Sunday, December 31, 2006

Earthquakes and internet troubles

Some of you may have noticed in the news last week that there was an earthquake under the ocean between Taiwan and China. While this earthquake wasn't physically felt anywhere over here, it's definitely being felt in other ways. It damaged some major cables connecting mainland China with foreign internet sites, so we basically haven't been able to get any non-Chinese websites for almost a week here. Google has a server in China, so most google stuff has been working. I'm one of the few people in our foreigner group who doesn't use gmail, though. Oh well. I managed to get an email out yesterday to my mom, but some people have been saying that even if they get into their email, people back home aren't actually receiving the email. So mom, if you didn't get my email then I hope you read this. If it posts.

I should probably also say HAPPY NEW YEAR! It doesn't really feel like a new year, but we all stayed up late last night and cheered at midnight. I'm pretty sure that makes it a new year. Maybe it will feel more like 2007 when I get out and do something today. So late last week we were informed that we get Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off as a holiday to celebrate the new year. Good thing China doesn't even celebrate January 1 as the new year! I dunno, I'm not complaining. Since we're off on those days, I don't have class again until next Friday. I seized the opportunity and got out of town while I could. Now I'm 6 hours south in Yichang visiting Brad, Beth, Amy, and Dawson. We're having a good time so far. Since I don't have class until Friday, I can basically stay until Thursday unless I get bored and decide to leave earlier. Since we're eating Pizza Hut tonight and have other stuff planned for tomorrow, I don't really anticipate getting bored.

I'm really glad that I got into my blog to post this, but I'm tired of fighting the internet. They said it could be as much as three weeks before the cables are totally fixed, but things get a little better each day. I guess it's a matter of internet traffic and fixing a little bit of cable and some other things that I don't quite understand about how the internet works. Anyhoo, I may or may not feel like posting again in the next week or so, just to warn you. I may just wait until I'm back in the comfort of my own home before trying again. So if you feel the need to check my blog three times a day to see if I've posted anything, I'll just go ahead and apologize now. Of course, I don't really know why I'm apologizing for an undersea earthquake. I hope you all have a happy new year and that everyone can keep their resolution at least until there's a good excuse not to.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Day after Christmas

Good news! I'm officially free on Tuesdays now. Tonight was the last time my Tuesday night class met this semester, which is a good feeling. That class had the widest range of English ability I've ever had to teach in one room. Some of the students could carry a normal conversation on the first day, and then there were others that still couldn't even recognize when I called their English name on the last day. I was so inspired by these students that I've already made a powerpoint presentation for the first day of next semester's classes. It informs the students clearly that they will actually be required to learn and recognize their English names. Since this semester's students didn't all seem to comprehend that when I tried to explain it vocally, I thought that maybe they're just visual learners. Anyhoo, class is over now. As a foreign teacher I get to cancel class for two days for Christmas, so I canceled it on Monday (since it actually WAS Christmas) and gave my classes the option of when they wanted the other day to be. My Tuesday class actually wanted to meet one last time today (nerds) so last week I informed my Wed/Fri class that we wouldn't be meeting last Friday. They practically booed me out the door, making me think that they must just really LOVE my class. No, it's just that on Wednesdays my class is their only one. So instead of canceling last Friday I canceled tomorrow morning's class. I said all that to say that I won't have to get up for class in the morning since I canceled it for Christmas. Yay! I can go to sleep tonight and just not get up until Friday morning, since I don't have class on Thursday. Or not. The important thing is that I have the option to do that if I actually needed to.

So yesterday was Christmas. When I woke up it didn't really FEEL like Christmas, but I was well rested and had no real complaints. I looked out the window and was surprised to see that I couldn't really see anything at all. It was super duper foggy. I could barely see past the building next to ours. I was glad to get a phone call from Jennifer around 8:30 and chat with some family for a while. And then Michael called me on Skype for a while. After the others started getting up and around, we all met in Angelyn's apartment for coffee, cinnamon rolls (with homemade icing!), and gifts. We had all collected the gifts from our students and from packages in the mail and set them under a tree in Angelyn's apartment. It was fun to sit down together and all open gifts. I even had a stocking that Santa had left in my apartment the night before. Don't know how it got there. It couldn't be that my key was outside hidden in the fuse box, so I'm just going to assume it was magic or something. I got a few dud gifts like a roll of 1 jiao bills that added up to a whole yuan. Yeah. Just to let you know, a "jiao" is basically a Chinese dime, only they can come in paper bill form. So I basically got ten dimes rolled into a wad and wrapped in Christmas paper. Thanks Santa! I also got two bottles of pepsi, a calendar, a TIME magazine, a little pot shaped like a pig that I can keep pens and pencils in, index cards, and a kitkat bar. The most awesome present that morning was actually from a student in my freshman class. It's a framed picture of some traditional Chinese characters carved in a block of wood. The characters are traditional, so you read them top to bottom, beginning on the right. "Zhi zu chang le" is what it says. I know what each individual character means. "Knowledge foot long happy." Poetic, huh? Apparently when you put them together it basically means "Be happy with whatever you have." That sounds much better, in my opinion. It reminds me a lot of something written by Paul, saying that he had learned to be happy with whatever he had. I've learned a lot about what I need and what is just extra luxury in my time here. I have no doubt that I am one of the most spoiled people on the planet, having the things I have. It's easy enough to go without when the people around you are without the same thing, but what about the stuff we have that we still don't need? TV, excessive clothing, an overflowing pantry, designer socks, gourmet coffee, 90% of the stuff in our closets. We all seem to know that we're blessed to have these things because a lot of the people in the world aren't so blessed. The question is do we know in our hearts that we're blessed to have it and that it's all luxury, or do we just tell ourselves that we know it. The answer comes when we're faced with the same challenge given to the rich young man in Mt chapter 19. Sometimes I'm surprised by what I actually know and what I've just convinced myself I know.

I wasn't planning on getting so philosophical when I started, but I have to go where the typing takes me. I'll finish out my story tomorrow (unless I decide to sleep until Friday) and tell about this year's other Christmas events. Right now it's getting very late and I'm ready to lay someplace soft and warm. Sweet dreams!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

Well, there are some interesting things I learned today. First, I learned how Santa visits all those houses in one night. He doesn't! Apparently Santa comes to Europe on December 6. It's amazing the things you can learn when you have German friends. I also learned that Santa doesn't bring coal to bad little European kids. He has a helper with a stick who smacks the kids a few times. Seriously. I know some kids who can use a good smacking, but don't tell them I said so. So Santa gets Europe out of the way on the 6th and has a few weeks to prepare for Asia and the Americas. Asia is so far ahead of the Americas that Santa has no trouble finishing up on the 24th. And according to Breanna he also has the ability to just make time stand still on Christmas Eve. Which brings me to my next point. In Europe (not counting Britain) the 24th is Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve. Amazing what you can learn when you have British friends AND German friends at the same time. Yeah. And in Europe the Christ Child comes of Christmas Eve, since Santa came on the 6th. I like that version better since it doesn't mix the holiday symbols and the meaning of Christmas doesn't get so muddled. We should give that a test run in America. Right, just like we gave the metric system a test run in the 80s. We whine too much. And the last thing I learned from my European friends today is that German Kartoffelpuffer is a lot like American hashbrowns only much better. Anything involving cinnamon and sugar is automatically going to be good.

There's a lot more to tell but I am worn out and ready to hit the hay. I guess I'll just leave you with my lessons from the European Union for now. One last thing that I learned is that no matter how awesome a time you are having, if you're away from home during the holidays you will always remember it in the quiet moments after the fun is past. I miss and love you all! Peace on earth, live well, and loose the burning fire shut up in your bones.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

Well, Christmas Eve has come and gone and I don't think I could be much happier at the moment. It was a stupendously wonderful day. I had a great time with the group this morning/afternoon, had some incredible food for dinner with the foreign language department from school, and then teamed up with Derek to whoop Andrew, Jaime, Christense, Yvonne, and Yvonne's mom in Settlers of Catan. Top it off with a stocking stuffed with a gift that somehow made its way into my apartment while I was gone and that all equals a happy Brian. Tomorrow morning all of us at this school will gather for muffins or something like that and open the gifts we've slowly been piling under Angelyn's Christmas tree. Merry Christmas to all, I miss and love you! More tomorrow.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas time is here

Merry Christmas, everybody! It's only Christmas Eve, and only that by about an hour, but I figured I should get that on here while I'm sitting down. We've got a few foreign guests in town this weekend so we're all running around having fun and enjoying the company. Carl is here, he was here my first year so we've been having fun hanging out more in one weekend than in that entire first year altogether. Beth is here from Yichang, but she's staying across town with the Lewis'. I've seen her once or twice today but that's about the extent of our hanging out. Laura and Tomas flew in from Shanghai/Suzhou. They were both also here my first year, Laura as a teacher and Tomas as an industrial engineering student from Germany. Christense is also in town from Wuhan, staying over with Jaime and Andrew at the medical school. We had a great day today and look forward to an even better day tomorrow. We're having a massive Family party and playing Dirty Santa, or whatever you call it where you live. Some people call it Chinese Santa or Chinese Christmas. That's not allowed anymore since I'm actually having a Chinese Christmas this year. Monday is set aside for a foreigner party at the moment, so that should be fun as well. We'll see what happens. For now, I want to go to bed. I leave you with a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Test video

I'm trying to learn how to put a stinkin' video on here. It would help if I could find a convenient video posting website that would consistently work here. I think I've just about got it, so here is my first video addition. It should be a clip of the taiji routine I'm learning in class. We practice three times a week and I feel like I might actually be learning something. In case you get confused, the video isn't actually of ME.

