October 31, 2012
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Lately, I’ve been piling up stories faster than I can write about them.  I will catch up.  Soon.

Things are still a whirlwind, but in the mean time, here I am dressed as a tiger for class yesterday.  Since Sabina and I don’t actually teach class class today, we decided to just celebrate all week.  Halloweek, we called it.


Happy Halloween!


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The Sports Meeting

October 26, 2012
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Each year, at the end of October, the students get a day and a half out of class to spend on the playground competing in track and field events and cheering on their classmates.  The students who don’t compete can write essays in Chinese and English to earn points for their class.  Each grade has 12 or 13 classes of about 70 students.  Within each grade, classes compete to have the highest total score.

Yesterday was the opening ceremony and Day 1.  First, each class parades out in matching outfits, more or less in step, chanting about how their class is the best.  Grade 1 students wear the school uniform.  Grade 2 and 3 students can choose to wear the uniform or to purchase something else matching. Here are my students making their grand entrances:


After everyone has arrived, there is an opening ceremony with a flag raising, the introduction of some people (including the 外教 of course), and some speeches about the value of sports day.  Throughout the whole thing, the students must stand.  Here’s a picture I took from the stage, where I got to sit throughout the day.

When the opening ceremony has ended, the classes prepare for the first competition: they have to do their morning exercises as a class and be judged, I presume, on how well they do them and how together they are.  Here are the top Grade 3 students competing.

The playground is big, but there are so many students that it took 6 rounds to fit everyone in.  After the exercises, the kids all run to their classrooms to get chairs, when they return, the running, jumping, and throwing competitions begin.

All the while, the students can write essays in English or Chinese.  I don’t know what the criteria are for pass-ability on the Chinese essays, but for the English ones, if it’s comprehensible and not plagiarized, it gets a point.  At the end of the day, the essays are tallied, and classes are given awards and rankings as they would be for any other event.

The English Sports Meeting Essays are always a great source of amusement for the foreign teachers, whose job it is to sort the acceptable ones from the unacceptable.  I’ll need some time to go through a pile of unbelievable writing samples that Sabrina and I snuck into her bag throughout the day, but I can promise a funny post about that soon.

The second day of sports day is almost exactly like the first, minus the opening ceremony.  It’s only a half day, though, and as the final scores are tabulated, to amuse the students, there are teacher relays.  Of course, we participate.  Finally, the students bring their chairs back up to their classrooms, and they come back down for the closing ceremony, where awards are given and fireworks are set off.

It’s just not a Chinese event if it doesn’t have fireworks.

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Love for grammar

October 23, 2012

Over the past two days, I’ve studied four new grammar structures.  One of them wasn’t entirely new; I thought I had absorbed it from living here, but after reading about it in my textbook, I now see that it doesn’t mean what I thought it meant.  Oops.  I don’t even wanna think about all the things I accidentally said while using that one.

In any case, I just want to take a moment to share my love for grammar.  Far too often, people complain about it, but rarely do they stop to think about how absolutely awesome it is that we can express such specific thoughts.  Every time I learn a new grammar structure in Chinese, it adds another factor of infinity to the things I can clearly communicate.

Thank you, grammar.

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How I ended up in a 12K

October 21, 2012
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Alex plays basketball at the local gym.  He is becoming friends with some of the guys he plays with.  Some of them are gym teachers.

One of the gym teachers who plays there is from our school.  He told Alex about a boat race that had happened in Tunxi, and when Alex reacted favorably to the idea and asked to be informed of future races, the teacher told him that there was going to be a race on a local mountain on Saturday.  Being the athletically inclined soul that he is, Alex was immediately all in.
But it turned out that the race required teams of 3 people: 2 boys and 1 girl.  It also turned out the race would be 5K, up and down a mountain.  I said that I could maybe do it, though I wouldn’t be competitive about it.  Then, it turned out the race was 12K, up and down a mountain.  Everyone except Alex was out.  Information is rarely clear around here.

The teacher told Alex we could come anyway and just watch the opening ceremony.  Our presence alone would give the event “face,” as we would make it international.  A driver picked us up outside of school at 7:15 am on Saturday to bring us to the mountain, 齐云山, so that we could give face, watch the start, and have lunch.

We milled around the registration area, where hundreds of photos were taken of and with us, and we watched some performances. (Again, all photo credit to Sabrina).

Finally, a woman approached, and handed us a staff badge and three runners’ numbers with safety pins.  We were team #86.  Since Sabrina had to leave early for auditions for her singing group, she got the staff card.  We all kind of asked each other, “are we running?”  We made no decision, but wore our badges proudly.

Then, they held up a sign, saying it was times for teams 1-100 to line up.  We were team 86, so we lined up, still asking each other, “what are we doing?”

