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Late night trips and mooching wifi

June 28, 2013
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Over the course of the last week, there were a few times we absolutely had to have wifi.  Like when Sabrina was expecting an important Skype meeting or when Alex needed to purchase his ticket home.

At these times, we made late night trips to Xiuning.  We stood in front of the school, caught cabs, and went to the one place in Xiuning with free Wifi:  a newly opened cafe called 周末阳光 or Sunny Weekend (a very literal translation).  Actually, there’s not a single thing worth ordering at this cafe.  I’ve had the coffee.  It’s freshly ground but overpriced.  I’ve had the fries.  They’re frozen and reheated.  I’ve had the cantaloupe juice.  It’s cheaper to just buy a cantaloupe, I think.  But when you need to check your email, you need to check your email.

Sometimes, though, you can kinda go in, get a menu, sit down, check your email, and then leave without buying anything.  This became a little bit of a habit for us in the past week.  The last time, Sabrina thought it was embarrassing, so as we left, she made me go explain to the waitresses that the meeting we were expecting had been cancelled, so we wouldn’t be staying long enough to eat or drink anything after all.  They didn’t really care.  After all, there’s not so much of a concept of “for customers only” in China as there is in America.

The best part of late night trips to Xiuning, though, is not shamelessly mooching free wifi, but enjoying steamed dumplings afterwards.  There’s a little night snacks place on the corner where a small bamboo steamer of beautifully folded 蒸饺 is just 5 元.  What a bargain.  Nothing like eating vinegar-dipped steamed dumplings and chatting with the one and only Sabrina.  I will miss this tradition, even though it only began in our last week.

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Parties

June 28, 2013
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For our last class, we had parties.  Gradually, each of our three classes realized that they wanted their party to be longer than 40 minutes (the length of one period), so they negotiated with their evening study teachers to swap some class times cleared two or so hours to party.

Parties at Chinese schools go like this:  performance, performance, snacks, performance, game, performance, lots of phones out taking video.

At each party, many students got up and sang songs, a few even did skits and dances. Sabrina and I hosted some games, like musical chairs, and a game where the leader shouts a number, and the players have to get into groups of that number of people–odd men out are out.  We also did a water balloon toss in one class, though in the other classes, we just pelted the kids with water balloons at the end.  In two of the classes, we were roped into playing truth or dare with the kids–they dared us to imitate their head teacher, to dance, etc.  Much more low key than American high school truth or dare.

I have to be honest and say that, even though I love these kids, I find the Chinese high school style party really boring.  It’s like a 2 hour long high school talent show.  And we hosted three of them.  6 hours of mediocre performances.  The games were fun though, and when the kids are visibly having fun, it’s worth it.


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Final meal in the student canteen

June 28, 2013
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Just about two hours before we left the school, a large group of students came to our door to walk down to the canteen with us.  We ate with them, and afterwards, they proceeded to take lots of crazy Photobooth pictures in Sabrina’s classroom.  As per usual, I wasn’t done packing yet (typical, but in my defense, I did end up leaving a day before I was originally planning to, so I had a lot of last minute packing that I had been saving for the next day–today), so I just joined them for a few pictures at the end.


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Goodbye visits

June 28, 2013
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On our last evening at the school, we went to each of our classes’ homerooms during their evening study time.  We showed them a 12 minute video Sabrina had pieced together of some of our memories from over the past two years with some voiceovers of the two of us thanking the students for a great two years and giving them encouragement for the future in both Chinese and English.  At the end of the video was a song called 再见 (goodbye) by my favorite Chinese singer 张震岳, and we all sang along.  In one of the classes, the students had even prepared to sing a song back to us: 朋友 (friend).  Then, they swarmed us asking for autographs.  Some students wanted us to sign their English notebooks, saying it would bring them good luck on their English exams.  Some had me sign their biology books too.  One student, named McGrady after the NBA player, wanted us to sign his pants, but we told him we declined to his great disappointment.


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Catch up

June 28, 2013
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During my last week at the school, we basically had no Internet in our apartment.  I’m not at the school anymore, though, so now I can catch up a little bit on some of the stories I had no chance to post.

