Be sure to look at the pictures we've uploaded:

There's a link to the right!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

This is the end.

Well, friends, this is the end of the blog. We're home, it's the 4th of July, and I've had enough American food to satisfy most (if not all) of my China-induced cravings. I'm sad to report that we did not go to Xi'an; we had problems with out trip getting to Yangshuo, and in the end we came home a few days early instead of traveling in China. It worked out very well, actually. My friend Brandon and his wife Jacie picked us up in L.A. and helped us get our luggage to the airport (we had a long layover) and we got some Wendy's with them. It was a short visit, but fun. They are both such nice people.

We made it back home safe and sound, grateful to get off the plane, and our grandpa picked us up at the airport. We surprised our whole family, which was a lot of fun, and we've been back for a few days now. It's been great to be back. I hope I get to see all my faithful blog-readers soon!

For a final summary, the teaching experience in China was mixed. I loved the students I taught. They were so eager, so enthusiastic, that it made the teaching wonderful. Many of them made great efforts to be our friends and that made our time very worthwhile. That part of China I wouldn't trade for anything. On the other hand, though, we had a terrible situation with our foreign affairs officer. To put it plainly, he was a real jerk, and I hope I never have to see him again. He made our time in China very difficult. I would also recommend to any prospective teachers in China that they live in a bigger city and take some Chinese classes. It's hard to pick up Chinese while you're teaching English, or at least that was my experience. If you're thinking about teaching a semester abroad, though, I say, "Do it." It was totally worth it.

And that's the end. I'm not a fan of blogging, so I'll wrap this up here and begin my life as a real person again. Hope you're all doing well, and I'll talk to you soon.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

The (Second-to) Last Post

This is most likely my second to last post on this blog. I'm just letting you know so that you're not too disappointed when it all comes to an end. We're at the end of our last week teaching, with only Friday left, and it has gone all right. I've shown movies in most of my classes, all themed around what we have talked about in class, and the kids seem grateful for a break. I know that I am! In a couple classes we weren't able to get the tvs to work, so instead we played an improvised version of Jeopardy! The improvised part was difficult, but it was also a little fun, so it worked out in the end.

The weather turned miserably hot again on Sunday, and I can't wait to be back in America where I only have to brave the heat long enough to get the A/C in the car working. The air conditioner in my bedroom has done a good job to keep me cool, though, so I can't complain too much. I've been running it pretty steadily since Monday, so I just hope it doesn't give out before Saturday morning.

We invited some friends out to dinner last night, as a thank-you, and that was enjoyable. We had some people there that aren't really our friends, but who have helped us enough that we felt obligated to invite them, but the dinner was still fun. We're supposed to have another farewell dinner tomorrow, which is a bummer because we thought we were all finished with Chinese dinners, but one more won't kill us.

As of now, our plans are up in the air. We may go to Xi'an, but there could be problems with that. First of all, David can't leave to take us to Yangshuo until Saturday afternoon, which means we won't be able to catch a flight to Xi'an until Sunday (the earliest flight on Sunday is at 4:00 PM, which is also frustrating.) That means we'll really only be able to spend one day in Xi'an if we go, which would be enough to see the terracotta warriors, but not much else. I don't really know if I'm up to all that traveling for just one day. The other option is do a little more touring in Guilin and Yangshuo, but I'm not crazy about that idea either. The Xi'an trip would have been perfect if we could have left Saturday night, it would have given us an extra day to see some stuff and to spread our traveling out over more time, but David threw a wrench into that, so I guess it's not an option.

Other than these little notices, there's not much to tell. Oh, I do have one story. Last week at English Corner I was talking to the students about mice, and one girl casually mentioned that her brother always gives her the mouse's leg to eat. I was so surprised to hear that she had eaten mouse (which I'm pretty sure is actually rat.) All the other students were surprised that I was surprised. Only two of them had never tried rat. In fact, another girl helpfully told me that "field mouse is more delicious than house mouse," so apparently there's a range of taste among different mouse breeds. I did another survey with a different group of students later and found that all but one had eaten rat at some point. So, I'm pretty amazed. Still.

