Monday, May 31, 2010 1 comments

May 30th: Bizarre Bird

Hey, look at this really interesting bird I saw on the way to Tabby and Casey's tonight.  Ron and Evelyn said they'd seen them around before, too.  It seems to be some sort of woodpecker, but often on the ground.  I've never seen anything quite like it.  Any of you birders out there know what kind it is? 

Edit: My grandmother looked through her bird books and found it! It is a hoopoe, named for the hooping noise that it makes. 
Saturday, May 29, 2010 0 comments

May 29th: Dinner and Magic

Ron organized a fun Saturday night out for a big crowd of us--enough people to take up two tables; I think there were sixteen of us. 

Michael, a friend of theirs, had taken them to a restaurant once before with a live show during the meal, so Ron had him help organize a group outing there.  In the first picture are, from left to right, May, Shan Shan, Mr. Wang, Hollis, Spring, Evelyn, and Ron, with Michael in the front. 

I was at the second table, along with (from left to right), Tabby, Casey, Stephanie, Lee, Brian, Lindsay, and Madison.  The last three were here from ACU for a month.  We had several interesting dishes I hadn't had before, including a roast duck (which we didn't each all that much of,  because it wasn't carved very well and therefore hard to eat with chopsticks; even the Chinese people at the table thought it weird and wondered how they expected someone to eat that with chopsticks), a type of Chinese spaghetti that was quite good, cabbage, and a type of beef that tasted almost barbecued.  Of course, my favorite thing was the eggplant.  There was also a bit of what the Chinese keep telling me is "white carrot." I'm still trying to figure out if that's something we have in the states, because it's wonderful.  Now, white carrots do exist; however, I'm wondering if it's really turnips, because the texture isn't quite like a carrot.  I saw something clearly labeled "turnip" at the store the other day; I'm going to ask some of the people who've told me that those are white carrots if this is the thing they were referring to. 

After we ate, we enjoyed a kitschy little "magic" show.  First, the man came out and did various feats with sawhorses, all while keeping a little burning lamp steady on his bald head.  Then he came back out in an elaborate costume, wearing a mask and waving a fan as he danced.  Every time he stomped his foot and cracked his fan, his mask would change.  We figured there was some sort of contraption where he was knocking them up into his hat.  I tried to post a video on here, but that seems to be beyond the reach of my internet connection tonight.  So, you'll have to check that out on flickr once I get caught up over there. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 0 comments

May 26th: In a Cloud of Smog

We had three days of glorious summer weather: sunny and hot.  After over two weeks of solid rain, the world seemed so bright and colorful in the sunlight.  However, three days was all we were given for now.  Today I woke up to a thick fog, and now there's a misty drizzle turning the campus back into a gray and colorless ghost town.  The fog is so thick that the buildings are only outlines of dirty gray against the slightly lighter dirty gray of the sky.  The fog is taking the bright umbrellas of the students walking by and making them seem colorless. However, according to the weather report, we should have summer weather again by Friday, and a hot weekend.

As I'm sitting here writing, the fog is getting thicker and thicker.  A building about a hundred feet from my window is just an outline, and the one beyond that is completely obscured.  The people with umbrellas below are ghosts flickering in and out of view.  Even the radio program blaring over the load speakers seems muffled and distorted, the voices from a different world than the one I see in front of me. 

Okay, I'm writing this post little by little in between other things.  A couple of hours have passed now, and the weather outside keeps getting stranger and stranger.  Now the fog is a thick yellowish pea-soup cloud; it smells like dank smoke.  It's not really gray; it's a brown-yellow-gray colorless thing.  It's so thick  now that the building across the street (maybe one hundred feet away) is completely obscured.  There's no hint it's even there.  The boys' dormitory just across the courtyard with the ping pong tables (fifty feet at most) is only a rough outline.  I looked out the front window, and it looks like visibility is only about thirty feet.  I brought my laundry in off of the sun room, where I had the windows open, because I was afraid they'd smell like bitter smoke. 

I have to go out in a couple of hours; it'll be interesting to find my way into the city on this other-worldly day, but I'm not looking forward to breathing out there. 

