Friday, March 30

three things

Three bad things that have happened to me today:
1. I am pretty sure I got on the bus today and gave the lady a 10 kuai bill and then she didn't give my my 9 kuai in change. I say pretty sure because I usually just hand over a 1 kuai bill so I'm not in the habit of getting change. I realized when I opened my wallet later that that was probably what happened. This happened to me one other time when I gave a 20 but the lady was honest enough to tap me on the back to give me my change.

2. I bought some rolls at the bakery and when I got home, took a few big bites out of one for lunch, then realized that there were little mold pockets all over them. Yuck. This also happened to me once when I bought a stick of frozen candied strawberries on a stick one night on the way home, ate almost the whole thing before I got to my apartment, then turned on the light and realized there was mold on the strawberries underneath the candied sugar.

3. As I was crossing the street from the bus stop to my apartment, I got sprayed in the face with dirty street water from a car.

Well, it's only 1:45 in the afternoon, so I'm sure the day will look up from here on out. It snowed this morning! A dense, wet snow that was a beautiful surprise. It just turned into slush on the ground, but we have to enjoy it because it's probably our last snow of the season!

***I don't usually have such a series of unfortunate events, but yesterday I had a few more to tack on at the end of the day. I was heading out the door to a friend's house for a "wine and cheese" party. I didn't want to give up my precious cheese, so I bought a bottle of Chinese wine to take. I had it in my shoulder bag and as I was walking out the door, I remembered that I needed to get one other thing. Since I don't usually carry glass bottles in my bag, I tossed it lightly on the floor. It broke, of course. I had to clean out the glass shards and the wine, but most importantly, I lost the wine. I decided this was my clue to not be stingy with my cheese, so I took some white cheddar that I bought in Harbin over the break. It turned out that mine was the only cheese there and it was appreciated.

Thursday, March 29

a Thursday

Today started with multiple hits of the snooze button before it was time to get serious, get up and get ready for Chinese from 8-10 (at my apartment, thankfully). Actually, it's English-Chinese exchange. I sat through most of the hour of English thinking how this is a bad idea and I need to swap this tutor for someone who I'll just pay to teach me instead. But, the Chinese hour made me change my mind, at least for another week. I'm probably in this relationship for a reason.

Then, I did two loads of laundry and chatted with my sister before taking off to run a few errands before class. I took some sweaters to get fixed, scarves to be cleaned, got copies of my apartment keys made for my new roommate, and picked up bread, peanut butter and jelly for my class. My sister had talked about burgers and mac and cheese which reminded me that I've been hungry for American food, so I got a burger and fries to go at burger place that's a sad knock off of a Korean chain. I had actually never ordered food there before and when I sat down in my office to eat it, I realized why nobody I know really goes there. It was okay, but not exactly what you could classify as good. In conversation class, we talked about recipes, food words and giving directions while making small pb&j sandwiches. They were happy.

After class, two students I didn't know came into the office asking me to give them a test so that they could pass the class they failed last semester because they stopped going to class. I had no idea what they were talking about, but after talking it over with one of the Chinese teachers, I understood my duty. I had to give them their final oral exam without knowing what class it was for, what they learned that semester, or what their original exam looked like. Right. Makes perfect sense. They can skip out on a whole semester of class and then take an exam from a clueless teacher to make up for it. Their English was good, so they passed. Ridiculous.

I went out to dinner with a fellow teacher who's been here for only about a month. She was gung ho about trying a new place as a sort of adventure, so we went to a dumpling restaurant down the street that we'd never been to. I asked for someone who spoke Korean or for a Korean menu, but neither were available. So, the waitress and I had a fun time. She suggested a few things and I took her up on them, not knowing much more than the category of food they were under. We got two plates of dumplings, one plate of sweet and sour pork with pineapples, and a pot of tea. The pork came because she said foreigners like it and one of the dumpling dishes was recommended because it's their specialty. I think I understood more than I expected to, but there were a few times that she went off on some explanation that I had no idea about. She came back periodically to make sure we enjoyed it and told us to come back because they have many more delicious dishes we should try.

Tonight holds some Korean study and hopefully an early bedtime!

Monday, March 26

blogger block

Well, I'm back with a blog that I post just to ward off worried emails from certain relatives (except that I have emailed said relatives in the past week even though I didn't blog).

