Thursday, April 29, 2010

Power Outage

Today our apartment building will shut off the power from 8:30-18:30. Found out about it yesterday afternoon and stayed up late working on my SmartBoard lessons, was happy to get them complete by 10:30 pm.

The one thing I'll miss today is the hot water, since I'm sick (still? again?). I filled up my two miniature thermoses with hot water but they don't hold much.

The stove has an electric igniter and gas sensor so I expect it won't work. The kitchen faucet has a flash heater unit on the faucet assembly which is electric, and I'm not sure whether it will work with the power off. Even when running cold water it seems to turn on as I can hear its little motor.

Took some food out of the refrigerator and turned the cold to max, will try not to open it. It's a dorm size so only one opening of the door would pretty much let out all the cold. For some reason it has a freezer compartment as big as the main compartment, it's mostly empty.

More classes have been added to my schedule due to a scheduling emergency, so I will be teaching this evening at a distant school. I don't mind the extra hours, but I'm soooooo sad that this will replace my Kindergarten class as they are my favorite and I love them. I know I will be getting new kindergarten students, but I will miss them so much!

I really hope the power will be back on when I get home tonight.

And now it's time to shut the computer off before the power goes out!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Let's Draw (fixed photos)

NOTE: I have re-uploaded the pictures so that they will display correctly (I hope).

This weekend one of my lessons was on parts of the body, so I did some dictation-drawing with my students, with hilarious results. Since I had my camera and it's a small class, I took pics of the kids with their pictures.

There were not an even number of students, so the kids decided that I must be the partner for the last student!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Freak Storm

Knowing that showers were forecast for this afternoon, and seeing gathering clouds in the sky, I went to the store so that I could do my shopping before the rain hit. I stayed there about an hour (shopping takes a long time when you have to compare all the labels to your dictionary).

As I was walking home the sky was very dark, and part of the sky was a strange brown color. I got to my door and stopped to try to take a picture of the sky, but it was suddenly too dark, and then the wind picked up HARD, along with about five tons of dust! I quickly tried to get into the doorway, feeling like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I ran in, quickly shut the window to keep out the dust (thereby acquiring another eyeful of dust) and plugged in my flashlight to charge the battery.

Pic taken on the way to the store. Note that the clouds look like normal rain clouds. These big trees with lavender flowers are in blossom all over and smell incredibly sweet - are they lilacs?
Closeup of the tree's blossoms:
On the way home from the store. The sky actually looked more brown colored but it doesn't show in the photo. I'm about 500 m away from the entrance to the courtyard, on the right is the parking lot, so about 1000m from my door. This is taken in front of the door to my building. It was not THIS dark, but it was dark enough to activate the flash which made the pic look like night, but you can tell in this one the brown color of the sky. I didn't even have time to see how the pic turned out because right at this moment I was hit by the cloud of dust.

I thought I would make a fast blog entry, in case the power goes out. The wind is blowing so hard that the giant cranes at the construction site across the street are swinging in the wind. If I had known this was coming I would have bought another flashlight... I will be quite surprised if the power doesn't go out at some point tonight.

I am SO GLAD that I didn't wait a minute longer to go to the store! It's like a hurricane or something - I check not one but three different weather pages regularly, but none of them even mentioned this. The report just said "showers" - not "crazy freaky dust storm"!

I feel so lucky that I got home in time; I could have been halfway home when it hit. Even the moments it took to get in the door got a bunch of dirt in my eyes! I will be staying indoors until this blows over - actually until morning, as I have no reason to go out now.

This morning I had a disaster; I forgot to uncover the washing machine drain again, so I spent the morning mopping up the floor and then washing all the things that were on the floor. Right now my wooden platform bed is upside down waiting for the wood to dry... if the power goes out, I will have to put the bed together by flashlight.

Oh, and if that all that wasn't wonderful enough, the heavy wind is blowing the sewage stink up the drains something fierce.

On the bright side, the Chinese lessons are working! I'm starting to be able to understand and use a few words, just enough to be able to make idiotic conversation with taxi drivers and neighbors. Yay!

It goes something like this:

Chinese person: "Blablablabla"
Me: "I don't understand"
Chinese person: "Blabla America Blabla?"
Me: "Yes, me America."
Chinese person: "Blabla teacher blabla?"
Me: "Yes, me teacher."
Chinese person: "Blabla here blabla?"
Me: "Yes, me live here."

