staying for dinner and it wasn’t goodbye just yet. She started to wail. I kid you not. I have never heard someone cry as hard as she started to cry (other than me) and for a moment I was absolutely shocked. Her crying set off a bunch of the other girls off so there were about half a dozen girls crying and then about ten other students just hanging around looking sad. This set me off. I pulled Liu Yichan into a hug and she just sobbed into my shirt. I then went around and hugged all the girls who were crying and although I was crying, tried to tell them that this wasn’t goodbye forever. And I promised to eat with them at dinner. I got the first group to go and then maybe five minutes later another group showed up - no crying in this group, but some definitely watery eyes.

Dinner was fried rice, as is all Wednesday nights at the school cafeteria. I wasn’t too hungry and most of the students were silent. I went back to my room, gathered my things, and then went to leave the school. But first, I had to stop at my classroom. After I made sure I had everything, some students came into the room and asked if they could walk me to the main gate. They also had spent the last half hour scouring the clovers to find me four 4 leaf clovers and one 5 leaf clover to wish me good luck on my journey home. As I started to make my way to the gate, I had maybe 10 students walking me. The closer I got, the more students there were. When I turned around as I was leaving to wave goodbye there were about 30 students just standing there watching me go. It was a very touching goodbye and I’ll miss them all dearly.

The next morning we got up early and were picked up by the school’s driver, Betty, Sunshine, Ms. Wang, Ms. Feng, and Ms. Han. Because the J3’s were done with classes, some of these teachers no longer had a school year. Betty doesn’t teach on Thursdays and she pulled Sunshine out of school for the day. We had two planned destinations: Huangguoshu Waterfall and the Dragon Palace. As is expected, this did not exactly go according to plan. We got to the main gate from the waterfall only to find out that we couldn’t buy tickets there. We had to go back to a new ticket center to buy the tickets. Once there we found out that we couldn’t just buy a ticket to the waterfall separately. We had to buy tickets for the waterfall and two other attractions in the area. If we wanted to just go to the waterfall, we’d have to buy the group ticket anyway. So there really was no choice, we had to buy the expensive 3 park ticket. Now the Chinese don’t want to see their money go to waste, so we ended up going to all three parks.

The first park is new in the area. There’s a good sized waterfall and a path that leads to it, but other than that, not much to offer aside from all the peacocks walking around. I actually saw my first albino peacock, which was very beautiful. But really, not worth going to and I don’t remember the name of it.

with teachers
Here's a picture of me with the teachers who joined us on this day trip. From left to right, it's Ms. Feng, Ms. Han, Betty, me, and Ms. Wang.

Second park was the Huangguoshu Waterfall. My parents were intrigued by the bonsai tree and rock garden on the way there. Let me add, that the bonsai trees are people sized and almost every one of them is different. Once we reached the actual waterfall, the water level was high but not high enough to make it overly dangerous. It was Sunshine’s first time to the waterfall and because of the water spray, Betty ended up getting her one of those cheap one time use ponchos. And due to the wind she’d sometimes blow up like a balloon. The park wasn’t very crowded, which was refreshing. We were able to walk through rather quick without delay.

Here's mom and dad with Huangguoshu Waterfall.

After the waterfall, we stopped to eat lunch. Mr. Zhang picked out of the place and ordered while we were in the park, so everything was basically ready once we got there. After a filling meal, we headed on to our next destination which was Tianxing Bridge Park. This is the park with the stepping stones, the stone forest, and waterfalls. Very awesome park, but I originally had no intention of going there simply because of all the walking it required. Well, due to the fact that there weren’t many people in the park, we were able to go through it rather “quickly” - around 2 hours.

From this area it’s about a 2 hour drive back to Guiyang which means we’d get back around 6. However, we still hadn’t visited the Dragon Palace - which is a very, very large cave group. I had actually never been there which is why it was a destination to begin with, so because everyone was tired I said we could skip it. Then Sunshine got upset that we weren’t going and then the driver said that I should visit it at least once. So off we went to the caves. We only wanted to do the boat part to go through the caves, so it ended up being cheaper than the whole ticket. I must admit, the cave was one of the larges I’ve ever seen and they were very beautiful. In fact, when we were exiting a woman sharing our boat had a flashlight and she pointed it to the ceiling and we still couldn’t see the top. In hindsight, I wish I would have stuck with my first decision to go back to Guiyang, but it was still interesting.

Here's Sunshine in the Dragon Palace. She was quite the trooper making it through the entire day without real incident.

