Saturday, October 16, 2010 0 comments

Internet Issues

Alright, so I'm working hard to update the blog.  I have so many things I want to go back and fill in! However, now that I'm working on it, my internet decides to disagree.  I'm having trouble with both proxies (most blogs are blocked here), so I wasn't able to post pictures on my last couple of entries.  Next time that I get the proxy to stay running for more than three minutes, I'll finish them and add the pictures.  Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 0 comments

October 12th: Walmart Weirdness 4 or 5 (at least)

Aaaaand I'm back, with another installment of your favorite blog feature, Wal-mart Weirdness!

I know that some may think that if we have a Wal-mart here, things can't be all that different. And yet I think you can see from the following pictures that that's not quite the case...I never go to Wal-mart without a camera, because there's always some new oddity to enjoy.

First of all, the Chinese people have a slightly different sense of what produce would make a good juice than we I found both corn juice and pumpkin juice. Now, I've seen corn juice around before--they also have corn candy and such; they seem to treat it as a fruit quite frequently. Pumpkin juice was a new one, though. It was relatively expensive, so that's my excuse for not buying some to try.

Another totally normal food here that we Americans never quite get used to is Chicken feet. I just don't see the big deal, as there's not much meat to eat, but they're as hot as chicken wings around here. They are added to soups, spiced and packaged as snacks, and available at every corner market.

This trip to Wal-mart was on a rainy Tuesday night; Season, Rebecca, Janice, and I had went out for supper and stopped by Wal-mart on our way home. Oddities in Wal-mart are even more fun when you have a friend along to point them out to.

Wal-mart is still Wal-mart, though. There's the same old neighborly announcement by the register with a picture and phone number for the manager. I find it interesting that they use his English name, Johnny, since 99% of the people shopping there are Chinese. Seriously, there's maybe twenty foreigners who even know that Wal-mart exists.


October 12th: Hot Pot Heaven

China is a big place (very close in size to the United States; some sources say one is bigger, some the other, depending on if you count the surface area of the Great Lakes or not), and so, like the U.S., different regions have different traditions and different tastes in food. Up north around Beijing, they eat a lot of breads and noodles and dumplings. Along the coast and south-east, seafood is naturally a bigger part of the diet. Hubei Province, where I live, fits in the Central-Southwest culturally and gastronomically. The locals aren't shy about putting the red chili peppers into anything and everything; one phrase we foreigners learn fast is "Bu la!" Not hot! Every one of us has had that moment when we realize we accidentally got a piece of pepper. First your mouth goes numb, and then you find yourself shoveling in rice and scrambling for whatever drinks are available (which often isn't too much, as the Chinese people don't tend to drink with food).

As hot as the local food can get if you aren't careful, the real center for spicy is Sichuan Province. The capital, Chongqing, is Hot Pot central. Sichuanese food may make most people sweat, but if you avoid the pepper flakes it's great. 

Janice, a Chinese friend and one of our FAO 'overseers', had introduced Season and Rebecca to a great hot pot place down by Walmart. They were dying to go again and I'd never been, so on a miserably rainy and muddy Tuesday night we took the bus down for supper. We ducked into a nondescript store front that in fact was under construction and picked our way around the buckets of dry wall mud to the elevator. When we stepped out onto the third floor I knew we were in a special kind of place: the inner wall of the restaurant is a cave with undulating stalactites and stalagmites. We walked by a maple tree with brilliant orange leaves and then under and around eight-foot-tall orange mushrooms to get to our table.

In this place, there is a burner in the middle of the table. On this is placed a divided bowl with two different kinds of soup bubbling away; the white soup is fairly mild while the red soup is full of spices. Then, there is a whole paper full of options; Janice check-marked all the possibilities we were interested in. It sounded like way too much food to me--she must have checked twenty things--but the others assured me that the plates were small.