Friday, December 15, 2006

For your viewing pleasure

Well, after forgetting and putting it off for too long, here are some pictures of some things going on around here. These pictures are mainly from last week when some of us went to a poor school out in the mountains near here. The Family here bought uniforms for the students at this school because they don't have any and it's getting cold and the uniforms will double as an extra layer of warmth in the months ahead. In all, there are about 70 students, ranging from 5 to 12 years old. They had an official ceremony to thank us and some other local businessmen who have also given money to these students. These students all come from families that live in the countryside near this school. Most of them can't afford to go to school, so these local businessmen provide money to pay for school, books, and food. One of the businessmen was the owner of the company that made the uniforms. He's a private business owner, which makes it harder for him to turn a profit, I think. But he was kind enough to provide more than 70 uniforms for less than the cost to make them.

We were greeted by the principal in his office, but the students couldn't wait to get a peek at us.

A sister of ours teaches at the school and arranged for the students to sing and dance for us. They actually sang three songs praising the King! Seeds are being planted.

Here are the uniforms, ready to be handed out. The man with his back to the camera owns the company that made them.

One of the students I handed a uniform to.

The longer the ceremony went, the smaller they got!

This guy has the same Chinese name as me. I'm Zhang Bowen and he's Cheng Bowen.

Another kiddo.

The students showing off their new school uniforms.

The Happy family: Happy Guy, Stella, Stewie, and Amber. Stewie isn't dead, he just seems to die whenever a camera is pointed at him. Derek is teaching Amber (and just about every other Chinese person he comes in contact with) to look more like a gangster and flash a hang signal in photos.

Happy Guy and me hanging out after dinner.

I'll hopefully remember to keep the pictures coming. I've got plenty of past pictures to post on here, so as long as I remember then I think your appetites will be satisfied. But now it's time for Taiji class so I need to run along. Live well and be thankful.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Back from the East coast

Well, my trip to Ningbo has come and gone. It sure was a blast, though! Last Wednesday night I headed out to the train station around midnight to catch my 12:45 train. I had a 7 or 8 hour train to Wuhan and then a short flight at 10:50 to Ningbo. It sure beats the long train, let me tell you. Everything went fairly smoothly this first part of the trip. Fairly. I got on the train and tried to upgrade my ticket to a sleeper. Everything was going well and the lady told me that I owed her 82 yuan. I thought that was a little too much for an upgrade to Wuhan, but I'm no expert. Besides, the price is on the ticket and they can't cheat me. So she takes my money and goes to get me some change. When she comes back, she brings me my ticket and two big cartons of milk. I'm sitting there wondering what in the world she brought me milk for when she tells me that the ticket only cost 62 and the other 20 was for the milk. HA! I can listen and understand a lot more Chinese than I'm able to piece together and actually speak, so it took me awhile to impress upon her my lack of interest in purchasing her top quality milk. She looked a little disappointed that I wouldn't be helping her meet her sales quota, but I don't really care. I got my 20 back without actually having to yell at her. I got to Wuhan and onto my plane with no other excitement. The only other surprise was that my plane was smaller than expected. A 25 seater. But I fit in the seat and it got me to Ningbo in barely over one hour, so I'm not complaining.

In Ningbo, the plan was for me to take a bus from the airport to the bus station, and then Keli would meet me there. Well I got on the bus and went to the station, but they dropped us off in some little bitty back parking lot. Even though I had never been to Ningbo, I was pretty sure that a the main bus station would be bigger than this one little spot. So where was I, and where was I supposed to be? The surprised and confused looks of the other passengers wasn't doing much to comfort me, but I just got off and followed them because they all were grumbling and moving down the street in the same direction. Turns out they just dropped us off a few blocks early. I managed to find the bus/train station, but Keli sent me a text message saying she was still 30 minutes away. I waited in the KFC across the street and then we ended up having lunch there because by then it was about 2:00 and we were both really hungry.

Now, Shiyan is a small mountain town of 500,000 people. Forty years ago it was still a fishing village of 1,000 or so. The population increase is entirely due to Mao sticking some major military and automobile installations here to protect from a US or Soviet nuclear strike. Ningbo is a port city of more than 3,000,000. It has a long history of hosting foreigners, before and after the Communist era. Shiyan is small, mountainous, cold, dirty, and has piles of garbage on every street. Ningbo seems to be some different country entirely. It's (relatively) big, the air is somewhat cleaner, everyone throws away their garbage. It has a two story tall Starbucks! Not to mention the Subway restaurant, shopping malls, and 50 bazillion Pizza Huts. I've been to bigger, grander, cleaner places in China, but since I didn't travel in October it just was a really nice change for me. I mean, the folks in Ningbo have a washer AND a dryer! Who knew you could have that in China? I sure didn't. I'm fine without all these cool luxuries, but it was still nice to walk around and look at all the stuff I'm missing out on. I like to think of Shiyan as a good place to build character.

So I arrived on Thursday afternoon and stayed until Sunday afternoon. I have a Friday morning class, but thankfully I have a Chinese co-teacher who could teach that class for me. I had a good time there in Ningbo. Keli showed me some of the city after I got there and we ate lunch. There were some really nice parks that actually had large expanses of grass, something else I didn't think possible here. There was also a Catholic building there in town, which shows the long history of foreign visitors to that city. We checked out Starbucks and a few stores in that area before heading out toward Ningbo Daxue (Ningbo University) where the other foreigners were eagerly awaiting my arrival. We spent the next few days watching movies, wandering around the campus and the city, eating good food, drinking Starbucks, and having an all around good time. Laura and Lisha, two former Shiyaners, both came over from Shanghai on Friday night so they got to spend part of the weekend with us as well.

Sunday afternoon I had to head out so I could get back to Shiyan in time for my Tuesday class. Angelyn and I had arranged for our classes to watch a movie together on Monday night, so she covered my Monday night class. Thanks, Angelyn! To get home I could have taken the train to Shanghai and then one more train all the way from Shanghai to Shiyan. About 22 hours. But the time between my arrival and departure in Shanghai was too short and I probably would have missed the train. There's only one train each day on that route, so I would have definitely missed more classes. So instead I went from Ningbo to Hangzhou to Xiangfan to Shiyan. Three trains, but if any one train was late then I had more than one train to choose from to get to my next destination. It seemed like the long, roundabout, sensible thing to do. So I went the 2 hours to Hangzhou, caught my next train to Xiangfan, and 22 hours later I was there. In Xiangfan I went and bought my last ticket. It's usually only 2 hours to Shiyan from there. I had about an hour before my train, so I went and sat in the waiting area. My train was delayed three different times and they kept changing the time on the screen. I was keeping a close eye on the screen because they weren't audibly calling the trains, they would just flash it on the screen that it was loading. So finally around 6:30 my train was called for loading. I walked down to the end of the aisle to get my ticket punched. There's a railing with a gate where you usually get your ticket punched by an attendant and then they let you through the gate to go to the platform. But this time, I walked up to the rail and no attendant came out. Now, there are 7 or 8 aisles and gates along this rail, and there wasn't an attendant at a single one. The gate itself was padlocked shut, so I'm just standing there expecting someone to come out. I mean, surely they expect someone to want to get on the train, right? Apparently not. An old man came up behind me to do the usual stare-at-the-foreigner routine and I asked him if I was in the right place. He looked at my ticket, looked at the sign, and calmly informed that my train was about to leave. I knew that already, I just didn't know how to get to the stinkin' train because apparently this train station doesn't follow normal rules like unlocking gates for passengers and telling people when and where their train is leaving. At this point, another man came up and said that I probably had 3 minutes and I should jump the rail and run. Well, I just happened to have 10 large hardcover Books in my backpack and I was carrying another box with 20 smaller hardcover books. So I was loaded down pretty good. I chunked all of of my stuff over the rail, climbed over, loaded back up, and took off down the hall. The sign said my train was on platform three. I looked to the left, there were two large hallways for platforms 1 and 2, both blocked by a large, padlocked gate. I looked to the right, I saw a sign for platforms 3 and 4 so I ran that way. The entrance to platform three was a large hallway blocked by (can you guess?!?) a very large, very metal, very padlocked gate. I was getting a little tired of this junk, so I started yelling down the hallway. There were some stairs that led down to the platform and between the stairs and the ceiling of the lower level I could barely make out people's feet walking by. Of course, no one came to open the gate for me. I turned around and there was a train station employee, going into a door down the hall. I hollered for her and ran to show her my ticket, saying the gate was closed. Now, you should realize that all of the communication in this story is being done in Chinese, and the more rushed and frustrated I got, the worse my Chinese got. But this lady didn't seem to care. She just pointed me back to the locked gate and told me to go through it. I told her it's closed, she shrugged, and took the noodles she was carrying and went into her office to eat. Talk about customer service! I ran back to the gate, gave it a few good shoves to test the strength of the lock, decided that wasn't going to get me through, and threw my stuff down in frustration. By this time, it had definitely been three minutes since I had jumped the rail (or at least it felt like it) and I just knew that I had missed my train. I turned around and yet another lady was coming around the corner, so I ran to her and showed her my ticket. Like a GOOD employee should, she showed immediate concern, got on her walkie talkie and told them to stop the train, and then took off running to find someone with a key. In no time, she had the gate open and was yelling at me to RUN RUN RUN! Now I'm running down stairs carrying a backpack with all of my clothes and 10 large Books in it, along with the other 20 Books in the box. If I had tripped, it would have been a pretty huge disaster. I ended up on the train, thanks to that lady and her mad walkie talkie, key-finding skills. The next train was about 4 hours later and I did NOT want to wait around that long. The ticket I had was only a standing ticket, so I found a place to set my things and prepared for the final two hours of my trip. The conductor came by and asked me where I was going. When I told him Shiyan, he said that I should go buy a seat because we wouldn't be getting to Shiyan until after 10:30. WHAT? Apparently the nice lady in the ticket window had sold me a ticket on the slow train. No wonder they weren't expecting anyone to want to get on this train. We actually ended up getting to Shiyan right around 10, so it was longer than I originally expected by but shorter than I ended up expecting. It was still quite a long train ride. I'm pretty sure I'm the first and only foreigner any of the people on that train have ever seen. People were coming from two cars away to stare at me. I wouldn't describe it as the best train ride ever, no.