The original plan had been to have a formal goodbye dinner from the administration of the school to thank me for being their teacher. With our late arrival back into town, the original restaurant was no longer an option. So we ate at a place near our hotel that had hotpot along with other dishes to eat. Bill (one of the former foreign teachers from my school) ended up joining us for the meal and then the administration dropped by as well, including Mr. Huang and Zhang Wei. Really, it was a fun dinner. And afterwards, even though the hotel was an intersection away, they insisted on driving us back.

In the morning, before our hotel took us to the airport, Mr. Wu (the headmaster) and Betty came to our hotel to see us off and Mr. Wu gave us a thank you present. After chatting for a while, we got into the van to the airport where I was able to get the airline to waive the one checked bag limit. We arrived into Beijing with no trouble and were picked up and dropped off at our new hotel.

June 27th, 2007

With My Parents in Guiyang

I woke up Saturday morning, finished packing, and doing things around the room, and waited for the driver to pick me up. In the meantime, I received an email from my brother Jeff stating that my parents had a 2 hour delay in Newark and more than likely wouldn’t make their connecting flight to Guiyang. I made some phone calls only to find out that there was nothing I could do on my end. I made it to the hotel, had a little issue with the room (apparently the rooms aren’t “equipped” for 3 people - so I had to have them add a bed or get a second room…so we got a third bed). I settled into the room and called Yvonne. We had plans to eat dinner together and I told her about my parents’ situation, so she told me to come over and she’d help me figure it out.

Once I arrived we started making phone calls and basically it ended in the same place I had earlier: nowhere. It was at that time my dad called to say that they had in fact missed their original flight, but got a seat on the next one which would arrive at ten or so that night. I ate dinner with her family and then Yvonne’s father took us to the airport to pick up my very tired parents. I have to admit, it was absolutely fabulous to be able to see them again after so long. We got back to the hotel and after catching up a little bit, we settled in for the night.

The next morning we got up early and after eating a breakfast at the hotel, were picked up by Ms. Zhang, Jerry, and Mr. He (the driver). After introductions, we headed out to Hong Feng Lake. Now, if anyone remembers this is a place that the PE couple took me back in December, but the weather was not so great, so we didn’t spend much time there. This time the weather was a little overcast, but not terrible. We first went to the main entrance to inquire about tickets. Now, the main entrance is not very close to where I had wanted to take my parents - the Miao and Dong village. So we had to get back into the car and head to the correct entrance.

The women at the Miao village welcoming us in.

Ms. Zhang took us to into the Miao village first where we were welcomed by about 6 girls. They put heart necklaces around dad and Jerry and touched Ms. Zhang’s, mom’s, and my hair to welcome us to the village. There was a little tour and then they wanted us to partake in a wedding game with either Jerry or dad as the mock groom. We declined and then they kind of disappeared. After exploring the village a little longer, we headed back to where boats would take us to the Dong village on one of the many islands. She insisted to the boat driver to go slow, but it was like he was in a race against himself.

Once we got off the boat we walked through an area where there were a number of different merchants selling all sorts of souvenirs, we saw something I haven’t seen before. This man and woman were sitting under a tree with a table between them. I walked past them to take a picture of the Dong style bridge and out of the corner of my eye, saw Ms. Zhang scurry away in the other direction. Once I turned around, I saw what she ran from - on the table had been a blanket under which was a python you could pose and take pictures with. We all declined, of course and hurried away.

The three of us with the Dong bridge.

There are two things that make a Dong village stand out. One is the bridge and the other is the drum tower. They were a little run down and not very well taken care of, but these weren’t really authentic villages - Miao or Dong. I had wanted to take mom and dad to see Kaili where the villages ARE authentic, but it was difficult to arrange a car that would take us that far and knew where the different villages were. Oh well, we made due with what we had.

Ms. Zhang has a friend who ran a restaurant in town, so that was our next stop and my parents were able to enjoy their first real Chinese meal in China. They admitted after the fact that they were a little concerned with the décor, but the food ended up being delicious. Once we got back into town, we returned to the hotel but it was still rather early in the day. So dad asked me to show them the major sights in town.

