Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Whiteout, Gym, Christmas day

Do you use whiteout?

Students as they take their short stories written exam do not use white out.  Instead they use pieces of tape to pull off the words from the paper.

Exercise Buffet

Since I have a free membership to the gym, every night is like visiting an exercise buffet.  There are so many classes I can pick from.  So far I have tried spinning, yoga, and a step class.  Other nights they offer combat, kick boxing, belly dancing, and jazz dance.  It is really cool to be able to pick and choose which class to take each evening.
I was never able to afford yoga in America.  I've been enjoying stretching parts of my body that I didn't even know existed.  I am only a novice so I am wondering what do you think are the benefits of yoga?
I really dislike running on treadmills.  I feel like I am in a futuristic movie where the environment has been destroyed and now humankind lives indoors with their machines.

Christmas Day

When it comes to China, I have become cynical.  On Christmas day my sitemate suggested we go roller skating on the rooftop of a downtown building.  It had snowed the day before and there was still a good layer of snow and ice all around.  I was like there is no way that the roller skating rink will clear away the snow.  It is China.  I was wrong and realized, "Wow, Jennifer you are so cynical."  We went roller skating.


In the evening, students didn't want us to feel lonely on Christmas day so they offered to make dumplings.  I declined going to the festivities preferring a few precious moments to be alone.  The week before Christmas had been rough because of the many student interviews, classes, exams, and Tree House.  I needed some me time.

Friday, December 24, 2010

White Christmas

I woke up to a winter wonderland.

Then spent 8 hours grading singing performances and interviews.

Then hosted a 1.5 hr Tree House Christmas party

making snowflakes for the tree,

playing balloon games,

and singing Christmas carols.

Now I need some me time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December Tidbits

Right now I am buried under grading and will be for the next two weeks.  Today I spent 6 hours with students, 4 hours of 20 minute interviews.  Then for 2 hours I listened to students nervously holding hands, sing a prepared song that they learned during the semester then sing an impromptu song that they also learned during the semester that was chosen by lottery.  The impromptu song was one way I could make sure students would come to class and learn the songs.  For this class with unofficial grades, there was only the final singing performance, a quick 2 hours giving out 50 grades.
Why?  Why did I make my non-graded English Short Stories class of 140 students so serious?  The students had to write seven, 3-5 paragraph essays, keep a notebook, then take either a written final or a final that was an interview.  Over the semester I graded two essays per student and now am grading their finals.  WHY? 
I am a volunteer teacher who dictates how much work I will do.  I could have made the class an easy class without too much grading since it was a course without an official grade.  In high school, my favorite teacher was an English teacher who gave a ton of homework, who challenged me, made me work and think.  I somehow subconsciously wanted to be like her this semester with a hope that the students would take the class seriously, would learn, and would grow as thinkers. 
Also, I am genuinely curious about what goes on in my students' heads.  What did they learn in my class and what are their opinions?  Because the class size was so large making classroom discussions a challenge, one way to learn about their ideas was to have them write down their thoughts and to have interviews. 
I wonder if they will be pissed about all the work they did this semester once they learn that a grade won't be going on their official transcripts.
Students' Essays
Today a student visited the Tree House and talked about essays.  She said, "Our Chinese teachers during high school told us NOT to repeat our ideas, but then our foreign teachers told us to repeat our opinion, our thesis statement over and over again throughout the essay."  Then she said, "Jennifer on my friend's essay you wrote that you couldn't understand her ideas, but when we read it we understood the essay perfectly."
Why can't I understand students' essays?  I have this problem with a lot of their essays.
  • Is it because of their English level?
  • Is it because I think differently than Chinese students?
  • Is it because Chinese writers and American writers have a different writing style?
  • Is it because Chinese students have been trained to have harmonious ideas that the majority believe, ideas that are thought by the masses such that they are good at reading each others minds thus understanding the implied meanings in their essays; whereas, I need more direct explanations?
During the interviews, a lot of the students talked about freedom and how one of the cultural differences between some of the Chinese and western stories is that the American stories valued freedom. 
I asked them, "What does freedom mean to you?" 
"It means that you can do whatever you want to do."
I then asked, "Don't you think you have freedom?"
"No.  I have to obey my parents and follow the school rules.  I can't do whatever I want to do but have pressure to do other things."
I then asked, "But don't you have a choice to obey your parents, to follow rules, to do whatever you want to do or to submit to the pressure?"
They just looked at me and we moved onto the next interview question.
Between Interviews,
I've been reading Ha Jin's In the Pond.  My Seattle roommate had this book in her personal library.  I remember reading it and not liking it at all, but after living in China for three years I have a new perspective while reading it. 
Shao Bin is a worker in a factory who is trying to expose corrupt leaders.
When hearing what Shao Bin did, the leaders think, "Who would imagine a toad could grow wings and soar into the sky!"
"The two leaders talked about how to handle Bin this time; both of them agreed that they should remain calm and do nothing to provoke him at the moment.  In their hearts, they were frightened.  This mad dog Shao Bin was simply unpredictable.  He was too bold and too imaginative and would do anything he took a fancy to.  Unlike those puny intellectuals- the college graduates in the plant- whose faces would turn pale and sweaty and who would correct their faults the moment the leaders criticized them, this pseudo-scholar wasn't afraid of anybody.  What could you do if a man feared nothing?" -excerpt from Ha Jin's In the Pond
What are you proud of?
In the Tree House a student asked a group of us, "What about your country makes you proud?"
One student said, "I am proud that in China we respect our family members and take care of our family."
Another student said, "I am proud that in China family is very important."
Another student said, "I am proud that in China we have made so much progress over the last century leading to our ability to send rockets into space."
Then an American said, "I am proud that in America, we are trying to deal with diversity."
Then I said, "I am proud that in America, I can be whomever I want to be."
Christmas Banquet
Tonight the school invited us to a Christmas banquet and gave us flowers, a calendar, and a framed shadow puppet.  The food reminded me of Chinese American food, sweeter than what I usually eat here in Gansu.  On the elevator, I read that the specialty of the restaurant was Cantonese food.  Ah.. that explained it.  Most American Chinese food is from southern China.
I took my first step class ever.  It is umm...  hmm... Well at least I sweat for a bit.  Also, when running on a treadmill, it is not a good idea to hit the big red button. 
The only thing that I hate about being addicted to a gym is the pile of laundry.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chinese Roller Skating Rink

Today was a warm day so I walked downtown to the roller skating rink.  I climbed to the fifth floor and voila, a skating rink on the roof, the floor, smaller than a full length basketball court made up of large flat smooth stone tiles.  For $0.50 I could skate for an hour.  The four wheel skates were exactly like the ones I wore when I was in elementary school.  The clientele about 20 people watching and 10 people skating were exactly like the ones who hung out at the local skating rink in America, school age kids. 
It was a nostalgic skate except for the Chinese flavor.  The girls skated in one direction, counter-clockwise and the boys skated backwards in the other direction, clockwise.  It was annoying trying to avoid skaters skating backwards coming at me at full speed, skaters who were just standing around in the rink, and skaters who would hold hands 5 people deep trying to whip each other around.  It has been a long time since I've skated, so my maneuvering and stopping skills were not the strongest.  Having to weave in and out of oncoming and stopped traffic was scary.  Plus avoiding cigarette butts was also a nuisance.  All in all though, I sweated, got a somewhat good workout, and enjoyed myself.  Too bad they didn't play the hokey pokey.

