Monday, December 22, 2008

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care

Well, I don't have a chimney, but the stockings are hung on the windows. The presents are wrapped under the tree. The fridge is stocked. The towels and sheets are clean. The rugs are clean. The finals (that I've given) are graded. The grad work...well, the grad work is being conveniently ignored. That's right, I'm ready for my Christmas guests!

I'm off to give my last two finals. One is a speaking final (no grading afterward...a definite bonus) and the other will deliver 23 five paragraph essays into my hands. Then I'm rushing off to the train station to head down to Beijing. Hopefully, in between all of those things, I'll get my passport returned to me (the office has had it for a visa renewal for the last two weeks). Ah, it wouldn't be China if things weren't taken down to the wire.

And then...drum roll please...I'll be picking up two of my good friends! Since they're such good friends, I'm going to take them from their 30 hour journey to China directly to the train station for an overnight train to Siping. We'll get into Siping about 5 am on Christmas Eve...and then I'm going to drag them to an 8 am class. Hahaha...I'm such a good friend!

Nevertheless, I'm super excited to get to celebrate Christmas with "family"! Merry Christmas to all of you back in the States!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

7:49 AM

Have you ever had that dream where your alarm doesn't go off and you miss an important exam? That dream almost became a reality for me today.

My first thought when I woke up this morning was, "Wow! I feel much more rested than I expected to after six and a half hours of sleep!" This thought was quickly followed by, "Wow, it's really light outside the window." Which in turn was followed by a jumbled mess of thoughts as I reached out in panic for my alarm clock. I immediately noticed two things about my alarm clock. One, the little lever that turns on the alarm was only nudged halfway. Two, the clock was blinking 7:49. I was giving an exam at 8. Not only that, but an exam that I was certain would take many of the students the entire class period to complete. Let's just say I sprang out of bed faster than Saint Nick up the chimney.

At this point, my obsessive type A organization and the fact that I abandon some of my obsessive type A organization when I'm exhausted both worked to my advantage. The latter fact meant that the previous day's teaching outfit, instead of being neatly folded and put away/stowed in the laundry basket, was draped on top of the laundry basket. Within moments I was dressed, and admittedly not concerned with how I was smelling. (Random cultural sidenote: it is perfectly acceptable, in fact expected, to wear an outfit more than one day in a row. I won't tell you what number day I was on this morning...) Seconds later, I had run a brush through my hair, attempting not to look at the amount of grease too closely in the mirror, and had dabbed a bit of powder on my unwashed face. In a split second decision, I decided to forgo the toothbrush. I know, ewwww. But a lot of my students make that decision every morning as well. At this point, the obsessive type A behavior that had not been abandoned by exhaustion, came through for me. I dashed into my office to grab the neatly piled exams from the ledge. I dumped them in my bag, as well as the neat pile of work laid out for me to do during the exam. I hurriedly put on my coat and shoes and was out the door literally four minutes after waking.

I power-walked as fast as one can in high heeled boots over to the teaching building, and slipped into the classroom promptly at 7:58. I calmly took out the exams and proceeded to check all the desks. Little did my students know I had yet to be awake for ten minutes. After the exams were handed out, I settled into my desk to say a quick upward thanks that I had been nudged awake not a minute later.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's the thought that counts...

Wu came by today with our Christmas presents from the department...

I wonder if they felt the same way when they opened our cell-phone shaped rechargeable shavers? In China, the fact that you gave a gift is what matters.

In case you need any proof that I live in a SMALL town, today my taxi driver described my teammate Sonny to me and asked if I knew him. Considering our team of 13 makes up almost the entire foreign contingency in our town, we're famous. However, apparently not all of the taxi drivers know us. Before I ended up in Sonny's friend's cab, I had waved down another driver. When he told me it would be 10 RMB to get to the school (it's supposed to be five), I quickly shut the he called out 8 RMB. Sonny's friend (who was in the next cab) asked me how much that driver had told me. When I said 10 RMB, he said, it's because you're a foreigner. I replied, I know, but I also know better than to pay that. The driver got a good chuckle out of that.