EDIT: The weather that day was bizarre; even locals said they'd never seen anything quite like it.  It wasn't just the fog; it was also the thick smell of smoke in it.  I  had to rewash all the laundry I had hanging out on the sunroom, because a window was cracked open and everything smelled like a close encounter with a campfire.  However, it started to clear as it got dark.  Later, some of the students said the smoke part of it was from farmers burning off fields; they do it every year, but this year it coincided with a particularly foggy day and thus created the weird weather.  Everyone had coughs and sore throats for the next couple of days, probably from breathing all that junk. 
Monday, May 24, 2010 0 comments

May 24th: Poetry 101

The past few weeks, I've been doing a unit on creative writing with my students.  It seems to be an area they aren't too familiar with, and I thought it would be fun to see what we could do.  For two weeks, I talked about short stories.  I love short stories, and I've certainly got plenty to teach about them, but for some reason I just didn't like my lessons very much.  They went okay, but it just seemed that I couldn't make the lessons come out to be exactly what I wanted.  For one thing, this was before I got my new computer, and so I had to make do without some of the resources I had had. 

This week and next, however, I'm doing poetry.  Now, usually prose rather than poetry is more my style.  However, I've had a lot of fun teaching about poetry.  It just seemed the lesson put itself together, and I found so many things that I want to do that I'll have to stretch it to two weeks.  You know, it may sound a bit strange, but it seems a lot of the information I'm teaching I'm pulling from my memories of 6th and 7th grade Reading and English classes.  Yes, I am teaching college sophomores, but in their second language, which they are still learning.  Besides, while they may know many things about literature and poetry in Chinese, writing in English is such a different thing that many of the basics are new information.  If anyone sees my middle school teachers Mrs. Walter or Mrs. Duncan, tell them I said thank you for the inspiration I'm taking from their classes.

I started out teaching them a few vocabulary words to use when discussing poetry: line, stanza, verse, refrain.  Then I discussed how poetry can be classified in different ways: rhyming or blank verse, closed and open verse, meter, etc.  I taught them about rhyme schemes and counting syllables.  Then we discussed how there are many forms of poetry, usually recognizable by number of lines, subject matter, rhyme scheme, or syllables, and I gave more information about a couple of examples (the sonnet and the epic poem). After the break, I talked about imagery and ways of putting imagery and feeling into the poem.  We already learned about similes and metaphors a few weeks ago, so I reviewed those, and then talked about allegory, alliteration (consonance), and personification.  I love this example of metaphorical writing I found online: 

"In the downpour, her umbrella was a zebra leaping among its brown and tan sisters in the town square."

It was an especially good example for my three Friday classes, as it was pouring rain and there were umbrellas left dripping all around the edge of the classroom.  For alliteration/consonance I gave the example of a few common tongue twisters: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.  Just for fun, I impressed them with my rendition of "How much wood would a wood chuck chuck..."  It's nothing much to boast about, but I think I'm pretty good at tongue twisters, and that's my favorite. 

I had printed a couple of pages of poems to use as examples in class.  I picked some that I like, that made good examples, and that are well-known enough that I felt it would do them good to be familiar with them.  Of course I chose one of the most famous poems in English, "The Road Not Taken."  The other poems were "Sonnet 43: How do I Love Thee" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams, "Life is Fine" by Langston Hughes, "Who Has Seen the Wind?" by Christina Rossetti, and "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. 

Now, some of these were easy for them to understand with their level of English than others.  With the sonnet, I did stop to talk about the term "thee" and how it was used long ago.  One student mentioned during the part on sonnets that she knew that Shakespeare is the most famous writer, and wrote many sonnets, but that she had a difficult time understanding him.  I reassured her that that was natural; the language has changed so much in the four hundred years since the printing of the First Folio that he's hardly light reading for American students, either. 

Now, I had to include "The Raven."  It's one of the most famous poems in English, and besides, its rhythm and words are perfect examples of all the finer points of imagery.  However, I knew that vocabulary level would probably be above their ability to make sense of the poem on their own; words like "dreary", "quaff," and "lore" are not among the words that would be on a high-priority-to-learn list.  So, I did what I remember doing in my 9th grade English class: watch the Simpsons version.  Now, I know, the Simpsons aren't exactly the most shining example of American entertainment to introduce students to American culture, but in 1990 they did a Halloween special in which the children are reading this poem and picturing it acted out.  It really is quite a good rendering of the poem (and the narrator has the perfect voice for such a chilling piece--James Earl Jones (Darth Vader)).  I hoped that by showing it acted out that at least the students could get a grasp of the story and emotion of the poem; one more little piece of cultural information that they can be familiar with.  If you want to watch it, the link I used is at