Then, people around us started running.  So, we did too.  Not for too long though, I soon decided to sit for a while.  Gabe went home, as this was really not what we’d signed up for.  I decided to walk and see where that got me, and Alex went on and finished the race in an amazing 1 hour 5 minutes!  Hundreds of stairs later, I was looking out over views of small farms and villages.  Here’s a picture I actually took myself:

Half way through, I began to jog again, as the uphill part was mostly over.  Less than 2 hours after we began, I finished the race.  Then, we had a lovely lunch, where Chinese custom dictated we drink a lot of beer and toast everybody else at the table.  I went home feeling very tipsy and satisfied with having gotten some exercise.  I woke up today feeling only slightly sore.

I really don’t  have the desire to purposefully sign up for any running, whether it’s long or short distance, but I have learned this about myself: when I find myself at the 12 K starting line, with a number pinned on my chest, it’s in my nature to keep moving forward until I cross the finish line.

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My first 12K

October 20, 2012
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Under 2 hours.  Bam!


Explanation later. Shower time.

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Buy them both and add vinegar?

October 19, 2012
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After sitting in a humid house all summer, baking powder and baking soda stop working.

We knew that China must have these things, but I always forgot to look up how to say them prior to shopping trips/ forgot that I wanted to buy them.  One day, as we were walking through the supermarket, Sabrina and I spotted these two bags.  They were right next to each other.

Both are full of fine white powder.  The one on the left says 生粉 (which means “life powder”).  That sounded promising.  After all, baking powder and soda kind of make bread dough come alive.  The one on the right says 碱粉, which means _____ powder as far as I knew.  I’d never seen 碱 before.  But the cartoon guy on the front looked like he had successfully used it to make some leavened bread, so that was pretty persuasive.  Since each bag was well under a dollar, we decided to buy them both and take them home for experimentation.

My Chinese-English dictionary listed a lot of ways to say baking soda and baking powder, but none of them were 生粉 or 碱粉.  I googled these two terms with the word “baking” and found that the 生粉 can mean either corn or potato starch, while 碱粉 is baking soda!  Yes!

New vocab word of the day: 碱 = alkali.

Ah Chinese.  Always logical.  Except the whole 生粉 being potato or corn starch.  What’s that all about?  Oh well.  Guess I can make some nice, thick sauces to go with my biscuits.

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Gettin’ stuff fixed

October 19, 2012
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At our school, it can be rather hard to track down the 师傅 (the handyman).  Well, it’s not so much that it’s hard to find them.  After all, one lives right across the courtyard from us.  It’s just hard to catch them at the appropriate moment.  Apparently it would be rude to show up at their house, asking them to fix things, so you have to wait until you cross paths with them when they’re not too busy, and… yeah… social situations.

We had compiled a long wish-list of things we’d like to have fixed in our home.  My air-conditioner/heater had stopped working, and that would not do with the weather getting colder and colder.  Sabrina’s sink faucet didn’t work, we’d run out of gas for our stove, both of our bathroom lights had stopped working, and Gabe’s toilet was leaking.

We finally got our list submitted two days ago, and ever since I woke up to a knock at the door at 8:30 this morning, there’s been a steady stream of fix-it-savvy locals in and out of our house.

It’s always nice to go from not having working things to having them.  Much worse to go the other direction.

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Censored translations

October 18, 2012
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In class, I’m showing clips from Bowling for Columbine.

Many parts are too complicated for students to follow along without subtitles, so I finally tracked down a Chinese subtitled-version.  Unfortunately, a lot of lines have been changed in the translation.

For example, when Michael Moore is interviewing one student, the student says “The principal’s a dick!”  This is translated as “没人管,” which is basically “nobody cares.”  A petty example, but there were many more just like this, plus probably quite a few I didn’t catch.

Imagine being a translator who has to simultaneously translate and purposefully change the message.  Just imagine how it would feel to understand something and be charged with the task of changing it for a large audience who won’t know that what they’re reading isn’t the same as what English-speakers are hearing.

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Cooking with a 四川 pro

October 18, 2012
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Yesterday, Sabrina and I went into Xiuning with our friend Wang Biao (a guy our age from Szechuan, who sells delicious fried dough across from the school) in the afternoon.  In the market, we pointed out our favorite foods, and he told us which were his specialties.  Then, we went back to his home, hung out with him, his wife, Xiao Yu, their adorable baby, and lots of neighbors (as they looked in the windows and wandered in the door to see who we were and why we were there).  Together, we prepared the food, and watched some very impressive cooking skills.

Some people do not fear fire.

The food was amazing, and even better was hanging out for hours chatting in Chinese.  The atmosphere was relaxed and genuinely friendly.  Sure, the neighbors saw us as something of an oddity and attraction, but Xiao Yu and Wang Biao treated us like true friends.  Hooray for new friends.  Next, we’ll do pizza together, and then, maybe a picnic before it gets too cold!

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Learning a new song

October 17, 2012
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I’m working on learning one of my favorite songs: Follow Me.

Here I am singing and playing ukulele once again: wooohoooo!

Usually, when I want to learn a song, I find out it has an E in it.  E is the worst cord.  I’m pretty sure it’s not even possible.

Yeah, my fingers don’t reach that far.

But this one is pretty E-free, so I should be able to play it fluently soon enough.

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