Greetings from 2013

December 31, 2012
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In China, it’s 2013 already.  For those of you in America, you’ve still got 12 or so hours, but let me tell you, 2013’s looking like a good year.

In my last day of 2012, I made a big pot of soup, which my roommates and I ate over the course of the day.  It had 2 kinds of tofu.  There was also cabbage, sausage, carrots, sweet potatoes, noodles, onion, garlic, ginger, and other vegetables.  I think there will be even more soup in 2013.

I wonder if my New Year’s Eve next year will be this low key.  I remember that New Year’s is a big deal in America, but I can’t quite visualize how crazy the celebrations are.

Whatever kind of celebration you’re having, I wish you a happy new year and a hot bowl of soup.  Love!


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Happy New Year!

December 30, 2012
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Up until this year, it was customary for each class to have a party in their classroom to celebrate 元旦, or the changing of the calendar year (not the Chinese New Year, but still recognized).

These parties were one of my favorite events at this school, because it gave the students time to really relax, and because it was very heartwarming to watch them cheer on their classmates regardless of actual talent.  It was probably on New Year’s last year when I decided that Chinese high school kids are much sweeter than their American counterparts.


This year, it was decided by some big, high-up person in 黄山 that all schools would hold a 校园文化艺术节 (Campus Culture and Art Festival).  So it was written, and so it was done.  The principal commanded the students to prepare some performances.  He also canceled the class parties.  According to the students he did this because he wanted any inspectors to see that we are all very hardworking outside of the prescribed performance time.  The kids are furious.

Although I’ll really be missing the parties tonight, I will admit that the performances were pretty cool.  Most were messy, but they were fun and cute, and a lot of kids here are quite talented.

Students gathering in the snowy schoolyard to watch the show

The MCs

Grade 1 kids dancing to some Eminem Screen shot 2012-12-30 at 1.35.40 PM Screen shot 2012-12-30 at 1.36.07 PM Screen shot 2012-12-30 at 1.37.13 PM

Street dance!

Of course, such a show would not be complete without a performance by the foreign teachers.  Sabrina, Alex, and I (Gabe’s out of town), sang a (rather hard, if I may say so myself) Chinese song!  I don’t think I sounded very good, but I didn’t mess up any of the lyrics, so I’m very happy with how it went.

Singing 稻香

We sang a Chinese song called 稻香。It’s all about not getting discouraged and remembering your home and stuff.

I wish I could say we were only in one performance, but we were unfortunately involved in a second.  Some students wrote an English skit, and when it didn’t look good enough in rehearsals, the leaders told the students they had to get the foreigners involved to raise the quality.  The thing was a disaster in all realms.  English, pronunciation, staging, etc.  We hope it didn’t look too much like we had planned it.

This was a competition, by the way.  Students were scored by judges.  Well, I dreaded how embarrassing our scores would be, but (oh, China, China, China) because the students had involved teachers, we scored the highest of anyone who’d performed yet!  In some ways, that was more embarrassing than getting the low score we deserved would have been.

Well, some smart kids in a different class caught on pretty quickly to this unfair scoring and decided to take advantage of it and give their class a boost.  Literally ten minutes before they went on stage, they asked me to dance with them.  They were doing the Gangnam style dance, so I said okay.  Then, I realized there was other choreography!  I memorized it in two minutes, and then we were on.

Gangnam Style!


I’m the one in the hat on the end.  You can throw me in your performance last minute, but you can’t make me take off my furry hat for it.  Well, I’ve gotta hand it to these kids.  Their strategy for gaining points worked.  We won!

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A twisted ankle

December 23, 2012
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Sabrina twisted her ankle a couple weeks ago, and it kept giving her trouble.  I kept saying, “let’s go to the doctor!”  Then, my parents pointed out we should probably tell our liaison and let him help us, rather than just showing up at a doctor ourselves saying, “fell down!”  “foot bad!”  “what to do?”

So, we told him about it and he (along with two other English teachers) took us for a medical adventure quite different than what either Sabrina or I had in mind.

“They’ll probably x-ray it, say it’s fine, and then immobilize it with a cast so it can heal for a couple weeks.”  That was my opinion of how this situation would be treated by a doctor.

The doctor barely even touched Sabrina’s foot (actually I’m not sure if he touched her foot at all… he kind of just looked at the swelling) before offering a very different solution.  “Acupuncture.”

