Monday, May 04, 2009

Our school has transformed greatly since just two weeks ago. It is amazing how much work can get done when you hire hundreds of workers and must finish things very quickly. They have painted all of the buildings on campus, inside and out, our new gate is finished (it is super huge and seems to be missing something that makes it exciting), they carved the school name into huge limestone blocks, and everything is cleaned up. It is all in anticipation of today. Today was Day One of the Grand School Inspection. Important leaders from the government come and check on the school and whether to promote it. We have grown to be a little used to such huge festivities that seem way over the top in China, but this is something to yet another level. It seemed like everything special that could be done was done for this event, to make our school look though it is a "new" school. It makes us laugh to think about it.

As always we seemed to be right in the middle of it. We wanted to take Noah out to walk this afternoon and let her loose to run when we saw the line-up of important people at our new gate. There were women in the traditional Chinese gowns lined up for 50 m followed by other women in Guizhou minority gowns behind them and other leaders waiting everywhere around. We decided this would not be the time to go running in front. The English department had a special event for them...a staged and nervous outdoor English Corner. We arrived a little early and waited for almost 1.5 hours for the leaders to come and they stayed for a grand total of 10 seconds. The students in charge were very bummed!! They put tons of work into it to only get a hello in passing from the leaders, but that was the same throughout the campus, the PE department and others had special events which were seen quickly and passed by.

The school inspection leaves lots of questions with me: why do they need to just fix up the school to be nice every 5 years, what will the school be like next week, will it return to how it was before or will students and leaders work to keep up the niceness, and always why why why something so grand and expensive for just one day. The new gate was reported to cost 400, 000 RMB more then $50,000, but I am happy to see that they fixed up the auditorium and can now have more performances and events and the special buildings are really nice.

This weekend was a holiday in China...May Day or Chinese Labor Day. We celebrated the day with students doing no work--they love to hear those words, "No Homework." We went instead for a barbeque--it was our first time planning and preparing everything. We had 15 people in all and also Noah on a rainy day, but luckily we planned ahead and booked a place indoors to have the event. As always, we questioned the amount of food: we bought potatoes, egg plant, zucchini, steamed bread, meat, hotdogs, and various kinds of fish ball type things. The food is made on a grill with charcoal under and we put all of the things on sticks and grease them with oil and soy sauce and cook them adding spices and things and can eat all day. We ended up with almost a refrigerator full of leftovers.

For Saturday and Sunday, our plan was to go to nearby, 2 hours, Ziyun a poor part of our area. We bought some books last year and some clothes and money for some poor students of our friends for this year. We did not get to go to the school to deliver them as we had the barbeque but we heard many stories, like of a child who was crying in class because of not having money to eat for two days and others overwhelmed by receiving new shoes, shirts, etc.

On Saturday, we went to Getu He (a famous river in the area). The river is green in color and has tall mountains around it. It is amazingly beautiful. All of it formed from large flooding that shaped the tall mountains of limestone. Along the way, I was able to see water buffalo fighting. Describing the park is difficult to do, but we did get to see many different kinds of karst topography and enjoy the nice weather. After seeing the area, we went to the last remaining tribe to live in a cave. The car ride could have been a good indication, very rough with students hitting their heads, but we arrived at the place with a long path that led into the mountains. We walked and walked to the top of the mountain only to see the cave far in the distance, maybe another 3 km (1 + miles away). The path to it was not filled with mud and poo and was quite the interesting terrain, but after feeling like our legs would die we arrived at the top. The cave was relatively open so quite a bit of light came into the homes made of bamboo...there were houses made of brick outside provided by the government that the people did not like and did not use. We walked around looking at the houses and visiting with the friendly people. It was hard to discount their feelings of hospitality, as they seemed to be cut off from the rest of the world except for the tourists that survive the crazy trek. They had an old school inside and several houses. We visited with one family who showed us their home and food--field corn that is crushed into a meal and cooked over a rice, some goats, but this was their main meal. I was tempted to try it but it was not finished at the time.

We returned rather tired, so as the women went off to their house to sleep at around 10 pm, the guys were invited to a party, first by a group of the Miao women celebrating a festival in their colorful clothes, but finally at another persons house. We drank tea and talked about many things before they asked me if I wanted to go out to eat snacks. Sure, I like snacks!! What I found out is that snacks can also mean a meal late at night. We sat down at a popular late night hang-out and they ordered ribs and spine with some meat on it and we at them with our plastic gloves and they wanted me to try hot beer with them--with some Chinese medicine in it. I dislike beer in America and this was nasty by all means. They ordered several gallons of the stuff and I forced down one glass. Then they ordered more food and drinks. We had toasted fish at 1 am and they wanted to play drinking games. They played as me and another girl who also hated drinking were the judges and drink pourers. We played a little but did not receive the prizes. At around 2 am the third kind of food was finished and our case of beer was gone--I was ready for bed. They wanted to go out to a KTV to do some karaoke and I found out just how old I am. I had to say that I was too tired to go. I guess this is a regular weekend activity in a small town. We were up early though to eat food and head back to Anshun around noon. A good time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Visiting students can always be an interesting that almost always takes you out of your comfort zone and your control. This was certainly going to be a trip like that, as we were going to a 5 year students home (their English is not exceptional) and we were taking our dog along and going to the middle of the countryside to a place called qiyanqiao (seven eye bridge village). Even I was a bit nervous as to what would happen. We ended up taking a number of different buses, but Noah was in heaven as she could sit in the back seat on my lap with her head out the window and check out all of the new things. We walked through the muddy village and up the hill and found our student's home. It was quite nice with a big metal gate and lots of rooms and they were quite welcoming of the dog, even though a bit afraid.