Friday, December 17, 2010


When can a person claim that they know and understand a culture?
When can a person say, "Yep I have integrated and now am Chinese"?
As a child growing up as a Chinese American in a white family, I barely studied Chinese culture and history.  I remember as a kid reading Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze River, a gift from my aunt and remember reading The Good Earth in high school.  I remember watching the movie too and being a bit shocked by the black and white film with white actors playing Chinese people.
In high school, I did my term paper on Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.  Then I went to a historically black university and read a lot of African American literature, scouring the library floors trying to understand diversity.  In my search, to understand the other, the other who didn't belong to white America, I was in a round about way searching for me.  Who was I as an other, an Asian other?  During my search, I wrote essays about the Chinese cultural revolution, Chinese stereotypes and international adoption.
One summer I did an undergraduate science internship at the University of California in Santa Barbara.  Their library had a room just for multi-cultural books, all the books for the various ethnic groups separated into sections.  I piled books high beside my bed, a sleeping bag on the floor in an unfurnished house.  I read and read.  The books I read about Asian people tended to be set either during ancient days or during the 1800's to the early 1900's, immigration stories or some of the more contemporary authors like Amy Tan, Ha Jin or Maxine Hong Kingston.
During film festivals or when picking out films, I would focus on Chinese movies like Farewell my Concubine, Joy Luck Club, Raise the Red Lantern, Eat Drink Man Woman, Xiu, Xiu: the Sent Down Girl, Wong Kar-wai films then I'd read the book if there was one.  I learned to fear Chinese movies that would have me sobbing by the end. 
I studied China trying to understand Chinese culture, trying to understand who my ancestors were.   Did all of that reading connect me with my ancestors?  Did all of that reading and watching movies prepare me for a life in China? Did all that reading make me more Chinese?
In the past 33 years, I have lived in Taiwan and China for a total of 10 years, 7 of those as a baby and a beginning teenager.  I've spent 3 years in China as a volunteering working adult teaching at a university.
Have I integrated?
Do I understand Chinese culture?
I have become accustomed to the habits of China.  I barely notice the differences anymore.  Many things just seem normal:
  • women wearing hospital face masks in all colors and prints trying to protect their faces from the cold
  • middle aged women wearing high heel boots, black thick tights and booty shorts
  • avoiding poop and vomit on the sidewalk
  • indirect communication using the middle man
  • at a banquet with 10 people having 10 of them coming to your chair personally to drink with you and then standing up yourself and going to each of the people filling their glass and giving a kind worded cheer to each and every one of them
  • yelling at the waiters to come to your table to fill the teacups or to give you the bill
  • spitting bones and all directly onto the table
  • being a Chinese person who sometimes seems to be a little out of place
  • speaking Chinese
  • people getting married after only knowing the person for a few months
  • people choosing responsibility over their dreams
  • not having schedules because no one knows anything; there is always someone higher up who knows the information which slowly trickles down through many levels making it super hard to schedule anything
I can often predict and rationalize the whys behind behavior.  For example, when a tragedy happens on campus the leaders won't directly confront the issue but instead will just ignore it and hope it will blow over letting the students spread false information, rumors, and gossip about it.  Why?  Loss of face is a terrible thing.  Admitting something that will cause you to look bad is a terrible thing.  Ignore it and hopefully it will pass quickly resulting in harmony without any dire consequences of losing your career.
I don't get shocked with people's ideas or actions but can understand their reasoning.  Many students say that they will never be able to marry their college boyfriends or girlfriends.  Why?  In order to find a job, everyone has to go back to their hometowns, a place where they have connections and where the government will help them find a job.  To marry a person who is not from your hometown runs a HUGE risk of not being able to find a job, thus not being able to support your family, thus being a bad son or daughter. 
The thing is just because I can navigate through the culture, just because things seem normal, just because I can speak Chinese to meet my needs, to make small talk, and to find out information, just because I know the whys behind the no's, the maybe's, the yes's, and if it would be convenient, doesn't mean that I am integrated, doesn't mean that I understand China, doesn't mean that I am Chinese. 
Even though I have learned more about China by living here compared to reading thousands of pages and watching hours of movies, how Chinese am I?
I can act the act and talk the talk and walk the walk, but does that make me Chinese?
In fact, it just shows me how much of an American I am and how much of a great actress I am.  Maybe though being a great actress, maybe acting culturally Chinese without thinking, maybe having Chinese mannerisms, instinctual habits, maybe all of that is a sign that I have integrated and am Chinese.  Maybe if on the surface I am Chinese, have got all the cultural mannerisms down, maybe it means that I have integrated. 
Yet, my way of thinking, reacting to certain situations, answering questions, writing essays, expressing my ideas are all very American.  When asked to interpret the Chinese saying, "Men are like mountains and women are like water,"  I would explain it quite differently than my students.  They say men are strong and support the family.  Women are soft and easily hurt.  I would say men are inflexible and need water to flourish.  Women are flexible yet so powerful and strong that they can wear down mountains and are the sustainers of life.  When asked if the story "The New England Nun" had a happy ending or a sad ending, my students said that it was a sad ending because the woman didn't get married and lived the rest of her life like a nun.  I said it was a happy ending because the woman was independent and choose her own happiness instead of getting married.  My thoughts are very different than my students.  I may be able to walk the walk, and talk the talk but I sure can't think the thoughts.
I am currently reading a book of short interviews with Asian Americans.  The Chinese people in the book who are first and second generation Chinese Americans have a very different viewpoint of themselves than Chinese Americans who have been in America for many generations.  The first and second generation Chinese Americans still hold strongly to Chinese culture and Chinese ideas about marriage, family, education, success, and taking care of the elderly.  The later generations seem to have abandoned Chinese cultural ideas and are trying to figure out how to be accepted in the diversity of America as an American.     
I feel that I am probably 50% integrated into my community.  I can interpret indirect communication.  I know who to talk to in order to get things that I want or need like if I don't want to teach a certain subject, I know the man who is in charge of that.  I can speak survival Chinese and can make friends using Chinese.  If I was a 100% Chinese Gansu woman though, I'd be stressed that I wasn't married and would be asking anyone and everyone to set me up on dates.  I'd be homesick and worried that I was being a bad daughter because I wasn't making money to support my parents nor was I taking care of them.  I'd be wanting to have children.  I'd think women were weaker than men and have to do too much housework.  I'd think and rationalize like Chinese people opting for social harmony rather than independent selfishness.
In summary, I am integrated into my community because I feel like I belong.  I try my best to be polite and not to be culturally inappropriate.  I speak Chinese and am a respected teacher at the university.  I have Chinese mannerisms; however, I do not think like my Chinese students.  Often I hold my tongue, not wanting to voice my opinions that are opposite of my students especially about sensitive topics. (Look at the Chinadaily's hot news articles to see what kinds of comments pop up about sensitive topics.)  I often censor myself because this is a country where viewpoints should align with the government.  For non-sensitive topics I do state my opinion, but I want the students to think for themselves and come up with their own answers according to their culture.  So have I intergrated even though I don't think like a Chinese mind?  Am I Chinese?  How Chinese am I?  Instead of answering the questions, here I shall end my thinking for the day with the ever so popular ending sentences of my students' essays, "In a word, let's just be happy every day and live in harmony.  Come on!"


