Monday, August 31, 2009


I've been making a list over the last few weeks of things I'm still having to adjust too. Things besides the obvious...
  • Smog- it's rarely ever a non-hazy day
  • Grocery shopping several times a week- because I don't have a car and can only carry so much by myself, I can only buy a few things at a time. That means I have to go shopping 2-3 times a week. Of course, I'm not doing any shopping right now because my fridge is broken.
  • Taking 3 hours to do anything- because of the traffic and the need for public transportation things just take longer. You just have to factor in more walking time, the actual getting a taxi or catching the bus, the busy drives me crazy sometimes. And then sometimes I love it because it's so very Chinese.
  • Smoking in doors- you can smoke in any building here. It's just very strange to be eating dinner and have the person next to you light up. Not a big deal, just strange.
  • No answering machines or voicemails- I have no idea why not, but China doesn't have answering machines or voicemails. Texting is the way to go here. Or email. I rarely ever call people here. And if you know me, you know that just feeds my phone phobia (I hate talking on the phone unless you're one of my parents or five friends who know how it works)
  • Men not holding the doors/letting women go first- this does not apply to the men I work with. They're very gentlemenly. In the Chinese society, there's really no such thing as chivalry. I mean, they love their women but it's not really shown in a public societal (word?) way. If chivalry ever comes in to play, it'll be because of an older person with gray hair or a very pregnant woman. They do revere pregnant women. It's just an odd balance, something I love to watch being played out on a public bus.
  • The smells- when I say smells, I'm not referring to flowery-freshly-cut-lawn-BBQed-chicken-makes-you-love-the-summer-smell. I'm talking about plug-your-nose-close-your-mouth-and-run-away-as-fast-as-you-can-before-you-vomit-your-everloving-brains-out-because-you've-never-smelled-something-so-repulsively-disgusting. And they're every where. In one block, you can walk across 10 different unbelievably stinky smells. And they never mix. They are completely independent of any other smells in that area. Blech!
  • The niceness of the people- the Chinese are so incredibly kind and helpful. Lovely people. For instance, every day, I walk by the guard station to get to my bus. It's usually about 6:30 am and even though I'm not a morning person, I always yell "hello" (in Chinese) to them. And they, there's usually 2 or 3 of them, always yell "hello" back. Well, today I was running late and wasn't even thinking about it as I raced past them. All of a sudden, I had 3 grown Chinese men, yelling "HELLO" at me. They had the biggest grins on their faces. It was so sweet. These are the same men that have helped me on more than one occasion carry something to my building. And this isn't an unusual thing. The Chinese are always so kind and helpful. I love it!
  • Risking your life to cross a street- and when I say "risking", I mean "RISKING". You are literally playing "Frogger" every time you cross a street. One lane, stop. Two lanes, stop. Race across the last 3 lanes hoping the cars will slow down for you. But don't EVER run in front of a bus or a taxi because they just won't stop. Seriously.
  • Dragonflys- I've never seen so many. They travel in groups sometimes.
  • Smelling other peoples food in my apartment- I've lived in apartments before but this is the first time that I've been able to smell what other tennants are eating. Makes me very hungry most times.
  • The low counters- no joke, my kitchen counters come up to the middle of my thigh. I'm going to be permanently hunched over the next time you see me. Just call me "Quazzi".
  • The lack of guy friends- all the men are married here. They are lovely young (and older) men. And it's not even about having "single" guys here. It's about having guy friends. I've always had really close guy friends. In fact, most of my adult life, I've had a guy best friend or two. So, it's strange to be here and to be constantly surrounded by women. Love the women. Wonderful, amazing women. But strange to not really have any interaction with guys.

I'll add more to this list as I go on.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Update #2

China is great. I'm adjusting pretty well. I haven't been homesick. I feel very content knowing this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

School's been a little difficult this last week. I'm still trying to figure out curriculum for my AP class so the poor students are having to be very flexible and I'm having to keep them on track even though it all keeps changing. I hate feeling unsettled about it. And MUN is causing me some stress. It's a long story but it boils down to the idea that my students have more experience than I do right now so it's hard to teach. By the end of this semester things should be better. The lovely thing is, the kids are still respectful and kind. They still listen and respond. I love teaching here.

