Saturday, March 27, 2010 1 comments

March 26th: Sunny Friday in Spring

It seemed like a perfect fall day as I wandered slowly home across campus today.  Yes, I know, it's spring now, not fall, but it was the kind of cool, breezy, yet crisply sunny day that felt a little more like October than rainy, pale March.  I even saw a few bright leaves on the sidewalk, remnants of last year's color that had managed to cling to the trees over the winter until the new buds of spring finally forced them to loose their hold.  It was a good day to be alive. Adding to the liveliness of the day, many of the students were in good spirits and out enjoying the sun as well.  The basketball and badminton courts were crowded, and the streets and sidewalks were a constant stream of friends walking arm in arm and bicycles drifting along in no hurry.
Friday, March 26, 2010 1 comments

March 25th: The Perfect Shade of Green

I started painting my living room today!  I know, I know, I've had the paint a week now.  However, I got the paint on Thursday, and then Friday I had classes to teach all day, then Saturday I had to go grocery shopping and get other things done, then Sunday I had a meeting and then had to prepare for this week's classes, then Monday had class to teach and a women's group meeting, then Tuesday I decided to clean the house before starting a new project, then Wednesday I was ready to start! Except I couldn't get the can of paint open.  I searched my apartment for useful tools.  I needed a screwdriver, but I found nothing even similar.  A large butcher knife was the only even possible tool, and I couldn't get enough leverage with that without bending the blade.  So...I did laundry. 

Wednesday night, I went over to Tabby and Casey's house, and mentioned my dilemma.  Casey, it turns out, as a drawer of just such utensils as I needed.  He lent me a screwdriver, and also a hammer, which I almost didn't take.  However, it turned out that the hammer was exactly what was needed to pry that lid down. Goodness, they certainly didn't intend for anyone to get into it in a hurry! 

So, Thursday was the day.  I have a brush and a roller, and I started at around the doorway from the hallway, and painted the part of that wall not covered by the bookcase (I'll get around to seeing if I can move that behemoth later), the entire wall behind the TV, except a little part over the air conditioner that I can reach, and half of the wall with the door and window onto the sunroom.  It looked a little splotchy at first, but it dried perfectly.  It's perfect--exactly the color of green that I wanted! I'm one of those types whose whole mood can be affected by my surroundings; maybe it is a bit frivolous to put time and money into an apartment that I only plan to be in for a year, but I absolutely love taking a new place and making it home. Besides, this is the largest place I've ever lived in.  I had my room in my parents' house.  I had a dorm room.  I had a room at the Bible School in Florence.  I had a one-room studio apartment in Milan.  I actually have a separate bedroom and living room!  And a kitchen and a hallway and bathroom!  And a sunroom!  The last couple of weeks I've spent most of my time in the bedroom because I couldn't quite figure out to do with all the rest of this space, but I've moved my computer and all to the desk in the living room now.  It's such a novelty to have my own living room. :)  So, paint is great! I can't help but smile looking at the finished wall.

Speaking of smiling...Billy Wayne, do you remember that when I was telling you about the paint, you said I should paint a smiley face on the wall before painting over it?  Well...I did!  However, I'm not sure that was the greatest idea, because if you look at it in the right light, you can still see the face underneath...Oh, well, I'm going to hang something on the wall there, anyhow. :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010 1 comments

March 21st: Smoggy Weather and Painting Drama

Hello everyone! Sorry, I’m already slipping at keeping this updated now that classes have started and things are going on. Feel free to send me a message to keep me on my toes!

The past couple of weeks have gone just fine. The day I started teaching, March 8, was mind-numbingly cold—in the thirties, sleeting and then snowing, with a strong wind blowing. My hands were bright red just from walking across campus from class without my mittens on. When I went to dinner with some of the other teachers that night, I was chilled to the bone even with two layers and a wool coat, scarf, mittens, and hat on. However, the next day, the sun came out. Ever since, we’ve enjoyed sunny spring weather, with temperature up into the seventies this past week. Spring seemed to come overnight. This next week is supposed to be rainy again, so we could still see some cooler weather. I’m happy it’s going to rain—with so many days without rain, the pollutions and dust and pollen has fogged the air to the point where even looking across the street seems hazy. The sky is a murky shade of off-white even with the sun shining through. The rain should keep the dust down and clean the air, and hopefully all of us who have been suffering with allergies this past week will get a break.

I’ve met a lot of new people over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been to Tabby’s to spend time with some of our women friends. Last Monday, I spoke to the group about growing in our lives, and certain characteristics that we should cultivate. The talk went quite well; I talked and answered questions for a couple of the college girls afterward; they had never read that part of the book we’re studying. Over the next few weeks, some of the other women will take turns giving talks.