I have four more finals to give, and one end of the year "fun" class to teach before wrapping up the semester. It's hard to believe we're this close to the end!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hanging on by a thread

To my sanity, that is. Sorry about the lack of posting. :) The above is about the only thing keeping me going right now. Here's some numbers to help explain why:
  • 8 days until my close friends arrive in China
  • 3 teammate birthdays to celebrate in the next 10 days
  • 4 Christmas parties
  • 64 five paragraph essays to grade
  • 52 written exams to give and grade
  • 75 very dense pages of grad work left to read
  • 5 grad papers to write
  • 5 essay questions to write for my commitment interview
  • Cupcakes, cookies, muffins, and various other things to bake
  • 6 birthday/Christmas gifts left to shop for
  • 20 need-to-be answered emails in my inbox
Time to go put another pot of coffee on...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving #1 & #2

Thanksgiving was a work day here, but the team still managed to scrape together an amazing meal. In between teaching two classes, I whipped up my Grandma's four varieties of yeast rolls. It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without them! Plus, I think I might be barred from dinner if I didn't come with them. It only takes me a total of three toaster ovens jammed in my kitchen to get them all baked up for dinner. :)The day before I made a huge batch of applesauce and mashed potatoes. A local restaurant roasted two chickens for us (complete with heads, thank goodness!) and the team provided the rest of the sides. The chicken, despite its disconcerting ability to stare us down, was actually extremely tasty and saved us from trying to cook meat for 20 people in toaster ovens. After a busy day on my feet, it was nice to sit down with the whole gang for dinner. Our centerpiece was the traditional Wu turkey (pineapple with head stuck in it). Friday evening I decorated my house for Christmas, and as if on cue, snow started to drift down outside my window. My house's charm has been multiplied by many strands of Christmas lights. The perfectly-timed snow became a hindrance when some of the team and I attempted to take a bus to Changchun for our second Thanksgiving on Saturday morning. We arrived at the bus station only to find out that the buses were not running. Not deterred, we headed over to the train station and managed to find seats on a train leaving in an hour and a half. We arrived about an hour late to the Changchun dinner, but a conveniently placed microwave and a kind friend who had shooed people away from getting too many seconds from the food table salvaged the situation. After eating a plate full of food, we had a great time of thanksgiving and fellowship with people from the region. After that, a few of us hit the stores in town. It was hopefully my last trip to Changchun this semester, so I stocked up on all kinds of items, and took care of some Christmas shopping. We got back late Saturday night a little bit tired, but wonderfully full. It's now time for the final press of the semester. I will only see my classes three more times. It seems as if no matter how well I plan out my semester, I always end up needing "just one more week". I'm trying to creatively figure out how best to prepare my students for their final exams! Regardless, I know in the blink of an eye the end of the month will be here, and I'll be left wondering what exactly just happened to me. Let the holiday rush begin!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A few of my favorite things

  • The smell of applesauce cooking in my apartment. Apples mixed with cinnamon is one of my favorite scents. (I'm busy cooking up food for Thanksgiving.)
  • These small oranges (about half the size of the palm of your hand). I never had them in America, but they're my favorite treat in November & December in China (their season here). They are amazingly sweet! I eat them like candy.
  • This drink, Lulu. It's an almond milk that is usually served warm in the winter. I think it tastes like an almond cookie straight from the oven. The team thinks its repulsive, but it's my favorite winter beverage. Plus, I think it will make me as pretty and happy as the woman on the can.
  • This website. It's the only way I have a hope of doing my Chinese homework each week. Not only does it teach you stroke order of characters, but you can draw a character and look it up that way. It's one of my favorite websites!
  • A baby falling asleep in my arms. Pure bliss and peace!
  • Counting the days until my friends, Kasey and Kurt, arrive from the States to celebrate Christmas with me and get a glimpse of my life here. Less than four weeks!
  • All of you amazing Rez folk who showed up for the Christmas Village and made it possible for the new orphanage to have a disinfecting cabinet, water heater, refrigerator, and washing machine! I can't wait to tell the orphanage!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Too good to be true

Recently, I gave my writing students a somewhat simple and in my eyes easy homework assignment. Their job was simply to write a paragraph. A 5-8 sentence paragraph that began with a topic sentence and ended with a concluding sentence. In class, we worked on the pre-writing tasks. First, we brainstormed about the general topic, "Western Holidays". Then, we made cluster charts (you may refer to them as bubble charts) to help organize our ideas. For homework, they were supposed to pick one segment of the bubble chart (they couldn't possibly talk about the whole thing in one paragraph) and create a brief outline and paragraph. Some of the students managed the task quite well. Others showed me why I still have a job teaching English. Still others...well, their compositions were just too good to be true.