On the plus side, it's great to be home. I missed my friends here a lot. Christmas is coming soon. Laura and Thomas are coming from Shanghai/Suzhou for Christmas and Beth is coming up from Yichang. That should be fun. Then Keli is coming from Ningbo sometime in January after classes are over (China doesn't make room for Christmas and New Year's, they have Spring Festival in January/February). So there's a lot to look forward to in the next month or so. Right now, I'm looking forward to teaching my freshmen in about 45 minutes, so I should probably go figure out what I'll be teaching them.

Monday, November 27, 2006


So, where was I? I think I was talking about Thanksgiving and then I got interrupted by a trip to escort Alice home. Right. So Thanksgiving was great. We had a good time at the hotel and I think everyone was encouraged by the whole experience.

Friday morning I got to wake up and teach class, but I didn't let that ruin my mood. I told them my experience and then did a lot of review and talking with them. The week before I had covered cards games and had taught them to play Uno, so after class some of them asked to borrow my Uno cards for a birthday party. I'm spreading the culture! After that, I had to camp out in my apartment and prepare a two hour lecture to give that night. Originally I had chosen "History of the English Language" as my topic because I had read something interesting on it and I wanted to share it. But as I was preparing earlier in the week I realized that the vocabulary was just too far over their heads. So here it is Friday and I need to choose another topic and prepare a PowerPoint presentation. What topic to choose?!? Baseball, naturally. So I spent most of the rest of the day from 10am until 5pm working on preparing that. I thought I did a pretty decent job. I had pictures and explained all the basic rules, it was a work of art. We had cancelled English corner on Thursday night due to Thanksgiving, so I figured all those people might come to Friday night's edition. I grabbed the two gloves, bat, and softball that we have here and made my way over to the classroom. When I got there I found ten students there studying. They all seemed pretty surprised to see me. Basically, it was nothing like what the Friday night lecture usually looks like. I called Kiwi, the student in charge of the lectures, and asked her if I was supposed to be doing one that night. Apparently when we had cancelled Thursday night, they had also cancelled Friday night as well. Oops. So back I went to my apartment to put on something more comfortable and wait for Derek and Jeremy to come hang out. We ended up watching one of Derek's students in the school talent show, eating dinner, and watching Indiana Jones the rest of the night.

Saturday we got up and were drinking coffee. Before we could even begin to wonder what to do for the day, we got a call saying that we had a friend who wanted to go down into the water. Well needless to say, we were excited. We started cleaning Derek's apartment, cleaning his bathtub, and boiling water. We only have hot water in the early morning and late at night, so the water was pretty freezing. Anyhoo, once everyone from across town got over here, we realized that we didn't just have one friend who wanted to go in, but TWO. So we found another towel and a change of clothes for him. Now our Family is two siblings stronger and we spent lunch and the afternoon celebrating our new brother and sister. We ate lunch at Happy Guy's and told him why we were celebrating. He was really happy for us. Last week he requested that we Study some with him so he's very interested in these things. Saturday night, Angelyn and I had lunch with two students from our school, Grace and Sahara. They're girlfriend and boyfriend, and they're a lot of fun to hang out with. Sahara actually spells his name Sohoro, but I'm pretty sure he just doesn't know that it's wrong. After that Angelyn and I came home, escaped from Bushes Guy who randomly comes out of the bushes and asks to play with us, and then relaxed the rest of the evening.

Sunday morning I ended up going across town for the Meeting because I never get to go visit with those students. We had a lot of fun, ate lunch, and then I went to Darla's apartment to hang out. Because she wasn't here until October and she lives all the way (30 minutes at most) across town, I don't know her well and never get to hang out with her. We had fun visiting and whatnot. Around 3:30 Derek, Angelyn, Keri, and Janis showed up and we all watched Major Payne together. I'm not sure what Keri and Janis thought of it, but we ferners were all cracking up. We ate dinner, hung out some more after that, and then finally made our way home.

Yesterday (Monday), after lunch some of us went across town to the Korean market. It's just a series of streets/alleys with all of these shops crammed in. I bought some gloves without fingertips so I can keep my hands warm while writing on the chalkboard in class. We also bought some Christmas lights and Angelyn bought a big blanket to keep her visitors warm when she has company. We just browsed a lot and hung out with Wind and Alice. We came home around 5, had class at 6, and then hung out and Studied with a few students after that. Then I started writing my Thanksgiving update, which was interrupted when Angelyn and I took Alice to her dorm, and now I think I'm pretty much caught up.

The "weekend trip" part of my last blog didn't make it in, so I should probably explain the title of my last entry. Sometime last week I decided that I need to go visit some friends in Ningbo, so I'm planning on leaving this Wednesday night on a trip to the coast. The trains and planes and buses from here to there don't quite always line up, so I'm taking an overnight train to Wuhan and flying to Ningbo a couple of hours later. To come back I'm taking a train from Ningbo to Hangzhou and then another from Hangzhou to Shiyan. The overnight train is about 7 hours, the plane is 1 hour 20 minutes, and the trains home should be about 26 hours. Good times! Too bad they don't allow foreigners in the Shiyan airport or I would be able to cut out a good chunk of my travel time. Oh well, adventures are waiting to be had. I should be leaving here late Wednesday night and getting back sometime Monday. Hopefully nothing will be late and I won't end up missing a flight or train connection or anything.

Today has been a normal day. I had lunch with the guys and we talked about things for Sunday. I caught the bus home at 3 and now I'm listening to a chain saw as some guys trim the trees outside. Oh! How could I forget?!? I got a package from my loving mom this morning and it contained... Reese's Mini Peanut Butter Cups! HA! It's a good day in China.

Thanksgiving and a weekend trip

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone. I think the week leading up to it was horrible in terms of culture shock and homesickness, but the actual event was quite enjoyable. I started it off by sleeping late, which actually isn't an uncommon thing when you usually have nothing to do before lunch. Then a load of us got together to teach some students the ancient art of American football. We had two teams of 13 and were confined to playing within the goalie box at one end of the soccer field. Needless to say, there wasn't much running. We were playing two hand touch, but with that many people in that small of a space there's just nowhere to run to. Plus, I think the complexity and number of rules was a little too much for their Chinese minds to absorb in one session. After most of the group left to go to class or eat lunch, we found some more students standing around watching us and formed a nice game of ultimate frisbee. That went over much better because the basic rules are don't run with the frisbee and don't let the other team catch it. It was a lot of fun and, more importantly, we got to run a lot and warm ourselves up. It was cold that day!

After eating a good lunch Derek, Jeremy, Michael Li, and I all headed into town to run some last minute errands. Amazingly, all the stores weren't closed on Thanksgiving! Derek and Jeremy got off the bus at the Wonderful Supermarket to hunt down some butter while Michael and I went to check on the turkeys. We had arranged for a restaurant in town to find us a couple of birds and cook them for us. Everything turned out pretty good, although a bit pricier than expected. Then we all made our way back to the automobile school to hang out and watch the ladies cook. It was like a little piece of America, the guys sitting around doing nothing in particular while the ladies labored away and talked themselves to death. At 5, some of us went to pick up the turkeys and we all met at Yanliang Hotel, the swankiest place in town. We had a fantastic party. Most of the Family was there, including a few faces that I've only seen once or twice this year. We played mahjong and Uno, visited, watched Derek act all hyper and ask all the girls in Chinese if they wanted another boyfriend, ate turkey and dressing, stood in a big circle and took turns saying what we were thankful for, and just had the grandest time ever.


I know you can't tell, but I just took a two hour break from typing this. Angelyn and I escorted Alice back to her dorm across town and then decided to enjoy the night and walk home. The bus ride there took 30 minutes and the walk back took an hour and a half. Now it's 1:00, my legs are tired, and I'm ready for bed. I'll fill in more details in the morning. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Changing seasons

Tonight was a good night. After an hour of taiji, Angelyn and I went over to the Lewis' for jambalaya and general merriment. We hung out, chatted, laughed at things, and enjoyed a nice movie. Casablanca. It was pretty good, I'd never seen it before. The dinner was great, but the crowning moment of the evening was when she brought out the homemade cinnamon rolls she had made for dessert. I can't really describe how awesome they were, you just need to know that they were. Awesome.

On our way home I noticed a few things. Mainly, it's a lot colder here now. A week or two ago, I was still wearing short sleeve shirts and leaving my door and windows open. Now I'm bundling up and using the heater. With the door and windows closed, of course. I've come to love using my awesome army jacket as an awesome housecoat. Anyhoo, it's cold, it's getting colder, and apparently snow is already in the forecast. I heard a rumor that it was supposed to snow last night and it's once again supposed to snow tonight. BUT, according to my internet weather thingy on my computer, the temperature has been hovering around 50 all day today and should do the same tomorrow. The leaves are falling off the trees in droves today, probably helped along by the light wind and rain. It's just helping everything seem more like autumn, finally.

