Friday, September 29

rediscovering poetry

"Messenger" by Mary Oliver from Thirst
(again, found at The Writer's Almanac)

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast;
there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not
Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my
work,which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.

The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the
sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Thursday, September 28

a new apartment

I made a big decision yesterday. I decided to move downtown. I have been thinking about what to do next semester, and I haven't decided yet. But I have decided that I won't teach full time. So, I was talking to a friend about this on our walk from the office home Wednesday evening. She told me that a guy we know had decided not to take an apartment that he already had an agreement on. He was going to pay the deposit and then walk away, but he offered to just pay the deposit (three months rent) and then leave it for me to pay the rest if I wanted it. The rent is very reasonable, about 70 bucks a month, for a two (small) bedroom apartment with a combined living room/kitchen. It's partially furnished (TV, beds, small wardrobes, fridge, washing machine, etc.) and is pretty new. It's also pretty central, but still not far from the university I teach at now, in case I decide to teach one or two classes next semester.

So, I looked at the apartment early yesterday morning and had to make the decision before noon. I decided to just take it. I was a little nervous about making a big decision in such short time, but I feel good about it. I think it would be hard to find another apartment for that price, plus now I don't have to go apartment hunting! It also has a sort of "view" overlooking the nearby military base park. It's much better than overlooking more apartment buildings or a street.

I probably won't move in until the end of the semester, but I don't feel guilty about that because the guy who I am helping out has already paid for the first three months. I can shop for a couch, paint, get new curtains, and then move in slowly. What I am most looking forward to is actually having a kitchen, with countertops and shelves, instead of cooking on a one burner stove that's on a desk on my back porch and washing dishes in a kitchen instead of in my bathroom. And, whether I teach or not, it will help me to have a separate place so I have a school life and a home life where I can study and do other things.

We have the next week off of school! We were going to only have three days, but now we have four days. Since most students wouldn't return for the Friday classes (how crazy is it to come back to school on Friday?), we (the English conversation classes) have rescheduled those classes to meet either on a Saturday or evening of the following week. Yay! A restful week of couch shopping, getting caught up on grading, and some language study time is ahead!

Sunday, September 24

green tea and chocolate

It's Sunday evening, a time I love to save for not doing much. I try to get homework graded, lesson plans done, etc. before Sunday so I can enjoy things I don't enjoy during the week. It's good to have an evening to listen to podcasts (tonight, it's jazz, the word nerds, and They Might Be Giants) while finishing up some dishes, doing miscellaneous stuff, drinking green tea with a few precious chocolate chips snuck from the freezer (really, I should save them for baking), and reading some poetry online. Tonight, I read this (from here):

"A Morning In Autumn"
by W.S. Merwin, from Migration: New and Selected Poems.

Here late into September
I can sit with the windows
of the stone room swung open
to the plum branches still green
above the two fields bare now
fresh-plowed under the walnuts
and watch the screen of ash trees
and the river below them

and listen to the hawk's cry
over the misted valley
beyond the shoulder of woods
and to lambs in a pasture
on the slope and a chaffinch
somewhere down in the sloe hedge
and silence from the village
behind me and from the years

and can hear the light rain come
the note of each drop playing
into the stone by the sill
I come slowly to hearing
then all at once too quickly
for surprise I hear something
and think I remember it
and will know it afterward

in a few days I will be
a year older one more year
a year farther and nearer
and with no sound from there on
mute as the native country
that was never there again
now I hear walnuts falling
in the country I came to

I still have a few hours left in my evening before I'll go to bed early, so I'm gonna study some Korean and try to think about the decisions I need to make soon!

Saturday, September 23


We had our English department "MT" yesterday. MT stands for Membership Training. We don't use this in English, but it's a Korean tradition that is a little like a retreat. They can be one day or a weekend long. They're especially for freshmen to get to meet upperclassmen and teachers/professors in their major. We went to a little retreat center a little less than an hour away. You actually have to get there by boat, which was kinda fun. The buses dropped us off and then the boats took us across the lake to the site.

The day was beautiful. We're having this excellent warm fall here, which we keep expecting to end all of a sudden, but are enjoying it while it lasts. The leaves are starting to change, so the drive out was lovely. I wish I had some pictures of that, with the green golden rice fields on the brink of harvest and the hills around in a mix of greens and warm reds and oranges. I love fall. I always have, but being in a place where there are four seasons and leaves that change colors makes me love it more.

We played silly games and hung out with our students; some people took a boat ride around the lake while a few of us teachers stayed on shore and talked about the lack of romance in our lives. We talked about being set-up, possibities (admittedly very few) here in China, how many kids we (in our old age) could possibly have or want to have. After that, we played some ultimate frisbee, which is a game I will only attempt in Asia, where few people know how to play, so my uncoordinated self can throw ugly passes and nobody on my team will get mad because they are just as bad as me or worse.