Anyway, that's all for now, I'm afraid I don't have much more. I'll write a concluding post after we get home, letting you know whether we went to Xi'an or what. Hope to talk to you all soon!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Noah's Ark

Josh and I had the chance this week to play the part of Noah as our dear little province of Hunan was flooded. It rained from Sunday until Friday, non stop, and that proved to be a problem for China's limited sewage and drainage facilities (plus the fact that we live about 100 yards from a river.) By Friday afternoon, the northern half of Dao Xian was under water--literally. The water actually made it up to the second floor of some buildings and stayed there for a couple of days. Erin and Dianna, the girls who teach at the other high school in town, weren't able to go back home. Their building was flooded to the second floor (fortunately, they live on the fourth floor, so their stuff was ok.) So they came over and stayed in Josh's apartment, and he moved downstairs with me for a few days.

The flooding was amazing, really. I'll take a picture of the bridge near our house. Josh and I estimate that the river must have risen at least twenty feet, because the water was up past the supports and running along the bottom of the arches in the bridge. It was supposed to rain a few more days, but I guess the storm moved along and we had a couple of sunny days.

The nice part of all this was that it was so cool, albeit very humid. I guess that doesn't really make up for all the homes and businesses that the flood destroyed, but it was a pleasant change from how hot it had been before the rain. Other than that, though, we still had to teach classes, and our power was out for 14 hours on Saturday. That made it an incredibly long day--I guess I didn't realize how much I use electricity for entertainment. On a day that I had stuff to do, it would have been ok, but there was absolutely nothing to do. Very very boring.

Other than that, not much is new. We have two weeks of teaching left, which is great. I'm teaching my last lesson this week, and then next week I'll show a video. Josh has preempted me and is showing a movie this week and next week--Hoosiers. He said the students really like it, but it's about basketball, so it was sort of a given. We're trying to decide what we want to do with our four travel days at the end of the semester, before we go home. Any suggestions? Right now we are leaning toward Xi'an, to see the terracotta warriors, but it's still up in the air.

There's also the slight chance I might have a few days off next week for exams, but that's based on the words of a student. So I sort of doubt it. In any case, I'll just be showing a movie, so it doesn't really matter.

Well, that's all for me, I'll go ahead and say goodbye for now!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Beijing Trip 2008

"One World, One Dream."

"New Beijing, New Olympics."

I was going to try and put as many of those annoying Olympic slogans at the beginning as I could, but I could only think of two. Needless to say, after my trip to Beijing, I have no doubt that China should have never been awarded the Olympics. They're going overboard with it! I even saw guys pushing little Styrofoam carts with Beijing Olympic stickers on them. People have started wearing stickers on their bare skin to show how patriotic they are (although the Chinese news channel keeps insisting the Olympics are "apolitical," especially after people started talking about boycotting the Olympics because of the Tibet problems.)

Yes, yes, we went to Beijing. It was an awesome trip, actually. I had a great time. It was a huge hassle, but we got to see some amazing things, and it was fun to see a part of China that wasn't littered with refuse and excrement (although Beijing had its fair share of those problems, it was nothing compared to Dao Xian.) We had our fair share of problems along the way, so I'll just start at the beginning and tell you everything I can.

I mentioned in the last post (I think) that we knew there was the possibility of a long vacation. So we tried to buy tickets online. It turns out that's not as easy as it sounds. Most of the places require you to pay through pay-pal, while you wait for them to confirm the price they've "quoted" to you. Sounds a little fishy to me, so I avoided those. Then we tried Air China. Well, you might not believe it, but they only take Visa. It looks like those Visa commercials were right about something. So that was out (because I don't have a Visa.) It looked like we were going to have to buy the tickets with cash, but that was going to cost us $200 each ONE WAY. Ridiculous. Then, on Wednesday, we had a break through. Somehow I stumbled across Expedia's Chinese partner, eLong, and I found out you could buy tickets with Mastercard. I booked the tickets, entered all my information, clicked buy, and then got an email saying that I needed to send copies of my passport, my signature, my credit card, and a few other things before I could buy online. It looked like that wasn't going to work out after all.

At that point, I wanted to just call it quits, but the thought of spending 7 days in Dao Xian with nothing to do gave me the motivation to keep trying. I called eLong and found out that we could pay in cash when we picked up the tickets, but there was the possibility the price would go up (if the airlines altered their prices before we got the tickets.) Josh and I decided it was worth the risk and we made reservations.