I'm in my fourth year of teaching in China, and I'm well aware that those practices we term "cheating", "plagiarism", and "copying" do not carry quite the weighty negative connotation here in China that they do in America. My students have given me ample opportunities to hone my skills at detecting copied work from a mile off. I believe that my detection skills have reached master level. Armed with google and quotation marks I've found many a speech and essay online. However, I was a little surprised (not a lot, just a little), when I discovered more than a few paragraphs that had been copied from the internet. I mean really, couldn't you write six sentences in less time than it takes to find a paragraph on the internet about holidays and to hand write that paragraph? I was also a little insulted at how daft my students must think I am. Do they really believe I'll think they wrote a sentence like, "At the very beginning, Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed by the Governor of Plymouth in the autumn of 1621 to express the colonists' gratitude to the Father for the first harvest in the New World."?

And yet, there was one paragraph which totally relieved my frustration by sending me into fits of laughter. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the following paragraph:
What is the meaning of the word Christmas? C stands for the C. Child who was sleeping on the day. H is for the Heavenly Host who worshipped that day. R is for the radiance on Mary's holy face. I is for the lowly Inn, a poor and humble place. S is for the star that shines to guide the shepherds there. T is for the travelers who brought him treasures rare. M is for the manger where he was born. A is for the angels who hovered round his bed. S is for the Savior who brought peace and hope to earth. It's so interesting, isn't it? That's what I introduce about Christmas for you. I wonder if you will like it.
Why yes, yes I do like it. Life is never dull here! And in case you're wondering...I have held off on the decorations...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Is it time yet?

With snow falling outside my window and temperatures dipping into the negatives at night, I'm itching to pull out the Christmas decorations. Actually, I've been wanting to do that ever since Sarah and I put on a Christmas CD in the foreign teachers' library a couple weeks ago. I know, I know, it's a mortal sin, but it was the only music CD we had. And we're in China, so anything goes. Anyways, I'm ready to hang some stockings! If I wasn't still partially laid up from a stomach bug the team's been passing around, the tree might be halfway up at the moment. I'll try to contain myself, but I don't know if I'll be able to hold back through this weekend...

I remember as a kids my sister and I always begged my parents as soon as we got home from the annual Thanksgiving trip to Grandma's to head out to the local tree farm. Unfortunately, it seems like that first weekend after thanksgiving my dad always had a business trip out of town. Even as a kid I could hardly wait to decorate the house. I guess there are some things you never grow out of!

Since I don't have the energy to put up my actual tree, enjoy this trip down memory lane of Brandt Christmas tree hunting.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A new home

Many of you know that my team and I are privileged to have a great relationship with the local orphanage. They graciously allow us to partner with them in loving the fatherless and motherless of this town. I'm being entirely honest when I say this is a privilege. The women who work at this orphanage are truly heroes of mine. They love the children as their own and pour out their lives loving them. There is a lot to learn about love from them!
Recently, we were blessed to watch the orphanage move from a facility on the outskirts of the city to an amazing new facility in the heart of the city. In many ways, this move also reflects a changing perspective of many people, especially students from our university. In the past few years, we have watched the number of students interested in the orphans multiply rapidly. It used to be only our team visiting the kids on Saturdays, now it's not uncommon to have more than 3 students per child on a Saturday. Students pour in bringing fruit, clothing, snacks, and more importantly hearts full of love. This sight is remarkable, considering orphans in China are on a periphery of a nation that functions based on social circles. They have no in-group, yet students are reaching out to them.
Students at the orphanage
The new facility is at least double the size of the previous building. The attention to detail is remarkable, especially for China. All of the staircases have built in baby gates. The baby floor is equipped with low handrails to help toddlers learning to walk. The baby room has an adjacent large bathroom equipped with half a dozen bathtubs and small toilets . The building is warm. The heating is excellent. There's a room for sick children to stay in so others don't get sick. There's a craft room. The older children's rooms have whimsical trees growing on the walls and columns. Shiny new beds are topped with large stuffed animals. I was near tears as I walked through this beautiful building. Give thanks to the one who labors on behalf of the widows and orphans!
Big kids room
Baby bathroom
Baby room

