A student film

May 29, 2012
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Sabrina and I are having some of the kids make movies.  So far, only one film is finished.  I forgot how inefficient high school kids are with a camera.  Anyways, here’s the first finished product:


The thing is, I can’t tell whether the ending is supposed to be a joke or not…

In any case, I strongly suggest watching the first minute or so, because the student who plays the teacher is hilarious.  Also, I think I did a pretty good job with the music choices and editing. heheheh.


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So proud

May 27, 2012
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Well, the performances are over now.  After the first one, I was… not angry, but not happy.  There were some big mistakes, but overall, the kids were just inaudible.  After the second one, however, I felt pretty good.  And after watching the video, I’m really proud of the students.  They all did great.  During auditions, we asked kids why they wanted to be in the play, and a lot of them said something along the lines of, “I want to show myself.”  Bad English aside, I think what they were trying to say is that they wanted to shine in front of an audience, and today, they did just that.  Below are some of my favorite moments:

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Opening night tomorrow!

May 25, 2012
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Tomorrow, we will have a dress rehearsal in the theater, and then we will perform the play!  I’m feeling really good about it.  We did a full run through today, and the kids made it through the whole play without me ever saying anything.  They know their stuff!  And they look adorable in their costumes.  I’ll be both really relieved and really sad when this whole play business is over.

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Perks of the play

May 23, 2012
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The village tailor finished making the costumes for our play today.  Doug and I sorted them together.  When I say we sorted them together, I mean he sorted them while I tried them on.  My favorite is definitely the police man outfit.  Next year, Halloween, totally gonna wear that to class.

Playing dress up is just another perk of being a high school teacher.  Oh, and so is having impromptu costume dance parties. 🙂

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Picture Day

May 23, 2012
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Sabrina and I (with help from Aaron) took class photos yesterday.

Wrangling 70 kids isn’t easy.

But once we got them in place, they all looked pretty cute.  See if you can find me and Sabrina in the next photo:

So, that’s one of our three classes.  Each class has about 70 kids total, which means Sabrina and I each have 35 or so kids per class.  Here are my Class 5 (top class in the grade) kids:


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Photos from the musical

May 22, 2012

Many thanks to Lina for these awesome photos!

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Musicals make people smile

May 22, 2012
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Been waiting for a photo for this post, but don’t think I’m gonna get one too soon… so here goes.

Last weekend, my purpose for going to Changsha was to watch their students’ performance of Beauty and the Beast.

It was great.  The kids’ English pronunciation was great, their acting was good, the choreography was adorable, and the singing ranged from good to really dang good!

Throughout basically the whole thing, I was smiling.  Smiling at the kids acting, their pronunciation, their singing, and most of all, their energy.  Well done musicals just have that way about them.  They make people smile.  I frequently found myself bobbing my head and lip-syncing.  I sometimes felt like the performers were looking right at me and smiling.  It’s hard to say whether that’s just because they’re good at distributing their eye contact or whether I was jumping around in my seat so much they couldn’t help but notice me.

Just four more days till our kids’ performance.  It will certainly be different.  Unfortunately, dark comedies don’t have the same can’t-help-but-smile quality for the audience.  Hopefully we’ve gotten the kids’ pronunciation clear enough for the audience to catch the jokes… I really can’t tell whether they’re comprehensible or not anymore because I’ve practically memorized all the lines by now, so of course I can always easily understand what they’re saying.

Rehearsal went great today.  All of the kids are not only good actors or students, but also really fantastic people.  They’ve all improved and had great attitudes the whole time.  Whether or not the rest of the audience smiles or laughs, I know I’ll be beaming through their performance.  They’ve worked hard, and I’m already very proud of them.

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Homebrewed milk tea

May 22, 2012
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Sabrina once did an experiment with a cup of milk tea from the little 奶茶馆 across the street.  She got a cup and left it on the shelf in her room.  It sat for a week with no changes.  Two weeks, still no change.  I think it was well over a month before the “milk” began to collect as a curdled sediment at the bottom, and maybe two months before the sealed cup swell and burst.

We stopped giving so much business to our friends at the 奶茶馆 after that.

But I missed 奶茶 and got to thinkin’.  Why not just make some ourselves so that we know what goes into it.  So, I got some sweetened condensed milk, found some instructions on the Internet, and was cooking in no time.  Turns out you can just take regular red tea leaves, boil a couple handfuls in drinkable water for about 45 minutes, strain out the tea leaves, add sweetened condensed milk to taste, and you’re good to go.  No mysterious powder necessary.

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Hard work

May 21, 2012
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What does it mean to be hardworking?