The weather has turned into freezing temperatures; however, there has been no precipitation.  Why then as I take the 15 minute walk to the downtown gym does it seem like my city is trying to make an ice skating rink out of the sidewalks, street corners, and round abouts?  The cars have to slow down at the intersections as they cross the slippery stuff.  People trying to cross the street dangerously step in front of moving cars as the wheels hit the slick ice.  I am like "What are you doing?  Don't you know that cars have a difficult time stopping while on ice?"  I wait patiently to cross but still feel the annoyance of having to walk carefully across large slabs of ice that have to have been man made.
While in spinning class, as I was off the saddle climbing hills with an intense beat, my right pedal went flying off the bike along with my foot since it was securely fastened with toe straps.  I had to use all my strength to stop the fly wheel with my left quad as well as pull my flying foot back towards me so as not to kick the woman beside me.  Whew, scary.  Maybe gyms with low quality equipment are not the safest places? 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Freezing Temperatures

Just to let you know how cold it is, the flat is chilly even though we have central heating.  I sit in my sleeping bag wearing a hat and fingerless gloves. 
It takes forever to leave the house because I have to start layering up.  The more clothes I put on the slower it takes to put them on as I bulk up unable to bend my arms anymore.  I am wearing two pairs of long underwear under my outer layer and am thinking I need to wear another pair of pants.
When I eat out, it takes forever to sit down because I have to start taking off clothes so I can bend my arms to eat.
I should probably wear fewer clothes so I can start acclimating to freezing temperatures since I am going to Harbin this winter where the temperatures are -20 degrees Celsius below freezing. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Waiting for Marriage

The theme of the last two stories was about a Chinese woman and an American woman who waited 14-45 years for their fiances.  Due to historical events, in the story "The Woman who Waited 45 Years," the Chinese woman waited for her true love and wasn't able to marry him after finding him because he had heard that she had died and had married another woman.  Set in the late 1800's, in the story "The New England Nun," while waiting for her fiance to return, the American woman became accustomed to her peaceful life of solitude doing the things she loved to do and decided not to marry, afraid that her life would change drastically in an unhappy way if she did get married.  Since she was loyal she would have kept her marriage promise to the man, but learned that he was in love with another woman; therefore, she was able to get out of the promise she had made to marry him.

I asked the students, "If the American woman had been Chinese in the late 1800's would the ending of the story "The New England Nun" have been the same?"

I expected a straightforward answer.  No it would not have been the same.  The Chinese woman would have decided to sacrifice her peaceful happy solitary life to get married.  Instead the students' detailed answers surprised me:

1.  The Chinese woman would choose marriage because if she had refused the younger fiance, she would have been forced to marry anyways probably an old man; therefore, the younger man was the safer choice even if she wanted to live alone.

2.  Since her fiance was in love with another woman, he would have kept his promise to his fiancee who had waited 14 years for him.  In addition he would have married the other woman.  Since Chinese men in the 1800's could have two wives, the three people could leave peacefully together, the two who were in love and the woman who wanted her peaceful life could just live separately from them but still married as the first wife.

3.  The woman who refused marriage would have died.  What?  Died?  If the woman didn't marry the man, society would assume that she was a bad woman because the man didn't marry her.  Society would assume that she had cheated on him or had done something scandalous.  The judgment and criticism of society would have driven her to death.

Learning the students' ideas made me realize how little I really know about China and its history.  I felt like I understood China, but have realized that I only know China in a big broad stereotypical way as a foreigner living in this culture for 2.5 years.  The subtleties? The more I live in this country, the more I realize how little I know about it.  On the surface, I see the China that doesn't want to lose face, but underneath is a huge hidden underworld of unspoken secrets and ideas.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Spinning in Darkness

Tonight at the gym during the spinning session, instead of feeling like I was bored living the ins and outs of my day to day habits, I felt like I was in a movie, working out and taking a class after work.  It was a wakeup call to the monotonous daily rhythm I have gotten into, a rhythm of feeling like I've experienced all that Chinese culture, my Chinese city and university can offer me.  

Spinning felt so surreal like an out of body experience, like I had been transported to a strange combination of the gym and dance club from the TV show Queer as Folk.  The trainer turned out the lights leaving only a green glow in the blackened room with a few atmosphere lights still pulsing.  The room turned into a dance club, strobe lights and upbeat techno music blaring, but instead of dancing, ten of us stood up and biked for an hour with the trainer using a microphone headset to yell at us.  It was super fun.  I was grinning the whole time!  

I think having a gym membership, taking fitness classes, and playing sports are some of the things I live for.  If I can earn enough money and have the free time to do physical activity, I think I will be happy in America.

After lifting weights, I made an incredible discovery.  Looking out the sixth floor window of the women's locker room, I saw that on top of a four story building there was a skating rink with about 10 people braving the freezing temperatures to roller skate.  Wow.  Cool.

Sidenote:  I've never exercised at night.  I am an early morning runner and gym goer.  Last night though after yoga, I was unable to sleep.  I felt like I had just drank a gallon of coffee and felt buzzed, energized, ready to do something instead crashing into bed.  I stayed up till 2 am.  I hope tonight's spinning class has the opposite effect and puts me to sleep.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Free Membership

In graduate school, I went to the gym every morning to lift weights.  Then if I didn't have rugby practice, in the evenings, I would often be at the gym wearing nerdy white shoes playing squash.  Then I joined Peace Corps and it has been five years since I have been able to go to a gym.

In Africa, I tried to use buckets of water, bricks, and other things to create a homemade weight room, but it just never really interested me like going to a gym.  When I first arrived in my Chinese city, I tried to find a gym.  I found one place where all the weights were shoved into a corner with cobwebs.  Then as the city grew, as more fast food chicken restaurants, coffee shops, and pizza joints opened, yoga classes and gyms also started popping up; however, they were expensive, about 1/3rd of my living allowance per month.  I couldn't afford to go to the gym.

Guess what!
Today I got a free membership to a new gym in town.  
It is awesome!  
I am ecstatic!  

There are tons of free weights and machines.  They also have evening classes that I can attend for free:  yoga, spinning, kickboxing, belly dancing, step aerobics, core training, and jazz dance.  I am so excited.  Today I went to the gym twice, once for weight lifting and the second time for a yoga class.  In the weight room, I felt super macho as many of the puny guys were lifting half of what I used to be able to lift back in Seattle.  In the yoga class, I felt huge, a chest of muscle, compared to the tiny narrow wasted, flat, skinny armed women.  I don't care though!  I am SOOOO happy to have received a free gym membership.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


So... I've been busy.

Last week the Science Club recycled paper.  

Then over the weekend I went to Xian to visit some of my Chinese friends who are studying at different universities.  One is a visiting scholar doing research on positive emotions.  She is staying in a super nice private dorm room with a private bath, a flat screen TV, and free Internet.  Another is a post graduate student studying translation.  She also has a nice dorm room with three other roommates.  They sleep on top bunks and under the bunk is their closet, desk, and bookshelf.  Plus they have a private squat toilet too.  It was nice to get to see different universities compared to the one I am teaching at.  