Well, I think I've had it for tonight. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and Friday I have class and a 2 hour lecture that I haven't prepared, so don't expect an update before Saturday. Until that time, make sure you chew every bite 25 times before you swallow.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Needed: Holiday Cheer

Dear Diary,

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I'm in China. It's really no fun at all here in China. No one knows much about Thanksgiving. They know it exists, so they know to ask me to tell them more about it. Of course, then I just depress myself describing a family get together with grandmother's dressing, all the kiddos running around, crisp, cool, (clean) air outside and familiar sounds and smells wafting all over the place. Somone nailed it on the head when they said there's no place like home for the holidays. The End.

Now, don't go thinking that I'm sinking into a deep depression or anything. I'm making it through life here. But it still stinks to high heaven to be here for Thanksgiving when there are going to be more than 60 people (counting babies) in Cleveland, MS this week for the Neal/Neely/Geer Thanksgiving blowout. And when you expect to be smelling nice things cooking in every home, you can only smell Chinesey things. Again, don't go thinking I don't like Chinesey foods. But it's waaaaay different than the 24 Thanksgivings I had in America. Of course, this is the 2nd one I've done in China so at least I knew to expect these feeling in advance.

So you're probably wondering what I've been doing to ward off this bout of holiday melancholy. Well let me tell you! Last week I made the mistake of teaching about Thanksgiving in my Tuesday night class. So the rest of the week I was having what we call a "bad China week". I didn't really care to be here. Most Chinese people aroused a desire to scream when they yelled hello at me, and I usually felt like punching them. Needless to say, that's not the best attitude to have. So, after some time spent in seclusion at home, some more time spent in company with foreigners, lots of Contemplation, and some phone calls from home, I'm back in the game. Yesterday I woke up and felt a little cruddy physically, but otherwise I felt in good spirits. After lunch with the guys and a trip to the plant market to buy something to spruce up my apartment, I came home and promptly felt worse. I ended up having to postpone my Tuesday evening class. I'm not really sick yet, but I feel like I might be getting sick soon. Mainly I had zero energy and I was pretty sure I couldn't stand or sit through two periods of class and be the teacher at the same time. And since you have to be standing or sitting in the room in order to teach class (let's not get into teaching by satellite, that's just not an option), I felt it was wise to postpone. Thankfully, I am paired with a Chinese coteacher for my Wednesday morning class, so I just called him up and he's teaching alone this morning. Thanks to that, I was able to go to bed incredibly early last night and sleep way past 9 this morning. I feel mostly better today. I have energy, at least.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. As foreigners, we get the whole day off. Any classes and lectures we have are cancelled. Too bad that's the one day of the week when I have nothing scheduled. Oh well! I didn't teach last night or today. That should make up for it. We reserved a party room at the nicest hotel in town, got two turkeys from Xi'an, got a restaurant in town to cook them for us, planned a flag football game with some students for in the morning. It should be a fair approximation of a true American Thanksgiving. Except that instead of green bean casserole we'll have stir fry. But that's okay. I'll take what I can get.

Here's where I would put something I'm thankful for, but I'm going to save that for tomorrow. It's not Thanksgiving yet, people!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A look into the soul of a Chinese student

A good way to really get to know students here is by assigning them a writing assignment. The words just flow out onto the page and you start to think that maybe there is something going on inside those heads of theirs. When you communicate in broken English long enough, you begin to automatically think of your students as unintelligent or slow in the head. It's not something you intend to happen, it just shows how important language can be. So when they start writing, you begin to think that maybe they're interested in asking more than "Can you use chopsticks."

The Thursday before Halloween, I gave a cultural lecture about Halloween. This is a weekly lecture that the foreign teachers do on a rotating basis. It just happened that I had the honor of covering Halloween. Angelyn had a class at the same time, so she decided to bring her class over to listen to my wonderful lecture. For homework she asked them to write about three things that they learned from my lecture. Today was the next time that she had those students in class, and I proudly bring to you some of the things that were written about my Halloween lecture.

"When I came in the class of English Corner, I was moved by the strong atmosphere of studying English. There were so many people in the class, and the speaker speaked English very fluencly and loudly. The listener were swoon in the voice of the speaker. So I decided to improve my oral English. I though I would speak English fluency one day."
- Victor

"Last class we went to the English Corner with the teacher. It was a rewarding experience for me. The most interesting thing that day was the speaker told us the Halloween. In the middle of his speech he turned off all the lights, closed all the doors. Then it was dark in the classroom. He told us a story in a very low voice, some lovely but horror pictures on the screen. We all listened him very quietly, concentrated ourselves on his speech. Then he louded his voice which made many girls into screaming. I was also frightened by him. He turned on the lights and laughted. He just played a joke on us. I was terrified by him, but I think he is a lovely person. I love his speech and his joke."
- Ellen

"People throw eggs at someone's house. They also throw toilet paper. They throw it in a tree and it will unroll. Then throw it again and again. At last, the trees are covered with white paper. It looks so exciting and wonderful!"
- Amanda

"The most interesting thing I have heard is that people throw eggs and toilet papers at the tree. I don't understand why they do this. But I think it's wonderful!"
- Kasey

"Today a foreign teacher are giving a talk about Hollow day which I haven't heard of before. It's interesting and mysterious to me. But the professor said it's a common festivel in US, just like spring festivel in China. People are excited and carazy that day. The professor is humorous and lively. But there's still lots of things I can't understand. I think this is culture shock."
- David

And now, my favorite account of that night's lecture. I never get tired of reading it!

"The lecture is about 'all Hollow day'. Through the lecture I knew the special Day in America. And it is interesting and funny. When I walk into the classroom, I was shocked by the scene. There is so many students in the classroom. I can't stop my step. I choose a seat in a corner and sit down quietly. In the class, I have not said a word because I was attracted by the perfect pronunciation of the teacher. Good time always run away quickly. The class is over, but don't want to leave...
Through this class, I understand a lot of things. Firstly, I must improve my oral English because there is still a distance between the teacher and me. I can do better. Second, I must learn more about American culture. It can lead me to the way of succeed."
- Romeo

Romeo, oh Romeo. How true. The way of succeed is obviously through knowledge of American culture. Not. It does feel nice knowing that I can make people swoon and that my perfect pronunciation is captivating, though.

Friday, November 03, 2006

New neighbor

So Monday night Derek and I were hanging out and talking in my apartment. As usual, the door was wide open because the only people in the building are the four of us ferners. Around 11:30 or so, we heard some people stomping their way up the stairs and what sounded like German being spoken. Having lived in this building with foreigners two years ago, I knew that we no longer had free reign in the building. Turns out, there was only one German person coming up the stairs, but there was a Chinese person who (sorta) speaks German helping out. So now we have a new German neighbor. Her name is Yvonne, she speaks English fluently, she recently graduated and this is her first stop on the world trip that she's taking. She sold her apartment and car and is planning on travelling until she runs out of money. She's taken a job here as a German teacher for the next three months. Since this is an automobile school, lots of students take German and Japanese in hopes of getting a job with a big car company. Anyhoo, she's really nice and I'm pretty sure she's glad that there are other foreigners around she can hang out with. She's kind of doing things on the fly, so she really had no idea what to expect when she arrived.

That's the scoop for now. I may post again later today. I'm getting together some pictures and I'm still trying to figure out how in the world to get a video on this thing. If you know, please share with me.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Army coats, haunted houses, and the rabbit mayor of Florida

I don't even know where to begin. I guess I'll start where my last post ended. I was heading out to meet some other foreigners for lunch across town. We had a good time and talked a lot. It was quite refreshing and relaxing. After we ate, some of walked down the street to the Korean Market and wandered around, trying to find some cool stuff to buy for Halloween. There's not much of a market for Halloween decorations in our city, so we have to make up our own stuff. Anyhoo, while we were browsing, Jeremy came across a stinkin' awesome green army coat. It's not just a green army coat, though. It's a huuuuuge green winter army coat with a fur lined collar. It comes down past my knees and fits me quite well. It's also probably the warmest thing I've ever worn in my life. I couldn't pass up something that awesome that actually fit me, so I went ahead and bought it. Only 50 yuan! That's about 6 dollars. Christy would be proud of me. That day was actually pretty chilly, so that night I wore the coat down to Happy Guy's for dinner and everyone got a kick out of it.