I am enjoying my culture class, but I still feel inadequate with it. I finally got the book, but it's super boring and I feel kinda sorry for making them read it, so I only assign really specific sections. I have two office hours a week that I encourage my students to come to and I've had two pairs of culture students come to two of those hours just to chat. That didn't happen so often at the uni I used to teach at, so I enjoyed it. It's gonna be hard to get to know those 47 students if they don't come by since we only see each other once a week.

My conversation students are so cute and eager. I finished interviewing them last week and realized how little they really speak and understand (especially the guys are struggling to understand in class) but they are still trying hard. I love teaching beginner conversation.

I've recently enjoyed some quality time hanging out with families. I'm so lucky to have relationships with families here that keep me from the one dimensional single life that I could get caught up in otherwise.

Hopefully I'll have a more creative and thoughtful post for you sometime soon.

Sunday, March 18

the early to bed, curious, friendly Chinese

1. I didn't go to my neighbors' house last week, so I felt like I needed to go this week for sure. I had some stuff to do downtown this afternoon, then when I got back, I made some banana bread. I knocked on their door twice and they didn't answer. I came back over, wrote a note and put the bread in a bag to hang on their door, then I knocked on the door one more time. This time, the mom answered. All the lights were off and I immediately felt embarrassed. I asked if they were sleeping and she said yes, but invited me in anyway. I refused, of course, then came back and checked two different clocks to make sure it wasn't too late. It was only 7:15! Still, I am embarrassed that I knocked three times and got her out of bed.

2. Yesterday afternoon, I got on the bus and gave the money man one yuan. He held up two fingers and started saying something. My first thought was that he was trying to get me to pay two yuan instead of one, but I soon figured out that he was telling me it was the second time I had ridden his bus. Actually, I ride that bus a lot, but it must have been the second time with him taking money. Since it took me a while to get what he was saying (and he was saying it in quite a loud voice) the whole bus was staring at me. He continued to talk to me and we had the usual dialogue. (Are you Russian? Oh...American? How long have you been here? Oh, your Chinese is good. What do you do? A teacher? What do you teach?) He said some other things that I didn't understand (which proves that they are always overly generous in their compliments of my Chinese) and the whole time I was super self conscious because the whole bus was watching our conversation and when I didn't understand, one guy at the back started saying OKAY-EE! OKAY-EE! Either as encouragement, to show off his one word English, or to make fun of me. Not sure which one. I was so happy to get off that bus.

3. I went swimming at the newest pool in Yanji (at the uni I teach at now) last week. They have a woman in the locker room who keeps the floor dry and clean and does various other tasks, but generally just sits in the locker room. She kept her eye on me the whole time I was changing (there aren't stalls) and then when I came back in to shower after swimming, she came over and started talking to the lady showering next to me, all the while looking me over. I just tried to ignore them, but then she came over to talk to me. All she wanted to know was how tall I was. She guessed and was only one centimeter off!

4. I went to a St. Patrick's day party last night at the house of some American guys (I guess with Irish roots). A few hours into the party, there was a knock at the door and an old Chinese man comes in and sits down. The guys said that he got to know them as soon as they moved in and now he looks to see when their light is on. When it is, he comes over and just chats with them in Chinese. He was pretty excited to see an apartment full of people and he repeatedly invited us over to his house (the guys said they go over at least once a week). I am glad my neighbors are friendly, but I'm glad they're not that friendly; although that would be a great way to practice Chinese!

Friday, March 16

homesick texan

Living in China has many perks. Many of my students ask me what I think about China, why I came, why I stay.... There are lots of reasons, of course, including the one big purpose for me being here. But inside that, there's the great opportunity for language learning, culture experience, the fun of figuring new things out and communicating with people, my friends here, cheap massages, opportunities to travel on breaks, teaching and building relationships with students and working with the people I teach with, and great, cheap food.

Then there's the times when you miss the people and things of home too, of course. I came across this blog recently: It's written by someone in New York, which strikes me as funny, since it's still in the States, but I guess those in New York still have some things to miss too. Anyway, the things she writes about are almost always things I identify closely with and miss too. Check it out. Good stories and good recipes.

