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Sports meeting

October 28, 2011
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Yesterday and today were 运动会。Which translates literally to “sports meeting.”  So, that’s what all the kids call it, even though a more appropriate English translation woud probably be “sports meet” or just “track and field day.”

This is a BIG DEAL.  Apparently every high school in China has a 运动会。The kids get two whole days off of class to compete (or just watch their classmates compete).

The kids all get super into it and have tons of fun cheering on their classmates.  The students who aren’t competing can also earn points for their class by writing essays (in English or Chinese).  Naturally, we 外教 are entrusted with the task of “grading” the English essays, and there will surely be a post about that later.  For now, I want to focus on the athletic aspects of the past two days.

There are some kids who can run FAST at this school.  Wow.  Who would’ve guessed that they’re hauling around so much muscle under their imitation designer brand clothing.  It was absolutely amazing to see some of these people run.  The long jump was pretty wild too.

The last event of today was a teachers’ relay.  I’m pretty sure nobody asked the 外教s whether we wanted to compete.  But our names were put on that list regardless of our desire to run or not.  Let’s just say that as I was facing a bunch of fairly athletic Chinese men, I was a bit out of my league in my first-ever track race.  The 外教 team consisted of me, Sabrina, Aaron, and ex-外教 Brendan.  We ran in that order.  I immediately fell behind, Sabrina stood her ground, and Aaron and Brendan somehow managed to pull us into third place (out of four teams) at the end.  Not bad!  But after that 100-meter sprint, my legs are aching.  Time to go dance it off in the public square with old people!  I love my life.

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Scary stories

October 28, 2011
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Halloween is fast approaching.  That means, it’s time to scare the kids a little.

During library hour, Sabrina and I have been reading scary stories.  We turn off the lights in the library, and read by flashlight or headlamp.  It’s tons of fun, especially when the kids actually get scared.  But it’s a little disappointing when you try to make a kid jump and they just look at you like you’re crazy.

Anyways, a couple of nights ago, I sat on a table in the library and read a book of “true” ghost stories to a group of kids by flashlight.  They started out sitting at a reasonable distance from me, but as I read in my spookiest voice (abridging and adding explanations of words I thought they wouldn’t know as I went along), they kept scooting closer and closer until they were all huddled close around me, wide-eyed at the horrors of the legend of 50 Berkeley Square.

It was a really, really nice moment.  For one thing, it’s getting cold here, and quite frankly it was very cozy being surrounded by a huddle of students, but mostly, it was just fun to be able to really captivate the kids’ attention and to watch them react to the story.  I’ll be moving into my descriptive language unit next week, so that means I’ll have plenty opportunities for story telling in the coming month


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哈哈哈

October 27, 2011
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Although the majority of Chinese music I hear (thanks to my students) these days is people professing their love, searching for love, whining about love, you can actually find all kinds of music in China.

For example, the song entitled, “Sex Drugs Internet,” by the band 新裤子 (New Pants).

I wonder what those people are like in real life.


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How we got there

October 25, 2011
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This may (or may not) be my last Shanghai-related post.

Traveling in China is always an adventure because transportation in China is always an adventure.  This time, I was traveling by bus.  When Sabrina, Dough, and I went to buy our tickets a day in advance, the building’s power was apparently off.  We waited around for quite a while as they turned the power back on for us.  I’m still confused about what was going on: whether so few people pass through the Xiuning Long-Distance Bus Depot that they don’t bother to keep their power running, or whether it was some kind of accident that it wasn’t running that particular day.  I’m leaning towards the former as being the truth, though, and you’ll see why soon.  In any case, finally the power started up and we got our tickets.

When we arrived in the station for the journey, we walked right up to the gate.  Then, we realized we’d skirted a metal detector, and asked some guards whether we should put our backpacks through it.  “No,” they said, because the power was off.  What the heck kind of bus depot just keeps it’s electricity off?  I think it’s kinda awesome.  Saves energy and also probably saves them a lot of money, but hey, if you walked into a greyhound bus station in America and they had all their electricity turned off, you would wonder what the heck the problem was!

As we sat in the depot, waiting for instructions to board, a man sitting behind us had a large crate at his feet.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, the crate jolted, squacked, and molted.  Chickens.  Typical.  The crate of chickens ended up being shoved in the cargo space under the bus.

On the bus, before we took off, a man walked up and down the aisles distributing little plastic bags.  Maybe for general trash, maybe for vomit.  Probably for both.  Nobody vomited on my bus, but my friends were kind enough to share some of their transit horror stories with me later, so I’m now sure those bags are handed out with vomit (if also other trash) in mind.  The ride itself was calm enough.  About 6 hours long, but lots of absolutely gorgeous mountain scenery.  China is so beautiful.

As long as I’m talking about how I got there, I may as well also talk about how I got back.  The trip back was pretty similar except for the facts that 1) the Shanghai bus depot always has electricity, 2) went back rather late at night, so I didn’t get to see the mountains as we drove through them, 4) there were only 7 people on the huge bus, so we got to spread out to our hearts’ content.


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Almost forgot

October 25, 2011
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Soup dumplings!


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Refreshments from the streets of Shanghai

October 25, 2011
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Fresh pressed sugar cane juice.