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A little taste of heaven

My world was forever changed tonight. I think I just discovered my new favorite candy. Never before have I thought a candy was worthy of an entire blog post. Tonight I received a small package from my former team leader (you're amazing Amanda!!!). I was a bit perplexed when I opened it and saw kisses with orange wrappers. I thought maybe they were just dressed up for Halloween. Never in my wildest most wonderful dreams did I ever think Hershey's would make a PUMPKIN kiss. I love pumpkin anything...and it's a flavor that I miss dearly in China in the fall. Now a pumpkin spice kiss sounds a little strange, but let me tell you (unless you're a teammate who's going to come ask me for one), this is the most remarkable candy ever created. I'm in love. I'll go ahead and count this as my single's day present. And thank goodness I'm single, because I wouldn't want to share these precious kisses with anyone!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Singles Day!

Today is an "unofficial" holiday in China. Due to the abundance of ones in today's date (11/11), the younger generation in China has dubbed the day as "Single's Day"--because being single is something to celebrate. There was not a hint of sarcasm in that last statement. OK, maybe there was just a little bit. I might feel differently if I actually received gifts on the day.

Anyways, to celebrate the holiday, one of the local restaurants (that is owned by an independent foreign teacher) decided to host a party. At the party, all of the foreign teachers were auctioned off for dinner "dates". The money raised by the auction is being given to the orphanage. The idea of being auctioned off like a piece of meat was slightly repulsive to Sarah and I, but we also wanted to support the orphanage. Our solution was to be auctioned off together. Really, who could pass up the opportunity to discover your net worth? Plus, we were offering the added bonus of two girls for the price of one. Apparently, Sarah and I (together) are worth 27 RMB (about 4 dollars). Wow, that amount looks even sadder when I convert it. :) The foreign teacher, not surprisingly, with the highest net worth was Vance, bringing in over 40 RMB. We tease Vance about being the newest Mr. Halligan/heart throb on campus. Sure enough, there was a gaggle of giggling girls ready and eager to bid on him.

I also celebrated the holiday by giving a culture lecture tonight. My topic was pets in America, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about my first love, pictured below.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Overcoming fear

This is my fourth year living in China. Today was the first time I got my hair cut here. In a land where one of the most popular hair styles is what I affectionately term "the lion's mane", I didn't have much faith in Chinese salons. I had heard horror stories of many a foreigner who had a disastrous encounter with a hairdresser. I know that in China the person cutting your hair is the expert, and so, to a certain extent, has the freedom to do whatever he chooses. I also don't speak near enough Chinese to direct someone how I want my hair cut. All of these reasons combined together meant more than enough justification not to set foot in a salon. I got my hair cut once in the summer in the States, always giving the direction, "Please cut it into a style that will grow out well for a year." This past summer, though, I was itching for a new style, and I decided to go for it--even knowing that it wasn't the type of style I'd let grow out through the year. When I got back to China this fall, I told my Chinese tutors to take a good long look at my hair, so that they would be able to describe the style to a hairdresser. I strategically decided to take the great leap of faith today. There aren't many foreigners in my city and there is certainly no one to impress (sorry team, that's meant to be a reflection of my comfort around you). The next time I will see a large group of people who don't automatically gush "you're so beautiful" no matter what I look like (I love Chinese students!) will be at the end of January for my company's annual conference. I figured if I got my hair cut now, there would be enough time for a horrible cut to grow out before then. Anyway, armed with my faithful language tutors on "hair guard duty" and pictures of my previous hair cut, today I headed out to what is supposed to be one of the best salons in town. When we got there, they insisted that the owner of the salon cut my hair. They gave him a long set of instructions and went through all the pictures I had. The owner then proceeded to spend about 15 minutes examining every milimeter of my hair to learn about the previous cut. He then spent about an hour carefully cutting my hair. It turned out a little shorter and thinner than I wanted, but overall, it was actually a pretty good haircut--especially considering it cost me less than 4 USD. I guess there was nothing to fear!

In other news, late last night we had an 80's themed "Dance Dance Revolution" birthday party for Jennifer. Sonny recently purchased the game, and ever since my daily life has been to the rhythm of stomping feet (he lives right above me). Last night was my first time playing, but by some fluke I ended up almost making it to the final round. The birthday girl danced circles around me though. (Picture is pre-haircut.)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Halloween!

