Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I am sick sick sick; I guess this is a hazard of working with small children.

One of the school admins took me to the pharmacy, where you have to go to different counters for each item and ask for it.  The pharmacists (I sure hope they are pharmacists) "prescribed" some kind of herbal stuff that smells like licorice and slippery elm for the cough, to be taken 3x a day, and an antibiotic called Arithromycin.  I also got some cough drops and Robitussin (not sure which Robitussin, as the label is in Chinese).  Apparently antibiotics are taken quite regularly by the Chinese, which brings to mind mutant superviruses...Am holding off on the antibiotic until I'm sure that it is necessary; if the coughing is just a symptom of my cold rather than a bacterial infection, then the antibiotic may do as much harm as good.

With the new class I'm up to 18 hours a week.  This coming weekend there will also be an all-school Easter party on Sunday evening, when all the teachers are exhausted from teaching all weekend.  The plus side is that I don't have to plan any lessons for it, I think I'm just there to play with the children.

Then on Monday, it will be a public school holiday, so I've been "asked" to teach make-up lessons for the three classes that were canceled Sunday before last. I really wish it didn't coincide with the Easter party the night before.

The upshot of all this is that I have to get well ASAP so I can soldier through the next weekend.  Still in my pajamas.  Back to bed...

Friday, March 26, 2010

What a day!

This morning I went to school so that one of the school staff could help me exchange some travelers checks in USD for RMB.  Our head teacher told them that they would have to take me to the main branch of the Bank of China downtown for it.  So, did they? Nooooo, we had to go to another branch first, where we filled out paperwork, waited in line, and then were told we must go to the main branch.  The admin guy wanted to take the bus, which would have been about 40 minutes each way.  At this point, thinking of all the lesson plans I still needed to work on for the weekend, I overruled him and hailed a cab.  Cabs are quite inexpensive here, so I was happy to pay for the cab ride both ways. 

We arrive at the main branch of the bank, fill out the same paperwork, which he didn't keep, then went to a window to have it processed, including photocopying my passport.  We were then given some kind of form and had to go to another part of the bank, take a number and wait.  Upon getting to that teller, we were told we must go to another teller.  Another number, another wait.  Lucky me, we get a teller who is new and seems to have no clue what a traveler's check is.  She takes my passport and the traveler's checks back into the first room and is gone for about five minutes.  Probably watching the training video on American traveler's checks.  She comes back, tells me to sign them.  Then she and several other tellers spend several minutes comparing my signatures; apparently because they don't use English cursive in China they cannot tell if it's really my signature.  At this point I am ready to cry.  Finally they decide that the signatures are acceptable and she proceeds to give me the money.  Mission accomplished. 

But wait, there's more.  When I arrived at school, the head teacher told me that I "might" get an additional class THIS AFTERNOON.  I wonder when they would have told me this, if I hadn't just happened to go to school today... sigh.

By the time we returned to school from the bank it was decided that I would be taking over the Friday afternoon level 2 class (age 5-6 or so).  Thank heaven, it was a lesson I had already prepared for this weekend!  Finally got home around noon, and worked on lessons until 3:00 when it was time to turn around and go back to school. 

I got home from school about an hour ago at 5:30, have eaten my dinner, taken out the trash, made some hot lemon-honey-ginger drink to try to soothe my cough which has returned with a vengeance, and taken the time to write this because I needed to vent.  Now it's time to settle down and work on lesson plans for the weekend, I hope that I can work at lightning speed so that I can get to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How much is this?

On the way to school I stopped at my favorite steamed bun shop where the girl likes to practice her English, and she asked if I would bring her an American dollar.  She wants to see what it looks like.  She offered to buy it, but I will just give it to her... She's been kind to me. 

I was the only one who showed up for the Chinese lesson today, so I got a 2 hour private lesson, go me!  Not only was it super helpful because it could be tailored exactly to my level, I enjoyed having the chance to get to know the teacher better.  She is one of the Chinese English teachers at the school.  We reviewed pronunciation of the phrases from prior lessons and worked on some shopping vocabulary so that I can "haggle".  How much is this?  It's too expensive!  Can you go lower?

After class, I went to my bank to see whether I could deposit some of my USD traveler's checks, but apparently even though I have an account there, the bank cannot accept USD, I have to go to the Bank of China, which is authorized to exchange currency.  At least they understood my phrase "deposit money" when I said it in Chinese.