We packed our bags and left the next morning at 6 AM for Guilin. We got there 7 hours later. The bus rides were long, but not terrible, mostly because we were excited to get going. We paid a taxi to take us to the hotel where they were holding our eLong tickets, and he insisted on us paying him 10 RMB up front, instead of using his meter. I thought that was a little suspicious, but we needed to get to the hotel, so Josh paid him and we got in. He drove for exactly one block and dropped us off. Smart guy. In any case, we found the ticket office, paid in cash, and we were happy to find out the price was what they had quoted online. $250 round trip per person. I still think that was a pretty good price.

After getting our tickets, we decided to get something to eat, and we found a restaurant that had English menus (which is apparently somewhat common in downtown Guilin, because they have so many tourists.) Josh got fried pork, I got fried noodles with beef, and we split an order of wontons. The wontons were by far the most interesting, because they had ground pork wrapped around shrimp. They were very good but very different. I'm not a huge seafood person, so I think I would have preferred just pork, but they were still good.

Our flight was going to leave at 9 PM, and it was only 2:30. We decided we couldn't really do much, since we were still toting around our luggage, so we went ahead and caught the airport shuttle and headed up to the airport. We spent about 5.5 hours there waiting, reading, listening to music, and trying to sleep. There wasn't much else we could do. Aside from selling everything at an outrageous price, I didn't see anything extraordinary about the Guilin International Airport (I would later be proven wrong on this count.)

We caught our plane to Beijing, after a delay because of rain, and finally made it to the Beijing Capital Airport. It was amazing. After four months in Dao Xian, I was shocked by how nice the Capital Airport was. It's brand new, and it looks beautiful. We hurried and got our bag and then caught a taxi to the hotel. It ended up costing us around 100 RMB to get there in taxi, so about $15. Well worth it, I thought, to get from the airport to our hotel at 2 AM. However, the taxi had to drop us about a quarter mile from the hotel because of construction, and when we were walking through the narrow alleys of the hutong, I began rethinking the wisdom of our course. We got to the hotel without any problems, though, and checked in and went to bed. The hotel ended up costing almost $50 a night, but for a room with air conditioning and a Western toilet, located only 20 minutes away (on foot) from Tiananmen square, I thought it was a great deal.

The next morning we found out they had a Western restaurant downstairs, so we went to have breakfast. Granted, it wasn't the full spread that I had hoped for, but it did have some delicious food. Croissants, hash browns, toast, butter, cheese--all the stuff that doesn't exist in Real China appears to be available in Fake China (sometimes called Beijing.) We ate and then headed out on the town.

First we went to Tiananmen Square, which was very impressive (for a square.) I did not realize that the memorial to Chairman Mao is located on the square, and I wanted to go inside to look, but the line was ridiculously long. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but most Chinese people idolize Chairman Mao. We ended up avoiding the long lines and we went to the Forbidden City.

While Tiananmen Square was big and impressive, the Forbidden City was big, impressive, and old. It's hard to believe that people actually lived there--it's a huge complex of gateways and ceremonial halls, coupled with gardens and interconnecting buildings of all types. I thought it was awesome. A lot of it still hasn't been restored, and I actually liked those parts the best because they seemed to be more real. In some ways, the restoration felt artificial to me, like it was overdone. I don't know if I just don't know enough about 15th century Chinese architecture or if it really is over-the-top, but I still liked the older parts better.

We spent a while in the Forbidden City, then made our way back to the real world. We stopped by the Chinese Museum of Art, across from Tiananmen Square, but it was closed for remodeling. It now features a huge countdown clock for (guess what) the Beijing Olympics. Great.

Lunchtime. We stopped and grabbed a "hamburger," which was really just a cold slice of meat pressed between two buns. Still, it was edible enough, and after we ate we headed back to the hotel for a break. About an hour later we headed out again, this time for the Temple of Heaven (Chinese name, Tiantan.) We caught the bus over there, but I misgauged the stops and we got off one too late, so we hiked back. By the time we made it in, there was only an hour left before closing, so we didn't make it inside the buildings. Instead, we explored the grounds, which were very, very beautiful. It's like a huge garden inside a metropolis. I enjoyed it.