Beautiful weather, time away from school, games, and conversation. Good times.

Friday, September 22

another week + decisions

This week felt a little more like it should, somehow. I was busier. The week flew by. No time for naps. Made, gave, graded two tests to three classes. Had two hours plus some (because my new tutor is talkative) of Korean tutoring. Finally met up with a student/friend who just got back from Beijing after a two month long internship. Celebrated a birthday of a friend. Made another birthday card for a new teacher in the conversation office. Went to the gym twice. Ate kimbap three times. Watched a cute Korean movie twice. Once with subtitles, once without. Interviewed a bunch of students. Taught. Made my bed every day. Swept my floor once. All the normal stuff that happens in a week.

I am trying to make some decisions, again. I am sorta fishing for advice, but don't know who could/should give it to me. I think I stayed at this school this fall because it was the easy thing to do visa-wise. I am tossing around different ideas for next semester. I could retain the status-quo and stay here. I need to study language, though, in a very concentrated way, so I am thinking about getting a student visa at the other university in town to study either Korean (preferably) or Chinese (that would kick my butt, because I'd have to learn the characters, but I'm willing). I want to stop teaching because as long as I am here teaching, I have very limited time and energy to devote to language study, so my progress is so slow. I want to keep teaching because the visa is a cinch and I am connected to the students and teachers here. If I quit teaching, I have to move, get a new visa, and sorta make a new community, even though I'd be in the same town. My community now mostly revolves around the conversation office crowd.

So, I had to go through this process last semester, too. One person (who isn't known for her soft remarks) said I'm starting to sound like a broken record. Well, I just want to make the right decision. Language is the main reason, but not the only one. I would be more available for other opportunities. Anyway, I'm not doing a good job of being eloquent in my thoughts here, but I don't feel like I really have someone who can help me make this decision. Maybe I'm not supposed to have anyone to help me make it, but I'm kinda tired of making decisions on my own.

the hole

This is what the hole looked like earlier in the week. It was already half filled by the time I took this picture on Wednesday, but they're extending it as they fill in earlier parts. So, it's not as impressive in the picture as I hoped.

Saturday, September 16

Mexican night

The teachers in the conversation department got together tonight for "Mexican" food. We had homemade tortillas, Mexican beans, rice, taco seasoned beef, homemade salsa, even cheese saved from what the summer teams brought us.... It was so good. Everybody brought one thing and we had a feast! The guy who signed up to bring lettuce brought a Chinese cabbage instead and pulled it out saying "I hope I didn't bring cabbage again. Last time I tried to buy lettuce, I ended up buying cabbage." We had a good laugh at that and confirmed that the same thing had happened again.

The funny thing about Yanji is that sometimes you can get some of the things you need/want and sometimes you can't. We have a Korean import store that sells corn tortilla chips, but they are so popular among the foreigners here that they sell out soon after they get a shipment in. I bought some last semester and kept them, actually intending to give them as a gift. I never got around to giving the gift, so I still had the chips, which turned out to be great because the import store is out of them until October. One teacher made her favorite pie (banoffy pie?) which requires sweetened condensed milk and whipped cream. She went downtown to get the one kind of whipping cream you can sometimes find, and the store was out, so she called around campus and found someone who had some powder you can mix up that is sorta like whipped cream. It was good. We are becoming masters at substituting and making from scratch. It's kinda fun.

I was at the market today to pick up some vegetables to flavor the beans with and saw this box of silkworm larvae. Many of them were still moving. A little boy picked one up (they're about as big as half of your thumb) and took it to his grandma who was nearby. They were having fun making the larvae move on command. Every time the grandma would yell a word, the thing would wiggle!

The construction I mentioned is downtown now, too. So, the inside market where we buy fruits, vegetables, and meat has been moved to the streets outside. They still had everything we needed, but we didn't find our favorite vendors. I went with a friend who was cooking the meat because she had never gone to the meat market before. We bought the beef, but then we couldn't find anyone to grind it for us. We ended up having to take it to another market a short bus ride away where they put it in their meat grinder. When the things that have become familiar change, we have to get creative, but it ends up giving us new experiences.

Friday, September 15

a large hole

I guess the second week of school was a little busy, because I just realized it's been a week since I updated. The freshmen started this week and they are so eager and cute. Teaching freshmen is really the best. Even though I don't get to teach beginners (students who have never studied English before), I get to teach elementary level freshmen. They know English from studying it in middle and high school, but are pretty excited to have a foreign teacher and learn in university. I had some funny essays this week, but I already returned them all without writing down the funny parts. Next time maybe I'll do that for you.