On Saturday, we had a women’s lunch together at Jane’s house in Shashi (pronounced Shah-sure). It was another good opportunity to spend time with new friends and get to know them better. Tabby and I did laugh, though—when we arrived, two of the little girls and one of the women were on the balcony playing—you guessed it—Settlers of Catan. I tried a few foods that I hadn’t before, including duck meat.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had quite a bit of drama about paint. I really love my new apartment; it would be quite beautiful painted. The walls now are a normal beige color, which isn’t bad, really. It’s just I’m not the type to have white or beige walls. I like color. Ideally, I’d like to paint the living room my current favorite, a bright olive green, and then a light blue-green would match the duvet cover I bought for the bedroom, and the hallways would be great in a bright golden yellow. The kitchen and bathrooms are tiles, so no painting there. The kitchen has grey cabinets and a dark blue countertop. I’ve got a couple of art-nouveau prints with dark blue and yellow in them, so all the kitchen towels and dishes and such that I’ve bought continue the blue/white/yellow theme in there. I’ve been to the apartment of Dale and Lisa, another American couple here, a couple of times, and I saw that they’d painted their apartment, so I asked Lisa about it.

I didn’t want to spend too much money or go to too much of a hassle painting an apartment that I should just be in for this year, but at the same time, I might as well enjoy while I am here. Lisa said she’d help me out finding out about paint. Her husband had done all of their painting a couple of years ago while she was still is the states visiting family (they’ve been here six years now), but he didn’t remember too much about the process. Anyhow, it started out as a seemingly simple idea. Find out how much paint costs, and can I get it in the color I want? However, things aren’t always so simple here. First of all, there are different qualities and kinds of paint, and then color costs extra, and then some shops can mix the color for you and some can’t, there’s no guarantee you’ll get exactly the color you want; and then anywhere that actually has paint chips and can actually do any specific color charge much more, and ...

Anyhow, I didn’t want it to be a hassle, but in the end it took Lisa and I three trips to figure it all out. I couldn’t do it on my own since very few of the shop owners speak any English. Lisa speaks Chinese quite well, but the last two trips, we were accompanied by a couple of Chinese guys, Derek and Jimmy, who helped do a lot of the talking, too. In the end, I did get some paint. I have a large can of the green color I wanted; that was enough of a hassle that I didn’t want to get into the hassle or expense of other colors. I’ll paint the living room first and see how much I have left, and then consider how much green I want to scatter out elsewhere. I’ll probably start on that project on Tuesday; I’ll post pictures of my apartment after that’s done. In the end, paint is pretty expensive for here, but still cheaper than what it would be in the states. Who would have thought a simple question about paint would turn out to be so much work...

Today's pictures are, top, several of us English teachers walking towards the apartment building where we all live, and, bottom, the decorative pond in front of my apartment building. 
Friday, March 19, 2010 1 comments

March 19th: Second Week of Classes...with Leprechauns

 The second week, I began class by introducing them to a holiday from the English-speaking world that they had never heard of: St. Patrick's Day!

I told them the story of Patrick and how he was taken as a slave to Ireland, and then later returned there as a missionary, becoming an important figure in Irish history in the process.  I explained how now, at least in the U.S., it seems to be more a celebration of Ireland in general, and we do many silly things to celebrate: There are parades in Dublin, New York, Seattle, and many other cities; Chicago dumps dye in the river to turn it crayon green for the occasion (see the picture below--I've never been there, but it would be a sight to see!); schoolchildren are careful to dress in green in peril of getting pinched.  I told them about leprechauns, rainbows, and the luck of the Irish.  I also told them about the shamrocks you see everywhere on Irish stuff, and how, according to legend, Patrick used the three-leafed shape of the plant to explain the trinity--that in Christianity, we understand God in three ways: the creator Father, the son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, the part of God that lives in us.  Three parts, but one leaf. I also told them about the time that Mom decided to celebrate St. Patrick's Day by putting green food coloring in our supper. Green macaroni and cheese, green corn bread, green tea, and green potato something, I remember... Dad and Hayden wouldn't eat it; it was too off-putting to eat green cheese.  However, if you don't look at it, it tastes the same--so, I managed alright.

Their journal assignment was to write a similar description of a Chinese holiday they enjoy--what does the day celebrate? A historical event, a famous person, a part of the year like harvest or the coming of spring?  What do you do to celebrate--is there a feast, special songs, particular colors, parades, presents?  Do you have any special memories of this celebration?  I'll let you know about some Chinese holidays when I take up the journals again in a couple of weeks.