For Halloween this year, Sonny and Wu planned a surprise for the team. A couple weeks ago they instructed us to block off 3-8pm on October 31st. Things have been insanely busy lately, and I must admit I was not super excited about the loss of five hours. However, with Sonny behind it, I never should have doubted! With the help of a student, they arranged for us to go out to a farm to have a bonfire cookout. We loaded up a van with table, stools, and food and headed on out. The fire was blazing within minutes and we were roasting up cheese stuffed bratwurst (found in Changchun). The fire was so scorching, the Chinese "fire starters" had to assist us with doctoring our "roasting sticks" (actually screw drivers) so they would be long enough for us to cook our food without cooking our eyebrows. As if freshly roasted brats weren't a special enough treat, we also had marshmallows to roast and create s'more's with. After stuffing ourselves full with food, we sat and enjoyed the warmth and smell of the fire on a chilly October night. It was a wonderful evening, and just the break I needed from a hectic schedule! Thanks Sonny and Wu!

Vance attempts to roast his hot dog before we figure out the extension rods

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fall chill

I guess we don't have to worry about the Buckeyes being humiliated in yet another National Championship game. Honestly, that's a relief. We can let JoePa be humiliated this time. It turns out Pryor does still have room to improve. He's going to be haunted by that last pass for awhile.

Weather. Americans love to talk about it. As I taught my freshmen last week, it's our most common small talk topic. They find it quite funny that we're so fascinated by the topic. Regardless, it's what we do. Without further ado, here's the weather update for us...COLD. Those three weeks of balmy fall weather disappeared overnight a few days ago. The water in the fountain is now frozen when I walk to class. My winter coat has been pulled out of the closet, and gloves have started to litter my apartment. It's all downhill from here... However, the chill does have its positive side effects as well. Hot cocoa, soups, candles, and soft blankets suddenly contain an extra comforting appeal.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Right foot green

I was filled with dread as I listened to the hordes of feet tromping up the staircase. It was Wednesday evening and it had already been a long day. The day was only about to grow longer, with the arrival of 300 freshmen for a welcoming open house at all of the foreign teachers' homes.

I'm just going to be honest. I hate large group gatherings. I'm the type of person who hovers in a corner and hopes to find just one person to talk to the whole night. That tactic doesn't work so well when there are droves of students pouring through the door with the sole aim of seeing you (and investigating your home).

Rewind a few hours. Two senior students sat on my couch. We had just finished a movie and were chatting about life. The discussion started to go deeper. Curiousity overcoming her, the student questioned me about how I communicate with my Father. I delightedly watched as the first few glimmers of light and hope began to appear in her words. These are the moments that make all of it worth it. No pizza. Missing my nephew's dedication. No football games in the Shoe. Entertaining of large crowds of freshmen.

The fact is, the crowd control of Wednesday evening is necessary to get to that moment on the couch. It took many nights of large groups and apparent shallowness to bring us to that point. And so, with an upward plea for cheerfulness, I braced myself for the arrival of many eager faces. For two and a half hours I laughed, I smiled, I posed for pictures, and I contorted myself into all kinds of strange positions. Yes, the entertainment in my house was the great game of Twister. I yelled, "Left hand, red!", "Right jiao...yellow...huang se", and all variations of colors and appendages in English and Chinese for several hours. My voice was hoarse by the end, but the students left with grins and excitement on their faces. I can only hope and ask that some of those students will in the coming months and years be sitting on my couch with similar questions.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I know I have been terribly absent lately, but there has been a lot going on. I did want to give you a glimpse, though, into the BEAUTIFUL fall we've been having. With temps in the upper sixties and little wind the leaves have been more spectacular than I've ever seen them here. Here's a little peak!
Today we have 17 people coming in to visit us and get a picture of our life over here. The next few days will be crazy, but fun as we show them around our little city!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Nowhere to hide