This guy would feed pieces of sugar cane through a crank-operated press to extract what I guess one could call sugar juice.  I didn’t buy a cup, though, because I was more attracted to the jackfruit that was being sold by the next guy over.

So, I tried jackfruit for the first time.  It was pretty awesome.  I recommend it.  At first it almost seems to have a bubblegum-like texture, but then becomes more fruit-like as you chew.  And this reminds me… I kept my jackfruit seeds in my pocket, and now, three days later, they are doubtless still there where I left them.  I should go take care of that.


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Presentation isn’t everything

October 25, 2011
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In Shanghai, I ate some street food.  Yes, I (selectively) eat street vendor food these days.

Let me tell you, what I ate was delicious, but the way it was prepared was almost laughable.

I instructed the stout vendor that I wanted my snack prepared without the bright orange dried pork floss that is customarily included.  She nodded and scraped a ball of glutinous rice out of a trough.  She flattened it in her hands using her fist and sprinkled sugar on it.  Then she took a 油条 (literally, “oil stick,” which is a delicious stick of fried dough that’s about a foot long and 2 or 3 inches in diameter) and crumpled it into a ball in her other fist.  She then smushed the crumpled 油条 into the middle of the flattened glutinous rice, sprinkled more sugar on it, scooped up some more rice, smashed that on top to form a ball, and then wrapped the thing in a plastic bag and handed it to me before it could fall apart.

Here it is half eaten:

It was so delicious.  Mmm… looking at that picture makes me hungry.  I also ate something called a 煎饼 (jianbing)which is basically a crèpe with an egg and some spices inside.  Also so delicious, and it’s preparation was pretty standard: no smashing or crumpling involved.


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Notes on Shanghai

October 25, 2011
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Yeah, I went, I saw, I… came back home.

Here’s the thing about Shanghai.  Or rather, the things about Shanghai.

Shanghai is very hip.  Lots of people with high cheekbones and sharp features wearing western clothes.  And if there’s any doubt that Shanghai is hip, just check out a mall.  The mall map shows a “hipster” category of stores.

There are foreigners everywhere.  It’s so strange to hear people randomly speaking English on the street, in restaurants, etc.  At times, I could have believed I was in a western city.  A lot of the buildings looked rather European.  Brick facades and the like.  But the visible smog makes it unlike the only European city I’ve ever seen (Paris).

Ultimately, I think I could like Shanghai, but I would need to spend a lot of time there.  The bigger the city, the longer it takes me to feel comfortable there, and thus, the longer it takes me to love it.  Seeing as I don’t even really like New York City, I’m not sure why I expected to love Shanghai right away.

Oh, one great thing about Shanghai: the food!  A bit more expensive than food in 万安,but so delicious.  The street food’s great too.  I had two awesome fried things for breakfast… but more about that in a later post.

Also, about the delay in posting this.  When I returned from Shanghai, the Internet at my school had stopped working.  The prognosis was, “maybe two or three more days of no Internet.”  And it did in fact magically get fixed in about two days, but that put me behind a lot on blogging… and of course, China has decided to block WordPress again, so everything has to go through VPN now.  很麻烦啊!


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Shanghai!

October 20, 2011
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Big news!  I’m going to Shanghai!  Leaving tomorrow at noon-thirty (China time) and coming back… maybe Saturday night?  What am I most looking forward to?  Soup dumplings.

But yeah, no blog posts tomorrow or the next day.  Photos of Shanghai to follow, though.


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More about poetry

October 20, 2011
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Teaching syllables to Chinese kids is hard.

In Chinese, one syllable is one character.  Easy.

But of course, in English, things are a little different.  So, I explained syllables to my kids in a lot of different ways.  A syllable is a beat in a word.  It’s like you’re a drummer!  Clap while you say it!  You can count the vowel sounds to find the number of syllables.  Oh, you don’t know what vowels are… no problem, I’ll explain!  Heck, I even gave them the Chinese definition of a syllable.  But, they still have trouble.  I guess when I was first learning to count syllables back in first grade, I had some trouble with it too.

In any case, to practice their syllable counting, I took a leaf out of Sabrina’s book and had them write Haikus.  As I walked around the room looking over their shoulders, ensuring everyone was making progress, I lost it.  For the first time, I openly laughed in class at my students’ work.  Not in a cruel way.  It was just funny, the things these kids come up with when faced with a hard assignment.

Here’s an example:

Big big big big big

Great great great great great great great

I love you forever Maria Mary.

Yup.  Kids are clever.  If they have trouble counting syllables, they will happily solve that problem by choosing some easy, one syllable words, and using those over and over again.  Note how the last line, the one that actually involved some syllable counting, took a few tries.

I had told my kids that they should write about something important or meaningful to them.  One kid really wanted to write about swimming.  When I first walked past his desk, he’d written “I really love swimming.”  I pointed out that it was 6 syllables.  When I came back, he had written, “I love swimming.”  I pointed out that it was 4 syllables.”  When I came back again, he’d simply changed it to “I don’t like swimming.”  Way to change your convictions according to convenience, kid!  This was when I actually doubled over laughing at his desk.  Luckily he was laughing about it too, otherwise I would’ve just been exposed as a terrible person.


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