Wednesday, March 14

a great schedule

The weather is warming up again (the highs around 35 Fahrenheit) and the moonscape like snow piles on the side of the road are shrinking with the help of the sun and people still working to chip away at them. Two pictures as a farewell to the snow:

On the windy walk up to YUST Sunday morning after the second snowstorm.

I'm loving my schedule this semester. Just 4.5 hours of teaching. The prep time for the 1.5 hour American Culture class takes more than the conversation prep, which I knew it would, but it's a fun class to teach. The book finally came in today, so I'm looking forward to getting my hands on that tomorrow and adding some structure to the semester.

I've committed to going to the gym more and it feels really good to get back into a routine there. I also bought tickets to the swimming pool on campus, which is the newest one in the city (out of only three, one of which I think is permanently closed). I haven't been yet, but I'm gonna try to go tomorrow and try out the hand paddles I bought over the summer (and haven't used yet).

Today, I met with my Korean tutor for the first time. We have planned to meet just two hours a week, but this semester I am going to get my rear in gear and do serious studying on the off days so I can really make good use of those two hours. I started tonight by reviewing what we learned today and when I finish typing this, I'm going to "preview" (do we use that verb in English in this sense?) the stuff for our Friday meeting.

I also met a girl who's a friend of one of my American culture students who wants to do language exchange in Chinese/English. She wanted to meet as often as possible, but I said two hours (one hour English, one hour Chinese) is plenty for now. We'll see what happens. We're meeting for our first study session tomorrow at 8am!

What I need to make more time for is to keep up with the students I got to know at my old university. I made a trip up last week to meet a student for lunch and it was so good to see so many of my old students.

Two unedited pics of my apartment. It's a cozy little place and I'm really enjoying it. I took these last week. In the first one, you can see the red ottoman that doubles as a coffee/pile of stuff table and my nest on the floor where I work on the computer (until I get wireless) and study or lesson plan. I'm not so much of a sit at a table or desk person, but I use the couch when I'm reading.

Saturday, March 10

week in review

We had a pretty big snowstorm, like I wrote about, last Sunday/Monday. We got about a foot and a half of snow. It was still in huge mounds on the side of the main streets and not yet melted or cleared from the back streets on Friday, but things were melting in the sun.

This was the scene from my window on either Wednesday or Thursday at the military base. They work with a wooden board that has ropes to be pulled by the guys in front while one guy stays at the back to push and steer. You can see at the top the perfectly formed banks of snow on the side of the road. After the roads and the area just around the statue were cleared, the guys set out to clear the area in front of the statue.

This morning, I felt sorry for those guys who worked so hard all week to clear it out, because it was all covered in snow again. I had plans to do a few errands and go to the gym today, but the only place I made it to was the nearby store to pick up some salad vegetables for dinner at my apartment with a friend tonight. Almost as soon as the snow finished falling the same crazy strong wind that blew all Monday and Tuesday started to blow again today. A good day to stay inside, skype with my family, finish a book and cook a friend dinner.

The 8th of March is International Womens' Day. This was my first time to really celebrate it. Our department threw us a dinner party at a hotel. These are some of the new teachers I work with in the English department.

I love my plant porch! I know you could care less, but here they are anyhow.

Thursday, March 8


I got internet this morning! I also have a home phone number to go with it. I also have a webcam, so skype me. My skype name is my email before the @ and then my year of birth. If you can't figure that out, let me know.

My only phone jack is behind the refrigerator, which is not so convenient, and I don't want to put a computer desk in my living/dining room/kitchen, so I think I'm gonna get a wireless router, because they're not too expensive. I'm also getting a roommate (!) in a few weeks, so then we can both be online at the same time.

About the roommate, I'm excited. I really love my alone time, but I think it's time for me to have a roommate again to teach me important things you learn from sharing space with someone. My place isn't so big and has about zero storage, but it does have two bedrooms. (I've gotta find a place for the sheets and coats that are stored in the second bedroom.)