I’ve mentioned my friend 吴老板 (Boss Wu) before.  He’s a Chinese man, probably somewhere in his 50s, who owns a little restaurant near the market across the street from school.  He has a daughter who’s an English teacher, about my age, living in Guangzhou.  He doesn’t get to see her much.  Every day, he runs his little restaurant with his wife.  In the morning, there’s rice porridge, and at lunch and dinner time, there’s a buffet of vegetable, tofu, and sometimes meat dishes served with rice.  All day long, you can stop by for wontons, noodles, and buns.  吴老板 is always busy, but whenever I come by, he smiles and chats with me.

I had asked him once what time he starts work and whether I could come watch him make buns in the morning.  He said he starts around 3 or 4 am, and sure, I could watch.  3 or 4 am!  I can’t even leave campus at that time without having to wake up a guard to open the gate for me.

Well, after my weekend in Changsha, I arrived in Xiuning at 4am with Doug.  The school gate was locked.  We could have woken the guard to let us in, but neither of us were particularly tired.  And I remembered that I still had an open invitation from 吴老板。

We crossed the street and sure enough, he and his wife were already awake, preparing for the day.  I stood next to him for three and a half hours and watched (and sometimes participated in) the process of making 包子 (buns) from dough and filling.  I also learned about what goes into the dough.  There’s water, flour, baking soda, a little sugar for sweet buns (but that doesn’t get added in until just before shaping), and, most interestingly, old dough.  So, there’s an active culture being used to make these fluffy buns.

Here’s the large mass of dough we started with.  He had prepared it the night before.

The first thing to do was to knead the dough.  吴老板 told me he couldn’t knead it very well that day.  He then showed me a huge bandage on his chest and described an accident involving a lot of stuff piled on the back of a car and three other people somehow doing a poor job of moving their stuff.  I didn’t totally understand.  He said it happened three days ago, and he couldn’t kneed dough as well because of it.  I offered to help, but he said I wouldn’t be able to do it.  So, here he is kneading the dough:

As he kneaded, he used a knife to make cuts in the dough and help keep everything nice and airy.

After the kneading was finished, he rolled the dough up into a heap and picked bits from the side of it, testing it’s springiness and stiffness.  The took the dough he pinched off and put it in the steamer.  He said that, if it cooked yellow, that meant it hadn’t finished rising.  The longer it rose, the whiter it would cook, he said.

Then took a big hunk out of the dough and shaped it into a very beautiful long, even snake.

He used a brush to clear the flour away from his working area.

Then, he carefully cut the buns.

Sure enough, the small wad of dough he had steamed was yellow in the middle, so, he just set the shaped buns aside to rise for longer.

He made a lot more buns than pictured above.  Eventually, he put them in the beautiful bamboo steamers and started them cooking.  That was the process for the 馒头 (plain buns).

Then, we made some red bean paste buns and meat filled buns.  He keeps the fillings in the freezer during the day time so that they don’t go bad.  He doesn’t use all that much on any one day.  Here are the fillings:

The red bean buns are very easy to shape.  You just sprinkle sugar in some dough, flatten it out, spoon in the bean paste, wrap it up, put the ugly part on the bottom, and then use the long side of a pair of tweezers to pinch it all around the top and make it beautiful.  The meat buns are harder.  No sugar goes in the bun, and there’s no hiding any ugly parts.  You have to hold the flattened dough with meat paste in the middle in your left hand and use your left hand fingers to rotate it and your left thumb to push the meat down as needed while making many small pinches between your right thumb and index finger.  The pinches should gradually get higher and closer in until there’s no hole left.  It took me a long time to get the hang of it, and my buns still looked a little funky.


That means, study for a week, and you’ll be able to do it.  Another man who came by to watch estimated that three days of practice would be enough.  The two of them laughed at me and said I was like a baby learning to walk.  I probably had a pretty silly look on my face as I struggled to master the motor coordination needed for the fine folds on top of the meat buns.

Actually, I’d love to go apprentice with 吴老板 for a week.  But this school year is ending faster than I can keep up with.  Maybe next year… 🙂

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May 20, 2012
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When I spend extended periods of time in Xiuning, I forget all about traffic and carsickness.  When I travel, I remember these things.

When our train arrived in Zhuzhou, 11 hours after leaving Xiuning thanks to delays, we had to take a bus for an hour or so to Changsha.  This bus took a strange combination of highways and back alleys, all of which were rather curvy.  Shouldn’t there be one, nice, straight stretch of highway connecting these two rather large cities?  Maybe there will be one a year from now, at the rate of development, but for now, it’s all twists and turns and paved and unpaved and nauseating. uggghhhh

Also, getting around Changsha involves sitting in taxis in traffic.  This is something I don’t like about cities.  As Doug and I were taking a taxi home from the train station at 4 am, and we were the ONLY car on the rather well paved, very straight road, I was glad to be home.

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