In the second half of the classtime, I did a lesson on the differences between informal (e-mails, writing for entertainment, correspondance with family and friends, etc.) and formal (academic papers, essays, business correspondence) writing.  For example, in formal writing, we would write out the number 'six' in words instead of 6.  Also, we wouldn't use abbreviations or contractions: TV becomes television, don't becomes do not. We wouldn't use slang, we wouldn't use "I" and "We" but instead make it impersonal, we wouldn't begin sentences with "well", "but", or "and".  That last point is especially important for them; nearly everyone began sentences with "but" on the first journal assignment.

So far, my classes are going just fine; the students write well enough in English that we can do some interesting projects, but yet still  have enough room for improvement that there's still plenty I can teach them.  I'm beginning to see my students around campus and around town, too.  I was walking to Tabby and casey's the other day for a get-together--last Sunday, I believe--and heard someone calling my name as I turned the corner towards their apartment.  Two of my students were going, too, and in fact, have been hanging out with that crowd for some time now.  Also, I was sitting in my favorite little restaurant, across the street from the campus, the other night.  I had just ordered my food, when a student from my Friday afternoon class sitting at a table nearby recognized me and invited me to come sit with her and her friends at their table.  In a town like Jingzhou, you don't see foreigners everyday, so my students have been very friendly and I appreciate their welcome. 
Friday, March 12, 2010 1 comments

March 12th: First Week of Classes

Today was the end of my third week teaching.  I have four classes, all of them the same sophomore writing class.  Three of my classes are in building 11, which is the gray building with red trim pictured here. The classroom picture is the room I teach in on Mondays at two, but my first two classes on Friday meet in identical rooms.  On Fridays when I have three classes, I feel like I am covered in chalk dust by the time I finish.  Chalkboards scare me, but I'm trying to face them without too much trepidation...I'm just terrified of slipping and scratching a fingernail against the board.  I'm getting the shivers just writing the thought here.  It doesn't help that whenever I use a
full piece of chalk, it invariably snaps in half after a line or two.  However, the half-pieces seem to write a lot smoother in the end.  And to think...when I was four years old, I declared that I would be a teacher when I grew up, because I wanted to write on the chalkboard.  Well, I am a teacher, but now chalkboards are definitely a con instead of a pro! 

I have about thirty students in each class.  They all have chosen English names to use in their English classes and when conversing with us foreigners (who usually butcher their Chinese names). Most of them have picked pretty normal names--Kristy, May, Linda, Jenny, Anna, Peter, Jack--but some have been more creative.   I also have a Sunflower, Breeze, White, Clivia, and I can't forget Che Guevara.  Che Guevara is aware that I find his name odd, and that it isn't even English, for that matter, but he seems to think it's cute to name himself for a revolutionary.  College guys are the same anywhere, I suppose. 

The first week, I spent some time introducing myself, and each student had to introduce themselves in English, so that I could begin learning their names.  They had to tell their English name, where they are from, and something that they are good at.  My Monday class, apparently, is obsessed with badminton.  It is quite popular here--there's a group of students who play almost nightly one the sidewalk in front of my apartment building, in the circle of light under the street light.  Many of the boys are devoted to basketball; famous NBA stars are traditionally a major source for English names.  The students' favorite things to do include reading novels, playing badminton/basketball/volleyball/ping pong, eating, dancing, sleeping, and singing karaoke at the dozens of KTV (karaoke) bars that seem to be on every corner.  After we finished our introductions, they wrote their first journal entry for the class, answering why they chose to be an English major, what their goals for the semester are, and how they plan to use English in the future.  Then, I read a story about a soldier who lost his legs in the war in Iraq but then learned to ski, from the March 2010 issue of Reader's Digest.  They answered some questions about the story in their journals.  The last question was, "How would you feel/act in his situation?" 

I took up everything they wrote the first day in class, so I could get a better idea of their writing skills.  Overall, the students write fairly well; at least, they are understandable.  There are various little glitches--often things that would seem to fit the rules, but we contrary English speakers just don't say it that way.  Reading their papers was a good way to start getting to know them, too. Their responses to that last question did highlight the closeness of families here: One of the most common responses to the question about losing both legs was that while of course they would be depressed and devastated at first, they would find the courage and strength to make the best of the situation for the sake of their parents, who would be just as devastated as they would be. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010 2 comments

March 8th: THE Game

Last Saturday night, the sixth, the Pratts, Casey and Tabby Smith, and I were invited to the apartment of Ron and Evelyn McFarland on the south campus. The McFarlands have been teaching on that campus for three years now. They had fixed chili, pasta, salad, and jello for us. After we ate together, we got down to the real business of the get-together: Settlers of Catan.