And then, since this has exhausted my meager Chinese vocabulary, we inevitably cycle back to the beginning:

Chinese person: "Blablablabla"
Me: "I don't understand"
Chinese person: "Blablablabla"
Me: "I don't understand"
Chinese person: "Oh, you don't understand, do you? Hahaha!"
Me: "Hahaha! Bye!"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The restaurant around the corner

There is a small restaurant around the corner from the main school that one of my colleagues introduced me to. It's easy to find because it has big fish tanks in the window (containing someone's dinner). I usually go there once a week, and the owner enjoys trying to talk with me about food; he has dug out all his old dictionaries from when he was in college! Between his dictionaries, my guidebook and the words I'm learning in Chinese class, we are creating our own food language together.

Most of the other foreigners seem to limit themselves to the same handful of dishes every time, but I like to try different things. Sometimes I just ask for a particular vegetable and see what comes.

Last week my colleague and I had fun trying to order a dish we had had in other restaurants, a kind of giant round flat salty omelet with scallions in it, which may or may not be called Jidan Bing. I did a google search on the name and the images were not of what we ate, but rather a fried street bread with egg brushed on it that I have seen, so I'm not sure of the name of this omelet - anyway, it's yummy. I think "dan" means egg.

Somehow this led to the owner and his wife bringing over their middle school daughter and her friend, who were apparently on lunch break from the nearby school, to try to talk with us. Next thing we know, his wife has brought us some fried bread with scallions called You Bing (there is also a pic on my "Street Food" entry showing the You Bing in front of the woman selling squid-on-a-stick), and some kind of soup which was slightly sweet and eggy and almost more like a dessert custard than a dinner soup; unfortunately I didn't get the name of it.

Yesterday I used a phrase from my guidebook to ask him to recommend something for me. He brought me a dish called Suanla Tudou Si, which is potatoes cut in very thin Julienne strips (about the thickness of spaghetti), and cooked with garlic and dried hot peppers. I had eaten this once before at a street vendor, but the restaurant's version was much tastier. Both times the potatoes were quite crisp (at home I would have thought them undercooked). This time there were BIG hunks of garlic and some strips of red and green bell peppers as well. I pushed the hot pepper bits off to the side, and it was perfect. Just about as spicy as I can still enjoy - enough to make me sniffle but not enough to make me cry, as long as I avoid eating the peppers.

Side note: My guidebook says that one of the hallmarks of this region's cuisine (Northern China/Mandarin) is that they use a lot of garlic and scallions - I love it! It also says that this is primarily a bread region rather than a rice region, which accounts for why we have to ask for rice in a restaurant. They don't bring it automatically.

He also brought me some dumplings called Jianbao, which are yeast dumplings with various fillings which are steamed and then fried quickly in a pan. One of the fillings was a tasty pork filling; the other filling was some kind of green vegetable which tasted like sardines to me and which I have encountered before, at my favorite little Baozi shop. I have no idea what it is or whether it's actually got sardines in it or is just a strange vegetable; I should find out what it's called so that I can avoid that one.

(Edited to change the links.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More Pics

Here are some more pics. I will come back and edit this entry with explanations later, now I have to get ready for work.

This first picture is taken near the school where I have given promo lessons the last three weeks. The bear hanging on the clothesline tickled my sense of whimsy. It's also the only picture I felt free to take of this very interesting neighborhood, because the locals who live there were out and about and it felt too personal to act like a tourist in such a poor area. The houses, as you can see, are extremely old. The long, low brick buildings containing several tiny apartments each are so short that I would have to duck to enter the doorways.