I heard about some Americans studying Chinese at a university in Xian.  They complained that the teacher didn't like it when they tried to answer the questions on their own.  The teacher would say, "Copy it out of the book, exactly the way it is written in the book."  They also were unhappy that a student from Korea held the book in her lap during an exam and received a grade of 98 while the non-cheaters only got a 92.

Then this week Peace Corps made its annual visit to check on the new volunteer.

Then I've been busy with work.  I had to type out 6 final exams and grade 30 essays.  The end of the semester is approaching and there is a lot of preparation and grading to be done.  I have about 360 finals I need to schedule and grade, about 250 written exams and 110 interviews.

Next semester I will be teaching Freshmen Oral English and Sophomore Writing.  Then I guess I will be back in the USA again.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

World AIDS Day

Today in front of the basketball courts, a student organization sponsored the signing of big posters, a poster display about AIDS/HIV and the handing out of red ribbons.  The Tree House held a scavenger hunt quiz.  A VSO volunteer working at a nearby middle school provided the idea and quiz that she too was using at her school.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Papermaking Procedure with Minimal Supplies

With about ten students, the second meeting of the Tree House English Science Club was successful.  We learned about saving trees and reducing pollution by recycling paper.  For three evenings, the Tree House has become a papermaking recycling factory.

I scoured the many papermaking websites to learn the technique.  The Pioneer Thinking Website and The Illustrated Step-by-Step Guide both called for a wooden frame and a blender; whereas, the Recycling Paper at Home site called for a mortar and pestle.  My students were a bit amazed that I had never been taught how to make paper, but that I independently studied how to by myself.  

With my limited Chinese vocabulary, looking for materials in the open market can take a whole afternoon.  Plus since I am trying to save money for a winter holiday trip, my pocketbook is pretty empty.  I needed to find the cheapest bare essentials.  Here is the procedure I used for making paper without a blender or a wooden frame using hands as a mortar and pestle.

wire mesh
rolling pin


1.  Instead of scissors use your hands to rip the paper into tiny pieces, the tinier the better.
2.  Add water to just cover the paper.  The water paper mixture should be a thick sludge.
3.  Let the paper soak for at least a day, stirring and mashing the paper between your hands.  Add water if the sludge is too thick.
4.  Cut the mesh into the shape of paper that you want to make.
5.  When most of the paper seems to be broken down into sludge, add more water to the mixture.  (Use less water if you want thick paper and more water if you want thinner paper.  Experiment with this step to get the desired paperweight.)
6.  Holding the mesh taunt emerge the mesh into the sludge then pull out the mesh picking up fibers.
7.  Let the water drain.
8.  Place the paper side onto a piece of cloth with the mesh facing up.    
9.  Using a sponge, remove excess water.  
10.  When enough water has been removed, carefully remove the mesh leaving the wet paper on the cloth.
9.  Cover the wet paper with another piece of cloth and use a rolling pin to roll over the paper to remove more water.
10.  Let air dry.  When the paper dries, it will easily peel off the cloth.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Knitted Short Sleeve Pullover

Last summer I knitted the Plain and Simple Pullover by Veera Välimäki for my previous sitemate.  Today I finished one for myself.

Knitted Dissected Rat

Here is another picture of the rat with felted internal organs.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rat Guts

About a couple of months ago I knitted rat, pattern by Emily Stoneking.  Today a student from knitting club worked on filling the insides with organs.  I might re-make some of the organs and felt them.  I'll send a melange of organs to my biology teacher friend who wants to use it for his dissection class.  He can assemble the rat to match his preferences, a do it yourself rat dissection kit. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Short Story Class

Last year within the first month of teaching, 120 seniors stopped coming to my English short story class.  I am still not clear about the reasons why:  dislike for reading, lazy, mentally checked out as seniors, looking for jobs, teacher wasn't strict enough, knew that the class was ungraded so what was the point?

This year though I am teaching juniors.  Sometimes I have all the students attending.  Sometimes maybe I am missing 15-20 students, but overall I have at least 30-65 students sitting in class wanting to learn.  Thank goodness!  No more wasted time lesson planning to arrive to an empty classroom.

Again this course is a non-graded class; therefore, I have not felt a great pressure to teach a lot of stories.  Instead, we spend a class period doing an activity to understand the differences and similarities between American and Chinese culture, spend a class period reading the story, then the next week answer questions and discuss the story.  

Because last year, the few seniors who did attend the class preferred stories about China compared to the stories about the west, the students this year compare two stories, one from China and one from the West that have similar themes.

The first theme was about universalism, cultural relativism, and ethnocentrism.
The second theme was about stereotypes as well as discrimination of fathers for their children: gender and racial.  
The third theme was about women waiting for 10-45 years for their fiancees to return.
The fourth theme will be about charity and honesty.

So far the students and I have learned about the differences between the rituals surrounding pregnancy in China compared to America.  For example, pregnant women rarely directly tell their co-workers that they are pregnant.  Instead everyone guesses that the woman is pregnant as she grows in size; whereas, Americans have baby showers.  Chinese pregnant women go to the hospital to deliver their babies sometimes even a week earlier than American women.  Doctors in China who deliver babies are always female.  Babies will sleep with their parents, sometimes even until they are as old as six, compared to the American walkie talkie method where parents sleeping in another room can hear the baby.

The next thing we learned about was the differences and similarities between dating practices in China and America.  From our discussion, it feels like there are more similarities than differences.  We find dates the same way:  through friends and classmates, parents' recommendations, strangers you might meet in the self-study room or out in the city, internet.  We basically do the same things on dates:  restaurants, shopping, walks, go to an internet bar and watch a movie together.  The one thing that shocked students was the number of people I have dated.  They feel like they'll probably only date 1-3 people before getting married.  Anymore than that seems kind of outrageous.  Also, the students were uncertain of how to tell when they are officially boyfriend and girlfriend.  One student said, "When we kiss it means we are official."  Another student said, "When the bf or gf introduces us as a bf/gf to their friends it means we are official."  One big difference was that on a first date, do not bring flowers or a gift.  The students said, "If you don't know the date very well then bringing a gift is being too familiar."  

So far, I have found the class to be rewarding.  Not exactly sure what the students think, but I do know they still prefer the Chinese stories to the western ones.  They understand the Chinese ones but get lost in the language and ideas in the American ones.

For example, two stories about gender and racial discrimination were set during the mid 1800's early 1900's. 

One student asked, "During that time why do white people feel so superior over black people?"  

I replied, "Remember it was during the time of slavery."  

Then the student asked "But all people are equal.  Why did the white people think so differently?"  

I replied, "In the Chinese story, how could a father prefer sons to daughters?  The reasons behind discrimination is often not a very straightforward answer.  We can list all the cultural reasons like sons can carry on family names and inherit the business, or because people lived differently and spoke different languages one group of people could think their lifestyle, way of thinking, advances in technology make them superior.  The why though, why do people discriminate and create a culture of discrimination where only sons can carry on family names or black people will be slaves is complex."

The students feel that the western stories are too difficult and they haven't learned anything.  Of course, as the teacher, I know that the feeling of confusion, the feeling of being challenged and pushed is beneficial in the long run even if the students cannot see it today.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

White Baby Dolls

Baby dolls found in my local Chinese toy store.