It started to rain while we were in the Temple of Heaven, so we headed back toward the hotel. Fortunately, the tourist map that Josh had bought marked out all the McDonald's within Beijing, and so we plotted our course home with a brief stop by a McDonald's. It was my first time eating on the second floor of a McDonald's (as far as I can recall.) The food was delicious. I was never a huge McDonald's fan at home, but it was so good to eat something Western again. And, I'm happy to report, a Big Mac in China tastes just like a Big Mac in Wildwood, MO.

We crashed at the hotel that night, just burned out from all the walking, plus the traveling from the day before. The next day we got up and, after another Western breakfast, started our trip to the Great Wall. Now, if you're a foreigner at a tourist site in Beijing, you will quickly learn that everyone in China is qualified to take you on a tour to the Great Wall. We had three or four people come up to us and offer to take us while we were at the Forbidden City, plus our hotel had a tour company operating on the main floor. We decided not to take any of them up on their offer, though.

Instead, we caught a bus to one of the bus stations, which took almost an hour. From there, we took another bus up to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. That took almost two hours. I don't know if you've ever driven up a mountain road, on a bus crammed full of Chinese people like sardines in a can. If you have, you'll know what I mean when I say, "I don't want to die this way." That's how I felt. In truth, the ride was perfectly safe, but the bus was insanely overcrowded. I'm still not sure why they let that many people on, but I guess that's just how things work in Beijing.

If you go to the Great Wall, you might want to consider a few things. The Badaling section is the most restored, from what I understand, and is definitely the most accessible. For our trip, it was the only feasible option. However, it is also the most touristy. We enjoyed the Great Wall a lot, even so, but I would suggest (if you have the time) going a little farther away to a section that is not quite so packed with other tourists.

The Great Wall is pretty great. In all honesty, it's amazing. We walked along it for a good while, and what I never realized before I went is that it's built right up in the mountains. Parts of the wall were so steep that we were actually climbing stairs to go up, which surprised me. It's also massive; it's hard to believe that people did all that work. Where we were at, we could see the wall curve along the mountains for quite some distance, and it was incredible. It's hard to believe that it stretched as far as it once did.

Before I forget to mention this, I just wanted to say that the weather in Beijing was perfect for the time we were there. Although there is a great deal of air pollution, the sky was relatively clear and sunny, but neither day did it get very hot, and it wasn't humid at all.

We took another bus back to Beijing, and by the time we got back, we had spent over seven hours on the Great Wall trip. We had a very late lunch at KFC, which was also delicious, and headed back to the hotel for a rest. Now, I think I need to defend our Western choices. Most people would think that, on a trip to the most prominent Chinese city, we would of course choose Chinese food. Not so. I was so glad to try some Western food after four months that I didn't even care about trying Beijing food. However, Josh and I both knew that it was our civic duty to have some Peking duck while we were in Beijing. After all, I 'd always heard about it, and that might be our only chance to have the "real thing."

Don't ever make that mistake. Beijing duck, as they call it, or Peking duck, is no good at all. We ordered it, and it cost us 200 RMB. That's about 10 times what our McDonald's meal cost. The duck was terrible. They carved it in the kitchen and brought it out on platters to us, and there was nothing but skin and bones. I've seen other people prepare duck in China, and I have a fair idea of how much meat there is on one, and I have no idea what they did with it. They brought out a huge plate of skin, a smaller plate of bones (with a little bit of meat on them,) and that was it. I think they must have saved the meat to put in another dish. I honestly don't know what happened to it. Really, truth to be told, it was one of the worst meals I've had in China. Maybe we picked a bad restaurant, or maybe I'm just not refined enough to appreciate what I had, but I would not ever recommend Peking duck to anyone.

The next morning we had our last Western breakfast and checked out of the hotel. We grabbed a taxi over to the airport shuttle stop, and then took the shuttle to the airport. I had a scare when I saw that the shuttle was supposed to take an hour and a half--lesson learned, never expect something to take a reasonable amount of time--but it only took 45 minutes, so we had plenty of time to make our flight.