Since Halloween is today, we decided to do our annual haunted house this past weekend. My first year here we did it for one night and invited our own students. It has since expanded, so now we do it for two nights. The first night is for students from our school, and the second night is for students from the other two schools in town. It was pretty insane. We did some planning in advance but we didn't really start working on the haunted house until the day of, so Friday we were all running around trying to decorate and everything. We turned my room into a psycho maze type of room. My furniture ended up being turned on its side and stacked to help make the pathway. Andrew and Jaime hung tinsel and other random things from the ceiling using tape and string, so people walked through the room in total darkness and had things brushing against their faces. We also had creepy sound effects playing and Andrew was hiding in the middle of the room banging on stuff and poking people. Pretty effective, considering we only used one small room, some overturned furniture, trashbags, string, and tape. Another room was turned into a crazy doctor's room. We set up an operating table behind a bedsheet and put a red plastic bag over a lamp, so the whole room was red and you could see the shadow of a doctor cutting on someone behind the sheet. We had a host who narrated and the audience got to watch as the brain, eyeballs, and tongue were cut out of the patient. They were then all passed around in bowls for people to touch. Most of the girls just flat out refused to even touch the bowls, but a lot of people did and screamed. The brain was noodles mixed with mashed banana, the eyeballs were peeled grapes, and the tongue was cooked mushroom slices. So after they all felt the brain, the doctor announced that she needed more brains from the audience members and I would come in off the balcony in my huge army coat and a Frankenstein mask. After making everyone scream and run towards the door, Angelyn would come out of the closet next to the door looking like a zombie and scare them all back towards me. It was like a game of human pong, almost. Angelyn had some cool makeup and fake scars and scabs, so she was pretty freaky looking. Then we would give out candy and herd them all out the door. Downstairs was a room with the Lewis girls acting like fortune tellers. You could see one of them telling someone else their fortune. But when you walked around to look at the other girl's face, it was all done up in makeup and more fake scabs. Chinese students are so easy to scare! Probably the best scare of all, though, was in the hallway. I used a backpack and extra clothes to stuff a coat and pants to make a dummy. I sat it in the stairs on the second floor, so everyone passed it coming up. Then Derek was all padded and sitting on the third floor, so he looked like another dummy. But of course, he would move and scare people as they passed by. The funny part was that they would jump over the rail going back down just so they wouldn't have to go near him. Like I said, Chinese students are so easy to scare. I could be talking to a person, put on my Frankenstein mask as I'm still talking to them and then all of a sudden they would scream and fall on the floor. So easy. Overall, I think Halloween was a hit. I'm sure our neighbors are glad that the screaming and noise is finally over.

So yesterday (Monday) I was having class and I was chatting with some of my students. This particular class is two and a half hours long, so it's tough to be interesting and fill up the whole class period every week. I have two guys in this class who always ask if we can watch a movie. Every week they ask! Well I was talking with them and once again they asked if we could watch a movie next week. I asked what kind of movie they wanted to watch and this is what ensued:

"We like a movie that is called 'The Ender' in Chinese. We don't know the English name."
I wasn't sure so I asked them to elaborate.
"It has a very famous man in it."
Okay, every movie has a famous person in it.
"He's in charge of a city and he's very great."
What do you mean, in charge of a city?
"He's in charge of a city in Florida."
In the movie or in real life?
After consulting a dictionary... "He's the mayor of the city in Florida."
A movie about a mayor in Florida? Called "The Ender"?
"He's a rabbit. And he's strong."
A movie about a rabbit mayor in Florida?
"He's the mayor of Florida now. I saw him in the news."
The governor? Do you mean the governor?
"Maybe. Maybe he's the mayor of Florida. And the movie is about a rabbit."
Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh! Is this the man's name? *I write down a name*
"Yes! That's the person!"

The rabbit mayor of Florida is actually the robot governor of California. They wanted to watch Terminator. Yeah, my students are awesome. But it's still funny to think of Jeb Bush as a rabbit.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Lack of inspiration? Maybe too much.

My posts keep getting further and further apart. Part of the reason is that by the time I get done checking emails, replying, checking other internet things, and getting to my blog website, I don't really feel like posting something new anymore. It's the curse of the internet. Too many distractions on the way to your destination. But more than that, whenever I think about typing, I either think that it's all too boring or I don't know where to begin. I'm in some sort of weird limbo between normalness here. But mom kindly reminded me that I should blog even if I think it's boring because what is boring to me here is a good read for everyone there. So let's put some new life into this thing, shall we?

My classes have been going well. My Monday night class is the worst because it's three periods long instead of two. That one extra period gets me everytime. Angelyn and I teach that class at the same time in two different rooms, so we always try to plan together for it. Last week we decided that we didn't want to plan so instead we watched Chronicles of Narnia. If we started the movie at the beginning of class and played straight through all the breaks then we would have 10 or 15 extra minutes for checking roll and answering questions. The plan was for me to set up the movie on the projector screen in my classroom and then Angelyn would bring up her class after she called roll. Well I got to class and started setting up the computer and screen. By the time the computer turned on and I figured out which button to push to get the screen to come down and everything, I could hear Angelyn's class coming down the hall. Good timing. Then I discovered that the movie wouldn't play on that computer. What? I knew that we had played movies in those classrooms my first year at this school, so I wasn't sure what to do. Well luckily I had brought my own laptop as a backup. So I get out my laptop and plug in the S-video cable to the back of it so I can plug it into the classroom computer. Even though I had seen an S-video outlet on another computer in the building, this computer didn't have one. At this point I was starting to sweat because Angelyn's class was filing in the door, the movie wasn't working, and we had two and a half hours of class time to fill. Well the classroom setup has the red-white-yellow RCA video plugs, so I figured we could plug my laptop into that. So I put an adapter onto the s-video cord and plugged yet another cord from that into the yellow video plug on the classroom computer. Only the plug wouldn't fit because this computer is the only one in the WORLD whose yellow video outlet is a different size. So I run down to the first floor, get the key to open the computer in Angelyn's classroom on the second floor, and see that the video outlet is the right size. So I get my computer and stuff from the fourth floor, take it to the second floor, and start plugging it all in there. I got it all plugged in, but the video still wasn't showing on the screen. No one knew why, of course. At this point the students are all coming down from the fourth floor and filing into the second floor classroom, the video isn't working, and I'm starting to sweat a lot. The only other option is to plug a monitor plug from the classroom computer into the back of my laptop, but the monitor plug is the wrong size. It's too wide! After some frantic rummaging and a blessing from God, we managed to find the right cable stuffed behind the classroom computer and we plugged it into my own laptop. It worked! Great, so now we can watch the movie and everyone is happy. Oh, wait a second... what about sound? The movie is playing on my laptop now, so the audio is coming from the little speakers on the side. Not good for watching a movie in class. Well, every class has a microphone. The standard lapel mic that you see everywhere in America. The only thing we can do is turn up the volume on my computer and set the microphone directly on the speaker. The quality wasn't the best. Or near the best. It would have been better if I had an audio cable with me that I could plug from my headphone jack to the audio port on the computer console. But it didn't occur to me that I had a cable like that in my apartment, so we made due with what we had. Of course, after the movie I remembered that I had that cable. Oh well. Whatever. After all was said and done, instead of having 10 or 15 extra minutes after the movie, the movie actually went 10 minutes past the last bell. It was exciting, though. But now I know how to watch a movie on those computers. Bring my laptop and the audio cable, the rest is taken care of.

Last weekend there was a sports meeting here on campus. It's funny because everytime there is something going on, the foreign teachers are told about it about an hour before it happens and everyone is surprised that we didn't already know. "But it's posted all over campus!" In Chinese, of course. Anyhoo, we knew that there was a sports meeting that would begin Friday morning. We knew that it began at 9:00. But we didn't know that every student was required to attend so all Friday classes were cancelled. Yeah. Nobody bothered to tell me. I was getting ready for my 8:00 class when a Chinese teacher in the English department told me there was no class. Hmm, fine with me. Around 9 I went down to the sports field to see what a Chinese sports meet looks like. It looks something like this.
As you can see, there's not much organization to a Chinese sports meeting. Everyone just stands all over the track. They do have people with whistles and red flags to clear the track before the runners start a new race, but that's about as organized as it gets. They had races ranging from 100m to 5k. They had long jump, triple jump (which was more like a heave and then some tripping and then running some more because you haven't jumped far enough to reach the sand and then jumping into the sand), high jump, and shotput. Those are all of the events I noticed.

A few things that I loved about the sports meet: 1) The students had drums and gongs that they had to hit as quickly as possible while a race was in progress. The amount of cheering is apparently directly proportionate to your patriotism. I included a picture of some of our freshman friends with a gong. 2) It looked like every student in the bleachers was doing homework and turning it in. They were in fact required to write three "cheers" that would then be read over the loud speaker. My favorite cheer was "Our eyes look out over you now as you prepare to run this race. May you draw strength from our gazes as our hopes for you go up to the heavens." 3) Since we're foreigners then we're extra special. Apparently a cheer is powerful if WE read it over the loudspeaker than if a Chinese person does, so we were invited up into the press box to read things over the mic. Of course, Derek had a blast. We got to come up with our own cheers, so we combined the American and Chinese styles and said "Our hopes are with you as you run this race today. Now, ladies and gentlemen, let's get ready to rummblllllllllllleeeeeeeeeeee!" All the students started cheering, it was great. Derek was also fond of "Go big or go home!" but the students didn't ever seem to grasp the concept.

If you're wondering about those pictures, the first two are just of the general atmosphere at the track. The third is of our friends with a gong. The last one is of the girls who got to time the runners. They would lean out, hoping to hear the starting pistol, start their stop watches, and then stop them when their assigned runner finished. There were two girls assigned to each lane, so I guess they just averaged the two times.

Well, I really should be getting ready to go meet some peeps for lunch, plus I've typed a whole lot today. I'll try to keep up with things more often so you'll know every exciting detail. Just the exciting ones, though.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fruity Jelly and nuclear testing

Well, classes are back in session this week. Sunday was a day to make up classes that we missed last week during the holiday. Don't ask me to explain because Chinese people can't even explain it to me. The only day that I was required to make up was Tuesday, so on last Sunday I taught my 6:15-8:40pm class. It was pretty good. Monday I had my normal 3 period class at night. I usually don't like that class because every other class is two periods and this one is three. That one extra period kills me everytime! I always end up with some time to kill at the end and the students are ready to go and so am I. But I'll get in trouble if I let out even two minutes early, so we have to make do. Anyhoo, this week it wasn't bad at all. We actually had fun doing some improvised role playing. My favorite was when Andy chose Walter to act as his wife in a skit. Quite funny, let me tell ya. Last night's class was great and I had a chance to lecture them on English Corner etiquette. Hopefully in the future I will see a dramatic drop in the number of students who ask the same question that I just answered two seconds before, students who come up behind me and stand with their face inches away over my shoulder, and students who get insulted because I don't remember their name. Seriously, folks! I meet an average of 100 new students every week at English Corner. If your hint to me about your identity is "I met you at English corner last week" then I'm probably not going to know you from Wang Jing. Or Adam. Whoever. Moving on.

