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.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

1st Day Second Stop

October 3:  After lunch we climbed back on the horses and rode to a new gorgeous spot that had a natural spring coming out of the rocks.  While the horses munched on tall grass, we enjoyed the sunshine and beauty of the landscape.  We filled our water bottles and added iodine tablets.

When I was twelve, I received a brown pony with white splashes for Christmas.  Her name was Lady and she loved water.  Whenever we came to a puddle, she would lie down and start rolling.  Since I didn't want to get wet, I would lose the reins, hop off and find dry land.  Then Lady would hop up and run home with me chasing after her, me having to walk the rest of the way.  

That wasn't the only time that Lady would have me off her back when I wanted to be on her back.  One time we were galloping on wet asphalt.  She went down and I went up and over her head landing on the black crash pad breaking two fingers.  I guess I was never good at staying on a horse.

Would I be able to stay on a horse while riding in the grasslands of the Tibetan region in Gansu?

As late afternoon approached, we climbed back on the horses, rode from empty fields to yak filled fields and I had my first "fall."  My horse suddenly stopped, bent down, started scratching its knee with its head and then proceeded to lie down and start rolling in some black dirt.  Not wanting to be crushed, I quickly found a way off.  

Stay tuned.  That roll in the dirt was just a warm up "fall."

Saturday, October 09, 2010

First Stop Lunch

Morning of October 3:  As usual I got up early and took a walk in the misty city running into a massive dead dog in a trash pile then a dead orange kitten under a tall prayer wheel.  Death was not a good sign.  At 10 am we would be getting on horses.  

We had a very quick horse riding lesson, loaded up the ponies with handmade saddlebags made out of rice bags that were filled with sleeping bags, rain ponchos, and fresh vegetables.  Then we started out into the grasslands of Langmusi riding through town like cowboys.  By lunchtime the misty gray cloud cover had burned off and we were eating rice covered with egg and tomatoes in a tent under blue skies.

After lunch, we hiked up a small hill before riding off again.

Photo:  In the left hand distance below you can barely see you the horses and the tent.  Because my body was trying to feel comfortable and confident on a horse, during the first day it was hard for me to take photos while riding a pony.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Yak Burger

Oct 2:  After checking into the hotel of dorm rooms with beds, we went to the horse trek office to fill out paperwork where we signed our lives away.  If we were injured, they would get us to a hospital, but we would have to pay the bills.  We received a 2 minute culture class.  Do not comb your hair in the tent.  Because there are no tables, the floor will be the table; therefore, do not step over people's food.  Do not hang and dry your wet socks near the fire.  The guides will find a more suitable place.

With a couple hours of daylight left, we explored the city.  The guys paid 20 RMB to visit the monastery and we gals explored the surrounding hills.  My favorite thing to do in a new city is to walk and explore rather than pay and explore.  Just being in a new city is good enough for me.  The town is a mix of tourist shops and hotels plus worn down houses with large sun windows warming enclosed front porches and houses with wooden roofs that have survived the brute force of winter.

When the sun set, we went to Leisha's Restaurant on the main street because it was advertising a Yak Big Mac.  In China, people share dishes.  In America, we want our own, so we debated a bit whether or not to order the large 20 RMB yak burger or the extra-large one.  The owner made the decision for us and said get the large one.  We ordered four and a plate of delicious thick french fries.  Each yak burger was HUGE.  Only two of us finished.  Yes I was one of them.  The other two probably ate about a 1/4th of their sandwich.  If you are a group, I would recommend ordering one and trying the other dishes.  Order family style.  As we were working our way through the burgers, more and more delicious food was being brought out to the packed house of diners.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Photoblog Theme:  4 day Langmusi Tibetan Horse Trek (Because I can't edit my blogs to create a large photo post about this year's National holiday trip, this week's blog theme will be about my trip to the Gannan Tibetan Automonous Prefecture in Gansu.)

October 1:  At 6:00 am, I walked to the bus station with a pack full of knitted goods and a newly bought jacket with a warm sleeping bag strapped to the back.  I caught a bus to Lanzhou and endured seven hours of Hong Kong gangster movies, sound at full blast.

October 2:  Four of us boarded a full bus to Langmusi.  We were wary of the 10 hour trip; however, only after 7 hours in a daze of confusion, we were thrown off the bus in the middle of nowhere, and received finger gestures of which direction we should start walking.  After two miles under a bright blue sky and warm sunshine surrounded by rolling hills and open green, golden plains, we arrived at a one lane town surrounded by houses, mountains and Tibetan monasteries.  

Our reserved 60 RMB/bed had already been given away, but we were thankfully led to a much cheaper place.  The thin hard beds were only 25 RMB and the latrine was on a floor between the first and the second, an open balcony with a view of the town along with two concrete troughs opening into the river below.  A bucket with a spigot was hanging on the wall as the faucet to wash one's hands.