An overdue update.

Trip Start Aug 24, 2008
Trip End Jul 01, 2009

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

        Sorry I've been slacking- things have been pretty busy the past couple months and the free time I've had has been devoted to looking up flights, trains and hostels (for our month long vacation coming up) and watching American TV shows on-line :)
        Since there's so much to update on, I'll bullet point the events to make it more bearable to read. 
        *We had several French exchange students here in November for a couple weeks. They stayed with host families and attended the same lessons as our Chinese students. Our school invited the foreign teachers to tag along on a trip they planned for the exchange students. We went to the Bailin Temple and the Zhaozhou Bridge in our city. The temple was really cool- In my opinion, it was much prettier than the Forbidden City and other temples we've seen. The bridge is said to be the oldest bridge in the world. It was a very nice day and we really enjoyed ourselves.
        *We've had a couple more crazy nights out with Ren. One night we ended up at a very nice KTV (karaoke/hotel) after consuming way too many different types of alcohol so things got pretty crazy to say the least- pictures will help explain :) Another night, we went to a restaurant pretty far outside the city and were greeted at the door by several Chinese men who seemed to have already thrown back a few. We sat at a large dining table that had a large grill in the middle- which was later understood when two men carried in a skinned sheep and placed it on the grill. Couldn't believe my eyes- even more so when they started cutting away. The cultural experiences keep on comin.
        *Young Young (my tutoree) and I have continued to meet once a week. Her English has continued to improve and she's really impressed me with her knowledge of American government, literature, and history. She's written some amazing compositions- I always enjoy going over them with her because it always starts up a deep conversation which really works her brain to express her opinion in English. Lately we've been going over a lot of grammar and pronunciation. She's taking her first exam in the beginning of January and then after that we'll focus more on fluency because her next exam is strictly oral. She made me lunch one day- such a nice gesture-- but it was awful. Just look at the pic. 
        *Been hanging out with our Egyptian and Palestinian friends a lot. They're always a blast. They're in military training here. Most are officers teaching others different techniques to their specialty. They love going out dancing and meeting new people so there's never a dull moment. They have people from all over stationed at their base- Sudan, Barbados, Trinidad, Spain, etc.
        *We celebrated Helen's birthday at our restaurant. She was so excited when we said we wanted to take her out to celebrate. Her mother, baby, husband, husbands friend, and sister in law all joined us and we had a great time. Her baby is adorable- I had fun making faces at her all night. 
         *Went to Beijing- again. We planned on meeting up with our friend Zach and his 8 friends from New Zealand that were coming to visit but a couple days before they were supposed to come, something happened. Zach had told me prior about one of his NZ friend's having tourettes just to warn us so no one made any inappropriate comments. He said he has outbursts which include several swear words along with "sweater and "shoe" and he never remembers what he says when it happens. So anyways, a couple days before they were supposed to be here, his friend was in a bar and had an outburst and a guy sitting next to him got really mad (clearly not understanding he has tourettes) and shot him in the knee. So then they had to call the airlines and explain why they had to change their flight date. We're gonna meet up in a few months. 
          While in Beijing, we visited the Summer Palace- so pretty. Got a lot of good pics. And did a lot of great shopping. Got a bunch of Christmas presents, some cute boots, and my puffy warm winter coat. Then of course we had our dinners at The Den and Grandma's Kitchen- they've become tradition. 
        *When we got back from Beijing we were told our students were testing on Thursday and Friday of that week so we didn't have to teach and would have a long weekend. We had planned on going to Handan (a city 2 hours south of us) to celebrate Thanksgiving with a bunch of people but seeing that we never get days off- or at least know that we're gonna have days off more than a couple hours beforehand- we took advantage of the time by planning trips farther away since we had the time. Kara and Willie went to Datong and Jane and I went to Shanghai. We didn't want to waste time on a train so we looked up flights as fast as we could and found a pretty good round-trip fare. We had a blast. We stayed at a hostel that was right across the street from a subway stop so we took it everywhere. We tried the bus once and got extremely confused on the way home because Shanghai's system is much different than the Shiz's and Beijing's. The people at our hostel were very helpful and steered us in the direction of the Yu Yuan Gardens. It was so pretty. We really enjoyed the area around it as well- so much to see. During our time in Shanghai both Jane and I were feeling pretty crappy so it was nice that our hostel had a really nice lounge complete with a large selection of DVD's :) The next day we did all the touristy stuff which you can check out in the photos. And one night we met up with a couple people from Jane's program that are working there. They were really cool- we met at a great Mexican restaurant and then we went to a sports bar. It was weird being back in that atmosphere- we hadn't been to a bar bar since being in China. Most places we go out to are more club like so it was a nice change of scenery.