It’s a rather complicated board game, involving building roads, settlements, and town at strategic points on the board, and gaining resources of wood, brick, rock, sheep, and wheat. It seems that this is the game of choice among our Friends here, and the McFarlands and Smiths took it upon themselves to prepare the Pratts and I for tournaments among the brothers and sisters. Mr. Wong claims to be addicted to it. I enjoyed the game, and I look forward to playing again.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 2 comments

March 7th: Food and Wal-Mart

When I started to tell people that I was considering moving to China, one of the first things most people asked about was the food. Do they eat cat? (no) Do they eat dog? (only in the winter; it’s considered a good food to bulk up against the cold, and they only eat certain breeds). What if you get soup with chicken feet in it? (I’ve seen them in stores, and I was warned about that, but so far I’ve never been served anything like that).

I don’t think I’ve ever eaten Chinese food in the states. My mom got food poisoning once from Chinese food, and has never had any interest in it since, so we never had it growing up. Besides, there really wasn’t much Asian food of any type in Columbia until recent years. It wasn’t until I moved to Italy that I started to appreciate Chinese food. Lewis and Tammy like it, and often ate it. One of the women in the church there, Lan, is Chinese, and sometimes I would meet her for lunch. She worked for the Chinese chamber of commerce, so she had coupons for Chinese restaurants in the Chinatown area near where she worked, so we always went for Chinese food since it was cheap with her coupons. She introduced me to several dishes, and I fell in love with sweet and sour chicken. The Chinese takeout place in the mall near where I lived made it particularly well—I would get cravings for it. Before long, the owners would recognize me and all I would have to say was “the normal.”

I heard a lot of horror stories before coming to China, but everyone agreed that the food is in general quite good. So far, it has been. Nearly everything I’ve had has been wonderful.

When you go out to eat in China, you don’t order a plate of food for yourself. Rice is served automatically, and then the group orders as many different dishes as there are people. Then, you eat family-style, eating a little of each of the dishes. For example, on Sunday for lunch I went out with Tabby and Casey. We ordered tong cu li ji (sweet and sour pork), fried eggplant, and fried lotus root, three of my favorite dishes. Instead of each eating one plate, they are all in the middle of the table and we take helpings of each. When there is a bigger group, then everyone sits around a big round table with a huge glass lazy susan in the middle. There are as many dishes as people, and you spin the lazy susan to bring around whatever you want to get a helping of. It’s a great way to be able to try many different things without being stuck with a whole plate of something you don’t like.

Some of my favorite things so far are of course the sweet and sour pork or chicken—it’s wonderful. The fried eggplant is cooked until it’s soft, and served with bell pepper and sometime garlic. I also like the carrots and pork—the carrots are shredded into long strips, and cooked until they are soft but not mushy, and have a great flavor from the pork. One that most of you have probably never tried is the lotus root; I’ve had it two or three different ways already. I don’t really know what to compare the taste to; it’s not very strong, but I like it. Feel free to comment on this post if you’ve tried it and have a good comparison.

I’ve eaten out quite a bit since I’ve been here, and will probably continue to do so. I’ve gotten hooked on the Chinese food, and I want to learn how to make some of this stuff because I already know I’ll miss it once I move on. Also, it’s so cheap to eat out here that it’s often cheaper to eat out than cook myself—the meal I mentioned earlier with Tabby and Casey only cost 20 Yuan (not quite $3).

As far as cooking for myself, I’ve been a little slow getting started. The grocery stores here stock totally different ingredients from what I’m used to; I’m still finding my way around. However, there is always meat, fruit, and vegetables. They thankfully do have bell pepper and eggplant, two of my favorites, in abundance. However, I am missing zucchini, which is nowhere to be found. Dairy products are only just now becoming easy to find; the Chinese don’t use them much. I did finally find some garlic powder. There is ketchup, but I haven’t bought any yet as I haven’t bought anything I’d want to put it on yet. However, there is no canned food at all. The bread is good, but sweeter than what we usually use, and sometimes has raisins in it. There is (thank goodness!) peanut butter, and at one of the major stores in Shashi there is pasta and some Hunt’s spaghetti sauce, which makes me very happy. I used the sauce as a base to make some great vegetable pasta sauce yesterday, with bell pepper, onion, eggplant, and garlic in it. I’ve also enjoyed some frozen dumplings that I bought at RT Mart that just have to be boiled.

