marjorieinchina: (Default)
This is me this Christmas. I also have a wee tabletop tree with some wee presents underneath it. Here is a picture. It is taken from a flattering angle, but the greeting card envelope should give you an idea of the scale:

Every time I look at this tree I get the song "We Need a Little Christmas" going through my head.


I spent much of the afternoon and evening today installing, or trying to install, plastic insulation sheets over my windows. In the process I discovered some problems I didn't know the apartment had. For example, there's crumbling plaster at the top of one window, which made it very hard to hang plastic over that window (I did it anyway, taping up just the sides and bottom, because I figured I had to try, but it isn't looking pretty right now) and the power outlet in my bathroom which not only doesn't work, but is in no way connected to any wiring. I discovered this because when I tried to plug a hair dryer into it to blow on the plastic sheet, 1) nothing happened and then 2) a piece of the plastic outlet cover broke off and then 3) I went to unplug the hair dryer and the whole outlet came out in my hand, screws and all.

So the bathroom window cover is all baggy, but the edges are taped securely to the tile wall and should hold, and I keep the blind down in front of that window anyway so it doesn't have to be pretty. The window in the front room has billowing, almost-falling-down plastic over it that I'm not holding my breath about. The kitchen window looks pretty good, apart from the holes that mysteriously appeared in the plastic and had to be patched with tape. My bedroom window is not done because I started to do it and then cut the plastic too small and was not interested in starting over at this point of the evening. I'll try again tomorrow.

What's interesting to me about all this is that I'm not feeling particularly frustrated by it. It would seem I'm getting used to running into this many problems when I try to do something, whether it's a nonfunctional power outlet or an electric cooker that will only turn on for certain pans or a dinner where I order what looks like chicken and beans but turns out to be tentacles and peppers. (The dish was far away when I pointed at it. I kind of do and kind of don't wish I could tell you what kind of tentacles they were. Cuttlefish maybe?) This is encouraging, I think, especially as I'm making plans for a rather extended and largely independent trip over the spring holiday and might (read: will) run into any manner of setbacks along the way. Hostels and trains and non-working cell phones and not finding anyone who speaks English...

When I get home, living in America might just seem too easy.
marjorieinchina: (Default)
Went to the RT Mart today. It's kind of...the fancy grocery store, I guess. At least, it's the grocery store that has all the international foods. I spent a shameful chunk of my salary on things that were too good to pass up, such as:

French bread!
American peanut butter!
Hot chocolate!
White wine!
A jar of jam containing more than four tablespoons of jam!
A bottle of Bailey's!
Lime...flavored...potato chips. I guess I don't have an excuse for this one.
Also milk, eggs, celery, garlic, ginger, yogurt, and some other things I needed anyway.

My grocery bags had both celery and a baguette sticking out of them, so had a film crew stopped by, they would definitely have picked me as the "person who has clearly just been grocery shopping."

Then, loaded down with groceries, we utterly failed to find a taxi. Utterly, utterly failed. Tried over and over again. Usually this is really easy in Quzhou, especially since taxis will do U-turns willy-nilly if they see a passenger, but this was a busy road and every taxi had a customer already--that, or they were headed to other cities, which was confusing. Ended up taking a bicycle instead, which is kind of terrifying and made me feel really, really bad for the guy who had to pedal the bike loaded down with two people and our overindulgent groceries. He only charged us ten kuai. What a mensch. (I like mixing languages haphazardly.)

So this isn't much of an update, really, just the story of why I've just had a cup of hot chocolate with Bailey's and am feeling happy about it.

I'm going to blame the lack of recent updates on my Massive Essay-Grading Project, which didn't last for very long but did require me to grade one hundred and forty essays in less than a week. I had never graded anything before, so it was kind of a rite of passage. This is what my *ahem* workspace looked like:

I read them in chunks, and in between chunks I watched bits of movies on YouTube. I'm sorry to say that ingesting ten-minute segments of Meg Ryan movies in low resolution was not a very good incentive system. Astonishingly, it worked much better to get out of my room (even though it's warm in here) and go to the coffeeshop (fortunately it was also warm there) and read all the remaining essays in one big push. The things you learn from international travel: Work gets done more efficiently if you just do the work! This experience also answers the burning question "what did teachers do before there were Meg Ryan movies."