Now, this is fairly limited. So I took them to Hebin Park and we walked around there for a while. Hebin Park is very close to the center of town and while there isn’t much to see inside, it provides cleaner air and a nice space to walk. There are many paths and once we had made our way around for a while, I took them to the People’s Square which is right across the street from the park. I had bought fruit the night before and needed to get a knife, so we ventured into the underground Walmart and they were able to see how chaotic it was on a weekend. As always, it managed to be really warm inside. Once outside again, we walked to Jia Xiu Tower, which happens to be the landmark of the city.

with tower
Here’s mom and dad with the tower.

After exploring the tower, we headed back to the hotel and waited to hear from Helen who was going to take us out to dinner. I wanted my parents to try hotpot and Helen had mentioned that there was a nice place to try out near our hotel. Mom, at this point, was still having issues managing her chopsticks so for the most part I just helped serving her and dad when he was having trouble. The meal was very nice and laid back, and after we had our fill, we bid Helen goodnight and went back to the hotel to rest.

Me, Helen, and mom around the hotpot table. My father was more into the spicy than my mother was, but both of them were more than willing to experiment.

Monday morning I have class, so we had to make the trip all the way out to Bagongli. The trip was going fairly well until we were getting close to the school where we got stuck in by far the worst traffic jam I have ever experienced. We ended up having to get out of the cab and walking the rest of the way. My parents were then able to see the drastic difference between the area surrounding the school and that of the school inside. The school is very “isolated” from the suburbs around it. I took them first to my bedroom and then had them help me prepare the classroom.

Because this was my last week at the school it was the time I was giving my exam. Last semester I always had a teacher sit in the classroom with the students not currently testing, but this time I had both my parents with me. I first had them go around the room and have the students introduce themselves to them and then the girls sat with my mother, the boys with my father, and they could ask questions and practice their conversation skills. Afterwards they told me what a handful the kids were, but they were able to reinforce some things I had trouble putting into words before. J2C2 doesn’t speak English as well as J2C1, but they’re much more friendly. Not to mention, J2C1 is very cliquey. Some of the boys in J2C2 actually arm wrestled my dad - they came out to me and said “Katie, your father is so strong!” It made me wonder, but I had to wait to ask later. Anyway, the students seemed to really enjoy being able to meet my parents and speak with them.

Dad playing basketball with some of the boys.

We ate lunch at campus and then Huang Chao from J2C1 approached my father and asked if he would be willing to play basketball with the boys for a while. It proved entertaining to watch and the boys really enjoyed being able to play with him. I then showed my mom and dad around the school and we gathered a bunch of my things up and headed back into town. The afternoon we spent at Qian Ling Park.

I took them to the top of the mountain by the cableway and then to the pavilion at the very top of the mountain overlooking the city. The day was a bit overcast so we weren’t able to see the whole skyline, but it was still a nice view for them. Next stop was the temple. I pointed out all the basics I could think of and once we finished exploring, we headed down to the lake by the road path which had plenty of monkeys running around. Now, some of you might remember the signs that had been around the park with the terrible English translations. I’m assuming enough people who spoke English complained to someone and all the signs have been changed, so I’m very glad I took pictures of the signs when I did. I am also glad the signs have changed because although they were amusing, it wasn’t good to the park’s image. However, one sign managed to have one tiny mistake in it which read: “The consequence of taking earth randomly is desert everywhore.” Oh, how one little letter can make a difference.

coin game
Here’s my mother and father in Qian Ling Park playing the coin game. In the water are a number of containers that you try to drop coins you buy from the temple into. It’s really a lot of fun. My father and I tied, 7 to 7.

That evening we met up with Betty, Sunshine, and Jack for dinner at an ethnic restaurant on the same street as our hotel that specialized in Miao and Dong foods. The dinner was very pleasant and Sunshine was as charming as ever. I asked her if she’d be willing to dance for my parents, so she broke into a routine in the restaurant. Once we were finished eating, Jack dropped us off uptown so I could show my parents the night market. In case anyone forgot, the night market in Guiyang is where merchants set up booths all along the streets at night selling an array of things from DVDs and electronics, to pillows and t-shirts. It’s crowded and interesting to walk through at least once, even if you aren’t buying anything. These past few weeks I’ve heard rumors that the city is actually trying to shut it down because they think it makes the streets too crowded and that it gives a bad image to the city. However, Guiyang is actually known for its night market. So I guess time will tell.

Well, I believe that is where I will stop for now. More to come soon! Take care till next time.