Oh, and there is a Wal-mart here! Billy Wayne got a kick out of that—he says I really am a southern girl if I can move to a small city in China and find Wal-mart within three days. It does have some resemblance to the Wal-mart you’re used to, but it’s quite different. It’s in a shopping mall; I have to take the escalator to the third floor to go in. On the third floor are all the non-food items, plus the dry non-refrigerated foods (crackers, cookies, drinks, etc.). Then, you take the escalator ramp down to the second floor of the building, where there is the grocery area with all of the meat, fruit, vegetable, and refrigerated or frozen things. Part look like an American Wal-mart—the shoe section, for example, is pretty standard. However, I’ve certainly never seen a bin full of dried chicken carcasses in a Wal-mart in Tennessee. And at least that was recognizable; I’m not sure what the dried thing in the next bin had been. I surreptitiously took a few pictures the other day, I thought you’d all like to see that. I’ll post them on here if I can ever get this things to work right with the internet censoring here; if not, you can check them out on my flickr site:

I’ll try to upload pictures frequently if you want to bookmark that site.The pictures here are, from top to bottom:
1. We do have a few American brands here.  We have Chips Ahoy cookies, Skippy peanut butter, and Hunt's tomato sauce.  There are also oreos, land o' lakes butter, pringles, and, of course, Coca Cola.  Not much else, though.  There's some Spanish brand of pasta, thankfully. 
2. My favorite dish--sweet and sour pork.  Tong cu li ji in Chinese (tong tsu lee jee, with the accent on the lee).
3. What the inside of a Chinese Wal-mart look like
4. There are some differences between American and Chinese Wal-marts...dried chicken carcasses and ??? maybe catfish?? 

March 3rd: Chinese Tea and Chinese Checkers

Several of the other Americans at my university and I met up to go out for supper. Well, there was four of us American teachers, a British teacher, and one of the Russian exchange students, Oleg. We ended up going down to one of the fanciest hotels in town, just a short walk along the moat from our campus—on the ground floor is a restaurant; it was nearly empty when we arrived. They had some “western” food, but the steak and hamburgers and pizza were quite expensive, and besides we’re all still enjoying the Chinese food, so we just got rice pots. Mine was with pork and vegetables (mostly bell peppers, my favorite!), but a couple of the others tried the eel.

After we ate, a Chinese friend of Jason’s (he’s been here a semester already) came to join us. I don’t know her Chinese name, but in English she is called Spring. She took us down to the street just outside the west gate of the university where the students hang out. It was crowded with small shops, stalls selling various street food, bakeries, and KTV (karaoke) places. Roanne, the British girl, is obsessed with finding good bakeries, so we stopped at a few. Spring took us down a side street to a little tea house. Inside was quite dark; each booth had a high back, and was surrounded by a curtain of ivy vines. We squeezed into a booth, and Spring ordered us some Chinese tea—very thin, and a little bitter. We sipped tea and played Chinese checkers (yes, it’s called Chinese checkers for a reason—it’s quite popular here). It’s played just as I learned growing up, but Spring had some new rules to add that made it much more challenging and interesting.
Thursday, March 4, 2010 1 comments

March 2nd: Frustration

Good morning, world! I woke up at seven this morning with the music coming in the window—the students are back to class now. My classes don’t start until next week, but most of the other courses started yesterday. At seven each morning, the university pumps music over loudspeakers across campus to wake up the students—luckily, they are nice people and play gentle, mostly instrumental music. If it was an American university, I bet they’d have to blast Metallica at volume 10 to wake up college students. As I went to bed pretty early, the early morning music didn’t bother me and I got up then. I hope I can keep that up—however, I’ll probably revert to my night owl ways after the jet lag wears off, and then I’m sure I’ll have some not-so-nice words to say about music at seven a.m, since I only have an early class one day a week.

I spent most of the day aggravating Frank about the internet situation. The simple code that should have worked of course didn’t, and I passed several hours of frustration trying to reconfigure all sorts of things on my computer to get it to work. Come to find out, at four o’clock, that he had sent in the wrong IP address. But, enough about that, lest I fail to follow the Bible verse that says to “do all things without whining and complaining.”

March 1st: Trip to Wuhan

I rolled out of bed at five-something this morning. All of us new teachers were packed into a van at six a.m., and we set out for Wuhan, the provincial capital. The trip took nearly four hours. We had to do medical examinations for our legal paperwork here. Once we got there, we were processed quickly and didn’t have any problems—it only took about an hour and a half to do everything we had to do. Then we adjourned to the nearby KFC for lunch. Ordering in KFC might sound easy, but the overhead menu is of course written mostly in Chinese symbols. The easiest thing is to order a combo, and then all you have to say is the number. However, Frank got them to give us a picture menu, so we could point out what we wanted. It still took some time to order—it seems the Chinese have long discussions over things that we Americans would consider to be one-word answers (Do you want juice or coke?). I taught Frank a couple of new words in English that he didn’t know (good thing I had a dictionary in my bag)—“sauce” and “salt.” The sauce revelation did allow me to procur some ketchup and two varieties of some sort of sweet and sour sauce (not barbecue, but pretty good), but I think he thought the salt reference was just a vocabulary lesson for him, as I never got any. The food at KFC here is a bit different from in the states—much of it looks the same, but it is spiced differently. Most of the chicken is quite hot. Luckily, they have a wonderful orange-juice concoction.