P.S. The essays were mostly pretty good. I had to grade on a curve, giving a predetermined number of A's, B's and C's, and that was hard, but it did force me to think hard about my standards.

P.P.S. These are some things I mean to tell you about in this space: my weekend in Shanghai, switching from the senior to the junior school, and being a Mac user in China. I am putting this note here not as a promise per se but in hopes that the next update won't take so long and will be more worthy of note.


Dec. 3rd, 2009 01:21 pm
marjorieinchina: (Default)
We're talking about the Zodiac and horoscopes in class this week. The students write their own horoscopes at the end of class, trade them, and read them aloud. This is the weirdest I've yet heard by far:

"Frederick William I will come visit you and show you his underground house."

I have no further comment.
marjorieinchina: (tea)
I have no idea how you are supposed to celebrate Thanksgiving when you are on your own in a country where no one eats turkey. It's one of those things I'm playing by ear. So I had coffee yesterday afternoon with Johnny from England and Jane from here at a place called Enjoy Coffee, because I was there two weeks ago and the menu said "pumpkin pie." It turns out pumpkin pie in China is not a pie at all but a sort of fried pumpkin nugget. Not bad, really, but not especially Thanksgiving-y. We shared a plate of those and a pot of coffee that wasn't really large enough for three people. Enjoy Coffee has a really trippy menu with a lot of Western food on it, so I took pictures.

Menu pictures! )

Despite these temptations, we ended up going elsewhere to meet some more people for dinner, at sorta the Chinese equivalent of a greasy spoon, where we had a large fish but weren't looking in time to see them kill it. (The fish was disappointing, actually--somehow the dish they made from it ended up being mostly bones and fat.)

After dinner Johnny, Jane and I ran over to the grocery store. Chinese grocery stores are kind of the most entertaining places ever, but you really need a buddy to get the full experience, and it also helps to be over-caffeinated. (I don't normally drink coffee.) We two foreigners were pulling Jane in different directions asking for help finding things like pears and raisins, or darting in to get yogurt during the brief time when the yogurt lady was on the phone so we wouldn't have to pretend to understand her when she talked to us (she tends to press flavors on you and then you get away and realize you're holding mulberry coconut yogurt), or running around pointing out the whole frozen fish for sale and the "coarse grain biscuits no additional sugar" that utterly fail to sound even remotely appealing.

Then I came home and watched Pieces of April. Today I got to sleep in and I'm headed to Shanghai for the weekend. So as holidays abroad go, I could have done worse.
marjorieinchina: (Boffin)
It's been a strange week or so. During the second half of last week the Senior 1, 2, and 3 students had exams, and since I teach Senior 1, I had half the week off. I like time off as much as the next person, but I had no idea what to do with it this time. I had a bit of a cold, and I didn't really know how to get anywhere I might like to visit, so I ended up spending most of those five days in my apartment, futzing with the Internet or picking up and putting down various books. I did get out a little bit. I had lunch on Friday with a woman from London who's teaching at the university here, and we walked around the city a bit in the afternoon. Sunday I had a long, long Chinese lunch with a bunch of friends of another teacher, and then two students took me around to show me some of the sights. It was cold on Friday, and it was raining and cold on Sunday. Last night I went out for hot pot with some other teachers. It was cold and raining, or maybe sleeting. I think it is going to be cold and/or raining for a long time. They say that after January it starts to get warmer. But after that is the rainy season.