Then I went to a restaurant which is a favorite of one of my colleagues, and they wanted to bring me her favorite foods, but I was able to practice my new phrases and ask for spicy eggplant instead.  I sure wish I could watch them prepare this dish.  At a guess, they coat the eggplant with flour and deep fry it quite hot.  The texture is lovely, just slightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.  It also had some kind of green pepper that was not as mild as a bell pepper but not hot either, and loads of cilantro stalks, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, and those medium hot small dried red peppers.  I ate only one of those, I love the flavor in the dish but the peppers themselves are too much for me.  The dish looks really beautiful, one of these days when I have my camera with me I'll photograph it.

One nice thing about going alone is that I didn't have to eat any sweet and sour pork.  All of the other foreign teachers seem to be gago over it, and it is usually much better than at home with less breading, but I'm tired of it already.  Boring to get a dish I can get at home.

On Wed and Thur evenings I have my pre-kindergarten class, those kids are really so cute.  It's a bit baffling when sometimes they suddenly decide they don't want to do something and cry, but I guess that is part of being three/four years old.  I haven't much experience with this age group until now.  I'm glad that the parents are in the classroom to take care of them, always by the end of class they are happy again.  They love to dance and sing, and at the end of the class most of them want hugs, they are so adorable. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Courtyard Party

Monday being my day off, I spent the day quietly, went to the store and that's all.  But I have something to report!  I just had a "unique China experience". 

I heard music from the courtyard earlier and looked out the window, but I had the light on, so I could dimly see only some figures and a boombox.  Assumed it was some teens hanging out and forgot about it.

But then a few minutes ago, I went into the kitchen to get some water, and it was dark so I could see clearly outside.  There are about a dozen middle aged women down in the courtyard playing music and doing line dancing!  I have no idea whether this is an impromptu party, an aerobics class, senior night, a dance class, a rehearsal for a festival...?  It may be a coincidence, as it's too dark to see really well, but most of them are wearing dark pants and red jackets.  As I was watching, the song changed and two of the women started doing some kind of ballroom dancing with each other while the others continued messing around with the line dancing. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The week in review

Sorry to go so long between posts, I was really feeling under the weather last week and spent most of the time sleeping or reading when not working.

My cold was mostly gone, but on Saturday there was a lot of dust in the air due to dust storms to the north, and so the cough is back with a bit of extra phlegm. Ugh.  It's now started raining so hopefully that will pull all the dust out of the air.

On Friday afternoon I stepped out the door of my apartment to return a textbook to my colleagues who live next door... and without thinking shut my door, locking myself out in my shorts and house slippers.  My colleagues phoned the school and let me sit in their apartment and study the textbooks while waiting for someone from school to come over with a key.  I was very thankful that someone could come over to let me in, it would have been awful if it were late at night and no one could come.

This week I had all my lesson plans finished before 10:00 pm on Friday, getting much better at this.  

Super Saturday, as one of my colleagues calls it, went well enough this week.  None of my classes was a total disaster.  I think I even made a little improvement with the group that refused to speak, although pairing up the students was a bit awkward as there was one girl who didn't seem to be willing to work with anyone, I think she is older than the others and sits alone at the back.  That is one advantage to public school teaching: the students in each class are generally all the same age and level.

In another class, I found I had loaded the wrong SmartBoard presentation on my flash drive and ended up having to use the version the Chinese teacher had brought.  That was winging it in the extreme, some things I had planned were missing, so I taught some sections of the book totally off the cuff.  Fortunately, they are my most advanced group, so I was able to stretch their talking out to fill the time. Hooray for the future tense, talking about the future is a pretty fertile topic.

This morning's classes at the university location were canceled, so I had the morning to rest a bit, it was quite welcome.  Some of the school's classes are sub-contracted at other locations.  I like teaching at the university because we have a real chalk board!  I love chalk!  The kids love chalk!  Games don't all have to be created in advance, and more than one kid can be at the board simultaneously.  It is so much more versatile.  Oh, and unlike white board pens or the smart board, chalk always works.

The one thing that is a hindrance is that the school doesn't provide any additional materials for offsite classes, such as flash cards etc., so I've been making my own and printing them at school, and have recently been warned that this is a no-no.  They can spend 20 grand each on SmartBoards for every classroom, but quibble over the cost of a few sheets run through the laser printer each week.  Frustrating.