We made it back to Guilin, where there was a fierce rainstorm, and we realized that neither of us had packed an umbrella. I stopped to use the bathroom at the Guilin International Airport, and had the unpleasant surprise of finding out that there is at least one international airport in the world that doesn't regularly stock toilet paper in its bathrooms. Fortunately, I'd been carrying some paper in my bag since February for such an occasion, and I was well-prepared. When all that business was taken care of, we took the bus into Guilin city, in hopes of catching another bus back to Dao Xian.

It was too late for any more buses to leave for Dao Xian, so we stayed in a hostel about a block away from the bus station last night. We met some other foreigners who were backpacking through China and had dinner with them, but they turned out to be a rather irritating group of know-it-alls, so we left them rather early. Dinner hadn't been that good, so we grabbed KFC one last time (probably for my last time in China) and went back to the hostel.

This morning we were up again at 5:30, and we were home by 11:30 AM. The bus ride was terrible. We took the direct bus this time, instead of going through Gongcheng, and although it was faster, there was a 2-hour stretch where we were going over unpaved roads. It was amazingly bumpy and not really a pleasant experience. It got us back a lot faster than if we had gone the other way, though, so I suppose it paid off in the end.

And here we are, back in Dao Xian. We have about 2.5 weeks of teaching left, and I'm excited to be heading back to America soon. I'm sure I'll have a few more good posts before I head home, but I don't know how exciting they will be. After all, I'll be in Dao Xian. I've posted some pictures of our Beijing trip on picasa, but Josh still needs to put his up, so check them out when you have time.

I almost forgot to tell you my best story. Apparently, I'm either an incredible bargainer, or I have an incredible luck for deals, or (most likely) I think I got a better deal than I did. While we were in Beijing, I bought a few souvenirs. One, this great looking chess set, I bartered down from 580 to 360 RMB (around 40% off). That was pretty sweet, although I may still have paid way too much (I just have no way of knowing.)

My true masterpiece of bargaining, though, were these jade and agate bracelets that I bought. I figured they'd make nice gifts for family members when I got home. I asked the lady how much one was, thinking I might pick up a couple. She told me each one was 380 RMB. I was a little shocked--I had only brought 200 RMB to the store, and I had no idea a bracelet could cost so much. I told her that I had wanted to buy six, and that there was no way I had that much money. She asked me how much I had, and I told her 200. After a great deal of me telling her I didn't really want them, and her insisting that she could make me a deal, I walked away with 6 bracelets for 200 RMB. Now, that's approximately 33 RMB each, or less than 1/10 the original asking price. Either: a) I'm amazing at bargaining (not likely); b) the bracelets weren't really jade or agate (likely); or c) they were originally extraordinarily overpriced (also very likely.) Still, it makes me sound like such a cool world traveler, bargaining things down to less than a tenth of their original value. Now, I just hope no one ever gets these bracelets appraised.

Ok, that's all for now. If I remember more funny stories from Beijing, I'll put them up here soon. Talk to you guys soon.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why I hate Chinese "outings."

Well, Sunday was interesting enough that it deserves its own post. You see, we went on an "outing." At least, that's the most polite way I can think of describing it.

For about a month now, David has been saying that he wanted to take us to these caves that were nearby--conveniently close to another town, called Jianhua. Now, we'd been putting David off because we don't particularly like to go do stuff with him. He's usually condescending, or downright rude, when we don't have other people around, so we try to limit all our time with him. In any case, we tried to avoid this trip as well, by claiming we plans with another teacher, but David was kind enough to call this other teacher and cancel our plans for us. I should have known then that something was up.

You see, David didn't really want to take us to the caves. Oh, sure, that was the reason he gave us. But he doesn't like spending time with us any more than we like spending time with him. That's why it seemed so strange that he was so insistent on going to these caves. I just assumed Jane had told him that he had to take us out somewhere.

Turns out, David's best friend(s) live in Jianhua. And so does his girlfriend. So we left around 10:00 AM on Sunday for Jianhua, arriving around 11:30. We get to the school there, where we wait for about a half an hour for the foreign teachers to arrive. Then we all go to lunch. Josh and I, David, the other two foreign teachers, and then about 8 other Chinese teachers (David's friends and girlfriend.) The actual eating part of the meal took about half an hour, and none of the food was particularly good. Then the drinking started in earnest. Another two and a half hours later, we finally left the restaurant for the caves.