Team plays a huge role in my life. My teammates are my friends, my co-workers, my family, my doctors when I'm sick, my fellowship group, my dinner companions, my next door neighbors...the list goes on. The experience of living on a team in China, in a city where there are very few other foreigners, is difficult to describe. However, one basic fact is that we become quite familiar with each other's idiosyncrasies and odd habits. There's no laughing or pointing fingers, because let's be honest, we're all a little strange. Yet there are moments when our "strangeness" becomes more glaringly obvious. For me, one of those moments was when the team found out I won a silver ribbon at the fair for the jumper I sewed for 4-H. Yes, I'm a nerd...and proud of it. For Sonny, one of those moments happened last week. Somehow, Wu discovered the story of the Black Shirt. Apparently, for the past three years there has been a Black Shirt living in Sonny's bathroom. If you're a fan of my photos, you may have noticed that Sonny ALWAYS wears solid brightly colored shirts. I have never, let me repeat, never seen him wear black. Consequently, when Sonny moved to China three years ago, he was dismayed to discover he had packed a black shirt. Concerned by the fact that his colored shirts might get upset with a dark neighbor, Sonny placed the shirt in the bathroom instead of the closet. Then one day, he just got angry at the black shirt. After ripping off both sleeves of the shirt, he went back with a pair of scissors to even out the cut (a fact that was not surprising to any of us...Sonny is very precise). After the outburst of anger, the shirt was neatly refolded and put back on the shelf in the bathroom. Each summer the shirt would be packed up and stored in the office, and each fall the shirt would be unpacked and put back in the bathroom. Wu somehow got it into his mind that an "intervention" (Sonny is opposed to this term) was needed. Really, Wu just wanted something to light on fire. So after recounting the tale to the team, he got us all behind his idea to burn the Black Shirt. Finally Sonny agreed, with lingering protests that there might be something in the future he would use it for. At 10:30 at night a few of us banged on the doorman's door to let us out of the building (they lock the door at 10 pm...don't ask what we would do if there was a fire). It took about 10 minutes and 5 knocks before he groggily came out in his long underwear. Finally outside, we stuffed the Black Shirt with paper and let free our pyromaniac spirits. The shirt was quickly, much to our satisfaction, engulfed in flames. The wonderful thing is that these quirks each of us have, including getting angry at black shirts, are accepted and make up part of why we love each other. It's a blessing to be in an environment where your strangeness doesn't need to hide.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Where have I been?

Things have been slightly crazy lately! Following the big celebration was last minute preparation for our new teammates' arrival. I spent awhile running around town trying to find items to make their homes more homey. For example, it took four grocery stores to find jelly. For some reason items disappear in Siping for large chunks of time. We had been butter-less since the beginning of the year, but luckily that has recently reappeared at one grocery store. Our new teammates arrived early Thursday morning; Friday night we had them partying to celebrate Jude's birthday and by Saturday we had them competing in the school's sports meet. Daren gave the foreign teachers major face by winning the 200 meters. As he says, he better have won since he was racing against "all of the old guys". Apparently there was a younger and older division. As a reward for his quick legs, he got an electric massager that's shaped like a dolphin. After all of that running, that dolphin is his new best friend. Sonny got to try out his shot put skills and Wu attempted the long jump. I got to practice my action shots. :) Luckily, the women foreign teachers are not usually asked to compete. This week is the national holiday, so we have no classes. We've been filling the time with team building activities. I'm actually looking forward to the end of the holiday and to finally getting into a set routine. With festivities, holidays, and visits from VIPs, this past month has hardly felt like a "regular" schedule.

Jude's birthday party
Daren in actionSonny in actionWu in action

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Quote of the day

Sonny, as we tried to explain the appeal and wonderfulness of High School Musical to Daren.

"It's like Mean Girls for baptists."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Happy Birthday JLNU!

This week the school celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. The remarkable thing is that my company has had teachers here for half of that history. In recognition of that fact, our company's president was in town to commemorate the occasion.

The campus hasn't looked quite this spectacular since I moved here two years ago. The buildings around the main square all got fluorescent light outlines, new statues were placed, and new fountains installed. Balloons were inflated and flags were placed just about anywhere one could think to put a flag. Huge banners hung down the ten stories of the first teaching building. The second teaching building, a somewhat drab building, got a small face lift by way of student made decorations on all of the classroom walls. One such decoration was written in English and had the title of "Friends" with the following phrases written below:

I won't let her without a fight.

It could happen to everyone.
I'm a laundry virgin.
Why don't we give this a try.

I must confess that I spent a few moments of my students journal writing time chuckling at this somewhat random assortment of phrases, especially "I'm a laundry virgin". Don't ask me why that's there--three years in China and I haven't a clue.

Thursday night featured performances that students had been working on for months. Most of the performers were from the art and music department, which added a class and talent level beyond which I've witnessed before. The highlight (among many) for me was the dance labeled by Sonny as the "Tibetan Jack Sparrows". If you look below, you'll see the costumes do have quite the Jack Sparrow vibe. Regardless, the dance was phenomenal.