We then packed back into the van to whine for another nearly four hours about whether we were nearly there yet. It was 3:30 when we got home. Frank came up to my apartment about five and got the IP address for my computer, so HOPEFULLY I will have the internet soon! I think I’m going through internet withdrawal.

I spent a quiet evening; I cleaned a while. I was tired so I stayed in and fixed some pasta with red sauce (not great quality, but edible) and watched a dvd (Hey, BW, can you guess which one?), then went to bed fairly early.

The picture is of a man plowing with a water buffalo in a field alongside the interstate.

February 28th: Firecrackers and Chopsticks

Thankfully, I was already awake when the first explosion of firecrackers went off at 7:30 this morning. Not just one or two tossed by passing students—this was a whole carton of blackcats, or more. Fifteen minutes later I heard another round; it sounded pretty close. I heard the boom of fireworks about eight. I know this is the day of the Lantern festival, the last day of the spring festival holidays, and everyone returns to work and school tomorrow, but who can even see fireworks at eight on a cloudy Sunday morning?

As I was getting ready to go out, Frank, our waibon, came by. I finally had the chance to tell him about my broken desk chair and to ask again about when the internet will be set up. He took the IP address for my computer; he said he’ll work on it. Hopefully soon; I’m going through facebook withdrawal. I know everyone’s wondering what’s going on; I haven’t even checked my email since Wednesday night. This is the longest I’ve gone without talking to Billy Wayne since we started dating.

I went out with the Pratts, and we met up with other friends at Casey and Tabby’s house. We spent some time together there, and then Dale, another American teacher, took us to a nearby restaurant and helped us order lunch. Yet again, the meal was good, although it wasn’t any of my favorite dishes. We had lotus root fixed a novel way for us, a chicken and greens dish, corn with a bit of bell pepper in it, spring rolls, and a hotpot of potatoes with a bit of pork—we had to watch out with that one; there were bits of chili pepper in the mix. I accidentally ate a large piece and it took a glass of orange juice, a spring roll, and half a bowl of rice before I could get the numbness out of my mouth. Other than the occasional mouth-numbing pepper seed and the bits of cooked ginger, which I can eat but am not crazy about, everything we’ve eaten has been wonderful. Everyone raved about the food in China before I came, and now I believe them.

I had only used chopsticks two or three times before moving here, and never for an entire meal. I was afraid I would have a hard time with that, but it hasn’t been a problem at all. When you hold them the right way, they aren’t too difficult to manage. I still am a little slow sometimes trying to serve myself from a bowl to my plate, but other than that it’s just clicked.

I know most people think I’m a bit crazy for moving off to China, but I love the adventure of it. I need to be challenged in life—moving to a new country is certainly a good way to do that. I love exploring a new city, finding my way around, looking for new possibilities. Now you’ll know I’m crazy—I even like moving. I love being a new place and figuring out what to do with it. How should I arrange the furniture, should I paint, where should I hang these pictures? I love the process of settling in and making a place mine.

I know there will be days that I get frustrated living here in China, but I’m still in the honeymoon phase right now. Everything is still new and exciting.

The top picture is the view from my kitchen window; the bottom one is my sunroom. 

February 27th: Teaching schedule!

The Pratts—Colonel, Kelly, and their children Cyprus and Aolani—finally arrived late last night. They were supposed to be on my flight on Wednesday, but their plane out of Chicago was canceled, and they’ve had a time being shuffled around for two extra days to get here. And I thought my trip was long!

All of us English teachers here at the East campus met up at 10:00 to go and get our class schedules for this semester. Once we arrived at the building across campus and waited a bit, they produced a stack of schedules. We spread them out across the desk and compared them, and then picked which we wanted. Those teaching oral classes have eight classes a week; those teaching writing have only four, since the writing classes involve a lot of time outside of class reading essays and correcting papers. I volunteered to take one of the writing schedules, since I’m used to teaching English. Most of the others who haven’t taught before would prefer the oral classes, but I think the writing classes actually will be easier for me. I’d rather have something concrete to work on than try to keep a discussion going for two hours.

My schedule is quite interesting—I have five days a week off! I have a class on Monday at two, and then three classes on Friday at eight, ten, and two. All are the same sophomore writing class, so I’ll just have one lesson to prepare each week. Fridays will be tiring, but I think it will be worth it to have such a flexible schedule on other days. I’ll have about 120 writing assignments to read each week, though.