We spent the afternoon climbing the mountains and being talked about by all of the villagers. Halfway up the mountain was a temple to the god of the ancestors. It gave a great view and something to talk about. We took along tons of food, as is customary of all trips with Chinese, and returned home with very little of it. The dog loved it and was able to run around and see lots of new friends. Our student was super afraid that our dog would get into a fight with other dogs so she had her umbrella out to fight off the dogs and scare them was so funny, as we were not worried and Noah did not even notice most of the other dogs. Visiting students' homes is definitely a blessing when it comes to food--they always prepare something special and lots of it. We had Tunpu food--the same food from the Ming Dynasty, but the expectation is that you eat tons of food to show that you like it. We ended up being the only people at the table at the end--finishing up the delicious food.

The next day, we went to Xianrenba, a beautiful river (my first time) near Tianlong, one of the original Tunpu villages from the 1300's. It was really fun to be in the countryside with my students and then a bunch of my student's tutoring students. We got to see some of the old women planting rice, people fishing, and a bamboo forest without pandas. Sadly, there are very few if any pandas in the wild left in China, mostly just in zoos. We ate lunch at one of the tutoring student's homes, just showed up with some food and her whole family watched the crazy Americans and their dog. It was really interesting to get to stay at a Tunpu village house and have delicious food from students.

On Sunday, we had our outdoor Open House. We played some frisbee, taught a few of them how to catch a softball with gloves and I gave Patty a cut on her lip from a frisbee. She was on the phone and the frisbee smacked her right in the mouth. After a bit, we ended up indoors eating chocolate and talking. Many great opportunities and great friends.

Monday was the basketball tournament finale and the cheerleading competition. I came to cheer for my students in the cheerleading competition, they had invested 100 RMB ($14) in their uniform. But when the leaders saw me there, they dragged me over to the "official/leader" table to have front row seats. I was an unofficial judge now. Cheerleading is quite different in China. They do not do cheers but more like a dance group without stunts or the excitement. They do not smile very much but are exceptional at doing syncronized routines. The "skilled" dancers do lots of gyrating like hip hop dancers which the guys like, but it was interesting. The basketball game was a blow out-the same team I played for last year versus the team that beat us last year, this time a 29-12 beating.

On Wednesday, we had a special day in class...a wedding. Every year for oral class, we have an American wedding where students do all of the parts of the wedding. There is a photographer (we give our camera to them with some training), parents of the bride and groom, brides maids and groomsmen, flower girls, bride, groom, readers, speeches, and traditional wedding dancing. They get the whole wedding experience plus more...

The bride was chosen by volunteering, sorta. I asked for a volunteer and one girl was not listening and raised her hand--thank you for volunteering, Jane. Then the guy was voted on by the other guys, lucky Jack. They made the wedding dress out of TP, very wide stuff which they always seem to make look exceptional and some flowers from the mountains. It was quite a do-up. I taught the guys how to tie ties and each of them wore one of the ties I had and the groom in my suit coat. They really loved the wedding and got tons of pictures. The reader wanted to keep the book, so she can do more reading.

The dance and reception had non-other-then the chicken dance and the hocky-pocky and throwing the bouquet and a small flower to the winner girl and guy. Their homework was to compare an American and Chinese wedding. So far, we have not made any real lovers from this experiment but maybe in the future.

Today, we went to the vet and found out Noah is indeed pregnant which makes leaving something more complicated, but I guess she will have them in May sometime and then we will see who wants to stay and take care of them or maybe we can give them to the vet to sell when we leave, if they are weaned yet. PAtty is a little nervous about this and kicking herself for letting Noah loose once and what happened. Nothing we can do about it, but I am wondering what the puppies will look like from Noah and the strange looking black dog with a white beard. Should be interesting, maybe we can get extra money selling them as American dogs...haha. Hope you have a wonderful rest of the you all!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easter is full of traditions, but this year had all kinds of new things. Maybe they will become traditions, we will see. We went to Guiyang to get together with our fellow teacher friends and our boss. It was exciting to see them all again. We were a part of the family egg coloring and hiding and later we went out and played baseball (bangqiu). There were quite a few Chinese watching, but their school is actually starting to have baseball as a sport, only the 6th school in China. That was quite fun with a little football throwing too, kinda like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Then we went back for some homemade pizza, six different kinds and then three kinds of pie. That is my kind of tradition. That was just the beginning as it was only Saturday.

Easter Sunday, or as I rather like FuHuoJie Come back from death day or Resurrection Day was quite a busy one for our group. Patty and many of the others were playing music for the gathering of foreigners at a local hotel called the Miracle. I was giving the message. As always, I was very nervous, but everything went very well. Afterwards, we went out to Pizza Fun, a pizza and western food buffet, over 100 of us chowing on pizza and sharing about how things are going. I could get used to a tradition like that--great fellowship, friends, and food. The only thing that was missing was family...we definitely have to say that we miss our family during the holidays, but we love you all very much and look forward to coming home soon. Not really sure what is going on for next year totally yet though, lots of conflicting ideas. One day at a time though and only 2.5 more months I think.

Monday was also busy as I taught my British Literature class then had my first Geology Lecture--next term they made a class called Special English for Science majors. I wonder what special english is though?? I made a powerpoint with tons of pictures and was talking about plate tectonics, plate movements that cause the mountains, volcanoes and earthquakes that shape and shake our lives. It still went very well as I shared lots of stories and enjoyed it...150 students. Following class, I played in the 3-on-3 basketball tournament for the teacher team but sadly lost to the champions from last year--the team that beat us last year too. Looking forward to the weekend and relaxing a bit though, hope you are all doing well.