        *Speaking of clubs, a new one just opened up close to us called Jason Club. We each have a card that gets us our drinks and the dance floor is really big so we've taken a liking to this new place.
        *We've also been bowling a lot lately. We usually have a pretty big turn out and things get rowdy. We play different games to liven up the game. Pictures and videos will help explain. One Sunday a couple weeks ago we were supposed to go out to Ren's ranch to go horseback riding but the plans fell through so we decided to go bowling and it ended up being one of the most fun days yet. We were all bundled up and ready to go when he called and said it would have to be another day so we were sad at first but once things got rolling, everyone soon forgot about it.   
       *I started tutoring through a company my friend Hanne told me about. My boss, Mickey, started up his company about a year ago- He has two offices in a building downtown where English speaking foreigners tutor Chinese students. There are only a handful of us right now but I've told quite a few people about it and they've all said they're interested- it's fun and good money. I'm tutoring an 8 yr. old boy, Steven, an 8 yr. old girl, Tina, and an 18 yr. old girl, Maria. Steven is hilarious. His facial expression's crack me up- he's very animated. Tina is kinda shy but she's opening up more each time we meet. And Maria is awesome. Her English is amazing- I'm basically there just to talk to her and get her to voice her opinion about several different topics that she's going to be interviewed about. She's going to a good university in a different province- majoring in English. Mickey's great too- very laid back- doesn't like me to refer to him as my boss. He's really young- 25- so he likes coming out with us. The first couple weeks I started this tutoring job I was so busy- I was going downtown every night (takes about an hour by bus in traffic) so by the time I got home I just wanted to go straight to bed. I've definitely become more comfortable with the bus system though. I told Mickey I couldn't keep up with that schedule seeing that I already had a full time job during the day (most of the foreigners he has working for him don't) so now it's only 2-4 days a week. He also has three different schools that he works with- a couple weeks ago I met him at his office and his driver took us to a school about 30 minutes outside the city. As we approached the school I started preparing myself for what it might be like seeing that it's surroundings were pretty awful. The neighborhood reminded me of one of those commercials you see on TV that asks you to donate money to the kids who have very little in their life. The school was a broken down building with small classrooms and no heat. All the students were wearing hats and winter coats and huge smiles. They were adorable. I taught two different class- 8 year olds and 10 year olds. I was really impressed with how much English they knew! Better than my students! I reviewed the things their teacher asked me to go over- questions about their families and activities and they had to respond in a complete sentence. Afterward we sang "if you're happy and you know it" and played hangman- they had never played before and got so excited when they figured out the word. Their teachers were very appreciative and Mickey's assistant Peter and the Principal of the school were taking pictures the whole time- I saw them afterward and almost started crying- these kids are going to school in a cement box and they couldn't be happier. They were so well behaved and excited to learn-I'm really looking forward to going back. Hopefully I can get the pictures from Mickey- I'll add em to the next post.   
        *It was nice to teach students that were so respectful and eager to learn- my students at 42 have been awful lately- except for this past week when they loved learning Jingle Bells and playing a Christmas game, they have been terrible for me. I've broken up at least 4 fights, thrown away 5 desks because they've broken them, cleaned up glass from a broken window, and taken away about 20 cell phones and 2 pocket knives. Some of my classes are awesome- we have a great time and I thoroughly enjoy going- but some are so bad that I can barely get myself to get out of bed to go to because I'm scared of what will happen. I think for the most part the problem is that my classroom is in a different building than their homerooms and it's not close to any other teachers so they think they can just go crazy because they won't get in trouble. And although I know that most of them are just excited to go to a different room and a change from their every day schedule (each class only has me once a week), I think it's too hard for them to control themselves because some days things are way out of control. When there are 80 students in one classroom and 50 of them are talking loudly, it can be extremely frustrating to get them to focus. I've learned that getting upset about it doesn't help- I usually just wait because I figure it's their time they're wasting- and usually the students that really want to learn will yell to get everyone to be quiet. And when they realize we're playing a fun game, they'll all get into to- then it's just keeping them in control so they don't go overboard with the excitement cuz then it starts all over, ha. I've talked to many of the head teachers and most have been very supportive with disciplining and other things- they're very understanding because in most cases they say their students are bad for them too- so they can imagine having the language barrier makes it even more difficult. Which is why I really wish I had another teacher with me like they've always had in the past for my grade level. This is also the first year they've given a foreign teacher their own room- which I was really excited about at first but I think going to their homerooms would alleviate a lot of problems so I talked to Helen about asking if we could change this for next term. The head teachers have agreed with me and also want to do this so hopefully it works out.