Starting from the end:  As Sabrina and I left the school, a crowd of students escorted us down the mountain.  On our last day, it poured rain the whole day.  Students carried our heaviest bags down the stairs and covered us in a little island of colorful umbrellas.  When we reached Mr. He’s car at the main gate, he and Mr. Wang were waiting there for us.  We loaded our bags into the car and then, in the pouring rain, we hugged every student who had escorted us down.  Some cried.  I didn’t cry until I was safely in the car.  We slowly drove away down the flooded street.  Mr. He alternates between listening to really dramatic Chinese music and Obama speeches, so as we rolled through the puddles and cried, the soundtrack of almost operatic Chinese music seemed appropriate.

End of an era.


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Name that celebrity

June 18, 2013
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“And here’s a high school yearbook picture of someone you all have heard of.  She is a singer.  Can you guess who it is?”

Avril Levigne

“Beyoncé!”

Not quite, guys.  Not quite.

 


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地三鲜

June 14, 2013
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地三鲜

Favorite dish of China:  “Earth Three Fresh” (eggplant, potato, and green peppers).

Sabrina and I discovered it at a little restaurant across the street from the bus station in Hangzhou.  Every time we go to Hangzhou, we look forward to it.  We’ve even found a restaurant that does a mighty fine rendition in Tunxi.  Start looking for this at American Chinese restaurants, please.  If you can find it somewhere, it will really make my return to the states much easier.


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Rice-paddy eels

June 14, 2013
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One of the more brutal sights of a Chinese market is the sale of this critter:  the rice-paddy eel.

People fish them out of ponds and scoop them up from the rice-paddies.  They bring them to the market live and keep them there in tubs of water.  When a customer places an order, one by one, the animals are grabbed, have their heads hooked onto an old nail protruding from a wooden board, and then are cut open lengthwise, and gutted while, apparently, still alive.  On the bright side, I suppose it’s a very local and sustainable food source, plus, it’s very fresh.

The other day, I rode for hours through some nearby rice-paddies, and there were just two main thoughts on my mind.  First, how amazingly beautiful.  Bright green rice stalks coming up from clear water of paddies strategically laid out around the contours of the rolling hills. Second, those poor, poor little eels.


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Story therapy

June 14, 2013
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In middle school, my art teacher used to read us stories while we drew and painted.  We loved it.  He used to call it “story therapy.”  Even the kids who were too cool for school would hiss at their classmates to “shut up, man, it’s time for story therapy, yo!”

On Thursday, I spent most of my class time telling Aesop’s fables and Jewish folktales.  The kids smiled, I smiled, and it was a pleasant and relaxing class.  Story therapy is universal.


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端午节 Dragon Boat Festival

June 13, 2013
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Yesterday was 端午节。 In my experience of exposure to holidays that aren’t mine (and I have a lot of experience in this, being a Jewish American), most holidays are really weird and/or creepy.  It’s just that, when you grow up with them, you don’t notice.

Here’s the scoop on the Dragon Boat Festival.  At a glance, it’s a time when people eat delicious 粽子 (glutinous rice with sweet or savory filling, wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed or boiled) and go on festive 龙舟 dragon boat races.  Seems pretty fun and not at all macabre.  The symbolism of the 粽子 and 龙舟, however are a rather dark.  This holiday is a celebration of the strength of patriotism felt by a certain suicidal poet in 278 BCE.  This guy, Qu Yuan, warned his nation that another was not to be trusted, but the king didn’t listen, banished him, and allied with the other nation.  Qu Yuan wrote tons of super patriotic poems while in exile.  When exactly what Qu Yuan was afraid would happen happened (that other nation back-stabbed his beloved country), he jumped in the river and killed himself.  People threw bundles of rice (粽子!)in the river to feed the fish so they wouldn’t eat his body, and they went out on boats (龙舟!) to find the corpse and scare away the fish that were trying to eat it.  Happy 端午节, right?

Still, this is delicious:

Zongzi


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