So, the big news here on the hill is that we are sorta trapped. They are installing new central heating to the buildings all over town and everything is torn up. (Apartment buildings are heated with their own coal furnace for each building, but now they'll be heated from one central furnace that's connected all over town.) We are used to construction being a constant here, but we aren't used to not being able to leave our campus without major planning. Last week, I went out to the bus stop in front of our school with one of the new teachers. We didn't see any buses, but we thought they'd come soon. After a few minutes, the taxi driver told us that the buses weren't coming all day. I asked why, but couldn't understand the answer. So, we take a taxi. We get to the bottom of the hill and realize that there won't be any buses up to our school for quite a while, because there is a massive hole in the road that is impassable. For a few days, taxis could get around it, but then it expanded and taxis could no longer go up the hill. Now, if you don't want to walk up the hill, you have to deal with disgruntled taxi drivers who charge more money because of the construction and because they have to drive up a curvy, unpaved, bumpy dirt road to our school. There's only one real road that comes up to the university and it's a deep ditch now.

So, we've been asking ourselves...Are they actually going to finish this before it gets too cold to work on it? (Cold weather is coming soon, and really, really cold weather is coming quickly afterwards.) The hole is just getting larger and longer, with no end in sight. Why didn't they start this in the summer, when less people needed to go back and forth from the university? (Instead, they waited until the first week of our fall semester! Brilliant!) Is this actually a conspiracy to get us to boost the Yanji economy with more money spent on taxis?

It's pretty inconvenient, but I have to remember that I'm not exactly living in a gated community or anything, where I should expect to have all the conveniences. It's just that now, we either have to plan a lot more time to go (because we have to walk 15-20 minutes to get the bus at the bottom of the hill), or we have to plan on spending a lot more money to take a taxi to where we want to go. The result is that a lot of us are staying at home, supporting our school store more, and only planning downtown trips as groups so we can split the cost of transportation. Maybe this is good for us.

Friday, September 8

summer, fall, cosmos

This is a picture of my room (looking from my bed out the back window) that I took a few days ago. I didn't edit it by removing the laundry that's drying on the line for you or anything. That's why there are a few shirts suspended in the air. Anyhow, I love my room in these last few days of summer before I have to pull out the jackets and put away the open toed shoes. I love how the sunlight streams in and warms it in the morning. I've had to shut the windows at night the past few days. I love the openness created (by necessity to get more air flow in the summer) by removing the sliding doors. Soon I'll have to put those doors back in where the curtains are and find a place to put the hanging potted plant I stole from Rachael's room after she left.

There's one teacher at our school who hates these flowers (Cosmos) because they symbolize to her the coming of cold weather. They seem to have appeared earlier this year. Even when it was still hot in August, they started coming out. Now they are out in full force. I love them. Not because they symoblize the coming of cold weather, but because they are just pretty. They don't take too well to being cut or plucked and put in a jar in your room. For some reason I like that. They don't want to be domesticated.

It's Friday, the end of our first week of school. I've already graded two sets of creative writing homework assignments and started thinking about the first unit test I have to give in a week or so. I took a nap after afternoon classes today and then fixed some Chinese dumplings (jiaozi) in my new microwave steamer (microwave courtesy of my Dad...he bought it for me while he was here this summer) for dinner. So convenient! I got some e-mails that I've been meaning to write for a long time written tonight. I mostly put them off because I wanted to write them in Korean (even though my Korean friends who receive them can speak English, I need the practice). So, that feels good.

And that's the random update from this side of the world.

Sunday, September 3

first day of school!

Today is it, but it's been rather anti-climatic because I don't have class until 3:00. I teach two classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week. Next week, the freshmen start and I add one more hour Monday through Friday. My schedule got changed a bit from what I've had experience with and what I wanted, but such is life.

The weather yesterday was pretty warm and humid, but it rained last night and today it's cool and windy. It'll be time to close the windows (aka turn off the air conditioning) soon. It kinda feels like a good start to a new semester with the change in weather.

I don't really have anything interesting to post about yet, so here are a few random things that I'm happy about.
  • cool weather
  • a new fridge, hand me down from a friend who left (bigger and doesn't freeze everything in the refrigerated section)
  • burning a good-smelling candle in my room
  • dove shampoo (makes my hair soft!), found in a friend's room after she moved
  • having access to blogs on blogspot (for some reason, they're not blocked right now!)
  • a new, less cluttered arrangement for my room (i sort of do this once or twice a semester, or whenever i get new/better furniture hand me down)
  • getting to know new teachers. i wasn't actually very excited about that at first ( i wanted the old teachers back), but they are actually pretty good people.
  • wearing a new shirt from Tibet today