Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Home sweet home

After a whirlwind of final activities, a very rushed day of packing and cleaning, a day of hanging out in Beijing, and a very long day of travel I'm back in the USA. The last few days in Siping are a complete blur...I'm still not quite sure what all happened. I taught my last class Thursday morning and Thursday night was on an overnight train to Beijing with Seth and Sarah. Lying on the train, I realized I had forgotten to pack about 10 things I was planning on bringing...but oh well, at least it's not hard to find the things I want here! :) Friday night in Beijing, our friend Stuart took us to a new area. This "West Hutong" was yet another face of this very diverse city. It was lined with unique small shops, coffee shops, cafes and bars--and was like stepping into another world. We settled in on the rooftop of one of the cafes. The roof was slanted and scattered with all manner of leftover/broken chairs and tables--yet somehow this all worked together for a cool atmosphere. We sat drinking coffee, taking in the beautiful polluted red Beijing sky.

After staying out too late, it was an early morning trip to the airport. Seth, Sarah, and I traveled together to Tokyo, where they bid me farewell as I boarded a plane bound for Detroit. The flight was long, but the time passed quicker due to an interesting seat neighbor. After weeding my way through immigration and customs at what has been voted the worst airport in the country (see the current Newsweek), I sat in the terminal in "staring mode" for a couple hours waiting for my flight to Indy. I found myself incredibly distracted by the fact that I could eavesdrop on everyone around me. Another short flight and I was in my parents' car headed home for a nice dinner accompanied by a nice bottle of wine.

This Thursday the tour of the country begins as I head down to Florida for a week. After that it's off to one of my favorite places, Chicago. I'm getting quite excited to see and catch up with many loved ones!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

People time

The last couple days my large stack of essays have been pushed to the side (or rather, messily cluttered every surface of my office). My time has been packed full with activities with some of my favorite people. While I have moments of panic every now and then about the enormity of what needs to be accomplished in the next six days, it's been great to have tons of reminders about why I'm really here.

Yesterday, my two Chinese tutors from last year came to visit. These girls are some of my dearest friends and although our time was short together, it was also extremely sweet. Relationships take a lot of time to go deep here, which is why the closeness I feel with these girls is truly a gift. Sadly, they have now graduated and work has taken them down to the south of China. Hopefully I'll be able to visit them in the next year!

I've also had dinners with students the last two nights. Last night, four of my junior girls brought over dinner for us and then we played their new favorite game, Phase 10. They are determined to spread the game all over China. I promised to help them out by bringing them decks for them from America. These girls have become great friends this year and I'm looking forward to more game nights next year!

Tonight I cooked dinner for eight of my freshmen students. Their groups had the best commercial performances in class and hence won a home-cooked meal. Yes, I'm crazy to be doing this sort of thing with less than a week left, but we had an awesome time tonight. They were a little nervous at first about eating dinner at their foreign teacher's house, but a fiercely competitive game of spoons went a long way to making them feel more than comfortable. In China I always play spoons with chopsticks instead, which makes the game even more challenging--try grabbing for a thin, slick piece of wood! Sarah and Seth were kind enough to "help" me clean my dishes after everyone left...that is, if getting in a huge soap sud fight is considered helpful...well, at least it was good stress relief!

I finally got my flight itinerary today. Due to the fact that I ended up on a flight early Saturday morning (instead of afternoon), I'm going to have to head to Beijing Thursday night (instead of Friday night). Having one less day is huge...which is why I need to stop doing things like updating my blog and turn to the stack of menacing papers on my desk. There are some pictures on flickr from Sarah's 4th pink, yellow, and purple birthday party from today. Another opportunity to see team Siping looking their best.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lions, tigers, and bears...oh my!

Life has been busy lately...really busy. There have been birthday parties, last minute performances, examinations, and daily necessities like tackling the stack of dishes in the kitchen. I just put a bunch of pictures from recent activities on my Flickr site today. Hop on over there if you want to see the Superhero side of our team (who all made an appearance for Josiah's birthday). I, of course, was a pig bear. What else could I be? At least I got some use out of all those things I've accumulated this year...from shower caps to flip flops.

The main occupation of the remaining week and a half will be finishing grading my junior five paragraph essays. Grading these papers is proving to be a frustrating process, as I've had to deal with a lot of plagiarism. I always find it difficult to balance grace with enforcing my standards as a teacher. Plagiarism is something that is culturally acceptable, however, I've also made it clear that it is not acceptable in my class. But do you expect students to change their ways of thinking, researching, and writing that they've been learning for twenty years in one semester? Oh the challenges of being an American teacher in China...

Anyways, the reason I hopped on here was to share a bright spot from my grading travails. When I first started reading this essay on gun control for America I was almost certain I was going to be reading a bunch of plagiarized quotes pieced together. However, after reading this second paragraph I was assured that no, the student had written it herself. I hope it brings a little laughter, or at least a smile to your day!

Citizens who bear arms can keep themselves from danger. Firstly, owning guns make people keep themselves from dangerous animals. Many people like adventure travels. When these people travel in the forest, they will come across some dangerous animals, such as tigers, bears and lions. These animals are very strong. If they attack people, these people will be eaten by them. But citizens who have guns can keep themselves safe.

Mom, please prepare my rifle for me...I'm going to need protection from all those tigers in Indiana.