So, poetry is fun to teach! I assigned homework to the students; most of my classes tried to hide their dislike of homework, but my last class on Friday had their guard down and there was a collective groan.  They all laughed when I told them that such is life.  They had to go find a poem in English (I gave them several websites to make it easier), write it into their journals, and answer a few questions about it based on the day's lesson.  Now, if they are groaning about that, little do they know that next week they'll be writing poetry. :)
Sunday, May 16, 2010 0 comments

May 15th and 16th: A Wet Weekend

Rain, rain, rain. And it's still raining.  It's been raining for the past week, and it's supposed to continue all week.  You know, I had just decided that I need to get more exercise and start taking long walks again, and I was actually motivated and ready to do so.  I've had the time this past week.  And it rains.  
Other than feeling soggy, things are going pretty well.  I've had a busy weekend; my real days off are usually Tuesday and Wednesday.  On Saturday, I was again the guest of the College English Association (either they like me, or I'm just easy to talk into things--I've been the main speaker two out of the three months I've been here). I don't mind, though--I've never minded public speaking, and this is a fun group who really do want to learn some English.  The president, Elizabeth, told me that the evening would be divided into three parts: first, learning American slang; second, a role-playing activity; and third, learning a song in English.  I was to provide the first and third.  So, I put together a power point with about twenty terms or expressions--and I believe I chose well; they only knew one of them already: piece of cake. A few that were new to them were 24/7, back seat driver, all-nighter, epic fail (I know, I know, I don't usually mention faddish things, but they love knowing the latest lingo), bent out of shape, klutz, hyper, screw up, catch some rays, typo, airhead, and at the end of my rope.  We had fun with them; I tried to pick some that would be relevent to the life of a college student. 

The second part of the evening was the role-playing.  This involved eight different scenarios.  A volunteer would pick a number, and then they and whatever friend they picked had to act out the situation.  We began with one of my favorites (I've used it in role-playing in my class, too): a diner at a restaraunt finds a fly in their soup.  Another funny one was waking up to find a stranger sleeping on your couch.  Another was  meeting your best friend from elementary school on the street only to find that she doesn't recognize you. Finally one of them got smart and realized that if they wanted to do it well in English, they should pick me as their partner (I was the only native speaker there), so I got dragged into it.  Our scenario was finding that your wallet has been stolen on a crowded bus.  Somehow the missing object got changed to a cell phone in the middle of the skit, but I had fun freaking out and accusing various audience members of having swiped my stuff--eventually it was discovered that I had dropped it under the seat.  We had a lot of laughs at the role-playing.  Sometimes this sort of thing is difficult for my Chinese students; creativity and spontenaiety haven't always been emphasized in education here. 

Finally, I had to teach them a song in English.  I was told to pick my favorite song, but "one that the Chinese students would like--nothing too hard."  Which meant not my favorite song, because the Chinese students wouldn't like most of my favorite songs.  Freebird would be a lost cause, and they would probably just cover their ears at anything by Guns N' Roses.  All the students like here is pop music, or maybe classical.  Nothing very loud or hard--most rock and roll is just too abrasive to their ears.  Unfortunately, I have a low tolerance for pop, and especially for the type they like--Madonna, some guy that sounds like a girl named Justin something (not Timberlake), Britney Spears, that sort of thing; and even better if the songs is sappily heart-renching mush about long lost love.  And anyhow, I can't get to most of my music right now since my computer is down; all I've got easily accesible is the country and a few Italian things on my mp3 player.  I ended up picking Garth Brooks' "The River."  It's a simple melody, it has a good message, it's the sort of thing that they would like (not too twangy), and furthermore, I can actually sing it.  This last point was important because, knowing their penchant for kareoke, I wasn't sure by what method exactly they would want me to "teach" them the song.

I made a power point with the lyrics.  I played it through for them, then tried to explain the lyrics, then we sang along the second time through.  And then they made the request for me to sing it without the music (I was afraid that was coming).  It went suprisingly well--I made it through  with no major mistakes and an actually recognizable melody.  Now, I like to sing and sing often, but I'm usually terrible at kareoke.  No matter how well I know the song, I forget the tune or the words or both if I'm singing by myself.  However, this went fine.  I think it was because I sang it a capella--I think I just don't know how to sing with music. So, it was a rare occasion that I sang publicly, alone, without embarrassing myself. :)  