They brought all of the plates to our table on a huge tray and arranged them on a shelf at the end of the table. One by one, Janice would dump the ingredients off into the soup to cook. Some were ready immediately and some needed to bubble a bit. She would add two or three things at a time and we would all share them before dumping in fresh plates of other things. We had all sorts of things: chicken, beef, tofu, two or three types of mushrooms (Rebecca's favorite), carrots, sweet potato, regular potato, bean sprouts, twisted hard cracker like things, cabbage, greens, seaweed, dumplings, a type of noodle, and plenty of other things. We all ate until were were stuffed--we probably could have done without the last couple of dishes. It wasn't unbearably hot, but we did finish off a two-liter of Pepsi during the meal.

Actually, for me, I ate slowly rather because the food was temperature-hot (fresh out of the boiling soup) rather than spicy-hot. The steam coming off of the soup filled the air like fog; Janice and Season teased each other by blowing it into the other's face. Anyhow, the point is that I understood Rebecca and Season's immediate obsession with the place.  My mouth is starting to water sitting here writing about the meal; I can't wait to be there again. Janice is supposed to translate the menu for us so we can go without the help of a Chinese friend sometimes.
Monday, October 11, 2010 2 comments

October 11th: Psychological Monsters

I just counted it up...we're now in week 8 (out of 17) of the semester.  It seems like we just got started--I'm starting to get overwhelmed with all of the stuff I have to do!  I'm going to have to buckle down and stay organized and try to beat my personal besetting sin--procrastination.  Besides teaching my four writing classes every week (and all the piles of grading that come from them! This is a major area where procrastination can be deadly), I also have women's study group meetings Monday and Wednesday. On Wednesday, I am the teacher, so there's quite a bit of preparation there, as well as house cleaning and fixing a meal for twenty.  Friday nights I've been taking turns attending "religious discussions" on the east (my) campus and the west campus with Lee.  Sundays are an all-day time of great fellowship--meeting at Ron and Evelyn's on the south campus (although sometimes I visit Dale and Lisa on the central campus), then lunch with whoever can stay (often ten to twelve people), a couple of hours to crash in an unavoidable Sunday afternoon nap, then meeting at Colonel and Kelly's at five, then back to the south campus to Ron and Evelyn's for dinner (she usually makes some sort of soup and sandwiches--last night was beef and noodle soup, yum!) and one or two intense rounds of Settlers of Catan. 

And now I've accepted teaching one more class a week, an evening course in oral English for local middle school teachers that should last for ten weeks (the rest of the semester).  It does mean an increase in pay for the overtime hours, which was one motivation, but also it sounds like an interesting opportunity to teach a totally new demographic--teachers instead of students, who I would likely otherwise never meet.  I'm looking forward to using many of the oral English lesson plans I've come across but never been able to use in my writing classes, so it's a fun professional challenge as well.  I've always been a teacher, and it's a bit hard to imagine myself not doing something related to teaching or education; I've tried to steer away from teaching at a few points in my life but I keep coming back to it.  Being a teacher is just part of who I am.  And then, there's also the summer vacations...that doesn't hurt my love for the teaching profession at all, either.

The last two weeks we've been discussing descriptive writing in class, which I find is a lot of fun to teach. Today we began with talking about vocabulary for describing people and personalities--I introduced them to terms such as introvert/extrovert and open-minded/close-minded. Those of you who know me well know my fascination with psychology and psychological testing (I have a minor in psychology), so I took the opportunity to use a simple personality test with my students. There are ten horizontal rows of four adjectives, and you must choose which of the four words describes you the best. Afterwards, you tally up how many you chose in the A, B, C, and D column. A majority of A's mean that the person is a Controller, for B's, a Motivator, for C's, a Developer, and for D's a Stabilizer. Here are the descriptions:
Then, for their in-class journal assignment, the students answered the following questions:
1. According to the Personality Survey, are you a controller, a motivator, a developer, or a stabilizer?

2. Do you agree with your results from the survey? Why or why not? If not, which personality type do you think best describes you?

3. What do you think the world would be like if everyone was a controller? How about if everyone was a motivator? What if everyone was a developer? And what if everyone was a stabilizer?

