Thursday, September 27, 2007

Farewell to flip-flops

Unfortunately, I think we've reached that time of year in the Northeast where the flip-flops get packed away, not to be seen again until they make the exodus to Thailand. They are usually (somewhat) acceptable footwear until after October holiday, but with the cool change in temperatures the past couple days I guess toes are now supposed to be hidden. When I went to the market today, several people chastised me and asked if my feet were cold. Sigh...farewell flip flops.

It's been a crazy busy week; consequently, I didn't make it to the market to shop for Jude's birthday until this morning. Murphy's law would have it that when you're in a rush, things will not happen as planned. On the way back from the market, as I was pressed for time, I got stuck in a traffic jam. However, I had a creative taxi driver. He decided to pull up over the curb and drive on the sidewalk. A brilliant idea...we cruised around the corner and seemed to be headed right past the traffic jam. That is, until the cause of the traffic jam came back to spite us. Turns out a large ditch had been dug on the side of the road...the side that we would have to descend onto to get off the sidewalk. Not confident in the taxi's off-roading capabilities, the driver started to back up (after motioning the car behind who had followed his ingenous idea to also back up). We backed all the way up, headed to where we first entered the sidewalk. However, in backing up around the corner the driver did not see an older woman. Yup. Thunk. Down went the woman. And thus ended my taxi ride. The driver went back to check on her (no serious injury, but she was rubbing her knee and slow to get up). I paid the driver and hurried at a brisk walk back to the apartment...arriving slightly late for Jude's 6th birthday party (pictures on my flickr site). Happy Birthday Jude!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I can be your

Today was one of those culturally amusing days. The entertainment began with our practice for the opening ceremonies of the sports meet. Most of the team is marching in with the other foreign language department teachers (mostly Chinese teachers). For the past couple weeks I've been suppressing grins and chuckles as I walk past the freshmen enduring military training. This afternoon the joke was on me. All of the teachers were lined up in ranks according to height. I was in the back row in between Sarah and a Chinese teacher. We proceeded to the basketball courts to practice our marching. Due to the fact that all instructions were in Chinese, I was feeling in a little over my head--especially since the person giving commands was far away and I couldn't hear him very well. I was able to get the marching down pretty quick...but once they threw turns into the mix confusion took over. The commands for left turn, right turn, turn all the way around have similar sounds. Left is zuo (think zo), right is you (think yo) and turn around is ho. From a distance it was easy (at least for me) to get these mixed up. Thank goodness I don't understand criticisms yet! Anyways, we had a fun forty-five minutes learning to march. Tomorrow is our dress rehearsal--we pick up our matching track suits (our whole reason for to come), change, and then practice. It should be pretty awesome.

Tonight, Wu, Mark and I were the honorable judges of a speech contest. As to be expected, this contest was a showcase of speeches found who knows where (most likely the internet) performed by very nervous students. Topics included, but were not limited to, "I love English", "My Olympics dream", "Game on, game off", "Help others, help yourself", and my favorite topic, "The English over animals". My favorite performance of the evening (not in the high-scoring sense, but for pure entertainment value), was a male student who recited the lyrics to Marc Anthony's song "Hero". Just picture in your mind a Chinese male student reciting in a monotone, "I can be your hero"...long pause..."baby" (accompanied by a hand pump). And yes, the hand pump was used whenever he said baby. Recalling that image is sure to bring a smile to my face for quite some time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Butt load, Singing Soldiers, Yucky black shirts and other random updates

I apologize profusely for the fact that I've been quite lax at updating the blog this fall. Part of the reason is that blogger is blocked in China, so I have to update through a "back door" that makes the process a little more irksome. However, I do want to keep you all updated on all the amusing little details of my life. Consequently, what follows is a rather random list of unrelated events in no certain order. They're simply bits and pieces of my life I thought might bring a smile to your face.
  • I currently track the events of my day by singing soldiers. There are a bunch of soldiers staying in my building. These soldiers are on campus to run the freshmen military training. Every time they either leave the building or come back to the building they sing very loud songs right outside my window. Don't get me wrong, girls love to be serenaded. However, the repetitive nature of these songs (or perhaps it's the fact that they start at 6 am) makes them a little less appealing. However, I can schedule my activities around their singing. The first time of the day is time to get up. The second time they sing (around 7:15) is when I should move into the final stage of getting things ready for class. The next time they sing is time for me to start preparing for lunch. In the evening, they usually give me a nice dinnertime accompaniment...I think you're getting the point.
  • On Tuesday afternoon, Sonny and I are on library duty. This simply means that we must be in the foreign teacher's library to answer student questions and make books in the library available to students. It has been quite slow this year, due to the fact that not many students have been showing up. However, Sonny and I have no problems entertaining ourselves. Today, in between studying Chinese, we analyzed the origin of the phrase "butt load". Try to think of a logical explanation of that phrase (as in, "I have a butt load of work to do"), and you'll quickly see why Sonny and I were cracking up. Eventually we called Sarah and had her look the phrase up. If you want to know yourself, you'll have to do the work. (Hint: check out the Urban Dictionary).
  • This past Friday I went to visit the Norries in Changchun. It was wonderful to get to spend some time with them! Friday night Josiah had a performance at his school. He had informed his parents that it was important to dress up for the occasion. I didn't know ahead of time, so I asked Josiah if what I was wearing was ok. He replied very matter-of-factly, "Well, I wasn't really wanting yucky black shirts tonight, I was thinking of something with flowers." I definitely couldn't argue with him...and promptly borrowed a floral blouse from Jeweliann.
  • Two of my students (Sonny's former students) have been talking to Sonny for awhile about changing their names. Their current names are Grammy and Angel, so they've been thinking of adopting more "common" names. Last week they came to Sonny with the suggestion to change their names to Latte and Cappuccino. Sonny informed them that perhaps that wasn't the best choice.
  • Today is Mid-Autumn Day festival in China. The holiday celebrates reunions with loved ones. This holiday is marked by the arrival of the mooncake, a special "treat" only eaten this time of year. I think they're do most foreigners. On our team, only Sarah really appreciates them--which means she has large stacks in her house as we pawn off all of ours onto her.
I hope that provided a little entertainment for your day! Upcoming for me: Sports meet this Friday and Saturday (rumors that we might get track suits for that--we can only hope), Freshmen Welcoming Party performance (aka biannual humiliation) Saturday night, and then Sunday I'm off to Nanjing for the October holiday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Give me an O-H-I-O