Now, you have to understand, those two hours were like hell for me. I already don't particularly like big social things like that with people I don't know. Then imagine them all smoking (at least 10 cigarettes each) and drinking until they were (literally) drooling (some of them.) They all start to shout after their third glass of rice wine, and so it's incredibly noisy, hot, and smoky. I hated it.

By the way, I hope it's clear that the problem wasn't that they were drinking, but that they were so ridiculous about it, along with all the other problems they were causing.

We finally left for the caves. Qingyen, or something like that. We got there, after Cam (one of the other foreign teachers) had to make an emergency bathroom stop. That part was hilarious, actually, because he was literally begging David to stop the car, and David (who is a jerk by nature anyway) was trying to make him hold it as long as he could, and neither of them understood the other because they were so drunk (and stupid.) So it was just a lot of laughing and yelling.

After we arrived at the caves, we had to wait for half an hour, because they wouldn't take such a small group of us on the tour. Another group of tourists eventually got there and we all went in together. The caves were amazing. Different from the caves we went to before. The first ones, from March, were a "vertical" experience, a lot of climbing, with narrow chambers. These were much more horizontal. We didn't go up and down hardly at all, but the caves were like these massive, massive rooms. Incredibly big, I wish I could have taken decent pictures. There were some beautiful stalactites and other rock formations, although I think I liked the ones in the first caves better. The best part was the boat, though.

We climbed down to this underground river and took a boat along it for maybe ten minutes. Short, but very cool. There were some girls singing songs in Chinese (part of the tour, I was told.) It was a very, very neat experience. Unfortunately, we spent it with David and Cam (who was an equally ignorant person in his own way.)

After the caves, we had to go to another dinner. Imagine the scene from lunch, only everyone (except Josh and me) started off drunk and just got drunker (or more drunk.) That went on until 8:30 PM. We finally got home at about 9:30, which meant Josh still had to plan his lesson for Monday, and I was just sick of Chinese people.

On the plus side. We may be taking a trip to Beijing this weekend. We found out that we have a six day break, starting on Thursday, which would give us plenty of time to go to Beijing and come back. It will be a ton of traveling, but it should let us visit another city before we go home at the beginning of July. Even if we don't make the trip, at least we'll have six days off! I'll let you know what we end up doing.

Oh, one last thing. I'll put up some pictures from our trip. While we were waiting at the school, I took a bunch of pictures of hilarious signs in English. After reading them, you might wonder, as I did, why they didn't just have the foreign teachers help them use correct English. I still don't know what they were thinking. The pictures will be on the picasa address at the top.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Back to Blogging (or Back to Business)

Here I am again, still alive, still in China. Both of those looked doubtful, for a while, but things have certainly improved. I'm sorry for the long silence from my part of the world. I think that in a lot of ways, May was my most difficult month in China (yet; I'm cautiously optimistic about the future, though.) We had so many problems, it was just ridiculous. At the top of that list, and probably most to blame for my failure to blog, was the fact that our internet was out for almost two weeks, and before that it only worked in Josh's apartment.

As Julie Andrews likes to say, or at least as she said once, "Let's start at the very beginning." I just googled that line and realized that a ton of other people have used it in their blogs, and it just seems like a bad opener, so I've decided I don't like it. Anyway, at the beginning of May, we had a ton of problems in my apartment. The internet didn't work, the kitchen flooded every time someone used water in the building, and a few minor things. The situation got worse and worse, and although I called the school several times to fix it, nothing effective was done (although Jane was very helpful and came over with a repairman, they still did not solve the flooding problem.)

Then Josh's computer stopped working, so we didn't have the internet. We weren't able to call home on Mother's Day, which was too bad because I was able to do it two years in a row from Paraguay. The computer problem didn't get fixed for almost two weeks, although I talked to David several times about it (and even bought him a bottle of wine, hoping it would grease the wheels. Unfortunately, it seems that both Mussolini and Dwight Schrute got it right when they said 'Blood alone moves the wheels of history.') Things got to the point where one day I thought, "There's absolutely no reason for me to be here if I hate it so much." So I called Owen and told him that if my apartment didn't get fixed, we wouldn't stay in China any longer. He asked me to stay until he had time to come and see the apartment (and, even though I knew he wouldn't be able to come for a few days, I agreed.) Later that day David came to our apartment (surprise, surprise.)