Today I had a brand new freshman class. First of all, I got a standing ovation when I walked in the room. Either they thought that I wouldn't be able to find the class on my own and were impressed that I did, or they were just excited about having their first foreign teacher. I never know. Anyway, as we're having class and I'm writing down everyone's English name, I came to one girl who proudly told me that her English name is Fruity Jelly. I couldn't decide whether to congratulate her or what. I've had Cola, Pig, Apple, Cloud, Xerox, Aphicide, and many others, but this name just seems to stick out in my mind as the best EVER. Fruity Jelly sounds like a friend you can count on when you're in a jam or you need to make your bread more exciting. I know, bad jokes! I'll stop. I did successfully change her name to something normal. I can't remember what at the moment. Something like Jane, I think. I also have two friends sitting next to each other, Allen and Iverson. In another class there are two friends named Michael and Jordan. Names are always a topic of interest among the foreign teachers because we have some great combos. I heard tell of someone in Wuhan with two students named Mole and Hill. Of course, she made them sit next to each other. My dream is to have a class without any English names at all. Then I can name all 30 or 40 students and follow a theme like Fantasy/Science Fiction, the Bible, TV Sitcoms, meat or meatlike substances, or names that start with B. I've always wanted to name a student Hobgoblin. I don't know why, I just have.

The big news lately (as I'm sure you're aware) is our good friend and neighbor North Korea, or DPRK as it's referred to on the English channel here. First of all, no one has confirmed the nuclear blast (at least not when I'm typing this) so we don't know if they just blew up a load of TNT and hoped everyone would be scared of them or what. But if you're concerned about me then don't be. I'm nowhere near the Korean peninsula. Well, relative to America I am, but I'm still a long ways off. In terms of US geography, if Maine were Korea then I would be someone around Lexington, KY. Roughly. I'm not trying to offend any of you Maniacs or Mainers or Mainonites or whatever you're called, so don't send me hate mail. That means you, Guy. Another reason you shouldn't worry about me is that if something does get started with DPRK, this will be the safest place. China is the closest thing they've got to a friend, so I'm not worried at all. Bottom line, don't think twice about me. I'm great. The biggest problem I've got right now is the lack of choices in which flavor of Magnum Bar I should buy for dessert. Yeah, poor me!

That brings today's edition to a close. Hopefully this week I'll be developing some of the contacts I've made and Studying with some new students. It's just a matter of making my new students realize I won't bite them and that foreigners are approachable, then it's easy from there. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Halfway through the holidays and all is well!

Well, here it is Thursday (at least I think it's Thursday) and I haven't suffered too badly through this holiday week. I've only really had one day that was just totally wasted by me sitting around doing nothing. That day just happened to be today, but I'm not really complaining. You see, two days ago I managed to get in some badminton time and I played for about two and a half hours. When you haven't played badminton in a year and a half, that may be too much for the first time back in the game. So yesterday my right arm was basically useless. Well yesterday I got up at 5:30 so I could be ready for my 6:00 kungfu lesson. Since it's the holiday we're meeting at 6 in the morning as opposed to our normal time of 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Makes sense to me! We ran over to the football field and did a few laps around the track. That was the plan, at least. When we got there the track was covered with about 3,000 freshman in the midst of their military training. If you weren't aware, the freshmen always do a month of military training before they begin classes. This is their last week. Now, if I had my way, we would have turned around and come back to my building and practiced outside of here where fewer people could watch. But since I don't always get my way we just found a little space off to the side and practiced some new kungfu moves while 3,000 freshman stared and yelled intermittent 'Hello's. It was great, let me tell ya. Not the least bit intimidating. The best part was that we were going to go back this morning at 6, but my wonderful kungfu teacher slept in and never showed up. So I woke up at 5:30 today, on the one day when I actually had no plans to be doing anything and had all day to sleep in. It was a good day. I did nothing, and this has been the longest day EVER. Well, I did some things. I read a lot, watched 2 or 3 movies, sat on the balcony... that's about it. Oh! My apartment also hasn't had water since yesterday afternoon. It was supposedly going to be back on at 4:00 today, but that was almost 6 hours ago. Not looking too promising. Tomorrow is another official holiday. It's the Mid Autumn Festival, a.k.a. the Moon Festival. It's basically like our Thanksgiving. Families all get together (or at least try to) and if you're not with your family then you're probably feeling down in the dumps. For that reason, I'm having some Family over tomorrow night for a time of fun and festivities. Some students are from too far away to travel home this week, so I'm sure they will enjoy a meal together. After we eat we're going to eat mooncakes and go outside and look at the moon. Why, you ask? Ancient Chinese tradition, that's why! Look it up, I can't teach you everything. I could, but it would take too long and I'm too lazy. Well, that's all for today. I plan on sleeping late tomorrow, so don't nobody call me earlier than 11:00.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Scoop

Well, here it is October 2nd. In case you missed it, yesterday was October 1st, China's National Day. Here are a few things that happened to me...

I was originally supposed to be gone on this day so plans had been made for Sunday morning's gathering and those plans did not involve me. Since I wouldn't be missed, I decided to go to the medical school to see some people I hadn't seen in a month and take part in their gathering instead. Well, much to my surprise (even though it shouldn't have been), when I got to the bus stop outside our school gate there were more than the usual 10 people waiting there. Instead, there were about 300. Now, you should know that my school is near the edge of town and near the end of the #5 bus line. So when the bus comes by our school it's usually almost empty. Well on this fine holiday morning, every bus that came by was packed to the gills. I thought I'd been on some crowded buses in China before, but nothing compares to the bus I was on yesterday. I had to let 6 buses pass by before there was one that I was quick enough to get on. Two of those six buses wouldn't even open the door, there wasn't any room and the driver was only letting people off. After I managed to get on, I only got about two millimeters past the door. I was smashed against it when we took off. At the next stop a few people got off, so everyone moved in about 3 feet and about 10 more people got in behind me. At this point I was wedged against the driver's seat and her stick shift was wedged into the back of my leg. After lots of yelling on her part and some manuevering on my part that involved me standing on my tiptoes for 10 minutes, she was able to put the thing in gear and get us moving. Usually it takes about 30 minutes from getting to the bus stop to getting to the medical school. This time, due to traffic and playing human Tetris when getting onto the bus, it took about 50 minutes. I was only 10 minutes late, but that was okay. Nothing ever starts on time in China, anyway. It turns out that all of those people were headed to Lu Yan, the square in the middle of town. I guess there was a big party going on for the holiday. I also spied a bunch of stores with large holiday sales drawing large holiday crowds. All I know is that when we got to Lu Yan about 200 people got off the bus and left 10 really squished people on it, myself included.

The next exciting thing was at lunch. I went back to my school to eat at Happy Guy's for lunch. We hung out and talked and had a good old time. I was carrying a bag of Kenya coffee from Starbucks (mmmmmmmmmm...) that Andrew and Jaime had ground up for me that morning, so he was asking if we could drink some. Well, this stuff isn't that instant coffee he gave me a few days ago. That stuff just dissolves into your water and you stir and drink. So I went to my apartment to get my French press mug so we wouldn't have to pick the coffee grinds out of our teeth. Three things I learned: 1) Happy Guy only likes wimpy instant coffee, not bold Starbucks coffee 2) A French press can actually make 3 manageable batches of coffee before you have to change the grinds 3) Drinking three big mugs of coffee actually makes me sleepier. Anyhoo, after gorging on coffee at Happy Guy's he wanted to take me out on his motorcycle. Sure, why not? Don't worry, mom. I had a helmet (nice and pink), we were going outside of town where the traffic is lighter, and we only crossed into oncoming traffic once or twice. I have to wonder what people were thinking when they saw big ol' me riding behind him on that bike, though. That the world was ending, probably. Anyhoo, we rode about 20 minutes out to his sister's store where she sells liquor. Now, this isn't like your American liquor stores with the cases of Bud and bottles of wine. This place had huge urns that could have held two or three of me in them, filled to the brim with various liquors. Plus there was a nice selection of things that you could drop into your bottle and let soak. Things such as dried lizards and snakes, different mushrooms and leaves, starfish, and some other things that I really couldn't identify. I guess anyone who buys beer out of large urns like that is probably too drunk to notice the lizard in their bottle. After checking out the store, visiting Happy Guy's sister, and being stared at by the neighbors, we headed back to the school and hung out for a bit longer. By then it was 4:30 and customers were beginning to trickle in for dinner. I said my farewells and headed back to my apartment for the evening. The rest of my holiday was spent reading, watching Superman Returns (I give it a B- or C+, almost totally due to the lack of dialogue), and listening to the sounds of fireworks and freshman military training. I guess they didn't get the day off.