I'm reacting to all this in a couple ways at once. I've always been more productive in the winter time, hunkering down next to the heat to get my work done, bustling through the outdoors in a purposeful way to get to work or class or whatever. But the cold is different here. For one thing, it's wet, and for another, it's everywhere, outdoors and in. The classroom buildings here are really built for tropical weather. All the rooms open directly onto the outdoors, and the hallways and stairways are basically outside. This is very pleasant architecture when it's hot outside, but right now it means that we all wear our coats everywhere we go, whether we're teaching classes, working in the teachers' office, or eating meals. The buildings are also poorly insulated. In my own apartment I have the heater in my bedroom going full blast, all the time, and I keep my bedroom door closed, and my nose still gets cold if I sit in here typing for any length of time. It doesn't help that there are sections of windows in the other rooms that I can't close at all--there's simply no way to latch them, and the frames seem to be spring-loaded to keep them open.

So on the one hand, the weather makes me feel kind of invigorated and a little bit festive, and on the other, it makes me want to crawl into bed and not come out until April. I guess that would defeat the purpose of coming here, though. I'm supposed to be teaching people English and such. And maybe experiencing this foreign country I'm in? That seems like it is also part of the idea.

Anyway, I don't have any big adventures to tell you about, so here are some pictures from my small adventures.
Small adventure pictures under the link. )
marjorieinchina: (Default)
I was talking today to Susan, one of the teachers here whom I first met when she stayed with my family in the states, and I told her that one of the things I learned about teaching this summer was how much knowledge and understanding of a subject I need to have in order to explain just some of it to a group of students. It's not good enough to understand the material as well as the students are meant to understand it. Susan told me a Chinese saying: If you want to give your students a glass of water, you need to have a pail of it. I think that sums it up very well.


Oct. 30th, 2009 10:13 am
marjorieinchina: (Ariana)
When I went to French camp in high school, we would have cours de conversation, conversation class, where we might talk about art or movies or immigration or the soul or how to save the world. It was consistently my favorite part of the day. All the other work we did on tenses, vocabulary, and usage was invaluable--and I'll never forget the class on the plus-que parfait du subjonctif, which turned out to be the most hilarious grammatical tense in the entire world. But conversation was what stretched my abilities and got me to the point where I could actually speak French--that is, think of and express an idea in French without first translating it from English, and likewise absorb other people's comments in the language they used to express them. (I still tended to remember these conversations in English, for the most part, which is a phenomenon I can't really explain.)

Although there were only four or five of us in the class most of the time, sometimes we would all get really opinionated and loud, and I would have difficulty making myself heard. One day, as I raised my voice higher and higher, my friend Marie-Hélène told me in confidential tones, "If you want to be heard, whisper."

It worked, and I've seen it work in other places. Once I was in a bar in lower Manhattan where they had live music a few nights a week. My friends and I had come to hear a friend of ours sing, and after her set we all started talking to each other and generally stopped listening when the next musician came on. That next musician was loud, and she had very strong feelings, and it was easy to shout conversation at each other while she shouted at the microphone. Then she sang her one quiet song. We shut up. It was the only song I really heard, and certainly the only one from her set that I still remember.

I thought of this advice again this week, especially the day I taught five classes and was going through a bottle of water per class, my voice getting higher and louder and coarser every time there was another noise to override. So, can whispering work in a classroom full of 45 or so Chinese students who are restless from spending all day every day in the same room, and who are kind of worked up and excited about having a foreign teacher come in, and who keep whispering and giggling to each other when the foreign teacher says something that, for reasons unfathomable to her, they find really funny?

I've tried it a few times--not whispering, but lowering my voice to a register and volume that's actually comfortable. And I think it works. It sounds more serious and, oddly, more confident to speak softly, and the students have paid attention.

So, that's my teaching insight for the week. I'd like to see I can infuse anything else from cours de conversation into these classes--I think what these students need from me, more than any grammatical or cultural instruction, is simply practice.

One down!

Oct. 26th, 2009 10:11 am
marjorieinchina: (Ariana)
First lesson done! Fifteen reiterations of it to go!