The manager of the classroom building who lives in a tiny narrow room under the stairwell often has his grand-daughter with him.  She is a serious, shy girl who rarely smiles as she plays on the ground floor as I go to and from class.  The other day she was the cutest three year old loving mother cradling her blond haired blue-eyed baby doll.

In Africa, if a child was so lucky to have a baby doll, it was usually created from corn husks or was a store bought white one.

Do white baby dolls dominate the world doll market?  If so, why?

When I was seven or eight for my birthday my parents special ordered a Chinese baby doll from a woman who sewed by hand babies from around the world. They got both me and my brother one, a doll with slanted eyes, white skin, and a tuff of black hair. Many of my dolls though were given to me by my grandmothers.  One gave me a collection of Barbie dolls much to the dismay of my mother who did not think these full figured, skinny, long legged blond haired women were appropriate for a girl of six.  My other grandma stood for hours in a long line to purchase an orange haired Cabbage Patch doll with pig-tails.  They even bought my brother a boy one.  My aunt on the other hand sent me an awesome Christmas present, a Chinese doll with black silky shoulder length hair, blinking eyes and handmade clothes.

However, I am not sure if as a kid I was particularly aware of the race of my dolls.  What mattered most to me was what could the doll do? What accessories did the doll have?  Did it have pretty clothes, bottles, a backpack that it could be carried around in?  Could it drink a bottle of water then wet a diaper?  Could it cry and blink its eyes?  Could it say Mama?  Was it life-size?  Was it heavy like a real baby?  Could it walk?

As little girls does it matter if we play with dolls that look like us?  Is it important to play with a diverse group of dolls with different skin colors, eyes and hair?  Even though it may only be a subconscious message that little children are unaware of, white dolls are a message, "White is beautiful."

Discussing the quote by Martin Luther King "We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish as fools," a student in the English short story class wrote in her essay, "As we all know everyone likes beauty.  If there is possibility each one would like to be white skin."

According to an American study done fifty years ago by a psychologist Kenneth Clark, black girls chose white dolls over black dolls.  In 2005 a young American teen filmmaker, Kiri Davis also showed that this was true today.  Are girls' viewpoints about beauty influenced by the dolls they play with or by media images?  Maybe the domination of white dolls in the doll market across the world is just a result of the bombardment of media images.  White is beautiful; therefore, white baby dolls are preferred and will sell.  Even in a country of a billion Chinese people, the toy stores carry white baby dolls, very few are Chinese ones.

Favorite Teacher

During the break, my sophomore listening students asked if they could vote for their favorite teacher, a competition that the student union was holding.  In the English only classroom, the leaders went into Chinese mode, handing out ballots and my ears turned off until I caught my name being spoken, "Jennifer Laoshi (teacher) has only been a teacher for 3 years.  It isn't enough.  So you can't vote for her."  That moment was one of those instances that sums up my experience in China:

1.  Wow I can understand Chinese.
2.  Wow the students like me.
3.  Chinese rules are frustrating.

Later in the Tree House students told me, "We are so angry today because we had to vote for our favorite teacher.  The student union gave us a list of three teachers to choose from.  We had never had those teachers before and didn't even know them very well."

Monday, November 15, 2010

RELO Grant Money

We applied for a $1000 grant from the Regional Language Office in Beijing and learned today that we got it.  We will be buying a computer and digital cameras so that the students can improve their English writing, listening, speaking, and computer skills by creating a creative writing zine and a Tree House yearbook as well as by starting a livejournal to do a blog exchange with students in America.  The computer will also be used to manage the thousands of books that the Tree House English Resource and Community Center has.  In addition a subscription to the magazine Highlights will be bought.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fishing Simulation

Today's first science club activity was a great success.  I had forgotten what it is like to teach science.  I taught chemistry in graduate school and then taught math, physics, and chemistry in Africa but had to use French in a pretty challenging classroom.  Teaching a low level environmental simulation in English even to students who are learning English as a foreign language was wow... easy and super fascinating.

During the first part of the simulation where students were not allowed to talk, they quickly emptied their pond of fish and no one was able to feed their family after two fishing seasons.  It was interesting to see that when there were only two fish left in the pond, no one wanted to take them even though it meant that they would live and be able to keep playing.  Another observation was that one group tried to fish all at the same time which created a competitive atmosphere where actually no one was able to use their straw to get any fish out of the bowl.

During the second part of the simulation where students were allowed to talk and strategize, one group decided that everybody would only be allowed to take two fish which created a balanced sustainable fishing season that could go on for years.  They were a very organized group and would take turns to fish instead of trying to fish all at one time.  The other group didn't really strategize and realized too late that soon their pond would be empty.  Eventually a student from the group with the empty pond moved to the sustainable pond.  By adding an extra family to feed, the pond quickly ran out of fish.  I found it fascinating that the group with the sustainable pond let the newcomer fish first, but once they all realized that the newcomer would create an imbalance where the pond would soon run out of fish, she no longer was allowed to fish first.  

The group that made rules about fishing and then had an extra mouth to feed was able to fish for 6 seasons.  The other group only fished for 3.

The students came up with the following strategies to protect resources for the future:
  1. Communication and cooperation are necessary.
  2. Rules and regulations are needed.  ie.  kick out the greedy people
  3. Education helps people realize what the rules are for.

The students recommended the following to help protect our resources:
  1. Trees will disappear if we keep using wooden chopsticks, so bring your own chopsticks to the cafeteria.
  2. Re-use plastic bottles and plastic bags instead of throwing them away.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New Knitted Mittens

I recently finished knitting these Broad Street Mittens by Janis Cortese.  The weather though hasn't been cold, but soon it is bound to turn super chilly.  Plus I am going to Harbin for a few days during winter break.

Science Club

In August I spent a month in the USA for home leave and was inspired by a fellow RPCV from Africa.  He is a biology teacher and told me about a fishing stimulation he used in his class where the students explored the ideas behind the tragedy of the commons.  What happens when there is a common resource used by many people?  What strategies can be applied to protect common resources preventing the overuse of limited resources?

This Friday the first meeting of science club will be held and the Chinese students will do the fishing stimulation.  A group of four students will have access to one pond of of sixteen fish (candy) to fish from using straws.  Each student must take two fish or their family will starve and die.  Without talking, the students can fish for one minute which represents one year.  When the minute is over, the fish left in the pond can reproduce.  For every fish that is left, one baby will be added.  There can only be a maximum of sixteen fish in the pond at a time.  Then the students will fish for another year.

I wonder will Chinese students fish differently than American students?  In American schools after several years of fishing, usually students will empty their ponds of fish.  At my university, students have a habit of living in dorm rooms with eight people, of eating communal meals, and of copying each other rather than doing their own thing.  Sometimes I feel like the students are a collective with a single mind.  At knitting club instead of each student eating an orange, eight of them will share one orange.  I always feel guilty eating my own orange when they give a slice to everyone.  Plus China's one child policy is an example of using government regulations to try to prevent the exploitation of their limited resources, sacrificing for the greater good.  Another thing is, privatization is new in China; although, land is not privately owned in China.  It is owned by the government.  

Will these things influence the way the students approach fishing their ponds?  Will each student copy each other and ONLY take two fish every year?  Will they without talking to each other see what the greater good is and only take what they need not to starve?  We will see on Friday.