June 9th, 2007

My Last Week Teaching

So my last normal week of school was spent finishing up lessons, reassuring students that it was still one week until I left, teaching them how to write to their pen pals on their own, and "finalizing" an itinerary for my parents' visit. I thought I was going to be super sad to finish teaching, but I think that with my parents coming, I'm just so excited about their arrival that the sadness about leaving the kids hasn't fully sunk in. I'm sure it will next week. I did have a moment with one of my favorite students. She was asking me when I was leaving and almost started to cry - which means she'll cry next week, meaning I'll end up crying, too. Anyone who knows me knows that my tear ducts always manage to be put to good use.

Teaching the students how to address an envelope to their pen pals was hilarious. They were asking what every single dot and number meant, but the only thing I had trouble explaining was the zip code. I actually had to draw a diagram on the blackboard after class and explain where everything goes. Most of them don't send letters so this is a completely new experience for them. For some reason, some of the pen pal letters were missing and/or their American friend forgot their return address. Yikes. So I have 4 students who I need to find new pen pals for once I get home, but I'll won't worry about it till then. 3 girls and 1 boy, so if anyone reading this wants a Chinese pen pal, let me know.

Monday night for dinner me and Ms. Xiao went to eat our traditional bowl of noodles. I forgot to bring my camera so I didn't get a picture of them. But I guess I have enough pictures of other things, right? Tuesday night a bunch of the teachers and I got together to make dinner together at the PE couple's room. They play cards, I wander around and watch TV, then we all eat together.

Here's Ms. Zhao, Ms. Xiao, me, Betty, Ms. Yang, and Ms. Wu eating together. If you look at the dish directly in front of Ms. Wu you'll find actual green chilli peppers. Cooked in hot oil. Call me a pansy, but it's one dish I can't handle. It's like fire in my mouth.

Wednesday afternoon a photographer came to school to take the group graduation pictures. There are two classes that are graduating in a week J3C1 and J3C2. So they took pictures as a class with all their teachers in them and then took a big group picture with their two class mothers - Ms. Dai on the far left and Ms. Wang on the far right. These kids are a riot and I hope that I can meet some of them again someday. We'll see though. And one thing I have a lot of trouble getting used to is that they don't like to smile for these kinds of pictures. They actually asked me not to smile for the ones I was in, which was hard for me.

Group shot. I love how a few of them are looking at something behind where I'm taking the picture. I'm guessing this is when the headmaster and Ms. Zhang were having a heated discussion about recruitment efforts. Apparently the most recent trip was not as successful as the school would have wanted it. I could go through the trouble of naming everyone, but I won't do that except for 2 students who are pen pals with Tess and one of her friends. Tess, your pen pal is sitting in the first row 4 in from the left with the "gdc" on her shirt - Fang Yuli. The friend who's pen pal is Kate (Yang Wanling) is in the second row, the 6 th in from the left with the dark blue shirt.

Thursday I was busy with packing, organizing things, preparing the students' exam, and making sure all arrangements were still good to go. One thing that China has taught me is that anything is subject to change. In fact, I had sent my parents a tentative schedule of their time while they're here in Guiyang with a disclaimer that it might switch. Shock, less than 24 hours after sending out the email it changed. Hey, I tried.

In the middle of all this students and teachers have been giving me going away presents. One student got me this fairly large stuffed animal, teachers have been getting me box sets of tea, purses, and so on. Of course, none of these are small. I'm thinking I'll need to make another trip to the post office despite my parents brining empty suitcases. For a moment or so there I was sure there wouldn't be a problem. Now, not so much.

Friday I slept in a little, then started handing out letters that I had written to all the teachers. Most of them were really worried about whether I had written to them in English - and then they were relieved when they saw that I had written to them in Chinese. I think these letters were actually more challenging for me than writing to all of my students - which by the way, I have already finished writing my replies. The letters from the lower grade were overall shorter, but just as touching. After eating lunch I finished up some repacking in my room. The original plan had been for me to stay the night at Betty's after treating all the teachers to dinner. However, her mother-in-law called the night before and said she was coming to Guiyang to see a doctor and needed somewhere to stay. Thus, I was asked if I would like to go back to the school.