Monday, March 5


It snowed gently but steadily from about 11 am yesterday until this morning. So much beautiful snow! I watched a short Korean lady get out on her porch to shovel some off and it came up past her knees. It didn't get that far on me, but it's a lot of snow!
I went out this morning to start the process of getting internet in my apartment. (I should have it in the next few days.) I was amazed again at how everybody gets out and gets to work to make the sidewalks walkable and the roads driveable. There is one or maybe two snowplows in this city, so everybody has to get out on the street and shovel. They make huge piles of snow and sometimes use blankets or buckets to cart them off somewhere else. This truck above was taking snow somewhere. And, I wanted to share a pic of my cutest little plant! I went to the plant market on Friday to restock my porch after being gone for the winter. (I left most of my plants with a friend and most of them survived, but I wanted some new color). I came home with this little guy, three aloe stalks, a lovely ivy, and another fuzzy little green thing. My porch is happy again!


Friday night when I came home, I was just ahead of a mother and son going into my building, so I unlocked the door and let them in. I heard the mom say something like “We have a foreigner living in our building?” I didn’t say anything, just smiled to myself as I walked up the stairs. When I got to my apartment, I realized they were my neighbors, so I introduced myself. They are Korean Chinese, so we spoke in Korean and they invited me into their apartment. We talked about all the normal stuff (including my age and salary) and soon the mom asked me if I had time to teach the son English so he could review for his big test in June that decides what high school he will go to. I said no at first, because I’ve trained myself to always say no to such requests, but then I asked her if she would have time to teach me Korean (or Chosun mal, the language of Korean Chinese) if I could spare some time to help her son with English. She said that the best way for me to learn more is just to come over and talk with her. She quickly said that she has plenty of time since she doesn’t work, so I should come over often. She asked how I eat and told me if I don’t have anything to eat or drink at my house that I should come over anytime. She continued to say that she hopes I will never move, but just stay in this apartment as long as possible.

So, Sunday afternoon, after a little nap, I took the few steps over to their door. The son was out at the internet room, so the mom and I chatted for a while. She told me that it was bo-rum, the first full moon after the lunar new year, so I should stay for dinner. The son came home soon and we talked in English, Korean, and a little Chinese. I think the mom told him to help me with Korean and Chinese, so he was trying to get me to read from his Chinese book. Amazingly, I knew the first three characters of the sentence, but after that I was no use at all. He expected me to be able to read Chinese characters. (This also happens sometimes with others. If I can’t understand what they say, they write it down, not realizing that’s even harder for me to understand!)

I joined the family for an early dinner. They pointed out all the things you should eat on this first full moon of the new year: dumplings, go-sa-ri (some sort of fern that’s poisonous when eaten raw, but when dried and boiled then fried, it’s ok) and perfectly formed rice balls with bean paste on the inside. We also had chicken, shrimp (which the mom peeled for me while everybody else peeled their own), an egg and vegetable dish, and weak wine. I guess this was my first time to drink with older Koreans. We toasted at first, and all drank. The mom and son turn their heads away from the dad when they drink, which I didn’t do the first time. Later on, I had another sip of wine and they all instinctively picked up their glasses to drink with me. I was embarrassed and apologized, explaining I didn’t know the custom. No problem, they said, of course. After that, I waited until somebody else drank to take another sip. They talked among themselves that I wasn’t eating enough, that it must not suit my taste, but I tried to argue, saying that in fact, I was eating a lot and enjoying it. I don’t think I convinced them, but it was very good and I was full. The mom’s sister came to visit halfway through the meal (her head covered in snow) and asked why there wasn’t any kimchi. The mom said that she didn’t think I’d like it, so she didn’t put it out. Oh no, the aunt said, all the foreigners she had ever met love kimchi! So the mom looked to me for confirmation, and I said that yes, many foreigners do learn to like kimchi. She was shocked.

For some reason, I am excited about this new relationship with my neighbors. Part of the reason I moved downtown was to interact with people outside the university, and other than my landlord, this is the first real chance.

thailand pictures

I think my problem posting the pictures was that I tried a new collage program and made some great photo collages, but when I tried to post them, blogger didn't like them. So, I tried just normal pics and it seems to be OK again. A self picture (I have been schooled in this since coming to Asia) of me and my Thai iced tea in a bag.

Two little girls in traditional dress on the way up to Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai.

Doi Suthep.
My cooking class, making our own curry paste with mortar and pestle.

I felt like my last day in Chiang Mai was a transition to come back to Asia. There was a group of Chinese friends and one Korean girl, so I got to practice my language just a little bit.