This evening I did some salvage cooking of all the vegetables I bought last week but was too sick to be interested in cooking: carrots,  red and green bell peppers, onions and eggplant.  I started with oil, garlic, ginger in the wok, then added the onions.  Added the peppers.  Blanched the carrots and eggplant, and added them too soon to the wok, so had to cook the eggplant to mush while waiting for the peppers to cook.  I made a sauce of red miso, sugar, vinegar and chili paste and added it at the end.  The end result was pretty tasty, but I would omit the ginger next time as it overwhelmed the miso and chili flavors.

This was my second attempt with the eggplant, the Chinese variety that are shaped like bananas, not the big round kind we have at home.  The first time the eggplant took forever to cook, so this time I tried soaking it in salt water (read that somewhere) and then blanching it, but it still ended up mushy in texture.  Both times I sliced it crosswise.  I really love eggplant, and it's cheap and available here, so figuring out how to cook it properly will be an ongoing quest.

Looking forward to having Monday and Tuesday off without being sick or completely exhausted.  I have plans to go on a shopping expedition with a colleague on Monday.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Welcome Party

Last night the school held a welcome dinner for the new teachers at a local restaurant.  It was called Jinhansens Beer and Barbecue, apparently it's supposed to be German themed.  The only thing that could be considered even remotely German was the beer, which was brewed on the premises and was actually very good; they had a yellow colored one and a very dark one. We had three or four toasts before we even started on the food. 

The food was a mishmash.  There were hotpots on the table to cook thinly sliced meat and vegetables in boiling water, a style of cooking I also enjoyed in Japan very much.  There was a buffet style offering of various dishes.  And lastly, perhaps the "German" part, the barbecued meats: waiters wearing strange cowboy outfits would come round periodically with large skewers of meat and slice and serve them at the table.  Those were quite tasty, I even tried beef tongue and liked it.  Yes, I had had a few beers by that time.

In fact, I don't think I've ever drunk so much beer.  At the end of the meal, some of the others headed off to another bar to continue partying, but by that time I had had enough and so they bundled me into a cab and sent me home.  Luckily I was still lucid enough to direct the driver when he wanted to stop several blocks from my apartment.  Cabs are outrageously cheap and plentiful here, if I only knew how to say where I was going... I do know the cross streets to my apartment, so at least I can always get home.  The buses stop running at 9:30 or 10 depending on the season.

Sorry about the overexposure.  Here are the people sitting to my left.

 And to my right, a bit better pic this time.

A shot of the entire table, this includes most of our foreign teachers in Jinan (one is away on a trip).

I was feeling pretty cheerful after all those beers... probably drank at least a pitcher. 

What is it about a large group of people chanting a drunk person's name that makes one stupid enough to drink more?  Oh, and note the obligatory Asian victory symbol my colleague is putting behind my head.  Maybe she had too many beers too.

I won't be drinking that much beer again anytime soon.  I fell asleep directly but woke in the middle of the night with a terribly upset stomach full of beer gas.  Nasty blech ick yuck.

Other than the big evening, I'm trying to take it easy because I have the symptoms of the beginning of a cold, and I want it GONE. I did run the broom and sponge mop around the apartment, as the dust builds up here unbelievably fast.  Probably a mixture of pollution and all the construction and demolition that is going on everywhere here.

Here is my new wallet I bought to replace the one that was stolen. Yay Totoro!!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Second Teaching Weekend

Survived the second weekend of teaching.  9 hours on Saturday and 7 hours on Sunday.  My feet haven't hurt this much since I worked in retail.

Both the lesson preparation and the classes themselves went a bit better this week.  Only two classes felt like total bombs, and one of them was me teaching the same kids 2 hours in a row, as a make up lesson, and I'd never even taught them before, so even though I tried not to be too repetetive, the materials themselves are repetetive so by halfway into the second class it was feeling like a grind.  Thankful that was a one time situation, normally I'm just with each class 50-60 minutes.  The other tough class is a group of teenage girls who won't talk at all (huh???).  I have asked the Chinese teacher of that class to meet with me next week to brainstorm about it.

As for the "reflective method" of teaching, that is practically impossible here; after 7-9 hours in one day, it's hard to remember one class from another, let alone make notes about each one when there is barely time to get from class to class.  I feel happy just to survive each 3 hour block. 

Learning the names of the students is much more difficult in a culture where everyone has similar hair, skin and facial features.  Here in China the students like to have English names for class, so I'm usually asked to assign names to many of the students.  Often I can come up with something based on how their Chinese name sounds to my ear, but sometimes I just can't think of anything so I just pick a random name. Some of the kids have really weird names they have gotten from previous teachers or who knows where... I have one kid named "chocolate".