After getting our schedules, a bunch of us went for lunch together at a little restaurant near the school. Tabby and Casey were with us, and Tabby speaks Chinese pretty well, so she ordered everything for us. In China, a group meal is different from what we are used to in the states. Everyone sits around a round table with a huge lazy Susan in the middle. Each person has their own bowl and chopsticks, and hot water is served to drink. (You can bring your own drink in from outside if you wish; someone ran and got a bottle of orange juice from the supermarket down the street). Each person doesn’t order a meal for themselves; instead, the group orders together, as many dishes as there are people. The waitress puts all the dishes on the lazy susan, and then everyone shares them, eating a helping of this and a helping of that, family-style. It’s a great way to try a lot of different kinds of food, since we had eleven dishes on the table. All of them were good—sweet and sour pork, spring rolls, fried eggplant, fried corn, carrots and pork, chicken and tomatoes, lotus root, and more that I can’t remember.

In the afternoon, I went with Casey and Tabby to take the Pratts, who had just arrived the night before, to RT Mart to get some groceries and basic things for their apartment. We took two taxis. The taxis are pretty cheap—only about $1.30 each way, nearly nothing when divided among three or four people. I got a few more things for my apartment—another plant, a few little cacti, a couple of plates, some knives, some brilliantly green and gold pillows for the couch, and a set of sheets. It’s beginning to look like a home in here; I figure if I’m going to be here all year I might as well nest a bit.

In the evening, we met the McFarlands, and Evelyn went with Tabby, Kelly, Aolani, and me to a dinner at the house of a Chinese woman. We had a ladies’ night with a good group of Chinese friends. Some of them are students or professors at my university, so hopefully I will run into them again on campus.
When I got back to my apartment, not too late—just 7:45, I thought I would get some more cleaning done and do some more laundry. However, I felt tired as soon as I sat down, so I read for a little while and then ended up going to bed at nine. It must be the jet lag, but I’ve been a morning person ever since I arrived—I laze around in the evening and go to bed early, but wake up early and energetic. Most of my cleaning has been done first thing in the morning. It’s very unlike me—I’m a night owl! Usually, I accomplish very little of note before noon, and my most productive time is at night. I’m sure it’ll pass in time...

The Chinese cities are mostly concrete; the buildings themselves are rather drab and utilitarian. However, they liberally decorate with light. I have seen fireworks every day I have been here so far (of course, it is still the spring festival). Not just a few bottle rockets; big, booming, fourth-of-July fireworks. Even when it’s raining. Even during the day. And several of the larger hotels—and the police headquarters—are outlined with intricate neon lights. Nightly, beacons of colored light sweep the sky from the rooftop of a building across the moat.

February 26th: Cleaning and Pizza Hut

I spent the morning cleaning. Some steel wool and Mr. Muscle did wonders with the kitchen. I don’t think anyone’s ever cleaned the vent over the stove—it was sticky with grease.

In the afternoon, I met up with Roanne, Lindsay, Keith, and Jason, and we went next door to meet another new American teachers who had just arrived, Sean. All of us plus one of the Japanese teachers, Tiami (I’m not sure how you spell it) went to Shashi. Shashi (pronounced Shah-sure) was once a separate town, but now is part of Jingzhou, and it is where many of the modern shopping centers and such are. Our campus is between that area and the old center of Jingzhou.

We got out of our taxis near a square where all the American imports are crammed together—the Pizza Hut and KFC are across the street from the McDonalds and the Wal-mart. These are some of the more expensive restaurants here in China—Pizza Hut, especially, is the kind of fancy place where people go on special occasions. We were surprised to find, on a Friday night, that the wait for a table was only fifteen minutes; Keith assured us that it is usually longer. The menu was a bit more extensive than the Pizza Huts in the states. The waitress said that they were out of large pizzas (???), so we ordered several mediums. I think the pizza was better here than at home—I normally don’t care for Pizza Hut’s too-sweet sauce, but they didn’t have too much on these.

After we ate, we of course went to Wal-mart. It’s not exactly like a Wal-mart in the states, but it’s not bad. I got more things for my apartment—I finally found some picture frames, and a pot and skillet for the kitchen, and a second towel, etc.

February 25th: Settling In

I spent the morning cleaning and unpacking. In the afternoon, Keith and Jason took all of us newcomers out to RT Mart, a large Taiwanese Wal-mart-like store. I got several things I needed for the apartment, and enough groceries to be able to cook a couple of meals.

In the evening, Roanne, Lindsay, and I ventured out in search of food. We wandered down a street near the campus and stopped at one of the first little restaurants we saw. We went in, and Lindsay used a small dictionary to try to order something for us. The woman finally took us outside to look at the bins of vegetables and dried meats, and we pointed out a few things that we liked. She cooked us a proper meal despite our bumbling—our favorite was a carrots and pork dish. Our first solo dining experience was a success.