I ended up staying awake until 1 a.m. to finish preparing, which is kinda dumb (especially when I get automatically woken up at 6 every morning) but the deadline worked its magic the way nothing else had, and I got the thing done. I'll be more punctual next time, I promise. The lesson was about the different places I've lived--Red Wing, New York, and Ely--and the different things that go on in each place. I'm reasonably confident the students understood me throughout the lesson. (I told them to stop me if I go too fast, but I'm not sure they would actually do so.) We had a speaking exercise at the end of the class and they did quite well. I asked what kind of city or town they would like to live in, gave them some time to talk about it (need to do better at getting them to use English in this part of the session, I think) and then asked for their answers by throwing a balled-up pair of socks around the room and having the student with the socks stand up and speak, an idea I stole from one of the British teachers.

The students are quite well-behaved, and their English skills are very good. I'm looking forward to coming up with ways to challenge them.
marjorieinchina: (Default)
My first week at the school has been a little unorthodox, because the school is having its week-long sports meeting. On Monday there was an opening ceremony. It started at something like 8 a.m. I'd been up since 6--ah, those morning bells!--and saw the commotion from my window, so I decided to go out and have a look. I loitered next to the ping-pong tables for a little while, watching the huge crowd of students congregating and sorting themselves into groups on the field, and then Maggie found me and took me into the athletic area.

This was when I discovered that everyone wants their picture taken with me:


--except the band, they were kind of busy, and then they put their instruments away.

Each grade did a dance for the opening ceremony. I think everyone did the same dance, though the junior school students may have done something a little different.

After that, all the teachers did two laps around the track while the students cheered. I joined in, and all along the track students shouted "hello!" as I went by. Then there was a tug-o-war tournament, but I didn't see much of that because a bunch more students wanted to have their pictures taken with me. Then the races began, and they continued, more or less, for the next three days.

I watched a good bit of the athletics, but since I have a pathological inability to stay interested in sports for very long, and because I was sitting right in front of hundreds of students, I spent most of that time accepting kids' offerings of candy, giving out autographs (no kidding), and answering questions about my favorite singer/favorite actor/hairstyle (several students have asked me if my hair is naturally curly, which is confusing to me because from my perspective it isn't curly at all). I had lunch with one group of students, and dinner with another, and they all acted completely enchanted to see me. All this specialness could go to my head if I'm not careful.

On Wednesday, after two days of watching other people be physically active, I climbed a mountain!

The mountain is called Jiu Hua, which apparently means "Nine ___." I think "hua" means "flower," at least sometimes, because the same word is what they call jasmine tea here, but that may not be relevant.

The walk up was longer than I expected, especially when the teacher and her friends who took me hiking all seemed to be in ordinary town clothes. Turns out it was rather a strenuous hike, just one that people mostly take on in clothes they could easily wear to go out to lunch. On our way up, we passed a group of women in sharp-looking jackets, dress shorts, tights, and platform shoes. I say we passed them, but actually their group and ours took turns overtaking each other on the way up, and they had lunch at the summit at the same time we did.

It was hard to take pictures on the trail, because there weren't many open spaces with a good view even at the top. But it was so beautiful I had to try:

On the way up )

This is the temple at the top of the mountain. I asked Emma, the teacher who'd brought me, whether it was okay to take pictures inside. "Usually not," she said. So I'll just have to tell you that there were three distinct buildings in the temple, that you walked through each one to get to the next, that each one had a large Buddha in the middle, and along the sides were huge, brightly painted statues of Daoist gods. They were amazing, not so much for the craft that went into them as for the powerful, frightening expressions on their faces. These gods were serious. I wish I could show you.

The second chamber/builing of the temple is still under construction, after a landslide seven years ago destroyed a lot of the buildings on the mountain. There were stacks of timber lying around and unpainted statues I couldn't interpret: old men holding books, or walking sticks, and one with long, long eyebrow hairs that hung down over his face. There's so much here that I don't know anything about.
marjorieinchina: (Default)
Well, here I am in China!