We left the school around 2:30 - and when I say we, I mean 13 teachers and Mr. Zhang (the school driver) all crammed into his van. We got to the restaurant where some people started to play cards and me with some other teachers played mahjong. As always, I bowed out earlier than everyone else because there is only so long I can play and still be entertained. I managed to walk away a winner though, which doesn't happen to often when I play Ms. Feng. Other people started to show and when dinner was served there were 21 people in all, so we had to have two tables. We had a private room and after a while it got fairly rowdy. Especially when Mr. Huang didn't approve of the alcohol I had Mr. Liu bring - he actually went out to his car and brought up a couple bottles of the really good stuff. And from there, the noise in the room escalated. Actually the amount of noise in a party in China relates directly to how much fun everyone has. They feel the noisier, the more the host will know they're holding a good party. Zhang Wei (a woman I stayed with one weekend) and Mr. Huang love to banter, so they were competing with each other to see who could get their table louder. Then they started taking different people around the room to toast everyone. Zhang Wei actually made Jerry go around and tell all of his teachers how he would improve his studies in their class. Poor Jerry, his mother's friends in Guiyang are his teachers.

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After a while, many people started to run out of steam and a large group left early. We had to wait for the main car to take us back to the school. Once the bill was settled (about $120 US for the food and the drinks we bought beforehand - pull that off in the States for 21 well-fed people), we all climbed back into Mr. Zhang's car and he drove us all the way out here again. As we made our way I couldn't help but realize it was probably my last nighttime ride to Fuxing for possibly a long time. When I first arrived back in September my first ride to the school was at night and I have to admit, the area around the school is rather scary at night. I actually cried myself to sleep that first night. It's amazing to see how long ago that feels and at the same time, how fast these past few months have gone by.

My parents will arrive tomorrow night and I can hardly wait. I'm thinking about making them write a paragraph in the journal to tell you all about their impressions of China. My next update might not be until I get to Beijing. I also will probably not be as responsive to emails while they are here. Take care until next time!

June 5th, 2007

A Weekend of Goodbyes

This past week has been rather fast paced. I've been getting things organized for when my parents are here and making sure I'm going to be able to fit in all my goodbyes. Then Yvonne sent me a message to let me know she was going to be in town this weekend. On top of all this I've been writing goodbye letters to all the teachers I've become close with - which means many of them have to be in Chinese. Ms. Xiao has been helping me a lot in that department, so slowly everything is getting done.

Monday I had classes as usual, but the younger students are slowly coming to the realization that I'm leaving soon. Many of them have come up to me (one even in the middle of a lesson) to ask if I was leaving them. I do plan to have these students write letters to me as well, and I've already prepared my basic letter on the computer and printed it out. I'll just add more to some of them. Let's just say that Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday my hand is going to be sore because I want to finish writing them before my parents come Saturday evening.

Tuesday afternoon Luo Hong came to the school to see me one last time. Now, as much as I enjoy the school here, it really doesn't have that much to offer when entertaining guests. I gave her a tour of the campus and then took her to my room and showed her a few things. After that, because it was the middle of the afternoon, all there really was to do was chat. So after talking for a little while I walked her to the gate and we said our goodbyes. The rest of the afternoon I worked on finishing a couple of projects like the letters and taking care of preparing for the rest of my lessons.

On Wednesday I tried to do as little as possible. Why? Because this was how my weekend schedule looked: Thursday day trip with Ruina and Lily then dinner with them and possibly John. Friday afternoon with Helen and the evening with Yvonne and her family. Saturday all day with Summer's mom Dede. Sunday lunch with some teachers. So, I tried to conserve energy because I knew how crazy the weekend would be.

Thursday afternoon I met up with Ruina at 4 at the main gate to Hebin Park in town. Lily came and picked us up to take us a place called Jin Long Gu - or the Golden Dragon Canyon. It's actually quite near the place that I went on the day trip with J3C1 a couple of weeks ago. The road was a little windy and unpaved to get there, but we made it in one piece. The park itself was fairly deserted. I think we were the only people there. Basically there was a path that led along a valley with a river running between it. Very nice, but the water was terribly polluted, which is a shame. We explored for a while and then the air got more and more humid, so we all knew it was going to rain and rain hard. Ruina's feet were getting sore, so we headed back to the parking lot.

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After we explored the village, we made the trip back into town to meet up with John for dinner. We stopped for a moment or so along the way by a herd of water buffalo. China always keeps you on your toes. The first restaurant was crowded and had a line, so we switched gears and went to a steak restaurant. It was at this point that the photo place I had gone to on Sunday decided to deliver my photos, so they came to the restaurant. At this point its pouring down rain outside, but we're eating and enjoying each other's company. It was honestly the first time I've seen John in about 5 months. He's been so busy with work and his home life. About half way through the meal the power went out. Complete darkness. (Of course, this is when I dropped my fork, too.) But the serving staff were prepared with candles. Once they were all placed on tables and I got a new fork, we continued the rest of the meal by candlelight. When we paid, John joked with the server that we should get a discount for it being so dark. I said my goodbyes to Ruina, then Lily and John took me back out to the school.