Anyhow, today I woke up to yet another rainy day.  I got up early so I'd have time to swing by the internet point and talk to BW for a bit before going to the meeting, at Dale and Lisa's today.  I miss him every day, but today was worse than usual; I'm not sure why.  Ooh, because of the rain, it's been rather cool the last few days, so I got in one more chance to wear a scarf today before it's too hot.  My scarves are like portable comfort blankets.  I'm always ecstatic every spring when I can wear flip-flops again (it's a personal holiday--flip-flop day!  I celebrated a couple of weeks ago) and the crisp day in the fall when I can finally wear my scarves without melting into a puddle.
I got my grocery shopping done in the afternoon.  I wasn't in a hurry so I had some time to poke around the RT Mart (similar to Wal-mart, but better, at least here).  I'm going to be having people over to my house a lot more in the near future, and I'm rather tired of the same old things I always make; both good reasons to try to find some new recipes that will work here.  It's just that ingredients that I'm familiar with are so lacking here; very few of my stand-by recipes are possible.  I'm going to have to do some experimenting.  

Once I got home, I made some wonderful pasta sauce, better than I've made in quite a while, with tomato sauce, cooking wine, olive oil, garlic, bell pepper, eggplant, and, I can never remember what those are called in English. Oh, leeks, I think.  Similar in taste and texture to onions.  I've got plenty left over, so it looks like that'll be lunch tomorrow and maybe the next day too.  I get in a rut as far as cooking goes, but I do like to have fun with pasta sauces, although that too is limited by available ingredients here.  
Saturday, May 15, 2010 0 comments

May 15th: Fun at the RT Mart

One of my favorite things to do whenever I am in a new country is to go to the grocery store.  What oddity is there a whole aisle of? (In Italy, would you believe that it is standard to have about half an aisle of tuna?)  What item that seems like a staple to me is missing?  What is a luxury item? (Chocolate is expensive here! And butter is even more expensive!) There's all sorts of cultural information to be gathered in the grocery store.  Do salespeople leave you to your own devices, or do they smother you with offers of assistance?  Do shoppers take a number quietly or mob the counter?  And where is the sugar?  With baking goods or with the coffee?  What vegetables are common? There are mountains of eggplant both here and in Italy, but there are only a handful of puny overripe ones in a corner somewhere in American grocery stores.   Here, there is lotus root and ginger, which I've never seen at all in the U.S. 

I do most of my major grocery shopping at the RT Mart, a Taiwanese chain that is similar to Walmart.  The one in Shashi actually has better selection than the Walmart here, in fact.  The shoe display I saw the last few times I was there certainly took a lot more time and effort than I've seen many American stores go to--so I took a couple of pictures to share with you.  On the top, there's a huge sandal made by wiring together dozens of plastic sandals.  Over the next display, there was a giant peacock also made of croc-knockoff sandals.  There was something-or-other else, too, but I don't remember what it was.  I didn't get a picture of it, but there was also a dragon further down made of beach mats and patio accessories. 

Another joy to be found in grocery stores is gawking at the unusual tastes of the locals.  Now, I've seen plenty of varieties of popcorn: butter, extra butter, white cheese, caramel, more butter, kettle, cracker jack, and super extra butter.  But I have never in my life seen peach.  Or worse, look down at the next picture: banana.  What would peach popcorn taste like??  I didn't want to waste the money to find out, since I can guess that it can't be wonderful.  I'm a little afraid of the 'spicy salted' since the people around here just love food that is so hot that you can't breathe. (I've learned to watch out for the flecks of red chili peppers in my food). Colonel said they bought some of the strawberry variety to give it a try.  He said he had one big mouthful, choked it down, and then said, "Hey kids! I've got a special treat for you!"  Kids will eat all sorts of things if you tell them that its a special treat.  I bought a regular butter version.  At Walmart, I bought another one that is labeled "creamy salty."  I'll let you know how that turns out.  

Bananas, apples, oranges, and pineapple are common here.  No surprise there.  However, there are a few unusual fruits that I've never seen at fruit stands or supermarkets in the U.S.  There are durian, which are cantaloupe-sized fruits covered in spikes.  They say they have a terrible smell when opened up.  I especially like seeing the dragon fruit.  I saw them for the first time several years ago in a huge fresh-food market of the Ramblas in Barcelona, but I could never remember the name in Catalan.  They told me that those came from South America somewhere.  I saw them again here in the grocery stores.  They're quite striking--hot pink, with bright green tips.  Opened up, they are white with black specks.  I tried one back in Spain that time, and it was a bit sour for my taste, a bit like a kiwi.  I've tried a few other fruits here, but not that I know the names of.  Oh, and a new favorite: white carrots, they call them.  I'm not sure exactly what they are.  Cooked, they look a bit like chunks of potato; they have an amazing warm spicy taste.  I've got to find out if they're available in the states, because you would all love them. 