Friday morning was slightly less entertaining for us foreigners, as we got to practice our Chinese listening to the ten speeches of the official anniversary ceremony. However, it was fun to hear our president give his speech.

Lastly, the birthday of the school has provided me with my two minutes of fame. I was somehow chosen to be the token foreigner in the anniversary book, or as Sonny says, the "foreign eye candy". I guess it doesn't really count as my few minutes of fame, since my name isn't even listed. I am simply "A foreign teacher teaching".

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pure bliss

I inherited it from my grandma (as did my dad): a love of good food and showing love through good food. There are few things I enjoy more, when time permits, than to spend an afternoon in the kitchen creating. This weekend is a holiday weekend in China; classes are canceled on Monday for mid-Autumn day festival. I don't have classes on Tuesday, or Friday, which means I actually have quite the nice break! Things haven't gotten too busy yet, and with students gone for the weekend I've been left with some free time (what a novelty!). One of the comfort foods I always miss in China is fresh, piping hot french bread. The type with crispy crust and a soft center. The Chinese do many things extraordinarily well (we all know this after seeing the opening ceremony). However, bread is not one of those things. It's often dry, too sweet, and just not up to my admittedly picky standards. This week I got the grand idea that I could make french bread for myself (yes, I know, you're saying, 'it took you three years to figure this out?'). So today, with my free time, I set my mind to do exactly that. I've made yeast breads before, but never a baguette, so it was new territory for me. But armed with a recipe from allrecipes (best recipe site on the internet in my opinion!) I felt fairly confident. To me, bread making is strangely therapeutic. The smell of yeast takes me back to grandma's kitchen, and the rhythm in kneading bread is a great stress reliever. While the bread was rising, I also threw together a peach pie for the team. I was blessed with a gorgeous sunset outside of my kitchen window as I worked. By the time I finished the kitchen was covered in a layer of flour, and the sink had a mound of dirty dishes. But that bite of hot, crispy yet chewy, fresh french bread...well, it (and the preparation) was simply pure bliss.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Toward the end of last year, I picked up a paper cut while in Beijing of one of my favorite passages. Last week I headed out with one of my Chinese tutors to find a place to frame it. All I wanted was a simple black frame. Simple is not always something excelled in by the Chinese, especially when it comes to home decor. After visiting three shops, I found a frame sample that was fairly simple for a price I was willing to pay. The shopkeeper informed us it would be ready on Sunday. I dutifully returned on Sunday, to be told (not surprisingly) that it was not ready, but would surely be ready tomorrow. I waited to return until today (Thursday) to assure its completion. The shopkeeper saw me walk in and hurried to get the finished product. He proudly held it up for my inspection and proceeded to explain that he thought the frame I chose wasn't very beautiful and didn't really go well with the paper cut, so he chose another frame. Additionally, the plain off white backing I had for the cut out was deemed unattractive. Instead, he chose a backing that looks a little bit like cork board. "Now doesn't that look great?" he asked me, beaming with pride. I was a little lost at what was culturally appropriate to say at the moment, especially since he was the "expert" in framing pictures. I knew I didn't have the language skills to delicately and indirectly explain that while his work was indeed lovely, there was a reason I chose the frame I did. Instead, I smiled, said thank you and headed home. Just another day in China.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy Teacher's Day!

Today is national teacher's day, which translates into obscenely large flower and fruit baskets for teachers. These tokens of gratitude are presented with well wishes like, "I hope you more and more beautiful for many years to come." My students were kind enough to give me one of each type of basket this morning. I was touched by their generosity...until it came to lugging both of them home in the pouring rain while also trying to juggle an umbrella. The umbrella never would have happened if some student hadn't taken pity on me and opened it for me on my way out of the building. I must have looked somewhat pathetic. I had the fruit basket somewhat slung (and cutting off the circulation) on one arm, with the other arm wrapped around the large flower basket. I gingerly found my way home, attempting to avoid the puddles. The last obstacle to tackle was fitting in and pushing the revolving door of my apartment building. By the time I made it inside, I had given the front desk ladies a good laugh. Suppressing chuckles, they also wished me a happy teacher's day. Later on in the morning, Wu brought me the below gift from the department. I must admit that after the photo I removed some of the "flare" from the basket.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