Lest you believe that the sheer silence about college football on my blog indicates a flagging devotion for my Buckeyes, I thought I better put up a quick post. I have been listening to at least the first halves of the games. However, it is quite difficult to laud praises on the ineptitude of the offense. Thankfully those bumblings have been overshadowed by the glorious downfall of that team up North, who have provided for me a good five minutes of gleeful giggles the past two Sunday mornings. Although I must admit, as a Buckeye fan I'd be glad to see Lloyd Carr stick around for a couple more years. Griped about our lackadaisical offense...check. Mocked Michigan...check. The only thing left to do--sing the praises of the brick wall defense that seems to be our hope of a good season.

Monday, September 10, 2007


With cold weather sure to arrive in the near future, I've been trying to get out on my bike as much as possible. This year I've been exploring "the land beyond"--turning right out of the school. It's been a lot of fun to be riding out in the cornfields and farm land (and no, not because it reminds me of my home state of Indiana...). It is also nice to be on less populated streets where a moment of absent-minded disregard won't land me in a hospital. I enjoy getting out and seeing a very different China than the academia that surrounds me at the university. There are many different faces of China, and I know this is one face that many of my students are coming from. Consequently, I've been enjoying being an observer of life beyond the city. There's the group that gathers every evening to play mahjong by the roadside. The man selling fruits and vegetables out of a cart. The boys herding sheep. However, recently I got to interact with this face of China in a much more personal way than I expected. I took my bike out on a cool and cloudy afternoon, heading straight for the country roads through the corn fields. I had gotten quite far when it started to feel like I was working way too hard to pedal the bike. I looked back and realized my back tire was getting quite low. I immediately turned around, knowing I was in the middle of nowhere and wanting to get as close to returning to the school as possible. However, the air quickly diminished in my tire and before I knew it I was walking the bike along the road. Suddenly, my energizing afternoon ride turned into a long stroll in the country. I walked for a ways before finding an elderly gentleman squatting by the side of the road. I asked him if he had an air pump--ok, I take that back, I don't know the word for pump in Chinese. I asked him for air. :) Seeing my deflated tire, he got the point and told me to follow him. We walked down a small dirt avenue to his house and he told me to wait outside while he went to find the pump. He returned a few moments later with the pump, his wife, daughter and grandchild. Pretty soon we were also joined by a neighbor. He attempted to pump the tire while I tried to communicate with his family. However, we eventually realized that the tire wasn't going to hold any air. We examined the tire and found a long staple stuck in it. I was sure it had punctured quite a hole in the tire. I asked the family if there was anyone who could fix the bike nearby, to which they replied, no, nowhere near. A heated discussion then ensued as the family tried to decide what to do with the poor foreigner with poor Chinese stranded in the countryside. Eventually, they decided the best course of action was to hail a taxi on the road and put my bike in the trunk. I obligingly followed them back to the road (was I really going to fight their advice?). We waited for quite some time, and not surprisingly, no taxis came. Another neighbor joined us and she suggested I call for a friend to come. I pulled out my cell phone and gave Wu a call; however, a little bit into describing my predicament, I realized he was no longer on the line. My cell phone had died and I had no idea how much he had heard and if he knew where I was. As it was growing later in the day and I had a several mile walk ahead of me, I thanked the family profusely and set out on my country stroll once again. About 20 minutes later Seth and Sarah did arrive in a taxi to rescue me from the rest of the walk...and I headed to my bike repairman who patched the large tear in my inner tire. Ever since I've headed out on my rides with a fully charged cell phone...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Chopstick games

Tonight was one of those nights when I shook my head in wonder at the life I'm currently living. We had a welcoming meeting and banquet--an annual event meant to encourage relationships among the foreign teachers (American, Japanese, Russian, and Korean) at the school. The evening started with greetings and introductions. Our group then moved on to visit a small museum one of the Japanese teachers had set up with a ton of Japanese artifacts. He showed us around the museum, explaining the collection in Japanese. His explanations were translated into Chinese, and then by various people re-translated into English, Russian and Korean. Quite remarkable! After visiting the museum, we also visited a library of books set up by the same Japanese teacher. It was quite the impressive collection--complete with full sets of English encyclopedias.
From the library we moved onto dinner. Sarah and I were at a table with most of the Japanese teachers and their translators. I was next to one of the translators who spoke some English as well. So between her English and my Chinese we were able to communicate. One of the most entertaining events of the night began with the observation that I was using my left hand to eat. I proceeded to tell the story of the first time I came to China and tried to eat with my right hand. I was entirely unsuccessful and went hungry the first several days. When I eventually tried my left hand (the hand I write with), I finally mastered chopsticks. This story led all of the teachers at the table to try to use their left hands to eat (and commenting that such an undertaking was a good dieting technique). I also attempted to eat with my right hand. Our endeavors resulted in a quite a bit of laughter and some of the more successful and genuine communication I've had at a banquet since coming to China.