Imagine that it took him less than an hour to get Josh's computer working again (which I could have done if they weren't using illegally obtained copies of Microsoft Windows.) So that was good progress. He talked to the landlord and said that the drain would be fixed soon.

The next day we left for an English competition in Yongzhou--Josh and I packed into a "bus," which was really an old minivan, with four students, David, Jane, and the driver. I don't think I have been in many situations more awkward than that one. Too my surprise, though, David and Jane were really kind about the whole thing, and they didn't seem offended by our threat to leave (Jane has always been good to us, so I didn't really expect any less from her.)

The competition was interesting. I was a judge, Josh was an observer. We had absolutely no guidelines for how points were to be awarded, what was expected of the students, or really why we were there. We just knew that we had the chance to award up to 100 points total. It was the biggest joke of a competition I've ever been involved with--it was extremely unfair, because the students were given random topics that ranged in ease from "Ping-Pong" to "I'm Beautiful Because I'm Young." What? They also had to talk about a picture for 4 minutes (the only students who got even close to that time were the ones who would say one word, then pause for 15-20 seconds, then say another.) The pictures were equally random, from cartoon strips with a clear topic like pollution, to a big picture of a Peking duck. Wow. My part though, was when a student got up to speak and I started wondering, "Is this a boy or a girl?" The first thing s/he said was, "I bet you're wondering if I'm a boy or a girl." S/he hit the nail right on the head.

The trip actually turned out to be a very pleasant way to spend our time (it took Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so we had very little teaching that week.) We got to see a bunch of our friends from Buckland and we were able to relax and get away from teaching for a few days. Plus, who can pass up the chance to be a judge?

When we got back, things got a lot better. The drain was fixed by Saturday, with an old-fashioned Roto-rooter machine, and we haven't had any problems with it since. I started responding to emails, etc., but I didn't get around to blogging until today.

Since the trip to Yongzhou, we haven't had much in the way of excitement. We recently re-booked our tickets home because we found out, for sure, that we are done teaching on June 27th. Currently we plan to go to Beijing from the 6/28 to 7/1, and then be back to the U.S. by 7/3, but it seems that we may have a six day vacation next week. If we do, we may squeeze in a trip to Beijing then and try to visit Xi'an or another city at the end of June. Either way, we're excited to be home in time for a good old-fashioned BBQ.

This week I showed clips of Hamlet in some of my classes (those that were able to get DVD players.) I never thought I'd watch the first 40 minutes of Hamlet (the Zeffirelli version) 12 times in my life, but it seems I have outdone myself again. I'm sort of interested to see what the rest is like; I enjoyed the parts that I saw. Even Mel Gibson does a good job, although I have to agree with the students, who all told me that Glenn Close is not beautiful.

I'm afraid that's all for now. I haven't posted any new pictures recently, in part because I loaned my memory card to a student, and in part because nothing picture-worthy has happened. I'll try to take some more of the school to put up, though, because I think some people would be interested in seeing how it is set up--almost like a miniature town within the town. Talk to you guys soon.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

English Competition & Dead Animals

Last week was, over all, an average week. Classes went pretty well, I think. I mentioned that we were doing disabilities in class, and I expected some hilarious sentences. I did get some good examples of disablities like "can't smile" and "doesn't have hair," which were hilarious, but on the whole the students did a really good job. For part of the lesson we talked about famous people that had disabilities, and they knew a lot of famous Westerners like Beethoven, Stephen Hawking, Helen Keller, etc. that had disabilities. I think that overall they did a good job. In the key classes, which have the best students, we talked a little about Milton's "Sonnet XIX" on blindness and about his disability. Oh, in the other classes I did a poem by Shel Silverstein about confusing an anteater with an aunt-eater, but no one got it, so I think they might not have enjoyed it as much as I did.