The school's "toilet" is an open trough shaped latrine around the back side of the building. The trough has a curb around it and one puts one foot on each side and squats, the kids all go at once at break time and so they were all squatting in a row like little ducks. I was glad that I didn't need to go. The children at the school are thrilled to have a foreign teacher visit for one class period. Since it is a regular kindergarten rather than an extracurricular school, I found the kids to be well behaved, especially considering that the classes have about 30 kids each. I had quite a good time with them.
Here is the university campus a week after the previous set of photos, the trees are really greening up nicely. By summer it should be nice and shady. Sadly, last week they also tore up several of the lawns to plant new trees a

This is the inside of one of the classrooms at the university. As you can see, the seats are not made for children. Many of the seats and desks are in a bad state of disrepair; I wish they could be replaced. I was surprised and amused to discover that kids love to be allowed to come to the chalkboard almost as much as they like to be allowed to touch the SmartBoard at the main school... why pay more?
The following pics are of my level three (most are 4th graders) class at break time. As you can see, they are quite a handful. Chinese kids don't seem to develop a sense of personal space or personal belongings until at least age 10, so in the breaks I have to keep an eye on my things, they will actually rifle through our bags looking for toys or anything that interests them and run around with them.

Cute, aren't they?

Spring and other pictures

Tomorrow some worker will come to try to fix my jury-rigged curtain rod, which broke the day I moved in. I expect that will take a great deal of time and disrupt my morning's work, and I also have promo classes tomorrow afternoon and my kindergarten class in the evening. So, I spent the evening preparing this week's flash cards for the 5 class levels I teach at the university, where there is no SmartBoard. I have school-provided images for the vocabulary for some levels; however, others require a lot of web searching to find appropriate and clear images. I've been using some of my own images rather than the school's images, as I want the meaning of the words to be very clear. I have to bring the flash card files to school on Wednesdays so that they can print them out for me, so it's a relief to have them done already.

As promised, here are some pictures. I took these about ten days ago, around and on the campus of Shandong University, where some of my classes are held.

Taken between my bus stop and the campus. One of the first trees to blossom.

Typical of this city, just a few meters away from the blossoming tree is this riverbed full of trash and sewage. The contrasts between ugliness and beauty are very sharp here, often prodding me to think about balance, opposition and humanity.

A view of the street. This is fairly typical for a main street in Jinan. The man in orange is a street sweeper; they are everywhere, sweeping the sidewalks and gutters with homemade brooms made out of everything from branches to discarded strips of plastic. Apparently they are city employees. This man didn't speak, but smiled and watched me take photos. There are few Western tourists here, so I'm more of an oddity when taking photos than when going to and from work.

Another view of the street.

On campus. The first two pictures I took just to show how the trees all over town looked up until recently (dead).

As I mentioned in a previous entry, the university campus seems to be one of the earliest places to show signs of spring. The sound of birdsong is a welcome change; I didn't even realize I hadn't heard birds here, until I finally heard some at the university as they migrated back from their winter retreat.

This is a church (Episcopalian?) on the University grounds. It's old and lovely, but even more lovely were the first pale green leaves on the trees.

Below pics are of the campus near the language building, where I teach.
Taken out the classroom window on the second floor.

Kite flying is very popular in even the smallest public park. This week there were dead kites festooning the trees, and even one stuck on the side of the church. The red lanterns and other things are helium; the corner of the university turns into a busy park on weekends for families, and in the square, where the pavilions can be seen, something is always going on - if not a public event, then it's filled with children on rollerskates. There are food and toy vendors all over the square.

The below picture was taken today; for some reason, my big plant, Calathea Makoyana, also known as Peacock Plant, has now pointed all its leaves upward. I'm happy to see it responding, rather than dying after being repotted, but I don't know what this change means. Is it happy? Maybe it wants more light? I did a Google image search and from the many pictures there, it seems that both states are normal for this plant. It was in a sort of greenhouse environment before, and now I have it set where it doesn't get any direct light, so perhaps it's just adjusting to its new home.

Here is a link to the picture I posted when I brought the plant home, for comparison:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day off... aaaaahhhhhhhhh....

The weekend's classes went fairly smoothly, despite my lingering cough. If any teachers are reading this, I could really use some vocabulary/simple sentence games for children that require minimal prep and can be played either from their seats or one team at a time in the aisle. Most of the games I know either are too advanced, too prep intensive, or need to be able to rearrange the classroom space. I wasted some time searching the internet, but 99% of the search results were not useable for the reasons above.

I'm so happy to have the day off! I woke up so tired, but by early afternoon I had enough energy to go to the store, buy two bags full of vegetables, come home and make a huge stir fry. I found some helpful websites about cooking with a wok, so it turned out better this time. The stove has two heat settings, high and inferno, so the low heat cooking I'm accustomed to isn't possible. If I try to lower the heat to what I would consider "medium", the flames usually go out after a minute or three. Fortunately for my safety, the stove is brand new, and the gas shuts off automatically if the flame goes out.