Thursday, March 11, 2010


First off, I would like to thank all of you who have taken the time to leave me comments, and even if I have not replied to each and every one individually, please know that I *DO* appreciate your comments, very much.  Every one is a blessing.

Going into the weekend and working on lesson plans like mad.  My pre-k class this week which meets on Wed and Thur evenings was great, the parents come to the class and I'm experimenting with ways to involve them more. The little ones are so cute.

They have added two classes and a demo to my Sunday schedule.  The other teachers say that the schedule changes are pretty much a constant thing, which isn't what I wanted to hear. I was really hoping that my schedule would eventually firm up, as I find the last minute changes stressful.  Once I'm familiar with the materials, i.e., AFTER my first term working here, it will be much easier as I won't have to come up with a lesson plan for every class I teach. 

Tomorrow first thing in the morning I go to the goverment whatsit with one of our office admins to apply for the residence permit. That is something this school is very good about, taking care of legalities for us.

Then home and 7 more lessons to plan!  I have 9 classes on Saturday and 8 on Sunday including the demo.  Don't be surprised if I'm silent until Monday...

Monday, March 8, 2010


Last night's chicken adobo turned out delicious, much better than the first time I tried it.  Here's what I did:

Chicken Adobo 

4 chicken thighs
4 potatoes, cut up in large pieces
2 onions, cut up in large pieces
8 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
3 bay leaves
1 T. black peppercorns
1c. soy sauce
1c. vinegar
enough water to cover

Adjust soy sauce and vinegar to your own taste; I like the broth quite dark.
Bring to boil and simmer about an hour.
Serve with or without the broth. I prefer it without.
In the Philippines this dish is served with rice.

(Sorry, no pic of the chicken adobo, next time I make it I'll try to remember to do so.)

Yesterday I got another of the bamboo leaf packets, this time instead of red bean paste it had some kind of fruit with a large pit and a tough skin, I suspect it may be haw berries.  Here are some pics:

And some very unfortunate packaging on a chocolate bar... look closely at the illustration on the package. Mmmmmmm... intestines.  With a name and picture like that, I had to buy it and photograph it for posterity. 

Survived it

On Sunday I was scheduled to observe other teachers' classes all day, and I enjoyed the morning's observations, it was very helpful to see what other teachers are doing with the school's materials. After lunch, however, I was informed that I would be teaching a promotional demo class in the evening, so I was given the intervening hours to put my demo together.  The demo was for pre-kindergarten kids and their parents; in these classes the parents actually sit in on the class and take part.  Two of the Chinese teachers were very helpful when I was putting together my demo and provided moral support.  I think the demo went all right, because after my part was over no one left, all the kids wanted to stay and play more games!  When I left, the Chinese teacher was still entertaining the children.  They were all under 4 years old, and cute as buttons.

Today I had a much needed day off.  Like last Monday, I determined not to do any schoolwork on this day.  I read, did some laundry and housecleaning, went to the store, and now have chicken adobo (with extra garlic) cooking on the stove.I was pleased that I was able to find the correct ingredients, as things are often packaged very differently here.  For example, many liquids are packaged in bags.  Milk, yogurt, some sauces, cheap alcohol and even fabric softener.  I have no idea how one is supposed to use them without making a mess; I guess I had better save some water bottles. So far, I have been buying milk in those little drink boxes that juice comes in back home, that have a little bendy straw to poke through the top.  Eggs come in a string bag like onions, and I'm always afraid that I'll crush them on the walk home.

I got an SD card reader and can now download the pics from my camera. I will be adding them to my older blog posts according to when I took the pics, so please have a look back.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The longest day

Stayed up until 4:45am last night finishing up lesson plans for today's 9 classes, of course every one of them is a different level so each one needs a lesson plan.  Having one teacher teach all the kids the same level would be just too easy... ?

Then out of the house at 7:00am to start my day, 9 hours of lessons in 3 hour blocks at two different school locations.  I survived, some lessons went well and some did not, and I'm really beat.  Going to shower and crash.  Goodnight all.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My First Class, Lantern Festival, and pics

Quick catch up:

Lot of snow on the ground, but mostly frozen in the morning and not mucky yet, so I went to the store to get water and some food and then read the rest of the day.  Went to bed at 7 and slept well for the first time. 