If you are interested in doing this with your students, here are some websites with the Fishing Stimulation Labs:

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Following Dreams vs Tackling Fears

Recently I came to the conclusion that it was time to tackle my fear of returning to the USA as well as my fear of getting a job to become the responsible adult with an income who is saving for retirement.  Even though PC will allow me to serve seven years, I decided to let go of the dream of discovering a new country and a new culture to return to the USA.

A friend recently said, "Jennifer follow your heart and your dreams."

Tackling my fear is not following my heart or my dreams.  It is in my opinion for me selling out.  Do I really want to return to the states, live under the roof of my parents or generous friends, send out hundreds of resumes and cover letters to start down a career path?

What about my dreams of living the adventurous lifestyle?  Working on a fishing boat, doing a bike tour of China, doing a temp job tour through all the cool American cities, being a lifetime volunteer, living in Antarctica, Alaska, Mongolia, or Africa?  

Monday, November 08, 2010

Halloween: Ping pong

Thursday night Tree House workers recommended this game where students race by blowing a ping pong ball from one cup of water to the next.  It was an exciting competition.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Halloween: Apple on a String

This game was a hit.  

Saturday night's cooking club students commented that the Halloween party was like being a bride and groom at a Chinese wedding.  Usually the newly married couple has to play games before being allowed to enter the bedroom.  For example, at the same time they both would have to bite into a Chinese mantou (steamed bun/bread).

This week's cooking club had a huge hurdle to overcome.  At 5 pm there was no water.  At 5:30 pm there was no water.  Finally at 6 pm we decided to buy bottled water to cook a huge spicy Chinese hot pot of potatoes, pumpkin, rice noodles, eggplant, leafy greens, tofu, imitation crab, hot dogs, and pork blood disks.  At 7:30 pm there was still no water so cleaning up was left for the next day.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Halloween: Pin the Eye

Pin the eye on the Jack-O-Lantern was a fun game for students who didn't want to get their faces wet; however, the students made the game less challenging by allowing each other to feel their way around the poster before sticking the eye on.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Halloween: Bobbing for Apples

This semester I've been busy and haven't been able to devote much time towards activities in the Tree House.  Every evening I am interviewing students in the library leaving little time for anything else.  My new sitemate as well as the Tree House workers have been working for the past two weeks to plan Halloween:  organizing four games, deciding which ghost stories to read, rehearsing a skit about the headless horseman, buying candy and apples, practicing the Cupid Shuffle, carving pumpkins, and planning the movie.  I haven't had to do anything except advise by answering questions and asking questions back.

Tonight's Halloween party was a great success!  With over sixty students in attendance, I didn't have to do anything except walk around and enjoy the festivities.  The students led the games.  The students explained Halloween.  They told stories and did skits.  They washed apples, gave away candy, and set up the movie.  I just had to show them how to bob for apples successfully.  Over 30 apples were won by students unafraid of getting their faces wet. 

Stay tuned, next three blog posts will be photoblogs of the games that were played.  Find out which games you too can use at a Halloween party in China with great success. 

Thursday, November 04, 2010

volleyball, high heels, pumpkins, musicals, male vs female

The morning started with leaving the now heated apartment to walk past the back gate food carts towards the vegetable vendors.  I tried a new thick pizza like breadstick that was sold by weight and skipped my favorite crepe filled with a fried egg and crispy fried dough.  I then bought five small pumpkins for 16 RMB ($2.50).

Ten minutes before PE class I learned that I had a package of books waiting for me so I ran from the mail room to my apartment and then to the playground for Tai Chi class.  With the sun out, it was a pleasant day to strengthen my legs where by class end my muscles started to shake.

My afternoon songs class watched The Sound of Music because we had learned two songs from the musical the class before.  Plus the Chinese teacher who usually teaches this songs class always shows this particular movie, so I decided to use his song sheets and follow his lesson plan.  I was pleasantly surprised that the students loved the movie and thought it was deeply meaningful with heartfelt opinions about family and friendship.  Would American college students appreciate this musical or would they just think it was boring?  Is it a timeless masterpiece?

I then had to run to volleyball practice.  The English department is participating in the school wide teacher's volleyball tournament.  I practiced with women who were all dressed in their professional teaching clothes with high heel boots.  No one told the teachers that they would be practicing after today's teacher's meeting.

Next was an hour of interviews with students from my listening class.  Two students spend thirty minutes making small talk, reading news that they got off the internet and then discussing the ideas mentioned in the news.  Today we discussed retirement and bombs hidden in packages.

At the Tree House, students carved jack o lanterns, practiced their Halloween skit about the headless horseman for tomorrow's party, and chatted in English.  Tonight we talked about differences as well as the pros and cons of being male and female.  

According to the students:
Pros for being male  choice, opportunities, no pain from childbirth
Cons for  being male  heavy load of responsibility for family, job, and money; bad temper 

Pros for being female  can have children; don't have too much family, money and job responsibilities
Cons for being female housework, cleaning dishes, housework, few choices, lots of time and money to be beautiful 

Now I am tired.  It is time to read one of the new books I received in the mail.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Electrical Explosions

The first time I heard about an explosion was about a year ago through gmail chat.  
Sitemate:  Umm....Jennifer, my water heater in the bathroom just exploded.
Me: Oh that is scary.

Then I got to hear an explosion for myself.  The other week my PC provided water distiller that removes heavy metals and minerals went POP, with a nice flashy bright explosion.  Now I am truly cursed.  I helped my sitemate carry her HEAVY water distiller back to Chengdu when she COS'd (close of service) and now I have TWO of them to return to Chengdu.  The PC medical officer sent me a new one.

The third explosion was today.  As students were standing up to do the Cupid Shuffle, we heard an explosive POP and the glass from a florescent light bulb dangerously rained upon the four of them.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tangle of Yarn

The cold weather has driven knitting club from the green garden into my unheated flat.  Plus it gives the students an opportunity to use the computer to pick out which knitting patterns they want to learn how to read and to knit.  So far most of the girls want to knit scarves.

After two hours of knitting club, then there is cooking club.  This past Saturday students made LONG noodles.  It was pretty incredible to see dough being pulled into long strands right there in my tiny kitchen.  It was even more incredible that I got to try to pull some noodles.  Mine tended to snap before they got too long.  

Aren't you excited?  I will be returning to the USA with the know how on making homemade Gansu noodles.

PS.  Happy Halloween.  Tonight I dressed up as a Tuareg alas with no camel.  Tree House Halloween Party will be next Friday.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


My apartment is in a long building.  The building has four entrances where each of the five floors only have two apartment doors.  There are a total of 40 apartments in the building.  I can only get to my apartment through one of the four entrances.  Each entrance opens up to a narrow concrete walkway and a brick wall.

The other night, I finished at the Tree House at 7 pm then went to dinner.  At 8 pm I arrived to the concrete walkway to find construction workers laying a fresh layer of rocky cement.  They said, "Come back tomorrow.  At 6 am you will be able to enter your apartment."

What?  What about now?  Where will I sleep?

I went to my sitemate's flat and spent a night in her guest room.  I got up at 5:30 am to return to my apartment, but no.  The construction workers had been working through the night and there was a fresh layer of the smoother cement laid.