I'm coaching JV Volleyball. After saying that I wouldn't get involved in any extra-curricular activities this semester, here I am coaching. But I LOVE it. It's nice to have my own team. Yes, because I'm a control freak. And the girls are so willing to do whatever it takes. Such hard workers. I'm not sure how we'll do in games but if they've learned how to be a team, learned the basic rules and gotten a little stronger, then that's all I ask. I mean, I wouldn't mind winning some games but it's not the most important to me this year. And for those of you worried that I'm over doing it, stay calm. It's only 3 nights a week and we only have a game every other week. It's not serious v-ball, not like you'd find in the States. It's just really fun.

What else...our fridge at the apartment has been broken for 2 weeks. It's been...inconvenient. But yesterday we got a mini-fridge so at least we have something to store a little food in.

I started Chinese lessons this week. I'll have a couple or so hours a week during my free time at school for lessons. I'm very excited about it.

One of my friends here that I teach with just had a one of her best friends move here. He'll be teaching at the university. Anyway, he's a music guy so he and I are getting a group together to help lead music at our fellowship. I'm so happy about that. I've missed being involved in music. A lot. I think we're going to go for a more accoustic feel. Guitar, djembe (pronounces "jimbay") maybe a piano and a couple of voices (him and me). Yay! That's one of the things I do miss the most-being involved with music.

I have some good posts coming up. As soon as I feel the "oomph" to write them, I'll get them on here. Keep an eye out. One last thing...

I've had to make a tough decision over the last couple of weeks and even though I know it was the right choice, it's made me really sad, broken my heart a little. It's been a distraction some at school. So, if you would, please send up some thoughts for me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

School Report

Well, I finished my first day and a half of school. We had a half day on Thursday and a full day on Friday. I'd like to say that things went smoothly my first hours as an overseas teacher but...not so much. I thought I was really prepared but I wasn't. The problem was, I didn't know that I wasn't prepared until I wasn't prepared. I have a homeroom this year, I've never had a homeroom before so when they ask me questions like, "When do we get our schedule?" and I say, "I have no idea but I'll find out," and then finding out that I'm supposed to have already handed them out...that happened like 4 different times last week. But now I have a better understanding of how it works so when I receive emails that say something like "Please, pass out these schedules to your students," I know that it's talking directly to me. :)

Anyway, I'm pumped about my classes. I have many things to adjust to though. First of all, we're on a 6 day block schedule. I can no longer go by "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...", I have to go by "Day 1, Day 2, Day 3...." because Monday may be Day 1 or it might be Day 2. And then on top of that, it's block scheduling so I only see my students every other day for an hour and a half. It's going to take awhile to adjust to it because I have to think in 6 day schedule terms and I have to figure out what I can and cannot fit into an hour and a half period. To be honest, I think I'm going to love this schedule. I'll be able to really spend some quality time, especially in AP World History, on my topics. And, this is purely selfish, I'll only have to plan six lessons a week (whereas I was making 20 last year) because I only have two subjects (even though I teach four classes) and I only have class every other day. Oh, and the other amazing thing is, I don't have class until 11:30 am every day. I have homeroom for about 30 minutes from 9:30-10:00 and then my first class is from 11:30-1:00, then lunch for 30 minutes (which awesomely, I don't have to go to even though it's provided for me free) and then 1:30-3:00.

I know, it hardly sounds like work but to put it into some perspective, there were two teachers last year doing my job. I'm going to be very busy. AP is a crazy hard class because of prep time (I have to do all my own research) and grading writing (AP is all about essays) and then MUN (Model United Nations) is also all about writing. It also includes not only the teaching aspect but also the trip planning aspect. I have to do many things with paperwork and budgeting and planning. That in and of itself will take several hours a week.

On to my students...I think they are going to be great. I have at least a couple who are in my homeroom, the AP class and MUN so they get to spend a lot of time with me this year. Hopefully, that's a good thing. For both of us. Most of them are pretty quiet but I have the benefit of teaching two classes where the students are choosing to be in there. Because of that, their participation is not just expected, but required. The Korean students (90% of my students are Korean) tend to prefer to sit in class and be lectured to. They'd rather memorize the information than actually comprehend it. And they will too. They will memorize it all, without really understaning it. Well, both of those things go against my nature. I'm not really a lecture teacher nor am I just about memorizing facts. I love to do group work and projects and have discussion. I think it will be a challenging year for both of us. I will have to work on becoming more lecture oriented (because there's nothing wrong with lecture as long as it's one of many types of teaching styles) and they will have to work on becoming more cooperative in their learning.