Another important update - I mentioned the mouse in our apartment. Well, he did disappear after we put out the poison (although he ate four out of the five piles of poison, so either it was incredibly delicious or incredibly slow-acting.) I thought that maybe our problems with him were over. However, this morning I woke up to find our kitchen flooded- at least an inch of water over all the floor. Fortunately it's set down a little bit from the hallway, so the water stayed in the kitchen, but it still wasn't a great sight. I got as much of the water mopped up as I could, and then I checked the drain. Now, we knew the drain wasn't working very well (the sink has a little hose that goes into a hole in the floor, so we could see the "pipes.") I pulled out the rubber hose and checked it, and it was working fine, so I figured that our drain was clogged further in and that the other apartments all used the same main drain, so our kitchen was flooding. I don't even know if that makes sense, but it sounded good to me. I thought I'd poke around down there with a wire hanger and see if I could dislodge whatever was blocking the drain (I assumed it was food, since there's no such thing as a garbage disposal.)

After a minute of pushing and pulling with the hanger, I pulled out a dark clump of (what I thought was) moldy food. I pushed it to one side and continued to poke around, but I couldn't find anything else. Then I noticed that the mold had a tail. Yes, yes, it was the mouse. Disgusting, of course. I picked it up using a plastic glove as a bag and put it in a trash bag, which we need to take up to the school dumpster today. As Charlie says on "It's Always Sunny," cleaning out the rat traps "takes an emotional toll." Regardless, I'm glad to know it's dead, and I hope it didn't have time to reproduce before it died. The drain is, unfortunately, still clogged, so David said he'd send the repairman over today.

On another note, yesterday was the English competition. Overall, I think it was good, although it wasn't the best experience of my time in China. We sat outside on the "playground," a.k.a. the huge dirt plaza in the middle of the school, under the burning hot sun. Jane, the vice-principal, lent us her umbrella for some shade, which was nice, and the school did provide bottled water, but still it was unpleasantly hot. Anyway, I ended up having a good time. The students had to give a prepared introduction and a recitation and then talk impromptu about another topic. They all did surprisingly well (especially my students, I'd like to add. It did help, of course, that my students were the oldest ones and have had the most time to learn English.) Some of the highlights were: a Senior 1 student (Josh's grade) came out screaming "We will rock you"; a student saying that many people were afraid of sharks after seeing the movie "Jews" (at least, that's how he pronounced it); a student holding up a piece of candy and saying how "sweet and friendly" it looked; numerous students beginning their speech by saying how they were "confidence" about giving their speech; and last, a student, on being asked to describe her English teacher, said he was "short, fat, and very clever."

Afterwards we were treated to dinner in the school cafeteria with some of the other English teachers, and it was actually pretty nice. The food wasn't that great, but it was ok, and some people actually spoke English to us, so it was an improvement. When we had finished eating, we were told that we could "go have a rest," because they wanted to stay and drink and "talk in Chinese, which you don't understand." It might have been the most interesting way that I've ever been asked to leave a dinner (I don't think I've ever been asked to leave before, but maybe I've just forgotten.)

Today we were supposed to go visit some caves nearby which have an underground lake that you can go across. Unfortunately (not really) it was raining today, so we'll stay home--although we will have to go out to eat, since we have a kitchen that is flooded and has decomposing mouse bits all over. We do, apparently, have a holiday this week. We may end up going to Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province. I'm not sure if we will - it's a 7-hour bus ride, and we don't really know anything about it, but it might be worth it just to get out of the house. Plus it has a Wal-Mart, so, way to go Sam Walton.

All right, I believe that's all for today. Oh, I almost forgot my other story. Twice this week I've been surprised to find animal heads where I least expected them. First, I was at the supermarket buying pork, and it's just all spread out on a metal slab and you just pick up the chunk that you want and have them weigh it. Well, I reached out, grabbed one, and realized that there was a whole pile of skinned pigs' heads looking up at me (eyes and teeth included.) That was pretty gross, but then yesterday at dinner I was helping myself to the mushroom and duck soup when I came across a big bone. Turns out it was the bill of the duck, with the whole head still attached. Also very gross.

Ok, enough. I'll tell you what we end up doing with our holidays. Oh, and I found out I have exams next week, so that means an extra day or two off. Not for Josh, unfortunately.

Take care.