Monday, May 3, 2010 1 comments

May 3rd: Computer Heaven

Hello everyone...I haven't forgotten about you.  My laptop has departed to computer heaven.  I'll let you know the funeral arrangements.  Sooo....I've been checking my email at an internet point near the East Gate of the campus.  The location is convenient, and it's cheap, but a lot of people smoke in here and the smell in here in general is not so great. :(  Some days worse than others.  At least it's here, though, I shouldn't complain.  After a couple of weeks of it, the cigarette smoke is starting not to get to me so bad. 
Anyhow, I was using a proxy on my computer to access my blog, which of course I don't have on this public computer. So, I've had plenty to write about and I'll try to catch you all up when I can, but I haven't been able to get on my blog.  I think I can email in a post, and that's what I'm trying to do here.  Of course, I can't add pictures.  After I get a new computer and get everything up and running, I'll go back and fill in the missing posts.  Please have patience, and check back in a week or two.  I will start posting regularly again when I can. 
Things are going pretty well here; it's about half way through the semester now.  In fact, it's Labor Day weekend here.  Most of the world celebrates Labor Day on May 1st; I don't know how we got ours in September.  Anyhow, a lot of the students have taken the opportunity to make a trip home or to get out and enjoy the first summery weather of the season.  It's been in the high eighties and sunny all weekend; it's starting to get hot!  We're supposed to have some thunderstorms over the next couple of days, which should cool things down a bit.
I've heard about all the flooding going on in middle Tennessee; I saw pictures on channel 4's website.  Amazing to get that much rain in so short a time.  I hope that all of you are doing okay.  Please be careful out there! 
Sunday, May 2, 2010 1 comments

May 2nd: Friends and Family

Yesterday, May 2nd, was a fun day spent with friends.  My friend Lucy invited me for lunch at her house.  She's been coming to our Friday night activities for several weeks, and she and I have struck up a friendship.  We're only a few months apart in age, and she also was an English major (and therefore speaks good English and even translated for us last Friday).  She grew up here in Jingzhou, but then lived in the state capital, Wuhan, for a few years for college and all.  She just moved back here a few months ago, and works for an engineering company near here.  I know her aunt and uncle, too; they are Family.

I was stuffed after eating lunch.  They had invited her aunt and uncle too, and her mother had cooked enough food for them, but they weren't able to come.  So, we had an abundance... There was fried lotus root (one of my favorites), a dish with cauliflower, and some sort of beans and greens (not bad, actually). There was a soup with fat meat, peas, and scrambled eggs.  There was also some sort of chicken with what Lucy described as 'white carrots'.   They looked rather like potatoes, but tasted a lot better. They were really good.  I'm not sure what white carrots are--maybe turnips or something?  Also, there was a dish of eel with peppers.  Lucy's dad had caught the eel himself fishing the day before; it's a local delicacy.  I'd never tried it before, but it was pretty good.  Not fishy at all.  Lucy's mom kept urging us to eat and offering more...I finally managed to convince her that I was stuffed.  In the end, she sent me home with leftover fried lotus root. 
I spent the afternoon hanging out with Lucy.  We talked about going outside to the park, but it was so hot and we were so stuffed that we ended up just lazing on the couch talking.  It was good to get the chance to get to know her a little better.  She has three older brothers, who have all moved away now.  She has an apartment one floor beneath her parents; her uncles and their families live next door.  The Wangs own the building, and they rent out the apartments not used by family members for extra income.  It turns out Lucy and I have the same taste in music, and we'd both been listen to the same singer for the last week (James Blunt). Her mom tried to convince me to stay for supper, too (as if I could eat any more!), but I left a little after four.  

From there, I went to Tabby and Casey's to meet with the family.  Casey talked a lot about how we treat each other as a family.  We hung around for a while afterwards spending some time together, and then a few of us went over to Ron and Evelyn's for our Sunday night tradition: Settlers of Catan.  We played two games--in both, I finished second. The second game I would have won if I'd had one more turn, but Stephanie beat me to it by seconds.  I really enjoy the game, though--I'm going to have to get some of you into it so I'll have someone to play with when I am there. :)