        *We had a wine and cheese Christmas Party last weekend which was a blast. We did a white elephant gift exchange, sang xmas songs and mingled with about 30 friends in Sable's apartment. On Tuesday Helen went with us to get hair cuts. We looked through their books to see if we could find a picture for them to go off of but their styles are so crazy! Luckily I had a couple magazines from the US so we tore some pics from those. Mine and Jane's cuts were fine- I now have bangs and Jane chopped hers to a cute bob. Kara wanted to get her hair highlighted cuz she hasn't had good luck with the box dyes she's tried since being here but it didn't go over so well...We got there at 11:30 and she didn't leave til 6:30! and it wasn't what she wanted..she went in for blonde and came out with black! She said it went from blue to orange to grey to green to black. It was pretty traumatizing- especially cuz she couldn't communicate with them the whole time she was there and that night we had to perform at a big party. But we were wearing Santa hats for the performance so she covered it up and the next day got it fixed- its brown now and looks really good.
        *We performed Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer complete with signs and choreography at the Foreign Teacher's Christmas Party. Many of our friends performed other songs and dances and there were many Chinese performances as well- we had a great time. And were told we did a great job- we laughed seeing as we put it together in 10 minutes-But! we made it to the cover of two newspapers-ha.
        *After the party, we had to do a practice run through for the jobs we'd be doing Christmas Eve and Christmas night. We had met a couple weeks earlier with the manager of the nicest bath house/hotel in our city to discuss details of us working for him. Caleb, Gilly and Willie pretended they were well-known chef's in their countries and came to work at this hotel, Jason was a bartender, and Kara and I pretended to be floor managers and welcomed guests as they came in the restaurant. It was a good time- we spoke with broken Chinese and hand gestures to the security guards and played different games to pass the time standing there. Afterward, we ate dinner and watched the show in the theater of the hotel- the manager asked if we'd go on stage with Santa and throw presents to people in the audience so we did and then when they ran out we all just danced around, ha. Not only did we get paid very well for these two nights but as part of our deal, we can now go to this bath house/hotel whenever we want and take a bath, watch the show with free drinks and stay the night :) Pretty nice hook u  
         *I've been talking with mom and dad a lot lately- getting the plans ready for their arrival in 2 weeks! Can't wait! I'll save those details for later. They said Christmas Eve was at my uncle's this year so we planned a time to skype so I could see and talk with everyone. I woke up early Christmas morning because it was then their Christmas Eve evening and got on skype but for some reason the mic on their computer wasn't working so I could see everyone but I couldn't hear anything they were saying. While dad tried figuring out the problem, I called the house and they passed the phone around so I still got to talk to most of em. And then we got back on skype and they wrote messages on pieces of paper and held em up to the camera. It was so good to see everyone. I didn't tell em, but I had cried the night before because although Christmas in China was fun, it wasn't the same as being with all of em. I miss them so much. But seeing them having a great time and hearing Kimmy's voice on the phone made me feel a lot better. and I got to thank Nana again for her awesome care package- it was such a nice surprise.
        *We have a three day work week-yippie! After classes on Wednesday we're heading to Beijing for New Years Eve. We talked about going to Harbin (north) since we have those days off but we only wanted to go to see the Ice Festival and it won't be going on then- such a bummer. But instead we're gonna stay an extra day in Beijing and then head back here for the weekend. 
         *We decided to stay in tonight seeing that the last week has been crazy and we're all battling colds that won't leave our systems-hopefully we're relieved of them soon because we have a lot of traveling ahead of us! My mom and dad get here Jan 9th- we're gonna spend a couple days in Beijing, then come to the Shiz, then back to Beijing to fly to Guilin, spend a couple days there and Yangshuo, then to Shenzhen, Macau and Hong Kong!!! Many pictures and stories to come :)
         *I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and a very Merry Christmas. Love and miss you all! Happy New Year! ahhh 2009!!! :D

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