Today I went to the medical school to eat lunch with a student named Orange and some of her friends. We ended up having hot pot in their dorm room. If you don't know what hot pot is, you're missing out. It's the Chinese dish with the most potential to either be incredibly great or to make your intestinal tract come out of its own accord and strangle you for eating it. There's a pot (obvious) which is full of a broth of sorts. You set the pot over a fire (the hot part of "hot pot"), set it to boiling, and proceed to add whatever it is you want to add. I've seen hot pot with an entire chicken chopped up and tossed right in, fish, tofu, seaweed, and lots of other things. This one was good ol' vegetables. Potato, lotus root, tomato, noodles, mushrooms... basically everything that's safe in hot pot. The downside of hot pot, not matter how good it tastes, is that it can take days to eat one meal. Not really days, but hours. Today it took from 12 to 3:30. I thought it was never going to end and that I was going to be forced to eat more potatoes and dumplings and whatever else until I popped like a balloon. A balloon full of guts and hot pot. But it did end and we did leave and walk around campus for an hour to let our food settle. Then we parted ways and I came home. I pretty much figured I would never eat again.

At some point after 6:30, my friend Laura called and said I should come visit her and Thomas in Shanghai. Finally someone to travel and spend my holiday with! They couldn't travel because she had an emergency appendectomy a few days ago, but I could go hang out with them and they could ride me around Shanghai a bit to see some sights. Well, I called the train station (actually, I had a Chinese friend call) and there are no more tickets to Shanghai for tomorrow. I would have to stand for the entire 22 1/2 hour train if I wanted to go. Hmmmmmmm, let me think about it... nah. I would have gotten there Wednesday morning and had to leave again Friday afternoon because I have to teach a class Sunday to make up for missing class during the holiday. (That's an entirely other story that I don't want to go into because it's basically about me not understanding why we have to make up a missed class due to holiday.) I'll have other chances to go visit them and see Shanghai. Right now I'll just plan on staying here and enjoying the chance to play ping pong and badminton whenever I want.

Well, that's all for today. Tomorrow is another day and is sure to have its own surprises.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

New holiday plans.

Everyone's leaving for the holiday today! And by everyone I mean Angelyn and Derek. Cindy leaves Sunday, the Lewis family is leaving Monday, and I have no idea when the others are leaving. Maybe today. Anyhoo, I'm planning on having a nice week of sitting around instead of the planned week of travel since I have no one to travel with now. But on the upside, I've been invited to play on the English Department's badminton team in a tournament this week. That should be fun. Two days of badminton, maybe some ping pong sprinkled in there. Frisbee. Who knows, this week could turn out okay.

So last night was pretty awesome. We had to go to English corner, which I dread. If you don't know, English corner is a time set aside each week for people to get together and just practice chatting in English. As a foreign English teacher, I have the honor of "getting" to attend each week. So on Thursday nights from 6:30 until 8:30 we go into a classroom where students crowd entirely too close to us, ask inappropriate questions in bad English, and as soon as one student is done asking you a question the person next to them will ask the same question as if you hadn't just answered it three times. It's usually okay for the first 10 minutes and then the last 110 are torture. Well, this time around we foreign teachers got to give a "self introduction" to the whole group instead of having a mingling session. The students were all seated and we got to stand at the front and tell them about ourselves and why we are in China and then they asked us questions. Because we did this, only the last 30 minutes was unstructured mingling. I almost made it through without wanting to scream. After making our way out of English corner, Angelyn, Derek, and I decided to go to Happy Guy's to eat because we hadn't eaten. At 9pm most restaurants are fairly empty, so we had the place to ourselves. Happy Guy and his wife both came out and were chatting with us while the other employees took care of the cooking and serving. Then, Happy Wife got up and went in the kitchen. When she came back she had a big can of Nescafe instant coffee. Mind you, I wouldn't normally drink that stuff, but desperate times call for desperate measures. That stuff was sooooooo good, let me tell ya. They got a big kick out of the fact that we didn't use the creamer powder stuff that came with it. They would stop everyone who walked past and tell them that we didn't use it. I guess people here don't usually drink black coffee? I dunno. Then we sat around and gave everyone English names, made up songs about coffee, and met some of Happy Guy's siblings. Good times were definitely had.

Yesterday's weather: rain. Tomorrow's forecast: rain. And it's chilly, too! I've been wearing my trusty Arkansas hoody for three days now. Thanks Jennifer and Matthew! Well, I've decided that I'm all blogged out right now. I know, a little disappointing. Sorry! I'm going to watch an episode of Monk (yay for cheap DVDs) and pass the time until LUNCH! I like lunch.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Reasons today was mostly good.

Today was an interesting day. First of all, I woke up at 9 to the sound of some people outside yelling and whatnot. No, there wasn't a commotion or anything. People just talk loudly in China. Really really loudly. The first thing I noticed after that was the rain. It's been raining here for two or three days, so I'm starting to get tired of it. So I'm thinking that today is going to be a dreary day. I get up and get to moving around. I'm dressed and ready to greet the world by 9:30, which is not the habit I formed in the last two weeks. When all of your classes are from 6:30 until 9:15 at night and you have nothing to do before lunch EVER, you don't form great habits. Anyhoo, I was up and dressed earlier than usual, which was a good feeling. Then around 10 or a little after I went to the phone station and called different people in the states for about an hour. Just so you know, I spent 132 yuan on the phone this morning. That's why you should call me or get Skype on your computer. It's cheaper! Anyhoo, if you're upset about not getting a phone call from me don't worry, I may call you tomorrow. I think I'll be calling more people tomorrow. So talking to people until after 11 really got my spirits up and it was kind of fun walking through the puddles and stuff outside. After an interesting lunch in which I ate some deep fried minnows (there was a mistake in our ordering, if you were wondering) Angelyn, Derek, and I walked around for awhile. We got Derek's glasses fixed so they sit straight on his face, bought some milk, and then decided to hunt down a good place to chill and read a book. After dropping off the milk and picking up some books to read, we headed downtown to UBC Coffee, which seemed like a good enough place to chill. It's a really nice place, but coffee costs about 30 yuan per cup. And it's not good coffee. But they have couches instead of chairs, so it was a great place to sit back and read. So we read for two or three hours. It was really relaxing. My favorite part was when Derek started talking about some things he was reading in his Book and we got a conversation of sorts going on. It wasn't anything super deep or anything, but it felt great to be hanging out and just talking about things like that. Around 5 we headed back to campus. At this point it was even more dreary and grey outside. At 6:30 Nancy was supposed to come over for our Wednesday night meal/study session. She cooks and then we eat and work on our language skills. We teach each other English and Chinese at the same time. It's a lot of fun, actually. Well she called when she got off of work and said she wasn't coming. I think she had a headache, I'm not quite sure. So instead I went to dinner with Angelyn, Derek, and a student named Grease. Yeah, some Chinese students have really interesting English names. Like Pig or Cola. Anyhoo, it turns out that we thought his name was Grease because that's what we heard him say. Turns out that it's Grace. But he will forever be Grease to us (partly due to Grace being a girl's name). After dinner we decided we had too much strange energy so we folded up the umbrellas and ran around in the rain, jumping in puddles until we were soaked. Then we jumped the fence to the football (soccer) field and ran a lap or two around the track, kicking water on each other and singing in the rain. It was quite fun and was turning out to be one of the best, most relaxing days I've had in a while. Of course, after running in the cold rain for so long we were all ready to get a hot shower and dry clothes. When I came back to change I found that our plans for the holiday vacation had gone sour. Other than that, today was a very theraputic day. I can only imagine the joys that tomorrow will bring.

Not so much fun in the motherland.

Well, the huge plan for fun and mayhem has had a sudden change to it. Turns out the amigos (or pengyous as we call them here) can't make it from Ningbo. So they're just going to Yellow Mountain. And since I went there on my last October holiday and it's about 18 or 20 hours from here, I don't think I'll be making it over to see them. I would except at this point it's too late to buy train tickets. I would just end up with a standing ticket, and standing on a crowded train for 18 to 20 hours doesn't sound appealing to me today. Maybe tomorrow? We'll see. So for now I don't have a plan for next week. If you're reading this and you've recently been thinking about how much you wish I was going to be travelling with you around China next week and you even happen to have an extra ticket, let me know. I'm there! If you're reading this, you have the ticket, but you weren't recently thinking about me travelling with you, well what's up with that? Just invite me already! And if you're just reading this and that's all there is to it, then I'm sorry you had to suffer through this entry.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Holiday fun in the motherland.

Well, as most of you probably already know, next week is National Holiday here in China. What? You didn't know? Well now you do. October 1 is China's National Day. To celebrate everyone gets anywhere from two days to a full week for a holiday. On this holiday every person in China travels somewhere (usually on the same train) to spend money, spur on the economy, and celebrate Chairman Mao's founding of the People's Republic of China. So as a good resident of China I feel obligated to follow suit. You may be wondering where I will go. Well let me tell you. I have some friends in the wonderful town of Ningbo, which is on the east coast of China, south of Shanghai. Those friends are wanting to see the Great Wall and the terracotta warriors. Usually one would go to Beijing to see the Great Wall and to Xi'an to see the terracotta warriors. Well, those two cities aren't exactly close together. That's like going to New York City and St. Louis in one trip. But the Great Wall isn't just any old kind of wall. It's GREAT. That means it's thousands of miles long. Which means it must be other places besides Beijing. Beijing's big, but it's not that big. So I looked into it and we've decided to go to Xi'an (which happens to be close to where I live) to see the sights and then take an overnight train north from there and see the Great Wall where it hits the edge of the Mongolian desert. Nice, right? It should be lots of knee slappin', hootin' and hollerin', fireworks shootin' fun. I'm excited. Plus it should be fun to spend a week with Keli, Tim, and Heidi. It's always nice to see new faces.