4. How do you think you and your classmates can benefit from the variety of personality types in your class?

I've used others personality surveys before that I like much better and that I feel are more accurate (but then again, how much accuracy do you expect in ten questions?), but I had worksheets for this one and it fit the time constraints of the class perfectly. I may see if I can make some modifications or find a similar test that I like better before class tomorrow. I need to make more copies, anyhow. By the way, I was a controller. This assessment does fit my in-class personality as a teacher, but not my personality as a whole, as I am definitely an introvert. I'm not too concerned if the survey isn't terribly accurate; probably all the better, as it gives the students more fuel for thought to write about if they don't agree with it and go on to explain how they really are. 

After I gave them time to think over these questions and write in their journals, I got the chance to try a description activity that I've never had the chance to use before: monster art! I gave each students two pieces of paper. First, they had five minutes (okay, closer to ten...I have a lot of perfectionists) to draw a monster. Monsters work well for open-ended activities because there is no one way to draw a monster--it could be something with fur, or feathers, or scales; it could have two eyes or three ears or five feet or seven antennae; it could have wings or paws or hands or flippers. A monster could be a cute fuzzy thing from Sesame Street, or could be a shadow with flashing teeth from a Halloween thriller. After everyone had drawn a monster, I took them up, shuffled them, and then passed them back out face-down. Now, the students had to work in pairs. One partner would look at their monster, but keep it hidden from the other. Then they would describe it while the partner followed the description to draw it on the second sheet of paper. After they finished, then they could compare the original and the copy to see how well their description had enabled the partner to draw it. It was a good way to illustrate through experience how we can give someone else a mental picture through our descriptions. There were some very cute and creative monsters! I think the activity went well, and I think I'll keep it in my repertoire.

Saturday, October 9, 2010 0 comments
Monday, October 4, 2010 0 comments

October 3rd: Fish for Sunday Dinner

 The long-awaited fall cool-down came to us over a week ago, but we haven't been able to enjoy it too much as it brought with it a solid week of drippy drizzling.  Today, however, was one of those crisp, clear, brilliantly sunny perfect fall days.  I wished I was hiking in the woods; the urge to be outdoors was nearly irresistible.

It was a good Sunday, following the normal pattern: in the morning, Rebecca, Season, and I headed over to Ron and Evelyn's house on the south campus for a morning meeting.  After the meeting, most weeks we all go out to eat together.  Eleven people gathered around two pushed-together tables in the small back room of a restaurant across from the south campus.  It was crowded, but the more the merrier when we can share good food with good friends.  The main dish was grilled fish.  We Americans tend to have quite a disconnect between animals and food--we buy our meat clean and packaged in plastic from Kroger's; it's easy to disassociate it from the animal it used to be a part of.  No such thing  here.  Just inside the doorway of the restaurant there was a tub of water with a board over top of it.  Jordan, one of the Chinese brothers, translated Ron's request for fish.  The restaurant owner lifted up the piece of plywood and plunged his hands into the murky tub, and came up with a squirming ten-pound fish.  "Bigger!"  So he dropped the first fish unceremoniously back into the water and scrambled for another.  The third pick met the requirements, so he tossed it over his shoulder onto the sidewalk by the door.  It gasped in the sun as we filed past to find a table.  The owner's daughter squeezed past us with a meat cleaver in hand.  Twenty minutes later, we had a perfectly grilled fish, with a marinade of onions and spices, in the center of our table. 

As everyone else settled in at the tables, Ron, Jordan, and I held a conference in the kitchen with the owner.  Jordan is Chinese, so he could write our order down for us--here, generally you write your own order on the pad of paper instead of the waitress doing it.  Ron has the idea that I'm good at ordering food, so I have now been promoted to the ordering committee at most meals.  My Chinese is still on a just-getting-by level, but I have learned how to say several of the normal dishes.  Today was a wonderful meal: besides the fish, we had a plate of sweet and sour pork, two plates each of eggplant and cabbage, potatoes and onions, scrambled eggs and tomatoes, lotus root, and a super-spicy version of chicken and peanuts.

Another Sunday dinner, a couple of weeks later than the one I'm talking about.  Of course, I should have got the shot before we ate all the food...

I spent the afternoon doing some stuff for BW's birthday, and then we had a meeting at Colonel and Kelly's at five.  The singing seemed especially wonderful today--several of my favorite songs.