Last thing for MUN, we travel to conferences all over, mostly in Asia but somewhere really big during the 2nd semester. The last big trip hasn't been decided yet so I thought I would have my students participate. I split them into groups and then gave each group a conference, all in different countries...Italy, Ireland, the UK, Mexico, Egypt, and the Netherlands. They have to make a persuasive argument why their conference/location is the best. Then we'll vote on it as a class. Of course, I have three MUN classes so it'll have to average out. I'm excited though. I would love to go to any one of those countries.

Okay, for those of you who have been waiting for this post, sorry for taking so long. Thanks for your interest in my life. Love you!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

First Day Of School

It's 4:30 in the morning and I'm wide awake. In fact, I've been wide awake for an hour now. The first day of school has finally arrived. I've got a new outfit waiting for me in my closet, new school supplies neatly organized on my desk at school and a hundred new students chomping at the bit to meet me. Well, at least that's what I tell myself- that the kids are excited to meet me. I'm excited to meet them. In fact, I've never been this excited about teaching before. Don't ask me why. I've always enjoyed my other jobs. And I've always loved my students. Maybe it's about being in a foreign country. Maybe it's about the subjects I'm teaching. Maybe it's the realization of a life-long dream. Maybe it's just deliriousness from so many sleepless nights...

Regardless, I am excited to get started.

That's it. Nothing profound to say in this post. No funny story, no cute little quip. Just wanted to mark down the day that I was excited about teaching because someday, I will not be excited about it and will need to remind myself that I love my job and am happy to be doing it. That's what this post is for. And to see how many times I can fit the word "excited" in to one'd I do?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Foam Fiasco

I think I've mentioned the hardness of the beds here and the fact that even my well-padded hips feel like they're permanently bruised from sleeping on my side. To thwart the mattress' effort in trying to mame me, I've been desperately shopping for some sort of cushion to lay on top of it. I've actually purchased two different "bed softeners" in an attempt to make my slumber a little more sleep-filled. But to no avail because both have been too hard themselves to help. In fact, at one point I had a comforter folded in half (two layers), a double-size "cushion" folded in half (two layers) and a queen-size "cushion" folded in thirds (three layers) all on top of the mattress to soften the blow. It was almost like the princess in the pea. But instead of a pea, it was like a huge boulder I was sleeping on. And what's funny about it, is that none of those things actually fit the width of the mattress, much narrower (and got narrower the higher up they were) so by the time I was on top of the somewhat pyramid shape (which was an extra foot higher than my regular mattress), I had about a foot and a half to balance on every night. It's a lot to concentrate on, NOT sleeping on your sides, NOT moving too quickly, and NOT rolling down the hill, all while trying to sleep.

So, a few days ago, we heard a rumor from someone that there was this place in a riverbed that sold thick foam that you could put on your bed. The riverbed? Yes, that's what we were told (it wasn't actually in a riverbed, in fact we never even saw a river which was part of the whole getting lost thing but that's how rumors work I suppose). And by thick I mean like 6 inches thick. And REAL foam, not that hard stuff you buy in the department stores here to soften your bed.

I have never been more excited. Before I go on, let me tell you about my pillow situation. When I first got here, someone lent me their pillows to use but a couple of days later, we went to the store where I bought my own pillows. I got three of them so I could also use them as decoration on my day bed. They were fluffy and plush, awesome. It's a little uncommon to find something with that much padding here. So, I get home that night, all excited to use my new full, bright and white pillows, I put them at the head of my bed, I use two, and lay down...the pillows were so thick it literally pushed my chin down to my chest. So, now I was laying on this rock hard bed and sleeping with these marshmallow shaped pillows. I looked night and day for different pillows but everything here is all about aromatherapy and theraputic blah blah blah so all the pillows have beans and rice and tea leaves in them. I'm sorry, I don't want to make a soup I actually want to sleep. Anyway, after purchasing four of the wrong size pillows, I finally found the one I was looking for. It really was the perfect pillow.

And now I'm getting the foam mattress to go with the perfectly sized pillow, needless to say, I was oh, so excited.

So, a friend of mine and I start the treck to the mysterious foam place...we were following directions that were kind of like- take the bus until you cross over the bridge and then turn right, get off there- when you're facing the street, you go to your left, walk about a mile until you get to the end of a block where you'll see a slightly upturned rock, go 400 ft to your left...yah, we got lost on a couple of occasions.

But, we finally found the place.

We had to wait a long time because they had to cut out 3 queen size mattresses and 2 twin mattresses. Yes, I know that adds up to five. I was also getting a queen size one for the roommate.

And yes, she's using a meat cleaver.