And so, in a small clinic that’s usually only open in the mornings (the doctor is my Chinese tutor’s student’s father, so he opened it up just for us in the afternoon), that has x-rays hanging from clothespins by the window,

The official clinic x-ray backlight

Sabrina got twelve little needles stuck in her foot and leg.  Plus one in her hand

Doctor at work

Sabrina was very brave, and mostly only complained about how she wished she had lotioned her feet and painted her toenails to be prettier for the doctor and the photos I was snapping.

round 1 acupuncture

The next day, we came back to the doctor when the clinic was actually open for an x-ray.

First, a doctor in a baseball cap took Sabrina’s pulse and blood pressure. Like most buildings around here, the clinic has no heating.  The doctors’ breath was clearly visible in the air, though it didn’t show up in my pictures.

cheking the vitals

Then, a doctor in a newsboy hat took Sabrina in for an x-ray.


Getting ready for the x-ray

Almost ready

He looked at the film (which looked really unclear to me) and pronounced her bones okay. (骨头没问题)

The diagnosis

But, they did recommend a second round of acupuncture, which Sabrina bravely agreed to.

Inserting the needles IMG_0124

This time, because we were there in the morning, it was much more crowded.  Every cot in the room was occupied by somebody getting acupuncture or cupping.  I won’t talk about cupping here.  Maybe later.  It’s pretty scary, and to be honest, there was a moment as the doctor put a three cups on a lady’s butt and lower back followed by four or five loooong needles that I thought I might pass out.  But I didn’t.  Facing this fear.

Fellow patients

Unlike American hospitals and clinics where prices are predetermined and paid without excitement, at this clinic my Chinese tutor had to physically fight with a nurse to pay a total of 100 RMB (about 18 bucks) for all of Sabrina’s treatment.  There was pushing and shoving and throwing of money.  Now, we have to have the same fight between us and my tutor.  It won’t be easy.

As for Sabrina, she says her ankle feels much better.

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Home again: breakfast for dinner

December 19, 2012
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When I got home, despite being tired, I really wanted a non-Chinese dinner.  So, with Sabrina and Gabe’s help, I whipped up pancakes, sweet potato hash browns (a little on the mushy side, but delicious), a vegetable and egg frittata, and spicy chocolate chip banana bread.  The pancakes didn’t come out quite like my dad’s but they still looked nice and tasted good.  Other than Taco Bell, western breakfast food is the only thing I really crave while I’m here.  I do occasionally miss ice water, as well.  mmm

Breakfast for dinner

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The Guangxi Trip Teaching Team

December 19, 2012
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The Guangxi Trip Teaching Team

Doing a rendition of my lesson about spectrums before packed audiences of high school students and teachers.

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December 19, 2012
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I’ve been in Guangxi for the past six days.  I didn’t have wifi there, nor did I have a whole lot of time to sleep.  I’m out of it, and I’m trying to catch up on my blog, because that makes me feel on top of things.

Some of the second year fellows were invited on an all-expense paid trip to Guangxi to look at (and be looked at by) some schools.  We saw quite a few schools.  At each one, we gave a sample lesson, a lecture (about ourselves and Yale), and a teacher chat.  We also had some variation of “library hour” where we talked about our extra-curriculars, had kids tell us about theirs, and/or taught them the song “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars.  I can almost play it passably on the ukulele after multiple performances for hundreds of kids.  It was a bizarre trip, and an exhausting one.  We were shuttled around to two schools a day, and we were swarmed by students following our classes and lectures at each school.  We barely had time to see the sights, but luckily, on the last day, we got to go to 阳朔 (Yangshuo), which is apparently pretty famous.  Here’s what it looks like.

The view from the bamboo raft

One of the main touristy things to to in Yangshuo is to take a bamboo raft tour.  We took a kind of janky one because we didn’t have enough time.  The “bamboo raft” was made of big plastic pipes.  Still, we got to see some nice mountains coming up out of the water.


China doesn’t sound so exotic to me now that I’ve been living here for a year and a half.  This trip really demonstrated China’s diversity of scenery and how huge this country is.  And how little I’ve seen.