Today I tried making a breakfast cereal of polenta, oatmeal, mystery grain (I thought it was millet, but the grains are much too large), and banana in my rice cooker. It was too hot for the polenta and it stuck all over the bottom of the cooker, but I just left the scorched part and scooped off the top and it was pretty tasty.

That's what I get for buying the smallest, cheapest rice cooker, I suppose. It scorches rice if I make just enough for one meal too, so I have to always make extra. Leftover rice with some spicy pickled things on the side is good for a quick meal when I'm too tired to cook.

Speaking of leftover rice, I made a huge batch this evening and plan to try making fried rice in the wok tomorrow.

The earthquake relief is on the TV all the time; the coverage on the one English news channel is very moving. Today there was a segment about a young volunteer who was killed by falling rubble while pushing others to safety. The government is going to give him some kind of posthumous award. I was watching the story and weeping, but when I saw the footage of his body arriving in Hong Kong, I had to laugh through my tears. The Chinese honor guard that escorted the hearse had a BAGPIPER. A Chinese military squad with a bagpiper. It was just so bizarrely, delightfully incongruous.

Will try to remember to post some more pictures tomorrow.

Today I got inspired by the idea of taking the Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow at the end of my year here. Crazy? Maybe...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Heading into it

Ugh. Again this week, "stuff" happened the last several days that took up my time, so I didn't get my lesson plans done early as I would prefer. It's 11:00pm, and I can not do any more tonight.

Creating even short lessons for the promo classes took FOREVER because they are on a "3 lesson review" week and so had to go through three completely unknown files for classes I don't teach and sort them out for each class and create a new one. Then it was time to go and teach the promos; turns out I could have done a fraction of the work because the 25 minutes I had for each promo there was not nearly enough time to do all I had prepared. Sigh... Well, better over prepared than under prepared, I guess.

Got back home, created the lessons for my 4 classes that are NOT on review this week, and I'm done for the night. My other classes are on review this week, so I will just pull the previous lessons and pick the pages I want to use from them. I don't like to work on the fly like that, but since it's just review, it should be ok.

I'm just too tired to stay up any later with a 9 hour day tomorrow and a scratchy throat threatening to become a cold (nooooooooo, please not again!!!).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I went to a flower and plant market with two of my colleagues today.  Half of the building was a cut flower market, and the other half a nursery.  I got myself a tiny water fern and a large plant with green and purple leaves.  (Anyone know what these are?)  Now my apartment looks like someone lives here!  Hopefully the plants' oxygen production will also make the apartment more comfortable in the summer when it gets hot.

Street Food

The street sellers are coming out with the warmer weather.  This is part of the China I came here to see, and I find it fascinating.

As the weather gets warm there are more and more people selling things in the streets, food, socks, shoes, underpants, bathroom buckets, handbags... you name it.  If they can carry it they will sell it.

They have these kind of three wheeled bicycles and motorcycles that have a cart in the back part; they can put almost anything in this cart... even a whole restaurant in miniature.  By my bus stop in the early morning are a bunch of portable "restaurants" with the tiny tables and chairs; by noon they are gone.

I found this great little street near the university where all these people set up street food vendors. The cooking equipment is mounted on the back of carts, so at the end of the day it disappears.  I love the street food! Unlike a restaurant, I can not only see what the food is before ordering, but I can also watch them making it.  I can eat for 3RMB; that is less than a dollar.

This cold noodle dish is my favorite food so far.  There was a stack of big flat circular sheets of noodle. They take one sheet, scrunch it up, then chop it into wide strips to make noodles.  You get a bowl of vegies such as bean sprouts, julienned cucumber, and fried tofu, topped with the noodles.  Then they ladle on several different sauces.  At a guess, the sauces are vinegar, garlic, sesame, and chili oil.  Since it's a cold dish, I can enjoy it all summer.

Then you sit on the world's smallest folding stool at a miniature table, like Alice in Wonderland.  The bad thing is, eating noodles with chopsticks is messy... I got a bit on my clothes, but it was worth it.  Yum.

I also love the baked sweet potatoes, from a large metal cylindrical oven which rests on the back of a cart. 