They are precious in His sight

No words today...just pictures.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sore feet

The first week back always gets you. It takes awhile to get all the little piggies used to standing and being in heels for hours on end. The first week is always the most brutal...and I'm feeling it tonight. However, other than sore feet, it's been a great week. It has been wonderful to be back in the classroom. Until this afternoon, all of the classes I had were new classes (students I've never taught before). There's something about the freshness of a new slate with a new class that I love. Not to mention the fact that they explode with praise of, "You're so beautiful!" My students I've had before are more likely to say, "You're fatter than before!" Why yes I am, and I enjoyed my ice cream in America very much. However, I also love the comfort and familiarity of a class I've taught before. The class I taught this afternoon was one I've had for three semesters and have a tremendous relationship with. They understand me well enough to get my sarcasm (a tough thing for Chinese students to catch onto), to know when I'm serious, and when I'm kidding. They laugh at my jokes and clap when they find out I'm their teacher. They know when I mention football to cheer, "Go Ohio State!" and obligingly ask how my team is doing. And they make me laugh. Today I gave them a "quiz" about me to see how much they remembered. Part of the quiz was listing my hobbies. The class quickly came up with photography and cooking, and then were working on guessing the other two. From one corner of the class came "sleeping!" Well, yes, I do like my sleep. "Eating!" That could be true too. One sweet girl called out, "smiling!" Lest I get too big a head from that comment, a student called out from the front row, "giving quizzes!" Ah yes, this class knows me well. Later on, I was telling the class that I had changed apartments. As an explanation, I added that I now had a bigger kitchen. The quip from the second row quickly followed--"so now you can bake us more cookies!" I'll get right on that...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Back in the saddle

**For those who may want to send me something in the mailing address did NOT change with the move down the hall. The old one will still work just fine!**
A week ago about this time I was rolling up to our apartment building greasy, smelly, and exhausted from a seemingly never-ending day of travel. A week later I'm smelling better, have my new house all set up, have taught my first class, and am organized for the new year. The first couple days were spent transporting all of my stuff (and it's amazing how much stuff a person can accumulate in three years) down the hall from my old apartment to my new apartment. I moved for the single reason of having a larger kitchen. I know, it sounds silly. But I cook a lot. And moving my fridge every time I needed to get in the freezer was getting old. An added bonus to my new place is seeing trees outside my bedroom window. Those who have visited or lived in China will understand the wonderfulness of this statement. Vegetation in cities is extremely sparse. If there are trees, they're usually not much taller than me and quite scrawny. However, outside my bedroom window is a small grove of big tall trees with big leaves that dance in the wind. What a treat!

This year has a very different feel from all previous years. I'm accustomed to the year beginning with a large meeting in Beijing with all of the teachers in China. However, due to the Olympics this year we all went straight to our schools. Our new teachers also will not arrive until the end of the month. Consequently, the team is "small" for the time being. We're missing three teachers, so Rachel and Jennifer have magnanimously (with compensation) stepped up to teach full loads for the month. This semester I'm teaching two sophomore writing classes, two junior speech classes, and one freshman oral class. The freshmen are currently learning how to march and chant and do other soldierly things, so that class won't begin until October. I'm excited to have one day off of teaching (Tuesdays), which will hopefully help with getting graduate work done.

Right now is my absolute favorite time in Siping. The temperature is around 75, with sunny blue skies. The grass is green, and there are even some flowers here and there. From past experience, I know this is about as pretty as it will be all year long, so I'm trying to soak in the beauty. It feels wonderful to be back here again; I'm always reminded every time I go away and come back how much this place truly is home. However, home is never perfect. The most glaring imperfection this week has been the water being shut off for several hour periods several times a day. I've got to have something that reminds me I still live in China... Most of the time this isn't a big deal, but there are moments of annoyance. Like today, when I got into the shower after working out with sweat pouring off of me (yes I know, you're thinking, Katherine? working out? gotta shed those pounds from all that good American ice cream...) only to discover there was no water. Lest you think I lied when I said I'm smelling better today than a week ago, the water did come on a few hours later and I got my long anticipated shower. :)

One final note, lest you think my fervent love has somehow dissipated. This past weekend contained the sheer joy of watching Michigan choke once again in its opener and Ohio State steam roll its opponent. Here's hoping Beanie heals fast and will be ready for USC.