The next day was June 1st, "International Children's Day." Now, I have no clue if this is in fact international, but kids in China have this day off from school. So that meant that Sunshine and all the other teachers' children were running around the school when I got up in the morning. I waited for Helen to call me and when she did, I headed into town to meet up with her. Kids were everywhere, most of them with new toys and they were swinging them around - I got whacked a couple of times. It was a little too much for me to handle. Anyway, Helen took me to a milk tea place and we sat around talking. After we were finished we took a walk around town then we parted ways and I headed to Yvonne's home.

I swear, Yvonne's mom is the cutest thing ever. I arrived and while Yvonne was showing me pictures from her 3 week trip to the States (she wrote a paper and was asked to attend a conference in Florida to present it), her mom kept shuffling in and giving me different things to eat or showing me different things she had recently bought. Yvonne really enjoyed her time in the States and now she's considering applying to different schools to get her PHD. We had a very pleasant evening eating and catching up. Her father had some work to do, so her cousin was actually the person to drive me back to the school. He chose the wrong road - there are a couple of different routes to go and one is about 15 minutes longer than all the others. This was the one he chose and I kept trying to tell him that the road was bad and it was shorter to turn around and go a different way. He kept saying he lives in Guiyang so he knows the way. Once we finally got to the school he basically asked me the faster way. Made me laugh.

The next morning Summer's uncle picked me up and took me to the restaurant. Dede had a going away party planned for me and invited a bunch of foreigners to come. I didn't see the logic in inviting a bunch of people for me to meet right before I went home, but there you have it. Three foreigners came, all from the States, and they were all very nice. Andy, Kara, and Susie are all teachers at universities in the city. It was their first full day to spend with Dede, so it was interesting to see that I am not the only person who finds her a little wearing after a while. First we all made jiaozi (dumplings) and got acquainted with each other. After finishing those up, cooking them, then eating them, Dede took us upstairs for a party. She organized many different games that the children were much more interested in, so it was fun to watch them play. Andy, Kara, and I ended up playing Chinese checkers for a while.

Afterwards I told Dede it would be a good idea to climb the mountain behind the restaurant. Turns out this was a better idea that I had thought. The last time I had climbed the mountain there was an activity center under construction. Well, it's completely finished. So we were able to play basketball, ping pong, badminton, and so on. Andy and I had a fun game of intense ping pong with a ball that was dented on one side. So for the most part it bounced like normal, but every once in a while it was bounce weird. Made the game interesting.

ping pong
Here's me playing ping pong with the restaurant's cook. He's really into the game and he's very good at it. It we would have been playing a real game, he would have annihilated me.

Here's Susie, me, two of Dede's friends, Kara, and Andy. Andy and I made our game even more challenging by holding the cups of scalding hot tea in them. But we only made them half full to avoid full on burns.

We took a little walk around the compound then headed back down to the room where we had had the party. I mentioned casually that the other rooms had mahjong tables. Kara mentioned that she had always wanted to learn, so I offered to teach her. So the four of us went into one of the private rooms and I taught them how to play. Apparently Andy had tried to learn before, but it was from someone who is Chinese. I don't know if this is a national trait, or just with the people who teach mahjong, but they get so impatient with the person learning and say "oh, just play this tile." It was funny because Dede tried to help me teach, but she couldn't handle how slow we were going and had to leave the room! We played a couple open hands, then tried a couple of closed. They all got it - which gives me hope about teaching some of my family members how to play. After a few games it was time to eat.

Here's my ping pong partner roasting the fish that the restaurant is well known for. The cut the fish down the stomach and just roast him/her over the flame all the while dousing it with different spices. Completely delicious and I know I'll miss it. I'm hoping my dad and I can make a version of this when we go home. Betty wrote me a couple of recipes that I'm hoping we'll be able to pull off. Granted, she wrote these in Chinese and I had an interesting time translating them.

After a most delicious dinner, we finished a few rounds of mahjong and then each headed our separate ways. Sunday I didn't really have any plans other than eating lunch with Ms. Zhao. I also had my first try at packing, basically to give me an idea of how screwed I was going to be. The answer? VERY. If my parents weren't coming with empty luggage I don't know what I would have done.

Well, I'll let you know how my last "normal" week at the school goes! Until next time!
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