Snow about half melted, walkways more or less dry. In the afternoon I went with one of the teachers, S, to the "electronics market" which is kind of a huge building with a billion small vendors in it, mostly all selling the same things.  Bought a flash drive, a voltage converter, an SD card reader, some cheap external speakers for the laptop.  Then we had lunch at a little cafe called Jenny's which is rather expensive and caters to Westerners, with a menu of Western foods and a large list of cocktails and imported beer and wines.  The place obviously has cornered the niche, it felt *almost* like one was not in China inside.  They even played real jazz.  One of the fellows from Jenny's insisted on driving us home, so we asked if he could wait half an hour, he said yes.  Then we went to a larger supermarket (super meaning food and all kinds of other goods), where I picked up some home stuff I couldn't find, such as rugs, a bath mat, an ironing board, a mop refill and an alarm clock.  Also a pillow filled with lavender.  It was lovely to have the free ride home and not have to carry the lot on the bus.

After that I went to the apartment of teachers S and L and we spent half hour or so downloading SmartBoard lessons onto my flash drive.  Came home and spent the next hour returning calls and emails relating to school while uploading the lessons onto my computer.  All of the teachers, Chinese and foreign, bring their lessons for the SmartBoard to school on flash drives.  I think just about every computer at school is virused, as their virus protection seems to be hit or miss and not all of them are updated or scanned regularly.  S told me that the way she deals with it is to just format the flash drive every time she comes home.  (Don't know if I mentioned it before, but I came home with viruses after my demo lesson.  My antivirus program went mad with popups and beeps when I plugged the flash drive in.  Go Avira!)

Next I went with Lisa to see the Lantern Festival at Baotu Springs.  This was quite interesting, some of the decorations were beautiful and others over the top gaudy.  It was very crowded.  We met up with two of the other teachers, and then bumped into two more.  I took loads of pictures, hopefully some of them will come out all right and I'll post them on the next free day, which will be Monday. I'll be quite busy with lesson plans the next couple of days and work on Sat/Sun.

Got home late and although I was exhausted, didn't sleep much at all, spent the night tangling up the blankets restlessly and wishing I were asleep.


This morning I played with today's lesson plan a bit, read a bit, ate my last yogurt and drank the last of the juice.  Took a short nap, then headed for school with L for Mandarin lesson at 2:30.  We learned some basic pronunciation and a few phrases such as greetings and giving directions.  It was very helpful, now I can at least take a stab at the words in my prhasebook.  I wish we had the lessons more than once a week; will have to search the web for some interactive language programs, so that I can practice in between lessons with some kind of audio recording.  Some of the sounds and tones are difficult for me to reproduce and I need to hear them over and over.

Finally got my books, then spent the next hour and a half with the SmartBoard prepping my lesson.  Then finally it came, the moment I'd been fearing: my first class.  How can one be afraid of teaching kindergarten kids, you might ask... well, I've never worked with small children before.  Anything can be intimidating the first time.  The kids were equally intimidated by me; one little girl cried when I talked to her (I felt awful), but by the end of the class she seemed to be enjoying herself, and even stopped being afraid of me. Thank goodness.  It is a challenge to keep 11 kindergarten kids awake, alert, entertained and interactive for an hour in the evening when they are already tired.  Most of the kids came to give me hugs at the end of class.  They were so adorable. If all the kids are this cute then they may be enough of a reward for coming to China.

Walked home with another teacher, R, who comes from Australia.  He had all kinds of advice about teaching, as he and S have been here about a year and a half now.  Stopped by a local bakery where R bought some bread and gave me some bread and some kind of pastry with a filling neither of us could identify.  We also stopped at the Unimart, which is something between the supermarket and 7-Eleven, and since I was mostly out of food at home I picked up some juice, water, and from the crockpots on the counter, a tea-boiled egg and something mysterious wrapped in bamboo leaves.

When I got home I opened the bamboo leaf packet, which contained a kind of sweet (only slightly sweet by Western standards, but very delicious) made of sticky rice, red bean paste, and honey.  The other things I decided to save for breakfast.


Lantern Festival pictures!



Many brightly colored displays like the one below were lit up, hence made of lanterns, and were all over the Baotu Springs park.







With some of my new teaching colleagues, a really nice group of people.

The lantern below was about 3m tall and was made of tiny blue bottles, a really fantastic work of art.



A couple of really cute Chinese children I saw at the festival.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Too exhausted to post the last couple of days.  Having a hard time adjusting to China and feeling down.  Will try to catch up later.