Hello everyone! Well, several people requested that I keep a blog about my life in China. I’m going to give it a try, but I’m warning you now...I’m really bad about starting out strong on a blog and then after a couple of months forgetting to update very often. I’ll try my best not to let that happen, but if I do and you want more updates, leave a comment or email me and remind me!

I left from the Nashville airport on February 22nd. I checked in my bags, and then spent a little time with my family and Billy Wayne, taking silly pictures. My flight was at 2:45, and that was the start of a long but thankfully uneventful journey—I first flew to Dallas, where I met up with several friends, then we flew on to San Francisco. The flight from Dallas to San Francisco was great—I had a window, and I could see the Rocky mountains in the moonlight below. Those of you who know me know how I am about mountains—no quicker way to make me happy than put me on a mountaintop with a view. And then finally I saw the lights of the city--as we came in to land, we flew low over San Francisco bay, and I think I saw the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. After a four hour layover, we took a midnight flight for Hong Kong. The transpacific flight was fourteen hours, but I don’t mind flying. It may sound like torture, but really, it’s not bad at all. We were fed a meal about an hour after takeoff (one AM, so I’m not sure which meal that supposed to be), and then I slept for a few hours, as did most people on the flight. About halfway through most people started waking up. I meant to get some reading done, but I spent most of the rest of the flight watching several episodes of CSI on the little screen on the back of the seat in front of me. International flights these days are great—a choice of dozens of movies, tv shows, music, games, even a language program on which I did practice a few Chinese phrases. Fourteen hours, and I still didn’t see the movie I wanted to see! Anyhow, we landed in Hong Kong at 6:30 in the morning. We had crossed the international date line, so it was now Wednesday, February 24th. From the Hong Kong runway, I could see the Pacific Ocean on one side, and steep green hills on the other. In one day, I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life, and I saw it from both shores. We took a two-hour flight from Hong Kong to Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei province in central China, and we were finally on the ground to stay.

In Wuhan, I was happy to see that all of our luggage had made it. I always dread getting my bags for fear that one or all of them has been lost somewhere along the way. I’ve never had a bag completely lost, but I’ve had several delayed somewhere and delivered a few days later. No such problems this time! In the airport, I separated from the group I traveled with, as they were either staying in Wuhan or flying on somewhere else. I was met at the door by Frank, the waibon (person from the university in charge of the foreign teachers) from my university, and two other girls who were also new teachers. Lindsay is from Chicago, and Roanne is from England. The four of us loaded into a small bus belonging to the university, and we drove nearly four hours to our city, Jingzhou. This was our first look at the Chinese countryside. In fields along the way, water buffalo roamed free; before long, I saw several farmers plowing small fields with water buffalo. The houses along the way were still decorated with red banners around the doorways, in celebration of the Chinese New Year, which was last week.

We finally got into Jingzhou about 1:30 in the afternoon. Altogether, it took thirty-seven hours to get from my parents’ house in Columbia to my new apartment in Jingzhou.

Not long after we arrived, Keith and Jason, two American teachers who have been here since August, came to meet us. We went down to Frank’s office, where we met Casey and Tabby, a couple from Tennessee who are in their fourth year here in Jingzhou. They live on another campus, but Casey teaches a few classes on this one, too. Frank took us all to eat at a restaurant down the street. First, they gave us all bowls of some sort of bean milk soup, which was new even to those who have been here a few years. We all sipped at it politely, but it was nothing special. I wasn’t very hungry, but I had some fried rice. After we ate, Frank walked around with us and helped Lindsay change some money at the bank, and found an ATM where Roanne and I could use our cards to get some Chinese money.

After that, Keith took us to a nearby grocery store to get some basic food and cleaning supplies. Once I got back to my apartment, I started to unpack and do a little cleaning.

I like my new apartment. I’ll post some pictures; it’s easier than trying to explain it all. The door from the stairwell opens into a hallway; on the right is first the bedroom and then the living room. At the end is the kitchen. On the left are the doors to the small room with the toilet and the bathroom with the tub, sink, and washing machine. Off of the living room there is a door to the sunroom—a glassed-in balcony. It is quite large; it wraps around two sides of the living room, as I have a corner apartment. At the end of the sunroom is a rod for hanging clothes to dry. The hallway, bedroom, and living room have a wood floor, and the rest is tiled. The furniture maybe isn’t exactly my style, but it all matches and I like it pretty well. The apartment needs a good, thorough cleaning, but I should have it looking presentable in a few days.

Despite only having a few hours of sleep on the plane, I managed to stay awake until eight. I woke up at four in the morning with a headache, but after about an hour I managed to go back to sleep and slept until seven.