Here is the stuff that goes into the noodles:
 And my lunch, yummmmmmm:
The view from my table to the right:
 To the left, I can see the vendor next door, selling the same thing:
 This man is making a kind of bread, formed into rolls, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and then cooked in the press by his shoulder resulting in a salad plate sized flatbread.
 This stall has some squid-on-a-stick, you can see the raw ones beyond the woman.  They also sell a pizza-sized round flatbread that has green onions and sesame seeds.  It's oily but very delicious.  It's cut up in rectangular pieces and sold by weight.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Power Outage

The power was out from the middle of the night until 11am today.  I have really got to get a flashlight and some candles!

Discovered the hot water tank has an electric switch, but fortunately I was able to take a quick shower with what was left of the hot water.

Working this afternoon and this evening and all weekend, will try to write on Monday.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Unfocused Day

I had a really difficult time focusing on work today.  To start with, in the morning I was feeling so exhausted that I ended up taking a long nap, so I got a late start on my work.  Since I am rarely able to sleep during the day, my body must have needed it; probably a delayed reaction to the heavy workload last weekend. It's worth a late start if it keeps me from getting sick again.

Got the lesson plans and talked about the upcoming promos with our head teacher, that helped relieve some of the anxiety I was having about them.  Came back to my apartment, and started some rice and dumplings steaming, as I hadn't felt like eating in the morning.  I also threw my sneakers in the washing machine.

Now, think back to my earlier entries... remember that sewage smell?  I had put bowls over all the drains to try to keep the smell out.  Well, today the inevitable finally happened... I forgot to take the cover off the washing machine drain and stick the tube in it this time.  The spin cycle went on when I was in the kitchen, so by the time I returned to the bedroom, the washroom and part of the bedroom were flooded.

I quickly shut off the machine, uncovered the drain, and grabbed the mop to start scooting water down the drain as fast as I could.  I hope that I got it quickly enough that it didn't ruin the ceiling for whoever lives downstairs.  Ended up having to move the bed to get all the water up.  More excitement than I wanted today.

After all that, finally ate my lunch and settled down to get some work done on my lesson plans.  I think I got enough done that I will still be able to stay on track for the weekend despite all the extra classes.  It looks like the promo classes will taper off gradually in the next 3 weeks, so the change in workload is not permanent.  Please wish me luck!

Monday, April 5, 2010

work work work

Survived the extra long weekend. 

Yesterday after classes I went shopping with a colleague, and we found a movie theater playing Alice in Wonderland in 3D, so we went to see that.  The movie was great, and the 3D was interesting.  My eyes got really tired, though, and the fast moving sequences were blurry, so I don't think I will ever be a great fan of 3D. 

Had a nice afternoon, then came home to an email that adds ten 30-minute promotional classes to my schedule this week.  Have been feeling extremely anxious since finding this out, as I don't have materials for some of the promo classes I'm scheduled to teach.  It also means NO full day off this week, as I will need to make lesson plans all day today because I'll be teaching on the days I usually do them.  One thing I've discovered about myself here is that I do not handle sudden change well; something to think about when looking for the next position. 

I still have a lingering cough, but am feeling physically quite a bit better. Still taking the herbal stuff to loosen the cough. 

It may be a while before I can write again.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday night

Still recovering from the bronchitis. Taught on Wednesday and Thursday evenings without much difficulty, but that's just one hour per day.  I hope I've rested enough to survive the next 3 days, as this weekend will be even more intense than usual, with the addition of the school Easter party and working on Monday.  9 hours on Saturday, 8 hours on Sunday, and 3 hours on Monday.  Then I'll come home and sleep until Tuesday night...

I pulled a muscle in my back yesterday, and now it wants to spasm.  Can't find anything resembling an ice pack here; frozen goods are not packaged the same as they are at home. The pharmacy sells these sort of giant sticky bandages infused with Tiger Balm, it helps a bit and gee, I sure smell interesting.

I got all my lessons done by 7pm tonight, I'm getting them done a bit earlier each week, which feels really good. 

Spring is coming here.  The trees have the buds of leaves and flowers on them.  I am hoping that when things leaf out, Jinan will be much more beautiful.  As a Californian, arriving here at the end of winter probably gave me the worst possible impression, with all the trees looking dead.  Will have to look for some houseplants one of these days.