Now, I know I've also mentioned that the Chinese people like to stare. But just imagine seeing four white girls carrying these massive foam rolls. I am telling you, a crowd gathered. Like stop-what-you're-doing-come-out-and-see-the-most-interesting-thing-that's-ever-happened-in-these-here-parts" draw a crowd.

We had to split up just to get a taxi (that we had to beg) to take us home. There was no way we could all fit on a bus.

The taxi driver was not happy and poor Kayla could barely breath (man, this picture cracks me up!) but...

it was totally worth it (yes, Kayla survived). The long bus ride, the getting lost, the walking, the waiting, the begging, the suffocating, the staring...all worth it. My bed is 100000000000% more comfortable than it was yesterday. The foam, the in the lap of luxury I tell you! My hips don't hurt, no cricks in my neck, it's almost like being back in America.

P.S. I won't be doing any more picture slide shows on my blog. It just takes too long. And I'm doing double work because I'm also putting them on Facebook. So, if you'd like to see them, you'll have to look me up on FB.

P.P.S. Update: My parent's sold my car yesterday!! Huge, huge thing. No more car payments. No more car insurance.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Random Thoughts- Week #2

  • I think my body is putting up it's own little resistance against China. Nothing major, just some allergic reactions to bug bites and now I'm getting a small cold. It's not a big deal, just irritating. I want to be here. I am enjoying myself. And I want my body to get in line.
  • I've mastered using a taxi here. We have this neat little book that has a bunch of places with the addresses in Chinese characters. All I have to do is hail a cab, jump in and point to the right page. It's amazing. Well, except for my apartment buildings. For some reason, the drivers never seem to know where my complex is. I have to give them directions in Chinese. Oh yes, it's pretty impressive. :)
  • I've made my first furniture purchase (a trunk and a vanity), I've gone grocery shopping all by myself, I've eaten my first street food (fried slices of potatoes, like potato chips on a stick), I've actually done so much shopping and gone so many places on my own that I've been asked to take other people out and about to show them.
  • I have an airconditioner in my bedroom. It's the love of my life. I have wi-fi in my apt and it's an amazing thing. Second only to the a/c in my bedroom.
  • My school is super technologically advanced.We have an intranet where we can access the master calendar, our email, all documents put on there by other teachers, work requests forms, we can even order lunch on there. It's the best thing I've ever seen. The school tries to be completely paperless. In fact, the students have to email most of their assignments. Unless you're a teacher, you have no idea how cool that idea is.
  • Oh, and there's this other thing, it's a website created for the purpose of catching plagerism. I've heard of these websites but I've never seen them in action. I will have an account and all of my students will have to turn their assignments in to me through that website. The website then tells me if it was on time or not and how much of the paper percentage-wise is plagerized. It accesses thousands upon thousands of websites to compare the writing. Truly incredible. I can't wait to use it.
  • My bedroom's coming along. I'm almost done painting. I just have one more coat on one more wall. I think it's going to be really neat. I'm not going to show you though until it's completely done and that may not be until I can go to IKEA in Beijing. And that won't be until October.
  • So, besides my 6 MUN (a class I'm teaching) trips, I have several other trips to go on...the student's have a fall trip- 1 night long, a spring trip- a whole week long, I have a school wide conference in Beijing that's a week long and then I might be going to a teacher's conference in Manila. Traveling here just isn't a big deal. I mean, the sports teams fly all over the country during their seasons. There are choir trips and drama trips, it's insane. I am so daggone excited. I know, you're probably asking, "So, when do you actually teach?" That is a great question. I'll let you know as soon as I find out.
  • My roommate and I are complete opposites in personalities. Couldn't be any more opposite if we tried. And yet, we both love books and reading, we have a lot of the same movies and music and we tend to like the same foods. Funny how that works.
  • So, apparently modesty doesn't seem to be a real issue here. I've seen many men walking down by the ocean in their whitey-tighties. In fact, I saw a man this morning getting dressed in his car. He's sitting there in his undies, door wide open, looking for his pants. And I've seen many a child yank up their skirt, pull down the undies and use the bathroom right on the curb. That's why most Asians don't wear shoes in their houses or change into house shoes as soon as they walk in the door. Who knows what they're bringing inside with them.
  • I have more pictures to post but I'm trying to do it weekly so I'm going to gather a few more and then post them all at the same time. I literally walk around with my hand on my camera at all times. You just never know what you're going to see and how quickly the moment can pass.
  • Feel free to leave a comment. Comments make me happy and feel loved. Even if you have nothing to say. :)

Saturday, August 1, 2009