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Thanksgiving Take Two

December 19, 2012
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We like to have Thanksgiving twice here in China.  Once, we have it with our Chinese co-workers.  And then, we have it again with our fellow teaching fellows.  Two weekends ago, we had this second Thanksgiving celebration.  We all gathered in Hangzhou at Doug’s apartment.  We cooked, we ate, we slept a lot, and we watched Life of Pi in 3D with Chinese subtitles.  So, it was a pretty full weekend.  I didn’t take any pictures, but Sabrina took a bunch and made very nice collages of them.  She is generously allowing me to share those collages here.  So, here you have it.  Thanksgiving in Hangzhou 2012:

Hangzhou Thanksgiving 1

In that one, I’m washing potatoes and Alex is making deviled eggs.  My specialty (sweet potato pie) and amazing red velvet made by Steph and Gang are featured in the upper right.  In the bottom left, we’ve got Gang, Doug, Hayley, Steph and Liz all packed in the food prep area.  Hayley might be holding some stage of her homemade stuffing.  It was fabulous!

Hangzhou Thanksgiving 2

Alright, here we have the pie at the top and the red velvet cake (now cream cheese iced) sandwiching Steph and Gang and Liz.

Hangzhou Thanksgiving 3

Finally, we’ve got me supervising the layering of sweet potatoes and marshmallows in Gabe’s sweet potato marshmallow casserole (suggested by me, inspired by Rosh Hashana dinners with the Goldsteins), Liz and Marie hard at work on what was the most delicious apple crisp I’d ever tasted, and Steph and Gang looking cute as always.

That sums it up.  In my two years in China, this was my fourth and final Thanksgiving celebration.

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Hotel California

December 19, 2012
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I gave my students the lyrics of Hotel California.  We read it together, and I asked them to find symbols in the lyrics.  Then, I asked them to work in groups and use those symbols to build one coherent interpretation of the song.

They had about 40 minutes of class time (spread over two class days, with a weekend in between) to work on their interpretations.

Then, we debated.  First, each team had two minutes to present their interpretation.  Then, everyone had one minute to prepare to attack their opponents’ opinion.  Then, each team had one minute to poke holes in the opposing interpretation, and finally each had one minute to remind us why they were the winner with some closing statements.

I organized the debates in a tournament style.  First, two brave teams set an example and debated while the whole class listened.  These students then became the judges.  The judges oversaw independent debates in the four corners of the room.  The winners of these debates then faced off again.  We ended up with two winning teams in each class, because there wasn’t time for a final round.  In each round, the winners were challenged to make their points clearer, stronger, and more attack-proof than in the previous round.

Before this class, I was scared.  I kind of doubted the kids would come up with interesting, unique interpretations.  Would they be able to listen to each other?  Would they be able to come up with an attack in just a minute?  Would I even be able to get them all standing in the right place for the tournament.  The logistics would be tricky.

The activity worked as well as I could have possibly imagined.  The interpretations were fascinating.  Some of the more common opening statements were:

This song is about temptation.

This song is a warning about not losing ourselves during hard times.

This song is about society in the 1970s.

This song is about drugs.

This song tells us that things that look beautiful may actually be bad.

The song is about regretting mistakes.


During the designated attack times, I heard a lot of very sassy and bold comments like:

What you said makes no sense!

Your team is wrong!

I can’t understand your point, because your symbols were not clear!

You only found two symbols.  That is not convincing!

Your interpretation is too specific!

Your interpretation is too broad!


It was amazing!  My students listened to each other.  They debated.  They judged debates.  They did a really good, close reading of the lyrics.  Here I am telling them how proud they made me:

debate tournament

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The roads will be covered in rice

December 10, 2012
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Here’s the funniest mis-read from our first round rehearsals.  And it happened not just once but twice!

Line from the script: I know it will be difficult to find a husband, but soon, it will be winter, and the road will be covered in ice.

Read clear as day by two kids:  I know it will be difficult to find a husband, but soon, it will be winter, and the road will be covered in rice.

Oh, China.  A country where kids see “ice” and immediately guess the word must be “rice.”

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What’s in a name

December 5, 2012
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Gold and more gold

That is the given name of a student who auditioned for the play.  The first character is “Jin,” which means “Gold.”  The second character is “Xin,” which means “Propsperous,” and is composed of three little gold characters stacked on top of each other.

Imagine if your name was “Gold Goldgoldgold.”  I guess we could have somebody named “Golden Goldberg” or “Goldie Goldstein,” so maybe it’s not as strange as it first struck me.  At any rate, I bet this kid had a particularly easy time learning to write his name.  Jin isn’t even a complicated character, and you just write it four times.

I was talking to Sabrina the other day about what it must be like as a young child in China, just learning the names of your friends.  Every friend you meet has two to four (but usually three) new little pictures you need to memorize.  I had a hard enough time just figuring out how to spell my friends’ names.  Jeez.  I can’t help but feel that the Chinese language is the ultimate exercise for a young mind.

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