The trip was long, but everything went very smoothly. My first flight, from Minneapolis to San Francisco, was in the early morning, and when I got to the check-in desk we found out that one of my bags was 13 pounds over the weight limit and that it cost $150 to have an overweight bag. I was completely baffled by sleepiness and had no idea how to react to this information. In the end my parents took some things out--mostly books--to ship to me in China, and I moved my winter coat into my carry-on bag. The final weight of the bag was 50.5 pounds, which the clerk declared good enough.

I slept most of the way to California, had about three hours in the airport to get breakfast and buy some magazines, and boarded the plane to Shanghai. We all spent the entire trans-Pacific flight with absolutely no idea what time it was. The flight crew instructed us to pull down our window shades, and we spent about six hours pretending it was nighttime while it was perfectly bright outside--mid-afternoon in San Francisco, early morning in China. Then they gave everybody a bowl of instant noodles and said "good morning." Whatever works, I guess. On the plane I watched pieces of the movie Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian and reflected that if this is how America portrays itself, it might not be terribly easy to explain to people who have never been there what America is really like. The film included the Lincoln Memorial coming to life and saying "I never lie!" a lot, General Custer giving everybody very bad advice, an octopus in the Reflecting Pool, and the main hall of the Air & Space Museum filled with come-back-to-life pilots trying to launch all their aircraft at once. Everyone spoke in inscrutable accents.

Anyway, we crossed the International Date Line into Thursday and landed right on time, and customs at the Shanghai airport went very smoothly, and Emily was there to meet me. She and I and a driver who didn't speak English got into the school's car and drove the five hours to Quzhou, and I got to my new apartment a little after midnight. I spent some time settling in and got to sleep around 1:30, only to be awakened at 6 by the school's wake-up call and morning exercises. I will have to be more careful about going to bed on time.

Today I unpacked, figured out how to use my shower, met the school principal, and had lunch with four members of the English department and the two British guys who are also teaching at the school. All of the English teachers we ate with have been to Red Wing, so there were a lot of little reunions and hugs going around. Maggie, who stayed with my family when she was in Red Wing, was worried the food would be too spicy for me, but it was delicious. I got the leftover sesame dumplings to take home. This afternoon I'll have some errands to run, but in the meantime I have a bit of a break, so I took some pictures inside my apartment: Click for pictures )

So far, so good! I'll keep you all posted of further developments.
marjorieinchina: (purple chair)
I've been putting off writing the first entry on this journal for the same reason that I've put off getting a plane ticket: I wanted to be absolutely sure I was really going to China before I posted a lot of blather about how I felt about going.

I was initially supposed to leave on September 22, but there were some delays in the visa process, none of which are really interesting enough to detail here, so for the past three weeks I've been hanging around at home in Minnesota, trying to learn some Mandarin with a book and tape set I checked out of the library (progress: slow), walking the dogs, and seeing the movies that came out after I'd expected to leave. But this morning my visa arrived, so I'm really, truly, honestly, seriously leaving for China really soon, there to remain until next July.

If anything, I'm less prepared to leave than I was in September--I got out of the habit of thinking I was leaving soon. But I doubt that will make much difference. You can't really prepare for culture shock or jet lag while you're at home. And I'm fortunate, because I'm not really going into uncharted territory. I might not have had the gumption to go, if previous teachers who have gone to Quzhou hadn't brought back such glowing reports about the experience. As it is, I know people in Quzhou, and people in Quzhou know people I know, and it makes a big difference to know that. (You know?)

I intend to keep in touch with a lot of people individually--if you write to me I will be delighted (my e-mail address is on the profile page of this journal), and if you write me a real letter I will be absolutely thrilled (you can e-mail me for the address), and I will purchase some Chinese stationery and airmail envelopes and return the favor. But I thought it would be good to have a space where I posted regular updates for everyone to see, and so here we are: Drop by every so often. I hope to have a lot to tell you about.
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