I went to the university's garden and sat in the dark.  I went to the basketball courts and did Tai Chi.  I ate a sandwich for breakfast.  At 6:30 am I went to the playground and watched the students do two minutes worth of morning exercises before they all ran off to breakfast.  When the sun rose I returned to my apartment complex and waited to see what the other occupants of the complex would do about the wet cement.

My downstairs neighbor returned with two kettles of hot water and said, "Follow me."  I went through his first floor back porch, into his apartment and out a door that led to my stairwell.  Wish I had known that yesterday evening.  Could have slept in my own bed.

Deciding not to return till late afternoon because I wasn't sure if my downstairs neighbor would be around to let me into the building, I got ready for singing class, wore my PE clothes for Kung Fu class and packed my down vest full of money for a hot pot lunch with my Chinese tutors.  At 2:30 pm I returned to the newly laid walkway to find footprints imprinted all over the freshly dried cement.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why haven't you been posting?

Usually I am pretty good at posting regularly plus writing this blog is like a way for me to communicate with the outside world, but lately I've been feeling a bit in the mood for self-isolation.  I've got a lot of things on my mind:  teaching, student interviews, what to do next in my future after PC, daily interactions with students, hardly any time to be by myself, a leaky faucet, writing a RELO grant, relationship issues and so on....

But today I felt like giving a brief update....

Last week I was wearing a short sleeve shirt to play soccer.  It has suddenly turned cold.  Even had a dusting of snow yesterday.  Today I wore a hat, gloves, 3 top layers plus a down vest, and two pairs of pants.  Even running around playing soccer, I did not shed any layers.  

P.E. Class
I am taking PE three times a week.  Tuesday is soccer.  Thursday is Tai Chi.  Friday is Wu shu (kung fu).  

I personally do not like playing soccer with the girls.  They run away from the ball.  They giggle, walk, and hide from the teacher.  The boys are more fun to play with.  

Two years ago I tried Tai Chi and thought it was boring.  This year though it is more interesting and challenging.  I never imagined moving so slow could make me exhausted so that I would fall asleep at 8 pm.  

Wu shu is still my favorite, but I already know the moves.  I am just helping the other students learn the moves since the teacher shows them to the class three times and then says, "Go practice."

Tree House
The Tree House as always is super busy.  Every evening I have an hour's worth of interviews with my listening class students.  Cooking club and knitting club have been successful.  One girl already finished one scarf and is on the way to knitting one for her mother.  Writing club is less fun this semester because we are preparing for the TEM4 writing portion of the national exam.  Science club has two experiments lined up but we're waiting for the Halloween party to be over.  Almost all of the 200 new books have been labeled and we're writing a new grant to get a computer and digital cameras to start a yearbook, a zine, and a blog to exchange posts with students in America.

I am tired of teaching the same students for listening.  I had them last year and I have them again this year.  My bag of tricks is empty, but for some reason they still enjoy the class.  Maybe because they are worried about the TEM4 and I am giving them a lot of practice exams instead of using the book.

Songs class is fun.  I like singing.  Any suggestions of an easy song to teach?  We have gone through almost all of the children's nursery rhymes.

Short Story's Class is fun.  We are moving slow have taught only one story so far but at least I have a classroom full of students compared to last year.  

Today in preparation for reading Kate Chopin's "Desiree's Baby," we discussed racial stereotypes.  

Americans have a stereotype that Chinese people are good at math and science.  
Why do you think Americans believe this?
Because during the ancient days of China, Chinese people invented 4 of the great inventions: papermaking, gunpowder, compass, printing.  (both classes answered the same way)
What are some examples of this stereotype not being true?  
I am not good at math and science.

Americans have a stereotype that Chinese people are competitive.
Is this a positive or negative stereotype?
It is a negative stereotype.  It is bad to be competitive.  We should live harmoniously.

Lifetime Volunteer
I think I have decided to return to the USA.  Why?  Because I have gotten stagnant living my easy life.  Ever since undergraduate, graduate school, and then PC I have not had to worry about anything.  All of my basic necessities were taken care of.  I have never had a real job.  I think it is time to try a new adventure, to step outside of my easy life box where I am provided for, and try working for a living.  Plus it is good to stir things up and attack those things you fear.

For all those out there, hating your job afraid to quit, why not try being a Peace Corps Volunteer?  And for me out here enjoying my life in China as a volunteer, afraid of living in the USA and working, why not try getting a job in the states?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Privileged Lifestyle

In response to the most recent blog, "Lifetime Volunteer," a recent anonymous commenter wrote, "In a way you are living the upper class lifestyle in these countries you are in, because you have an upper class standard of living provided to you (compared to other host country nationals), and you have more money than they do to spend indiscriminately, on travel, on clothing, on food and so forth."

I agree with the commenter that as a PC volunteer, we have a different standard of living than the host country nationals.  In Africa, I was lent a two room house for one person; whereas, the people living in my village had tons of people living in each house.  I had good medical care provided by PC and I received a teacher's salary that was the same as the local teachers.  My money went a longer way because I wasn't married with a family.  

In China, I am given a nice flat with lots of amenities, good health care and actually I receive half as much as the teachers at my university.  Chinese university teachers make 3000 RMB.  I only get 1500 RMB, but again I don't have a family to support so 1500 RMB is plenty.

As a volunteer, it is a privileged lifestyle.  I do not have to worry about health, food, clothes, water, shelter.  It is all provided for me.  That is the type of lifestyle I want, one where I am not working to death to meet my basic needs plus having some extra pocket money to eat a special treat.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lifetime Volunteer?

This volunteer who has been in Peace Corps for five years is trying to decide if she wants to do another two year tour in another country, for a total of seven years.

Are you crazy?

Why would it be crazy to be a lifetime volunteer?  For those who are interested in careers, climbing the corporate ladder, saving for retirement, raising a family, worrying about health and health care, being married, then yes I can see why being a lifetime volunteer could seem like a crazy idea.

Nuns, monks, and priests are lifetime volunteers.  Are they crazy?  

I prefer donating time rather than money especially since I don't have any money.  Then go and get a job!  Earn some money and start donating.   I am afraid of money.  Because I have never had a salary higher than $20,000/year, I am afraid of how a high salary might corrupt me, turn me into a materialistic consumer with debt, trapped in an unhappy life of daily habits.  But is this desire to be a lifetime volunteer stupid and irresponsible?  (Please if you have an opinion, answer the question in the comments or an email.)

Over the past five years, I have lived an adventure.  I have met so many different people.  I have explored the lives of humanity, the desires, needs, wants, beliefs, and joys of people in different parts of the world.  I have lived the customs and traditions of a variety of cultures.  I have lived different lifestyles.  I have spoken different languages.  I have been a teacher and a student.  I have been cheated, angered, frustrated, and worried.  I have faced the challenges of learning who I am.

About my desire to be a lifetime volunteer to explore the world, Chris McCandless (Into the Wild) states it perfectly, "So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Yesterday at 5:30 am, a student friend of mine woke up, left the door unlocked to go the W.C. and when she came back, her purse had been stolen, 400 RMB, bank cards, an her I.D.  The thief entered her room while her sleeping roommate was still dreaming, escaped to the fourth floor, dumped out the contents of the purse, stealing the valuables and then abandoning the purse.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Football Practice

Today was soccer practice.  My class has about 44 students and 22 footballs.

