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.