In other news, it's been raining here for three days or so. It feels like forever. The sad thing is that it doesn't really storm here, it just rains. I prefer a good storm with thunder and lightning and wind blowing the rain around. Nope, we just get some water falling straight down and nothing else. Booooring. Someone sent me an article about teacher salaries in China. Go ahead and read it here. It's pretty crazy. Keep in mind, I make about 3,500 yuan each month, am not an actual professional teacher, don't have to pay rent or utilities, and live in a small city with a low cost of living. The guy in the article lives in stinkin' Beijing, city of 16 million. Not a cheap place. That article made me grateful for what I've got. Not that I wasn't glad for it before, mind you.

Well, I'm off to be productive. I need to get train tickets and book rooms in a hostel for our lovely road trip next week. I hope all is well in the Western hemisphere. Mail me something good!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Things I like.

Due to popluar demand, I'm posting a list of things I like that aren't really available where I am and would be greatly appreciated. Don't feel obligated or anything, but if the mood strikes you then feel free to mail something in my direction sometime. First of all, here's where to find me:

Brian Neal
c/o Foreign Affairs Office
Hubei Automotive Institute
Shiyan City, Hubei 442002
People's Republic of China

Now for the goods:

Poptarts - strawberry or blueberry, no frosting please
Reese's mini cups - mmmmmmmmm
Koolaid is good - grape Koolaid is not so good, though
granola bars - crunchy or soft, not peanut butter flavor, please
Power Gels for running - would be nice but I don't really expect any. Last minute idea.
Cheese is always nice, especially swiss or cheddar or something else that's actually cheese and melts and isn't the stuff they claim is cheese here. Velveeta, not real cheese but as good as real cheese.
Muffin mix
Stuffing mix
Cookie mix (the kind where you just add water or an egg or something simple like that)
Peanut butter - they have Skippy here, but so far my experience with it is that I should just skippy right over it and eat something else. I'll try it again to be sure and possibly retract this statement.
Magazines - Newsweek, Time, anything cool like that. I've been told that Reader's Digest is taken care of, so don't send that.
Newspapers - even if the news is three weeks late, it's nice being able to read a newspaper in English. If you use newspaper as the stuffing in the box, I can flatten it back out.
Smell good candles - nothing fancy, the ones at Walmart work GREAT. This place smells weird.

I should also tell you some things NOT to send. Most of these are things I've gotten in the mail before.

Peanuts - China is overflowing with peanuts, save your postage.
Ramen noodles - Where am I again? Oh, right. China!
Oreos - Believe it or not, you can get Oreos just about anywhere here. Along with:

That's all I can think of for now. If you get the hankering to send a guy some love in a box, feel free to let said guy (hopefully me) know. Just to avoid unnecessary spending on postage. And in case I really really need something. Like a Sonic milkshake. I think that would make it over, don't you? One last warning, before you go loading up a box with everything on the list you should check out postage rates first. I don't want to break your bank!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Forming a groove.

Well, things are starting to reach normalcy around here and I think I'm getting into a good groove. At the moment I'm only teaching on Monday and Tuesday nights. We have something called English corner on Thursday nights and a cultural lecture on Friday nights, but we don't have to go every week. This week I have the honor of doing this semester's first English lecture. I think I'm going to go the easy route and do it on English idioms. Feel free to post a comment with your favorite idiom, phrase, or saying. Do it soon, though. I'm giving the lecture Friday night (your Friday morning).

My two classes have been going well. My Monday night class is annoying because it meets from 6:45 until 9:15. That's a long time when you have to practically wrestle with your student's English. But we're making it. That class is an elective so we basically do whatever I feel like. My Tuesday night class is Oral English for sophomore non-English majors. That means the students aren't English majors so their English could possibly be great and could possibly be horrific, and we have a textbook. The class is only two periods, so compared to the other class it's pretty easy to fill up the whole class period. Here's the weird thing about these classes... they only meet 10 times or less the entire semester. My Monday night class meets once a week for 10 weeks, then I'll get another class for the rest of the semester. My Tuesday night class meets once a week every other week, and I teach two different groups of students, one on odd numbered weeks and the other on even numbered weeks. That class only meets 7 times total. It just seems to me that having class 7 times every other week wouldn't be very productive. We'll see.

Today is a day off that I'm really looking forward to. I need to do some major apartment cleaning before lunch. I've had people in my apartment three of the last 4 days and I need to sweep, mop, and take out the trash like nobody's business. After lunch I plan on shopping for some things including, but not limited to, a DVD player, badminton raquet, guitar, bread, trash bags, and Oreos. I know you're so interested in all of this. Tonight a Chinese friend is coming over to cook dinner. We're going to work on her English in exchange for her cooking. Her husband is studying in America and we're hoping she'll be able to get a visa soon to go see him. I think it's been about 5 years since she saw him last, so it's about time to get her over there.

I'm hoping that this week I can start having some students over because I've made contact with a lot of different people and I think the time is ripe. Friendships will be formed, connections will be made, Studying will be done. After all, the reason I'm here is to Teach.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Current (and past) goings ons.

I thought everyone would like to know that my roommate and I are resolving our differences. There was a long period where we were fighting over closet space and whether or not he can smoke his pipe inside. Also, I eat in about once a week at the most, but he eats 10 freakin' meals a day. Why should I have to do his dishes? Exactly! And I'm getting tired of picking his feet hairs out of the shower drain. Talk about nasty.

Anyhoo, there's been a lot of things that I have somehow skipped over or forgotten about in my blogging, and I'm pretty sure that some of those things are worth reading about. For example, Wednesday of last week was an exciting day. After lunch with a new Chinese friend, Derek, Angelyn, and I all went across town to visit the Lewis family. If I haven't told you, Jeremy and Rena Lewis are here to teach with our group and they brought their three teenage daughters with them. Those girls deserve a lot of credit for moving to China and not being totally angst about it. Anyways, we went to visit them because they seemed pretty bored. We eventually decided that we wanted to check out a park in town called (oddly enough) The People's Park. It's near (wait for it) The People's Square and The People's Supermarket. Just down the street from The People's McDonalds. That last one was a joke. So we hop on the bus to the park and get off directly across the street. After checking out a cool little store we noticed, we all prepared to cross the street. You may not know anything about crossing the street in China, but it's a life changing experience. It can definitely make your life flash before your eyes. Well as soon as some of us walk out of the store, we see a lady on a motorcycle plow into an old man walking across the street. Usually the scene would unfold this way: lots of people would gather to look, cars would honk a lot and barely slow down to drive around, the lady would be left alone to help the old man up and get him some help, if she's lucky a police man will come by and help. But we happened to be there with good ol' Jeremy and his medical training from years in the army. So Jeremy kicks into action and goes out into the street. Well seeing a foreigner helping someone who just got hit by a motorcycle is enough to cause any Chinese person to die from shock, so we drew an even BIGGER crowd. Jeremy was able to check out the man's arms, legs, head, and whatever else before someone tried to move him and potentially make things worse. He checked out okay, Jeremy helped him to the side of the road, a taxi was summoned, and the lady and the old man were both whisked off to the hospital. At least I'm assuming that's where they went. Makes sense to me. How could I have forgotten to blog about that? I don't know.

After all the excitement we paid our 2 yuan and entered People's Park, the center of fun and merriment in Shiyan. It turned out to be a large park with some small mountains to trek all over, an amusement park (yeah, you read right), and a zoo of sorts. After trekking ourselves up a random trail and back down the other side, we ended up at the amusement park. There were such attractions as the whirling swing ride, shooting games, go carts, bumper cars, a pirate ship, a merry-go-round, a giant, mountain-spanning luge ride, and the essential roller coaster. First I hit up the shooting games. It was pretty easy because all you do is shoot balloons with a bb gun from 15 feet away. Not hard. There was also whack-a-mole, which they called "hit-the-mouse". Not quite the same ring, even in Chinese. We moved on past the peacocks and monkey in a cage to the rides. Now, when you're imagining these rides in your mind's eye, add about 40 years of age and rust to the picture. That's what we were riding. Jeremy and Derek rode this luge ride that I'm pretty sure was named "Big Mountain of Death". The sleds were just big plastic sleds on wheels. There was a handle in the middle that acted as a hand brake. There was no seat belt or strap or anything else to hold you onto the thing. It started off by being pulled waaaaaaay up the side of this mountain on a chain lift, like the beginning of a roller coaster. Only, since there's nothing to hold you onto the sled then Derek said he was trying with all his might not to slide off the back of it. Then you sled/luge/roll/whatever down this metal track, going around curves and whatnot. It's not a track like a train or roller coaster track. It's a flat metal road that resembles a bobsled track in the turns. Yeah, with no safety belts or anything. Coming down a mountain. With a looooong drop right next to you. Looked like fun, but I sure didn't want to test out my luck on it. After the survivors got off, we all headed to the roller coaster. I had ridden a similar roller coaster at a park in Qingdao before, so I knew that everyone had to try this thing out. Since they were all a little hesitant I went ahead and paid, which got rid of any hesitation. This wasn't a huge roller coaster with loops and corkscrews. This was a small roller coaster that some people know as a Crazy Mouse coaster. One or two people per car, the cars aren't attached to each other in a long train, just by themselves, tight turns, nothing too fancy. But add in the rust and general appearance of the ride and it makes it pretty scary. Somewhere in all this fun, Jeremy and I raced on the go cart track. There were only two cars and the track was only wide enough for one, so it wasn't really a race. If you started in first, you ended in first. Plus, Jeremy's car didn't exactly function to full capacity, so I was zooming around while he was puttering around. While making our way back to the entrance we passed what appeared to be a reptile house and a half empty pool with some ducks in it. The zoo, maybe? Dunno. That was our People's Park experience.

Well, I took longer than I thought I would to type that and now I need to go. I guess this is all you get for now.