What did we do today?

1.  Spent about 20 minutes practicing hitting the ball as many times into the air without it hitting the ground.  I rarely can get past three kicks.

2.  On a mini rectangle field, about a quarter of the size of a basketball court, 20 people ran back and forth dribbling a ball from one end to the next, running into each other while trying to avoid each other.  The teacher would weave in and out of students and kick balls out of the court.  Then he walked to a tree, broke off a whip, and motivated students to avoid him while they were dribbling the ball back and forth.  This was a tiring drill.  I need to get into shape.

3.  Spent about 30 minutes practicing kicking a ball back and forth between two people.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

Burnt Out

To all those experienced teachers who have been teaching for years, do you ever burn out?

Six days a week I am spending at least 6 hours a day lesson planning and teaching English learners both in the classroom and outside of the classroom.  Some days like today, I was engaged for a total of 8 hours:  4 hours of teaching, 1.5 hours of Chinese corner, 1 hour of TOEFL training, 1 hour of listening class interviews, 1 hour in the Tree House.  Even on Saturdays and Sundays I am engaged with English learners.  There is writing club, knitting club, and cooking club.  Plus I have a list of other activities to start like begin corresponding with a school in Alabama, start science club, plan a Halloween party, a dance party, write grants, and do a site exchange so that my students can take part in a photo club.  It takes a lot of patience and energy to be a Peace Corps volunteer with a plate full of secondary projects and to stay engaged with students who are studying English as a foreign language. 

Then in my free time I am still somehow engaged with students because I am taking PE three times a week.  Tuesday is soccer.  Last week, we did sprint warm-ups.  I felt they weren't long enough, since I enjoy sprinting till I puke.  Then we did some dribbling drills, but then spent an hour trying to hit the ball into the air as many times as possible without the ball hitting the ground.  The most I was able to do was 7 times. I've never played soccer before.  Is this skill of being able to hit the ball into the air many times important?  Thursday is Tai Chi.  I attended class last week, but it was sign up day.  I left early not having the patience to wait for thirty students to inefficiently sign their names to the roster.  Friday is Kung Fu.  It is fun, but leaves my muscles sore.  PE is fun yet it is another social event.  This introverted loner is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of socializing she is doing this semester.

It seems stupid to be complaining about my 30 hours of being engaged with students plus the 8 hours a week of lesson planning and grading, but I am feeling burnt out.  Is it because I've been in Peace Corps too long?  Been in China too long?  Or is it just because this semester I am feeling tired, a typical challenge that all teachers at some point face during their careers?

The end of my time in China is fast approaching.  Should I try to transfer back to Africa?  There are openings.  Africa sounds more appealing than America.  I need to find some convincing reasons why I should return to the USA.  I did have a realization the other week.  If I start job hunting, I will be applying to be an academic advisor for international students.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tree House Booth

After all of last year's activities: nature festival, women's club, knitting club, western dinner party, western dance, reading competition, writing club, Chinese corner, yoga, and movie nights, the Tree House English Library and Community Center really formed a close knit group of students.  This year the Tree House has been full and noisy; however, freshmen English majors as well as non-English majors have not been visiting.

We decided to advertise the Tree House by setting up a booth between the basketball courts and the clinic.  Friday was a perfect sunny day to sit outside and tell people walking by about the English library and community center.  The Tree House volunteer workers were friendly and took initiative to explain the benefits of visiting the English only space.

On the other hand, us foreigners scared the poor students away.  We would enthusiastically shout, "Hello, welcome to the Tree House.  Come look at the pictures."  The students would immediately steer clear of the booth and walk faster towards the opposite end of the street trying to get away from the English.  Thankfully not ALL of the students were frightened away.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


October 4:  We rode the horses to a mountain and went straight up the thing.  We did not use the easier switchbacks to mount a 13,800 ft peak.

I am tired of writing about the trip, so here I stop.

If you want to read more about the the Tibetan horse trek, my travel companions have also been blogging and posting pictures about the trip:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Our Yurt Mother

October 4:  The host mother got up before the sun rose and I spent a few more minutes in the bag before climbing out.  I wanted to see what she was up to and wanted to help her carry water up the hill if she was doing that in the wee hours of the morning.  

Our yurt mother has five children.  They don't usually live in the yurt except during holidays.  Instead they live in town with their grandma so they can go to school.  How do they travel from the yurt to town?  They walk.  It is at least 2-4 hours by horse.  Her husband is also a horse trek guide and was out guiding seven people visiting from Beijing.  

As the pink of the morning sun sneaked its way over the hills, our yurt mom, gathered poop from the tied up yaks.  She carried a basket on her back and used a pitchfork to fling dung up and over her head, poop landing in the target.  I wanted to help her with her chores but thought that me trying to fling poop into a basket would be extremely inefficient.  I'd likely be chasing poop from here to there as I missed the target.  

Plus are yaks friendly?  I watched from a distance.  

After collecting poop from about 50 yaks, she started to rake horse droppings.  I was able to do that chore while she went back inside and started preparing breakfast.

A recent reader said that link of the fall from a horse video didn't work.  She has recently been editing a short movie about the trip.  Here is the edited version.  Here is the raw version.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Yurt Home

October 3:  After a long day of riding horses and basking in the sun, we rode up a hill and arrived at a yurt where we would be staying for two nights.  Half of the yurt was the kitchen with a pile of dried yak dung in one corner.  The other half of the yurt was used as the living room, eating area, and bedroom.  It was a big empty floor space covered with a canvas that could be changed according to need.  

They had a solar panel on top of the roof, a battery, and a light bulb.  Even nomadic yak herders have to have have a way to charge their cell phones.  

The were no wells.  The mother had to walk down the hill to the somewhat empty river and haul water back up, not on her head but strapped with a cord to her back while holding two smaller containers in both hands.  There were no pit latrines, just vast grassland.  

In the unheated tent, we were tightly bound into sleeping bags and heavy blankets weighed our bodies down.  I could not move.  It wasn't the hard floor that was difficult, but the constricted prison of a bed I was in.  I felt like I had been swallowed by a snake and couldn't escape.  Seven us filled the empty space and we looked like a can of sardines, all packed in neatly.

One of my travel companions took a video of my fall off a horse and posted it to youtube.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Fall off a Horse

This is why I fell.  My horse like the one in the picture DID NOT want to cross this dangerous sink hole of mud.  The land was like the swamp of sadness in the Neverending Story.  My horse was the first to go across but absolutely refused while two other horses pushed forward to successfully reach the other side.  The third horse also made it across with a rider in a fit of laughter falling to one side being caught by our guide.  The straps of his saddle broke from the bucking that the horses had to do to jump out of the knee high dangerous leg breaking mud.

My horse was being forced across when my attention was drawn to the laughing rider ahead and the next thing I knew my horse bucked several times and I was eating dirt.  Luckily since the horse sunk to his knees, I was already close to the ground, didn't have a very long distance to fall.  Plus mud is soft.  

For some reason, I just love hitting the ground, tackling people, being hit back, doing physical feats of BAM.  Maybe I should have been a stunt woman.

If you want to watch a video, I can send it to you.  It is a 1.9 MB file.

The other two riders made the wise decision to dismount and walk across while their riderless horses were forced across.